As you probably know, I love all sports and have maintained contact with many of my broadcast partners over the years. The first weekend of this September, thanks to some sort of harmonic convergence, allowed me to enjoy all of that on a dream weekend for my wife Claudia and me.
It all began to come together after we obtained tickets (with Memphis Grizzlies announcer Pete Pranica—a fellow Notre Dame alumnus—and his wife, Johanna) to the Notre Dame-Michigan game for Saturday night, September 6th. Then, a closer examination of the schedule showed us we could also see the Pittsburgh Pirates (one of my former broadcast partners in Buffalo, Greg Brown, is now voice of the Bucs) and the Chicago Cubs the afternoon before.
What about Sunday? The team I covered for so long, the Buffalo Bills, would be at Soldier Field for their NFL opener against the Bears, and I would be able to get back together with another former broadcasting buddy, Bills play-by-play man John Murphy and ex-Bills’ safety Mark Kelso.
Those three events made up a perfectly marvelous weekend. But as we were finalizing all of these plans, we got a call, from a broadcast partner from years ago, Los Angeles Kings voice Bob Miller. On Tuesday he was going to have his time with the Stanley Cup – would we be able to make it out for the party? We didn’t take long to answer that question!
It all began with a Friday morning flight to Chicago, followed by a quick check-in at our hotel and a walk to the L Station to catch our Red Line train to Wrigley Field. It was a beautiful day as we exited the Addison station.
We get to our seats, where Pete Pranica met us (his wife’s flight in from Memphis was cancelled, so she didn’t join us until Saturday morning). The game moved toward the third, then some extremely dark clouds suddenly moved in. Shortly thereafter, the wind picked up and the rain followed. That front blew over quickly, and they restarted the game, but it wasn’t long before another cell moved in and it was time to cover the surface again.
I have done enough baseball to understand it was doubtful they could make the field playable that night following two heavy rainfalls. As the second cloudburst began, we went back to the L.
Around 6 o’clock, the Cubs announced the game (tied after 6 innings) was suspended and would be resumed on Saturday. That allowed us to continue our plans for dinner at Mike Ditka’s restaurant with Greg Brown that evening.
Greg seemed tired when he joined us and he explained why. He was a “solo act” that day. It seems the night before, broadcast partner Bob Walk had scratched his throat with the sugar-glass covering of his favorite desert—Crème Brule—and was ordered off the air. So Greg had done six innings and two rain delays by himself!
Saturday morning, Johanna Pranica arrived, allowing time for breakfast and the 90-minute drive down Lake Shore Drive, I-94 and the Indiana Toll Road to South Bend. We arrived on the edge of the campus, parked the car and walked the campus.
One early stop was the Knights of Columbus Hall on the South Quad for their steak sandwiches, then it was off to Bond Hall for a pre-game concert by the Notre Dame Marching Band, featuring two members from Nashville – Junior member of the Irish Guard, Eric Donahue, and his sophomore brother Luke, on tuba.
We were able to follow the band on its march to the stadium and shortly thereafter, were inside for my first night game there. Shortly after getting to our location, the row in front of us filled up with Toronto Maple Leafs’ announcer Joe Bowen and his sons and friends. Joe is a long-time “subway alumnus,” and like me, tries to make one pilgrimage per season, before we get into our hockey schedules.
Bottom line, it was a great night for us, the Irish prevailed, 31-0 over the Wolverines. It was about 11:00 p.m. (CST) when we got to our car. We made one stop on the Toll Road (at the Knute Rockne Plaza, of course), and I turned the driving over to Pete Pranica.
By 1:30, we were back at our hotel in Chicago and ready for a quick night’s sleep with a noontime kickoff at Soldier Field. The Pranicas would depart Chicago later on Sunday.
I had not been in Soldier Field since the Bears beat the Bills, 20-13 in 1994. (That was part of my best previous sports weekend, when Notre Dame had knocked off Bill Walsh’s Stanford team the day previously.) So the 2003 renovation of the facility was all new to me.
We made it to the press box to visit with members of the Western New York media there, and then went down to the basement and around the field to set up in the Bills’ broadcast booth with John Murphy and Mark Kelso. John and I had worked together at WBEN Radio from 1983-88, mostly on Buffalo Bisons’ baseball broadcasts.
When the Bears got off to such an easy start on their first possession, there was not a person in the stadium who could have foreseen the finish, a 23-20 Bills’ victory in OT, the Bills’ first-ever victory in Chicago.
Then it was time to visit with another broadcasting acquaintance – long-time Buffalo Bills’ Head Coach and Chicago native Marv Levy – whose morning and evening radio shows I hosted on WGR Radio. Marv turned 89 the day after he presented Andre Reed for induction in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton. He entertained us with many stories, including how angry he was with Bills’ running back Fred Jackson (whom he had signed for Buffalo when Marv was the GM). It seems Fred broke some of Marv’s records at Coe College in Iowa.
Monday morning, it was time to check out of the Chicago hotel and get to Midway Airport for our flight to Los Angeles and the next part of our pre-training-camp marathon.
We were set up in our San Fernando Valley hotel by late afternoon, and then drove to Bob and Judy Miller’s home a few miles away. We had a great dinner and told stories (Bob and I had worked together on the Kings broadcasts from 1978-81), about the old days at the Fabulous Forum and the 75,000 miles of commercial flights we averaged per season in those days.
The party with Lord Stanley was set for Tuesday night in the clubhouse of a public golf course in Encino. The Millers had invited around 250 people. I do believe they all turned out and it was a great reunion. When the Cup is around, everyone is all smiles!
Wednesday was the return trip to Nashville. Thursday a day of rest before the official Grand Opening of the Ford Ice Center—and that’s how I spent the end of my summer vacation! The people, the timing, the weather (for the most part), and the places could not have worked out any better!