The River City Renegade

patti dawn swansson


Leave a comment

B-b-b-Benny and the Jets started with Ben Hatskin, and don’t you forget it, Winnipeg

I thought we were perfectly clear on this, but apparently some people still believe Bobby Hull is the reason professional hockey came to River City in 1972 and exists today.

So, as much as I dislike repeating myself, let me say this for the 8,151st time: Robert Marvin Hull is not—repeat NOT (and, yes, I’m shouting)—the reason pro shinny arrived in Winnipeg. Ben Hatskin IS (yes, shouting again) the reason. Always was, always will be. Benny is the godfather, grandfather and father of pay-for-play hockey as we know it in good, ol’ Hometown.

Ben Hatskin

Ben Hatskin

Again, this is not a chicken-and-egg thing. We know who and what came first.

Benny and the original Jets arrived in 1967 as a Junior outfit in the Western Canada Hockey League. But Benny and a few of the boys had bigger fish to fry. They thought it would be a swell idea to form a rebel league and yank the National Hockey League’s chain. You know, poach some of its players and minor league properties. Pay them big bucks, much more than they would earn in the NHL. Thus, the World Hockey Association was born.

So, here’s your overall lineage to that point: Ben Hatskin, Junior Jets, World Hockey Association.

The next trick was to get NHL players whose contracts had expired and the paying public to take the rebel league seriously. No better way to do that than take the NHL’s glam guy hostage. Thus, Benny set his sights on Hull, who wasn’t feeling the love from Chicago Blackhawks ownership. Benny tossed some large numbers, like $250,000 per annum, at the Golden Jet. Hull basically scoffed. He could pry that out of tightwad Bill Wirtz in the Windy City.

Tell ’em to give me a million dollars and they’ve got themselves a hockey player,” Hull advised his agent, Harvey Weinberg.

Benny alerted his accomplices at the WHA ownership level that the sticker price for Hull’s good looks, charisma and 110-m.p.h. slapshot was $1 million. They might have winced at that figure, but Benny somehow convinced each of them to kick in to the B. Hull kitty. The deal was done.

Make no mistake, though. There would have been professional hockey in Winnipeg in ’72 with or without Hull. Hatskin was all in before signing the Golden Jet. What Hull’s presence did, however, was provide the Jets and the WHA with star power and staying power. Without him, the league’s shelf life would have been shorter than a Winnipeg summer. With him, they survived seven seasons and moved into the NHL.

I point all this out not to minimize or trivialize Hull’s contribution to shinny in good, ol’ Hometown. His role was immense, although I believe some people err when they romanticize his signing. Don’t think for a minute that Hull agreed to come to River City for altruistic reasons, like giving legs to a fledgling operation. He wasn’t sitting at home in the Toddlin’ Town saying, “You know, I think I’d like to spend the next 10 years of my life playing hockey in the middle of nowhere. Besides, I’ve always wanted to see how my skills stack up against Frankie Beaton and Bad News Bilodeau.”

Bobby Hull came to town because the WHA member teams and Ben Hatskin showed him the money. Period.

Bobby Hull

Bobby Hull

They kept calling and I kept telling everyone that would listen that I wasn’t going anywhere, least of all to Winnipeg,” is how Hull explained it to Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun on the occasion of the Jets’ 40 anniversary.

A $1-million signing bonus and a $1.75-million contract changed Hull’s thinking and the professional hockey landscape.

Who would have thought that any cowboy was worth $1 million in 1972?” Hull told Friesen. “Seabiscuit didn’t make that. No four-legged animal made that. No athlete had made a million dollars until then.”

Which is why players from back in the day still thank the Golden Jet for doubling, tripling and quadrupling their salaries. Some team owners, meanwhile, probably still curse his name.

Again, the point of this essay is not to discredit Hull. It’s to reaffirm Ben Hatskin as the starting point and the most significant figure in Winnipeg’s pro hockey lineage as we know it today. It goes like this: Ben Hatskin-Winnipeg Jets/WHA-Bobby Hull-NHL-Mark Chipman-Manitoba Moose/IHL/AHL-David Thomson-NHL/Winnipeg Jets.

It started with Ben Hatskin and there would not be an NHL franchise in River City today except for his vision and bull doggedness in the pursuit, and signing, of Bobby Hull.

(Footnote: There was pro shinny in River City pre-Jets. The Winnipeg Warriors, featuring Billy Mosienko, Ted Green, Gerry James and Fred Shero among other notables, competed in the Western Hockey League from 1955-61.)

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

 


Leave a comment

About Bobby Hull pooping on his own party…fallen heroes…the CFL not on TSN…and Rod Black losing the plot

I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Bobby Hull

Bobby Hull

True North Sports & Entertainment put itself in a non-winable position with Bobby Hull.

Once the decision had been made to create a Winnipeg Jets Hall of Fame and salute players as far back as the World Hockey Association, TNSE had no choice but to include the legendary left winger and every piece of soiled laundry and excess baggage that he drags along with him.

That, in turn, meant howls of protest would arise, because not everyone can separate the fabulous hockey player from the flawed man who sometimes roughed up women.

So Hull will poop on his own party.

Nobody in officialdom is saying exactly why Hull has advised True North that there shall be no need to set a place for him at the table when the National Hockey League club honours the Golden Jet and his two Hot Line accomplices from the WHA—Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson—as the initial inductees to the team Hall of Fame on Oct. 19. We’re told it’s for “personal reasons.”

