Rich Hofmann: Amid tragedy, Eagles cling to what they know

Posted: August 07, 2012

BETHLEHEM — The dark clouds arrived quickly, minutes after the end of practice. The television satellite trucks packed up and the players showered and dressed and made their way back to their dorm. Soon, thunder and lightning and rain overtook the valley. Sometimes it really does seem like life is just a series of cinematic cliches.

The search for the appropriate words here is destined to be futile. On the day a man loses his son, there really are no words. He is a public man, Andy Reid is, and has been since 1999 in Philadelphia, but most still see him as a caricature: big, stubborn, impenetrable. This is the day that tragically humanizes him for everyone, the day they found his eldest son dead in a Lehigh University dorm room.

Garrett Reid was 29. The troubles of his life, involving heroin and prison, were well-chronicled. The rebuilding of that life, including a position helping out with the Eagles' strength program, was noticed by everyone who watched the team from up close. It is all just so sad.

Garrett leaves two brothers and two sisters to their private grief, along with his mother and father. But the father is a public man, and the father will have to deal with this in front of millions of people — literally, millions — every week. It will be agony laid upon torture.

"The thing with Andy is, he's strong and rock-solid, but deep down he's a teddy bear," Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said. "And the players who know him know that really well. All of us that know him know that really, really well. It's why he's so effective. Is he perfect? No. No one is, but that combination, again, of strength and tenderness is very, very special."

Lurie talked with the team, then with reporters. Later, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, along with players Michael Vick, Nnamdi Asomugha and Jason Avant, also said some words into a microphone. They took no questions — and, really, what was there to ask?

Mostly, they clung Sunday to what they know. To football. To two-a-days in August heat. To the cliches that get them through most days and that would get them through this day, this horrible day.

It is true with them and it is true with the coach. It was Reid's wish that practice continue without him. The afternoon session began in an almost eerie quiet. Players straggled out in ones and twos, as is normal, but it might have been just a little bit more straggly. Fans in the stands watched the haphazard procession pretty much in silence.

After a quick warmup, the players gathered around Lurie in a big semicircle — some kneeling, some standing, some craning their necks to hear as he spoke into the wind. The stands remained silent, save for one knucklehead who screamed something at the owner. When Lurie was finished and the team began to break apart for the first drills, there was polite applause from the stands — no yelling, no whistling, just clapping. And then a remnant of the team got together in a huddle, and it was hard to hear, but it sounded as if they broke by saying, "One, two, three, Andy."

Mornhinweg and defensive coordinator Juan Castillo ran the practice. Assistant coaches did their part to try to inject some life. Defensive line coach Jim Washburn was his usual, vocal self. Wide receivers coach David Culley engaged with receivers and defensive backs in one drill, loudly and demonstratively. They went about their business, and fans still cheered the long completions, and as it went along, the practice became a reasonable facsimile of normal.

Clinging to what they know.

Lurie struggled to compose himself when he spoke. He talked of a man who, even in his grief, wanted to tell Lurie how he was excited about the team this year and how he hoped that his personal tragedy would not detract from their success, even for a couple of days.

"All he wanted to talk to me about was a couple of things, which was how incredibly excited he is for this football team," Lurie said of Reid. "That's been obvious, I think, from the beginning of training camp to all of us, but he wanted me to know that. Secondly, that he treasures these practices and feels bad he's going to not be at practice today or probably tomorrow. He just thinks they're incredibly important, but at the same time, this is a father grieving, fully grieving."

Mouthing the familiar platitudes, then, about team and camp and practice and whatever used to pass for normal.

The funeral will be Tuesday — the team's previously scheduled off day this week — and Lurie's expectation, based on his conversation with his head coach, is that Reid will be back to coaching sometime this week. The exhibition opener is Thursday night.

Clinging to what they know.

Contact Rich Hofmann at hofmanr@phillynews.com, read his blog, The Idle Rich, at www.philly.com/TheIdleRich, or follow @theidlerich on Twitter. For recent columns, go to philly.com/RichHofmann.

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