Bob Cole is 85-years old and has been calling hockey games in one place or another for 50 years. He is, for a lot of us, the voice of hockey. The one we grew up with. the one who has always been there. The one with whom we’ve spent more nights than we can possibly count.
Sadly, this year his run comes to an end.
Bob Cole will return to the Hockey Night in Canada broadcast booth for a 50th and final season.
Sportsnet says Cole, 85, is scheduled to call 10 games, starting with the Montreal-Pittsburgh matchup Saturday, Oct. 6. The network says the games will all be in the first half of the 2018-19 season.
“There are so few broadcasters and voices in sport that transcend the way Bob’s has over the last half a century and we are honoured to have him call this last season for Sportsnet on Hockey Night in Canada,” said Scott Moore, president, Sportsnet & NHL Properties, in a release. “Bob is a true professional in this industry and he will pour his heart and soul into these games, focusing on doing the job that he loves and delivering the call to our hockey audiences from coast-to-coast.”
Those are some nice words, but boy oh boy do they ever come off as completely insincere.
First of all, only ten games? You’re not even giving the guy a full season? And they’re all in the first half? A legend like this, assuming he wants to, should be able to go out calling as many games as he’d like up to and including one last Stanley Cup final.
But the main reason that statement rings so hollow is that it comes from the same people who have been trying to drive the guy off for years.
For the first time in almost five decades, the legendary play-by-play announcer won’t be calling any playoff games.
It’s a decision that caught Cole by surprise. And it’s a decision that he still doesn’t quite understand, considering he’s been this country’s broadcaster since 1972.
“I’ve been doing playoffs every year of my life in broadcasting. This is the first time that I’m not involved,” said Cole. “It’s difficult to live with the fact that I’m not working. I surely will miss not working the playoffs. That’s the best way I can say it.”
During what might be his last broadcast — a 4-2 Bruins win against the Senators on April 7 — Cole described a Noel Acciari breakaway goal as a “free break for a cherry.” As the final buzzer sounded, he signed off on Ottawa’s season by saying “and then the roof kind of caved in.”
It was an appropriate line for what then happened to Cole.
A day later, while watching the Masters on TV at his home in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Cole received a call from his bosses. At first, he assumed he was getting his marching orders for the playoffs. Instead, he was told he was being grounded.
“The decision sure wasn’t mutual,” said Cole. “It was right out of the blue. Rogers decided to go with other (broadcast) teams and I have to live with that. But it was their decision — not mine.”
Though Rogers did not indicate why Cole isn’t part of the plan this year, the decision isn’t that surprising. After all, Cole’s workload has been cut back more and more over the years.
In 2009, he didn’t call the Stanley Cup final for the first time since 1983.
“It’s time for a new generation of play-by-play voice,” Moore said at the time.
And a year ago, he only worked the first two rounds of the playoffs.
“It was the first year I didn’t get to the conference final,” said Cole. “I called the seventh game between Washington and Pittsburgh and was told, ‘That’s it.’ They didn’t need me after that.
“They cut me back quite a bit this year, so I just lived with it and kept going,” said Cole. “But I was never told that once that playoffs start, I wouldn’t be working. I’m not going to be part of it all. That’s kind of tough, but you have to live with it.”
Cole isn’t sure whether he will be back in the booth next season.
“You never know with the way things are going,” he said.
But he also isn’t sure he’s ready to retire. After all, the voice still feels and sounds as good as ever. Plus, he still loves calling the games, whether it’s at the rink or at home in front of his television.
“I’ve been pretty lucky over the years that my voice has continued to serve me,” he said. “I hope that it has served the viewing audience OK. I just love my job. Once someone tells you that you’re not going to be involved in the playoffs, you have to respect that decision. There’s not much you can do about that.
“But I kind of miss it, for sure.”
Maybe something has changed for him in the last five months, I don’t know. When you’re 85, sometimes planning too far ahead is an iffy proposition. But those don’t read like the words of somebody who feels like working ten mostly meaningless games and then being quietly stuffed into the dustbin of history, of that I am sure.
But since that’s what Rogers is intent on doing with him, all the rest of us can do is enjoy him while we can. Hopefully getting him on a few Leafs games before he’s out the door for good isn’t too much to ask.
Thanks for the memories, Bob. The goofs you work for may not appreciate you, but the rest of us certainly do.