Are You Sure You Want To Stay a Philadelphia Eagle, Donovan?
"I don't want to be anywhere else but Philly," Donovan McNabb said following the first practice for Sunday's Pro Bowl. "I don't believe in starting somewhere and going somewhere else to finish your career. I believe in starting somewhere and finishing what you've started."
I let that comment sink in, and came to two conclusions:
The first was well, what else is the guy supposed to say? As long as he's contractually obligated, he has to support his team.
But then a small part of me—call it the unfrosted side—was screaming.
Screaming because there's absolutely no reason, in my opinion, for McNabb to feel any loyalty whatsoever to this franchise and to this city.
Here's a look at some arguments why.
By now, everyone knows the story, but to recap:
Fans are told by an overpaid radio personality that an overweight, pot-smoking, bi-polar running back is better for the franchise than any other possible player.
Overpaid radio personality then tells fans to boo any pick that is not overweight running back.
History is made.
Conventional wisdom tells us that good running backs—great ones, even—can be had in the later rounds of the NFL draft, while great QBs (ignoring the Brady's of the world) not so much. Yet this Texas Longhorn was, in the eyes of some, the savior of the franchise.
You could say hindsight is 20/20, but compared to all the other options in that draft, foresight is even better.
The Eagles could have done much, MUCH worse.
And so began the career of one Donovan McNabb.
The Disrespect Continues
Most teams try to surround a young quarterback with talent.
An offensive playmaker or two who can be a safety net and help that young QB mature into one of the greats.
In his first year as a starter, Joe Montana had Dwight Clark.
Dan Marino had Mark Duper.
Fellow draftee Daunte Culpepper had Cris Carter AND Randy Moss.
Donovan McNabb had Na Brown, Charles Johnson, Torrence Small, and Todd Pinkston.
Forget that he won with this foursome—just focus on the fact that he HAD to win with this group!
To put that further into perspective, if Kevin Kolb were to start (as some are clamoring, nay, salivating for), he would have DeSean Jackson! DeSean Jackson!!!
And Jeremy Maclin.
And LeSean McCoy.
And Brent Celek.
And Jason Avant.
And Leonard Weaver.
Heck, he may even have Brian Westbrook!
That just doesn't seem fair. It's kind of like playing slots at the casino for hours, never winning, and some guy walks up after you leave, plunks in a quarter and hits the jackpot.
McNabb Steps Up When Detmer Falls Down
During the 2002 season, after Donovan McNabb finished a game against the Arizona Cardinals on a broken tibia (a game in which he completed 20-of-25 passes for 255 yards and 4 touchdowns), Koy Detmer took over as the starting QB.
In that game, Detmer could have pulled a Shannon Sharpe and called upstairs to declare that HE was "killing" the San Francisco 49ers.
He threw for two touchdowns and ran in another before suffering that gruesome elbow injury that they kept replaying over and over.
The clock struck midnight on Cinderella.
McNabb came back during the playoffs, but fell short of the Super Bowl.
The Eagles then started next season getting shut out by Tampa Bay and getting run out of the stadium by New England. Both losses were embarrassing, and in front of the home crowd.
Well, according to some in the local media and some "fans," the answer was to start the guy who had one—ONE—solid start under his belt for his career!
All McNabb did was pull his team to another division title (winning 12 of the next 14 games, including a nine-game win streak) and another NFC Championship game appearance.
Could Detmer have done that? Sure, he could have.
(I didn't mention the whole Rush Limbaugh thing because I don't think anyone, not even Rush, takes what he says seriously.)
Right Idea, Wrong Guy
After watching Ricky Manning Jr. look like the greatest cornerback on the planet against the mediocre (putting it mildly) tandem of James Thrash and Todd Pinkston, a light when off in the heads of management:
"Quarterbacks need quality receivers to throw the ball to!"
After this earth-shattering epiphany, the Eagles steal—ahem I mean trade for—Terrell Owens from the San Francisco 49ers.
He does not disappoint.
Catching 77 balls for 1,200 yards and 14 touchdowns in just 14 games, Owens helps the Eagles cruise to another NFC East Title and the NFC's top seed in the playoffs.
Although Owens is hurt with two games left in the regular season, the Eagles make short work of the Minnesota Vikings and Atlanta Falcons on their way to their first Super Bowl appearance since 1981.
They ended up losing in a close game, but nothing is more damaging than the offseason aftermath.
