A Monday morning smorgas-bored…and adios to November and let those sleighbells ring…
I have sometimes wondered if sports editors and scribes consciously ignore female sports, or if it’s simply because they’re wired that way.
You know, like it’s a sexism gene that carries a built-in bias.
I mean, because it’s scientifically accepted that male athletes are bigger, stronger and faster—as are the major pro sports leagues—it seems to me that there’s an automatic reflex to play a guys’ story at the front of the sports section and relegate the women’s article to the back pages, if not spike the thing.
Consider hockey as a prime e.g.
The Canadian Women’s Hockey League was ignored out of business. There was scant game-day, or off-day coverage, in print or on air. Only when the CWHL turned out the lights did mainstream media sit up and take notice. Basically, they attended a total stranger’s funeral and gasped, “Oh, what a shame.”
When the Toronto Six of the National Women’s Hockey League anointed Digit Murphy head coach, it was like a tree falling in the forest. No one there to hear it? Guess it didn’t happen.
When the NWHL outlined its blueprint for a 2021 crusade last week, trumpeting a six-team tournament Jan. 23-Feb. 5 in a Lake Placid, N.Y., fan-free bubble, it was a three-paragraph brief on the last page of a 12-page sports section in the Toronto Sun. I found no mention of it on the Toronto Star website. That, even though there’s a franchise in the Republic of Tranna.
When was the last time we read anything about the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association and its Dream Gap Tour?
Let’s face it, unless it’s Canada v. U.S.A., Ponytail Puck is an afterthought in mainstream media. Why is that? Is it because the decision-makers know the finest female players in the world strain mightily to beat teenage boys at the Midget AAA or prep school level? And since they don’t cover Midget AAA or prep school level shinny, the women don’t warrant coverage either? Or is it the sexism gene?
Whatever the case, if Canadian newspapers aren’t prepared to write about the best female shinny players on the planet, what hope is there for other sports?
Oh, sure, female Olympic athletes are granted their due every two years, but none of the boys on the beat cover rhythmic gymnastics or synchronized swimming by choice. They hold their noses and do so because it’s a small, inconvenient price to pay for an all-expenses-paid trip to Greece or Tokyo or London or Rio.
Olympic Games aside, it’s almost as if a female athlete or women’s event must include a circus side-show element to attract serious attention.
We’ve seen plenty of the novelty acts, like the Kendall Coyne Schofield skedaddle and the 3-on-3 game during National Hockey League all-star hijinks, and Phil Esposito using Manon Rheaume as a publicity stunt in goal. And, of course, most recently we watched Sarah Fuller become the first female to participate in an NCAA Power 5 football game on Saturday.
It was as if Sarah had discovered a fool-proof vaccine for COVID-19, the way folks carried on, but she didn’t actually do anything other than breathe, unless one considers a 30-yard pooch kickoff and walking off the field without touching a foe a remarkable athletic accomplishment. But, hey, there were 21 male football players on the field and one female soccer player, so her presence certainly warranted ink and air time, and Sarah received more of each than any female footy player in a non-World Cup or Olympic year. Eat your heart out, Megan Rapinoe.
But, sans the carnival-barker component, mainstream media doesn’t seem interested, and it’s a sticking point they struggle to get past.
Early last month, SE Steve Lyons of the Winnipeg Free Press wrote about “being as equitable as possible” in terms of female/male coverage. So how is he doing since then?
Let’s just say that, to date, he talks a good game.
His Freep published 30 times in November. Copy/pics strictly about female athletes were featured on the front page of the section just five times—curler Kerri Einarson, retired volleyball player Tammy Mahon, WNBA, a pic of Kim Ng (the story was on the inside pages), and an Andrea Katz column. Total stories/briefs devoted to women in 30 days: 13/7.
That’s equitable like an Archie comic is deep reading material.
Over at the Winnipeg Sun, the picture is much more bleak. Females (curlers) found their way to the sports front once—repeat, once—in 29 editions. Total stories/briefs devoted to women: 9/1.
Pick up a daily newspaper—any newspaper—across our vast land and it’s the same.
Lyons has taken a step toward correcting the imbalance of sports coverage in the Drab Slab, bringing Katz on board to focus on the distaff side of the playground, and she made her first appearance on Saturday. The actual column failed to tell us anything many of us didn’t already know, but one assumes (hopes) it will become more informative and shine a light on our fabulous female athletes.
Credit to Lyons. It’s a starting point, which is a whole lot more than I can say for the lord and masters at Postmedia.
Here’s a prime example of the sexism gene at play: On Nov. 20, the Drab Slab ran golf stories on Tiger Woods and his son Charlie, the RSM Classic in Georgia and a brief on the Joburg Classic in Johannesburg. Meanwhile, there wasn’t a single word on the LPGA event that featured Canadians Brooke Henderson and Alena Sharp. Two days later, there was a full story on each of the men’s tournaments, while the Pelican Women’s Championship was a sports brief.
Initial reaction to Sarah Fuller suiting up to handle kicking chores for Vanderbilt on Saturday: Seriously? Vanderbilt has a football team?
As much as Sarah’s participation in a major men’s college football game was newsworthy and hailed as a significant moment, many on social media dismissed the occasion as Tom-foolery and at least one prominent American jock journo, Jason Whitlock of Outkick the Coverage, gave it a long, hard crapping-on. “I don’t believe she played football,” wrote Whitlock, who’s scribbled for the Kansas City Star, ESPN and Fox Sports, among others. “She scored a point in the culture war. The people who believe the only difference between men and women is in how they choose to identify consider Fuller a poor woman’s Jackie Robinson. She broke big time football’s gender barrier. But did she? Sarah Fuller received a standing ovation for kicking the ball 30 yards or so and high-tailing it to the sidelines to be greeted by the winless head coach using her to save his job. This wasn’t Jackie Robinson 2.0. It was Make A Wish. Treating Sara Fuller like she’s a special-needs kid does not uplift the cause of equality.” Harsh, but not entirely inaccurate.
By the way, if you’re wondering why Vanderbilt recruited Sarah’s right leg rather than someone from the school’s men’s soccer side, there is no men’s soccer side. It was shut down in 2006.
It was a bit of the old, a bit of the new for the Drab Slab last week, with SE Lyons pulling his buddy and former columnist Paul Wiecek out of moth balls and introducing Katz on the same day. Nothing wrong with bringing Wiecek back for a cameo appearance. The guy can write. And he actually managed to scribble an entire essay without taking a cheap shot at Jacob Trouba, so I guess he’s mellowed since walking away from the columnist gig a couple of years ago.
Fabulous series from Paul Friesen of the Sun on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ journey to their 2019 Grey Cup win. It was a very readable, insightful, nine-part epic, even if there was no rhyme nor reason to the way the geniuses at Postmedia handled it. I believe they published Part One at the start of the pandemic and delivered the final installment this past Friday. Seriously, it took less time to film all the Rocky and Godfather movies combined. In reality, the Friesen series began on Oct. 9 and concluded on Nov. 27, and we had to guess on which days it would appear. Sometimes it was one day between installments, other times it was eight or nine days. Shabby. But oh so Postmedia.
A huge tip of the bonnet to home boy Don Duguid, one of my favorite people. The former world curling champ and longtime gab guy for the People’s Network has been appointed to the Order of Canada, and I trust that meets with everyone’s approval.
Just wondering, when the Winnipeg Jets brought Dave Lowry on board last week, did they hire their next head coach at the same time?
I saw highlights (if you want to call it that) of Charles Barkley playing golf the other day, and I’m lost to find an accurate description for Sir Charles’ swing. But a milking cow trying to climb a tree comes to mind.
Mike Tyson informed news snoops that he smoked a joint or two prior to his fiftysomethings fist-fight v. Roy Jones Jr. on Saturday night. It’s also been reported and confirmed that anyone who actually paid to watch the two boxing fossils fight was also on drugs.
Loved this tweet from Rob Vanstone of the Regina Leader-Post on the Tyson-Jones Jr. tiff: “This fight will be scored by using the 10-point rust system.”
I didn’t watch Tyson-Jones Jr., but you’ll never convince me that it was a more entertaining old geezer dust-up than Joe Kapp v. Angelo Mosca, two Canadian Football League legends who’ve never exchanged Christmas cards. If you missed it, Peanut Butter Joe offered Big Angie a flower; Big Angie told him to “stick it up your ass.” Big Angie attempted to cocobonk Peanut Butter Joe with his metal cane; Peanut Butter Joe lashed out with a right fist to the jaw. Down goes Big Angie! Down goes Big Angie! A Grey Cup week classic.
December arrives on the morrow, so I grant permission to one and all to begin playing Christmas tunes.
This from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: Former lickety-split champion of the track, Donovan Bailey, is “Canada’s greatest modern Olympian.” Really? Let me count the ways Bailey, a two-time gold medalist, falls short:
Clara Hughes: Only Olympian in history to win multiple medals in both the Summer and Winter Games—1 gold, 1 silver, 4 bronze.
Cindy Klassen: Six medals—1 gold, 1 silver, 3 bronze.
Hayley Wickenheiser, Jayna Hefford: Five medals—4 gold, 1 silver.
Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir: Five medals—3 gold, 2 silver.
Charles Hamelin: Five medals— 3 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze.
Marc Gagnon: Five medals—3 gold, 2 bronze.
Francois-Louis Tremblay: Five medals—2 gold, 2 silver, 1 bronze.
Lesley Thompson: Five medals—1 gold, 3 silver, 1 bronze.
Caroline Ouillette: Four medals—4 gold.
Jennifer Botterill, Becky Kellar, Meghan Agosta: Four medals—3 gold, 1 silver.
Kathleen Heddle, Marnie McBean: Four medals—3 gold, bronze.
Gaetan Boucher: Four medals—2 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze.
Eric Bedard: Four medals—2 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze.
Victor Davis: Four medals—1 gold, 3 silver.
Denny Morrison: Four medals—1 gold, 2 silver, 1 bronze.
Adam van Koeverden: Four medals—1 gold, 2 silver, 1 bronze.
Penny Oleksiak: Four medals—1 gold, 1 silver, 2 bronze
Kim St-Pierre, Cherie Piper, Colleen Sostorics, Gillian Apps, Charline Labonte: Three medals—3 gold. Danielle Goyette: Three medals—2 gold, 1 silver.
Carolyn Waldo: Three medals—2 gold, 1 silver.
Rosie MacLennan: Two medals—2 gold.
Either Simmons doesn’t consider any of the above to be “modern” Olympians, or he can’t count.
