Walkthrough: McNabb Deniers

Walkthrough: McNabb Deniers
Walkthrough: McNabb Deniers
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Mike Tanier

My Aunt Ginny went to her grave a Donovan McNabb Denier.

She was 77 years old when she died, but still vibrant and ornery. She followed sports habitually after my Uncle Paul died. Ginny and I had our last in-depth conversation in April 2008. We talked about my writing career and she brought up Donovan McNabb, whom I defended as the Eagles' best chance of winning the Super Bowl in the upcoming season, slim as that chance was. She was livid. "Don't you see that he chokes in every big game?" she demanded. "Can't you see that he's not a good leader?"

I tried to remind her respectfully that I was a professional football writer and that she should defer to my expertise, just as I deferred to hers about family genealogy or the proper way to cook spaghetti. That argument never works with anyone, especially not a 77-year-old Italian woman who used to change your diapers. So I promised to keep an open mind about her opinions, which I assured her were shared by many people.

Ginny died on January 11, 2009, the day the Eagles beat the Giants 23-11 to advance to the NFC Championship game, the day McNabb overcame a slow start against a great defense (two interceptions, a bogus intentional grounding safety) to lead three late scoring drives, throwing for 217 yards and one fourth-quarter touchdown. I don't know how much of the game she saw. I'd like to think that she delighted in the Eagles win, recognized that her criticism of McNabb was a little harsh, then commended her soul unto heaven. More likely, she arrived at the pearly gates right after the safety, meaning at least that she died as she had lived, cursing the quarterback's name.

My beloved aunt died in 2009, but the McNabb Denial movement is still going strong. Some call fans like Aunt Ginny "McNabb Haters," but hatred isn't strong enough a word. They are deniers, like evolution deniers, moon landing deniers, and other deniers who I don't want to mention here. McNabb Deniers don't just denigrate his accomplishments in Philadelphia, they try to erase their very existence. They spent the last decade writing a revisionist history of Eagles football as it happened. Now that McNabb is in Washington, they are shoveling dirt over everything that's left, recasting the most successful decade in Eagles history as an era of failure and scandal. The McNabb Deniers have taken typical Philly pessimism to a new level: It's not just spleen-venting, but a salted-earth pogrom of collective memory eradication that would make Orwell proud.

McChoke and the Next Montana

It's mid-July, and Angelo Cataldi sounds like a baby without his binky. Talk radio discussion in Philly is always slow in summer, even when the Phillies are very good, but Cataldi sounds lost without his favorite plaything. In the absence of anything substantial to say about Philadelphia or national sports, all discussions on his highly rated morning show seem to travel back to McNabb.

When the subject of basketball Hall of Fame speeches comes up, the morning team muses about whether Michael Jordan will launch into another self-serving rant before introducing Scottie Pippen. They joke that McNabb would give a similar airing-of-grievances speech, given the unlikely opportunity. "Boy, that's our only chance of getting mentioned in a Hall of Fame speech," Cataldi muses, inflating his importance as McNabb's primary antagonist. A few days later, a caller just back from Washington reports that he saw McNabb's image painted on a city bus. "Was it the same bus he threw his teammates under?" Cataldi asks, referring to an incident which never occurred.

As summer wore on and Eagles camp started, Cataldi became even more intense in his disparagement of McNabb. As for Kevin Kolb, Cataldi said often that he had "such a great feeling" about the new quarterback, in contrast to the old. In fairness, Cataldi wasn't alone in his McNabb bashing and Kolb fluffing. On rival sports station 97.5 FM "The Fanatic" (an ESPN affiliate) one weekend personality compared Kolb to Joe Montana while callers expressed their joy about a season without "McChoke." It was more than a talk-radio phenomenon. Writers from suburban papers asked loaded questions at training camp, baiting players to make them say something negative about their former quarterback. An unconventional wisdom arose that Kolb would do things McNabb never did -- hit receivers in stride so they can make plays, open up the pages of the West Coast offense that were closed for the last decade. Meanwhile, Kolb was still waiting to lead the Eagles first-team offense to a preseason touchdown.

There was probably some more measured McNabb discussion somewhere on the dial or in the papers. Barring that, there must have been some Eagles discussion that didn't hinge on the wish-fulfillment fantasies of McNabb Deniers whose opinions of Kolb were really just reactions to McNabb, not informed scouting judgments. But the level heads were shouted down and crowded out in Philly years ago. To defend McNabb is to learn that he's "your boy," that you are just defending him out of some personal loyalty or naiveté.

The tone of the conversation keeps rational people away who might want to debate McNabb's real merits or his legacy. Frank Ward of DailyPhiladelphian.com learned this when he wrote a pro-McNabb editorial for the Philadelphia Inquirer in January. "I took the stance that McNabb wasn't appreciated by many in this city and boy did I get ripped in the comments and e-mails that came my way," Ward told me. "However, to my surprise, I received just as many e-mails supporting McNabb and saying it was about time someone stood up for the guy."

That environment has held sway in sports bars and around the water cooler since long before the Super Bowl loss. McNabb Deniers are always at high volume and full throttle. They control the discussion, and it almost takes an act of courage to disagree with them.

Of course, much of what Cataldi and the others do is just rabble rousing for fun and profit. Say something controversial. Get the callers riled up. Preach to the base. Cataldi has a background in hardcore football journalism, so he probably has a handle on McNabb's true value, and his shtick can be hysterical when he's bashing the Cowboys or Yankees. There's a place for all of that -- the sports world would be boring if every media outlet were Football Outsiders. The sports world needs a little trash talk and a little homerism. A little vilification of the guy who just left, and some overheated support for the new kid, is also understandable.

But it stops being fun when we stop recognizing the truth, when we start tarnishing legacies, when we start our attack five months before the guy takes the field and don't stop until many months after he's out of town. And it stops being funny when it's all you've got, when camp is in session and the baseball team is in the pennant race, and the only way you can get a reaction is by talking about a player who has already left. Cataldi didn't invent McNabb Denial, but he's become it's legitimizer and public voice, the man who spent a decade with his stick on the hornet's nest and shows no interest in letting go.

A Difference of Opinion

As mentioned earlier, there are McNabb Lovers (I guess I'm one; I guess he's "my boy") and there are McNabb Haters. That's all this is about. A simple difference of opinion.

"When McNabb played in town, there were only two factions for Philadelphians to join -- the group that loves McNabb and the one that doesn't," John Gonzalez wrote in the Inquirer on August 25, just after McNabb admitted to GQ that he would have liked a little more support from the organization during the Terrell Owens saga. Gonzalez mentioned a new third group, one that wants everyone to stop dwelling on McNabb and focus on the present. He called them the MoveOn(fromMcNabb).org contingent, and believes they have become louder and more petulant than the lovers and haters. "The irony seems to be lost on them," he said.

Articles like that show how the Deniers are winning. The newspapers are now "teaching the controversy." The facts have somehow become irrelevant. It's the kind of journalistic detachment that's irresponsible on important subjects but just embarrassing in the sports field.

This isn't some liberal-versus-conservative conundrum we are talking about. There is an objective reality in place, and there are those who either accept the facts (branded as McNabb Lovers, whatever their respect level for the player might be) and those who deny them, marginalize them, or denigrate them, usually with ad hoc and contradictory criticisms. These aren't complex, geopolitical facts that can be interpreted a dozen different ways, They are wins, touchdowns, interceptions, yards, DVOA, and other ratings, most of which are simple enough for anyone to analyze. The facts are as follows:

  • The last decade of Eagles history has been the most successful of any in anyone's recent memory, and McNabb's play has been one of the primary reasons for that success.
  • McNabb is the greatest quarterback in Eagles history by any reasonable measure. He holds every meaningful record, has won the most games, and has had the most playoff success of everyone in modern history but Norm Van Brocklin, whose three-year Eagles career ended 50 years ago.
  • McNabb was, conservatively, the fifth or sixth best quarterback of the decade of his prime. He's obviously no higher than third, but after Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, he belongs near the top of a group that includes Brett Favre (excluding 1990s accomplishments), Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Hasselbeck, Steve McNair, and a few others. His productive career completely engulfed those of players like Hasselbeck or Daunte Culpepper, who may have had higher peaks but didn't play at a high level for more than a decade like McNabb did.
  • McNabb was never arrested or accused of any wrongdoing, never conducted himself unprofessionally on or off the field, and always worked hard to project a dignified, team-centered demeanor, even when roped into controversies generated by notorious attention seekers.

