Let’s talk about Randy Carlyle and Body by Pillsbury…liars, liars pants on fire…what say you, Jeff Hecht?…E-Town trumps Pegtown…the CFL’s best newspaper market…men overboard at Sportsnet…and the WJM newsroom

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and this post was written without the benefit of performance-enhancing nouns, verbs, adjectives or metaphors, but there are trace amounts of sarcasm, irreverence and flippancy…

Back in April 1989, when drug cheat Ben Johnson still had our attention after his fall from grace at the Seoul Olympics, word drifted out of Stockholm that Randy Carlyle had failed a drug test.

I laughed.

Anyone who’d ever met or seen Randy Carlyle probably laughed.

Randy Carlyle

I mean, you didn’t get Carlyle’s body with daily visits to the gym, augmented by human growth hormone milk shakes. We’re talking Body by Pillsbury. Whatever muscle the Winnipeg Jets defender had was well concealed by a pleasantly soft exterior, most likely the product of jam-filled pop tarts or crescent rolls stuffed with cheese and bacon. His soft under belly really was his soft underbelly.

Thus, after Carlyle had piddled in a bottle at the World Hockey Championship and women/men wearing lab coats didn’t like the color of his pee—they discovered traces of the banned substance mesterolone—there were many giggles, even though he had officially joined Johnson on the Drug Cheat Hall of Shame roll call.

“When we first heard the words ‘steroids’ and ‘Randy’ in the same sentence, everyone in the room laughed,” Dave Ellett, a teammate of Carlyle’s in Sweden and with the Jets, once recalled in a natter with Lance Hornby of the Toronto Sun. “John Ferguson Sr. had the best line: ‘If that’s what steroids does for your body, a lot of people will want their money back.’ Then we realized how serious it was.”

As it happened, Carlyle’s ‘B’ sample came back cleaner than a saint’s soul, so neither he nor Team Canada was disqualified from the tournament.

“I’ve been through hell,” the Pillsbury D-Boy told news snoops at the scene of the non-crime. “I was in total shock. How do you live with yourself when they say you’ve taken this and you know you haven’t? I lost a few pounds with sweaty palms.”

Andrew Harris

So, sure, squints make mistakes, and many among the rabble believe the lab rats did a dirty to Andrew Harris, who won’t join his Winnipeg Blue Bombers teammates in their annual Labor Day Weekend frolic v. the Saskatchewan Roughriders today on the Flattest of Lands. He’s also been told to find something else to do when the large lads assemble for the rematch in Good Ol’ Hometown on Sept. 7.

The Canadian Football League’s now-suspended leading rusher vows he didn’t knowingly take the illegal drug they say he took, but, for every local who believes Harris got a raw deal and shouldn’t be twiddling his thumbs this afternoon, there are probably 10 beyond the boundaries of Manitoba who’ll tell us that his pants are on fire. You’d have better luck convincing them that O.J. is honest-to-gosh looking for the real killers.

And that’s for good reason: When caught with their hands in the juice jar—or, in the case of Pete Rose, cozying up to friendly neighborhood bookie—most high-profile cheats in sports immediately take a trip to Planet Pinocchio. Examples…

Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong: “If you consider my situation, a guy who comes back from arguably, you know, a death sentence (cancer), why would I then enter in a sport and dope myself up and risk my life again? That’s crazy. I would never do that. No. No way.”

Mark McGwire (appearing before U.S. Congress): “I’m not here to talk about the past.”

Rafael Palmeiro: “I have never used steroids. Period.”

Sammy Sosa: Pretended he couldn’t understand English when asked about his steroid use.

Roger Clemens: “I’ve been accused of something I’m not guilty of…I’ve never taken steroids or HGH.”

Justin Gatlin: “I am not using and have not used PEDs.”

Marion Jones: “I am against performance enhancing drugs. I have never taken them and I never will take them.”

Ben Johnson: “When I was a kid, I never took drugs. People who know me in Jamaica and people who know me here know I would never take drugs. I have never, ever knowingly taken illegal drugs, and I would never embarrass my family, my friends, and my country, and the kids who love me. For now, there’s nothing more I can tell you, because I just don’t know.”

