Hot Rod, wherefore art thou?

By By Natalie Dicou and By Natalie Dicou

By Natalie Dicou

I miss Hot Rod Hundley. Ever since he was demoted to be the radio-only guy, there has been a void in my viewing of Jazz games. The other night, when I was watching the Jazz (and its still slightly unfamiliar cast of characters), it hit me that something wasn’t quite right.

I’ve long since recovered from the Stockton-to-Malone desertion. The thing is, their retirement didn’t sneak up on me. It was always inevitable for Jazz fans: One day, Stockton was going to lose his quickness and The Mailman would lose his ability to deliver on a nightly basis.

Their retirement was always a dark thought looming in the back of fans’ minds. Without Stock and Karl, what would become of the Jazz? And sure enough, Father Time rendered my favorite duo less effective until finally-when it became clear that their chance of winning one of those ridiculously gaudy NBA championship rings had slipped out of grasp-they left.

So what remains of the Jazz team I grew up with? The uniform, logo and colors are gone. The Delta Center has become the tongue-twisting EnergySolutions Arena. And then it hit me as I listened to the rich baritone voice of Hundley’s successor Craig Bolerjack screaming out, “Money Memo!” in his attempt to build up a resume of catchphrases-I missed Hot Rod.

Without warning, Hot Rod-who remains the only former player to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as an announcer-was abruptly yanked, as if by a large cartoonish hook, out of the spotlight.

When the Jazz quit simulcasting games-a long-overdue change that gave the Jazz a more professional, “big city” feel-Hot Rod lost the TV half of his job, and along with it, his longtime sidekick, Ron Boone.

When the Jazz made the switch, owner Larry “after all, you know this guy” Miller probably thought, “At last, my chance!” Miller is notoriously conservative and Hot Rod notoriously isn’t. (Remember: Miller didn’t watch Game 6 of the Jazz-Bulls Finals in 1998 because it was on a Sunday, resigning himself to occasional radio updates). Miller probably clicked his heels when the prospect of ushering out Hot Rod from the limelight of TV arose.

And so Miller sent Hot Rod away to the cobweb-strewn radio-only microphone, where the only people listening are those stuck in I-15 traffic jams.

Hot Rod has a sketchy past. He pleaded no-contest to a DUI charge in 2002 and has admitted to repeatedly cheating on his wife. The aforementioned indignities are probably a good chunk of the reason Miller saw fit to relegate “Hots” to the less-conspicuous radio job. Clearly, this is not the type of guy Miller wants to be the “Voice of the Jazz.”

But Hot Rod has personality. I miss a simple dribble being called a “belt-high yoyo” and I miss how his wild hair sometimes stuck out from beneath his headset like some sort of jungle growth. Most of all, I miss Hot Rod telling us, “You gotta love it, baby.”

Bolerjack is too “with it” and “together.” He’s too Ward Cleaver for my taste. He seems like the type of guy who has dinner with his family every night and reads bedtime stories to his kids-which is all well and good, but I prefer an old-school announcer who lives on the edge; the type of guy who empties out the mini-bar in every hotel room he visits.

Bolerjack is the consummate professional. He’ll call a Jazz game one night and the next morning he’ll be calling a major college football game on CBS. But he’s not Hot Rod.

I miss Hundley’s incredibly raw, “I’ve-lived-a-hard-life” vibe. He’s like the shaggy flea-bitten mutt you want to take home and love and shield from the troubles of the world.

Perhaps even more importantly, he connects the Jazz of the past to today’s Jazz. He is the bridge between John Stockton’s mini-shorts and Deron Williams’ tattoos.

It’s common knowledge that Hot Rod stole his famous “hippity-hop” from Chick Hearn, and his utterly nonsensical “a gentle push and a mild arc and that cowhide globe hits home” from a newspaper article that was written about him during his playing days. Despite these minor thefts, Hot Rod is an original.

Just as Penn State football coach/octogenarian Joe Paterno has essentially been given a lifelong stewardship over the Nittany Lions (so long as he can remain in the upright position along the sideline), so too should Hot Rod have been able to call it quits on his own timetable.

Hot Rod deserved the TV job. After more than 30 years of loyal service, he earned it.