Canadian Football League: It’s the Great Feast on the East

Neophyte starting quarterback Drew Willy aside, I mostly read and hear what’s wrong with the Bombers. The large lads on the O-line are the convenient targets. Why, they’re the most-maligned group of men this side of those pesky “drunken” skywalk panhandlers that Lorrie Steeves finds so cuddly.

Cheap Shots from the Cheap Seats, Vol. 1…As we head into Week 8 of a CFL season best described as the Great Feast on the East, power rankings are unchanged. The Laval Rouge et Or remain the top football team in Eastern Canada.

SEEING IS MISBELIEVING: It would seem that faith is fragile in some corners of Bombers Nation and there are those who believe our local football heroes to be a five dressed up as a one.

The fickle in fandom see the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ 5-2 record and their perch atop the West Division tables as lipstick on a pig. An illusion, if you will. After all, this Canadian Football League season has been nothing if not an East Feast, and the Blue and Gold have done little more than bully a bunch of 98-pound weaklings who live on the wrong side of the tracks. Right?

I mean, they beat the Toronto Argonauts. They beat the Ottawa RedBlacks. They beat the Montreal Alouettes. They beat the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Like, who doesn’t? Everybody steals their lunch money.

So some people remain unimpressed. And unconvinced. They refuse to give the Bombers their due. Neophyte starting quarterback Drew Willy aside, I mostly read and hear what’s wrong with the locals. The large lads on the O-line are the convenient targets. Why, they’re the most-maligned group of men this side of those pesky “drunken” skywalk panhandlers that Lorrie Steeves finds so cuddly.

Well, I’m sorry, but the Winnipegs’ record is not illegitimate or illusory. They need not make any apologies. Yes, they’ve been feeding off the bottom and they’ll be back at the East Feast buffet on Tuesday night in Toronto, so even a win over the Boatmen means they can’t win with the natterbugs of negativity.

Ask yourself this, though: If I had told you during training camp that the Bombers would be 5-2 seven skirmishes into the fray, would you have taken it? Absolutely.

GRABBIN’ GRASS ‘N’ GROWLIN’: What’s the over/under for the Bombers-Argos joust at Rogers Centre on Tuesday? 38,000? 39,000? I’m talking empty seats, not fans…Dave Randorf is gone, but the roles haven’t changed for the CFL on TSN panel. Matt (Git ‘er Done) Dunigan is still the country bumpkin, Chris Schultz is still the class clown and Milt Stegall is still angry. Paul LaPolice is getting more sit-down time with the boys, but I prefer Jock Climie…What’s the deal with that Trivago Guy who appears on camera more than anyone other than James Duthie? The guy needs a shave, he needs to drag a brush through his hair, and he needs a wardrobe consultant. Other than that, he’s ready for a GQ cover shoot…The CFL can change its in-house language all it likes, but to me a three-down football player is either a Canadian or an import, not a national or an international…If the St. Louis Rams cut Michael Sam and all other National Foootball League teams pass on the defensive lineman out of Missouri, will one of the nine CFL outfits make room for an openly gay player?…Those Wendy’s commercials on CFL telecasts are getting too dramatic and really, really stupid. Apparently, they haven’t learned that less is more.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old, comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she doesn’t know when to quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C.

Canadian sports journalism (print division) is full of Benedict Arnolds

Sports scribes are the last people who should be talking about loyalty. They move more often than a carnival barker. A lost dog stays in one place longer than some jock journalists.

Full Disclosure: I was not loyal to the team as a jock journalist.

Actually, I was until I wasn’t. Which is to say I harbored an allegiance to the Winnipeg Tribune that was unwavering when a Philadelphia newspaper came calling one winter during the 1970s. I was flattered, but not tempted to move to the City of Brotherly Ink Stained Wretches. Ditto when the Winnipeg Free Press cast come-hither glances and pitched some woo. Too loyal to the Trib to move across the street.

That changed, though, when the puppet masters at Southam Inc. betrayed myself, 374 other people and 14 gargoyles at the corner of Smith and Graham by shuttering the Trib doors and windows and kicking us all to the curb 34 years ago this month.

Loyalty was also a casualty. At least it was for me.

Once the Trib presses stopped, there existed no personal attachment to any of the newspapers that recruited me post-Aug. 27, 1980. It became a job. A job I sometimes enjoyed, but more often did not enjoy, otherwise I wouldn’t have drifted about the country like a hobo looking for a hot meal and a fast train out of town.

This likely explains why I found a bit by Steve Simmons so objectionable this Sunday past.

In it, the loudest and most annoying of Sun Media’s sports voices referred to Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell as “Benedict Farrell.” Simmons branded the man a traitor because of Farrell’s thinly veiled desire to manage the Bosox while in the employ of the Toronto Blue Jays.

Well, let me tell you something about Steve Simmons. Then I’ll tell you about sports scribes.

Steve Simmons is one who preaches from the pompous ass pulpit. He is shackled to his ego. He is a fully carded member of the self-admiration society. That’s what drives him. No crime there. But he is a pot calling a kettle black. More than once he questioned Farrell’s loyalty, honesty and integrity, or lack thereof. He has brought into question his character, dignity and word.

Why? Because Farrell wanted to manage the Bosox, not the Blue Jays.

Yet, Simmons did the very same thing in his own little world back in the day. He was a cub reporter with the Calgary Herald who, while drawing his pay there, was negotiating to move to the opposition Calgary Sun. Then, while working the hockey beat and serving as sports editor at the Sun, he engaged in negotiations to move back to the Herald while being paid by the Sun.

Furthermore, during his entire stay in Cowtown, his stated goal was to one day return home and run with the big dogs at one of the Toronto newspapers, which he did upon joining the Toronto Sun in 1987.

So, here’s the Simmons scorecard: While working at the Calgary Herald, negotiated with and moved to the Calgary Sun; while working at the Sun, negotiated with and moved to the Herald; while working at the Herald, negotiated with and moved to the Toronto Sun.

And Simmons has the temerity to brand John Farrell a traitor? Farrell did nothing Simmons hadn’t already done. Three times.

Sports scribes are the last people who should be talking about loyalty. They move more often than a carnival barker. A lost dog stays in one place longer than some jock journalists.

Not so long ago, Cathal Kelly was scribbling for the Toronto Star. Today, he does that very thing for the Globe and Mail. A few months ago, Bruce Arthur was a wordsmith at the National Post. Today, he pens his prose for the Star. Stephen Brunt left the Globe for Sportsnet. Terry Jones betrayed the Edmonton Journal after 15 years when he defected to the opposition Sun. Cam Cole spent almost a quarter of a century writing the good stuff for the Journal, then bolted for the National Post, then the Vancouver Sun.

It’s no different on the home front in River City. Paul Friesen walked away from CJOB for a newspaper career at the Winnipeg Sun. Ed Tait defected from the Sun to the Winnipeg Free Press. So did his sports editor, Steve Lyons. Gary Lawless walked away from the Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay to join the Freep. And we are free to question Lawless’s loyalties today. Are they with the Free Press or TSN radio? He surely spends more time on air than he does writing his column.

And it’s important to note that, in most cases, these people likely were dealing behind their employers’ backs.

It’s something to keep in mind the next time a sports scribe lashes out at a “Benedict Jock.” Chances are it’s a cobra calling a rattler a snake, because it’s my experience that most jock journalists (print division) are loyal to one thing—their egos.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old, comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she doesn’t know when to quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C.

