RUSH: There is a story today, SI.com. Actually, it was posted yesterday. Headline: ‘There’s No Better Place to be Sports Fan Right Now Than Philadelphia.’ I want to read a small excerpt, go to the break, and come back and delve into this in detail. It’s a good story about Philadelphia at SI, SportsIllustrated.com. But buried in this article, which I hold here right here in my formerly nicotine-stained fingers, buried in this article is this: ‘Passion like this takes strange forms. While the rest of the country saw Donovan McNabb as a franchise quarterback, Philly fans sensed, earlier than most of us, that McNabb was overrated.’
We will be back.
Now, for those of you who may not know about my ill-fated appearance for five weeks on the ESPN pregame show, NFL Countdown, in 2003 my appearance on that show still resonates throughout the National Football League and throughout the media. Ralph Wiley, the late great sportswriter at Sports Illustrated, accused me of ‘hijacking’ the 2003 NFL season, and this is what got it all started. This was Sunday, September 28th, NFL Countdown. The people on the panel are Chris Berman, Steve Young, Michael Irvin, Tom Jackson, and me. Let me set this up. What happens is in the production meeting for the show on Saturday, the segments are explained, what we’re gonna do in each segment, and the four primary commentators — Berman, Irvin, Young, and Jackson — then discuss with each other broad outlines of what they’re gonna say during each segment.
My job is to sit off to the side, and when I want insert myself into their discussion if I think I hear something that I disagree with or whatever, then I hit a button. That sends a signal to control room, and a graphic red penalty flag flew across the screen, and that got me involved in the conversation. So in the production meeting, there are two segments that day on the problems with Donovan McNabb and the problems with the Philadelphia Eagles. Now, during the production meeting, I don’t say anything so as to not prepare these guys for what my reaction to what they’re saying is. All I do is listen, and I’m hearing some incredible things in the production meeting. For example, one of the participants (I shall not say who) admitted that he had just gotten off the phone with the coach, Andy Reid, and asked, ‘What’s wrong with McNabb?’
Reid says, ‘I don’t know! I can’t figure it out. Nobody knows.’ McNabb hasn’t had a good start to the 2003 season. I’m listening to these guys go on and on and on about it. You should also know that after the prior week show, after episode four, one of the ESPN executives came to me and said, ‘Could you dial it up a little bit? Those are the football guys. We have you here to be you. Come on. Light it up.’ ‘Oh, okay. Fine. If that’s what you want.’ So this is what happened during the first segment on Sunday, September 28, 2003, NFL Countdown, ESPN: What’s wrong with McNabb? Tom Jackson says, ‘I don’t think benching McNabb is an option that the Eagles see right now. He will have to lose a lot of football games before he’s put on the bench. I’d like to look again at that supporting cast. McNabb is struggling. I’d be amazed if they don’t come out today, run that football with whoever you have. [Correll] Buckhalter, Duce Staley. Run that football. Give this guy a break at quarterback.’ Berman: ‘Rush, you threw the flag. You’re running.’
START ESPN CLIP
RUSH: Tommy, I’ve been listening to all of you guys, actually, and I think the sum total of what you’re all saying is that Donovan McNabb is regressing. He’s going backwards —
TOM JACKSON: Mmm-hmm. (nodding)
RUSH: — and my… I’m sorry to say this. I don’t think he’s been that good from the get-go. I think what we’ve had here is a little social concern in the NFL. I think the media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well.
TOM JACKSON: Mmm-hmm. (nodding)
RUSH: We’re interested in black coaches and black quarterbacks doing well.
MICHAEL IRVIN: (nodding)
RUSH: I think there is a lot of hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn’t really deserve.
TOM JACKSON: Well, somebody —
RUSH: The defense carried this team, I think, and he got credit for it.
TOM JACKSON: But, Rush — But, Rush, somebody went to those championship games.
RUSH: Oh, they ‘went.’
TOM JACKSON: Somebody went to those Pro Bowls. Somebody made those plays that I saw running down the field, doing it with his legs, doing it with his arm. He has been a very effective quarterback for this football team over the last two or three years —
RUSH: Yeah, but if you take the defense —
TOM JACKSON: — and they didn’t have any more talent then than they do now.
