Questions and Answers with McNabb

Posted: July 26, 2013


Even now, 3 years after he was traded by the Eagles to the Washington Redskins and nearly 2 years after he threw his final NFL pass, his name still is a lightning rod in Philadelphia.

In McNabb's 11 seasons in Philadelphia, the Eagles made eight playoff appearances, won five division titles, made it to the NFC Championship Game five times and the Super Bowl once.

He threw for a club-record 32,873 yards and 216 touchdowns in those 11 seasons and broke almost every significant team passing record before being traded to the Redskins on Easter Sunday, 2010.

While the Eagles have yet to announce it, they will honor their former quarterback at halftime of their Sept. 19 Thursday night game against the Kansas City Chiefs and his former coach, Andy Reid.

Earlier this month, McNabb was in town for a charity softball game that he co-hosted with Rasheed Wallace to benefit autism research. Before flying home to Arizona, he sat down with Daily News sports writer Paul Domowitch to discuss his career.

Andy Reid has said one of the reasons he drafted you in '99 over Daunte Culpepper and Akili Smith and Cade McNown was that he felt you were wired right for Philadelphia. That you could handle the intense fan and media scrutiny that goes with being the starting quarterback in this town. Agree?

"I think I was. He understood that I wouldn't let anything bother me. Anything could happen around me, and as long as everybody was OK, I was fine. I mean, I was introduced to it at the draft when they booed me. It was funny. I started laughing. I was like, did they just boo me? I had never seen or heard of anybody getting booed when they got drafted. It was an awakening. After that, it was, I'm just going to go out and prove a point every time. I never let anything get up under my skin. I think that's the thing that bothered people the most. That I kept smiling, kept moving."

Any concerns that you might hear some boos when they honor you in September?

"I truly wouldn't care. To me, it's an appreciation for the people who truly respected what I did. I've always lived by the motto that you can't please everyone. So, for me, if I get booed, it wouldn't be anything new. If they cheer, that would be great. Obviously I'll be out there with my family and the teammates I played with. If there are any boos, I will smile.

"I've always heard that they appreciate you [more] when you're gone. It's funny. Flying out here, I stopped in Chicago to visit my family. I ran into [former Phillie] Jim Thome in the airport. We were talking about playing in Philly. He asked me how I dealt with it because he said it was really hard for him. I said I just let it run right down my back. I never let it bother me. I told him I loved the game too much to let it affect what I was doing. All the time I put in preparing, I didn't let it bother me."

What's your opinion of Philly fans?

"I thought they were true fans who loved the Eagles and loved the game of football. Opinionated, for sure. But they loved their teams. They just want to see winners. And over the years, we gave them that. But after a while, the wins didn't become enough. It became all about winning the Super Bowl, which was understandable. That was the same attitude we went in with as players after we won the NFC Championship [in '04]. We felt we needed to win a Super Bowl. And that didn't happen."

Do you feel a void because you never won the Super Bowl in the 11 years you were with the Eagles?

"Yes and no. I've seen many great players who had great careers but never won a Super Bowl. Because I'm so hard on myself, though, I kind of feel like there's a void there. That was my ultimate goal when I played. To win a Super Bowl. To come so close so many times, it hurts. Watching Super Bowls now, you just see yourself and replay that game [against the Patriots]. When you get that close, you keep asking, what could we have done better that day? What could I have done better? I always point the finger at myself. When I look back on my career, the numbers are great. But I feel like I not only let myself down, but I told the people of Philadelphia that I would bring them a Super Bowl and we would have a parade down Broad Street. That's what I wanted. That's what they wanted. And it didn't happen."

You were only 28 when you lost to the Patriots [in the Super Bowl]. You had made the playoffs 5 straight years and been to the NFC Championship Game four straight times. Were you figuring there would be other Super Bowl chances?

"I've heard that from so many guys. I talked to Dan Marino. I talked to Jim Kelly. Marino went to the Super Bowl in his second year and lost and never got back. He had a great career. Made it to the Hall of Fame. But he never got back to the Super Bowl. When you lose, you say, OK, we'll win it the next time. We made it to the NFC Championship Game one more time [in 2008] and got close again, but couldn't do it. It's depressing. It really is."

