Call it the John Elway Syndrome.
Donovan McNabb’s got it bad. Like Elway, he achieved success (reaching a Super Bowl) and recognition (Pro Bowls) early in his career. Like Elway, he’s a respected leader of a successful (if not erratic) team.
He’s a good quarterback, like Elway was always perceived to be. Better than good, most would say. Exciting. Unique. And yet … not yet great.
“Donovan McNabb” and “Hall of Fame” are rarely used in the same sentence.
Because Hall of Fame requires greatness. And despite his obvious talent and success, McNabb will never be considered great until he wins a Super Bowl.
It’s not fair, but it’s real.
But now he has a chance – another one.
He and the Eagles are still two very tough wins away from greatness. Few are giving the Arizona Cardinals much chance next week against the Eagles, even at home. But few gave them much chance on Saturday at Carolina, either. And should the Eagles get past Arizona, can anyone score on either the Steelers or Ravens in a game that matters more than any other?
If the Eagles endure this gauntlet, it’ll be hard to deny McNabb his place. Especially this season. Especially in a season when he was benched and called all but a “dummy” for not knowing NFL games can end in a tie.
It would be easy to attribute McNabb’s conundrum to his being a black quarterback rather than to the Elway Syndrome. In fact, that was my first instinct before writing this blog. That despite reaching the Super Bowl (’04 season), despite overcoming a major knee injury (2006), despite the fact that he ain’t Michael Vick, McNabb would never be little more than just another black QB until he won a Super Bowl.
Prior to the ’07 season, McNabb put his dilemma into context during an interview with James Brown for HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel”:
“There’s not that many African-American quarterbacks, so we have to do a little bit extra,” he said. “Because the percentage of us playing this position, which people didn’t want us to play … is low, so we do a little extra.”
The little extra McNabb possesses is mental. Given what he’s been through, perhaps his best attribute, his most valuable skill is mental toughness.
And it will be that attribute – not his legs (as in running QB), nor his skin color – that will carry him past Arizona and into Super Bowl XLIII.
It will be those skills that make him the John Elway of today. Great.