ROD PHILLIPS: LAST CALL

Fans of the Edmonton Oilers longing for a nostalgic night they won’t soon forget might want to turn off the TV and turn up the radio when the puck drops against the Los Angeles Kings at Rexall Place Tuesday.

If you gather around the old wireless, you’ll be party to the end of an era when Rod Phillips calls his last-ever game as the radio play-by-play man with the Oilers.

After 37 years behind the microphone, including a curtain call of 10 radio games this season, dubbed Rod’s Classics, The Voice of the Oilers will call one last game against the Kings, then exit the booth and slip off into retirement.

Tuesday will mark game No. 3,542 for the 69-year-old Phillips, who has provided the narrative for so many moments that will forever be etched into the minds of Oilers fans. He is the voice of the glory days, of the five Stanley Cup celebrations and all those parades downtown.

In a season when the Oilers will miss the playoffs for a fifth consecutive season, Phillips is a link to times when this town boasted the greatest collection of talent, and arguably the best team, ever assembled.

One more time for the good times.

SAYING GOODBYE

Having caroused around the NHL in the seat beside Phillips for a decade during my time covering the Oilers, I’ve written plenty about him here over the past couple of years as the time for him to step away to the grill and the golf course drew closer.

I’m not going to tell stories from the road yet again. I couldn’t doing nearly as good a job as Jim Matheson, Rod’s best friend and his running mate dating back to the WHA, did Saturday in The Journal. Give it a read if you get the chance.

For those of you who grew up listening to Phillips call Oilers games for four decades in a career that saw him inducted into the broadcast wing of the Hockey Hall of Fame in back in 2003, this is just a reminder that Tuesday is his curtain call.

Fittingly, Matheson, who did about 1,000 games as the analyst alongside Phillips as they traipsed around the WHA and eventually the NHL, will put down his notepad and join him in the booth for his last call.

A NIGHT TO REMEMBER

Tuesday against the Kings is as good a night as any for a departure from the grind of this season, one in which the Oilers will finish 30th for the second straight year. A great time to tune in and, well, tune out.

The Oilers will take the ice for the warm-up wearing No. 37 jerseys as a salute to Phillips 37 seasons. If I know Phillips, he’ll be a bundle of nerves, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he turns back the clock a few years and belts out a broadcast to be proud of with Walter Buehler working the booth, as usual, and Matheson riding shotgun.

The Oilers hosted a lunch for Phillips today to set the stage for tomorrow. Prime Minister Stephen Harper sent a letter of congratulations. So did Gary Bettman.

The free lunch drew the usual media suspects, a full compliment of free-loaders including past radio colour men Terry Jones, Morley Scott, Kevin Karius, Greg Pilling and Matheson.

Tom Renney and Kevin Lowe were there, so was former coach Ron Low, Barry Stafford and Sparky Kulchisky. Current Oilers Sam Gagner, Steve MacIntyre and Tom Gilbert joined the likes of Al Hamilton and Dave Lumley. Somebody who looked just like Bryan Hall, but sporting a Grizzly Adams beard, showed up. There was a lot of history in that room today.

A special chapter in that history closes tomorrow night.

SOME OF ROD’S BEST CALLS HERE: oilers.nhl.com/club/podcastplayer.htm

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

  • Hemmertime

    Wouldn’t miss it for the world.

    Dad used to sit with an old wireless buried next to him on the couch so he could flip it to Rod whenever something exciting was happening on the ice–partly so he wouldn’t have to listen to Dornhoefer explain the intricacies of the game to Buchy Buchanan. And Phillips could make even a boring game sound like a spectacle of action.

    And he was pure fun any time a fella was stuck on a long drive out on Alberta’s dark, deserted highways.

  • MJM

    I won’t be able to tune in live, but does anyone know if the game would be available in archive form, or to stream online from the beginning of the broadcast, similar to the way a PVR would be used?

  • DonovanMD

    I’m only 26 but my first 15 years as a hockey fan were Oiler games on CHED because I was the only kid around who didn’t have cable. Aside from a handful of HNIC games (which were a special treat), I have fond memories of listening to Rod while lying in bed.

    In 2006 I was in Australia on holidays and woke up at crazy hours to hear every single game of the first three rounds, and was home in time to see the Finals.

    Truly a one of a kind voice and calls I will always have in my mind. Comrie scoring in the playoffs as a rookie, Marchants OT goal in game 7 and Rod introducing Wayne at his retirement ceremony (he boomed out something along the lines of “The Greatest Oiler of All Time” … and barely squeaked out through tears “Wayne Gretzky”).

    Lots of things I’ll never forget.

    • One of the things that’s endeared Rod to Oilers fans is that it’s obvious he really cares about the team and its players, as evidenced by the Gretzky ceremony you cite.

      As professional as Rod is, I’m wondering if he’s going to have difficulty with the final minutes as the game winds down Tuesday. I’m thinking he’ll have to lean pretty heavily on Matty as time ticks down.

      The man loves the Oilers.

  • Jodes

    Sigh.

    So many memories.. Nobody, I mean NOBODY called it like Rod.

    Light Years ahead of anyone else in the league, period.

    Again I hope Jack Michaels is taking notes and not taking the night off.

    He needs all the help he can get!

    I just wish my dad was still around so we could hear Rod one last time.

    He would have liked that.

  • RPG

    Growing up my Dad use to mute the T.V guys and watch while listening to Rod. My personal fav was the classic “bone head _________” (insert ref, insert play). The guy is a legend and will be missed. Best of luck Rod.

    • What always struck me about Rod’s call was that he never “manufactured” emotion or played things as a schtick.

