The Best Game of THIS Weekend Debate… Tearing Down Legacies, and Building New Ones

October 1, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Sports Geek and Bleacher Fan.

We all knew going into the NFL season that Donovan McNabb’s return to Philadelphia would be a big deal. But few, if any, would have predicted this outcome. Before the season even began, Loyal Homer selected it as the most interesting NFL matchup of the season, and this game is living up to the hype. This game was supposed to serve as a proving ground for Donovan McNabb, a venue for him to display whether he still had it or not. It was supposed to be about whether the Eagles were right to trade him within the division. But now with the season underway, the storyline has changed, and the game has taken on new meaning.

Like it or not, Philly has a new quarterback and it’s not Kevin Kolb, the man who was heir apparent to the starting gig when the Eagles originally dealt McNabb in the first place. In his stead is the man that McNabb helped bring to Philadelphia, the embattled quarterback Donovan helped give a second chance to when it seemed no one else would – Michael Vick. With Vick playing the best football of his career, the focus has shifted to his ascendency, and McNabb has become somewhat of an afterthought. The only question that remains now is whether the Philly faithful will show any love to old number five when he takes the field one more time… except this time from the away team tunnel.
Who Says You Can’t Go Home?

When it comes to football, the City of Brotherly Love has one of the most ruthless fan bases on the planet. Philly fans are known for booing Santa Claus and cheering the injuries of their opponents so it should come as no big surprise that McNabb’s big home coming might not be one of mutual respect. But perhaps it should be.

For 11 years Donovan McNabb gave Philadelphia the best he had to offer. He was booed from the start in Philly for not being Ricky Williams, but in the end he probably did more for the franchise than Williams ever could. He proved to be stable and consistent. He was the always classy and often humorous mouth of the franchise. He was a fierce competitor and locker room leader. He set virtually every quarterback record for the franchise, and yet that likely is not be enough for Philly fans.

When that anticipated moment occurs, and McNabb finally takes the field this Sunday, all Philly fans will see is red… or perhaps more accurately, burgundy. McNabb will be donning the jersey of one of the Eagles most hated rivals, the Washington Redskins, and that simple fact may mask every single thing he did for the franchise. While it may not be the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, the hate of this rivalry runs deep enough to potential turn a former hometown hero into a heal. The ethical drama of “will they or won’t they” figures to be enough to capture the attention of the country. All eyes will be on number five in the tunnel when he makes those faith first steps onto familiar ground.

Not A Foregone Conclusion… Yet

Ironically, however, the question that initially generated so much pre-season interest about this contest seems to have been answered before the first snap has been taken. Many sources agree that McNabb doesn’t stand a chance against his former team. With the ex-con, Michael Vick, playing shockingly well right now, not only does all seem to be forgiven, but everyone seems to have jumped aboard the Vick bandwagon. It is easy to see why. Vick has posted terrific numbers through his first two starts and is surrounded by a much better receiving corps than he has ever had, while McNabb and company limp into town still licking their wounds from a demoralizing loss to a less than stellar St Louis Rams team. It seems as if the deck is stacked in Philly’s favor, but don’t count out the Redskins just yet.

McNabb is motivated, and motivated players are often dangerous. The Eagles would be foolhardy to believe the company lines that McNabb has been putting out there lately about how this is just another game. McNabb will be playing for himself and his legacy. The “any given Sunday” adage could prove accurate if Washington rallies behind their new signal caller, and McNabb is able to prove there is still gas in the tank. It could be one of those special moments in sports where the aging vet is able to capture lighting in a bottle just one more time, and that’s something that no one should miss.

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The Most Interesting 2010 NFL Matchup Debate… Will Donavan Receive a Brotherly Love Welcome?

September 6, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Bleacher Fan and Babe Ruthless.

The NFL season starts Thursday night, and I can’t wait! Hopefully, you’ve had your fantasy draft by now and you’re in the mood for an exciting NFL season. There are all kinds of storylines to look at as the season approaches. If you look at the NFL schedule, you’ll see a plethora of “must see” games. However, one game stands out more than all the rest. It is a game that is definitely circled on Loyal Home’s calendar.

On October 3, the Washington Redskins travel to Lincoln Financial Field to take on the Philadelphia Eagles. Obviously this is an important NFC East matchup. But this isn’t just another divisional matchup. This is Donavan McNabb’s initial return to the City of Brotherly Love as a member of the opposing team. Admit it, you’re just a wee bit curious to watch this game!

