Earlier this season McNabb wasn't in a joking mood. After playing poorly in season-opening home losses to the Bucs and the New England Patriots, he was a topic of discussion on ESPN's Sept. 28 edition of NFL Countdown. Conservative talk-show host and ersatz NFL analyst Rush Limbaugh deemed McNabb overrated, then suggested that because McNabb is African-American, a "social concern" had compelled members of the sports media to give him undue credit for Philly's success in recent years.
The ensuing firestorm cost Limbaugh his ESPN gig (he resigned three days later) and started McNabb's phone ringing off the hook, as Bill Cosby, the Reverend Jesse Jackson and several former NFL quarterbacks ( Warren Moon, Randall Cunningham and James Harris) were among those who called to offer their support. Players around the NFL also rallied around McNabb, who maintained his typically cool demeanor. "I thought about my cousins and my friends' kids and all the people who walk around wearing my jersey," McNabb says. "I wondered how [Limbaugh's] statement would sit with them."
Besides, McNabb had other worries—his team's shaky start and a sprained right thumb. After a 23-21 loss to the Dallas Cowboys dropped their record to 2-3, the Eagles rebounded to win nine straight. They rolled into the playoffs with a first-round bye, and McNabb was tabbed for his fourth straight Pro Bowl. But entering Sunday's game, fresh thoughts of last January's loss to the Bucs were on the minds of Philly's fickle fans.
Sure enough, after McNabb misfired on six of his first seven passes and lost a fumble at the Philadelphia 40, boos filled the frigid air at the Line. On the play after the turnover Favre went up top to wideout Robert Ferguson for a touchdown, and six minutes later threw a 17-yard scoring pass to Ferguson for a 14-0 lead with 1:28 left in the first quarter.
The Eagles stayed in the game partly because of what they did (McNabb followed a 45-yard completion to Todd Pinkston with a seven-yard shovel pass to running back Duce Staley for a touchdown) and partly because of what Green Bay didn't do. Leading 14-7 with two minutes left in the half, the Pack went for the touchdown on fourth-and-goal from inside the one, but Ahman Green (25 carries, 156 yards) tripped over guard Mike Wahle and was stopped short.
Frustrated by the constant pressure in the pocket, McNabb (21 of 39,248 yards, two touchdowns) spent much of the second half turning busted plays into big gainers. The tying touchdown, on the first play of the fourth quarter, came after he squirted away from two Green Bay defenders, rolled right and fired a 12-yard pass to Pinkston in the right-front corner of the end zone.
After Ryan Longwell's 21-yard field goal gave the Packers a 17-14 lead with 10:22 to play, the Eagles failed to do much offensively until McNabb's magical throw to Mitchell. That pass was undoubtedly a monumental moment for McNabb. Conversely, the pop fly that Favre (15 of 28, 180 yards) served up under pressure in overtime to Dawkins, who returned the ball 35 yards to the Green Bay 34, may have been the future Hall of Famer's most regrettable throw. Those two plays proved to be the difference. As McNabb left the locker room on Sunday night—stopping in a corridor to receive congratulations from his mother and father, Samuel, his wife, Roxy, and older brother Sean (a.k.a. Big Sexy)—the opportunity to play another Sunday seemed truly divine.
"What can [the critics] say now?" wondered Wilma. She gave her son a hearty hug, then added, "I'm so proud of him, and let me tell you, we deserve this. All of it. It's so sad what happened to Brett's father. But right now, destiny is ours."