Monday, November 24, 2008

McNabb Must Produce Now for His Own Good

By Scott Lowe
API Management & Marketing
Brett Favre wanted to play and forced Green Bay's hand. The time had come. When everything went down between Favre and the Packers it wasn't clear as to whether either side really handled the situation correctly, but the end result suited everyone.

Favre got his wish. He's playing and has resurrected the Jets. Aaron Rodgers, while not yet Brett Favre, clearly was ready to play at the NFL level. The best part of the outcome was that everything played out prior to the season, giving both players the opportunity to have successful years.

Two weeks ago when Donovan McNabb made his oft-replayed annual foot-in-the-mouth comment -- this time a befuddling admission that he didn't know NFL games could end in a tie -- I had a feeling in my gut that he just wanted out of Philadelphia. I mean we all know that McNabb is good for at least one head-shaker of a comment every season. But the man who was booed simply for being a No. 1 draft pick, after so many years in the City of Brotherly Hate, had to know that his comment was going to raise the ire of Philadelphia's fantatical following.

More glaring, however, was that the admission just didn't add up. McNabb openly questioned what would happen in the playoffs if a game ended in a tie just a few short years after his team faced an opponent who had won a playoff game the previous week in double OT. I'm just guessing that at some point McNabb watched that game -- either as it unfolded or in the film room during his weekly preparation. Elite athletes have unbelievable memories when it comes to their sport; they just don't forget details like that.

It is my opinion that McNabb actually is smarter than he is made out to be -- that he simply had enough and was throwing in the towel on the season and his career in Philadelphia. He knew how the fans would react and that his teammates most likely were tired of his act. Famours for placing the blame on others to begin with, McNabb had his finger on the pulse of the locker room and knew that he had lost all control of the team. If he played his cards right after those comments it would take one more subpar outing before he would be benched. It would be easier to watch from the sidelines than get booed the rest of the season, and his body could rest up for a potentially huge free-agent contract in Chicago, Detroit or Minnesota next season.

To go out on the field and play when it had become clear that his teammates no longer wanted to go to war for him and knowing that the support of the fans had been waning for weeks could be career suicide -- especially with that big potential free agent deal looming. That's right, one unbelievable comment and one more lousy performance -- against a top-rated defense away from the hostile home crowd -- and the rest of the season could be observed from the safety of the sidelines. Actually, it took only one half of a game for the load to be lifted from McNabb's shoulders. Or did it?

Many people have debated whether Andy Reid handled McNabb's benching the right way -- whether he treated the man who had enabled him to become the league's longest-tenured coach and to enjoy more success at the Eagles' helm than any other Philly coach in history properly. I would argue that McNabb had let his coach, the man who has stood behind him despite injuries, a consistent decline in play and yearly distractions, down in a big way. Reid's decision was a human reaction by someone who felt betrayed. He had been let down by someone who he had gone to bat for time and again, and he reacted as any of us might. How can you blame him?

After the game a stoic McNabb told the media that he didn't know if he would start the next game. There was no emotion one way or the other. No anger. No disgust. No sign of hurt. Of course he says that he wants to be the starter and that he deserves to be the starter -- at least publicly. But does he really mean it? He certainly doesn't act like someone who wants to play. Coaches always say that they want a player to react with anger and emotion when they are benched. If they don't respond that way, chances are that the fire inside that is necessary to be successful has been extinguished.

After the unceremonious benching in Baltimore, McNabb had to think that he was going to get his wish and watch the rest of the season while holding a clipboard safely on the sidelines. Well, Reid has called his bluff by announcing that McNabb will indeed start this week. Perhaps this is a challenge to McNabb to see if he really does want to play. Certainly if he comes out and is terrible again and shows little emotion on or off the field, there will be little doubt that he has given up on the season and his time in Philly. Maybe Reid is thinking that if McNabb truly is looking for a way out of town next year that he will have to come out and attempt to lead the team the best way he knows how. After all, if he doesn't, won't his market value take a hit, and isn't that quite possibly what motivates him at this point?

It seems like all of this would be easier if people just treated each other with respect and confronted issues in person. Unfortunately, we live in a technology-driven world in which it is easier to throw a tantrum via an email, write a nasty blog or send a sarcastic text than to walk into someone's office and have a man-to-man conversation.

In Favre's case, that situation almost got ugly for both sides as the Packers put an unbelievable amount of pressure on their young quarterback and Favre ran the risk of ruining his reputation in Green Bay, looking like a manipulator and playing out his career for a bad team. In the end everything worked out for both sides, and Favre now looks like a genius.

The Eagles are in an unusual sitation as their star quarterback and the most successful coach in team history seem to be playing mind games with one another. It seems as though Reid's latest maneuver puts McNabb in a Catch-22. On the other hand, by not having confronted his situation head-on, McNabb finds himself in a position where he must produce -- not only for his team's future, but for his own as well.

Another lackluster performance followed by an emotionless press conference is going to make people around the league wonder if he has lost some of his skill and his will to play the game. That is not good for business -- on or off the field.

Reid, on the other hand, has nothing to lose. If McNabb plays great and the team wins, he handled the situation perfectly. If McNabb continues his lackluster play, no one can say that the coach didn't give the superstar who had produced so much for him a fair shake.

The sad thing is that by the time everyone is done playing mind games a season might be lost. This situation easily could have been solved weeks ago with a simple face-to-face conversation -- a great lesson from which all of us can learn.

1 comment:

Garret Ohm said...

It's amazing, from an outsider's perspective, that this kind of stuff happens in a big-time league like the NFL. It reminds us that the league is a business that is plagued by the same demons that haunt regular everyday business - the lack of respect for interpersonal relationships. Much of the drama of the NFL could be handled easily if the players and coaches would focus on talking to each other rather than talking to the media. Good post, Scott.