- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 18, 2003

Simeon Rice and Donovan McNabb were teammates on a state championship team at Chicago's Mount Carmel High School, but their longstanding friendship will not carry over to tomorrow's NFC Championship game. Not with Tampa Bay defensive end Rice, the NFC's sacks leader, trying to bring down elusive quarterback McNabb and Philadelphia.
"You beat Donovan by going after him, and I'm coming after him," said Rice, who has six sacks in five career games against McNabb. "I'm coming to shoot my bullets, and the other 10 guys [on the Buccaneers' top-ranked defense] are coming to shoot their bullets. And no one stops firing until one of us assumes the role of the Alpha male in the NFC.
"This is the big one, the big dance, the rat race. All out, no holds barred, until there's nothing left in any of us and the best man is standing at the end. It's going to be a battle of epic proportions, but we have our hand on the big door and now we have to bust it open in their stadium. We're going to destroy that place. Bring the C-4. Blow the place up."
Rice, 27, said the last game at Veterans Stadium is a fitting one for him or McNabb, 26, to reach his first Super Bowl.
"I knew it would come to this, I really did," said Rice, who left lowly Arizona to sign with Tampa Bay in 2001. "It's so appropriate. If I want to be the best, I have to go through Donovan, and if Donovan wants to be the best, he has to go through me. This is a game for the legends, for your name to be cemented forever. We're going to play 60 minutes, and it will be for the rest of our lives."
McNabb, as low-key with the media as Rice is voluble, said his former teammate has always been a role model in terms of football achievement.
"When Simeon was in high school, we pretty much just challenged ourselves to be the best at what we do," recalled McNabb, who was two years behind Rice. "He went to the University of Illinois, started as a true freshman and put himself in the record books in the Big Ten, as far as sacks are concerned. When you see how hard Simeon works and how he prepares himself, to get drafted early like that [third overall in 1996], you obviously want to turn up your work ethic a notch. You want to get yourself in great position to get drafted early as well [second overall out of Syracuse in 1999]. He has inspired me as far as work ethic is concerned and passion for the game."
More than a decade after they were last teammates, Rice and McNabb still keep in touch, especially during the offseason which each spends much of in Arizona. McNabb said he expected to get a call from Rice after the Bucs arrived in Philadelphia last night.
However, the Eagles hope they can keep Rice away from McNabb tomorrow. Rice recorded one of his two career games with three sacks against the Eagles in 2000 and got him twice more in Philadelphia's 31-9 first-round playoff victory last season. Tampa Bay's top defensive ends averaged 10 sacks from 1997 to 2000. Rice bettered that with 11 last season before leading the NFC with 151/2 this season. He added another in last week's 31-6 divisional round rout of visiting San Francisco.
"That's why Simeon was a great addition to their defense," Eagles offensive coordinator Brad Childress said. "He's isolated out there most of the day with [Pro Bowl left tackle] Tra Thomas. You have to pay attention to him. He's a slippery guy, a lot stronger than you give him credit for [at 6-foot-5, 268 pounds]. Everyone thinks about him as a speed rusher, but he's able to bull[rush] you."
The Bucs are equally admiring of the 6-3, 226-pound McNabb's versatility. Out since breaking his right ankle Nov.17, McNabb returned for last week's game at the Vet against Atlanta, scooting 19 yards on the second play and completing 20 of 30 passes for 247 yards and the clinching touchdown in a 20-6 victory.
"Donovan is a big, big man, and it looks like he even got bigger in his time off, but he still moves well," Bucs Pro Bowl safety John Lynch said. "It was impressive watching him."
McNabb's injury might have kept him from joining Rice at next month's Pro Bowl. But the Eagles' 4-0 record against the Bucs over the last three seasons makes it more likely that he'll be the one celebrating tomorrow night.
"We know what happened in the past playing these guys, [but] that really doesn't mean anything now," McNabb said. "We just have to focus on this opportunity and take full advantage of it."
Rice agreed, in his typically more demonstrative style.
"It is appropriate to go into the Vet, where we lost twice [in his two years as a Buc], where we lost our last playoff game and turn the page we need to," Rice said. "We understand the nature of this beast. We just have to play with a lot of enthusiasm and heart. I think the team that wills this the most will win"

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