clock menu more-arrow no yes
Illustration by Pierce Thiot

Filed under:

The rehabilitator in chief

How Andy Reid built a champion on second chances

Editor’s note: This story, part of the January/February issue of Deseret Magazine, was originally published Jan. 4, 2021.

No city loves a man like Kansas City loves Andy Reid. Bakeries here sell cookies shaped like his head, with his trademark glasses and mustache drawn on with icing. At least two different businesses sell prayer candles bearing his likeness. Local TV news recently broadcast a story about a man who meticulously tilled 27 acres of a Missouri soybean field into a portrait of Andy Reid visible from the stratosphere.

A mural on the wall next to McFadden’s Sports Bar in the Power and Light District downtown features several of the Kansas City Chiefs’ most popular players. There’s star quarterback Patrick Mahomes flexing his throwing arm. There’s veteran tight end Travis Kelce, depicted mid-stride. Defensive end Frank Clark celebrates a tackle. They’re all in uniform with their helmets on. The only face visible in the massive painting is Andy Reid’s.

It’s not just that the fan base of the Kansas City Chiefs is perhaps the most zealous and loyal in the NFL, or that Reid, the team’s head coach for the last eight seasons, has ushered in an unprecedented era of winning. They don’t just love him because his brushy mustache and teddy-bear physique make Reid, nicknamed “Big Red,” the most avuncular, everyman character in all of professional sports. Or because he’s prone to hilariously endearing turns of phrase, like shouting “son of a buck” when a play doesn’t go the way he’d planned it, or the time, after an ugly win, he told his team that “not all of Mozart’s paintings were perfect.”

Reid also promotes local businesses any chance he gets, without compensation, publicly espousing his affinity for the ribs at Jack Stack Barbecue — what might be a controversial opinion if uttered by any other public figure. But his contribution to regional commerce, substantial though it may be, isn’t why he’s so beloved, either.

Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, left, celebrates with head coach Andy Reid after winning the Super Bowl on Feb. 2, 2020, in Miami Gardens, Fla.
David J. Phillip, Associated Press

Kansas City’s affection for the 62-year-old head coach is about something deeper than all of that. A sample of that love is on display on a bright, crisp Sunday afternoon in early November, when the Chiefs are hosting the Carolina Panthers. Arrowhead Stadium has about 15,000 distanced fans in attendance. Hundreds more, though, have walked past that giant mural to sit and watch the game for free on an outdoor movie theatre-size screen in the courtyard between the half-dozen open bars and restaurants in the Power and Light District.

This is where thousands of members of what they call “Chiefs Kingdom” jammed together to watch the Super Bowl at the end of last season, before so much of 2020’s chaos unraveled. Now groups are keeping their distance, but every table outside is occupied and a few stragglers are sitting alone on the stairs and leaning along the second-floor railing. Most people are wearing candy-apple red Chiefs hats or shirts. As servers collect food and drink orders before kickoff, the screen briefly shows Reid shuffling down the Chiefs sideline wearing a plastic shield over his face. The fans give a smattering of applause — something that won’t happen again until more than 10 minutes into the game, when Mahomes completes a 14-yard pass to Tyreek Hill.

The Chiefs have been great again this year, losing only once in their first nine games. Early in the second quarter, though, the Panthers are leading 14-3. You might expect to see some anxiety, some frustration. But not here. The closest anyone gets is when, as the Chiefs face a third down and the screen briefly cuts to Reid’s face calling a play, a man sitting on a picnic table yells out, “Do the right thing, Andy!”

Kansas City Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt, right, hands the Super Bowl trophy to head coach Andy Reid on Feb. 2, 2020.
Chris O’Meara, Associated Press

I.

Every week of the football season, Andy Reid stands in front of reporters and answers dozens of questions. And yet he almost never reveals anything even remotely substantive about his team or himself. Every press conference goes the same way. Reid comes in wearing his Chiefs cap and a bright red parka that makes him seem like a floating, disembodied head. He talks about his football team with the caution of a poker player or master politician.

He starts by going over the injuries on the roster, as required by the NFL. Then he often shares some brief thoughts, a sentence or two at most, about the team the Chiefs are playing that week or the way the season is shaping up. Then, without fail, he tells the gathered reporters the same thing, with the same words.

