This being Manitoba Hockey Heritage Day, it puts me in a reflective mood, pondering my former life as a rink rat.
It began as a wobbly, Bambi-legged urchin on the outdoor freezes at Melrose Park Community Club, Bronx Park and East End, then moved to shinny shacks both primitive and elegant, from Transcona to Texas, from Sargent Park to Stockholm, from the Old Barn On Maroons Road to the Forum in Montreal (best hot dogs, ever) and Maple Leaf Gardens.
It was a lengthy trip, 30 years of it scribbling for the Winnipeg Tribune and Winnipeg Sun (with a couple of brief pit stops in the Republic of Tranna and Calgary), and there were highs and lows and in-betweens. This is what’s on my mind today:
I’m thinking about Mosie and the Winnipeg Warriors. I attended my first live pro game in the mid-1950s, a Western Hockey League skirmish featuring Billy Mosienko in the twilight years of a boffo career that included a 1952 record that stands uncontested to this day in the National Hockey League—three goals in the lickety-split time of 21 seconds. Mosie left the Chicago Blackhawks to wind it down with the Warriors in Good Ol’ Hometown, and it was a treat beyond description for a six-year-old kid to observe hockey royalty in person, in a swanky, new Winnipeg Arena.
I’m thinking about Father David Bauer and our national men’s team, based in River City during the 1960s. Our amateur Nats faced insurmountable odds in a quest to wrestle global supremacy from the U.S.S. R. “amateurs.” We all knew the Soviets were “amateurs” like cherry Kool-Aid is Russian vodka.
I’m thinking about Benny Hatskin and the original Winnipeg Jets, a Junior outfit in the Western Canada Hockey League that engaged in epic battles with the Flin Flon Bombers of coach Paddy Ginnell. Come playoff time, they’d pack the joint.
I’m thinking about Bill Addison, longtime commissioner of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League. As a journalist and rink rat, I can’t think of anyone with whom I enjoyed talking all things puck more than Bill, a true gentleman in an era when a fellow would wear a necktie and a fedora to the rink.
I’m thinking about Frank McKinnon, the first sports figure I ever interviewed for the Trib, and the Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association was the subject matter of my first byline article on June 14, 1971. It was buried on the back pages of the sports section, surrounded by Harold Loster’s horse racing copy, and it included a ghastly error—I wrote the MAHA had elected Frank president of the “1871-72” executive. What can I say? I’m an old soul. And, hey, I was only out by 100 years.
I’m thinking about Benny Hatskin signing Bobby Hull at Portage and Main in June 1972. I was a few blocks away in the Trib building when it all went down to change the shinny landscape forever. A younger generation might suggest Mark Chipman and David Thomson bringing the National Hockey League back to Good Ol’ Hometown in 2011 was a bigger story, but no. Everything flowed from Benny getting Hull’s signature on a World Hockey Association contract.
I’m thinking about the Jets introducing Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson and Lars-Erik Sjoberg to the masses in May 1974. Some of us were convinced that Benny and his minions had lost the plot because Swedes, thought to be cottony soft, couldn’t possibly survive vs. the barbarians who occupied too many roster spots on WHA outfits. Well, we now know they didn’t simply survive, they excelled, and served as Pied Pipers to numerous Europeans who found their way to the Jets.
I’m thinking about Junior hockey. I remember my first road trip, a milk run from Winnipeg to Dauphin for MJHL playoffs, and there were other junkets on the iron lung with the Winnipeg Clubs and Monarchs. Kevin McCarthy was the most talented local kid I ever covered, and watching him and Doug Wilson anchor a powerplay was special. My old coach Gerry Brisson, who owned the Junior Jets/Clubs/Monarchs before whisking the WHL franchise to Calgary, was a different head of lettuce, and my favorite character was Muzz MacPherson, coach of the 1973 Centennial Cup champion Portage Terriers before moving behind Brisson’s bench with the Clubs.
I’m thinking about the many hours I spent in the company of scouts, guys like Bob Goring, Bruce Cheatley, Jimmy Walker, Bruce Southern and Dino Ball, who made the down time more enjoyable.
I’m thinking about my favorite hockey people, in no particular order: Jeep Woolley, Tom McVie, Terry Hind, Earl Dawson, George Allard, Don Baizley, Gordie Pennell, Bill Addison, Frank McKinnon, Barry Bonni, Spider Mazur, Julie Klymkiw, Rudy Pilous, Teddy Foreman, Mike Doran, Sudsy, Aime Allaire, Bill Juzda, Bones Raleigh, Ed Sweeney, Billy Robinson, Aggie Kukulowicz, Marc Cloutier, Gordie Tumilson, Bill Bozak, John Ferguson, Peter Piper, Brian Gunn, Adam Tarnowski, Andy Murray, Teddy Green, Laurie Boschman, the Swedes (all of them), Portage Terriers.
I’m thinking about covering both the Jets final skirmish in the WHA, vs. the Edmonton Oilers (a 7-3 win), and their NHL baptism, in Pittsburgh vs. the Penguins (a 4-2 loss). Reyn Davis and I were the beat writers of the day for both those games, and Friar Nicolson was the play-by-play guy on radio. Sadly, Reyn and Friar left us long ago.
I’m thinking about the 1975 World Junior tourney, with a group of WCHL all-stars facing off against the elite of the Soviet Union, Sweden, Finland, Czechoslovakia and the U.S. The lads from Mother Russia ruled the day, besting the our kids 4-3 in the final game, prompting this rather peculiar observation of the comrades from Bobby Hull: “I’d like to see those guys in the shower, I’ll bet they’re all muscle.”
I’m thinking about Aime Allaire, the hard-luck case of my time covering shinny in Good Ol’ Hometown. Aime did everything possible to bring Senior hockey’s Allan Cup home, but his St. Boniface Mohawks always came up a day late and a dollar short. I rode the iron lung with the Mohawks one winter, and Aime once hired me to handle stats for the Central Amateur Senior Hockey League.
I’m thinking about refereeing Winnipeg Colts tryout scrimmages for Stan Bradley and Harold Loster before they departed on their annual junket to a PeeWee tournament in Goderich, Ont.
I’m thinking about the night the Jets whupped the Soviet national side, 5-3, and Ulf Nilsson telling me in a noisy changing room that he was “proud to be a Canadian tonight.”
I’m thinking about Mike Smith, the egghead scout/coach/GM of the Jets who shall long be remembered for two things: 1) his make-work-for-Russians project; 2) running Ducky Hawerchuk out of town. The man I called Mikhail had a degree in Russian studies and a maniacal obsession with every Vladimir or Igor who laced up a pair of skates, and he attempted to transform the local shinny side into the Central Red Jets. The plan was a colossal flop and Hawerchuk became a casualty, moving to Buffalo.
I’m thinking about Billy Bozak, a very nice man known as Magic Fingers. Boz was responsible for healing the lame and halting among the Jets, and there wasn’t an owie the longtime team trainer couldn’t cure. How his healing hands made Terry Ruskowski suitable for combat in the 1979 WHA final I’ll never know.
I’m thinking about the day of the long faces, which is to say the final farewell for the original Jets, who packed up and skedaddled lock, stock and jock strap to Arizona. There weren’t many dry eyes in the joint on April 28, 1996, and it had nothing to do with a 4-1 playoff loss to the Detroit Red Wings. It had everything to do with a funeral. The NHL was dead in Good Ol’ Hometown. It took 15 years for many among the rabble to recover from the Jets’ departure. Many still mourn the loss.
I’m thinking about piggy banks and pucks and Peter Warren of CJOB roaming the landscape on a flatbed truck, accepting donations from the young, the old and the in-between in a bid to Save the Jets from extinction. It worked once or twice, but kids emptying their piggy banks and little, old ladies signing over pension cheques was never going to be the solution.
