Sunday, May 20, 2007

Football Talk

“Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.”

--Satchel Paige

The “controversy” over the Philadelphia Eagles drafting of quarterback prospect Kevin Kolb and what the move augurs for the future of Eagles starting QB Donovan McNabb is more media-hype than actual fodder for Eagle fans. If Donovan McNabb actually allows the drafting of Kolb to upset him and knock him off his game then it doesn’t speak well of McNabb’s ability to handle pressure situations. As it is, McNabb has been more concerned about completing his rehab from his injuries that prematurely ended his season and prepping himself for training camp in July—a totally proper course for him to take.

Why did Andy Reid draft Kolb? Amidst all the screaming (mostly from the media) there is the realization that twice now Donovan McNabb has been unable to complete a regular season with the Eagles due to serious, major injury. The fact that McNabb is potentially brittle should be a cause for concern amongst the Eagles brain trust. When draft day came and Kevin Kolb was still available on the draft board, the Eagles did the logical thing and drafted him. People forget that NFL football is a charnel house where careers can abruptly end on any given Sunday. During the 1980s the average NFL player’s career was only 3.2 seasons (I’m not sure what the average is now).

We’d like to be sentimental and allow established NFL heroes to feel safe at their positions but if you speak to any established NFL star they will tell you there is no such thing as safe in the NFL. I remember last season seeing a commercial featuring recently retired New York Giants running back Tiki Barber discussing how he became an All-Pro starter. He said, quite matter-of-factly, that he became a starter when someone got hurt and he filled in and showed such great ability that he took the injured man’s job away from him.

NFL history is replete with instances of so-called established players losing their starting positions to bright young back-ups who had the patience and luck to show that they could outperform the starter. In the 1960s Quarterback Craig Morton spent five years as Don Meredith’s back-up for the Dallas Cowboys until Meredith retired in 1969. Morton got the starting job only to find his back-up, Roger Staubach, breathing down his neck and, in 1971, becoming the starting quarterback for the Cowboys and leading them to two Super Bowl titles. During the late 1960s the Oakland Raiders had Daryle Lamonica and George Blanda at quarterback but that didn’t stop the team from drafting a very brash and wild quarterback from Alabama named Kenny Stabler. Stabler waited in obscurity for several seasons until 1973 when Coach John Madden, in an attempt at revitalizing an inconsistent Raider offense, allowed Stabler to start a game to see what Stabler was made of. (John Madden tells the story beautifully in his best-selling book One Knee Equals Two Feet). Stabler got the offense moving and remained the Raider starting quarterback for the rest of the season and eventually led the Raiders to their first Super Bowl title in 1977. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is another prime example. He was able to do what Drew Bledsoe could not do after many years with the Patriots: lead the Patriots to three Super Bowl titles.

Does the drafting of Kevin Kolb mean that Donovan McNabb’s days as an Eagle are numbered? That’s for McNabb and Andy Reid to decide. First, McNabb has to show that he has fully recovered from his serious leg injuries. What happens if his recovery is still not complete? Then Andy Reid needs to use his back-ups (A.J. Feeley and Kevin Kolb) until McNabb can show that he is ready. Second, McNabb still must prove that he can lead the Eagles to a Super Bowl victory—which he hasn’t done yet. The NFL is filled with good quarterbacks but there are only a tiny few who have led their teams to Super Bowl titles. Dan Marino never won a Super Bowl nor did Jim Kelly. John Elway had to wait a very long time before he won his two Super Bowl titles.

The jury is still out on Donovan McNabb. What happens if Andy Reid decides that McNabb doesn’t have the stuff to be a Joe Montana or a Tom Brady or even a Peyton Manning for that matter? Then Reid must find someone who has the same stuff the above-mentioned quarterbacks possess. It could be A.J. Feeley or it could be Kevin Kolb or it could be someone else? Only time will tell.

How Donovan McNabb deals with this will speak volumes about him as an athlete, team leader, and as a person. The answer lies with him and what he does on the playing field.

It’s going to be a very interesting season.

No comments: