Pennington, Favre to cross paths again in Sunday's opener

DAVIE, Fla. -- Chad Pennington fondly recalls the first game of his NFL career, even though he didn't play. He was the third-string quarterback for the New York Jets, who beat the Green Bay Packers and Brett Favre.

"My first opening day," Pennington said Wednesday. "Having a chance to go to Lambeau Field for the first time, that was unbelievable. I'll never forget it, even though I wasn't even playing. The emotions were unbelievable. It was really fun."

Eight years later, Pennington prepares for another Jets opener Sunday, and again the opposing quarterback will be Favre. But this time Pennington will start for his new team, the Miami Dolphins, after being replaced in New York by Favre, who left Green Bay after 16 seasons and a summer soap opera.

"What a storyline," Dolphins defensive end Vonnie Holliday said.

There are other juicy elements to help reinvigorate the once-fervid Jets-Dolphins rivalry. A new era begins for the Dolphins under the regime led by former Jets coach Bill Parcells. Miami's Tony Sparano makes his debut as an NFL head coach against Parcells protege Eric Mangini. The game introduces the top overall pick in this year's draft, Dolphins tackle Jake Long.

That's why the opener is generating a lot of buzz for two teams who went a combined 5-27 last year. Both believe they'll be better, in part because of the recent changes at quarterback.

Favre joined the Jets four weeks ago following an acrimonious divorce from the Packers. The next day the Jets released Pennington, who started 61 games for them but was benched at midseason last year.

"We know he's fired up," Holliday said. "He has to have a chip on his shoulder."

But Pennington said an NFL opener provides all the adrenaline he needs, and he's not seeking retribution.

"I would be remiss to say there are no emotions at all," he said. "None of us are emotionless beings. But my whole focus has been on what we need to do to try to win.

"Brett are I are in similar situations. We came to new teams at the same time. I remember hearing Brett say it's like being a rookie all over again, and it really has been. Both of us have to rely on our experience to take us through this."

They have plenty of success to draw upon. Pennington's detractors criticize his arm strength and durability, but his 65.6 career completion percentage ranks first among NFL passers with at least 1,500 attempts, and his leadership earns raves. Miami players this week unanimously chose their new teammate as captain.

But on Sunday, Pennington must settle for second billing to Favre, the three-time NFL MVP who led Green Bay to a Super Bowl title and holds league passing records for yards and touchdowns.

Favre threw for 4,155 yards last season and led the Packers to the NFC Championship Game, then retired. When he reversed that decision, things became messy in Green Bay, and he'll perform his career encore as Broadway Brett.

"If it works out, great," the 38-year-old Favre said Wednesday. "That's what I expect it to do. If it doesn't, so be it, but I won't know unless I try.

"I know I still can play. The odds are against me, if you want to say that from the outside looking in. But I'm up for the challenge. And 10 years from now, who really cares? What matters is right now."

Ten years from now, fans will remember what happens Sunday. There are memories -- some unpleasant -- of Johnny Unitas in San Diego, Joe Namath in Los Angeles and Joe Montana in Kansas City.

But the Jets are optimistic Favre will upgrade a team that went 4-12 last year and is eager to escape the shadow cast in New York by the Super Bowl champion Giants.

"Brett can do some unique things," Mangini said. "As the season progresses, I think even more of that element in Brett's game will come out."

The quarterback Favre made expendable in New York quickly found a new home with the team that had the NFL's worst record last year. The Dolphins went 1-15, missing the playoffs for a team-record sixth consecutive year.

A big reason for the decline of the franchise has been a revolving door at QB. On Sunday, Pennington will become Miami's 13th starting quarterback since Dan Marino retired following the 1999 season, and he might be the best.

"From the very first snap in practice, you could feel his confidence," running back Ricky Williams said. "It has taught all of us to believe in ourselves and what we can do as a team. To this point he's our MVP. I know we haven't played a game yet, but what he has brought to our team has really helped us get to that next level."

In this case, the next level means the Dolphins may at least be worth watching again. The Jets are, for sure.