Bob Ford: A day like no other for Eagles at Lehigh

Posted: August 06, 2012

It was another day, except it wasn't.

Fans of the Philadelphia Eagles drove to the football fields at Lehigh University and sat in their cars waiting out the steady rain that fell between the morning walk-through and the afternoon practice. Team workers drove equipment carts to their places and prepared for another session in the heat and the humidity. The players dressed in the field house adjacent to the fields, taping up their aches and doing what they could to deal with the other pain that came with this day. Just another day, except it could never be.

The Eagles continued to follow their schedule at training camp on Sunday, but that reach for normality was just an acknowledgment that no break from routine could change the awful reality that had just found coach Andy Reid, his family, and the whole organization.

It has been a decade since Reid and his wife, Tammy, discovered that Garrett Reid, their eldest son, was a drug abuser, chased and cornered by a diagnosed imbalance in his brain. While Reid maintained his public face as the head coach of the Eagles, he tried to help his son beat a private battle that finally became public as well.

Garrett Reid apparently lost that fight sometime Saturday night or Sunday morning. He was found dead by an Eagles official about 7:20 a.m. in a dormitory room at Lehigh. Because the autopsy report will not be issued until Monday or Tuesday, it is still possible, if only remotely, that the 29-year-old died of a natural cause. There was no evidence of foul play and no indication that the death was the result of suicide, according to campus police. That leaves two possibilities: he died naturally, or he killed himself without meaning to.

There is no contributing cause, whether obvious or hidden, that can lessen the loss. Andy Reid will have to bury a child, and there is nothing that can change that or make it anything but the walking nightmare that every parent fears. Days will continue to pass, the world will move on, football games will be played, but losing Garrett will remain with Reid with every step he takes for the rest of his life.

Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie addressed the team on the field before the afternoon practice. They gathered in a circle around him and took a knee on the wet grass. There is no handbook for how to feel or what to say. There is nothing to prepare an owner, a coach, or the players for how to react or how to prepare for what happens next. You practice if the schedule still says to practice. There is nothing else to do, anyway.

"I said to the players that you have to accept the grief and the tears and at the same time gather the strength to be excellent, not just in football but in life," Lurie said. "Sometimes what happens in life . . . life throws you a curveball, and I've always felt, and think Andy feels the same way, is you gain from loss, you gain from tragedy."

Reid told Lurie, according to the owner, that he intends to "hit that curve and hit it out of the park." It's no surprise that sports people reach for sports clich├ęs to comfort themselves, or that in the shock of a day like this, the actual subject of the tragedy gets transferred.

What happened in the Sayre Park dorm is all of the things Lurie indicated for Reid and his family - a loss, a sadness, and a challenge to continue - but the tragedy belongs to Garrett Reid.

By all indications, he tried very hard not to become a tragedy, but was pursued by something that never slept. He was in and out of rehabilitation facilities in Pennsylvania, California, Virginia, and Florida in the last 10 years. He was in and out of prison for a two-year span. There was a time he was living in Arizona and sleeping in his car because it was his only home.

Each time Garrett Reid seemed to right himself and take a few steps toward a new life, his parents hoped it was true and wanted to believe that a change was taking place. He might even have worked to convince them that was the case. Or maybe he was just trying to convince himself. Or maybe he knew the truth all along.

The tragedy belongs to Garrett Reid. For everyone close to him, there is the sadness of not being able to prevent it, and the grief of having a piece of the family go missing.

It will take time, but the living will continue. Perhaps not exactly as before, but the months will arrive and depart, the games will come and go. There will be days that really are like any other day.

Not like Sunday, a day that looked normal on the practice fields at Lehigh, but could never really be. Andy Reid wasn't there, and that was a profound sadness. Garrett Reid wasn't there, and that was the tragedy.


Contact Bob Ford at bford@phillynews.com, read his blog at www.philly.com/postpatterns, and follow @bobfordsports on Twitter.

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