When it comes to Bob Cole, there is a mighty temptation to write his story in three-word sentences.
That clipped cadence, still poetry to hockey fans, 35 years after he took over as the No. 1 play-by-play man on Hockey Night In Canada and eight years removed from when he ceded that post to Jim Hughson.
Cole provided the soundtrack for every big goal for Canadians of a certain age. Such as Joe Sakic's insurance goal for Canada late in the gold-medal game at the 2002 Winter Olympics, one of Cole's favourite moments and the last time he called an Olympic game. It was 50 years to the day since Canada's previous hockey gold.
"It is Joe Sakic. Scores! Jeee-oe … Sakic … scores! And that makes it 5-2 Canada. Surely, that's gotta be it."
Such is his status that nearly every Canadian male over the age of 13 does a Bob Cole impression. It is not recommended that anyone show off their mimicry should they encounter Cole, as he does not suffer fools gladly, but he grudgingly admits it is a sign of admiration.
"Yeah, I guess it is," he said over lunch at a Toronto restaurant this week. "But I understand it because you're on there. Not too long ago I was on every Saturday. Now I'm not. That's unfortunate for me but you have to roll with the times.
"You've got other people who are doing a fine job. So who says that you get to do every game? I suppose I do but I don't count."
That is vintage Cole. Direct. Honest. No mealy-mouthed platitudes about taking time to slow down and smell the roses.
No, at 83 years of age Cole still wants to be on television for every possible hockey game. When an unexpected management change last spring at Rogers Communications Inc., which now operates Hockey Night, resulted in more games for Cole, including his first conference final in a few years, he was thrilled.
As yet another NHL season unfolds, Cole has published his memoirs. Now I'm Catching On (Viking) was written with fellow Rogers employee Stephen Brunt, a former Globe and Mail columnist, who captures Cole's voice. Don't make the mistake of thinking this is some sort of swan song. Cole is the kind of guy who thinks Vin Scully took early retirement when he made his final broadcast last month at the age of 89.
"I haven't thought about retirement. Ever," Cole said. "It never occurred to me. It's part of my life. If you took it away from me there would be a void for sure. What would I do?"
Right now, Cole isn't doing much aside from book interviews and calling games on Hockey Night. He tore the meniscus in his one good knee on Monday (his other knee is a replacement job installed years ago) while he was fishing for Atlantic salmon in Labrador. He is getting around with the help of a cane but expects to be fishing again before too long.
Cole's life-long passion for fishing is just one of the many aspects of his life, which most people do not know about, revealed in the book. He's never been one to talk about himself publicly, preferring to fly to his assignment from his native St. John's on a Friday, call the game on Saturday and fly home on Sunday.
But the book is a rich source of stories about Cole's youth, how a serious injury led to his interest in broadcasting, his exploits in soccer and curling (he was skip for Newfoundland in the 1971 and 1975 Briers) and as a pilot. There is also a short history of his famous "Oh, baby!" expression. Some of the best stories are about Cole's encounters with celebrities such as Joe Louis, encounters that came about because he is the kind of guy who doesn't hesitate to walk up to the rich and famous and say hello.
Cole says his enduring run as one of the best play-by-play voices in hockey is thanks to the pioneer of the genre, Foster Hewitt. In a typically brash move, when he was in Toronto on a trip with a friend, a young Cole walked into Hewitt's office and dropped off an audition tape. To his surprise, Hewitt listened to it on the spot and offered some advice.
There should only be four levels of emotion, Hewitt said, and be careful not to rise to the highest level when it isn't warranted. In an age when broadcasters are hired by NHL teams to be shills and every routine goal is screamed out like the overtime winner in the seventh game of the Stanley Cup final, Cole stays true to Hewitt's philosophy. Every viewer knows even if he has to go to the bathroom he can still tell how the game is going by the pitch of Cole's voice.
"You want to have the fan at home enjoy the game," Cole said. "And to do that, you have to have some kind of rhythm. Foster talked a lot about that. Flow and feel were words he used.
"Foster even said that about the different levels. Hang on to that one level for a good goal or a big save, depending on the time of the game, how important this is. You've got to leave some room for yourself. I made notes and I listened to myself many, many times."