About Sleepy-Eye Joe Mack passing on Mike Reilly…TSN’s continuing love affair with Johnny Rotten…the King of Clay…intrigue in women’s tennis…Secretariat still the greatest…a Capital way to party…the skier and the hockey player…expensive cardboard…and other things on my mind

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

It’s Darian Durant’s fault. A pox on his house for taking the money and running to retirement!

No. Wait.

It’s Joe Mack’s fault.

The statute of limitations hasn’t run out on Sleepy-Eye Joe’s stupidity, has it? Nope. So, whenever the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ universe isn’t unfolding as it should, the former general manager and everyone’s favorite whipping boy is still fair game for blame. He’s the reason the Big Blue will begin their 2018 Canadian Football League crusade with a starting quarterback on training wheels.

I mean, think about it.

Mike Reilly

Had Sleepy-Eye Joe reeled in Mike Reilly in 2013, we wouldn’t be talking about Matt Nichols’ wonky wheels and a QB pool that has all the depth of an Archie-Jughead plot line. Well, would we? Reilly, after all, is Marlboro Man rugged, even when he’s wearing one of his funny, little hats. He’s voted annually by his peers as the toughest hombre in the three-down game, and he hasn’t missed a beat due to an owie since the first week of September 2015.

The sad thing is, Mack could have had Reilly for a song.

The sticker price the B.C. Lions listed for Reilly was a swap of second-round picks in the 2013 CFL college draft, plus a second-rounder in ’14. The Edmonton Eskimos were willing to pay it. Mack didn’t even want to kick the tires. Sleepy-Eye Joe remained convinced and confident that Buck Pierce was the answer at quarterback, and his backup plan was putting the legendary Justin Goltz behind centre. Or Max Hall.

As history records, that worked out about as well as New Coke.

To say Pierce was injury prone is to say Bill Gates has a bit of money. When fit enough to actually start a game, they didn’t strap a play chart to Brittle Buck’s left wrist. It was an IV needle. He didn’t survive the first month of the ’13 season, leaving various body parts and what was left of his marbles strewn on the field.

Sleepy-Eye Joe

That QB fiasco, among other things, cost Mack his job generally mismanaging the Bombers, and Pierce finished that season in B.C., from whence he came. He’s now an assistant coach in Pegtown. No word on the whereabouts of Goltz and Hall, but I suspect they’re asking customers if they’d like fries with their Big Macs and Quarter Pounders.

As for Reilly, well, I’m sure you’re familiar with his story after the Eskimos lured him away from the Lions: Grey Cup champion and Grey Cup game most valuable player in ’15; CFL’s most outstanding player in ’17; two-time West Division all-star; one-time league all-star. And, perhaps most significant, Reilly is still with the Eskimos. No drive-thru orders for him. He’ll be barking signals and gutting it out on Thursday night when the Green-and-Gold engage the Bombers in a season-opening frolic at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry.

Reilly remains the ‘what could have been’ and ‘what should have been’ for the Bombers. That’s Sleepy-Eye Joe’s legacy.

Matt Nichols and Mike Reilly

None of the above is meant to disparage Nichols. Hey, he’s a tough dude, too. And he’s a keeper. Trouble is, he’s developed a most curious habit of falling down without being touched. His left leg caved on him in a game last October, and his right leg collapsed in a training session last week. Officially, he’s run out of legs that work properly. This, of course, is where Durant was expected to fit in. The Bombers paid the veteran QB $70,000 up front to serve as a safety net, thus, with Nichols in the repair shop for as few as four weeks and as many as six, it would have been his show. Alas, instead of playing catch with an interesting array of receivers, Durant is at home changing his new-born daughter’s dirty diapers, and the Bombers are unlikely to grovel at the feet of man who jilted them on the eve of training camp and trolled them on Twitter. Would Durant be an upgrade on Alex Ross, Bryan Bennett or Chris Streveler, the three lads who auditioned for the starter’s role on Friday night against the Lions in Vancouver? Naw. When last seen, which is to say with the Montreal Alouettes in 2017, Durant seldom delivered a pass without the football bouncing once or twice before landing at a receiver’s feet. He’s spent.