At first blush, I thought perhaps Hull was ill. There is, after all, considerable age around his eyes and he’s done some hard living and hard drinking in his 77-plus years. If it’s a health issue preventing Hull from traveling to River City, I suppose his desire might be to keep it on the QT, but we wouldn’t need to know the gory details. The Secret Society that is TNSE need only tell us that he’s not in fine fettle and leave it at that. So strike illness off the list of possibilities for Hull pulling the chute on an appearance.

What then?

Domestic violence. That has to be the elephant in the room.

I doubt Hull wishes to arrive in River City and open a newspaper, or tune in to talk radio, and read/hear another story about splitting his second ex-wife Joanne’s head open with the stiletto heel of one of her shoes. Or threatening to hurl her off a balcony. Or threatening her with a shotgun. Or the family’s former nanny telling tales about him ripping a telephone off the wall with one hand while yanking on Joanne’s hair with the other. He doesn’t need to hear another recital of some off-handed remarks he might or might not have made to a Moscow newspaper about Adolph Hitler’s swell ideas.

True North wouldn’t have any appetite for any of that either.

Benny Hatskin and Bobby Hull on a happy day in Winnipeg.

Jets original owner Benny Hatskin and Bobby Hull the day the legendary left winger signed his WHA contract at Portage and Main.

The inaugural Hall of Fame function, which is part of the Heritage Classic festivities next month, is meant to be a celebration of hockey and the glory days, when the Jets were rulers of all they surveyed in the WHA. And many will tell you that that’s all it ought to be about. I mean, the Chicago Blackhawks made it all about hockey when they erected a statue of Hull outside the United Center and put him on the payroll as an ambassador. Domestic violence be damned. So why shouldn’t TNSE act in kind, right?

If only it were that simple.

It could be that the fine folks in Winnipeg are a bit more sensitive to the notion of men whacking women than those in the Windy City. I don’t know. I’ve never lived in Chicago. Just visited while on assignment. I do know this, though: There is no wrong time for a conversation about the scourge of domestic violence.

If Hull is a no-show, are his non-hockey trespasses less likely to hijack the headlines next month? Perhaps. Then again, his absence might bring spousal abuse into greater focus.

This is a fine mess TNSE has gotten itself into and the owners are named Chipman and Thomson, not Solomon, so this baby is being cut in half.

It’s a most unfortunate circumstance, and the great irony is that the man who crusaded so vigorously against violence in hockey couldn’t keep his hands to himself away from the rink. More’s the pity, Bobby Hull.

I recall making my way down to the Jets changing room after a game one night at the old barn on Maroons Road when a young fellow stopped me to say how much he admired Bobby Hull. More than anything, he wanted to meet his hockey hero. “Kid,” I told him, “sometimes our heroes aren’t who we think they are.” I left it at that. I heard from that “kid” last year. He advised me that he went home and asked his dad what I might have meant. What ensued was a father-son, fireside chat about domestic violence and he said it had a “positive impact” on his life. Like I said, there’s never a wrong time for that discussion, even if it brings one of our heroes down from the pedestal.

In a perfect world, Hull would show up for his party and address the elephant in the room by telling younger people “don’t make the same mistakes that I made,” then get on with swapping lies and tall tales with the boys.

Mark Chipman

Mark Chipman

If Mark Chipman hadn’t caved in to the demands of the rabble and named his NHL franchise something other than Jets in 2011, would we even be having this conversation about Hull? Not likely. Had Chipman called the current outfit Falcons or Monarchs or Polar Bears, there’d be no compulsion to link to the past. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

Okay, enough of B. Hull. I’d like to know the name of the genius who decided to show beach volleyball and fast car racing on the main TSN channel Saturday afternoon instead of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers-Toronto Argonauts skirmish. Seriously. Some of us live in poverty and can’t afford to subscribe to all five of TSN’s channels. It’s sad when you live in Canada but have to turn to an American streaming website to watch a Canadian Football League game. Put the CFL on the main channel, for gawd’s sake.

At times during the Bombers-Argos joust, I wondered if TSN play-by-play voice Rod Black was watching with his eyes shut. Like after Quincy McDuffie of the Bombers returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown. Old friend Blackie prattled on about a “punt return.” He really lost the plot later when suggesting that the Bombers inserting of Matt Nichols at quarterback was “a stroke of genius.” Oh, pu-leeze. It was nothing of the sort. It was an act of desperation to save the season and head coach Mike O’Shea’s job. Those geniuses knew Nichols was the best bet at QB coming out of training camp, but it took them four losses in five games to correct their blunder.

The Winnipeg Free Press has dispatched columnist Paul Wiecek to the Republic of Tranna for the cash grab known as the World Cup of Hockey, and I’ve been enjoying his stuff. I particularly got a kick out of his take on the media: “The tournament will be played at the Air Canada Centre and all the teams are staying at a nearby hotel within walking distance. It quickly becomes apparent from a walk through the hotel bar that the biggest egos at this event won’t be the players but rather the insufferable national media that covers hockey in this country. There is an unavoidable reflected glory that comes with covering hockey in a rabid country like Canada—and way too many media people who think that means it’s about them.” That won’t win Wiecek many friends on press row, but he’s spot-on.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

 


Leave a comment

About Kyle Walters’ thin skin…a birthday bash for Ab McDonald…Sam Katz’s Fish…and dumbing down on The Reporters

I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Kyle Walters

Kyle Walters

I’ve never met Kyle Walters, but, based on his most recent thrust and parry with news scavengers, he strikes me as a man who hasn’t had a bowel movement in about a week.

