Pat Foley couldn’t believe it when he got the call earlier this summer: he was a Foster Hewitt Memorial Award winner and would be part of the Hockey Hall of Fame.
“I asked, ‘Wasn’t there anyone else?’” Foley said on Saturday. “Truthfully, it’s still hard to wrap my head around it. But to me, this is the stuff that happens at the end of your career. I think I have a few more miles left in me.”
Foley discussed the prestigious honor, his love of broadcasting and how he got to the Chicago Blackhawks’ booth during his panel session at the Chicago Hilton on Saturday morning. The affable Foley, who just completed his 31st year with the Blackhawks, will receive the Foster Hewitt award at the Hockey Hall of Fame NHL Media Awards luncheon on Nov. 17. His award plaque will be displayed in the Esso Great Hall, alongside previous recipients.
Saturday’s session, which also included Eddie Olczyk, Murray Bannerman and Denis Savard, was a mix of jokes, anecdotes and high praise for Foley.
“It’s an honor and a half to sit in that chair and have someone you respect so much and someone you grew up listening to,” Olczyk said of Foley. “It’s an intimidating chair to sit in every night. But as a team we have great chemistry and a great passion for hockey, the city of Chicago and the Blackhawks. There’s honesty and every once in a while, partner, we have a little fun, too.”
Foley called his first game with the Blackhawks in 1981, nearly two years after he found himself unemployed — the Grand Rapids Owls, whose games he’d called until then, folded — and looking for his next broadcasting break. Enter Foley Buick, run by his father, Bob, a cassette tape of Foley’s work with the Owls and Michael Wirtz, brother of then-Blackhawks owner Bill. The tape ended up in Michael Wirtz’s car, and not long after Foley ended up with the Blackhawks’ broadcasting job.
“I love telling that story,” Foley said. “Because my dad had a huge hand in me getting this job.”
And Foley played a huge part in making Blackhawks players’ names part of the Chicago lexicon, from his “Baaaaaannermaaaann!” for the team’s former goaltender to the “Savoir-Faire” he dubbed Savard.
“I had what is considered an average career with the Blackhawks. For a guy who played eight years and had the type of career I had, for the name recognition that Pat Foley is directly responsible for, it’s phenomenal,” Bannerman said. “People who weren’t even born when I played, when they hear the Bannerman call, they know I was part of those Blackhawks teams. The effect it’s had on my life, it’s hard to put into words what it means to me.”
Savard echoed the same sentiment.
“Savoire-Faire took my name out there; people still say it to me today. Pat started all that,” Savard said. “But the bottom line with Pat for me is, he’s fun to be around. When I was a player or coaching, we kept the same relationship. We were always close.”
Foley got to know some of the great Chicago broadcasters, from Harry Caray to Jack Brickhouse to Vince Lloyd. They’d critique him at times, and he never minded one bit of it.
“I looked at that as a college course or something. It wasn’t intimidating at all,” he said. “Brickhouse went out of his way to reach out to me and be very nice to me when I was a young broadcaster. Stuff like that really went a long way.”
Foley has carved out a tremendous career, one that’s nowhere near being done. As he said, he’s got some miles still left in him. And he’s going to enjoy the ride.