Doug Pederson was the designated opening-day starter in 1999, Andy Reid's first year with the Eagles, but we all knew it was only a matter of time before Donovan McNabb would be the starter.
And about a week before the season began, Reid announced that he would actually give McNabb a few series here and there in relief of Pederson to get him acclimated to the NFL game before he became the permanent starter.
That made Pederson the first QB in history to get benched before he even took a snap.
I remember catching up with Doug in the parking lot after practice the day Big Red made that announcement and asked him about leaving games so a rookie could get some reps.
And Doug essentially said, Oh, OK, well, that's great, that's a terrific opportunity for him. It'll help him get a feel for the speed of the game before he becomes the starter. Doug said Donovan was the future of the franchise and he was all for whatever made the team better.
I was floored.
Here was a veteran NFL quarterback who I thought was being almost publicly humiliated by the head coach — I mean, who announces that he's going to take the starter out before the game even starts? — and he was handling it like a total team guy.
Now, almost two decades later, that same team-first mentality has carried the Eagles to a 12-2 record and a first-round bye.
Same guy. Same attitude.
Doug was asked Monday what the biggest challenges of this 2017 season have been, and he first mentioned all the injuries the Eagles have dealt with and the second thing he brought up — on his own — was how tricky it is making sure all the skill guys stayed focused on team goals while getting limited reps and putting up what some may perceive as subpar stats.
The Eagles won't have a 1,000-yard rusher or a 1,000-yard receiver. When the Pro Bowl teams are announced Tuesday night, Carson Wentz (and probably Zach Ertz) will be the only offensive skill players on the list.
But here the Eagles are on pace for the 20th-most points in NFL history.
Pederson has found a way to keep veterans like LeGarrette Blount and Alshon Jeffery, who are used to being THE MAN, focused on team goals while their individual numbers suffer, and that wasn't easy.
It comes down to this: Every NFL coach understands that stats and Pro Bowls and incentive bonuses don't win football games. But very, very few have the ability to convey that to their players to the extent that they actually buy in.
"Managing all of that can be tough," Pederson said. "But one thing that I know about this football team is it's very unselfish and it's a group that doesn't really care who gets the ball. The bottom line is trying to win the game."
And how do you go about telling former Pro Bowlers and NFL TD leaders that they're going to share the ball?
"Just communicate with the players," he said. "Be open with them and be honest with them and say, 'This is kind of how we see this game unfolding, this is the game plan.'
"Everybody has to be on the same page and as long as you communicate, there's really never any issues."
Easy to say. Really, virtually impossible to pull off. But Pederson has found a way to convince all these egos, all these personalities, that they have a chance to be a part of something special if they suppress their personal ambitions and just watch the wins pile up.
Balance and unpredictability are two of the Eagles' greatest strengths.
Five different guys have led the team in receiving. Five guys have led the team in rushing.
And when I sit here and try to understand how Pederson has created a culture where team goals are legitimately more important to 53 guys with incentives in their contracts than personal goals, I think back to 31-year-old Doug Pederson in the parking lot outside the Vet 18 years ago and just how excited he was for Donovan, even though it meant he would be getting benched every Sunday.
With Doug, it's all real, it's all genuine. He's lived it, and that allows him to preach it. And they all listen and believe.
Play-calling, personnel decisions, when to punt, when to challenge … all that stuff is important.
But that command of a locker room is what sets Doug Pederson apart. That's what makes him a special coach, and that's what makes this a special team.