Class act Testaverde goes to head of class

December 15, 1996|By Ken Rosenthal

It was one of the most touching scenes of the Ravens' inaugural season, the ovation Vinny Testaverde received after practice Thursday for making the Pro Bowl.

But it wasn't just his teammates and coaches cheering.

Anyone who knows Testaverde -- knows of the dignity he maintained through a decade of unabated criticism -- rejoiced at the news.

"I couldn't have been happier for him," said Sam Wyche, Testaverde's former coach in Tampa Bay. "You're talking about one of my favorite people in the business."

Vinny in the Pro Bowl.

Who could have imagined?

It's one of the feel-good stories of the NFL season.

It took Testaverde 10 seasons to make the Pro Bowl. As best as the NFL can determine, Tommy Kramer was the only other quarterback to be named to his first Pro Bowl this late in his career (Jeff Hostetler and Steve Bono both made it in their 11th seasons, but as alternates).

What's more, Testaverde also could become the first quarterback from a 4-12 or 5-11 team to make the Pro Bowl, again according to unofficial NFL research.

The Ravens are 4-10 entering today's game at Carolina. Bobby Hebert made the Pro Bowl with a 6-10 Atlanta team in 1993.

That mark is out of reach for the Ravens unless they produce their first road victory and first two-game winning streak.

Not likely.

You could argue that Jacksonville's Mark Brunell is more deserving of the Pro Bowl, but it's only proper that Testaverde is getting the recognition that eluded him for so long.

Here's a guy who was benched last season in Cleveland.

A guy who was ridiculed for being colorblind in Tampa with a bright blue billboard that said, "Vinny thinks this is orange."

A guy who is still best remembered for the five interceptions he threw against Penn State in the 1987 Fiesta Bowl.

The untold story is Testaverde's character.

He never complains and always takes responsibility for his errors.

"He was always a quiet guy," said Wyche, who is now a broadcaster for NBC. "He still is. Introverted is too extreme, but it's close. He can see introverted from where he is.

"He's just a quiet guy who doesn't have an ego, doesn't have a self-promoting bone in his body. He's just a good person. He wants to go out, do well, come home and raise the kids."

The problem is, he's an NFL quarterback, so life isn't that simple.

Even now, Testaverde is prone to "Vinny Moments," inexplicable blunders at critical times that cause major damage.

But seriously, how many quarterbacks are better?

Favre, Aikman, Elway, Marino, Young, maybe a few others. But that's it. Testaverde ranks second in the NFL to Favre with 29 touchdown passes, and fifth with an 89.7 quarterback rating.

Wyche has called two of his poorer games -- the 31-17 loss at Pittsburgh and the 38-20 defeat in San Francisco in which Testaverde was injured in the second quarter.

Still, he noticed the difference.

"No question, he comes out of the huddle more confident," Wyche said.

Ted Marchibroda is the first head coach to get this much out of Testaverde. Don Strock, Testaverde's ninth quarterback coach in 10 years, is another major factor in his breakthrough.

But Vinny is the one who had to persevere.

Two Super Bowl quarterbacks -- Steve Young and Doug Williams -- couldn't succeed in Tampa. Testaverde, the No. 1 pick in the 1987 draft, was supposed to be a savior. He never had a chance.

Wyche pleaded with him to stay in Tampa after the '92 season, but Testaverde signed with Cleveland as the backup to Bernie Kosar, the quarterback who beat him out at the University of Miami.

What happened?

Former Browns coach Bill Belichick became so enamored of Testaverde's ability, he eventually cut Kosar, who was only the biggest football hero in Cleveland since Jim Brown.

Typical Vinny luck.

Even in '94, no one in Cleveland remembered the playoff game he won against New England, only the one he lost to Pittsburgh.

Baltimore offered a clean slate -- or, at least, as clean as Testaverde would ever get.

And, for the first time, he put everything together.

"I thought he always threw the ball with authority -- that has never been a factor," Wyche said. "But the receivers are working for him. And the protection is good. All that builds confidence.

"He understood he was having a good year. And he just fed off it."

Wyche is thrilled.

So is everyone else who knows Testaverde.

"This is not a surprise or a fluke," Wyche said. "This guy is capable of playing this kind of football."

Vinny in the Pro Bowl.

What a concept.

Pub Date: 12/15/96

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