Vick intensifies suspense of McNabb’s return

Topics in this article:

Earlier this week, I received a press release from the United Football League entitled ”Let’s Get Ready To Rumble At Rosenblatt.” It heralded Saturday night’s showdown in Omaha, Neb., between Daunte Culpepper(notes) and Jeff Garcia(notes), a pair of former Pro Bowl passers I’ve enjoyed covering over the years.

McNabb's Redskins have lost their past two games.
(Geoff Burke/US Presswire)

Not only did the second-year league decree the meeting to be ”the most exciting quarterback matchup in United Football League history,” but it also went even further, calling Culpepper vs. Garcia ”arguably the best quarterback matchup in all of professional football this weekend.”

Can I just pause to tell you how much I love that, for three reasons?

1) I admire the UFL’s PR savvy and flair for hyperbole, a smart way to get noticed in an NFL-dominated world;

2) It’s an absolutely brilliant use of the unassailable term arguably, as in, ”the Toyota Sienna is arguably the pimpest ride in America,” or, ”Michael Silver, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein are arguably the three most influential U.S. journalists of the past 40 years”;

3) It’s so easy to argue that it’s not.

That’s because, you know, Donovan McNabb(notes) vs. Michael Vick(notes) in Philly on Sunday is shaping up as arguably one of the most compelling quarterback matchups I’ve ever anticipated.

Yes. Really. It’s potentially that good.

Eleven months ago, as I prepared to fly to Green Bay for Brett Favre’s(notes) surreal return to Lambeau Field, I wondered whether that Vikings-Packers clash would end up being one of the 10 most memorable regular season games I’d covered. It turned out that Favre – and the game – absolutely lived up to billing.

That game, like the earlier matchup between Favre and successor Aaron Rodgers(notes) in Minneapolis, brought me back to the Joe Montana-Steve Young showdown I covered 15 years earlier, after the 49ers had traded Montana to the Chiefs.

Were the storylines surrounding Sunday’s game at Lincoln Financial Field singularly focused upon McNabb’s return, I would hesitate to place it on the level of Favre’s and Montana’s cracks at payback toward the respective organizations that spurned them. McNabb may, in fact, be the greatest quarterback in Eagles franchise history, but those other guys are two of the best who’ve ever played the position.

What elevates this Eagles-Redskins battle is the sudden emergence of Vick, rather than anointed understudy Kevin Kolb(notes), as McNabb’s successor in Philly.

This is not simply because Vick is a three-time Pro Bowler who once took the Atlanta Falcons to the NFC title game – or that he had one of the most precipitous falls from grace in the history of professional sports.

It’s also because, since getting his unexpected shot at career redemption in the Eagles’ season opener, Vick has treated us to 10 quarters’ worth of mind-blowing mastery of his craft that has reminded us all why we were so tantalized by his potential in the first place.

Reid concluded that Vick is his best option to win.
(Michael DeHoog/Getty Images)

Yes, I know it’s early, and there will be stiffer tests than the Lions and Jaguars to come. But Vick’s comfort level, presence and aura right now are simply eerie, and it’s not an exaggeration to say he’s playing at an MVP level.

So that is who Andy Reid is trotting out to defend his honor against the quarterback to whom he was loyal for 11 seasons, a run which included a Super Bowl defeat and five NFC championship game appearances.

Was McNabb offended when Reid, after having publicly declared that McNabb was still his guy, put him on the trading block, then had the audacity to pull the trigger on a deal that sent him a couple of hours down the road to a division rival?

You think?

As I referenced when recalling the 1994 Montana-Young confrontation in Kansas City, this isn’t only a question of which quarterback will step up. It will also be fascinating to watch the players around them, and the extent to which they’ll rally around their respective leaders.

In this particular situation, there’s one other layer to consider: Redskins coach Mike Shanahan is going to bring it as well.

More than virtually anyone in his profession, Shanahan takes his mental matchups with other coaching staffs quite personally. In my game story on Super Bowl XXXIII, I wrote that ”hell hath no fury like a genius scorned” – a reference to Shanahan’s belief that former mentor Dan Reeves had slighted him in the days leading up to the game. Shanahan’s Broncos destroyed Reeves’ Falcons to win their second consecutive championship, and afterward John Elway told me, ”For Mike, this game was personal. I’ve never seen him more ready for a football game.”

