I have not been just a fan of hockey players through all of these years. I have had an equal appreciation for sportswriters and broadcasters who have told the story of hockey as only they can. Everyone has their own style in they way they communicate the game, the players and the games themselves.
Red Fisher was the gold standard of sports journalism.
As a young boy of six, I started reading newspapers. The sports section was the first to get my attention. Red’s account of the previous night’s game was a must. It wasn’t just about stats and the standings. It was about a human side of the game that Red was always able to bring to a story. It was never that bad after a loss or that great after a win. It was a hockey game played by people and it was the people side that mattered more than the game side. I think that’s why I don’t get too down on players even during a bad season. Red “taught” me to understand that there was more to hockey than stats and results.
All I knew of Red was what he wrote and how he wrote it. He was hard but never mean, He was kind but never gushing and he was fair and unwavering in his fairness.
I see snippets of him in today’s journalists and radio people. There is the somewhat hard edged but great Mitch Melnick whom I suspect is as loyal to people that deserve loyalty as Red was to deserving people. There is the acerbic wit of Mike Boone that always makes me laugh. There is the humanity in the writing of Bertrand Raymond that makes me think past the stats. There are the rich stories like Stan Fischler can recount to you. Red had all this and more in the one package.
If there was a way I could describe Red Fisher about who he was and what he stood for, I would say to read his book “Hockey Heroes and Me”. I would urge you to read his chapter about Toe Blake. This chapter contains it all. From how principled Red was to how forgiving he could be. It also shows that even though he loved his friend, Toe he could only visit him the one time as it was too hard to visit him again seeing how Toe had been lost in the fog that is Alzheimer’s. One could say that was a selfish thing to do but I see it as a man who loved hard and cared hard. He cared and loved this man so much that seeing him so far removed from who he was hurt Red too much. Red would rather remember him as he was, not as a shell of a once mighty man. In order to hurt that much, one must care deeply. Red may have been a crusty guy but that gruff was all on the outside. If one was lucky enough to break down that wall, one would be met with a lifetime of loyalty and love. I envy those people as I would have liked to be in their place. I may even have liked to be rebuffed as only Red was able to do.
I missed his writing about the game, his musings on a long gone but revered era and the feeling that a young boy had about reading about his heroes written by a man who would become one of his heroes.