LANDOVER, Md -- We did the research, looking back on the 5-year, $14 million contract Randall Cunningham signed the day the Eagles played the Redskins in 1989 and then went out and passed for 5 touchdown passes as the Eagles beat Washington. Donovan McNabb and the Redskins have agreed to terms on a long-term contract extension with a reported $40 million guaranteed and it is hard to escape the comparisons.
This is a micro look at what the deal means, because tonight is the only game that matters in the big picture. Does McNabb, buoyed by the feel-good news, play the best game of his life -- as Cunningham did -- in this prime-time affair? McNabb certainly has the motivation, and already had it after being benched two weeks ago in Washington's previous game.
On the other hand, the deal puts even more pressure on McNabb and it makes him, as Merrill Reese said on the team bus on the way to FedEx Field, "an incredible focal point."
Maybe, then, it goes entirely the other way. One thing is clear from today's news: McNabb and the Redskins are married for years to come, and so there is going to be some extra sauce in this NFC East rivalry.
McNabb's contract does not in any way take away from the Eagles' purpose tonight, and that is to beat Washington and climb into a first-place tie with the Giants in the NFC East. That, and nothing more. The Eagles need to bring all of their emotion and all of their focus into a crossroads-kind of game for both teams.
We saw on Sunday what home field means when the Giants fell to Dallas and Pittsburgh got beaten around by the Patriots. The Eagles need to come out smoking, and to do that they have to establish the line of scrimmage and take advantage of big-play opportunities.
This is a coaching league. What will the Redskins have planned after their bye week? Where will try to attack the Eagles? Will they spy Michael Vick and make him beat them from the pocket? Can the Eagles get the ball into the hands of DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin?
Anyone who thinks Monday Night Football isn't a big deal isn't feeling those nerves right now. This is a special time and a special place. The Eagles are on center stage in the sports world tonight. They have a chance to show the league just how good they are, just how prepared they are to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender in the wide-open NFC.
It is all right there on the table, with the extra helping of McNabb's new contract. Hey, good for McNabb. He got his money. He is likely to finish his career as a Washington Redskin. Good for him. But not tonight. Tonight he stands in the way of the Eagles' train, one that opens the second half of the season hoping to create some momentum on the fast track to the playoffs. Already in an 0-1 hole in the division, the Eagles can't afford to lose this one. It is larger than McNabb, larger than Vick, larger than all of the sub-plots.
How do the Eagles handle the big stage and all of the pre-game buzz? Check back around midnight for the report.