The photo of the father greets the son each time the son sets foot inside the radio station. How large is the shadow?
When you walk inside the newsroom of WAER-FM—a commercial-free, Syracuse, N.Y.-based NPR station that’s licensed to the University and airs Orange football, basketball and men’s lacrosse—you can’t miss the images of Ian Eagle alongside other well-known 88.3 FM alums such as Marv Albert, Marty Glickman, Sean McDonough and Dave Pasch. When you head to the basement of the station, you’ll find the WAER Hall of Fame wall, where Eagle’s induction plaque from August 2013 hangs next to Mike Tirico, another famous Syracuse broadcasting alum.
“I walk by it every day and I am reminded where I come from,” said Noah Eagle, a 21-year-old Syracuse University junior with a last name familiar to millions of sports fans.
This Saturday father and son will experience what promises to be one of the most memorable days of their lives. As Noah and his broadcasting partner, Sam Rubinoff, call the Syracuse-Miami men’s basketball game at the Watsco Center in Miami for WAER-FM, Ian will broadcast the game for CBS alongside analyst Bill Raftery.
Noah’s sports director told him earlier this year that he wanted to assign him a road game during the spring semester. When Noah found out his father was going to call the Syracuse-Miami game, he suggested the possibility of calling the same game.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience I may never get to do again,” Noah said in a three-way call with his dad this week. “It’s something I’m looking forward to.”
“Off the record, I was pissed,” Ian said, deadpan. “I don’t want the public to see that Noah is actually two inches taller than me.
“No, I was thrilled when I heard it was a possibility. I thought about my dad. I was around him for so many years on the road. As a standup comedian, he put me on stage at the age of five, doing some standup routines. Those were the memories that started flooding into my brain and I wish he was around to see this.”
Ian Eagle’s father, Jack Eagle, who passed away in 2008, was a Borscht Belt standup comic and actor who found national success in 1977 when he appeared as Brother Dominic in a Xerox commercial that aired during the Super Bowl and won a Clio Award. Jack eventually appeared in 50 commercials in the 1970s, ‘80s, and ‘90s, and once traveled 225 days a year dressing up as Brother Dominic for Xerox. As a kid, young Ian would appear on stage during his father’s act performing Howard Cosell, W.C. Fields and Muhammad Ali impressions.
Now Eagle’s son is performing in his world. After broadcasts for Eastern Michigan, Virginia Tech and Toledo, Saturday’s match-up will be the fourth Syracuse basketball game Noah has called this season. He and Rubinoff will split the play-by-play and color duties.
The plan for father and son is for is to meet up for dinner on Friday night (along with Alisa, Ian’s wife, Noah’s mom and yet another Syracuse alum). On Saturday morning they hope to travel to the arena in the same vehicle and grab breakfast together. At a certain point, father and son will part ways and separately prepare for each of their broadcasts, but at game time the pair will be stationed on the same side of the court. Noah will be on the corner of the court opposite the player benches, while, a few feet away, Ian gets a better seat at the middle of the court.
Noah shares the same straight-faced sense of humor as his father and the two sound eerily alike—it’s kind of scary, actually. Noah said that he always enjoyed public speaking and his interest in sports broadcasting started around 12 years old.
“We definitely have a similar sound and look—there is no questioning the DNA,” said Ian, who graduated from Syracuse in 1990 and has since become one of the top broadcasters in the country. “The reality for me is I have always been proud of Noah. I am not just proud this weekend. I have been proud of him since he was a little boy. The other part that resonates with me is he went to Syracuse knowing full well that he would get a lot of those comments, ‘Hey, are you Ian Eagle’s son?’ In three years that has dissipated and now I am hearing, ‘Are you Noah Eagle’s dad?’ That is as satisfying as anything.”
Children of sports broadcasters often must live with the stigma that they landed their job solely by virtue of their famous parent. It is something Joe Buck, Mike Golic Jr. and Jac Collinsworth, among others, know very well.
“I have always thought that talent wins out in this business—you can’t fake that,” said Ian. “A connection might get you an interview and it might even get you on the air but you won’t last very long if you don’t have the talent to back it up. Noah and I have talked about it briefly. It is not something we have focused on because the goal for him now in college is to learn and to find out which parts of the business intrigue him and which parts he would like to pursue. That means trying everything. That is what I have encouraged him to do—find your passion.”
Said Noah: “I definitely have thought about taking it a step further—even just coming to Syracuse that was something in the back of my mind. He is a legacy here. But at the end of the day I worry about myself and worry about getting better as a broadcaster each day. I am trying different things, from news to entertainment to sports and different forms of media.”
Asked if younger sister Erin, 19, will opt to listen to Noah or watch her Dad on CBS, both father and son laughed.
“Let’s be completely up front here,” Ian said. “She could not care less.”
For those watching the game on CBS on Saturday, there is a possibility that the network at some point will mention Noah calling the game for WAER, though Ian says he is not aware of anything.
“One thing we are considering,” said Ian, laughing, “is slipping Noah into my seat for the second half to see if Raf [Bill Raftery] even notices.”