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Fan-Demonium: Making The Eagles Matter

Posted Jan 1, 2013

Fan-Demonium

The Andy Reid era is over. He was the Eagles coach for 14 seasons, most of them filled with wins and great memories. Unfortunately there is a saying in football that "it always ends badly." Think about legendary coaches. Tom Landry was awkwardly fired by Jerry Jones. Don Shula left the Dolphins in a messy fashion. More recently, Jeff Fisher and Mike Shanahan were fired after distinguished runs with the Titans and Broncos, respectively.

Coaches rarely leave on top. Bill Walsh did that with the 49ers after winning a Super Bowl. Vince Lombardi left the Packers after winning a Super Bowl. Those guys are the rarest of exceptions. Most coaches stay too long rather than leave early. Knowing when to leave is difficult. A coach with a strong track record always feels he can turn it around. Some do, but most don't. The need for change becomes painfully clear. That's certainly what we saw at MetLife Stadium on Sunday when the Eagles lost 42-7 and finished the season 4-12.

It was time for a change.

While the 2012 season was a nightmare ending to the Reid era, there are plenty of great moments that we can reflect back on. Let's start by talking about Reid's hiring. The coach I wanted back then was Mike Holmgren. He was everyone's top target. I prayed the Eagles could get him to come to Philly, but Seattle owner Paul Allen gave Holmgren a huge deal and the Eagles had to look elsewhere. Most people expected Jim Haslett to get the job. He was the Steelers defensive coordinator and a hot name at the time. The Eagles’ general manager was Tom Modrak, who had been brought over from Pittsburgh a year earlier. Haslett had a big supporter in Modrak.

Before settling on Haslett, the Eagles did interview this guy named Andy Reid, the Packers quarterbacks coach. He hit a home run in the interview by bringing with him the now famous blue binder. Inside of this massive notebook, Reid had plans, schedules and details for everything the Eagles would do if he was given the job. He told Jeffrey Lurie and Joe Banner more details than they ever expected to hear. Reid might have been lesser known, but he was absolutely ready for the job. Reid was hired and the rest is history.

Reid's first win came in Week 5 of the 1999 season. The Eagles were 0-4 and hosting the Dallas Cowboys. The season had gotten off to an ugly start and Eagles fans started to wonder about Reid. I know that I was highly frustrated. Had Lurie made the right choice? The Eagles were down 10-0 in the fourth quarter against Dallas. Receiver Torrance Small had dropped a pass that might have turned into a 90-yard touchdown and the offense was struggling. Reid spread the Dallas defense out and fed the ball to Duce Staley on runs up the middle. That jump-started the offense. Staley finished with 110 yards on the ground. Receiver Charles Johnson caught a 28-yard touchdown pass late in the game and the Eagles won 13-10. Suddenly, Reid was a beloved figure in Philly. Beating Dallas won you a lot of public support. My doubts turned to full support for Reid. The 1999 season ended with consecutive victories to make the Eagles 5-11. Reid and the presence of Donovan McNabb had fans excited for the future.

I was very confident when the 2000 season opened. I don't recall my exact expectations, but I thought the Eagles were going to be a solid team. I remember watching the season opener with a group of friends. I told them to watch out for the Eagles. This wasn't going to be a last-place team anymore. My words were met with more than a little skepticism, but that changed quickly. The Eagles went to Dallas on a brutally hot day. The opening kickoff was an onsides kick that the Eagles recovered. They turned that into a touchdown and you could see that the Eagles were a different team than we'd seen from the previous three seasons. Reid's players had an edge. They played hard. They were smart and confident. Duce Staley rushed for 201 yards and the Eagles beat Dallas, 41-14.

I cannot put into words what that day meant to me. Dallas is my most hated rival. I detest the Cowboys. The Eagles had beaten them in other years, but this game was different. Very different. This was domination. Troy Aikman took a beating. He went 0-for-5 passing before being knocked out of the game. Aikman never played against the Eagles again. The Eagles rushed for 306 yards that day. This game is affectionately known as the Pickle Juice Game. Eagles players drank pickle juice that day to avoid getting dehydrated and dealing with cramps. The strange tactic worked. The Eagles were better prepared to deal with the stifling heat than the Cowboys.

