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Wednesday, May 29, 2024
The Observer

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Murphy: Thank You, Bob Cole

I’ve been watching a lot of YouTube lately.

It’s not something I’m prone to doing a lot, especially at school. If you’ve ever met me, you know that I love sports, especially everything hockey. But truth be told, I don’t often make the time to watch highlight videos or game recaps as much as I did when I was younger. Given a bit of free time now, the first app I open on my phone is no longer YouTube … it’s my email.

But in the last five days at least, that’s changed. No, it’s not because I’m intentionally procrastinating studying for my finals -- although I will say I have achieved that as well. 

It all started on Thursday afternoon. I was just about to enter my 3:30 p.m. American Studies class when a notification popped up on my lock screen. Just two lines, it said that Bob Cole, Canadian hockey play-by-play broadcaster, had passed away. 

Though the various tribute videos and testimonials have tried, it’s hard to encapsulate what Cole meant to millions of Canadians. I’m not Canadian, but I was raised watching Canadian hockey broadcasts. I like to think more than a bit of their national passion for the sport has rubbed off on me through those innumerable Saturday nights in front of the television set. For me, like many Canadians, those Saturday nights meant listening to Cole. He gave voice to the game, and to a nation.

Sitting in my awkward plastic DeBart chair-desk, I had about one minute to digest the news before class started. I looked up, clicked my phone off and dropped it in my bag. I knew exactly what I would have to do later that night. But for the time being, I went on with my day.

Fast forward to around 12:15 in the morning. I’m back on my futon in Fisher Hall, with most of my roommates asleep and the lights mostly off. I’m ready to go to bed myself, but there’s one thing I have left to do. I open up my phone and go to YouTube. Instinctually, I type “Bob Cole best moments,” hit search and navigate to a video titled “The Best of Bob Cole on Hockey Night in Canada.”

This video may well be the video I’ve watched the most in my life, but I haven’t returned to it in years. Clicking play, I let the sound of Cole’s voice wash over me and … well, I’m home again.

Yes, I’m nine years old again, sitting in the rink warming room watching my iPod. 

I’m 12 years old again, sitting at my kitchen table eating grilled cheese.

 I’m 15 in my living room, wishing hockey season would just come faster.

Listening to Cole, I’m a kid again, forming my own dream of broadcasting hockey. I watched those videos over and over. I learned every word. In my head, I can now finish every sentence.

Here’s Lemieux, to center, penalty coming up…

Gilmour back of the net, Andreychuk in front with Borshevsky…

Desjardins following the play, and he missed on the short side. There he is again…

If you’ll allow me to wax poetic for a moment longer, I’ll add some context. In recent years, I’ve developed a couple of sports hypotheses. I theorize that football roots itself in the concepts of war, while baseball is representative of the rhythms of life. Hockey at its finest, on the other hand, is art. 

And if hockey is art, then Cole was its greatest poet. He did not simply broadcast a game, he performed it.  As longtime co-worker Ron MacLean characterized it, he sang the game. Few announcers have ever worked with the same passion as Cole, and even fewer who were able to so romantically convey it. 

That passion has taught me more than a few things about life. It’s taught me that caring, yes simply caring, matters to people. It’s taught me that emotion matters, even when it might seem easier to just bottle it up inside. And yes, it’s taught me that togetherness matters, because that’s what Cole did. He brought us hockey fans together.

So, I’ve been watching a lot of YouTube lately. Yes, I’m procrastinating. But I’m also listening to Cole, reminding myself of how passion can illuminate my life and the lives of those around me. I’m spending time with my hero, who like millions of hockey fans across multiple generations, I consider to be a good friend I simply never met. 

I turn on those familiar YouTube videos, and gratitude comes easy. The thought repeats over and over in my head:

Thank you, Bob Cole.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.