I’m thinking about Tuxedo Night and how snazzy all the luminaries and the Zamboni driver looked in their monkey suits. The promo was the brainchild of marketing guru Marc Cloutier, who wanted Good Ol’ Hometown to look its spiffy best for the first appearance of NHL royalty, the Montreal Canadiens. Lafleur and Savard and Robinson and Gainey and Shutt et al were greeted by a gathering of 15,723 on Dec. 15, 1979, and the Jets faithful feared the worst. But a rag-tag roster filled with hand-me-downs rag-dolled the Stanley Cup champions, winning 6-2, with Willy Lindstrom scoring three goals and Peter Sullivan collecting five points.
I’m thinking about Bobby Hull and how he was greeted with such pomp and pageantry at Portage and Main in June 1972, and how he left the building in such an undignified manner seven years later. The Golden Jet was scheduled to be in the lineup for Tuxedo Night, nationally televised on Hockey Night in Canada, but he was confused about faceoff time and arrived late. Coach Tommy McVie, not one for bending rules, informed Hull that he’d be sitting this one out. When advised of Hull’s punishment, GM John Ferguson pitched a fit, kicking a hole in a dressing room door. Didn’t matter. Hull, one of the team owners, was out. He never wore Jets linen again.
I’m thinking about Teemu Selanne’s astonishing 76-goal rookie season, in 1992-93, and GM John Paddock trading the Finnish Flash to the Disney Ducks three years later. D’oh!
I’m thinking about doing color commentary to Friar Nicolson’s play-by-play on Jets radio broadcasts, in the WHA and NHL, and I’m sure I was awful.
I’m thinking about tossing back vodka and beer with the Russians at the Viscount Gort during the Winnipeg portion of the 1981 Canada Cup tournament. They couldn’t speak English, I couldn’t speak Russian, but we managed to conduct an impromptu and teary-eyed wake for legendary Soviet forward Valeri Kharlamov, who was buried that day back home in Mother Russia.
I’m thinking about all the good guys no longer with us, too many to list.
I’m no longer a rink rat. I haven’t attended a live hockey game since 1999, when I put Good Ol’ Hometown in my rear view mirror after 30 years in the rag trade. But it was a rush. Some might even think of it as a bit of a charmed life, and I suppose watching hockey and writing about the game for a living was every bit of that.
The only thing missing was girls/women’s hockey, and I hope Ponytail Puck receives more ink in the local dailies once it’s back on the ice. Ditto Junior, university and high school shinny. I realize readers can’t get enough of their Jets, but they weren’t the only game in town during my time at the Trib and Sun, and they still aren’t.
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.
A hump day smorgas-bored…and let’s clean out one final notebook before I find a nice, warm corner to sit in…
As the Winnipeg Blue Bombers passed the Grey Grail around like a joint at a love-in on Sunday, no doubt there were lumps on bar stools and dudes in man caves across the land who noticed a smallish, raven-haired woman hoisting the goblet.
“Who’s the chick with the Grey Cup?” they likely wondered aloud.
That would be Dayna Spiring, first and only female chair of the Bombers board of directors and, once the engraver is done with his handiwork, the first woman to have her name etched on the ultimate prize in Rouge Football.
And, yes, now that you mention it, I do find it mildly amusing that after 28 Canadian Football League seasons of Winnipeg FC never failing to fail, Dayna showed the boys how it’s done her first time out of the chute. You go, girl.
I suppose there are some among the rabble who might pooh-pooh Dayna’s contribution to the Bombers’ success, because they reckon she doesn’t really do much except sit at a big table in a big boardroom and make life difficult for Wade Miller, a real football guy and CEO of our community-run franchise.
Well, look, I don’t pretend to know the inner-workings of the Bombers board, nor am I privy to her private chit-chats with Miller, who, I’m told, has a head as hard as a bowling ball and whose mug shot appears beside the word ‘mulish’ in the dictionary. And I can’t tell you what goes on when CFL governors gather behind closed doors. But I’ll assume that Dayna is more than just a pretty face in an old boys club, and if David Braley of the B.C. Lions barks at her she’ll bark right back if it’s in the best interest of Winnipeg FC.
So, no, she has no sway in who starts at quarterback, but she might have something to say about what kind of QB the football club can afford, not to mention the quality of character the large lads stuffed inside those blue-and-gold uniforms possess.
The point is, the Bombers’ 33-12 victory over the Hamilton Tabbies in the 107th Grey Cup skirmish on Sunday wasn’t just about football.
Young women and girls across the land also saw Dayna hoist the Grey Grail during the post-game hooraw at McMahon Stadium in the Alberta Foothills, and that tells them they can do it, too. Since we all have mothers, daughters, sisters and nieces, isn’t that something we should all want for them? The belief in self? The belief in can do?
You bet it is.
I’ve never met Dayna Spiring, and I doubt I ever will, but, for me, she’s the real feel-good story of the Bombers’ first Grey Cup victory in 29 years, and a true role model for all women.
Say, does this Winnipeg FC win mean my dear friend yound Eddie Tait gets a championship ring? I hope so. Once upon a time, of course, Young Eddie was the best football beat writer in all the land, first at the Winnipeg Sun then the Drab Slab, but he escaped the rag trade a couple years back to join the football club and crank out all that quality scribbling for bluebombers.com. I don’t know how far down the food chain he is, but it seems to me that someone should be sizing one of Young Eddie’s digits for a Grey Cup ring. If so, he’ll be the second former Sun scribe to earn one. Mike Petrie went over the wall more than a dozen years ago and eventually became John Hufnagel’s right-hand man with the Calgary Stampeders.
For the record, I have zero championship rings, but I seem to recall legendary coach Cal Murphy once letting me kiss his ring finger. It sure beat the other part of his anatomy that some news snoops were kissing.
Just wondering, has Chris Streveler put his clothes on yet? The Bombers backup QB has been half naked since the local football heroes whupped the Tabbies, and he’s definitely the most likely candidate to do the Ovie and take a dip in a fountain with the Coupe Grey.
Also wondering, can the CFL not find a welder capable of fixing the Grey Cup so it doesn’t fall apart every time one of the large lads takes a swig of beer from the thing? Apparently the binder twine and denture adhesive aren’t working.
The Sun clobbered the Drab Slab in playoff and Grey Cup coverage, but the broadsheet scored a big win with its front page on Monday. Brilliant. Probably a collector’s item. I don’t know who made the call on the Sun front, but it was a bigger flop than the Hamilton offence. I mean, a pic of Andrew Harris running the ball squeezed between a key and an ad? Lame, lame, lame.
Modesty does not prevent me from tooting my own horn at times, and this is one of those times. Here’s what I wrote last February, the day after Bombers GM Kyle Walters convinced Willie Jefferson to come on board: “Winnipeg FC might only require Justin Medlock’s left leg to get the job done in 2019. I mean, who’s going to score on the Bombers? D-coordinator Richie Hall can simply dial up 1-800-GET-SACK and if Jefferson isn’t in the QB’s kitchen, Jackson Jeffcoat will be. Should the J-Boys falter, Beastmo Bighill will be right behind to tidy things up.” And how did it unfold v. the Tabbies? Well, Jefferson had three sacks and two forced fumbles, Jeffcoat had two sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery, while Bighill scooped up a loose ball. Meantime, Medlock hoofed six three-pointers and a rouge for 19 points, more than enough to win the day. I call that Blind Squirrel Syndrome. Sometimes I get it right.
