A co-worker who is a big New York Yankees fan once said, "I don't care if Saddam Hussein is our left fielder, if he hits .300 with 30 home runs."
His point clearly being, whoever and whatever it takes to win is all I care about.
The Yankees have 27 World Series titles. The NHL's Montreal Canadiens are the Yankees of their sport. Les Habitants have won 24 Stanley Cups. None since 1993. Winning is expected in Montreal. This drought is an eternity to their fans. There is nothing they wouldn't do to end it.
Or so we thought.
Because in the last few days apparently there is something that means more to the Montreal Canadiens fan than winning. It has been learned that everything takes a back seat to their head coach speaking French.
Montreal is located in the province of Quebec, where the primary language is French. English, the primary language for the rest of Canada, is their second language. Jacques Martin was fired as head coach last week and replaced by Randy Cunneyworth. Cunneyworth is Canadian, but not the right kind of Canadian. He is from Toronto, English is his native language. Over the years, he has learned only a little bit of French or as he put it "mostly the bad words."
The players all communicate in English. The head coach in the 21st century only speaks French when dealing with the French Canadian media. I figured if Cunneyworth improved Montreal's dismal power play and got them winning, the fans wouldn't care if he sounded like Ozzie Guillen.
Au contraire mon frere!
This has been the reaction to Randy Cunneyworth's hiring.
Former legendary player (and general manager) Serge Savard blasted the Cunneyworth hiring and said "the team belongs to the people." Former Canadiens captain and coach Guy Carbonneau said, 'there is no doubt that the coach of the Montreal Canadiens has to speak both languages." Quebec Culture Minister Christine St. Pierre, said, "The team has said this is temporary, but it's unfortunate." She later said she expects the team "to correct the situation."
Montreal has lost the first four games since Cunneyworth was hired, only deepening the angst toward him. The French-language paper, Le Journal de Montreal, after his second loss ran a headline in ENGLISH that said, "Another loss for Cunneyworth."
Some journalists are talking of only speaking to Cunneyworth in French. The furor over this hiring forced the Canadiens to issue a statement in which they underlined that the job was on an "interim" basis. Underlined in the press release!
Cunneyworth has said, in English, that he hopes to learn French. Of course, taking night classes is out of the question during the season, and there is probably not enough time for private tutoring (maybe Montreal can find its own Kathy Bates character from "The Blind Side" and this drama can have a happy ending).
Some politicians in Quebec have spoken of boycotting certain Canadiens sponsors until this matter is rectified, the easiest target being Molson beer, which owns the team.
The irony in all of this is the last time Les Habitants fired a coach during the season and replaced him with a unilingual coach was in 1971. English-speaking Al MacNeil came in and, thanks to Ken Dryden's goaltending, led Montreal to the Stanley Cup.
Afterward, MacNeil was demoted. Literally sent to the minors after winning the Cup.
So for as bad as we U.S. sports fans act sometimes, at least our universal language is winning.
In Montreal, winning takes a back seat to French.
At least we should be able to agree on this.
What a cause celebre!