BETHLEHEM, Pa. - The desired final destination never changes. It's always about a trip to the Super Bowl, a goal that has mostly been a realistic one for coach Andy Reid's Eagles teams during this decade even though it has been attained only once.
Often lost in the pursuit of that goal are the details of the journey, the memories that never fade.
As the Lehigh portion of training camp neared its conclusion last week, Reid reflected on the nine years he has spent in Philadelphia, focusing primarily on his first season, a 5-11 year that he still believes was the foundation for the franchise's future success.
One of his most memorable experiences occurred as he headed home from his Veterans Stadium office. He got caught in traffic from a just-completed Flyers game as he was engaged in a cross-country cell-phone conversation with Marty Mornhinweg, who is now the Eagles' offensive coordinator.
"Marty and I talked all the time," Reid said. "Marty was at San Francisco, and they were winning at the time and . . . I said, 'Marty, these people, they want to kill me. I mean they really want to kill me. It's crazy.'
"He goes, 'Ah, it can't be that bad.' I said, 'No, it's a wild, wild deal.' I'm pulling out of the parking lot and one of the hockey games is getting over, and I'm right there at the gate at the Vet ready to make a right turn to get on [Interstate] 76, and it's backed up traffic.
"All of a sudden, these two cars of guys are hanging out the window going, 'You fat son of a gun. Go back to Green Bay.' They're just going crazy.
"I said, 'Marty, can you hear that?' He goes, 'What?' I said, 'Here, listen,' and I held the phone outside the car window. And then they really put on a good show. I brought the phone back in and I said, 'Marty, did you hear that? Marty? Marty, are you there?' He goes, 'That was the most unbelievable thing I've ever . . . heard in my life.' "
Reid rumbled with laughter as he told the story, and Mornhinweg later confirmed it.
"I do remember it," Mornhinweg said. "After I listened to it, I said, 'They're getting a little personal on you.' We laugh about it now. Andy has a unique way about him that allows him to laugh off some things and let things roll off his shoulder that a lot of people couldn't."
Asked whether he could repeat what he heard outside Reid's car window, Mornhinweg said, "My wife would get mad at me if I did. Let's just say it wasn't pretty."
Around that same time, Reid received a call from Bill Parcells, who had told him during the preseason to call him when times got tough.
"He and [former Green Bay general manager] Ron Wolf were friends, so I think Ron kind of told him to watch over me," Reid said. "Bill says, 'Listen, I've coached in New England and both New York teams.' He was coaching the Jets at the time. He says, 'You are in the toughest city in the NFL, media-wise and fan-base-wise.' He says, 'We all need somebody to talk to, so make sure you give me a call because things aren't going to go very well for you. You're not a very good football team, and things aren't going to go very well for you.'
"In my mind, I'm going, 'What do you mean? We're going to win every game.' You come in with that mentality. But after that fourth game, I'm just sitting there at my desk just feeling sorry for myself like a big cream puff. I get a phone call, and it's Parcells, and he says, 'Listen, you son of a gun.' And then he just went crazy on me. He says, 'Stop acting like John Wayne. I told you to pick that phone up and give me a call. We all need somebody to talk to. You're going to fall apart. I know you're sitting at your desk right now feeling sorry for yourself.' "
Reid's other early mentor was Dick Vermeil, the only other Eagles coach to lead the franchise to a Super Bowl. When Reid was hired, Vermeil was the head coach of the St. Louis Rams. To this day, Reid said, he still gets calls from Vermeil.
"He calls me once a week, and he has since I took the job here, just to check up on me," Reid said. "He would always say, 'Just hang in there because these are the greatest people in the world. It might seem like they're coming at you hard, but they're the greatest people in the world.'
"When you're new, you don't understand that. But he lived it, so he was kind of passing the advice on down to me that this is a great place to be. He's been removed from it now for a number of years, but he knows this is a great place to be."
It may seem odd that Reid, who has had so much success as the Eagles' head coach, still has such fond memories of that first season. It goes beyond the advice he received from Vermeil, the concern he received from Parcells and the personal verbal abuse he took from some fans.
"I look back on that first year, and things were rough, and you really didn't want to step out of the office," Reid said. "I used to think, 'My goodness, I knew this was going to be tough, but this is really tough.' Somehow, you kind of kick yourself in the tail and you do it. That's something I won't ever forget. It's a feeling I'll never forget. At the same time, it built a little toughness in me as a person. It put my back to the wall, and I think it put all the players' backs to the wall, and it made everybody kind of come together and fight."
Reid said he had to resist the temptation to change his system and his beliefs as a football coach.
"We worked very, very hard, and what it did was, it made you go back to trust your fundamentals and your fundamental beliefs," he said. "Were you going to switch offenses, switch defenses, switch your special-teams mode in a whim, or were you going to stick with what you knew and work hard and practice hard like you knew? In a crazy sense, from all that negative, it built a strong foundation."
From that foundation, Reid built a team that has reached the postseason six times in seven years and played in four NFC championship games and one Super Bowl.
The memory of that NFC title victory over the Atlanta Falcons at Lincoln Financial Field is a special one.
"Obviously, you remember the championship game because there's nothing better than that," Reid said. "I know winning that Super Bowl is the best, but when you have a chance to win a conference championship at home in front of your crowd, that's unbelievable."
As special as that victory was, Reid said the end of the 1999 season and the way his veteran players from that team stuck by him is just as fond a memory.
"The thing I was probably the proudest of was those last couple games that first year," Reid said. "It could have very easily gone the other way if the veteran players like Troy Vincent, Bobby Taylor and Duce Staley jumped ship.
"Troy, he knew. He had seen the good, the bad, the whole deal, but he hung right in there. All those older guys, they hung right in there and said, 'We're going to keep trusting him even though he's working our tail off and he's relentlessly preaching to us about this and that. We're still going to trust him.' Those last two games, I went, 'Wow, we can do this thing now.'
"This next year, we're going in with momentum, and Donovan [McNabb] is coming in with some experience, and we can come out smoking. That's something that has stuck in my mind, too."
Now, another journey has begun for Reid and the Eagles. The quest remains the same. The coach, thanks to all the previous journeys, believes he is a better leader based on his experience.
"I think when you have a chance to coach in Philadelphia, it betters you as a head football coach," Reid said. "It kind of tests you as a head football coach. If you can pass the test, then you probably can coach anywhere because everything is coming at you fast, and they're not throwing softballs. Those will be the things that I will always remember."