Still can’t get over groupie Glen Suitor swooning like a tennybopper when Keith Urban joined him and Chris Cuthbert in the TSN booth late in the third quarter of Sunday’s skirmish. The gooey gushing and impromptu lesson in the workings of three-down football were just…so…creepy, and I think Doug Brown of the Drab Slab put it best about the Suitor Swoon with this tweet: “How about we teach Keith Urban Canadian football in a game that isn’t the Grey Cup?” Right on, Doug.
Almost as bad as Suitor’s orgasmic carry-on was that ridiculous split screen, featuring a blurry vision of Urban on the left, like he was the Pope on his Vatican balcony, and the actual game shown in ant-size. My eyes and ears bled.
Found this post-Grey Cup take from Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab interesting: “Full disclosure. I had no rooting interest in this game.” I call BS on that. I refuse to believe that a guy working and writing in Good Ol’ Hometown for more than two decades didn’t want the Bombers to beat the Tabbies. You can’t permit bias to creep into your copy, but you sure as hell hope the good guys win.
Mad Mike’s piece reminded me of something my first sports editor, the great Jack Matheson, wrote when readers suggested he was soft on the Bombers due to a perceived friendship with then-coach Ray Jauch. “All right, I’ll come clean, Ray Jauch is a friend of mine, but I didn’t know they had enacted some sort of legislation making it a crime for sports writers to have friends. I don’t see anything wrong with being friendly with a man you work with every day of the week. Where does it say a football writer and a football coach have to have an adversary relationship? Yes, we’re friends. I don’t know about ‘good’ friends, but that doesn’t sound like such a bad idea, either, because we have something in common. We’re thrown together into the football jungle, and Ray Jauch wants to win because it’s his job and I want to win because I live here and I like to be proud of the athletes who represent us.” Exactly. And if that was good enough for Matty, it’s good enough for me, and it should be good enough for today’s scribes.
Mad Mike also reported that there was a nasty and heated verbal exchange post-match between the Bombers faithful and Postmedia Tranna scribe Steve Simmons, who had scribbled a piece suggesting Andrew Harris had no business playing in the Grey Cup game due to his PED bust during the regular season. Let me just say this about that: Simmons is more a hit man than he is a writer. His column has become mean-spirited, slanderous, deliberately incendiary, fraught with factual inaccuracies, and quite witless. He has made a career of assailing and insulting athletes, coaches, managers, etc. of every stripe, so he was simply getting some of his own. As long as it isn’t physical, it’s part of the gig.
The Simmons incident reminds me of the day I was walking home from the Toad In The Hole in Osborne Village one spring. I have no idea what I had written, but a large chap on the sidewalk opposite me suddenly shouted, “You’re a complete piece of shit!” I wasn’t eager to cross River Avenue and discuss the raw sewage seeping from his mouth, but I did hasten my pace and made it home safely.
The surprise isn’t that Calgary Flames head coach Bill Peters once (allegedly) dropped N-bombs in a changing room, the surprise is that so many people are surprised that this sort of racist language and behavior occurs in hockey.
During the tar-and-feathering of Don Cherry after his commentary on immigrants and poppies a few weeks back, numerous opinionists used the occasion to remind us that “hockey is for everyone,” as if white ice and a black puck make it so. But the Peters-Akim Aliu incident is a disturbing reminder that hockey is not for everyone. If hockey was for everyone, there would be more faces of color on the ice. If hockey was for everyone, there would have been an openly gay man in the National Hockey League by now. Hockey is a lot closer to being “for everyone” on the women’s side, where we’ve seen lesbians on Olympic and national teams around the globe, and transgender players in the National Women’s Hockey League. The men? It’s still a horse-and-buggy sport.
And, finally, until we meet again, it’s been a slice.
Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and, say, it turned out nice again…
Well I’ll be damned. The Canadian Mafia got it done.
And, yes, I’ll confess there were times when I harbored serious doubt that the True North Trinity had what it takes to build a championship cocktail, and I figured one of Mike O’Shea, Kyle Walters or Wade Miller would have been out the door by now.
My money was always on O’Shea to be kicked to the curb first, because head coaches tend to get a lot less leash than general managers or CEOs. Some of them, in fact, don’t last much longer than a pint of beer in front of Chris Walby.
In Coach Grunge’s case, though, at some point in the past six years O’Shea learned to get out of his own way, leaving the gadgetry and gimmickry (read: fake punts, phantom field goals and truly dopey coaching) to others, and the rabble was partying at Portage and Main for the first time in 29 years on Sunday night because of it.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are rulers of all they survey in Rouge Football, and Coach Grunge’s lads didn’t just take down the dreaded Hamilton Tabbies in the 107th edition of Grey Cup skirmishing. They turned McMahon Stadium in the Alberta Foothills into a woodshed. They delivered a man-to-boys paddywhacking to an outfit that had better credentials entering the fray, but the Tabbies’ 16-3 record and a couple of bucks wouldn’t have bought them a cup of coffee at Tim’s.
Even if it did, they wouldn’t have been able to sit and enjoy it, because their lips were too swollen and bruised.
Did someone say smash mouth? It was Winnipeg FC 33, Hamilton 12 when the tears of joy began rolling down cheeks, including Richie Hall’s, but that 33-12 scoreline looked a lot more like 50-12, and it truly was a made-in-Canada production.
Look at the main players. O’Shea…hoser. GM Walters…hoser. CEO Miller…hoser. Then, of course, there was Andrew Harris, the day’s most outstanding player…hoser.
Good day, eh? Yes, it was. It was a very good day.
Random thoughts and observations while watching the Bombers ragdoll the Tabbies to become Canadian Football League titleholders:
Pre-Game: Nice to see truly good guy Brian Williams on the TSN set, and the veteran broadcaster doesn’t go all wishy-washy in his chin-wag with CFL grand poobah Randy Ambrosie. When Commish Randy puts on his happy face and describes the lame market in the Republic of Tranna as “an opportunity,” Williams scoffs and calls it “a disaster.” Atta boy, Brian…Mike Benevides drops by to explain how the Bombers might stop Brandon Banks, and he mentions something about a “kill Speedy B” strategy. “He goes to the bathroom for popcorn (follow him),” he said. Excuse me, but who gets their popcorn in a bathroom?…Fun chin-wag between the TSN panel and Winnipeg FC assistant GM and hall-of-fame quarterback Danny McManus. Milt Stegall notes that Danny Mac always seemed to be in good humor during his playing days, even when tossing four picks in a game. “If someone caught it,” Danny Mac jokes, “I just counted it as a completion.”…I don’t know about you, but I’m liking The Beaches. Three guitars, a drum kit, and keyboards. Yup, looks and sounds like a rock band to me. Hope Nicole Kidman’s husband, Keith Urban, is as good during the halftime show…Tabbies lose the coin toss. Might be a harbinger.
First Quarter: Brandon Alexander picks Hamilton QB Dane Evans’ first pass, and the Bombers are geeked up…Andrew Harris head butts Darth Defender, Simoni Lawrence, after a whistle and directly in front of an official, but the zebra keeps his hanky in his pocket. Go figure…Willie Jefferson forces Evans to spill the football and Beastmo Bighill gobbles it up. One play later, Harris skedaddles 15 yards to the house. Bombers 7, Tabbies nada…What’s this? Does Speedy B have an owie? Looks like it. Need to keep an eye on that…Lirim Hajrullahu’s right leg puts the Tabbies on the board with a three-pointer. Bombers 7, Tabbies 3…Old reliable Justin Medlock’s left leg isn’t so reliable, and he’s wayward on a field goal attempt, but Speedy B doesn’t bring it out of the end zone. Strange. Bombers 8, Tabbies 3…Bombers D-line stuffs the Tabbies on a third-and-one…Total dominance by the Bombers on both sides of the line, so why is it only 8-3 for the good guys?
