Back in 1984, Tommy Edwards settled into his seat at the Biograph Theater to catch a movie with his wife when some ambient music started playing in the background.
“I told Mary Lou, ‘I know this song. It’s Sirius by the Alan Parsons Project,’” Edwards, a longtime disc jockey and radio programmer at WLS, said, referencing his wife. “The more I listened to it, I’m thinking, ‘Wait a minute. This could be the Bulls’ song.’”
The next day, Edwards bought the vinyl album, put it on his turntable at home and started practicing the Bulls’ starting lineup behind it.
“And because it has so many great parts to its intro---a new guitar part or crescendo---it worked great,” Edwards said. “The Bulls loved it immediately. Michael (Jordan) loved it. That’s been the opening lineup music ever since.”
The song actually has become a cultural phenomenon, played at weddings and bar mitzvahs and in sporting venues around the world. And it will last beyond Edwards, who will serve his last game as Bulls public address announcer Saturday against the Houston Rockets.
Edwards, whose innovations and broadcasting chops helped transform in-game sports entertainment, worked in the role from 1976-1981 and 1983-1990 at the old Chicago Stadium and again from 2006 to the present at the United Center. He missed the championship years as his successful radio career took him to Boston and Los Angeles, where he will retire to be with his three children and four grandchildren.
“Mary Lou and I have always wondered what it would be like to have the entire year to do the things we want to do---travel, be with family. The nine months of the basketball season kept us from doing that. Now we’re going to be able to go to birthday parties all the time and do all the things grandparents do more frequently,” Edwards said. “Leaving is going to be bittersweet. I’m looking forward to being in Los Angeles with the kids and family. But I’m going to miss doing games. It’s part of my DNA.”
One day, Edwards finished his disc jockey shift at WLS and a sales manager who had a friend who worked for the Bulls told him the franchise needed a public address announcer. Edwards, who grew up in Topeka, Kansas, watching Wilt Chamberlain play in college, was a huge basketball fan.
“I said, ‘Wait a minute. So they want to pay me to go to games?’” Edwards said. “I thought about it for about a second and then said, ‘OK, I’ll audition.’”
He got the job. Originally, the in-game entertainment merely consisted of Edwards on a microphone and organist Nancy Faust working her magic. But the Bulls recognized an opportunity to use Edwards’ musical knowledge and ability to dub music from his radio station to bring to the Stadium.
“When the game got very exciting, I would play a song called ‘Rock and Roll, Part 2’ by Gary Glitter,” Edwards said. “Opposing teams would call me and ask what song that was.”
When the Bulls drafted Jordan, marketing officials worked with Edwards to come up with something special for the potential star. They had already teamed to be the first in the league to turn off the lights for starting lineup introductions in 1977. At first, Edwards used Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” to introduce Jordan and the other starters. Some games, he’d experiment with the theme song from the hit TV show “Miami Vice.”
And then Edwards heard “Sirius,” the instrumental introduction to the song “Eye In The Sky.”
By this time, Edwards had begun using his “And now . . .” prelude to the starting lineup introductions. Per his then-young daughter’s request, he had permanently settled on using “the man in the middle” for the starting center intro after first trying the more simple “in the middle.”
One son served as a ballboy for nine years. His family grew up around the game. A big part of his life’s work has served as the soundtrack to many memorable sporting events.
“It’s been wonderful,” Edwards said. “I’ve had a great time.”
That includes great memories. Like the time then-announcer Johnny “Red” Kerr accidentally kicked a live wire underneath the scorer’s table, setting off the horn celebrating hockey goals just as Knicks’ Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing prepared to shoot free throws.
“Ewing looks over at us with fire in his eyes, like, ‘What are you doing?’ The officials did too,” Edwards said, laughing. “He bounced the ball to shoot again and it went off again. It looked like he was getting ready to come over to the table. The official jumped in front. He said, ‘What are you guys doing?’ We said, ‘We’re not doing anything!’ Meanwhile, the electrician is crawling under the table and finding the wire that Johnny Kerr is accidentally kicking.”
Or the time Darryl Dawkins, the dunker extraordinaire for the 76ers, got into a long conversation with Edwards and official scorer Bob Rosenberg about how much money his wife spent on a fur coat as he prepared to check into the game.
“Play stopped, the officials waved him on and he’s not paying attention. He’s talking to us,” Edwards said, laughing. “We’re saying, ‘Darryl, uh, you need to go in the game.’”
Or the one time Edwards forgot Kirk Hinrich hated having his name announced as he prepared to shoot free throws and Hinrich missed both shots.
“I felt terrible,” Edwards said. “I loved Kirk.”
Or the time Derrick Rose approached Edwards and asked him to play Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight” because he heard it once at a Bulls game as a kid.
“I’m going to miss my friends, the guys and girls at the (scorers) table. We all have to rely on each other so much,” Edwards said. “I’ll miss watching the players up close and appreciating the incredible talent they have. I’m going to miss working for Jerry Reinsdorf. He’s terrific. He has built such an incredible organization.
“Chicago fans are incredible. I’ll remember moments like when Joakim (Noah) stole the ball from (Paul) Pierce and went down and dunked and the crowd went crazy. I’m there with a microphone and I can’t hear myself on these giant speakers because the crowd is so loud. It’s so exciting to be a part of that.”
After Saturday, Edwards no longer will be.
“But I’ll still be a huge Bulls fan,” he said. “That doesn’t change.”
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