Check out the best calls from Rod Phillips.
If that was the appetizer, it’s hard to imagine what the Edmonton Oilers have planned for the main course.
Monday afternoon the team held a terrific luncheon to honour Rod Phillips.
Tonight he’ll be honoured in the pre-game ceremony before he calls the last of the 3,542 games in his career.
It was a private function at Spago Restaurant, a favorite of Rod and Debbie Phillips, where a large collection of his former colour commentators, members of the media, Oilers executives, current and past players gathered to toast the broadcaster’s career.
Stories were told and memories were refreshed and the Oilers announced that their play-by-play voice of 37 years would be honoured by the Oilers players all wearing No. 37 in the warm-up prior to Tuesday’s game against the Los Angeles Kings.
“Nobody sold more tickets than you, Rod,” said CEO Patrick Laforge.
“You loved the Oilers and the fans loved you.”
Original NHL Oilers and current president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe spoke of how Phillips lived and died with the fortunes of the team, that he didn’t just wear his heart on his sleeve when he was on the radio.
“Nobody hated to lose more or enjoyed winning more than Rod,” he said. “When we lost, he was suicidal.”
Lowe then presented Phillips a share at the Edmonton Country Club.
“This share originally belonged to Wayne Gretzky,” said Lowe. “I can testify to that because Wayne sold it to me and I just sold it to the Oilers to give to you.”
There was a wonderful letter from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, who had Phillips on his radio show last week and an even better letter from the Prime Minister — both of which which were read by Allan Watt.
“You have been a truly accomplished artist,” began the one from Stephen Harper.
“I know listeners share my regard for your fine work calling the many historic and championship moments in Oilers history.
“Your voice has resonated across Alberta from your early career in Lethbridge to your decades of work in Edmonton. You have earned the admiration of sports fans throughout the province. I join with your many friends in celebrating your accomplishment.”
Phillips was clearly moved by that.
He did, after a moment, manage to react.
“Vote Harper,” he quipped.
Your correspondent, a colour commentator with Phillips back in the days of the WHA, as well as Jim Matheson of the Journal and Morley Scott, who both worked a significant number of seasons with Railtown Rod in the broadcast booth, were invited to spin stories.
My personal favorite will always be his call in Houston one night as scantily-clad waitresses served drinks in the stands where they put a temporary press box.
“It’s Normie Ullman over to Rusty Patenaude and, oh, Jonesy look at the one coming up the aisle!”
In the end it was time for Phillips to say a few words.
“Holy mackerel. Gee whiz. This is unbelievable. (Jeepers Creepers) guys, this is Rod Phillips, the fat kid from Calmar who got lucky enough to call a few games in the WHA and went on to fool ’em for 37 years. I was paid to do a hobby.”
Phillips figured he earned the money by having to fly.
“I handled it for 37 years and it’s still there,” he said of his phenomenal fear of flying.
There’ll be a fear there tonight, he admits.
“I’m humbled by the fact so much is being made of this game I’m going to do,” he said of the final installment of the 10-game series Rod’s Classics.
“I don’t think I’m going to have anything profound to say. I’ll have to wait until the moment but I think it will be a simple good night and thank you. Good night and goodbye.
“I know my guts are going to be torn up inside. I just hope I don’t get too emotional.”
He said the luncheon was just “onbelievable” as he always pronounced the word.
“This just beats it all,” he said.
Maybe not. There’s one more night to come.
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