Lombardi: Battle of the old guys

PackerReport.com's John Lombardi explains why he was cheering a little bit for Vinny Testaverde during Sunday's game, and provides also some early playoff matchup possibilities

I was working in a dark room, making highlight tapes of college prospects for the Cleveland Browns when they signed Vinny Testaverde. The year was 1993. By then he had been playing football professionally for six years. Vinny backed up Bernie Kosar initially and eventually took over for him at the mid way point in the season.

Testaverde then got hurt. Instead of bringing in Kosar, Coach Belichick released him and went with Todd Philcox (There is a long story behind that, but it is not central to this story). A few games later, Vinny was healthy enough to come back in and did OK. The Browns finished the season 7-9. The next year he and Mark Rypien (who subbed for and injured Vinny a couple of games) led the Browns to the playoffs, beating the Patriots in the Wild Card Game and losing to the Steelers in Pittsburgh the next week.

Two things about the 1994 season have always stayed with me. One is that folks continue to say that Bill Belichick failed in Cleveland. He had them winning a playoff game by the fourth season. His tenure there was not great, but he built a team that made the playoffs only to be derailed by the tumultuous move to Baltimore (again another story for another day). The second was the rebirth of Testaverde's career. Prior to his play in Cleveland, he was considered a failure in Tampa. He was blamed for all of their struggles. It was nice to see him get a second chance.

After the season was over he signed a big extension and I was tasked with picking him up at the airport and then taking him back after the press conference. That time with him cemented my already decided belief that Testaverde is one of the true gentlemen in the game. He had won the Heisman. He had just signed a big contract for millions and was as humble and down to earth as anyone could imagine. We spent the return trip to the airport talking about high school lacrosse on his native Long Island.

I never tried to get to know the players. I was never in meetings with them or dealt with them much. It was not like we hung out or anything, but it was obvious to me that Testaverde was one of the good guys. Because of that, I have always wished for good things to happen to him.

So heading into Sunday's game, I was torn slightly. I want the run that the Packers are on to continue because it is fun to cover a winning team, but I wanted Vinny to play well and succeed. This is the problem I have living in Green Bay and covering the Packers. We all want the hometown team to do well, but I have too many other allegiances to fully back Green Bay. My brother coaches in New Orleans. One of my best friends coaches for the Titans. A couple of other lifelong friends work for Baltimore. Former bosses of mine work for the Raiders and Broncos. And of course their is Belichick in New England. It can get confusing at times and has caused problems in the past.

With Brett Favre and Vinny playing, we had the oldest quarterback match in league history. Brett did not look a day over 28, but Vinny looked his age at times. He did throw two touchdowns, but also two picks and had another nullified by a Packer penalty. At times he looked good, scrambling for yardage and making plays, but at other times his throws were off target and weak.

It was tough at times to watch considering I saw the man play as good a game as any quarterback in history. On the day after Christmas 1993, in Anaheim, Calif., he attempted 23 passes, completing 21 as the Browns beat the Rams. Of his two incompletions, he deliberately threw one away. He had one unintentional incompletion the whole day. We departed Cleveland in a snowstorm and landed in Southern California on Christmas Day. We stayed in a hotel near Disneyland. The only place open for dinner near the hotel was a Chinese place (a Christmas Story anyone?). After the game, as we entered the locker room through the old dugout, a fan, probably drunk, fell off the roof of the dugout and landed on the steps leading down to the tunnel. Luckily he did not hurt anyone and besides a great big hangover, I do not think he was damaged. What a trip.

Enough of the reminiscing.

I hate to sound like a broken record, but the Packers won convincingly yet did not impress me. Favre impresses me, as do the receivers. Donald Lee does not appear to have let his new contract get to him like some guys. The Panthers are just bad. Steve Smith was out, the defense is average and even though Testaverde and the run game showed flashes, they are not very good offensively. Without Smith they had no threat down the field.

With the Lions reverting back to form the past two weeks, the only test the Packer may get the rest of the year in down in Dallas. 14-2 or better is not unthinkable. The Raiders and Rams are bad. The Bears keep stumbling no matter who the QB is and like I said, the Lions may be slipping back to the pack.

The local economy and mental health Packer fans would benefit from some home playoff games this January. The NFC is top heavy with the Cowboys, Packers and Giants leading the way. The other contender appears to be the Seahawks out west. With Favre at the helm, there is no reason to think that they cannot play with all of them. The Cowboys and Seahawks have good quarterbacks, which scares me a bit and Eli Manning of the Football Giants is inconsistent, but can surprise you. If the season ended today, Dallas and Green Bay would get the bye. The Seahawks would play the Cardinals, Eagles or Redskins (all are 5-5) depending on the tie breaker. The Giants and Lions would square off in the other Wild Card Game.

Odds are the Giants and Seahawks win those match-ups with the Giants traveling to the higher seeded team and the Hawks heading to the other game. Assuming the Packers lose the game at Dallas, means they get Holmgren and the Birds.

It can be considered inopportune to talk of such things with six games to play, but the Packers have a three game lead on the Lions and the team just mailed out the Playoff tickets forms, so it is in the air.

Can the Packers ride the arm of Brett Favre to Playoff glory? It sure looks that way. He has been the better quarterback on the field each of their 10 games. Until Tony Romo proves he can match-up with Favre, he will be the better quarterback at least until the Super Bowl. Through 10 games, he has been significantly better than the other teams signal caller and that has been enough. Come playoff time, the gap will narrow and it will be interesting to see if the Packers have enough other weapons and players to make the difference.

John Lombardi is a frequent contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at johnlombardi22@yahoo.com.

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