Winnipeg Sports: I come to praise some (Arctic Ice Hockey) and I come to bury others (you know who you are)

Maybe it’s an age thing, but as I watched our Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil contest the first all-Canadian final in Association of Tennis Professionals history today, I found myself drifting off to another time and another place. A fond time. A fond place.

The same thing happened in June as I watched our Genie Bouchard in the ladies’ singles final on the lumpy lawn of Centre Court Wimbledon.

I saw myself sitting alone in a section of bleachers bordering the har-tru courts of the Winnipeg Canoe Club, where I received my baptism as a tennis scribe. I don’t recall who was playing on Court One that morning and afternoon in the opening round of the Canadian National Tennis Tournament, but I do remember grappling with the quirky method of scoring and the notion that, in tennis, love is nothing. I also remember suffering a case of sun stroke so severe that I was rendered incapable of filing my copy to the Winnipeg Tribune.

Undaunted and with a ball cap firmly in place to shield my noggin from sol, I returned the next day. And the next. And the next. I became a fixture at every significant tennis tournament—and the small events—in River City during the 1970s, covering the matches and the people for the Trib.

So as Raonic dispatched Pospisil, 6-1, 6-4, in an hour and seven minutes in their Washington, D.C., showdown, I saw the old Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club, when it was located where a sprawling Safeway now stands in Osborne Village. I saw Judy Peake and her brother, Rick Borland. I saw Ellie O’Gorman and Pierre LaMarche and Rejean Genois and Jim Boyce and Jane O’Hara and Richard Legendre and Peter Burwash and Vicki Berner. I saw the Campbell sisters, Linda and Sandy, and I saw Jim Matthews and Glen Booth. I saw the lovely Jo Brown, her hubby, Jack, and their kids, Tom and Bonny.

Those were special people. The tennis community was a special, tight-knit group. Those were special times.

THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE LA LA: If you’re looking for a terrific piece on the Winnipeg Jets, go to Arctic Ice Hockey and check out Dog Day Afternoon. It’s a creative, fun, light-hearted read written by Mike Fraser (bcjet), a Jets loyalist in New Westminster, B.C., just across the water from my Vancouver Island hideaway. I don’t exaggerate when I tell you it’s the sort of thing you just won’t find in either of the two River City dailies. The mainstream scribes aren’t into fun and creativity. Yet, as much as Fraser is having sport with the local hockey heroes, he’s also making a statement, one that many share…Good on the Anaheim Ducks to honor old friend Teemu Selanne when the Jets are in Mickey and Minnie’s neighborhood on Jan. 11. Nice touch for a nice guy…Ask yourself this: If Rick Dudley were generally managing the Jets, how many player-for-player trades would he have made in the past 3 1/2 years? One? Two? Half a dozen?…Was that really Ferguson Jenkins in town for the American Association all-star hijinks at the Ballyard by The Forks? It sure was. Nice of the Baseball Hall of Famer to drop by and give the event a big-league touch…I’m not sure why head coach Mike O’Shea has put the muzzle on his assistants, but I’m sure it bothers the boys and girls on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers beat. But hands up if anyone else cares…I like the work Kirk Penton does on three-down football for the Winnipeg Sun. I’d take him on my staff…Gary (La La) Lawless broke away from his True North Toady scribblings this week to pay homage to Drew Willy after the first-year Bombers quarterback engineered a last-minute drive that carried the Winnipegs to a 27-26 victory over Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Incredibly, the Winnipeg Free Press sports columnist wrote Willy is “Part Joe Montana, part Johnny Unitas, part John Elway.” Good grief. How lofty the praise if Willy actually wins a football game in November? You know, like the Grey Cup game, for example. Turn down the volume, La La. Oh, and next time you write something about a football game, mention the final score. It’s a rather significant detail.

DOUG DAYS OF SUMMER: I began reading a Doug Brown piece on the Bombers this week in the Free Press and a Miss Lonelyhearts column broke out.

Seriously, this was lame. How lame was it? Well, apparently Doug had a bowl of relationship metaphors for breakfast because he had the Bombers everywhere from the boudoir to the Palomino Club.

My personal favorite was this gem: “We’ve been on five dates with this new team, and it has only disappointed us once. Sure, it may have shown up late and drunk and got vomit stuck in its hair against Edmonton…”

THE BOW WOW BUNGALOW: Some writers never fail to fail, and Steve Simmons of Sun Media is one of them.

bow wow bungalowIn his three-dot column this very day, Little Stevie Blunder refers to former Blue Jays and current Boston Red Sox skipper John Farrell as “Benedict Farrell.” In other words, he’s calling the man a traitor for defecting from Toronto to Beantown. Hmmm.

As I recall, Simmons was a columnist and sports editor when I joined the Calgary Sun in the early 1980s. Not long after my arrival, he defected to the Calgary Herald. Yup, he left us high and dry for the opposition. And that means he was negotiating his move to the Herald while still in the employ of the Sun. Benedict Simmons then defected to the Toronto Sun.

So, it’s okay for Stevie to jump ship, but not John Farrell. Pot meet kettle.

For that, Little Stevie Blunder earns this week’s stay in the Bow Wow Bungalow.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old, comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she doesn’t know when to quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C.

Winnipeg Jets are good to go now that TJ No Dots is on board

Boy, you can’t slip anything past our man Kevin Cheveldayoff. No sir. It’s like trying to sneak the sun past a rooster. Or a blue-eyed blonde past Tiger Woods.

No surprise, therefore, that while 28 general managers were taking a mid-summer siesta and Marc Bergevin was distracted by that pesky P.K. Subban thing, Kevin the Possum swooped in and plucked TJ Galiardi from the bones of the 2014 free-agent carcass. He sure showed that Jim Nill dude in Dallas how to generally manage a hockey team, didn’t he?

And let’s make one thing perfectly clear: There’s no truth to the rumor that the Possum actually believed he was signing T.J. Oshie, not TJ Galiardi. Our man would never get confused like that. No way. No one need tell the Possum the difference between a T.J. with dots after his initials and a TJ sans dots. The Winnipeg Jets GM knew exactly what he was doing when he added TJ No Dots to the ingredients of his Possum Stew.

So what does this development tell us?

Well, it tells us that the Jets now have the second best TJ in the National Hockey League. Not only that, it tells us that the Possum is a myth buster. Oh…yes…he…is.

It has been suggested—ad nauseam—that free agents will avoid River City like Brits avoid the dentist. Uh uh. Not true. TJ is evidence that some players really do like us, and so what if he comes from the dregs of the bin and would have been happy to see a contract offer from any outfit this side of the Kremlin. Mathieu Perreault is additional evidence of the Possum’s myth-busting chops.

I guess I’ve been wrong about the Possum all along. I mean, he somehow sold Perreault on The Forks and a non-playoff team against Disneyland and a Stanley Cup contender. Imagine that. Winnipeg, the Magic Kingdom. Again, take that, Jim Nill.

***

I don’t know if the recruitment of Perreault and TJ No Dots represents the Possum’s final touch in advance of Camp PoMo a little more than a month hence, but when I look at this Jets outfit I see…well, gosh darn, if I don’t see Don Waddell and Rick Dudley. Still. Three and a half years after the caravan from Atlanta rolled into River City.

And, to think, some people say the Possum does nothing.

(Just a thought: In a game of river hockey, which team would win? My money would be on Waddell/Dudley, even with Ondrej Pavelec in goal.)

