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McNabb thrives despite tough Philadelphia love

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Neil Reynolds | 12:05 UK time, Tuesday, 22 December 2009

I set a personal record in the summer of 2008 when I went on a trip to the United States for a grand total of just 27 hours. It was for a short piece of filming in New Jersey which required me to fly in and out of Philadelphia.

On the way back to the airport, the taxi driver asked me why I was in America and as soon as I uttered the letters N, F and L, I couldn't shut him up. He simply refused to stop talking about his favourite sport and his beloved Eagles, who star in our featured game this weekend on BBC 5 live sports extra.

In 45 minutes, he highlighted the challenge facing Philadelphia Eagles players and quarterback Donovan McNabb, in particular. One minute, the guy was telling me how much he hated McNabb and the fact he had never led the Eagles to Super Bowl glory despite numerous NFC Championship Game appearances. And the next, he was explaining how he often drove down McNabb's private road and parked outside his house hoping to get a glimpse of the star passer.

That kind of behaviour might be a little bit strange but it is not too different to other Eagles fans in Philadelphia. They love their team with a passion but they also love to hate their team.

They cheer McNabb when he does something right but don't give him much room for error before booing, publicly wishing the Eagles had drafted running back Ricky Williams in 1999 and demanding a change in the starting line-up.

Eagles fans can be brutal to the opposition and their own heroes in equal measure. And it is fair to say things can get a little rowdy at times at Lincoln Financial Field. It has been that way for quite some time in Philadelphia. The old Veterans Stadium had a courthouse set up within the grounds to handle disorderly fans immediately after they had stepped out of line on Sundays.

It should also be noted that this is a group of fans who once famously booed a Santa Claus collecting for charity just before Christmas. If they boo Father Christmas, what chance does McNabb have?

It doesn't help that McNabb has been unable to get the Eagles over the hump. He led them to the NFC title game in 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2008 but fell one game short of the Super Bowl on each occasion. And when the Eagles did reach the biggest show on earth during the 2004 season, they fell to defeat at the hands of the New England Patriots, albeit a narrow one. And McNabb was criticised for being tired and ineffective in the latter stages of that game.

McNabb has also suffered some injury problems along the way which has led to Eagles fans wondering if their quarterback's days in Philadelphia were numbered and the club would look in a different direction with the younger Kevin Kolb. In four seasons from 2004-2007, McNabb failed to complete all 16 games.

Andy Reid and Donovan McNabbCoach Andy Reid and quarterback Donovan McNabb have led the Eagles to the NFC East title

And McNabb has also been involved in his fair share of controversies in the locker room, making his time in Philadelphia eventful, entertaining but also occasionally frustrating.

But in 2009, McNabb is in fine form, is on course for a sixth Pro Bowl appearance and a first since 2004 and is surrounded with the kind of weaponry that has the Eagles players and coaches thinking they can do some serious damage in the play-offs if they can hang on to the lead in the NFC East division.

The Eagles, led by head coach Andy Reid, have done a wonderful job of surrounding McNabb with exciting playmakers. And it is the kind of explosive young talent that gives Philadelphia considerable hope for the future.

Wide receivers DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant, tight end Brent Celek and running back LeSean McCoy have all been heavily involved in the passing attack and the Eagles could end the regular season with five players on 50 catches or more.

DeSean Jackson has written his name into the NFL record books this season. He has scored eight touchdowns covering 50 yards or more, matching the achievements set by Elroy 'Crazy Legs' Hirsch in 1951 and Devin Hester in 2007.

McCoy is a rookie, as is the speedy Maclin, and Celek is only in his third season in the NFL. These youngsters are flying around the field making plays and the innocence of youth means they don't quite realise how good they are. In terms of points production, they are right up there with the Super Bowl team of 2004.

In the past, the Eagles have either relied on one primary wide receiver - Terrell Owens - or running back Brian Westbrook. But with Owens long gone, McNabb is free to spread the ball around and there is no over-reliance on Pro Bowler Westbrook, who has been a virtual non-factor due to lingering concussion problems.