The Denier agenda has its own set of facts:

  • McNabb was a choke artist who never won a big game. He put up some good numbers, but he couldn't hold a candle to Ron Jaworski (whom we also booed), Randall Cunningham (whom we ran out of town), or Tommy Thompson (my grandfather saw him at Franklin Field in 1948). If he wasn't so tied to Andy Reid's apron strings, he would have been benched in favor of Jeff Garcia, A.J. Feeley, or Kolb after the Ravens game in 2008. He was a numbers guy. He was an athlete playing quarterback who was only effective when he ran. He puked at the Super Bowl. I saw it with my own eyes but the league offices erased the tape, even sending a signal that erased it from my Tivo of the game. Every single one of his passes hit receivers in the feet. He couldn't execute the West Coast offense properly. His record-setting interception rate was the result of his unwillingness to take chances. He didn't know the overtime rules, which isn't just an isolated boneheaded incident but proof of his utter incompetence and disregard for the game.
  • And here's the best part: that dignified, team-centered demeanor was all just a front for a secretly selfish, passive-aggressive individual who didn't care about the game and took all of our helpful, constructive criticism as fans directly to heart. McNabb was a mama's boy who never got over the fact that a talk-radio host decided to ruin the greatest day of his 22-year old life by coaxing a bunch of angry drunks into booing him at the draft. All he cared about was his paycheck -- just look at how he laughed after incomplete passes -- and no one on the team had any respect for him whatsoever. The jerk.

You see? It's just a difference of opinion, valid points on both sides. If you think one side makes more sense than the other, well, it just means that McNabb is "your boy."

You probably think I created a straw man argument above. And yes, I may have exaggerated the Denier Agenda slightly. Try walking into a Philly taproom and striking up a conversation about McNabb. Chances are, you'll hear five or six of the criticisms I just presented.

Big Brother isn't Watching

First baseman Ryan Howard is perhaps the luckiest great player in Philly sports history. He arrived on the scene when there were many other local players -- great, controversial, and both -- for fans to obsess over. He helped his team to the World Series relatively early in his career. He has taken his share of criticism during slumps, but he's never been subjected to the full assault of the local media, and it's possible that he never will be, thanks to that championship ring.

Howard has always been philosophical about the Philly sports media because he could afford to be. A few weeks ago, he offered 76ers rookie Evan Turner some advice. "He said you gotta' compare Philly to, like, a big brother," Turner said of the conversation. "Some days he's gonna like you and some days he might not like you, but he still loves you, and it's all about what you do and how you do things ... but it's always having the support, no matter what."

I have lived here almost 40 years, and I have a big brother. I get it. I get it when I see people rush up to Jaworski for autographs, when I see standing ovations for Mike Schmidt. These guys were booed mercilessly, then embraced. Fandom, like brotherhood, can be harsh.

What's happening to McNabb isn't booing. It isn't fraternal criticism. It's character assassination. Booing is an in-the-moment impulse, a seat-of-the-pants judgment. I've screamed at McNabb, hurled my kids' toys across the room, stormed out of bars cursing his name, sulked through Audibles at the Line with nary an Eagles comment after his poor games. Criticism, right or wrong, implies thought and perspective. McNabb had an awful delivery on out-routes. His ball security, in recent years, was terrible. He had slumps. He should have known the damn overtime rules. McNabb "lovers" are capable of criticism.

McNabb, more than Jaworski, Schmidt, or anyone before him, has become the victim of a smear campaign, one that connects the dots between real and perceived faults, plays very fast with the facts, and ignores all the evidence that doesn't fit. In other words, a denier's agenda. That agenda forces dissenters into trench-warfare argument tactics that grind us into surrender.

That 23-11 win against the Giants in 2009, the last game my aunt ever saw? It never happened, you see, because McNabb was a choke artist who never won a big game. Ever. OK, so it happened. But it wasn't a big game. Playoff games against the Giants aren't big, right? Big games are defined as games lost by McNabb.

Even if you concede that win was "slightly" big, well so what? He lost the following week. McNabb lost, not the Eagles. What? He threw for 375 yards and three touchdowns in the game? Yeah, but he's a numbers guy, not a guy who can lead a comeback. What? The Cardinals led 24-6, but McNabb threw three touchdowns to take a 25-24 fourth quarter lead? You better not suggest that the defense was to blame for that loss. Brian Dawkins was playing for that defense that got burnt for four touchdowns, and Dawkins is a warrior, not a choke artist like McNabb, who chokety-choke-choked that game away just like every other big game.

What about fourth-and-26? That was just a Packers defensive lapse. Wins over the Vikings and Falcons to reach the Super Bowl? What, are you one of those Pollyannas who is content to come in second? No wonder McNabb's your boy, he didn't care about winning or losing either, as long as he looked good and didn't get sacked too much.

The Victimless Crime

No one really gets hurt, right? McNabb is wealthy and successful. Cataldi is well paid, his audience entertained. McNabb Denial isn't evolution denial; it's not going to hurt our children's education or our standing in the modern world. A little McNabb bashing takes no money out of Mike Tanier's wallet. Just the opposite: I spin it into jokes that I can sell to media outlets, use it to write articles like these and to frame the arguments of my book. I profit from it just as much as anyone.

Did it hurt Aunt Ginny? We know most 77-year-old aunts don't form their own sports opinions. She got hers from Uncle Paul, who formed it with his buddies, who formed it from the synergy of media coverage, personal prejudices, and 70 years of Philly sports viewing. Ginny tuned in every week to love the Eagles and hate the starting quarterback. I think she deserved to watch a player she liked every week. And I think McNabb is a player she would have liked, if not for the incessant drumbeat of the Deniers, the knee-jerk pessimism and relentless criticism that marked most of McNabb's tenure.

And that's the rub, because something really does get hurt. The fan experience gets hurt. When you don't want to say something positive about your own team's starting quarterback at a party or in a tavern because you don't want to risk an argument with a loudmouth Denier, it hurts. When you start to doubt your own joyful sports recollections, when fourth-and-26 is deleted from your mind and overwritten by implanted memories of a Super Bowl puke which never happened, it hurts. When you see the next kid set atop that precarious pedestal, and you know that he's got a year or two, maybe more, maybe less, before the talk radio entertainers and permanently dissatisfied booers and lassaiz-faire "that's just what the populace thinks" journalists flick him off, it hurts. It robs us of the joy of watching the games. As history is re-written, it robs us of the joy of even remembering them.

So that's all that's at stake -- the fun of watching the game. The thing that gets me, Cataldi, and McNabb paid. Otherwise, McNabb Denial is a victimless crime. No one dies immediately when the well is poisoned, we all just get sick for a long time.

And with that, Walkthrough is now a No McNabb zone for the remainder of the season. I may write some McNabb-Eagles-Redskins hype in the weeks to come, but not in this column. Also, I ask that all comments stick with the subject at hand without bringing up any controversial "denial" movements with political implications.

Reno, Nevada 2054

LenDale White: Matt? Matt Leinart? Is that really you?

Matt Leinart: Oh my gosh, LenDale White! I'm glad you made it to the reunion. Is that Reggie with you?

Reggie Bush: Mmmph.

White: Yeah, that's him. He can't talk since they melted down his Heisman and recast it as a ball gag for him to wear for all eternity. Reggie, can I give you another piña colada IV?

Bush: Mmmph.

Leinart: Lendale, you remember J-Wow, right? I started dating her back in the '40s. Wow, honey, I could use a drink. Hold this funnel really high while I open a six pack.

J-Wow: Not now, dear. I have to adjust the winch and pulley on the back of my support bra.

White: Never mind those beer bongs, buddy. I am drinking Patron infused with those worms the astronauts found on Europa.

Leinart: I heard those worms burrow into the back of your neck and turn you evil.

White: At $200 a bottle, they better.

Leinart: Gosh, seeing all the old faces reminds me of the good old days, back when the University of Southern California had a football team, back when there was a Southern California, before global wa ...

White: Careful, Matt. President Swift has microphones everywhere, and she doesn't like that kind of talk.

Leinart: Hey look, it's Lofa Tatupu! Lofa, come sit with us! Lofa! Lofa? Oh well, I guess he didn't want to sit at our All Offense table.

White: More like he didn't want to sit at the loser table. Look at our careers, Matt. I ate, drank, and smoked myself to the point that I was just injury-prone roster fodder. You became such a liability that you lost your job to Derek Anderson, for heaven's sake. And Reggie, well he had some highlights and won a Super Bowl ring. But he never came close to his potential, and he played so fast and loose with agents and the booster club that it brought the NCAA hammer down on the whole school. And even though the NCAA wasn't as powerful back then -- they hadn't taken over the Middle East yet -- it was still enough to doom the program. Right, Reggie?

Bush: Mmmph.

White: At least Lofa and some of the other guys had good NFL careers. We can only look back on a national championship that got stripped from the record books, wins that are stricken from history. When scuba divers excavate the campus, they can't even find any mention of us.

