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On the Legacy of Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb in Philadelphia

Sep 19, 2013, 3:02 PM EDT

MCNABB REID LURIE AP

Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb probably aren’t as polarizing in Philadelphia as they often seem. There is just this extremely vocal minority that refuses to display any appreciation—or even a modicum of respect in some cases—for the two men who were the faces of the Eagles’ franchise during the greatest era in the organization’s history.

That segment of the fanbase is entirely in the wrong, but thankfully it’s only a fraction of the team’s followers. We know this because Donovan will step out on to Lincoln Financial Field to roaring approval from 69,144 diehards when his number is retired at a halftime ceremony during the Eagles’ game against the Chiefs tonight. I suspect Andy will be cheered as well when he’s introduced to the capacity crowd for the first time, this despite the fact that he’ll be wearing enemy colors.

Nobody should require any convincing that Reid and McNabb were the two most influential figures* behind the Eagles’ amazing run of success during the previous decade. Not Jim Johnson, may he rest in peace—there’s a chance a lot of folks never would have heard of JJ had Andy not hired him in the first place. Not Brian Dawkins either, although he seems to be the consensus fan favorite these days. Not any other players Reid inherited, not a weak division, none of that bull.

Not to diminish the contributions of other Eagles greats, but the team only ever went as far as head coach and quarterback could carry them.

Similarly, nobody should ever find themselves in a position where they have to defend enjoying the period when the Eagles lived and died with Reid and McNabb. During their 11 seasons together, the Birds missed the playoffs a total of three times, with only a single first-round exit to speak of. They appeared in five conference championship games and came within a few points of winning a Super Bowl.

This wasn’t some kind of Dark Age for Eagles football simply because it didn’t produce a championship. They were in the mix to win it all every September. Only three or four teams in the NFL could claim to have been consistently as good as or better over the span when Reid and McNabb were at the wheel here. And while it’s easy to say you would trade it all for that one parade—and maybe a lot of people would—how could anybody claim they were not entertained year in, year out? Just think of all the legendary moments that were authored by these two.

There was the franchise’s meteoric rise from the ashes to become the preeminent NFC East powerhouse. There were four consecutive conference title games and that one glorious season with Terrell Owens. There was the moment Reid and McNabb finally hoisted the George Halas Trophy, and the two weeks of euphoria leading up to the big game. There were the improbable playoff runs of 2006 and ’08 long after most people had already given up on them.

We got McNabb’s 14-second scramble, 4th and 26, the game he literally played on a broken ankle, the excitement the first time he connected with T.O. on a deep ball, his famous juke of that poor player for Washington that we’ve all seen one million times. So many Sundays, so many indelible memories etched into time.

Yeah, Andy and Donovan had their shortcomings too, many of which have reached urban legend status. It won’t take two minutes for somebody to bring up worm balls and clock management, or something worse that’s hardly worth addressing.

We lived it. We know it wasn’t perfect.

Now that it’s all said and done though, the legacy Reid and McNabb left behind in Philly—the only one that matters regardless how many “haters” try to shovel dirt on it—was one of winning and remarkable success. It doesn’t matter if Five is going into the Pro Football Hall of Fame someday, or whether Big Red was ever a good enough coach to win the big one. They accomplished everything they could, and for all the debates through the years about the legacy they would be leaving behind, it was amazing fun for most people.

Do I wish they had taken one more step and finally cast a Lombardi Trophy for Philadelphia? Of course. But if I could go back in time to 1999 and re-do the head coaching hire, re-do the draft, re-do the 11 years that followed, I would probably take my chances on Reid and McNabb again. Is there a higher compliment than that?

*I would argue Joe Banner was actually the most influential person from this time period. The facilities that were built under his watch made Philly a destination for free agents, and his expert management of the salary cap allowed the franchise to keep their own stars while bringing in others from the outside. Having said that, as far as what most people saw on Sundays, that was Andy and Donovan to a large extent.

  1. Jason R. - Sep 19, 2013 at 1:41 PM

    WERE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!?!

    Reply
  2. Jason R. - Sep 19, 2013 at 1:53 PM

    I’m as tired of defending 5 and Big Red to the idiots as I am tired of snowballs and Santa Claus and cheesesteak intros on national primetime games.

    Outside of November 2008, I have never been more proud to be from Philly than I was in ’04. It was my first year in college out here in San Diego, the Chargers were good at that time too, that was during the 6 straight years Berman picked a Chargers/Eagles Super Bowl. That was the perfect year, the birds started 8-0 or something, and when I said “hey I’m Jason, I’m an education major, I’m from Philly” (like, a million times because college) the response was always, “damn, how about those Eagles, this is their year, are they ever gonna lose?”

