I wrote this column for TribLive.com this past Aug. 10 when Mike Lange retired. He will be honored with "Mike Lange Night" tonight at PPG Paints Arena before the Penguins host Dallas. The "Hall-of-Famer" is truly one of a kind.
With Mike Lange, you could watch a hockey game on radio.
Sounds dumb, but it’s true.
Lange brought the action to life. He conveyed the electricity, the build. Lange didn’t just call the goal. He subtly told you the goal was imminent. He had a sixth sense. That sense didn’t fail Lange as often as players failed the opportunity, or opposition brilliance foiled it.
Lange wasn’t just a hockey broadcaster. He’s a hockey expert. Not just stats and things that can be memorized, but the game itself.
Lange didn’t drive ratings. Broadcasters don’t. That’s been proven time and again. Winning and star power attract viewers and listeners.
But Lange became identified with the Penguins. He was synonymous.
Bob Prince did it with the Pirates. Myron Cope did it with the Steelers.
It’s rare, important and difficult. Lange did it. He’s a legit Pittsburgh icon.
Lange is the Penguins. Mario Lemieux, Sidney Crosby and Lange are on Pittsburgh hockey’s Mt. Rushmore. (Debate the fourth head among yourselves.)
Lange got you invested. His voice was slightly harsh, but his style had warmth. Lange made you feel like you were in the booth, on the inside, part of the team.
Lange was distinct and unique. You knew immediately you were listening to Lange.
Lange was a pro’s pro. He was dedicated to preparation. Never put a foot wrong. When visiting the broadcast booth, I would see Lange’s copious charts and notes and tell myself I should work harder. (I also marveled at the ancient, old-school headset that he’s used for decades. It should join him in the Hockey Hall of Fame, where Lange has been since 2001.)
I’ve heard hundreds of play-by-play voices. That’s across every sport. Lange is the very best.
On Monday, Lange retired from doing play-by-play. He will be replaced by the very capable Josh Getzoff. Lange will still be heard in some capacity on the Penguins’ radio network. Here’s hoping he has the time and good grace to keep appearing on my radio program, as he’s done for years.
Too bad we didn’t know Lange’s last night of play-by-play was Game 5 of the Penguins’ first-round playoff series vs. the New York Islanders.
The way that game ended makes it worse: Goaltender Tristan Jarry’s badly blundered clearing pass unwittingly bid Lange adieu with a 3-2 loss in double overtime.
But although an on-ice ceremony at one of the coming season’s home games seems definite, Lange wouldn’t have wanted a big on-mic sendoff. That makes him the story, not the game.
The game always came first with Lange. He never put himself over at the game’s expense.
But PPG Paints Arena needs a chance to say goodbye, and Lange deserves one last big pop. That night, Lange will be the story.
Lange is a huge influence on me. His interaction with fans is exactly how it should be. Lange was always accessible. He went places. He got out and became part of Pittsburgh. He had time for the media’s lesser lights, including me. (I’m not lesser to many. But I’m lesser to Lange.)
I’m an extremist. Lange often slows me down. It’s never that good, or that bad. For me, he’s a voice of reason. When Lange talks, I listen.
He recounted the careers of Lemieux, Crosby and a host of all-time greats who played for the Penguins. But, 47 years after he arrived in Pittsburgh, Lange stands among them.
Lange is known for his catchphrases, goal calls, and what he said when the Penguins won their five Stanley Cups. Penguins fans remember what happened by what Lange said when it happened. His mark on the team, on hockey in Pittsburgh and on all of us is indelible.
But one of Lange’s slogans rings truest right now: Elvis has just left the building.
In this case, he just left the broadcast booth.