Let’s talk about chess with Swamp Dog…bravo Jennifer Jones…flush go the Habs…TSN’s flawed ‘Toba Top 10…Shaq’s name game…Ali vs. Tiger…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and, sadly, one of the old gang from the Trib, Swamp Dog Rauw, has left us…

The thing I remember most fondly about Murray Rauw is playing chess in the small hours of the morning, after we’d put the sports section to bed at the Winnipeg Tribune.

Swamp Dog and I would unwind from the grind by retreating to my modest dwelling on Leighton Avenue in East Kildonan, whereupon I would crack open the brown pops while he cracked open one of my many chess sets.

There’d be Beatles music playing in the background—on the down low since all others in the house were in slumber—and I would quietly sing along with the Fab Four while Swamp Dog contemplated a next misguided move that surely would lead to checkmate or stalemate. I sometimes wondered if my singing disturbed his thought process, but he never offered so much as a mumble in protest.

Swamp Dog

Swamp Dog seldom complained, although a small flap of fuss is how he earned his delightful nickname.

I was in the cockpit one night, laying out the Trib sports pages, while others wrote their stories, edited copy, wrote headlines, handled the phones and did rewrites. Swamp Dog, still reasonably new to staff, had two or three things on the go.

“Murray,” I said at one point, interrupting his work, “I need you to do something.”

“Me?” he yelped. “Me? I’m swamped!”

“You’re swamped?” I responded, snickering. “Let me tell you something about being swamped.”

I informed him how it worked in the Trib sports department. We were all multi-taskers, often expected to handle more than one beat on the same day. It was not uncommon for a select few of us to cover an event in the morning or afternoon, write our article, then design a six- or seven-page sports section that night. It made for long shifts, but it was an accepted part of the gig. Besides, most of us were young, full of P and V and eager to earn a “damn good stuff” from our sports editor, Jack Matheson.

“That’s okay,” I told Swamp Dog. “You just do what you’re doing. I’ll take care of the rest, because you’re swamped! You’re our Swamp Dog.”

Swamp Dog became a fabulous multi-tasker, skillfully covering everything from badminton to boxing to backing up Matty on the Blue Bombers beat, until Southam had the bad manners to stop the Trib presses for the final time in August 1980.

And now Swamp’s ticker has stopped.

Swamp Dog died last Sunday in Calgary, after a lengthy illness, and I spent much of the past week sifting through recollections of him and our cast of kooky characters at the Trib. (We would have made for a boffo sitcom.)

An unpretentious, fun guy, I can’t think of a former colleague who harbored a greater, more genuine appreciation for landing a sports writing gig than Swamp Dog. He was like a kid who sneaked in and out of the ice cream parlor every night without getting caught, and he never tried to hide his appreciation for his good fortune.

Swamp Dog made me laugh without trying. His eyeglasses, for example, were a trip. Back in the 1970s, they would sit at a 45-degree angle on the bridge of his nose, the large lenses plastered with very visible fingerprints from his constant but failed attempts to make the specs fit his face. His mustache drooped and would go months without a much-needed pruning. Then there was the day I learned he had tagged the lovely lady who would become his bride, Maureen, with the most unflattering of nicknames: Mush.

“Geez, Swamp, I don’t know many women who’d fancy being called Mush,” I said. “Doesn’t it bother Maureen?”

“Why would it?” he answered as if I had asked a very dumb question. “She’s my Mush.”

Once the Trib folded, both Swamp Dog and I found our way to Calgary, first him at the Herald and then myself at the Sun a couple years later. I didn’t know a soul, other than Swamp Dog, Maureen and the two people who had hired me. Swamp Dog promptly set me up to play slo-pitch on one of the city’s elite outfits, and he dragged me to his raquetball club. After our always-enjoyable matches, we’d sometimes retire to his home and Maureen would be kind enough to feed us.

Oddly enough, Swamp Dog and I never played another game of chess. I guess that was our Winnipeg thing. But we’d get together for some giggles, or he’d get serious on occasion and discuss his MS. He’d unfailingly inquire about my Uncle Dennis, who’d been confined to a wheelchair due to MS since I was a sprig.

After I left Calgary and returned to Good Ol’ Hometown, we seldom saw each other, basically when road assignments would take us to the Grey Cup, the Brier or Stanley Cup playoffs. The Canadian Football League and curling were his main beats, and he was among the best at both.

Foremost for me, though, are the personal recollections, and I smile at the memory of us shifting chess pieces across the board, his knight taking my rook or my bishop taking his queen. Eventually, one of us would notice the morning sun peeking through my living room drapes, and he’d take his leave.

Now Swamp Dog is gone permanently, but I’d say his sun is still shining—through Maureen and the kids, Josh and Cayley, and granddaughter Charlotte.

Rest easy, old friend.

The Grim Reaper has now fetched Matty, Swamp Dog, Gus Collins Uncle Vince Leah, and freelancers Harold Loster and Ronnie Meyers from our 1970s toy department at the Trib. And that’s not to forget photog Jon Thordarson, whom I always considered one of us. Those of us still drawing oxygen are in our 60s and 70s, or older, so Dave Komosky and I often wonder who’ll be next. My kidneys are suggesting it might be moi. If that’s how it shakes down, in lieu of flowers send laughter.

