Groundhog Day for Missouri Football Fans
It’s Groundhog Day in the state of Missouri. Much like the Bill Murray film of the same name, events have repeated themselves for the state’s football franchises. It is remarkable then, that the key to a Lombardi trophy for two teams on opposite sides of the state across two generations arose not from a midwest wheat field, but the streets of Philadelphia.
Wearing His Heart On His Chest Inspired Their Best
In the late 1970s, a struggling Philadelphia Eagles football team with a losing record hired a bright, young coach from the westcoast named Dick Vermeil. Coach Vermeil’s motivation was contagious, and he gave everything he had to the young men of that football team, pushing them as far as Super Bowl XV in New Orleans only to lose to the Oakland Raiders. It was a run no Philadelphia football fan who lived to see it could ever forget, and it was testimony to the drive, dedication and hard work necessary to reach that ultimate stage in the National Football League (NFL).
As the turn of the century approached, Coach Vermeil was lured out of retirement by Georgia Frontiere’s St. Louis Rams to see if he could once again take that rag-tag band of brothers from the NFC West basement to the pinnacle of the league. Drawing upon a number of former Philadelphia football stars which he had mentored almost as a father figure during that 1980s Eagles run to fill out his staff, he established a culture that instils an “Eye of the Tiger” work ethic and “Gonna Fly Now” spirit in a new team of young men.
It was a recipe that had worked well for Coach Vermeil before, and on January 30, 2000, it would prove effective again as the St. Louis Rams made it to Super Bowl XXXIV. On this day, Coach Vermeil would have the Lombardi trophy he was denied nineteen years earlier with the Eagles, as the St. Louis Rams held on to narrowly defeat the Tennessee Titans, giving them their first NFL championship in 49 years.
Although no one would assert the “Philadelphia Connection” at the time, it wasn’t lost on the Hunt family’s Kansas City Chiefs on the other side of Missouri that they needed a proven head coach. After his success in St. Louis, they too would lure Coach Vermeil to help them reach the Lombardi trophy last delivered to that city by the illustrious sideline presence, Hank Stram. Coach Vermeil would coach Kansas City to successful seasons of 13-3 and 10-6 before finally retiring, but his tenure was unfortunately not long enough to complete the work necessary to win a championship.
Success In Your Sixties Is Absolutely Worth The Wait
At the same time the St. Louis Rams were beginning to shine, in 1999, the Philadelphia Eagles hired a young and promising quarterback coach and offensive luminary in Andy Reid. His mission, should he choose to accept it, was to select, draft and groom the team’s new and talented franchise QB in Donovan McNabb and lift the Eagles out of last place and into the position of perennial contenders for the NFL championship.
A Reflection of the Head Coach
Establishing a team culture that was a reflection of his own beliefs, he fostered the growth and development of countless young athletes. For most of his extraordinarily long 14-year tenure, he could always find ways to lead players to some of their best clutch performances. This put the Eagles into the penultimate game to the Super Bowl on four occasions, although only once did they reach the championship game, Super Bowl XXXIX. There, in Jacksonville, from a seat in endzone section 109, I looked on as they fell to the New England Patriots.
When you run out of trick plays
In his final two seasons with Philadelphia, the team inexplicably failed to rise to Coach Reid’s exhortations losing too many close games. Owner Jeffery Lurie chose not to extend Coach Reid’s contract.
He had had one of the longest tenures of any head coach in Philadelphia sports franchise history, and for most of those years gave the Lombardi trophy-hungry fans of Philadelphia plenty to cheer about. Yet fans can be mercurial, and the team had fallen short of its ultimate goal. No one could question the dedication Coach Reid had given to the organization (save critics on sports radio), and he left the city with considerable respect.
There is no Shortage of Work for Great Head Coaches
It wasn’t long before the Kansas City Chiefs hired Coach Reid to help their team out of the AFC West basement it had found itself in. It would be another investment of time (seven years) into rebuilding the team, finding and grooming a franchise quarterback, and getting no shortage of lucky breaks along the way, to finish the business for
a Lombardi trophy-hungry fanbase–this time in Kansas City–that he hadn’t for Philadelphia.
Success — Sometimes It Comes Quickly
Some coaches are fortunate in their first foray onto the big stage of the Super Bowl, to find success. One team wins after all, while the other team must lose. Philadelphia Eagles fans would eventually have their hunger for a Lombardi trophy sated by Coach Reid’s first choice for an interim quarterback to groom Donovan McNabb during his first
season, and later as his assistant, in Coach Doug Pederson. Yes, it finally happened as a result of a magical postseason run culminating in that memorable victory over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII.
Success — Sometimes It Takes a Lifetime
For other coaches the Lombardi trophy is a lifetime achievement that can only be held after learning at the knee of other successful coaches, finding your way in leading young football teams, and perservering through seemingly-countless setbacks. Championship comes not after years, but decades.
Finally today, Kansas City, Missouri (and perhaps also Kansas City, Kansas) fans watched Coach Reid and their Kansas City Chiefs win Super Bowl LIV over the San Francisco 49ers. It was KC’s first NFL championship in 50 years. At age 61, Coach Reid had finally done it and deserves to be recognized as the best coach in the
sport. When asked on the field after the game finished whether it was worth the wait, Andy Reid answered, “Absolutely!”
We should all be so dedicated to our chosen professions as shown by the examples of Dick Vermeil and Andy Reid: the Philadelphia connection to two different Missouri NFL football championship teams. Philadelphia fans thank them for giving the best years of their life to our football franchise when we laughed and cried with them through every moment, and Missouri fans know why they are so great. Congratulations!