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Vahe Gregorian: From Andy Reid to ‘Arrowhead East’ and Kelces, Chiefs-Eagles would be enticing matchup

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — On their endlessly entertaining “New Heights” podcast this past week, the Brothers Kelce basked in their teams’ perches entering the NFL postseason.

“Number 1 seeds across the board, baby!” Travis Kelce, the Chiefs tight end, said.

Or “Double No. 1s,” as Eagles center Jason chimed in.

But they didn’t elaborate on the mind-blowing implication that looms with the distinction: If their teams play to seed and win their next two games, they’ll collide in Super Bowl LVII on Feb. 12 in Glendale, Ariz.

Maybe it was just too tantalizing to say out loud as it hovers this close. But with Patrick Mahomes as their guest last month, the Kelces broached the idea of a podcast sequel, including Philadelphia quarterback Jalen Hurts, if each advances to the Super Bowl.

“Let’s talk it into existence, man,” Travis Kelce said.

Let’s do.

Because this one would be bubbling with intrigue, most visibly between the animated brothers who each have led raucous Super Bowl celebrations: Travis with his Beastie Boys-inspired anthem (“You’ve got to fight for your right to … Lombardi”) and Jason’s, uh, enthusiastic performance(s) in Mummers garb.

“The Kelces, please, that would be a week-long documentary,” Joe Valerio, the former Chief who grew up in the Philadelphia area, said with a laugh. “We’d have to make a Netflix mini-series about that.”

But that would only be one of the compelling subplots of a game that would be dominated by the tale of Chiefs coach Andy Reid facing the franchise that fired him 10 years ago.

Reid and Eagles coach Nick Sirianni, whom Reid then let go in Kansas City, would be on the marquee … with the Kelces and a history of Philly West in Kansas City and “Arrowhead East” in Philadelphia on the collage behind them.

That notion remains a long distance from actually becoming a reality, it should be added, as the other 12 teams in the playoffs meet this weekend while the Chiefs and Eagles have a bye before playing again.

‘It should happen’

So maybe it will prove meant to be; maybe it will play out as too good to come true.

“Actually, it should happen,” said Dick Vermeil, who coached the Eagles (and Rams) before the Chiefs and has been contemplating this for weeks. “There’s a lot of variables. But they’re the best teams, if you really look at it.”

Vermeil reckons only one team in the NFC could knock out the Eagles: the second-seeded 49ers. And he allows as to how the Chiefs could be KO’d by second-seeded Buffalo or third-seeded Cincinnati. Each defeated the Chiefs in the regular season.

To say nothing of the ever-lurking possibility of other upsets.

“Personally, I think it’s happening,” said Paul Staico, owner of the South Philly wonderland for Chiefs fans called Big Charlie’s Saloon. “But what should happen never happens.”

So the caveats are substantial.

Just the same, the chances are plenty real for a fascinating showdown that might well overcome the ever-emotional Vermeil.

Not to mention gridlock any of us who, say, grew up in the Philadelphia area, interned with the Eagles, live here now and count their oldest friends as Eagles fans and newest as Chiefs devotees.

“I’d root for them both to play well and end up in a tie,” Vermeil, who lives in the Philadelphia area and recently addressed the Chiefs, laughed and said.

He added, “I can’t think of a game in the past I would ever watch so intensely as that matchup game-day in the Super Bowl.”

So many connections

That’s at least in part because of a remarkable sense of connection between them, both currently and historically.

If Big Charlie’s is Arrowhead East, as it’s popularly known and certainly demonstrated in celebration when the Chiefs won Super Bowl LIV, Philly’s connection to Kansas City also goes back decades.

“At one point, we used to call it ‘Philly West,’ ” said Valerio, who might make a fine guest for the Kelces bestriding each market and having both played center and caught touchdown passes as a jumbo-package tight end with the Chiefs. “It was really crazy how we had this pipeline to the Philadelphia area.”

