Most of all, the Celtics will miss him

January 05, 1993|By Dan Shaughnessy | Dan Shaughnessy,Boston Globe

The NBA changed. The Boston Celtics changed. Life changed. We changed. But Johnny Most always was the same. Hearing his voice for the first time every year was like waking up to the first winter snowfall; it was a reminder of who we are and where we live. We are forever grateful.

Johnny Most died Sunday. His great Celtic heart finally gave out. That in itself is a minor miracle. Johnny's body in recent years played a lot of bad tricks on him, but his heart and spirit were indomitable.

A voice is forever silenced. And New England weeps.

Today heaven has a play-by-play announcer and he's absolutely biased. The Celtics will get every call in the hereafter. If not, Johnny will berate the refs.

To grow up a sports fan in New England in the '50s, '60s, '70s and '80s was to grow up a Johnny Most fan. He had gravel in his pipes and he never met a Celtic he didn't love, but oh, how we loved Johnny.

Hi there once again, everybody, this is Johnny Most, high above courtside. . .

Time out for the Celtics and time in for Jim Pansulo. We'll be right back with our wrap-up after these few messages. . .

. . . He gets it out deep and Havlicek steals it! Havlicek stole the ball! Havlicek stole the ball! It's all over! It's all over!. . . The Celtics win it, 110-109. . .

There was nothing like him before and there will be nothing like him again. Our sports ears have been blessed with the sounds of Curt Gowdy, Ned Martin, Jim Woods, Fred Cusick, Bob Wilson and Gil Santos, but Johnny was the one and only announcer who was as dear to the fans as any player.

Johnny was as much a part of the fabric of the New England sports scene as Ted Williams, Bobby Orr, Larry Bird or Carl Yastrzemski.

Cliche holds that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and this space will give you 5-1 odds that you'll never find a true Celtic fan who did not at one time or another try to imitate Johnny's unique style. It was so fashionable that there were actually Johnny soundalike contests. Some of the contestants were pretty good, but there was only one Johnny.

If you were driving on a dark, foggy night -- hopelessly lost or dead tired -- there was always comfort when Johnny's unique voice (he said he gargled with Saniflush) came out of your car speakers. You were not too far from home. You were in Celtic country. You were among friends.

This is where newsprint fails us. Television and radio can reproduce Johnny for you, but we can't. The printed word simply cannot take your mind back in time. A Johnny recording can do it.

A lot of us will be putting Fleetwood Records' "Havlicek Stole the Ball!" on the old turntable. It will take us back to the days when the Celtics were kings and Johnny was the royal town crier.

Pity the folks who did television play-by-play when Johnny was still high above courtside. New Englanders were trained to turn the sound down on the TV and tune in Johnny. It was better that way.

Only youngsters and those with short memories will forget what a master of the craft he was. Most too often today is remembered as a colorful announcer and a homer, but in those three decades when he had his fastball his play-by-play was as good as it gets. It was simple enough. You listened and you were there. Johnny took you there.

This New Englander had the opportunity to work and travel with Johnny for four seasons during the golden days of the Bird Era in the mid-'80s. This is what I remember:

He smoked too much. He could barely hear and you almost had to yell at him to be heard. He almost never read a newspaper. He was very thoughtful and too often very lonely. He loved his family and he loved to talk about his four children. If you didn't want a lengthy dissertation on the status of his kids, you were advised not to mention the word "child." Johnny would jump on any opportunity to brag about his kids. I was careful to not mention "Junior Bridgeman" unless I had time to hear all about Jamie and the rest of the gang.

He lived in coffee shops. He had trouble with newfangled key systems in hotels. Larry Bird loved him and loved to kid him. Bird didn't let Johnny smoke on the team bus. Johnny tried to sneak a butt every now and then.

He had trouble with tape recorders. He used to pretape the K.C. Jones show when Jones coached the Celtics, and invariably the machine would malfunction and Johnny would ask K.C. to do it over. Of course, Case was only too happy. I believe in 1985-86 K.C. did more encores than Bruce Springsteen.

Johnny once got into a courtside shouting match with colleague Glenn Ordway, and the joust ended when Johnny said, "I'm the show."

That you were, Johnny. You were the show.

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