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On Thursday, the Blackhawks will face the San Jose Sharks at the United Center. The game itself, for all intents and purposes, will be meaningless.
But for Blackhawks fans, it will be the end of an era.
Pat Foley, who has been the voice of the Blackhawks since 1980, will call his final game.
A lot has been written about his legacy. What are his most iconic calls? What will games be like without him? What’s next for the legend?
I’m going to write something different.
Pat Foley is my broadcasting hero.
When I decided to get into radio back in the late 90s at Lewis University, I always dreamed of working with Foley. My ideal job was to be the radio host of the Blackhawks’ pre and postgame show. While I never got the opportunity to call Foley a co-worker, my myriad roles covering the Blackhawks kept his irreplaceable voice in my life for decades. From my early years as a Hawks fan, listening to the radio under my pillow, to the dynasty, to the lean years in between, there was one constant … Pat Foley.
No one describes a hockey sequence like Foley. Doc Emrick is wonderful, but to me, Foley is the best to ever do it. If he was to call a game in another language, you’d still understand what’s happening in the game. His low, droning monotone voice describes the more mundane activities in the game. “Here’s the draw. Roenick wins it back to Chelios, who sends it down the boards into the Detroit zone.”
Now, the Blackhawks are on the attack. Foley’s voice speeds up and raises in pitch. “Into the corner goes Amonte. He drops it to the point to Suter.”
Foley’s volume grows louder. “Suter shoots … he scores! Gary Suter with a one-timer from the point. Vernon never had a chance, and it’s 2-1 Hawks.”
How could a kid from Oak Lawn not fall in love with hockey after hearing a call like that? Remember, Blackhawks home games weren’t on TV until Rocky Wirtz took over in 2009. It was actually difficult to become a Blackhawks fan. You had to make a choice to be a Hawks fan, and Foley’s voice was as influential to my fandom as the team itself.
I’ve tried my hand at play-by-play before, though only while playing NHL video games. I could never do it for a real game because it just turns into an awful Pat Foley impression. There’s no other way to call a hockey game. Why wouldn’t I try to emulate Foley?
That’s the hardest part of this whole thing. There will never be another Pat Foley. Broadcasters like him simply don’t exist anymore. His replacement, Chris Vosters, is a terrific broadcaster. He calls the game as well as any of the candidates the Blackhawks tried out this season, and will do a great job in the role for years to come. He’s polished. He’s a pro.
Much like Harry Caray calling a baseball game, it was the lack of polish, or at least the perceived lack of polish, that endeared Foley to Blackhawks fans. He felt like “one of us.” You could hear in his voice when the Hawks were playing poorly. He had a way of being critical if you listened closely enough. “Will there be a retrieval? Not this time.” This is Foley’s way of saying the Hawks dump and chase game sucked.
“Three Hawks along the boards, who will win the puck? Edmonton comes out with it.” There was always an annoyance in his voice that was a wink to the fans who were paying attention. He was suffering with us.
This brings me to the Stanley Cup dynasty. After all those years of suffering with us, it’s a shame that Foley never got to call a Blackhawks Cup winner. TV deals being what they are, the Stanley Cup Final was always handled by the national broadcast crew, so despite decades of fantastic goal, save, and win calls from Foley, we don’t have a Cup-winning call. At least an official one. Foley was given the opportunity to call the 2010 game winner at the Blackhawks convention, but it’s just not the same.
Watching Hawks games will never be the same. I want to personally thank Pat Foley for being the narrator of the team I love the most. He also provided the soundtrack to my favorite video game ever, Midway’s 2-on-2 Open Ice Challenge, a game I still play to this day. It’s a piece of Chicago history, with its sound effects recorded at McFetridge Sports Center. It even features New York Islanders legend Derek King.
Foley has left a lifetime of memories that will never fade.
Also, Pat, if you’re reading this … thank you for lending me your sunscreen at the 1999(ish) Score golf outing. I still have that empty bottle in my sports memorabilia.