Not once did I hear anyone spew a discouraging word about him. Not to his face. Not behind his back. Not in whispered tones. Not at a high volume. Not ever.
And that’s saying something because, as much as sports scribes can be an engaging and mischievous lot of devil-may-care rascals, many also possess a built-in cynicism that lends itself to snide commentary. Some would call it catty.
Harvey didn’t do snide or catty. He did quick wit. He did spoof. He did cornball.
Like when the Winnipeg Jets would be going through a tough patch. They’d be 10 seconds into a 0-0 match and Harvey, sitting next to you in the press box, would lean in and say, “The Jets are giving them all they can handle!” Or this: “It’s still anybody’s game!”
No matter how often Harvey would say it, I always laughed.
Sure it was simple, sophomoric humor, but when did anyone mistake a sports press box for a gathering place for Mensa members? We weren’t up there splitting atoms or trying to poke holes in Einstein’s take on relativity. We were watching hockey or football and engaging in dopey dialogue, like wondering who would win a fight between Andy Warhol and Truman Capote.
Mind you, Harvey could do serious. He was a school teacher, which clearly put him intellecutally a notch or two above most of us press box mooks. But he got his kicks writing sports for The Jewish Post & News and The Canadian Press, and he it did it for more than 40 years, all the while using his dry wit and impish impulses to make those around him giggle.
It’s no surprise, therefore, that Harvey is being remembered for all the right reasons now that word of his December death, at age 83, has made its way along the jock journo grapevine. Here’s a small sampling of what former colleagues and friends in the jockosphere are saying:
Bob Irving: “Spent many, many years matching wits and laughs with Harvey Rosen in Winnipeg press boxes. A sweet man who was a delight to be around.”
Mike McIntyre: “Just the absolute sweetest man. I now routinely complain about the loud music and PA noise at Canada Life Centre in his honour!”
Scott Billeck: “RIP to one of the good ones. Harvey, even after he retiree, would send me notes filled with kind words about my writing and lots of encouragement. This one sucks. A lot.”
Peter Young: “One of the kindest men I’ve had the privilege to know. Sat on press box between him and @patticakes1950 for many a Jets and Bombers season in the ’80s and ’90s.”
George Johnson: “Damn. A lovely soul Harvey. So much fun to be around.”
Rita Mingo: “So sorry to hear. Harvey was a fixture when I started my career in Winnipeg, a good guy, always genial.”
Judy Owen: “He had a wonderful, dry sense of humour that kept us reporters in the press box laughing. He was also so complimentary about my work, boosting me up when I would have a bad day. He was such a smart, witty, kind man. He will always, always be fondly remembered by so many of us in the sports community.”
Yes, he was a good, dear man.
The thing about death is that some of them carry a bigger wallop than others. Harvey’s is a big hit. Same as Bob (Doc) Holliday who, like Harv, left us for the great misty beyond in December.
I can’t count the number of days/nights I worked beside Harvey in press boxes on both the Jets’ and Bombers’ sides of Maroons Road back in the day, and I worked alongside Doc at both the Winnipeg Tribune and Winnipeg Sun. But I do know what I liked most about them: They were fun to be around. They made me laugh.
They made my little corner of the world a better place. The memories are strong and good.
By now you’ve likely had it up to your eyeliner or chin whiskers with New Year’s predictions, but Nostradumbass has yet to weigh in on what shall transpire in the next 12 months. Here’s what the Nostradumbass Prophesies say about athletes and teams from Good Ol’ Hometown…
It’s a double whammy for Manitoba’s elite Pebble People, with the Kerri Einarson and Matt Dunstone rinks winning the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and the Brier.
“It’s about bloody time,” says Dunstone. “I know winning’s old hat for Kerri and the gals from Gimli. That’s their fourth Scotties title in a row. Damn well done, ladies. But it’s fresh territory for us Buffalo Boys. Let’s face it, Manitoba men have sucked at curling this entire century, except for 2011 when Jeff Stoughton won the Brier. One Brier win in all that time? Total BS. So I’m happy that we could end the drought. Does it make me want to move back to Manitoba permanently? Naw. My home’s in Kamloops. You can’t beat the B.C interior for beauty, especially in and around The Okanagan. We also get better WiFi there.”
Meanwhile, Dunstone accepts a challenge from Einarson, and the two championship teams meet in a mid-summer one-off. It’s a rout: Gimli Gals 9, Buffalo Boys 3.
“I feel a bit sorry for them,” Einarson admits. “I mean, all four of us girls are preggers, so maybe they were distracted by our baby bumps. It’s not like guys know what to do when a woman’s pregnancy hormones are raging, so between all the bathroom breaks, the food cravings and the totally bonkers mood swings, they didn’t know if they were in a curling game or a Hitchcock thriller.
“I’m sure when Val (Sweeting) ordered that bucket of KFC and got in a scrap with Briane (Harris) over the last drumstick during the fifth-end break, it threw them off their game. I’m guessing you lose something from your draw weight after watching two hormonal-crazed women go all Animal House and throw coleslaw at each other.”
Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and the 3rd Baron Thomson of Fleet, disheartened by a fairweather fan base and empty seats in the Little Hockey House On The Prairie, sell the Winnipeg Jets—lock, stock and Ducky Hawerchuk statue—to rock ‘n’ roll fossils Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman.
The first order of business for Cummings and Bachman is to rebrand the National Hockey League club.
“We’re now the Winnipeg Canned Wheat,” Cummings announces at a press conference that includes the 3rd Baron and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. “It’s a salute to the Guess Who’s fifth studio album.
“We always thought Jets was a dumb name. What do airplanes have to do with Winnipeg? There isn’t even an airport here. If Winnipeg’s known for anything other than winter and Slurpees, it’s the rock ‘n’ roll scene in the 1960s and ’70s. We had great bands…the Squires, the Deverons, the Crescendos, the Quid, the Orfans, the Shondels, the Pallbearers, the Syndicate, the Eternals, Chad Allan and the Expressions, The Gentlemen Royal, the Dawgs, the House Grannies, the Feminine Touch, the Fifth, Finders Keepers, the Jury. That’s what I’m talking about. And, of course, there was me, Randy, Jimmy Kale and Garry Peterson in the Guess Who. Some of the Guess Who’s best stuff is on our Canned Wheat album—Laughing, Undun, No Time. Those songs are classics, like me and Randy. I was brilliant on them, and Randy was pretty good, too.”
Asked about fan support, Cummings harrumphs and says: “Not to worry. We’ve still got a long wait list for season tickets, but let’s just say if support goes soft the whole thing will come Undun (see what I did there?). We’ll move the team to Moose Jaw, and Mr. Bettman will support us 100 per cent.”
“They can squeeze 4,700 into the Moose Jaw rink,” the NHL commish says with a nod. “And, hey, if that number works for the Coyotes in an Arizona desert, it can work for the Canned Wheat on the bald prairies. Besides, Moose Jaw has better WiFi than Winnipeg.”
Local legal beagle David Asper, following the lead of Cummings and Bachman, bows to pressure and renames his Canadian Elite Basketball League franchise.
“Ever since I announced we had the team, all I’ve heard is ‘Sea Bears is stupid, Sea Bears is stupid.’ It’s been non-stop,” Asper says to a smattering of news snoops who had nothing better to do that day. “I haven’t had this many people PO’d at me since the 2005 Banjo Bowl, when I stormed into the Blue Bombers locker room after a loss and told the head coach he didn’t know a quarterback from a Q-tip. Now that was stupid. But I didn’t think naming a summertime hoops team after an Arctic predator was stupid. What was I supposed to call it? The Winnipeg Skeeters? The Winnipeg Potholes?
“Anyway, I heard from a lot of people and I listened, which I don’t normally do. I usually just listen to the sound of my own voice. But I eventually came around to the notion that Sea Bears was kind of dopey. So, as of today, we are the Winnipeg Riverboat. I remember riding the Paddlewheel Queen and the Paddlewheel Princess on the Red River when I was a kid. Good times. Just like a night watching my basketball team.”
A numbers crunch hits the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, and CEO Wade Miller is forced to break up the Canadian Mafia by parting company with general manager Kyle Walters and replacing him with former news snoops Bob Irving and Ed Tait.
“Toughest decision I’ve had to make,” says Miller. “Kyle, coach Mike O’Shea and I are fast friends and we did great things together, winning two Grey Cups and playing in a third. But there’s an operations cap in the Canadian Football League, and we were banging our head on the ceiling. Kyle is the odd man out, and we wish him well when he replaces Pinball Clemons with the Argonauts.
“Some of you probably think I’m off my rocker, hiring two former media guys as co-GMs. Fine, but let me remind you that you thought I was a bit loopy when I hired Mike O’Shea to coach the team. How’s that worked out?
“Knuckles and Eddie have been part of the CFL for about as long as the rouge, and they’re what you call cheap dates…Knuckles is working pro bono, and Eddie’s already on staff for chump change. Hey, what can I say? It’s Winnipeg. We do things wholesale or on the real, real cheap. I would have hired Sarah Orlesky, too, because a pro sports franchise can never have enough burned-out news snoops on staff. But the Jets beat us to Sarah and she probably wouldn’t have worked for food stamps.”
Both Irving and Tait are unavailable for comment due to a previous commitment: Fixing the WiFi in Miller’s office.
The pride of Stony Mountain, Aaron Cockerill, takes the money and runs to the LIV Golf Series.
“All I have to do is show up with a bag of golf clubs and a caddy and play three rounds of stress-free golf. I don’t have to worry about making cuts and I’ll have more cashola than any player on the Jets roster,” Cockerill says. “I’m not going to say how much coin Greg Norman and the Saudis are giving me, but I can buy all of Stony Mountain and the rest of Rockwood if I want.”
“We think Aaron is a real up-and-comer, a rising star,” says Norman. “He’s ranked 346th in the world, so he’s no Rory or Scottie Scheffler, but he’s the kind of player we want in LIV Golf. He’s young, talented and eager. And don’t talk to me about blood money. His hands will be clean when he cashes his cheques. We’ve all got clean hands at LIV Golf. If anybody’s got dirty hands, it’s Rory and those dirty, rotten scoundrels who run the corrupt PGA Tour. They wouldn’t have a pot to pee in if it wasn’t for old golfers like me! If I sound bitter, it’s because I am bitter. I just don’t know why I’m so bitter.”
The Vancouver Canucks shed themselves of good guy Bruce Boudreau and introduce Barry Trotz as head coach.
“I know I said I wanted to coach an Original Six team,” says Trotz, “but I’m happy to be with an Original 14 team. Especially one in such a beautiful locale. I’m just a prairie boy, but I’ve been around some. I mean, I’ve seen the inside of the White House and the Grand Ole Opry, so you need to take the long way around the barn to impress me. And that’s what Vancouver does…it impresses me. Looking out my window and seeing mountain and ocean views every morning is a long hike from Dauphin, let me tell you.”
Asked to comment on the roster he’s inherited, Trotz says: “As Shania Twain sang, that don’t impress me much.”
There’s a huge shakeup on the local media landscape, with (a) the suits at Postmedia in the Republic of Tranna shutting down the Winnipeg Sun without notice, (b) the resurrection of the Winnipeg Tribune, and (c) the Winnipeg Free Press converting to a tabloid format.
The unexpected chain of events begins when the geniuses at Postmedia stop the presses at the Sun.
“What the hell, we haven’t shut down a newspaper or laid off hundreds of workers for at least six months, so we were overdue for some blood-letting,” says a company spokesperson. “And, let’s face it, the Winnipeg Sun had become the Toronto Sun, especially in the sports section. Think of it this way: We didn’t kill a newspaper, we saved a few forests.”
Out-of-work Sun employees aren’t out of work for long, thanks to a group of local business leaders fronted by Gail Asper, who’s named publisher of the new, employee-owned Winnipeg Tribune.
“My dad, Izzy, loved the old Trib,” she says. “He loved everything about it. Our plan is to bring it back to its original glory, and that might even include hiring some of the people who were on staff when the paper folded in 1980. I’m just not sure how many of them are still alive. But our new sports editor, Paul Friesen, has been tasked with tracking them down, and he’s been told to offer them their old jobs back.”
Friesen discovers a handful of ex-Tribbers scattered hither and yon in old-folks homes across the Frozen Tundra, but has no luck luring them back to Good Ol’ Hometown.
