Donovan McNabb admits there will be emotion in facing Philadelphia Eagles, but says focus is on Washington Redskins

By Barry Svrluga and Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, September 30, 2010; 12:14 AM

The first words out of his mouth - "I'm just excited about this opportunity to give us a chance of getting back on track" - did not even flirt with the situation Donovan McNabb faces this week. He is the quarterback of the Washington Redskins, and Sunday he will play in Philadelphia against the Eagles, where he served as the quarterback for 11 seasons. Truckloads of cliches couldn't help McNabb sidestep that circumstance.

And so, with a sigh and some resolute smiles in front of more than 40 media members assembled Wednesday at Redskins Park - including, of course, several from Philadelphia - McNabb revealed his feelings about his situation, which oddly involves referring to the Eagles as "them" and the Redskins as "us." The essential take-away: When he runs onto the playing surface at Lincoln Financial Field, he doesn't know how he'll be received, and he doesn't know how he'll feel.

"For me to sit here and try to explain how my emotions may be or what might be going through my mind, I think it's just - as Mike Tyson said - ludicrous," McNabb said. "The thing about it is, I think I can respond to that better when the game is over. For me to try to come up with something wouldn't be right."

With that, McNabb established the tenor for a 16-minute appearance in which he wasn't asked a single question about last week's loss to St. Louis nor a single question about another player on his current team. The 12th-year pro handled the session like a 12th-year pro, paying sufficient reverence to his time in Philadelphia ("The organization means a lot") while simultaneously pushing the idea that his present and his future are in Washington, and he's excited about that.

"I mean every player has a chip on their shoulder about something," McNabb said. "Is this something that I use? Maybe just an added chip, I guess. But I got a whole season ahead of me, and that's what I focus on."

The immediate focus of that season for the Redskins (1-2) is the Eagles (2-1), who are quarterbacked by Michael Vick - McNabb's good friend. The troubled former star was returning from prison and was serving an NFL suspension when McNabb encouraged the Eagles to sign him prior to the 2009 season.

McNabb was correct in his analysis of the situation for the Redskins: Whether he is booed or cheered, whether he smiles or cries, is only part of the story of Sunday's game. The Redskins - coming off a loss to Houston in which they blew a 17-point second-half lead and a humiliation at St. Louis in which they were pushed around by a team that had lost 27 of its last 28 games - badly need a win.

"I think we have a little bit more motivation than just me going back to Philly," McNabb said.

His teammates, though, understand he has a little more motivation than he did for, say, the Rams. McNabb won 92 of his 142 starts in Philadelphia and holds Eagles records for most attempts, completions, yards and touchdown passes.

"It has to mean a lot," said Redskins defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday, who has been in the NFL one year longer than McNabb. "You talk about a guy who did so much for an organization. He was the face of that franchise for 11 years. . . . As much criticism as he received throughout his tenure there, year in and year out, when you turn the TV on and it's playoff time, the Philadelphia Eagles, they were in the talk. Donovan McNabb and what he's done there, he's respected around this league."

That doesn't mean, though, that his teammates are following the media, peppering McNabb with questions about what it might be like. "There's no use in us piling on," center Casey Rabach said.

"It's always a tough situation for anybody, but I think it's one that you kind of look forward to," Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan said. "Even though there's a lot of pressure, you pretend like there's not and it doesn't matter, but I think it always does. You'd like to play your best, and it's kind of why you play the game."

There is, of course, another side to this situation. Philadelphia Coach Andy Reid was behind the decision to take McNabb with the second selection in the 1999 draft, and it was ultimately Reid's decision to engineer the Easter Sunday trade that sent McNabb to Washington - keeping him, strangely, in the division and guaranteeing this matchup twice a year. So 160 miles north of the Redskins' Ashburn training facility, the Eagles had to deal with their own set of questions Wednesday.

"This is the business we're in," Reid said. "Fortunately, [the trade] didn't destroy our friendship. It's part of the business. He understands. I understand. I'm sure neither one of us wanted it to come to that day. But that's how it works. That's how this thing works. It was a tough decision on my part."

McNabb never asked out of Philadelphia, and he ended up in Washington only because Reid believed Kevin Kolb - who was knocked out with a concussion in Week 1 and has since lost his job to Vick - could be a long-term answer. But McNabb has never - not even once - lashed out at Reid or the Eagles as an organization. He held that line Wednesday, joking that he and Reid had just shared lunch and saying that the two were "good friends."

"We had a lot of success together," McNabb said in a conference call with Philadelphia reporters. "Obviously, we've been through some ups and downs together. Things happen. It's unfortunate. Was I upset at the time? Absolutely. But I've moved on. I learned to move on and focus on the job at hand."

In a Philadelphia locker room that was similarly overrun by McNabb questions Wednesday, the approach was the same.

"I think about Donovan as a Redskin, and that kind of overrides any friendships," said wide receiver Jason Avant, who caught the last of McNabb's 216 touchdown passes as an Eagle. "He's a great guy, and he's a great player, but that's not going to neglect the fact that he's a Redskin."

As McNabb addressed the media, wearing a gray Redskins T-shirt and burgundy Redskins gym shorts, that was indisputable. How he'll handle that, as he appears in his old stadium against his old team, is still to be determined.

"I'm sure I'll probably have some type of feelings," McNabb said. "Who doesn't have feelings getting ready for a game? I just hope I walk out of the right tunnel."

svrlugab@washpost.com maeser@washpost.com

Svrluga reported from Ashburn, and Maese reported from Philadelphia.

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