by Tammy

Rating: R, for language

Characters: Bob Miller, Jim Fox

Summary: Challenge #3 - Rookie/Mentor. Jim suffered a career ending knee injury. Two years later he became the King's color analyst. Bob & Jim have called games for the past 17 seasons. Bob was calling the night Gretzky broke Gordie Howe's record. His call? Perfect: "the Great One has become the Greatest One." And completely improvised.


When all you have are words, silence is absolutely terrifying.

I don't mean to say that silence is terrifying. A well placed pause can make a monologue more palatable, a moment much more poignant, can increase tension when you desire to build suspense.

But when you want to speak, when you wish to impress with words, and your throat refuses to cooperate, it is terrifying. I have never been want for words. I may be want for the best words, the right words, but I can always manage something, even if it isn't as eloquent as I would like. Being unable to speak is practically unfathomable.

So when my heart was racing and my throat closed up, I didn't know what to do.


Jim was... petulant, to say the least.

The knee injury had caught up to him, two years later. The first year is always denial, really. He had worked with community relations all the while dutifully showing up to rehab. After all, he just had to work harder and he'd be back on the ice.

He watched from above as Gretzky took the ice the year that he spent on bikes and in the water, trying to regain his old form. He knew he just had to work harder and soon he'd be skating on the same ice as the Great One. He'd lace up in the same locker room, and everything.

But the following year, even after all that work, and the sweaty workouts of summer, he only lasted two weeks.

Two years later he was in another box, way above the ice, far away from the action and he was... petulant.

Fumbling, and the game was moving so much faster than him.

On the ice there had been frustration along with the agony that came with the realization that his body had failed him. That he would never move the way his mind thought he was still capable of.

Up here, everything was new. That in and of itself was frustrating. He shouldn't have to learn any new tricks. He should still be out there on the ice. He didn't want to offer up any witty observations, or talk about what he should be doing. He certainly didn't want to talk about his team that had moved forward without him.

He wasn't stupid. Logically, he knew that the team wouldn't shut down when he retired. But it still stung.

So he was petulant. He made dumb observations, let his voice become bored.

Until Robbie gripped his forearm and said, voice low and dangerous, "Go fuck up somebody else's broadcast."


Jim washed his hands, dried his hands on some scratchy, economy paper towels and watched Robbie in the mirror. He was waiting for the right moment. Robbie was washing his hands, too. Straightening his tie, cleaning his glasses with a cloth from his pocket, and not saying a word, so Jim didn't really have to worry about interrupting him, didn't really have to wait. But he did.

"Generally, when I'm not speaking, you're supposed to say something. Something colorful since that's your title," Robbie offered.

So Robbie had noticed he had wanted to say something. Jim supposed Robbie's job was to observe, so he should be fairly adept at it.

"Yeah, I... you know, I'm just..."

"Sorry?" Robbie supplied.

"Yeah. Sorry. It's just that... I'm new to this. And. And it's hard. Because I should be--" But Jim stopped short. He didn't want to offer anything up that Robbie hadn't noticed. If he'd noticed that'd be embarrassing enough. Cringe worthy, the way he was wallowing in a loss he suffered years ago. He didn't want to be seen as pitiful--living in the past and all.

Robbie seemed to ignore his slip. "You'll learn," he said. "If you want to."

"Of course, I do." Jim tried to say it like it was obvious. It wasn't, and he wasn't sure if he wanted to, but Jim always tried.

"Well, I can teach you."

Robbie had worked the booth for years. He was two men removed from being a corn farmer, but Jim couldn't see it. Robbie could barely wrangle his tie, was clumsy with his hands and his stint in college might have been the closest he'd ever been to a farm, more comfortable in the suburbs of a John Hughes movie. But his voice was smooth and confident, and Jim heard passion when he spoke. Jim had used his hands for years, honed his body until mind melded with muscle or at least as close as possible, as best could be, and he had played a game he loved. He had played since he was a child, just as he figured Robbie had called games since he was a child. And he had always been in love with it--scanning a sheet of ice and watching a play develop, be it two other guys or beginning with the puck on his own stick. It was always beautiful, even when it was ugly and terrible.

This was a way to stay connected with the game he loved, even if it wasn't the way he'd always intended. Robbie didn't need to teach passion. But he did need to teach Jim how to let only that come through when he spoke. Because there was love and passion for this game, but there was also heartache and bitterness and sometimes the latter outweighed the former and...