RUSH: Oh yes they did: on defense. On defense, they did.
MICHAEL IRVIN: (nodding)
TOM JACKSON: (nodding) Oh, on defense they did. I’m talking on the offense side of the ball.
RUSH: Well, that’s what I’m saying. I think he got a lot of credit for the defensive side of the ball winning games for this team.
STEVE YOUNG: But I’ll tell you what. I’ll say it even more strongly, Tom. When they’re winning, nobody makes more plays —
TOM JACKSON: Right.
STEVE YOUNG: — with his arm —
TOM JACKSON: Than Donovan McNabb.
STEVE YOUNG: — than Donovan McNabb. That guy is really one of the best in the league at making plays.
TOM JACKSON: Well, I —
STEVE YOUNG: BUT making plays does not win championships. Running the offense does. So at some point I think —
TOM JACKSON: Gotta run the offense.
STEVE YOUNG: — that Koy Detmer looks like a better option because he’ll go in there (crosstalk), drop back, and throw the ball correctly.
CHRIS BERMAN: Isn’t it odd that last year with the broken leg — I know it was Arizona, but — the one time he was in the pocket he looked great. Right?
STEVE YOUNG: He had to run that offense.
TOM JACKSON: So, Rush, once you make that investment though — once you make that investment in him — that’s a done deal.
RUSH: I’m saying it’s a good investment. Don’t misunderstand. I just don’t think he’s as good as everybody said he has been, and that’s why.
MICHAEL IRVIN: Rush has a point.
STEVE YOUNG: Well, he (McNabb) certainly hasn’t matured.
MICHAEL IRVIN: Rush has a point.
END ESPN CLIP
RUSH: That’s Michael Irvin there, ‘Rush has a point.’ That was Michael Irvin there. It was Steve Young who said Koy Detmer looks like a better manager of the team right now. So the show airs. There’s one more segment on what’s wrong with the Eagles. Nothing big out of that. Show ends. Not a peep from anybody about anything. We all go in, watch the Sunday afternoon games on all the screens. I have to leave early, get back to EIB Complex, get ready for work the next day. On Monday, Sunday night ESPN programming, not a word. On Monday ESPN programming, not a word. Nobody said a word about it on the Monday night ESPN Monday Countdown show getting ready for Monday Night Football. Not a word. It had died. Everything that I had said, the whole segment on what’s wrong with McNabb, nothing — and then Tuesday, practically every columnist in both Philadelphia papers wrote a piece excoriating me for what I had said about McNabb. This lit up the media elsewhere. I gotta take a break here. Gotta fill you in, ’cause this SI story is amazing in context of all this.
RUSH: Now, stick with me on this McNabb stuff because we’re talking 2003. This has been seven years, and there are still media people who refer to all of this. At no time did I ever say Donovan McNabb was a bad quarterback. All I said was that he was overrated, that I thought he was overrated, not a great quarterback. I didn’t say he was a bad quarterback. I said I thought the media had a social conscientiousness about black quarterbacks doing well. I know they do. They’re media. They’re leftists. I know who these people are. I know what their interests are, and I simply said so. Nobody said a word about it when the show ended ’til the Philadelphia print media went ballistic on Tuesday. Now, at the same time, ESPN was running a miniseries called Playmakers — and I had nothing to do with this miniseries, by the way.
The featured star of the program was a black running back — and it’s mythical professional football team — who did lines of cocaine and shot up drugs or whatever before every game. This prompted the owner of Eagles, Jeffrey Lurie, to go livid and say ESPN was filled with institutional racism. I remember on Tuesday when the Philadelphia print media stuff hit, I got a call from an ESPN exec who was all excited. ‘Well, can you imagine the numbers we’re gonna have on Sunday? This is exactly what we’re looking for!’ The next day the same exec calls and says, ‘Look, we’re losing Tommy,’ meaning Tommy Jackson. Tommy said it’s either you or him. He says little kids in Cincinnati are calling him and saying, ‘Mr. Jackson, does this mean I can’t be a quarterback in the National Football League if I’m black?’
