Bud Grant has left the building, at age 95, so you’ll excuse me if I wax nostalgic this morning…
When I hear the name Bud Grant, two things immediately pop to mind: The Grey Cup and the Day of the Watermelon.
Way back in the day, you see, my friend Chester and I would hop on our bikes and pedal from Melbourne Avenue in East Kildonan to Packers Field, a parched patch of earth across the street from a meat rendering plant in St. Boniface.
We would make this journey twice every day, morning and afternoon. We did so because Packers Field is where we would find our football heroes, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. These were the late 1950s/early 1960s Bombers of Kenny Ploen and Leo Lewis and Ernie Pitts and Pepe Latourelle and Herb Gray et al, and while they grabbed grass and growled in what would hopefully become another Grey Cup-winning crusade, we stood on the sidelines of this sun-scorched field and observed as if we were familiar with the inner workings of football.
“I see the jury has arrived,” Pitts said as he greeted us upon arrival one day.
Chester and I looked at each other. The great Ernie Pitts, the all-star receiver, had spoken to us. We didn’t know how to respond or react, so we did what most kids would have done—we gave one another a gob-smacked look and giggled.
Shortly thereafter, Grant, the legendary coach, blew his whistle to signal a halt to the on-field activity. He gathered his players, spoke to them briefly and they began to trudge toward the sideline, most of them walking past Chester and I as they headed toward a white cube van parked near the west end of the field.
This had been the final session of their two-a-day workouts, the most demanding, onerous and imposing portion of training camp, and our football heroes were sweaty, stinky and as parched as the field beneath their cleated feet. We followed them and watched with urchin-like curiosity as a man with a lumpy waistline raised the back door of the van. Watermelon. Behind that door was a truckload of beautiful, refreshing watermelon.
That was the players’ post-practice reward for making it through the two-a-days.
Chester and I collected our bikes and were about to leave when we heard a voice call out. We turned and looked back. It was Bud Grant.
“Here,” he said, “you kids have been out here all week just like the players. This is for you.”
He handed us a watermelon, about the size of a football. A member of the training staff cracked it open and two kids sat eating watermelon and spitting seeds with the Grey Cup champions.
How many kids could say they sat and spat watermelon seeds among sporting deity? Only Chester and myself from our neighborhood. It was magical.
The Bombers, after all, were top dogs. The Winnipeg Jets had yet to arrive to adjust the sports pecking order in Good Ol’ Hometown, and our gridiron gods had brought us great glory, winning the Grey Cup in 1958, ’59, ’61 and ’62.
I’ve told the Bud Grant watermelon story a few times, because those morning/afternoon sessions at Packers Field are among my most cherished childhood memories and serve as the first stirrings of my life-long fling with the Canadian Football League.
I was fortunate. Actually, blessed would be a better word. I grew up when the CFL mattered from the Left Coast to Montreal (and perhaps even in the Maritimes), then I got to cover it for 19 years in three locales—the Republic of Tranna, Calgary and, finally, Winnipeg.
And I’ve been a member of Bombers Nation since that Day of the Watermelon, all thanks to Bud Grant.
History records that Grant served as Bombers sideline steward for 10 crusades, 1957-66, making six trips to the Grey Cup game and winning four times. Fifty-seven years later, those totals remain Winnipeg FC standards, as does his tally of 102 regular-season Ws. Legend.
After learning of Grant’s passing, I was curious about what one legend, Jack Matheson, had to say about another legend bolting from the Bombers to the Minnesota Vikings in March 1967.
“You knew about class, just by looking at his athletes milling about an air terminal; or riding 35,000 feet high on a diet of coffee, tea or milk; or checking into a hotel. Ask the stewardi, or the desk clerks, and they’ll tell you the Blue Bombers were winners. A white shirt and tie wasn’t good enough, it had to be a CLEAN white shirt and tie, because that was Grant’s style.