TEAM WADDELL/DUDLEY

Dustin Byfuglien

Evander Kane

Andrew Ladd

Bryan Little

Zach Bogosian

Toby Enstrom

Ondrej Pavelec

Jim Slater

Chris Thorburn

Blake Wheeler

Paul Postma

Mark Stuart

THE POSSUM’S STEW

Mark Scheifele

Anthony Peluso

Matt Halischuk

Mathieu Perreault

Eric Tangradi

Grant Clitsome

Keaton Ellerby

Adam Pardy

Jacob Trouba

Michael Hutchinson

Michael Frolik

TJ Galiardi

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old, comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she doesn’t know when to quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C.

Winnipeg sports personalities get their heads examined

2 sports shrinks5

Twin sisters Dr. Patti van Puck and Dr. Patti van Pigskin are internationally renowned sports psychologists who specialize in what makes athletes/coaches/managers/owners/sports scribes/broadcasters tick.

Jocks the world over flock to their clinic, the River City Shrink Wrap, and Drs. Patti and Patti have a waiting list longer than a politician’s nose at election time. They don’t always have the right answer, but if loving the Winnipeg Jets, Blue Bombers and Goldeyes is wrong, they don’t want to be right.

Today’s group session includes Mike O’Shea, head coach of the Blue Bombers, Glenn January, offensive lineman with the Bombers, Evander Kane, left winger with the Jets, Kevin Cheveldayoff, general manager of the Jets, and Gary (La La) Lawless, sports columnist with the Winnipeg Free Press. Gentlemen, start your therapy…

DR. PUCK: “Welcome everyone. Who would like to start?”

COACH O’SHEA: “I’ll start, Doc Puck. I’m puzzled. I’m as baffled as a teenage kid trying to unhook his girlfriend’s bra for the first time. Here I am, a rookie head coach who’s taken over a team that really sucked lemons last year. I mean, they were bad and…”

DR. PIGSKIN: “Sorry to interrupt, Coach O’Shea, but exactly how bad were they?”

COACH O’SHEA: “Plugged-toilet-first-thing-in-the-morning bad. They won just three games. Out of 18! Now this year, my team has already won four games. FOUR! Out of five! But do you think we get any respect? Not so much as a sliver of respect. The fans still won’t fill the building and this bonehead sitting beside me—Lawless—writes that I need to learn how to lose. That was more than a month ago. Now he says the team’s a mirage. A mirage!”

JANUARY: “Not only that. He also wrote that the O-line sucks lemons and that I should be traded. That’s right! He says I’m the only guy on the O-line who doesn’t suck lemons, but then he says the GM oughta peddle my O-line-sized ass outta town. What’s up with that, Doc? Where’s the respect?”

DR. PIGSKIN: “Is all this true, Mr. Lawless?”

GARY LA LA: “Ya, I wrote that the Bombers are a mirage. But then they go and beat the Lions in B.C. to make me look like a complete jackass (as if I need help with that). So the next day I tweeted they might be real. Then two days later I wrote they’re gonna be champions. If they lose in Hamilton, they’ll be a mirage again. It all depends on what day it is, I guess. I just wet my finger, hold it up and see what way the wind’s blowing. Then I spend the next 15 minutes writing my column before lumbering off to my radio gig.”

DR. PIGSKIN: “And is it true that you wrote they should trade Glenn January?”

GARY LA LA: “Guilty as charged. I know he’s the best they’ve got. Without him, the O-line would really suck lemons. So maybe they shouldn’t trade him. Oh, I can’t make up my mind. I flip-flop more than a catfish someone caught at Lockport then tossed on the shore. I need help, Doc. That’s why I’m here.”

DR. PUCK: “My but there’s a lot of lemon sucking going on today? Do you have the same difficulty when you write about the Jets?”

GARY LA LA: “No way. Ask Chevy. He’ll tell you that I never lose my bearings when writing about the Jets. When they came to town in 2011, Chevy and Chipper bought me lunch. That really made me feel like I was part of the team. I wrote a column about it. Trust me, Doc, that lunch told me which side my bread is buttered on. I’ve known it right from the get-go. Right Chevy?”

CHEVELDAYOFF: “Damn straight, La La. My boots have never been so well shined. I can always count on Gary to pump my tires, Doc, whether I do something or not.”

KANE: “What do you mean if you do something? You haven’t done anything for 3 1/2 years. All you do is play with the waiver wire and draft kids who are five-foot-six and weigh 165 pounds. You never make trades to improve the team. Why do you think that blogger chick calls you Kevin the Possum? There’s no winning with you. Why do you think I want out of this two-bit town where everybody hates me?”

CHEVELDAYOFF: “I don’t make trades because I’m afraid to make trades. If I trade you, Evander, you’ll score 40 goals a season for the next 10 years and the guys I get in return won’t score 40 goals total in those 10 years. That’s what I’m afraid of.”

KANE: “So, as long as I’m in Winnipeg, we’re never going to make the playoffs, is that’s what I’m hearing you say?”

CHEVELDAYOFF: “No, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that as long as I’m in Winnipeg we’re never going to make the playoffs. That’s why I came here today to see the two docs. I’m hoping that they can give me the courage to make a trade for actual players, not draft choices.”

KANE: “Who the hell do you think Dr. Puck is? She ain’t the Wizard of Oz, man! Get a grip!”

GARY LA LA: “Hey, don’t talk to Chevy that way!”

KANE: “You talking to me, Lardo?”

GARY LA LA: “That’s right. I’m talking to you, punk. You should have the initials KCGGM shaved into your hair as a show of respect for your boss, the greatest GM in National Hockey League history. Everybody in this room sucks lemons except Chevy. And the two Docs, of course.”

DR. PUCK: “Gentlemen, please. Let’s keep this civil. Now, our session time is almost up, so let’s summarize. You’ve all come here for a reason—respect. That’s what you all seek. So, my twin sister and I are prepared to offer you some advice. Just remember, if loving you is wrong, we don’t want to be right.”

DR. PIGSKIN: “Coach O’Shea, you seek respect for your team. Mr. January, you seek respect for the O-line and as an individual. Well, it’s obvious what you must do in order to get the respect you desire and deserve: Do exactly what Chevy and Mark Chipman did with Gary La La—buy him lunch. There’s a McDonald’s close by. Take him there when you leave and you’ll never have to shine your shoes again.”

DR. PUCK: “As for you, Chevy, the great baseball manager Tubby Tommy Lasorda once said: There are three kinds of people—those who make things happen, those who let things happen, and those who wonder what happened. Well, young Mr. Kane is absolutely correct—I am not the Wizard of Oz. I can’t give you courage. Remember this: Oz didn’t give nothing to the cowardly lion that he didn’t already have. So make things happen. And, Evander, you wish to move to a city where the fans will admire and respect you and to a team that can win. I can’t say that I blame you.”

DR. PIGSKIN: “And, finally, we come to you, Gary La La. You seek respect as a writer. The trouble is, many readers can’t see past your Jets pom-poms. We know you don’t want to be seen as a True North Toady. So, again, it’s obvious what you must do—buy your own damn lunch.”

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old, comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she doesn’t know when to quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C.

Winnipeg sports: These two Jacks were both aces

Matty was a supreme wordsmith who never, ever mailed it in. His copy was pristine and it sang. He was a writer’s writer who worked at his craft.

Media musings and some other stuff…

Nice touch to name the press box at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry in honor of the two Jacks—Matheson and Wells.

