With their 34-14 wild card loss to the Cowboys on Saturday night — their second loss at Dallas in six days — the Philadelphia Eagles have assured themselves that for the 44th consecutive season they will not be hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
But with yet another NFL season coming to a close without a Super Bowl title, the Birds have assured themselves of something else. Something they’re familiar with. Something they’ve dealt with many times before.
The Eagles must now prepare for an onslaught from fans and media calling for quarterback Donovan McNabb to be shipped out of town.
It happens almost every year around this time. The Eagles fail to bring the City of Brotherly Love its first Super Bowl championship and McNabb takes the heat. It happened after Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville when McNabb failed to lead a game-winning drive against the New England Patriots. It happened in January 2007 when backup quarterback Jeff Garcia — who had taken over in November for an injured McNabb — led Philly to the divisional round of the playoffs. It happened in December 2007 when the Birds went 8-8 and failed to qualify for the postseason. It happened last season after McNabb was benched during a poor showing in a Week 12 loss at Baltimore.
And it’s already happening this year.
After completing 19 of 37 passes for 230 yards with one touchdown and one interception in the Eagles’ first-round loss, McNabb has again become the fall guy. Local radio stations such as 610 and 950 have been taking calls from angry Philly fans demanding change.
Never mind that the offensive line failed to protect the quarterback (he was sacked four times and spent the better part of the evening running for his life), the defense failed to step up and the coaching staff failed to produce solutions to all of Week 17’s problems. In the fans’ eyes, it all comes back to McNabb.
As my colleague and friend Michael Lombardi always jokes, “If the trash doesn’t get picked up in Philly, it’s McNabb’s fault.”
Now I’m not saying the Eagles couldn’t benefit from a change. The organization drafted Houston quarterback Kevin Kolb with its second-round pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, and he has been patiently waiting for his opportunity to take over. As a side note, keep in mind the Eagles traded away their first-round selection that year to the Dallas Cowboys, who used it to land Purdue outside linebacker Anthony Spencer — the same Anthony Spencer who sacked McNabb twice in Week 17 and once Saturday night.
But what I’m saying to the fans in Philadelphia is this: Be careful what you wish for.
Getting rid of McNabb means starting over. It means saying goodbye to a quarterback who helped guide this team to eight playoff appearances, five NFC championship games and one Super Bowl. It means parting ways with a quarterback who has won five division titles and been elected to the Pro Bowl five times.
Here’s what NFP analyst and former Washington Redskins safety Matt Bowen, who played against McNabb six times (Bowen and the ‘Skins went 2-4), had to say about what it was like preparing for the Eagles quarterback:
“I’ve never understood the Philly fan base when it comes to McNabb because he’s an elite quarterback in the NFL. What I mean by that is, as a former player, he’s tough to game plan for. You have to adjust your defensive call sheets to prepare for his multiple abilities in the pocket.”
Bowen went on to say, “He [McNabb] once threw a ball so hard at me it almost knocked me out.”
Has everyone forgotten what life was like before McNabb? We all loved what Randall Cunningham brought to the team in the ‘80s and ‘90s, but in the 11 years (1985-1995) Randall quarterbacked this franchise (the same number of years McNabb has led the team), the Eagles made the playoffs five times, winning just twice (2-5 overall) and failing to get past the divisional round.
And what about what happened after Cunningham left?
Between 1996 and 1998 (McNabb arrived in ‘99), the Eagles went 19-28-1 and had six different quarterbacks take snaps. Those notable signal-callers included the Detmer brothers (Ty and Koy), Rodney Peete, Bobby Hoying, Mark Rypien and Doug Pederson.
Those six quarterbacks combined for zero Pro Bowls and one playoff game — which Philly lost 33-19 to the San Francisco 49ers in 1996.
Then, McNabb arrived.
The Eagles selected the Syracuse quarterback with the second overall pick in the 1999 draft, instantly making him the face of a franchise that was desperate to put a winning product on the field.
And the young McNabb delivered.
Forget the fact that the guy never had a viable receiving target until Terrell Owens arrived in 2004. McNabb gave the fans of Philadelphia a playoff win in just his second NFL season, a 21-3 wild-card victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Dec. 31, 2000.
And after 11 seasons in Philly, many of which began with the promising hope that the Birds would contend for the league’s ultimate prize, the fans are once again clamoring for a change at the NFL’s toughest position.
And that’s the thing. Hope. It’s a luxury Philly fans have had for the better part of the last decade. The ability to sit around with your buddies in August and talk about how this could be the year. The year the Eagles finally get it done.
It’s the same luxury the fans have had in the NFL’s most critical month of the season – December — a month in which the Eagles, under McNabb, almost always delivered a strong finish and a berth in the postseason. A month in which the fans of many NFL teams have already packed it in and moved on to basketball season.
Try being a fan of the Kansas City Chiefs, Cleveland Browns or Detroit Lions. Over the past decade, how many times do you think the fans of those organizations have sat around in August talking about a run at the Super Bowl?
Remember, we’re talking about a quarterback who has been the epitome of a role model for the city of Philadelphia. He’s never been arrested, never flipped off the fans, never quit on his team. He’s taken all the heat the NFL’s toughest and most demanding fans could dish out.
And he keeps coming back.
You think the fans in Cincinnati are calling for Carson Palmer’s head this morning? The former USC Heisman Trophy winner has been in Cincinnati for six years and has never won a playoff game.
You think McNabb doesn’t measure up with some of the best quarterbacks of all time? Check out how his career numbers stack up against those of first-ballot Hall of Famer and former Buffalo Bill Jim Kelly. And remember, Kelly never won a Super Bowl, either.
I’m not saying the Eagles should hang on to McNabb for another year and see what he can do. That’s up to the front office. At some point, things have to change. This is a results-oriented league with a “what have you done for me lately?” mentality. McNabb has never delivered the elusive Super Bowl title the fans of Philly have been craving for almost a half century. As a result, another offseason will pass and the hunger for the Vince Lombardi Trophy will grow.
I’m just saying the fans who are so adamant about calling for the removal of one of the city’s most productive and well-respected athletes should be careful what they wish for.
Because as bad as it may seem in Philadelphia with McNabb at quarterback, try being a fan of the Detroit Lions, Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs, Cincinnati Bengals, Houston Texans, Oakland Raiders or Buffalo Bills.
From 2004-2009, those seven teams have combined to appear in three playoff games.
With all three resulting in losses.
Hit me up on Twitter: @JoeFortenbaugh