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Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Dec. 4. Below are some personal choices for that honor by SI writers.
12/01/2006 01:49:00 PM

My Sportsman: Donovan McNabb

Donovan McNabb
Even as he faces the third major injury setback of his eight-year career, Eagles QB Donovan McNabb finds reasons to smile.
Bob Rosato/SI

By Nunyo Demasio

When Donovan McNabb was carted off the field -- along with the Eagles' hopes this season -- I searched for his smile. Not a grimace following his right-knee injury against Tennessee, but the Cheshire-cat grin that the quarterback instinctively flashes during adversity.

McNabb smiled a lot this year.

No professional athlete faces as much inexplicable criticism: the obsessive carping of McNabb, whether from nitpicky fans, an NAACP "leader," an idiot commentator or a narcissistic teammate. And for much of the year, most of us developed amnesia of the quarterback's sterling sports resume amid the "Swiftboating of McNabb," as Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Phil Sheridan perfectly summarized.

McNabb reminded us of his greatness through his understated leadership, coupled with one of the hottest quarterback starts in NFL history.

However, McNabb isn't my Sportsman of the Year because of any gaudy numbers. The accolade isn't defined by individual statistics or a team's winning percentage. McNabb's grueling rehab from hernia surgery -- including reducing his body fat from 12 percent to 8 percent (the lowest of his NFL career) -- is barely a factor. McNabb is my choice because of the graciousness, character and dedication -- the sportsmanship -- he displayed to overcome his latest obstacles.

McNabb responds to a dropped pass by a wide receiver by saying he'll throw back to him ASAP. Opponents even find McNabb's trash-talking endearing because it's more Bill Cosby than Lenny Bruce. It's no wonder that during the public floggings that peaked this year, McNabb received supportive calls from players like Tom Brady, Michael Vick, Warrick Dunn, even Randy Moss. Former NFL quarterback Randall Cunningham telephoned McNabb to praise his handling of Terrell Owens as a perfect example for children. Former teammate Chad Lewis extensively cites McNabb as an exemplar of leadership in his upcoming book, Surround Yourself with Greatness.

Indeed, McNabb -- a national spokesperson for the American Diabetes Association -- is a model for sportsmanship. He's the youngest member on the board of trustees at Syracuse, where he played two seasons with Marvin Harrison. And Harrison -- the NFL's quietest man -- recently turned voluble in the Philadelphia Inquirer when asked about McNabb:

"Donovan is a competitor, a good person, and you combine the two, as a receiver you would just love to be around him, period," said Harrison. "He's going to give you everything he has on the field. He'll be easy to work with. ... He just brings fun and happiness to the workplace."

Now, as McNabb undergoes his third significant rehabilitation in five years, some experts have written his athletic obituary. My Sportsman of the Year is probably smiling at that.

posted by sidotcom | View comments |  


Posted: 4:28 PM   by Anonymous
Thank you for this. McNabb is truly deserving of so much more recognition than he ever gets. He's a great competitor, a leader, and a role-model.