Second Quarter: Hajrullahu and Medlock exchange FGs. Bombers 11, Tabbies 6…The Bombers defensive dozen, especially the front four, is mauling the Tabbies O-line. This thing should already be a route…Check it out. Chris Streveler is in at QB for Winnipeg FC and he’s throwing the ball. Complete to Andrew Harris. Touchdown. Bombers 18, Tabbies 6…I know there’s plenty of football left to play, but I’m already declaring a winner. This game is over. The Bombers have everything, the Tabbies nothing. Trust me, it’s in the bag…Hey, there’s Nicole Kidman’s hubby Keith heading inside to warm his hands…Oh dear. One look at Keith Urban and Glen Suitor is swooning in the TSN broadcast booth, comparing country music to football. He tells us there are “twelve chords” in a country music song and 12 players on the Bombers offence. Fabulous insight, Suits…Zach Collaros connects with Rasheed Bailey for an 11-yard gain. “Another hit song for (offensive co-ordinator) Paul LaPolice,” says Suitor. Good grief…Another FG from Medlock. Bombers 21, Tabbies 6…Like I said, it’s a done deal…There’s Bob Young, the Tabbies bankroll. But don’t call him the team owner, he insists he’s the team caretaker. In that case, he should grab a broom and sweep up the gawdawful mess his club is leaving on the McMahon Stadium carpet.
Halftime: It’s Keith Urban time…My young daughter in the B.C. interior tells me he’s a country music superstar, but without a steel guitar or a fiddle, his isn’t my kind of country…He does three tunes, none of which sound country. In fact, Nicole’s hubby sounds a lot like Barry Gibb and the Bee Gees on his third number…The kids seem to like it, though, and that’s all that matters.
Third Quarter: Receiver Darvin Adams takes a direct snap and completes a pass to QB Streveler. The Bombers are rubbing their noses in it now…Another Medlock FG. Bombers 24, Tabbies 6…Bombers stuff the Tabbies on another third-and-one. Someone call a priest and have him go to the Hamilton sideline, STAT!…Hey, look who’s joined Suits and Chris Cuthbert in the TSN booth. Why, it’s Nicole Kidman’s hubby, and Suitor immediate goes into teenybopper/groupie mode. “What’s your favorite song?” he gushes. “You set a new standard (in the halftime show), Keith. I am a huge, huge fan.”…Jaelon Acklin hauls in an Evans pass near the sideline, and Suitor instructs the boys in the truck to run a replay. “Take a look at the replay, ’cause Keith Urban wants to know,” he says…It’s time for Urban to go home to Australia or Nashville, so Suitor, celebrating his 57th birthday, wraps his left arm around him and says, “I can tell all my buddies Keith Urban sang happy birthday,” he squeals…Hey, it’s my 69th birthday on Wednesday. Wonder if Keith will stop by to serenade me. Probably not…I don’t know if Suitor asked for an autograph, but I’m pretty sure he had to wipe himself dry after Urban left.
Fourth Quarter: The rest, as they say, is history. The Bombers continue to maul the Tabbies and send Speedy B to the infirmary. He’s done for the night. Make the final: Bombers 33, Tabbies 12.
Postgame: Richie Hall is wiping tears from his eyes, and I can’t say I blame the much maligned man in charge of the Bombers defensive dozen. He lost a brother not so long ago, so emotions are pouring out…Andrew Harris, banished for two regular-season games after lab squints found a PED in his pee, is a bit of an ugly winner. “All the haters out there who talk shit, this is for you,” he snarls at Sara Orlesky of TSN. He says something similar after accepting his most outstanding player/Canadian awards, suggesting “haters” can take his trinkets and shove ’em where there’s only darkness. Understandable, I suppose, given what he went through, but ugly nonetheless…O’Shea stands back and allows the longest-serving member of the Bombers, Jake Thomas, to get his paws on the Grey Cup first. And that would explain why Coach Grunge is so popular with his troops….Smilin’ Hank Burris informs us that “We didn’t see one Bomber player limp off that field.” Tell that to Streveler who, at times, could scarcely walk…The boys in the booth and on the TSN panel repeatedly made reference to Harris’ two-game suspension, but I don’t recall any of them mentioning it was for a drug bust. Odd…It’s all over but the hangovers and the parade…Cuthbert and Suitor sign off, but not before Suits thanks his new heartthrob Keith Urban.
And, finally, I’ve now witnessed eight Blue Bombers Grey Cup victories, dating back to QB Jim Van Pelt’s 22-point game in 1958, and I covered three of them. This one feels special, and it’s a good way to bow out. I’m taking a break from the River City Renegade blog, and it might turn out to be permanent. We’ll see. In the meantime, thanks to the 116,000-plus who stopped by for a read, and enjoy the parade.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I’m in a Grey Cup state of mind…
Welcome to the O-For-The-Century Bowl, featuring the two biggest losers since Decca took a pass on The Beatles and Ford went all-in on the Edsel.
I mean, we’re talking Wile E. Coyote v. his own twin brother here, without the ACME explosives or falling anvils, although I wouldn’t put anything past Simoni Lawrence, the Darth Defender of Rouge Football.
Simoni figures to be one of the central participants in today’s Grey Cup skirmish between the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Hamilton Tabbies, and if he hasn’t dropped a boulder on Zach Collaros’ head by the end of the day, chances are the guys in blue-and-gold togs will claim bragging rights in the Canadian Football League for the first time in almost three decades.
Pundits across the landscape have dubbed this 107th edition of the three-down championship the Drought Bowl, and it’s a nice, catchy title, even if the Paper Bag Bowl would be just as apt.
It’ll be exactly 29 years tomorrow when the Bombers last grabbed the Grey Grail, while the Tabbies haven’t taken a swig from the goblet since Nov. 28, 1999, so one of these storied franchises will finally join the rest of us in the 21st century.
And, yes, I would prefer Winnipeg FC to be on the high side of the tote board.
What can I say? I’m a lowly blogger, not one of the ink-stained wretches who pretend they don’t have any rooting interest in the joust, thus I’m allowed to wave pom-poms, and mine just happen to be blue and gold.
So make the final: Winnipeg 28, Hamilton 27.
More predictions: Most valuable player, Bombers’ quarterback Collaros; most outstanding Canadian, Andrew Harris; most annoying natterbug, Glen Suitor; smarmiest smile, Mike Benevides.
Things I learned while watching too much blah, blah, blah on TSN’s pre-game coverage Saturday: Kate Beirness doesn’t like to talk about sex, and Davis Sanchez shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a microphone. Not sure why blushing Kate is so skittish about discussing the annual Jim Hunt Memorial Question re the large lads engaging in pre-match nookie, but she came across as Queen of the Prudes while hiding her head and moaning, “I hate it.” As for Sanchez, I’ll be kind and just say that he and microphones are meant for each other like a cow is meant to sing opera.
Brief fashion observation I: Kate might want to tone down on the eye makeup. Ru Paul uses less.
Brief fashion observation II: Benevides and Sanchez don’t know how to wear a cowboy hat. Milt Stegall does.
Someone at TSN needs to tell Matthew Scianitti that he’s reporting on a game, not the JFK assassination or the Hindenburg disaster. The dude smiles less often than a hangman, and his walky-talky interviews are about as light and breezy as closing arguments at a murder trial.
I don’t know about you, but I found it interesting that members of the CFL Players Association voted William Stanback, not Andrew Harris, the all-star running back this season. The Bombers’ PED-tainted tailback outnumbered Stanback by a considerable margin—1,909 rushing/passing yards to 1,377—so I have to believe the players’ vote was the ultimate and definitive judgement on Harris getting caught with his hand in the juice jar. Except there’s this: They voted Louis-Philippe Bourassa as the all-star long snapper, even though he failed a pee test and, like Harris, was told to get lost for two games. Why did Harris’ drug rap disqualify him from all-star consideration, but not Bourassa’s?
