Bob Irving: As great as the voice of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers is as a play-by-play man, he’s even a better person

Knuckles Irving

I’ve often wondered how, and why, Bob Irving has kept trucking along.

I mean, the man we know affectionately as Knuckles has been the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ main storyteller since 1974. It’s easy to do the math. That’s 43 years ago. Numbers, however, don’t provide perspective on his time describing the goings-on of the Canadian Football League outfit.

For perspective, try this: The year Knuckles began blah, blah, blahing about the Bombers on CJOB…

  • Mike Riley’s pop, Bud, was head coach and Dieter Brock was a rookie backup quarterback we knew as Ralph.
  • The Winnipeg Tribune was a vibrant alternative to the Winnipeg Free Press.
  • Richard Milhouse Nixon was still in the White House, although RMH left the building in August and our American friends said hello to President Gerald Ford.
  • Trudeau the 1st was Prime Minister of Canada, Ed Schreyer was Premier of Manitoba, and Steve Juba was Mayor of all the people in Winnipeg.
  • One-time teenage heartthrob Paul Anka released the regrettable (You’re) Having My Baby, but the top song in Canada was Seasons in the Sun by Terry Jacks.
  • The top-selling album worldwide was Band on the Run by breakaway Beatle Paul McCartney and Wings.
  • Archie Bunker was the No. 1 bigot on TV, with he, Edith, Gloria and Meathead ruling the ratings on All in the Family.
  • Mikhail Baryshnikov defected from the Soviet Union.
  • Muhammad Ali played Rope-a-Dope, then KO’d George Foreman to reclaim the heavyweight boxing championship in the Rumble In The Jungle.
  • The RCMP swore in its first female police officers.
  • A Big Mac cost .65, a loaf of bread .28, a car $3,500, and minimum wage in Manitoba was $2.15.

So, ya, Knuckles has been around some. Squints use carbon dating to determine his age. But that doesn’t mean he’s passed his best-before date. His voice is still as smooth as Tennessee whiskey, his delivery as descriptive as a Steinbeck novel, his integrity unassailable.

That will be absent from the ‘OB broadcast on Friday night in Vancouver, when the Bombers pay a visit to B.C. Place for a skirmish with the Lions. Knuckles has retreated to the repair shop to permit medics to tinker with his ticker and, while there’s little doubt the capable Kelly Moore will perform admirably in his stead, Knuckles is one of those guys you fill in for but cannot replace.

If there is a Vin Scully of the CFL, it’s Knuckles Irving, who’s actually a nicer guy than he is a play-by-play broadcaster.

The sports media, on both the print and electronic side, can be an open range for galloping egos and a misguided sense of significance, but it is largely the province of genuinely good, honest women and men who recognize they’re working in the toy department and, thus, acknowledge that they’ve got a great gig.

I don’t think Knuckles has ever lost sight of that. He’s a humble, earthy man with a killer wit that often keeps the sidelines at Bombers practices at full guffaw. He takes his job seriously but not himself. His passion for his work, the Bombers and the CFL is unparalleled, and I suppose that’s what keeps him trucking after all these years.

No telling how long Knuckles will continue to blah, blah, blah about the Bombers, but his career is kind of like his forehead—it never seems to end.

And that’s a beautiful thing.

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 pig-headed coaching…Matt Nichols to the rescue…the Freep’s two muppets…slow white guys…beers and puns…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…

So, by proving himself to be right, Mike O’Shea has proven himself to be horribly wrong.

Say what?

Well, O’Shea was right to fire starting quarterback Drew (One Hop) Willy, but when Matt Nichols went behind centre and rag-dolled an Edmonton Eskimos’ defensive dozen to the tune of 30 points before and after the flashing of lightning and the rumbling of thunder on Thursday night at Commonwealth Stadium, it underscored how wrong/stubborn/pig headed the Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach had been before his employment and his club’s season was put on amber alert.

Let’s excuse the fact that the Eskimos can’t stop a runny nose right now. Nichols was superb in the Bombers’ 30-23 beatdown of the defending Canadian Football League champions, orchestrating two touchdown drives and directing another five excursions into enemy territory that produced Justin Medlock three-point hoofs.