Welcome to TJMN—The Johnny Manziel Network, formerly known as The Sports Network. Seriously. TSN has gone loopy over Manziel. Last week, following a CFL debut that consisted of nine completed passes and zero points, TSN featured nine—count ’em, nine!—Johnny Rotten videos. One video per completion. Sunday morning, after he was good on a dozen of 20 pass attempts (including a TD toss), there were five more Johnny Rotten videos on the main TSN web page. They also featured something called Johnny Football Watch. All that for a guy who won’t start a game for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats unless Jeremiah Masoli is wounded or implodes.

Winner and still champion on clay, Rafa Nadal.

Can you say undécima, kids? Rafael Nadal can. His 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 paddywhacking of Dominic Thiem in the men’s singles final Sunday was his 11th French Open title, and I can’t think of an athlete—in any sport—who is more dominant than the muscular Rafa on the red clay of Roland Garros. What the Spanish maestro has accomplished in Paris is insane. He’s 86-2. Eighty-freaking-six and two! Nobody goes 86-2. Except the Harlem Globetrotters, and their games are as rigged as a Vegas slot machine. Nadal on clay is a one-off. Never seen anything like him. Never will. (By the way, here’s the answer to the trivia question: Robin Soderling and Novak Djokovic are the only two men to have beaten Nadal at Roland Garros.)

Simona Halep

The Big Four in men’s tennis is no more, but the Big Two remains. While Andy Murray is MIA and Djokovic is trying to sort out things in his head, if not other parts of his body, the younger generation of hot-shot racqueteers can’t kick Nadal or Roger Federer to the curb. Each of the 30somethings has won three of the past six Grand Slam championships and, Federer’s allergy to red clay notwithstanding, there’s no sign of surrender in either man. One suspects Wimbledon will be another episode in the Rafa-and-Roger show. All of which means the distaff side of tennis is much more intriguing. Check it out: In the past six GS tournaments, there have been six different champions—Serena Williams, Jelena Ostapenko, Garbine Muguruza, Sloane Stephens, Caroline Wozniacki and Simona Halep. Wimbledon will be another complete crapshoot, even if a healthy Williams joins the field.

Secretariat romping to the wire in the 1973 Belmont Stakes.

On the subject of great champions, 45 years to the day that Secretariat completed horse racing’s Triple Crown by winning the Belmont Stakes, Justify romped wire-to-wire at Belmont to become the 13th Triple Crown winner. But let’s provide some perspective. Justify ran the mile and a half in 2:28.18 on Saturday. Secretariat did it in 2:24.0 in 1973. In other words, Secretariat would have beaten Justify by more than 20 lengths. Big Red’s Belmont victory (he won by 31 lengths) remains the single greatest sporting achievement I have witnessed.

Perhaps Damien Cox would prefer it if the Washington Capitals partied like Canadian women.

Starring in the role of grumpy grandpa this week is Toronto Star and Sportsnet gasbag Damien Cox. On the heels of the Washington Capitals’ Stanley Cup conquest of the Vegas Golden Knights, Alex Ovechkin and the boys have been tooting about in full celebratory mode, carousing and fussing and sharing the moment with the rabble on the streets of D.C. Oh, they’ve also been drinking. How positively scandalous. And that just won’t do in Damien’s delicate, little world. There’s no room for random, unharnessed merriment. Or booze. “Rafael Nadal won his ELEVENTH French Open today,” Cox tweeted in a pious, tsk-tsking tone Sunday morning. “No video yet of him drunkenly rolling around in a public fountain because apparently some believe that’s how champions should behave.” Well, excuuuuuse the Capitals for having fun. I wonder if Damien Cox awakens some mornings and regrets being Damien Cox.

P.K. Subban and Lindsey Vonn

Social Note: It must be spring because sports power couples keep popping up. Not so long ago, noted flinger of footballs Aaron Rodgers and fast-car driver Danica Patrick were observed canoodling in public, and now it’s hockey’s diving diva, P.K. Subban, and Lindsey Vonn, glam gal of the ski slopes and one-time main squeeze of golfer Tiger Woods. Don’t know if going from putters to pucks is a dating step up or a step down for Vonn, but she probably won’t get any late-night calls from P.K. asking for bail money. (For the record, my fave sports power couple is Sue Bird and Megan Rapinoe, with Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi a close second.)