Better question: Why is there such a thing as an all-star long snapper?
On the subject of honors and trinkets, it was between Brandon Banks of the Tabbies and Corn Dog Cody Fajardo of the Saskatchewan Flatlanders as the grandest of all performers in Rouge Football, and Speedy B received 41 of a possible 50 first-place votes from the nation’s grid reporters. Which begs this question: Why were Saskatchewan news snoops allowed nine votes?
Since taking my leave from the rag trade in 1999, there are only two events I’ve missed covering: The Brier and Grey Cup, even if the work became a total grind as the week progressed. I’ve never been a party animal, but I enjoyed watching everyone else whoop it up during the Grand National Drunk, and I can tell you that nobody threw a better bash than the folks from E-Town. The Spirit of Edmonton was a must-visit venue during any Grey Cup hooraw I attended.
Actually, Edmonton was my favorite Grey Cup city. I have fond memories of bending elbows with Terry Jones of the E-Town Sun and Al Ruckaber of the C-Town Sun—in a cop shop well after last call. True story. Ruckaber and I were also politely asked to leave the piano lounge at the Chateau Lacombe that week, because we kept winning Name That Tune and getting our tab picked up by the house. On the third night, the host saw us walk in, bought us both a beer and quietly told us to hit the pavement so someone else could win.
Worst Grey Cup cities were the Republic of Tranna and Vancouver. I recall being on the Left Flank one November with Ed Tait when he was still Young Eddie and working in the rag trade. We were leaving a busy-as-bees lobby of the Bayshore Inn the day of the game when an elderly chap stopped us at the exit.
“Is there something special happening here this week?” he asked.
“Ya,” Young Eddie confirmed, “it’s the Grey Cup.”
“The Greek what?”
Randy Ambrosie, the commish of Rouge Football, was in total blow-smoke-up-their-butts mode during Grey Cup week, calling the CFL “the world’s largest global football league” and telling interrogators that he’s “super optimistic” about the markets in the Republic of Tranna and Vancouver. Here are some numbers that he’s “super optimistic” about:
I cringe every time I hear Commish Randy talk about the CFL’s stance on domestic violence, because it’s such hollow prattle. He’s the guy who welcomed woman-beating Johnny Manziel north of the border.
Plenty of quality copy came out of Cowtown in the past week, and my favorite reads were Paul Friesen’s insight on Bombers QB Zach Collaros in the Winnipeg Sun, and Chris O’Leary’s take on Winnipeg FC head coach Mike O’Shea at CFL.ca. As my first sports editor Jack Matheson would say, “damn good stuff.”
Also found a piece by the aforementioned T. Jones notable and interesting due to some ghastly blasphemy from Gerry James, a celebrated running back and kicker with the Blue-and-Gold in the glory years. According to Kid Dynamite, legendary sideline steward Bud Grant “was a miserable bastard. Bud was very stoic. You could have a helluva game and he didn’t give anybody any credit. I don’t think anybody liked him.” Apparently, Gerry also believes the Buddha was a fat tub of goo who needed to get more exercise, and Jesus was a layabout who bounded about the countryside because he couldn’t hold down a steady job.
By the way, shouldn’t our so-called national newspaper have dispatched its sports columnist to Cowtown for Grey Cup week? You bet. Alas, the deep thinkers at the Globe and Mail thought it would be wiser to keep Cathal Kelly close to home in The ROT, I suppose just in case Mike Babcock stubbed his toe on the way back from his retirement party.
The Drab Slab, perhaps recognizing that the Winnipeg Sun has given it a serious paddywhacking, a wedgie and a swirly in playoff coverage, finally noticed that the Bombers are still playing football. So the cavalry arrived in the form of Jen Zoratti, Kevin Rollason, Doug Speirs, Ben Waldman and yesterday’s man, Paul Wiecek. Waldman is the only one of that bunch to join Jeff Hamilton and Mad Mike McIntyre with feet on the ground in Calgary, and he used them to track down Gabe Langlois, better known as Dancing Gabe. Ya, that’s what every Coupe Grey package needs, a feature on Dancing Gabe. Not! Much of the additional copy made it to the website, but not the print editions, and I’m pleased to report that yesterday’s man Wiecek shook off the moth balls and managed to scribble an entire column without mentioning Mike O’Shea’s smirk or short pants. Apparently retirement has mellowed him.
I enjoy newspaper wars and, even though the Drab Slab came at the Sun with a flury of copy on Saturday, they were trounced on the weekend. Here are the numbers for Bombers coverage:
Friday: Drab Slab 3 pages, 5 articles; Sun 14 pages, 17 articles.
Saturday: Drab Slab 6 pages, 12 articles; Sun 17 pages, 14 articles.
Sunday: Drab Slab 5 pages, 8 articles; Sun 19 pages, 15 articles.
Totals: Drab Slab 14 pages, 25 articles; Sun 50 pages, 46 articles.
Can you say overkill, kids? Sportsnet certainly can. I mean, I tuned into Sportsnet Central at 2 o’clock in the a.m. on Thursday and, 20 minutes later, the talking heads were still gasbagging about Mike Babcock’s ouster as bench puppeteer of the underachieving Tranna Maple Leafs. I’d like to tell you how many pundits Sportsnet trotted out to wax poetically about Babs, either on air or the website, but I ran out of fingers, thumbs and toes to count on. Let’s just say everyone from the Dalai Lama to Doug Ford had their say, and you know Sportsnet has jumped the shark when it posts 11 minutes of in-your-face rambling from novelty act Steve Dangle. It wasn’t any different on Friday morning, when the main page on the Sportsnet website featured a staggering 27 articles/videos devoted to Babcock and his successor, Sheldon Keefe, and that included an open letter from Dangle to the new head coach. Good grief. This wasn’t Neil Armstrong leaving footprints on the moon. It was a hockey coach being told to clear out his desk. Happens all the time.
Earth to Sportsnet/TSN! Earth to Sportsnet/TSN! Most of us who live in the colonies don’t enjoy you force-feeding us 20 minutes of news on Auston Matthews’ grooming habits every night before acknowledging that life exists beyond The ROT. We have our own preferences. Like, here’s where the major dailies on the western frontier played the Babs’ adios on their sports pages: Winnipeg Sun: Page 17. Calgary Sun: Page 16. Edmonton Sun: Page 6. Winnipeg Free Press: Page 5. Vancouver Province: Page 5. Regina Leader-Post: Page 2.
That’s right, Babs being kicked to the curb wasn’t page 1 sports news anywhere in the colonies. And no sheet was printing open letters from Steve Dangle to anyone.
Just wondering: Why is there a Steve Dangle? His gig isn’t clever, it isn’t funny, it isn’t witty, it isn’t informative, it isn’t entertaining. It’s just some wannabe somethingorother sitting in his man cave and close-talking to a camera. I can’t imagine anyone with an IQ higher than Auston Matthews’ sweater number actually enjoys it.
Really enjoyed GM Brad Treliving’s take on the recent struggles of his Calgary Flames. “The manager’s been horse shit,” he confessed. At last, some truth about the Milan Lucic trade.
And, finally, I don’t know about you, but I’ve reached the stage in my life where I’d rather sit in a bar than raise the bar.
A Monday smorgas-bored coming down in 3, 2, 1…and I’m thinking of Kenny Ploen today…
Those of my vintage remember the glory days, when our local football heroes would make a pilgrimage to the Republic of Tranna or Lotus Land every November.