You are, therefore, allowed to ask why it took O’Shea so long to turn away from Willy and hand the ball to Nichols. The short answer: He’s stubborn. The long answer: He’s really stubborn.

Had O’Shea stuck a fork in ol’ One Hop a game or two sooner, the local football heroes might be 3-3 today, rather than 2-4. Like I said, the much-maligned man was right to make the QB change, but he was extremely misguided in confining Nichols to the sideline and clipboard duty five skirmishes into this crusade.

There’s no suggestion here that we ought to reserve a spot for the name Matt Nichols on the Bombers’ Roll of Honour. It’s one game, one win. Still, the Eastern Washington alumni took what had been a comatose offence under the direction of the woeful Willy and delivered a kiss of life that, while not Biblical in loft, surely has saved the coach’s job. For now.

It’s still about the big picture.

Mike O’Shea is a better coach this morning by one win, his 14th W against 28 Ls. That said, I maintain the over/under on his long-term employment is early September.

If O’Shea is still wearing the head set by the time we break out the banjos for the Bombers’ annual frolic with the Saskatchewan Roughriders at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry on Sept. 10, he’s probably good to go for the remainder of the season.

If not, that can mean just one of two things has transpired: 1) Nichols is wounded; 2) O’Shea has a moment of madness and sends Willy, his $411,000 quarterback, back into the fray.

O’Shea insists that Bombers Nation hasn’t seen or heard the last of Willy. That’s what scares me.

say what banner4I don’t know what to make of the newest wrinkle on the sports pages of the Winnipeg Free Press, a little something headlined Say What?! Basically, it’s a print version of a chin-wag between sports editor Steve Lyons and columnist Paul Wiecek. Think Waldorf and Statler, the two grumpy, old muppets who sit in a balcony and bitch about the world. Now you’ve got a good read on what Say What?! is all about. After two offerings of Wiecek and Lyons (oh, what the hey, let’s call them Viscount and Gort), I still don’t know if it works for me. It might be too vaudevillian. Then again, maybe it isn’t. I love off-the-wall stuff and I’m thinking Say What?! will grow on me. Either way, it’s interesting that the Freep is doing more tabloid-style stuff than the tabloid in town.

Who says you can’t give the Bombers any props? We have proof to the contrary, thanks to noted white-knuckle fly boy Bob Irving. Play-by-play voice Knuckles delivered this terrific tweet prior to the club’s takeoff for its assignment with the Eskimos: “Getting set to fly to Edmonton on a plane with propellers? What year is this and whose idea was this?” Props to you, Knuckles.

Did I actually hear Jock Climie refer to former Montreal Alouettes receiver Ben Cahoon as a “slow white guy” when the Bombers and Eskimos took a lightning break and the TSN studio gab guys were required to fill air? I sure did. Jock called Cahoon a “slow white guy.” Now, what do you suppose the reaction would have been had Jock’s sidekick on the night, Matt Dunigan, referred to, say, Nik Lewis as a “slow black guy?” You bet. The stuff would have hit the fan.

If men’s golf majors were the Beatles, The Masters and the Open Championship would be Lennon and McCartney, the U.S. Open would be George Harrison, and the PGA would be Ringo. The Players Championship would be Pete Best—close but failed to make the cut.

Don Cherry and Ron MacLean
Don Cherry and Ron MacLean

Nice to see two good Canadian boys, Donald S. Cherry and Ron MacLean, honored with a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame. Well deserved. Apparently, Grapes celebrated by tossing back a six pack of Molson Canadian while MacLean delivered a six pack of really bad puns.

Yo! Duane Forde and Rod Black! Zip your lips when the head skunk shirt is announcing penalties to the audience during CFL jousts. Nothing you two gas bags have to say is so important that it can’t wait five seconds.

It’s late July, the warmest day of the year where I hang my bonnet, I call up the Winnipeg Sun sports section and see a lengthy dissertation by Ken Wiebe on—wait for it—projected line combinations for the Winnipeg Jets? This is something I want to read during the dog days of summer? Whether Mark Scheifele is going to have Nikolaj Ehlers for a linemate or Patrick Laine once the National Hockey League season commences in mid-October? Cripes, man, that makes Say What?! in the Freep come across as Pulitzer Prize-worthy.

