Carolina Panthers

Delhomme, Testaverde connection more than just playing for Panthers

The team wasn't really sure where to turn. Their Pro Bowl starting quarterback suffered a season-ending injury early, and they were scrambling for replacements.

Yes, this is a story about Carolina Panthers quarterback Vinny Testaverde, but not the most recent one, and it comes around full circle to his current address.

Going into the 1999 season, the 35-year-old Testaverde was coming off perhaps his best season as a pro. He had thrown 29 touchdowns and just seven interceptions in 1998, posting an 12-1 record as the New York Jets' starter and leading them to the AFC Championship Game. But in the first game of the next year, he fell awkwardly diving on a fumble, tearing his left Achilles tendon in the process.

The Jets had a pair of guys to use (Ray Lucas and Rick Mirer), but Testaverde's injury had them thinking about the future, and they decided to start looking for some long-term projects with potential. They called in a pair of young quarterbacks for a workout, Jeff Brohm and a guy who kept bouncing between the New Orleans practice squad and roster named Jake Delhomme.

Of course, Testaverde's now replacing Delhomme, who underwent elbow ligament reconstruction surgery Thursday.

"We were making our list, figuring out who we'd sign if we had another injury," then-Jets quarterback coach and eventual Carolina offensive coordinator Dan Henning said. "When we were evaluating Jake, we saw a lot of the same things we liked about Vinny."

Henning said as he and head coach Bill Parcells watched the young passers, they were impressed by the young Delhomme's poise, his ability to improvise and his general bearing and maturity. And when Delhomme was a free agent in 2003, Parcells tried to sign him in Dallas, before bringing Testaverde in the following year.

"I've always had a high regard for guys who prepare and take the game as seriously as Vinny Testaverde and Jake Delhomme do," Henning said. "Those are the guys who do the right thing at crunch time; they're able to do things you haven't even coached them to do."

Keyshawn likes Vinny to start

Keyshawn Johnson caught passes from Testaverde when he was young, and when he thought Testaverde was over the hill.

And if things had worked out a little differently, he might have gotten to do so again here.

Johnson -- who retired after being cut by the Carolina Panthers this spring and took a job with ESPN as an analyst -- said he thinks Testaverde should continue to start at quarterback for the Panthers after his successful relief appearance last week in Arizona.

"If they can keep him healthy, he's better than David Carr," the outspoken Johnson said. "They have to protect him, but he gives them everything they need, and he can be the guy who takes them to the playoffs."

Johnson and Testaverde played together in two stops, from 1998-1999 with the New York Jets and in 2004 with the Dallas Cowboys. It's no accident that Johnson's career high in touchdowns came with Testaverde in 1998, and he thought the veteran passer should have gotten another chance with the rebuilding Cowboys, as well.

"The year we were together in Dallas, the pieces weren't in place," Johnson said. "I felt strongly that the guy could still play. Honestly, I didn't see that we upgraded ourselves with Drew Bledsoe."

Johnson's had several conversations with his old Panthers teammates about Testaverde, saying he told running back DeShaun Foster that the elder quarterback's passing touch was near-perfect.

"I told DeShaun, even before they cut me, that Vinny was this kind of guy," Johnson said. "When he throws, it's like a hand-off, that's how clean a ball it is."

And since Testaverde led them to a 25-10 win at Arizona, Johnson's heard back from some of them as well.

"I got a couple of texts from the fellas back there," Johnson said with a laugh. "The first one said: 'Your boy Vinny, ... Thank God.'"

Suitable accommodations

Testaverde keeps downsizing.

Part of the reason the Carolina Panthers were able to land the veteran quarterback was location, and now he's in the shadows of his workplace when he goes to bed each night.

The 43-year-old quarterback had agreed to sign with Arizona, but backed out at the last minute after deciding not to stray so far from his East Coast-based family.

He and his wife and three children are in the process of selling their 13,000-square foot Long Island mansion (it's on the market for $6.995 million), and relocating to a 7,090-square foot pad in Tampa, Fla. That one was a bargain at a cool $4.5 million, considering the eight-car garage and the elevator.

But he's living out of a suitcase here, taking a hotel room within walking distance of Bank of America Stadium -- the same one his friend and former Panthers coordinator Henning lived in for five years.

"That's a perfect spot for Vinny," Henning said with a laugh. "(Quarterbacks coach) Mike (McCoy) can fax him the game plan Tuesday night, and he'll walk in Wednesday morning asking all the right questions."