The off-season is almost always as interesting as the actual season for Donovan McNabb.
"Every off-season has been kind of entertaining for me since I've been here," the Eagles quarterback acknowledged yesterday as he prepared for the team's season finale against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.
Remember the off-season after the Eagles' trip to the Super Bowl? A disgruntled Terrell Owens called McNabb "the company man" and pointed out he, Owens, wasn't "the one who got tired in the Super Bowl."
Remember two off-seasons ago? McNabb fired back at T.O. and accused him of committing a "black-on-black crime."
Remember last off-season? McNabb, rehabilitating his surgically repaired right knee, was forbidden by head coach Andy Reid to talk to the media shortly after the season ended, then later rented space at the Flyers' practice facility in Voorhees and held his first independent news conference since joining the Eagles.
There's nothing quite like a walk down memory lane if you're McNabb. The quarterback is sure to add to those truly special moments when the clock expires Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field and another off-season begins.
This year, of course, the focus is bound to be on whether the Eagles are going to trade their franchise quarterback. Yes, it's true that the Birds are on record as saying they believe the quarterback will be back in 2008, but that can't kill the speculation.
In fact, it has already started in Minnesota, where a columnist from the St. Paul Pioneer Press contemplated on Christmas Eve whether the Vikings should pursue a trade for McNabb or Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
This won't be the last time the subject is raised in Minnesota. Rest assured, McNabb will also be linked to the quarterback-needy Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens at some point in the next nine months.
There's also a chance that some unforeseen controversy will put a crimp in McNabb's off-season, but he is prepared for the trade talk.
"My mind-set is I don't even focus on it," McNabb said. "I look at it as I'm going to be here next year. They can talk about where I may go or whatever may happen, but until something is final, I'm still here in Philadelphia, and that's the way I'm going to treat it."
If McNabb is back, and it sure seems as if he's going to be, then he's got a chance to have some really positive vibes going into the off-season. If he makes it through Sunday's game against the Bills without injury, it will be the first time since the end of the 2001 season that he'll be of sound health and mind at the end of the season.
At the end of the 2002 season, he still was not entirely recovered from a fractured ankle that forced him to miss the final six games of the regular season. In January 2004, McNabb was knocked out of the NFC championship game against the Carolina Panthers with a rib injury, and he was under immediate public attack after the Eagles' loss in Super Bowl XXXIX to New England. He has spent the last two off-seasons rehabilitating from surgeries to repair a sports hernia and a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
"Going into the off-season, when you're feeling a little better health-wise, it definitely helps," McNabb said. "This will be an important off-season for me. That's the way I will treat it. I just want to make sure I finish this game off on a high note, continue to get better . . . and make sure I'm ready to go."
Bills coach Dick Jauron was certainly reminded of McNabb at his best when he watched the game film from the Eagles' victory over the New Orleans Saints.
"The game against the Saints was just a tremendous performance," Jauron said. "He looked like the quarterback that I've always seen and that, unfortunately, I've always had to play against. The whole team played at a high level, but he was certainly right in the middle of it all and he made a lot of plays."
It probably reminded the Bills' head coach of the NFC divisional playoff game after the 2001 season when McNabb and the Eagles went on the road and crushed Jauron's second-seeded Chicago Bears. McNabb threw for 262 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 37 yards and a score in that game.
If for some reason, McNabb ended up on the trading block after this season, the interest around the league would be significant, Jauron said.
"He's a proven winner," he said. "And he's won for a number of years and gotten to big games in a number of years. Yeah, I would think there would be a lot of interest."
The rumors have already begun, and they don't figure to end for a while. Eagles coach Andy Reid said he didn't need to talk to his quarterback about it.
"I talk to him every day," Reid said. "I'm living it every day. Whatever anybody writes and does, Donovan and I communicate every day. Normally we sit down and talk after the season, but we talk all the time. I don't know how much he needs to hear or I need to say. He kind of knows how we feel."