On the other end of the line was Neil Smith, future NHL general manager but then the GM of the Adirondack, New York, Red Wings of the American Hockey League, the circuit just below the game's top level.
Smith offered to meet Crawford in Detroit, Michigan, home of Adirondack's NHL parent club, for lunch to discuss a play-by-play broadcasting opening for the AHL franchise. Crawford accepted the invite, visited Smith in the Motor City and eventually was offered the gig.
Justin Breen says that Crawford has done nearly every job for his AHL Hartford team:
"I was able to kind of walk into a great job right out of college," said Crawford, a Walt Disney Magnet School and St. Ignatius College Prep graduate. "I didn't realize what a break it was back then, but to get to that level and sustain it for 27 years is great. I've never had to, knock on wood, do anything else."
Crawford has been in love with broadcasting most of his life. His father, Bob Sr., was a copywriter at classical music station WFMT-FM. As a child, he'd go with his dad to the office and watch him write scripts for commercials.
His adoration for hockey came at Harvard, where Crawford majored in linguistics and where he served as the Crimson's play-by-play guy for all four years at the school's student-run radio station.
Here's Bob Crawford calling a Game 7 OT goal that sent the Wolf Pack to the 2000 AHL finals:
After graduation, the then-22-year-old Crawford sent out more than 25 sample cassette tapes to "every minor league team I could find an address for."
The call from Smith arrived a few weeks later.
"What he told me was that in the minor leagues, nobody is just a broadcaster. You have to sell advertising, help with player appearances, everything," said Crawford, now 48. "They were looking for a young guy who would be willing to do everything."
Crawford worked in Adirondack for six years, then Providence, Rhode Island, for a year, followed by a pair of seasons in Binghamton, New York. Binghamton's franchise moved to Hartford and became the Wolf Pack in 1997, and Crawford has been part the organization for its entire existence.
In that time, Crawford and his wife, Martha, have been raising two sons: Mac, 16, and Bill, 14. Both play hockey.
He's also been able to broadcast the games of players like Ryan Callahan, Dan Girardi and Alexei Kovalev before they became household hockey names.
With busy work hours — Crawford also is the Wolf Pack's public relations director — and family life, he rarely returns to Chicago. Instead his parents, who have lived in the same house on Waterloo Court since 1968, head to Connecticut for visits.
Crawford still has dreams of being hired by an NHL club. He has served as a color commentator for one NHL tilt — a Boston Bruins-Winnipeg Jets matchup in 2013 — after he was asked at the last minute to fill in as a replacement.
"Whenever I get wind of an NHL opening, I throw my hat in the ring because hope springs eternal," Crawford said. "It would be great to get a shot at the top level, but the fact that I've had a pretty good career at this level, there's a lot of pride in that for sure. Not too many guys at this level can say that."
And, as Crawford noted while laughing: "It beats working for a living."
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