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Two of kind, best in class

Both quarterbacks have strong arms, quick feet and plenty of wins on their resumes.

One other thing Donovan McNabb and Daunte Culpepper have in common: They're the only two of the five heralded quarterbacks selected in the first round of the 1999 draft still in the NFL.

While McNabb and Culpepper are looking to lead their teams to the Super Bowl, Tim Couch, Akili Smith and Cade McNown are looking for jobs.

McNabb, drafted second overall by Philadelphia in '99, and Culpepper, the No. 11 pick by Minnesota, will oppose each other tonight when the Eagles host the Vikings.

How do they explain their success?

"It's kind of hard to say," McNabb said. "I don't know if we were just put in great positions, great situations, the coaches that we've had, coming to a great staff or a great organization. It could be a lot of those things."

Culpepper also credited his situation.

"Timing is huge. The timing was good when I got here," he said. "I have guys around me who can play, and I work hard in the offseason to make sure I'm in the best physical and mental position coming into the season."

The first quarterback chosen among the "can't miss" crop of '99 was Couch, who went to the Cleveland Browns with the first overall pick. Smith was selected third by the Cincinnati Bengals, and McNown went to the Chicago Bears at No. 12.

Considered the surest pick by many draft experts, Couch had moderate success with the expansion Browns. But he eventually lost his job to Kelly Holcomb, was released in June by Cleveland and was cut by the Green Bay Packers this month.

Smith and McNown proved to be busts, making 32 combined starts. Smith was released by the Bengals and Packers. McNown had brief stints with Miami and San Francisco after Chicago let him go.

McNabb and Culpepper not only are playing, they're thriving.

"They are both good players," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "They got into the right situations that fit their styles. That is a very important situation for a quarterback to get in, one that he can achieve in. It didn't work out for the other guys. That is not saying they are bad players, it just didn't pan out for them."

McNabb has been to four straight Pro Bowls and has led the Eagles to the NFC Championship Game the past three years. He has a .677 winning percentage (44-21) as a starter and more playoff victories (five) than any quarterback in franchise history.

"He's a great athlete. He makes a lot of big plays when he escapes the pocket and so did (John) Elway and does Daunte," Vikings coach Mike Tice said.

Culpepper has twice been to the Pro Bowl and led the Vikings to the NFC title game in his first season as starter in 2000. He is the highest-rated quarterback in team history, ahead of Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton.

"He's very confident in his offense and their system. He has a lot of weapons and I think he has trust in those weapons," Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson said. "When he gets down in that red zone, he's a big threat."

McNabb wasn't a popular choice in Philadelphia. Fans wanted now-retired running back Ricky Williams, and they booed loudly when McNabb's name was called. The former Syracuse star was eased into Reid's offense and didn't start until the 10th game of his rookie season.

Culpepper, who played at Central Florida, sat behind Randall Cunningham and Jeff George as a rookie, making one appearance. He took over as the No. 1 quarterback the next season, throwing for 33 touchdowns and running for seven more.

McNabb and Culpepper each said they would've preferred to start right away, but benefited from being on the sideline learning their offenses and getting acclimated to the pace of the NFL.

"I think it's all mental," McNabb said. "Coming out of college, everyone is a great athlete. Some guys are at passing schools. Some guys are at schools where you have to think a lot more than others. But what you have to do coming into this league is prepare yourself for the mental aspect.

"Everyone talks about the speed of the game and, yes, that's somewhat true, but as a quarterback you have to know where guys are going to be in all situations. You have to know what you're faced with, the coverage's and the fronts, what play you're running if things aren't there, if you're getting hit with the blitz, so there's a lot of things you have to think about playing in this league."

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