One night the Boston Celtics were at the Capital Centre t play the Washington Bullets and, just as the game was about to start and with impressive solemnity, radio announcer Johnny Most told his vast audience back in New England, "Mrs. Ruland, if you're listening somewhere in Connecticut, I advise you to turn your radio off; you're not going to like what I say about your boy Jeff."
Then, without even pausing for breath, he continued, "the ball goes up and Boston controls the tip and we're under way."
To say that Johnny Most, who passed away Sunday on Cape Cod after years of health problems, and his microphone had a huge effect on the NBA during the last 40 years is understatement. In a word, Most was, well, the most.
"You know," he said later on during that typically bruising battle between the Celts and Bullets, "it's a city ordinance here in Washington that you can't call a lane violation or a hacking foul against either McFilthy or McNasty." McFilthy and McNasty, of course, were Ruland and Rick Mahorn, the Bullets' imposing front line.
Even more so than Red Sox announcers of the '50s and '60s, Johnny Most brought more pleasure to kids sneaking a listen to the valiant Celtics battling the forces of evil before homework was done or after the order of lights out was given. His description of "Rapid Robert," Bob Cousy, "tricky-dribbling" to set up a mate with "a simply unbelievable pass" made it so everyone within earshot couldn't wait until they witnessed this spectacle for themselves at the fabled Boston Garden. Rarely was anyone ever disappointed.
Almost as noteworthy an event as Cousy, Bill Russell, Tommy Heinsohn, et al taking the floor for the opening tip at the ancient arena atop North Station in Boston was the sight of Most VTC climbing down out of the stands to assume his radio position in a booth tacked to the facade of the second deck.
A memorable moment in the old shed's history is the evening, during the excitement of a game against the St. Louis Hawks, Most had his upper plate flip out and fall to the stands below. As the game went on, Most called it, all the while hollering to a guy downstairs to hold onto his teeth until he could get someone down to fetch them.
Everyone has a Johnny Most story. More important, everyone who grew up in the six-state region loved him and will never forget his Celtics-forever style. And, amazingly, the man probably never really sensed how dramatic and humorous he was or how truly important to his craft.
John's tools for a broadcast were few: a half-dozen cups of coffee, most of which he spilled on people nearby, a like number of aspirin, two packs of cigarettes ("in case of overtime") and a pencil, which he rarely used.
Listening to that coffee- and cigarette-induced rasp and
checking out that frail and abused body for the first time, you had to figure Johnny wouldn't last but a couple of seasons, never mind three dozen. And it's a measure of the man that even when television became popular, the Celts on the tube never approached the audience Johnny Most commanded.
The rafters of the Boston Garden are so full of championship banners and retired numbers of the Celtics and Boston Bruins that one gets only an occasional glance at the roof. Included among all this cloth is another chunk of satin bearing only a microphone. Guess who?
* Perhaps you saw it near the end of the stupefying Buffalo-Houston playoff game Sunday: The Bills, on the way back from a 32-point deficit shortly after halftime, got an interception at the 37 and, after a short run and penalty, ended up with the ball on the Oilers' 20. Warren Moon, the man who had thrown the pass, pointed to an official hoping he noted an obvious infraction.
While TV replays showed Moon's intended receiver had indeed been mugged and interfered with, seven officials somehow missed it and Warren trudged off the field as Buffalo moved out to complete its heroics and end Houston's season.
At least 90 percent of the viewing audience (conservative estimate) and most who would hear of this mammoth comeback in the ensuing hours thought to themselves, oh well, what do you expect from Moon and those choke artists from Houston?
Remember last year when John Elway's pass at the end gave Denver a 26-24 win over the Oilers, who led at halftime, 21-6? Or the OT loss to Pittsburgh in '89, the blowouts in Cincinnati in '90 and Denver in '87 and the butt-kicking in Buffalo in '88?
The unfortunate thing here (and elsewhere) is it's invariably the quarterback who has to shoulder most of the blame for his team's losses. Most of the time, even with a team with no tight end, a non-existent running attack and virtually no ability to control the clock, the Oilers score enough points to win. That's Moon.
It's the defense that has given up an average of 26 points while the Oilers have gone 3-9 in playoff games during the Moon era, never getting to the AFC title game. But Moon's the guy who doesn't come through in the big game, right?
Ask anyone who keeps tabs on what's happening in pro football who the great quarterbacks are these days and they answer Joe Montana, Dan Marino and Jim Kelly. Then come Elway and another guy or two before Moon gets the call. And it figures to be this way until Warren hangs 'em up, five years go by and it's time for Hall of Fame consideration.
When that day comes, chances are Houston's playoff problems will make it touch and go for Warren for a while, perhaps indefinitely. If it happens, it will be a clear injustice.
Without putting you to sleep with statistics, be aware that Moon has been an all-star since college (Washington), through six seasons in the Canadian Football League and now nine in the NFL. He's passed for well over 50,000 yards and 300 touchdowns as a pro while maintaining a completion average of about 57 percent. And in his earlier days, he was a feared runner.
When his numbers are stacked alongside those of the 17 quarterbacks presently residing in Canton, he is first, second or third in nearly every department. The guy's no loser.