For Boston sports fans of a certain vintage, the name Tom Larson evokes welcome memories of a classy, subtle broadcaster narrating the highlights and on-ice hijinks of the beloved Big, Bad Bruins of the early 1970s.
Larson — real name Lanny Lee Larason — died Wednesday at age 84 in Virginia from complications of cancer. In his long career in Boston, which spanned from 1969 until his retirement in 2007, Larson was familiar and trusted, whether during his time as a studio host on Channel 38 for the Bruins and Red Sox, a sports reporter on WHDH radio, or as one of the first familiar faces on fledgling NESN in the mid-’80s.
But his main association will always be with those rollicking Bruins. Larson told the Globe in 2011 that basketball and the Celtics were his first love among winter sports teams, revealing that the first hockey game he ever saw was the Bruins’ opener in 1969. “A month later, I was on the air doing the postgame show.”
Larson had a storyteller’s gift. Some of his best work was as host, writer, and producer for NESN’s magazine-style “Front Row” program. One of his most amusing stories continued a few years into his retirement before it finally had closure.
During the first game of the 1981-82 season, Larson vowed, after occasionally hearing from viewers that disliked his beard, that he would not shave his facial hair until the Bruins won another championship.
“I’d never seen him with a beard until he grew it and made the pledge,” his son, Jeff Larason, told the Globe Friday. “Until then he was not a beard guy.”
Conventional wisdom suggested Larson wouldn’t have the beard for terribly long. The Bruins, of course, had twice won the Stanley Cup, in 1970 and ‘72, during his early years in Boston.
But the Bruins, despite almost always having a quality team, had others plans. They reached the Cup Final in 1988 and again in 1990, losing both times to the Edmonton Oilers. Other frustrations and heartbreaks abbreviated seasons before the Cup could be hoisted in years to come.
It wasn’t until 2011 — when the Bruins beat the Canucks in seven games to win their first title in 39 years — that Larson, 30 years after his pledge and four years into retirement, finally got to shave the beard that had been so familiar to Boston sports fans through the years.
“I meant it as a rallying cry, a statement, a way to get closer to the fans,” Larson said in June 2011, upon going clean-shaven for the first time since Ray Bourque’s second NHL season. “When I first started wearing a beard, the Bruins were in it every season. Who knew it would take this long?”
Brothers there for each other
Devin and Jason McCourty have had a secret weapon in their rapid mutual post-playing career success as broadcasters: each other.
While catching up with Devin last Sunday at NBC Sports’ studios in Stamford, Conn., as he prepared for his role as an analyst on “Football Night in America,” Devin detailed how he and his twin brother have helped each other in their second careers.
Jason, who spent three (2018-20) of his 13 NFL seasons with the Patriots, retired after the 2021 season, a year before Patriots lifer Devin. Jason immediately landed a high-profile role on NFL Network’s “Good Morning Football,” along with serving as an analyst on Westwood One’s radio broadcasts. When Devin, who hadn’t yet decided to retire, made a couple of media appearances after the Patriots’ 2022 season had ended, he leaned on Jason as sort of an advance scout.
“I went on ‘GameDay’ on NFL Network and they were like, these are the things we want you to talk about,” said Devin, who called Friday’s Jets-Dolphins game with his brother and play-by-play voice Ian Eagle on Westwood One. “I text my brother right away, ‘Hey, what’s going on with these teams?’ I just wasn’t as up on everything on the other teams that we might not have played this year. If it was Buffalo, I knew them very well. But when you’re a player, you’re so focused on the task at hand that you really don’t have time to pay attention to everything going on around the league.”
In a sense, Jason was reciprocating after Devin had given him helpful intel to land his radio gig. “The first time I called a game on the radio, it was before Jay did,” said Devin. “When my brother auditioned for radio a little later, [producer] Howard Deneroff loved him. I think I helped Jay make a good impression, because everything Howard told me, I pulled out my phone and I was like, ‘Jay, don’t do this. Jay, don’t do that.’ So he goes and auditions and Howard was like, ‘This might have been the best audition I’ve ever seen, we would hire you right now if you were retired.’ And I’m over here like, ‘Come on, I gave him all my notes!’ ”
Big ratings in Big D
Early numbers confirm that the Dallas Cowboys-plus-Thanksgiving remains a surefire equation for massive viewership. The Nielsen Fast Nationals for the Cowboys’ 45-10 win over the Commanders on Thursday put the average viewership at 41.438 million, making it the most-watched television program on any network since Super Bowl LVII.