Reid Era Camp Classics: No. 7

Donovan McNabb, the Eagles first-round pick in 1999, took to the field after a five-day holdout. (Akira Suwa / Staff File Photo)

As the countdown continues to this year's training camp at Lehigh, the Daily News and Eagletarian have gone back to look at some of our favorite or most interesting events and storylines of training camps and the preseason during the Andy Reid Era. Each weekday for the next two weeks, we will count them down, leading to No. 1.



Published: Aug. 2, 1999

By Marcus Hayes, Daily News Sports Writer

BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- When the future finally took the field, he performed in a manner that delighted fans and teammates alike.

Like worship-starved children looking for a hero, the crowd at Lehigh University yesterday directed its dormant affections at quarterback Donovan McNabb.

The lovefest began at the morning practice when the Eagles' first-round pick practiced for the first time after a five-day holdout and one day in limbo. The holdout included some mudslinging between the team and McNabb's agent, Fletcher Smith. Implications (by the McNabb side) of racism and deceit (by the Eagles) left in question how McNabb would be received by the fans.

Answer: Yesterday morning, the modest crowd applauded his very presence as he took the field.

It continued throughout the session. McNabb, who is the backup, would complete a snappy pass. People would clap.

He looked sharp, showing few signs of rustiness after the holdout. He moved with assuredness.

"I thought he looked great. It's like he never missed a beat," cornerback Troy Vincent said. "It's like he was here all along. He's got an air about him. He's a leader. "

He's also a little behind.

McNabb said he spent the holdout days studying. He also kept his strong right arm limber, even through Saturday's missed practices. He did not work Saturday because the league had to approve his seven-year contract, which could be worth up to $53.7 million.

It didn't seem as though the missed time hurt him much.

"The arm feels good," he said after the two-hour, 15-minute morning practice in heat that climbed into the 90s.

McNabb's familiarity with the terminology of the offense and his timing with his receivers both will take time to develop. That's what he missed most, he said.

The latter only will come with time. The former, he said, can come through persistence.

"I'm going to keep my nose in the playbook," McNabb promised.

Good, said his coach, Andy Reid.

"I'm glad he's in. I'm glad he's working," Reid said. "He came out and was a little bit rusty, but he worked through some of the tiredness of all those reps. All in all, he'll be OK. He just has to keep going. "

Given the support fans have shown so far, he'll have some wind in his sails. He'll need the momentum.

The fans' early enthusiasm might wane after a few mistakes in the preseason, and he's likely to be a long way from getting the chance to make a regular-season pass in Veterans Stadium. That's because he's not the starter.

It should be noted that starting quarterback Doug Pederson has received exactly zero ovations since he started practicing Thursday.

"That's fine," said Pederson, with whom everything usually is fine. "The fans were excited to see him. If this is the guy for the future of the franchise, they should be excited. "

McNabb missed a week of some of the most brutal days the team has endured since it moved its camp from West Chester to Lehigh in 1996. Because the league took a day to approve the deal that he agreed to late Friday night, he missed Saturday's two grueling, full-contact sessions in heat that approached 100 degrees.

Yesterday, the heat dipped to the low 90s. So McNabb managed to miss the worst of the weather. . .by design?

Of course not. But that didn't keep the Eagles from joking about it.

"That's what I told Brad Childress, the quarterbacks coach," Pederson said. "Donovan's a smart man. "

Smart and welcome.

"I'm happy he's here," Vincent said. "We need him. I went up to him when he got here Saturday at dinner, to let him know he's one of us. "

Things have changed since the days when Vincent was made welcome with Miami. The Dolphins drafted him with the seventh overall pick in 1992, but there was no kid-gloves treatment for him.

On the second day of practice, Vincent became suspicious when a few veterans quickly left the locker room. Suddenly, they grabbed him, taped his yelling mouth shut and carried him outside.

"They taped me to a palm tree," Vincent said, ruefully. "I was there for 35 minutes. "

Vincent's rookie roommate, running back Bernie Parmalee, finally meandered outside and freed Vincent.

So, should McNabb expect to find himself secured to a maple any time soon?

Hardly. Several dangerous incidents of hazing in the last few years have led the league and its coaches to frown upon the tradition. Reid has banned it.

To a point.

"[McNabb] will be buying some breakfasts. Some lunches. Some dinners," Vincent said. "He'll be paying for some movies.

"And there'll be a lot of gifts."