While waiting word on what the NFL broadcast picture will look like this fall, I’ve had taken the opportunity to reflect on some aspects of my blessed career.
I’m often asked whether I’ve had any regrets about my life behind the microphone, and the answer is absolutely none.
How can I?
I’ve had the honor of calling one of the most memorable moments in World Series history, Carlton Fisk’s dramatic home run in the 6th game in 1975.
That’s only the start.
Add to that every NBA Finals of the 80’s between the Celtics and the Lakers, Dan Jansen’s thrilling world record, gold medal performance in speedskating at the 1994 Olympics, countless other NCAA basketball moments, and major events in many sports, has been a magical ride to say the least.
But if there is one sport I would have liked to have done more, it’s hockey.
I did dabble in hockey which I will relate as we go forward.
But growing up, following all the major sports in a suburb of New York City, I adored the sport, and the New York Rangers, in particular.
I never missed a radio broadcast of a Ranger game. Hockey on TV in the U.S. was slim, so I would faithfully listen to the games, trying my best to follow the puck, using my imagination, which is paramount listening to the radio and in reading books.
I also journeyed to Madison Square Garden, taking the subway from Queens, to see the Rangers in person.
My father took me to my first game in 1952 and the experience was the closest thing to the indelible impression I had when he took me to see my very first Giants baseball game at the old Polo Grounds.
We had seats in the first row, right behind the glass, and when the players crashed into the boards fighting for the puck, right in front of me, I was hooked.
The game was a whirlwind. Lightening fast, and if you didn’t pay real close attention, you could miss a goal.
That’s when the puck found the net, getting past the goaltender, followed by the red light, and either cheers if the Rangers scored, or groans, if the enemy did the damage.
Later during my high school years, there was the issuing of General Organization cards to all students. We knew them as G.O. cards. They allowed you to attend sporting events at the Garden for only 50 cents.
They were good for college and pro basketball, as well as hockey.
The seats were up in the balcony, far from the action, but who cared?
We could watch the Knicks or Rangers and talk about the games on the train ride home. What a treat!
My resume is filled with my broadcasts of basketball, which I followed with equal intensity as hockey, but I kept track of the boys on ice perhaps a bit more.
When we arrived at the Garden before taking the escalator to the balcony for the game, we would gather at a restaurant that was adjacent to the grand marquee of the famed arena.
The restaurant was called Nedick’s. And our routine never varied. We would order one hot dog with mustard and relish, a big cup of orange soda, and buy the Hockey News, which had stories of all the teams, including the minor leagues. That was our own little pre-game show. Then we were ready for the game.
Madison Square Garden and Nedick’s
My interest in hearing the action on radio was not limited to the station carrying the Rangers games. On Saturdays, I was able to deftly find games broadcast on out-of-town stations, most those of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Through the static, and sounds of the action, which went in and out, I was able to listen to the great play-by-play announcer Foster Hewitt, describe the Leafs contest.
Hewitt was a marvelously smooth broadcaster, whose calls were clear and defined, when they weren’t lost to static and and anything else in the atmosphere.
Years later, while working in Boston, I had the chance to actually meet Foster Hewitt. He was at a hotel with the rest of the Maple Leafs who were scheduled to begin a playoff series against the Bruins. I introduced myself, told him how much I enjoyed finding his calls on a Toronto station during my high school years.
I flat out asked him how he was able to turn a game of speed with rapid twists and turns into an easy to comprehend listen. I’ll never forget his reply, “Young man, I simply cut the wheat from the chaff”.
In other words, Hewitt only related what really counted, leaving out the superfluous moments that really didn’t affect the play.
My first opportunity to get involved with hockey on-the-air came in 1977.
That was during the time I was broadcasting the Red Sox for Boston television, and working NFL, and many college basketball games for NBC.
Carl Lindemann, who had been president of NBC Sports, and Eddie Einhorn, later my boss at CBS when I hosted the CBS Sports Spectacular, put together an NHL syndicated series featuring games on Saturday afternoons and Monday nights. I signed on to become the host, including between periods interviews, and serve as the third man in the booth.
The play-by-play announcer was the voice of the St. Louis Blues, Dan Kelly. Kelly was one of the best, and had a booming voice as his trademark.
Several expert-analysts were used, but mostly New York Islander goalie Chico Resch, if his team had an off-day.
As the third man, I offered small tid-bits, and factoids during the broadcast when warranted. I had to be sure of the timing of getting them in, not to interfere, in any way, with the action when it became significant.
It was a terrific challenge and one I embraced.
At the eight-minute mark of each period, I would leave the booth which was situated upstairs and wend my way downstairs to a studio to prepare for the interviews I would conduct during the intermission or post-game.
The games were produced by Don Wallace, who was one of the top producers for Hockey Night in Canada, and his precise planning made it a calming experience for me.
I was able to meet, and talk to the stars of the game, including Scotty Bowman, who was then, the coach of the Montreal Canadiens. Bowman was a multiple Stanley Cup champion coach with multiple teams.
I learned so much about hockey from Bowman, now 86, who won a record nine Stanley Cups with three different teams.
In my view, he is the greatest coach in the history of sports. By the way, he also captured five other Stanley Cups as an executive.
My other foray into hockey occurred when Fox Sports presented the NHL. From 1994 through 1999, the NHL on Fox had the U.S. rights to the games through the Stanley Cup Finals.
Being involved with the NBA for Turner Sports, and having no experience in hockey play-by-play, I was not involved with the telecasts which included several games on Saturday afternoons during the regular season, before the playoffs. I was asked to work two games toward the end of the term of the Fox coverage.
One, was a game between the Washington Capitals and the Tampa Bay Lighning. The second, was a week later when the Florida Panthers hosted the Lightning. My partner was Mike Eruzione, the captain of the 1980 U.S. national team that captured the Gold Medal, in what is regarded as one of the top, if not, the most celebrated moment in American sports history.
I was a long-time devotee of the sport, but calling a game for the first time, without practice was another matter. Despite all my years working big-time events, I was nervous going in.
I guess I felt like the many former football players who stand alongside me for their first telecast. I try to be comforting, encouraging, and helpful.
That’s exactly what Mike Eruzione was to me.
Our broadcasts went well. I found I could get into the flow easier than I expected. Following the two games, I felt they were suitably performed. But I felt I could, and would, get better in time.
They were received well by Fox, but my standards were high. Unfortunately, the the NHL left Fox, (not because of me, I hope), and I never got another chance.
So, if there’s one wish I have had, it would have been to broadcast more hockey.
What prompted this story of my life with hockey?
A recent viewing of the 2004 film, “Miracle”. The amazing story of how college coach Herb Brooks was hired to lead the 1980 U.S. men’s Olympic hockey team. And the step by step progress of taking a team of college all-stars and molding them into a group that would shock the world with a victory over the Soviet Union, and the improbable Gold Medal at Lake Placid.
During this time without organized sports, there have been a flood of re-broadcasts of prominent games in all sports aired to fill the void.
To me, no re-broadcast has been more captivating than another look at the film, “Miracle”.
It got me thinking about this wonderful sport. My deep appreciation for hockey, and my small role with it.
LEADERSHIP • A WINNING ATTITUDE • INSPIRATION • TEAMWORK
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