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Oh, What a Night for Vinny and the Jets

Vinny Testaverde has always politely thumbed his nose at Father Time.

He famously climbed off his Long Island couch at the age of 41 to answer the call as the Jets' emergency starting quarterback in 2005. When Vinny from Elmont was done with that gig, he went on to another season as a Patriots backup, and yet another as a six-game starter for the Panthers. He says he's in better shape now, five weeks away from his 47th birthday, working out and playing golf in Tampa, than he was as a player.

Maybe time passes differently for him because he remains so young physically and young at heart. Bring up the Monday Night Miracle, just as an example, and he marvels not at how long it's been since that remarkable night and morning of Oct. 23-24, 2000, but at how recently it occurred.

"You know, it doesn't seem like 10 years ago," he told this week. "It seems like it was yesterday. There are certainly a lot of great memories for me in my football career, but that was one of my most memorable games."

Testaverde's not alone, of course. And we'll all take a stroll down memory lane on Monday night at halftime of the Jets-Vikings game, a dozen days shy of a decade later, to relive and celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Jets' comeback from 23 points down entering the fourth quarter to defeat the Dolphins, 40-37 in overtime.

There will be reminders out in the plazas of New Meadowlands Stadium before the game and on the videoboards during the first half. Then at halftime, the sellout crowd can bask in the moment with as many as 20 of the Jets who participated in that game. The players will take the field, wearing their game jerseys, to remember and to be remembered for the many heroics in that game.

And Testaverde, No. 16 for the Green & White fans of that era, will speak to the crowd. Perhaps he will conjure up some of the magic words he found at halftime that night as the Jets went to their locker room at the old Meadowlands stadium trailing, 23-7.

"I know offensively, we were embarrassed. I think we didn't make a first down until some time in the second quarter," he recalled. "I just remember going in at halftime thinking that everybody seemed so uptight. We were playing very tight, not loose, and you know when you play that way, you tend to make mistakes or not play your best.

"Jogging off the field, I was trying to think about what I could tell the guys without sounding rah-rah or ticked off. I said, 'Hey, guys, we've already embarrassed ourselves. Don't think about winning the game. Let's just go out and play football like we can and not embarrass ourselves any more. Let's get a couple of touchdowns.' "

The offense showed more life in the third quarter, but Miami scored again to make it 30-7 and it still took about 16:11 of the second half to get the O in the flow. But once that happened, there was no stopping the avalanche. First came the near-interception touchdown pass to Laveranues Coles, LC's first TD as a pro. The next drive was topped by a 1-yard dart to TE Jermaine Wiggins.

Then John Hall's first field goal, then Wayne Chrebet's second touchdown, a lunging snare that evened the score at 30-30 with 3:55 left in regulation. A long Brock Marion kickoff return and Leslie Shepherd's second long TD reception from Jay Fielder put the 'Fins back on top by seven and for the second time Shepherd put his index finger to his lips to "quiet the crowd."

But the crowd — and the Jets — wouldn't hear of it. They were rolling, all the way to the iconic play of this game, Testaverde's play-action flip to "tight end" Jumbo Elliott. Some say Jumbo caught three touchdowns that night but only the last one, after a replay review, counted and with 42 seconds left, it was tied again, at 37.

"I remember Laveranues making a great touchdown catch, Wayne had a fantastic night, and of course Jumbo's catch — that was probably the most memorable play for a lot of us that night," Testaverde recalled. "Just seeing him and how his face lit up on the Jumbotron while they were doing their replay and said it was actually a touchdown ... there were a lot of memorable moments within that game."

Soon it was time to put the finishing touches on the comeback. Marcus Coleman made his third interception of Fiedler on the night — and his second of the overtime — and Testaverde and the offense started one last drive, a 43-yard miniseries that culminated in Hall's 40-yard field goal try that hooked dramatically to the left but stayed inside the uprights. At 1:20 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct., 24, 2000, the Jets had completed the comeback.

The game lives on. It was quickly voted the best game in MNF history and video highlights live on to this day, no doubt on YouTube but also on The touchdown pass to Elliott is captured in play diagram form on the labels of Jets Uncorked wine being marketed this year.

And fans and players talk 10 years later about how they either stayed in the stands or went to bed early, had their doubts or believed all the way. One fan on said the game was "awe-inspiring," another termed it "a once-in-a-lifetime event." Shaun Ellis, a first-round rookie DE that season described it as "unbelievable."

And what about Testaverde, the polite but powerful big-armed quarterback from L.I. and "the U" and more than a few NFL datelines, who will speak to Jets fans on Oct. 11, 2010 — Columbus Day, no less? Does he believe a miracle began to occur shortly after midnight that night?

"Pretty much knowing at halftime that we didn't have a chance to win, then getting out of there sometime after 1 a.m. with a victory ... would you call that a miracle?" Testaverde mused. "I think that's pretty accurate."

Here is the list of 20 Jets players in that game who are expected to return to the Meadowlands for Monday night's celebration at halftime of the Jets-Vikings game (*still unconfirmed due to scheduling conflicts):

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