Syracuse Football Top 25 Players of All-Time: No. 6 Donovan McNabb

Syracuse football, Donovan McNabb
Syracuse football, Donovan McNabb /

Syracuse Football has had a long history of success. We look back at some of the best players to play at Syracuse University. Up next, No. 6: Donovan McNabb.

Syracuse Football fans all over the world know Donovan McNabb, one of the greatest quarterbacks of the early 21st century. Most will know him because of his superstar career in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles, but before he played for them he played for Syracuse University, both as a quarterback as well as a guard on the basketball team.

During his four seasons on the Hill from 1995-1998, McNabb was a star from the get-go on the football field, both throwing the ball as well as rushing it when the opportunity arose. He was a four-year starter who immediately made an impact in his freshman year.

In that 1995 season as a redshirt freshman, he would complete 128 passes for 1,991 yards, 16 touchdowns, and six interceptions with a passer rating of 162.3, according to That passing efficiency rating ranked first in the Big East, third nationally, and set an NCAA freshman record. In addition, he also rushed the ball 123 times for 261 yards and two touchdowns.

Overall, his total offense was second in the Big East, according to, which was helped greatly by previously mentioned future Hall of Fame Superstar Wide Receiver Marvin Harrison. At season’s end, McNabb was named the unanimous All-Big East Rookie of the Year as well as a first-team All-Big East selection. He also led Syracuse Football to a 9-3 record and a huge 41-0 rout of Clemson in the Gator Bowl and was named its Most Valuable Player after passing for 309 yards and three touchdowns.

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Due to his huge freshman year, expectations were high going into McNabb’s sophomore season, and boy did he not disappoint! In his sophomore year in 1996, McNabb lost fellow teammate Marvin Harrison to the NFL but it made no difference. He was almost just as productive without him, completing 118 passes for 1,776 yards, 19 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also rushed the ball 97 times for 458 yards and three touchdowns.

As a result of his excellent play, Syracuse Football ranked second in the Big East in passing yards and total offense. That showed on the football field with another 9-3 season and a win in the Liberty Bowl against Houston, according to In addition, McNabb earned Co-Offensive Big East Player of the Year, and First Team All-Big East selection at year’s end for a second time.

As good as McNabb’s first two seasons were at Syracuse, his junior and seasons were out of this world. In his junior year in 1997, McNabb would complete 145 passes for 2,488 yards (9.4-yard avg.). In other words, almost every time he threw the ball he got a first down. He would also have 20 passing touchdowns to just six interceptions with a passer rating of 154.0, which led the BIG East.

Like previous years, he would lead Syracuse Football to finish second in the Big East in passing yards and total offense, and would once again be named Big East Offensive Player of the Year for a second time. He would also be named an All-Big East First Team Selection for a third consecutive year. In terms of rushing, he ran it 110 times for 404 yards and six touchdowns.

In his final season in Orange, McNabb would shine once more. He would complete 157 passes for 2,134 yards, 22 touchdowns with just five interceptions. He would also rush the ball 135 times for 438 yards and eight touchdowns! That would earn him the title of Big East Offensive Player of the year for a third consecutive year, and lead to him being selected for an incredible fourth consecutive year to the All-Big East First Team. He was also considered a Heisman Trophy candidate, but would finish fifth in the voting process. In other words, he showed he was NFL ready, if he hadn’t already made that abundantly clear in his three other spectacular seasons at Syracuse.

The highlight of his Syracuse career came in that 1998 season when he rallied Syracuse back from a 21-3 halftime deficit to beat Virginia Tech in the Dome as time expired. McNabb from the 13-yard line would roll to the right, look around for an open target, not find one, then look left and throw to the left corner of the end zone for tight end Stephen Brominski who made the catch to help Syracuse win 28-26.

McNabb would finish in the Top 10 of Syracuse Football’s all-time record books in multiple categories. Here are some of the highlights, all courtesy of

  • 77 career passing touchdowns (1st)
  • 155.1 career passing efficiency/rating (1st)
  • 8.9 career passing yards per attempt (2nd)
  • 15.3 career passing yards per completion (2nd)
  • 162.3 passing efficiency/rating- 1995 (2nd)
  • 22 touchdown in a season– 1998 (T-2nd)
  • Four passing touchdowns against Cincinnati-1998 (T-2nd)
  • 186.4 career passing yards per game (3rd)
  • 938 career passing attempts (3rd)
  • 548 career completions (3rd)
  • 8,389 career passing yards (3rd)
  • 158.9 passing efficiency/rating- 1998 (3rd)
  • 154.0 passing efficiency/rating- 1997 (4th)
  • 2,488 yards passing- 1997 (4th)
  • 20 TD passes- 1997 (5th)
  • 26.1 passing yards per completion against Eastern Michigan- 1995 (6th)
  • .842 Completion percentage (16/19 passing) against Army- 1996 (6th)
  • 19 TD passes- 1996 (T-6th)
  • .584 career Completion percentage (7th)
  • .833 Completion percentage (15/18 passing) against Cincinnati-1998 (7th)
  • .823 Completion percentage (14/17 passing) against Temple-1995 (8th)
  • 16 TD passes- 1995 (T-8th)
  • 2,134 yards passing- 1998 (10th)
  • 145.1 passing efficiency/rating- 1996 (10th)

After his time at Syracuse, McNabb was selected with the 2nd overall pick in the first round of the 1999 NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles. Little did they know the kind of star they had chosen.

To give you an idea of how dominant he was, in his 11 years with the Eagles, he had 2,801 completions for 32,873 yards, 216 touchdowns passing and 100 interceptions in 148 career games with them. He also would rush 573 times with them for 3,249 yards (5.7 yards a carry), and 28 rushing touchdowns.

In addition, he would lead the Eagles to the playoffs eight out of his eleven years with them, winning five NFC East Championships, according to He would also help the Eagles advance to five NFC Championships, and one Super Bowl appearance (XXXIX, which they would lose 24-21 to the New England Patriots).

He would finish his NFL career with 3,170 completions, 37,276 yards passing, 234 passing touchdowns, 117 interceptions, 616 rushes for 3,459 yards, and 29 rushing touchdowns. He also finished with a career record of 107-69-1, according to

McNabb would end up playing 13 years in the NFL, making six Pro Bowls before officially playing his last game in 2011. He would play 11 of those years with the Eagle’s setting multiple franchise records, and would also play one year with the Washington Football Team and Minnesota Vikings. McNabb to this day remains the Eagles All-Time Leader in passing attempts, passing yards, completions, and passing touchdowns, according to

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Donovan McNabb was selected to the Syracuse All-Century team in 1999 and had his No. 5 jersey retired by both Syracuse University and the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013, according to Though he has not yet been inducted into either the College or Pro Football Hall of Fame, he may be in the future. Those omissions should not take away from what was an amazing football career at both Syracuse and in the NFL. McNabb was a once in a generation type quarterback for Syracuse and we may never see a quarterback quite like him again in Central New York. Hence why he slides in at No. 6 on our Top 25 Syracuse Football Players of All-Time list.