I mean, that wasn’t a press conference the Winnipeg Blue Bombers general manager had after dispatching Drew Willy to the Toronto Argonauts. It was a root canal. Without anesthesia. At times, his facial expressions suggested someone was squeezing his left testicle.

Like when Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun tossed out this question:

What do you say to fans who wonder about your ability to produce, develop, find a long-term solution at quarterback?”

Walters closed his eyes. He licked his lips. He grimaced. He raised his eyebrows. He closed his eyes again. He pursed his lips. I think there might have been a wince in all those facial gymnastics as well.

You’re questioning my competence I guess is what you’re asking?” he then said.

Ouch. A wee bit touchy, are we Kyle?

I suppose that’s understandable, though. After all, shipping his high-salaried, backup QB to the Boatmen was a concession that Walters’ and head coach Mike O’Shea’s handling of Willy was a badly botched experiment. They treated him as a quarterbacking messiah, even though he was still as green as St. Patty’s Day when he arrived in River City, and they coddled and stood by Willy even as Matt Nichols outperformed him at training camp this summer.

That was the most shocking and disturbing sound bite that surfaced in Walters’ chin-wag with the Fourth Estate the other day. He, like so many others, recognized that Nichols was the superior quarterback, yet he and O’Shea went with the inferior guy. Their guy.

Matt Nichols

Matt Nichols

Certain guys click with coordinators better than others, and Matt just seemed to be a better fit for what Paul (offensive coordinator LaPolice) wanted to accomplish,” Walters confessed. “You saw that a little bit through training camp and certainly through the productivity that Matt’s had. It’s not uncommon where certain skill sets of players match up with certain coordinators a little bit better, and I think in this situation Matt’s aligns with Paul’s a little bit better. Matt’s a bit…quicker release, anticipates things a little bit better, gets rid of the ball a little bit quicker.”

So why the hell wasn’t Nichols starting from the get-go? Why did we have to wait until this Canadian Football League crusade was on amber alert before we saw Nichols behind centre?

Because the Bombers braintrust is quarterback blind, that’s why.

Based on evidence gathered to date, Walters and O’Shea wouldn’t know a quarterback if they saw Tom Brady and Peyton Manning playing catch in Matt Nichols’ back yard. Perhaps that explains why they don’t have a QB under contract beyond the end of November.

Go ahead and challenge Walters to name his starting quarterback for 2017. He can’t. But they can in Regina and Calgary and Edmonton and B.C. Among the CFL West Division outfits, only in Winnipeg do they not have a QB clue.

And yet Walters gets his back up when asked a fair question about a long-term quarterbacking solution for the Bombers. Good grief, man.

Paul Friesen wasn’t questioning Walters’ competence, but someone should when it comes to Qbs.

Friends, family and fans will gather to swap stories and tell lies about one of the truly good guys, Ab McDonald, on Thursday night at the Victoria Inn out by the airport in St. James. They’re calling it an 80th birthday bash, but it’s all in support of Special Olympics, an organization near and dear to McDonald’s heart. Ab was always one of my two go-to guys whenever I needed a comment about the Winnipeg Jets, the other being Joe Daley. The first Jets captain and the man who scored the first goal in franchise history, Ab is engaging and obliging and quick to deliver a thoughtful quote. I always considered him to be a gentleman of the Jean Beliveau ilk.

sammyI found Sam Katz to be somewhat less than sincere and a phony in his dealings with us at the Winnipeg Sun during my dozen or so years with the tabloid. So much so, that I once imposed a moratorium on all Sam Katz interviews because he wasn’t to be believed. That’s why I oft referred to Sammy in print as the Unmentionable Man. I will say this for him, though—he has delivered as owner of the Winnipeg Goldeyes. The Ballyard by the Forks is a beautiful facility and the Fish have established a tradition of baseball excellence. They’re in another final, this time against the Wichita Wingnuts in the American Association, and if Sammy’s boys pull it off it’ll be a third title for the franchise. So I have two words for you this morning, Sam (not the same two words I once used to describe you): Go Fish!

Dave Hodge must have passed out the stupid pills before the latest edition of The Reporters on TSN this week, because Michael Farber and Steve Simmons went deep into the dumb barrel.

First, Farber said, “Colin Kaepernick has essentially become Rosa Parks.” What the fudge? That just might be the stupidest comment I’ve ever heard from an intelligent man and an excellent writer. Rosa Parks was arrested, fingerprinted and spent a day in jail for refusing to surrender her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery, Ala., in 1955. On the police report, arresting officers listed her nationality as “Negro,” not American. The incident sparked a 13-month bus boycott, brought Martin Luther King Jr. on board and gave rise to the civil rights movement in the United States. Mrs. Parks also lost her job as a seamstress, she was arrested a second time for her role in organizing the boycott, and she felt obliged to leave town.

Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks

And what has Kaepernick been forced to endure for his refusal to stand for the Star-Spangled Banner before National Football League games? Scorn from divas like Kate Upton. That’s right, a supermodel has tsk-tsked him. Such a hardship for the San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback to bear. How will he survive?

