Now we know. When Donovan McNabb was struggling there for weeks on end, zinging passes past receivers and getting benched in the second half against Baltimore, there was something much more important gnawing at his insides. It didn't cause him to play poorly - there were other things, some well beyond his control, that contributed to that - but it had an effect.

McNabb would be inhuman if it didn't.

On Tuesday, three weeks before her due date, Roxie McNabb, the quarterback's wife, delivered twins, a healthy baby boy and girl. To hear McNabb tell it, the delivery was complicated but ultimately successful. Everyone is healthy - babies, mom and proud pop.

But there were times during the last several weeks and months when McNabb wondered, and worried, about his wife, about their 4-year-old daughter, Alexis, and about those unborn twins. Although he wouldn't go into specifics, McNabb worried about Roxie's health, about the strain carrying two babies put on her body, about whether those tots would be healthy or born too early.

"I tried to not let it affect my play knowing that I didn't play as well as I wanted to in the previous weeks," McNabb said yesterday. "But it's sort of a little weight off your shoulders knowing that everyone is healthy and everyone is fine and kind of can come back out here and have fun."

Professional athletes seem like gladiators and robots. They are highly paid because of their physical prowess and athletic abilities, and as a general rule they've been coddled ever since they first set foot on a field.

But the reality is, when you strip away the uniforms, the fat wallets, and the jewelry and fancy clothes, athletes are humans just like the rest of us. They have problems and worries that even money cannot solve. Nothing, especially as delicate an issue as a wife's complicated pregnancy, is assured to go according to plan.

It's easy to say that an athlete should be able to block things out when he's at work, but the reality is sometimes it's impossible.

Ask Brian Dawkins. During the 2007 off-season, his wife, Connie, delivered twin girls two months early. They stayed in the hospital for weeks, and Dawkins skipped all of the Eagles' minicamps to be with his family.

Dawkins eventually reported to Eagles training camp on time but got hurt early on and later admitted he was not ready, physically or emotionally, to play football. Life, his and his family's, had gotten in the way.

So when he found out that the McNabbs were having twins, Dawkins kept in close contact with Donovan, in part because he knew how tenuous and potentially problematic Roxie's pregnancy might be.

"I can't make a comment for [McNabb]," Dawkins said, "but I know that if I'm in that situation, I know how it could have or would have affected me, as far as being able to dial that completely out of your head. That would be tough. . . . Obviously, nothing serious happened and everybody is happy. It's a happy time. It's a very happy time. Now the party really begins for him."

The Dawkins twins are fine now, and when asked what advice he would give McNabb about having twin infants, Dawkins replied, "Help."

He was joking. Sort of.

"When those babies are born and everybody is healthy, it is such a blessing," Dawkins said. "It is such a burden off of your shoulders. It's such a release of newfound energy that you really get from that type of life being brought into your household."

McNabb didn't seem quite there yet yesterday. He seemed relieved, guarded, protective and peaceful. McNabb is notoriously tight-lipped about the details of his family and wouldn't divulge the twins' names. He said he wanted to keep some things personal, at least for one more day.

But McNabb did acknowledge the strain that two more children will put on his wife, even if the McNabbs choose to hire around-the-clock care. As the quarterback of the Eagles, McNabb typically is the first to the NovaCare Complex every day - usually well before 8 a.m. - and one of the last to leave.

"Family life changes when you have more kids, and at this particular point, we have twins," McNabb said. "It's tough. One may start to cry and then the other goes back to sleep and another one cries, so you are constantly moving back and forth to make sure that they are all right.

"The family is healthy, and then, obviously, second nature is to be ready for your job. No matter what happens out on the football field, you always know that you go home to the loving individuals who just truly love you for who you are, not what you do."

Everything else really pales in comparison, especially now that the McNabbs have increased their family by two. Still, in case anyone thinks the 32-year-old McNabb might be turning into a softy now that he's got two more little ones, he offered this response when asked if he's secure in his position as the Eagles' starting quarterback:

"I am the quarterback, and I will be the quarterback," McNabb said, "so if that's where you're going with it, I don't look at anything else that's happened."

Contact staff writer Ashley Fox
at 215-854-5064 or afox@phillynews.com.