By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
Donovan McNabb steps to the podium. Dozens of microphones push toward his face. The skin between his eyebrows creases deeply as he listens to the question.
"What does it mean for you to be here?"
McNabb stares down at the podium. He shifts his weight on his feet.
"Well," he says, "I mean, uh...."
The veteran quarterback shakes his head, momentarily at a loss for words.
And then, his thoughts collected, McNabb forces himself past the verbal filter. He lifts his gaze and locks eyes.
"It's a new day for me," McNabb says, his voice confident. "Obviously, you try to learn from the past and your mistakes and how you can become a better player, as well as a better person."
The reporter wants more details. "How do you become a better player and person based on what you've been through?" she calls out.
McNabb audibly sighs. His reply comes more quickly this time. "With my experience of being in Philadelphia, and obviously, of what happened in Washington—and the way that it happened—there's ways of learning from it."
The 34-year-old quarterback is once again the even-keeled warrior who played in six Pro Bowls and led his Philadelphia Eagles to five NFC championship games and a Super Bowl. The baggage from his divorces—first the Eagles, then the Redskins—seems to fall away, and McNabb stands before the press like a new man.
But the reporters want to dwell on the past.
"Is there still some part of you that has a chip on your shoulder?" one asks.
McNabb smiles again and shakes his head.
"You know, that whole 'something-to-prove' deal," he says. "I've moved past that. For me, it's just going out and just being who I am, and doing what I do."
The media continue to lob questions: How much is your salary? How do you feel about training the rookie? Are you even in shape?
McNabb answers politely, even cracks a few jokes.
But as the press conference winds down, McNabb takes control: He wants to talk about what this Vikings season means to him.
"It's about winning," he says. "That's what it's all about: holding up that trophy."
To underline his intentions, McNabb says it again for the reporters scribbling notes: "I want to be the one up on that podium. That's what this game's about."
MCNABB IS USED TO REJECTION.
Back in 1999, he was a hot-shot rookie, a double-threat quarterback out of Syracuse. Scouts were saying he could take a team to the Super Bowl.
But the rowdy bunch of Eagles fans bused to Madison Square Garden to watch the draft that year weren't so keen on McNabb. They wanted running back Ricky Williams. When head coach Andy Reid used his first selection—the No. 2 pick overall—to scoop up McNabb, the Philly fans actually booed.
McNabb tried not to let it spoil his day, but he couldn't hide his disappointment from his mom.
"Ma, they booed me," Donovan said.
"Naah, I didn't hear that," Wilma McNabb said.
"Yeah, they booed me."
"The guys wearing Philadelphia Eagles jerseys."
Donovan figured it would die down once Williams was picked. So after the New Orleans Saints chose him fifth overall, McNabb went back out.
The Philly fans booed him again.
Philly can be tough on its heroes: The town famously threw snowballs at Santa Claus. But Coach Reid thought that if anybody could handle it, McNabb could.
"Andy said they felt, among other things, that Donovan was wired right for Philadelphia," says Paul Domowitch, a writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. "They just felt that Donovan could withstand the scrutiny, the criticism, the media, the passion, the fans here—everything that goes with playing in Philadelphia—as opposed to a Daunte Culpepper that year or Akili Smith, or some of these other guys who probably would have—in their minds—just wilted under the pressure."
Besides, the Eagles stunk—they hadn't been to an NFC championship in 20 years.
McNabb turned that around. In his first four years starting for Philly, McNabb led the Eagles to three NFC championships.
His biggest opportunity came in January 2003, the NFC championship game against the Tampa Bay Buccanneers.
Philly had every advantage. McNabb, back after eight weeks off to heal a broken fibula, was highly favored over Bucs quarterback Brad Johnson. McNabb had better weapons, including running back Brian Westbrook. To cap it off, the Eagles were at home—and the Bucs weren't used to playing in the cold.
The game started with fireworks. The Eagles returned the kickoff to Tampa's 26-yard line, and two plays later, running back Duce Staley sprinted for 20 yards to score the first touchdown of the night. Not bad for 52 seconds.
But after the sensational start, the offense dried up. McNabb accumulated just 92 passing yards in the game's first three quarters and notched two fumbles and an interception. It was his worst game since his rookie season.
By far the most devastating of his mistakes was the interception. It happened during a late fourth-quarter drive. The Eagles were at first and goal at the Buccaneers' 10-yard line, with 3 minutes, 27 seconds on the clock. Philly was down 20-10.