Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb probably aren’t as polarizing in Philadelphia as they often seem. There is just this extremely vocal minority that refuses to display any appreciation—or even a modicum of respect in some cases—for the two men who were the faces of the Eagles’ franchise during the greatest era in the organization’s history.
That segment of the fanbase is entirely in the wrong, but thankfully it’s only a fraction of the team’s followers. We know this because Donovan will step out on to Lincoln Financial Field to roaring approval from 69,144 diehards when his number is retired at a halftime ceremony during the Eagles’ game against the Chiefs tonight. I suspect Andy will be cheered as well when he’s introduced to the capacity crowd for the first time, this despite the fact that he’ll be wearing enemy colors.
Nobody should require any convincing that Reid and McNabb were the two most influential figures* behind the Eagles’ amazing run of success during the previous decade. Not Jim Johnson, may he rest in peace—there’s a chance a lot of folks never would have heard of JJ had Andy not hired him in the first place. Not Brian Dawkins either, although he seems to be the consensus fan favorite these days. Not any other players Reid inherited, not a weak division, none of that bull.
Not to diminish the contributions of other Eagles greats, but the team only ever went as far as head coach and quarterback could carry them.
Similarly, nobody should ever find themselves in a position where they have to defend enjoying the period when the Eagles lived and died with Reid and McNabb. During their 11 seasons together, the Birds missed the playoffs a total of three times, with only a single first-round exit to speak of. They appeared in five conference championship games and came within a few points of winning a Super Bowl.
This wasn’t some kind of Dark Age for Eagles football simply because it didn’t produce a championship. They were in the mix to win it all every September. Only three or four teams in the NFL could claim to have been consistently as good as or better over the span when Reid and McNabb were at the wheel here. And while it’s easy to say you would trade it all for that one parade—and maybe a lot of people would—how could anybody claim they were not entertained year in, year out? Just think of all the legendary moments that were authored by these two.
There was the franchise’s meteoric rise from the ashes to become the preeminent NFC East powerhouse. There were four consecutive conference title games and that one glorious season with Terrell Owens. There was the moment Reid and McNabb finally hoisted the George Halas Trophy, and the two weeks of euphoria leading up to the big game. There were the improbable playoff runs of 2006 and ’08 long after most people had already given up on them.
We got McNabb’s 14-second scramble, 4th and 26, the game he literally played on a broken ankle, the excitement the first time he connected with T.O. on a deep ball, his famous juke of that poor player for Washington that we’ve all seen one million times. So many Sundays, so many indelible memories etched into time.
Yeah, Andy and Donovan had their shortcomings too, many of which have reached urban legend status. It won’t take two minutes for somebody to bring up worm balls and clock management, or something worse that’s hardly worth addressing.
We lived it. We know it wasn’t perfect.
Now that it’s all said and done though, the legacy Reid and McNabb left behind in Philly—the only one that matters regardless how many “haters” try to shovel dirt on it—was one of winning and remarkable success. It doesn’t matter if Five is going into the Pro Football Hall of Fame someday, or whether Big Red was ever a good enough coach to win the big one. They accomplished everything they could, and for all the debates through the years about the legacy they would be leaving behind, it was amazing fun for most people.
Do I wish they had taken one more step and finally cast a Lombardi Trophy for Philadelphia? Of course. But if I could go back in time to 1999 and re-do the head coaching hire, re-do the draft, re-do the 11 years that followed, I would probably take my chances on Reid and McNabb again. Is there a higher compliment than that?
*I would argue Joe Banner was actually the most influential person from this time period. The facilities that were built under his watch made Philly a destination for free agents, and his expert management of the salary cap allowed the franchise to keep their own stars while bringing in others from the outside. Having said that, as far as what most people saw on Sundays, that was Andy and Donovan to a large extent.