Jets' Pennington selected Comeback Player

Friday, January 5, 2007

NEW YORK -- One rotator cuff injury often is enough to ruin a premier athlete's career. Chad Pennington overcame two in two years to win The Associated Press NFL Comeback Player of the Year award.

The New York Jets had become too accustomed to seeing Pennington leave the field with a damaged right shoulder. After the 2004 season and again midway through 2005, he underwent surgery to repair his right rotator cuff.

There's was so much doubt about Pennington returning to form that the Jets had four quarterbacks in training camp last summer, including a second-round draft pick.

So all the seven-year veteran did was lead the Jets to a surprising 10-6 record and a wild-card berth one season after they went 4-12 and changed coaches. Pennington's precise execution of a short passing game made Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery into 1,000-yard receivers and offset a mediocre running game.

Not surprisingly, Pennington didn't see winning the award, as an individual honor.

"It does mean a lot to me because I've put in a lot of hard work and there's been a lot of people that have supported me throughout the entire process and have put in a lot of hard work with me," he said. "To me, it's a group award and it involves so many people in so many different areas in so many different places that have taken time out of their schedules that have helped me get back to being the player I want to be, and to have a chance to play the game that I love to play."

"The organization has been great in providing me with all kinds of special resources to get back healthy and play at a high level. My teammates have been behind me since Day 1. For us to be able to put it together out on the field would mean a lot ... it's been such a team effort."

Pennington's efforts earned him 27 votes in balloting by a nationwide panel of 50 sports writers and broadcasters who cover the NFL. He finished far ahead of two other quarterbacks, Drew Brees of New Orleans (81/2) and Carson Palmer of Cincinnati (51/2).

"He never reinvented himself," Coles said of Pennington, who passed for a career-best 3,352 yards and finished second in the AFC with a 95.7 passer rating. "You all (in the media) were the ones who left him for dead. I'm pretty sure he didn't leave himself for dead or he wouldn't be in this situation. And I definitely didn't. He never went anywhere."

Well, actually Pennington went under the knife twice, and because he's never had a particularly strong arm, his return to prominence was highly questioned. But through rehab and meetings, he clearly had mastered the offense of new coach Eric Mangini and coordinator Brian Schottenheimer by early August.

And there never was any doubt he would beat out the other three QBs in camp once Pennington began throwing as accurately as ever.

"When you're put in difficult situations, I think you have to fight human nature sometimes," he said, "and human nature sometimes wants to feel sorry for itself and come up with excuses and look for ways to get out of a situation. I just chose not to listen to my own human nature, and I chose to look at it as an opportunity, understand the business side of this league and this team and use it as an inspiration and as a challenge for myself. And maybe as an inspiration for other people to say, `Hey, take the situation, whatever that situation is, work very hard at it, have a very good attitude, and make the best out of it and let things fall where they may."'

When Pennington was hit hard or sacked, he bounced up and went right back to work. Most notably against Houston, he took a huge hit and stayed down because he had the breath knocked out of him. Well aware of the hushed crowd, Pennington pumped his fist as he walked off the field, assuring the fans he and his right arm were fine.

"Chad is a tough guy," veteran guard Pete Kendall said. "I think anybody who stands back there is a tough guy, it's just that some guys unfortunately have been injured more than others. But that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with toughness.

"When you talk about toughness, you have to talk about mental toughness as much as, or moreso than physical toughness. Chad is way up there; he's a mentally tough guy. To be quarterback in this market, with the ups and downs that comes along with playing quarterback, and to go through what he has gone through, then come back and still play well, you have to be a tough guy to do that."

Cleveland tight end Kellen Winslow received five votes, followed by two Eagles: QB Jeff Garcia with two, RB Correll Buckhalter with one.

Denver receiver Javon Walker, New Orleans RB Deuce McAllister and Tennessee RB Travis Henry each got one vote.

Pennington is the fifth quarterback to win the award in its nine years; Brees won it in 2004. He is the first Jet to win.

Last year's recipients were New England linebacker Tedy Bruschi and Carolina receiver Steve Smith.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: