For once, we can all identify with Andy Reid


If you’re an Eagles fan, you’re bound to be­come a jaded, cyn­ic­al cur­mudgeon soon­er than later.

Really, it’s in­ev­it­able.

As die-hard sup­port­ers, we love the team with all our hearts, but rather than bask­ing in the glow of etern­al vic­tory, we spend more time jus­ti­fy­ing its short­com­ings. This is what hap­pens when your sea­son ends in dis­ap­point­ment every single year. Like clock­work, Feb­ru­ary brings us an­oth­er month of fiercely cold weath­er, Valentine’s Day and a foot­ball sea­son that ends without a parade.

As fans, this routine gets to be ex­haust­ing after the first few times around. Once you’ve grown bit­terly ac­cus­tomed to fall­ing short of ex­pect­a­tions, the nat­ur­al re­ac­tion is to point the fin­ger, and Andy Re­id has been in the crosshairs of my judg­ment­al fore­finger for what seems like his en­tire ten­ure in Phil­adelphia. Like many fans, I wished for him to fail if only be­cause that would hurry along his exit out of town.

But this is not a piece de­signed to call for Re­id’s job. There have been plenty of those in the past, and judging from his­tory in this town, there will prob­ably be many more to come.

In­stead, it’s time for us as fans to ex­tend Big Red something rather for­eign to his ten­ure in Philly: em­pathy. For­get all of the ques­tion­able time man­age­ment blun­ders Re­id has be­come no­tori­ous for, as well as his im­pen­et­rable, of­ten in­suf­fer­able per­son­al­ity in post­game press con­fer­ences. The news that Re­id’s eld­est son, 29-year-old Gar­rett, was found dead in his dorm room at Eagles train­ing camp at Le­high Uni­versity on Sunday morn­ing is so far and bey­ond foot­ball that it al­most makes us ques­tion why this game is so im­port­ant to all of us.

So far, the fan base’s pos­it­ive out­pour­ing for the en­ig­mat­ic Andy Re­id has been over­whelm­ing, as it should be. Like it or not, he has be­come a mem­ber of our ex­ten­ded fam­ily over the course of the past 14 years, and as people, we sup­port our own in times of crisis, even if we nev­er really seem to see eye-to-eye as fans and head coach.

As of now, the news re­mains the same: some­time on Sat­urday night or Sunday morn­ing, Gar­rett Re­id passed away, and he was found in his dorm­it­ory bed some­time after 7 a.m. We don’t know how or why he died, al­though a state­ment from Andy ac­know­ledged that Gar­rett had “lost the battle that has been on­go­ing for the last eight years,” pre­sum­ably re­fer­ring to Gar­rett’s well-doc­u­mented drug ad­dic­tion that had him in and out of jail from 2007-09. That ques­tion will be answered after the po­lice and med­ic­al ex­am­iner com­plete their in­vest­ig­a­tion, but wheth­er or not Gar­rett suc­cumbed to drugs again seems ir­rel­ev­ant; what does seem rel­ev­ant right now is that Andy Re­id was forced to live every par­ent’s worst night­mare by bury­ing his old­est son, one who had seem­ingly, by most ac­counts, closed the door on his past demons in fa­vor of a struc­tured, ful­filling life.

Last Wed­nes­day, I was for­tu­nate enough to at­tend my first Eagles train­ing camp as a mem­ber of the me­dia, giv­ing me un­lim­ited, field-level ac­cess to prac­tice. Go­ing in, I wondered how dif­fer­ent it would feel be­ing so up close and per­son­al to all of my fa­vor­ite Eagles…after all, I was a fan be­fore I was a journ­al­ist, so I guess I half ex­pec­ted my knees to buckle from be­ing so star struck.

In­stead, I was just a man do­ing his job, which in this case was to watch a group of close to 100 men do theirs; sure, they are much big­ger and stronger than I am, but in a sense we’re all the same.