Colin Kaerpernick is no Rosa Parks. Shame on Farber.

Not to be outdone, Postmedia’s Simmons doubled down on dumb with a nonsensical rant about the recent U.S. Open tennis championships saying, “I hate any tournament that Serena Williams doesn’t win and I hate any tournament when Djokovic isn’t right in there and fighting for a championship. In this case, Serena wasn’t herself, he wasn’t himself, and we get a B winner so to speak.”

Angelique Kerber: A "B" winner?

Angelique Kerber: A “B” winner?

Well, let’s see. Angelique Kerber won two Grand Slam events this year (U.S., Australia) and was in a third final (Wimbledon). She’s ranked No. 1 in the world among female players. This is a “B” winner?

I now direct your attention to the men’s side, where Stan Wawrinka prevailed over Djokovic in the championship match. Wawrinka has won more Grand Slam tournaments since 2014 than Rafael Nadal (1), Andy Murray (1) and Roger Federer (0). Only Djokovic’s six GS titles is better than Wawrinka’s three in that time frame. In each of his Grand Slam victories, he has defeated the world No. 1-ranked player in the final. Only one player, Djokovic, has won more titles this year and over the past three years. Wawrinka is ranked No. 3 in the world. This is a “B” winner?

I was waiting for someone on the panel or host Hodge to challenge Farber and Simmons, but no. They were given a free pass. Wouldn’t want to ruffle any feathers, would we now?

Which has long been my one complaint about The Reporters: It has no bite, no edge. It’s just four buddies agreeing with each other, even when they say really, really dumb things.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

 


Leave a comment

About more flag football…beers and boozing with Matt Dunigan…the two Freep Grumpets dissing Dieter Brock…and Shaq’s laugh track

I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

homer-melon-headQuiz me this, kids: What’s the most common comment heard around the Canadian Football League these days? Nope. You’re wrong. It isn’t “When did Chris Jones morph into Homer Simpson?”

That’s running a close second, although it might be No. 1 with a bullet among plow jockeys and people who wear water melons on their heads. I mean, if you park your pickup truck anywhere between Fertile and Lloydminster, chances are you’re convinced the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ chief cook and bottle washer is to coaching what Homer is to good parenting.

For evidence, they will point to Jones’s curious call on third down late in Gang Green’s skirmish with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Saturday afternoon at the Facility Formerly Known as Football Follies Field in Fort Garry. Without going into the gory details, suffice to say Rider loyalists will suggest that the play was brought to you by the letters WTF.

Still, while Jones becoming a d’oh boy might be the topic du jour among Green People, the main CFL catch-phrase right about now is: “…there’s a flag on the play…”

There’s always a flag on the play in the CFL. Red flags. Yellow flags. Flags for bumping, grinding, grabbing grass, growling, bad breath, bad hair, bad attitude and, as excitable TSN gab guy Matt Dunigan put it at one point, “checking naughty parts.”

I swear, if the two play-by-play voices, Chris Cuthbert and Rod (Friggin’) Black, said “there’s a flag on the play” once, they said it 52 times during Saturday’s doubleheader on TSN. And that was just for the penalties, phantom or legitimate. The coaches can’t resist the urge to get in on the act and hurl their yellow hankies, too. Trouble is, I’m convinced they now sometimes do it because they can, not because they should.

Matt Dunigan...let's have some beer and go to Hooters.

Matt Dunigan…let’s have some beer and go to Hooters.

Actually, I don’t know what’s worse, the coach’s challenge or pass interference/contact.

Hands up anybody who can explain pass interference. How about illegal contact? Didn’t think so. The insufferable TSN talking head Glen Suitor is forever prattling on about PI/contact, attempting to educate us mere mortals, but he should save his breath. He doesn’t have any more of a clue than we do. Or the game officials.

Seriously. A receiver deliberately runs into a defender, yet the defender is flagged?

I say we ditch the coach’s challenge, ditch the five-yard contact rule and get back to playing football.

I am perhaps in the minority, but I get a kick out of Matt Dunigan’s color commentary. The guy is as geeked up as the players, and it’s always interesting and entertaining when there’s no filter between the brain and the lips. Everything Get ‘er Done Dunigan does is wrong. Like, he talks about beer and boozing (not to forget Hooters) as much he does football. And he talks over Rod Black too often (which is probably a good thing even if it’s wrong). But he works for me, as long as I get him in small doses.

say what banner4In the weekly segment of Say What?, an in-print gab session between the two resident Grumpets in the Winnipeg Free Press toy department, editor Steve Lyons (Viscount) and columnist Paul Wiecek (Gort) pooh-pooh the induction of quarterbacking legend Dieter Brock to the Blue Bombers Roll of Honour because “he never won anything.” Interesting. Neither did Milt Stegall. Why no whinging from the Grumpets when loser Milty got the call? Viscount and Gort also had to mention Brock and the zoo. Let it go, boys.

If you want to read a terrific piece on Brock, check out Ed Tait’s article on the Birmingham Rifle at bluebombers.com. It offers wonderful anecdotal insight, including a tale about the day he tossed a football 93 yards. Or, as Rod Black put it while chin-wagging with Brock in the booth during the Blue Bombers-Riders joust, “93 friggin yards.”

