After losing in the NFC Championship game for three straight years, Donovan McNabb and the Eagles finally broke through in 2004, capping off an impressive 13-3 regular season with a win over the Atlanta Falcons in the conference title game. For the first time since 1980, the Eagles were going to the Super Bowl.
McNabb and the high-flying Eagles offense was a big reason for the success. In 2004, McNabb was firmly entrenched as the team’s franchise quarterback and recorded career highs in passing yards (3,875) and touchdowns (31). But despite throwing for over 357 yards and three touchdowns in Super Bowl XXXIX, McNabb and the Eagles were unable to overcome other mistakes, falling to the Patriots 24-21.
Thirteen years later, McNabb’s former team will get another chance to dethrone the defending champs at Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Built on top of the Metrodome, which was where McNabb finished his career in 2011 with the Vikings.
The piece of football symmetry is as good a chance as any to look back on McNabb’s Super Bowl appearance, Eagles career and life after football.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. McNabb Threw a Season-High Three Interceptions in Super Bowl XXXIX
McNabb threw only eight picks all regular season and zero during the Eagles’ first two playoff games but the three interceptions in Super Bowl XXXIX was a deciding factor in the game.
The first came late in the 1st quarter, with the Eagles looking to score the first points of the game. On 1st and 10 at the 19-yard-line, McNabb’s wobbly pass towards the goal line intended for Brian Westbrook was easily picked off by safety Rodney Harrison.
The next one came with 7:20 left in the 4th quarter and the Eagles trailing 24-14. On 1st and 10 at the Patriots 36-yard-line, McNabb was trying to hit running back Dorsey Levens over the middle, but the pass sailed high and into the arms of Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi.
The third interception of the game was the final nail in the coffin. The Eagles were trailing 24-21 with just :17 left in the 4th quarter and the ball at their own five-yard-line. McNabb’s desperation heave over the middle of the field was tipped and intercepted by Harrison again, sealing the victory for the Patriots.
Despite the interceptions, there was more than meets the eye with McNabb’s Super Bowl XXXIX performance, according to NBC Sports Philadelphia reporter Rueben Frank. Frank Claims the Patriots had gotten away with numerous cheap shots against McNabb during the game that were not called by the officiating crew. Several coaches agreed, including current Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh who was the Eagles Special Teams Coordinator in 2004 and then Eagles Head Coach Andy Reid, who is currently Head Coach of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Then Eagles offensive coordinator Brad Childress also had a vivid memory of the cheap shots. Recalling the first play of the game when McNabb scrambled to the left and got hit out of bounds. “But they didn’t call it” Childress told NBC Sports Philadelphia.
2. McNabb Claims He Didn’t Vomit on the Field During Super Bowl XXXIX
The conspiracy theory on whether or not Donovan McNabb puked during the Super Bowl was put to rest by the quarterback himself during a Reddit AMA in February 2016.
“No, I didn’t puke. It’s unfortunate that we still talk about this 11 years after playing in the Super Bowl. But, no. That did not happen and hopefully we can stop talking about it. Once again, go watch the game tape,” McNabb claimed.
It’s not the first time McNabb has had to deny accusations about the Super Bowl puking incident. In 2010, McNabb told GQ he took a beating during the game and there were several instances where his helmet was twisted off and he got grass in his mouth, but he never puked. Several of McNabb’s teammates also offered their take. The day after the game, offensive lineman Hank Fraley told The Angelo Cataldi Show on Comcast SportsNet: “He gave it his all. He was almost puking in the huddle. One play had to be called by Freddie Mitchell because Donovan was mumbling because he was almost puking.”
Mitchell backs up Fraley’s claim telling Philly.com: “You could see that he was dealing with some kind of complication…I don’t know if it was breathing or what…He always coughs a lot, trying to get something out…I don’t think he was physically hurt.”
3. The Long-Lasting Feud Between McNabb and Former Eagles Teammate Terrell Owens is Still Ongoing
On January 24, Owens made an appearance with Evan Cohen and Mike Babchik on Sirius XM’s The Morning Men where T.O. called McNabb a “two-faced person”. Meanwhile back in November, Owens’ told TMZ he thought Carson Wentz was a better quarterback than McNabb.
It’s the continuation of a feud that has lasted 13 years and began during Owens’ first season in Philadelphia. In March 2017, T.O. told the show Undisputed on FS1 that McNabb “disrespected” him during a game during the 2004 regular season, the same year the Eagles would make their Super Bowl run.
The feud intensified after the Super Bowl XXXIX loss. Not long after the game, T.O. told ESPN.com: “I’m not the one who got tired in the Super Bowl”. A clear jab at McNabb. In the meantime, T.O. had plenty of his own problems to worry about, engaged in a bitter contract dispute with the Eagles front office. Owens was suspended by the team for one week during the 2005 preseason.
During the suspension, T.O. called-out McNabb for being a “hypocrite”, further complicating their feud. McNabb and the Eagles sputtered through the first seven games of the 2005 season, posting 4-3 record. The quarterback continued to battle several nagging injuries, including a sports hernia. Meanwhile Owens made another splash in November, responding to ESPN analyst Michael Irvin’s claim that the Eagles would be undefeated if Brett Favre was the starting quarterback. T.O. told ESPN.com: “That’s a good assessment, I would agree with that, just with what [Favre] brings to the table.”
Just a few days after T.O.’s comments about McNabb and Favre, Owens was benched for the remainder of the season and then released by the Eagles in the offseason. The wide receiver signed a three-year contract with the Cowboys shortly after his release. But while Owens’ career in Philadelphia was over, his feud with the Eagles franchise quarterback continued.
4. After His Playing Career Ended, McNabb Became a TV & Radio Analyst
McNabb was part of the initial launch of FS1’s Fox Sports Live but was fired in 2015 after a DUI arrest. It was McNabb’s second DUI arrest in the span of two years. Shortly after being fired from FS1, McNabb told Syracuse.com he didn’t have an alcohol problem.
In 2016, McNabb got a second chance in the broadcast industry and was hired by ESPN Radio. In addition to co-hosting a show alongside Brian Custer, part of McNabb’s duties also included filling in on the TV show First Take.
McNabb also began his career in the broadcast booth in 2016, working as a color commentator for beIN Sports’ inaugural season of college football coverage. McNabb continued that role in 2017.
5. McNabb Was Fired Again in January After Being Accused of Sexual Harassment
In December former NFL Network makeup artist Jami Cantor accused McNabb and several other former NFL players of sexual harassment, according to SI.com. Deadspin posted the full complaint which include details of inappropriate text messages sent by McNabb to Cantor. McNabb was immediately suspended by ESPN pending investigation. A few weeks later, McNabb was officially fired by the network.
McNabb has been relatively quiet in the aftermath of the sexual assault allegations. He has not made any TV or radio appearances and has only tweeted once since being let go by ESPN, posting a picture with current Eagles quarterback Nick Foles and showing his support for the team in their Super Bowl rematch against the Patriots.
McNabb’s alma mater also chimed in on the allegations. According to Syracuse.com, the athletic department released a statement which said: “We will follow this litigation closely. There is no place for sexual harassment in the Syracuse University community.”
McNabb was a four-year starting quarterback for the Orange from 1995-98 and also played two seasons on the men’s basketball team, including the 1995-96 squad that reached the NCAA Championship game. His on-field accolades for Syracuse included being a Heisman finalist in 1998 and winning the Big East Offensive Player of the Year award for three straight years.