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Penguins

Stand-in Penguins singer catches red glare

| Friday, April 22, 2011

Bob Timney can't skate or shoot. He plays no defense and never stops a puck. He is 46 years old.

But in just two Penguins home playoff games, he emerged as a star.

Wearing an Army Reserve sergeant uniform as opposed to the black and gold, Timney sang the national anthem before Games 1 and 2 of the first-round series against Tampa Bay at Consol Energy Center. Anthem singers are considered an integral part of NHL games because they can pump up the crowd.

Timney did just that.

"Everybody loves him," said Derek Rocco, co-editor of the Pensblog website. "You want to be there to hear that emotion."

Timney sang before a regular-season game in February. This was his playoff debut, a rookie stepping in for an established veteran and fan favorite.

For more than 20 years, Jeff Jimerson has been the Penguins' predominant anthem singer. But he was away on vacation. Jimerson returned after Game 1 and expected to get the call for Game 2, but like with a hot goalie, the Penguins stuck with Timney. Then they gave him the nod for Game 5 on Saturday.

Jimerson, who said he sang before every home playoff game during the past four years, essentially was benched.

"If I said I wasn't disappointed, I'd be lying," he said. "I haven't been home for a playoff game since I can't remember. People who know me know how personal this is and how seriously I take it."

Timney's style is crisp and no-frills, augmented by a patriotic, military bearing. But mainly, he holds out the microphone and signals fans not only to sing along but also to carry the song themselves. And they do. Loudly.

Timney did not invite the crowd to sing along during his regular-season gig, but he decided to try it in the playoffs. It is a custom reserved more for Canadian hockey crowds, and it went over big at Consol Energy Center, sparking a major buzz.

His performances quickly materialized on YouTube. A headline on Pensblog read, "National Anthem • Goosebump."

"I've never seen anything like this," Penguins spokesman and former beat writer Tom McMillan said. "It was totally spontaneous."

Timney's life changed immediately. Driving home to State College after Game 1, he walked into a convenience store and got the celebrity treatment. "It's been overwhelming," he said of the response. "Totally unexpected."

Count Jimerson among the surprised.

He started singing the anthem at Penguins games in 1990 and has earned a large and devoted following. But while Game 1 was played, he was in the Virgin Islands with his wife celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary.

The switch prompted Jimerson to wryly cite Drew Bledsoe, the New England Patriots quarterback who got hurt and lost his job to a kid named Tom Brady.

"I can see the Penguins are embracing this," he said. "And I'm like, 'Uh, Jeff who?' "

Jimerson, who sang before 25 of the 43 home exhibition and regular-season games, is "going to sing again," McMillan said. "He is highly regarded here." The Penguins just can't say when he will sing again.

Jimerson, 55, of Franklin Park fronts a band, Airborne, and works at an entertainment booking agency. He planned his trip knowing he would miss an early game but said he expected the Penguins to keep playing and wanted to be back for later games.

"I was bummed that I'd miss a game at Consol, but I'd rather miss a game in the first round than a game in the (semifinals)," he said.

Asked if he would have planned the trip had he known this would happen, he said, "I probably would have rescheduled it for July or something. But I don't regret taking the vacation."

Timney is singing the anthem largely because of Jimerson. Timney calls Jimerson "my hero" and previously contacted him on his Facebook page seeking advice. He said he would love to sing the anthem with him.

"He's far better than I am," Timney said. "I was inspired to sing the anthem by Jeff Jimerson. ... I'm not here to replace anybody."

Timney said he has been publicly singing the anthem for eight years, mainly at amateur and minor league events. He describes himself as a "singer-songwriter," although by profession he is an IT consultant and a photojournalist. He is unemployed.

Neither Timney nor Jimerson nor anyone else sings the anthem for the money -- there is none. They get paid nothing. It's about the honor, inspiring a crowd and being part of something big.

"I miss being where the action is," Jimerson said. "It's a rush."

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