By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun
Monday night’s matchup between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Washington Redskins at Fed Ex Field in Landover, Md. is not only a big game involving two contenders in the NFC East, it will be a game in which both starting quarterbacks—Michael Vick and Donovan McNabb will come into the game with a bit of a chip on their shoulders.
For the first two African-American quarterbacks to face each other in a conference championship game, having to prove themselves is really nothing new. It has been something they have always had to do, but in varying degrees. It’s always been the stereotype of being the great athlete which means you can run the ball, but you’re not really good enough to be a true “drop back” pro-style quarterback.
Despite their tenures as NFL quarterbacks, this stigma still lingers for both Vick and McNabb. Though they are at different stages of their lives in the NFL, there is still this sense that they have to prove themselves.
No one has had to deal with this more than McNabb. His 11-year career in Philadelphia is largely seen as a failure in the minds of fans and the local media because he failed to deliver a Super Bowl trophy.
McNabb’s recent benching for the mistake-prone Rex Grossman with less than a minute left in a loss to the Detroit Lions is the latest drama in his career that caused a firestorm surrounding head coach Mike Shanahan, who bumbled through different explanations to justify his decision.
Shanahan’s first explanation questioned McNabb’s intelligence and his final comment questioned his endurance. To McNabb’s detractors, especially those here in Philadelphia, it was yet more evidence of his weakness as a quarterback and why the Eagles could never get over the top with him as their starter. It also confirmed that he really was too tired in the Eagles Super Bowl XXXIX loss to the New England Patriots.
Such “trivial” things as mediocre personnel on offense and a predictable scheme on offense that has often ignored the running game—or the very idea that the Eagles were an average team that wasn’t as good as the teams that ended their postseasons is something no one wants to consider.
It doesn’t help that McNabb, who has been hampered by a hamstring pull, has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns this season, making him one of the NFL’s worst signal callers statistically. But the Redskins have already won more games at this point in the season than they did last year with him as their starting quarterback.
In the aftermath of his latest benching, McNabb found the notion of him not knowing the offense “hilarious.” But then given all the other drama in his career, this is just par for the course.
Oddly enough, McNabb has had this strange knack of refocusing and playing well throughout his career after a bad performance or after he has been bombarded by his critics. The latest example was 2008 when he was made sit out the second half in a loss to Baltimore.
McNabb not only played well in a win over the Arizona Cardinals, he led the Birds to a division title and and another berth in the NFC Championship game. When the Eagles lost that game to the Cardinals, of course, it was all McNabb’s fault never mind the bad performance late in the second half by the Eagles defense and a dropped pass by Kevin Curtis on fourth down that ended the game.
Until he leads a team to victory in the Super Bowl, McNabb will be perpetual, prove himself mode. If he doesn’t, McNabb’s legacy will always be shrouded in failure because of his inability to lead his team to victory in the Super Bowl.
The same can be said for Vick, whom some NFL pundits said would never be a legitimate pro quarterback coming into this season. Before his stint in prison, Vick was a human highlight reel during for the Atlanta Falcons because of his running ability.
But even as Vick was leading the Falcons to the playoffs in 2002 and 2004, critics justifiably questioned his ability as a passer. It didn’t help that Vick didn’t spend time watching film and dedicating himself to game preparation.
The Vick of 2010 is way better than the athletic freak of nature he was during his days with the Falcons. Since taking over for an injured Kevin Kolb back during the second half of the season-opening loss to the Green Bay Packers, Vick has proven that he can be as dynamic as a passer as well as he is as a runner.
In five games, Vick has completed 60 percent of his passes and has thrown seven touchdown passes with no interceptions. He has led the Birds to three of their five wins including a victory over Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts.
Ironically, it was McNabb who was responsible for convincing Eagles management to bring to Vick to Philadelphia. From all accounts, Vick, who was taken under McNabb’s wing, has been a dedicated student of the game and spends hours watching film. He often times the first guy to come in to the Eagles Nova Care practice facility and the last guy to leave the building.
The transformation of Vick into a complete quarterback has been clearly demonstrated in the games he has played so far this season.
However, the big question for those who still trash Vick as a flashy gimmick or human highlight film is whether or not he can sustain it throughout the whole season. Will he return to his wild ways as a quarterback who seeks to run first? Some have said his success is mere fool’s gold because he did it against bad to mediocre competition.
So if Vick passes for 300 yards and four touchdown passes against the Redskins on Monday night, it will not be good enough for him to turn the corner because his critics will say “The Skins aren’t all that. Let’s see him do it against the first-place New York Giants next week .” Vick, who is in the last year of his contract with the Eagles, has to be almost perfect for the rest of the season.
If Vick has one bad game where he throws a couple of interceptions and the Eagles lose, you can best believe that folks will come out of the woodwork to say that it is proof-positive that he will never be that so-called classic NFL pocket passer.
When Vick and McNabb take the field for Monday Night’s game, it will be another game in which they have to once prove their doubters and detractors wrong. The losing quarterback in this game will be hit with all the reasons why people said they were bums in the first place.
To quote the 1980s new wave band, The Talking Heads: “Same as it ever was.”