This may not be a popular opinion, but I honestly believe that McNabb should be Hall of Fame bound. McNabb took a career that started with the low point of a barrage of boos from rabid Philly fans on draft night after a standout, dual sport college career at Syracuse, to the peak of six pro bowls, four conference championship games and one Superbowl appearance, to a flame out with three teams in his last three years.
McNabb elevated an often subpar supporting cast to near-dominance of their division for the better part of a decade, saw outstanding success in a time when black quarterbacks were still a relative rarity (as they honestly still are today), and was one of the most popular yet polarizing sports figures of his era. While his stats may not jump off the page as much as a Brady or Mahomes, he did reach his peak in the era just before pass defense essentially became illegal and quarterback stats absolutely exploded, and that must be kept in mind.
However, I fully recognize that there are several arguments to the contrary. Let’s take a look at some of the arguments against McNabb getting in first:
Regardless of your sport, failing to win it all will forever leave a shadow hanging over even the most otherwise impressive career. All-time greats of their games like Karl Malone and Dan Marino, despite their incredible personal achievements, are always described as the “best players…not to win a ring.” Donovan McNabb belongs in this category of unfortunate overachievers.
The greatest “what if” of Donovan McNabb’s career has to be what he would have accomplished if he had consistently had a great receiver to throw to during his career. He had Terrell Owens for essentially a year and a half and reached his one and only Superbowl appearance during that time. The rest of his career he was left chucking it such anonymous glorified punt returners as James Thrash, Todd Pinkston, and Freddie Mitchell.
The Stats Against him
As noted, when compared to some of the insane numbers being put up by quarterbacks in today’s game (Jameis Winston putting up over 5,100 yards last year, Patrick Mahomes throwing 50 touchdowns in his second season, Kirk friggin Cousins throwing 70%+ percent for a season), McNabb’s statistics during his career may not exactly jump off the page. McNabb never threw for more than 4,000 yards in a season, has a career completion percentage of less than 60%, and he only exceeded 30 passing touchdowns in a season one time (even Ryan Fitzpatrick has achieved that milestone). By 2020 standards, those look like mediocre starting QB totals. His numbers in the playoffs are right on par, but with a worse interception ratio of just 24 to 17.
McNabb was a polarizing player. While he was extremely popular and deserved an Emmy for several Cambell’s Chunky Soup commercials, he also drew a lot of criticism. His career will forever be marred by several unfortunate public meltdowns, including his melodramatic feud with Owens that broke up what could have been a dominant pairing, his famous nervous barfing during the Superbowl, and the disinterest he seemed to show in his last days with the Minnesota Vikings. His notorious DWI in his post playing career wasn’t great, but let’s not even entertain that as part of this conversation. Let’s just hope he has the Uber app now.
Now that I have thoroughly convinced you how wrong I am, let’s take a look at the reasons why I believe that, despite these facts, Donovan McNabb deserves to be a Hall of Famer:
McNabb led the Eagles to 5 division championships in a six-season span from 2001 to 2006. He led them to 4 NFC Championship games, including three-straight from 2001 to 2004, the fourth coming in 2008. The 2004 appearance was his sole NFC Championship win, which led directly to McNabb’s first and only Superbowl (a heartbreaking 24 to 21 loss to Tom Brady and his Patriots). While he never reached the promised land, McNabb had the Eagles right in the thick of championship contention for a decade.
Had he been able to keep it together, and keep his lunch down, to defeat the Patriots in the 2005 Superbowl, would this even be a debate? With a ring on his finger, I think McNabb is a no brainer for the Hall of Fame, just as Kurt Warner was a year ago. Despite his lack of championship success, I think it is fair to say that a decade of consistent contention is a strong enough resume builder to get McNabb in the door.
The Stats in his Favor
While it was not that long ago, it can not be stressed enough how different the game of professional football was played in the previous decade. Despite the fact that, in his prime, defenses were allowed to touch quarterbacks and breath on wide receivers, McNabb still has some pretty impressive stats on his resume.
McNabb, despite being notorious for occasional inaccuracy and errant throws (and a 59% completion percentage), actually rarely turned the ball over. He has exactly a 2 to 1 touchdown to interception ratio with 234 touchdowns to 117 picks during his 13-year career. That is an average of just 9 interceptions per season for his career, which is outstanding.
With a record of 98-62-1 in the regular season, McNabb has a strong winning percentage of 61% for his career, a testament to his consistency and dominance. If we pretend away his sad final years in Washington and Minnesota, he finished his Philly career with a 65% winning percentage! While he was never able to quite bring his A game in the championship rounds, he still compiled a winning record in the playoffs as well at 9 and 7.
Let’s not forget how amazingly athletic the former dual sport collegiate athlete was, particularly early in his career, including a 629 yard, 6 touchdown rushing season in his sophomore year. He would finish his career with nearly 3,500 yards and 29 touchdowns on the ground to go along with his 37,276 yards and 234 touchdowns through the air. Get this man his HOF jacket.
His Impact on the Game
Let’s be honest. Even in today’s game, black quarterbacks face major barriers that their white peers can’t even imagine. Black quarterbacks are put under a microscope for their play and their off-field behavior that white quarterbacks do not and have never faced. This was even more true in McNabb’s time, let alone in a notoriously racist city of Philadelphia, where fans passionately booed him after he was taken number 2 overall by the Eagles. This in a city that, as Bill Burr famously described, built a statue for a fictional boxer, Rocky, but don’t honor their own real-life boxing legend Joe Frazier the same way.
McNabb would overcome this initial negativity and become a true legend in the city, while joining a class of elite black quarterbacks who paved the way for continuing increasing diversity in the position in today’s game. We have a long, long, long, long way to go in the sport and in society to truly level the playing field, but the impact of the Donovan McNabbs, Warren Moons, Steve McNairs, Randall Cunninghams, all the way back to Marlin Briscoe absolutely cannot be underestimated.
Doing More With Less
As mentioned, McNabb had ONE above average wide receiver to throw to during his career in Philly, for less than two years. He and TO reached a Superbowl together after McNabb threw 31 touchdowns to just 8 picks in the regular season, and came within 3 points, a puke, and a lingering TO injury from defeating a dynastic Patriots team. For the rest of his NFC Championships, Pro Bowl seasons, and Division Titles, he had…James Thrash. And Todd “the Mighty” Pinkston. And Brian Westbrook, a great kick returner, out of the backfield. And that’s it. Not unlike what Tom Brady faced in his latest years in New England, or Aaron Rodgers is facing now, it doesn’t matter how great a quarterback is, winning it all when you are throwing to a bunch of glorified arena leaguers is next to impossible.
Kurt Warner is in the Hall of Fame because for a couple of seasons he had Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce, and Marshall Faulk, and had one last crack at it with Larry Fitzgerald. Put McNabb with the “Greatest Show on Turf” for a couple of seasons and I guarantee he wins multiple Superbowls. Conversely, give Kurt Warner the tandem of James Thrash and Todd Pinkston, and he is going home ringless and jacketless. This is no knock on Kurt Warner, who I thoroughly believe also deserves his place in the hall.
So, the best thing about being a blogger and not a professional journalist, is I can admit when I am biased. I was in middle school/high school during McNabb’s prime, and I was a huge fan of his and his Eagle’s teams at that time. Therefore, I will always have a soft spot for ol’ “Donowine McBartab” as Jim Rome once called him.
However, I honestly believe McNabb should be Hall of Fame bound. Agree? Disagree? Couldn’t care less? Let me know! As always, thanks for reading!