Andy Reid is the best coach of a Philadelphia professional sports team in my lifetime. Without question. And, now, after 14 highly successful years, we will have a new front man of a team so desperate to reach the top of the mountain.
It was a freezing cold day (Philadelphia temperatures never broke 30 degrees) on January 11, 1999, when the Eagles announced that some no-name quarterbacks coach from the Packers (and, it is not like Brett Favre looked like the most “well-coached” quarterback to ever play…) would be their next head coach. We were coming off of a miserably forgettable 3-13 season with Ray Rhodes, and it looked as if the Birds were entering a pretty bleak period.
Andy Reid’s first game with the Eagles started amazingly, as the Eagles rocketed out to a 21-0 first quarter lead over Arizona, only to blow it late, 25-24. Yesterday, was Reid’s last game with the Eagles, and, again, it started amazingly, as the team recovered a surprise onside kick on the opening kickoff, only to turn the ball over en route to another embarrasing loss – 42-7 – to the hapless New York Giants.
And, in between those two games were plenty of thrilling moments that never actually led to the ultimate prize. From a list of many, many memorable moments both good and bad (brilliantly chronicled on philly.com today), I have listed 12 memories that I will most hold on to from these great (but altogether unsatisfying) 14 years.
12). Pickle Juice
After a surprisingly encouraging 5-11 first season in Philly, Andy Reid decides to open Week One of 2000 season with a surprise onside kick in Cowboy Stadium. The Eagles recover the ball and march down the field for an opening TD. Duce Staley rushed for 201 yards, as the Birds destroyed the Cowboys, 41-14. The Eagles shocked everyone by winning the NFC East and getting Coach Reid his first of an amazing TEN playoff wins when they beat the Bucs, 21-3 in the Wild Card Round.
(NOTE: The Philadelphia Eagles franchise has been in existence since 1933, and they have won a TOTAL of 19 playoffs games in their entire history. Andy Reid was the coach for more than half of the team’s all-time playoff wins.)
11). The Backup Quarterbacks
There was just something about the “backup quarterbacks” in Reid’s tenure. Maybe because their starting quarterbacks have been rather fragile (McNabb/Vick/Kolb) over the years. Maybe it was because Reid was so good at picking (or grooming) QBs. Or, maybe the system was right for someone to step in. But, no matter what, the next guy up always stepped up. My first vivid memory of this was a Monday Night game against the juggernaut 49ers, when Koy Detmer (in for an injured McNabb) threw 2 TDs before breaking his arm. A.J. Feeley then stepped in threw another one, as the Birds cruised to a 34-14 upset of the Niners. Then there was 2006-07, when McNabb tore his ACL and Jeff Garcia came in to have a Pro Bowl season a win over the hated Giants in the playoffs and a near upset of the Saints in the Divisional Round. And, then of course, is the recent memory of just 2 years ago when Kolb went down on Opening Day and Michael Vick came in to thrill against the Packers and lead the team to a meteoric rise to another division title. Even Kevin Kolb – who did not exactly impress in his first opportunity when McNabb was benched at halftime in Baltimore in 2009 – won Player of the Week in replacement of an injured McNabb in 2009.