Speaking of things that don’t make sense, Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons continues to hand the ball to R.A. Dickey. Why? Dickey is to the Jays’ starting pitching what Drew Willy is to the Blue Bombers’ quarterbacking.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 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.


Winnipeg Blue Bombers: How long a leash will Mike O’Shea give Matt Nichols?

As I was saying last week in the wake of another Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ wedgie, Drew (One Hop) Willy would be the first sacrificial lamb placed on the spit because Mike O’Shea had no choice but to fire his starting quarterback.

Mike O'Shea: End of the line?
Mike O’Shea: End of the line?

So the head coach did that very thing on Sunday.

Quite possibly (more than likely?), the move to flip-flop Willy and Matt Nichols was strongly suggested to the stubborn O’Shea by a voice from above, because he did mention something about “conversation” being part of the decision-making process. He didn’t say whom that tete-a-tete involved, but nothing speaks louder than roughly 9,000 empty seats at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry, so club CEO Wade Miller might have whispered a not-so-sweet something in his ear.

That, mind you, is pure speculation.

Maybe Miller wasn’t being a buttinski and O’Shea made this call sans pressure from on high. After all, the much-maligned man might be mule-like, but stubborn isn’t stupid. He doesn’t need to see the wall to read the writing on it that tells him he has arrived at coaching’s cliff edge.

Something had to give. It was Willy. And, yes, this smacks of Hail Mary-ism.

I mean, sideline stewards are loath to turn to their No. 2 QB when No. 1 is in fine physical fettle, and all indications support the notion that Willy is free of any owies that might prevent him from taking the starter’s snaps. Thus, sacrificing Willy’s job to perhaps salvage his own is a nervy gambit by O’Shea. Also necessary. His troops, after all, are 1-4 and, while many gaze upon him as a dead man coaching, there are other culprits responsible for the shoddy start to this Canadian Football League crusade.

Matt Nichols: Behind centre, but for how long?
Matt Nichols: Behind centre, but for how long?

Foremost, at least in the consideration of many among the rabble, is Willy. His numbers suggest he’s doing boffo business, but we know better, don’t we. Much, if not the most generous portion, of his yardage has been collected in garbage time. When it most matters, he flings the football like someone has sucked all the air out of the thing. Or he’s afraid it’ll give him the cooties. Seriously. There are penguins with better hang time than a lot of Willy’s passes.

Which is why the Bombers will have $411,000 worth of QB standing on the sidelines at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton on Thursday night, and a backup with a losing record attempting to outwit the Eskimos defensive dozen.

Or will they?

Color me skeptical, but I’m not convinced O’Shea will grant Nichols a long leash. After all, the coach knows that if his universe is not unfolding as it should early in the skirmish with the Eskimos, not even a dip into the healing waters of Lourdes will keep him out of the unemployment queue. So, it’s my guess that he’ll to turn to Willy faster than Knuckles Irving can say “another two and out for the Bombers.”

Willy got five games. Nichols might get five minutes. If this is to be O’Shea’s last waltz, he’ll finish it with the QB he brought to the dance.

Drew Willy: Down but not necessarily out.
Drew Willy: Down but not necessarily out.

The ginger-haired head coach said nothing of the sort during his brief chin-wag with news scavengers post-practice on Sunday. Not in so many words. But he went to great lengths to emphasize his unwavering faith in ol’ One Hop. Not that anyone expected O’Shea to kick the poor guy when he’s down, but he made it sound very much like he believes beyond all reasonable doubt that this is but a blip in the Willy career arc.

More to the point, I found his answer—or non-answer—to this point-blank question extremely telling: Does Matt Nichols give this team the best chance to win?

This week, absolutely, he gives us a good chance to win. For sure,” O’Shea said.

The answer I had expected to hear was, “Of course he does. That’s why he’ll be starting against the Eskimos. We need a win and he gives us our best shot.” Instead, it was “a good chance” to win rather than “the best” chance to win. Call it splitting hairs, if you like, but what he didn’t say told me more than what he did say.

If Nichols stubs his toe in The Chuck, he’ll be holding a clipboard again. Bet on it.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 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.


