Maybe the motivation was to get out of the office for a day. Whatever the reason, thousands of them streamed from the parking lots into the Wachovia Center yesterday to get pumped up by Zig Ziglar and Steve Forbes, Colin Powell and Rudy Giuliani.

Oh, yes. And Charlie Manuel and Donovan McNabb.

Now the idea of the Phillies' folksy manager and the Eagles' un-folksy quarterback serving as inspirational speakers sets up almost as many jokes as there were attendees at the arena. Manuel has acknowledged his own discomfort with public speaking, and McNabb's news conferences have often been clinics in how to talk without actually saying anything. For most of this off-season, he avoided talking publicly at all.

But rather than go for the easy one-liners, I thought it would be intriguing to see these two familiar figures in unfamiliar surroundings. So I dressed up like someone with a real job (business casual, of course) and infiltrated the arena at 8 a.m.

It was worth it, too. Not because I plan to increase my sales by 20 percent, or because I found winning strategies for improving myself - but because it was instructive to see Manuel and McNabb outside the stale and artificial confines of their normal public appearances.

Among civilians, in other words.

(Cole Hamels spoke, too, but his smooth public persona didn't require any espionage work to comprehend.)

The organizers of the Get Motivated seminar penciled Manuel into the leadoff spot. That might have looked more attractive to the skipper before the previous night's 10th-inning meltdown, but Manuel was on time and looking dapper in a suit and floral tie. He sat on a stool on a stage in the middle of the arena floor and answered questions about leadership, motivation, and monetary policy.

Scratch that last item. That was Forbes.

Manuel spoke plainly and convincingly about learning to "pursue excellence" from top players in the United States and Japan.

"I played with Rod Carew," Manuel said. "He worked on excellence. He worked on succeeding. I worked on trying not to make an out. I kind of reversed my attitude."

Manuel seemed surprised by the applause he received when he said he was the first American player to hit 40 home runs or win an MVP award in Japan. And that crystallized the difference here: This crowd understood that success is difficult to achieve. That's the draw at events like this, the chance to be near people who have achieved it.

So Manuel's anecdote about making $15,000 to manage the minor-league Wisconsin Rapids - a job in which he also "cut the grass, put the lines down on the field, put in the pitcher's mound" - resonated here. To get from there to a float in the World Series parade is an American success story anyone can relate to.

"I've had some of the toughest players in baseball," Manuel said. "And I've had some of the best. The guys we've got with the Phillies I would consider, without a doubt, my best team."

Manuel left to a standing ovation, and the stools were cleared away. A clear plastic lectern was brought onto the stage. McNabb bounded up onto the platform, accompanied by pyrotechnics and Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll." The QB was wearing a suit, no tie, with tinted glasses and a small microphone attached to a headset.

McNabb prowled around the square stage, talking about preparation and confidence and work ethic as those qualities translate to football as well as the business world. And, well, he was pretty good, commanding the crowd and drawing laughs with a few well-aimed jokes.

On Mondays, he said, he watches film to see "what calls Andy could make" better. He quipped about checking yourself out in the mirror before a meeting ("Looking awesome!") and the week-old doughnuts in the middle of every conference room.

He was nothing like the guy with the stilted syntax who seems to be suffering through news conferences. McNabb was relaxed and confident, and the crowd was rapt as he compared preparing for a game with preparing for a big sales meeting.

He didn't say what to do if a rival company stepped in front of your sales pitch and took it to the house, but this was supposed to be about motivation, after all.

McNabb joked about asking Manuel for a ring. He introduced the starting lineups for the broadcast of the decisive Game 5 of the World Series, he said, "so I can say I have a little piece of that."

Then he said, "I think I'm going to get my own ring."

McNabb, like Manuel, received an overwhelmingly positive response - not a boo in the house.

"If we can get you to act like this over at Lincoln Financial [Field]," McNabb joked, "we'll be all right."

Right back at you, No. 5. Right back at you.

Contact columnist Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844
Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/philsheridan.