Donovan McNabb Looks Back

The controversial Eagles quarterback talks candidly about his career, Terrell Owens, Rush Limbaugh, how Michael Jordan broke his ankle, his anger at being traded by the Eagles, and what really happened in the Super Bowl.

By 2000 and 2001 you were an elite quarterback—big numbers, dramatic comeback victories. Then you showed guts in 2002 against Arizona when you played with a broken fibula. What do you remember from that game?
Oh, man. I was with Brand Jordan. They didn’t send my rain-type shoes on time, so I went from Jordans back to Nike. I was slipping out there. I scrambled left, tried to give two guys a move, buy some time.
I remember getting grabbed from behind. They checked my ankle on the sideline, taped it. We rallied, came back, great game. We go back in the locker room and they x-ray it. Bam: “You broke your ankle.”

You didn’t have any idea how bad it was during the game?
No. I’d never broken anything, never had surgery. They said they can put a pin in it, you’ll be back in three to four weeks. We were on our playoff run. So my mom came in, she’s a registered nurse, and I’m like, “I’m not just jumping to surgery—nobody cuttin’ on me.” What’s the other option? We can let it heal itself. That would be six to eight. My mom’s like, “We’re not having surgery. I’m not having my son, 20 years from now, going through metal detectors and having to get scanned with a plate and screws in his foot.” Didn’t have surgery. It healed cleanly. After the game, I went to the [Washington] Wizards game and said to Mike [Jordan], “Where were my shoes? I broke my ankle, man.”

So it was Michael Jordan’s fault you broke your ankle.
I told him that. He said, “You did what? I’m sorry.”

I interviewed you in the fall of 1999, and you said this about being booed at the NFL draft: “I looked at it as a challenge and came out to prove them wrong.” It seems like over the years, you forgave but never forgot.
That’s 100 percent accurate. You dream of hearing your name called at the draft. I heard the whole process on Angelo Cataldi wanting to get the bus to go up and boo me. Why would you do something like that? To me, it was just another one I put on the list of proving people wrong. Was I pissed off? Yeah. It was embarrassing. That goes down in history. That’s something they keep showing—memorable things at the draft, me getting booed.

Did that make it tough to warm up to the fans here?
No. It was not tough at all. It’s just me and my team out on the field. I block out the fans. I feel like it’s just like pr­actice. I’ve always said, the game is played during the week. Sunday is like, you take your kids to the candy store. You had a great week; today, treat yourself. That’s how I treated games—it was an op­portunity for me to just have fun. I feel like we’re showmen, as athletes. We’re paid to put on a show.

You let your personality shine through at times.
All the time.

Sometimes the fans responded to it. Other times …
They didn’t understand it.

There was the Michael Jackson “Thriller” dance, and picking up the phone on the sideline against the Giants. And the one that bothered people the most …
The air guitar. This is the thing pe­ople don’t understand. I brought the air guitar out at training camp. Everybody loved it. Leonard Weaver had the drums, DeSean Jackson was rapping. It was like a band. We were having a good time. When I brought the air guitar out in the playoffs, that wasn’t to throw it in anybody’s face. That was me showing that we’re loose. If we’d have won the game, wouldn’t nobody have said nothing about the air guitar. We’d just lost to Dallas [the week before] because I felt like we came into that game thinking too much of the result. The whole week, it was, Let’s get back to being who we are. Let’s be loose. And people took it—he’s not focused. You can hate me all you want to. When I’m on that field, I couldn’t care less.

Let’s go back to 2003. NFC divisional playoff vs. Green Bay. The play.
Fourth and 26. The one that Freddie “Boom Boom” Mitchell will always live by. There’s an Eagles bar in Arizona, that’s all they talk about—fourth and 26 and the Super Bowl.

You don’t sound too impressed by fourth and 26.
’Cause we didn’t make it to the Super Bowl. Should we have made it more than once? Absolutely. As a quarterback, you get measured by wins and losses—we won, obviously, more than we lost. You get measured by your numbers—I had great numbers. You’re measured by your Super Bowl wins. As a quarterback, I wish I could have won a Super Bowl.

Three straight NFC championship games. James Thrash and Todd Pinkston were your top wideouts; in 2003, they combined for three touchdowns. Do you think Andy, Jeff Lurie and Joe Banner should have found better receivers for you early on?
You remember when I said—and anything I say, in Philly, becomes a story to this day—it’s important to get some playmakers? We brought in Asante Samuel, we brought in three or four players. I said playmakers—somebody who can change the game with a pick or a play.

In 2004, you successfully lobbied to sign Terrell Owens and finally had a true number one receiver. Why did things click so well?
We’d played in the Pro Bowl together. He understood my ability, and I understood his talent—find a way to put the ball in his hands. He’ll make everything else happen after that. If you have a great receiver, the quarterback looks great.

That’s what made it so devastating when things went south. He could have been your Jerry Rice.
It was like music. People in training camp were like, Whoa, this is something we have never seen. Because of the music we were making on offense, at quarterback and wide receiver—and this is the funny part that people don’t focus on—the defense elevated their game. Special teams elevated their game. Coaches’ confidence grew. We were going into games thinking how much we were going to beat teams by. That was one of the most exciting years, because I felt like as a team, everybody came together. We had parties together. We watched Monday Night Football every week together. It was a team. That was something I felt like, early on, we were missing. Then it was shattered in ’05.

What went wrong?
Everybody wanted to be a star. That’s the problem with a lot of teams. When you make it to the Super Bowl, all of the sudden, everybody feels like, “This is my chance.” Everybody had websites, everybody was doing TV segments or shows. Everybody’s doing other things.