13 January 2014

For all you young broadcasters out there.

Maybe it was the flow of the game. Maybe it was a breaking point brought about through repetition. Maybe it was the social media hivemind, with so many pointing out the same aggravations. Whatever it was, this much I know:

I am past the point of tolerance when it comes to Pat Foley and Eddie Olczyk.

Sunday night's game was a fairly exciting, albeit occasionally-frustrating one, as the Hawks took down the owner of the league's worst headshot and the rest of the Oilers, 5-3. But watching at home, the game was a far more aggravating experience than it had a right to be, because I had to spend it listening to two yahoos yapping their way through the entire evening. I can understand a television production's attempts to "bring the experience of being at the game into the home"; however, that experience should not be one of sitting directly in front of the two loudest, drunkest, most oblivious boors in the 300 level. I'm surprised a beer didn't fall on my head at some point during the evening.

Anyway, you've watched enough local Blackhawks telecasts. You know what to expect. You can probably go right down the checklist with me, every single game, and tack on a few of your own as you go:

- "For all you young hockey players out there"
- "Keep your stick on the ice" (Note: may fulfill obscure CanCon requirement)
- Eddie's big into horseracing, did you know that?
- "Stop it right here!"
- "Nye-un!" (as in, the number between ay-yutt and teh-unn)
- "One of those great (whatever time the game is starting) starts!"
- Pat and/or Eddie make special mention of the friends and/or family they got into the game tonight, usually with an accompanying camera shot; this overlapped with number 3 on the list recently, as Eddie took note of his handicapper from the track bringing his family out to a game. Yes, this actually happened.
- "I wanna give a shout-out..." (heard at least twice per period)
- If a home game, Eddie gets inexplicably over-the-moon at the sight of someone eating soft-serve ice cream
- "Eeeeeee-mediately..."
- "Tree-turty-tree left in the turd." (This is why Foley's endorsement deal for a high-fiber cereal fell through.)

I imagine that Pat & Eddie fancy these as catchphrases - hallmarks of their broadcasts that people specifically listen for when watching games. (Never mind that these same people probably really wish Rob Schneider would come back on Saturday Night Live for his "Makin' copies" bit.) But Pat, as a professionally-trained broadcaster, should recognize them for what they are: crutches. They're lazy fallbacks used to fill the dead air in a faux-clever fashion while not doing anything that requires original thought or effort. Every broadcaster has them, to some extent. Most have the sense to not accentuate them, though.

Lately, though, the trite sayings have been accompanied at an increasing rate by something far worse: a steady stream of bad hockey analysis. This counter-intellectual crap threatens to become the standard mode of banter on Blackhawks broadcast at the rate things are going. This season, Foley's developed a borderline-unhealthy fixation on hits, to the point where he's seemingly mentioning them more than any other statistic in the game. Now, as countless people smarter than I have pointed out, hit totals are, at best, irrelevant as an indicator of a team's performance, other than how good a home team is at eliciting bursts of cheers. In fact, if a team is piling up the hit numbers, that probably means said team isn't spending much time possessing the puck. And yet, last night, there went Foley again, crediting the Hawks' first goal almost entirely to a borderline hit by Brandon Bollig. Later on, in an almost inconceivable stretch, Foley attributed Andrew Shaw's goal early in the 2nd to a hit he dished out in the first shift of the 1st period. Apparently, Pat regards body-to-body contact in a hockey game as some sort of time-release power pellet, gradually increasing a player's skill level over the course of the game until finding the net is a near-inevitability.

Thanks to @ChiStonecutter for the fine turn of phrase.
I was out Saturday night, so I can only imaging Pat's musings on the Kris Versteeg "fight" in Montreal, in which Steeger dropped his gloves, grabbed onto Brendan Gallagher's sweater, and spent the better part of a minute spiraling around the ice, asking "Oh jeez, what the hell do I do now?" That one probably laid a strong foundation of physicality that directly contributed to Marian Hossa's game-tying goal two periods later.

