Joe Beninati’s Rookie Card

Joe Beninati and Craig Laughlin pose with their Rookie Cards

Photo credit: Chris Gordon

Way back in the eighties when trading cards were still packaged with a stick of bubble gum, a young, bright-eyed right-wing by the name of Craig Laughlin was featured on his first ever card. O-Pee-Chee, a Canadian candy company, produced the 1983-84 season set which also featured rookie cards for Scott Stevens, Phil Housley, and Brian Bellows.

Fast forward 28 years, Laughlin can now be found in the Capitals broadcast booth alongside play-by-play man Joe Beninati. The broadcast duo has been calling Capitals games together for 17 years. While the two took completely different paths to get to their current jobs, The Panini Group has now distinguished Joe B. with the same honor Laughlin received in his playing days. Yes, Joe B. now has an official trading card too. And it comes signed!

Voices of the Game

Photo credit: Panini America’s blog

On March 26, 2010, Panini — an Italian company which also produces books, comics, magazines, and stickers — acquired a five-year license from the NHL and NHL Players Association to make trading cards. In one of their first sets entitled Crown Royale, Panini’s brain trust wanted to make their own mark on the industry.

“We wanted something different,” the company’s License Acquisitions Manager Alex Carbajal explained in an interview. “Something different than the same old player. Something that fans of hockey could really dig. So one idea that came out [in our meetings] was Voices of the Game. Let’s have the announcers be a part of the set.”

The train of thought among those inside Panini: fans of each team would feel a strong connection to their own particular announcer and it would become a must have collectible. “Not only are you collecting the players,” Carbajal said.” You want to collect every part of the team.”

Panini decided to produce 100 cards each of noteworthy announcers such as Don Cherry, Darren Pang, Daryl Reaugh, and Hockey Hall of Famer Bob Miller. The cards were signed and then placed randomly into packs.

When the cards were released to the public later that year, the Voices of the Game insert became a big hit for the brand.

But hockey cards can only remain novel for so long. So what would Panini do for the next set?

“Really? You want to pay me for my autograph?”

One team that was not represented in 2010-11 15-card set was the Washington Capitals. Collectors in North America took notice.

Said Carbajal: “When we first announced the set on our Panini America blog last season people were really giving us a hard time saying, ‘But we really wanted Joe Beninati!'”

So this year, when Panini picked their new cast, Beninati was an obvious choice. But would he agree to it?

“Really? You want to pay me for my autograph?” Carbajal vividly recalled Beninati saying when he first broached the subject.

In the end, Joe B. overcame the momentary shock and signed the paperwork to make it happen.

“When I heard from him that they wanted me to be a part of the set this year, I didn’t wait more than two seconds to give him the go ahead,” Beninati said. “You’re honored by it. I was flattered by it. To be included in that set, meant a great deal. Those are the kinds of things you come across time to time in your career that you’re genuinely touched by.”

Simply Sensational

Several months before the scheduled release of Panini’s 2011-12 Crown Royale, Joe Beninati received a package in the mail at his Virginia home. It contained 200 cards of himself to sign. There also were directions to sign 10 of them with a special touch.

The year before, the Penguins’ colorful play-by-play man, Mike Lange (we’ll hold our tongues here), was part of the Voices set. Unlike the other announcers who followed the directions, Lange secretly signed a few of them with a special inscription of his signature calls. “People really dug them and tried anything they could to get their hands on them,” Carbajal revealed. “So this year, we decided to do that with all of the announcers.”

While Beninati doesn’t really believe in those types of canned calls — “I don’t want to run around with my hair on fire yelling, ‘Great Googly Moogly he scores again!'” — he did acknowledge that there were some things that he says during broadcasts that have stuck. After putting some thought into it, Joe B. came across three sayings he could actually inscribe onto the cards, one of which has special significance to Caps fans.

“Five of them I signed ‘Fires and Scores!,’ said Beninati. “Four of them I signed ‘Bombs Away!,’ and only one of them — only one card of me in the entire set that’s signed ‘Simply Sensational.’ That’s the tagline to Ovechkin’s goal against Phoenix in his rookie year, which obviously stands as the goal and one of the greatest sports accomplishments I had the pleasure of describing.”

“I should never say ‘simply sensational’ ever again,” he continued. “I didn’t know I was going to say it that day in Phoenix, it’s just what came out. It’s just how I reacted.”

The back of the card. Click to enlarge.

But that one special inscription isn’t where the connection to Ovi ends — Panini made Beninati’s card number eight in the set, a sentimental fact not lost on the play-by-play man.

