The Philadelphia Eagles did not collapse after they dropped their first two games this season, and the roots of their resilience reach back 24 years and a couple thousand miles, to the soil of Provo, Utah, where Andy Reid, a Brigham Young tackle, was becoming a man. While protecting quarterback Marc Wilson against Utah in a November 1979 game, Reid got into a scuffle with a Utes cornerback near the BYU sideline. One poke led to another, and Reid, who could be a fiery sort in those days, cursed loudly at his opponent. � Before Reid jogged back to the huddle, Cougars coach LaVell Edwards got in his grill. "He grabbed me, very upset," Reid recalled on Sunday, "and he said, 'Don't ever use that kind of language again!' " What bothered Edwards was not just the profanity itself but the fact that Reid had lost his poise. You did not lose your cool when you played for LaVell Edwards, because to him losing poise meant losing football games. "If you were a player under LaVell Edwards," Reid said, "you had to be calm, levelheaded and smart. That's what he was."
During a phone call from his home in Utah on Sunday night, Edwards tried to downplay the words of praise that were coming from across the country, Finally, though, the sixth-winningest coach in Division I-A history said, "I don't want to brag, but I think there's some of me in Andy."
And there's some of Andy in his Eagles, who have rebounded from season-opening losses at home to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New England Patriots—they were outscored by a combined 48-10 in the two games—to take their customary place atop the NFC. And though the Eagles aren't playing great football (they are 21st in the league in total offense, 24th in defense), they are playing winning football. Their 33-20 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday was their eighth win in nine games since getting booed out of Lincoln Financial Field after that Sept. 14 loss to the Patriots. Now, as they enter a three-game stretch against the Carolina Panthers, the Dallas Cowboys and the Miami Dolphins, they are tied with the Cowboys, the Panthers and the St. Louis Rams for the best record in the NFC (8-3) and are trying to secure home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs for the second straight year. Don't bet against them. Since the start of the 2000 season, Philly has the league's best regular-season record (42-17), and in November and December it is a staggering 24-5.
The idea that Philadelphia would be talking about its playoff seeding on Thanksgiving would have seemed ridiculous back in mid-September. After eight quarters Donovan McNabb was a 45-1% passer, the Eagles had one touchdown to show for their 27 drives, leading rusher Brian Westbrook had all of 34 yards, and injuries had knocked out three defensive linemen for the year and two starters in the secondary for extended periods. But Philadelphia had hired Reid in 1999, and an Eagles team that has come to embody his football philosophy—poised play from egoless athletes, a West Coast offense executed with a minimum of errors, a dominating defense—would never waver because of eight lousy quarters. Then again, getting shelled in the first two games was especially stunning because of the high expectations for a team that had reached the last two NFC Championship games. "We were 0-2, but it felt like 0-8," says linebacker Ike Reese.
Philly's bye week followed the debacle against New England, and in the locker room after that game, cornerback Troy Vincent says, Reid spoke to the team for all of about 15 seconds. He is not an eloquent man, but he knows that action, not talk, is the way to turn today's millionaire athletes into team players. "He just said, 'We're struggling, but we're gonna get back to playing good football,' " recalls Vincent. " 'Go away, be with your families. Don't worry. When you get back, we'll get it going.' "
"Screaming doesn't work," says defensive end N.D. Kalu. "With Andy, if we're 0-2 or 2-0, the attitude is, Trust me, guys. We've got a plan. It's worked before, and it'll work again."
"When you don't push the panic button—I mean ever—that trickles down to the team," adds sixth-year tight end Chad Lewis, like Reid a BYU product. "That's how LaVell Edwards was. That's where Andy gets it."
In fact, Reid got a reminder from Edwards after the slow start. In the Mormon faith practiced by Edwards, adults often spend time as missionaries after retirement, and Edwards and his wife, Patti, recently completed an 18-month mission in New York City. ("Had a great time," says Edwards. "Lived at 66th and Broadway, right near Lincoln Center.") Edwards attended the Monday night loss to the Bucs, then spoke with Reid on the phone after the defeat to New England, the same day that The Philadelphia Inquirer bleated: MCNABB IN DAZE; REID IN DENIAL, the same morning that the newspaper's respected columnist Bill Lyon wrote, "[ Reid] is facing the greatest crisis since he took the job.... The crowd has called for [ McNabb's] benching. Frankly, desperate as that sounds, it didn't strike you as such a bad idea.... They will have two weeks to marinate in the bile of this one."
The conversation between the two coaches went something like this:
Edwards: "Can't you do something with Donovan?"