'HOW AND where do you see your future?'' Donovan McNabb was asked again on ESPN last night, and again he answered as always.

"Well, I see it in Philadelphia,'' he said at the Super Bowl in Arizona. "And continue to finish it out there. And it's going to be a great year for us, I think, next year and I look forward to getting it started.''

Donovan has learned well. He has played here since 1999, played here since Curt Schilling and Scott Rolen graced the cover of the Phillies media guide, played here during the whole Eric Lindros fiasco. He has seen how quickly and easily a franchise player can become a jettisoned one, how quickly a request to improve the chances of a championship can be turned into a request for a trade. Isn't that what Schilling wanted at first, a chance to win a championship? Wasn't that what Rolen asked for at first, a payroll number, in writing?

So Donovan asks not to be sent elsewhere, but for help to come from elsewhere. He chooses his headlines wisely, positioning his stand as if it were a party platform. He wants to stay, wants to win a championship here and finish his career here - no matter how unfair he thinks we have been toward him.

Does he really feel that way? Who knows, but his stand is unlikely to change regardless of what the Eagles do or don't do between now and training camp.

Because he's learned this game well. The ownership and coach of the Eagles would like us to believe that the difference between the success of the New England Patriots and their success is a game here, a big game there. Their quarterback, once a house organ, has come to see it differently. He now believes those big games are not a matter of a couple of plays, but a couple of players. When he got just one big one, it produced his only trip to a Super Bowl - as well as a lifetime's supply of angina. If he has changed at all this season, it is in the acceptance that he may have even more angina in his future if he is ever to return to that big game in an Eagles uniform.

It's the million-dollar question that has been obscured by the latest cold war between the franchise quarterback and the organization he spent much of his career parroting. Namely, does his request for impact players extend to those who might bring disharmony as part of the package?

And does that even matter anymore, given what we saw in New England with Randy Moss this season?

"I think it's important this offseason for us to bring in some guys this offseason who can help us out this up-and-coming year,'' McNabb said. " In all key positions. It even starts out with my position. It starts with my position with playing better. I think for all of us. You've got the draft. You've got free agency. And it's going to be important for us to bring some guys who are going to be able to contribute early.''

Here's a thought: As long as he professes a desire to stay, McNabb has leverage over the Eagles these days. To demonize and jettison him costs management little in the short run, and may be financially beneficial in the long run - especially if Kevin Kolb is who they think he is. Keeping him and adding talent is both costly and risky. But as long as he professes his desire to remain an Eagle, and as long as the chance exists that he will return to his 2004 form and the Eagles might return to the Super Bowl, doesn't ownership have to go that way?

"If we have an opportunity to add difference-making players, obviously we'd like to do it,'' Andy Reid said at the Senior Bowl last week.

Left unanswered is this: Would you take Randy Moss right now if you knew it would play out the way it did with T.O.? For all the trouble and insanity he caused in his second season, you might, right - given what you've seen since? I mean, the big difference between having Moss around and having Greg Lewis around is that Lewis doesn't exist on most Sundays.

That has to change, regardless of where McNabb sees his future - regardless of where the Eagles see it, too. The passing success of A.J. Feeley in November and healthier McNabb in December would suggest that a Super Bowl run is not as far away as it seemed in the season's first 2 months, that some of what they need may already be there, as Reid has suggested. But their own history, and the success of the team that will appear this Sunday in its fourth Super Bowl during McNabb's career, should compel them to follow their quarterback's lead now. Really,

they've got nothing to lose. *

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