Bob Cole: “Let’s Do It”

TORONTO (Sep. 28) — The date of this blog is coincidental, yet rather poignant.

Forty–four years ago today — in Moscow — Paul Henderson scored the most famous goal in Canadian hockey history. Foster Hewitt and Brian Conacher immortalized the moment on TV; Henderson slapping his own rebound past Russian goalie Vladislav Tretiak is an iconic image. The radio version of Henderson’s goal was part of a vinyl record–album released several months after September 28, 1972, as called — on the CBC network — by a relatively–obscure 39–year–old from St. John’s, Nfld. Not that Bob Cole would remain obscure much longer. By the late–70’s, he was sharing the Saturday Hockey Night In Canada duty with Bill Hewitt (Foster’s son), whose 15–year run as primary voice of the Toronto Maple Leafs wound to a close.

In the spring of 1983, when the New York Islanders ended their four–year Stanley Cup reign with a sweep of the upstart Edmonton Oilers, Cole began a quarter–century jaunt as Hockey Night’s No. 1 man. He was joined, three years later, by the glib former coach and general manager, Harry Neale. Beginning with the 1986 championship series between Montreal and Calgary, Cole and Neale called the Cup final for 22 years — ending in 2008, when Detroit (and coach Mike Babcock) defeated the Penguins at the old Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh. Jim Hughson and Craig Simpson became the prime Hockey Night crew the following season.

Today, at 83, Cole looks forward to yet another year of calling games for Sportsnet and CBC.

Though initially wounded, he got over the disappointment of being relegated to what is now essentially a third role — behind Hughson and Paul Romanuk. And, he finally chose to write his memoir/autobiography… after rebuffing many–such overtures. “I used to think, ‘who would want to read a book about my life?’ and I always said ‘forget it,'” Cole explained on the phone from St. John’s Tuesday night. “Then, last season, Sportsnet sent Stephen Brunt and a crew out here to do something with me. Penguin–Random House (publishers) thought it would be a good idea to have me and Stephen collaborate on a book. They did a good job of persuading me and I said ‘okay, let’s do it.’ We turned on the ol’ tape recorder and burned a few batteries. I’m not sure how it will be received across the country. But, I’m hoping for the best.”

NOW I’M CATCHING ON — My Life On and Off the Air will be released next week (Oct. 4) — available in bookstores across Canada; on–line at https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/ and https://www.amazon.com/.

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Cole was deeply moved last week to receive The Order of Canada from Governor–General David Johnston during a ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa. It is the second–highest honor for a Canadian citizen to The Order of Merit — a personal gift from the Queen. “Yes, it was quite humbling, Howard,” Cole mentioned softly over the telephone. “I actually learned about the honor just after Christmas in 2014, but the ceremony took place last May in the middle of the Stanley Cup playoffs; I was calling the Western Conference final between St. Louis and San Jose. So, I asked if I could attend the next ceremony, which occurred last week in Ottawa. Mr. Johnston is quite an interesting gentleman and a big hockey fan. He told me he was well–familiar with my work through the years. It was a thrill to have my family on hand for the pinning, including all four of my children (son Robbie; daughters Christian, Hillary and Meaghan). That made it very special.”

When Cole reflects on his career at Hockey Night In Canada, he thinks primarily about Wayne Gretzky and the Toronto Maple Leafs. He and No. 99 are inexorably linked, as Bob was behind the mike for all four of Gretzky’s Stanley Cup victories in Edmonton… and Gretzky’s memorable ouster of the Maple Leafs while playing for Los Angeles in the 1993 Campbell Conference final. Cole’s iconic exhortation as the Oilers unseated the four–time–champion Islanders at Northlands Coliseum on May 19, 1984 — “Watch out… there’s a new kid on the block; the Edmonton Oilers have won the Stanley Cup” — is arguably his signature call. It is strongly rivaled, however, by his astonishment over the Soviet Red Army hockey team leaving the ice at the Philadelphia Spectrum on Jan. 11, 1976 after absorbing physical punishment from the Flyers in an exhibition match (YouTube video here: http://bit.ly/2cBass9).

“They’re goin’ home… they’re goin’ home… yeah, they’re goin’ home!” Bob marveled across the full CBC network while working the matinee telecast alongside Dick Irvin and New York Islanders defenseman Denis Potvin. “Can you believe it, Denis?” Cole exclaimed. “In ’72, in Moscow, we stayed… and we took it all. And [again] in ’74. And now, the Philadelphia Flyers zoom around a little bit… and they’re goin’ home!”

After a few uncertain moments, the Russians quickly returned when NHL president Clarence Campbell and Players’ Association boss Alan Eagleson warned that they wouldn’t receive a dime of payment should they follow through with their protest. Nothing roused the Ruskies back then like cold, hard cash.