I’m not saying Sunday’s regular season clash will rise to that level, or even approach it. But I know Shanahan, and I know he has his reasons to want to shove McNabb’s successful return down the throats of his opponents, the paying customers and anyone else (like, most of us) who might be paying attention.

Shanahan seethed while sitting out a year of football after being fired by Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, spending much of his time studying film and plotting his return. He’s the guy who made the call to go after McNabb, and he has a lot invested in the veteran’s success, both professionally and emotionally. If there’s a way to attack the Eagles’ defense, he’ll find it and implement it.

For that reason, I give McNabb and the Skins a slight edge in this one, though I expect both quarterbacks to bring their “A” games, and it should be a riveting afternoon.

And if I’m right, for all of us who have the privilege of witnessing it in person, the McNabb vs. Vick throwdown will be arguably as awesome as Freddie Mercury’s voice, fresh avocados and Da Ali G show.

Let’s get ready to rumble.

TAKE IT TO THE ATM

Ray Rice(notes) will be healthy and hellacious – and Ray Lewis(notes) will be Ray Lewis – as the Ravens steal a close one from the Steelers in Pittsburgh. … Despite the little voice in my head telling me not to declare this, the Rams will build on last Sunday’s upset of the ‘Skins and beat the Seahawks in St. Louis. … Brandon Marshall(notes) will outshine Randy Moss(notes) as the Dolphins win a high-scoring Monday night matchup with the Patriots.

PLEASE, BOSS, SEND ME TO …

Philadelphia. Or, in this case, Philadelphi-duh. (I came up with that all by myself. Really.)

LIES, LIES, LIES

1. Because I have not watched an entire San Francisco Giants game all season, I’ll obviously feel too sheepish to jump on the bandwagon and revel in a potential World Series run.

2. After soliciting Jimmy Mora’s opinion on how Eagles fans should feel about McNabb’s return, ESPN radio host Doug Gottlieb called back to ask the former Falcons and Seahawks coach, “How should my listeners feel about the fact that you just verbally pimp-slapped me?”

3. Upon discovering that a phone number printed on Chad Ochocinco’s(notes) cereal box goes to a phone-sex line, rather than to the intended children’s charity, Kroger grocery stores in Cincinnati pulled the boxes from the shelves and implored the Bengals wideout to change his surname to “Seisnueve.”

WORLD’S SIMPLEST POOL

The Patriots made it a bit more interesting against the Bills than I’d have preferred (and I suppose C.J. Spiller(notes) had something to do with that), but New England came through with a 38-30 victory, propelling me headlong into Week 4. With the Pats, Falcons and Titans off limits, I’m torn between the Chargers (at home against the Cards) and Saints (home vs. Panthers); each team, I believe, is poised to bounce back from a loss and win big against an opponent with a dubious quarterbacking situation. While a case could be made to save the Saints for later in the season, I’m going to play the defending-champs card now and take my chances down the road. And if Jimmy Clausen(notes), in his second career start, knocks me out of this pool – well, what was I doing here in the first place?

FANTASY ANNOYANCE OF THE WEEK

My buddy Malibu had some recent business in Shreveport, La., which doesn’t sound all that great, until you consider the proximity to the Abita Brewing Company and the blessed Turbo Dogs that come with it. Malibu’s extended stay in the Pelican State also helped his fantasy team, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, upgrade its roster. “It’s the joy of insomnia,” Malibu explained. “I was up at 3 a.m., and someone on TV started talking about BenJarvus Green-Ellis(notes). I rolled over, reached for my iPhone and picked him up as a free agent on the spot. The next night, I got Lance Moore(notes).” This week Sabbath (2-1) catches a break in its matchup with league-leading Team 420, which is missing star halfback Adrian Peterson because the Vikings have a bye. Malibu has a tough decision: Play Jay Cutler, one of my draft-advice specials (“Good call, dude – who was picking that guy to have a big year?” he reluctantly conceded), who faces the Giants, or go with McNabb? While Cutler is the rational play, my heart told me to advise him to play the guy with the major point to prove. “I agree that McNabb will play big,” Malibu says. “It’s the rest of the Redskins who worry me – I think they’ll let him down. And the bottom line is that Cutler throws the ball a lot.” By Sunday night, we’ll be able to determine which one of us sleepless sages had the better instincts.