Jim shifted, uncomfortable in his thoughts. He'd never really been jealous of any other player. He played his own game and that was always enough. He didn't want to be anybody else; he didn't want to wake up with Gretzky's talent or the hands of Gordie Howe. He could handle what he knew, and he liked knowing his limitations and pushing them. Raging against the markers other people had placed up: oh, he's just a fourth line guy; he doesn't have that much speed; he probably won't score too many goals--his hands aren't exactly... soft. He knew who he was.

He was a hockey player. Only, now he wasn't. And he was being asked to be something entirely different. Still a part of the game, but in an entirely different capacity. And he was jealous and he was angry and he couldn't tear himself away from the rink, away from watching what he loved.

So if he was going to watch it anyway, Robbie might as well try to teach him how to speak it. How to speak a game he'd always known by touch.


"We travel with the team," Robbie said to him one afternoon.

"Yeah, I know. I remember seeing you on the plane."

"Do you now?"

Well, no, Jim didn't. "What's your point?"

"This is going to be your first roadtrip."

Jim rolled his eyes. "I've been on plenty of roadtrips."

"As a player," Robbie said, which stopped Jim from saying anything else. "Uh, it's mostly the same, though." Jim had learned when Robbie was being nice for his sake. It somehow managed to annoy him and endear Robbie to him at the same time. "They give us the shitty booth. We stay at the same hotel. Eat the same food."

"What's your point?"

Robbie grinned. "No point. Just letting you know what's going on."

"Yeah, well... I guess that's your job." Jim smiled, shook his head. "C'mon, goof. Help me finish writing facts on my cards. Unless you want to tell me more about stuff I already know."

Robbie rolled a pen across the table.


So, perhaps, Jim didn't know.

He didn't know the better color analysts had anecdotes on every player, even the ones that barely made it off the bench. Didn't know that they had stats for everything imaginable, all written on cards they had memorized, even though any hockey player would tell you that stats were shit. Well, except for the good ones.

Jim didn't know travel would be this hard. That being on a plane with the team would be this difficult.

The guys were fine. Dave even waved him over, pointed to the seat next to him, but Jim shook his head. He wasn't a part of the team. He was part of the organization and so he didn't want to sit with them or talk to them. Fuck, he wasn't even sure he wanted to interview them. At least, not yet. He kept his head down and let Robbie do the talking.

"Don't destroy the mini-bar," Robbie said to him while they were picking up their hotel keys.


"The bar downstairs is less expensive."

Jim glared at him. "What makes you think I need a drink?"

"I was just--"

"Letting me know what's going on," Jim finished. "Yeah, right." Robbie was being nice again. And annoying with the all-knowing crap. He didn't like that Robbie could so easily read him. There was something predictable in his actions, in wearing his emotions on his sleeve. Opponents always took advantage of these tells on the ice, and Jim would have preferred Robbie to use these tells to ridicule him--not... not tell him where to buy a cheap beer.

The least Robbie could do would be to offer some sort of insight or advice. Since Robbie knew he was going to head straight for the mini-bar, he should offer up something constructive. A cheaper bar saved him money; it didn't provide any solace, or rid him of this pukey feeling. Jealousy and a headache, longing and a knee injury always a terrible combination.

Robbie came over to his room later, and they turned the volume way down on the television, letting their own voices fill the room. Practice, and Jim kept repeating I can do this, I can do this, I can do this, trying to sound excited when Detroit scored a goal.


"So... when is this supposed to get easier?"

Robbie glanced up from the notes he was making and stared at Jim for a while before answering. "It's not supposed to get easier."

The fuck? Jim frowned.

Robbie sighed. "When did playing hockey get easier?"

Jim supposed Robbie had a point. Things got easier in a way; Jim became used to the routine, to the constant poundings, his body more accustomed to pushing itself nightly. But playing never became easy, drills never got easier. He wouldn't have wanted things to become easier, anyway. After all, he always wanted to improve. He wanted to get better so he had to keep pushing himself in new ways. So, if anything, playing hockey got harder.

