Q&A: Merrill Reese Picks the Best Eagles Ever and Talks Our Super Bowl Chances

He's been the voice on the radio for Eagles games for more than 45 years.

Philadelphia Eagles radio announcer Merrill Reese in his Blue Bell home

Philadelphia Eagles radio announcer Merrill Reese in his Blue Bell home. / Photograph by Linette & Kyle Kielinski

Since 1977, Merrill Reese has been the play-by-play announcer for all Eagles games on WIP radio. He’s as much a part of the team’s legacy as throwing snowballs at Santa, Jason Kelce’s Super Bowl speech, and the Philly Special. Yet he still gets horribly nervous before every game. We spoke with him just ahead of the team’s December matchup against the Tennessee Titans.

Good morning, Merrill. How are you doing on this miserably wet and cold day?
I’m fine, thank you. I’m at my office, then
down to NovaCare for Nick Sirianni’s press conference. Then into the locker room to talk to players. Then home to Blue Bell for three hours of studying for the game on Sunday.

I’ll go over the roster of the Tennessee Titans, look at game tape to get a good idea of what their offenses and defenses look like. Then I’ll check out any stories and features on the Titans so that I know them as well as I know the Eagles, which isn’t exactly possible. I’ll set up my book.

What’s in this book?
Well, I write the opener to the broadcast, hopefully something poetic. I write down statistics.

Are we talking about, like, pen and paper here?
Yes. One of those green spiral notebooks that we used to take to school. I handwrite points I want to make. Different facts about players.

The last time we spoke was in 2015. So much has changed. Political turmoil. A global pandemic. And oh yeah: The Eagles won their first Super Bowl! Will we get there and win this year?
What is clear is that we are the team to beat.

If we do get there and win, who’s the MVP?
Jalen Hurts. Unquestionably.

And if we don’t get there, why didn’t we?
The one thing this team must improve is special teams.

Yours would seem to be a dream job for any football fan. Is this what you wanted to be when you were a kid?
When I grew up in West Philadelphia, I would sit around the great big radio console in our living room and listen to as many games as I possibly could. I was transfixed by the voices of the announcers, the roar of the crowd.

I have so many memories from that radio, including sitting on my father’s lap listening to the 1948 Kentucky Derby, which was won by Citation. When I was a bit older and the Phillies were playing the Dodgers on the West Coast, my parents would put me down to bed, and I would secretly listen to the games until 2 a.m. on a transistor radio I had hidden under my pillow.

So how did you realize this dream?
Backing up a little bit, my mother had me take theatrical classes. I was on TV when I was eight, doing commercials on Channel 3 for a Friday-night program where they would show Westerns. I would do the commercials with the host, Chuck Wagon Pete — the father of Peter Boyle, who went on to do Taxi Driver and Everybody Loves Raymond. I’d do these commercials for Lummis peanut butter, Sylvan Seal milk, and Ranger Joe cereal. So I had showbiz in me. I knew how to memorize a script and be in front of a camera.

merrill reese in the broadcast booth at a Philadelphia Eagles game

Merrill Reese, left, with broadcast assistant Bill Werndl in the WIP booth at the Linc ahead of October’s Eagles-Cowboys game / Photograph by Steve Boyle

And you went to Temple in this field, right?
Yes, I studied broadcast and communications. Then I went into the Navy as a public affairs officer. Then I started looking for jobs but couldn’t find any. Finally, I got an interview for a job doing high-school football games for a radio station in Pottstown. But the station owner told me I looked like I was going to have a nervous breakdown. I went home.

That Friday, the phone rings. It’s the station owner. He says, “I can find absolutely nobody to do this, so it’s between you and dead air.” That eventually led to a full-time job there, and I worked my way up to $80 a week. Then I worked at another station, where I narrated two-hour fire-truck parades, and I had a show called Highland Garden of Memories where they would play organ music and I would read obituaries.

How did you get the Eagles gig?
I got a call from somebody at Temple who said WIP was auditioning people to be the summer replacement for Eagles play-by-play announcer Charlie Swift, who was doing the morning sports show. I got the job. By the time I left the building that first day, they had also signed me to do the Eagles pre- and post-game shows and the coach’s show.

Then for the last game of the ’75 season, I got a call saying that Al Pollard, who did color commentary, was sick. They needed me to do color that day. I was so nervous. But I went right to the stadium. I did okay. In ’76, Pollard retired, and they hired me to do color. Then, on December 7, 1977, a Wednesday morning, I got a call that Charlie had shot himself in the head, dead. And I soon became the play-by-play guy.