Both Jack Matheson, my first sports editor, and Cactus Jack Wells, the lots-of-yuks broadcaster who never met a multi-syllabic name he couldn’t mangle or a day that didn’t turn out nice, were giants of jock journalism, not just in Winnipeg but on a national scale. I wonder, though: Do the names Matty and Cactus Jack carry any weight with the stable of young sports scribes and talking heads who will occupy Two Jacks Press Box going forward?

I hope so, because there are lessons to be learned from both men.

Matty, left, and Cactus Jack.
Matty, left, and Cactus Jack.

Matty, sports columnist at the Winnipeg Tribune, was a supreme wordsmith who never, ever mailed it in. His copy was pristine and it sang. He was a writer’s writer who worked at his craft. Hard. Matty didn’t write every day (his bride Peggy, aka the LGIW, insisted he take vacation once a year), but few wrote as often and as well. Most important, Matty loved his job, because it wasn’t a job to him.

As for Cactus, he went through life with a wink and a nod. He was fun and he had fun. I think that’s what jock journalists can learn most from this broadcasting legend: Take your job seriously, but not yourself.

ODDS ‘N’ SODS: Since the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are 4-1 and joint leaders in the western precinct of the Canadian Football League, I guess I should show some respect and stop calling their digs Football Follies Field in Fort Garry. It seems that the Football Follies boarded the same plane out of town as Joe Mack, Gary Crowton and a cast of quarterbacks who now appear to be in witness protection programs…Interesting how things work out. If the Bombers were still in the East Division, they’d already have a playoff spot locked up…This from Gary (La La) Lawless of the Winnipeg Free Press on July 25: “Don’t be fooled by the (Bombers) 3-1 record. It’s a mirage.” And this tweet from Gary La La exactly one day later: “So I don’t know if the #bombers are for real on the field.” I assume a loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Thursday will reduce the Bombers to “mirage” status again. Last time I saw flip-flops like this, they were on Jeff Reinebold’s feet…How much fun would Cactus Jack be having with the name Lirim Hajrullahu? I think he could handle Lirim without tripping over either syllable, but I’m pretty sure the Bomber kicker’s last name would be Hallelujah or Hoolahoopa or Highroller…Ed Tait continues to do boffo work for the Freep. His piece on former Bombers linebacker and National Football League wannabe Henoc Muamba is first rate…Read Steve Simmons three-dot column in the Winnipeg Sun this morning, and I must say that Little Stevie Blunder sounds like a bitter and angry old man in his rant against fancy stats in hockey. You don’t like fancy stats, Stevie? Well, here’s an unfancy stat for you: The next time you make a statement, put a period at the end of it, not a question mark…Again, I don’t understand why the Sun runs a column by a Toronto-based scribe who basically tells us everything he dislikes in the world. Here’s today’s scoreboard on the Simmons column: Toronto issues 17, Winnipeg issues 0…Is there any rhyme or reason to when sports columnists Paul Friesen (Winnipeg Sun) and Gary Lawless appear in print? The columnist is the most important read in a sports section. Why do we have to guess when they write?…Steven Stamkos says he wants to play hockey where he has a chance to win the Stanley Cup. Guess that rules out Canada…If I told you I know someone who’s never smoked pot, never had a tattoo and never taken a selfie, what would you say? I agree. I need to get a life.

WORTH REPEATING: When asked by Sean Fitz-Gerald of the National Post if Winnipeg deserved a second chance with a National Hockey League franchise, Bobby Hull said

“I don’t think they could afford it. It’s not that they don’t deserve one, but I don’t think they have enough fans, enough corporate businesses, to fund a professional franchise of that magnitude.”

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old, comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she doesn’t know when to quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C.

Winnipeg Jets: Here’s what they’re saying out on the street

If players and media think that Nashville hasn’t grown up as a team, I really want to know how they view the Jets. If Nashville just moved out of their parents’ house, the Jets took down their cartoon bird wallpaper and put up vintage airplanes stickers in their bedroom.

Ever wonder what others think about our hockey heroes? I do.

That’s why I went on a scouting mission this morning. I wanted to get the word on the street. You know, find out if pundits hither and yon are as gobsmacked as myself by the hypnotic, management-by-paralysis work of Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin the Possum, who, if his thumb-twiddling achieves the desired result, has positioned the Winnipeg Jets to win the Connor McDavid sweeps.

This hunt, it should be pointed out, was inspired by a Ken Wiebe piece that appeared last week in the Winnipeg Sun.

The young sports scribe went about the business of analyzing and assessing the off-season tinkering, overhauling and blow-’em-up-real-good manoeuvring of the seven outfits in the Central Division of the National Hockey League.

Wiebe rated Kevin the Possum’s work as C-, which, if I remember my grade school grading system correctly, is a passing mark. Anything above a D is a pass. Oh, woe is Ken.

A mark of C- for Kevin the Possum is clearly a hometown score. I’m not accusing Wiebe of being a True North Toady, but his credibility certainly has taken a bit of a hit because giving GM Kevin Cheveldayoff a passing grade is like giving Tiger Woods a gold star for fidelity.

Wiebe submits that the Jets “have improved slightly.” Sorry, but I don’t see it. Which is why I sought outside input. Here’s what they’re saying about the Jets out on the street, kids. (Caution: Offensive opinion if you’re a hard-core fanboy or fangirl.)

Harrison Mooney, Puck Daddy: The more I look at the Winnipeg Jets, the more I’m left to wonder what Kevin Cheveldayoff actually does all day. It’s as though Cheveldayoff doesn’t know trading is an option. He’s been an NHL GM since June 8, 2011. He’s never made a player-for-player trade, ever.

The Tennessean: With the exception of the Winnipeg Jets, every Central team made major improvements in hopes of unseating Pacific Division power Los Angeles, the Stanley Cup champion.”

David M. Wilson, Defending Big D (a Dallas Stars blog): So after finishing seventh in the Central Division, seven points back of a playoff spot, what do the Winnipeg Jets need to step into the sphere of being legitimate contenders? Well. Whatever it is, it’s unlikely they got it over this offseason. No, they didn’t exactly do nothing, but their summer moves are more of the yawn-inducing variety than anything else.”

Allan Muir, SI.com: “Meanwhile in Winnipeg, Cheveldayoff numbly soldiers on with a core that has no idea how to win, a tent-pole star who doesn’t want to be there and arguably the worst starting goalie in the entire league. What does Chevy do this summer? He picks up Mathieu Perreault to replace Olli Jokinen, waffles on the continuing Evander Kane situation and does nothing to support or replace Ondrej Pavelec, despite the availability of an abundance of keepers with starter potential in free agency. But what else to expect from a man whose boldest move in the last three years was swapping Johnny Oduya for a pair of draft picks?”

Scott Burnside, ESPN: Mathieu Perreault? That’s the answer? Hmmm. If the question was, ‘How do we keep our streak of never winning a single playoff game alive?’ then the Jets seem right on track. While every other team in the Central Division has made a step forward, the Jets seem content to maintain the status quo in the hopes that somehow, someway their young players—and there are some good ones like Jacob TroubaMark Scheifele and Blake Wheelerwill miraculously take this team by the throat and guide it into the playoffs. Last season they finished 14 points back of fourth-place Minnesota and seven back of Dallas, which snared the second wild-card spot in the West. No way are they that close now.”

