Cheer McNabb and Then Cheer Some More
By Lance Epstein
Eagles fans will have a huge decision to make on Sunday as the Washington Redskins come to town for a heated divisional game. And no, it is not going to be about which jersey to wear.
The choice is whether to boo Redskins quarterback Donovan McNabb or applaud the effort he gave to Philadelphia Eagles organization for the past 11 seasons.
At first it is going to be awkward to see him running out of the tunnel in burgundy and gold. Realistically, it should make most fans want to puke. But then fans must remember that this is a business like head coach Andy Reid said today at his press conference.
"This is a business we’re in," Reid said. "And fortunately, that didn’t destroy our friendship. But, it’s part of the business. He understands it’s part of it and I understand. I’m sure neither one of us wanted it to come to that day, but that’s how it works. That’s how this thing works, and it was a tough decision on my part. But I think it gave him a fresh start, and we have a fresh start, so you move on. It’s part of life.”
Like Reid claims, it is a part of life in the NFL. This won’t be the first time nor the last time that fans will see a player of Donovan McNabb’s status leave and return to play the teams that the fans of Philadelphia adored.
In fact, just a year ago, beloved safety and the heart and soul of the Eagles defense for 13 years in Brian Dawkins returned. It was hard to swallow as he came out in the unimaginable blue and orange uniform of the Denver Broncos.
At the end of the day, Weapon X got a standing ovation from the Philly crowd. Years before Dawkins left, there were other players who have made their visits to Veterans Stadium or the Linc. There was the return of Jeremiah Trotter (also played for the Redskins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Hugh Douglas, Troy Vincent and Herm Edwards. All of these former Philadelphia icons got the conventional welcome from the Philly faithful.
So why is the return of McNabb any different? Maybe it is because McNabb refused to show more fire and passion when the Eagles lost a devastating game or as he threw a costly interception to Ronde Barber, Ricky Manning Jr. or Aeneas Williams.
Perhaps it is because fans believe he is solely responsible for the Eagles not winning the coveted Super Bowl title. While it maybe true that McNabb failed to live up to standards of being a “great” quarterback (at least the guidelines set by the Eagles fans). But he is not the only player that should be blamed. He is a part of the reason why Eagles came up small as the games got bigger, but is definitely not the only reason.
As painful as it is for fans to admit, there is plenty of blame to go around. Sheldon Brown, Duce Staley, Brian Westbrook, Jon Runyan, Dawkins, Trotter and even Douglas all played intricate roles in some of the most painful and excruciating losses during McNabb’s era. None of those players stepped either game and willed the Eagles to victory when McNabb happened to be mediocre. This is why football is called the ultimate team game.
Yet, none of them are chastised nearly as much as McNabb. Yes the quarterback has to deal with more of that pressure and more weight on his shoulders because it comes with the position. However, he was not playing defense, blocking for himself or even calling the plays. He was one man on a 53-man roster.
Another reason McNabb’s return is different than previous ex-Eagles who flew back into the nest for a visit is because he set the bar too high. He could never achieve or meet the expectation of the fans of Philadelphia unless he won multiple Super Bowls.
In a city that bases success on Super Bowl trophies, he will never get the credit he is due. During his tenure in Philadelphia, he put up some of the best numbers in Eagles history. He is first in touchdown passes (216), passing yards (32,873), passer rating (86.5), completion percentage (59.0) and completions (2,801).
More importantly, he holds the franchise record for most playoff with nine (has a better winning percent than Colts QB Peyton Manning). In 16 playoff games, he has thrown for more touchdowns (24) and yards (3,752 yards) than any other Eagles quarterback. Mainly he holds these illustrious records because he was in the playoffs during 70 percent of his stay in Philadelphia.
Furthermore, he led the Eagles to FIVE, count them, five NFC Championship games and the organizations second Super Bowl appearance. Moreover, he had one of the gutsiest performances seen in the NFL over the past decade as he threw four touchdown passes on a broken ankle.
Nonetheless, he is like Philadelphia’s own Rodney Dangerfield… he can never get any respect. Sure, he should have probably won more of those NFC title games and even one Lombardi Trophy, but fans forget how bad this franchise was before his arrival.
The Eagles were floundering under head coach Ray Rhodes. They attempted to sell the idea of Bobby Hoying, Rodney Peete, and the Detmer brothers as quality NFL starting quarterbacks. Additionally, the Eagles had not gotten past the divisional round since 1981. More astounding, they collected just two postseason victories since their last Super Bowl appearance in 1981.
Needless to say, McNabb recognizes how rare and successful his time was with the Eagles. Nevertheless, the fans ridiculed him and yearned for more from their star quarterback.
"I look back at the positive things," McNabb said of his 11 seasons with the Eagles. "I've always tried to stay positive. In 11 years, we had a lot of positive things to happen. From great seasons, to winning seasons, to obviously NFC Championship and Super Bowl appearances, big games. The list goes on. There were a lot of positive things that happened."
He was better than Ron Jaworski. He was better than Norm Van Brocklin. He was better than Randall Cunningham. The numbers do not lie, they tell the truth about how high McNabb flew as an Eagle.
Still, it is bizarre that such a distinguished Eagle is now a foe and has to hopes he receives a warm welcome.
"Hoping maybe some cheers," McNabb said. "In reality, you have to remember this is a big rivalry. I'm not one to try to explain how I need to be received…That’ll be something that fans will react and respond to."
As you arrive at your seat at the Lincoln Financial Field or see McNabb take the field as a visitor on Sunday, cheer for him. Stand up where every you are and give credit to one of the best players the Eagles franchise has ever seen.
Whistle for that four-touchdown performance against the Cardinals on a broken ankle. Clap for his 15-second scramble against the Cowboys. Praise him for winning with wide receivers such as James Thrash, Todd Pinkston and Freddie Mitchell. Cheer him for giving Eagles country the most prosperous era for Eagles football, which is something most of us have never seen in our lifetime.
Fans do not need to root or cheer for him once the whistle blows and the opening kickoff ensues. Heck, they can even boo him when he completes a pass and get in his head as he throws a wormburner to wide receiver Santana Moss.
McNabb may have let countless opportunities slip away in Philadelphia, but he does not deserve the Terrell Owens type of treatment. For Eagles fans, they should cheer for McNabb up until kickoff and then cheer even louder as the Eagles attempt to move two games up on their former face of the franchise.
Ultimately, he does not need a parade down Broad Street thanking him for all the great memories. A classy gesture by Eagles fans and even former teammates should do especially for a man that was all class in his time in Philly. There is no reason why a player, who put he Eagles back on the map shouldn’t get the reception he rightfully deserves.