What an awful way to get a job. But nobody can say you haven’t made the most of it. You’ve mentioned a couple of times being nervous. Do you still get nervous?
Oh yeah. I wake up on game day with a pit in my stomach. If it’s a home game, my wife, Cindy, makes me a big stack of pancakes. Once I get to the stadium, I can’t even think about food. I leave for a 1 p.m. game at 8:15, because I want to know that if I get four flat tires, I can still walk to the stadium in time.

I go to the broadcast booth, go through notes, talk with my co-host Mike Quick. And I read the newspaper. Sixty seconds before we go on-air, I feel the bass drum going off in my chest. But once the game starts, my nervousness disappears, and I’m floating for the next three and a half hours, doing the only thing in the world that I want to be doing. And loving every second of it.

merrill reese on the field during halftime at a philadelphia eagles game at the linc

PHILADELPHIA, PA – NOVEMBER 28: Philadelphia Eagles broadcaster Merrill Reese talks to the crowd during his Eagles Hall of Fame induction during halftime of the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lincoln Financial Field on November 28, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

How has the game changed since you started?
Well, the biggest change from the football standpoint is the speed of the game. And overall, it’s become a pass-first game. It used to be you set up the pass with the run, but now you set up the run with the pass.

And what about the business end?
You think about the salaries of the athletes. Then there are the sponsorships. So many. I used to just call the games. Now, my producer is constantly handing me pieces of paper: “The Eagles are in the Deborah Heart & Lung Center Red Zone,” or, “That was the Hand & Stone Massage play of the day.”

Merrill, I have to say, you seem like the sharpest 80-year-old I’ve met. What’s your secret?
I truly have a photographic memory. I never forget a game or a date. If you want, I can talk to you about the Miracle at the Meadowlands II, which was on December 19, 2010. Or about the first Miracle at the Meadowlands, which was on November 19, 1978. I memorize the numbers of every member of the opponent’s team every week. Cindy, who was an educator, goes around with flash cards. So we’re playing the Tennessee Titans. She says, “Number 22.” I say, “Derrick Henry.” She says, “81.” I say, “Austin Hooper.” She says, “16.” I say, “Treylon Burks.” I could go on.

Switching gears completely, I heard you’re quite the drummer. True or untrue?
I do have a set in the house, and if you sat me down with a band and asked me to play a song with them at a wedding, I could do a pretty professional job.

Your peer, Preston Elliot at WMMR’s Preston & Steve show, is also a hobby drummer. Do you think you could beat him in a drum-off?
Hmm. I think Preston might win.

I’ve seen the man play Rush with perfection. Can you pull off Rush? Do you even know what Rush is?
I don’t know what this “Rush’’ is. But I used to be able to play Cozy Cole’s drum solo from “Topsy Part Two.”

Look it up. Google. It’s a great drum solo.

What do you do when you’re not being tested with flash cards by your wife, calling Eagles games, and playing songs I’ve never heard of on the drums?
I’m an avid golfer.

What is it with you old football guys and golf? Every single one I talk to is into golf.
Well, I played a lot of tennis but realized decades ago it wasn’t good for my knees. So I would occasionally go to charity golf outings and be embarrassed because I was so bad. I took a couple lessons. Today, I’m a little less embarrassing. My handicap is in the 80s. And yes, Ron Jaworski’s golf outings might have spurred this all in me.

Once the game starts, my nervousness disappears, and I’m floating for the next three and a half hours, doing the only thing in the world that I want to be doing. And loving every second of it.”

You deal with Eagles players all the time. They make millions of dollars, drive fancy cars, live in huge homes. I imagine that some of them must be egotistical and difficult to deal with. And I’m sure you wouldn’t tell me who is. So let me just ask you: Who is the most gracious and down-to-earth?
Honestly, it would be difficult to pick one. This is a terrific locker room.

But you see somebody like Jalen Hurts, who is so unassuming and quiet and studious and dedicated to his profession.

I will make this statement: In my life, I have never met anybody nicer than Brandon Graham. Being around him makes your day better. There are so many guys I could talk to all day. Jake Elliott. Boston Scott. I feel bad naming just a few. Lane Johnson. Jason Kelce is an amazing human being. The list goes on.

