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 firstname.lastname@example.org