By Neil Rudel
Within minutes after news spread via social media of Stan Savran’s death on Monday evening, thousands of condolences and tributes poured for the iconic Pittsburgh broadcaster.
They included statements from the ownership of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pirates and Penguins and expressions of sadness from colleagues that he mentored, befriended and inspired, not to mention the legion of fans who loved his TV and radio work.
It’s safe to say there hasn’t been a more respected and beloved member of the Pittsburgh sports media over the past 50 years.
In Blair County, we mourn him, too.
Savran was the first and only master of ceremonies for the Blair County Sports Hall of Fame, returning for each of the 19 banquets, which are now every other year.
“Stan was honored when he was asked to be the first emcee,” longtime friend Ted Beam of Altoona said. “Blair County had become a special place for him. He never missed a Hall of Fame dinner. He had many people here who had become friends with him, and he always treated them with respect.”
Savran’s presence and timely remarks, funny and touching, added to the aura of the event, which has averaged more than 800 people since is inception and has become a premier event in Central Pennsylvania.
Steve Sheetz, the Hall of Fame’s first president, said Stan had much to do with that success, calling him “the perfect fit.”
“Stan has been such a vibrant part of the Blair County Sports Hall of Fame since we started,” he said. “He just related to everyone so well. He had a dry sense of humor but was very funny. He was so good at playing off what people said or did. I still remember him busting Joe Paterno for not wearing a tux and how he reacted when Billy Conn stood up and said nothing except ‘where’s my check?’
“Stan just always knew how to react to whatever was going on. He was great with the appropriate comeback. We will miss him for sure. He was the heart of our dinners. And just a great person that related to and respected everyone he came in contact with.”
The biggest night in BCSHOF history was in 2012 when Ben Roethlisberger was the guest speaker, and attendance exceeded 1100.
Savran’s relationship with Ben – the two are Miami of Ohio graduates – added to the evening. It was the same as when Hines Ward graced the HOF dais in 2006.
“Stan, because of his knowing both stars from his Pittsburgh exposure, was able to humanize each of these great athletes,” Dave Andrews, the Hall’s president from 1996-2013, said. “I remember when Hines mentioned that he had a difficult time growing up in Atlanta and was often picked on since he was half Asian and half African-American that Stan immediately quipped that he understood now why Hines as a little guy had no problem blocking linebackers downfield.”
In addition to Ward, Big Ben and Paterno at the first banquet in 1987, the Hall has welcomed the likes of Terry Bradshaw, Bob Knight, Dick Vitale, Joe Theismann, Mary Lou Retton, Rick Majerus, Bobby Bowden, Jim Boeheim, Chris Fowler, James Franklin, Jay Bilas, Cael Sanderson and Doug Flutie as its guest speaker.
None of those legends were too big for Stan.
“Stan, because of always serving as emcee, was able to relate instances from the past dinners that would make those in attendance feel like they had been there even if they were not,” Andrews said.
In 1992, which featured Bob Knight, Savran opened the evening by thanking the Indiana coach “for not canceling this banquet.”
Knight, who made news a couple weeks earlier by canceling the Hoosiers’ annual post-season banquet, immediately jumped up and put his arm around Stan and said:
“I told my players as we were getting ready to play Florida State in the first game of the (NCAA) regional … we had already canceled the banquet in Bloomington. ‘I said, what you guys better keep in mind — if we get beat, you’re going with me to Altoona to a banquet.’’’
The audience roared.
Savran also showed his sensitive side. After wrestling great Wade Schalles, who was raised by his mother, was moved to tears during his induction speech, Savran said, “Wade, if I may interject, there isn’t a mother in the audience or a mother anywhere who wouldn’t have appreciated (your remarks) and had a tear in their eye.”
In the last banquet in May of 2022, the Hall presented Stan with a caricature of himself — drawn by the late Jim Steiner. He was touched.
“The one common thread through all of the Blair County Sports Hall of Fame induction dinners is the feeling of community,” Savran said. “I’m not a member, but you’ve made me feel like one. Since 1987, when we began this, I’ve come away with the same feeling: This is a special place. I know that you know that, but I think it’s important that you realize that.”
Savran grew up in Cleveland (as Stanley Savransky) and came to Pittsburgh in 1976. He was part of a star-studded WTAE-TV sports lineup that included Bill Hillgrove, John Steigerwald and the great Myron Cope.
He became known as “the godfather” of the city’s sports media for his longevity and his work on his popular nightly call-in TV show with Guy Junker. He also hosted the pre-game Pirates and Penguins shows on AT&T Sports (formerly KBL and Root), maintained a longstanding daily radio show, most recently on FoxSports 970, was part of the Steelers’ radio network and hosted Mike Tomlin’s weekly TV show.
In addition, he is a past radio play-by-play voice of Penn State and called the Nittany Lions’ 1986 national championship game with George Paterno. Beam served the radio network as a director and spotter, which is when he became friendly with Stan.
“They worked so well together, with Stan helping George learn the business, and it culminated with the Century of Excellence dinners in 1986,” Beam said. “Stan would have liked to continue as the Penn State radio announcer when the TV network was no longer needed but understood when Fran Fisher was rehired and Steve Jones succeeded him. Stan’s affection and loyalty to Penn State remained with him throughout his life.”
Savran would refer to “the Altoona guys” in the TV and radio booth from the 1980s that included Beam, John Grohol, Ron Rickens, Charlie Fisher and Jeff Webster performing various tasks.
Savran was a 2002 inductee into the Western Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame and was named to the Pittsburgh Pirates Media Wall of Honor in 2018. He suffered from cancer in the past, and diabetes contributed to his right foot having to be removed in April of this year before he developing an infection two weeks ago.
He died at home at the age of 76.
“I always thought he was going to beat this thing, and he fought it clear to the end,” Beam said. “I’m personally going to miss him terribly; he was a wonderful person. Also, he was a true professional on the air, whether it was doing play-by-play, reporting the sports on the local newscast, handling pregame and postgame duties for the Pirates, Steelers, Penguins, or handling phone calls on his talk shows. His passing is a big loss for the city of Pittsburgh and everyone who knew him.”
“Stan was truly a Blair County Sports Hall of Famer,” Andrews said, “and he will be sorely missed.”
(Neil Rudel is the managing editor of the Altoona Mirror and has been president of the Blair County Sports Hall of Fame since 2013.)