An old arm is better than being unarmed


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Jan 22, 2006
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An old arm is better than being unarmed
Jun 20, 2006, 3:32:47 AM by Jonathan Rand

Have you noticed that the Cleveland Browns are interested in Herman Edwards’ old quarterback? And we do mean old.

Browns coach Romeo Crennel made it clear that he’s ready to call Vinny Testaverde, 42, if Ken Dorsey doesn’t make the most of his opportunity to back up Charlie Frye.

You can go ahead and laugh. Yet nobody expected to see Testaverde in a uniform again before last year, when Edwards saw Jets quarterbacks Chad Pennington and Jay Fiedler both injured in the same game. Those injuries led to signing Testaverde, who made four starts for the Jets, and probably led to Edwards succeeding Dick Vermeil as Chiefs coach.

Pennington’s injury triggered a slide to a 4-12 finish. Though the gory details of Edwards’ job change remain murky, it’s safe to say the Jets’ collapse made Edwards less enthusiastic about staying and the Jets less enthusiastic about trying to keep him.

Edwards wasn’t interested in bringing Testaverde, or any other older quarterback, to Kansas City. Edwards already has a high-performance starter in Trent Green, who’s almost 36, and backup Damon Huard, who’s almost 33. No wonder the Chiefs want to see some promise from youngsters Brodie Croyle and Casey Printers.

Chiefs fans should be accustomed to quarterbacks closer in age to Testaverde than Croyle, 23, or Printers, 24. Since coach Marty Schottenheimer and CEO Carl Peterson teamed up in 1989, eight of the 11 quarterbacks who’ve started at least one game for the Chiefs have been at least 30.

All had played for other NFL teams. And Elvis Grbac was the only under-30 quarterback to hold the Chiefs’ job for any significant stretch.

Some of the Chiefs’ former starters make Testaverde seem like a pup. Warren Moon was 44 when he started in place of Grbac in a 17-16 loss at San Diego late in the 2000 season. Though DeBerg, then 38, was seemingly finished when he left the Chiefs after the 1991 season, he kept playing until he was 45. When he was 44, DeBerg became the oldest quarterback ever to start an NFL game.

That start, for the Falcons in 1998, made all the highlights shows – the highlight coming when Jets safety Victor Green clobbered DeBerg and forced a fumble that was returned for a touchdown in a 28-3 romp. The winning quarterback that day was Testaverde.

So what’s the attraction of these geezers? Dependability. Even when smart quarterbacks are well past their prime, they usually can be counted upon to avoid bad decisions and rookie mistakes. Their job is not so much win games as not lose them. And, needless to say, with 32 teams each scrounging for three competent quarterbacks, there are not a lot of candidates to choose from a month before training camp starts.

Though Crennel’s background is on defense, he knows Testaverde from their days with the Jets in the late 1990s. Browns offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon also was a Jets assistant then, and he and Testaverde are on the same page.

And while history shows that most championship quarterbacks are homegrown, several of them first bounced around for several years, starting with the Chiefs’ Len Dawson. He’s joined in Super Bowl comeback lore by the Raiders’ Jim Plunkett, Washington’s Doug Williams, St. Louis’ Kurt Warner, Tampa Bay’s Brad Johnson and the Ravens’ Trent Dilfer. There’s also a long list of journeymen who led teams to Super Bowls but lost.

Testaverde isn’t likely to join that list.Yet if he comes back, he’ll probably be spending his time on the sidelines and making a much fatter salary than most 42-year-olds. He’ll become a fan favorite if he completes just a pass or two while mopping up, and the crowd will clamor for him if the starter falters. There’s a good reason why backup quarterback just may be the best job in professional sports.

The opinions offered in this column do not necessarily reflect those of the Kansas City Chiefs.
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