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September 18, 2019

Behind the scenes of 'Eagles Postgame Live,' where nothing is scripted and the arguments are real

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Eagles-postgame-live-2_091919_JS Joe Santoliquito/for PhillyVoice

Michael Barkann, Barrett Brooks, Ray Didinger and Seth Joyner on the set of 'Eagles Postgame Live.'

It’s become a weekly autumn ritual on Sunday afternoons, Monday nights, and more recently, a sporadic Thursday night. It’s also something all TV-viewing Eagles fans take for granted after 22 years. Because invariably, after the final seconds tick away from every Eagles game, you’re immediately turning on NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Eagles Postgame Live to hear what Michael, Ray, Seth and Barrett have to say.

They’re houseguests that don’t need surnames.

Michael Barkann, Ray Didinger, Seth Joyner and Barrett Brooks are drinking buddies minus the bar and the beer. The opinionated quartet are so compelling it’s cause enough for fans across the Delaware Valley to continue cursing at their 55-inch high-def Sony well after the game is over.

PhillyVoice was allowed total access behind the scenes of a recent Eagles Postgame Live show and what was revealed was a refreshing look at an organic production, unrehearsed, unscripted and completely visceral. It’s a national-level show done on a local platform, a two-hour football nirvana for anyone looking to defuse from an Eagles’ loss or channel their exhilaration after the Eagles just won.

There is a saying in the TV world that you don’t leave the show in the green room. Not this crew, which has been together for four years now.

The seamless symmetry you see on screen is what they just argued about off camera seconds earlier.

In a media world currently full of faux “hot takes,” or to borrow a piece of pro wrestling parlance, “a work,” designed to deceive or manipulate an audience in order to elicit a desired response, what you see each Eagles Postgame Live is who these guys are and what you, the viewer, gets on air. There’s no “trolling” or “prompting.”

It’s real and sincere, and a treasure for local football fans that no one else in the country gets after games. It’s unadulterated football speak spiked with an acute accent of Philly flavor. That’s what Postgame offers: an extension of the game.

What makes it work is how well Barkann, Didinger, Brooks and Joyner complement each other through their contrasting personalities (Brooks and Joyner were hires of Michelle Murray, the NBC Sports Philadelphia VP of content).

There’s Barkann, the playfully bombastic voice of the fans; Didinger, the sagacious, Hall-of-Fame, big-picture context analyst; Brooks, the glass-half-full offensive mind and Joyner, the brilliant, no-nonsense, glass-half-empty component who should really be an NFL coach.

“No one had to tell us our roles, we just kind of assumed them and it was a natural fit,” Didinger said. “Barrett is the offensive guy, and sometimes the glass-half-full guy, and Seth is the defensive guy, and sometimes the glass-half-empty guy, and I guess I am sort of the big-picture guy. It’s well cast. In Michael, you have the perfect quarterback who distributes the ball.”

We all have a passion for what we do. We all like each other. There is a chemistry thing that’s very important. These guys are family to me.

Now in its 23rd year, Eagles Postgame Live debuted on Sunday, October 5, 1997, after the Eagles beat the Washington Redskins, 24-10, behind Ty Detmer in a game Brooks actually started at right tackle. It was the brainchild of Tom Stathakes and Jim Cuddihy, and at first, Eagles Postgame Live just covered home games. It graduated to every game in the 1998 season.

It’s only known one host — Barkann, who’s as goofy, passionate and flamboyant on-air as he is off. He’s the maestro. The veteran Philadelphia sports announcer can make blood boil better than a high voodoo priest, both in-studio and out.

“You have to be fair and you have to be accurate and we are,” Barkann said. “It does become more visceral when the Eagles lose. Don’t get me wrong, everyone in studio wants to see the Eagles win, myself, Barrett, Ray and Seth. There we are, calling it like we see it. We do stir emotion, and we frame opinion and also change opinion — especially Seth, Ray and Barrett — and we can sometimes be quarrelsome.

“There is never any residue afterward. I defer to those three. You have to know what you don’t know, and I know what I don’t know. Those guys do. With respect to Barrett, Ray and Seth, I don’t know a lot. I turn that into a strength by bringing out what they know to the utmost.”

Eagles-postgame-live-1_091919_JSJoe Santoliquito/for PhillyVoice

The Eagles Postgame Live crew following the season opening win over Washington.

During a break in Eagles Postgame Live during the Eagles’ 24-20 loss to the Falcons on Sunday, Barkann blurted out, “I would make Nelson Agholor take the train back home after that. Players make plays or don’t make plays. He drops too many.”

Joyner immediately rushed to Agholor’s defense, after the receiver dropped a deep fourth-quarter pass that could have resulted in the go-ahead touchdown with just under two minutes to play.

“They all drop them,” Joyner said. “I hate it that Nellie dropped that, but there’s no sense beating the guy up over it.”

“Okay, but just for another five minutes,” Barkann said with a twinkle in his eyes.