“When you have a job as a play-by-play announcer, you live for moments where you can basically enhance what the athletes are doing,” he said. “When you have the opportunity to work for Alex Ovechkin — I’ve worked with Alex Ovechkin as my main subject for 7 years — boy you know you’re going to have some moments to describe. Anybody that has watched Alex play in his first 7 years, would know that he’s a play-by-play guy’s dream.”

Once done signing, Beininati then mailed the cards back to Panini’s American headquarters in Texas, and the cards were put into packs.

“The announcers are so funny because some players they take a little longer to sign,” Carbajal said. “The announcers get the cards back to us in one day.”

Locker Not Impressed

Photo credit: Chris Gordon

So far, the set — which also features two of Beninati’s broadcasting heroes HHOF’er Mike Emrick and Bill Clement — have been well-recieved by collectors. Joe B.’s signed card has fetched $10-$15 each on eBay, his specially inscribed ones have been going for over $50, as much as an Alex Ovechkin autograph.

But there was one thing that Beninati wouldn’t do: tell his broadcast partner about his honor.

It all came full circle when we came in to do a photo-shoot for the post. Locker didn’t know about the card beforehand. After one look, he burst out into uncontrollable laughter, a state which continued for several minutes.

The former hockey player would be surprised however, if he checked eBay. Joe B.’s rookie card goes for nearly 5 times more than his on the open market.

The entire process of having this card created and signed shows a small glimpse into what we Capitals fans get to hear every night with Beninati: Hard-work, thoughtfulness, and professionalism. It’s why Joe B. is the best in the business at what he does and why this card is so special: it’s 1 out of 200. A true Capital collectors’ dream, just like Panini envisioned.

Now it’s up to you to get your hands on it.

CONTEST: Share your greatest Joe Beninati moment in the comments below, and if we like yours the best, we’ll award you with one of Joe B.’s signed cards. It can be anything: a favorite goal call, a story, prose, photos, macaroni art, something sentimental – it’s up to you. We’ll pick a winner later in the week!

Additional reporting by Chris Gordon.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joshua-Gyovai/100001607232126 Joshua Gyovai

    I was walking around the upper level at a caps game last year and just so happened to see Joe B. in line for a hot dog. My dad recognized him first and called him over. He was extremely nice and asked how we were enjoying the game and even said “wow nice Ovie jersey” to me. It was cool seeing him in a setting just like the rest of us upper level season ticket holders. I guess he had the night off. 

  • http://twitter.com/brightestcolour Laurel

    I don’t think I have one singular Joe B. moment that stands out in my head as the greatest.  Instead, when I think about this broadcasting team, it’s a lot of little moments that might not have to do with the game action itself that make me smile.  There’s something truly great about the way that the guys can feed off each other and make jokes and tell stories while still purveying the action in a compelling manner and adding interesting and relevant analysis of the game.  They never seem to be at a loss for words, even if the game isn’t particularly interesting, and I always feel like I come away after a game knowing more than I did when it started.

    So I guess my favourite Joe B. moment is when CSN hired him (and Locker, and Al Koken), because if they hadn’t, my hockey watching experiences would be far poorer than they are with him.

  • Whelpltn

    Playoff game vs Rangers calling the Federov gwg. I can still hear it in my head. “Federov down the wing…”

  • Josh Rosen

    Where is Steve Kolbe’s Card?

  • http://twitter.com/MyFirstMagnet Justin Griffin

    I was always partial to “excused from the faceoff circle,” “shoved rudely by xxxxx,” and the infamous “CAMPBELL JUST DESTROYED UMBERGER.” (probably the best JoeB moment ever)  He also has goalie quips like “…will take no chances,”

  • http://twitter.com/BWSportsBeat C. Stone

    My greatest Joe Beninati moment was when I kicked him in the head with a skate.

    When I was around 14 years old I enrolled in a summer goalie clinic at the Gardens Ice House in Laurel, and Joe B. was a guest instructor. We were playing elephant hockey (all goalies skating out, no goalies in the net, two nets side by side at each end), and Beninati was on the other team. At one point there was a loose puck at center ice, and I was coming out of my defensive zone while Beninati was coming out of his, both at full (goalie) speed. I think we both pulled up to try to avoid contact, but my instinct was to go into a Tom Brady-esque quarterback slide and his was to go head first like Charlie Hustle. Maybe he really wanted to win, or maybe he had money on the game or something. Either way, I ended up accidentally kicking Joe B.’s helmetless head with a goalie skate, almost splitting his coconut.

    He seemed fine but I still feel a little bad about it to this day. I’m sure Laughlin would find it as funny as Beninati’s rookie card.

  • http://twitter.com/eichboy96 Sam Eichberg

    Damn! I was gonna say that one!! “SERGEI FEDOROV, LIFTS THE LOCALS TO THE LEAD!!!”

