Last fall, when Donovan McNabb was cut by the Minnesota Vikings, I wrote an article urging him to leave the game for good. I said, in essence, that the longer he stays in the spotlight, the harder it will be for him to make the Hall of Fame. I used his numbers to show that his credentials might be worthy of Canton, but that attempting to prolong his career would only hurt his candidacy.
Although he wisely walked away from the game, McNabb is still finding ways to damage his legacy.
He is doing this by constantly making himself the story. He recently started appearing on ESPN's family of networks, joining their star-studded cast of former player-turn-analysts. In an appearance on First Take, McNabb wasted no time in turning a story about Robert Griffin III into a story about McNabb. McNabb claimed Robert Griffin III would not succeed in Washington because the Shanahans would limit him much like they supposedly limited McNabb in his stint there. Although he tried to remain as separated from the issue as possible, his bitterness was evident when he used the words "ego" and saying, "I was misused. Absolutely."
That last word, "absolutely," was also the word he used this week when asked if he thought he was a Hall of Fame quarterback. "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," he told Fox Sports.
Donovan is correct that a Super Bowl is often the equalizer when it comes to measuring candidacy for the Hall of Fame. He is wrong that numbers are the only qualification for the Hall of Fame, but more importantly he is wrong when he implies that is why people don't consider him worthy.
People don't consider him a Hall of Famer because he won’t stop promoting himself like this.
The players he named, Kelly and Aikman, never campaigned for their own candidacy. As far as I recall, no other former player has done that either. And while it needs to be clarified that Donovan was asked specifically if he thought he was a Hall of Famer, there are other ways to answer that question. He could have declined to answer, or said, "I believe I have built an impressive resume, but it’s up to Canton to decide that." Even stopping at "absolutely" would be better than comparing himself favorably to other players in the Hall.
I defended McNabb for his entire career. In some cases, such as against Terrell Owens and Rush Limbaugh, it was fairly easy. In other cases, like his final two stops in Washington and Minnesota, it was much more difficult. I always believed that people unfairly criticized McNabb, and that his merit was always questioned because of the city he played for and other circumstances outside of his playing ability. And when he spoke out against his critics, I always felt that it was a necessary compensation.
But he's gone too far here by voicing these concerns over and over again. The day after he shifted the focus from RGIII to himself, he again appeared on First Take and said, when it came to criticism of quarterbacks, "Nobody has been criticized as much as I have." Once again, he unexpectedly turned the conversation -- which had started on Tim Tebow -- back to him.
By saying those words, McNabb is once again promoting himself. And this is what happens in these situations: the more someone promotes himself or herself, the harder it is to support that person. McNabb has certainly been criticized in his career, fairly and unfairly. But to hear him say that, to once again take a story about a current player and make it about him, rubs people the wrong way. And as long as McNabb comes on national TV every week and says something similar, no one will be able to think of his Hall of Fame candidacy without thinking about his rampant self-promotion.
Let's go back to Kelly and Aikman.
Both quarterbacks, as established, had similar numbers to McNabb. Both had more Super Bowl wins and/or appearances. But more importantly than that, they never came on television and talked about their accomplishments and their hardships. They let their accomplishments speak for themselves.
McNabb has never been able to do that. Whether it is publicizing his accomplishments or the many obstacles he has had to face as the NFL's "Most Criticized Quarterback," McNabb has made everything public. And in today’s media world, where everything you do and say is published to the world in a matter of seconds, it becomes impossible to judge your body of work simply on the field.
With that in consideration, the best way McNabb can increase his odds of making the Hall of Fame is to quit his job at ESPN, take some time away from the game, and hope his reputation improves with time. Because the more he appears on television, touting his resume with every appearance, the harder it is going to be for people to remember his actual accomplishments on the field.
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