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PDN: Big target, bigger arrows for McNabb


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Big target, bigger arrows for McNabb


Donovan McNabb arrived to hoots, Terrell Owens to hosannas.

McNabb as a kid, Owens as a finished product.

McNabb, a number; Owens, initials.

But 5 plus T.O. equals what?

In a season full of questions for the Eagles, who are trudging purposefully toward the well again, that is the question that overrides all others. After back-to-back-to-back losses in the NFC Championship Game, and with issues in several places - at running back, along the offensive line, throughout a smallish defense - the new connection between McNabb and Owens is expected to paper over all problems, to make everything right.

Can't run it? Can't get it blocked? Can't match past talent on defense? Doesn't matter - because the Eagles have Donovan and T.O. Such is the municipal mind-set now, as the Eagles take another run at greatness. Never before has one single addition to a roster engendered such optimism.

And never have two players - two such seemingly disparate people and personalities - been expected to come together instantly, to be one.

Because McNabb deflects attention as Owens attracts it.

McNabb has a wife at home, Owens a statue of himself.

McNabb bludgeons, Owens skewers.

But how will the two combine?

Some of it is history and some of it is personality, but these are two very different people. Of course, that doesn't deny some similarities. They are both NFL megastars and they are both comfortable in the trappings of megastardom. They make the money and wear the expensive suits and seek the endorsements and pal around at the Pro Bowl and get their backsides kissed on ESPN and all of that. There is plenty of common ground there, ground littered by the play of spotlights and the reflection of gold coins.

Both, too, seek validation - but different kinds of validation. Owens wants to be seen as a winner (and, barring that, just wants to be seen). McNabb already has the numbers to suggest he's a winner - what he wants is to be recognized as the reason for the winning, as a truly great quarterback in today's NFL. It is a striving for recognition that began when he was a high school quarterback whom most colleges wouldn't recruit as a quarterback, and it is a striving that continues today - with the booing on draft day and the intrusion last year of Rush Limbaugh as significant mileposts along the way.

So Donovan and T.O. are united in some of the things they have accomplished, and they are united in their desires for something more, something better. But, again, history and personality put them in different places, even as it forces them together.

Because McNabb follows the rules, Owens his own script.

McNabb is the logical extension of his coach, Owens the exception.

McNabb is Andy Reid's right arm, Owens his wild hair.

So how do they make it work?

The public personae of the two men are obviously different enough. Face it: McNabb has always measured his words and Owens has always measured his airtime. That doesn't mean that McNabb doesn't have an ego, because he does, and that doesn't mean that Owens doesn't sometimes crave anonymity, because he does; well, probably. It just means that the two have made conscious choices about how they want people to view them, and they are very different choices.

The history here really means a lot. McNabb had to earn any plaudits he has received around here, and he has had to develop a shell as impenetrable as titanium. He came here to skepticism, as a rookie quarterback on a bad team. He came here and got clobbered at the beginning, and in a town dying for a savior, he had to live in the Philadelphia quarterbacking maelstrom - spun one way by the chorus of encouragement, spun the other by the drumbeat of skepticism, back and forth, buffeted by the ever-changing winds.

And Owens? Only rose petals and trumpets for far.

McNabb has struggled here to become the star, to be recognized as the franchise. Everyone knows it has not been easy. He has not been surrounded by star-caliber weaponry, and he has been injured some, and he has been bad occasionally, and he has rarely fit into the mold that people around here seem to want.

Philadelphia wants the arm and the leadership skills of a Dan Marino combined with the accuracy and savvy of a Joe Montana, and McNabb does give them a piece of each, at least sometimes. But the bad days still get a greater piece of the spotlight. Even with all that the Eagles have accomplished, even with all of the games that McNabb has won, nothing about the last 5 years has been easy for him.

And Owens? Now he gets to be the savior.

The dynamic is really interesting, when you think about it. Barring an injury, there can be only two outcomes to this fascinating new pairing: success or failure. There is no room this year for gray. But, consider: If McNabb and Owens become the hottest offensive force in the National Football League this year, and if the Eagles finally get over the top and make it to the Super Bowl, who will get the credit? It will be Owens, who craves and demands the spotlight and whose arrival will be viewed as the key, missing piece.

But what if it doesn't work out? What if the Eagles, even with McNabb and Owens, don't explode as an offense? What if they implode instead, and the Eagles take the step back that every good NFL team seems to take at some point? Who will get the blame? It will be McNabb - and don't kid yourself for a second about that.

For instance, from ESPN.com: "The most heat is in Philly, where Donovan McNabb has a new target and no more excuses for missing a Super Bowl."

So, McNabb and Owens do share one goal, yes. But these are still different people with different expectations - some of them personal and some of them thrust upon them.

The main difference?

Owens has everything to gain.

McNabb has everything to lose.

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