Everything Else

It’s funny when you have something like last night. Because if WGN didn’t tell you, you wouldn’t have known it was the last Hawks game on their station. You would have seen the broadcast schedule released for next year, gone through it, and maybe you would have seen no games on WGN and said, “Huh.” That’s it. So it’s really a celebration/mourning they’re throwing for themselves, which is weird, and also have to make you aware of the occasion, which makes it weirder. You don’t go out with a friend and then have them tell you later it’s their birthday. Or maybe you do, I’ve lost touch with what people do.

Still, I couldn’t help but think back to when the Hawks first came back on WGN in 2008. It was just so bizarre. Before that season, the thought of the Hawks on television was something of an anomaly, at least the home games. McDonough and Rocky had only taken over the year before, and though they jammed as many home games onto CSN that first season as they could, there were still more than enough that were still house shows. We knew a full TV deal was coming of course, it was the most basic and first order of business.

But the Hawks on WGN? It didn’t really add up. Not only were the Hawks on television at the United Center, but they were on a free-to-air station? The home of the Cubs and Bulls? Yes, and Sox too, but the Sox have always felt like an intruder to everyone involved on WGN. Hawk Harrelson pretty much treated it as such. Not so much anymore, of course. There was an air of legitimacy that being on WGN gave the Hawks instantly. It was like they were fully part of the Chicago sports scene, not some dark corner where only the true creatures of the night would lurk. It was an invitation to everyone.

If memory serves, the first game on WGN was a home game against Detroit, a bonkers 6-5 shootout loss that was sealed by Marian Hossa making Nikolai HarveyBirdMan look superfluous in net. Yes, Hossa did play for other teams, and if you can believe it that arrogant as fuck slapper into the top shelf sent Hawks fans into a rage back then. On the ice it was an indicator that the Hawks were almost ready to be the heir to the Wings, but also very much not ready. It being on the Chicago Superstation meant the same for their place in Chicago. The latter would change within months.

Anyway, it was exciting to see the Hawks treated in such fashion back then. And we didn’t really mind that WGN didn’t have any clue how to cover a hockey game then. Or that their filters on their cameras were exceptionally dark and made it look like every game was in a garage. It was just so new.

But like a lot of things with how the Hawks are run and covered, once the novelty wore off then the glitches were the only thing you saw. The lack of anything new or effort beyond, “Look what we did!” became harder and harder to ignore from both sides. Mostly, it looked like WGN never really cared to look like it cared about covering the Hawks. Whether it was the vacant stare of Dan Roan or Rich King, having them positioned in some closet in their studios on the northwest side looked decidedly high school AV Club. Of course they were never going to hire their own analyst/expert, so Steven Konroyd would just stroll on over and provide the most listless, uncomfortable intermission segments known to man. The sets looked like something you would build if you were spoofing sports coverage.

The angles were off at times, the cuts rough, the replays never matching up. It seemed like WGN thought it had been doing Cubs baseball for so long it knew everything, and could apply the same principles. But baseball has no intermission, no postgame show, and the “Leadoff Man” was something the game broadcasters basically handled themselves (or Len Kasper has since he arrived, which is a really long time ago now). And by the end, it felt like both the Hawks and WGN were asking, “What are we doing here?” throughout the broadcast.

It’s only been 10 years, so it’s not like there’s much to hold onto. The Hawks want every game on CSN now, and I can only hope that being even more greatly invested in it as a third-holder instead of a quarter might up the quality. But I doubt it. It still amazes me how much better games look on NESN or MSG than they do on CSN. It’s like CSN forgot to turn a light on. Even after all this time Pat Boyle is still uncomfortable being a host. They’ve tried to do better by rotating in Jamal Mayers, Adam Burish, and Patrick Sharp as intermission and pre- and post-game analysts. But only Sharp has a knack for it, while Burish seems to be auditioning to take over Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em hockey. And the thing is I think there’s an analyst within Burish that could be pretty good. You can keep Mayers around for the clothes.

