This week we're starting a new feature to run every other week during the summer that highlights the "game changing" moves made by the Eagles this offseason. While all of the SBNation football writers are doing this, I would bet that none had an easier time selecting the topic for the first post than I did.
For the first time in a decade the Eagles will head into a season with someone other than Donovan McNabb as the starting QB. After the jump we'll look at McNabb's career and more specifically his relationship with fans and legacy in the city.We've talked a lot about what McNabb was as a player and what that loss will mean. But lately, I've been thinking about Donovan McNabb the man. First, it's obvious that he is a very high character guy and has never even come close to running afoul of the law. He's a smart, well spoken guy raised in a good two parent home. He's a father himself and active in numerous charities. A good guy by all measures.
Despite all that, does anyone feel like they ever knew the real Donovan McNabb? His boring, cliched press conferences were highlighted only by the occasional bad joke. He rarely ever seemed to honestly speak his mind, which is unfortunately considered a virtue in sports today. Players are coached from the time they enter college to never say anything and give the same cliched responses. McNabb followed those teachings to a T. His introductory press conference in Washington was an absolute clinic in not saying anything and masking your true emotions.
Maybe that was why he never achieved the kind of adulation in Philadelphia that a guy like Brian Dawkins did. While Dawkins seemed so emotional and honest, McNabb always came off as a emotionless and guarded. He was in many ways a mirror of his head coach Andy Reid, who despite being a better coach than Buddy Ryan in almost every way will never be as loved in Philly as the outgoing and honest Buddy.
Is this a flaw of McNabb's or is it a flaw of ours? Because when a guy starts to speak his mind too much, he gets labeled a troublemaker or a prima donna. When he never speaks his mind he becomes... Donovan McNabb.
Either way, the incident that always made me wonder about McNabb was the one involving Fox sideline reporter Pam Oliver. You may remember that before a 2007 game against Dallas in which the Eagles were trying to end a 3 game losing streak, Oliver reported that she spoke to Donovan McNabb and he expressed some frustration with the Eagles organization.
"Donovan really seems to believe that his days in Philadelphia are numbered. When I spoke with him before the game, I got the impression that Donovan is a little hurt by what he sees as an organization distancing itself from him and an organization that's overly concerned about the negative fan reaction to him. But Donovan told me point blank: My knee is not an issue. The next place I go, I will win, and also that he will keep a smile on his face for as long he's in an Eagles uniform."
When asked about her report after game however, McNabb denied ever expressing such frustrations.
"I am denying I said it. Make sure you get it right. If I'm here, or wherever it might me, I'm going to give all that I have and I did that today. I'm going to continue to do that. You hear things and you get tired of answering questions, but I stand up here like a professional and I do it."
Not many people believed McNabb's denial. Pam Oliver isn't really a reporter in the sense that she seeks out stories. She works on the sidelines, asks simple questions and repeats what the player says. There was no reason to think she would simply invent the story that McNabb was frustrated. She defended her report vehemently and even said that she held back some of his statements.
"My only professional regret is: Why on Earth did I bend over backwards to make it less impactful?," she said. "And then wake up to ... to someone throwing you under bus like that. All I can tell you is I stand by it 100 percent," she later added. "It's on-my-mother's-grave accurate. That's the bottom line."
Here was a rare unguarded moment from McNabb. He had let a little bit of his real emotion slip through to a reporter... but rather than own it and maybe even use the situation to be honest about the way he felt, he denied it and basically trashed a person he had a good relationship with in the process. Like I said earlier, I don't really blame him for being this way. He had been drilled to be this person his whole life.
I think this has a lot to do with why some fans grab onto to somewhat pointless things IMO like the way he would smile after a bad play. Had he ever showed the fans any real emotion otherwise, would they have been focusing on such inconsequential things? It's hard to say, but I do think the fact that fans never felt close to McNabb because they never felt they really knew him has a lot do with how he'll be remembered in this city. It has a lot to do with why he was never beloved like great Eagles stars of the past.
But like I asked before.... Is that a flaw of his or a flaw of ours?