Sorry to say this, I don't think he's been that good from the get-go. I think what we've had here is a little social concern in the NFL. The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well. There is a little hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn't deserve. The defense carried this team.Much has been said about Limbaugh's now ended effort to be part of an ownership group for the St. Louis Rams. Outcries over things he supposedly said, or in some cases about things he never said.
But to me, whatever may be in discussion (including another remark comparing NFL football games to gang fights), that one remark about Donovan McNabb was the key. More than his "conservative" politics, more than his positions on race (and, let's be clear: Rush is too smart to say explicitly many of the things recently attributed to him), more than his talk show, or even the reaction to him among his many detractors. It's that statement about McNabb. Its meaning, its aftermath, and its lingering impact. In his one big test of how he would handle the NFL and its players, he flunked.
Let's break it down:
Limbaugh's statement was made during the pre-game show for "ESPN Sunday Night Football" on September 28, 2003. Here are the relevant statistics for Donovan McNabb, at the time of the statement:
Career record: 31-19 (the record of the Eagles in the 50 games prior to McNabb taking over: 15-34-1)
Playoff record: 4-3 (the Eagles had gone 2-7 in the playoffs over the prior 19 seasons)
Pro Bowls: 3 (2000, 2001, 2002)
Full seasons played: 3
NFL Passer Ranking, 2001: 7
NFL Passer Ranking, 2002: 7
Rank of the Eagles offense the year before McNabb took over: 30th
Rank of the Eagles offense in McNabb's first 3 seasons: 17th, 17th, 10th
The list of quarterbacks with similar accomplishments during that time period is rather small; Rich Gannon of the Oakland Raiders was the only other one who both won playoff games and was selected for the Pro Bowl in each of the 3 seasons prior to Limbaugh's comments. For those who may have forgotten, Gannon was also the NFL MVP in 2002... but Gannon was 37 and nearing the end of a long career. McNabb was 26.
Back to Limbaugh. Let's take it sentence by sentence:
I don't think he's been that good from the get-go.
I wonder what Rush must have been thinking to have said that. How much better did McNabb need to be? Well... I'll come back to that one.
I think what we've had here is a little social concern in the NFL.
"Social Concern"??? As if that's a bad thing? Of course, in this context, it's merely a set-up, and here it comes:
The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well.
Spoken as if a black quarterback had never done well before. Remarkably, many people actually agreed with Limbaugh on this point, including "Slate" columnist Allen Barra.
So, for the record, here is a partial list of the Pro Bowl quarterbacks for the years 2000, 2001 and 2002: Daunte Culpepper, Steve McNair, Kordell Stewart, Michael Vick. The Pro Bowl roster is not chosen by the media. Presumably, those other black quarterbacks did reasonably well, to be selected by players, coaches and fans for the Pro Bowl.
Prior to McNabb, the last Eagles quarterback to take the team to 3 consecutive playoff appearances was Randall Cunningham. Cunningham also appeared in the Pro Bowl in each of those 3 seasons, more than a decade prior to Limbaugh's statement. The next quarterback who led the Eagles to the playoffs after Cunningham? That was Rodney Peete. Somehow, I have the feeling that Philadelphia, at least, had seen black quarterbacks do well before.
There is a little hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn't deserve.
"A little hope"? Why? Was Rush's view really so clouded by skin color? Was that what he thought every season when Warren Moon went to Pro Bowl after Pro Bowl? Or when Cunningham took 6 different teams to the playoffs? Or when McNair came within a yard of sending a Super Bowl in to overtime? Or perhaps, did he see Doug Williams as the "exception to the rule"? I can't say. But I'm pretty sure I've never seen a quarterback who made the Pro Bowl and win playoff games in each of his first 3 seasons get slammed like that just 2 games in to his 4th season. Certainly I've never seen it happen to a white quarterback.
The defense carried this team.
Here, at last, Limbaugh strayed within some proximity of truth. As good as McNabb was those first 3 seasons, the Eagles defense under coach Andy Reid was better. Of course, I can also point to many teams with great defenses that went nowhere... because they didn't have an offense with a quarterback the caliber of Donovan McNabb.
What happened in 2003? What happened was that McNabb opened the season with two perfectly awful games. The first one, on a Monday night no less (when Monday night was still the big deal), ended with the Eagles being shut out for the first time with McNabb as a starter. His second game was another decisive defeat. The Eagles then had a by week. For the new season, McNabb had no touchdown passes, 3 interceptions, and a QB rating under 50. The Eagles offense was ranked 31st in the league, and the team was winless, having scored just 10 points in its first two games. The obvious question seemed to be, "what's wrong with Donovan"? And, stunningly, rather than acknowledge McNabb's importance to the Eagles' success (as evidence by what happened when McNabb played poorly in those first two games), Limbaugh went the other way. Even more surprising, his ESPN colleagues mostly rolled over and let him get away with it. Panelist Tom Jackson attempted to disagree by changing the subject back to McNabb's performance on the field the prior 3 seasons, but it took McNabb himself to object in public to the remarks about race (and, to be fair, a few columnists, such as "USA Today's" Rudy Martzke, also chimed in).
What happened next? In McNabb's next 28 regular season starts, he went 25-3. 25-3!! How many quarterbacks have gone 25-3 or better in any stretch? Joe Montana, Tom Brady, and who else? Not very many. McNabb made the Pro Bowl again in 2003, and in 2004. In the 2003 playoffs, he engineered one of the most famous playoff comebacks in league history, popularly referred to simply as "4th and 26." The next season, he led the Eagles to the Super Bowl. And "led" is the operative word; in 2003 and 2004, the offense carried the Eagles.
So, I asked above, how much better did McNabb need to be to make it obvious how ignorant Limbaugh's opening salvo against McNabb really was? Was 25-3 good enough? How about 13 games, out of those 28, with a rating above 100? How about 46 touchdown passes as compared to just 14 interceptions during that span? How about his 2004 season, for which his 104.7 rating still ranks among the top 20 seasons for any quarterback in league history?
Did Limbaugh ever retract any portion of his statement regarding McNabb? We know he would never retract anything about the media, but what about, "I don't think he's been that good from the get-go"? But after that 25-3 stretch, when McNabb's career record stood at 56-22, might he have at least admitted that quarterbacks who win nearly all of their starts, who go to 5 straight Pro Bowls, and who take their teams to 4 straight conference championship games, might really be "that good"?
No, he did not. 4 years after his original statement, he added this: "They just can't let go of this. Do you know this is five years ago now? I think it was 2002. I mean, it's been a long, long time and they just can't let go of it, and I'm going to tell you something, folks. The one thing about this incident that I really have noted and I'm not happy about -- and it's a very sad thing: This incident has made Donovan McNabb a perfect victim, and that is just very sad."
And that is why Rush Limbaugh will not become an NFL owner. So long as that original statement lingers, unretracted.