Philadelphia Eagles rookie Donovan McNabb will make his first career start Sunday against Washington.
Coach Andy Reid, under pressure since the second week of the season to start the player taken with the No. 2 pick in the NFL draft, took the unusual step of calling a news conference on the team's day off Tuesday night to announce, "It's time to see him live."
Live, tape delay, backward or forward, Eagles fans are sure to be happy with the decision.
"It's right on schedule," Reid said. "Donovan picked this (offense) up faster than anybody I've been around as a rookie."
McNabb, who wasn't at Veterans Stadium for the announcement, will start for Philadelphia (2-6) for the rest of the season, barring injury.
"If an injury occurs, then I'll make a change," Reid said. "He will be the starting quarterback and he will remain the starting quarterback."
McNabb becomes the last of the top rookie quarterbacks from this summer's draft to start. No. 1 pick Tim Couch has been starting for Cleveland, No. 3 pick Akili Smith for Cincinnati and No. 12 pick Cade McNown for Chicago although he played poorly and hurt his knee. Reid insisted for the first eight weeks of the season that Doug Pederson should start until McNabb was ready.
Reid said he's as ready as he'll ever be.
"I understand that there will be growing pains," Reid said.
It has been a rocky ride for McNabb ever since draft day. A small minority of belligerent Eagles fans showed up at the draft in New York and booed when he was selected after months of lobbying for running back Ricky Williams.
After a contentious holdout during which his agent, Fletcher Smith, accused the team of using race as a factor in contract negotiations, McNabb signed a seven-year contract worth as much as $54 million with incentives. But he was several hours late for the announcement when his flight from Atlanta to Philadelphia was delayed three times.
"I'm excited that it's done," the exasperated McNabb said at a news conference after midnight that evening.
But it wasn't. Technicalities in the contract prevented McNabb from practicing the next day, another strange twist in the former Syracuse star's journey to the NFL. McNabb showed up at yet another news conference carrying a huge playbook. Little did he know how long it would be before he'd put those plays to use.
Reid, who has faced strong criticism for his handling of McNabb, said he has known for a while that this week would be the time for McNabb's debut as a starter.
"I kept this to myself," said Reid, who was asked why he didn't take some heat off himself by announcing it sooner.
"I don't worry about the heat," Reid said. "That's not why the Philadelphia Eagles are paying me. They're paying me to make decisions."
McNabb has played sparingly as Pederson's backup, completing 22 of 51 passes (43 percent) for 166 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. McNabb played the second half of Philadelphia's 33-7 loss at Carolina Sunday, going 8-for-20 with one interception for the 30th-ranked offense in the NFL.
"He's obviously excited," Reid said. "You guys have been around Donovan, and he does not show it. He's a pretty cool cucumber."
The Eagles also released defensive tackle Bill Johnson, without explanation. The team denied a report that Johnson had an argument with special teams coach John Harbaugh.
©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed