Sports Final: Bob Lobel explains the origins of the “Panic Button” and “Why can’t we get players like that?”
BOSTON — Bob Lobel was an icon on WBZ-TV for nearly 30 years, bringing a unique — and hilarious — approach to the world of sports. It’s impossible to compile a list of Lobel’s greatest hits, because everything the man did was great.
He covered plenty of championships during his three decades at WBZ-TV, from the glory days of the Celtics during the 1980s to the dynastic run of the New England Patriots at the turn of the century. But it wasn’t always sunshine and lollipops in the world of Boston sports, and Lobel always had a unique way of making those dark times a little more tolerable.
While loses are never easy to handle, Lobel made them a little more tolerable with his humor. And, of course, fans would always know when it was time to get worried thanks to Lobel’s famous “Panic Button.” With a quick flip of a switch, Lobel would let you know that your reaction to the local team was no longer an overreaction.
But where did the famous panic button come from? Lobel explained the origin of the button during an extended chat with Steve Burton from his house for of a special edition of Sunday night’s Sports Final on WBZ-TV.
It all started with a simple request from Lobel that WBZ’s set designer, Mike Nosel, had no problem making a reality.
“Everyone talks about a panic button, so I said why not get one? I could certainly figure out how to use it in this town, especially with the Red Sox,” said Lobel. “Mike Nosel made it and people still talk about it.”
Lobel still has the button today, though it doesn’t let the world know when it’s OK to panic anymore.
“It used to light up. I don’t know what happened to it. It got broken in the move,” joked Lobel.
While the panic button may be retired, a famous phrase from Lobel will forever be a part of Boston sports. Anytime a player or coach leaves town and finds success elsewhere, it’s second nature for fans ask one question: “Why can’t we get players like that?”
“That’s a good one,” Lobel admitted.
The phrase was coined shortly after Jeff Bagwell — the Hall of Fame slugger whom the Red Sox traded away when he was a low-level prospect — began crushing homers for the Houston Astros. It was a trade that Lobel never let then-Boston GM Lou Gorman live down.
“Anytime he would hit a home run – and he hit a lot of them when he went to Houston – I asked, ‘Why can’t we get players like that?'” Lobel explained, adding that Gorman was not a big fan of the phrase.
Those seven words were likely uttered all over New England last weekend when the Patriots suffered an embarrassing, last-second loss to the Raiders in Las Vegas. It was former Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones who scored the game-winning touchdown for the Raiders, after he picked off an ill-advised lateral from Jakobi Meyers and stiff-armed Mac Jones into the turf before sauntering into the end zone.
Lobel, like many in the area, sat in disbelief after that play.
“I would say it’s a disaster of biblical proportions. Not that they were trying to throw the game; the two guys that were handling the ball were instinctively thinking of Stanford and all the laterals they’ve seen. They didn’t need a miracle, but didn’t realize they didn’t need a miracle,” he said.
When Burton pointed out that had Lobel been hosting last week’s Patriots 5th Quarter, he would have likely asked why the Patriots couldn’t get players like Chandler Jones during the show, Lobel pushed back. But only for a moment.
“I don’t know if I would have sullied the moment with that. Maybe I would have,” he said. “You got me.”
While panic buttons may eventually go dim, a great sports saying never goes out of style.
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