(Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)
When he was the play-by-play man for the New York Islanders, Jiggs McDonald (right) got to take a drink from the Stanley Cup after one of the championships in the 1980s. He never got that close in his five years with the Kings, starting in 1967.
Jiggs McDonald admitted that he danced a bit of a jig.
“It was a slow one,” the 73-year-old said from his summer home in Ontario, Canada, just north of Toronto. “Do I have to tell? Yes, I was crying.”
Rich Marotta watched from his home in Reno, Nev., texting his son in Agoura Hills, taking intermittent calls from his mom, Terry, in Las Vegas, and found himself on the phone with his daughter from Texas when it all hit him.
“I couldn’t talk to her – I was getting choked up,” he said. “Tears, a big lump in my throat. I said, ‘I’m sorry, I gotta go.’”
Pete Weber had his own sob story.
He excused himself from a gathering of about 800 at the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association annual awards banquet in North Carolina, found a laptop computer in the hallway that they were about to auction off for charity, had someone there fire up the NHL Game Center and watched the screen in awe.
He had to give himself a quiet moment in the restroom.
“At least I was intelligent enough to make sure had a good supply of Kimberly Clarke stock in my pocket so people wouldn’t worry about what was wrong with me,” he said.
They were three former Kings broadcasters on the other end of the media moment on Monday night, watching the team they once covered – endured may be more like it – finish off their first Stanley Cup championship at Staples Center.
Maybe McDonald, Marotta or Weber may not be part of today’s Stanley Cup championship parade or celebration at Staples Center, but they, along with Bob Miller, Jim Fox, Nick Nickson and Daryl Evans, are just as entitled to the own royal satisfaction in seeing something completed that never happened during their time with the franchise.
McDonald, who would otherwise be known as Ken had he not been pinned with his nickname from owner Jack Kent Cooke, began his Hockey Hall of Fame career as the Kings’ first play-by-play man in 1967. Ed Fitkin was his colorman for two years. McDonald stayed around for five seasons before going to do games for the Atlanta Flames and 15 seasons with the New York Islanders, as well as in Toronto and Florida before retiring from fulltime work in 2004 but still doing fill-ins to prolong his career over six decades.
The longing for a Kings’ championship seemed to be a birthright for the man who would eventually leave to join the expansion Flames, be replaced by Roy Storey for one season, and then by Bob Miller for the next 39.
“I was parked in front of the tube with Hockey Night in Canada until past midnight,” said McDonald, who spends winters in Fort Myers, Fla. “I know I’ve been away from the team for 40 years, but what a reward. My emotions ran the gauntlet, all over the map.”
His thoughts went back to all the people he worked with in the organization all those years ago.
“I know Mr. Cooke would have been beyond belief, standing 10 feet tall and strutting around with an entourage of Hollywood folks – this would have been his crowning moment, as a Canadian who felt he invented the game,” McDonald said of the first Kings owner who built the Forum in Inglewood and died in 1997.
Rich Marotta, right, with Bob Miller during his induction ceremony for the Southern California Sports Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2011.
Marotta, a Notre Dame High of Sherman Oaks and Cal State Northridge grad who grew up in the Valley with his dad, Joe, taking him to L.A. Blades hockey games at the Sports Arena pre-dating the Kings, got his first big broadcasting break when he was hired as Miller’s colorman on radio and KTLA-Channel 5 games almost by accident for two seasons starting in 1976. He was in Colorado Springs doing college hockey when he sent a tape to Miller for a critique, not knowing there was an analyst job open. Chick Hearn, Cooke’s head of broadcasting, hired Marotta a week later.
Marotta circled back 10 years later to work at Prime Ticket as a pre-, post-game and between periods host on TV games in the 1980s at a time when he’d be prompted to do things like interview the Zamboni machine – anything to distract the viewers from what was really happening on the ice.
Even though Marotta said he “didn’t miss a minute” of the Kings’ playoff run, it got a little dicey during Game 5. He was in his hotel room at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas watching the NBC telecast from New Jersey, but then had to scramble downstairs when it was over to cover the Manny Pacquiao-Tim Bradley fight.
“It became very personal for me, very emotional,” Marotta, who still does sports updates for Bill Handel’s KFI-AM morning show, said of the Kings’ victory.
“I’d felt all along that they underachieved during the season but if they got into the playoffs they could do something. When they won those first two in Vancouver, I went on Bill’s show and predicted they’d win the Stanley Cup. I think Bill ignored me, but that’s only because he’s not a big sport fan.”
Hearing the crowd’s roar at Staples Center during Game 6′s closing minutes “really got to me,” said Marotta. He also started thinking of past Kings employees, but found himself focused most on the present.
“Bob Miller has been so incredible, something I found out from years of doing this with him, that he could always bring a fresh enthusiasm to ever game, even with the Kings were out of it – and believe me, there were some pretty bad teams,” said Marotta.
Pete Weber, left, known as “Bulldog,” poses with Kings great Marcel Dionne and broadcast partner Bob Miller, circa 1980.
Weber, who replaced Marotta in 1978 and stayed until ’81 to open the door for Nick Nickson’s arrival in L.A., stayed at Miller’s West Hills home when he came to town from Nashville, Tenn., to see Games 3 and 4 at Staples Center, watching from the auxiliary press box overlooking the booth where Nickson and Evans were doing the Kings’ radio call.
Miller said he would have been in North Carolina with Weber last Monday to see Weber receive his award as the NSSA top broadcaster in Tennessee had it not been for the need of Game 6. Weber, the voice of the Nashville Predators since their existence in 1998, had only the NHL app on his iPhone to keep up with the Game 6 progress, flashing scores to others in the room who asked, including Bob Costas, there to be inducted into the NSSA Hall of Fame.
“It seemed like a room where there were no Devils fans,” said Weber, who didn’t see the game until he got home to Nashville on Tuesday night and played it back on the DVR — speeding through the commercials, of course.
He’s never felt far from the Kings, especially staying connected to Miller and Nickson over the years.
“The Kings were the first major league entity that hired me, as a 27-year-old, with these great mentors in Bob and a surrogate father I had with Chick,” said Weber. “I still don’t see the color purple – it’s Forum blue.”
Weber said he recalled many an absent friend on Monday, particularly two with stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame — late Dan Avey, who was Miller’s first established colorman, and the late Stu Nahan, who in his 30-plus year sportscasting career in L.A. at KABC, KNBC and KTLA was one of the few in town who even understood the game, having played goalie for the L.A. Monarchs minor-league team in the 1950s.
“It all hit me, simultaneously, when it was over,” said Weber. “They were marvelous times. The younger you are in your career, the greater that impression is made.”