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Q and A with Ian Eagle

I recently caught-up with Syracuse University alum and NFL on CBS play-by-play man Ian Eagle. We chatted about sports being back, his career, his son’s early tenure as a broadcaster, his SU days, how he ended-up on The Hill, the future of the Brooklyn Nets (yep, he does that too), his nickname’s origin and more! Enjoy.

ML: Sports are back. How’s it feel?

IA: I’m excited to be back in the booth, though fully recognizing that this is a small part of what’s happening around the world right now. When I got to the NBA bubble in late July I thoroughly appreciated getting back into the routine of preparation and talking hoops again. The NFL so far has been a unique experience and I give a great deal of credit to the players and coaches for their professional pride and competitive spirit.. The TV presentation has been outstanding and I believe fans at home are still enjoying high-level sports entertainment during these unprecedented circumstances.

ML: When did you say to yourself Syracuse University is the place for me?

IA: I knew fairly early in my life. The fact that Marty Glickman and Marv Albert had attended SU definitely got my attention. Then when the Big East rose to prominence during my early teen years, I was hooked. Watching games on television from the Carrier Dome was inspiring (Pearl Washington in particular) and when I heard that I could have a chance to call those games for WAER Radio as a student, I knew there was no other school for me.

ML: Favorite sport to broadcast?

IA: Too tough to call Mike. Similar to asking me to pick my favorite child, I can’t do it. I immerse myself in whatever assignment I receive, and that’s been my philosophy from the start of my career. I began calling the NBA in 1994, so it has a special place in my heart. My first year calling the NFL was 1997 and the next year I added the NCAA Tournament to my assignments. After all of these years those events still strongly resonate with me. I’ve also called tennis, golf, track and field, boxing, lacrosse, volleyball, etc. If your enthusiasm is coming from a real place, the audience picks up on that.

ML: Your son has followed in your footsteps calling LA Clippers games. What’s the

most satisfying part about Noah’s early success in the business?

IA: Watching his development as a young adult has been the most satisfying part of this more than anything else. He was always a mature kid, but to see him enter the business and handle himself with the confidence and savviness that’s required to be successful has made our family incredibly proud. He’s developed his own

style in a short period of time and already has terrific broadcast instincts. When he told me and my wife Alisa that he wanted to pursue this as a career, we backed him 100%. I explained how challenging it would be and he went into it knowing that his name could open up some doors, but ultimately his talent would have to do the talking for him.

ML: Super Bowl pick?

IA: Do you want me to tick off every team that I cover in 2020 Mike??? If we all understand that I’m just giving my early season opinion, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Baltimore and New Orleans playing in the big game in Tampa.

ML: Best sports moment as a Syracuse broadcaster?

IA: 3/4/90 Syracuse beats Georgetown 89-87 at the Carrier Dome. I fulfilled a dream that day, calling the action for this fierce Big East rivalry. Not surprisingly there was a lot of fanfare around the matchup- national TV game on CBS, a then record crowd and two of the best teams in the country. I remember the Dome was rocking and I felt that I had somehow ‘made it’ putting the headset on that afternoon. Hoyas Coach John Thompson was ejected in the 1st 1/2 and it was a tight game throughout. The ‘Cuse pulled out a thriller in overtime, and it gave me an indelible Syracuse sports memory that’s still vivid more than 30 years later.

ML: What do you hope people say about you at the end of a game you called?

IA: That I’m authentic. I love doing this for a living and my hope is that it comes across in every one of my broadcasts. Being informative and entertaining is the main goal, and

that’s regardless of how big or small of an audience you may have. I try to bring some levity to the airwaves to remind people we’re not performing brain surgery. But I do take the games seriously and do my best to convey the drama and pulse of any event that I’m covering.

ML: When did the nickname “Birdman” start and who coined it?

IA: NY Daily News sports media critic Bob Raissman started referring to me as the ‘Bird’ in his column in the early 90’s and then Bill Raftery took it to another level when I was paired with him on Nets telecasts in 1995. He’s basically called me ‘Bird’ instead of Ian on every broadcast we’ve ever worked. Years later when we were paired together on CBS college games some viewers thought he was mistakenly calling me ‘Verne’ (as in Hall of Fame pxp man Verne Lundquist) when in reality he was just saying ‘Bird’ like he had hundreds of times before on the local side. The look on his face when I explained the mix-up was priceless.

ML: What excites you most about the Brooklyn Nets’ future?

IA: The sky is the limit for this team. Star power with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Young talent they’ve helped develop over the last few years in Caris Levert, Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris and Jarrett Allen. A new Head Coach in Steve Nash who was a Hall of Fame player with an extremely high basketball IQ and the rare ability to connect with all types of personalities. The borough of Brooklyn desperately wants to back this franchise, and the hope is they can create chemistry and put together a memorable run.

ML: I recently had Bob Costas on my podcast and asked him what’s left to call. What’s out there that you haven’t done play-by-play for that you really want to do?

IA: I’ve been extremely fortunate to call a number of big events for International TV Feeds (NBA Finals, NCAA Championships, Olympics, etc), but never a Super Bowl. That’s the ultimate goal for anyone that has worn a headset for a football game. It is a piece of Americana and it would be considered a mountaintop moment for any announcer.

ML: Ian, you are the best. Thanks for the time as always and continued success.

IA: Always appreciate our conversations Mike.

Mike Lindsley
Follow Mike Lindsley on Twitter @MikeLSports and download his podcast the “ML Sports Platter” on Apple Podcasts, Google Play and Spotify.