“Every time I thought I had one of them convinced to come back, my WiFi went on the fritz and I never heard from them again,” he explains. “Damn Winnipeg WiFi. No wonder the Jets can’t sign any decent free agents.”
Meantime, freshly minted publisher at the Winnipeg Free Press, David Asper, announces the switch from broadsheet to tabloid format, and it includes a daily Sunshine Girl.
“I know what you’re going to ask me. You’re going to ask why a tabloid after 150 years as a broadsheet,” Asper says at the launch of his newest toy. “Well, I like the size and feel of a tabloid. It isn’t as unwieldy as a broadsheet, especially when you’re reading the paper on a bus or at a snack bar. Nobody needs some stranger’s newspaper flapping in their face when they’re trying to eat a corned beef sandwich at Oscar’s.
“As for the Sunshine Girl, I plead innocence. That wasn’t my call. And don’t think my little sister Gail hasn’t filled me in on what a cad I am. She gave me an earful. In both ears. I realize a Sunshine Girl isn’t in step with the social climes of the 21st century, but it went to a vote of the Board and I don’t have a veto. We’re going to make it up to all the girls and women who read our sports section. I’ve directed sports editor Jason Bell to start covering female sports on a daily basis, and suggested in strong terms that he think about hiring a woman the next time there’s an opening in his toy department. That would be a refreshing change, wouldn’t it?”
The Freep asks Hockey Night In Canada commentator and Olympic champion Jennifer Botterill to appear as its first Sunshine Girl, and it’s a non-starter.
“Oh, yuck,” she says. “I have enough trouble dealing with the frat boys on Hockey Night without them having something like that to throw in my face every Saturday. Can you imagine what Kevin Bieksa would say? That guy creeps me out at the best of times.”
Boy, you sure know how to make an entrance, don’t you? I thought only Sinatra could “bring it” like that. I mean, you haven’t even spent a nanosecond behind the Winnipeg Jets bench and you’ve already ripped the ‘C’ off Blake Wheeler’s jersey. Ballsy move.
Mind you, that’s the kind of decision you don’t make without first getting the official okie-dokie from on high, which is to say Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman. After all, defrocking teacher’s pet is like telling Tiger Woods he can’t wear a red shirt on Sunday. Still, you pulled it off, and I just wish I’d been a fly on the wall during those discussions, because it must have been some juicy banter.
Whatever was said, Coach Bones, it’s no more Captain Cranky Pants for Winnipeg HC, which means no more sourpuss sound bites from a guy who enjoyed his natters with news snoops the way Donald Trump likes the FBI knocking on his door.
Also no way of knowing if the stripping of the ‘C’ will translate to more Ws from the same old-same old National Hockey League outfit that you inherited due to GM Kevin Cheveldayoff’s Summer of Nothing, but I guess we’re about to find out.
One thing the Jets faithful need remember: Wheeler is now ‘C’-less, but he’s still in the dressing room and has no desire to fade into the background like an old piece of furniture destined for a yard sale. Anyone who thinks otherwise is “sorely mistaken,” he told news snoops, adding “I don’t envision changing my role at all” and “I’m still gonna be doing the things I would have done with the ‘C’ on my jersey.” It sounded more like a threat than a promise.
Something I kept thinking after the big news broke on Friday: The Puck Pontiff and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff actually hitched their wagon to Wheeler instead of Patrik Laine. It was an astonishing blunder that will continue to bite them.
I note some Jets gathered for “informal” skates last week. In other words, just like most of their games last season.
Missing Person’s Alert! Richie Hall’s D-Dozen. When last seen, they were making Dane Evans look like Patrick Mahomes and the Hamilton Tabbies offence look like the Kansas City Chiefs. If seen, call the missing persons hotline at 1-800-We STUNK. Seriously, a 48-31 paddywhacking? I don’t think the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defence has surrendered more than 40 points since leather helmets. Scoring on the Bombers is normally more difficult than opening a bag of airline peanuts, especially in the second half. But the Winnipeg FC D-Dozen decided to sit this one out, and the Tabbies much-maligned QB, Evans, and his receivers were in full frolic, finding their way into the end zone five times Saturday at Timbits Field in the Hammer. But, hey, stuff happens. The Canadian Football League season is long and taxing, and the Bombers haven’t had much time to catch their breath, with just one bye week since late May. We won’t see them again until Sept. 30, by which time we can assume they’ll have licked their wounds and won’t be in the mood to play nice with Cody Fajardo and the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Speaking of Corn Dog Cody, he served some vintage whine after a 26-24 loss to the bottom-feeding E-Town Elks on Friday, suggesting folks on the Flattest of Lands displayed bad manners in booing their hometown heroes. “I feel like the whole world is basically against us,” he moaned. “I’ll be honest, it wasn’t great when you hear your own fans booing you. It hurt.” Yo! Cody! There’s a cure for that. It’s called winning.
Apparently, the B.C. Leos and Calgary Stampeders took their hostilities off the field and into the parking lot after their grass-grabber Saturday in the Alberta Foothills. Something was said, a punch was thrown (not necessarily in that order), and cops became involved out on the pavement at McMahon Stadium. The Leos won the quarrel over second seeding in the West Division, 31-29 in OT, and the two sides will do it all over again next Saturday, this time at B.C. Place Stadium. No word on whether they’ll be selling ringside seats in the parking lot.
Anyone out there still not convinced Quebec is a different kind of world? If so, consider the appointment of Nick Suzuki as capitaine des Canadiens de Montréal. One look at the ‘C’ stitched on Nick’s chest and Premier Francois Legault promptly inserted the matter into the provincial election campaign, insisting Suzuki “will have to learn French.” Excusez-moi? It’s essential that Suzuki learn to say “it sucks to miss the playoffs again” en francais? Only in Quebec.
At what age do people begin shouting at clouds and telling kids to get off the lawn over piffling things like tiny ads on hockey uniforms? Seriously, why would any noses be out of joint because an RBC logo is sewn onto the Montreal Canadiens’ jersey? For cripes sake, man, it’s a smelly hockey sweater. It’s not like someone stitched a Burger King logo on the Shroud of Turin. Yet, many among the rabble (no doubt with grey hair and bladder-control issues) see this as blasphemy, even though it’s done in every sport you’d care to name. The most famous uni in North American jockdom—the New York Yankees pinstripes—features a Nike swoosh. It didn’t when Babe Ruth and Roger Maris were swatting 60 dingers in a season, but Aaron Judge wears one and it hasn’t hindered his home run stroke. Something tells me an RBC patch on La Sainte-Flanelle won’t slow down Nick Suzuki either.
The fear, of course, is that those 3×3.5-inch patches will grow into a monster skating billboard. The naysayers insist that, soon enough, NHL players will look like the people who drive fast cars in F1 and/or NASCAR, and civilization as we know it will collapse like Wall Street in 1929. Oh, please. NHL outfits are allowed two patches max (worth between $5 million to $10 million each) and, unlike soccer, the team logo remains the centrepiece of the jersey.
I think the Jets should wear a 7-Eleven logo. Good Ol’ Hometown, after all, is the Slurpee Capital of the World.
All-time good guy Don Baizley has been elected to the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame in November as a builder/hockey, and I just wish he was still with us to enjoy the moment. Not that he would want a big fuss, understand. Baiz, a local lawyer who left us in June 2013 at age 71 after a battle with non-smoker’s cancer, preferred any attention be kept on the down low, even though he had a client list that read like a who’s who in hockey: AndersHeberg, Ulf Nilsson, Lars-Erik Sjoberg, Kent Nilsson, Willy Lindstrom, Peter Forsberg, Jari Kurri, Paul Kariya, Joe Sakic, Saku Koivu, etc. He surrounded himself with more Scandinavians than ABBA and was at the forefront of the European invasion, smoothing their path and transition to North American life and its oft-barbaric style of shinny. Listen to enough people in hockey, and they’ll have you convinced there isn’t a body of water on earth that Baiz didn’t walk on. He’s had more nice things said about him than Mr. Rogers. But perhaps Hedberg put it best when he described Baiz as “the kind of person we would like to be and our sons to become.”
More than half the teams in Rouge Football are playing sub-.500 football, and two of the five will qualify to chase the Grey Grail in November. A most unfortunate state of affairs, Stanley.
It’s been a boffo year for the sale of used clothing. In May, the Hand of God jersey worn by Diego Maradona in the 1986 World Cup sold at auction for $9.8 million and, just this week, a Michael Jordan top from the 1998 NBA final went for $10.1 million. I’m not saying sports memorabilia collectors are suckers, but I understand they come in 50 flavors, from grape to “give your head a shake.”
Adios to Roger Federer, sublime tennis virtuoso who’ll take his racquet and go home after this week’s Laver Cup in London. The best ever? Always debatable. All-world classy? Never debatable. In a sport rife with me-myself-and-I boors who stomp their feet and hold their breath whenever their universe fails to unfold as it should, Federer was a beacon of all that is admirable in a professional athlete.
Both Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have superior mano-a-mano records vs. Federer (24-16 and 27-23, respectively), but this is the difference from my perch in the cheap seats: Rafa and Djokovic use a tennis racquet, Federer used an artist’s brush and painted lovely pictures with the strokes of a genius.
Our guy Denis Shapovalov lists Federer as “a role model.” In that case, Shapo should try to behave more like Roger and less like a brattish John McEnroe wannabe on court.
Chicago Bears placekick holder Trenton Gill was penalized 15 yards last Sunday for patting down a patch of soggy Soldier Field with a towel prior to a field goal attempt by Cairo Santos. Apparently that’s unsportsmanlike conduct. Why didn’t I think to tell my mom that whenever she ordered me to dry the dishes?
Just wondering: If you aren’t a Cheese Head, which is to say one of the Green Bay Packers faithful, is it possible to like Aaron Rodgers? The guy’s become all sorts of creepy weird. Seriously, I don’t care what he smokes, drinks or eats, or if he dresses like he got lost on the way to Woodstock, but if he wants us to believe his Zen shtick about “dissolvement of the ego” he should probably stop reminding us about the MVP awards he’s won. As the Wise Woman of the Village once said: “Clap with just one hand at your own good deeds.”
Every time Greg Norman opens his cake hole, the more convinced I am that someone piddles on his Corn Flakes every morning. Is there a more bitter man in sports than the LIV Golf Series mouthpiece? Maybe all that anger stems back to the final round of the 1996 Masters, when the Shark authored one of golf’s all-time gag jobs, taking 78 swings to blow a six-shot lead and lose to Nick Faldo by five strokes. Whatever the case, someone or something has really done a number on Norman.
I’ve asked this before but, given the love and admiration heaped upon Sideline Sara Orlesky last weekend in Blue Bombersville, I again ask: Why it is that broadcasters become darlings of the rabble whereas newspaper scribes are lower than a guy who farts on a crowded elevator? No doubt Sara is a lovely person and the hosannas after working the Bombers beat for 14 years were warranted, but I have it on good authority that Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun is also a lovely person who’s been scribbling sterling stuff about the Bombers since the turn of the century. You think the rabble will rush for his autograph when he slaps a -30- on his final dispatch for the tabloid? You think Winnipeg FC CEO Wade Miller will present him with a team jersey in front of a packed house? You think Zach Collaros will give him a game ball? Hmph! King Charles III will stop counting all that money Mommy left him and fly into Good Ol’ Hometown to knight Friesen and dub him Sir Paul of the Poison Pen before any of that happens.
I covered the Jets/NHL for 20 years and the Bombers/CFL for 20, and the closet thing I got to a salute was a bunch of middle fingers. And, you’re right, I probably deserved every one of them.
The Sara Sendoff makes me wonder: Will she be the first female inducted into the ultimate all-boys club known as the Media Wing of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame? By my count, the current roll call is 101 men, 0 women, even though females have written and talked about the three-downs game from pee wee to the pros for decades, and that math just doesn’t add up.
The show of affection for Sara (totally deserved) reminded me of my first encounter with Robert Marvin Hull, on my initial visit to the Winnipeg Jets lair. It was the season of 1977-78 and I sought sound bites from young Kent Nilsson, a dazzling young player in his freshman whirl. While talking to Kenta, I noted the Golden Jet and Lars-Erik (The Shoe) Sjoberg standing nearby, both of them clad only in white towels wrapped around their flat midsections. This was their conversation as they gave me the once-over: The Shoe: “It looks like we’ve got a new reporter with the team.” Hull: “Just another asshole to try and stir up shit.” Yup, Hull could be a real charmer.
