Thirteen years in the National Hockey League, four teams, 45 goals, 180 assists, and 1,692 penalty minutes. He was the Quebec Nordiques first pick, 11th overall, in the 1981 NHL Draft. Despite all of that, though, most people recognize Randy Moller as the quirky announcer with a strange affinity for pop-culture references.
It was 1992 and EA Sports was getting ready to release their second installment in what has now become a hugely successful NHL video game franchise. Making it onto the cover of one of these games in the early 90s, while not quite on par with having your face on a Wheaties box, was a huge deal for an athlete, especially in hockey, the least popular of the four major sports. After all, the Madden franchise hadn’t even put a discernible player on the cover at that point, and wouldn’t until 1995.
So, when Randy Moller’s phone rang and he learned of the news that he had made the cover of NHLPA Hockey ‘93 (along with fellow New York Ranger Mike Richter and Philadelphia Flyers forward Rod Brind’Amour), he couldn’t contain his excitement.
“I get a call from the NHL that I’m on the copy of the first in ‘93. So, I’m thinking, ‘F–k, I’m on the first copy. They gotta pay me a hundred grand!’
His reward from one of the largest video game manufacturers in existence? Two copies. Which is only one more copy than I owned.
It could be argued that up until five years ago, that NHLPA Hockey ‘93 cover was the height of fame for Randy Moller, who amassed just 45 goals and 180 assists in a thirteen-year NHL career. A career that saw him bounce from Quebec to New York City to Buffalo and ultimately down to Miami, the hockey capital of the world, before injuries forced him to do what most people do in South Florida— retire.
The following year, after the Panthers had lost to the Colorado Avalanche in the Stanley Cup Finals, the team’s radio color commentator resigned to focus on his real estate business. Needing to fill the role, the club turned to Moller, who was still doing some work within the organization.
That was 16 years ago. Today, Randy Moller oversees all aspects of production — radio and television — serving as the Panthers Vice President of Broadcasting.
Most notably, though, he’s the radio voice of the Florida Panthers and one of the most talked about local announcers in sports. His most famous moment is no longer immortalized on the cover of a video game, but in the ears of fans everywhere who have always wondered where, exactly, Mrs. Moller keeps the peanut butter.
Hi Brian…look forward to meeting you. I’m sure you will enjoy the “show”
The “show.” I had never thought of sports radio play-by-play as a show, especially not in a game with so little scoring. But that’s something I learned very quickly about Randy Moller, that whether it was the second period of a 2-1 game or we were just shooting the shit before the puck dropped, this whole thing was very much a “show” and he would take great pride in being the host. I’m getting ahead of myself, though.
In that same email, he had asked me to arrive at the BB&T Center for a game against the Buffalo Sabres at 6:00 p.m. I walked into the media entrance at 5:50 p.m., a full ten minutes earlier than scheduled. This scared me. I wanted my night with Randy to get off on the right foot, but there I was, early, maybe interrupting his dinner, or worse, his evening poop. What if I was the thing preventing him from being able to enjoy one of the single greatest feelings in life? I didn’t know how announcers prepared for their jobs, but the pre-game poop seemed like a realistic possibility. I was angry with myself just thinking about it. Why couldn’t I just sit in my car for another few minutes? Why did I have to go and mess everything up right off the bat?
All of those ridiculous scenarios played out in my head as I dialed his number to let him know I was there. A few rings into my regret, a booming voice picked up.
Oh, great. He’s the type of guy who answers the phone with his own name. I’m so dead.
“Wait there. I’ll come get you in a minute.”
I thought about running. This was my chance. I could get to my car and out of the parking lot before he even made it downstairs. He’d never even know what I looked like. We could all just pretend like this never happened.
But the fear begging me to run was the same fear that had me frozen in place. Like, what if he caught me? The man finished his 13-year career with almost 1,700 penalty minutes, and you have to believe that at least a few of those were for dropping the gloves. Let’s make this one thing very clear about me: I’m not much of a lover, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m much of a fighter, either. Best to just take this whooping — be it verbal or physical — inside the arena, where there were witnesses.
A few minutes passed and a large man in black pants and a white, pinstriped dress shirt approached me with his hand out. A big, meaty hand. One that looked like it may have punched a few people. You forget just how imposing hockey players are until you see one up close. This is it. Mom, dad — I love you.
“Brian? Nice to meet you.”