Floyd Landis: “I declare convincingly and categorically that my winning the Tour de France has been exclusively due to many years of training and my complete devotion to cycling, to the sacrifice of an entire life to carry out my dream, a dream of thousands of kilometres that I have completed through an absolute respect to the cleanness of the sport.”

Alex Rodriguez: “I have been clear that I did not use performance enhancing substances as alleged.”

Pete Rose (gambling): “I’m not going to admit to something that didn’t happen. Never bet as a player. That’s a fact.”

Martina Hingis (cocaine 2007 Wimbledon): “I am frustrated and angry. I believe that I am absolutely 100 per cent innocent.” Notably, she promptly retired rather than fight lab findings and a two-year ban.

Manny Ramirez: “Recently I saw a physician for a personal health issue. He gave me a medication, not a steroid.” After taking another medication that wasn’t a steroid, Ramirez failed another drug test and retired rather than be banished for 100 games.

Ryan Braun: “I truly believe in my heart, and would bet my life that this substance never entered my body at any point. I am the victim of a process that completely broke down and failed the way it was applied to me in this case.”

Vladimir Putin: “State-sponsored doping system has never been created in Russia, it is simply not possible, and we will do everything we can to make sure such state-sponsored system of doping support never exists.”

That, kids, is the reason people are hesitant, or flat-out refuse, to believe Harris. They’ve heard all the nose-growing excuses before.

And, unlike Randy Carlyle, his isn’t Body by Pillsbury.

Jeff Hecht

So, when Louis-Phillipe Bourassa was banished for being a drug cheat, Bombers safety Jeff Hecht pounced, calling out the Bytown RedBlacks long snapper on Twitter with this post: “Sometimes you just have to work hard instead of being lazy and buying an edge.” It followed, therefore, that he’d deliver the same public tsk-tsking to Harris. But no. “To think that I would treat my teammate the same as I would somebody else, I think, is kind of naive from some people, because I’m a team-first guy,” he said in a chin-wag with Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun. He then told Teddy Football that “I think lying is the tool of the coward, so I’m not going to hide my stance on anything.” Except, of course, he’ll hide his stance on Andrew Harris, thank you very much. Hypocrisy, thy name is Jeff Hecht.

The Bombers are without Matt Nichols, Andrew Harris and Chris Matthews today on the Flattest of Lands, so why do I think they have a snowball’s chance of beating Gang Green? Because they aren’t without Willie Jefferson and the D.

I like most of what young Jeff Hamilton does in the Drab Slab. Grade A reporter. Good writer. On top of the beat. Alas, young Jeff is off the mark when he suggests Saskatchewan and River City are the “two best markets in the CFL.” That’s only half accurate. The main measuring stick for any CFL market is the box office and, yes, Gang Green has developed a most rabid fan base. But Winnipeg? Not so much. Edmonton has been, and is, a better market. Even with this year’s sharp downturn in bodies at Commonwealth Stadium, the Eskimos are attracting 3,335 more than the Bombers per game. More to the point, if the Eskimos don’t nudge their head count up a couple thousand, this will be the first time—the only time!—this century that their average attendance falls below 30,000. Winnipeg FC has averaged 30,000 once. Repeat: Once. That was in 2013, the year Football Follies Field in Fort Garry opened for business and became a destination for curiosity seekers. So, sorry to say, Jeff, Good Ol’ Hometown is a better market than E-Town like Bob Dylan is a better singer than Sinatra.

There are, of course, other methods of measuring a CFL market, one of them being media coverage. That, of course, is subjective. But I submit that no one in our vast land does it better than the girls and boys on the Bombers beat in Pegtown, and I can already hear the squawks of protest from news snoops in E-Town and on the Flattest of Lands. Well, let ’em squawk. They’re wrong.

River City is the only true two-newspaper town in Western Canada, thus Winnipeg FC gets double the print coverage from competing rags. The operative word is “competing.” Standard cookie-cutter, scrum-collected quotes aside, what you read in the Drab Slab won’t be what you read in the Sun, and the Andrew Harris situation is an excellent example of the difference. Paul Friesen’s take in the Sun had a harsh, but fair, tone, while Hamilton delivered a more personal, reined-in essay. Both pieces worked for me in their own way. And that’s something you don’t get in points west, because Postmedia eliminated newspaper competition in other Prairie provinces. In terms of CFL coverage, the E-Town Sun is the E-Town Journal; the Calgary Sun is the Calgary Herald; the Vancity Sun is the Vancity Province; and you’ll read the same Riders copy in both the Regina Leader-Post and the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. They’re kin. Kissing cousins, if you will. That’s not the way it should be, but that’s what you get when Postmedia is still pinching pennies long after our copper coin went out of circulation.