Why the Winnipeg Sun continues to run Simmons’ Tranna-centric copy is an ongoing mystery, and it continues to get up my nose. In his most recent alphabet fart, he prattled on about attendance at Blue Jays games, the Maple Leafs payroll, Auston Matthews, Blue Jays play-by-play guy Mike Wilner, the Blue Jays pursuit of free agents, Terence Davis of the Tranna Jurassics, Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster contract situations with the Jurassics, the Toronto FC payroll, sports gambling in Ontario, Serge Ibaka leaving the Jurassics, a new ballpark for the Republic of Tranna, and the Argos losing the 1971 Grey Cup game. This is what Postmedia believes people in Good Ol’ Hometown want to read on a Sunday morning? The Winnironto Sun? Spare me.
And, finally, the RCR has topped the 50,000 mark in views for the year, which is my cue to retreat for a spell. I shall return Christmas week and not a day sooner. Unless, of course, stupid happens before Santa touches down. In the meantime, thanks for dropping by.
Rather than the usual Sunday morning smorgas-bored, I give you the top 50-plus movers and shakers in Good Ol’ Hometown over the past half century.
This isn’t one of those hum-drum, greatest-athlete lists. We’re talking positive impact, what a sports figure did to enhance the local sporting landscape, whether that meant the wow factor of Teemu Selanne’s 76-goal rookie season or Harvey Warner keeping the ponies at a full gallop out at Assiniboia Downs.
And, while our play-for-pay jocks tend to gobble up the big headlines on a day-to-day basis, it’s often the owners and managers and coaches and administrators who make things happen when we aren’t staring at the scoreboard, and that also means our amateur playing fields, where we have a rich tradition of magnificence and the impact has been significant.
So here’s the list of the 50-plus most-impactful movers and shakers in Winnipeg sports dating back to 1970, and I should warn you that this list includes jock journos, because once upon a time before the Internet, 24-hour TV and social media, there was a gadget called the radio. Not every game was televised or live streamed. We needed our newspapers and radios to take us to the action.
One final note: Remember, this is only one person’s opinion, so don’t get your knickers in a twist if you don’t see the name of one of your faves.
1. Ben Hatskin: Well, this is the ultimate no-brainer. It’s like naming Pope Francis to an all-Catholic team. I mean, Benny didn’t just bring the Winnipeg Jets and the World Hockey Association to Good Ol’ Hometown in 1972, he hijacked Bobby Hull from the Chicago Blackhawks in a shocking coup that reshaped the shinny landscape. Without Benny’s derring-do, there would have been no National Hockey League Jets 1.0 and no Jets 2.0.
2. Mark Chipman: The Puck Pontiff filled the void left by the 1996 departure of the Jets to Arizona, but his Manitoba Moose of the International Hockey League and the American Hockey League were just the appetizer. Aided by billionaire David Thomson’s bulging bankroll, there was an NHL rebirth in River City in 2011, with the Atlanta Thrashers moving north. Oh, and did I mention that along the way Chipman and Thomson built a downtown arena?
3. Bobby Hull: The Golden Jet informed Hatskin and the other WHA renegade owners that it would take $1 million dollars for him to leave the Blackhawks and pull on a Jets jersey in ’72. Done deal. The Hull signing legitimized the WHA, and other top-level players soon followed. And, remember, Robert Marvin was also part of the ownership group that took the Jets into the NHL.
4. Michael Gobuty/Barry Shenkarow: I know, I know. Michael is the guy who let Wayne Gretzky get away. Mook. But don’t hold that against him. Michael and his ownership group kept the Jets afloat in the late 1970s, allowing for one final, rewarding whirl in the WHA by purchasing the contracts of a group of Houston Aeros, including Terry Ruskowski, Morris Lukowich, Rich Preston and Scott Campbell. He also recruited John Bowie Ferguson, and Michael offered a loud and influential voice in the NHL’s decision to absorb the Jets and three other WHA franchises in 1979. As for Barry, talk about shooting the messenger. By the time the whole thing went south for Jets 1.0, he was front man for the ownership group that sold the club to American buyers, who then loaded up the truck and bugged out to Arizona, lock, stock and jock. So Barry became the fall guy. But it’s a bad rap. No locals were willing to dig into their deep pockets to purchase the franchise and lose millions of dollars every year, so he/they really had no choice.
5. Cal Murphy: Cantankerous, curmudgeonly and very funny, Cal ruled the Winnipeg Blue Bombers roost with an iron fist from 1983-96, as either head coach or general manager. Along the way, there were three Grey Cup championships, one heart transplant, and one human rights kerfuffle over female news snoops in the locker room. He also brought the Grey Cup game to Good Ol’ Hometown for the first time, and became a vocal advocate for organ donations. Today there’s a pigeon perch of Kindly Cal outside Football Follies Field In Fort Garry.
6. Wade Miller: The leader of the Canadian Mafia inherited a Sad Sack, laughing stock-level Bombers team and the longest title drought in the Canadian Football League when he was anointed CEO in 2013. He was more like the CE-D’oh! in the early years, but Wade ignored the wolves howling at his door and stuck by his fellow hosers, GM Kyle Walters and sideline steward Mike O’Shea. Today the Bombers reign as Grey Cup champions, with money in the bank, and only the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed Miller down.
7. Dr. Gerry Wilson/Billy Robinson/Don Baizley: No North American shinny side tapped into the European hockey market as swiftly, deeply and as eagerly as the Jets, and it was this trio of forward-thinkers that brought the first wave of Scandinavians to Good Ol’ Hometown in the mid-1970s. Dr. Wilson caught the first glimpse of Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson and alerted Robinson, the Jets main bird dog. Robby scampered across the big pond to Sweden and liked what he saw, signing both players pronto. Lars-Erik Sjoberg and Curt Larsson came along for the ride, and player agent Baizley took them under his wing. Championship parades ensued.
8. Anders/Ulf/the Shoe: It’s no exaggeration to suggest Anders and Ulf revolutionized the game once in partnership with Hull. They made magic with their swashbuckling, freestyle frolicking on the local freeze, but it was Sjoberg—the Shoe—who stirred the drink from the back end. Together, they dominated the WHA and—damn them!—also provided Glen Sather with the blueprint for his Edmonton Oilers dynasty of the 1980s.
9. John Ferguson: So, here’s the irony—he was the cad who lured the ultra-popular Hedberg and Nilsson away from Portage and Main to make them stars on Broadway, then the Rangers fired Fergy and he joined the Jets to oversee their final WHA title and aid the entry into the NHL. Go figure. Full of bluster and occasional rage, Fergy made certain that life around the Jets camp was never boring, which sometimes meant kicking holes in walls and dumping buckets of ice on the opposing team’s bench. As Jets GM, he assembled a string of formidable NHL outfits during the 1980s, even if he couldn’t quite get them over the hump. Stars like Dale Hawerchuk, Teemu Selanne, David Babych, Thomas Steen and Dave Christian were drafted during his watch, and we won’t talk about Jimmy Mann.
10. Clara Hughes: When they name parks, playgrounds and schools in your honor, and when they put your pic on a postage stamp, you know you’ve done something right. Clara is a two-sport Olympian—speed skating and cycling—and the only athlete in history to win multiple medals in both the Summer and Winter Games. But it’s her advocacy on behalf of mental health and children’s sports/recreation that makes Clara truly impactful. She’s a leading voice in the Bell Let’s Talk campaign, and she’s donated/raised many thousands of dollars for various causes.
11. Cindy Klassen: She has as many shiny Olympic trinkets as Clara Hughes (six), including one gold medal, so Clara’s two-sport bona fides is all that separates the two world champion speed skaters.
12. Chris Walby: If ever there’s been a larger-than-life athlete, it was Bluto—all 6-feet, 7-inches and 300-plus pounds of him (give or take a Big Mac and a six pack). Bluto grabbed grass and growled for the Bombers from 1981-96, collecting three Grey Cup rings, nine CFL all-star nods, two top O-lineman awards, and a bust in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. But it wasn’t just what he did on the field and his size that made Bluto stand out. He was among the great characters in Rouge Football, a good-time Charlie and a deliverer of delicious quotes. No surprise he became a talking head on CBC’s football coverage, even if English sometimes seemed to be his second language.
13. Dale Hawerchuk: He came to the Jets as a freshly scrubbed 18-year-old from Cornwall, and much was expected of Ducky. He delivered. Winnipeg HC went from the free space on the NHL’s bingo card to the best shinny outfit this side of the Edmonton Gretzkys, and Ducky was the centrepiece.
14. Jennifer Jones: The only thing Jennifer hasn’t won is the Brier, and that’s only because the boys won’t let her play. There’s never been a finer female curler in our country, even if some in Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia might want to point to Sandra Schmirler and Colleen Jones and debate the issue. Well, let ’em hash it out. We know they’re wrong.
15. Jill Officer: It will be interesting to monitor how Jennifer gets along without Jill throwing second stones. They were together almost as long as Mick and Keith, but Officer retreated from competitive curling in 2018. Jill’s haul is the same as Jen’s: An Olympic gold, two world championships and six Scotties titles in her trophy case. Also one park named in her honor.
16. Teemu Selanne: Like Anders and Ulf, the Finnish Flash wasn’t in Good Ol’ Hometown for a long time, but it sure was a good time. Those 76 goals in his freshman NHL crusade had the burg in a buzz, and it’s a record that will stand as long as there are frozen ponds for kids to skate on. Teemu might have been the most popular Jet ever, give or take Ducky.
17. Don Duguid: The Digit toddled off to two world curling championships as a skip and never lost a game. Yup, 17-0. Dugie then thought it would be a swell idea to go on TV and tell the rest of us how to curl, which he did for 29 years until someone at the CBC had a brain fart and let him go. And just the other day he was made a member of the Order of Canada for his wonderful work as a curler and teacher of the game.
18. Ray Turnbull: His friends called him Moosie, and he had scads of friends in and beyond the curling community. A true visionary, Moosie’s impact began at the Mother Club on Granite Way, but his influence spread across the globe when he buddied up with Don Duguid for instructional clinics to curling curious nations beginning in the 1970s. So he’s largely to blame for the rest of the world catching up to us on pebbled ice. A broadcasting icon with TSN from 1984 to 2010, Moosie coached no fewer than 17 world champions.
19. Frank McKinnon: Those who knew him best would probably tell us that Frank never slept, because he didn’t have time for zzzzzzs. How busy was he? Let me count the ways: Five years president and 20 years on the executive board of Hockey Manitoba; 10 years commissioner of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League; founding father of the Centennial Cup tournament and the inaugural World Junior championship; first chairman of the board of Hockey Canada; two years director Sports Federation of Canada; four years vice-president Canadian Olympic Association; founding member of the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association. Frank was based in Carman, but he spent enough time in Good Ol’ Hometown to qualify for this list.
