Rich Hofmann: Nothing's ever simple in McNabb's universe

Donovan McNabb: 'I just hope I walk out of the right tunnel.'
Donovan McNabb: 'I just hope I walk out of the right tunnel.'
Posted: September 30, 2010

ASHBURN, Va. - In football, Donovan McNabb seems forever destined to live a complicated life. He was voted by Eagles fans as the best quarterback in the history of the franchise, and he was also viewed as the man most likely to hit a receiver in the heel with a pass. He won more big games than anyone who ever wore the uniform, and he also lost more than anyone, especially as the betting favorite.

From the booing on draft day to the Easter Sunday purge - nothing was ever as smooth, or easy, or simple as a person might have hoped. Even now, he is being denied the clean-and-neat morality play that was supposed to be his return to Lincoln Financial Field.

It was going to be simple this Sunday: 4:15 p.m., Buck and Aikman, all eyes on No. 5. There still will be plenty of that, too. But the script has become muddled. It was supposed to be McNabb against Kevin Kolb, the past against the future, a quick-and-dirty referendum on the offseason trade of McNabb to the Washington Redskins, a simple statement about the vision of the people who run the Eagles and about the man who spent a decade as their face.

And then Michael Vick happened, turning the future to now.

"No one really focuses on the future," McNabb said. "Coaches have [a] short term before they get pulled, or players - everyone wants to win now. I don't think that they were talking about the future. I think a lot of you guys talked about the future because they're so young. DeSean [Jackson] has kind of exploded into one of the elite receivers. [Jeremy] Maclin is making a name for himself, Brent Celek - so they have talent over there.

"With Kevin, having that opportunity and plugging in and giving [him] that opportunity, it would be kind of just like [Green Bay's] Aaron Rodgers. Aaron Rodgers stepped in, threw for 4,000 yards his first year, and all of a sudden now he's one of the elite quarterbacks. I think that's what they expected from Kevin. But the future is still bright for Kevin. He's only, what, 26 years old?"

Ah, the rambling. Missed the rambling.

Spend another few minutes with McNabb and you realize that the emotions will remain his, as ever. Only the fake smiles and the corny jokes will be ours. The act has moved but it really has not changed, and why would it? The man is still the man.

From what he does allow to seep out, McNabb seems as conflicted as the rest of us. You sense a wistful fondness for his time with the Eagles. You sense, too, at least the remnants of hurt feelings over the decision to trade him away. But these are only impressions. He still has a hard time opening up enough to put the feelings into words.

He is playing this return to Philadelphia as no big deal, and that's that.

"I'm going to still downplay it," he said. "For me to stand here and try to explain how my emotions might be or what's going to be going through my mind, I think that's kind of, as Mike Tyson said, ludicrous. The thing about it is, I can respond to that better when the game is over . . .

"I'm sure I'll have some type of feelings. Who doesn't have feelings getting ready for a game? I just hope I walk out of the right tunnel."

He was standing behind a podium at Redskins Park before practice yesterday. There were more media than usual surrounding him, people said. The questions and the answers were standard issue. There can be few surprises this deep into a relationship.

Yes, he hopes the fans cheer him at the Linc. Yes, he thinks the people of Philadelphia treated him fairly. Yes, he still holds the memories and is thankful to coach Andy Reid and his teammates. No, he says he doesn't hold any kind of special grudge against the Eagles.

"For me to come here with a chip on my shoulder . . . I mean, every player has a chip on their shoulder about something," McNabb said. "Is this something that I use? Maybe just an added chip, I guess. But I have a whole season ahead of me and that's what I'm focused on."

He was asked about if he would go back to Eagles alumni functions after his retirement. He said he would. He said, "I spent 11 great years in Philadelphia," and that he would be excited to relive those times after it is all over.

But that is for then. In the here and now, there is Sunday and there is Vick. He was expecting to see Kolb; we all were. He was expecting to test the operating thesis, that the page needed turning, with everything he had - and he still will. But it is different now, one more twist in the tale, because Kolb lost his job after suffering a concussion and because Reid decided that he didn't feel like developing a quarterback this year after all.

"The game really isn't fair at times," Donovan McNabb said. He was talking about Kolb.

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