Nick Kypreos

So, Sportsnet (thankfully) has pulled the plug on resident meathead Nick Kypreos, and we can only hope he’s replaced by someone who isn’t stuck in the 1970s, when clubbing an opponent over the head with a piece of lumber was an oft-used gambit in winning hockey games. Kypreos spent two decades using his Sportsnet pulpit to deliver a “to hell with turning the other cheek” sermon, promoting back-alley bullying to the point of advising skilled players like Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews to adopt rat-like stickwork and fisticuffs as tactics in dealing with the National Hockey League weasel element. That dinosaur logic is now left to blowhard Donald S. Cherry and the bellicose Brian Burke, although Burkie often delivers juicy insight when he isn’t talking about truculence.

John Shannon

I hope the last person to leave Sportsnet’s stable of shinny voices remembers to turn out the lights. Gone are Kypreos, Doug MacLean and John Shannon, which leaves who to natter with Jeff Marek on Hockey Central At Noon? Muppet head Colby Armstrong and Gord Stellick (meh)? Anthony Stewart and Mike Zigomanis (spare us)? The return of Damien Cox (shudder)? I’m not a Shannon fan, because there’s more than a whiff of arrogance to his delivery and he can be annoyingly interruptive, but he certainly knows where a lot of bodies are buried. I suspect he won’t be in the unemployment queue for long.

Murray, Lou, Mary, Ted, Sue Ann, Georgette, Rhoda and Phyllis in the WJM newsroom.

And, finally, Mary is gone, Ted is gone, Georgette is gone, and now Rhoda is gone. Thank goodness for reruns so I can still watch The Mary Tyler Moore show every afternoon and keep them and the WJM newsroom in my life. Love that show. Love the characters. I actually have a framed pic of Mary Tyler Moore beside my flatscreen TV, a gift from dear friends Jeff and Paul, who know I still want to be Mary Richards when I grow up and have a friend like Rhoda Morgenstern.

About the Curling Capital of the World…B.J. brings home the Brier bacon with Kevin Koe…a top 10 without Jeff Stoughton????…how much did those voters have to drink?…and happy birthday to CJOB

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and no forests were harmed in the production of this essay

So, I’m reading a piece on women’s curling the other day and I learned that Edmonton is (apparently) the “Curling Capital of the World.”

This was quite a startling revelation for me.

Don Duguid

I mean, my first sports editor, Jack Matheson, informed me at the front end of the 1970s that Good Ol’ Hometown was the curling capital of Canada, if not the entire planet. I believed him because…well, Matty said it, so it had to be true. And, sure enough, a number of years later the Digit, Don Duguid, doubled down and confirmed that River City is the very heartbeat of all things pebble.

It’s the centre of it all,” the two-time world champeen assured me during a chin-wag at his main hangout, the Mother Club (The Granite), which sits on the banks of the murky Assiniboine River, a splish and a splash across the way from Osborne Village in Winnipeg.

Yet, now, along comes Terry Jones to tell us that both Matty and the legendary Dugie were full of phooey.

Moosie Turnbull

Jones writes that recent Scotties Tournament of Hearts winners Sarah Wilkes, Dana Ferguson and Rachel Brown of Edmonton are the “latest champions from the Curling Capital of the World.” He’s even writing a book about Northern Alberta supremacy: World Capital of Curling, an ode to E-Town’s most celebrated Pebble People.

Well, doesn’t that just put my knickers in a twist.

Being one of the Buffalo People, you see, I subscribe to the Gospel According to Matty, Dugie and Moosie Turnbull, which states, without equivocation, that Manitoba is curling’s Mecca.

Thus I feel obliged to inform Jones that he is as wrong as Milan Lucic skating beside Connor McDavid.

