Pat Foley farewell: Blackhawks’ voice will be remembered as the voice of the fans

When I sat down across from Pat Foley for lunch last week, just him and me, I couldn’t help but get a little emotional.

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Pat Foley will call his final Blackhawks game Thursday night on NBC Sports Chicago. A ceremony in his honor will begin at 7;30 p.m.

Pat Foley will call his final Blackhawks game Thursday night on NBC Sports Chicago. A ceremony in his honor will begin at 7;30 p.m.

Chicago Blackhawks photo

When Hall of Famer Vin Scully retired from the Dodgers’ TV booth in 2016, he shared a heartening piece of advice: “Don’t be sad that it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

It’s a lovely sentiment, one we all should follow.

But that’s not how I roll.

I don’t like that all good things must come to an end, as the proverb goes. When those good things end, I dwell on their close until enough time passes for the next good thing to begin.

So when I sat down across from Pat Foley for lunch last week, just him and me, I couldn’t help but get a little emotional.

You have to understand: When I was a kid, Foley’s voice was the last one I heard many winter nights when I listened to Blackhawks games on the radio. Foley has been the team’s TV voice since 2008, but he won’t be anymore after calling his last game Thursday night to cap 39 seasons with the Hawks.

I could’ve asked him to reflect on his career and stuff like that, but he has been asked those questions a bunch lately. I had questions stored up for decades that I wanted to ask. Most important, I wanted to know what made him him.

It starts with his parents. Pat revered his father, Bob, who died in 2018. Bob worked at his father’s Buick dealership in Wilmette when Pat was young and hoped his son one day would help carry on the family business. But a trip to Wrigley Field in the early 1960s changed that.

Foley Motor Sales sponsored the Cubs on WGN Radio, and one day Bob had the chance to visit the broadcast booth and pitch his business on the air. He brought along 10-year-old Pat. Then-Cubs announcer Jack Quinlan, who had bought a car from Bob, took a liking to the boy.

“I remember that a couple of times between innings I was so enthralled, I would ask him a question when a commercial was playing, and he couldn’t have been more nice or generous with me,” Pat said.

After Bob made his pitch, Quinlan, an acclaimed broadcaster, said, “Bob, if you wanna go down to your seats, feel free. Leave him here.”

“It was the coolest thing ever,” Pat said. “My mother said that when I came home I said, ‘I know what I’m gonna do.’ That’s the day the seed got planted.”

Though it might’ve broken his father’s heart, Pat received nothing but encouragement from Bob in his pursuit of a broadcasting career. Pat’s mother, Mary, essentially became his speaking coach. Early in his career, if Pat uttered “uh” or “um” too many times, Mary would tell him. One game, she kept count.

That parental support put Pat on a path to the Hockey Hall of Fame, which he entered in 2014.

I’d never had lunch with a Hall of Famer of anything, so there were times I got a little excited. I rattled off a bunch of games I saw at old Chicago Stadium and asked if he remembered each one.

My first game was Oct. 30, 1983, when Tom Lysiak tripped linesman Ron Foyt. I saw the pregame brawl between the Hawks and North Stars on Dec. 28, 1989, and the St. Patrick’s Day Massacre between the Hawks and Blues in 1991. I went on and on.

“I love that you’re so into it,” he said.

“It’s a little much, I know,” I said.

He didn’t argue.

Through all of those games, Foley has been the voice of the fans.

“I’ve worked for a bunch of radio stations and TV stations, and lately I’ve been working for the Blackhawks,” Foley said. “To me, I’ve always worked for the fans. I always say this: I wanna paint the Hawks in the best light that I can, but do not lie to the fans.”

Those fans might be surprised by how Foley’s feeling was reinforced. At the end of the last game of an awful 1987-88 season, Foley tore into the Hawks on the air. That summer, at a charity event, Foley crossed paths with then-Hawks owner Bill Wirtz, who was no fan favorite.

“I said, ‘You know, I got after your hockey team at the end of the season,’ ” Foley said. “He goes, ‘I thought you were easy on them.’ For me, that just cleared the track.

“I’ve had a bunch of broadcasters come to me over the years and say, ‘How do you get away with saying that?’ And the answer is the Wirtzes have allowed that.”

Foley has such a distinctive voice, it was strange to hear it in conversation. That led me to another question. So many play-by-play announcers sound the same these days, and few of those announcers have the personality of their predecessors. What gives?

“I’m sorry to say this, I think that’s where broadcasting’s going,” Foley said. “Think about this. I say this all the time, nobody argues with me. Harry Caray would not get hired today. How about that? Everything about that’s wrong. It’s all gonna be sanitized and vanilla.”

Neither of which has ever described Foley.

When Scully left the Dodgers’ booth, successor Joe Davis said he didn’t see himself as replacing Scully, only following him. Chris Vosters, Foley’s successor, will do the same because there is no replacing Foley.

So please allow me some time to be sad that it’s over.

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