Jennifer Jones

Big tip of the bonnet to Jennifer Jones, who’s now won more games at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts (159) than any curler. Ever. By the time she’s finished, Jen’s collection of Ws might be unbeatable, although I suppose Rachel Homan will have something to say about that. For now, though, Jen is the standard, and I say it’s only fitting and proper that someone from Winnipeg stands atop the heap. After all, Good Ol’ Hometown is the curling capital of the world, no matter what some folks in Alberta might want you to believe.

Is it just me, or does anyone else get the impression that the women at the Scotties have a whole lot more fun than the men at the Brier? Just saying.

Some people haven’t been impressed with the quality of play at the Scotties in Calgary. Too many flubbed shots. Iffy strategy. Well, what did you expect? I mean, they’d been away from the pebble for a year, and I’m guessing we’ll see a similar number of hairballs coughed up when the boys gather for the Brier at the end of this week.

Apparently it’s been so quiet at the fan-free Scotties that Saskatchewan skip Sherry Anderson says she “heard the toilet flush” while on the pebble the other day. But, hey, let’s not talk about the Montreal Canadiens.

I’m not saying the Habs’ hope for a successful crusade is down the toilet. If they can get rid of the imposter wearing Carey Price’s jersey, they might yet qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament. Then again, maybe O.J. will find the real killers.

Paul Stastny poached a goal from Twig Ehlers to give the Winnipeg Jets their 2-1 OT win over the Habs on Saturday night. You just don’t do that. It’s chintzy.

Patrik Laine

Let’s see if I’ve got this straight: Patrik Laine wanted first-line minutes skating alongside Rink Rat Scheifele, but Jets head coach Paul Maurice would have none of it. So they shipped him to Columbus. Now Pierre-Luc Dubois, the guy the Jets received in barter for Puck Finn, is getting first-line minutes skating alongside Scheifele. What am I missing here?

Dumb headline in the Winnipeg Sun: “Coach, teammates like new Jet Dubois.” Well, duh. What does anyone expect them to say? That he’s a sloth? Bring Patty back? Now that would be a story. The fact the Jets have warm-and-fuzzy feelings for the new kid in town isn’t newsworthy.

Good stuff from Mad Mike McIntyre in the Drab Slab on local Black shinny players who found their way to the upper levels of professional hockey. Among those he chatted with are Bill Riley and Ray Neufeld, one of the nicest men to wear Jets linen. It’s worth a look.

So why is it that I don’t believe Canadian Football League commish Randy Ambrosie when he tells us there’ll be Rouge Football this year, but I believe Winnipeg Blue Bombers CEO Wade Miller when he says the same thing? Maybe it’s because Wade transformed Winnipeg FC from a laughing stock into a Grey Cup champion, whereas Commish Randy couldn’t sell a spare tire to a guy with a flat.

Bernie Parent and Bobby Clarke (right)

Nice touch by TSN to serve up a Top 10 moments for Manitoba athletes last week. Except they should have consulted someone from the Keystone Province before revealing the list. There was no Clara Hughes collecting medals at both the Summer and Winter Olympics. There was no Donny Lalonde knocking Sugar Ray Leonard to the canvas. There was no George Knudson winning on the PGA Tour. There was no Bobby Clarke, the first captain of a National Hockey League expansion outfit to hoist the Stanley Cup. There was no Reggie Leach, scorer of 80 goals in the 1975-76 NHL season/playoffs. There was no Don Duguid going unbeaten to win consecutive world curling titles. No Jeff Stoughton. No University of Winnipeg Lady Wesmen hoops team winning 88 consecutive matches. But Anthony Coombs made the grade with a catch in a meaningless game for the Toronto Argos. Skeleton guy Jon Montgomery was featured drinking beer and pretending to be an auctioneer. Corey Koskie cracked the list for catching a foul ball in a game no one remembers. And Andrew Harris was featured running the ball for the B.C. Lions in a game no one remembers. Totally lame.

Shaq

Shaquille O’Neal has taken some heat for his work as a TV analyst. It seems Shaq is unfamiliar with the first names of numerous National Basketball Association players, including Pascal Siakam of the Tranna Jurassics. “Oh, I never knew his first name,” Shaq confessed in a panel natter with Ernie Johnson in a recent NBA on TNT broadcast. I guess that makes Siakam the ultimate player to be named later.

Tim and Sid are no more. Well, okay Tim is still Micaleff and Sid is still Seixeiro, but they’re no longer Tim & Sid, after 17 years together on Sportsnet. Sid’s next gig is Breakfast Television in the Republic of Tranna and, given his penchant for goofing around, the show might become known as Dog’s Breakfast Television. Tim & Sid was sometimes-see TV for me, never must-see TV, but you don’t last that long without doing something right. Having said that, Tim drew a parallel between he and Sid breaking up and Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David parting ways. Uh, no. You don’t want to go there, man.

