Show Some Class, Philly: Don’t Boo McNabb

If a single Philadelphia fan boos Donovan McNabb Thursday when the Eagles retire his number at halftime, the offender ought to lose his or her ticket privileges for life.

Some knuckleheads are going to be tempted to vent their frustrations at McNabb when he walks onto the field, but they need to show restraint. More than that, they need to show some class. Forget about McNabb’s status as the franchise’s most productive and winningest quarterback. More on that later. If Eagles fans boo No. 5, they will be doing exactly what the rest of the country expects them to do. That behavior will inspire a return to the hackneyed list of Philadelphia fan transgressions and encourage those who love to bash the city to continue their piling on.

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What Donovan McNabb Says and What Donovan McNabb Means

Donovan McNabb is running late. It’s 11:30 a.m., and the ex-Eagles quarterback was scheduled for a photo shoot and interview at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Times Square. The occasion—a comprehensive look back at his career, timed to his retirement ceremony on Sept. 19. A little tardiness wouldn’t usually be a big deal, but for the fact his agent made it clear that McNabb only had an hour to spare. When he arrives just before noon, he’s relaxed and low-key, shaking hands and posing for photos with a football. The shoot goes well and fast. Now, though, we’re officially into overtime and the reporter—me—hasn’t said a word to McNabb yet. I’d hoped for a lengthy sit-down; what if he bails after 20 minutes?
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Iverson and McNabb: A Tale of Two Retirements

The tale of two retirements speaks volumes about Philadelphia and our relationship with our sports stars.

Allen Iverson is finally calling it quits after running out of teams and countries that want his diminishing skills. The Philadelphia 76ers are sure to retire AI’s number 3 at a game this year.

The Philadelphia Eagles will retire Donovan McNabb’s No. 5 at halftime on Sept. 19, when former Eagles coach and McNabb mentor Andy Reid comes to town with his new team, the Kansas City Chiefs.

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The Whole World Is Watching to See if Philly Boos Donovan McNabb

This is about as brilliant a defense of Donovan McNabb’s tenure as Eagles QB as exists—a thorough, funny, and wide-ranging case that the major criticisms of McNabb over the years have been unfair and overwrought. But what’s most damning is the writer Jon Bois’ verdict on Philly fans: This is probably our chance to make or break the reputation that our sports fans have, nationally, for being brutish thugs.

I try to keep an arm’s length from geocultural exceptionalism, at least within the context of the United States. I understand that it’s there, and that if I were to chance upon someone from Philadelphia, that person might well be different from his or her analogue in Wichita, Kansas, on account of where he or she is from.

At the same time, I know people from Philadelphia and Wichita and Los Angeles and Decatur, Georgia and Chicago, and in large part I can’t pick out one of their character traits and explain to you why they’re that way. This country is far more homogenous than its myths would have you believe. The Philly Sports Fan is surely not fundamentally different from the New York Fan who is surely not fundamentally different from the Alabama Fan. I’m suspicious of anyone who really believes otherwise to a particular extreme or another.

But I swear to God, if the Eagles boo Donovan McNabb at his retirement ceremony in September, it’s gonna test me a little bit.

I still reckon that the reputation of Philly fans precedes them, and that if they really are more ornery than Chicago fans or San Diego fans, it’s by a margin of 10 percent or less. But if they do follow up the warm reception for Dawkins by booing the Hell out of McNabb, the greatest quarterback in the city’s history, I’ll probably need to revisit this.

Lord God, that guy’s a stupid-magnet.

The whole thing is worth a read, but the gauntlet has been thrown: Philly, do you love or hate your sports reputation? Act accordingly at McNabb’s retirement.

McNabb-Philly Relationship Remains Complicated

The video montage that played prior to Donovan McNabb‘s retirement ceremony stirred old memories, and refreshed  you on how good No. 5 was when he was in his prime. The stats that flashed on the screen reminded you that he is the franchise leader in every major passing category, and may very well be the greatest quarterback in Eagles history. The glowing words from Brian Dawkins and Brian Westbrook and Jeffrey Lurie showed the kind of respect he has earned from some of the franchise’s keepers. And the tears that welled up in the quarterback’s eyes suggested that his time here meant more to him than he’d like to let on.

Viewed from this angle, it makes perfect sense that the team would decide to honor McNabb by retiring his jersey. They will do so on September 19 when the Eagles host Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs.