Leinart: Not everything is lost. I still have my Heisman!

Tatupu: Hey guys, sorry to interrupt. An NCAA archivist found evidence that a member of the 2004 fencing team accepted an Applebee's gift certificate from a booster whose wife once dated an agent. If Matt doesn't surrender his Heisman in 20 minutes, they'll launch a tactical missile strike against this hotel.

Leinart: Bummer. Oh well, at least we have our education, right?

White: I'm gonna pour another drink and forget you ever said that.


221 comments, Last at 26 Sep 2010, 11:27pm

#102 by Independent George // Sep 09, 2010 - 6:19pm

Yes, but that's different when you're being literally canonized.

Points: 0

#98 by sswoods (not verified) // Sep 09, 2010 - 6:07pm

Very good comparison. Except in Tebow's case it is fan driven, the media aren't hyping him. In McNabb's case, the media was all in.

Points: 0

#107 by RichC (not verified) // Sep 09, 2010 - 7:13pm

Are you really trying to say the media hasn't been trying to canonize Tebow? I'm going to strongly disagree.

Points: 0

#114 by sswoods (not verified) // Sep 09, 2010 - 8:24pm

I've yet to hear a media outlet, personality, or analyst declare that Tebow is going to be a great NFL QB. It's possible, I'm not omnipresent, but I haven't heard it - but I have heard (in the media) overwhelming criticism of the Broncos for trading up for him, for spending a first round pick on him; criticism of his throwing motion and accuracy; suggestions that he'd make one heck of an H-Back. That's not to say the media isn't covering him 24-7, just that I don't hear them applauding and predicting he's about to revolutionize the position or is ready to embark on a career punctuated by multiple pro-bowls. From fans of his? Yeah, I've heard that from them. But not from the media.
Again, I reserve the right to be wrong, because it's possible I just haven't heard it.

Points: 0

#100 by GB (not verified) // Sep 09, 2010 - 6:15pm

Great article and fantastic comments from all...I really enjoy the level of discussion on FO.

There actually was another very good Philadelphia athlete during this same decade+ who got very similar treatment to McNabb and had his legacy "revised" upon his departure as well...his name was Bobby Abreu.

Similar criticisms--padding his stats vs bad teams, only cared about his numbers & money, was never clutch, aloof and whiny personality, never got the team over the hump (into playoffs), did not want to bat with the pressure on (which is why he walked so much) etc. The other one I loved was the local media vs national media angle where the national media were scoffed at when they praised McNabb or Abreu since they "did not watch all the games" or "did not see all the warts we locals see".

I've lived in Philadelphia most of my life and there definitely is a "philly athlete profile". If said good (i.e. highly paid) player does not fit into that category (and the team does not win rings), they will get ripped and targeted as the scapegoat.

After Abreu was traded for scraps in a salary dump, the Phillies have won and won big...the revisionist history was he was holding the team (and the younger player leaders) back and thus correlation becomes causation. If Kolb and the Eagles win big now that McNabb is gone, the story will be written similarly. In fact, I've already heard people say it....media and fans.

Points: 0

#108 by Bad Doctor // Sep 09, 2010 - 7:23pm

It seems like we've narrowly avoided an even bigger case of revisionist history in Philly, now that Cole Hamels has turned it around and has pitched like a Cy Young candidate for the last three months. After his poor 2009, punctuated by a bad postseason, and shaky start to 2010, the fans and media were starting to call for his head as well. I heard a talk radio caller early this season say that Hamels is just a pretty boy headcase who can't come up big at big moments ... this about the guy who was only World Series MVP and NLCS MVP, helping end this town's 25 year championship drought! Now that's revisionist history!

Points: 0

#136 by RickD // Sep 10, 2010 - 1:59am

Some Red Sox fans insist that Terry Francona is an idiot. The guy who managed two World Series winning teams in 4 years after an 86-year drought, and he's an idiot!

Likewise, if Tom Brady spends a week in California to be with his son, some fans start talking about how he's lost the desire to win.

If you ever have a choice, bet on stupid.

Points: 0

#170 by Kevin from Philly // Sep 10, 2010 - 4:51pm

Well, Francona is no genius either. He made a LOT of questionable moves when he managed the Phillies.

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#189 by billsfan // Sep 11, 2010 - 9:16am

Francona *is* an idiot. I find it odd that commenter on a website about statistical analysis of sports would seriously entertain the notion that a baseball manager has any significant impact on what happens on the field.

e.g. http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2010/writers/cliff_corcoran/08/26/managers.impact/index.html (the first thing that comes up in Google)

Also, it's kind of hard to miss something so obvious as the personnel moves made by Theo Epstein.

(I also like the Eagles)

Points: 0

#220 by Subrata Sircar // Sep 22, 2010 - 5:04am

"I find it odd that commenter on a website about statistical analysis of sports would seriously entertain the notion that a baseball manager has any significant impact on what happens on the field."

Oh, irony ... baseball managers do have significant impact on what happens on the field, just as other coaches do. They control who steps on it to play the game. That's measurable and subject to analysis - most notably in reliever usage and whether or not platoons are considered. There's also the handling of the pitching staff in general and the handling of pitcher workload in particular.

They also have in-game control over situational tactics (steals, intentional walks, sacrifices, etc.). Those have significant impact on individual games (admittedly, over the course of a season most managers are equivalent in this regard). This is also measurable and subject to analysis.

It is true that the (supposed) biggest impact that baseball managers have on the play of the game is not directly measurable or subject to analysis, because it is difficult to distinguish any positive effect in the leader-of-men areas from "natural, random" variation in outcomes. [Players, coaches and GMs at all levels are almost uniform in support of the idea that this is the biggest part of a manager's job. That doesn't make them right, but it doesn't make them wrong either. That's why this is one of baseball's Hilbert problems.]

Back to the McNabb bashing ... uh, I mean, analysis.

Points: 0

#106 by Andrew Potter // Sep 09, 2010 - 6:46pm

As a NFL fan living in the UK, this very same article could have been written about every major English soccer talent of the last 25 years - from Gascoigne and Lineker right through to Rooney and Terry. It really is a bizarre mentality to me - as a Scotsman who would love to have anywhere near that sort of talent in our national sports teams. Some people just don't seem to even want to appreciate what they have. It's like some bizarre ironic paradox where people just can't be happy unless they have something (or someone) to complain about.

Points: 0

#129 by Xeynon (not verified) // Sep 10, 2010 - 12:36am

I think a big part of it is expectations. English soccer fans, like Eagles fans over the past ten years, have a baseline expectation level of their team being a contender. If it fails to beat out the other 8 or 10 teams that are considered contenders, disappointed fans don't want to hear complicated arguments about soccer or football being team sports, it being difficult to win a championship when the competition is fierce, etc. They just want to do the easy thing, which is to focus their frustrations on the best player on the team and say he choked, he can't handle big moments, etc.

It's absurd, it's irrational, and it can make rooting for a generally successful team like England or the Eagles less fun than rooting for a scrappy underdog like Scotland or the Saints, but it's the way the sports nut's psyche works.

Points: 0

#113 by JPS (not verified) // Sep 09, 2010 - 8:05pm

Tanier, I love love love your writing. I may get your Philly sports book just because.

Points: 0

#117 by apd (not verified) // Sep 09, 2010 - 9:14pm

I was born in Brooklyn and moved to Pennsylvania in 1967. My father lamented the Dodgers moving out of town until his dying day. I'm a fan of all Philadelphia sports since then ... even after retiring from the Marine Corps (27 years) and setting up residence south of Washington, DC.

Philadelphia just has rough, tough fans. Some say the toughest on their players in all their sports. Its just my opinion, but those that talk the most (McNabb Deniers) haven't learned to enjoy the hunt as much as the distinction of being THE champion. What a shame. They did the same (denigrated his legacy) to Charles Barkley (wrt the Sixers), but eventually they will come around. Donovan McNabb's (as the quarterback) legacy was the team leader and the TEAM failed to produce. Sad, but therefore, he will take most of the criticism. As a professional, he understands that. I personally respect his many accomplishments and the resultant TEAM success. However, I do not think he was the major reason they did not win a Superbowl. Nobody mentions the COACH in all this. He's as responsible as the Quarterback. The entire team would break down at the worst time. You can't pin that on one man. Plainly Donovan McNabb was the best damn quarterback since I started rooting for the Eagles in the 60's. Regardless of what he does from now on...he will be a "Hall of Famer" and I'm certain if T.O. didn't drop in on Philly and screw up their chemistry his teams would already be wearing one or possibly two Super Bowl rings. Then we'd be lamenting the loss.

Oh well...Good Luck Donovan.

