Eagles plan to retire McNabb's number

Donovan McNabb, left, and Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, right, embrace after McNabb retires as an Eagle at the NovaCare Complex in Philadelphia on July 29, 2013. ( DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer )
Donovan McNabb, left, and Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, right, embrace after McNabb retires as an Eagle at the NovaCare Complex in Philadelphia on July 29, 2013. ( DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer )
Posted: July 31, 2013

Donovan McNabb knew what was coming.

He had unofficially retired from football a year ago, had arranged with owner Jeffrey Lurie that he would retire as an Eagle, and even knew that the organization had planned to announce that his No. 5 would be retired as well.

But on Monday he watched a stirring five-minute video that highlighted his 11 seasons in Philadelphia. After he heard Lurie and former teammates Brian Dawkins and Brian Westbrook recount how much he had meant to the Eagles and to them, McNabb started to cry.

"I'm not one for emotion," McNabb said, pausing frequently, "but this is pretty tough."

The last time McNabb was in the NovaCare Complex auditorium, it was to pay tribute to Dawkins, who was also retiring as an Eagle. McNabb said that there was still leftover bitterness from the 2010 trade to Washington when he first returned more than a year ago.

But McNabb, now 36, said that day started a healing process that ended with Monday's announcement. But there was more: McNabb, whom Lurie called the greatest quarterback in team history, will enter the Eagles Honor Roll and become the ninth player whose number is retired by the team.

McNabb will join Steve Van Buren (No. 15), Dawkins (20), Tom Brookshier (40), Pete Retzlaff (44), Chuck Bednarik (60), Al Wistert (70), Reggie White (92), and Jerome Brown (99).

"Daddy wants to be remembered for something," McNabb said. "This is something, when they become teenagers or grown adults or they have kids, they can come back or they can watch a game and see my name and my face in the rafters, retired, with no one wearing it."

The ceremony will take place on Sept. 19 in prime time when the Eagles host the Kansas City Chiefs at Lincoln Financial Field. Fittingly, it will be the first time that Andy Reid, the former Eagles coach and the man most closely identified with McNabb, will return to the Linc since he was fired in January after 14 seasons.

"That's a great thing for one of the greatest players ever to wear an Eagles uniform," Reid said about McNabb's number being retired. "It's a classy move by Jeffrey. I love Donovan."

Lurie called McNabb a "franchise-changing player."

"I think that's the definition of retiring a number for this franchise," Lurie said.

McNabb set most of the significant passing records in team history - attempts (4,746), completions (2,801), yards (32,873), and touchdowns (216) - and is the Eagles' all-time winningest quarterback (92 regular-season wins and nine in the postseason).

Dawkins, who arrived several years before him, said McNabb helped changed the Eagles' losing culture when he was drafted in 1999. After a 5-11 season in which the rookie quarterback sat for the first half, the Eagles went 11-5, 11-5, 12-4, 12-4, and 13-3 and reached four NFC championship games and one Super Bowl in the next five seasons.

"I believe that we went out and put a product on the football field that the Philadelphia fans could be proud of, that they could own," Dawkins said of that period. "Now I know we didn't bring the ultimate and that hurts us all. But at the end of the day . . . you look at what we were able to accomplish with this man at the helm."

McNabb was joined by his wife, Roxy, and their four children. He thanked his parents, Wilma and Sam, who were not present. Aside from Dawkins and Westbrook, there were several other ex-Eagles and a large number of current Eagles in attendance, including several who played with McNabb.

He singled out some of the offensive linemen and running backs he played with, but mentioned the wide receivers as a group. Considering that McNabb never quite had a complementary receiver to throw to until Terrell Owens arrived in 2004, it made sense.

Owens was conspicuously absent from the highlight reel, but McNabb later made note of their storybook first season together. He also spoke about the nightmare 2005 season and how their fraying relationship ripped the locker room apart.

There were other low moments, starting with his introduction to Philadelphia when a group of fans who traveled to New York booed Reid's first draft pick because it wasn't Texas running back Ricky Williams. McNabb, who recently expressed some resentment about how fans and the media treated him, said that moment was in the past.

"Let's put the booing to rest. That was back in '99," he said. "That was the beginning of an era, and this is the end. So I guess that made me stronger as a man, but I don't talk about it until you all ask the question."

Lurie revealed, perhaps for the first time, that the Eagles would not have selected Williams if the Browns had taken McNabb first overall. He said the Eagles had their eye on running back Edgerrin James, who eventually went to the Colts. But McNabb was available after all.

"That was the only quarterback that was really far above all the others for us," Lurie said.

The Eagles owner said McNabb had Hall of Fame credentials. McNabb said he never played football for individual accolades, but "if I had a vote, I would vote."

Joining the Club

The Eagles retired Donovan McNabb's No. 5 on Monday. Here are the other Eagles who have had their numbers retired:

20     Brian Dawkins

15     Steve Van Buren

40     Tom Brookshier

44     Pete Retzlaff

60     Chuck Bednarik

70     Al Wistert

92     Reggie White

99     Jerome Brown

Contact Jeff McLane at jmclane@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @Jeff_McLane.

comments powered by Disqus