It’s an honor reserved only for the absolute best in franchise history. And it’s a franchise history that goes back nearly a century. Reggie White’s 92. Chuck Bednarik’s 60. Steve Van Buren’s 15. Brian Dawkins’ 20. Pete Retzlaff’s 44. Al Wistert’s 70. Tom Brookshier’s 40. Jerome Brown’s 99. Add No. 5 to the list.
Owner Jeff Lurie announced Monday morning that Donovan McNabb’s jersey No. 5 will never be worn again by a Philadelphia Eagle. It’s the ninth number retired in the 81-year history of the franchise.
“The thing for me … it’s for my four little kids,” McNabb said in an interview after Lurie’s announcement, which coincided with McNabb formally retiring as an Eagle.
“For all of us who have kids, daddy always wants to be remembered for something. And by the time they’re probably 15, 18 years old, iPads will be like Atari games, iPhones will look like the old flip phones, so this is something when they become teenagers or adults, they can come back here or watch a game and see my name or my face in the rafters, retired, with nobody retiring it.
“So grand-dad or dad did something special. We all want to be superheroes when it comes to our kids or grandkids. Kids will look at it now like, ‘Dad was a superhero,’ and that’s something special to me.”
Twenty-one months after he threw his final pass, McNabb retired as an Eagle, the team he led to the playoffs seven times between 2000 and 2009, the team he represented six times in the Pro Bowl, the team whose record book he rewrote. It was no secret McNabb was planning to retire as an Eagle. The number retirement announcement was very much a surprise.
“You know, we don't retire numbers that often,” Lurie said. “Brian Dawkins, Donovan McNabb, these are players that have had a monumental impact on the franchise, and that's how we measure it.
“It's rare, it's happened, and it's wonderful. Donovan richly deserves it. His importance both within the Eagles and the sport as a whole will go down in history.
“The nine players, including Donovan, that have been retired are all franchise changing, impact players from Steve Van Buren, Reggie, Brian Dawkins and Donovan.” McNabb will be inducted into the Eagles’ Hall of Fame and have his number retired during a ceremony on Sept. 19, when the Eagles face the Chiefs at the Linc.
McNabb spoke fondly of Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, who made McNabb the second pick in the draft in April of 1999 and then traded him to the Redskins in April of 2010. “I want to thank Big Red … for taking the chance and sticking with me in ’99,” he said. “Eleven great years. We’ll forever be linked together, but one of the things I can honestly say [is], ‘We made history, big fella.’”
Reid, now head coach of the Chiefs, was unable to attend Monday's press conference because he was at Chiefs training camp at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, Mo. But he was genuinely thrilled for the quarterback who started 10 straight openers for Reid, from 2000 through 2009. "There's been no greater Eagle than Donovan," Reid said via text. "I'm very proud of him. It's a classy move by Jeffrey." Dawkins and McNabb are the second and third Eagles to have their numbers retired since Lurie bought the team in 1994. White’s 92 was retired in a ceremony at the Linc in 2005.
The last offensive player whose number has been retired by the Eagles is Pete Retzlaff, whose No. 44 was retired in the early 1970s. “A franchise-changing player,” Lurie said in a hallway after the press conference. “Very rare. You’d like to have them every year, you’d like to draft them every year, but it’s rare, and I think that’s the definition for retiring a number for this franchise.
“Some franchises don’t retire numbers. Others retire many more. We’ve been somewhere in the middle, but the bottom line … we know Donovan had great numbers, we know he was a terrific person, but was he franchise-changing? Yes, he was franchise-changing. That was the final decider.” McNabb had a 92-49-1 record quarterbacking the Eagles, with 216 touchdown passes, 100 interceptions, 32,873 passing yards and 3,459 career rushing yards.
He’s one of only eight quarterbacks in NFL history to throw for 35,000 yards and complete at least 59 percent of his passes. Only eight quarterbacks in NFL history have won more playoff games than McNabb, who was 9-7 in the postseason. All are in the Hall of Fame other than Tom Brady, Brett Favre and Ben Roethlisberger, who aren’t yet eligible. His 24 postseason touchdowns are ninth-most in history.
“The thing that people don't understand is the type of leader that he truly is and what he brought to the football team,” said Dawkins, who played with McNabb from 1999 through 2008. “Because I knew when I stepped on the football field, I knew I was going to get 110 percent from my quarterback, and he was going to go out and give everything that he could, everything.
“For the 2000s, if you want to call it, the 2000s, I believe we went out and put a product on the football field that the Philadelphia fans could be proud of. That they can own.
“I know we didn't bring the ultimate and that hurts us all. But at the end of the day, if you look at what we were able to accomplish … a lot of it had to do with what he did on the football field. We went as far as he took us every year because of what he his determination showed us.”
Dawkins and Brian Westbrook both spoke Monday morning at a press conference in the NovaCare Complex auditorium, and when it was McNabb’s turn to take the podium, the generally stoic McNabb actually got emotional and shed a few tears. “That’s not like me,” he said later with a chuckle.
He said all the right things. Deflected attention off himself. Thanked his teammates. Thanked the fans. Laughed off any ill will between himself and the city and the organization. He even apologized for not leading the Eagles to the championship that has eluded the franchise for 52 years. “I told the fans that I would bring a championship here,” he said. “My goal was to have that parade down Broad Street. I apologized to the fans because that was my goal. I felt like I let them down.”
McNabb said he feels like he can still play in the NFL but doesn’t think it’s fair to his family -- his wife and four kids -- to be a backup journeyman, traveling from city to city “just to throw a few footballs.”
He said it hurt to be traded a few years ago and said things were never really the same when he finished out his career in 2010 with the Redskins and 2011 with the Vikings. And he said, yeah, the way it all ended on Easter Sunday in 2010 still hurts.
“You don’t think that it’ll happen to you,” McNabb said. “I thought I would retire here, and the way things went on with the trade, it left a bad taste in my mouth. But I was able to put it behind me and move on, and we’re here.”
- Reuben Frank, CSN Philly