10). The First Championship Game
Two years after being hired and one year after winning a playoff game, Andy Reid and company make a shocking run to the NFC Championship Game. After winning another NFC East title at 11-5, the Eagles pounded Tampa in the Wild Card Round, 31-9. Then, they went into Soldier Field against a 13-win Bears team and hammered them, as well, 33-19, setting up a trip to Saint Louis against Dick Vermeil’s juggernaut Rams team. People remember how incredible that Rams team was; and they also remember how they were upset by, what we know now to be, a great Patriots team. But, what is forgotten is just how close the Eagles were to pulling off big upset themselves. The Eagles led 17-13 at halftime, and even had the ball down by 5 with 2:20 to go in the game. They fell just short, but it was such an optimistic feeling that this team was really on the up. This did not feel quite like the other Championship Game losses…
9). The Departures of the Great Ones
This may be more of a Joe Banner memory than an Andy Reid one, but Big Red certainly had something to do with this philosophy, as well. The Eagles made a name for themselves by letting players go that were on the tail ends of their primes, before having to pay for declining talent. It seemed to be a very sound strategy, at first, when the Eagles said goodbye to standout corners Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor, only to replace them with Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown, who were just as good, younger, and at about 1/10th the price. But, it bit them a little when they jettisoned Jeremiah Trotter, and bit them a lot when they let go of the best player of our generation, Brian Dawkins. All in all, one of the legacies of this regime will be the willingness (sometimes wisely, sometimes not) to overlook “veteran leadership” and “past performance” for frugality and the potential of youth. No single moment encapsulates this more than the decision to trade Donovan McNabb to the division rival Washington Redskins for a 2nd-round pick.
8). The Absolutely, Absurdly, Incomprehendably Crazy Conclusion to the 2008 Regular Season
Every year entering Week 17, the sports media loses its mind with all the various permutations for playoff seeding. “If the Seahawks beat the Lions and the Titans beat the Rams and the Chargers beat the Argonauts and the Stampeders either lose or tie and the Islanders score 5 goals and the temperature breaks 45, then the Texans might have an outside chance to sneak into the final Wild Card spot in the AFC…” As sports fans, we have learned to tune out all that “noise” and actually realize what is going on. For instance, this year, the Vikings needed to win to get in. If they didn’t, the Bears would be in with a win. If not, the wild card would go to the 2nd-place NFC East team. While not totally straighforward, certainly easily understood by those of us well-versed in sport. The Eagles chances to make the playoffs in 2008 were – to the trained ear of the sports fan – nil. They were part of the crazy Armeggedon scenarios that were just a part of the “noise” to those who knew what to listen for. If you do not remember, the Eagles were playing the Cowboys at 4:00 that Sunday afternoon. The game would only matter if a whole slew of things occurred at 1:00:
- The 12-3 Giants lost to Minnesota, 20-19.
- The 7-8 Texans (with nothing to play for) scored 10 points in the 4th quarter for a come-from-behind win over the 9-6 Bears.
- The Saints furious 21-point 4th-quarter comeback against Carolina fell just short.
- And…last but not least…Jon Gruden’s Tampa Bay Bucs lost their 4th straight after starting 9-3 to end the season at 9-7. And, to make matters worse, the game was at home against a 4-11 Raiders team that had fired Lane Kiffin just 4 games into the season. Jamarcus Russell was the starting QB for the Raiders that day.
Those 4 things all went the right way, setting up the Eagles-Cowboys game as a winner-take-all game for the 6-seed. The Eagles proceeded to trounce Tony Romo and the hated Cowgirls, with 41 points in the 2nd and 3rd quarters alone. Continuing this out-of-nowhere run, the Eagles then pulled off two more upsets over the Vikings in the Wild Card Round, 26-14 and the top-seeded Giants in the Divisional Round, 23-11. But, in typical Reid/McNabb-Era fashion, as soon as this team became the favorites, they pissed it all away – losing to the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship Game.
