Spare the Rod and spoil the child

phillipscityhall

If you love something as much as Rod Phillips loves calling hockey games with the Edmonton Oilers, and you’re as good at it as he is, you should do it until they rip the microphone from your hands.

It does my heart good, then, to hear that the Voice of the Oilers will be back for his 37th season in the radio booth — especially since it was looking like he had called his last game when the 2008-09 season ended.

Phillips, who’ll turn 68 in September, was enjoying a five-week stint at the Arizona retirement home he and wife, Debbie, had built in Buckeye, outside of Phoenix, when he looked around and decided he had another 82 games left in him.

Leaning toward calling it a career, the Skipper realized he has the rest of his life to sip scotch, hack a ball to-and-fro at the Sundance Golf Course and don the Double Winnipeg: matching white shoes and belts in January.

How can carding 104 round after round and playing find-the-dentures on Thursday nights at the community centre hold a light to delivering his trademark “He scooooooooores,” ordering an over-priced, room service clubhouse sandwich for the 4,000th time and charming the flight crew on the charter? It can’t.

So, one more season it is.

On the road again

“It’s one year at a time now,” says Phillips, who will return with Bob Stauffer as his analyst for a second season. “I’m going to do this year and then I’ll see what happens.”

When Phillips packed up his headset and microphone at the end of last season, the Oilers’ third straight year out of the playoffs, he thought it was curtains on a career that’s put him in the broadcasters wing of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Knowing Rod as I do, having been his winger on the road for a decade, I had my doubts as to how he’d handle winters kicking back with the blue-rinse crowd in Buckeye. With all those years we spent on the road, Rod never once showed me the Oilers logo tattooed on his arse — even that night we got really drunk in St. Louis — but I’m sure it’s there.

Turns out, after thinking he’d pull the plug, he had his doubts, too.

“I thought it was a slam dunk after that last game,” Phillips said. “But you want to see, so you wait awhile.

“I’m glad I did. We were enjoying ourselves immensely (in Arizona), but after about three weeks, I just looked around and decided I wasn’t ready for retirement.”

One more year

Having been to Rod’s palatial desert estate, I can tell you he’s got a sweet joint to call his winter home when he’s done. At the same time, I’m damn sure he’d be stir-crazy inside two months.

While critics might suggest Rod’s lost a step since the last Stanley Cup parade, it’s a great job and he’s still got a passion for it. Phillips has earned the right to step away on his own terms. That day will come, and too soon if you ask old-schoolers like me. But not now, not yet.

“I think I can still call the game,” understates Phillips, who laughed out loud when I suggested today’s announcement sets up a retirement tour and the chance for the Oilers to maybe present him with a silver microphone, the broadcaster’s version of the silver stick for 1,000 games. “How about a life’s supply of single-malt instead?”

Setting it straight

As usual, there was lots of talk but not a lot of action in terms of wheeling and dealing at the Entry Draft in Montreal. While there was plenty of speculation at the Bell Centre, most of the action was on Crescent Street.

That’s particularly true with the Oilers and GM Steve Tambellini, who was the subject of rampant speculation. Let’s separate fact from fantasy.

FACT

Yes, the Oilers made every attempt to move up to the fourth spot to get a crack at Evander Kane, who ended up going to Atlanta. Kane is the prospect they most coveted.

FANTASY

  • The Oilers didn’t shop defenceman Sheldon Souray and didn’t talk to the Los Angeles Kings about acquiring the fifth pick in a deal involving Souray. While that scenario fits the circumstances — there’s no question Souray would prefer to be closer to his two children in L.A. — it didn’t happen. Fifth pick wasn’t going to be enough to get Kane. Atlanta had him targeted.
  • There wasn’t one word uttered in the context of a deal with Nashville that would have seen the Oilers acquire banger Jordin Tootoo for talented and noted slacker Robert Nilsson.

Of course, Souray and Nilsson could both end up in play after July 1, but I’ll talk about them and everybody else in the next day or two as the free agency season opens.

Thanks

As a jaded, old writer who’s been around long enough that my first stories in J-school were written on a typewriter using carbon paper, I’ve been blown away by ON readers — all you nameless, faceless people who put your money where your mouth is.

Your response to the item I did about MSM outlets being financially up against it in terms of coverage of the draft, a response that led to Jason Gregor jetting to Montreal, was really something. I’m especially thrilled that extra money raised goes to The Stollery. In my world, that’s beyond cool.

This interweb thing might actually catch on.

— Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on TEAM 1260.

  • Chaz

    Robin,

    I think this has come up before, but do you have any idea why Sportsnet has a delay on their coverage? I used to watch the games with the audio off so I could have Rod on instead, but now there is about a 5-7 second delay on the TV feed which makes this impossible. I wonder if Sportsnet does this on purpose? Any insight? Perhaps they have a delay in case colorful language is captured or someone severs a jugglar?

    I don't have a PVR, but maybe I could delay the TV by the right amount to line it up with Rod's play by play. Has anyone out there tried this?

    He does fumble his words more now than in the past, but one can never argue with Rod's passion for the game and for the Oilers. We're lucky to have him around for another season.

