Friday, July 12, 2013

The Voice of the Eagles

Merrill Reese, who has been calling the games of the Philadelphia Eagels on radio since 1977, will appear with the Philadelphia Orchestra July 24 at the Mann Center. He will be the emcee for a program titled "Symphonic Sports-tacular!" — complete with the exclamation point. There will be music from the Olympics and Monday Night Football, filmed highlights from great moments in Philadelphia sports history (such as they are), and a fireworks display. It's a flagrant attempt by the orchestra to broaden its appeal and get more people into the seats, and that is all to the good.

I interviewed Reese, as well as Peter Schickele, for a preview in Ticket. Talking to Schickele was a lifelong dream, of course, but the talk with Reese was more enlightening, probably because each of us was taking a step outside his comfort zone. I've been a fair-weather football fan at best, and I haven't been able to make myself watch it since the news of players' head injuries came out. Reese was open and congenial, however, and he kept the conversation moving. When I was at a loss for questions, he told me about his children. His son Nolan is a visual effects editor who worked on Iron Man II and The Lone Ranger — though I would think he’d rather cross that one off his résumé

One thing I didn’t know — and the sports fans in the newsroom didn’t know, either — is that Reese keeps track of the chaos on the field with the help of a spotter. While he’s watching the ball, another guy in the booth is looking elsewhere, at the blockers and linebackers and the secondaries. This guy never speaks, but if a player does something worthy of comment, he will point to the player’s number on a chart and describe the action to Reese using one of thirty-five hand signals. The play-by-play men may sound omniscient, but they have an extra set of eyes.

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