McNabb has done a tremendous job of making sure each of the aforementioned targets gets involved as much as possible. He still has a strong arm and a strong command of the offence. He cannot run about and scramble like he used to - he is no spring chicken at 33 - but he is putting together a very good season throwing the ball.

Despite missing two games with a rib injury, McNabb has completed 61% of his passes for 3,008 yards, 19 touchdowns and an impressive quarterback rating of 93.6.

This is a special group of players around a good, veteran quarterback in McNabb who is being protected by a strong offensive line. The Eagles will be dangerous opponents for any play-off team. The New Orleans Saints and Minnesota Vikings may lead the way in the NFC post-season rankings but no one will want to face Reid's team in January.

Especially in hostile surroundings in the so-called City of Brotherly Love.

Game of the Week

We will break away from the mince pies and endless games of charades to bring you the Denver Broncos-Philadelphia Eagles clash on BBC 5 live sports extra on Sunday.

It is a must-win game for both teams. The Eagles need to maintain their one-game lead over the Dallas Cowboys, while the Broncos are one of eight clubs in the AFC scrapping it out for two wild-card berths.

The Eagles can score points from anywhere on the field with Jackson proving to be the most explosive big play threat in McNabb's arsenal. QB Kyle Orton has been solid for the Broncos this season and wide receiver Brandon Marshall has enjoyed a very good campaign, but I cannot see a fragile Denver team keeping pace with the Eagles, particularly playing on the road in Philly.

Prediction: Denver 16 Philadelphia 28

Special thanks to everyone for reading and responding to this blog during the course of what has been an amazing season. Your feedback and involvement is truly appreciated. There is still plenty of NFL football to discuss in the final fortnight of the regular season and into the play-offs, so I will be back as normal next week.

Until then, have a very Merry Christmas.

You can catch Neil commentating on an NFL game every Sunday at 2100 GMT on BBC 5 live sports extra throughout the season. (Available on the web to UK users only).


  • Comment number 1.

    Any year you come through the NFC East to make the play-offs, that's a pretty decent achievement. And McNabb's Iggles usually do.

    But I'm little surprised you didn't mention anything about the defense, this year with no Brian Dawkins on the field and no Jim Johnson off it. That was the unknown going into this season, and yet they have been effective again, racking up an outsized quota of sacks and turn-overs.

    Leonard Weaver at 5 yards per carry is also doing afine job backing up McCoy, when he's not blocking for him - and generally having the balanced offense is what makes the Iggles dangerous, Jackson is the game-changer that makes them especially so.

    I wouldn't begrudge McNabb a Superbowl win, he's had to put up with a lot of rubbish for someone who has over his career been a very effective game manager and delivered Hall of Fame production. But the Iggles carry with them also a certain Michael Vick, which means that I can't imagine too many people rooting for them in the post-season.

    But they will beat Denver, 31-10, leaving the Broncos to regret severely their horrendous choke at home against the Raiders.

  • Comment number 2.

    You know we are rabid fans if we are reading some guy's article from the BBC ! :) (No offense). Anyway:

    1. The Santa that got snowballed deserved it -- he was too skinny to be a Santa. He sucked.

    2. I never heard he was collecting for charity -- where did you get that from ?

    3. Philly is a working town. We love you if you work hard. McNabb has never "gotten there," but most agree he has worked hard. Hence the love-hate relationship.

    4. And the idiots at the draft in NYC did not boo McNabb -- they booed what had been years and years of frustration under horrible management and ownership.

  • Comment number 3.

    I was told the story years ago by an Eagles fan, but you're correct - he was not collecting for charity. I was wrong. My fault - the urban myth must have spiralled out of control.

    Personally, I love the atmosphere created at Eagles home games. I was there for a Monday Night game against Dallas in 2005... which was McNabb's last game of the season before they finally shut him down due to his injuries. It was a fantastic atmosphere. The Cowboys won it on a late Roy Williams interception return but it didn't stop the fans on hand from endlessly chanting "Dallas Sucks, Dallas Sucks."

    The Same Eddie George... You're right, credit has to be given to the defense as well because they lost Jim Johnson and then Stewart Bradley before the season began. Only overlooked them because I wanted to write about McNabb having some serious weaponry around him this season.

  • Comment number 4.

