Somewhere in my parents house is a red Fisher Price tape recorder. You know the one, it had the little mic and you could record and play on cassette tapes. That recorder holds a tape with recordings of my friends and I doing our best Rick Jeanneret impressions.
That was just standard practice as a 90s kid. I suppose the same goes for children of the 80s, 2000s and 2010s as well. It makes sense given how transcendent Jeanneret is to this franchise. Beyond the crossed swords and charging bison, I can think of few things that represent the Sabres more than Rick Jeanneret.
I came to the realization in college that Buffalo isn’t unique when it comes to beloved sports broadcasters. Mike Lange, Dom Emrick, Bob Miller, Pat Foley, hockey is filthy with play by play voices who transcend the team they cover. While we may not have been the only town with an announcer we adored, we were the only one with someone as magical as RJ.
Friday and these last few games will be immensely bittersweet. I’m sure we’ll see RJ now and then for the odd game, especially when the team gets over the hump and back into the playoffs. But saying goodbye to this seminal figure of our youth is devastating in so many ways. We are so much richer for the gifts he has given us over the years. Now that the time has come to part ways, it’s getting much harder to say goodbye.
It’s easy to take for granted just how deeply ingrained he is to the Sabres. When I think of my favorite moments of franchise history, RJ’s call is the first thing that bubbles to the surface. The jovial, bombastic calls are naturally what makes him so special, but I think it’s his ability to elevate a moment that sets him apart. Anyone can explode after a big goal or save, Jeanneret was one of the few who could immortalize those moments.
I was lucky enough to be witness to one of those moments in 2011. For a while I did stats for TV broadcasts. The Bandits, Knighthawks and MLL games mostly. The odd Bills preseason game. It’s easy money if you can land it. What’s better than getting paid to go watch a game? I got a call from the Sabres saying that they needed a stats guy for the game the next night. RJ’s usual guy had a conflict, could I do it?
The Sabres were in the thick of a playoff race, so getting paid to go watch that game was the only offer I needed. To work with RJ for the night was icing on the cake.
So for three hours on April 8 I hung out in the booth with RJ and Harry Neale as the Sabres came back to tie the Flyers and clinch a spot in the playoffs. They’d finish the job in overtime for good measure, punctuating a thrilling victory which featured a vintage Jeanneret call of Nathan Gerbe’s tying goal.
It was a surreal experience, working beside two giants of hockey broadcasting. I’m not ashamed to admit I broke from professional standards and asked each for an autograph after the game. I figured he only had a couple years left in the booth. I would’ve never guessed he’d still be at it 11 years later.
Thank goodness he did.
I know my relationship with the Sabres won’t change after Jeanneret is gone. He’s a big part of why I fell so deeply in love with this big, dumb hockey team in the first place. RJ has narrated a lifetime of memories for us and I doubt any of us will be forgetting a single one.