“If you’re going to go in style, you might as well go first class, I always say. That was Bud Grant’s way, and it was a good feeling, knowing he was in charge. Now that you mention it, I never really did see him walk on water, but he was right about so much, so often, that most of us got to the stage when it wouldn’t have surprised us.
“I guess we always knew that Bud would be leaving some day, because ambition drives big men to bigger things and it was naive to think that Grant would be part of the scenery until the end of time, if not longer. When I called and wished him well on Saturday I said I understood about him wanting to coach in the big leagues. ‘Don’t forget this is the big leagues here, too,’ he said. That’s class.”
Just so you know, Grant made his exit Stage South for a fabulous National Football League adventure (one NFL title, four trips to the Super Bowl) on March 11, 1967, just one month after he had signed a five-year deal to remain on Maroons Road. Some among the rabble thought him to be quite the Benedict Arnold for going over the wall, but most of us, like Matty, understood his desire to try his hand stateside.
Interesting how the two dailies in Good Ol’ Hometown played the Grant story: The Winnipeg Sun has it on the front of the paper today, plus three pages inside, with quality articles from Paul Friesen and Ted Wyman, both of whom picked up a phone and talked to people who knew the man. Over at the Drab Slab, apparently everyone took the day off. There was just one article, written by wire services, and one canned quote from Bombers CEO Wade Miller. So very lame.
Let me say this: I’m glad there’s a TSN, even if its devotion to all things Republic of Tranna is insufferable. But who decides the story lineup for SportsCentre? Circus clowns? A couple of kids playing rock, paper, scissors on a street corner? I mean, a pair of the deepest pockets in Canada are now bankrolling the Montreal Alouettes, and it was item No. 6 on the docket Friday. Apparently, an NFL swap of mostly draft picks, NBA highlights of 3-pointers, NHL highlights, soccer and the second round of a PGA tournament were more newsworthy than noted Quebec separatist Pierre Karl Péladeau picking up the tab for the Larks with a portion of his $1.9 billion fortune. Sigh.
This was TSN insider Dave Naylor’stake on the Larks time slot: “As the reporter who covered this story for TSN, let me state I believe it is appropriately placed in our SportsCentre lineup. 23 minutes into a 1-hour show in March? No objections at all.” Good grief, man. What in the name of Rod Black does the calendar have to do with it? News is news 12 months of the year.
The Péladeau takeover is hugely significant because the other eight Rouge Football outfits won’t be required to pay the bills in Montreal, and Pierre Karl’s abundance of wealth puts the Larks on sturdy financial footing. Mind you, if he starts acting like the second coming of the Glieberman guys, all bets are off. We don’t need Separatist Sunday game-day promotions.
Here’s Damien Cox of the Toronto Star on Twitter: “Pretty clear the men running national sports federations will never treat female athletes equally until they are forced to, or forced out of office. They always have believed male athletes deserve more, and should play by a different set of rules.” Oh for gawd’s sake. That’s like Tiger Woods telling Max Verstappen he has to be more alert behind the wheel. I mean, has Cox ever looked at his own business? When have major newspapers on Our Frozen Tundra ever treated female athletes equally? Or even close to equal? Never, that’s when. Because the guys who run the rag trade in this country “always have believed male athletes deserve more.”
In today’s Star, only three of 19 articles articles focus on female athletes/teams: Premier Hockey Federation, skier Makaela Shiffrin, NWSL. Perhaps Cox can have a fireside chat with his sports editor. If the Star has a sports editor, that is.
I note the Winnipeg Sun is still running Steve Simmons’ Republic of Tranna-centric alphabet fart on Sundays. So I ask once again: Why? Oh, wait, I forgot: It’s actually the Torontopeg Sun.
Just wondering: Does anyone truly believe Tom Brady is retired, and does anyone believe Aaron Rodgers will make up his mind? Here’s a better question: Why don’t the Green Bay Packers make up Rodgers’ mind for him? Like, let Mr. Tin Foil QB leave for parts unknown, then lure Brady to Wisconsin.
