It's a day that lives in infamy for Eagles broadcaster Merrill Reese. On Dec. 7, 1977, Reese was jarred awake by a phone call bearing terrible news: Charlie Swift, Philadelphia's play-by-play man and Reese's radio partner that season, had shot himself to death. "I was numb," says Reese, then the Eagles' color commentator. "With two games to go in the season, I was thrust into the play-by-play seat. That Sunday my knees were knocking. I was thinking, Please, let something come out of my mouth."
What has come out of Reese's mouth every game day since has made for the NFL's most enjoyable radio broadcast. (Honorable mention goes to Van Miller and Brad Sham, the radio play-by-play voices of the Bills and the Cowboys, respectively.) The 58-year-old has become as much a Philadelphia staple as a cheese steak at Geno's, and with NFL radio broadcasts available on the Internet at nfl.com, listeners from all over can tune to Reese and analyst Mike Quick's play-by-play on WYSP-FM.
Much like an evening at the opera starring a gifted tenor, a Reese broadcast, in which he slides his rich voice up and down the vocal scale, furnishes an aria's worth of emotions. When the Eagles soar, so does Reese's inflection. Consider his call of Brian Mitchell's 94-yard kickoff return to open Philadelphia's 21-7 win over the Cardinals on Nov. 4, a description that begins purringly and ends with melodious might: "High and not too deep.... Taken by Mitchell at the six and across the 10...15...20. He's got a lane at the 25! Thirty! Cuts back at the 40! Midfield! Forty-five! Forty! Thirty-five! Thirty! Brian Mitchell is going [rising voice] COAST TO COAST for the TOUCH...DOWN!"
Says Reese, "There are those who will say I'm a homer because I love this football team. However, that doesn't affect my evaluation. That just puts me in tune with my audience." That listenership was none too pleased following Philly's lackluster 13-3 loss to the Redskins on Sunday. "There were a lot of plays during this game," Reese boomed, "where the Eagles did not do what they had to do." Neither he nor his team had time to dwell upon the defeat: Reese's next broadcast was to start at 8:30 p.m. on Thursday from Kansas City.
"Doing these games is my greatest passion," says Reese, who spends his time away from Veterans Stadium as part owner and general manager of a radio station (WBCB-AM) in Levittown, Pa. "They'll have to pry me out of the booth. I'll never retire."