Having been there and done that, I know what it’s like to be part of the the jock sniffer’s gig in the build-up to a major sporting event.
Basically, you write a lot but say little that the lumps on bar stools around town don’t already know. It is all so much blah, blah, blah and yadda, yadda, yadda. By the time they drop the puck, you’re ready for a few pints and a long nap. But, hey, your cranky editor demands that the space between the display ads be filled, so you search and probe for story angles that might include everything from how often Jacob Trouba trims his toenails to whether or not Dustin Byfuglien likes onions on his cheese burgers.
It’s a grind and I do not envy the boys on the beat who have been cranking out copious amounts of copy in advance of tonight’s opening argument in the best-of-seven shinny disagreement between the Winnipeg Jets and Disney Ducks.
Quite frankly it’s overkill. I mean, seriously. Twenty-eight pages in the Winnipeg Sun devoted to all things Jets and Ducks? Correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s a hockey game, right?
Ah, but this isn’t just the playoffs for the Ducks and Jets, is it? Nope. It’s also showtime in the rag trade, which is to say the newspaper biz. Why, this is such a big deal that even news side guys from both the Sun and Winnipeg Free Press have weighed in on the matter. Tom Brodbeck of the Sun felt obliged to remind us that the Jets are a unifying force in River City, while Bartley Kives of the Freep referenced Winnipeg’s legendary whiteout, submitting that the sight of a building bulging with 15,004 Jets junkies adorned in white garments is “creepy” in a Nazi sort of way.
I don’t recall newsies joining the cock-a-doodle-to chorus back in the day, but different things float the boat in jock journalism in the 21st century.
Whatever, although the Jets and Ducks have yet to exchange hostilities in the marathon known as the Stanley Cup tournament, the scribes are in playoff mode, sans the chin whiskers. Both the Sun and Freep have dispatched two newshounds apiece to Orange County to chronicle the early goings-on, and that number shall swell once the fray finds its way to the Little Hockey House on the Prairie and River City, which has been a National Hockey League playoff-free zone for the past 19 years.
By that time, the Jets and Ducks shall be two games into their to-and-fro and, hopefully, the yadda, yadda, yadda will focus on the events of the first two thrusts rather than the blah, blah, blah that has been served up to this point.
Covering the NHL playoffs is, as mentioned, a grind, and is further complicated for River City scribes due to a two-hour time difference between home and Anaheim. Yet, it can also be most rewarding if the participants provide the right kind of material.
My lasting memory from working the Stanley Cup tournament dates back to the early 1980s, and it stems from an off-ice occurrence as opposed to something that transpired on the freeze.
I was in the employ of the Calgary Sun and the Flames were engaged in bitter combat with the Vancouver Canucks. In that particular series, Tigers Williams of the Canucks and Lanny McDonald of the Flames had beaten the bejeebers out of one anothef four four games. I’m here to tell you that they tattooed each other black, blue and every other color of the rainbow. When it was over, I made my way to the Vancouver changing room for a word of wisdom, or two, from Tiger. I found him sitting solo in a corner stall, as naked as a porn start on a movie set, and I introduced myself.
“Ya,” he said, “I know who you are. The stuff you’ve been writing on the series has been fair.”
“Thanks,” I replied. “What I’d like to talk about is…”
“Oh, wait,” he said sharply. “Just a second.”
He then stood, reached into the left pocket of a sports jacket, withdrew a gold watch and tugged it on to his left wrist.
“There,” he said, “now we can talk.”
With that, he sat and began scratching his balls and penis while I lobbed questions his way. Straight goods. I had a very hairy, bare-naked man (save for the wrist watch) sitting before me pawing at his not-so-private parts during the entirety of a 10-minute chin-wag. It didn’t occur to him for a scant second that his behavior was boorish in the extreme.
I recall thinking, as I exited the Canucks’ boudoir, “Oh, man, I didn’t sign up for this.”
The reason why Tiger Williams could not submit to my interrogation without first strapping on his wrist watch escaped me that night, as it does to this day. It was a baffling bit of business, but I must report that he was as obliging and polite as a naked man pawing at his private parts can possibly be.
Somehow, I don’t believe the boys and girls on the beat will be confronted with a similar scenario in the next fortnight, but if so, I remind them that what happens in the room stays in the room.
I mean, I realize they’ll be trying to fill 28 pages of Jets copy, but hopefully they would kindly spare us the intimate details of an encounter of the Tiger kind. We really don’t need to know if it’s true that all men are created equal, do we?
Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 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 to her 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.