I note that a Connor McDavid rookie card recently sold at auction for $55,655. That’s a lot of coin for a small hunk of cardboard. But it made me wonder if kids still stick trading cards in the spokes of their bike wheels. Better question: Do kids still ride bikes, or are they too busy texting each other?

Serena Williams

Zero female athletes appeared on the Forbes list of the top 100 money-makers in sports for the first time, but we shouldn’t be surprised. The annual Forbes 100 is based on earnings from June to June, a period of almost total inactivity in 2017-18 for Serena Williams, who slotted in at No. 51 a year ago with total income of $27 million. Her haul this time around was $18M, all via endorsement deals. Maria Sharapova, meanwhile, once was a regular on the Forbes 100, but, after being caught with her hand in the illegal-drug jar, some sponsors abandoned her and she has yet to return to championship form. Sharapova is hardly a pauper, though. Her estimated worth is well in excess of $100 million.

And, finally, an interesting albeit indelicate quote from the elegant Garbine Muguruza, who, after routing the equally elegant Sharapova, 6-2, 6-1, in the French Open, described the five-time Grand Slam champion as “an old-time player.” Ouch. Sharapova just turned 31.

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About the first-place (for a few hours) Winnipeg Blue Bombers…near-perfection…laughing it up about naked women…new wrinkles in curling…best of the Blue Jays…good writing…a strange tweet…and other things on my mind

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

I looked at the Canadian Football League standings on Saturday morning and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers were atop the tables. I know, totally weird.

It was kind of like staring at a solar eclipse without eye protection.

Matt Nichols

I mean, these are the 0-for-a quarter-century Blue Bombers and, even though the Calgary Stampeders had slipped past them by the end of the day, I’m wondering if it’s now safe to say that general manager Kyle Walters and head coach Mike O’Shea actually know what they’re doing. Naw. Probably not.

As much as the Bombers are full marks for their 7-2 log at the midway point of their current crusade, we’ll reserve judgement until all the evidence is in. Six of their final nine skirmishes are against West Division foes, one of whom is a Saskatchewan Roughriders outfit that looked like two gimme wins three weeks ago but suddenly has a pulse.

I’m sticking with my suggestion that the Bombers should finish 14-4, though. Then I’ll agree that Walters and O’Shea know what they’re doing. At least until Coach Mikey asks kicker Justin Medlock to hoof a 61-yard field goal or play quarterback.

Take that, Conor McGregor!

Nope. Didn’t watch the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Conor McGregor dust-up at T-Mobile Arena in Glitter Gulch on Saturday. I try not to spend my money in support of a man who spends his spare time beating up women.

I keep hearing how Mayweather broke some sort of a record with his 10-round TKO of McGregor. He’s had his hand raised in a boxing ring 50 times, and not once has he walked out a loser. Is 50-0 exceptional? You betcha. The best ever? Hardly. Julio Cesar Chavez was 87-0 before there was a blemish on his record (a controversial draw against Pernell Whitaker) and he wasn’t beaten until his 91st bout. Willie Pep went 62-0 before losing. Then he went 72-0-1 before his next defeat. That’s one loss in 136 bouts. When Ricardo Lopez hung ’em up, he was 51-0-1.

I don’t believe in perfection. A boxer can have a perfect record, but that doesn’t make him a perfect boxer. With that in mind, here’s today’s top-five list: Near-perfection…
1. Alison Krauss’s voice: Angelic.
2. Secretariat in the Belmont Stakes: The most breathtaking performance I’ve ever seen in sports.
3. Sandy Koufax: How did the great Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher ever lose?
4. Bobby Orr: He travelled a different orbit than any other hockey player.
5. Jimmy Stewart: Can’t think of a movie I didn’t like him in.

Will Mayweather now do us a favor and exit quietly? That would be nice, but, sadly, I suspect we’ll be hearing from him again, and we can only hope it isn’t because cops have been called to put the cuffs on him for beating up another woman.

Floyd Mayweather and Jimmy Kimmel sharing giggles about naked women.

Add Jimmy Kimmel to the list of Mayweather enablers. The late-night TV chin-wagger had the serial women-beater on his Jimmy Kimmel Live! gab-fest recently, and it was a shameful exercise in fan worship, fraught with weak humor and fawning. Not once during the schmooze did Kimmel mention domestic abuse. But, hey, we learned why Mayweather got into the business of having women remove their clothing at his Girl Collection strip club in Sin City: “Because I knew breasts, the vagina, music and alcohol would never go out of style,” he said. Jimmy Kimmel giggled. So did much of his audience. Sigh.

