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As Hall beckons, Blackhawks' Pat Foley "living a dream"

Pat Foley poked his head into the Hockey Hall of Fame two weeks ago when the Blackhawks were in Toronto, and yes, he wandered over to the broadcasters and writers wing of the Great Hall — which houses the Stanley Cup, the other major trophies and the plaques for all the Hall of Famers — to see where his face would be etched on Monday. Top row, next to Edmonton Sun columnist Terry Jones, up two and over two from Mike “Doc” Emrick.

Foley was just visiting by himself, with no fanfare, no big moments of reflection. He walked out through the adjacent food court, just another person in a sea of them. Felt like one, too. The fact that he’ll be a Hall of Famer has yet to really hit him.

“Isn’t that supposed to happen at the end of your career?” he told the Sun-Times. “Am I getting fired again?”

He was laughing as he said that. Of course, he was. When isn’t he? Who’s ever having more fun than Pat Foley?

Sure, there’s incredible difficulty in handling the tape-to-tape play-by-play for a sport as fast as hockey, particularly from press boxes that rival the International Space Station in altitude. But it’s that infectious enthusiasm, that boundless joy with which he broadcasts even the most mundane games, that sets Foley apart and have made him a Chicago institution. There’s plenty of downtime during a baseball broadcast to allow your personality to come through. Not during a hockey game. Yet Foley, along with his peerless analyst, Ed Olczyk, have no such trouble.

Foley started doing Hawks games in 1980, at age 26 — so long ago that he was the youngest play-by-play man in the league for 10 years. Yet to hear him call a routine goal in the first period of a game in November of 2014 — his voice rising, the pitch climbing to an almost falsetto exultation — you never feel the weight of the 3,000 games he’s already done.

Every time feels and sounds like the first time.

“I love the sport and I really love the people in it,” Foley said. “Even in game No. 2,700 or whatever it is, you want to respect the game and try to be equal to the moment. Yeah, it’s a first-period goal on a Tuesday night in November, but it’s still a big play for that guy that made it. I appreciate the effort that goes into it and the talent that’s involved in it and all those things. I just try to be equal to it.”

Foley, like so many other Chicago-bred broadcasters, idolized the late, great Hawks play-by-play man Lloyd Pettit. And when Foley did his first hockey game as a student at Michigan State, he was bemused and disappointed to listen to the tape afterward, and to hear Pettit’s signature “shot and a goal” coming out of his own mouth. He knew that would never fly in Chicago. So he worked on finding his voice.

Now he’s the standard, and it’s hard to imagine a new broadcaster coming in and bellowing “BIG SAVE!” or “walks and wires,” or his signature sign-off line after a win: “I hope you enjoyed the broadcast. I know you enjoyed the outcome.”

Off the air, Foley’s go-to word is “fortunate.” He feels incredibly lucky to have spent basically his entire career in “the greatest city in the world,” the hometown boy calling the hometown team in one of the most nomadic professions around. He’s grateful to be calling games for “a heck of a hockey team,” having spent many long seasons on the other end of the standings, somehow mustering up the same enthusiasm for teams that were headed nowhere. He’s ecstatic to be back with the Hawks after being banished by Bill Wirtz in 2006, only to be brought back by Rocky Wirtz and John McDonough in 2008.

During those two lost seasons, Foley called Chicago Wolves games — still happy to be in his hometown, still jumping out of his seat with every big save, every goal. During that period, he never imagined he’d be back with the Hawks, let alone inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Yet here he is, back where he belongs — in the Hawks broadcast booth, and enshrined among the sport’s legends.

Foley turns 60 next month. But he’s still got three years on his contract, he’s still got the adoration of a growing fan base, and he’s still got the love of the game. He feels like he’s just getting started. Because he’s still having too much fun.

“I’ve been living a dream,” he said. “I don’t know anybody luckier than me.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus