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Sports media

Edwards passion is undeniable

The voice of Bruins defends on-air style

By Chad Finn
Globe Staff / April 29, 2011

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The moment was one of genuine sports glory. Nathan Horton’s second overtime goal of the series helped the Bruins vanquish their storied rivals and frequent tormentors, the Canadiens, in Wednesday’s Game 7 of their first-round playoff matchup. A feeling of catharsis accompanied the celebration, one that figured to carry over to the next day if not beyond.

Yet a curious thing happened in the aftermath, another clue that perhaps buzz trumps authenticity in the changing media world. It turned out that the morning-after chatter was not so much about the Bruins’ first Game 7 victory since 1994.

Instead, the abstract postgame soliloquy by NESN play-by-play announcer Jack Edwards got more notice on the blogs and airwaves than the game itself.

Speaking directly into the camera while wrapping up NESN’s coverage, Edwards said the following, and with a straight face:

“Those royals sit there on their shiny thrones and primp in their hand mirrors and try to dictate morality according to them, about how you can dive, or how you should play, or how you shouldn’t run a player into the center glass. And the rest of us, those poor filthy masses, are just supposed to take it.

“Well, a couple of hundred years ago, a bunch of rowdy radicals charged out of some Boston bars, went down to the dock, and dumped the king’s tea into the salty sea. And in doing that, it struck a chord that rings true even today, that when confronted with imperious conceit, fighting the good fight is not only the right thing to do, it can be a heck of a lot of fun.’’

Those familiar with his use of the phrase “redcoat retreat’’ know this is not the first time Edwards used a loose connection to history to summarize a hockey series. But this one drew more notoriety, perhaps because his point was cloudy at best.

Was he taking a veiled shot at the royal wedding coverage and accusing Prince William of diving like so many Canadiens forwards? Was he saying pesky Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban carried himself like a king? What was the connection between royalty and hockey?

Yesterday, the media were as puzzled as NESN viewers, albeit with a humorous tone. Barstool Sports offered a free T-shirt to a reader who could decipher Edwards’s postgame rant. The Sports Hub’s “Toucher and Rich’’ program replayed the speech, backed by “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.’’ And Deadspin titled its post on the matter: “Jack Edwards’s baffling pro-Boston, anti-royalty rant.’’

When asked yesterday if he was aware of the hubbub or had received much feedback, Edwards said most of it had eluded him.

“Deadspin? That’s just silly,’’ he laughed, before offering a deconstruction of his commentary and an explanation of how it originated.

“We drove from Montreal to Burlington after Game 6 [Tuesday] because we had the back-to-back situation,’’ Edwards said. “So while I was driving through Vermont, New Hampshire, I had a lot of time to think about it, about the whole season series, and the context of all the off-ice stuff, and the posturing and politicking between the two teams, the cultural differences between the two teams.

“So I asked [Brian Zuchello, producer of NESN’s Bruins telecasts] if he would give me a final word, and he said he would.’’

With such freedoms come accusations that Edwards, who grew up in Durham, N.H., is blinded by a Bruins bias.

His supporters — and there are many — swear his enthusiasm is genuine. His broadcast partner, analyst Andy Brickley, insists that working with Edwards is a joy.

“Jack’s passion for the Bruins is real,’’ Brickley said. “I can’t emphasize that to people enough. That’s who he is, and I love it.’’

But he also has been accused of trying to establish himself as a brand, to turn the game into “The Jack Edwards Show,’’ that his passion is really thinly disguised pandering or homerism. After all, he called NHL games for ESPN from 1999-2003, and later HDnet and Versus, without revealing any favoritism toward the Bruins.

“Well, of course I didn’t. Of course I didn’t,’’ Edwards said. “Because here’s how it goes. Here’s the first thing I say every night when we go on the air, with a slight variation in the playoffs: ‘New England hockey night comes your way from fill-in-the-blank arena, fill-in-the-blank city.

“The next words are, ‘NESN presents live coverage of Boston Bruins hockey.’ It’s not, ‘NESN presents live coverage of the National Hockey League.’

“When I was on ESPN, it was coverage of the National Hockey League. Same when I was on Versus. And if you go back and pull those air-checks, you’re going to hear an announcer who sounds like he’s pulling for both teams.

“But on NESN . . . you go back and look at last night, and one out of every five New Englanders who was drawing a breath was watching this game live. [NESN’s 17.7 household rating in the Boston market set a network record for a Bruins telecast.]

“I don’t know the exact numbers, but I’m going to bet you 19 out of every 20 viewers was not only a Bruins fan but a dedicated Bruins fan, someone who considers him or herself to be Black and Gold through and through. Now, if we’re broadcasting to a national audience, a more neutral audience, of course there is going to be a different treatment of the game.’’

Edwards insists the criticism does not bother him, though a hint of defiance pierces his cheery tone.

“People can call me any names they want. That’s fine,’’ he said. “After 32 years in the business, I’ve got a reasonably thick skin.

“But here’s the thing. Compare me to anyone else on another regional telecast. I challenge you to do that. Go ahead. The opponent scores on any other regional telecast, and it sounds like the guy’s puppy just got run over in front of his house.

“I’m fine if anyone wants to call me homer. You can call me a pencil-necked geek. You can call me any name you want. Just make sure you spell my name right and you have a Nielsen meter in your house.’’

He laughs, then offers a slightly briefer wrap-up than Wednesday.

“In all seriousness, I admit I ride pretty close to the edge and sometimes I go past it,’’ he said. “Sometimes I don’t like what I hear on my air-checks.

“But I think, generally, if people listen to what I say over a 2 1/2-hour telecast rather than a 21-second clip on YouTube, the No. 1 conclusion that they’ll come to is that I love hockey.

“At least, I hope that’s the conclusion they come to. Because it’s the truth.’’

Chad Finn can be reached at finn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globechadfinn.

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