McNabb, Culpepper: Two for the Show

John Elway was overmatched. Peyton Manning was a bumbler. Rick Mirer was a star.

Then, their rookie seasons ended.

Judging a quarterback by one or two years in the NFL is, at best, an imperfect science. With that in mind, maybe it's too early to write off the class of '99 laggards: Cade McNown and Akili Smith. It's impossible to gauge how competent Cleveland's Tim Couch would be on a good team.

So far, though, Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb and Minnesota's Daunte Culpepper are the elite quarterbacks of that draft class. And, unlike the three others, they were afforded the luxury of learning as backups before being shoved into the starting lineup.

Culpepper, who learned behind Randall Cunningham and Jeff George, threw for 33 touchdowns last season and ran for seven more. Suddenly, he's one of the brightest stars in the game. He's even on the cover of the soon-to-be-released Madden 2001 video game, a development he deemed "awesome."

Both he and McNabb were somewhat less thrilled about biding their time as rookies.

"I definitely was anxious," said McNabb, who manned a clipboard for the first 10 games of the 1999 season. "Watching all the other guys have an opportunity to get to play early--Couch, Akili and Cade--you sort of wonder why aren't you playing? But I think it was all for the better."

That was obvious last season, when he accumulated 3,994 yards passing and rushing, accounting for 80% of the Eagles' offense. The man who was booed when the Eagles made him the No. 2 pick is now the bobble-head doll stores can't keep in stock.

When Doug Pederson was flopping in '99, Philadelphia fans unfurled banners reading "The Future Is Now," and "What Are We Waiting For?"

"Whoever sold those posters made a lot of money that year," McNabb said.

Coach Andy Reid could feel the heat, but he was determined to stick with his plan and give McNabb as much practice time as possible.

Asked if fans had roasted him, Reid said: "I looked like that little guy on the dry-roasted peanuts can. Mr. Salty, I was him.

"But you bite the bullet. You have to trust in what you believe and it's going to test you. So you'd better have some sort of foundation where you can grab ahold of that foundation because people are going to question you from all sides."

After he took over in Week 10, McNabb had some shining moments and more than a few rough spots. He said he didn't become comfortable with the offense until last season. In retrospect, he said, watching from the sideline was the proper way to begin his career.

"They always say that Andy had his plan," he said. "And his plan was for me to develop and get a chance to see what was going on out there."

Shooting Off His Mouth

The late George Allen, who coached the Rams and Redskins, was selected as the Pro Football Hall of Fame's senior committee finalist for 2002. His son, Raider executive Bruce Allen, understands the selection process is a political one.

Then again, Bruce Allen is no stranger to politics.

His older brother, George, is a U.S. senator from Virginia and the state's former governor. And, growing up in Redskin-crazy Washington, D.C., the Allen boys met one Beltway bigwig after another.

But one of Bruce's more humorous encounters with a politician happened when he was a kid in Los Angeles in the late 1960s. He isn't sure of the year, 1967 or '68, but he remembers it was at an exhibition game at the Coliseum between the Rams and Kansas City, and Richard Nixon, then a presidential candidate, was in the stands.

Nixon and the senior George Allen were acquaintances, because Allen had coached at Whittier, Nixon's alma mater.

"Before the game, when the teams came out after warmups, Dad wanted to give him some programs and something else," Bruce said. "He said, 'Take this up to Mr. Nixon.' When I got up there, [Nixon] told me to sit down and tell him about the team."

Bruce, then about 10, already knew plenty about football. So, on the Chiefs' first series, he knew exactly what was happening when quarterback Len Dawson lined up in a novel formation, a few yards behind his center.

"There's the shotgun!" the boy announced.

Suddenly, several Secret Service agents swarmed the candidate.

"It was like, whoa," Allen recalled. "But Mr. Nixon, being a good sports fan, told them, 'Calm down. He's talking about football.' "

A Quick Study

If rookie-of-the-year honors were given in August, San Francisco defensive end Andre Carter would win in a landslide.

Carter, a first-round pick from California, has surprised teammates with his quickness and seemingly endless supply of moves and countermoves. Some informed observers have compared him to Tennessee's Jevon Kearse.

"He really pays attention to detail," said 49er defensive coordinator Jim Mora Jr. of Carter, the son of former NFL defensive standout Rubin Carter. "The thing that really sells you on the guy is his work ethic."

