QBs Provide Rooting Interest
PHILADELPHIA -- Look, I hate to come across like a cheerleader for the "Monday Night Football" game, but tonight there is enormous star power with Brett Favre and Donovan McNabb. They're two of the rare football players who are actually recognized without their helmets, but what operates on a deeper level is that these are guys whose off-the-field melodramas have made them compelling, sympathetic characters even if you don't like their teams.
Favre has been without question the most charismatic and popular player in the NFL. Everybody knows his back story -- his addiction to painkillers; his father's death; his brother-in-law's death; his wife's cancer; his mother's house being destroyed by Katrina. All of these hurts have been played out publicly and through all of them Favre has stood tall. He is that absolutely rare athlete who seems even with his great fame and money to be just like us in that he is vulnerable to all the same wounds and suffering that we are. And we have seen him, last year for example, have a terrible season, in which every pass he threw seemed to be intercepted. We have heard him agonize about whether to retire and we have second-guessed his decision to return. We have seen him come back this year and, at least in the last two games, be as brilliant as he used to be and seem to enjoy playing football the way he once did.
In McNabb, we probably have the most scrutinized player in the NFL this year, even more scrutinized than Terrell Owens because McNabb was Owens's victim last year -- in an attack that seemed to be crazy and to come out of nowhere. There's probably nothing more devastating for a quarterback than to have it circulated that he has lost control of his team, that his leadership is fractured, which is what Owens charged. McNabb not only had to prove that he could come back from last year's injury, he also had to prove he could recover from T.O. Like Favre, McNabb has been great. He's thrown for close to 1,000 yards in three games with seven touchdowns and only one interception. Of course, just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water again, who do you think is coming to Philadelphia next week to play? T.O.! So McNabb will be held hostage again by Owens this week.
Most of the time with athletes we appreciate what they do on the field and confine it to that. You don't let all of them into your life. But with these two we have stories that are not limited just to the field. These are legitimate stories of human drama and personal redemption. Favre and McNabb are both coming back from fruitless seasons, coming back from being wounded and knocked around. It might be hard to think of them as underdogs, but in this season they are. No matter what team you root for, it's pretty tough to root against them.