7). The “Dream Team” and the Beginning of the End
The ending of the 2009-10 season seemed to send this franchise spiralling out of control. It all started with that Tuesday night loss to Joe Webb and the lowly Vikings, forcing the Eagles to – instead of clinching the 2-seed and a bye – play the Cowboys in Week 17 for the division. They promptly got shutout by the ‘Boys – at home – before heading to Dallas 6 days later and losing a playoff game 34-14. It was an embarrassing way to finish a season that looked so promising. Right after the season, Andy Reid promptly fired DC Sean McDermott, hired Defensive Line Coach, Jim Washburn, and went to a Caribbean island for a long vacation. When he got back, it was too late to realize that the Washburn hiring had turned all potential DC candidates off of the job. Undeterred, Big Red decided it would be a good move to move Offensive Line Coach, Juan Castillo, to Defensive Coordinator. In doing so, he also brought Howard Mudd out of retirement to coach the offensive line. The hiring of these three coaches – first Washburn then Castillo then Mudd – could be seen as the beginning of the end for Andy Reid. But, it was not without fireworks. Two months later, GM Howie Roseman and Reid orchestrated the Eagles single worst draft of my lifetime. Three months after that (and not even three days after the NFL lockout was lifted), the Eagles had inked Nnamdi Asomugha, Jason Babin, Vince Young, and Cullen Jenkins as free agents, as well as trading Kevin Kolb to Arizona for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. As Young infamously said, they had constructed the “Dream Team.” And, as the say, the rest is history…culminating in this final season that opened training camp with so much exuberance, closed training camp with so much grief, opened the regular season with so much promise, and closed the regular season as the final chapter in this Shakespearean play.
6). Move Over, Herm, We Have Ourselves a Couple New Miracles
The original “Miracle at the Meadowlands” is one of the truly epic plays in Eagles history. But, to my generation, Herman Edwards is the guy that said “Hello! You play to win the game.” And, honestly, I have no clue who Joe Pisarchik is (did I even spell it right?). But, the Andy Reid Era has given my generation TWO new miracles wins over those devils to the north. The more recent one is the one that most people will think of. December 19, 2010 – the Eagles are down 31-10 to the Giants with just over 8 minutes to go in a very important late-season game that will ultimately decide the NFC East title. Michael Vick and company roar back to tie it, forcing the Giants to punt. I will never, ever forget the Tom Coughlin – red face and all – throwing his clipboard as DeSean Jackson returns the punt that was supposed to be out of bounds back for the game-winning touchdown. Unbelievable! Like I said, that was the more memorable of the “New School Miracles.” But, there was one that happened exactly 7 years and 2 months earlier that was – to me – just as incredible, while maybe not as poetic. It was earlier in the season – only mid-October – but the stakes were the same. These two teams were going to battle for the NFC East all year. While Jim Johnson’s defense had held the Giants to just 10 points, the Eagles were doing absolutely nothing on offense and were trailing 10-7 when Brian Westbrook returned a Jeff Feagles punt 73 yards for the game-winning touchdown, propelling the Eagles to another division title, and, well, we know how it ended…
5). TO Does Situps in the Driveway: “Next Question”
If you are not old enough to remember 2005, you might find that sentence confusing and strange. But, if you care about sports and owned a television in 2005, you know exactly what I am talking about. Just 6 months after one of the most superhuman performances – catching 10 balls in the Super Bowl just weeks after breaking his leg – Terrell Owens had an army of reporters on his front lawn, as he did situps in his driveway and his sleezy agent gave an unforgettably awkward press conference where he did not actually answer a single question, despite calling the press conference himself. This was the first shot to a season that could define the cliche “Super Bowl Hangover.” The Eagles went 5-11 the year after losing the Super Bowl, including the most embarrassing loss of the Andy Reid Era – a 42-0 home loss to the Seahawks on a snowy Monday Night when the Eagles retired Reggie White’s number.
4). Jim Johnson Dies…Michael Vick is Reborn
Some people like to draw a line of demarcation in Andy Reid’s tenure at the above-mentioned TO meltdown. But, one can instead be drawn on July 28th, 2009 – the final day on earth of the great Jim Johnson. Despite Andy Reid being an “offensive genius,” the pillar of the Eagles success for so long was their great defense. But, when Jim Johnson left the team to deal with his impending cancer, the winds shifted. While totally coincidental, the Eagles biggest move in the post-Johnson era occurred just two weeks after his death – the signing of Michael Vick. Vick, who was released from prison, signed on with the Eagles as a backup quarterback. The thought was that the Eagles would take the hit of signing the convicted felon, show that he can still play and trade him away for a 2nd-round pick. It was essentially using PR capital to acquire true football assets. It made sense. Except that Vick was not good enough as a backup, and then too good as a starter. Reid hitched his wagon to Vick and it broke down amidst injuries and turnovers. But, it was a pretty exciting ride. I will never forget the Monday Night game against the Redskins on November 15, 2010, when the Eagles led 35-0 after one quarter, 45-14 at halftime, and 59-21 after three quarters. It was the most impressive performance I have ever seen from any team, and I will always remember the pundits (Trent Dilfer, Steve Young, etc.) saying how Michael Vick was “changing the game forever.” Well, forever doesn’t really last that long, does it?
