I can remember a time when Donovan McNabb owned the Dallas Cowboys. The specific play that comes to mind is the one that lasted 14.1 seconds on "Monday Night Football" in November 2004. In addition to producing that iconic completion to -- who else? -- Freddie Mitchell, McNabb threw for 345 yards and four touchdowns in leading the Eagles to a 49-21 victory.
But those memories have faded in recent years. McNabb has lost seven of his last 10 games against the Cowboys, including all three matchups last season. Never mind that McNabb and the Eagles swept the other two NFC East teams in 2009. I think his recent failures against the Cowboys are a large part of why the Kevin Kolb era finally got off the ground in Philly.
And despite what McNabb has said publicly this week, don't think that last point's lost on him. In Philadelphia, every facial expression he made on the sideline was dissected in print, online and on talk radio. His air guitar session before last January's playoff game at Cowboys Stadium has come up several times this season, although he's quick to remind folks that it's something he'd been doing all season.
Perhaps the silver lining in the whole Albert Haynesworth fiasco is that McNabb has sort of flown under the radar at Redskins Park -- by his standards. Normally a starting quarterback with an ankle injury would generate plenty of headlines in the nation's capital, but it was a mere footnote to the ongoing catfight between Mike Shanahan and Haynesworth. For his part, McNabb seems incredulous to the theory that his recent failures against the Cowboys might have some bearing on Sunday night's season opener at FedEx Field.
"It’s a new year. You start all over again," McNabb told the Dallas-Fort Worth media Wednesday. "I think that’s probably the plus for all of us. Not just for me but for them as well. I’m sure they’re not excited about the way their season ended last year. Obviously, I wasn’t excited about the way my season ended last year. Everyone is coming into this game 0-0 and looking forward to getting their season started on the right note."
The reason McNabb might be a bit puzzled that so much is made of his disappointing play against the Cowboys is because he went 9-2 against them in the first six years of his career. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones might have conveniently forgotten that record when he told the Philadelphia Daily News' Paul Domowitch last month that the Eagles might not be such a boom or bust team with Kolb at the helm.
But the 33-year-old McNabb hasn't dwelled on the past since showing up at Redskins Park. On the morning of his introductory news conference, he was already in the weight room with his new teammates, and on Thursday, he was elected captain. Shanahan and McNabb have restored a sense of credibility to the organization, but this process will take time.
McNabb told me recently that he called former Broncos greats John Elway, Terrell Davis and Rod Smith to ask them about Shanahan. The Redskins' quarterback had a close relationship with Eagles coach Andy Reid that by all accounts is still intact. But he didn't want to assume that things would be the same with Shanahan.
"I wanted to get a head start on knowing what type of verbiage he and Kyle [Shanahan] use, and I put pressure on myself to know what's going on inside their heads," said McNabb. "You know, I'm a jokeful kind of guy who likes to keep everyone loose, but I needed to know how they approached things too."
During a recent conversation inside his office at Redskins Park, Shanahan talked about how much he'd learned from working with Hall of Famers such as Steve Young and Elway. He said McNabb has some of the characteristics that helped those players lead teams to Super Bowls.
"Those guys could make plays when nothing was there," said Shanahan. "And [McNabb] has that same ability."
Shanahan said he's tapped into some of McNabb's knowledge of the Cowboys' defensive personnel. The Skins quarterback has a lot of respect for All-Pros Jay Ratliff and DeMarcus Ware, but he also has an idea of where the Cowboys might be vulnerable.
"I think he knows them quite well," Shanahan told reporters Wednesday. "He knows the defense and he knows the personnel. Anytime you play within the division, obviously you know that team quite well."
How much will that knowledge help when McNabb's looking downfield for the aging Joey Galloway on Sunday? We're about to find out.