At first, I thought Rick Reilly was joking - maybe trying out new material before appearing at Helium and other comedy clubs across the country. Nope.

The ESPN.com columnist also does TV commentary for the World Wide Leader. His television pieces are generally a mix of tongue-in-cheek humor and schmaltz, though the latest offering was far more earnest. And absurd.

If you haven't heard, Reilly thinks you owe Donovan McNabb an apology. Funny stuff, right? That could have made a great bit for Reilly's stand-up routine.

Alas, he was serious. Reilly took umbrage with McNabb recently saying sorry to Philadelphia. (About a week ago, McNabb appeared on WPEN-FM (97.5) and apologized to the fans for "not bringing the Super Bowl to them.")

"Hopefully people take [the apology] to heart," McNabb told The Inquirer thereafter. "If they didn't, there's nothing much more I can do."

It was a nice gesture by McNabb, but it was also unnecessary. Unless he was throwing games or giving less than his full effort during the 11 seasons he spent wearing midnight green, McNabb doesn't owe the fans or anyone else an apology. It would have been grand if McNabb delivered a parade to Philly, but plenty of other great players - Ron Jaworski, Allen Iverson, Charles Barkley, Eric Lindros - left town without winning titles. It happens. No mea culpa required.

Which brings us back to Reilly, who began his screed the other night by drawing some specious parallels. Reilly said that McNabb apologizing to Philly is "like Conan [O'Brien] apologizing to Jay [Leno]. Does the salmon apologize to the bear? [Craig] Ehlo apologizing to [Michael] Jordan. If anything, Philadelphia ought to apologize to him. This is the city that booed him when he came, never thought he was good enough, never gave him a go-to receiver, until they gave him one he couldn't get away from, and then traded him within the division for a little-known quarterback named Kevin Kolb - who in three years has a real chance to be the little-known quarterback Kevin Kolb. This is the way you treat a guy who's been nothing but nice, classy, maybe too classy?"

Is there a national media mandate that all Philadelphians must be grouped together? The idea that "Philadelphia" - the whole city - "booed him when he came" is maddening and trite, not to mention lazy and easily debunked. Just as the entire town shouldn't have been indicted after a single drunken lout projectile vomited at a Phillies game, the city shouldn't be punished, year after year, for the actions of a handful of people who took the time to drive to the NFL draft in New York and criticize an Eagles pick that was made more than a decade ago.

Mention McNabb to a random selection of Philadelphians, and you're bound to hear an array of disparate opinions. You'll find people who loved McNabb and those who couldn't stand him, fans who wish he was still here and others who couldn't be happier he's gone. McNabb is Philly's very own Rorschach test - everyone sees something different. To suggest otherwise or conveniently overlook the ongoing debate about what McNabb achieved in Philly is cheap and intellectually dishonest.

But, for a moment, let's concede Reilly's preposterous points. Let's stipulate that all of us booed McNabb at the draft and that none of us "thought he was good enough." Even if that was true, so what? Why would that entitle McNabb to an apology?

I can't be sure about this, but I'm willing to bet McNabb's contract with the Eagles guaranteed the quarterback a fat paycheck but not universal acceptance. Expecting money in exchange for quarterbacking the team is fair. Expecting support is folly. That's not how it works in sports - not here in Philadelphia or anywhere else.

During one of his countless comebacks, Brett Favre told ESPN, and I'm paraphrasing, that half the people would cheer his decision to return and the other half would stick pins into little voodoo dolls made from old pairs of Favre-endorsed Wrangler jeans because the quarterback made the media and his fans wait around again. Favre seemed to understand that you can't please everyone, and he was OK with it.

Even if McNabb hadn't been booed on draft day, and even if he had won a Super Bowl, some people would still dislike him. They'd just come up with different reasons to hate the guy. There are always critics. That's the way it goes - in sports, in Philly, in life.

Apologies of any kind - from Five or the fans - won't change a thing, and they certainly won't help anyone feel better about how everything ended for McNabb in Philly. Reilly is a smart guy. He knows all that - and he shouldn't pretend otherwise.

Contact columnist John Gonzalez at 215-854-2813 or gonzalez@phillynews.com.
Follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/gonzophilly