    As an Eagles season ticket holder of the last 10 years I've watched McNabb throughout his entire career (also happen to be English). This year he has been playing close to where he was in 2004 when they went to the big game and he hasn't had the distractions of a loony Terrell Owens.
    Desean Jackson is lightning fast and McNabb and Reid are finding ways to get him the ball on a regular basis.
    The addition of Leonard Weaver at full-back has really added a dimension to the running game they haven't had in years - a big, strong, powerful runner who can get them a couple of yards when they really need it. With the controversial Vick starting to come to the fore as well the Eagles are becoming a very dangerous offensive unit.
    The defensive side of the ball still lags a little however and may end up being their achilles heel. I sincerely hope not.
    I'll miss the homecoming of Dawkins as I'll be in England for Christmas but my play-off tickets were purchased today!

    Fly Eagles Fly!!

  • Comment number 5.


    I've been saying this since the glory days of Rocket Randall Cunningham but the Eagles are going to win the Super Bowl this season.

    Richard Davies

  • Comment number 6.

    Neil, I find it very interesting that the Beeb even give the NFL some space. I've been in the NY area for 20 years and love the NFL. We have Giants tickets (last game at the Stadium on Sunday) but first and foremost I'm a fan of the game.

    You're right, Westbrook has been a non-factor due to his concussions but if reports are correct he was almost close to coming back last week. This might just mean that the Eagles are going to have another incredible offensive weapon when the play-offs begin. I'd like to see McNabb win one before he hangs 'em up and certainly wouldn't begrudge Michael Vick that honour too.

    There are incredible story lines developing all over the NFL as the play-offs approach, what an incredible season it's been. It even beats a Bolton Wanderers relegation battle for excitement!

  • Comment number 7.

    endlessly chanting "Dallas Sucks, Dallas Sucks."

    Clearly the wittiest fans in the NFL. Quick question is it just me or when Donovan throws short why does he most of the time sling it either too low to catch or just straight into the ground?

  • Comment number 8.


    Well done for writing an article on The Eagles without mentioning their other QB, the 'reformed" dog hanger Michael Vick. I wish this team no success while he is on their roster


  • Comment number 9.

    Just for the record many Eagles fan like me love and appreciate Donovan. We are just the quiet ones that have sense!

  • Comment number 10.

    Rich... great to hear from you. Hope you are well. Your Eagles certainly keep coming close - sooner or later they will prove you right.

    You just have to keep saying it long enough and one year you will be on the money. I have to admit the Eagles are a dangerous team when the playoffs begin - you saw that last year when they knocked off the Giants and got all the way to almost winning the NFC title game.

    And this time around they have even more offensive weapons. No one will want the Eagles come January.

  • Comment number 11.

    Everyone hates the Cowboys. I still do. Don't like the Eagles much either.

    Praying that the Giants get the Wildcard and the Broncos smash the Eagles.

  • Comment number 12.

    ive only started watching the nfl properly this year, in previous years i'd just watch the superbowl. i have to say i've loved every minute of it! even i can see that there are better teams than the eagles out there though. the colts look unstoppable, the saints are just a machine, the vikings are the fairytale winners with favre. anything can happen in the post season but surely there are just better teams out there than the eagles and better qbs than mcnabb.

  • Comment number 13.

    I have never liked the Eagles, being a Redskins fan that is to be expected I suppose. But you have to be impressed with how they have consistently made it to the Play-offs, from the extremely difficult NFC East this decade. Andy Reid just needs to win a superbowl to be a sure thing to be inducted as a Hall of Fame coach.
    Saying that this year is once again going to be one of dissapointment. They will have to win on the road to make the Superbowl and unless the Saints or Vikings have a major choking session they won't be able to pull it off.

  • Comment number 14.

    as a Buccaneer i have a pathalogical hatred of the bEagles as conferance rivals (maybe not this year) but i do have to admit they are due a superbowl.

    this could be their year as they seem to be verhy well balanced on both sides of the ball with a game managing defence and an offence which makes McNabb excel and take advantage of his weapons, once McCoy has established a solid running game; with 7 yards after the catch he is a potent weapon out of back field.

    the ever (un)popular Vick also adds an extra dimension to the offence so i can see them going deep into the playoffs but i'm going for the Favre fairytale to win this year

  • Comment number 15.

