One last Sunday

This is an ending to an NFL season that I wouldn’t have dreamt possible this past August.  This is good karma versus bad karma, the white hat coming back for the black hats: Chad Pennington with a shot at revenge and the playoffs with the Miami Dolphins, and the New York Jets getting what is coming to them, big-screen style.

Suddenly, with last year’s 1-15 Dolphins having nearly culminated the greatest one-season turnaround in recorded NFL history, and on the throes of a playoff berth as the number 3 seed in the AFC (the #3 seed? from 1-15 to the third-ranked team in the AFC bracket, in a single season?), ‘Fins fans and media outlets far and wide are hopping gleefully onto the Pennington express.

Just a few, more recent examples of Penny mania:

Despite all the fanfare, positive sentiment, and relative success, there must still be something of a sour taste in Pennington’s palate, as he and Philip Rivers (among other deserving players) were snubbed from the Pro Bowl roster, in favor of several players who have absolutely no business being there — most notably, Brett Favre, whose numbers this year are far inferior to Pennington’s: in a nutshell, Pennington has the second-best passer rating in the NFL, and has amassed a career-high total in passing yards, on a team of relative no-name receivers (I know two die-hard ‘Fins fans who couldn’t name three of their WRs until a month into the season), while Favre ranks 18th in the NFL as a passer.  Both Pennington and Rivers, the only QB ranked higher than Pennington, were snubbed.  But while Pennington downplays any drama and refuses to speak of revenge, he has a shot at something even more sweet than the Pro Bowl.

Pennington and Favre

Week 17: Pennington and Favre

This is a guy who has bucked the mercenary trend of professional athletes, who are out for the most money they can get, anywhere they can get it.  This is a guy who, instead of looking for a big payday after successful individual and team seasons, restructured his contract with the Jets — twice — in order to get them more money under the salary cap to go out and improve the team.  Of course, their inept front office failed to do so, but that certainly isn’t Pennington’s fault.  In fact, his actions in total proved that he was resolute to continue to do whatever necessary to improve the team, at any personal sacrifice or cost: he also agreed to compete for the starting job in lieu of a sure-fire starting position elsewhere.  This is a guy who pushed several bad-to-mediocre teams into success and playoff runs, in what may be, from top to bottom, the toughest and most competitive division in all of sports.  And the reward for his efforts, selflessness, and team-first play: two years of competing with Kellen Clemens for the starting QB job on a bad team, inane and relentless bad-mouthing from Jets’ fans and press (the term “noodle arm” comes to mind), and then a toss to the trash heap in favor of an aged Brett Favre.  The Jets thoughtlessly cast away their present and future in Pennington for a one-time shot at success with Favre.

Regardless of what happens this coming Sunday, it seems relatively safe to say that the Jets’ strategy has backfired, and that while Pennington plays on in Miami, the Jets will be scrambling for yet another starting quarterback next month to draw fans to their new, overpriced stadium, when Favre finally announces his retirement … again.

On a much smaller and less grand scale, Sunday will be a source of personal, inner conflict for me: I’ve become a big fan of Pennington’s, while I have something of an obligation to root for the Jets.  But since three of the AFC East’s four teams are alive in the playoff mix until day’s end on Sunday (ironically, the odd team out, the Buffalo Bills, has a chance to play spoiler to the Patriots), and since of the three, only the Dolphins control their own destiny (if they win, they are in), perhaps I’ll root for them, and for the prodigal son of a quarterback who will undoubtedly struggle with his own conflicting feelings that day.  I just hope he can get through the distractions and into the game with a clear head, and that, in the end, everyone gets what’s coming to them.

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