Throughout the history of the Buffalo Sabres there has been a great deal of change. The team has had new owners, a new arena, new logos, new executives, and a parade of players come in and out of the organization on a regular basis. But ever since the first game of the team’s second season in 1971-72, Rick Jeanneret has remained the one fixture that fans can always count on.
Over the past few years, the announcer that everyone (fans included) calls RJ has slowed down just a little. He has been the radio voice of the Sabres since 1971, but he assumed the role as the only voice of the Sabres when he was moved to television – and his television broadcasts also became the radio broadcasts – in 1997. With all due respect to the late Ted Darling, RJ is the only voice, and face, that Sabres fans have ever known. His distinctive tone and enthusiasm for the game have made him a legend around the league.
In 2011, RJ was inducted into the Sabres Hall of Fame. In 2012, he was finally recognized by the league for his 40 years of work when he was the winner of the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award. Later in 2012, Rick Jeanneret was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Before 2012 would end, Jeanneret would complete his tour of Halls of Fame when he was inducted into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.
The fans in Buffalo love their announcer. His entrance into the arena every night is as widely attended by fans as the entrance made by the Sabres themselves. He takes an elevator to his press box location because he cannot do the stairs anymore, but that does not stop him from calling the game he has lived for since very early in his life. He doesn’t make the long road trips with the team anymore, but he still likes to call the road games against such longtime foes as the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs.
With all of the accomplishments he has achieved and all of the awards that RJ has earned, calling that final Stanley Cup winning game for the Sabres still eludes him. The fans of the Sabres have insisted that only RJ can be the one to call that first Cup-winning game, and that may be one of the reasons why Sabres fans have been so impatient lately.
The impatience will get worse in Buffalo as RJ is prepared to put a period at the end of his Hall of Fame career. In August 2013, Jeanneret signed a three-year contract that kept him on the air until the end of the 2015-16 season. He had indicated, at the time that he signed the deal, that it could be his last contract. Earlier this week, RJ confirmed that the 2015-16 season will be his last behind the microphone for the Sabres.
With the RJ clock ticking and reality settling in, Sabres fans are now more emphatic than ever that their team make strides to win its first Stanley Cup. After 40 years of dedicated service, it only seems right that Rick Jeanneret be the one to announce to the world that the Buffalo Sabres are Stanley Cup champions. But if the Sabres are going to meet that RJ deadline, they have to move quickly as the end of the 2015-16 season is only two years away.
It may not matter to any other NHL hockey fan whether or not the Sabres win the Cup before RJ retires, but it means everything to the Sabres and their fans. From owner Terry Pegula, to president of hockey operations Pat LaFontaine to interim head coach Ted Nolan; the pressure is on to bring home a winner for RJ. It would be a fitting end to one of the greatest broadcast careers in NHL, or sports, history.