“With that,” he always says, “time’s yours.”

Time’s yours. Like so many things that come out of Reid’s mouth, the utterance is at once insipid and profound.

What usually follows is a series of questions about specific plays, specific players, rivalries, strategies, any number of coaching decisions he’s made that week. He answers in a deliberately guarded tone, stopping periodically to clear his throat. He’s never angry. He’s never rude. He’s never dishonest. He just delivers one plain-spoken response after another, while doing his best to say nothing at all. And he’s done this several times a week, every week of the season, for more than 20 years.

Despite working under intense public scrutiny — a lot of people have a lot of thoughts about a lot of his decisions — the outside world knows close to nothing about the man. It’s not clear if Reid does anything outside of football except eat and sleep. And Patrick Mahomes often jokes that Reid doesn’t actually sleep.

There are legends about the long hours the coach spends at the office and tales about the way he fiendishly conceives hundreds of offensive plays a season — X’s and O’s, blocks and receiver routes. He draws them up on 5-by-7 notecards and sends them to his players and assistant coaches at all hours of the day. Regular “SportsCenter” viewers have also seen Reid show up to offseason events year after year wearing his bright Hawaiian shirts, even as all the other coaches don expensive suits.

He also mentions cheeseburgers all the time. As far back as his early days in Philadelphia, it’s just a thing he would work into conversations. Reid would sometimes end meetings by saying something along the lines of “Treat you to a cheeseburger!”

He’ll sometimes playfully offer to bet with players over something like whether their opponents might start the game with a long pass. The wager is always the same: a cheeseburger.

He almost never gives extended interviews. Even before the public tragedies in his life, he didn’t allow much deep access. But, because he’s been an NFL coach for so long, you can watch years of press conferences and read dozens of profiles. You can listen to old interviews and find clips of him at practices or in the locker room. And if you look deep enough, between all the intentionally sparing public statements, you’ll see snippets of something bigger. You’ll see glimpses of the real Big Red.

He’s funny, gregarious, someone who learns not just the names of everyone in his organization, but the names of their family members. The theme that comes up most, though, is his obsession. The way this game has transfixed him so consistently for so long. It’s not the fame or the roar of the crowd or the way strangers love him with an almost religious devotion. What he really seems to love is the strategy involved in coaching, the chess-match aspects of football. He likes studying until he can figure out a team’s weakness, then he studies some more until he can figure out a way to exploit that weakness.

See, in movies and TV shows, a football coach’s job is to deliver rousing speeches that motivate his team to go out and win. But in the NFL, where players already receive millions of dollars of motivation, speech-giving is a tiny sliver of a coach’s job. Like the CEO of a big corporation, the head coach establishes the culture of a franchise, the energy, the attitude. The best coaches lead by example and spend countless hours preparing for each opponent, scouring game tapes for matchup advantages and weaknesses the way a trial attorney looks for legal loopholes and advantageous precedents. Between personnel research, draft decisions, offseason camps, training camp and all those games to prepare for, there’s always more to do.

In the NFL, the most valuable commodity a football coach has is the one thing Andy Reid happens to mention at every press conference: time. And the people of Kansas City understand that their team’s head coach will always put in more of it than anyone else.

II.

Football was always going to be his life. When they were kids, Andy’s brother, Reggie, older by 10 years, collected books about camping and hiking. The first time Reggie came home from college, Andy had taken all of those books off the shelves in their room and replaced them with books about football and baseball.

Their family lived in a two-bedroom, stucco house with a tile roof in the Los Feliz part of Los Angeles. His mother was a radiologist with an analytical mind and a compassionate bedside manner. His father was a Hollywood set designer, an artist with an eye for detail.

They were strict parents. If Andy didn’t, in his words, “take care of business,” his father, a World War II veteran, would spank him with a razor strap. The coach once told a reporter in Philadelphia that as a kid, he “tried to be smarter than that razor strap.”

He had a reputation as a trustworthy boy. His father got Andy a job with a Hollywood caterer, where he’d sometimes be in charge of things like the meatballs in a talk show green room. One time he had to tell John Wayne that no, he couldn’t have more than three meatballs.

