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Brian Blessing remembered for passion for life

Updated January 13, 2022 - 11:05 am

The break between newscasts at WIVB-TV in Buffalo, New York, was long enough for Brian Blessing to leave the studio and play in his rec league hockey game.

But as longtime evening news anchor Jacquie Walker recalls, there often wasn’t enough time for Blessing to change out of his gear before doing the sports report later that evening.

“Very often, he would come to the news set with his hockey pants on below camera and his coat and tie on above the desk,” Walker said. “I always got a kick out of that because he was always juuuust a little bit on the edge of everything. And he got away with it.”

Blessing, whose boundless energy and passion for sports made him a well-known TV personality in upstate New York before his long run as a radio host in Las Vegas, died this week. He was 64.

Blessing moved to Las Vegas in 2005 after a 25-year run in Buffalo as a TV and radio anchor, reporter and host covering the area’s pro sports teams.

He spent 14 of those years at WIVB and reported on the Bills during their run of four consecutive Super Bowl appearances from 1991 to 1994. While Walker always worked with a script on the road for the games, Blessing was known for sauntering up to the live shot location at the last minute holding only a crumpled piece of paper.

“I don’t know why he carried it. I think maybe it was a prop or maybe in his mind he thought, ‘Well, someday maybe I’ll look down at it.’ But he never did!” Walker said. “In terms of presentation and knowledge and getting it right and telling people what they really wanted to know, there was none better.”

But Blessing truly shined as the host of “Hockey Hotline” on the regional Empire Sports Network with analyst Mike Robitaille during the 1990s and 2000s.

The call-in show aired after Sabres games and developed a fervent following, even if players didn’t always care for the honest banter. Blessing, the fiery redhead, knew how to push Robitaille’s buttons on the air and rile up the former NHL defenseman.

“We needed a host in there where I could kind of cut loose, and Brian fit the bill perfectly,” Robitaille said. “We put together 12 years together on ‘Hockey Hotline,’ and I’ll tell you what, I don’t think there was ever a minute where we weren’t laughing. He was the funniest son of a (gun) I ever worked with, without a doubt.”

When Empire Sports Network ceased operations in 2005, Blessing relocated to Las Vegas and was hired by Kenny White at Las Vegas Sports Consultants. The sports handicapping firm had just signed a deal with Casino Gaming TV, and White said Blessing helped develop the broadcast wing of LVSC.

Blessing’s other duty was networking with local sportsbook directors. One of those was Tony Miller at the Golden Nugget, who first met Blessing in 2006.

They quickly became friends and attended several events together, including a NASCAR race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. While hanging out near driver Matt Kenseth’s garage, Miller said Blessing lit a cigarette and they were kicked out of the pit area before the race started.

“The thing with Brian was, yeah, he was a radio person and he knew sports, but it was great to talk to Brian as a friend,” Miller said. “I don’t know anybody out there in the industry that has a bad thing to say about Brian. He’s golden.”

Blessing won horse racing’s prestigious Eclipse Award in 1997 for local TV achievement and was a longtime contributor to the Review-Journal’s betting coverage, most notably for the Masters and golf’s other majors.

“Brian never liked an under,” White said. “There was only one under Brian would bet, and that was the NHL outdoor game. And he would call me every year and remind me.”

Blessing served as the play-by-play voice for “Thursday Night Lights” high school football on MyLVTV. White, his sidekick on the broadcasts, said the show plans to rename its scholar athlete award in Blessing’s honor.

“His nose was never in the air,” White said. “He was just an everyday guy who didn’t think he was better than anybody else and just loved to do what he did. And he did it as good as anybody there is, I know that for sure.”

Blessing hosted numerous radio shows in town, most recently the nationally syndicated “Sportsbook Radio” on SportsGrid Radio and the similarly named show each weekday on KSHP-AM.

When the Golden Knights arrived, he started “Vegas Hockey Hotline” on KSHP. The show attracted well-known guests, including Knights owner Bill Foley, who revealed to Blessing in 2020 the NHL’s plans for an all-Canadian division last season.

“Every conversation he had, he brought the same passion and fervor that he did when he was actually doing a radio show,” said Ken Boehlke, co-founder of SinBin.Vegas and a frequent co-host. “He was everyone’s best friend, and I don’t mean that as an expression. Literally any person who knew him well considered him their best friend.”

Blessing was found dead in his home Sunday morning of an apparent heart attack, his brother John told WIVB.com. Funeral arrangements are still pending.

Miller, a Cowboys fan, said he loved giving Blessing a hard time about the two Super Bowls the Bills lost to Dallas in the 1990s. Both teams won their division this season, and Miller is hoping they meet again next month in the title game.

“Now I’m rooting for Buffalo,” he said.

Contact David Schoen at dschoen@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5203. Follow @DavidSchoenLVRJ on Twitter.

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