About Ed Tait’s defection…poaching Kirk Penton…abuse of female sports scribes…anonymous comments…and the Winnipeg Sun developing CFL executives

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

Ladies and gentleman, from the department of “Things You Thought You’d Never See,” I give you Ed Tait, once believed to be a newspaper lifer and now the official deliverer of glad tidings for those whacky practitioners of pigskin pratfalls—the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Oh, yes, my main man Eddie has gone over to the dark side of the moon. He is now one of them.

Ed Tait
Ed Tait

No more will readers of the Winnipeg Free Press sports section delight in Tait’s superb-yet-quirky brand of reportage, whereby his detailing of the daily tribulations of the Bombers and Winnipeg Jets was thorough, thoughtful and measured, and also often would include colorful descriptives that made reference to male body parts (read: gonads, cojones), passing gas, cans of whup-ass and bubbles of snot.

Tait has departed the rag trade and now is the exalted Director of Content for all things Blue Bombers on the Canadian Football League club’s website, which means, one supposes, that we’ll be reading not so much about cojones, farting, whup-ass and snot bubbles anymore.

It also means the newspaper business has lost a good one. Check that: It has lost one of the best.

I was privileged to have had a front row seat in Eddie’s evolution from pup reporter with hair to the big dog with a chrome dome. And make no mistake, he was the big dog on the Bombers beat, for both the Freep and the Winnipeg Sun, where he got his start just in time to witness the rarest of the rare—a Grey Cup celebration painted in Blue and Gold. That was more than a quarter century, about three dozen starting quarterbacks, one heart transplant (Cal Murphy), one biker head coach (Jeff Reinebold) and a whole lot of Bob Marley tunes ago.

Other than play-by-play voice Bob (Knuckles) Irving, I don’t suppose anyone has been as tuned in to the Bombers as Tait since that last Grey Cup crusade in 1990, so it makes sense that the deep-thinkers in the ivory tower at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry would want him on board to trumpet their message. It can’t hurt to have the city’s top sports scribe/reporter preaching your version of the gridiron gospel, right?

Does this mean that Tait has sold out? Piffle. You will hear not but favorable natterings about Eddie taking his bon mots to the Big Blue side of town.

I’m convinced he’ll still be delivering the good stuff and, quite frankly, with his hands on the wheel, quickly will become the go-to destination for the inside word on all issues Blue Bombers. For one thing, he’ll have something that none among the mainstream news scavengers has—uninhibited access to coaches and players. And he’ll know what to do with it. Eddie is in a position to unzip some lips, so perhaps now we’ll actually get to know the athletes on a more personal level, rather than be fed nothing but bland, stock-in-trade sound bites.

This is a huge (Eddie would call it ginormous) win for the Bombers and a huge (ginormous) loss for the Freep and newspapers.

Good on you, Eddie.

fish wrapTait’s is the second significant defection from the Free Press toy department in the past seven months. Earlier, of course, columnist Gary Lawless flew the coop for the bright lights of TSN, although his departure left a void that has been filled seamlessly, comfortably and competently mainly by Paul Wiecek, who, by any measurement, is a much better writer and columnist. The loss of Tait is a different head of lettuce, though. Freep sports boss Steve Lyons can put somebody in his place, but nobody can replace Tait. Unless, that is, Lyons were to poach Kirk Penton from the Sun/Postmedia. That’s what I’d be attempting to do. My guess, however, is that the Freep will operate on the cheap and promote from within.

Interesting piece this week by Wiecek about the abuse heaped upon female sports reporters via social media channels like Twitter. It’s disgraceful. It’s also one of the main reasons I now confine my scribbling to my own blog rather than write for other websites. I control the comments on my blog. If someone wishes to challenge my position on an issue, go for it. We’ll have a discussion. But if he (it’s always a he) can’t do it without making crude references to my body parts that rhyme with the words “bits” and “runt” his voice shall not be heard. It should be about what is written, not whether the writer has a penis or vagina.

Got a kick out of one of the comments that accompanied the Wiecek piece on sexual harassment on social media. A reader wrote: “Anonymous soapboxes are the death of civilized society. I would gladly pay double for my FP subscription if the paper did away with anonymous comments. Remove them altogether, or use real names.” And, naturally, he didn’t use his real name. Unless Graymalkin is his real name.

