In July, 2000, the Pro Football Hall of Fame held a grand reunion. It brought back most of the living enshrinees for a gala ceremony marking an induction class that included Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott and Howie Long.
Donovan McNabb was there. He was just starting his second season with the Eagles and owner Jeff Lurie brought him to the celebration. McNabb walked the red carpet and posed for photos with all the great quarterbacks from Otto Graham to Roger Staubach.
I wanted Donovan to see this, Lurie said, because he will be part of it one day. I really believe that.
It was a cool thing for Lurie to do. It let McNabb know just how much the team believed in him. It was a memorable evening, rich in history and there was this young quarterback with so much promise smiling and embracing it all.
It was, in Luries mind, a foreshadowing, a preview of the day McNabb would return to Canton for his own induction and take his place alongside Montana, Johnny Unitas and the rest.
McNabb obviously believed it, too.
Now that his career appears over, McNabb is working on his legacy and in his mind it includes a bust in Canton. This week an interviewer asked him: Would you vote for you for the Hall of Fame?
Absolutely, he replied.
I was a Pro Football Hall of Fame voter for 16 years, one of 35 people on the board of selectors. I stepped down in 1996 when I left the newspaper business to join NFL Films league employees are not permitted to vote but, Donovan, I hate to tell you, I would not have voted for you.
I also strongly doubt you will ever get enough support a candidate needs 80 percent of the vote for induction. Its not easy to get into the Hall of Fame, but thats as it should be. The Hall should be a place for the chosen few, the best of the best. McNabb, in my view, falls short.
Donovan was a good quarterback and at times very good. But great? No. And greatness is what defines a Hall of Famer.
In his interview with the FoxSports.com show Barfly, McNabb typically wanders off course. Asked what makes a Hall of Fame quarterback, he says: First of all is his numbers. How many times has he led his team to the big game? Then he adds: The big game still is the NFC Championship game.
The big game is the Super Bowl and McNabb got there once. But, OK, if we accept his premise that the NFC Championship game is the big game, he was just 1-4 in that game which is hardly stellar.
McNabb also claimed he had better numbers than Troy Aikman and Jim Kelly, two quarterbacks who are in the Hall of Fame. He is partly right. He had more touchdown passes (234) than Aikman (165) and more passing yards (37,276) than Kelly (35,467). Aikman and Kelly had a better completion percentage while McNabb threw fewer interceptions.
But while McNabb talks about numbers, he fails to provide context. Yes, he threw more touchdown passes than Aikman, but thats because when Dallas was in the red zone, they gave the ball to Emmitt Smith. When a back runs for 153 touchdowns as Smith did, it stands to reason the quarterback will not have big numbers. (Aikman had just one season in which he passed for more than 20 touchdowns).
The most significant numbers are those on the bottom line. Which quarterback won the most? Which one carried his team farther? Aikman won three Super Bowls. Kelly led Buffalo to the title game four years in a row and defeated John Elway, Dan Marino and Montana in consecutive AFC finals.
Beyond the stats and the history, there is what John Madden calls the eye test. In other words, what do your eyes tell you? I had this discussion with Madden regarding Joe Namath who some people felt didnt belong in the Hall of Fame because he threw more interceptions (220) than touchdown passes (173).
There are some guys whose numbers dont matter, Madden said. I dont have to count Lawrence Taylors tackles to know hes a Hall of Famer. He just is. You watch him play and you see it. Its the same thing with Namath.
When you played against Namath, you knew you were playing a Hall of Famer. The whole game everything you did, everything they did all revolved around him. When you watched him, you knew you were watching greatness. Thats what the Hall of Fame is for, guys like that.
So thats the question: When you watched Donovan McNabb, did you feel you were watching greatness? I didnt.
He was good good enough to rewrite the Eagles record book and good enough to lead them to the postseason. He helped put the franchise back on its feet. He showed us a lot.
But greatness, the stuff of Canton?
E-mail Ray Didinger at firstname.lastname@example.org