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Jack Edwards: NESN sportscaster, the man, the legend

April 29, 2011

Jack Edwards in his highly controversial post-game seven rant about Montreal as the seat of hockey royalty and morality, and their unjustified and unwavering desire to exert power and influence across the league. 

Jack Edwards, the NESN Bruins sportscaster, has come under fire in recent days for both his in-game statements and his pre and post-game remarks. Understandably, the stakes were heightened and sensitivities a little more acute, because, after all, this is the playoffs and the Bruins were facing the Habs. Hockey followers across North America were paying greater attention, and though only one game was available only via GameCenter Live for those in the US not in the Boston market, the impact of his broadcasts in that market alone and via YouTube clips has been enough to cause a stir.

After watching the solid majority of the Bruins games this season, almost entirely via GameCenter Live with a NESN feed, I feel I have some grounds to speak on with respect to Mr. Edwards (and of course, his co-host, Andy Brickley).

You see, Jack Edwards isn’t your ordinary regional sports network play-by-play man. Jack Edwards is a colorful and clever man, and he doesn’t check that at the door of the press box. His exuberance, his energy and his sometimes outlandish remarks seem organic, unforced, unrestrained, and rain down with far too much power to ever be considered contrived or composed for the sake of controversy.

Jack Edwards is comfortable–with himself, with his job, with his ideas. That is a rarity. He is confident. He’s rarely lukewarm on a given issue, and whether you can agree with him or not, at the very least he’s opinionated, and that is something severely lacking. I am not saying this is necessarily positive–a sense one could improve more, think more analytically, balance one’s thoughts–those are always things to strive for.

Jack Edwards is the Bruins’ biggest critic. It was very nearly unbearable to listen to him in the Bruins’ four game skid in last year’s round two, as their demise was painfully apparent and no commentary was really needed. I remember even putting the television on mute. During the regular season this year as well, Edwards was quick to point out and analyze where the roster was weak and why. For folks calling him a “homer” I do understand the notion he plays favorites (and honestly, any degree of neutrality should probably be thrown aside). But he will compliment another team’s qualities and he will rip the Bruins apart as well as the next fan. Then again, that’s a trait that’s universal among Boston sports fans–a certain self-loathing and hyper-introspection that can kill from the inside. When Brady wins a game for the Patriots, there will be flaws in his game discussed ad nauseum in the aftermath nevertheless. Edwards calls out players when they deserve it, lauds beautiful goals from the opposition, even takes a chip at management and coaching here and there.

Jack Edwards is a master of the English language. He will generate phrases and words from thin air. He will pretend that he speaks Swedish. He will find allegorical references to American or Canadian history and use them liberally. He will turn ordinary play-by-play calls into poems of a sort. He will speak of Saskatchewan as if he knows it like the back of his hand (he doesn’t). He will refer to Chinese mustard from time to time. He will also ignore important plays and instead focus on something that’s bothering him (often, composite sticks). He is a gymnast with words, and intonation, too. He loses track of his thoughts mid-sentence at times, but seems to rebound well enough. He is conversational, a James Joyce-ian stream-of-consciousness type sportscaster who recognizes that the long slog through 82 games requires some levity and some absurdity.

Finally, Jack Edwards is a man that admires and respects the game of hockey. Homer, magician, wild man, it doesn’t matter. He respects hockey and wishes to see it grow and improve. He may not always be right, he may often be wrong, he may make things up on-air and he may say something that touches a nerve from time to time, but he genuinely loves hockey and he brings a certain panache to sportscasting that keeps the game honest. And keeps it real. And keeps it engaging and entertaining.

I think a key metric might be to look at the game with commentary or without it (try hitting “mute”). Does the sportscaster contribute meaningfully, does it detract, or is it neutral? These are valid questions to ask.

99 times out of 100, with Jack Edwards, he has contributed.

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