On January 30th, 2007, Britt Reid was driving Route 23 in West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, when his GMC Denali was involved in an incident with Larry Johnson's Ford pick-up truck. Reid jumped from his vehicle and started shouting abuse. Then, the 22-year-old returned to the Denali, plucked a silver .45-calibre handgun from inside, pointed it at Johnson and started making violent threats while smiling.
When the police arrived, they found cocaine and marijuana in his car and he ended up going to prison on a slew of weapons and drugs charges before eventually graduating to a lengthy stint in mandatory rehab.
At Arrowhead Stadium next Sunday night, Reid will be stalking the sidelines as the defensive line coach of a Kansas City Chiefs' team that is one win away from reaching the Super Bowl for the first time in 49 years. That he will spend this week watching video and trying to figure out how to stop the mighty New England Patriots and the ageless Tom Brady is quite an achievement. Even if his father Andy is the Chiefs' head coach, and the man who gave him his first NFL job working as a defensive assistant back in 2013, Reid's redemption song is still quite the tune.
Given the American media’s obsession with comeback narratives, that his story has been barely touched upon during the Chiefs’ magical run to the brink of greatness this season seems strangely out of kilter. But it may have a lot to do with the fact this is a complex tale involving a family – like so many in 21st-century America – blighted by the menace of pills.
As a freshman in high school in 1999, Britt injured his back doing weights and was prescribed painkillers that he became dependent on. The drug problem that started there followed him through a brief stay at Arizona State University; by the time he was pulling a gun out of his Denali, he and his older brother Garrett were both addicts.
On the very same day Britt’s road rage bought him to the attention of the police, Garrett was also arrested after crashing his car while on heroin. When the police searched the family home following the incidents, they found the Villanova mansion (their father was then the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles) so awash with prescription pills and illegal substances that it was described as a “drug emporium”. The haul included Oxycontin, morphine, Vicodin, Adderall, Prozac, Valium, cocaine, marijuana, testosterone, heroin, Percocet, Subutex and Suboxone.
I could go anywhere in the 'hood. They all knew who I was. I enjoyed it. I liked being a drug dealer
That litany led Montgomery County Judge Stephen O’Neill to conclude both men had been over-medicated since they were kids and that the Reids were “a family in crisis”.
"I liked being the rich kid in that area and having my own high-status life," said Garret Reid. "I could go anywhere in the 'hood. They all knew who I was. I enjoyed it. I liked being a drug dealer. I did get a thrill out of it. That was also part of the whole new world that opened up to me when I smoked that first joint."
Lack of structure
Andy Reid and his wife Tammy, devout Mormons, came in for some criticism at the time, especially since the magistrate lambasted them for the lack of structure in the home. Some also wondered about the negative impact the punishing work schedule and lengthy absences of an NFL lifer had on the kids. In an effort to spend more time with them, Reid did often bring Britt and Garrett to training camps to work as ball boys. Although neither parent ever spoke in court, they subsequently gave a joint interview to a Philadelphia magazine detailing the years they had spent ferrying their boys to treatment.
“There’s no right or wrong, because everything has worked for somebody along the way, and then nothing has worked for somebody along the way,” said Andy Reid. “It’s a different dynamic. Initially, you try to help. And you might try to help a second time. Then everybody is a little bit different after that. Some go with tough love.”
For Britt, his arrest and incarceration marked the nadir. After finishing rehab, he snagged a job as an assistant coach at Temple University and slowly started to rebuild his life. His brother took a different path. In August 2012, Garrett Reid was working as assistant to the strength and conditioning coach at the Eagles’ training camp at Lehigh University when he was found dead in the dormitories used by the team.
Syringe and spoon
An autopsy revealed that he died of a heroin overdose, and police found a syringe and spoon next to the body. At the time of his death, the 29-year-old also had a sports bag in his room containing dozens more syringes and needles, and 19 vials of anabolic steroids. In a statement, the local authorities said the performance-enhancing drugs didn’t kill him but there was no evidence he was supplying them to the Eagles’ players either. Andy Reid departed the club at the end of that season.
On Sunday, many will be rooting for him, Britt and the Chiefs. Some because they are taking on a Patriots’ dynasty regarded by most people outside of New England as the quintessential evil empire. Others because, in a country battling an opioid epidemic, far too many can empathise with how the Reids have suffered on the way here.