The phenomenon can best be tracked to 1989.

That’s when Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt hired Carl Peterson as president, general manager and CEO. Peterson had been the Eagles’ director of player personnel under Vermeil before leaving to run the Philadelphia (and later Baltimore) Stars of the USFL.

Before Reid resurrected the franchise, Peterson revived it … and set in motion a tailgating scene like no other. He should be in the Chiefs Hall of Fame, we’ll say again. He still lives in the Kansas City area, still wears an Eagles Super Bowl ring and, like Vermeil, still laments he wasn’t able to get the Chiefs to a Super Bowl.

(Even if he might also be conflicted, yes, he’d like to see them play.)

His front office would come to reflect Peterson’s Philadelphia past. For that matter, so would a roster that featured Philly-area natives or former Eagles such as Ron Jaworski, Bill Maas, Todd McNair, Kevin Ross and Valerio.

Over time, assistant coaches included former Eagles such as Carl Hairston and John Bunting — who kept a team photo of the Eagles’ 1980 Super Bowl team on his office wall.

(We know there are more connections each way, but we’re running out of space. Plus, we need to leave room for something new if this actually happens.)

In 2001, Peterson fulfilled his longtime hope of hiring Vermeil, who entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame last summer. When Vermeil retired after the 2005 season, Peterson turned to Herm Edwards — whom Peterson signed for the Eagles as an undrafted free agent.

Andy Reid casts long shadow

The more modern connectivity begins with club president Mark Donovan, who had been an Eagles vice president before coming to Kansas City in 2009.

But it’s most conspicuous in the form of Reid and the legion he brought with him, or later hired, from Philly. That includes general manager Brett Veach, who began working with the Eagles as a training camp intern and then as Reid’s personal assistant.

Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, special teams coordinator Dave Toub and vice president of sports medicine and performance Rick Burkholder, among many others on the staff, worked for Reid in Philly. Offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy played his last NFL season for Reid and rejoined him when Reid took the Chiefs job in 2013.

Reid’s arrival here generated another twist:

When he took over, Sirianni had just finished his fourth season in Kansas City and had been the receivers coach for the fired Romeo Crennel. But Reid had other plans for that job: to bring in David Culley from Philadelphia.

“Coach Reid was charged with the task of telling me I wasn’t working there anymore,” Sirianni told reporters in Philadelphia in 2021. “It was actually an awesome conversation I had with him. And I really respected the fact that he took time to meet with me, tell me what he had heard about me.”

The two have faced each other as head coaches only once: a 42-30 Chiefs victory in Philadelphia last season that was Reid’s 100th win with Kansas City.

“I think when you look back on it, you’ll know (Reid) as a Kansas City Chief,” Mahomes said that day, adding, “No offense to Philly, but I’m glad they let him go and he’s here coaching us in Kansas City.”

Reid is 3-0 against the Eagles while rejuvenating his career and lifting the Chiefs to the Super Bowl title he never could attain with the Eagles. He’s now the fifth-winningest coach in NFL history.

If the Chiefs play the Eagles, he’d be just the second coach in the Super Bowl era, after Dan Reeves, to be facing the team he used to run.

“Sometimes,” Chiefs owner Clark Hunt said before Reid’s return to Philadelphia in 2013, “change is good.”

It certainly has suited both franchises.

The Eagles under former Chiefs offensive coordinator (and Eagles quarterback and assistant) Doug Pederson won a Super Bowl before Reid’s Chiefs did.

Which surely played a part in the fact that three different polls of Philadelphia fans before the Chiefs played the 49ers in Super Bowl LIV reported that more than 85% of them were rooting for Reid and his team.

That was hardly universal by the end of Reid’s 14 seasons there without being able to prevail in a Super Bowl. And it certainly would be the opposite if it comes to the Eagles playing the Chiefs in this Super Bowl.

