Pictou Advocate sports

The Born Loser, and now McCown


Check the word “habit” in your dictionary – the print version that was worn out well before the Internet became our source for everything in this world – and you’ll be told it’s a “settled tendency or practice.”

Read further on that yellowed page and you’ll learn “a creature of habit” is “one whose behaviour is guided by his habits.”

That’s me. That’s really, really me. Even an old newspaper guy can fall unintentionally into such a prototype and never find an escape. Again, that’s me.

The worst case scenario for such people is when decisions by others disrupt our customary routines.

And, ouch, that’s happened to me in recent weeks – not once, but twice. Even George and Gracie, my loyal shih tzu apartment mates know exactly what I do each and every morning. Visit the washroom briefly, bring the daily paper in from outside the door, open the Venetian blinds, give the dogs their breakfast, then make my own. Always in that order.

Once I settle into my La-Z-Boy, coffee and toast aboard, and turn on the TV to Sportsnet, Gracie climbs up between my legs, while George takes watch over the parking lot outside.

Time for the next move.

Since my long-ago days in New Glasgow, I’ve stopped at the comic page six times a week for my inspiration – The Born Loser. Yes, Brutus Thornapple has always gotten my days underway. Then, without warning, it happened.

The folks at the paper – the paper where I worked for 48 years – began making noticeable changes. A lot of things were changed. The worst? The Born Loser was missing in action. I haven’t yet recovered.

How could a comic strip affect an 81-year-old journalist, 12 years into retirement, who still writes this weekly sports column for The Advocate?

Easy. When you’ve started your days by laughing at a “friend” like Brutus for 50 years, you miss something with his absence.

I know I can find him on the Internet, but the newspaper – in my hand, not on an iPad or desktop – is the way I want to begin my day. I can be stubborn.

Then lightning struck again.

Less than two weeks ago, this “creature of habit” suffered another emotional blow from the media world. Another routine was cut off. Bob McCown, my early evening acquaintance for years, said his goodbye.

Maybe you didn’t know him – even by his “Bob Cat” nickname. Maybe you aren’t a Sportsnet fanatic. Maybe you watch the competition.

For me, since retiring from the paper I served for just about half a century, I’ve filled in part of my spare time being a McCown regular. Prime Time Sports is carried on radio in Toronto, as well as on television from coast to coast. In a very competitive TV sports market, Bob survived for 31 years.

At first, I watched his suppertime show as often as I could. Since becoming a widower almost five years ago, I’ve watched him, his colleagues and his guests, practically every night.

If you weren’t a McCown follower, you wouldn’t realize Prime Time Sports runs three hours a day, five days a week. Any evening when I eat out, or have other personal commitments, I record the show and, at my first opportunity, check the 180 minutes of sports chatter. A wonderful way to keep informed.

It wasn’t until his final appearance as host – two Fridays ago, June 21, the first day of summer – that the official announcement came into our homes. It was his last show, his last sign-off. Others, we were told, would rotate in his chair – just as they did when he was vacationing, playing golf or just getting time off – for the coming summer months, until the Sportsnet bigwigs reveal their future plans.

For me, it’s not going to be easy adjusting to one or more of the “other guys,” even though I enjoy and appreciate their opinions. I’m referring to fellows like John Shannon, Richard Deitsch, Jeff Blair and Stephen Brunt.

If you follow hockey, you’re familiar with Brian Burke, the executive of many NHL organizations through the years. He was recruited by McCown for weekly appearances – and has done a super job. But he couldn’t be a host. He doesn’t stay around long enough.

Upon Bob’s departure, Burke’s opinion: “He will be missed. I never knew anyone who knows more on more sports than he does.”

Bob endeared himself to many across the country. He was so good at what he did, Brunt made this observation: “He’s an original. There will never be another one quite like him.”

Sportsnet has another program, Tim and Sid, simultaneously at suppertime on its other channels. All I can say about Tim Micallef and Sid Seixeiro is their styles would be out of place as Bob’s replacement.

McCown, from Columbus, Ohio, has been around Toronto a long while. We first heard his voice in 1977 when he was the public address announcer during the first year the Blue Jays were in business.

The statement from Sportsnet announcing the departure said McCown was “an icon in this business and a legend of our format.”

At Bob’s own request, there was no fanfare, no tributes as he said goodbye in about a dozen words. There was always mystery about the guy. He always appeared on camera wearing sun glasses, easily disguising his identity.

So it was rather natural that mystery surrounded his exit. No details. Did he resign? Or was he pushed? Where’s he going? Where will we find him next?

What I liked about him – as Burke said – he was so knowledgeable on so many sports. I liked his style, his mannerisms, his personality and reactions to others’ opinions. I’m already missing him at suppertime, just as I’m missing Brutus Thornapple in the morning.

Sometimes changes can be cruel.