Puck the Media’s Interview with Jack Edwards, Part 2: On Andy Brickley, Influences and Why People Need to Lighten Up About Their Hockey-Watching
April 7, 2009 11 Comments
So now we’ll move on to Part 2 of our conversation with NESN/VERSUS play-by-play man Jack Edwards. It’s a little bit more lighthearted in tone in the second half, which is why I wanted to split. We became more comfortable with each other, and at the end of the conversation, he was cordial and offered to let me ring him up on his phone number at any time. I don’t know if I’ll ever speak to Jack Edwards again, but no, you can’t have his number.
If you haven’t read Part 1 yet, what’s wrong with you? Read it!
Anyway, we wrap things up talking about some of his more recent work, after the jump…
PTM: Coming out of the lockout, you started doing the road Bruins games (for NESN). How did you get into that?
JE: I was about to sign a new deal with HDNet. I had worked for HDNet the season before the lockout, and I think I did 62 games for them, and I was all set to do another year with them, but we were kind of at loggerheads, disagreeing over a couple of key issues. I picked up my morning paper, after years of pleading with the Boston Globe to deliver to Northern Connecticut where I live.
I picked up the morning paper at the top of the driveway, flipped to the sports section, and I saw that Dave Shea (former Bruins road play-by-play man) was going to sign full-time with the Washington Nationals, and that the road job was open, and NESN was soon going to fill it. So I called everybody I knew in the Bruins organization, and I called the people at NESN, and I said “Is it too late? Do I have a shot?” and they said “No, it’s not too late. Yes, you have a shot, but don’t dilly dally.” So, I fired off a DVD and resume and the rest is history.
PTM: Actually, you mentioned HDNet, and I want to go back to that for a second. Calling HDNet, you got to try different things with the broadcast. How much funs what that to just go around the league and call 60 games that year?
JE: It was really fun, I think we had a bad schedule. I think they scheduled more on the basis of where they could get their trucks, because they own their own trucks and they do every game out of their own trucks. I think they did out of the convenience of logistics more than what the best games were. I also suggested pretty strongly that they get off of Friday nights. The Original Six, and the real powerhouse teams in the NHL usually play Thursday/Saturday.
Because of that, for instance, that entire season we didn’t see the Red Wings once. That’s just criminal. If you’re gonna cover the NHL, you’re gonna have the strongest franchise in the sport. Great crowds, and when the Red Wings are on the road half the crowd is wearing red and white. You gotta’ serve that audience because there’s a big appetite for it.
Given all that, we tried a lot of different things. It was kind of like an experimental lab. We knew we had a miniscule audience. We knew we had a beautiful picture. We had very dedicated hockey people working on it, so it was a lot of fun.
PTM: Alright, and now in [I thought it was 06-07, it was actually 07-08. What an idiot I am], they wanted someone to do the full-time gig for the Bruins and they picked you, right?
JE: Yeah, I think they realized that they had two guys missing half the story. You know, you just can’t have two play-by-play operations like that. Last year, my first full year with the Bruins, I was more than twice as exposed to the team by being with them twice as much. When you are with the team every single day, you start to become much more sensitive to the individual rhythms of players and the flow of the team. You simply cannot get a grasp of it, no matter how hard you’re working at it, you simply cannot get a grasp if you’re only calling half the games.
I think they consolidated, they made a good move. You know, the crappy thing about it is that one of us had to lose this job, and the guy who lost his job was Dale Arnold, who’s a good guy and a really solid broadcaster and I felt bad for him then, I feel bad for him now. Dale’s doing just fine, he’s covering Red Sox games and he’s got a terrific radio talk show that he’s always had in Boston, which was the original reason he was doing half the games, the travel because he had the talk show every morning in Boston.
PTM: When I first heard you calling games, you reminded me sort of the tone of Chris Cuthbert with the phrasings of Doc Emrick or another older announcer. Who are your influences and what kind of original spin are you trying to put on how you call a game?