The 2000 season saw the Eagles get back into the postseason and even win a playoff game, but the team was eliminated by the Giants. Expectations were much higher heading into 2001. The Eagles opened that season by hosting the Rams and their explosive offense. Kurt Warner led the Rams to an overtime win, but the Eagles showed that day that they could hang with the best teams in the NFL.

Late in the season, the Eagles had a chance to win their first NFC East title since 1988. The opponent was the Giants, who had beaten the Eagles three times in 2000 and dominated them in recent years. The Eagles kicked a field goal to go up 24-21 with just seven seconds left in the game. I remember being on cloud nine. Winning the division was a big deal back then. The Eagles still had to kickoff and deal with the final seconds, but the game was secure. Or was it? The Giants had one offensive play left. They threw a short pass over the middle to Tiki Barber, who then flipped the ball to receiver Ron Dixon. Uh oh. Dixon was a speedster and flew down the field. For a moment, my heart about jumped out of my body. Luckily, Damon Moore pursued at full speed. He was able to tackle Dixon - at the 6-yard line. That was too close for comfort, but the NFC East title was ours. That was great. The Eagles made it to the NFC title game before losing to the Rams. An injury to Troy Vincent hurt the team in that game. Still, getting that far felt pretty good.

Lawlor

Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the Editor of IgglesBlitz.com and was a contributor to the Eagles Almanac.

Expectations were sky-high heading into 2002. McNabb got hurt in the 10th game and many people wrote the Eagles off. Not me. I had faith in the team. Reid had preached team football during his tenure. He didn't want a collection of stars. He wanted 53 guys committed to a single goal. The first game without McNabb was a Monday night contest in San Francisco. The Eagles dominated that night and showed that they could absolutely win without McNabb. Things got really interesting when Koy Detmer got hurt in that game. Suddenly the Eagles were going to be playing their number three quarterback, A.J. Feeley.

This would be a huge challenge for Reid and his team. One moment in that Monday night game sold me on the team even with Feeley. Detmer was on the cart getting ready to head off the field when teammates started coming over to shake his hand or pat him on the shoulder. This started with a couple of guys, but it seemed like the whole team came over. That was a great moment of spontaneous affection for a teammate. It told me that the Eagles were going to win no matter who was at quarterback. That team had a special bond. They truly played as one. The Eagles went 5-1 without McNabb and the only loss came in overtime in the season finale.

2003 was an odd year. Injuries seriously affected the team, especially the defense. The Eagles still found a way to win, most notably when Brian Westbrook returned a punt for a touchdown to beat the Giants 14-10 early in the season. The team finished 12-4 again, but wasn't a special group. They just found different ways to win. The highlight of the season was the playoff game against Green Bay. Late in the game, the Eagles faced 4th-and-26. I remember thinking the game was over. McNabb dropped back and found Freddie Mitchell open 25 yards downfield. Mitchell got the extra yard and the first down. Wow, talk about your miracles. Rookie linebacker Nick Barnett hadn't taken a deep drop and the Eagles got lucky. The game went to overtime. Brian Dawkins picked off a Brett Favre pass and that set up the winning field goal. That was only a win in the divisional round, but it felt like much more than that.

March of 2004 was one of the most exciting times of the Reid era. The team signed Jevon Kearse to a record free agent deal. Then the Eagles acquired Terrell Owens. The Eagles suddenly had a pair of elite superstars to add to the mix. The hope was that adding players of this caliber would push the Eagles over the top and into the Super Bowl. That's exactly what happened. The Eagles began the season 13-1 before resting the starters and finishing 13-3. Kearse was a difference-maker on defense. Owens was even better than most fans expected. McNabb easily had the best season of his career.

The highlight of that season was beating Atlanta in the NFC Championship Game. Jim Johnson's defense limited the Falcons to 202 yards and 10 points. The Eagles ran the ball well, which was important on such a cold, nasty day. The offense was good enough and Chad Lewis' late touchdown put the Eagles up 27-10. It was Super Bowl time, baby! I skipped cloud nine and went to cloud 37. Seeing McNabb, Dawk and Reid celebrate that day was absolutely a magical experience. It wiped away the disappointment of the previous three years. The Eagles didn't win the Super Bowl and that was crushing, but getting there was a great feat.

