Hurts, McNabb, Vick on the legacy of Black quarterbacks in Philadelphia


PHILADELPHIA — Sitting on the elegant stone steps in the Great Stair Hall at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick and Jalen Hurts gathered Tuesday for a conversation on their shared history as Eagles leaders and Black quarterbacks in the NFL.

McNabb, the eldest at age 45, recounted a conversation he had with a local media outlet shortly after Hurts was drafted in 2020 — a surprise move by the Eagles given that quarterback Carson Wentz had recently signed a lucrative long-term extension.

“I said, ‘Listen. What you’re getting is a grown man in the room,'” McNabb said. “‘It’s the grown man in the room, and if you ain’t careful, he’s going to take over.'”

McNabb rattled off the list of experiences Hurts went through on the college level that accelerated his maturity, including being benched in favor of Tua Tagovailoa during the Alabama-Georgia national championship game in 2018. Hurts stayed at Alabama the following season despite the demotion and guided the Crimson Tide to an SEC championship victory against that same Bulldogs team in place of an injured Tagovailoa.

This get-together was about a month in the making. McNabb flew in from his alma mater, Syracuse, and Vick from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. McNabb and Vick carpooled over from the hotel and were the first to arrive late Tuesday afternoon. Hurts, in midst of an MVP-level season for the 8-0 Eagles, came about 20 minutes later, taking a break from his preparations for the “Monday Night Football” game against the Washington Commanders (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Vick, McNabb and Hurts gravitated to one another immediately, locked in conversation for about a half-hour after their roundtable discussion with ESPN was finished.

The group, which also included former NFL quarterback Robert Griffin III hosting the conversation, grew animated as Hurts’ journey was discussed in detail.

“You would’ve thought I went to Alabama,” McNabb said of his reaction when Hurts led the team to victory in the SEC title game.

“You’ve done proved a lot of people wrong because a lot of people didn’t believe that you can get to this point,” Vick said. “You’re doing what you’re supposed to do, bruh. And we always supported you from afar. And we’ll continue to do that. I see the potential. I’ll just say that.”

The Eagles have the most storied legacy in the league when it comes to Black quarterback play, with over 360 combined starts between a group that includes Randall Cunningham (1985-95), Rodney Peete (1995-98), McNabb (1999-2009), Vick (2009-13), Vince Young (2011) and Hurts (2020-present).

Each player helped inspire the next. McNabb said he used to go to watch Peete play for the Detroit Lions when he was still at Syracuse, admiring how he “would kill you from the pocket.”

Vick said part of the reason he remained at quarterback instead of switching positions is because of McNabb, who holds the designation of being the most successful signal-caller in Eagles history. His resume includes five trips to the NFC title game and a Super Bowl appearance.

“That made me feel like the way I played, I never really had to change the way I played the game,” Vick said, also counting former Lions and Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch among his influences. “To actually see it work in [the early 2000s] I was like, ‘OK, something’s changing about the game of football in the quarterback position.'”

Hurts, meanwhile, said he throws on highlights of three football players during his workouts for inspiration: Cunningham, McNabb and Vick.

“As a kid I looked up to all of them,” he said. “And I feel like now it’s surreal when you hear the comparisons and you hear we are in the same shoes. That’s crazy to me.”

The group also discussed the doubts and scrutiny each player faced. McNabb cited the criticism of him during his playing days that he smiled too much, interpreted by some as showing that he wasn’t serious enough about the game.

“What people have a problem with is the fact that they can’t get close to you and touch you and get to know you because they don’t want to waste enough time to get to know you. But they want to assume everything about you,” McNabb said. “And when you don’t look like them, you don’t sound like them or you don’t play like them, there’s nothing good that you can say positive about them.”

Asked about all the doubters he’s faced along the way, Hurts said he leaned on the foundation laid by the players who have gone before him, while suggesting some of that doubt has been hard to shake.

“They don’t like to be woken up,” Hurts said.

“People don’t want to have to be put on the spot to break down what they’ve never been able to do,” McNabb said.

“Prime example, what you’re doing right now is glorifying the ability to play inside, outside, read the game, see the game, answer the question, and then for those who want to be the analytical aspect of the coaches, you’re proving that you can do it on third down,” he continued. “At the end of the day, that’s what makes you who you are, but when they can’t break that down, now it becomes, ‘Well, is it sustainable? Well, maybe it’s A.J. Brown, or maybe it’s Nick Sirianni.’ But they never want to give you the credit, because it’s too much for them to say, ‘I was wrong.'”

Still, the progress from McNabb’s time in the NFL to Vick’s to Hurts’ is noticeable, Griffin said, noting that while the former were outliers in how they played, Hurts is now the prototype.

“We talk about where we are as quarterbacks and just the things that we’ve been able to do over the last 20 years is like, this is where the game is going,” Vick said. “It’s only going to get better. We in total control, but the ones that paved the way before us, man, they open up doors — they opened up doors for me, and we opened up doors for y’all … and man, it just don’t get no better than that. Whoever would [have] thought that we’d be having this conversation right here.”

Hurts, getting the last word, returned the focus to the task at hand.

“I appreciate the legendary quarterbacks in Philly giving me my flowers and showing that respect. But I ain’t even did nothing yet,” he said. “Taking it one day at a time. But I think for any kid out there, just keep going. That’s what I did, and that’s what I continue to do regardless.”

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