At the back end of May this year, when the natterbugs were already wagging their chins about the World Cup of Cash Grabs, I wrote: “Is it unCanadian of me if I really don’t care to talk about the World Cup of Hockey again until September? I don’t believe so. If, on the other hand, I still don’t wish to talk about it once the frost is on the pumpkin, feel free to take away my maple syrup, my back bacon and my Don Cherry voodoo doll.” Well, it’s September and I still can’t arouse any passion for the gimmicky WCOH.

Shaq...a funny man.

Shaq…a funny man.

Watched Shaquille O’Neal’s Basketball Hall of Fame induction speech. Too funny. And Shaq hasn’t missed many meals in retirement. He’s bigger than some third-world countries, at least five of the United States and one Canadian province. He’s also one of the funniest and most engaging, charismatic athletes ever.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

 


Leave a comment

Forty-seven years of Winnipeg hockey memories from a former rink rat

Forty-seven years. That’s how long it has been, to the day, since I began a newspaper career that brought neither fame nor fortune but provided a fair bit of fun.

That’s why I still scribble about sports to this day, 17 years removed from mainstream media—it’s a hoot.

Winnipeg Arena

The pay as a freelancer/blogger isn’t nearly as good, mind you. It’s mice nuts. It isn’t enough to keep me well watered and fed. I mean, I can’t afford to make spaghetti and meatballs anymore. It’s one or the other. But, hey, the payoff is the giggles I get by poking the bear, tipping sacred cows or tilting at windmills (I promise, no more cliches for today).

One would think that I’d have gotten the Winnipeg Jets out of my system by now. But no. Some habits are hard to kick, if not impossible. I just can’t let the Jets go. And, to a lesser degree, the Blue Bombers.

I don’t know how many hours I spent in the old barn on Maroons Road, but I do know that Winnipeg Arena was my home away from home for a good number of years. As were various other shinny shacks throughout North America, from the story-studded Montreal Forum to Jack Kent Cooke’s Fabulous Forum in Tinseltown to the rickety Corral in Calgary to frost-bitten wooden huts that passed for hockey rinks in numerous Western Canada outposts.

And that’s what I am remembering this morning…

I remember Frank McKinnon, a remarkable, special man and the person I interviewed for my first Winnipeg Tribune byline story in 1971. Frank, president of the Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association at the time, was one of those people I always thought I should address as “Mister,” because he commanded such respect. But he would have none of it. “I’m Frank,” he told me early in our initial conversation, “and I want you to know that you can call me any time.” Frank and I talked often, but probably not as often as I would have liked.

I remember the night in Atlanta when Winnipeg Jets coach Tom McVie attempted to scale the glass partition separating the two benches so he could fight his counterpart with the Flames, Al MacNeil. Tommy took off his sports coat, took off his necktie, took off his wrist watch, partially unbuttoned his shirt—then took out his teeth! “When he took his teeth out and started undressing,” said MacNeil, “I knew he was serious.”

Muzz MacPherson and his Portage Terriers.

Muzz MacPherson and his Portage Terriers.

I remember riding a bus with coach Muzz MacPherson and his Portage Terriers during their successful 1973 Centennial Cup crusade. Muzz liked his hockey with an edge and there was nothing sissified about the way his lads played. So physical were the Terriers that Humboldt Broncos’ coach Dr. Terry Henning took his puck and went home after five games rather than finish their playoff series with Muzz’s Manitoba Junior Hockey League champions. “Can you believe it?” Muzz asked me. “They quit. The good doctor said my guys are too dirty. He says we’re too mean and nasty. So he quit. I sure as hell wouldn’t want him doing open-heart surgery on me—he’d walk out in the middle of the operation!”

I remember interviewing Vladislav Tretiak at a house on Elm Street in River Heights. I don’t recall who owned the house or why I had to meet the great Soviet goaltender there, but he was in town to promote his book and we gabbed for about an hour at a kitchen table (rather, the interpreter and I chin-wagged for an hour). When we parted, Tretiak said something to the interpreter, who relayed to me that “Vladimir thinks you are a hockey expert.” As photographer Jon Thordarson and I walked toward our vehicle, I said, “Imagine that, Tretiak thinks I’m a hockey expert…sure fooled him, didn’t I?”

I remember being in Indianapolis with the Jets on American Thanksgiving Day and Racers coach Pat (Whitey) Stapleton inviting myself, play-by-play legend Friar Nicolson and Winnipeg Free Press hockey writer Reyn Davis to turkey dinner with his family. It was such a thoughtful gesture, but that’s the kind of relationship media and hockey people sometimes had back then, especially in the World Hockey Association.

I remember Aime Allaire and his never-ending quest to bring Senior hockey’s Allan Cup home to Winnipeg. Alas, Aime’s St. Boniface Mohawks could never get the job done.

I remember the Jets’ first visit to New York City, to play the Rangers. Friar, Reyn, Sod Keilback and I went for a stroll of Manhattan on game-day afternoon and we ducked into magnificent St. Patrick’s Cathedral for a look-see. “I’m going to light a candle for the Jets,” I said. “They’re going to need all the help they can get against the Rangers.” Sod greeted that notion with rude laughter. The Jets beat the Rangers that night, 6-4.

John Ferguson

John Ferguson

I remember another trip to Manhattan. Our bus driver wanted to make a detour down a side street, but he couldn’t navigate the turn because a Volkswagen Beetle was parked too close to the corner. General manager John Ferguson and the driver stepped outside to investigate. Fergy came back on the bus and shouted, “Jimmy! You and a few other guys come with me. We’ve gotta move this car.” Fergy, Jimmy Mann and three or four other players lifted half the Volkswagen on to the sidewalk and away we went.

