After cancer battle, Blackhawks' Pat Foley and Eddie Olczyk bond grows even stronger

 
 
Updated 3/11/2018 8:31 AM
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  • Television broadcasters Pat Foley, left, and Eddie Olczyk, shown here during a game last season, have reunited after Olczyk took time off for colon cancer treatment.

    Television broadcasters Pat Foley, left, and Eddie Olczyk, shown here during a game last season, have reunited after Olczyk took time off for colon cancer treatment. Courtesy of Chicago Blackhawks Photos/file

It's a moment Pat Foley will never forget.

His phone rings, he looks down and is excited to see his good buddy, Eddie Olczyk, is calling.

Moments later that excitement immediately turns to shock and grave concern as Olczyk -- Pat's Blackhawks broadcast partner of 11 years -- drops the bombshell that he has been diagnosed with colon cancer. The news hits Pat like a puck to the head.

"If it had been face to face, the way my face dropped might have been disconcerting for him," Pat said.

Once the shock wore off, Pat -- who has been reunited with Eddie for five of the last six telecasts -- knew he had to do whatever he could to help.

There were dozens of texts. Multiple visits. Lots of phone calls. That incredible day at Wrigley Field. And so much more.

Because that's what you do for a friend who has to face an opponent 100 times tougher than any he faced in over 1,000 games in the NHL.

Their early bond

In a way, Eddie Olczyk first met Pat Foley on his driveway and in his basement while growing up in Palos Heights. That's where the future Blackhawks star would fire pucks into nets while listening to Pat and Dale Tallon call games.

Said Foley, who at 63 is 12 years older than Eddie: "I love when a guy with four grown kids talks about listening to me when he was a kid."

Ahh, those classic one-liners. Eddie's roaring laughter. Pat's cackles. The good-natured ribbing. It's part of what makes a Blackhawks broadcast with Pat and Eddie so genuine. So unique. So perfect.

It's all possible because they immediately hit it off after the Hawks drafted Eddie with the third overall pick in 1984.

Blackhawks broadcaster Pat Foley honored his good friend and television partner, Eddie Olczyk, when he was asked to throw the first pitch at a game against Cincinnati on Sept. 29, 2017 at Wrigley Field.
Blackhawks broadcaster Pat Foley honored his good friend and television partner, Eddie Olczyk, when he was asked to throw the first pitch at a game against Cincinnati on Sept. 29, 2017 at Wrigley Field. - Photo courtesy of Steve Green/Chicago Cubs

Their friendship blossomed during the offseasons when they played charity softball games against teachers, firefighters and police officers. They even traveled to Niagara Falls a few times to challenge other NHL players in the Molson Slo-Pitch Tournament.

"They were great times," said Pat, who remembered having to go to home plate with Eddie to retrieve an inebriated batter who was facing the wrong direction. "Back then, I wasn't much older than hockey players. I ran around with them a lot. We became really good friends."

On to television

After a long, illustrious NHL career, followed by a short stint as Pittsburgh's coach from 2003-06, Eddie moved into the TV booth and quickly became known as one of the best -- if not THE best -- color analysts in the game. It was during his second season in 2008-09 that the Hawks rehired Pat after a three-year hiatus.

From that first broadcast, they sounded as if they'd been together for 25 years.

"When I was brought back -- knowing he was there to sit in the other chair -- I was absolutely thrilled," Pat said. "I knew him as a really good guy, as a friend and as a great broadcaster.

"People ask us about chemistry. It was just seamless. It was kind of meant to be. It's felt that way right from the first day I sat down next to him."

Fans tune in because they know they will be entertained and educated while watching what Eddie likes to call "a 2-hour commercial for the team."

"Obviously we both love life and don't take it too seriously," Eddie said. "I mean, we work at our job -- don't get me wrong. But we understand what we're doing. We're in the entertainment business."

One of Eddie's favorite memories came two years ago when he spotted a young fan attacking his soft serve ice cream cone. The kid takes 11 licks in 15 seconds, prompting Eddie to exclaim: "LOOK AT HIM GO TO TOWN! LET ME GET THE TELESTRATOR!"

Pat is absolutely losing it at this point and probably falling out of his chair when the camera switches to another kid.

"GO BACK TO THAT OTHER YOUNGSTER!" Eddie demands, and then proceeds to use a digital arrow to give more play-by-play. "No drip, no nothing! That's about perfection right there! … That a boy!"

