I Just Want To Listen To Merrill Reese Call The Eagles Game While I Watch. It Is Harder Than You’d Think.
1:37 PM EDT on October 23, 2023
Sunday night’s Eagles game was pretty darn good. The Eagles held Miami, the top offense in the league, to 10 offensive points. Jalen Hurts continues to look like he should be in an old LifeCall commercial every time he goes to the ground and tossed a weird pick-six, but he also threw a pair of touchdowns. The Eagles converted four fourth-down plays, two on their own side of the field, and ran the tush push a bunch. They are 6-1. Only the Chiefs have matched that record. The team even wore its attractive kelly green jerseys to make the night really special.
So: Was I happy? Was this the end of Dan’s Eagles Bit? Of course not. I could complain about the run game or the red-zone playcalling or Hurts’s two turnovers. But also they beat a pretty good Dolphins team pretty easily. These are minor complaints. The football stuff was not the reason I spent the evening a bit annoyed. I was annoyed for the same reason I am most Eagles games: I spent much of the game attempting to sync up my television with the radio broadcast.
I love Merrill Reese. He has been the Eagles announcer since Dec. 11, 1977. He is, if I am being honest, not always the best at describing the game. When I was a kid, I had a tape from local comedian and impersonator Joe Conklin—of course Philly has its own local impressionist—that had an impression of him on it. The joke was: “Third and 1. Could be 11. It is third down. That much we know.” That was 30 years ago, and Reese is still the same guy. If there's an element of Conklin's impression that doesn't hold up, it's that at least once a game Reese forgets what down it is. Last night he called the Dolphins “the Falcons” at one point. I don’t care about this.
In fact, I kind of like it. Reese has been the announcer for so long that he is now part of the fan experience. All his idiosyncrasies are a feature, not a bug. Reese is a homer, but he is the best kind of homer: He gets as angry at the Eagles as a drunk fan in the last row of the stadium would. Angrier, even. Here’s one of my favorite calls of his, from a 2011 game where Juqua Parker jumped offsides on fourth-and-1, costing the Eagles a chance to tie the game.
So, yeah, I want to listen to Merrill call the Eagles game. I like him so much I call him by his first name. I’ve been listening to him my whole life. When I was a kid, the Eagles would be blacked out occasionally because games didn’t sell out. In my lifetime the Eagles home games were blacked out 34 times, including several home openers. (It’s 44 games in all, according to this Wikipedia page.) Often we’d just have to listen to the game instead of watch it. I got attached. Merrill has the right attitude. He’s a Lower Bucks County guy. Sometimes he messes up and it’s funny. Of course I wanted to hear him call the game. I will always want that.
But each week I have to fight to do it. Here is my system: Eagles games are broadcast over the air locally. As long as the game isn’t syndicated to Channel 6, which doesn’t come in very well, I can watch on my antenna. I have a cheap-o TCL Roku TV, but it does have a feature I need: I can plug in a USB drive and pause live TV while watching over-the-air. I use an old boombox, a Sanyo M7024 from the late 1980s, to listen to the radio broadcast. I simply wait for the snap on the game's first offensive play and unpause it.
I am… not great at it. Sometimes I miss, and suddenly Merrill is now ahead of the plays on TV. Sometimes I have to wait until there’s a penalty and try to match up the radio with the ref’s mouth. Again, I tend to screw this part up. But it is not all my fault. Sometimes the delay changes after a commercial break—over-the-air TV is usually around 30 seconds ahead of the radio broadcast of the game—and I have to do this dance all over again. All this work is worth it, in my opinion, to listen to Merrill and Eagles color guy Mike Quick. But it is a bit of a chore.
I am not the only one who deals with this. Inside Radio reported earlier this month that 20 percent of NFL radio broadcasts are listened to in-home. The number for the Eagles was 27 percent. Some people are probably just listening to the game because they are doing other things around the house. But a lot of people just want to hear Merrill. Nick Piccone posts a popular Twitter thread each week with Merrill’s calls synced up to plays. This isn’t anything against the people who tend to do the commentary on the actual TV broadcasts. I actually like most of the major announcers—Cris Collinsworth, Joe Buck, Troy Aikman. I can put up with any of them. I just prefer to hear the guy I’ve been listening to my whole life when I’m watching the Eagles.
This used to be easier, even when the Eagles were not blacked out. The TV and radio synced up pretty well when I was a kid, as far as I remember. Delays have been a part of TV since the digital transition, but it has gotten worse thanks to streaming. Five years ago, Streaming Media described what Hulu does with its live TV feeds: “Repackaging involves stripping out production data from the feeds, adding commercial DRM, and sending streams to partner CDNs. The company works with multiple content delivery networks, constantly measuring output quality and shifting its workflow as needed. If one CDN is having issues, Hulu leans on the others.” Streaming tech firm Phenix said streaming viewers had delays between 23 and 76 seconds during last season’s Super Bowl; other analyses found similar figures. YouTube TV is particularly bad; while Google vows to create a “high-quality Sunday Ticket experience” on the service, it’s still the most noticeably laggy of the streamers. Some people attempt workarounds; one Browns Fan on Twitter noticed the stream on a multi-game view of yesterday’s game was about eight seconds ahead of the main one.
These delays have made watching live sports a chore to do when you’re using a second screen. Texts from friends will show up spoiling plays before they happen on your own TV. Live online box scores will be two plays ahead of the broadcast. It has created a situation that requires me to put down my phone and just watch the game. This is a bit of forced mindfulness I could stand to take to heart more often, if indeed watching an NFL game could be referred to as “mindful.” But I now put my phone down until the end of drives or big plays. I can text later. Plus, I’m too busy working out how to sync up my radio with my TV.