Bob Rondeau’s pending retirement is an end of an era, in many ways.
Bob Rondeau, the University of Washington Huskies football announcer for the past four decades, uses his baritone voice like a jazz saxophonist, riding up and down the scales to convey triumph and heartbreak.
As a Pacific Northwest kid growing up in a Husky family, I found Rondeau’s narration was as Seattle to me as ferry horns and seagulls. The fall officially launches when I hear “Touchdown, Washington!,” followed by the siren. Alas, the UW helmet golf cart no longer takes a lap around the fancy new stadium.
Rondeau and Husky football are returning Friday, but he is retiring at the end of this season, his 37th as the play-by-play voice for the Huskies. His departure feels especially poignant as many icons of old Seattle, the gritty port town with ambition, slowly yield to the pressures of a new international tech metropolis.
Rondeau started his Huskies announcing career just a few years removed from the 1970s-era Boeing bust when the infamous “Will the last person leaving Seattle turn out the lights” billboard went up, and a year before Microsoft moved to Bellevue.
The Coach Don James era of Husky football had just begun, and Rondeau was in my ear as the UW went on to win six conference championships and four Rose Bowls under the Dawgfather.
His voice was there in my grandmother’s apartment in Kirkland for the bitter 1982 Apple Cup in Pullman. The Cougars, an 18-point underdog, spoiled the Huskies’ chances of meeting Michigan in the Rose Bowl when UW kicker Chuck Nelson, Mr. Automatic, missed a chip shot.
Emotional memory is funny that way — the crushing disappointment of a 10-year-old fan is so fresh I can remember crying on my grandma’s balcony as Cougar fans tore down their goal posts.
Listening to the Huskies without Rondeau’s Hall of Fame voice will be like seeing the Seattle skyline without the Space Needle. At 67, he deserves a great retirement. But Husky fans will be worse for it, and this city and region — undergoing transformation faster than a Napoleon Kaufman breakaway run — lose another anchor to the past.