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NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME Vick, McNabb come to pass -- and run



Published: Sat, January 22, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Both quarterbacks have helped redefine position and make history.

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- They are quarterbacks for a new age, transcending racial stereotypes and tossing aside the accepted notions of how the job should be done once the ball is snapped.

Donovan McNabb never viewed the pocket as some protective cocoon, to be defended at all costs. The Philadelphia Eagles' star demonstrated that a 20-yard run sure beats a 10-yard sack.

Then along came Michael Vick, who took the door that McNabb nudged open and ripped it from its hinges. The Atlanta Falcons have a quarterback like no one that has come before -- an implausible morphing of John Elway's powerful arm, Barry Sanders' jittery moves and Deion Sanders' one-gear-higher-than-everyone-else speed.

Now, they meet today in the NFC championship game, two old friends who've had such a profound impact on the NFL.

And this time, one of them is going to the Super Bowl.

Historic first

The buildup to this enticing matchup showed just how much times have changed since Doug Williams was asked, "How long have you been a black quarterback?" Barely anyone mentioned the color of the two quarterbacks' skin, which just happens to be black.

For the first time, two black quarterbacks will meet in a conference final. Either McNabb or Vick will go on to become just the third black quarterback to start in the Super Bowl, following Williams (1988) and Steve McNair (2000).

Two years ago, McNabb's Eagles hosted Vick's Falcons in a second-round playoff game that had the buildup of a heavyweight fight.

Alas, McNabb had to protect a gimpy ankle, having missed the final six games of the regular season, and Vick struggled against Philadelphia's fearsome defense. The Eagles advanced to the NFC championship game by grinding out a 20-6 victory.

Philadelphia lost the following week to Tampa Bay, the second of what has grown to three consecutive defeats in the season's penultimate round. Even more galling to the green-clad faithful, the past two NFC title game losses have come at home.

At this point, it's Super Bowl or bust for the Eagles, who carry the hopes -- and the weight -- of an entire city. Philadelphia hasn't won a major sports championship since the 76ers captured the NBA title in 1983. The Eagles' last NFL crown came in 1960 -- six seasons before the Super Bowl was born.

"I don't know who the pressure's on," Vick said, "but I know the pressure's not on us."

Incomplete resume

For McNabb, the implications are personal, as well.

The resume is impressive -- five consecutive Pro Bowl selections, four straight division titles, six playoff victories -- but it's incomplete.

"Your first goal as a quarterback is to win the Super Bowl," he said. "It's sad sometimes. So many great quarterbacks have played this game ... who didn't have the opportunity to win a Super Bowl. They get overlooked because of that. It's not fair."

"It is the standard," Vick said. "In order to be recognized in this league, you have to get to a Super Bowl and win it."

While these two quarterbacks are linked by their unconventional styles, there's a definite disparity on the stat sheet.

McNabb has run less this season than in any of his previous five years (even 2002, when he played only 10 regular-season games). While still a threat with his legs -- 41 carries for 220 yards and three touchdowns -- he spent more time using his arm. It paid off with the best passing numbers of his career: 64 percent completions, 3,875 yards, 31 touchdowns, only eight interceptions.

By comparison, Vick's passing numbers look downright mediocre -- 56 percent, 2,313 yards, 14 touchdowns, 12 interceptions.

Vick is the Falcons' second-leading rusher with 902 yards, and led the NFL with 7.5 yards per carry.




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