EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - It was 5:02 p.m., more than an hour after the game ended. The group in the hallway beneath MetLife Stadium had thinned considerably. Tammy Reid sat on a trestle table, wearing a full-length fur coat, swinging her legs back and forth. Her daughter, Crosby, stood next to her. Her two sons, Britt and Spencer, were at the game, too, there for the last go-round.

A yellow electric cart bearing a placard that read "Stadium Security" idled outside the locker-room door. The players and assistant coaches had gone, most carrying meals packed into clear plastic bags, something to eat on the ride down the turnpike. The bus was waiting, though, for this final group.

The game had been an abominable bit of punctuation on a disaster of a season; Giants 42, Eagles 7. It was the kind of game after which wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, when asked if his teammates quit, could only come up with, "I don't want to say so. Then again, I'm not them so I don't know."

The Eagles finished the season 4-12, and they were 4-12 on merit, and no one could even pretend otherwise. Reid is getting fired on Monday after 14 seasons and everybody knows it and no one is even pretending to argue otherwise. Several media outlets reported that team owner Jeffrey Lurie fired Reid at a meeting on Friday. Reid said they had not had the conversation yet, and the club strongly denied those reports, and, well, whatever. It is like arguing about when the last wave crashed over the Titanic.

And so, it was 5:02 p.m. when the visiting locker room door swung open and Reid, dressed in a dark suit, hopped into the cart along with his family and a few others. The driver of the cart beeped once, quickly, and they all sped off toward the loading dock.

The best coach in the history of the franchise was about to take his final bus ride.

He revealed almost nothing, right until the end. The last home game against Washington had offered Reid an opportunity, but he declined. This entire final week, leading up to Sunday, was an open invitation for some public reminiscences, but all Reid would do was look forward to the challenge of playing the Giants. Postgame, same thing. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg had no trouble using the past tense - "We had quite a run," he said, at one point - but Reid would not go there, not yet, inscrutable to the end.

This is as close as he came, when asked about his emotions: "Well, we're not there yet. But I've loved the Philadelphia Eagles - that's all I have to say. And I've loved every minute that I've had the chance to coach them."

His refusal to give fans anything more than the most fleeting peek behind the curtain will be remembered forever. It marked him as arrogant to many people, but that wasn't it. Simply, Reid was all about protecting his players, and being too candid about even trivial matters left him uncomfortable because of how the players might read it. He did not trust himself to walk that line, so he avoided the line altogether. He would never waver in that or try to make himself look good at the players' expense.

There was a time in this town when Dick Vermeil was so publicly emotional that he bonded with fans at their most primal. There was another time when Buddy Ryan - rollicking, ass-kicking, and screw the boss besides - struck a resounding populist chord. But Vermeil ultimately burned out, as did his team - and Ryan's act was never built for the long term, and everybody knew it, and the town was bitterly divided about his tenure when he was fired.

Reid was different. He did not connect on an emotional level with the fan base. He simply coached well enough and consistently enough to raise their expectations to a place where they had never been. He threw too much, and he butchered the clock for years, and he lost every press conference, but he made the playoffs nine times and went to five NFC Championship Games and one Super Bowl. It was not enough for him or for you - but the reason was because of those raised expectations.

Think back to the early 1970s, if you are old enough, or to 1983, or 1994, or 1998. Through most of those decades, failure was the house guest who never seemed to leave for very long. For the Eagles, for much of their history, the good times were just hiccups. A run of nine playoff appearances in 11 seasons would have been inconceivable.

Make no mistake: Reid deserves to be fired. After 8-8 and 4-12, it is time. But as he sped away on that security cart on Sunday night, heading for an unknown future, it was hard not to wonder about what life is about to become for the Eagles. Because whoever replaces him has to know that the job is harder than the one Andy Reid took over in 1999 because the expectations are so much greater. That is the man's legacy.