Say what you will about the Winnipeg Sun, it doesn’t win any National Newspaper Awards but it sure develops top-drawer talent for the CFL. Not only is Ed Tait now the exalted Director of Content for, but Mike Petrie is entering his fifth season as assistant general manager with the Calgary Stampeders. Both are former Sun sports scribes.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 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.

Goal or coal: Sports Santa has stocking stuffers for jocks and Jills

Okay, Sports Santa, time to do your thing. You know the drill. Make your list, check it twice, tell us who’s been nice, naughty and flat-out nasty this year.

What will it be, goodies or a lump of coal or two in those Christmas stockings?

naughty santaCOAL: Kyle Walters, because he lied. The man who generally mismanages the Winnipeg Blue Bombers insisted that the signing of University of Manitoba Bisons grad Jordan Yantz to a tryout contract was not—repeat, NOT— a publicity stunt.

“He’s a legitimate quarterback prospect,” Walters told news scavengers. “Jordan is going to come in and compete for a spot on our roster at quarterback. We feel he has shown all the tools needed to play this position at the professional level, and we look forward to watching him compete in camp. This isn’t a charity case.”

Liar, liar. His pants were a three-alarm fire.

Yantz had about as much chance of earning employment with the Canadian Football League club as Walters has of being appointed GM of the Dallas Cowboys. He was given less than a handful of reps at practice and, although dressing for one preseason exercise, head coach Mike O’Shea refused to send him into the fray to take a snap.

COAL: That’ll be three lumps of the black stuff for O’Shea. Actually, make it an entire coal bin. First for gagging his assistant coaches, who are not allowed to speak to news scavengers; second for refusing to deliver an honest evaluation of his players and/or their performance without first having an opportunity to “watch the film;” and third for his role in the Jordan Yantz sham.

Jennifer Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer and Dawn McEwen.
Jennifer Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer and Dawn McEwen.

GOAL: Jennifer Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer and Dawn McEwen, champions of all the land’s lady curlers. The Buffalo Girls won the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, no small feat, and how they were overlooked as a team-of-the-year finalist in balloting by the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association is a mystery. Apparently, their continued success in Canadian and Olympic curling has become ho-hum. Shame, that.

GOAL: The Montreal Alouettes, for having the junk to sign Michael Sam, who became the first openly gay man to perform in the CFL.

COAL: Michael Sam. What a wasted opportunity. Rather than make a strong statement for LGBT athletes, he bugged out on the Alouettes not once, but twice. He played one game at rush end, recorded zero sacks and zero tackles, was made to look the fool on one play, then skipped town and, once back in the U.S., he prattled on about the CFL being beneath his talent level.

COAL: Steve Simmons, scant days after the debut of Sam, an openly gay man playing for the Alouettes, the Toronto Sun scribe, whose work oft appears in the Winnipeg Sun, wrote: “In reality, pro football still awaits its first openly gay player.” Apparently, Little Stevie Blunder is much like that tree falling in the forest…it doesn’t happen unless he’s there to see and hear it.

GOAL: Kevin Cheveldayoff, the Winnipeg Jets general manager who proved he actually has a pulse by arranging for Evander Kane’s ticket out of River City. Unloading the underachieving, injury-prone problem child was a master stroke, especially given that Kane was done for the season. We don’t see a whole lot of big trades in the National Hockey League, and many of us didn’t think Chevy had it in him. We were wrong. Unfortunately, he went back into hibernation and hasn’t been seen nor heard from since. Sort of like that tree falling in the forest.

COAL: Cheveldayoff for allowing the very useful Michael Frolik to skate off to Calgary. For zip. Nada. If he does the same with Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien, say goodnight, Chevy.

COAL: To every professional athlete who hit a woman this year.

Chris Thorburn
Chris Thorburn

GOAL: Chris Thorburn, the much-maligned man who continues to do everything asked of him by the Jets and is now the franchise leader in games played. Too often he is a fourth-liner dressed up as a third-line forward (with gusts up to the first line when head coach Paul Maurice loses his mind) and his very existence on the roster speaks to a disturbing lack of depth, but I admire his stick-to-itness.

GOAL: Bryan Little of the Jets for his understated excellence. No, he wouldn’t be the No. 1 centre on every NHL outfit, but he can play on my team anytime.

