PTM Interview: Mike “Doc” Emrick, Part 1
September 12, 2011 1 Comment
When I started Puck the Media, the dream in my heart was (and still is) that one day I wanted to do what Mike Emrick does. I have a lot of heroes, but I know that his voice calling Devils games for so many years is what made me pursue this dream, and is probably the reason the site exists. Doc was kind enough to give me 40 minutes of his time last week (this is actually the second interview we’ve done, the first wasn’t usable because the other side of the story, that of the Fox network, needed to tell never was able to give me an interview) to discuss a ton of things, as he sat at home and played with his beloved dogs and listened to a Tigers game. You know from what everyone’s told you or mentioned in an interview, Doc is as genuine, thoughtful and kind as they come.
It is quite extensive, and I’ll split the interview into two parts, the second of which you’ll see tomorrow at this same time. For now, here’s part one, in which Doc discusses what has changed, what has stayed the same, and answers a question that he’s never been asked before.
Puck the Media: Was this a different summer for you, knowing that you had to prepare for all 30 times as much as you had to prepare for the Devils?
Mike Emrick: Yeah. I think the one thing about it is that you end up preparing for a lot of teams at the same time, because New Jersey played a lot of squads over the course of a season, and if I missed a game against Los Angeles or against Anaheim, the chances were pretty good that I was going to have prepare for them for VERSUS or NBC. It’s probably different in that you don’t burrow in as much to the Devils as I did in the past, though I’ve got a pretty good back log in my memory. But you still have to do the work every day to stay up on things. So, I’ll stay up on them as well as all the other teams, but equally now, rather than spending more time on them than the others.
PTM: Going back to the day you announced you were leaving, how difficult was that to accomplish?
ME: It was difficult in one respect: I’ve never not covered a whole team for a whole year in my 38 years, I’ve always been with one team or the other, following them around. The many things that happens from that is, as you’d expect, is that you develop professional relationships as well as fun times with guys either on the teams or guys on your crew. I think I mentioned earlier in another interview, during the last 18 years that I was there, both of my parents passed away, we had some significant tragedies with the canine members of our family, which, you know are members of our family. Not everybody sees it that way, but we do. And, invariably, when one of those things happened, the Devils were supportive, the fan club was supportive, the network was supportive. When you’re with a team constantly, and traveling with people on a regular basis, those are things that aren’t manufactured, they’re genuine because that’s how they feel and that’s how we feel about each other.
So that is one thing that I’ll miss, because you know with the network situation, you’re doing different teams every week, and you don’t establish really deep roots with one team that lead to circumstances like I just described. Probably that and the notion of that happening in the middle of the summer, when there was really no access that I had to the fan club or the fan population other than the route that I decided to go. Yeah, it was difficult, and there will times, I’m sure, that I will miss those guys and I’ll read a story about a Devils game and say “That must’ve been something, I wonder what Patrik Elias said after.” Those will be normal things that will come up in the course of my year, because of 18 consecutive years and 21 overall. It’s not likely that you walk away and you don’t think about those people anymore.
PTM: Do you know for sure whether you’ll be getting back to New Jersey this season?
ME: I would imagine that I will. Our schedule’s finalized for the first three months, but there aren’t any Devils home games in the first three months. I would anticipate that there will be in the second half of the season, because I see there are a couple of Devils home games blocked off in the second half. The law of averages is that I’m doing half the games that VERSUS does, that I’ll get at least one of them. But I don’t know for a fact that I am yet. I know there’s some games on the road that the Devils have, in the first three months of the season, so I’ll get to see them on the road a couple of times, but I don’t know about the home games yet because the only schedule that was sent out from VERSUS was the first three months.
PTM: Moving more towards VERSUS, you’ve done FOX and ESPN, going way back, and doing VERSUS the past few years. Do you look at doing VERSUS exclusively as a new challenge?
ME: No, I don’t think it’s any different in terms of the way you prepare and the way you deliver the game. I think that part is the same. The difference is the volume of games is greater with them. I was only doing 10 with them in the regular season, and 10 or 11 with NBC, depending on how many they wanted me to do. Now, that will be probably in the neighborhood of 50, with the combined networks (NBC and VERSUS). A lot of the production people will be the same. The only thing different will be the volume of games for them, as opposed to having a lot of those games with MSG Network.
PTM: A reader submitted this question: Is there a moment in hockey history that you were at that you wished you’d been at?
