PHILADELPHIA – Donovan McNabb tried to play it all down. In the end, after he made himself right at home in Philadelphia, it became clear this was not just another road trip.
McNabb drew a standing ovation from the fans of his former team when he was introduced Sunday before the Washington Redskins' game at the Linc. Those fans must be wishing he still wore Eagles green after he led Washington to a 17-12 victory.
In the locker room, he told teammates, " this right here defines team. And this is something we can feed off of going into the rest of the season. We are No. 1 in the NFC East, and we're going to stay up there.
"Everybody makes mistakes in their lifetime, and they made one last year. So, thank you."
While the home team looked nervous and, yes, out of place, McNabb made enough plays to lift his new club into a tie with Philadelphia (2-2) atop the NFC East. One perfect spiral of 56 yards was caught by backup wide receiver Anthony Armstrong for a big gain that set up a field goal.
Most importantly, McNabb was at ease during what could have been a disquieting day. His numbers — a career-low eight completions for 125 yards — weren't great. The final score was for Washington, and McNabb clinched the win with an 18-yard scramble for a first down in the final minutes.
"He'll probably never say it, but, you know, you feel some type of personal vendetta and you want to come out and make a statement and win the game," Eagles cornerback Ellis Hobbs said, "and that's what he did."
McNabb has drawn his share of cheers — and boos — in the Linc, and couldn't be sure how he would be greeted. The response Sunday was as kind as the City of Brotherly Love can be: a standing ovation.
When McNabb came out as the final Redskin introduced before the game, nearly everyone in the stadium — many wearing No. 5 Eagles jerseys — stood in tribute to the quarterback who led the Eagles to five NFC title games before being traded in April.
"You realize you spent 11 years here and I knew it was coming," McNabb said of the greeting, which he said made him happy.
"I didn't expect them to cheer the whole game, that wouldn't be right. I put on the uniform and I knew I was an opponent today."
McNabb raised his right arm to salute the folks in the stands and, soon after, embraced his successor, Michael Vick, near the 40-yard line. McNabb supported the Eagles' signing of Vick as his backup a year ago.
Vick left at the end of the first quarter with a rib injury, replaced by Kevin Kolb, who originally was slated to be Philadelphia's starting quarterback. Kolb, who suffered a concussion in the opener and then lost his job to Vick, drew more negative vibes from the crowd then did McNabb.
Philly can be rough on its sports figures, but its fans also are knowledgeable enough to recall the good times. McNabb brought them plenty of those for 11 seasons, and they responded with an outpouring of kindness not often associated with this city.
They also sat in silence as McNabb's perfect 31-yard TD pass to Chris Cooley made it 14-0.
McNabb was especially animated on the sideline during an Eagles drive late in the first half, at one point motioning with his arms for a delay-of-game call against his former team. As he trotted off at halftime leading 17-6, the boos that rained down were for the hosts, not for the visiting quarterback.
"I think all of the quarterbacks got booed today," he said with a chuckle.
During warmups, McNabb exchanged hugs with several Eagles and spoke for a while with kicker David Akers, the only remaining Eagle who was with the team when McNabb joined it — to a chorus of boos at the draft — in 1999.
Afterward, he hugged a few more Eagles and had a long chat with receiver Jason Avant at midfield.
The prospect of venom being spewed at McNabb for never winning a Super Bowl certainly existed Sunday. There was plenty of nastiness in the parking lots, but no hatefest inside the stadium.
Outside the Linc, the biggest pocket of protest was the "boo parade" organized by WIP radio personality Angelo Cataldi — the same man who put together the 1999 outing to the draft in New York when McNabb was selected instead of Ricky Williams. About 35 people, including two men on stilts, a juggler and one dressed as a clown, walked to the Spectrum next door while voicing their displeasure with the quarterback they dubbed "Dontovan" and 'McChoke."
"The lazy, national media harped on the (draft day booing) for 11 years and ignored everything else," Cataldi said. "They wanted a circus today, so we're giving them a circus."
But many fans recalled the five NFC championship games he got the Eagles into; they won only one of those, then lost to New England in the 2005 Super Bowl. And they remembered all the playoff berths: eight, seven for which McNabb was the starting quarterback.
Once the teams kicked off, McNabb became an enemy quarterback again, regarded the same way as Eli Manning or Tony Romo would be.
McNabb's legacy in Philly still can't be determined.
"I think a lot of fans feel McNabb didn't fit in with the fabric of Philadelphia," Eagles fan Dan Perkins said. "He didn't show that outward emotion that a Charles Barkley or an Allen Iverson did. The fans responded to them because of that. They didn't see that from Donovan, and that's what they remember."