The big question is how McNabb will be received by those fans who rooted for him (and I use the term “rooted” very loosely) for eleven years. How do you think he will be received? Will he be remembered as the guy who led the Eagles to five NFC championship games, including one Super Bowl appearance? Will he be remembered as a six-time Pro Bowl quarterback? Will he be remembered as the guy who won games despite having guys like Todd Pinkston and James Thrash as wide receivers? Will he be remembered as the guy who made Campbell’s Chunky Soup seem like it would be something worth eating?

Or will Philly fans remember the guy they booed on draft day? Will they remember the guy who possibly threw up in the Super Bowl? Will they remember the guy who couldn’t win the big game? Will they remember the guy who was seemingly hurt quite a bit?

It wasn’t exactly a clean break between McNabb and the Eagles organization. There appears to be a strong connection between McNabb and his former head coach, Andy Reid, but I think that’s where the love ends. The fact that McNabb plays for a division rival only stirs up the passion even more for Eagles fans, even though McNabb has nothing to do with where he was dealt.

Keep in mind Philadelphia is a town that boos Santa Claus and once cheered as a motionless Michael Irvin lying on the ground. I have a feeling that the vast majority of the fans in Philadelphia that October afternoon will be booing #5. In any other town, he would likely get a rousing ovation. But this is Philly. And that’s why I’ll be watching.

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The 2010 NFL QB with the Most To Prove Debate… Defining Donovan McNabb’s Legacy

August 16, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Sports Geek.

This is a make or break season for Donovan McNabb. That sounds like a crazy thing to say about a guy whose team has made the playoffs eight of the last ten years and has won a playoff game in seven of those eight seasons. It is not crazy when you realize that McNabb will not be donning the familiar green #5 of the Philadelphia Eagles this season. Instead, he will wear #5 for their hated division rival, the Washington Redskins. It seems curious to rank such a successful player as the NFL quarterback with the most to prove, but from my vantage point as Optimist Prime, I think he is the perfect case study.

In all my years of watching football, I am not sure that I can think of a more polarizing quarterback than McNabb. Even though he has a 10-8 career playoff record, has been to five conference championship games, and one Super Bowl, the general football fan reaction to McNabb’s name is “That is the guy who choked in the Super Bowl” or “That is the guy who can’t win the big one.” Unfortunately, that is a reputation that stays with you until you do win the big one, even though your game may not have changed from before your big win to afterwards. The rap in Philly was always that Westbrook was the real weapon, or that McNabb just rode the coattails of the swarming, blitzing defense. Although the QB position in the NFL generally receives far too much of the credit and blame for a team’s success or failure, McNabb’s Philadelphia situation was more like receiving most of the blame for failure and just a dash of credit for success.

In an interesting contrast, while the general fan reaction is less positive on McNabb, the general media impression of him is quite positive. Tune into an ESPN season preview show and the commentators will generally laud his leadership qualities, his improvisation in the pocket, and his mental fortitude to play through a difficult fan situation in Philadelphia. Read a McNabb column written anywhere other than Philadelphia and you will generally read compliments regarding his graceful handling of the T.O. situation or various personnel move rumors over the years.

In my mind, this contrast between public opinion and media opinion is what makes this season so critical for McNabb’s legacy in the National Football League (in case Ron Jaworski is reading this, I want to make sure I sound out National Football League for the remainder of this post). McNabb’s move to the Skins is arguably the most high profile move of the offseason, and the national media spotlight will be on him. Combining national attention with a Washington fan base that is desperate for winning football after spending the last several months counting days between Strasburg starts and watching the Capitals flame out in the first round of the playoffs, the pressure on him may not have that biting Philly edge, but it will be intense.

The line between saint and sinner for McNabb this year is quite small. He turns 34 in November, and if he posts a couple of mediocre seasons in Washington I think the best case memory that football fans will have of him is that he was football’s Karl Malone. His worst case is that they will ignore his 32,873 career yards and 2.16-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio, and label him a choker who needed a championship defense to be successful.

However, if he has a season where he throws for 3,500 yards and leads the Skins to a playoff berth, he will be lauded locally and praised nationally. The Redskins are not expected to light the league on fire this year. Their success – and the national impression of McNabb – rides on his right arm this season. I cannot think of a quarterback with a greater chance to clarify his legacy in 2010 than Donovan McNabb.

