"Same trip," MacLean continues. "We're at the studio. Don likes to arrive late. He likes everything to be spontaneous. I'm doing some work, and I notice the director is speaking in French. He's counting down, 'dix, neuf, huit, sept....' O.K., we're in a place where the people speak French. Their language. No problem. Don comes in. The director starts the same thing. Cherry goes crazy. 'What is this einz-freinz crap? English! This is a program in English." The director begins again: "Ten, nine, eight.' "
The original 4½ minutes have grown. They are still the foundation—4½ minutes every Saturday night, plus other nights during the playoffs—but now Cherry also does a weekly taped half-hour interview show on The Sports Network, the Canadian equivalent of ESPN, and a daily 3½ minute radio show that is heard on more than 100 stations. He writes a monthly column, longhand, for 12 newspapers. He writes columns for two hockey magazines. He has done a commercial for a government-sponsored hockey lottery in three provinces.
The bars are another success. The set of a bar was used for the first season of the taped show. And someone suggested that maybe a real bar with Cherry's name on it would be a good business venture. There now are 15 franchised Don Cherry's Grapevine bars across Canada, three more soon to open. Then there are the videos. For four years he has issued annual highlight videos, featuring KOs and random collisions. There have been more than half a million copies sold. Then there is the rap video. The rap video? Cherry did it for charity, wearing a red trench coat, black fedora and sunglasses, saying, among other things, "Probert, Probert, what a man; we see him, it's slam-bam. Let's go." Cherry wrote those words about Detroit Red Wing enforcer Bob Probert. The video was shown on Much Music, the Canadian equivalent of MTV.
"People always ask me what he's like off the air," MacLean says. "I tell them, he's no different. What is on the screen is what he is."
His passions are as visible as his neckties. That is his attraction. He is a neon light on a bland landscape. How many men say what they think, what they really think? How many are strong enough, maybe even crazy enough, to disregard possible consequences? How many are able to do it on TV? He is real, a real face from a real world. That is what makes him unique. He says what he thinks.
"I thought I'd do this two or three years, and then I'd fade away," Cherry says. "That's what happens to guys when they leave the game. Two, three years on television, then they're gone. This...I don't know. For some reason, people respond to me. I had a letter from the parents of this five-year-old girl who is hearing-impaired. She never had talked, never said a word. Every week, though, she watched the games, watched the show. One week, for some reason, I wasn't on. She turned to her parents and said. 'Where's Don?' The first words out of her mouth. 'Where's Don?' "
The essence of his blustery message is his love of tradition. Why can't things be the way they always were? Where is the honor? What has happened to the virtues of hard work? His is the voice calling for the return of Latin to the Sunday Mass. for the preservation of the neighborhood variety store, for the past against the troublesome future. If hockey is his country's national religion, then he is the keeper of the faith.
His two main crusades are for Canadian kids' keeping jobs in the NHL and for fighting to remain in the game. Keep everything the same. Why change something that has worked for all these years? Every week he talks about the increasing number of foreign players on the league rosters. Who needs them? Every week he talks about the people who would change the game to a wide-open, violence-free exhibition of skating and puck-handling skills. This is supposed to be hockey?
"They talk about all the things the foreign players have brought to the game," Cherry says. "Well, let's see, what have they brought? The helmet. The visor. The dive. Lying there and letting on that you're hurt, the way soccer players always do. I guess, you look at it that way, these people are right. The foreign players have brought a lot to the game."
What is better now? New NHL commercials are being filmed, backed by classical music, to portray "the majesty of the game." Cherry scoffs. What majesty? The game is hits and grunts and hard work. Majesty? How many touchdowns does the NFL show in its commercials in relation to hits and grunts? The game of hockey is a question of valor, of not being afraid. The majesty of the skating and the puck handling is that they are executed in an atmosphere of violence. This should be a man's world, men dealing with men. The new world is a world of parking tickets and regulations and show business.