Fifteen years ago this month, Blake James and his fellow students at the University of Maine massively disrespected Stephen and Tabitha King when they snatched the broadcast rights to Black Bear from local radio station WZON (620 AM).
UMaine men’s hockey may still be paying the price to this day.
I’ve said it dozens of times: that’s not necessarily what they did. That’s how they did it. I mean you should be among the dumbest or most brazen people in the world to blatantly insult your most famous graduates and your generous donors by not even giving them the courtesy to warn them that the move was coming.
But Blake and the boys had Learfield dollar signs in their eyes, and in March 2007, they basically told Bananas T. Bear to put the middle fingers on each of his paws in the air at their most well-known alumni.
I worked at WZON at the time as the afternoon show host and play-by-play voice of UMaine women’s basketball. I also played a few men’s hoops matches, as well as baseball and softball.
I’ll tell you Dale Duff, Managing Director Bobby Russell and everyone at Zone Corp never thought this would happen.
One morning we heard the news. After a decade of streaming hundreds of UMaine games, the plug has been pulled.
Even back then, when I was in pain for having broadcast my last game, anyone could look at the contract and see that it was a good deal for UMaine. It was guaranteed money they had never had before, which was important for a cash-strapped athletic department.
So, after not even consulting the Kings, or having the common decency to at least provide a courteous warning about the decision beforehand, Learfield hijacked the award-winning broadcast team that Duff developed and continues to hold the UMaine athletics broadcast rights to date.
Money isn’t everything, as one of the world’s most famous writers pointed out shortly after the ruling.
“Tabby and I are very disappointed with the University’s decision to transfer its sports broadcasting rights to Clear Channel, a company based away from the college it will serve. We understand that monetary considerations were a primary consideration, but we believe that the athletic department in particular and the university in general may not understand that making money the primary consideration in everything transaction is usually myopic. My wife and I think that might turn out to be the case here; we believe that what UM Athletics gained for their programs may be offset by a loss in the area of community relations.
Blake James, former UMaine President Robert Kennedy and others were publicly beaten for months after the announcement.
Come to think of it, even in 2022, the people of Orono couldn’t have handled this worse if they had gone to the King mansion on West Broadway and started burning King novels.
But maybe the master of horror will have the last laugh and a little revenge in the real “Carrie.” style.
Prior to the Athletic Department snub, UMaine men’s hockey had appeared in the NCAA Tournament seven years in a row. Since their last appearance in March 2007, around the time of this controversy, they have only returned once.
There is more. Since the move, you can add zero Hockey East regular season titles and zero conference tournament titles for Black Bear skaters. In fact, the men’s hockey team has posted just four winning seasons in 15 years and has a miserable 195-263-43 record since moving to Learfield. All this after being one of the most successful programs in the country for years and years.
The program has become a real horror story. Is it the king’s curse? The hexagon of hockey? May be.
In public, the ever-gracious kings took to the high road and forgave the people of Orono. But maybe in a dark corner of Bangor Manor, behind that black iron fence, there’s a little banana stuffed animal with voodoo pins still stuck in the middle fingers of those paws.
Cue horror music while the hockey hex lives.
Jeff Solari is the founder of the Maine Sports Chowdah, Maine’s only free weekly sports newscast. He has been in the sports media since the age of 17 and does not hesitate to give his opinions or his point of view on the sports world. The longtime sportscaster is a graduate of Mount Desert Island High School and the University of Southern Maine. Previous gigs have included WLBZ-TV and WCSH-TV, host of “The Shootaround” radio show on WZON, and stints with “Downtown” and “The Drive.” Solari has won more than 15 Maine Association of Broadcasters and AP broadcaster awards.