One late night probably four or five years ago, I was finishing up the only full season I’ve ever played of a “Madden” NFL game. I’d bought Madden ’08 for my Mac in December 2007, and piloted the Eagles—led by Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook and L.J. Smith on offense and surprisingly effective defensive tackles Broderick Bunkley and Mike Patterson on defense—to the Super Bowl against an opponent I can’t now remember, probably the Broncos or Patriots or Titans. I’d gone something like 13-3 or 14-2 through the regular season—this was probably on the easiest level, as I’m not particularly good at any of these games however much I enjoy them—and gotten through the NFC playoffs without difficulty, but this Super Bowl was a war. I couldn’t stop them, and they couldn’t stop me: two- and three-touchdown leads dissipated like smoke at a tailgate, and at the end of regulation the score was something like 59-59. Then in overtime I managed to get a stop on defense, maybe through a turnover, and drove deep into the opposition’s territory before David Akers won it with a field goal. As the game went into its championship sequence, the montage included a bunch of joyous Eagles players dumping the mandatory bucket of Gatorade on (an unrealistically slender version of) coach Andy Reid… and to my own disbelief and slight annoyance, I felt myself tearing up.
One of the things about intensive self-consciousness is that there are relatively few surprises, but when it happens, it sticks. So what I’ve known ever since that incident is that I was considerably more emotionally invested in Andy Reid winning a Super Bowl with the Eagles than I’d previously understood. However richly deserved—the team has been screwed up for a solid two years now, and every move Reid’s made to set things right has only served to dig the hole deeper—it’ll be a sad moment sometime in the next 48 hours, when the organization cuts him loose at long last following Sunday's season finale against the Giants (a team whose number Reid's Eagles have had for years, and who I'm sure aren't thrilled to seeing him this last time).
I'm too lazy to look it up, but someone in the Philly media nailed it a few weeks back when he wrote that the years brought a subtle but unmistakable change in Reid: from a consistently smart coach to a coach who seemed to believe his every idea was gold because he was so freaking smart. His successes begat his failures: he started with great offensive and defensive lines he built and a holistic multi-year plan that famously got him the job. When he couldn't quite get over that last hill beyond which a Gatorade soak awaited, he shifted approach, and the results were disastrous. From those solid beginnings, he will finish amidst the wreckage left by idiosyncratic old coaches and mercenary players and wild swings from one scheme to the next.
Reid probably shouldn't have coached this year at all, after the tragedy of losing his son to a drug overdose over the summer. Many think he'll find another job immediately, and might well get his ring somewhere other than Philadelphia. Maybe so, though I kind of doubt it: while Reid's not "real-life old," he's old by NFL coach standards, which doesn't often correlate with winning titles, and he probably won't have the likes of defensive coordinator Jim Johnson and franchise quarterback Donovan McNabb awaiting him wherever he lands next.
But maybe I'm wrong, and I kind of hope so. Reid seems worthy of a happy ending, and I'm just bummed it won't come in Philadelphia.