Now, lets move on and focus on a winning season Philadelphia. Then, if we're a little bit lucky and have the right TEAM chemistry, perhaps we'll be fortunate to play for the World Championship. Doesn't mean we'll win. Opportunity, Talent, Skill and Luck must all be measured in correct proportion. GO EAGLES!

Points: 0

#118 by Western Dave (not verified) // Sep 09, 2010 - 9:43pm

Timing in this is extremely important. (Note: this is an explanation of denialism, I listen to way too much Philly sports talk radio for a guy who has two graduate degrees in History and is trained as an oral historian not to use at least some of my analytical tools on the McNabb discussion.) First, McNabb always struck me as a man out of time. To wit, he was pretty much a classic "race man" from the 1910s and 20s. He was conscious of himself as a role model and path maker for those who would come after. His family has a long history of civil rights activism. The problem, of course, is that he was often speaking a vocabulary that modern ears, white and black, didn't get. I got it immediately because I studied the time period. His attempts to foray into modern vernacular language were usually disastrous (see the infamous: black on black crime quote but there were plenty of other attempts that came out awful). Another piece of the zeitgeist was everybody in Philly hated McNabb's mom. A lot of what she said would later get attributed to him. It was seen as a lack of manliness on McNabb's part that he couldn't get her to shut up, (alternatively, that she was his mouthpiece). I think this resentment has a lot to do with the fact that a) Philly men are undereducated compared to women (see high school graduation rates, college rates) and b) the union jobs that undereducated men had had a lock on in Philly finally opened to women while, at the same time, the union stranglehold on good paying jobs collapsed during the time McNabb was here and that path to a decent livelihood for undereducated men was dealt it's deathblow in this recession. Finally, when it was unclear whether the Eagles would keep Andy or Donovan, sentiment leaned towards keeping Donovan and getting rid of Andy. Once Andy signed his extension, fans joined the Donovan denial club as compensation. For some people, it's like wanting an i-phone for your birthday and getting a blackberry, the first thing they do is jump on the anti-apple sites and marshal all the evidence they can be happy with what they didn't want. It will mellow over time.

Points: 0

#126 by sswoods (not verified) // Sep 10, 2010 - 12:18am

1. McNabb was overhyped and overrated from the beginning. He was supposed to be great, and was mearly good.
2. McNabb wasn't the player the fans wanted, because a) they felt there was a better player available (Ricky Williams, who proved to not be better, but that was irrelevant at the time) and b) he was overhyped and overrated. Had he met the expectations - i.e., being great - then the town would have changed their tune on him. But he did not. It's unfair to an extent, but that's what happens sometimes. The town was against him from the beginning, and he didn't do enough to change their minds. It's not his fault, but that's the way it is. The same thing happened here in Kansas City. I moved here in 1992, and the town hated GM Carl Peterson and Coach Marty Schottenheimer. It didn't matter that the team had been horrid for 20 years prior, for some reason these guys were hated by the town -- and the local media, Peterson especially. The attitude would have changed had the Chiefs won a Super Bowl, but being mearly good, not great, wasn't enough to get the job done.
McNabb's family history of civil rights activism was never part of the equation. Verbal miscues were just fuel to the fire already lit. Ditto with anything going on with his Mother. The education level of men in Philly was then and is now irrelevant to the issue. That last point is actually laughable - as if having better education would make someone appreciate a QB who is supposed to be great but is only good more. As far as the Denialers are concerned, it was great or terrible, no middle ground. Unfortunately for McNabb, he was in the middle ground, and the town just wouldn't accept it.

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#134 by AlanSP // Sep 10, 2010 - 1:54am

I always get the impression that "great" only includes Manning, Brady, and more recently, Brees (and arguably Roethlisberger) although his and McNabb's crime is essentially not being one of them. That's idiotic. There's really no way around that. You should never expect players to be hall of fame caliber because very, very few actually are. If those are your expectations, you are virtually guaranteed to be disappointed.

Being one of the top 5 QB's of the past decade is significantly better than being "merely good."

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#140 by sswoods (not verified) // Sep 10, 2010 - 2:56am

Top 5 of the last decade:

P Manning
T Brady
B Favre
K Warner
D Brees

Those who haven't played long enough to ensure inclusion:
B Roethlisberger
P Rivers
A Rodgers

Perhaps we can quibble over how "great" is defined, but I feel confident saying that McNabb is below these guys. I respect McNabb, I'm not a McNabb denier, I simply recognize him as being on par with a Steve McNair.
I'll also agree with you that it doesn't make a lot of sense to expect your QB to be a HOFer. I personally never thought he'd be a HOFer. I did think he'd be a solid starter. And that's what I think he proved to be, nothing more.

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#151 by AlanSP // Sep 10, 2010 - 9:45am

McNabb was, in my opinion, better than Favre over the period that we're talking about (2000-2009). Their YPA is identical (7.05 for McNabb and 7.04 for Favre). Favre's completion percentage is slightly higher 62.7 to 59.5, and he played in 24 more games. The big things that separate them are that Favre threw nearly twice as many interceptions (176 vs. 93) and never made anything close to the contributions as a runner that McNabb did. Averaging 17.6 interceptions over 10 seasons isn't good, no matter how you slice it (and that's including his career year last year).

Warner's a weird case because of the path his career has taken. He was arguably better at his peak, but a) He did basically nothing for 5 years from 2002-2006, and b) his career years came throwing to some of the best receiving duos of that era in Holt/Bruce and later Fitzgerald/Boldin. I don't buy for a moment that those guys only looked good because of Warner, because each one of them was elite without Warner at QB. And again, there's that whole INT thing, where Warner threw them about as often as Favre. For my money, I'd definitely take the last 10 years of McNabb over the last 10 years of Warner.

Rodgers had 2 seasons at the end of the decade and Rivers had 4, so they don't really belong in the discussion.

I think that comparing McNabb to McNair actually grossly understates just how good McNabb was. It's a tempting comparison because they were stylistically similar, but it's not an accurate one.

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#159 by Shattenjager // Sep 10, 2010 - 11:44am

FWIW: http://www.pro-football-reference.com/play-index/tiny/FpQlz

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#160 by nat // Sep 10, 2010 - 12:37pm

Nice link.

PFR's adjusted net yards per pass attempt is a nice stat, although it suffers a little from being built out of conventional stats. There's no opponent adjustment, no situational adjustments, nothing about fumbles, and all yards are treated as equal - there's no bonus for being good at "moving the chains".

McNabb looks pretty darned good on that list. I was surprised to see Roethlisberger listed above him. Peyton Manning tops the list, not surprisingly: it's for regular season stats only. :-) (FWIW, I suspect he would still top this list if you included playoffs.)

Thanks for the pointer.

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#145 by Mike_Tanier // Sep 10, 2010 - 7:18am

And Philly fans have a bad relation with the parents of players. See Lindros, Carl.

And the ones who painted McNabb as a Mommas Boy were the ones who would go interview momma every time they wanted to perform some ratings stunt.

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#192 by Boo-urns (not verified) // Sep 11, 2010 - 1:00pm

How can we ignore the Rush Limbaugh/race aspect of all this? McNabb is arguably the best black pocket passer in history, and unlike McNair, he came of age in a time when conservative muckrakers were looking to tear down prominent black (and other minority) figures as "overrated" because of an atmosphere of "political correctness" and "affirmative action", as part of an ideological agenda.

Sure, Philly's a rough town and hard on many of their players, but to a large extent, their most outspoken sports fans are pretty classic Limbaugh sympathizers, who for a number of reasons, buy into this narrative. McNabb is criticized more than most because he's black and playing a position that is traditionally white. Since there aren't any mandated racial preferences in football, you can't blame affirmative action, but you can blame the "liberal media" and "political correctness" for overrating him. That's not to say that everyone who is a McNabb denier is injecting race into their opinions, but rather that the media and discussion around McNabb (the local tabloids and sports talk radio, which cater to this viewpoint generally) is driven by this.

Would be interesting to see (won't actually happen, because polling costs money) whether and to what extent McNabb "deniers" and McNabb "lovers" are: white vs. black, vote Republican vs. Democrat, are high school grads vs. post-college grads, etc. etc. etc.

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#195 by AlanSP // Sep 11, 2010 - 1:17pm

I have no idea to what extent this sort of thing affects people's thinking, but I'd point out that at the time when Limbaugh made his comments, sentiment in Philly was overwhelmingly on McNabb's side (and he handled that situation very well). Early in his career, McNabb was enormously popular, so I don't think it's fair to chalk it up to people being against him from the start because of his race.

