To the gaggle of reporters, two dozen in all, waiting near his locker, the sudden appearance of Vinny Testaverde was tantamount to a rush of adrenaline.
Avoiding eye contact with the reporters and television cameramen who began to wade forward, the Jets quarterback didn't even wait to get to his corner locker before reaching for something inside.
Planting his feet in front of back-up quarterback Ray Lucas' locker, he leaned over, far over, stretching his six-foot-five-inch, 238 pound frame over the stool bearing his jersey number 16.
"You doing interviews today?" needled Lucas, a third year man out of Rutgers University, obviously amused at the surging attention his counterpart receives these days.
Grabbing a handful of gauze bandages, Testaverde quickly righted himself and turned back toward the team's training room.
"Ha," laughed Lucas, now addressing himself to the reporters. "He really psyched you guys out. No interviews today, I guess."
Of course, this being a Wednesday, one of the two days during the training week that Testaverde visits with the press, interviews would soon be forthcoming.
But Lucas' joking style revealed much about the New York Jets mindset this year, and much about the man who has now field-marshaled them to an 9-4 record, placing them in a tie for first place in the NFC East with the Miami Dolphins.
These are good times indeed for the New York Jets, and their field leader isn't so full of himself as to be above a little good-natured teasing.
Given his position with the team at the start of the season, the role Testaverde has come to play in their second dream season under head coach Bill Parcells is nothing if not breathtaking.
With Glenn Foley named starting quarterback at the start of the season, and third-year man and back-up quarterback Ray Lucas able to help the Jets at other positions, Testaverde, who crowned his college career 12 years ago by winning the Heisman Trophy, was literally the back-up's back-up and technically ineligible to play the first two games of the season.
The baleful consensus was that for all intents and purposes, he was done -- playing out the string in an often glorious, though not championship-validated career. However, that mindset began to change with the Jets' third game of the season, against the Indianapolis Colts.
Starting in place of the injured Glenn Foley, Testaverde's first pass as a Jet, a four-yard screen to running back Leon Johnson, quickly turned into an 82-yard running play and a touchdown.
Testaverde went on to complete 12 of 20 passes for 203 yards and tied a career high with four touchdown passes -- all to different receivers -- as the Jets rolled to a 44-6 win.
Since that game, the Jets have relied on a starting quarterback other than Testaverde only once -- the team's game-five loss to the St. Louis Rams. Shortly thereafter, on October 14, Coach Parcells declared the Elmont native the starter for the remainder of the season. Since then, the team has gone 7-1.
In game six, against New England, Testaverde threw for 294 yards, including three touchdowns. Amazingly, two of those touchdowns came during the fourth quarter, the by-products of eight straight completed passes.
With game seven, against Atlanta, he became the first quarterback in team history to win his first four starts, and in game eight, Testaverde led the Jets to one of the biggest road wins in recent years, orchestrating a 20-17 win over the Kansas City Chiefs at a rain-soaked Arrowhead Stadium.
In fact, with each succeeding week, the victories have continued to mount for Vinny and the Jets, the team dealing defeat to Buffalo and Tennessee in quick succession before they finally suffered a loss at the hands of Indianapolis.
Even there, though, the battle-tested quarterback had 12 completed passes in 28 attempts, for 240 yards and a touchdown.
More recently, Testaverde led the Jets to a commanding 48-21 rout of the Carolina Panthers at Giants Stadium. That total represents the most points the Jets had scored in a game since 1986, and it was the seventh straight game in which the team had scored at least 20 points.
The last time that happened, Joe Namath was the quarterback and the New York Jets were on their way to their first and only Super Bowl.
And this past week, of course, squaring off against a surging Seattle Seahawks, Testaverde rallied his team to come from behind and win on a somewhat controversial quarterback draw play.
Following the game, commentators had a field day with that last play, repeated viewings seeming to indicate that the Jets got lucky on a blown referee's call.
No matter, in leading his team to a 32-31 victory, Testaverde once again established new career highs with 63 passes and 42 completions.
Along the way, the 35-year-old quarterback who first tasted gridiron glory on the grassy field behind Sewanhaka High School, moved into 20th place on the NFL's all-time passing yardage list. He's also now considered the top passer thus far this year in the AFC, or American Football Conference.
"He's done a very good job for us," Coach Parcells said last week, prior to the Seattle game. "He's been very productive as we've gone along here. He works very hard. He's very diligent in his training and his habits -- and he seems to have taken to the system pretty well.