20. Donny Lalonde: The Golden Boy was in the ring with Sugar Ray. Yes, that Sugar Ray, as in Leonard. He even put the boxing legend on the canvas—one of only two men to do so—scoring a fourth-round knockdown in their 1988 bout at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Alas, Sugar Ray ruled the day, battering Lalonde about the ears in the ninth round and scoring a TKO. But it’s enough that the Golden Boy went from working out in the old firehall gym on Talbot Avenue in Elmwood to champion of the boxing world’s light heavyweights.
21.Jeff Stoughton: It’s easier to break out of jail than win the Manitoba men’s curling championship, but Jeff wore the Buffalo on his back 11 times. Crazy, man. A two-time world champion and three times the best at the Brier, Jeff also has two Canadian Mixed titles on his resume. Once he retired his tuck delivery and his spinorama showtime shtick, he took to coaching and administration, first helping Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris strike gold in Mixed Doubles at the Seoul Olympics, and he’s now coach and program manager for the national men’s team.
22. Coleen Dufresne: When you spend 17 years coaching and another 15 as athletic director at the University of Manitoba, you’ve had an impact on more young people than you can count. Coleen, who wore the Maple Leaf as a player at the 1976 Olympic Games, coached U of M Bisons women’s basketball teams to three national championships and five Great Plains Athletic Conference titles. She is a member of the Basketball Manitoba Hall of Fame in three categories—builder, coach and player—and the Canada West Hall of Fame.
23. Garth Pischke: Tom Hanks talked to a volleyball in the movies, but Garth made people talk volleyball in real life. Nobody put the W in the word “win” like Garth. He won a staggering 1,353 games in his 38 seasons as mastermind of the U of M Bisons men’s volleyball team, losing just 414 times. Chew on that and digest it—1,353-414. Who does that? Only Pischke, the winningest coach in collegiate V-ball history, on either side of the border. A two-time Olympian and six-time MVP at the Nationals as a player, Garth coached the Bisons to nine national titles and was named the Manitoba amateur athlete of the 20th century.
24. Brian Dobie: If this was just about being a nice guy, the U of M Bisons football coach would be at, or near, the top of the heap. Lovely man. He’s been sideline steward of the Herd since 1996, a gig that came on the heels of a 21-year watch with Churchill Bulldogs in high school grid. Do the math. Coach Dobie has been impacting the lives of teenagers and young men for close to half a century. Oh, and he’s also a five-time Canada West coach-of-the-year and a USports coach-of-the-year, plus he brought the Vanier Cup to the Fort Garry campus in 2007.
25. Vic Pruden: There was no women’s or men’s intercollegiate basketball program at the University of Winnipeg (nee United College) until Vic came along, so all the hoops glory stems from there. The annual Wesmen Classic was Vic’s brain child, ditto the Fort Garry Invitational. The Wesmen Classic became such a landmark event that it had to be shuffled from Riddell Hall to the Winnipeg Arena, and was televised nationally. Vic was also founder and first president of the Manitoba Basketball Coaches’ Association.
26. Coach Tom Kendall/University of Winnipeg Lady Wesmen: Few took notice of women’s hoops back in the day, but then along came coach Kendall and his fabulous University of Winnipeg Lady Wesmen who, from October 1992 to November 1994, never lost a game. Eighty-eight teams tried to topple them, and 88 teams failed. Even fabled UCLA coach John Wooden was talking about the Lady Wesmen. Under Kendall’s watch, the Lady Ws went 101-2, with three national titles.
27. Coach Mike Burchuk/U of W Lady Wesmen volleyball team: The U of W women’s hoopsters received the 250-point newspaper headlines for their 88-game winning streak, but the women on the volleyball court trumped them with 123 consecutive Ws from January 1987 to January 1989. That included a 58-0 record in 1987-88 and, along the way, the ladies won six consecutive national titles and beat the NCAA champion Texas Longhors and a pro team, the Minnesota Monarchs.
28. Jennifer Botterill: It should be enough to say that Jennifer is the only female player ever inducted into the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame, but we’ll also mention that she’s a three-time Olympic champion, five times a world champion, two times the Patty Kazmaier Award winner as the top player in U.S. women’s college hockey, twice the MVP at the world championship, and she once had an 80-game scoring streak (beat that, Connor McDavid!). If young girls are looking for a role model, Jen’s it.
29. Paul Robson: Can a sports list be complete without a guy named Mad Dog on it? We think not. So come on down, Mad Dog Robson, architect of the Winnipeg Football Club’s return to glory in the 1980s, a Lazarus-like rebirth that included the 1984 Grey Cup championship crusade, the first in 22 years. His handiwork as assistant GM/GM included going stealth to lure Chris Walby out of Montreal, hiring Cal Murphy as sideline steward, and engineering the Dieter Brock-for-Tom Clements trade. Paul was also once publisher of the Winnipeg Sun, but we won’t penalize him for that.
30. Harvey Warner: It’s probably safe to say the ponies wouldn’t be galloping at Assiniboia Downs if not for Harvey and his Manitoba Jockey Club. Harvey is a founding father and current president of the MJC, which took possession of the Downs in 1993. It’s never been an easy ride for Harvey and cohorts like Darren Dunn and Sharon Gulyas out at the racing oval on the western edge of Good Ol’ Hometown, but they’ve managed to keep the barns open and the horses fed and watered. So, yes, the reins have been in the right man’s hands for 27 years.
31. Mike Riley: When Leo Durocher coined the phrase “nice guys finish last,” he certainly wasn’t thinking of a guy like Mike Riley. Aside from bringing the Grey Cup home twice in his four years as sideline steward of the Bombers, Mike might be the most decent man to ever coach a pro team in Good Ol’ Hometown (John Paddock would be second in line), and that counts for something on my scorecard.
32. Milt Stegall: The Turtle Man would be higher on this list, except for one thing—every time I look at his hands, I don’t see any Grey Cup rings. For all his personal accomplishments—all-time TD leader in CFL history with 147 and a Most Outstanding Player award—the Bombers had just four winning seasons in his 14 crusades. No player ever looked better while mostly losing, though, and he’d be the first to tell you that. Milt continues to be a Bombers booster as one of the gab guys on TSN’s CFL coverage, and that’s always a good thing.
33. Sam Katz: Full disclosure—I’m not fond of Sammy. I think him to be a snake oil salesman. If he told me today is Sunday, I’d double check the calendar. But he brought professional baseball back to Good Ol’ Hometown, and the Winnipeg Goldeyes frolic in a beautiful, downtown ballyard thanks to Sammy.
34. Andy Van Hellemond: Whistleblowers don’t always get respect, but Andy Van did. The kid weaned on the frozen ponds of Isaac Brock was, arguably, the best man to ever pull on a striped shirt, and he was also a trend-setter, becoming the first on-ice official to wear a helmet, in 1984. The NHL made lids mandatory for the zebras four years later (a grandfather clause allowed some to officiate sans head protection until 2006-07). Andy Van refereed 1,475 regular season games, 227 in the playoffs and 19 Stanley Cup finals, all records. He was named Manitoba’s referee-of-the-century.
35. Sylvia Burka: Before Clara Hughes and Cindy Klassen and Susan Auch, there was Sylvia Burka, three times a world speed skating champion. She has held over 40 Canadian speedskating records, and once set a world indoor cycling mark at one kilometer. She won 12 national cycling titles. But her true legacy can be found in the skate marks she left for others to follow.
36. Dawn McEwen: I suppose you could say Dawn is to Team Jennifer Jones what Ringo Starr was to the Beatles. She seems content in the background while Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer and Cathy Overton-Clapham attracted most of the attention, but without her lead stones and robust sweeping they wouldn’t have become the finest female outfit in Canadian curling history. Dawn has an Olympic gold medal, two world titles and five Scotties crowns in her trophy case, so don’t even think of her as a spare part.
37. Kaitlyn Lawes: She branched out from throwing third stones for Jennifer Jones to strike Olympic gold with John Morris in the debut of mixed doubles at the Winter Olympic Games. So she has a nice collection of two gold trinkets, a world championship and a Scotties title.
38. Susan Auch: Although never making it to the top level of the Olympic podium, Susan made speed skating front page news in Good Ol’ Hometown with two silver medals and a bronze in the Winter Games, three gold in World Cup racing in 1995, three Manitoba athlete-of-the-year honors and a Canadian athlete-of-the-year salute. There’s a Susan Auch Oval out at the Cindy Klassen Recreation Complex and a Susan Auch Park in Transcona, and she’s now CEO of Speed Skating Canada.
39. Troy Westwood/David Asper: Board member Asper came up with the concept and gave the Banjo Bowl it’s name, but it was the spinoff of a quote from Ol’ Lefty, the former Bombers place-kicker who, in an interview prior to a 2003 playoff skirmish, called Saskatchewan Roughriders fans “a bunch of banjo-picking inbreds.” Much caterwauling from the Flattest of Lands ensued, and the Banjo Bowl was born in 2004. It’s the most-anticipated event on the local sports calendar every year, and it’s been strictly SRO since 2005. When he wasn’t trash talking Flatlanders, Ol’ Lefty was hoofing more field goals (617) and more points (2,745) than anyone in Bombers history.
40. Connie Laliberte: They called her the Ice Queen, but underneath that cucumber-cool exterior burned a competitive bonfire. Connie gave every female curler in Manitoba something to aim for when she became the first Buffalo Girl to win the world crown, in 1984. She also won three Scotties titles and today is the high performance director for Curl Manitoba.
41. Sandy Riley: The former sailor (1976 Olympic Games) and former president of the Manitoba Sports Federation served as chair of Winnipeg’s 1999 Pan American Games, an event that helped revive the sagging spirit of a city that had lost its NHL franchise only three years earlier. As a bonus, it attracted the attention of Ol’ Cigar Breath, Cuban strongman Fidel Castro, who used his Revolution Day address to go on a mini-rant about mysterious “traps and tricks and schemes and filth” that encouraged his athletes to clamber over the wall to freedom. Cuban defectors aside, the Pan Ams were an artistic and financial success. More latterly, the Riley family donated $500,000 toward construction of the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame.
42. Dayna Spiring: It doesn’t matter that Dayna wasn’t on the receiving end of any passes, nor did she hoof any field goals or tackle any running backs. The lady was a champ in her first year as Chair of the Blue Bombers board of directors, and she became the first woman to have her name engraved on the Grey Cup. For young girls and women, that makes her Dayna Inspiring.
43. Desiree Scott: A former star and coach with the U of M Bisons, the lady they call The Destroyer joined our national women’s soccer side in 2010, and she’s now just one of five to have earned 150 caps. Along the way, she’s collected two Olympic bronze medals and participated in three World Cup tournaments. Away from the competitive pitch, Desiree is heavily involved with soccer camps for KidSport and she’s an ambassador for the Homeless World Cup.
