KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The man Melissa Firman knew had a heart with its own zip code, a soul that danced on a sunbeam.
The Andy Reid she knew didn’t grunt or grouse or keep the media safely away at arm’s length. The Andy Reid she knew was a teddy bear, a man visibly shook up upon hearing the horror stories of a wife who’d once been chained by an abusive husband to a sink for days a time.
The Andy Reid she knew went over to that woman, after they were introduced, and felt compelled to give her a hug.
“You could always see him getting emotional afterward,” Firman says of the Kansas City Chiefs coach, whom she’d worked with as director of development and public relations at Laurel House, a Philadelphia-based domestic violence shelter, from 2005-2010.
“And after the women would speak, or there would be a teenager that would speak, he would just take the person aside afterwards and just give them an encouraging word.
“You could see the expression in the person’s face, that to be recognized by somebody like that … I think it really meant a lot. And I think that the Andy Reid that I got to know, that it was a privilege to get to know, I just wish that more natives of Philadelphia got to know.”
The closer you were to Andy Reid and his wife Tammy, the more conflicted you are this week. Reid’s new team, the Chiefs, will play his old team, the Eagles, Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field, to kick off the NFL’s Week 3 slate. It’s a national, made-for-television matchup, the kind of reality that reality shows can’t touch.
The Reids spent 14 years in Philly, 14 mostly good years, 14 complicated years, 14 conflicted years, 14 years that ran the gamut from triumph to tragedy and touched every possible flash point in between.
Reid is the winningest coach in Eagles history. He’s one of only two men to lead the franchise to a Super Bowl, yet was nudged out of town after a 4-12 campaign last fall. His game plans and clock management — Dat guy throws the ball too much! — became civic talking points, yet he also won seven division titles along the way.
Sports years in Philly are like dog years — they age you quicker than they do in most towns, even during the good times, yet Reid thrived for more than a decade. His family became the first family of the city, which also meant exposing his loved ones (and his sons’ very public battles with substance abuse) to the underbelly of the fish-bowl existence.
“But he’s such a strong man with great principles and great faith and he survived it,” says Dick Vermeil, the former Chiefs and Eagles coach. “And I think the city, it did a good job of showing their respect for him when he went through his problems beyond football. And I think they’ll show real empathy when he shows up on Thursday evening.”
It’s funny, though: The farther away you get from the football side of Philly, the more the Reids are missed. You hear stories of the Andy who went to a microphone at one swanky charity auction and urged the well-off patrons in the room to get off their duffs, shake the lead out of their respective wallets and remember what they were there for. Stories of the Tammy who worked the concession stand at Harriton High School football games, same as any other parent. Stories of large checks coming into the Harriton football program from mysterious benefactors who wanted to make sure every kid that wanted to go to a summer camp had the finances to do so.
“And I’ll be honest with you: Half the time, you wouldn’t know,” Harriton athletic director Tom Ferguson says. “They would just give it to the football coach and say, ‘Take care of the kids.'”
We asked the Chiefs coach to talk for this story, to talk about the lives he touched in Philly, to talk about the people he left behind. He declined. This isn’t about him, a team staffer told us. This is about something bigger.
Which, in a way, is very, very Andy, the kind of nothing that says absolutely everything.
When they’d first moved to greater Philly, all those years ago, Andy had suggested to his wife that she sink her teeth into a non-profit, something she could cradle close to her heart. Tammy embraced Laurel House so tightly that she even took the coursework necessary to become certified as a domestic violence counselor.
“People always asked her, ‘Why did you pick domestic violence?'” recounts Beth Sturman, executive director at Laurel House.
“She said that she felt fortunate that she had such a loving husband and she was raised in household where she and her mother were treated so well, and she wishes that every woman could have that kind of love and support and respect.”
Sturman’s first meeting with Tammy was at a planning session for Laurel House’s annual spring gala; the coach’s wife came in with friend carrying a door painted like a football field that had been designated for auction.
“And she was just so full of enthusiasm and energy,” Sturman says, “(She said), ‘We can do this.'”
