Funny thing about walls. They may make you safer by keeping people out, but it can get lonely when you realize those same walls are holding you in.
That seems to be about where Donovan McNabb finds himself. The Eagles quarterback took another step toward lowering - but not entirely demolishing - the wall that was constructed around him years ago. Just over a week after holding an off-campus series of media interviews, McNabb yesterday threw a getting-acquainted barbecue at a country club in Phoenixville.
If it seems a little strange to be getting acquainted with people who have covered your entire NFL career, well, you've got the idea.
"I don't feel I've got to change anything about the way I'm perceived," McNabb said. "Hopefully, I'm perceived in a positive light. . . . A lot of people may just look at me as the quarterback of the team and leave it at that. They've got to understand that I'm more than just a quarterback. I'm a father, a husband, a caring person that loves kids, willing to do whatever I can do to help the next man out. If they are willing to look further into it, they'll see that I am a caring person."
In one breath, McNabb says the public would know the real him "if they are willing to look further into it." In the next, he pinpoints one problem as people "looking too deeply" into situations. This is his predicament, trying to reach out while not letting his guard drop entirely.
Up until he was let go by the team a few months ago, Rich Burg was McNabb's point man in the Eagles' public relations department. Burg handled McNabb's media requests, set up his interviews, and helped advise him on how to handle situations as they arose.
"I think you're always protective," said Burg, who is managing McNabb's current outreach program. "Especially with a guy that young (when McNabb first got here). How much do you let him talk to the media as opposed to spending time studying a playbook? Would I do it differently now? I don't know, but I did what I thought was best."
In fairness, some of the limitations on McNabb's availability were made necessary by the sheer media demand. It was easier on everyone to have him talk at a podium, with a microphone, than try to have a scrum of 40 or 50 media people around his locker every Wednesday. Most teams do something similar with their quarterbacks.
The unintended consequence, Burg said, was that McNabb came off as distant and removed. His goal now is to try to undo that as best he can, allow people to see McNabb more as one of the players instead of the face of the franchise.
"My goal is different now," Burg said. "Before I was doing what was best for the Eagles. Now I'm doing what's best for Donovan. Really, that's usually the same thing."
McNabb said he wasn't making an effort to prove he's his "own man."
"I'm my own man, anyway," he said. "This isn't a situation where I'm trying to stand out away from the team."
McNabb was standing on the driving range at RiverCrest Golf Club in Phoenixville, site of his first charity golf tournament, on June 15. The tournament (details are at donovanmcnabb.com and tickets are available via Ticketmaster) benefits the American Diabetes Association.
After mingling with reporters for an hour or so and then hitting a few tee shots for the TV cameras, McNabb talked on the record.
His rehab is coming along well, he said. He can run and cut and is working on deceleration and sudden stops. He said he would work in Arizona again this year and had promises from most of his wide receivers to join him. He said his relationship with Andy Reid was "better" than before.
The most intriguing stuff, though, was about the way he's perceived. That wall, again. One of the risks of being behind it is that it allows others - Terrell Owens, Freddie Mitchell, the media - to project a different image on the wall.
"Company man," anyone?
"Hey, to be in the company, you have to do what's right by that company or you'll be out of that company," McNabb said. "When you play the position that I play, you can be looked upon as that individual. If you portray me as the company man or part of management, I'm sure Peyton [Manning] gets the same thing. I'm sure [Tom] Brady gets the same thing. Carson Palmer gets the same thing. The list goes on of the franchise guys, because they say we get more things or better things than everybody else. . . .
"If someone feels some type of way about me, hey, I can't please everybody. But I know when I step out on that field, I'm going to give you all I got. That's all I ask. I don't ask you to hang out with me or come over and hold my baby or come sit down and have a drink with me. I don't say that."
Yesterday, he invited a bunch of reporters to come inside the wall and have a burger with him. It was a start.
"Our relationship probably is better than it was before. We were able to talk about a lot of different issues. Obviously, the issue we were faced with where we drafted a quarterback, that's probably what everybody wants to know. With the situation that he's been a part of with his family, I was there for him. Called him, texted him or whatever to let him know that if he needed anything, I was there.
"Again, people look too far into it. We talk all the time. I've been rehabbing there for the last four months, five months. We've been seeing each other and talking in passing. I've been talking with other coaches. I don't think anything has changed.
"If anything it has gotten better since this draft happened and after the situation with his family."
"My relationship with my teammates is the same as it was before. It's not like I'm passing around money to my teammates to try to make them be friends with me. We are employees. We work together. We bleed and sweat and cry together."
"I'm 30 years old. I feel young. I've played eight years. It's not like I've played 15, 20 years and they need to throw me out of this league. I've been eight years in the league, I'm 30, but I can't do anything about my age or how many years I've played. I think the best years are ahead of me. I don't get caught up in that whole 30 deal, where people say it's almost over. Warren Moon played until he was 42 years old. Brett Favre is 38. I'm sure probably there are people that want him to leave, but it's been 15 years for him, so obviously somebody still wants him."
"You want to be looked upon as a role model, a human being, a guy that works hard to be the best at what he can do, let alone win championships. Not everybody can win a Super Bowl, but, hopefully, we'll be able to do that this year and hold up that trophy."