Jim appreciated the way Robbie answered his questions. He didn't avoid talking about Jim's career, but he wasn't casual about it either. Robbie was hardly ever casual. He spoke with purpose even when he wasn't in front of a mic. He talked to Jim deliberately and always paid attention. Jim could barely remember the last time he'd been the complete center of someone's attention. Couldn't remember being this focused on, wholly and completely, Robbie speaking soothingly, encouragingly into his ear. His father and his coaches worked hard to make him better; they spoke to him with whistles and they placed their hands on his, showed him how to move, they said watch me, watch me, do it just like me. They were proud of him, supported him, made him a better player as they molded and shaped him.

Robbie listened. He let Jim stumble through broadcasts and only offered his opinion when Jim asked. Jim listened to the tape on his own, assessed his voice, cringed at the way he was impersonating Harry Neale. A poor man's Harry Neale. A poor man's Harry Neale impersonator. Robbie taught him how to stay calm, to stay within the broadcast, but he told him at the very beginning that Jim would have to find his own voice. So Robbie was unlike his father, his coaches, all his previous teachers and mentors. They all wanted him to be the best, but Robbie was the first who didn't have any expectations. The first who didn't know what 'the best' sounded like. Only knew that Jim would eventually get there.

Jim wasn't sure what he'd done to earn such trust.


"It isn't trust," Robbie said. "It's respect." He held up his hand for another round, catching the waitress' eyes. "You forget that I watched you play. I know what you're capable of."

Jim shook his head. "No, you know what I'm capable of on the ice. You have no idea that I'll get better. I could be this shitty for the rest of my life."

Robbie took a pull of his beer. "Nobody could be that shitty."

"Thanks," he said as he flipped him off.

Robbie grinned. "Seriously, though. You'll get better."

"Because there's only up from rock bottom?" Jim cracked.

"You aren't terrible." Robbie stared at him, and Jim had learned not to argue with Robbie over these things. When Robbie offered up compliments, you accepted them. He often had contempt for modesty. Or maybe that was false modesty. Jim couldn't remember. "You're decent." Jim smiled at that.

Decent had been the goal forty games ago, at the beginning of the season when he stumbled over everything, including his name. But. But now that was no longer enough, and he finished off his beer as the waitress approached with two more. His face, neck, stomach warm with the knowledge that he wanted to be better, to be the best at speaking. He may have still been partially blind, feeling his way for the most part, but he knew this sport by heart so the rest was sure to follow, and he at least knew that Robbie believed in him.

"And I wasn't talking about you as a player," Robbie said, paying the waitress. "I was talking about you, Jim. The person." Robbie looked over at him, and Jim had never felt so undone, so naked. "So I know what you're capable of." So complete, and it wasn't until later when some of his former teammates had stopped him in the hallway, made him come outside and play some street hockey in the parking lot and he jerked too hard to the left and his knee throbbed that he remembered he wasn't quite whole.


In a game against Philadelphia, he made a joke about the pants the Flyers once wore and Robbie laughed.

Jim's body buzzed for the rest of the night, his fingers and mind humming at the same frequency, electricity snapping behind his eyes and crackling in his mouth.

When Edmonton came to town, Jim was practically shouting into his mic. Robbie turned to him during a commercial break, and told him to calm down. Actually, he told Jim to be himself, but Jim figured he meant, "stop shouting like a crazy." He was himself, though. Albeit a little more excited... nervous... hyper. Okay, he wasn't himself. But he was more himself than he'd been in a while.

If he'd never gotten injured, he wouldn't be here. If I hadn't hurt my knee, we wouldn't be friends, was what he wanted to say. But he just nodded his head and spoke at a lower decibel for the rest of the broadcast.

Jim's voice wouldn't work after the game so Robbie left before he could convince him to go get a beer. Words caught in the back of his throat and as he drove home, he practiced saying the words until they rolled out smoothly.

Next game night and Robbie signed off and then turned to Jim and said, "Good game." It stunned Jim and his practice was shot, and he was left watching Robbie walk to his car in the parking lot, completely silent.


Jim looked forward to games. He looked forward to using his voice. Looked forward to explaining plays made by other men. He waited for certain inflections in Robbie's voice, began speaking when Robbie stopped, hardly ever interrupting him or letting too much emptiness hang in the air.

They... bantered. Broadcasts were becoming more like conversations. Robbie's professionalism hadn't dissipated, but Jim was becoming more comfortable behind the mic. He was no longer speaking to an audience of Kings fans. He was speaking to Robbie. He taped "WHY" up on one of the tv screens, tuned out the director in his headset and tried to focus on speaking to Robbie. He explained to Robbie why plays had happened, why plays hadn't happened. He broke it down, piece by piece, laying it all out there for Robbie to see.

