Bobb Vergiels became one of East Toledo’s very own
The now-razed Toledo Sports Arena, at One Main Street in East Toledo, was where folks marveled over the Magnum P.I.-like moustache of, and listened to long time public address announcer Bobb Vergiels.
Vergiels was considered a member of the East Toledo family…one of their own.
“Even though my family moved up to Ida, Michigan when I was 11-years-old, Toledo is definitely my hometown, and some of my greatest memories growing up here were of going down to a lot of the hockey games at the Toledo Sports Arena, because you see, Dad worked for Irv Pollock Lincoln Mercury, and it seemed like Irv always had season tickets for about everything,” reflects a 61-year-old Vergiels.
|Bobb Vergiels receives his own Toledo Walleye
honorary jersey by game day promotions
coordinator Kyrsten Kasmyrick. (Photo
courtesy Toledo Mud Hens)
Vergiels, who was born in the Glass City in 1952, says the Sports Arena was where his love affair with sports was first kindled by his father Bob. Playing the game was another matter.
“When I played little league baseball, I was so horrible at it, that to this day I swear my coaches put me in our games anyway just because they got tired of hearing me do play-by-play of all the action on the bench there beside them,” he laughs.
Vergiels’ future in sports broadcasting started to bud in dugouts across Toledo while he was a young ballplayer and student at Whittier Elementary. It later bloomed by listening to heroes such as Ernie Harwell, George Kell, and Paul Carey of the Detroit Tigers, Tom Hamilton of the Cleveland Indians, and the Toledo Mud Hens’ own Frank Gilhooley.
“And then later, when I got a real job in radio working my way through Monroe Community College at WVMO (now My 98.3), I was able to score a press pass for the International Hockey League, which meant I got to go to a lot of the hockey games down at the Sports Arena as a radio guy, which was kind of cool,” Vergiels said.
“Then, the Goaldiggers came to town in ’74, and for those first couple of years of their existence, you couldn’t get a seat down there except for maybe one or two here or there, which worked out perfect for me, because at that time I was working as a reporter for the Monroe Evening News, so I’d always go down there alone, and watch the ‘Diggers play on Friday and Saturday nights,” he shares.
“Yeah, my Aunt Floss lived in the Vistula Apartments right down the street from the Sports Arena, so every time there was a hockey game in East Toledo on the weekends, I’d drive down like three hours early, go to Central Hot Dog on Front Street and pick up some ‘dogs and chili, walk over and have dinner with my Aunt Floss, and then walk back over the Cherry Street Bridge when it was time for the game. It became one of my favorite traditions.”
“Back in that era, they didn’t charge for parking at the Sports Arena. Back in that era, they had ‘Ten Cent Beer Night’ and I can remember nights when I saw people get into line, stand there and drink their beer, and then get right back into line again. I swear most of them didn’t even see a minute of the game,” he reminisces.
“Those were the golden days of the infamous ‘Broad Street Bullies’ of the Philadelphia Flyers, so fighting was a big, big thing in hockey, and in Toledo during that time we had our own infamous line known as ‘Murder Inc.’ which consisted of Dougie Mahood, Paul Tantardini, and ‘Wild’ Willie Trognitz. I swear there were nights I saw that one line get into nine different fights.
“During that era, people were allowed to smoke right there in their seats, so a haze of grey smoke always hung inside the arena. The glass was extremely low, so fans could reach out and rap opposing players and referees on the head as they skated by. Your Fort Waynes, your Kalamazoos, your Port Hurons, and your Daytons…these were teams Toledo fans saw so many times during the course of a season, so they came to hate them. The games took on the environment of a bullfight . . . you just knew somebody was going to get gored.
“We had ‘Diggers’ coach Ted Garvin tearing off his suit coat, and ripping off his tie, to reveal a Superman T-shirt underneath, while he argued with referees. The ice surface was always small at the Sports Arena, the puck could bounce funky, the sightlines were like straight out of the movie ‘Slap Shot’ and if you were to look it up, you’d discover that the arena in the film in Johnstown, Pennsylvania was actually designed by the same guy who designed the Toledo Sports Arena. They were built just one year apart. The Sports Arena was absolutely a fantastic, old place for hockey, and even though many people called it a dump, it was our dump. And we loved it.
The Goaldiggers suspended operations after four Turner Cup championships in 1986, and later moved to Kansas City, where they became the Blades in 1990.
“Some years later, before the Storm came to town in ’91, the Sports Arena hosted an exhibition game between Cincinnati (Cyclones) and Erie (Panthers), and I took my own son, who was 5-years-old at the time,” continues Vergiels. “All the old Goaldigger fans were there, everyone showed up in their green and gold, and it really took me back to that wonderful era of hockey in Toledo. But, what I noticed was, the public address announcer that night was just horrible, so I sent then Storm-owner Barry Soskin a note that read, ‘I can do better,’ even though I’d never done it before.”
The note piqued Soskin’s interest, and soon led to a fateful dinner meeting at a Bob Evans restaurant in Monroe, Michigan from which Vergiels walked away with the new Storm PA announcer gig.
Sixteen years after the Storm’s inaugural season under fiery head coach Chris McSorley in ’91 to the franchise’s sad swan song campaign in 2006-’07, the Storm brought home two East Coast Hockey League Riley Cup championships in ’92-’93, and ’93-’94. and Vergiels would go on to spew more than a mouthful, and he also became a natural fit at PA announcer in ’09 when the Storm finally became the Toledo Walleye after moving into the brand-new Huntington Center on the other side of the river, which is a post he occupied until the completion of the ’12-’13 season, which is when he decided to hang up his Toledo hockey mic forever.
Bobb Vergiels receives his own Toledo Walleye honorary jersey by game day promotions coordinator Kyrsten Kasmyrick. (Photo courtesy Toledo Mud Hens)
Bobb Vergeils at the microphone. (Photo courtesy Toledo Mud Hens)