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#206 by Western Dave (not verified) // Sep 12, 2010 - 9:18pm

There's been some (non-scientific) polling on this done and there appears to be no correlations between McNabb's popularity and race. I haven't seen work that correlates some of the other factors you talk about but in the city itself party registration is 90 percent +, Democratic and suburbs have turned Democratic recently so party registration is also out. While all fans tend to feminize athletes they don't like, I think attacks on McNabb's masculinity started only after the Tampa Bay game. I do think Philly's issues with parents of athletes are tied to the working class aspects of Philly culture (ie: I left the house at 18 and got a job, what is your momma still talking for you?). In NYC and suburbs where rent and housing costs are so high, it seems pretty normal for a 25 year old to still be close to their parents, if they aren't still living with them. In Philly, where housing is comparatively cheap, very few move home after college even if they don't get a job right away.

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#119 by justanothersteve // Sep 09, 2010 - 9:56pm

Packers fans still consider 4th-and-26 a defensive lapse. Still, I don't get the McNabb hate.

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#130 by AlanSP // Sep 10, 2010 - 1:20am

Great article. As someone who's had countless conversations with McNabb deniers over the past several years, it just gets endlessly frustrating.

I'm tempted to say that it boils down to the fact that the team didn't win a Super Bowl during McNabb's tenure, but came agonizingly close several times. This usually leads to a more general argument about relying on Super Bowl wins as any sort of measuring stick, since they are a) very rare events, even for the best players ever, and b) a team accomplishment, not an individual one. It's not a fun argument to have after the zillionth time. Still, I don't think that's all of it; I know a number of Bills fans and have never heard that type of venom directed at Jim Kelly.

There were two McNabb denier canards that always really drove me nuts. One was that he wasn't "tough," a statement loosely based on the time he missed with injuries. This was said about a man who played almost an entire game with a broken ankle (and played extremely well at that). I remember McNabb getting a rib injury in the NFC championship game against the Panthers and playing through it (albeit pretty terribly in that case). I've had that particular injury and it's easily one of the most painful things I've experienced. Every breath feels like getting stabbed in the lungs; that someone could play professional football in that condition is mind-boggling to me. And yet after the game, I saw a fan saying the team should just get rid of McNabb because of that performance; terrible as it sounds, a part of me couldn't help hoping that she'd fall and tear a few intercostal muscles and then reconsider her sentiments.

The other one that always bothered me was that people would get angry about McNabb smiling/laughing/being upbeat even after bad plays. It's like they were saying "who does he think he is, having fun during a game?" I always hated this not only because it's a stupid argument and because I like watching upbeat players (crazy, I know), but because those McNabb deniers saw someone being positive and wanted to force their pessimism onto him. I mean, really, what did they want, self-flagellation after every incomplete pass?

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#131 by Staubach12 // Sep 10, 2010 - 1:40am

Danny White had a somewhat similar plight in Dallas. Of course White had to follow Staubach, so he was an actual letdown. McNabb was an upgrade.

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#133 by Key19 // Sep 10, 2010 - 1:52am

Funny that you'd bring up a Dallas QB comparison right at the exact same time I did.

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#141 by Temo // Sep 10, 2010 - 2:56am

I never even saw Danny White play and I feel for the dude.

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#132 by Key19 // Sep 10, 2010 - 1:52am

I feel like you'll almost be able to write the exact same column again for Tony Romo in 5 years.

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#135 by RickD // Sep 10, 2010 - 1:55am

Ask Rush Limbaugh why some people have always been down on Donovan McNabb.

I'm sure it has nothing to do with race - he'll tell you exactly that!

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#139 by sswoods (not verified) // Sep 10, 2010 - 2:47am

Interesting revisionism there. I do believe Rush's point was that the media overrated - emphasis on the overrated, as opposed to "why some people have always been down" - McNabb because of race.

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#144 by tunesmith // Sep 10, 2010 - 4:39am

ha ha... you say it so much more delicately than Rush did.

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#148 by Dean // Sep 10, 2010 - 8:24am

Rush's job isn't to say things delicately. Rush's job is to get ratings. Delicate doesn't cut the mustard in the ratings game.

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#138 by AlanSP // Sep 10, 2010 - 2:24am

As far as Kolb, I actually expect him to do quite well, not because I think Kolb is the next Rodgers/Montana/whoever, but because he is taking the reigns of a team with some very talented receivers. He'll do well for the same reason that Matt Cassel did well.

In some ways, it's sort of a cruel joke that as soon as Philly finally has the receiving weapons that McNabb was denied throughout most of the past decade, he gets shipped off to a different team where he is once again surrounded by mediocre receivers.

People seem to forget just how bad the receivers were throughout most of McNabb's career. Where Kolb takes over with Jackson, Maclin, and Avant, McNabb took over with Charles Johnson, Torrance Small, and Na Brown. James Thrash and Todd Pinkston were actually upgrades. Chad Lewis had a good year, but nothing close to Brent Celek territory. That McNabb did what he did under those circumstances is impressive, even more so if you remember that the Eagles had Darnell Autry and Stanley Pritchett as their primary running backs for that season.

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#143 by Christopher (not verified) // Sep 10, 2010 - 3:13am

*Note: Many of the numbers found on pro football reference (they're good for careers)
To start off with, I don't really care about Mcnabb, and I'm neither a fan nor hater of the Eagles. Has he been a worthwhile Quarterback. Sure. Has he been great? No way. I always find it strange to hear people bashing McNabb for reasons that have nothing to do with mine; McNabb simply wasn't that accurate a passer -in seven of his eleven seasons, he was less than 60%, despite being in a strongly west coast system, which greatly inflate completion percentage. Basic stats hold value for telling what he did well and did not do well, and it is likely they are not too terribly skewed as he has had a long career. His completion percentage for his career is only 59.0%. For comparison, David Carr sits at 59.8%. He has looked as inaccurate as those numbers paint him. I can't deny that he was often effective, but that problem alone is enough to keep him out of any discussion of eliteness, except to briefly state he should not be considered. It isn't like he gets particularly many yards per attempt either, sitting at just 6.9, while Daunte Culpepper has averaged 7.6, Jake Delhomme has averaged 7.2, while Charlie Batch and Mark Brunell had the same 6.9. For further reference, Peyton Manning sits at 64.8 and 7.7 ypa. Simple calculation shows McNabb averaged 11.7 yards per completion, while Manning averaged 11.9, so it is purely an accuracy issue.

Like I mentioned earlier, I do not think this makes him a bad quarterback, but it certainly means he is not a great one. You are not a hater because you say that a quarterback who is not at the "Franchise Quarterback" level is a detriment to the team when he is treated like he is one. Inaccuracy, by definition, makes you a choker, because you will randomly choke sequentially at important moments.

Personally, I find it easy to place several QB's above him for this season. Manning, Brady, Rivers, Brees, Favre, Warner had he not retired, likely Aaron Rodgers, likely Ben Roethlisberger (ignoring suspension). Carson Palmer, Eli Manning, Matt Schaub, and Tony Romo seem likely peers (I'm low on Romo as well).

And now, to make you totally disregard my comment, no matter its merits, I will speak of Reggie Bush. on his good plays, of which there are many, Reggie Bush looks a lot like Chris Johnson, but is a much better receiver. If he keeps up his current level of production for the next five years, he was definitely worth the pick. I would compare him to a very rich man's Kevin Faulk, who has shown he easily deserved his second round pick, despite a great deal of initial disappointment, and sparse usage since. As Bush is just 25, he could easily still become a great deal more important player than currently believed. Alex Smith might be undergoing just such a transition (age 26), we'll see (obvious Niners fan here, but I'd given up on him years ago, until he showed me, and everyone else watching the Niners, different recently).

Despite being a huge USC fan, I have nothing against Bush for his role in what went down, and I still think USC would have beaten Texas if they'd run Bush a little more and White a little less (or if they'd just managed to tackle Vince Young). The NCAA is just looking to send a warning by savaging a program, which did nothing wrong. It was a third party transaction. Why does it matter how much his rent should have been to live at a nice place, and why is that USC's responsibility when they didn't provide it? Of course, I don't understand the issue at all since I think they should be paid with more than just a scholarship, if the schools think they are worth it. I believe in the market system, and having to one-up each other to get a recruit could easily include money if it wasn't banned.

Also, I have nothing but disinterest for Leinart in the pros, though I was surprised to find he wasn't good. Matt Barkley looks far more talented to my eyes. I would consider him strongly for a first round pick two drafts from now. I would not be surprised to see the USC offense to make it through the sanctions as the best one in the NCAA (though the defense is already kinda bad). Also eminently draftable, Stanley Havili (awesome all-arounder FB, best I've ever seen, underused), Ronald Johnson(WR, much better than last year's supposed star Damian Williams), and, if you aren't afraid of injuries, Marc Tyler (HB), who looks very good right now.