He made rookie mistakes, like talking while the team scored, but they weren't all out devastating. They didn't cripple him, make him think he wasn't cut out for this job, like his mistakes had made him question his inital foray into hockey. It simply drove him to be better. Sure, he worried about letting the team down (and, oh, wasn't that a discovery--the day he realized he was part of a team again--John and Dan and Mike on camera, Joe and Larry on sound, Peter in his headset, the rest of the crew getting the job done invisibly, thanklessly, and, of course, Robbie) but he was never afraid to step into the booth the next night and put on his headset. He was willing to make mistakes. They weren't as costly as they were on the ice, and the rewards were seemingly greater.

His I can do this, I can do this, I can do this had shifted into I'm doing this, I'm doing this, I'm doing this.

Robbie was a calm and steadying influence. Jim made wild remarks, and Robbie sometimes raised an eyebrow in the booth, but he continued on, speaking simply and honestly, balancing the broadcast. Gravitas in his voice when necessary, and he brought weight to the program, Jim noted one night. He brought levity, too, so Jim didn't mean to say that Robbie was gloom and doom, heavy or depressing. But it was like picking up a new stick, and the shaft being the perfect weight. Guys were into the new fiberglass and graphite shafts, which were lighter and bent more easily. But there was something to be said, something that felt right about the weight of a wooden stick. Purer, more old school, and it brought Jim back to when he was a kid in Ontario, skating on the pond with his father and discovering hockey for the first time.

Robbie was the best, Jim realized. Every night he sat next to Wayne Gretzky. And like Gretzky had done unto his linemates, Robbie made him better.


The season ended on the road. Six games left, and the team was battling it out with Calgary for supremacy. Playoffs were around the corner and Jim could only think good things. This team would go all the way; Jim was sure of it.

He and Robbie weren't simulcast, so their jobs would be ending soon. Hopefully long before the Kings hung up their skates. Jim hoped to hear another voice describing Robitaille's goal, Granato's grit, Gretzky lifting another cup. The celebration would be just as joyous without Robbie calling it.

So their jobs would be ending soon. Seven months of his life sprawled out behind him and before his eyes, and he barely recognized himself. He never imagined this type of hockey life. He was so utterly grateful, appreciation washing over him in waves, and the team he gave his knee for had given him this. The franchise didn't have to give him this job, this opportunity, but they had. Robbie said the Kings would have been daft not to include Jim somehow in the organization, but Jim was sure that both of them knew that color analyst had been a gift. After all, he had no background in it and was still pretty much terrible. They had taken a chance on him. And Jim had been ready to let them down, ready to fail because if he couldn't play, he didn't want anything, certainly not this substitute.

Until Robbie challenged him. Until Robbie wouldn't let him fail easily.

Until Jim realized that speaking hockey wasn't a substitute for playing hockey. It was something entirely different, his chest larger as he breathed more deeply, taking in hockey a new way, falling in love with hockey in a new way. A grinch with a heart three times larger and his chest could barely contain it.

Robbie told him stories on the airplane, snippets of things in the cabs to and from the rinks. He spoke of Iowa and Wisconsin. Robbie had worked his way up. He worked in baseball and basketball and broomball and volleyball, anything and everything he could get his hands on. He worked for years in relative obscurity in badger country until the Voice of Los Angeles basketball recommended him to Jerry Buss. Buss passed, maybe because Robbie had no catch phrases, never talked about refrigerator doors closing, lights going out, eggs cooling, butter getting hard or jello jigglin'. But the Voice recommended Robbie again the following year and "the rest, as they say, is history," Robbie said, all smiles.

Robbie spoke of alfalfa farms, soy beans and heifers, his favorite books, the restaurant he'd been recommended by Louis who worked down in the basement of the arena. Jim listened to everything Robbie had to say, never bored, always enraptured. Robbie laughed loudly, a deep guttural thing originating in the belly, and it was contagious. Jim couldn't help but smile or laugh as well whenever he heard it.