Meanwhile, gregarious guru Brad Evans and I break it down once again on this week’s “Fantasy and Reality” – and, as always, we covet your questions for future episodes, which you can submit to fantasyreality@yahoo.com.

OXYGEN-DEPRIVED THOUGHT FROM ABOVE

You know what’s unique about Cowboys rookie wideout Dez Bryant(notes) getting stuck with the dinner tab earlier this week, other than the enormity of the bill (nearly $55,000)? Nothing. Though the vast majority of us can’t relate to such a mentality, I’ve been around enough rich, bulletproof young men who behave similarly that I’m utterly unfazed by the revelation. Trust me, it has probably happened in your sports town within the last few months, and it’ll happen again: Athletes (and, to be fair, others in their tax bracket) will go out, do it up and stick someone with the tab. While rookies are typically the prime candidates, credit-card roulette is not an uncommon resolution tool. I’ve even fallen victim, albeit with far less damage than Bryant incurred: Once, after a Chargers training camp practice, I ended up at Japengo, a La Jolla sushi hotspot, with way too many players at happy hour. A constant barrage of cocktails and raw fish ensued. Suddenly, someone looked at his watch and noticed that curfew was approaching, and the table cleared out like the waiter had just yelled, “Bad blowfish!” Before I knew what had hit me, Junior Seau(notes) had his arm on my shoulder and said, “Silv … you’ve got the check, right budddeeeee?” Fortunately my employer at the time, Sports Illustrated, was understanding of my desire not to disappoint one of the toughest men in football in his time of need. A year later I laughed upon learning that then-rookie quarterback Ryan Leaf – same sushi spot, same smooth Seau move – had declined the opportunity to take care of the tab. That got him on Seau’s bad side, and he soon managed to tick off Rodney Harrison(notes) and every other prominent Chargers player. I’m not saying Leaf’s career would have been markedly different had he just whipped out his credit card at Japengo, but then again, I understand why Bryant took his medicine the other night in the name of locker-room relations.

LET’S DO SOME DON JULIO SILVER SHOTS FOR …

Brandi Chastain, a soccer icon and longtime friend of this column whose sincere and unabated love for her sport has impacted thousands upon thousands of young women, including one who lives in my house. Having been denied a graceful retirement from the U.S. national team and, more recently, Women’s Professional Soccer, Chastain is staging her own farewell party Saturday night at Santa Clara’s Buck Shaw Stadium, where she starred as a collegian (after entertaining me and a bunch of other lucky undergrads at her first stop, the world’s greatest academic institution). The 6 p.m. testimonial game will feature big names like Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Joy Fawcett, Eric Wynalda and Tab Ramos, along with the great Chad Chastain, he of avocado-consumption and Cal-football-weekend-revelry legend. (For ticket information, check out Chastain’s website.) Chad’s big sis, who’ll play one half for each team, is most definitely in it to win it. “I’ve already made it very clear that somebody better set me up for a bicycle kick – or else,” Chastain said Thursday. “Damn right I’m gonna score. I’d better.” Don’t doubt the 42-year-old’s desire or fitness level; one day a few decades from now she’ll be dribbling past fellow senior citizens while using a walker. For now, Chastain will continue to play for the California Storm, a Sacramento-based semi-pro team, and to help her husband, Santa Clara coach Jerry Smith, coach the 10th-ranked Broncos. The testimonial game will serve as a launch party for the REACHUP Foundation, a venture designed to provide mentorship, positive role-modeling and other support for young girls. Nobody does it better.

