The Legacy of Donovan McNabb

Playing in Andy Reid's system was the best chance for #5 to win in his entire career—and he still came up short.

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.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Michael July 18, 2012 at 04:46 PM
McNabb was good just not great. He was 9-7 in the playoffs (plus he earned the team numerous byes) and 92-49 in the regular season for the Eagles. That is Very Good. I haven't seen Andy Reid win a playoff game since he left, I haven't seen Vick win one, and while I loved Randall he only won 1 playoff game for the Eagles. You may not like his personality, you may not think he was "great", but if you take away the personal bias against the guy you would have to admit that McNabb was a very, very good player for the Eagles.
Mike Diviney July 19, 2012 at 02:55 AM
I don't think so Jono because he didn't any significant injuries in the years before he left or right after. He had pretty much ceased being mobile anyway. I do agree that his lack of a willingness to use his mobility hurt him a lot, but he just fell off a cliff after he left here.
Mike Diviney July 19, 2012 at 02:59 AM
He had plenty of good people around him. Didn't know you were in the huddle to determine a WR ran the wrong route. Excuses, excuses. Winning QB's don't need them, losers do. Who were the HOF WR's Tom Brady won 3 Superbowls with? TO wasn't just legit, he was the best in the league that year. It lasted only one yr because McNabb couldn't get along with him.
Mike Diviney July 19, 2012 at 03:01 AM
McNabb is the worst of this group. He's far from the best QB in Eagles history because he had no more a chance of achieving greatness than did Mike McMahon or Doug Pederson.
Mike Diviney July 19, 2012 at 03:02 AM
What would account for my personal bias? Watched him for years and based my opinion on his play. He's a loser. His personality, at the QB position, caused a lot of his failures so it's in play.
Izel Jenkins July 19, 2012 at 02:39 PM
wrong again hole...he has the highest winning %, most playoff wins...and gave us a chance for multiple years...none of the other qb's can say that.
Bo July 19, 2012 at 07:24 PM
Jaws went 18 for 38 for 291 and 1 TD & 3 INTs in his SB. Donovan also threw 3 INTs, but threw 3 TD's too, and went 30 of 57 for 357 yards. Donovan didn't have an RB close to as good as Wilbur was. The last INT McNabb threw was LJ Smith and his alligator arms, afraid to get hit. Jaws first pick of the game was his first pass and it was straight to Rod Martin, and started the Raiders at the Eagles 30. I still have nightmares about this play, as a 6 yr old, sitting in a Howard Johnson's hotel in the Poconos, and it was the biggest play of that Super Bowl. Jaws gift wrapped then handed that SB MVP to Rod Martin. I can't stand Jaws, and I think many other Eagles fans agree, great commentator, but couldn't have played any smaller, far smaller than McNabb, in the biggest game there is. This first Eagles Super Bowls, and how bad the Eagles played, I cite as the reason I am such a rabid Eagles fan still searching for redemption and fulfillment, and our first Lombardi trophy. So yeah I am pissed at both for playing small, but for Christ-sake, a DB didn't win the MVP of McNabb's super bowl, moreover, Deon Branch smoked Lito like a bad cigar.
Mike Diviney July 20, 2012 at 02:04 AM
Anyone who selects the moniker of Izel Jenkins is obviously lacking in creativity and of low intelligence. McNabb never gave the Eagles a chance to win a Superbowl. He could NEVER be great when he needed to be. One time he had the chance, he threw up. All he had to do to win that game was limit his turnovers to 3 and he couldn't even do that. Gave Philly the same chance he gave Wash and Minny. Run out of 3 cities now and you're still defending him- get a clue.
Mike Diviney July 20, 2012 at 02:07 AM
Michael, he wasn't 9-7. Also, since McNabb left,I haven't seen him get to the playoffs, record a winning season, start a full season, not get benched in favor of Rex Grossman, Jake Ponder and Joe Webb, or last more than ONE season on a team. Coincidence?
Mike Diviney July 20, 2012 at 02:10 AM
Let the Jaws angst go. He had more toughness in his little finger than McNabb had in his entire 300 pound body.
Mike Diviney July 20, 2012 at 02:10 AM
Also to Bo- Brian Westbrook was every bit as good as Wilbur if not better.
Gary B July 20, 2012 at 02:15 AM
Mike this is very typical of the McNabb apologists camp. Since the Sorry Pity Party Player has left town they have now adopted the; 'Well he's kinda, sorta, better than some of the other guys...' mentality. It's really lame how people hold the water for this guy. Baffling actually.
Mike Diviney July 20, 2012 at 02:24 AM
It is baffling. It's not as though he was a tough player who just wasn't quite good enough. He shriveled under pressure. It was remarkable how consistently he did it.
Mike Diviney July 20, 2012 at 02:34 AM
Not that it changes a thing, but I was wrong. McNabb's playoff record was 9-7. I went to check it under NFL players, then remembered he had been ousted from the NFL after failing miserably without Andy Reid propping him up so had to get it from Google. He was also 1-4 in Championship Games, including 3 losses when favored. The one he did win was a prelude to his 4 turnover choke-job 2 weeks later in the really big game.
Porterincollingswood July 20, 2012 at 11:03 AM
Compare McNabb's weapons to Brady's. Case closed. He had at least as good, if not better weapons. And lost.
Porterincollingswood July 20, 2012 at 11:05 AM
