#3 Most Underrated Philly Athlete of All-Time: Donovan McNabb

He smiled too much. He didn’t run enough. He played the air guitar. He threw up at the Super Bowl. He was passive aggressive. He didn’t lead enough 4th quarter comebacks. He told your boss not to give you that promotion. He convinced Napoleon to attack Russia in the winter.

If you ever needed anyone to blame for anything for 11 years, McNabb was a handy target. Part of that had to do with how tough it is to be QB in Philly, part of it has to do with a pricklish personality that never allowed him to “get” Philadelphia, and part of it (“he smiles too much”) was sheer nonsense.

But even if I concede everything that drives people crazy about McNabb, there is still simply no debate that “Five” is the greatest QB in Philadelphia Eagles history. And it’s not close. He has the record for Most completions, most yards, and most TDs. He played in 6 more games than the beloved Ron Jaworski and threw 41 more TDs and 51 less INTs. He had a winning percentage of 65.2%, while Jaws was just over 50%. He threw 66 more TDs and 5 less INTs than Randall, whose winning % was around 59%.

What makes these numbers even more impressive is the fact that, with one single notable exception, McNabb was playing with receivers who never approached the level of skill of Mike Quick, Harold Carmichael, or even Keith Jackson. Due to the Eagles insistence that “the system” was more important than anything else, McNabb spent season after season passing to James Thrash and Todd Pinkston. Just how good was McNabb? The mindblowingly bad Thrash played with the Redskins for nine seasons and caught for 1620 yards. In just three years with McNabb, he caught for 2026 yards. Coincidence, or an example of a great quarterback making a terrible player better? (As for Pinkston, once the Eagles let him go, not a single team showed interest.) In the one single season during his prime that McNabb had an unequivocally great wide receiver, he had the greatest season any QB in Philly has ever had, throwing for 3,875 yards, 31 TDs and a mere 8 INTs, while leading the Eagles to a 13-2 record in games he started, best in team history.

McNabb then threw for 357 yards in the Super Bowl (the most anyone not named Kurt Warner has ever thrown in a Super Bowl) against a Patriots team that was cheating so hard they made the Black Sox look like choir boys,but it was allegations of McNabb (maybe?) throwing up in the end that became the story of the 2004 season. Despite all the yards, and despite the fact that he shredded a Pats defense had completely shut down Ben Roethlisberger and Peyton Manning in the two games previous, McNabb’s Super Bowl, and season, were seen as a failure.

In addition to his questionable attitude, the other thing working against McNabb was the fact that he came along at roughly the same time as Brady and Manning. McNabb was not as good as the other two QBs that came along at the same time, and so, by some sort of twisted logic, he sucked. It was absurd and irrational, but Eagles’ fans pride themselves on their passion, not their rationality. McNabb never understood that (as opposed to local icon Brian Dawkins, who understood it implicitly), and his lack of understanding of their rather  diminished his accomplishments in the eyes of many Eagles fans.

Now that time has passed, it is time to re-evaluate McNabb’s value as an Eagle. His stats (and his close-but-no-cigar career) compare favorably with the undeniably great Jim Kelly. Kelly played 11 seasons with the Bills, McNabb played 11 for the Eagles. Kelly played in 160 games, McNabb in 148. McNabb passed for 2 more yards per game, Kelly threw slightly more TDs per game (1.48 to 1.46), and McNabb threw 75 less interceptions than Kelly despite playing in 12 fewer games. (And don’t forget that Kelly was throwing to Andre Reed and James Lofton, not Pinkston and Thrash.) McNabb also ran for 3249 yards for the Birds, while Kelly ran for 1,049 for the Bills. Kelly went 9-8 in the playoffs. McNabb went 9-7.  Jim Kelly is a God in Buffalo. And yet, here in Philly…Until more people in Philadelphia can separate McNabb’s incredible career from their own personal feelings for him, he will remain one of the most underrated athletes in Philadelphia history.

6 Comments on “#3 Most Underrated Philly Athlete of All-Time: Donovan McNabb”

  1. D Waite says:

    Don’t agree here either. we didn’t like him. That does not mean he is underrated. We liked Jaws but he was clearly not as talented as many of those who played after him. That does not make Jaws overrated. Jeez…we simply like that game against Dallas (our real superbowl at the time)and give him a pass for getting us farther than we had been in awhile. (my dad still complains that Jaws overthrew everybody all the time. OR was it underthrew?) Heck, at least he was better than Roman Gabriel.

    Why am I now having a flashback to Barefoot Boy missing a FG against the Falcons?

    No matter…

    I don’t like the fact that you’re saying that people we fans don’t particularly enjoy are underrated. Mostly we’re saying that people like McNabb and Abreu are OVERrated. Just ask the Redskins, or the Yankees. Don’t try to shove stats down our throats. Stats are for poser west coast teams. Yes. McNabb was very good at times. We surely would have given him a pass on his personality if the Pats didn’t cheat and we won in 04. But it was not to be. and other things (both in and out of his control) conspired to work against McNabb’s popularity status here in Philly.

    Not our favorite? Correct.
    Overrated at times? (especially the national media) Correct.

    Underrated? Incorrect.

  2. D Waite says:

    …I can’t seem to let this go…. I so much enjoyed watching Garcia take the reins in ’06… He was probably one who was overrated, but I was pulling for him like he was my son. McNabb? I looked at him like I thought I was going to look at Ricky Waters after FWFW. But Ricky won my respect later on. McNabb did not.

