Coronavirus pandemic silences Gene Honda's versatile voice
If the National Hockey League is able to get back on the ice and resume the season by going straight to the playoffs, Gene Honda will be good to go.
Like many, many others, the legendary public-address announcer has been holed up since mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Haven't shaved since March 12," Honda said with his customary laugh. "I've got some bald spots in there and it reminds me of someone's lawn with a dog in the neighborhood. I guess it's thank you (NHL commissioner) Gary Bettman, now I have a playoff beard."
Honda has been the Blackhawks' P.A. announcer for 20 years and he's waiting to hear if the NHL will really be able to execute Bettman's vision and pick up play with a 24-team postseason.
The Hawks are just one of the teams, and sports, the versatile voice is keeping close tabs on.
Honda has been the White Sox's P.A. announcer since 1985, DePaul men's basketball announcer since 1998 and the Illinois P.A. voice the past six years.
There's much more on the Chicago native's resume.
Honda would have been behind the microphone for his 10th Final Four this year, but March Madness was canceled.
He was able to work the Maui Invitational for the 11th straight year in November, and Honda is a regular at the Big Ten men's basketball tournament, which was cut short this year.
Honda is also the co-emcee at the Big Ten men's football media gathering, but the annual event typically held in Chicago was canceled.
The Chicago Marathon, another event Honda works, is still on for October but that is subject to change.
Waiting around for one sport to begin is typical for most, but Honda is tied in on multiple fronts.
"I miss it a little bit," he said. "But for the most part, what I really miss is the people I work with, the people I get to see on a regular basis. The games are one thing, but those people are a big part of the reason I go to work."
One day a week in particular has helped Honda ease the sports withdrawal.
"Every Thursday night, the White Sox scoreboard crew has held a zoom happy hour," he said. "We talk about ways to keep yourself sane, and that's a great way to do it. We all sit there in front of our computers or phones and make a cocktail and talk to each other the same way we do when we're working games.
"Do I miss the games? Kind of. From an economic standpoint, absolutely. But those Thursday night happy hours give me a chance to get back to why I miss the games the most, and that's those people."
If the White Sox and Blackhawks do return this season, games are most likely going to be played with no fans in the seats at Guaranteed Rate Field and the United Center.
How odd would that be?
"The honest answer would be this ... it would be weird before the game starts," Honda said. "Once the game starts, your mentality -- my mentality, at least -- changes and you're focused on the field, the court, the ice. The first pitch, the puck drop, the tip-off, whatever, get me to that point and we'll be fine. Then, your concentration goes back to game mode and you're just focusing on what's supposed to be happening in the game."
With nothing happening in all of the games and events he usually works, Honda has obviously taken a financial hit.
"So far, so good, but the longer this stretches out the more I'm going to change my answer," Honda said with another laugh.
Applying for unemployment compensation is an obvious option, but Honda has been holding off.
"As of right now, I'm OK," he said. "I haven't done that and I've been chastised by a friend for not signing up, 'You're eligible. You need to go do it.' But as I said, right now, I'm OK. There are other people who need it a lot worse than I do."