But as we know, McNabb’s time in Philadelphia can not be looked at from one angle alone. Like a prism, you can examine his career from a slightly different vantage point and a burst of new colors will be introduced.

His relationship with the team, and this city, was complicated. It wasn’t the most natural fit. There was never universal acceptance —  in either direction.

Lurie was asked if this dynamic was studied when deciding whether to retire the No. 5 jersey.

“Everything was discussed. It is a very rare and unusual decision to retire a number,” said Lurie. “You don’t want to in the moment decide exactly what that relationship was. I think we’ll look back. And looking back currently, when Donovan was here he led the NFL in jersey sales multiple years, by far the most popular jersey in Philadelphia. I remember the time when it was Donovan’s turn to do the autographs at Lehigh, and we had people sleeping over for two days to be first in line to get his autograph. We couldn’t sell enough season tickets. That continues, but that’s because of the franchise-changing winning ways that Donovan led. There was no doubt in my mind when he came back with the Redskins that he would get a standing ovation. I know our fans — they understand.

“Players connect in different ways. And it’s not always the organic connection of a Brian Dawkins. It’s very hard for a quarterback to have that organic connection because you are going to have so many ups and downs, and I think most of us recognize it’s the hardest position in sports, both on a personal level and an organic level. It’s just brutal. You’re not always going to have that organic matching, and Donovan had to fight a lot of criticism from crazy critics from around different issues. He was a path-breaker, the highest African American [quarterback] drafted ever at the time, and there was a lot on him. But I just think that he will go down as incredibly popular and at times criticized as every quarterback is in every market.”

McNabb recently told Philly Mag that his return to the NovaCare Complex for Dawkins’ retirement ceremony was a sour day for him. That was just last year. He explained why on Monday.

“In any marriage or any relationship, you want it to kind of be storybook,” said McNabb. “You watch over the years guys like Jerome Bettis ride off into the sunset and you see some of these guys who have been with one franchise and can retire there and close the door on your career.

“I thought that I would retire here. And the way the way things kind of went on with the trade, it left a bad taste in my mouth. The only time I had been in Lincoln Financial was when I was with the Redskins and we played here, hadn’t been in this facility until Dawkins had his retirement, and at that point I was still a little upset. I was able to put it behind me and move on, and we’re here.”

Lurie and McNabb have conflicting accounts of that Easter Sunday when he was traded to the Redskins.

“I remember I had to make the call to Donovan,” said Lurie. “Tears were coming down talking to him and telling him he was traded. And I tried to reassure him that he would always be an Eagle and I hoped we were delivering him to a coach who was a really competent offensive coach in Mike Shanahan, and I wished him well. It was a tearful moment.”

McNabb contends that he was roused from a nap by calls from his agent, who broke the news to him. He then turned on the TV and it was everywhere. He did not speak with Lurie, he says, until a couple weeks later.

At least as of last year, McNabb was not totally over the way things went down at the end of his career in Philadelphia. It’s a safe bet that there are several things about his time here that he hasn’t fully gotten past. Similarly, not everyone in this town is ready to put differences aside and honor the franchise’s top QB. But more and more seem to be. And chances are, the stances on both sides will further soften as time goes on.

“I look at the relationship [with the fans] just like a marriage. You have some great times, you have some tough times. Hey, one thing’s for sure. I told the fans that I would bring a championship here. My goal was to have them parade down Broad Street. Now the Phillies did it first. But you know, I apologized to the fans because that was my goal. I feel like I let them down. I don’t regret anything that happened throughout my career here. The fans, they truly appreciate the effort I gave.”

Afterwards, as McNabb was reflecting on the day ["I even shed tear. How about that?" he said] the former QB was asked if he felt like returning to the facility this time around felt like coming home.

“Absolutely,” said McNabb, who was getting ready to wrap up his session with reporters.

“And I’m leaving.”

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Lurie: If McNabb Went 1st, James Would’ve Been the Pick

At the time, the 1999 draft was considered to be a great opportunity for teams to find their franchise quarterbacks.

Five of the top 12 picks were signal-callers: Tim Couch (No. 1), McNabb (No. 2), Akili Smith (No. 3), Daunte Culpepper (No. 11) and Cade McNown (No. 12).

But the way Jeffrey Lurie tells it, the only one the Eagles thought was worthy of the second pick was McNabb.