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With respect to the Maple Leafs, Cole will always wonder what might have been had Toronto and Montreal hooked up in the 1993 Stanley Cup final. He and Harry Neale called the legendary Conference final between the Leafs and L.A. Kings. After winning the pivotal Game 5 at Maple Leaf Gardens on an overtime goal by Glenn Anderson, the Leafs needed a victory at the Great Western Forum to play in the Cup round (against the Canadiens) for the first time since 1967. Game 6 — at Los Angeles, May 27, 1993 — remains the most profound memory from my years covering the Maple Leafs for The FAN–590 between 1994 and 2010.

Wendel Clark’s goal in the final minute of regulation, with Felix Potvin on the bench for an extra attacker, sent the match into overtime. For the first and only time since ’67, the Leafs were one goal away from reaching the Stanley Cup final. As it were, Gretzky, Kerry Fraser and Doug Gilmour played out their unforgettable scenario and the Great One scored the winner. Gretzky then turned in what he called his best–ever playoff performance two nights later at the Gardens; Kings eliminating the Leafs in Game 7.

“You know, I talked many times after that with the late Pat Burns [coach of the ’93 Leafs] about the possibilities had Toronto gotten past L.A.,” Cole remembered. “The Leafs kind of had Montreal’s number in ’92–93, winning both head–to–head match–ups [5–4 at the Forum; 4–0 at the Gardens]. It would have been very interesting to watch a best–of–seven between the clubs. Pat was never convinced his old team [Montreal] would have beaten his new team. I’m not so sure, either. But, it was a marvelous series and Wayne really stepped up for Los Angeles when it mattered most. I cannot take any credit from him.”

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TORONTO STAR SPORTS HEADLINE ON THE DAY OF GAME 6 — LEAFS vs. KINGS — IN 1993.

Cole has received, from Rogers, his broadcasting schedule for the first three months of the 2016–17 NHL season. He will not appear at the Air Canada Centre in October, November or December. “Oh, it’s always nice to call games involving the Leafs, but I’m just happy to be working again,” he said. “I’ve got games in Montreal, New York, Boston, Detroit and a few other cities. For me, it’s about going to morning skates and meeting all the great people in hockey. There’s nothing quite like the excitement of a game day, even all these years later. It’s my job and I’ve never grown tired of it.”

IMAGINE TRUMP vs. BURKE

He could have done it. As a native of Providence, Rhode Island, Brian Burke is eligible to run for President of the United States. And, this was the year for Burke to take the political plunge.

While 84 million Americans tuned in for Monday night’s debate showdown between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, imagine the TV numbers had Trump and Burke been swapping invective. The all–time viewing record south of the border — 115.2 million Americans watched Super Bowl XLIX between New England and Seattle on Feb. 1, 2015 — may have easily been toppled. Projections, in fact, show that a bitch–fest between Trump and Burke would draw more than 200 million people; or nearly two–thirds of those living in the U.S. The cool passivity of Mrs. Clinton on Monday night clearly limited the viewing audience. What CNN, FOX News, ABC, NBC and CBS needed was a commensurate rival for Trump; a smoldering, volcanic swashbuckler with a tongue so sharp, it could slice through the New York phone–directory.

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One can envision the repartee:

TRUMP: “We need to make America great again. And, the only way we can do so is by banning all Muslims; then stringing up the ones that have already infested our country.”

BURKE: “You dumb, insensitive, bigoted moron. Take your possum–head and stick it up Rudy Giuliani’s ass.”

The Donald may not invade the Oval Office come next January, but he can easily out–point and out–interrupt the former First Lady in 90 minutes of made–for–TV denunciation. There would be no–such accomplishment with Burke at the neighboring dais. Perhaps the long–time National Hockey League executive will consider re–inventing himself before 2020. If Trump wins the Nov. 8 general election, he’ll have four years to sharpen his dialect for a second term (providing, between now and then, he doesn’t ask for the “football” on a morning jog through the Ellipse). Such potential opponents on the Democratic side as Andrew Cuomo, Martin O’Malley, Cory Booker and current New York City mayor Bill de Blasio would get trampled by Trump.

Bernie Sanders, at the age of 79, will presumably not make a second run at the highest office.

So, who better than the truculent, Harvard–educated double–B to square off and topple Mr. Apprentice? Particularly, if Brian continues with the unruly coif. Burke’s political affiliation matters not. He either remains or becomes a Democrat well before the 2020 Primary season. Four years from now, his first debate–showdown with the Donald attracts more than 65 percent of American eyes to their 4–K TV’s.

On Nov. 3, 2020, Burke wins a landslide in the general election.

Trump then visits Mecca — riding an 18–wheeler.

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THE “PRESIDENTIAL” LOOK FOR 2020.

EMAIL: HOWARDLBERGER@GMAIL.COM

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