Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Legend that is Don Cherry [J. Mark English]

A friend referred me to a great article from the New York Times about Don Cherry. Cherry is Canada's version of John Madden. He is a celebrity because of his commentary on the sport of hockey, and is a TV icon in the eyes of our friendly neighbors up north. He is never afraid to mix it up, and stir the pot. Here are some highlights of the article from the Times, by Matt Higgins:

In Canada, and in some border cities like Buffalo and Detroit, the most powerful and influential commentator in hockey requires no introduction. He is besieged at airports, restaurants and hotels by autograph seekers. Some people, upon recognizing him, have even pulled their cars to the side of the road to get out and shake his hand.

Don Cherry tends to stand out in public. These days, few others in North America favor green Scotch plaid double-breasted sport coats and button-down shirts with high stiff collars.

When he is on television Saturday nights, Cherry helps lure an even bigger crowd of 1.2 million viewers, Canada's largest sports audience. The hierarchy of the National Hockey League, it seems fair to assume, is also watching...

...In a national poll conducted by the CBC in 2004, Cherry was voted the seventh-greatest Canadian, ahead of Wayne Gretzky, Alexander Graham Bell and Sir John Macdonald, Canada's first prime minister...

....''He has direct access to the highest levels of the league,'' Burke said. ''There's not a general manager who won't take his call. He has access to the commissioner.''...

...Cherry's outspoken ways caught the attention of the executive producer of ''Hockey Night in Canada,'' Ralph Mellanby, and Cherry began providing color commentary on CBC during the 1980 playoffs. He immediately clashed by refusing to wear the blazers that were the show's uniform...

...Such loyalty is the core of the Cherry creed, a view that nearly led to his firing when in March 2003 he criticized Canada's government on ''Coach's Corner'' for failing to commit troops to the war in Iraq. He saw it as Canada's duty to do so as an American ally.

Then in 2004, during a discussion about whether visors should be mandatory for N.H.L. players -- Cherry believes they lead to more reckless stickwork -- he said disparagingly, ''Most of the guys that wear them are Europeans and French guys.''...

...One of many telling stories about Cherry took place during his coaching days with Boston. Defenseman Mike Milbury, who had played at Colgate, recalled returning to the Bruins' bench from his first N.H.L. shift.

'I always worked hard,'' said Milbury, now an executive with the Islanders. ''But I was working particularly hard because I was so excited.''

Cherry was not impressed. He ripped Milbury, calling him, among other things, a ''college commie pinko'' and a ''pansy.''

Cherry, who delighted in telling his own version of the event, said he then told Milbury that during Boston's next game, against the Maple Leafs, he was to grab the first Toronto player he passed and pummel him, which Milbury did.
''He was obviously sending a message that I could be more physical,'' Milbury said.

Cherry has been accused of many things, but never ambiguity.

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