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Communication Breakdown Between McNabb and RGIII

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Donovan McNabb talking to Robert Griffin III feels like a missed opportunity. Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images.
Donovan McNabb talking to Robert Griffin III feels like a missed opportunity. Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images.

Few NFL players are afforded the opportunity to age gracefully; even less exit the league on their terms.  To the painful contrary, the game is littered with stars that over-stayed their welcome, missed the very small, concealed window of opportunity to bow out with their dignity and legacy intact and plummeted off the abrupt, unmarked athletic cliff. Brett Favre lingered a year too long, Shaun Alexander embarrassed himself in Washington, Emmitt Smith was a shell of himself in Arizona and, going back a ways, the image of Johnny Unitas in a Chargers uniform was just wrong and should be struck from NFL history.

Former Eagles, Redskins and Vikings QB Donovan McNabb seems intent on ensuring his transition to life on the golf course, and the autograph circuit is among the most awkward in recent memory. McNabb regressed from a 33-year-old Pro Bowler to out of the league in two years. After 11 stellar years in Philadelphia, he was traded to Washington for a second-round pick and change in 2010 where he subsequently had his cardiovascular fitness questioned and was benched in favor of Rex Grossman.  Washington flipped him to Minnesota for a sixth-round pick a year later where he eventually lost his job to then-rookie Christian Ponder, and was released outright before completing even a single season in Norse-purple. And that, at the ripe “old” age of 35 (the same age Tom Brady is presently), proved to be the unceremonious end to a career that once seemed destined to end Philadelphia’s championship drought and for a bust in Canton, Ohio. McNabb left Philly wanting, and his Hall of Fame candidacy will be hotly debated in due time. 

Since his retirement (or was it forced unemployment?), McNabb has managed to remain in the news via unsolicited and out-of-character comments on whatever crosses his mind (oh, the beauty of social media). He has touted himself as a Hall of Famer, cracked back on the contract extension given to Tony Romo earlier this year and, most recently, offered his critical opinion of Robert Griffin III’s extracurricular activities to just about anyone wielding a microphone. As a player, McNabb religiously deflected controversy and always displayed the utmost class when addressing any actual or potential controversy. He dealt with being booed by Eagles fans the day he was drafted, rose above critical and racially infused comments by Rush Limbaugh, navigated the Terrell Owens fiasco, was diplomatic when the Eagles signed Michael Vick and generally survived a decade in the Philadelphia fishbowl with his character unscathed. With that as his long and respectable track record, this new, suddenly outspoken and inflammatory version of McNabb feels like an ex-jock with a dented ego reaching for a cheap publicity grab.

In the case of RGIII, McNabb claims he reached out to the ‘Skins quarterback with the hope of offering some advice from a guy that’s “been there, done that” and Griffin (gasp) never responded. So, with hurt feelings and sharp tongue, McNabb’s play was to share with God and country what he had allegedly hoped to discuss privately with RGIII — specifically, that the young quarterback had acquired too many distractions for his own good. In the world according to Donovan, apparently selling Chunky Soup is okay, but promoting Subway isn’t.

Can one man not satisfy his hunger with soup while another opts for submarines?

For someone who has always admired McNabb’s ability to rise above the nonsense around him, it is personally difficult to see him wade into the jilted ex-player ooze and reduce himself to something of a poor man’s Jose Canseco. Canseco’s life was such a reality show before reality shows became cool (and a media virus) that no one initially believed his dumping on PED use. Similarly, given how McNabb has navigated his post-Philadelphia career, he is, at this time, a severely diminished NFL voice. Should RGIII or any young quarterback McNabb reaches out to take his call? Absolutely, but if they choose not to, McNabb shouldn’t take the interpreted slight public. If anything, McNabb’s reaction validated RGIII’s choice to let the answering machine screen bitter “uncle Donovan’s” call in the first place.    

Here’s the worst part of “he didn’t call me back”-gate: McNabb has a valid point.  He was right when he quipped that Tony Romo didn’t deserve a nine-figure extension, and he is spot-on about RGIII having too much on his plate. It would do RGIII some good to have a conversation with one of the few people on the planet who can understand what it’s like being an African American NFL quarterback: the object of advertisers’ affection, the face of a franchise, the leader of a football team and the ultimate rock star to a nation of adoring fans — all at the age of 22. RGIII appears to be a grounded, well-supported young man, but there’s likely no one in his support system that can relate to his “ordinary day” the way Donovan McNabb can. It’s too bad the former and budding star quarterbacks couldn’t hook up. The missed opportunity left one looking desperate for relevance and the other without useful wisdom that was his for the taking.