Steve Simmons of Postmedia, one of Mayweather’s hypocritical enablers on press row, wrote this in advance of Saturday night’s tiff against the excessively vulgar and obnoxious loudmouth McGregor: “Give Mayweather some credit on press conference Wednesday. He seems to want to say goodbye with some dignity.” Good grief. Dignity is a word that ought never be used when describing a man who beats up women.

Simmons, who fancies himself as a boxing expert because he’s covered more than a dozen prize fights, offered this prediction prior to Mayweather-McGregor: “It could end early. It could go eight or nine rounds. Or it could go the distance. That’s not being wishy-washy.” If that isn’t wishy-washy, then the Pope isn’t Catholic. Simmons then wrote, “Mayweather wins early, late or by decision.” What’s it going to be, Steve? “PREDICTION WITHOUT COMMITMENT: Mayweather in 9 rounds.” In other words, he didn’t have a clue.

Quick review on the Everest Curling Challenge in Fredericton: It was like eating a Sloppy Joe—really enjoyable but kind of messy. The concept is brilliant, with eight mixed all-star teams pieced together in a draft, then shooting for a $200,000 winner-take-all prize. And the bonus extra point for shot stone covering the pin hole is a terrific wrinkle. But the timing is off. Curling in August is like skinny dipping in January. The players, clearly not in fighting trim, were guessing on ice, guessing on weight, guessing in their decision-making. At one point, TSN talking head Russ Howard mentioned something about “amateur” mistakes. Find a better date and the event is a total winner.

Interesting that none of the four outfits skipped by women—Rachel Homan, Jennifer Jones, Val Sweeting and Chelsea Carey—advanced out of the first round in Fredericton. I’m not sure what to make of that. I mean, it’s not like male skips are better strategists.

I note that Sportsnet has declared second-sacker Roberto Alomar the greatest player to ever wear a Tranna Blue Jays uni. Can’t argue with that. When he wasn’t spitting on umpires, Alomar was wowing ’em in the field and at the dish.

Terrific piece on former Winnipeg Jets knuckle-dragger Jimmy Mann by Mike Sawatzky in the Winnipeg Free Press. Jimmy will always be remembered as GM John Ferguson’s most glaring d’oh moment at the National Hockey League draft, but he was a nice kid off the ice.

Bravo to Todd Fanning, winner of the Canadian Men’s Mid-Amateur golf championship last week in Regina. I remember covering Todd on the Canadian pro tour a number of years back. Good guy.

Interesting tweet from young Jeff Hamilton of the Freep: “Montreal update: guy that was using the urinal beside me was holding his toothbrush with his other hand.” Yo! Jeff! My gay friends want to know why you were peeking down there.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling mostly about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.

About the Secretariat of clay court tennis…a delight named Jelena…time for Chevy to get to work…and angry, old Grandpa Simmons is shaking his fist at clouds again

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

Let’s make something perfectly clear: Stan Wawrinka is very, very good and what he does.

Unless your name is Roger Federer, Stan the Man is the best tennis talent ever produced in Switzerland. He is just one successful Wimbledon fortnight short of a career Grand Slam, having already claimed the singles titles at the Australian, French and U.S. Opens. He is ranked No. 3 among all racqueteers on the third rock from the sun.

Yet Rafael Nadal made No. 3 look like No. 303 in the men’s final at the French Open on Sunday in Paris.

It was like watching Secretariat win the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths. Seriously, 6-2, 6-3, 6-1? In the championship match of a Grand Slam tournament? We haven’t seen a rout like that since Custer threw down on Crazy Horse at the Little Bighorn. Or at least since Rafa paddywhacked Federer 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 in the 2008 championship match at Roland Garros.

But that’s what Rafa Nadal does. Put him on a tennis court made of clay and you have Secretariat.

Rafa Nadal

The wedgie Rafa delivered to Wawrinka on Sunday reminded me of something Yogi Berra mused about Sandy Koufax, scant seconds after the legendary Los Angeles Dodgers lefthander had whiffed 15 New York Yankees in Game 1 of the 1963 World Series:

I can see how he won 25 games,” said Yogi, the Yankees catcher. “What I don’t understand is how he lost five.”

