Athletes fear replacement. Wally Pip took a day off and Lou Gehrig trotted out to first base for over 2000 games. Drew Bledsoe went down with an injury and Tom Brady helped the Patriots to three Super Bowls. The fear of becoming redundant isn’t confined to athletics but it’s ever present.
The Philadelphia Eagles are advancing to the second round of the playoffs behind the right arm of Jeff Garcia. The casual fan will note the absence of two words: Donovan McNabb. The Mr. Everything for the Eagles is on the sideline and has been during the Eagles impromptu run to the playoffs. No one, especially McNabb, thought it was possible Philadelphia could reach this stage without Wilma’s son.
Strictly speaking, Jeff Garcia isn’t a replacement for McNabb. He’s filling in while McNabb rehabilitates. Therefore it’s unfair to assume this is a Wally Pip/Drew Bledsoe situation. Yet, in the long-term it will have an effect on how Philadelphia looks at their ability to win football games. In short, it’s no longer all about McNabb.
Brian Westbrook runs the ball more effectively and the team looks rejuvenated. More importantly, the franchise realizes — as do the fans — life after McNabb won’t be horrific. Solid drafting, free agent pickups, and steady coaching will keep the Eagles at or near the top of the NFC with or without McNabb.
Perhaps most telling will be the effect on McNabb. During the Giants game on Sunday, Jeff Garcia asked McNabb to hand over pictures of the defense. Garcia, the starter, shouldn’t have to ask and McNabb, not active, should offer support but understand he’s not the man right now. It seems Donovan, and his mother, understand the fickle nature of fans. Going from hero to goat is a fast process.
The 2007 season will be interesting for McNabb. He’ll have a monster year throwing the ball if he stays healthy but anything short of a legitimate Super Bowl run will cause Philly fans to compare him to Garcia. McNabb is now looking at a situation foreign to him. Namely, someone guided his team to the playoffs.
Editor's note: "The Critical Commentary" will continue its daily presence this weekend.