THESE DAYS, Allen Iverson gets misty when he talks about Philadelphia. Ryan Howard, not so much. Each time Pat Burrell walks to the plate, Don Henley's "Dirty Laundry" blares from the speakers at Citizens Bank Park - specifically this verse:
"Kick 'em when they're up, kick 'em when they're down, kick 'em when they're up, kick 'em all around."
It has been said that we either love you or hate you in this town, but as Donovan McNabb knows all too well, it's not always a case of either/or. Often we do both, sometimes within hours.
We hated him as a draft pick, loved him as the young quarterback of an up-and-coming team, grew tired of his failures in big spots and his failure to emote sufficiently over those moments.
Some of you wanted him replaced by Kevin Kolb last fall. Many expected him to be traded in the offseason.
But there he was yesterday, repeating that sentence that irks some and offers hope to others:
"I don't expect to be going anywhere any time soon," McNabb said after an optional practice session at the Novacare Complex. "Maybe some people want me going. That's the better half of the people in Philadelphia."
He said that with a smile, and after saying, "I love the city, love the fans and just love everything about it." He said that after saying he believes he has adopted the city, and it has adopted him.
Has he? Have we? Like Burrell, who insists he would like to remain a Phillie when his contract expires at the end of this season, it is hard to measure the sincerity of McNabb's words. So much has happened beyond that booing on draft day in 1999, so much that seems so hurtful and personal. The suggestion that nerves got the better of him in the Super Bowl, the dialogue surrounding his mother and her blog - those were the kind of personal attacks that made Scott Rolen feel like he had gone to heaven when the Phillies traded him to St. Louis.
Now and then - like when he said yesterday, "It's nothing that I waste my time on, who loves me and who doesn't" - it seems McNabb might feel the same way. Maybe he does, or maybe he once did. Because if he were watching, and he said yesterday that he was, he had to see how bad the exit was for Iverson, and how triumphant his return was in March. He had to see Howard, larger than life when he burst onto our scene as a rookie, trudge back to the dugout in the first 6 weeks of this season as the boos cascaded down. And he had to see Burrell, so reviled just a year ago, taking curtain calls as he delivered clutch hit after clutch hit.
"I think when you look at situations," McNabb said, "Iverson . . . It's funny his last year, everybody kind of turned on him, wanted him out of here. Then when he came back they gave him a standing ovation and showed the love they had for him and the appreciation of what he brought here.
"For Ryan Howard, struggling early on, everybody kind of booed him or talked bad about him. Now that he's in the top echelon in home runs, every time he gets up to bat everybody cheers or looks for him to hit a home run.
"There's mixed emotions no matter what. And for all of us, we kind of consider ourselves guys who love being here. Willing to do whatever it takes to win a championship here. Or wait for that opportunity for any one of us."
The wait, of course, is going on 10 years for him - and longer for us. Ten years of hopeful late-summer predictions and exciting playoff runs and season-ending sports hernias and controversy that, no matter how vanilla he tries to be, seems to find him anyway. McNabb danced as deftly around Lito Sheppard's absence yesterday as he did those questions about absorbing Philadelphia, about loving us, or more to the point, being loved.
"I've got more things to worry about," McNabb said, finally. "I think what would be the answer to all of it, if that's the case, would be to just bring a championship here."
Yep, that would do it. And if he doesn't? He probably will follow that long line of stars who couldn't quite lasso the moon while here, athletes who eventually needed to be appreciated from afar. Donovan McNabb has already made an indelible impression on his adopted city, his skills and mettle debated as much, if not more, than Mike Schmidt's ever were.
But without that championship, he may have to go away to be fully loved and appreciated, the way Iverson is now. *
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