Eagles fans welcome McNabb back to Philadelphia
The quick story of Donovan McNabb's return to Philadelphia went like this: in front of a crowd filled with hundreds if not thousands of fans wearing his jerseys -- his Eagles home jersey and his Eagles road jersey and his Eagles throwback jersey and his Eagles jersey tee and his Redskins jersey and his Syracuse jersey -- Donovan McNabb ran out to the field to a standing ovation. A few minutes later, he took the field with the Redskins offense and was roundly booed.
That pretty nicely summed up Philadelphia's relationship with its former quarterback. Whatever happened in that relationship, it was clothes-rippingly, back-scratchingly passionate.
Now, truth be told, the average pre-game fan seemed to be doing typical pre-game fan things: drinking beer, eating dead animal, throwing beanbags in random directions, refusing to get out our way so Barry Svrluga could park the official Washington Post rental SUV. They weren't sitting around writing philosophical tomes about the Great No. 5, or burning his jersey in effigy. Still, there were a few stories worth telling, with the aid of photos.
Like this one, above. That's Matthew, a 16-year old, whose mutant jersey was getting stares. I asked him about this day.
"Emotional, man," he said. "Eleven great seasons. It's gonna be a real emotional game."
And why do his jersey like that? Why not just buy a new one?
"[McNabb's] the past," Matthew told me. "The present goes right over it."
Then there was Chuck Solomon. His body's pretty well decorated with all things Eagles, as you can tell, but there weren't many figures bigger than McNabb. Whose team Solomon would now be rooting against.
"He was a great memory here," Solomon told me, as he walked shirtless through the crowd. "He's a good quarterback that just plateaued and couldn't get over that jump, but I'm gonna give him his applause. He's owed that. He's still a good quarterback, and he did a lot of great things here, but once the game starts, he's the enemy. But he's owed his props. Every true Eagles fan knows that."
So, regrets about having McNabb's image inked onto his back?
"No regrets," Solomon said. "None."
There were so many fans wearing McNabb stuff, way too many to count. And there were only a few in specialized anti-McNabb shirts. Some of them didn't feel like talking, but many in McNabb stuff did.
"He did good for us for 11 years," said Joe Hammond (not pictured), who was wearing McNabb's shirt to honor the man. "All the BS you hear in the national media, McNabb's not hated the way you hear it. I get sick of hearing about how he got booed at the draft. I mean, that was 30 idiots."
Indeed, even the fans who were wearing the anti-McNabb stuff were often sympathetic to the man. Like Matt F., who had just bought a custom beer-pong table with McNabb's image last year.
"Wish I would have waited," he joked.
His thoughts on the quarterback?
"McNabb gave us the best 11 years any quarterback's ever given this team," he said. "I wish him the best. He's a great quarterback and a great person, but it was time for us to move on. McNabb's always gonna be an Eagle...but there's no brotherly love on a football field, plain and simple. I love him, but at 4:20, he ain't my friend no more. Nine o'clock tonight, I'll still respect him as a former Eagle, and he's always gonna be an Eagle."
Some fans, of course, were happy to vent.
"I don't hate him, I don't like him, whatever," said Ben Povlow, 33 (not pictured). "He's a [bleeped] [bleep] mama's boy. That's why he'll never win a big game. That's his problem. Today's a big game, and I expect him to choke like always."
On the other side of the spectrum were the fans who felt even more loyalty to McNabb than to their team. Like Melanie Dickey, whose family members assured me that she's been cheering for the quarterback all season.
"I'm a disgruntled Eagles fan," she said. "I don't think it was a fair [trade], especially in the same division. If they were gonna trade him, they should have traded Andy Reid, too."
Even crazier was Tony Billups of Brooklyn, a longtime Eagles fan who threw all his gear away when they traded McNabb. He came to Sunday's game with both a McNabb and a Vick jersey, and said the teams were fighting for his loyalty.
"Listen, I'm a Donovan McNabb fan," Billups told me. "The winner of this game is gonna have my fanship for the rest of my life. I don't know what to do, man, I'm torn. I'm stuck in between. I don't know what to do. This is a tough one. But today's the day. We'll see what happens. If the Skins win, I will be in Washington with Donovan McNabb's Redskins jersey in November, 100 percent. I'm stuck in between, don't know what to do."
Those are accurate quotes. He told me he was stuck in between at least twice, maybe more.
That, indeed, was the theme of the day. Like Troy Cullinan, who brought out his special inflatable McNabb doll for this game. It had been in his attic for years and years, and he dug it out, unwrapped it and inflated it just for this game.
"I thought McNabb was gonna do something great for us, he didn't, no big deal," Cullinan said.
Some people were taking shots at the doll, but most were sort of jokingly respectful. That was Cullinan's attitude, too.
"When they announce his name, I'll cheer for him, but I'll boo for him tomorrow and the rest of his career," he promised.
I stopped one group of three fans, whose members included a fan with a sign praising McNabb.
"It was a good 10 years," he said.
"Yeah, just because he choked when it mattered didn't mean he didn't try hard," joked another member of the group.
Then a third member of the group approached me. His name was William Pappas, and he said he had the solution.
"I'm gonna boo and clap at the same time," he promised.
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