Why Andy Reid's supporters include a legion of former Eagles

Yahoo Sports

He hugged his wife and his son. He hugged his team owner and his general manager, receivers and defensive ends, assistants and longtime friends. And then, as he prepared to lift the trophy he’d won for them and they’d won for him, as red and yellow confetti fluttered in icy January air, Kansas City chanted his name.

“Andy! Andy!” came the cry from Chiefs Kingdom.

Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce joined in.

“Andy! Andy!”

As the AFC championship celebration moved indoors, fans lingered. They leaned over railings for high-fives. They lined his path to the locker room, pumping their fists and cheering. Andy Reid reciprocated.

But there was one embrace, after Reid’s locker-room address, near Arrowhead Stadium’s news conference room, that was particularly notable.

It was with a loyal Chiefs fan sporting a Patrick Mahomes jersey, one of the many.

It was notable because that fan was former Philadelphia Eagles tight end Chad Lewis.

Lewis was born in New Jersey and lives in Utah. His two NFL jobs took him to St. Louis and Philly. He has no connection to Kansas City. Only to the beloved head coach, the man he played for two decades ago, the reason he attends one Chiefs game per year, the reason a Chiefs helmet features prominently on his desk.

“I think of him all the time,” Lewis says of Reid. And then, of that elusive Super Bowl: “I want him, so bad, to win this.” And he isn’t alone.

Lewis will be watching on Sunday, “praying for him the whole time.” So will dozens of former Eagles, from greater Philadelphia to Southern California and in between. Yahoo Sports spoke with 13 of them for this story. Every single one, genuinely and passionately, is rooting for Reid.

“Always,” says Todd Pinkston. 

“Definitely,” say Hank Fraley and Jon Dorenbos. 

“Absolutely,” say Tra Thomas, Sheldon Brown, Corey Simon, Quintin Mikell and Bobby Taylor. 

“Without a doubt,” says Ike Reese. 

“Oh, hell yeah,” says Hugh Douglas. 

“Of course I am,” says Jon Runyan.

“I mean, for over 20 years, really,” says Joe Banner, the former Eagles president who hired Reid.

Some still text him before every game. Others prefer to congratulate him afterward. Some FaceTime him so he can talk to their kids. Others call for professional advice. They credit him with making their careers and shaping their lives. They’d even commit crimes for him. When a Kansas City radio host disparaged Reid’s family this past summer, Douglas says he told the host: “If I was there with you right now, I would go to jail for kicking yo’ ass.” He’s only half-joking.

Because he, like so many of Reid’s former players, saw the late nights and early mornings. They saw the oft-used bed in Reid’s Eagles office. They saw the sacrifice, all of it for them. They saw that he cared, and still does. So they still care about him. And they desperately want a Super Bowl ring. “I would probably be more excited about it or happy for him than he would be for himself, to be totally honest,” Douglas says.

That they are pulling for him, though, is not the story. The story is why. Because their why helps explain the 207 career wins. Helps explain those Arrowhead chants. Helps explain why Reid, 15 years after glory narrowly escaped him, is back on its doorstep.

‘Quit your bitchin’

Andy Reid spent 14 years in Philadelphia, leading the Eagles to the playoffs nine times, including one Super Bowl, but never a championship. (AP)
Andy Reid spent 14 years in Philadelphia, leading the Eagles to the playoffs nine times, including one Super Bowl, but never a championship. (AP)

Hugh Douglas remembers Reid’s first training camp at Lehigh University, a small college 75 minutes north of Philadelphia, and a seclusive setting for grueling two-a-days in full pads. Douglas remembers “three days of hell at practice” to begin. He was a fifth-year defensive end. He remembers Reid, previously a Packers position coach, as “an unknown.” And he remembers thinking to himself: ”Who the hell is this dude?”

In fact, on the third of those three days, standing in a gassed defensive huddle, with Reid within earshot, he verbalized the thought.

“Man, this mother- - - - - - don’t know what the f- - - he doin’!” Douglas blurted out.

Reid, Douglas says, responded: “Quit your bitchin’. Don’t you know you’re getting better?”

Douglas came to respect Reid. He realized the first-time head coach was right.

“Big Red” was demanding early on in Philly. During drills and meetings, he required perfection. After a veteran lineman bolted from camp, enraged by a demotion, Reid made him push a blocking sled after practice, again and again, coach barking at player as he went, and as media watched. Linebacker Ike Reese remembers seeing the punishment and thinking: “OK, we aren’t in Kansas anymore.”

