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Yo, Andy, It Seems You Were Right All Along

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Fights happen in football, and tempers flared on a hot Los Angeles afternoon 37 years ago. Andy Reid, who decades later would save the Philadelphia Eagles with his stubbornness, got into a scuffle with the Marshall High quarterback. The quarterback was on the ropes and yelled for teammates to step in. They might have, if they hadn’t been doubled over in laughter.

Reid was the 6-year-old ball boy.

He was lying on his back, his chubby hands welded to the quarterback’s facemask as the quarterback was bent over at the waist and windmilling his arms.

“The guy had been harassing Andy, giving him a hard time,” said Reid’s older brother, Reg, who played halfback on that long-ago Marshall team. “He was going, ‘Reid! Reid! Get your brother off me! Get your brother off me!”’

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Looking for a fight? Try rolling into Philadelphia as the new coach of the Eagles, a team coming off a 3-13 meltdown, and turning up your nose at Heisman Trophy tailback Ricky Williams. You use the No. 2 pick to draft Syracuse quarterback Donovan McNabb, a selection that leaves angry fans filling Madison Square Garden with boos.

“I went out to visit Andy for the draft,” said Reg, a geologist in Reno, Nev. “We’re sitting there in the war room the night after the first day. Just a few stragglers in the room. And the mayor--the mayor--comes on a local TV station and starts saying the Eagles blew it. I wasn’t used to having mayors get that vocal. I couldn’t imagine what Andy was feeling at that moment.”

Things got only worse. Reid arrived in Philadelphia from Green Bay, where he’d won acclaim as the quarterback coach who had helped mold Brett Favre.

He had brought backup Doug Pederson along with him, hoping to buy time to shore up holes in the offensive line while grooming McNabb.

The Philadelphia experiment was a bumpy one. Reid stubbornly ran a West Coast offense, even though he didn’t have the personnel for it, and McNabb shifted in his cleats on the sideline. The fans booed louder, and Pederson’s popularity plunged like an iceball lobbed from the upper deck.

“You bite the bullet,” Reid said. “You have to trust in what you believe, and it’s going to test you. So you’d better have some sort of foundation you can grab ahold of, because people are going to question you from all sides.”

Fans began to hang banners reading, “The Future Is Now,” and, “What Are We Waiting For?”

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They questioned Reid’s ability as a coach, his sanity. It wasn’t until Week 10, after the 2-7 Eagles had essentially quit against Carolina, that Reid handed over the starting quarterback’s job to the rookie.

That didn’t solve the problems. McNabb was dazzling at times, awkward at others. The team finished 5-11, and fans were ready to punt Reid back to Green Bay.

Pederson was already headed back to the Packers. The Eagles released him, and he later told of a fan who called him over to the stands, presumably to get an autograph. Instead, it was Pederson who got something: a spit shower. There are no loveable losers in Philly.

In the months after the debacle of 1999, Reid concentrated on what he knows best, quarterbacks and offensive linemen. He signed 6-foot-7 right tackle Jon Runyan and paired him with 6-7 left tackle Tre Thomas, giving the Eagles the biggest bookends in the NFL. He released some veterans and brought in players who better fit his offense.

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And he worked with McNabb. The results were obvious, although not immediate. McNabb struggled a bit early in the 2000 season, yet improved each week.

By season’s end, he was an average passer and a fantastic runner, one who left linebackers grasping at air and cornerbacks corkscrewed into the turf.

The Eagles finished 11-5 and made the playoffs. Their quarterback led the team in rushing, earned a trip to the Pro Bowl, made lots of magazine covers, even got his own bobble-head doll. Suddenly, he’s one of the most popular players in the game.

Similarly, Reid’s approval rating shot skyward. Fans embraced the bear-sized man, a former Brigham Young offensive lineman, and Reid joked about changing his name to “Yo, Andy!” He hears it all the time these days.

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“Yo, Andy! How ‘bout them Eagles!”

Lift the garage door at Reid’s home and there it sits, his dream car. All $25 worth. That’s how much his father paid for the Model A Ford that has been in the family since the 1940s. It was Reg’s first car, then Andy’s.

Back then, it was painted bright yellow and gussied up with a rumble seat and five types of horns.

“It had a bullhorn, some kind of cow horn, everything,” recalled Bob Volkel, one of Andy’s lifelong friends. “Girls liked it. They thought it was pretty nice.”

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Back when he was coaching for the Packers, Reid used his Super Bowl check to restore the classic to its original condition.

He took it apart, bolt by bolt, painted it the precise shade of gray Henry Ford intended, gave it a showroom look.

“It was a little like rebuilding a football team,” Reid said.

The car is done, the team is not. The Eagles are 0-9 against the New York Giants and have never beaten them under Reid. McNabb has two new starting receivers, Todd Pinkston and James Thrash, and high hopes for UCLA’s Freddie Mitchell, a promising but unproven first-round pick.

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Last week, starting center Bubba Miller suffered a shattered ankle and was lost for the season. Hank Fraley will start in his place.

"[Fraley] snaps the ball well,” McNabb said. “The thing with him is the experience, and he’s definitely going to get that. We worked together last year just watching film, watching every opponent that we faced. He may not have been active that game, but he still worked hard preparing, as though he was the starter.”

New names, new faces, same plan. Reid learned persistence from his late parents, Walter and Elizabeth. His dad was a scenic artist who painted sets for plays and musicals in Los Angeles. His mom was a radiologist and a die-hard Dodger fan who fostered a love of sports in her sons.

“I used to take her to games,” said Reid, who could see the lights of Dodger Stadium from his boyhood home in Los Feliz. “When I’d go back to L.A., the first place we were going was the Dodger game. We’d get the foot-longs, the spicy dogs, and we’d watch.”

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Andy got his first job at 10, dishing sweet-and-sour meatballs backstage at “The Tonight Show.” Naturally, he had rules: No more than three meatballs per person. “It could be John Wayne and, man, he was getting three meatballs,” he said.

No exceptions. Well, almost no exceptions.

“If it was an athlete, I’d always give him more,” he confessed. “I wouldn’t look at him. I’d just grab his plate and put more on there.”

Not every plan is perfect. Even stubborn kids can budge.

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