Sports

Tom Dundon talks Canes, Don Cherry, the Alliance of American Football

Tom Dundon flew into Raleigh on Tuesday with a lot to talk about.

A fledgling football league that he’s now funding with $250 million.

A hot hockey team, the Carolina Hurricanes.

The comments of a certain Canadian TV personality, bombastic Don Cherry.

The hottest selling T-shirt in the area, the new “Bunch of Jerks” collection.

It was announced Tuesday that Dundon would be chairman of the Alliance of American Football. The Canes owner arrived at PNC Arena with Charlie Ebersol, a TV and film producer who founded the league with former NFL general manager Bill Polian.

Why football? Why this league?

“People like football, people watch football,” Dundon said. “These guys did a really good job that first week and it looked like quality football and people watched it. So it was easy to do.”

Just like that, it was done. Dundon agreed to put in the $250 million for the eight-team developmental league, which began play Feb. 9 and will have 10 regular-season games, followed by two playoff rounds and the Alliance Championship game in Las Vegas.

An easy question was whether Dundon being chairman of the league will quickly pave the way for an AAF team in Raleigh, playing at N.C. State’s Carter-Finley Stadium.

“It’s certainly something we’re talking about, absolutely,” Ebersol said.

Dundon said no preliminary discussions have been held with NCSU about the use of the stadium. The Wolfpack has named Boo Corrigan to replace athletic director Debbie Yow, who is retiring. Corrigan begins his job May 1 and Dundon said, “If they want it we’ll talk about it.”

Turning to hockey, Dundon was asked his reaction to hearing Cherry, the Hockey Night in Canada icon, refer to the Hurricanes players as a “bunch of jerks” for their postgame celebrations and histrionics at PNC Arena after home-ice wins.

“I enjoyed it,” Dundon said, smiling. “I think he’s interesting. I like the fact that he has an opinion.

“What I try to do, when you hear that, is I try to look at and think do I agree? Is there something malicious, is there something that is treating other people the wrong way when you do it? It never crossed my mind that it was disrespectful in any way. Now that I’ve thought it through I just disagree with him. I don’t think it has anything to do with anybody else but us.

“The fact he brought some attention to us and probably made it better for us, I appreciate what he did.”

Dundon said he did not want or expect any kind of apology or retraction from Cherry.

“I don’t want an apology,” Dundon said. “He can say what he wants to say. I should thank him. It was good for us.”

Cherry’s comments were made Saturday, a day after the Canes celebrated a 3-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers with Warren Foegele’s “walkoff homer” off Dougie Hamilton. Cherry’s “bunch of jerks” comment quickly exploded on social media and the Canes’ social media people soon were trolling Cherry.

“Bunch of jerks” have become part of the team’s marketing lexicon and T-shirts were made with “Bunch of Jerks” on them. Orders were taken online and the T-shirts -- about 3,000 -- were on sale Tuesday in The Eye, the team store at PNC Arena. A long line of fans waited before the game against the New You Rangers.

Less than a week before the NHL trade deadline, Dundon wasn’t tipping his hand or that of Canes management. While the Canes have played their best hockey since the calendar flipped to 2019, he noted the outcome of the three games before the Monday deadline could have a bearing on the Canes’ decisions.

“We’re looking at all the options,” Dundon said. “We’re pretty happy with where we are but we’re always listening.”

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In more than 30 years at The N&O, Chip Alexander has covered the N.C. State, UNC, Duke and East Carolina beats, and now is in his 11th season on the Carolina Hurricanes beat. Alexander, who has won numerous writing awards at the state and national level, covered the Hurricanes’ move to North Carolina in 1997 and was a part of The N&O’s coverage of the Canes’ 2006 Stanley Cup run.
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