Today was supposed to be Commencement Day. Northeastern’s graduating class would have filed into their seats on the floor of TD Garden, then strolled onto the stage, shaken hands with the school’s infinitely memeable president, and received their diplomas as their families celebrated their years of hard work.
But with an ongoing pandemic it is foolish to gather in groups of 20, let alone 20,000. In light of the graduation cancellation and the station’s inability to say a proper goodbye, I want to acknowledge two WRBB Sports graduating seniors for what they’ve contributed to Northeastern and what they’ve meant to me.
Michael Petillo (right) was our sports director this year, the culmination of a four-year journey. At my first WRBB show, I was struck by his analysis. He weighed in on every topic so clearly and cleanly you’d be forgiven for thinking he’d written and revised his takes beforehand.
The year after, we did our first game together after a schedule juggle left us both in South Carolina for the Charleston Classic. I was just beginning to broadcast Northeastern basketball regularly, and I looked to Mike for an example of how to call the action and pace the broadcast. Again, he seldom stumbled.
But it was this past season I’ll remember most, the season when Mike took over the sports director job that had, the previous year, provided ample responsibility for two people. Leadership of our station relies not just on sports knowledge and broadcasting skill, but on the personality and positive attitude to attract new broadcasters and make them feel valued. Mike made it look easy.
If Mike was the tip of the spear, Matt Neiser was the Swiss army knife.
Neez (right) did everything for this station — hockey and basketball, broadcasting and writing, even photography when the mood struck him. He was a constant resource for new broadcasters, the first to inform us of breaking Northeastern sports news, and somehow found time to direct our finances this year.
My first real broadcasting experience with Neez was the Wilmington–Charleston trip last year. When a piece of faulty equipment left us without our usual setup in a deafening arena, we took turns shouting our play calls into our earbuds, then made frantic rounds the next day to electronics stores in both Carolinas desperately seeking a replacement. Thank god we found one.
Of the games I called with Neez, my favorite was the men’s basketball game against Holy Cross in November. The Crusaders weren’t a great squad and the Huskies had lost two in a row, so we weren’t expecting much.
But the Huskies decided they just weren’t in the mood to miss shots that night. Their 101–44 win, the largest in program history, was sealed well before halftime. Neez and I couldn’t stop yelling, laughing, celebrating the sheer ridiculousness of what we were seeing. On the commuter rail back to Boston, he helped me write a game story that still brings me fond memories of the evening when the Huskies demolished a decades-old record.
Anyone who heard Neez call a game would never think to question his passion. For anyone who hasn’t heard him, his goodbye thread is ample proof (click here for the whole thing).
The most obvious Husky sports casualty of the pandemic cancellations was the women’s hockey team. Fresh off a commanding win in the Hockey East Championship and with just one loss in the previous two months, they were poised for a serious run at a national championship. They deserved that chance. Same goes for Neez, who deserved his chance to don his headphones one more time and call his first NCAA Tournament game.
Boys, you deserve to be on that graduation stage at TD Garden, the home of your beloved Celtics. You deserve as many high-leverage tournament games as a coronavirus-free world would have thrown at you. And you deserve an in-person sendoff from your broadcast partners, the ones you supported and elevated and welcomed into the fold. But this will have to do for now. When the pandemic passes and the sports resume on Huntington Avenue, the rest of us will do our best to follow your example and do a job you’d be proud of.
We are better broadcasters for having worked with you. We are better friends for having known you. And we are grateful for the years you gave us.