Large

Before we go any further, I suppose I should introduce you to Jonesy. He’s a big-fun sports scribe of large girth and an equally large presence in E-Town. Hence the nickname Large. A good guy who began documenting the trials and tribulations of Edmonton jocks and jockettes before PM Justin’s poppa Pierre was the resident at 24 Sussex Drive in Bytown, Jonesy has heard and seen some things during his 50-plus years on the beat for both Edmonton rags, the Journal and Sun. Enough, in fact, to earn him membership in a handful of hallowed jock halls, including the Canadian Curling Hall of Fame. The lad’s got cred. Large cred (pun intended).

What he doesn’t have, however, is evidence to support his notion.

While it’s true that E-Town’s male Pebble People have been doing boffo business this century, the cold, hard fact is that they’ve been playing catchup to the Buffalo Boys for longer than Jonesy has been scribbling sports. And they still have some catching up to do. As for E-Town vs. our Buffalo Girls, ditto. It’s all catch us if you can. Check it out:

Brier champions: Winnipeg 25, Edmonton 18.
Scotties champions: Winnipeg 12, Edmonton 4.
World champions: (men) Winnipeg 6, Edmonton 7; (women) Winnipeg 3, Alberta 0.
Olympic champions: Winnipeg 2, Edmonton 1.
Totals: Buffalo People 48, Edmonton 30.

So here’s the deal: Scotland is the cradle of curling, but Good Ol’ Hometown is the Curling Capital of the World.

The notion that it’s Edmonton—sorry, Jonesy, that’s nothing but a (large) bunch of buffalo chips.

The self-proclaimed title “Curling Capital of the World” rings rather hollow when one considers that Edmonton and Northern Alberta have yet to produce a world women’s champion. The best they’ve managed is bronze, by Heather Nedohin and Cathy King.

I suppose it’s only fair to point out that the folks in E-Town turn out to watch curling in unparalleled numbers. They hold the record for highest head count at the Brier, the men’s world championship and the Roar of the Rings Olympic Trials. I’d be impressed, except that just tells me they got tired of watching the Oilers lose and decided to give curling a try.

2019 Brier champs: Kevin Koe, B.J. Neufeld, Colton Flasch, Ben Hebert.

Congrats to one of the Buffalo Boys, B.J. Neufeld, who slid third stones for Kevin Koe’s winning Alberta outfit at the Canadian men’s curling championship in Brandon. B.J. spent 11 years butting his head against a wall with Mike McEwen and pals playing out of the Fort Rouge Club in Good Ol’ Hometown, so it was boffo to see him get the job done. B.J.’s pop, Chris, was a member of Vic Peters’ Brier-winning team in 1992.

It’s interesting to note that none of the lads who won the Tankard on Sunday honed his craft on Alberta pebble. Koe is from Yellowknife, Neufeld from Winnipeg, Colton Flasch from Biggar, Sask., and Hebert from Regina. They all eventually found their way to the Glencoe Club in Calgary.

Jeff Stoughton

This just in: The 31 TSN “experts” who chose the 10 greatest male curlers of all time have lost their freaking marbles.

Either that or they just spent an entire week in the Brier Patch at Westoba Place in Brandon, doing non-stop elbow pumps.

I mean, good gawd. You’d have to be mind-numbingly pie-eyed to actually believe Dave Nedohin or John Morris were better curlers than Jeff Stoughton. You can include Wayne Middaugh and Marc Kennedy, as well. What will they tell us next? That Mr. Ed the talking horse had better giddyup than Secretariat?

Hey, no knock against Nedohin, a good Buffalo Boy. But no way does he come out of Manitoba 11 times like Stoughton. And he won two of his Brier titles when 18 of the top teams in the country were MIA, boycotting the event to earn a larger slice of the financial pie for curlers. As for Morris, he couldn’t cut it as a skip. Nuff said about him. Middaugh? Don’t even get me started. Kennedy? Good grief.

Fact is, giants of the game like the Howard boys, Russ and Glenn, and Brad Gushue wouldn’t have worn the Buffalo at the Brier 11 times had they been based in Manitoba.

I guess Stoughton and all those other Manitobans won 27 Briers by accident.

Kevin Koe

Just as astonishing as the Stoughton omission, Kevin Koe was absent from the top 10. Yes, I realize the 31 “experts” did their voting prior to his Brier championship run in Brandon on Sunday, but he’d already done enough to get the nod over some of the men I’ve mentioned. (Seriously, John Morris?) Now Koe has four Brier titles, with four different teams. A top-10 list without Koe or Stoughton? They might want to crumple that up, toss it in the trash bin and try again. And stop drinking!