I think I've gone on way too long already, and wondered quite a bit, so I'm signing off.

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#146 by Mr Shush // Sep 10, 2010 - 7:28am

Ok, really? Reggie Bush has never averaged more than 50 yards rushing a game over the course of a season. He has only one season over 4 yards per attempt, and it was on only 70 carries. His yards from scrimmage have fallen every year since he entered the league, with only his rookie season above 1000. He is a useful role-player, but to justify the salary which a second overall pick receives he would have had to be one of the very best and most productive running backs in football, which plainly he is not. His base salary this year is $8m, and next year it will be $11.8m, unless he is cut or agrees to take a pay cut, one of which will surely happen. Yes, he is still young and obviously talented, and I suppose there's an outside chance he'll put it all together and emerge as a dominant player, but even if he does it will be on his second contract and not necessarily for the Saints. Of the top 5 of the 2006 draft, Williams and Ferguson were good picks, Bush and Hawk were bad picks, and Young we still don't know for sure about. I don't really think that's controversial.

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#168 by Christopher (not verified) // Sep 10, 2010 - 4:41pm

No one seems to understand the actual value of an early pick. To wit, there isn't one, financially speaking. The number two pick almost never makes sense on a cost basis, though a significant number turn out to be good players. You have to be nearly on a Peyton Manning level to be worthy of a top few pick if you are merely speaking of pay. Reggie Bush is a good player. There aren't many great ones. He makes the team a small but significant amount better, and that is enough, if sustained over a significant period, to match the number two overall pick. Exactly where is Charles Rogers now? Exactly where are a large number of other number two selections? The same place. The Saints would have to pay a lot of money to get a potential playmaker of any sort, they never come cheap, unless no one knows they are.

I'm not saying he lit the world on fire, I called him a version of Kevin Faulk! You know, that guy who has been on the Patriots forever as a third down back, occasional playmaker, and who has never had a hundred yard game (according to Wikipedia). They used him more right after they drafted him as well, for obvious reasons. Bush has more than half the rushing and receiving yards faulk does, despite Faulk being an eleven year player, or nearly triple.

24 is very young to decide whether a man is going to be a great player, because 26 is the beginning of the physical peak for men. He's 25 now, give him a shot, he's shown enough flashes.

Whether someone stays with the team that drafted them or not does not influence whether they were worth the pick or not. For example, if Tom Brady had been picked in the sixth round by another team than the Patriots, and then cut, and picked up by the Patriots, he would have easily been worth the sixth round pick, even though it wouldn't have helped the team that drafted him. Change that to first round, and it still applies. There is only vague relation between whether a player is pans out, and whether the team keeps him. If the Saints decide not to keep him, it will likely be because the demand will be there to get him, because he is valuable, and not because they simply do not want him. If they didn't want him, they wouldn't be paying him the eight million plus this year, because there was no penalty for not paying if you fire them before the start of this season! Unless you count that he wouldn't be on the team. Most likely he will take a pay cut, whether he stays or goes, but that is only because of backloading (aka fake money) that is only there so that agents can say they got a great deal, and so that teams can keep them if the player is surprisingly great, and would actually command more. It is very normal to rework that.

I don't care about controversy, (obviously), and only occasionally about conventional wisdom. Williams and Ferguson were good picks, I agree. Hawk, I'm not quite so down on. He is still a decent player (mild bust). Young, has talent, and is largely in the same arena as Bush, where they could still be worth it or not. They could be mild busts, or they could be non-busts.

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#172 by Thomas_beardown // Sep 10, 2010 - 5:03pm

Actually, no. Top picks don't make that much money. If they play about pro-bowl level, they're compensated properly. At least at the big money positions. If you draft a safety, that's your own fault.

For example, Bradford is making 13 million per year, Tom Brady is making 18.

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#177 by Xeynon (not verified) // Sep 10, 2010 - 8:07pm

24 is very young to decide whether a man is going to be a great player, because 26 is the beginning of the physical peak for men. He's 25 now, give him a shot, he's shown enough flashes.

For normal men, this is true. Even for most athletes, it is true. But for NFL running backs, it is not true. The position does not require the mental maturation period that quarterback, middle linebacker, offensive tackle, etc. do, and is so physically demanding that most guys are washed up by the time they're 30. If a running back is not already a great player by the time he's 25 and is entering his fifth year in the league, it's likely he never will.

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#161 by duckfingers (not verified) // Sep 10, 2010 - 1:34pm

You state that McNabb should have had a higher completion percentage due to being in a WCO.

Anyone who has watched the Eagles knows that theirs is a WCO with deeper looks and longer reads. You could argue that this system was created by the coaching staff because of personnel limitations, or because of McNabb's penchant to hold onto the ball, but you can't just waltz in and claim "The eagles are a WCO, therefore mcnabb is average at best according to completion %." That is a blatant simplification.

Your Y/A numbers inadvertently place Daunte Culpepper and Jake Delhomme above Marino, Elway , Moon and the like, so to throw that stat out without proper context is really misleading.

Also, stating neutrality does not make you more informed or less biased. If you don't care, then back out.

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#164 by Christopher (not verified) // Sep 10, 2010 - 4:03pm

Anyone who has watched the Eagles knows they have a lot of very short passing plays, as does every west coast offense. It is deeper than some and shallower than others. It is not exceptional, and many of the passes were very easy ones to Westbrook or the TE. And it is below average completion percentage for anyone who is given a significant number of years as the starter, not average, well below for much of his career. So, is it a simplification? Yes, but not one that loses any important information. He definitely should have had a significantly higher completion percentage if he was a top QB. It really is that simple when evaluating a WCO. If he wasn't a solid runner, it is likely he wouldn't have stuck around this long.

Marino, Moon and the like were from an earlier time, and we know offense has improved in production nearly continually. The Daunte Culpepper comparison was not hand picked for where he ended up, but because it was an interesting comparison. Culpepper isn't good, and if he was, it wasn't for long, and was on a team with good surrounding players -I'm not saying it is a fair comparison, but it is illustrative of an actual successful passing game. He was a product of his receiver. He averaged .3 yards further per completion, and it wasn't a particularly deep passing game, excepting to Randy Moss. His completion percentage is much higher than McNabb's, and both have had exceptional receivers in their careers. McNabb shows a steep uptick now, first with Terrel Owens and then DeSeann Jackson, I wonder why? Maybe because they made him.

McNabb is competent, but no more. My Y/A stat was merely to show that he wasn't attempting the long/difficult passes you are claiming the system has, or if he was, it was always a mistake.

I care about the correctness of a measurement for the worth of a player. I am interested in football. I merely have no particular bias for or against McNabb and the Eagles. I have definitely seen enough of him over the eleven years he's played to make an informed judgment, especially when aided by stats.

Why should I back out? My points are valid.

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#176 by AlanSP // Sep 10, 2010 - 7:50pm

I've watched nearly every game of the Andy Reid era and yes, the Eagles threw deep far more than most WCO teams, particularly later in McNabb's career. Take a look at his 2006 season. His completion percentage was the lowest he ever posted after his rookie year, but this was one of his best offensive seasons (even though he only played 10 games before tearing his ACL). The completion percentage was low, but he was excellent in basically any other metric you can come up with. That's essentially an impossibility if you aren't throwing deep and doing it well.

To say that Culpepper and McNabb "have both had exceptional receivers" and Culpepper's completion percentage is higher ignores the fact that Culpepper's 6 seasons with Moss account for 75% of his career pass attempts, while McNabb's 2.5 seasons with either Owens or last year's DeSean Jackson account for about 25% of his career attempts (those are the actual numbers btw, not guesses. I thought that might be unclear because they worked out to be round numbers).

More generally, the point about receivers completely belies the notion that McNabb was merely competent. Manning spent almost all of his career throwing to one of the best receivers of all time in Marvin Harrison, and Reggie Wayne has also been exceptional. Roethlisberger has had Hines Ward, who was great well before Big Ben arrived, and Warner had Holt/Bruce and Fitzgerald/Boldin. Brady's numbers were good, but not spectacular before Moss and Welker arrived and then shot through the roof. Elite WRs make every QB significantly better (well, except maybe Kerry Collins), and McNabb played almost all of his career with receivers that were not only not elite, but not even average.

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#153 by Verified (not verified) // Sep 10, 2010 - 10:07am

...the sports world would be boring if every media outlet were Football Outsiders...

You said it, brother.

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#163 by MosesZD (not verified) // Sep 10, 2010 - 2:37pm

Sigh. I have an AA friend. His favorite expression is "180 degrees from sick, is still sick." That is, the opposite of wrong isn't always "right."

