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Donovan McNabb fires a pass in the 1996 Gator Bowl in which he led Syracuse to a 41-0 win over Brian Dawkins and Clemson. (AP)
MCNABB'S FRANCHISE RECORDS
1. All-time leader in passing yards - 32,873
2. All-time leader in touchdown passes - 216
3. All-time leader in games played at QB - 148
4. All-time leader in completions - 2,801
5. All-time leader in wins at QB - 92
When the Eagles selected Donovan McNabb with the second overall pick in the 1999 draft, Brian Dawkins knew the losing was over. And he didn't need McNabb to prove it in practice.
When Dawkins was a senior at Clemson in 1996, his Tigers faced McNabb's Syracuse Orangemen in the Gator Bowl. It didn't go well.
Syracuse 41, Clemson 0.
"I remember game-planning against him, watching film on him, and I saw his ability to get out of tough, tight situations and still make plays with his legs," Dawkins said Monday after McNabb retired as an Eagle (see story). "Throwing the ball to Marvin Harrison downfield. I saw that then."
Three years later, when the two practiced together as Eagles, Dawkins heard something special.
"When a strong-armed quarterback throws the football, there are a couple things that happen," Dawkins said. "There's a pssst that comes off the ball when they let it go, and a thump when it hits a receiver's chest. You had both of those things when it comes to Donovan's arm, he was that strong. Then he had the ability to be mobile to make people miss. We were really excited about when he would finally get in there."
Especially considering what Dawkins had endured the previous two seasons.
After the Eagles went 10-6 in 1996, Dawkins' rookie season, they fell to 6-9-1 the next year and bottomed out at 3-13 in 1998. Ray Rhodes was fired, Andy Reid was hired, and McNabb was drafted.
Suddenly, Dawkins knew the Eagles had something they hadn't had the previous two seasons: A chance to win every game.
"That's all you know. That's all you can ask for as a professional athlete in any sport," Dawkins said. "All you need is a chance. If you have a quarterback like Donovan, you have a chance. Not every franchise can say that."
And about that Gator Bowl ...
"I joke with him all the time. I had a good game," Dawkins said laughing. "I don't know about the team, but I had a good game."
So did McNabb, who threw for 309 yards -- on only 13 completions -- and three touchdowns. He also ran for one. Two of the TD passes went to Harrison, for 38 and 56 yards.
"All they did was play-action," Dawkins said, "and Marvin was running down the field scott-free because we kept biting on the play-fake."