Column by Kevin Roberts
Eagles QB hopes for best for his friend
BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- It was three years ago when you could safely put Michael Vick and Donovan McNabb in the same sentence.
The 2004 NFC Championship game pitted McNabb's Eagles against Vick's Atlanta Falcons. It was the first -- and still only -- time in NFL history two black quarterbacks met in a championship game. For McNabb, it was a big deal -- something kids could look at and draw inspiration from. McNabb called it "a special day" and said he and Vick were two role models helping pave the way for future generations.
Today one of those quarterbacks hasn't held up his end of the deal. Vick has always been kind of shaky as a role model -- and now he's exiled from his team and under federal indictment for sponsoring a dogfighting ring at his Virginia home.
McNabb is friends with Vick. In college McNabb tried to convince Vick to join him at Syracuse, hosting Vick during a recruiting visit (Vick chose Virginia Tech).
McNabb sees Vick today and sums up his feelings in one word:
"Sad," he said. "It's just sad.
"I was in Atlanta, and I've seen the reaction. It's sad, it really is. I hope nothing but the best for him. I'm friends with Mike. I'm just hopeful this turns out positive, somehow."
Well, good luck with that. McNabb made plain that he doesn't condone dogfighting, and doesn't take the charges lightly. He knows this is a serious matter.
"In Michael Vick's situation, I don't know exactly what happened and I think most people don't know exactly what happened," McNabb said. "I just think it's unfortunate that everyone is rushing to turn their backs on him. I hope people wait for the end result before they judge."
It might have been easier for McNabb to simply say: No comment. It might have been better for him if he turned his back on Vick and said something terrible about him.
This is not McNabb's way. He just doesn't do that. McNabb is friendly with Vick and it's not in his nature to pile on a friend when he's down -- even if that friend may have done something horrible.
But let's also make this point: McNabb has held up his end of the deal. He always does.
You'd never see McNabb get himself in this kind of situation. You'd never see McNabb in this kind of trouble, frog-marched into a federal courthouse and banned from his team.
He's too smart and too good a guy for that, first of all. But McNabb also embraces the idea that he's a role model. It means something to him.
He might play good, he might play bad. But in a time of Barry Bonds' steroid mess, an NBA ref allegedly fixing games, every other rider in the Tour de France testing positive for something, professional athletes arrested left and right, and the barbaric madness at Vick's home, Eagles fans can always rest assured their starting quarterback is better than that.
"We are role models," McNabb said. "And when you're a role model, you have to make the right decisions. You have to do the right thing. It's not just black kids that are watching us. Everybody's watching us. And when they see you acting unprofessional, not doing the right things, that matters. That's unfortunate."
Out of high school, McNabb was recruited by Illinois -- but was told he couldn't play quarterback there. So he went to Syracuse, and still takes the stereotyping of black quarterbacks seriously, and still wants to be a guy kids can look up to when someone tells them they can't do something.
"Look back in the past -- we weren't given that opportunity, because we weren't smart enough, or we couldn't learn the offense or we couldn't do this or we couldn't do that," McNabb said. "If a kid is playing in high school, or grammar school, or even at the college level, they see us and they can emulate the things we do."
So what is the relevance of all this to the Eagles' season?
Much has been made of the rift between McNabb and the team, and there's been plenty of speculation that some distance has developed between the quarterback and the head coach. And maybe it's true, and maybe it's not -- but you can be sure it won't hurt the Eagles on the field.
McNabb won't be the bad guy, here. He won't be a negative influence, he won't disrupt the team, he won't pull things apart. He's not that guy.
McNabb still has to play great; performance on the field is always job one. But off the field, McNabb's performance is never in question.
In today's sports landscape, that's something valuable.
Reach Kevin Roberts at firstname.lastname@example.org