I remember Muzz MacPherson refusing to talk to me after a Winnipeg Clubs’ game. “I’m too upset,” the gravel-voice coach barked. “I don’t want to talk. Just make up the quotes. You know me well enough by now that you know what I’ll say.” So, for the only time in my career, I made up quotes. The following day, Muzz called me and he was frothing at the mouth. “What are you trying to do to me?” he yelped. “I wouldn’t have said all those things you said I said—I would have done a lot more swearing.”

I remember talking to Ulf Nilsson the night the Jets whupped the Soviet national team, 5-3, and the great Swedish centre saying, “I’m proud to be a Canadian tonight.”

I remember Friar Nicolson allowing me to do five minutes of play-by-play one night when Dave Keon and the New England Whalers were in town. It was a classical gas.

I remember watching the 1973 Belmont Stakes with Muzz and various hockey sorts who had assembled at the Viscount Gort for an annual chin wag. As the great Secretariat romped down the home stretch, about 30 lengths in front of the field, Muzz stared at the TV and shouted, “Don’t break a leg! Don’t break a leg!” Big Red didn’t even break stride and became horse racing’s first Triple Crown winner since Citation in 1948.

I remember Teddy Green’s headaches. I often wondered how a man could be in such crippling pain and still go out and perform so admirably on the Jets blueline.

I remember riding the iron lung with Gerry Brisson and his Winnipeg Clubs on a junket that took us to Brandon, Regina, Swift Current, Calgary and Kamloops and back. Kevin McCarthy was on that team. He was the most-talented Junior I ever covered.

I remember covering an MJHL that included four Winnipeg teams—the Winnipeg Monarchs, St. James Canadians, St. Boniface Saints and my alma mater, the West Kildonan North Stars. (That’s right, I played in the MJHL and covered it. I believe Doug Lunney is the only other person to do so.)

I remember taking pride in the championship work of Barry Bonni with his River East Royal Knights of the Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League, because his team represented my old ‘hood.

Morris Lukowich

Morris Lukowich

I remember Morris Lukowich barking at me after the Jets’ initial NHL game, in Pittsburgh. Luke had been credited with the team’s first NHL goal, tipping in a Peter Marsh shot. “Where did that shot hit you?” I asked him. “Friar and I never saw it change direction.” He shot me with a stone-cold stare and said, “Are you calling me a liar?” I was doing nothing of the sort, of course. “No, Luke, I’m not calling you a liar,” I said. “I have a game story to write and I need to know where the puck hit you so I can describe the goal accurately.”

I remember being part of a media team for Schmockey Night. Ray Jauch was our coach and Eddie (Clear the Track) Shack, the clown prince of the National Hockey League, was my left winger. Jauch, head coach with the Blue Bombers at the time, wouldn’t let Shack or I come off the ice in the final five minutes because we needed a goal to tie the game. Neither of us scored.

I remember wonderful conversations with hockey lifers Bruce Cheatley, Ed Sweeney, Bill Addison, Julian Klymkiw, Aggie Kukulowicz and Billy Robinson, who, along with Dr. Gerry Wilson, was responsible for bringing the first wave of Swedes to North America and transorming the Jets into a WHA power.

I remember defenceman Tim Watters buying Friar and I beer when he came in after curfew one night in Vancouver. “You don’t have to do that, Tim,” Friar told him. “We’re not going to rat you out. You’re good people.” I never ratted out any of the Jets. Neither did Friar. What they did on their time was their business.

I remember covering the Jets rookie training camp in Sainte Agathe, Que., in 1979 for the Winnipeg Tribune, and Fergy asking me to play in the final exhibition game because Patrick Daley had pulled a groin during the morning skate. “Are you serious? You want me to play tonight?” I asked him. He did. So I did. Assisted on the first goal, too. All the players at Sainte Agathe moved on to the Jets main training camp in Winnipeg, then some were assinged to the Tulsa Oilers. I went back to the Trib with a grand total of one assist in my only pro game. And I never got paid.

I remember the Jets first visit to the Montreal Forum. Friar and I walked in with Fergy, who was still a hero in Quebec, and he directed us to the concession stands. “Troi chien chauds,” Fergy ordered. He looked at us and said, “These will be the best hot dogs you’ll ever eat.” They were. To this day.

I remember bringing beer to former Soviet referee Anatoli Segelin, who was part of the U.S.S.R. traveling party for the 1981 Canada Cup. Upon his arrival at the Viscount Gort, Anatoli, who loved Canadian journalists, begged me to bring some beer up to his room on the second floor. I asked Stew MacPherson if he could spare a couple of 12-packs from the media hospitality room for Anatoli and comrades, and he agreed. Upon seeing me at his door with 24 beer, Anatoli flashed a smile as wide as Mother Russia and said, “Canada! Come! Come! We drink!” Segelin, myself and two other comrades did just that.

Willy Lindstrom

Willy Lindstrom

I remember Willy Lindstrom’s pranksterism. Every time the Jets’ travels would take us to Quebec City, Willy would visit a joke shop not far from the Chateau Frontenac and load up on stink bombs and sneezing powder. He would then unleash them on our airplanes. Go to sleep during a flight and it was guaranteed you’d wake up in a sneezing fit, because Willy would sneak up from behind and sprinkle powder on you. And the stink bombs were absolutely paralyzing.