44. Bill Wedlake: A head coach for 32 years, first at St. John’s High where he won two provincial titles, then 16 years at the U of W, Bill was also athletic director at the downtown campus for eight years. A co-founder of the Winnipeg Invitational tournament, he’s written three books on coaching and is a former president of the National Association of Basketball Coaches.
45. Mo Glimcher: If you think it’s tough dealing with teenagers these days, consider Mo Glimcher’s gig—he had 30,000-40,000 kids under foot every year between 1975 and 2016. Mo retired after 41 years as Executive Director of the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association, and I’d say he’s earned a master’s degree in babysitting.
46. Bob Picken: There are three major sports operatives in Good Ol’ Hometown—the Jets, the Blue Bombers, and curling. Yes, curling. Our Pebble People don’t make the big bucks like the Jets and Bombers, but they don’t want for media exposure, due in large part to jock journos like Pick. Pebble People have never known a better media friend than Pick, whose magnificent pipes blessed the airwaves of CJOB, CKY and the CBC for half a century. He played the game, served as president of the Manitoba Curling Association, worked with both the Canadian Curling Association and the World Curling Federation, and there’s a bonspiel at the Thistle named in his honor. Pick made certain that curling was never back-page news or filler at the end of a sportscast.
47. Jack Matheson: Admittedly, there’s bias in this choice, because Matty gave me my start at the Winnipeg Tribune, but his sassy and brassy sports column was the only absolute must-read in town during the 1970s. And when Furnaceman fired him up for his daily rants on CJOB, it was must-listening. Matty set an incredibly high bar as a sports scribe, and no one has come close to reaching it since the Trib folded.
48. Friar Nicolson: There’s no way of knowing how many young men and women went into broadcasting because of the curmudgeonly Friar, but I’d suggest the number is closer to 50 than one. The longtime play-by-play voice of the Jets, Friar is the man who lured Knuckles Irving to CJOB in 1973, and he also gave one-time do-everything CKY/CTV voice Peter Young his start in the gab game. That’s serious impact.
49. Bob Irving: When Knuckles became the voice of the Blue Bombers, Don Jonas and Chuck Ealey were the starting QBs and Dieter Brock was a little-known rookie who answered to the name Ralph. Bud Riley was the head coach, and there have been 14 more since Knuckles moved in behind the mic. So he goes back some, and he’s still going. At least he was until COVID-19 interrupted regularly schedule play-by-play. We assume (hope) the well-liked and highly respected Knuckles will be back for a 46th season once the pandemic is in the rear-view mirror.
50. Don Wittman: How versatile was Witt? Well, we know he covered the CFL and the NHL and tennis and the Olympics and world-class track and top-flight curling during close to half a century with the CBC, but he also broadcast cricket. Ya, cricket. Witt traveled the globe and was on site to call the Ben Johnson race in Seoul and Donovan Bailey in Atlanta, but home base was always Winnipeg.
Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and you are not required to wear a mask to read this blog…
Is it just me, or does anyone else wonder what’s rattling around in the grey matter between Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman’s ears these days?
I mean, with the National Hockey League ensnared in a state of iffiness re a 2021 crusade, and the players royally PO’d due to a proposed wave of wage rollbacks (again), wouldn’t you like to know what the Winnipeg Jets co-bankroll thinks about the current state of affairs?
Wouldn’t you like to hear his thoughts on the local shinny side playing in an empty Little Hockey House On The Prairie this winter?
Wouldn’t you like to know if he’d prefer to scrap a 2021 season rather than lose a small fortune paying six- and seven-figure salaries with no game-day revenue?
Wouldn’t you like to hear the Puck Pontiff’s take on the NHL owners’ ploy to renege on the agreement they willingly signed with the work force just this past summer?
Wouldn’t you like to know how he feels about the Jets frolicking in an all-Canadian division?
Wouldn’t you like to hear some assurance that, COVID-19 be damned, the Jets are here for the long haul, even as the pandemic gnaws away at his bottom line like termites on a two-by-four?
I know I would.
I won’t hold my breath, though, because the Puck Pontiff is not a man given to disclosure. He’s more guarded with his thoughts than a Rottweiler growling at the gates of a junkyard. The Kremlin was less secretive during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
But that’s his right, of course.
Chipman heads up a private company, True North Sports + Entertainment, so he isn’t obliged to make us privy to any secrets, dirty or otherwise. Except for one thing: There’s ample and rabid outside interest in the centrepiece of his fiefdom, that being an NHL franchise that pigs out at the public trough. The faithful flock to his Little Hockey House On The Prairie a minimum of 41 nights every year, give or take a pandemic, and many thousands of them also spend many thousands of dollars on Jets merchandise. Others purchase TV cable and/or Internet streaming packages to watch their hockey heroes as they fight the good fight hither and yon.
I’d say that warrants a word or two from the guy who signs the cheques, wouldn’t you?
Geoff Molson, the beer baron bankroll of the storied Montreal Canadiens, thought so, which is why he sat down for a natter with Herb Zurkowsky of the Montreal Gazette recently.
Among other things, Molson pooh-poohed any notion of a lost season, no matter how harsh the financial wallop, and he expressed a hope that there would be patrons in the pews before the close of business on a runted season.
“I really do think it’s the right thing to play,” he said. “I think we can get there. The thought of making a profit this year isn’t even in my mindset. It’s more about returning to play.”
Why can’t the Puck Pontiff poke his head out of the ivory tower and do the same?
Again, he’s under no obligation to address the faithful, but the right to remain silent is a good policy if you’re sitting in the back seat of a police cruiser, not when you’re at the wheel of an NHL franchise in the heartland of Canada.
I’d like to think that one or more of the girls and boys on the beat have requested an audience with His Royal Hockeyness during these most uncertain of times. If not, shame on them. If so (and I suspect that’s the case), shame on him and his hangups. Not so long ago, Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab confessed that he’s never engaged in a verbal parry-and-thrust with the Puck Pontiff. Not in four years on the beat, but not for lack of effort. Mad Mike assured us he has put in a bid to tap the Puck Pontiff’s brain pan more than once, only to be rejected each time. And that’s just wrong.
Back in the day, Benny Hatskin or Michael Gobuty or Barry Shenkarow were usually just a phone call away, and we were never required to genuflect and kiss their ring fingers before they agreed to talk to us. We had their home phone numbers, for cripes sake, and they knew where to find us. Did Shenkarow enjoy standing or sitting in front of the media mob, painting a gloom-and-doom scenario for the Jets 1.0 franchise? No. He didn’t. I can tell you there was always pain in his voice, sadness in his eyes and a great burden on his slender shoulders whenever he spoke. At times there was also anger. And extreme frustration. But he became the front man for the ownership group and accepted that his voice needed to be heard, even when there was nothing but sad tidings to deliver. Many among the rabble made Barry out to be the bad guy when it became apparent that the NHL couldn’t work in Good Ol’ Hometown in the 1990s, but no one could accuse him of hiding.
It occurs to me that if there’s one thing the rabble dislikes more than jock journos complaining about lousy press box food, tight deadlines and uppity athletes, it’s millionaire jocks and billionaire owners bickering over big bucks. That doesn’t play well at the best of times, so it’s particularly irksome during a global pandemic that’s forcing people out of work, out of homes and sending them to food banks. I mean, if NHL bankrolls get their way in the latest squabble with the NHL Players Association, Kyle Connor of the Jets won’t collect his $8 million salary for a 2021 crusade. He’ll have to get by on $4.4 million in U.S. coin. At the lower end of the pay scale, Jansen Harkins will have to make due on $385,000 instead of $700,000. I agree, boo-freaking-hoo. Hey, I’m all for the workers squeezing every copper they can out of owners trying to weasel their way out of an agreement they signed four months ago, but a money spat is a tough sell when the world is upside down.
On the subject of high finance, the most noted voice in the CBS sports blurt box, Jim Nantz, is looking for a hefty raise in pay from the $6.5 million he now collects for flapping his gums on the network’s NFL, college hoops, and PGA coverage. Nantz’ contract expires next summer and it’s a good bet that he’s aware his sidekick in the CBS football booth, Tony Romo, draws an annual stipend of $17.5 million. I’m sure he also knows that Fox Sports pays its do-everything squawk box Joe Buck $10.5 million per annum. I don’t know what the bookies in Vegas are thinking, but I’d say the over/under on Nantz’ next deal is $12 million.
If that isn’t obscene enough for you, consider this: England footy legend David Beckham will be paid $53 million over the next three years to do nothing. Becks has signed on as an ‘icon’ player in the EA Sports video game FIFA 21, and he’ll be making more money in fake footy than he did while kicking real balls for sides like Man U, Real Madrid and LA Galaxy. Makes for a nifty marketing promo, don’t you think—Fake It Like Beckham!
New Kim, a two-year-old female Belgian racing pigeon, recently sold for $1.9 million at auction. No bird has ever landed that large a windfall. At least not since Elin Nordegren flew the coop on Tiger.
If I owned a pigeon, I believe I would name it Clay.
The most vulgar man in sports, Conor McGregor, has signed to fight someone I’ve never heard of in the UFC octagon next month. I’m pretty sure I’ll be too busy to give a damn that night. Or any other night, for that matter.
Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News calls Derek Jeter “the most famous Yankee since Mickey Mantle.” Apparently Mike nodded off when Reggie Jackson arrived in Gotham and became Mr. October.
TSN has decided that the 1981 Edmonton E-Somethings are the greatest of all Canadian Football League championship sides. No argument here.
Some folks are quite giddy that the CFL has released a 2021 schedule, with a full 18-game crusade for each of the nine sides. Rick LeLacheur is, in fact, “beyond excited” at the prospect of his B.C. Lions performing in front of fewer than the 12,000 bodies that normally gather under the B.C. Place Stadium bubble top in downtown Vancity. What the Leos president and no one else in Rouge Football can tell us, though, is who’s footing the bill. I mean, if they couldn’t afford a mini-season in 2020, what makes anyone believe the three-downs game is good to go next summer/autumn? The schedule is nothing more than a goodwill gesture and, as I scribbled last week, it isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on unless the large lads are grabbing grass in June. Sorry to be a Debbie Downer about my favorite league, but it’s true.
The Edmonton Oilers owe a Dallas hotel $55,000 for two stays last season. And here I thought the World Hockey Association was dead.
