Once upon A time, back when J.R. Ewing was a tough-talking Texan and a thirsty populace found itself embroiled in Miller Lite's Tastes great/Less filling debate, John Madden was the best sports analyst of his day. He regaled us with—BOOM!—his sharp insights about the great game of football. He passionately explained which guys were—BOOM!—his type of players. He had his own quirky football measurements (one knee equals two feet) and taught a generation of American men how to carve a Thanksgiving turkey. He was the happy-go-lucky sports version of The Paper Chase's Professor Kingsfield, lecturing a spellbound nation on pigskin every week. That was then. It's not that the old coach doesn't remain capable—he had a terrific broadcast at this year's Super Bowl—it's just that he is no longer distinguishable from any other ex-football coach with a mike and an opinion. Madden came along in the days before two-hour pregame shows and detailed analyses from wonks such as Ron Jaworski, and analysis has grown from Football 101 to Phil Simms' Ph.D.-level dissertations. Yes, Madden is still good. He's just no longer the best in the business.
Is he politically incorrect? Defiantly so. A blowhard? Most definitely. Jingoistic? Jesse Helms can't hold a candle to him. But watching Don Cherry huff and puff on all things hockey during his Coaches Comer segment on CBC's Hockey Night in Canada remains the most entertaining Canadian production since SCTV. He rants. He raves. He dresses up with the flare of Carmen Miranda. For Game 1 of the 1999 Stanley Cup broadcast, Cherry (famously nicknamed Grapes) was resplendent in a lime-green suit, with white boutonniere and a dark, puffy handkerchief. Cherry, now in his 22nd year with Hockey Night in Canada, was Unplugged before it became popular on MTV. During the Persian Gulf War he unfurled a Canadian flag on the set and referred to the war's critics as "wimps and creeps." He's anachronistically anti-European with regard to the NHL. Though he has become nearly as big a pitchman as Madden ( Cherry hawks soups and weed whackers, and his hockey videos are as ubiquitous in the Great White North as Girls Gone Wild tapes are in the States), he remains strictly antiestablishment in the age of image consultants, a purveyor of old-school rhetoric for his beloved Canadian hockey. Love him or hate him, Cherry is unabashedly who he is, and that's why there's nothing better than watching Grapes's wrath.