It’s the same with Rafa Nadal. He’s won the title at Roland Garros 10 times, collecting 79 victories against two losses. How in the name of Philippe Chatrier did he lose twice?

Robin Soderling (2009) and Novak Djokovic (2015) are the only foes to vanquish Rafa on the red clay of Roland Garros, and I have to assume French Open officials demanded that both men pee in a bottle immediately after their matches. I mean, you don’t beat Nadal in Paris unless there’s something funny in your drinking water.

Most people go to Paris for the food, the wine, the art, the culture and the romance. Nadal goes to search and destroy. He’s relentless, ruthless and has the steely-eyed focus of an assassin.

Wawrinka mentioned something about playing Rafa on a clay court being the stiffest challenge in tennis, and evidence supports that notion. Nadal has lost only twice at Roland Garros. In 13 years. He’s 102-2 in best-of-five matches on clay.

But Wawrinka is also selling the Spaniard short. It isn’t just tennis. Playing Rafael Nadal on clay is the greatest challenge in the entirety of sports.

Jelena Ostapenko

There’s hope for the future of women’s tennis, and her name is Jelena Ostapenko, the Latvian lass whose dashing and daring ruled the day at Roland Garros. The winners and unforced errors come in equal number from Ostapenko, but once she brings her service game up to the level of her groundstrokes (she hits her forehead harder than world No. 1 Andy Murray) the 20-year-old will become the face of the ladies’ game the moment Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova take their permanent leave. It isn’t just her substantial game, though. It’s her winning personality. On court, Ostapenko bares her emotions, off court she is the very picture of wide-eyed innocence, often giggling like a schoolgirl and forever smiling. She’s an absolute delight.

While watching the French Open this past fortnight, I found myself wondering this: How did Steffi Graf, Chrissie Evert, Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King and other legendary ladies’ champions win all those Grand Slam titles without the orgasmic shrieking and grunting that we hear today?

I heard a rumor that the National Hockey League season is over. If that’s true, someone give Kevin Cheveldayoff a nudge and tell the Winnipeg Jets general manager to “wakey, wakey.” It’s time for him to go to work.

I note that Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press has been tabbed for induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Roll of Honour in October. Good choice. Wiecek is the best sports columnist the Drab Slab has featured since Hal Sigurdson signed off in 1996, even when he’s writing about rock climbing.

Steve Simmons has become the Jose Bautista of sports writing: Tedious, tiresome and time to move on. I mean, it’s one thing for a columnist to be opinionated and rub the rabble the wrong way. That’s a large part of the gig. And Simmons surely has mastered the art of getting up noses with his alphabet farts that appear on sports pages of Postmedia sheets from one flank of the True North to the other. But…the Toronto Sun scribe has grown increasingly nasty and mean-spirited, if not cruel, in his commentary. He is Grandpa Simmons, shaking his fists at clouds and screaming at kids to get the hell off his lawn. A case in point is Simmons’ take on mixed doubles competition in Grand Slam tennis. When our girl Gabriela Dabrowski advanced to the mixed doubles final of the French Open last week, Mark Masters of TSN delivered this tweet: “No Canadian woman has won a mixed doubles grand slam title. Ottawa’s @GabyDabrowski has a chance to change that on Thursday.” To which Simmons responded: “Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.” I’m not sure if that was supposed to be funny, witty or clever, but it was none of the above. It was classless, tacky and totally unnecessary, as were a series of insensitive follow-up tweets belittling Dabrowski’s and partner Rohan Bopanna’s achievement.

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that Simmons is pooh-poohing yet another event in sports. It’s become his shtick. Last year he was “bothered” by the selection of Rosie MacLennan as Canada’s flag-bearer for the Olympic Games in Rio, because trampoline is “a marginal pursuit” that “seems more backyard and gimmicky that it does Olympian.” He’s also advocated the elimination of women’s hockey at the Olympics, writing: “Women’s hockey is the least competitive, least interesting, least Olympic of all sports in the Winter Games. There should be a cry to end this Olympic charade of imbalance.” And he once told the Ryerson Review of Journalism that “I don’t believe there’s a demand from the public for women’s sports.” I’ll remind you that he writes for a newspaper that’s best known for the tits and ass it displays on Page 3 and, to this day, continues to objectify women with its Sunshine Girl.

