“The Chief” Is Taylor-Made For Lightning Broadcast Booth

It only seems like he’s been here forever. Actually, this is Bobby Taylor’s 15th year in Tampa. Bobby “The Chief” Taylor, that is.

You’ve seen his distinguished, gray eminence around.

Maybe on the links of Avila or Saddlebrook or Feather Sound. Maybe around Dana Shores, if you live in his neighborhood. Maybe at Tampa International Airport. Or maybe speaking to a civic group. But most likely on television. The Sun Sports Network.

The 62-year-old Calgary, Alberta native is the perpetually-tanned, nattily-attired, well-coiffed broadcast analyst for the Tampa Bay Lightning. He’s play-by-play announcer Rick Peckham’s TV sidekick, the color guy with the congenial quizmaster smile.

He’s also a former goalie who has his name on two (1974-75) Philadelphia Flyers’ Stanley Cups. He’s a hockey pioneer who’s evangelical about his sport and has been explaining it to Bay Area fans since Phil Esposito brought him down from Philadelphia in 1992.

There are other Taylor incongruities besides a GQ appearance that belies having played goalie without a mask. He comes out of an era when it was unheard of for a professional hockey player to have any formal education beyond high school. He has a marketing degree from Seattle University.

And then there’s that name, “The Chief.” Taylor’s predominantly Scottish, but “way back” he does have some Blackfoot Tribe blood. Close enough. He’s had the “Chief” moniker since his minor league days in Quebec.

By any other name, however, what you see is definitely what you get with “The Chief”: the personable guy with that winning smile who doesn’t like to see the Bolts losing any more than you do at home.

“You want the team to win, of course,” says Taylor. “But it’s more than just who signs your check. Everything is easier when the team is winning. Losing isn’t fun for anyone.”

But he would take exception to anyone’s perception of him as a “homer,” even if he does habitually focus on game officials’ calls — frequently labeled “tickey-tack” — that, seemingly, too often go against the Lightning.

Taylor acknowledges he can be “extremely hard” on the refs. “I get so caught up in the passion of the game,” he concedes. “But if I’m not passionate, how is the guy at home going to be passionate?”

As for criticism of the Lightning players, he says he tries to keep his assessments balanced.

“The hardest thing is to criticize,” says Taylor. “I know how hard it is down there. And it’s not always as it appears up here. When the media says it, it’s one thing. But it hurts more when an ex-player says it.

“Nobody likes criticism,” he stresses. “But nobody wants a ‘homer’ either.” Taylor defines a “homer” as a broadcaster who “distorts the truth.”

“I try to keep it balanced,” he explains. “If I criticize something, I try to balance it out with something good. But balance is the key. If you’re always criticizing or always praising, you have no credibility.”

And he refuses to traffic in the first person plural. As close as he is with players and coaches, especially head coach John Tortorella, you won’t hear Taylor utter the “W” (“we”) word that connotes broadcast cheerleading. “I just don’t like it,” he says. “When I began (broadcasting) with Philly, I worked with (veteran announcer) Gene Hart, and it was drilled into me that we don’t say ‘we,’ and we don’t use nicknames. Haven’t changed in 30 years.”

What else hasn’t changed over three broadcasting decades is the premium he puts on “chemistry” in the booth.

“You really need to like one another,” stresses Taylor. “And you need to respect what each other does. Rick and I have that. He’s supposed to tell you what happened, and I’m supposed to tell you why. It’s not a competition.

“Rick is the best I’ve worked with,” underscores Taylor. “He’s not so ego-driven that he needs to keep talking. He wants me to get in there. You need that give and take. Now it’s scary. Sometimes we even dress alike.”

But Taylor has his own preparation routine once the 82-game NHL season begins. He attends virtually every practice: to observe and to talk to players as well as coaches. At home, he’ll watch video and go on line for out-of-town newspapers. On game day, he’ll typically find time to pick the brain of the opponent’s coach. After 30 years, he has enough contacts and credibility to command such access.

“They know they can trust me,” says Taylor, “and that I won’t go on the air with something told to me in confidence.”

What he will go on the air with, however, is the firm belief that Tampa Bay continues to confirm his confidence in this market.

“I always felt this could be a very good hockey town,” notes Taylor. “I also have great faith in this game. I always felt that once fans saw the speed, the excitement and the electricity, they would be hooked. This is as good a franchise as any now.”

A franchise whose fans have learned the game as they’ve rooted for the home team.

“In the early days, you only heard the crowd after a goal or a big hit,” recalls Taylor. “Now they pick up the nuances. They appreciate a great pass, right on the stick at 25 mph. You hear them after a great defensive play, say, breaking up a three-on-one.

“When people cheer the defense, they know the game.”

Taylor Outtakes

*Once the long grind of continental travel kicks in, so does Taylor’s voracious reading habit. Especially fiction . Especially John Grisham and Tom Clancy.

*Taylor long admired the old NFL broadcast tandem of Pat Summerall and Tom Brookshire. Among his more contemporary favorites: The Devil Rays’ Dewayne Staats and Joe Magrane. “I think baseball would be the hardest to do. There’s so much down time.”

*Back in the day, goalies were known as the guys relegated to that position because they couldn’t, well, skate as well as others. Sort of hockey’s counterpart to baseball’s slow-footed catcher stereotype. Not so any more, says Taylor.

Today’s goalies have to be among your best athletes. We’re talking great balance, being a strong skater and having great endurance. The goalie is the only guy out there for the entire 60 minutes.”

*Best he ever played against: “ Bobby Orr . By far. He was phenomenal. You almost had to force yourself not to stop and watch him.”

*Most amazing he’s ever seen: “ Gordie Howe . He scored 19 goals at age 52.”

*Head coach John Tortorella : “The relationship with Torts is unbelievably good. He’s so accommodating to Rick and I. He’s also an extremely loyal person and very old school. He really cares about the history of the game.”

*Modern marketing: “I see signs that exhort the crowd to cheer. Shouldn’t the game tell you that? I don’t know exactly when they started doing it, but everything has to be noisy and upbeat. I don’t understand it, but I’m pretty much oblivious to it now.”

* Hockey players : “They don’t get recruited like other sports. In hockey, you don’t get your ass kissed all the way to the NHL. There’s no room for an individual showboat. There are no Dennis Rodmans, for example. Your teammates would shun you.

“Players don’t put themselves above the team, let alone the game. Nobody is bigger than the game. If (Wayne) Gretzky wasn’t, how could anybody else be?”

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