James Duthie

I’ve long admired James Duthie’s work on TSN. Who hasn’t? He’s witty, clever, knowledgeable and doesn’t take himself seriously. And he’s done it all without perfect hair and perfect teeth.

But when he waxed on about Tiger Woods last week…well, let’s just say he was showing his age.

“There’s not another…he’s the most famous athlete of our lives,” Duthie said of Woods in a squawk with Rod Smith. “Maybe you can make an argument Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, but there has been no more fascinating, complex character in sport in our lives.”

Good grief. Tom Brady is about as complex as Grade 1 arithmetic. He throws a football, wins the Super Bowl, then paints the town bland. The most fascinating thing he’s ever done is get drunk and hurl the Lombardi Trophy from one boat to another. Jordan? Best hoops player ever. Full stop.

Duthie wants fascinating and complex? Let me introduce him to Muhammad Ali, the boxer once known as Cassius Clay.

There were more layers to Ali than an onion. Let’s start with the name change, the Nation of Islam and the shift to Sunni Islam. Let’s talk about political activism and civil rights. Let’s talk about the U.S. government taking away his livelihood and untold millions of dollars for 3½ years because he refused to travel across the world to kill people in Vietnam. Let’s talk about his willingness to go behind bars rather than spray bullets. Let’s talk about the anger and hostility, then the warm admiration, of a nation. Let’s talk about a unanimous victory in the Supreme Court. Let’s talk about the Grammy nominations. Let’s talk about the movies and the Broadway musical. Let’s talk about whimsy, doggerel and rapping before rap was a thing. Let’s talk about the campus speaking tours. Let’s talk about the battle with Parkinson’s. Let’s talk about winning the world heavyweight title three times when it actually meant something. Let’s talk about the Rumble in the Jungle and the Thrilla in Manila. Let’s talk about media savvy. Let’s talk about showmanship and the oversized personality. Let’s talk about the multiple marriages and infidelities. Let’s talk about the irony of being meaner and more cruel to Black boxers than white fist-fighters.

Duthie is 54, which means he missed the opening act of the theatre that was Ali. He can’t relate to the Vietnam War or the civil rights movement of the 1960s, just as those who weren’t there when John Paul, George and Ringo invaded America can’t truly understand and appreciate Beatlemania.

But when he speaks of “our lives,” I have to assume that includes myself and those of my vintage.

Tiger Woods is arguably the finest to ever strike a dimpled ball. We marveled at his wizardry, how he would make the best in the game wither before they even teed it up on a Thursday. He was fascinating to watch. Gobsmackingly so. But whereas Ali allowed us inside his world, Woods tried to keep most everyone out. Except his many mistresses.

Other than his genius at golf, we knew nothing of Woods the person until caught with his trousers down and the tabloids exposed him as a raging philanderer. And, of course, he’s made headlines for getting behind the wheel of a luxury vehicle when it wasn’t wise. But cheating on your spouse and reckless driving hardly makes one fascinating or complex. It makes him one of a million guys.

So let’s put it this way: Given one word to describe Tiger Woods, it would be “golf.” Given one word to describe Muhammad Ali, it would be…sorry, can’t do it in one word. He was too fascinating and complex.

And, finally, looks like this will be a pizza-and-pebble day, because I’m hitting the couch and won’t budge until either Jen Jones or Kerri Einarson has (hopefully) won the Scotties Tournament of Hearts this evening.

Let’s take a trip down memory lane on Manitoba Hockey Heritage Day

This being Manitoba Hockey Heritage Day, it puts me in a reflective mood, pondering my former life as a rink rat.

It began as a wobbly, Bambi-legged urchin on the outdoor freezes at Melrose Park Community Club, Bronx Park and East End, then moved to shinny shacks both primitive and elegant, from Transcona to Texas, from Sargent Park to Stockholm, from the Old Barn On Maroons Road to the Forum in Montreal (best hot dogs, ever) and Maple Leaf Gardens.

It was a lengthy trip, 30 years of it scribbling for the Winnipeg Tribune and Winnipeg Sun (with a couple of brief pit stops in the Republic of Tranna and Calgary), and there were highs and lows and in-betweens. This is what’s on my mind today:

  • The Old Barn On Maroons Road, when it had that new-rink smell.

    I’m thinking about Mosie and the Winnipeg Warriors. I attended my first live pro game in the mid-1950s, a Western Hockey League skirmish featuring Billy Mosienko in the twilight years of a boffo career that included a 1952 record that stands uncontested to this day in the National Hockey League—three goals in the lickety-split time of 21 seconds. Mosie left the Chicago Blackhawks to wind it down with the Warriors in Good Ol’ Hometown, and it was a treat beyond description for a six-year-old kid to observe hockey royalty in person, in a swanky, new Winnipeg Arena.

  • I’m thinking about Father David Bauer and our national men’s team, based in River City during the 1960s. Our amateur Nats faced insurmountable odds in a quest to wrestle global supremacy from the U.S.S. R. “amateurs.” We all knew the Soviets were “amateurs” like cherry Kool-Aid is Russian vodka.

