It's a strange thing to be galled about, when you step back and consider it, but it was galling. The number of times they actually did win topped out in 2004-05, at 15: 13 regular-season victories, two playoff victories, and the ball in Donovan McNabb's hands with 5:40 to go in the Super Bowl, within striking distance of a beatable Patriots team. The Eagles needed two scores, and they got one of them—on that still-baffling three-minute-45-second slow march down the field, their relentless downfield progress matched by the even-more-relentless draining of the clock. It was the Andy Reid-iest sequence of Andy Reid's career; I watched it with a friend who hates the Eagles, and he abandoned his rooting interest and started yelling at the TV set in sheer objective disbelief and frustration. How could any team be so stupid with so much on the line?
Reid set the standard, and then Reid failed to live up to it. The nightmare of the Super Bowl aside, the indelible memory of the Reid era for me is a September 2006 home game in which the Eagles came out and battered the Giants all over the field, rolling up a 24-7 lead by early in the third quarter. It could easily have been 35-7, but it was such a mismatch, the Eagles mislaid a couple of easy scoring drives without putting the points on the board.
And then every single bounce started going the Giants' way, and the still-callow Eli Manning started making plays, and the Giants almost got close enough to tie it—and then, with 10 seconds left, the Eagles committed a flagrant personal foul, moving New York into range to kick a tying 35-yard field goal. The Giants won in overtime, but not before Eagles defensive end Jevon Kearse suffered a season-ending knee injury.
Two years ago, after what turned out to have been Reid's last playoff game with the Eagles, I concluded that Reid was best understood as a powerful but slow football thinker—a coach with a rare gift for building sound, successful teams, but with no corresponding gift for rapid adjustment and decision-making. On balance, his strengths did outweigh his weaknesses. He had nine winning seasons and only three losing ones, for a .584 winning percentage. It's just that his weaknesses were on display in the 3 p.m. hour. Or in January.
Would it have been better to have spent the past decade-plus rooting for the Cleveland Browns? Philadelphia got its answer this year. Actually, at 4-12, the Eagles were a game worse than the Browns. It was miserable and humiliating. They went out with a 42-7 beating by the Giants, leaving them with the third-worst scoring differential in the league.
There's no vindication for Eagles fans in this. Reid's world had been wobbling on its axis ever since the resignation and cancer death of his defensive coordinator, Jim Johnson, in 2009. His once-chosen quarterback, McNabb, was traded and faded away; the miraculous revival of Michael Vick flatlined.
And his son Garrett died of a drug overdose during Eagles training camp this year. For another coach, at another point, with another team, that could have been a storyline or an explanation or a point of sympathy. It's hard to imagine that the coach's unthinkable personal tragedy didn't have something to do with his team's complete disorder and unpreparedness this year. But the relationship between Reid and Philadelphia was already too embittered and exhausted for anyone to do anything with the sad fact but leave it there.