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The Greatest Takes His Place


On stage, once again, the greatest quarterback to ever play for the Philadelphia Eagles.

There were no cheering fans from the stadium or opposing quarterbacks to shake hands with this time. He was not suited up in his midnight green jersey leading the offense down the field for a score. Instead, he stood at a podium sporting a pinstripe suit with a white dress shirt. He looked out not on a football field but a room filled with his family, friends, former teammates and front office staff inside the auditorium at the NovaCare Complex.

And this time he was holding back tears of gratitude. Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie had announced just moments earlier that the No. 5, which will always be synonymous with McNabb, the No. 2 overall pick in the 1999 NFL Draft, would be just the ninth number to be retired by the team and the first that belonged to a quarterback.

When McNabb moved to the podium to make his remarks, the room watched as he moved his gaze from the crowd to the giant murals of four of the greatest players in the history of the franchise - Chuck Bednarik, Tommy McDonald, Steve Van Buren and Reggie White - which lined the walls and loomed over the assembled audience. As all eyes were once again fixated on McNabb, the winningest quarterback in franchise history. He was about to take his place among the team's all-time greats.

"It's truly an honor, not only to have been the (team's) first pick of the draft in 1999, but to have been your starter for 11 years," McNabb told the crowd. "But most importantly, to be inducted into the Hall of Fame and to have my number retired."

That was the ceremony, but here are the facts. McNabb rewrote the franchise record book in every which way from victories (100 including playoffs), passing yards (32,873), passing touchdowns (216) - to you name it. His numbers stand toe-to-toe with quarterbacks whose busts are enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame such as John Elway, Fran Tarkenton and Steve Young. Not only do McNabb's numbers stand on their own merit, but there is the pure joy factor. It was a joy to watch him carve up defenses with his powerful right arm and quick legs.

It was a joy to watch him leap over the Redskins as he churned out 125 rushing yards in a signature game in 2000. And it was a joy in 2007 to watch him throw for 381 yards and four touchdowns against Detroit as he notched a perfect quarterback rating of 158.3, a rare feat. McNabb took great pride and joy in being an all-around player.

"You want to be the complete player. You want to be the quarterback, and you want to be known as being one of the best quarterbacks, and I think that's why we play the game, to be recognized as such," McNabb said. "You put all that extra time in. You put that extra work in to be recognized as one of the best, and while you're doing that, lead your team to a successful season."

McNabb was indeed one of the best quarterbacks of his generation. He was a six-time Pro Bowl selection. Only three players in franchise history - and none on the offensive side of the ball - have been to more Pro Bowls. The Eagles enjoyed a decade of consistent success as the team won five NFC East division titles and went to five NFC Championship Games - all befitting of McNabb's jersey number.

McNabb was second in the 2000 NFL MVP vote, carrying the Eagles into the playoffs for the first time in his career. Four years later, McNabb guided the Eagles to the franchise's second Super Bowl appearance. It was the crowning achievement of McNabb's career.
"Holding up the NFC Championship...holding that trophy up, that was something that we fought for a couple times," McNabb said. "That brings back memories of the effort you put in."

Today, McNabb walks away with his head held high and with no regrets. Why should he have any? He did everything the right way. He led by example. He set a standard of success for his teammates to follow. He played through pain and injury. He was a role model on and off the field, using his name to improve the lives of thousands of others through his foundation and the American Diabetes Association. When McNabb played in the Super Bowl, it was a big deal that a black quarterback was leading a team in the country's biggest sporting event. Don't forget that in Week 1 of the 2013 NFL season, there were only nine black starting quarterbacks.

The Chuck Bednariks, Tommy McDonalds, Steve Van Burens and Reggie Whites paved the way for players like McNabb to enjoy the fruits of NFL success. And then McNabb came along to pay it forward for the next generation.

"I gave everything I had when I stepped out on that field, I never complained," McNabb said. "When you see 5, you knew 5 was going to give you what he's got."

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