I don’t know if the Toronto Jurassics will qualify for the NBA playoffs, but if points were awarded for whining about game officials they’d be in first place.
And, finally, it was 50 years ago last week when New York Yankees pitchers Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich completed the most oddball trade in Major League Baseball history: They swapped wives, children and family pets. True story.
Is it too late for New Year’s greetings, Jason? Naw. It’s still January, so happy New Year to you and your stable of scribes in the toy department at the Drab Slab. Hope it’s a good one, full of scoops, fab features and smooth press runs.
Okay, now that the pleasantries are out of the way, let’s get down to business.
I read with interest your Jan. 20 email newsletter, in which you waxed on about your interaction with Winnipeg Free Press readers and, at the same time, gave yourself and staff an “atta boy” for a job well done. Notably, you cited curling as an area of substantial pride.
“I venture to say no media outlet in Canada makes it a priority to cover local curling like we do,” you wrote.
Well, Jason, I certainly agree that your attention to Pebble People is admirable and in keeping with a rich tradition, whereby daily newspapers in Good Ol’ Hometown treat the hurry hard crowd like deity. But I hope you didn’t hurt yourself with that vigorous pat on the back. I mean, you do well by today’s curlers, but it pales when compared to coverage of yore. (More on that in a bit.)
For now, let’s deal with the overall tone of your newsletter.
You invited readers to “keep those calls, letters and emails coming—and don’t hold back with your opinions of how we’re doing in the Free Press ‘toy department’. Bring it with both barrels blazing.”
Well, okay, here’s one barrel: I’ve got some interesting numbers for you to digest, and they might be enough to make you choke on your Cheerios or poached eggs or dried toast (or whatever else is on your breakfast menu this morning).
Just so you know, I monitored the pages of your Drab Slab during 2022 in a quest to determine how much focus you, as sports editor, place on female athletes/teams hither, yon and in Good Ol’ Hometown, and I can’t say I’m surprised at my findings. They include:
Articles/briefs exclusive to male athletes/teams: 4,304 (358 monthly average)
Articles/briefs exclusive to female athletes teams: 657 (55 monthly average).
Monthly average of articles/briefs exclusive to local female athletes/teams: 12.
More than half of sports sections had zero (0) local female sports coverage.
So what’s your excuse, Jason?
The paper’s editor, Paul Samyn, likes to tell readers like myself that the Freep emphasis is on local, local, local. Perhaps that’s true in the other sections of the sheet, but the evidence confirms that home girls/women are getting short shrift on your sports pages.
Except for curlers, of course.
You love our female Pebble People, Jason. You worked the hurry hard beat (and did a boffo job) before landing the editor gig in the toy department, so you know where curling sits in the pecking order. And, hey, if you were to ignore the women you’d surely get an earful at the dinner table, since your bride, Allyson, is a two-time Manitoba Scotties champion.
Just don’t get your chest feathers too fluffed up.
Your coverage isn’t as voluminous or as thorough as back in the day, when Jack Matheson was churning it out for the Winnipeg Tribune and Don Blanchard at the Drab Slab. Hell, it wasn’t just Matty and Blanch. We all covered curling at the Trib. Every ink-stained one of us. Matty insisted on it. He had Davey Komosky as his right-hand man, and he also brought two local curlers on board, Ina Light and Marg Hudson, to scribble weekly columns on the women’s game. Blanch wasn’t flying solo at the Freep, either. His main accomplice was Ralph Bagley. Maybe it was over-the-top. I mean, devoting an entire broadsheet page to photos of all event winners in the annual MCA bonspiel? Who does that? We did. You don’t.
You don’t cover female athletes/teams, either, Jason. Not really. The scant space you devote to them smacks of “oh, by the way” tokenism.
Your predecessor, Steve Lyons, wrote this in October 2020: “We can’t control how many wire stories we get each day on women’s sports, so our solution to moving the needle in this area has always been to focus on being as equitable as possible on local sports.”