"He's made a big, big difference for us, there's no doubt about it," his coach continued.
Asked if this surprised him -- particularly in light of Foley's having been anointed the starter at the beginning of the season -- Parcells answered honestly, leaning toward the affirmative.
"Sometimes it's just a question of somebody getting the right opportunity at the right place," the two-time Super Bowl winning coach said.
"It's not always the player. It's not always the system. Sometimes, if you can just get lucky and put the right things together [good things occur]. That's what happened with us, we got lucky with him. Really."
And that's a feeling echoed by Testaverde's team mates. Asked the most important thing the quarterback's brought to the team, the Jets' irrepressible Bryan Cox chuckled.
"Wins," he said as he stood in front of his locker, preparing to change into his uniform before practice.
"That's it?" the linebacker was asked.
"Well, that's just one thing, but it's the main thing, isn't it," he replied, a wide smile plastered across his lips.
"That's it, you know... wins."
"[Vinny] brings a lot of experience, something a team needs," said running back Leon Johnson.
"He's a natural in the leadership role. He's been able to come in, take over the team, and bring us some victories. That's the kind of thing we all need -- especially going down the stretch."
The "stretch" is the month of December, a month in which the Jets have historically done poorly, and a month in which they'll face AFC rivals Buffalo, Miami, and New England.
Though the Jets have already beaten each of those teams once this season, all remain in the play-off hunt. Nevertheless, it's an amazing place for the Jets to be this time of the year. Just two years ago, before Parcells took over as both head coach and chief of football operations, a hapless Jets turned in back-to-back 3-13 and 1-15 seasons.
Asked if he believes his team's performance has become an example to aspiring players in local high schools, Parcells was somewhat tentative.
"I don't know about that," he said. "I really don't think [how we play] is relevant to [how they play]. Professional sports are much different from high school sports. Just like amateur boxing is different from professional boxing and so on.
"It's just different. And I don't think that high school players should necessarily look at professional sports as a barometer, I really don't."
Still, Parcells conceded, Testaverde's performance this year, coupled with his being a hometown boy, may very well be inspiring NFL dreams in local young people.
"I would assume so," he said. "That kind of thing is almost inevitable given the amount of media exposure we have today... I think, no matter the field of endeavor you're talking about, you look at your predecessors and maybe, in some way, you aspire to be that way."
And one doesn't have to look too far from the Jets training camp at Hofstra University to see that that's so. Among those watching Testaverde closely this season is none other than Ray Lucas.
"He's a definite leader," said the young quarterback. "He brings all of his experience to bear. He has a lot of experience behind the center. And beyond all that, he's somebody that you can get along with real easily. So you want to do well for him. The whole offensive line wants to block for him. In fact, the Carolina game was the first game in his career that he wasn't even touched by the opposing team. So, obviously, the offensive line likes him.
"I learn from him every single day," Lucas continued. "He's just a fun guy to be around. He's not stuck up. I don't want to mention anybody's name, but Vinny's not like anybody who was here before, that thought they were better than anybody. So it's good. You kind of like a guy like that. You want to see him do good."
Asked what he feels he's learned from Testaverde, and whether, given the veteran's success, he ever despairs for his own days as a starter, Lucas said "I kind of feel that if I sit behind Vinny, nothing but good things are going to happen to me in the end.
"The truth is, when everything is said and done and it's my time, I'll have all his knowledge, plus a little of my own to put into it. Plus, he's a class act. Just off the field, as a person, he's a classy guy... so I hope that rubs off on me too."
By way of example of "Testaverde class," Lucas recalled their first meeting, which occurred shortly after Testaverde joined the team this past summer.
"It's the little things that really mean a lot, if you know what I mean," Lucas said. "The things that might not mean anything to anybody but you.
"I remember, shortly after we met, he asked, 'Do you want anything from the store?' Now, what kind of 13-year veteran would ask a third-year player, 'Do you want something from the store, a Sprite or something?' He always takes time with everybody. He doesn't turn anybody away.
"When my mother asked for a picture, he didn't just sign his name... he personalized it for her. He just takes the time to do little things like that all the time, which is a rarity these days -- especially with big name quarterbacks."
Vincent Frank Testaverde was a local legend long before he ever donned a football uniform for a college or a pro team. An Honorable Mention All-America player for Sewanhaka High School, he also lettered in baseball and track while attending classes there.
