By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
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The decision was bizarre, but Shanahan's explanations to the media were even stranger.
First, he claimed that McNabb didn't know the two-minute drill well enough. Then Shanahan said the veteran's hamstring was bothering him and McNabb's cardio wasn't up to snuff.
The manic behavior continued a few weeks later when Shanahan gave McNabb a lavish five-year, $78 million contract extension—albeit with an escape clause for the team.
And McNabb wasn't earning that hefty paycheck. His quarterback rating dropped to a career-low 77.1, and his interceptions skyrocketed to 15, a career high. It was McNabb's worst season since his rookie year.
In mid-December, Shanahan leveled a mortal blow: He benched McNabb for the rest of the season.
"Clearly, Mike Shanahan wouldn't be making the move if he had confidence in Donovan McNabb," said Adam Schefter, the NFL analyst for ESPN. "The Washington Redskins' marriage with Donovan McNabb is over. It's over."
This spring, the Vikings picked McNabb up. McNabb's contract in Minnesota is a $5 million, one-year deal, making him the lowest-paid veteran quarterback in the NFL. He's got just one year to prove he can change his destiny.
"In every other way, his career has been fulfilled, with one exception: winning a championship," says Ray Didinger, an Emmy-winning analyst for ComcastSportsNet in Philadelphia. "If he does that—if he were to win a Super Bowl—then I think you seriously put him in the discussion for a Hall of Fame."
MCNABB STANDS ON the sidelines, waiting patiently.
For four days now, he's been locked out of practice as the NFL finalizes the new collective bargaining agreement. His team has been playing without him for 45 minutes.
"Donovan!" hollers Rick Spielman, the Vikings' president of player personnel, waving McNabb onto the field.
As McNabb dons his purple Vikings helmet for his first practice, a stream of water splashes the right side of his face, dripping down his beard and onto his neck. Fellow quarterback Joe Webb has just baptized McNabb with a splash from his water bottle.
"Welcome to Minnesota!"
McNabb trots onto the field with a grin on his face.
"I love being here, because it gives us an opportunity to spend time together," McNabb says. "I think it's important in training camp that you do—because that's when the bond is built."
McNabb's enthusiasm marks a dramatic departure from last year, when Brett Favre didn't even bother to show up for training camp. McNabb, on the other hand, gushes about the opportunity to get to know all his new teammates.
"He seems like a rookie," says Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway, "because he knows how to have fun playing the game. He has a youthful spirit, and it really resonates with the rest of us."
McNabb bugged his eyes out dramatically—as though they were going to pop out of his head. "You know what," McNabb said with over-the-top enthusiasm, "That is a great question."
The guys cracked up. They recognized the impression of quarterbacks coach Craig Johnson, whose known for using the phrase "great question" in response to nearly every question he's asked.
Peterson appreciates McNabb's easygoing demeanor.
"It's not like he comes into the locker room and he's just goofing off," Peterson says of McNabb. "But you know, you're talking to him, you're sitting around relaxing with him in a group, you're going to get a laugh."
McNabb was that way even back at Mount Carmel High School in Chicago, where Coach Frank Lenti relied on the young quarterback to keep things light. Once, in a tense week leading up to a game against a big rival, Lenti asked McNabb to do something to relax the team. McNabb promptly dropped to the turf and performed a perfect breakdancing backspin.
"He always had that ability to remain loose—and yet, poised—around the kids, the team," Lenti recalls.
Cut-up McNabb doesn't show up in press conferences, where he studiously avoids all controversy and speaks in a smooth, almost hypnotic tone.
But evidently, that's only to the reporters' faces.
"He'll walk away from your interview and he'll be mimicking some things that you've done," says Coach Leslie Frazier. "He's terrific at that. So, if you've got any quirks, don't show them in front of Donovan."
MCNABB SLUMPS INTO his seat behind home plate at Target Field and digs into a basket of nachos. Beside him, backup quarterback Joe Webb munches on the salty chips.
The food is definitely better than the baseball. McNabb and Webb watch as the Twins slide deeper into disaster. The Yanks hit three homers and score twice as many runs as the Twins.
But McNabb and Webb are happy taking in the Minneapolis skyline. And unlike the loudmouths in Philly, the fans around them are too Scandinavian-polite to interrupt the bliss.
Then the incognito evening comes to a screeching halt when the Jumbotron flashes a picture of McNabb and Webb, in their polo shirts and matching Twins baseball caps. All of Target Field at once realizes that two football stars are in their midst.