Person to Watch: Beasley Reece
So many stories to tell
By Terri Akman

Photography by David Michael Howarth

Beasley Reece, preacher? It might have been. The 59-year-old former pro-football player and sports anchor’s life could easily have taken a different turn.

Beasley Reece likes to play piano – and sing

Beasley Reece likes to play piano – and sing. Photo by David Michael Howarth.

“I was born and bred to be either a preacher, professor, lecturer or public speaker,” he says. “I was a public speaker through high school and won several public speaking contests. I’ve always had a command of the language and been at ease with writing and reading. I was raised reading out loud while my parents watched ‘The Lawrence Welk Show’ in the background. Football was the accident.”

A fortunate accident, of course. As a defensive back, Reece played his rookie season with the Dallas Cowboys in 1976, then spent the next six years as a New York Giant. He ended his football career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1984. Reece played for many great coaches, including Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick, Tom Landry, Dan Reeves and Mike Ditka.

“They were all guys who were NFL head coaches that ended up going to Super Bowls,” he says. “They have tremendous influence on your goals, the things that motivate you and the mission.

“Belichick was my personal, special teams and defensive coach. He remains the smartest man I’ve ever been around. He has no idea what’s going on in pop culture or outside football. The media complains that his press conferences are like Andy Reid’s press conferences used to be, where he doesn’t say much. It’s not him being aloof, it’s more that he doesn’t relate to people outside the strategy. It’s not just football. I think he would have been a great general or in any strategy-based employment, he just happened to find football. He’s all business, all preparation, all professionalism.”

Reece paid close attention to Belichick’s lessons in strategy and is particularly proud of two highlights from his own playing days where strategy made all the difference.

“My best interception was when I was on Tampa Bay on Monday Night Football against the Green Bay Packers. Their quarterback was Lynn Dickey. It was toward the end of my career, so it makes it even sweeter. It was under the lights, before the nation, with my parents and everybody in my hometown watching. I was playing free safety, but I was doubling with the corner on a wide receiver. It was a down and distance situation in the game, where we had a high statistical probability where they would try to run a quick slant – a little post route where the receiver runs up about 10 yards and breaks in the middle of the field and catches the ball in a soft spot in the defense. I broke on faith underneath that ball and had to leap to catch it, then ran down the sidelines a considerable ways.

“Another great play was when I was with the Giants playing against the San Francisco 49ers and hall-of-famer Joe Montana. We were at Candlestick Park, and Joe Montana was trying to throw the ball to Freddie Solomon. Joe dropped back and looked to his right, and I knew he was trying to make me take one step to that side of the field so he could spin around and hit Freddie. I know he’s not going to throw until I move, so I jab step in the direction he wants me to go, but that step was part of a break in the other direction. I broke and Joe spun at the same time. Me, Freddie and the ball arrived together in a violent crash. The ball spins down on the ground in between us, I stand up and look at Joe, and he points at me and I point at him. We both knew what had just happened – a quiet battle among a couple of veterans.”

Reece recalls his first year playing in the NFL for the Dallas Cowboys alongside renowned quarterback Roger Staubach. “He is Captain America,” says Reece. “This guy served in the military, was a first-round draft choice and Hall of Famer. You would never think he would do anything wrong, and he never did. There was an upstart quarterback by the name of Clint Longley who thought he had certain talents based on one game he had played the previous season. He was always teasing and challenging Roger but, once again, Roger was Captain America. Finally, Roger had had enough. At the end of one practice, everybody was walking off the field and Roger and Clint were heading in another direction, and they had a fight. Guys went down to break it up, and Roger won the fight. Roger’s locker was right next to mine. When they came back to our lockers, as he was taking his shoulder pads off (imagine how you lose vision as it goes over your head), Clint Longley sucker punched him. Then the rest of the team grabbed Clint. That’s a story that’s been unreported.”

At the start of his 10th season in the pros, Reece suffered a nagging knee injury that ended his career. “I had no regrets,” he says. “I felt a sigh of relief that I was in good shape physically and financially, and I had job opportunities.”