And, finally, old friend Peter Young confirms the Golden Jet’s attendance at the WHA’s 50th anniversary hooraw next month in Whistler. Hmmm. Maybe I should drop by. You know, just to stir up shite for old time’s sake.
I stumbled upon an interesting Twitter to-and-fro last week involving three of the nation’s notable jock journos, two of whom are widely respected and the third not so much.
The exchange—between Winnipeg Blue Bombers longtime voice Bob (Knuckles) Irving, veteran observer of three-downs football Dave Naylor of TSN, and Damien Cox of the Toronto Star—centred on the Toronto Argos and the reason(s) behind woeful head counts whenever the Boatmen come up for air at BMO Field in the Republic of Tranna.
The Argos, be advised, don’t attract crowds to BMO. It’s more like pockets of stragglers. You know, folks who get lost while looking for something better to do.
Officially, average attendance in 2019 was 12,493, although we know better. That might have been tickets sold, but it wasn’t bums on benches. My guess is that the audience numbered sub-10,000 more than one day/night, meaning the Canadian Football League’s largest market has the smallest following, a level of neglect challenged only by indifference on the Left Flank of the land, where people won’t even come in out of the rain to watch the B.C. Lions.
One reason advanced for Argos apathy is a generation thing. That is, Rouge Football doesn’t appeal to anyone without age in their eyes and grey in their temples, which set off this Irving-Naylor-Cox exchange:
Irving: “Part of the reason for that is the Toronto media basically ignores the CFL—not good enough for most of them.”
Naylor: “Come on Bob, it’s the media’s fault? The Winnipeg media reports aggressively on the Bombers because there is a demand for information. If that existed in Toronto, the media would respond accordingly.”
Cox: “Individual media people don’t make these decisions. Sports departments do. In Toronto, sports staffs are stretched to the limit, fewer ppl doing more. There’s a lot more sporting events to cover in Toronto than Winnipeg.”
Okay, let’s unwrap that.
First, Knuckles Irving is correct when he submits that mainstream media in the Republic of Tranna treats the Argos and Rouge Football as an afterthought.
For example, the Toronto Star no longer cares enough about the CFL to dispatch a scribe to the Grey Cup game unless it’s played in The ROT, and Tranna-based Sportsnet pays only token attention to the CFL simply because its competition, TSN, holds the broadcast rights. (No one expects Sportsnet to promote the other guy’s property, but it is a news gathering and distributing outlet and, as such, has a responsibility to inform viewers of CFL games/stories on air and on the website with an expected level of substance.)
Meanwhile, when Rouge Football went dark last August, the cancellation of the season was front page of every sports section of every daily on The Prairies, but the story served as inside filler (pages 8 and 9) in the Toronto Sun. (I don’t recall what made the Sun front that day, but I suppose Auston Matthews might have been trimming his mustache, which would have warranted a lede, sidebar and a 150-point headline.)
In terms of the Argos-media, it really is a chicken-and-egg riddle. Is the media indifferent because the rabble steers clear of BMO on Argos game days, or does the rabble steer clear of BMO on Argos game days because the media is indifferent?
It certainly isn’t the responsibility of news snoops to do the bidding of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, which bankrolls the Boatmen and BMO’s more popular tenant, Toronto FC. But, although historically the most successful of The ROT’s pro sports franchises (17 Grey Cup championships, including three this century), the Boatmen have fallen to fifth on the pecking order, behind the Maple Leafs, Raptors, Blue Jays and Toronto FC. That isn’t about to change anytime soon, no matter what the local rags put on their sports pages or radio/TV puts on their air.
Which brings us to Cox’s point that “there’s a lot more sporting events to cover in Toronto than Winnipeg.”
What a load of hooey.
Had Cox said there were more “pro sporting events,” I’d agree. But overall sports? No.
It’s all about priorities, and they differ from town to town. In the Republic of Tranna, the major beats are the Leafs, Raptors, Blue Jays and Toronto FC, with the Argos the runt of the litter. In Winnipeg, it’s the Jets, Blue Bombers and…curling.
Pebble People have made the front page of the Winnipeg Free Press sports section 23 times this year. That’s right, 23. I doubt curling has been on the sports front of either the Toronto Star or Toronto Sun once this century, let alone 23 times in a three-month, one week time frame.
Also making the front page of the Freep sports section were two levels of junior hockey, high school hockey, women’s amateur hockey, volleyball, university sports, auto racing, etc. At different points in the year, they make room for local golf, tennis, high school football/hoops, Usports, and more of what you’ll never find in the Toronto rags.
The Sun and the Star have become pro sports sheets, whereas the Free Press continues to cover the peripheral sports, during a pandemic with a stable of scribes that has shrunk to four.
Dating back to my start in the rag trade in 1969 when the Bombers were top dog, it’s always been that way in Good Ol’ Hometown. Lower-level sports were never given short shrift, even after the Jets arrived to nudge the Bombers down a notch, and I suspect the Freep will carry on that way.
I just wish I could say the same for the Winnipeg Sun. Unfortunately, the suits at Postmedia in the Republic of Tranna ruined a good thing.
A one and a two—the second Sunday morning smorgas-bored of 2021…and the year’s only going to get better, kids…
Oh, the humanity. CBS backup blurt box boy Boomer Esiason crapped on the Canadian Football League, and it was as if he’d peed on a Mountie’s horse. During the Musical Ride.
I swear, we haven’t heard this loud a hue and cry since Maggie Trudeau went clubbing with the Rolling Stones and hitched a late-night ride in Mick’s limo.
If you missed it, Boomer worked the L.A. Rams-Arizona Cardinals skirmish last Sunday, a National Football League growler featuring former Winnipeg Blue Bombers backup quarterback, Grey Cup champion and resident party boy Chris Streveler. As it happened, Streveler hurled an ill-advised, second-quarter pass that was taken the other way for a pick-six by Roy Hill of the Rams.
“What a horrific mistake by Reveler (sic), barked Boomer, who was keeping the broadcast booth seat warm for disabled talking head Tony Romo. “This isn’t the Grey Cup. This isn’t the CFL. You can’t just take chances and throw the ball down the middle of the field and expect somebody not to come down with it. There’s just no reason to throw the ball there.”
Cue the outrage.
Players and coaches with the lived experience of actually suiting up in 12-man football took to social media and pounced on Boomer, like a panhandler spotting loose change on a sidewalk.
Many among the rabble and media pundits across the tundra also weighed in with wagging tongues and fingers, defending Rouge Football with the same fervor that Rudy Giuliani has Donald Trump’s back (only without the black shoe polish dribbling down their faces and audible farting).
“That’s a silly comment,” one-time DB Davis Sanchez said of Boomer’s cheap shot, in a natter with TSN’s Kate Beirness that was meant to be a tsk-tsking of Esiason but instead detoured into a negative riff on the Arizona QB, leaving me to believe Streveler doesn’t know how to bend down and tie his own boot laces, let alone fling a football.
“I get joy in watching guys in the CFL get a shot down there and succeed,” Sanchez continued in his peculiar brand of English, “but when I’m looking at all the high-level quarterbacks we have in the CFL, Chris Streveler’s not the guy I’m gonna put out there on display to represent the great quarterbacks we have in the CFL. They said that Chris Streveler, on the broadcast, was a star in Canada. Well, a little research may be necessary, Boomer. He wasn’t a star. He’s a star personality and a great athlete, but he was actually a backup quarterback. Actually, he was really the third-string quarterback, because when the quarterback got injured, instead of playing Chris Streveler at quarterback at the end of the season, they brought in a third-string quarterback, so he’s a third-string quarterback.”
Way to keep it classy, Davis. Crap on one guy by taking an even bigger dump on the other guy.
Meantime, Sanchez’ loud-squawking colleague at TSN, Kayla Grey, tweeted, “the CFL slander has to stop.”
Or what? She’ll lecture Boomer with her phony southern “y’alls” and “thangs” at 150 decibels or higher?
Look, Rouge Football boosterism is great. Been there, been doing that since the 1950s. But let’s not get our knickers in a twist just because Boomer Esiason doesn’t know Flutie Flakes from Corn Flakes.
I mean, what do you expect? He’s an American, and most Americans couldn’t find Winnipeg if you plunked them down at Portage and Main. Think about it. Have you ever noticed the look on a Jeopardy! contestant’s face when the category is anything Canada? That’s right, it’s the same look a dog gets when it sees itself in the mirror for the first time. You know, head cocked to one side, blank stare, curious, no clue.
The difference, I suppose, is that it’s funny when a dog does it, not so much when it’s a high-salaried football analyst on national TV in the stooge role.
But, hey, we don’t kick the dog for being dumb. We laugh, call him over, rub his head and tell him he’s “such a good boy.”
Well, you’re such a good boy, Boomer. Now go play fetch and bring Tony Romo back.
Since I’ve mentioned Jeopardy!, if there’s any category that contestants know less about than Canada, it’s sports, a truism underscored on the game show last Thursday. The clue: “The announcers on NBC Sunday Night Football are Al Michaels and this former wide receiver.” None of the three contestants buzzed in to say, “Who is Cris Collinsworth?” even though the one-time Cincinnati Bengals pass-catcher has been providing the backup vocals for Michaels on the Peacock Network since 2009. A lot of women can relate. They talk and talk and talk, but their husbands/boyfriends don’t hear a word they say.
Now that you’ve asked, no, I don’t believe pasting corporate logos on players’ helmets or attaching corporate names to National Hockey League divisions is a sign that the apocalypse is nigh. Matter of fact, I fully expect to see brand names on jerseys before long, although it will be subtle as opposed to the vulgar, billboardish displays in European shinny or NASCAR. I actually think players ought to be allowed to sell themselves, like they do in tennis and golf. Phil Kessel could skate about the freeze with a Nathan’s Fabulous Franks patch on his Arizona Coyotes jersey. Auston Matthews, first at the NHL pay window, could be sponsored by Brinks. The possibilities are unlimited.
My first year in baseball, each of us kids on the Melrose Park Little League team had an individual sponsor, with the company name displayed on the back, directly above our uni number. Mine was Red Patch Taxi. By the end of the season, the C and H in Patch had disappeared, so I was Red Pat Taxi, something that did not escape the notice of my mom. “Why do you always come home with such a dirty and torn uniform when your brothers’ are clean?” she demanded to know one day. I had no answer. She washed my uniform, put it in my closet, and I got it dirty again.
As one who has bled Dodgers blue since their final days as “Dem Bums” in Brooklyn, Tommy Lasorda became one of my all-time favorite characters in baseball, and his passing the other day at age 93 brought two things to mind—sound bites and the denial of his son’s homosexuality.
First the sound bites. These are my two favorite quotes from the longtime Los Angeles manager:
“I walk into the clubhouse today and it’s like walking into the Mayo Clinic. We have four doctors, three therapists and five trainers. Back when I broke in, we had one trainer who carried a bottle of rubbing alcohol, and by the seventh inning he’d already drunk it.”
Prior to the 1988 World Series between L.A. and Oakland, Lasorda approached A’s slugger Jose Canseco and said: “Jose, I just want you to know, if we don’t win this thing I hope you guys do.”
Now the gay son part. Most tributes to Lasorda were glowing in praise and completely ignored, or merely glossed over, his relationship with Tommy Jr., who died of complications from AIDS at age 33. A year after Tommy Jr.’s death in 1991, Lasorda Sr. told Peter Richmond of GQ magazine that his son “wasn’t gay. No way. No way. I read that in a paper. I also read in that paper that a lady gave birth to a fuckin’ monkey, too. That’s not the fuckin’ truth. That’s not the truth.” He also denied that Tommy Jr. had died of AIDS. When Tommy Jr. began chumming around with the Dodgers Glenn Burke, known to his teammates and others in Major League Baseball as gay, the outfielder was promptly banished to Oakland. Those are the kind of words and actions that keep young gay people in the closet. Still.
Justin Thomas is another reason why gay youth remain hidden. The world No. 3 golfer coughed up a hairball on a five-foot par putt at the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii on Saturday, then expressed his annoyance by dropping the homophobic F-bomb. “It’s not who I am. It’s not the kind of person that I am,” he insisted while delivering a mea culpa. Except he went on to say it was only “when I was done with my round” that he realized he’d spewed the slur. That suggests this wasn’t a one-off. It’s just the first time he was caught on mic.
Tip of the bonnet No. 1: To Lance Hornby, who last week reached the 40-year signpost of scribbling boffo shinny stuff on the sports pages of the Toronto Sun. There are a lot of good people in jock journalism, and Lance certainly is one of them.
