February 20, 2012

Jack Edwards: Hero or homer?

By Jesse Connolly

With an ever-growing reputation as the bullies of the National Hockey League, whether an accurate assessment or not, the Bruins quickly have become one of the most hated teams by opposing fan bases. 

NESN play-by-play announcer Jack Edwards (left) and color analyst Andy Brickley are beloved by Bruins fans. (Photo courtesy of NESN)

But strangely enough, even predating the team’s Stanley Cup championship last June, one man often stationed high above ice level during games has been the recipient of just as much derision.

Since arriving at NESN in 2005, play-by-play announcer Jack Edwards’ rambunctious style and quirky musings from the broadcast booth have made him a cult hero to the New England masses. Those outside of the region, however, think the 54-year-old is simply stark-raving mad and a blind homer who fails to check his biases at the door.

“I think anybody who describes me as a homer is a complete simpleton,” Edwards said. “If people have this burning desire to pigeonhole people and assign these singular terms, I understand and I made the mistake of doing that a few times in my career, but to me it’s journalistic laziness when people just say, ‘Oh, he’s a homer!’

“Compared to what? If you compare me to the other 23 American regional sports network play-by-play guys calling the NHL, I think my calls stand up pretty well.”

Often accused of perceiving that everything is simply sunshine and rainbows for the Black and Gold, Edwards (Durham, N.H.) astutely points out the simple fact that — for the most part — things have gone pretty well for the Bruins in recent seasons.

“Some people like to say, ‘Oh, the Bruins never lose a fight when Jack’s calling it.’ Well, the fact of the matter is the Bruins win most of the fights I’m calling because they win most of the fights,” Edwards said. “Have the Bruins sounded pretty good over the last few years on my calls? I hope so! That’s because they’ve been one of the best teams in the NHL over the last few years. That’s just the way it is. If people mistake my enthusiasm for all-out homerism, then that’s their problem. They can call me whatever they want.”

In fact, even when his haters have somehow tracked down his cell phone number and left taunting messages, Edwards hasn’t been fazed. Following Boston’s Game 7 loss to Philadelphia in 2010, two fans left voicemails mimicking Edwards’ call in which he laughed at length when the Flyers’ fans bemoaned a non-call on Milan Lucic for a hit on Randy Jones.

“The entire message consisted of, ‘Ahahaha! Click.’ I laughed out loud at both of them,” Edwards said. “That was really funny at a moment where I wasn’t a happy guy. That’s what sports are about. You follow a team and it’s fun to celebrate and fun to make fun of the other teams’ followers, and I’ve got no problem with that.”

But as far as Bruins’ fans are concerned, Jack walks on water. While he humbly points out the role the team’s success has played in his burgeoning popularity and widespread adoration among the locals, the beloved play-by-play man credits the camaraderie he’s built with NESN teammates Andy Brickley (Melrose, Mass.) and Naoko Funayama, as well as producer Brian Zechello (Pembroke, Mass.) for giving them all the freedom to craft their own styles.

“He doesn’t force us into the white-bread, vanilla box, which is so much of what television sports has become,” Edwards said of Zechello. “That enables us to be ourselves and give a more honest representation of what’s going on out on the ice instead of having to cross our corporate T’s and dot our corporate I’s.”

Edwards can be quite a character when he gets a burr under his saddle or bears witness to a Bruin rearranging an opponent’s kisser, but at the end of the day, not a single second of it is an act. It’s just Jack being Jack.

“I’m a pretty high-energy guy,” Edwards said. “When I go to a hockey game, I don’t tend to be bored like some guys do. I think some people misconstrue a bland, vanilla approach with objectivity. I think they just clearly miss the point. People don’t watch sports for a dry, dull description, or as I would say, a non-description of what’s going on.

“I think most people watch sports because they’re excited by sports. They want to be thrilled by sports. They want to see the big swings in games and the emotional moments of it. That’s why I watch. It’s worked out OK so far.”

This article originally appeared in the February 2012 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

Jesse Connolly can be reached at jconnolly@hockeyjournal.com