Reid also slept at the team facility. Not always, but not infrequently either. Players recall seeing a roll-out cot in his office. For cornerback Bobby Taylor, the realization came when, around 3 a.m., Reid and some assistants headed to Veterans Stadium rather than home after a West Coast trip. For offensive tackle Tra Thomas, it came when he saw the timestamps on Xerox copies of gameplans: often 4 or 5 a.m.

“They burned the midnight oil there,” Reese says of Reid and his staff. His hours, cornerback Sheldon Brown says, were “ridiculous.” And offensive line coach Juan Castillo, Runyan says, “was trying to outdo him every night.”

But Reid’s demands rarely wore on players, for two reasons: They yielded results, and they were made out of love. Reid, players say, had a unique ability to build personal relationships and weave refreshingly human interactions into the football grind. At one point in his career, he stuck to a self-enforced rule: He’d drive home for at least one meal a day with family. And before long, his former players say, they felt like family themselves.

“You feel like you’re one of his kids, playing for him,” center Hank Fraley says.

“It was a lifestyle,” explains long snapper Jon Dorenbos. “You can’t fake liking people. You can’t fake it. He likes people.”

‘You be you’

Andy Reid celebrates with fans after the Chiefs beat the Titans to advance to Super Bowl LIV. (AP)
Andy Reid celebrates with fans after the Chiefs beat the Titans to advance to Super Bowl LIV. (AP)

In February of 2000, Jon Runyan was a coveted free-agent offensive tackle. Reid, a former tackle himself, was coming off a 5-11 first season. He knew he needed to build from the trenches. So the two met at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in downtown Philadelphia, where legendary Temple University basketball coach John Chaney happened to be dining as well. Chaney approached their table and jokingly briefed Runyan on Philly’s notoriously … uh, passionate fans. It wasn’t the greatest free agency pitch.

Reid, undeterred, wasn’t going to let Runyan leave unsigned. So they waited at Eagles headquarters while Runyan’s agent and others hashed out the contract. Runyan’s wife, eventually, had to fly home to care for the couple’s kids. “I didn’t know anybody in Philadelphia,” Runyan says, picking up the story. “So we jump in his car. He takes me home. [Reid’s wife] Tammy’s got dinner sitting on the table. And I sat there with his family all night long, and ate way too much food.” He finished his steak, and was offered a second. I ask him what else was on Tammy’s menu. “Oh god, what wasn’t there?” he responds.

“He still hadn’t even signed me yet,” Runyan points out. “And he’s inviting me over to his house to interact with his family.” It was, in part, a tactical invitation. It was also just Andy being Andy.

Stories of Reid’s authenticity are plentiful. There were the family barbecues at Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie’s house, where the head coach would socialize with cooks and backup linemen’s kids as if they were the star quarterback. There were the arm-around-shoulder chats with receivers like Todd Pinkston, reassuring them of his belief amid external criticism. And although Reid was often buried in film or playbooks in his office, his door was never locked. “I can’t tell you how many times I walked up there, and he drops everything, you sit down, you’re in there for two hours,” Runyan remembers.

Reid also restricted his detail-oriented demands to football. Off the field, he’d tell players: “You be you. Let your personality show.” If Hugh Douglas wanted to sing songs in the locker room or scream and yell about going to war, Reid might cringe, but so be it. If Reid walked in on Donovan McNabb impersonating him at the front of the room before a team meeting – which McNabb often did – he’d laugh it off and let McNabb finish the bit. 

“An insecure man, or an insecure coach, would walk into that situation and pull Donovan aside after and say, ‘Hey, that was disrespectful, man,’ ” Lewis says. “Andy loved it.”

Several players pinpoint Reid’s looser side as both endearing and vital. “It takes that cast of characters,” Runyan says. “It keeps it fun, it keeps it real. Look at any locker room, it’s a cross-section of society. You can’t deny it. Because we’re all coming from different backgrounds. His job as the head coach is to balance that chemistry experiment.” And Reid did, expertly.

He was a coach who had to bench people and a GM who had to fire people, but they were still people and he treated them as such. When there were agonizing cuts, he’d make calls to other front offices to help hard-working players land on their feet. When Fraley lost the starting center job in 2006, Reid traded him to Cleveland, where he’d start; and kept in touch with him; and offered guidance as Fraley, now the Detroit Lions’ O-line coach, broke into the business himself.

Mikell, who struggled personally during a contract year, and then left the Eagles in free agency, has a story as well: “I was having a rough year, and I went up into his office just to talk to him.” Mikell admitted to the distraction, and assured Reid he was trying to re-focus. “He totally understood everything I was going through. And he just told me, ‘I don’t know what’s gonna happen in the future, but I’ll make sure we do everything we can to take care of you.’ ” Mikell ultimately signed elsewhere, but says: “I do truly believe, behind the scenes, he did a lot of good things to help me out.”