A most foul wind blew during a recent match between world No. 2 Ronnie O’Sullivan and Matthew Stevens at the Northern Ireland Open snooker tournament. One of the participants farted, you see, and it was no silent bomb. “That was a very unfortunate noise there,” one of the commentators observed while the players and match referee glanced mischievously at one another. “I don’t know who it was from…I’ve got my suspicions.” Eventually, O’Sullivan won the match, 4-2, then copped a guilty plea, saying, “I’m taking full ownership of that one.”
The Florida Panthers have hired Brett Peterson, a Black man, as assistant general manager, which prompted this reaction from Akim Aliu of the Hockey Diversity Alliance: “It’s long overdue. We feel there’s a lot of people of color that are deserving of jobs and also people from different genders. Obviously women I think are very adapt at doing a good job in the game of hockey.” Ya, Aliu and his HDA think so highly of women in hockey that there isn’t a Mrs., Miss, Ms or Ma’am in the group. Go ahead. Call up the HDA website and you’ll see nothing but the faces and names of men. I contacted the HDA to inquire about its lack of diversity, but received no reply. Aliu and his boys-only club might want to practise diversity before squawking about diversity.
I get a laugh out of bandwagon jumpers in jock journalism, guys like Jack Todd, whose column has returned to the sports pages of the Montreal Gazette, and Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna. Todd called the Miami Marlins’ hiring of Kim Ng as general manager “the best thing that has happened to Major League Baseball since the Red Sox shook the curse. The time is now and Ng is the woman.” Simmons, meanwhile, wrote: “I wish I had a daughter to share this with.” I call BS on that. When was the last time either of them wrote about women’s sports, other than the Olympics when there’s no choice? Where were they when the Canadian Women’s Hockey League was still in operation and hungering for coverage? They didn’t notice the CWHL until the doors were shuttered. So they can spare us the faux concern.
Simmons, of course, has a long history of pooh-poohing female athletes and the games they play, and his recent list of the 50 most influential sports figures in the Republic of Tranna over the past 50 years tells us all we need to know about his thoughts on the distaff portion of the playground. His top-50 actually includes 59 people, all but one of them men. That’s right, in half a century, only one woman, tennis player Bianca Andreescu, made the cut. No Fran Rider and no Angela James, each hugely influential in Ponytail Puck and based in The ROT. One of them, James, is in the Hockey Hall of Fame and Rider should be.
I don’t know if anyone at the Winnipeg Sun has plans to compile a similar top-50 for the most influential sports figures in Good Ol’ Hometown during past half century, but I guarantee there’d be more than one woman included in the group. Benny Hatskin would top the list, of course, but you can be damn certain there’d be room for Clara Hughes, Jennifer Jones, Cindy Klassen, Connie Laliberte and Susan Auch, among other women.
And, finally, there’s only one thing worse than wearing a mask—not wearing a mask.
Nice of you to come out of hibernation. How long had it been since we last saw and heard from you? At least three months, I’d say.
Some of us were beginning to worry about you, Commish. I mean, every pro sports operation known to woman and man has rebooted during the COVID-19 pandemic, yet your Canadian Football League turned out the lights. And you went radio silent.
So I figured flicking on the flatscreen and watching all those athletes in other leagues frolic might have driven you a bit batty. If not full-on bonkers.
I feared you might have done the Howard Hughes thing, Commish. You know, become a recluse.
I had visions of you holed up in a windowless bunker left over from the Cold War, cut off from civilization and peeing into pop bottles and eating nothing but nachos and chocolate bars. I imagined you pacing back and fourth…back and forth…back and forth, all the while muttering, “It’s Trudeau’s fault…it’s Trudeau’s fault…it’s Trudeau’s fault.” After all, Prime Minister Trudeau the Younger and his skinflint pals wouldn’t cough up $30 million when you went panhandling on Parliament Hill last spring.
You’re right, Commish, they seemed to have ample coin for everyone and everything—except three-downs football. So it’s understandable if you were gripped with paranoia, kind of like Captain Queeg and the strawberries.
I don’t know if you’ll face a mutiny like Captain Queeg once the COVID storm is behind us, Commish, but for now your hand is still on the wheel of the good ship CFL, and the rabble is looking to you for answers and signs that indicate a 2021 season is not only possible, but good to go.
I know that’s what I was hoping to hear on Monday when you made like Shubenacadie Sam or Fred de la Marmotte on Groundhog Day, finally popping your head out of a hole to study the landscape.
You had yourself a half-hour natter with Sara Orlesky of TSN, and who wouldn’t want to join Sara for a chat? She seems like such a lovely, young lass and, like yourself, I miss seeing her the sidelines, toque or not.
The thing is, I’d like to see Zach Collaros and Mike Reilly and Speedy B and Willie Jefferson between the lines a whole lot more, even if it means another summer and autumn listening to Glen Suitor, assuming TSN can pry him away from Keith Urban.
But you didn’t tell us when Rouge Football will return, Commish. Or if it will return.
You told us that Canada “is the greatest country on earth,” and you talked about putting “bums in seats,” and revenue streams, and CFL 2.0, and front-line health workers, and Rouge Football on the East Coast. It was all rah, rah, rah and siss-boom-bah boosterism.
You also confirmed there’ll soon be a 2021 schedule, but that isn’t worth the paper it will be printed on if the large lads in pads aren’t grabbing grass in June.
Near as I can tell, Commish, nothing has changed. Nada.
It would have taken $30 million from the feds to get you on the field for a runted season of six games per team this year—in a Winnipeg hub/bubble—and the CFL still doesn’t have any money, unless there’s a sugar daddy you aren’t telling us about.
Thus, unlike all other pro sports leagues in our part of the world, you stand alone as completely dependent upon squints in lab coats peering into microscopes.
The renewal of Rouge Football is only doable with the “bums in seats” that you talked about on Monday, Commish, and there has to be plenty of them. I don’t have to remind you that social distancing in the stands was the pre-pandemic norm in CFL danger locales of Vancouver, Montreal and the Republic of Tranna, but that’ll never do on the Prairies, Hamilton or Ottawa.
We both know the only avenue forward is a COVID-19 vaccine, Commish, and even at that we’re left to wonder how long it will take for the rabble to once again feel comfy enough to gather in large numbers.
I’m a Rouge Football lifer, Commish. Been following the three-downs game since I was knee high to Kenny Ploen and Leo Lewis, and I’ve been scribbling about it since 1980. That’s taking in a lot of territory. So I feel your pain. You should be on the Flattest of Lands this week to hand the Grey Grail to the winning side of the championship skirmish, and I’d like to be watching it on TSN.
I guess we can only hope for next year, Commish. In the meantime, do us CFL lifers a favor and don’t go back into hibernation. Keep us informed. Don’t let out of sight become out of mind.
Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and it’s the rainy season where I live, so here’s a downpouring of some watered-down notions…
During a pandemic that shows no inclination toward surrender, men with tall foreheads and bulked-up bankrolls plot strategy, concocting ways to make a 2021 National Hockey League crusade doable.
And, by doable, that means as minimal a financial wallop as possible.
In the most-desired timeline, they’ll drop the first puck on a runt of a season on New Year’s Day, on both sides of our closed border. Alas, they’ll do so in empty buildings, which means zero gate revenue, zero concessions revenue, zero game-day merchandise revenue, and zero parking revenue. Meanwhile, the millionaire players expect at least 72 per cent of their pay from the billionaire owners.
In a best-case scenario, squints in lab coats will discover a vaccine that brings COVID-19 to heel early in 2021, allowing the faithful a safe return to the rink and a revenue stream, however weak, for the owners as they complete a season of no fewer than 48 games and no more than 72.
But all of that is as iffy as Donald Trump’s quest to overturn the will of 78,662,167 people who voted him out of the Oval Office.
It’s a guessing game. I mean, if Moses were to trundle down from Mount Sinai during this pandemic with an updated edition of the 10 Commandments, it would be written in pencil on a paper napkin, not etched in big, stone tablets, because what’s gospel today won’t necessarily be gospel tomorrow.
Which brings me to the point of this essay: Survival and the Winnipeg Jets.
Good Ol’ Hometown is the smallest market in the NHL and the Jets frolic in the smallest barn, with room for 15,321 rumps in the Little Hockey House On The Prairie. Co-bankrolls Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and David Thomson haven’t seen any game-day revenue since March, when the coronavirus put sports on lockdown, and there doesn’t figure to be any ka-ching in their immediate future.
Therefore, I remind you of something NHL commish Gary Bettman muttered on May 31, 2011, the day the Atlanta caravan rolled into River City and officially became the Winnipeg Jets:
“To be candid, this isn’t going to work very well unless this building is sold out every night.”
We know not every game at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie was SRO during the 2019-20 crusade, and it’s a certainty that there’ll be zero customers to begin a shortened 2021 season, even as the Puck Pontiff and/or Thomson cut six- and seven-figure cheques for their on-ice work force. So what’s the financial breaking point?
Yes, of course, I realize Thomson is the wealthiest man in Canada, with a net worth of $35.7 billion. But he didn’t build that bankroll by being stupid.
And here’s something else to consider:
In the Winnipeg Sun annual survey of the Jets faithful, readers were asked if they’ll attend games once health officials give the okie-dokie to return. Of the approximately 1,200 respondents, 38.2 per cent will be back, 36.5 per cent will return only once there’s a COVID-19 vaccine, while 25.2 per cent are done with the Jets.
Do the math: Even after the squints in lab coats have done their job, Winnipeg HC is looking at a post-pandemic audience of 75 per cent capacity, or 11,490 customers per game.
Sources have told Larry Brooks of the New York Post that there are three to five owners who insist their franchises won’t survive a makeshift season, not if it means empty or near-empty buildings and paying players 72 per cent of their contracts. I’d like to think that doomsday scenario doesn’t apply to the Jets, but we can’t be certain because the Puck Pontiff has less to say than a street mime.
It’s also important to note that, even at the best of times, he’s bringing in Canadian dollars and paying out American greenbacks, so can he make a go of it at 75 per cent capacity? Commish Bettman says no.
The question, therefore, is this: How much of a bath are the Puck Pontiff and Thomson prepared to take?
Nobody asked me, but I say there’s nothing about an all-Canadian division in the NHL that should keep the Jets awake at night. Oh, sure, the Toronto Maple Leafs look boffo on paper, but we all know what happens to the multi-millionaires in blue-and-white when the games really matter. That’s right, pratfall. The Leafs are paper tigers until they prove otherwise, but I’ll concede them first place in a runted season of 48 games, or thereabouts. After that, it’s a crap shoot in Hoser Hockey. Seriously. Edmonton has Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and a bunch of spare parts. Vancouver has lost its goaltender. Marc Bergevin has given the Montreal Canadiens an interesting makeover, but I wonder what’s left in Shea Weber’s tank. Ottawa is on training wheels. What about Calgary? Can you say Milan Lucic, kids? Having said all that, I’d like the Jets a whole lot better if GM Kevin Cheveldayoff would give his head a shake and do something about his blueline. Chevy’s dithering in that area is rather disturbing, also extremely negligent.
