Welcome to another edition of the Flashback Friday feature on Football Meets Football. This week we’re on an American footballer, and we will be looking at former New York Jets and Miami Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington. If you have any suggestions for players you would like to have featured in this article leave a comment on here, on Facebook or on Twitter.
Previous editions: Week 7 – Juninho, Week 6 – Jevon Kearse, Week 5 – Karel Poborský, Week 4 – Trent Dilfer, Week 3 – Mark Viduka, Week 2 – Efan Ekoku & Shaun Alexander, Week 1 – Egil Østenstad & Jon Kitna
James Chadwick ‘Chad’ Pennington was born on 26th June 1976 in Knoxville, Tennessee to father Elwood and mother Denise. He attended Webb School of Knoxville (where his mother was an English teacher) and started playing football in his freshman year. While he wasn’t the most athletically gifted child he was extremely intelligent, possessing a near photographic memory which meant his understanding of tactics and strategy gave him a competitive edge. He didn’t set the world alight at high school as he was playing in a run-first system but he did receive offers to play in college from Middle Tennessee State University and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, both NCAA Division I-AA schools. He didn’t end up with either of those colleges though, as during a summer camp at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia, he impressed head coach Jim Donnan and accepted a scholarship there instead.
Originally slated to be the 4th string quarterback entering the 1995 season, Pennington ended up becoming Marshall’s starter and lead them to the NCAA Division I-AA Football Championship game which they lost 22-20 to Montana. In 1996 Chad was benched in favour of Eric Kresser who had transferred from the Florida Gators and watched from the sidelines as the Thundering Herd went one better and won the I-AA championship, getting their revenge against Montana in a 49-29 victory.
1997 saw Pennington restored to starting duties as Marshall moved to Division I-A, and it also gave him the chance to throw to a certain wide receiver named Randy Moss who had transferred from Florida State the previous year after being dismissed for numerous discipline issues. The offense was explosive – Chad threw for 3,817 yards, 42 TDs and 12 INTs and Randy was accountable for 1,820 yards and 26 TDs as the Thundering Herd were crowned Mid-American Conference champions with a 10-3 record but would ultimately lose their first ever Bowl game 34-31 to Ole Miss in the Motor City Bowl.
Moss left for the NFL draft prior to the 1998 season but Pennington and Marshall didn’t miss a beat as they secured back to back MAC championships with a 12-1 record and landed their first ever Bowl trophy after beating Louisville 48-29 in the Motor City Bowl. Chad was named the game’s MVP after throwing for 411 yards and 4 TDs. In his senior year in 1999 Pennington lead the Thundering Herd to a perfect 13-0 record, securing a hat-trick of MAC championships and back-to-back Motor City Bowls, this time with a 21-3 victory over BYU. Chad finished 5th in Heisman Trophy voting that year.
Pennington’s college stats were 13,423 yards with 115 TDs and 45 INTs. It wasn’t just on the field that Chad impressed while at Marshall – he graduated with a degree in journalism, wrote regularly for the school newspaper and was a broadcaster on the school radio, although he used an alias while broadcasting so as not to be distracting.
Chad Pennington entered the 2000 NFL Draft and was selected 18th overall by the New York Jets. He was the first quarterback drafted that year, and was one of 6 quarterbacks drafted ahead of arguably the best quarterback ever Tom Brady – the other 5 were Giovanni Carmazzi (65th, 49ers), Chris Redman (75th, Ravens), Tee Martin (163rd, Steelers), Marc Bulger (168th, Saints) and Spergon Wynn (183rd, Browns).
Chad didn’t feature much in his first 2 years with the team. In the 2000 season he appeared in just one game – he came in during the 4th quarter of a week 15 blowout loss to the Oakland Raiders and completed 2 of 5 passes for 67 yards and a touchdown. in 2001 he featured in 2 games (neither of which were starts), going 10 for 20 for 92 yards and a touchdown.
In 2002 Pennington was still the Jets backup quarterback, but he was named as the starter in week 6 after the team had started 1-4. He turned the teams fortunes around, securing a 9-7 record and winning the AFC East division while throwing for 3,120 yards, 22 TDs and just 6 INTs. He also posted a QB rating of 104.2 which was and still is the highest rating recorded by a Jets starting quarterback for a single season. Chad was outstanding in his playoff debut as the Jets cruised to a 41-0 victory over the Indianapolis Colts in the Wild Card round – he completed 19 of 25 passes for 222 yards and 3 TDs with 0 INTs. His second playoff game was a polar opposite of the first as the Jets season ended with 30-10 loss to the Oakland Raiders and Chad completed just 21 of 47 passes for 183 yards, 1 TD and 2 INTs.
Hopes were high for Chad and the Jets heading into the 2003 season but in the 4th and final pre-season game against the New York Giants Pennington would suffer a fracture-dislocation on his left (non-throwing) hand and he would miss the first 6 games of the season. The Jets started 1-4 without him and he didn’t have the same impact as he did the previous year as he only managed to rally the team to a 6-10 record at the end of the season. One of the noticeable regressions in his game suffered as a result of the injury was his ability to sell on play action – he was one of the best in the league at doing this in 2002 but it looked uncomfortable and was much easier for defences to read in 2003.