So when I saw Andy Re­id emerge from a black Denali and stride onto the prac­tice field ad­ja­cent to the one where I was stand­ing, I didn’t see some­body I hated or some­body I wanted to fail. I saw a man, a man just try­ing to do his job in a city where every single move is scru­tin­ized and only one res­ult is ac­cept­able. I saw a man not worn down by the bur­den of ex­pect­a­tions, but em­powered by his most re­cent fail­ure (the dis­astrous 2011 sea­son). Mostly, I saw a man who was just that…a man, with feel­ings and emo­tions and a drive to suc­ceed in his chosen pro­fes­sion. With roughly 600 mem­bers of the armed forces on hand for Mil­it­ary Day, Re­id called all of the sol­diers onto the field after the game to be part of the team huddle. It may not look like it on TV, but the man cares. Bey­ond the for­ti­fied wall he puts up around the fans and me­dia is a big heart, which dozens of Eagles per­son­nel mem­bers at­tested to when ad­dress­ing Gar­rett Re­id’s death.

Andy Re­id is a foot­ball coach, but he’s also a fam­ily man who is ul­tra-ded­ic­ated to his wife, Tammy, and the couple’s five chil­dren. And be­cause he put so much time and ef­fort over the past 14 years in­to bring­ing us the one thing we want so des­per­ately, less time was spent at home. In 2007, Gar­rett and young­er broth­er Britt had drug-re­lated run-ins with the law on the same day. Both spent time in pris­on, and sub­sequent re­lapses were es­pe­cially hard on Gar­rett.

Some in­sens­it­ive fans in­ferred that this made Andy a bad fath­er, but that’s not the case at all. I’m not a par­ent, but as someone who has made his own poor de­cisions and put his own par­ents through the emo­tion­al wringer from time to time, I know firsthand how much it breaks our folks’ hearts when we stray from the beaten path. I know how hard they try to give us a bet­ter life, and how hard they are on them­selves when their chil­dren suf­fer from a lapse in judg­ment. They blame them­selves, even though we’re the ones who make the bad de­cisions they’ve taught us to avoid.

And even when we stray, they re­main in our corner, still will­ing to dig us out of the deep­est, darkest hole on Earth. Andy Re­id had to do this pub­licly for two of his chil­dren while an un­sym­path­et­ic fan base sat by and wondered how Re­id’s fam­ily life would af­fect their foot­ball team in the stand­ings. Sure, Re­id didn’t help much with his in­creas­ingly con­des­cend­ing and stan­doff­ish per­son­al­ity, but who are we to use our own per­son­al judg­ments against him as a fath­er?

Re­id isn’t stu­pid. He knows that all of this comes with the ter­rit­ory, es­pe­cially in Phil­adelphia. He wouldn’t have be­come a foot­ball coach if he wasn’t ready to live with the con­sequences of his ab­sence at home. That said, when his sons got in trouble with the law, he was the first one to be there to sup­port them, tak­ing time away from the team to be there for them at court hear­ings or drop­ping them off at drug re­hab cen­ters. While his sons were in­car­cer­ated, Re­id vis­ited them every week. These are the ac­tions of a good man and a good fath­er, even if some of us only see him as a be­low av­er­age foot­ball coach.

For all in­tents and pur­poses, Gar­rett Re­id was on the right path mov­ing for­ward, as is his broth­er Britt. Both were re-as­sim­il­at­ing them­selves in­to so­ci­ety in a fa­mil­i­ar field — Britt is a gradu­ate foot­ball as­sist­ant at Temple, while Gar­rett had been as­sist­ing the Eagles’ strength and con­di­tion­ing staff be­fore his death on Sunday. Since 2009, the two eld­est Re­id broth­ers had stayed out of the head­lines, and one can only as­sume their fath­er’s guid­ance, com­pas­sion and love had something to do with it.

Un­for­tu­nately, as Eagles fans know too well, try­ing your hard­est is some­times the best you can do, and in the tra­gic case of Gar­rett Re­id, try­ing was all that Andy could do. However, this time around the coach’s ef­fort de­serves all of our re­spect and ap­prov­al. ••

Sports ed­it­or Ed Mor­rone can be reached at 215-354-3035 or em­or­

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