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Philly's voice of experience

When Reese talks, Eagles fans listen

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Eagles play-by-play man Merrill Reese may not be a household name among Patriots fans, but you get an idea of his status if you call him "The Gil Santos of Philadelphia."

That comes with the territory when you've been the team's voice for 28 seasons and are a dean of NFL broadcasters, a distinction Reese shares with Patriots broadcaster Santos.

But Reese is well known on the highways in the Philadelphia area, too.

Reese, who regularly does corporate speaking engagements and is the marketing face of Audi in the Delaware Valley, stands out for another reason. He drives an Eagles green Audi TT Roadster that makes him conspicuous behind the wheel. Maybe not as identifiable as a Duck Boat in Boston, but certainly part of the local sports landscape.

"That's Eagles green as in Eagles green paint, Eagles green interior, and Eagles green convertible top," he said. "It gets a lot of attention out on the roads."

The car doesn't even have a vanity plate. "It doesn't need one," he said. "I've done enough TV in the local area so people recognize me and the car."

Reese is out on the roads most days. He starts his work day at WBCB (1490), the radio station he partly owns in Levittown, Pa., where he's also the vice president and general manager. However, during football season, he's out the office door and off to either the Eagles' training camp at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., or the team's new NovaCare practice facility.

"I treat the job as if I'm a beat writer," he said. "I'm there for the two-a-days in training camp and at daily practice during the season. Sometimes you think you're at a game when someone makes a nice catch during practice and the crowd roars. There are more people at most Eagles practices than at a small college football game."

Reese remembers the flight home from Super Bowl XV in New Orleans on Jan. 26, 1981, the day after the Eagles lost to the Jim Plunkett-led Raiders, 27-10.

"In those days, the Cowboys were the Eagles' nemesis," said Reese. "The Cowboys were the enemy and there was such passion over beating Dallas for the NFC championship. Oakland, on the other hand, was just another team. I remember on the plane flight home guys were trying to cheer each other up and saying, `We'll come back and win it all next year.'

"Well, it took 24 years for `next year' to arrive."

Reese rattles off names of the Eagles from that 1980 team as if it were yesterday. "Jaws [Ron Jaworski] was the quarterback, Wilbert Montgomery, now the running backs coach with the Rams, was on it. So was Bill Bergey, a middle linebacker then and now one of our pregame show hosts. John Bunting, now the North Carolina coach, was a linebacker, and the tackles were Jerry Sisemore and Stan Walters. Stan became my color man for 14 years." That job now belongs to former Eagle All-Pro receiver Mike Quick, who is in his seventh season.

"This team is different," said Reese. "It thinks of the NFC championship as a wonderful thing and certainly worth celebrating. But two days before that game, [QB] Donovan [McNabb] already was referring to it as a bridge to get to where we want to be: Jacksonville."

Reese's service with the Eagles is unbroken, and it's a job he wanted as a boy when his father would take him to Eagles games.

"Bill Campbell was the team's announcer back then," he said. "Between plays, most fans would be looking at the field. I was looking at the broadcast booth and dreaming about calling the games."

That's where he and Quick will be Sunday, broadcasting on the Eagles' flagship station, 94WYSP-FM. The rest of the Eagles' audience will get the Westwood One national broadcast with Marv Albert and Boomer Esiason.

After graduating from Temple University, Reese embarked on a traditional radio career and worked his way into the Eagles' booth by 1977 as the color man to Charlie Swift.

"I'd done some work at the station and they must have liked me, because even back in those days, the analyst's job usually went to a former player," Reese said.

Early on the morning of Dec. 7 that first season, Reese's phone rang. He was told Swift had committed suicide. Station management told Reese he'd be calling the games for the rest of the season.

Reese will never forget the next game. It was Dec. 11 against the hated New York Giants. As the Eagles lined up for the national anthem, the stadium announcer called for a minute of silence and asked the crowd to face Swift's spot in the broadcasting booth, occupied by Reese.

"It had been such a tumultuous week emotionally, that once 47,000 people at Veterans Stadium turned to look at me, my knees started shaking so hard I could barely stand up," he said.

Reese's son, Nolan, who served as his statistician while in high school and graduated from Boston University, is coming to the Super Bowl. So is his daughter, Ida, a sophomore at Syracuse who counts among her treasured mementos a video from McNabb, offering congratulations on her high school graduation and welcoming her to "his" school, Syracuse.

For Reese, this Super Bowl renews several Boston connections.

He enjoys his pregame chats with Santos and Cappelletti each time the teams meet. "These two teams met in the first preseason game this year, and here they are in the last game of the season," he said. "Everything has come full circle."

He also used to travel to BU when he was the announcer for the Philadelphia Freedom when they'd come to Boston to play the Lobsters, who, coincidentally, were owned by the Krafts.

"Then Jeffrey Lurie, another Boston guy, bought the Eagles after he was unsuccessful in trying to buy the Patriots," Reese said. "Two owners with Boston roots are bringing their teams to this game, and I'd say neither team is suffering from poor ownership."

Reese sees one difference in the two cities, at least from afar.

"Philadelphia fans love the Phillies, the Sixers, and the Flyers," he said, "but the Eagles are their greatest passion. Over the years, they've supported the team whether it was good or bad. I've always been under the impression that Boston's passion was the Red Sox."

One thing is certain. After Sunday's game, one city will be gearing up for a parade. In Boston, Duck Tour boats are the vehicle of choice. If Philadelphia is the site, will Reese's Green Audi be the lead vehicle? 

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