Ya, it was equitable under his watch like a nickel is worth a dollar.
I don’t expect you to answer for Lyons’ sins, Jason, but nothing’s changed with your hands on the wheel. Seriously, 12 local articles/briefs per month? You give Kyle Connor more ink than that just for brushing his teeth. Zach Collaros farts and it gets bigger play than the JFK assassination.
And I get it. The Jets and Bombers are the big dogs in town. People want to read about them. But c’mon, man. You can’t convince me that the girls/women who run, jump, tumble, swim, throw, catch, hit, shoot, kick or dribble a ball in Good Ol’ Hometown and environs are noteworthy just one dozen times a month. What, female accomplishments are less worthy?
Look, Jason, not every person is an athlete, but every athlete is a person. Don’t they all have a story to tell? Including the women/girls?
Perhaps the softness of female coverage is due to the makeup of your sports staff: Six dudes.
I mean, I’ve known male jock journos who’d rather clean up after the circus elephants than spend a chunk of their afternoon/evening watching girls/women throw, catch, kick or hit a ball. You might as well ask the guy to spend a weekend bingeing on those sappy Hallmark movies. I’d like to think your guys aren’t of that ilk, Jason, not even subconsciously.
But something is holding you back, because the numbers don’t lie.
It’s fair that I point out you’ve upped your game in the past six days, mainly because the Manitoba Scotties is right under your nose, but six days is a small sample size and I suspect it will be back to business as usual until the women gather in Kamloops for the national championship next month.
In the meantime, curiosity sent me on a fact-finding mission, Jason, and I examined our female coverage (articles and/or briefs exclusive to the girls/women) at the Tribune in January 1980 and compared it to your sports section’s work this month. Here are the numbers:
Tribune: 26 editions, 48 local female stories/briefs (19 curling) 22 of 26 editions included local female copy Free Press: 28 editions, 20 local female stories/briefs (9 curling) 13 of 28 editions included local female copy
I’m not suggesting that you flip the calendar back four-plus decades, Jason. I’m just pointing out there’s room for improvement on the female file. You can do better. Much, much better.
The thing is, you might not feel obliged to be the best you can be. After all, Postmedia has reduced the Winnipeg Sun sports staff and section to bare bones—three guys, some days just three pages, zero travel budget. Postmedia is making them shovel the driveway with a spoon. You’ve got a front-end loader. So, hey, you might be feeling smug, with gusts up to arrogance. Why bust your onions, right? Except that would be cheating the business.
I realize the Freep can’t be all things to all people, Jason, but you have the staff and space to give girls/women a better shake. All you really need is the desire and commitment to do it.
Well, that’s one barrel blazing, Jason. And, remember, you invited the critique. Be careful what you wish for, man.
Jennifer Jonesand her twentysomething gal pals— Karlee Burgess, Mackenzie Zacharias, Emily Zacharias, Lauren Lenintine—won the Manitoba Scotties today, and I think it’s fair to wonder when the Grand Dame of Pebble People will slow down. Jennifer is 48 and has no more curling mountains to climb, yet she’s still climbing curling mountains. Next up is Mount Scotties in Kamloops, where she’ll be hunting her seventh Canadian women’s title in her 17th appearance. She’ll be wearing the Manitoba buffalo on her back for the ninth time. Astonishing.
Brooke Henderson’s win to open the Ladies Professional Golf Association season last weekend was a reminder that the chatterbugs and editors at The Canadian Press got it all wrong when they anointed Marie-Philip Poulin our country’s top female athlete for 2022. Poulin played a grand total of 14 meaningful hockey games in 12 months. Fourteen. In a two-country competition. She was not Canada’s leading scorer (Sarah Nurse), goal-scorer (Brianne Jenner) or tournament MVP (Jenner) at the Olympic Games. She was not Canada’s leading goal-scorer (Sarah Fillier) or its only all-star (Fillier) at the world championship. Henderson, on the other hand, teed it up in 22 LPGA tournaments (76 rounds) against truly global fields (players from 13 different countries won in 2022) and finished atop the leaderboard twice, including a major. Seems to me the gang at CP has officially reduced Brooke’s accomplishments to ho-hum status, and that’s a shame.
