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Philly has Been Blessed With Great Broadcasters

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Gene Hart with Flyers owner Ed Snider. (AP Photo)
Flyers broadcaster Gene Hart with Flyers owner Ed Snider. (AP Photo)

When beloved Buffalo Sabres broadcaster Rick Jeanneret died Thursday at age 81, the community tributes were overwhelming.

Sabres fans lost not only a voice but a friend.

Flyers general manager Daniel Briere played for the Sabres and knew Jeanneret, a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

“I was extremely saddened to hear the news of Rick Jeanneret’s passing,” Briere said in a statement released by the Flyers. 

“The Sabres family, the entire city of Buffalo and the National Hockey League lost an iconic voice of the game and a true gentleman.

“Personally, I have very fond memories having spent a significant portion of my career alongside Rick, and I will tell you that the calls he produced will live in a special place in my heart forever. My condolences to his wife, Sandra, and the entire Jeanneret family.”

Every city has a Rick Jeanneret. When I lived in Metro Detroit, Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell was a legend. So was Vin Scully in Los Angeles.

I thought of Philadelphia and its sports teams and the connection a broadcaster has with the community. Broadcasters we allow into our homes so frequently and in our automobiles while we are doing errands or going down the Shore.

And I thought how lucky Philly fans have been listening to outstanding broadcasters — Harry Kalas calling Phillies’ games, Merrill Reese on the Eagles, Marc Zumoff on the call with the Sixers, to name a few.

Flyers’ fans also have enjoyed excellent broadcasters — from their start in 1967 until today.

The Voice

Flyers’ fans had their own Rick Jeanneret in Gene Hart. (Or, maybe the Sabres’ fans had their own Gene Hart in Rick Jeanneret.)

When the Flyers’ franchise began playing in 1967, Hart was the voice calling their games. Hart was the Flyers’ broadcaster from 1967 until 1995.

Gene was The Voice. He not only broadcast games but introduced hockey to so many people.

Gene educated and entertained us and he did so with great enthusiasm. Philadelphia in late-1960s and early-1970s wasn’t exactly a hockey hotbed.

Gene — appropriate since he was a teacher — gave nightly lessons about what seemed like arcane rules. What was icing? How was that offsides? Gene made sure to properly pronounce players’ names.

As Philly grew into a hockey town — two Stanley Cups will do that — Gene was right there. He was everyone’s favorite broadcaster.

His call on May 19, 1974 was legendary: “The Flyers have won the Stanley Cup.” (It’s Gene’s voice on the video as the clock expires vs. Boston.)

Gene was enshrined into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Nov. 17, 1997. He died in 1999.

For a younger generation of Flyers’ fans, they know Gene’s daughter, Lauren. She sings the National Anthem before Flyers’ home games.

The Flyers have had many outstanding broadcasters, including their current TV voice, Jim Jackson, and radio voice, Tim Saunders. Mike “Doc” Emrick, who grew into a network star, did Flyers’ play-by-play in the 1980s and 1990s.

The analysts were first-rate, too — including Bill Clement, Gary Dornhoefer, Steve Coates, Keith Jones, Brian Propp, to name a few. They were former players without formal training who learned their craft and grew into their roles. You always knew their loyalties were with the Flyers, but they could be counted on to deliver information and insight.

They were part of the family, too, calling game after game — good and bad. Friendly, familiar voices always at the ballpark or at the rink. 

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