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The Scariest Three Words in Sports Debate… You’ve Been Traded

August 9, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Bleacher Fan and Loyal Homer.

The three scariest words in sports are undoubtedly, “You’ve been traded.”

Yes, I realize that’s more like two words and a contraction, but you get my point. The simple utterance of this phrase has the ability to make or break an entire career. A trade can mean the difference between playing for the Los Angeles Lakers or the Utah Jazz, the New England Patriots or the Detroit Lions, the New York Yankees or the Kansas City Royals.

Every season in every professional sport trades are made, many of them advantageous to the players involved. But that is not always the case. Sometimes up and coming stars are relegated to obscurity. As a lifelong Yankees fan I have watched this happen to plenty of young guys in the farm system. Obviously not every prospect is going to make it, but an untimely trade to the wrong team can be disastrous. A player’s future can be derailed because a new team uses them ineffectively or at the wrong position. Or maybe the new team simply overworks a young star so much that their body breaks down.

Obviously trades can be beneficial. But, they also have the infamous ability to marginalize burgeoning stars and established veterans alike. Nomar Garciaparra is a case study. Nomar was Boston’s answer to Derek Jeter. He was a Red Sox Nation fan favorite if there ever was one. He was a rookie sensation that blossomed into one of the fiercest hitters in the league. He was respected and liked by his teammates. But his career took a dramatic turn for the worse because of a trade.

Once the face of the Boston Red Sox, Nomar’s entire legacy was undermined by a 2004 trade to the Chicago Cubs. He was dealt at the trade deadline in one of the most pivotal seasons in Red Sox history, the year the ended the 86 year drought and finally won another World Series. It was a campaign for the Red Sox that meant so much more to Boston than just winning the most coveted prize in baseball, it was a rebirth. The team finally won, but more importantly, they vanquished the New York Yankees to get there. It must have been an indescribable feeling for the Red Sox, one Nomar Garciaparra would never fully know.

Nomar continued to play, but both his skills and his star power seemed to diminish rapidly. His power numbers fell first, followed by his batting average, health, and, ultimately, playing time. He ended his career less auspiciously than it began, playing in a limited role for the Oakland Athletics. Nomar went from one of the most recognizable faces in baseball to Mr. Mia Ham. His fall from greatness was swift and painful to watch, and it was triggered by a trade.

No one is safe, no matter how iconic they appear to be or how much the media likes them. Donovan McNabb is proof. While he had a wild ride and somewhat of a love-hate relationship with Philadelphia since he was greeted to boos in the 1999 draft, he also went on to take the Eagles to new heights. With McNabb under center Philly made eight playoff appearances – including four consecutive NFC East championships from 2001-2004, five NFC Championship appearances, and a Super Bowl appearance. You would think those kinds of results would keep him safe from criticism and second guessing, but alas, no. McNabb’s fate was a trade within the division to a much less appealing Washington Redskins team.

Although McNabb figures to use this slight as motivation to succeed, he faces immense obstacles. Thus far he has remained optimistic even comparing his relocation at age 33 to John Elway in Denver, when Elway received a new head coach – and a big change – at age 34. But, as writer Matt Mosley points out, “Elway had Terrell Davis at running back and a stable offensive line,” something McNabb doesn’t bring with him to Washington. In fact, he doesn’t even have the young receiving corps of DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, and Jason Avant that he had back in the City of Brotherly Love, meaning this trade could be the abrupt punctuation on an otherwise impressive career.

Modern sports superstars wield considerably more power in controlling a career than those of the past. Since the advent of free agency, these privileged pros have literally gotten to choose the team of their liking on a semi-regular basis. Contemporary stars may even have an entourage of agents and publicists that work to secure even more career control. These players have their own dedicated staff working around the clock trying to place their client in the most lucrative situation possible–with full no trade clause and 4th year option, of course. But even when athletes land in scenarios they deem unfavorable they can still use a variety of tactics, including everything from holdouts to a highly publicized war of words, and try to get what they want. Unfortunately for players, however, this is not the reality for all professional athletes. Some still live and die by trades.

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The NFL Training Camp Hottest Coaching Seat Debate… Reid’s Hopes Pinned on Eagles’ Wings

July 26, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Sports Geek.

