Blue Jackets Hire Former
Chiefs Broadcaster McElligott
By Mike Mastovich
For The Tribune-Democrat
Donning a team’s Iron Dog mascot outfit might not be the most logical launching point to a career in a National Hockey League radio booth.
But Somerset’s Bob McElligott was willing to follow an unorthodox path during a 16-year journey from his days as a costumed canine with the ECHL’s Johnstown Chiefs to his role as a NHL color analyst for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“My first thought was, ‘Is this finally real?’ I’m obviously really happy about it,” McElligott said Thursday, two days after the Blue Jackets hired him as part of the Columbus radio team. “It didn’t seem like it’s been that long, but now over the past few days I’ve been talking to people and they say, ‘You’ve done this and you’ve done that.’ I’m just glad I stuck it out and was able to persevere and I had people around me who were able to give me opportunities.”
McElligott got his start with the Chiefs in 1993-94, when then-owner Ned Nakles Jr. conceived the idea of “The Iron Dog,” a team mascot based on the historic Morley’s Dog located across the street from City Hall and made internationally famous by its appearance in the 1977 Paul Newman movie “Slap Shot.”
McElligott was a mascot extraordinaire. Fans loved him. Kids followed him. His wild antics – surfing on seats while wearing Hawaiian shorts or carrying his own fire hydrant – were often anticipated as much as the action on the ice. McElligott brought creativity and enthusiasm to his role as a mascot, something the Chiefs never really regained once he was promoted to the team’s play-by-play radio broadcaster in 1997-98.
“My plan was to get involved in professional sports. That was my first pro sports job,” McElligott said of his Iron Dog days.
“That was an ‘in.’ That was my goal, to get into the business. I don’t know that I thought I’d be a NHL radio guy at that point. I wanted to create an opportunity for myself.”
The opportunity came when McElligott replaced his friend and radio mentor Gregg DeVitto in the radio booth after DeVitto was summoned to the AHL.
After two seasons on the air with the Chiefs, McElligott was hired by the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch. He spent 10 seasons with the Crunch, and also worked for the International League pro baseball team and Syracuse University.
The Crunch are the Blue Jackets’ top affiliate, which enabled McElligott to even make a few substitute appearances on the microphone during NHL games. But his shot at a true NHL job didn’t materialize until this week.
“There were a couple of times within the last few years when I would get close to jobs and be the runner-up or in the top five,” McElligott said. “You start to say to yourself you’re getting older. In the minor leagues it’s always a race against time. How long can you keep making the money you’re making before you can’t support your family and you have to take a regular job and live a regular life? But I’d think about it and ask myself what else could I do and make myself happy? I couldn’t find an answer. I love what I do.”
McElligott will join veteran Columbus radio play-by-play man George Matthews in the booth.
He and his wife, Kathy, have two sons, Matthew and Braden.
The McElligotts are eager to make Columbus their new home when he begins his duties next month.
Perhaps none of this would have been possible without McElligott’s determination, talent and willingness to wear a large, gray dog costume.
“Hands down, no question, that was the most fun job I had,” McElligott said. “I could have never imagined that doing that Iron Dog job would open the doors that it did for me. Ned Nakles gets a lot of credit for that and so does (former Chiefs GM) Les Crooks.
“In that second year I got a baseball job in the Carolina League. Ned wanted me to come back to Johnstown in the winter. I said I couldn’t come back as just a game-night mascot. Ned gave me a job in group sales in the office. Then Gregg DeVitto came in as the broadcaster and we got things started. Gregg taught me everything. He and I were at IceTRACs in Somerset doing high school games on WJAC radio. He’d critique me and help me get better. I’ll never forget those people and the Johnstown Chiefs and their fans.”