The time he wasn’t working or in school was dedicated to sports. He’d play baseball and football with the neighborhood kids. He kept a scrapbook with L.A. Times stories about the Dodgers. He went to Reggie’s high school football games, and then when his brother graduated, the younger Reid kept going. He’d sit in the grandstands, sometimes taking notes about plays, players, some basic strategies of the game.

Reid was also a natural athlete, a fact aided by his size. At 10, he was too big for any of the flag football belts. (They sewed two together.) By the time he was 12, Reid was something like 6 feet tall and weighed north of 200 pounds. He played quarterback in junior high and dominated local Punt, Pass and Kick contests.

One competition in 1971 was held at the Coliseum in Los Angeles and aired on Monday Night Football. The footage periodically resurfaces on the internet. Reid, who had to borrow a jersey from the Rams starting running back that night, is literally more than twice the size of the kid behind him in line for the throwing portion of the contest. He looks like he could be the boy’s father.

In high school, Reid was the baseball team’s starting pitcher and played both offensive and defensive line on the football team — and he was also the team’s placekicker. He’d dreamed of playing football at the University of Southern California, but he wasn’t good enough, so he played at a local community college with the same colors. After two years there, he had an offer from Stanford, but hurt his knee — he still has a deep scar visible when he wears shorts — and ended up on the offensive line at Brigham Young University instead.

BYU offensive lineman Andy Reid, right, throws a block as quarterback Jim McMahon looks to hand off.
BYU Cougars offensive lineman Andy Reid, right, throws a block as quarterback Jim McMahon looks to hand off.
BYU

Reid was one of the few Lutherans on campus. When he got to BYU he was a journalism major and contributed to the school paper, but he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life. Maybe he could be a doctor, like his mother? Or a sports writer? Then LaVell Edwards, the legendary head football coach at BYU, suggested a new career path to Reid: coaching.

At BYU, Andy Reid also met a woman named Tammy and fell in love. Not long after that he asked to be baptized by her father into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. When a teammate asked him why, Reid told him, “I really believe for me this is the way.”

The couple was married in 1981, the same year Andy started work as a graduate assistant under Edwards. Over the next decade, as Reid worked his way up the coaching ranks, he and Tammy moved from BYU to San Francisco State, then Northern Arizona, then University of Texas El Paso, then Missouri. Everywhere they went, their social lives revolved around football and their own growing family. Their oldest, Garrett, was born in 1983, followed by Britt and three more kids.

Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, center, celebrates with wife Tammy, right, and Anthony Sherman after Super Bowl 54 against the San Francisco 49ers, Sunday, Feb. 2, 2020, in Miami Gardens, Fla.
Patrick Semansky, Associated Press

In 1992, Reid was hired by Green Bay Packers head coach Mike Holmgren to be his tight ends coach. Within a few years, Reid was promoted to quarterbacks coach, working closely with future-Hall of Famer Brett Favre as the Packers went to back-to-back Super Bowls and Favre won three league MVP awards.

In 1999, Holmgren left the Packers and the Philadelphia Eagles hired Reid. At 40 years old, Reid was the second youngest head coach in the league. He’d never been a head coach at any level. But Andy Reid turned out to be very good at coaching. Good at recognizing and developing talent. Good at designing plays and figuring out a way to win more football games than he lost. A lot more.

When he took over the Eagles, they had one of the worst records in the league. In his third year with the team, they made it to the conference championship game — one win away from playing in the Super Bowl. In fact, with Reid at the helm, Philadelphia made it to five conference title games. They lost four of them. The one Super Bowl they made? They lost by three points to Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.

Imagine setting out every year with the same goal. Then coming close — sometimes really, really close! — but never achieving that goal. That’s what Andy Reid was known for after 14 years in Philadelphia. After more than two decades as a head coach, Reid had won more professional football games than all but five men in the history of the sport. But not the one game that matters most.

You’d think that might eat at him. You’d think the Sisyphean futility might eventually break him. But every year, he’d take a few days off at the end of the season. Then he’d be ready to do it all over again.

III.

