Donovan McNabb was mingling with Percy Harvin during Super Bowl week two years ago, and the Vikings rookie wide receiver was in McNabb's ear about coming to Minnesota.
The seasoned signal-caller was listening, and his interest sounded serious.
"There was something behind it," Harvin recalled.
Sure enough, when the Vikings first gathered for training camp this summer, there was McNabb as their newly minted starting quarterback.
"He walked in the meeting room, and his first words to me were, 'I told you,"' Harvin said. "I was like, 'Yeah, that's nice.'"
Brett Favre's retirement plans provided plenty of fuel for the NFL rumor mill over the last decade, but that McNabb-to-Minnesota speculation has been a secondary power source for about five years itself.
"This guy knows how to play ball," Harvin said. "Everybody has days, or years. Actually you could look at this team and say we were complete garbage if you base it on last year. But we know we've actually got a lot of good talent."
After a humbling, forgettable season in Washington, McNabb was traded to the Vikings for a couple of late-round draft picks once the lockout ended. His contract was cut to one year, but his outlook was renewed.
"You know, the Lord puts you in a place where you kind of sit back and you wonder, 'How did this happen?"' McNabb said this week, as he reflected on his arrival here after 11 years in Philadelphia that featured five NFC championship game appearances and a trip to the Super Bowl.
That stopover season with the Redskins sure wasn't what he expected. McNabb was benched twice and threw for 14 touchdowns in 13 games – with 15 interceptions. His agent traded verbal barbs with coach Mike Shanahan about how McNabb was treated.
"Last year was a learning experience for me. It was one where I don't look back on. I move forward," McNabb said.
McNabb has a career winning percentage of .629 as a starter. He has surpassed 3,200 yards passing eight times in his career, during each season he played in 14 games or more. His interception rate of 2.2 per attempt is fourth best in NFL history for quarterbacks with a minimum of 1,500 throws.
But since the Super Bowl seven years ago, he hasn't had the kind of dominant season Eagles fans demanded.
McNabb at age 34 doesn't run the same way he used to. In this what-have-you-done-lately league, 12 years of experience can quickly create a perception -- fair or not -- of a washed-up, worn-out player.
No matter how much strength or speed is left in his body, though, McNabb still has a strong sense of pride. He speaks with all the noncontroversial, team-first polish of an NFL quarterback made just as famous by his Campbell's Chunky Soup commercials as his play on the field. But, like Favre two years ago, McNabb has come with a deep desire to be welcomed and appreciated again.
"That goes a long way," he said.
McNabb is a different player and person than Favre, but the circumstances surrounding their arrival in Minnesota – well, except for the infamous airport pickup by the head coach in his SUV – were similar. Both became an institution in the place where their careers took off and endured an awkward season in an unfamiliar uniform before coming to the Vikings.
"The whole thing about it for me is just getting back to what I do: having fun," McNabb said. "And I feel like my ability and my experience and what I've learned here and the guys we have around, we can have a lot of fun."
The Vikings have a history of acquiring high-profile quarterbacks in the twilight of their careers. Before Favre, there was Brad Johnson, back for a second stint in Minnesota. Randall Cunningham came out of retirement in 1998 and engineered one of the best performances by an offence in NFL history, nearly reaching the Super Bowl after a 15-1 season.
Warren Moon was before him, achieving modest success. Even Fran Tarkenton came back to his original team.
McNabb said he's honored to be the latest in line.
"I'm not here to do the unordinary or any super power type stuff. I just want to be myself, and that's what they expect from me," he said.
The Vikings drafted Christian Ponder from Florida State in the first round. But coach Leslie Frazier believed it was important to supplement stars Harvin and running back Adrian Peterson with some credibility, stability, and confidence at the game's most critical offensive position, particularly given the lost off-season to the labour feud.
"It's just been refreshing to be reminded, for me, of who he is and what he brings to the table," Frazier said. "He's been great with his teammates. He's done a great job of picking up a new offence and really improved all throughout the preseason on some of the things that we were putting on his plate from an offensive standpoint."
Building chemistry by getting to know his teammates has been important to McNabb, perhaps more so than when he was younger.
"Donovan's been everything everybody's hoped for," said Steve Hutchinson said. "His experience and the way he carries himself in the locker room makes everyone excited."
He has begun to get settled in the Twin Cities area, taking in a Twins game here or a Lynx game there – he's a big WNBA fan – with his family.
"I kind of enjoy playing the game and I think as a player, when you have that kind of drive and determination each time you step out on that field, you feel like you can play for years," McNabb said. "And once you lose it, then the game is over. It's time to hang it up."
McNabb finding comfortable home with Vikings
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