Originally created 02/02/05

McNabb becomes leading Eagle



JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Donovan McNabb's introduction to the NFL was a chorus of boos from Philly fans.

That was in 1999 when the Philadelphia Eagles selected the Syracuse star with the No. 2 overall pick instead of Ricky Williams.

"You knew what type of guy this guy was from the time he was drafted, the heat that he took after the drafting thing up there in New York, the way he came in here with that big smile on his face," Eagles linebacker Ike Reese said.

In other words, McNabb handled it the way he does a heavy rush.

Good thing coach Andy Reid stuck with his first choice in his first draft.

McNabb is one victory away from winning the Super Bowl; Williams abruptly retired last summer and now is studying holistic medicine.

"When I was drafted, it was a tough situation to swallow, but I stayed focused on my goal," McNabb said Tuesday during media day at the Super Bowl. "Patience is everything. You continue to stay patient and just continue to work. Have dreams and visualize being in this spot, and it can happen."

McNabb quickly won over the city with his athletic ability, leadership skills and toughness - he once threw four touchdown passes despite breaking his ankle on the third play.

In his first full season as starter, McNabb led the Eagles to the playoffs and was runner-up for league MVP. He's taken Philadelphia to the last four NFC championship games and has been selected to the Pro Bowl five straight years.

None of it will matter to him if the Eagles don't beat the New England Patriots on Sunday to capture their first NFL championship since 1960.

It'll be New England's first game this season against a scrambling quarterback - McNabb hates that label and prefers to stay in the pocket.

"He's the total threat," Patriots linebacker Willie McGinest said. "He has a strong arm, he can throw the ball really well. He can hurt you with his feet, he's smart, he reads defenses and he's experienced. He's won a lot of game and he has a knack for making plays when he needs to, especially in big games."

McNabb has come a long way since the last time the Eagles played the Patriots, a 31-10 loss in the second week of the 2003 season.

During the fourth quarter of that game, fans chanted "A.J." for third-string quarterback A.J. Feeley, who led the Eagles to a 4-1 record when McNabb was injured in 2002. After the game, one fan threw a water bottle at McNabb - it missed - as he walked off the field.

It got uglier later that month.

Before a 23-13 win at Buffalo that followed a bye week, Rush Limbaugh delivered a racially charged critique on ESPN, saying McNabb was overrated because the media wanted to see a black quarterback succeed.

McNabb refused to let those comments or the subsequent controversy effect his performance, leading the Eagles to an 11-1 record after an 0-2 start.

"Donovan is a guy with character," linebacker Jeremiah Trotter said. "You have to have a guy like that, especially at the quarterback position."

McNabb is coming off the best season of his six-year career. He set a team record with 3,875 yards passing, became the first NFL player to throw for more than 30 touchdowns (31) and less than 10 interceptions (eight), and his passer rating of 104.7 was second in the NFC.

Often criticized for being inaccurate, he drastically improved his completion percentage - his 64.0 percent was almost six points higher than his career average - and broke an NFL record by completing 24 consecutive passes over two games.

Known for his leadership in the huddle, McNabb earned more respect from his teammates for putting pressure on himself after All-Pro receiver Terrell Owens went down with an ankle injury.

"I'm still the captain of this ship and this ship is going to move," he said before the regular season ended. "I'll take this team as far as we need to go with the guys that we have."

McNabb backed up his promise, leading the Eagles, minus Owens, to playoff victories over Minnesota and Atlanta. He completed 38 of 59 passes for 466 yards, four TDs and no interceptions in those games.

"He is just one of the guys, and he makes everybody else on his team from one through 53 feel like they are a big part of this team and players respect that," Reese said.

Though McNabb didn't have much success against New England last year, he already upstaged Tom Brady once in a big game.

In his senior year at Syracuse, McNabb led the Orangemen to a 38-28 victory over Brady and Michigan in The Big House. McNabb threw for 233 yards and three TDs and ran for another score, helping Syracuse to a 38-7 lead early in the fourth quarter.

"That was one of the low points," said Brady, who was a junior making just his second start for Michigan at the time. "I have never been in a game where a team just dismantled us. They were incredible and Donovan was great that day."

The Eagles need McNabb to be great again on Sunday.