The River City Renegade

Dinner with the Stapletons…the Gospel According to Grapes…and Toronto’s bootlicking media

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

It was early in the final World Hockey Association season and there was concern that the Indianapolis Racers might not make it to U.S. Thanksgiving, which was only four days away when they arrived in Winnipeg for a joust with the Jets.

whitey3Already, team bankroll Nelson Skalbania had begun to liquidate, selling his scrawny rookie, Wayne Gretzky, and a couple of tag-alongs to old pal Peter Pocklington and the Edmonton Oilers in a cash grab designed to keep the Racers operational. Even at that, the life expectancy of the Indy outfit was measured in weeks, if not days. Players, coaches, managers and support staff soon would be out of work.

Yet if the weight of pending unemployment preyed on the mind of Racers head coach Pat Stapleton, it didn’t show.

“Whitey’s invited us to Thanksgiving dinner with his family when we’re in Indianapolis later this week,” Jets play-by-play voice Friar Nicolson advised me scant seconds after Winnipeg had beaten the Racers. “The guy’s about to lose his job, and he’s invited three media guys to his home for Thanksgiving dinner with his family. Whitey’s good people.”

Sure enough, when the Jets were in Indy the next Thursday, Nicolson, Reyn Davis of the Winnipeg Free Press and myself broke bread with the Stapletons. It was delightful.

So when I hear that news scavengers today must beg, borrow and steal access to athletes, coaches and management, I simply cannot relate. Whereas we sometimes were welcomed into their homes and had their home phone numbers, scribes and talking heads today are supposed to be grateful and grovel when granted a five-minute audience with a team’s hand-picked jock du jour. The Canadian Football League locker room, we’re told by Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun and others, has become the Cold War Kremlin revisited.

Naturally, the guy on the street doesn’t give a damn about media moaning. They’re viewed as overpaid, pampered prima donnas. But the CFL ought to give a damn.

Much as those of us who covered the WHA cared about its well-being and the people involved, the boys and girls on the football beat are CFL fans. There exists a special bond that is rare between jock and journalist. For the CFL to allow coaches, managers and spin-doctors to disturb that alliance is not only counter-productive, it’s just plain dumb.

jesusWell, thank you Donald S. Cherry for solving a mystery that has caused considerable head-scratching among scholars, theologians and historians for centuries. That’s right, they can stop quibbling about Jesus’s actual birth date. The debate is over. Whereas most experts pooh-pooh the notion that Christ was born on Dec. 25 and, instead, submit more likely and logical times such as autumn or spring, Grapes sat in his pulpit during the Curmudgeon’s Corner segment of Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday and said, “Remember, it’s merry Christmas. December 25th, Jesus was born, all right?” So there. The scholars, theologians and historians now can move on to more pressing matters, like how many donkeys were at the barn birth (probably the same number as on Curmudgeon’s Corner—one).

Bootlickers. He called them bootlickers. Actually, when Paul Wiecek called out the “always hysterical” sports media from the Republic of Tranna he used the word “sychophants,” but a bootlicker is a bootlicker is a bootlicker by any name. Wiecek branded the Toronto sports media “a notorious bunch of sycophants who have for years drank the Blue Jays Kool-Aid every spring training.” As much as I applaud Wiecek for having the junk to call out other news scavengers, it seems to me that the bootlickingest media can be found in River City, notably at his own newspaper, the Winnipeg Free Press, which is in bed with the Winnipeg Jets. I don’t include Wiecek among the True North toadies at the Freep. I quite like his work. But others haven’t stopped polishing Mark Chipman’s or Kevin Cheveldayoff’s apple since the National Hockey League franchise arrived in River City in 2011. Apparently, certain Freep scribes, past and present, have failed to notice that Chipman-Cheveldayoff operate the club on the chintz and the Jets never fail to fail.

From the department of dumb headlines, this from the Sportsnet website after Toronto Maple Leafs’ much-maligned goaltender, Jonathan Bernier, put up a zero against the Los Angeles Kings: “The shutout heard around the world.” Oh, please, Toronto. Get over yourself.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti 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.

 

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