I remember sitting in an airport, listening to Mike Smith deliver a 10-minute oration on the methodology of the Richter Scale after an earthquake hit the West Coast. As he spoke, I thought, “Man, this guy is a different head of lettuce.” I didn’t realize exactly how different Smith was until the day he drafted Sergei Bautin.

I remember going to the draft in Montreal the year Fergy chose defenceman David Babych second overall, ahead of Denis Savard and Paul Coffey. More interesting, however, was the fact Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran were next door, prepping for the Brawl in Montreal, the first fight in their boxing trilogy.

I remember feeling sorry for Ray Neufeld, a truly nice, young man who came to the Jets from Hartford in exchange for David Babych. It was recognized as Fergy’s worst transaction and fans took out their frustrations on poor Ray. That wasn’t fair.

I remember the first time I ever saw Peter Sullivan play hockey and asking, “How is this guy not playing in the NHL?”

I remember Jimmy Mann trying to convince me that he was “not an animal” after his sucker punch had shattered Paul Gardner’s jaw into a dozen pieces. It wasn’t me Jimmy had to convince…it was everyone else in hockey.

I remember Laurie Boschman’s on- and off-ice personalities. He was such a nasty bit of business when they dropped the puck, yet so soft-spoken, sincere and genuinely nice once the final buzzer sounded.

friarI remember a pilot delaying takeoff from Atlanta when we realized rookie broadcaster Sod Keilback was AWOL. Turns out the big lug had gotten lost in the airport, which was larger than his hometown of Yorkton, Sask., and he heard some serious braying once Friar Nicolson had located him and brought him on board. Sod made a feeble attempt to explain his wandering ways, but we were having none of it. “You’re just a big sodbuster,” I said. The name stuck. He was known as Sod thereafter.

I remember my traveling partners in the WHA, Friar and Reyn Davis, two terrific guys. Both of them are in the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame, and rightly so. Sadly, both of them are also dead. I’m neither in the Hall of Fame nor dead, but it’s only a matter of time before I arrive at the Pearly Gates (I probably haven’t been good enough to get in there either).

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.


4 Comments

Colin Kaepernick is no Ali, but he has people listening to what he’s saying

Let’s not get silly and compare what Colin Kaepernick is doing to Muhammad Ali’s refusal to heed Uncle Sam’s call to arms.

Colin Kaepernick takes a knee during the national anthem.

Colin Kaepernick takes a knee during the national anthem.

Yes, Kaepernick has taken a stand by sitting/kneeling during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner at National Football League games, but when the San Francisco 49ers commence their 2016 crusade he’ll be the backup quarterback. His protest against police brutality and the oppression of black people/people of color hasn’t cost him his livelihood. His bank account is no less ample. He’s in no danger of being arrested, cuffed, hauled into court and sentenced to five years in prison.

Ali was dealt every bit of that hand. And more. Including death threats. Yet he was all-in. He had “no quarrel with them Viet Cong” so he wasn’t going to drop bombs on, or shoot bullets at, innocent brown people come hell or hoosegow.

By way of comparison, Kaepernick’s posture has, at worst, earned him enemies who see him not as a caped crusader for colored people but, rather, as an anti-anthem, anti-military and an anti-America ingrate who ought to just play football and zip his lips unless he plans to pledge allegiance to a country that he believes has come undone.

But when did doing and saying nothing become acceptable?

Maybe Rosa Parks should have given her seat to that white man and moved to the back of the bus where the black folk belonged to save herself from finger printing and time in jail.

Maybe Martin Luther King Jr. should have stayed home to mow the lawn instead of marching through the southern United States and spending time behind bars.

Maybe Gandhi should have just bought government salt rather than walk more than 200 miles to collect his own and spare himself yet another stretch in jail.

Tommie Smith, centre, and John Carlos at the Summer Olympics in Mexico.

Tommie Smith, centre, and John Carlos, right, at the Summer Olympics in Mexico.

Maybe Tommie Smith and John Carlos should have played nice by putting on their shoes, unclenching their hands and smiling for the cameras at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico.

Maybe Jesse Owens should have skipped out on the 1936 Olympics and let Hitler have his way.

Maybe Harvey Milk should have stayed in the closet.

Maybe students at Kent State should have gone to class instead of carrying signs, marching and shouting.

Maybe all those young people shouldn’t have taken sledge hammers to the Berlin Wall.

Maybe Marlon Brando should have accepted his Oscar as best actor for his role as Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather rather than send an Apache woman, Sacheen Littlefeather, to deliver a speech about the misrepresentation of Native Americans in film and on TV, at the same time drawing attention to Wounded Knee.

Maybe John and Yoko shouldn’t have acted like a couple of layabouts and gotten out of bed.

Maybe Johnny Cash should have worn more colorful clothing.

Maybe Nellie McClung should have stayed home to cook and clean for her hubby and their five children rather than make so much noise about women voting and being “persons.”

Maybe the drag queens, transgender individuals, cross-dressers, butch lesbians and gay men at the Stonewall Inn should have simply tucked their feathered boas between their legs and peacefully piled into paddy wagons rather than kick up a fuss.

Maybe all those draft dodgers who sought refuge in Canada should have been turned back at the border.