Tammy backed it up in word and in deed, volunteering, working the phones, making appearances, banging the drum to the last. This past May, the Reids held a giant “garage sale” to clear away their stock of Eagles and Eagles-related goods and donated the proceeds to Harriton High, where their sons played football, and Laurel House, which was presented a $10,000 check in memory of their late son Garrett.
Financially, Sturman, says, the Reids were worth “a lot, absolutely. Hundreds of thousands of dollars” to the organization, but that their real value went far beyond that. The coach’s Q rating raised the profile of Laurel House with men, with families, and with football fans all over the metro.
“He knows all of our staff member’s kids,” Sturman says of the Chiefs coach, “and he remembers (their ages) from year to year, and remembers their names. If they’re not around, he’ll ask about so-and-so, and what grade are they in now.
“Just real sociable, good-natured, a good sport about the whole thing. I’m sure there have been times when carrying boxes into a venue wasn’t his idea of a good time. Once you have somebody connected to Laurel House, if you’re a significant other, you’re pitching in, you get right in there with the rest of the guys.”
They were a fantastic team in that respect; Tammy’s passion was Andy’s passion, and vice versa. On several occasions, the coach would be at a Laurel House gala, listening to a keynote speaker, often someone who had spent time at the shelter, and almost be moved to tears.
“They were extremely down to earth,” Firman says. “They would always take time to sign autographs. I know Tammy has been quoted in other Philly articles that the fans didn’t really get a chance to know the real Andy.
“The Andy Reid I saw, I saw a guy who would talk to a mom who had just gone in the shelter with her kids after surviving a domestic violence episode and would talk to her kids and say it would be OK … so I think if more Philadelphians got a chance to see that Andy Reid, vitriol and the animosity at the end, it may have been a little bit lessened, I think.”
When Harriton High moved its football games from Saturdays to Fridays, it gave Reid had more chances to watch his sons play. Of course, it also occasionally meant interactions with Eagles fans young and old; some weeks, Ferguson would put Andy on the sideline with the team, just so the NFL veteran wouldn’t be bothered. During one contest, against Strath Haven, kids ran up to Reid armed with posters, pizza boxes — anything they could get their hands on for him to sign.
“I’ve never seen a guy give his time (like that),” Ferguson says. “Kids would come up to him, kids (from) opposing team, and he would sit and talk with them during the games … and the kids on the other team would run over and shake his hand and he’s tell them what a good job they did.
“There’s a lot of people whose kids have gone here, high-profile people, so to speak, and some people out there who would put themselves out there more than others. (Andy) would do anything that you asked of him and never wanted any special treatment. He just wanted to be like everybody else.”
Ferguson recalls another time when a promising Rams football player was having academic problems, a period during which this particular young man seemed especially distracted. Reid invited the teen to come down to the Eagles’ training facility, the NovaCare Complex, to have a chat.
“It was probably just as much time,” Ferguson says, “as (it was) financial with them.”
Even though time, especially in the fall, was precious. Precious and rare.
“I can’t tell you how many places I went during the season on a Tuesday or a Wednesday night and he would drop over to that charity,” Vermeil says. “He would drop in and pay his respects and make his contributions and go back to work. Just a very caring, very civic-minded person.”
Just a softie, a warm embrace hiding behind a gruff, blunt, mustachioed façade.
“He did some awesome things in Philly, and Philly loves him regardless,” Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt says. “And if they boo him, or us, and any players that we got from Philly that are here now, it’s just a respect thing.”
It’s a bit of a sad thing, too. The folks up at Laurel House miss the heck out Tammy and Andy. And they won’t be the only ones in Philly with mixed emotions when Reid locks horns against the franchise that he’d sacrificed so much blood, sweat and tears trying to rebuild.
“Thank heaven text messages and long-distance calls are free these days,” Sturman says with a chuckle. “And don’t tell our comrades here in Philadelphia, but we, frankly, hope (the Chiefs) win. Andy deserves a good, strong win.”
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at email@example.com