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Original Issue

Philly Flash After coming of age against Chicago, Donovan McNabb leads the Eagles into the NFC Championship Game as one of the league's elite quarterbacks

Wilma McNabb liked what she saw last Friday evening inside the
Westin Hotel in downtown Chicago, where a conference room had
been turned into a McNabb family cafeteria. Philadelphia Eagles
players, including Wilma's son, quarterback Donovan McNabb, were
chowing down on her home-cooked specialties: red beans and rice
(Donovan's favorite), macaroni and cheese, turkey with dressing,
cole slaw, salads and the most private of pig parts, shredded.
Peach cobbler for dessert. The rest of Chicago might've been
distracted by Saturday's game between the Bulls and the
Washington Wizards--Michael Jordan's first trip back home in a
new uniform--but not the McNabbs, who live in suburban Dolton,
Ill. "For us, with Donovan coming home for a playoff game, this
is like our Super Bowl," said Wilma. Her prediction? "Eagles,
20-17. You've got to give the Bears some credit. They've got a
good team."

With 14 minutes left in the NFC divisional playoff game at
Soldier Field on Saturday afternoon, Wilma looked like quite the
seer: Philadelphia 20, Chicago 17. But on a day that stamped her
son as one of the finest quarterbacks in pro football at the
ripe old age of 25, his brilliance ruined her prediction.
McNabb, superbly mixing the pass and the run, led three more
scoring drives, two for field goals and one for a touchdown. For
the second straight Saturday the Eagles scored more than 30
points on one of the league's better defenses.

The Bears had allowed nine points a game since Thanksgiving.
Philadelphia rang up 33 points to Chicago's 19, earning a berth
in next Sunday's NFC Championship Game at St. Louis against the
Rams. "Donovan made plays with his arm, with his feet and with
his mind," Eagles tight end Chad Lewis said. "He let everyone
know that Michael Jordan wasn't the only great player in town

"He's our Favre!" was how coach Andy Reid's effervescent wife,
Tammy, put it. She would know. When her husband, after seven
years as a Green Bay Packers assistant--the final two as Brett
Favre's position coach--was hired by the struggling Eagles in
January 1999, he set out to find Philadelphia's quarterback of
the future. On a visit to Syracuse not long after that, Reid
knew he had his man in McNabb. The coach and two of his
assistants grilled McNabb while watching game tape, and the
quarterback had all the answers. Reid also found out McNabb was
the funniest guy in the Orangemen's locker room, a mimic who had
his teammates down cold, and the Syracuse coaches said McNabb
was a rare leader. All Favre-like traits.

"At quarterback," Reid says, "you have to find someone who is
comfortable being the Guy. You have to find someone who can play,
who can lead, who can loosen up the locker room. Donovan was the
right fit."

Although McNabb is quick, fast and strong-armed, he has only
recently mastered the most important element in quarterbacking
Reid's West Coast offense: knowing when to throw and when to
run, when to move up in the pocket and when to hang tough. "The
way quarterbacks are taught in this system," Reid says, "they
think you have to read your progression of receivers
one-two-three-four. You know, just sit there and read. You can't
do that. The game's too fast. You have to look at one and two,
then start moving on three, and by the time you get to four,
you're running. You still might throw, but you'll throw on the
run. In the last quarter of the season Donovan figured it out."
(Over his last four games McNabb has been a 63% passer with
seven touchdown throws and four interceptions, and he's run for
173 yards when the pass wasn't there.)

Here's what else McNabb has figured out: Great quarterbacks must
have great vision. He didn't, so last off-season he hired
personal trainers to help improve, among other things, his
peripheral vision. McNabb would put on glasses that were blacked
out except for openings on the outside of each eye. Exercise
sessions using these glasses helped him see rushers better on
either side of him. "Seeing the whole field is what playing this
position is all about," says McNabb. "I not only needed to see
downfield but to see and feel to the sides. Rushers come from

The Chicago playoff game was a test of McNabb's grasp of when to
hold 'em and when to fold 'em. No one had run much on the Bears
because of the two glaciers blocking the middle: tackles Ted
Washington and Keith Traylor. The Chicago pass rush comes from
everywhere, and the Bears linebackers are the fastest in the
league. The secondary is also formidable; the Chicago defense
gave up 12 touchdown passes this year, fewest in the NFL. Still,
Reid designed his game plan with the idea that it was McNabb's
game to win or lose. For Philadelphia's first 15 plays Reid
scheduled nine passes and six runs.

McNabb took the game in hand early. He completed five of seven
passes on the Eagles' first possession, which ended in a 34-yard
field goal by David Akers. On Philadelphia's second drive,
McNabb took the snap for the team's 14th offensive play, dropped
back and looked at his first two options. Covered. Flushed right
by a heavy rush, McNabb saw his third option covered. He looked
back to the left and began running in that direction. He spied
wideout James Thrash near the sideline, uncovered, and fired a
spiral across his body. Thrash took the ball 43 yards to the
Bears' 24, setting up another Akers field goal.

McNabb saved his best for last--the Eagles' last play of the
half, that is. With 25 seconds to go at the Chicago 13, he
dropped back. The rush was all around him. While surveying the
secondary, McNabb stepped back to his right, went forward to his
left and, on the run, threw a bullet across his body to fullback
Cecil Martin just past the goal line.

"A classic Donovan-does-his-thing play," Martin said. "Don't
blame the defensive backs on a play like that. They've got to
respect his legs, and when he runs up near the line, they've got
to decide whether to stay in coverage or go get him."

When it was over, McNabb (26 of 40 for 262 yards and two
touchdowns, with one interception) did what he always does after
a game. He dressed in a suit (black, with a white shirt and
black tie), deflected all praise directed his way (he's
maddeningly modest) and accommodated every last minicam (he
leads the league in politeness). There was one added attraction,
however: This was his hometown. "I couldn't have imagined a more
perfect day," McNabb said. "Beautiful weather. A playoff win. My

His 18 points--he also rushed for a touchdown--beat Jordan's
output (16) across town. You can't compare McNabb with Jordan at
the same age, except in this: The way the kid is playing, no one
knows how to defend against him.

COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS NOW YOU SEE ME....Safety Tony Parrish was not the only Bear bedeviled by the elusive McNabb.