MONTREAL – In the fall of 1978, Red Fisher was the 52-year-old sports editor of the Montreal Star and at the height of his very considerable powers.
He ran one of Canada's biggest sports departments and could get just about anyone in hockey (or football, or boxing, or baseball) to take his calls.
But in the fall of 1978, he was also one frustrated sports editor. I know this because I was the 27-year-old, wet-behind-the-ears city editor of the Star, and Red and I sat together in an empty newsroom as a strike by pressmen dragged on and kept the paper from publishing. I had been at the Star a few years, but had had very little contact with superstar Fisher, who never had a great deal of time for rookies. But through those months of the strike, I found Red to be a very cool dude, indeed. And he even talked to me as an equal, which I wasn't.
Almost 34 years later, Red came into my office this week to tell me he has written his last column for The Gazette.
And he's going to be really unhappy with me for writing about it.
But I share at least one trait with Fisher: I hate to be scooped on my own story!
By the time many of you are reading this, the news will have already been racing around on Twitter and the rest of the digisphere.
Just to further enrage Red, we'll be doing plenty more on this giant of Canadian journalism and hockey in Saturday's newspaper, and online.
But allow me a couple of anecdotes about my great and good colleague.
A few years after the Star strike and the events that followed, I found myself back at 250 St. Antoine St., but now working for The Gazette. Red was the sports editor but the union had challenged his right to cover the Canadiens while being a manager and not a union member. The editor of the day asked Red to choose and, naturally, Red chose the Habs and writing.
So, being one of the newest (and slowest) guys in the office, I was promptly made "executive sports editor."
I was Red Fisher's boss. That last part was completely true in my mind. But I don't really remember ever telling him what to do over the next five years.
A couple of years later, in the fall of 1984, The Gazette had a new publisher, the inimitable Clark Davey, who (rightly) wanted to shake things up in The Gazette's newsroom.
Clark, who I came to admire greatly in the years ahead, had a habit of lobbing idea grenades to see what would happen. He thought sports departments were far too focused on traditional male interests, the writing was too formulaic, and beat writers should drop the "game story" and become critics, doing reviews of the games.
He was right, it turned out.
But, back then, Clark let it be known he thought Fisher and some of the other beat writers needed to be switched out and some new blood put on the hockey beat.
As politely as possible, I told the editor-in-chief that if Clark wanted to fire Red Fisher (that is what pulling him off the beat would have meant), he'd have to do it himself. I remember it was around my 33rd birthday and I began to tell my wife we might have to move to Toronto if I got canned. But then Red came to the rescue. He called to say he had a small exclusive for the next day's paper: "Guy Lafleur will announce tomorrow that he is retiring from the Canadiens." It was the banner on front the next morning. EXCLUSIVE. Never heard another word from Clark on the subject of moving Red.
Red Fisher stayed.
Several years ago, but already at an age when the vast majority of his contemporaries were either retired or dead, Red told me he had no intention of retiring. He celebrated 50 years of covering the Habs in 2005. He won his third National Newspaper Award for sports writing a few years later, in 2008 and I was lucky enough to be sitting beside him when his name was announced.
If Red wants to tell you all why he decided to go now, he will.
I just want to thank him on behalf of the 10 publishers and dozens of editors he worked for and with over the last 58 years and wish him and Tillie nothing but the best.
Readers, you should feel free to share your thoughts with him, and give him your regards.
now this guy has seen more than his share of Habs games,all the dynasty's and the not so illustrious group of the last 25 years.However if you read about hockey then chances are you read Red's column.. -Les