Lots of support

The chemo treatments were exhausting for Eddie, but he still did a handful of broadcasts with Pat and on NBC and he even some pre- and postgame studio shows.

The 51-year-old father of four remains immensely grateful for the incredible support he received from Rocky Wirtz, John McDonough and Dr. Michael Terry. From Joel Quenneville, the coaches and Hawks players past and present. From other NHL teams and dozens of media members. From fans near and far.

And, of course, from his wife, Diana, and the rest of his family.

In a Cubs game last September, Blackhawks broadcaster Pat Foley urges Cubs fans to cheer for his TV partner, Eddie Olczyk, who was battling colon cancer.
In a Cubs game last September, Blackhawks broadcaster Pat Foley urges Cubs fans to cheer for his TV partner, Eddie Olczyk, who was battling colon cancer. - Photo courtesy of Steve Green/Chicago Cubs

From a fan's perspective, Pat was the most visible cheerleader. He made sure everyone knew just how tough a battle Eddie faced, but he also wanted his friend to realize how many people were behind him.

One of the best examples was at Wrigley Field on Sept. 29, 2017 when Pat threw out the first pitch and sang "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" while wearing a Cubs jersey with "Olczyk 16" on the back.

"ALL RIGHT!" Pat screamed from the press box. "Let Eddie O hear YA all the way in the suburbs!"

As touching a gesture as it was, Eddie said it was difficult to watch.

"Whoo, man," he said. "It's one of those moments where it stops you in your tracks, you know? You start thinking about everything.

"You think about good things, you think about bad things. Just the reaction of the crowd and how he did it. … It was hard. It was rough to watch -- in a good way.

"But it was very emotional."

Blackhawks great Eddie Olczyk, shown at home in December during his battle with colon cancer, has returned to the broadcast booth.
  Blackhawks great Eddie Olczyk, shown at home in December during his battle with colon cancer, has returned to the broadcast booth. - Barry Rozner | Staff Photographer/file
Moving forward

Eddie Olcyzk exits the media elevator before the Hawks' game against Carolina on Thursday and offers a weary greeting. He'd had a long week and probably overextended himself.

That's not surprising, though. He's always moving and hates to sit still.

"I'm easing my way back in," said Eddie, whose treatments ended in February. He's waiting for April 2, when he hopes to get a clean bill of health from his doctors.

While he's "easing" his way back, Pat and Eddie certainly haven't missed a beat. During Thursday's telecast, the two were in lockstep all night and pulled out another couple of memorable one-liners:

• Just before puck drop, Pat introduces the referees: "There's Chris Lee, paired up tonight with Frederick L'Ecuyer." Eddie, a nanosecond later: "Oh, I love it when you speak French to me."

• Then during a first-period promo, Eddie notices a youngster, wearing a Tommy Hawk hat, who is waving at the camera. "Hello, there," Eddie says. Pat jumps in and growls: "I hope we don't get that seat location! You're gonna go down there and get that hat -- that's how bad you want it!"

Humor is essential, as Foley explained in an interview earlier this season: "We are convinced that humor and laughter is part of a good broadcast. I mean he can do stuff with me that he cannot do on NBC. I think he likes that."

Said Eddie: "Our relationship on the air is exactly how it is off the air. There's ball-busting going on, there's stories and laughs and serious conversations.

"That's hard to find. ... I've missed so many games, but to be able to come back in and just know where Pat's going is great."

An enduring bond

Another of Eddie's favorite memories occurred on Oct. 7, 2017 when Pat brought his partner into the booth during the second game of the season. It was seven minutes of raw, honest, gut-wrenching talk about the battle Eddie was about to endure.

Eddie breaks down at the end, thanks his wife and then gets a big hug from Pat, who tells him: "Buddy, everybody loves you. I love having you standing right here next to me exactly where you belong. You're going to be back sooner rather than later and we can't wait, man."

And now Eddie is back.

Right where he belongs -- next to his amazing friend who was with him every step of the way.

Blackhawks broadcaster Pat Foley, wearing a Cubs jersey honoring Eddie Olczyk, throws the first pitch at a game against Cincinnati on Sept. 29, 2017 at Wrigley Field.
Blackhawks broadcaster Pat Foley, wearing a Cubs jersey honoring Eddie Olczyk, throws the first pitch at a game against Cincinnati on Sept. 29, 2017 at Wrigley Field. - Photo courtesy of Steve Green/Chicago Cubs

• Twitter: @johndietzdh

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