A half-smile came over his face, and it was enough to momentarily ease my worries. Most of them, anyway. A former hockey player with half a smile is better than a former hockey player with no smile at all. The more he spoke, the more my irrational fears began to fade. As soon as the urine running down my pant leg dried, we were ready to begin our evening.
He motioned for me to follow him as he brought me to the production trailer, then across the arena, and finally up to the broadcast booths, introducing me to everyone we met along the way. And I mean everyone. Video guys, radio guys, ticket takers, the woman pushing the elevator buttons — there didn’t seem to be a single person in the building he didn’t know by name and genuinely care about. I, on the other hand, still can’t spell my editor’s last name.
When he speaks, his voice is powerful and direct but also thoughtful. He commands your attention, but in a way that makes you want to give it to him. And he walks fast. Almost too fast. It was either his incredibly long strides or my incredibly short ones, but at times, I found myself practically running to keep up.
After a brief tour of the building, we arrived at the WQAM broadcast booth that overlooks center ice, the place where iconic phrases in pop-culture have spent the last five years becoming Florida Panthers goal calls. This is where radio gold happens.
“Ma! The Meatloaf!”
That was Randy Moller’s first ridiculous goal call way back in 2009, coming at the behest of local sports talk radio funny man, Dan Le Batard, who has always been vocal about questioning the importance of the serious broadcaster.
“One time [Dan] just said — cause they were talking about sayings or whatever and movies or stuff like that — ‘Moller, why don’t you do one of these?’ And I said, ‘Well, suggest one.’”
And as they kept suggesting them, he kept belting them out. Game after game, ridiculous phrase after ridiculous phrase. Everything from Wedding Crashers quotes (You did the motorboat, didn’t you!) to Sir Mix-A-Lot lyrics (L.A. face with an Oakland booty!).
It didn’t take long for the Internet to fall in love with Randy Moller’s goal calls. Deadspin and other big-name sports blogs got in on the action, posting YouTube compilations of his greatest hits. The countless videos now on YouTube have amassed somewhere close to a million views, which doesn’t seem like much by today’s Internet standards until you consider the number of people online who would actually care about hockey in South Florida.
It’s one of the reasons — four years later — Moller continues to do it. He views himself as an ambassador for the sport, and if he can hold the attention of even a handful of people and get them interested in Panthers hockey, then he’s doing his job.
South Florida’s most-cooky broadcaster has other calls, too. Ones that don’t make it to the highlight reels. Sayings like, “Oh, for the love of Jimmy Carter” and “Like frying bacon with your shirt off. You don’t want to do that.” Most of those lesser known calls come after a Panthers penalty or an opposing team’s goal, but where they come from is what I was more interested in finding out.
“I come from a family, born and raised in Western Canada. Come from a large family, and on my mother’s side, there’s 13, 14 kids or whatever, and crazy — in a good way — uncles with funny sayings. You know, ‘Shoot, Luke, your ears are full of pigeons.’ Just funny, funny stuff like that. My uncle used to say, ‘Oh, he’s cheap. He’s got wooden shoes, wooden head, wouldn’t listen, and wouldn’t pay.’ He used to say stuff like that. That’s where that stuff comes from. Because I’ve been around a family that has funny, funny, funny sayings all the time. That’s how we kind of communicated.”
And what does his family think of him bringing the Moller zaniness to the professional broadcast booth?
“It’s kinda neat for my kids because their friends all know about it, so when I see their friends, they wanna talk about it all the time. My boys, they’re not the biggest hockey fans. They just laugh at it. My daughter, she gets embarrassed.”
With the tours and introductions out of the way, we were in the broadcast booth ready to set up shop. When I say we were ready to set up shop, what I really mean is Randy Moller was ready to organize his folders and lay dozens of index cards across the small ledge overlooking center ice while Kevin Rodgers, his radio partner, opened his laptop and poured through stats. I sat between them and played with my phone, occasionally lifting the cord from my headphones to keep it from messing up Randy’s cards. I had finally accepted that he didn’t want to kill me, but I wasn’t taking any chances.
Those index cards, though. Man, I couldn’t take my eyes off of them. Carefully laid out in a grid like a game of Concentration, each with a different company name and promotion written across it. By the end of the night, he’d have to have read all of them on-air, plus a handful of other promotions he had scribbled throughout one of his notebooks. In total, he was tasked with plowing through roughly ninety-four mini-commercials. I wasn’t sure that was possible. Not if he also wanted to include any game action in his broadcast.