The steady increase in annoyances reminds me of another broadcast in town. I am, in theory at least, still a White Sox fan. But I can't tell you the last time I watched a local telecast of a Sox game, because Hawk Harrelson is just that atrocious. Of course, the Sox' recent play makes it easier to avoid their TV appearences, but I don't know that I could put up with that smug prick even if the Sox were on a 115-win pace. Granted, Foley's backward assessments are nowhere near the Hawkeroo's "Only I know what is important in the game" approach; but the valuing of scrap over skill does have a whiff of Harrelson's "The Will To Win" nonsense to it. With either, though, it's a similar problem: a game's announcers are supposed to, at bare minimum, not detract from the viewing of the sporting event. And in both of these cases, a presentation with only ambient crowd noise and on-screen graphics might be preferable to what we're getting. (If you'd like a sample of a broadcaster-free game, by the way, tune into a Sox game when they're down by 5 or more. You'll get at least a full inning.)

I want to note that the objections I'm raising here are specifically toward the combination of Pat & Eddie. When Eddie's off on national duty or following a hot tip in the 6th at Santa Anita, and Pat gets paired up with the anthropomorphic bag of Sominex that is Steve Konroyd, Foley returns to becoming a competent, listenable play-by-play man, if not the absolutely captivating one of days of old. Furthermore, when Olczyk clocks in for national duty, he is almost an entirely different broadcaster. He may not be the most insightful or thorough color man in the business, but he is competent, and almost entirely devoid of the insipid crutches listed above. You'll get the "Stop it right here!" during replays, but without the clownish lilt he affects during local broadcasts.

Plus, if you listen carefully, you'll catch on to the barely-concealed subtext of Eddie and Pierre McGuire being unable to stand the sound of each other. There have been times where it borders on uncomfortable, and it has made my evening.

But together, Pat and Eddie are an unlistenable mess far too often. Most of the grievances I've listed above will be met with tittering chuckles from the other member of the booth every single time they're uttered. Foley and Edzo are like a pair of third-grade boys who leave the teacher no choice but to seat them on opposite sides of the class, otherwise they'll never pay attention during lessons. They're good boys, Mrs. Olczyk, they just need to learn which types of behavior are appropriate for the classroom. And as much as we all joke about it, I don't think there's alcohol being consumed in the booth. It's a fun joke to play with, but I strongly doubt either Pat or Eddie is tipping back the Glenlivet during ad breaks. They're not drunk; they just have the tendency to get lazy and oblivious, and too interested in each other instead of the audience at large.

I wish I could provide a solution here, even a theoretical one that would never get implemented. However, this post is little more than a prolonged vent. We are living in the Golden Age of Blackhawks Hockey, a time of unprecedented on-ice success and popularity for the franchise. TV ratings are higher than ever; this is not a scenario in which a club decides to switch out its long-time broadcasters. No doubt, too, that everyone in the Hawks' front office, whether they were there for it or not, is aware of the blowback that happened when Foley got fired in 2006, and spent two seasons calling Wolves games (quite well) with Billy Gardner, at a time when Pat was one of the few positive recognizable aspects of the franchise. Short of Pat going full-Karpovtsev again, he's making the call for as long as he feels like doing it. Maybe, in a few years, Olczyk decides to go Mike Emrick's route, ditching the local gig to be on NBC's national coverage full-time. A change of partner (to Daryl Reaugh Daryl Reaugh Daryl Reaugh pleeeeeeease bring in Daryl Reaugh) could put Foley back on his A-game more often. That's a lot of "if"s, though, and realistically, nothing's going to change in the foreseeable future.

I know some of you have already decided to mute your TVs, grab your radios, and catch the audio from WGN instead. And it's worth noting that Blackhawks fans have that edge over White Sox fans; if we're willing to put up with the delay between radio and TV, we get the privilege of hearing John Wiedeman and Troy Murray call an extremely good game. It's just frustrating that, unless I go out of my way, I get to see some of the best hockey I've ever watched in my life presented in such a substandard fashion, by two broadcasters who demonstrate the ability to do better jobs otherwise.

Hey, what's Dan Kelly doing nowadays?

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