One of our great Canadian icons is threatened. I’m not talking about the polar bear, although he does kind of look like one.
I’m talking about Don Cherry, who has held down Coach’s Corner on Hockey Night In Canada forever.
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Grapes is famous for abusing the English language and haberdashery, not necessarily in that order. Each week, he dresses up in some outrageous clown suit and expresses himself in words that can only be described in adjectives that end in “ent,” as in “truculent” and “petulant.” It’s a bad boy act that, apparently, never gets old.
After all, he is No. 7 on CBC’s all-time list of Top 10 Canadians. He outpolled Sir John A. Macdonald, the father of our country! He even beat Wayne Gretzky, who really knew how to play hockey, not just growl about it.
Over the years, Grapes has been in trouble for his opinions, which occasionally fall over the line from outrageous to actionable. He is perhaps most notorious for picking on European and French Canadian hockey players who wear visors — he prefers wholesome, unprotected bruisers from northern Ontario or the Prairies.
Despite that, or more likely because of his various gaffes, Cherry continues to thrive. But he’s back on the hot seat after neurosurgeon Dr. Charles Tator, concerned about the rise of concussions in hockey, recently condemned Cherry for being a “negative influence” because he promotes aggressive hockey.
That’s like saying polar bears eat seals for breakfast. Cherry’s Rock’em, Sock’em video collection of hockey fights and spectacular bodychecks is all the way up to volume 21. He’s the most visible and audible advocate of hockey contact in a country of bloodthirsty fans. Must be those mind-warping plaid suits.
Even weirder than Cherry’s tailor (“Mr. Cherry, chartreuse and Day-Glo orange are definitely your colours!”) are the legion of admirers and supporters rushing to his defence.
The producer of Hockey Night In Canada defends his “record of safety and respect in hockey.” Various hockey players and pundits have pointed out his criticism of “touch icing” and his campaign to prevent blind hits from behind, both subtle variations on his general approval of hockey mayhem.
Face it, Don Cherry is the poster boy for the thousands of fans who are on their feet whenever a fight breaks out on the ice. He’s our token troglodyte, and his popularity says more about us than it does about him.
Dr. Tator, you might as well try to turn polar bears into vegetarians.