Donovan McNabb will be roundly and wholeheartedly cheered when his No. 5 is retired at halftime on Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. McNabb was the Eagles' quarterback during the team's most successful era in six decades, so it all makes sense.
But that ceremony will take place only about 90 minutes after a great number of those very same fans boo the head coach from that very same era—the man who, against many of those fans' wishes, drafted McNabb in the first place.
If aliens are watching from somewhere in the universe, they'll be confused. It's complicated. It's a human thing and a sports thing. And more precisely, it's a Philly sports thing.
Like Reid, McNabb is no longer an Eagle. Unlike Reid, he's no longer an enemy. Officially retired, he has no plans to inflict pain against his former friends and neighbors, and time and hindsight have helped his legacy in the City of Brotherly Love.
Reid's return is very different. He's back less than nine months after the team filed for divorce. The wounds are still fresh. And most importantly, he'll be back wearing enemy red, representing the Kansas City Chiefs.
Expect fans to one day embrace Reid properly and recognize his many accomplishments fully. That day won't be Thursday.
Fans will and should appreciate that Reid led the team during its most successful stretch in modern NFL history, but not until Reid has also retired and not until they've had a chance to experience what else is out there.
Like McNabb, Reid didn't get those fans what they wanted most: the Vince Lombardi Trophy. He got them closer than any other coach, including Dick Vermeil, just as McNabb got them closer than any other quarterback, including Ron Jaworski, when they lost Super Bowl XXXIX by a field goal. That counts for something, as do those six division titles and five NFC Championship Game appearances in 14 seasons.
They have yet to fail with coaches since Reid was fired. Until that happens, they won't fully appreciate all of the above. Until they've had time to let the honeymoon stage of the Chip Kelly era pass, they won't look back at the Reid era with the fondness it deserves.
And that makes sense. Reid may have won more playoff games in his first 10 years (10 in total, or an average of one per year) than the organization had won in its first 66 years as a franchise (nine), but right now, the way things ended and the way things stand take precedence.
The "Dream Team" was a nightmare, and the Eagles went 12-20 in Reid's last two seasons. McNabb was gone, so he's immune from that, but it's still fresh on Reid's resume. We've just closed the book on Reid in Philly, and thus the last chapter is the one we can't shake. Over time, we'll look at the whole body of work without giving added weight to the woeful conclusion.
At that point, more fans will presumably begin to remember that, before Reid took over in 1999, the Eagles had gone 9-22-1 in the previous two seasons and had won just two playoff games in the previous 18 years.
They'll give credit to Reid for such a remarkable turnaround, considering that he already drafted the greatest quarterback in franchise history—the man being honored in the same building in which Reid could very well be public enemy No. 1 Thursday night.
Even if Kelly is a gift from the football gods and the solution to Philly's Super Bowl problem, and even if he does finally get this town a championship with this core in place, Reid will deserve a ton of the credit. He brought in Vick and LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson. He drafted Trent Cole and Brandon Graham. He acquired Jason Peters and Evan Mathis and DeMeco Ryans.
The Eagles during Reid's tenure were by far the best they've ever been and they consistently signed, drafted and traded for great talent. Was every move a success? Of course not, that's impossible. They, however, kept us in contention for the better part of a decade and a half and also built the core of the team that Kelly has won a game with thus far. To dismiss what Reid did for this organization is just completely ignorant.
One thing fans, media and surely a lot of players—hell, maybe even Reid—can agree on is that it was time for the Reid era to end and a new one to begin. He was the league's longest-tenured head coach, and his final home run swings were whiffs.
In those final years, Reid overtinkered in free agency, made some very questionable personnel and draft decisions and paid big-time for inexplicably naming an offensive line coach his defensive coordinator. He became a football mad scientist.
I don't think that will tarnish his long-term legacy inside or outside Philly, but it's the reason fans need this cooling-off period.
"I don't think any serious fans are genuinely upset with Reid," wrote another Reddit user, summing up what I believe is the consensus perspective. "It's obvious he built one of the best teams we've ever had, but ultimately it was time for both parties to move on."
I do believe never winning a championship will prevent Reid—and McNabb, as a matter of fact—from becoming a Philadelphia sports icon. He might never be listed with Balboa, Mack, Chamberlain, Frazier, Erving, Schmidt, White or Foxx, but he'll eventually deserve a lot more love from this city than he'll inevitably be greeted with on Thursday night.
It's only the third week of the first season post-Reid, and Eagles fans will still be gushing over a new head coach who, just like Reid, had never even been an NFL coordinator before taking the job. Kelly is an offensive guru with the NFL's second-most productive offense (477 yards per game) entering Thursday's game, so the fans are excited and probably a little distracted.
Regardless of what happens when Reid takes the field in his return, and regardless of what happens long-term with his successor, I can guarantee you that time will grant fans proper perspective on Reid's incredible impact on this organization. And eventually, when he is no longer a threat and an adversary, Eagles fans will fully embrace him.