“I haven’t worked a day since I was Program Director for CJAD. I get to travel with the Montreal Alouettes, the Montreal Canadiens, talk to the players and go to their games… who would call that work!” I’m in conversation with Rick Moffat, the voice you hear calling the play-by-play action of Montreal’s favourite sports teams on CJAD radio.
The players have been given an elevated status by sports fans. They’re more than professional athletes, they’re our champions. By extension, being closely associated with either team incurs special status. Being involved with both legendary teams is… well – it’s off the scale.
Let’s back up a little to see how Rick’s career path brought him to broadcasting and the world of sports.
Rick is one of 5 children; 4 boys and a girl. “My Dad is from Timmins, and I guess you could say he had a tough childhood. He went to work in the mines when he was a teenager to help out with the family.” During the War, Rick’s father tried to enlist while underage – but a suspicious recruiting officer double-checked his age and he was turned down. However, when he was 18 Moffat senior enlisted in the RCAF. “He was shot down, but was he was able to avoid being captured; and spent much of the war assisting the Belgian and French Resistance fighters.”
One of Rick’s broadcast career highlights doesn’t involve sports. “My greatest pride and joy was getting my Dad into a broadcast studio at CJAD, and listening to him talk about his war time experiences as part of our Remembrance Day programming a couple of years ago. He was instrumental in re-uniting the Resistance families with those of the flyers they helped to rescue from capture.”
“My Mom is made of sturdy stuff too. She grew up in Saskatchewan in the 30s, and survived the Depression and the Dustbowl.”
Rick’s introduction into the world of sports was inauspicious. “My parents worked hard, there wasn’t much extra money, and so we didn’t play organized team sports.” Road hockey and sandlot football were young Rick’s sports world.
After graduating from Lachine High School, Rick went to Carleton to study Journalism. “At the time, the Concordia program was not a degree program, and that’s why I chose Carleton.” While he was able to obtain part time radio work in Ottawa, there were no fulltime positions available in the spring of 1982. “Since we couldn’t find a job, my buddy and I decided to travel across Canada.” It was an experience that would serve Rick well in later life, because he could relate to the young hockey and football players, having visited the small towns where so many of them come from.
The employment prospects had improved when Rick returned to Ottawa that fall. “The last available position was for a weekend sports guy.” Risk accepted the position – and his life as a sports broadcaster had begun.
Unlike many broadcasters who hone their skills in small towns, Rick’s next career move brought him back to Montreal. Perhaps it was a positive comment on the quality of his work that he didn’t have to take the circuitous small-town route to a major market. Rick soon moved from Ottawa to Montreal, working in the Sports Department at CJAD’s FM sister station Mix 96. “I was also doing reports and updates during the game, plus locker room interviews. After the Canadiens’ Stanley Cup win in ’86, I was in the wild dressing room scene – champagne everywhere! The party continued during the flight home – I remember breaking into the bar during the flight with the back-up goalie Sotard.”
In 1991 the National Football League started a spring league called the World Football League, which included a team from Montreal – The Montreal Machine. “The late Ted Blackman was the CJAD Sports Director, and he asked me to come and talk about the broadcasts. I figured that he’d want me to do more half-time interviews.” Ted had other plans for Rick, and asked if he’d like to do the play-by play, calling the games. “Myles Gorrell was the colour man. The team practiced in Florida before the season – so the first time we saw them was just before their first game in Jacksonville.” The league lasted for two years, and Rick thought that his play-by-play career was over.
“Then the Als came back from oblivion in ’96, and Ted gave me the green light”. Ted also brought former Alouette defensive star Tony Proudfoot into the booth as the colour commentator. “I was at the 1977 Grey Cup Game as a fan when Tony came up with the idea of putting staples into their shoes to provide traction on the frozen field that gave the Alouettes the game-deciding advantage.”
Rick and Tony would work together for 12 years, providing Montrealers with exciting and informative game coverage, creating vivid imagery for tens of thousands of people listening in their cars, taxis, trucks, workplaces, balconies and backyards – wherever there was a radio and a football fan.
“Tony is a true student of the game. When other players would read a magazine whose main attraction was beautiful girls, Tony would open up his copy of Scientific American.”
Tony’s affliction with ALS – Lou Gerhig’s Disease unfortunately meant that he couldn’t continue with his broadcast duties. Former defensive lineman Ed Philion has joined Rick for the Alouette broadcasts.
Opportunity knocked again for Rick during the Canadiens’ playoff run in 2004. He was asked to step into the CJAD broadcast booth to pick up the play-by-play duties alongside former Canadien and colour commentator, Murray Wilson.
