Dave Hodge Still “The Man”

By HOWARD BERGER

TORONTO (July 28) – Canadian broadcasting legend Dave Hodge is less than 15 years older than me, yet it seems that I’ve been watching him on TV forever. Hodge was a spry 26 years of age when he took over from Ward Cornell as Toronto intermission host on Hockey Night In Canada for the 1971-72 NHL season. I was 12 – with a squeaky voice – and in my first year of junior-high school (Grade 7) in Downsview, north of the city.

Much later, as I covered the Toronto Maple Leafs for more than 20 years at The FAN-590 – also with a squeaky voice – I had the privilege of coming to know the man with the perfect hair that I marveled at on Saturday nights in my youth. Maybe that’s why it’s so comfortable to get my weekly fix when Dave hosts The Reporters on TSN at 10 o’clock Sunday mornings. Still glib and full of command, he expertly moderates a round-table discussion with regulars Steve Simmons (Toronto Sun) and Bruce Arthur (Toronto Star). A roving third panelist – frequently Michael Farber of Sports Illustrated – joins the crew, which debates the sporting issues of the week. A recent addition is Globe and Mail columnist Cathal Kelly – arguably the most accomplished wordsmith that has graced a newspaper sports section anywhere in Canada.

Hodge will be 70 in January and should one day be a member of every sports hall-of-fame in the country. Given, however, the way we normally celebrate Canadian media stars, he’ll probably have to die before being so honored. Though more than a generation of hockey fans has grown up with Ron MacLean, it was Hodge who set the modern-day parameter for hosting and interviewing on TV. In the 1960’s, while the Toronto Maple Leafs won four Stanley Cup championships, Cornell perfected the art of homey conversation. His pleasant, relaxed demeanor was perfect for the time and he never broached a sensitive topic. Along came Hodge in the autumn of 1971 with a journalistic edge and sharper wit – also in splendid harmony with the era. And there he remained for more than 15 years, until the much-ballyhooed flip of a pencil ended his days at CBC. 

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DAVE HODGE (ABOVE) AS HE APPEARED SUNDAY MORNING WHILE HOSTING THE REPORTERS ON TSN AND (BELOW) AS HE LOOKED AS A 34-YEAR-OLD ON HOCKEY NIGHT IN CANADA DURING THE 1979 STANLEY CUP FINAL. DAVE WILL BE 70 IN JANUARY.

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Though there wasn’t a ton of mutual love, Hodge and Don Cherry began Coach’s Corner in 1981 and were together until 1987, when MacLean replaced Hodge as intermission host. Hodge went on to call CFL games on the Canadian Football Network in the late-80’s before joining TSN in 1992 as host of a magazine show. His knowledge of hockey (in particular) and his refusal to evade controversial subject-matter has kept him relevant through the decades. Dave is a testament to longevity in broadcasting and well worth waking up to on Sunday mornings.  

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HODGE AND THE REPORTERS THIS SUNDAY INCLUDED CATHAL KELLY (TOP-RIGHT).

MEN vs. BOYS: I’ve been watching the Canadian Football League since 1968 and have never lost my passion for the game. But, the early part of the 2014 schedule is testing my resolve. The competitive imbalance between the East and West divisions through the first five weeks is an embarrassment to the league. If it doesn’t somehow regulate, it will ruin the season and likely demolish TV ratings east of Winnipeg. If you aren’t aware of what I’m referring to, here are the CFL standings today:

EasternWLTPtsPFPAHomeAwayDivHamilton Tiger—Cats130274921-00-31-0Ottawa RedBlacks1302801131-00-31-1Montreal Alouettes1302701131-10-20-0Toronto Argonauts14021101491-10-30-1WesternWLTPtsPFPAHomeAwayDivCalgary Stampeders400899522-02-01-0Edmonton Eskimos4108130842-12-02-1Winnipeg Blue Bombers41081411142-12-01-1Sask. Roughriders220496932-10-10-1British Columbia Lions2304102921-21-11-2

As you can see, the Calgary Stampeders, Edmonton Eskimos and Winnipeg Blue Bombers all have as many points as the four Eastern teams combined. That isn’t good – particularly here in southern Ontario, where Toronto and Hamilton have been economic anvils for the CFL. Of course, the league is not culpable for a entire division of invertebrates. It merely has to hope the Easterners get their act together. Providing Hamilton’s new stadium opens before Christmas, the Tiger-Cats will have an opportunity to cash in; the novelty factor alone should attract 24,000 rear-ends to Tim Hortons Field for each game played.

As for the Double-Blue, well…

BOATMEN IMPERILED: Unless there’s a sadistic faction among football zealots in this town, the Argos could have more ushers than fans at their next home game. To call their performance at Saskatchewan on Saturday pitiful would be an insult to the word. We could wait a long while before another 37-9 rout flatters the losing side. That’s how utterly incapacitated the Argonauts were at Mosaic Stadium. I suffered a lifetime of despair cheering for the Double Blue in the 1970’s alone but I’m not certain I recall any game quite as ridiculous. It simply was not a professional team on the field in Regina. Almost never will you see a football club unable to pass; run; protect its quarterback and pressure the opposition quarterback… all in the same night. Only kicker Swayze Waters had a clue, or the Argonauts would have lost 37-zip.

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TORONTO ARGONAUTS WERE HUMILIATED AT MOSAIC STADIUM ON SATURDAY NIGHT.

Given the perennial tribulation of the sports public in this city, it kind of figures the Argos would mess up a Grey Cup champion in just more than a year. Yeah, the team has some key injuries right now, but mostly on offense. Me, you and any three octogenarians could defend the ball more capably. Which is very un-Argonaut like. If there’s a gimmick out there that can reinvigorate the dormant football populace in this city, I’m unaware of it. Everything has been tried – from Muhammad Ali to musical performances to Garth freakin’-Drabinski. Nothing has worked.

Argonauts are in the untenable (and unrealistic) position of having to minimally field a competitive product each year. And, as we so dreadfully witnessed Saturday night on the Prarie, they aren’t even close right now. Neither is the absentee ownership of Senator David Braley a small factor – the goodwill engendered by his financial rescue of the team in 2010 but a distant memory. Braley is far-too distracted by his other football toy – the B.C. Lions – to bother with the Argonauts.

Something has to change for the better here. And soon.

CLEAR SUNDAY…

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TURNED TO STORMY SUNDAY…

Good gracious, did it become progressively dark over Toronto between 6:30 and 8:00 p.m. EDT on Sunday, leading to a major lightning and thunderstorm with a torrent of rain. As you’ve probably come to expect, when there’s active weather, I run for my NIKON. Compare the late-afternoon photo above to the chronology of images below:

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