This was as bad as the deniers as it seeks to gloss over McNabb's career, and many legitimate criticisms of him, in some silly, bully-pulpit, one-sided fan-fight fest.

McNabb was a good, but not great, QB playing in a system that pads completion percentage and QB rating, even with mediocre WRs. And, yes, it is true that his early-career WRs were, mostly, mediocre, but he had an excellent TE and RBs helping (who generate high completion % numbers) him out quite a bit. And he had perfectly good WRs, TE & RB's in his later career, and he still ran about 4% worse in completion percentage than a good WCO would be expected to run.

McNabb had his strengths. He had mobility and toughness, but even more important was how he combined them into his NFL-best ability to extend a messed-up play. More so than any QB of his era he was able to extend the life of a play and make something positive out of it.

Which, ironically, if he didn't possess, his negative attributes would have forced him out of the NFL. Because he's is, and was, a slow-read, slow-react QB with suspect accuracy.

Nothing wrong with that if you have compensating abilities. Joe Montana had a mediocre arm. But incredible touch, balance, dexterity and feel for the game that allowed him to become an all-time great -- despite being weak-armed and scrawny.

Players aren't perfect. Just like one-sided, strawman-baiting articles, Don Quixote.

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#184 by AlanSP // Sep 11, 2010 - 3:08am

Who's this "excellent TE" you speak of? Chad Lewis? He had one legitimately good year in 2000 and that was largely because they had essentially nobody else to throw the ball too. Celek didn't come onto the scene until a few years ago and didn't have a breakout year until last year. L.J. Smith is nobody's idea of an excellent (or good) TE.

And his receivers early in his career weren't mediocre; they were bad. Like, really bad. Of Charles Johnson, Torrance Small, Na Brown, Todd Pinkston, James Thrash, Freddie Mitchell, and Reggie Brown, only Thrash managed to even hold a roster spot with another team, and that was primarily as a return man. McNabb had the success that he did (and he had a lot of success) by spreading the ball around to numerous different players, including his backs and TEs. Point me to an elite QB who had success with that kind of drek at WR. Brady's probably one of the closer ones, but while guys like Troy Brown, Deion Branch, and David Patten were never elite, they were at least capable of producing at a solid level and holding onto a roster spot on other teams (though Brown never got the chance).

Also, the Eagles did not run a typical WCO, at least not later in McNabb's career. They threw far more frequently than many people seem to realize, which played to McNabb's strengths. That's not to say that McNabb didn't have problems with his accuracy (it was his biggest weakness), but simply looking at the completion percentage overstates them.

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#183 by Kibbles // Sep 10, 2010 - 10:40pm

I'm sure there are a lot of intelligent and interesting comments that have been made so far, but I'm not going to read them all. There are just two things I wanted to mention.

1) I've been telling my wife about how ungrateful Philly fans are (not all fans, but the huddled masses) for years. She always thought I was exaggerating, since we both grew up in a sports culture where even marginal players were propped up and praised profusely, and where the stars were all billed as the second coming of (insert HoFer here). We live in Texas, and have been going to a local Italian Ice shop where we've made friends with the proprietor, who was a Philly transplant. To demonstrate the phenomenon, one day I asked "So, it must be tough losing McNabb", and he responded with "you know, I'm really excited. This is the first time in decades that I've felt our team had a chance to really be competitive going into the season". He was talking about a team that had made 5 NFCCGs in the past decade. It blew my wife's mind.

2) One of my greatest sports regrets is that Donovan McNabb broke his ankle in 2002, and as a result, nobody remembers how absolutely unreal he was that season. Over 16 games, his numbers would pro-rate to 3664/27/10 passing and another 736/10 rushing- and those numbers UNDERRATE how good he was, because they're brought down by a game he played on a broken ankle. His WRs that season were the infamous Pinkston/Thrash duo, his RB was Duce Staley (and his sub-4.0 ypc), and he was just lighting people up. In my mind, it was one of the five greatest QB seasons of the past decade, behind only Manning and Culpepper's 2004 seasons and Brady's 2007. And that game he played on a broken ankle was simply remarkable. Whenever anyone questions how good he was at his peak, I question whether they really remember just how amazing Donovan McNabb was from 2002 to 2005.

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#187 by Mr Shush // Sep 11, 2010 - 8:02am

It's probably only fair to mention that the hypothetical 3664 passing yards would have come on 578 attempts for 6.3Y/A, and been accompanied by 45 sacks behind a pretty good offensive line. His pro-rated combined DYAR would have been a decent but hardly earth-shattering 747, good for 10th in the league and ahead of such luminaries as Brian Griese and Brad Johnson by 5 and 7 points respectively. His DVOA, which cannot have been dragged down so very badly by one game out of ten, was -1.0%. I know the other skill players were terrible, but I'm still not sure I can buy that as one of the best QB seasons of the decade. I do remember McNabb being really good, but I don't remember him ever being truly elite.

Your freezer-toting friend is of course an idiot.

Points: 0

#198 by Kibbles // Sep 11, 2010 - 6:17pm

You kind of forgot about the 700 rushing yards at an absurd 50+% DVOA (good for another 328 pro-rated DYAR). That's not something to be glossed over, since it would have been the best rushing season by a QB in DVOA history by a HUGE margin. We're talking 20% better than the 2nd best QB rushing season in DVOA history (Vick's 1,000 yard campaign).

The thing that really impressed itself on me was that he really had no help. None. Supporting cast makes a *HUGE* difference. Don't believe me? Go compare Jake Plummer's stats in Arizona to his stats in Denver. That's the kind of difference supporting cast can make. More than the statistics he was on pace for (which, let's face it, 4400 combined yards and 37 combined TDs are pretty remarkable statistics for 2002), it was watching him do it all with no help that left such a strong impression on me. That, and watching him play an entire game on a broken ankle that wound up putting him on IR.

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#215 by Mr Shush // Sep 15, 2010 - 11:54am

I didn't forget about it: as I said, 747 was McNabb's pro-rated combined DYAR. His pro-rated passing DYAR was only 419. I agree that supporting cast makes a big difference, and that in that light 747 DYAR is really quite impressive. I still don't buy it as a historically great overall performance (as opposed to a historically great rushing performance).

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#193 by AlanSP // Sep 11, 2010 - 1:07pm

Actually, if you're going to marvel at injury-shortened McNabb seasons I'd go with 2006. It was the lowest completion percentage he posted outside of his rookie year, but his numbers were still outstanding, with the best Y/A of his career, along with his usual low INT % and effective running (he led all QBs in rushing DVOA by a huge margin). That year, he was extremely successful throwing deep, posting the highest yds/completion number of anyone in the 2000's, and that was with a receiving corps of Donte Stallworth, Reggie Brown, L.J. Smith, Greg Lewis, and Hank Baskett: not exactly world-beaters.

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#190 by asaltz // Sep 11, 2010 - 9:21am

A lot of this is stoked by media; the same newspapers publish Stephen Smith and "Philly Fans Still Suck" articles.

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#199 by Orange_and_Black (not verified) // Sep 12, 2010 - 1:15am

Sorry to go off like I am about to but this is not understood. People who blindly support #5 are wrong. They pretend to want trophies and titles then fail to see the one common factor keeping those titles away. The only irrational people are the ones who crucify Philly fans for believing their eyes.

The "McNabb spin machine" will tell you he had no chance in the last 5 minutes of the Super Bowl. A viewing of that game will show that he overthrew LJ Smith by 10 yards into Bruschi's chest to force 5 minutes of desperation.

He was plain awful for half of the 2009 NFCCG.
He tackled Baskett himself with a shoelace throw on a crossing route that could have gone for 70 yards. The 4th down to end the game was a bad break by bad refs but he had 2 hideous throws on the 3 plays before that.

McNabb's teams (2002, 2004, 2008) were good enough to win the Super Bowl.
-In 2002 the NFCCG opened with a long Mitchell punt return leading to a rushing TD and a 7-0 lead. McNabb was invisible for 3 quarters, made 1 spectacular play and then threw the "Ronde 6" to end the game.

In 2002 Philly went to St Louis for the NFCCG.
The opening possession was a McNabb fumble that turned into @ a 10 yard TD drive for St Louis. 7 points in a 5 point loss. Do we blame the GM or the 4th wideout for that?

- In the 2004 SB he threw a red zone INT while hesitating to an open Westbrook.
He floats a mirror image INT to the same safety on the other side of the field.
(yes, that really happened and people pretend it did not)
He then had the Bruschi floater to end the game with 6 minutes to play.
He drove them into the rocks in all 3 cases.
How should we feel about that?