Feeling underpaid and under-appreciated, Owens goes on a tantrum likely to never be seen again. Had this happened in San Fran, it may not have been as bad. But with the Philly media fanning the flames, the situation escalated beyond control. Disharmony was rampant in the Eagles' locker room and in the organization, eventually showing up on the field.
A team once believed to be the class of the NFC lost their starting QB to injury, struggled to a 6-10 record, and ended the 2005 season with more questions than answers.
In just a few months, Owens managed to throw doubt on the franchise quarterback, management, and coaching.
The stench still lingers in some ways.
Plus he's directly responsible for making the Eagles think Reggie Brown and Greg Lewis were quality receivers.
The biggest complaint of most of Eagles Nation is the run/pass balance.
It's not even that the Eagles don't run the ball enough; it's more that they pass the ball at the wrong times.
The fact that they almost never establish a running game is why no one was fooled on the play-action pass that led to a McNabb scramble, that led to the torn ACL, that ends the Eagles playoff hopes—or does it?
Andy Reid and Co. have another one of their "ah hah!" moments and decide that, since Garcia is the new starting QB, they will run the ball more.
Which leads to the Eagles winning five straight games and another (you guessed it) NFC East crown. So, of course the town embraces Garcia for his part in the winning. With his energy and enthusiasm, he becomes the toast of the town.
Of course, when McNabb was healthy, the Eagles ran a total of 547 offensive plays. Of those, 193 plays (35.3 percent) were rushes by the running backs.
They ran a total of 290 offensive plays since Garcia took over on the third play of the second quarter against Tennessee.
Of those, 145 plays (50 percent) have been rushes by the running backs.
So, after beating the hated Giants in the playoffs, people are starting to think maybe this could be the year.
After seeing all that her son has had to go through playing for this city, a city that seems to have shown more love to its backup quarterbacks than its franchise QB, Wilma McNabb laments:
"If they win the Super Bowl without my son, what would be the real outcome with the fans? Will they crucify him? Maybe the trade talks would begin. Offseason madness, worse than last year's fiasco."
Of course, the local media calls these comments controversial and wags the finger at Mom, but Mom was dead on.
If Garcia had led the Eagles to a Super Bowl win, even a Super Bowl appearance, the talk would have started and there would have been no stopping it.
The Eagles eventually were escorted out of the Super Bowl conversation by the Saints, but it still didn't stop the Garcia talk.
He Never Saw it Coming
When Aaron Rodgers was drafted as the heir to the Favre throne, it was the right thing to do.
Brett Favre was 35, Rodgers had fallen to the 24th pick in the draft, and the Packers had no real glaring needs to be filled; why not pick up a guy most people thought could go first overall to the 49ers?
Favre may not have liked it, but when Rodgers' rookie contract entered its third year (typically when quarterbacks should be starting), Favre should have been on his way out at 38, ending his legacy with the team he brought back to relevance and leaving the franchise in solid hands for the future.
When Kevin Kolb was drafted (coincidentally, he was also booed), the Eagles were in the opposite situation.
Their linebackers were not that great, their defensive line was (and still is) undersized, and Trent Cole was (and still is) their only pass rusher.
L.J. Smith was still under-performing (although the Eagles did draft Brent Celek that same year), the wide receivers were average at best, and the offensive line was beginning to show cracks. This was not a team without needs.
Still, the Eagles traded out of the first round to the COWBOYS (we all know who they picked up), and drafted the heir to the then 30-year-old Donovan McNabb.
NOBODY saw this coming.
Not even those that have hated McNabb since day one, which tells you all you need to know about the move.
This wasn’t a slap in the face: It was a punch in the gut.
Benched...by a Groundskeeper?
Andy didn't even tell his franchise QB he was benched—he had someone else do it. Rumor has it that it was the groundskeeper who eventually told McNabb, but those rumors are unsubstantiated.
Maybe Andy wanted to avoid a situation like Brad Childress went through with Favre this year. Maybe he just didn't have the heart to pull the man who's pulled his fat out of the fire with his legs, heart, and arm for so many years.
Regardless of the reason, it was a gutless move by a man with more than enough gut to spare.
Some people have said that the benching was a genius move. That it saved the Eagles season and that McNabb played better because of it.
I offer again the ultimate decider for winning in the NFL: running the football effectively.
After throwing Kevin Kolb to the wolves (or, in this case, Ravens) Andy Reid decided again, like he does almost every season around December, to start running the football more.