That takes us back to the improbable curiosity that is Big Charlie’s, which in the event of this matchup stands to turn into a media mecca.

“It would be crazy,” Staico said.

Walking into the inner sanctum of Big Charlie’s, Valerio said, might make you feel like you teleported to the Kansas City area.

Philly’s place for Chiefs fans

If you don’t know about Big Charlie’s, you might assume this quirky enterprise began with a transplanted Chiefs fan. But maybe the best part of the story is that Staico is from that very neighborhood, about 2 miles from the Philadelphia stadiums, and became forever devoted to the Chiefs back in 1970.

That’s when his father, Big Charlie, won a bet on “the red team” in the Super Bowl that led to 4-year-old Paul getting a new bike, he told me on a visit there in 2013.

Presto, he swooned over the Chiefs … and has been accumulating team memorabilia about ever since.

So after 50 years of the Chiefs falling short and nearly 40 years in business at 11th and McKean, Staico was moved to tears when the Chiefs won in 2020 and hundreds of like-minded Chiefs fans celebrated outside and within.

“I didn’t want to cry, but people were coming to me crying,” he said. “They knew how much it meant to this corner.”

The corner holds a shrine to the Chiefs, including a replica Lombardi Trophy from Super Bowl LIV courtesy of Spagnuolo.

Spagnuolo, who met his wife, Maria, in Philadelphia, even stopped by to show off his Super Bowl ring a few months ago during the Chiefs’ mid-season bye week.

When the Chiefs played the Eagles in 2021, Maria Spagnuolo helped behind the bar for an eight-hour shift and put the tips toward her charity … a topic on which Spagnuolo held forth for several minutes last fall.

The Spagnuolos hardly are the first affiliated with the Chiefs to spend meaningful time there.

Among others, the locally based families of Valerio and former Chief Rich Gannon watched many Chiefs games at Big Charlie’s.

In 1998, before a game at Veterans Stadium the next day, Staico said, future Hall of Famer Derrick Thomas came by (he’d met Staico at a Chiefs practice) and signed autographs for hours.

In 2003, during the making of an NFL Films piece about Big Charlie’s, Vermeil called from a cell phone ostensibly to thank Staico and Big Charlie’s for the Philly cheesesteaks they’d sent and promised to stop in one day.

In fact, they were outside about to walk in for a visit and to present a signed Chiefs helmet.

Peterson made the pilgrimage, as well. And Donovan, the Chiefs president and former Eagles executive, visited with a team entourage before the 2013 game.

Former Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli came to know the family enough that he once visited Staico’s mother in the hospital and sent flowers when she died, Michael Puggi of Big Charlie’s told me in 2013.

As a neighborhood fixture, small wonder many on the nearby blocks flew Chiefs flags and shot off fireworks when the Chiefs won it all two years ago.

“Now, if we’re playing the Eagles, I’m not sure it would be like that,” Staico said.

But it would sure make for great theater … and a fine podcast sequel for the Brothers Kelce, each of whom was drafted into the NFL under a Reid regime.

When the Eagles beat New England to win the Super Bowl in 2018, Travis Kelce was in the stands crying as his older brother reached “the mountaintop.”

But when the Chiefs beat the Eagles earlier that season, he planted a kiss on his wincing brother as they exchanged jerseys afterward. And who’s to predict how this brotherly love would look in the aftermath of a Super Bowl between the Chiefs and the team from the city of brotherly love?

“I’ve been dreaming and I’ve been drooling of a Kelce Super Bowl since I was 10 years old,” Travis told ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith last month. “If I could get my brother in the Super Bowl, that would be a dream come true right there.”

And not just for them.

Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, left, plants a kiss on the cheek of his brother, Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce as they exchanged jerseys after a 2017 game. (David Maialetti/The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS)

Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, left, plants a kiss on the cheek of his brother, Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce as they exchanged jerseys after a 2017 game. (David Maialetti/The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS)

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