Debunking Donovan McNabb - 10 Myths Exploded

Matt GoldbergCorrespondent IAugust 22, 2010

Debunking Donovan McNabb - 10 Myths Exploded

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    News Flash:  The Donovan McNabb era --11 years of winning football and controversy--came to an end this past Easter Sunday. Yet he still remains a lightning rod for criticism and debate in Philly.

    I admit to being an unabashed fan, although I won't  kill the Eagles for trading him and ushering in the Kevin Kolb era.  Hey, maybe Kolb will even lead them to their first-ever Lombardi Trophy.

    My goal for this slide show is to take on 10 common McNabb myths, or pieces of conventional wisdom held by many, and examine them. I vehemently disagree with some and give the slightest credence to others, and, well, you'll see.

    I find that a lot of McNabb fans make the mistake of getting on the defensive when it comes to Donovan, as it somehow became either very difficult, or very unpopular, for fans in this town to embrace him after awhile.  As a lifelong Eagles fan, this has always mystified and disturbed me. That's also why I did not title this "Defending Donovan."

    Was McNabb guilty of "never hitting a receiver in stride" and "never winning a big game?"

    Conversely, was he the "greatest QB in franchise history" despite having "nobody to throw to?"

    Please read on and share your own opinions.




"He Never Won a Big Game"

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    A lot of sports talk jocks and fans in Philly love to say the above about McNabb .  Or, they rely on that imbecilic standby, "He never won anything."

    As to the latter charge, any fan--from a complete dope to an expert--can say  "he never won the Super Bowl"'  Well, no sugar, Sherlock.  But, "never won anything," or "never won the big game?!"  Please.

    As the starting quarterback for the Eagles (of course this is a team sport, but the QB's most important stat is win-loss record) "5" has amassed a regular season record of 92-49-1, good for a .651 winning percentage.  I would guess that a few of those were big games as they made the playoffs 7 out of his 8 healthy seasons and won a bunch of division titles and playoff byes.

    How about his playoff record?  A more than respectable 9-7 that includes five NFC Championship games and one Super Bowl appearance.  They didn't just flip a coin to get there, you know.

"Yes, But, He Played With Great Defenses."

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    Brian Dawkins and the late, great Jim Johnson are rightfully revered by Eagles Nation, as are some other defensive players.  Having said that, I would offer that the Eagles always had a good to very good defense here during most of the McNabb era, but they were seldom dominant.

    From the same era, I would not put the Eagles defense in the same class as the Ravens, Steelers or Patriots, to name just a few.

    Look, I don't wish to denigrate a defense that I've always cheered for and respected.  But, how about a little perspective?  In Philly, we tend to act like the defense always played at a Steel Curtain, or 1985 Bears level. 

    And if your definition of "big games" is the last game of the season that the Birds lost in the playoffs, the defense rarely covered itself with glory--or made many big plays--in those games.

"He's Coming Off a Poor Season"

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    He is?!

    Of course, the season ended in dispiriting fashion with back-to-back losses in Dallas.  McNabb (or any Eagles player for that matter), did not play particularly well in either game.

    If we analyze the 2009 season in its entirety, my point is that it would have been a rebuilding year without McNabb's excellent play. Forget for a second that he was voted to his sixth Pro Bowl, even if an alternate to Brees (dream season), a career-best Favre and an emerging star in Rodgers.

    The Eagles, playing with a mediocre D, an injury ravaged, sub-par O line, and almost all new skill players, scored the 5th most points in football last year.  Not bad.  They were 11-5, 10-4 with McNabb as a starter, and they won several important (if not "big") games in the fourth quarter.

    Look, it may well have been time to move on to Kevin Kolb, who has been on the pine for three years. But, just don't try to sell me that McNabb did not play very well last year. I watched the games, and I'm not buying.

"He Never Hit Receivers In Stride"

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    I swear that a lot of people--many in the sports media--say this as if they literally believe it.

    And yes, there were fans around here who would tell you that none of Michael Jack Schmidt's 548 homers were hit in the clutch!

    To the spirit of this statement and all of the "wormball" references, I say this:  McNabb is an above-average passer (and a terrific all-around quarterback), but one who is prone to missing the occasional easy throw.

    Of course, the clear majority of McNabb's throws were thrown to the correct receiver and in stride. And for every wormball, the guy probably made two or three throws that almost any other NFL passer could not. (Let alone, all the other great runs and scrambles that we took for granted.)

"He Was a Poor Leader"

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    How exactly, do you measure leadership?

    Picture some of the great quarterbacks of the last 25 years: Montana, Elway, Marino, Favre, Young, Brady, Manning. Do they all have the same, or similar, on-field demeanor and persona? Some of these guys were cool, some got hot under the collar, a couple were more stoic, etc.

