The hurry-up portion of the Eagles season concludes Thursday night in Lincoln Financial Field, and the third game in 11 days carries with it a story line that is quite obviously made for television.
The prime-time schedule ends here for the Eagles, with the networks having wrung them dry and discarded them after the first three games. The “Monday Night Football opener, teasing the general public with its first look at Chip Kelly’s wacko-neato offense and with the ballyhooed comeback of Robert Griffin III, was a natural, of course. The same goes for Thursday’s return to Philadelphia by Andy Reid, which, coupled with the retirement of Donovan’s McNabb’s number, is another convenient hook that might lure a few more casual viewers to the couch.
After this, the Eagles are being set free to drift through a low-profile schedule of mostly 1 p.m. games and will be allowed to pursue their future in that relative peace. The reunion with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in Denver in two weekends apparently doesn’t make the grade.
There is always the possibility, if the Eagles win more than expected, that some of their late-season games could be switched to showcase programming, but that seems like a long shot right now. Thursday’s game will probably be the last one in the national glare, and if it also represents the final closing of the door on the Reid Era, then bring up the lights, cue the Liberty Bell and the city skyline, and offer a hearty farewell to the guy who made the team a prime-time staple in the first place.
Reid did what he could to downplay the thing, which isn’t much of a surprise. Listen, he had great times here, and worked for a heck of a great owner, and got to coach a heck of a lot of great players, and partner with a front office and coaching staff that did a heck of a great job, but there’s a game to be played on a short week and that’s his focus. When he comes out of the southeast tunnel instead of the southwest tunnel, he promises he won’t be thinking about anything except the football game that lies before him.
As usual, that’s probably true. Even if the fans greet him warmly when he appears with his team, which they should, he might return a wave to the stands, but he will still be thinking about the first 10 plays scripted on his neat play chart. If there is nothing else to admire about Reid as a coach, you have to admire the man’s single-minded dedication to his work.
None of it will be surprising, because like all relationships that last too long before they break up, the city and Reid know far too much about each other. There were the good times, sure — some of them were a heck of a good time — but Reid led us to the altar on more than a few occasions and always seemed to have left the ring in his other tuxedo. Getting back together like this for a farewell one-night stand under a full harvest moon won’t change anything about that, but at least it will give us a chance to take back some of those nasty things we said along the way.
The man tried. Heaven knows. He drafted the right quarterback coming out of the chute and there was no way to predict the upward path to the Super Bowl appearance and then the downhill rush, beginning at the intersection of McNabb and Owens, that gained speed and momentum until last season’s utter crash.
Eventually, the vices became habits. The team was well-coached and smartly schemed from Wednesday to Saturday, but wasn’t able to nimbly adjust on Sunday. The methodical process of getting a play call to the quarterback made it seem that beating the play clock was a circus trick they had to pull off 60 times a game. The wasted timeouts. The terrible personnel decisions. The stultifying news conferences. The web of carefully woven detail that eventually became a noose around the neck of the organization.
Where were we? Ah, yes, the good times.
There were those as well, plenty of them. Former Eagles trainer Rick Burkholder, now with the Chiefs, told ESPN.com that if Reid wins 10 games a season for 10 years in Kansas City, they’ll build a statue of him outside the stadium. Maybe the standards are more forgiving in the milder Midwest, or maybe it is Philadelphia’s inbred inferiority complex that won’t abide anything that lets the rest of the country in on our little secret.
Whatever it is, Reid did the job, and did it very well, but didn’t finish it. Perhaps it isn’t fair, but he’ll be remembered more for the hole than the doughnut. The same goes for McNabb, and there’s no telling what the reception will be for his halftime ceremony. The mood of the crowd might be determined by the scoreboard. If the Eagles are rolling along, it will be easy to be magnanimous. If the opposite is true, well, it might not be Philadelphia’s proudest moment in the national spotlight.
This will be the last spotlit moment of the season, however, and it does come with quite a story to tell. Those watching around the country won’t get all of it. You had to live it. Reid and the city lived it together and now it is finally time to wave, say goodbye, and study the plays still to come.
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