Renewing a college rivalry

ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun -- in Jacksonville

, Last Updated: 11:25 AM ET

Tom Brady has not lost a playoff football game since his high school days growing up in California. Perfect as a New England Patriot, where he has won eight games and two Super Bowls.

Perfect as a Michigan Wolverine, where he twice won college bowl games.

He has, however, lost a big game to his counterpart in tomorrow's Super Bowl, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb.

It was back at the University of Michigan's Big House in Ann Arbor in 1998 when the defending national champion Wolverines were playing host to the up-and-coming Syracuse Orangemen.

With McNabb having what many observers felt was a breakout game, the Orange crushed Big Blue 38-28. A senior at the time, the game sent McNabb on his way to becoming a surefire first-round draft pick.

As inconceivable as it seems now, Brady, who was just in his second year, was destined to become an on again, off again starter at Michigan.

McNabb has fond memories of that game, which wincing Michigan fans still regard as one of the best performances by a visiting quarterback in front of the 100,000-plus fans that cram into their stadium.

"Brady was younger than I was and we were the underdogs going into that game," McNabb said Thursday morning, recalling a similar situation to what his Eagles face tomorrow at Alltel Stadium.

"We played Michigan and they were a big-time school and nobody really gave us a shot. We went in there and put some points on the board early and had them down through the whole game."

Not many are giving the Eagles much of a shot this time either, but McNabb is used to such slights.

He also remembers things were quite different the only time Brady and McNabb met as professionals. It was in Week 2 of the 2003 season and the Patriots thumped the Eagles, 31-10.

Whereas the college game sent both quarterbacks down a different path, the pro meeting also had implications.

With the loss, the Eagles slipped to 0-2 and suddenly McNabb was on the hotseat. Rush Limbaugh ripped him and McNabb responded by leading his Eagles to a 12-2 record the rest of the way.

HASN'T SLOWED DOWN

"I think (McNabb) has taken off from there and hasn't slowed down," Eagles coach Andy Reid said this week. "I think he had the whole offence right there. As a coach, you say, 'Hey, this guy has got it.' "

There has certainly been a noticeable evolution in McNabb's style since his early days. He doesn't rely exclusively on scrambling around to make plays and the addition of deep threat Terrell Owens has added a downfield dimension.

Best of all for his critics, McNabb has become a little like Tom Brady from a reliability standpoint. His 31 touchdown passes to just eight interceptions this season exhibited a consistency he hadn't always shown.

"Donovan McNabb is this era's version of the human highlight film," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said yesterday. "He is such a threat that he forces you to defend him and that leaves you vulnerable to some other people."

He is certainly better equipped than he was two Septembers ago when he was picked off twice and completed just 18 of 46 attempts in the loss to the Patriots.

Brady, meanwhile, is a vastly different player than the one the Wolverines were so quick to give up on way back when. He was a sixth-round pick and took a few years to make the millions that came to McNabb right away.

"I think sometimes players get overlooked because they don't put up big numbers," McNabb said. "I am happy that Tom Brady is finally receiving attention for the success he has had."

Attention is old hat for McNabb. Now what he wants most is some Brady-like Super Bowl success to go with it.


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