On Thursday, Dr. Mike Emrick, more commonly known as "Doc," announced that he will no longer be doing play-by-play commentary for the New Jersey Devils and MSG, and will joined NBC/VERSUS exclusively for broadcasts in a letter posted by the New Jersey Devils website. It's a must-read, of course, and the reasoning for the move is completely understandable. Doc's not getting any younger, this deal allows him to do what he does with less travel and the preparation that comes with it, and if anyone in the world of broadcasting has the right to move on their own terms, it's Dr. Mike Emrick. Moreover, in the reading of the letter, you can't help but hear Doc's voice in it - from the introduction that includes a brief anecdote to the admission at the end that while it's only a letter, he knew it was the best way to get the news out. The appropriate and brief video with the letter further emphasizes that the Devils really appreciate him.
Of course, that's easily said now. At the time of the annoucement, my reaction on Twitter was a bit more emotional:
No more Doc for #devils play by play? In a word: Nooooooooooo
This got re-tweeted far more than I expected. However, this sentiment was clear on Twitter, it was clear on the Devils message board on Hockey's Future, on the NJDevs message board, here at In Lou We Trust, and elsewhere wherever Devils fans congregate to discuss our favorite hockey team. It's not so much that people are mad or upset that he's departing, it's that even more will miss him.
As they should. Doc's a legend.
As a broadcaster, the list of honors is massive. Per his profile page at MSG's website, on top of calling over 3,000 games, he's won a CableACE award for play-by-play, multiple New York Emmy awards for his work with New Jersey, the 2004 Lester Patrick trophy, nominated for a national Emmy for his play-by-play work with NBC, and was awarded the Foster Hewitt Award from the Hockey Hall of Fame. The Devils have much respect for Doc, so much so that they dedicated January 30, 2009 as Doc Emrick night in honor of winning the Foster Hewitt Award.
As a play-by-play guy, Doc's style and rhythm made him a natural for hockey. He knew when it was appropriate to be excited, he knew when it was appropriate to be more muted, and he knew when not to talk on top of what to commentate. Doc was always prepared, but not to a point where he didn't call the game with candor and even allow some humor. Detractors point to his diction, some his phrases (e.g. "Waffleboarding" seems to be a sore spot for some fans) and his intensity as flaws, but they're really strengths as it's a part of what makes Doc the play-by-play guy we all love. He's got his quirks like pretty much every person ever and he utilized them to the benefit of the broadcast, just like any other broadcaster in any other sport ever.
To Devils fans, he's Voice of the Franchise. I don't think it's unfair for me to proclaim him such a title, and so I will. He's been with the Devils in two stints, first from 1982 through 1986 and more recently from 1993 until 2011. If you've caught a Devils game on TV, most likely, you've heard Doc. And if you're a fan of the Devils, and this is important, you most likely wanted to hear Doc. To be fair, the whole reason to turn on the TV and watch the Devils play a game is to, well, watch the Devils play a game. The broadcast itself is secondary to the game, and can even be tertiary to the viewers. Yet, with Doc doing play-by-play, it's always worth it to have the sound on and to listen in to some level because Doc's call would add to the experience of watching a Devils game as opposed to most broadcasts where the play-by-play is just "there" with the action. For over 20 years, 18 in succession until this recent Thursday, Devils fans got to enjoy him on a regular basis.
To me, it seemed like Doc truly enjoyed his time as New Jersey's time as the play-by-play commentator. In this must-read interview with Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice, here's how Doc saw the past 18 years.
That the Devils missed the playoffs only twice during the next 18 seasons – in 1996 and this past season – was part of Emrick’s "luck" as well. Emrick noted that before the last four games of the 2010-11 season, he had not done a meaningless Devils’ game because the team was eliminated from playoff contention on the last day of the 1995-96 season.
"That was it for 18 years," he said. "Unbelievable. It’s just flat out luck. I just sat there and watched it and got to enjoy it like everybody else."
You don't get to have that kind of perspective unless you really liked what you were doing.
Speaking of, and correct me if I'm wrong, but I get the impression that he was a genuinely friendly person. From various anecdotes like the one Greg Wyshynski brought up at Puck Daddy about this news to some of the comments here at ILWT about the announcement to general scuttlebutt you pick up over the years, Doc would actually interact with various fans should they see him out and about at the game. Actual conversations should time allow for it. He wasn't just here to do his job and get out or sound personable on the broadcast but keep to himself. I'm not saying he never had a bad mood or a bad thought, but for the most part, who he was behind the mic was who he was in person.
Now, he won't be around and questions abound. Who will have the unenviable task of being the new regular play-by-play commentator for the New Jersey Devils? Will it be Steve Cangelosi, who does play-by-play for the Red Bulls and has filled in for Doc in the past? Will it be Matt Loughlin, who has done play-by-play on the radio broadcasts and has done intermission work on TV in the past? Will it be someone completely different? How will color commentator Glenn "Chico" Resch do without that perfect chemistry with Doc? We've seen this happen with Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer, and we'll see it again with Martin Brodeur in the future, but replacing a legend at any job is incredibly difficult because you can't fully be judged on your own merits - the legend's shadow is just too large. I'm not saying Cangelosi, Loughlin, or whoever can't do a good job, it's just no matter how well they do, they would have to follow up someone considered by many to be the Voice of the Franchise. Such is the problem with legends - they are so great, but they're not around forever and that makes going forward a challenge.
That all said, it's not like Doc's gone and out of our lives for good. He's just doing national broadcasts, which he has done before and of course has been very good at them. I would like to think the Devils will have some games on NBC or Versus in the coming season, so there will be an occasional game where Devils fans can hear Doc do what he does best as the Devils play their game. In fact, user awesomodynamo had this realization:
I guess the only way to remedy this is to make the playoffs so we can hear him call Devils games again.
It's certainly something to strive for.
It's the end of an era of sorts and it's going to be a somewhat off-putting to know that Doc won't be calling the Devils games regularly. That when I hear someone else doing play-by-play, it's because they will be the one doing it from now on. Doc's not away on assignment, sick, or anything like that - his employment is elsewhere.
Again: he will be missed, he will not be forgotten by this generation of fans. Yet, it's not so much of a "goodbye" as it is "see you later." And this Devil fan looks forward to it. I sincerely wish you the best of luck with NBC/VERSUS; and because I can't say it enough: Thank you, Doc.