Al Morganti, the Hardest Workin' Man in Show Business
By Michael Dell, editor-in-chief
In the field of hockey journalism, one man stands above the crowd. He strides this world like a colossus, providing a lofty role model for all those who ever pressed pen to paper to cover the frigid sport. The true king of all media, this man is of course the one, the only... Al Morganti.
Known to many fans for his always informative and entertaining segments during ESPN's Hockey Night telecasts, Morganti has enjoyed success in every form of hockey journalism. Whether it is print, radio, or television, Al gets the job done. And he does so with a flair and style uniquely his own, making him a personal hero of LCS and the idol of millions from eight to eighty.
Morganti's journey down the road to journalistic greatness started when he was a student at Boston University (1974-78). Not really having an interest in becoming a writer until late in his college years, Morganti got his feet wet in the industry by covering high school and college hockey for the Boston Globe. After graduating with a bachelor of science degree in public communications, Morganti moved south to cover football. That's right, football! It's hard to believe, but his first big-time professional gig was covering the Miami Dolphins for the Ft. Lauderdale News. Even though he was in the big league's covering one of the NFL's best, Morganti's love for hockey was still strong. In 1979, when the offer to cover the Atlanta Flames came along, Al didn't let the chance slip away.
He was only in Atlanta about five months before opportunity came knocking once again. This time it was a call from the Philadelphia Inquirer. Having grown up in Boston as a fan of the big, bad Bruins, the idea of covering a physical bunch like the Flyers was an intriguing proposition. It wasn't long before the bags were packed and Al was off to the city of brotherly love.
"I was brought in to cover the 1979-80 Flyers because the paper wanted a 'tougher' approach to covering the team," recalled Morganti while remembering the early days in a recent interview with LCS. "I had a reputation as a tough writer, and as soon as I got to Philly, the team went on a 35-game unbeaten streak, and was 26-1-10 in January... not much need for a 'tough' approach."
Al would spend ten years as the Flyers beat writer (1979-89), along the way he encountered a number of great players. Some of his favorites to work with included Ken Linseman, Pelle Lindbergh, Brad Marsh, Bob Clarke, Tim Kerr, Rick Tocchet, Ron Hextall, and Dave Poulin. Those guys may have been nice and all, but during this time in Philly there was also a quiet, mild- mannered gentleman behind the bench that drew his share of attention.
"Mike Keenan was a real trip. One thing I'll say about him is that you always know where you stand. If he has a problem with something you've written or said, he'll let you know."
Morganti survived the wrath of Iron Mike and made Philadelphia his home. He also used his experience with the Flyers as a stepping stone to bigger and better things. In 1988, he became a columnist for The Hockey News, gaining an even larger audience for his writing. Al put the pencil down and picked up the microphone in 1990, breaking into the TV biz by hosting The Great Sports Debate, a regional cable show in Philadelphia. Fearing that TV may just be a fad, Morganti also branched out into radio, serving as the morning drive-time host on WIP-AM in Philadelphia.
Now, see right there, that would be enough for most mortal men. But not Al! He isn't scared to hold down thirty-two jobs. Besides the work with The Hockey News and the local radio and television, Morganti also writes a thrice weekly sports column for the West Chester (Pa) Daily Local News and is a regular contributor for Inside Sports. And all this doesn't even include his most famous job as an ESPN hockey analyst.
Yes, it was ESPN that made Morganti a household name. When the cable network began broadcasting games again in 1992, Al was brought in to provide studio analysis for ESPN Hockey Night. While he did have previous TV experience, the move to live ESPN broadcasts was not an easy one.
"The transition to ESPN was much more difficult than I imagined. For a writer who could always say 'ummmm' when thinking of a good question, the sight of a TV camera glaring at me was frightening, and I'm sure I was just as frightening to the TV audience. I'm not exactly sporting a made-for-TV face, and I certainly don't have made-for-TV hair."
The early going was rough for Morganti, not everything went as planned. While one particularly harrowing experience with a zamboni almost ended his career prematurely, Al was able to get by with a little help from his friends.
"The real savior for me, or at least the guy who made sure I wasn't a total disgrace was Bill Clement. He took all sorts of time to help me get comfortable."
