Back to Coach Reid's old stomping ground

At the football field he starred on at John Marshall High in Los Angeles, Andy Reid signs a pigskin for student Brandon Roque.
At the football field he starred on at John Marshall High in Los Angeles, Andy Reid signs a pigskin for student Brandon Roque.
Posted: June 18, 2012

LOS ANGELES - Not long after he survived a motorcycle crash that paralyzed his right arm and nearly killed him, Reggie Reid returned home and watched his little brother try out for the football team.

Growing up, Andy Reid was always the biggest kid, often mistaken for being older. He had to endure a lot of teasing.

But by his sophomore year at John Marshall High, which honored him on Friday, with his good-natured sense of humor and his aura, other students gravitated toward him as a leader.

His brother, 10 years his senior, realized it that day when he sat in the stadium bleachers just a short time after relearning how to walk. Reggie, down on himself and perhaps looking for inspiration, found it in Andy.

To make the squad, Reid had to run two miles within a certain time.

"He was pretty tired by the end," Reggie Reid said Friday, standing only a few feet away from where he sat that day. "What amazed me was how many guys were running around him, keeping him going, egging him on.

"Guys that had already finished, came back and were just running along next to him. 'Come on, Andy, you can do it! You can do it!' "

Andy did it.

Reggie's eyes glistened as he recalled the moment.

"He had a lot of heart," he added.

Andy, nearby, cracked a joke.

"Just write that I started," he said.

Personal stories about the Eagles head coach are hard to come by. It's safe to say not many in Philadelphia knew that Reid even had a brother. Despite being the second longest-tenured coach in the city's professional sports history - Connie Mack had a 50-year run - not much outside of football is known of Reid.

He likes to keep it that way.

A few months ago, a reporter requested the opportunity to visit Reid at his vacation home in Dana Point, Calif., to get a glimpse of that other side. The Eagles declined, but when Reid found out that his high school was inducting him into its hall of fame, arrangements were made for a tour that included stops at his childhood home, the school, and other landmarks in the Los Feliz section of Los Angeles.

Reid, perhaps with a nudge from Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, has been more accommodating to the media this offseason. The team went 8-8 last season, but the coach survived. Some believe Reid has to get as far as the Super Bowl this season to see the final year of his contract in 2013.

Others think that the recent end of Joe Banner's reign as team president consolidated Reid's power and that he is Lurie's coach for life.

Upon Reid's return to his hometown, he was asked if he would like to bring an NFL team back here someday and be its coach. Reid turned serious and said he loved coaching in Philly. It was one of the few times during the day that he reverted to news-conference mode.

When spending time with the offseason, off-the-field Reid, be prepared for some good-natured ribbing, the occasional off-color, off-the-record joke, and laughter.

An amateur psychologist might say it's a personality born out of his size.

"He was so much bigger than everybody else, but he handled it so well," said Ted Pallas, a childhood friend. "A lot of kids would rag on him because he was - in a lot of people's eyes - different. He was probably 6 feet, 220 pounds when he was 12 years old. He was a man."

Reggie Reid said he used to worry that his brother "was going to be a wimp." Andy idolized his brother, followed his football teams like they were in the NFL, and tagged along with Reggie and his friends.

"He and his buddies made sure I wasn't going to be the big, soft kid," Reid said.

His parents made sure he did well in school and behaved. Reid's mother, Liz, was a radiologist. His father, Walter, was a backdrop artist for movie sets. They were strict. Liz focused more on Reid's academics while Walter, a World War II Navy veteran, made sure his sons toed the line.

"I can't tell you I didn't get spanked," Reid said. "Dad would have the razor strap and go, 'Better take care of business.' So I tried to stay away from the razor strap, tried to be smarter than that razor strap."

All about sports

Reid's parents were transplanted East Coasters. She was from Providence, R.I. He was from Cape Cod. They moved West, and a year before Reid was born in 1958 they purchased a two-bedroom, stucco house with a tile roof in Los Feliz.

The hilly street they lived on was mostly inhabited by whites, but the public schools drew from black, Hispanic, and Chinese communities. Los Feliz is located between Hollywood and Burbank so the area remains populated by many who work in the film industry.

Many of Reid's stories about his youth are Hollywood-tinged. Bing Crosby's first wife lived at his address before the Reids moved there, Reid said, and the crooner used to serenade her with songs from outside. The market Reid worked at when he was 10 or 12 was owned by cousins of actor Danny Thomas. The film Grease was shot at Marshall High.

Reid's young handprints - Grauman's Chinese Theatre-style - are still visible in the cement in front of his house. Despite accompanying his father to sets, Reid had no ambition to work in film. He was sports obsessed.

"I had all kinds of books about camping, hiking, and Indian lore, but when I came back from college all the books were in the basement, replaced on our bedroom shelf with Andy's sports books," Reggie Reid said. "And they're all about sports - nothing but sports."

The neighborhood was full of similarly aged boys. The weather was often nice. The sun was often out. And they played from dawn to dusk.

"We spent so much time outside, I can't tell you," Reid said. "Even at night - we'd sit on that lawn - my buddies. We'd just sit there and shoot the breeze."

They were city kids, many miles away from the beach. The Dodgers, who moved there the year Reid was born, played less than 10 minutes away.

"I had a scrapbook that I kept every Dodgers clipping for four or five years from the L.A. Times," Reid said. "Every picture I'd put in there, and I'd write a little title on it."

Reid loved the Rams of the NFL, too. But the Coliseum was not close. The Marshall High Barristers, though, played just a Hail Mary pass away. Reid attended all of his brother's games and kept going even after his brother graduated.

