Person to Watch: Ike Reese
Life – and football – on both sides of the mic
By Terri Akman

Known as a thoughtful analyst on WIP sports talk radio, Ike Reese loves to talk about his beloved Eagles. Like most of his fans, the ex-Eagles linebacker, 40, endured heartache during his seven-year stint on the team. The pain began in his 1998 rookie season.

“That was a difficult rookie season going 3 and 13,” recalls Reese. “The coach, Ray Rhodes, retired at the end of the year, then Andy Reid came in 1999. We just weren’t very good as a team, but there was talent there, especially on the defensive side of the football. We drafted Donovan McNabb that off-season, so we had our franchise quarterback and started to build upon that.”

Ike-EagleThe Eagles advanced to the playoffs in 2000, then to the NFC championship game in each of the next three years. But losing each year made those accomplishments bittersweet. Finally in 2004, they made it to the Super Bowl but lost to the Patriots 24-21.

“There was a lot of heartbreak and unfulfilled dreams with three straight NFC championship game losses, which was obviously difficult to deal with going into the off-season,” Reese says. “But that’s why I love that group of players so much. We never gave up on the dream and we never gave up on each other. It made us closer, and we had more of a family atmosphere. If I couldn’t win a Super Bowl with those players, I couldn’t envision it having the same meaning or same impact on my life.”

The camaraderie was especially important to Reese, a Cincinnati native who had no family in the area when he was drafted from Michigan State University. “Your teammates become your family, and if you don’t have a close team it can be a lonely feeling when you’re dealing with adversity,” he says. “It was a team loss, and that made us train more together. We became a tightly knit, bonded team.”

Today Reese appreciates the passion of the Philadelphia fans, though they didn’t embrace him from the start. “Fans can be tough on you,” he says. “The perception is that the players make all this money to play football, and they don’t care as much as the fans. But as the guys who actually have an impact out there on the field and some control over the results of the games, it hurts us much more when we lose. It wasn’t that we tuned out the fans – we heard them.”

Living in SJ year-round, Reese endured the scrutiny from fans. Whether winning or losing, he read the newspapers, listened to the radio and talked to fans regularly.

“Instead of being offended by those things, I tried to gain an understanding,” he says. “Some of it was entertaining, some enlightening and some I used to better communicate with fans. Fans wanted to know that you cared and hurt just like they did. You don’t get offended by it as much as you used it as motivation.”

Now Reese sits on the other side of the talk-show microphone as a sportscaster on WIP’s “The Mike and Ike Show.” When he first joined WIP in 2008, he was reporting on many of his friends from the team. That wasn’t easy.

“I was more conscious of what I said, who might hear it and whether or not they would be offended by it, or if I might have an impact on them to change things,” he says. “I played with those guys, so it was difficult to do the job in the beginning. I had to walk that tightrope, making sure I didn’t offend those guys, but at the same time, trying to give the fans insight, what they wanted to hear from me. As time went on and those guys left, it became a lot easier for me to speak my mind.”

One of those guys was Donovan McNabb, the Eagles quarterback from 1999 to 2009. Fans either loved him or hated him, but everyone had an opinion. “I never saw a guy come in and have the weight of the franchise on his shoulders that early in his career, and actually live up to the expectations,” says Reese. “He came right in and commanded the huddle, and that wasn’t an easy thing for a guy to do on a team with a lot of veterans. There’s not a lot of Donovan McNabbs that come around. You just don’t get a quarterback for 11 years and be able to do some of the things that he was able to do for this franchise. His desire to win was greater than what a lot of people give him credit for.”

Reese also played with Duce Staley, an Eagle from 1997 to 2003. “He may be one of the toughest guys I ever played with,” says Reese. “We used to call him Buddy Lee – that was a campaign for Lee jeans during the time. Duce was our primary weapon. He would get banged up but he never missed a game. You couldn’t stop him. He wore that like a badge of honor.”

After leaving the Birds when the 2004 season ended, Reese spent two years as an Atlanta Falcon. But he realized it was time to move on when his thoughts began wandering away from football. “I found myself in that final year thinking about life after football more frequently than about the next game,” he says. “At 33-years-old, I started planning for life after football.”Reese knew his new life would involve broadcasting. A communications major at Michigan State, Reese loved the microphone. He also enjoyed dissecting the game and debating strategies with his teammates.

“Being in the locker room, all we did was argue about sports all the time,” he says. “I found I had a knack for breaking down the game from an analytical standpoint. The more I got repetition at being interviewed myself, going on the shows as a guest, I found it was something I enjoyed doing. I did internships with Comcast for two years during the off-season. They allowed me to come over and work with them to see how everything worked behind the scenes. They allowed me to go out with a microphone and a camera crew and interview Phillies players. Broadcasting was a plan. I worked at it.”

That doesn’t mean things always went according to plan. Reese’s wife Renee still reminds him of his embarrassing moments after losing the NFC championship game to the Carolina Panthers. “I cried so much I couldn’t get through interviews,” he says. “She thought I was crying a little bit too much! She didn’t say it that night but she told me weeks later when I was emotionally over it. It was embarrassing later, but at the time it was just raw emotional feelings after losing your third straight championship game.”

Reese admits he’s a homebody who prefers to spend time with Renee and their two kids, Elijah, 10, and Jada, 8. “The kids are typically involved in some sport,” says Reese. For now, Elijah is sticking to flag football, though Reese would be thrilled if his son followed in his footsteps one day.

“I would be nervous, but I would love it,” he admits. “I understand what today’s parents have to ponder when they let their children play football at a young age. I feel that by the time he’s old enough, in the next three or four years, a lot of teams at the amateur level will have adopted  safety rules where there isn’t a lot of head-to-head hitting. If that’s the way everybody’s playing the game, I’m OK with that. I know the game was played differently when I played, but this is for the betterment of the children and the guys playing. I’m hoping they’ll continue to go in that direction.”

Now that he has more down time, Reese is looking forward to traveling (Renee is bugging him to go to Europe). And, of course, he’s rooting for the Eagles to get back to the Super Bowl. When that happens, he’ll be happy to chat with fans about his beloved team.

“The best part of being a sportscaster in Philadelphia is being able to do a job that doesn’t feel like a job,” says Reese. “I feel like I’m in a sports bar or barber shop with friends. It’s like being in a fraternity, liking the same teams and breaking down what happened, why it happened, how it happened and how we can fix it. Sometimes we agree and sometimes we disagree, but it’s like being in a family talking about sports. I’m 40 years old now, and I still haven’t worked a day in my life.”

July 2014
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