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The end of one era and the beginning of another

The big news, other than the Dolphins dropping to 0-3 on the season, to come out of Sunday's loss in San Diego clearly is the season-ending injury to Chad Pennington.  And it's not just ESPN reporting this anymore, either.  Several of the South Florida newspapers have reached out to their own sources to confirm this news.  It's heart-breaking, to be honest, because you never want to see any of your team's players go out like this.  But, of course, there are two sides to this story - one is a negative and the other is a positive.

The end

We'll start with the negative, of course.  Not only is Chad Pennington's season over, but there's also a chance his career could be over.  The way Pennington spoke after the game made it seem like he wasn't exactly sold on having another surgery to his shoulder and then rehabbing it to come back and play.  But who can blame him?  He's already had to do that twice.

What makes this even more terrible is knowing how hard Pennington worked in the offseason doing his best to prevent something like this from happening.  The man readily admitted during the offseason that his workout regimen was harder than it ever has been because he wanted to ensure he'd make it through a full season once again.  So I can't even imagine what it must be like for Pennington right now, heading to a specialist for a second opinion in hopes of finding some glimmer of hope.

That is why I feel compelled to spend some time talking about Chad Pennington.  Some probably think I'm crazy for calling Pennington's one and a quarter seasons with the Dolphins an "era."  But I'll argue long and hard that it indeed was an "era" - and a damn good one.  No, the Dolphins didn't win a Super Bowl - or even a playoff game.  But in the grand scheme of things, that doesn't matter.

The main reason we all watch any sport is for enjoyment.  We enjoy watching our teams play game in and game out.  And part of the reason for this enjoyment is that anything can happen on any given day - or in any given season.  Many would even say that we are a "David and Goliath" society - one that loves rooting for the underdog.

In 2008, the Miami Dolphins were the ultimate underdog.  They had just suffered through a terrible 1-15 season and expectations were at an all-time low.  However, a funny thing happened as summer turned to fall last year - the Dolphins started winning.  And winning.  And winning.  Eleven wins later, the impossible had happened and the Dolphins were AFC East champions.

Like I said, the main reason most people watch any sport is for enjoyment.  For many of you, the 2008 season was probably the most enjoyable season you have ever lived through.  For me, it most definitely was.  No, Chad Pennington wasn't the sole reason for the amazing turnaround.  But he was a damn big part of it.  And there was, of course, some extra satisfaction for Dolphin fans in knowing that Pennington came from a divisional rival who just threw him on the scrap heap - who the Dolphins then visited and beat in week 17 to clinch the division.

Ten or fifteen years from now, when we look back on the Bill Parcells, Jeff Ireland, and Tony Sparano era, it'll be hard to not think about what Chad Pennington meant to this organization in the little time he was here.  Sure, it's up to the front office and coaching staff to change the culture of a team - to instill a winning culture.  But make no mistake about it, Chad Pennington played a bigger role than any of us give him credit for in instilling that winning culture and turning this organization around.

Simply put, Chad Pennington is a class act all the way, a true professional, a leader on and off the field, and genuinely a good person.  And without him, I absolutely believe that the Dolphins do not go 11-5 in 2008.  No, sir - without Pennington, the most enjoyable NFL season of my lifetime - and many of yours - does not happen.

For everything you have meant to this organization in the short time you were here, I say thank you, Mr. Chad Pennington.

The beginning

Now Chad Henne takes over as the starting quarterback of the Miami Dolphins.  It was widely expected that Henne would, at the latest, take over in 2010.  His era now begins a bit earlier than we all had thought.  But for some, it's probably not a moment too soon.

He'll begin in a very good spot, too.  His first career NFL start will come at home against a Buffalo Bills team whose secondary has been hit hard with injuries.  Of course, the road quickly gets tougher for Henne after that game.  But we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

For now, I do want to just point out one thing in terms of what to expect from me on this site regarding Chad Henne.  Quickly, here's my take.  Some people are already claiming Henne is going to be good.  But I'm not buying it.  After the John Beck disaster, I will not allow myself to buy into the hype of any quarterback just because he's wearing a Miami Dolphins uniform.  I won't be convinced of anything - good or bad - until I see it with my own eyes...not hear it from a "scout" or "expert."

And being perfectly honest, I haven't seen anything from Henne that leads me to believe he's going to be a good NFL quarterback.  I didn't see it in college when I would watch some Michigan games simply because they were on and I was bored.  I haven't seen it in the preseason.  And I didn't see it yesterday when he stepped in for Pennington.

This doesn't mean that I'll never see it.  He has the arm strength you need and he seems to be very calm under pressure in big spots (or, at least he did at Michigan).  I don't think he'll get rattled easily, either.  But I still need to see a lot before I get my hopes up.

We do need to be fair, though.  This week is the first week of his career where he's getting all of the first-team reps in practice.  So it's going to take time.  Let's at least give him that time before making any judgments on his long-term potential.

For Chad Pennington, Sunday was the end of his season - and possibly his career.  But for Chad Henne, Sunday was just the beginning - the beginning of a promising career or of another disappointment.  And only time will tell.