BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- For 11 years, 11 training camps, it was Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb, together. Especially at the beginning, they spoke from the same script and shared the same worldview. Each would evolve some, change some, because who doesn't over the course of a decade? But the two of them, almost until the end, shared a destiny most of all.
Good, bad or indifferent -- and it was rarely indifferent -- Reid and McNabb were joined in praise and criticism and conversation. That changed at the end because everybody seemed to need to choose a side, and so the Reid people would talk about McNabb's inaccuracy and big-game performances and the McNabb people would talk about Reid's playcalling and refusal to invest enough in wide receivers. For most of the 11 years, though, the two of them operated in lockstep.
But in the 12th year, Reid walks alone. He acknowledged last week that there is a different feeling.
"I think there is," Reid said. "I think there's a little bit of unknown, which I kind of like."
A wise man named John Chaney, in an entirely different context, would often say, "You've got the known and you've got the unknown -- and the unknown just kicked my ass." In this case, though, Reid says he embraces the uncertainty, with Kevin Kolb as his quarterback and a bunch of defensive questions and almost certainly the youngest team he has ever had with the Eagles.
Reid wore his customary black shirt at the press conference. Only under an infrared light would you be able to see the target on his back, the one that he used to share with McNabb. It is a big target, as you might imagine. Of course, Reid knows it. He has been picking the players around here for a while now, and he has chosen this moment to turn an enormous organizational page.
"I've been in that position for a couple of years," he said. "I don't worry about that. That's all part of the competition."
Still, it really is all on him, and now he is publicly embracing this business of the unknown.
"I like that," Reid said. "I think it's a great challenge. It's a great challenge for the coaches and for the players. There's some big-name players, that have been proven players on this football team, that aren't here. It's important that the young guys step up and they go. That, to me, is exciting."
The natural followup question was to wonder if it all had gotten stale in 11 years, not through the fault of any single person but just because it had been 11 years.
"I don't think it had (gotten) stale," Reid said. "I think you just kind of knew what you had there in certain positions. The one that you asked about is a pretty important position. Quarterback is a pretty important position, so we've got to find that out. But there are also some other young guys that we have to work in there ... a lot of new bodies."
The truth is, it had gotten stale -- for Reid and for McNabb and for the rest of the players and for a fan base that diagrammed every play during the game and every sentence postgame. Circumstances weighed on the entire franchise. Eleven years without a championship is a very long time for a coach and a quarterback -- admittedly not as long as the 50 years since the Eagles last won a title, a championship celebrated on the banner that was hanging behind Reid at the press conference, but long nonetheless.
This whole change really does bring a fresh breeze out of a different direction. Until proven otherwise, though, Reid is still Reid -- same plays, same philosophies, same time management, same old. The most interesting part of this whole business, this change to Kolb and to a younger nucleus of players, will be to see if it changes Reid in any way.
The truth is, the opportunity is there. It really is for the entire organization. The bar of expectations is dipping here, if only slightly and temporarily. The notion that every step this team takes will be into an already-made footprint is gone. A page really has turned.
And Andy Reid -- the man who holds the pen, as ever -- says the blank page excites him. Soon enough, we will find out if that's true.