IT WAS OBVIOUS yesterday that Donovan McNabb is trying to rehabilitate more than only his right ACL.
McNabb held his second media session away from the NovaCare Complex in 10 days, again in connection with his upcoming charity golf tournament. This time, the Eagles' quarterback moved from table to table at the RiverCrest Golf Club in Phoenixville, where the tournament will be held on June 15, chatting casually with small groups of reporters about his rehab, his first encounter with rookie QB Kevin Kolb at last weekend's minicamp, and his outlook on handling the tricky business of being the focal point of the franchise that dominates the area's sporting landscape.
For many of the reporters, it was their first encounter with McNabb when he wasn't seated at a podium, behind a microphone. And that was really the point, just as it was in McNabb's previous such excursion, May 8 in Voorhees, N.J. That time, he spoke to only a few media outlets. Yesterday's event included just about anyone with a microphone, camera or notepad willing to make the trek out Route 422, and lunch was included, McNabb shaking hands at the head of the buffet line.
"A lot of people might just look at me as the quarterback of the team; they kind of just leave it at that," McNabb said after showing off his novice golf swing for the benefit of TV cameras. "They have to understand, I'm more than just a quarterback. I'm a father, a husband, a caring person that loves kids and is willing to do whatever I can do to help the next man out."
In a lot of cities, the public persona McNabb has exhibited since arriving here in 1999 - thoughtful, dignified, supportive of the organization he plays for - would suit nearly everyone just fine, but Philadelphia is not one of those cities. Certainly, many fans appreciate McNabb's sober, buttoned-down approach to being a role model and the bulwark of a franchise. But quite a few seem to find him stuffy and overly corporate; in news conferences, where he has done almost all of his talking, McNabb can sound like a midlevel bureaucrat, shoveling canned quotes that show little heart or emotion.
As McNabb, 30, moves toward what could be a defining season for his Eagles career, after five Pro Bowls and one Super Bowl appearance, but no championship, and two successive seasons interrupted by serious injury, he faces a dramatically changed landscape. The organization he has defined so far this decade just drafted his presumed successor in Kolb. The fan base, weary of the Birds coming up short in their Super Bowl title quest, could easily migrate en masse to Kolb, if McNabb struggles.
Rich Burg, the publicist McNabb hired recently after Burg was fired by the Eagles, talked yesterday about how important it is for McNabb to be more than an icon at a podium, a statue on a pedestal.
"I think it's important in this town that people feel they can reach out and touch him, that they feel he is a regular guy," Burg said. Burg noted that Jeff Garcia, the quarterback who became a fan favorite in leading the team to the playoffs after McNabb was injured, was very good at connecting in this way.
McNabb resisted acknowledging that he wants to change the way he is perceived.
"Hopefully, I'm perceived in a positive light," he said. "You want to be looked upon as a role model, a human being, a guy that works hard to be the best at what he can do, and [wins] championships. Not everybody can win the Super Bowl, but hopefully we'll be able to do that this year, be able to hold up that trophy and look forward to doing it again next year."
Again yesterday, no representative of the Eagles was present as McNabb spoke. In the earlier series of interviews, in which McNabb talked of his feelings after the team unexpectedly took Kolb as its first draft choice, 36th overall, the Eagles were not notified of the appearance. Yesterday, they were invited, but a team media representative phoned Burg with his regrets, Burg said, explaining he had a prior commitment.
But McNabb insisted there is no rift between him and the organization.
"This isn't a situation where I'm trying to stand out, away from the team," McNabb said. "When I spoke, I thought it was the best time to speak, and to get the word out. I just felt like it wasn't a situation where I needed to involve everybody . . . once the word was out, everybody heard it and we were able to move on.
"My main purpose for that was to get the word out, so that Kevin wouldn't have to come in and answer questions [about McNabb], he could just focus in on just playing football. The team didn't have to worry about what I said . . . they could just focus in on that camp . . . I wasn't trying to say, 'I'm my own man,' - I'm my own man, anyway. I'm a player, yes I am, and I work for the Eagles. Everybody was looking at it too deep."
McNabb said he and coach Andy Reid have talked about the surprise selection of Kolb, and there is no problem between them. On draft weekend, Reid was unable to get in touch with McNabb. They sat down together 3 days later.
"My relationship probably is better than it was before, because we were able to talk about a lot of different issues," McNabb said. "Obviously, with the issue we've been faced with of drafting a quarterback, that's what everybody wants to know [about], but with the situation he's been a part of with his family [two of Reid's sons arrested], I was there for him. I called him and talked to him, texted him, or whatever, to let him know if he needed anything, I was here . . . With our communication after that situation, and after the draft, we were able to talk about other things. People, again, they look too far into it to say, 'Well, Donovan didn't do this, and maybe they don't communicate' - we talk all the time. I've been rehabbing here for the past 5 months . . . I don't think anything has changed [in the relationship]."
A reporter suggested yesterday that the perception of McNabb as aloof and overly corporate has infiltrated the locker room. Former receivers Freddie Mitchell and Terrell Owens criticized his perceived closeness to management.
"If my teammates look at me as a 'company man,' hey, in order to be in that company, you have to do what's right by that company, or you'll be out of that company," he said. "When you play the position I play, you can be looked upon as so many things . . . I'm sure Peyton [Manning] gets the same thing. I'm sure [Tom] Brady get the same thing, Carson Palmer gets the same thing . . . because they say we get more things or better things than everybody else."
McNabb said he works out about 3 hours a day. He said he is wary of guaranteeing what Reid spoke of at minicamp, that McNabb would be 100 percent when training camp opens July 27. That is his goal, he said, but there still must be further improvement for it to be reached.
"It sounds good. But I don't know - will it be stronger than it is right now, or will it be the same?" he said.
McNabb said he "knew [Kolb] would be a great guy to talk to" and he was, when they finally met last week. McNabb said Kolb is among the players scheduled to appear at his golf tourney.
"I would've loved to have been able to show him on the field, rather than just talking to him," as Kolb tried to learn the Eagles' offense at minicamp, McNabb said. "I thought he looked great . . . I thought he handled it really well, did a great job in the pocket. He throws a great ball." *