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.

Were the last couple years here tough?
No. Understand, with me—I’m like a shield. Everyone’s been throwing bullets my way. I just keep walking. Ping! Ping! That’s all you hear. People couldn’t get under my skin.

How would you describe your relationship with Jeff Lurie over the years?
I love Jeffrey; he’s a great owner. He took a chance on Andy. Andy and Jeffrey took a chance on me. It worked out well for us. Was I upset when I got traded? Absolutely, because I wanted to retire as a Philadelphia Eagle. I wanted to have that parade. I’ve apologized to the fans. My goal was to bring a championship to Philadelphia. I didn’t succeed in that.

When you were traded, who were you angry with?
Everybody. Because I didn’t like the way the situation was handled. When you get traded, you at least have an idea of what’s going on. Nobody’s telling me anything.

The writing was on the wall, though.
The writing wasn’t on the wall, because we just went 11 and five. [laughs] My agent’s talking to Joe [Banner] and Jeffrey. What’s going on? If you’re thinking about trading me, just say it.

Andy had said you were his starting quarterback.
I called Andy: What’s going on? “Nothing.” Hey, just tell me: Are y’all thinking about making a move? Let me know so I can prep my family. But everybody was so quiet. They’re talking to teams—my agent knew, I knew. C’mon, Andy. This is year 11. I know what’s going on. Just be honest with me.

Have you resolved those feelings since then?
I have. I didn’t talk to anybody for a while. I started talking to Andy again a little bit about what was going on when I was in Washington. I remember talking to Brian Dawkins when he went to Denver. He said, “Look, what we had in Philadelphia, we’ll never have again. But here in Denver, at least [head coach] John Fox is trying to bring it here. What we built in Philadelphia was special. But it helps your process when you have a coach that understands and is trying to build the same thing here.” We didn’t have that in Washington. I loved playing in Washington. But I didn’t have the privilege, like Peyton [Manning], of bringing his offense to Denver. It just didn’t work out.

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].

The fans were harder on Andy when he left than they were on you.
I know. Nothing went right that season. And they didn’t have me to blame.

Your parents were very vocal at times in your career—your mother Wilma writing about the team’s “bittersweet” success when you were hurt in 2006.
[laughs] Again, anytime a McNabb says something, it’s a big story.

Your father compared your trade to Washington on Easter Sunday to Christ’s resurrection. Was there anything they said that you wished they hadn’t, or that you disagreed with?
No. I’m privileged to have my parents still alive, still together, to continue to provide wisdom and guidance for me. They were always there for me. My mom, when I got hurt with my knee [in 2006], said it was bittersweet to see the team was winning and she can’t see her son out there playing. When I got traded on Easter Sunday, I was asleep. It’s amazing how a lot of stuff we say gets magnified.

Did you ever speak with Rush Limbaugh after his comments about you as a black quarterback?
No. Rush then got caught up with his Percocets or whatever. Don’t come to me unless your kitchen’s clean, because it will come out. Everyone who’s started up with me has somehow got caught up in something.

On the day you were drafted, you mentioned breaking down barriers; your agent, Fletcher Smith, made race an issue in your rookie contract negotiation. How much do you think race was a factor in how you were perceived throughout your career?
It’s been a part. What percentage, I don’t know. Do I care? No. But it’s been a part. Look at the numbers. Look at wins and losses; look at the success rate of the team compared to whoever else you want. Angelo Cataldi can say anything he wants and people will call in—rah-rah-rah. Mike Missanelli—[another guy] that can’t stand me. Do I care? No. Howard Eskin. Bernard Hopkins. Bernard, you’re about 50 years old and you’re still bringing up something that happened over 10 years ago? That means I’m somehow relevant to you or people around you. My legacy is still growing. So for Howard Eskin on Fox 29 to bring me up to Bernard Hopkins? Bernard brings my name up to make his fights relevant. Why you still talking about me? Because my name still resonates.

What advice would you give to young guys like Nick Foles or Matt Barkley, who could become the face of the Eagles franchise?
Have thick skin. Enjoy the game. Enjoy it. That’s why I like RG3, I like Andrew Luck, I like Russell Wilson. I like [Colin] Kaepernick. These guys are out there laughing, having a good time and joking. But when a guy’s sitting there steel-faced, you’re thinking too much. Just go out there and have fun.

Did you maintain that attitude toward the end with the Eagles?
Yeah. I was able to maintain that in Washington and Minnesota. That’s who I am. The game can be taken away from you instantly. In a second. [snaps his fingers] And then what? My plan B was to do what I’m doing now—TV, radio. I miss the camaraderie, competing. Do I miss the actual games, the soreness? No. I run every morning, I work out. I talk sports. I love my life.

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, [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.

Do you see yourself in Canton someday?
I don’t know. I didn’t play the game to make the Hall of Fame. I played the game to be the best at what I do while I’m doing it. If I make it, hey, that is outstanding. If I don’t, that’s not going to mess up my life.

RR: Do you deserve to be in the Hall of Fame?
If you want to measure guys by their numbers, then my numbers are comparable to all of them.

What do you imagine September 19th will be like, when the team retires your number five?
I don’t know. 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, “Fuck, 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. On my radio show, [NBC Sports host] Erik Kuselias asked me: Who would you put on Mount Rushmore for Philadelphia? To me, it would be Reggie White, Chuck Bednarik, Tommy McDonald and Harold Carmichael. If we had five heads, Dawkins. There’s a lot of people I’d put on there before me. I’ve never been a “me” guy. I’ve always been a team guy.

How do you think the fans will react?
I was asked that question when I was in Washington [before playing the Eagles at the Linc]. I didn’t know. They gave me a standing ovation. They booed when the offense came out, which I expected. But the standing ovation was special. It made me realize—they appreciate what happened. The fat guy [Reid] will be there. It will be a chance to say goodbye to the fans and shake the hand of the guy who took a chance on me in ’99. And I’ll get to tell Doug [Pederson] thank you. He was like a doormat my rookie year, like I was in Minnesota. The 19th is fun, man. I might bring the air guitar.

The city would go up in flames.
It probably would. But I’ve set Philly on fire for so long. [laughs]