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The Usual Suspects

It's been a long Hall for voice of Eskimos Add to ...

Edmonton Eskimos announcer Bryan Hall is being teased in the media room that's named for him at Commonwealth Stadium. You have never, ever predicted the Eskimos would lose, says one scribe. "No, no, that's not true" protests Hall. "I do it all the time." "Yes, but was it ever on the air?" he's asked. Hall looks to his shoes, a wry smile on his lips. Silence. The room erupts in laughter.

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If the Calgary Stampeders win the CFL West semi-final on Sunday, it will mark the end of Hall's remarkable Eskimos career. The radio voice of the team since 1965 on CHED, the 75-year-old is retiring from the play-by-play job when Edmonton's season concludes. With the exception of 1962 through 1964, when he was in Toronto, he's been covering the green and gold in some capacity since 1954.

More than a legend, Hall's an institution in the Alberta capital for his devoted loyalty to the Eskimos and his catch phrase, "Touchdown Eskimos …" Half the Edmonton fans can do a Hall impersonation, and no one is neutral about him.

"He's almost the Harry Caray of the Eskimos," says veteran Edmonton Sun reporter Terry Jones, referencing the legendary voice of the Chicago Cubs. "He now sings the Eskimo fight song over the PA in the third quarter. He's had several colour guys in the booth, but he doesn't need them. John Farlinger was with him 10 years, and I don't think he said 100 words.

"I remember one time, when I was a young reporter in the '60s, Bryan was interviewing Rogers Lehew, the Eskimos general manager. And Bryan would ask a question, then answer it, and then hand the mike to Rogers who would say, 'No.' It went this way for eight minutes, Lehew left the booth, and I think he'd said maybe three words."

Hall is reluctant to sing his own praises as the end nears. "I'm not sentimental or nostalgic," he tells Usual Suspects. "I don't hang out with the players. Just being associated with a class organization that's won 13 Grey Cups since I started covering them is career accomplishment enough. Great people like Jackie Parker, Norm Kimball, Hugh Campbell, Ron Lancaster, that's what I think of most.

"I like to think I'm a guy who goes to work and does a job. Heck, I'm still under contract to [CHED owner]Corus till 2012, so I'll have lots to do."

Vicki Hall (no relation), who works for the Calgary Herald but knew the broadcaster as a beat reporter for the Edmonton Journal, calls Hall "a legend. But he still has time for people. There are many people who've covered the team who can tell you a Bryan story where he did something to help them out."

Hall's legend extends to his Donald Trump-styled coiffure. "Don Cherry was the first one to mention it," Hall recalls. "He said, 'Hall with the hair' and it caught on. People think it's a rug, but it's not. I had one woman - I was at a public appearance - and she came over, didn't say hello, just yanked on my hair to see if it was real. It is."

His hair is real - and so is his longevity. "If he had his way, he'd broadcast till he was 100," Jones says. "It's hard to imagine Eskimo football without him."

For his part, Hall says, "I came in with a Grey Cup year in '54. It would only be fitting to go out with another Cup in 2009."

Untold, unbelievable

Mike Danton lost the room early. Very early. In his desperate bid to be accepted once more in the hockey community, the paroled former NHLer told Nick Kypreos of Rogers Sportsnet on Wednesday that the intended victim of his murder-for-hire plan was his own father, Steve Jefferson.

"Everybody involved in the case knows the truth," Danton told Kypreos during their interview, aired as part of a 60-minute special, Mike Danton: The Untold Story. "It's nothing that's fabricated."

While Kypreos didn't press the point, the criminal and journalistic record tells a different story. Danton showed a potential hit man a picture of David Frost, Danton's agent and mentor, as the target of the murder.

He directed him to an apartment where he knew only Frost was. In FBI jailhouse tapes, Frost coached Danton in jail to blame the crime on his parents. Once he failed to clear that bar of proof, Danton's credibility evaporated.

There was more obfuscation. Time after time during the interview with Kypreos, Danton vilified his biological father for alleged abuse and providing a poor home life. He lionized Frost.

When asked about allegations of Frost's sexual proclivities that landed him in a Canadian court in a case unrelated to Danton's murder-for-hire plot, Danton blandly wrote them off as "bad decisions." Frost was acquitted. To anyone familiar with the story, it was Danton's lips moving but Frost's voice coming out.

Not that Kypreos pressed Danton on the fine points. If Danton and Frost wanted a sympathetic ear in his plea to restore his career, the onetime NHL enforcer provided it. This was Mike Danton as victim. Late in the program, Kypreos asked the former St. Louis Blues forward why NHL teams should give him a chance? "Why shouldn't they?" Danton replied.

Er, how about you can't cross the U.S. border as a convicted felon? Instead, silence from Kypreos.

Which was frustrating to Bob McKeown, a reporter from CBC's the fifth estate who has followed the Danton criminal story from its earliest moments in 2002.

"Job 1 is getting the interview," McKeown told Usual Suspects. "Nick did that. We couldn't. Having said that, it's frustrating that this interview may become the official record of Danton. Had Nick called me, I'd have liked to help him with some follow-up questions."

Kypreos and his producers say they did speak to hockey columnist Steve Simmons of the Sun chain, who also knows the Danton file.

"Mike Danton the untold story has now been told," Sportsnet host Daren Millard said at the conclusion of the program. Well that's one opinion.

dowbboy@shaw.ca

 

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