Life got strange after that. Owens went a bit nuts and 2005 ended up being a losing season after injuries took over. McNabb missed the final seven games of 2005. McNabb then tore his ACL in 2006. Here we go again, right? The team was 5-5 when Jeff Garcia made his first start. The Colts dominated the Eagles on Sunday Night Football and it seemed as if the season was over. Garcia shook off the rust and led the Eagles to a 5-0 finish and another division title. That five-game stretch is one of my favorite times of the Reid era. The offensive line was dominant. Guard Shawn Andrews looked like a special player. Westbrook was the key to the offense and Garcia was a ton of fun to watch. That group even won a playoff game and came close to upsetting the Saints in New Orleans. If only Scott Young hadn't moved early, the Eagles might have won that game.

There wasn't a lot of fun in the 2007 season. McNabb was coming back from the torn ACL and played up and down. 2008 was an odd year. McNabb had some of his worst struggles that year and the team needed a hot finish to make the playoffs. Behind a great defense and timely passing from McNabb, the Eagles won at Minnesota and at New York. That got Reid back to the NFC title game, this time in Arizona. I was just sure the Eagles would win that game and prove to be a team of destiny. Oops. The defense had no answer for Kurt Warner in the first half. Things got better after halftime, but the Cardinals went on a long drive late in the game and won. That was Jim Johnson's last game with the Eagles. The same for Brian Dawkins, too. Life would not be the same without them.

2009 saw the Eagles go 11-5, but losing to Dallas in the playoffs was painful. That was the end of the Donovan McNabb era. He was dealt in the offseason and 2010 was going to be different with Kevin Kolb at the helm. Kolb got hurt in the season opener and in stepped Michael Vick. He led the team on a furious comeback and played at a high level. Vick was terrific as a starter after that and Reid shocked the world when he announced he was going to stick with Vick. 2010 seemed like a magical year. Vick was 8-3 as a starter and played at an elite level. There was a pair of amazing games. On a Monday night in Washington, the Eagles beat the Redskins 59-28. Vick threw for four touchdowns and ran for another two. A few weeks later he pulled off a miracle. The Giants led the Eagles 31-10 with about eight minutes left. Vick, Brent Celek, Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson all made unbelievable plays and the Eagles won that game 38-31. They scored four touchdowns in eight minutes of action.

Sadly, the last couple of years have not featured much in the way of highlights or memorable moments for Reid. Seeing his job at beating Tampa Bay a few weeks ago was pretty cool, but the circumstances that led to that reaction weren't so cool.

The thing I'll take away most from Andy Reid is relationships. Jeremiah Trotter left the Eagles in a bitter contract dispute in the 2002 offseason. He was furious with Reid. Trotter signed with the Redskins and had a disappointing two-year stay down there. They cut him in the spring of 2004. Reid had actually kept in touch with Trotter, specifically to offer support as Trotter recovered from a knee injury. That meant a lot to Trotter and he rejoined the Eagles in the summer of 2004 as a backup and role player. Trotter earned his middle linebacker job back by midseason and earned a spot on the Pro Bowl team. He stayed with the Eagles for another couple of years.

Dawkins, Westbrook and Tra Thomas each had retirement ceremonies in 2012. They were very emotional as they talked about Reid and what he meant to them. This isn't the standard player-coach situation. These guys genuinely love Reid, who had a way of making people feel that they mattered. Whether you were re-signed or cut or traded, that was business. Players were people and Reid tried to treat them accordingly. Several of Reid's former players have joined the Eagles as assistant coaches or in some other capacity because they love Reid and want to work for him. His supporters are incredibly loyal to him because of the loyalty Reid showed to them, on and off the field.

I think Reid has done an amazing job of making the Philadelphia Eagles matter. It means something to be an Eagle. Free agents want to come here. Assistant coaches want to come here. This wasn't the case prior to 1999. The Eagles were used for leverage. People avoided the Eagles. When the great Gang Green group of 1988-1992 broke apart, they hated to leave because they loved each other. The organization didn't mean a thing. That is worlds different now. Success goes beyond winning and losing. Strong organizations can survive a couple of losing seasons. I still see the Eagles as a strong organization, in large part due to Reid and the way he did things. There was always a plan. There was structure. It was all there in the big blue binder.

Thanks for the memories, Big Red.

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