Dan Bradley, On the Forecheck: The Jets are becoming masters at being just good enough to not get a top-3 pick, but not being good enough become relevant. It’s a cycle that’s pretty cruel to the city and its fans (who are some of the best in the league). The fans and media aren’t too fond of Evander Kane. They’re paying Ondrej Pavelec wayyyy too much money when he’s statistically one of the worst in the league. There’s some decent talent here, but unless a trade to bring in some legit scoring happens OR the team is bad enough to tank towards a top-3 pick, the Jets will continue to be a haven for young players looking to join a contender. If players and media think that Nashville hasn’t grown up as a team, I really want to know how they view the Jets. If Nashville just moved out of their parents’ house, the Jets took down their cartoon bird wallpaper and put up vintage airplanes stickers in their bedroom.”

Josh Clark, Blackout Dallas:  Better or worse? There’s absolutely no way around it: the Jets will decline this season. Winnipeg finished last year at 15th in the goals-for department and 21st in the goals-against department. With the rebuild phase imminent and draft picks galore filling their future, they just won’t be able to compete in the tough Central Division full of six playoff caliber teams now. With the current players on the roster, they will be able to straggle along, but will not find a way to punch their ticket to the postseason.”

Hockey Blog in Canada: “The first guy I have to ask about is Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff. The Jets have yet to make the playoffs since arriving in Winnipeg, and look like they are going to miss the playoffs again this season. Yes, I can boldly make that prediction in July because I’m not sure what Cheveldayoff is being paid to do on a daily basis.”

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old, comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she doesn’t know when to quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C.

Oh, woe is Canada. We just don’t try hard enough, eh.

I’d say them’s fighting words, except the last time we fought the Americans it was a rout and we really don’t want or need to burn down the White House again, do we?

Okay, grasshopper, I believe we need to take a Zen timeout. A mindful moment, if you will. Breathing in, say, “Jason Whitlock is an ass clown.” Breathing out, say, “Don Cherry is an ass clown.”

Breathing in, Jason Whitlock is an ass-clown. Breathing out, Don Cherry is an ass-clown.

There now, grasshopper. Don’t you feel better accepting the reality that there are ass-clowns on both sides of the vast North American divide?

We’ve long known about Cherry, of course, because the Lord of Loud has been sitting in his Hockey Night in Canada bully pulpit for 30-plus years, repeatedly reminding “you kids out there” that there is only one proper way to play shinny, and that’s the chip, chase and toothless “CANADIAN WAY!”

We have heart. We have soul. And they don’t.

Who are “they?” Everybody else. Especially Russians, who, according to a classic Cherry rant, “suck and they always HAVE SUCKED” and they have “ZERO” heart. So there.

As for those other “they” countries, which apparently includes the province of Quebec, their players wear face shields and have all their teeth. You cannot possibly have heart and soul if you’ve arrived at the National Hockey League level with a full set of tusks. So there.

There are, of course, mobs of hosers who sip Grapes’ Kool-Aid (Cherry-flavored, naturally). The Baron of Bombast has them convinced we win hockey matches because we want to win. Players from the “they” countries don’t want to win.

But whoa, Nellie.

Now we have Jason Whitlock telling us it isn’t so. At least not with our basketball players. Our hosers of the hardwood play hoops like the “they” hockey countries play hockey. Without heart. Without soul. With all their teeth.

Andrew Wiggins is from Canada,” Whitlock, an ESPN columnist of substantial rank, says of the Canadian kid chosen first by the Cleveland Cavliers in the recent National Basketball Association draft. “Canadian athletes…perhaps don’t want it as much as some of the Europeans and certainly the American players.

This is what a lot of NBA people believe, that American-born and even some of the European players that come (over to play in the NBA). They have more intensity, more of a hunger for the game. They’re not as laid back. Look, Canada’s a laid-back place, which is probably a positive thing. There’s positive-ness to not taking basketball and being so intense or being so bottom-line driven as we are here in America where it’s work, work, work, work, work and just go-get-go-get and that’s all we respect. But I’m just telling you, this is the conversation with basketball people: Does he have that ‘dog’ in him? Does he want to be the greatest all the time? Does he know how to give that consistent effort all the time? And they think that’s a question that a lot of players from north of the border have to answer.”

I’d say them’s fighting words, except the last time we fought the Americans it was a rout and we really don’t want or need to burn down the White House again, do we?

I mean, what’s to be gained in going off on Jason Whitlock and his sprawling generalization of the Great White North as a nation of slackers? I suppose I could paint all Americans with a brush that colors them loud, rude and obnoxious, but that would make Donald S. Cherry a closet American. Besides, I know an American who is not loud, rude and obnoxious. With any luck, I’ll meet another one before I’m ashes in an urn, eh.

I must confess I’m not offended by the utterances of Jason Whitlock. There might even be a thimble of truth in what he’s saying. We are a laid-back lot, are we not? We don’t rev our engines over any silly, little thing. It has to be an important issue. Like who owns the rights to the Hockey Night in Canada theme. Or why we have scratch-and-sniff $100 bills that smell like maple syrup.

How can our NBA players be expected to concentrate and want to win with such weighty matters preying on their minds?

Little wonder our Steve Nash only won two NBA most valuable player awards. Surely slacker Steve would have brought home more than two measly MVP trinkets had he not been a laid-back Canadian. Mind you, that’s still one more MVP award than either Kobe Bryant or Shaq ever won. But, hey, who’s counting when you’re slagging an entire nation?

Look, Jason Whitlock is a very good writer but also a blowhard. He has described himself as “fat black man” and he often works race into his print rantings. He once tweeted an extremely crude comment about the size of NBA player Jeremy Lin’s penis, then, in a forced, faux mea culpa, claimed his “immature, sophomore comedic nature” was the product of listening to too many Richard Pryor albums when he was a fat black kid.

Oh, isn’t that so American. Blame the black guy. Perhaps Don Cherry can blame the McKenzie Brothers the next time he says something stupid on HNIC. Coo, roo, coo, coo, coo, coo, coo, coo.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old, comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she doesn’t know when to quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C.

MY WINNIPEG: You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave

Keep in mind that many of our adopted jocks are not in Winnipeg by choice. The sports system forced them to drop anchor in Pegtown, so it could be that they feel the system is holding them hostage, which could lend itself to no small level of bitterness about a burg.

Does Winnipeg get a bad rap, or are the good citizens of River City a tad too touchy? Lord knows we have a fragile psyche, because we get our knickers in a knot at the mere suggestion that our burg is not fit for man, beast nor professional athlete. Well, here’s one person’s four-part take on what makes Pegtown tick.

PART ONE: It’s okay if you don’t like us (but we aren’t anybody’s arm pit)

PART TWO: Snub us and we won’t drink your beer (and it’s all Harold Ballard’s fault)

PART THREE: Some athletes we love, some athletes we loath (but we’ll love you more and loath you less if you win)

PART FOUR: Everybody knows this is nowhere (you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave)

 

PART ONE: It’s okay if you don’t like us (but we aren’t anybody’s arm pit)

It was the winter of 1998 and I was standing beside Ross McLennan in the Winnipeg Sun newsroom.

We peered out the window as an angry winter storm began to bare its fangs and growl, and we both knew that if we didn’t leave the building in the next half hour, or so, there existed a very real probability that we were hunkered in for the night.

“Ross,” I said to him as I stared at the white stuff swirling about outside, “why do we live here?”

“I don’t know,” he answered.

There was a pause for silence. We just stared at the snow.

“You know something,” I finally said, turning to my right and looking up at Ross. “We don’t have to live here. No. We don’t have to live here.”

So I don’t. Live there. But I do. Live there.

I have come to realize, you see, that I don’t live where I live. I live where I used to live. Where I’ve always lived. Where I always will live.