Tip of the bonnet No. 2: To Team USA’s Theresa Feaster, the first female to be part of a coaching staff to win the World Junior Hockey Championship. Asked by Fluto Shinzawa of The Athletic what message she has for mothers with young daughters, Feaster said: “Work hard and keep dreaming. Don’t let naysayers or obstacles get in your way. You can achieve great things. Put your head down and work hard. You can accomplish great things.” Exactly.
On the subject of ponytails and pucks, members of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association spent the past three days in Florida, playing teenage boys from the United States Premier Hockey League. The women opened with a 5-3 win v. Tampa Bay Juniors, then dropped a 4-2 verdict to the South Shore Kings and absorbed a 5-zip whupping from the Philadelphia Hockey Club. It pains me to say it, but losing to teenage boys won’t convince many people that Ponytail Puck is worth buying into.
MeTV is showing classic cartoons every morning, Monday-Saturday, with all the usual suspects—Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Popeye and Bluto, Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner, etc. What, there wasn’t enough violence on TV already?
After 15 years together, Mookie Betts of the L.A. Dodgers has finally asked his childhood sweetheart Brianna Hammonds for her hand in matrimony. Talk about a human rain delay.
No surprise that there was plenty of political/social commentary from jock journos in the wake of the siege on the Capitol in Washington, D.C., last week, and I’m not one of those people who expect them to “stick to sports.” I figure if they have a platform, use it. And did they ever. Examples:
Damien Cox of the Toronto Star called Rudy Giuliani a “moron” and Donald Trump “the Orange Clown,” then attacked Ontario health officials and the government for allowing the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators to set up shop for the NHL season.
“WHY CAN THE NHL PLAY IN ONTARIO WHEN NONE OF US CAN PLAY A SPORT—ANY SPORT—INDOORS???” went his Twitter rant.
“Share your pain Damo,” Pat Hickey of the Montreal Gazette moaned in concert. “Had to cancel my tennis after QC locked down this week and my gym has been closed since March.”
Jack Todd of the Gazette on Trump: “One of the worst human beings who ever lived. Any country, any era. Given enough time and power, he would have gone into the history books with Hitler, Stalin and Caligula.”
Bob Irving, CJOB: “As I anxiously await this weekend’s NFL wildcard games, I also anxiously await the day when we’re not hearing about or talking about the worst human being to ever lead the most powerful country in the free world.”
Ken Campbell,The Hockey News: “Hockey icon Bobby Orr endorsed Donald Trump two months ago. Now it’s time for him to repudiate the man who incited the violence and anarchy that was unleashed on the U.S. Capitol Wednesday.”
Mad Mike McIntyre, the Drab Slab: “This is the America Trump created. This is the America Trump wanted. History will never forget that U.S. President Donald Trump said “we love you” today to a group of armed domestic terrorists who dropped pipe bombs and stormed the U.S. Capitol in his name (leaving at least one woman dead) while also calling them “very special.”
Troy Westwood, 1290 TSN: “Donald Trump has been a horrible human being his entire adult life. His history is well documented. Yet tens of millions of people line up behind him as if he has the virtues of Jesus Christ. Please Trumpsters, Christians, Evangelicals, explain this to me.”
Terry Jones, Postmedia Edmonton, after the Americans won gold at the World Junior Hockey Championship: “At least the USA has a fine group of young men with gold medals around their necks to be proud of today. Hard to believe they’re from the same country as those that were part of the mob in Washington, D.C.”
And finally, Space X guy Elon Musk is now richest man on the planet, with a worth of $188.5 billion. Just wondering: Do you think he’d be interested in bankrolling a quirky, three-downs football league? I really don’t want to go another year without watching all those Rouge Football quarterbacks that Boomer Esiason thinks are lousy because they throw the ball down the middle of the field.
Rather than the usual Sunday morning smorgas-bored, I give you the top 50-plus movers and shakers in Good Ol’ Hometown over the past half century.
This isn’t one of those hum-drum, greatest-athlete lists. We’re talking positive impact, what a sports figure did to enhance the local sporting landscape, whether that meant the wow factor of Teemu Selanne’s 76-goal rookie season or Harvey Warner keeping the ponies at a full gallop out at Assiniboia Downs.
And, while our play-for-pay jocks tend to gobble up the big headlines on a day-to-day basis, it’s often the owners and managers and coaches and administrators who make things happen when we aren’t staring at the scoreboard, and that also means our amateur playing fields, where we have a rich tradition of magnificence and the impact has been significant.
So here’s the list of the 50-plus most-impactful movers and shakers in Winnipeg sports dating back to 1970, and I should warn you that this list includes jock journos, because once upon a time before the Internet, 24-hour TV and social media, there was a gadget called the radio. Not every game was televised or live streamed. We needed our newspapers and radios to take us to the action.
One final note: Remember, this is only one person’s opinion, so don’t get your knickers in a twist if you don’t see the name of one of your faves.
1. Ben Hatskin: Well, this is the ultimate no-brainer. It’s like naming Pope Francis to an all-Catholic team. I mean, Benny didn’t just bring the Winnipeg Jets and the World Hockey Association to Good Ol’ Hometown in 1972, he hijacked Bobby Hull from the Chicago Blackhawks in a shocking coup that reshaped the shinny landscape. Without Benny’s derring-do, there would have been no National Hockey League Jets 1.0 and no Jets 2.0.
2. Mark Chipman: The Puck Pontiff filled the void left by the 1996 departure of the Jets to Arizona, but his Manitoba Moose of the International Hockey League and the American Hockey League were just the appetizer. Aided by billionaire David Thomson’s bulging bankroll, there was an NHL rebirth in River City in 2011, with the Atlanta Thrashers moving north. Oh, and did I mention that along the way Chipman and Thomson built a downtown arena?
3. Bobby Hull: The Golden Jet informed Hatskin and the other WHA renegade owners that it would take $1 million dollars for him to leave the Blackhawks and pull on a Jets jersey in ’72. Done deal. The Hull signing legitimized the WHA, and other top-level players soon followed. And, remember, Robert Marvin was also part of the ownership group that took the Jets into the NHL.
4. Michael Gobuty/Barry Shenkarow: I know, I know. Michael is the guy who let Wayne Gretzky get away. Mook. But don’t hold that against him. Michael and his ownership group kept the Jets afloat in the late 1970s, allowing for one final, rewarding whirl in the WHA by purchasing the contracts of a group of Houston Aeros, including Terry Ruskowski, Morris Lukowich, Rich Preston and Scott Campbell. He also recruited John Bowie Ferguson, and Michael offered a loud and influential voice in the NHL’s decision to absorb the Jets and three other WHA franchises in 1979. As for Barry, talk about shooting the messenger. By the time the whole thing went south for Jets 1.0, he was front man for the ownership group that sold the club to American buyers, who then loaded up the truck and bugged out to Arizona, lock, stock and jock. So Barry became the fall guy. But it’s a bad rap. No locals were willing to dig into their deep pockets to purchase the franchise and lose millions of dollars every year, so he/they really had no choice.
5. Cal Murphy: Cantankerous, curmudgeonly and very funny, Cal ruled the Winnipeg Blue Bombers roost with an iron fist from 1983-96, as either head coach or general manager. Along the way, there were three Grey Cup championships, one heart transplant, and one human rights kerfuffle over female news snoops in the locker room. He also brought the Grey Cup game to Good Ol’ Hometown for the first time, and became a vocal advocate for organ donations. Today there’s a pigeon perch of Kindly Cal outside Football Follies Field In Fort Garry.
6. Wade Miller: The leader of the Canadian Mafia inherited a Sad Sack, laughing stock-level Bombers team and the longest title drought in the Canadian Football League when he was anointed CEO in 2013. He was more like the CE-D’oh! in the early years, but Wade ignored the wolves howling at his door and stuck by his fellow hosers, GM Kyle Walters and sideline steward Mike O’Shea. Today the Bombers reign as Grey Cup champions, with money in the bank, and only the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed Miller down.
7. Dr. Gerry Wilson/Billy Robinson/Don Baizley: No North American shinny side tapped into the European hockey market as swiftly, deeply and as eagerly as the Jets, and it was this trio of forward-thinkers that brought the first wave of Scandinavians to Good Ol’ Hometown in the mid-1970s. Dr. Wilson caught the first glimpse of Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson and alerted Robinson, the Jets main bird dog. Robby scampered across the big pond to Sweden and liked what he saw, signing both players pronto. Lars-Erik Sjoberg and Curt Larsson came along for the ride, and player agent Baizley took them under his wing. Championship parades ensued.
8. Anders/Ulf/the Shoe: It’s no exaggeration to suggest Anders and Ulf revolutionized the game once in partnership with Hull. They made magic with their swashbuckling, freestyle frolicking on the local freeze, but it was Sjoberg—the Shoe—who stirred the drink from the back end. Together, they dominated the WHA and—damn them!—also provided Glen Sather with the blueprint for his Edmonton Oilers dynasty of the 1980s.
9. John Ferguson: So, here’s the irony—he was the cad who lured the ultra-popular Hedberg and Nilsson away from Portage and Main to make them stars on Broadway, then the Rangers fired Fergy and he joined the Jets to oversee their final WHA title and aid the entry into the NHL. Go figure. Full of bluster and occasional rage, Fergy made certain that life around the Jets camp was never boring, which sometimes meant kicking holes in walls and dumping buckets of ice on the opposing team’s bench. As Jets GM, he assembled a string of formidable NHL outfits during the 1980s, even if he couldn’t quite get them over the hump. Stars like Dale Hawerchuk, Teemu Selanne, David Babych, Thomas Steen and Dave Christian were drafted during his watch, and we won’t talk about Jimmy Mann.
10. Clara Hughes: When they name parks, playgrounds and schools in your honor, and when they put your pic on a postage stamp, you know you’ve done something right. Clara is a two-sport Olympian—speed skating and cycling—and the only athlete in history to win multiple medals in both the Summer and Winter Games. But it’s her advocacy on behalf of mental health and children’s sports/recreation that makes Clara truly impactful. She’s a leading voice in the Bell Let’s Talk campaign, and she’s donated/raised many thousands of dollars for various causes.
11. Cindy Klassen: She has as many shiny Olympic trinkets as Clara Hughes (six), including one gold medal, so Clara’s two-sport bona fides is all that separates the two world champion speed skaters.
12. Chris Walby: If ever there’s been a larger-than-life athlete, it was Bluto—all 6-feet, 7-inches and 300-plus pounds of him (give or take a Big Mac and a six pack). Bluto grabbed grass and growled for the Bombers from 1981-96, collecting three Grey Cup rings, nine CFL all-star nods, two top O-lineman awards, and a bust in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. But it wasn’t just what he did on the field and his size that made Bluto stand out. He was among the great characters in Rouge Football, a good-time Charlie and a deliverer of delicious quotes. No surprise he became a talking head on CBC’s football coverage, even if English sometimes seemed to be his second language.
13. Dale Hawerchuk: He came to the Jets as a freshly scrubbed 18-year-old from Cornwall, and much was expected of Ducky. He delivered. Winnipeg HC went from the free space on the NHL’s bingo card to the best shinny outfit this side of the Edmonton Gretzkys, and Ducky was the centrepiece.
14. Jennifer Jones: The only thing Jennifer hasn’t won is the Brier, and that’s only because the boys won’t let her play. There’s never been a finer female curler in our country, even if some in Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia might want to point to Sandra Schmirler and Colleen Jones and debate the issue. Well, let ’em hash it out. We know they’re wrong.
15. Jill Officer: It will be interesting to monitor how Jennifer gets along without Jill throwing second stones. They were together almost as long as Mick and Keith, but Officer retreated from competitive curling in 2018. Jill’s haul is the same as Jen’s: An Olympic gold, two world championships and six Scotties titles in her trophy case. Also one park named in her honor.
16. Teemu Selanne: Like Anders and Ulf, the Finnish Flash wasn’t in Good Ol’ Hometown for a long time, but it sure was a good time. Those 76 goals in his freshman NHL crusade had the burg in a buzz, and it’s a record that will stand as long as there are frozen ponds for kids to skate on. Teemu might have been the most popular Jet ever, give or take Ducky.
