OXNARD, Calif. -- Vinny Testaverde is Bill Parcells's starting quarterback again. And although it is six years later and their team is different, Parcells and Testaverde still speak the same language, just as they did when Parcells coaxed a career-best season out of Testaverde and the two carried the New York Jets to within a step of the Super Bowl.
When Parcells informed Testaverde on Wednesday of his decision to release the Dallas Cowboys' incumbent starter at quarterback, Quincy Carter, and give the job to Testaverde, he could do so in verbal shorthand.
"I'll tell you the exact conversation," Parcells said here the following day, between Cowboys' training-camp practices. "I said, 'You want the good news or the bad news?' He said, 'Well, give me the bad news.' I said, 'The gig's up on you.' " That was Parcells's way of saying, jokingly, that if Testaverde had any notions of spending a leisurely season as Carter's backup, he'd better dispel them quickly. In truth, the Cowboys had assured Testaverde after he was released by the Jets that he'd have a chance to compete with Carter in camp for the starting job. Testaverde used a boxing analogy to reassure his coach that he was more than ready to play, saying he was anxious to get back into the ring.
"He said to me, 'Are you giving me my boxing gloves back?' " Parcells said. "I said, 'Yeah, I'm giving them back. Do you want them?' He said, 'That's what I came for.' " Testaverde turns 41 in November and hasn't been a full-time NFL starter since 2001. But he is a fitness fanatic. He knows Parcells's methods and Parcells's offensive system, and he threw the ball well last season while filling in for injured Jets starter Chad Pennington.
"This is an offense I've run for a few years up in New York, so I'm confident I can be successful within this system," he said. " . . . I can't sit here and tell you I'm going to make it through the season. Not many starting quarterbacks do make it through a full season, no matter what the age. But I know I've worked my butt off to give myself the best chance to go through a full season. If it doesn't happen, the next guy is going to have to step up and do it. If it does happen, hopefully it will be good enough to take us to a championship game."
The Cowboys have two backups, Drew Henson and Tony Romo, who haven't played an NFL game, and Parcells said he will spend the remainder of training camp and the exhibition season getting as much work as he can for them without jeopardizing Testaverde's preparations for the season. Parcells said he is resisting the urge to add a veteran quarterback because there wouldn't be enough work to go around.
Henson, a former eye-catching prospect who split time at the University of Michigan with Tom Brady before spending three years playing baseball in the New York Yankees organization, said he will be ready if needed by the time the season arrives. He said that he and Romo will use Testaverde as a resource.
"He's been in the league," Henson said. "This is his 18th year. He's pretty much been through every situation you could be. The more I can learn from him, the more it will help me down the line."
In his first go-around with Testaverde, Parcells convinced the quarterback to utilize shorter passes more effectively rather than always looking down the field. The result was a 1998 season in which Testaverde threw for 3,256 yards and 29 touchdowns (with only seven interceptions) and the Jets, two years after going 1-15, reached the AFC title game. But his '99 season was ended by a ruptured Achilles' tendon suffered in the opening game, and Parcells left the Jets' sideline following that season. Parcells said he is giving himself a refresher course on coaching Testaverde.
"It involves his personality more than anything else," Parcells said. "Vinny is a very meticulous person. So if things aren't orderly, it's disturbing to him . . . . I think one of the reasons why he had success with me before was when he came there I told him, 'You just play quarterback and I will worry about all the other things. You don't have to worry about chewing those receivers out because they did something. I'll do it. So you just concentrate on your job, and you don't have to orchestrate the whole thing. I'll try to do that for you.' I think that put him a little bit at ease."
Parcells plans to refine the offense to suit Testaverde, but not overhaul it.
"It's not hard," Parcells said. "I'm used to doing it. I had to do it right in the middle of the season for [former New York Giants quarterback Jeff] Hostetler once. You don't change 80 percent of the things. But the 20 [percent] that the guy can do better than the other guy or the 20 that the guy can't do as well as the other guy, you change them. That's just good business.
"The thing you're going to notice about Vinny if you watch him for any length of time is, Vinny is really pretty hard to sack because even if they [defenders] try to tackle him, he's so strong that sometimes they can't get him down. That's really true. If you don't get a good shot at him, he's so powerful that he can just kind of throw you off . . . . Don't underestimate his power. That's all I can tell you. He's a physical phenom. He really is. That doesn't mean you're going to stay healthy in the NFL. But I'll put him up against most 40-year-olds I know."