- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 2, 2003

What already was a highly anticipated football game Sunday between the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles suddenly has become the talk of the nation.

Call it the “Limbaugh Bowl.”

Rush Limbaugh’s comments on ESPN last Sunday that Donovan McNabb is overrated by the media because he is black has been the most talked-about sports story of this week. And the controversy stands to reach a crescendo at Lincoln Financial Field, where attention will be focused squarely on the Eagles’ starting quarterback, creating a potential circus-like atmosphere.

“Oh, definitely,” Redskins cornerback Champ Bailey said. “A guy like that makes a comment like that. … Yeah, there will be a lot more people looking in, wanting to see what the deal is.”

Even before the McNabb-Limbaugh incident, Sunday’s game carried an air of extra importance, with the Redskins (3-1) leading the NFC East and the Eagles (1-2) trying to keep reasonably close. It will be a nationally televised late-afternoon kickoff, with Fox’s No.1 announcing team of Joe Buck, Cris Collinsworth and Troy Aikman assigned to the broadcast booth.

Those factors alone would make this a much-watched football game. Throw the McNabb story line into the mix, and fans across the country have a reason to tune in.

The story has been all over television, radio and newspapers, transcending the sports page. CNN, Fox News and MSNBC all carried McNabb’s news conference Wednesday afternoon. All three network morning shows had pieces on the issue yesterday. Crews from two Philadelphia TV stations were sent to Redskin Park yesterday to get the players’ reactions.

Eagles officials are anticipating a packed press box, and Fox is expecting to garner big ratings. All of which begs this question: How much pressure will there be on McNabb?

“I’m up for the challenge,” McNabb said Wednesday. “I’m looking forward to it. I’m not going to let the Rush Limbaugh thing affect us. We’re just going to move forward.”

With reporters still pestering him yesterday about Limbaugh, who announced his resignation from ESPN late Wednesday night, McNabb decided to stop talking altogether.

“I said all I have to on the topic at the press conference [Wednesday],” McNabb said in a statement released by the Eagles. “I spent more time on the subject than I expected to. It’s time for me to concentrate on the Redskins and try to win a football game with my teammates this weekend.”

Washington’s players expect to see a highly motivated McNabb when they take the field.

“Not toward the Redskins, probably toward Rush,” cornerback Fred Smoot said. “It’ll probably fire Donovan up a little to get criticized like that.”

McNabb came under fire after struggling mightily during the Eagles’ first two games, both losses. He completed 19 of 36 passes for 148 yards and an interception in an embarrassing 17-0 loss to Tampa Bay, then went 18-for-48 for 186 yards and two interceptions in a 31-10 loss to New England.

But after the bye week, McNabb rebounded at Buffalo and led Philadelphia to a 23-13 victory just hours after Limbaugh’s comments were broadcast.

The Redskins are expecting nothing less than the best from both McNabb and the Eagles.

“I think they’re settled down now,” Washington coach Steve Spurrier said. “They had a big victory at Buffalo. I think they’re ready to play their game.”

Even if their quarterback didn’t have any extra incentive.

“McNabb doesn’t have anything to prove,” Bailey said. “He’s already proven that he’s one of the best. I don’t think that will give him any more edge than he normally gets. … Well, hopefully not.”

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