The stories about the insanely long hours he’d work started in Green Bay. Reid would wake up at 3 a.m., spend a few hours at the office, come back home to have breakfast with his kids, then head back to the office until deep into the night. Then when he got to Philadelphia, the breakfasts stopped. When the Eagles built a new training facility in 2001, they made sure Reid’s office was big enough to fit a bed. Some weeks he’d spend three or four nights there.

He tried to make it to as many of his son’s high school football games as possible, even if it meant coming late and only watching a few plays from the parking lot before going back to the office. Even on holidays, Reid couldn’t resist his work. One Christmas when Andy was still in Green Bay, Reggie came to visit. The Packers played a game that day, but after dinner Andy asked his brother if he wanted to go to the office with him to watch film of offensive linemen.

For years, the only thing the public saw was the coach’s mellow demeanor at press conferences and the intensity on display during games. The first hint to the outside world that all was not well in Reid’s home life came in early 2007, when both Garrett and Britt were arrested six hours apart after separate incidents. Garrett, 24 at the time, pleaded guilty to drug possession. Britt, who was 22, pleaded guilty to pointing a gun at someone.

Then, a few months later, Britt was arrested again after he appeared lost in the parking lot of a Dick’s Sporting Goods and police found more than 200 pills in his Dodge Ram. His blood reportedly tested positive for nine different controlled substances. A judge equated the Reid household to a “drug emporium” and called the Reids “a family in crisis.” Outside his court hearing, Britt was swarmed by reporters. Wearing a pinstripe suit and a red tie, he appeared gaunt. As he was being escorted back to jail for violating his probation, he looked into some of the TV news cameras, smiled and said, “Hi Mom and Dad.”

Andy Reid did something he’d never done before: He took time away from football. He asked the organization for a five-week leave of absence. The coach tried to understand addiction the way he understood football. When something goes wrong in a football game, you can look at the tape. You can see who made the mistake and you can correct it. But life isn’t like that. Still, Reid wanted to know which approaches work best, which variables contribute to better outcomes. He wanted to plot his way to victory in this battle like he had so many times as a coach.

When none of that worked, Reid drove his oldest son to multiple detox facilities. After Reid went back to work the next month, he continued making weekly trips to the jail where both sons were serving their time. He also talked to a few coaching friends he knew had dealt with similar issues in their families. Mostly, though, he didn’t talk about his family’s struggles.

The next window into the Reid household came five years later, in 2012. One morning during the Eagles training camp that year, at Lehigh University, Garrett was found unresponsive in his room. Also in the room: heroin, syringes and a spoon. Garrett, nicknamed “Little Red,” was 29 by then and had been assisting the Eagles strength and conditioning staff. Things seemed to be going better. There were struggles, but most of the time he’d seemed happy, healthy. A team doctor tried to revive him, but Garrett was gone.

Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid, center, is embraced after the funeral for his son Garrett Reid, Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2012, in Broomall, Pa.
Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid, center, is embraced after the funeral for his son Garrett Reid, Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2012, in Broomall, Pa.
Brynn Anderson, Associated Press

Nearly 1,000 people attended the funeral, more than the church could hold. Current and former players. Current and former assistant coaches. People from throughout the Eagles organization. Friends and opponents from around the league, including Bill Belichick and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. All coming to give their condolences to Reid and his family. People who were there say Reid spent much of the time consoling others.

He disappeared from public for a few days, but then it was back to the business of football. He showed up to the regular press conference before the next preseason game. He walked to the podium in a black T-shirt and white Eagles hat. His mustache looked like it hadn’t been trimmed in days.

“All right,” he said as he looked out at the reporters assembled in front of him. “I’m a humble man standing before you.” He said he was touched by the outpouring of support from fans, members of the media, people all over what he called his “football family.” He stammered and his voice cracked a few times, but he never cried. He said that he’d miss the friendship he had with Garrett and that he knew his son would want him to go back to coaching. He thanked God for giving him what he called “the strength to work through this.”

The Eagles went 4-12 that season, the worst record of Reid’s career. He was fired on New Year’s Eve. Multiple teams sent private planes to Philadelphia to interview Reid for potential coaching positions. One was from the Kansas City Chiefs.

