Avoiding the Coach’s Corner

My “association” with Don Cherry was almost over before it began. Years before he began delivering clever analyses, insults and politically incorrect statements on Coach’s Corner, Cherry twice coached the Boston Bruins to the Stanley Cup final.

His second trip was in 1978, Cherry’s best season of five behind the Boston bench, and the Bruins were heavy underdogs against the Montreal Canadiens. I was a sports columnist at the time and before the first game, I took it upon myself to write a tongue-in-cheek column that insulted the Bruins in every way I could think of, all in the interest of making them angry enough to over-achieve enough to make the series competitive. As it turned out, they did…extending the Habs to six games, although three were by 4-1.

Cherry, I was told, was unimpressed by the column. Remember, this was all tongue-in-cheek; a public service I called it. Among my flippant, insincere insults was one directed at him:

“He thinks he’s a genius. But he can’t be a genius. The Vancouver Canucks once had him coaching their only farm team and they let him go because he wasn’t smart enough. Everybody knows the Canucks never make a mistake in judgment.”

The Canucks, then eight years old, finished 23 games under .500 that season.

A couple of years later, I met Cherry at a sports celebrity banquet (I was a helper for banquet organizer Dick Irvin). He didn’t bring up the column. Neither did I.

A few years after that, I was the editor of a sports statistics newspaper (Sports Line) for lottery players who bet on combinations of football and/or hockey games. The lottery corporation folks wondered if Cherry, by then entrenched alongside Ron MacLean on TV, would consider it.

I approached him, and he agreed to do it — only because I dropped the names of friends Dick Irvin and Red Fisher, two hockey Hall of Famers whose endorsements meant instant approval. I was to be his ghost writer. The column led to increased popularity among lottery people, who hired him for TV commercials, point-of-interest placards and radio appearances in Western Canada. In time Cherry parlayed it — pardon the pun — into years of lucrative appearances for lotteries in Ontario.

Before that, I accompanied him and MacLean to a series of press conferences across the West, launching lottery sports betting. I remember the three of us sitting in a sauna during a Winnipeg hotel stay, the two of them talking like they were on Coach’s Corner, with me as the audience.

Let’s be clear: Cherry and I were never friends, although he did give me an autographed photo “to my good friend” — as I’m sure he did to thousands of his good friends across the country. Our “association” also included lunch with his wife (Rose) and mine at Wayne Gretzky’s restaurant in Toronto and, yes, it was his treat.

Never did I bring up the column from the 1978 playoffs.

And neither did Cherry.