ASHBURN, Va. - The irony is that Mike Shanahan and Donovan McNabb have more in common than anyone around these parts seems to realize.
Shanahan won a couple of Super Bowls in the previous century. He was hailed as a genius for being the guy who got John Elway over the hump at the end of his Hall of Fame career. As those triumphs receded into the past, Shanahan's reputation evolved, too.
He became the guy who couldn't win without Elway.
McNabb sprinted to the top level of NFL quarterbacks, leading the Eagles to the playoffs in his first full season as a starter and to the conference title game the next four years. Finally given an elite wide receiver to work with, McNabb put up incredible numbers and led the Eagles to the Super Bowl after the 2004 season. And then his reputation went as stale as his early achievements.
He became the guy who couldn't win with Andy Reid.
So that Easter Sunday trade seemed fitting for a couple of guys looking to resurrect their NFL careers.
Shanahan, the guy who rewrote Elway's big-game-loser legacy, was the perfect coach for McNabb's final act. McNabb gave Shanahan the veteran QB he needed to prove he could win again after wearing out his welcome in Denver.
Boy, did things go wrong, horribly wrong, in a hurry.
Going into the season, this looked like a two- to three-year project as Shanahan and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett taught their playbooks to a team that went 4-12 last year. Shanahan behaved accordingly. His public war with the team's highest-paid defensive star, Albert Haynesworth, dominated the news all summer and seemed calculated to set the tone for the entire team.
But benching McNabb in the final two minutes of the eighth game of the season? That looked like a desperation move by a coach trying to win immediately and losing sight of the big picture. Shanahan's abysmal handling of that move and its aftermath has created an enormous distraction for his team and made it very likely McNabb will move on after his contract expires at the end of this season.
This marriage of convenience may end in a quickie divorce.
Meanwhile, Washington is 4-4 going into Monday night's game against the Eagles at FedEx Field. It has matched last season's win total despite a defense in transition, a shoddy offensive line, a poor running game, and a dearth of offensive weapons. Take away this latest brouhaha and this first season of Shanahan and McNabb would look very promising.
But here was McNabb, standing outside his new team's practice facility, trying to smother the fire with a blanket woven of clichés and undiagrammable sentences.
"I like to handle my business behind closed doors," McNabb said. "I don't kind of go through the media and try to vent or react to certain situations. I think that's not truly professional. My professional manner is to talk to you man-to-man and find out what the problem is. You find out the problem, you come up with a solution, and you move on, and I think for a lot of guys, you know, it's a hard, hard deal to manage because they want to vent. But what really do you get out of the whole deal before it becomes an ongoing battle of he said-she said?"
McNabb is in an odd situation. If Reid and Marty Mornhinweg sometimes sound like the same guy in different-size shirts, here the head coach and coordinator are father and son. And that's just the beginning. Kyle Shanahan, quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur, and backup QB Rex Grossman were together with the Houston Texans last year. McNabb is older than all three.
When these people circle the wagons - as the Shanahans clearly did after the benching - McNabb is not on the inside of the circle. It is easier to start a whisper campaign against McNabb than to fix the line, shore up the defense, and acquire a talented young running back and a couple of receivers. It's also easier than admitting your son and his buddies may not be ready for the big time yet.
McNabb said that he has spoken with the Shanahans, that they intend to find common ground for the second half of the season.
"It's important, for us to be successful, for everyone to be comfortable," McNabb said. "There's so many things that we do well. There's a lot of things that we want to do that we haven't been able to do in the first eight [games]. We look forward to showcasing that."
That second half starts, fittingly enough, against the Eagles. Against Reid, McNabb's old mentor, and Michael Vick, McNabb's former protégé.
The big story when the teams met in Philadelphia was how the crowd would react to McNabb. Strangely, that also will be a big story when the teams meet in Landover, Md. Different stadium, different fans, same old Donovan.
Donovan's next play
The Redskins QB is ready
to move past benching. C4.