Raps voice finds range

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 12:02 PM ET

On the same July day the Raptors added swagger in Jermaine O'Neal, they reduced the Swirsky factor by hiring straight-shooter Matt Devlin as television play-by-play voice.

Devlin is 10 years younger, and a head taller than Swirsky, but the latter cast a giant shadow on the court and the city that the newcomer couldn't hope to eclipse in just half a season. Swirsky held radio/TV sway over the team for almost a decade, with his excitable, often over-the-top delivery and a storehouse of colourful phrases, which he also applied as a team pitchman and Fan 590 host.

Judging by the early season letters and e-mails to The Sun, the fans weren't warming to Devlin after the switch, which Swirsky initiated with a move to Chicago for family reasons to take a job with the Bulls.

"I knew some people in Toronto had never heard a basketball game that Chuck didn't announce," said Devlin.

"He had a special relationship and rightfully so, because he was there a long period of time. I talked to Chuck about that myself. But at the end of the day, it's about the players and the team and that's why the fans will tune in to watch. You have to ultimately be yourself."

When Swirsky departed, Devlin's name was among those put forward by Chris Hebb, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd.'s senior vice-president of broadcast. Hebb had worked with the Memphis Grizzlies, where Devlin was stationed, and was endorsed by MLSEL senior VP Tom Anselmi and Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo.

"Chris had a good handle on Matt and we were looking to go in a different direction," Anselmi said. "I love Chuck, but we decided we weren't going to try to get someone to compete with him.

"Matt is more conservative, straight down the middle and a network guy and in a job like this you're thinking qualitative. We're getting good feedback and I think people will get used to him."

Devlin had been in Toronto in the spring, calling part of the Raptors-Orlando Magic playoff series for Turner Broadcasting. But there was a little Hogtown kismet already at work for the 41-year-old Syracuse-born Devlin.

"My uncle Mark came from New York and took a job in Toronto in 1972, had three kids and two of them stayed here and in Peterborough," Devlin said. "My wife (Erin) has a cousin in Toronto, too. You'd come up to visit them or call a game here and say: What a great place this is to work, never thinking Chuck would ever want to leave.

"It's one of the great cities in North America. It really had everything my wife and I wanted to raise three children."

He and the Canadians on the broadcast crew have hit it off.

"From the guys in the truck, (producer) Paul Graham, (director) Troy Clara to (analysts) Jack Armstrong, Leo Rautins and Sherm Hamilton, they've all been exceptional."

Part of Devlin's attraction to the Raptors was his experience in other sports, such as baseball, college football and track and wrestling at the Beijing Olympics. In New Haven, Conn., he split split double A baseball and college basketball, where little Sacred Heart University reneged on a $100 per home game offer. Devlin did the broadcasts for free to get valuable tape for later network auditions.

Where Swirsky invoked the major food groups when working salami, cheese and onions into his game spiel of big plays, Devlin is unapologetic for having no personal trademark call.

"Each broadcast and each sport you do has its own verbage, it's own tenor, rhythm and cadence," Devlin said. "A couple of things stand out for me, not necessarily a call, but moments in your career. You look at the person next to you and say 'geez, I'm working with an individual I grew up watching'.' "


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