In a timeless moment, Donovan McNabb and Troy Vincent shared an emotional embrace Thursday night in the middle of the bustling banquet hall upstairs at Rivers Casino in Philadelphia. The two Eagles greats quietly chatted out of earshot — no doubt reminiscing about their five years together in midnight green — in the same way long-lost brothers might at a family reunion.
Later, the pair sat next to one another on the dais to accept their plaques and receive their well-deserved spots in the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame. The event was a reunion of sorts, with several Eagles luminaries filling the room. Former head coach Andy Reid was sitting front and center to watch, along with Jermaine Mayberry, Jon Runyan, Todd Herremans, Tra Thomas, Brian Westbrook, Takeo Spikes, and Bobby Taylor. It was a night for family and reflection.
"My oldest daughter (Alexis) is 15 years old now," said McNabb, who got teary-eyed talking about his wife, Roxie, and their four children. "She told me today that she's truly honored and happy for me. To hear that from your kids, it says a lot and you can't ask for any more than that as a father."
When asked about his favorite memories from playing for the Eagles, McNabb chose to focus on something that happened in 2013.
"At the top of the list, to get my number retired," said the Chicago native. "To look up to the rafters and to see that number and the success that we had for the duration that I was here, that's something that I will always remember."
Vincent, who grew up in Trenton, New Jersey and attended nearby Pennsbury High School, called it "pretty special" to be recognized at home. His wife, Tommi, went to Temple University and his five children were raised around football. They were all in attendance, beaming with pride.
"We're natives. Jeffrey (Lurie) gave me an opportunity to come back here in 1996 and be part of the Eagles football family," said Vincent, who began his NFL career with the Dolphins in 1992. "It was a kid's dream. I played local high school football just a couple miles from Veterans Stadium and was fortunate to come back here and be able to play in front of my family and neighborhood friends ... it's a special time and moment."
The five-time Pro Bowl selection at cornerback finished his career with 47 interceptions, including 28 of those picks for his hometown Eagles. He couldn't diagnose one favorite moment, but credited the many teammates and coaches for his personal success.
"There was a lot of team success and when you win a lot of football games, that's not one person. That's team," said Vincent, who is now the NFL's executive vice president of football operations. "That's good gameplanning, with great coaches. Players willing to listen and execute the game plan. (Eagles Hall of Fame defensive coordinator) Jim Johnson, thank you for bringing out the best in all of us."
Johnson's defense, thanks largely to Vincent's heady play in the secondary, transformed a pretty good team into a perennial championship contender. More importantly, Vincent's veteran leadership helped set the tone for establishing a winning culture, something that had been lacking prior to his arrival.
"We had to create it. We had to build it," Vincent said. "There were times under the Buddy Ryan era, that Reggie (White) and Randall (Cunningham) era where defensively they excelled. I believe our era, we took it to another level and then they closed the deal two years ago. They closed the deal. And now the expectation of excellence is expected year in and year out. But that's what the city is all about. That's what's in the air. That's the DNA. That's what people want. And this a football town. This is a sports city."
McNabb's journey was markedly different than Vincent's trek. He was drafted No. 2 overall in the 1999 NFL Draft and hand-picked by rookie head coach Andy Reid to lead the franchise to a Super Bowl. It's a point the former quarterback pounded home during his induction speech, retelling the story of how Reid called to tell him they were now "tied to the hip."
The formula worked and the coach-quarterback tandem won a lot of football games in Philadelphia. McNabb guided the Eagles to 94 victories in 11 seasons while leading them to five NFC Championship Games and one Super Bowl appearance.
McNabb retired as the franchise's all-time leader in passing yards (32,873), completions (2,801), and touchdowns (216). He never quite got the franchise over the championship hump, but those Eagles teams were dominant and always competed to the final whistle.
"The thing about playing here in Philadelphia is you want to present nothing but the best product out on the field," McNabb said. "They (Eagles fans) are going to be there for you night in and night out. They're going to be there rain, sleet, or snow, and you want to make sure you give the best effort you possibly can. At the end of the day, obviously, we all want to win, but it's most importantly giving that effort and that's what they want to see."
It's a purveying sentiment among Eagles alumni from that era, one a stone-faced Vincent agreed with. Philadelphia fans are way too smart and can't be fooled, and there are absolutely no excuses for not leaving it all out there on the field.
"Not only do we have the greatest fan base here in Philadelphia and in the region, but our fans teach you," Vincent said. "No excuses, get it done. That's the fabric of the people that live in the city. The expectations are clear. Win. No excuses. Produce or they don't want you part of the locker room."
Sometimes McNabb found that out the hard way. The fans didn't always appreciate him smiling in the huddle when the team was losing or appearing in soup commercials. There was even a small group of rowdies who booed him at the NFL Draft, an incident he played up Thursday night by allowing the crowd to cheer him for a few extra minutes.
McNabb started his speech by thanking his parents, Sam and Wilma, who he credited for "blocking out all the haters" and keeping him focused on the positives.
"Here in Philadelphia, we know it's tough. It's tough to win. It's tough to play on a consistent basis. If you don't, they'll find a way to get you out of there," McNabb said. "Just recently in the last couple of years, you won a Super Bowl. People want to see that same type of attack and that same type of approach. These fans want it."
All those trials and tribulations made him a stronger player. And cemented a pretty enviable legacy for the greatest quarterback in Eagles history.
"I think my legacy is about working hard, always wanting to be the best at everything that I do," said McNabb, "and always have a smile on my face and enjoy the moment. And was a winner."