Easing naturally into a broadcasting career, today Reece is sports anchor on both CBS 3 and The CW Philly, and host of the CBS sports shows “Sunday Kickoff” and “Sports Zone.” Reece now has a quarter century of reporting experience under his belt, yet he clearly remembers a day behind the desk when disaster struck.

“I was working in a station in Connecticut before the New England Patriots were real good, so it was still Giants’ country,” he recalls. “I went on air from the studio chair for the first time.

I edited the video and wrote the script, and in the final seconds I ran upstairs to the studio but I had forgotten to take the tapes to the tape room. I went on air with about seven stories and no video to support it. Today we do about two-and-a-half minutes worth of stories, but back then the sports guy got five minutes. It was just me sitting there talking, and I was so freaked out by it that I started sweating. Literally, toward the last minute or two, sweat was in sheets pouring down my face. This is no exaggeration! It was an absolute bomb, and I almost didn’t recover from that.”

Not only did Reece recover, but he has five Emmys and 12 Associated Press Awards to show for it. “My favorite show is ‘Friday Night Football’ during the high school football season. It’s the one time we feature kids and families. We’re not talking about DeSean Jackson or Michael Vick. We’re talking about the game in its purest form where there are parents, and we feature the band and cheerleaders. That’s probably the most fun you’ll ever have.”

Reece acknowledges he’s lucky he played in an era before social media. “I was a free man,” he says. “These guys have to realize that everywhere they go, whatever they do, there is video, cell phones and recording devices. Today’s player is really under a microscope. In my day we could go anywhere and do anything. The league wasn’t as big, the game wasn’t as big, the money wasn’t as big and the scrutiny was not as complete.”

Reece tells the story of a recent golf game with an old teammate, Lawrence Taylor. “He’s been in all kinds of trouble in his life,” Reece says. “After the rounds, he said, ‘Let’s go for a big steak. My strip club actually makes the best steaks in Fort Lauderdale.’ I said, ‘I’m not going anywhere with you, especially not to a strip club. Every guy in that bar has a cell phone, and I’m not going to be on YouTube sitting next to you just because they make a great steak!’”

Beyond the many coaches and athletes who have influenced his life, Reece says his true role models are his parents. “My mother grew up in Texas with an outhouse and a well to pump water,” he says. “She came from there and got a master’s degree and was a teacher for 40 years. She traveled to every continent in the world but one. My father grew up on a farm and went on to get a master’s degree and become the superintendent of schools in my hometown. I watched them achieve through their work ethic and professionalism.”

Growing up in Waco, Texas, Reece enjoyed playing piano and singing. Several times he’s even sung the national anthem at sporting events. “That’s the most nerve-wracking experience, because no matter who you are, you have two concerns,” he admits. “Number one is remembering the words, because they don’t make any sense to a musician. Number two is not starting out on too high of a note, because the range of that song is daunting. Every time, I had it written down somewhere – on my arm, in my hand – I’d act like I was being theatrical but look for the words of the next verse.”

Now, his passion is golf. “I am a jock, and I need a game,” he says. “Officially I’m probably an eight handicap, but I shot a 68 at Deerwood last year and also at Kinloch in Virginia.”

Reece, an Eagle Scout, also enjoys mentoring kids and is an avid supporter of the Boy Scouts. Today, when he isn’t working, you can find him either on the links, at the piano or in the gym. “The things that I like to do and would love to do well, I do them every day,” he says. “The words ‘every day,’ that’s my mantra. I tell kids, whatever you want to be very good at, do it every day.”

As for Philly fans who often get a bad rap in the media, Reece thinks they are tops. “I’ve played with three teams and lived in four states, so I’ve seen a lot of fans,” he says. “I put the Philadelphia fans, when it comes to fanaticism and passion, one notch above the New York fans. Eagles fans and Flyers fans don’t go away. This has been the greatest honor and pleasure to have people that are truly interested in your subject matter.”

November 2013
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