So there were other things going on in my life at the time, so I just chose to resign. I didn’t go on that show to do anything but be part of it and help it and try to get away from all this. It was an excursion into fun for me, an avocation. So it continued to resonate, and continued to be reported that I was critical of McNabb because he was black. It continued to be reported I said McNabb was a bad quarterback because he was black. I never said any such thing. I never said he was a bad quarterback. I said I thought he was overrated by a media socially conscious about past racism in the country and setting things right, and so forth and so on. I am the one who said he’s overrated. I. And I have been excoriated, creamed.
I have been just vilified for this ever since it happened, and nobody cared a whit about it ’til the Philadelphia print media went ballistic a couple of days later. And there have been stories about this for the last seven years. I mean, if you do a Google search ‘McNabb and Limbaugh’ it will get 63,000 returns. That’s ten years later. So there’s this story from SI.com, website of Sports Illustrated. It was posted yesterday by Michael Rosenberg. ‘There’s No Better Place to be Sports Fan Right Now Than Philadelphia.’ I am not mentioned in this piece. It’s a great story about Philadelphia, what it’s like to be a fan there, and buried in the article is this one line: ‘Passion like this,’ meaning Philadelphia fan passion, ‘takes strange forms. While the rest of the country saw McNabb as a franchise quarterback, Philadelphia fans sensed earlier than most of us in the media that McNabb was overrated.’ Now, who is ‘us’? This is a sportswriter. Let’s keep that in mind. I thought I was the only person who thought McNabb was overrated. It was first the local Philadelphia media quickly followed by the national media that distorted and blew up my comments that were in line with most Philadelphia fans, as it turns out? So ‘most of us,’ meaning the sports media, were wrong about McNabb, and I was right? I thought McNabb back then was considered by every reasonable human being to be the greatest quarterback that ever lived!
They called him a premiere quarterback in the NFL, and anybody who suggested the Eagles defense wasn’t getting the credit it deserved was a racist. And now it turns out from Mr. Rosenberg at SI.com that I and most Philadelphia fans knew McNabb was overrated, the media was dead wrong. Who knew? Who knew? As I say, I am not mentioned in this story, which is a rarity on a story of McNabb, the Eagles, and Philadelphia fans. But this was pointed out to me, oh, this morning about 9:38 is when I got this thing. It’s amazing how things come around. After seven years. That passage, ‘While the rest of the country saw McNabb as a franchise quarterback, Philly fans sensed earlier than most of us in the media that McNabb was overrated.’ Now, guess… This is the last thing I want to say about this, as far as the media is concerned. It’s very safe for these guys to say this at the end of McNabb’s career when he is having trouble.
Everybody knows what’s going on with the Donovan McNabb and the Redskins. He’s handled that, by the way, as classy as any individual in his circumstances could and would. To reiterate, at no time was McNabb ever personally criticized by me on that show or since. Other people have done that. It’s other people in the media that do that. Poor old McNabb is being dumped on by people now like you would not believe, saying things that I said seven years ago. And I just thought, ‘Well, how about this?’ This is just funny, timely, and just goes to show you: Just sit around and wait and things will always even out. The truth will out. Maybe I could get McNabb as a guest host on this program. I’ll bet you that McNabb (chuckling) has a lot of things he would like to say about a lot of people. We might think about that. Call him after Christmas (laughing), see if he wants to guest host the program. He can talk about anything he wants if he wants to do it.
RUSH: Donovan McNabb is in the news. Now, you may have heard that people are starting to say that he was overrated. SI.com today has a story. In fact, the Philadelphia Eagles fans have known long before the media picked up on it that McNabb was overrated. It was on the website posted yesterday. Now, we football fans know that it has been a roller coaster ride the past three, four weeks for McNabb in Washington with the Redskins. Benched, threatened to be benched for a quarterback of much less achievement and talent. There are many, many reasons why this is happening, went through them yesterday, won’t bore you with them again. But McNabb has spoken about this because the sports media is wringing their hands over how disrespectful the treatment he is getting is. They’re raking the coach of the Redskins, Mike Shanahan, over the coals, that this is horrible, why disrespect and humiliate such a fine man, a great ambassador for the league, what’s the point here? So on a Washington sports talk radio station — apparently McNabb already has a show, a weekly radio show, I don’t know how long it is — but this is what he said about it all.
