We Want Bob!

“We want Bob!”

How many thousands of Angelino hockey fans have said this in the last few weeks or so? Many. In fact, around 1500 of them sent emails to NBC Sports, they were so anxious to see things go their way.

Their issue?

Their beloved commentator, Bob Miller, the only voice most contemporary fans have ever known, has been silenced as far as game coverage is concerned. This due to NBC Sports’ decision to continue its practice of having a “national” team call games after round one. Thus, Miller and his partner Jim Fox not done a game broadcast since the Kings knocked out Vancouver and the national TV contract took over in the US.

According to Mr. Miller, who was interviewed via email by Inside Hockey yesterday, “It has been extremely disappointing not being able to do the play by play after the first round.” However, he added, “Jim Fox and I have been doing TV post-game shows on Fox Sports West and Prime Ticket both after home and away games.”

At least, then, fans have had a bit of the familiar offered to them as the playoffs have progressed. Mr. Miller further said, “NBC has their own announcers. Both Jim and I understand that, but it was still a nice gesture by Kings fans” to send the aforementioned emails in hopes of changing things.

Those from outside the area might not understand the depth of devotion fans have to their announcer, but here’s some perspective. Miller has worked as the team’s head man on the broadcasts since 1973. So someone would have to be close to 50 to have even a hint of recollection of another person bringing the games to them.

Miller’s was the voice that made the call when Gretzky became, as the Hall of Fame broadcaster said it, “the Greatest One” when he broke Gordie Howe’s scoring record.

And his is the voice that every hockey fan has imagined would be the one to say, after so many years of frustration, “The Los Angeles Kings are your 2012 Stanley Cup champions.”

It’s not just the voice that fans admire, but the man and his dedication to the team over the decades. Don’t forget that if West coast teams have to travel a lot, and if that keeps a lot of players from going out there to play, the broadcasters are also made to suffer the hardship of 41 road games. That means, for Miller, lots of nights sleeping on the plane, just like the players. Only his career now stretches past 40 years of doing that. This guy has logged a lot of wear and tear, in other words.

Miller doesn’t show the effects, however, despite being past seventy. I hesitate to mention that, since age is often a secret, but I figure it’s OK because his birthday, which is in October, is always noted at an early season game. He was born in 1938, and so turns 74 this year. But you would be hard-pressed to say that he looks a day over 55. Maybe boundless energy and a positive, others-first attitude is the key to youth. In short, if there’s a person who deserves to see LA take the Cup, it’s Miller, and if there’s a voice fans would like to hear call it, it’s his.

Miller is recognized for excellence in Los Angeles but also far beyond. He was added to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto in 2000 in the broadcasters’ section, and has also won numerous local sports Emmy awards for his work. He has also done movie and TV work on shows like Cheers and films like Miracle on Ice.

Further, he has a star on the Walk of Fame in Hollywood. And despite all of that, he’s the nicest, most humble man ever. He learned my name soon after I began writing about the Kings seven years ago, for instance, and never fails to greet me and ask me what I’m working on or how my books are doing. He even asked me to sign Growing Up Hockey when it came out. To say I was honored would be to make the world’s biggest understatement. By the way, Miller is also the author of a popular book of his own, Tales from the Los Angeles Kings.

So, like everyone who follows this hockey team, I am disappointed that it won’t be his voice which is featured if and when the Kings win the Cup this year. It seems unfair. And no matter when the Kings win or whose voice is heard, I will always imagine the words I’ve already heard in my head many times. “The LA Kings are finally crowned the kings of the NHL.” Well, it might not have been those exact words. In fact, Bob probably has better ones in mind.

But there is hope. Miller told me, “For Game 4 on Wednesday, we are going to be able to record the play-by-play of the game for use at a later date either on DVD or CD. We can’t do the broadcast live due to contractual regulations.”

So fans will be able, one assumes, to buy a copy of the game done just as if it had been Bob and Jim calling it all along. Having watched that a few dozen times, their memories will be slowly imprinted with Miller’s call, whatever magical words it may contain.

He closed his email to me by saying, “At this point I just want to see the Kings win the Cup for our faithful and supportive fans. The long 45-year drought may be over.” These wishes might be echoed back a few thousand times over by all those whose devotion to hockey in LA has been forged through listening to one man call their games since Nixon was president.

For a story on Miller’s broadcast partner Jim Fox, please pick up a copy of Living the Hockey Dream. You’ll also find Dionne, Gretzky, Ian Turnbull, and other Kings players profiled in firsthand stories.

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