For the record, here’s TSN’s top 10 greatest male curlers: 1. Kevin Martin; 2. Glenn Howard; 3. Randy Ferbey; 4. Russ Howard; 5. John Morris; 6. Ernie Richardson; 7. Wayne Middaugh; 8. Marc Kennedy; 9. Brad Gushue; 10. Dave Nedohin.

And here are the guilty parties, all 31 of the “experts” (they should be easy to pick out in a crowd—they’ll have the red faces):

TSN: Vic Rauter, Cheryl Bernard, Bryan Mudryk, Bob Weeks, Kevin Pratt, Scott Higgins.
B.C.: Elaine Dagg-Jackson.
Alberta: Warren Hansen, Con Griwkowsky, Renee Sonnenberg, Terry Jones.
Saskatchewan: Devin Heroux, Stefanie Lawton.
Manitoba: Jill Thurston, Ted Wyman.
Ontario: Greg Strong, Mike Harris, George Karrys, Kevin Palmer, Mary Chilvers, Lorie Eddy.
Quebec: Guy Hemmings, Marie-France Larouche.
Nova Scotia: Mark Dacey, Mary Mattatall.
New Brunswick: Heidi Hanlon.
Prince Edward Island: Nancy Cameron.
Newfoundland and Labrador: Cathy Cunningham, Geoff Cunningham.
Territories: Kerry Galusha.
Ad Hoc: Al Cameron.

And, finally, happy 73rd birthday to CJOB in Good Ol’ Hometown. They went on air on this day in 1946, just in time to broadcast the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ last Grey Cup victory. Just kidding, of course. Worked at ‘OB for a brief time, with Friar, Knuckles and Kelly Moore. Terrific people.

Winnipeg, the last two-paper town in the West…how Shakey Johnson got his name…promotion for Kirk Penton…and a long overdue induction for Dave Komosky

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

Once we get past the handwringing, the gnashing of the teeth and the anger/bitterness of journos across the land in the aftermath this week’s Postmedia print purge, what are readers of newspapers left with? This: Winnipeg is the sole two-paper town west of the Republic of Tranna.

Oh, sure, Postmedia continues to print both a broadsheet and a tabloid in Vancouver (Sun and Province), Edmonton (Sun and Journal) and Calgary (Sun and Herald), but this is a classic case of a one being dressed up as a two. If the deep-thinkers in one newsroom determine what is to occupy the space between the display ads of both dailies in those three bergs, it is one newspaper, no matter how it is packaged.

peg papersThink of this as beer. If you pour half a bottle of Molson Canadian into a mug and the other half into a tall, thin glass, you’re still drinking the same beer. Tastes the same, just looks different.

So it shall be in Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary. Rather than two competing journalists chasing the same story and, hopefully, delivering different slants, you now shall have one reporter with no urgency to get the scoop and no fear of being beaten by the opposition. There is no opposition. No alternative voice.

Which makes Pegtown a unique market in the western flank of the nation.

The puppeteers at Postmedia pull the strings for the Winnipeg Sun, while FP Canadian Newspapers Limited Partnership bows to its own master in publishing the Winnipeg Free Press. Unlike others in the Postmedia collective, the two Pegtown sheets are not Siamese twins, joined at the head. They are in competition, which serves the greater need, even though the end result each day might not always satiate the appetite of readers.

What I am left to wonder is how much Winnipeg will remain in the Sun.

Although not included in this week’s carnage, which involved the merging of newsrooms at eight dailies (the Ottawa Sun and Citizen being the others) and the kicking to the curb of 90 journalists, the after shocks were felt in River City.

Ted Wyman remains sports editor at the Sun. Sort of. He keeps the job title, but some invisible head sitting behind some invisible desk in some remote outpost of the land now will decide what Winnipeg sports fans want to read. How this serves Pegtown provides serious pause for ponder. I mean, shouldn’t a sports editor be able to reach out and feel the pulse of the people? It’s easy enough to recognize that the Winnipeg Jets and Winnipeg Blue Bombers are the big dogs in town and, thus, generate the most talk. But what of lesser players such as the Manitoba Moose, the Winnipeg Goldeyes, the University of Manitoba Bisons, junior hockey, local tennis, golf, curling, figure skating, etc.?

