Pennington's hard-luck legacy

March, 31, 2011
3/31/11
3:36
PM ET
Nov. 7, 2004. That's the day it all changed for Chad Pennington.

On that day in Orchard Park, N.Y., Pennington tore the rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder. He put off surgery until after the season -- talk about taking one for the team -- the start of an incredible run of rotten luck.

It was the first of four operations on his shoulder. Undaunted, Pennington was planning another comeback, but that may have ended Thursday with the news, first reported by ESPN's Chris Mortensen, that he suffered a severe knee injury while playing basketball and needs ACL surgery.

If this is indeed the end for Pennington, who turns 35 in June, it has to be one of the most star-crossed careers in recent memory. Younger Jets fans may not remember, but Pennington was the hottest thing in New York in 2002, when he replaced Vinny Testaverde in the fifth game and rallied the Jets to the playoffs.

Get this: In 399 pass attempts, he threw only six interceptions -- for a first-time starter. He drew comparisons to a young Joe Montana. Even Montana said Pennington was the real deal.

He missed seven starts in 2003, but that was because of a freakish broken left hand in the preseason. The real tumble started on Nov. 7, 2004, when he went down hard on a scramble. It was the beginning of the end. He won the NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 2006 and 2008 (with the Dolphins), but the cumulative effect of the shoulder injuries robbed him of his chance for greatness.

The sad part is, no one wanted it more than Pennington, a gym rat with Peyton Manning-esque dedication. Here's a little-known story about Pennington that should tell you something about his DNA:

When he was a kid in Tennessee, he suffered a finger-tendon injury on his right hand while playing in the mountains near his house. He could've received a doctor's note and skated through school assignments because he couldn't write, but Pennington taught himself to write lefthanded.

In case you need reminding, Pennington won more games over the past decade than any starting quarterback for the Jets. Here's a breakdown (since 2000):

Chad Pennington .... 32-29 (plus 2-3 in the playoffs)
Vinny Testaverde ... 23-24 (0-1 in the playoffs)
Mark Sanchez ........ 19-12 (4-2 in the playoffs)
Brett Favre ........... 9-7

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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