Exclusive interview: McNabb as Redskin

Former Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb is getting lots of love in Washington.
Former Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb is getting lots of love in Washington.
Posted: August 03, 2010

ASHBURN, Va. - Mike and Susan Sacks used to be devout Eagles fans. Cheered when their team won, gnashed their teeth when it lost. That all changed on Easter Sunday, though, when the Birds traded Donovan McNabb to the Washington Redskins.

Now, the Sacks - who live in Coplay, a small town just north of Allentown - sing "Hail to the Redskins" rather than "Fly, Eagles, Fly."

They made the 4-hour drive yesterday morning to watch their new favorite team and their old favorite quarterback. Susan wore a maroon Redskins jersey with McNabb's name and number. Mike was wearing a white Redskins baseball cap. Susan held up a sign that read: "When the Eagles traded Donovan, they traded me too."

The Sacks' sign caught McNabb's eye as he walked onto the practice field at Redskins Park for the team's 2 1/2-hour morning training camp session. He smiled and gave them a thumbs up.

"Hey, that sounds good," he said of the sign later in a lunchtime interview with the Daily News. "Neither one of us wanted to leave."

The 33-year-old quarterback is happy to be a Redskin. But that doesn't mean he's happy to be an ex-Eagle. The April 4 trade wasn't his idea, it was the team's. And while he's looking forward to a new NFL adventure in D.C. with the Redskins, he would have been perfectly content to finish out his career in Philadelphia.

"I had already said I wanted to stay there," McNabb said. "Andy said, 'You're going to be my guy. Don't worry about it.' But I've seen it happen through the years with other guys like Troy [Vincent] and Bobby [Taylor] and even Dawk [Brian Dawkins]. They communicate back and forth and it's, 'Yeah, you're our guy.' But then you're not.

"It's a breath of fresh air [to be with the Redskins]. Especially with everything that happened over the last 3 years with, 'Will he be here? Will he be gone? Is this it? Do we move on now?' When it finally happened, it was like, OK, now I can finally just play football. I can start over and hit this thing running."

He waved goodbye to a team he helped guide to eight playoff appearances and five NFC Championship Game berths in the last 10 years, and said hello to one that is coming off a four-win season and has been to the postseason just twice in this millennium.

But he is looking forward to the challenge of trying to help turn around the Redskins. He likened it to the anticipation he felt in 1999 when he was selected by the Eagles with the second pick in the draft.

"They were 3-13 the year before they drafted me," he said. "The next year, we went 5-11 and then the next year we went 10-6. After that, we were winning 10, 11 games almost every year and going to the playoffs. Not only did we get spoiled as players, but the organization and the fans got spoiled, because that's what they were seeing every year.

"You come here [to the Redskins], it's like, will we win more than four games? Will we make it to the playoffs? That's the thing that excites me because it's the [same kind of] challenge [as 1999].

"That's the drive to lead this team to the playoffs. To be able to experience that again. They haven't been in the playoffs in what, 4 years? To be able to get back to that point, that's what the fans are looking for. And that's what's driving me."

With the addition of McNabb and the hiring of coach Mike Shanahan, the Redskins should be better this season. How much better remains to be seen. They have three new starters on the offensive line. McNabb's receiving corps, well, the fact that they're counting heavily on 38-year-old Joey Galloway tells you all you need to know about that group.

The morning practice was a typical up-and-down McNabb performance. Early on, he hit Galloway, who had gotten behind cornerback Carlos Rogers and safety LaRon Landry, with a perfectly thrown bomb. A few plays later, he rolled to his left and threw a poor 10-yard pass to Galloway that hit the ground 2 feet in front of the receiver.

A little while after that, he threaded a red-zone touchdown pass to tight end Fred Davis. A little after that, he was wild high with a slant pass to Galloway.

While there was a sense in Philadelphia that the Eagles' young receivers were ready for a quarterback change, McNabb's new teammates couldn't be happier that the six-time Pro Bowler is a Redskin.

"I was shocked when I heard about the trade," tight end Chris Cooley said. "Not just that we got him, but that Philly let him go. Good for us.

"Donovan is going to make all of the players on this offense better. He just has such an ability to get guys the ball. He has the confidence to get us the ball and put it in tight spots and to give us a chance to make plays."

Right guard Artis Hicks, who played for the Eagles from 2002 to '05 and joined the Redskins in March, said McNabb "is going to be a great leader for us. He commands your attention in the huddle. You've got to have that. You've got to have presence in the huddle.

"Every man, especially on offense, wanted to kind of size Donovan up a little bit his first day here. And I commend him for being here that first Monday. He was traded on a Sunday, and our next workout day, he was here. He gave guys a chance to get a feel for him and feel his personality out. Everyone saw that he was a genuine guy. He's a great guy. That's more important than anything else. Because if you're not a likable guy, it's hard to get guys to follow you."

McNabb is gone but not forgotten in Philadelphia. The talk shows still take pot shots at him whenever the opportunity arises.

During an interview with a Tampa radio station last week, the quarterback was asked about the fact that he hadn't yet won a Super Bowl title. He responded by saying that, while winning a Super Bowl is an outstanding achievement, it shouldn't reflect on the type of career a player has had.

Well, the boys and girls on talk radio had a field day with that comment.

"When I apologize for not winning a Super Bowl [which he did last month on 97.5 The Fanatic], they say, 'Oh, he's not serious,' " McNabb said. "Then when I say what I said last week, they rip me for that. It's a no-win situation.

"It's a shame that [not winning a Super Bowl] has to be the telling tale of somebody's career. Think about it. Walter Payton was the greatest running back of all time. But it wasn't until he won the Super Bowl that people started talking about him being the best. But he never scored a touchdown in that Super Bowl.

"Dan Marino never won a Super Bowl. Same with Fran Tarkenton. Are their careers failures? Not at all. I would love to be like Dan Marino. John Elway, until he won those two Super Bowls, everybody talked bad about him."

McNabb, who described his 11 years in Philadelphia as "exciting" and "passionate," insisted that he has given little thought to his return to Lincoln Financial Field in Week 4.

"Just when I get hit with the questions," he said. "Oct. 3 is a long time away. I'm looking forward to us continuing to improve every day here in camp and then doing the same thing in the preseason, then get ready for the regular season."

If there is any bitterness over the trade, McNabb hides it well. He is grateful to coach Andy Reid for finding a good home for him in Washington rather than shipping him to some NFL gulag like Oakland or Buffalo.

"Andy found a good place for me, Andy found a good place for me," McNabb said, making it clear that if others in the organization had their druthers, he would not have remained in the NFC East.

"Andy and I had a lot of success together," he said. "I'm sure it was a tough decision for him. But we're still good friends. I want nothing but the best for him."

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