October 01, 2013

Hockey Legend of a Different Kind: Paul Morris: Voice of Maple Leaf Gardens

This is Paul Morris. Chances are very good you do not recognize him by the grainy photo. I apologize - it is the only photo available readily online, believe it or not.

But fans of a certain vintage will instantly recognize his shrill voice in the following YouTube clip.

That's right. Paul Morris was the legendary public address announcer for the Toronto Maple Leafs, a post he held for 38 years (1961-1999). And as such he is the unmistakable voice of Maple Leaf Gardens.

Back in the day, as they say, the Leafs were the only game on TV every Saturday night. This was before satellite TV and TSN and hockey on every night of the week. I'm only going back as far as the 1980s, people!. One game - no Hockey Night In Canada doubleheaders back then, either - per week, until the playoffs started.

And it was always a Leafs game. Fortunately my dad - a Francophone - often made me watch the Montreal game on the French channel, about the only alternative game back then! But he'd let me turn the channel during the intermissions and sometimes even the commercial breaks. There was no remote controls back then, kids. I was the remote control. I had to scramble to turn the big knob from channel 7 all the way to 13. And then there was the volume knob, but I digress.)

Once Guy Lafleur retired we watched a lot Leafs hockey. The Leafs of the 1980s, as we well know, were not very good. We hoped to see them play Gretzky's Oilers every Saturday night, but of course that didn't happen. But regardless who they played we watched.

Like many kids of our generation we were enthralled by the voice of the Leafs PA announcer. It was so monotone, so, dare I say, almost boring that it fascinated us. This unknown man was the voice of the Leafs. The voice of the Maple Leaf Gardens. For all us, he was the voice of hockey. No matter how piercing it was.

Every time we scored a goal while playing hockey on the street or in the basement, or on the table top game and especially in my daydreams, that voice would enter into my world time and time again. It was the voice of our imagination.

"Goal scored by #9 Joe Pelletier. Assist to #99 Wayne Gretzky and #7 Greg Terrion. Time of the goal, 6:25." Gretzky always had the first assist. If I had a second assist, I gave it to some obscure Leafs player. It seemed like the right thing to do.

It was not until years later that I finally was able to put a name to the voice. And just recently I was able to put a face to the name and the voice. Paul Morris is given a short profile in Graig Abel and Lance Hornby's new book, Welcome To Maple Leaf Gardens.

Here's what I learned about Morris:
  • Morris' first game was October 14th, 1961. He was a last minute fill-in when regular announcer Red Barber failed to show up for work. Morris worked the next 1561 games for the Leafs, retiring 38 years later.
  • Morris' father, Doug, also has quite the connection to Maple Leaf Gardens. He was the grand ol' dame's first building superintendent. His biggest innovation was the four sided clock.
  • Maple Leaf Gardens was the first NHL building to have a digital model score clock hanging above center ice. The clock - which featured 40,000 light bulbs - was installed in 1983. Known as the Dominion Clock it was built with a helping hand from Paul Morris. 

Be sure to check out Welcome To Maple Leaf Gardens at my sister site, Hockey Book Reviews.com


hockey kazi said...

yes, I also grew up listening to him--took me years to find out what he looked like---told it plain and simple---scores, assists time--nothing fancy

Lex Luthor said...

Dude deserved to call another Stanley Cup Final. Imagine an overtime goal to win the Cup: "Toronto goal scored by number 17, Wendel Clark. Assist by number 93, Doug Gilmour and number 14, Dave Andreychuk. Time 13:45. Wendel Clark, from Doug Gilmour and Dave Andreychuk. Time 13:45. The Toronto Maple Leafs have won have won the Stanley Cup."

Of course no one would hear him from cheering so loud. Then again, he might've broke character and went fanboy at that point. But he was always the consummate professional. Andy Frost is good for today's NHL where you need to keep the crowd's energy up, but Leaf fans were louder and more engaged back in the day, so Morris could do his straight man thing.