    I'm not in the Eagles locker room, and I don't know any of the Eagles personally, but I would have taken my chances with McNabb as my captain. The guy is tough, resilient, and he won a ton of games.

    Wasn't leading the Eagles young rebuilding team to the playoffs last year a sign of leadership? How about his leading the Eagles to two playoff victories and the Super Bowl without Terrell Owens?  4th-and-26, anyone?

"He Didn't Care Enough"

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    A lot of my friends who did not care for McNabb liked to read into Donovan's facial expressions.  The guy did sometimes appear to smile after incompletions (although not at a Rodney Peete level), and often would not show his disappointment in post-game media sessions.

    Just like "leadership," people react to pressure and disappointment in different ways. To me, it's often as simple as that.

    And, at the risk of reading into facial expressions from my recliner, consider this. After the Eagles lost in Arizona to end the 2008-09 season a game short of the Super Bowl, I saw McNabb look absolutely spent and crushed.

    I never took McNabh for someone who did not care. (I didn't think that about Mike Schmidt, either, by the way.) If you disagree, how do you explain his amazing ability to rebound from everything ranging from injuries to poor play to the intense public critique and scrutiny that few of us will ever know?

"But, He's Passive-Aggressive"

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    For a guy that had great success on the field and not a hint of trouble off the field, McNabb has been scrutinized and analyzed more than almost any other public figure.  It's even hard to find a close second within the Philadelphia sports world of the last 40 years. Was Eric Lindros a close second?  Randall?

    As for the "passive-aggressive" or "disingenuous" labels that people tried to pin to his chest, I find these curious for a few reasons:

    1) Many of the people I've heard say this probably could not define either term

    2) 99% of the people charging him with this could not have handled half of the scrutiny and spotlight half as well as McNabb did.

    3) And, let's say I play along, and agree.  So, what?!


"He Never Embraced Philadelphia"

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    There appears to be a kernel of truth here.

    Eagles fans complained about McNabb's off-season workouts in Arizona.  Indeed, Donovan did not seem to throw too many bouquets to Philly.  Compare him to Jeff Garcia, who had the unexpected ride of his life here in 2006, and kissed the butts of Eagles fans and was local-media friendly.  Hey, all props to Garcia, who helped rescue that season, but his love for Philly did not translate into him wanting to return in 2007 as the backup.

    Again, I can't get into Donovan's head here.  Does he appear to be very prideful, if somewhat thin-skinned?  Yes. Did he ever once take a shot at our fans?  Not that I remember. Did he ever ask out of Philly, even after 11 years spent in this crucible?  No.

    I think most of this tag was perpetuated by the local media, who resented that McNabb seemed to court the national media more so than the local guys. There appears to be some truth to this.

    But McNabb was always professional with the local media, and more than a good role model for the community.  Isn't that worth something?

"He Had Nobody to Throw to"

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    Of course, even McNabb's most devout defenders didn't mean this literally...did they?

    I agree that for many seasons, McNabb won a lot of games with starting receivers like Torrance Small, Charles Johnson, Todd Pinkston, James Thrash and Freddie Mitchell.They weren't weapons; they were barely targets.

    On the other hand, Westbrook was great out of the backfield, and TO was elite for one season,  and pretty good on the field for the next half-year. DeSean Jackson (his first two seasons were McNabb's last two here) is a star in the making.

    My supposition is that McNabb had an above average defense, and an average (and sometimes mediocre) offensive supporting cast over the years.  No matter what, the guy won a lot of games, and at a terrific winning percentage.

"Best Quarterback In Eagles History"

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    If you want to tell me that the best was Norm Van Brocklin, I won't argue.  The guy played before my time, and only played three years here, completing his tenure with a championship in 1960.

    If you value a sustained run of great (Hall of Fame-level) play, then McNabb's your choice.  The only other candidates in the last 50 years would be Jaworski and Cunningham, and most would take McNabb, as insanely talented as Randall was.

    So, what does all this mean?  Being the unofficial best quarterback in franchise history doesn't necessarily get you a plaque in Canton, but it should have earned McNabb a lot more respect from Eagles fans.

    As for Canton, I think he gets there. He was the leader, and best player, for a very successful team--with strong individual stats. The Eagles, under his leadership, had a ton of regular season and playoff success.

    Here's a favorite stat of mine. Donovan McNabb, injuries and all, is already 20th all-time in career wins. Of those QBs  with more wins, only Manning, Montana, Bradshaw, Brady and (surprise) Stabler had a greater winning percentage.

    Yes, barring a total collapse, he'll get into the Hall of Fame. I just wish his whole career could have been spent in Philadelphia.