Every broadcaster that achieves some level of longevity and notoriety eventually develops a signature catch phrase of their own that eventually comes to define their voice and presenting style.
“Do you believe in miracles?” has been associated with Al Michaels ever since the 1980 Miracle On Ice.
For Peter Maher, the line that everybody remembers was lifted from a top-40 pop song back in the mid-1980s, and dates back to a memorable seven-game series between the Calgary Flames and the Edmonton Oilers during the heyday of the Battle of Alberta.
Calgary had the Oilers on the ropes before Game 6 on a day when Maher, listening to the radio, heard ‘Yeah, baby!’ as a song refrain and it stuck in his head. He had thought to work it into his broadcast that night, but the Flames couldn't oblige with a victory. Up in Edmonton for Game 7, on the memorable night that Oilers’ defenceman Steve Smith accidentally shot the puck past his own goaltender Grant Fuhr to give Calgary an upset victory, Maher trotted it out at the top of his lungs.
“Yeah, baby!” resonated over the airwaves for days, helping to celebrate that win and many others during the 32 years Maher was behind the microphone for the Flames’ radio broadcasts. He was remembering that moment on Wednesday morning at a packed news conference in the Saddledome, where he announced his retirement.
Maher was the 2006 winner of the Foster Hewitt Award, the Hockey Hall Of Fame’s way of honouring distinguished broadcasters. In a career that began calling Campbellton, N.B. Tigers games on CKNB and included three years in Toronto as the play-by-play voice of the Maple Leafs, Maher broadcast over 3,100 games. Maher was also the television play-by-play voice of the Maple Leafs for mid-week games on CHCH-TV during the mid-1980s.
In his time behind the microphone in Calgary – he took over play-by-play duties from Bart Dailley in the team’s second season – he didn’t miss a game, despite some nights when he could barely croak out his call because of a cold or other throat ailment.
Maher became a beloved figure in Calgary – both his name and his trademark call were trending topics on Twitter nationally on Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning – because his voice packed such a powerful punch. He would use his signature phrase only to signify important moments in franchise history – from Lanny McDonald’s 500th career goal to Calgary’s one-and-only Stanley Cup championship in 1989.
Maher also handled the radio play-by-play of Canada’s 2010 Olympic gold-medal victory over the United States for Rogers Sportsnet and his call of the Golden Goal– scored by fellow Maratimer Sidney Crosby and assisted by long-time Flame Jarome Iginla – elicited a series of ‘Yeah, baby!’ calls.
Maher said he determined to retire now, partly on the counsel of long-time friend and former federal cabinet minister Doug Young, who advised him last summer it was always better to leave a job early rather than stay on too long.
Many tributes to Maher poured in after his retirement announcement, but probably Flames’ team president Ken King summed it best: “Today, we lost our voice.”
No successor to Maher has been named.