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The Mouth of the Hawks

The Mouth of the Hawks

2 months, 2 weeks ago Mike Moyers

Former QC Hawks play-by-play guy Rick O'Connell remembers the NAIA years

NOTE:  Visiting with Rick O'Connell was a real treat; one that I wanted to share.  So I've inserted links to audio of the interview inside this blog.  You'll hear the joy and enthusiasm Rick still has for "those days' some 40 years later. 

Being in the right place at the right time.  That was the case in the late 1960’s for Quincy College student Richard O’Connell.   He answered to Rick-was called “Shakespeare” by a college professor- and went by the name of Rick “Tapes” O’Conner while pulling a DJ shift for then music radio, WGEM AM.

Yes, that Rick “Tapes” O’Connell.

In the 1960’s Roger Francour, Frank Longo and a guy named Jack Mackenzie turned the city of Quincy, and the nation for that matter, on its collective ear by winning national titles in soccer.  WTAD is given credit by Mackenzie in his book “Quincy College, A Soccer Dynasty, The NAIA Years, as being the first radio station to broadcast QC Hawks Soccer.  Larry Heimberger was the play-by-play voice for a number of Hawk’s soccer games.  But, after a couple of seasons, Heimberger took a job with Western Illinois University, leaving WTAD and the Hawk's without a radio station and an announcer.

And that’s where a theater major from Chicago comes into the picture. (Click here for more)

“Yeah, we were it,” said O’Connell from his home in Florida.  “I was a freshman in 69’, the same year Jack (Mackenzie) took over the soccer team.  The radio station at QC was in total disrepair and disarray.  Fortunately, I had a group of guys who came to school with me who were really interested radio and one was a technician-Brady.  And we went about putting that radio station back together.”

O’Connell started broadcasting the soccer Hawks using crystal transmitters that were fed into the school’s dormitories.  And things took off from there.

“Father Don Wear, the school’s Public Information Director, talked to Joe Bonansinga of WGEM and suggested they pick up some of these games.  And I think they picked them up when we went to Dunn, North Carolina to do the National Championships,” O’Connell explained.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

From there things took off as O’Connell’s exciting style of covering the Hawk’s captivated listeners both near and far.  Using his hockey knowledge O’Connell developed kind of a hybrid method of describing the action.  He had to; no one else was doing soccer on the radio.

“I grew up listening to Lloyd Pettit of Chicago (Blackhawks)", O'Connell explained.  "I played hockey for the Chicago Minor Hawks, which was their junior team.  So, my whole thing was playing hockey so I just equated it (soccer) to hockey,” O’Connell continued.  (Click here for more

“Those were fun days back then.  The school was growing, the school was doing well and there was a lot of notoriety with the soccer team because it was becoming internationally famous. They were traveling all over the world to play.  We did great events in Florida and we did the Super Eight down in Dallas and I got to have Walter Bahr as my color man!  Walter Bahr goes back to the 1950 United States soccer team.  He’s one of those guys from St. Louis who played in the game that was heard around the world when USA beat England 1-0 in the World Cup.  His 2 sons were very famous place kickers (Matt and Mike) in the NFL.”

And then there was “the game.” (Click here for more

“It was so cool.  Mike the game was actually in the Guinness Book of Records for 3 years as the longest soccer game in history.  It was like 14 overtimes. In those days there was no such thing as a shootout; you just played until you dropped dead.  They were even talking about bringing us back the next day,” O’Connell continued.

The Hawks would lose to Simon Fraser 1-0 and have to come back on less than 6 hours rest to play for third place.

WGEM hired Rick part-time during his junior year, but he took the summer off to experience an internship at AM 720 WGN, his home town station.   

“You talk about a summer of fun!”, said O’Connell.  “Oh my goodness!!  I grew up with all those guys on WGN in Chicago.  I grew up with Jack Brickhouse, Vince Lloyd and Lou Boudreau.  I had a desk right next to Brickhouse’s office.”

O’Connell’s tenure with WGEM lasted from 1972 through 1978.  During that time he was “the Mouth of the Hawks, did some local basketball play-by-play, DJ shifts on WGEM AM and co-hosted the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon.  O’Connell later returned to his native roots where he and his wife opened a theater company in the Chicago suburbs.   The run lasted 10 years during which time O’Connell worked with the likes of Gary Sinese, John Malkovich and Bill Peterson.   Former QC grad, John Mahoney (Frasier’s father) was also one of the familiar faces at the workshops O’Connell hosted.

Since that time O’Connell has been involved in the world of gaming in various parts of the country.  He and his wife Linda own and operate a Cruiseplanners franchise from their home in South Florida-which is currently in the path of Hurricane Irma. (Click here for more)

Rick was in the right place, at the right time, and was the right guy for the job.   For those who remember the glory days of QC Hawk’s soccer Rick O’Connell was the right guy providing the soundtrack.  And long-time Hawk fans were lucky he was.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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