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Elvis Has Just Left the Building

Great Friends and Memories Surround Mike Lange During Retirement Celebration

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

A number of years ago, the Phoenix Suns were at The Palestra in Philadelphia to play a game. The team's broadcaster Al McCoy, who was Mike Lange's mentor and helped him begin what would become a Hall of Fame career, saw something written on a crack in the wall.

It resonated with McCoy, so he copied it down:

"To play the game is great. To win the game is greater. But to love the game is the greatest of all."

And heading into 'Mike Lange Night,' which was held on Tuesday at PPG Paints Arena, McCoy truly couldn't think of a more fitting line to honor his friend after capping off an absolutely incredible career.

"All of us that have known Mike, and that have followed his great career, know how much he loved the game of hockey," McCoy said. "How he loved the fans, and how they loved him. And to love the game as Mike has, and to have the great career that he's had, it's really the greatest of all."

That was apparent during the evening's festivities, as Lange received the recognition and adoration he deserves for being the voice of the Penguins for almost five decades. Particularly when the team played the first of many video tributes in the opening period of Pittsburgh's 2-1 shootout loss to Dallas.

When the cameras cut to Lange, he was certainly 'smiling like a butcher's dog' as he looked around him. Every single person in the rink - including the players - stood and clapped for the legendary broadcaster, who announced his retirement in August after 46 years.

"You're looking out at this mass of people, and it's like oh boy, just don't screw it up," Lange said with a laugh over the phone on Wednesday. "Fortunately, I didn't have to talk, but I just kind of looked down and was so reflective of what was going on. I just felt so strong and so much warmth from the people. I tried to give it back to them as best I could with a little sign language and all. It was a special moment for me. It really was."

Lange mimed wiping a tear from his eye before putting hands to his heart, and gestured to the crowd as he mouthed, "You! All of you!" before blowing them a kiss.

"It tells me that what I did here was to their approval," Lange said. "And they came in droves to come out and be a part of it. It means a lot to me, and it's very special in my heart. It goes back to them, too. Because without the fans, what are we? Seriously. And I appreciate that."

Lange watched the game - his first as a fan in a long, long time - from Penguins president and CEO David Morehouse's suite. He was joined by Steve Blass, who retired in 2019 after 34 seasons as a Pirates color analyst, and Greg Brown, in his 27th year as the baseball club's play-by-play announcer. "They're dear friends," Lange said. "We had a ball, and enjoyed every minute of it. It was a pretty special night."

Just like McCoy did for him, Lange helped Brown kickstart his career back in 1986. Brown was just a kid when Lange invited him to realize a childhood dream and call a few innings during a Pirates doubleheader he was working, which helped him get to where he is today - with the man he calls 'Yoda' providing advice and guidance along every step.

"It's impossible to put into words what that man means to me, and how much he has meant to me in my life," Brown said. "The reason I'm a Pirates broadcaster is because of Mike Lange. He took a chance on a 24-year-old kid many, many years ago when he didn't have to. He got his hand slapped because of it, but he always told me he thought he saw something in me.

"I love the man. He is a Hall of Famer in every sense of the word, not just behind the microphone, but also in everyday life."

Brown and Blass were actually in attendance when Lange was given the Foster Hewitt Award by the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2001, and they felt fortunate to be alongside their friend two decades later as a full arena of Penguins faithful paid tribute to him.

"I'm so proud our paths crossed, and along with having an appreciation for our paths crossing, we as the city of Pittsburgh were lucky to have Mike all these years," Blass said. "We must have been a decent city, for him to come here and help us, and give us what he gave us for all those years."

The feeling is more than mutual, with the people of Pittsburgh inspiring Lange's famous catchphrases, which became beloved by everyone in this town - from the fans to the players and the coaches.

"I always enjoy how he describes the game and some of the vocabulary that he uses," Mike Sullivan said with a smile. "I think our players get a kick out of it. He really brings a unique personality to Pittsburgh Penguins hockey."

The fans in attendance received a cheer card featuring one of Lange's famous sayings to use during the game, with one of them being, "Make me a milkshake, Malkin!"

So No. 71 obliged.

"Finally, I make a shake for Mike," Malkin said as he stood outside the suite holding a Jake Shake from the Milkshake Factory, adding some extra whipped cream to it before delivering it to Lange.

"We love you. Pittsburgh loves you. I love you. Russia loves you," Malkin told Lange. "You have had a successful career. Now finally, you rest. Relax. Enjoy. Thank you for everything. Thank you, Mike."

"You know what's really good about that and the moment, is that it gives people an opportunity to see Geno at his best as a person," Lange said. "I think most people don't realize that that is very strong within him. He's very loyal to people. He doesn't show it a lot, but when he does, he does. That moved me, obviously."

Lange also got the chance to have a long talk with Sidney Crosby before the game, saying how special the Penguins' two franchise centers are to him.

"I've been so fortunate to be among the best of players, really, in the history of this game on a daily basis for how many years," Lange said. "I'm the fortunate one, to be honest with you."

Speaking of the best - simply the best - the other Hall of Famer, owner and legend Mario Lemieux, borrowed another one of Lange's famous catchphrases when he dropped by. Lemieux presented Lange with a card that included the line, "He doesn't know whether to cry or wind his watch!" - to accompany the gift of a timepiece.

Lange joked that he wasn't quite sure which option to take in that moment.

"It was a very special gift from him and he knows that'll be one I cherish, really, for the rest of my life," Lange said.

When Bryan Rust thinks about how Lange was around when No. 66 was leading the Penguins to their first two Stanley Cups, and how much a part of franchise history he is, it makes his career that much more special. Crosby feels the same way.

"He's been around a lot longer than guys can even play. So the fact that he's been part of the organization for as long as he has and has been part of so many great, memorable experiences, he's a special guy," Crosby said with a smile. "He made for great listening and for great memories for so many people. I just think that he's just part of the team."

And he always will be.

"I was so fortunate to be here," Lange said. "From where the franchise came from in the early days, we didn't have a whole lot. We were up against it. And to see where it is today…seriously, it really is so gratifying to me to see that they're on par with all the major leagues in all respects. To have that growth and to see it happen right in front of your eyes and then to have five Cups…I mean, seriously, who does that? Just seeing what's happened here with the city and the team, it made it all worthwhile."

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