Thursday, 9 May 2013

Even Bob Cole knows he's finished

Bob Cole, the superannuated play-by-play man the CBC doesn't realize is still on its payroll, since he just keeps showing up to work, a decade at least since he should have retired, is feebly, foggily aware that his days are numbered.  Maybe some with-it quadragenarians, all up on their newfangled technology, have gently let on that the MySpacers are Yahooing about his Flipper, and he's tumblering as a result.

In any case, he's not about to give up his perch so easily, so when he blows a call, and the realization seeps into his consciousness, he goes into Self-Justification Mode, like an instant George W. Presidential Library/Absolution Mausoleum & Grill.  Especially in this series, faced with his very own Axis of Bewilderment (Desharnais, Bouillon and Diaz, players with somewhat similar jersey numbers and stature, never mind that one is a righty defenceman, one is a lefty defenceman, and one is a forward who shoots left) he's constantly flubbing the play and mangling the calls.

His response has been to waste airtime trying to explain away his botcheriness.

"At first one linesman wasn't signalling icing, but the other did, so they changed their mind, that's why it's now icing."

"Now there's a too-many-men penalty call?...  Is there!?...  The crowd is reacting...  They didn't open the right penalty box door...  That's why everybody is confused..."

No Bob, you're confused, and confusing everyone else.  The whistle clearly blew when the Senators gained control of the puck.  If it's a penalty, it's going to Ottawa.  Clear as day.

The announcers who work sports programs are putatively there to tell the viewers what is going on, to explain and clarify.  Bob Cole no longer serves that purpose.

Some argue that the announcers add to the spectacle, they're central to the viewing experience, and Bob Cole gives long-time viewers warm and fuzzies, bringing back fond memories from childhood.  I personally don't respond to his warbling the same way.  I think the only memory Bob Cole evokes for me, and it's not one that was created at the time, but by the constant replays shown in the nineties, is the shameful call of the Red Army-Flyers game when the Soviet team, very reasonably, retreated to the dressing room mid-period and considered not finishing the game and exposing themselves to further mugging, and he spluttered: "They're going home!"  As if this was an apex of sorts, as if North American hockey had vanquished a foe, as opposed to ambushed them.

I grew up on René Lecavalier on Radio-Canada, a titan of broadcasting and a true professional.  With the aid of colour man Gilles Tremblay, he brought magic and class to our Soirée du Hockey.  Samedi soir was something we looked forward to, it was an event.  We had the best team in the league, and the best broadcast team.  I didn't know any others, except for the abysmal crew that worked on TVA, "le dix", and those jokers didn't hold a candle.  Monsieur Lecavalier was incisive, erudite, objective, but still conveyed enthusiasm to a starstruck kid.  He insisted on pronouncing every player's names correctly, with the correct or preferred inflection, whether the player was Russian, Czech, Swedish, or even anglophone.  When a Canadien committed a gaffe or took a bad penalty, he called it as it was, foregoing the cheap homer call.

Yet as Monsieur Lecavalier reached retirement age, he was let go by Radio-Canada, to his great regret and mild recrimination.  He felt he had at least a couple good years left in him.  So did we.  We wondered why he wasn't retained, he hadn't really lost a step we felt.  But waiting in the wings was Richard Garneau, who had paid his dues, who was ready to go, and who seamlessly picked up where Monsieur Lecavalier left off, and built on his legacy of probity and excellence.  We never missed a beat, and new memories were made.  And we never had to endure the slow fade of a legend.

CBC has allowed Bob Cole to tarnish his legacy with a decade of ineffectiveness.  They have also clogged up a seat that should have been filled by Chris Cuthbert, who eventually gave up and bolted to the competition, a great loss to the public institution.  There are young broadcasters who are plying their trade in the minor leagues and deserve to move up the ranks and have a shot at the plum job.  Mr. Cole may still have that sonorous voice, but it's not focused properly, like a loose cannon.  It's long past time to take Ole Yeller behind the barn.

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