Very often our first memories of a sport are accompanied by the faces and voices that brought that sport into our homes. For me Win Elliot was definitely one of those faces and voices.
Before the days of national mega-buck broadcasting contracts, cable, 24/7 coverage or any of the advanced broadcasting techniques available to us today, New York Ranger fans considered themselves lucky to see the Blueshirts in action on their home TV screens once a week. Those rare games on WPIX and WOR were usually on Saturday nights and often on tape delay as part of the Schaefer Circle of Sports. “Schaefer, the one beer to have if you’re having more than one”. And one of the voices that brought them into our homes belonged to Win Elliot who alternated with Bob Wolfe depending upon the station that held the rights to the broadcast and the sponsor.
He was born Irwin Elliot Shalek in Chelsea, MA, but changed hisname early in his career. A zoology major and a hockey goaltender at the University of Michigan, Elliot took a communications class to get the credits he needed to graduate, and an impressed professor suggested sportscasting as a career. He also served in the US Maritime Service from 1939 to 1941.
During his heyday he was one of the busiest announcers in the business, but I guess he had to be since he had a wife and 11 children to support. Elliot anchored World Series and Super Bowl pre- and post-game shows, covered boxing and horse racing, and was host of radio call-in shows as well as the “Schaefer Circle of Sports” on television. He also reported for Sports Central USA on the CBS Radio Network as well as hosting early television game shows like “Tic Tac Dough” and “On Your Account” and the radio variety show “Borden’s County Fair.”
But it was Elliot’s nearly 20 years as the voice of the Rangers on both radio and TV that he is most remembered for by New Yorkers of a certain age.
In those black and white, single camera days, Win WAS the Rangers to many of us, serving as play-by-play announcer and color analyst as well as between period host.
Elliot’s warm, friendly, almost folksy voice and manner made him a welcomed guest in our living rooms on those long ago wintry nights. Despite the fact that the Rangers racked up a lot of losses during Win’s time in the booth he still made the games exciting and enjoyable to watch. I remember Win for his storytelling, even while the game was going on. He always imparted a bit of hockey lore along the way. “The game of hockey was invented by Canadian Indians,” Win would say. “And the game was named after the word the Indians would shout after getting hit with a frozen road apple – ho-gee, which meant ‘It hurts.’” He also recounted the tale of former Ranger netminder Steve Buzinski who after making a glove save, flipped the puck behind the net only to discover he had misjudged his position and tossed the puck into his own goal instead.
Between period interviews were conducted from the penalty box or the Ranger’s bench using the lone press box position camera on a long shot. And in the era before video tape and replays, Elliott, with bow tie, glasses and crew cut would re-enact goals on screen using just the gifts that he was born with, his voice and body movements. Yes it was all very primitive, but it was all we had and we loved it and looked forward to it every week. It was the earliest form of “Appointment Viewing” for New York hockey fans.
Away from the arena Elliot was friendly and approachable. I was
fortunate enough to meet him on a number of occasions, once while walking up Eight Avenue towards the “Old” Garden with my father. Here I was this kid bothering Win while he was rushing to work, munching a hot dog, yet he patiently answered every question I had.
Bob Wolfe worked with Win and remembers him fondly. “Win loved hockey and for many years we worked as a team together and I enjoyed that tremendously. One year I found out that his job was in jeopardy for a very unusual reason and I was very happy that I could come up with a solution to keep his career going. It was not a question of Win’s talent, it was a question of his honesty. The people who hired him at the Garden didn’t listen to him calling the Rangers home games because they were at the game. So they only heard him when he was on the road. And all good sports announcers go up with the crowd roar and stay silent when there was no noise. The problem that on the road, Win was going up with the crowd’s roar when the Red Wings or Leafs scored but was silent after the Rangers scored, And the people at the Garden were asking ‘doesn’t Win love the Rangers anymore?’ So I told him, ‘Win when you’re on the road you’ve got to get equally or more excited than the crowd when the Rangers play well than when the home team does well’. Win realized that I was right and after that it was smooth sailing. It was funny because nobody was more passionate about the Rangers than Win was.”
Win’s brother Biff Elliot also went into show business and became the first actor to play Mike Hammer on film. But Win also had a flair as a showman. “One day Win was walking down the street with me in New York and he was wearing this funny looking beret on his head.” Wolfe recalled. “I said, Win why are you wearing that beret? He said ‘it helps’. How does it help? ‘Well people stand and look at me don’t they? It’s cheaper than an ad in Variety!’
Win passed away in September of 1998 at the age of 83.
When asked how he wished to be remembered, Win simply answered, ”As a great dad.” But to those of us old enough to remember he was also a great announcer and storyteller and a reminder of a simpler time and long ago, cold winter nights.