By Peter Schwartz
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“It’s over. It is all over.”
Those were the words of Howie Rose uttered while calling the John Tavares double-overtime series-clinching goal in Game 6 against Florida.
Those six words could have meant a number of things. The game was over. The series was over. And the Islanders’ 23-year drought of advancing past the first round of the playoffs was finally over. Howie’s intent was probably to hit home on all three, but in the back of his mind, perhaps he knew something else was over.
I had mixed emotions when I heard the news. I was saddened because Rose is a consummate professional and did a wonderful job for two decades at the microphone. His passion and love for the game of hockey was evident with every game that he did — win, lose, or draw.
On the other hand, I was happy for Howie. Since local television can only do the first round of games, he was able to go out with one of the most memorable moments in Islanders history and a call that defined his career with the team. I’m sure it was a decision that he agonized over but as a family man, I can understand the desire to spend more time at home.
For many younger fans, Rose was all they knew as the voice of the Islanders and the news of him leaving came as a shock. There are older Islanders fans that never embraced Howie because he came over from the Rangers and that’s unfortunate because they were blind to the fact that they had one of the best play-by-play announcers in the NHL.
I’ll admit that I wasn’t happy when the Islanders and SportsChannel cut ties with Jiggs McDonald after the 1994-95 season. When I first started following the Islanders, Tim Ryan and Steve Albert shared the television play-by-play duties, but when Jiggs came on board in 1980, he became the voice of the Islanders for 15 seasons.
When Jiggs wasn’t brought back, I had a hunch as to who was going to replace him. I remember telling a friend of mine that Howie Rose was going to get the job. My buddy looked at me like I had three heads, but I had a good reason to feel that way and I was right.
When you’re in sports broadcasting, just like any field, you’re always looking for the best job possible.
While it’s no secret that Howie was a Rangers fan growing up, he was the Blueshirts’ “backup” radio guy. Rose did most of the games as Marv Albert showed up from time to time, including 1994 when the Rangers won the Stanley Cup. When the Rangers had a chance to clinch, Marv was there and let Howie do the second period as an act of good will.
Even though I’m an Islanders fan, I felt bad for Howie because he should have been at the microphone to call the Rangers’ cup win. He would have provided a much more enthusiastic and memorable call for Rangers fans. You can’t blame Howie for taking the Islanders television job because it was a better opportunity than being the Rangers’ backup radio voice.
If I was the Islanders’ backup radio announcer and the Rangers’ television job was offered to me, it would be a no-brainer to take it. It’s business.
I remember Islanders fans not being happy with this decision at all. For me, McDonald was a big reason why I embarked on a career in sports broadcasting, so I hated to see him go. But I was in the minority when it came to Rose because I knew him and felt he would be a terrific broadcaster for the Islanders.
As time went on, Rose truly became the voice of the Islanders. He was cheered more when he served as emcee for ceremonies, delivered some memorable calls like the Shawn Bates penalty shot, the Wade Dubielewicz shootout save the put the Isles in the playoffs, and, of course, the epic Tavares goal against Florida.
But my “Howie is now an Islander” moment was not something that happened on air.
I forget what year it was, but I remember covering an Rangers/Islanders game at the Coliseum one night early in Rose’s tenure with the Islanders. On that night, the Islanders beat the Rangers, which always made for an interesting talking point among some people in terms of how Rose would handle the broadcast.
My regular seat was always in the back row just to the left of the Islanders’ TV location. After I had made my way back up to the press box, I was doing my work when I noticed Howie walking down the walkway behind the seats. I turned around and said goodnight to Howie to which he also said goodnight but also added a big smile and a fist pump.
In my mind, that was the night that Howie Rose became an Islander, but he didn’t have to. Rose is one of my favorite broadcasters of all time and I’m glad that I can call him a friend and a colleague. I first met him when I was an intern at WFAN in 1988 and then as a production assistant at the FAN after I graduated college in 1989.
Over the years, Howie was like a mentor to me. When I had an opportunity to do some football play by play, he gladly listened to a tape that I asked him to critique and that meant the world to me. His guidance certainly helped me improve as a broadcaster and that led to other opportunities.
As an Islanders fan, I appreciate the job that Rose did as television voice for 21 years. He brought an immense amount of professionalism and passion and for that there’s only one thing I can say.
Thank you, Howie, and see you at the ballpark.
Follow Pete on Twitter at @pschwartzcbsfan