“I remember it like it was yesterday, the details, amazing,” Lurie said. “It was dubbed as sort of the year of the franchise quarterback. New Coach Andy [Reid] was here. We were interviewing all together and very intensely every one of these quarterbacks and the top players at the top of the round with the second pick. This was meant to be a very, very important pick.

“We, ironically, going back, didn’t have a lot of confidence in most of the quarterbacks in that draft. The only quarterback that we all, and Andy leading the way, was very confident in was Donovan. And it wasn’t just his athletic ability. It was his years at Syracuse, his being able to learn a complicated offense, the way he was as a person, stable family background compared to some other quarterbacks both in that draft and elsewhere. So it all came together that that was really the only quarterback that was really far above all the others for us.”

The obvious follow-up question was: What would have happened if the Browns had taken McNabb with the first pick?

“It was really Donovan or ‘yikes.’ ” Lurie said. “What are we going to do? I guess the answer was Edgerrin [James]. We thought this was a potential Hall of Fame running back.

“But it was a no-brainer to go with the potential franchise quarterback [over] the running back, although Edgerrin became a superb player as well.”

That would have been quite the scene. Fans who infamously booed the McNabb pick wanted Ricky Williams. Had Cleveland taken McNabb No. 1 overall, selecting James might have drawn the same reaction.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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McNabb To Officially Retire As An Eagle

Donovan McNabb will formally announce his retirement as an Eagle on Monday, July 29th, the team announced. He and Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie will hold a press conference at the NovaCare Complex at 10 am.

McNabb is the team’s all-time leader in every major passing category, including attempts (4,746), completions (2,801), yards (32,873), and touchdowns (216). He led the team to 91 regular season and nine playoff wins over  11 years in Philadelphia.

The Eagles traded him to the Redskins after the 2009 season. In a recent interview with Philly Mag, he gave the impression that there are some lingering hard feelings.

“I never forgot what happened in Philadelphia. Those were great years. I would have loved to have had another couple years after that and just say ‘Thank you, I’m done.’ But it didn’t happen that way. I sold my house when I got traded. Never even touched foot in Philadelphia until I played there as a Washington Redskin. I hadn’t even been back to the facility until Brian Dawkins retired. It was a sour day for me. I was pissed off to go, but [Brian’s] like my brother. I went for my brother. I felt the same as Brian—you turned your back on me. You basically pointed the finger at me. Things haven’t been right in Philadelphia since [I left].”

According to McNabb, the team will have a retirement ceremony for him on September 19 when the Eagles host Andy Reid and the Chiefs.

What does he expect?

“I don’t know,” he said. “I remember being there with Brian for his press conference. I almost got emotional for him. I can’t promise you I won’t get emotional. Nobody has ever seen that side of me. To see Brian reflect on that, talk about our friendship—I was like, “[expletive], 11 years being here.” Then when they said nobody will ever wear number 20, which was well deserved, that is special. Then I heard they would do that for me.”

McNabb is expected to be at Eagles’ practice Sunday for Alumni Day.

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McNabb: Return To Eagles’ Facility ‘Was A Sour Day For Me’

Philadelphia Magazine’s own Richard Rys recently sat down with Donovan McNabb for a wide-ranging Q&A that covers everything from the day he was drafted to the day he was traded — and the hard feeling that followed. Plenty of good nuggets in there. Here’s a sample:

Did your time with Washington and Minnesota give you a different perspective on the Eagles?

I never forgot what happened in Philadelphia. Those were great years. I would have loved to have had another couple years after that and just say “Thank you, I’m done.” But it didn’t happen that way. I sold my house when I got traded. Never even touched foot in Philadelphia until I played there as a Washington Redskin. I hadn’t even been back to the facility until Brian Dawkins retired. It was a sour day for me. I was pissed off to go, but [Brian’s] like my brother. I went for my brother. I felt the same as Brian—you turned your back on me. You basically pointed the finger at me. Things haven’t been right in Philadelphia since [I left].

Tell me about your decision to retire two years ago. 