Mike - this goes back to my point that McNabb was great at beating teams that the Eagles were more talented then (Vikes, Falcons) but could never bring it to the next level and overcome a team that was equal or better "on paper" (Pats, Bucs). And, of course, he lost to the Panthers and an earlier version of the Bucs...winnable games. Note: He'd be 8-8 is the Packers had been able to cover a 4th and 26th.
Jono July 20, 2012 at 12:11 PM
@Porter - So your argument is that McNabb is not as good as Brady, therefore he's a loser? Yeah you're right, case closed.
Porterincollingswood July 20, 2012 at 12:41 PM
I don't think you read what I wrote, or gave any thought to what I was responding to. Anyone who says "McNabb needed more weapons to win a big game" needs to look at what Brady had to work with.
Porterincollingswood July 20, 2012 at 12:45 PM
It's like when I tell people that McNabb is the Boomer Esiason of the last decade. His supporters get insulted, and cry foul. But it's a a compliment, Boomer was a very good, successful QB who couldn't win the big one. Look at their numbers. And while you're at it - also look at Bledsoe's, which McNabb will never reach. Very good, not great.
Jono July 20, 2012 at 03:22 PM
None of these comments in defense of McNabb claim that he was great, just that he was very good. Brady is one of the great QBs of his generation and no one here is claiming that McNabb is in his league. And a better way to phrase your note about the 4th and 26 play is that McNabb would be 8-8 if he didn't come through in a clutch situation in a big game - something his detractors say he was incapable of.
Porterincollingswood July 20, 2012 at 03:48 PM
For me, the legacy of Donovan was a series of missed opportunities. They should have won at least one and possibly two SB's. They should have gone to at least one, and probably two more. They didn't because of a number of factors, McNabb's lack of clutchness in big spots being one of them. But, to me, not making it work with TO was the biggest issue. He was, as he constantly reminded us, the leader of the team. He abdicated that responsibility and let the TO thing fester and play out to a bad end. I don't know if he could've prevented that, but he chose to do nothing aside from (at the end) antagonize that nutcase even worse. When he (supposedly) lobbied the team to sign TO, he knew he was nuts and hard to work with - as did Lurie, Banner, and Reid. If you sign him, then its your job to work with that crazy baby. Why? Because TO at top form would've made that offense unstoppable for years. I think McNabb liked the trappings of leadership, was ill-suited and averse to actually practicing it. And that air guitar. Oh, the air guitar.
Michael July 20, 2012 at 05:04 PM
Yes McNabb was 9-7 in the playoffs. Playoff Record as Starting QB: 2000 (1-1), 2001 (2-1), 2002 (1-1), 2003 (1-1), 2004 (2-1), 2008 (2-1), 2009 (0-1). With 24 TD's and 17 INT's. #FACTS
Bo July 20, 2012 at 05:06 PM
A/ What does toughness have to do with which QB had a worse Super Bowl game? Cause there is no doubt who played smaller. If Westbrook was used correctly Donovan wouldn't have had to throw the ball 50 times. So sure, apples and oranges, but he wasn't and the game plan which was pass heavy was easy for Bill Belichick to gamplan for, no video tape needed. That is my main beef with Andy, that lack of balance put #5 in too many predicable situations where the coverage wasn't worried at all about the run, and they could clog up the middle of the field with extra DB's and linebackers who were smaller, quicker and better against the pass. That four-three of the Pats was like Kryptonite for the short and medium passing attack of Andy's version of the West Coast Offense. LJ Smith had 4 recs for 27 yards and Westbrook had 15 carries for 44 yards and 7 recs for 60 yards. Your not going to win many games outside of BYUville with your QB having to throw the ball 50 times in a game, maybe the coach should have recognized the capabilities of his QB, so he didn't arrive at the end of the game and incapable of being his best.
Porterincollingswood July 20, 2012 at 05:06 PM
Why Randall was better than McNabb: "The Randall Cunningham Show".
Mike Diviney July 20, 2012 at 06:51 PM
Bo, Westbrook had 15 carries, averaging fewer than 3 yards a carry. Doesn't seem like running the ball more would have been very effective. Toughness is a key factor in overall opinion of the 2, not necessarily relating to their Superbowl failures. They were playing from behind.
Mike Diviney July 20, 2012 at 06:53 PM
Jono, you did read that wrong. Porter was comparing their supporting cast and the Eagles was better- offense and defense.
Mike Diviney July 20, 2012 at 06:55 PM
That was his lone playoff comeback. ONE. It was a Hail Mary, but still counts. Probably would carry more weight if they didn't lose at home as favorites the next week.
Mike Diviney July 20, 2012 at 07:00 PM
Porter made some very good points. TO was a nutcase and because McNabb was an unstable leader, he was unable to make it work. Reid let it fester too because he wanted his locker room to handle it and they didn't. I guess Hugh Douglas tried, but... I know for a fact that McNabb sent McNabb's brother to approach TO to normalize relations. That tells you all you need to know. He wasn't man enough to even approach TO. He was scared of him. That, and him constantly saying he was the leader, which means he wasn't. I too have nightmares about the air guitar.
Mike Diviney July 20, 2012 at 07:02 PM
Porter, yes the Eagles lost to a great team in the Pats. However, the Pats have lost 2 Superbowls to the same inferior team. Boomer lost to 49ers, who were 4-0 in Superbowls and led by Joe Montana, aka McNabb's mirror opposite.


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