I remember as a kid bounding into the living room late on Saturday afternoons during the football season, with the light outside waning, and literally spinning the dial on the black and white RCA console over to channel 9, hoping that the NFL “Game of the Week” would include the Bears performance from the previous weekend. Invariably it did, as I was too young to know that NFL Films was probably putting out a separate version of the program for each NFL market. I looked forward to listening to John Facenda describe the feats of Butkus, the antics of Atkins, the adventures of coach Halas stomping up and down the Bears sideline.
Along with my early indoctrination at Wrigley Field into all things Bears, the Game of the Week gave me a chance to relive the excitement of the day, and through the years Facenda introduced us all to the rest of the NFL, until he passed away in 1984. That news was met with a sense of loss by all NFL fans, as it seemed impossible that NFL Films could replace the so-called “Voice of God.”
They couldn’t, but with Harry Kalas they came awfully close.
As with Facenda before him, Kalas’ nicotine-coated baritone introduced future generations to the drama of the NFL, and his ashtray will be a tough one for Steve Sabol to fill.
It’s kind of strange, because just this past weekend I was thinking about the different voices we’ve all grown accustomed to when viewing our favorite local sports teams. I attended two Blackhawks games this season. I didn’t recognize the public address announcer at the first, and wondered what ever happened to Harvey Wittenberg. But there he was last Sunday for the regular season finale, just like he was during my first days at the old Stadium. I don’t know if he still does games on a regular basis, but it was fun to hear him again, and I made it a point to tell my kids who the guy calling out the penalties and goals was.
Wittenberg is a part of our lives, like Pat Piper (Attention! Attention please! Have your pencils . . . and scorecards ready . . . and I will give you . . .the correct lineup . . . for today’s ballgame.) and Phil Georgeff (Here they come, spinning out of the turn!) once were and Jim Riebandt still is today.
Riebandt has been doing Bears games since 1982, and what season ticket holder can’t replay the following in their head and not hear him saying it: “Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen . . . and welcome to Soldier Field . . . for this afternoon’s contest between your Chicago Bears . . . and the greeeen baaaay packers. This is Jim Riebandt, . . . your stadium announcer, . . .”
Then there’s our own Harry, the late guy with the restaurants, yelling “There’s a drive! . . .” Or how about Pat Foley in a high-pitched voice wailing, “BANNERMAN!”
It’s a sad day today in Philly. There’s an empty seat in the booth, and it makes me appreciate all the other voices that make the games that much more enjoyable.
Rest in peace, Harry. Today we raise our Chunky Soup to you.