WHEN ANDY REID took the Philadelphia coaching job in 1999, he knew how important a quarterback is to an organization. Particularly on a team using a passer-friendly West Coast offense, the quarterback as much as the coach becomes the public face of the club. So when mining the QB-rich '99 draft, Reid sought a partner as well as a good football player. He found both in Donovan McNabb.
Their relationship has never been as important as it is this year, when the disruption caused by Terrell Owens had threatened to undermine the Eagles. Reid, mentored by even-keeled LaVell Edwards at BYU, and McNabb, raised by parents who taught him to lead and to respect, have consistently been on the same page. When Owens demanded to renegotiate his contract last spring, the two did not allow the dispute to drive a wedge into a mostly harmonious team. The easiest thing for Reid would have been to cut Owens and eliminate the distraction. But that would have been the dumbest thing, too, because Owens makes Philly significantly better. So Reid and McNabb bit their lips and never let an incendiary situation blow up.
"When I went to Syracuse to scout Donovan," says Reid, "obviously I looked at how well he played, and we watched tape together, so I knew he could fit into our system. But I also wanted to know how he fit into the place, what kind of person he was, how he handled adversity. Everyone there basically said, 'What a nice young man Donovan is.' Even when that team lost, he was the same."
Among NFL quarterbacks, McNabb might talk the most without ever really saying anything. He always praises, never hints at any teammates' deficiencies. Not even Owens's. "There's two lives you have in this game, on and off the field," McNabb said in training camp. "Off the field is really no one's business. On the field I'm going to do everything I can to make things work. Whatever communication [Owens and I] have to have to make the offense work, we'll have. Our relationship on the field is one of the best in the NFL. I know where he's going to be; he knows the offense. So what if it's been chaotic around here? I try to handle it in a professional manner, just like Andy."
After two weeks the Eagles are averaging 26 points a game. McNabb has the NFL's second-best passer rating. Owens is second in receiving yards. Who knows how long T.O. will keep a lid on his contract demands, but if there is another blowup, you get the feeling the coach and the quarterback will figure out a way to handle it. -- Peter King