My name is Stephane Hardinger. You probably don’t remember me. We met a few years ago. September 24, 2010 to be exact. My high school’s football team, Conestoga, was playing against your son Spencer’s team, Harriton. You decided to come to the game. After a 47-20 win by Conestoga, you shook each and every player on our team’s hand on our way onto the bus. That was really cool of you. Since I didn’t actually, you know, play on the team (I didn’t see a single snap in the entirety of our season), that was easily the highlight of the year for me. But I said something that may have inadvertently changed both of our lives forever.
September 24, 2010 was a Friday, as are most days when high school football is played. At this juncture, the Eagles sat at 1-1, coming off of a 35-32 win over the Detroit Lions that saw Michael Vick complete 21 of 34 passes for 284 yards, 2 TDs, and 0 INTs. This performance came on the heels of his heroic effort in relief of Kevin Kolb in Week 1 against the Green Bay Packers, in which Vick was 16-24 passing for 175 yards and a TD and carried the ball 11 times for 103 yards, nearly bringing the Eagles back from a 20-3 hole before ultimately falling to the eventual champions 27-20.
The Eagles had a road game on September 26, 2010 against the Jacksonville Jaguars. There consensus at the time was that Michael Vick was going to start at QB again, but there had been no official announcement yet on w was going to start the rest of the season at QB. I was one of the last people in line to get on the bus. As I shook your hand, I uttered the phrase that would change our futures forever: “Hey Coach Reid, give Vick the job full-time”. You weren’t happy to hear that. I understand. You were there to see your son play on your time off, you were gracious enough to shake each and every player on the team’s hand, and here was some snot-nosed punk telling you how to do your job. But that Sunday, Vick was 17/31 for 291 yards and 3 TDs and ran for another 17-yard TD in a 28-3 Eagles win. The next week, you announced that Vick would be the starter for the foreseeable future, and we were off and running.
The Eagles’ 2010 season was a whirlwind of ups and downs. Michael Vick was no different. There was the Monday Night Massacre of the Redskins in Landover. There was the Miracle at the New Meadowlands. There were the multiple injuries Vick suffered. After the miracle comeback win against the Giants in Week 15 (one of the best moments of my life, by the way-thanks for making that possible), the Eagles sat at 10-4, poised to capture the #2 seed and a 1st-round bye in the playoffs. Then, in Week 16, disaster struck. The Eagles took on the lowly Minnesota Vikings on a Tuesday night after the game was delayed due to heavy snow. Led by backup QB Joe Webb, starting in place of Brett Favre, the Vikings stunned the Eagles and won the game 24-14. Vick played one of his worst games of the season: 8 carries for 63 yards and a TD and 25/43 passing for 263 yards, a TD, an INT, and a fumble that was returned 45 yards for a touchdown just before the end of the first half. The Giants’ blowout loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday had given the Eagles the NFC East championship, but the loss to the Vikings locked the Eagles into the #3 seed in the NFC. Vick finished the regular season with 3,018 passing yards, 21 TDs, and 6 INTs while running for 676 yards and 9 TDs on 100 carries. These numbers were accumulated despite the fact that he only appeared in 12 games, starting 11.
The failure to secure a 1st-round bye left the Eagles forced to play the red-hot Green Bay Packers in the Wild Card round of the NFC playoffs. The Packers won 21-16 with the help of 3 TD passes from Aaron Rodgers, 123 rushing yards from the unheralded James Starks, 2 missed field goals from the usually-reliable David Akers, and the underthrow Vick made to Riley Cooper in the end zone with 44 seconds left that was intercepted by Tramon Williams. The Packers, of course, went on to eviscerate the Falcons, outlast the Bears, and eliminate the Steelers on their way to winning the Super Bowl that season.
Coming off this soul-crushing postseason loss, the Eagles made many moves in the offseason. They fired defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, promoted OL coach Juan Castillo to the position, hired Howard Mudd to replace him, and hired Jim Washburn to coach the DL. They traded Kevin Kolb to Arizona for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a 2nd-round draft pick, and made a bevy of high-priced, high-profile free agent acquisitions: Vince Young, Ronnie Brown, Cullen Jenkins, Jason Babin, and Nnamdi Asomugha. The roster and coaching staff underwent dramatic overhaul nearly overnight. One of the few constants would be Vick. His contract expired after his magical 2010 season, but the Eagles placed the franchise tag on him. On August 29th, the team and Vick announced that they had agreed upon a 6 year, $100M contract extension. Things quickly spiraled downward from there, as the self-proclaimed “Dream Team” finished 8-8 after a 4-8 start in 2011 and the 2012 Eagles bottomed out at 4-12, with Vick losing his job to rookie Nick Foles. The 4-12 record doomed you as well, Mr. Reid, and you were fired.
As both the head coach and the person who had final say over personnel decisions, I know you had plenty of input into all these decisions. And, while it worked in the short term, making Michael Vick your starting QB ended up leading to the downfall of the Eagles, and it helped cost you your job. For that, Mr. Reid, I truly am sorry. Because without my urging to you to give Vick the job full time next to that idling bus in the Harriton football field’s parking lot, who knows whether Michael Vick would have started? Who knows what would have happened?
