The Philadelphia Eagles did not collapse after they dropped their
first two games this season, and the roots of their resilience
reach back 24 years and a couple thousand miles, to the soil of
Provo, Utah, where Andy Reid, a Brigham Young tackle, was
becoming a man. While protecting quarterback Marc Wilson against
Utah in a November 1979 game, Reid got into a scuffle with a Utes
cornerback near the BYU sideline. One poke led to another, and
Reid, who could be a fiery sort in those days, cursed loudly at
Before Reid jogged back to the huddle, Cougars coach LaVell
Edwards got in his grill. "He grabbed me, very upset," Reid
recalled on Sunday, "and he said, 'Don't ever use that kind of
language again!'" What bothered Edwards was not just the
profanity itself but the fact that Reid had lost his poise. You
did not lose your cool when you played for LaVell Edwards,
because to him losing poise meant losing football games. "If you
were a player under LaVell Edwards," Reid said, "you had to be
calm, levelheaded and smart. That's what he was."
During a phone call from his home in Utah on Sunday night,
Edwards tried to downplay the words of praise that were coming
from across the country. Finally, though, the sixth-winningest
coach in Division I-A history said, "I don't want to brag, but I
think there's some of me in Andy."
And there's some of Andy in his Eagles, who have rebounded from
season-opening losses at home to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the
New England Patriots--they were outscored by a combined 48-10 in
the two games--to take their customary place atop the NFC. And
though the Eagles aren't playing great football (they are 21st in
the league in total offense, 24th in defense), they are playing
winning football. Their 33-20 victory over the New Orleans Saints
on Sunday was their eighth win in nine games since getting booed
out of Lincoln Financial Field after that Sept. 14 loss to the
Patriots. Now, as they enter a three-game stretch against the
Carolina Panthers, the Dallas Cowboys and the Miami Dolphins,
they are tied with the Cowboys, the Panthers and the St. Louis
Rams for the best record in the NFC (8-3) and are trying to
secure home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs for the
second straight year. Don't bet against them. Since the start of
the 2000 season, Philly has the league's best regular-season
record (42-17), and in November and December it is a staggering
December 1, 2003
The idea that Philadelphia would be talking about its playoff
seeding on Thanksgiving would have seemed ridiculous back in
mid-September. After eight quarters Donovan McNabb was a 45.1%
passer, the Eagles had one touchdown to show for their 27 drives,
leading rusher Brian Westbrook had all of 34 yards, and injuries
had knocked out three defensive linemen for the year and two
starters in the secondary for extended periods. But Philadelphia
had hired Reid in 1999, and an Eagles team that has come to
embody his football philosophy--poised play from egoless
athletes, a West Coast offense executed with a minimum of errors,
a dominating defense--would never waver because of eight lousy
quarters. Then again, getting shelled in the first two games was
especially stunning because of the high expectations for a team
that had reached the last two NFC Championship games. "We were
0-2, but it felt like 0-8," says linebacker Ike Reese.
Philly's bye week followed the debacle against New England, and
in the locker room after that game, cornerback Troy Vincent says,
Reid spoke to the team for all of about 15 seconds. He is not an
eloquent man, but he knows that action, not talk, is the way to
turn today's millionaire athletes into team players. "He just
said, 'We're struggling, but we're gonna get back to playing good
football,'" recalls Vincent. "'Go away, be with your families.
Don't worry. When you get back, we'll get it going.'"
"Screaming doesn't work," says defensive end N.D. Kalu. "With
Andy, if we're 0-2 or 2-0, the attitude is, Trust me, guys. We've
got a plan. It's worked before, and it'll work again."
"When you don't push the panic button--I mean ever--that trickles
down to the team," adds sixth-year tight end Chad Lewis, like
Reid a BYU product. "That's how LaVell Edwards was. That's where
Andy gets it."
In fact, Reid got a reminder from Edwards after the slow start.
In the Mormon faith practiced by Edwards, adults often spend time
as missionaries after retirement, and Edwards and his wife,
Patti, recently completed an 18-month mission in New York City.
("Had a great time," says Edwards. "Lived at 66th and Broadway,
right near Lincoln Center.") Edwards attended the Monday night
loss to the Bucs, then spoke with Reid on the phone after the
defeat to New England, the same day that The Philadelphia
Inquirer bleated: MCNABB IN DAZE; REID IN DENIAL, the same
morning that the newspaper's respected columnist Bill Lyon wrote,
"[Reid] is facing the greatest crisis since he took the job....
The crowd has called for [McNabb's] benching. Frankly, desperate
as that sounds, it didn't strike you as such a bad idea.... They
will have two weeks to marinate in the bile of this one."
The conversation between the two coaches went something like
Edwards: "Can't you do something with Donovan?"
Reid: "He'll be fine."
Edwards: "Well, you know what you need to do. Just follow the
plan. Hey, you know I love you. Good luck."
As Reid said on Sunday, "He always says, 'You know I love you,'
before we get off the phone."
Now get ready for the special formula Reid whipped up over the
bye week, the lineup magic he performed, the potion he fed McNabb
when the beleaguered quarterback--too inaccurate, too stationary
in the pocket--got back from a long weekend at his off-season
home in Arizona: Reid did absolutely nothing.
When people are encouraged to think they're good and then bad
things happen, they can shut out the booing and shut off the
negativity more than most players, even in a sports hotbed like
Philadelphia. Let's go back to the days leading up to the 1999
draft. All of Philadelphia, including then Mayor Ed Rendell, was
screaming for the Eagles to take Texas running back Ricky
Williams with the second pick in the draft. Reid, however,
doesn't believe it's smart to take a running back with a high
first-round pick because good ones can be found down the line;
plus the strength of the draft that year was at quarterback. Club
president Joe Banner remembers when Reid returned from a trip to
Syracuse to scout McNabb. "He's got incredible character," Banner
recalls Reid saying. "He can be serious and funny, almost at the
same time. He's got great leadership potential. And he'll thrive
in this market. Nothing will faze him."
Three days before the Eagles' third game this season, against the
Bills in Buffalo, McNabb sounded so much like Reid. "Not
comparing myself to him, but if Michael Jordan's 5 for 18 in the
fourth quarter, is he going to stop shooting?" McNabb said. "I
seriously think I can go out in practice today and complete every
ball. That's what being a competitor is all about."
Understand this about McNabb: He's never going to be Joe Montana.
He's too inaccurate (56.6% career passer) to be an alltime great.
But his teammates love him, and not one of them was whispering
that Reid should have turned to backups Koy Detmer or A.J. Feeley
in September. McNabb, nagged by a sprained thumb on his passing
hand, improved in fits and starts, running 15 times in the first
two games after the bye, both wins. Then he played two horrendous
games in a row, against Dallas and the New York Giants, handling
pressure poorly and failing to take advantage of man coverage
without safety help; the Cowboys, in particular, didn't respect
McNabb's ability to hurt them deep and threw safety blitzes at
him all day. But since Westbrook saved the Eagles against the
Giants with an 84-yard punt return for a touchdown on Nov. 16,
McNabb and the offense have been in high gear. In the five games
since, McNabb has been uncharacteristically accurate (65.5%) and
has thrown for 1,224 yards, with six touchdowns and one
interception. After his clinical 16-of-25, 259-yard dissection of
New Orleans, he said he was probably pressing a bit early in the
season. Back in September it's unlikely he would have taken off
as he did against the Saints, scrambling for 34 yards in the
first quarter to set up Philly's first touchdown. "I'm just
playing football, relaxed, and taking what the defense gives me,"
That's vintage Reid-speak, but McNabb truly believes in what his
coach preaches--not just the importance of poised
self-confidence, but also the egalitarianism among teammates. A
week after nine players caught passes in a 28-10 rout of the
Giants, all 10 skill-position players who played on offense had
at least one reception against New Orleans.
"I love for everyone to have a chance," McNabb says. "If you
concentrate on one guy, the other team knows who you're throwing
to. I look at myself as a point guard, spreading the ball around
to whoever's open. And we don't have ego guys on this team."
Every team in the playoff hunt has holes, and the Eagles are no
exception. The defense gave up 466 yards to the Saints. In the
last three weeks Ahman Green, Tiki Barber and Deuce McAllister
have steamrollered Philadelphia's defense--playing without
tackles Paul Grasmanis and Hollis Thomas, who are both out for
the year with injuries--for 192, 111 and 184 rushing yards,
respectively. Reid kept deflecting questions about his rushing
defense on Sunday evening, but that won't make the problem go
It's just that Reid won't let you see him sweat. Like Edwards, he
won't let you see much of anything. It's the Edwards influence
again, though even he revealed himself on occasion. In his senior
year at Brigham Young, Reid blocked for Jim McMahon. The two got
to be buddies, and before the 1980 Holiday Bowl, McMahon, not
exactly Mr. BYU, decided to play a prank on Edwards. "Jim had to
make up a final exam before we left for the bowl game, and Coach
Edwards arranged for the test," says Reid. "Jim and I were
walking by his office one night right before we left, and we saw
a light on, so Jim went in and said, 'Coach, I goofed up. Sorry.
I missed that final.' It's the only time I ever saw Coach Edwards
really lose it. He had this flowerpot in the office, and the next
thing I know--boom!--he throws the thing against the wall and it
shatters. Jim's laughing. 'Coach, I took the test! I got you!'"
Now, an hour after Philadelphia had improved to 8-3, Edwards's
disciple was back at work. "We'll get that run defense worked
out," he said.
"That's Andy," Edwards says. "He's not going to give the media
much, and the public's not going to know him much. He could coach
in Philadelphia 10 more years, and people aren't going to know
him a lot better than they know him now."
Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback, every week at
"When you don't push THE PANIC BUTTON--I mean ever--it trickles
down to the team. That's how LaVell Edwards was. That's where
Andy gets it."