Broadcasting legend and CAS alumnus Pat Foley has earned his place in the Hockey Hall of Fame as the 2014 recipient of the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award, the highest honor awarded to his profession voted on by the NHL Broadcasters’ Association and presented each year for outstanding contributions as a hockey broadcaster.
“This is unbelievable. I really appreciate this recognition from the NHL Broadcasters’ Association. I’m humbled by it. It’s a completely surreal experience,” Foley said during his acceptance speech. “I’m really happy that this happened, but in my world, even if it didn’t, I’d still be a happy guy because when I first started thinking about being a sportscaster…I was hoping that some how I would wind up with a big league team in a big league town.”
Foley, now in his 32nd season as the play-by-play announcer for the Chicago Blackhawks, has called Hawks games since 1981 except for a two-season hiatus with the American Hockey League’s Chicago Wolves before returning to the Hawks in 2008.
A 1977 Michigan State graduate with a degree in telecommunication, Foley began his broadcasting career as an MSU student calling baseball and hockey for the Spartans. He said he had his doubts at first, but was determined to have a career as a sportscaster with a professional team.
“I’d think to myself what if this doesn’t work? What if you don’t get a break? What if you’re not very good? What if nobody likes you? But I was going to find a way to make this a profession,” he said. “To me, even back then, I said to myself if I wind up on a bus for years following the Toledo Goaldiggers around, I’d be OK with that. I like the job. I like the challenge of trying to describe the fastest game in the world.”
The fact that Foley gets to do the job he loves, for a team he loves, in his hometown is even better than he had ever envisioned.
“I’ve said this a lot, but I do think I am the luckiest guy in the world,” said Foley, who grew up in the northern Chicago suburb of Glenview, Ill. “When I first had this idea about trying to form a career, you would have never made the bet that you would work in your hometown. This is a transient business. Most folks change jobs a couple times, and I did, but I stayed at home. I’m really proud of that. It’s been beyond dream like.”
However, Foley didn’t always work in Chicago. After graduating from MSU, he worked for the International Hockey League’s Grand Rapids Owls, but after the 1979-80 season, the team folded and he was out of a job.
During that same time, when Michael Wirtz, brother of then-Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz, came to get his car serviced at Foley Buick, the car dealership run by Foley’s dad, a cassette tape of Foley’s work with the Owls played in his car when he left the dealership. Soon after, Foley got his big break with the Blackhawks at age 26 as the radio voice for the 1980-81 season and was the youngest play-by-play man in the NHL for 10 years.
“My dad had a huge hand in me getting this job,” said Foley, who first got bitten by the broadcasting bug at the age of 10 when he sat in the radio booth at Wrigley Field with sportscaster Jack Quinlan. By the time he graduated from high school, he knew what career he wanted.
“I went (to college) with a purpose. I wasn’t very good in economics or some of the other mandatory classes, but I never missed a telecomm class,” Foley said. “I went there for a reason. I feel very lucky that I knew at a young age – I had all my focus going in one direction.”
Now that Foley has reached the pinnacle of his profession, he says he still has a lot more he’d like to do with his career.
“This is the kind of stuff that’s supposed to happen near the end of your career,” Foley said about the Hall of Fame honor. “I know I’m on the back nine, but I got some mileage left. I’m not done yet.”
Foley, the 36th recipient of the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award, received the honor at the NHL media awards luncheon in Toronto Nov. 17. His plaque now hangs among the other legends of the game at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.