BETHLEHEM — There have been other hushed, sad, somber days at Eagles training camp — such as three years ago, when former defensive coordinator Jim Johnson died — but nothing quite like Sunday.
When Johnson succumbed to cancer, and at other difficult moments over the years, Andy Reid was there to reinforce a sort of stoic normalcy. Life would go on, through sadness and sorrow. Football would go on.
Sunday, Reid was with his family, dealing with the shocking death at age 29 of the eldest of his five children, Garrett, who apparently passed away in his sleep in a Lehigh dorm room. Football did go on — the team took the field for a walkthrough less than an hour after an Eagles staffer made the 7:20 a.m. 9-1-1 call to Lehigh police, and then the Eagles reconvened for afternoon practice — but to say hearts and minds were elsewhere would be an understatement.
Lehigh Chief of Police Edward Shupp said that after receiving the 9-1-1 call at the Lehigh police office — about a half-mile downhill from where the Eagles stay — officers arrived at the Sayre Park dorm and tried to revive Garrett Reid, without success. "There were no suspicious activities," Shupp said, meaning no obvious signs of suicide or foul play, but Northampton County coroner Zachary Lysek will investigate. Garrett Reid infamously spent much of 2007 and 2008 and part of 2009 imprisoned on drug charges.
Even absent, dealing with unimaginable heartbreak Sunday, Andy Reid tried to provide that bedrock sense of reassurance. When general manager Howie Roseman broke the news, while choking back tears, he spoke of the coach's wish that practice continue. Later, when Eagles chairman Jeffrey Lurie spoke with reporters following the markedly subdued afternoon session, Lurie said that Reid told him he expects to be coaching this week. Lurie said Reid had told him "that he treasures these practices and he feels bad he's not going to be at practice [Sunday or probably Monday]. He just thinks they're incredibly important, but at the same time, this is a father grieving, fully grieving."
This also was a team and organization fully grieving. Players have a lot of affection for coach Reid, who is entering his 14th season in charge. Roseman, whose entire pro-football career has been spent working with Reid and the Eagles, broke down sobbing after delivering the news. Lurie, Roseman and the players all knew Garrett Reid. He was a daily presence on the field since spring minicamp and organized training activities, officially assisting strength-and-conditioning coach Barry Rubin, but generally doing whatever needed to be done on the fringes of practice. During one spring drill, Garrett Reid stepped in to long-snap.
"Garrett is a part of our football family, our extended family, our immediate family, so it's a very tough time for us," cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha said.
Wideout Jason Avant said: "Garrett was a happy-go-lucky person, and we know that he's in a better place, and we love coach Reid."
Usually at Lehigh, Garrett Reid, 6-5, trim and muscular these days, wore an Eagles baseball-style cap and looked nothing like the gaunt figure from court-appearance photos four or five years ago. He would observe practice with another strength-and-conditioning assistant, Travis Crittenden. The Eagles made only a few players and coaches available Sunday. Neither Crittenden nor Rubin was among them. Crittenden spent a lot of time at Lurie's side during the afternoon workout, and Rubin also spoke at length with Lurie before Lurie spoke with the team and then addressed reporters.
"Today is one of the tough days," Lurie said. "Andy is, he's a rock-solid man. I think what makes him a great coach is his combination of compassion, feeling and strength, and today, he exhibited it all. It's unimaginable, the pain. I mean, we've all suffered, most of us have suffered tragedy in our lives. Losing a child is unimaginable, the pain. Yet he is rock-solid."
Garrett Reid and his brother Britt were arrested on drug charges after two separate traffic incidents on Jan. 30, 2007, and Andy Reid took a six-week leave of absence — part of it spent at a Florida treatment facility with his sons. Garrett was jailed off and on for the next two years at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility, at a Chester prison and at Graterford. Setbacks included a positive drug test while on probation and a fight at a halfway house that led to more jail time. At one point, Garrett Reid showed up to serve a sentence with 89 pills concealed in his rectum.
Recently, when a reporter spoke with Andy Reid about his sons, he was obviously relieved and proud to have both Garrett and Britt drug-free, he felt, and leading productive lives. Britt is an entry-level coach at Temple, where youngest son, Spencer, is a freshman running back.
Andy and Tammy Reid have said that Garrett's drug problems began with OxyContin when he was a student at Brigham Young in 2002 and continued with prescription drugs and heroin.
In a Philadelphia magazine interview, Andy Reid said that dealing with a loved one's addiction is "like fighting a grizzly bear."
"Garrett's had a tough struggle," former Eagles president Joe Banner told USA Today Sports on Sunday. "He seemed to be in a good place, which makes it all the more shocking. If you talk to the players, they liked him, enjoyed him .... He seemed like he got his life back together and was doing something he was really enjoying and doing it really well. And everybody was supporting him. ... It's just incredibly sad. For Andy and Tammy, I can't imagine what it must be like for them."