THIS WEEK’S PROOF THAT CAL IS THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE

As most of you know, I normally extol my alma mater’s athletic, academic and social successes in this space, and I am not subtle or bashful in doing so. This week, however, I’m not even going to fake it: Tuesday was a rough, rough day to be a Golden Bear, with the announcement that four intercollegiate sports programs (baseball, lacrosse and men’s and women’s gymnastics) had been eliminated and that the greatest dynasty in college sports, California rugby, was imperiled by a senseless demotion in status. I’ve made my thoughts clear on this issue in a recent appearance on San Francisco’s KNBR-AM, and I’d like to reiterate some of them here. First of all, I can’t possibly convey how much I admire Cal rugby coach Jack Clark and his program, for the reasons I laid out in an SI profile eight years ago. I’m not just talking about the 21 national championships Clark’s teams have won, but also about the way the young men he mentors represent the university during and after their time on campus. When Clark tells me his kids deserve the validation of varsity status, I nod in agreement. When he says the program is financially self-sustaining, and that he has a no-cost plan to develop and coach a women’s rugby team to help the athletic department comply with Title IX legislation, I feel my eyeballs popping out of my head. It’s a logical, direct and passionate solution to a prickly problem; in other words, Clark’s specialty. I want to do everything in my power to help bring his plan to fruition, and to avoid losing one of our school’s greatest and most loyal servants, and all that comes with it. I hope those of you that share my conviction will reach out via Twitter, Mogotxt, Facebook or the leave-a-comment section of this column, and I trust that Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour – who has had an unenviable challenge in recent months and is a smart and creative problem-solver – will work diligently to restore to Clark’s program the symbolic status it deserves.

YAHOO! SEARCH WORDS OF THE WEEK

Sarah Murdoch video ‘Oh my God’

LYRIC-ALTERED SONG DEDICATION OF THE WEEK

Since becoming the Redskins’ coach, Mike Shanahan has tried various motivational strategies on grumpy defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth(notes), with alarmingly little success. Three games into Shanahan’s tenure, it appears as though the tens of millions of dollars that ‘Skins owner Daniel Snyder forked over to Haynesworth a year-and-a-half ago have disappeared into a black hole – which brings us to the band Muse. On Tuesday I saw the theatrical British band rock fast and furious with my 14-year-old daughter, who now hopefully considers her father to be slightly less uncool (at least for the time being). And as we enjoyed watching their raucous rendition of “Supermassive Black Hole”, I couldn’t help but imagine Shanahan singing it to his enigmatic lineman – and hoping he’ll pick McNabb’s return to Philly as the time to unleash his astronomical force.

Oooh Albert don’t you know I suffer?
Oooh Albert won’t you play the nose?
We signed you under false pretenses?
How long before you let it go?

Oooooh. … ooooh. … You make my face turn red
Oooooh. … ooooh. … Why not torment Mike Vick instead?

(Oooooh. … ooooh. … You make my face turn red)
Defense flailing with game on the line
And the superstar’s sucked into the supermassive

(Oooooh. … ooooh. … Why not torment Mike Vick instead?)
Defense flailing with game on the line
And the superstar sucks and he’s supermassive

I thought I that I could motivate you
Oh Albert I’m a fool it’s true
You’re the king of lackadaisical
Nobody’s slave, what you gonna do?

Oooooh. … ooooh. … You make my face turn red
Oooooh. … ooooh. … Why not torment Mike Vick instead?

(Oooooh. … ooooh. … You make my face turn red)
Defense flailing with game on the line
And the superstar’s sucked into the supermassive

(Oooooh. … ooooh. … Why not torment Mike Vick instead?)
Defense flailing with game on the line
And the superstar sucks and he’s supermassive

Supermassive tackle
Supermassive black hole
Supermassive hassle
Supermassive ass. …
ohhhhhhhhh ohhhhhhhh

Defense flailing with game on the line
And the superstar’s sucked into the supermassive

Defense flailing with game on the line
And the superstar sucks and he’s supermassive

(Oooooh. … ooooh. … You make my face turn red)
Defense flailing with game on the line
And the superstar’s sucked into the supermassive

(Oooooh. … ooooh. … Why not torment Mike Vick)
Defense flailing with game on the line
And the superstar sucks and he’s supermassive

Supermassive tackle
Supermassive black hole
Supermassive hassle
Supermassive ass. …