    Reply
  3. willh888 - Sep 19, 2013 at 1:55 PM

    Right on point. The detractors hit a fever pitch following the TO/Donovan disaster. Maybe it even got worse in the last few years with the loss to Dallas in the divisional round. Either way, these Cataldi fools made it so miserable for fans to appreciate the guy it drove a majority of fans to start making excuses for the guy. I appreciate the years he gave even if his personality didn’t fit this city the way they wanted. Often times he’d be criticized for SMILING too much, hm. Just like they hated Andy for not showing emotion. Confusing eh? Doesn’t matter because none of the athletes these Cataldi folk appreciate ever threw 4 TD’s on a broken leg, which has to be one of the baddest ass’d things ever accomplished in this city, and right up there in all time bad-assness. Love the guy’s legacy even if he smiled ya know, sometimes

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  4. Jeff - Sep 19, 2013 at 2:03 PM

    Amen.

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    • Scott B - Sep 19, 2013 at 2:52 PM

      couldnt have said it better @willh888. bravo

      Reply
  5. Simmonds17 - Sep 19, 2013 at 2:09 PM

    I’ll be watching on TV, not in attendance tonight, but if I were there, I’d have no trouble standing up and applauding Andy Reid. Part of that is because I know that after tonight, he is going to leave us alone and go one with his life. McNabb? He’s the gift that keeps on giving – don’t take my word for it, ask RG3.

    I think it’s too soon to be retiring McNabb’s number – less than a year ago he was still trying to hook on with a team. Why the rush, and why the same night as Reid’s return?

    I had no trouble cheering McNabb the quarterback and defending him, especially after things like the broken ankle game against Arizona. But if it makes me a “bad” fan that recent years have left a bad taste in my mouth, so be it. I just don’t like McNabb as a person and I wish he’d go away.

    There’s the “air guitar” stuff before the Dallas playoff game. There’s the sense that he thinks nothing that went wrong in DC or Minnesota is on him. There’s his pretty obvious persecution complex, which a warm ovation tonight will only ameliorate for an hour or so. And then there is his pathological meddling with RG3. I get that his real motivation is to stick it to the Shanahans, and since I hate that team I can sympathize with him, but he really should leave RG3 alone, instead of making him a pawn in his anti-Shanhan machinations.

    I’ll be pretty dry-eyed when McNabb takes his bows tonight. I always preferred Cunningham anyway.

    Reply
    • Charles Dance - Sep 19, 2013 at 6:07 PM

      The air guitar is the most ridiculous “controversy” of all of them. What a ridiculously easy and stupid thing to apply hindsight to. “OHH THEY LOST THE GAME AND MCNABB WAS AIR GUITARING BEFORE IT, HE OBVIOUSLY DIDNT TAKE IT SERIOUSLY ITS ALL HIS FAULT WAH WAH WAH” Grow up.

      How many hundreds of times have we seen ridiculous entrances from players. If you think thats bad then you should be criticizing dawkins for acting like a comic book character during his entrances, you shouldve hated Sheldon brown wearing a jason mask the one game, trent coles bow and arrow schtick, trotters ax man, and all the other players who danced and gestured around before games they lost.

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      • Simmonds17 - Sep 23, 2013 at 4:01 PM

        First of all, I’ll criticize whatever I want. Secondly, Dawkins’ “Wolverine” stuff was cool, whereas McNabb’s air guitar on the way to the field at Cowboys Stadium just looked dorky and contrived.

        Some celebrations and gimmicks are better than others

  6. Tom - Sep 19, 2013 at 2:13 PM

    No ring, you play to win a championship and they failed.

    Reply
    • willh888 - Sep 19, 2013 at 2:31 PM

      Tell us how you feel about Brian Dawkins, Cliff Lee and Claude Giroux

      Reply
    • Charles Dance - Sep 19, 2013 at 6:16 PM

      Lindros, leclair, renberg, brindamour, iverson, akers, reggie white, the rest of the buddy ryan teams, mike quick, dawkins, giroux, ron jaworski, desjardins, pronger, briere, forseberg, primeau, hatcher, arron mckee, jeff garcia, jim johnson, jon runyan, halladay, trotter…did I miss anyone on the list of people who, by your logic, are all failures not worth celebrating?

      Reply
      • 33 - Sep 20, 2013 at 1:39 PM

        not for nuthin, but a lot of those guys did win rings. just not here.

  7. clubberlangphila - Sep 19, 2013 at 2:22 PM

    Red brought consistency to Phila. McNabb created a winning attitude. Johnson brought a D that covered both their asses. After losing to Dallas 3x in one season.. I had enough. Leonard Weaver, Stewart Bradley, Macho Harris – all failed and had their careers ended/threatened due to Reid’s strategic inadequacies. Freddie Mitchell, Jerome McDougle, Danny Watkins kind of balance out with the AJ Feely, Kevin Kolb trades. Frustration with clock management, timeout management, scripted plays, in-game adjustments, and unbalanced pass-heavy schemes are VERY warranted. Hiring a strength and conditioning coach who has a known banned substance history and is unstable enough to die at camp is inexcusably neopotistic. Reid should have been suspended for that at the very least. 99-08 were amazing seasons of football that always had me pumped for week 1. That being said, I’m happy about the fresh start and excited about what this team will look like in two seasons. RIP Jim Johnson

    Reply
    • clubberlangphila - Sep 19, 2013 at 2:36 PM

      To specify, by “winning attitude” I’m referring to the toughness, (alleged) leadership, longevity, athleticism, high-level of play despite a lack of weapons.

