All these years, you and I could look at the Capitals and say, for instance, "Yecch. Phooey."
Ron Weber could have, too--being one of the few people alive who has witnessed, in person, all 715 games ever played by the team. But no. The radio voice of the Capitals ever since they entered the NHL and the backs of our minds in 1974, Weber has endured with the most hard core of fans.
And Weber is a Capitals fan--he'll admit it to you in the same sure, ever-scurrying voice he uses over WTOP-1500, which pays his salary (unlike the Capitals' TV team, who work for Abe Pollin's Capital Centre). Few associated with the Capitals are happier than Weber to be headed, in a couple of weeks, to the NHL playoffs for the first time.
"I don't make any attempt to hide the fact that I enjoy a Caps goal more than one by another team," says Weber, 49, who has outlasted eight Capitals coaches and four general managers, even four management changes at WTOP, flagship of the Capitals' small, four-station radio network. "But by the same token, I give just as much credit for a good play by the opponent and just as much damnation for a poor one by the Caps."
Well, this season the Capitals have given Weber far more to cheer about. Sometimes, even in the highly partisan, highly territorial game of pro hockey, a little too much.
"Final score of the Rangers' game tonight, 7-1, New York," Weber chirped during a break in the Capitals' 1-1 tie Wednesday night with Vancouver, chuckling: "Now that we don't care anymore, the Rangers can go ahead and win, right? They're in fourth place, folks . . ."
The man is partisan, yes. But he is fair. So let's be fair:
Weber gets away with his good-natured boosterism--and it is never mean-spirited or vindictive--because he is a vivid, concise play-by-play announcer. Listening to Weber, you always know who's got the puck and where, or the character of a pass, a shot or a check.
One is almost tempted to turn the sound down on Channel 20, which carries Capitals' away games, and let Weber do the work of play-by-play announcer Jim West and colorman and former Capital Yvon Labre. If only Weber had a TV monitor and could tell us something new, analyze a defensive strategy, maybe, whenever a replay rolled by. (But then, Labre has a monitor, and frequently neither analyzes nor adds unseen detail to the picture.)
Weber, as it turns out, does very little analyzing--the kind of broad, brief summaries of attack you might hear, for instance, during a Marv Albert broadcast of a Rangers game in New York. Weber's specialty is statistics, some meaningless ("The Caps have never won on this date, March 23, and I think it's high time they did, don't you?"), others meaningful and helpful. He is known around the Capitals' camp as "Stats," and typically spends several hours before a game compiling lists of numbers--how many goals a particular wing has scored against the Capitals, say, or Bengt Gustafsson's final-period goal production in Hartford.
But he only does analysis when he has to--as when fans in the stands below Weber recently hollered loudly enough at referee Kerry Fraser to be heard on the air, and Weber, explaining the shouts and Fraser's reluctance to call a penalty, said, "Kerry Fraser is in a see-no-evil posture tonight."
Weber, one of only four NHL team announcers (out of 21) who works without a color commentator, is the first to agree about the lack of comment. He would like a booth partner.
"More analysis should be done," he said. "First of all, I have to follow the puck, I can't watch, say, what a good job Dennis Maruk is doing on defense. Also, I didn't grow up in the sport, and didn't play it, and I guess I am reluctant to assume a King Solomon-like stance on what is happening . . . Plus the game moves so fast there isn't always time for it."