  • I’m thinking about Benny Hatskin and the original Winnipeg Jets, a Junior outfit in the Western Canada Hockey League that engaged in epic battles with the Flin Flon Bombers of coach Paddy Ginnell. Come playoff time, they’d pack the joint.

  • I’m thinking about Bill Addison, longtime commissioner of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League. As a journalist and rink rat, I can’t think of anyone with whom I enjoyed talking all things puck more than Bill, a true gentleman in an era when a fellow would wear a necktie and a fedora to the rink.

  • I’m thinking about Frank McKinnon, the first sports figure I ever interviewed for the Trib, and the Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association was the subject matter of my first byline article on June 14, 1971. It was buried on the back pages of the sports section, surrounded by Harold Loster’s horse racing copy, and it included a ghastly error—I wrote the MAHA had elected Frank president of the “1871-72” executive. What can I say? I’m an old soul. And, hey, I was only out by 100 years.

  • I’m thinking about Benny Hatskin signing Bobby Hull at Portage and Main in June 1972. I was a few blocks away in the Trib building when it all went down to change the shinny landscape forever. A younger generation might suggest Mark Chipman and David Thomson bringing the National Hockey League back to Good Ol’ Hometown in 2011 was a bigger story, but no. Everything flowed from Benny getting Hull’s signature on a World Hockey Association contract.

  • I’m thinking about the Jets introducing Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson and Lars-Erik Sjoberg to the masses in May 1974. Some of us were convinced that Benny and his minions had lost the plot because Swedes, thought to be cottony soft, couldn’t possibly survive vs. the barbarians who occupied too many roster spots on WHA outfits. Well, we now know they didn’t simply survive, they excelled, and served as Pied Pipers to numerous Europeans who found their way to the Jets.

  • Kevin McCarthy

    I’m thinking about Junior hockey. I remember my first road trip, a milk run from Winnipeg to Dauphin for MJHL playoffs, and there were other junkets on the iron lung with the Winnipeg Clubs and Monarchs. Kevin McCarthy was the most talented local kid I ever covered, and watching him and Doug Wilson anchor a powerplay was special. My old coach Gerry Brisson, who owned the Junior Jets/Clubs/Monarchs before whisking the WHL franchise to Calgary, was a different head of lettuce, and my favorite character was Muzz MacPherson, coach of the 1973 Centennial Cup champion Portage Terriers before moving behind Brisson’s bench with the Clubs.

  • I’m thinking about the many hours I spent in the company of scouts, guys like Bob Goring, Bruce Cheatley, Jimmy Walker, Bruce Southern and Dino Ball, who made the down time more enjoyable.

  • Billy Robinson

    I’m thinking about my favorite hockey people, in no particular order: Jeep Woolley, Tom McVie, Terry Hind, Earl Dawson, George Allard, Don Baizley, Gordie Pennell, Bill Addison, Frank McKinnon, Barry Bonni, Spider Mazur, Julie Klymkiw, Rudy Pilous, Teddy Foreman, Mike Doran, Sudsy, Aime Allaire, Bill Juzda, Bones Raleigh, Ed Sweeney, Billy Robinson, Aggie Kukulowicz, Marc Cloutier, Gordie Tumilson, Bill Bozak, John Ferguson, Peter Piper, Brian Gunn, Adam Tarnowski, Andy Murray, Teddy Green, Laurie Boschman, the Swedes (all of them), Portage Terriers.

  • I’m thinking about covering both the Jets final skirmish in the WHA, vs. the Edmonton Oilers (a 7-3 win), and their NHL baptism, in Pittsburgh vs. the Penguins (a 4-2 loss). Reyn Davis and I were the beat writers of the day for both those games, and Friar Nicolson was the play-by-play guy on radio. Sadly, Reyn and Friar left us long ago.

  • I’m thinking about the 1975 World Junior tourney, with a group of WCHL all-stars facing off against the elite of the Soviet Union, Sweden, Finland, Czechoslovakia and the U.S. The lads from Mother Russia ruled the day, besting the our kids 4-3 in the final game, prompting this rather peculiar observation of the comrades from Bobby Hull: “I’d like to see those guys in the shower, I’ll bet they’re all muscle.”

  • I’m thinking about Aime Allaire, the hard-luck case of my time covering shinny in Good Ol’ Hometown. Aime did everything possible to bring Senior hockey’s Allan Cup home, but his St. Boniface Mohawks always came up a day late and a dollar short. I rode the iron lung with the Mohawks one winter, and Aime once hired me to handle stats for the Central Amateur Senior Hockey League.

  • I’m thinking about refereeing Winnipeg Colts tryout scrimmages for Stan Bradley and Harold Loster before they departed on their annual junket to a PeeWee tournament in Goderich, Ont.

  • I’m thinking about the night the Jets whupped the Soviet national side, 5-3, and Ulf Nilsson telling me in a noisy changing room that he was “proud to be a Canadian tonight.”

