Have the dissenters come out yet? I don't want to look.
Donovan McNabb appears ready for a sentimental tribute in Philadelphia, and we all know what that means. Something about it will go rancid. Someone will poison the moment.
He can't possibly show up for a ceremonial retirement from the Eagles this fall, wave to the crowd and hear unalloyed cheers. As soon as he told a radio audience about the plan, the McNabb Grievance Committee must have begun queuing up its greatest hits and foraging for new material.
What could McNabb's detractors, the makers of mythical vomit, come up with now? Well, he did reveal the idea before the Eagles made an announcement, so he can be charged with staging the whole thing, manipulating the team into an invitation. Or he can be accused of pre-empting the Eagles' press release, a faux pas certain to distress this righteous group.
The grievance committee will find a point of attack. It always has.
Few NFL quarterbacks escape gruesome dissection by their team's followers, but no athlete of recent vintage has seen his accomplishments so distorted and his character so unjustly maligned as McNabb. If the retirement ceremony goes forward, it should represent an assertion of sanity in Philadelphia, a proper recognition of what the city had when he played there.
The McNabb grievances were extraordinary for their creativity and the diversity of narcissistic impulses that generated them. They went beyond reasonable questions about whether he merited a lavish contract or Hall of Fame consideration or the respect accorded the absolute elite of NFL quarterbacks.
Those critiques are part of the job. They're all about how a quarterback does his job. But McNabb was never judged simply as a quarterback. Somehow, he became a Rorschach test under center. Whether the most denigrating interpretations came from Rush Limbaugh, Terrell Owens, a miserable radio-show host or a shameless president of the Philadelphia NAACP, they all said more about the critic than they did about the quarterback.
Angelo Cataldi, the caustic radio personality, founded the McNabb Grievance Committee in 1999, sending a posse of flunkies to draft headquarters in New York to boo the Eagles' choice of the Syracuse quarterback over Ricky Williams. Ever since, Cataldi has doubled, tripled and quadrupled down on his foolishness. Unless he hoped for Williams to spread the gospel of reefer as an antidepressant alternative to Philadelphia, he was wrong about the running back's potential. Instead of admitting the error, he tried to minimize it by magnifying McNabb's flaws. He substituted shtick for analysis, and too many Eagles fans bought it.
Psychologists might call his take on McNabb "confirmation bias,'' but it's probably more a case of Cataldi affirmation. If he sees McNabb as the quarterback who took the Eagles to five NFC title games in a decade and whose career stats match up favorably against those of Hall of Famer Jim Kelly, he's admitting his own fallibility. The Pope will get there first.
Limbaugh signed on with his commentary about the media overrating McNabb out of a desire to see a black quarterback succeed. More shtick. More self-serving agenda.
But it was Owens who most validated the grievance committee, and he did it out of jealousy. He saw himself as the star of the Super Bowl in 2005, thwarted in his desire for a ring by a quarterback whose stamina vanished in the final minutes of the game. He wanted more money and saw McNabb's fat paycheck as one of his obstacles.
As he vented, his pettiness somehow took on the appearance of truth-telling. Why, after all, would a teammate complain that his quarterback had worn down in the Super Bowl, or say that Brett Favre would be a better leader of the team or condescendingly call McNabb "a company man'' if it didn't all hint at truths straight out of the locker room?
Owens' appalling treatment of his previous quarterback, Jeff Garcia, should have impeached that bit of logic. The receiver lobbied his coaches in San Francisco to replace Garcia with the stronger-armed Tim Rattay, whose game-management skills and grasp of the job's nuances never approached Garcia's. He speculated about Garcia's sexuality in a Playboy interview, saying: "If it looks like a rat and smells like a rat, by golly, it is a rat.'" Compared to that line, "I'm not the one who got tired in the Super Bowl'' seems almost benign. Even when he showed up in Philadelphia, he couldn't suppress the urge to praise McNabb by comparing him favorably to Garcia.
In McNabb's case, Owens segued from blatant homophobia to implicit racism. When he called the quarterback a company man, he challenged his authenticity as a black man, prodding McNabb's father toward hyperbole. Sam McNabb likened the entire attack to black-on-black crime.
A more accurate analogy would have cast Owens as a bully harassing an A student for acting white. The NAACP chapter president, J. Whyatt Mondesire, soon clarified the theme. In a column for the Philadelphia Sun, Mondesire accused McNabb of running the ball less frequently so he would not fit a stereotype of black quarterbacks. He wrote that McNabb would have been a better leader if he'd "had the courage to offer only a tiny fraction" of his bonus to Owens or running back Brian Westbrook.
The plea for more scrambles ignored the potential for McNabb, who seemed to break a bone once every two years, to become debilitated by the rigors of running the ball. But Mondesire saw only what he wanted to see, a racial sellout. Boxer Bernard Hopkins subsequently piled on, saying the suburban-reared McNabb didn't qualify as black. "He's got a suntan, that's all,'' Hopkins said, carrying the already ridiculous debate into parody territory.
When McNabb appeared on HBO "Real Sports'' in 2007 and said black quarterbacks faced more scrutiny than white ones, many commenters dismissed him as overly sensitive and oblivious to the pressures inherent in playing quarterback anywhere in the NFL.
These respondents ignored the unique indignities heaped onto McNabb, the racial animosity coming at him from both directions, the unforgivable "Uncle Tom'' implications of the Mondesire column. These complications should have been evident to anyone who had followed his career, but the grievance committee doesn't believe in due diligence. So McNabb had to explain himself yet again. He did it best on his Yardbarker blog.
"I bet Fran Tarkenton, Steve Young, Jake Plummer, and Doug Flutie have never been told by a member of any racial consciousness organization that they don't play the quarterback position white enough," he wrote.
If he has ever addressed the question of throwing up at the Super Bowl, I missed his reply. I know that eight years later, no video has surfaced; nor has any other kind of documentation. I also know that if the Eagles had won the Super Bowl after a McNabb upchuck somewhere on the field, he'd have been hailed like Michael Jordan winning his fifth NBA title while a flu raged through his body. People would have hunted for the remains of his stomach contents and bagged the whole mess for posterity.
No one has ever explained why the vomiting, if it had occurred, would have indicated a deficit of discipline. Is there evidence of an all-nighter in a Jacksonville bar? Any reason to believe he went in search of paid companionship in the middle of the night, in the 1999 mode of Falcons safety Eugene Robinson? No.
So we have imaginary vomit tied to unidentified sins. What an indictment. We do know that McNabb looked tired and the offense moved glacially between plays, killing valuable time. But we also know that in the middle of his alleged delirium, he somehow picked himself up after a sack and threw a touchdown pass.
The debate about McNabb's true value as a quarterback could go on forever, respectfully and thoughtfully. We can probably all agree that not knowing the overtime tie rules tends to be a bad look on any NFL player, and it's most unflattering to a franchise quarterback. His inability to thrive away from Philadelphia, and to continue playing past age 34, absolutely reshapes boundaries on his legacy.
But the 4th-and-26 play that saved the Eagles in a playoff against Green Bay deserves equal billing, as do the times he played hurt and played well. And the five NFC title games. And the remarkable 31 touchdowns to eight interceptions in 2004.
He's earned the right to a retirement ceremony, through the quality of his work. The grievance committee has more noise than merit.
Cataldi said Eagles fans should be prepping to boo if McNabb's retirement ceremony goes forward, sending him into retirement the same way he entered the NFL. Cataldi also indicated that was a joke, but on his show, what isn't?