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All in their hands

NFC: Donovan McNabb and Kurt Warner present a study in contrasts at QB, except for their results.

By BRUCE LOWITT, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 27, 2002

[AP photos]
Donovan McNabb has Eagle fans munching on their draft-day words.
Kurt Warner leads the most feard offense in the NFL.
Start with a couple of mothers encouraging their sons to load up on soup in nationwide ad campaigns. And end there, too. That's about all quarterbacks Donovan McNabb of the Eagles and Kurt Warner of the Rams seem to have in common.

Oh, and that each has a chance today to lead his team to the Super Bowl.

Personalities, career paths, statistics, they emphasize the differences of the NFC Championship opponents.

McNabb set a variety of passing records at Syracuse and was a reserve on the Orangemen's nationally ranked basketball team. The Eagles, ignoring the Philadelphia Daily News' 1999 draft-day headline urging them to Take Ricky, made McNabb the second player chosen, behind Kentucky quarterback Tim Couch. (Three picks later the Saints took Ricky Williams.) Typically, McNabb's name was booed by Eagles fans; remember, they once booed Santa Claus, too.

Warner is the antithesis of McNabb. Ignored after his senior season (1993) as a starter at Northern Iowa. A $5.50-an-hour supermarket worker when he began three seasons with the Arena League's Iowa Barnstormers, he was signed by the Rams in 1997 and shipped to NFL Europe.

And when St. Louis star-in-training Trent Green was injured in training camp in 1999, Warner took over and embarked on a most improbable record-setting odyssey. At its end, Warner had 41 touchdown passes, the fifth-best passer rating in NFL history, and one of what McNabb hopes for -- a Super Bowl ring.

McNabb is the effusive, center-of-attention leader of a team that hasn't come this close to a Super Bowl since Ron Jaworski was quarterbacking it 20 years ago.

"I look at Sunday as an opportunity to go out there and have fun and do what I do," McNabb said. "I'm just out there trying to make plays, make sure the guys are loose, cracking jokes in the huddle."

"He's having a good time," Eagles tackle Jon Runyan confirmed, "joking around, having a good time, not letting anyone get uptight."

And making defenses nuts. McNabb is, like cross-state counterpart Kordell Stewart of the Steelers, as dangerous with his legs as he is with his right arm.

Rush McNabb, corner him, and he'll usually buy enough time to get a pass off to a suddenly wide-open receiver. Or he'll start downfield, pull up just shy of the line of scrimmage and complete a pass. Or he'll morph into a running back -- a big running back -- and find an escape route his scrambling has created. And if a linebacker or defensive back is lucky he'll drag McNabb down 20, 30, 50 yards later.

See: Eagles 31, Bucs 9.

Watch McNabb after an Eagles touchdown, whether he has thrown it, run for it or just handed off the ball for someone else to score it. Likely as not, he'll be bounding off the field, clapping his hands, laughing giddily, flashing a Cadillac-grille smile. No one on the Eagles commands as much as attention as McNabb -- unless it's defensive end Hugh Douglas when the league needs an extra $35,000 to pay some bills.

Warner, on the other hand, is workmanlike, unobtrusive, delivering the football to Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce, Ricky Proehl, Torry Holt, Az-Zahir Hakim ...

If those guys are the flash-and-dash stars of the Rams, Warner is their chauffeur, their valet, their accountant, getting them where they want to be, making them look good and helping them ring up astounding numbers.

"There are a lot of playmakers around him. You know, guys like Torry, Az and Marshall," Bruce said. "Not a lot of (quarterbacks) have that luxury. ... It's different when you look at a guy like (Green Bay's) Brett Favre. He doesn't have that many (high-profile players) around him, so he's definitely, truly the focal point."

Watch Warner after a Rams touchdown -- if you can pick him out of the crowd. Odds are he'll be shaking hands with a few teammates as he strolls off the field, perhaps wearing just the hint of a smile.

"I don't think things affect Kurt like they do other people," Rams guard Adam Timmerman said. "He just comes out every week and just handles whatever he is dealt and does a good job with it."

The high-visibility McNabb rushed for 482 yards and two touchdowns this season. Warner had 60 yards and none. But McNabb passed for 3,233 yards, Warner 4,830. McNabb threw 25 touchdowns, Warner 36.

In all, McNabb finished 15th among NFL passers (behind Trent Green, Jay Fiedler and Doug Flutie). Warner was first.

"Hey, you have a No. 1 pick and a guy who wasn't drafted at all," Eagles offensive coordinator Rod Dowhower said. "That position is unique that way because of the exposure it gets. (They) arrived at the same spot from different directions and different backgrounds. Interesting story."

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