James Chadwick Pennington. The name alone is surrounded by grace. When talking about the football player from Knoxville, Tennessee, it is hard not to get emotional.
The more anyone reads about this 33-year-old quarterback, the more respect Pennington acquires, and rightfully so, one might add.
The man who was able to turn a 1-15 Miami Dolphins team into the AFC East Champions in one season never ceases to amaze me.
Taking a look back into his early years, it has never come easy for Pennington.
While in high school, he was only recruited by two colleges, both from the 1-AA. Nonetheless, Chad took part of a training camp in Marshall University, and displaying solid play, was offered a scholarship.
Then, in college, more hard work helped Chad go from initially being a fourth stringer to the starting role at week one of his freshman season. After redshirting his sophomore year, Pennington went back to the starting job and had record-breaking seasons.
Having Randy Moss as his No. 1 target, he led the Thundering Herd to a 13-0 season in his senior year, earning the nickname “The Golden Boy”. He gave the same effort in the classroom as well, graduating with a degree in journalism with a 3.83 GPA.
After being drafted by the New York Jets in the 2000 Draft, Pennington was only able to start after two seasons, replacing Vinny Testaverde in week five of 2002, and posted a career high 104.1 QB rating in what was his first year as the starter.
The type of potential the “Golden Boy” displayed was almost too good to be true.
However, as previously sated, nothing ever came easy for Chad Pennington.
Enduring nagging injuries in his left hand and right shoulder, Chad struggled until 2006. That was the first time he started all 16 games of a season.
After earning the Comeback Player of the Year Award in 2006, Pennington would get injured again in 2007, this time with a high ankle sprain, and end up losing his starting job to Kellen Clemens.
As anyone would expect, he faced his demotion with nothing less than class and grace. While never hiding his wishes to be the starter, Pennington never complained, and even helped Kellen Clemens to progress as a quarterback.
The turning point came in the 2008 offseason.
However, once again, Pennington would have to compete for the starting position on a team that had one win in 2007.
This is when the magic started. Upon landing the starter position, Pennington was able to lead the Dolphins to a 11-5 record, winning the AFC East Crown.
During his brief tenure with the Dolphins, Pennington has shone, and proved to be the leader every team looks for. An extremely hard-working player, Chad did everything possible to become the best player he could be.
His habits became famous and inspired his teammates. Things like 6 a.m. game tape sessions and weekly meetings with his linemen to work on chemistry are good examples of his superb leadership traits.
However, as repetitive as it may sound, nothing comes easy for Chad Pennington.
Even after posting a brilliant season that gave him the Comeback Player of the Year Award again, as well as being the runner-up in the league MVP voting, Pennington is still seen as a short-term solution for the Dolphins.
After such brilliant play and in a clutch time for the franchise—which was coming out of a 1-15 record—one would expect Pennington to be anointed the franchise player, the cornerstone of the team.
Still, entering his final contract year, Chad has no extension, no expectations after 2009, and is very aware, mostly because his head coach proclaims it on a daily basis, that he is to be replaced for second year player Chad Henne.
So what does he do? What is Pennington’s reaction to being seen as place holder?
He maintains his class and remains silent, and moreover, he actually works harder.
On a move that shocked and inspired his teammates, Chad started his personal offseason conditioning program on Feb. 4, only a few weeks after his season was over.
On a number of times, the quarterback called his wide receivers for private throwing sessions to keep up their timing. And, as the ultimate example of the kind of impact Chad has had on this team, everyone needs to know about what happened June 4, 2009.
This day, No. 10 hosted a barbecue at his place. While he simply invited “the team”, and gave them the directions, something incredible, not to mention improbable, took place.
There was full attendance. That’s right, every single player of the team showed up in Pennington’s house.
In the words of wide receiver Greg Camarillo, “It's really difficult to get all of the different social groups to gather in the same place…It was the kind of thing a college team would do. Everybody respects Chad, and everybody respects what he's trying to do for this team.”
To sum up just what a warrior this guy is, I cite the text message he sent his personal trainer in the first day of the Dolphins 2009 training camp: “I crushed the conditioning. We did it”.
For a 33-year-old, entering his 10th season, to have that kind of enthusiasm is somewhat amazing.
The result of all his hard work came when Pennington sprinted a 40-yard-dash in the same 4.8 seconds and weighed the same 230 pounds with the same 13 percent body fat that he did as a rookie 10 years ago. He is, once again, in the best shape of his life.
Throughout the entire year, Pennington had a phrase for whenever he grew tired: “January in Miami.”
The kind of effort Pennington put in to becoming a better player allows one to easily reach the conclusion that, as long as Miami has this “Golden Boy” leading the huddle, “January in Miami” will become a regular time and venue for large gatherings of people at the Dolphin Stadium region.