Philadelphia Eagles Fans and Donovan McNabb: A Love-Hate Relationship

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Philadelphia Eagles Fans and Donovan McNabb: A Love-Hate Relationship
Larry French/Getty Images
McNabb will be returning to his former home stadium

It’s Donovan McNabb week in the NFL!  McNabb and the Redskins are coming to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles!  And that can only mean one thing: Members of the national media will take this opportunity to criticize Philadelphia sports fans.

According to some of the media pundits, Philly fans are evil, horrible creatures.  We hate everyone and everything.  If you don’t believe it, the proof can be found with one story:  The Santa Claus Incident.

Every time somebody wants to point out how bad Philly fans are, they always mention the Santa Claus incident.  “Philly fans are so horrible!  They booed and threw snowballs at Santa!”

Is it possible that people can stop referencing this story?  First, this incident happened in 1968, so many of the fans involved aren’t even around anymore.  And when you look at what actually happened, it wasn’t as horrible as some people would have you believe.

Supposedly (I can’t speak in certainties because this happened 42 years ago!) this incident came at halftime of a December game where the Eagles – a very bad team at the time – were playing horribly.  There was supposed to be a Christmas show, but the guy playing Santa Claus didn’t show up. 

At the last minute, they pulled some guy out of the stands who happened to come to the game wearing a Santa suit.  He was skinny and wearing a cheap looking fake beard.  He was supposed to be pulled around the stadium in a sleigh, but because of snowy conditions, the sleigh couldn’t make it around the field.  Instead, he had to get out and kind of stumble around.  From all accounts, it was a sorry spectacle.

Already annoyed by the team and the game, the fans didn’t react well to this.  Was it a shining moment in the city’s history?  No, but it isn’t the same as fans just maliciously throwing snowballs at Santa Claus.  We also shouldn’t act like this wouldn’t have happened in many NFL cities.

Assuming we can move past that incident, in recent times most of the criticism of Philly fans has centered around our treatment of McNabb.  Apparently, Philly fans never appreciated McNabb properly, and we supposedly didn’t give him the respect that he deserved.

For evidence of this, the clip of McNabb being booed at draft day is always shown as if this is somehow representative of how Eagles fans treated McNabb. 

I understand that this may be a bit confusing for some people, but I want to explain: Eagles fans were not booing McNabb.  They were booing the Eagles selection of McNabb.  There is a difference.

Once the fans got over their disappointment of the selection, they were generally supportive of McNabb.  Sure, there were some who didn’t like him, but just about every quarterback in the league has some detractors.

Side rant:

It’s amazing that Indianapolis and Green Bay fans have the nerve to criticize Philly fans about their mistreatment of McNabb.  Colts fans say: “We never criticize Peyton Manning!”  Well, Manning has multiple MVP awards, a Super Bowl ring, and will easily get mentioned among the greatest quarterbacks of all time.  Why would they criticize him?

And as for Green Bay’s treatment of Brett Favre, it shows what winning a Super Bowl early in your career can do for you.  Despite countless subsequent playoff flameouts, Packers fans continued to worship Favre.  And how did that work out for them in the end?

Anyway, if I had to sum up the Philadelphia/McNabb relationship it would be that Eagles fans liked McNabb but felt disappointed by him.  We REALLY wanted him to lead the team to a Super Bowl win, and when the team fell short every year, it led to some bitterness.

Up until February 2005, most Eagles fans believed that McNabb would eventually lead the team to a title.  Then came the Super Bowl loss, the T.O. controversy, and a couple of season ending injuries.  After he came back from another season ending injury in 2007, McNabb didn’t seem to be the same QB that he once had been.  He was still one of the better QBs in the league, but he didn’t seem to be quite at the elite level.

With McNabb as the QB, the Eagles seemed destined to be good enough to make the playoffs every year, but not quite good enough to win the Super Bowl.

I’m not saying that the playoff failures were all McNabb’s fault.  In most of the losses, the rest of the team played poorly.  But McNabb certainly didn’t carry the team to victory either. 

For whatever reason, Andy Reid decided that his offense would require McNabb to be great in order to succeed.  I realize that this may sound a bit stupid.  Don’t most offenses require their quarterbacks to play well in order to succeed?  Yes, but other teams at least give their quarterbacks some help. 

Other teams often surround their QB with good receivers who can be depended on to make a big play when necessary.  As any Eagles fan could tell you, aside from Terrell Owens, the Eagles never had a receiver who could be relied on to make a big play.  Other teams will also occasionally rely on the run game to win games.  But that wasn’t Andy Reid’s style.

Basically, the Eagles needed McNabb to have a big day in order to win, and sadly, in most of those playoff losses, he was not up to the task.

That essentially is the reason that many Eagles fans were fine with McNabb leaving town.  After ten years of the Reid-McNabb combo falling short, we figured that something had to change.  It is unlikely that Andy Reid was going to change his ways, and therefore, McNabb had to go.

Was it so wrong that the Eagles got rid of McNabb?  He was a good – not great – quarterback, who by all reports is a good guy.  Does that somehow make the Eagles obligated to keep him?  Isn’t the ultimate goal of an NFL team to win the Super Bowl?  If the team decides that they aren’t going to win the Super Bowl with McNabb, then why are they obligated to keep him?

It might be nice to think that loyalty means something in the NFL, but as we’ve seen countless times, loyalty comes second to winning.  (And possibly third behind making money).  That’s why Brian Dawkins is in Denver and Brett Favre is in Minnesota.

For their part, the Eagles have been nothing but complimentary towards McNabb and they tried their best to send him to a suitable destination.  Supposedly, they had good offers from teams like the Bills and Raiders, but McNabb had no interest in going there.  He wanted to play for Mike Shanahan, so despite being a division rival, the Eagles traded him to the Redskins.

I’ve heard some say that it is disgraceful that Eagles fans wouldn’t give McNabb the respect he deserved, and yet are cheering for Michael Vick.  This is absolutely ridiculous.

There are still Eagles fans who won’t cheer for Michael Vick.  My mother has completely turned on the team because of him, and I’m sure there are others like her.

As for those who do cheer for him, what else would you expect?  He’s the quarterback of the Eagles.  Fans want to see the Eagles win, so when Vick plays as well as he has, they will get behind him.  When it comes down to it, fans are generally loyal to the team first, and the players second.

Besides, Vick has only been the starting QB for two games.  Let’s wait to see how his tenure plays out before we judge how he was ultimately received by the fans.

As for how McNabb will be received this week, I know that many media members are sure that Philly fans will show their “vicious, nasty side,” and boo him without restraint.  I’m sure that some in the crowd will boo him.  Some people never liked him, and now he is a former Eagle currently playing for a divisional rival.

But I believe that a majority of the fans will cheer him.  In past instances of former stars returning (Allen Iverson, Charles Barkley), the stars were given a warm welcome.  Like with those former stars, I believe that the fans will appreciate that McNabb didn’t necessarily want to leave Philadelphia, but circumstances forced him out. 

I believe that most fans will remember the good McNabb moments and will applaud him on behalf of the great games he had for the Eagles. 

Hopefully, the image of Eagles fans cheering their former star quarterback will then become a symbol of the classiness of Philly fans.  From here on out, people will see that Philly fans can be very good to their players both past and present.

And then maybe we won’t have to hear any more tired stories about booing Santa Claus.  But somehow, I doubt it.

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