|by Ryan Messick
The rumor came out of nowhere on Super Bowl Sunday and spread like wildfire into Monday morning. It seemed so unbelievable, but after seeing the Eagles sign Michael Vick, trade Donovan McNabb within the division, make Michael Vick their starter and hire offensive line coach Juan Castillo as their new defensive coordinator, anything seemed within the realm of possibility for the Birds. Still, the story of Jon Gruden replacing Andy Reid as head coach would have topped the list, if it were true.
How it Started
In 2011, it doesn’t take much for someone’s crazy idea to become message board fodder, turn into an “insider” tip to a blogger or media member and take off from there. That’s how the Gruden to Philadelphia rumor began and, early along the way, former Eagles fullback Kyle Eckel posted it on his Facebook account, saying he had heard a rumor that Andy Reid was stepping aside due to personal reasons and that Gruden would be named the new head coach on Tuesday.
The rumor truly took off when two people viewed by the public as somewhere between bloggers and full-fledged media members took to Twitter and shared what they thought they knew.
Ashley Zavala, a junior in the University of Missouri’s broadcast journalism program, is a self-proclaimed Eagles fan from New Jersey. She lists her jobs and hobbies on her Twitter profile, including work as a sports reporter at KOMU-8, an NBC affiliate in Missouri. Cody Benjamin, a 16-year-old who has freelanced for small newspapers in the Lancaster area, is the founder and lead writer/blogger at Bleed-Green.com. Both tweeted the rumor and claimed to have inside sources, leading Eagles fans and media members on what ultimately amounted to a wild goose chase.
While Benjamin opted not to discuss the progression of the rumor in an interview and to instead focus on writing on his site and working to rebuild his reputation, Zavala explained how it began for her.
“Someone I went to [Haddon Township High School] with, his parents know a good amount of people in Philadelphia,” Zavala said. “I wasn’t surprised to hear that he had some inside information from Eagles personnel. He texted me and said Andy Reid is out, Gruden is in.”
Zavala said she was skeptical at first, but her friend promised to confirm that it was true. He did so by reading the details off of PhillySportsWorld.com, a blog that professes to be “committed to bringing you exclusive news, rumors and analysis.” Their sole source was Eckel, but they became a “source” for others.
Zavala decided to tweet the rumor, but considered herself only a fan even though her description on Twitter lists her as a reporter in Missouri.
“I sent out that tweet with only my friends following me,” Zavala said. “People follow me for sports, but not really as a reporter, some people do but for mid-Missouri sports…They trust me for mid-Missouri sports, but I’m just an Eagles fan.”
Meanwhile, Benjamin was sending out tweets about the rumor, citing anonymous sources and promising to continue investigating. He continued to post updates with additional speculation, but to many it seemed to be credible, including Zavala.