Jack Edwards, America’s most pleasantly maniacal play-by-play announcer, is a good neighbor. Introducing himself to a family that recently moved in next door, he suggested they buy earplugs, since the NHL playoffs were about to begin. Everybody laughed. But Edwards, whose employer, New England Sports Network, stops airing Bruins games after the first round of the playoffs, was serious. “When there’s a big Bruins goal, people think something’s going on,” he said. “Like there’s a murder happening or something.”
That Edwards emits terrifying noises during games he’s not even calling shouldn’t surprise hockey fans. As the local television voice of the Boston Bruins, he’s become known nationally for his profoundly theatrical on-air persona. Each emotional burst seemingly tops the last.
For example: on Friday, two days after Bruin Gregory Campbell played a shift with a broken leg in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals, Edwards took to the airwaves and, in a four-minute soliloquy delivered on Boston sports radio station WEEI, compared the injured center to both the Allied forces on D-Day and Richard Donahue, the Boston transit officer shot during the manhunt for the Marathon bombing suspects.
Sports Illustrated then ran an item called “Jacked Up,” in which Richard Deitsch analyzed a few of Edwards’ most hyperbolic calls. One that made the list was from the 2002 World Cup. After the United States beat Portugal in the group stage, Edwards, who at the time was at ESPN, recited the opening line of the Battle Hymn of the Republic.
“I’m not going to go down as a white bread, vanilla and glass of water guy,” said Edwards. (NESN sent him to Chicago to cover the first two games of the Stanley Cup finals, but he won’t be in the booth.) “That’s not who I am. That’s OK, because there are a lot of people who can do that and make a really good living at it.
“When I turn on the television I’m not looking for Roger Mudd’s careful dissection of the strategy in Southeast Asia in the 1960s. I am looking for entertainment and excitement. That’s why I watch sports. I want to come out of my chair.” (Roger Mudd is an august news broadcaster who most recently worked for the History Channel.)
At an early age, Edwards, whose parents were professors at the University of New Hampshire, learned the value of a good performance. His father John, a theater director, taught drama, and his mother Ruth, a pianist, taught music. While soccer was his love — he ended up playing at UNH — Edwards did once give acting a shot. “I’m sure this will delight Montreal Canadiens fans to know that I was Macduff’s son in my father’s production of Macbeth, and I was murdered eight times,” he said. “I was 10.”
Why might Canadiens fans dislike him? Oh, maybe because he compared the Bruins’ victory over their team to the triumph of reason and freedom over tyranny and backwardness.
He says his parents’ occupations begat his style. “To be raised in that environment instilled in me the willingness to be different,” he said, “and also, I don’t know if it’s a fearlessness of failure, but it gave you the courage to try things you may know may not have a high percentage of success.”
On April 20, he decided to try comparing Penguins goon Matt Cooke to Robert F. Kennedy assassin Sirhan Sirhan.
Pittsburgh general manager Ray Shero allegedly confronted Edwards about the comment, and the announcer later apologized.
When I asked him to revisit what he thought were a few of his most ill-advised calls, he quoted Jackson Browne. “Don’t confront me with my failures / I had not forgotten them,” he said, repeating a line from “These Days.” “I think anybody who is in a performance medium — and that’s what play-by-play is, a performance medium — if you’re around long enough, you make bad mistakes. I try to recognize my mistakes as quickly and accurately as I can. Acknowledge them fully, take complete accountability for them, and move on. That’s what I do. I don’t go back over where I screw up.
“If you let the ghosts haunt you,” he added, “it will reduce your creativity.” In other words, as Lady Macbeth said, “what’s done cannot be undone.”
The good news for Edwards is that the same goes for his best calls, which also won’t be forgotten any time soon. When Bruins center Patrice Bergeron scored in overtime of Game 7 of the Bruins’ first-round series against the Maple Leafs, Edwards made his adrenalized call, which involved the phrase “kill the beast,” while gesticulating emphatically. Since it was posted on May 14, the booth video from that moment has been viewed more than 250,000 times.
One of his favorite — and by his standards, more traditional — calls came during Game 6 of the 2008 Eastern Conference quarterfinals after Phil Kessel scored to give Boston a 4-3 lead late in the third period. It’s a good mix of excited narration with silence that lets viewers get a sense of what the moment is like in the arena. (One of Edwards’ lines — “This building is vibrating!” — is, he says, a tribute to former Bruins radio announcer Bob Wilson, who made a similar call in the late ’70s.)
Edwards claims to be at peace with the fact that won’t be in the broadcast booth for the Stanley Cup Finals (they’re airing on NBC and NBC Sports Network), but I don’t believe him. In an ideal world, he admitted, viewers would have the option of getting local commentary. Edwards thinks that if people want to pay a few extra bucks to hear him and his partner Andy Brickley, they should be given that option.
“A single feed, with NBC’s ads, and augment it with the play-by-play and color commentary and descriptions with the two combatants’ [announcing] teams…Are you telling me that Comcast can’t pull that off? I beg to differ. It’s the most gigantic media conglomerate in the history of mankind.” And then, Edwards stopped. “I do digress,” he said. “Anyway.”
This would be an appropriate arrangement, as Edwards is the definition of a homer, but realizes that his style doesn’t have universal appeal. And if you think he doesn’t have a way of expressing that opinion that touches on the last several hundred years of world history, you haven’t been reading the rest of this article.
“I don’t want the world cheering for the Boston Bruins,” he said. “This isn’t communist Russia. I don’t want people in lockstep here. It’s arguments that stir the pot. It’s the exchange of ideas that made America the greatest country in the world.”
Alan Siegel is a writer in Washington, D.C. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.