Ray's Replies: Should McNabb be in HOF, have jersey retired?

Ray's Replies: Should McNabb be in HOF, have jersey retired?

May 18, 2013, 9:00 am
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Donovan McNabb is the Eagles' all-time leader in passing yards, touchdown passes and games played at quarterback. (AP)

Q. Just curious as to your thoughts on a couple Donovan McNabb questions: One, is he Hall of Fame worthy? Two, should the Eagles retire his No. 5? What do you think?

-Brian Morley

A. I would say no on both counts. McNabb was a good to very good quarterback in his 11 seasons with the Eagles, but I never considered him great and, in my opinion, you have to be great to be a Hall of Famer and you have to be something more than very good to have your number retired.

I heard a lot of conversation about this during the week after it was announced that McNabb would be honored at a home game this season. He will officially retire from the NFL as an Eagle and be inducted into the team's Hall of Fame. It would be fitting if he chose Sept. 19 because Andy Reid will be in the house as coach of the Chiefs and McNabb was Reid's first draft choice in 1999. In the minds of most Eagles fans, Reid and McNabb will be forever joined at the hip.

I'm fine with the Eagles honoring McNabb and putting him in their Hall of Fame. He deserves that. But I heard some fans say McNabb is the greatest quarterback in franchise history and I've never agreed with that. He may hold all the records, but to me it's not about numbers. The real question is, "Who played the position the best?" Anyone who was here to see the last championship season in 1960 would agree that Norm Van Brocklin played at a level that far surpasses any other Eagles quarterback.

Van Brocklin only played three seasons with the Eagles, so his stats don't compare to those of McNabb, Ron Jaworski and Randall Cunningham. But no Eagles quarterback played the position as well as Van Brocklin and, in my opinion, no quarterback was more valuable. He was voted the NFL MVP in 1960 and he also was named MVP of the championship game, which the Eagles won 17-13 over Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers. They never could have done it without the Dutchman, believe me.

Van Brocklin retired following the 1960 season but the Eagles did not retire his No. 11 jersey. I assume they felt three seasons, as great as they were, didn't qualify for that honor. Van Brocklin played nine seasons for the Los Angeles Rams before joining the Eagles, and in those days for a player to have his number retired he usually had to play his entire career with one team. That is no longer the case because now players move around more frequently thanks to free agency. Van Brocklin was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971.

McNabb's stats are very good and I believe he will be in the Hall of Fame discussion someday, but my guess is he will fall short of induction. He didn't come up big enough often enough in the big games.

As for retiring his jersey ...

The Eagles have retired eight numbers -- No. 15 for Steve Van Buren, No. 20 for Brian Dawkins, No. 40 for Tom Brookshier, No. 44 for Pete Retzlaff, No. 60 for Chuck Bednarik, No. 70 for Al Wistert, No. 92 for Reggie White and No. 99 for Jerome Brown. They never have retired a quarterback's jersey. They may decide to retire McNabb's but I think it would be a stretch.

When you retire a player's number, you are saying, in effect, there could never be another player who could wear that number with the same level of distinction. In other words, no other player could achieve that standard. That was the case with Van Buren, Bednarik and White. They still are the best players at their position in franchise history. Dawkins fits the same description. Brookshier, Wistert and Retzlaff were career Eagles and part of the team's three NFL championships.

While I will join in a warm welcome home ovation for Donovan McNabb, I wouldn't retire his No. 5. I'm not trying to spoil the party. It is just that, in my opinion, he was not a once-in-a-lifetime kind of player and that's what you are saying when you retire someone's number.