A Philadelphia Eagles fan holds up a “Fire Andy Reid” sign in the second half of an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers on Monday, Nov. 26, 2012, in Philadelphia.
Michael Perez, Associated Press

IV.

A month before the Eagles fired Reid, a Chiefs linebacker named Jovan Belcher drove his Bentley to the team practice facilities, next to Arrowhead Stadium, and stepped out of the car with a gun pointed to his own temple. Belcher had just shot his 22-year-old girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, nine times, killing her in the home they shared with their 3-month-old daughter.

Scott Pioli, the Chiefs general manager at the time, was just arriving for a Bible study. He tried to convince Belcher to drop the gun. Soon the team’s then-head coach Romeo Crennel was in the parking lot, too. Belcher thanked both men for the opportunities they’d given him and asked if Chiefs owner Clark Hunt would look after his daughter. As the sound of sirens got closer, Belcher knelt on the ground and shot himself in the head.

The sports world was shocked, outraged. Columnists and commentators from coast to coast weighed in with opinions on everything from football and domestic violence to gun culture to the hidden dangers of concussions. (A postmortem of Belcher’s brain showed signs of CTE, a neurodegenerative disease triggered by head trauma and linked to dementia, memory loss and depression.)

The entire Chiefs organization was stunned. There weren’t many public statements because, well, what could anyone say? The Chiefs had long struggled on the field — the last time they’d won a playoff game was in the early 1990s, when Joe Montana was finishing his career in Kansas City — but the franchise had always tried to maintain a wholesome, family-friendly identity in the community. The team finished the season with the worst record in the league, then Hunt dismissed most of the front office and coaching staff.

All of this was just another blow to the people of Kansas City. Most of the 20th century was a slow bleed of people and money exiting the region. The city was also slower than other parts of the country to recover after the Great Recession in 2008. Downtown has seen new developments in the last few years, but other parts of town haven’t been so fortunate.

Football can’t bring back factory jobs. It can’t find houses for families experiencing homelessness or feed the hungry. But it can bring a temporary reprieve from the stresses of life. It can unite strangers, if only for a moment. It can give an entire region a reason to feel proud.

Investigators stand outside an Independence, Mo., house where police say Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher fatally shot his girlfriend before driving to the NFL football team’s training facility and shooting himself, Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012.
Charlie Riedel, Associated Press

The franchise was looking for someone who could help both the organization and the community heal. The meeting with Reid was scheduled for two or three hours. It lasted for nine. Hunt, whose father founded the franchise and coined the term “Super Bowl,” wanted to know if Reid was ready to coach again. Reid convinced him he was.

After Garrett died, some of the coach’s closest friends suggested he take a season off. But he’d been coaching somewhere for 30 years in a row at that point. Football is his escape from the pains of life. It’s a world he can control. It’s a world that makes sense. So Reid canceled his other meetings, talked it over with Tammy and took the Chiefs job — and immediately started studying and scouting and plotting all over again.

Sports Illustrated reported Britt Reid saying that “taking a year off and sitting around thinking about something tragic” wouldn’t have been good for his father. And a longtime friend of Andy’s has been quoted saying he suspected the coach “feared the emptiness” of not coaching.

Here’s how the coach himself put it, in his very Andy Reid way: “It probably was a good healing process for me and for the Chiefs,” The Washington Post’s Kent Babb reported him saying. “They had gone through some things. I went through some things. It was a good match.”

V.

In Reid’s first season coaching in Kansas City, the team started 9-0 and made the playoffs. Like his time in Philadelphia, Reid’s coaching tenure here has been defined by his ability to recognize and cultivate talented players and coaches. While he was with the Eagles, Reid had famously signed Michael Vick after the quarterback served 21 months in federal prison on dog fighting charges. But in Kansas City, the coach seemed even more dedicated to using football to provide second chances in life.

In 2013, he drafted tight end Travis Kelce, who’d been suspended at the University of Cincinnati after testing positive for marijuana. Within a few years, he became one of the best players in the NFL. Then in 2015, the team drafted cornerback Marcus Peters, who had been kicked off the University of Washington football team for fighting with his own coaches. A year after that, the Chiefs selected wide receiver Demarcus Robinson, who had been suspended four times at the University of Florida.