After a year at the Fort Union Military Academy, where he played prep ball, Testaverde moved on to the University of Miami, where he majored in special education and literally lit up the sky with Jimmy Johnson's Hurricanes.
In the course of his college play, Testaverde became Miami's all-time career leader in passing yards, with 6,058, and touchdown passes, with 48. He led the NCAA in its passer rating his senior year, while leading the Hurricanes to an 11-0 season. In his two years as a starter, Miami went 21-1 in the regular season.
With that kind of record, it was only natural that Testaverde would steadily fill his trophy case. Among his numerous honors were a consensus All-America selection, the Davy O'Brien Award, Maxwell Award, Walter Camp Player of the Year Award, the Washington, D.C. Touchdown Club College Athlete of the Year Award, the Florida Amateur Athlete of the Year Award, and college football's ultimate honor, the aforementioned Heisman Trophy.
He then capped his college career by becoming the first pick in the 1986 pro football draft.
In the 12 years since, he's played for Tampa Bay, Cleveland, and Baltimore, racking up victories and passing yardage, but somehow finding a professional championship elusive.
His quest for a championship is among the first things he's asked about when he finally re-emerges from the training room and stands before his locker, answering questions from the Three Village Times.
"You know, being 35, I'm often asked about my age and how long I intend to continue, or hope to continue, in this league, and when you see guys like [quarterbacks] Warren Moon and Steve DeBerg still playing and still playing well, you think, 'Hey, maybe if I stay fairly healthy, I can play as long as they have,'" Testaverde said.
"In reality though, the one thing I have a desire for, the thing that keeps me playing, is to win a championship. If and when that day comes, then we'll re-evaluate, but that's what I'm working toward right now.
"I'm not just here, looking to be playing when I'm 42 years old."
Reflecting both on the success the Jets have enjoyed thus far this season and the part he' played in it, Testaverde allowed himself a shy smile.
"It certainly has been, to this point, a lot of fun to be a part of," he said. "As for myself, I just try to work at it and do the things that have helped me get to this point. Along with that, I just try to stay focused and not let there be too many distractions. Because I know when that happens, things won't turn out well."
More than anything, Testaverde continued, one of his main, week-to week objectives is to "enjoy playing in the NFL more than I have in the past."
"Throughout my career, I've had head coaches tell me that I need to do that more, and this year, the winning has certainly added to that.
"You know, in the past, I'd win a game and I'd be happy about winning, without question, but I never allowed myself to really experience the joy of winning.
"I'd be happy about a victory immediately after a game, but the very next day, I'd already have put it completely behind me and be preparing for the next game.
"Nowadays, I find myself enjoying it more, reflecting back on the wins that we've had; I'm stopping to smell the roses, so to speak."
Given that past Jets teams have historically collapsed at the end of the season, no matter how well they'd played before then, Testaverde was asked how optimistic he was about avoiding a similar fate.
"If we're going to go after our goal, then we're going to have to play well in December," he said. "I know it's been said that over the years this team hasn't played well in December, but right now, in this locker room, there are a lot of guys who weren't here for those let downs.
"In addition to myself, those guys include Curtis Martin, Keith Byers, Bryan Cox, Kevin Mawae -- we have a lot of guys here now who have nothing to do with past years, so we may view all this talk about late season collapses a lot differently than other people do.
"I don't know all the reasons certain guys were brought here but I know all the guys here are very good football players. They are the kinds of guys you can count on to try and win football games."
Just weeks away from securing a playoff berth, Testaverde was asked how much of his growing up in Elmont he carries onto the field each week.
"There's no question that all of us, as human beings, learn from our experiences, whether they are good or bad... through all phases of life," the quarterback replied.
"Whether you're in grade school, high school, college, whether you are a young person or an adult, you learn through every experience you go through in life... whether it's learning something about working with people, abut playing football... or whatever it is you do. You learn from it.
"The one person I always think of is my father," Testaverde continued. "He's someone I always looked up to. He taught me how to play the game. Now, when I say that, I don't mean that he actually taught me the x's and o's of it, but he taught me how to approach the game and how to do it.
"For instance, he would tell me, if you're going to throw the football, throw it as hard as you can."
"It was about being assertive, you know? He said, 'Don't just lob it up there.' And that goes for football and, basically, whatever it is you want out of life.
"Be aggressive toward it. Go after it if you really want it that much, If not, don't waste your time trying to get something that you're not really into."