Yet you probably could have emerged from the past 2 dismal seasons with your job intact if you had won a Super Bowl during your time in Philadelphia. Lurie would have read you the riot act, you would have fired Bowles and Mornhinweg, jettisoned Vick, and made numerous other roster changes. But that ring would have bought you more time here. You know that as well as I do. And you certainly had plenty of opportunities to win one. There was the 2001 NFC Championship game, in which the Eagles led the favored Rams 17-13 at halftime before falling 29-24. There was the painful 2002 NFC Championship game to close out the Vet that saw the Buccaneers stun the Eagles 27-10 after the Eagles took a 7-0 lead less than a minute into the game. The Bucs, of course, went on to win the Super Bowl. Black Sunday, indeed. And who could forget the 2003 NFC Championship game, a horrendous 14-3 loss to the Carolina Panthers at home that saw Donovan McNabb throw 3 INTs to Ricky Manning, Jr. after suffering a rib injury on a cheap shot by Greg Favors while McNabb was lying on the ground. And then there’s the 2004 Super Bowl, a 24-21 loss to the Patriots in which the Eagles did not employ a hurry-up offense when it was necessary on their 4th-quarter scoring drive. Still wondering about that one, Andy. But despite all of that, you had one more golden opportunity to win one that slipped through your team’s collective fingers: the 2008 NFC Championship game. And that, Andy, is where I come in again to take the blame off your shoulders. To tell you that it wasn’t your fault.
Well, not me to be exact. My older brother. See, I was 100% sure the Eagles were going to win that NFC Championship game against the Cardinals. The Eagles eviscerated the Cardinals on Thanksgiving night that season 48-20. And I was in the stands for that 44-6 beatdown against Dallas, where everything went right and the Eagles snuck into the playoffs as the #6 seed despite improbable odds. They got the luxury of facing a Tarvaris Jackson-led Vikings team in the Wild Card round, and upended the top-seeded Giants 23-11 in the Divisional Round, one of my favorite Eagles games ever. The NFC title game came around, and I was watching it at home with my dad and older brother. We sat shell-shocked in front of our TV as we watched the Cardinals take a 24-6 halftime lead by virtue of Larry Fitzgerald doing Larry Fitzgerald things and Quentin Demps picking a bad time to play his worst football of the season. While my father and I stayed in front of the TV, my older brother left, muttering something about going to play Xbox downstairs. The Eagles, of course, made an epic comeback in the 2nd half, punctuated by Desean Jackson’s juggled 62 yard TD reception with 10:45 left to give the Eagles a 25-24 lead. My older brother heard me and my dad erupt with cheers and came up to see what was going on. When he saw the Eagles were winning, he decided to stay and watch the rest of the game. This proved to be disastrous, as the Cardinals marched down the field on an 8-minute drive that included a 4th-and-1 conversion near midfield and scored a TD to take a 32-25 lead they wouldn’t relinquish. My brother stayed in the room for the entirety of the drive, despite urgent pleas to leave from me and my father. He stubbornly refused to leave despite obvious evidence that he was bad luck, and when the Eagles turned the ball over on downs after Rod Hood mugged Kevin Curtis without a flag. The Eagles lost, and in doing so missed out on an opportunity to face a Steelers team in the Super Bowl that the Eagles had handily dominated 15-6 earlier in the season in a game that wasn’t as close as the scoreline indicated.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the Eagles would have won the Super Bowl in 2008 if they had gotten by the Cardinals. They were a team of destiny that postseason, like the 2007 Giants, the 2010 Packers, and the 2011 Giants in the NFL, the 2010 Giants and 2011 Cardinals in the MLB, and the 2012 Kings in the NHL. They were derailed not by any faults made by you or your team, but by my older brother’s selfish and stubborn actions in my family room during the 4th quarter of the 2008 NFC championship game, nearly 2400 miles away.
With the end of your tenure coming on Monday, I’ve been doing a lot of reflection about the Eagles during your time as the team’s head coach. I was 4 when you got hired. I’m 18 now. You’re the only Eagles coach I’ve ever known. But, as I bring this letter to a close, I want you to know something: it’s not your fault. It isn’t your fault that you never won a Super Bowl in Philadelphia and were relieved of your duties as Eagles head coach on December 31st. The blame falls squarely on the shoulders of two people: me, for telling you to start Michael Vick in the Harriton parking lot on that Friday night in September 2010 and inadvertently causing the downfall of the Eagles, and my older brother, for refusing to leave the room during the 4th quarter of the 2008 NFC Championship Game despite the fact that he was clearly a bad luck charm, thereby depriving you of a Super bowl win. I’m sorry. You deserved better. The team deserved better. These fans deserve better. We deserved better.
PS: You know what the sad part is? I didn’t need to look up any of the statistics and numbers I used in this letter. It’s all from memory. The “almost”, “not quite”, and “so close” history of the modern-day Philadelphia Eagles is ingrained in my memory like a tattoo I didn’t want and I can’t remove. I can still see Joe Jurevicius streaking down the sideline at the Vet, Blaine Bishop in tow. I can still see Greg Favors hitting Donovan McNabb in the ribs as he lay on the ground. I can still see confetti raining down on Tom Brady’s head. I can still see Terrell Owens doing sit-ups in his driveway. I can still see Aenas Williams jumping in front of a Donovan McNabb pass that was supposed to go to Freddie Mitchell instead. I can still see Quentin Demps lying on the ground behind Larry Fitzgerald. I can still see the Michael Vick pass that seemingly hung up in the air forever landing in Tramon Williams’s arms instead of Riley Cooper’s. God, we really need a Super Bowl here soon before I lose my mind. If I haven’t already.