Andy Reid tried to get by without Donovan McNabb once before.

How did that work out for him? Backup quarterback Kevin Kolb passed for only 73 yards, zero touchdowns, and two interceptions on 23 passing attempts. Reid immediately went back to McNabb the following week, and McNabb responded by leading the Eagles through the rest of the season and into the NFC Championship game.

Now Reid and his Philadelphia Eagles have once again made the decision to put their franchise in the hands of Kolb, only this time Reid no longer has McNabb as a safety net. Should Kolb – who despite some impressive numbers in his few career starts is still an unproven quarterback – prove to be a bust as the full-time starter in Philly, the responsibility falls squarely on Andy Reid’s shoulders.

The problem for Reid is that Kolb used to be the insurance policy. Donovan McNabb was the face of the Eagles franchise for the last decade, and he was extremely successful during his time in Philadelphia. During his ten seasons in Philly McNabb was a six-time Pro-Bowler and he lead his team to eight different playoff appearances, including five NFC Championship games and one Super Bowl.

There can be little doubt that McNabb was a bit time contributor in Philadelphia and is due much of the credit for their successes over the past decade.

Now that McNabb is gone, Kolb is no longer the insurance policy. And the situation at the quarterback position is MUCH different today.

Last season the Eagles touted a quarterbacking corps that was envied around much of the NFL. At starter was a Pro-Bowl quarterback with a very serviceable back up and a former superstar who is trying to break his way back into the league. This season, however, the Pro-Bowl quarterback is out of the equation and the team is left simply with a recently promoted (but still unproven) starter, and a guy who has essentially not played substantial football since the 2006 season.

In fairness, Kolb is not set up for failure with the Eagles. He will have some of the brightest young talent in the league at his disposal with guys like DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy, and Jeremy Maclin. All three of those weapons are extremely fast and athletic. Kolb, who has demonstrated very solid passing accuracy, should have no problem in getting the ball to them in open field.

This is a franchise where the leadership (and fans) have grown accustomed to the playoffs, and the fact that Donovan McNabb is no longer the quarterback will not be considered an acceptable excuse for failure.

The Eagles reside in one of the most competitive divisions in the NFL, and during this most recent off-season the head coach sent the superstar quarterback to play for a division rival, which happens to now be coached by a two-time Super Bowl Champion (something that Reid himself has yet to accomplish).

It is now up to Andy Reid to prove that he made the right decision, as his future in Philadelphia hinges on the success or failure of an untested, unproven Kevin Kolb.

Seats don’t get much hotter than that!

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The 2010 NFL Player on the Hot Seat Debate… McNabb, Champ or Chump

June 14, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Bleacher Fan.

Earlier this offseason Donovan McNabb, former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback, got his wings clipped and was sent packing. Adding insult to injury, Philly dealt him to a division rival, no less – the Washington Redskins. On the surface, it seems as though the ‘Skins have pulled off a remarkable trade, landing a six time Pro Bowler with eight years of playoff experience. But the more important questions is: Are the Redskins really getting that player?

McNabb has been plagued by injuries over the past few years. Arguably, his best seasons are behind him. Now he takes over a Washington team lacking elite receiving talent, and he must somehow shake the stigma of being so ineffective that his previous team was not scared of dealing him inside the NFC East. These factors make McNabb the NFL player with the most to prove, and potentially the hottest seat.

While it may sound strange to suggest that McNabb and the Redskins could part ways so soon, it is important to remember that Nan FL player’s career seems to live and die by the “what have you done for me lately” motto. Clearly, one of the reasons Donovan McNabb was deemed expendable was for failing to win the big one. In spite of leading the Eagles to a slew of playoff appearances, he proved incapable of bringing home the Vince Lombardi trophy. So, until McNabb finally wins a Super Bowl, it will be increasingly easier for organizations seeking a new direction, or a scapegoat, to find an easy target in old #5.

McNabb’s price tag certainly shouldn’t shy the Redskins away from benching, trading, or cutting him at the first significant sign of ineffectiveness. Washington acquired a new quarterback for the measly cost of a 2010 second round draft pick and a lesser 2011 conditional draft pick. That is not a price that would prohibit the Washington from going in a different direction should things go South. Add to that the fact that Washington’s current back up QB, Jason Campbell, is more than capable (finishing ten spots higher than McNabb in completion percentage rankings), and the former Eagle is looking less valuable by the minute.

