February 09, 2023
Life finds strange ways of coming full circle, just like it did for Andy Reid on Monday night.
As the Eagles and Chiefs were introduced onstage at Phoenix's Footprint Center for the Super Bowl's opening media night, Reid shook hands with each one of the Philadelphia players but had an extra embrace for Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, plus a tug of the beard for Jason Kelce.
They do go way back, after all. He drafted all three of them.
Hired in 1999, Reid coached the Eagles through 14 seasons and easily the franchise's most successful era to that point, and as the team's executive vice president of football operations from 2001 on, had the final say on all personnel decisions.
In 2010, he took Graham with the 13th overall pick, a defensive end out of Michigan who, at the time, was considered a massive reach.
In 2011, he found Kelce in the sixth round, an athletic center from Cincinnati, though one often knocked for his size.
Then in 2012, he picked up Cox with the 12th overall selection, a mean defensive tackle out of Mississippi St. who was projected to cause opposing quarterbacks nightmares for years to come.
Seeing Andy Reid embrace his 3 former players, @fcoxx_91, @brandongraham55, and @JasonKelce got me so emotional. What a journey for all of them. All very very good humans too 💚 #FlyEaglesFly #SuperBowl pic.twitter.com/3aHi8jwi9L— Jamie Apody (@JamieApody) February 7, 2023
Reid's run in Philadelphia, however, was on its last legs as the three were establishing themselves as NFL pros.
The Eagles had already moved on from their all-time great but aging QB in Donovan McNabb. Michael Vick, who inadvertently became his successor, had his career catch a second wind but was just as quickly stalling out, and the Nnamdi Asomugha-led "Dream Team" retooling ended in complete disaster.
For as good as the Eagles were as often as they were under Reid, the one frequent knock against his teams – well, aside from clock management – was that they always fell short in the playoffs, and after so many years of heartbreak, it got old.
Fans were getting tired of the same thing year in and year out, and in the final two seasons, the Eagles were just unraveling at the seams. It was time to move on.
Reid was let go after a 4-12 campaign in 2012, he knew it was coming, and left on good terms with his head held high. He landed as the head coach in Kansas City not too soon after, quickly putting them on a new path to becoming an AFC juggernaut that went into overdrive once they found Patrick Mahomes as their franchise QB in waiting, the one that would eventually push them to a Super Bowl title in 2019 – Reid's much-elusive first.
Graham, Kelce, and Cox, meanwhile, stayed put, each becoming foundational pieces for the Eagles – three of their greatest ever even – through the crash and burn of Chip Kelly, Doug Pederson and that long-awaited first Lombardi Trophy of their own, and now on to Nick Sirianni and another title shot that would have been unfathomable just two short years ago.
Of course, they have to beat Reid's AFC Champion Chiefs on Sunday to get there.
Life has strange ways of coming full circle.
"Listen, I had 14 great years there and I loved every minute of it," Reid said Tuesday of facing the Eagles. "It's a great organization. I'm still close with the people there. It was great to see the kids that we had drafted that are now these veteran players, All-Pro players on that team. Had a chance to give them a hug last night and now we go our separate ways and get ready to play.
"But I'm proud of them for what they've done," and, he added, of Howie Roseman too, the front office understudy who took the reins as general manager after Reid left – and after a brief exile under Chip Kelly's rein – to not only build a Super Bowl-winning roster but completely retool it and have the Eagles back on the doorstep of a championship again.
"He's done a great job of retooling that team a couple different times and that's not an easy thing to do," Reid said. "He probably didn't get enough credit for that."
Granted, Reid may not have gotten enough credit for the long-term effect he had on the entire organization either, both directly and indirectly.
Before the team left for Arizona, Kelce sat down with the media at the NovaCare Complex and was asked how the Eagles even managed all this, how they've been able to stay relatively competitive through the past decade, and – even after the third coaching change he, Graham, and Cox have experienced – how they were able to rebound into the NFC Champions within two years.
Reid was long gone from Philadelphia, but within the building, his influence and lessons still carried on.
"When you have a good culture established, that far precedes me – I mean this culture was established, I would say, with Andy Reid, maybe those guys would say even before that," Kelce said last week. "We have a great locker room, we have a lot of guys who care for one another, and I was brought into that as a young player, and I think that the organization has done a phenomenal job of continuing that through all of three changes."
There was a ripple effect too, one that has spread well throughout the league, but much to the Eagles' benefit.
Pederson was an assistant of Reid's in Philadelphia and then his offensive coordinator in Kansas City, eventually going on to become a disciple of Reid's ever-expanding coaching tree when he was named the replacement to Chip Kelly in 2016. The results speak for themselves there.
But when it did come time to move on from Pederson after the 2020 season, it turned out that Reid had unwittingly set Sirianni on the path to getting the job next several years before, when he chose not to retain a young wide receivers coach upon his arrival to Kansas City.
"Obviously we weren't good enough in Kansas City when we left there and that's why Coach Reid came in," Sirianni said at his opening night podium on Monday. "He's done a phenomenal, phenomenal job, one of the best coaches of all-time, and what I always remember is that – obviously, when you're getting let go at a place, you're down, right?... You're down in that moment, and I just remember him bringing me in, telling me that his assistant head coach was the wide receivers coach, that he had a guy, but I remember him lifting me up in that moment, telling me he heard good things, knowing I would get back up on my feet.
"He gave me strength when I was down and I always admired that...He kinda gave me a blueprint for what I had to do when I became the head football coach for the Eagles. So even though I never worked with him, I felt like I gained a valuable lesson from him to be able to reach out and talk to the guys, that I wasn't able to meet with all the guys when they did, but I just always remember thinking about Coach Reid in that moment because it gave me a good blueprint of what to do when you have to do the tough parts of this job."
Now on Sunday night, it's Reid and his Chiefs against an Eagles franchise that his influence still echoes through, rebuilt and stronger than ever, on one of the biggest stages in professional sports, with both after a second ring.
It's a scenario that would've seemed nigh impossible to believe 20 years ago, but life has strange ways of coming full circle.
"I guess initially you feel that or sense that or see it," Reid said. "You're living it. I think it's a great thing for the Eagles. I think it's great for the Chiefs to be in this position. Once you get through all that, now it's the teams playing each other and it doesn't really matter the uniform.
"Once the game gets going, it's football."
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