The chants weren’t just reserved for an emotional moment Thursday after a message of gratitude from the Reid family was displayed on the Lincoln Financial Field videoboard. This particular chant came during the third quarter, as Andy Reid threw the challenge flag on what, after the challenge, turned out to be a 44-yard touchdown pass from Nick Foles to Mardy Gilyard.
You could have made a lot of money during the offseason betting that Eagles fans would give Reid a standing ovation and chant his name at the preseason opener. But circumstances change.
The awful change occurred Sunday when Garrett Reid, 29, was found dead in his room at Eagles training camp. His death is a tragedy. The aftermath could be described as a blessing.
There has been an incredible outpouring of support for the Reid family. Coaching colleagues. Players. And, yes, Eagles fans.
There’s little doubt that some of the fans chanting Reid’s name during the Eagles’ 24-23 preseason victory over the Steelers were bemoaning his return during the offseason. But Thursday, despite an awful first half, nary a boo was heard. Well, almost none.
“I told you (Wednesday) this stuff is so humbling,” Reid said. “I take that as a compliment to my son and my family. That is a humbling thing, and I appreciate every bit of it. We feel the love.”
In the wake of this tragedy, Eagles fans have been able to separate Andy Reid the coach from Andy Reid the man. Or, more accurately, it’s as if they’ve been able to unify those separate identities into one soul.
The gruff, throat-clearing tyrant who glares over his glasses while giving robotic answers during postgame news conferences has been melded with the man who cares so deeply about his family. The coach who struggles with time management is now intertwined with the man who struggles to do his job in the wake of losing his oldest son.
Watching Reid attempt to deal with Garrett’s death with grace and humility has humanized him in the eyes of many fans. He’s no longer simply a one-dimensional public figure. He’s a human being dealing with unthinkable tragedy.
Because he’s a high-profile NFL coach, Reid’s grieving process is playing out in the public spotlight. There was a statement issued from the Reid family that indicated Garrett’s death was related to his struggles with drugs. There was a funeral that had to be moved from the Reid’s family church because of the number of people expected to attend. There were public discussions of how soon Reid would return to his job. There was a news conference on his first day back at work. These are not normal elements of the grief process – at least not in a public setting.
But, as I suggested in my most recent Fish ‘n Chips column, having a home game so soon after Garrett’s funeral might prove to be beneficial. A home game provided an opportunity for fans to show their collective support for the Reid family.
There was a moment of silence for Garrett before the game. Fans held signs demonstrating their support and love for the Reid family. And when the message of gratitude from the Reid family was displayed on the videoboard during the first quarter, the fans erupted in emotional applause before breaking into the “Andy! Andy!” chant, which got even louder when a live shot of Andy Reid was shown on the video screen.
“The fans were incredible,” Reid said. “The support was felt. All of it. That was awesome. I don’t have the words for it.”
The preceding quote is from Reid’s news conference on Wednesday, the day before the first preseason game. The fans’ support during Thursday’s game further reinforced those feelings.
We don’t know how long the love will last. Reid went through a difficult time in 2007 when sons Garrett and Britt Reid were arrested on the same day. Reid worked from home for months during the offseason in order to spend more time helping his family deal with their sons’ problems. Many fans were sympathetic to Reid’s plight, but they didn’t cut him much slack the following season.
I have a feeling this situation is different. The relationship between Reid and the fans has changed.
This isn’t to suggest that Reid will be immune from criticism. If the first team plays as it did Thursday during the regular season, the floodgates of criticism will open up. But I have a feeling the criticism won’t be expressed in the sometimes vicious, vitriolic tones of the past.
There is also the recognition that the grieving process is a long-term proposition, especially when the deceased is just 29 years old. The Reids aren’t going to “get over” Garrett’s death in a matter of weeks, or even months. It’s likely that his death will affect them forever.
“Every day you want to be a better day,” Reid said after Thursday’s victory. “I’ve got a lot of support, but that doesn’t erase what took place. It doesn’t do that. But life goes on. That’s how things work.
“This is one step forward. We’ll try to take another step forward tomorrow.”
You get the feeling Eagles fans will support Reid as he takes those steps. At some point, they may not support Andy Reid the coach, but they’ll always support Andy Reid the man.
After this week, however, it’s considerably more difficult to separate the coach from the man.