  • Mikhail Smith

    I’m thinking about Mike Smith, the egghead scout/coach/GM of the Jets who shall long be remembered for two things: 1) his make-work-for-Russians project; 2) running Ducky Hawerchuk out of town. The man I called Mikhail had a degree in Russian studies and a maniacal obsession with every Vladimir or Igor who laced up a pair of skates, and he attempted to transform the local shinny side into the Central Red Jets. The plan was a colossal flop and Hawerchuk became a casualty, moving to Buffalo.

  • I’m thinking about Billy Bozak, a very nice man known as Magic Fingers. Boz was responsible for healing the lame and halting among the Jets, and there wasn’t an owie the longtime team trainer couldn’t cure. How his healing hands made Terry Ruskowski suitable for combat in the 1979 WHA final I’ll never know.

  • I’m thinking about the day of the long faces, which is to say the final farewell for the original Jets, who packed up and skedaddled lock, stock and jock strap to Arizona. There weren’t many dry eyes in the joint on April 28, 1996, and it had nothing to do with a 4-1 playoff loss to the Detroit Red Wings. It had everything to do with a funeral. The NHL was dead in Good Ol’ Hometown. It took 15 years for many among the rabble to recover from the Jets’ departure. Many still mourn the loss.

  • I’m thinking about piggy banks and pucks and Peter Warren of CJOB roaming the landscape on a flatbed truck, accepting donations from the young, the old and the in-between in a bid to Save the Jets from extinction. It worked once or twice, but kids emptying their piggy banks and little, old ladies signing over pension cheques was never going to be the solution.

  • I’m thinking about Tuxedo Night and how snazzy all the luminaries and the Zamboni driver looked in their monkey suits. The promo was the brainchild of marketing guru Marc Cloutier, who wanted Good Ol’ Hometown to look its spiffy best for the first appearance of NHL royalty, the Montreal Canadiens. Lafleur and Savard and Robinson and Gainey and Shutt et al were greeted by a gathering of 15,723 on Dec. 15, 1979, and the Jets faithful feared the worst. But a rag-tag roster filled with hand-me-downs rag-dolled the Stanley Cup champions, winning 6-2, with Willy Lindstrom scoring three goals and Peter Sullivan collecting five points.

  • John Ferguson

    I’m thinking about Bobby Hull and how he was greeted with such pomp and pageantry at Portage and Main in June 1972, and how he left the building in such an undignified manner seven years later. The Golden Jet was scheduled to be in the lineup for Tuxedo Night, nationally televised on Hockey Night in Canada, but he was confused about faceoff time and arrived late. Coach Tommy McVie, not one for bending rules, informed Hull that he’d be sitting this one out. When advised of Hull’s punishment, GM John Ferguson pitched a fit, kicking a hole in a dressing room door. Didn’t matter. Hull, one of the team owners, was out. He never wore Jets linen again.

  • I’m thinking about Teemu Selanne’s astonishing 76-goal rookie season, in 1992-93, and GM John Paddock trading the Finnish Flash to the Disney Ducks three years later. D’oh!

  • I’m thinking about doing color commentary to Friar Nicolson’s play-by-play on Jets radio broadcasts, in the WHA and NHL, and I’m sure I was awful.

  • Valeri Kharlamov

    I’m thinking about tossing back vodka and beer with the Russians at the Viscount Gort during the Winnipeg portion of the 1981 Canada Cup tournament. They couldn’t speak English, I couldn’t speak Russian, but we managed to conduct an impromptu and teary-eyed wake for legendary Soviet forward Valeri Kharlamov, who was buried that day back home in Mother Russia.

  • I’m thinking about all the good guys no longer with us, too many to list.

I’m no longer a rink rat. I haven’t attended a live hockey game since 1999, when I put Good Ol’ Hometown in my rear view mirror after 30 years in the rag trade. But it was a rush. Some might even think of it as a bit of a charmed life, and I suppose watching hockey and writing about the game for a living was every bit of that.

The only thing missing was girls/women’s hockey, and I hope Ponytail Puck receives more ink in the local dailies once it’s back on the ice. Ditto Junior, university and high school shinny. I realize readers can’t get enough of their Jets, but they weren’t the only game in town during my time at the Trib and Sun, and they still aren’t.

Happy Hockey Heritage Day.

Let’s talk about Black Wednesday at the Trib…the toy department roll call…dead soldiers at dawn…hitting dingers off Nolan Ryan…the dog ate Eddie Dearden’s golf copy…the dreaded Green Monsters…Sals cheese nips and fries with Jeems Coleman…what’s in a (nick)name?…and a “damn good job”

A special Saturday morning smorgas-bored…and a trip down memory lane only hurts if you trip…

I cried. Then got drunk. And cried some more.

I don’t recall who bent elbows with me that day. It might have been Ketch. Maybe Swampdog. Could have been the Caveman, Davey Boy, Shakey and Ringo. I can’t say for certain.

What I do know is this: Aug. 27, 1980, was the bleakest 24 hours of my first 30 years on the third rock from the sun. That’s why we called it Black Wednesday. Some of us still do. I’ve experienced darker days since, to be sure, but when Southam pushed the stop button on the Winnipeg Tribune presses for the final time 40 years ago, it also put the brakes on something inside me.