17. Don Duguid: The Digit toddled off to two world curling championships as a skip and never lost a game. Yup, 17-0. Dugie then thought it would be a swell idea to go on TV and tell the rest of us how to curl, which he did for 29 years until someone at the CBC had a brain fart and let him go. And just the other day he was made a member of the Order of Canada for his wonderful work as a curler and teacher of the game.
18. Ray Turnbull: His friends called him Moosie, and he had scads of friends in and beyond the curling community. A true visionary, Moosie’s impact began at the Mother Club on Granite Way, but his influence spread across the globe when he buddied up with Don Duguid for instructional clinics to curling curious nations beginning in the 1970s. So he’s largely to blame for the rest of the world catching up to us on pebbled ice. A broadcasting icon with TSN from 1984 to 2010, Moosie coached no fewer than 17 world champions.
19. Frank McKinnon: Those who knew him best would probably tell us that Frank never slept, because he didn’t have time for zzzzzzs. How busy was he? Let me count the ways: Five years president and 20 years on the executive board of Hockey Manitoba; 10 years commissioner of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League; founding father of the Centennial Cup tournament and the inaugural World Junior championship; first chairman of the board of Hockey Canada; two years director Sports Federation of Canada; four years vice-president Canadian Olympic Association; founding member of the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association. Frank was based in Carman, but he spent enough time in Good Ol’ Hometown to qualify for this list.
20. Donny Lalonde: The Golden Boy was in the ring with Sugar Ray. Yes, that Sugar Ray, as in Leonard. He even put the boxing legend on the canvas—one of only two men to do so—scoring a fourth-round knockdown in their 1988 bout at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Alas, Sugar Ray ruled the day, battering Lalonde about the ears in the ninth round and scoring a TKO. But it’s enough that the Golden Boy went from working out in the old firehall gym on Talbot Avenue in Elmwood to champion of the boxing world’s light heavyweights.
21.Jeff Stoughton: It’s easier to break out of jail than win the Manitoba men’s curling championship, but Jeff wore the Buffalo on his back 11 times. Crazy, man. A two-time world champion and three times the best at the Brier, Jeff also has two Canadian Mixed titles on his resume. Once he retired his tuck delivery and his spinorama showtime shtick, he took to coaching and administration, first helping Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris strike gold in Mixed Doubles at the Seoul Olympics, and he’s now coach and program manager for the national men’s team.
22. Coleen Dufresne: When you spend 17 years coaching and another 15 as athletic director at the University of Manitoba, you’ve had an impact on more young people than you can count. Coleen, who wore the Maple Leaf as a player at the 1976 Olympic Games, coached U of M Bisons women’s basketball teams to three national championships and five Great Plains Athletic Conference titles. She is a member of the Basketball Manitoba Hall of Fame in three categories—builder, coach and player—and the Canada West Hall of Fame.
23. Garth Pischke: Tom Hanks talked to a volleyball in the movies, but Garth made people talk volleyball in real life. Nobody put the W in the word “win” like Garth. He won a staggering 1,353 games in his 38 seasons as mastermind of the U of M Bisons men’s volleyball team, losing just 414 times. Chew on that and digest it—1,353-414. Who does that? Only Pischke, the winningest coach in collegiate V-ball history, on either side of the border. A two-time Olympian and six-time MVP at the Nationals as a player, Garth coached the Bisons to nine national titles and was named the Manitoba amateur athlete of the 20th century.
24. Brian Dobie: If this was just about being a nice guy, the U of M Bisons football coach would be at, or near, the top of the heap. Lovely man. He’s been sideline steward of the Herd since 1996, a gig that came on the heels of a 21-year watch with Churchill Bulldogs in high school grid. Do the math. Coach Dobie has been impacting the lives of teenagers and young men for close to half a century. Oh, and he’s also a five-time Canada West coach-of-the-year and a USports coach-of-the-year, plus he brought the Vanier Cup to the Fort Garry campus in 2007.
25. Vic Pruden: There was no women’s or men’s intercollegiate basketball program at the University of Winnipeg (nee United College) until Vic came along, so all the hoops glory stems from there. The annual Wesmen Classic was Vic’s brain child, ditto the Fort Garry Invitational. The Wesmen Classic became such a landmark event that it had to be shuffled from Riddell Hall to the Winnipeg Arena, and was televised nationally. Vic was also founder and first president of the Manitoba Basketball Coaches’ Association.
26. Coach Tom Kendall/University of Winnipeg Lady Wesmen: Few took notice of women’s hoops back in the day, but then along came coach Kendall and his fabulous University of Winnipeg Lady Wesmen who, from October 1992 to November 1994, never lost a game. Eighty-eight teams tried to topple them, and 88 teams failed. Even fabled UCLA coach John Wooden was talking about the Lady Wesmen. Under Kendall’s watch, the Lady Ws went 101-2, with three national titles.
27. Coach Mike Burchuk/U of W Lady Wesmen volleyball team: The U of W women’s hoopsters received the 250-point newspaper headlines for their 88-game winning streak, but the women on the volleyball court trumped them with 123 consecutive Ws from January 1987 to January 1989. That included a 58-0 record in 1987-88 and, along the way, the ladies won six consecutive national titles and beat the NCAA champion Texas Longhors and a pro team, the Minnesota Monarchs.
28. Jennifer Botterill: It should be enough to say that Jennifer is the only female player ever inducted into the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame, but we’ll also mention that she’s a three-time Olympic champion, five times a world champion, two times the Patty Kazmaier Award winner as the top player in U.S. women’s college hockey, twice the MVP at the world championship, and she once had an 80-game scoring streak (beat that, Connor McDavid!). If young girls are looking for a role model, Jen’s it.
29. Paul Robson: Can a sports list be complete without a guy named Mad Dog on it? We think not. So come on down, Mad Dog Robson, architect of the Winnipeg Football Club’s return to glory in the 1980s, a Lazarus-like rebirth that included the 1984 Grey Cup championship crusade, the first in 22 years. His handiwork as assistant GM/GM included going stealth to lure Chris Walby out of Montreal, hiring Cal Murphy as sideline steward, and engineering the Dieter Brock-for-Tom Clements trade. Paul was also once publisher of the Winnipeg Sun, but we won’t penalize him for that.
30. Harvey Warner: It’s probably safe to say the ponies wouldn’t be galloping at Assiniboia Downs if not for Harvey and his Manitoba Jockey Club. Harvey is a founding father and current president of the MJC, which took possession of the Downs in 1993. It’s never been an easy ride for Harvey and cohorts like Darren Dunn and Sharon Gulyas out at the racing oval on the western edge of Good Ol’ Hometown, but they’ve managed to keep the barns open and the horses fed and watered. So, yes, the reins have been in the right man’s hands for 27 years.
31. Mike Riley: When Leo Durocher coined the phrase “nice guys finish last,” he certainly wasn’t thinking of a guy like Mike Riley. Aside from bringing the Grey Cup home twice in his four years as sideline steward of the Bombers, Mike might be the most decent man to ever coach a pro team in Good Ol’ Hometown (John Paddock would be second in line), and that counts for something on my scorecard.
32. Milt Stegall: The Turtle Man would be higher on this list, except for one thing—every time I look at his hands, I don’t see any Grey Cup rings. For all his personal accomplishments—all-time TD leader in CFL history with 147 and a Most Outstanding Player award—the Bombers had just four winning seasons in his 14 crusades. No player ever looked better while mostly losing, though, and he’d be the first to tell you that. Milt continues to be a Bombers booster as one of the gab guys on TSN’s CFL coverage, and that’s always a good thing.
33. Sam Katz: Full disclosure—I’m not fond of Sammy. I think him to be a snake oil salesman. If he told me today is Sunday, I’d double check the calendar. But he brought professional baseball back to Good Ol’ Hometown, and the Winnipeg Goldeyes frolic in a beautiful, downtown ballyard thanks to Sammy.
34. Andy Van Hellemond: Whistleblowers don’t always get respect, but Andy Van did. The kid weaned on the frozen ponds of Isaac Brock was, arguably, the best man to ever pull on a striped shirt, and he was also a trend-setter, becoming the first on-ice official to wear a helmet, in 1984. The NHL made lids mandatory for the zebras four years later (a grandfather clause allowed some to officiate sans head protection until 2006-07). Andy Van refereed 1,475 regular season games, 227 in the playoffs and 19 Stanley Cup finals, all records. He was named Manitoba’s referee-of-the-century.
35. Sylvia Burka: Before Clara Hughes and Cindy Klassen and Susan Auch, there was Sylvia Burka, three times a world speed skating champion. She has held over 40 Canadian speedskating records, and once set a world indoor cycling mark at one kilometer. She won 12 national cycling titles. But her true legacy can be found in the skate marks she left for others to follow.
36. Dawn McEwen: I suppose you could say Dawn is to Team Jennifer Jones what Ringo Starr was to the Beatles. She seems content in the background while Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer and Cathy Overton-Clapham attracted most of the attention, but without her lead stones and robust sweeping they wouldn’t have become the finest female outfit in Canadian curling history. Dawn has an Olympic gold medal, two world titles and five Scotties crowns in her trophy case, so don’t even think of her as a spare part.
37. Kaitlyn Lawes: She branched out from throwing third stones for Jennifer Jones to strike Olympic gold with John Morris in the debut of mixed doubles at the Winter Olympic Games. So she has a nice collection of two gold trinkets, a world championship and a Scotties title.
38. Susan Auch: Although never making it to the top level of the Olympic podium, Susan made speed skating front page news in Good Ol’ Hometown with two silver medals and a bronze in the Winter Games, three gold in World Cup racing in 1995, three Manitoba athlete-of-the-year honors and a Canadian athlete-of-the-year salute. There’s a Susan Auch Oval out at the Cindy Klassen Recreation Complex and a Susan Auch Park in Transcona, and she’s now CEO of Speed Skating Canada.
39. Troy Westwood/David Asper: Board member Asper came up with the concept and gave the Banjo Bowl it’s name, but it was the spinoff of a quote from Ol’ Lefty, the former Bombers place-kicker who, in an interview prior to a 2003 playoff skirmish, called Saskatchewan Roughriders fans “a bunch of banjo-picking inbreds.” Much caterwauling from the Flattest of Lands ensued, and the Banjo Bowl was born in 2004. It’s the most-anticipated event on the local sports calendar every year, and it’s been strictly SRO since 2005. When he wasn’t trash talking Flatlanders, Ol’ Lefty was hoofing more field goals (617) and more points (2,745) than anyone in Bombers history.
40. Connie Laliberte: They called her the Ice Queen, but underneath that cucumber-cool exterior burned a competitive bonfire. Connie gave every female curler in Manitoba something to aim for when she became the first Buffalo Girl to win the world crown, in 1984. She also won three Scotties titles and today is the high performance director for Curl Manitoba.
41. Sandy Riley: The former sailor (1976 Olympic Games) and former president of the Manitoba Sports Federation served as chair of Winnipeg’s 1999 Pan American Games, an event that helped revive the sagging spirit of a city that had lost its NHL franchise only three years earlier. As a bonus, it attracted the attention of Ol’ Cigar Breath, Cuban strongman Fidel Castro, who used his Revolution Day address to go on a mini-rant about mysterious “traps and tricks and schemes and filth” that encouraged his athletes to clamber over the wall to freedom. Cuban defectors aside, the Pan Ams were an artistic and financial success. More latterly, the Riley family donated $500,000 toward construction of the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame.
42. Dayna Spiring: It doesn’t matter that Dayna wasn’t on the receiving end of any passes, nor did she hoof any field goals or tackle any running backs. The lady was a champ in her first year as Chair of the Blue Bombers board of directors, and she became the first woman to have her name engraved on the Grey Cup. For young girls and women, that makes her Dayna Inspiring.
43. Desiree Scott: A former star and coach with the U of M Bisons, the lady they call The Destroyer joined our national women’s soccer side in 2010, and she’s now just one of five to have earned 150 caps. Along the way, she’s collected two Olympic bronze medals and participated in three World Cup tournaments. Away from the competitive pitch, Desiree is heavily involved with soccer camps for KidSport and she’s an ambassador for the Homeless World Cup.
44. Bill Wedlake: A head coach for 32 years, first at St. John’s High where he won two provincial titles, then 16 years at the U of W, Bill was also athletic director at the downtown campus for eight years. A co-founder of the Winnipeg Invitational tournament, he’s written three books on coaching and is a former president of the National Association of Basketball Coaches.