Still, it’s kind of startling that it only took 10 years for something that at once seemed to fresh and cool to not only lose its luster and become annoying but for everyone to be glad it’s over. I know the cycles of news and emotion and sports have been quickened in the last decade. The Hawks were on top just four years ago and now look at them. It doesn’t take long. It would take longer if either side had tried, though.

Everything Else

Being a Hawks fan this season hasn’t been pleasurable. We all know that. Even the most cynical amongst us before the season never saw this coming, though there was no way to see that Corey Crawford would miss over half of it. No matter how well the Hawks play for the past couple months, they’re just a bad goal away from everything going to shit. And that bad goal is always arriving. And sometimes they don’t play well and they get steamrolled. Vets haven’t performed, or have gotten old, or both. We get it. It’s been a slog. Tuning in sometimes feels like a chore, and that’s if you’re still bothering.

If you are, what you’ll find is a broadcast that’s making it even worse.

As we always say, writing this king of thing is a knife to the heart for us. Pat Foley is the soundtrack to a good portion of our childhoods, and his calls of some iconic Hawks moments last with me forever. But that doesn’t change the fact that he’s turned most of these games into a funeral dirge, and quite frankly that’s not what the job is.

For the past few months, you can hear the laments out of Foley’s voice several times per game. And hey, part of the job is calling out mistakes and bad plays. We don’t want a cheerleader either. But it’s gone way beyond that. It’s as if the entire team offends Foley’s sensibilities and is beneath him, which doesn’t make the viewing experience any better. Which has only led to longing for more neanderthalic aspects, like hit stats or fighting. If it’s beneath you, Pat, then why are we here? Are you above us, too?

Granted, Foley and Olczyk always cited hit stats when the Hawks were good, but it’s insulting to the audience because we know at this point that the Hawks don’t require “MOAR HITZ” to be good again. They never did in the past. And whether Foley likes it or not fighting is making its way out of the game in a natural progression, and the way the NHL is tripping over its own dick in this concussion lawsuit you might see that accelerated soon.

The whole air of the broadcast makes it feel like it’s a waste of his, and in turn our, time. And Adam Burish threatening to punch Brandon Saad in practice isn’t helping (hey Adam, whatever happened to that time you said you’d fight Chris Pronger? You’re still living, so you must’ve found a way out of that one). Yes, the Hawks make a lot of turnovers and mistakes and don’t get saves they need. That’s the hallmark of a bad team.

But being a professional means you’re supposed to cover this game in the same fashion you covered Game 5 against St. Louis in ’14. That’s the job. If you need inspiration, look no farther than your friend Len Kasper. Kasper called five years of utterly dogshit Cubs baseball between ’10-’14, not to mention the pretty terrible 2006 as well. And that’s every goddamn day, not just two or three times a week. And Kasper’s calls don’t sound any different from those to today when the Cubs are one of baseball’s leading lights.

We don’t need another Hawk Harrelson, as we’re on the verge of gloriously getting rid of the one we already do have. Listen to Jason Bennetti who has only had really bad Sox teams to comment on, and tell me he isn’t doing a marvelous job.

We’ve been down this road before, of course. Foley was a leading voice as the Hawks became irrelevant due to simple indifference and incompetence. He wasn’t hesitant to point out the problems. It got him fired. But that was under an ownership group that didn’t care and wasn’t trying. The Hawks didn’t foist this on us on purpose. A lot of things went wrong. And while I’ve said a lot about the Hawks’ organization, I would never accuse them of not caring what the product is on the ice. This is not the Old Man’s Era and shouldn’t be treated as such.

Sure, it’s deflating to have nine years of covering good teams with games that mattered to a team running out the clock for three months. It’s frustrating to see the same mistakes over and over. It’s probably hard to not have a close friend in the booth with you most nights due to health troubles and have the blank gape of Steve Konroyd. But that’s the job. That’s why they pay you.

Let us lament what’s gone with this team in our spare time. Hey, I don’t want to be in Buffalo on a Saturday afternoon watching two bad team scrap at shit like the rhino pen at feeding time. But I’m not being paid to present it like I should be. All we ask is that you sound like you want to be there. That would seem to be the minimum requirement of a broadcast job.