LOS ANGELES — For a sense of from where this Chiefs season came, it’s instructive to have a glimpse at the origins of rightful NFL coach of the year Andy Reid, who grew up on what one friend called an “idyllic” street a mile from Hollywood Boulevard.
By VAHE GREGORIAN
The Kansas City Star
“The people there were there forever. Nobody left,” said Reid, who a year after being fired by Philadelphia has coaxed a Chiefs team that was 2-14 a year ago to a playoff berth. “Kind of died off after a little bit, but nobody ever left.”
The oversized child, who has “a heart as big as he is,” former neighbor Reba Poor said, is the son of a radiologist mother and artistic father and an apt reflection of both his mother’s precision and seriousness and his father’s creative, whimsical way.
Growing up in a neighborhood from which they could see the lights of Dodger Stadium, young Andy embraced his studies and became as comfortable with carpentry and welding as writing. In fact, because of his love for legendary Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray, he for a time entertained a living as … a sportswriter.
“I was intrigued by it,” said Reid, who has kept journals for years and wrote a regular sports column for the newspaper in Provo when he was in graduate school at Brigham Young.
Those opposite influences are perhaps best illuminated in two childhood episodes.
Reid’s first job as a teen was at the Nicola Twins Market, where he handled anything from fetching pickles out of a barrel of brine to slicing bologna to lugging groceries to cars to helping cater gigs at local television shows, including The Tonight Show.
On one such occasion, he recalled Thursday as the Chiefs prepared for their AFC wild-card playoff game Saturday at Indianapolis, Reid was in charge of the sweet-and-sour meatballs.
“I was allowed to give everybody three,” he said, smiling. “If you were an athlete, I knew who you were and you could get as many sweet and sour meatballs as you wanted.”
But if you weren’t an athlete, well, let’s just say John Wayne didn’t get a fourth.
Reid was so big, Poor said, “nobody was going to argue with him.”
“I was a kid,” Reid said, chuckling, by way of explanation.
If standing up to John Wayne, even inadvertently, sounds like a legend, well, Reid was a “big little kid” who took his work seriously, said Larry Nicola, the son of one of the market’s owners who now runs an upscale restaurant, Nic’s Beverly Hills.
“What you see is what you get with Andy,” Nicola said, laughing and adding, “Tell him he can have a job any time.”
As for the less stoic side that Reid prefers to display on the sidelines and in news conferences, the side that his older brother, Reggie, said he still can’t believe he hides so well, consider what Reid did when he was running late to pitch a winter-league baseball game after he was stuck in traffic in his Volkswagen Beetle.
“I drove right up on the mound,” he said, laughing. “My buddy jumped in (to move the car), I jumped out and warmed up.”
Reid’s parents were so different from each other, Reggie said, that Andy once came home from a health class about family relations and told them they never should have been married.
But they were joined for life after they met in the summer of 1941 on Cape Cod, where Walter Reid was working as a caretaker at a local mansion and so fancied resort worker Elizabeth Leon that he took to giving her roses every day over a fence.
“Well,” Reggie said, “he had his own rose garden.”
Never mind that a friend of Walter’s had taken to calling her “Butch,” as in “butcher,” for her aspirations of being a doctor, and that she detested the nickname and Walter used it in some love letters to her.
After his service in the Navy during World War II, they settled in California, where she had done her residency after having to go to Canada for medical school (opportunities for women in medicine were scant then in the U.S.). Walter, meanwhile, got a job at Disney, with the help of some apparent good fortune.
“Somebody saw him painting a Mickey Mouse head on the bow of a ship,” said Reggie, a retired geologist who is working on a family history documentary. “I don’t know why he was painting a Mickey Mouse head on the bow of a ship.”
She had settled into motherhood before Walter came home one day, saw her scrubbing the floor and said, “What a waste.” That prompted Elizabeth to put her schooling to use and eventually led to a career in radiology, in which the family believes she was among the field’s pioneering females.
“We have a broad range of talents in our gene pool,” Reggie said, laughing.
Liz, as she became known, was “very sophisticated,” Andy said, and a woman of many talents. She made many of her own clothes, was a tremendous cook and got Reggie through trigonometry and Latin.
Walter, or Wally as some call him — or “Curly” as Liz would call him, since he was balding — ultimately worked in scene design and might wear grungy clothes “with paint all over him,” Andy said.
Their father had a prankster side, Reggie said, that Andy actually inherited; it wasn’t unusual for Walter to use props from the studio, including wigs, for fun at home.
The eldest Reid also loved to drive a late 1920s Model A Ford that Andy recalled him buying for $25. He added multiple horns to it and would take the boys on drives to show it off.
Sometime after his father died from cancer in 1992, Andy took possession of the car and later had every element of it restored. He still takes it out every so often for a nostalgic spin.
“It’s better than Dad ever had it,” Andy said, though acknowledging with a smile that he never could solve the problem of gas and oil leaking under the dashboard.
For all that Andy was exposed to, though, football was a constant fascination from about the time he was given a ball around age 3.
Despite the hill on Holly Knoll Road, which was so steep that a neighbor once rolled a shot put down and couldn’t get control of before it went through a car, the dozens of kids in the neighborhood would play football there as much as they would Cowboys and Indians or skateboarding or be in the pool at Poor’s house.
That pool, the only one in the neighborhood, is where Andy learned to swim, she said: Her husband tossed him in the deep end one day and carefully watched him paddle out.
By the time Reid was in fifth grade, he was unusually tall: “The world’s biggest fifth-grader,” as told by Pete Arbogast, then an older neighbor and now the voice of the USC Trojans.
So as his basketball coach, Arbogast said, “I posted him up like ‘Chief’ in ‘Cuckoo’s Nest.’ ”
Reid would regularly hang around his brother’s football games at John Marshall High, the school just blocks away that also produced the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Judge Lance Ito, Heidi Fleiss and Julie Newmar, better known as “Catwoman” to those of us who watched Batman back in the day.
Reggie was 10 years older, but at times even then observers assumed Andy was nearly his age.
Andy’s size as a young teen can be verified in a Punt, Pass & Kick performance he gave on Monday Night Football as a 13-year-old. Reid, dressed in a Los Angeles Rams uniform, looks almost twice as tall as the boy behind him in line.
“I’ve taken a lot of abuse on that,” said Reid, who insists the other boy was in the 8-year-old category.
It was around that time that Reggie “crashed and burned” in a motorcycle accident while he was in school at Northern Arizona University. His entire right side was affected by the accident, and he never regained use of his right arm.
Ultimately, Andy went to Arizona in the summer to help Reggie with his field work as a geology student, which included a lot of digging holes for soil samples. Reggie can still remember Andy “sweating his tail off” as he kept telling him he had to dig deeper.
“He’ll give you the shirt off his back if he likes you,” Reggie said.
Andy later went on to an athletic career in football and baseball, Reggie said, that relegated his own few trophies to being scrunched away behind his younger brother’s.
And then he went on to Glendale Community College and BYU, where he met his wife, Tammy, and was influenced by coach LaVell Edwards onto the coaching carousel, many moves ago yet still true to his roots.
“There’s nothing phony about him,” said Arbogast, citing the way Reid has been over the years and seeing him when he was inducted into the Marshall Hall of Fame last year.
Poor, 84, is the last of the old neighbors there now, and she says the people in Reid’s childhood house had never heard of him.
But his handprints still can be found in concrete in front of the house on the block that Poor said was “like a little village,” one that was the foundation of Reid and this Chiefs season.