You, of course, called the 2018 Super Bowl win. Take me back to that day.
February 4, 2018. It was … it was … amazing. The day before, I was in the lobby of the hotel in Minneapolis, and somebody came up and lifted me up from behind. When he put me down, I realized it was the Eagles’ big running back, LeGarrette Blount. He looked at my hand and saw I was wearing my NFC Championship ring from the 2004 season. He said, “This is a loser’s ring. We’re gonna get you a real ring tomorrow.”

How nervous were you for that Super Bowl game?
So nervous. Our position at the stadium was terrible, in the corner of the end zone. So on the last play of the game, I was 110 yards from where that play was going to end up.

I wasn’t nervous that we were going to lose the game, because I didn’t think Tom Brady had the arm strength to throw the Hail Mary he needed to throw. I was nervous because I didn’t want to be known as the announcer who blew the end of the Super Bowl due to being so far away. But it all worked out. He let go of the ball, and it was as if I was watching an NFL film. Everything slowed down. Slow motion. And the ball came down near the end zone, and it was knocked around. That was it. And I said, “The game is over! The game is over! The Philadelphia Eagles are Super Bowl champions! Eagles fans everywhere, this is for you! Let the celebration begin.”

Watch Merrill Reese and Mike Quick call the end of the Super Bowl:

So, the Philly Special. Craziest play you’ve ever seen?
Yep. I was shocked. During the season, I would regularly meet with Doug Pederson, and he would clue me in to anything special going on. But that week, I never had a chance to talk to him, because they were being so secretive.

I said then and I’ll say it now: The smarter play would have been to go for three points. Because if the Philly Special hadn’t worked, if they had not gotten it in, it would have been a tremendous momentum swing and could have cost them the game. Incredibly risky. But they pulled it off.

Merrill, as I’m sitting here listening to your voice on the phone, I recall how the late Carl Kasell would record his distinctive voice for voicemail greetings for winners of NPR’s Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me. Your voice is just as memorable as his. So I’m wondering: How often do you get asked to do that?
[Laughs] It does happen. Sometimes I’m asked to do it as a charity item. People will bid on it. Why? Do you want one?

Uh. Wow. Now that you mention it, I haven’t had a voicemail greeting in the last 25 years.
[Pauses and puts on his game voice] “Jalen Hurts lines them up, Eagles moving against the Dallas Cowboys! Here we go! DeVonta Smith to the rear side, A.J. Brown’s on the far side. It’s Victor in the slot. There goes Hurts. He’s looking deep. He’s got Victor! At the 15, the 10, the five! Victor’s gone!!! But he’ll call you back just as soon as he returns.”

Merrill, you are a true gem and a true gentleman, and I thank you very much for your time.
No, thank you. It was my pleasure.

The Greatest of the Great

Merrill Reese picks the six best Eagles players he’s seen in his career.

Harold Carmichael, 1971—1983

Harold Carmichael, one of the best Eagles players of all time, according to Merrill Reese

Photograph via Getty Images

“He should have been in the Hall of Fame years and years and years ago. He was six-foot-eight. This guy could go over anybody. Truly dominant. The best receiver of his era.”

Brian Dawkins, 1996–2008

Brian Dawkins, one of the best Eagles players of all time, according to Merrill Reese

Photograph via Getty Images

“The power! He was a hitter. An intimidator. He was soft-spoken off the field, but on the field, he was Wolverine. A fierce competitor.”

LeSean McCoy, 2009–2014

LeSean McCoy, one of the best Eagles players of all time, according to Merrill Reese

Photograph via Getty Images

“Nobody could rush like Shady. In 2013, he broke the Eagles’ single-game rushing record—while playing in the snow: 217 yards. So durable. His numbers tell you how great he was.”

Jason Kelce, 2011–??

Photograph via Getty Images

“What quickness. What greatness. He knows how to make the right calls. The anchor of one of the best offensive lines the Eagles have ever had.”

Mike Quick, 1982–1990

Photograph via Getty Images

“Such grace and athleticism. There wasn’t a ball that seemed out of his reach. What a marvelous athlete to watch.”

Reggie White, 1985–1992

Photograph via Getty Images

“The best defensive end who ever lived. Every offensive coordinator who faced the Eagles had to have nightmares that week about Reggie White.”


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Published as “On the Record: Merrill Reese” in the January 2023 issue of Philadelphia magazine.