This Sunday, something truly unique is going to occur. While much of the world will focus their attention on the fact that two brothers will be playing against each other in the Super Bowl for the first time ever, something a bit more significant will be happening as well. While it's been done before, Andy Reid is going to be coaching against his old team in the Super Bowl.
It's been done before. In 2002, Jon Gruden coached against his old team, the Oakland Raiders, beating them convincingly. But Gruden had only been in Oakland for a few years and barely had half the amount of time that Reid had in Philadelphia to develop a culture and win over the team. He also wasn't nearly as successful.
When Andy Reid arrived in Philly in 1999, the team was directionless. What's more, the Philadelphia fans in attendance booed his very first draft pick, quarterback Donovan McNabb. Initially, the naysayers proved to be correct. McNabb wasn't ready for the spotlight. But Andy Reid was hard at work behind the scenes, building a culture.
By 2001, the Eagles were ready to make an impact in the NFL, going as far as the NFC Championship Game before losing to the powerful Rams. Despite the disappointing end to their magical season, the Eagles knew that something special was brewing in Philadelphia. The next three years were unlike the City of Brotherly love had ever seen as the Eagles returned to the conference title game again and again.
But like a Greek tragedy, it seemed like Philly could never catch a break. In 2002, they looked to close out beloved Veterans Stadium in style, but lost a stunner to the Buccaneers, watching on their knees as Ronde Barber strode into the endzone after snatching a McNabb interception to close out the game. As the lights turned out in the Vet, the city stared off into the distance, not knowing what to do. But does anyone really know what to do when a loved one suddenly dies?
The Eagles opened Lincoln Financial Field the following year and earned homefield advantage throughout the playoffs in their new home. On paper, it appeared that they should have handled the Panthers, but Carolina defensive back Ricky Manning played the game of his life, picking off McNabb three times. The Eagles never recovered, losing another heartbreaker 14-3. Again, Philly fans were left in a daze, wondering what to do. After three straight trips to the NFC Championship Game, they had thrice come up empty.
Philadelphia is notoriously one of the toughest places to win over the crowd. Lose enough times in the playoffs and their loyal fans will want the coach's head. Andy Reid knew that the clock was ticking on his tenure in the City of Brotherly Love unless he found a way to get over the hump. He responded by signing future Hall of Famer Terrell Owens, hoping that an elite receiver would do the trick. He was right, but Owens suffered a broken leg and was out for the final few games of the regular season and throughout the playoffs, so the team had to figure out how to win without him.
But the confidence that they gained after he joined the team never wavered and they entered their fourth straight NFC Championship Game brimming with a winning attitude. An always stellar Eagles defense stifled Michael Vick and the Atlanta Falcons offense while the Eagles rolled to their first Super Bowl appearance since January 1981.
At last, Andy Reid and his Eagles had gotten over the hump and were headed to the Super Bowl. But trouble awaited. In those days, Reid was heavily invested in the West Coast Offense, a system loaded with short, timed passes predicated on the quarterback's drop back from the center. While it was greatly effective, it did have its weaknesses. Their opponents, the New England Patriots exploited one of their weaknesses by inserting mammoth rookie Vince Wilfork in at nose tackle, thereby stuffing two gaps and allowing the Patriot's linebackers to roam around freely. In boxing terms, the Eagles were beaten to the punch.
What was even more confusing was in the middle of the fourth quarter when the Eagles were down by 10 and they refused to use the hurry-up offense. Legend has it that McNabb was throwing up in the huddle, but the general consensus lies at Reid's feet. He simply failed to prepare for that particular scenario. In the end, the Eagles faltered, losing 24-21 as Donovan McNabb's final last-gasp pass fluttered into the awaiting arms of the Patriots' defenders.
