McNabb and Lidge separated by how they handled adversity

Donovan McNabb, getting a pat from Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, says he doesn't "regret anything that happened throughout my career here." DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Donovan McNabb, getting a pat from Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, says he doesn't "regret anything that happened throughout my career here." DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Posted: August 02, 2013

There have been two ceremonial returns this week, each tinged with a touch of melancholy, each bringing home memories shaped by victory, defeat, and the way those fickle outcomes are handled.

On Monday, quarterback Donovan McNabb officially retired as an Eagle, and it was simultaneously announced that his number also would be retired before the Sept. 19 game against Kansas City that includes a special guest appearance by Andy Reid, McNabb's mentor.

Then on Thursday, pitcher Brad Lidge came back to Citizens Bank Park and formally retired as a member of the Phillies organization, five years after his perfect season during the team's championship run and a little more than a year after he appeared in his final major-league game with Washington.

The melancholy associated with McNabb's return is that he will carry with him always the reputation as a great player who could only come close to delivering the prize that makes an athlete immortal in this town. The timing is a little odd, with the Eagles eager to turn the page on the previous regime, but perhaps the organization viewed this as one last bit of housekeeping before locking the door on that era.

With Lidge, the sense of loss is much different. The Phillies did win a championship, and Lidge did convert 48 of 48 save opportunities in the 2008 regular season and postseason. He was also on hand, however, as wheels began to flatten on that ride, and his injuries mirrored the breakdowns that ultimately helped deposit the Phils where they are now.

If McNabb represents the promise that never came true, Lidge represents the brutally fragile nature of success. They can look back now and see both sides of the game, but what is most interesting is how they are viewed here.

At least in the short term, until time sands away the sharp edges of memory, Lidge will be universally beloved in Philadelphia and, for a large segment of the population, McNabb will remain belittled. It is because of more than just that 1-0 championship score, too.

On the surface, their careers here aren't even close in either accomplishment or local connection. Lidge played only four of his 11 big-league seasons in Philadelphia. He had one great season and struggled in the three seasons after that. McNabb played 11 years here and was merely the best quarterback in team history, setting franchise records in every important category, including passing yards and touchdowns.

In his greatest season, he wasn't perfect like Lidge, but awfully close. McNabb completed 64 percent of his passes in 2004, threw for 31 touchdowns, had just eight interceptions in 469 attempts, and finished with a passer rating of 104.7. There is no quarterback performance comparable since the franchise was founded.

Because it was how his career was destined to go, however, 2004 didn't represent a triumph but a failing. McNabb, in conjunction with the slow-twitch tendencies of Reid and apparently hampered by excitement that became hyperventilation, couldn't run a basic two-minute drill with a championship on the line.

"I told the fans I'd bring a championship here. My goal was to have a parade down Broad Street. The Phillies did it first, and I apologize to the fans because that was my goal," McNabb said Monday. "I felt like I let them down. The thing for me is, I don't regret anything that happened throughout my career here."

Which is precisely the problem with how McNabb is remembered, and, by extension, why Lidge is celebrated for having one good year out of four. It wasn't how they handled the winning, but how they handled the losing.

"There were a lot of times when it was really tough," Lidge said. "In 2009, there were some blown saves, and I couldn't even believe it. When I look back, I felt it was all part of the game, and I needed to stand up in front of my locker afterward whether I did good or bad."

McNabb had to stand up after the bad ones, too, because there's no hiding for a quarterback, but he often stood up and rested the outcome on veiled or not-so-veiled criticisms of his teammates. Sometimes, the defense didn't get it done. Sometimes, as was the case after his final playoff appearance in 2009, the kids were to blame. "We showed our inexperience today," he said.

Had he taken ownership of some of the failures in a way he never did, McNabb could have been a Philadelphia kind of hero, a player who is revered for showing how a leader should act. Instead of making that memory, he made excuses.

As for Lidge, when he stank, he stank out loud.

"The subsequent years, I think that's what sets Brad apart from many players and many athletes, and I think that's also part of why there's a bond between Brad and the city," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "He was never afraid to stand up when things didn't go well, when he blew a save. He took a tremendous amount of responsibility when things didn't work. He earned a great deal of respect when he went perfect in 2008, but . . . the subsequent years, that's what sets him apart as a person."

Those are the words any player would like to hear after it is all over, when it is finally, sadly, time to return to officially call it a career, and accept everything that comes along with a scrapbook full of statistics and the unquestioned admiration of your adopted home.

Donovan will have to settle for just the scrapbook.


Contact Bob Ford at bford@phillynews.com. Read his blog at www.inquirer.com/ postpatterns. Follow on Twitter @bobfordsports.

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