    Please take this as a compliment Neil... I'm frankly amazed to read such a detailed, and accurate overview of the Eagles in particular, and the NFL in general penned by a fellow Brit. (I came to the US in 1984 as the BBC's Dir. of Publicity and Promotion... and stayed here.)Simply through the geography of my wife's birthplace, Philadelphia became home. Nowhere could be better for a cricket, squash and rugby loving Limey... but the Iggles carved a special place in my heart. It's a tough, gritty, honest, mainly working-class city with a team that's a mirror image. We don't take fools lightly, live, eat sleep and breath da Birds, and the players generally love us for it. You nailed most of the offensive weapons, but forgot Leonard Weaver, the best full back certainly since Byars and a man that's making all the difference with his versatility. "... on the road to victory"

  • Comment number 16.

    Great blog Neil. Have enjoyed reading since stumbling across it on my way to the Premier League rumor section awhile back. My uncle drove the team bus way back and took my dad to both championship games in 48 and 60. Soon as my friends and I were old enough we bought are own seats in 737 and now sit in the 200 level at the Linc. Man I miss the 700 level. The only grounds in the states where the atmosphere could be compared to your football grounds. I come over every year for as many away matches I can. Nothing like the electricity of English football grounds. I hope we play one of the games next year at Wembley. Gives me a good excuse. But please be cautious with the stories about Eagles fans. Yes there is cause for the reputation, but many are way over exaggerated. One City, One Team, One Dream. Go Birds.

  • Comment number 17.

    I must say that it makes me sad that over the years the Eagles just haven't made the grade, it just breaks my heart. This year will be just the same as the boys in green fall flat on their faces. Not sure why a blog has been wasted on such an insignificant organisation who blow it every time. Looking forward to sweeping you at 'The House That Jerry Built' in a couple of weeks on our way to a 6th Superbowl.

  • Comment number 18.

    Neil - great blog again.
    I was fortunate enough to be in NY to see that wild Giants/Eagles game a couple of Sundays back.
    Their offensive weapons are there for all to see, Jackson looks like he could make a very special player, reminds me of Randy Moss when he exploded in Minnesota.
    The running game didn't get going and a replacement for Westbrook will be needed, but when you have an air game like they have you can take a left out of Arizona's 2008 book and just throw the thing.
    I would be a little worried they give up so many yards and points but are certainly set for a deep play off run.

    Eagles to beat Broncs by double digits

  • Comment number 19.

    Hey, hey... ESPN just reported: "Brian Westbrook medically cleared for full practice and will be available in a limited role for Sunday against the Broncos." Okay, so no more power back, please no confrontation with B. Dawk... but what an incredible threat out of the backfield. Luv it!

  • Comment number 20.

    2nd attempt (see 8 "awaiting moderation")
    I am disappointed as a sports fan and animal lover that this article avoids comment on the controversial inclusion of Michael Vick in the Philly Eagles roster. I for one wish no success to the Eagles or any other team supporting the "rehabilitation" of this felon. I will bite my lip and cheer instead for the Vikings and the unretirable Brett Favre.

  • Comment number 21.

    I think Neil's blog is based on promoting a great, but minority sport here in the UK and focuses on positives rather than raising contentious political subjects.
    Anyone with even a basic knowledge of the game will be aware of Vicks wrongdoings and he will have very few supporters.

  • Comment number 22.

    Great read as always Neil and bang on! I tipped the Eagles to lead the NFC this year and have been impressed with how them, even when they were without McNabb. They are liable to the odd mishap though, the Raiders game being the obvious one.

    Alfie, Neil has done a blog on Michael Vick at the start of the year and was right to not discuss the issue again.

  • Comment number 23.

    As the Eagles go out 0-3 against the Dallas Cowboys. You have to admit we suck! The Cowboys rule and kicked our ass! Basically we suck! And the Cowboys RULE! Lets just hope the NFC East wins the Super Bowl. That's what we get for signing an animal abuser. Vick SUCKS! Give him a life term!


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