Thursday, January 3, 2008

Testaverde says goodbye in Tampa

Dec 31, 2007
Doug Fernandes
Testaverde says goodbye in Tampa

The game was nearly over. One take-a-knee later, a football life well spent most certainly was.

With 35 seconds left Sunday, the top statistical quarterback in Tampa Bay Bucs history trotted onto the field to a nice ovation from what remained of a Raymond James Stadium crowd.

Frank Vincent Testaverde wasn't asked to do much. Just accept the snap from his Carolina Panthers center, drop to one knee, hang out until the scoreboard clock clicked zero.

The end to a meaningless game. The end to a meaningful career.

In the city where it all started, 21 years ago.

"It's the least we could do," Panthers head coach John Fox said.

It's called symmetry.

"I think the last time I was here, it was a little more booing," said the 44-year-old one-time Heisman Trophy winner, the anticipated savior of a troubled franchise who couldn't quite save enough.

"They were cheering a little bit for me today and I appreciate it. It's a great way to go out, a great way to end your career."

As a boy, growing up in Brooklyn. Vinny Testaverde played football in his back yard. In those games with his neighborhood chums, he dreamed he was Joe Namath, Terry Bradshaw and "Mean Joe" Greene.

"It's hard to believe that that's what I became," he said, "and it's even harder to believe that I played for so long."

So long leading up to Sunday's official "so long." Testaverde started playing when a former actor occupied the White House, the Berlin Wall was still a wall, a cell phone was the approximate size of a brick.

Twenty-one years, covering seven teams, two Pro Bowl appearances, more than 46,000 yards passing, more than 270 touchdown throws, more than 3,700 completions.

Right up there among the league's all-time top 10. Right up there with guys named Marino, Elway and Favre.

In Vinny's prime, he could throw a football as well as guys named Marino, Elway and Favre.

But this season wasn't his prime, and when a bum Achilles' led to back problems, the oldest starting quarterback ever to win a game realized it was time to stop flipping over the hourglass.

"I just feel at 44 years old, the body is not holding up like it used to," he said. "I had a couple of nagging injuries this year, and just mentally and physically, I felt it was time.

"I'm at peace with myself that I am retiring. I'm happy that I was able to play so long and a little bit sad because I'm giving up doing what I did for so long and something I loved doing for so long."

Testaverde didn't love doing it all the time. Couldn't have, because he wasn't good doing it all the time.

Rewind to Tampa Bay and all those crummy teams, all those 5-11 records.

Rewind to a head coach, Ray Perkins, either unwilling or incapable of nurturing the young Vinny. Nearly four seasons performing in a no-hug environment.

And you know what? Vinny said all those tough times forged a tough quarterback. And man.

"I probably wouldn't have played as long," he said. "I learned a lot. I learned how to be tough, and that's what this game needs. I appreciate going through it. I think I became a better player for it, and certainly a better person."

Testaverde played in Tampa without worrying about fulfilling the expectations placed upon him by others. He remembered what one of his former head coaches, Bill Parcells, said about pressure.

"People react to pressure either negatively or positively," he said. "I felt like when the pressure was on, I reacted in a positive way, for the most part. Otherwise, I feel like I wouldn't have been here for so long, playing this game."

Now that he won't be playing, Testaverde will have time to fill. A move back to Tampa with his wife and three children will take up some. Days on the golf course will occupy more. Happily so.

Eventually, he'd like to work with athletes and fitness. Help them improve in whatever their chosen sport.

If his football life is any indication, Vinny Testaverde is destined for a lengthy second career.

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