When city councilman Dan Gilman saw the Penguins give their Hall of Fame broadcaster Mike Lange a tribute on the videoboard during their game against the St. Louis Blues last week, he knew they needed to honor his 40 seasons in the booth as well.
“I was at the game last week and saw the recognition of Mike’s 40th anniversary, and I immediately reached out to the team and said the city needs to do something for him,” Gilman said.
So at their weekly meeting in Council Chambers on Tuesday morning, it became official – to recognize the lasting contributions that Lange has made as a sports journalist and outstanding community leader, the city council declared March 31, 2015 as Mike Lange Day in the city of Pittsburgh.
“Quite honestly, it’s overwhelming because to me, it shows what you put into something comes back,” Lange said afterward. “That the people of Pittsburgh and everybody involved think enough to be able to have a proclamation for something that I love to do and really don’t consider it to be anything more than what anybody else does, really for a job and what they do for a livelihood, it is very special to me and it’s an award I’ll cherish for a long time.”
Lange paused for a moment; then broke into a huge smile as he thought about what the other legendary late broadcasters in this town – the Steelers’ Myron Cope and the Pirates’ Bob Prince – would think of this honor.
“It would make Cope and it would make Prince very happy, (me) getting this,” Lange grinned. “And that makes me feel good too, because those guys were special, special people. Even going back to (Pirates broadcaster) Rosey Rowswell, you just look at the history here. I really, honestly believe that the man upstairs is the guy that got me to Pittsburgh. He said ‘listen, I’ve got a place for you and you with all your crazy quirkiness and everything involved, it’s going to be perfect for where you’re going. And he dropped me in here in 1974 and said go for it.
“One of the first people I met, actually, was Bob Prince and that was a very good thing because I felt at home then and was able to take it and kind of run from there. It’s a special moment and I know he’s smiling wherever he may be right now.”
Of course today, as Gilman put it, “growing up a Penguins fan, Mike Lange and hockey are synonymous. I can’t hear a hockey game without Mike’s voice in my head.”
But it’s crazy to think that back when Lange first arrived, he didn’t know if he would be here more than a couple of years. And in a way, he was right. Because after breaking into the NHL with the Penguins as a play-by-play man beginning in the 1974-75 season, he left the following year when the team went bankrupt. But fortunately for Pittsburgh, after returning for the 1976-77 campaign, Lange never left again.
“When I came back the second time, I just fell in love with the city and everything about it,” Lange said. “The people just overwhelm me. And it just kind of grew and it kind of went along, and then my whole concern was trying to make the franchise better, trying to sell tickets, trying to create interest and it got better. Then people started sending me phrases and I started talking to people and it just kind of exploded and then all of a sudden, the years go by and you don’t really think about it. And there it is.
“Now the list is up to 30 or 40 or 50 different phrases and it’s all kind of been a great party, if you will, with the people of Pittsburgh. And it’s been wonderful.”
It’s incredible to think that Lange has called over 3,000 games over the years that have featured numerous franchise talents and some of the best to ever play the game over the years – from Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and Tom Barrasso to Marc-Andre Fleury, Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, who presented the legend with a No. 40 “Lange” jersey during a special presentation in the locker room.
That night, Lange told the captain and the rest of the players they were the reason for his longevity.
“I honestly believe that the youth of the hockey team and the transition of new players coming in year by year by year keeps all of us young,” Lange said. “It keeps that vibrant enthusiasm alive and passion for it. I thanked them for that, because I guess it would be something like schoolteachers or people that have been around a long time. They have a new generation of people coming up and the fans are the same way. I’ve had two, three generations of people and the ones from when I first started have come to me and brought their kids, and now they’re bringing their kids!
“So I’m going man, this is pretty special. And they all get that little twinkle in their eye and when you see that twinkle in their eye, not only from players but anybody that’s young like that, it makes you want to keep going. It just makes you want to broadcast and have fun.”