The deep burn of satisfied aching muscles was absent from the end of this season. Jim even had a bit of gut from the extra beers with Robbie on the road, the desserts and large dinners without exercise the following morning. For once his body didn't bear the memories of the season. No broken bones, pulled muscles or cuts and bruises. It was new, everything was new, and Jim liked it. An unintended early retirement, and it might have been the best thing to have happened to Jim. Jim prayed to hockey gods--Gordie Howe and Bobby Orr, but this last year seemed to be making a case for another, even more powerful, but perhaps more benevolent god. How else could this happiness be explained. Jim doubted he would have survived this year without Robbie. He doubted he would have made it out of winter without being bitter, and half the man he used to be, had it not been for Robbie.

Half-way through the season, Robbie had turned to him and told him, "Looked like you were having fun tonight."

"I was," Jim had said, and perhaps that was when it began, this love affair behind the camera. Far from the rink and Jim hadn't known he could love hockey like this.

Last regular season game and Jim nearly choked up, could hardly believe he had made it through an entire season. Robbie, of course, told him that he knew he could do it. But then, Robbie had always had faith in him. Jim was learning to have the same certainty; he was beginning to trust himself. Jim was slowly learning what he was capable of.

Last regular season game and the team celebrated their division title, their 102 points, their final win. Playoffs were around the corner and Jim ended the broadcast by opening a beer. Cold glass in his hand and hours later his hand had never been want for company, though he hadn't remained monogamous with his tried and true Molson. He flirted with Labatt, some pilsner, maybe some hard liquor.

Shitfaced and smashed, pissed beyond recognition, he danced in the hallways, high fiving his buddies. Dave wrestled him to the floor, Robitaille sat on his head until he cried, "Uncle! Motherfucking sorry son of a bitch asshole uncle!" There was such joy in the hotel, everybody smiling the night before they'd have to put their game faces on.

Jim grabbed an errant six pack and Robbie, snagging him by the tail end of his shirt. "Robbie, Robbie, Robbie." Jim pushed him into his room, offered him a beer.

"Only my mother calls me that," but he accepted the beer, anyway.

"S'really?" Something in between 'seriously' and 'really', and Robbie smiled at Jim's new word. Jim sighed, content, and Robbie used the moment to take the six pack out of his hands and place it on the other side of the room. Jim was always aware when Robbie was being nice, even when he was drunk, only now that he was drunk it didn't annoy him so much. "Playoffs are coming."

"Playoffs are here. And I'm pretty sure I'm supposed to be the one letting you know what's going on. Remember, you're color."

Jim shrugged. "Figured you could use a break. You've taught me an awful lot already."

"My pleasure. I didn't teach you that much, though."

No, his mind protested. "No," he said a moment later. Robbie sat next to him on the bed and Jim kept getting distracted by the muffled yelling he could hear through the door. He'd had a whole speech planned. He wished he could remember it. "No," he repeated instead, waiting for his thoughts to collect. "You taught me like... everything."

"I suppose I had a good student."

Damn Robbie for speaking too quickly, too sober. Jim exhaled, struggled against his mind. He kissed Robbie on his cheek and let whatever fall out of his mouth: "You changed my life." Jim hoped that wasn't too clunky, too big for Robbie to understand. Jim hoped Robbie knew how much he cared for him, how much he treasured their friendship, and Robbie's guidance this season. "You," and he sighed, "you make me better." Better color analyst, better person, just better, better in every way possible. But he didn't need to say all that, so he just said better.


When all you have are words, silence is absolutely terrifying.

I don't mean to say that silence is terrifying. A well placed pause can make a monologue more palatable, a moment much more poignant, can increase tension when you desire to build suspense.

But when you want to speak, when you wish to impress with words, and your throat refuses to cooperate, it is terrifying. I have never been want for words. I may be want for the best words, the right words, but I can always manage something, even if it isn't as eloquent as I would like. Being unable to speak is practically unfathomable.

So when my heart was racing and my throat closed up, I didn't know what to do.

"You make me better," he said, and how does the teacher respond to the student? What does the mentor say? How do you tell your best friend that he makes you better, too?

I couldn't speak and so I didn't, terrified Jim would never know.


A/N: Jim says that it took him four years before he became comfortable calling games. Bob says it took Jim about 40 games. I imagine after 17 years they are friends, and that Jim knows.

The Voice of the Los Angeles basketball team is Chick Hearn, and the call at the end of every game the Lakers were sure to win was: This game's in the refrigerator: the door is closed, the lights are out, the eggs are cooling, the butter's getting hard, and the Jell-O's jigglin'!