45. Mo Glimcher: If you think it’s tough dealing with teenagers these days, consider Mo Glimcher’s gig—he had 30,000-40,000 kids under foot every year between 1975 and 2016. Mo retired after 41 years as Executive Director of the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association, and I’d say he’s earned a master’s degree in babysitting.
46. Bob Picken: There are three major sports operatives in Good Ol’ Hometown—the Jets, the Blue Bombers, and curling. Yes, curling. Our Pebble People don’t make the big bucks like the Jets and Bombers, but they don’t want for media exposure, due in large part to jock journos like Pick. Pebble People have never known a better media friend than Pick, whose magnificent pipes blessed the airwaves of CJOB, CKY and the CBC for half a century. He played the game, served as president of the Manitoba Curling Association, worked with both the Canadian Curling Association and the World Curling Federation, and there’s a bonspiel at the Thistle named in his honor. Pick made certain that curling was never back-page news or filler at the end of a sportscast.
47. Jack Matheson: Admittedly, there’s bias in this choice, because Matty gave me my start at the Winnipeg Tribune, but his sassy and brassy sports column was the only absolute must-read in town during the 1970s. And when Furnaceman fired him up for his daily rants on CJOB, it was must-listening. Matty set an incredibly high bar as a sports scribe, and no one has come close to reaching it since the Trib folded.
48. Friar Nicolson: There’s no way of knowing how many young men and women went into broadcasting because of the curmudgeonly Friar, but I’d suggest the number is closer to 50 than one. The longtime play-by-play voice of the Jets, Friar is the man who lured Knuckles Irving to CJOB in 1973, and he also gave one-time do-everything CKY/CTV voice Peter Young his start in the gab game. That’s serious impact.
49. Bob Irving: When Knuckles became the voice of the Blue Bombers, Don Jonas and Chuck Ealey were the starting QBs and Dieter Brock was a little-known rookie who answered to the name Ralph. Bud Riley was the head coach, and there have been 14 more since Knuckles moved in behind the mic. So he goes back some, and he’s still going. At least he was until COVID-19 interrupted regularly schedule play-by-play. We assume (hope) the well-liked and highly respected Knuckles will be back for a 46th season once the pandemic is in the rear-view mirror.
50. Don Wittman: How versatile was Witt? Well, we know he covered the CFL and the NHL and tennis and the Olympics and world-class track and top-flight curling during close to half a century with the CBC, but he also broadcast cricket. Ya, cricket. Witt traveled the globe and was on site to call the Ben Johnson race in Seoul and Donovan Bailey in Atlanta, but home base was always Winnipeg.
Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored..and in this free agency period, I must let it be known that I’m always open to offer sheets…
If you could see me right now, you’d know I’m shaking my head. Side to side, not up and down.
I mean, seriously? Paul Stastny? That’s Kevin Cheveldayoff’s solution for solving the Winnipeg Jets’ gaping hole down the middle?
Hell’s bells, why doesn’t he try to lure Paul’s pop, Peter, out of retirement, too? And, hey, maybe Paul’s uncle Marian would like another go-round in the National Hockey League. The Jets could market them as Peter, Paul and Marian. They wouldn’t be much good as a forward line, but they could sing a mean folk song between losses.
Don’t get me wrong. Luring Paul Stastny to Good Ol’ Hometown was a master stroke by Chevy—in 20-freaking-18!
Not so much for 2021, which is when we’ll next see the Jets frolic.
Is Stastny totally spent? Not quite. But if he was an American buck three years ago, he’s about the price of a phone call now. The guy who delivered 15 points in 17 skirmishes during the Jets march to the Western Conference final in 2018 won’t be the Prodigal Paul we’ll be watching next year. He’ll be 35 when they drop the puck, optimistically on Jan. 1, and nudging 36 by the close of business (assuming it’s an 82-game crusade).
I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of any NHL centre-ice men who became more nimble, quicker, jauntier and less brittle once Father Time had put them on notice.
But, hey, the pundits are saying the second coming of Stastny is meant to appease Patrik Laine and, supposedly, all natter about a pouting Puck Finn being peddled to the highest bidder shall be silenced. Except it will be replaced by grumbling once the rabble recognizes that Prodigal Paul doesn’t have the lickety-split to keep pace with Twig Ehlers and Laine. He’ll look slower than a sloth with a limp. They’ll be skating in different postal codes.
Think not? Answer this question: Did you notice Stastny during the Vegas Golden Knights’ playoff run in the Edmonton bubble this past summer? Neither did I. For the record, he had nine points in 18 games, but you could have fooled me. I didn’t think he had nine shifts.
Apparently, that escaped Chevy’s attention.
No surprise, I suppose, because the Jets general manager is wearing those 2018 goggles.
Meanwhile, it’s about Nate Thompson, another reclamation project brought on board by Chevy on Saturday. He’s 36. Sigh.
Chevy can turn back the clock but, try as he might, he can’t turn back time. The Jets didn’t get better in the past few days, they just got older.
When the Stastny trade was just a rumor on Thursday, some among the rabble were hopelessly giddy and immediately began trumpeting Laine as front-runner to win the Rocket Richard Trophy (top goal scorer). Come on, people. Don’t be like Chevy. Take off your 2018 goggles. Puck Finn will be playing with Paul Stastny, age 35, not Ducky Hawerchuk, age 25.
So you’re Andrew Copp. It’s just been confirmed that you’ll never be anything more than a third/fourth-line centre with the Jets. You’re paid less than eight forwards, three defencemen and one goaltender, and you only received your thin slice of the pie after listening to management tell an arbitrator that you’re about as useful as a pub without beer. Chances are there’ll be a repeat performance in 2021 and you’ll hear the same put-downs. So, any reason why you’d want to stick around?
Let’s be clear about something: Chevy re-upping Dylan DeMelo was a favorable development for the Jets. He’s a useful, legit top-four defender. But he does not improve a roster that failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament. DeMelo was there at the close of business in August, remember? Ditto Nathan Beaulieu and Luca Sbisa. Yet Chevy has determined that the latter two players are spare parts that his Jets simply cannot do without going forward, so he re-upped them as well. Good grief. The man’s task is to improve a wonky blueline group, not maintain status quo.
I get a kick out of pundits who suggest the Jets are in win-now mode. Not with that blueline, they aren’t.
These truly are curious times. The Calgary Flames will be wearing a retro-jersey next season and the Jets will be icing a retro-roster.
Stastny, a Vegas salary dump, comes with a cap hit of $6.5 million, fourth highest among the Jets, and it underscores the value Chevy got when he signed Rink Rat Scheifele long-term in 2016. The Rink Rat’s cap hit is $6.125M for the 2021 crusade, and his actual salary is $5.5M, same as Stastny’s. Seems to me your No. 1 centre should be in front of the No. 2 guy at the pay window. (All figures re CapFriendly).
Some things are meant to go together: Salt and vinegar on fries; Fred and Ginger on the dance floor; and the Jets on CJOB. The Jets on ‘OB is like a steamy, hot bowl of chicken noodle soup on a crisp, stay-inside winter day—comfort food. It’s pulling on your favorite pair of faded jeans. So it’s only right that the station that gave rise to the legend of cat lady Bertha Rand has won the Jets radio broadcast rights, a development that rendered Knuckles Irving teary-eyed. “I’d hoped that I would live to see the day when the Jets were back on CJOB, and the good news is I have lived to see the day when the Jets are back on 680 CJOB,” said Knuckles, who’s been part of the furniture at ‘OB since the early 1970s and remains the play-by-play voice of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. “I think it’s fair to say, without sounding arrogant, the Jets are back where they belong.” Agreed.
No word on who’ll score the P-by-P gig on the ‘OB broadcasts, but it’s no surprise that the name of old friend Sod Keilback quickly entered the conversation. I’d be surprised if sports director Kelly Moore did the retro thing and hired Sod, even if nostalgia seems to be in vogue in Jets Nation these days. I’m more inclined to think Kelly will attempt to poach Paul Edmonds from TSN 1290, and it probably wouldn’t require much arm-twisting.
I’m not sure if Cole Perfetti belongs in the NHL or on Big Bang Theory. I also find myself wondering if Chevy and his bird dogs are putting together a hockey team or a think tank.
I mean, to read about this kid Perfetti and listen to people heap hosannas on him, I’m convinced he’ll one day score 100 points in a season and also one-up Albert Einstein, although not necessarily in that order.
Not that there’s anything wrong with Chevy using the 10th overall shoutout at last week’s NHL entry draft to recruit a brainiac capable of solving a Rubik’s Cube puzzle in less than 60 seconds. High functioning grey matter is always an admirable quality, especially if it translates to fewer dumb penalties in the offensive zone, and it seems that Chevy puts as much stock in grades as goals.
Perfetti was the Canadian Hockey League scholastic player of the year last season, and two others in Jets livery—Josh Morrissey, Adam Lowry—are former top scholars in the Western Hockey League.
Oh, and let’s not forget the man himself—Chevy was the WHL’s top student player in 1988.
Why, if those four put their big brains together they could likely discover a cure for COVID-19 or curb the planet’s climate crisis, although I’m sure the hard-core hockey faithful in Good Ol’ Hometown would rather they use all that fertile grey matter to devise a way back into the Stanley Cup tournament.
Whatever the case, Chevy probably qualifies for frequent-shopper points at the local Brainiacs ‘R’ Us store, and you’ll never convince me that’s a bad thing.
Is it by design or happenstance that Chevy keeps reeling in kids with serious smarts? Not sure. But I hear the asking price in any deal for Patrik Laine is a top-six forward, a top-four defenceman, and an egghead to be named later.
Perfetti vows he’ll arrive at Jets training camp (whenever that is) with a chip the size of Dustin Byfuglien’s dinner plate on his shoulder, because “there were nine teams that passed on me.” Nope, just eight outfits snubbed him. So much for the kid being a regular Einstein.
Speaking of rocket scientists, there’s been renewed talk about establishing a colony of humans on the moon by 2024. That’s welcomed news for Bill (Spaceman) Lee. He’ll finally have some next-door neighbors.
Apparently the going rate for four people to live on the moon for one year is $36,000,000,000, or the same as New York Knicks season tickets in 2024.
The ideal all-athlete moon colony: Spaceman Lee, Blue Moon Odom, Andre (Bad Moon) Rison, Wally Moon, Warren Moon, Rocket Richard, the Pocket Rocket and, of course, Randy Moss for once mooning Green Bay Packers fans.
I agree, having Crystal Hawerchuk make the announcement that Perfetti was the Jets’ first choice in the entry draft was classy. The appearance of Ducky’s bride was one of two reach-for-the-Kleenex moments during the evening, the other being when Doug Wilson Jr. used sign language to claim Ozzy Wiesblatt for the San Jose Sharks. Ozzy’s mom is deaf, so you know that Wilson Sr., the Sharks GM, raised himself a very thoughtful lad.
Love this tweet from good guy Scott Campbell: “Times in the NHL have changed once again with Covid but still more than my time, when I was drafted 9th overall by St. Louis Blues. Mom called me in from playing road hockey with friends. ‘Scott, get in here. There’s a Mr. Francis on the phone from St. Louis who wants to speak to you.’” As it happened, Scotty spurned Emile (The Cat) Francis’ overtures and hooked up with Houston Aeros of the World Hockey Association, then joined the Jets for their final championship crusade.
According to the Toronto Star, the NHL might open the 2021 season with a little pond hockey—an outdoor skirmish at Lake Louise, most likely featuring the Calgary Flames. What a cool idea. I just pity the poor guy who has to drive the Zamboni up and down the side of a mountain.
So much natter about a fly landing on Mike Pence’s head during last week’s U.S. vice-presidential debate. Haven’t heard that much talk about a fly since Tiger Woods got caught with his down.
Even though there’s no Rouge Football this year, I find myself wondering if the Football Reporters of Canada will make their annual nominations to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. More to the point, will the jock journos induct a female reporter for the first time? There were only a handful of women on the beat during my 30 years writing about everything from high school/university grid to the Canadian Football League and National Football League, but surely there should be room for pioneers like Joanne Ireland, Ashley Prest, Judy Owen and Robin Brown. Hell, Brown should get in just for her battle with Kindly Cal Murphy over female access to CFL man caves.
