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News » Bill Conlin: Time to say bye, bye to McNabb and Burrell after decade in Philly

Bill Conlin: Time to say bye, bye to McNabb and Burrell after decade in Philly

Bill Conlin: Time to say bye, bye to McNabb and Burrell after decade in Philly
THE LAST thing you want or need when rooting for a professional sports team is the No. 1 or 2 selection in the draft. Earning a pick that high is right up there with being tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail.

When outgoing president James Buchanan asked Abraham Lincoln how he felt about his election, Lincoln replied, "I feel like the man who was tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail. To the man who asked how he liked it, he said: 'If it wasn't for the honor of the thing, I'd rather walk.' "

Drafting that high is testimony to a job poorly done. For a major league Baseball team, it means resting near the bottom of a 30-team heap. Ditto the 32-team NFL, where the first players picked are often skill-position stars who are soon tainted by exposure to a roster of mediocre players.

And Catch-22 is this: The dopes who do the draft-day picking are often the same dopes responsible for the lousy records that earned them such a high selection in the first place. It's often classic garbage in, garbage out.

Lucky us. Thanks to the ineptness of the Phillies and Eagles as the gray nineties drew to a close, we enjoyed the heightened expectations and raging debates that came with the chance to select a No. 2 and No. 1 overall in the 1997 and '98 June MLB drafts. As a special bonus, new coach Andy Reid and the Eagles had the No. 2 pick in the 1999 NFL draft.

Those three drafts - two of them first-rate soap operas - were how Phillies lightning rod Pat Burrell and Eagles franchise quarterback Donovan McNabb came to William Penn's "Greene Towne." And how '97 refusenik Jonathan David Drew was so resistant to playing here he spent a season in an independent league, losing a valuable year of big-league playing time that will count against the big-money end of his injury-riddled career.

Having failed to reel in Drew, the Phillies wiped the egg off their faces in 1998 and took University of Miami star Burrell with the first pick. Ironically, Drew was redrafted by the Cardinals with the fifth pick. General manager Ed Wade was under intense pressure to avoid another draft fiasco. The Phillies gave Pat a 5-year major league contract plus a bonus of about $8 million. It was more than Drew agent Scott Boras had demanded for his client in '97.

The events surrounding McNabb's selection still resonate a decade later - a call-in morning show's "Dirty 30" booing his selection on national TV, Mayor Rendell leading a political-style campaign backing University of Texas running back Ricky Williams.

So here we all are today, still deeply involved in the career endgames of Burrell, the veteran outfielder who led the fabulous World Series victory parade, waving joyously behind the famed Anheuser Busch Clydesdales, and McNabb, the quarterback who showed up on Thanksgiving night disguised as engineer of the 2004 Super Bowl express.

Burrell was never what we wanted him to be - or what he wanted himself to be. But the body of his work will not be easy to replace. He never made an All-Star team or won a home run, RBI or batting title even though the scouting reports gave him a puncher's chance at all of those. Pat just was not athletic enough or healthy enough to hide the lack of foot speed that limited his outfield range and made him a liability on the bases. Pat is an American League DH trapped within the broader parameters of the National League game.

At 32, Burrell probably has a half-dozen productive slugging years ahead of him. He wound up earning nearly as much salary per year as Drew so far and when you measure their power numbers and games played, it really is no contest. Pat has played nearly two fewer seasons than Drew yet has appeared in 97 more games, hit 59 more homers and driven in 190 more runs. In a lineup tilted toward lefthanded power hitters, Burrell has been the one righthanded bat in the middle of the lineup who pitchers had to get past.

The man who loves playing here has not always been loved in return, however. Pat never used the wrist tendon that kept popping out of its capsule or an actual Achilles' heel for his protracted slumps and the awkward swings that made him resemble a drunk trying to stay upright by clinging to a bus stop sign. Burrell never played the blame game. He soldiered on and the fans came to respect his truly true grit and, finally, to love his work ethic and professionalism.

From this late-autumn vantage point, it is hard to see him coming back unless he makes Ruben Amaro an offer the new GM can't refuse. Will Pat be offered arbitration by today's deadline? Somebody out there in DH land will offer him 3 years with an option and $35 million or so. Hey, 25-30 homers and 90-100 RBI just aren't that easy to come by.

Looking back, the Phillies could have picked Little League World Series hero Sean Burroughs, the 9th pick in '98, who played four big-league seasons for the Padres and hit a total of 11 homers.

Unlike Burrell, who has never been that guy, McNabb always has been the face of the Eagles' franchise, the 24-karat stamp on the gold bars in Jeffrey Lurie's vault.

His startling snapback from the dregs of back-to-back, career-worst performances against the dreadful Bengals and defensively tough Ravens had the eerie look of an audition for the 2009 season. Against a Cardinals pretender with the worst defense against a ground attack since the French in 1940, Donovan was finally able to execute Reid's passing game with rhythm and precision. He was an option quarterback at Syracuse, an athlete whom Reid felt had all the requisites to be an ideal general in the West Coast offense. His ability to turn 12-yard losses into 25-yard gains made him the NFL's most dangerous QB, according to many NFL coaches who could defense everything but the X-factor represented by his fullback size, halfback speed and scatback escapability. At his end, McNabb made every effort to shed what he considered the stereotype of his "athleticism" to become a passer first and a runner only by dire necessity. In recent years, as injuries eroded his speed and elusiveness, he began taking sacks in situations where the old McNabb would have glided around a corner for a dozen yards and skated gracefully out of bounds.

So, if you were a coach fast-forwarding through McNabb's bravura Thanksgiving performance, you saw a 32-year-old athlete with lots of 97 octane fuel left in his tank. His arm is still a missile launcher, although it remains more Scud than Cruise. That's not going to change.

But in a year when some of the NFL's best QBs are mid-30-

somethings named Kerry Collins, Kurt Warner and Jeff Garcia, McNabb has established himself as an elite veteran who can fit any system and could thrive in an offense blessed by a big back, competent tight end and a couple of wide receivers with All-Pro pedigree. He has reached his expiration date here.

So, get ready for a winter and spring of long goodbyes. If we are lucky, very lucky, the Decade of Donovan McNabb and Pat Burrell will not come back to haunt. Let them go gently into the good night. *

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Author:Fox Sports
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Added: December 1, 2008

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