Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Thoughts on Rick Jeanneret

Reprinted with permission from

This past week long-time Sabres play-by-play man Rick Jeanneret was diagnosed with throat cancer. The 71 yr. old Jeanneret will need about two months of radiation treatment and possible chemotherapy to treat the Stage III cancer.

Doctors say that there's about an 85% recovery rate.

Best wishes for a full and speedy recovery, RJ.,

The Hockey Hall of Famer is the longest tenured announcer in hockey, and was beginning to wind down his legendary career in the broadcast booth. Although Jeanneret says he has "every intention of coming back this season," treatment of the golf-ball sized malignant tumor may end up altering those plans.

Jeanneret has been with the Sabres for 43 years and I've fortunate enough to be along for that ride the entire time.

When I was a kid I had this little train radio and when the Sabres weren't on television I would listen to games on it.

It was orange and blue, AM-only, with the volume and tuning control wheels on the back. It had a very small speaker and the monotone pitch that came out of it was very high.

When Jeanneret began his announcing career on WGR back in 1971, this is how I was listening to the games. It was a season that featured Sabres like Gil Perreault, Rick Martin, Roger "the Dodger" Crozier, Eddie Shack and Gerry Meehan.

And it was a time when radio was the key link between myself and the games.

We, like most families, only had one television in our home. It was black and white. It had three channels, which was standard throughout the U.S., but we were lucky to be living in the Buffalo area where we could get a few channels from Canada and tune in to CBC's Hockey Night In Canada on Saturday nights.

Our TV had dials on the front and clicked when you turned in and out of a channel. If the knob happened to break off, you'd use a fork to turn it.

The picture itself was usually less-than-clear. The huge and heavy picture tube took a couple of minutes to warm up, and if things didn't work out for picture clarity, you either moved around "rabbit-ears" antenna on top or put aluminum foil on the ends of the antennae.

All of this was done to go from a "polar bear in a snowstorm" picture to a semblance of one.

But one thing you could always count on, was radio. It was always solid when it came to following the Buffalo Sabres.

The difference between radio and TV is as simple as the difference between audio and video. When it came to radio, the announcer had to put the fan on the scene with nothing more than his play-by-play call.

Rick Jeanneret's foundation was in radio, and he brought those radio announcer sensibilities with him when he moved to the television broadcast.

On a national level, he's known for some memorable calls--"May Day!," "Lalalalalafontaine!," "Wow, Double-Wow" and "Now Do You Believe!?" amongst them.

On a local level, Sabres-nation knows him for "top-shelf where mama hides the cookies," "Milllllllerrrrrrrrrrrrr" and "we're going to ooooooverrrrrrrtime."

These are all "highlight" moments and even though some of his "shtick" like "The Population of Pominville..." wore on you, his passion for play-by-play could not to be denied.

While announcers today rely on video to help them along, Jeanneret always called the game like he did when he was doing radio-only. He verbally put the on-ice action into the microphone and into our homes.

He knew the players. He knew their numbers and he knew their names and he used that to put his audience on the scene with nothing more than his voice.

By no means was Jeanneret perfect. His voice wasn't perfect nor was his style or look. He was anything but ESPN/Syracuse-alum perfect.

Just an average guy with a love for the game of hockey and a knack for exuberantly throwing around colorful phrases.

All his imperfections made him human and his humanity is something that a blue collar town like Buffalo could identify with. He's the dude at the bar yelling and screaming with the rest of us.

That's who he was on-air and hopefully he'll be able to leave the booth on his own terms at the end of his contract in 2016.

If not, thanx for the memories, RJ.

From on Jeanneret's diagnosis:

The Buffalo Sabres are deeply saddened to learn of Rick Jeanneret’s cancer diagnosis. RJ has been a vital part of the Sabres family and the Buffalo community for 43 years and this news undoubtedly weighs heavily on everyone who has had the privilege of listening to his broadcasts through the years.

As he begins treatment in the coming weeks, we will continue to keep RJ, his wife, Sandra, his mother, Kay, his sister, Marcia, his children, Mark and Chris, his stepdaughter, Shelly, and his grandchildren in our thoughts. We wish RJ a full and speedy recovery and know his tenacity will serve him well in his fight.

On behalf of the Jeanneret family, the Sabres are asking for respect of the family’s privacy as RJ undergoes treatment.

The team has also set up a dedicated email address - - for fans to send well-wishes and notes of encouragement.

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