This was the Donovan McNabb Eagles fans had been clamoring for during his decade-plus in green. On the day the franchise decided to immortalize him by retiring his number, McNabb let his emotions swell. The Hoover Dam couldn't have stopped this one.
After stirring speeches from team owner Jeffrey Lurie — and former teammates Brian Westbrook and Brian Dawkins — McNabb was fighting back tears as he thanked the organization for everything. He'll be honored Sept. 19 when the Eagles take on the Chiefs. No player will ever wear No. 5 again. It was a rare sight for McNabb, a player often criticized in this blue-collar town for not wearing his emotions on his sleeve.
"I even shed a tear or two, how about that?," McNabb said Monday after a brief ceremony at the NovaCare Complex. "The one thing I told Dawk when he did his speech was no crying, and then I get up there and you know ..."
The Eagles have only retired eight other numbers in the franchise's 81-year history. The announcement came as somewhat of a shock considering how the two sides parted ways, coupled with his love-hate relationship with Philly fans.
Look at the numbers and it's hard not to put the greatest quarterback in franchise history on a giant pedestal. Lurie, who admitted to crying on the day the team traded McNabb, summed it up best.
"A franchise-changing player," Lurie said. "Very rare. You'd like to have them every year, you'd like to draft them every year, but it's rare, and I think that's the definition for retiring a number for this franchise."
Making the honor even extra special is that former coach Andy Reid will be in the house when No. 5 goes up into the rafters. McNabb and Reid will forever be linked, like Jim Kelly and Marv Levy, according to the quarterback.
"Eleven great years," McNabb said. "We'll forever be linked together, but one of the things I can honestly say, 'We made history, big fella.'"
McNabb admitted to a couple tense moments immediately following the trade back in April of 2010. He called Reid on that Easter Sunday after his agent broke the news to get the whole scoop — not to find out why, but to find out who made the final decision. Interestingly, Reid dodged the question.
"The way it happened really blew my mind, and pretty much my question to Andy was, 'Whose decision was it?' and he couldn't give me an answer," McNabb said.
Does he think Reid wanted to keep him in South Philly?
"I dunno," McNabb said. "It's an unfortunate situation. You have your hands tied behind your back. It's tough."
McNabb had been harboring some ill will toward the organization for the past three years. After Monday's ceremony, the reconciliation appears to be complete. He compared the whole situation to a marriage. Unfortunately, this one didn't have a storybook ending. That being said, don't think for a minute McNabb has any regrets.
"I don't regret anything that happened throughout my years here in Philadelphia or in my career in general because I believe it makes you stronger mentally as a human being," McNabb said. "You learn not to take anything for granted. You learn that not everything is given to you, nor is it easy, but one thing I can say is that I played with some great players ... household names that you'll remember here in the Philadelphia area, and we were able to achieve great things."
The Eagles started Monday's presentation by taking everyone on a trip down McNabb memory lane. The video started with his first touchdown pass — a six-yard toss to Chad Lewis narrated tremendously by Merrill Reese — and ended with a bearded McNabb hoisting up the NFC championship trophy, a moment he said he would never forget. He also apologized to the fans for not capturing the ultimate prize.
"My goal was to have that parade down Broad Street," McNabb said. "I apologized to the fans because that was my goal. I felt like I let them down."
Feeling a draft?
In a revealingly candid moment, Jeffrey Lurie admitted something that shocked everyone. As he was reflecting on the 1999 NFL draft, the owner said that if Donovan McNabb hadn't been there at No. 2 overall, the Eagles would have taken Edgerrin James. The common belief is that the Birds were deciding between McNabb and Daunte Culpepper.
"It was really Donovan or yikes," Lurie said. "What are we going to do? I guess the answer was Edgerrin [James]. We thought this was a potential Hall of Fame running back."
And the decision to take McNabb had as much to do with his athletic ability as it did with his background and personality.
"We, ironically, going back, didn't have a lot of confidence in most of the quarterbacks in that draft," Lurie said. "The only quarterback that we all, and Andy [Reid] leading the way, was very confident in was Donovan. And it wasn't just his athletic ability. It was his years at Syracuse, his being able to learn a complicated offense, the way he was as a person, stable family background compared to some other quarterbacks both in that draft and elsewhere. So it all came together that that was really the only quarterback that was really far above all the others for us."
Donovan McNabb retired as the Eagles' all-time leader in every significant passing category. His career numbers are better than Hall of Famers Terry Bradshaw and Roger Staubach. Unlike them, he never won a Super Bowl.
McNabb is the ultimate fringe candidate for Canton. Our opinion is that he falls short of induction. But that doesn't mean he doesn't deserve entry. If McNabb had a vote, well, you know.
"Everyone kind of talks about numbers and my numbers are close to what is required to get in there," McNabb said. "If that's the decision, then that's the decision — if I had a vote, I would vote [for me]."