Andy Reid is coming back to Philadelphia for a Thursday Night Football tilt against his former team, the Philadelphia Eagles, and their new head coach, Chip Kelly. To suggest this is a big event in Reid's former stomping grounds might be the understatement of the year.
Exactly how big is Reid's return? Cue the orchestral music and John Facenda voiceover:
In the chilling bite of a fleeting summer's night, a once-triumphant coach makes his long-awaited return to a city that, after 14 up-and-down campaigns, feels more relative anguish than Brotherly Love. Big Red is bringing his new family to town to face his former one, looking never redder, in a game…never bigger.
It's that big.
(Oh, cut the music and go back to reading this in your voice or however you hear my voice when you read my stuff. Thanks.)
Truth be told, the game itself really isn't that big for either team. It sure is big for the coaches, though. (Note: It's huge for the fans.)
The Kansas City Chiefs are 2-0 after beating Jacksonville and Dallas, but as improved as they've looked under Reid, nobody is booking any Super Bowl packages. Still, a win would be big for a team that suddenly looks like it could fight for a playoff berth this season, but a loss to a non-division, nonconference foe on the road would not be the end of anyone's world.
For the Eagles, a loss would surely be more damaging, but even losing two of the first three games of the Chip Kelly regime would not be season-ending, by any means. The NFC East is up for grabs this year with no team ready to run away with things, and the Eagles are already 1-0 in the division.
But this game was never going to be a simple contest between the Chiefs and the Eagles. We knew that the minute they scheduled it.
This game is about Andy Reid, his relationship with the city of Philadelphia and how his replacement has become a harbinger for everything the fans (and media) grew to loathe about their old coach.
Kelly, so far, has been a breath of fresh air. He's open and candid with reporters. He's willing to do whatever it takes to win over the fans, including make appearances at events like Wing Bowl. His offense is exciting and unpredictable. He runs the ball.
He's the anti-Andy in some ways, so while it's a big game for Big Red, it's an even bigger game for his replacement.
Kelly is the new guy in town who brought all of his cutting-edge ideas to the NFL. Losing a game at home to the San Diego Chargers is one thing, especially when they also employ a first-time NFL head coach with dynamic offensive ideas.
But starting the season 1-2 after the way the offense dismantled the Washington Redskins to start the year would be an enormous setback for Kelly.
Losing two games at home to start an era would be even worse.
Losing the second of those games to the guy your team just canned will stay with Kelly for his entire tenure in Philly.
If Kelly makes the playoffs this season and takes the Eagles to three Super Bowls in the next five years, some people will still remember the time he couldn't beat Reid at home.
Now, if you ask Kelly—which everyone has been doing all week—he doesn't look at this game any differently than any other game on any other night. Playing Reid's Chiefs in prime time is just another game the first-year coach is trying to win.
Still, Kelly understands how big the moment is for Reid and the Eagles organization. Per Geoff Mosher at CSN Philly:
You just walk down these hallways and look at the championships that were won here—the division championships, conference championships and what he’s done—he’s had a huge impact on this organization. I've got a ton of respect for him.
All but a small handful of players on the Eagles roster are Reid's signings, even if they aren't all Reid's guys at this point. Oh, and let's not forget that shoehorned into the early-season NFL comeback for Reid is a retirement party for Donovan McNabb, the one player most identified with the Reid era in Philadelphia.
The whole night is one big reminder of what things used to be, which is why it's that much more important for Kelly's current corps to not only win, but do so with dynamism. They have to win with panache. They have to make the crowd scream so exuberantly that they forget the past ever existed.
This game is bigger for Kelly, for sure. But that doesn't mean it's not really, really big for Reid too. From Ashley Fox at ESPN:
If Reid harbors any ill will against his former employer, he isn't willing to admit it publicly. He and Lurie remain close. At Lurie's request, Reid said he talked to "a few" of the candidates Lurie interviewed in January to be his successor, including Chip Kelly.
"The main thing I wanted out of it was those players and that organization, the city included, to have a good head coach," Reid said. "I don't want anybody to suffer because the head coach got fired.
"I think Chip Kelly is a good head coach. I think it was a great pick. It gives the players an opportunity to win games. It gives the city an opportunity to win games. It gives Jeffrey and the organization a chance to win games. That's what's more important."
Predictably, Reid has been saying all the right things. He has no reason not to, as his departure from Philadelphia was not unexpected or unwarranted. Reid knew his time was done in Philly, and he landed on his feet in a much better situation for him in Kansas City.
Starting the season 3-0 in a division that, with Denver's injury issues, suddenly looks winnable is far more important to Reid than coming back to Philadelphia for any kind of vengeance.
Winning the game seems paramount to beating the Eagles, if that makes any sense.
For Kelly, the same rings true, but for the fans and the players and, hell, even the owner and general manager and ticket-takers and crab-fry vendors, this game is more about beating Reid than anything else.
Who does this game matter more for?
For some, sure, Reid's return is not much more than talk-show fodder over a short football week. For others, though—for the diehards who live and breathe Eagles green—this win means more than making the playoffs in Kelly's first year.
This win would exorcise the demons for some irrational fans, and while Kelly certainly doesn't look at any game that way, he has to realize there are some in his town who do.
There are people on the other sideline who may as well. While Reid shouldn't come into the game with a chip on his shoulder, there are some members of his staff who clearly do.
Ashley Fox spoke with both David Culley, Reid's assistant head coach, and Rick Burkholder, his team trainer, who both talked about how special the return is going to be. Culley told Fox, "I want to kick their butt," while Burkholder—always a guy who has worn his heart on his sleeve—said he would be "pumped" and offered a little shot at the fans on his way back into town.
The pressure's so great in that city. It just wears you down. Ten [wins] is not good enough. If he wins 10 games for 10 years in this city they'll put a statue of him outside of Arrowhead. He won 10 games for 10 years in Philly basically and still in the end it wasn't enough.
That right there is a perfect window into how the Reid era will be remembered. If Kelly flames out and heads back to college after two or three seasons and the Eagles run through four or five head coaches over the next 15 years, the prevailing sentiment will be that Reid was underappreciated throughout his time in Philadelphia.
If Kelly revolutionizes the game and wins a Super Bowl or two, Reid's legacy will be diminished.
Reid never won 10 games for 10 years in Philly, by the way. On average, almost, but in Reid's 14 seasons in Philadelphia, the team won double-digit regular-season games eight times, getting to the playoffs at 9-6-1 another year as well. In his final six seasons in town, Reid won 50 regular-season games, which is just over eight wins per season.
It's Reid's playoff losses that are remembered more than his regular-season wins.
Reid is a good coach, a seemingly nice man and a gruff personality with media and fans. He will always be remembered as a coach who doesn't run the ball enough, has terrible clock-management skills and who never won a Super Bowl. That won't ever change.
Who will win Thursday night?
Reid is who he is, whether he's wearing green or red.
Kelly is who he is too, whether he's calling plays against the guy who used to work in his office or one of the division rivals he'll face twice a year for as long as he's in town.
This game shouldn't be as important as it seems, but this is Philly, where everything seems more important than it is.
The game certainly matters for Reid, though, and because of how much Reid still matters to the fans, winning the game must matter more for Kelly.