This one goes back a bit, 25 years, certainly, maybe 30. It goes back to a particular night and a beer or two and a hotel bar in Gettysburg, Pa., where I was getting my Civil War nerd on and chatting up a few of the locals.
"So, where are you from?" one of them asked, after I'd made the standard out-of-towner crack about how they sure must get tired of re-fighting the Civil War in these parts 24/7/365.
"Fort Wayne, Indiana," I said.
Immediately their eyes lit up like a musket volley at dusk.
"Komet hockey!" one of them cried.
"Bob Chase!" hollered another.
And right there, boys and girls, is why the NHL and USA Hockey chose a minor-league play-by-play guy as the latest winner of the Lester Patrick Award for lifetime service to hockey.
They reached and plucked Bob Chase for that, because, 500 miles away from Fort Wayne, in the middle of a town whose carries a weight that has nothing to do with glove saves or crashing the net, they'd all heard of Bob Chase. And they'd all heard of Komet hockey.
They'd heard of him because WOWO was 50,000 bellowing watts back then, and it carried Bob Chase and Komet hockey everywhere. Puckheads way up in the Canadian Maritimes listened to Chase describe Lenny Thornson as he lugged the biscuit up ice. Folks down in the Carolinas caught the blow-by-blow when D'Arcy Keating or Bernie McNeill dropped the gloves and then dropped the hammer.
The late, great Lewis Grizzard once mentioned Komet hockey in one of his columns for the Atlanta Journal and Constitution. Soldiers overseas followed Chase and Komets. And one clear night out in Vermont, when the stars were like diamonds on black velvet, I spun the dial and up came the voice of home, so crisp and loud the man himself could have been sitting in the back seat of my car.
"Aaand Colin Chin into the zone ...." Chase droned.
The man was Fort Wayne, to a whole significant chunk of North America. He was the front man not just for a middling Midwestern city halfway to everywhere, but for hockey, too, that odd little sport that came south out of Canada and, if nothing else, taught America how to properly pronounce "Yvan Cournoyer."
("Eee-VON CORN-why-ay." Class dismissed).
Chase and those 50,000 bellowing watts had as much to do with bringing all that into America's living rooms as anyone, and so forgive me if today's announcement doesn't have a touch of well, duh to it for me. The man's only been doing this for 60 years, and for about 50 of those you can count on one hand the number of games for which he hasn't answered the bell. If 80 percent of success is just showing up, as Woody Allen once said, then Chase has success in a headlock.
And, of course, it's been more than just about showing up. It's about putting his city and his sport out there. It's about all of the some 4,500 games those 60 seasons behind the mic represent. It's about all those perilous trips up and down rickety steps to rickety press boxes in rickety, dimly-lit arenas from Port Huron, Mich. to Asheville, N.C.
Surely there's a stronger description of what Bob Chase has done than that.
Just ask a few folks in Gettysburg, Pa.