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Dave Hodge - Sportscasterkougar, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The pen flip that shook sports broadcasting

On March 14, 1987, the CBC was carrying live coverage of the Labatt Brier semi-final game between Mark Noseworthy of Newfoundland and Bernie Sparkes of B.C. Before the final outcome was determined, the broadcast cut away from the game to cover the federal New Democratic Party convention.

In those pre-internet, two or three channel over-the-air broadcast, and basic cable service, days, that left viewers not knowing the results until later sports recaps on evening or late night news (Sparkes won 8-6, but ultimately lost the final to Russ Howard of Ontario).

Later that same evening, the national Hockey Night in Canada coverage was of a game between Calgary and Toronto, which had ended early (6-4 Toronto). The coverage then switched to the Montreal/Philadelphia game in the third period.

Tied after the third and heading to overtime, renowned sports broadcaster and Hockey Night in Canada host Dave Hodge, who had earlier been watching the Brier himself, with co-host Bob Cole, came on air to extend, as he seemingly intended, the broadcast.

Hodge, as can be seen in the video below, informed that they weren’t able to switch to the end of the game (the game ended 3-3 after overtime), was visibly frustrated with that and the whole day at CBC Sports.

In his words that night: “Now, Montreal and the Philadelphia Flyers are currently playing overtime, and, are we able to go there or not?…We are not able to go there. That’s the way things go today in sports and this network, and the Flyers and the Canadiens have us in suspense, and we’ll remain that way until we can find out somehow who won this game, or who’s responsible for the way we do things here. Goodnight for Hockey Night in Canada.”

After this, Hodge was seen to flip a pen in the air, in apparent disgust.

That was Hodge’s last Hockey Night in Canada broadcast. Whether he was fired or quit (he’d already moved to Vancouver to take up a position as a sports director at a radio station) seems to vary at different sources. Wikipedia has reported that he quit, via a referenced 2018 interview. However, the referenced linked interview is no longer available. A report on the CBC site says that he declared he was fired, stating: “I’m announcing today that I’ve been fired,” he said from Vancouver. “I don’t see how I could ever be back there.”

From a historical perspective, the difference is not important. The net result was that Hodge was out, and Ron MacLean was in. But more importantly, overall it changed how the CBC and other networks viewed sports coverage.

To quote Hodge, from the aforementioned CBC article, speaking for all fans, he expressed the frustration we all shared “After investing a good part of my time in watching something, I couldn’t see what I wanted to see most, and that is who won.”

And since then, the long-term impact of that pen flip is that we now tend to see coverage of sporting events extended as necessary to show the final outcome, which is what fans want and expect, as Hodge’s actions demonstrated.

Peter, with over 20 years navigating the dynamic world of sports websites, brings not only experience but an insatiable passion for the games. An avid NHL and curling fan, his heart beats for all things sports, from the roar of the crowd to the quiet intensity of strategic plays. At Attiq, Peter strives to curate an attic of hidden stories, insightful analysis, and forgotten legends, inviting you to explore the depths of the sports world beyond the headlines. Click here for Peter's posts.