- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 3, 2005

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid, who has guided his team to the NFL’s best record the last five seasons and now to its first Super Bowl in 24 years, might well have spent his life operating in a hospital rather than on the sideline.

Reid hoped to follow his mother into medicine before Brigham Young coach LaVell Edwards convinced him to remain in football after his playing eligibility expired in 1981. Philadelphia’s hard-to-please fans will be forever grateful.

The Eagles, without an NFL championship since 1960, sank to a 9-22-1 record in 1997 and 1998 under Ray Rhodes. Fortunately for all concerned in the land of cheesesteaks and boobirds, Reid came riding to the rescue.

Philadelphia owner Jeffrey Lurie and team president Joe Banner went against the grain for a remedy when they hired the obscure Reid, a seven-year Green Bay offensive assistant who had never even been a Division I coordinator, over established names like former Carolina Panthers coach Dom Capers, Jim Haslett and Chris Palmer.

“It was unconventional,” Lurie conceded. “We talked with [coach] Mike Holmgren, [quarterback] Brett Favre and others who had been with the Packers. Andy understood that a winning team had to have people who could work well together. Andy has no ego. He’s comfortable with himself. To him, it’s all about building team community.”

That’s what Reid did despite a 2-7 start in 1999.

“I’d never heard of Andy, and I thought, ‘It’s going to get worse before it gets better,’” linebacker Ike Reese recalled. “Then his first training camp was really tough. But he weeded a lot of guys out of here. He said, ‘Everybody starts with a clean slate. Everybody gets a chance to play. There are no free rides. You have to earn your way.’ And midway through his first season, we started playing better.”

Reid defied convention himself when he bypassed Texas running back Ricky Williams to take quarterback Donovan McNabb third overall in his first draft, then made the rookie his starter in Week 10.

The Eagles were a wild card the next two years before winning the first of their three straight NFC East titles. After Reid’s second season, front office chief Tom Modrak left for Buffalo, and the coach assumed near-total control of Philadelphia’s football operations.

The generally low-key Reid soon showed he could make tough calls. He got into a serious argument with Jeremiah Trotter over money after the 2001 season and sent the Pro Bowl linebacker packing. Pro Bowl defensive end Hugh Douglas was dispatched after 2002. Last offseason, Reid bid goodbye to Pro Bowl cornerbacks Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor and longtime offensive mainstay Duce Staley.

And after the Eagles’ offense stunk in successive NFC Championship games in 2002 and 2003, Reid boldly risked upsetting the locker room chemistry by trading for volatile receiver Terrell Owens — a move that has paid off almost as smartly as drafting McNabb.

Now Reid, long regarded as the NFL’s least quotable coach, has begun to loosen up a little. He forbade Owens to wear tights to practice but promised if the star scored 15 touchdowns, he, too, would don them for a workout. Asked what color his were, the portly Reid deadpanned, “Chartreuse.”

Asked about Freddie Mitchell mocking Minnesota’s Randy Moss with a butt-shaking touchdown dance in the divisional round playoff victory, Reid said he hadn’t see it and wondered what his flamboyant receiver had done before quickly adding, “No, don’t tell me.”

And when he was asked about his comment during the NFC Championship ceremony that Owens would return from a broken fibula in time to play in the Super Bowl, Reid said, “T.O. was standing right there. I had to make him feel good.”

Reid will have Philadelphia feeling better than good if he can deliver the sports-mad city’s first pro championship in 22 years.

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