Jiggs and Da Boom
by George Grimm
Jiggs McDonald is probably best known for his many years behind the microphone calling New York Islanders games. But before that he was the play-by-play voice of the L.A. Kings and Atlanta Flames. And it was while he was working for the Flames that he was paired with one of the legendary names in NHL and Rangers history, Bernie “Boom Boom” Geoffrion.
In 1972 Boomer was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame and left the Rangers to become coach of the Atlanta Flames. He stayed behind the bench for two and a half seasons before moving to the broadcast booth with Jiggs McDonald.
Here is Jiggs on Geoffrion: Da Boom and Jigg McDonalds, as he always called me. What a team that was. You have to give (Atlanta GM) Cliff Fletcher a lot of credit. He hired a salesman, he hired a motivator and I have to think he knew what he was getting, the personality he was getting. A lot of us in the business wondered what he was doing. Boom had that history of illness and didn’t have a very good coaching record as I recall. But in Atlanta, the Boomer was accepted by the populous, the people of Atlanta and the south. Yeah, he played in New York, but he was not a Yankee. He was French Canadian. The outpouring of love and support for Boom was incredible.
I go back to what I said about him being a salesman. One of my first experiences with Boom in Atlanta, Norm Mackie who was our trainer put together a bag of equipment, everything to outfit a player from head to toe and Boom in the heat of the summer is out there in front of the Hyatt Regency Hotel with all this equipment on, explaining to people what all the gear was. He had to be just boiling, it was so hot it was incredible. He did that on more than one occasion. He had that warmth, that personality. He sold Boom and he sold the game. And people took to hockey because of Boom. He put a lot of people in the building. On another occasion I was with him at a service club that was 100 percent black and Boom sold them on the idea that it wouldn’t be long before there would be black players playing hockey and the first one that came along, he wanted to have on his team. And he finished up with the fist and peace sign. Peace and Love brother. He was so good.
Boom had a deal with the local Lincoln Mercury dealer the tag line was always “At the sign of the cat”. And he had this big white Lincoln. He could drive into downtown Atlanta and he could double park, triple park if need be, leave the car running and go into this barbeque spot that he used to go for ribs and what we call pulled pork today. Get whatever he wanted to bring home or back to the office but usually it was take home in the evening and nobody touched that car, went near it, nor was any chance of it disappearing. He was so well loved by the people in the area.
From the hockey standpoint, there are a lot of Boom stories. I don’t think that too any players would tell you that he was good with the X’s and O’s or the strategy of the game, but he could certainly motivate. There’s a great story about Boom saying “There’s tree ting to dis game, tree ting. Skate and Shoot.” But Boom, you said three things. Boom said “yeah, Skate.. And.. Shoot”.
The guys used to tell the story of a game against the Boston Bruins and Boom going through the Bruins lineup before the game. “Who dem guys got. Nobody der dat I would want on dis team. All you guys better than dem. Well maybe dat H-Orr (pronounced hoar) but all you guys better dan de Bruins.” He was a funny individual.
The day that he resigned as coach, we had played the Minnesota North Stars. We were flying back, commercial of course. Cliff had the aisle seat, I had the middle seat and Boom by the window. And there was hardly anything said back and forth, there was no conversation. So we got home and that afternoon, I got a call from Jim Huber who was our PR guy that there was a press conference at six at the Omni, be there. Oh geez, we’ve been away, we just got home, There’s no reason for me to go down there. What’s going on Hube’s? “Boom quit” What? “Boom quit”. He had taken the team to the playoffs that second year and now into the third he recognized that they weren’t going to get there. And he was gone. He was out of there. That’s when Fred Creighon came in of course. Cliff always seemed to have a safety net. He was well aware of Boom’s history of either Illness or of walking away. The tendency to get out from under a bad situation. And the team wasn’t very good and wasn’t going to make the playoffs and this was his escape.
We were over at the house one day and I had a company car but he didn’t like our family car. He said “why you drive dat sh–box?” I said, well it depends on where I’m going and what I’m doing. But that’s basically my wife’s car. He said, “oh you shouldn’t be driving dat, I get you a big Lincoln.” I said how are you gonna get me a Lincoln? He says “no problem.” So we’re doing a tag line, just a tag line about the Lincoln Mercury dealer and sure enough I got a car to drive and it was a Lincoln. It wasn’t even a lease, It was a loaner I guess. But I kept saying Boom how do you do this? He said, “Oh dey like me Jiggs.” And his whole MO was to get it “on the cuff”’. “I get dat Jiggs, no problem. It fall off a truck.” He took great delight in telling everyone that he wasn’t French Canadian, he was Sicilian. “You have a car?” he’d ask, “Don’t start it.” he’d warn. We were on a cruise with him and Marlene one year, he had the entire crew of that ship in the palm of his hand. Everywhere he went the crew would be saying “Don’t start it”. He had a presence; he demanded an audience and commanded the audience. But when it came to the dressing room it was done through motivation. I think the majority of the guys would tell you that they pretty much coached themselves and he got them ready to go out there.
In 1979 Boomer realized a life long dream by becoming the coach of the Montreal Canadiens. Once again however he was forced to step down due to stomach ulcers.
Jiggs McDonald: He found religion and became born again in Atlanta. This was after he had gone to Montreal to coach and then came back. He was a great family man, loved his kids. So proud of Bobby and Danny and the fact that Linda had married Hartland Monahan. So enriched in the history of Marlene’s father (Howie Morenz) and the things that he had done. Just class, always dressed to the nines. He was the perfect guy for an expansion team in the south in 1972.
On March 11, 2006 the Canadiens retired Geoffrion’s No. 5 sweater. The date had been selected by Geoffrion because it held a special significance for his family. When Geoffrion’s father-in-law, the great Howie Morenz died in 1937, his casket was placed in the Forum for public viewing on March 11. Unfortunately Geoffrion never made it to Montreal that night or saw his sweater raised to the rafters. The Boomer died that morning in Atlanta of cancer at the age of 75.
Jiggs McDonald: His death was almost like it was orchestrated, he always had that element of show business about him. It was a shock, the timing of his passing.
I had spoken to Marlene his wife earlier that week and also to Linda his daughter and was aware that there wasn’t a whole lot of time left. And Marlene had kept me up to date on the trip to Montreal for the raising of the banner and how they were looking forward to it and just hoping that Boom would be able to make it. But to have him miss it by a day, but he probably wouldn’t have been able to go as it turned out but they were sure hoping that he would be there.
We went to Atlanta for the funeral. The only member of the Canadiens to be there was Jean Beliveau. It meant a lot to Marlene. There were flowers from the Canadiens but Jean was the only representative of the Canadiens fraternity.
Boom Boom Geoffrion was indeed an unforgettable character, but so too is Jiggs McDonald. Jiggs can still be heard calling an occasional Islanders game, filling in for Howie Rose. His warmth, good humor and the joy of doing something that he loves still comes through in every broadcast. We thank him for sharing his memories with us.
(George Grimm is the former publisher of Sportstat, The Ranger Report and columnist for the Blueshirt Bulletin. He currently writes the Retro Rangers column for Insidehockey.com and is working on an oral history of the Emile Francis era New York Rangers.)
Photos by Getty Images.