By Joseph Santoliquito
Philadelphia (CBS)—Andy Reid slid his way through the space between the inflated black tunnel the players walked through and the barrier wall, receiving a nice ovation by the handful seated nearby the player’s entrance at Lincoln Financial Field.
That love would grow louder as the Eagles’ preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers progressed Thursday night.
Every opportunity the fans had, they showed their support for Reid, chanting “Andy, Andy, Andy, Andy” after the Reid family expressed their appreciation to Eagles’ fans on the scoreboard with 3:49 left in the first quarter, to a 30-second standing ovation before the game after a moment of silence in memory of Reid’s deceased son, Garrett.
And they say Philadelphia sports fans possess a collective cold, callous soul. Sometimes, this city’s beating sports heart could use an occasional hypodermic syringe of compassion. More often that hardcore stigma is derived from national media, which parachutes in thinking they have this fanbase defined, figured out and dissected.
Not Thursday night.
They delivered a human mass card gripped in a hug to a grieving father and his family.
There’s no manual to deal with the tragic loss Andy Reid is enduring—when you try to forge ahead after the loss of a loved one, like a child. Time soothes the pain, but it will never completely, fully heal seeing a son or daughter laid out in a casket.
“I told you yesterday that this stuff is so humbling,” Reid said. “I take [the fan reaction] has a compliment to my son and my family, and it’s a humbling thing. I appreciate every bit of it. We feel the love, and during these kind of times that’s very important. Every day you want to be a better day, and this is the kind of situation where we’ve received a lot of support. It doesn’t erase what took place. Life goes on and that’s how things work. This is one more step forward and we’ll try to take another step tomorrow.”
Though Thursday night was a good first step.
It’s been an unimaginable, emotionally wrenching week for Reid. The situation humanized Reid in the minds of many Eagles’ fans, who only saw him through the narrow prism of TV soundbites and press conferences.
But the Eagles’ head coach couldn’t have received a warmer, more uplifting gigantic hug from an empathetic city than in his first public appearance since Garrett was found dead at the Eagles’ training camp in a Lehigh University dorm room Sunday morning.
Eagles’ fans had already backed Reid with signs of support leading to training camp on Wednesday, when Reid addressed the media for the first time.
Now this outpouring. It goes a long way. Question his penchant to pass, choice of defensive coordinators, misuse of timeouts, or any of a number of coaching stratagems Reid has deployed in the past. They’re trivial in comparison to the real life heartbreak Reid woke up to Sunday morning.
And just as quickly as this fanbase can pounce, it can embrace.
This was an irrelevant preseason game. The greater relevance was when Reid walked out on to the field wearing this omnipresent black Eagles cap and pulling on his headset. Reid was back into his routine. While there was no doubt his heart tugged and his emotions strained, Reid never showed it. It was more about getting through this first game than gaining anything from it.
His mind had to be elsewhere. It had to be.
The first step toward healing was made. Tomorrow marks another day, followed by another, and another, and before you know it, there will be another game to be played. A game that will carry some genuine significance, and a chance for Reid to immerse himself more into being an NFL coach. To being a father again. To moving on.
To the Eagles’ fanbase, they not only stood in support of their coach, part of their applause should have been reserved for themselves. They supplied a syringe of compassion.
A past demon may have enticed Garrett one final time, but the lasting image Andy Reid may forever embrace is walking off a football field with his arm around Garrett’s shoulder after a game as the sun set on an autumn Saturday afternoon—and an endearing crowd on a sweltering Thursday night that inflamed that memory.