Ron Jaworski knows exactly what Donovan McNabb must be feeling these days. Twenty-two years ago, he was the Eagles' starting quarterback. And had been for eight seasons. Then the Birds drafted Randall Cunningham in the second round.
His initial reaction?
"I sensed my football mortality, more than I ever did, no question about it," the newest member of ESPN's three-man Monday Night Football crew recalled yesterday at Atlantic City Country Club, which again will be the site of the 23rd annual Ron Jaworski Celebrity Golf Challenge on May 20-21. "You have to understand how the game works."
There are differences. Jaworski was 34. McNabb's 4 years younger. Before he tore the ACL in his right knee against Tennessee in Week 11 last season, McNabb had completed 180 of 316 passes and threw for 18 touchdowns.
But Donovan has missed about 25 percent of the team's games in the last five seasons. And he hasn't been around at the end of the regular season in three of them.
"That has to be a concern," Jaws reasoned, "because availability is critical in the National Football League. You have to be in the lineup every single week. [The Eagles] see the history as well."
Nobody from the front office called Jaworski to tell him what was happening before it actually went down.
"I found out the same way [everyone else] did, when ESPN [announced it]," he laughed through a voice that was still a little hoarse from doing 19 hours of live draft coverage last weekend. "First and foremost, I competed. You always compete. I'm going to keep this job, it's my job, you're going to have to take it from me. But you also have to be realistic about it. I never wanted to be a derisive guy in the locker room or split [the team]. So I think Randall and I had a really good relationship in the few years we were together in that regard.
"Buddy Ryan [who became the head coach in 1986] certainly felt differently about it. He got rid of me [after the 1986 season], to make sure Randall was accepted as the guy. Right, wrong or indifferent, it was clear-cut. If Randall had a bad time, he didn't want [me there] for the media or fans to want to put back in."
Fair enough. Jaworski played three more seasons, two in Miami and one in Kansas City. Cunningham became the league's "Ultimate Weapon."
On Saturday, the Eagles took Houston quarterback Kevin Kolb in the second round, No. 36 overall, with their first pick. How this plays out, maybe only Andy Reid knows for sure. But Jaws has his suspicions.
"When the season ended, you had all the Jeff Garcia talk," he explained. "And all the controversy. And all of a sudden, he's gone. Now, Donovan's the consummate leader. It's his team again. And here we are, a month later, they draft a quarterback.
"You just know that ultimately, that's the guy they want to replace you. Donovan's one of the hardest workers on the team. I always give him that part of it. And I think he'll accept the challenge. But I think he'll also understand that the minute he doesn't perform up to the expectancies of his game, not only the fans and the media but the coaching staff and the organization are going to look at it a little differently.
"Is it time? They're going to begin asking the question. It's not like you have the 37-year-old Jeff Garcia there, where you know it's not time. That's the situation. This year won't be the time. But it really does change the whole thing."
There's another difference to factor in from that era to this one.
"Back then, we were not a good football team," Jaws said. "We were a team in transition. This team is a playoff and potential Super Bowl contender.
"Randall started in the second game [as a rookie]. I opened up in New York and we were horrible. I came back after three or four games. He wasn't ready. It was a panic move. That's what happens. Let's take a chance right now. The decisions aren't always rational. We paid the guy a lot of money, he's our future.
"Decisions are made quicker. And the leash gets shorter for Donovan."
In other words, the clock is already very much ticking.
The Soul co-owner wasn't surprised that the Birds took their next QB. Just by the where and who part.
"I didn't have [Kolb] rated that high," Jaworski said. "There were some teams that did. The Eagles were one of them. They felt it was the right thing to do. I thought he was a guy who might [still] be there in the third, even the fourth, round. They obviously thought he wouldn't be. And, they're pretty much wired into how teams are thinking."
The event is expected to generate another $200,000 for United Way charities. It's already raised over $1 million . . . Tickets are available for $15 at the gate, or by calling 888-505-7070. On the 20th, the ever-popular nine-hole Celebrity Shoot-Out will begin at noon. The participants, competing for a total purse of $100,000, are: Jeremiah Trotter, Sterling Sharpe, Joe Theismann, Rich Gannon, Marty Schottenheimer, Tony Siragusa, Bruce Smith, Mitch Williams and, certainly not least, Vince Papale. *