Our Winnipeg Blue Bombers didn’t go for the weather, understand, because it was usually cold, wet, windy, foggy or flat-out gnarly at that time of the year, and it wasn’t the lure of big-city lights and big-city temptations either. It was business, and that business was to whup the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
We learned to dislike the Tabbies with unharnessed gusto, because they were always in the way. In 1957. In 1958. In ’59, ’61 and ’62.
They were big, menacing and vulgar men named Mosca and Barrow and Nagurski, all raised on sour milk and appropriately dressed in villain black. One of them, Ralph Goldston, was a thug of such ill temper that he once was ejected from a Canadian Football League championship match for punching Winnipeg Blue Bombers sublime running back, Leo Lewis, in the face. Their coach, Jungle Jim Trimble, was a trash-talking loudmouth from coal mining country in Pennsylvania and, in advance of the ’58 Grey Cup game, he considered the Bombers’ roster and declared, “The Winnipeg club didn’t show me anything to worry about.”
Jungle Jim also spewed this legendary line that November: “We’ll waffle ’em. We’ll leave ’em with lumps on the front and back.”
The nerve. The very notion that one of the Hamilton ruffians would have the bad manners to leave lumps on Kenny Ploen was a most disagreeable and distasteful notion. I mean, you didn’t mess with the Lone Ranger, you didn’t tug on Superman’s cape, and you didn’t put lumps on Kenny Ploen.
Ploen, the Bombers quarterback and sometimes ball-hawking defensive back, was a sweetheart. They all were, and I say that based on memories of an urchin who, along with my friend Chester, would ride a bike from Melbourne Avenue in East Kildonan out to a parched patch of hard, scuffed earth known as Canada Packers Field in St. Boniface twice a day during the Bombers preseason training exercises.
Before and after each workout, Chester and I would collect the signatures of our blue-and-gold heroes, asking them to scribble their names on paper scraps, magazines, newspaper articles and footballs.
“How many of these do you have?” Ploen asked one day as he signed my white football.
“I don’t know, Mr. Ploen,” I answered. “I hope we aren’t pestering you by asking for your autograph every day.”
“Not at all. I’m glad to do it.”
None of them complained. They simply signed, sometimes the perspiration from their foreheads dripping onto our paper scraps to make the blue ink smudge and run. Ernie (Zazu) Pitts one day greeted Chester and I with a smile, saying, “Good morning, people of the jury,” and, at the conclusion of the two-a-day sessions, god-like head coach Bud Grant trucked in watermelons for the large lads and handed us one as well.
To announce to neighborhood chums that Chester and I had shared a watermelon with Bud Grant, Kenny Ploen and Leo Lewis was a bragging point of considerable heft, believe me.
Like I said, sweethearts.
Ah, but once opposite the dreaded Tabbies, the measure of Blue Bombers’ snark and sass was sizable and more than a match for their black-clad foes. Herb Gray, Jack Delveaux, Dave Burkholder and Norm Rauhaus were no quarterback’s notion of a picnic, while the Lincoln Locomotive, Choo Choo Shepard, Carver Shannon and Zazu made things go bump in the night for Hamilton defenders.
Winnipeg FC waffled the Jungle Jim-coached Tabbies four times in their five Grey Cup skirmishes starting in 1957 and ending in ’62, with one game determined in overtime and another taking two days to finish.
Many years after the fact, I caught up with Winnipeg FC lineman Ed Kotowich during a Grey Cup week and asked him about the dislike between the Tabbies and Bombers back in the day.
“There was nothing made up about it,” he said with a growl and a tightening of his jaw muscles. “They didn’t like us and I guarantee we hated them and their big-mouth coach.”
So now the Bombers and Ticats are set to renew their classic CFL squabble, Nov. 24 at McMahon Stadium in the Alberta Foothills, and I was feeling that 1950s/60s vibe the moment Winnipeg FC took out the Saskatchewan Flatlanders, 20-13, in Sunday’s slob-knocker of a West Division final.
All the old villains are long gone, of course, but it’s easy for me to picture Simoni Lawrence in the Angie Mosca or Ralph Goldston roles. Total cads, every one of them.
I don’t know if the Bombers will waffle ’em, and I doubt either head coach plans to take the Jungle Jim route and provide bulletin board reading, but somebody’s going home without any marbles and the loser of Coupe de Grey No. 107 will remain 0-for-the-century.
That, alone, is a good storyline, but I’m guessing we’ll be hearing more about Zach Collaros and Simoni Lawrence in the leadup to next Sunday’s large match. And why not? It’s good v. evil. The Sweetheart QB v. Darth Defender.
You know, just like the good, ol’ days.
It’s interesting to note that when the Bombers beat the Tabbies in the ’58 Grey Cup game, it ended a 17-year championship drought, and when the two franchises did it all again in 1984, Winnipeg FC ended a 22-year famine. Now they’re hoping to end 29 years of never failing to fail.
Random thoughts from lying on the loveseat and staring at the flatscreen for six hours on Sunday: No doubt the Bombers earned their victory over the Flatlanders on Sunday, but it must be said that they benefited from some incredibly dopey coaching by Craig Dickenson, horrid clock management by Dickenson/Corn Dog Cody Fajardo, and a serious brain cramp by Marcus Thigpen. Just saying…Interesting that the two semifinal skirmishes featured four of the five CFL markets that care the most about Rouge Football—Winnipeg, Saskatchewan, Edmonton and Hamilton. The fifth, Calgary, gets the consolation prize—the Grey Cup game…Not since Pinball Clemons and Gizmo Williams has there been a player more fun to watch than Speedy B of the Tabbies…The boys in the TSN booth(s) were all about nicknames on Sunday. They mentioned, Speedy B, Speedy A, Great Dane, Inspector Gadget, Magic and El Diablo, Shake and Bake, the Special Teams Vulture, and Timbits Field in the Hammer was the Cathouse. Hey, I like nicknames. Big fan. But that’s a bit much…Why do all the TSN talking heads call Mike Benevides “Coach?” He isn’t a coach. He’s an ex-coach. So is Matt Dunigan, but no one is calling him “Coach.”…This was weird: They trotted out former Ticat Rob Hitchcock to present the East Division championship trophy to the Tabbies, but he wouldn’t give it to them. He hoisted it instead…
Really annoying people: The 7-Eleven Guy and Matthew McConaughey. I think a perfect commercial would be the 7-Eleven Guy spilling a strawberry Slurpee on the posh seats of McConaughey’s fancy-schmancy Lincoln…Further evidence that Glen Suitor isn’t watching the same game as us: 1) At one point, he informed us that Saskatchewan was going into a “no-huddle” offence, even as the cameras showed QB Fajardo standing in the huddle, looking at his wrist play chart, and shouting out a play; 2) on the Flatlanders’ final gasp, he said, “The Bombers made the last play.” They did nothing of the sort. Fajardo’s final fling of the football went clunk against the crossbar and the Bombers didn’t have to do anything except celebrate…Hey, look who’ll be coaching in the Grey Cup game—old friend Jeff Reinebold, the Ticats special teams guru. Bravo to one of the game’s true survivors…What is it with TSN and the Reklaws? They keep promoting a new album featuring the tune Old Country Soul, which might be the worst country tune ever recorded. Enough already.
And, finally, it’s about my forecasts for the division finals:
Prediction: Winnipeg 29, Saskatchewan 12 (no touchdowns, only field goals).
Actual score: Winnipeg 20, Saskatchewan 13 (no TDs, only FGs and a rouge).
Prediction: Hamilton 36, Edmonton 34.
Actual score: Hamilton 36, Edmonton 16.
Feel free to discuss among yourselves. Or not.