ME: Boy, I don’t know. It’s a real intriguing question. I’ve never been asked that before. Let’s see, I think it would’ve been fun, because radio existed in 1936, I think that was the year that Mud Bruneteau scored the six-overtime winner for Detroit against Montreal. That would’ve been kind of fun to see, and I imagine that those nine periods would have gone faster than maybe six periods would have in the [modern-day] NHL. There weren’t commercial timeouts, and I don’t think they were very good about flooding the ice every intermission. I have a feeling that game was probably played a little quicker with nine periods of hockey in the playoffs than a triple-overtime game would in the modern era. That would have been fascinating.
I think it would’ve been a lot of fun to have been [CBS broadcaster] Bud Palmer at Squaw Valley when the U.S. won the game against the Czechs on the final day of the Olympics in ’60. Obviously, I’m envious of Al Michaels having been in Lake Placid, that would have been a lot of fun, but I was also glad that I could watch those events, although the ABC game was not live. I was in Halifax with the Maine Mariners at the time. We played a game that night in Halifax. I didn’t even see the Canadian telecast of the Soviet Union-U.S. game, which I believe was live. We just learned after our game was over that the United States had won.
I’m sort of all over the map here, because I’ve never really given it thought. The question was about an event that I didn’t get to do that I’d have liked to. I imagine there are quite a few of them. It would have been fun to have called some of Bobby Orr’s games, but I was still in the minors when Bobby retired so I never got to call a game that he actually played in. That would have probably been fun. I did get to see Gordie Howe play in his final season. I was not calling games at that time in the NHL. I guess the answer is there are probably a lot of them when I think about it now, but I’m really glad that I was lucky to see as many as I was able to call.
PTM: What’s different about doing the game on television? What do you notice that’s different about just broadcasting the game?
ME: I think the fact that we’ve gone through one whole generation of arenas. When I came in in 1980, and I don’t want this to sound like complaining, but our position in these arenas is so much different than when I began in 1980 doing television. In Hartford, we were on the last row of the lower bowl, and within two years we were in the rafters where, as Gene Hart – the legendary Flyers telecaster – said, “We’re so high, that Lon Chaney is in the next booth waiting to cut the cord on the chandelier on The Phantom of the Opera [laughs]. I thought that was a priceless line.
In a lot of these arenas, either the arena turned over and the new location was way up and way back, or we were in places like Chicago Stadium or the Aud in Buffalo, where you hung from a balcony and your proximity to the ice. The old Coliseum in Quebec, the same thing. In terms of just the actual nuts and bolts of televising, we tend to be – in the United States – way up and way back, because when this new generation of arenas was built, in the early part of the 1990’s but more toward the middle part of the 1990’s, they tended to copy each other. You would have these pilgrimages of guys that would go around and look at the new arenas that were built, because they were about to build one themselves. It seemed like, for that reason, the location in Buffalo became like the location in Tampa, which became like the location in Florida, which became like the location in Philadelphia, which became like the location in every other place.
A real spoiler was New Jersey, because when Prudential Center was created, we were really spoiled. I don’t know if you ever at our location in the Meadowlands [Editor’s Note: Emrick and Glenn “Chico” Resch (as well as the road TV crew) were located in an open booth at the Meadowlands Arena that essentially made up the front row of the upper bowl, right at center ice. It is now left vacant in the arena’s current structure, though now that the Nets have left, everything is pretty much vacant there.] , but that was going to be hard to beat.
Fortunately, Lou Lamoriello agreed with Roland Dratch, our producer, that if we were going to have the rights until 2023, and we were going into a new place, we should have a location that we wanted. Roland wanted me and Chico to be down. We have access to the fans, though it’s not open access. It was at the Meadowlands where anyone could come and see us, but there’s still a lot of fans that can, if they have seats there. The important thing is, in proximity to the ice, we’re only 20 rows from the glass, and that enables you to see so much. Many of the visiting teams come in and they wear white, and a lot of times the sleeve numbers are not very clear if you are way up and way back, as you are in Anaheim and Dallas and a lot of those places.
I think the main difference is that, in Canada, we’ve had a turnover of arenas as well, but they still follow the philosophy of Foster Hewitt, who went to Eaton’s Department Store in the atrium in all the different floors, and pretended to call a game in the 1930’s, and went back to the new building in Maple Leaf Gardens and told them how far back and how high he wanted to be to broadcast the games. Ever since then, almost every Canadian rink that you find is designed with that Foster Hewitt blueprint in mind. We tend to find those spaces outside of Prudential Center that are way up and way back.
As we’ve turned over Chicago Stadium and the Aud and all those places, I mention Boston Garden, where you were so close you could hear the punches land when there were fights on the ice. We are now way up and way back everywhere. I said that, not to complain, it has made it more of a challenge to do the job. But I said that just as a fact of how things have evolved, from old arenas to the new ones in the United States.
Stay tuned for part two tomorrow, where Doc discusses his expectations for this season, and having to bring up some of the sports more tragic moments.