CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The Vinny Testaverde jokes never seem to stop. He once handed off to Bronko Nagurski. He was in the same draft class as Y.A. Tittle.
Funny thing though, the jokes end when the 44-year-old quarterback walks into the Carolina Panthers weight room — and starts doing squats with the linemen.
"I don’t think there is any quarterback that I’ve been around that works as hard as Vinny — and definitely not as strong," said Jerry Simmons, the Panthers strength and conditioning coach.
It’s probably no surprise that two of Testaverde’s closest friends in the NFL are Simmons and Arizona strength and conditioning coach John Lott. He met Simmons when they were together with the Cleveland Browns in the early 1990s, and Lott when they were with the New York Jets in the late ’90s.
Testaverde has combined their two philosophies into a weight-training and conditioning program that is the key to Testaverde being the oldest NFL starting quarterback to win a game.
While many men his age were sitting on the couch Sunday working on their beer guts, Testaverde was throwing two touchdown passes to move past Joe Montana into eighth place on the career list with 275.
Testaverde’s tireless workout regimen includes cardiovascular exercises and lifting, specifically squats for strength in his legs.
"People see quarterbacks and they think, `Oh, he has a strong arm.’ But really the strength in your arm doesn’t just come from your arm," Testaverde said. "It comes from your hips and your legs. I think the squatting has helped me tremendously to stay healthy and to have that longevity."
Simmons, in his 20th NFL season, said most players’ strength declines as they reach their early 30s. Staying in good shape can delay the drop-off for a few years. He’s never seen someone maintain like Testaverde.
Simmons wouldn’t say the weight that Testaverde lifts and squats, but said it hasn’t changed since they were together in Cleveland.
"As you get into your 30s, joints and everything else start to wear," Simmons said. "The muscles can’t keep up with what you’ve been doing. That’s what’s so remarkable about it. He’s in his 40s and he still hasn’t dropped off."
Testaverde believes it’s important not to take prolonged time off. It’s the off-season when he works the hardest, especially with the weights. He then scales down his lifting during the season to four days — two days for upper-body lifting and two days for squats — so that his body can be fresh on Sundays.
Testaverde’s body isn’t perfect. He has nagging tendinitis in his right Achilles’ tendon, which forced him to miss one game and half of another. He woke up the day before a game two weeks ago with back pain, and missed the loss to New Orleans.
Testaverde has also had to overcome severe allergies that don’t allow him to eat fish or poultry, low-fat, low-calorie foods that are a staple of a healthy person’s diet.
But there was Testaverde against San Francisco, leading the Panthers (5-7) to a 31-14 win that snapped a five-game losing streak. He’s slated to start Sunday against Jacksonville.
"Maybe I’ll be able to talk to him and get a few tips of how he’s taken care of himself," said Jaguars quarterback David Garrard. "It really is remarkable to see somebody that age still playing quarterback."
And with ineffective David Carr likely on his way out town after this season, Testaverde might be Carolina’s choice to return next season as insurance for Jake Delhomme, who will be attempting to come back from reconstructive right elbow surgery.
"I guess I’d be 45, so I’m just happy to get through one week right now," said Testaverde on the prospects of returning for a 22nd season. "But I’d entertain anything."
Simmons thinks he’s got at least a few more years in him.
"His body looks the same as it did when we were in Cleveland," Simmons said. "It’s no different."
Notes: — RB DeShaun Foster missed practice Wednesday with what was called a head injury. Foster said he would practise Thursday. … Panthers S Chris Harris (shoulder), LB Na’il Diggs (calf) and WR Dwayne Jarrett (knee) also missed practice.