Thanks to a study by neuroscientist Tara Swart, we now know what we’ve suspected all along: Journalists’ brains function at a sub-par level. For evidence, see: Simmons, Steve. (See, I can stoop to gratuitous, mean-spirited and nasty comments, too. You know, just like a real sports columnist at a real big-city newspaper.)

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.

Forty-seven years of Winnipeg hockey memories from a former rink rat

Forty-seven years. That’s how long it has been, to the day, since I began a newspaper career that brought neither fame nor fortune but provided a fair bit of fun.

That’s why I still scribble about sports to this day, 17 years removed from mainstream media—it’s a hoot.

Winnipeg Arena

The pay as a freelancer/blogger isn’t nearly as good, mind you. It’s mice nuts. It isn’t enough to keep me well watered and fed. I mean, I can’t afford to make spaghetti and meatballs anymore. It’s one or the other. But, hey, the payoff is the giggles I get by poking the bear, tipping sacred cows or tilting at windmills (I promise, no more cliches for today).

One would think that I’d have gotten the Winnipeg Jets out of my system by now. But no. Some habits are hard to kick, if not impossible. I just can’t let the Jets go. And, to a lesser degree, the Blue Bombers.

I don’t know how many hours I spent in the old barn on Maroons Road, but I do know that Winnipeg Arena was my home away from home for a good number of years. As were various other shinny shacks throughout North America, from the story-studded Montreal Forum to Jack Kent Cooke’s Fabulous Forum in Tinseltown to the rickety Corral in Calgary to frost-bitten wooden huts that passed for hockey rinks in numerous Western Canada outposts.

And that’s what I am remembering this morning…

I remember Frank McKinnon, a remarkable, special man and the person I interviewed for my first Winnipeg Tribune byline story in 1971. Frank, president of the Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association at the time, was one of those people I always thought I should address as “Mister,” because he commanded such respect. But he would have none of it. “I’m Frank,” he told me early in our initial conversation, “and I want you to know that you can call me any time.” Frank and I talked often, but probably not as often as I would have liked.

I remember the night in Atlanta when Winnipeg Jets coach Tom McVie attempted to scale the glass partition separating the two benches so he could fight his counterpart with the Flames, Al MacNeil. Tommy took off his sports coat, took off his necktie, took off his wrist watch, partially unbuttoned his shirt—then took out his teeth! “When he took his teeth out and started undressing,” said MacNeil, “I knew he was serious.”

Muzz MacPherson and his Portage Terriers.
Muzz MacPherson and his Portage Terriers.

I remember riding a bus with coach Muzz MacPherson and his Portage Terriers during their successful 1973 Centennial Cup crusade. Muzz liked his hockey with an edge and there was nothing sissified about the way his lads played. So physical were the Terriers that Humboldt Broncos’ coach Dr. Terry Henning took his puck and went home after five games rather than finish their playoff series with Muzz’s Manitoba Junior Hockey League champions. “Can you believe it?” Muzz asked me. “They quit. The good doctor said my guys are too dirty. He says we’re too mean and nasty. So he quit. I sure as hell wouldn’t want him doing open-heart surgery on me—he’d walk out in the middle of the operation!”

I remember interviewing Vladislav Tretiak at a house on Elm Street in River Heights. I don’t recall who owned the house or why I had to meet the great Soviet goaltender there, but he was in town to promote his book and we gabbed for about an hour at a kitchen table (rather, the interpreter and I chin-wagged for an hour). When we parted, Tretiak said something to the interpreter, who relayed to me that “Vladimir thinks you are a hockey expert.” As photographer Jon Thordarson and I walked toward our vehicle, I said, “Imagine that, Tretiak thinks I’m a hockey expert…sure fooled him, didn’t I?”

I remember being in Indianapolis with the Jets on American Thanksgiving Day and Racers coach Pat (Whitey) Stapleton inviting myself, play-by-play legend Friar Nicolson and Winnipeg Free Press hockey writer Reyn Davis to turkey dinner with his family. It was such a thoughtful gesture, but that’s the kind of relationship media and hockey people sometimes had back then, especially in the World Hockey Association.