It’s just that I’m now approximately 2,300 kilometres to the left of Portage and Main. I have an ocean view. And a mountain view. There are palm trees, 365 days of golf, a wet rather than a white winter, nobody plugs in their car, and I’ve discovered uses for my arms other than swatting at mosquitos 24/7.

I hang my bonnet in Victoria, but, trust me, I live in Winnipeg.

I mean, I’m ashamed to admit this (and probably shouldn’t admit it), but I can’t tell you the name of Victoria’s mayor. I believe it’s Dean Fortin, but I’m not positive. Yes, I agree, shame on me.

The thing is, I not only can name the (soon-to-be former) mayor of Winnipeg, I know him. Personally. Mind you, I never was particularly fond of Sammy Katz, nor his smarmy smile. Always thought he was a bit like a soccer injury. You know, phony.

I figure Sammy for one of those soccer players who has been mortally wounded by a kick to the left shin bone, yet, as play continues to swirl about him as he lay clutching at his face, he’s peeking through his fingers to determine if the referee will go to his pocket and produce a red card.

The red card is, of course, the miracle cure of futbol. It has the healing powers of Jesus’s hands. The moment a mortally wounded lad is secure in the knowledge that his assailant has been shown a red card—and thereby banished from proceedings—he makes a Lourdes-like recovery and springs back into the fray with renewed vigor and an exaggerated limp that vanishes the very second play is whistled in. To me, that’s Sammy.

But I digress…

My point was/is, I know Sammy Katz is mayor in River City and I even know the names of some of those who would be mayor come October. Like Gord Steeves, who claims to know how many pot holes it takes to fill the streets of Winnipeg, because, by gosh, he’s going to fill ’em all.

I know these things because I left good, ol’ Hometown 15 years ago, but I never left.

I mean, when I make reference to the “local” paper, I’m talking about the Winnipeg Sun or Winnipeg Free Press, not the Victoria Times Colonist or Victoria News. My first order of business each morning is to call up both the Sun and Freep. I need to know what’s happening. Where it’s happening. When it’s happening. Why it’s happening. I need to know who’s happening and who isn’t happening.

I read it all. News, entertainment, sports, arts, Miss Lonelyhearts. Everything. I even stop by Mr. Sinclair Jr.’s neighborhood in the Freep on occasion, just to check out Gordo’s most recent exercise in name-dropping self-indulgence. (Quick question: Does Gordo ever eat at home with his bride, or does he always eat out with somebody who’s a somebody?)

At any rate, I care about Winnipeg. I care about its people. I am, after all, of them. Born and raised. Spent the largest segment of a 30-year career in jock journalism there.

That, however, doesn’t mean I’m under obligation to do the rah-rah, siss-boom-bah thing about all that is River City, and neither are the professional athletes we adopt.

Keep in mind that many of our adopted jocks are not in Winnipeg by choice. The sports system forced them to drop anchor in Pegtown, so it could be that they feel the system is holding them hostage, which could lend itself to no small level of bitterness about a burg.

None of us wishes to be where we don’t want to be, and there are hundreds—correction: thousands—of people living and working in Pegtown who don’t wish to live and work in Pegtown. Some of those people edit copy at a newspaper. Some flip cheese nips at The Sals. Some serve tables in pubs. Some are university profs. Some collect your garbage. And, yes, some are in the employ of the Winnipeg Jets and Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

There is mounting suspicion that Evander Kane is among those people. That he wants to hop on the next stagecoach out of Dodge. Well, the Jets left winger should know that it’s okay if he doesn’t like us. It’s okay if he wants out of Winnipeg. That doesn’t make him O.J. or Willie Pickton or Paul Bernardo any more than it makes me Karla Homolka because I dialed up a new area code in 1999.

And it doesn’t make our burg Toronto’s, Montreal’s, Calgary’s or Vancouver’s arm pit, either. So who gives two dumps if an athlete doesn’t like us?

 

PART TWO: Snub us and we won’t drink your beer (and it’s all Harold Ballard’s fault)

Winnipeg has many favorable qualities to offer. A self-deprecating sense of humor is not one of them.

Winnipeg is…it’s…well, it has Napolean Complex. Small man syndrome, if you will. Its skin is thinner than the margin of error on an Angus Reid poll.

A space cadet like Ilya Bryzgalov makes a flippant statement about our burg’s parks, the frigid climes and no Russian playmates for his kids and it’s as if he’s climbed atop the Legislature building and gelded the Golden Boy. Or replaced it with a bronze statue of Joseph Stalin.

Ben Hatskin and Bobby Hull
Ben Hatskin and Bobby Hull

Shane Doan is tarred and feathered (figuratively) for saying he doesn’t wish to uproot his family from Phoenix when the possibility exists that the Coyotes are about to become buzzard bait in the Arizona desert. Not once does Doan utter a disparaging remark about Winnipeg, though. Nary a discouraging word. He says he doesn’t wish to move his family anywhere. Not to Vancouver. Not to Calgary or Edmonton. Not to New York or Chicago. Yet many in Thin Skin City get their knickers in a knot, in part because of a jingoistic media that includes at least one prominent True North Toady who misrepresents Doan’s feelings in a column that falsely accuses the Coyotes captain of slander.

Dieter Brock cracks wise about the Assiniboine Park Zoo three decades ago and, to this day, there are many among the rabble who would lock him in a cage with the rest of the skunks.

We get our frozen noses out of joint at the slightest suggestion we aren’t where it’s at, don’t we? How dare these filthy rich, pampered ingrates not like us. The nerve. Don’t they know we have The Forks, Folklorama, the French Quarter, Festival du Voyageur, a thriving arts and entertainment community that includes a world-renowned ballet and symphony orchestra, the Museum of Asper, affordable real estate, blah, blah, blah, yadda, yadda, yadda?

And, hey, it’s the Slurpee capital of the planet. No place sucks like Winnipeg. Literally. So if you slag our city, no Slurpees for you!

I can’t say with absolute certainty when we developed our Napolean Complex, but I do believe we should point an accusing finger at Humpty Harold Ballard. And the Molson family.

When I was a kid, you see, Winnipeg didn’t have an inferiority complex, even though we didn’t have a National Hockey League team to call our own. Only Toronto and Montreal did. No big deal. Besides, there was no need to feel like the ginger-haired stepchild because we had a football club that could kick big-city butt. And that’s what the Blue Bombers did. Every year.

So everything was cool.

It even got better when Ben Hatskin hijacked Robert Marvin Hull. We still didn’t have an NHL franchise, but we had the Jets and the World Hockey Association. More significant, we had Bobby Hull. The Golden Jet. The most dynamic player north, south, east and west of Boston was ours. We could turn in any direction and go “nah, nah, nah, nah, nah.”

Our smugness rapidly turned to anger, though, because the hockey establishment refused to play nice. First, they went to court to prevent our Bobby from joining the Jets. Next, they refused to include our Bobby on the Team Canada side that faced off against the Soviet Union in the 1972 Summit Series. They spent the next seven years pooh-poohing our product as paperweight, even as the Jets iced an outfit that could lay a licking on 90 per cent of teams in the NHL. Eventually, most parties realized there had to be a ceasefire between the NHL and WHA, for financial sanity. There were merger talks. And a show of hands on the NHL inviting Winnipeg, Quebec City, Edmonton and New England to the party. The tally was 12-5 in favor, with Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, which landed an NHL franchise in 1970, Boston and Los Angeles on the nay side of the vote. That was enough to defeat the merger.