  • http://twitter.com/eichboy96 Sam Eichberg

    I’m also a huge fan of the NRY game 7 goal call, “SERGEI FEDOROV, LIFTS THE LOCALS TO THE LEAD!!!” but since I cant choose that one, my 3 favorites have to be one, when John Carlson tied game 2 vs Montreal, I loved when Joe B. said, “The kid does it again in the clutch!” and Ovechkin’s first goal ever, when Joe B. said, “Ovechkin FIRES, he scores!!! Alexander Ovechkin, welcome on board!” and then the 3rd is when Ovi scored 4 against Montreal, and Joe B. says, “Ovechkins 4th, is the game-winning 5th!!”

  • Minuterice362

    The year Mike Green started, you could pick a few rows in the 400 section of the Verizon Center and run around the whole stadium and not hit a single person. We were in our usual seats in 412 for a preseason game when Joe B. comes up our way to get to the press box. He’s off-duty, he’s not really doing much, so he stayed and talked hockey with us for a while. My wife used to play up at Norwich University, and they talked for a while about Keith Aucoin and a few other things as well. He recommended watching Mike Green as a breakout player that year, and he was not wrong.  From time to time, when he’s off-duty, he still uses our section’s staircase to get to the broadcast booth, and we say hello to him all the time and take pictures with him sometimes.  He’s a nice guy through and through, and I appreciate all he’s done for the fanbase here in DC; I’m glad he’s chosen to stay here.

  • Caplass

    Locker and Joe B at the first Caps convention is still a stand out. They showed how they really do enjoy each other and feed off each other, and it isn’t just show.

  • Alex hall

    >i was at a caps game
    >met joe b
    >spaghetti falls out of my pocket 

  • Margefrogirl2005

    The memory that stands out the most is something that has happened over the past 3 summers. I go to college in Alaska and every summer i come home to DC to catch the Caps rookie and development camp. It always happens different but every year im talking with my friend Nancy who is the President of the Caps fan club, we are chatting it up along the boards at the practice rink and Joe. B walks by, he notices Nancy and stops for some small talk, while they are talking someone always recognizes Joe. B and politely interupts to ask for a picture or an autograph or just to say what a fan he or she is and everytime Joe. B stops his conversation and obliges the person. He also everytime says “thank you for listening” to the person recognizing them being the reason he gets to do what he loves. Over the years Joe.B has gotten more popular to non-Caps fans and more and more people notice him and ask for his time, he always takes the time to meet his fans and to me these yearly encounters as an observer makes me really respect the guy

  • Baltimore Berserk

    I don’t care about the contest (I’d love to win, but other than listening to Joe B for a years, I got nothing) but i just want to say, that the DUMBEST thing other than employing Mike Milbury, NBC has done, is get rid of Joe B.  They robbed the rest of the NHL fan-verse of his seriously awesome play by play.  Glad he’s ours.

  • Mary

    I just love Joe B and Locker. They make watching at home so much fun! I adore Joe B’s suits, the “suit of the night” is one of my favorite parts of every recap y’all do. My favorite Joe B moments this season have been photobombing Locker during telestration, and Joe B describing Chimera’s previous success/wanting to score (earlier this month) by saying “Alrighty, big boy, let’s saddle up and go get yourself some.” Hilarious.

  • Ryan

    Ever since I was a little kid standing in front of the TV watching caps games I have been a huge fan of Joe B. and Locker. Watching a caps game just isn’t the same if they aren’t making the call. I can remember racing downstairs every night to get the game on and see what Joe B. had to say. I was always fascinated by the stories and illustrations used by both Locker and Joe B. and still am to this day. But my absolute favorite Joe B. moment was a couple months ago when I watched a Caps game with my four year old nephew. He too races to the TV every night to watch the game and jumps with excitement the entire game. As the broadcast started and Joe B. welcomed viewers to the game my nephew shouted at the TV “Hi Joe B., Hi Locker!” and continued bouncing with excitement as they discussed the game at hand. It’s been hilarious to watch this kid fall in love with hockey and the caps just like I did when I was younger, by listening to Joe B. My nephew is not only a huge Ovechkin fan but also a huge Joe B. fan, if you say anything bad about either one he will come after you just like he does with every penguins fan he meets. 

  • rozdee

    I was at a college lacrosse triple-header in Baltimore and I bumped into Joe B. between games. I wasn’t thrown off so much by him being there (I’ve heard him do many college lacrosse and football games before), but I was amazed that the guy I listen to on TV night in and night out spent the 10-15 minutes talking with me about the Caps like we were old friends. Very nice, very humble, and I’ll have a picture with him that’ll last forever!

  • Jgray21

    I used to love when he’d yell, “LOCK AND LOAD!” before a slap shot. Haven’t heard that in a few years.