I remember Aime Allaire and his never-ending quest to bring Senior hockey’s Allan Cup home to Winnipeg. Alas, Aime’s St. Boniface Mohawks could never get the job done.

I remember the Jets’ first visit to New York City, to play the Rangers. Friar, Reyn, Sod Keilback and I went for a stroll of Manhattan on game-day afternoon and we ducked into magnificent St. Patrick’s Cathedral for a look-see. “I’m going to light a candle for the Jets,” I said. “They’re going to need all the help they can get against the Rangers.” Sod greeted that notion with rude laughter. The Jets beat the Rangers that night, 6-4.

John Ferguson
John Ferguson

I remember another trip to Manhattan. Our bus driver wanted to make a detour down a side street, but he couldn’t navigate the turn because a Volkswagen Beetle was parked too close to the corner. General manager John Ferguson and the driver stepped outside to investigate. Fergy came back on the bus and shouted, “Jimmy! You and a few other guys come with me. We’ve gotta move this car.” Fergy, Jimmy Mann and three or four other players lifted half the Volkswagen on to the sidewalk and away we went.

I remember Muzz MacPherson refusing to talk to me after a Winnipeg Clubs’ game. “I’m too upset,” the gravel-voice coach barked. “I don’t want to talk. Just make up the quotes. You know me well enough by now that you know what I’ll say.” So, for the only time in my career, I made up quotes. The following day, Muzz called me and he was frothing at the mouth. “What are you trying to do to me?” he yelped. “I wouldn’t have said all those things you said I said—I would have done a lot more swearing.”

I remember talking to Ulf Nilsson the night the Jets whupped the Soviet national team, 5-3, and the great Swedish centre saying, “I’m proud to be a Canadian tonight.”

I remember Friar Nicolson allowing me to do five minutes of play-by-play one night when Dave Keon and the New England Whalers were in town. It was a classical gas.

I remember watching the 1973 Belmont Stakes with Muzz and various hockey sorts who had assembled at the Viscount Gort for an annual chin wag. As the great Secretariat romped down the home stretch, about 30 lengths in front of the field, Muzz stared at the TV and shouted, “Don’t break a leg! Don’t break a leg!” Big Red didn’t even break stride and became horse racing’s first Triple Crown winner since Citation in 1948.

I remember Teddy Green’s headaches. I often wondered how a man could be in such crippling pain and still go out and perform so admirably on the Jets blueline.

I remember riding the iron lung with Gerry Brisson and his Winnipeg Clubs on a junket that took us to Brandon, Regina, Swift Current, Calgary and Kamloops and back. Kevin McCarthy was on that team. He was the most-talented Junior I ever covered.

I remember covering an MJHL that included four Winnipeg teams—the Winnipeg Monarchs, St. James Canadians, St. Boniface Saints and my alma mater, the West Kildonan North Stars. (That’s right, I played in the MJHL and covered it. I believe Doug Lunney is the only other person to do so.)

I remember taking pride in the championship work of Barry Bonni with his River East Royal Knights of the Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League, because his team represented my old ‘hood.

Morris Lukowich
Morris Lukowich

I remember Morris Lukowich barking at me after the Jets’ initial NHL game, in Pittsburgh. Luke had been credited with the team’s first NHL goal, tipping in a Peter Marsh shot. “Where did that shot hit you?” I asked him. “Friar and I never saw it change direction.” He shot me with a stone-cold stare and said, “Are you calling me a liar?” I was doing nothing of the sort, of course. “No, Luke, I’m not calling you a liar,” I said. “I have a game story to write and I need to know where the puck hit you so I can describe the goal accurately.”

I remember being part of a media team for Schmockey Night. Ray Jauch was our coach and Eddie (Clear the Track) Shack, the clown prince of the National Hockey League, was my left winger. Jauch, head coach with the Blue Bombers at the time, wouldn’t let Shack or I come off the ice in the final five minutes because we needed a goal to tie the game. Neither of us scored.

I remember wonderful conversations with hockey lifers Bruce Cheatley, Ed Sweeney, Bill Addison, Julian Klymkiw, Aggie Kukulowicz and Billy Robinson, who, along with Dr. Gerry Wilson, was responsible for bringing the first wave of Swedes to North America and transorming the Jets into a WHA power.