My concern is that they shall be lost in the shuffle.

Take curling as an e.g. It is the third biggest beat at the two River City dailies, behind only the Jets and Bombers. But will there be a Winnipeg Sun presence at next month’s Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Grande Prairie, Alta.? Not likely. Thus, no local angle, even though there shall be two Toba teams in the event. The Brier, meanwhile, is in Ottawa. Will we be reading Manitoba-centric dispatches from Paul Friesen, Ken Wiebe or the aforementioned Wyman, or generic puff from a Bytown scribe?

I fear the worst, and all this because Postmedia bit off more than it could chew when it purchased Sun Media’s English-language properties last spring.

As mentioned, Wyman is not out of work. He becomes part of the Sun’s bare-bones stable of scribes, replacing Kirk Penton, an elite reporter who has been anointed the Postmedia chain’s national writer for all things Canadian Football League. Coverage of the Bombers shouldn’t suffer in terms of quantity, but quality will take a hit because Penton is the best in the business.

After scribbling a piece about George (Shakey) Johnson the other day, it occurred to me that most folks don’t know the story behind the deposed Calgary Herald sports columnist’s nickname. We don’t call him Shakey because he’s a nervous Nellie with constant jitters. It’s due to his golf game. Back in the 1970s, you see, a few of us from the Winnipeg Tribune sports department would gather for a round of golf on occasion. The cast would rotate, but it generally involved Caveman Dutton, Greaser Drinnan, Swampdog Rauw, Davey Boy Komosky, Shakey and myself. Shakey played a neat-and-tidy game of golf. He struck the ball straight and true, although not far, and we actually witnessed a hole-in-one from him one day at Tuxedo. But he could not sink a putt inside three feet to save his life. He had the yips on the green. After one astonishing display of unparalleled hopelessness with the blade, we retreated to the pub, whereby Caveman Dutton and I commenced to calling him Shakey. The name stuck.

Big night for my longtime friend and colleague Dave Komosky, who joins the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Media Roll of Honour at their 60th annual awards dinner at the Delta Hotel. As I scribbled a few weeks ago, it’s a long overdue honor. I only wish I could be there to hear his acceptance speech. I have a feeling Davey Boy is going to put some people on the BBQ.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

It’s -30- on Shakey Johnson’s sports writing career…say it ain’t so, Postmedia

Scant years after the 20th century had arrived at its midway mark, author Truman Capote appeared on the television show Open End, whereupon he lashed out at the Beat Generation of American writers who delivered notable works in the 1950s.

“None of these people have anything interesting to say and none of them can write, not even Jack Kerouac,” he told host David Susskind. “It isn’t writing at all. It’s typing.”

Whether his was an accurate appraisal of the scribblings of Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Herbert Huncke and others among the Beat wordsmiths is, of course, open to interpretation, but the core of Capote’s critique is unassailable: Some people write, others just type.

I am reminded of the In Cold Blood author’s quote due to the blood-letting that has taken place this week on the sinking ships we know as daily newspapers in Canada.

georgejohnson
George (Shakey) Johnson

Included in the Postmedia carnage that killed competition in four major cities and left approximately 90 people out of work was George (Shakey) Johnson, whose poetic way with words has graced sports sheets across the nation ever since he walked out of a Red River Community College classroom and into the Winnipeg Tribune newsroom in the 1970s.

Shakey Johnson doesn’t type. He writes.

Which makes the Postmedia resolve to deep-six him not simply callous and cold-hearted but mystifying in the extreme.

I mean, it’s one thing to merge the two newsrooms of supposedly competing papers in each of four bergs in the True North, which Postmedia has done in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Ottawa, but surely the fallout from fiscal folly ought not to include your best and brightest people.

Shakey Johnson is among the best. And brightest. Still.

Shakey is unlike any sports scribe I have known, something I recognized early, when we were both novices learning our trade at the knee of Jack Matheson at the Trib. He would prattle on about his fave jocks like Ali and Jack Nicklaus, with the odd genuflection toward Davey Keon and Italian fitba, but he really got off on the theatre and movies. He was as apt to work Sir Laurence Olivier, Richard Burton or Judy Garland and Streisand into a lede as Wayne Gretzky or Lanny McDonald. And don’t even think about getting him started on Sinatra. Ol’ Blue Eyes was, is and always will be his main man.

