This Monday Night game will signify the end of the McNabb/Eagles saga in my mind. McNabb will likely leave Washington at the end of this season and will likely only play the Eagles a handful of times in a few less meaningful games for the rest of his career. With that idea, I’ve begun thinking about the past. I’ve begun thinking about the career that he built in Philadelphia.
I was seven when he was drafted in 1999. I wasn’t even a football fan yet. I had no clue what was going on at the time. When he was drafted, I was probably playing with friends in the backyard or something. I know that at the draft there were thirty mostly drunken buffoons booing him. I know there was a mayor who wanted a running back from Texas. I know the Eagles had previously gone 3-13 in what was the worst season in franchise history. I know that “with the second pick the Philadelphia Eagles select Donovan McNabb, quarterback, Syracuse University.’ And the rest is history.
But it’s a rich history, no question about it. It’s a history that I eventually settled myself in amongst. It’s a history that will be recounted by countless Eagles fans from my generation and the generations before me as a true golden age of Eagles football. Yeah, we never won the big one but we had a fun time. If you were to ask any Eagles fan what some of their greatest memories as a fan are, I guarantee you that nine out of ten will say 4th & 26 as one of their answers. They’ll remember McNabb dropping back on 4th down, keeping the play alive for a few seconds and then drilling the ball right to Freddie Mitchell over the middle of the field.
They’ll paint mental images of McNabb getting tackled by an Arizona defender in 2002 and his leg getting twisted like a Philadelphia pretzel. They’ll tell you how he went on to throw four TD passes and lead the Eagles to victory in that game. They’ll tell you how it was only after the game had finished that we found out McNabb had a broken ankle.
They’ll remember, some with tears in their eyes, a thick bearded McNabb hoisting the NFC championship trophy. They’ll remember that unshakable feeling that the demons of the past were finally gone, that Philadelphia was finally going to be a winner. They’ll remember the city being a mad house with people running up and down Broad Street, screaming at the top of their lungs as if they’d actually won the Super Bowl.
But we know how that story ends. We know that at the end of the day it ends in heartbreak with the Eagles coming up three points short in the big game. We know about the INTs that McNabb threw. We know about the offense being executed inexplicably slow with just a few minutes to go. We know all that. For many of us, memories of that game still haunt us. In a way it almost hurts worse knowing that we were so close than it would have had we gotten blown out. There was still a chance at the end.
But all those things serve to humanize McNabb. He was very flawed and we knew it. But, let’s be honest: Philadelphia is a flawed city. Just like McNabb, we can be the best one minute and the worst the next. We can be so loving one day and merciless the next. For whatever reason, it’s our nature. Maybe it’s the fact that we haven’t won much over the course of our sports history. Maybe it’s just in the city’s DNA blueprint. But the fact is that McNabb was like Philadelphia in many ways. There were times that things he did we loved and things he did that we hated.
But at the end of the day he did more good than bad. At the end of the day he was the best QB this city has ever seen. Ultimately, when we tell the stories of McNabb, we’re going to be telling the success stories rather than the failure stories. Because, again let’s be honest, there’s a lot more stories of success than there are of failure. He gave this city a reason to believe that the Eagles could be winners. That alone gave the city life and a reason to hope for many things.
And for that, I will forever be grateful to Donovan McNabb.