Until there is a Lombardi Trophy gleaming in a display case in the NovaCare Complex lobby, words won't mean a thing.

The words Jeffrey Lurie says won't convince skeptical fans that it was a good idea to extend Andy Reid's contract. The words of Reid's harshest critics won't penetrate the franchise's inner sanctum and change a single mind. Even the words on Reid's contract don't mean all that much (although the numbers do).

In 1999, Lurie hired Reid because he believed that the relatively unknown assistant coach from Mike Holmgren's Green Bay Packers staff had the right plan to build a championship program in Philadelphia. In 2009, after all that has and has not happened on Reid's watch, Lurie still believes that Reid gives him the best chance to hoist a Lombardi.

"Our No. 1 priority by far is to win a Super Bowl," Lurie said.

"Our energy is put into winning a Super Bowl," Reid said. "That is, I think, probably every coach's and every player's dream in this league. That is what we're striving to do."

"Everybody in this building wants to win a Super Bowl," quarterback Donovan McNabb said.

There is no rational cause to doubt them. But rational thinking has been bludgeoned into some twisted logic during a run that includes five conference championship games with no Super Bowl titles.

Fans and reporters frustrated by the absence of the Lombardi Trophy often accuse Lurie and the Eagles of being satisfied with falling short - of striving to be competitive and therefore profitable rather than striving to win it all.

With all due respect, that idea makes no sense.

It would be impossible to build a team that went to five NFC championship games in eight years unless you were trying to win the Super Bowl. That's like saying NASA's goal was to build launching pads and rockets, not to get to the moon. Try getting into space without them.

"You can't win a Super Bowl unless you're in line to be in the playoffs and be in that championship game," Lurie said. "That's the only path there is."

Another example: The Eagles would have won a Super Bowl by now if it weren't for Reid, McNabb, or both. That one ignores the indisputable fact that they've only been so close, so often because of them - as close as was the beloved Dick Vermeil (but more often) and much closer than was the mythologized Buddy Ryan.

If Reid were living on the success of his first five years here, you could make the case that it was time for a fresh approach. You might even have been able to make that argument last season, when an infuriatingly inconsistent nine-win team won a couple of playoff games on muscle memory.

But this Eagles team is 8-4 with the most promising cast of young players Reid has ever assembled. There is no reason for Lurie to pull the rug on Reid until he gets a chance to complete his mission with this group.

So what's the worst that happens? If the team were to collapse this year, then have a bad year in 2010 (the last year on Reid's contract before the extension), Lurie would be free to make a change. All the extension really guarantees is that Reid receives an additional $18 million to $20 million by 2013.

No owner wants to pay a lot for someone to not coach, but let's face it: Plenty of less accomplished executives have gotten bigger severance packages than that. Listen to Lurie's litany of positives about his franchise now compared with 1999:

"When I try to look back on where the franchise was [nearly] 11 years ago, there has been some success. But the popularity of this franchise - the fans we have had on the road this year, up to 20,000 in San Diego and Atlanta, loud and boisterous, 5,000 in Chicago; enormous TV ratings; every measure possible - by every measure, there's tremendous support."

In strict business terms, then, Reid has helped build the value of Lurie's franchise, and this extension would be fair as a simple reward. Call it revenue sharing.

So the deal makes sense even if the Eagles don't win another game under Reid. History says they will win plenty. The same history that says the Cowboys will have another December collapse with Tony Romo says the Eagles will get better as the playoffs approach, then have a chance to win it all.

Maybe they will accomplish that long-elusive goal and win a Super Bowl or two. Maybe they won't. The point is that with Reid, they've had superb chances and expect to have more. There isn't a competent owner in the NFL who wouldn't sign up for three more years of that.

Contact columnist Phil Sheridan
at 215-854-2844 or psheridan@phillynews.com.
Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/philsheridan.