Vinny? Vinny who?

OK, so things didn't work out. We just weren't right for each other. But does our ex-QB have to do so well without us?

January 10, 1999|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,Sun Staff

This one's for Vincent Frank Testaverde. Vinny, we hardly knew ye. But ye is having a grand season. And Baltimore couldn't be happier for ye. Well, it could be happier but, well, it's complicated, Vinny. Such mixed emotions -- such a love 1/8 hate 1/8 passive 1/8 aggressive relationship. In your two seasons here, you led the Ravens to mediocrity. Now you're leading the AFC East champ New York Jets against Jacksonville in today's divisional playoff.

The winner plays either Miami or Denver, and that winner plays in a little diversion called the Super Bowl. That's right: Vinny "I Left My Losing Heart in Baltimore" Testaverde might just win the whole thing. It's been 30 years since the Jets won a Super Bowl, upsetting some team called the Colts ...

Away from Baltimore, Vinny has had a remarkable year. We know: different team, different coach, different town, blah, blah, blah. But the man has 29 touchdowns, is 12-1 as the Jets' starter, and received an invitation to the Pro Bowl. Still, Baltimore sports fans reserve -- rather preserve -- judgment.

"Vinny's problem has been solved temporarily -- and that's with coaching," says Butch Ergott of the Ravens Roost No. 40 booster club. Jets coach Bill Parcells is widely credited with aiding Vinny's dazzling season. "I think sooner or later he will revert back to making mistakes," Ergott says.

Now that's the spirit. Vinny could implode today and throw a very bad interception at a very bad time. And Baltimore might raise a glass and say, "That's our Vinny!" because we want to believe the Ravens were right in letting him go. Vindication!

Then again, Vinny might have the game of his life. Why did we let that big lug go? "Then a lot of people will turn around and say, 'I told you so! I told you so!' " Ergott says.

See, having a quarterback is like having a girlfriend (stay with me here). First, you're just amazed anybody will go out with you. For the Ravens' inaugural 1996 season, we had inherited Vinny from the Cleveland Browns. As Ergott puts it: "I was happy to have Vinny because it was all we had."

In the beginning of any relationship, everything is magical. There's much scoring. The Vinster threw for 4,177 yards and 33 touchdown passes. He was even asked to the prom that season (the Pro Bowl), though the Ravens won only four times.

Still, we never saw enough of each other. Vinny was commuting home to Tampa during the season. Unlike other well-known local athletes, he wasn't a regular at Sabatino's in Little Italy. Why, he didn't even attend Ravens Roost bull roasts, if you can fathom that slight. And Vinny didn't have his own TV or radio sports show -- much less appear on one, if he could help it.

"We have a radio show every Monday, and we tried getting him," says Don McCafferty, owner of McCafferty's restaurant in Mount Washington, host to WJFK's sports talk show on Monday nights. Ravens by the bushel drop by in-season. But Vinny made no cameos.

"Vinny wouldn't come out for anybody, and people got the wrong taste in their mouth for him," McCafferty says. Like Cal Ripken, Vinny values his privacy. But, as almost anyone would point out, Vinny is no Cal. Even this week, there's bound to be leftover hard feelings in Baltimore for Vinny.

"I'm sure plenty of people feel that way," McCafferty says.

Came 1997, year two of the Baltimore-Testaverde affair, and we got a good look at each other in the morning. And it wasn't always pretty: Fewer touchdowns, more interceptions, bad decisions in bad fourth quarters. Our eyes began to wander. Backup Eric Zeier looked mighty good on the sidelines. Our eyes met and, yes, Baltimore cheated on Vinny.

Zeier finished out the year, as the Ravens won six games. Vinny wasn't asked back to the prom, and in the off-season, quarterback Jim Harbaugh and Baltimore started going steady. The Ravens waived good-bye to Testaverde. (Remember the eloquent words of Ravens owner Art Modell at the time?: "I'm more interested in the players who are here than the players who ain't here.")

Oddly, Vinny's departure never achieved the historic status of the Night of the Mayflower Moving Vans. In fact, people lined up to help Vinny pack. "The Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears, New Orleans Saints and New York Jets may have interest in Testaverde," The Sun said in June 1998.

But we couldn't imagine anyone else really being interested in Vinny. He was through. History. Just like Reggie Jackson who, after leaving the Orioles in 1976, went on to fail dramatically with the New York Yankees. (OK, he didn't, but that's not the point.)

Somehow, Vinny came back this football season and looked better than ever. As the Ravens pulled off the trifecta of consecutive losing seasons, Baltimore was asking itself: What has Vinny done with his ... quarterbacking? New style? New brain? We had to give Vinny his due, past due.

"Vinny is one helluva athlete, and he's finally in a place with a good coaching staff surrounding him," McCafferty says. "He's always needed a little direction."

What are you really saying? Baltimore couldn't direct Vinny? We weren't good enough for Vincent Frank Testaverde? No, it cuts much deeper to the heart.

"Coach Parcells reminds me a lot of my father. He's very demanding, but he's also very caring," Testaverde confided to a Florida newspaper this season.

So, that's the bottom line. They always end up with someone who reminds them of their father.

Pub Date: 01/10/99

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