Donovan McNabb will officially retire as an Eagle on Monday.
McNabb is the greatest Eagles QB I ever saw. I watched Jaws play, but not on a weekly basis. He certainly had his moments, but 1980 was his lone great year and Pro Bowl appearance. I watched a lot of Randall Cunningham. He was a dynamic force at times, but also could disappear in some games. A lot of this had to do with how Buddy Ryan handled him. “Go make me some plays” can win you games in October, but not in January. To sum up Cunningham, he did some things that will be remembered forever, but he was also benched for Bubby Brister.
Donovan McNabb was drafted 2nd overall in 1999. He was supposed to be the star QB to turn the Eagles around. And that’s just what he did. McNabb helped lead the Eagles from the bottom of the standings to the top of the NFC East. The Eagles won the NFC East from 2001-2004. That doesn’t sound like a big deal now, but it was huge then. The previous division title was 1988. Before that it was 1980. Winning 4 in a row was a darn big deal.
Not only did the team get to the postseason, they won playoff games. Even on the road. The previous 4 coaches combined for a pair of Wild Card victories in 15 years. McNabb had 3 playoff wins by the end of his third season.
2004 was a magical season as the Eagles made it all the way to the Super Bowl. It was great to see Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb celebrating with the trophy on the field after finally winning the NFC Championship. Unfortunately they didn’t win the Super Bowl, but that was still a great season.
McNabb stayed with the Eagles through the 2009 season. There was another division title in 2006. The team reached the NFC title game in 2008 and was in the playoffs again in 2009. McNabb went to Pro Bowls. He threw for 32,873 yards and 216 TDs as an Eagle. He was a winner and a special player. McNabb had a great career in Philadelphia.
Unfortunately, as the old saying goes, football things almost always end badly. Coaches are fired. Players are traded or cut. Teams are broken up. Nothing is forever. McNabb found that out first-hand, as he was traded in 2010.
McNabb struggled in Washington in 2010 and Minnesota in 2011 and finally requested the Vikings release him before the season was even over. He hasn’t played since.
So what happened? This is a confusing, complex tale that is made up of facts, rumors and guesswork.
The Eagles belonged to McNabb until the arrival of Terrell Owens in 2004. TO is one of those magnetic personalities that can just take over a group. He and McNabb got along well that year, but TO did change the dynamics of the team. That became an issue when TO got offended by some comments heading into the playoffs. Eagles players talked about winning without TO. Because Owens had the emotional make-up of an 8-year old kid, he took that as an insult. Things were never the same after that.
TO went nuclear in 2005 and did divide the locker room. Not fully, but enough that Donovan McNabb, a man who had been an Eagle for years, suddenly found himself in a power struggle with an outsider. This should have never happened, but it did and I think it affected McNabb for the rest of his career.
McNabb got hurt in 2006 and was replaced by the popular (and very fiery) Jeff Garcia. McNabb watched the team get hot and make a playoff run without him. Things really changed the following April. The Eagles made a bombshell move and drafted QB Kevin Kolb 36th overall. He was the team’s top selection and the QB of the future.
For the first time ever, this put a strain on the relationship between McNabb and Reid. McNabb started all 16 games, but the team went just 8-8 as he struggled while playing on a rebuilt ACL. The 2008 season was truly a roller coaster ride. The team started 5-3. McNabb struggled in a loss to the Giants. He struggled in a tie with the lowly Bengals (and then went public with the comment that he didn’t know games could be tied). The next week in Baltimore, McNabb played terribly in the first half and got benched. Kolb played the second half. McNabb got his job back the next game and started the rest of the year. The Eagles got hot and almost made it to the Super Bowl.
McNabb was hurt in the season opener in 2009 and missed the next 2 games. Kevin Kolb threw for more than 300 yards in each game and showed the potential to be a franchise QB. McNabb got the starting gig back as soon as he was healthy. He led the team to an 11-5 record and what looked to be a good season. The problem is that the team had a chance to win the division in the season finale at Dallas, but lost 24-0. The Eagles returned to Dallas for a playoff game the next week and lost 34-14. Mike Vick generated one TD and McNabb got one in garbage time. In the 2 biggest games of the year, McNabb generated one TD drive.
It was time for the Eagles to make a move.