That’s what makes Shakey special, at least to my way of thinking. It isn’t all about pucks and pigskins and point guards. He comes at sports writing from a different angle. He’s both high-end and high-brow. And he does it with such elequence and knock-’em-dead dry wit.

It’s why, as sports editor at the Calgary Sun in the early 1980s, I lured him away from our sister paper in Edmonton and installed him as our National Hockey League beat writer, his main focus being the Flames. I knew Shakey would deliver the same sterling stuff I’d read in the Trib and Winnipeg Sun, where he was among the plucky rogues and rebels who brought a newspaper to life out of the Tribune ashes.

That Postmedia cannot see this same talent is mind-boggling.

Sure, go ahead and merge the Calgary Herald and Sun newsrooms. Kill the competition. But do not kill the quality.

Shakey Johnson has been a chronicler of Calgary sports for more than three decades, first at the Sun then the Herald, and he’s done it with unparalleled polish. His choice of wording is as his choice of wardrobe—impeccable. Thus, it is most discouraging and disheartening to think he’s arrived at the end of the ride because some suit doesn’t know a noun from a nincompoop. Shakey still has so much more to share. Surely we haven’t seen the last of Sinatra, Streisand or Sir Laurence in the lede of a sports story.

If it is over for Shakey, I offer another Truman Capote quote: “To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music that words make.”

I don’t know what inner music Shakey hears when he writes, but what I’ve always heard in reading his words is a beautiful symphony.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

Hockey Night in Canada: A hip, new host, a ‘Swinn,’ a ‘Fede’ and the Fuddy and Duddy Show

Musings scribbled on a cocktail napkin while contemplating the birth of a shinny season and the birth of Rogers Media’s $5.2 billion multi-headed TV monster…

It might have been the dawning of a new era for Hockey Night in Canada, but it was the same old Don on Saturday night.

Donald S. Cherry sat in his Coach’s Corner bully pulpit alongside Ron MacLean, who plays Waldorf to the star’s Statler, and the old, grey grumps began their five-minute bitch bit by pouting about being “phased out” of HNIC, at the same time squabbling over a musical toy (Chippy) that Grapes had brought to the set. MacLean attempted to take Chippy hostage because he was “loud” and “irritating,” but Donald S. was having none of that.

The Lord of Loud then launched into his sermon, which sounded very much like a cut from his Hits of the 1980s soundtrack—the Toronto Maple Leafs are morons because they draft “U.S. college guys and a Swinn and a Fede” instead of good, old boys from Tranna and other outposts in Ontario.

I assume the U.S. college guys come from our neighbor to the south, but I’m not sure about the “Swin and Fede” that the Leafs drafted Sounds Scandinavian to me. Must be a couple of those dreaded “foreigners,” perhaps out of Gimli, just north of Winnipeg.

That aside, by the time Fuddy and Duddy were finished, it was painfully evident that one of them has nothing new to say and the other is tired of listening to nothing new. 

Rogers might want to “toy” with the idea of pulling the plug on the Fuddy and Duddy Show. Chippy can stay, though. Ditto the Swinn and the Fede.

EAR YE, EAR YE: My ears need a rest. Already. I mean, hockey goliath Rogers came at us with so many gab guys in its first four nights as the grand looking glass on Planet Puckhead that I’m not sure who said what to whom or who said what about whom on opening night Wednesday.

I know Glenn Healy said a lot of things about a lot of things that don’t matter, because whatever he says doesn’t matter. He also punctuated his blather with harsh hand gestures and a jutting jaw that suggest he’s angry about something, although he has nothing to be angry about. After all, most of us don’t get paid to annoy people, whereas Heals (that’s what his hockey buddies call him) receives a handsome stipend just for being the most annoying man on Canadian TV.

Surely the mute button was invented with Heals in mind.

SPELL CHECK: I have one main aim during the next seven months of a National Hockey League season that’s still wet behind the ears—learn how to spell Strombolopolopolopolopolopolous.

