Mixed emotions filled the air in Philadelphia in the hours before Donovan McNabb returned to Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday, decked out in the Redskins' burgundy and gold and not, for the first time in 12 years, the Eagles' green and white. Philly sports talk radio hosts asked callers, rapid-fire, for their lasting memory of McNabb as an Eagle. "Fourth and 26," said one, referring to McNabb's famous completion to Freddie Mitchell in the January 2004 playoffs that set up a victory over Green Bay. "Sports hernia," said another, recalling the injury that sidelined McNabb during the tumultuous 2005 season. A sampling of 100 fans wearing Eagles quarterback jerseys revealed that 47 had chosen McNabb's number 5 (frayed, numbers peeling) and 53 Michael Vick's number 7 (shiny and crisp). Only one fan seemed absolute certain about anything. "I'm [peein'] in a cup, dude!" he called out to a passer-by.
The ambivalence continued as the game drew near and then kicked off. The weeklong debate as to whether Eagles fans would cheer or boo their erstwhile sometime hero was settled when McNabb received a hearty standing ovation upon his introduction. Then he was booed. At 33, McNabb exhibited the talent that made Philadelphians love him (a pinpoint 31-yard first quarter TD strike to tight end Chris Cooley) and the foibles that made them wary (an awful interception on the third quarter's first drive; several balls thrown directly at his receivers' hightops).
All week long McNabb had expressed his own uncertainty about returning to his former home. "I'm sure I'll probably have some type of feelings," he'd said. Those feelings seemed to have crystallized by the time Redskins coach Mike Shanahan presented him with the game ball after a 17--12 win that leveled Washington's record at 2--2. "Everybody makes mistakes in their lifetime," McNabb told his teammates, "and they made one last year!"
If only it were that clear. McNabb, who was 6 of 8 for 115 yards and had a 156.2 passer rating after the first half, completed just 2 of 11 for 10 yards in the second and finished with a full-game rating of 60.2. Reid's Eagles are also 2--2, and after Vick walked off the field in the first quarter with his right arm pinned to his side from a sandwich hit by Kareem Moore and DeAngelo Hall (an MRI on Monday revealed rib cartilage damage), the Eagles were back where they started the season, with Kevin Kolb under center. In the end, the game that had been circled on schedules for six months provided no answers, only more questions. The uncertainty continues.