Russ Howard, appearing far younger than his 61 years, looks in great shape these days. So he’ll never be mistaken for the Norm Peterson character of “Cheers” fame.
But here was Howard earlier this week, in town for the Tim Hortons Brier, and settling into a downtown St. John’s watering hole where, apparently, everyone knew his name.
“Russ! How are ya doin’?”
“And from the far end of the bar,” Howard recalls with a smile, “a guy says, ‘Hey Russ, welcome home!’”
A simple, but friendly, gesture made for a bit of an emotional moment for the Ontario-born curling legend and Canadian Sports Hall of Famer, who’s been living in Moncton, N.B., for the past couple of decades.
“Are you kidding me? Newfoundland means so much to me, and I feel so grateful for that, the way the boys adopted me, Toby (McDonald) for sure.
“I was pumped to come back here. Meeting the team again, and the opening ceremonies, which were so emotional. You feel like you’re coming home again. You really do.”
Howard, of course, was an integral part of Brad Gushue’s Newfoundland team which won the 2005 Canadian Olympic Trials and ’06 Olympic gold medal in Torino, Italy.
Howard was parachuted in to throw second stones and call the game at the Trials, replacing Mike Adam.
It’s been mentioned by some Gushue critics that it was Howard who led the team to Olympic glory, which is not entirely true. But it is safe to say the team would not have made it out of the Halifax Trials if not for Howard’s presence.
Howard lived by the rule that if you went at something, you went at it 100 per cent. It was a trait passed down from his father, Bill, who built his own cottage from scratch at age 72, and this after suffering a heart attack.
It was Howard who brought a winning attitude – which came from capturing a pair of Brier and world championships — to the young Newfoundlanders, a belief that losing was not acceptable.
With his trademark ‘Hurrrrry … harrrrrrd!’ echoing through the Metro Centre in Halifax, and later the Palaghiaccio arena in Pinerolo, Italy, Howard helped bring a ferocity and swagger that made rock stars of the unlikely group of five.
It seems hard to believe that it’s been 11 years, Howard says of the moment that trumps any other in a brilliant career, one that also includes membership into the Order of Canada.
“Oh yeah,” he says, “No. 1. In the purest sense, you’re playing the same guys to win the worlds, and I did that twice with my brother (Glenn), which is my favourite.
“But the Olympics Games are so different. There were 70 million people watching our final game. Maybe the world championship draws two million.
“It only happens once every four years so in my career, I only had maybe three opportunities to become an Olympian.
“And just to be called an Olympian is pretty cool. So yeah, that would have to be the moment.”
Today, Russ is a TV talking head, working on the very popular TSN broadcast with Vic Rauter on curling’s answer to John Madden and Pat Summerall, or Danny Gallivan and Dick Irvin among sports broadcast duos.
If Howard was good playing the game, he may be better at chatting about it.
He’s been doing it now since 2008, a bang-up job working the Brier and Scotties Tournament of Hearts, the men’s and women’s world championships, Continental and Canada Cups and Skins Game.
He started dabbling in broadcasting in 2001, when TSN asked him to work the Brier morning broadcasts. When Winnipeg’s Ray Turnbull called it quits after a long career, he requested Howard fill his spot in the booth.
“Guys say when they retire, they miss the camaraderie and being around the rink and joking around. This is the exact same thing, only with a bigger team.
“We’re running around the country and having fun. And it’s still intense. You’re on TV and there’s a half-million people watching so there’s still a little bit of adrenaline going.”
Wherever he lands, whatever he does, Howard should know there’s always a round waiting for him whenever he’s home in Newfoundland.
Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor. He can be reached by email firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @TelyRobinShort