Why do both dailies in Good Ol’ Hometown think it’s a big deal when one of the Winnipeg Jets is added to the field for the Manitoba Open? This year it’s Blake Wheeler’s turn to hack his way around Southwood, and there’s no reason to suspect he’ll be more successful than Rink Rat Scheifele (rounds of 86, 87, 78, 84) or Kyle Connor (94, 90). It’s a footnote at best, not a story.
Hey, maybe Wheeler can tear a page out of the Donald Trump book of golf hijinks. The Commander-in-Cheat claims to have won the recent senior championship at Trump International, except he was at a funeral in North Carolina when everyone else was playing the first round in West Palm Beach, Fla. Gives new meaning to the term “unplayable lie.”
Mr. Money Pants Bill Gates was observed at the Australian Open tennis tournament, sitting courtside for the men’s singles final between Novak Djokovic and Stefanos Tsitsipas last night. You might be interested in knowing the sticker price for his seats in the hoity-toity section of Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne—$27,500. Who said money can’t buy you love?
On the subject of large coin, future Rouge Football hall-of-fame quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell has signed with the Hamilton Tabbies for $500,000 and change. Hmmm. Wonder how much they’d be willing to pay Bo Levi if he could still fling a football farther than he can spit.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and still no word on the if and when of a CFL season, but here’s something else that’s real iffy…
Stop me if you’ve heard this before:
“I believe we’re close to having a team that has a chance to challenge for the Stanley Cup, and I’m really looking forward to that…we’re a lot closer than some people will give us credit for…I look forward to these next five years.”
Sound familiar? It should.
Blake Wheeler said much the same as Adam Lowry scant seconds after scratching his John Hancock on a six-year contract with the Winnipeg Jets.
“I believe in people like (owner) Mark Chipman and Chevy, what everyone stands for and especially in my teammates. I have believed since I got here that we have what it takes to get to the next level, so this is just a part of that process. I truly believe that great things are in store for this group,” the then-future captain told news snoops.
Wheels was 26 at the time. There will be 35 candles on his birthday cake in August.
Lend an ear to Rink Rat Scheifele who, upon agreeing to an eight-year contract in 2016, expressed a robust belief in “the organization, in the players on the team, in the future prospects.”
The Rink Rat was 23. He’s now 28.
Connor Hellebuyck, the Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender, locked in for six years and said, “The tools are in this locker room to be a championship team. I love it here and I want to be here and I really believe this team has what it takes.”
Hellebuyck was 25. He turns 28 next month.
And now we have another long-hauler, Lowry, parroting his teammates’ faith in a process that began in 2011 and has delivered the grand sum of two post-season series victories, both in the spring of 2018.
Lowry is 28. The freshly minted contract he signed on Friday will take him to 33.
So what’s my point? Just this: Unless your name is Evander Kane, Jacob Trouba, Dustin Byfuglien, Patrik Laine or Jack Roslovic, the Jets have all gulped down the Kool-Aid in a cultish-like obedience. They believe. And that’s the reason what went down at last week’s National Hockey League shop-and-swap deadline rankles.
We know Kevin Cheveldayoff kicked some tires on top-four defencemen, and we know the sticker price sent the Jets general manager running like a guy trying to stay two steps ahead of a loan shark.
We can assume his contemporaries were eager to fleece him and take Ville Heinola, Cole Perfetti and other shiny objects off his hands in exchange for their lame, halting and hard of seeing, but that was never going to happen because Chevy places premium value on his young studs. You might have a better chance of prying his bride, Janet, and their two kids away from him.
