If it weren't for the pictures, you might think you'd imagined the whole thing - like staring at a statue so long, you swear you saw it smile for a brief moment.

But the pictures exist. They confirm that, for just a little while there, Andy Reid dropped his great public stone face and revealed himself. For longtime Eagles watchers and Reidologists, this was roughly the same as a presidential historian getting a wink and a smile from the faces on Mount Rushmore.

By this week, it was over. During his three media availabilities in the auditorium at the NovaCare Complex, Reid assumed his usual public persona. He gave brief dry answers in a voice so glottal it actually makes him cough. Mount Rushmore was stone again.

Ah, but in that brief period of football glasnost, was there something new? Did this ever-so-fleeting change in his facade indicate a deeper change in the man himself?

Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, who knows Reid as well as anyone in the organization, says no.

"I just see him as a very genuine person," Lurie said. "He doesn't play to the media and doesn't play to those who want him to play to them. . . . I don't see any changes."

That's only partly true. In steadfastly refusing to "play to the media," Reid is by definition reacting to the media. The throat-clearing, monotonal, "Time's yours" guy at the microphone is not the real Andy Reid. He didn't woo wife Tammy with that personality, didn't raise his five kids with it and most assuredly didn't employ it to persuade Lurie in a job interview to take a chance on a relatively unknown assistant coach from Green Bay.

Reid long ago calculated that the best way to keep the Philadelphia media monster in check was to withhold the stuff it feeds on - unfortunate word choices that linger forever in public memory, promises not fulfilled, empty boasts that ultimately become your epitaph. Say the wrong thing here, and you may as well get it tattooed on your forehead.

So Reid tries very hard not to say much of anything. Instead, he does what he thinks is best, without regard for public opinion. In that sense, Lurie was spot on. Reid doesn't play to the media or the vox populi.

Breaks from Reid's approach have been rarer than solar eclipses. Last week, however, between winning his fifth NFC East title and coaching his 13th playoff game, Reid did offer a rare glimpse behind the Rushmore face. And there was something to be learned from it.

Really, it was the first indication of a subtle shift in Reid's mental outlook. A self-described "mother hen" who fussed over every detail in his football operation, he admitted to stepping back - his coordinators, even on offense, were given full rein to get the Eagles back on track.

"I'm not handling them at all," Reid said on Jan. 1. "I don't want [offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg] to have to look over his shoulder any more than Jim [Johnson] has to look over his shoulder. When you start doing that, you are not going to do your best job."

The big change came when Reid turned over all the offensive play calling to Mornhinweg. That allowed him to lower his giant laminated play chart and pay attention to other things that were happening during games.

"It allows me to see a lot more," Reid said. "I'm not constantly looking at that play sheet, so I can keep an eye on what's going on on the defense. I can keep an eye - this isn't always good, but I can keep an eye on everything. It's a little different perspective on things and I'm enjoying it."

Touted as a "CEO type" head coach, Reid was delegating more and finding that it worked. The key to that, of course, is to have the right people in place. But there's still a little bit of letting go involved.

You got the sense that this Eagles run liberated Reid a bit. He had bounced back from a 6-10 season spent dealing with Terrell Owens. He had won a division title after a 1-5 slide. He had turned over part of the job he liked to someone he felt could do it better, at least for the time being. He had reached the playoffs without the services of franchise quarterback Donovan McNabb.

On top of all that, Reid's body of work as a head coach has become nearly impossible to criticize. He has not completed his resume with that elusive Super Bowl title, but he has claimed a place among the NFL's elite coaches.

All of that was right there, in the brief glimpse Reid allowed us. By Monday, the start of a short week to prepare for the New Orleans Saints, it was gone.

Still, Mount Rushmore won't look quite the same again.

Post a question or comment for Phil Sheridan at http://go.philly.com/asksheridan. Or by email: psheridan@phillynews.com.