Sam Donnellon: McNabb didn't give up on Philly

Donovan McNabb will try to improve Redskins' 4-12 record.
Donovan McNabb will try to improve Redskins' 4-12 record.
Posted: July 27, 2010

ERIC LINDROS earned your wrath. Scott Rolen did, too. They're on that list of petulant stars who sabotaged seasons and picked a fight with their public.

But does Donovan McNabb really deserve what he's getting lately? Does he deserve our slings, our disdain, our recounting of everything that bugged us about him in his 11 seasons here?

Does he really deserve to be hated right now?

More to the point, will he ever be embraced by us later in life the way Randall Cunningham is now, the way Mitch Williams is now, the way Charles Barkley is now?

Maybe it's hard to get a sense of how McNabb will be remembered because it was hard to define him when he played. He made big plays. He missed big plays. He won games late and lately, he cost them games late.

His slow starts were often too much to overcome and always painful to watch. So, too, were his "one-of-the-guys" gymnastics, theatrics, proclamations. Often it seemed he projected confidence outside of the huddle more than he did inside of it. So often while accepting blame or criticism, he insinuated blame elsewhere. So often it was not his fault, but the team's fault.

But he was a citizen, a good one, and he rarely embarrassed either town or team. He didn't lash out when he was booed on draft day. He tried desperately to extricate himself from Terrell Owens' clumsy attempts to renegotiate his contract, suffering through characterizations that stick with him even today, most pointedly that he was a wimp on the playing field.

He played a game with a broken ankle once. He played half a season with a sports hernia. One criticism of him is that he held the ball too long, which was true, but that was about indecision, not guts. Hell, he got creamed a lot because of it. Early in his career, he ran over linebackers when he scrambled.

Yeah, he picked a real bad time to get sick in the huddle. But can we stop with the wimp talk? You wonder if that will define him, will wash over everything else he did, the way Mitch Williams' pitch to Joe Carter obscures what a gamer he was in 1993, how he pitched and got saves with his left arm hanging off, how he was never the same after that season.

McNabb thinks it will. I believe that. It's part of why he didn't want to leave here, even as the public sentiment for it built and the organizational support for him collapsed.

Don't misunderstand. I was in favor of the move. His act was old, grating at times. I'll say it again: He's a bad fit for an offense that relies on precision and last-second play adjustments. He's streaky. His touch on passes is suspect.

Did I mention he could be indecisive?

But to say he had worn out his welcome would imply that he was ever really welcomed, would be some feat of Orwellian revisionism of that memorable draft day, or the furor that followed his only Super Bowl. It's hard to figure out who stiff-armed whom first, but the relationship between us and him was not unlike the relationship between us and the coach who remains. Andy Reid can call us the greatest fans in the world a zillion times, but does anyone really believe he means it?

Still, McNabb wanted to stay. Not because he wanted us to love him, but because he wanted the civic debate settled in his favor with a Super Bowl win. He saw himself as John Elway, reversing perception after so many near-misses. For a time, that was the company line, too, until the pursuit became so stale it became counterproductive.

Like the CEO of a company who could not quite eclipse their competitors or the boss of a network whose ratings never quite met the expectations its talents suggested, Donovan McNabb was asked politely to move on, to take his talents elsewhere. Even that, he handled well.

So now he's a Washington Redskin, playing for the coach, Mike Shanahan, who helped redefine Elway. McNabb is 34, playing for a team that won four games last year, a team that will play the Eagles two times next season. It would be nice to think he will receive a hearty ovation when he comes back here, that the pile-on mentality that exists in this town right now will give way to a more rational approach.

You don't have to love Donovan McNabb to appreciate what he did here and what he tried to do. He wasn't Eric Lindros. He wasn't Scott Rolen.

Truth is, we quit on him before he quit on us.

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