But what do you get when you combine an exciting team, an aspiring rapper with access to recording equipment, and the passion of a true diehard Maple Leafs fan? You get just about the greatest song ever recorded.
Ladies and gentlemen, for the first time since 1994, The Joe Bowen Rap by Young Offender:
Now look, we can all agree that music is subjective and everyone's tastes are different. But I think it's fair to say that if you don't like that song then you're a terrible human being and I don't want you reading this blog. If the All Heart video made sweet tender love to The Leafs Are The Best, the resulting baby would be the Joe Bowen Rap and it would be able to change it's own diaper and then kick your ass.
Let's look at just a few of the highlights of this modern masterpiece:
- I estimate that Joe Bowen has yelled Wendel Clark's name while calling a game about three thousand times in his career. His voice cracked like that every single time.
- Not only do we get a Gord Stellick shoutout, but we get a "Gord Stellick dominating in Beat The Pros" shoutout. OK, sure, I realize only about three other living people get that reference, but I hope they all enjoyed it as much as I did.
- I'd vote for him in he ran for mayor. Well, I would too, but I don't think he'd win. After all, it's not like Toronto would ever elect some unqualified novice who only became popular by yelling a lot.
- But I know for now Joe is only warming up… can you imagine when the Leafs win the Cup? "Why yes, yes I absolutely can. Any year now. Only a matter of time," I said confidently, in 1994, before adding "Why is everyone from the future shaking their head sadly and avoiding eye contact with me right now?"
- The song builds to its dramatic crescendo, with Bowen calling a fight between Sylvain Lefvebre and a "visored nerd". There's something about this call that seems familiar to me. I can't quite but my finger on it, but it seems like it turned out to be important. (Obscure Leafs trivia: Bowen's voice cuts out during the "Down Goes Brown" fight call because he knocks his own headset off in excitement.)
- Why yes, that was a sample of Nikolai Borschevsky saying "un-bee-leeb-abba". I told you this song was awesome.
If you were a Leafs fan during the Passion Returns era, you remember many of these calls. You probably heard this song. Maybe you still remember all the lyrics and are able to sing along with them to this day, even though that fact makes your wife stare at you incredulously before rolling her eyes and storming out of the room, not that I'd know.
But where did The Joe Bowen Rap come from? How does such a masterpiece make it onto the air? Are there any Leaf fans out there who actually have enough time on their hands to provide an in-depth look at the song almost 20 years after it was first recorded?
I think we all know the answer to that last one.
Who is Young Offender?
It's safe to say that 1993 and 1994 were exciting years to be a Maple Leaf fan. The roster was good, the players were entertaining, and the team made several long playoff runs. It was a lot of fun. I may even have written about this era once or twice, I can't remember.
One of the many members of Leafs Nation who enjoyed those teams was Omer, a fan in his early 20s who dabbled in the music business while working his way through law school. In addition to producing music for other artists, he recorded occasional tracks of his own under the moniker "Young Offender". (Omer now has a career in the legal field and preferred not to have his last name used in this piece.)
Omer had been a fan since the 1970s era team that morphed into a contender before being destroyed by Harold Ballard; one of his earliest hockey memories was crying his way through his childhood paper route after reading that Lanny MacDonald had been traded. As a side note, if you google "earliest hockey memories" and "childhood" and "crying", I'm pretty sure all the results will be about Maple Leaf fans.
Jump ahead to 1992, with Omer and the rest of Leafs Nation getting swept up in the Maple Leafs' resurgence under Cliff Fletcher and Pat Burns. One night in February 1993, Omer was studying while listening to a radio broadcast of the Leafs taking on the Stars. Toronto trailed 5-2 before mounting a furious comeback to win in regulation.
Omer listened along as an increasingly frantic Joe Bowen called the comeback. Inspiration struck, and he started grabbing Bowen clips off the radio and developing ideas for a song.
The Joe Bowen Rap - 1993 version
Omer recorded the original version of the Joe Bowen Rap at home, using the basic equipment that he had available. He circulated the song towards the end of the 92-93 season as the Leafs finished strong and headed into the first playoff appearance in three years.
The big breakthrough came after the Leafs upset the Red Wings in seven games. With Leafs-mania taking over Toronto, local sports radio station The Fan put the track on the air. Leaf fans loved it, and a music label even briefly expressed interest.
Then a very bad thing happened and the Leafs' season ended. My psychotherapist says it's better if I don't talk about it. So let me just finish this drink and we'll move on. (Chugs from tequila bottle; takes a deep breath; wipes mouth; hurls the bottle against the wall over the baby's crib.) Alrighty, let's fast forward one year.
The Joe Bowen Rap - 1994 version
As the Leafs headed towards another playoff run, Omer released a new version of the song. This version was updated with new clips and rewritten to reflect roster changes (including the removal of a line referencing Darren Puppa, which was arguably the greatest rap lyric of all time to mention both Lackawanna and Cheektowaga if we're not counting "Fight the Power".)
The updated version was recorded in a full studio. Omer worked with The Fan to secure permission for using the clips, and the Maple Leafs granted permission to use their logo on artwork on the tape jacket. The song was also played on 90 radio stations across Canada, reaching #4 on one indy chart. With help from a friend, Omer was even able to have the song distributed at stores like HMV and Sam The Record Man with all proceeds going to The Hospital for Sick Children Foundation.
(For the younger readers, "HMV" and "Sam The Record Man" were record stores.)
(For the younger readers, a "record store" was a building that you had to go to when you wanted to buy music.)
(For the younger readers, "buying music" was the way we acquired it, since we couldn't just… you know what, let's just get back to the Bowen song. Stupid kids, you ruin everything.)
Omer eventually got to meet Bowen several times, including one chance to sit in with Bowen and Gord Stellick in the Maple Leaf Gardens pressbox. Bowen was a fan of the song, and even offered Omer tips on protecting his voice.
Rob Brown skated off the ice after the fight thinking "Well, that was kind of embarrassing but at least nobody will remember it a few decades from now."
Nikolai Borschevsky probably still can't pronounce "unbelievable".
Omer went on to record an album under the Young Offender name (you can find a few here). He went on to become a lawyer and has worked internationally in the financial world.
Joe Bowen is still the voice of the Toronto Maple Leafs. We're all still imagining what he would sound like if the Leafs won the Cup.