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Great Expectations
Donovan McNabb comes here after winning in Philadelphia, and he brings a powerful family history as well as a leadership style even President Obama could learn from. Can he make the Redskins winners? Don’t bet against him. By Harry Jaffe
Comments () | Published August 19, 2010
He’s beaten the Redskins 11 times—now can Donovan McNabb lead the burgundy and gold back to a winning season? Photograph by Simon Bruty.
Donovan McNabb’s mother was known in professional football circles as “Mama McNabb” even before her popular appearances in Campbell’s Soup commercials. She tells this story:

After the Eagles played the New York Giants in a particularly rough game, she approached one of the Giants’ defensive players. “Excuse me,” she said, “I’m Mama McNabb. Why do you have to throw my son to the ground so hard?”

“Mama McNabb,” Michael Strahan said, “that’s my job.”

After a Dallas Cowboys game, she grabbed linebacker DeMarcus Ware by the arm. “Why don’t you tell Donovan to go down?” she asked. “He’ll go down.”

“No, he won’t, Mama McNabb. He’s a big man, and I have to do what I do.”

In a two-hour interview at Redskins Park this summer, Donovan McNabb talked most often about what his parents told him to do.

“My parents were disciplinarians,” he said. “They taught us to dress appropriately, shake hands with a firm grip, look people in the eyes. My dad wouldn’t let me walk out of the house unless my shirt was tucked in and I looked presentable.”

A few weeks later, at a table at Keefer’s Restaurant in downtown Chicago, I ask McNabb’s father, Sam, if that’s an accurate portrait.

“There was the presumption I was the bad guy,” he says. “I’m okay with that.”

At 57, he’s big and fit and speaks in a deep voice as he tells this story:

One day when Donovan was 13, he stood next to his father and said, “I’m about as tall as you are.”

“What does that mean?” his father asked.

“Maybe I could take you.”

At which point Sam McNabb stood chin to chin with his son and proved he was still in charge.

“All it took after that was one look,” Sam says.

Says Wilma McNabb: “Donovan was our challenge.”

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Posted at 12:00 AM/ET, 08/19/2010 RSS | Print | Permalink | Comments () | Washingtonian.com Articles