McNabb thrives despite tough Philadelphia love
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.
Coach 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).