More Fuel for the TO/McNabb Fire
From the Philly Inquirer
Can leader McNabb hear sour notes?
By Stephen A. Smith
Donovan McNabb is many things to the Eagles and the city they represent. He's the quarterback. The franchise player. The one with the $112 million contract that mandates he had better be both and much, much more. So I'm wondering why he is also the leader of a team filled with questions about relations between him and those he is supposed to lead.
Terrell Owens didn't speak kindly of McNabb in the weeks following the Eagles' Super Bowl loss to the New England Patriots. Freddie Mitchell didn't speak highly of McNabb, either, before his unceremonious exit at the behest of the franchise.
And although Todd Pinkston, Greg Lewis or anyone else on the offensive side of the ball wouldn't dare speak out against McNabb - at least if they intend to continue working for this organization - no one has actually stepped to the front of the line to speak on McNabb's behalf, either.
Ignorance can reign supreme, of course, and we can all sit around and simply blame Owens' greed and Mitchell's stupidity and leave McNabb's image as pure and pristine as ever. But where exactly will that get this franchise?
Before Owens got here and Mitchell's mouth ran nonstop, the Eagles did come within 60 minutes of a Super Bowl appearance three consecutive years. McNabb was the star who couldn't get them over the hump. Andy Reid kept saving only the biggest games to get outcoached. And Joe Banner continued validating Jeff Lurie's "Gold Standard" assertions by mastering the salary cap for the purpose of intrigue.
All in all, it got this franchise nowhere. Just another contender destined to be televised. Mostly sizzle, with very little substance.
Until Owens arrived.
Now acrimony dominates the headlines.
First, it was Owens screaming for the ball in Pittsburgh. Later, it was Mitchell dropping hints of not getting the ball. After the Super Bowl, it was Jon Runyan coming to the defense of his quarterback, saying he was exhausted, trying to defend his leader's honor in the midst of scrutiny.
Turn left. Turn right. Look up and down. Do a 360-degree turn. Bend down and peek through your legs. When it comes to the Eagles, it really doesn't matter.
From draft day to two NFC championship game losses to Rush Limbaugh's idiotic comments to another NFC title game loss and now the aftermath of another loss on the big stage, any significant issue involving this franchise has continuously revolved around Mr. Donovan McNabb.
I'm not blaming McNabb for any of it.
I'm just asking why.
Here's the worst kept secret in the Eagles' locker room: Owens isn't too fond of McNabb. He believes McNabb is a company man, a player who marches purely to Reid's tune. Someone who tows the company line, gets paid handsomely to do so, even when he's unwittingly exploited by Reid and Co. to keep the rest of the troops in line.
"It's not fair to knock the Eagles organization because everyone in the NFL is like that," one former Eagle still playing in the NFL recently told me. "The strategy is simple: You pay a few of your core guys big money, guys that are all about doing things the right way, then use them to set the standard you want set so everyone else falls in line.
"It works in most places. But that ain't going to work with independent thinkers who are as good as T.O."
The latter wouldn't apply to Mitchell, of course, who caught just 90 passes and averaged less than 500 yards per year in four seasons in Philadelphia. But the fact that he didn't leave quietly - "I just never had that relationship with my quarterback" - has to say something.
These are receivers, folks. Individuals paid to run routes and catch passes the quarterbacks calls and throws in their direction. Aside from the center position, there is no position more intimate with the quarterback, whose future depends on the quarterback more.
"I believe we can do some really special things if T.O. was here with us," McNabb said recently. "But if he's not here, we can do some special things without him."
Translation: McNabb isn't overly fond of Owens, either. It's no secret he believes Owens is selfish and self-absorbed.
He won't admit it, though. None of the Eagles will.
We won't hear the truth as long as Reid is in sight. McNabb, for all his worth - and I'm here to say he's worth plenty - is Mr. Untouchable. Protected at all cost. Operating with impunity with regard to anything donning green and white.
Owens spoke out, and the Eagles won't budge, keeping their hands in their pockets. Mitchell's gone, never to return.
How much any of this has to do with McNabb is something we don't know.
But that may be the biggest problem of all: We don't know.