As Donovan McNabb sat watching his Syracuse Orangemen battle Villanova in a Big East basketball showdown, he looked comfortable. Not long ago, McNabb had pain no matter what he did or which way he turned. Now, with sports hernia surgery behind him, he's healthy enough to enjoy the little things like taking in a basketball game with his daughter. A month ago, just holding his daughter caused a lot of pain. In fact, there was enough pain that McNabb had to pass on his usual Santa Claus performance. When Donovan misses games and a Santa opportunity, you know it's got to be bad.
In two of the last four seasons now, Donovan McNabb has suffered pretty serious injuries. In 2002, he broke his ankle and missed the final six games of the season. In 2005, while there were various dings and dents, it was a sports hernia and surgery to fix the problem that again put McNabb on the shelf. There are players in the NFL with much more sordid injury histories, but now, McNabb needs to show that he can stay healthy and return to form. The fact is that there are few people alive who could have gutted out the performances that McNabb did throughout the nine games that he played in 2005. In constant pain, he completed nearly 60% of his passes and led a comeback win against Kansas City that is the thing that legends are made of.
Critics though will point to the fact that over the last four seasons, McNabb has missed 14-of-64 games - 22% - because of injuries. That is too much. You can't criticize McNabb for playing hard and that's where his injuries come from. After he suffered the broken ankle, there were concerns that he wouldn't be able to run as he did before. In fact, Andy Reid has looked to tone down McNabb's running, as if that's really going to work. McNabb bounced back from the ankle injury and odds are that he'll recover nicely from the sports hernia surgery. The odds are also very good that McNabb again, won't change how he plays or lessen the intensity by one little bit because of the most recent injury.
Where the issue really lies is with the Eagles. The Mike McMahon and Koy Detmer type of backups simply aren't enough. McNabb's style of play will probably lead to more injuries before his career is through. The Eagles just have to hope that they're not too severe, too disabling and that they don't happen too often. They also need to prepare for a worst case scenario much like was seen in 2005. They need to make finding a strong backup quarterback who is willing to play second fiddle to McNabb, all the while knowing that strings on a fiddle can break, and can step in if - or is it when? - he's needed. Some believe that a backup quarterback with a strong presence could just cloud the situation. Imagine if Kurt Warner had been ready to step in this season. The cry for McNabb to be pulled and rested much earlier than he was, would have been deafening. It could have turned into a classic quarterback controversy, with fans lined up on both sides to debate the merits of whether an injured McNabb is better than a healthy Warner. As it was, nobody was going to offer a debate that McNabb, hobbled by injuries, still wasn't better than McMahon or Detmer. Nobody was truly clamoring for a quarterback change before one was necessary.
There will be veteran quarterbacks available during the off-season and whether it's Warner - who has already been rumored - or somebody else, the Eagles have to investigate. They also need to make it clear to the new addition that Donovan McNabb is the quarterback and that isn't going to change unless absolutely necessary. Andy Reid has enough loyalty to pronounce loud and strong that McNabb is the guy and to help put down any controversy discussions that may arise. After all, if he can stick with McMahon and the job that he did as McNabb's backup, he can certainly give a loud, strong, clear and definitive vote of confidence for McNabb whether it's simply to weather some struggles or to play through an injury. At the very least though, Reid will know that he'll have a Plan B in place should McNabb's injury concerns grow to three out of five seasons.