Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted in 2005.
Strange? Doc Emrick admitted that it is, at least a little.
How can it not be when you are the national voice of the NHL, but in your first season after leaving as the longtime voice of the Devils, you find yourself calling their series against the Rangers, with a spot in the Stanley Cup Finals at stake?
Fine, but doesn’t he still have positive feelings about the team whose games he worked for 21 years?
“Yes,” he said, “but it is at that point you have to absolutely turn the blinders on and be objective about what you’re seeing.”
Fans in every sport are notorious for perceiving bias in the voices of down-the-middle national announcers, but there is relatively little of that when it comes to Emrick, even from Rangers fans. Still, there are times.
Emrick recalled the last time the Rangers were in the conference finals, in 1997 against the Flyers. His partner for Fox, John Davidson, drove home from Philadelphia after a game and for the first part of the trip heard callers on WIP call Emrick a “Rangers- lover.” Then he switched to WFAN as he neared New York and heard him described as a “great Flyers-lover.”
“I concluded I must have done a pretty good job,” Emrick said. “That’s what makes fans passionate; they sometimes see things with their hearts and not their eyes.”
Emrick, 65, recently became the first media member inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame and is among the most respected play-by-play men in any sport. He got rave reviews for maintaining his energy level during the Rangers’ triple-overtime victory over the Capitals in the conference semis.
“I’d never compare myself to a player, except in one regard: That we both locate some adrenaline we didn’t know we had,” said Emrick, who said he relies on peanut butter sandwiches to keep himself going on long nights.
It helps that the season-long grind was greatly eased by giving up Devils games on MSG Plus. He said he misses the people he worked with, the players he covered and the fans, but he added, “It made a huge difference in how fresh you can be to do your work.”
Emrick had high praise for his successor, Steve Cangialosi, who won two New York Emmys last month for his play-by-play and hosting.
“He has done remarkably,” Emrick said. “I am so glad for him to have the opportunity after he worked so diligently in the role of host all that time.”
In 1994, Emrick got to call the Devils’ home games against the Rangers locally, part of a system no longer in place. Now NBC has exclusive rights. That will limit Cangialosi to a postgame role on MSG and put Emrick in a familiar place: in the booth for a Devils game, once more against their bitter cross-river rivals.
“There have been a lot of them,” he said, “and they’ve never been dull.”