You have to know when it’s time. I told [the Vikings] to release me. I called my agent: “Get me out of here. I’m done.” Everybody wants to play many years, win Super Bowls, ride off in a chariot, retire, confetti comes up, cheerleaders are dancing. You want to end like Jerome Bettis did. Like Ray [Lewis] did. But it could end the way it did for me that week. It’s tough to swallow. I continued to work out. I was ready to go if the right call was there. It’s funny, because I talked to Jim Harbaugh, because [the San Francisco 49ers] were one of the teams I was thinking about. I said, “I’m all in. Just let me know.” He said, “Be ready. You’re on the short list for us.”

Who were the other teams?
Baltimore. Which is funny, because they both ended up in the Super Bowl. Which would have been really funny if I won a Super Bowl and wasn’t the starter. Those were the only two teams. I didn’t want to be a guy just waiting around—what you see T.O. doing, what you see Chad [Johnson] doing. I was done. And I was at peace.

You can read the entire piece here.

Eagles Wake-Up Call: Playoffs In 2013?

When Jeffrey Lurie introduced Chip Kelly back in January, he described the new coach as a program builder.

The implication was clear. After a two-year run in which the franchise went 12-20, it was time to get back to long-term thinking and make wholesale changes at the NovaCare Complex. Coming up with a quick fix was no longer an option.

But the NFL is different than other leagues like the NBA. It’s relatively common for teams to rebound quickly after disastrous seasons.

Bill Barnwell of Grantland points out that better than one in four teams that finish 6-10 or worse come back to make the postseason the following year.

The question that’s relevant to the audience here is: Can the Eagles be one of those teams?

Barnwell looked at the 10 teams that finished 6-10 or worse in 2012 and ranked them based on likelihood of making the playoffs in 2013. He had the Eagles at No. 2, behind only the Lions:

The statistical case backing them up is built upon an impossible turnover rate. Philadelphia was the other team with a minus-24 turnover margin, and by recovering 35 percent of the fumbles in their games, they finished just ahead of Kansas City, at 29th. Of course, Kelly has already become the first coach to teach Michael Vick how to avoid fumbling, so that should solve a good chunk of the problems there.

In all seriousness, Kelly’s insistence on getting the ball out quickly should reduce the likelihood of fumbles, and some simple variance should help push the Philadelphia offense back toward the middle of the pack. The defense should also deliver more than the eight interceptions it produced last year, so it’s not difficult to imagine the Eagles actually winning the turnover battle in 2013.

Barnwell has a point on the turnovers. According to Football Outsiders, a whopping 10 percent of the Eagles’ offensive drives last year ended with a lost fumble. That was the highest percentage in the league in the last five years. It would be difficult to repeat that kind of incompetence (and bad luck).

Vegas has the Eagles’ win total at 7 or 7.5, depending on the sportsbook. If you ask me, their best chance of making a surprise postseason appearance rests with the guys up front. If the offensive line stays healthy, it can be one of the best in the league. The Eagles have an obvious question at quarterback, but there’s talent at the other skill positions.

Kelly’s best shot at instant success is to get his offense going right out of the chute, and that can only happen if the line is leading the way.

WHAT YOU MISSED

T-Mac catches up with Lane Johnson, who says he’s hoping to avoid a holdout.

Which Eagles will make the second-year leap? Here’s the breakdown.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Donovan McNabb doesn’t think Matthew Stafford earned his new deal. From MLive.com:

“When you look at just the numbers overall, you have to think about 12,000 yards and being the youngest quarterback to reach this feat and also the things he’s been able to accomplish, you know you begin to question this.” McNabb said Tuesday night on NFL Total Access. “It’s about wins and losses again. Now, as a quarterback and as Matt Stafford, hey, I would take that contract just like Tony Romo took his contract. But is he worth top 5 money? I would have to say no. And I say that because it’s about wins and losses.

“What has he really done for the Detroit Lions? Nothing.”

Andrew Kulp of The 700 Level thinks DeSean Jackson has a chance to flourish under Kelly:

Yet this is where Chip Kelly comes in and potentially rejuvenates DeSean’s career. No longer will Jackson be relegated to the role of decoy, running sprints down the field on seemingly every play. Jackson can still go deep, but in the new scheme he’ll be put into situations where he can get the ball in space. There are said to be a higher number of short and intermediate routes, and he’ll even be lining up in the backfield with some frequency apparently.

If opponents are worrying about Jackson doing more underneath, it should make him more dangerous when he does go over the top, as safeties start creeping up toward the line of scrimmage again. No matter where he is getting the ball in his hands though, expect it to come his way in higher volumes.

