2007-07-19 / Sports
King of the booth
West Hills resident Bob Miller has been the voice of Los Angeles hockey since 1973
West Hills resident Bob
Miller has been the voice of Los Angeles hockey
By Thomas Gase firstname.lastname@example.org
Over the past 34 years many things have changed within the Los Angeles Kings franchise. Players come and go, uniform designs have been altered, and the team has moved from the Great Western Forum to Staples Center. One thing, however, has remained constant--the team's voice.
This fall, Hall of Fame broadcaster Bob Miller will begin his 35th year calling Kings hockey games on television. The West Hills resident said it's been a remarkable journey, adding that the time has flown by.
"Sometimes it's hard to believe I've been doing this for 35 years," Miller said. "I will be at a game and a man will come up to me with his two kids that are around 14 years old. The man will thank me and tell me that he used to listen to me when he was in grade school. It kind of makes me shake my head and wonder where the time goes."
After broadcasting Iowa Hawkeye football and basketball games, Miller moved on to WITI-TV in Wisconsin, covering Green Bay Packers games, including the famous Ice Bowl between the Dallas Cowboys and Packers in 1967.
Miller didn't know it at the time, but the game that was played in a temperature of minus 26 degrees would not be the last time Miller would work around ice.
In 1968, Miller began broadcasting hockey games for the University of Wisconsin. The first time Miller called a Badgers game he knew he was in for a real challenge.
"As soon as the ref dropped the puck in the first game I called, I knew it would be the toughest sport I would ever have to announce," Miller said. "However, I really got a kick out of describing a goal and getting all the details right." Miller got his big break in 1973, when he received the job offer of a lifetime--the chance to broadcast Kings hockey games. Although Miller loved the job from the start, his boss, then Kings, Los Angeles Lakers and Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke, was not exactly Miller's best friend.
"I was scared to death of him," Miller said. "He was the epitome of a hands-on owner. I think we lost a lot of excellent workers during those first couple years because of him. I would be in the booth calling the games and I would look up and see (Cooke) glancing down at me with his binoculars, watching my every move."
Although Miller said he's surprised he wasn't fired in the first couple years by Cooke, the owner did make for some humorous stories.
"During the '70s we never had any timeouts during hockey games, so Jack wanted me to mention an advertiser's name like Datsun (now Nissan) at least 80 times a game," Miller said.
"He told me to describe Marcel Dionne as scooting down the ice like a Datsun. I told him I couldn't see myself saying that once, let alone 80 times. Instead I told him I could say, 'The Kings lead the Oilers 2-1 on the Datsun scoreboard.' He seemed to be satisfied with that."
Over the next four decades Miller would go on to describe some of the best moments in hockey history, such as the Miracle on Manchester in 1982, when the Kings came back from a 5-0 third period deficit to upset the heavily favored Edmonton Oilers with a 6-5 Game 3 playoff win at the Forum.
"I was so upset after the first two periods because we had a sellout crowd that was really pumped about the game and we were getting killed," Miller said. "I thought, 'We always do this; we always get our fans excited only to let them down.'
"We got the score to 5-3 with about 8 minutes left, and you could sense from the fans that maybe there was a chance we could come back. Then we tied the game when Steve Bozek scored on a rebound after a great play from Foxey (Jim Fox). When Daryl Evans scored the game-winner in overtime, I remember the building going into complete bedlam and my voice cracking describing the play on the ice."
As it turned out, Miller would get a chance to watch one of those visiting Oilers play every day when, six years later, the Kings made a move to acquire Wayne Gretzky in what is often called the biggest trade in sports history.
"My life changed dramatically right from the announcement that (Gretzky) was becoming a King," Miller said. "The (number of) telecasts increased from 30 to 62 that first year. Our season ticket holders more than doubled. I would go around town and people would start recognizing me for the first time. It was great to see L.A. finally come to embrace hockey."
Miller made the call of his life when Gretzky broke Gordie Howe's scoring record in 1989.
"It's my favorite moment in my broadcasting career," Miller said. "I didn't want it to sound too rehearsed, but then someone called me up asking what I was going to say when he broke the record.
"When he scored I waited a few seconds and said, 'Wayne Gretzky, the Great One, has just become the greatest of them all--the leading scorer in the history of the National Hockey League.' I'm just thankful that it was a clear goal so I was able to call the play accurately."
After 34 years of watching hockey, Miller said, the game right now is solid, and, with the changing of the rules after the lockout, fans are now able to see stars of the game really show their skills.
However, Miller said many things in the NHL are also bleak, such as free agency making it hard for fans to keep track of what players are on which teams and the league expanding too soon. Another problem is the television situation, he said.
Although NBC covered weekend games this year, most people don't have the channel Versus, which broadcast the majority of playoff hockey games. The TV situation doesn't allow the home team to cover playoff games after the second round, which means if the Kings were to make the Stanley Cup, Miller wouldn't broadcast it.
"It is kind of a bummer," Miller said. "It happened with the Anaheim Ducks broadcasters this past year. You cover the team all year, and then when they get to the pinnacle you aren't there. I'll tell you what, if the Kings make the Stanley Cup, I'm going to get a ticket and sit with the fans because I still want to experience it."