JE: It’s kinda’ funny how it’s taken on a life of it’s own, but I don’t set out to do anything original. I just try to be true to my heart. It’s funny how people attempt to read my mind and say “Oh, he’s doing this because of such and such” or attaching motivations to it. I’m trying to describe the game in a way that you’re gonna’ remember it, and I’m trying to describe the game in a way that I think is most accurate.
People are free to disagree with that, but, honestly, I have borrowed and stolen more from Bob Wilson than anybody else, and I would say that 60-70% of my terminology exists because if you go back and just listen to a Bob Wilson play-by-play call from the mid- and late 1970’s, I would say way more than half of what I refer to is right out of Bob’s original vocabulary. I’ve never tried to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes about that. He’s been, by a significant margin, the most profound influence on my play-by-play style. That said, I don’t sound anything like him. I don’t have the voice that he had, and I try to do some other things differently because that’s the way I see the game.
My goal is to generate a code and shorthand for certain things that happen on the ice. Once an audience gets familiar with the way I call a game, they understand that code, and I don’t have to go into four or five words when one will do it. I try to describe the game the way I see it, and if I can bring an entertainment value to people, that’s terrific, but I’m just trying to give ’em a feeling for what’s inside the arena.
PTM: [Clunky Transition] Well, speaking of entertainment value, there was this huge, huge hulabaloo in the online hockey community last week at that Philadelphia game where you did sort of the Vincent Price laugh after that Randy Jones hit. First of all, how did that come into your mind, and do you think people are making too much of it? I think it was just fun…
JE: Okay, first of all, everybody has a right to his opinion, and I enjoy strong opinions. What I don’t respect is people who call names and throw mud and don’t actually follow through and consider what the story really is.
If you go back and if you listen to the illegally posted, copyrighted material thats on YouTube [we both chuckle] I clearly refer to “the crowd wants a call for a hit from behind”. That is what was so hilarious. Because even before we knew that Patrice Bergeron had a broken neck on the 27th of October, 2007. Even before we knew what the result of the examination was. While he was still unconscious, the Flyers had issued a public relations release, and the Philadelphia media swallowed it whole, to the point that some columnist in Philadelphia actually wrote that Bergeron knew the hit was coming.
Funny, but I’ve talked to Patrice Bergeron dozens of times about that incident, and at no point does he say anything about any kind of knowledge that Randy Jones, who was skating straight at Bergeron’s back, who coiled as you can clearly see in the replay, Jones coils as he crosses the goal line and drives Bergeron 90 degrees straight into the dasher, hitting to hurt. Clearly evident that even the lenient Colin Campbell agreed and suspended Jones for the game.
The Philadelphia media swallowed the PR spin whole to the point that the Philadelphia fans now, in revisionist history, a lot of them think that hit by Jones was not a significant hit. That there was no problem with it, and that it was just the circumstance that resulted in Jones’ suspension. For that crowd to whine and moan after a perfectly legal shoulder-to-shoulder hit, that sent Jones in a non-threatening angle down behind the goal, not face first but sideways into the boards. For them to whine that there should be a hit from behind, frankly, was hilarious. Anybody who can’t connect those two dots, and see the humor in the crowd, not at the hit by Lucic but the crowd’s reaction, you’re distorting the story or have no sense of humor.
PTM: Well that’s what I appreciate about you. First of all, it’s really only funny because it’s about a Philadelphia crowd because, as a person from North Jersey I expect nothing less from their media and their fans but…
JE: That said, I love Philadelphia fans. I really do. I love Montreal fans, I love Rangers fans [ed. note: This is pre-Avery, mind you]. Those are the people that put the roof over my head. Those are the people that are so passionate about hockey that they lose their sanity at hockey games. Without them, who knows what I’d be doing. Those are the people who make this sport go. The point is: lighten up folks! I mean, you’re just dead wrong about that one, just dead wrong, and for them to plead for a call for Randy Jones’ benefit was just such a twist of karma that I actually found it hilarious.