The result? 185, 140, 134, 62, 137.
Those are the rushing totals for the next five games after the benching.
The 62 represents the loss to the Washington Redskins, a game where McNabb attempted 46 passes.
Passing puts points on the board, but running finishes the game.
The year Garcia took over for McNabb and led the Eagles to the playoffs, Jim Johnson let this nugget of truth slip:
“Score slow and score often," Johnson said, when asked which way he'd like the offense to play. "The whole offense, I just think the ball control, they've done a great job. Earlier in the year, we were a big-play offense, which is great. And now we are doing a great job of working the clock."
I think the late Jim Johnson knew a little something about being successful, don't you?
What Hurts the Most...
"He just doesn't come up big in big games."
It was a sentiment echoed over the radio waves in the Tri-State area every day after the Arizona Cardinals went to the Super Bowl through the Philadelphia.
Truthfully, the 9-6-1 Eagles weren't even supposed to be in the NFL playoffs that year, let alone playing for a chance to win it all. Still, none of that matters to some.
They don't care that McNabb helped the Eagles score 19 points in the second half and take a short-lived 25-24 lead in the fourth quarter; he should have scored more points in the first half.
They don't care that the defense then allowed the Cardinals to eat up eight minutes of clock on their way to a touchdown and then convert on a two-point conversion, because McNabb still had a couple minutes left to tie the game.
Never mind that Brian Dawkins himself owned up to the fact the defense let the team and the fans down. That's just how Dawkins is. He was just trying to take the blame that belonged squarely on McNabb's shoulders.
I've said it before but it bears repeating: McNabb gets too much blame for losses and not enough credit for wins.
He could’ve easily packed it in with his team down 24-6, but never gave up.
Too bad nobody else sees it that way...
1,000 Ways To Die
The two losses to the Cowboys were as close as I've ever seen the Eagles get to a complete team loss.
The blocking was bad, the play-calling was bad, the quarterback play was bad, the defense was bad, the tackling was horrendous, the special teams coverage was bad, and the clock management was bad.
Those two games were like watching "1,000 Ways To Die" on Spike. You just can't believe that people this inept, this stupid, exist, but there it is, right on your TV screen, and you can't turn away.
But given all that, the main thrust of media coverage was, "The defense wasn't great, but I think this game shows it's time for Kolb to get his shot."
Does anyone think Kolb is Matt Ryan? Joe Flacco? Mark Sanchez?
He might be.
Know what all three of those guys have in common?
Coaches committed to running the football and playing good defense.
I bet McNabb wishes he had one, too.
A Picture Worth a Thousand Words
Despite all the injuries and all the holes on this team, the majority of the talk is still Kolb vs. McNabb.
The Eagles still need someone to complement Trent Cole, someone to backup Patterson and Bunk on the defensive line, a true replacement for Brian Dawkins in the secondary, and another young corner. The Eagles also need to get healthy on the offensive line and in the linebacker core.
The loudest contingent of Eagle fans only care about two numbers: Five or Four? Four or Five?
Donovan, the media has never embraced you and the fans boo nearly every incompletion.
Your every flaw is accentuated: You throw too hard sometimes, your mechanics aren’t ideal, you hold on to the ball longer than you should.
Even people who aren’t Eagles fans know these things because they’re regurgitated every time you take the field.
You're blamed for everything that goes wrong. You're even blamed for not backing Terrell Owens in his bid to get more money after playing one year of his contract.
It's your fault the team is 1-4 in NFC Championship games, and 0-1 in the Super Bowl. It's to Andy Reid's credit that the team has the third-most wins of any team this decade.
It's your fault that you've been injured so often, not the fact that you've attempted more passes over the past decade than any QB in the NFL.
You're not supposed to smile, or be happy at any point not deemed appropriate by the fans, as anytime you do smile or try to have fun, you're unfocused, or even possibly scared.
Maybe you think you owe something to the team that drafted you. I would say that debt has been paid. If every first-round quarterback was guaranteed a Super Bowl ring, then aren't your buddies Tim Couch, Akili Smith, and Dante Culpepper due theirs?
Maybe you want to stay, win, and prove the haters wrong. I got news for you, bro: It won't matter. You could throw seven touchdowns, complete every pass, and we'll be talking about how dominant the defense was, or how incredibly innovative—snicker—Andy Reid's offensive game plan was.
We’re morons. Leave us behind, Donovan; let us see how green that grass REALLY is.