© St. Petersburg Times, published January 19, 2003
PHILADELPHIA -- He salvaged an image from the rubble of disappointment.
As the Rams celebrated their NFC Championship Game win against the Eagles last year, Donovan McNabb left his team's locker room and went back to the field to take in the celebration.
"You visualize getting back to that spot," Philadelphia's quarterback said. "That was sort of motivation going through the offseason, of getting back to this point, and obviously changing the outcome.
"It's been on my mind ever since the season started."
There were a few twists, namely the one that broke his right ankle Nov. 17 and relegated him to the sideline the final eight weeks of the regular season, but McNabb and the Eagles are back in the NFC Championship Game.
The 26-year-old remains hellbent on correcting last season's misstep.
"To get back and still see the intensity . . . we still have that taste in our mouth," McNabb said. "Obviously we're excited about this opportunity and we want to do whatever it takes to win."
McNabb has not stumbled upon this position.
Philadelphia fans booed lustily when the Eagles took him with the second pick overall, making McNabb the highest drafted African-American quarterback until Michael Vick came along. Fans wanted running back Ricky Williams instead.
"But they've embraced him," center Hank Fraley said. "They kind of booed him, but now they love him. He's just an AI (76ers guard Allen Iverson) but with a little off-the-field demeanor.
McNabb, the cornerstone of coach Andy Reid's plan for success, is the city's good son. And he is bigger, right now, than the quarterbacks (such as Sonny Jurgenson, Ron Jaworski and Randall Cunningham) who preceded him.
Philadelphia is 35-19 overall with the versatile McNabb as its starting quarterback. Already a two-time Pro Bowl player, he is 4-2 in playoff games.
Undefeated in four games against the Bucs, McNabb has completed 52 of 83 passes for 482 yards and five touchdowns while rushing for 93 yards and two scores.
"The guy has won so many big games," Eagles tight end Chad Lewis said. "Anytime you go on a field with someone like that, anything's possible."
McNabb is about pushing himself.
He has spent parts of the past two offseasons training at MakePlays.com, a specialized training facility for athletes in Phoenix, where workouts included throwing footballs while perched on a balance beam, trying to catch flying dog toys and running in the sand.
And every Wednesday and Thursday during the season, he and Fraley settle in for their dinner and movie session. They grab a meal at the team's practice facility and watch game tape until they're the last players in the building at night.
"You've just got to do that," Fraley said. "You've got to be able to go out and execute. For me and Donovan to be on the same page is always good."
The Eagles got a noticeable boost in their divisional playoff game against the Falcons last week when McNabb returned after his extended layoff.
He answered any questions about his health on the Eagles' second play from scrimmage, a 19-yard scramble up the right sideline. He also completed 20 of 30 passes for 247 yards and one touchdown.
"I thought there'd be just a little bit of a getting used to the speed of the game period, but he kind of put that to rest early in the first series," offensive coordinator Brad Childress said. "At this point, he's not a rookie anymore. He's a veteran. He knows himself as well as anybody."