April 17, 1999. Then NFL-commissioner Paul Tagliabue steps up to the podium to announce that with the second pick in the draft, the Philadelphia Eagles select Syracuse quarterback Donovan McNabb.
Birds fans in the room loudly and mercilessly boo.
That singular moment — Eagles fans booing the player who would become the franchise’s best quarterback — has largely been used to cement the idea that Philadelphia fans are the worst in the league. They throw snowballs at Santa, they need a jail in their own stadium, and they boo their own players.
What many sports reporters and television anchors probably don’t know is that the booing wasn’t some spontaneous moment of fans banding together to rip an Eagles prospect — it was an orchestrated event, put together prior to the draft by SportsRadio 94.1 WIP host Angelo Cataldi.
Though Cataldi blames former Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell.
“We were inspired by then-Mayor Ed Rendell’s endorsement of Ricky Williams as the Eagles draft pick in 1999,” Cataldi told Philly.com. “It was all Mayor Rendell’s fault,”
Cataldi wanted the Eagles to select Williams, the highly-touted University of Texas running back who was ultimately selected by the New Orleans Saints two picks later. But according to Eagles owner Jeff Lurie, the team was only interested in selecting either McNabb or University of Miami standout Edgerrin James, who was ultimately picked by the Indianapolis Colts.
In fact, when Cataldi started to organize a group of his listeners to bus up to New York City to boo the pick, a group that has come to be known as the “Dirty 30,” the intent was not to rip McNabb specifically, because no one was certain he would be the Eagles draft pick.
“The truth is, we had no idea the Eagles were going to pick McNabb, nor that McNabb would hold a lifelong grudge for the booing,” Cataldi said.
Regardless, when Tagliabue announced the pick, the “Dirty 30” filled Radio City Music Hall with a sea of boos.
What the footage above doesn't show is that earlier in ESPN's broadcast, fans also booed McNabb from the green room, when he and the other top prospects were introduced prior to the start of the draft.
McNabb told Yes Network host Michael Kay last year that the booing caused his mom to cry, but that he simply laughed it off as he held onto his Eagles jersey on stage.
"I’ll smile, but I’ll take into account what happened and put it in the back of my mind and prove you wrong," McNabb said.
Over the years, Cataldi has changed his tune on booing McNabb, referring to it as “the dumbest thing I’ve ever done. ” He’s even apologized to the former quarterback several times over the past few years — including once on live television.
Cataldi also openly admits that in hindsight, McNabb was clearly the better pick, noting the eccentric and notoriously shy Williams (who would often do interviews while wearing his helmet) would not have fit in well in Philadelphia. He is also willing to admit that McNabb is the best quarterback in Eagles history, noting that “the stats don’t lie.”
But Cataldi also makes it clear he’s no great admirer of McNabb, who he has continued to chide over the airways and views as overly sensitive and emotionally soft.
“Our booing was a precursor to so many other things that bothered him, and held him back from being even greater than he turned out to be,” Cataldi claimed. “If McNabb were a bit less sensitive, he would have laughed the whole thing off. Unfortunately, it haunted him for his whole career.”
With the NFL draft taking place this year in Philadelphia, Cataldi doesn't want to be blamed if Eagles fans decide to spontaneously boo whomever the team selects with any of their draft picks, especially if it happens to be a certain running back from Oklahoma.
“If the Eagles pick Joe Mixon at any point in the draft, the city should erupt in louder boos than we gave to McNabb in 1999,” Cataldi said of the prospect, who has seen his draft stock plummet following the release of a video showing him punching a woman in a fast food restaurant. “He is not worthy of playing on the Eagles, or working in our city.”
Cataldi is largely rumored to be leaning towards retiring from his longtime post as WIP’s morning show host when his contract is up at the end of this year. Cataldi won’t say if he’s fully made up his mind, but he is sure the legacy of the “Dirty 30” won’t tarnish his reputation.
“The day I left the Inquirer in 1990, I stopped being a journalist,” Cataldi said. “As for my reputation as a sports talker, I’m probably going to have a lot more trouble trying to justify Wing Bowl than booing Donovan McNabb.”