Moving to Texas to be reunited with a coach for whom he had the best year of his career seemed like a good idea to Vinny Testaverde, a no-brainer really.
Sure, Dallas's Bill Parcells was tough, but Testaverde, who turns 41 in November, knew the coach was going to give him a chance to compete with Quincy Carter for the starting job. But that all changed when the Cowboys released Carter in training camp.
The day after he cut Carter, Parcells said he'd broken the news to Testaverde by joking that if the quarterback had any notion of coasting through a relaxing season, he'd better discard it.
"I said, 'You want the good news or the bad news?' '' Parcells said. "He said, 'Well, give me the bad news.' I said, 'The gig's up on you.' ''
Two games into the season, is it ever. A national television audience saw Parcells delivering a little more bad news to Testaverde on Sunday, cursing him out and questioning his IQ in the Cowboys' 19-12 victory over Cleveland. Parcells was enraged because Testaverde, who passed for 322 yards and a touchdown, had missed two touchdowns by throwing to the wrong receivers, according to Parcells, and threw interceptions on three straight second-half possessions. Parcells could hardly believe what he was seeing from Testaverde, an 18-year veteran who leads the league with 677 passing yards in the first two games.
The talk in the locker room afterward wasn't about Testaverde finding a wellspring of youth for his arm, but about the need for him to rediscover the savvy that should go along with being a quarterback who broke into the league during the Reagan administration. Testaverde said he'd need a thick skin in practice this week and all but apologized for his play. "I made very poor decisions in the second half,'' he said.
Veteran tailback Eddie George said: "Vinny is a pro. He'll bounce back."
Parcells and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones did see some good along with the bad. Testaverde delivered when the Cowboys needed one last, big throw, connecting with wide receiver Terry Glenn for a 37-yard gain and a first down that enabled the team to run all but the final nine seconds off the clock.
"Vinny Testaverde's experience allows him to shake it off and make that throw to Terry Glenn with the game on the line," Jones said.
Said Testaverde, "I knew sooner or later, it was going to come down to making a throw."
Testaverde is the first Cowboys quarterback since Don Meredith in 1963 to have consecutive 300-yard passing games and is the first NFL quarterback to have back-to-back 300-yard performances at age 40.
The burden on him to carry the Dallas offense will be even greater with the Cowboys playing the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field on Monday night. The Cowboys have lost rookie tailback Julius Jones for at least two months because of a broken shoulder blade, and George mostly has looked old and slow since being signed in July.
The Cowboys are crossing their fingers that Testaverde, who has thrown an NFL-high 85 passes, can last through the season since they have two untested youngsters, rookie Drew Henson and second-year pro Tony Romo, as backups. Testaverde is a fitness fanatic, and Parcells said in training camp: "He's a physical phenom. 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."
Of course, most 40-year-olds don't play in the NFL. Still, Testaverde had his career-best season playing for Parcells (they were together two seasons) with the New York Jets. In 1998, he 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 Testaverde's '99 season ended when he ruptured his Achilles' tendon in the opening game, and Parcells left the Jets' sideline after that season. Their reunion came in June, after Parcells already had added Testaverde's favorite target from '98, wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson.
Parcells spent the rest of the offseason and training camp giving himself a refresher course on coaching Testaverde. He consulted his offensive coordinator with the Jets, Dan Henning. Parcells convinced Testaverde to stop making so many risky throws down the field and sustain drives with shorter, safer passes. He also had a deep understanding of Testaverde's mind-set.
"Vinny is a very meticulous person," Parcells said last month. "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."
Testaverde, who last was a full-time NFL starter in 2001, says he went to the Jets to play for Parcells and came to Dallas to play for Parcells.
"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. . . . I can't sit here and tell you I'm going to make it through the season," Testaverde said in training camp. "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."