"In whatever you do, it's important to put your all into it, because you never know when or if that time will be your last."
- Donovan McNabb
DONOVAN McNABB didn't have to do it.
He didn't have to brave the double-digit-inch snowfall that blasted the Delaware Valley last Saturday to keep his word to attend an event featuring a Christmas shopping spree at a Target store for 130 children from a Mount Airy shelter.
He didn't have to make a personal appearance later in the day at the subsequent 2-hour gift-wrapping party and lunch for the kids at Chickie's and Pete's, either. A cancellation, given the conditions, was a mere phone call away - and it would have been justifiable.
Listening to McNabb, you realize that skipping out on those children was never even a thought. Because it's apparent that he believes a heightened sense of civic responsibility comes with his job as a professional athlete.
"It started at home at a very young age from my parents [Sam and Wilma McNabb], they made sure that my brother and I were aware that if we were ever in a position to help others, then it's just what you do," McNabb said. "It has to be from the heart; it has to be something you want to do and not feel like it's a chore. And it never has."
The event was one of McNabb's many charitable endeavors in the Philadelphia area. He has embraced a region that at times has not always embraced him during his 11 seasons with the Eagles.
"I've gotten used to the fact that no matter what you do, you are bound to hear criticism whether it be from fans, critics, or the media," McNabb said. "But I try to think about the good I do outside of football and that helps sustain me and keep me grounded. My responsibility is to be a leader on and off the field, so I don't have time to let negativity keep me down."
Saturday wasn't a chore for McNabb and his entire family as they put smiles on the children's faces. For the second consecutive year, the McNabbs teamed with event organizer Sonny DiCrecchio and Chickie's and Pete's owner Pete Ciarrochi in aiding Stenton Family Manor, a nonprofit similar to the Salvation Army but generally overlooked by its sizable counterpart. With McNabb's big brother Sean as Santa, the children and about 40 chaperones played video games, wrapped gifts, had lunch and hung out with one of the city's most recognizable faces.
"It brought tears to my eyes to see the level of love and compassion not just by Donovan but by his whole family," said Elder Rob Harrison, executive director of Stenton Family Manor. "It wasn't just him, but his mom came, his dad came, his wife. The way he interacted, he didn't make the kids feel like he was some big superstar; he was like a big brother.
"It's an experience I could never thank him enough for and none of these kids will ever forget what he did for them."
All in a day's work for one of the many charitable contributions that fill McNabb's resumé.
As an advocate for diabetes awareness, he holds an annual Donovan McNabb Camp for Kids and has done public service announcements. He and wife Raquel recently donated a six-figure sum and are in the process of raising an additional $2.5 million to aid in the construction of a new neonatal intensive care unit at Virtua Hospital in Voorhees, N.J., where the McNabbs' four children - 5-year-old Alexis, 1-year-old twins Sariah and Donovan Jr., and newborn son Devin James - were born.
He partners with the Daily News to give his game tickets to an area high school player who excels on the field, in the classroom and in his community. In February, the African American Museum of Philadelphia gave McNabb its coveted Heritage Award for his "10-year history of leadership and commitment both on and off the field to the community."
Now McNabb is up for another award as a candidate for the NFL's Man of the Year honor.
"I think it would be a great achievement, but it's not why I do it," McNabb said. "One of the things that go unnoticed are the things that athletes do in their communities that are good. It's great that other athletes take time out of their schedule to better the lives of someone else.
"About 4 years ago, I met a child through the Make-A-Wish Foundation who absolutely loved the Eagles. I invited him to a game against Green Bay, but he was so sick he couldn't make it. I remember us winning that game and I scored a touchdown and later I brought him the game ball I scored with and he just lit up the room with his smile. Here he is this sick kid who was able to forget about his illness and just enjoy the moment.
"Look, the awards are great and I appreciate them, but I'll always remember that smile - and for me that's why I do what I do."