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How would Donovan McNabb be treated if he won a championship like Mike Schmidt?

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Former Eagle Donovan McNabb officially announced his retirement Monday at the Eagles’ NovaCare Complex. Although the Eagles traded McNabb to the Redskins in 2010 and he ended his career with the Vikings, he’ll always be known first and foremost as a Philadelphia Eagle. The team also announced that his No. 5 jersey will be retired during the Eagles’ September 19th game against Andy Reid’s Kansas City Chiefs.

 

McNabb’s somewhat emotional press conference Monday morning evoked memories of another long time misunderstood Philadelphia athlete’s departure.

 

Of course, I’m referring to Michael Jack Schmidt- the greatest Philadelphia Phillie of all time. Many of us remember Schmidt’s retirement press conference on Memorial Day back in 1989, when “Captain Cool” did something virtually no Phillies fan ever saw from Schmidt throughout the course of his career- show a display of sheer raw emotion after coming to the realization he had played his last game in the big leagues.



While McNabb’s press conference could be described as almost joyous when compared to Schmidt’s, you can’t help but notice the parallels between two of the biggest (as well as enigmatic) superstars ever to play in the city of Philadelphia.

 

McNabb’s outspoken ways appeared on a more consistent basis than Schmidt’s. The former Eagles quarterback usually never placed the blame on himself for an Eagles loss, and his passive aggressive and offbeat public persona made it extremely hard for Eagles fans to ever seriously embrace him.

 

While the former Phillies third baseman was known for holding his emotions in check on and off the field while not exactly being the most sociable superstar, Schmidt had a knack for saying the wrong things at the absolute worst times on certain occasions when he DID speak. Anybody remember his interview with Stan Hochman in 1987, when he ripped the Phillies organization for not having the pride it once did? While Schmidt was dead on with his assessments, it’s not exactly the thing you want to reveal publicly when you have front office aspirations after your retirement.  Either way, both superstars have claimed they were often misunderstood- by the fans, the media, or virtually anybody within whispering distance for that matter.


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While Phillies fans accused Schmidt of needing to lighten up, McNabb was criticized for not taking the game seriously enough. You could often see McNabb apparently smiling after throwing balls in the dirt after a quick three and out or playing air guitar in the runway moments before a playoff game (remember his final Eagles game?) against the Cowboys. While McNabb was always quick to justify his actions, none of his reasons he provided did anything to further endear himself to Eagles fans.

 

From 1976 to 1978, Schmidt’s Phillies came up just short of reaching the World Series. Decades later, McNabb’s Eagles' Super Bowl aspirations ended in futility for three straight years. Whether it was fair or not, most of the blame in those NFC Championship Games were placed on McNabb for failing to make the big play when it mattered most. Schmidt also faced questions as to whether he had the ability to put the Phillies on his back during crunch time.

 

But here’s where things change between McNabb and Schmidt. The one factor in this equation that will always separate the two is the championship Schmidt and the Phillies won in 1980.

 

That season, Schmidt had the best year of his career, and the Phillies’ playoff hopes came down to the wire against the Montreal Expos on the last weekend of the season. In the first game, Schmidt’s sacrifice fly and home run accounted for the only two runs of the game as the team moved a game up in the standings. The next game saw the Phillies tie the Expos after being down to their last out. Then in the eleventh inning, Schmidt blasted a two-run homer of the Expos’ Stan Bahnsen for an eventual 6-4 Phillies win and their fourth NL East crown in five years.

 

Although Schmidt struggled in the NLCS against the Astros, he rebounded in the World Series to hit .381 with two home runs and seven runs batted in- the last two being the game winning RBIs in the decisive Game 6, as the Phillies beat the Royals for their first ever World Series title.

 

As Matt Goldberg references in our book “A Snowball’s Chance,” there’s the old adage that Schmidt hit all 548 of his career home runs with nobody on base- but he silenced his critics after his performance. There were questions as to whether Schmidt had the best World Series amongst his teammates, but nonetheless, he was voted the series MVP and received baseball’s biggest honor on the sport’s biggest stage.

 

Unfortunately, Donovan McNabb never had his 1980, and it followed him his entire career.McNabb photo: AP/Joseph Kaczmarek

 

After finally getting over the hump and beating Michael Vick’s Atlanta Falcons to advance to Super Bowl XXXIX in January 2005, McNabb threw three interceptions and was sacked four times against the Patriots as the Eagles lost their only Super Bowl appearance during the McNabb era, 24-21.