Maybe punter Chris Kluwe should have kept silent and not exposed homophobia among the Minnesota Vikings coaching staff.

Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey

Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey

Maybe Branch Rickey should have hired Jack Roosevelt Robinson to shine his shoes rather than sign him to a Brooklyn Dodgers contract that made him the first black man to play Major League Baseball.

Maybe what Colin Kaepernick is doing won’t amount to anything. He’s no Ali. He’s no Jackie Robinson (who, by the way, would not salute the flag or stand for the anthem toward the end of his life). He’s no Rosa Parks. He’s no Gandhi. He’s just a backup quarterback clinging to a high-paying job that grants him a lifestyle of privilege.

But, he’s got people talking. And thinking. He sees something that he believes isn’t right. He’s trying to fix it, as are other athletes who have begun to parrot him. How can that be wrong?

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

 


Leave a comment

About toasting the Winnipeg Blue Bombers…no-fear football…the biggest free-agent catch…the Hamilton Tiger-Cats…and other CFL matters on my mind

I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Chris Walby had the bad manners to get too old to play football.

Chris Walby had the bad manners to get too old to play football.

Here’s how positively delightful (that’s sarcasm, kids) it has been for me at my watering hole of choice in downtown Victoria during this 21st century of Sad Sackian Winnipeg Blue Bombers football:

You’re from Winnipeg, aren’t you Patti?” one of the regular bar lumps would ask as I entered the room.

That’s right,” I’d reply, knowing full well that the cad already was aware that I had strayed westward 17 years ago from the land of Slurpees, Sal’s cheese nips and skeeters the size of drones.

Shame about your Bombers,” he’d then say as he strode away to see a man about a horse (what does that even mean, boys?) or to duck outdoors for a smoke, leaving an appropriate sprinkling of rude laughter for me to munch on.

I would offer no rebuttal. What was I to say? Tell him “Ya, the Bombers suck but, hey, I hear the Royal Winnipeg Ballet is having a boffo season?”

Both Mike Riley, left, and Bud Grant skipped town.

Both Mike Riley, left, and Bud Grant skipped town.

Didn’t want to go there, of course. I mean, mention ballet in a barroom full of boys and it’s seldom going to end well. Thus, there existed no possibility of me offering a vigorous defence for the Bombers. They had become bums. So I’d sit alone at my table in the corner of the room, detached from the barside banter, and silently curse Kenny Ploen and Leo Lewis and Chris Walby and James Murphy and Stan Mikawos for having the bad manners to grow old. And both Bud Grant and Mike Riley for skipping town. And kindly Cal Murphy’s first heart for failing him.

It got to the point whereby I would only visit my watering hole of choice after Bombers’ victories. Which meant I was on the wagon. Never drank a drop for pretty near two months this season. But just look at those Bombers now. Five successive Ws. And I don’t care if the last one was ugly. They’re in the Canadian Football League playoff conversation. 

Another beer, barkeep! And get one for my favorite bar lump, too!

From where I sit, here’s the difference between the two men who have started five games each at quarterback for the Bombers in this increasingly optimistic crusade: Matt Nichols, currently behind centre, plays like he isn’t afraid to screw up. Willy did. Admittedly, that’s a simplistic analysis, but I believe that’s what basically separates the two. Nichols plays no-fear football.

I suppose there might have been some discussion among the tall foreheads in Bomberville about releasing Willy before the Bombers became obligated to pay their backup QB the remaining $200,000 of his season’s salary, but I like to think it was a brief chin-wag. Very brief.

My goodness, Winnipeg offensive lineman Travis Bond is an extremely large lad, isn’t he? Do the Bombers feed him a pre-game meal, or do they just tie him to a hitching post and let him lick a salt block?

The Bombers have a leg up with Justin Medlock.

The Bombers have a leg up with Justin Medlock doing the kicking.

Quiz me this, kids: Who was general manager Kyle Walters’ trophy catch when he went on his safari at the opening bell of the CFL free-agent hunt in February? All those who said Justin Medlock can move to the head of the class. Yes, running back Andrew Harris has been a major contributor, but the Bombers are in nowheresville without Medlock’s left leg. If you haven’t been paying attention, the Winnipeg offence has skidaddled crossed the enemy goal line twice in their past two assignments. That’s it. Just twice. Medlock, meanwhile, contributed 13 field goals to the cause. That’s 39 points in two games that were decided on, or very close to, the final play. We don’t need Einstein to work out the math. Without Medlock’s limb, the Bombers lose both matches. If Nichols isn’t your team MVP, the place-kicker is.

Since it’s Labour Day, we can begin to pay attention to the crossover standings, even if the league’s website wizards can’t be bothered to post them. Regardless what transpires when the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Toronto Argonauts grab grass and growl this evening at Timbits Field in the Hammer, the Bombers will finish the weekend four points clear of the East Division’s third-place outfit. That’s good enough for a playoff position if their universe doesn’t unfold as it should the rest of the way in the West Division.

I look at the schedule and can’t help but think the Bombers’ post-season aspirations will be determined by two games—the October home-and-home exchange with the B.C. Lions. Win them both and they’re likely in. Lose them both and they’re talking crossover or going home early again.

My pick to come out of the East Division: Hamilton. The Tabbies have been rather dysfunctional this season, but I see them getting to the Grey Cup game as long as quarterback Zach Collaros doesn’t return to the repair shop. And he’ll be the MVP.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.