A hump day smorgas-bored…and let’s hope this is the only hump in your week…
These are fretsome times on the playgrounds of Good Ol’ Hometown.
I mean, there’s still plenty of grass to grab, but many among the rabble have already stuck a fork in the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, whose 29th annual rebuilding year is beginning to resemble the first 28.
Oh, sure, our football heroes have secured a ticket to next month’s post-season frolic, but recent developments (three-game skid, flat-lining offence) indicate they’ll earn nothing more than a participation badge and, soon enough, we’ll hear much talk of backing up the truck to load and haul away Kyle Walters’ belongings. And Mike O’Shea’s. And Richie Hall’s. And Paul LaPolice’s.
That would make CEO Wade Miller the last man standing, and some of us had it figured to be that way all along.
But maybe we should let this thing play out before calling the moving company, no?
Like many of you, I don’t think Chris Streveler is a Grey Cup-quality quarterback, but I didn’t think Sean Salisbury was either, and he has a Grey Cup ring. The fact that the Bombers copped the 1988 Canadian Football League crown in spite of Salisbury, not because of him, might win you an argument in a pub, but it doesn’t mean he has to return the jewelry. A title is a title is a title.
So if Salisbury can win a Coupe de Grey, why not Tim Tebow In A Toque?
I know, I know. Streveler isn’t much for throwing the football. He tosses the rock like it’s…well, a rock. But, then, Salisbury wasn’t the second coming of Dieter Brock, either. More than half his passes landed on the ground or in the wrong hands (26 picks before being kicked off the team in 1989), but he benefited from a take-no-prisoners defensive dozen that arrived at the ball yard in a bad mood and stayed in snarl mode for three hours.
“We didn’t have what you would call a traditional quarterback in Sean Salisbury who might have looked like he couldn’t get it done, but we realized as long as he didn’t jack it up, we would still win,” rollicking linebacker James (Wild) West once told Ed Tait of bluebombers.com.
The same goes for Streveler. Just don’t “jack it up” like he did last Saturday v. the Saskatchewan Roughriders (two picks, one spilled ball) on the Flattest of Lands, and there’s hope, albeit faint.
Go ahead and accuse me of typing with rose-tinted glasses, and maybe I am, but I believe the CFL West Division remains a crap shoot and the Bombers aren’t completely out of the discussion.
All the same, it might be an idea to have the moving company keep the trucks on standby. Parked near the loading dock, of course.
Meantime, it’s about the Winnipeg Jets who, unlike the Bombers, can score, but perhaps not frequently enough once they get into the deep grind of the National Hockey League season.
The local shinny side, now 2-2 after a unexpected and admirable 4-1 victory over the Penguins on Tuesday night in Pittsburgh, features a blueline corps that has no business calling itself an NHL defence, and it doesn’t help that Dustin Byfuglien remains in limbo.
Or does Big Buff’s absence really matter, other than his wage impacting the salary cap?
Don’t run off with the notion that Byfuglien will provide a quick fix on the blueline if and when he returns from his personal Tour de Navel. Big Buff does his best work when the puck is on his stick, not when the guys on the other side have it and he’s scrambling to make up for his latest gaffe.
That’s not to say the second coming of Buff wouldn’t provide some benefit, but, given that he can’t possibly be in game trim (as if anything about Buff is ever trim), he might add nothing more than comic relief.
There is, of course, a school of thought that Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff should declare a state of urgency and instruct Byfuglien to fish or cut bait. That is, if he’s going to retire, fine. Sign the papers and they can free up $7.6 million in cap space. If he’s going to return, get his big butt back on the blueline. Pronto.
What’s the point of that, though? You want a guy who’s not physically/mentally NHL-ready in your lineup? There are enough of them already.
Reality is, retire or return, Byfuglien has excused himself from the Jets’ future. I mean, if he lacks the jam to join them for this crusade, I can’t imagine he’ll feel any differently a year from now. Let’s face it, he’s done as a useful member of Winnipeg HC. Even if he chooses to return a week or a month from now, they should trade him at that point and get on with it. Look, the Jets would be iffy to qualify for Beard Season with Buff in harness, so it’s not like he’s the difference between a Stanley Cup parade or just another day in late June.
Interesting take on the Bombers from Doug Brown in the Drab Slab. Noting management’s failure to land a seasoned QB to prop up Streveler for the final playoff push, the former D-lineman wondered if Miller, Walters and O’Shea had waved the surrender cloth. “So with Matt Nichols done for the year, and a guaranteed playoff game, has this management team that has always attacked issues and problems at a fever pitch, decided this is as good as it gets at the most critical position on the field?” he wrote earlier this week of Winnipeg FC going all-in with Streveler. He then suggested remaining status quo “makes you think the team is ok with using the Matt Nichols injury as the reason the season went off the rails.” As much as I applaud Doug’s calling out the Canadian Mafia, numerous reports indicated Winnipeg FC had, in fact, pitched woo only to find no takers in a QB hunt that didn’t end until they took brittle Zach Collaros hostage from the Tranna Argonauts, at the 11th hour on trade deadline Wednesday. But, trust me, even had they lured Kevin Glenn off his couch, he was never going to be the answer, and I have my doubts about Collaros and his squishy grey matter. The Bombers didn’t tap out, but they brought in an insurance policy that will last no longer than the first blindside hit. Sad to say, Collaros is Buck Pierce II.
When there’s something strange in your neighborhood, who you gonna call? Pinball Clemons, naturally. That at least seems to be the reflex move in the Republic of Tranna whenever the Bottomless Boatmen go glub, glub, glub, which they’ve done this CFL season with a 2-12 record. Pinball (his mama named him Michael) has been a player, the head coach (twice), the team president, the CEO, the vice-chair and, as of Tuesday morning, the little man with the mega-watt smile and glistening teeth is occupant of the GM’s office vacated by Jim Popp. There’s no official record of it, but he’s probably washed socks and jocks and cooked some pre-game pasta, too. So I suppose if any GM hiring can put seats in the stands at BMO Field in The ROT, it would be the wildly popular Pinball, but I fail to see how his extreme likability will translate into Ws on the field when he has zero experience. It’ll help, of course, that the Pinster has longtime CFL skills sleuth John Murphy at his beck and call to turn over stones in search of talent, and I suspect Corey Chamblin is in his finals days as head coach of the Argos. Still, Pinball’s appointment comes across as a bowl of comfort food more than something that’ll stick to your ribs long term.
Here’s a thought: If the Bombers’ season continues to go south and they back up the trucks at Winnipeg FC headquarters in Fort Garry next month, the hiring of Clemons might provide O’Shea with a soft place to land. Coach Grunge played with and for Pinball in The ROT, and they won Grey Cups together, so I’d have to think he’d be a candidate for the head coaching gig once Chamblin is obliged to leave. But would he take LaPolice along as his O-coordinator?
A couple of questions about Don Cherry and his rambling sermons on Hockey Night in Canada: 1) Does anybody really listen—I mean really listen—to what the fossil has to say? 2) Never mind that he treats the language like a pit bull on a pork chop, why hasn’t anyone in the ivory tower at Rogers noticed that he long ago became borderline incoherent? Here’s a sample of his Rhapsody in Ramble On from this past Saturday:
“Ya know, the Leafs, ya know, the Leafs…highly skilled team. I will say highly skilled team, but they’re regular-season game. You cannot win unless you’re tough in the, in the (closes eyes, shakes head)…the playoffs have proven by St. Louis. Sixteen Canadians, Canadian coach, Canadian GM, tough. Look what they did to San Jose, they put…now I know a lot of guys, we know a lot of guys that don’t like this…they put out Hertl, Pavelski and Karlsson. They put out…and, uh…I like what Berube said. Berube said, ‘Don’t worry about the penalties.’ SIXTEEN CANADIANS! You CANNOT WIN unless you’re tough.”
