Sunday, January 20, 2008

R.I.P. Don Wittman, 1936-2008

photo courtesy of

If, like me, you're a sports nut between the ages of 30 to 40 who also happens to be Canadian, your formative years revolved, for the most part, around three voices. The first was Danny Gallivan calling Habs games on HNIC, where "cannonading blasts" reverberated around the old Forum. Next, comes Bob Cole. While we make fun of him from time to time for mangling the language (and player names), or bristle at what we perceive as his biases, for those of us not quite old enough to remember Foster Hewitt, Coley is the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The third was Don Wittman.

As I flip through the cluttered file cabinet in my memory labeled "Greatest Sports Moments I've Ever Seen", it is truly astonishing how many come with Don's distinctive voice in the soundtrack.

One of the two seminal moments responsible for turning me into a hockey fanatic as opposed to a casual fan (the other being Gretzky to Lemieux in the '87 Canada Cup) will always be my favourite Don Wittman moment: The Punch Up In Piestany.

But whether it was at the Olympics (Ben Johnson's rise and subsequent fall in Seoul, Donovan Bailey's 100 meter win and the Men's 4X100 relay in Atlanta, Perdita Felicien's fall in Athens), iconic NHL playoff goals, too many memorable Grey Cup games to list here or even Brier finals (yeah, I like got a problem with that?), hearing "Good evening everyone. I'm Don Wittman" in the opening was as comforting as putting on an old sweater. We knew that whatever happened during whatever event we were watching, Don wouldn't let us get too low, too high, or too excited until the exact moment it was called for.

In today's t.v. sports landscape, polluted as it is by the likes of Pierre McGuire, Gus Johnson, "You got JACKED UP!!" and the voracious 24hr/day two headed monster that is ESPN/TSN, young up and comers could do much worse than study Don's quiet competence and rock solid style. Sadly, the fact that so many don't is the reason Don will be missed most of all.

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