Originally published on Monday, Jan. 19, 2004.
It is unavoidable now.
Andy Reid's legacy is set for at least a year, and quite possibly forever. As successful as he has been, as many games as he has won, the Eagles coach has proven unable to win the Big One.
Oh-for-three. That is where Reid now stands in NFC title games after last night's crushing 14-3 loss to the Carolina Panthers. At home. On a perfectly clear evening at Lincoln Financial Field.
The loss to St. Louis in the 2001 NFC championship game was understandable. Tampa Bay last year was explainable. But this, this was unbearable.
So with just less than five minutes to go in the game, the fans started leaving Lincoln Financial Field, quietly and in pain. And more than a few must have muttered to themselves about Big Red and his inability, despite entering the day with a 5-3 career playoff record and 56 total wins as a head coach, to get to the Super Bowl.
Asked after the game whether his new 0-3 record in NFC title games was wearing on him, Reid said yes.
"Right now, it wears on me," Reid said, his voice even as always. "We're talking about a few minutes after the game. I'm not the happiest of people. "
The Birds certainly had problems last night that were well beyond Reid's control. Reid didn't hit Donovan McNabb late in the second quarter, injuring his ribs so severely that the Eagles quarterback left the game early in the fourth quarter and never returned.
Reid didn't let balls slip through his hands as he attempted to catch them, as his receivers did. And he didn't allow the Panthers' running backs to control the tempo of the game, outgaining the Eagles 155 yards to 137.
But this is Reid's team. He built it. It is his baby.
And this is his loss.
Since 1975, when teams' records first were used to determine game sites, no team had ever lost consecutive conference title games at home. But now, a team that was 1-15 just two years ago and didn't exist before 1995 will play in the Super Bowl, and the Birds will be home.
The Eagles undoubtedly will be compared to the Dallas Cowboys, who lost three straight NFC title games from 1980 to 1982. That was the last time an NFC team went 0-3 in the title game. But at least the Cowboys earned a few subsequent Super Bowl titles. The Birds may not be so lucky.
So Reid will have at least a year to hear all about it, because as long as he remains in Philadelphia, nothing shy of the Super Bowl victory, much less a mere appearance, will be good enough.
Part of that is Reid's fault. If he didn't possess the highest winning percentage of any coach in Eagles history, maybe his margin for error would be greater. If he hadn't coached the most playoff wins (five) in franchise history, or had the most regular-season wins (46) of any NFL coach since 2000, maybe the bar would not be so high.
But it is.
To his credit, Reid took responsibility for the loss - for not establishing the run earlier, for not putting the receivers in position to be effective, for not calling better plays.
"I could have done a whole lot better," Reid said.
To their credit, the players tried mightily to deflect any criticism away from their leader. This loss was their fault, they said. It is their burden.
"As players, we control what happens on the field," linebacker Ike Reese said. "The only thing the coaches can do is put us in the position to make plays and execute. That's offensively, defensively and special teams. As players, we've got to go out there and make plays. "
Now, Reid, the executive vice president of football operations, must go to work. He must make tough decisions about players, most notably free agents Duce Staley, Bobby Taylor, Troy Vincent and Carlos Emmons. He must find a few more playmakers on offense. And he must figure out what this team needs to actually get to the Super Bowl, not to the game's doorstep.
His legacy depends on it.
After a little time had subsided last night, Reid walked out of the trainer's room and quietly worked the Eagles' locker room. He hugged Reese and slapped Corey Simon on the back. There weren't many players around to console.
"Andy's a strong coach, a strong man," Simon said. "He'll bounce back. He'll be fine. "
But until he gets the Eagles to the Super Bowl, Reid's legacy will be set. Until further notice, he will be known as the Birds' best coach who never got his team to the big show.