When Doug Pederson walks out onto Lincoln Financial Field just before kickoff for his first game as an NFL head coach he will look to the stands and see his wife, Jeannie; their three sons; his sister and two brothers; and finally, his mother, Teri, and those will be the only reminders he needs of who's missing.
Pederson's father, Gordon, died Sept. 2 at the age of 77. It wasn't sudden, but even after expected deaths grieving is as inevitable as breathing. Grief is a passage without direction. There isn't a normal reaction.
"It's difficult when you lose your dad, who was your mentor early in life," Pederson said. "The beauty of it is I dove right back into football, so it kind of takes your mind away from it.
"But you have those moments when you're in your office just watching tape, you remember a time, whether we were on the football field, or basketball court, or the baseball diamond, that he was always coaching us."
Gordon Pederson taught his son the game of football. He was his first coach. When the elder Pederson moved from Bellingham, Wash., to Monroe, La., to start a new job, he went to the local college and dropped off high school film of Doug to the head football coach.
"Back then it was VHS tapes," Doug said.
Gordon's initiative eventually led to a scholarship at Northeastern Louisiana - now Louisiana-Monroe. But the rest - setting then-Division I-AA passing records, persevering through countless rejections to last 13 years in the NFL, and ascending in short time to the pinnacle of the coaching pyramid - Doug did mostly on his own.
"He taught me the importance of work and how to work hard, and be the leader of the football team," Pederson said this past week. "I wanted to be a receiver. He said, 'No, you're going to be the quarterback because we don't have anybody that can take a snap.'
"That's how I became a quarterback and played it my whole life."
Gordon was able to watch Doug's entire playing career. He won't get the opportunity to see his son finally lead an NFL team.
He knew what Doug had accomplished, though. Gordon suffered a stroke in December 2014 right before Christmas. After a two-month stint in the intensive-care unit, he bounced between his home and assisted living. He was never the same.
But when the Eagles named Pederson head coach in January, he did recognize his son's achievement. Doug brought him an Eagles hat and shirt. Gordon couldn't communicate all of his emotions, but the son knew that his father was proud.
"He recognized when I became a head coach. He recognized when I walked in the building, but it was just vanilla," Pederson said. "He just had flashes of being in another part of the country or me playing football, whatever. But I knew that he was excited."
Gordon declined over the last two weeks of August as Pederson was finishing up his first preseason as coach. Dementia had set in. He could no longer stand. And then he lost the ability to swallow.
Pederson flew down to Monroe on Sept. 1, the day after the preseason finale against the New York Jets. Gordon died that evening.
"I was just very thankful that it worked out for him and his family, that they were able to be there," Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. "That doesn't always happen, especially when you work in this business."
Pederson might have been there physically, but part of his psyche had to stay in Philly as Howie Roseman engineered a trade that sent Sam Bradford to the Vikings. The Eagles executive vice president of football operations said that he remained in conversation with Pederson through that Saturday.
A day later, Pederson was back on a plane headed north. He had a new quarterback in rookie Carson Wentz whom he needed to prep. He had one week to prepare for the Browns. Of the players asked, each one said that he didn't know Pederson's father was ill until after the Eagles had announced he had died.
"He's just been consistent through everything," Reich said. "He's got rock-solid character. He has a lot of inner strength. I know he's been pretty clear about where that comes from. I just think you see that play out in every aspect of his life."
Gordon Pederson played in high school, but that's as far as he went. He worked for Intalco Works, an aluminum distributor, and was then a division manager at Columbia Chemicals in Monroe. But sports were Doug's connection to his father.
"I recently lost my dad, too, so I can understand the feeling," Reich said. "When it really starts to sink in it's a different kind of pain than when it first happens. And it never goes away. You just miss your dad."
Pederson said that because his father had requested to be cremated the family could hold off on the funeral until the Eagles' bye week later this month. The Pedersons will gather again at the Linc this Sunday in celebration of Doug's accomplishment, but in doing so they honor Gordon's memory.
"If healthy, my dad would have been here," Pederson said. "He would have been at all the games."