BOSTON (CBS) — Gil Santos was larger than life.
Why? His booming voice and the personality that matched it.
The resume says it all about his on-air work: 36 years as the radio play-by-play voice of the New England Patriots while also manning the microphone on WBZ-AM morning sportscasts at :15 and :45 past the hour for 38 years. There were so many more things he did; play-by-play for the Celtics (with Bob Cousy), Boston College and Penn State football, while also lending his voice to the Boston Marathon.
Gil Santos was “The voice of New England.”
Growing up in Massachusetts and wanting to be a sportscaster since I was a kid, I absolutely idolized Gil. I would hear his updates and think, “the guy never makes a mistake and gets all the information in every time! And all in two minutes!”
One of the thrills of my life was being able to work at WBZ-AM. I joined in 1994 and, right away, could tell how special a place it was. Why? Because legends in our business like Gil, Gary LaPierre, Deb Lawler, Diane Stern, Anthony Silva, Tom Cuddy, Jay McQuade, David Brudnoy, Paul Sullivan, Jon Keller, and so many others who made you feel like you were part of their family from day one.
I would follow Gil by doing midday updates, so I got to talk with him every day. The first thing that shined through was his love for his family. We always talked about our families. The love of his life was his wife, Roberta. Gil passed away on what was their 57th wedding anniversary. He also loved his daughter Kathleen and his son Mark. It was great to hear about all their accomplishments.
Gil also had a great sense of humor. He sat in a corner cubicle with the ancient typewriter on his desk (no computer for writing scripts for Gil). Deb Lawler sat behind him while Gary LaPierre was one over from Deb. And man, they would give each other grief and laugh! Gil had an unforgettable bellowing laugh!
You talk about life lessons, just being there every day provided plenty of those. Gil taught me many things about on-air work, but two stand out:
1. When doing play-by-play, always give the score, the time on the clock, and the down and distance (in football) before anything else. In other words, nuts and bolts and then the description. If you listen to his unforgettable call of Adam Vinatieri’s game-winning field goal in Super Bowl 36, you hear all that. The down. The distance. The time. The snapper. The holder. Then the kick. “It’s good, it’s goooooood!”And after all that, the pure, raw emotions of a man who loved his craft and loved the Patriots. It sounded like him and longtime legendary radio partner Gino Cappelletti were in a living room celebrating! Maybe, raising a glass and dancing it up! It was perfect.
2. It didn’t take long for Gil to understand that I was a positive person on the air. And, he would always tell me, “the easiest thing in our business is to be negative. Everyone does it. It gets phone calls, attention, etc. It’s hard to be positive and stay positive in our business. Don’t stop what you’re doing. Be yourself. Let people make fun of you. Who cares.” I will never, ever forget that.
Gil also beamed with pride about the Hall of Fames he is a part of, and rightly so. Be’s a member of the WBZ Radio Hall of Fame, the Patriots Hall of Fame, the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame, the New England Sports Museum, and the Fairhaven High School Hall of Fame. Legendary stuff.
I also loved his Boston Marathon calls. In fact, I told Gil a story about how I once copied his on-air work. Years ago, my bosses at Curt Gowdy broadcasting in Lawrence, MA decided at the last minute that I would provide reports on the Marathon, which was the next day! I had no press credentials, no access to information. We parked our radio van on a side street off of Boylston about four cars down. So I had no view of the runners finishing. I informed my bosses of the situation and told them I couldn’t call the finish of the men’s race, which they wanted me to. They simply said, “do the best you can. It’s sponsored so you have to do something.”
Ouch! So, I had an AP wire machine in front of me and a Sony headphone radio on. What the heck could I do? Well, after much thought, concerns, anxiety, and lots of other emotions, I did the only thing I could think of. I tuned in WBZ-AM in one ear and had the phone on the other. I went on my station live and repeated every single word that came out of a legend’s mouth.
Gil: “And here comes —– from Kenya leading the way… powerful strides… as he hits the finish line of the Boston Marathon in front.”
Me: “And here comes —- from Kenya leading the way… powerful strides…as he hits the finish line of the Boston Marathon in front.”
Word for word! And if Gil had said, “we’ll take a break and be right back on WBZ,” I would have said the same thing!!!!
Gil laughed as only Gil could laugh when I told him that story. He also said he would give me an “A” for creativity and ingenuity!
I firmly believe that we all have angels in the form of people who guide us through life. For me, my mom and dad, my wife, my kids, friends, coaches, and mentors (Bruce Arnold, Sean McDonough, Gary LaPierre, Bob Lobel, Mike Lynch, Luke Griffin, Peter Gammons, Ed Goldman, Peter Brown, Mark Lund, Peter Casey, Bill Flaherty and many more). They have all taught me life lessons.
Gil Santos was one of those once-in-a-lifetime people. A mentor and a friend. He taught me to stay positive, have passion for what you do and your family. To work hard. To laugh and love.
I loved Gil Santos and will miss him. I thank him too. RIP my friend.