I remember defenceman Tim Watters buying Friar and I beer when he came in after curfew one night in Vancouver. “You don’t have to do that, Tim,” Friar told him. “We’re not going to rat you out. You’re good people.” I never ratted out any of the Jets. Neither did Friar. What they did on their time was their business.

I remember covering the Jets rookie training camp in Sainte Agathe, Que., in 1979 for the Winnipeg Tribune, and Fergy asking me to play in the final exhibition game because Patrick Daley had pulled a groin during the morning skate. “Are you serious? You want me to play tonight?” I asked him. He did. So I did. Assisted on the first goal, too. All the players at Sainte Agathe moved on to the Jets main training camp in Winnipeg, then some were assinged to the Tulsa Oilers. I went back to the Trib with a grand total of one assist in my only pro game. And I never got paid.

I remember the Jets first visit to the Montreal Forum. Friar and I walked in with Fergy, who was still a hero in Quebec, and he directed us to the concession stands. “Troi chien chauds,” Fergy ordered. He looked at us and said, “These will be the best hot dogs you’ll ever eat.” They were. To this day.

I remember bringing beer to former Soviet referee Anatoli Segelin, who was part of the U.S.S.R. traveling party for the 1981 Canada Cup. Upon his arrival at the Viscount Gort, Anatoli, who loved Canadian journalists, begged me to bring some beer up to his room on the second floor. I asked Stew MacPherson if he could spare a couple of 12-packs from the media hospitality room for Anatoli and comrades, and he agreed. Upon seeing me at his door with 24 beer, Anatoli flashed a smile as wide as Mother Russia and said, “Canada! Come! Come! We drink!” Segelin, myself and two other comrades did just that.

Willy Lindstrom
Willy Lindstrom

I remember Willy Lindstrom’s pranksterism. Every time the Jets’ travels would take us to Quebec City, Willy would visit a joke shop not far from the Chateau Frontenac and load up on stink bombs and sneezing powder. He would then unleash them on our airplanes. Go to sleep during a flight and it was guaranteed you’d wake up in a sneezing fit, because Willy would sneak up from behind and sprinkle powder on you. And the stink bombs were absolutely paralyzing.

I remember sitting in an airport, listening to Mike Smith deliver a 10-minute oration on the methodology of the Richter Scale after an earthquake hit the West Coast. As he spoke, I thought, “Man, this guy is a different head of lettuce.” I didn’t realize exactly how different Smith was until the day he drafted Sergei Bautin.

I remember going to the draft in Montreal the year Fergy chose defenceman David Babych second overall, ahead of Denis Savard and Paul Coffey. More interesting, however, was the fact Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran were next door, prepping for the Brawl in Montreal, the first fight in their boxing trilogy.

I remember feeling sorry for Ray Neufeld, a truly nice, young man who came to the Jets from Hartford in exchange for David Babych. It was recognized as Fergy’s worst transaction and fans took out their frustrations on poor Ray. That wasn’t fair.

I remember the first time I ever saw Peter Sullivan play hockey and asking, “How is this guy not playing in the NHL?”

I remember Jimmy Mann trying to convince me that he was “not an animal” after his sucker punch had shattered Paul Gardner’s jaw into a dozen pieces. It wasn’t me Jimmy had to convince…it was everyone else in hockey.

I remember Laurie Boschman’s on- and off-ice personalities. He was such a nasty bit of business when they dropped the puck, yet so soft-spoken, sincere and genuinely nice once the final buzzer sounded.

friarI remember a pilot delaying takeoff from Atlanta when we realized rookie broadcaster Sod Keilback was AWOL. Turns out the big lug had gotten lost in the airport, which was larger than his hometown of Yorkton, Sask., and he heard some serious braying once Friar Nicolson had located him and brought him on board. Sod made a feeble attempt to explain his wandering ways, but we were having none of it. “You’re just a big sodbuster,” I said. The name stuck. He was known as Sod thereafter.

I remember my traveling partners in the WHA, Friar and Reyn Davis, two terrific guys. Both of them are in the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame, and rightly so. Sadly, both of them are also dead. I’m neither in the Hall of Fame nor dead, but it’s only a matter of time before I arrive at the Pearly Gates (I probably haven’t been good enough to get in there either).

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.