Carter routinely spends time after practice working with tackle Derrick Deese, who said he has never seen a defensive lineman that fast, rookie or otherwise.

"Being at Cal, and being around my father, I was always taught to keep my hands active," Carter said. "That's a mentality I've always had. It's something that was embedded in me."

The 49ers are hoping Carter embeds some quarterbacks into the turf. They were tied for 19th with 38 sacks last season. Carter had 23 in his last two seasons at Cal.

At 6 feet 4, 255 pounds, Carter is on the light side for a defensive end. But he's a black belt in taekwondo--a level he reached when he was 12--and has no plans to add bulk.

"The main thing is to maintain my speed," he said. "If the weight comes, it comes."

Faux Favre?

It took awhile for new Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck to find a groove with his receivers. The first two weeks of training camp were a bit bumpy, in large part because Hasselbeck is so familiar with Coach Mike Holmgren's West Coast offense that he was thinking a few steps ahead of the rest of the team.

"It's unusual for the new guy to know more about the offense than guys who have already been here," said Hasselbeck, who spent his first three seasons as Brett Favre's backup in Green Bay. "It caused us to have some incomplete passes. We just weren't on the same page."

He smoothed over some of those glitches two weeks ago in the team's first intrasquad scrimmage, directing touchdown drives each time he stepped onto the field. He was sharp in the first two exhibition games, scrambling out of trouble on several occasions. Wednesday, he signed a five-year deal worth $24 million.

Although he has never started a regular-season game, and has thrown only 29 passes in his pro career, Hasselbeck has been around pro football his whole life. His father, Don, was an NFL tight end for 10 seasons. And Matt's brother, Tim, is a reserve quarterback for Baltimore.

But Favre had the most significant impact on Hasselbeck as a quarterback. They instantly hit it off and, Hasselbeck said, the Packer star "treated me great, almost like we had a mutual friend somewhere."

Hasselbeck said he frequently falls back on advice Favre gave him, but he doesn't try to emulate his style on the field. Still, some Favre-isms surface.

"In practice the other day, Matt dropped back and had to move in the pocket," quarterback coach Jim Zorn said. "With that adjustment, he held the ball real low with one hand, like Brett. I kind of held my breath because that's risky. There's a time to do that and a time not to."

Reid coached Green Bay quarterbacks in 1998 when the Packers made Hasselbeck a sixth-round pick from Boston College.

Recalled Hasselbeck, "Andy told me, 'You can learn so much from Brett; study how he handles the team. But, whatever you do, don't try to copy his mechanics."

So the rookie took meticulous notes on the way Favre talked to teammates, what he said to them when he gathered them before games, his tips on the offense.

It probably helped that, even as a rookie on the practice squad, Hasselbeck didn't fawn over him. He treated Favre more like a peer than a prince. A notorious prankster, Favre once poured a generous amount of Tabasco sauce on Hasselbeck's cereal.

"I ate it for five minutes, and everyone at the table was laughing," Hasselbeck said. "That night, I put fishing worms in his can of Copenhagen. It was dark in the film room, and he reached in for a dip without looking. It startled him. He wasn't too happy. But in some weird, twisted way I think he was proud of me."

Rug Burns

Folks in Philadelphia are still trying to figure out who's at fault for the sloppy conditions at Veterans Stadium that led to the cancellation of an exhibition opener between the Philadelphia Eagles and Baltimore Ravens.

Are the Philadelphia Phillies guilty? NeXturf, the artificial-turf company? City officials? The Eagles? It might take a court battle to sort out the fiasco.

There's some history of finger pointing in those parts. Consider the 1996 case of the dead deer on Route 895 between Andreas and Snyders in West Penn Township. A paving crew from the state's department of transportation happened upon the carcass, which should have been removed by sweepers.

Because brushing aside road kill is not part of their job description, the pavers simply rolled over the deer, covering it with a gooey mess of oil and rocks. There it sat for nearly a month, until the crew was instructed to go back and remove it.

"The deer was lying there, dead, for three to four weeks," said Keith Billig, mayor of nearby Bowmanstown, about 65 miles northwest of Philadelphia. "I never saw anything like that before in my life."

Now that's passing the buck.

Or was it a doe?

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