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Nolan honored to get the call

by Staff Writer / Philadelphia Flyers

It’s not easy down there. Lou Nolan has kept possession of the closest seat to the action since 1972-73, so being the Flyers public address announcer has its perks. But there’s been pressure to pronounce “Afanasenkov” flawlessly time after time, plus not only did a puck once hit Nolan in the throat but, on another occasion, an entire bucket of them came flying at him.

“Very first game I did, preseason against Buffalo, some Sabre in the penalty box threw a bucket of pucks at a Flyer, don’t remember who,” recalls Nolan. “I said. ‘Holy Cow, this isn’t the press box anymore.’”

Nolan spent the Flyers’ first five seasons up there, announcing the goals and penalties just to the media before getting the job to call them out to all 17,077 persons in the house. He has held that position ever since, a large reason why on Thursday night at the Society Hill Sheraton, Nolan will be inducted along with Rick MacLeish with the 12th class of the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame.

Nolan, of course, announced MacLeish’s goal that won the Flyers their first Stanley Cup, which Lou would insist was the happiest thing ever out of his mouth if not for the fact that it came in the first period, when, even with Bernie Parent in the net, 1-0 was far from a sure thing to hold up against the mighty Bruins.

The Spectrum was wired from the start on May 19, 1974, but nothing like it became as the finish neared and the Flyers clung to that slim, lead. “The level of noise in that third period was astounding,” Nolan recalls.

“(Bobby) Orr got called for taking down Bobby Clarke with a little over two minutes to go and comes to the box just livid. “I said to myself, ’We got this.’ I wanted to announce ‘Last minute of play to the Stanley Cup!’” but couldn’t because if the Bruins scored two I was screwed.

“I don’t know if anybody could hear me by then anyway. I don’t think it would have made people any quieter, listening for me.”

For 43 years, fans have been taking their cues from Lou to get a jump in the lines to the concession stand or, if it’s the third period of another one-goal game, crank their anxiety to a higher level. You don’t have to watch the clock at the Wells Fargo Center because Nolan does, and rarely has he had to announce belatedly that there was “less than one minute to play in the first period” or even, past the 50-second mark, let it go entirely.

Louie has been more reliable than even Mark Howe was. The odd case of laryngitis or rare conflict with his day job selling securities to banks for Shay Financial Services have caused him to miss “eight to 10 games” total. Even Rod Brind’Amour was absent more than that.

“I have pretty much worked my schedule around hockey.” Nolan said. To some degree, he started doing that even before the Flyers existed, when Nolan was a Friday night regular at Philadelphia Ramblers games at the Arena in West Philadelphia. One summer in Margate, N.J., Nolan became friends with another hockey guy, Joe Kadlec, who was the Ramblers’ stick boy before he went to work at the Philadelphia Daily News as a clerk and racing tout.

When Kadlec became the new NHL team’s first public relations director and Nolan asked if there was anything he could do to help, he was put to work doing the press box PA and whatever. On the night the Flyers astonishingly were winning their first-ever visit to Montreal, 4-1, ‘whatever’ included a favor to Bulletin writer John Brogan, who, on a tight deadline, asked Nolan to run down and get some quotes from Coach Keith Allen.

In the days long before Pierre McGuire, Brogan assumed Nolan understood that it was customary for the media to wait until after the game to do interviews. But with no barriers between the bench and the stands at The Forum and, in those days, apparently no usher or security either, there was nothing, not even common sense, to keep Nolan from walking up to Allen while there still were 90 seconds on the clock.

“John Brogan asked me to ask you what you thought of the game,” Nolan said to an incredulous Allen, who said, ‘What?’, called out the next line change and turned back to the kid saying, ‘Tell John I’m pleased, and we’d better win this game or you are walking home.”

There still was a seat for Nolan on that plane after that 4-1 win. There also was his current seat, with his name all-but on it, after Spectrum PA announcer Kevin Johnson left to become PR Director of the WHA Philadelphia Blazers. But Flyer Vice President of Marketing Lou Scheinfeld first wanted to hear Nolan on the big speakers before signing off on Kadlec’s recommendation, so the one and only candidate for the job was asked to come down for a tryout.

“That was the summer they were putting the third level of seats on the building so there were all these cranes and machines going, but I got [the workers’] attention that I had something important to say and they shut them down,” recalls Nolan. “I made the announcement and Lou said, ‘You got it.’

Once he had it, Nolan got it from the beginning that his job was to inform the people in the building of the facts and just the facts, ma’am. As the years went by a generation of Michael Buffer wannabes have tried to make themselves the show with annoying and unoriginal shtik, while Nolan never has lost sight of his purpose.

“There weren’t any real guidelines from the league, except later on to repeat the goal the second time,” he says. “I did it the way the guys before me did it.

“I never wanted to be a cheerleader like some guys are around the league, didn’t put a lot of flair into it until the PECO Power Play came along. First couple games I just announced it and then they told me I had to jazz it up a little bit so I did.

“I try not to be a hot dog, except just a little bit with that. Our goals are more important than [opponents’] obviously, and theirs are sometimes difficult – Patrick Kane’s was the worst probably -- but I always think I have to be professional.”

Don’t shoot the messenger, he’s just done his job, ducking deflected pucks, errant sticks and insults flying back and forth between aggrieved hockey players.

“In the years we were winning Stanley Cups, more than now, there used to be a lot of back and forth, especially between certain guys,” Nolan recalls. “(Detroit’s) Dennis Polonich used to aggravate Andre Dupont with that voice of his, “Dupie, Dupie.” One time my phone rang while they were both in the box and Dennis called out to Moose, ‘That’s your general manger. He just traded you for me.’”

For just one year, before the league decided it was a conflict of interest, Nolan was miked for Flyer telecasts, Gene Hart and Bobby Taylor occasionally sending the viewers to the penalty bench for up-close and personal insight. Once, they threw it down to Lou just after he got hit in the throat. When Nolan opened his mouth, nothing came out.

Occupational hazard. Bob Kelly used to threaten to dump opposing players in Nolan’s lap but Louie said that would be an honor, like it is walking around the Wells Fargo Center concourse and having people still do the ‘Loouuuu” he used to hear when walking across the Spectrum ice for his between-periods coffee. Despite the fact he doesn’t do that anymore, they still know who he is. And after Thursday night, Philadelphia will recognize him in perpetuity.

“It’s an honor to walk through the halls and have people recognize and talk to you,” said Nolan. “Fathers introduce me to youngsters who don’t know who I am until Dad explains I am the PECO power play guy. Now they know. And it amazing.

“I’m blown away to represent the Flyers, who have meant so much to me and my family. Halls of Fames like this one are really for the people that really made things happen. To be thought of in that vein is really important to me.”

MacLeish scored 52 playoff goals in 108 playoff games for two Cup winners, two other finalists, three more semifinalists and also is the Flyers’ fourth all-time leading regular season scorer. His breakout year, 1972-73, when he exploded from one goal the previous season to 50, was Nolan’s first, so MacLeish gave Lou lots of practice and, now, all these years later, one more reason on Thursday night to be awed by the company he joins.

“To see who went in before me, for people to think enough of me to put me in that company, it’s astounding,” said Nolan. “That’s a place for Chuck Bednarik and Wilt Chamberlain.

“And somehow they found a place for a kid from Southwest Philly.”

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