Pat Foley: Becoming the voice of the Blackhawks

Pat Foley: Becoming the voice of the Blackhawks

April 18, 2013, 10:30 pm
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Nina Falcone

It all began as the story of a man going to work just as he always did.

A local car salesman opened the doors of his shop and went about his daily routine. Customers made their way in and out of this dealership, some faces new and others quite familiar.

You see it in movies all the time: The story of a man beginning his day, never thinking one event could bring lifelong change. You see the story of a boy, dreaming about his future and the seemingly impossible goals he wished to achieve. Sure, they always get the storybook ending on the big screen, but it's rare when those endings unfold in real life.

This is the rare story of a real-life boy getting his storybook ending.

Bob Foley was a local car salesman in Glenview. He went to work just as he always did, opened the doors of his shop and went about his daily routine.

One day, in walked a familiar face. Michael Wirtz -- brother of then-Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz -- returned to Foley Buick for a routine oil change. It was nothing new, as the Wirtz family had purchased a number of cars from the dealership in the past.

But this particular visit is where the story changes. This particular visit became the story of a father just trying to help out his son. And with that, the Chicago boy who dreamed about his future was suddenly on his way to becoming a Chicago icon.

That Chicago boy is Blackhawks play-by-play announcer Pat Foley.

[More: Pat Foley, Blackhawks renaissance man]

Since the age of 12, Foley knew he belonged in the booth. He did his studying, paid his dues in smaller markets, and now loves to tell the story of how he got to where he is today.

"I was able to go to Wrigley Field and sit in the booth with Jack Quinlan and Lou Boudreau. I was absolutely enthralled," Foley recalled during an interview with Comcast SportsNet. "It was a beautiful day, I was a big sports guy, people told me I had a decent voice and I just put two and two together.

"That day planted the seed and as time went on, I thought it could be a good thing to do and I never took my eyes off that goal."

Foley did his research. He spent his youth watching game after game, meticulously noting each broadcaster's style and presence. He wound up landing a job as the play-by-play announcer for the Grand Rapids Owls Junior A hockey club before making his big leap to the Windy City.

"The Blackhawks were looking for a broadcaster, they were changing radio stations," Foley said. "I'm sitting there in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I know the job is open, I knew they needed a radio station, so I wanted to let them know that I was around."

Which is where his father comes into play. That day at Foley Buick, a cassette was placed in Wirtz's car. He took one listen to the young Foley's broadcasts in Michigan, and the rest is history.

"[Wirtz] knew more about the Grand Rapids Owls than he ever wanted to know," Foley laughed. "But my dad asked him, 'Would you mind listening to this?' And really that's what got the ball rolling. Mr. Wirtz liked it [and] told his brother about me. The fact that I was a local kid was kind of new in the business, but [I] aspired to be here. I think it was attractive to them.

"It was something that happened to me early and I was very lucky. I was 26 years old and I was the youngest guy in the league for 10 years. It doesn't happen that way, I got very fortunate."

Friday night, the Blackhawks will celebrate 30 seasons of Foley as the voice of the team.

His career in Chicago began on Oct. 19, 1980, the day the Blackhawks retired Stan Mikita's jersey. Since then, Foley has seen it all. From the team's Stanley Cup drought, to the Rocky Wirtz era building to the 2010 championship, Foley has seen the good time and the bad. 

And when it comes to this 2013 Blackhawks team, he sees something pretty special.

"I do think these guys, these hockey players on this team, have a bond," Foley said. "I see a lot of them hanging out together. ...The leadership core of the current Blackhawks and all the other pieces around them, I think it's really cool. It's neat to see. And I don't think many other teams in the NHL have that, and I think that element is more important in our sport than in any other game."

That element is present inside the booth as well. Since returning to the Blackhawks in 2008 -- following a two-year stint with the Chicago Wolves -- Foley has been joined by color commentator Eddie Olczyk. From the moment these two made their debut, they sounded like they were meant to be in the broadcast booth together. Today, Foley credits his chemistry with Olczyk for much of his success.

"It was instant. The chemistry part was absolutely instant," Foley said. "I've known the kid (Olczyk) since he was 18 years old, and now he's a great parent with four kids. I watched him grow up, and I knew when I came back here that he was a great broadcaster.

"I think we even surprised ourselves. I mean, from the first game I ever did with him, we weren't stepping on each other's toes. He knew when I was gonna stop talking, I knew when he was gonna stop talking. I don't know why it happened that way, but it's pretty cool that it has. I feel lucky to be working with the best guy in the game."

And it just so happens Olczyk believes he's working with the best guy in the game, too. 

"The description of how he (Foley) calls the game, and to see his body language and to see him watching the game is something I take a deep breath at and go 'ah, how does that happen?' And that's something to me that's very unique and very special," Olczyk said. "When you talk about the greatest play-by-play guys, especially in hockey, is to be able to pick up and identify and still tell people what's going on. It's something I shake my head at sometimes and marvel at."

Now 30 seasons later, the team and fans celebrate all that Foley means to the Blackhawks family. As each season goes by, his legacy continues to grow.

"When you hear Pat Foley, you know the Blackhawks are on the air," Olczyk said. "That's probably as good as it gets, because people will always put the Blackhawks and Pat Foley hand-in-hand."