Reid goes to bat for his players, so they go to battle for him. Mikell remembers a defensive leader standing up at a players-only meeting while the team was stumbling. “Outside, in the media, they’re killing Andy,” the player said, with feeling. “They’re going off on him. They’re attacking him – when it’s us that need to be doing the work. He’s doing everything he can do. We need to go out there and support him. We need to go out there and win these games for him.”

These days, similar messages emanate from Kansas City. Players up and down the roster talk about winning a Super Bowl for Reid. “We go out there every single day, and you see Coach Reid, and how much work he puts in, and it transfers to this whole entire team,” Mahomes said on the field after the AFC championship game. In the locker room, Reid reportedly embraced Anthony Sherman and told the fullback: “One more.”

“One more,” Sherman responded. “For you.”

In fact, it still bothers some of these 2000s Eagles that they didn’t win a Super Bowl for him. “No doubt. There is no doubt,” Reese says.

And Fraley: “There’s definitely still times I’m still disappointed in myself.”

And Banner, whose partnership with Reid lasted 14 years: “Everybody who was a part of that kind of has a mixture of being really proud of what we achieved, and at the same time has this emptiness about not being able to check the last, most important box.”

Rooting for a new ring

Andy Reid is notorious for keeping in touch with former players, including Chad Lewis. (Photo courtesy of Chad Lewis)
Andy Reid is notorious for keeping in touch with former players, including Chad Lewis. (Photo courtesy of Chad Lewis)

Reid used to wear the ring. It’s more than two decades old now, earned as a Packers assistant, crafted and slipped onto his right hand in 1997 after Green Bay won Super Bowl XXXI. And throughout his tenure in Philly, during games – even as he walked off the field at Giants Stadium, his firing less than 24 hours away – it remained there.

In Kansas City, though, Reid stopped wearing it. Perhaps because, as Lewis now says: “It’s time that he switches his ring. I want one that he can put on his finger as the head coach.”

In a way, a Chiefs Super Bowl would heal a wound for these Eagles as well. That’s not why they want Reid to win. But Reid’s long, successful-but-not-quite-sufficient journey is both why they’re rooting for him and why some feel a twinge of regret.

They all remain in contact with Reid, to varying degrees. “Congratulations, well deserved. I love you,” Brown texted him after the AFC title. “Thank you 24. I love you,” Reid responded. He always does. He signed the helmet that sits on Lewis’ desk. “Chad,” it reads. “Thanks for everything – u are the best – love you.”

The one question they struggle with is what a Super Bowl would mean to Andy. On one hand, “We know he doesn’t need it to be validated,” Reese says. And, per defensive tackle Corey Simon, “I don’t think his identity is in his successes as a coach. That’s not who he is. His success is as a husband, as a father.”

On the other, Douglas clarifies: “Coach has been downplaying it … and you know what, I hear him. But coach want that ring, man. Coach want that ring.”

The why behind his desire is complex. Back in that Chiefs locker room, Reid told Sherman: “No, man, for you guys, too.” Says Dorenbos: “I think for him, it’s about bringing all these people on the journey of a lifetime.” Says Banner: “He’s gonna want to win a Super Bowl for Clark Hunt, and Mahomes, and his players and coaches, as well as he’s gonna want to win it for himself.”

Reese also has something to add. “And I want to make sure you get this in here,” he says. “It would mean a lot to his family. It would mean his lot to his sons, his daughters, his grandkids. It would mean a lot to them, because they’ve had to endure all of the negativity that comes with being a head coach in this league when you don’t get it done. Especially when it was here in Philadelphia. Andy has the ability to block it out, but the family members don’t, and they want to fight for him. So I know what it would mean to them.”

Which is why it would mean the world to former players as well. Because, as Douglas says, “Coach Reid, to me, is like a family member.”

So they will be pulling for him, some live in Miami, others at home, Banner on vacation in New Zealand. “And when they win it all,” Simon says, “I’m gonna celebrate as if the Philadelphia Eagles won it all.”

“When, not if, huh?” I ask him.

“When,” he emphasizes. “Absolutely.”

“And he’s gonna sit back in his office,” Dorenbos says of Reid, his imagination percolating, no conditional clauses necessary. “And just watch the locker room cheer and go nuts. And just watch the whole Kansas City fan base go crazy. And then, you know what I think he’ll do?

“He’s gonna fly back to California. He’s got two little chairs he puts on the beach. And he lets the sand wash up on his feet. And he just sits there. And he’s gonna probably smile with his wife and his grandkids. And say, ‘I did it.’ ”

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