Andy Reid's championship void underscores Super Bowl LIV

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MIAMI -- Andy Reid and Steve Mariucci first met in their underwear in the hallway of a Green Bay hotel.

The two had just been hired by the Packers in 1992 for their first NFL assignments -- Reid as the tight ends coach, Mariucci to coach the quarterbacks -- and they were both being put up at the Midway Motor Lodge soon after they got the jobs in January. When the fire alarm went off in the middle of the night, neither of them wanted to evacuate a warm room. Minutes passed. Finally, with the alarm still blaring, Mariucci stuck his head out the door. And there was a big redhead sticking his head out of another door.

Given this background, Mariucci explains they are pretty close, which allows him to correctly predict how Reid handles the void in his resume where a Super Bowl championship should be.

"Of course, it drives you," Mariucci said. "He'll say they're trying to have a good practice today. He keeps it in the here and now and he doesn't philosophize about what it means to his legacy. He's got so damn many wins. I just read it today -- winningest coach without a Super Bowl. Well, that's like an astronaut with the most miles in orbit who never landed on the moon."

This Super Bowl week has been a testament to the enduring loyalty and affection Reid generates from his players and coaches and to a not-so-quiet truth: It feels like much of the NFL world outside of San Francisco is rooting for Reid.

Several Chiefs arrived in Miami wearing Hawaiian shirts, an homage to Reid's wardrobe staple. Philadelphia Eagles coach Doug Pederson, who played and coached under Reid, recalled in an interview walking into Reid's office on a Monday morning and seeing dozens of color-coded lines drawn on a whiteboard, the product of Reid's sleepless nights and mad scientist mind. Troy Vincent, who played for Reid in Philadelphia and is now the NFL's executive vice president of football operations, choked up when he remembered the 3x5 cards, with notes in red ink, Reid carried to address his team, always encouraging them to be themselves, while at the same time sacrificing so much of himself just to find the right play to win a game. There have been testaments to Reid's outsize influence on the advancement of minority coaches and mobile quarterbacks, now in full flower with Patrick Mahomes, as Reid was well ahead of the coaching curve in embracing some of the spread concepts that bubbled up from college.

Listen to those stories and you know that Reid's football life has been a full one rich with success. Look at only the bottom line, though, and the conclusion is unavoidable: Something significant is missing. It is that void that underscores this Super Bowl.

Reid has 207 career regular-season wins and 14 career playoff wins, both most all-time by a head coach to never win a Super Bowl or NFL Championship. Reid has been so successful that he's been a head coach for 21 straight years, for only two teams. But if the Chiefs win on Sunday, Reid would become the first coach in NFL history to win his first Super Bowl after at least 20 seasons as a head coach. Reid is already the seventh-winningest coach in NFL history. The coaches ahead of him -- Paul Brown, Curly Lambeau, Tom Landry, Bill Belichick, George Halas, Don Shula -- have won 24 NFL and Super Bowl titles, and all but the still-active Belichick are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

This week, Reid spoke of how his nine grandchildren keep him young while also making him feel old -- like sweet and sour pork, he said. His career record is something like that, too.

Fifteen years have passed since Reid's first appearance in the Super Bowl. The 2004 Eagles lost Super Bowl XXXIX to the New England Patriots, 24-21. That game is remembered for two things: Terrell Owens' superhuman effort (9 receptions, 122 yards) just seven weeks after sustaining a broken leg, and the confoundingly slow pace of the Eagles' comeback try in the game's waning minutes. The latter attached itself to Reid like a barnacle, congealing into a label that Reid has still been unable to shake as a poor clock manager who is unable to win the biggest games. Those somnolent few minutes have overwhelmed in the public perception what the rest of the NFL has known for years -- that Reid has, as Pederson believes, applied the creative thinking he learned as an English student and son of an artist to offensive football. The Eagles made five NFC Championship Games under Reid -- extraordinary by any measure -- but that loss inevitably led to a souring on Reid in Philadelphia that has eased only since the Eagles won the Super Bowl two years ago under Pederson, a Reid protege.