COMING UP

I’m back from vacation and ready for the lead-up to training camp. Thanks to T-Mac for covering last week.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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Eagles Wake-Up Call: The ‘Compelling’ 2004 Squad

Today, we take a trip down memory lane and remember a team that will either bring a smile to your face or elicit tears from your eyes: the 2004 Eagles.

ESPN.com is doing a series on the five most compelling NFL teams since 2000, and the 2004 Birds, led by Brian Dawkins, Donovan McNabb, Terrell Owens, Brian Westbrook and company came in at No. 3, behind only the 2010 Brett Favre-led Vikings and the 16-0 New England Patriots (2007).

Ashley Fox provides a recap of the 13-3 campaign, which ended in a 24-21 loss to the Patriots in the Super Bowl:

“When we stepped on the field from OTAs to the first game against the New York Giants, we felt no team could beat us,” Ike Reese said. “We were hunting for the St. Louis Rams and the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts. That’s who we had to beat. I just remember the level of confidence was at an all-time high for a team coming off three NFC Championship Games. It took us to an almost invincible feeling.”

It’s impossible to discuss that season without mentioning the fallout afterwards. Despite how things turned out with T.O. and the ensuing 6-10 campaign in 2005, Andy Reid told Fox the gamble on Owens was well worth it.

“I like Terrell. All of us could’ve handled it a little different,” Reid said. “I take a little of the blame for that. Everybody I know wants to come after Terrell. I take some of the blame, too. There were things we could’ve done better after the way it worked out. But was it worth it? Yes. I would do it over again. I would. I wish things could’ve worked out better during the Super Bowl. Philadelphia deserved to have a championship there, but it didn’t pan out that way.”

The Eagles had strong leadership on that team, but nobody could seem to find a way to keep McNabb and Owens on the same page for another season.

“If you can somehow keep that team in tact, that offensive staff in tact for another season… you would definitely be the favorites to win the Super Bowl,” Westbrook said last year. “That offense [would have been] the No. 1 offense in the league for a long time, and we would have been so productive.”

Added Dawkins: “What I tried to do was pull guys to the side, away from everybody, and just have conversations with them. ‘What’s going on? What’s the deal? What can I do to help? This is what we need to do to get back on the winning track, and if I can assist in any way, let me know. Even if you don’t let me know, this is what I’m willing to do. This is what we need to do in order for us to get this thing going in the right direction.’

“The thing that you always want to do is get everybody in the room at the same time. That was never able to be done.”

And so, Eagles fans are left to wonder what could have been. But there’s no doubt that “compelling” is a fair way to describe the team that got the franchise closer than any other to the Lombardi Trophy.

WHAT YOU MISSED

What the Oregon sanctions mean for Chip Kelly.

Will Kelly run a physical camp? Players weigh in.

We asked three players a simple question: What do you know about Kelly now that you didn’t know a few months ago? Here are their answers.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Tommy Lawlor of IgglesBlitz.com offers some thoughts on the defense:

The defense won’t be a top unit until the right players are in place. It is possible we could find out we already have those players, but I think that is an extreme longshot. I like this group, but don’t see them turning out to be a great defense. The secondary still needs work and there are front seven questions to be answered.

I’m not enamored with the system we’re running, but it has grown on me. The most important issue for me is that the team did hire the right coaches to teach the scheme. This staff has a lot of 3-4 and hybrid defense experience. If you want to be creative and complex, you must have the right teachers. I think the Eagles accomplished that.

Over on The Philly Post, Richard Rys is not happy that Marvel has teamed up with the Cowboys:

What’s worse, for me as an Eagles fan, is that the one Marvel/NFL tie-in that makes sense for adults who are not virgins is right here in Philadelphia. Future Hall of Famer Brian Dawkins was known for his love of Wolverine, the X-Men member with unbreakable bones and a berserker rage. He kept Wolverine figures in his locker and named his on-field alter ego after the character’s code name, “Weapon X.” Marvel honored Dawkins with a Wolverine-inspired poster after he retired. But they could have made a mint with Weapon X shirts; in fact, one local company has made a very cool Dawkins tee that isn’t anywhere near as corny as the Cowboys line. Forget Hugh Jackman — if B-Dawk says a Canadian with retractable claws is cool, it’s gospel.

COMING UP

Haven’t you learned by now that we always come up with something?

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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