Mike Emrick has been the voice of hockey in the United States for more than two decades. You might not remember this, the man we call “Doc” once worked with a coach who was famous for wanting to “matriculate the ball down the field.”
“Five [NFL] games, I got to do with Hank [Stram] and it was near the end” of his time with the CBS Television Network, Emrick said. “He continued to do games on radio for some time, Monday Night Football on radio.”
I got a chance to speak with the now-retired Doc as his first book “Off Mike. How A Kid From Basketball-Crazy Indiana Became America’s NHL Voice.”
The book is published by Triumph Books, and if you’re looking for a gift this Christmas or Chanukah, this book would be a good choice. The stories are interesting, and his take on hockey and his broadcasting career are fascinating. It is well worth your time.
The book will tell you of his undying affection for the Pittsburgh Pirates, something the two of us have in common.
His book will not, however, tell you that he and I were both rejected for the same job. We were two in a boatload of candidates to become the radio voice of the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins back in the mid-1970s. He was one of three finalists. I got a pass to attend a future Penguins game.
Back in the 1990s, Emrick worked for CBS and was one of many regional NFL play-by-play guys. That’s what former WNYT sportscaster Andrew Catalon does now for the network. We don’t see a ton of Catalon on our TVs, but he is out there every week.
As was Emrick, and he worked with Stram, the former Kansas City Chiefs coach, who is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Emrick recalled having a dinner the night before a game between the Detroit Lions and the New Orleans Saints.
“It was an elegant restaurant and we were gathered there. There were probably eight of us gathered around this enormous table. There was a question that came, not from me but from someone else on our crew, to Hank about a certain offense. He took out the Magic Marker and was writing on the tablecloth. He’s showing where everybody is on the offense and the defense. He’s drawing the lines and the squiggly arrows and everything else,” Emrick said with a laugh. “It comes to him ‘I just wrote on the tablecloth.’ I said ‘Here’s what you do Hank. You autograph it to Chuck Muer, best wishes, Hank Stram. That will become valuable for Chuck.’ It was one of his many restaurants, but it was one of his feature restaurants. If he wasn’t there that night, because it was a Saturday before a Sunday game, he was probably going to be coming in the next week.
“There he would have a tablecloth with a football play on it, designed by the legendary Hank Stram.”
To say that the 30 minutes I spent on the phone with Doc Emrick might have been the shortest 30 minutes of my professional career would be an understatement. I could have been on with him for hours, asking questions and listening to stories of his career. Some of them are recounted in the book. So while some were “reruns” from what I read, the fact that I could hear them and he would elaborate was time well spent.
While Emrick and I have shared the press elevator at TD Garden several times over our respective careers, the first time I had met Doc came in the mid-1990s.
It was at what was then the Knickerbocker Arena in Albany, N.Y. The Knick was hosting the first and second rounds of the NCAA basketball tournament. Two of the top three teams in the East Region, No. 2 UMass and No. 3 Villanova, were both there. Three of the four games were decided by fewer than 10 points, including that 89-81 win by Old Dominion over Steve Lappas’ Wildcats in triple overtime. UMass struggled early in the first game, but beat St. Peter’s 68-51.
“Basketball was intense in that you had to do four games in one day and two games the next,” Emrick said. “You knew that you were going to be exhausted by the end of the day. But the break we got at Knickerbocker was that the four-game day, all of them were nail-biters. The two-game day on Sunday were blowouts. We were able to maintain focus on the four-game day, because Villanova and Old Dominion was triple-overtime.
“I worked with George Raveling that day, and that was wonderful.”
Emrick has spent much of his time with NBC working with a pair of Williams College graduates, game producer Matt Marvin and executive producer Sam Flood. They, and the rest of the NBC technical crew made Emrick’s Stanley Cup experience a good one. That’s because he broadcast the games from his home in Michigan. He said the hardest part of doing games not in the arena in Edmonton was seeing some line changes and being able to identify players who were skating on the far wing from the television cameras.
One man’s opinion though, if you didn’t know that he was at home in Michigan, you wouldn’t have known he was in Michigan.
One thing I couldn’t do in 30 minutes, and I apologize, is talk Mike Emrick out of his retirement.
“Now, for the first time in 50 years, there are no blocks to fill in on an analog calendar that sits next to the telephone,” he said. “That’ll be something new and I think it’ll be okay. That much I thought about when I made the decision sometime in the third round of the playoffs. There will be some adjustment here because when you do something like that and your fall and winter months are accounted for on a schedule every year, there is an adjustment you have to make.
“I think I’ll be okay at it, although, when you haven’t done it before you never really know for sure.”
Enjoy retirement Doc, and thanks for everything.