PHILADELPHIA -- Andy Reid was a little-known quarterbacks coach for the Green Bay Packers when Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie and top executive Joe Banner interviewed him for the club's head coaching job soon after dismissing Ray Rhodes following the 1998 season. But he certainly knew how to make an impression, showing up for his first meeting with the Eagles' brain trust with a thick binder of notes that he'd compiled over the years detailing everything he would do to run an NFL team if given a chance. The notes covered everything from travel plans to marketing ideas.
Lurie and Banner were so impressed that they hired Reid over more celebrated candidates, such as Jim Haslett and Dom Capers. Reid's binder was a blueprint for getting to a Super Bowl, something that he'd experienced twice as a Green Bay assistant under former Packers coach Mike Holmgren. And now, finally, the Eagles have managed to put Reid's plan into full effect, reaching the franchise's first Super Bowl in 24 years and ending an agonizing string of losses in three straight NFC title games with Sunday's 27-10 triumph over the Atlanta Falcons.
Eagles Coach Andy Reid was awash in happiness after players' splashdown near the end of the NFC title game.
(Jacqueline Larma -- AP)
The team that they will face in Jacksonville, Fla., on Feb. 6, the New England Patriots, has become the league's model franchise and is trying to win a third Super Bowl title in four seasons under owner Robert Kraft, front-office chief Scott Pioli and Coach Bill Belichick. But the Eagles' decision-making triumvirate of Lurie, Banner and Reid has done as well as anyone in the NFL in navigating free agency and the salary cap to construct a built-to-last contender. Their approach has been further validated now that the Eagles finally are ending a season on the sport's biggest stage.
"We've built this team to sustain itself," Lurie said. "That's tough to do in the NFL."
Reid has become the public face of the Eagles' trio of decision-makers, and he was in line to be the scapegoat if the club had lost a fourth title game. The mostly tame celebration in the home locker room at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday included plenty of expressions of joy and relief that Reid's accomplishments -- and, by extension, those of Lurie and Banner -- no longer would be overshadowed by the conference championship defeats.
"Hopefully, that stigma of him not being able to coach in big games, not being able to win big games and not being the one who's responsible for what we've done, is erased,'' veteran linebacker Ike Reese said. "It wasn't fair."
Said Lurie, "There is no greater Andy Reid booster than Joe Banner or myself."
The Eagles players who have been around the longest seemed to feel even better for Reid than they did for themselves. Reese and defensive tackle Corey Simon gave their coach the traditional on-the-field shower Sunday even on a blustery day after a snowstorm, with temperatures in the teens and 35-mph wind gusts. Reese pointed out that it was Reid's first such dousing amid a run of success in which the Eagles have won four straight NFC East crowns and have reached the playoffs in five consecutive seasons.
"He made some noise because we got him good," Reese said. "I'm not going to emulate what noises he made because I've still got to work here, at least one more game. . . . He respects his players. He respects his leaders. He allows us and expects us to take ownership of the team. As players, we respect that."
Even before Sunday's breakthrough, the Eagles were an organization that was held in high esteem league-wide for its ability to field winning teams year after year during a time in which free agents scurry from city to city and even the best clubs must overturn about one-third of their rosters every offseason because of the salary cap. Even the mighty Patriots missed the playoffs twice in the last five seasons.
"We've tried to organize the team with sort of a ceiling that we thought was very difficult to reach, which is to be a terrific football team year in and year out,'' said Lurie, who purchased the franchise from Norman Braman in 1994. "And to do that, you really have to be hitting on all cylinders . . . between player personnel and an outstanding coaching staff and superb salary cap management and a culture that says commit to be the very, very best, and don't fall into the trap of failed expectations or the sense that, if you haven't quite made it, you can't reemerge and reenergize and retool in the offseason. Be aggressive at all times. . . . This is pretty special, but our goals are even higher."
Lurie, a Boston native, is close to Kraft, and now his team has arrived in the game that has become an annual destination for his friend's franchise. Like Kraft, Lurie has become a facilitator for a winning organization. Lurie calls the Eagles "a very confident organization" and talks about winning not one Super Bowl, but several. He willingly signed the checks when the Eagles made a Super Bowl-or-bust push last offseason with a pair of uncharacteristically high-profile acquisitions: wide receiver Terrell Owens and defensive end Jevon Kearse.
But it's more than just bankrolling a talented roster. Lurie has hired good people and has given them a supportive environment in which to work. After the Eagles lost last season's NFC title game to the Carolina Panthers, he addressed first his players and then his coaches, and told Reid and his staff that they'd done the best coaching job he'd seen since he owned the team.
The players felt they were tight before last year's season-ending defeat to the Panthers, and they didn't want a repeat Sunday. So defensive end Hugh Douglas staged a dance party in the trainer's room about 45 minutes before game time, and one of the participants was Lurie.
"The players wanted me to dance a little bit in the training room before the game, so I did it," the owner said. "I can't say I did it well, but I did it. . . . It worked, so I guess I'm obligated to do it again in Jacksonville if that's what the guys want. . . . The goal is to win Super Bowls. This is a great steppingstone. I expect this team to go down there and play great. . . . You have to take advantage of the moments when you can. We have a chance to win a championship."
Reid, like Belichick, has the final say over player-related decisions. And, like Belichick, Reid is supported by a front office with which he is fully in sync. Banner, who got the title of team president in 2001 but has been overseeing day-to-day operations since 1994, is the keeper of the salary cap, among other duties, and he crunches the numbers as well as anyone in the league. Reid's top front-office lieutenant when it comes to player evaluation is Tom Heckert, vice president of player personnel.
Reid has two of the league's better assistant coaches in defensive coordinator Jim Johnson and offensive boss Brad Childress. He leaves the defense to Johnson and installed a spread-the-wealth offensive approach that served the Eagles particularly well before Owens's arrival and after his injury. Reid is well-liked by players but, like Belichick, has not been afraid to make the tough decisions when necessary. Middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter left the Eagles in a bitter contract dispute with Reid after the 2001 season. But the two repaired their relationship and Trotter, after two unsuccessful seasons with the Washington Redskins, returned to the Eagles this season and gave the defense some toughness when Johnson made him a starter as part of an in-season lineup shuffle.
Eagles fans booed the first draft choice made by the club under Reid in 1999, when it passed up Heisman Trophy-winning tailback Ricky Williams to select quarterback Donovan McNabb. Now McNabb is one of the league's most valuable players, and Reid at last is readying for the Super Bowl appearance that he scripted during that first meeting with Lurie and Banner. Reid spent part of his morning Monday consulting the old notebooks that he used to chronicle the goings-on of the Super Bowl weeks that he experienced as a Packers assistant coach in the 1996 and '97 seasons.
"That came in handy," Reid said, adding that he had resisted the temptation to peek into those Super Bowl notebooks the previous three seasons. "I stayed away from that till now."
The difference for Reid is that now he is in charge, not merely helping Holmgren.
"It's probably a little different sitting here as a head coach," Reid said. "It's still a great feeling. There's a part of you that's very excited. There's another part of you that understands that it's not over. You've got a big game ahead of you against a great football team, and you want to make sure you get yourself right in preparation for that. It wasn't one of those things where you stayed up late [Sunday night] and woke up late [Monday]. You were up early and in the office like a normal Monday to make sure you get yourself right and get yourself ready for this next game."