McNabb is also charged with the unenviable task of reviving a Washington team that has only posted two winning seasons since 2000. While McNabb’s mom and dad are vocal about their belief that he can “resurrect” his career in D.C., I still have my doubts. It’s clear that the Redskins have been in a state of flux during the modern millennia. With the head coaching job being a veritable revolving door, players must constantly adjust to new personnel, schemes, and styles. Next season, when new head coach Mike Shanahan takes the reins, it will mark the seventh coaching change since 2000. McNabb and the Redskins are sure to struggle a little out of the gate, which may also be compounded by the Washington’s challenging schedule. Over the first six games McNabb and company will be thoroughly tested by the Cowboys, Eagles, Packers and Colts.

For all the support and praise McNabb receives, critics abound as well. People are going to question McNabb’s potential until he proves them wrong. Fantasy football analyst Brendan Roberts suggests, in the ESPN Fantasy Football 2010 magazine, that “… people will finally realize just how big a role Andy Reid’s offense played in McNabb’s success.” Perhaps he is right, but only a solid performance next season will silence the critics. Should McNabb struggle, the boos, jeers, and second guessing will not be far behind. But hey, that should feel like home to a guy who played in Philly.

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The 2010 Biggest Pre-Draft Move Debate… Pre-Draft Story Drought

April 23, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Bleacher Fan and Sports Geek.

The NFL Draft kicked off yesterday and I could not have been more lukewarm about it. You have probably heard the expression “No news, is good news”, but that is not really the case for a football fan around the NFL Draft. There just was not that much to get excited about. Aside from, Brandon Marshall’s deal to the Dolphins and Donovan McNabb’s in-division trade to the Redskins, things have pretty much been a total yawnfest. The biggest story leading up to this NFL Draft was the lack of stories leading up to the NFL Draft.

Ben Roethlisberger did more than his fair share to try and stir up NFL storylines and prompt trade talk, but the deal never got done. Although Big Ben did not verbally demand a trade out of Pittsburgh, his actions sure did. After putting himself in compromising situation after situation, the Steelers’ QB made himself increasingly expendable, and when the news broke just days ago that he was going to be suspended for six games during the 2010 season, he really gave the Steelers a reason to let him go. There were plenty of teams who would have benefited from the on-field talents of Roethlisberger under center (and he is sure to keep the local legal team busy with defense cases), but only the Oakland Raiders emerged as serious suitors. It seemed like the Oakland Raiders were a logical match who would surely jump at the opportunity to acquire a quarterback with a Super Bowl winning pedigree, but the two sides could not come to an agreement. Maybe the Raiders thought they could get off cheaper trying to draft a quarterback or maybe they were just trying to protect the co-ed population in the greater Oakland area, but it seems that Big Ben will be back in Pittsburgh in 2010 after his suspension runs its course.

There was hope that things might pick up after Donovan McNabb was traded to the Washington Redskins. Many thought that this was a sign of wilder wheeling and dealing to come, but again… nothing. There There was some minor speculation that Washington might sign free agent Terrell Owens, which is a deal I wish had gone down because it would have been supremely entertaining. Watching McNabb and TO team up again while both are trying to prove they are still elite competitors would have been either an unbelievable comeback story for the once dynamic duo, or a delicious train wreck of epic proportions. Either way the public would have gotten to enjoy the show, but are instead left wondering about what might have been.

Another Redskin, Albert Haynesworth, got the rumor mill going as well this off season, as trade talk emerged about a potential return to Tennessee for the former Titan. Despite cashing in on a huge payday last season signing with Washington, Haynesworth seemed to have no interest in adjusting to the Redskins’ defensive schemes. There was talk that he might make his way back to Tennessee in time to mix up the draft board for the two teams and potentially add some more drama to the draft. But like every other rumored move lately it did not happen. The big man may still rumble back in to the Music City, but he’ll do so after the kickoff of the NFL draft.

I really did not see this wave of inactivity coming. Usually the NFL is abuzz with pre-draft stories and big moves. Picks and players swapping teams set the tone for an entertaining draft, but this year it was all quiet on the football front leading up to draft day.

In the end, the draft itself proved to be far more exciting (with Cowboys trading up to get Dez Bryant and Tim Tebow being drafted above Jimmy Clausen) than any pre-draft story.

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