Seconds later, when the cameras went back on, they picked up the conversation right where they left it off-air.

“Nellie had the game in his hands and he dropped it,” Barkann said on-air. “That’s a tough drop at the wrong time for me.”

Joyner countered, “Nellie is battling. Should we still be killing Alshon [Jeffery] for dropping the pass in the playoffs last year? It happens to the best of them. These guys are human.”

Didinger chimed in with, “Mike, I think you’re being a little too harsh [on Agholor].”

We don’t always agree. I would say we rarely agree... We’ll argue like hell, but it’s never personal. Off the air, I would say that we are a little more animated. That’s because we all care.

Then Barkann perfectly segued into, “I want to talk about another guy that can’t catch the ball — Ronald Darby.”

There’s no filter, especially with Barkann.

“I think that’s what makes us unique. People come to us for the truth. No filter is a problem," Barkann said with a laugh. "As I said since our inception, I want all of the Philadelphia teams to win. I hope that they win. If they fail to win, we have to say why. If criticism is necessary, it’s our responsibility to point out where players, coaches or management failed to perform. That’s why I was going off about Agholor, and Seth and Ray went after me.

“For 58 minutes, that was a battle on Sunday. The ball came down to Nelson Agholor, and he dropped it. There’s no excuse for it. To his credit, Agholor said there was no excuse for it. When they play well, we say they play well. When they don’t, we point it out. We’ll start arguing during a commercial break, and I might be like, ‘Hey, hey, hey, let’s do the show during the show.’

“We all have a passion for what we do. We all like each other. There is a chemistry thing that’s very important. These guys are family to me.” 

What’s really singular is the preparation. There is none. Not really.

Eagles-postgame-live-prep_091919_JSJoe Santoliquito/for PhillyVoice

Barrett Brooks, Michael Barkann, former Governor Ed Rendell, Seth Joyner and Ray Didinger watch the Birds game and prepare for Eagles Postgame Live.

The group, along with “The Gov,” former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, producer Mike Mulhern and director of studio content Doug Brown, who oversees everything that occurs on air, all sit together in a conference room and watch the games on a widescreen TV. Between the barbecue ribs and pizza (Ray prefers salad), they chart plays, look for tendencies, create talking points and are passionate about what they see.

Yes, they, too, are yelling and cursing at the TV like every other Eagles fan.

The exception is Didinger, who keeps his head down, rarely speaks and misses nothing. “Ray doesn’t have a brain, he has a computer,” Barkann jokes.

Of the quartet, Brooks appears to be the most positive. It doesn’t mean the former Super Bowl champion isn’t critical. During the game, Brooks couldn’t help but notice what left guard Isaac Seumalo was, or in Seumalo’s case on Sunday night wasn’t doing. There was one particular play the Eagles ran in the third quarter when Brooks and Joyner looked at each other and said the same thing spontaneously, questioning why the Eagles ran outside against one of the NFL’s fastest defenses. They kept wondering why Jordan Howard didn’t get more touches.

A salient point that was made throughout Sunday night questioning why the Eagles didn’t the run the ball more (48 passes vs. 21 runs) with Jeffery, Dallas Goedert and DeSean Jackson out with injuries.

There was one play, Brooks adroitly noted, where Seumalo didn’t block anyone at all. He just stood there.

An hour later, Brooks broached the same point on the air — with some prompting by Barkann.

What I think makes the show special is the organic nature of the show. Nothing is scripted. It’s a free-flowing, organic production from four guys who are emotionally invested in the success of the Philadelphia Eagles.

“Mike does know what buttons to push, he’s very good at that,” Brooks said. “He has a great sense of what can fire myself, Ray and Seth up. We don’t always agree. I would say we rarely agree, which gives fans different viewpoints of what happened. We’re friends and we all respect one another. We’ll argue like hell, but it’s never personal.

“Off the air, I would say that we are a little more animated. That’s because we all care. It’s why I said on-air Seumalo was horribly flawed Sunday night and that he has to go back to the basics. It’s also why I questioned why they didn’t run the ball more. You have receivers that are hurt, a quarterback that’s getting pounded, it makes no sense to not run the ball.”

The star of the show is Joyner. He and Didinger seem to hold a unique bond. The two have much in common. They’re both copious note takers. They pour over film. They have an ability to see elements of the game that John Q. Fan doesn’t. They’re football PhDs, light years beyond Football 101. They can break down Advanced Football into discernible soundbites that even a flag football star can absorb.

Joyner, though he’s still prone to wear his gameday “Seth Face” on the air, is actually hilarious. He’ll mimic certain stances players take, and he can blurt a quick line or two that can’t be repeated here. His knowledge and communication skills are off the charts. He loves Eagles’ fans, and as he said during the Eagles-Falcons game Sunday night, misses those 4 p.m. NFC East tilts in front of the frothing-at-the-mouth, 700-level denizens of Veterans Stadium.

He’s also direct.

