For former Eagles players, loyalty to coach Andy Reid runs deep

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PHILADELPHIA -- Pro Football Hall of Fame safety Brian Dawkins' eyes were moist and he let out a laugh as he delivered a video message to his former coach, Andy Reid, following the Kansas City Chiefs' 31-20 Super Bowl LIV win against the San Francisco 49ers.

"Congratulations, Coach. Congratulations. I told y'all I would be shedding tears of joy, and I did," Dawkins said of Reid, who coached the Eagles from 1999 through 2012. "I am so proud, first of all, of being someone that played under you. You're a friend of mine, and I'm so happy for you, Coach. It took a while, but you have deserved it."

Some of Reid's former Philadelphia Eagles players, such as quarterback Donovan McNabb (Eagles, 1999-2009) and wide receiver Jason Avant (Eagles, 2006-13), traveled to Miami to be there in person. Others, such as defensive end Trent Cole (Eagles, 2005-14), watched from their homes, surrounded by their children as Reid broke through to win his first Super Bowl title after 21 years in hot pursuit.

"I was not surprised -- I knew exactly how he was going to react," Cole said. "Just full of energy and you could see a big burst coming out of him, just letting everything go like, [exhales], 'I finally did it.' You could tell he was shocked a little bit like, 'This is finally happening.' I was just overly happy for him, just smiling. That's all I could do was just smile."

"Overly happy" was a term multiple former players used, and it helps describe why the reaction to Reid winning the big one is rare: His accomplishment has been met not just with emotion by those who have played for him, but an overflow of emotion; and it has flooded in, creating the kind of current that only comes with universal respect.

As former linebacker Ike Reese (Eagles, 1998-2004) pointed out on his afternoon talk show on 94.1 WIP this week, everyone's experiences with Reid are unique to them: What he means to someone such as Michael Vick, who was coming off a 21-month prison stint when Reid took a chance on him and brought him into the fold in 2009, differs from someone operating under less dramatic circumstances. But there are common themes in players' stories of Reid that speak to why he continues to be held in such high esteem:

Avant: "This is where he won me: I remember being drafted to the Eagles, and him saying to me, 'Listen. The scouting report says you have great hands, but you can't run, you can't do this and you can't do that. But we drafted you because we've seen on tape you can do these things. Go and prove them wrong."

Cole: "He treated us like men, and he treated us like we were people and not just football players. He treated us like human beings and not just some pawn that was there and going to be gone."

Reese: "Tough but fair. Certainly when you play for him, you know he's going to make you better, and then there's small rewards that he gives his team. The whole Victory Monday [where players get the day off following a win] started with us. I remember the night before a big game, he made sure we got a chance to watch the Bernard Hopkins vs. Felix Trinidad fight in our hotel, and those fights don't start until 11:30 p.m. He allowed us to stay up past curfew, he rented out a room that had multiple TVs, had all the snacks and stuff you want. And remember, this is the night before the game, and he's still doing that. So stuff like that, as a player, just made us want to play for him."

Avant: "I had a moment, it was my second year. I did everything they asked me to do my first year, and I still wasn't getting open the way I wanted to. Coach Reid said, 'Jason, man, you've got to get open. We're not seeing you separate as much as we'd like to.' I said, 'Listen, Coach, I'm trying to get open the way that you want me to get open. It's not in my game. I'm unconventional.' I asked him, 'If you just allow me to be myself, I promise to be at the right depths at the right time, I promise to be where I'm supposed to be. Just take off the reins and let me get open the way I can get open.' And that's how I became a good player in his system. He listened in that moment. That interaction got me 10 years of play because I was on my way out of the league doing it like the line said. He allowed me to do that. And no other coach that I've ever had allowed me to be myself. And that's why I love him."

Cole: "When something went down, that man took fault for everything [in the media]. He never blamed it on nothing we did on the field, he blamed himself for everything that happened. That's why everybody likes him: because he treated people the way he wanted to be treated."

Avant: "He's an ass-kicker. A lot of people got this false idea that he's this players' coach that lets them do whatever they want. No. This is Coach Reid's show. Everyone knows that. He's still tough because he's demanding, in that he wants every minute detail [executed] and everything is important. But he would take blame as a coach, as well. He's like, 'Look, that's a bad playcall. I knew they would be in Cover 2 Man. I don't know why I decided to run that playcall in Cover 2 Man. That was bad.' Those are the kind of things that you don't hear from a coach, because if the coach says 'I was to blame,' it seems to eat at his ego. With Coach Reid it was gone, it was out the window. So there was more of a respect and adoration for him because of these small things."

Reese: "I just know for me, keeping me here, giving me a defined role on this team, him demanding excellence from me. He let me know that if I ever wanted to get into coaching, I always had a job with him. The fact that he has sent me text messages on Father's Day, I've sent him text messages on Father's Day. I don't think it's anything special, I just love the fact that I still got a relationship with my old coach."

For those on the Eagles team in 2012, they watched Reid endure unspeakable tragedy, as his son, Garrett, died of a heroin overdose on a Sunday morning in August in a dorm room at Lehigh University, the site of Philadelphia's training camp. Reid took two days off before returning to coach the team.

"It was unreal when his son died at camp that year, and the dude just kept going. You could see that he was hurt, you could see the pain, but you could also see the true fighter he is," linebacker Mychal Kendricks said. "He didn't bat an eye that season, man. With all the things that was going on. His son, and his job being in question. The way he just prepared and just went about his business was honorable to me. It took me a couple years to ponder on those moments, and I was just like, 'Damn, that says a lot about his character as a man, as a person and as a head coach. So I'm just overly happy for him, for real."

Reid's 14-year run in Philadelphia included eight double-digit win seasons, five NFC title game appearances and a trip to Super Bowl XXXIX in February 2005. The Vince Lombardi Trophy proved elusive, leaving a blank space on an otherwise sparkling résumé for Reid, whose win total of 222 ranks sixth all time among head coaches.

His legion of loyal former players are elated that his legacy is now cemented, even if the crown jewel came while he was wearing Chiefs red instead of Eagles green.

"Obviously I want to be in the Super Bowl, but if there was a team to win and one coach to win that game, that day, I would have wanted it to be Andy Reid, just because it is well-deserved. He's put in the work," Kendricks said.

"I stayed [at Hard Rock Stadium] until everything was over. I was very, very excited," Avant said. "It was like a weight lifted off, and now I don't need to hear the guys who say, 'I don't know if he's a Hall of Fame coach' and all those things. ... And the feeling for me was like, 'Damn right. It's about time he gets his just due.'"