Rapid fire play-by-play requires a lot of pre-game preparation. It’s not just a case of knowing the players on the home team. In the NHL there are 31 other teams, and in the CFL an additional 7 teams. Rick’s preparation includes learning the players’ names, their statistics, biographies, and any other bits of information that will enhance the broadcast. Despite his easy going temperament, Rick sets high standards for himself. “My professional goal is to always keep honing the skills. It’s pretty much wall-to-wall preparation in order to be able to have an entertaining description of the game.”
The constant travel and late nights are offset with a solid home front. Rick and his wife Sheri grew up four blocks from one another, and they have two daughters, Valerie (21) and Erin (19). “I tend to see days as game days or travel days. It’s Sheri who reminds me what day of the week it is.” Continuing on his family life, Rick notes, “My wife is a sports fan as well. She grew up going to games with her Dad. He still goes to every home game. He’s a great fan, and I remind him that he won the Trifecta; he saw Jackie Robinson play baseball for the Montreal Royals at Delormier Downs; Sam Etchevary win the Grey Cup, and The Rocket score the winning goal against the Rangers in a Stanley Cup!”
Rick and Sheri recently purchased the chalet in the Laurentians that they had been renting. This is where Rick is able to unwind. “Sometimes after a game, I’ll drive up and take the canoe out for a paddle at 1am. It’s very peaceful and it helps me to relax.”
When it comes to hobbies or leisure activities, the time demands of travel and calling so many games takes a toll. I took up organized hockey as an adult, playing for the Dorval Old Timers. I went to goalie school, and played for the CJAD Mighty Yuks hockey team, playing for charitable organizations. Unfortunately my erratic schedule means I can’t play now.”
“Unless its sports, I don’t get to watch much television… one of my guilty pleasures is to read a piece of fiction. I don’t have the time or patience for golf – but I do enjoy the few team tournaments that I participate in during the summer.”
Of all the games, playoffs, and championships he’s covered, there are a few that have special significance. “Being in the dressing room when The Canadiens won the Stanley Cup in 1986 was terrific; the Alouettes Grey Cup win in 2002 remains a special memory. I scooped up a handful of confetti from the field, and I still have it in a plastic bag.”
Rick’s third item doesn’t involve professional athletes. It centers on a boy named Jabbar, who Rick first met as a toddler at the Children’s Hospital where Jabbar was waiting for brain surgery. “I met Jabbar a decade later when we were broadcasting live from the Children’s for the station’s Radiothon. We raised just about a $1million, which was 4 or 5 times what we expected!”
“Jabbar challenged me to a swimming race, and so for the past four years we’ve had a race at the MAB/Mackay Centre. This year we turned it into a fundraiser…The Jabbar Challenge.”
Rick is generous with his time in supporting various charities. “I became involved with Amnesty International during my University days and I still support them. I’m involved with the ALS Society because of Tony Proudfoot’s ongoing battle with Lou Gehrig’s Disease.” Rick is also Honorary Chairman for the MAB/Mackay Centre School Foundation, and of course the various organizations supported by CJAD.
“Five years ago Anthony Calvillo came up with the idea that he’d donate $100 to charity for every touchdown pass he threw, and CJAD would match his contribution. When Anthony’s wife Alexia was undergoing her cancer treatments at the Royal Vic – they spent a lot of time in the hospital’s 7th floor family room which needed to be refurbished.”
The Calvillo’s, working with Jim Hindley of the Cedars Cancer Institute, decided to make the family room renovation their project. This year, Anthony threw a lot of touchdown passes, and he and the CJAD Touchdown Club have each contributed $4,300. The hospital will recognize their contribution by naming it The Calvillo Family Room. This is a project that is very close to Rick Moffat’s heart, and for more information or to make a donation, please visit www.cjad.com or www.cedars.ca
During our conversation, Rick mentioned that while attending Carleton he was nominated as The Face Best Suited to Radio; a not-so-subtle suggestion that he wasn’t television material… Montreal sports fans are fortunate that Rick took his ‘election’ to heart and stayed with radio. As are the thousands of children who are helped every year by Rick Moffat, his friends and colleagues who take time out from busy schedules to give of their time, their talent and energy to help raise the much needed funds to make a positive difference in the lives of Montreal-area children.
During our 12 years together as the Alouette broadcasters, Rick was always considerate and professional.
Rick was the easiest guy to work with in the booth; always well-prepared and able to handle four or five things interchangeably; so all I had to do was wait until he stopped talking before I jumped in. Often it was very easy, because Rick seldom stopped talking. I used to threaten him with a forearm from time to time when I got bored and wanted to say something.
Rick almost never gets flustered, even when faced with the dilemma of not being connected to CJAD in Regina.
We once missed the entire pre-game show. Rick was steaming inside but he never let on that he was upset with the host crew… when we came back on the air he carried on as if we had been away on a commercial break. I could always; I mean always count on Rick to make the job easy for me and extremely professional in all possible ways.
Rick and I as well as our wives, Sheri and Vicki have become friends outside the booth as well and I plan on keeping up this wonderful relationship well into the future.
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