You haven't played for the Eagles since since '09. Yet the mere mention of your name is guaranteed to get a reaction - good and bad. Your most innocuous tweets are manna for bloggers and tweeters. Does that surprise you?

"It's crazy. Bernard [Hopkins] is 50. Why is he still bringing my name up? I guess they still want to talk about me. I guess I should be flattered."

Is it going to be strange walking into that stadium on Sept. 19 when they honor you?

"Yeah. I was talking to my dad about it the other day. I haven't been in that stadium since I played there with Washington. I haven't been to the [NovaCare] facility since Dawk's retirement deal. Some stuff is hard to get over. When you've been traded, you feel like you've been dumped."

What was your reaction to the Eagles trading you? Were you bitter?

"I wanted to be able to have the opportunity to say, you know what, I want to retire here. Did I see it coming? I did. There obviously were rumblings long before it happened. I had been there so long, I had seen how things worked.

"It's funny how things kind of come out. Before our final regular-season game against Dallas, you started hearing and reading things like, well, if Donovan doesn't go far in the playoffs, this could be it for him. We were sitting there at 11-4 at the time and I'm like, are you serious?

"I remember coming home and my wife asking me, what are they talking about on the news? Why do they keep mentioning this possibly being your last year here? I said, you know what, when anything starts like this, somebody is putting something out there. Something's going on.

"We ended up losing the Dallas game, then lost to them again the next week in the playoffs. I sat down with my wife and said, this might be it here. I was going into the last year of my deal. Kevin [Kolb] was going into the last year of his deal. I said, they have to make a decision. Plus, my contract was up at the same time as Peyton's [Manning] and Tom's [Brady]. So it was going to be a big payday. Were they going to be willing to pay that again?"

What did Andy say to you after they traded you?

"To me, it felt like his hands were tied. I was here [in Philadelphia] until school got out [that year]. So I was around and working out. I said, what's going on? Somebody just say something or tell me you're listening to [offers from] other teams. I said I've been here long enough that you can at least give me that kind of respect. He said, well what do you want to do? I said, what do I want to do? I told you from the very beginning that I want to retire here.

"When I got traded, I talked to him on the phone. He asked me, how I was doing with all of this. I said, I don't know what to think to be honest with you. I said, I was asleep when you called me [to inform him he was traded]. Then my dad tells me Fletcher [Smith, his former agent] called him. And I look on the TV and see that I've been traded. What am I supposed to think when you guys don't talk to me and then try to trade me to Oakland or Buffalo?

"I asked him one question: Who made the move. Was it your move or somebody else's? He kind of hemmed and hawed, and I said, say no more."

You didn't end up getting traded to Oakland or Buffalo. You got traded to the Redskins, a division opponent. The perception was that Andy probably could've got a little more for you if he dealt you to Oakland or Buffalo, but wanted to trade you someplace where you would be happy, even if it was within the division. True?

"Andy helped me with that. He did that [for me]. I appreciated what he did, even though it didn't work out down there."

The Redskins traded two picks, including a high-second-rounder for you, then didn't seem to know what to do with you. They benched you late in the season and ended up trading you to Minnesota. Surprised?

"I was talking to Andy all throughout that season. He'd ask me how it was going down there. I'd say, you don't know the half of it. He said, one thing he didn't understand was for them to go out and trade for me, give up picks and all that, and the head coach [Mike Shanahan] never called him to find out even a little bit about me. Andy said he found that very odd."

The Shanahans seemed to suggest that you were a bad fit for their offense. Yet they had 11 years of tape at their disposal to get a feel for your strengths and weaknesses. How does that happen?

"You go into a new system. You're trying to do everything possible to understand the ins and outs, understand the head coach's methods, understand his offensive coordinator's [Kyle Shanahan's] methods. You're trying to be coachable.

"When you've been doing something for a long period of time like I had been, it's new for everybody. So let's do something that I'm used to. You saw what Denver did when they brought in Peyton. He went there and they brought his whole offense in. A lot of the young quarterbacks that were drafted, including RGIII, their teams implemented a lot of the things they had done in college.

