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Rich Hofmann | Heir conditioning

Expect McNabb to be civil, but not warm and fuzzy toward potential replacement

THE REACTION IS what will come next, after Donovan McNabb has an opportunity to digest the fact that the Eagles just declared his football mortality by drafting quarterback Kevin Kolb, his replacement.

He is likely to say all of the right things, because that is what McNabb does. Underneath, though, no one should expect anything more than civility between McNabb and Kolb. No one should expect Mr. Chips in midnight green here. No one should expect McNabb to turn into Kolb's mentor, or anything like that.

That just is not how the NFL works, and it really never has. Ask Brett Favre about it sometime. Ask Joe Montana. Andy Reid knows that as well as anybody, and said as much Sunday night, after the Eagles had finished their weekend of drafting.

"I don't think anyone takes someone under their wing necessarily," Reid said. "I don't think that has to happen. Donovan is the type of guy who will answer a question if the kid has one and likewise for the other two [A.J. Feeley and Kelly Holcomb]. Normally, the quarterbacks are a pretty tight-knit group. Donovan is not going to be holding secrets back. That is not the way it works. This is not about Donovan vs. Kevin."

But it is, of course.

Now, this has nothing to do with McNabb, not specifically. It has nothing to do with the tendency of him and his family to remember every slight and to catalog it and refer to it with regularity. He will always be the kid who had a hard time getting a quarterback scholarship out of high school until Syracuse came along. He will always be the young man in the NFL draft's green room who got booed by a bunch of radio station rocket scientists. There are other examples, too. We have lived them all.

That this will just join the litany - they booed me at the draft and they drafted my replacement when I was only 30 - is pretty much a certainty. That his father, Sam McNabb, has already begun the chorus in today's Daily News is not surprising.

It will fuel McNabb, just as the other slights have in the past. That isn't bad, mind you. Whatever it takes, after all - and it isn't as if the guy has not produced, because he has. Whether you know it or not, this era, this McNabb era, will be looked upon with great fondness when we are all in a position to look back.

From an outsider looking in, it seems obvious that this will push No. 5 in the coming months, however unconsciously. Reid, though, disagrees. He makes it out that suggesting such a thing means McNabb wasn't giving his all for all of these years.

Reid says that when you get to McNabb's level, the competition comes from the other elite NFL quarterbacks. And, well, fine. Whatever the source, competitiveness is what precludes the whole mentor thing.

Back in the day - and Reid knows this because he is a friend of Steve Young - Montana made Young's life miserable as he waited his turn. There was no camouflaging the situation.

Young has been very gracious in recent years about the whole thing. On the day in 2005 he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame - the day before McNabb's Super Bowl - Young talked to a group of writers about how he and Montana were "hyper-competitive guys," and how the relationship was "as good as it could have been."

But it wasn't good. In the San Francisco Chronicle, he was quoted as saying, "I was kind of a bulldog on the pant leg of life in that situation. I wanted to play [but] I was nothing but respectful . . . I think the situation was, we butted up against each other, there was no space . . . I thought [Joe] should have done more [to help], but the truth was that I should have done more."

Now, remember Favre, another quarterback with whom Reid has a bit of familiarity. The famous quote after the Packers drafted Aaron Rodgers in 2005 came from an ESPN interview in which Favre said he wasn't being paid to coach and that it's not in his contract to teach. Pretty clear, that.

Even here, when Randall Cunningham took over from Ron Jaworski, there was a level of tension - which is saying something, given how good a teammate and how good a guy Jaworski was (and is). But it was there, just beneath the surface. Jaworski did the right things and said the right things, but something was always there. Jaworski would say things like, "I think Randall can succeed given a limited game plan," and it was true, but also had just that bit of an edge. Given a limited game plan.

(And we won't even get into how Cunningham, as he was being ushered off the stage a decade later, became an unrelenting distraction for everybody - or have you forgotten when he wore his warmup jacket inside-out on the sideline, hiding the team logo?)

Now, this is different. McNabb is too classy to do anything but be classy as this thing plays out. Just don't expect him to be anything more than civil. It really doesn't work that way.

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