They traded McNabb to the Skins. This was a crazy process. The Eagles power structure at that point involved Joe Banner, Howie Roseman and Andy Reid (Tom Heckert left in January for Cleveland). Banner and Roseman knew McNabb had to be dealt. Reid was reluctant. My guess is that Reid didn’t want to let go of McNabb because of their history together. Donovan was Andy’s QB. They were joined at the hip.
I don’t know how Reid finally got on board. Early on in the process, he made some phone calls and had other teams confused. They couldn’t tell if Reid was negotiating or stalling for time. Eventually Reid accepted reality and the trade talks became serious. Reid gave McNabb some choices and a deal was worked out with Washington. Trading McNabb within the division seemed crazy, but Reid wanted to do right by his guy. Looking back, you also have to wonder if Reid knew that McNabb wasn’t going to play well for the Skins.
McNabb left Philly a bitter man. He was mad at the Eagles for trading him. He was mad at Reid for not telling him what was going on. This bitterness lasted a while. McNabb admitted in a recent interview that even coming back to Philly for Brian Dawkins’ retirement was a “sour day for me.” He simply wanted nothing to do with the Eagles.
Thankfully McNabb has patched things up with Reid. Andy does seem to have this super power where no one can stay mad at him, beyond Eagles fans of course.
On Monday we’ll see McNabb patch things up with the Eagles. Hopefully. This should be a celebration of the great career that McNabb had. He is truly one of the greatest Eagles of all time.
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As much as I loved Donovan the Eagle, he has been almost completely unlikable since leaving. He went to Washington and for some reason thought Mike Shanahan would be open to his ideas and doing some of what the Eagles did on offense. Oops. Shanahan is an offensive dictator. He won a pair of Super Bowls using his system and wasn’t about to change for a veteran QB like McNabb. Things were even worse as it became evident that McNabb was difficult to coach. Reid had more of a diplomatic approach. Shanahan was a bully. Things did not end well.
I thought 2011 would prove to be a whole different story. McNabb went to Minnesota, where former Eagles assistant Leslie Frazier was the head coach. McNabb would be in a familiar offense. He’d be working for coaches that were open to his ideas. But things quickly went south. The Vikings coaches wanted to work on McNabb’s mechanics. They had been flawed for years, but Reid left them alone after a certain point. The Vikings staff thought a little change could make a big difference. McNabb’s response was that nothing was wrong with his mechanics. Again, he proved to be uncoachable. He was released late in the year. No team has touched him since. He’s just not worth the headache.
I’m not going to psychoanalyze McNabb, but it sure does seem clear that dealing with TO, the Eagles winning with Garcia, the drafting of Kolb, his 2008 benching and eventual trade all changed McNabb for the worse. He became defensive. A bit delusional. Phrase it how you like, but he was a changed man and not for the better. McNabb was not only a great player early in his career, but he was the kind of player you could love. He didn’t get arrested. He did commercials and had a great smile. McNabb was a great ambassador for the Eagles. That all changed over time.
You listen to what Donovan says in interviews now and come away shaking your head. He talks about how he never let anything bother him. Say what? Late in his time with the Eagles it seemed like everything bothered him.
McNabb remains bitter that the team dealt him. It feels personal. It wasn’t. Johnny Unitas finished his career as a Charger. OJ Simpson played for the Niners. Emmitt Smith was a Cardinal. The Pats traded their franchise QB Drew Bledsoe when he was still in his prime. The Bills dumped Jim Kelly before he was ready to go. The Colts let Peyton Manning leave. It isn’t personal. This is just how the NFL works. Players get older and they become disposable. It is a cruel fact of life.
Donovan is now an NFL analyst. He’ll need to learn this point if he expects to offer valid opinions on veteran players. One of his strengths so far has been his willingness to be critical of players. That criticism seems less valid when he’s unwilling to deal with the truth in regard to his own career.
I want to like him as an analyst. But I need him to show me that he lives in the same universe as I do. No one expects him to be perfect, but a little more honesty would go a long way.
I loved Donovan McNabb for a decade. He wasn’t perfect, but he was the greatest Eagles QB of all time. He won a lot of games and made being an Eagles fan fun. He’s not going to be a Hall of Fame player. He’s never going to be a Super Bowl champion. But that shouldn’t take away from what was a great career. 1999-2009 was a special time for him and for Eagles fans.
Today will hopefully help McNabb to be more comfortable with his past. If so, that could play a big part in McNabb having a bright future as an analyst and Eagles legend.