8-harold-ballard-worst-moments-in-maple-leafs-history
Humpty Harold Ballard

The loudest anti-acceptance voice, that with the most huff, puff and bluster, belonged to Humpty Harold Ballard, resident felon and bankroll of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“I feel so elated,” Ballard brayed in celebration. “It’s like the North beating the South in the Civil War.”

“As far as Harold was concerned, Winnipeg didn’t exist,” Jets part-owner and governor Barry Shenkarow recalls in the Ed Willes book, The Rebel League: The Short and Unruly Life of the World Hockey Association.

So, Ballard and his buddies in Montreal and Vancouver were telling us we weren’t big enough. We weren’t classy enough. We weren’t sexy enough. We weren’t sophisticated enough for the NHL.

Well, we were big enough and old enough to drink beer.

The WHA teams needed one NHL outfit to change its vote. Just one. Ballard, ever the curmudgeon, never would be swayed from his position, not as long as it meant receiving a smaller slice of the Hockey Night in Canada pie. So the Molson family, owner of Club du Hockey Canadien, became the target. We stopped swilling their beer. Not just in River City. In Edmonton. In Quebec City. In Calgary. In Vancouver.

The power of the pint won the day and Humpty Harold’s happiness was replaced with a harrumph when Winnipeg, Edmonton, Quebec City and New England were absorbed by the NHL.

I’m convinced, however, that residue remains from that 1970s scenario. It’s why we get our backs up and go all bantam rooster at the mere hint that we can’t run with the big dogs. And, of course, our fragile psyche took a massive wallop when the original Jets loaded up the truck, lock stock and jock strap, and departed hockey’s high country for the Arizona desert in 1996.

But Winnipeg shouldn’t give a damn what anyone thinks or says of us. We can, and should, feel good about what we see when we look in the mirror.

We shouldn’t be afraid to laugh at ourselves, either. We’ve got our quirks. I mean, we want people to love us. To experience us. Yet we build a perimeter highway around our city just so people can avoid us as they make their way across the country. Go figure.

 

PART THREE: Some athletes we love, some athletes we loath (but we’ll love you more and loath you less if you win)

Carbon dating confirms that I am a relic. A fossil. I am a drawing on a cave-dweller’s wall. The amateurish sketch depicts me sitting in the old barn on Maroons Road in the 1950s, watching Billy Mosienko and the Winnipeg Warriors.

bowlingWe all loved Mosie. He authored an admirable career in Chicago, where he played on the Blackhawks’ famed Pony Line with the Bentley brothers, Doug and Max, and the highlight for Mosie arrived on the final night of the 1951-52 NHL season when he tallied three goals in the lickety-split time of 21 seconds. It remains an unassailable feat of scoring fury.

It wasn’t just his time in the NHL, nor his name in the record book, that endeared us to Mosie, though. He was a local boy who made good, then came home to us in 1955 to lead the Warriors to a Western Hockey League title. And he never left.

There’s now a hockey rink that bears his name. Also a tournament. And, of course, Mosienko Lanes continues to thrive at the corner of Redwood and Main in the gritty North End.

Ken Ploen is another former athlete we love. Unlike Mosie, he’s an adopted son, coming to us from tiny Lost Nation, Iowa, in the late 1950s to play an unparalled role in the golden years of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Grey Cup parades became commonplace once Ploen arrived to play defensive back and quarterback, and there isn’t a River City athlete, past or present, more revered than No. 11. He is our humble hero. He is to Winnipeg football what Jean Beliveau is to Montreal hockey. His affection for us is genuine. Real. It is not pasted on to gain sway. Once here, he, like Mosie, never left.

“I think when you look back at things, you say do you second guess yourself. I think it was a great decision I made back then and I certainly don’t ever regret that,” is what he said when inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame. “It’s been a great place to live. One of the reasons I stayed in Winnipeg was warm people.”

He echoed those sentiments when the great Bombers squads of 1959 and ’62 were celebrated by the MSHOF.

“I thought about it a lot today and I said how fortunate we were to play in a city like Winnipeg, with the fans that we had. It was always a great feeling to represent the province of Manitoba and the city of Winnipeg. I think a number of times because of that support we were able to pull off victories that maybe we wouldn’t have pulled off in another circumstance. It was a thrill representing the Blue and Gold, it was an honor wearing their uniforms and we look back at it with nothing but fond memories.”

Young people unfamiliar with Ploen would be shocked to learn that the great QB actually snubbed the National Football League to ply his trade on the lonesome prairie, in part because the Bombers offered him more money than the Cleveland Browns. I know, that’s hard to imagine, but it’s true. The Browns were willing to give Ploen a $500 signing bonus and a $5,000 yearly stipend to play DB. The Bombers went all-in with $3,000 and $9,000 as a DB/QB.

Ken_PloenAs an added bonus, Ploen heard that the “hunting and fishing was pretty good up here.”

Winnipeg prefers its sporting heroes to be a product of the Mosienko or Ploen template. Feet firmly on the ground. Genuine. Blue collar work ethic. Confident, not cocky. Community awareness. Little, if any, bling.

And we don’t care about their roots.

For example, Winnipeg probably holds European hockey players closer to the heart than any market in North America, although Mikhail Smith soured us ever so slightly on Soviets/Russians with his ill-concieved and failed attempt to transform Portage and Main into Red Square. We love Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson, two of the many Scandinavians who brought titles to River City before departing for Gotham. The super Swedes have not forgotten us, nor we them. Ditto Teemu Selanne, the fab Finn who took us on a magic carpet ride in his NHL rookie season.

It helps to win, of course. Mosie won. Ploen won. Chris Walby won. Bob Cameron won. Hedberg and Nilsson won. Had Dieter Brock brought the Grey Cup home, we’d talk more about what he did on the football field than what he said about the zoo. Hell, we’d let him pull a Kramer and hurl banana peels at the zoo monkeys.

Win and there’s a chance that some will forgive, or look beyond, your trespasses.

Bobby Hull’s name has been, and still is, linked to spousal abuse, which is a most loathsome bit of business. His ex-wife, Joanne, was granted a divorce on grounds of physical cruelty, mental cruelty and adultery. She has spoken of him beating and bloodying her head with the steel heel of her shoe. He has been convicted of assaulting a Chicago police officer. He had a DUI arrest. He drank excessively. But, hey, Robert Marvin Hull put Winnipeg on the pro hockey map. There would be no NHL franchise if not for the him. Thus, many eyes look beyond, or are blind to, his violent, off-ice nastiness.

Personally, I acknowledge what the Golden Jet did for good, ol’ Hometown as a hockey player. Only Ben Hatskin has done more. But Hull the man was a cad.

I don’t harbor any warm and fuzzies for him, but a great many in River City do. And always will.

 

PART FOUR: Everybody knows this is nowhere (you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave)

This isn’t a news bulletin to anyone who’s spent more than a month in the Manitoba capital, but it must be mentioned: Winnipeg is not Shangri-La.

Let’s ignore the usual suspects of winter, mosquitos, crime, spring flooding, middle-of-nowhere location, etc., because every city has acne (have you ever been to Buffalo?). Let us, instead, focus on sports. Explain to me, in 25 words or less, why a free agent hockey or football player would want to pitch his tent in Pegtown, or why those currently under contract would wish to stay? And, no, a lifetime supply of Slurpees is not enticement enough to lure prime jock stock to the Little Hockey House on the Prairie or Football Follies Field in Fort Garry.

