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After 29 Years, Voice of the Eagles Still Sticks to the Basics
STDD: Score, time, down, distance to the goal.
That's Merrill Reese's philosophy when broadcasting a football game. After 29 years as the radio announcer for the Philadelphia Eagles, Reese still sticks to the basics.
"A great broadcaster is not a great broadcaster on the strength of his touchdown calls or home run calls. That's all icing on the cake," said the 64-year-old in his deep, powerful voice after speaking last month to the Men's Club at Adath Israel in Merion Station.
Amid glasses of beer and plates of steak sandwiches -- minus the cheese, of course -- some participants at the event couldn't help but take a peek at Reese's bulky 2004 NFC Championship ring, which gleamed on his hand.
Many of the more than 100 people in attendance were also eager to hear the broadcaster's feelings about newly drafted quarterback Kevin Kolb, and if this acquisition means the beginning of the end for current Eagles great Donovan McNabb.
Reese said that he was surprised by the pick, but believed it was a good one because Kolb is well-suited to the Eagles' West Coast offense. Make no mistake about it, he said, this is McNabb's team, and Kolb will have to wait his turn, even if it takes years.
It may not be surprising to fans that Reese supports the Eagles' draft choice, as he seems to unabashedly root for the Birds when broadcasting on 94.1 WYSP. He claims, however, that he is not averse to saying that the team is playing poorly or that he disagrees with a coach's play call.
"I've always been honest, but there are areas that I won't get into," said the announcer, who belongs to Congregation Beth Or in Maple Glen.
Reese's small, unassuming stature seemed to contradict his heavy larger-than-life voice.
And although it sounded like his vocals were tailored for the airwaves, he speaks exactly the same way in his off-the-air life.
"After my voice changed, that was just my voice," he stated.
Reese's career started at Temple University, where he broadcasted football, baseball and basketball games for the college radio station. After that came stints at stations in smaller markets. With sports announcing being such a competitive field, Reese wondered if he would ever get his chance to shine.
" 'Am I getting any place, or am I just wasting my time?' " he recalled asking himself. "You'd have doubts about whether you'd get a break, but I never doubted what I wanted to do, and I never doubted that I could do it."
In 1977, he caught that break, doing play-by-play for Eagles games, and has since built a career on using his emotional style to make already excited football fans even more charged up. Some in the Adath Israel crowd even told the broadcaster that their Sunday-afternoon ritual included turning down the volume on their TVs, and turning up the sound on Reese's radio broadcast.
Thinking back on his career, the sports caster cited two moments of broadcasting football that he considered his favorites -- and perhaps not coincidentally, they both came in Eagles' victories against the hated Dallas Cowboys.
The first was "Wilbert Montgomery running" in the 1981 NFC Championship game.
The other was in 1995, when Dallas needed just one yard to continue a potentially game-winning drive, and tried two consecutive runs up the middle with superstar back Emmitt Smith. The hard-working Eagles defense remained strong, he recalled, and came out victorious.
He said that his fans always want to focus on the field goals.
"They like the 'It's gooooood,' " said Reese, reproducing one of his signature calls -- one that he was happy to use last season after a David Akers' field goal split the uprights to win a playoff game against the New York Giants.
Even though he has a schedule packed with watching game film, learning opposing players names and researching statistics, Reese said that he simply can't get enough of football.
From time to time, he admitted, he even seeks out high school games on the way home from work.
"I just sit up in the stands and watch," he said. "I just love football."