Jeanneret joined an elite group of individuals last night when he was inducted into the Sabres Hall of Fame, along with Dale Hawerchuk. It was a much deserved – and some will say long overdue – honor for the native of Niagara Falls, Ontario. But there was a time when Jeanneret wondered if he’d even make it through the first few years, let alone four decades.
As a Canadian working in the United States, Jeanneret required a work Visa that had to be renewed each season. Thinking he’d save the club some trouble, he suggested an easier solution to the yearly paperwork.
“Before my third year I said to them ‘You might want to invest in a Green Card for me and it would save you a lot of money every year.’ They looked me as if to say ‘You’re not going to be here very long, so we’re not going to invest anything in you.’ But here I am 37 years later, and nobody else is around from that era.”
Even without that Green Card in his pocket, Jeanneret continued to grow into his position. While there isn’t any single moment that told him he was in it for the long haul, he slowly figured out that there was one particular way to gauge his success.
“I felt accepted by the fans, and I think that was my first clue that this was working out pretty good. Because if the fans seem to like what you’re doing, you’re getting a lot of encouragement from that direction.”
As a youngster, Jeanneret grew up listening to legendary announcers like Foster Hewitt and Danny Gallivan. He also enjoys the work of some of his contemporaries like Bob Cole, Pat Foley (Chicago) and Gary Thorne. As he puts it, “there’s an awful lot more guys that I do enjoy listening to than those that I don’t.”
Even with all the outside influences, Jeanneret says his style is all his own.
“I did not pattern myself after anybody, it just happened. I admire the delivery of several different announcers, and still do. But I don’t try to emulate any of them, and never did – not consciously anyway.”
One person that did influence him professionally was legendary Sabres announcer Ted Darling. While many people refer to Jeanneret as the voice of the Sabres, he says that is a title that should be reserved exclusively for Darling.
“In my mind, he always will be the voice of the Sabres. He was taken away from us far too soon as far as I’m concerned, and he deserved that adulation. I’m perfectly comfortable with being called the Sabres announcer. I’m good with that.”
Darling is also responsible for Jeanneret’s favorite broadcast blooper of his career.
“I was doing color for Ted one night, and he said that Ron Stackhouse ‘fell on the *uck.’ I remember that one very well. Pat Hannigan fell on the floor. He literally fell out of his chair, on to the floor laughing. He was no good whatsoever. So I had to jump in because Ted froze. And of course if you freeze, that just points it out. So I tell a story about Mike Walton the night before jumping from one balcony to another at a hotel in St. Louis, and he slipped and fell through a plate glass window. Now I’m trying to tell this with a straight face, but I start laughing as I explain that Walton got cut for something like 80 stitches. The whole thing was just a disaster.”
Jeanneret said Rob Ray was one of his favorite players to watch over the years, and that “scary good” team that made it to Game Seven of the 2006 Eastern Conference Finals in Carolina will always hold a special place in his heart.
“At the beginning of the season they were picked more for last place than they were the playoffs,” he recalls. “They did such wonderful things that year. I went into the dressing room after the final game in Carolina – and I very seldom ever go in the dressing room – and shook everybody’s hands. There were a lot of tears and swearing, and that’s expected after you lose a game like that. I told each of them ‘it was a helluva ride guys, a helluva ride. Thanks a lot.’”
It’s been speculated in recent years that it would take a Stanley Cup championship for Jeanneret to retire. While the thought of doing nothing but being “Papa” to his six grandchildren sounds appealing, it’s not a move that he’s ready to make. He’s cut back on his schedule for the past few seasons, taking vacations during extended road trips in January and February. This year he’ll call 59 games on radio and TV, with the remainder covered by Kevin Sylvester and Danny Gare.
I’ve had a lot of people make it perfectly clear that they don’t want me to retire. And I don’t want to retire. - Rick Jeanneret
The only long term plan that Jeanneret wants to make right now is a late February trip to Florida to spend time with his wife and family.
“I’ve had a lot of people make it perfectly clear that they don’t want me to retire. And I don’t want to retire. That’s why I’m hoping this reduced schedule as its set now will allow me to continue on.”
Lindy Ruff has been in Buffalo for more than half of Jeanneret’s career – 10 years as a player, and now 14 as the team’s head coach. Just like the fans, he has tremendous respect for what Jeanneret has meant to hockey in Buffalo over the years.
“I have nothing but great memories and great calls,” Ruff says. “You can all the way back to ‘May Day’ and you can go earlier than that. Our recent playoff successes: the Pominville goal and ‘Now Do You Believe?’ There are so many lines, so many great moments. There are so many great calls on goals in situations in a game. Coupled with the fact that Rick is one hell of a guy.”
Jeanneret’s self-deprecating sense of humor is one of his most endearing qualities. He’s never acted bigger than the game, even though his iconic calls will carry on throughout Sabres history. For him, it’s always been about the fans.
“I had no idea where I was going or how long I was going to be around. I had every confidence in myself – but sometimes it doesn’t work out that way. There are some peaks and valleys in life, but it’s treated me very well. My rapport with the fans has been incredible, and that’s the number one thing with me.”