Puck the Media Interview: Mike Lange, Part 1
July 29, 2009 10 Comments
Let us start out by stating this: we may be the first to interview legendary Pittsburgh Penguins play-by-play man Mike Lange without mentioning the Jean-Claude Van Damme film Sudden Death in which he and Paul Steigerwald appeared as themselves. We are sorry, but we try not to ask questions that we’ve heard before… so that counts.
From the e-mail exchange and the responses Mr. Lange sent to us, it is 100% certain that he is a class act all the way. Please read this entire thing. If every person we interviewed, and this is nothing against any of our previous guys, put as much detail into these as Mike Lange has done (and previous subjects such as Jack Edwards and Joe Beninati did) we could (and maybe would) publish a book of all of these. Gosh, what wonderful information this is to have as a college student wanting to get into this business. Simply fantastic.
In part one of our discussion he tells us about, after the jump, his entry into the hockey world, Lemieux and Crosby, what he thinks of Randy Moller, and a bunch of other stuff that’ll leave Penguins fans and general puckheads alike smilin’ like a butcher’s dog. We know we were.
Puck the Media: How does a guy goes from Sacramento, California to the NHL back in a time when there’s very little hockey out on the west coast?
Mike Lange: I went to Sacramento State College and while I was there, I worked at KERS radio, it was a college radio station broadcasting football, basketball and baseball. When I was there, I met a gentleman who was also a broadcast major. His name was Len Shapiro, he was involved with the California Golden Seals at one time, was going to school. He invited me out to see the Sacramento Ice Hockey Association. I said to him “I don’t know one thing about hockey. I don’t know a red line from a blue line. I don’t know if I really wanna go.” and he said “You never know, someday you might be involved in hockey”.
So he convinced me and I went out and, it was my junior year, I worked the penalty box there and the way I got involved in some broadcasting was the fact was that was a unique place. They would have the league and draw about 400 people per game and the PA announcer was the play-by-play announcer in the building as the game went on. Now, that was not me the first year, it was a gentleman who was from Canada. While I worked the penalty box, he worked the small booth and did a descriptive thing of what was happening and naming all the players as the game went along.
That year ended and he wanted more money the second year to come back. He wanted ten dollars and the ice hockey association didn’t have ten dollars a game, they were willing to pay him five again. So he quit, and they asked me if I wanted to do it. For a college kid, five dollars, that was a pizza and beer. I’ll take it, and I did [laughs].
It gave me some great experience, working that, and the same year the college radio station allowed us to broadcast the playoff games and I kept the tapes. From there it kind of led down the line, I sent out tapes for predominately baseball and other sports, but hockey of course was on my list. The only strong feeler I thought I might’ve had a chance was in Phoenix, Arizona but there were no jobs available that time. So I just packed my bags and I moved to Phoenix.
I found a place to live and I walked to the Phoenix Roadrunners office almost daily and knocked on that door, and lo and behold, finally after five to six months, they asked me to come in and replace a gentleman who’d left, working the public relations and also as the color broadcaster with a gentleman by the name of Al McCoy who is still actively broadcasting with the Phoenix Suns of the NBA. So that’s how it all came about. I worked two years there and then I went to San Diego and then I eventually came to Pittsburgh in 1974.
PtM: You’ve been around the Penguins for the rise of Lemieux and the rise of Crosby, which have both carried the franchise out of times of great struggle. Without stating the obvious of Lemieux eventually buying the team, has Lemieux or Crosby had a greater effect on the team on the ice?
ML: I think the book is out still early on Crosby, he’s played four years in the National Hockey League. Lemieux’s career, of course, very storied. They’re both tremendous hockey players. Mario is probably the most gifted, natural offensive player that I have ever seen play the game, maybe with the exception of Bobby Orr. That includes Gretzky too, and these are all great players in their own right. But Mario certainly had every tool in the toolbox.
Crosby, he’s a little different type of player. I think his leadership qualities are really his strongest suit. He has had a determination from the time he came into the league to be the very best, and he hasn’t disappointed anybody. So I think that they both have a great effect on their teams. Mario certainly raised the levels of players around him. Crosby, I think, is a little bit early to make a determination if he has had that much of an effect as Mario did on others, but, just his presence and being around a hockey club and his determination. I would have to say, yeah, it does have an effect on the team from his being the captain, all the way down.
PtM: You’re obviously very popular around the hockey world for your various catchphrases after goals. How did those start?
ML: It started when I was very young and wanting to know what I wanted to do and I determined that an early age of nine years. I listened to a lot of broadcasters. Probably the most influential one when I was that young was Bill King, who was a broadcaster for the San Francisco Warriors of the NBA, and also the Oakland Raiders. He used a couple of catch phrases and I determined in my mind that, if I ever got into broadcasting, that I would follow suit and then maybe add a few more.
It just had such a great ring to it. A way to present the game, you could follow the emotional part of it, build the whole thing up and then you can kind of finish it and put an exclamation point on it. That’s pretty much how that started. I started using them fairly early when I did games in Phoenix, and I had a good mentor in Al McCoy who also was a guy who used some phrases. I carried it through to San Diego when I went to the Gulls from Phoenix, and then on to Pittsburgh. When I came to Pittsburgh, it’s like the man upstairs said “I gotta send ‘ya here, because this is where all the crazies are”. If you look up on the internet, you’ll see Rosie Rosewell, Bob Prince (baseball legends), Myron Cope. Learn a little bit about those guys, you’ll know why I was put in Pittsburgh [laughs].
So that’s how it pretty much came about. The catch phrases are something that people really have given me over the years. They’ve handed them to me on the street, they send them to me. I used to have a big shoebox, now it’s somewhat dispersed on computer, the ones that I do keep under consideration. That’s how they all came about.
PtM: Now Randy Moller has become popular as well for doing something similar, although using more modern pop culture sayings. What do you think of what he’s doing?
ML: I think it’s fantastic. I don’t like those robotic broadcasters. I love guys that are a bit different. It’s an amazing story for Randy Moller. Here’s a player, a man who played the game in the National Hockey League, has now become a broadcaster. Yeah, I don’t think there’s any question, he’d love to work and be a better broadcaster, and develop his skills. But the one thing he has going for him, he’s got a passion to do so, and I think he will become a much better broadcaster, just by the experience that he’ll have and doing games. I think it’s great for Randy Moller and I think it’s great for hockey and it’s great for the Florida Panthers.
PtM: In 1992, you said your famous “Lord Stanley, Lord Stanley, bring home the brandy” and this year you said “Lord Stanley, scratch their names on your fabled Cup”. While some of the things after goals may be spontaneous, were those planned out at all?
ML: Well, yes, it was planned out in a way that I searched for different things that I thought would be appropriate at that moment. I did not really know exactly what I was going to say pinpoint, right to the last word until the end of the game in both instances. One of the problems you have is in both those games, they ended so quickly and so close and so on the line at the very last second, that you had to make sure that the game was over.
So, it was kind of a stumbling experience to get into it and then, realize watching the goaltenders in both instances telling you basically that you’ve won the Stanley Cup, and then you can proceed to what you wanna say after. That critical moment is tough to judge, because you’ve got the possibility of the puck going in, you’ve got the possibility of the play being called dead and you don’t wanna be too early. You have to watch the clock, watch the play, watch the players and that’s how it came about.
I’d be lying to you if I said that I hadn’t thought of those words, but it was just a matter of putting them all together and making the final say what I wanted.
(Ed. Note: Stay tuned for Part 2, tomorrow at this very same time. We’ll talk about Penguins fans, his future in Pittsburgh, and an extremely bizarre night in Winnipeg. We hope you’ll be along for the ride.)