Eagles-postgame-live_091919_JSJoe Santoliquito/for PhillyVoice

The Eagles Postgame Live crew pauses during a break in the action.

After Doug Pederson addressed the media following the Eagles’ loss on Sunday, Joyner came right out and disagreed with Pederson’s penchant to drive the ball down the field.

“That’s the kind of mentality that gets teams beat,” Joyner said. “Pushing the ball down the field — no, take what the defense gives you. Look at what Tom Brady does every week.”

Joyner also had a very interesting take on Darby, who was beat numerous times Sunday night. He openly questioned if Darby is being used the right way for his skill set. Darby has looked lost the first two games of the season, unsure of what he’s supposed to do. 

Though under the costum-made suits, Joyner still wears the green No. 59. It comes out in the way he speaks, “We should be doing this … or we should have done that” in referencing the Eagles. 

“What I think makes the show special is the organic nature of the show,” Joyner said. “Nothing is scripted. It’s a free-flowing, organic production from four guys who are emotionally invested in the success of the Philadelphia Eagles. In my opinion, Michael Barkann is one of the best hosts in Philadelphia, with two guys who actually played the game that aren’t cheerleaders, and the other guy who is a historian of the game that lives, breathes and drinks Eagles football for the last 50, 60 years.

“They don’t put reins on us. They don’t try to stifle us, especially with our personalities. And with me and Ray, as a historian, he knows a great deal about the game. It’s not to say Barrett and Michael don’t. But I’ve been around some great minds in football, like Buddy Ryan, and a position coach like Wade Phillips, or a Jeff Fisher, or you play for a Bud Carson, and the ability to play for a Fritz Shurmur, another great coach that a lot of people don’t know about. These are the greatest defensive minds in football.

If I owned a team, one of the first moves I would make would be to hire Seth as a coach, I really would... To me, he’s kind of the heart and soul of the show. People tune in to hear what Seth says.

“In order for me to do what I do, I have to have a clear concept of what I learned from them. I think Ray respects that. I respect Ray’s knowledge, not only statistically of the game but historically of the game. We all have different views of the game. Michael is not afraid to throw in an opposing view. Barrett and I disagree. It makes a great dynamic. Ray and I see the game of football being played along the same lines. I would say it’s why there is a great symmetry between us.”

Joyner would one day like to coach in the NFL. He’s certainly deserving. And he doesn’t stop learning.

The former Eagles’ linebacker certainly has a proponent in Didinger, who’s told Joyner dozens of times he should be on an NFL sideline instead of sitting in a studio.

“If I owned a team, one of the first moves I would make would be to hire Seth as a coach, I really would,” Didinger said. “He’s intelligent, understands the game and the personalities of the guys who play the game. When he played, there was no one on the team, and I mean no one on the team including the quarterback, who studied as much film as Seth did.

“His knowledge of the game is up there with anyone I’ve ever been around. Plus, he has enormous credibility as not only a good player but a great player. You put all of that together, I think he would be a great coach. He brings that same kind of passion that he brought to playing the game as he does the show. To me, he’s kind of the heart and soul of the show. People tune in to hear what Seth says.” 

They care, too, what Didinger has to say. He’s transformed from an excellent newspaper columnist to feeling comfortable on air.

Ray-Didinger_091919_JSJoe Santoliquito/for PhillyVoice

Ray Didinger scribbles down some notes on his famous yellow pad during the Eagles-Falcons game.

He carries such reverence in this area that you can easily imagine him in a medieval hooded friar tunic presenting the golden tomes of his yellow notepads to a disheveled Eagles fan that just climbed up the side of a mountain thirsting for wisdom. There is actually a fan who Didinger mails his Eagles-Cowboys notes to, and in return, they contribute to one of the many charities Didinger sponsors.

Didinger knows the secret of Eagles Postgame Live’s two decades of success.

“There’s no homers. That’s what makes it work,” Didinger said. “That sets it apart. It’s one way how Philadelphia views its football. It isn’t a show of homers. If you go to a lot of cities, the pre- and post-game shows tend to be filled with former players who played for the team and are homers, and that’s the view that you get.

“When we do this show, and it’s been true from the beginning, because we have guys who are former Eagles with local roots, but they’re very honest in their analysis. Seth loves the Eagles. He still has the green jersey on under his lovely suits, but when it comes time to break a game down, he’s very unsparing in his analysis. When things are good, he’ll be happy to tell you things are good. But when there’s something that’s wrong and needs to be corrected, he has no problem laying it out there.

“That was true with the other former Eagles who were here. To have any long standing success in this town, it begins with honesty because fans in this town demand it. They’re smart. Fans in this town don’t want you to patronize them. They don’t want to be told everything is okay when it isn’t. They can live with the criticism. Everyone on the set wants to see the team win. But if they underperform or make bad mistakes, we’ll call it. That’s what they expect from their post-game show.

“It’s a more honest, realistic post-game show than some other cities.”

How about any other NFL city?

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