Above all, athletes want to win. Well, a championship parade in River City is as rare as a green winter. Our burg has been a Grey Cup-free zone since Wade Miller was knee high to Buzz and Boomer (come to think of it, Wade’s still only knee high to Buzz and Boomer). Meanwhile, the management-by-paralysis stylings of Jets GM Kevin The Possum means our hockey heroes are always first to the tee box each April.

When a number of the Jets core players (Bryan Little, Zach Bogosian, Blake Wheeler, Ondrej Pavelec, Evander Kane) inked long-term deals, they expressed a fondness for the city, the True North organization and confidence that the club was headed in the right direction.

I do not, however, think they anticipated the general manager going completely comatose.

Winning is not part of the hockey equation in Winnipeg. That, alone, makes the acquisition of Grade A free agents remote, if not impossible. At best, our city and the Jets will land a Grade B player, but the likelihood is that River City is the preferred destination of Grade C and D players. Like Mathieu Perreault, who stands as The Possum’s sole free-agent signing to date this off-season.

Many are geeked up about the arrival of Perreault, who replaces Olli Jokinen. But ask yourself this: Why would Perreault rather be the No. 3 centre on a non-playoff team than the No. 3 centre on a Stanley Cup contender?

Whatever, I don’t think Perreault makes the Jets better. Just younger.

So, again, why would someone like Kane wish to remain in Winnipeg? If he’s going to be a much-maligned man, why not go where he’ll cash a playoff cheque for his trouble?

At any rate, the fact that top-quality players steer clear of Pegtown does not make our city unique. John Elway wanted no part of Baltimore. Eli Manning didn’t dig San Diego. Eric Lindros snubbed Quebec City, which, in my experience, is the most beautiful burg in North America. Ryan Kesler and Roberto Luongo wanted out of Vancouver. Josh Gorges turned his nose up at Toronto. James Reimer wants out of Toronto. Ryan Suter left Nashville. Patrick Roy forced his way out of Montreal. Jason Spezza spurned an entire country.

The reasons, of course, vary, but the sentiment is the same: Nobody wants to be where they don’t want to be.

This all reminds me of the title of a song written by one of our favorite sons, Neil Young: Everybody Knows This is Nowhere. That’s what the outside world thinks of River City. But we know better, don’t we? River City is more like the Hotel California: You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.

I wonder if Evander Kane knows that.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg hockey and the Jets for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of hockey knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old, comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she doesn’t know when to quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for literary contributions to the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C.

Winnipeg Jets: Dale Hawerchuk is revered, Evander Kane is reviled and Kevin Cheveldayoff is The Possum

Dale Hawerchuk had street cred as a hockey player and, perhaps more important, as a citizen. His street cred was borne of a 53-goal season. Six 40-plus goal seasons. Half a dozen 100-plus point seasons. A Calder Trophy. And he married a Manitoba farm girl, Crystal.

Okay, it’s agreed that Evander Kane is Public Enemy No. 1 in River City.

The guy is about as welcome as mosquitos at a picnic table. He probably couldn’t get himself a free lunch at a soup kitchen. Heck, Kane likely couldn’t score a pint on the house if he bellied up to the bar with Mike O’Shea and Drew Willy as his wing mates on a Friday night at the Palomino Club.

Ya. I’m told it’s that bad.

So here’s what I would like to know: What is Kane’s crime?

There’s a school of thought, of course, that suggests he wants out of Winnipeg. That he feels as if playing hockey in River City is the equivalent of cleaning up after the circus elephants. We’ve been hearing that since he arrived with the National Hockey League club’s caravan from Atlanta in 2011. Well, to the best of my knowledge, we’ve never heard any such words fall from Kane’s tongue. When asked about it point blank, he acts like a ninny and skates around the issue without providing a yes or no answer.

Thus, it’s all gossip. Innuendo. Rumor. Kane, himself, has yet to approach general manager Kevin (The Possum) Cheveldayoff and request a trade. Not for public consumption, anyway.

Why, then, is the young Winnipeg Jets left winger so disliked?

I mean, Dale Hawerchuk demanded his ticket out of Dodge, yet he is revered in River City.

The difference, of course, is that Ducky had street cred as a hockey player and, perhaps just as important, as a citizen. His street cred was born of a 53-goal season. Six 40-plus goal seasons. Half a dozen 100-plus point seasons. A Calder Trophy. And he married a Manitoba farm girl, Crystal.

One other thing: There was no belief that Ducky considered his adopted hometown the crotch of the country.

Ducky wanted a new postal code for one reason: GM Mike Smith.

Some of you might not be old enough to remember comrade Mikhail, who generally (mis)managed the Jets in the late 1980s and early ’90s. He was, shall we say, a different head of lettuce. Rumpled in a slept-on-the-street sort of way and an egghead who viewed hockey not so much as sport but science, he had a degree in Russian studies and a fascination, if not a fetish, for players whose names ended with the letters ‘ov’. Under comrade Mikhail’s watch, the Jets had more Ivans and Igors and Sergeis and Vladimirs than the Kremlin. Or the Moscow phone book. Winnipeg was Red Square West. That’s why I called them the Central Red Jets back in the day.

Anyway, Hawerchuk was caught up in, and eventually swept away by, the undertow of comrade Mikhail’s diabolical plot to paint the town red.

As with the Kane scrutiny, gossip abounded about Ducky being dispatched hither and yon. Chicago Blackhawks coach Iron Mike Keenan and his Jets counterpart, Bob (Mud) Murdoch talked about a one-for-one swap: Denis Savard for Hawerchuk. Prior to the 1989 NHL trade deadline, there was discussion of a deal that would have sent Ducky to Philadelphia for Dave Poulin, Scott Mellanby and one of their the Flyers’ No. 1 picks.

“And three of Bobby Clarke’s kids,” was comrade Mikhail’s cheeky reaction to the reports. “And two of Jay Snider’s cars.”

To that point in time, Hawerchuk had made no trade request or demand. He was, however, wavering.

“I would accept a trade more easily now than I would have a year ago,” he said. “I’m tired about reading bull in the papers. I’m tired of coming to the rink with a negative-type attitude here. Maybe it’s best for the hockey club to get a few players for me. That’s not saying I want to be traded.”

Both Hawerchuk and comrade Mikhail were singing from the same sheet in the songbook by the end of that season.

“He basically would like a change,” the GM told reporters. “He’d like an opportunity to go to another team and play in another organization.”

Shortly thereafter, Ducky was shuffled off to Buffalo in barter for Phil Housley, Scott Arniel, Jeff Parker and an exchange of first-round draft picks (the Jets chose Keith Tkachuk). It was a favorable deal for the Jets, certainly the best return anyone could have expected.

Despite his defection, Hawerchuk is revered and considered hockey deity in River City. And rightly so.

Kane, meanwhile, is reviled.

I still don’t know what crime Kane has committed, other than he enjoys yanking everyone’s chain. I do know this, however: Dale Hawerchuk earned the right to request a trade because he earned his street cred through his deeds. To this point in time, Evander Kane has done and earned squat.

You know, just like The Possum, whose management by paralysis has paralyzed the Jets.

(FOOTNOTE: I invite your comments. I do not, however, welcome some of your comments. If you believe what I’ve written is the natterings of a nincompoop and belongs at the bottom of a bird cage, let ‘er rip. Tell me why. I enjoy healthy debate. That can be fun. If, on the other hand, your idea of a critique is to attack/insult me about my gender or sexual orientation, then we aren’t going to get along. Let’s put it this way: It is permissible to question the size of my IQ, but not the size of my boobs. Bottom line: I don’t get paid to write this crap, so play nice, kids.)