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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Pennington Finds His Game

By Gail Wood
Jan. 31, 2010

Chad Pennington is blessed - he's the NFL's most accurate quarterback among players who have thrown at least 1,500 career passes.

And he's cursed - he played in all 16 regular season games for only the second time in his nine-year career in 2008.

He tore his rotator cuff twice and broke his wrist playing eight seasons with the New York Jets.

A year after winning the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year award for the second time - when Miami went from a 1-15 record in 2007 to 11-5 in 2008 in Pennington's first year with the Dolphins - he got hurt again, injuring his shoulder in the third game of the 2009 season, which sidelined him for the year.

Now he's a candidate for the award a third time.

When the Jets cut the 33-year-old Pennington to sign Brett Favre in August 2008, the Dolphins signed Pennington less than 24 hours after his release by the Jets. Pennington went from unemployed to being the most accurate quarterback in NFL history with the Dolphins.

The son of a high school football coach said his inspiration for another comeback was simple. It was his faith and trust in Jesus Christ.

"I have been playing football a long time, and I have considered myself a Christian for a long time," Pennington said in a radio interview with Sports Spectrum. "But the 2008 season is the first season that I felt like I totally let go of my career and let the Lord have control of it."

Pennington said he tried as hard as he could to help the New York Jets for eight years. The results were good. He became the Jets starter in 2002 and led them to three playoff berths. But he was criticized for a lack of arm strength and lost his starting job midway through the 2007 season. When Favre signed with the Jets, Pennington was cut.

Pennington's success in New York was nothing like his first season with the Dolphins when he threw for a career-best 3,653 yards with 19 touchdowns and just seven interceptions.

"I finally got to the point that I took my hands totally off my career and let Him have it," Pennington told Sports Spectrum. "I let Him take me where He wanted me to go."

It's not that Pennington didn't stop preparing for the next opponent, didn't stop working hard and training to be his best. He just stopped fretting, worrying over the outcome of a game.

"The Lord has been trying to get me to totally let go of my career since I began playing in the NFL," Pennington said. "I finally did it. And I had such a peace and felt no pressure about playing. It was the most rewarding year I have had in the NFL because I felt I grew closer to the Lord."

With Miami, Pennington quickly became the team leader. He's also one of the hardest working quarterbacks in the league. On an off day, Dolphins Coach Tony Sparano was in his office and he phoned Pennington to talk about the offense. To Sparano's surprise, Pennington was in the team's film room, studying for the next game.

"You're not promised anything," Pennington said. "Good things and bad things can happen to anybody. You have to live every day like it could be your last. You just put every effort into making it a great day."

In 2008, Pennington was the guest speaker at the graduation ceremony at his alma mater, Marshall University in Huntington, W.Va. He talked about success and failure.

"What's success?" Pennington asked. "Sometimes, we think success is merely a destination, but it's actually a journey."

In his injury-filled NFL career, Pennington has had a knack for embracing failure. Not accepting it, but embracing it.

"In our society today, we've labeled failure as taboo," Pennington said. "We've been conditioned to avoid failure at all costs and not embrace our mistakes and use them as a learning tool."

Pennington is well versed in failure. And he's an expert at bouncing back.

"How do we truly know what success is without experiencing failure?" Pennington said.

In Pennington's remarkable 2008 season, the Dolphins reached the playoffs for the first time in seven years. In the Dolphins' 11-win season, Pennington had a passer rating of 97.4, the second-best mark in team history.

As the Dolphins' 13th starting quarterback since Dan Marino retired, Pennington is considered the best. Pennington, the NFL's all-time leader in career completion percentage at 66 percent, again completed more than 60 percent of his passes in 2008. In the final game of that season, Pennington completed 22 of 30 passes for 200 yards and two touchdowns to beat the New York Jets 24-17, knocking the Favre-led Jets out of the playoffs and beating the team that had cut him just five months earlier.

But Pennington looked at his comeback as a validation rather than with any sense of redemption or revenge.

He said all the training, the preparation and his approach to the game worked. It was easy to second-guess those fundamentals when things weren't going his way.

"When you do experience some success, that kind of solidifies exactly what you believe in," Pennington said.

Out of high school, Pennington was a lanky 6-foot-3, 175-pounder and was lightly recruited because of his slender build. He ended up at Marshall. Then four years later the Jets took him with the 18th pick in the first round of the 2000 draft and made him a millionaire.

But Pennington has learned something about wealth, fame and the cheering fans. It can all disappear in a moment. In 2006, his father, Elwood, had a heart attack. Pennington slept in his father's hospital room for three nights, waiting and praying for good news, grateful when his father recovered and made it home.

In a career of ups and downs, Pennington has discovered there's only one reliable truth he can lean on. It's that Jesus Christ is his Lord and Savior and that prayers are heard and answered.

"I think you just realize how fragile life is and how it can be taken really quickly," Pennington said.

GAIL WOOD is a frequent contributor to the Pentecostal Evangel Super Bowl Outreach Edition and is author of the book Saved Twice.

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