"He became such a fixture that [future NFL Hall of Famer] Michael Haynes [Marshall Class of 1971] asked him why he wasn't suited up," said Lee Bruno, another of Reid's childhood friends. "Andy said, 'Because I'm 12 years old.' "

Reid was always "robust," as his former neighbor, Reba Poor, put it. She and her family moved in across the street from the Reids when Andy was still "rolling around in a stroller."

She babysat Reid and dropped him off and picked him up at school sometimes when his mother was working. The Poors had the only pool in the neighborhood and Reid said he used to dive in between two-a-day practices.

"He was always active," said Poor, 80. "He was always playing football. He was going to be football from the get-go."

He became sort of an ace in Punt, Pass & Kick contests. One contest held at the Coliseum was aired on Monday Night Football. NBC recently dug up footage and aired it. Reid, 13 at the time, towers over the boy standing behind him in the pass competition.

Reid explained that the boy was 8. Still, he was always much larger than his peers. When he played flag football as a 10-year old, they couldn't fit the belt around his waist.

"They had to sew two belts together," Pallas said.

Regardless of his size, Reid was a good athlete. He played quarterback in junior high, and was a pitcher all the way through high school. When he got to Marshall he already had a reputation.

The football team was full of seniors. On the first day of practice, one gave Reid a tough time.

"He was going to try and break me," Reid said. "So I withheld that. Through the method of madness, I showed respect for the senior players, and they kind of took me in as one."

By his junior and senior seasons, Reid became a leader and helped unify a multicultural team during a time of ethnic and racial turmoil.

Strong side of it

That didn't mean Reid didn't have fun or bring levity to high school. Bruno, during his speech to induct Reid into the Marshall High hall of fame Friday, recalled when Reid's 1969 Volkswagen Beetle was driven right up to the pitcher's mound before a winter league game.

"I drove it up, got out and then let the other guy get in and take it off," Reid said. "I was pitching, I was the starting pitcher. I was late. We were stuck in traffic."

Reid wouldn't have been able to pull off that stunt in other neighborhoods. He said that when Marshall played on the road, the bus would sometimes be shot at or be hit with rocks.

At one game, Reid was being taunted by "gangbangers," as Bruno put it, while he pitched. When someone lit the outfield grass on fire, the players ran onto the bus.

"The driver refused to leave until the game was officially called," Bruno said. "Andy told the driver that if he didn't get the bus out of there he was going to drive it himself."

Reid, an all-league lineman, didn't receive a Division I scholarship offer in football. He dreamed of going to the University of Southern California, though, and enrolled at Glendale Community College on the recommendation of the Trojans coaching staff.

"Reality was, I wasn't good enough to play at SC," Reid said. "But the coach [Jim Sartoris] that coached me was an ex-all-American at SC. They had the same colors at SC and it had been a feeder school to SC."

Reid briefly committed to Stanford, however. But he injured his knee and wound up at Brigham Young University, where he met his wife, Tammy, and played under coach LaVell Edwards, who helped steer him into coaching.

Reid always had a strong work ethic and an eye for detail. He said he got both from his parents - his father who meticulously painted sets, and his mother who treated her patients with care.

When Reid became a coach, however, he went to another level. He bounced around the country for a decade taking various college jobs. In 1992, he landed in Green Bay with the Packers.

Reggie Reid said he knew not long after his brother took that job that he would be an NFL head coach. One Christmas, he visited Andy in Green Bay. The Packers played earlier in the day and after dinner Andy asked Reggie if he wanted to go to Lambeau Field to watch film.

"And I go, 'What?' He goes, 'Yeah, the film should be getting in from the game. I want to go watch it,' " Reggie said. "He's going boom-boom-boom [with the coach's clicker], going back and forth, back and forth, watching the linemen move off the line. I'm going, 'What are you looking at?' He's going, 'I'm looking at their body mechanics.' He said he could tell within the box that they were assigned whether on their first step they were going to make the block or not."

Reggie Reid keeps his paralyzed arm in a sling. He fell off his motorcycle when he was 23 and doing graduate geology study in Arizona. He was laid up for eight months.

He eventually earned his degree, got married, and worked for the federal government and regulated mineral resource companies. Like his brother, he moved around a lot to get promoted. Like his brother, he didn't let anything get in his way.

"You're talking about a guy that went through a severe motorcycle wreck and has a third-degree black belt in aikido and is an instructor," Andy Reid said. "He's a great example to me from all the things he went through and still came out on the strong side of it."

Reid's parents did not live long enough to see him became an NFL head coach. His father died of cancer several years before the same disease claimed his mother's life in 1998. Reid sold his parents' home soon after his mother passed away, but he still returns to the neighborhood to visit Poor.

"He'll come to my door. I won't come out," Poor said before Reid arrived. "That's his duty."

She doesn't love football, but like all of Reid's friends and family, has adopted the Eagles as her own. She said she knows Reid, who has yet to win a Super Bowl in 13 seasons, hasn't always been embraced by Philly.

"He's very difficult," Poor said. "He doesn't like the press. He just says it like it is and he's on his way."

When Reid showed up at her house, Poor wrapped her arms around him.

"Now I can reach around him," she said, noticing the slimmer Reid.

Later, Poor asked a reporter if he got everything he needed. Reid joked with her and said he hoped not.

"I wouldn't dare," Poor said, "tell them everything."


See more photographs of Andy Reid returning to his childhood home and high school in Los Angeles at www.philly.com/AndyReid


Contact Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745, jmclane@phillynews.com. Follow @Jeff_McLane on Twitter.

 

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