Something came over me as I wrote the headline above. It was a wave of dusty offseason nostalgia that I couldn’t quite place. We’ve been here before, and had this exact same discussion under nearly the exact same circumstances, haven’t we?

Ahhh yes, there it is! Here’s Donovan McNabb in mid April last year, saying something in a radio interview that would make people — people like you and me — talk about Donovan McNabb and his everlasting legacy:

Asked by host Mark Kriegel if he would vote for himself for the Hall of Fame, McNabb gave a confident response.

“Absolutely,” McNabb said. “See, one thing that people don’t realize — I never played the game to make it to the Hall of Fame. I played the game because I love it. I played the game to win. I’m a competitor. When I step out on the field, I feel like I’m the best player on the field. Even these last two years, when people may look at it and say, ‘Oh, he’s done, or whatever.’ I’m 34, 35 years old but still, I played at the pinnacle, I played at the highest level of my career. I played there. And I would vote for myself for the Hall of Fame.

“When you sit and look at the numbers — and that’s what it is when it comes to the Hall of Fame — my numbers are better than Jim Kelly, better than Troy Aikman, better than a lot of guys in the Hall of Fame, but the one thing they do have is a Super Bowl,” McNabb said.

Today, he returned to a familiar scene after formally announcing his retirement, and that he would officially fade off as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles. He was in a radio booth (97.5 The Fanatic in Philly), and after discussing other matters (WILL YOU RETIRE IN ANDY REID’S PRESENCE PLEASE OH GAWD), the conversation inevitably turned to McNabb’s Hall of Fame status.

He used far fewer words this time, but his stance remains the same. Donovan McNabb thinks Donovan McNabb is a Hall of Famer. From The 700 Level:

Are you a Hall of Famer?

McNabb – “If you ask me and I had all the votes to put me in I would say yes.”

McNabb hasn’t played a game since we last had this discussion, so my stance on the matter hasn’t changed either. Class, please turn your notebooks to April 19, 2012:

McNabb had quality numbers during the prime of his career, throwing for more than 3,500 yards three times, and flirting with 4,000 yards twice. That yardage may seem minuscule now during a prolific passing era, but McNabb was once among the elite prior to the time when elite quarterbacks pushed 5,000 yards. His accuracy was always good, but not great, and he had eight seasons with a completion percentage below 60. He also had a very pedestrian career passer rating of 85.6.

But championships do matter in the hall of fame debate, and they always have whether you agree with that methodology or not (for the record, I despise it). McNabb’s inability to win major playoff games combined with his rapid decline in his early 30s during a time when true upper echelon quarterbacks are usually still productive has created a stench that will never go away.

Throw in the fact that he’s essentially been forced into retirement now because no team wants to sign him even as a backup, and it’s incredibly difficult to imagine a Canton ceremony for Philly’s least favorite former quarterback.

My deepest apologies for the clip show here, but all of that still stands. I still hate the use of Super Bowl wins to define the career of any player. Unfortunately, I don’t have a Hall of Fame vote (working on it), and the curmudgeon-y folk who do generally care a whole lot about the amount of rings on a quarterback’s fingers. Those same folks presumably made an exception for Kelly, because advancing to four Super Bowls takes a true effort, as does losing all four. Mad respect.

So there’s that. McNabb is right, though, as his career numbers do indeed compare favorably to some guys who have replicas of their heads in Canton. Namely, Kelly and Aikman, and here’s the surface layer of that comparison:

  • McNabb: completion percentage of 59.0 over 161 starts, 37,276 passing yards, 234 touchdowns, 117 interceptions
  • Aikman: 61.5% over 165 starts, 32,942 yards, 165 touchdowns, 141 interceptions
  • Kelly: 60.1% over 160 starts, 35,467 yards, 237 touchdowns, 175 interceptions

McNabb wins on all or most accounts there — though not by a wide margin — until we remember how much his numbers were bloated by Andy Reid’s high-volume passing which sometimes resulted in an inability to recognize that running the ball is permitted under NFL rules. McNabb topped out at 5,377 career passing attempts, which is significantly more than Aikman (4,715) and Kelly (4,779).

The problem with McNabb and his legacy is one of longevity, and how his career abruptly crumbled. We’re in the middle of an era when elite quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Peyton Manning have continued to do elite things well into their mid 30′s, and they’ve shown no signs of slowing yet. That’s especially impressive for Manning, who recovered from his multiple neck surgeries to have an absurd 2012 season.

McNabb, meanwhile, was drained and gutted at the age of 33. He lacked movement and arm strength in Washington, and he was unable to be even a suitable bridge to Christian Ponder for one year in Minnesota. But the most telling sign of his thoroughly disappointing decline was when he spent a season campaigning to be signed by any team — any team at all — and he didn’t find a taker.

He had a great career, with several excellent years. But it’ll likely fall just short of that vague, moving line separating great and excellent, and Hall of Fame worthy.