by Kevin Franklin
This should be a very interesting year.
Gone is Sheldon Brown and the memories of him blowing up Reggie Bush in the playoffs with a cavity-loosening hit. Gone is Brian Westbrook and his housefly-like meandering through ankle-broken defenders on his way to the end zone. But biggest of all, in terms of organizational importance, gone is Donovan McNabb and his pendulum of amazing us one week and leaving us hoarse with frustration the next. As time passes and the patina of memories takes on a sepia-toned reminiscence, we’ll remember more of the great things he did and less of the negative aspects of his time here. Just ask Ron Jaworski and Randall Cunningham.
In steps Kevin Kolb, the second-round head scratcher of a pick from the 2007 draft. It wasn’t enough the Eagles traded out of the first round with the Cowboys, of all teams – that was like giving an empty-handed mugger a crowbar to beat you with; but to pick someone almost no one had ever heard about in the second round, well, it was as good an excuse as any to start drinking heavily.
You see, we Eagles fans have weathered the storm of quite a few first selection duds. The names Kevin Allen, Antone Davis and Kenny Jackson live on in infamy as signs we didn’t offer enough virgin sacrifices to the Goddess of the Draft, but at least they were known by the average amateur draftnik. In 1992, the Eagles were double-whammied by having two first round picks (Lester Holmes and Leonard Renfro) publicly disgrace the uniform. Worst of all, from a “who the hell is THIS guy” department, was Jon Harris, who was so shocked to be picked on the first day, let alone the first round, that he spent the day alone on the couch watching cartoons (ok, I made that up, but it makes for a better story). Mike Mamula? Hell, he was an All-Pro by comparison; a Combine Day warrior before the draft and a tin soldier after.
But this Kolb fellow…not only did we not know who he was, but he was a quarterback! You can always rotate a lineman in and out and there are always multiple players to fill in at every position during a game except the kickers…oh, and the QUARTERBACK. Don’t tell me about the backup quarterbacks because we all know they are “break glass in case of emergency” players on game day. So here we have a first round pick traded to Ameri-Cons team, a player picked first in the draft by the home team no one has ever heard about and he just happens to be a quarterback. Listen, you don’t take a QB that early in the draft unless you plan to have him fondling the Center’s backside on Sunday afternoon sooner than later. McNabb was 30 years old and in his prime years, so the words “wasted pick” were on the lips of most Eagles fans from the row homes of South Philly to the sweaty bars of the Jersey Shore to every angry conversation amongst the die-hards in between.
Through it all, Kevin Kolb took it standing up as we fell down drunk in our collective miseries. To add insult to injury, we had no idea how to even pronounce his name. When he did see action, all we saw was a quarterback who had thrown almost as many interception yards through 2008 as actual yards. He did throw two touchdown passes; however, they were to the other team, including an all-time NFL record 108-yarder to Ed Reed of the Baltimore Ravens. All. Time. NFL. Record. It’s always nifty to get your name in the record book, I suppose.
Last year, McNabb went down – again – and Kolb was finally able to know he was waking up Sunday as the starting quarterback for two games. The talk throughout that time was that he would finally get two full weeks of reps with the first team. The cynics among us (namely 99% of the fan base) scoffed and readied our souls for two humiliating defeats until Mcnabb could come back. We flashed back to that Ravens game from the year before where coach Andy Reid benched McNabb in the second half and threw Kolb to the wolves. The pack was hungry and they ate Kolb alive. Then they ate his lunch. Then they took out his still-beating heart and offered it to Kali. It was a game that had the adults shooshing the kids out of the room to watch something less violent, like Saving Private Ryan or the cattle-butchering scene in Apocalypse Now. The horror…
Kolb had some playing time at the end of the opening game against the Carolina Panthers when McNabb went down to injury and he didn’t throw an interception. That’s right, we were happier at what he didn’t do than what he did do. His first start was against the New Orleans Saints the following week, the eventual Super Bowl champions, mind you, and comported himself decently for a guy in his first start, even though the Eagles lost. He did throw three interceptions, but he also threw the first two touchdowns of his career and passed for almost 400 yards. The next week, a win against the Kansas City Chiefs, he threw two more touchdowns, had zero interceptions and over 300 yards passing again. It was the first time a quarterback has thrown for over 300 yards in his first two starts in NFL history. Like I said, it’s always nifty to get your name in the record book.
The next Sunday was a bye week and McNabb snatched the Midnight Green scepter from Kolb, but everyone – the coaches, players and fans – knew Kolb’s time was coming, and soon. He doesn’t have McNabb’s arm strength. Few in the NFL do. He doesn’t have McNabb’s mobility in the pocket. Kolb is slower afoot than a grandmother in a buffet line and has the stats to prove it, as he has rushed 21 times in his career for a grand total of -1 yards. I could tape $100 bills all over my body and run behind a wall of toddlers and at least pick up a yard after 21 tries on the 1991 Eagles defense. On the flip side, Kolb does not seem to have McNabb’s frustrating ability to consistently throw shoe-top passes in key situations or Donovan’s inability to connect on timing patterns. For all we have seen and been told by the coaching staff, Kolb is a smart player, his teammates like him and he does have the ability to win in this league. He also does not seem as aloof as his predecessor or have the need to change into his Goofy McGooferson alter ego at peculiar times on Sunday.
Personally, I am taking 2010 as a mulligan year. This team could win 10 games or lose 10 games and I would not have much of an issue if, by the end of the year, Kolb has shown the ability to go from starter to star. There are other holes on this team, other question marks, to be sure, but the long-term success of the Eagles rides in the holster of the quarterback. The team took a big gamble in trading away McNabb this offseason and hitching their wagon to this starter. We Eagles fans, not universally known for our rationality or cuddly embraces, will still shout at our televisions this year, but in the backs of our minds, most of us just want to see progress under center and a return to legitimate contention in 2011. Some will scream the Eagles never should have traded McNabb, but that milk has already been spilled. Some will clamor for Michael Vick to run the offense, before they are chased from the bar and message boards by the pitchfork-wielding majority. And some of us will weather the storm and support the man who will now hold our collective football psyches in his hands for the foreseeable future. What happens next is anyone’s guess.
But I guarantee you it will be interesting.
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