HE KNOWS THE END WILL COME SOMEDAY. Maybe someday soon. Maybe tonight. He is pushing, pushing, pushing the limits too far, saying too much. One final piece of outrage will bubble from Don Cherry's high-volume mouth, and that will be that. Ka-boom! He will self-destruct in full public view, the carnage strewn across the living rooms of an entire country, from the Maritimes to British Columbia. Ka-boom!
"I can't keep saying these things." he says. "How can I keep saying these things?"
Things like what?
"Like asking someone to break [Pittsburgh Penguin defense-man] Ulf Samuelsson's arm," he says. "How can I say that on television? I asked someone to break Ulf Samuelsson's arm between the wrist and the elbow."
He cannot help himself. The lights come on, 4½ minutes to fill on a Saturday night, a tidy little show called "Coach's Corner" between the first and second periods of Hockey Night in Canada, and he might as well be holding a lighted stick of dynamite while he gives his commentary. How can 4½ minutes, once a week, be so dangerous? He will say anything, do anything. He will tweak noses, pick fights. He will ask for the arm—if not the head—of a Penguin defenseman he doesn't like.
Four-and-a-half minutes. One week he suddenly unfurled an eight-foot-long Canadian Hag and talked about the "wimps and creeps" who opposed Canada's participation in the gulf war. Another week he was wearing sunglasses and an earring in his left earlobe and talking with an exaggerated effeminate lisp. Wasn't the subject supposed to be the opposition of Los Angeles King star Wayne Gretzky and King owner Bruce McNall to hockey violence? Wasn't the subject supposed to be hockey? Couldn't he simply say what he thought? An earring. A lisp.
Cherry still can't believe he did that. He could not help himself. "I come off after wearing the earring, and I'm just shaking, eh?" he says. "I was just so pumped up. Scared. I was just shaking."
Everything has become so much bigger than he ever expected. He says these things—says anything that comes into his head—and the entire country seems to stop and listen. He is 59 years old, moving hard on 60, and he has become Canada's Rush Limbaugh and Canada's Howard Cosell. All in one. He is George C. Scott and Willard Scott and Randolph Scott. He is John McLaughlin and Dick Vitale and Bobby (the Brain) Heenan and Roseann Roseannadanna and Cliff Clavin, mailman, and George Will and Henry David Thoreau and maybe a little bit of Mighty Mouse, here to save the day.
Polls have shown that he is the most recognizable figure in the country, more recognizable than any pop star, any politician, even any of the hockey players he discusses. He is so big that he cannot walk on any street in Canada without drawing a crowd. He is so big that he doesn't do banquets anymore, can't, because the demand is so great. He is so big that there have been petitions to put him on the ballot to replace the retiring Brian Mulroney as prime minister. Prime minister? How did this happen?