I’ve discovered the secret to a joyous Christmas: give unto others the gift of things that will entertain you while you’re home. This is a sure fire way to prevent boredom, arguments, and overeating.
I just spent a novel afternoon watching old Habs games with my dad from the 1909-2009 Canadiens Centennial Celebrations and Merchandizing Opportunities DVD box set released last year. It’s amazing how a game from 2008 can be a nail biter even when I know who will win the shootout.
Apropos to our political moment, we decided to watch the seventh game of the 1979 semi-finals between the Habs and the Bruins, wherein Don Cherry gave the iconic photo-op so integral to the Coach’s Corner intro montage. I haven’t watched many old games so this broadcast was both entertaining and eye opening.
While the production value was decidedly lower, the aesthetics of old timey hockey are far superior to anything the so-called men of our generation can pull off. Who needs a helmet when you have a studly stache-and-sideburns combo to protect your noggin? Case in point: defenseman Larry Robinson. That is the face of a man who is unstoppable. Also, the face of a man who looks a lot like Gordon Lightfoot. And as we all know, not even a 6 week coma could keep Gordo down. So yeah. My point is proven.
And on the topic of helmets and aesthetics…during the game in question, one of the Bruins rammed Ken Dryden in the back with his stick (and didn’t get called for it, by the way). Frankly, I’m surprised anyone dared mess with goalies in those days: what if he Jasoned you? Granted, Friday the 13th didn’t come out until 1980 and I’m not sure that Jason even wore a mask until the later films…but still, goalies back in the day were fearsome looking. Gerry Cheevers, anyone?
Yes, 1979 was a different year. It was a time when the Habs still played at the Forum, when there were no advertisements on the boards, when you really had to pay attention because the score and the time weren’t displayed on the TV screen, and when sportscasters like Danny Gallivan were delightfully articulate (“It’s bumptious out there. It’s getting turbulent.”).
Some things, however, remain steadfastly infuriating. What was, at the time, an obnoxious gesture to a riled up crowd would become an iconic image of Don Cherry, and a symbol of the mediocre standards that broadcast media and its audiences hold on-air personalities to in the name of commercial viability.
Some context (hopefully I won’t butcher the history much): it’s the seventh game of the semi-finals, both teams want it (obviously), it’s a Montreal home game so the crowd is freaking out (naturally), and Bruins defenseman Dick Redmond gets called for cross-checking Jacques Lemaire. The crowd is furious and booing like crazy. Don Cherry, who argues that Redmond barely touched Lemaire, stands up and starts bowing at the crowd. “What I was doing was acknowledging that the crowd had called the penalty” he writes, in a book that I only read three paragraphs of on Google Books just now, but that I can only assume was dictated to someone too dumb or intimidated to edit it.
Habs fans were angry, and Cherry was effectively flipping them the bird with a smile on his face. What? Whatchu gonna do? You’re pissed? Fine. Go ahead and shout. Whatchu gonna do, anyhow? It’s the perfect image for Coach’s Corner. It’s the perfect image for Cherry in Toronto these days. It’s the perfect image for a man who would get up in a house of government where people of all sexes, genders, orientations, classes, political stripes, religions, ethnicities, and countless other divisive isms come together to commonly govern one of the most diverse cities on the planet, and give an inarticulate, insulting, disrespectful, confusing, and downright rude speech about the city’s new mayor (Cherry didn’t vote for Ford, by the way: he lives in Mississauga). The outrage has nothing to do with Ford: Cherry was in the wrong. (The wrong decade, that is: cool it with the rhetoric, McCarthy.)
So while goalie masks may change shape and facial hair may go out of vogue, Don Cherry remains a dick. And while some may laugh off his Council speech as “kids being kids,” as it were, a government address is not comparable to a sports broadcast where he is paid to be abrasive, inarticulate, and tacky because it brings in advertising dollars (is Coach’s Corner still sponsored by Moores? I wonder whether that endorsement helps or hinders the chain…)
Montreal won that 1979 game in overtime, by the way, and went on to win the Cup for the fourth consecutive year. Every time that clip of Cherry bowing comes up on Coach’s Corner, the shot is a reminder that you can be an enormous jackass, you can lose your game, and you can still have an (unjustifiably) profitable career if you’re packaged sharply (gaudily) enough. His producers might have montaged the clip in to show how ballsy Cherry is, but to those who stop and think about it, the shot is symbolic of a series of epic life FAILs.
You may think this post went on a crazy tangent, but as a pinko who inherited a hockey allegiance from a Montreal-born father, it’s to be expected. Hockey has always been political in Quebec.
In closing, Guy Lafleur was kind of a stud.