As It Happens

As it Happened: The Archive Edition — The Fightin' Words Episode, Part II

When hockey commentator and coach Don Cherry gets cornered on his team's failing fortunes, he comes out swinging — but his "best-defence-is-a-good-offence" tactics end up sounding like sour Grapes.
Former host Mary Lou Finlay and CBC personality and hockey coach Don Cherry — a.k.a. "Grapes" — faced off over the ailing fortunes of his junior hockey team, the Mississauga IceDogs, in 2001. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press, Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

This week's theme: Fightin' Words, Part Two — the second-half of our look back at abrasive interviews that often ended with an abrupt click. Featured: Don Cherry, Harold Ballard, Evel Knievel, and Rob Ford. 

Part One of the "Fightin' Words" Episode of As it Happened: The Archive Edition

"What is it about hockey that makes people just want to throw down their gloves and fight?"

That's Mary Lou Finlay in her memoir, The As it Happens Files: Radio That May Contain Nuts — in a chapter called "The Wrath of Grapes". She kicks it off with a transcript of her interview with former hockey coach and CBC personality, Don Cherry — a.k.a. Grapes. When it aired back in December, 2001, the Toronto Star had just run a story on Cherry's struggling triple-A hockey team, the Mississauga IceDogs — who, as she explains, "were dead last in the Ontario Hockey League. And their center had just quit."
Mary Lou Finlay in 2008 in Toronto (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Even though it ended somewhat sourly, the interview began on a rather sweet note. Or should we say notes? Here's a near-complete transcript of Mary Lou Finlay's interview with Don Cherry.

Mary Lou Finlay: Mr. Cherry? Hello?

Don Cherry: There used to be a nice song called "Mary Lou".

MLF: Would you like to sing it?

DC: [singing] "Mary Lou, I love you..." My mother had a record: "Ma-ry Lou..."

MLF: Hm.

DC: Anyhow...

MLF: Well listen, you're ducking the issue here.
Mary Lou Finlay's 2008 memoir of her eight-year tenure as the host of "As it Happens" (Getty Images)

DC: All right.

MLF: What's with the IceDogs?

DC: IceDogs are doin' all right. We're in the top-third of the drafts, and we've lost 10 games by one goal. And uh, we're doin' all right. We got twice as many wins as we had last year. And some people are upset that some kid — three-goal scorer goes home, and we get headline sports.

MLF: You say the top-third of the draft. Because you're last again this year, right?

DC: Yeah. That's right. Well, not this year. It was last year. 

MLF: Last year.

DC: Yes.

MLF: Right. But uh, twice as many wins? And how many is that?

DC: Five.

MLF: Ah...and how many losses?

DC: Uh...20.

MLF: ...It's not great, is it?

DC: No, it's not great.

MLF: No...and you finished last?
(The Toronto Star, December 12, 2001)

DC: We finished last.

MLF: And what about the year before that?

DC: Last.

MLF: Before that?

DC: Yah.

MLF: [laughs] Well what is wrong with the team?

DC: Well, we're a franchise, we're going along the best we can. And we're fightin' our way out of it. And everybody likes to see that — when a celebrity's havin' a tough time, they like to jump aboard, and it's like picking wings off flies, and they have a great time bringing up the record 'n' that. 

MLF: Yeah?

I have to go on CBC to pay your salary, because nobody listens to you on the radio.-Don Cherry, a.k.a. 'Grapes', former hockey coach and hockey commentator-Don Cherry, a.k.a. 'Grapes', former hockey coach and hockey commentator

DC: That's the kind of people we are in Canada. Any time there's a celebrity havin' a tough time, it's great news for people. Why, you get on the front page of the Toronto Star, and you get on CBC Radio...if we had've been in first place, would you have called me?

MLF: Sure I would have.

DC: Oh sure, you would have. You would have called me for sure. You're like one of those investigative [whispering] "Let's phone Don Cherry..." 

MLF: No, but you go on TV —

DC: "...he's having a tough time. He was on the front page. Let's do it."

MLF: [laughing] Listen, you go on TV, and you know everything, right? 

Don Cherry. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

DC: Absolutely.

MLF: You know everything there is to know about hockey.

DC: Absolutely. CBC! 

MLF: But you can't win a game!

