Fans in Chicago know they have been blessed when it comes to play-by-play men in hockey. I grow up listening to the great Lloyd Pettit, a magnificent announcer who might have been the best ever. At least he was in the minds of those of us who held a radio to our ears to hear him call games at the old Chicago Stadium.
Pat Foley was one of those kids. But unlike the rest of us, he got to live out his dream.
The Blackhawks will honor Foley’s 30 years with the team during a pregame ceremony Friday; Comcast SportsNet Chicago will have complete coverage at 7 p.m. Central. He did his first game in 1980 and quickly became the voice of the Hawks for a new generation or two of fans. More than 25 years after Murray Bannerman played his last game, Foley still is asked to reprise his signature call for the Hawks goalie.
On the Chicago Blackhawks site, there’s a montage of the best of Foley, including a classic “Baaaannnerrmaaannnn!!!”
Also on the site, Bob Verdi wrote about his good friend. It included this passage:
Pat Foley, marking his 30th year as voice of the Blackhawks, will be honored before Friday night’s game at the United Center against the Nashville Predators. He is not left speechless about his remarkable journey, only reflective.
“It’s not supposed to go so smoothly in this business,” says Foley. “For a hometown guy to broadcast for the hometown team for so long, to talk about the greatest sport there is to all these terrific Chicago fans…I’m the luckiest guy in the room.”
Foley has worked the room through thick and thin, blessed with a booming voice as well as a style that entertains. It is difficult for a hockey announcer to convey personality. The sport is fast, stoppages in play are accounted for, and intermissions belong to studio hosts and analysts.
Baseball is ripe for spinning anecdotes between pitches, the football is alive for only about 12 of 60 minutes, and basketball’s clock stops repeatedly for whistles. But to connect with hockey audiences, a play-by-play broadcaster has to follow the puck while also providing a storyline and ample air time for a sidekick.
Foley excels on all counts, adding a dash of humor and candor to the mix. “You can’t fool fans,” he assures.
Dan McNeil paid tribute to Foley in the Chicago Tribune.
It’s most appropriate. Even during the lean years of the last decade — when Foley arguably was the best “player” on the team — the lifelong Chicagoan delivered his descriptions of the action to Hawks fans with passion and precision.
No sportscaster in town is more synonymous with the team for which he broadcasts than Foley. He is as entrenched in Hawks culture almost as much as the crossing tomahawks over the gold “C” on the shoulders of the team jersey.
Nina Falcone on CSNChicago.com talks to Foley on how he landed his dream job:
Foley did his research. He spent his youth watching game after game, meticulously noting each broadcaster’s style and presence. He wound up landing a job as the play-by-play announcer for the Grand Rapids Owls Junior A hockey club before making his big leap to the Windy City.
“The Blackhawks were looking for a broadcaster, they were changing radio stations,” Foley said. “I’m sitting there in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I know the job is open, I knew they needed a radio station, so I wanted to let them know that I was around.”
Which is where his father comes into play. That day at Foley Buick, a cassette was placed in Wirtz’s car. He took one listen to the young Foley’s broadcasts in Michigan, and the rest is history.
“[Wirtz] knew more about the Grand Rapids Owls than he ever wanted to know,” Foley laughed. “But my dad asked him, ‘Would you mind listening to this?’ And really that’s what got the ball rolling. Mr. Wirtz liked it [and] told his brother about me. The fact that I was a local kid was kind of new in the business, but [I] aspired to be here. I think it was attractive to them.
“It was something that happened to me early and I was very lucky. I was 26 years old and I was the youngest guy in the league for 10 years. It doesn’t happen that way, I got very fortunate.”
Congratulations, Pat. Here’s looking forward to another 30 years of Blackhawks games and always fairways and greens.