- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 22, 2002

Few things in sports excite the imagination more than a quarterback whose time has come. And is there any doubt, after the last two weeks' developments, that Donovan McNabb is ready for liftoff? His Eagles have bludgeoned the Bucs and Bears back-to-back, and his offense has hung 30-plus points on two very good defenses. If McNabb can come up with a similar effort Sunday at St. Louis, he might very well be Bourbon Street bound.

Memo to the Rams: Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Redskins fans have seen McNabb at his best and worst the past two years. They've seen him throw a game-losing interception in the final minute, and they've seen him tuck the ball under his arm and rush for 125 yards. They've seen him stay in the pocket and make no plays, and they've seen him stray from the pocket and make a bunch of plays. His potential was obvious in those games, but so was the fact that he was still very much a work in progress.

In the postseason, though, it's as if coach Andy Reid has told him: "OK, Donovan, Quarterback School is over. It's time to show everybody what you've learned." Because in the last two games, the total McNabb package has been on display. Sometimes he'll run around behind the line and find an open receiver. Sometimes he'll run around behind the line and take off downfield. And sometimes his blockers will actually give him enough time to throw and he'll flick a 50-yard completion as if it were a screen pass. Whatever his course of action a, b or c opponents haven't had an answer for him. The poor Bears looked like they were chasing after the Headless Horseman.

If McNabb is going to start putting up 30 points a week, well, that changes the picture considerably for the Eagles. After all, their defense hasn't allowed more than 21 points all season even when it went up against the run-and-gun Cardinals. Indeed, only once in its last 12 games has it given up more than 17. When Philly scores 30 points, it can beat anybody.

(Yes, St. Louis is capable of scoring more than that Sunday, but I wouldn't count on it. In the playoffs two years ago, you may recall, the Rams scored 49 against Minnesota, and the next week they were held to 11 by a Tampa Bay defense much like Philadelphia's.)

Here's something else to consider: McNabb is 25 years old. That's when the great quarterbacks usually start to make their mark in the NFL at 25, 26, 27. Joe Montana was 25 when he won his first title. So were Joe Namath and Johnny Unitas. Troy Aikman, Terry Bradshaw and Bob Griese had rings on their fingers at 26. Brett Favre and Bart Starr captured their first championships at 27. It's probably the time when a QB's understanding of the game begins to catch up with his physical talents or something like that.

Anyway, the window of opportunity is opening for McNabb. It'll be interesting to see, in the next few seasons, if he can take advantage of it. Heck, give him a little more help on offense he doesn't have a 1,000-yard back or a 1,000-yard receiver, remember and the Eagles could be a mini-dynasty.

What people were predicting a few years ago is coming to pass. Black quarterbacks are, if not taking over the position, certainly enjoying more success. There were two of them in the NFL's Final Four in '99 (Tennessee's Steve McNair and Tampa Bay's Shaun King), and there are two more this season (McNabb and Pittsburgh's Kordell Stewart).

Stewart isn't a kid anymore he turned 29 in October but after five years of ups and downs, he appears to have finally taken the Next Step and become a bona fide pro quarterback. Anybody who can play the way he did against Ray Lewis and his band of marauders this season has definitely arrived.

McNair, meanwhile, had his best year ever 61.3 percent completions, 21 touchdown passes, 90.2 rating and probably should have made the Pro Bowl. And Daunte Culpepper, let's not forget, was a Pro Bowl selection last season. Then there's Michael Vick, who's poised to take over in Atlanta (and averaged more than 10 yards a carry as a rookie), and Quincy Carter, who showed some flashes in December when he quarterbacked the Cowboys to three wins.

In New Orleans, Aaron Brooks is still maddeningly erratic, but he did throw for 26 TDs this year. And I suspect we haven't heard the last of King, Detroit's Charlie Batch, Cincinnati's Akili Smith or the Redskins' Tony Banks, for that matter. Surely someone in that group will pan out eventually. (And if not, don't worry about it. Marshall University's Byron "the Bomber" Leftwich will be along shortly.)

It's a whole new world for NFL quarterbacks. Black QBs, guys who can beat you with their legs as well as their arm, are redefining the position. And McNabb is leading the way. All eyes will be on him this weekend as he tries to slay St. Louis. Either way, though, we could be looking at the beginning of the Donovan Decade.

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