We saw this coming and so did Rod Phillips, but that didn’t prevent the passion that punctuated his 37-year career as the radio voice of the Edmonton Oilers from bubbling to the surface when he announced his retirement in a packed dressing room at Rexall Place today.
Phillips, 68, handily lasted longer on the over/under established for him to keep his emotions in check in front of family, friends, colleagues and former and present Oilers, but they eventually got the better of him — when he mentioned his wife Debbie — in a farewell speech that came, as you’d expect, straight from the heart.
"My wife has been a trooper and my kids (Quinn and Devin) have been troopers," said Phillips, who called some 3,500 games and logged millions of miles dating back to the WHA to give Oilers their fix on the airwaves on the way to the broadcast wing of the Hockey Hall of Fame.
"I was away 100 days every year and you have to have a very strong wife to keep things together. She did everything. You can’t do this job unless you have a really strong wife behind you.
"I was really fortunate there. But, it’s still kind of funny because by the end of every summer she was asking me when training camp would begin, so . . ."
GREATEST JOB IN THE WORLD
A glance around the room told the tale of how esteemed Phillips is in this town. Despite short notice about the news conference, the joint was jammed with familiar faces. Debbie, Quinn and Devin looked on from the front row in a roomed adorned with Oilers jerseys with "Phillips" on the namebar for each of the team’s five Stanley Cup wins.
Aside from Patrick LaForge and Kevin Lowe, former governor Cal Nichols was there. So was Clare Drake, and former Oilers Sean Brown, Dave Lumley and Al Hamilton. Barrie Stafford, Joe Moss and Sparky Kulchisky attended. Media row included former colleagues Lisa Miller, Al McCann, Bruce Hogle and Ernie Afaganis.
"Nobody had to tell me it was the greatest job in the world. I knew it," said Phillips, who sat in the background before taking the podium as Allan Watt, LaForge and Lowe addressed those assembled.
"The day I got the job in 1973, I knew it was a dream come true. I just tried to hone my skills as best I could the first 300, 400, 500 games. I tried to get as good as I could. I guess I wasn’t bad."
Wasn’t bad? There’s a rare bit of understatement from The Voice of a franchise.
NOT DONE YET
Phillips isn’t stepping away from the microphone completely. The Oilers announced today he will do the play-by-play for 10 games on 630 CHED next season in what they’ve dubbed "Rod’s Classic Games."
While the schedule hasn’t been set, expect to hear Phillips man the microphone for games against the Oilers Stanley Cup final opponents and likely against Los Angeles, Montreal and Dallas.
While it’s not yet finalized who will work the 10 games with Phillips, don’t be surprised if he’s got some guests in the booth, notably the likes of Wayne Gretzky and former analysts like long-time friend Jim Matheson and Morley Scott, for broadcasts that will be burned to DVD and made available to fans. I’ll update as the information becomes available.
AND . . .
— The Oilers have already received job inquires reaching double-digits for the play-by-play position. While Bob Stauffer, who did analysis on the radio for the past two seasons with Phillips, is an automatic for the short list, the job is open for competition.
I’m told the Oilers will be taking applications until July 1 and hope to have the position filled by the end of July.
— Expect the Oilers to honour Phillips early next season. There could be a banner with his name on it destined for the rafters.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.