word was emblazoned in large gray letters on the back of the sleeveless black
T-shirt worn by Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb during a recent
practice. Underneath, in smaller letters, read this: "The problem with the
people in the world today is everyone wants to be the man. But when it's time
to step up and take charge, they take two steps back. So if you ain't ready,
stop talking about it."
McNabb insists the message doesn't allude to his current work situation, but it
does offer a concise description of how the five-time Pro Bowler went about
reasserting his role with the Eagles after a tumultuous 2005 season, which was
immolated by his prolonged (but mostly one-sided) feud with wideout Terrell
Owens and ended with a sports hernia that forced him to miss the last seven
games. And now, with the 5--4 Eagles a game behind the New York Giants in the
tightly packed NFC East after Sunday's 27--3 defeat of the Washington Redskins
at Lincoln Financial Field, McNabb's understated but forceful leadership will
be critical as his team reaches for a playoff berth over the final seven games
of the season.
has taken on some new forms. Unlike in previous years, McNabb spent much of
this off-season training with teammates at the Eagles' NovaCare Complex. He
says he wanted to stay close to the team as he rehabilitated from hernia
surgery (his first time under the knife), but it's clear his constant presence
was also a subtle but effective way of closing the fissures blown open by the
made an effort to get that camaraderie going," tight end L.J. Smith says.
"Donovan doesn't have to tell you he's a leader--his actions speak louder
than his words--but for him to be around the guys, I think that's his best
safety Brian Dawkins, "That built something, when he stayed."
"I didn't ram
my head through a wall," McNabb says, flashing his familiar smile. "I
didn't check myself into a clinic or anything. And I wasn't going to walk
around with my chest out and say, 'Yeah, you should have backed me.' There's no
need for that. I do my job."
training camp began, McNabb held his annual get-together (a.k.a. boot camp) at
his off-season home in the Phoenix area. In attendance were receivers Reggie
Brown and Hank Baskett, tight end Matt Schobel and tailback Reno Mahe, among
others. For a week they endured an arduous workout regimen led by McNabb and a
personal trainer in mostly triple-degree heat. ("Dry heat that swallows you
up," Brown recalls.) But the event had a welcome McNabb touch: Players were
encouraged to bring wives, children, girlfriends. And the week concluded with a
catered feast at McNabb's house featuring New Orleans--style cooking.
On Sept. 5, five
days before the season opener, McNabb organized a skill-players-only practice
in the team's covered facility. All of the Eagles' receivers, tailbacks and
tight ends participated, and without position coaches screaming in their ears,
the players felt free to open up, discussing the nuances of the offense.
The payoff was
immediate. The 6'2", 240-pound McNabb had one of the most explosive starts
ever by an NFL quarterback--averaging 320.4 yards, with 11 touchdowns and one
interception--as the Eagles went 4--1. His trademark cannon arm was on display,
as were the Houdini-like moves in the pocket, the adroit scrambling and the
mostly sound decision-making. And the rapport he'd developed with his
little-known receiving corps made the offense potent and unpredictable. In each
of those five games Philly had a different player lead the club in receiving
yards. "There's a benefit of having a so-called Number 1 receiver,"
McNabb says with a grin. "I have a Number 1 receiver. It just so happens
that it's one guy with different names."
Philly lost much
of its momentum with three close losses, two of them decided on last-second
field goals. But after a dismal 13--6 home loss to Jacksonville, the Eagles
regrouped, adjusted the offense to shift some of the burden from the long ball
to the running game and responded with a resounding win on Sunday against a
McNabb now finds
himself in a familiar position, among the league leaders in passing, piloting
the NFL's top-ranked offense, in the playoff hunt--and subjected to intense
scrutiny from fans and the local media. He may have won back a fractured
Eagles' locker room, but the confounding question remains whether he'll ever
win over the NFL's toughest town.