Announcers are the unsung heroes

This cartoon served as Mel Blanc’s obituary

On November 29, the sports world lost one of its most prolific public address announcers as David Courtney passed away. He had been the Kings PA man for 25 years in addition to his work with the LA Clippers. Courtney also served as the announcer of the Houston Rockets, Astros, Pac-10 basketball tournament, USC football, UCLA basketball, the USFL’s Gamblers, the Raiders, Lakers, Dodgers at various points in his career. For many people, several sports memories are tied to his voice.

It’s remarkable how something as simple as that voice filling in the atmosphere can add so much to a sporting event. Be it in a stadium, on the radio, on television or now, on a computer, that vocal interpretation of the events before us add a whole new layer of emotion in victory or defeat.

David Courtney didn’t wear a jersey or have linemates. He didn’t do post game pressers or pre game warmups. He did, however, finish his career as a Stanley Cup champion. A fitting accomplishment for a voice that impacted many, and one of many voices who have shaped our memories as fans.

Growing up in Toronto has many privileges for sports fans. A guaranteed winner is certainly not one of them, but those games — win or lose — are brought to you by some of the best vocal chords ever bestowed on human beings. My childhood came at a perfect time in some ways.

I can’t ballpark the number of times I’d stay awake, glued to my radio with time running out in a game well after I was sent to bed — West Coast road swings meant I’d be particularly tired at school the next day. In retrospect it was all worth it. My eardrums were very spoiled.

The Leafs had Dennis Beyak calling weekday games with Joe Bowen taking over when CBC had Toronto on TV. The Raptors became a franchise and had Mike Inglis on the air for three years before Chuck Swirsky took over. The Blue Jays had Tom Cheek and Jerry Howarth — a tandem I’m convinced will never be topped. My Sundays were occupied by Van Miller who handled play-by-play for the Buffalo Bills.

They were all magic, and a big reason why I grew to love sports as much as I do. Those voices drew me in and — many years later — still haven’t let me go.

Think of how many famous sports moments are defined not necessarily by what happened, but the calls which accompanied them. To invoke the men above, Tom Cheek’s “Touch ‘em all Joe” call as Joe Carter won the 1993 World Series for the Toronto Blue Jays is as iconic as the swing which compelled it. Joe Bowen’s call when the Leafs tied game six of the 2002 Eastern Conference Final still gives me chills.

On the PA nothing may ever top Andy Frost’s call of Mats Sundin’s 500th career goal.

“Toronto goal, scored shorthanded — His third of the game and 500th of his career — Scored by number 13, Mats Sundin.”

A magic moment punctuated by vocal excellence.

There are, no doubt, many sports memories — hockey in particular — you could personally tie to the words accompanying them. The best of the best do it with concision and grace, perfectly capturing the atmosphere and the importance without having to tell you that the crowd is going wild for that important moment.

In writing you are implored to show, not tell. You’d be hardpressed to convince me that announcing is much different. It’s live action writing, and there is no editing process. You get one shot and it better be your best.

Foster Hewitt’s legacy will be impossible to surpass. From his greeting to Canadians and hockey fans in the United States and Newfoundland, through his invention of “He shoots, he scores” he was a pioneer above all else. The reverence we as hockey fans have for him is — ironically enough — beyond words. He brought hockey into people’s homes before it was possible to see it unfold before us. He invented the tropes we invoke amongst ourselves when we provide the play by play for road hockey games.

His status as an immortal of the game underscores the importance of those voices. Even now, in a time where we can see a game on a screen the size of a wall in high definition, those voices still find a way to paint pictures beyond our vocabulary or comprehension. Millions of Canadians watched Paul Henderson’s goal in 1972, but it’s Hewitt’s cry of “HENDERSON” that inspires awe at the moment.

The players and coaches may bring about these events, but the voices of broadcasters and announcers turn these events into moments and memories. Ones which we never forget, no matter how far removed we become. They are poets in stadiums. They capture the essence of those defining seconds better than we ever could.

To quote Robert Frost, “Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.” Those voices unite the emotions we feel with thoughts and words better than we could ever hope and we carry them until the end of our days.

David Courtney’s lasting words to the Staples Center will be, “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Stanley Cup.”

In this game, that’s all folks.