Then Reid drafted Tyreek Hill, a wide receiver who had been dismissed from the Oklahoma State team after he was arrested for domestic violence. The Chiefs also traded for defensive end Frank Clark, who was dismissed from the University of Michigan football team — also for domestic violence.

Critics have suggested Reid was getting more desperate to win a Super Bowl, that he was filling his roster with talented criminals. Others understandably questioned the decision to bring in known domestic abusers only a few years after the Belcher incident.

But Reid’s players and closest friends see something different. They see a man who knows that doing bad things doesn’t always make someone a bad person. They see a man who believes people are worthy of redemption — and maybe football can help.

It doesn’t always work. The team traded away Peters and cut running back Kareem Hunt after video surfaced of him pushing and kicking a woman. But most of the so-called “problem players” Reid has brought in have thrived on the field and avoided trouble off of it.

He also seems to have changed his approach to work-life balance in at least a few small ways. He talks about the importance of family more. He says the word family more than he ever used to. The Chiefs training facility has signs up that say “ENTER AS A TEAM, LEAVE AS FAMILY.” He also makes time for his nine grandkids. His office often has toys on the floor. He even takes a few hours off work every so often to go to dance recitals and school basketball games. It’s not a lot of time away, but in a job where any minute of preparation could be the difference between success and failure, it’s something.

Reid hasn’t just used his time in Kansas City to give second chances to players with problematic pasts, either. He’s done the same thing with coaches. The Chiefs linebackers coach, for example, spent time in jail on gun and drug charges. But he served his time and worked his way up from a low-level assistant job. That coach’s name? Britt Reid.

Last year Andy Reid was asked about his relationship with Britt, who wears a red beard reminiscent of his father’s mustache.

“I’m probably too hard on Britt,” the elder Reid said. “But that probably comes with the territory when you’re the coach’s kid. I’m proud of him for the job that he’s done.”

While some things changed when the Reids moved to Kansas City, some things didn’t. Andy Reid has had a winning record every season he’s been with the Chiefs, but his streak of painful playoff losses followed him from Philadelphia. At the end of the 2013 season, the Chiefs lost 45-44 in a devastating shootout to the Indianapolis Colts. At the end of the 2015 season, Reid led the Chiefs to the franchise’s first playoff win in 22 years, but then lost the next week to the New England Patriots. In the 2016 playoffs, the Chiefs lost to the Steelers 18-16. The year after that Reid lost to the Titans 22-21.

In this Thursday, April 27, 2017, file photo, from left, Randi Martin, Patrick Mahomes and Leigh Steinberg react while Mahomes takes a call from the Kansas City Chiefs, during an NFL football draft watch party in Tyler, Texas.
Chelsea Purgahn, Tyler Morning Telegraph via Associated Press

In the 2017 draft, the Chiefs traded up to select Patrick Mahomes II from Texas Tech. Mahomes, the son of a professional baseball player, seemed to have a special mix of raw physical talent, mental acuity, and the natural ability to lead. In all his time strategizing and scheming, Reid had never had a chess piece like this.

Mahomes was a backup in his first season, watching from the sidelines to learn all the subtle things about being a professional quarterback. In his first year as Reid’s starting quarterback, Mahomes led the league in touchdown passes, won the NFL MVP and brought the Chiefs to the conference championship game, one win away from the Super Bowl. Again Reid’s team faced the Patriots. This time, as the fourth quarter wound down, the Chiefs intercepted Brady to seal the victory — except an offsides penalty negated the interception and gave Brady a second chance. The Patriots went on to tie the game, then win in overtime.

In replays of the interception-called-back, Chiefs defensive end Dee Ford had lined up 4 inches past the line of scrimmage. Four inches was the difference between going to the Super Bowl and going home to wait another year.

Reid has watched supportively as his former colleagues and assistants — guys who got started as his interns — became head coaches and won Super Bowl rings before him. Comments about how he could never win the games that mattered most didn’t seem to bother Reid. Even in the losses, he’s learned, there’s something positive.

VI.

