NFL Fans, Especially Eagles Fans, Must Appreciate Career of Donovan McNabb

Nick Kostos@@thekostosContributor IMay 16, 2013

ARLINGTON, TX - JANUARY 09:  Quarterback Donovan McNabb #5 of the Philadelphia Eagles during the 2010 NFC wild-card playoff game at Cowboys Stadium on January 9, 2010 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

This fall, former NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb is officially hanging up his cleats.

McNabb confirmed that he's set to retire as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles, the team with whom he starred for 11 seasons.

With the retirement ceremony reportedly set to take place at halftime of the Eagles' Week 3 home game against former head coach Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs, I hope that Eagles fans will take a step back and appreciate what McNabb was able to accomplish in his career.

I say this for one reason: As a quarterback, McNabb is criminally underrated and underappreciated. He deserves better.

Last year, McNabb told ESPN's First Take that he considers himself to be the "most unfairly criticized quarterback" of all time. It's an opinion that I happen to share.

The underappreciation began on draft day in 1999, when a group of Eagles fans famously booed the selection of McNabb (see the video below), wanting their team to draft Texas running back Ricky Williams instead. 

Just look at where the Eagles were in the years before McNabb's arrival in Philly.

From the 1982 season following their first Super Bowl berth through 1998, the Eagles made the playoffs six times. They only won two of those postseason games and never reached an NFC title game.

Compare that with 1999-2009 when McNabb was at quarterback. The Eagles won the NFC East six times, qualified for the playoffs eight times, won nine postseason games, appeared in five NFC Championship Games and reached Super Bowl XXXIX where the Eagles lost to a superior New England Patriots team.

McNabb was simply majestic, able to beat teams with both his arms and legs. He rushed for nearly 3,500 yards in his career and threw for 234 touchdowns. He had a cannon attached to his right shoulder that allowed him to make all the throws and he was more cerebral than people gave him credit for on the field.

You want to know why McNabb should be afforded a greater sense of appreciation? Just ask any fan of the Giants, Cowboys or Redskins and I guarantee they'll tell you.

I grew up a Giants fan in New York City. Watching Big Blue play the McNabb-led Eagles was always an exercise in extreme frustration. My family, friends and I would continually watch as McNabb would slither out of the grasp of opposing defenders (usually Michael Strahan) to either run or throw for a first down or touchdown. 

All of that said, the question is: Why is McNabb so underrated and so underappreciated?

The answer lies in his perceived performance in big games.

McNabb led the Eagles to five NFC title berths, but his detractors will tell you that he only won one.

Well, in 2001, the Eagles lost on the road to the St. Louis Rams, who were the better team.

In 2002, they lost at home to the Buccaneers in what was believed to be an upset. The Bucs proved otherwise with their Super Bowl XXXVII romp over the Raiders.

The only game where you could make a case that the Eagles were the better team and still lost was in 2003 when they were shocked at home by Jake Delhomme and the Carolina Panthers.

In 2008, they lost a heartbreaker in Arizona, but the Cardinals showed in Super Bowl XLIII that they were a worthy representative of the NFC.

Then there's Super Bowl XXXIX, where McNabb seemingly ran out of gas at the end of the contest. The fact of the matter is that the Patriots were a juggernaut coming off back-to-back 14-2 seasons and were deserving champions.

There was absolutely no shame in losing to Bill Belichick and Tom Brady at the height of their powers. The Eagles kept it closer than I thought they would, only losing, 24-21.

In his playoff career, McNabb threw for 24 touchdowns against 17 interceptions. Those are not bad numbers by any stretch of the imagination.

It's not fair for McNabb's career to be judged on what he didn't do. No, he never won a Super Bowl and he probably isn't a Hall of Famer (see this column by B/R's Gary Davenport). While the Eagles faced their share of playoff heartbreak, there is no way that they would have been in all of those games without the contributions of McNabb.

He was the main reason that Philadelphia was so good for so long in his time as their signal-caller.

When McNabb officially retires as an Eagle this fall, I hope that Philadelphia fans, and all NFL fans, can stand up and applaud him for an outstanding career.

He deserves to be appreciated. It'll be a crime if he isn't.