Donovan McNabb spent months downplaying his inevitable return to Philadelphia in a Washington Redskins uniform. But he knows it's a pretty big deal, a game that won't feel like any other.
But he dropped a hint about the special nature of his first trip back to his old stomping grounds.
"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've got a whole season ahead of me, and that's what I focus on."
Fair enough, but his teammates and coach know the feelings are bound to be much stronger Sunday when the Redskins visit the Eagles, especially for a player facing a team that traded him after an 11-year run that turned a franchise into a perennial contender.
"I think it's always a tough situation for anybody," Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. "I think it's one that you kind of look forward to. Even though there's a lot of pressure, you pretend like there's not and it doesn't matter, but it always does. You'd like to play your best."
Players return to play their former teams all the time, but this one is unique. McNabb had a love-hate relationship with the Eagles' notorious fans from the day he was drafted -- when he was booed by a group that wanted running back Ricky Williams instead -- even though the ensuing years produced six Pro Bowl seasons for the quarterback and a trip to the Super Bowl for the team.
While McNabb was a good guy on and off the field, some grew tired of his quirky personality and perceived oversensitivity by the time he was traded to -- of all things -- a division rival.
Will McNabb hear cheers or boos Sunday?
"Hopefully cheers," he said. "It's been 11 great years. I mean, you wouldn't expect me to say I'm going to get booed, would you? But 11 years have been great, and that's one you just can't forget. There were a lot of people who were accepting of the things I was able to do, and respected me as a person and as a player, so I do feel like I was appreciated there."
But would McNabb be surprised if they booed?
"No," he said. "Anything's possible."
McNabb called the upcoming game a "must-win," an unusual proclamation to hear from the leader of a team with a 1-2 record. A victory would move the Redskins into a first-place tie with the Eagles and give Washington a 2-0 record in the NFC East, while a loss would create a demoralizing three-game losing streak with more tough opponents to come in each of the next three weeks.
"This game has a lot more meaning to us than just 'Win one for the Gipper,' if you want to throw Donovan's name in there," Redskins center Casey Rabach said. "But it's a big game for us any way you look at it."
McNabb doesn't mind if his teammates rally around him, as long as it helps motivate them to win.
"If it's an added bonus for them to try to win this game for me, that's great," he said. "But there's more motivation into this game than everything we've been talking about."
McNabb is off to a decent start with the Redskins as he tries to master a new offense. He had a superb first half during an overtime loss to the Houston Texans, but his overall stats are comparable to former Redskins starter Jason Campbell's numbers from 2009. McNabb has a 60.8 completion percentage with two touchdowns, one interception and an 89.2 rating.
McNabb said he has never been inside the visiting locker room at Lincoln Financial Field. That will be just part of the strangeness he'll experience Sunday in a game that NFL fans circled on their calendars the day the schedule was released.
"I'm sure I'll probably I'll have some type of feelings," McNabb said. "Who doesn't have feelings getting ready for a game? But I just hope I walk out the right tunnel."
Notes: Punter Josh Bidwell's ailing right hip was examined by a doctor in Tennessee on Wednesday. The Redskins have worked out other punters and probably will make a roster move Friday unless Bidwell has a dramatic improvement. ... LT Trent Williams (knee, toe) is "still a little bit sore," according to Shanahan. Williams missed the game against St. Louis and was limited in practice Wednesday. ... CB DeAngelo Hall came down with a sore back Wednesday and was limited. "I don't think it's too serious," Shanahan said. ... DL Anthony Bryant (concussion) and G Kory Lichtensteiger (knee) also were limited. ... DL Albert Haynesworth is on the injury list yet again, this time with an unspecified thumb injury. Haynesworth already has had knee and ankle setbacks this season, but he was able to fully participate in practice Wednesday. ... The Redskins worked out WRs Reggie Brown, Demetrius Williams and Keenan Burton on Tuesday, a league source told NFL Network insider Jason La Canfora.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.