The disturbing unanimity with which journalists have all but written off his career after his injury this year is just one more example of how often McNabb is underestimated. McNabb will be back (and smiling) in September.
The Sportsman of the Year is Barbaro. His story galvanized our attention. His athleticism is a reflectd talent and will. He joined an otherwise divided country in hoping for recovery and life, nevermind victory.
Posted: 8:53 PM   by Anonymous
Thanks for this article. McNabb's not only a role model and leader, but also one of the most entertaining and positive sportsmen I've ever seen. Thank you for recognizing this. I can only hope he'll remain close to football after he leaves so we can enjoy his optimisim, professionalism, and character.
Posted: 10:51 AM   by Anonymous
really, finally a nice choice.
i've read a lot of those articles and many sportswriters are trying to give it to people who just don't deserve it - the inept dungy, the chocking manning, the complaining tiki, the careless big ben. mcnabb deserve it. finally a nice call.
Posted: 3:12 PM   by Anonymous
Let me add my thanks for your recognition of McNabb, one of the best the Eagles have ever had at any position. As a 50 plus year fan and follower of the Eagles, I can only say that he is much higher in my estimation than the recent (and current) so-called Eagles' fans. They - and the local media - should do a little historical research to see how far the Eages have come under current ownership, coaching and Donavan's leadership. None of those fans, nor the majority of the local poor excuse for sports media, deserve what most NFL cities would love to have.
Posted: 6:20 PM   by Anonymous
McNabb is one of the NFL's greatest athletes and is really a nice guy. It sucks to see him hurt being a Eagles fan. Anyway I hope you get better and help Philly go to the Super Bowl again
Posted: 11:54 PM   by Anonymous
A nice little bio on McNabb, but he's a poor choice. Unless you have some overwhelming evidence to create an exception (an amputee who runs marathons, or whatever) the Sportsman of the Year should be an athlete who is in the top 5 in his own sport. McNabb clearly wasn't one of the top 5 NFL players in either 2005 or 2006. Didn't get his team in the playoffs either year.
Posted: 2:44 AM   by Anonymous
Thank you! He's truly a class act, a great quarterback, and a credit to Philadelphia and the Eagles. I only hope that he continues to receive the respect and the love from the fans that he deserves.
Posted: 8:16 AM   by Anonymous
For a long-suffering Iggles' fan who just saw the season go down with McNabb this column helps. I'm a fan of McNabb not just because of the numbers he puts up when healthy or the success he's led the Eagles to in his tenure with the team but because he comes across as a generally good man with emphasis placed on good and man.

Get well, Donovan, and remember that real fans no matter their team anxiously await your return to the field.

Keep smilin'
Posted: 10:11 AM   by Anonymous
Great article with substance vs. unsubstantiated flash points. Here's the unquestionable fact about Donovan: the Eagles had been playing poorly for years before he was appointed starting quarterback; the team instantly became better and a perennial playoff team/Super Bowl contender. How many QBs in history has lead a team to greatness without great players around him on offense? Marvin Harrison said it best: high character plus super talent equals greatness on and off the feild!
Posted: 10:36 PM   by Anonymous
I am not that much of an Eagles fan, but I am a big fan of Donovan McNabb. He is an all around class act and a good football player as well. All the adversity he has had to overcome, whether his injuries or the T.O. saga, hasn't fazed him a bit. Thank you for recognizing the true sportsman
Posted: 9:46 AM   by D. Bruce Sciotto
As a 20+ year fan of the Eagles I have to agree with every word about Mcnabb. My 5 year old daughter loves football and loves the Eagles :-) While she sat with me and watched him get carted off the field she asked me what happened and I told her that he got hurt but would be back. She then asked me if he was hurt why was he smiling? Enough said :-)

D. Bruce Sciotto
Charlotte, NC
Posted: 10:24 AM   by Anonymous
Good call on McNabb. There are many athletes who seem to perform at super-human levels while on the field, but few who could also compare to McNabb in strength of character. One day, on the field or not, he is going to win the "big one".
Posted: 10:47 AM   by Anonymous
I think one anonymous comment missed the point, stating that the individual must be in the top 5 of his sport and make the playoffs. Before suffering season-ending injuries back-to-back seasons, he was putting up ridiculously good numbers that no one has ever accomplished in the history of the NFL. Had the individual been physically capable, he would have been in the top 5. Keep in mind, this sportsman played through multiple serious injuries last season before finally being unable to continue...some of us call out of work with a runny nose.
Posted: 3:23 PM   by Anonymous
Well Said...
Posted: 5:18 PM   by Anonymous
There is no way he could have won. He can't deliver. Yes, he's a nice guy, but that doesn't make up for his lack of a Super Bowl ring and for the Eagles less than impressive start of the season.
Posted: 9:58 AM   by Anonymous
This is just plain dumb and the idiot who wrote it shuold be fired. You actually have to pllay sports to be a sportsman. Last season when they lost TO due to the front office, McNabb realized the season was lost and quit on the team. He knew he couldn't win without TO, and the best season of his career was with TO, but too bad he didn't feel good during the Superbowl to actually compete. And this year he played another half season... not real impressive. Besides all that, this award is for a single season. What has he done this year? Nothing. This year, he is not even in the same league as Drew Brees.
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