MCNABB: Everything was handled awkwardly somewhat, you know, to disrespect to — to me and to the team. Because of the timing, because of all the leaks and everything that was put out there and no putting out the fire, so to speak, it was kind of, you know, someone says something, an issue is out, there’s, no, ‘He’s our quarterback, this is what we’re doing and,’ blah, blah, blah. There was nothing to that effect. And then everything afterwards was kinda just, for me there’s no guarantee you’ll be here, to — you know, to everything else where it was like, wow, I’m hearing everything, you know, throughout the media and everything else, it’s just like, ‘Oh.’ But I’m a competitor, and I’m gonna prepare myself and be here working with these guys.
RUSH: It sounds like the first caller of the program today, in a way. So what we don’t have here, what McNabb said, despite all of what he is referring to is disrespect to him from the Redskins, he said today he wants to be back next year. He wants to be back on the Redskins. (interruption) Well, the sports media’s got that figured out, Snerdley, if you paid attention to this stuff, the sports media’s already got a couple or three trades worked out. They’ve already found a couple of good teams for McNabb. They think the Vikings would be a good place for McNabb to go while they ramp up with a new quarterback if Favre decides — (interruption) well, but no, they’ve gotta rebuild, I mean they’ve got young quarterbacks. Arizona’s another place because McNabb has an off-season home in Phoenix, thinking that would be a good place for McNabb to go, and they clearly have quarterback problems in Arizona. But there are arguments against that, too. What is the other team, two or three other teams? The sports media’s got this figured out. (interruption) No, not the Detroit Lions. No, not the Dolphins. I haven’t heard the Dolphins, but I just heard Phoenix, Arizona Cardinals and the Minnesota Vikings, and I don’t know where else. There are two others. But don’t worry, the sports media, Snerdley, that’s what I’m telling you, they’ve got it all figured out. If people would just shut up, the sports media could handle McNabb’s career.
RUSH: John in Philadelphia, less than two minutes, but I wanted to get to you, sir.
CALLER: Rush, I thank God that you are on the air helping us out.
RUSH: Thank you very much. Thank you.
CALLER: I wanted to point out the media bias, the sports media bias as being racist —
CALLER: — in that Michael Vick —
CALLER: — they’ve been complaining now, I’m a huge Philadelphia Eagles fan —
CALLER: — I’m glad to see Donovan gone. I was actually defending you, that all you were saying was that it was the media bias, saying that he was overrated.
CALLER: Well, now, the media bias is funny because they want to wear the shoe on the other foot with Vick by saying that the refs aren’t calling penalties on Vick that would be called if it were Brady or Manning.
RUSH: Well, so is Andy Reid. Andy Reid is not using the Manning or Brady analogy, but he is saying that Vick’s hits are not being called. So the media can say they’re bouncing off of Andy Reid on that.
CALLER: Oh, but you heard Cris Collinsworth say, or I did, on NBC a week ago that if it were Brady or Manning, that that call would have been called. What are you saying? Are you saying that the refs are racist? What are you trying to say from that? I find it funny that nobody has come out and said, ‘Hey, wait a second, you’re not allowed to say that. That’s racist.’
RUSH: Well, it is an interesting question. If the refs are letting Vick get roughed up more than other quarterbacks, why? You’re saying, ‘Well, is the media is racist?’ Might it be the referees, their way of saying, ‘Hey, you want to go beat up on dogs, fine, here’s how it feels.’ Who knows? It could also not be happening. It could also just be everybody’s opinion that Vick is not skating, that the people hitting Vick are skating. Anyway, it makes for interesting conversation ’cause it’s sports. I appreciate the call, John. Thanks el mucho.