  • Robin Brownlee

    @ Chaz:
    Actually, there's no delay. Rod is clairvoyant and he calls the action five seconds before it happens. That, alone, got him into the HHOF.

    No idea. I'm guessing any delay is built in just in case Gene P drops an F-Bomb when describing the Oilers penalty killing or some other atrocity.

  • risto

    Robin Brownlee wrote:

    Too bad the local newspapers didn’t send anybody to the draft to ask the questions you’ve raised.

    Is this for real? The Journal and Sun did NOT go to MTL?

    Power to the People, Oiler Nation! Keep up the great work, Brownlee. Your piece on father's day was really touching, wait there's something in my eye……..

    re: Rod – I know my frustration level with the Oil bubbled over the matinee game against Nashville. I brought a rugrat to enjoy the afternoon match, and went early to watch the warmup up close as I had as a kid. The look on the Oilers' faces was unsettling, a little tight and nervous, but unfocused. No joy. No camaraderie. I was revolted by their indifference to the children's faces pressed to the glass.

    Ryan Smyth and Gretz would always goof the kids watching the warmup – Erik Cole had his hair styled, and ignored the fans. Sorry Wanye, he'll always be a cursed Cane, and a spoiled Yank taboot to me. Give me a small town Canada boy with a mullet and a grin EVERYTIME!

    We left the 0-0 game in the third period early. Listening to Rod's weary tone on the way home describing the lackluster play was an indication he might be done – I'm so glad the desert has rejuvenated him for another year. It wouldn't be the same without you, ROD! He's amazing.

    I wonder if he would do some radio show with gregor where he talks about the WHA years, and the history of the Oilers and his life experiences. I know I would listen.

    Chaz, unless you can PVR Rod, I think you are beyond the space time continuum. i kinda like hearing the play described by Rod just slightly before i see it, but then i'm also left-handed and therefore pre-wired for a little weirdness.

    Waiting for the news…….trades, Heatley, and then bang tomorrow free agency – go get em Tambo

  • MrOiler

    Chaz wrote:

    Robin,
    I think this has come up before, but do you have any idea why Sportsnet has a delay on their coverage? I used to watch the games with the audio off so I could have Rod on instead, but now there is about a 5-7 second delay on the TV feed which makes this impossible. I wonder if Sportsnet does this on purpose? .

    Do you think it had anything to do with Roger Millions' colourful comments earlier this year?

    p.s. – I'm glad to see Rod back for another year. I can't imagine listening to the games over the Internet and not hearing his voice. It's also good to see that he didn't go out on a sour note.

  • Librarian Mike

    risto wrote:

    Give me a small town Canada boy with a mullet and a grin EVERYTIME!

    I'm not sure Canada has the market cornered on 'nice'. The quote above describes Shayne Corson, after all, and by all accounts he was about as popular with his teammates as a case of herpes.

  • Peter Pan

    Spectors rumour of Heatley for Phaneuf would pretty much trump any offer the Oilers could muster. But in all honesty, I hope we don't land Heatley. I know he puts the puck in the net, but I would rather be patient & try to trade for some offensive, gritty forwards, such as Dustin Brown, Kesler, Horton, Lucic, Malone, etc. I know these guys are difficult to get, but that's the route I hope they take. Heatley just adds to "softness" of this team.

  • Hey, you old-schoolers aren't the only ones who don't want to see Rod retire.

    Some of my earliest memories are of sitting in my car-seat during the glory years, listening to Rod's voice lull me to sleep, then abruptly wake me back up as soon as someone scored.

  • Gerald R. Ford

    Rod is still money.

    Personally, I hope they have to pry that microphone out of his cold, dead fingers, and not for a very, very long time. Robin, I know you scribes have to keep an arm's length distance to maintain your objectivity, but I have no problem with a play-by-play guy being completely biased, and bleeding copper-and-blue like Rod does. He ain't Woodward or Bernstein (although, those two did a lot to advance MY career, I must say), he's an entertainer. And no one (NO ONE) calls as exciting a game as Rod. Certainly, the onslaught of cryptic, polysyllabic, eastern European names has led to more than a few moments of consternation and confusion for both broadcaster and audience alike, but the passion in the call makes up for any pronunciation mishaps, and we (eventually) get the gist.

    And, when he finally does ride off into the sunset, please don't give Stauffer that job. I like Stauf a lot. He really changed Edmonton radio for the better when he was at The Team. I especially respect his unparalleled adoration for "The Unbearable Lightness of Being". Great flick. He just does NOT have a smooth broadcasting voice. Or, to quote Betty Rubble on Fred Flintstone's singing in the shower, "It sounds like some poor mastadon is drowning in the tar pits again. Close the window, Barney. I cant stand to hear an animal suffering."

    God bless you, Rod.

  • gdawg

    Rod Phillips. A class act and a great broadcaster. Bob Stauffer could learn a lot from him in regards to on air arrogance and how to tame it. Bob knows his stuff like no one else but too often comes across with a good dose of ego in his voice.