COAL: Gary (La La) Lawless, late of the Winnipeg Free Press and now a talking head with TSN. Give him the entire coal bin. While still the loudest voice at the Freep, he sucked up to Blue Bombers management by repeatedly telling readers that it takes more than 1 1/2 or two years to rebuild a broken-down CFL franchise. Hello? Can you say Edmonton Eskimos and Ottawa RedBlacks, Gary? La La also asked the dumbest question of the year, when he wondered aloud if Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea was going to “give up,” even though his club was a mere two points removed from a playoff spot with six games yet to be played.

GOAL: Jonathan Toews, a Winnipeg product and class act who captained the Chicago Blackhawks to another Stanley Cup championship.

COAL: Wade Miller, CEO of the Blue Bombers. Because he’s Wade Miller, CEO of the Blue Bombers.

GOAL: Mo Glimcher, grand poobah of the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association. Mo, one of the truly good guys, will be sacking his bats after 40 years with the MHSAA, giving giving the executive director plenty of spare time to attend Bandy tournaments across the globe.

GOAL: Dan Halldorson passed away in November and the Brandon/Shilo golfer was remembered for his vital role in keeping the pro tour in Canada alive and well.

GOAL: Take a bow Joe Pascucci of Global and Knuckles Irving of CJOB. Joe was inducted into the media wing of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, while Knuckles was awarded the CFL’s Hugh Campbell Distinguished Leadership Award.

Big Buff is no fan of three-on-three shinny.
Big Buff is no fan of three-on-three shinny.

COAL: Dustin Byfuglien dissed the NHL’s 3-on-3 overtime format, saying, “It ain’t hockey. It’s stupid.” Yo! Buff! If you weren’t huffing and puffing so badly after three periods, you’d probably enjoy a little pond hockey.

COAL: The Reporters with Dave Hodge on TSN moved from Sunday mornings to Monday afternoon. I can do Sunday mornings, but I don’t do Monday afternoons. Move it back.

GOAL: Old friend Teemu Selanne had his Disney Ducks jersey No. 8 raised to the rafters at the Honda Center in Anaheim early in the year and, during a lengthy speech, the Finnish Flash actually thanked the small people—the cleaning lady and the Zamboni driver. Class act to the end.

COAL: Paul Maurice, head coach of the Jets. See Peluso, Anthony. That’s why.

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

Winnipeg sports: 45 years later, a look in the rear view mirror

It was 45 years ago this week when I first walked into a newsroom. It was 15 years ago when I last walked out of a newsroom.

Those who noticed the former were few. Those who noticed the latter were even fewer.

Somehow, though, I managed to sandwich a 30-year career in jock journalism between those two moments. I know I wasn’t the greatest sports scribe. Cripes, man, to this day I’m convinced I pulled a fast one on a whole lot of people because, with zero journalistic schooling and nothing but blind ambition as an ally, I managed to land gigs at the Winnipeg Tribune, the Toronto Sun, the Calgary Sun, the Toronto Star and the Winnipeg Sun. My copy appeared in every major daily in Canada, a handful in the United States and numerous magazines.

I worked as a color commentator on Winnipeg Jets radio and even hosted my own sports talk show on CJOB. Mind you, that only lasted about seven weeks. I quickly discovered that many of the people who call in to gab on jock radio need a life, which convinced me that I needed a life. So, shortly thereafter, I escaped from mainstream media. Full stop.

I point this out today for one reason: I have a regret.

I left quietly. Too quietly. It’s not that I desired fanfare and pomp and pagentry to accompany my exit, stage west. Quite frankly, I preferred my flee to freedom to be on the down low. That’s why I got behind the wheel of my 1991 Le Baron convertible one morning in early September 1999 and pointed her in the direction of the Pacific Ocean without alerting a soul.

I now, however, glance in the rear view mirror and regard that to have been an error in judgement. It would have been nice to clink some pint glasses together and perhaps shoot a game of pool with comrades while comparing battle scars.

So that’s what I’ll do today, 45 and 15 years after the start and finish lines.

(I should point out that I wasn’t a byline scribe from Day One. I began as the mail kid in the Winnipeg Tribune business office, then moved up to the fifth floor to run copy for the various departments in the newsroom. At the same time, I’d scribble non-byline pieces and rewrites for the boys in the sports department, just to get an early feel for the gig. It wasn’t until 1971 that my byline first appeared in print.)

