Backchecking With Bill Clement
Tuesday, 05.3.2005 / 12:00 AM ET / News
Former Flyer talks about his hockey and broadcasting careers
By Zack Hill
|Bill Clement was a member of both of the Flyers' Stanley Cup Championship teams.|
He is currently the lead game analyst for ESPN's NHL telecasts and he also announces the Great Outdoor Games and the Bassmaster Classic for ESPN.
Clement recently sat down to answer a few questions about his life with philadelphiaflyers.com.
Question: How did you get involved in broadcasting?
Clement: "I always prided myself in being a good communicator. I got into the restaurant business in Atlanta and promptly plunged into corporate and personal financial ruin --- bankruptcy. Then my girlfriend and soon-to-be-wife, Cissie, and I moved to New York where I began pursuing an acting career. At that stage, I was taking whatever acting gigs I could get my hands on. I was doing network and local commercials, the soap opera "All My Children,"and industrial film narrations. This was all going very well. One day in the mid 1980s, the telephone rang and it was ESPN calling. They asked me if I wanted to audition for a job as a television color analyst. By that time, the notion for auditioning for my lunch and my rent every week had grown a little stale and I told them I was interested. The audition actually turned out to be a ‘live’ hockey game on television. The venue was Chicago Stadium when the Blackhawks hosted the Minnesota North Stars. I was scared to death, but it worked out."
Question: Were you apprehensive about moving to New York?
Clement:"I had nothing to lose at that point. Otherwise I would not have tried it. I had $4,000 to my name that I kept in a steel box in the attic of this tiny apartment that I rented. I had no job, no training, no college education and no career."
Question: Isn’t that a recipe for disaster?
Clement:"Yes. I was doing some acting in Atlanta, but I wanted to see if I was good enough to compete in New York. I asked some of the talent agents in Atlanta who represented me if I was good enough and they reassured me that I was. But one of the steps that I did not realize I was taking was that I cut off all avenues of retreat. I rented a U-Haul truck, drove to New York and found a little, second floor row house apartment in Queens. We did not even have our own thermostat in the apartment. The thermostat was located on the first floor. We froze our butts off for the first three months that we were there because the landlord turned the heat down because he had no renters in the first floor apartment."
Question: Was there a lot of penny pinching back then?
Clement:"Yes. I remember how thrilled I was when I came busting through our little second floor apartment door and exclaimed, ‘Cissie, you’ll never believe this. I found a 10-pound bag of rice for $1.69!’"
Question: Since you lacked experience, did ESPN give you any pointers as to what type of announcer they were looking for?
Clement:"Yes. I asked them what they were looking for and they said they wanted me to educate people without offending the educated hockey viewer. If I was going to educate the uneducated, I tried to do it in a humorous way. You want to make sure that you are not using jargon that excludes people from understanding, but at the same time, you do not want to make it too basic."
Question: Are you a perfectionist?
Clement:"Yes, by nature I am. I am a very detailed-oriented person. Things that might be minutia to somebody else might be important to me. I do not leave anything to the imagination. You have to know what you are preparing for before you determine how to prepare. You start with the end in mind."
Question: How did you develop this philosophy?
Clement: "My philosophy on being prepared and organized is my own. I learned a long time ago that broadcasters I aspired not to be like were the ones that came across as artificial and stiff and have difficulty connecting with their audience. That is why I think Coatesy (Flyers television announcer Steve Coates) does such a good job. He is real. You want to be real enough so that viewers can see the person inside of the announcer. It is one thing to be technically perfect, but it is not good if people cannot connect with you. The broadcasters that I aspired to be like were the people that I thought were friendly, natural and the most approachable. Coatesy is one of those."
Question: Any national broadcasters come to mind?
Clement:"Al Michaels is tremendous. John Madden is good, but I think he can talk for a couple of minutes and not say very much. But at least he is a real guy. John Davidson is really good at being a natural. Mike Emrick, Gary Thorne and Jim Jackson are all terrific."
Question: You grew up in the French-speaking town of Thurso, Quebec, where you and Hockey Hall of Famer Guy Lafleur were line mates for a couple of seasons. Was Guy that good back then?
Clement:"He was unbelievable. On more than one occasion, I remember beating teams 7-0 and Guy having seven goals and me having seven assists. I would pass it to him in the neutral zone and let him take care of the rest."
Question: What was it like growing up in a French-speaking town?
Clement:"I was not invited to participate for the town’s hockey team until I was 12 years old. It was a French-Catholic-English-Protestant issue more than anything. I was in a very pronounced English Protestant minority. In a small, paper mill town of 3,000 people between Ottawa and Montreal, English kids simply were not invited to play for the town’s hockey team. When I was 12, they had a change of heart and let us English kids try-out. That is probably why I did not have many offensive skills. I could skate like the wind, but I always thought defensively. When the Flyers drafted me, I spent the first season in the minors. They did not let me kill any penalties and made me play on every power play so I could work on my offense. No pun intended, but that really killed me inside because I loved killing penalties. They wanted me to make it to the NHL, so I was not going to argue with their decision-making."
Question: Since you never had the big numbers (goals/statistics) in juniors, was it an afterthought of breaking into the NHL?
Clement:"I do not remember saying this, but at a school reunion my friends told me that when I was eight or nine years old I told them that someday I was going to play in the NHL. I did not say this in a cocky, confident way. If anything, I lacked confidence. I was a workaholic and worked my tail off to make it happen. If a player is worth a penny, it is all about the team and not about the individual. Group achievements are what players live for. But, if I have to look back at any of my individual achievements, one of my proudest is the fact that I never scored 20 goals per season at any level until I made it to the NHL, where I had two 20-goal seasons. It is usually the other way around. When people ask if scorers are born or made, I can honestly say both, because I was not a born scorer."
Question: Are you for rule changes to make the game more exciting?
Clement:"Yes. I cannot wait. We need to challenge the record book. God forbid we should come close to any one of Gretzky’s records, but we have to find ways to do that. Our culture craves glamour. There is nothing glamorous about 41-goal scorers, which is what the NHL goal scoring leaders had last year." (Rick Nash, Jarome Iginla and Ilya Kovalchuk led the NHL last season with 41 goals apiece).
Question: What have you been doing since the lockout?
Clement: "I have been doing some professional public speaking and that takes me to different parts of the country. I do not call them motivational presentations. I call them human development because I endeavor to leave an audience with substance, memories and tools that may come in handy later in life. I have spoken all over the place, including St. Thomas, Las Vegas and have an engagement coming up in Palm Springs. The lockout also has allowed to me to spend some quality time with my family. That is something that has not happened much during hockey season."
Question: Any children?
Clement:"Yes. Cissie and I have three daughters, Regan (31), Christa (30), Savannah (16) and one son, Chase (15)."
Question: How can people keep up with Bill Clement?
Clement:"I have my own website, www.billclement.com. There are some commercials that I have done on the web site and other information about me."