Interesting survey of 21 NHL player agents in The Athletic. Asked to name a high-profile player most likely to change work clothes in the next year, our guy Patrik Laine and Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres topped the list with four votes each. I’m okay with Chevy dealing Puck Finn, but he better receive a package that includes a legit top-pair defenceman in barter, otherwise he’ll never be able to go grocery shopping in Good Ol’ Hometown again.
So, I’m watching Dustin Johnson bring Augusta National to its knees in the first three rounds of The Masters, and I’m wondering if he has a pulse. I mean, he golfs with all the enthusiasm and urgency of a guy whose wife has asked him to get off the couch and change a light bulb.
Johnson strikes me as the kind of guy who’ll take one look at The Masters champion’s green jacket and ask, “Does it come in different colors?”
I don’t know if Johnson walks with a strut or a swagger, but I’m pretty sure the Earp boys and Doc Holliday were walking with the exact same stride when they headed toward the O.K. Corral.
I can’t explain why the Incredible Bulk, Bryson DeChambeau, bugs me so much, but he really gets up my nose. Maybe it’s the deformed body. Maybe it’s the uppity attitude and him pooh-poohing Augusta National as a par-67 golf course when everybody else is playing to par-72. Maybe it was him asking a marshal if his lost ball would be declared a lost ball on third hole Friday, as if a different set of rules applies to him. Whatever the case, I don’t normally root for athletes to fail, but I didn’t mind watching him implode at The Masters.
Phil Mickelson at The Masters: “I’m driving like a stallion.” Ya, and putting like a donkey.
For some reason, the talking heads on ESPN and CBS golf insist on telling us that Tiger Woods made the “greatest comeback in sports history” by winning The Masters last year. I have two words for them: Ben Hogan. The great Hogan lost an argument with a Greyhound bus in 1949 and suffered a double fracture to his pelvis, a fractured collar bone, a fractured left ankle, a chipped rib, lifelong circulation difficulties, and he required blood transfusions. Oh, and did I mention that he almost died due to blood clots? He won the U.S. Open the following year, and another five Grand Slam tournaments after that. Tiger battled back from self-inflicted public humiliation and numerous physical challenges, but nothing life-threatening. The talking heads know all this, so why do they continue to prop Tiger up as a mythical creature?
Apparently Tokyo officials are toying with idea of a no-cheering policy at the Olympic Games next summer. That’s right, fans will be instructed to refrain from rowdy behavior and not allowed to cheer, although muttering is acceptable. Hmmm, muttering but no cheering. Sounds like a New York Jets home game.
What’s up with Tony La Russa? The Chicago White Sox manager was pulled over last week and slapped with a DUI charge, his second, after wheeling his vehicle into a curb and then becoming uppity and belligerent with cops. “Do you see my ring?” he asked. “I’m a Hall of Famer baseball person. I’m legit. I’m a Hall of Famer, brother. You’re trying to embarrass me.” That’s so lame. The only guy who can use the “Do you see my ring?” defence wears a pointy hat and rides in the Popemobile, and he can only get away with it if the arresting cop is Catholic.
Yes, I agree, it’s fantastic that Kim Ng has been anointed GM of the Miami Marlins, the first female to hold that lofty position with a Major League Baseball team. But let’s not get carried away with comparisons to Jackie Robinson. Ng’s is a signature appointment, to be sure, and hopefully it’ll open a door for other women, but she’s been in the game, and accepted, for 30 years. Numerous women have owned MLB franchises. Others have served in different administration roles, and on coaching staffs, and in the broadcast booth. This is nothing like a Black man entering MLB in 1947.
Murat Ates of The Athletic has pulled away from the keyboard to clear his head after suffering a third concussion. He won’t be sharing his fine prose with us until December, and I can only hope he recovers fully. Concussions can be a tricky bit of business and, yes, I speak from lived experience. I’ve had 10 of them. So nothing but good wishes for Murat.
“The year was 1971 and Hockey Night in Canada had just fired Ward Cornell and was looking for a younger and more dynamic replacement. The way former executive producer Ralph Mellanby tells it, five candidates made the short list. One of them was Dave Hodge, who ultimately got the job and hosted the show for 16 years. Another was Trebek, who had joined the CBC after graduating from the University of Ottawa and was best known for hosting a high school game show called Reach for the Top. He had also hosted broadcasts of horse racing and figure skating. ‘We wanted to get younger and more vibrant,’ Mellanby said. ‘And one of the guys I got from Ottawa was Alex Trebek. He was doing some sports and other things. I really liked Trebek.’ Mellanby said he was in the office of his boss, Ted Hough, the former president of the Canadian Sports Network, which produced Hockey Night. As Hough and Mellanby watched the audition tapes of the five finalists, the more Mellanby wanted Trebek to fill the chair. But he was overruled by his boss, who had a strict rule that immediately eliminated Trebek from the running. ‘We’re watching (Trebek’s) audition and I said, ‘Ted, that’s the guy I really want,’ Mellanby said. ‘And he said, ‘We’re not hiring him. We don’t hire guys with moustaches!’ So I hired Dave Hodge.’”
I note that Neil Young turned 75 last week. Many of us from Good Ol’ Hometown lay claim to Neil as one of our own, because he went to high school at Kelvin and he began his music career at our teen dances. My favorite Neil Young tune: Harvest Moon. Favorite Neil Young album: Old Ways.
And, finally, I think it’s only fair to warn you that the shelf life of the River City Renegade has almost expired. I turn 70 at the end of the month, and I think that’s as good a time as any to cut back on my peculiar brand of silliness. I won’t be quitting cold turkey, but the end is nigh.
A Monday morning smorgas-bored…and I never realized how little I knew until Alex Trebek showed up on TV…
In honor of Canadian TV icon Alex Trebek, who left us at age 80 on Sunday, let’s play Jeopardy!
CLUE: Golly gee and Jiminy Crickets, this man was a National Hockey League rookie-of-the-year who scored five goals in one game, a four-times Stanley Cup champion, an all-star, a Member of Parliament, and a broadcasting icon on Hockey Night in Canada.
ANSWER: Who is Howie Meeker?
CLUE: Howie died at the age of 97 on Sunday, meaning this man is now the oldest living Toronto Maple Leaf.
ANSWER: Who is Joe Thornton?
I remember sitting in the media room of the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver one night many winters ago, gnoshing on a plate of free food while having a pre-game natter with either Friar Nicolson or Sod Keilback.
Actually, it might have been both of the Winnipeg Jets radio guys. No matter.
At some point, Meeker joined us at our table and the chin-wag focused on Dale Hawerchuk, the captain and centrepiece of a decent Jets outfit. I suggested that Ducky had been off his game a bit, but Howie would have none of it.
“Ah, you don’t know a hockey puck from a pinch of coon shit,” he informed me.
I’m not sure why, but hearing Howie Meeker pooh-pooh my hockey know-how somehow made me feel good. I mean, the Squeaker was already a legend of the Hockey Night in Canada blurt box by then, so it was an absolute honor to have him break bread with a stray scribe from the flatlands and, at the same time, confirm that my grasp of the game was no better than a pinch of raccoon droppings. Never before had someone so famous told me I was full of crap.
I thought perhaps Howie was going to pull out his telestrator and draw some squiggly lines to emphasize his point, or maybe even whack me upside the head with the thing.
But no. Howie wasn’t being mean. He was being Howie. Blunt.
That was my only inter-action with Meeker, so I never got to know him in any depth. But, like so many others, I knew him from his HNIC gig, where he’d break down a play and instruct one of the boys in the truck to “Stop it right there!” or to “Back it up!” or, when a defenceman was beaten badly, he’d show the replay and, in a scolding tone, squawk, “What’s he doing down on his knees looking for nickels?”
Howie wasn’t into tap dancing, and his tell-it-like-it-isms surely livened up HNIC intermissions. He gave the show juice and made it fun.
My mom, mind you, thought Howie to be quite the noisy and annoying know-it-all, and I’m sure she would have been horrified by his table manners. But I got a kick out of the guy, coon droppings and all.
Speaking of former HNIC squawkers, Dave Hodge made me giggle with this tweet after jock legends Bobby Orr, Jack Nicklaus and Brett Favre had raised their voices in support of Donald Trump in the U.S. presidential election: “Thanks to Orr, Nicklaus and Favre, Donald Trump says the only channel that doesn’t broadcast fake news is ESPN.”
Damien Cox of the Toronto Star describes Trump as a “distinctly unpopular politician.” Ya, he’s so unpopular that only 70,903,094 Americans voted for him. That’s more than Barack Obama tallied in 2008 and ’12. It beats Hilary Clinton’s total in 2016. It’s more than double what JFK received in 1960. We should all be so “distinctly unpopular.”
The Washington Nationals want president-elect Joe Biden to toss the ceremonial first pitch at their Major League Baseball home opener in 2021. To which former broadcaster Peter Young tweets: “Trump counters with claim he’ll throw out the first pitch at Leavenworth.” That made me laugh.
Just wondering: Does Trump’s election loss mean Mexico doesn’t have to pay for his invisible wall?
Speaking of money, I read something the other day about Microsoft dude Bill Gates saying his three children would inherit only $10 million each from his $100 billion-plus fortune, because giving them “massive amounts of money is not a favor to them.” Excuse me? Ten million bucks isn’t a massive amount of money? C’mon, man, that’s like saying Babe Ruth was a singles hitter.
In the past MLB season, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. couldn’t hit his own weight. Literally. He arrived at Summer Camp a whopping 282 pounds, was promptly shifted from third to first base, and hit .262. But word out of Toronto Blue Jays Nation is that Vlad the Gifted is no longer Vlad the Bloated. That’s right, Vladdy’s lost 32 pounds of blubber and now tips the Toledo at 250, give or take a side order of Nathan’s Ball Park Franks. He also wants his old job back with the Tranna Nine, at third base. That would be quite a trip: From the hot dog stand to the hot corner.
I’m not convinced that the outing of player agent Bayne Pettinger moves the needle toward acceptance of an openly gay performer in the National Hockey League, but the enthusiastic support from Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid might carry some sway with a young, closeted gay kid who’s thinking of quitting the game. Both Crosby and McDavid are fully behind Pettinger, a former Hockey Canada operations manager now with CAA Hockey, and if the game’s greatest players say it’s okay to be gay, then it’s okay.
If the day dawns when an NHL player chooses to come out, he’d be wise to follow the Pettinger blueprint: Find a trusted news snoop to tell the story, which Pettinger did in Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic, and do it during down time, which is to say the off-season. That way, the fuss and muss and circus is dispensed with long before training exercises commence, and he can simply get on with getting on.
