Ten years ago, Andy Reid sat in the dingy Eagles locker room at Veterans Stadium, wearing the blue suit he'd selected for his job interview with owner Jeffrey Lurie. Like the other candidates to rebuild a 3-13 toxic waste dump of a team, Reid answered questions from reporters during his visit.
The primary question asked of the obscure position coach from Green Bay: Who the heck are you?
"It's hard to explain without knowing me," Reid said then. "I firmly believe that if you hang around me for a while, you'll understand why I've been put in this position."
Between his first news conference in Philadelphia and his most recent, held yesterday in the swank auditorium of the palatial Eagles complex, it still doesn't feel as if we have gotten a full answer to that original question. Indeed, it sounds as if the Eagles' head coach has gotten to know Philadelphia a lot better than he has allowed the city, its fans, and its sporting press to get to know him.
"We're blessed to be here in Philadelphia with a great fan base that is knowledgeable about the game," Reid said a day after the most remarkable postseason clinching of his life. "I mentioned to somebody that, in a lot of cities, it's game to game. In Philadelphia, it's play to play. And you have to love that. You have to love that part of it as a coach and a player, and from your standpoint. . . . It's a great atmosphere for football."
It was a great atmosphere for football late Sunday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field. The place was packed even though there was a good chance the Eagles' game against the Dallas Cowboys would be rendered meaningless by earlier results.
Instead, against long odds, things fell exactly as needed for the Eagles to have a chance to make the playoffs. The mood at the Linc was festive and celebratory, even before the Eagles began breaking the hated Cowboys apart at every nail.
At the end, Reid was seen on the sideline waving his arms to goad the crowd on. His usual stoic (and clean-shaven) expression was replaced by a wide and whiskery smile as his players ran onto the field to celebrate their improbable chance to play for a championship.
"Everybody was into it," Reid said. "It was nice. Someone told me that there was a 17 percent or 18 percent chance of us being in the position that we are in today, and that's not very good odds. It just all came together, and that doesn't happen very often. It was a great experience."
For five years, Reid's teams went to the postseason in what seemed the methodical fulfillment of his original promise. "I'm not here to quick-fix the Philadelphia Eagles," he said upon being hired in January 1999. "I'm here to supply them with a tremendous, solid organization that is going to win football games."
And so they did, winning 59 regular-season games (and losing just 21) from 2000 to '04. Reid's teams went to the NFC championship game four consecutive times, finally advancing to the Super Bowl after the 2004 season.
If you had taken a snapshot of Reid and his program at that moment, it would have been clear his plan had worked. Since then, well, not so much.
There were the Terrell Owens meltdown that dominated 2005, the injuries to Donovan McNabb that ruined several seasons, and then the odd inconsistency that plagued the team throughout this peculiar year. The once-sure Reid seemed as perplexed as everyone else about what was happening to his team.
Nine days ago, at Washington, his Eagles took the worst regular-season loss of Reid's tenure. It was a total botch of a must-win game, especially on the part of Reid and the offensive coaches and players.
"We had a little blip in the screen at Washington," Reid said, "which could have been a big blip."
That's an understatement. Without help from far-flung NFL outposts in Oakland and Houston, that blip would have destroyed the Eagles' season and perhaps ended the tenures here of Reid, McNabb or both. The reaction to that loss, in the media and among the fans, was severe. It was also completely deserved.
It appeared that Reid had lost the handle on coaching this particular franchise at the highest level. On Sunday, given an unearned opportunity, it looked as if he'd regained his grip.
The real test of that will begin Sunday in Minneapolis, as Reid takes his team into a winnable playoff game against the Vikings, and will last as long as the Eagles play up to the level they reached against the Cowboys.
Ten years in, Andy Reid is still asking you to hang in there with him. Ten years in, you're not sure you know him well enough to take him at his word.
But here we go.
NFC wild-card game
Sunday at 4:30 p.m.