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Blackhawks voice Pat Foley will depart as best announcer in Chicago sports history

My favorite mix tape doesn’t include any artists, at least not musical ones. It contains Blackhawks radio highlights, 8 minutes and 47 seconds of bliss. Providing the vocals is Pat Foley.

6-16-08, United Center, Chicago New Blackhawks announcer Pat Foley during a press conference to announce his rehiring. [Keith Hale/Sun-Times]
Pat Foley is introduced at the news conference to announce his rehiring in 2008.
Sun-Times

During the era of dual-cassette stereos, I became adept at dubbing. I made mix tapes of songs from music cassettes and the radio. I couldn’t download songs from Spotify. I had to record an hour of Z-95 and hope the DJ played the ones I liked.

But my favorite mix tape doesn’t include any artists, at least not musical ones. It contains Blackhawks radio highlights — 8 minutes and 47 seconds of bliss. Providing the vocals is Pat Foley.

With the help of the website Hockey-Reference.com, I traced the highlights to the seasons from 1988 to ’90. Foley became the Hawks’ voice in 1980, and I began listening a few years later. Once I did, I didn’t stop. Before I fell asleep on game nights, the last person I heard wasn’t my mom or dad — it was Foley.

Like a mix of my favorite songs, I needed a mix of my favorite voice. So I would record snippets of home games off the radio and pray for three sounds: Foley yelling “He scores,” the crowd erupting and the goal horn blaring.

When the Hawks announced Wednesday that next season will be Foley’s last with the team, I was glad I had kept the tape intact. It’s already a technological relic, and it’s soon to be an audial one.

I don’t have any data to support this statement, which, in the age of analytics, might disqualify it from your consideration. It’s based solely on what my ears and mostly working brain have deciphered from listening to countless Chicago sports broadcasts in the last 40 years:

Of all the announcers whose voices have echoed through this city, Foley is the best. Full stop.

No, I never heard Bob Elson, Lloyd Pettit or Jack Quinlan live — another fault line in my statement. And, yes, I didn’t include Foley in my Mount Rushmore of Chicago TV sports broadcasters three years ago. On it were Jack Brickhouse, Harry Caray, Hawk Harrelson and Pettit. The first three transcended sports, and Foley holds such reverence for Pettit, a Blackhawks predecessor, that I deferred to Foley.

But from a purely announcing perspective, I’m confident that none of them could call their games better than Foley calls his.

Words sound as though they’re rolling off Foley’s tongue, which is impressive, given the speed of hockey. And he uses words so well. I was lucky to be recording on Jan. 3, 1990, when Denis Savard scored a highlight-reel goal against the Oilers that sent Foley and the Chicago Stadium crowd into euphoria:

“Savard back in over the line, dancing around a check, right in, he scores! Denis Savard, as only he can do it! ‘Savoir-Faire’ turned the defenseman inside-out. Made him look like a turnstile. He walked through him, and in on [Bill] Ranford he buried it.”

When the Hawks announced Wednesday that next season will be Foley’s last with the team, I was glad I had kept the tape intact. It’s already a technological relic, and it’s soon to be an audial one.

And this goal from April 8, 1989, in a Norris Division semifinal series against the Red Wings and goalie Glen Hanlon.

“Here’s Troy Murray in on right wing over the line, shooting, he scores! Troy Murray, from the blue line, right between the pearly gates!”

Other goals on the tape aren’t as poetic, but they have the same excitement. And that’s what Foley brings to broadcasts in abundance. His voice rises as the Hawks mount a rush, grabbing your attention. If a shot just misses, you can tell without seeing it when he emphasizes “HE missed the far post.”

If a shot finds the net, Foley finds another octave, though that has become much harder in his later years. He’s not yelling “Bannerman!” anymore like he did when goalie Murray Bannerman stopped a breakaway by the North Stars’ Keith Acton on April 30, 1985, in the Norris finals.

Foley is authentic. He feels what the fans feel, whether it’s jubilation or frustration. His rant during a game on March 11, 2004, about former Blackhawk Alexander Karpovtsev, in which he bid “good riddance” to the traded defenseman and called him “a disgrace to the uniform,” deserved an Emmy.

He calls fights like a ringside announcer — not that I’m condoning fighting in hockey . . . OK, I am. He’s a wonderful storyteller, and he has been able to tell more stories since moving to TV, where he isn’t as beholden to the action. But he still calls it with great description, as though he were still on radio.

Granted, his words have come back to bite him a few times, but those instances have been few and far between. I have no doubt he could continue calling games at a high level. He certainly did this season, despite the challenges brought on by the pandemic.

The last time Foley wasn’t in the Hawks’ TV booth was from 2006 to ’08, the two seasons he called Wolves games while in exile. Dan Kelly took over, and it did not go well. Kelly was replacing an icon who was gone too soon, and he didn’t click with fans.

Foley returned in time for the greatest period in Hawks history, and the team appears to be more sensitive to giving his successor a chance by having the person share the mic with Foley next season, much like the White Sox did when Harrelson gave way to Jason Benetti. It’s a good move.

But there won’t be another Foley, just like there haven’t been duplicates of so many other broadcasters. Chicago fans are conditioned to seeing players come and go, but not broadcasters. They often last longer than popes, and their followers can be just as devoted.

Hawks fans will move on from Foley, just as they will from Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, just as they did from Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull. And though their roles in Hawks history are different, their impacts are similar. They were at the top of their game, whether they played it or called it.

For Foley, I have the tape to prove it.