December 13–20, 2001
Did McNabb Get Head from Martin?
Which Eagle’s face is on 989 Sports’ video game box? Depends on whom you ask.
photo: Christina M. Felice
The Philadelphia Eagles sit alone atop the NFC East, flying high on the playoff-bound shoulders of star quarterback Donovan McNabb. McNabb, a first-round draft choice out of Syracuse in his third year in the NFL is the prototype running passer — equally dangerous with his legs as with his rifle right arm. He’s recognized all over town — when Donovan shows up at the mall or the grocery store or the gas station, he’s sure to draw a crowd of autograph seekers and well-wishers. In fact, his sudden popularity has prompted 989 Sports to prominently feature McNabb on its new video game, NFL GameDay 2002. There he is on the game cover, Philadelphia Eagles No. 5, squeezing the ball in that powerful right hand, poised to launch it downfield. His eyes survey — hey, wait a minute. Are those his eyes?
A close inspection of the photo on the cover of the video game raises questions. The uniform is right, the face mask is right, the hands are right. So why does the face in the face mask bear an uncanny resemblance to McNabb’s teammate in the backfield, fullback Cecil Martin?
989 Sports, a subsidiary of Sony Entertainment, is adamant that the face in the photo is McNabb’s, not Martin’s. Company spokesman Ron Eagle (yes, Ron Eagle) admits that the photo was digitally altered, but only to remove some photographic imperfections.
"Donovan, his agent and the NFL approved the photo, which was taken during an actual game, I understand," Eagle says. "We retouched the photo because, frankly, his tongue was sticking out, so we removed it. But I can assure you that the player in that photo is Donovan McNabb."
Eagle provided the name of All Sports Photography, the stock-photo company in Los Angeles that supplied the cover photo. All Sports spokesman Jim Lee confirms Eagle’s assertion that the photo is taken from a live game shot by San Francisco-area photographer Tom Hauck on Sept. 17, 2000, during the Green Bay Packers vs. Eagles matchup. Attempts to reach Hauck before press time were unsuccessful.
At the NovaCare practice facility in South Philly, some Eagles and team officials wonder whose face is on the box.
Philadelphia Eagles spokesman Derek Boyko says he’s unfamiliar with the NFL GameDay 2002 game, and he’s genuinely surprised to see the front cover photo.
"Boy, it sure looks like Cecil," Boyko exclaims upon inspecting the photo, then calls a very large, well-dressed man over for a second opinion. "Hey G, come take a look at this."
"G" is Garry Cobb, former Eagles linebacker and presently a broadcaster for KYW Channel 3. Cobb takes a long look at the photo, then laughs loudly and slaps the City Paper reporter hard on the back.
"You called it, homey!" Cobb giggles. "They are cold busted! That’s Cecil, all right! No doubt!" Cobb walks away toward the locker room still laughing uproariously, when seconds later Cecil Martin appears, wearing sweats and a T-shirt with a towel draped across his massive shoulders.
Martin takes a look at the cover photo, then a longer look. "That’s Five," Martin says, referring to McNabb, who is often called by his jersey number as a nickname. "Sometimes during the game he can get some pretty funny looks on his face."
Counters Boyko, "Yeah, but this funny look is just like yours!"
Coming down the hallway from the Eagles’ locker room is running back Duce Staley, who is considerably bigger than he appears on television. Staley looks at the photo and makes an immediate assessment.
"That’s Five," says Staley confidently. "He just looks different in that shot, but it’s him."
Seated in a chair in his small office is the Eagles director of player relations, Harold Carmichael. Carmichael, legendary all-pro wide receiver with the Eagles, unfolds himself from the chair, stands at his full height of 6-8 and looks at the cover. Then the big man breaks into full-throated laughter.
"Oh, man! Cecil!" he exclaims. "Look at that! Somebody goofed up bad." Carmichael hands the box to the guest in his office, wide receiver Dameane Douglas, who has been looking in a catalog for large-screen televisions. Douglas seconds Carmichael’s opinion that the face in the photo belongs to Cecil Martin, and he requests that he be sent a copy of the game, probably to be played on a brand-new projection TV set.
In the Eagles’ locker room, the video game photo sets off a storm of laughter and jokes, most at McNabb’s expense.
"Damn! It sure looks like Cecil," says cornerback Al Harris, who then hands the box to Pro Bowl cornerback Troy Vincent.
"That’s Cecil!" Vincent says with a laugh, "Cecil Martin’s head on Donovan McNabb’s body. I don’t know what happened here, but I bet somebody is in big trouble."
Staring at the photo for a long moment, defensive tackle Hollis Thomas declares, "Hey, it’s Nipsey Russell!" For the record, the photo is definitely not comedian Nipsey Russell, but considering that the 300-plus pound Thomas can probably bench press a Buick, it seems better not to argue.
At that moment Donovan McNabb strides into the locker room and is immediately confronted by teammates who are still passing the box around and laughing. McNabb ignores their taunts momentarily to answer whether he’s seen it already.
"I’ve got a whole box full of them," McNabb says, taking the game case and glancing at it. Other Eagles are looking over his shoulder, examining the photo as he’s asked whether it’s his face or Cecil Martin’s in the face mask.
"Nooooo, that’s me," McNabb laughs. "Really. I’m sure that’s me."
Teammate and team cut-up defensive end Hugh Douglas laughingly disagrees.
"That’s Cecil alright," Douglas says, chuckling. "Donovan’s just trying to be nice. Who got paid? That’s what counts."
Douglas hands the box to fellow defensive lineman Derrick Burgess, who nearly falls on the floor laughing.
"That’s Cecil!" Burgess cackles, "I’d recognize that monkey lip anywhere."
Given the locker room discrepancies, City Paper decided to query some experts.
VisionSphere Technologies in Ottawa, Ontario, is a 2-year-old company specializing in biometrics, a new technology that uses software verification of a person’s identity based on voice patterns, eye and face recognition, and fingerprints. The technology is currently being studied and used in law enforcement and corporate identifications around the world. Stephen Grant, chief operating officer of VisionSphere, took the photo from the front of the game box and compared it to the Eagles’ press kit photos of McNabb and Martin. Unfortunately, the results were inconclusive.
"There seem to be too many key facial features obscured by the helmet, face mask and chin strap, and the lighting is poor," says Grant. "Our top researcher in our Montreal office analyzed the results and found that the photo in question is a 7-percent match to the photo of McNabb, and an 11-percent match to the photo of Martin."
VisionSphere President and CEO Sal Khan underscores the findings. Khan says by e-mail:
"For a definitive match, we typically achieve confidence levels in the 85 to 98 percent range; as you can tell, the findings in this test were nowhere near that range, and are therefore unfortunately inconclusive."
Grant put it another way.
"If it’s Cecil Martin in the helmet, it’s a bad image to work from. If it’s Donovan McNabb in the helmet, it’s a VERY bad image to work from," Grant says.
The folks at VisionSphere did take an unscientific, informal lunchroom poll, says Grant, and the consensus is that the photo looks a lot more like Cecil Martin than Donovan McNabb, for what it’s worth.
So whose face graces the cover of NFL GameDay 2002? Depends upon whom you ask. As they say on The X Files, the truth is out there.