July 21, 2011
To become "the voice" of a given sports team, an announcer needs two basic attributes: Longevity, wherein his golden tones are synonymous with decades of magic and tragic moments for a franchise; and ability, wherein fans appreciate and celebrate what he brings to even the most pedestrian regular-season game.
Mike "Doc" Emrick was the voice of the New Jersey Devils. On Thursday, he announced that their voice will change for the first time in 18 years.
Through a letter to the fans on the New Jersey Devils' website, Emrick announced he was leaving MSG Network to work exclusively with NBC Sports, both on broadcast and cable.
The reason? A lighter workload, said the soon-to-be-65-year-old Emrick:
"I've been extremely fortunate to have been able to spend 23 incredible years with the MSG Network channels and 21 equally enjoyable years--including 3 Stanley Cup championships--with the New Jersey Devils. However, considering the long-term significance of this decision, I was able to construct a lighter regular season-schedule and the usual complement of Stanley Cup Playoffs and Stanley Cup Final games for NBC and VERSUS.
"But that assurance of less travel and fewer games has regrettably led me to end my association with the MSG Network channels and the Devils. The people at both of these organizations have been incredibly loyal to me and have been very patient waiting until mid-summer for me to reach this decision. Both have also provided me only positive memories, support, and encouragement over these many seasons."
From the broadcast booth to the bathroom at the Meadowlands, Emrick had an impact on this Devils fan.
I'm a 34-year-old NJD fan. My first significant memories of the team don't have Doc Emrick calling the games — they're of Gary Thorne, describing the maturation of a "Mickey Mouse" franchise into a perennial playoff team.
Thorne was like the high school teacher you admired; Emrick was like the college professor who inspired you.
Nearly every highlight, moment and memory of the New Jersey Devils' decade-long run of success from 1994-2003 — three Stanley Cups, four conference titles and nearly a fifth in '94 — was described by Doc Emrick.
You say the words "save Brodeur!", and you realize it's Emrick saying them.
You realize that the cadence in his voice — building offensive chances into a frenzy before deflating the energy when the puck is covered — is part of the reason your ass has levitated off the seat during a goal-mouth scramble.
You remember that the first time the words "the championship to New Jersey — the Devils win the Stanley Cup" were uttered, they were from Emrick's pipes.
My father met Emrick before Game 4 of the Devils' Cup Final in 1995 against the Detroit Red Wings.
At the Meadowlands. In the bathroom. At the urinals.
They conversed at the sink before walking out of the restroom, my father introducing Emrick to me and then having Doc sign our game program. I always figured another announcer may have called security on this stalking weirdo. But that wasn't Doc.
Emrick was, like any great local announcer, comfort food. There's a Pavlovian response to hearing a long-tenured voice greeting you at the start of a broadcast, and hearing Emrick's folksy "hi everyone" (like he opened the studio door and was surprised to have a visitor) was always a signal to settle in and enjoy some hockey (as much as that enjoyment was hindered by the Devils' defensive dogma during Emrick's tenure).
His partnership with Chico Resch was everything great and grating about homer-iffic local announcing teams. Emrick's professorial opinions on the game balanced Resch's bleeding Devils red over every controversy; yet there were also too many times the broadcast would veer off into tangents on Chico's dietary preferences.
Not to get too cute, but it made the pairing an acquired taste.
Let's not kid ourselves: Emrick's an acquired taste, too. I think he's a dynamic play-by-play voice on a national level, but I've read plenty of opinions on this very blog to the contrary — those who find his shtick stale or his singsong description of the action detracting from the coverage.
But locally, he was a treasure. And an icon. And an essential part of the Devils fan experience.
Without Doc Emrick, shots on the Devils power play will simply be drives — not BIG DRIVES!