"The tough part about it -- people in Philadelphia love what we did," said Donovan McNabb, the quarterback for those Eagles teams who remains close to Reid. "As soon as things started to go south, everybody pointed the finger at Andy. It was wrong. Andy took it. Andy stuck his chest out and took it.

"I don't think it bothers him. But it pisses me off. It pisses me off because that's what they go to. You should not be defined by the championships you won, but by the legacy you left. We wish we could have that one back in Super Bowl XXXIX, but how many coaches have the opportunity to get back 15 years later?"

Just one other. Only Dick Vermeil had a longer wait -- 19 seasons -- between Super Bowl appearances, before his 1999 Rams won the title. The NFL famously inflicted occupational burnout on Vermeil, and he took a hiatus in between his jobs in Philadelphia and St. Louis.

Joe Banner hired Reid in Philadelphia in 1999, and he saw him on each of the Mondays after the Eagles went to those five conference championship games and failed to win the Lombardi Trophy each of those five times. On each of those days, Banner was dumbstruck by Reid's resilience. It didn't take days for Reid to recover, it took hours. By the time Banner talked to Reid the next morning, he was already moving forward, thinking about what had to be done in the coming offseason to best position the Eagles for another shot. The resilience -- in the wake of professional defeat and great personal tragedy -- has allowed Reid to be so successful for so long, to not be worn down by the grind of the NFL, Banner believes.

Banner, like others close to Reid, thought that Reid should take time off to reflect and recover after he was fired in Philadelphia following an unbearably painful 2012 season. Reid's oldest son, Garrett, died of an overdose in his dorm room at the Eagles' training camp before the season began. Reid returned to work quickly, but the team went 4-12 and he was let go. Within days, he was the new coach of the Kansas City Chiefs.

"He knew we were all wrong and we were all sure we were right," Banner said. "He knew the kind of foundation he had within himself and the fact that he should get going, get recharged, and having the passion of a new opportunity was what he needed to do right away."

Reid, by all accounts, has been re-energized with the Chiefs. He went back to calling plays, a job he had given up in his last years in Philadelphia, and he delighted in working with Alex Smith and now with Mahomes. Still, Banner noticed a shift in Reid last season when he spoke to him a few days after the Chiefs lost the AFC Championship Game to the Patriots.

"It was the first time I ever heard him like a loss got to him for even more than 12 hours," Banner said. "He carries himself as if he is so strong and driven, but last year talking to him, it was clear it had taken more of a toll than some of the other ones. I think he really wants to win one so badly. He really thought he had what it took. It was just another painful ending. I think it was a reflection of (how for) even someone as strong as it gets, getting right to the edge so many times takes its toll. I think he's a Hall of Fame coach no matter what. One of the best people I have ever met no matter what. But he works in a business that is measured in wins and losses, and the fact is he has not been able to add to his list of achievements. Winning a Super Bowl as a head coach matters to him and I think he'll feel more complete. I think there are people who want to be skeptical of his career or pick on things like time management. It's pretty hard to do that if he wins a Super Bowl."

Reid has sloughed off question after question about it this week, almost exactly as Mariucci anticipated he would. One time, Reid referred to what a Super Bowl would mean to his legacy as "the other stuff."

This week, Reid's wife, Tammy, has attended every one of her husband's press conferences, as she always does. In the moments after the Chiefs won the AFC Championship Game, Reid held Tammy's hand during the trophy presentation and made a point of mentioning how hard the NFL is on a coach's wife.

Of course, she said, her husband wants to win a Super Bowl. But he is not obsessed with it.

"He's not that guy," Tammy Reid said.

Just then, Reid was answering a question from a reporter by explaining that, once he has taught players the right way to play, he wants them to enjoy it.

"Why ruin something they love doing?" he asked.

It seems the rest of us are intent on doing the same with Reid's record. However much Reid may privately burn for that championship, everyone else seems to be in a rush to ruin something he has loved by pointing out its flaw.

"It's not about me getting over the hump," Reid said. "It's about our team playing well. That's what I'm into."

Whatever happens on Sunday, then, maybe it is the rest of us who have something to get over.

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter @JudyBattista.

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