Like most newspaper sports editors, Steve Lyons of the Drab Slab is expected to find room in his section for female sports. “It’s not always easy,” he wrote on Nov. 5. “The reality is there are less women participating in sports and there are less women’s pro leagues. That adds up—or I guess doesn’t add up to an equal number of stories to be written and published. We can’t control how many wire stories we get each day on women’s sports, so our solution to moving the needle in this area has always been to focus on being as equitable as possible on local sports. While I did once win a national award for a series on gender equity in sports, I’m a guy—and slow sometimes—so, I admit to needing to be poked and kept aware on this subject.” Toward that end, Lyons is bringing Andrea Katz on board, and she’ll be writing about the distaff side of the playground “once or twice a month.” That’s a good thing.
Rafael Nadal didn’t triumph at the Paris Masters tennis tournament, but much was made of the fact Rafa joined the 1,000-win club and trails only Jimmy Connors (1,274), Roger Federer (1,242) and Ivan Lendl (1068) in career singles victories during the Open Era. Not true. Rafa and everyone else is still chasing the great Martina Navratilova and her 1,442 singles match victories. And before they catch Martina, they have to catch Chrissie Evert (1,309 Ws). Just saying.
And, finally, another example of the shameful Torontofication of the Winnipeg Sun could be found on the sports front Nov. 3. It was a piece on Jeffrey Knox Jr., and don’t feel bad if you’re not familiar with the name. A vagabond football player last seen in frolic with the Ottawa RedBlacks, Knox Jr. signed to join the Toronto Argos for a 2020 Canadian Football League crusade that never happened, and now he’s facing an attempted homicide rap, among other things, in the U.S. He never played in Winnipeg for the Blue Bombers. Yet one of the geniuses on the Postmedia sports desk decided that his tale of woe was what sports fans in Good Ol’ Hometown wanted to read first and foremost on Nov. 3, rather than Ted Wyman’s real-news piece on local sports facilities and rec leagues going dark for two weeks due to COVID-19. They tucked Ted’s article on Page 4. Sigh.
A Monday morning smorgas-bored…and welcome to the 71st November of my lifetime…
So, I’m doing some research the other day and I stumble upon this May 9 headline from the Boston Globe:
“50 years later, Bobby Orr remains gracious, humble, and incomparable.”
Few have been describing Robert Gordon Orr as gracious, humble and incomparable in the past few days. More like dumb, ignorant and fallen idol.
All that because the great No. 4 has outed himself as a hard-core Trumpite who plans to scratch an X next to the name Donald Trump on his ballot for tomorrow’s U.S. presidential election.
Lest there be any doubt about his political posturing, Orr took out a full-page ad in the New Hampshire Union Leader last week to confirm his unwavering devotion to the current resident at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW in Washington, D.C., trumpeting Trump as “the kind of teammate I want.”
I’m not sure what Derek Sanderson or Eddie Westfall or Wayne Cashman or Pie McKenzie have to say about that, but I suspect one or two of Bobby’s former big, bad Bruins teammates might be cringing.
Many among the rabble and numerous pundits certainly are.
I mean, this is Bobby Orr. Canadian icon. Squeaky-clean boy next door. The greatest player in National Hockey League history on many scorecards, including mine. And he’s marching in lockstep with a man known to put children in cages, who believes groping women is harmless horseplay, who wouldn’t know the truth if it slapped him on his orange face? That’s who Bobby Orr has cozied up to?
What, he couldn’t find a better pair of boots to lick?
The same could be said, of course, for golf great Jack Nicklaus and Brett Favre, one-time flinger of footballs and renowned flip-flopper. They, too, are confirmed Trumpites. But we don’t care about them so much on this side of the great U.S.-Canada divide.
It’s Orr who has taken a paddywhacking in print and on social media, as if he’s the product of Satan’s loins.
Stu Cowan, Montreal Gazette: “It’s always a sad day when your childhood sports heroes let you down. I’ll never again look at Orr with the same boyhood wonder. (The endorsement of Trump) hit me like an open-ice bodycheck. It shouldn’t have because I’ve been around pro sports as a journalist long enough to know that sometimes the less fans know about their heroes away from the field or arena, the better off they are. But this one did hurt. I’ll sadly scratch him off my hero list. The stain of Trump just won’t wash away.”
Damien Cox, Toronto Star: “Sadly, Orr’s comments reek of appalling ignorance, of a man who has watched too much Fox News. He says he just wants ‘my grandchildren to know the America that I know’ and then chooses to cast Trump as some sort of victim.”
Ted Wyman, Winnipeg Sun: “It’s not easy for many sports fans to hear that men they have held as idols for the last half century would endorse a political candidate known for his racism, his sowing of divisiveness in his country and his thorough disregard of the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic. Like most golf fans, I’ve always revered Nicklaus. Like most Canadians, I’ve always idolized Orr. Like many, I’m bitterly disappointed in them.”
Bruce Arthur, the Toronto Star/TSN: “These guys are wealthy. They’re really rich and Donald Trump wants to airlift money from the poor to the rich, and that helps them. This tells you a lot about Bobby Orr and Jack Nicklaus, what they value in life and what they don’t have to worry about.”
Cathal Kelly, Globe and Mail: “On one level, Orr’s and Nicklaus’s statements took some stones. Neither of them needs the hassle. This opens them up to all sorts of nastiness from the other faction. On the other level, it is dumb beyond measure. Not because of their choice (though that is also dumb), but because two giants of their respective games felt the need to announce it. The United States is tilting sideways for a bunch of reasons. This is one of them.”
Well, let me say this about that: Must be nice to be so filthy rich that you can afford to take out a full-page ad in a newspaper. But I’ll robustly defend Bobby Orr’s right to be as horribly wrong about Donald Trump as any of the other lemmings wearing a MAGA cap. His choice. And if you don’t like it, don’t put halos on athletes.
Last week in America: The sports power couple of hoops great Sue Bird and soccer star Megan Rapinoe announced their wedding engagement and, one day later, U.S. senator and Trumpite bootlicker Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told “every young woman” that “there’s a place for you in America if you are pro-life, if you embrace your religion, and you follow traditional family structure.” Which means there’s no “place” in Graham’s America for a woman who’s won Olympic gold for Uncle Sam in basketball and another women who’s won Olympic gold for Uncle Sam in soccer, because they’re lesbians. Lindsey Graham is a special kind of messed up.
Why is it that whenever I watch men’s tennis highlights, there’s a trainer rubbing down one of Milos Raonic’s broken-down body parts, or either Denis Shapovalov or Felix Auger-Alliassime are tossing racquets?
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: The Drab Slab is kicking butt when it comes to coverage of lower-tiered sports in Good Ol’ Hometown. I know this because I monitored both the Freep and Winnipeg Sun sections during the past three months, and both rags do boffo work on the big-ticket beats—Blue Bombers, Jets, Moose, Goldeyes and Valour FC. But it’s a rout otherwise. Here’s the tally on coverage of local/amateur sports (excluding pro teams):
August ……..1 article
September….7 articles, 3 briefs
October…….10 articles Totals………18 articles, 3 briefs
Seriously, 122-18. That reads like a Harlem Globetrotters scoreline.
Do readers want more local coverage? My experience tells me they do, but the suits at Postmedia in the Republic of Tranna won’t let them have it in the Sun. And that’s wrong. So don’t point accusing fingers at the Sun’s Scribblers Three—Paul Friesen, Ted Wyman, Scott Billeck. It isn’t their fault. It’s a corporate call.
Here’s something I found interesting: In a recent edition of his morning Playbook feature on the Drab Slab website, sports editor Steve Lyons took issue with commissioner Randy Ambrosie and the aborted Canadian Football League crusade. “It’s been a little over two months since the CFL cancelled its 2020 season,” he wrote. “Since then, a Stanley Cup has been awarded; Game 1 of the World Series was last night; the NFL is into Week 7; LeBron James won another NBA title; heck, even the upstart CPL had a championship. The CFL? Silence.” Notice something missing there? That’s right, no mention of the Women’s National Basketball Association starting and completing a season, nor the National Women’s Soccer League commencing its Fall Series. Unfortunately, that’s the default position for too many upper-management people in sports media—female sports is an after-thought. Or no thought at all.
I’m still reading and hearing that the signing of Dylan DeMelo improves the Winnipeg Jets defence. That simply is not true. Repeat after me: DeMelo was with the Jets last season. That’s not an improvement. It’s status quo. So the glass-is-half-full pundits can cease with their false narrative any time now.
There’s talk of the Ontario Hockey League going to pure pond hockey this winter, which is to say no bodychecking. Hmmm. If they had that rule when I was a kid, I might still be playing.
And, finally, Agent 007, Sean Connery, is dead and I still don’t know what I’m missing, because I’ve never watched a James Bond movie. Loved Sir Sean in Finding Forrester and The Untouchables, though.
That’s what the Winnipeg Sun was, is and likely always shall be.
The tabloid—pooh-poohed and tsk-tsked by many as a tacky, tawdry, kissing cousin of the National Enquirer—wasn’t supposed to be around much longer than a pork chop on a pit bull’s dinner dish, but here we are, four decades after rising from the ashes of the Winnipeg Tribune, and the Sun presses continue to roll.
I wasn’t a day-oner at the Sun, although I must confess there have been many moments of quiet reflection when I wish I had been there on the morning of Nov. 5, 1980, the day the tabloid hit the streets of Good Ol’ Hometown for the first time.
By the time I arrived, which is to say the mid-1980s, the Sun had bulked up from a three-days-a-week sheet trying to find its groove to a six-day publication about to truly hit its full stride, which it did later in the decade and through the entirety of the 1990s and onward.
The Winnipeg Free Press was, of course, the neighborhood bully. Still is.
But, although recognizing that we were the underdogs against a daily that had pushed the Tribune to extinction, damned if any of us in the toy department at the Sun would allow it to define us.
From the get-go, whether it be Big Jim Bender on curling, or young Eddie Tait on the Bombers, or Judy Owen having a natter with Manon Rheaume, or Tom Brennan sharing bon mots from the camp of world light heavyweight boxing champion Donny Lalonde, or Ed Willes on the Jets, we refused to let the Drab Slab push us around.
Oh, they got their licks in, to be sure. But so did we, most notably when the Blue Bombers went on the prowl for a head coach in the wake of a 1996 Canadian Football League crusade that found Winnipeg FC sadly lacking.
The Bombers didn’t just lose their West Division semifinal skirmish v. the Eskimos at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton that year, they were Hindenburged. That’s right, scorched. Beyond recognition. Final score: Edmonton 68, Winnipeg 7.