I was getting dizzy looking at all of the index cards when another of Randy’s cheat sheets caught my eye: a list of opposing players with the phonetic spelling of each name underneath his number. He read through this paper a few times before the game started, making sure he had the pronunciation down. This appeared to make more sense than the approach I would’ve taken, which would have had me leaning over the ledge, squinting, trying to make out what it said on the back of a speeding player’s jersey. This Randy Moller was one smart dude. Or I wasn’t one.
Another notebook sitting in front of us held his scorecards from previous nights, along with blank pages waiting to be filled out for the rest of the season. Goals, assists, stars of the game and, of course, every crazy goal call that’s ever left this mouth — any information he needed to pull up about a previous game was right there at his fingertips. Notebooks from past years weren’t readily available, but he assured me that he had those back in his office, too. Meaning, if for some reason you were curious about what movie quote was used for a goal call on February 23, 2010, Randy Moller would be able to tell you. I imagined it to be the most bizarre Dewey Decimal System known to man.
Speaking of goal calls, we were getting ready for the pregame show when the topic of possible calls for tonight’s game came up. It was opening night for the Miami Heat, so I suggested “Ain’t that like LeBron James? Ain’t that just like D-Wade?” It seemed fitting but was ultimately overruled. In the end, we decided on a line from Jay Z’s “99 Problems.” Just as well.
Rap lyrics tend to be Moller’s favorite. They’re fan favorites, too. After all, old white people reading hip-hop is never not funny.
“The best ones that I get a kick out of, because, as you know, I’m so lily white and so suburban, and when I yell out rap stuff, it’s so kind of not me. I have no idea what I’m saying.”
I wondered if those were hard for him, if he had ever screwed them up. Seemed like that could be a real possibility.
His favorite? A line from Ice Cube’s “It Was a Good Day”.
“She cooked the breakfast without no hoooooooooooog,” he told me with a huge smile, overemphasizing the last word, completely butchering the first, and ultimately answering my question. He came close, though. Closer than anyone had a right to expect.
A few minutes later, our headphones were on and the pre-game show had started. Randy was cruising right through it, weaving back and forth between statistics and promotions, never missing a beat. Plumbers 911? Nailed it. BDO Inside the Numbers? Crushed it. At no point did it ever seem like work for him. I, on the other hand, needed to catch my breath. And I wasn’t doing any of the talking.
Before I even realized it, there were a handful of index cards missing from the table, and the 25-minute show had ended. A flurry of numbers and index cards that whizzed by so quickly, I wondered if I had blacked out. Randy took off his headphones, looked over at me and nodded.
“What’d ya think?”
He could tell I was impressed. And I could tell he was just getting warmed up.
A “show,” indeed.
When the puck finally dropped and the actual game began, I noticed a different Randy Moller, a more-energized Randy Moller. If that was even possible. It was now 7:30 p.m., and he had been working since five a.m., but you’d have never known it by looking at him.
He seemed excited. Almost giddy. As he called the game, his right leg bounced with uncontrollable nervous energy. When his hands weren’t shuffling and reshuffling index cards, they were flailing back and forth, pointing to the ice as he described the action, as if he could somehow guide the listeners’ eyes through the radio. Whenever the puck would inch closer toward a net — it didn’t matter which net — Moller would become tense, as if he were waiting for the final number of a winning lottery ticket. A heart attack was a distinct possibility.
Earlier in the evening, I found out he had given up alcohol 28 days earlier. Said he was losing weight. Pointed to his heart. I wasn’t sure if being a broadcaster was any safer.
At one point, the Panthers moved into the offensive zone and rifled a shot off the crossbar. In the middle of calling the action, Randy leapt to his feet with his arms stretched high into the air. Which is something I don’t even do as a fan.
Up until that shot, I realized I hadn’t thought much about the off-the-wall goal calls. I guess I had heard them on the radio before, and I actually got to be a part of the selection process tonight, so I didn’t think watching one in person would make or break my evening. Besides, there was so much more to this “show.” But, the more I saw Randy Moller getting excited, the more I saw him reacting to the play on the ice like a legitimately crazed fan, the more I realized I needed it. I needed a wacky goal call to complete my evening, to justify my existence there that night. A shutout just wasn’t going to be acceptable.
