THE FIRST time Andy Reid did the Philadelphia podium thing, it was 12 years ago last month at the Marriott in Center City. The day he was hired as the Eagles' coach, the unknown quarterbacks coach from Green Bay was faced with a barrage of negativity, about his new roster and his crumbling stadium and his lack of a practice facility and the perception around the NFL that this was a lousy franchise. Oh, and welcome to town.
Reid batted away the questions and pushed back at the cynicism of the questioners. Along the way, he offered approximately zero in the way of information - really, about anything.
Nobody expected a detailed blueprint on the first day, but after 4 years of Ray Rhodes' earthy wisdom, preceded by 4 years of Rich Kotite's unintentional comedy, preceded by 5 years of Buddy Ryan's unrelenting rambunctiousness, this empty patter had all of us in the press seats kind of glancing at each other with an arched eyebrow. He did not have us at hello.
A dozen years later, the podium remains Reid's biggest problem. It prevented the fan base from offering him a full, heartfelt embrace when the Eagles were close to winning championships, and it gives his critics ammunition now as he works to win a Super Bowl before his expiration date.
The latest business with David Akers is just the most recent example. Reid has banked so little goodwill with people over the years - because he is so unforthcoming from the podium, or clumsy, or howlingly untruthful at times - that pretty much anything he says at this point can be used against him in the court of public opinion.
As we all know, Akers missed two field goals in the Eagles' five-point playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers. After the game, in response to a question late in his press conference, Reid said, "We can all count. Those points would have helped."
It was a statement of fact, offered without malice. But it failed to acknowledge the back story that was then unknown to the public: that Akers' week before the game was filled with the ache that only a parent can know, as one of his children was in the process of being diagnosed with a cancerous cyst on her ovary. According to an Inquirer story, the diagnosis was made on the day after the Green Bay game. The cyst has since been removed and the hope is for her good health in the future.
One simple, additional statement from Reid - " . . . but you can't pin this on David because we just didn't play well enough overall" - would have rendered this entire discussion meaningless.
But Reid, still so awkward sometimes in the give-and-take of an interview, failed to make it - and now, because he does not have that goodwill on account, people who should know better have decided that he is Satan.
There is no question that he botched the answer, and Reid has to live with that. But the people who say that Reid uncharacteristically singled out the kicker in this circumstance really are piling on. It just isn't true. He covers for offensive and defensive players all the time but he has a pretty conventional coach-kicker thing going on.
The best example comes from the NFC Championship Game in January 2009. In that loss, Akers missed a field goal and an extra point and also kicked off out of bounds. They were crucial points.
After that one, Reid was quoted in the Delaware County Daily Times as saying, "It's uncharacteristic of David and so was the field goal. Those are things that in these games you can't afford to miss."
In the Inquirer, Reid was quoted as saying, "When you get into these games, those are the kinds of plays you have to make."
They were matter-of-fact, unvarnished assessments of Akers' day. If anything, though, they were more pointed than the things Reid said after the Green Bay game this year. So the notion that Reid went out of his way to single out Akers this time is wrong.
Still, though, the podium has gotten Reid in trouble. After all of this time, he still cannot master the ad-lib. He starts with his script, with injuries and looking forward to the opportunity to play whoever, and then it becomes treacherous. His fallback position is to tell a fat joke on himself and try to change the subject. There is just an awkwardness to the whole thing, even now.
And then there are the untruths, the most recent being when he said that defensive coordinator Sean McDermott was still going to be on the staff a couple of days before firing him. In other circumstances, Reid has justified the lying as buying time before making a decision. Why he has not summoned the ability to say something like this - "I'm not talking about any specific player or staff member. When you don't win, everybody and everything gets evaluated" - is beyond me.
And the thing is, Reid appears not to care what all of this does to his reputation. At this point, nothing is going to alter the fact that the podium has always gotten between Reid and this city, both literally and figuratively.
For recent columns go to www.philly.com/RichHofmann.