I have known Bob for well over 40 years, longer than any of the cohorts he works alongside today on Hockey Night in Canada. Our time together includes Super Series and Stanley Cups, Olympics and Fish and Chips on the South Shore. To call this the end of an era, might be one of the great understatements of all time.
Bob Cole: His Voice. His Style. His Passion. He and all his traits transcend generations of hockey fans who have heard him tell stories on Saturday nights.
No one in our business, in front of the camera, in the booth or behind the scenes, has had a better flair for the dramatic than Bob. His sense of moment is brilliant. The stories his broadcast partners tell of receiving “The Heisman” from Bob as he orchestrates from the booth, putting a hand up dictating when the next words should be spoken. He treats events like a great conductor of a symphony orchestra would. You also get a tremendous understanding for his knowledge of the game of hockey with his sense of anticipation. With a simple change in tone or a quick phrase,”Watch out!”… “Here THEY come!” …”Oh Baby!”… These aren’t big words, but they’re emphatic words.
His tone and delivery made you to look up from the computer, and move to the edge of your seat. They told you that if you weren’t totally engaged in the game, you should pay attention now. His sense of anticipation is perhaps separates Cole from most others, and put him on a level with the greatest to sit behind a mic: Danny Gallivan, Foster Hewitt, Dan Kelly.
He knows a big goal in the first minute of the first period is important, but not as important as one in the third. Like many of the Broadway plays Bob loves to attend, he knows the end of Scene One is not as important as the finale, so he will use his voice accordingly. His sense of moment is impeccable. Bob shouldn’t be in a text book. He is a text book.
But perhaps Bob’s greatest attribute is his ability to put a special signature on each of those memorable moments. No two great calls are alike, but most are unforgettable. Everyone has a favourite “Cole Call.” There’s the Oilers’ first Cup, Lemieux’s fantastic move on Jon Casey, Doug Gilmour behind the net, or any of his tremendous Olympic calls. My favourite? Not a Cup clincher, nor a Gold medal moment, but rather a flurry of overtime hockey in the 1984 series between the Rangers and the Islanders. It is Bob, and Stanley Cup Playoffs action, at its finest:
In this day and age of play-by-play announcers and coloured charts with every small detail on every player, Bob is a minimalist. A piece of cardboard, a flip chart if you will, with both teams and the lines for the night. That’s it. And it’s a lineup Bob has been able to procure on the morning of the game in a very private moment with each of the head coaches. A moment that almost every coach in the NHL will take to talk to the legend. Even if at a morning press conference, the coach tells the media horde that some players remain questionable, doubtful or a game-time decision, he will already have told Bob what his complete lineup, including starting goaltender, will be. Simply because they trust Bob Cole. Cole won’t be sharing it with the other team or tweeting it out, or blabbing it to writers. Cole takes the information back to his room to study the lines and ensure proper pronunciation of every player, from every country.
It is that loyalty, respect and attention to detail that makes Bob so special. He has built friendships over the years because managers, coaches and players appreciate his passion for the game and his direct, simple approach. We’ve all seen examples of that; at Wayne Gretzky’s farewell game at Madison Square Garden, when Bob and Wayne had a private moment, a handshake and a hug, prior to the game. There have also been pre and post-game moments with Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid, two stars who know what Bob means to the game. Great hockey men like Glen Sather, who during one Rangers playoff series, allowed Bob to travel to and from the rink on the team bus, even if the team was staying at a different hotel and it meant the bus had to make a detour.
Cole was, is and will always be revered in hockey circles as one of a kind, and treated accordingly. And what makes those moments even more wonderful is that Bob never takes them for granted. He remains in awe of it all. He’s honoured to have called Jean Beliveau’s only overtime goal. He still chuckles like a child when told a great of the game wants to meet him, to shake his hand and say hello.
It’s really important to emphasize Bob’s passion. Because Bob does everything with passion. He’s passionate about his family…and curling… and Newfoundland… and golf… and hockey… and doing it right. Doing it all right.
Bob Cole loves Frank Sintra.
Bob Cole loves the New York Yankees.
Bob Cole loves being a part of Hockey Night In Canada. To this day, I don’t believe I’ve seen Bob not wearing his favourite piece of jewelry. He wears a Hockey Night in Canada ring. He wears that ring with the same pride a championship player wears his Stanley Cup ring.
That, in a nutshell, is what makes him tick. Classic people. Classic teams. Bob, himself, is a classic.
The national reaction to Bob’s farewelll tour? The public outpouring of appreciation that Bob has and continues to receive?
Not even the Great Bob Cole himself could have anticipated all of this.