 

It should be noted that McNabb only threw eight interceptions during the 2004 season, and all three Super Bowl interceptions came at the worst possible moment- including one on the final play of the game The whole “did he or didn’t he?” vomiting incident was always overblown- as McNabb threw a touchdown to Greg Lewis on the very same drive. To be fair, the Eagles’ defense was eaten alive by New England, Andy Reid’s time management was beyond atrocious and overall the team did not play their A-game. But when all was said and done, McNabb still came up short and would end his career ringless.

 

To be fair, it’s not like Schmidt never came up small with a championship on the line. After hitting .467 in the 1983 NLCS against the Dodgers, the Phillies’ top gun went stone cold against a strong Baltimore pitching staff in the World Series. Schmidt went 1 for 20 (a broken bat single) for an .050 average in the Phillies’ loss against the Orioles. However, when all was said and done, he had 1980 to fall back on. McNabb doesn’t have that luxury, and his reputation for not delivering in the clutch is a perception that will most likely never change. At the same time, it will deny him a spot in Canton.

 

Would Schmidt be treated differently by Phillies fans if 2008 was the first championship for the team instead of 1980? We’ll never know for sure. There are certain NFL players (Dan Marino, Barry Sanders) who have good enough credentials to merit Hall of Fame enshrinement despite failing to win a championship. While McNabb posted impressive numbers during his Eagles career, he's not one of those players. It’s that simple.

 

On the flip side, Schmidt was the greatest all-around third basemen in the history of Major League Baseball. World Series ring or not, his numbers alone would have made him a first ballot Hall of Famer. These days, he actually comes across as a likeable guy, admittedly looks back and wishes he had a lot more fun playing baseball, and that his relationship with the Phillies fans was always better. And in all honesty, you believe that Schmidt is genuine about this when he speaks about it. The proof is in the pudding. Whenever he comes to town, Schmidt gets the biggest reception of any Phillie. It’s a constant standing ovation. It took a while, but I think it’s safe to say by this point Schmidt and the Phillies fans have a very nice relationship.Photo: Schmidt photo: bryansargent.mlblogs.com

 

Oddly enough, the good feelings between Schmidt and Phillies fans came out of something controversial on Schmidt’s part. The team was starting to decline in 1985, Schmidt was struggling badly, and the fans gave him the business. In an act of frustration, Schmidt took some shots at the fans while giving an interview in Montreal.

 

When the publication decided to print the the interview months later as the Phillies were heading back for a homestand at Veterans Stadium, Schmidt knew he was a goner. Looking for an opportunity to diffuse a potentially flammable situation, Schmidt borrowed Larry Andersen’s curly wig and sunglasses prior to taking the field during warmups. Instead of ripping him to shreds, the fans proceeded to give him a standing ovation. Many believed that this was the turning point towards a positive relationship with Schmidt.

 

Now back to McNabb. Some of what he addressed at the press conference seemed heartfelt. He still laments failing to bring the Super Bowl to Philadelphia. It was perhaps one of the most telling moments of his retirement speech.

 

“I told the fans I would bring a championship here,” said McNabb. “I apologize to the fans, because that was my goal. I feel like I let them down.”

 

To many fans, that was the first they heard of anything coming out of McNabb’s mouth in regards to his disappointment in losing to Tom Brady and his gang of video watchers.

 

Naturally, you would think those remarks were sincere (and maybe they are). But just a few weeks ago, McNabb went spouting off in Philadelphia Magazine about everything under the sun (Terrell Owens, the fans, Angelo Cataldi, getting booed on Draft Day 1999). But at the press conference, he swept the topic of booing under the rug when asked by a reporter about it (“Let’s put the booing to rest. I don’t talk about it.”). Moments like these really make it hard to decipher how genuine McNabb really is about all of this.

 

Of course, Schmidt has had 24 years (yikes!) to reflect on his time in a major league uniform. McNabb hasn’t played an NFL game since 2011. Will the course of time change McNabb’s tune? Just by observing his actions over the last 14 years, it seems he’ll always be speaking his mind about something that bothers him.

 

But then again, would McNabb be speaking like this at all if his last drive in that Super Bowl resulted in a parade down Broad Street?

 

We’ll never know. And despite the various similarities between the two athletes, that just might be the ultimate difference between Donovan McNabb and Mike Schmidt.


 

 

 

Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com

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McNabb photo: AP/Joseph Kaczmarek


 Schmidt photo: bryansargent.mlblogs.com