Welcome to the Nation’s capital, Donovan.
The former Syracuse university standout and one of the most recognizable faces in the NFL has taken his career to the Washington Redskins after being traded from the Philadelphia Eagles, where McNabb had spent his entire 11-year NFL career.
It was the signature move of the offseason for new head coach Mike Shanahan, who will try to turn around a franchise that went 4-12 last year and has developed a losing culture in recent years. Along with McNabb, the team also acquired former Pro Bowlers Larry Johnson and Willie Parker.
“There’s a vibe that’s going on in the D.C. area in particular. Everyone’s looking forward to great things happening,” McNabb said. “We want to change what’s been happening here the past few years and get this thing in a winning situation.”
McNabb, one of the most polarizing figures in Philadelphia sports, was the second pick from Syracuse in 1999, and his selection was immediately booed by the Eagles’ faithful. The criticism was strange, given that McNabb had a brilliant career at Syracuse, which included being named the Big East’s offensive player of the decade for the 1990s and Big East Offensive Player of the Year an unprecedented three times from 1996–98.
Regardless, McNabb quickly silenced any criticism over the pick, leading the Eagles to four straight division championships from 2001-04 and played in Super Bowl XXXIX. In his 11 years as the starting signal caller, McNabb rose to be Philadelphia’s career leader in wins, pass attempts, completions, yards, and touchdowns.
“This will be a good situation for Donovan,” Eagles Coach Andy Reid said after McNabb was traded. “And also it’s a good situation for Mike Shanahan and the Washington Redskins.”
No one will ever forget McNabb’s 4th and 26 Houdini act in the 2003-04 playoffs in the Divisional Championship against the Green Bay Packers.
With 2:21 left the Eagles trailed by a field goal and started at their own 20. The Eagles moved the ball to the 42 yard line before two incompletions and a costly 16-year sack forced the Eagles to go for it on 4th and long.
Defying odds, McNabb threw a perfect 28-yard strike to Freddie Michell for a first down, and several plays later, kicker David Akers converted a field goal to send the game to overtime, where the Eagles went on to win 20-17 and advance to yet another NFC Championship game.
Said McNabb: “11 years is something you just can’t forget no matter what happens.”
A NEW ERA
The Redskins packaged the 37th pick in the 2010 NFL draft and a conditional fourth-round selection in the 2011 draft to bring McNabb over. That spelled the end of the line for incumbent quarterback Jason Campbell, who was shipped off to the Oakland Raiders for a fourth round pick in the 2012 draft.
In some ways, the transition will be smooth. The Redskins will continue to run a West Coast offense that was implemented by former coach Jim Zorn. To be sure, Shanahan will make his own modifications to the system, but it will be done under the same principles that Reid used in Philadelphia.
“Donovan is an accomplished quarterback who has been a proven winner in the National Football League,” Shanahan said. “I have long admired his competitiveness and feel he will be an outstanding addition to the Redskins and our community. He knows our division and the roadmap to success in the NFC East.”
Further complementing McNabb will be running back Clinton Portis, who will become McNabb’s version of Brian Westbrook out of the backfield. Portis, like Westbrook, has excellent hands and has shown the ability to catch the ball in the flat and explode upfield.
Portis will be joined by newcomers Johnson and Parker in the backfield. Although the three have had injury problems over the past few seasons, Shanahan’s zone blocking system has produced a bevy of 1,000-yard rushers in Denver.
The remade backfield is in addition to a remade offensive line. Rookie Trent Williams will be the starting left tackle while the Redskins have also brought in veteran Artis Hicks and two-time Pro Bowler Jammal Brown. They are the new cogs in an offensive line that will need to protect McNabb and open up lanes for Portis & Co.
As for the air game, McNabb will be throwing to a young receiving group. Although the Redskins return the speedy Santana Moss, the Redskins become thin – and younger – after that. In 2008, Washington drafted receivers Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly in the second round. This figures to be the make-or-break year for both receivers, although both have been underwhelming in their first two campaigns.
Perhaps McNabb will be the key to changing that.
“We have young guys here that are looking for someone to lead them in the right direction,” McNabb said. “That’s something that they’re going to understand – My work ethic and how I go about preparing, and how I just go out and have fun on the field.”
Undoubtedly, the Redskins fan base has been suffering recently. Since 2000, Washington has made the playoffs just twice, and only in 2005 did the Redskins advance beyond the wildcard round (with an eventual loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the Divisional Championship).
Owner Dan Snyder has consistently spent large amounts of money to recruit top talent to Washington with little payoff. But for the first time in years, the Redskins have a team they can be legitimately excited about.
Those fans are banking on the fact that McNabb has won with every team he’s played for.
“People are getting excited,” McNabb said. “They know that once the season starts, they know good things are going to happen. And not just in the locker room, I’m talking about the whole D.C. area. 4-12 is over. That was the past. We’re looking for good things to happen right now.”
This article appeared in the Syracuse University 2010 Football Kickoff Program.