Merrill Reese Is Still Flying High as Voice of the Eagles

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Merrill Reese, play-by-play radio announcer for the Philadelphia Eagles, talks about his career, Judaism and the Birds.

The sky may be falling on his beloved Iggles, but Merrill Reese’s sunny disposition will never go away.
After all, as play-by-play voice of the Philadelphia Eagles the past 39 years — yes, you read that correctly — he’s seen it all and always has something to draw on. “Go back to 2003 when they opened up the Linc,” said Reese, sifting through an Eagles’ media guide on the cluttered desk in his office at WBCB 1490 AM, where he’s been managing partner and vice-president/general manager for nearly two decades. “I remember [tight end] L.J. Smith dropping a pass in the end zone off a fake field and they lost 17-0 to Tampa Bay.
“The next week, they lost to the Patriots, 31-10. They finished 12-4 that year and lost in the NFC Championship game. So as depressed as you feel over what you saw,” in the immediate aftermath of the 20-10 Week 2 Dallas debacle, he opined, “realize a lot of things can happen.
“It’s just too early to start giving up on a team.”
And while it’s easy to hear the frustration in the voice of the man who’s been inducted into six different Halls of Fame and been named Pennsylvania Broadcaster of the Year on several occasions, he makes it a point to maintain his objectivity. Listening to his calls, it’s easy to label Reese a “homer,” except homers seldom take an honest look at things.
Reese, a member of Congregation Beth Or in Maple Glen the past 20 years, does.
“I love the Eagles, there’s no question about it,” said Reese, who realized early in life the chances of quarterbacking the Birds weren’t likely for a 5-8, 140-lb. kid, even if he did have a decent arm throwing to a tall receiver named Phil Jasner. “I love the city. But as a broadcaster, I respect the knowledge of our vast listening audience and I am totally honest in calling the game as I see it. What means more to me than any of that is the fact I am broadcasting the sport I love and the team I love to the most passionate fans in the country.”
Growing up in Overbrook Park, the only thing a young Reese loved more than watching football was playing it. But even then, he had such a stage presence he was cast in a number of commercials.
“My mother would take me for drama lessons and I did lot of TV commercials as a kid,” revealed Reese, whose father, Nathan, was a dentist; his mother, Helen, was a teacher. “I did Lummis peanut butter, Ranger Joe cereal and I used to be on with Chuckwagon Pete doing Sylvan Seal milk.”
That experience, plus some words of encouragement from his mother, whetted his appetite for the career to follow.
“My mother used to tell me as a little kid, ‘Reach for the moon — and if you can dream it you can achieve it,’ ” recalled Reese, who would go on to major in communications at Temple University, where he broadcast football, basketball and baseball for WRTI, the student station. “That was my belief even as a young kid once I realized I wasn’t going to quarterback the Eagles.
“In my Overbrook High yearbook, it says, ‘aspires to be a sportscaster.’ It’s what I always wanted.”
There was also a four-year stint in the Navy mixed in when he served as public affairs officer, before Reese began to settle in to his profession. Starting off at the station in Pottstown, he soon moved to the same WBCB he currently co-owns. Next it was WWBD, where he’d handle sports every morning.
Right around that time—in the mid-1970s — things began to happen.
“I got to be summer replacement for Charlie Swift,” Reese said of the man who was the voice of the Eagles in addition to being sports director of WIP. “When he’d take vacation, I’d do morning sports, even thought I was fulltime at WWDB.
“After the first day, they hired me to do the pre- and post-game shows. I did that for five years, along with the ‘Ed Khayat Show’ [with the then-Eagles coach]. In 1977, I got to do color commentary.”
The season was nearing its end when the 43-year-old Swift took his own life. Reese finished up the season, then was selected to keep the job in 1978 following a nationwide search. Now nearly four decades later — at an age where many are retiring or beginning to wind down — he’s still going strong, with no inclination to stop.
“I think he’s as sharp as when I first walked into the booth,” said Mike Quick, the former All-Pro Eagles receiver who’s been his partner in the booth the past 18 years. “He’s just steady.
“He knocks it out of the park every day. He’s invested, so when the team’s not doing well, you can hear it in the broadcast. We both are, because this is the team we care about.”
While WBCB takes a huge chunk of his time, as do his various Eagles’ obligations — which include filing reports for the team’s CBS affiliate and extensive pre-game preparation — there’s more to Reese than that. Start with his 36-year marriage to Cindy, who recently retired teaching school in Hatboro-Horsham, though she’s still doing about a half-dozen other things. They were married in the backyard of her Wallingford home by her rabbi, then raised two children in Blue Bell.
As for his Jewish roots, Merrill says he’s grown to appreciate listening to the sermons of Beth Or Rabbi Greg Marx, whom he describes as a great orator with the ability to touch his congregants. Funny, that’s pretty much how you’d describe Merrill, who says much what he learned about football came from another Jew.
“One of the most brilliant offensive football minds I was ever around was the late Sid Gillman,” Reese said of the man who served as a consultant for Dick Vermeil and whom some consider the originator of the West Coast Offense. “He was very kind to me and spent hours teaching me and answering my unending stream of questions about offensive football.
“You learn from everybody. Buddy Ryan spent a lot of time illustrating things, particularly about defense. Dick Vermeil was the most charismatic coach you’ve ever seen. Andy Reid was meticulous. I spent hours and hours with him because I’d do the ‘Andy Reid Show’ each week.”
So what about Chip Kelly?
“I like him a great deal,” answered Reese, whose other passion is golf, since his bum knees no longer allow him to play tennis. “Chip is all football and everything about Chip is quick.
“He’s got a quick wit, a quick mind, a quick offense. But he’s a very, very bright man whom I think has a wider range of knowledge than people are led to believe.”
Of course no one really cares if Chip Kelly can talk about Broadway shows or about books he’s read. They just want him to win a Super Bowl. And they want Merrill Reese to be the one calling it.
To little surprise, the feeling is mutual.
“When people say to me, ‘It would mean so much to me if you could broadcast an Eagles team that wins the Super Bowl,’ I say this and mean it sincerely,” he replied. “I think it would be great.
“But what would mean so much to me is the fans of this city who have expended so much of their time and energy and put their heart into this team for so long would be rewarded with a championship they deserve.”
Contact: [email protected]; 215-832-0729.

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