One week after sitting on the couch in his New York-area home watching the New York Jets battle the New York Giants on television with his family, Vinny Testaverde found himself back in the NFL, starting at quarterback for Carolina at Arizona on October 14.
On the day of the game against the Cardinals, Testaverde was 43 years and 335 days old.
In one of the amazing stories not only in franchise history but in the entire NFL, Testaverde not only started but threw a 65-yard touchdown to help the Panthers to a 25-10 victory. In the process, he became the oldest starting quarterback to win a game in NFL history.
The remarkable story began, ironically, a week earlier with a call to Testaverde not from Carolina but from Arizona.
After being released by the New England Patriots a month earlier, Testaverde returned to Long Island and settled into his new role as stay-at-home father to his three children. He thought his long NFL career, which had begun 20 years earlier, was finally over, and he was at peace with it.
Then the Cardinals called. Their second-year quarterback, Matt Leinart, who won the Heisman Trophy 18 years after Testaverde, had broken his collarbone and was out for the season. The team wanted to sign Testaverde to backup Kurt Warner, who was set to take over as the starter.
Three times earlier, Testaverde had attempted to retire. But the Dallas Cowboys lured him back in 2004, the Jets in 2005 and the Patriots again in 2006. This time, he thought he really was done for good and even had made plans to return his family to Tampa, Fla., where his NFL career began in 1987 with the Buccaneers.
Nonetheless, he verbally agreed to a contract with Arizona and made a plane reservation to fly to Phoenix. His children were not happy.
"They all seemed devastated," Testaverde later said. "They were sad about it."
So was Testaverde. He couldn't sleep that night and finally decided he didn't need to catch that plane. He called Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt the next day and said he simply didn't want to be that far away from his family.
But his wife, Mitzi, told him to keep his bags packed. "Somebody else might call," she said.
Sure enough, later Tuesday morning the phone rang again. This time it was Panthers strength and conditioning coach Jerry Simmons, who had worked with Testaverde earlier in his career for both the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens. Jake Delhomme, Carolina's starting quarterback, had suffered a season-ending elbow injury, and his replacement, David Carr, was dealing with a back injury.
With Charlotte only a 90-minute flight from New York, Testaverde felt much better from a family standpoint, knowing he could fly home to see his wife and kids at least once a week. The Panthers even agreed to let him go home on Sunday nights after games, so he could spend Monday and most of Tuesday with them before returning in time for the beginning of a normal week of practice on Wednesday.
Carr was still slated to start when Testaverde arrived at Bank of America Stadium 10 minutes before his first practice on Wednesday. But on the team flight to Arizona on Friday, Carr's back tightened up on him.
The night before the game, head coach John Fox delivered some startling news to Testaverde. "You're starting tomorrow," Fox told him.
"We were at the (team) snack after meetings, and he told me he felt good about it, and I told him I felt good about it, too," Testaverde said.
As for having only a few scant days to practice and study the playbook, Testaverde did not seem too concerned. He told Fox of the plays, "Just dial 'em up, and we'll go out there and throw it around."
That is precisely what Testaverde did, defying his age and the fact that he hadn't played in a game since appearing in three and throwing a total of three passes for the Patriots the previous season. He started slowly against Arizona, attempting mostly short passes. Testaverde completed 10-of-16 attempts for 74 yards in the first half as the Panthers trailed 7-6 at halftime behind two field goals by kicker John Kasay.
Warner, making his first start of the season for the Cardinals, left the game in the first quarter with an injured elbow and was replaced by Tim Rattay. Under different circumstances, it might have been Testaverde coming in to play against the Panthers instead of for them.
The conservative Carolina game plan, featuring mostly safe, short passes continued in the third quarter. But as the game progressed, wide receiver Steve Smith kept bugging Testaverde to throw him a deep ball.
"You can't overthrow me," Smith told him.
Testaverde wasn't so sure. But when he saw Smith run past Arizona cornerback Rod Hood midway through the fourth quarter, he heaved one about as far as he could throw it.
"When I threw the ball, I saw the defender stop and all I could think was, 'I just overthrew Steve Smith for a touchdown,' "Testaverde said. "But he caught it and ran, and I was looking at his feet the whole time to make sure he didn't run out of bounds."
Smith didn't stop running until he was in the end zone for a 65-yard touchdown that gave the Panthers a 15-10 lead. After Testaverde ran down the field to congratulate his wide receiver, Smith reminded him, "I told you that you couldn't overthrow me."
View photos of the Panthers during their 7-9 campaign in 2007.
"I believe you now," replied Testaverde, who finished the game by completing 20-of-33 passes for 206 yards and one touchdown with no interceptions to produce an 88.7 quarterback rating. The touchdown pass gave Testaverde at least one touchdown pass in 21 consecutive seasons, extending a NFL record he already owned.
Kasay later added his fourth field goal of the game, and running back DeAngelo Williams scored the game-clinching touchdown on a 13-yard run.
But all the talk afterward was about Testaverde, who had done what no quarterback his age had ever done in the long history of the NFL. He was the third-oldest quarterback to ever start a regular season game in league history, behind only Steve DeBerg (44 years, 279 days) and Warren Moon (44 years, eight days old), and neither of them had won then.
Testaverde ended end up starting five more games for the Panthers in 2007 before finally retiring for good and moving his family to Florida at season's end.