The Randy Moller Experience wasn’t just limited to random leaping and hand gestures. While those were certainly fun, there were also times you could see his body instinctively reliving his playing days, tucking his arms and shifting his shoulders, as if he were the one controlling the puck on the break. I don’t think there was a single moment in the first ten minutes of that first period where he sat completely still.
About sixteen minutes into the period, there was a lull in the action, at least for a little bit, and his voice simply became a familiar sound in the background of my headphones as I sat there and jotted down notes. The Randy Moller Ambient Sleep CD, in stores now! It wasn’t his fault, it’s just that sometimes hockey has stretches when nothing is happening beyond the blue lines. Sometimes it can feel a little like soccer, only on fast forward, and there isn’t much a broadcaster can do to fix it.
I wasn’t sure how long I had zoned out for, but the voice in my headphones began to come alive again. It startled me. The Panthers were within striking distance. Moller began to grow more and more excited. The tension was building. And then it happened…
“It opens up…out in front…shot…AND THEY SCORED! Tipped out in front, Jesse Winchester! I GOT NINETY-NINE PROBLEMS, BUT JESSE WINCHESTER AIN’T ONE!”
A glow came over his face and he pointed at us individually, as if seeking some sort of approval that wasn’t already readily apparent from the beaming smiles on each of our faces.
The Panthers had a 1-0 lead, Randy Moller was exuberant and we were already choosing the next goal call. We quickly settled on “I’m in a glass case of emotion!” I figured from here, this night had nowhere to go but up.
With 4.4 seconds left in the period, Panthers winger Brad Boyes was called for hooking, prompting Randy Moller to disgustedly exclaim something about cabbage rolls and rubber boots. Like I said, nowhere to go but up.
Over the next two periods, though, Florida actively played defense against my evening, giving up the tying goal midway through the second, the go-ahead goal midway through the third, and generally looking like a team of players who just met each other at the rink during pre-skate. Meanwhile, on the other end of the ice, Sabres goalie Jhonas Enroth (who would eventually earn the first star of the game for his 44 saves) made it abundantly clear that there would be no Anchorman quotes in my near future.
At one point early in the third period, I thought I noticed that Randy Moller’s leg wasn’t bouncing up and down anymore, but it turned out to be temporary. In those few seconds, though, I was legitimately worried that this team had broken him.
See, that’s the thing about Randy Moller. He genuinely cares about this hockey club. The joy of victory and the gut-wrenching heartbreak of defeat that fans so often feel? Randy seems to feel them, too. At least as much as a person can feel such things while still remaining professional. In a way, it made me feel guilty about how little I cared about any of the companies I had ever worked for.
“The hardest part is broadcasting the game and thinking that you have a good broadcast, and we have a good broadcast and the team doesn’t win. And we sit here after, like, you know, we gave it everything we got. Then it’s almost like, ya know, all of this that we did…”
His voice trails off and his mouth scrunches up as he nods his head.
“That’s probably the hardest part.”
Throughout it all, Randy still did his thing, doing his best to bring life to the Panthers’ lackluster performance. With a little over a minute left in the third period and the Panthers trailing 2-1, Randy was still standing, still pointing, still performing.
An empty-net goal with 47 seconds left put the Sabres up 3-1 and sucked what precious little energy that was left right out of the arena — the broadcast booth, too. As the clock ticked away toward 0.0, Randy Moller turned and stared me right in the eyes. A look of defeat came over his face. His voice was low as he shook his head.
“I’ve been to seven World’s Fairs. I thought I’d seen it all.”
I didn’t know if his mic was on or if he was just talking to me, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Whether it’s one person in his presence or a thousand people over the airwaves, an audience is an audience. Randy’s always performing. It doesn’t matter who’s listening.
A twenty-five minute postgame show wrapped up the night. Before he signed off, he thanked everybody who helped make the production possible, from his partner down to the techs. Even me. Even though my contribution to the broadcast was only slightly more significant than yours. He delivered the last line of the broadcast and flung the handful of papers onto the desk in dramatic fashion. Always the entertainer.
We packed up our things and walked to the elevator. I was still struggling to keep up. It was only 10:30 on a Friday night and here I was, yawning. For the first time, I could see that he was tired, too. And rightfully so. We walked out into the parking lot, I thanked him for letting me tag along, and we said our goodbyes. Saturday would be a rare off-day for Randy Moller. Then, before the sun came up on Sunday, he’d be right back at it again. Ready for work. Ready to support the club. Ready to perform.
Ready to put on another “show.”