So it was no sale. Chevy allowed the NHL trade window to close with a whimper, and the Jets are no closer to the Stanley Cup today than a week ago, unless you consider a bottom-end, plug-in blueliner (hello, Jordie Benn) a shiny object.
Oddly enough, many among the rabble, also some news snoops, have given Chevy a tip of the chapeau and a slap on the back for his do-little day, because he “protected assets,” meaning he clung to young wannabes Heinola, Perfetti and others like gum to the bottom of a shoe.
Well let me tell you something about assets: They don’t stay forever young.
Chevy is protecting the future when most of the parts are in place for today’s Jets team. Add the right top-four defender and we might be talking about a parade route. But the Jets GM chose to stand still, even as time refuses to stand still for his significant core workers.
Wheeler’s prime years have been wasted. Scheifele and Hellebuyck are into prime time. Same with Lowry, Andrew Copp and Dylan DeMelo. And don’t look now, but Josh Morrissey is 26.
Which begs this question: If the Jets GM was unwilling to go all-in now, when?
This was the time for derring-do, an opportunity for Chevy to orchestrate what could have become his signature moment, lifting the Jets to that “next level” Wheeler spoke of all those years ago.
Well, here’s something else the captain said, when he re-upped in September 2018: “It kind of looks like that (Stanley Cup) window is opening up.”
Apparently Chevy missed the memo.
I don’t know if the GM will reflect on this crusade five years from now and view it as the one that got away, but Blake Wheeler might. Rink Rat Scheifele, Connor Hellebuyck and others like Lowry who’ve committed long term might, as well.
Chevy should be kicking himself. Right in the assets.
Something Bryan Little said when the Jets’ playoff aspirations had been dashed in March 2017 is haunting: “It’s another year of your career that you can’t get back. Some of the best players in this room are the youngest. There’s definitely a bright future, but some guys are older and want to do something right now. That’s the thinking going into next year.” Little was 29. He’s now 33, wounded beyond repair, and there is no next year. Not for him. But why must it always be “next year” for Scheifele, Hellebuyck, Lowry et al?
As I was saying last week, I don’t buy into the Jack Campbell hype that news snoops in the Republic of Tranna have been spreading like thick, gooey peanut butter. He’s been a career backup goaltender for a reason, and Maple Leafs loyalists are beginning to see why. For all their talent, the Leafs are vulnerable in the blue paint, whereas Hellebuyck gives the Jets the best puck stopping in the Hoser Division (yes, including Carey Price). And we all know what that means when the boys begin to play for keeps, which is the very reason Chevy shouldn’t have dithered last week.
I don’t know about you, but I’m digging the threads our Canadian athletes will be wearing for the closing ceremonies at the Tokyo Olympics this summer, if there is a Tokyo Olympics, that is. Ya, sure, you can say the denim jacket looks like a teenage graffiti artist had a moment of madness, but I look at it more as a stroke of genius. There’s a youth-cool vibe to the kit, something you might wear on a pub crawl, or wherever it is that our young people go these days. It’s totally boffo compared to the get-ups that noted needle-and-thread guy Ralph Lauren designed for our American friends. I can’t tell if he’s dressed the U.S. team for the next space shuttle mission or an expedition to the South Pole.
I’ll take nose-pickers for $2,000, Alex. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has completed his gig as guest host on Jeopardy!, and he let us in on a little secret about the sticky notes he used to aid his performance. One of them read: “Don’t pick your butt/nose.” Seriously. He needs a sticky note to remind himself not to pick his nose on camera? And the Packers trust Rodgers to call audibles in the red zone?
