Booed on draft day
How tough have the Philly fans been on McNabb, left? So tough that they booed him the second he became a member of the team. At the 1999 draft, the Eagles had the second pick. Kentucky quarterback Tim Couch went first overall to the Browns. Philadelphia fans were clamoring for Texas RB Ricky Williams. But the Eagles liked McNabb, who set school records during an outstanding career at Syracuse. When McNabb's name was announced, Eagles fans booed. Williams has had a flaky NFL career; McNabb has been the most successful quarterback of the five taken in the first 12 picks of the 1999 draft.
Campbell's Chunky soup
Surely, this is one of the most bizarre athlete endorsements ever. Not because Campbell's Chunky soup isn't a fine product, but McNabb wasn't the star of the commercials. McNabb's "mother" had the most lines and played the central role. Plus, the original mom wasn't McNabb's actual mother, but actor Marcella Lowery. Eventually, the TV spots began using McNabb's real mom, Wilma, who also has served as vice president of the Professional Football Players Mothers Association and runs most of McNabb's charities.
When you think of NFL quarterbacks, usually one thing immediately comes to mind about each one. When you think of Tom Brady, you think of Super Bowl rings. When you think of Peyton Manning, you think of gaudy statistics. Eli Manning is Peyton's little brother. Ben Roethlisberger is the tough one. Chicago's Jay Cutler is the controversial one. Arizona's Kurt Warner is the resilient one. Detroit's Matt Stafford is the future. Jeff Garcia is the journeyman. Dallas' Tony Romo is the underachiever. On and on it goes. But when you think about the Eagles' Donovan McNabb, left, who faces the Bucs today, it's nearly impossible to define him with a word, or even a sentence. He has compiled Hall of Fame statistics. He has led his team to five conference championship games. He is one of the winningest QBs in NFL history. On the flip side, he has won only one of those NFC Championship Games and has never won a Super Bowl. He has played well enough to get his team to the big games and well enough to keep it close in them, but he rarely has played well enough to win them. Some call him overrated; others say he is underappreciated. Ask an Eagles fan what he thinks of McNabb and the question is usually followed by a long silence as he tries to put into words how McNabb frustrates him and makes him proud at the same time. So perhaps the best way to figure out McNabb, who turns 33 next month, is to take a look at snapshots of his career. Here are the things I think of when I think of Donovan McNabb.
McNabb played two seasons of basketball at Syracuse, appearing in 18 games and averaging 2.3 points and 1.1 rebounds.
Among active quarterbacks, it's hard to find one with better numbers than McNabb. Coming into this season, his winning percentage as a starter (.647) was third-best among active QBs with at least 100 starts, bettered only by Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. He had the all-time lowest interception ratio and the third-best touchdown-to-interception ration. He holds the NFL record for consecutive completions (24) and will finish his career owning just about every passing record in Eagles history. In short, he seems like a Hall of Famer if voters are willing to overlook that, as of now, he has not won a championship. And that might not be something that will be overlooked.
I had always thought the radio talk-show host was a buffoon, but this proved it. (Conservatives, save your angry letters, because I think Al Franken is full of hot air, too.) In one of ESPN's strangest, most ill-conceived hires, the network brought in the political commentator, left, in 2003 to work on its Sunday NFL pregame show. A few weeks into the recipe for disaster, the concoction blew up when Limbaugh suggested McNabb was overrated by the national media because he is black.
"I think what we've had here is a little social concern in the NFL,'' Limbaugh said. "The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well. There is a little hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn't deserve. The defense carried this team."
McNabb said he didn't mind being criticized but was bothered that race was even brought into the discussion. Within days, Limbaugh resigned from ESPN and went back to his full-time job of slamming liberals. Interesting, however, that Limbaugh is among those interested in buying the St. Louis Rams.
What seemed like the perfect quarterback-receiver marriage ended in a bitter divorce between McNabb and Terrell Owens. The best season of McNabb's career has been 2004, when he threw for 3,875 yards and 31 touchdowns, and the Eagles made the Super Bowl. Is it coincidence that it was T.O.'s first, and only, full season in Philly? "I will say that Donovan made me a better receiver in Philadelphia, but I think Donovan would have a hard time admitting I made him a better quarterback," Owens said last year. "It's unfortunate the way things ended up.'' No one can say for sure what broke up the two, though controversy seems to follow T.O. wherever he goes, and, to his credit, McNabb handled the split with grace and class.
Garcia's two-year, somewhat successful stint with the Bucs could be directly attributed to McNabb. After bouncing around the CFL, and the NFL with the 49ers, Browns and Lions, Garcia landed in Philadelphia as McNabb's backup in 2006. When McNabb suffered a season-ending knee injury that Nov. 19, Garcia took over. He lost his first start but then led the Eagles on a five-game winning streak to get them into the playoffs. With Garcia, the Eagles beat the Giants in the playoffs before losing to the Saints. That magical run proved Garcia was still a valuable quarterback, and the Bucs signed him in March 2007.
Super Bowl XXXIX
Against the Patriots in Jacksonville in 2005, McNabb completed 30 passes for 357 yards and three touchdowns. Then again, he threw three interceptions, including two in New England territory. The Eagles lost 24-21, but the final couple of minutes were strange. Teammates later said McNabb acted confused during a painfully slow two-minute drill, and one even said McNabb threw up from either nervousness or dehydration, a claim McNabb denied. In many ways, this game epitomizes McNabb's career: a lot of good, a lot of bad, a couple of odd twists, and in the end you're not quite sure what to make of it.