These are my highs and my lows from 30 years of jock sniffing in Pegtown, plus another 15 as a freelancer/blogger on all matters of sports in River City. (I do believe that 45-year stretch means I have been scribbling about good, ol’ Hometown sports longer than any living creature.)


Best writer: Jack Matheson. Not even close. We all wanted to write like Matty. None of us ever did.

Best broadcaster: Don Wittman. Witt was more versatile than anyone in his biz. And very good at every sport he covered. On a personal note, while in high school I sent Witt a letter asking for advice on how to pursue a career in sports media. Imagine my shock when I answered the phone at home one afternoon and it was Don Wittman on the line, offering to meet me for coffee and a chin-wag. Those are the things you never forget.

Favorite broadcaster: Scott Oake. Scott is knowledgeable, glib and witty. He has fun. I like that.

Best pipes: Bob Picken. If Pick were in a room full of cackling hens, laughing hyhenas and braying jackasses, you’d still hear him above all else. His voice carried further than a telegraph wire.

Best play-by-play man: Friar Nicolson and Knuckles Irving. It’s sometimes hard for me to believe Knuckles is still broadcasting Bombers games. But he continues to do so with style, grace and know-how. And I understand his fear of flying is as intense as ever. As for Friar…I worked and travelled with him during the Jets final two World Hockey Association seasons and their first whirl in the National Hockey League. I was forever amazed how a man could lace his conversation with unvarnished profanity, yet never utter a four-letter word on air. I believe the closest he ever came to cursing on air was the night he called Peter Pospisil of Czechoslovakia “Peter Piss Pot.”

John Ferguson
John Ferguson

Most colorful person: John Bowie Fergsuon. Any guy who punches a hole in the wall of his press box bunker and hurls a bucket of ice on the visitors’ bench is either a nutbar or colorful. I choose the latter. Fergy and I had our battles, but I believe there was mutual respect.

Biggest blunder: I was instructed by Gus Collins to write a two-column brite to advise Trib readers that the Major League Baseball all-star game would be played the following evening. I referred to this mid-summer fixture as the “annual Fall Classic.” D’oh!

My favorite moment as sports editor at the Winnipeg Sun: Watching Judy Owen’s reaction when I assigned her the Winnipeg Blue Bombers beat. She was, as they say, over the moon. Some people believed I had lost my entire bag of marbles for putting a sports neophyte on a major beat, but Judy never let me down. I rate it as my most satisfying decision during two whirls as SE at the Sun.

Favorite beat: Local tennis. I covered every tournament at the Winnipeg Canoe Club and Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club for the better part of a decade and grew very fond of the tennis crowd. Fun people. Obliging people. Appreciative people.

Favorite athletes: Chris Walby, Troy Westwood, Bob Cameron, Willy Lindstrom, Kent Nilsson, Anders Hedberg, Terry Ruskowski, Vic Peters, Pierre LaMarche.

Least favorite athlete: Mario Marois of the Jets. Just a miserable, miserable man.

Tommy McVie
Tommy McVie

Favorite coaches: Tommy McVie, Mike Riley, Cal Murphy, Muzz MacPherson.

Tommy provided the finest moment of slapstick when, during the Jets initial season in the NHL, he attempted to attack Al MacNeil, his coaching counterpart with the Atlanta Flames. Livid that his players were being bullied by the Flames’ ruffians, the Jets coach assailed MacNeil verbally, then decided he would get physical. Before attempting to scale the glass partition between the team benches, however, he removed his wrist watch and tucked it in a jacket pocket. He then removed the false teeth from his mouth—yes, he took out his tusks—and tucked the faux fangs in a jacket pocket. He then removed his neck tie. He then removed his jacket and made an aborted bid to scale the glass barrier. Alas, his feet kept slipping down the glass. He looked like one of those cartoon characters whose feet move 100 mph but go nowhere.

Free Press writer I most respected: Reyn Davis, who worked the Jets beat. I admired his way with words.

Most talented scribes with whom I worked (excluding Matty): Ed Willes and George (Shakey) Johnson.

Most enjoyable place to spend a summer Sunday afternoon: Assiniboia Downs or the Ballyard by the Forks.

Favorite non-athlete: Lawyer/player advisor Don Baizley, a gentleman.

