One of Us: Merrill Reese, Eagles Broadcaster

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Illustration by Andy Friedman

My name is … Merrill Alan Reese. I’m named after my mother’s brother.

I grew up in … West Philadelphia and then Overbrook Park, near 76th and Woodbine. I went to Overbrook High. The great basketball player Wali Jones was there at the time.

I am … an incredibly devoted golfer. You never quite conquer it.

I drive … a white BMW M235i convertible. Stick.

The best Eagle who ever lived … was Chuck Bednarik. Here is a guy that’s both a linebacker and a center and played for two championship teams.

My worst class at Temple was … modern world history. It was like things from the 1600s. It was just dreadfully boring.

Chip Kelly is … extremely bright.

The most famous person I have ever met is … Tiger Woods, when my wife and I went to the Battle at the Bridges near San Diego. And Gerald Ford when he was the House Minority Leader. I was on Navy Reserve duty at the Pentagon and Gerald Ford happened to pass by. He sat down with us, and we talked football.

I wanted to grow up to be … an NFL quarterback. But at five-foot-eight and 140 pounds, I realized that wasn’t going to happen. I lack size, speed and talent.

The most overrated Eagles player ever was … Jevon Kearse. We thought we were getting a great player, but he really didn’t contribute much to this team.

On Friday night, you’ll probably find me … at Phil’s Tavern in Blue Bell, which has great burgers and salads. I also love Chickie’s and Pete’s. That shrimp pizza.

The first concert I ever went to was … the Lettermen, back in college. My last was Billy Joel. At the Spectrum. That’s how long it’s been.

The most memorable game I ever called … was on December 19, 2010. The Eagles came from way behind to beat the Giants at the Meadowlands. They overcame a huge deficit and won it with a DeSean Jackson walk-off punt return.

When I want to relax … I play golf. I’m a member of the Blue Bell Country Club and Radnor Country Club. I have an index, which is at the moment a 10.4, which would really be a 12 handicap where I play. My broadcast partner, Mike Quick, is a terrific golfer, too.

People would be surprised to know that I … was in many TV commercials as a child. And I was an extra in The Greatest Show on Earth, part of which was filmed here. My mother picked me up from the set one day and saw me playing catch with a guy, and she says to me, “Do you know who that is? That’s Jimmy Stewart.”

The best football movie ever … was Everybody’s All-American, with Dennis Quaid and Jessica Lange and John Goodman.

The hardest part of my job is … flying home after a night game on the West Coast.

My secret talent is … playing the drums. I have a set in my recreation room, and I took lessons when I was a kid. The best drummer of all time was Buddy Rich.

My second favorite Philly sports team is … the Phillies. They have some bright young players in the organization. They can only get better.

For Thanksgiving this year, I’ll be … in Detroit for the Eagles, of course.

If I could change one thing about Philadelphia, I would change … nothing. The warmth, the passion. It’s got a small-town feel. I love it.

Published in the November 2015 issue of Philadelphia magazine.

The Top Ten Philly Sports Announcers of All Time

MASTERS OF THE MIC: From left, Kalas, Hart, Reese, Andersen, Ashburn and Franzke.

MASTERS OF THE MIC: From left, Kalas, Hart, Reese, Andersen, Ashburn and Franzke.

The voices carried me home. Dating back to high school, on most weekends in the summer I’d drive to the Jersey Shore and relax with friends and family who owned or rented houses there (see: mooching). Seaside Heights, Ocean City, Sea Isle, Avalon, Wildwood — I’ve slept on porches and tight couches and in sheets decorated with conch shells. Sundays meant the dreaded trip home, and the worst stretch was usually where the Garden State Parkway meets the Atlantic City Expressway. Traffic crawled. The air conditioner in my black 1994 Chevy Cavalier was broken. It’s a safe bet I was dehydrated, from the sun or booze or both.

Far more important to me than a cool blast of air was my radio. Music was the soundtrack for the ride to the Shore; Sundays were for the Phillies, and for Harry. As the heat and my stress level rose, Harry Kalas turned my sweatbox-on-wheels into a Buddhist monastery where baseball was peace and Harry the K’s play-by-play was a Zen koan. You can still hear his voice, like that of a grandfather or dad who told stories that held you rapt, or a friend who could talk sports for hours: “Struck’im ouuuuut!” During that long drought between 1993 and 2007, when the Fightins mostly stunk like a Vet Stadium bathroom, you tuned in not just for baseball, but for a version of the game as described by Harry. It was often better than what you’d see with your own eyes.

By contrast, a lousy broadcaster can ruin the experience. Like former Sixers color man Eric Snow, who was so dull he once apparently put himself to sleep. On the air. Or the current Phillies television crew, who should begin each inning with a narcolepsy warning. (Google “Matt Stairs Wing Bowl” for proof of a far more entertaining guy than you’ve heard so far. Jamie Moyer? I think he may have a future on NPR.)

With the window now officially closed on the Phillies’ ’08 championship era, and with no basketball, hockey or meaningful football till the fall, it feels like we’re all stuck in a hot car on the Philadelphia sports highway — going nowhere and not happy about it. Which makes this the perfect time to recognize the local TV and radio play-by-play men and color analysts who’ve made our best sports memories better and helped us survive the lean years. To rank them, I’ve looked at three categories: voice (smooth delivery, unmistakable sound), calls (moments that will live in Philly sports history), and general awesomeness (would you want to have a beer or play a round of golf with this guy?).

What makes a broadcaster special is more than the ability to interpret the infield fly rule or describe the action; it’s the weird, deeply personal one-sided relationships that fans develop with him over time. These broadcasters will likely never know you, but they’re part of your family for the big game and your co-pilot on long drives home.
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Inside Voices: Eagles Getting Stronger

Philadelphia Eagles left guard Evan Mathis.The idea that a football team would be getting physically stronger as the season goes along seems counter-intuitive. The Eagles are 13 games into their campaign. Add training camp into the equation, and the grind has been going on for more than four months now. You would think the body would start wearing down right about now. Yet some players believe the opposite is happening in Year One under Chip Kelly.

“You can tell just from the reps that we do. I’m not saying that I’m just jumping up crazy, but what used to be hard to me is starting to become a lot easier towards the end,” said Brandon Graham. “Like the other day I put 405 on the bench [and did three sets of three] and it was pretty easy, and I feel like next week I want to go up a little more because that’s how good I feel right now.” Read more »