September 19, 2014
By: Neil Best
‘I don’t know if you can be a 20-year overnight sensation,” Ian Eagle said with his best deadpan delivery, which is fair enough from a guy who has had a series of high-profile sportscasting gigs since he was in his mid-20s.
But Eagle did not deny the obvious: That even in a career full of big games, glowing reviews and viewer goodwill, being named the No. 2 NFL play-by-play man for CBS this past offseason was a milestone.
“I’ve never looked at it in those terms; my mentality has always been to put my head down and do the job, not shout from the rooftops about the job that I’m doing,” he said Wednesday.
“But yes, an NFL playoff game on television would probably be the biggest assignment of my career up until that point.”
There is a regular season to be called, though, including some Sundays on which Phil Simms and Jim Nantz will be off, leaving the day’s top CBS game for Eagle and his broadcast partner of five seasons, Dan Fouts.
Nantz is in Seattle this weekend, so Eagle will stay close to his New Jersey home for Texans-Giants. (Eagle, 45, is married to Alisa, whom he met at Syracuse, and has two teenage children.)
After graduating from college, Eagle started as a producer at WFAN and soon was collecting dream jobs. “I got the Nets job in 1994 at the age of 25 and got the Jets [radio] job in 1998,” he said, “and if those were the two jobs I had for the rest of my career, I would have been more than satisfied.
“But some doors opened up, and you do your best to take the next step if it’s offered to you.”
That includes calling NFL games on CBS since 1998, a forum that doesn’t allow him to flash his trademark humor quite as often as on a Nets game, but still . . . “I had a ‘Karate Kid’ reference in Week 1,” he said. “[The Steelers’] Shaun Suisham kicked the game-winner and the call was, ‘Suisham sweeps the leg,’ which I’ve used occasionally. It just brings me back to Ralph Macchio days.”
Eagle is a ’70s and ’80s pop culture savant, a skill he enjoys flashing, within reason.
“You have to be careful,” he said. “Your wheelhouse isn’t everyone else’s wheelhouse. Just because I know ’80s television cold doesn’t mean that someone in the audience is going to get a ‘Happy Days’ reference.”
Eagle’s mother, Monica Maris, was a singer and actress who until shortly before her death from lung cancer in 1988 played Judy Garland in a show called “Legends in Concert” in Las Vegas. (It’s on YouTube.)
His father, Jack, who had been a comedian, musician and actor, saw his life change after an iconic 1977 Super Bowl ad for Xerox that led to his second career appearing at trade shows, store openings and corporate events.
“My father traveled probably about 225 days a year for Xerox dressing up as the monk, Brother Dominic,” Eagle said. “What started as a commercial became a full-time job . . . It was a whole life that started for him after the age of 50 and it turned out to be the most memorable and lucrative part of his career.”
Asked what part his father, who died in 2008, played in fostering his sense of humor, Eagle said, “Everything. His personality and the way he treated people had the biggest impact on me. He was a very funny person but also capable of laughing at other funny people . . . My father was a great audience in addition to being a fantastic standup.”
Eagle tries to bring a similar sensibility to the booth. “I think audiences feel connected when there’s laughter, when it’s not all X’s and O’s all the time,” he said. “We are not doing amateur night at the Chuckle Hut. But it’s OK as long as you are judicious and as long as it’s organic.”