I loved working at the Trib. I loved the people.

My plan was to stay for 50 years, just like Uncle Vince Leah had done, then retire. That would have taken me to 2019. As it turned out, I made it through 11 years, less 14 days, before Southam mucky-muck Gordon Fisher clambered atop a desk in the fifth-floor newsroom and informed those assembled that they were now among the great unemployed. Oh, and we could pick up your parting gifts on the way out.

I wasn’t there when Fisher did us the dirty on Black Wednesday, but I arrived in a funereal newsroom scant minutes later to find Jack Matheson in our sports bunker. His eyes were red, if not damp.

“It was a helluva run,” he said unconvincingly, head bowed and shaking.

I glanced at the final front page, and fidgeted with one corner of the broadsheet.

“It’s been 90 great years!” the headline blared.

“Ya,” I muttered, “maybe the first 89 years were great, but this 90th year isn’t so shit hot.”

Matty and his bride Peggy, the LGIW.

Matty managed a weak smile, but my first sports editor was gutted. Totally. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a man so deflated, and I immediately hurt a hell of a lot more for him than I did myself.

Matty was Trib sports, you see. The rest of us? We were the backup singers to his Sinatra, and we all knew it. His coattails stretched from one coast to the other, and we were happy to go along for the ride.

It wasn’t a sports department that Matty put together, it was an assembly line. It produced six sports editors, eight columnists, one newspaper owner/publisher (Jack Gibson), one radio program director (Vic Grant), one hockey play-by-play voice (Lester Lazaruk), and one happily married couple (Shakey Johnson and Rita Mingo).

Matty had no business hiring me, fresh scrubbed and not a lick of experience other than my time running copy in the newsroom and doing rewrites for Gus Collins, but he did. He also didn’t have to sweet-talk me into staying at the Trib after Maurice Smith had offered me more money and better opportunity for advancement at the Winnipeg Free Press. But he did.

Smith, the Freep SE, had wanted me to back up the fabulous Reyn Davis on the Winnipeg Jets beat, and write feature articles. It was very appealing, also tempting.

“We’d love to have you join us,” Smith told me, “and this chance won’t come again.”

Matty caught wind of our tete-a-tete and invited me to a fireside chat. It was very brief. I stayed strictly because of him.

Have I ever regretted not defecting to the other side? No. But I have thought about it many times, knowing my life would have been so much different had I made the move.

Like I said, though, I loved working at the Trib and I loved the people.

The roll call during my tour of duty included Matty, Eddie Dearden, Uncle Vince, Gus Collins, Vic Grant, Larry Tucker, Dave Komosky, John Cherneski, Gregg Drinnan, Jack Gibson, Ian Dutton, Glen Dawkins, Dave Senick, Murray Rauw, Jim Ketcheson, George Johnson, Bob Holliday, Les Lazaruk and Gordon Sinclair Jr. Those were the boys. Our rays of sunshine were Peggy Stewart and the delightful Rita Mingo, who harbored an unreasonable fanaticism for Italian fitba and the Montreal Canadiens. I always thought of photog Jon Thordarson as one of us, too, because he was a great guy and he and Hughie Allan took the best sports pics. And we had regular freelancers like Harold Loster and Ronnie Meyers, a lawyer back then who went on to become a His Honor.

Harold Loster worked for Labatt brewery and, every so often in the swelter of summer, he would stroll into the sports department to drop off his horse racing or bowling copy (yes, bowling copy), and there’d be a large paper bag tucked under one arm. It contained bottles of brown pop, which we would empty after putting the section to bed sometime in the small hours of the morning.

Matty didn’t object to our occasional beer swilling, but he cautioned us to keep the volume down “and don’t leave any dead soldiers lying around.”

We always tried to be gone by the time Matty arrived to proof the sports pages at the crack of dawn, but we weren’t always successful. He’d smile, tell us we were “crazy” or “nuts,” but I doubt he appreciated walking into a work space that smelled like a beer vat. We’d bug out faster than mice when the lights go on, and we’d be gone by the time he returned from the sixth-floor comp room with the page proofs.

Dave Komosky

Our late-night natters in Matty’s bunker were unremarkable in depth, but Dave Komosky had a knack for livening up the banter with outrageous claims.

“You know something,” he said one night without prompting, “I could hit a home run off Nolan Ryan.”

The rest of us guffawed, of course, and informed him that no sluggo sports scribe could walk off the street and swat a dinger off baseball’s foremost flame-throwing righthander.

“Okay,” he replied, “maybe not a home run, but I could definitely hit a single. For sure I’d get a base hit. Give me enough practice swings and I’d hit .300 against Ryan.”

Another night, Davey boy gazed down at the concrete alley five stories below Matty’s bunker and asked: “What do you think would happen if I jumped out this window right now?”

We told him he would be dead.

“No way,” he yelped. “At worst I’d break my ankles.”

“Not if you landed on your head,” someone said.