"To me, it was a stubborn kind of deal. [The Shanahans said] you have to do this. I got the whole John Elway deal from Shanahan. He said John didn't like the offense at first either, didn't agree with this and that. And I'm thinking, well, I understand why he didn't.

"I wish I would've had another year to be in that offense and get comfortable in it. But I didn't get that opportunity. You move on."

Did any teams contact you last year about playing for them?

"In July, as training camp got closer last year, I started thinking, you know what, this might be it. I had been training just in case, but I decided it wouldn't be a bad move if I just retired.

"I didn't want to be in a position where you make the decision [to quit] and then you're second-guessing yourself. I had to make sure. It was probably around Aug. 1 that I decided."

Every player wants to go out like John Elway. Win a Super Bowl late in his career and then announce your retirement. Was it disappointing not going out on your terms after the great career you had?

"I knew I could still play. I went to San Diego and worked with [former NFL assistant coach] George Whitfield for a month. That reassured me that I could still play. I was only 35 at the time. There were some [mechanical] things I had to clean up, and I thought I was able to do that out there. But the right opportunity just wasn't there.

"I had calls from teams that were rebuilding, that didn't really have a chance of winning. I also talked to both of the Harbaughs. And really, San Francisco was very interested. But they wanted to see what Colin Kaepernick could do. Jim [Harbaugh] knew I had been working out with George and thought about bringing me in for a workout. But I told him, see what he can do first. I'll continue to work. He asked me what my timeline was. I said pretty much Aug. 1. I wanted to have time to get a feel for the offense and understand what was going on. I didn't want to come in in the middle. After sitting down with my family and making the decision [to retire] last year, I felt it was the right decision."

You and Andy were together for 11 years. That's longer than most marriages. What was your relationship like with him during those 11 years?

"I respected Andy for the way he handled a lot of situations that we all were a part of. He was always a guy that would get in front of me or the team and say, 'I have to do a better job.' Given that my next job was in Washington where the guy would never say that, I appreciated it.

"I respected him for taking a chance on me with the second pick in the draft. We battled back and forth a lot. I felt a lot of times I was left out there without anybody coming to my defense in a lot of situations. If it was him or Joe [Banner] or Jeffrey [Lurie], they felt like I could handle it, that I could diffuse the issue. But I felt like I was just hanging out there myself a lot.

"But overall, it was good. You look at all the coach-quarterback combos in NFL history and what we were able to do, it's impressive."

Andy's going to be there on Sept. 19 for your retirement ceremony and when you're honored at halftime. What's your current relationship with him?

"We're in a good place. We went to lunch in Arizona [in March during the NFL meetings]. I've moved on."

Besides the trade, nothing strained your relationship with Andy more than his decision to bench you in '08 after you threw two interceptions in the first half of that 36-7 loss to Baltimore. You clearly didn't agree with the decision. But when he put you back in 4 days later in that Thanksgiving night game against Arizona, you threw four touchdown passes and the team snapped out of its funk, won four of its last five regular-season games, squeezed into the playoffs and made it to the NFC Championship Game again. How much did your benching affect your relationship with Andy at the time?

"There were rumblings going into that game that you might start seeing a little bit of Kevin Kolb and all that. As a team we weren't playing as well as we had been. I was part of it. Everybody else was a part of it. But for that to happen, it was just shocking to me. Then, at the end of the game, it's, hey, you're still our starter. My question was, 'Am I still the starter because Kolb went out there and threw two picks [in the second half] too, or am I still the starter because you were trying to make a point?'

"It was kind of odd. And it wasn't that I played lights out after that. The team as a whole started to play well. We played with a lot of energy that next game against Arizona. Everything just came together - offense, defense, special teams.

"I felt three games after I got benched, I just felt we were the best team in the league. Our confidence was back. The way we went through Minnesota [in the wild-card round] and beat the Giants [in the divisional round], and then we were playing Arizona again, who we had beaten by four touchdowns 7 weeks earlier.

"We've done that a lot in my career, where we would run off six or seven games where we were just unbeatable. Andy's record after the bye week was amazing."

And then you trip and fall and lose to the Cardinals despite throwing for 375 yards and three touchdowns, when the defense can't stop Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald and Kevin Curtis falls down and can't hang on to that fourth-down pass from you.

