Bob Lobel delivered his final Channel 4 sportscast last night. After 29 years and more than 10,000 sports reports, Lobel signed off with a remarkable lack of fanfare.
Truly, this is the end of an era. Lobel first sat behind the Channel 4 sports desk in 1979 - when Don Zimmer was manager of the Red Sox - and quickly established himself as the definitive face and voice of Boston television sports. He covered World Series, Super Bowls, NBA Finals, Stanley Cup finals, Ryder Cups, Marathons, and high school hockey games from the old Boston Garden.
It was Lobel who got Ted Williams, Larry Bird, and Bobby Orr to sit still for a "Sports Final" show in 1992. It was Lobel who was standing in Carlton Fisk's kitchen when the Sox catcher got the call from Cooperstown in January of 2000. It was Lobel who had a walk-on role in "Cheers" when Norm, Cliff, and Sam Malone were at the top of their game.
It was Lobel who got Adam Vinatieri to come to Soldiers Field Road to reenact the 2002 Foxboro Stadium-closing, Snow Bowl kick. With help from long snapper Steve DeOssie and holder Scott Zolak, and kicking from a pile of snow on the studio floor, Vinatieri drove the ball through the makeshift uprights and into an overhead light, shattering the bulb like Roy Hobbs's game-winning homer in "The Natural."
Behind the sports desk, seated next to Liz Walker, Jack Williams, or Lisa Hughes, Lobel was the natural. Working with the likes of Alice Cook, Dan Roche, Steve Burton, Alan Miller, Gary Tanguay, Bob Neumeier, Gary Gillis, Jackie Connally, Mike Dowling, and Don Shane, Lobel was the Chevy Chase of the sports department, ever relaxed, floppy, and fun. You never knew what might happen next.
Lobel was the one standing alone with his microphone when Bill Buckner walked out of a live interview before a postseason game in 1986. Lobel was the one who sat with Bob Ryan, Joe Fitzgerald, and Upton Bell every week on the old Channel 38 "Sportsbeat." He was the one at the finish line of the Marathon every year. He was the one hitting the Panic Button late Sunday night on "Sports Final."
Oh, and Lobel was also the one who wore the red nose and antlers every December for the benefit of Children's Hospital.
He was king of the charities. He never said no. Fund raisers were constantly amazed when their phone calls were returned, and that the legendary Bob Lobel was happy to come help them raise money for their cause.
Lobel's last day was a lot like the thousands of other days ("thousands of sportscasts, and none of them ever went the way they were supposed to go," he once said). Lobel went to Fenway Park late in the afternoon and anchored the sports report while sitting on top of the puddled Red Sox dugout. He said he was sitting in "America's most beloved ballpark in America's least beloved weather."
Then he cut to a video clip of the Celtics' Game 4 loss in Atlanta in which ex-Celtic Joe Johnson scored 35 points.
"Why can't we get players like that?" Lobel asked for the millionth time.
Lobel was in the WBZ studios four hours later, working the 9 o'clock Channel 38 news alongside Scott Wahle. Like Lobel and entertainment reporter Joyce Kulhawik, Wahle will soon be gone - part of Channel 4's foolish plan to purge the station of veteran talent and institutional memory. Viewer trust will surely follow them out the door.
At 11:23 p.m., Bob Lobel looked into the Channel 4 camera for the last time and told the story of the Red Sox dramatic, 1-0, bottom-of-the-ninth victory at Fenway. The Sox report was followed by a Celtics update, then some funny video of shirtless golfer John Daly.
At 11:27, Lobel tossed it back to Jack Williams, who closed the curtain on Lobel's 29 years with a simple, "Good luck, buddy. I'll miss you."
And that was it.
Someday there will be a new sheriff at Channel 4 reinventing the face of Boston television. If he or she takes a look at Lobel's final report from 2008, chances are the new GM will ask the obvious quesion:
"Why can't we get sportscasters like that?"