- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 2, 2003

The run was one for the ages.

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb evaded Washington Redskins defensive end Bruce Smith, juked safety Mark Carrier and dragged safety Matt Stevens into the end zone for a 21-yard score.

Not many Redskins remain from that day, Nov.26, 2000. Those who are have McNabb’s career-high 125 rushing yards etched in their minds.

“I remember that game,” said linebacker LaVar Arrington, who watched from the sidelines after suffering a concussion. “He was having his way with us.”

Three years, two Pro Bowls, two NFC title game appearances and a bevy of big plays later, McNabb is being questioned. Or at least being questioned by Rush Limbaugh, the political commentator who resigned from ESPN late Wednesday night after launching a firestorm by saying McNabb was overrated because the media wanted to see a black quarterback succeed.

Limbaugh claimed, amid the furor, that he must have said something right to have sparked such outrage. But players, coaches and talent evaluators around the NFL disagreed in interviews yesterday. Instead they pointed to McNabb’s skills, exploits and rock-solid winning record and surmised that he has little if anything left to prove.

“I don’t think so,” Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis said. “Not a quarterback who has taken his team to the championship game two years in a row.”

Said Houston general manager Charley Casserly: “He’s in that upper group of quarterbacks in the league. … Philadelphia doesn’t need a quarterback. I’m not trying to be cute. You either have one or you don’t. They have one. You want to find a guy who can win for you. He can.”

Winning is the key argument for McNabb. He entered the season with the NFL’s third-highest winning percentage (.646) among active quarterbacks.

“You base quarterbacks on wins and losses,” Redskins vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato said. “He’s won a lot of games, taken his team to a couple of championship games. The only thing he hasn’t done is gone to the Super Bowl, and there’s a lot of quarterbacks who haven’t done that.”

The lack of a Super Bowl title is an issue but more the difference between great and really great.

“Like most quarterbacks, until you win the Super Bowl, you still have something to prove,” said Baltimore general manager and executive vice president Ozzie Newsome. “As great as Dan Marino was, he’ll tell you, ‘I never won a Super Bowl.’ But Marino was a great quarterback.”

Physically speaking, McNabb’s case starts with his legs, which make him a threat to break containment or zip upfield at any time. But there’s more.

“He’s a tremendous leader, has great arm strength, has athleticism to hurt you,” Redskins defensive coordinator George Edwards said. “He is a double threat, and every time they line up, he has a chance to make a play.”

The problem, some in the NFL admit, is that black quarterbacks often are stereotyped as running quarterbacks. Worse, biases sometimes lead to blanket questions about the ability to read defenses and make plays from the pocket.

This, 34 seasons after James Harris (who was unavailable for comment yesterday) broke in with Buffalo and 16 after Doug Williams (who didn’t return a phone message) won Super Bowl MVP honors in leading the Redskins’ title run.

“To tell you the truth, guys who can run get scrutinized more,” one talent evaluator said. “Now, some guys like Kordell [Stewart of Chicago], they’re not pocket passers, they’re runners. I think Donovan is both.”

McNabb has struggled with his identity as a “running” quarterback, sometimes staying in the pocket too long just to prove a point. Although his accuracy and touch remain somewhat questioned, opponents respect his passing skills.

“I was unsure of him as a passer until we met last year,” said Lewis, Washington’s defensive coordinator last season. “He made a believer out of me.”

Last season ended with Philadelphia’s second trip to the Super Bowl’s doorstep and a bitter taste for Eagles fans. Many believed the team had plateaued. And when McNabb and Philadelphia struggled to start this season of unprecedented expectations, frustration mounted — and led to ESPN analysts’ questions to Limbaugh on Sunday’s pregame show.

“Is he playing well right now? No,” one talent evaluator said. “But we always talk about this in personnel: If you’re going to sign a guy or draft a guy based on his last three or four games, you’re going to make a lot of huge mistakes. History tells you this guy is a pretty [darn] good quarterback.”

McNabb’s accomplishments are borderline stunning, some say, given Philadelphia’s suspect talent at wide receiver and running back.

“Go around and look at the skill position players he has on offense,” one talent evaluator said. “How many of them would be starting on another team? How many would you trade for? How many would be valued free agents on the market? That tells you he’s better than the guys he has around him.”

And good enough for the vast majority of those not named Limbaugh.

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