Hell, never mind learning how to spell it. I can’t even say George Strombolopolopolopolopolopolous in 25 words or less. I haven’t had this much trouble with a name since Winnipeg Jets defender-turned-forward Dustin Byfuglien arrived in River City with the Atlanta caravan in 2011. I still don’t know why it’s pronounced Buff-lin rather than By-foo-glee-en.

Anyway, I’ll just call the new face of Hockey Night in Canada and Rogers’ toy boy Strombo. Easy to say, easier to spell.

NUMBERS GAME: Rogers’ trumpet-tooters made a big whoop-dee-do about an average of 2.01 million puckheads tuning in for Strombo’s debut on the Montreal Canadiens-Toronto Maple Leafs telecast Wednesday on Sportsnet. Apparently, the other 33 million Canadians had something better to do than check to see if the boy toy would be wearing ear rings that night.

HNIC GOES GOTH: Okay, HNIC has a hip, new host in Strombo, who looks like he’s either on his way to, or just returning from, a goth gig (loved the skull ring he flashed during his chin-wag with Stephen Harper, noted politician and hoarder of hockey memorabilia in his man cave at 24 Sussex Dr. in Bytown). I’m on side with the new boy toy.

Still, there’s a bit of a cringe-worthy, “I’m a little kid who just got locked in the candy store” element to Strombo’s schtick. Like, he was having far too much fun during his little exhibition of foot hockey with Nick Kypreos, and does he really have to shake hands with Mark Messier before and after a two-minute tete-a-tete? I mean, it was the second intermission. It’s not like the Moose had just arrived on the mega-million-dollar set with all the new-fangled gadgetry. He’d been there from the top of the show.

I don’t know if there was a budding bromance at play or if Strombo just likes to slap skin.

AT THE BUZZER: So, Rogers shelled out $5.2 billion to put a fresh face on all things NHL in the Great White North, but they can’t afford a wardrobe consultant for P.J. Stock?…As is his norm, HNIC tongue-flapper Stock surfaced to give logic a lashing. During a rant suggesting the time had arrived for the Edmonton Oilers to give their roster a major makeover, he said, “I’m blaming the players, but I can’t blame them.”…Best bit on Saturday night featured Elliotte Friedman (no surprise there) and Damien Cox (big surprise). Their news, rumors and updates during the intermission was solid. Also on his game, as usual, was Scott Oake…After watching Sidney Crosby and his Pittsburgh pals dismantle the Maple Leafs, I’m wondering what the over/under is on Randy Carlyle’s gig behind the Toronto bench. I’m not sure he’ll last the month…Don’t normally take in the late-night games on Saturday, but felt obliged to check out the Jets and Sharks in San Jose. What a treat it was to see Dustin Byfuglien lose his mind…Was it just me, or did anyone else want to see Mark Messier shove his hockey stick up Nick Kypreos’s nose when the two former teammates gave a demonstration on positioning for a faceoff? It would have made for terrific TV.

AFTER THE BUZZER: The 30th anniversary of the Oilers’ first Stanley Cup crusade was a not-so-subtle reminder that of the World Hockey Association survivors—Edmonton, Winnipeg/Arizona, Quebec/Colorado, Hartford/Carolina—only the Jets/Coyotes have yet to hoist hockey’s holy grail. They couldn’t win on the frozen tundra, they can’t win in the desert, so we can’t blame the weather. Let’s blame Barry Shenkarow.

LAST SHOUT OUT: Sportsnet talking head John Shannon waxed glowingly of the Oilers outfits that won the Stanley Cup five times, saying they “changed the way the game was played for a decade.”

Whoa, Nellie.

It was the WHA Winnipeg Jets of Bobby Hull, Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson, Kent Nilsson, Lars-Erik Sjoberg et al who changed the way the game was played. The Oilers were copycats.

Glen Sather, first a player then coach with the WHA Oilers and, later, coach/GM of the NHL Oilers during the 1980s, took note of the Jets’ free-flowing, criss-crossing, ad libbing style of play and said, “I think I’ll try me some of that.” Thus, he used the Jets as a blueprint once he started collecting future Hockey Hall of Fame players like Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, Jari Kurri and others in Edmonton.

He built our team around watching Ulf Nilsson and Kent Nilsson and Bobby Hull, and he wanted that from day one,” Gretzky told Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal during the 1984 team reunion last week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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