Pat Foley signs off the air and into legend
By Maureen Callahan
Hockey in Chicago will never be the same again. On April 14, 2022, the mic belonging to Pat Foley, voice of the Chicago Blackhawks, went quiet and a chapter that spanned the majority of my life, closed. Before the game began, the hall-of-fame broadcaster stood on the ice with his extended family and mother, Mary, at his side. Addressing the crowd, Foley reiterated one of his hallmark phrases, “I’m the luckiest guy in the room.” Those of us who spent several nights a week with him during hockey season are lucky, too. He delivered a heartfelt farewell to the team, organization, and fans before heading up to the press box to call the last game of his nearly four-decade run with the Blackhawks. “I’ve always been there for you.” Foley told the fans. “You’ve always been there for me.” I doubt there was a dry eye in the Madhouse. My family held season tickets for three decades. The majority of those years, the team followed a Wednesday and Sunday home game schedule. Come what may, we were there. Game nights, unfinished homework was completed en route, first to the Chicago Stadium, then later the United Center.
“I always felt I worked for the fans. Helping people understand and get interested in the game was part of it.”
Spelling words and multiplication tables were memorized before passing the 70×40 foot illuminated Magikist lips on the Eisenhower at Cicero Avenue, dutifully landmarking the journey’s three-quarter mark. We always arrived early, dodging clouds of smoke and puddles of beer as we greeted our fan family in the mezzanine. When the florescent house lights went down, fans rose from worn, black and red tweed seats to accompany Wayne Messmer singing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” High above us, Foley was already at work in the press box, sizing up the warmups, ready to account every play for fans tuned in to WBBM radio. For the years before Hawks home games were televised- and for all away gamesfans trusted Foley for a play-by-play account of the action. And he delivered a vivid illustration, every time. Blackhawks President and CEO, John McDonough, accurately described him as “synonymous with Blackhawks hockey, with a voice that resonates loudly to our entire fan base.” A few weeks before his retirement, the legendary broadcaster sat down with me at former Coach Quenneville’s old stomping ground, York Tavern. He recounted a few memories of a wildly successful, three-thousand game career.
WHAT SPARKED YOUR INTEREST IN BROADCASTING?
I knew I wanted to be a sports broadcaster at ten years old. A sunny afternoon at Wrigley Field spent with then-Cubs broadcasters Jack Quinlan and Lou Boudreau planted that seed. My father, Bob Foley, owned a Buick dealership that sponsored the Cubs, hence the invitation to the radio booth that day. That led to my calling baseball and hockey games while attending Michigan State.
HOW DID YOU GET THE JOB WITH THE BLACKHAWKS?
My dad played a big role in it. The Hawks announcer had lost his voice, so they were looking for someone. Michael Wirtz, brother of then-Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz, regularly serviced his car at Foley Buick. One day on his way home from the dealership, Michael Wirtz found himself listening to a broadcast of me calling a Grand Rapids Owls game, a former Eastern Hockey League team. My dad had strategically placed the recording in Wirtz’s tape deck. Michael passed the tape on to his brother, Bill. He said ‘hey, there’s this kid from Glenview who might be okay.’ I had already secured a job with a minor league hockey club in Erie, PA, for that season. I was thrilled to end up with the Hawks instead! My dad really got me to the right place at the right time.
WHAT DID YOU LIKE MOST ABOUT THE JOB?
Calling the games. I always hoped people came away from my broadcasts not only having a good picture of the game, but maybe having learned something as well. Not everybody knows what ‘offsides’ means. I’m happy to pause and explain it. I always felt I worked for the fans. Helping people understand and get interested in the game was part of it.
WHAT WAS THE TOUGHEST PART OF THE JOB?
The schedule, definitely. I’ve been on the scene awhile. The players today have no idea of the hours hockey players used to keep. I flew with the team to away games on Friday nights. It was all commercial flights then, no charters. They played the game on Saturday, then stayed the night. We got on a 6 a.m. bus for the airport the next morning. Guys would go home and take a nap, then get up and come back down to the stadium to play home games on Sunday nights. It was crazy! And suffice it to say we didn’t exactly stay in five-star hotels back in the day! (Foley laughed)
WHAT WILL YOU MISS THE MOST?
There are a lot of things I’ll miss, along with the actual broadcasting of the games. There have been some great events, too. Bringing the (Stanley) Cup back to my grade school- Our Lady of Perpetual Help- in Glenview, after the 2013 win was a great day. The gym where the kids were gathered was so loud! The parade days after the Stanley Cup victories were amazing, too. I was the emcee of the celebration at Soldier Field after the 2015 parade. I’ll miss the relationships within the organization, too. I used to play a lot of golf with some of the players. We had some good times together. The hard part of that was when a player got traded. But there’s a lot of moving around in this game. You get used to that.
WOULD YOU HAVE CONSIDERED BROADCASTING OTHER SPORTS?
I was open to baseball, too. I had called games in college. Hockey was what worked out, though. I’m so glad it did! Chicago hockey will be different this season. We’re going to miss his iconic, enthusiastic, “he shoots, he scores!” and “Hawks win! Hawks win!” exclamations, that came to be his calling card. Two generations of Hawks fans are grateful Foley himself, shot and scored. My family always left the games halfway through the third period to beat the Madison Street parking lot rush and mounting traffic on the Eisenhower heading back to the western suburbs. About the time we were passing the illuminated Ferrara Pan Candy sign in Forest Park, Foley would be signing off a Hawks win, saying, “we hope you enjoyed the broadcast. We KNOW you enjoyed the outcome.” Yes. We did.