Throughout the 2006 season, the spotlight shined brightly on the Jets' starting veteran quarterback as he blazed through his first complete season in professional football. Then suddenly, on a rainy New York Monday morning in January, the light began to fade as Chad Pennington stood alone at a podium, reflecting on the rises and falls of his 2006 campaign.
"I think we all enjoyed this season; I know I enjoyed it," said Pennington, just one day after the Jets lost to the Patriots in the AFC Wild Card round. "I enjoyed the ups and downs and being able to go through a whole season. I enjoyed the journey, but I know the journey was cut short. That is something that I will think about the whole offseason. I'll work both personally as well as an individual football player to do what I can to become a better football player."
Following two surgeries on his throwing shoulder in 2005, Pennington's career as an NFL starter was in jeopardy. Last spring, he participated in mini-camps and OTA's restricted physically but flourishing emotionally. Trainers had to hold Pennington back at times because the passionate passer was as competitive as ever.
When the Jets medical staff unleashed Pennington in training camp, the former Marshall standout played every snap as if it were his last. Although he had posted impressive stats and wining records, an open quarterback competition loomed and Pennington had to earn back his spot as the Jets' leader on offense.
"The one thing that I have learned about this business is the NFL is about change," said Pennington. "That is probably the one constant within the NFL. It changes day-to-day, week-to-week, and year-to-year. What you have done in years past has nothing to do with what you are going to do in the present. You have to deal with those changes as a professional and understand that part of being a professional is how you react to those changes and respond the right way."
Although humble, Pennington remained confident in his abilities.
"My performance on the field over the last seven years speaks for itself, and I feel confident in that," he said. "I feel like when I take the field, I give us a chance to win and I am going to do everything in my power to help us win."
There is no doubt that Pennington has done everything he could to help the Green and White win. The 2006 Comeback Player of the Year winner led his team to an improbable ten victories and a postseason berth. Even with one of his most rewarding seasons under his belt, there is still much more Pennington wants to achieve.
"You are proud of how far your team has come, but at the end of the day there is something that still burns inside of you. You know there is still some unfinished business - stuff to take care of," Pennington said. "Your goal is wining a championship. That is what coach Mangini's goal is, and that is certainly my goal as a quarterback. As long as I play this game, my goal is winning a championship."
The after-hours Pennington spent at Weeb Ewbank Hall proved his dedication. His gray pickup truck has been a staple in the parking lot all year long at Jets' headquarters.
"It is tough to deal with when your season ends the way that ours ended yesterday. It's tough to deal with once you have gone through all of those things," Pennington said. "There is some finality that exists. It comes to an abrupt halt. You work so hard during the season and all through the offseason. and when it comes to an end like that it's tough. It's such a string of emotions at the end."