As much as FredEx gave us off the field, he didn’t really give us anything in terms of on-field production. But, essentially the one play he made was incredible. The Eagles – the top-seed in the NFC – were the favorites to win the NFC. But, the Packers came to town in the Divisional Round and were one play from upsetting the Birds. But, on 4th-and-26, McNabb connected with the one and only Freddy Mitchell for a first down, prolonging the drive that led to a game-tying field goal in a game the Eagles won in overtime, 20-17. The play was so monumental it has its own Wikipedia page. However, a part of me wished this had never happened…see #1.
2). The Super Bowl Year
The one Eagles season of my lifetime that I missed was – apparently – the one that you would never want to miss…2004-05. After coaching the NFC Pro Bowl team for a third straight year (you know, after a 3rd straight Championship Game loss), Andy Reid finally realized that the Charles Johnsons, Torrence Smalls, and Todd Pinkstons of the world aren’t good enough. On March 16th, 2004, the Eagles traded Brandon Whiting and a 5th-round pick to the 49ers for Terrell Owens. On June 9th of that year, I departed for the West Coast of Africa and was not in the United States for a single Eagles game with Terrell Owens in uniform. But, from what I hear, it was quite a ride… From the blistering 7-0 start to the 5 TD game for McNabb when Reid broke the franchise record for wins to the Roy Williams horse-collar tackle on TO, the regular season must have been incredible. I remember going to the capital city to somehow find internet access to follow ESPN GameTracker for the Vikings playoff win. Then, I talked my way into a Marine base as the Eagles FINALLY got over the hump, beating Michael Vick and the Falcons in the NFC Championship Game. And, then – just 18 hours after a military coup d’etat, I got myself into a hotel that actually had a television and watched the Super Bowl fiasco on French TV. It was quite the year to miss. And, I am sure it was quite the year to catch, as well.
1). The Two Darkest Days of My Sports Life
Anyone who knows me – or has read any of my posts here on BSB – knows that I am, in no way, a person that focuses on the negative. I am upbeat and optimistic. I have defended Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb to the point of warranted accusations of being an “apologist.” And, by no means, do I look back on these 14 years as a disappoinment. It was an amazing 14 years of always being in the thick of it. The worst years were the few years when playoffs were not even in the picture. As much as the near-misses stung, I would not even consider trading them for any more 2012′s. However, if I am going to be honest, the one thing that epitomizes – in my mind – the Andy Reid Era in Philadelphia was demonstrated first on January 19, 2003, and then again 364 days later. As I have said many times, there have been four sports losses that resonated with me so hard that they actually changed me as a person: Joe Carter in 1993 and Ty Shine in 2000 were soul-crushing, but the 2003 and 2004 NFC Championship Game losses by the Eagles were the two worst sports days of my life – without a doubt. I would call these losses to Tampa Bay and Carolina “devastating,” but that is not strong enough. If this section seems overdramatic to you, you are probably right. But, if it does not, then you understand the pain. And, you understand why turning the page after 14 years of never erasing the emotions from those defeats is the necessary course of action. I love Andy Reid. He is a good man and a great football coach. But, despite his best efforts, he could not undo what was done to an entire city on those two cold afternoons, and that is why we must part ways. We wish him the best and hope that the next guy can heal our wounds.