Big transition for McNabb
MARLTON, N.J. — Donovan McNabb has one foot planted in the nation's capital and the other firmly in the City of Brotherly Love.
He is a Redskin now, but part of him will always be an Eagle.
On a hot June day, McNabb conducted a clinic for children on a community field in the New Jersey suburbs of Philadelphia. Brian Westbrook was there along with other longtime former Eagles teammates. Also on the field was Washington running back Clinton Portis and other Redskins who made the trip in support of their new teammate.
"It's what he's left," said his mother, Wilma McNabb, "and what he's going to."
If only it were that simple.
McNabb is a complex man dealing with an emotional upheaval. He'll be in a burgundy and gold uniform when the Redskins open camp this week, his football heart in a new city for the first time in his NFL career.
"The whole situation," McNabb said, "for one (looking) from the outside, is kind of complicated."
After 11 years of praise and vilification in Philadelphia, McNabb was traded on Easter Sunday to the Redskins, a division rival just a short train ride away. One of the league's most popular and perhaps misunderstood quarterbacks is starting anew.
"I've moved down there," McNabb said in an interview with The Associated Press, "getting accustomed obviously to being there, and just trying to forget the 11 years that I've had, the success I've had here in Philadelphia, and move on."
Forget? How could he ever forget Philly? The five NFC championship games? The six Pro Bowls? The yearly boos that started on the day he was drafted?
"It's hard to forget," he acknowledged. "But you know what? It's better that there was success and it's hard to forget than it just really being bad and you're just trying to get to get rid of it. I had a lot of fun here in Philadelphia. I met a lot of good people, built a lot of friendships. Kids have been named after me, dogs have been named after me, and people have come up to me and said they really do appreciate what I did."
The New Jersey event raised money for the nearby Virtua Voorhees Hospital, where all four of McNabb's children were born, including the twins who had a two-week stay in the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit in 2008. McNabb plans to continue working in the Philadelphia community.
But despite his goodwill, a lot of baggage built up during his time with the Eagles.
McNabb has been called a leader, a winner (.651 won-loss percentage as a starter), a family man, clean (no marks on his rap sheet) and a community role model. He was also booed and was patient with the Eagles' constant revolving door at receiver.
"With that whole list, one thing that stands out, out of that whole deal to me, is success," McNabb said. "You talk about winning, different receivers, family, even booed too much — because the majority of the time when you get booed, that means things aren't going well. But in this situation, things went well — it just wasn't what everybody wanted."
What everyone wanted, of course, was a Super Bowl title — which never came.
McNabb's goal now is to win that elusive championship with Washington, but he's not going to let it drag down his whole career if he doesn't get it.
"I look for five or six more strong years," said McNabb, who turns 34 in November. "I don't mind if at the end of this five, six more strong years and we're in the same situation, and I would look back, I wouldn't be upset about my career. Now, would I want to hold up a trophy? Absolutely. That is my goal. To have the confetti flying."
Even so, McNabb invoked the names of Jim Kelly, Dan Marino and Warren Moon — great quarterbacks who never won the big one.
Buffalo "didn't win a Super Bowl," McNabb said. "They went there four times, but do you take that away from Jim Kelly? Do you slight him in any way? No."
Other than the Super Bowl void, there have been other potholes in McNabb's career. There have been questions about his accuracy, negative comments made by conservative radio pundit Rush Limbaugh in 2003, the two-year love-hate relationship with receiver Terrell Owens, a languid performance in the fourth quarter of his lone Super Bowl appearance in 2005, and criticisms that his locker room leadership can be overwhelming and even stifling.
Presented with that list, McNabb passed over most of the items but had plenty to say about anyone questioning his leadership. He is dismissive of any Eagles player who claims to be glad to be out from under his shadow.
"It comes back down to, when you've been in one place for a long period of time, people want to see something different," McNabb said. "It happens with myself, it happens with Tom (Brady), it happens with Peyton (Manning), because I've heard players who've played with Peyton get upset because they think it's all about Peyton. And that's the situation where you go through where a lot of times players all of a sudden get so influenced by fans that they get caught up."
McNabb said until a player has to walk in those shoes, they really don't know what players like himself, Brady and Manning go through.
"When things are great, obviously we're the first ones to receive the attention, but when things go wrong, we're the first tones to receive the negativity," McNabb said. "And that's one thing people don't want to be a part of.
"They may talk about, 'Man, if I was like Donovan or if I was in his shoes, I would do this or do that.' Yeah, but if you were in my shoes, how would you handle the boos? How would you handle the criticism? How would you handle you winning but still getting dogged by the media?"
McNabb also defended his passing ability. His 59.0 completion percentage ranks 28th out of the 40 quarterbacks with at least 1,500 regular season attempts since 1999.
"People talk about I'm inaccurate, but I'm winning," he said. "Now you can complete 64, 65 percent of your balls, that looks good on paper, but if you aren't winning no ball games, then what? ... I'm about winning ballgames, not about numbers."
Certainly, McNabb has many more admirers than detractors. Redskins players have glowingly spoke about the way he has taken charge, working extra sessions with receivers and fitting seamlessly into the locker room. Eagles center Jamaal Jackson, who has been snapping the ball to McNabb for the better part of a decade, is among those who will miss a close friend.
The Redskins "are getting a great leader," Jackson said. "You'll see by his work ethic, he's one of the hardest working guys I've ever met."
Eagles guard Todd Herremans said the biggest misconception about McNabb is that "people think he's too much of jokester." McNabb's air-guitar entrance onto the field before his final game with the Eagles, a 34-14 playoff loss to Dallas, rubbed some people the wrong way.
"Donovan likes to smile and joke and laugh, and I think that's part of what helps him play good," Herremans said. "But that's just on the exterior. On the inside, he's got a desire to win, he's got that fire. ... He plays better when he's loose."
McNabb's mother said people overlook her son's goodness and honesty, citing as an example his admission that he didn't know an NFL game could end in a tie after the Eagles deadlocked 13-13 against Cincinnati in 2008.
"Oh, they got on him about that whole thing," Wilma McNabb said. "But all he did was told the truth. Maybe sometimes being truthful is not good with some people."
McNabb himself said the outside world doesn't always realize his passion for the game.
"We're so caught up in numbers and look," he said, "more than the end result. ... Every time (Kelly) stepped on that field you felt confident that he was going to win that ballgame. That's the passion and the determination that I have, that every time I step out on that field and get under center, that you feel confident that we're going to win that ballgame."
It was successful in Philly. Now it's time to see how it plays in D.C.