One thing that did fly out the window was Eddie Dearden’s copy.

Early on, we wrote on Underwood typewriters and were required to hand in two copies of our work, one for us to edit and send upstairs for typesetting in the comp room, the other to keep for the desker’s reference.

On this occasion, Dave Komosky was laying out the section and he put Eddie’s copy aside, placing it in a metal basket on a ledge behind him. It was also next to an open window. Oops.

A couple of hours later, Davey reached back for Eddie’s copy, only to discover it missing. We searched for those three pieces of paper like they were the Dead Sea Scrolls. I think one of us actually went down to the alley below to hopefully retrieve the scattered pieces of paper. We’d have had better luck finding Jimmy Hoffa. An uneasiness enveloped us, knowing Eddie would not be amused.

That copy (I believe it was a piece on a golf tournament) became the Amelia Earhart/D.B. Cooper of our operation—never found. And Eddie never believed our “the doge ate your homework” story. He was convinced we had pulled a nasty prank.

Computers were introduced to the Trib newsroom in the latter half of the 1970s, and Eddie and Matty warmed to the “green monsters” like sheep to timber wolves. They insisted on filing hard copy, meaning one of us slugs was required to transfer their stuff into the computer, so it served Eddie right that his copy blew out the window. I mean, no wind ever blew a computer out a window. Mind you, I have seen at least one fly out of a press box.

Nicknames were big in the Trib toy department: Ed Dearden was Steady Eddie; Murray Rauw was Swampdog; Ian Dutton was Caveman; George Johnson was Shakey; Glen Dawkins was Otis; Bob Holliday was Doc; Rita Mingo was Ringo; Les Lazaruk was Ronnie (because of his striking resemblance to Ronald McDonald); Dave Komosky was Komo; Gregg Drinnan was Greaser; Dave Senick was Sinch; and Jim Ketcheson, affectionately known as Ketch, decided all newcomers were Snippets. “I’m up to my chin whiskers in Snippets!” he wailed one night, then punctuated his thoughts with a series of crow calls. “Caw! Caw! Caw!” Ketch often would cry into the dark night, although I never understood the reason why, except he knew it made me laugh.

The esteemed Jeems Coleman

Every so often, legendary Southam columnist Jim Coleman would make a pilgrimage from his home base in the Republic of Tranna to the colonies and grace us with his attendance on the fifth floor. Such a nice man. And always impeccably attired. Between puffs and chomps on his stinky cigar, the esteemed Jeems would use part of his expense account to put us on the feed bag, ordering cheese nips and fries from the Salisbury House across the parking lot from our building at Smith and Graham. Eight months after the Trib folded, we worked the World Hockey Championship together in Sweden for the Toronto Sun. I was disappointed there were no Sals restaurants in Stockholm for late-night takeout. Jim wasn’t.

There were some fine scribes on those Trib staffs. Matty and Shakey Johnson were the best. Matty was sassy and cheeky and witty and irreverent and clever and in your face, and he mentioned Sinatra quite often. Shakey was smooth and painted pictures that usually included a reference to a movie or Broadway play in the lede.

And, finally, to all with whom I worked at the Tribune, my thanks for making it the most enjoyable 11 years of my newspaper career. As Matty would tell us when he approved of our work, “damn good job.”

About clowns in mainstream media…depth in pro tennis…lady star power…budget cuts at TSN…too much Nadal-Federer…great rivalries…sports scribes defecting…and aiming for 50 years

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

Venus Williams

Steve Simmons has secured his position as the biggest assclown in Canadian sports media.

It’s one thing to have an ego higher than the CN Tower and deliver opinion, which the Postmedia columnist and TSN talking head offers in abundance, but Simmons totally lost the plot when he stooped to age shaming on the return of The Reporters with Dave Hodge to TSN’s air Sunday morning.

Discussing the U.S. Open, Simmons said:

Women’s tennis is in a bad way without Serena (Williams). There’s no real star. You’ve had four Grand Slams this year and four different winners. Venus Williams is in a final at Wimbledon and she’s what, 92 years old or something like that?”

Shameful. Also objectionable, rude and insulting in the extreme. It might even have an undercurrent of sexism.

I mean, Simmons had no quarrel with Roger Federer winning Wimbledon in July, scant days before he blew out 36 candles on his birthday cake. It was bravo Roger. Called him the “best ever” before the Swiss maestro rag-dolled Marin Cilic in the final. Thing is, Federer is just one year and two months younger than Venus Williams, who was beaten by Garbine Muguruza in the Wimbledon ladies’ final.

Serena Williams

“It’s good for tennis that 37-year-old Venus Williams didn’t win,” he wrote. “To win now would speak badly for the state of women’s tennis.”

But it was okay for a 36-year-old man to win Wimbledon? Interesting logic.

