Philly QB rising to occasion

ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:52 AM ET

He was a superstar aching for a career defining moment.

His Philadelphia Eagles teammates knew it too, sensing that this might be the day.

The 67,717 at Lincoln Financial Field -- equal parts the most passionate and demanding fans in sport -- lusted for it as well.

But most of all, quarterback Donovan McNabb was aware of the opportunity and was determined to seize it.

With a full moon rising over the frigid Linc, McNabb stepped behind centre Hank Fraley for a final drive that would both bury the Atlanta Falcons and his own agonizing past.

There were still three minutes left on the clock in the NFC Championship when the drive ended in a Chad Lewis touchdown. It was fourth and Phinally -- with the score 27-10 -- McNabb and the Eagles were Super Bowl-bound.

"In the huddle, he said: 'We've got to rise up and finish the deal,' " said tight end Lewis, who ended the crippling drive with a two-yard touchdown grab, his second of the game.

"He was a great leader and I was so proud of him. I've been here since the beginning of the Donovan days and that was some work people will remember for a long time."

Finally, for McNabb and his teammates, after three consecutive losses in the conference title game. Finally, for a franchise and its followers which hadn't been to the Super Bowl in 24 seasons.

"I think we answered a lot of questions, a lot of critics," said McNabb, who outplayed his celebrated rival, Falcons quarterback Michael Vick. "So, maybe people will be happy about the Philadelphia Eagles, again.

"Obviously, we know what happened for the last three years, (being) this close and never being able to really pull it out. But this year was something special."

As complete as the victory was -- the defence deserved at least as much credit -- yesterday was much about McNabb.

This is a player who shrugged off those ruthless Philly fans who booed when he was made a first-round pick in the 1999 draft. He shrugged again when Rush Limbaugh said he was overrated because the media was sympathetic to his race.

And this week, with the pressure palpable after three years of getting so close, McNabb kept on smiling, a cue to teammates that this time it would be different.

"Donovan is a real cool guy, real laid back," said Toronto native Mike Labinjo, an Eagles reserve linebacker. "But when it's time to work, it's time to work. He put a lot of onus on himself to carry us. He's what makes this team go."

To their credit, the Eagles also were well aware that it is Vick that makes the Falcons go and game-planned accordingly. Vick had run for 119 yards the week before against St. Louis, but just 26 yesterday facing a fired-up Eagles defence, six yards less than McNabb.

Now Vick is back to where McNabb was after his first NFC Championship loss -- a young QB with promise yet fulfilled.

"There are going to be a lot of good things to look forward to in the future," said Vick, four years McNabb's junior.

"This football team is going to get better and better. In the future if we are put in this position we will only react better."

The final score doesn't do justice to the Falcons, who were six-point underdogs at kickoff, but very much in it trailing 14-10 at halftime.

It was only 17-10 after three quarters, but when Vick was intercepted deep in his own territory, a subsequent David Akers field goal left the Falcons with too much to do.

It wasn't long before the fans began to celebrate. Despite the bitter winds and raw temperatures they didn't leave until the on-field celebration was over.

And with Philadelphia Freedom blaring in the background, they saved their loudest roar for McNabb, celebrating the moment as he trotted off the field.


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