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Vinny Testaverde has seen this before


CHARLOTTE — The Panthers were scrambling a bit, looking for a veteran quarterback to come in and play soon, since their starter was hurt.

The task was complicated a bit, knowing they'd have to get him to Charlotte and turn him around in a hurry to make the long trip to Arizona that weekend.

The fact there was a former No. 1 overall pick sitting on his couch, being a dad, waiting for them to call, was fortuitous, though it still took a little convincing to get him on the plane.

"Yeah, I think Cam will be OK; he's a lot younger than I was when I did it," Vinny Testaverde said this week.

Wait, what?

Before the Panthers brought 2011's top pick Cam Newton back, they did it before in 2007, with the 1987 No. 1 overall pick (two years before Newton was born) coming in on short notice.

The Panthers can only hope it works as well in the short term, as back then, Testaverde ended up starting his first game, and they beat the Cardinals 25-10. He became the oldest starting quarterback to win a game in NFL history that day (at 43 years, 335 days) , though that record has since been broken by some whippersnapper named Tom Brady.

If the 32-year-old Newton plays Sunday, it will likely be in a limited role since he's only had one actual practice, but the scene bears more than a passing resemblance.

Testaverde turned 58 Saturday, and we think it's safe to say this time he's finally retired.

And he laughed as he recalled his stint with the Panthers, which came after starting quarterback Jake Delhomme's elbow unraveled, requiring Tommy John surgery. Then backup David Carr suffered a back injury in New Orleans the week before. That left rookie Matt Moore as the only healthy quarterback on the roster. Testaverde thought he was coming to be a backup, but when Carr's back tightened up on the long flight out to the desert, it became his turn in a hurry. The Cardinals had actually tried to sign him the week before when their backup Matt Leinart was injured, but Testaverde didn't want to stray far from his East Coast roots. A call from then-Panthers strength coach Jerry Simmons (whom Testaverde had worked with in Baltimore) helped convince him to join Carolina.

Vinny Testaverde

Testaverde had agreed to terms with the Panthers the Tuesday night before, but his flight from New York was canceled, and he didn't get to Charlotte until moments before practice.

"I got there Wednesday morning, took the physical, and was literally running out to practice not knowing the situation," he said.

Testaverde actually caught a ride on a cart for the last portion of the trip, riding with kicker John Kasay (it was that long ago) and Steve Smith Sr..

"I just remember that on Wednesday and Thursday and Friday, I was kind of splitting reps with Matt in practice," Testaverde recalled. "Then when David's back got tight, (then-head coach) John Fox comes to me Saturday night in the meeting, and said 'Are you ready?' At that point, it's like 'Let's go do it.'"

Vinny Testaverde

Testaverde did it pretty well, passing for 206 yards, including a 65-yard touchdown to Smith. It was an impressive feat for any quarterback, but for a man of his vintage, even more so.

Newton said Friday he had been a "workout fiend," during his off-time, and Testaverde likewise impressed his new teammates with his strength.

"The man got off the airplane Wednesday morning, and started bench-pressing 250 pounds," Smith said this week, still amazed at the condition Testaverde kept himself in. "I knew that man was different as soon as he walked in the door."

Vinny Testaverde

Testaverde wasn't with the Panthers long, finishing up the 2007 season by taking a knee in the season finale in Tampa Bay (where his career began). But he made quite an impact in his short time with the Panthers. When running back DeAngelo Williams was caught from behind after a long touchdown, Testaverde used it as a teaching tool, telling his new young teammate to finish every run. Williams did as he was told. Likewise, Smith was quickly impressed by the lessons Testaverde taught.

"Back then, I was young; I had no idea what was going on," Smith said. "But Vinny Testaverde came in, and he taught me so much. It was one of the great a-ha moments of my career. There were so many receivers I had respected and emulated, like Terry Glenn and Wayne Chrebet and Keyshawn Johnson who made so many plays, and Vinny was that guy. He coached me up the rest of that season, and he'd take me into the receivers room and shared the things he had learned.

"I'm indebted to him to this day, because Vinny showed me the importance of sharing what you learn. Now I'm the old vet, and I'm going to teach these young players what I know the way he did."

Vinny Testaverde, Steve Smith

Testaverde knew that mentorship was part of the deal, and with the realities of an old (even if in incredible shape) body meant he wasn't available every week.

He said he didn't envision that being as much of a problem for a player of Newton's talents.

And while the situations are different in some regards, Testaverde said he expected Newton would be a different person in his second stint here. That was certainly what Newton sounded like in Friday's first press conference back, when Newton talked at length about gratitude.

Testaverde said that's how he felt when he got to go back for a second stint with the Jets, and he thinks Newton will embrace this second chapter.

"When I went back to the Jets, I realized I had built all these amazing relationships over the years," Testaverde said. "And I looked forward to going back in there because of that. When you know these people you work with, not just coaches and players, but everyone in the building, it makes it that much more special. It was a distraction at first because of all the media buildup, but it was exciting to go back in and have the focus be on the football. And then when you talk and listen to the people you've met over the years, it's so much fun, to go back to a place where you've had success."

That sounds a lot like Newton's own words as well.

And while no one knows how Newton's second act will play out, Testaverde thinks there's a good chance for success. Like Newton, he also had a stint with the Patriots, and said he knew more football leaving there after a year working for Bill Belichick.

"It'll be interesting to see how quickly he can help them win, because they've already got a really good defense they can rely on," Testaverde said. "He'll be able to do things to help them win, as soon as he gets acclimated. It's great exposure for any quarterback to go to New England, to learn their system, because it helps you with whatever else you have to learn.

"It'll be interesting to see how it goes, because I think he'll find that level of comfort pretty soon, even though things have changed."

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