All of those painful positive lessons over the years finally paid off. At the end of the 2019 season, Andy Reid got his second chance to coach in a Super Bowl. On the team’s flight to Miami, Reid wore a suit and a Chiefs-red tie. His players, though, all wore aloha shirts to honor their coach. At one of the media events, Reid was asked about spending time with his grandkids. He smiled.

“They keep you young,” he said, “and at the same time make you feel old.”

Then he might have meant to describe that paradox as “bittersweet.” But that’s not what the coach said. Instead, in his Andy Reid way, he went on to say, “It’s kind of like sweet and sour pork.”

On their first possession of the game, the Chiefs pushed deep into enemy territory before facing a fourth down on the 49ers 6-yard line. Most coaches probably would have kicked a field goal in that spot. But not Andy Reid. Instead, he called a play that involved Mahomes and three other players in the backfield twirling in unison in the same direction before the snap. The ball went directly to the running back, Damien Williams, who picked up the first down and was called down just short of the end zone. Mahomes ran the ball in for a touchdown on the next play, but that crazy twirling play — apparently inspired by something Reid found in old footage of the 1948 Rose Bowl — will feature on highlight reels for decades.

As the final seconds ticked down, players and coaches started hugging Reid. They all knew how long he’d climbed to get to this point and most seemed happier for the coach than they were for themselves.

Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid is doused on the sideline during the closing minutes of Super Bowl 54 against the San Francisco 49ers Sunday, Feb. 2, 2020, in Miami Gardens, Fla.
John Bazemore, Associated Press

Then the confetti fell and the football field devolved into a throbbing swarm of humanity: players and coaches from both teams shaking hands, family members dancing with their arms in the air, media people everywhere. At some point, Andy Reid’s cap got knocked from his head. There, standing next to the coach, ready to pick up the cap and place it gently back on his head was Britt.

At the postgame press conference Reid said he was happy for the Hunt family. He said he was happy for Kansas City. He said was proud of his team and the way everyone kept their poise when they were down. Someone asked him what he was going to do to celebrate. He said he was going to have a double cheeseburger, extra cheese.

Reid said he was “very excited” about finally getting the win that had eluded him, but from watching him, it was hard to know. Sure, his face was red from the laughing and the hugs, but every time someone asked him how he felt, he said he was happy for all the people around him. Mostly, he seemed like the same subdued guy he’d always been. Mahomes joked that night that he expected Reid to take exactly three days off before he’s back in the office, studying film.

A few weeks later Reid was interviewed by NFL Films for a short documentary about the team’s amazing season. He wore a Hawaiian shirt, of course. The producers asked him again how he felt. Reid rocked back and forth a bit in his seat.

“I know this is corny,” he said. “But I enjoy every moment I have a chance to coach in the NFL.”

VII.

Back in the Power and Light District, nobody is nervous about the Panthers game. At one point, the Chiefs score on a play that has Mahomes running back and forth behind the offensive line before the ball is snapped — the kind of play that will appear over and over on highlight shows this week. Kansas City comes from behind and wins the game.

Reid walks off the field a winner. And all the people gathered to watch the game downtown pour into the streets feeling like jubilant winners. This is why they have the stickers and the cookies and the prayer candles. Because they believe in Andy Reid the coach, but they also believe in Andy Reid the man.

As they leave the Power and Light District, dozens of fans walk past the mural of the players and head coach. Amid the elation of the victory, most people don’t stop or even look at the painting. Some groups stop long enough to pose for social media-ready photos in front of it.

Others do something else. Something more subtle. As they pass by, some people reach out gently and tap the painted brick wall. Like a brief homage. They don’t touch the face of the star quarterback, though. Or the veteran tight end. No, one person after another reaches out and puts a hand under the image of Andy Reid.

Michael J. Mooney is a New York Times bestselling author. He writes for ESPN, Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, GQ, and Popular Mechanics. His stories have appeared in multiple editions of The Best American Sports Writing and The Best American Crime Reporting.

This story appears in the January/February issue of Deseret Magazine. Learn more about how to subscribe.

Utah Football

Red-hot Utes are playing for something bigger than themselves

BYU Football

BYU leaves Big 12 territory searching for answers after second-straight setback derails promising season

Utah Football

Utah football report card: Utes’ second-half performance is a masterpiece

View all stories in Sports