PHILADELPHIA -- There was comfort in the familiarity, but nothing was normal. On Thursday, Andy Reid did what he has done for the past 13 years: Dressed, as usual, in all black, he paced the sideline with a play chart in his left hand and a red challenge flag in his back right pocket, coaching his Philadelphia Eagles in their first game of the preseason.
But this was merely a step, another day buffering the worst day of Reid's life, the one when he got the phone call he'd always feared. Reid's oldest son, Garrett, was a drug addict, and on Sunday, according to Reid, Garrett lost his eight-year battle with addiction, passing away at the age of 29.
It has been an impossibly brutal week for the Reids, for the Eagles organization and for the players. Everyone is emotionally spent. Reid and his wife, Tammy, buried their firstborn on Tuesday. The entire organization attended the memorial service. After a three-day hiatus, Reid returned to his team on Wednesday at Lehigh University. They played a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday. Life has gone on.
But life is different now, and that was evident at Lincoln Financial Field. Two hours before the game, Pittsburgh owner Dan Rooney and coach Mike Tomlin went to the Eagles locker room to pay their respects to Reid. Prior to kickoff, the Eagles paid tribute to Garrett, an assistant to the Eagles strength and conditioning staff. With his team gathered behind him, Reid stood alongside Michael Vick during a moment of silence for Garrett and twice waved his black hat at the crowd to acknowledge their applause. Throughout the game, Reid's other two sons, Britt and Spencer, were on the sideline in Eagles gear, always near their father, always close. Tammy also was in attendance, wearing a sparkling Eagles jersey.
During a timeout in the first quarter, there was a message shown on the stadium video boards from Reid and his wife thanking Eagles owners Jeffrey and Christina Lurie, the organization, the fans and the city of Philadelphia for their "overwhelming love and support." Reid got a standing ovation, and then the fans chanted, "Andy! Andy! Andy!"
In Philadelphia, that is far from normal.
"I told you [Wednesday] that that stuff is so humbling," Reid said. "I take that as a compliment to my son and to my family. That is a humbling thing, and I appreciate every bit of it. We feel the love, and during these kinds of times, that is important."
Said Eagles cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha: "I think it felt good. Well, it felt good for us. I would think that it felt good for him. He looked up in the stands a couple times and waved his hand. He acknowledged that the fans were behind him and behind the team, and it's a beautiful thing to come into a season knowing that you have that support, and then to go through what he and the team and all of us went through the past few days, to know you have support, it's a really great feeling."
If anything, these past few days have shown how respected Reid is in the city where he works. There have been cards and gift baskets and an outpouring of condolences from fans on talk radio. That hasn't always been the case here. In the middle of last season, fans were calling for Reid to get fired, complaining about the same old problems with clock management and play calling.
Reid wasn't going anywhere then, and he won't be going anywhere now. Jeffrey Lurie wants to see the team rebound from a down year and make a postseason run. The Eagles have the talent. Lurie expects them to live up to it. Even so, Reid will leave when he wants to, on his terms, when he is ready.
Part of Reid's appeal was evident on Tuesday. He is a good man, a loyal man and a man who treats his players like men. That's why a slew of former players, assistants and front-office personnel made the trip to suburban Philly for Garrett's funeral. Baltimore coach John Harbaugh, Cleveland coach Pat Shurmur, New Orleans interim head coach Joe Vitt, Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and Browns offensive coordinator Brad Childress were there. So were Browns general manager Tom Heckert, former Eagles president Joe Banner and Indianapolis general manager Ryan Grigson. Bill Belichick and Roger Goodell attended, as did Donovan McNabb, Jeremiah Trotter and Brian Westbrook, three Eagles legends who helped Reid build his program and have so much success.
It has all touched the 54-year-old coach. It has, as he said on Wednesday during a remarkably frank news conference, humbled him. In the worst possible moment of his life, Reid was surrounded by love and support. It was just as Eagles general manager Howie Roseman had so eloquently said on Sunday it would be: The organization was going to be strong for a man who has been so strong for it.
And so it was on Thursday night, when something that was so normal and natural for Reid was anything but. Before kickoff, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin embraced Reid on the sideline. Prior to one kickoff, Steelers wide receiver Keenan Lewis, who was on the field to cover the kick, gave Reid a fist pump.
"Emotionally, it's been rough on everyone," Eagles center Jason Kelce said. "Everybody's close with Coach Reid and his family. ... Whenever something like that happens to a guy that you care about, there's a certain level of emotional stress with everybody. The whole week -- it was a longer week than most, let's put it that way."
The longest. The Eagles' first-team offense and defense did not look good. They were shaky and made mistakes. The offense wasn't explosive, and the defense couldn't cover anybody. Vick's night ended after he hit his hand on Kelce's helmet. X-rays were negative.
But the team, the coach, the players and everyone else should get a pass. Philadelphia won the game 24-23 on a field goal with 12 seconds to play, and the players celebrated as if they had won a playoff game. DeSean Jackson jumped into Reid's arms. It was just a game, but there was joy, something everyone needed after the past few days.
"Every day you want to be a better day in this kind of a situation," Reid said. "You get a lot of support. But, that doesn't erase what took place. That just doesn't do that. Life goes on. That's how things work. This is one more step forward. And we'll try to take another step tomorrow.
One step will lead to another step, and another. For Reid, normal has been redefined, but life will continue to march along.