Monday, December 29, 2014

Bird Talk

Ex-Eagles becoming media sensations

Ike Reese , who studied communications in college, went from being mentored by WIP´s Anthony Gargano to being one of the stars of the station´s late-morning show.SARAH J. GLOVER / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Ike Reese , who studied communications in college, went from being mentored by WIP's Anthony Gargano to being one of the stars of the station's late-morning show.SARAH J. GLOVER / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Former Eagles teammates Ike Reese and Hugh Douglas are debating the way the Birds are utilizing free-agent cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha in an intense conversation in the press room at Lincoln Financial Field.

Two other former Eagles from a time of so much success almost a decade ago - offensive tackle Tra Thomas and defensive tackle Darwin Walker - are listening with interest.

Another former Eagle, offensive tackle Barrett Brooks, walks up to join the conversation as halftime approaches of the Eagles game against San Francisco.

On one level, it was just a case of five former Eagles getting together to talk about the state of the current team.

But it could just as easily have been a broadcasting convention.

Within hours, Brooks, Reese and Thomas would be on Philadelphia airwaves discussing the Eagles' performance. Douglas has recently moved to ESPN after working locally, and Walker is trying to get into broadcasting now that he has retired.

"There does seem to be a lot of us," says Reese, who co-hosts the midday show on WIP with Michael Barkann.

It is a bit ironic that so many former Eagles are part of the local media scene, given their onetime coach's tightlipped approach with reporters.

Though not a big fan of the media, coach Andy Reid rarely prevents his players from talking and never discourages them from establishing good relationships.

"It's not easy to criticize people that you care about and people you have worked with," says Reese, a linebacker and special-teams star for the Eagles from 1998 to 2004. "I have a lot of respect for everybody over at the NovaCare Complex.

"But, at that same time, they know that this is not agenda-driven. They know I don't have some kind of ax to grind with the Eagles. Sometimes [Reid] will joke with me about something I said. Sometimes he won't."

In fact, Reese and Douglas praised Eagles media relations director Derek Boyko and his staff for pointing out the potential benefits of having good professional relationships with the media.

Thomas says Boyko helped arrange his first opportunity with Comcast SportsNet after he retired from the San Diego Chargers. Thomas is now a studio analyst for the wildly popular "Eagles Postgame Live" and appears on "Daily News Live," both on CSN.

The late broadcast legend Howard Cosell coined the term "jockocracy" in reference to athletes' getting broadcast jobs he thought they had not earned.

Douglas says that perception remains. "The biggest hurdle is nobody tells you what to do," says Douglas, 40, a defensive end who played for the Eagles from 1998 to 2002 and again in 2004. "There aren't a lot of people who will help you at the beginning, because you are a threat. It was either sink or swim with whatever you had. You have to learn and improve really quick.

"I like that I see a lot of other guys trying to get into the media. I try to help anybody who asks me. The dinner table is huge. You've got a lot of room for a lot of people to sit down and eat. There is no need to be selfish."

The truth of the industry today is that a lot of former players are making their way into the broadcast media. But Philadelphia seems to be a particularly fertile nursing ground.

In addition to Reese, Douglas and Thomas, other former Eagles with prominent local and/or national broadcasting jobs include Mike Quick, Ron Jaworski, Brian Baldinger, Eric Allen, Jon Ritchie and Garry Cobb.

As the number of outlets expands, so do the opportunities. Among his several media forays, Brooks does postgame analysis for philadelphiaeagles.com, the team website.

"Most broadcast positions require you to have an opinion," says Douglas, who left WIP a few months ago for ESPN. "Being here in Philadelphia definitely prepares you for that. Being around the fans and media here, we learn to become stuck in our opinion.

"We don't waver. We tell you exactly how we feel. I remember the first few times I was up at ESPN, I gave my opinion and stuck by it, people were like, 'Wow, he is really deep-rooted in his opinions.'

"I was like, 'Yes, but I'm from Philly.' "

Reese, who turns 38 next week, is the anomaly. He studied communications at Michigan State and even did an offseason internship at CSN in 2003 when he was approaching retirement.

While playing, Reese established a friendship with WIP host Anthony Gargano.

When Reese said he was interested in a broadcast career after retirement, Gargano begin mentoring him.

He helped Reese get him his first shot at WIP.

"This is what I always wanted to do when I was done playing football," he says. "When I was playing, I always considered myself media-friendly, and a large part of that was because I wanted to learn the business and get in as much practice in it as I could."

WIP and CSN have been prominent in giving former Philadelphia athletes early opportunities in their media careers.

"Philadelphia is such a great sports town," Reese says. "Once the fans embrace you, they love you forever.

"I wasn't a superstar player, but I was a blue-collar player that the fans took to. I am fortunate that they cared about me enough so I could come back and have a media career."

Thomas, 36, hadn't thought much about a broadcast career last year when he was asked to appear weekly on "Daily News Live" to analyze Eagles games.

"It surprised me that I would take to it and enjoy doing it, because I never was a big media guy as a player," said Thomas, who played for the Eagles from 1998 to 2008. "I definitely enjoy being on this side of it, because it keeps me in the game.

"You get to do football, but you aren't getting beat up every weekend."

 


Send email to smallwj@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to www.philly.com/Smallwood.

 

John Smallwood Daily News Sports Columnist
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