So here’s a question I found myself asking recently: With the NHL in limbo and no Manitoba Moose to write about, would either of the local dailies in Good Ol’ Hometown give the Manitoba Junior Hockey League big-time treatment? Pleased to report that sports editor Steve Lyons of the Drab Slab has Mike Sawatzky on the beat and he delivered copy four days running, including pre-season packages and a game report. I’d like to think Winnipeg Ice would warrant similar coverage once (if?) the WHL drops the puck. The Winnipeg Sun, meanwhile, devoted one page to the MJHL on Oct. 3 and has ignored it since. That’s lame. I don’t want to hear any whinging about supporting local news outlets if they aren’t going to cover local news other than the pro teams.
And, finally, today’s must-see TV: Our girl Brooke Hendersonis just two shots off the lead going into today’s final round of the Women’s PGA Championship, a ladies’ major. Shame that neither of our two national sports networks care about women’s golf, but we can watch Brooke on NBC.
There’s been much natter about National Hockey League millionaires returning this summer to perform in front of empty seats in four select cities, none of which will be named Winnipeg (reportedly).
That’s a deep concern because the NHL is a gate-driven enterprise.
There is, however, a greater fret and threat looming. Try this: How many of those empty seats will remain unoccupied once the faithful have been given the okie-dokie to gather in groups and return to rinks hither and yon?
The Jets have made due with 15,000 and change at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie since 2011 and, once they’ve finished feeding at the public trough, it’s believed there’s black ink on the bottom line of the balance sheet. The profit is likely minimal, but we don’t know for certain because True North Sports+Entertainment has never been eager to open its books, even as it smugly expects the rabble to continue opening their wallets.
Unfortunately, the scourge that is COVID-19 has many thousands of workers also feeding from the public trough, and some of them won’t have a job at the far end of the pandemic.
It’s tough to part with thousands of dollars in support of the players’ millionaire lifestyles when you’re on pogey.
So let’s say the Jets lose 1,000 customers post-COVID-19 and can’t replace them. Is the NHL doable in Good Ol’ Hometown with just 14K in the pews? Well, when the Atlanta caravan rolled into River City in 2011, I seem to recall NHL commish Gary Bettman saying something about sellouts and SRO audiences being the absolute, no-margin-for-error requirement.
If so, 14,000 customers won’t cut it.
Oh, sure, the Jets boast of a robust wait list, so any available tickets would be scooped up faster than toilet paper at the start of the pandemic. But whoa Nellie. That was pre-COVID-19. The game has changed. It costs $100 (non-refundable) per annum to stay on that list, and $50 (non-refundable) to get on that list. Know anyone with a spare C-note or 50-dollar bill lying around these days, just in the hope of spending in excess of $1,000 to watch the millionaires frolic on the local freeze?
This isn’t meant to be a doomsday essay. It’s simply a cautionary note that once there’s a vaccine and the NHL arrives at its “new normal,” crowd concern might not be limited to warm-weather locales like Sunrise, Fla, and Glendale, Ariz. It might hit hard at the frost-bitten heart of the continent as well.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been catching up on my reading during the COVID-19 lockdown. So far, these have been my favorite books:
My Pants Were Always Lower Than My Score: The Sex Scandal That Sank Tiger Woods, In His Own Words.
If It’s Too Late for a Prenup, I’m Totally Screwed: The Tiger Woods Tell-All About Infidelity and Divorce (with special forward by Elin Nordegren).
I Bit Off More Than I Could Chew: Mike Tyson Recounts the Night He Made a Snack Out of Evander Holyfield’s Ear.
D’oh Canada! The Duping of a Dope: The Rise and Fall of Ben Johnson at the Seoul Olympics.
Deflated: Who Really Let the Air Out of Tom Brady’s Balls (with special forward by Gisele Bundchen)?
The Dead Speak Scrolls: Complete Transcripts of Everything Bill Belichick has Ever Said that the Media Understood (Total number of pages-2).
I’ll Shove This %$#% Ball Down Your *%$#% Throat: Memoirs of Serena Williams at the U.S. Open.
Grey Cup and the Groupie: E! News Canada Takes A Deep Dive Into the Glen Suitor-Keith Urban Broadcast Booth Bromance (with special forward by Nicole Kidman).
You People: The Official Don Cherry Code of Conduct for Wannabe Canadians, where the former star of Coach’s Corner explains Milk & Honey & Poppies & EVERYTHINK LIKE THAT!
Still Searching In A White Ford Bronco After All These Years: O.J. Simpson Takes Us to Various Golf Courses In His Hunt for the Real Killers.
Speaking of golf, it looks like some courses across the land will be opening next month (a few in my neck of the woods never closed). I haven’t swung the sticks in more than 12 years, but I’ve been thinking about my ideal foursome were I ever to tee it up again. This is it: Moi, Alison Krauss, Babs Streisand and, of course, Jesus, because I figure that walk-on-water thing might come in handy given my skill level.
Oh drat. The Scripps National Spelling Bee in the U.S. has fallen victim to COVID-19, canceled for the first time since World War II. Such a shame. I was really looking forward to watching 10-year-old kids make me feel like a complete doofus again. Or is that spelled d-u-f-u-s? Or d-o-o-f-a-s? Or d-u-f-is? Or d-u-f-f-a-s? Geez, where’s a 10-year-old whiz kid when you really need one?
I note that Scotiabank Arena in the Republic of Tranna is now a kitchen, where they’re cooking 10,000 meals a day for front-line health workers, their families and the needy. Just wondering: How will the Tranna media make that feel-good story about Drake?
So, the National Women’s Hockey League has added an expansion franchise in the Republic of Tranna and, not surprisingly, at least one of the Dream Gappers (Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association) couldn’t resist the urge to take a cheap shot at the team to be named later. That would be Liz Knox, who attempted to paint NWHL execs as uncaring, tone-deaf oafs for conducting business during the pandemic. “It’s difficult to imagine expansion being at the forefront of many business strategies,” she snarked in a text message. Oh, for sure, Liz. No businesses should look ahead to the day COVID-19 is behind us. The NHL shouldn’t make plans to finish its season or begin the 2020-21 crusade. The National Football League shouldn’t have conducted its draft last week. And, hey, Roger Federer has no business talking about a marriage between the women’s and men’s pro tennis tours. All sports operations should just sit and twiddle their thumbs. What a pathetic take, but totally in line with the PWHPA hate-on for the NWHL, which refuses to get out of the Dream Gappers’ way.
Tim & Sid granted air time on Sportsnet to another Dream Gapper, Natalie Spooner, who informed the boys that the PWHPA will “keep fighting for what we deserve.” Part of what they claim they “deserve” is a living wage, but none of the Dream Gappers has ever explained how anyone can pay for it.
Second worst take on the NWHL franchise in The ROT came from (who else?) Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna.
“It has been officially announced that Toronto has been awarded an expansion team in the National Women’s Hockey League,” he scribbled without allowing his grey matter and fingers to connect. “What hasn’t been announced: the team’s name; the team’s logo; the team’s venue. And some of those things, if not all of them, can make an outsider rather skeptical and troubled about the future of this kind of endeavour. You don’t gain credibility by announcing a team with no name, no place to play, and no big-name players. When you have all that in place, then make the announcement. The press release referred to the expansion team as a ‘first class team of professionals.’ Time will answer that, but the new Toronto Whatevers are not off to a great start.”
Really? There’s no credibility without a team name, a team logo or big-name players? Like the NHL’s expansion franchise in Seattle? The one that was announced in December 2018 and, 16 months later, remains without a team name, a team logo or any players. Or like the NHL Las Vegas expansion franchise that was announced in June 2016 without a team name, a team logo or any players? Or like the Jets, who arrived in Winnipeg sans a team name or a team logo in 2011?
Or does that lack of “credibility” only apply to female shinny outfits with no name, no logo and no big-name players at startup?
Simmons is on record as saying Ponytail Puck is a “charade,” so he’d be wise to concentrate on Golden Boy Auston Matthews’ mustache, Phil Kessel’s hot dog stand and Drake’s clown act, and leave the women’s game to news snoops who actually care and know something about it.
This week in jock journalism…
Jason Bell of the Drab Slab wins the prize for best off-beat yarn, with his piece on a Charolais bull named after Chris Streveler, former Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback and party boy. Streveler the bull is 1,499 pounds of pure Western Manitoba beef on the hoof—about the same as the entire Bombers O-line—and the brute recently sold for a whopping $45,000 at the Nykoliation family auction. The way Jason tells the story, 50 bulls were sold that day for $335,000, or about the value of a Tier-II starting QB in the Canadian Football League…I monitored bylines in the Winnipeg Sun from last Sunday through Saturday, and here’s the scorecard: Postmedia bylines 32; Toronto bylines 21; Winnipeg bylines 15; lady rassler bylines (Natalya Neidhart) 1. I swear, if I ever win Lotto Max, I’ll offer Postmedia the $1 Cdn. that the tabloid is worth today and convert it back to a local newspaper with local stories and enough scribes to actually cover the city…The NFL’s remote draft received favorable reviews from Bombers play-by-play guy Knuckles Irving and Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab. Here’s Knuckles on Twitter: “Watching the NFL draft and once again it’s completely apparent that no sports entity in the world can deliver elaborately choreographed, brilliantly produced, dragged out, mind-numbing TV hype like the NFL. Man are they good at it. Gotta be impressed.” And here’s Mad Mike: “You’ve got to hand it to the National Football League. Real life handed the league a lemon—in this case, the COVID-19 pandemic—but they showed why they’re the world’s most popular and successful sports operation by turning it into glorious, refreshing lemonade.” I never watched one second of the production, so I’ll just have to take their word for it…Laura Armstrong of the Toronto Star misses sports and feels guilty about it. I don’t miss sports and feel guilty about it. Hmmm. I never thought of COVID-19 as a guilt trip, but apparently that’s what it is.
And, finally, I went on a Jesse Stone movie binge last week. Watched all nine of the made-for-TV flicks. Jesse, played by Tom Selleck, is a scotch-swilling, non-smiling wreck of a cop so hung up on his ex-wife that he talks to her long distance every night. Between benders, sessions with his ex-wife’s shrink, and trying to figure out how to work a cellphone, Jesse always catches the bad guys in Paradise, Mass. He probably drinks too much caffeine, but Jesse’s coffee breath isn’t a turnoff to the ladies in Paradise. Apparently the woman who can resist his dimples has yet to be born. Jesse always gets the girl. And I do mean always. Tall, short, black, white, young, old…every woman falls prey to Jesse’s dimples and must dine or do lunch with him. Even a nun, Sister Mary John! It’s quite silly stuff, really. So why do I like it so much?
Whether the rogue rearguard was rag-dolling foes, or simply having a rollicking good time playing unharnessed pond hockey rather than the rigid north-south style preferred by coaches who frowned on freelancing, Big Buff was the whole nine yards.
Many years from now, folks will gather around the campfire and talk about him as some mythical creature, if they aren’t already.
They’ll speak in hushed tones, describing a man-beast on blades, untamed and as tall as a grain silo, as wide as the Canadian Prairies, hairy and swift and capable of Paul Bunyanesque feats of strength. And they’ll talk about his habitat, how he roamed from one fishing hole to the next, catching muskellunge and walleye and trout while the smaller and less adventurous of his hockey species grazed on golf courses or took root in front of their PlayStations.
“I was there the night Big Buff rag-dolled those two Vegas Golden Knights,” someone will whisper with due reverence. “Took one of ’em in each of his big paws and yanked ’em right out of a scrum. Shook ’em and dragged ’em around like they were pom-poms.”
“Same thing one night against Nashville,” another will say, nodding. “Took two Predators by the scruff of the neck, one in each hand, and shook ’em like salt-and-pepper shakers.”
The folklore will include tales of derring-do, rink-length dashes by this hulking figure of few words, a force the likes of which had never been seen on a National Hockey League freeze. There’ll be mention of an ice tub and Evander Kane’s clothing, and the sonic boom of a slapshot that served the Winnipeg Jets so well for eight winters.
And it’ll all be true, even if delivered with a side order of embellishment.
Big Buff truly was unique. He didn’t have a pregame meal like the rest of the Jets. They simply tossed him a salt lick. That’s what you do when a guy is 6-feet-8 (on skates) and 260 pounds, give or take a late-night snack.
I always thought the whole Big Buff shtick would have made for a great sitcom. He could have played himself, except he’d have had to speak, and we all know Big Buff has less to say than a street mime with a mouth full of cotton. It’s kind of tough to do a talkie when the leading man won’t talk. Still, he’s got that impish grin and his peculiar ways, which certainly became more peculiar in the past eight months.
