When rookie head coach Andy Reid signed veteran backup Doug Pederson in 1999 and immediately installed him as the Eagles starting quarterback, come hell or high draft pick, Reid's mentor, Mike Holmgren, shook his head.

"That can wreck your team," Holmgren, the Green Bay coach, said.

Jobs aren't supposed to be handed out in March or April. Players in the locker room like to believe in a meritocracy, particularly if the lack of one might cost them a football game. Plus, how can the fans accept a starter - and not call for his highly anticipated replacement - when it doesn't appear the guy had to earn the position?

"It's Doug's job. I can't put it any different than that," Reid said that spring. "I'm not putting a time limit on it."

The Eagles jumped in the DeLorean and fired up the flux capacitor this year, and while the comparison between the saga of Pederson and Donovan McNabb and that of Sam Bradford and Carson Wentz isn't entirely parallel, it's close enough. No matter what storybook plot is contrived to the contrary, the public can't wait to see the golden child, and, truth to tell, neither can the organization. Everything else is baloney.

That is why - of all the myths and misdirections surrounding the current quarterback situation - the most egregiously wrong is that if Bradford had shrugged and been the good soldier after Wentz was drafted, that he could have serenely played the coming season without a 6-foot-5 shadow across his right shoulder.

That's the plan Howie Roseman and Pederson were selling, though. Bradford would get his year and his chance for more than just that while Wentz took his postgraduate courses from the tutoring committee of Pederson, Frank Reich, John DeFilippo, and Chase Daniel, and everything would go that smoothly.

As if that were possible, something Pederson should know better than anyone.

Reid and Pederson had become friends in Green Bay. The two of them and their wives went on double dates. The quarterbacks coach who operated in virtual obscurity under Holmgren and the quarterback who was invisible behind Brett Favre liked to talk strategy and tactics. One day in 1998, Reid asked Pederson, who was approaching free agency, about his plans.

"I told him I wanted to do the things I saw other quarterbacks doing," Pederson said. "Honestly, I knew I didn't have the name or the experience, but I told him I was going to test free agency and find out if there's a shot for Doug Pederson. If I get an opportunity to start, I'm going to jump at it. Andy told me he thought I'd get my shot."

That was just before Reid was hired in Philadelphia, and before Pederson was signed by the Eagles and declared the starter. He got his shot, and the head coach wasn't putting a time limit on it. The job belonged to Doug Pederson.

"It's not just a year for survival," Pederson said at the time, bristling that he was viewed as a placeholder. "If the outside world perceives that, that's fine. But there are a lot of expectations in this locker room. Our goal is not just to get by. It's to be successful . . . to win some football games."

And, so, the job was his. For six quarters.

McNabb received two ovations on his first day at training camp while Pederson was ignored. The exhibition season was more of the same, and, after the Eagles narrowly lost their regular-season opener - in a game during which Pederson was mostly uninspiring - the fans at the Vet were ready for the kid.

"Doug Pedestrian," read one sign, and "Donovan McNow," was the message on another. "Doug, It's Not Personal, It's Business," read a third. Just before halftime of the game, with the Eagles trailing and Pederson flailing, Reid told McNabb he would be playing the second half.

That was Pederson's shot. It would take another seven games, with McNabb getting snaps in all but one, before the switch was made at starter, but six quarters is what Pederson really got.

"From day one, it was a deal where it was inevitable this was going to happen," Pederson said after losing the job. "The reason for me to be here was to get this thing going."

Maybe being a career backup allows for a quick change of perspective like that. Maybe he never believed what he said out loud about finally getting his real chance. Either way, if you substituted "Bradford" for "Pederson" in the tale, it would come out the same, with the exception of Bradford taking it so well.

The signs would read, "Wentz? Now!" and "Bye Bye Badford," and Pederson would be the coach instead of the player, but that is where this thing was headed, even if Bradford had gone along with the sham. The new toy is going to be unwrapped, and he is going to play.

Now, of course, it would be impossible for Bradford, a far better quarterback than Pederson, to get a fair chance with the fans, and maybe with the organization as well. There wouldn't be any polite patience for a reasonable period of time. That's out the window.

It doesn't change the tide, however, which began to flow toward Wentz the moment he was drafted. Bradford knew that tide couldn't be reversed and said so. Whether that makes him weak or merely realistic is a matter of taste.

Naming a starter didn't end up wrecking the team in 1999. Andy Reid and the Eagles survived that well enough. Having the starter actually show up and pretend helped a lot, though.

Doug Pederson, now on the other side of this drama, didn't get as lucky.

bford@phillynews.com

@bobfordsports