Thursday, May 24, 2018

Brush with greatness: Donovan McNabb

I love these Press Pass Xs and Os cards from 1999.

When I was looking for a Donovan McNabb card to fill out my collection of Brush With Greatness topics (i.e.: athletes I've interviewed), I wanted just the right card. I don't really collect football so I wanted only one card of him.

Any card of McNabb with the Eagles wouldn't do. I didn't interview him then and that Eagles' color scheme makes for boring cards. I like the helmet with the wings, but all that dark green really dulls down a card. And forget about the Redskins or Vikings when McNabb was on his way out.

No, I wanted something from his Syracuse University days and something snazzy.

I covered McNabb at Syracuse during his first year on the football field (he red-shirted the 1994 season). It may be difficult to believe now, but at the time of McNabb's first spring practice on the roster, he was not a sure thing as the starting quarterback for SU.

The starting job was considered a toss up between McNabb, Kevin Johnson (who would go on to be a receiver for the Cleveland Browns) and the most experienced of the group, Keith Downing. That was the party line given by SU head coach Paul Pasqualoni at the time and nobody at SU was budging from that.

But during the spring game in 1995, it became obvious that they couldn't hide McNabb on the bench. He was the clear star of that game and that was the theme of my story. For the next few months, SU continued to list three possibilities as the starting QB, but I -- and I'm sure many others -- knew that when it came to announce a starter, it would be McNabb.

The 1995 season was a fun one. Not only was it McNabb's breakout year that would lead to four years as a starter and one of SU's all-time greats, but it also included receiver Marvin Harrison, fullback Rob Konrad and safety Donovin Darius. The Orange played in the Gator Bowl that year and annihilated favored Clemson 41-0 as McNabb threw three touchdown passes.

McNabb was on his way.

I've always been happy I covered that particular season -- the only season I covered SU football for the entire year (I covered games here and there afterward). McNabb was fun to write about and a pleasant interview.

Each Monday that season, SU would hold a weekly press conference and luncheon. Reporters would interview the achingly boring Pasqualoni and then two players. The players were different each week, chosen by the sports information department. Sometimes the same player would appear 2, 3 or 4 times during the season. I would always hope McNabb was a repeat appearance.

McNabb, no surprise he was a broadcast major, just got it. He didn't offer anything revealing, but he was always open, personable and gave you good quotes. You could tell he didn't mind being interviewed, which is very much a different attitude when it comes to athletes.

McNabb has encountered a number of issues the last few years, from DWIs to getting fired from his ESPN job because of reports of unwanted sexual advances.

Like I said, I last covered McNabb in the late 1990s and that was long before McNabb experienced the thrill of being a quarterback in the Super Bowl and all the excitement and baggage that comes with it. It's sure to change a man. I hope he gets his act together.

Because way back then, I was just thinking, "Come on. They HAVE to start this guy."


  1. What a coincidence..I did some freelance sports reporting a long time ago and the editor who hired me covered McNabb at Syracuse. I asked him what McNabb was like, and my editor/boss (whose name escapes me now, I only did one assignment) said that Donovan was a nice kid but a lousy soundbite - and also he said "definitely" a lot.

  2. I was a fan of the x and o cards as well

  3. He did nothing for the Redskins, but I always thought he was cool dude and funny guy. I remember him and T.O. on the sidelines fake arguing for the cameras. And dude could extend a play!

  4. I vividly remember his first game @UNC in '95. I thought KJ was going to start and knew little of McNabb. Didn't take long to realize McNabb was the next McPherson/Graves type QB.

    If the idiot officials don't call the phantom P.I. against Tennessee in '98, you'll never convince me McNabb wouldn't have gone on to win the Heisman and National Title.

    I look forward to his induction to Canton. In the mean time I'll send you some more McNabb as an Orangeman cards (I have no shortage) so you can tell this great story again when that time comes.

    1. Canton? CANTON? You better get back on your meds.

  5. "Greatness" and Donovan McNabb should NEVER be used in the same sentence!