THIS IS MY 11th year covering the Eagles, and through about 10 1/2 of those years, I could not envision a day when reporters would matter-of-factly ask Andy Reid about coaching his final home game, while asking Reid's players how the fans should mark the final trip to the sideline for the franchise's longest-tenured and winningest coach.
But then, I thought the Eagles would make the playoffs this season, barring catastrophic injury. Injuries did indeed reach catastrophic levels, well after the Birds had exposed themselves as overhyped failures.
Reid (65-46 at home, 130-91-1 overall in regular-season games) and probably most of his coaching staff will pay the price for 2 years of falling well short of expectations. Eagles players interviewed this week said they think that is unfair. Of course, they had the power to keep Reid's 14-year tenure going, and, back when it still mattered, they couldn't quite get themselves together to play well enough to do that. The Washington Redskins, who visit the Linc Sunday, were 3-6, same as the Eagles, when the teams met last, on Nov. 18. The 'Skins are now 8-6 and on top of the NFC East. The Eagles are 4-10.
There is no "I" in "team," you might have heard, but there are two of them in "accountability." When it comes to the Eagles and crushing mistakes, the locker room has offered a lot of "we" talk this year - "We need to do this and that, we aren't doing such-and-such." Very few players, Brent Celek most notably stood out, have said: "I failed, I didn't get the job done, I didn't do what I was supposed to do. I let people down."
So it might be prudent to take with a grain of salt all the sentimental speeches. ("Alas, poor Andy; I knew him, Horatio - a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy. He hath borne me on his back a thousand times . . . ")
But Sunday is an extraordinary occasion in the life of this franchise, the last home game for the only man to coach the Eagles in this millennium.
"I do think it will probably be an emotional game for many of the fans, I suspect most of them," offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said Thursday. As Reid's Sancho Panza, Mornhinweg presumably will be saddling up and following the boss out of town. "Andy's got Hall of Fame numbers, and really, the only thing we haven't done here and he hasn't done here is win a Super Bowl. He's been to one, and I believe, five NFC championships, so he's had a heck of a run. I'd expect it to be emotional."
Reid, of course, said Wednesday he hasn't "gone there," which is his default answer whenever he'd just as soon not provide one. After 14 years, how can he not be thinking, in idle moments, about his staff's last few weeks together, all the good and bad times, or just the accumulation of stuff he's going to have to tote home from his office?
"It's tough, as a player, especially with coach Reid bringing us in, with so much expectations, to sit there and see everything he's having to go through, because of a lack of performance by us," said defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins, who was part of the ill-fated free-agent signing spree following the 2011 lockout. "You look at coach Reid's resumé and what he's been able to do over the course of his career - all we can do is just keeping fighting for him.
"It'd be nice if he could get a standing ovation [Sunday], or whatever, because, regardless of how people feel now, what coach Reid has done is pretty impressive. You can look at a lot of coaches in the league, even coaches who have won a Super Bowl - the total body of work isn't even close to what he's done. He's done a lot of good things, coached a lot of good teams."
Running back LeSean McCoy sounded a similar theme.
"If you sat here and tried to name five to eight coaches that's better than coach Reid, I would like to hear it," McCoy said. "Coach Reid's a good coach. He gets blamed for everything. Sometimes you break down the film, break down the plays and the mistakes, how do you fault the coach for that?"
The answer there, obviously, is entailed in the response Reid always gives at his day-after news conferences: It's the coach's job to put players in the right positions to do their jobs, in Reid's case, to hire the right players, and then to have them prepared well enough that they don't screw up egregiously.
"I guess people have their own opinions, their minds are made up. The thing about the team is, we know how good a coach he really is," McCoy said. "Whatever happens happens, but I'm behind coach Reid 110 percent. It's the players he's brought here together to play, I think we're a good enough group, we've just got to go out there and do it. I don't think he should get blamed for the turnovers they caused or the blown [coverages]."
Celek said there is no way to predict what the atmosphere will be like Sunday, or what will happen in the offseason.
"You can't worry about that type of stuff going in and playing a game, because it just creates problems," he said.
"That's not going to do me any good to think about that," safety Kurt Coleman said. "I don't live my life in that type of a world. I deal with the 'now,' I deal in the positive world. That's not going to change anything . . . All I can do is take care of today, my job, trying to get this team better. We've got the Washington Redskins this week. That's all I care about."
"If it's his last go-round, I don't know. That's kind of a question in my head as well. I wish I knew, just like any of y'all," defensive end Trent Cole said. "I think he deserves a lot of respect and loyalty. This guy has come to this city and he's kept football alive . . . this league's hard to play in, and it's hard to win games like that. It takes a great coach to do that."