Commentary

Donovan McNabb deserves cheers

Updated: September 29, 2010, 6:38 PM ET
By Jemele Hill | ESPN.com

As much as I've enjoyed seeing Michael Vick's electric talents blossom in Philadelphia and seeing him reclaim the life he almost threw away, I can't shake this awful sense of foreboding as Donovan McNabb prepares for his first trip to Philly as a Redskin.

[+] EnlargeEagle Fans
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty ImagesEagles fans aren't afraid to share their true feelings.

In the 11 years McNabb was the franchise quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles, many of the fans took every opportunity to dump on his accomplishments. Now it seems predestined that McNabb will be defeated by his former team on Sunday before many fans who never fully appreciated him anyway.

Fans booed him on draft day (imagine where the Eagles would be if Philly had drafted Ricky Williams as fans wanted), and his career as an Eagle was capped by the ultimate insult: The team traded him to a hated division rival. That sent a crisp message about the franchise's sentiment. And considering that some meathead fans had the nerve to burn McNabb's jersey when he was traded -- as if he had asked to be dealt -- why wouldn't this same, often hateful fan base take one more chance to kick McNabb in the figurative shin?

Of course, if there were any justice, the final score of Sunday's game between the Redskins and Eagles would read: Washington 31, Philadelphia 0.

OK, that probably won't happen. Not with Vick playing even better than he did in his superstar days in Atlanta, which gives the Eagles a pretty good shot at beating the stumbling Redskins, who have lost two straight games, including this past Sunday to the St. Louis Rams.

A victory over McNabb isn't what the Eagles and the city deserve. They deserve a beatdown after the way they jettisoned McNabb to the Redskins in the offseason, even though he capably led them to five NFC title games and a Super Bowl. They deserve McNabb lighting them up for 400 yards and three touchdowns because of how he was continually reminded of what he didn't accomplish instead of recognized for what he did.

What they never deserved was a classy quarterback who totally changed the course of their franchise.

To be clear, this isn't about the current quarterback. Coach Andy Reid didn't make a mistake in starting Vick over Kevin Kolb, who was designated as McNabb's replacement despite having proved virtually nothing. Where the organization erred was in deciding to oust McNabb.

[+] EnlargeDonovan McNabb
Rafael Suanes/US PresswireDonovan McNabb's play will be familiar Sunday at The Linc even if his uniform isn't.

Today, the quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles should be not Vick but McNabb.

If the Eagles win, it would be just another way to justify the classless way McNabb was discarded. The perception created by the fans, the team and some in the media that McNabb was a perennial underachiever has nothing to do with Vick. Still, it's worth pointing out that after his breathtaking performances in wins over the woeful Lions and Jaguars, the city of Philadelphia is treating Vick like a wonder to behold.

The ultimate irony, though, is that if it weren't for McNabb's earnest desire to see Vick turn his life around, the Eagles wouldn't have Vick at all. It was McNabb who lobbied the Eagles to sign Vick. It was McNabb who repeatedly preached that Vick, who spent 21 months in federal prison for dogfighting, deserved forgiveness and another opportunity to succeed in the NFL. It was McNabb who tutored Vick once he was in Philly. I'm convinced that if it weren't for McNabb's selfless interest, Vick wouldn't look nearly as comfortable operating Philly's offense as he does right now.

And what is McNabb's reward for extending such professionalism and empathy to Vick? Being run out of town and likely booed heartily on Sunday.

McNabb was right that Vick deserved to quarterback a team again, but not even in Vick's Pro Bowl years was he ever as good a quarterback as McNabb, who has amassed 33,706 career yards and been to six Pro Bowls.

Still, this isn't about Vick, who certainly should be praised for what he has done. This is about McNabb and how he sometimes was treated as though he wasn't good enough to be the face of the Eagles franchise. This week, Reid's platitudes about what McNabb did for the franchise will ring hollow, considering he benched McNabb for Kolb against the Ravens in 2008.

[+] EnlargeDonovan McNabb and fans
Drew Hallowell/Getty ImagesThere are critics, but plenty of Eagles fans embraced Donovan McNabb through the years.

I can't think of too many places that would have been unhappy with what McNabb established in Philly. Peyton Manning has been in Indianapolis for 12 years, and the Colts have won 10 games or more each of the past eight seasons, producing one Super Bowl win in two appearances. McNabb's record in Philly wasn't quite as good as Manning's, but I seriously doubt Manning's ability will ever be taken for granted in his NFL hometown, even if he never plays in another Super Bowl.

If only it had been that way for McNabb when he was in Philly.

When the city of conditional love revisits its history with McNabb this week, I hope fans there also remember that some of McNabb's best teams were equipped with flawed offensive talent and that Reid was a faulty playcaller and clock manager.

Already, there's a debate about how fans will respond to McNabb once he steps onto the field in Philly on Sunday. But really, there's only one way they should react: with the unconditional respect and support that often evaded him when he was there.

Jemele Hill can be reached at jemeleespn@gmail.com.

MORE COMMENTARY »

Jemele Hill | email

ESPN.com, ESPN The Magazine

ALSO SEE