Remembering the real McNabb

Former Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb carries his son, Donovan Jr., as Brian Westbrook greets them as they leave after the retirement annoncement. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer)
Former Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb carries his son, Donovan Jr., as Brian Westbrook greets them as they leave after the retirement annoncement. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 31, 2013

It is all history now, a decade-plus condensed into a few fleeting images in a highlight video.

Maybe now, when it comes to Donovan McNabb, perspective can develop where misperception has too long lingered. When you get past the what-iffery and the if-onlies, the soaring seasons and the crash landings, the real conflicts and the surreal controversies, what you're left with is what Brian Dawkins said Monday.

"I just so happen to be a guy that was here in Philadelphia before Donovan got here," Dawkins said. "I remember what it felt like before 'Five' got here. I remember those seasons - and when he got here, how quickly this thing went on the upswing."

From 2000, McNabb's first season as a full-time starter, through 2008 was the best sustained era of Eagles football. Andy Reid made that possible. Dawkins and the Jim Johnson-coached defense made that possible. But none of it would have happened without McNabb. Anyone who doesn't grasp and accept that just doesn't grasp or understand football.

That may not have seemed clear in 2010, when Reid traded McNabb to Washington. But that's where time helps bring perspective. Once that linchpin was removed, the Eagles began a downward spiral: zero playoff wins, a record that bottomed out at 4-12 last year, the firing of Reid.

An elite quarterback is one of those things that's easy to take for granted until you don't have one.

"He was a franchise-changer," owner Jeffrey Lurie said of McNabb. "He led us through a decade that is one of the great decades any team has had in the NFL. The primary mover of that was Donovan."

Lurie and some former Eagles greats gathered Monday to announce that McNabb's No. 5 will never be worn by another Eagle. It is a tribute all the more fitting because it is rare for NFL teams to do.

"It hasn't settled in yet," McNabb said. "That's outstanding. The thing for me, it's my four little kids. For all of us who have kids, Daddy wants to be remembered for something. 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.

"That will mean Granddad, or Dad, did something special. We all want to act like superheroes when it comes to our kids and grandkids."

McNabb got emotional after listening to Lurie, Dawkins, and Brian Westbrook give brief comments. And then there was the video of the young quarterback who had so much talent and so much potential, of No. 5 breaking ankles (that shake-and-slip move on Washington safety Mark Carrier) and with a broken ankle (four TD passes against Arizona after suffering a fracture).

No one ever disputed the raw talent or the potential. What got lost over the years without a Super Bowl championship was just how tough and how determined McNabb was. That's where history, now that it is being set in the permanent ink of banners and testimonials, needs to be clear.

"The thing people don't understand is what type of leader he truly is," said Dawkins, who was a very good one himself. "I knew when I stepped on the football field that I was going to get 110 percent from my quarterback and that he was going to give everything that he could. For a guy to go out on that football field and play with that broken ankle? That's not everybody's character. Not every football player has that in him to do.

"That's what Donovan did, and he would do that again."

There is no chance to do it again, not for any of them. McNabb and Dawkins and Reid and the others produced so many great moments and memories. Their era lasted so long but feels somehow cut short.

Everyone knows why. They reached that one Super Bowl and weren't able to win it.

"That was the best week of my career," McNabb said. "Because it felt like everybody in that locker room could take a deep breath because we made it. We didn't put the cherry on top, and we all know that. But we can say we played in the Super Bowl, we've been to five NFC championships, we've been to Pro Bowls."

It is all history now, just highlights in a video and, soon, a number on a banner. That might not take the place of a championship, but it will have to do.


Contact Phil Sheridan at psheridan@phillynews.com. Follow @Sheridanscribe on Twitter.

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