Pat Foley, Voice of the Blackhawks
Whether your name is Jonathan Toews, Jeremy Roenick, Tony Amonte, Denis Savard, Eddie Belfour or Murray Bannerman, you owe a little something to Pat Foley. Over the years the wiry and seemingly over-caffeinated Blackhawks TV and radio announcer has been the aural fireworks behind the stunning play that unfolds at ice-level. Foley is that perfect Chicago combination of substance and flash, the kind of guy who can make a routine dump and chase the most climatic moment of your life, the kind of guy who has always shot from the hip with a grenade launcher.
Foley grew up in Chicago and got his start working for the now-defunct Grand Rapids Owls before joining the Blackhawks broadcast team at 26 years old. He quickly became an essential part of the Chicago hockey experience, taking the frenzy bottled up in the Mad House on Madison and translating it into a kind of rapid-fire poetry that has almost rendered television obsolete. One of Foley’s finest calls came during the 1985 Norris Division finals between the then Minnesota North Stars and the Hawks. Chicago coughed the puck up in their own zone leading to a Minnesota break-away. The streaking North Star beat two Hawk defenders, leaving him one-on-one with goalie Murray Bannerman. As the puck carrier drifted right and then dashed hard to the left to unload his shot, Bannerman baseball slid to his right, throwing a leg over his head and saving the goal to Foley’s heart attack-cry of “the shot-? BAAAA NER MAAAN did it again! How did he do it?” No sleight to Mr. Bannerman, but that call did more to secure his status as a Blackhawks icon than any other moment of his career. As a matter of fact, I was born only a few months before the save was made and remember recreating that famous call as a child before I even knew exactly who Murray Bannerman was.
During what most Blackhawks fans will acknowledge as the team’s “Dark Ages”, from the mid-90s to early 2000s, the Hawks were run by the terrible combination of cheap former-owner “Dollar” Bill Wirtz and incompetent GM Mike Smith. Foley was often praised by fans for his honest, and often border-line abusive take on the state of the team. The most notoriously terrible move, a trade of promising young defenseman Bryan McCabe to Toronto for aging d-man Alexander Karpotsev, stuck the Hawks with a zero-effort, poor-attitude slug who, after Mike Smith’s tenure as GM ended, they were finally able to trade away.
During the broadcast of a game between the Hawks and New Jersey Devils on the day Karpotsev was traded, Foley unloaded his feelings about the lazy defenseman, much to the delight of listening fans. “He came to Chicago, of course, in exchange for Bryan McCabe, who has gone on to become an All-Star in Toronto, but even before that Bryan McCabe was someone who cared and who tried. The Toronto players, when that trade was made, said ‘We can’t believe we got Bryan McCabe for Dean Martin.’ Well, lemme tell ya, Alexander Karpotsev doesn’t sing.” As if that wasn’t enough, Foley then insisted that, “That deal was one of the worst deals in the history of the Chicago Blackhawks and when Mike Smith writes his memoirs about his time in Chicago, I have the title for that chapter- ‘Disaster’.” He concluded by praising Smith’s replacement, GM Bob Pulford for “being able to get anything more than a roll of tape for this over-paid underachiever. Alexander Karpotsev is now the New York Islanders problem. That will be his last National Hockey League stop. He basically, in my opinion, was a disgrace to the uniform when he was a member of the Chicago Blackhawks. As he leaves Chicago I just have one sentiment for Alexander Karpotsev- good riddance. And we are through two periods, in New Jersey.”
Part of what keeps Foley in a place of such high esteem with Chicagoan is that he often says what they’re thinking, he just manages to do so in a way that the FCC might not object to. That tight-rope walk of bar-debate passion and professionalism has been a treat for Hawks fans over the course of the last thirty years. Fittingly, through all the questionable personnel moves fans endured in the ‘Dark Ages’, all the star players leaving, the awful draft busts and home game television blackout, the move that drew the most fury was the release of Foley in 2006. The Hawks withdrew their contract offer during negotiations, citing “personal reasons”. Most Hawks fans saw this as retaliation by the front office for Foley’s often harsh, yet fair appraisal of the state of the team.
After the death of Ebenezer Scrooge (read: Bill Wirtz) in 2007, his son Rocky took over team operations and in less than a year hired Foley back. That, more than any other move (with the possible exception of putting home games on TV) signaled to the fans that things in the organization would be changing for the better.
Foley is in position to have his voice become synonymous with Blackhawks hockey for a whole new generation of fans. It is impossible to picture Denis Savard, Steve Larmer, Jeremy Roenick or Chris Chelios without hearing Foley narrate the action. The new crop of young Hawks talent, Kane, Toews, Keith, Byfuglien, plays to that same run-away train audio. Foley had a voice made for the era of YouTube long before it existed, but he seems to be getting his due. One of the most frequently watched and shared Hawks videos features a dazzling goal by Jonathan Toews during which one can imagine Foley falling out of his chair and finishing the call from the seat of his pants. “Jonathan Toews up with Havlat, around- moved right around him! Shot right to the goal! HE SCORES! A specTACULAR goal by 20-year old Jonathan Toews! You won’t see any better than that. He made him look silly! 2-2 the score.”
Pat Foley received an Emmy in 1991 for “Outstanding Achievement in a Live Sports Program” and was inducted into the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame in 2001. One of the few things Foley hasn’t accomplished over his distinguished career, where he has been generally regarded as the best play-by-play man working, is the chance to call a Stanley Cup victory. The Hawks have only made the finals once during his tenure with the team, and one can only imagine the bat-out-of-hell enthusiasm with which Foley might paint that picture.