DC: I have to go on CBC to pay your salary, because nobody listens to you on the radio.

MLF: Oh! [laughs] Are you sure?

DC: Or nobody watches the sex life of a bumblebee on the rest of the programs, so I have to go on — the most-watched thing in Canada — and now what do you have to say about that?

MLF: You might hear from the people who don't listen to us. 

DC: Well I'll hear [from] all three of them, right?

MLF: Now, but listen. Do you know anything about hockey?

DC: I know a lot about hockey.

MLF: Well then what's wrong —

DC: I was Coach of the Year in the American League, and I was Coach of the Year in the National League, and I...know a little bit about hockey, and I'm doin' the best I can.

MLF: Well, but why can't you win a game? 
(The Toronto Star, December 15, 2001)

DC: Well, it's the same thing as you. Now, you're a good reporter, and you're a good announcer, and look at you. You're on in the middle of the afternoon. I mean, who is really listenin' at 10 to? Sometimes circumstances are that way. You get stuck in a role like you're in, like I'm in, and you have to fight your way out of it. I'm sure you're trying to get into Prime Time, like about drive time — about four or five, but here you are stuck at two o'clock.

MLF: [laughing] Do you know as much about hockey as you do about radio?

DC: Well, I know I'm at two o'clock and there's nobody listenin', I'll tell you that. Now if it was at five o'clock — 

MLF: Maybe it's because we're actually on the air at 6:30.

DC: Oh, you're on the air at 6:30! So this is taped!

MLF: Yeah, it is.

DC: So you can edit out — you can edit what you want. You don't have the, what will we say, to go on live, eh?

MLF: We're not going to edit at all.

DC: Aw, I don't wanna say what you don't have to go on live. I get it. So you're gonna edit all this out. I got it.

MLF: It must be your good manners and charm that bring your team along to the place it is now.

DC: Well, I don't know what it is — I'm the most watched thing in Canada. And when somebody asks me questions like this, they open themselves up for...what you're gonna get. Now you can edit this down any way you want. 

MLF: Do your players have any complaints about the team? 
Mary Lou Finlay in Toronto, in 2008 (The Canadian Press)

DC: We have one that goes home. And we had a woman reporter that got in, and — he scored three goals — and made a big deal of it. She's probably ruined the kid's life, because now that poor kid's sittin' home, she got a bit story, you know, an "investigative" journalist. You know how that is. Just like you've got a good story now!

MLF: So your team's fortunes are my fault, and the female reporter's fault, I guess. 

DC: Well, I don't say they're your fault. I'm just sayin' it's not my fault that you're on at — you do a taped interview, and you have to edit it. It's not my fault.

MLF: Are you hearing any complaints from your players?

DC: No! Just the one that went home, that's the only one I know of.

MLF: Are they afraid to complain to you? 

Oh, I'm sorry. I guess you should give me lessons on how I do my job, too.- Mary Lou Finlay to Don Cherry- Mary Lou Finlay to Don Cherry

DC: No, they're not. That's the one thing that was wrong there — that my players are not afraid of me at all. In fact, while they were doin' it yesterday, I was signin' all posters for them. 

MLF: So how are you gonna get the team fixed?

DC: Well, I'll just have to keep pluggin' along and doin' the best I can. That's all I can do, you know? That's all I can do.

MLF: You're coaching now? 

DC: I'm coaching now. You mean you don't even know that I was coaching?

MLF: I don't know that everybody listening knows that you're coaching.

DC: Oh, you should have said "You are coaching now." That's how you shoulda put it.

MLF: Oh, I'm sorry. I guess you should give me lessons on how I do my job too.

DC: Yes, that's good.

MLF: [laughs] Well, what do you think the team needs?

DC: Well the team needs maybe a defenceman or two, and what we need is some wins, for sure.

MLF: [laughs] All right, Mr. Cherry. 

DC: All right, Mary Lou.

MLF: Take care.

DC: It's been wonderful.

MLF: Yeah, hasn't it?

DC: Thank you.

MLF: Bye.

You can hear Mary Lou Finlay's full, unedited Dec. 13, 2001 interview with Don Cherry — as well as the following stories, on this week's "Fightin' Words: Part II" episode of "As it Happened: The Archive Edition":


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