Home Team / The voice of the wreckers
It can't be March Madness, baby, without the nasal, hyper-enthusiastic rantings of Dick Vitale. It wouldn't be a Knicks broadcast without the absurd but curiously addictive rhyming couplets of Walt "Clyde" Frazier. My Yankees fan friends tell me going to the Stadium isn't the same since the passing of Bob Sheppard, the team's public address announcer for 56 years.
And for me, it wouldn't be a Wreckers game without the voice of Jeff Allen.
Along with his trusty spotter and sidekick Rick Weber, Jeff has been calling games on the Staples P.A. system since the 2001 season, when his son Brian was playing wide receiver for the Wreckers.
The current football parents, I'll admit, get a chuckle from the way Jeff has been known to mangle a name on occasion. He's been particularly challenged this season with "Pajolek" -- a bit problematic, since that happens to be the name of the starting quarterback. (Also somewhat surprising, since I spent at least 15 minutes after game one coaching him on the correct pronunciation.) On one recent Saturday, he tried three different versions of Pajolek -- each one wrong, and each one eliciting groans. On the next play, he announced, "Staples pass . . . complete to Murray." No mention of who threw it. Damned if he was going to get Pajolek wrong a fourth time. (Chet Pajolek, as it turns out, suffered a knee injury in last Saturday's game against Ludlowe, and unfortunately will be out of action for the rest of the season, but will continue to support the team from the sideline.)
I'm sure Jeff would be the first to admit that linguistics are not his strong suit -- a fact that I know from firsthand experience. Years ago, our family and his family went on a ski trip out west. He was struggling with "apres-ski." He knew what the term meant; he just couldn't pronounce it. No matter how hard he tried, "apres" always came out rhyming with "knee."
Having difficulties with pronunciation might seem like an odd tic for a play-by-play guy, but the voice of the Wreckers more than makes up for it with his tremendous football knowledge, his rip-roaring enthusiasm, and his devotion to Staples and to all youth sports in Westport. He was a long-time Little League, rec basketball, and travel basketball coach for all three of his children -- young Jeff, Taryn, and Brian. He was the treasurer of Westport Little League pretty much forever, and is still the treasurer of the Staples Gridiron Club -- even though his youngest child graduated from Staples back in 2002.
Jeff's Staples football roots go back a long, long way. He played for the Wreckers from 1966-68, and was a member of the 1967 FCIAC championship team coached by Paul Lane. Ironically, with all that football in his background, I first met Jeff back in 1987 when he was coaching youth soccer. On that second-grade team, besides his son Jeff and my son Matt, was another pretty decent little athlete named Mac DeVito, who would become quarterback of the 1997 Wreckers FCIAC championship squad and is now a member of the Staples coaching staff.
What I particularly like about Jeff's play-by-play style is his objectivity. He tells us what happened -- period. And if you don't think that's refreshing, you should make a trip to a certain FCIAC venue about 45 minutes north of Westport, where the guy with the mike doesn't believe in silence -- ever. Two years ago he reminded us 87 times that the restrooms were out of order, and this year he couldn't stop obsessing about the fan in the stands who hadn't yet come up to the press box to claim a free deluxe hair-styling session. (I'm convinced he chose to dwell on this inanity rather than talk about his highly touted team, which was in the process of being destroyed by the Wreckers to the tune of 34-14.)
On the rare occasion when Jeff breaks from the straight and narrow, it's generally to deliver a personal zinger. A few weeks ago at halftime, just before revealing the winning number of the 50-50 raffle, he announced for all to hear: "Mrs. Herman, don't even bother looking. The winning ticket is red, not blue."