By Jenn Pirri
In 40 years a lot has changed in the National Football League, but one thing – one voice in particular – has not.
Merrill Reese. Eagles. Everyone knows his name.
His iconic voice has vividly brought Eagles games - the good, the bad and the ugly - to life since 1977.
Reese makes it his mission to reach the hearts of Eagles fans everywhere, every gameday.
Reese was born in Philadelphia in 1942. As a child, he played every sport imaginable. Tennis was his passion, but football was always on his mind. By the time Reese reached his senior year of high school, he knew that his calling was not on the field, but in the booth.
"When it came time to go to college, and think about college and what I wanted to be, there was no doubt in my mind," Reese says. "In my high school yearbook it says, 'Aspires to be a play-by-play broadcaster.' It was my goal and my dream."
Reese enrolled at Temple University and began studying communications and broadcasting. It was in college where he was able to hone his craft as the play-by-play announcer for Temple’s radio station, WRTI-FM. Throughout college, Merrill called various sports and really gained the experience he needed to start a career in broadcasting.
Today, even at 74 years old and in his 40th season on the air, Reese's preparation is unmatched.
Starting on Monday of game week, Reese is busy writing notes, studying plays and players with an eye on Sunday or, in this case, Monday. His wife Cindy even quizzes him at night to make sure he’s ready for gameday.
"He has flashcards and it’s a ritual that the night before the game I quiz him with the flashcards," Cindy Reese says. "Even if I’m away, I take a copy of the flashcards and we do it over the phone."
With Cindy's help, Merrill makes sure that he knows everything about the opposing team. Aside from studying flashcards on players every night, he also reads the news coming from the opposing team's city. Every newspaper clipping. Every book. Every report. He absorbs it all.
When gameday arrives, Reese is more focused than ever.
Even after all the prep and all the years of experience, he still gets nervous for the game. He starts his day off by practicing psycho-cybernetics, which focuses on the mind-body connection that helps one reach his or her personal goals. Once he's ready for breakfast, Cindy makes him a stack of pancakes to hold him over until the end of the game. He’s often too nervous to eat anything else. To keep his energy up throughout the day, he drinks Coca-Cola – it gives him that "zip," he says.
Reese arrives at the stadium four hours before kickoff. Often times, he arrives before the studio crew is even finished preparing the radio booth, but he doesn't mind. He takes that time to read the newspaper, catch up with his producers and sound technicians, and of course add the finishing touches to his game notes.
When Reese's son, Nolan, was younger, there were times when he would join his dad in the broadcast booth and help him as a show runner. Reese's daughter Ida was also able to witness first-hand the enormous amount of preparation that went into each Eagles game.
"I think it was exemplary for them (Nolan and Ida) to see that this is what you need to do to do something well," Cindy says. "He was a good role model for them."
"He lives wins and losses probably more than anybody else. Merrill’s dream job was doing play-by-play. To have his dream job since the '70s and to broadcast Eagles games every week, when your dream is fulfilled – that’s great."
- Howard Eskin, longtime Philadelphia sports personality and sideline reporter for the SportsRadio 94WIP broadcasts
Reese is a man of many talents. While he is known for his presence over the airwaves, that's not the only thing he does on gameday. Before kickoff, he does an on-camera interview where he discusses the upcoming game, answers questions about the players and gives his take on how the Eagles can secure a win.
"You know, outside of the guys who strap it on and get on the football field and entertain the fans, I don’t think anyone over the years has entertained the fans more than my partner in the booth, Merrill Reese. He brings a passion to the game, each and every game, each and every play, that’s unprecedented. He is my idol."
- Mike Quick, Eagles Hall of Fame wide receiver and color commentator for the SportsRadio WIP broadcasts
Throughout the years, there are games that really stand out. The 1980 NFC Championship win over the Cowboys is one of Reese's fondest. Another memorable moment for Reese is the 2010 Miracle at the New Meadowlands, when DeSean Jackson stunned the New York Giants in the Eagles' 38-31 come-from-behind victory. There has never been a greater game to call in all of Reese's 40 years on the soundwaves, he says.
Reese approaches each and every game with the same focused mentality and passion that you hear coming from your radio on gameday. His opening address is prepared days ahead of time. He knows exactly what he wants to say and how to say it.
As Reese is preparing for his opening remarks, the remaining seats in the broadcast booth begin to fill up. Statistician Terry Small and Merrill’s spotter - Bill Werndl at Lincoln Financial Field and Anthony Bonagura on the road - sit to his left. Quick is to his right. Producer Joe McPeak is ready to go, calling out the time, giving cues and making sure everything is running smoothly.
It's game time.
"When Joe McPeak, our producer, says, 'Stand by we have 60 seconds!' I can really feel that tremendous tension build to a crescendo, and then when he points to me it all goes away. I feel like I'm floating for the next three hours," Reese says.
The nerves go out the window as Reese does what he loves. He captivates for three hours and every moment is a dream come true.
"I have never heard a man more consistently excellent, a man more honest with what he is seeing, a man better at describing what he sees, and finally, a man who has the timber in his voice to capture the excitement of the moment beautifully," says longtime radio host Angelo Cataldi.
"There are five voices that take me back to my childhood. My parents, Harry Kalas, Gene Hart and Merrill Reese. When I think of my favorite Eagles moments, I have his booming voice in my head, losing his mind, reaching a certain high pitch and man, that really soothes my heart."
- Kevin Negandhi, Temple alum and ESPN's SportsCenter anchor