Seediest promotions guy: Boxing gasbag Tom Burns. I actually liked Tom, but didn’t trust him as far as I could toss Don Lalonde. Tom also wore the worst hair piece on earth.

Least favorite team owner: Sam Katz of the Goldeyes. Sammy spoke out of both sides of his mouth when dealing with the two newspapers. He would tell our beat writer one thing, then tell the people at the Freep the real thing. What a donut.

Favorite moment: The night the Jets beat the Soviet national side.

Favorite quote I: After the local hockey heroes had toppled the mighty comrades, Ulf Nilsson, a Swede who had absorbed so much abuse at the hands, sticks and elbows of Canadians in his first season with the Jets, told me: “I’m proud to be a Canadian tonight.”

Best player to ever wear a Jets jersey: Kent Nilsson. He was in River City for a good time, not a long time, but nobody could match his skill set.

Best player to ever wear a Bombers jersey: Chris Walby. If someone asked me to describe what a Blue Bomber is supposed to play like, act like and talk like, I would point to Walby and say, “Like that big man over there.” It was rather odd that Bluto was a great quote, yet he seemed to speak a foreign language when doing color commentary on CBC. That aside, the big man was unparalleled.

Cal Murphy
Cal Murphy

Best chin-wags: Gab sessions in Cal Murphy’s office were special. The late Bombers coach/GM could be every bit the curmudgeon, but he was a funny, funny, dear man.

Worst moment I: Collapsing on an airplane while returning from Toronto with the Jets. It’s rather unsettling to be carted off a plane on a stretcher and whisked away to the hospital. The diagnosis was extreme fatigue. I survived to write another day, although many wish I hadn’t.

Most unusual reaction to a piece I’d written: After I had scribbled something about Winnipeg shinny fans showing extremely poor manners in booing the singing of O Canada en francais, a man called my home later that day and threatened to “bomb” my house. Yup, the kook was going to “blow it up” real good.

Worst day: When the Trib shut down. I cried and got drunk. But that’s all I have to say about that.

Favorite desker: Dave Connors, aka Homer. I would tell him how I wanted the sports front or a feature spread to look and he’d make it so much better than I had imagined.

Top story: The Bobby Hull signing at Portage and Main.

Top story maker: Ben Hatskin for signing Robert Marvin Hull.

Vic Peters
Vic Peters

Favorite group of athletes: Curlers, by far. I wish I had discovered curlers earlier in my career, but I spent enough time with them in the final decade to truly appreciate they’re a special bunch. Vic Peters was the best and Don Duguid was a close second.

Favorite event: The Brier. It’s a load of work, but a load of fun because of the people. It’s the only sports event I’ve covered since I left the every-day grind of journalism, and I did it twice as a freelancer.

Guys I cheered for (but not out loud): The boys from the Houston Aeros who joined the Jets for the final World Hockey Association season.

Worst moment II: Being at the L.A. airport with the Jets in the 1980s when a 6.something earthquake hit. There was serious panic in our terminal. Supposed tough guy John Ferguson was the first man out the door. Big sissy. Our flight to Vancouver was delayed, but not cancelled. If I remember correctly, it was the final flight out for the rest of the day.

Best quote II: I was sitting with Tom McVie during a Jets pre-season workout when Morris Lukowich burst in from the left wing and snapped a laser-like shot into the top corner.

“Watching that,” coach McVie told me, “is better than having sex.”

“Geez, Tom,” I responded, “that doesn’t say much for your wife.”

“Ya, but she didn’t score 60 goals last season.”

Oddball of oddballs: Mikhail Smith, general manager of the Central Red Jets. Mike was a hockey egghead, an intelligent, book wormish guy who had a different way of looking at, and doing, things. As GM of the Winnipeg Jets, he put in place a make-work-for-Russians project, whereby he seemingly sought to build a team comprised of nothing but comrades. It was an interesting time, but the Red Scare went unrewarded.

Most surreal event: The title fight between Don Lalonde and Sugar Ray Leonard at Caesar’s Palace in Vegas. It didn’t seem real that Lalonde, a local kid, was actually in the ring with a legend like Sugar Ray Leonard. It actually happened, though. Lalonde even put Leonard to the canvas before losing by knockout.

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.