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|CHANCE OF A LIFETIME
Nobody would have said boo if John Davidson stayed in the broadcast booth for the rest of his career in hockey. After all, there was nobody better than him.
But after calling 156 games over all of his network gigs, including the Olympics in Italy, during the 2005-06 season, Davidson was admittedly "just a little worn out."
That's when St. Louis Blues owner Dave Checketts, formerly the President and CEO of Madison Square Garden, offered Davidson a new life and a new career away from the broadcast booth.
J.D. had wondered what being in the executive's chair felt like, and becoming president of the Blues was too good to pass up, even if it meant leaving New York.
"Being as it was St. Louis, where I had played before, and I knew the ownership group, it was a fit," Davidson said. "I don't think I would have gone anywhere else. I would have said no if it was any other organization that called me.
"New York gets in your blood," he continued. "Once you get to know it you become part of the fabric and it's in your blood forever. But, you hate to go through your life saying what if? So, I gave it a shot. I'm still a young 56, so you don't know where it will go."
Davidson never figured his broadcast career would land him the Foster Hewitt Award.
"When they called me, I was in my office and it was during our playoff series against Vancouver and I think we were down 2-0, so I wasn't in a good mood, but I almost fell off my chair," Davidson said. "I never thought about it. I just loved the job so much. I went all over the world with it. It was really, really good to me."
John Davidson struggles to get around on his balky knee these days. The St. Louis Blues' president is scheduled for surgery on Nov. 17 to replace one of his titanium joints. He uses crutches. He can't travel with the team or sit at his desk for too long.
Davidson's in terrible pain, but oh baby! J.D. couldn't wait to get to Toronto this weekend. On Monday, he received the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award for outstanding contributions as a hockey broadcaster.
"It's a bit of a pain in the butt, but I'm going to go and it'll be nice," Davidson, who arrived in Toronto Saturday afternoon, told NHL.com. "I hope it takes the pain away."
Davidson spent 23 years in the broadcast booth, including 20 as the beloved color commentator on New York Rangers broadcasts on the MSG Network, before leaving to take over the Blues in 2006.
He worked five Winter Olympics, plus numerous Stanley Cup Finals and All-Star Games for CBC, Fox, NBC, ABC, ESPN and Versus.
His catch phrase, "Oh baby," became famous in hockey circles and throughout New York City. He made it his responsibility to be the guy who brought to life not only the on-ice details of the game, but the off-ice details of the players' lives.
"I thought doing it that the viewers needed to know more about the goals and assists," Davidson said. "They needed to know about people. They needed to know about Mike Richter. They needed to know what he's about, where he's from and what his family is like. These people have a vested interest in watching the team play and they need to know who these people are."
Davidson, a former goalie for the Blues and Rangers, was initially hired by MSG after retiring due to injuries following the 1982-83 season. His first stint on the air actually took place when he was still a player.
"In Minnesota, with (Foster Hewitt Award winner) Jiggs McDonald, they were doing games and they needed somebody," Davidson said. "I did a game during a weekend when I was injured. Jiggs was in the booth and I had the time of my life, but I was a wreck."
He was 29-years-old when he took a full-time gig with MSG to be the third man on a broadcast team with Jim Gordon and Phil Esposito in 1983.
"Just get through it," Davidson said of his motto in those days. "When I first started you had to learn about the business and how it works and it was way more complicated than I thought. I had retired at 29 because of injuries and this was a chance for me to stay in the game. The only thing I did was I said to myself, 'I'm not going to get outworked.' "
Davidson stayed with MSG for one year before he was hired by CBC and moved to Calgary to do some Flames games, Edmonton games and Hockey Night in Canada telecasts.
He met producer John Shannon, who he said was the "main guy who tutored and taught and pushed and prodded me."
"John also at that time brought on Ron MacLean, who had been doing weather in Red Deer," Davidson recalled. "Ron and I started at the same time and it grew into Hockey Night (in Canada) in short order. That's how I got my feet wet. It was terrific, but it involved a lot of travel."
Davidson grew weary of being on the road and away from his young family.
"The only home games I did were some of the Calgary games," he said.
In one of those perfect timing scenarios, Esposito decided to leave the MSG broadcast booth to take over as the Rangers' general manager prior to the 1986-87 season. Davidson was brought back to New York and he remained for the next 20 years.
"I knew if I did Ranger games I would be home in my own bed much more," Davidson said. "I had a young family and it was sensible. I moved back to New York and just stayed there. It was awesome."
Davidson grew into his role and became a fan favorite everywhere he went. As he promised himself when he first decided to go into broadcasting, he never got outworked.
"I remember one time with the Devils doing a Stanley Cup Final game, Jacques Lemaire was the coach and New Jersey is historically a very closed group, but I called to be able to talk to Jacques because the fans need to know what he thinks," Davidson said. "I met him down at the Meadowlands in the mid-to-late afternoon and we went into a janitor's closet for 20 minutes smelling bleach and Clorox and we had a great conversation. Jacques is a very sharp hockey mind and it's enlightening to talk to him. You get those ideas and his thoughts and you move those on to the fans when you do the game."