"I work out in Arizona with [former Eagles and Cardinals cornerback] Rod Hood [who was covering Kevin on that play]. He keeps insisting that he didn't touch him. I said no, you tripped him. You tripped him and then you grabbed him."

You're 17th in NFL history in passing yards, 22nd in touchdown passes and fourth in interception percentage. You also rushed for the sixth most yards of any quarterback in history. But you always winced when anyone made a big deal of your running ability. Why?

"It just bothers me when they try to label guys by their abilities. Yes, I was blessed with the ability to run. But a lot of people are. It wasn't like I ran a 4.2 or 4.3 [40]. I knew how to utilize my legs when I needed to. But when you label somebody as a running quarterback, it takes away from what they do.

"These kids don't understand it now because now, they say he's a guy who can run the read-option, or he's a top-five quarterback. They're putting numbers behind it now. But I just hated that."

I take it you're not a big fan of the read-option?

"Not a fan. When I look at the read-option, I don't like it because it leaves your quarterback open for hits."

How much of your sensitivity to the running-quarterback thing had to do with the fact that you're African-American?

"There are a lot of mobile white quarterbacks, too. But you don't ever hear them referred to as running quarterbacks. I used to read scouting reports. We'd play a game in the locker room. For a black guy, it would say strong guy, strong arm, can make plays with his legs. Runs the bootleg well. For a white quarterback, he's a scrappy kid, a grinder, cerebral, accurate, a leader. It's like, why are we still in this mode?"

I always felt you put a lot of pressure on yourself when you played. That you were playing not just for Donovan McNabb, but for every black kid who played quarterback or aspired to play quarterback. That's a lot of pressure. Was that the way you felt?

"I didn't approach it that way. I was just sticking up for myself and for everybody else I represented. The whole Rush Limbaugh deal, if you listen to what I was saying, it was, what are you telling [black] kids that are in college, kids that are in high school, kids in Pop Warner, who have dreams of playing in the NFL? Are you telling them that the only way they can make it is if the media finds one darling they can push to try to make it an even playing surface? It was stupid to me. But I wouldn't say that I looked at it like I was carrying the torch [for black quarterbacks]. Because [other] guys did it before me. Randall [Cunningham]. Doug [Williams]. Warren Moon. James Harris and those guys."

Looking back at your career, what are you most proud of?

"Making the Super Bowl [in '04]. Getting to the conference championship game as many times as we did. But the thing I treasure the most are the guys I had a chance to play with. The friendships I built.

"Making it exciting again to watch Philadelphia Eagles football. I've heard so many times from fans that they would gather around on Sundays to watch us play with their jerseys on and go out at halftime and play flag football and come back in and watch the second half. You hear things like that and you feel you have done your job. I just wish we could have won [the Super Bowl] here.

"Even yesterday [at his charity softball game], people were telling me thank you. That said they were season-ticketholders and appreciated everything we did for them. That makes you feel good. You feel like you've done something."

How's the transition to life after football been going? Are you enjoying broadcasting?

"It's been cool. The one thing that really helped me out is that I had been doing this each and every offseason. Doing stuff for ESPN. Doing stuff for NBC and CBS. Whenever I got an opportunity. So for me, it was just learning more and more about the business. The bonus for me was that I knew a lot of guys who had made that transition before and just communicated with them and asked them for advice and tried to be prepared.

"The funny thing about it is, this is what I always wanted to do. That was part of the reason I went to Syracuse in the first place. My two top schools at the time were Nebraska and Syracuse. Both are up there as far as communications [programs] are concerned. So the transition has been pretty smooth. The only thing that I've had to adjust to is the regimen that I had been going through for 13 years [as a player]. I just had to get over that part of it and go to the gym and be ready for the rest of it."

You're going to be co-hosting a show on the new Fox 1 channel starting in mid-August with Andy Roddick, Gary Payton and Charissa Thompson. Looking forward to it?

"I'm very excited about that. It gives me a chance to kind of open up a little bit more. I've been doing my radio show [on NBC Sports Radio] for a while now and talking about all sports, not just football. Fox wants to give me the opportunity to do the same thing. We're going to talk all sports, current affairs."

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