With the rocky start behind him, Morganti is now a fixture with the network. Not only does he continue to do studio analysis and on-the-spot reporting for Hockey Night, Al also does a weekly notes segment for ESPN2, called In the Corner, and contributes regular articles to the NHL page on ESPNet. Although, sadly, all the work for ESPN has forced Al to give up his paper route...
Speaking of ESPN, Al was kind enough to address some theories LCS has about the regular cast of characters over at the all sports network.
"No, Steve Levy is not Marv Albert's little brother. Believe it or not, Levy's hair is real. God had to give somebody perfect hair... and it was Levy."
Okay, that's one down. But what about Bill Clement? Are those his real teeth, or are they on loan from Erik Estrada?
"Yes, I think those are Bill Clement's real teeth. I'm not sure of that, but what I am sure of is that nobody prepares for a game like Clement. Before we go on the air, I think he knows the name of every player's Pee Wee coach, just in case there is time to fill."
Doh! Well, what's the deal with Gary Thorne? Is he really 70s singing sensation Paul Williams?
"No, Gary Thorne is not really 70s singing sensation Paul Williams. What he is, is a former high-powered lawyer who is not slumming in the world of sports. He is also a genius... you ought to try keeping his schedule, broadcasting hockey and baseball, and keeping all the names and games straight."
Wow, that's 0-for-3... all those years of research are going down the drain. This next bit of information was especially heart- breaking.
"No, Brian Engblom is not really cousin Oliver of Brady Bunch fame."
That one hurts. It looks like the question of the true whereabouts of Cousin Oliver will haunt LCS for many more years to come. When will the truth be told?
Anyway, back to the ESPN stuff, one of Al's main partners in crime during Hockey Night is none other than Barry Melrose. Longtime readers of LCS will remember that a few years back at the Entry Draft in Hartford, the original staff witnessed Melrose buying hot dogs "his way right away" from a street vendor. When asked about Melrose's love for the cheaply- produced wiener sandwiches, Al coolly side-stepped the question. He did, however, have some nice words for the former Los Angeles Kings coach.
"Barry Melrose? How easy is this guy to work with? His ego never gets in the way, I think he does more work than any other ESPN 'expert' and he's always in a good mood."
Now that Al is more comfortable with his ESPN surroundings, he finds that he actually prefers working in television to either print or radio. That's not to say he still doesn't enjoy the other two, it's just that TV offers a greater challenge.
"My favorite medium is TV. I think it is the most difficult to do well... just check my tapes. When you do something very well on TV, it feels like scoring a playoff overtime goal. Radio can be the most fun, because the time element is removed, you can blab forever. And I always love to write. For some reason there is still a sense of gravity to the written word which has not been accorded the broadcast airwaves."
Newspapers, radio, television... it seems like Al has done it all over his 18-year career. Yet at just 43 years of age, Al believes there is still plenty more left for him to accomplish.
"I don't think I've 'done it all' in the hockey reporting world. I would like to get better on TV, and maybe get a shot at color on a local level. Personally, my hero is Darren Pang."
Ah, yes, Darren Pang... he may not be tall enough to ride the bumper cars at an amusement park, but he is truly a noble member of the ESPN2 broadcasting team. And, like most people who work on the "Deuce", Pang also has quite the extensive collection of wacky sweaters. Just can't beat the wacky sweaters.
Until he is able to reach his goal of a Pang-like existence, Al is more than happy to hold down his own heavy workload. When one considers that he has also just recently finished a book about the late goaltender Roger Crozier, it's amazing that anyone would be able to juggle such a hectic schedule. Time off is rare, and finding time to strap on the skates himself is almost impossible.
"When I'm not working is about four hours a week. I haven't had more than two consecutive days off since I was working for The National in 1990, and it went out of business. I still skate a little with the Flyers Alumni, or the Hollywood All Stars... the BU Hockey Alumni invite me, but for the most part I'm over the hill."
While a long vacation may be what most doctors would prescribe for Al's dedication to work, he has no plans of slowing down in the future.
"I'd like to stay with ESPN as long as possible, maybe lose enough hair to make it stay in place."
Losing hair, eh? Well, it would bring Al closer to his goal of being like Darren Pang, but it doesn't matter to us here at LCS. As long as Al is on ESPN, we'll be watching. As long as Al is writing stories, we'll be reading. And as long as we keep drinking the cheap wine, that's the way it's going to stay.
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