After compartmentalizing and suppressing his feelings about what would otherwise have been an emotionally paralyzing return to Philadelphia this week, Chiefs coach Andy Reid was only starting to process it all after his team beat the Eagles 26-16 on Thursday night.
“You put it out of your mind the best way you possibly can,” he said, still soaked from a Gatorade shower as the clock ran down.
“Fourteen years is 14 years,” he said. “That’s a long time.”
Even after the clock expired and he allowed himself to go there, though, Reid either was numb or overtaken with conflicting feelings.
“I’m not sure exactly how I feel,” he said, “other than I’m glad we won the game.”
That reflected the theme of the night at Lincoln Financial Field, where the fabled, fevered Philadelphia sports fans were in full throttle and pitch but trapped in a sort of emotional gridlock over Reid’s return.
Speculation over how he would be greeted had swirled all over the area the last few days.
It splashed across the newspapers, crackled over the radio air waves and was bandied about everywhere: from a funeral in the affluent Chestnut Hill area of northwest Philadelphia to the western suburb of Media, where three different tables of businessmen could be heard by a passerby Wednesday talking about Reid, to the South Philly bar “Big Charlie’s Saloon,” aka “Arrowhead East.”
Some were eager to embrace his return. Others mocked him and remain obsessed with his perceived time-management flaws. Some thought he’d get a standing ovation. Others couldn’t wait to boo.
In the stands before the game, there were signs telling Reid to “Keep Chokin’,” (emphasis on K and C inside an Arrowhead sketch) and someone carrying a tombstone with his name on it and somebody else with a sign that said, “Thanks Andy, The Time Was Yours.”
All the contradicting emotions were summed up just before kickoff by one Eagles fan waiting near the tunnel for Reid to emerge.
“I’ve already cheered him when he came out before,” he said, laughing. “Now it’s time to boo him.”
But as Reid walked out to take his position on the sideline, his image and accomplishments were flashed on the scoreboard as the P.A. man said, “The Philadelphia Eagles thank Andy Reid for his 14 years.”
Cue lots of boos but cue lots of cheers, too. It sure sounded like more than the boos to Reid.
“I appreciate the fans and the support that they gave,” Reid said, adding, “That was very kind of them.”
Was it a surprise? Yes and no.
At its simplest, the Philly fans care a lot and want you to know how much.
So all at once, they are remarkably loyal and ridiculously fickle, making for a strange, unpredictable and bubbling stew of emotions that on Thursday included the requisite brawl and ceremonial beer dousing just below the press box.
Reid won 130 games here in 14 seasons and whisked the Eagles to nine playoff appearances, five NFC title games and a Super Bowl, numbers that make him by far the coach with the most wins in Eagles history, and that would mean deification in Kansas City.
But even before his last two teams went 12-20 and he lost his job last year, Reid was a polarizing figure here.
That was in part because he had raised the standard of expectations only to then seem to hit a ceiling, creating a what-have-you-done-for-us-lately backlash, and in part because he is so emotionally guarded publicly.
“He’s an incredibly personable guy, which you don’t see on the sideline,” Chiefs CEO and chairman Clark Hunt said last week.
That gave these passionate fans little to emotionally bind with as they did with Dick Vermeil, who radiates charisma and whose emotional range so resonated that he was featured on insurance billboards here even as he later coached the St. Louis Rams and then the Chiefs.
So just how Reid would be received was a mystery, one he deflected all week and one that evoked something rare here: ambivalence.
There was anything but that with his former players, though.
Yes, there was a football game to be played, and any real exchanges would have to come after that.
But quarterback Michael Vick is forever grateful to Reid for helping turn his career and life around, for instance, and running back LeSean McCoy said he was “one of the most angry” about the dismissal and told reporters here this week that Reid had texted him after the Eagles opener and said, “Wow, you’re on fire.”
And their continuing connection seemed apparent when he hugged some after the game and when McCoy was injured in the third quarter.
Reid strayed on the field some 10-15 yards while McCoy was down, not quite close enough to say anything but close enough that it appeared he was doing it out of concern.
Reid’s demise came after the Eagles swooned to 4-12 last season, but even the circumstances of his departure reflected a certain ambivalence.
After Reid was fired, owner Jeffrey Lurie actually held a going-away bash for Reid at the Eagles’ practice center, and there are those who believe the change was more a mutual agreement than a true firing.
“That’s exactly right,” Hunt said. “I know that Jeff had a very hard time making that decision, but I think Andy helped convince him that, ‘Hey, this is going to be great for the Philadelphia Eagles, and this is going to be great for Andy Reid. And it’s hard, it’s hard because of the great relationship that we have, but this is going to be best for us.’ ”
“Sometimes,” Hunt added, “change is good.”
Even if it’s hard to process.