NFL Network special correspondent Andrea Kremer recently sat down with Donovan McNabb, a six-time Pro Bowl quarterback now relegated to backup status with the Vikings. They touched on a variety of subjects and controversies on and off the field. The full interview aired Sunday on NFL Network's "GameDay Morning."
Has there been a more polarizing figure in the NFL in the modern era than Donovan McNabb? Nobody engenders more debate than McNabb. Detractors, their voices and vitriol, accusations and assumptions, are always there.
He smiles too much. ... He chokes in big games. ... He's not black enough. ... He's aloof. ... He's not a leader. In Washington, he was accused of not wearing a wristband with plays on it because he thought it would make him look stupid (which he vehemently denies). Because of McNabb's sponsorship deal with Campbell's, one detractor called him "soup guy."
McNabb says he's pretty much heard it all. But what really irks him is the chatter about work ethic. NFL Network's Michael Lombardi wrote an article on this website last Friday that said McNabb's lack of preparation led to his benching in Minnesota.
"When people say that, about my work ethic, or the time that I put in, that pisses me off," said McNabb. "Because I know the time that I put in. People that are around me know the time that I put in. I take this game very seriously. Now for anyone to challenge that and not come and see the way that I work or witness the things that I do and they make their own judgment? That pisses me off because you are expressing to people who don't know me, who just listen to what commentators say or people write. That's the opinion they're going to take."
McNabb pointed to all the evenings he spent watching film with the coaches at the Vikings facility. What does his head coach say?
"He works hard and I'm disappointed in those comments," Leslie Frazier told me Thursday. "It's so far from who he is. He's never been late to practice, meetings, training, weightlifting sessions."
So then why was the 13-year veteran benched after six games and replaced by 2011 first-round pick Christian Ponder?
"We weren't as good around him as I'd hoped, said Frazier. "He did some good things but there were breakdowns in the second half. I need more from the position, I was looking for a spark in the fourth quarter. I told Donovan and I said it to our entire team: Christian Ponder gives us a better chance to win."
For McNabb, who unequivocally thinks he should still be the starter, that's not easy to hear.
"That provides support for Christian from the other guys," said McNabb. "Statistically I wasn't playing bad. I wasn't turning the ball over offensively. We were averaging 20-plus points or so. But there's a lot of things that go into that. And when you draft a young guy first round and you're 1-5, obviously, everyone wants to see the younger guy, the so-called spark."
It was a vastly different story in Washington. McNabb was on pace to set a franchise record for passing yards in a single season when he was benched after 13 games in favor of journeyman Rex Grossman. McNabb loved being in D.C. but has no love lost for Mike Shanahan. McNabb says the Redskins coach handled his situation unprofessionally and was disrespectful.
Frazier continued, "I thought he still had mobility but he became more of a pocket passer. He doesn't use his mobility as often as he used to."
There has been talk about McNabb needing to improve his mechanics, but Frazier said the QB's mechanics were never great. For all the criticism about his lack of accuracy, that has never been McNabb's strength.
"He's a great downfield passer and I still think he has those skills," Frazier said. "He can still play but he needs to be in the right situation -- a better defense, with receivers who can make plays and a good offensive line."
McNabb stressed that he can and still wants to start in the NFL. By his and Frazier's accounts, he is a loyal supporter of Ponder and never thought about or asked for his release or to be traded. But this is McNabb's first experience standing on the sidelines as a healthy player. And now, after two failed seasons out of Philadelphia, he has an uphill climb to become a full-time starter again. He has plenty of preparation for life after football, but he says he's not yet ready to walk away.
"The whole thing about it for me is I love this game too much," said McNabb. "I love everything about this game. Waking up and working out in the mornings and watching film and seeing how you can attack a defense -- that drive is still there. ... But once you lose it mentally, you know, then you're tapped out. But I'm too involved. I love this game too much."