PHILADELPHIA — Donovan McNabb‘s voice cracked and his eyes watered when he stood at the podium to give his retirement speech.
Famously booed when he was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1999, McNabb couldn’t hide the tears when he called it quits 14 years later. The six-time Pro Bowl quarterback was back in Philadelphia on Monday to make it official, three years after he was traded from the Eagles and 21 months after taking his final snap in the NFL.
“Special day,” McNabb said. “I’m not one for emotion, but this is pretty tough.”
Before McNabb even took the stage, team owner Jeffrey Lurie revealed that his No. 5 will be retired on Sept. 19.
“The No. 5 has become synonymous with one of the greatest eras of Eagles football,” Lurie said. “And ensuring that no one else will ever wear Donovan’s number, we honor one of the greatest playmakers to ever wear an Eagles uniform.”
McNabb will be inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame and have his jersey retired on Sept. 19 when the Eagles play the Kansas City Chiefs on a Thursday night. Former Eagles coach Andy Reid, who drafted McNabb with the No. 2 overall pick in 1999, now coaches the Chiefs.
“To be mentioned with the likes of Reggie White, Jerome Brown, Chuck Bednarik, Tommy McDonald, Brian Dawkins and all the other players who have paved the way for me, for my former teammates and for the current players, it’s truly an honor,” McNabb said about becoming the ninth player in franchise history to have his number retired.
Dawkins received the honor last year when his No. 20 was put on the shelf. Dawkins along with Brian Westbrook were among numerous former teammates and current Eagles in attendance for his ceremony.
“It was a pleasure going to war with you,” Dawkins told McNabb. “It was a pleasure going out and playing the game the way we that we played it because we enjoyed doing it and we did it at a high level for so long. I appreciate the way you played, the man that you are and I thank you. It’s a pleasure to call you a friend. I love you, brother. Thank you.”
McNabb led the Eagles to five NFC championship games and one Super Bowl in 11 seasons in Philadelphia. But he failed to lead the team to its first NFL championship since 1960, and some hold that against him.
“I apologized to the fans because that was my goal. I feel like I let them down,” McNabb said.
McNabb was a polarizing personality in Philadelphia from the day a busload of fans went to New York and booed him after he was chosen as the No. 2 overall pick. He was criticized heavily his final year with the Eagles and even more since his trade to Washington in 2010.
But 30,000 fans who attended Sunday’s practice at Lincoln Financial Field gave McNabb the loudest ovation on Alumni Day.
“They truly appreciate the effort I gave,” McNabb said.
McNabb is the team’s all-time leader in pass attempts (4,746), completions (2,801), yards (32,873) and touchdowns (216). He led the Eagles to 100 wins, including nine in the playoffs. McNabb was one of four players in NFL history to have 30,000 yards passing, 200 TDs passing, 3,000 yards rushing yards and 20 TDs rushing, joining Hall of Famers John Elway, Fran Tarkenton and Steve Young.
“His unique ability to make plays through the air and with his legs made him one of the most dynamic players this city has ever seen,” Lurie said. “Donovan was the face and the focal point of so many of our great Eagles teams and he helped make this franchise a contender each and every year that he was here.”
McNabb played through pain often and once threw four touchdown passes in a game against Arizona after breaking his ankle on the first series. He missed the rest of the regular season that year, but returned for the playoffs.
“There has never been a player tougher,” Lurie said. “He didn’t go around talking about how tough he was, but all of us remember that Arizona game in just one instance. Never one to complain and never one to talk about his injuries, he was a warrior.”
The 36-year-old McNabb started 13 games for the Redskins in 2010 after the trade, and six for Minnesota the following year. He then shifted into working in radio and television.
McNabb’s wife and four children joined him at the ceremony, which began with a video of his career in Philadelphia. Ironically, it didn’t appear to include any passes thrown to Terrell Owens. McNabb teamed with Owens to lead the Eagles to the Super Bowl in 2004, but they feuded the following year and T.O. was kicked off the team.
McNabb singled out many of his former teammates, including offensive linemen, running backs and fullbacks. He didn’t mention any receivers, however.
He saved his final words for Reid.
“Last but not least, I want to thank Big Red for taking the chance and sticking with me in ’99,” McNabb said. “Eleven great years. We’ll forever be linked to together. But that’s one of the things where I can honestly say, I love him.
“We made history, big fella.”