Translation: The Tranna Maple Leafs aren’t tough enough to win the Stanley Cup.
In case you didn’t notice (which probably means most of you), Dani Rylan’s National Women’s Hockey League dropped the puck on its fifth season last weekend, while boycotting members of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association took their hissy fit to New Hampshire and staged glorified scrimmages for the benefit of friends and family. None of which furthered the cause of Ponytail Puck. “When the boycott happened, it refragmented the market,” NWHL commissioner Rylan said recently. “I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to quantify the opportunity lost this offseason, and how maybe the game has slowed because of the boycott.” I agree with Rylan. The boycotters’ main goal is to put her NWHL out of business in the belief that Gary Bettman and the NHL will swoop in to pick up the pieces, forming a WNHL that offers $50,000 to $100,000 wages. Talk about unicorns and fairy dust.
Members of the boycotting PWHPA, by the way, played a young men’s team from André-Laurendeau College in Quebec last month and were beaten 4-3 in OT. Not sure how the best female players in the world losing to a band of fuzzy-cheeked lads advances their quest for the “living wage” salaries they believe they “deserve.”
Every time I see Clayton Kershaw cough up a hairball in the Major League Playoffs or World Series, I can’t believe some people still compare him favorably to Los Angeles Dodgers legend Sandy Koufax. They’re both lefties and their last names begin with the letter K, but that’s where the comparisons end for me.
And, finally, I gave ponder to watching the federal leaders election debate the other night, but I heard enough lies and double talk during 30 years in jock journalism to last what’s left of my lifetime, thus I gave it a pass. I’m told, however, that Justin Trudeau showed up without shoe polish on his face, which was thoughtful of him, and Andrew Scheer is still an anti-abortion American who prefers to wade into the name-calling swamp rather than debate issues and platforms. Some choice.
Many years from now, when people of a certain vintage gather to advise young’uns what it was like “back in the day,” Patrik Laine surely will occupy a place in the spinning of yarns.
The tales the elders tell will be tall and, no doubt, embellished to the point whereby Puck Finn is remembered as a larger-than-life National Hockey League player who, when not scoring goals, rescued babies from burning buildings and single-handedly dug a mile-wide trench around Duff’s Ditch to spare River City from cataclysmic spring flooding.
“I was there when he dug that trench,” they’ll swear. “Took him a week. And danged if he didn’t go out an hour after putting down his shovel and score five goals on five shots. I was there when that happened, too. Still have the ticket stub to prove it.”
And that’s okay. It’s what us old farts do. We traffic in folklore and expect whippersnappers to accept that everything “back in the day” was better than everything today.
I recall my oldest son, for example, sitting at the dinner table in the mid-1980s and pooh-poohing the notion that Gordie Howe might have been a better hockey player than Wayne Gretzky.
“What did Howe ever do that was so great?” he asked with considerable adolescent cheek and a smirk that needed to be wiped from his face.
“Excuse me? What did Gordie Howe do?” I replied, almost choking on my pork chop. “You mean aside from the six scoring titles, the six MVPs, the four Stanley Cup rings, the five goal-scoring titles, the most goals and points in the history of hockey, the 20 all-star teams? You mean aside from all that? And let me tell you something else…Gretzky was spoiled as a kid. His dad built him a rink in his back yard. Mr. Hockey—that’s Gordie Howe—wasn’t spoiled. He had to trudge two miles barefoot through three feet of snow just to get to the rink and back when he was a kid. All of us kids had to do that.”
My boy bowed his head. He had been properly chastised, yet he remained unconvinced of Howe’s superiority before finishing the last of his green peas and slinking off to the living room.
“Gretzky’s better,” were his defiant, parting words, “and I don’t believe that stuff about Howe walking barefoot in the snow. I’m sure they had buses back then.”
“They did, but Howe got kicked off for elbowing all the other boys,” I replied.
Similar tall tales will be told about Patrik Laine, his five goals on five shots in Winnipeg Jets’ 8-4 victory over the St. Louis Blues last weekend destined to be included in the I-was-there-when-it-happened folklore 40-50 years hence.
And that set me to thinking…
I began watching and following River City athletes more than 60 years ago, in the mid-1950s just as Billy Mosienko was returning to Good Ol’ Hometown to join Winnipeg Warriors of the Western Hockey League. So I’ve seen some jocks. And these are the 10 I mention most when asked about the way it was “back in the day.”
Kenny Ploen: Once upon a time, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers won the Grey Cup. Repeatedly. And Ploen was usually at the forefront of those powerful 1950s-60s Canadian Football League outfits—as a quarterback, a defensive back, or both. Oh, yes, Ploen played two ways. Sometimes in the same game. And he was an all-star at both positions. He also might be the nicest man alive. I recall riding my bike, twice a day, out to Packers Field in St. Boniface during Bombers training camp. I’d ask Mr. Ploen for his autograph after each of the morning and afternoon sessions. Every day for a week. He never once declined my request for his signature.
Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson and the Shoe, Lars-Erik Sjoberg: Hedberg was a cheetah on skates. Nilsson had four eyes, two in the front of his head and two in the back. The Shoe was short and squat, kind of like Barney Rubble. It was as if an unseen giant had put his thumb on the top of the Shoe’s head and squashed him. But move the puck? The best. And the beatings those Swedish boys took from North American ruffians after joining the Jets in the World Hockey Association? Rented mules don’t get whacked that often.
Terry Sawchuk: The great goalie grew up in the same area of town as I did, East Kildonan. When I began playing Little NHL hockey at Melrose Park, rumor had it that a pair of goalie pads we used once belonged to Sawchuk. That set of pillows had magical, mystic powers. The kid who wrapped the Sawchuk pads around his legs always got a shutout. Honest. He did.
Donny Lalonde: I remember the first time I saw the Golden Boy working out in a firehall-turned gym, his every move in concert with the sound of Bob Dylan’s great album Infidels. He struck me as kind of scrawny for a light-heavyweight boxer. He wasn’t much of a ring technician. And he fought with his left arm tied behind his back. But his one good arm won a world championship and he became just the second man to floor the legendary Sugar Ray Leonard.
Chris Walby: If it’s possible for anyone to actually be larger than life, Bluto is your man. He went from total junior hockey goon with the West Kildonan North Stars to a career as arguably the best offensive lineman in CFL history. He later became a talking head on CBC football coverage, mangling the English language while actually making sense. If you ever see Walby, check out his hands. His fingers are as gnarled and as bent as tree bark. They’ve been broken more often than a politician’s promises.
Jeff Stoughton: A curler who didn’t drink. Go figure. And I don’t recall ever hearing cuss words escape his lips. That certainly made him suitable for mixed company and, in fact, mostly forgotten is that his breakthrough on the national stage came in the mixed game, where he skipped his rink to a pair of Canadian titles before beginning his run as the most successful male curler in a curling-rich province. His spin-o-rama delivery is legendary.
Teemu Selanne: I’m not convinced that the Finnish Flash actually happened. I mean, 76 goals and 132 points as an NHL rookie? Go on. You’re making that up. That’s pure fiction. But it’s not. Teemu actually did it in real life, not PlayStation. Then—poof!—he was gone, like Col. Flagg on M*A*S*H.
Vic Peters: Like Selanne, seemingly too good to have been real. Forget that he was a champion curler. Vic was the loveliest of lads. A total people person who, when not winning curling championships or making pebbled ice, could be found at Larters or The Meadows golf courses, grooming the fairways/greens or playing a few holes while still wearing his superintendent’s galoshes. If K. Ploen isn’t the nicest man, Vic was and he left us far too soon.