Once he was done age bashing Williams, Simmons—he’s 60, by the way—attacked the depth of the women’s game, comparing it unfavorably to the men’s draw. “There isn’t the depth…you look at men’s tennis, there’s the core at the top and then there’s about 15 deep of really good players,” he stammered. “It doesn’t exist on the women’s side.” Really? Factual evidence supports the notion that Grandpa Simmons is full of the stuff that comes out of the south end of a bull. In the past 48 men’s Grand Slam finals, only three lads not named Nadal, Federer, Murray or Djokovic have won—Stan Wawrinka, Juan Martin Del Potro and Marin Cilic. They’ve combined for a grand sum of five titles. In 12 flipping years! Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic claimed the other 43. For those of you scoring at home, that’s Four Guys 43, Rest of World 5. That’s deep like a thimble.

Grandpa Simmons pooh-poohs the women’s side for delivering four different Grand Slam champions this year, as if that’s a bad thing. Yet he says there’s no depth on tour. Total contradiction. Total clown. You want depth? Sixteen women not named Williams have combined for 30 titles in the past 48 majors. None of the four women who won a Grand Slam this year was a top seed. Serena Williams was the closest, seeded second at the Australian Open. The French and U.S. Open champions, Jelena Ostapenko and Sloane Stephens, were unseeded and ranked world Nos. 47 and 83, respectively. The Wimbledon winner, Muguruza, was seeded 14th and ranked world No. 15. The final four at the U.S. Open—Venus Williams, Madison Keys, CoCo Vandeweghe and Stephens—were world Nos. 9, 16, 22 and 83.

Maria Sharapova

As for “no real star” on the women’s side…excuse me? Apparently Grandpa Simmons missed the memo advising us that Maria Sharapova is back on tour. No female athlete on this planet has more star power than her Royal Blondeness. The bottom line on her bank statement is proof. Had there been a lack of oomph to the women’s tour? You bet. Then Ostapenko happened on the red clay of Roland Garros. She’s a spark plug. Muguruza has style and tremendous appeal. Stephens is a bundle of charisma. Now Sharapova is back, and new mama Serena Williams hopefully will resurface at the Australian Open in January, perhaps with her bambino in tow. I’d pay to watch any of them play. Venus Williams, too. She should be saluted, not scorned, for being so competitive at age 37.

Guess the weekly commute from Montreal to the Republic of Tranna is quite costly, because Michael Farber was cut from the starting lineup on The Reporters due to budget restrictions. I just wish they’d given us a vote on who got culled from the herd.

Rafa and Roger

Grandpa Simmons wasn’t the only scribe donning a clown costume last week. Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail tells us he’s had his fill of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. Doesn’t want to see them anymore. “For its own sake, men’s tennis needs to start moving on from its top-two fetish,” he scribbles in a rambling treatise. “And not just as far as Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, who are exactly like their better, older peers, only boring. Tennis needs to turn a page, rip the page out, then find a new book. We’ve been at this for a decade and it started to get old when Stephen Harper was still in charge. It’s time to move on from the greatest rivalry in the history of men’s tennis.” Oh, yes, by all means let’s do that. I mean, doesn’t everyone want to see Kevin Anderson in more Grand Slam finals? Good grief. Get a grip, man.

Here’s what Kelly wrote after Roger Federer had won the Australian Open last January: “We now have to confront the real possibility that Federer might never stop being great at tennis. Maybe he’ll just go on forever. Nobody would complain.” And now here he is, eight months later, complaining about Federer seemingly going on forever. Sigh.

Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe

My five favorite all-time rivalries…
1. Bjorn Borg-John McEnroe: Bjorn was my main man.
2. Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier: Brutal, especially the Thrilla in Manilla.
3. Jack and Arnie: I was a member of Arnie’s Army.
4. Secretariat-Sham: Never saw anything like Secretariat, before or since 1973.
5. Martina Navratilova-Chris Evert: Liked Chrissie until she got engaged to loathsome Jimmy Connors.

Longtime hockey scribe Eric Duhatschek has defected from the Globe and Mail to The Athletic Calgary, part of an expanding online sports venture that features some top-level writing talent. Pierre LeBrun, Michael Russo, James Mirtle and Craig Custance are among the ever-growing stable of scribes at The Athletic, which now has franchises in each of Canada’s National Hockey League cities. No word on who’s covering the Jets and Blue Bombers in Winnipeg, but Mirtle, the man putting it all together, says she or he is on the way.

I walked into a newsroom for the first time 48 years ago yesterday. My hope was to stay at the Winnipeg Tribune for 50 years. Neither of us made it. The Trib went toes up in my 11th year and I felt obliged to bail from the rag trade after 30 years. To the day. None of the people with whom I worked at the beginning—running mail and copy to the various departments inside the old building at the corner of Smith and Graham—remain in the newspaper business. Five of the sports guys—Jack Matheson, Uncle Vince Leah, Gus Collins and freelancers Harold Loster and Ron Meyers—are dead. The very nice man who took a chance and hired a scrawny, 18-year-old kid fresh out of Miles Macdonell Collegiate on Sept. 10, 1969, Don Delisle, left us 10 years ago this month. I’m not sure how and why I’m still here, but I believe I shall continue to crank out the crap for a bit longer. Might still make it to 50 years. Or maybe just five more days. We’ll see.

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