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Before the start of Eagles training camp, Donovan McNabb invited several of his younger teammates to the desert oasis of Scottsdale, Ariz., for a series of workouts far from the sometimes withering glare of the Philadelphia populace. Their nights were occupied by barbecues, their days spent shuttling through a maze of drills, the most memorable involving McNabb and a bench press loaded with 400 pounds.
As his legs hovered in the air, not providing any support, McNabb pushed the weight bar off the rack, brought it down to his chest and then pressed it five times, to the kind of supportive cheering he often finds elusive in Philadelphia.
Toward the end of the trip fullback Leonard Weaver, who'd left the Seahawks to sign with Philly as a free agent in the off-season, asked McNabb how in the world he'd accomplished what he had—not the feat of brute strength but his survival as a quarterback in a city that in seconds can go, as Weaver says, from "'I love you!' to 'You freakin' suck!'"
"When I signed with the Eagles, that was one of the things that kind of bothered me," says Weaver, who over the summer joined Philly receivers DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant in Scottsdale. "Donovan knows there are people out there talking bad about him. We talked about it. Same with Andy Reid. He's one of the winningest coaches in the NFL, and it seems like nothing is ever good enough. I understand the fans' side—'You're not consistent'—but the fans have to have faith."
It is another autumn in Philadelphia, and faith is fragile. The Eagles once again are giving the town moments of magic and fits of frustration in a bid to win the championship that has eluded the franchise for 49 years. On Sunday, in a game in which the home crowd at Lincoln Financial Field booed McNabb incompletions and even a Reid timeout, the Eagles earned a wild 27--24 victory over the Redskins that seemed to encompass the highs and lows of the quarterback's and the coach's 11 seasons together in Philadelphia.
Reid opened the game with an onside kick that failed, staking the Redskins offense to a short field, an opportunity Washington quickly turned into a touchdown. But the Eagles' coach also went for a fourth-and-one in the first quarter at the Washington 42, which led to a Philly touchdown three plays later. McNabb was alternately shaky and brilliant, stalling on three straight three-and-outs in the third quarter, then rallying the Eagles to their second come-from-behind win in as many weeks.
McNabb led the charge without his most trusted offensive weapon, Brian Westbrook, who was out with a concussion, and he lost the explosive Jackson to a concussion midway through the third quarter. Soon after, with the Eagles down 24--16 in the fourth quarter, the quarterback gathered his summer workout partners on the sideline and told them they were going to score, and they were going to win.
"The one thing I tried to express to the guys in the off-season and display during the season was that I'm going to give you an opportunity to make a play," McNabb said after the game. "When you have rookies and young guys, you have to [be vocal]. It's my job, and I take pride in it."
Says Weaver, "There's no doubt, back in the summer, when we were in the heat together and struggling together, that's where we developed a sense of trust."
If the bonds of trust are strong within the Eagles' locker room, they are fraying out on the street, where a city has watched the recent editions of its football team compete with the best but never be the best. By most measures Reid is the most accomplished coach in franchise history and McNabb its greatest quarterback, yet their story in Philadelphia is seen as one of shortcomings as much as success. Among active coaches with at least 100 NFL games, only Bill Belichick (.708) has a better winning percentage than Reid's (.612). Among active quarterbacks with at least 100 starts, only Peyton Manning (.684) and Tom Brady (.776) have a higher winning percentage than McNabb's (.646). The Eagles have finished under .500 just twice in Reid's and McNabb's tenure—in their rookie year of 1999 and in 2005, when McNabb missed the final seven games with a sports hernia. They have been to five NFC Championship Games together and one Super Bowl. And yet it is remarkable how winning can turn stale when the ultimate prize remains elusive.