Ever since that balmy, winter night in Jacksonville, Andy Reid became known with a moniker that no coach ever wants to bear, Can't Win the Big One. The Eagles never did return to the Super Bowl in the Andy Reid era. In 2005, Terrell Owens had a falling out with the organization and was ultimately released. In 2006, McNabb was hurt and the team stumbled in New Orleans in the Divisional Round.
Starting in 2008, the organization began to see a transition from its franchise quarterback. Amazingly, they made it to the NFC Championship Game as a fifth seed in the playoffs, losing to the upstart Cardinals. In 2009, Reid stunned the NFL by signing much-maligned quarterback Michael Vick who had just finished a two-year prison sentence for dog fighting. Despite the bad reputation, Andy Reid still believed in second chances.
As the years passed on, Andy Reid began to show his strength in evaluating quarterbacks and stocked Philadelphia's roster with a tremendous amount of talent at the sport's most important position. This was the heyday of the Eagles' quarterback rotation. With Donovan McNabb entrenched as the starter, and Michael Vick back from prison, they also had Kevin Kolb. While Kolb would never amount to much as a full-time starter, he proved to be a very valuable backup.
Throughout 2009, Reid sprinkled Vick into different game situations, seeing how he fit. By the end of the year, after they had lost their Wild Card Round game versus the Cowboys, Andy Reid was confident enough with Michael Vick to let Donovan McNabb walk in free agency. While they started slow in 2010, by the end of the year the Eagles were rolling with Vick entrenched as their leader. They showed all they could be on Monday Night Football late in the year at Washington. Donovan McNabb was on the other sideline as the Redskins' starter and desperately wanted to defeat his old coach.
McNabb and his Redskins never stood a chance as the Eagles jumped to a quick 28-point lead in the first quarter as Vick passed for two touchdowns and ran for a third. From there, the Eagles rolled to an easy 59-28 win as Vick accounted for 413 yards and six touchdowns. But they lost their mojo in the playoffs, losing to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Packers in the Wild Card Round.
Despite their disappointing finish, the Eagles entered 2011 brimming with confidence. This was the year that they expected to win it all. They even called themselves "the Dream Team", firing that they had the best roster in the league. They were wrong and they finished that year out of the playoffs.
Tragedy struck the Eagles' organization in the summer of 2012. Andy Reid's sons had dealt with substance abuse issues for years and had dragged their parents through the wringer. Devastation loomed. In the middle of the Eagles' training camp, Andy Reid's oldest son, Garrett, died from a drug overdose. Amazingly, Reid was back on the sidelines at the end of the preseason. But despite his strength of heart, the team struggled to a four-win season. Eagles management knew that it was time for a change, so they fired him at the season's end.
After having so much success in the City of Brotherly Love, Andy Reid wasn't unemployed for long and was soon hired as the coach of the Kansas City Chiefs. While he found immediate success there, the Eagles had a slightly different journey on hand. They won some and lost some with Chip Kelly and his warp-speed offense between 2013-15 before finding balance in Doug Pederson's approach. After witnessing just a few of rookie quarterback Carson Wentz's games, the organization knew that they had drafted well.
As the Eagles celebrated their first Super Bowl triumph in 2017, Andy Reid was quietly working in his office, knowing that 2018 could be special. After several years of success with Alex Smith under center, Andy Reid decided to go with a younger, more talented quarterback. He liked what he saw in Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes, drafted him and let him sit for a year to soak in all the knowledge that Smith was willing to offer. By the beginning of 2018, Andy Reid knew that Mahomes was ready for the spotlight and traded Smith to the Redskins.
Patrick Mahomes took the league by storm in 2018, earning the MVP that year and coming oh-so-close to the Super Bowl. They won the Super Bowl the following year and Andy Reid was no longer seen as a coach who wouldn't win the big one.
And now here they are. Two cities that struggled for so long under the reigns of the same coach, searching for a long-sought Super Bowl title only to face off against each other in the ultimate battle for supremacy. While the cities may differ in demeanor, they share the heart of the same, legendary coach.