Donovan McNabb in DC: Still Black


Open your window this beautiful spring day and you can still hear Giants fans chortling over the Philadelphia Eagles’ decision to trade quarterback Donovan McNabb. His replacement will be Kevin Kolb (0 — that’s zero — NFL starts), who told the Philadelphia Inquirer “Don’t expect any drop-off in performance” from the 2009 season.

Well, Kevin, I’ll agree if you mean the Eagles won’t be winning the Super Bowl this year, either. Other than that, I think you can chalk up four or five wins, maybe. Giants fans — and Eagles fans and Cowboy fans, too, for that matter — are forgetting one very big thing: McNabb is still playing in their division. No, make that two very big things they’re forgetting. The other is that the new Redskins coach is former Bill Walsh disciple Mike Shanahan, who has two Super Bowl rings and great success with turning around the careers of veteran quarterbacks.

In the 1997 season, Shanahan inherited an aging but still highly mobile quarterback named John Elway and coached him to two consecutive Super Bowl victories. Elway was four years older than McNabb is now, and Elway was not as good through the first eleven seasons of his career as McNabb has been.

Here’s some other people McNabb has been better than: every other quarterback in Philadelphia Eagles history. Want to go a little further? McNabb’s career won-lost percentage as a starter is .643; Brett Favre’s is .628. McNabb is 9-7 lifetime in the postseason; Favre is 13-11. Let’s make just one more comparison. Eli Manning’s career W-L is .592, and his postseason record is 4-3, all four wins coming in that one incredible 2007-2008 stretch. I think it’s safe to say that Eli will be very lucky to finish his career with numbers anywhere near as good as McNabb’s.

It’s also safe to say that Eagles fans never appreciated how good McNabb was. They’re still griping about the 2005 Super Bowl, in which the Eagles lost to the Patriots by three points when they probably should have lost by two touchdowns. McNabb threw for 357 yards in that game and put up 21 points while his coach, Andy Reid, dawdled on the sidelines and let precious minutes dribble away at the game’s end. (In comparison, Eli Manning threw for 255 yards against New England in the 2008 Super Bowl and won the MVP award largely because his team’s defense allowed just 14 points.)

Some of the criticism put on McNabb by Philly press and fans was racially motivated. In 2003 Rush Limbaugh outraged millions by claiming that McNabb’s stock was high with the football media because he was black and the media “wanted a black superstar at quarterback.” In point of fact, Limbaugh was correct, and I said so in Slate.

The media did want a great black quarterback. I know I did, and I very much wanted for Donovan to stick it to those in my own family whom I had heard insult him simply because they didn’t believe that a black quarterback could ever be great. (To be honest, as I pointed out, he wasn’t great back in 2003.)

But, to be fair, it wasn’t just whites who were unfair to McNabb; black fans (including a black Philadelphia preacher) constantly criticized Donovan for not being “black enough” — i.e., for not running out of the pocket and learning to use his mobility to set up the pass. Only a couple of weeks ago, light-heavyweight Bernard Hopkins, a Philadelphia native, made the same stupid criticism. I guess running for 3,249 yards over his career wasn’t good enough for them.

Pundits are now saying that we’ll now find out who should be blamed for all those heartbreaking postseason losses — Andy Reid or Donovan McNabb. I say that depends on who makes it to the postseason this year. My money says the Redskins have a better chance than the Eagles — or the Giants, for that matter.