Once Independence Day is over, football fans begin looking forward to the beginning of training camp. Only to wait another month and a half for the arrival of Week One as the long, hot summer sessions drag on and on.
So in this time of hurrying up and waiting, there is an opportunity to reflect on one of the most confounding careers in Philadelphia sports.
I'm talking about that of Donovan McNabb.
McNabb had many detractors from the time he arrived in Philadelphia as Andy Reid's first pick in the 1999 NFL draft. McNabb also found a lot of supporters when he was effective enough in the early going. By the end, though, most fans knew he was fool’s gold in a midnight green jersey.
Some would say that is a harsh description of McNabb. They would be wrong.
An NFL quarterback must be a leader. To be great, he must succeed in pressure situations, and win at least one Super Bowl. McNabb put up some good statistics at times, although in five of ten seasons in which he started at least thirteen games, he did not even throw 20 touchdowns.
But McNabb's main problem was not his statistical record. He was unable to lead because his oddball personality didn't hold up in the clutch.
When the pressure was on, he folded. Or vomited. When it really mattered, McNabb could unwittingly do whatever was necessary to lose. The Eagles came within three points of the Promised Land in 2005. If McNabb’s four Super Bowl turnovers hadn't been too much to overcome, he would have committed a fifth.
McNabb's supporters will point to times he seemed to display some semblance of toughness. Notably, he played well on an injured ankle in the second half of a regular-season game against the Cardinals in 2002, back when many still believed in his abilities.
McNabb could usually handle the regular season; it is the post-season that became the fertile ground of his unraveling. Overshadowing his performance in that 2002 game is that in the 2008 NFC Championship Game, which was played against those same Cardinals.
It was the last and clearest chance McNabb ever had to show what he was really made of, playing against a tough Cardinals team led by an invigorated Kurt Warner, who showed how great he truly was by driving the Cardinals to a late lead.
McNabb was given one last chance to lead his team downfield and tie the game. Like Warner, he too showed what he was really made of. He threw four consecutive incompletions, each farther over the head of his receiver than the last and the Eagles lost another conference championship in which they had been favored.
McNabb won a lot of regular season games on a team that won a lot of regular season games without him as well. Luminaries such as AJ Feeley, Jeff Garcia and even Koy Detmer benefited from that supporting cast. In his short career at the helm, Garcia had a better winning percentage than did McNabb within the same season.
If you judge a QB by his statistics, McNabb was decent. If you judge a QB by regular season record, McNabb was pretty good. If you judge a QB on his leadership, McNabb’s grade would be NA.
It was clear that Andy Reid knew what McNabb’s shortcomings were; Reid's most egregious mistake was believing his system was good enough to atone for them.
Reid thought that if he got the Eagles close enough, maybe they would get lucky and McNabb would not prevent them from winning The Big One. Super Bowl XXXIX showed clearly that McNabb was too heartless and gutless to ever deliver a ring.
If there are any fans left who do not believe that Reid propped up McNabb during his time in Philadelphia, they need only to look at what happened to him after he was traded.
He compiled a 6-13 record, throwing just 18 touchdowns in 19 games against 17 interceptions. Even more telling is that McNabb was jettisoned from two franchises, the Redskins and Vikings, after being demoted in favor of Rex Grossman, Jake Ponder, and Joe Webb.
Washington and Minnesota learned much more quickly what it took Eagles fans a decade to realize: that Donovan McNabb was, and always had been, a loser.
The 2008 Championship Game cemented it. The false bravado of an air-guitar celebration before a 2009 playoff blowout at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys glazed the cement, sealing in his losing legacy forever.