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Before he was ‘Big Red,’ Andy Reid lived the big life with his friends in L.A.

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VIDEO | 13:16
Andy Reid’s old friends talk about growing up with him in L.A.

Andy Reid’s childhood friends from his time growing up in Los Angeles share old stories about the Kansas City Chiefs coach.

Ted Pallas has an autograph from Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid, a sort of signature he takes everywhere he goes. It’s an inch-long, diagonal scar just above the bridge of his nose — a different kind of Lombardi Trophy from their childhood in the Los Angeles neighborhood near John Marshall High.

“When we were 8 years old, we were horsing around in the bedroom of my house, and we lived maybe six doors apart from each other,” said Pallas, who now lives in Del Mar. “We’re screwing around, he picks me up, throws me across the room, and I hit the corner of my desk.”

In the NFL, that (mostly) gentle giant is Andy Reid, a legendary coach who one day will be enshrined in Canton.

To his longtime buddies, he’s just Andy, the hulking kid with the broad shoulders and even broader smile who would rumble around L.A. in his beat-up 1968 Volkswagen bug that was stuffed like a clown car with classmates.

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Clyde Christensen won a Super Bowl ring as a coach for Peyton Manning’s Indianapolis Colts and is looking for another one with Manning’s former rival, Tom Brady.

“It was my brother’s, a hand-me-down, so that car was beat to snot,” said Reid, whose Chiefs will play Tampa Bay on Sunday in Super Bowl LV. “It had those wind-wing windows. You didn’t put anything in there that was worth anything because it was too easy to break into.”

That tan Beetle was as recognizable as Reid himself.

“In high school, it was like, every turn he’d take with that car, there was another person to wave at,” said Lee Bruno, his pal since their days at Thomas Starr King Middle School. “So it’s this big hand on the wheel, waving over here [with the other hand]. He was big man on campus, but he wasn’t boastful about it. Everyone liked him and appreciated him.”

The mustachioed Reid, with his gruff voice and his brief, let’s-get-back-to-practice news conferences, doesn’t talk a lot about himself. But like a minimalist artist — and drawing is in his DNA — he can paint a pretty good picture with just a few lines. He’s a man of few words, and many friends.

To that end, The Times pulled together a group of his closest buddies from childhood for a clearer vision of the coach who has made such an impact, first as an assistant with the Green Bay Packers, then as leader of the Philadelphia Eagles and Chiefs.

High school football players in uniform stand in rows.
Andy Reid (76) poses with the rest of his John Marshall High teammates in a yearbook photo. Reid’s friends Lee Bruno (88) and Mark LaBonge (57) are also pictured.
(Courtesy of Mark LaBonge)

“That’s kind of the foundation of your life when you grow up in a neighborhood with a lot of kids,” said Reid, 62, whose mother was a radiologist and father was a scenic artist who painted backdrops for Broadway shows that would come to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. “It helps you stay grounded throughout the rest of your life, at least to this point it has.”

Participating in a Times videoconference about Reid were childhood friends Bruno, Pallas, Bruce Backley, Scott Lee, Greg Togneri, Tracy Lamonica and Mark LaBonge — a younger brother of former L.A. City Councilman Tom LaBonge, who died unexpectedly of unknown causes Jan. 7 and was a close friend of Reid’s. In 2019, the group lost Tony Stewart to a stroke.

“Both of them were shockers, man,” Reid said. “Tom was still hiking the hill to the observatory every day. Endless energy. Positive energy. Tony was the same way. Both of those guys passing, I know we’re getting to that age, but it seemed way too soon.”

Most people have some longtime friends. But, as it’s known in league NFL circles, Reid is intensely loyal to and appreciative of his.

“That’s who he is,” said Joe Banner, former president of the Eagles. “Many times we were out on the road, or in Indy, or Mobile, or wherever we happened to be, and there was some old friend who wasn’t too far away who would come and meet us for dinner or stuff like that. He was visibly excited to get together with these people and spend more time and catch up with them.”

Chiefs coach Andy Reid with his childhood friends.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid, center, with childhood friends, from left, Bruce Backley, Mark LaBonge, Scott Lee, Tony Stewart, Tom LaBonge and Ted Pallas.
(Courtesy of Mark LaBonge)

Reid was a smart kid, a good student, and especially capable when it came to building with his hands, including the grandfather clock he made in wood shop.

“I actually gave it to (teacher) Mr. Sams,” Reid said of the clock, which he constructed in middle school. “It’s out there somewhere, if it’s still standing. I was in ninth grade doing it. There was a kid in class I helped make a pool table with. It was a phenomenal opportunity.”

The diversity of Marshall exposed Reid and his friends to a wide array of races, ethnicities and religions.

“Marshall was a unique place in the neighborhood because it was very multiracial,” Bruno said. “Blacks, Hispanics, Chinese, Japanese. It was a great mixing pot.”

Reid credits that with helping him as a football coach.

“I love people, and that’s what makes the world go ’round,” he said. “Marshall was so diverse with so many different cultures, so interesting. Great teachers, and we had this whole diverse group of people that we grew up around.

“We saw the good in people first. Always. That helps in this profession. We didn’t look at color and religion. We looked at, what kind of dude are you? That foundation benefited me for life.”

Togneri called Reid someone “who could relate to anybody and play with anybody.”

“We saw the good in people first. Always. That helps in this profession. We didn’t look at color and religion. We looked at, what kind of dude are you? That foundation benefitted me for life.”

Andy Reid

“He was a great motivator also as a captain,” Togneri said. “At halftime, if it was a close game — I don’t know if he still uses this — he’d yell out, ‘We need to open a can of whup-ass!’ ”

Reid, who wears shorts in Kansas City even on bitter-cold days, is a Southern Californian at heart, especially when he comes home for a visit — from his flip-flops, to his untucked Tommy Bahama shirts, to his penchant for Tommy’s burgers. He had that famous chili frozen and shipped to him in his various NFL cities.

“I love those things,” he told The Times in 2018. “It’s good for your joints — the grease. Keeps you lubed up, man.”

Reid lived on Holly Knoll Drive, just around the corner from Marshall High and near Walt Disney’s first California home. Reid keeps an offseason home in Capistrano Beach.

Known by some as “Big Red,” a reference to his hair color in his younger years, Reid was enormous as a kid. There’s a comical video clip that has made the rounds of him in a Punt, Pass and Kick competition in the early 1970s. At 12, he was a man-child in a Rams uniform, with a line of kids behind him no taller than his belt line.

Lamonica recalls a neighborhood friend getting a Honda minibike for Christmas and allowing his friends to ride it.

“I remember watching Andy, because he had to be close to 6 feet at the time, and we were all 5-2, 5-3, 5-4, and just to watch him riding this little minibike. Just good times.”

With the Chiefs back in the Super Bowl, and Reid in control, those good times keep rolling.

His buddies — now diehard Kansas City fans — are happily along for the ride.


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