Philadelphia Freedom

The boos came long before the cheers. Donovan McNabb couldn't hide from the negativity that began when NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue called his name with the No. 2 overall pick in the 1999 draft.

   Philadelphia Eagles fans wanted Heisman trophy winner Ricky Williams, and the city of brotherly love was quite the contrary to its new son.

   They ended up with McNabb, a Mt. Carmel product, who was given the tomato-throwing welcome instead of the red-carpet treatment in Philadelphia.

   "I don't hold any grudges," McNabb said. "Whatever happened in the year 1999 at the draft is over. It's year 2002 and it's a new year."

   Fans don't have much to complain about these days with McNabb. The Eagles quarterback and Dolton native led his team to the NFC East Division title, a 31-9 victory over Tampa Bay in last week's wild card game, and will come home this weekend when the Eagles play the Bears.

   McNabb will play his third game at historic Soldier Field. He quarterbacked the Caravan on Nov. 26, 1993 when it won the program's first Prep Bowl title in eight years by defeating Chicago Bogan 34-14.

   Two seasons ago, during McNabb's rookie year, the Eagles came to Soldier Field and knocked off the Bears 20-16. However, McNabb only got in for one play -- a designed option that didn't work.

   "I'm excited," McNabb said. "I was a Bears fan and I visualized playing with the Bears. But as you know, in the year 1999, I wasn't able to do that.

   "But I was just as excited about their Super Bowl run and excited years after that even when they didn't make the playoffs. They had some great teams and some great players. It was something which I continued to visualize putting that blue and orange jersey on and trying to lead the team to a Super Bowl one day."

   The dream never got started in Chicago, but in Philadelphia. McNabb's now dreaming of Super Bowls in Philly, where he's fit in quite nicely. During his first full season as a starter in 2000, McNabb finished second in the MVP voting. He accounted for 75 percent of the team's total net yards and guided the Eagles into the playoffs and a 12-6 finish.

   This season he's come into his own with 3,233 passing yards on 285 of 493 passing (58 percent) for 25 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions. The scrambling genius is just as potent in the pocket or on the move as he's rushed for 482 yards (5.9 average) with two TDs.

   "This guy is the real deal. He's the whole package," Bears defensive coordinator Greg Blache said. "He's the guy that makes them go. He's their motor. He's their heart and soul, and he's the guy that we have to address.

   "We have to try to contain him, because you're not going to stop him. You try and limit the impact he has on the football game, which is a mouthful."

   At 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, McNabb presents plenty of problems for the Bears defense. He's big and mobile, has the knack to find his third or fourth receiver on any given play and the ability to tuck the ball and run.

   He's also got the heart of a lion and a tremendous work ethic. Four days after losing to the New York Giants in the playoffs last season, McNabb packed his bags and headed to Phoenix to begin his off-season workout program.

   "Donovan is a hard worker, and to me what he's done in three years is something special," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "He's turned into a great leader and developed into a fine quarterback.

   "He'll continue to get better, and in the next couple years, you'll even see a better player than you see now. And he's pretty good right now."


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