A successful return to the field from two rotator cuff surgeries to lead his team to a 10-6 record and a berth in the AFC Playoffs earned New York Jets quarterback Chad Pennington 2006 Associated Press Comeback Player of the Year.
"It does mean a lot to me because I've put in a lot of hard work, and a lot of people have supported me throughout the entire process and have put in a lot of hard work with me," Pennington said Thursday. "To me it's a group award; it involves so many people in so many different areas in so many different places that have taken time out of their schedule to help get me back to being the player that I want to be. I have a chance to play the game that I love to play, so it's special because there's so many people involved in getting me back healthy."
The seven-year pro from Marshall passed for 3,352 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2006, while completing 64.5 percent of his passes (313/485) for a 82.5 rating. For the first time in his career, he started all 16 games.
"I think that is a real testament to how hard he worked and all the things he does - not just professionally but personally to put himself in a position to succeed," said Jets head coach Eric Mangini of Pennington.
The Jets, who finished 4-12 in 2005 after Pennington went down with his second shoulder injury in Week 3, are in their first year under Mangini. They have won their last three games as they head into the AFC Wild Card Playoff game at New England Sunday at 1 p.m.
"I just think that understanding the process that I've gone through, understanding the journey that I've been through thus far makes it special knowing that hard work does pay off," said Pennington. "And that having the right attitude and believing in working hard and treating people right and going about doing your business the right way actually matters - it counts."
Pennington is the first New York Jets player to win this award, and the fifth quarterback to get the honor in nine years. Last year's recipients were New England linebacker Tedy Bruschi and Carolina receiver Steve Smith.
"I think the medical staff did an excellent job. The trainers, the doctors, and Chad all worked together to put together a plan," Mangini said. "It was a situation where everyone was open-minded, trying to explore as many different options as we possibly could as to what the best path would be. It worked, so I think it was a good path."
Pennington bested two quarterbacks in winning the award. He garnered 27 votes from a nationwide panel of 50 sportswriters and broadcasters who cover the NFL. Saints' QB Drew Brees, the 2004 winner, finished second with 8.5 and the Bengals' Carson Palmer was third at 5.5. Cleveland tight end Kellen Winslow received five votes, Eagles' QB Jeff Garcia got two votes, while Eagles RB Correll Buckhalter, Denver receiver Javon Walker, New Orleans RB Deuce McAllister and Tennessee RB Travis Henry each got one vote.