Doug Pederson is the eighth Eagles head coach since 1977. They’ve had 26 starting quarterbacks over those years, from McNabb and Cunningham to two Detmers and, well, Pederson.
And they’ve had exactly one play-by-play radio broadcaster: Merrill Reese. Why change when you’ve got the best?
He was at Eagles practice Sunday, prepping for his 40th year. Only the Phillie Phanatic has more tenure among local icons. Merrill is a beloved figure in this tough town. When fans see him, many reach for an embrace. More break into imitation of his voice – all basso profundo until a thrilling play drives it up four octaves.
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What endears Merrill (he’s always called by his first name) is that fans know he’s one of us. Unlike many vagabond broadcasters, he grew up here, rooting for the Eagles since Van Brocklin threw to McDonald. When the defense is able to “stop ‘em again!” against Dallas or a game-winning kick is “gooooooooood!!!!,” you hear the genuine joy coming through Merrill’s mic.
Homer? Sure. But, like the fans he speaks to, Merrill is never shy to question a coach’s dumb decisions. He doesn’t fall into the trap of calling the team, “we.” And he’ll let you know when he hurts. “After a loss,” he says, “I’m the kid who doesn’t want to get out of bed on Monday morning.”
Merrill’s style is now considered old school in a changing business. Younger guys in other markets do it differently. But my radio partner, Ray Didinger – who spent years mining the calls of local broadcasts to accompany NFL highlight films – said Merrill’s always worked best. Nothing stirs you like hearing, “He’s at the 35 . . . 30 . . .25 . . .” It’s like the finish of a thrilling horse race.
This season, Merrill will again work with Mike Quick, no rookie himself after 18 seasons as color man. Quick brings the expertise of a Pro Bowler and an easy sense of humor. The two have a rhythm and counterbalance that prompts fans to lower the TV volume and turn up WIP. Like Scott Franzke and Larry Andersen with the Phils, sometimes the broadcasters must provide fun when the team cannot.
Merrill still goes to all the practices and news conferences. He talks to players. He is such a football junkie that he’ll interrupt his drive home to drop in and watch a high school JV practice.
If there’s any sign of slippage after four decades, I don’t hear it. Merrill told me last weekend that, “This is all I want to do for years to come.”
Players and coaches come and go. Since 1977 we’ve lived through Vermeil and Jaws. Buddy and Reggie and Randall. Andy and Donovan and T.O. Chip and . . . ahh, forget it. Merrill Reese painted their pictures for all of us.
I can’t predict this newest version of the Eagles will be anything special. But I’m sure the man describing it on radio will keep it damned exciting.