A new era in Eagles football is set to launch, and after all the talk about Chip Kelly's innovative, imaginative, supercool offense, it wouldn't be a surprise if the new coach entered FedEx Field Monday night riding atop an actual rocket ship.
No coach in Eagles history has entered the green scene with more hype and more hope. After 14 years of "OK, injuries," and "I have to put the players in a better position," all any new coach initially had to do to win over the Super Bowl-starved fans of Philadelphia was not be Andy Reid.
Kelly, 49, definitely is not.
The New Hampshire native who rose to coaching fame at the University of Oregon proved that by turning the practice fields into a mosh pit and the hallways of the NovaCare Complex into a maze of nutrition.
Now comes the difficult part - the season.
Starting with Monday night's game against the Washington Redskins in front of a national television audience, the pressure rises and the results matter.
Reid and Ray Rhodes, the only other men hired as head coaches by Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, learned immediately how difficult the job can be. It's not just about how your team plays; it's also about what you say, how you say it, and how you react to the wins and losses as the season grinds on.
Both Rhodes and Reid had grim starts and grimmer finishes to their coaching careers here.
In between, there were some good moments for Rhodes, some great ones for Reid.
Rhodes' first team had only 21 players left from his predecessor Rich Kotite's final squad, which lost its last seven games in 1994. The headliner among the newcomers was free-agent running back Ricky Watters. He quickly became the coach's first headache on opening day against Tampa Bay.
After a 21-6 loss at Veterans Stadium during which Watters made an inauspicious debut, the running back uttered four of the most infamous words in franchise history: "For who? For what?"
The Jeopardy-like answer was in reference to a question about why he had made a halfhearted attempt to catch a couple of poorly thrown passes by quarterback Randall Cunningham. After just one game, Rhodes had to put out a seven-alarm fire. He tried to do so with the blazing demeanor and colorful vocabulary that defined his tenure in Philadelphia.
"We stunk up the joint," he said in his opening statement. "We were sloppy. Execution. None. Defensively, we gave up some big plays, and you can't give them up. It was just sloppy play all over the field. I've got a lot of things to clean up and I'm disappointed in an opening game like this. When you get your [butts] handed to you, 21-6, it's hard to find anything positive."
Entertaining words, almost Buddy Ryan-esque, and for his first two seasons, Rhodes' fiery approach resonated with the players. The Eagles, with Watters playing the leading role, won 10 games and made the playoffs as wild cards in consecutive years, even registering a blowout playoff win over the Detroit Lions.
It was a fast-burning fire, however, and the Eagles were a rudderless mess by the start of Rhodes' final season in 1998. Everyone, including the coach, knew he was going to be fired before the season started. Rhodes' last team went 3-13, was shut out three times, and failed to score more than 17 points in 15 of 16 games.
When Lurie hired Reid, the question wasn't for who, for what, it was simply: "Who?" Nobody could believe the Eagles had settled for the Green Bay Packers' supersized quarterbacks coach.
One quarter into his first game, Reid's Eagles scored as many points as Rhodes' last team had put up in any single game during the 1998 season. The Eagles built a 21-0 lead over the Arizona Cardinals and the coach nobody knew anything about seemed to be winning some converts, although not that many because the game at the Vet was blacked out locally on television because it wasn't a sellout.
The Eagles still led by nine with 41/2 minutes remaining, but lost, 25-24, on a field goal as time expired. Reid's decision to throw a pass on a third-and-4 play with less than two minutes remaining became the game's most controversial decision. Brian Finneran bobbled the throw from Doug Pederson and the result was a Cardinals interception that gave Arizona the ball at the Eagles' 43-yard line.
Looking back at Reid's first postgame news conference is kind of like watching the pilot episode of a long-running sitcom. He didn't open with a list of injuries.
"All right, that's a tough way to go right there," he said. "Those hurt. I think the players feel the same way. Really, the first half was smart football. The second half was not as smart football."
Pretty boring, pretty bland, and pretty much what we'd get from Reid for the next 14 years. Nobody minded too much when the vanilla rhetoric seemed like it might lead to gold at the end of the rainbow. It never did.
Rookie Eagles coaches are 7-10 overall on opening day. The last one to win on opening day was Kotite in 1991. He also lost Cunningham to a season-ending injury that same day and problems at quarterback kept one of the most dominating defenses in NFL history from even making the playoffs.
Another era in Eagles football begins Monday night and this one might just be more fascinating than all the others.