      Another thing of note, players that left the Eagles under the Reid era rarely maintained or matched their Philadelphian performance levels – exceptions I can think of off the top are Dawkins, S. Barber (kinda), D. Burgess, C. Emmonds (kinda), Akers. In short, the Banner/Reid front office was great at cutting bait at the right time (save the unforgivable Dawkins lowball).

      Reply
  8. Dulce de Leche Robinson - Sep 19, 2013 at 2:27 PM

    A very mature perspective. All of this comes too soon for me to really feel great about the the Reid/McNabb years. Reid contributed mightily to drafts that left the cupboard incredibly bare for the next guy. The Washburn and Castillo hires combined with those horrible drafts were the final nails into the coffin of our once proud defense. Then firing a loyal servant like Castillo the way he did was an embarassment. His last few teams flat out quit behind his non-existent form of leadership. He built a beautiful house and then then set it on fire while he walked away like nothing happened. His poor decisions are still screwing our team now. Once Chip builds the team up and we’re competitive year in and out again, I think my animosity toward Reid will fade and I can focus on the good years. Until then, I’ll be booing him.

    As for Donny, he’s the best QB we’ve seen in this town, which really isn’t that high of a compliment. He’s a whiner who came up small too often when the lights were brightest and thought way too highly of himself. No one in that locker room stood up publicly for him when all the TO stuff was going down, and that told me everything I needed to know about him. But, give me five years of Chip and Teddy or Mario, and I’ll probably give him his due, unless he continues to spout off idiocy.

    Reply
    • Brian Kaygun - Sep 19, 2013 at 4:18 PM

      Nailed it perfectly. Great post.

      Reply
    • nahroots - Sep 19, 2013 at 5:03 PM

      You mad?

      Reply
  9. yishmeister - Sep 19, 2013 at 2:35 PM

    Trying to remember, but wasn’t the poor Redskins player Darrell Green? I think Bruce Smith was involved in that play too, I still get flashbacks of that play and his amazing mobility before the broken ankle.

    Reply
  10. 2sentz - Sep 19, 2013 at 3:07 PM

    Agree with Dulce, the timing of tonight’s little pageant seems blatantly quick and forced. They’re gonna trot 5 out for every alumni thingy over the next 30 years. Did we need to do this just 10 months from his retirement? Can’t we exhale a bit?

    I appreciate the thrills McNabb brought us as much as anyone, but would like just a bit more time to forget the clowny schtick’s and untimely vomits that punctuated his career. IMO absence makes heart grow fonder, and this could have waited a few years.

    But whatever, I’ll cheer him tonight while thinking hard of just the good times.

    Reply
    • willh888 - Sep 19, 2013 at 3:11 PM

      only thing fresh in my mind was that 4-12 season just last year. I agree it’s a bit soon, but people who simply don’t like mcnabb won’t be magically fond of him in 5 years. I think they want to sneak in this ceremony before he has too much air time on foxsports1 or nfl network.

      Reply
      • 2sentz - Sep 19, 2013 at 3:35 PM

        Agreed hater’s ain’t ever getting on board, but NFL is only going to replay his good shit over the next few years, which helps skew history a bit. And yea, giving him a mic really scares me regardless of how much time goes by, THAT could be his undoing.

  11. jay - Sep 19, 2013 at 4:10 PM

    def a reid mcnabb hater. mcnabb is the kind of guy that loses the nfc championship and then becomes an analyst for the super bowl two weeks later (actually happened). reid is the type of guy that blames the teams problems on his defense and then fires his best friend half way through the season as a scape goat (juan castillo 2nd year was doing good whether you remember that or not). the truth is that jim johnson and brian dawkins were more responsible for the “good years” then reid and mcnabb ever were. ever notice that the team wasnt that good when dawk and JJ werent there…?

    Reply
  12. Hiccup - Sep 19, 2013 at 6:22 PM

    My only problem with Andy Reid was his uninterrupted committment to the team when his sons life was falling apart. Great for the city but not for his family.

    Reply
  13. Von9 - Sep 20, 2013 at 2:38 AM

    It’s sad to see the team “heroes” who are just monuments to mediocrity. The team underachieved. There is nothing to celebrate. McNabb is an overweight doofus and the team looks like schlubs celebrating these guys. They were satisfied with being pretty good and stuck around way too long.

    Reply

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