McNabb's long gain proved to be the difference, but an electrifying touchdown run in the third quarter announced what he was made of. Trailing 14-10, the Eagles found themselves on Washington's 21-yard line after recovering a fumble. McNabb needed only one play to find the end zone, and he got there virtually on his own, racing around defensive end Bruce Smith, juking past safety Mark Carrier with a dazzling open-field move, then hammering safety Matt Stevens at the goal line. Replays showed McNabb wearing a smile during most of the run. After the game Carrier compared him with Barry Sanders.
"Know why I smile so much out there?" McNabb says. "It's because I'm having so much fun." As for the move he put on Carrier, he says, "I practice my moves, but that one was instinct. If I see a guy leaning one way, I'll make a move to that side so he'll continue to lean more and put a lot of weight on his leg, and then I'll go the other way. Things just come to you on the field."
"Last year Donovan took us on his shoulders," says Eagles tight end Chad Lewis. "He wasn't afraid to do that. He wasn't boastful about it, either. He wasn't saying to the media, 'Yeah, you know I gotta carry this team. I'm the only guy working around here.' He just went out and did it.
"The most interesting thing about him is that he is loosest when the most is on the table. We were playing Pittsburgh, and we had to score twice within three minutes to tie the game. He stepped in the huddle and said, 'Hey, we're gonna win this thing. Don't worry about it. Let's go out and have fun.' And we went out and won the game. He's like any great athlete in that sense, I suppose. He doesn't get tight."
McNabb seems to pull the best from his teammates. Last year in the Tampa Bay game, Eagles receiver Charles Johnson felt something give in his right ankle after getting his leg tangled in a pileup. As he lay on the ground in a fog of pain, he could hear McNabb asking the team trainer, "Is it his knee?" When McNabb learned that Johnson had injured his ankle, he started shouting at him, "Come on, let's go, you're not hurt! Get off the ground! You're not hurt!"
"It's weird, but at the sound of his voice I was getting up off that ground," says Johnson, who is now with the New England Patriots. "I could barely put any weight on my ankle, and the trainer is trying to carry me off, and Donovan's saying, 'All right now, go to the sideline. I'll see your ass back in this game. You hear me?' He walked me to the sideline, and all the time the pain was so great I could hardly catch my breath, but he talked me through it. I go to the sideline, and lo and behold, two series later I'm in there playing again, just as Donovan said I would be."
At the end of the season McNabb landed on everybody's shortlist for NFL Player of the Year, the magnitude of his individual performance rivaled only by those of the St. Louis Rams' Marshall Faulk and the Indianapolis Colts' Edgerrin James. "I'm not worried about individual accolades or what people say about me," says McNabb, who came in second to Faulk in the AP's voting. "I'd rather people talked about the Eagles. I want to win the Super Bowl, and I want this team to be first in everything. That doesn't come from only one player. It comes from everybody pulling together. But one guy has to set the tempo, be the leader, and if that's my job, then I'll be that guy."
McNabb was named first alternate on the NFC Pro Bowl squad, which meant a vacation in Hawaii. "Want to hear what he did out there?" says Lewis, who also made the team. "He spent at least some of his time in the hotel swimming pool with my two daughters, acting like the shark in Jaws, with his hands up out of the water like a fin. He would scare them, then let them regroup, then scare them again. And he was doing the theme music from the movie. I had players tell me, 'You are so lucky to play with him.' A lot of them came up to me and said, 'Man, you guys are going places.' I remember [ Oakland Raiders running back] Charlie Garner saying, 'You guys are going to win the Super Bowl next year.' "
Given the year he had in 2000, it's inevitable that Donovan would forget Sam's and Wilma's instructions about how to live his life, right? He can afford to be rude and obnoxious. After all, the man has a contract that will pay him around $50 million over seven years, and he received more than $11 million in bonus money to sign the deal. Treated the way he was in the beginning, McNabb has every reason to have a chip on his shoulder and feel alienated from Philadelphia fans.
Oh yeah? Tell that to the kids who sat on his lap last December when McNabb played Santa Claus at a Philadelphia community center and spent three hours handing out gifts and asking children what they wanted for Christmas. Tell it to the hundreds of kids who showed up at his house on Halloween. Tell it to four-year-old Charles Johnson Jr., son of the former Eagles wideout, who received a life-sized toy motorcycle from McNabb on his birthday and spent the day playing games with the quarterback at an amusement park.