Despite the injury Pennington signed a then team-record 7 year, $64 million contract prior to the 2004 season and it looked like money well spent as he lead the Jets to a 6-2 start. However injury struck again in week 9 – this time it was the rotator cuff in his right shoulder and he missed the next 3 games. He came back in week 12 and won 2 of the remaining 5 fixtures as the Jets finished 10-6 and secured a wild card playoff berth. The Jets would cause an upset of the San Diego Chargers in the Wild Card round with a 20-17 overtime victory, and came up against the 15-1 #1 seed Pittsburgh Steelers in the divisional round. The Jets were on course for another upset when leading 17-10 but kicker Doug Brien missed 2 potential game winning field goals and the Steelers came back, winning 20-17 in overtime and ending the Jets’ season.
Pennington had surgery on the previously injured rotator cuff during the off season and despite missing a large chunk of pre-season started in week 1 of the 2005 season. His performance was lackluster in a 27-7 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, and it wasn’t much better in a week 2 17-7 win over the Miami Dolphins. It seemed he hadn’t fully recovered from the surgery but both Chad and head coach Herm Edwards refuted the claims, putting it down to missing pre-season and the change in offensive coordinator. He started the week 3 loss against the Jacksonville Jaguars but went down with an injury, and although he returned to the game it was later discovered he had suffered another tear in his rotator cuff and would miss the rest of the season.
He restructured his deal during his time away from the team, taking a significant pay cut to stay with the team for the 2006 season. Entering pre-season new head coach Eric Mangini said the starting quarterback spot was open so a battle ensued between Pennington, Patrick Ramsey, Brooks Bollinger, and Kellen Clemens and Chad came out on top. He started the year looking like the pre-injury Pennington and won AFC Offensive Player of the Week in week 1. It was a stellar year all round for Chad as he and the Jets finished the year 10-6 and earned a wild card play off berth. It was also the first time in his career he managed to start all 16 games in a season and he was awarded the Comeback Player of the Year award. The season ended after the first play off game, a 37-17 defeat to the New England Patriots but Chad had a solid game, throwing for 300 yards and a touchdown.
2007 was not a good year for Pennington and would prove to be his last in New York. He was again the starter going in to the season but after 8 weeks the Jets found themselves at 1-7. Chad was not playing well; he had 9 TDS and 8 INTs and was averaging just 195 yards a game during those first 8 weeks. Mangini decided it was time to pass the reins to second year quarterback Kellen Clemens and while he didn’t fare much better he kept the starting job for the remainder of the season. Pennington did get the chance to start in week 16 due to a rib injury to Clemens but the Jets fell 10-6 to the Tennessee Titans. Going in to the 2008 season Mangini said the quarterback race was open again but on 7th August the Jets acquired future Hall of Famer Brett Favre from the Green Bay Packers and Chad was released later that day. He would finish his Jets career with 13,738 yards, 102 TDs and 64 INTs.
Although there were reportedly at least 6 teams interested in signing Pennington following his release, the main 2 contenders were the Miami Dolphins and the Minnesota Vikings. He took only 1 day to make his decision, signing with his former divisional rivals the Dolphins on 8th August 2008 on a 2 year, $11.5 million deal. The main reason for his choice was the chance to re-unite with the man who drafted him – Bill Parcells – who was the Dolphins vice president of football operations at the time. He faced another battle to earn the starting quarterback role, this time against Chad Henne, and again he came out on top. It would turn out to be one of the best years of Pennington’s career, as he set the Dolphins franchise record for completion percentage in a single season with 67.4% and he finished with a career high 3,653 yards, 19 TDs and 7 INTs as he lead the Dolphins to an 11-5 record and their first AFC East divisional title in 8 years. He won his second Comeback Player of the Year award, and finished tied for second in MVP voting at the end of the season. The Dolphins would fall in the Wild Card round of the play offs, losing to the Baltimore Ravens 27-9.
Pennington was named starter again for the 2009 season, and the Dolphins started the season 0-2. During a week 3 affair against the San Diego Chargers he injured his rotator cuff in his right shoulder for the third time in his career and had to have season ending surgery. While there were questions raised about whether he would be able to play again or not he was determined to come back. He signed a 1 year deal with the Dolphins before the 2010 season, the value of which would depend on how much he played. He started the season as a backup before earning the starting role for a week 10 matchup against the Tennessee Titans, but unfortunately on his second snap of the season he suffered a severe shoulder injury and the play would end up being the last of his career. He wanted to come back for the 2011 season but tore his ACL during a basketball game in the off season and he announced his retirement on 9th February 2012.
Chad would finish his career with 17,823 yards, 102 TDs, 64 INTs and a 91.0 quarterback rating. Since retiring Chad has set up the 1st and 10 Foundation, a charity aiming to build stronger communities and improve the quality of life across West Virginia, Tennessee and the New York metropolitan area. He also set up a bull breeding farm called #10 Bucking Bulls with business partner JW Hart. They breed bulls for bull riding competitions and have bred numerous famous bulls on the competition circuit.