    I will never accept that McNabb might be underrated. He was good at times… dissapointing for the rest. Someone else can pat him on his back for his stats. Stats, to me, do not make, or break a player.

    You know the first time I really respected Mike Schmidt for his stats? That homer in Montreal to clinch the division in 80. That was the most heart that I ever saw from him… can you imagine if he failed there? Does that one at-bat change his stature re: over/underated? You bet it does. There’s a tribute video for Mike Jack posted by a lifetime Expos fan on you tube based on that home run fer cryin out loud. watch the call of his 500th home run. the announcer says “great players do great things”. What did McNabb do? 4th and 26? I guess… but just one play? OK… he also used to run around a bunch and throw bombs and connected on a few… Randall did all that and taught us that it means nothing. I grew up watching the good QBs mounting 80 yard drives with only 1:14 left on the clock to win games. McNabb did very little of this. His legacy will always be getting about 6 plays off in the last 4 minutes when it was all on the line… even Boston was in utter disbelief of how this time was played. “lollygaging” was the term used by a Boston blog I read.

  3. D Waite says:

    Underrated cannot, in my opinion, include players whose stature has been diminished because of accusations of poor intestinal fortitude or caring more about their personal stats than the team, or not adapting to situations as required to overcome and win.

    In my opinion, that is the same as saying a fireman is underrated cause he’s good with an axe and a firehose, but needs to be begged to walk into a burning building and do his job.

    • D Waite says:

      Just look at Jimmie Rollins. I think most of us love the guy… and he’s a former MVP and came up HUGE in 07 during the run to bury the Mets and many other times in his career. AND he helped us win a world series.

      Yet… His “swagger” includes getting benched from time to time for not hustling. WE HATE THAT… right? the Announcers Hate That… Larry Anderson called him out on TV for it… What does that tell you? Jimmy’s lucky he has some achievements and accolades to fall back on, That’s what it tells you. Real accolades are different than stats. An MVP is more than stats. backing up your mouth with your bat vs. the Mets is more than stats. Game winning hits in the NLCS is more than just stats. A Jimmy Rollins with the same general stats (BA, fielding %, xtra base hits, RBI’s etc) but no achievements and accolades that the fans can share is nothing but a Bobby Abreu. Not underrated, just a guy with good numbers who we may choose not to like quite so much.

  4. Reese says:

    These comments show why he’s underrated y’all don’t care for his stats or accolishments y’all just don’t like the guy for whatever reason Philly is a backwards city anyways cuz they we love Buddy Ryan who has 0 playoff wins but hate Andy Reid who had 10 playoff wins and a SuperBowl appearance hate Scott Rolen for not wanted to play here cuz he didn’t believe the team wanted to win so he turned down millions when in fact we know that’s the reason they were losing we also love every backup QB for some reason to until they become the starter Philly is just a weird sports town

  5. Jon Tights says:

    Johnny Goodtimes wrote and excellent story.I am a Philadelphian and I noticed Schmidt and McNabb were not liked for similar reasons. For one, both athletes did not “react” the way “some Philadelphians” thought they should have acted after falling short or “Choking” This means McNabb should had punched Rodney Harrison after the third interception in the Super Bowl to show us he cared and was upset about the mistake. Schmidt had a similar personality. Both guys were never involved in highly publicized off the field incidents. They seemed like the “nerds” in class. In Philadelphia, we love Buddy Ryan over Andy Reid because Buddy called Dan Diedorff a “Fat Sloppy Offensive Linemen” Buddy also put a hit out on Luis Zendejas and Troy Aikman. During the NFL strike, he told his boss Norman Braman to shove it and sided with his players. A feud also took place against former co-worker Mike Ditka. Buddy coached in the Bounty Bowls, Pork Chop Bowls, and Fog Bowl. Somehow these Bowl games give him more credibility than Andy Reid coaching in a Super Bowl. Reid was boring. If any Reid would have told Trotter to end Eli Manning’s career for extra money, we would have loved Andy. Instead, Andy had manners and was more of a professional. Ray Rhodes is another person who seemed to get a pass. Rhodes was tough and allegedly disassembled a hand gun in front of one of his players. Rhodes put the “selfish” Randall Cunningham on the bench where he belonged! We loved Tug McGraw so much that he became part of the local media in Philly. Pete was the man because he cheated on his wife with a Philadelphia Eagles cheerleader and he would take people out sliding for home plate. Ironically, no one criticizes McGraw for allegedly originally denying his son. Rose was involved in sports gambling. On the field, Ryan is not criticized for going 0-3 in the playoffs and telling his talented QB to “Make Big Plays and DO Not Worry About the O-Line” No one criticizes Ray Rhodes for losing to Barry Switzer and the Cowboys when it mattered and the QB controversy between Peete-Hoying-Detmer. Somehow we take all of the evils and frustrations on McNabb and Reid. I did not mention Kotite. Maybe the Eagles should rehire him since Andy “sucked” Mark Brunnell is somehow an honorary Eagle because he studied under Favre and Rhodes wanted him in Philly. Why not have Mark suit up and give those looney fans what they always wanted. Outside of Philly, Schmidt is one of the best third basemen. In Philly, he is remember as an NLCS choker whose “teammates” won the 1980 World Series. Maybe one day the fanbase will wake up.

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