PTM: I just think you have a lot of fun at the expense of people who take the game a little too seriously.
JE: Well, I agree with you and here’s the thing: I’ve laughed at myself before, I’ve made mistakes. If you can’t laugh at yourself, go get a job as a lawyer [we both laugh], you’ll find plenty of work. Even in a bad economy, people sue each other.
PTM: Just a couple more things. Working with Andy Brickley, a lot of people agree that he is one of the best analysts we have right now in the NHL…
JE: I’d correct you, you don’t have to say “One of”. There’s nobody in the league that explains the game so succinctly, with such good humor, and simultaneously does the thing that’s made John Madden a superstar which is: He talks to the super hardcore, extremely knowledgeable person at the same time he’s talking to the neophyte and doesn’t insult either one of them with the way he delivers his information. He’s a brilliant teacher. I have learned more about hockey from him than anyone with whom I’ve worked. We are all so lucky to see his work, and I cherish every minute that I get to work with that guy. He is the greatest there is, and I say that without any intention of insulting anyone else. It’s just a fact, it’s just that Brick is better than anybody else at doing what he does.
PTM: I’ve always sort of admired the Boston Bruins, I’m a Devils fan, but I’ve always admired the Boston Bruins cause my dad always loved Phil Esposito. I’ve always looked throughout their history and, even up till now, there seems to be a swagger, a personality to being a Boston Bruin. You see Cam Neely show up on [“Rescue Me”] and I half expect Milan Lucic to show up on the next season. What do you think the personality of a Boston Bruin is.
JE: I think the heritage of this team, you know they are very, very proud of their work ethic. Although Boston is a town that loves to say they have more college graduates and people with advanced degrees per capita in greater Boston than anywhere on the planet, and that’s true. A lot of those people are Bruins fans, but really the true Bruins fans, the people that bleed black and gold are people who usually still sweat at work. There is a real important element to this team honoring those fans with their hard work and their intelligence.
You know, “Good Will Hunting” is one of my favorite films ever. It explains that you don’t have to have to have a lot of shingles on the wall to be really, really smart. I think that that’s Bruins fans are. Bruins fans are really smart people, especially in terms of what they value and what’s really important. The number one thing that’s really important to them is that their team uses intelligence, and combines it with really, really hard work.
The Bruins, for all their rough and tough style and how hard they hit are one of the least-penalized teams in the NHL, even in this age of ticky-tack calls. That is so true to the heritage of this team, because even though they used to get in a lot of fights, they played straight-up, no cheap-shot, in-your-face hockey. There was not a lot of running around and tripping from behind, hitting from behind and stick fouls and the unethical stuff. I think that this team plays hard, they play clean, they play straight-up, in-your-face and they play as hard as they possibly can. I think that’s the most important thing about what it is to be a Boston Bruin. I think, if there’s a swagger, it comes from the knowledge that their doing a hard job pretty well and that the proof is in the standings.
PTM: Finally [ed. note: Right? We’re pushing 2500 word just on part two here! Thankfully he was just as gracious at this last question as he was at numero uno] we mentioned at the start, you’ve done tons of stuff throughout a couple decades. Are you doing what you wanna do for the rest of your life? Is this it?
JE: Well, like hockey coaches, play-by-play guys get fired. [While chuckling] I’m sure there’s a lot of people out there that have their resumes ready and a lot of people who will enjoy finding out when I do, but I love this job. I have loved almost every job that I’ve had, but I’m having more fun right now professionally, than I’ve ever had in my career. It’s the team that I’ve loved the most as a child. It is the sport that I’ve loved the most, the sport that excites me the most, it is the sport that fascinates me the most.
To have been with this team at this time, when they’ve gone from basically an expansion franchise coming out of the lockout, to the top team in the Eastern Conference, that has been immensely rewarding and really a pleasure professionally and personally.