-In 2009, Asante scored against Minnesota and he took the ball to the 1 vs NY.
McNabb needed to put earn like 10 points to win both of those games.
When the team needed an elite performance vs AZ, he made about 10 McNabb throws along with some great throws. We took a knife to a gunfight.

Please name another "elite" QB who constantly degrades his teammates?
"I need more weapons" has already been stated from DC#5.
This statement is a vote of no confidence for your teammates.
When he did get those weapons, he cried because TO was a meanie.
Did Brady cry when Moss joined him?

Sure he carried the team in 2000 and 2001.
4th and 26 will always be wonderful (it doesn't make Freddie elite either)
He killed Tampa 2x and he killed Chicago.
No one rationally blames him for 2003.
He got cheap shotted and his WRs got mugged all day.
The guy was a 10th best type of QB who could not consistantly put up pro bowl numbers in an offense sloped to the pass like no other.

Kolb was 2 for 2 in 300+ games
In 2006 the team won in the playoffs without him.
If you want to compare Reich and Kelly to Garcia and McNabb then I will tell you Reich should have played more in the playoffs for those Bills teams.

Look at McNabb's playoff numbers (
Look at Manning's
Look at Kelly's (focus on the final 4s)
If you like any of them then you are delusional.

There is no censorship on these numbers.

BTW, Cunningham's DVOA was probably SICK.
He had MVP type numbers in 1987, 1988, 1990, 1998.
He won multiple MVP awards (Bert Bell)
If he did not win APs it was because Montana, Rice or Terrell 2k beat him out.
He played in a division that won the SB SIX TIMES in his 11 year Eagle career.
He faced LT in his prime 2x a year and destroyed him half the time.
Blaming him for not winning in the playoffs is like blaming Reggie White or Seth Joyner or Eric Allen.
The guy threw for 400+ IN THE FOG! (penalties and drops killed him)
The guy started with Quick and Carter and in the playoffs he had Johnson and Garrity.
No excuses he came up small in 1990 but McNabb comes up small every year.
Montana had Walsh.
Kelly had Levy.
Cunningham had "go make 5 plays" Ryan and then Kotite.
Young got 5 years to learn the WCO.
Rhodes gave Cunningham 2 months.
His injury in 1991 was a national tragedy

Anyone who says McNabb > Cunningham is just plain wrong.
They can also tell you Testaverde has more yards than Montana.

Pretending McNabb deserves homage is like pretending Peyton Manning is clutch in the playoffs. It is solely for the delusion.

As for the Ryan Howard comparison... He keeps putting up numbers that compare to Babe Ruth. McNabb can even get in the top 5 for MVP while at the QB position on strong teams. I laugh at the reference like anyone with objectivity should.

I don't hate McNabb, I hate losing when we were good enough to win.
That is all and I am not alone.

Points: 0

#200 by Orange_and_Black (not verified) // Sep 12, 2010 - 1:28am

BTW, Cunningham's insane 1990 season was done with a pair of rookie WRs at #1 and #2.
Does anyone think Buddy Ryan, Kotite and Rhodes compares to Andy Reid?
Does anyone think the 85-95 Eagles O-line compares to the 2000-2010 versions?
Does anyone think Fassel, Spurrier, Campo compare to Gibbs, Parcells and later Jimmy Johnson?

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#201 by kamiyu206 // Sep 12, 2010 - 2:29am

You compared Ryan Howard to Babe Ruth?

Howard's best season, which is 2006, is worse than Ruth's career average!

Anyone who says Howard can be compared to Ruth is just plain wrong. Sorry.

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#203 by Eddo // Sep 12, 2010 - 10:19am

Yeah, I wish he had put that first, so that I would have just stopped there.

Ryan Howard's top even a top-ten player in his own era, let alone on Babe Ruth's level.

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#202 by Thomas_beardown // Sep 12, 2010 - 2:48am

Yeah I hate those fans who pretend to want championships. Stupid poseurs.

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#204 by Orange_and_Dumb (not verified) // Sep 12, 2010 - 11:19am

"Anyone who says McNabb > Cunningham is just plain wrong."

You have completely invalidated anything you have ever said or will ever say about sports by uttering that one comment. Cunningham's entire career was based upon his athleticism.
> He never studied game tape, either on his offense or an opposing defense.
> He could not read defenses.
> He did not run an offense. He would take the snap, scan the field for 2 seconds, then turn it into a scramble drill.
> His late career success in MIN was predicated upon deep throws to Chris Carter and Randy Moss. Any QB who can throw a deep ball can have success playing with that tandem.

I used to think Cunningham was a great QB. He was exciting, he could make play and he had a 90 yard punt! Then I learned a bit about real NFL preparation. And I learned Randall never did any of it. During an interview, a former Eagle OC who worked with Randall told a little story. He did not believe Randall looked at his playbook. He stuck a $100 in the middle of the playbook before checking it out to Randall. When Randall returned the book the next week, the $100 bill was still there. At best, Randall studied half the playbook.

McNabb is a better QB than Cunningham for the simple fact that he is a real QB. He runs an offense, studies film and executes plays as they are designed. And he can run the scramble drill when necessary. If Cunningham was half the QB McNabb is, the Eagles would have two rings with those early '90s defenses.

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#205 by AlanSP // Sep 12, 2010 - 12:02pm

This is pretty much exhibit A as far as what Tanier was talking about. You have this bizarre version of events that basically just denies what actually happened, and anyone pointing out the huge amount of evidence to the the contrary is dismissed as part of the "McNabb spin machine."

Fortunately, you pretty much ceded any chance of being taken seriously with the "If you like Peyton Manning or Jim Kelly, you're delusional" bit, not to mention the absurd Howard/Ruth comparison (I love Ryan Howard, but he's nowhere even remotely close to Ruth).

Points: 0

#221 by Orange_and_Black (not verified) // Sep 26, 2010 - 11:27pm

I never said Howard = Ruth. He is not even as good as Pujos currently.
The fact is that there are a number of stats over a certain period where his RBI totals or HR totals compare to Ruth and few others. McNabb has never had anything like that. (well he does compare to O'Donnell for least INT%) Howard is an elite player in 2005-Now. McNabb has never been elite and never will be.

As to Kelly and Manning.
Look at Kelly in AFCCGs and Super Bowls (5 TDs 12 INTs)
Manning is an 8-8 playoff QB who had 2 monster games vs Denver in '04 and '05 (9 TDs and 1 INT) and 14 games where his totals are 19 TDs to 18 TDs. Of course he is a first ballot hall-of-famer for his unequaled regular season performance.

You can pretend they were both playoff studs and you can pretend McNabb carried the Eagles and is persecuted because people from Philly are monsters who randomly pick on people for no reason.

Points: 0

#207 by helling (not verified) // Sep 12, 2010 - 10:47pm

This article was just mentioned on National network television in the UK.Is FO mentioned on mainstream US TV?

Thank goodness for C4 employing an expert who not only knows about the game but is also interested in reading new things about it.

Sky are insane for not poaching him and ditching the pompous cliche spouter they use.

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#208 by helling (not verified) // Sep 12, 2010 - 10:48pm

This article was just mentioned on National network television in the UK.Is FO mentioned on mainstream US TV?

Thank goodness for C4 employing an expert who not only knows about the game but is also interested in reading new things about it.

Sky are insane for not poaching him and ditching the pompous cliche spouter they use.

Points: 0

#209 by helling (not verified) // Sep 12, 2010 - 10:50pm

Sorry about that.Did I mention it was mentioned?

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#212 by Anonie (not verified) // Sep 14, 2010 - 11:54am

This article does not provide any rationale as to why Reid traded McNabb. Is Reid a denier?

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#217 by Hud (not verified) // Sep 15, 2010 - 5:20pm

I honestly don't think that was a Reid call. think he got out voted on that one by the other front office brass.

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#213 by Tofino // Sep 14, 2010 - 2:55pm

Loved the McNabb essay, and was going to comment on it, but my brain was completely derailed by the fact that the President of the United States of America in your little dialogue appears to be Taylor Swift.

Points: 0

#214 by Anonymouse (not verified) // Sep 14, 2010 - 6:11pm

The best (or second best) quarterback the Eagles ever had? Sonny Jurgensen!

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#216 by Hud (not verified) // Sep 15, 2010 - 5:18pm

I couldn't (wouldn't) read through all of the comments here, but did anyone make note of the game where McNabb BROKE HIS ANKLE and led a come back to beat the Cards?? that game alone puts McNabb in a whole other class of qb, because the only one I know who would do something similar is The Wrangler (Favre).

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#219 by Hud (not verified) // Sep 16, 2010 - 10:18am

tuluse, good point! almost forgot about that, but that was college and his lineman were carrying him down the field. still, that makes 2 qb's outside of mcnabb that would have done it.

Points: 0

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