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Why Donovan McNabb is a HOF Quarterback

Building the Stone-Cold Lock Case Why Donovan McNabb is a HOF Quarterback

Let’s play a game.

One of the quarterbacks I’m about to list isn’t a Hall of Famer. The other three are. So let’s take a dive into their numbers, and without bias, observe all the factors.

QB1: 50.1% Completions, 27,663 yards, 173 TD 220 INT
QB2: 60.1% Completions, 35,467 yards, 237 TD 175 INT
QB3: 59.0% Completions, 37,276 yards, 234 TD 117 INT
QB4: 61.5% Completions, 32,942 yards, 165 TD 141 INT

In terms of pure numbers, QB4 leads us in completion percentage. QB3 leads in yards. QB2 leads in touchdowns, and QB3 leads in interceptions. When looking at TD to INT differential, QB1 comes in at an insane -47, QB2 is marked at +62, QB3 is marked at +117, and QB4 just +24.

The rings, you say. Ah. The fallback argument of a lot of detractors. QB1 is a Super Bowl winner. Does that make him a Hall of Famer? QB3 is not… but so is QB2. And a popular “best of all time” nominee, Dan Marino, is also lacking a piece of jewelry. QB4 has a few rings, because for the sake of a good argument, we had to include a passer who enjoyed multiple championships.

In terms of pure numbers, it would seem clear that QB1 is the guy who doesn’t belong. Yet Joe Namath is enshrined for his infamous prediction, a bold statement that helped raise the profile of the league. If you want to call him one of the best players of all time for that, fine – but don’t then discount other great players who made their contributions on the field.

We all know football is a team sport. Sometimes, the breaks don’t go your way. As in the case of the aforementioned Dan Marino, and QB2, Jim Kelly, rings proved elusive. Both Kelly and Marino are Hall of Fame quarterbacks because their numbers clearly show a level of elite play throughout their careers. Longevity, consistency – it’s not like these guys were constantly leading floundering teams. They were always in the hunt. They just couldn’t break the barrier.

So QB3, then, is Donovan McNabb.

QB4 is Troy Aikman. When you take the Super Bowl rings out of it, do his numbers really stand up? Over his career, Aikman had just 24 more TDs than INTs. He also worked with leading-rusher Emmitt Smith setting up the pass, and Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin on the outside. With that supporting staff, I feel as though any semi-competent Quarterback could step in and post solid numbers.

Speaking of supporting casts, let’s review Donovan McNabb’s. For the Pre-T.O. Era, McNabb’s top targets were Todd Pinkston and Freddie Mitchell. Do you know how many catches Pinkston and Mitchell combined for in their post-Eagles career? Zero. ZERO. Donovan McNabb’s number one and two receivers weren’t good enough to even make an NFL roster after the Eagles let them go.

Then there is James Thrash. He played 3 seasons with the club, starting in 2001. His numbers declined each year, and in average, he was worth about 600 yards per year. Not awful, but certainly not noteworthy or “number one” caliber.

Greg Lewis? His best NFL season is arguable. Is it the one where he had 561 yards, or the one where he had 3 touchdown catches? You decide. They didn’t come in the same year, and they weren’t duplicated.

So when looking at Troy Aikman comparatively with McNabb, it’s hard to imagine Donovan couldn’t reach a similar level of success in Aikman’s offense. Or, if we flipped the roles and placed Troy Aikman on a team with Thrash, Pinkston, and Mitchell, would he be a Hall of Famer? McNabb compiled a +117 TD-INT differential with those guys. With Smith/Irvin as his mates, Aikman ended with a +24. McNabb also outgained Aikman in yards, out-tossed him in TD total, and had less interceptions thrown.

So, in an un-biased world, how can we exclude McNabb from the Hall of Fame? People love to point out intangible qualities. He wasn’t a leader. He wasn’t clutch. He didn’t take over games.

That’s also wrong – and even though intangibles aren’t something you can quantify or qualify, I’ll take the bait. In terms of clutch plays, or taking over games, let’s look simply on highlight reels. There’s 4th and 26, which came in a playoff game. There’s the 12-second scramble, which was on Monday Night Football, which was in Dallas. There’s the game where McNabb scored four TDs on a broken ankle…

Ultimately, there is no case to be made that Donovan McNabb is not a Hall of Fame quarterback. None. He may not be a first-ballot guy. And yes, he may not have won a Super Bowl. But when you put aside the bias, and the disappointment of not winning a championship, the numbers say enough. Especially in comparison.