BETHLEHEM – The line between memorializing and exploiting is a tricky one, but it wasn't hard to divine Wednesday at Lehigh, the day Andy Reid returned to coach the Eagles.
Michael Vick was talking about memorializing Garrett Reid by dedicating this Eagles season to Garrett and to his father, Andy. That is a worthy, laudable ambition, even though we all know the Eagles could go 19-0 and bring the city its long-sought Super Bowl title, and the Reid family would still be bereft. Nothing can be accomplished on a football field that will make up for the loss of a 29-year-old son and brother.
As we struggle to take something away from this tragedy, straining to find some faint glimmer of light in the darkness, it is important to not reach too far, and risk trivializing death. Andy Reid showed us his thinking as he answered questions after Wednesday's walkthrough. Some of us gathered there under the media tent winced when a guy asked if Andy thought his son's death, which the Reids have tacitly acknowledged was drug-related, could be a "rallying point" for the team.
There is no way Andy wants to think of his son's death as some sort of motivational ploy to help win football games. That's hideous. But even such a clumsy, unfortunate question got a thoughtful, nuanced answer from the coach who buried his eldest son Tuesday after a funeral service in Broomall. Wednesday's news conference was one of Andy's most impressive, most "real" moments at the helm of the Eagles.
"I would never ask that. That's not something I would ever ask. That's not how I operate. I hope it would be a rallying cry for the people [around the world] who have had the same struggles, that they can overcome them, and make them stronger," Reid said. "And families that hurt. Garrett is at peace, and it's the family that has to work through it. So those are the people that I hope that it helps."
There will be a moment of silence for Garrett Reid, who was working with the Eagles as a strength and conditioning assistant when he was found dead Sunday in a Lehigh dorm room, Thursday night when the Birds open their preseason at Lincoln Financial Field. Players will wear memorial helmet decals.
And Reid and his team will try to move on, try to find a semblance of normalcy. In this, as in most things, they look to Andy to lead the way.
"He's the strongest human being I've ever been around," said tight end Brent Celek. "I've been around a lot of strong people, but that guy is tops … To see him on the field, where he can take his mind off things, I think it's good for all of us."
"He's the heartbeat of this team," rookie quarterback Nick Foles said.
Defensive end Brandon Graham said was inspired by Reid's quick return.
"It's like, 'Man, you just dealt with all this, and now you're back out there? Shoot, I'm ready to go,' " said Graham. "That's what Garrett would want, man, 'cause Garrett was cool … you can't dwell on it, you have to keep moving, think of how they would feel, in that moment … they would want us to keep going, go for that ring."
Rookie defensive tackle Fletcher Cox recalled having spoken to Reid about the coach's distaste for funerals last week, after Cox took a day to head home to Mississippi to bury a cousin who had passed away suddenly during a routine hospital stay. Cox said he wasn't going to bring it up Wednesday, but Reid did, when first he saw Cox.
"I really didn't know what to say to him, but he came up to me, he was like, 'That was a real conversation that we had Thursday evening after practice,' " Cox said. "I know how he's feeling right now" – Cox lost another cousin in a June auto accident.
"I'm glad we're able to be an escape for him," said safety Kurt Coleman, who also said: "I continue to learn more and more about [Reid] every day. His character is so strong. His faith is so strong."
If there is good that can come of this, it is along the lines of what Reid said – a lesson for those struggling with drugs, and those who love them. And maybe somehow the coach, who is part of the sports fabric here as he enters his 14th season, now knows that deep in its heart, Philadelphia does not consider him strictly an affliction that must be endured.
"I'm a very humble man standing before you. A very humble man," Reid said when he opened his remarks Wednesday. "I'm humble because of the outpouring [of support], not only from the media but from our football team and the fans. It was unbelievable. I'm not sure you ever think that many people care, not that you would ever go in that direction, but it's very humbling. A very humbling feeling. I know my son would feel the same way. I think that's all I can say on that part and keep it all together."
But Reid did say more, when the questions started.
"You remember the smiles and you remember the cries. That's a part of life," he said, when asked about coping with tragedy. "I always tell the players that are four things that you go about in life and how you approach it. The first is eliminating distractions, another is to create energy, you fear nothing, and then you attack everything. That's how you have to go about life. Life is going to throw you some curveballs, all of us, and you're not going to bail. You're going to stand in there and you're going to keep swinging. I think that's very important."
Andy Reid said each quarterback will play a quarter tonight – Michael Vick, followed by Mike Kafka, Nick Foles and Trent Edwards, in that order … Not playing tonight are tight end Brent Celek (knee), defensive ends Trent Cole (shoulder) and Jason Babin (calf), linebacker Jamar Chaney (hamstring), wide receiver Riley Cooper (collarbone), offensive lineman Brandon Armstrong (concussion), safety Nate Allen (hamstring) and cornerback Cliff Harris (ankle) … The Eagles released fullback Jeremy Stewart and signed defensive tackle John Gill.