The last two times Donovan McNabb played a game that counted, he was trying to beat Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys. And it didn't end well. McNabb and the Philadelphia Eagles lost 24-0 to end the regular season, then 34-14 to the Cowboys in the first round of the NFC playoffs in January. McNabb had only one touchdown pass in the two games combined, and Eagles fans might never let him live down his air-guitar entrance at Texas Stadium before the playoff game, which turned out to be his last in a Philadelphia uniform.
It's time to try, try again. McNabb's new team, the Washington Redskins, is hosting the Cowboys on Sunday night to open the 2010 season, making him the first quarterback since the 1970 merger to face the same team for three straight games. Asked if he has any special gig planned as he runs out of the tunnel on prime time television, McNabb sounded like someone who is ready to turn the page. "I may have retired the guitar. I may bring the drums out, bring the symbols," he said with a laugh. "It's funny, anything I do I guess is a big story, huh? It's something that we had been doing all year. We had our formal band. So it was a way for us to kind of have fun and relax and then go out and play. Obviously if we would've won that game, people would've been looking for the air guitar and maybe I would've had my own little PlayStation game.
"But, you know what? That was back then. Obviously we need a little focus. Let's get out here and play football." So it's McNabb vs. Romo once again, only now with McNabb in burgundy. Romo and the Cowboys look much like the same team they were a year ago and have designs on hosting the Super Bowl in their own stadium in February. The Redskins, meanwhile, are overhauled completely with a new front office, new schemes on offense and defense, and, of course, new coach Mike Shanahan. It's all a bit odd for Romo, who went to Eastern Illinois -- the same college as Shanahan -- and was close to signing to play for the coach at Denver before deciding on Dallas as a free agent in 2003.
"I rooted for Mike from afar, just because we know each other a little bit, and he's a great guy," Romo said. "It's funny, I thought if Donovan got traded, I could start to root for him again, but now I've got to stop rooting for him again. Same with Mike. They're really good guys, and you'd root for them if they weren't in your division."
Romo holds the edge 5-2 over McNabb when the quarterbacks have gone head-to-head, and he's favored to win this one as well as Shanahan attempts to rebuild a team that went 4-12 last year. As if this edition of the storied rivalry didn't have enough subplots, everyone will also be watching how the Redskins use troublesome defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, who has been in Shanahan's proverbial woodshed for months and is still listed as a backup nose tackle. Perhaps the biggest disadvantage for the Cowboys is that they're facing something unfamiliar, while the Redskins know what to expect from a Dallas team coached by Wade Phillips. "They're going to show a lot of stuff that they didn't show in the preseason," Romo said. "You have to guess a little bit as to what you're going to see. We expect them to come after us, and you have to be prepared for that."
But McNabb, at least, is a known quantity. Very much so. The Cowboys have surely seen enough of him lately, right? "Absolutely not, not tired of seeing him," Dallas defensive lineman Marcus Spears said. "You usually get tired of seeing guys that hurt you a lot. We've had some success against him and he's had some success against us, so we'll see who has the best success Sunday."