I think for every sports fan there is at least one figure, one person who comes to transcend the sport he or she represents, and that person becomes synonymous with both the sport and region they hail from. If you’re from San Francisco maybe its Joe Montana, it could be the Rooney family if you’re from Pittsburgh, perhaps Bobby Orr or Larry Bird if you call Boston your home.
For me, it’s a little different, but if someone mentions the Buffalo Sabres, the first thing that comes to mind is a series of play-by-play calls made by Rick Jeanneret.
Now, unless you live in the greater Buffalo area or are a transplanted Sabres fan, it is more than likely you have never heard the name Rick Jeanneret before. Even if you recognize the name and remember listening to him call a game or two, it’s also possible you can’t stand listening to him.
No matter your opinion on him, or even if you’ve never heard of him, my reason for writing this article is that Mr. Jeanneret, after 42 years of broadcasting service, was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday afternoon. He received the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award for outstanding contributions as a hockey broadcaster. (You can hear his acceptance speech here.)
I would like to congratulate Rick on this incredible achievement, and thank him for his years of service. I know that for the rest of my life, every time I think back to my favorite childhood Sabres memories, his voice will be playing in the background. But the thing that makes Jeanneret so special is that he’s had the same impact on nearly every Sabres fan who’s listened to him.
If you mention Jeanneret’s name to any self-respecting Buffalo sports fan, they’ll undoubtedly be able to rattle off a litany of their favorite Jeanneret calls. They’ll be able to tell you exactly where they were when they heard Jeanneret shriek MayDay!!!, or launch into LalalalaLafontaine!
They’ll even be able to recall innocuous snippets from completely random games, like listening to a Martin Biron save, or a Rob Ray fight, maybe even this Maxim Afinogenov goal. And they’ll also surely be able to give you their best Jeanneret impression of calls such as his famous phrase, reaction to a moment of triumph, or devastating hit.
Jeanneret’s face become the de facto one of the franchise and has been perhaps the only constant in the Sabres organization for the last four decades. Players have come and gone, coaches have been hired and fired, not to mention ownership changing hands three times in the last 15 years. Stadiums have been switched and uniforms have changed, then redone and changed back again, but Rick Jeanneret has been providing play-by-play commentary throughout it all.
For the last few seasons, amidst wondering if the upcoming year will finally be the year the Sabres capture the precious Stanley Cup, a recent concern for Sabres fans has been the impending retirement of Jeanneret. The 70-year-old is the longest-tenured play-by-play announcer in NHL history (not bad for a guy who originally wanted to be a rock-and-roll DJ). In the past few years there has been almost Brett Favre-ian speculation about whether Jeanneret would hang up the microphone or continue his career.
The last couple seasons he has limited the number of games he’s called, leaving many to wonder if he was preparing to retire this season. Luckily for Sabres fans, Jeanneret decided upon the exact opposite, choosing instead to broadcast every game for the upcoming season. (Of which we have yet to hear a single game of, providing another reason to despise the lockout. Screw you Bettman.)
For those of you still reading this article, permit me to close with a favorite Sabres memory of mine.
It was the second round of the NHL playoffs in the 2005-2006 season and the Sabres were set to play the #1 seed and their bitter rivals, the Ottawa Senators. Game 1 was a Friday, and the reason I remember that so well is because I was attending a dance at a local Catholic school.
Amidst worrying about who I might ask to dance, or exactly how much room I had to save for the Holy Spirit when doing so, I kept checking in with a friend who had brought a small radio and was listening to the game intermittently. Unbeknownst to any of us, the game would turn out to be a thrilling hockey experience, to the point that if I wanted to convert a friend into becoming a hockey fan, I would roll out this game (check out the highlights).
I’ll always remember one scene in particular. The dance was in a small, dark grade school gym with some crappy local DJ playing stuff you’d hear on the radio. On the floor, about a hundred awkward 13 and 14-year olds huddled into small cliques, mostly unsure about what they were supposed to do.
Near the end of the dance it came to my group of friends' attention that the Sabres were trailing the Senators by a goal with a minute left. We found a quiet-ish corner and sat around my friend’s radio, listening to the play-by-play call of the game. The Sabres were unable to tie things, so with about 20 seconds left they threw the puck into the zone and chased after it. Somehow the puck squirted loose in front of the net and I’ll never forget at that moment hearing Jeanneret scream, “Connolly, backhand…SSSSCCCCOOOOOOOORRRRRRREEEESSSSSSS!!!!”
Needless to say the entirety of the gymnasium population launched into cheers and began to chant “Let’s Go Buffalo!” (Buffalo sports fans, gotta love ‘em.) By the time the dance ended and I left to meet my dad in the parking lot, the Sabres had already scored in overtime to win the game.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget hearing that call, nor any of the other famous Rick Jeanneret moments I’ve seen live, watched endlessly on Youtube, or tried to imitate myself. When it comes down to it, I don’t know what it would be like to listen to a year’s worth of Buffalo Sabres hockey and not have Jeanneret’s voice describing to me the passing on a powerplay or the defensive breakup of a two-on-one. I can only imagine it may not be as fun. Hopefully Sabre fans won’t have to face that reality for a few more years and the lockout will end soon, so Rick can get back to work.
Thank you sincerely for the memories and years of service, Mr. Jeanneret, and congratulations on your achievement.