Big Buff’s divorce from the Jets, official on Friday, is the part of the legend that didn’t produce any yuks.
More to the point, Byfuglien was robustly villainized by many among the rabble and some news snoops when he took a powder on the eve of training camp last September. The Jets wanted and expected Big Buff to play hockey, but his druthers were to gaze at his navel while squatting in an ice-fishing hut. His adios left Winnipeg HC in a penny pinch, in that his $7.6 million cap hit was still on the books, and he put them in an on-ice pickle, with a hole the size of his appetite on the right side of the defence. For that he was branded “selfish” and an ingrate.
Well guess what? Life happens. Flames flicker out.
If we are to believe the way Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff tells the tale, Big Buff’s passion for banging heads, quarterbacking the powerplay and goofing around with the guys had run its course. To paraphrase a Yogi Berraism: Buff came to a fork in the road and he took it. Family and fishing won out over Winnipeg HC and shinny.
Was the most popular of the Jets guilty of bad timing? I don’t think Buff was guilty of anything. His life, his timetable. But, sure, from the club and fan perspective he could have picked a better time to bug out. No doubt there would have been a different twist to Chevy’s off-season tactics had he known about Buff’s Tour de Navel before September, except the universe doesn’t always unfold as an NHL GM would like it to.
I don’t know if Buff plans to confirm or deny Chevy’s version of events now that the divorce is a fait accompli, but I’m guessing the big defender will let us inside his head about the same time Lake Winnipeg runs dry.
And, really, he doesn’t owe us the skinny on everything that went down since September. Nor is there any obligation for him to convince us that he isn’t a complete numbskull for walking away when there was a sizable chunk of change ($14 million) still on the table for his taking.
He leaves on his own terms (some of us can relate to that) at age 35, and we should just let it be part of the folklore.
I don’t really like to say I told you so, but sometimes I can’t resist the urge. So, I’ll remind you that this is what I wrote on Oct. 9 last year: “Retire or return, Byfuglien has excused himself from the Jets’ future. I mean, if he lacks the jam to join them for this crusade, I can’t imagine he’ll feel any differently a year from now. Let’s face it, he’s done as a useful member of Winnipeg HC.” So there, I told you so.
Byfuglien has been called a riddle. An enigma. A puzzle. But is he really that hard to figure out? Okay, he’s a hockey hybrid. He has ox-like strength and no one his size has any business looking so light on his feet while skating on two blades barely wider than a butter knife. But that made him unique, not complicated. He also did a lot of freelancing, which led to crippling brain farts that resulted in pucks in the wrong net. But that made him a defensive liability, and there’s an abundance of those players in the NHL. So what is it about Big Buff that’s so confounding? Well, he seemed to play the game with a wink and a nod and, often, with a kid-like glee. He shunned news snoops like they’d give him cooties, but he was aw shucks and warm and fuzzy with a fawning faithful. It’s been oft written and said that he marched to the beat of his own drum, and hockey players aren’t programmed to go their own way. But the only truly unusual thing he’s done is turn his back on $14 million. That doesn’t make him an enigma. It makes him real.
Quick question: Will the rabble think differently about Big Buff if he takes his eroding talents to another NHL outfit? Seems to me they might. The storyline will go from “he didn’t want to play hockey anymore” to “he still wanted to play hockey, just not for the Jets.” Which means some might add another descriptive to the big man: Phony. But I don’t see him playing again.
Over at the Drab Slab, there seems to be some confusion about Big Buff’s legacy, at least that’s the way I read Mad Mike McIntyre’s take on the matter. Here’s what he’s written:
Feb. 3: “A re-charged and rehabilitated Byfuglien was expected to be a pillar on the back end. Instead, his selfish actions created nothing but chaos and uncertainty. Unfortunately for Byfuglien, the entire soap opera has tarnished the legacy of one of the most unique athletes we’ve ever seen in the city.”
April 17: “Forgive me if I have a hard time painting anyone who willingly walks away from US $14 million as selfish,” and “In my eyes, no legacy has been tarnished here, nor should it be.”
So he’s selfish, but he isn’t selfish. He’s tarnished, but he isn’t tarnished. Mr. Flip, meet Mr. Flop.
Frankly, I doubt Big Buff gives a damn what jock journos think or write about him. Just like they don’t give a damn what he thinks about them or their scribblings. It’s a mutual Don’t Give A Damn Society.
Hey, check it out. My man young Eddie Tait has a book out, For the W, the story of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ gallop to the Grey Cup last year. If young Eddie’s doing the scribbling, you know it’s a top-drawer product, and I’m told he has a boffo editor in Rheanne Marcoux. Winnipeg FC radio voice Knuckles Irving of CJOB says the book is “sensational,” and that’s good enough for me. It sells for $54.99 and you can grab a copy at the Canadian Football League club’s shop or online.
This week in jock journalism…
I make an early-morning tour of newspapers and sports websites hither and yon, always searching for something fresh and different, and I found it in a Rob Tychkowski column. Rob’s with Postmedia E-Town, and he did a parody on the recent conference call between Donald Trump and various pro sports leaders. It’s laugh-out-loud funny…I never know what to expect when I call up the Winnipeg Sun, but some issues are more disappointing than others. Today, for example, there are eight pages of sports. Total number of local stories: 0. Total number of local bylines: 0. Total number of bylines from the Republic of Tranna: 4…No, I don’t think sports is important while COVID-19 has us in lockdown, but if you insist on doing it, do it right for gawd’s sake…Not sure what the dumbest story of the week was, but here are the candidates, all from the Drab Slab: 1) Andrew Berkshire’s graphs and numbers-crunching on the Jets’ odd-man rushes and counter-attack plays last season; 2) Mad Mike McIntyre’s top-10 goals in Jets 2.0 history; 3) Mad Mike’s suggestion that the entire NHL (all 31 teams) gather in Good Ol’ Hometown to complete the 2019-20 season sometime this summer. My vote goes to article No. 3. It’s just stupid.
And, finally, Scott Billeck went from the toy department to newsside for the Winnipeg Sun when COVID-19 took grip, and his work has been boffo. Bruce Arthur has done the same thing for the Toronto Star. I’m not sure how many sports scribes could pull that off, but Scott and Bruce are getting it done.
A farewell to October smorgas-bored…and be kind to the little kiddies tonight…
I agree, news snoops shouldn’t be part of the story.
It’s just that sometimes it’s unavoidable.
It happens, for example, every time Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens or Mark McGwire fail to win a ticket to a tiny burg in central New York State. By the numbers, all three certainly belong in Cooperstown, but they’re known needle-pushers and the jock journos who hold sway in these matters tend to frown on drug cheats.
They have decided that sticking needles in your butt and fixing games are the most egregious crimes in the rounders game. You can choke a woman or thump out a disabled fan, as Ty Cobb did; you can start a barroom brawl, as Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle and other 1957 New York Yankees did; you can spit at the paying customers and call them “buffoons,” as Ted Williams did; and they’ll make room for you in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. But any player guilty of using performance-enhancing drugs or betting on ball games need not apply for residency.
Perhaps one day, but not now.
Which makes news snoops part of the story each year they take a pass on Messrs. Bonds, Clemens, McGwire and others from baseball’s steroid era.
And so it is with Andrew Harris and the Football Reporters of Canada.
When it came time to vote for regional Canadian Football League year-end trinket nominees, the boys on the beat—Ted Wyman, Jeff Hamilton, Darrin Bauming and Knuckles Irving—had their say and the ayes outnumbered the nays in judgement of Harris, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ tainted tailback exiled for two games mid-season on a drug rap.
It doesn’t matter that Harris has lugged the rock farther than any other ball carrier in Rouge Football this season. Squints in white lab coats discovered something iffy in his pee, and that was enough for Wyman, Hamilton and Bauming to bypass No. 33 in the most outstanding player and most outstanding Canadian categories.
Here it is in their own words:
Bauming, TSN 1290: “I thought long and hard on this. It weighed on my conscious quite heavily and, at the end of the day, I have to be comfortable with myself to make a decision I feel is best and just. I’m not comfortable with the precedent that it would set.”
Wyman, Winnipeg Sun: “As a voter for the local nominations, I chose not to vote for Harris because of his positive drug test. How would it be fair to all the other players in the CFL who did not test positive if I cast a vote for Harris? What would it say to athletes around the country if a player who is known to have tested positive for a performance enhancer during the season wins one or two major awards? I’m certainly not trying to be high and mighty here and I did not take this decision at all lightly. It comes after months of thought, discussion, and research and in the end, I simply could not see casting my vote in any other way.”
Hamilton, Winnipeg Free Press: “Though I’ve spent more time than I’d like to admit agonizing over this decision, the truth is, the choice was an easy one. Simply put, my personal feelings towards Harris, someone who I have great respect for and have enjoyed my professional relationship with, doesn’t outweigh my journalistic integrity. Voting for him would be sending the wrong message, while also setting a new precedent in professional sports: it doesn’t matter if you test positive for a performance-enhancing drug, so long as your stats are good enough.”
Harris, of course, has repeatedly denied using PEDs, but don’t all the culprits once caught? Yes, they do. Still, Knuckles Irving of CJOB and the longtime play-by-play voice of Winnipeg FC is of a mind that Harris has already paid the piper.
“To set the record straight, SOME Winnipeg voters, not all, decided that Andrew Harris should be further punished for his positive drug test,” he tweeted. “I believe that a 2-game suspension, 2 missed game cheques and public embarrassment in July was punishment enough—I proudly voted for him.”
It must be pointed out that a fifth vote was cast, and we can assume that Mike O’Shea wrote the name Andrew Harris on his ballot, since the Bombers head coach declared his tainted tailback “absolutely innocent” when the dude’s world began to fall apart in July and August.
So Willie Jefferson and Mike Miller are the Winnipeg FC nominees in the MOP and MOC categories, and the snub of Harris makes news snoops a large part of the story.
That isn’t the way it’s supposed to be, but that’s the way it is.
Not surprisingly, many among the rabble consider Wyman, Hamilton and Bauming an Unholy Trinity for a couple of reasons: 1) The fawning faithful believe Harris to be innocent; 2) they believe news snoops to be a bunch of wonks. Well, Harris isn’t innocent. Squints found an illegal somethingorother in his piddle, both the A and B samples. As for jock journos, some of them are wonks, but I don’t think these three guys got it wrong. You can’t have a player who’s been banished on a drug rap propped up as the grandest performer in three-down football.
Why does Irving have to keep reminding people that he works for CJOB, not the Bombers? He voted for Harris because he believes the guy’s been punished enough and he’s been Winnipeg FC’s best performer. That doesn’t make Knuckles a PR flack for the team. Got it?
You know who’s delighted that the Unholy Trinity snubbed Harris? Football reporters across the land. Had Harris made it through the initial stage of the voting process, he’d have fallen into their laps, and I’m not sure many of them would have had the stomach for it. The dean of football scribes, Terry Jones of Postmedia E-Town, probably put it best with this tweet: “Whoa. There you have it. Winnipeg media saves national voters a headache by not nominating Andrew Harris for CFL Awards after his failed drug test.”
Gotta agree with Ol’ Lefty, Troy Westwood of TSN 1290, when he and others suggest Harris’ suspension should have rendered him ineligible for any individual trinket. “The CFL shouldn’t leave it in the hands of the media to decide if someone qualifies for the player awards,” Westwood tweeted. “The league would do itself a favor to attach to a positive PED test that you no longer qualify for the CFL player awards. End the debate and project best to the public.” Your move, commish Randy Ambrosie.
So here are my two takeaways from this year’s World Series: 1) There’s no crying in baseball and, even if there was, I can’t imagine anyone outside of Houston is weeping over the Astros Game 7 loss. The Astros, from the head down, are cads. 2) Will the champion Washington Nationals go to Washington to visit the Trumps at the White House?
And, finally, the curious case of Dustin Byfuglien just gets curiouser and curiouser, doesn’t it? I mean, Big Buff arrives in Good Ol’ Hometown but doesn’t show up for Winnipeg Jets training exercises. Then we’re told he’s gone away for some navel gazing, to determine his future in life and the National Hockey League. Now we find out that he’s had ankle surgery, without input from the club, and he won’t be available until early 2020. Unless, of course, he retires, which remains a possibility. I recall head coach Paul Maurice saying “there’s nothing sinister to this” when Buff took a powder, but I’d say it’s become totally messed up. I’m inclined to suggest Byfuglien is playing the Jets for a bunch of mooks.