Andy Reid’s former Eagles have a clear Super Bowl choice between team and coach

Super Bowl 57’s most conflicted observers feel an everlasting attachment to the fatherly coach who once nurtured them. They feel indebted to Andy Reid. They still text him regularly. They tell him “I love you,” and he reciprocates. They adore him because they played for him, and so, in retirement, they hopped aboard a Kansas City Chiefs bandwagon. Three years ago, as Reid chased an elusive ring, they said they were “absolutely,” “definitely,” “of course,” “without a doubt” supporting him.

“I’m always gon’ root for him, regardless of what team they playing,” receiver Todd Pinkston said of Reid and the Chiefs.

“Wherever he goes,” cornerback Sheldon Brown agreed, “I’ma root for him.”

And therein lies the internal conflict that will prickle dozens of them on Sunday. They didn’t just play for Reid; they played for him in Philadelphia, for the Eagles, his 2023 Super Bowl opponent.

So they are “torn,” some say, between a coach who feels “like family” and a city that raised their families; between a man who molded them into men and a franchise for which they’re “forever grateful.”

“But,” Brown says now, “as I've told some people: I think I'ma go with the team that paid my bills.”

In fact, says safety Quintin Mikell, “it’s not even leaning. I'm absolutely supporting the Eagles. One hundred percent.”

“It's easy for me. It's not even a question,” says cornerback Bobby Taylor. “I mean, you could cut my vein open, and if it's not red, it gotta be green. I'm for the Eagles, all day every day.”

He and others said in interviews last week that they’d be shocked if any Eagle alums were wholeheartedly supporting Reid on Sunday. “I mean, we all love Andy,” Taylor clarified. But in conversations with former teammates, he hasn’t come across a single defector.

Because throughout their time in Philly, as they built their bonds with Reid, they built equally strong bonds with a much broader community.

PHILADELPHIA - JANUARY 23:  Head coach Andy Reid of the Philadelphia Eagles celebrates winning the game 27-10 over the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship game at Lincoln Financial Field on January 23, 2005 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvannia.  (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

The Philly connection

They first felt the bond on cab rides in from Philadelphia International Airport, or even before they’d signed with the Eagles, at downtown restaurants while visiting as free agents. They learned about the passion that bleeds across the Delaware Valley. Some players found it intimidating or excessive, but over time, through triumph and heartbreak, they came to understand. Linebacker Ike Reese still remembers crying on one of his darkest Philly nights, after a loss in the 2002 NFC championship game. Then he flipped on his television and saw fans crying too.

“I really felt there was a connection there,” Reese, now a sports radio host at 94WIP, once told Yahoo Sports. “Because they felt what I felt.”

That symbiosis, tight end Chad Lewis says, is “deep. That's not surface. That's like soul. It goes to your core.”

Some players distance themselves from the surrounding furor. “When you're a player,” Mikell says, “you're so focused and so worried about the next play, the next game, next this, next that.” And then you leave. Mikell, for example, signed with the Rams after eight years in Philly. He went to battle for another employer, for another town, for another horde of fanatics.

But Philly never left him. He kept his house in South Jersey. And when he retired, his connection to the city and the team actually intensified. “Like, I feel more connected with the fan base now, being on the other side of the fence,” he says.

For many Reid-era Eagles, personal connections to the franchise have dwindled. There are names they know — Jeffrey Lurie, Howie Roseman, Dom DiSandro, Frank Gumienny, Dave Spadaro — and working relationships they remember fondly. But there are no more holdovers on the sideline, which, Taylor admits, is “weird.” He returned to Lincoln Financial Field for a game in 2021, roamed the sideline and “still felt welcomed,” he says. “But it was kinda strange not having a specific person that was inside of the building that I identified with, that I talked to.”

He does, though, still talk to Average Joe Philadelphians, to community members who double as Eagle obsessives. He knows he can dip into any area restaurant or bar and “feel the energy.” Before that game last season, he made an appearance at the stadium-adjacent Live! casino, and although he was offered a ride over to the Linc, he chose to walk. And as he soaked in the early October gameday scene, green-clad strangers recognized him and greeted him.

Those strangers, Brown notes, are “a big part of paying bills. It wouldn't exist without them. And that's why I think it would be kinda disrespectful to overlook that and not root for that fan base.”

Others now feel like full-fledged members of it. When the Eagles won their first Super Bowl in 2018, Mikell grabbed an expensive bottle of champagne and, perhaps to his wife’s chagrin, sprayed it all over their ceiling. This time around, he’s heading to Arizona for the game, but, he says, “I wish I could be out there in the streets celebrating, trying to climb a greased pole, going crazy.”

MIAMI, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 02: Head coach Andy Reid of the Kansas City Chiefs celebrates with the Vince Lombardi Trophy after defeating the San Francisco 49ers 31-20 in Super Bowl LIV at Hard Rock Stadium on February 02, 2020 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Many of Andy Reid's former players in Philadelphia were rooting for him to win Super Bowl LIV. Now that his Chiefs are facing the Eagles, most of those same players will be rooting for Philadelphia. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

The conflicted

The single most conflicted observer, and perhaps the only former Eagle truly noncommittal on his rooting interests, is sitting in a Utah office with two helmets precisely planted on the mantle behind him.

Chad Lewis turned them toward each other, facemask-to-facemask, this past summer. One is his, from his playing days with the Eagles. The other is red with an unmistakable white arrowhead, and with a message scrawled in Sharpie on the top.

“Chad,” it reads. “Thanks for everything — u are the best — love you — Andy Reid.”

Reid gifted it to Lewis years ago, as an emblem of their lasting friendship. But that’s not the only reason Lewis tried to speak an Eagles-Chiefs Super Bowl into existence. His son-in-law, Matt Bushman, is a Chiefs practice squad tight end.

Lewis will look down from his perch at State Farm Stadium on Sunday and see, on one sideline, “my team,” the one he still visits, the one he does charity events with, the one he gave his “heart and soul” to. “I gave my Lisfranc. I gave ’em my health. I gave ’em everything I had,” he says.

And on the other, he’ll see family. Bushman likely won’t be active, but Reid counts. The coach visited his former player at BYU, their alma mater, during Kansas City’s bye week. They talk “just about weekly,” Lewis says. “He's been just an incredible guy in my life.”

This matchup, therefore, is Lewis’ “dream scenario.” And if you press him on who he wants to win, after a 15-minute conversation full of nuance about his ties to both sides, he’ll get agitated. No one-word answer is sufficient.

Other former Eagles, to be clear, also feel love for both sides. Three years ago, some celebrated Kansas City’s victory as if it were Philly’s. “Because my affection for the Philadelphia Eagles and that city doesn’t come without the help of Andy and everything that he gave me and my family,” defensive tackle Corey Simon explained.

Prior to that Super Bowl, Reese and his radio colleagues even held an Andy Reid Appreciation Day. And Philadelphia, liberated from its own drought, played along.

“But not this week,” Reese says with a laugh. “Not this week.”

Reese would typically text Reid after a win as big as the AFC championship, or ahead of a game as colossal as this Super Bowl. Brown and others still did last week. Their relationships transcend results and rings. “I look at him as a father figure,” Brown says.

But Reese, just this once, held off. Communication will resume in the offseason. “I'm not gon’ bother Coach Reid,” he says. “Because he knows I'm rooting for the Eagles.”