Waiting may be over, but Sam Rosen continues to last with Rangers

MSG announcer Sam Rosen prepares before a game. MSG announcer Sam Rosen prepares before a game. Photo Credit: Handout

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Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept. ...

Sam Rosen didn't script the line, just as he couldn't have scripted this life and career. But two decades later, it still rings true.

"Who knows how prophetic those words were then?" he said. " 'This one will last a lifetime'? Yes, for me, that's the one that lasts a lifetime."

Not that Rosen, 66, plans on going anywhere anytime soon. But no matter what happens from here, it is unlikely that anything will surpass June 14, 1994, when he struck the perfect tone for an iconic New York sports moment.

"The waiting is over!" he said on MSG. "The New York Rangers are the Stanley Cup champions . . . and this one will last a lifetime!"

"Those words came out extemporaneously," he recalled. "The waiting is over. This is it. The 'lifetime' thing, that came from inside, because every Rangers fan, player, ex-players, this is what everybody has waited for and it was just the greatest moment."

In any spring after that, Rosen would not have been able to articulate that for viewers. That was the last year the NHL television contract allowed a local channel to carry the Stanley Cup Finals.

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But that fortunate timing is indicative of what Rosen considers a charmed association with the team, one now in its 30th season -- believed to be the third-longest current term for a TV play-by-play man in the NHL, trailing only Bob Miller (Kings) and Joe Bowen (Maple Leafs).

Rosen's full-time gig began 29 years ago Friday with a 4-4 tie against the Hartford Whalers. His run is remarkable not only for its length but also because he has not seemed to lose any sharpness or enthusiasm -- and because he remains hugely popular among Rangers fans after all these years.

"I reflect on how lucky I am to be one of the few who's gotten to be with this one team, and an Original Six team," he said. "Because they haven't won a lot of championships, Rangers fans are passionate, they're hardcore. They want that little hope."

Rosen was born in Ulm, Germany, to Polish parents who fled to Russia before World War II, then to Germany soon after the conflict. "It sounds bizarre, but that was the safest place," he said of post-war Germany.

When he was 2, the family moved to Brooklyn, where he grew up a Yankees fan and became a catcher and captain for the baseball teams at Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan and at City College. He also was a fan of sports broadcasters, especially Mel Allen.

"I listened to radio non-stop," he said. "My parents with their European Jewish background wanted me to be a doctor or lawyer. I took a semester of science courses and after a bunch of Cs, I said, 'This is not for me.' "

While at CCNY, Rosen began working in the news department at WINS radio. After graduating, he migrated to sports, where he was mentored by Jim Gordon, the man he later would succeed on Rangers telecasts.

His early career was a hodgepodge of events and stations, including as one of ESPN's early voices. Even though baseball was his passion, he had been attending Rangers games since childhood and had taped himself doing practice play-by-play there, which helped land him his first full-time contract with MSG in 1982. Two years later, he was assigned to the Rangers as their lead voice.

"It was very, very difficult to succeed Jim Gordon," he said. "No one helped me more than Jim. It was a tough call, but they said, 'We're going to make a change either way.' When you put it that way, you kind of say, 'OK.' This was huge. This was the New York Rangers."

Rosen never has looked back during a term that included a 20-year partnership with John Davidson and is among the longest team-specific runs in New York sports history.

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"I realize I've now transcended a generation of listeners and it's incredibly fulfilling, because as you know, this is a business of transition," he said. "The name 'Rangers' is family to me."

Rosen has instructed his actual family to let him know if they detect that he is losing his edge, an occupational hazard among announcers of a certain age.

No one has accused him of that so far, and he said he is encouraged by the marvel that is the Dodgers' Vin Scully, still "the gem" of the profession at age 85.

"The Garden people have said, 'It's your job as long as you want it,' " Rosen said. "I hope that's true. I feel great. I love it."

Whenever it ends and whatever transpires between now and then, he and Rangers fans always will have 1994 and that spontaneous call. "You think about it during the day, 'OK, what do you want to say?' " Rosen saidd of the hours before Game 7 against the Canucks.

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The drama was interrupted by a couple of late icings, until at last there was that climactic faceoff with 1.6 seconds left. "Then, finally," Rosen said, "it was over."

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