Like many of you, I circled Oct. 3 on the calendar the day the NFL released its regular-season schedule. Donovan McNabb's return to Philadelphia as the quarterback of the Washington Redskins was appointment viewing and would offer endless opportunities to examine old wounds.
But now that it's here, it seems like all those answers we've been seeking will go wanting. Eagles coach Andy Reid, a man who has played fast and loose with the truth in recent days, put his legacy on the line when he traded McNabb to the Redskins. For 11 seasons, Reid and McNabb's careers had been intertwined in what was a successful and ultimately exasperating run.
It would be poor form for him to admit this in a public forum, but Reid is still astounded the Eagles haven't won at least a couple of Super Bowls. Even in the early days of the Reid era, there was a belief that he and president Joe Banner had a blueprint that was foolproof. Fans may have booed the decision to choose McNabb over Ricky Williams in the draft, but it turned out pretty well.
In 11 seasons, McNabb displayed remarkable leadership in leading the Eagles to five NFC title games and one Super Bowl. But the flipside of that is he received most of the blame for losing four of those title games and the Super Bowl against the Patriots. Terrell Owens would famously accuse McNabb of throwing up in the huddle in that game, a charge that has stuck even though it's been debunked by many.
He is undoubtedly the best quarterback in the history of the Eagles, but he was too much of a lightning rod to be the most beloved. That title probably belongs to Randall Cunningham, whose tenure wasn't nearly as successful as McNabb's.
I've never lived or worked in Philadelphia, but my sense is that fans relate more to athletes who wear their emotions (and losses) on their sleeves. Mike Schmidt was one of the greatest sluggers of all time, but he was too stoic to engender much passion from fans. Sixers such as Charles Barkley and Allen Iverson never won titles, but their outlandish behavior and passion struck a nerve with fans.
McNabb didn't hurt enough after losses and he seemed too quick to chuckle after interceptions. But quite honestly, his ability to insulate himself from the criticism is also what allowed him to be so successful. On Wednesday morning, I asked Kevin Kolb what was the most important thing he learned from observing McNabb for three seasons.
"He had a good attitude at all times," said Kolb. "He never let the media or rough times affect his demeanor in the locker room."
For the record, I've never believed the little smirk McNabb wore to postgame news conferences or giggling on the sideline translated to a lack of passion. No matter what he says publicly this week -- and every word will be carefully parsed -- I think he was humiliated by the Eagles' decision to trade him to a division rival. He told me in early August that he would "put a big bear hug" on Andy Reid before this game and that he didn't have any hard feelings against the organization. I believe the hug will happen, but I also think there's lingering resentment.
Former Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman, who will call the game for Fox on Sunday, doesn't buy the theory that Reid sent McNabb to the Redskins out of the kindness of his heart. Like a lot of us, he thinks it spoke to Reid's confidence that the Redskins would remain a non-threat to the Eagles' playoff chances.
"There were a lot of people who were critical of Andy for making the trade with Washington," Aikman told the Philadelphia Daily News this week. "The way I looked at it is the Eagles want to win as badly as anybody. Why would they trade a quarterback to a division rival if they felt he was going to keep them from beating that team? The answer is they wouldn't. They wouldn't do that.
"Clearly, Andy felt strongly enough about what he had that he was willing to make that trade and not feel that it would adversely impact the Philadelphia Eagles."
As a brief sidebar, Reid once attempted to lure Aikman out of retirement when McNabb was injured early in his career. Aikman gave it some serious thought, but ultimately declined. If you think it was hard adjusting to McNabb in burgundy and gold, how do you think Aikman would have looked in green and white?
Over the past 11 seasons, it wasn't always easy to decide whether Reid or McNabb deserved the most credit for wins and losses. In looking back, it seems like McNabb probably received too much of the blame for the Eagles' failure to win a Super Bowl. But some of that's the nature of the quarterback position.
McNabb and Reid still have time to redefine their legacies. And Sunday should give us an interesting window into their futures. The Eagles are the better team right now, but I actually think that works in McNabb's favor. The Eagles made this move because they didn't think McNabb could come back to haunt them.
Reid told reporters Wednesday this game was "not about Donovan ... or Andy Reid or Michael Vick or anyone else."
No, I'm not buying that one either.