By Chris Murray
For the NFC'Easter
PHILADELPHIA—Shortly after the Eagles lost to the Arizona Cardinals in last year's NFC Championship game, the radio sports talk shows in this town were full of fans and media pundits wanting to run quarterback Donovan McNabb out of town on a rail.
To McNabb's detractors, it was another case of him choking in an NFC title game. After all, McNabb is 1-4 in conference championship games. Never mind that McNabb had brought the Birds back from a 24-6 halftime deficit to a 25-24 lead with under 10 minutes left in the game or that the Eagles defense allowed the Cardinals to march down the field to score the go-ahead touchdown while chewing up the clock, it was all McNabb's fault.
Even when wide receiver Kevin Curtis dropped a fourth-down pass he should have caught to seal the Eagles fate, fans and sports talk show hosts moaned about the pass McNabb threw behind Hank Baskett on a crossing route on the previous play and his bad first half. I guess the defense's poor performance in the first half was also McNabb's fault, too.
For the game, McNabb was 28-of-47 for 375 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. But it meant nothing because he didn't win.
The reaction to McNabb's NFC title game performance is par for the course in his 10 years of wearing an Eagles uniform. Ever since they booed him on Draft Day, McNabb has never quite won the hearts of Eagles fans in spite of the fact that he is considered to be one of the best signal callers in the game and the winningest quarterback in team history.
From this point forward and for the final two years on his contract with the Eagles, McNabb, who is probably a future Hall-of-Famer, has to lead his Eagles to the Super Bowl and win it. That's the only way he can silence his naysayers. Otherwise, he will go down as one of the most under-appreciated quarterbacks in team history.
Whether McNabb wins a Super Bowl title this season will depend upon those around him. If right tackle Shawn Andrews and the rest of the offensive line are as good as their press clippings or if rookie wideout Jeremy Maclin or quarterback Michael Vick can learn the Eagles system and become a threat in the Birds offense, McNabb's dreams for a Super Bowl title could come true.
The reason it hasn't happened by now isn't all of his fault.
And whether his critics want to hear this or not, the reason McNabb hasn't reached the game's highest pinnacle of success is because the Eagles never had the personnel on both sides of the ball to support him.
With the exception of Terrell Owens during their Super Bowl run in 2004, McNabb has managed to win and make five Pro Bowls without a game-breaking wide receiver and a consistent running game. During the 2004 playoffs when Owens was sidelined with a leg injury, McNabb still managed to lead the team to the Super Bowl.
McNabb has managed to survive injuries and hints from current and former teammates that he's not the leader that he should be on the field, especially when Owens was throwing him under the bus in the media back in 2005.
Coming into this season, McNabb has the third highest winning percentage among active quarterbacks (82-45-1) behind Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. And for those who have criticized his accuracy over the years, McNabb has the third best touchdown to interception ratio behind Steve Young and Tom Brady. He has also completed close to 60 percent of his passes for his career.
It doesn't help that McNabb himself has sometimes given his critics fodder for their vitriol. There have been times in his career where McNabb has needed to be more assertive in his career in terms of taking over games. In at least three games in his career including the Super Bowl, McNabb has thrown up on the field, something that does not engender confidence from your teammates. There have been times when McNabb has missed open receivers.
But when you as his career in its totality, McNabb has done everything he could to bring a Super Bowl to Philly. Some football observers have said McNabb still has work to do to secure his place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Really? McNabb has led his team to more conference title games and has one more Super Bowl appearance than Hall-of -Famer Dan Fouts. He has won more playoff games and has a better winning percentage than Dan Marino (8-10).
With all of McNabb's wins, the five NFC Championships in 19 years along with the Pro Bowl appearances, his legacy in Philadelphia will ultimately be determined by him bringing home a Super Bowl ring.
If he does that, people, even those who jeered him on draft day back in 1999, will forget all of his flaws and see him as one of the all-time greats.