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Fortunate Son: Foley reflects on 30 years in the booth

by Bob Verdi / Chicago Blackhawks
Chase Agnello-Dean / Chicago Blackhawks

The following feature appears in the April 2013 issue of Blackhawks Magazine. Pick up the newest issue of the magazine at the next Blackhawks home game, or by calling the Blackhawks Store at (800) GO-HAWKS.

Pat Foley is marking his 30th season as “Voice of the Blackhawks.” Through good times and bad, he has entertained fans on television and radio with HIS passion for the game. Here, he shares some recollections of a hometown guy enjoying a dream career.

Do you remember your first Blackhawks broadcast?
Foley: I started the same year that Denis Savard was a rookie, 1980, but the Blackhawks hadn’t settled on a radio deal. They changed stations late, so we didn’t go on the air until their sixth game of the season — October 19, which happened to be the night Stan Mikita’s jersey was retired at the Stadium.

Local boy makes good?
Local boy is fortunate, and I still am. I grew up listening to Lloyd Pettit. My dad had a car dealership, and one of his regular customers was Michael Wirtz, Bill’s brother. Somehow a tape of my work wound up in Michael’s Buick, and I got my chance.

But you were prepared.
I majored in telecommunications at Michigan State, where my first play-by-play assignment was women’s basketball. After graduation, I did a nightly TV sportscast in Flint/Saginaw, then took the play-by-play job with the Grand Rapids Owls of the International League.

Doc Emrick from NBC told us to ask you about the scoreboard fire.
Doc was doing Port Huron games for a while. Anyway, one night I looked up to check the time at our home rink, the Stadium Arena, and the scoreboard was spewing smoke. In a wooden building. Lots of fun in those days. The broadcaster did everything — public relations, sales, promotions. Can you see me trying to organize “T-Shirt Night”?

Lloyd Pettit was an idol?
One of my heroes, absolutely. When he moved to Milwaukee and became owner of the Admirals, I interviewed him between periods of our Owls games. One night after we were done, he said, “Pat, I listened to a couple minutes while waiting to go on with you. Keep it up and you’ll be in the National Hockey League someday.” Never forgot that.

Dan Kelly, voice of the Blues?
Another giant in the business, another great man. I was a kid and he took me in as a friend. I miss him a lot. We went to dinner at least once a year, in Chicago or St. Louis, and always had a blast. He loved to laugh.

And so do you.
We are in the entertainment business and, especially on TV, you can pick your spots. My regular sidekick, Eddie Olczyk, watches games like a coach, has a photographic memory and is a fabulous analyst. But he also has a sense of humor. I don’t know how he keeps it up, by the way. With the Blackhawks and his national commitments, he’s doing 55 games in 99 days this year. And he doesn’t like to fly.

Like another of your idols, Harry Caray, you want your team to win but you are candid when you see the Blackhawks make a mistake.
These fans are smart. They know what they’re watching. There’s no way to fool them, nor should you try.

And they relate to you. When you’re playing golf every day during the summer, surely someone yells to you from the next fairway. “BAANNN—ERMANN!!”
It happens once in a while, yeah. I don’t really have any signature calls or collect them. But sometimes, it just happens. In a playoff game against Minnesota, Keith Acton stole a puck in overtime, came in alone, and Murray Bannerman made a great save. One of several that night. So I got excited.

Your career with the Blackhawks was briefly interrupted by circumstances beyond your control, correct?
No sugarcoating it: I got fired. But again, luck of the Irish, I went to the Chicago Wolves in 2006 for two seasons — the one place to be in hockey if you don’t have one of the 30 NHL jobs. Great owner, Don Levin. Terrific organization. And they won a Calder Cup while I was there. Plus, I’m still home. I got fired by the Blackhawks and they still couldn’t get rid of me in Chicago.

Did you ever imagine returning to the Blackhawks?
Absolutely not. No chance. Zero. Then Rocky Wirtz took over, he hired John McDonough, and the next thing I know, John comes to my house saying he’d like to bring me back. Pinch me. Now I’m with one of the best organizations in professional sports.

How so?
I remember how it was, with 5,000 people in the building, and how it is now, with more hockey buzz in Chicago than I ever remember. When the Blackhawks finally agreed to be the last NHL team to fly a charter, we boarded a World War II plane in Quebec City for Vancouver. Light fixtures blinking, we stopped twice. Once for gas, once for directions. Now, if Rocky Wirtz needs security around him at the United Center, it’s because fans want his picture and autograph. They love him. They love the team.

When the Blackhawks won the 2010 Stanley Cup in Philadelphia, you wore a pin on your suit jacket. It was simply a number: 3.
Keith Magnuson, one of the greatest people you would ever know in this great game, gone too soon. He was head coach, and Cliff Koroll, another special guy, was the assistant when I was a rookie. They taught me a lot. Maggie was all heart and soul. He would love this team we have now, too.

In what respect?
Obviously a lot has changed since Maggie played. But hockey is still the ultimate team game. I saw that in 2010, when the Blackhawk players played together, hung out with each other and liked each other. I see that in this team. There isn’t any of "What’s mine?" or "What’s in it for me?" going on. And it shows on the ice.

Can you cite an example?
All I needed to see was that game in San Jose on that long road trip in February. Jamal Mayers, who will fight any battle for any of his teammates, got drilled by Andrew Desjardins. Next thing you know, one of the smallest guys on the Blackhawks, Duncan Keith, jumped Desjardins. That stuff goes a long way in the locker room, and always has. On this team, it’s not about who are the stars and who’s making the most money.

And you get paid to talk about them.

I’m the luckiest guy in the world. Great sport, great city, great organization, great team. What’s not to be thankful for?

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