      Rod livened up some boring games, but the emotion in his voice came from being wrapped up in what he was watching and describing.

      The outrage and jubilation was always heartfelt and spontaneous — every time I hear Rod call a particular goal by Ales Hemsky in the 2006 playoffs and two of Laraque’s fights, with Reed Low and Rob Ray, I get goosebumps because it’s from-the-gut real.

      • book¡e

        I agree, one of the best things was the real emotion that Rod brought to the games.

        If I remember correctly, the Oilers gave him a Silver Stick on his 25th season?

  • benfica

    My earliest NHL memories are of Rod calling Oiler playoff games. We’d be out fishing on the May long weekend, and we had an old radio we’d tune into the games with. It would be near sunset, and sitting there jigging for walleye, but not really fishing as much as listening to the game.

    I remember how other boats would sort of gather around within listening distance, and all would be dead quiet. Until the Oilers scored, then there’d be a dozen boats cheering and hollering.

    That was in the early 80’s, but seems like only last Spring.

  • DonovanMD

    Man I am quite jealous of you locals out there in E-town, having been able to listen to his calls, particularly in the dynasty days. I would have killed to hear him in those days. To have had the internet.

    Had to settle bugging my dad each day after school for the sports section for years and years in the 80s to find out what happened the night before (ie .. how many goals did they score and where Gretzky and Kurri were in the points race)

    Any compilation of Rod’s calls over the years? Sort of like the 10 best Oiler games on DVD?

    • book¡e

      You know this interweb thing is crazy. In 1996 (only 15 years ago), i moved out east to go for my Masters degree and I remember having to go to the library and read 2-3 day old articles about the oilers. You could get a few stories on the web (Canoe), but not many.

  • RPG

    Great stuff Robin, Matheson’s article was brilliant, I grew up with 630 ched and Rod calling my beloved Oilers. So many memories….hope the Oilers commemorate the broadcast booth with his name. Long live one of the Oiler greats, goodluck in your retirement Rod.

  • Coco Crsip

    Thanks for the link Robin. Brings back some memories. I loved his Patrick Stephan flub to goal call. That voice cracking scream lives will live on forever. But on a completely unrelated note, yet paralleling passion for the game angle. How about these CHL playoffs so far. Strome not keeping pace, SC being good but not mind blowing. Huberdeau 8 pts in 2 games. Ryan Murphy 6 pts in 2 game. RM is small for a D but those are some dang fine numbers. If I could I stick that kid with HGH myself. RNH, nothing to sneeze at so far either.

    • The word on the street is usually iffy at best, but I’m getting nothing on this so I won’t discount it out of hand.

      I’ve been told tonight that, as of a couple of weeks ago, the Oilers were thinking of asking him to come, but I have no confirmation that he was actually asked and, if he was, what the answer was. I’d love to get this, but nothing as of now.

      • book¡e

        The Oilers tend to go full tilt on inviting everyone to events such as this. They also tend to do a really crappy job in not making it the cheesiest thing ever.

        Remember the boy band that sung at Gretzky’s retirement – that’s the kind of stuff I am talking about. The Muffuts? The Donnas? Something…

  • RPG

    Rod was good but I think Michaels sounds alot more professional..You can always tell that Michaels does his research as well….I happen to think he will be over time better than Rod Phillips

  • O.C.

    I have no words. Well other than “greatest”.

    We forget that it was just a few years ago, the radio was the norm and most often it was all there was. Yes, all the games weren’t televised. In fact most weren’t.

    As a kid in 70s and in my twenties in the 80’s, I spent many an hour lying on the carpet in front of the radio while Rod painted a picture… “..now here’s Coffey, he takes a look and decides to skate with it, SPEEDIng up the right side, look at this kid go…”

    Thanks Rod. You made us smile, laugh, scream and even cry. Always humble, always honest, the benchmark that your peers and people in general will strive to achieve.

  • Dan the Man

    Oiler fans couldn’t have been any more spoiled…those great teams of the Eighties and that great voice that called the games.

    Enjoy your retirement Rod, you deserve it!

  • Dan the Man

    Lot’s of memories of Rod calling the games. When he flipped out on Mick MeGeough waving off a goal, I will remember that forever.

    A lot of us grew up listening to Rod call the Oiler games and we were somewhat spoiled having that talent around for so long.

    I like Jack, but I would really like to hear “He shoots, scores” for a goal. It really helps out us old guys with ADD.

  • I don’t care about this “homer” thing. There’s a huge difference between a homer like Millions (gag) and the Oilers number 1 fan calling a game for all the rest of us fans. I dunno, maybe it only works in a crazy place like Edmonton. Hearing someone call a game with so much passion has become a rarity these days. He’s set the bar so high I doubt it’ll ever be reached.

    This new guy Jack? Sorry man. Not even in the same universe…”On the OILERS! radio network”…”Cawgleeahhnaw streaks in on the wing”…

    *Barf*

    I’ve heard a few of Rod’s games this year. How cool is it that a 69 year-young man can still call ’em better than anybody?

    • Clangger

      .”On the OILERS! radio network”: Does anyone else just think that Jack makes himself sound like a joke every time he says this .”On the OILERS! radio network”. Agreed..Just not even in the same universe….

  • book¡e

    Robin, great story about a very nice man. I met Rod about six years ago. He was voicing some radio ads for the Oilers that featured Pronger, Peca, Smith and Smyth. He nailed everything we needed on the first take. He was humble, helpful and nice. I couldn’t let him leave without asking him to autograph the script. It was the only one I asked for that day, and its still one of my prized possessions.