It didn’t take long for the Bombers board of directors to sift through the wreckage, and the main casualty was Cal Murphy, a legendary coach whose guiding hand as sideline steward and/or general manager had directed the Bombers to three Grey Cup titles. He was swept away pronto, and the hunt for his successor would become the biggest sports story of the year.
We had young Eddie Tait and Judy Owen on the scent, and a managing editor who was, frankly, a gnat-like irritant.
“You gonna get that story first?” Glenn Cheater, the ME, asked me one day.
“Yes,” I told him. “We’ve got the right people on the job. They’ll get it.”
“You better. I don’t want to read it in the Free Press or hear it on the radio.”
Cheater, a man with a reluctance to smile, was a bothersome buttinski during the process. He expected everything to unfold to his urgent cadence, as if his nagging would magically put the Bombers board into a hurry-up offence simply because he was impatient. He would ask the same thing, and I would tell him the same thing. Every day.
All the while, young Eddie and Judy soldiered on, leaning hard on their contacts, instincts and reporting skills until the day/night of Jan. 6, 1997, when they became 99.9 per cent convinced that off-the-wall, surfer dude Jeff Reinebold would land the head coaching gig.
OWEN: “(Team president) Lynn Bishop seemed to want someone opposite from Cal Murphy and we considered Reinebold the dark horse in the race. The night of our big scoop, I was working the phones, including talking to Bishop. I got the gut feeling that it was going to be Reinebold by the way he was answering questions, plus I was having trouble reaching Reinebold, who usually returned my calls. There were rumors, though, that he might be skiing. When we were digging into the rumor about Reinebold skiing, Cheater suggested we send a pizza to Reinebold’s house and if it was successfully delivered, we’d know he was still in B.C. And he said to put anchovies on it. Never understood where that came from.”
TAIT: “At one point (Cheater) came down to our little corner with a brilliant idea. We thought we knew what hotel (Reinebold) was staying at for some reason—maybe this was before we had confirmed he had left for Winnipeg. Cheater said, ‘Reinebold is a vegetarian, right? Why don’t you order a vegetarian pizza and have it delivered to his hotel room with a note to call us?’ I mean, I’m open for any and all ideas to get a story, but…”
There was no pizza order. There was not pizza delivery. Not even in 30 minutes or less.
Young Eddie began cranking out his copy, with contributions from Judy, and we were prepared to go to press declaring Reinebold the new man. But his unknown whereabouts provided a sliver of doubt.
Granny Granger was working the copy desk that night. He was from the West Coast and harbored a healthy familiarity with flight schedules out of Vancouver, and he informed us that there’d be a few more planes touching down later.
“You guys keep doing what you’re doing,” I told them, “and I’ll go to the airport. I’ll stake it out until the last flight from Vancouver is in.”
I don’t recall precisely how long I loitered at the airport, but I do recall repeatedly moving from one baggage carousel to another. Then I spotted Jeff Reinebold. In the flesh, earrings and all, fresh off Air Canada flight 268. It was just past 11 p.m. He had a phone clamped to his left ear, his eyes darting east, west, north and south. At one point, he attempted to hide behind a pay phone. I immediately called Granny in the newsroom and advised him that I could see the whites of Reinebold’s eyes. Shortly thereafter, club president Bishop and his bride, Lesley, joined Reinebold and made their way toward an exit. I intercepted them, asking the new coach if he had anything to say to the championship-starved Bombers faithful. He flashed a crooked smile, mumbled a few words about looking forward to “the great skiing” in Manitoba, then disappeared into the night.
GRANGER: “That was such a rush, even if I was getting it vicariously through your reporting.”
OWEN: “We all cheered in the newsroom. We knew for sure we had the scoop. I then called Lynn Bishop and when he answered, I screeched something like, ‘We gotcha.’ I think he laughed and remember hearing his wife, Lesley, yell in the background, ‘Way to go Judy,’ or something similar.”
Still, we didn’t know for certain if we’d scooped the Freep on the biggest story of the year. It was quite possible that their man on the beat, the very capable Dave Supleve, also had the goods. Nope.
OWEN: “Supleve had a story on the front of the sports section that Reinebold was skiing. We celebrated pretty hard.”
GRANGER: “We went to Picasso’s afterward to celebrate and we were all pretty happy. But we really got giddy after Mr. Golf (Darron Hargreaves) went by the Freep building and picked up a copy of their early edition and Supleve basically dismissed Reinebold as a candidate and put forth one or two others likely to get the job. That’s when the gathering turned from being a self-congratulatory pat on the back into a hubristic celebration. Not only did we have a scoop, but the other guy was waaaaaaay off base! We had killed the big bad bunch on Mountain on the biggest sports story of the year! And even CJOB didn’t have the scoop! Although I played a minor role, that night is a big highlight for me.”
The Bombers introduced a Harley-riding Reinebold as the head coach the following day, and a glum Supleve was standing at the doorway when I entered the room.
“How long did you wait at the airport?” he asked.
I felt bad for him. I truly did. We all know what it feels like to get beat on a big story, and Supes is a good guy. There would be no gloating from me. Just deep, delicious satisfaction that the little, underdog paper had whupped the neighborhood bully.
Later that day, I retreated to the newsroom and found Glenn Cheater.
“I told you we’d get the story,” I said, full of impish cheek. “Maybe next time you’ll let our people do their job without getting in their face every five minutes.”
I went home to write my column on Reinebold. Once finished, I ordered a pizza and told them to hold the anchovies.
I spent 13 of my 30 years in the rag trade at the Winnipeg Sun, and that was my most memorable day/night. I was happiest for Judy, who latched onto the task and refused to let go. But she was just one of the truly wonderful people and terrific journalists with whom I worked at the tabloid. Topping my list of faves would be Dave Komosky, one of the funniest men I know and a friend for close to 50 years, dating back to our formative days at the Tribune. Like myself, Davey Boy did two tours of duty as sports editor and was a boffo layout person. He could make the pages sing. So, too, could Homer Connors, a lovely lad. There were so many others that I admired, respected and genuinely liked: Tom Brennan, young Eddie, Judy Owen, Abby St. Rose, Pat Watts Stevens, Rhonda Brown, Jim Ketcheson, John Kendle, Bob Holliday, Paul Friesen, Granny Granger, John Danakas, Brian Smiley, Jon Thordarson, Denise Duguay, Shaun Best, Mark Stevens, Big Jim Bender, Mr. Golf, Marten Falcon, Barry Horeczy, Bill Davidson, and the lovely songstress Rhonda Hart. It’s a lengthy roll call, too many to mention.
It wasn’t all fun and games at the Sun, but sometimes it was exactly that—fun and games. A couple of the boys—I believe it was Davey and young Eddie—screwed a mini basketball hoop to a wall in our corner of the newsroom and they’d shoot hoops during downtime, while waiting for phone calls to come in. My gig was tossing coins (quarters) against a wall. I took on all comers, but mostly young Eddie. I believe he still owes me $37.25. Same with John Danakas. He’d try his luck every now and then, but it was a fool’s bet. I’m not sure how much he owes me, but I know I’ll never see it. No problem. John is one of the really good guys.
One of my favorite Sun stories goes back to the first of my two runs as sports editor. It’s a yarn I’ve told a few times, but it’s worth repeating.
Young Eddie Tait was an aw-shucks, freshly scrubbed greenhorn when I dispatched him to North Dakota for a weekend gig, covering either high school or college hockey. It was his first road trip. Ever. He was geeked up and I don’t recall giving him specific directives, other than to get the story, enjoy himself and return to us safely.
“And keep your receipts,” I emphasized. “You’ll need them for your expense report.”
So I’m sitting at the desk in the closet-sized cubbyhole that passed for my office on the second floor of the Sun building when young Eddie returned from the fray.
“How did it go?” I asked.
“Great,” he answered, still geeked up from his maiden journey.
“Nice. Very nice. You did a great job. We’ll have to get you on the road again. When you’ve got time, fill out your expense form and make sure you include your receipts.”
He left and, scant seconds later, young Eddie was back in my bunker.
“Here,” he said, handing me the lid from a pizza box.
“What’s this?” I asked, staring at a rumpled piece of cardboard coated with tomato sauce stains.
“That’s what I ate.”
“That’s it? That’s all you ate for the entire weekend? One pizza?”
“How much did it cost?”
“You spent $10 for the entire weekend? Just $10?”
I have no idea what else young Eddie shoved down his pie hole that weekend, but I suspect a few bags of chips and Big Gulps were on the menu. He likely splurged on two or three packs of bubblegum, too.
Although I served in management on three occasions, I was never big on management. They always seemed to be getting in our way, or at least trying to.
I liked Paul Robson as a publisher, because ol’ Mad Dog was a jock who understood jocks. But John Cochrane, a nice fellow and veteran newsman who moved from CJOB to the big office in the Sun building, baffled me.
For example, when Montreal Canadiens president Ronald Corey got the axe out and whacked both general manager Serge Savard and head coach Jacques Demers, that bloodletting was our sports front story. Homer Connors and I put our grey matter together, him designing the page with a large picture of Savard and me providing the all-caps headline: SAVARDIAN SACK-O-RAMA. It was boffo stuff.
The next day Cochrane wandered down to the toy department for a fireside chat.
“Tell me something,” he began, speaking in a non-confrontational tone. “Why did you run a photo of Savard on the front page instead of Ronald Corey?”
“Because Savard and Demers were the story. Savard is a multi-Stanley Cup winner with the Canadiens, both as a player and a GM,” I replied calmly. “Savard is a Habs legend. Nobody cares about Ronald Corey.”
“But the Globe and Mail ran a photo of Corey, not Savard. Don’t you think that was the right thing to do?”
He handed me a copy of the Globe, which featured a pic of Corey sitting in front of a bank of microphones and looking very much like a hangman.
“No, I don’t think they made the right call,” I said, still quite calm. “We were right, they were wrong, and I’d do the same thing again. We don’t really concern ourselves with the pictures the Globe runs.”
He arched his eyebrows, turned and walked away. That was our first and final fireside chat.
I’m saddened by what’s become of the Sun sports section.
I know the boys on the beat—Paul Friesen, Ted Wyman and Scott Billeck—fight the good fight, but Postmedia has handcuffed them with a distant, centralized sports desk that force feeds them copy from hither and yon, too much of it focusing on athletes/teams based in the Republic of Tranna.
Local amateur sports coverage has become next to non-existent, and it’s never a good thing when a newspaper turns its back on its constituents.
I don’t think it’s as cheeky, sassy, brassy and irreverent as it once was, but the Sun’s existence makes Winnipeg the only true two-paper town west of the ROT, and that is a good thing.