Perhaps the strangest thing about the Kevin Kolb era was that it never came to pass.
Of course, at first we didn’t see him coming. It’s easy to forget the shock and dismay that accompanied Kolb’s first day as an Eagle. Drafting him upset the entire foundation upon which Andy Reid had run the franchise the previous eight years. Reid and Donovan McNabb, joined at the hip through their NFC Championship Game losses and endless boring press conferences, defined the Eagles years from 1999 to 2006. Among the fans, there was little daylight between the two.
McNabb and Reid were the past, present, and future of the Eagles — until April 28, 2007. Suddenly, that narrative broke. Commentators like to point out that McNabb was booed on draft day. The fan base was certainly split back then. But no pick has met with such immediate and overwhelming… confusion. Who was this no-name quarterback from Houston? Why not get a player who can start immediately? How long until he takes over?
And so began the countdown. The confused countdown to an era that never began.
No player in Eagles history has so radically altered the conversation around the team while achieving so little on the field. Kolb changed the entire dynamic. In his second year he inched closer to the starting job. A false start in Baltimore in 2008, followed by a huge step forward in 2009, with impressive spot starts against the Saints and Chiefs that instilled major confidence in Kolb from the fans.
As we rolled into 2010, the debate was raging, but the move was fait accompli. The Eagles traded McNabb to the Redskins to cause ever more drama and we looked to the shining example of Aaron Rodgers to guide the Eagles new leader. Finally, the Kolb era had begun.
Until… it didn’t.
Kolb threw seven passes before Clay Matthews slammed his head into the ground. Seven passes was all the chance he ever got. Michael Vick strode in, almost saved the game against Green Bay, then expanded upon his newfound passing skills in the win at Detroit. On September 21, Reid named Vick the starter. That was it. The rest is epilogue: the Vick era, an exciting new future to contemplate.
For three years Kolb waited for his turn, always just around the next bend. He finally got his chance — foiled. If not for the cruel twists of fate, his rightful time as Eagles leader should have begun in 2010 and continued for at least as long as McNabb. Kolb’s time was incomplete, his promise as an Eagle unfulfilled. Now, as he jets across the country to Arizona, I want to understand the Kolb era. I want resolution, but I can’t find it.
Unless that was the Kolb era. The waiting, the countdown, the drama, the injuries — that certainly wasn’t about McNabb, nor was it yet about Vick. The McNabb years, as I see them now, describe a rise into the NFL elite, a turnaround that peaked with one Super Bowl shot. And Vick’s time is only just beginning. But the Kolb era represents all of the unfulfilled promise in between.
For the last four years the Eagles have always been one year away from the Super Bowl. Fundamentally flawed young teams that showed tremendous potential, but could never capitalize on slivers of opportunity: a confusing countdown that never ended. Rationalization and hope. Ultimately, a brief footnote in the team’s long history.
On one hand Kolb never got his shot. But on the other, he defined the Eagles better than anyone else during his time in Philadelphia. We just couldn’t see it until he was walking out the door.
Photo from Getty.