ANDY REID MENTIONED Donovan McNabb and the Hall of Fame in the same sentence last week and alarm bells went off all over Philadelphia.
McNabb-haters, who blame the quarterback for everything from the Eagles' failure to win a Super Bowl title to global warming, were aghast at the suggestion that the guy they live to boo and ridicule might someday end up in Canton.
This being America, everybody's entitled to their opinion, including me. When the subject is Hall of Fame-worthiness, though, my opinion matters a little bit more than Joe from Roxborough's because I'm one of the 44 members of the Hall's board of selectors.
That fact probably won't have any impact on McNabb's candidacy. He still seems to want to play another 4 to 5 years, and won't be eligble for the Hall until 5 years after he retires. By that time, I suspect I'll be in a state-run nursing home. But let's assume for an unlikely moment that when McNabb becomes eligible for Canton, I won't have been institutionalized yet and still will be a Hall of Fame voter.
Let's also assume something else. Let's assume that the 33-year-old McNabb ends up playing 4 more years, stays reasonably healthy and puts up the kind of numbers in those 4 years that he's averaged most of his career, which is about 3,200 passing yards and 21 touchdowns per season.
That assumption is important because if McNabb's career ended tomorrow, he wouldn't get my Canton vote or that of many of the other selectors. His numbers still aren't quite imposing enough, and he doesn't have the Super Bowl bling to offset that the way Troy Aikman did when the three-time Super Bowl-winner was elected in 2006 in his first year of eligibility.
But give him 4 more years of 3,200 passing yards and 21 touchdowns and he'll get my vote. Regardless of whether he ever wins a Super Bowl.
Let's address the Super Bowl thing right off the top. Many people seem to feel that if a quarterback hasn't won at least one championship, he doesn't deserve a bust in Canton. This, of course, ignores the fact that a lot of very ordinary quarterbacks - Trent Dilfer, Mark Rypien, Doug Williams, Jim Plunkett, Jim McMahon and Brad Johnson, to name a few – own Super Bowl rings.
It also ignores the fact that there are a number of quarterbacks in the Hall of Fame who haven't won championships. Of the nine passers who've been inducted into the Hall since 1985, four – Dan Marino, Jim Kelly, Warren Moon and Dan Fouts – never won a Super Bowl.
Let's take a closer look at McNabb's career as it pertains to Hall of Fame-worthiness:
With 31,509 passing yards and 209 touchdown passes, McNabb is on track to finish his career with 40,000-plus yards and 250-plus TD passes. There currently are just 11 players in the 40,000-250 club. Nine of them are in Canton. The only two who aren't are Vinny Testaverde and Dave Krieg. And they both have too many shortcomings in other areas to ever merit serious consideration.
McNabb owns the best interception percentage in league history among quarterbacks who have attempted at least 2,000 passes. He's thrown just 96 picks in 4,588 attempts, which averages out to one every 47.8 attempts. A nice stat, but a lot of good-but-not-great quarterbacks have very good interception percentages.
But pair McNabb's knack for not throwing interceptions with his 209 touchdown passes and you have something special. His 2.18 touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio is the second best in league history, behind only eventual Hall-of-Famer Tom Brady (2.31). The five players behind Brady and McNabb are Steve Young (2.17), Peyton Manning (2.03), Joe Montana (1.96), Jeff Garcia (1.94) and Drew Brees (1.81). The only one of those other six who isn't already in Canton (Young, Montana) or headed there (Brady, Manning, Brees) is Garcia.
The wins and losses
No, McNabb hasn't won a Super Bowl. But his .647 regular-season winning percentage is third among active quarterbacks. Of the nine quarterbacks inducted into the Hall of Fame since 1985, just three have better regular-season winning percentages than McNabb - Roger Staubach (.746), Montana (.713) and Young (.657).
McNabb's postseason record (9-6, .600) also ranks right up there with the QBs already in Canton. Of the nine voted in since '85, just four have better playoff winning percentages – Aikman (11-4, .733), Montana (16-7, .696), John Elway (14-7, .667) and Staubach (11-6, .647).
One of the legitimate knocks on McNabb is his performance in really big playoff games. While he's 9-6 in the postseason as a starter, he's 1-4 in the Eagles' five NFC Championship Game appearances and 0-1 in the Super Bowl.
In his 15 playoff starts, he's thrown 23 touchdown passes and 16 interceptions and has a .596 completion percentage. But in the five NFC title games and the Super Bowl loss to the Patriots, he had nine TDs, nine interceptions and a .573 completion percentage.
The accuracy issue
McNabb isn't the most accurate passer to come down the pike. He's always been streaky. Holds the league record for consecutive completions (24), but has finished in the top 10 in the league in completion percentage just once in 11 seasons (10th in '04, .640). He has a career completion percentage of .590 and is 16th in the league in completion rate this year (.614).
But five of the nine quarterbacks who have been elected to the Hall since '85 have sub-.600 career completion percentages. Elway had a .569 completion rate. He completed more than 60 percent of his passes in just three of 16 seasons.
Marino, who is second to Brett Favre in career passing yards and touchdown passes, has a .594 career completion percentage. He completed 60 percent of his passes just five times in 17 years. Moon had a .584 completion percentage and was above 60 percent just six times in 17 years.
Lack of comebacks
Many measure a quarterback's greatness by his ability to bring his team back from the brink of defeat. Certainly, any conversation about Elway or Favre's legacy includes their knack for fourth-quarter comebacks.
While McNabb has brought the Eagles back from fourth-quarter deficits the last two weeks, he hasn't had a ton of them in his career. But fourth-quarter comebacks are a tough thing to put a value on.
Under Andy Reid, the Eagles typically haven't needed fourth-quarter comebacks. They've led after three quarters in 87 of their 155 regular-season games since 2000. They've won 76 of those 87. They've trailed after three quarters in 56 games and have just a 16-39-1 record. But just three of those wins and 11 of those 39 losses came in '05 and '06, when McNabb missed a total of 13 games due to injury.
The crowded field
Can a guy who isn't even one of the top five quarterbacks of his era make it to Canton? Another legitimate question.
Manning, Brady and Favre, who all are Hall of Fame locks, are better than McNabb. So too is Brees, who is close to racking up 30,000 passing yards and 200 TDs in just nine seasons. You can probably put the Chargers' Philip Rivers ahead of him as well. Maybe even the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger, if you're inclined.
But that doesn't mean there won't be room for McNabb. Young, Marino, Aikman, Elway and Kelly all came into the league within 5 years of one another, and none of them had any difficulty getting in the front door of Canton. All made it in their first year of eligibility.
If you cover an athlete long enough, his flaws often can start to overshadow his attributes and accomplishments. That happened to me with Randall Cunningham. A lot of people look at Randall and see a guy who belongs in the Hall of Fame. I look at him and see a guy who wasn't willing to work hard enough to become a great quarterback and squandered too much of his ability. Love the guy, but he'll never get my Hall of Fame vote.
I see McNabb's flaws too. I see the streaky accuracy. I saw, for too long, the unwillingness to throw the ball into tight spots. I see a guy who, for much of his career, wasn't really the team leader he claimed to be. I saw the poor playoff performances against the Patriots and Panthers.
No, he's not perfect. But with or without a Super Bowl ring, McNabb's numbers clearly say – or eventually will say - he's a winner. And with or without a Super Bowl ring, he will make it to the Hall of Fame.
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