Apparently, producers of Fox NFL Sunday were so impressed with Rodgers’ work on Jeopardy! that they plan to equip Terry Bradshaw with sticky notes to improve his work: 1. “Remember, this ain’t Hee Haw.” 2. “Powder shiny head during every commercial break.” 3. “Do not mention gap in Michael’s teeth.” 4. “Do not laugh at Howie’s 1950s haircut because at least he has hair.” 5. “Resist all urges to muss up Jimmy’s hair.” 6. “Do not tell Rob Riggle he isn’t as funny as Frank Caliendo.” 7. “Remember, guy sitting beside you is Curt, not James.” 8. “Jay Glazer is human, he just looks like a garden gnome.” 9. “Mention four Super Bowl rings whenever Jimmy mentions two Super Bowl rings.” 10. “When in doubt, always refer to sticky note No. 1.”
Favorite headline of the weekwas delivered by the New York Post: “How Yankees can address their crappiness.” Anything that combines New York Yankees and “crappiness” is right by me, although I’m sure George Steinbrenner’s son Hal wouldn’t agree.
If your product needs to add some sizzle and pizzazz, who you gonna call? Well, Major League Baseball has called Brian Stedman, now responsible for strategy and development. That would be the same Brian Stedman who, for the past seven years, carried the sizzle-and-pizzazz portfolio for Vince McMahon’s cast of characters in World Wrestling Entertainment. That will be quite an adjustment for Stedman. I mean, the play actors in wrestling are allowed to hit each other with everything including the kitchen sink, but the Yankees can’t hit anything.
Old friend Big Jim Bender took a bit of a paddywhacking on Twitter last week, after he made a flippant remark about the Brendan Bottcher foursome failing to win a trinket at the world curling championship but securing an Olympic berth for Canada. “Was the very least they could do,” Big Jim wrote. The Pebble People pounced. Darren Moulding, third on the Bottcher team, called the former Winnipeg Sun scribe “a joke,” adding, “You’re a stain on our country, not me.” Harsh. Olympian and TSN talking head Cheryl Bernard weighed in, describing Bender’s comment as “crap.” Oh my. Who knew the delightful Cheryl could be so undelightful? Anyway, not that he plans to call me to the stand as a character witness, but let the record show that Big Jim is a friend of curler’s everywhere. He’s spent more time in chilly two-sheeters than most people I know, so, as Strother Martin told Cool Hand Luke, “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”
Speaking of Pebble People, Rachel Homan played in the Scotties Tournament of Hearts title match on the final day of February while eight months pregnant. She then went home to bring daughter Bowyn into the world, and now the former Canadian/world champ has returned to the fray, skipping her team in the Humpty’s Champions Cup just three weeks after giving birth. Meanwhile, Kawhi Leonard won’t be available to the L.A. Clippers today because he needs a rest—after sitting the last four games. I swear, if men could get pregnant and give birth, there would be no male sports.
Nobody asked me, but I’d say the selection committee for the Canadian Football Hall of Fame got it right when they chose Marv Levy, Nik Lewis, Will Johnson, Mike Walker, Orlondo Steinauer, Don Wilson and Doug Mitchell as this year’s inductees. These things are always ripe for debate, of course, and we usually hear some squawking whenever a sports body salutes the best of the best, but I don’t hear any arguments about the class of 2021, nor should there be.
And that’s not to ignore broadcasters Bernie Pascall and Bob Hooper, who got the nod from the Football Reporters of Canada and will go into the CFHF media wing. Hooper was a long-time Hamilton Tabbies play-by-play voice, and Pascall’s career chatting about Rouge Football on radio and TV spans decades. Unfortunately, Bob’s not around to enjoy the honor, but Bernie’s still with us, so he has something fresh to talk about with the neighbors on beautiful Vancouver Island.
The CFHF media wing is the ultimate boys’ club. By my scorecard, there are now 101 members, all men. Yup, 101-0. I realize there haven’t been a lot of women on the beat, but in my 20 years covering the Canadian Football League in three cities (Winnipeg, Calgary, Republic of Tranna), I can recall sharing a press box at Grey Cup games with Ashley Prest of the Drab Slab and Joanne Ireland of the Edmonton Journal. Ashley also knew her way around the University of Manitoba campus to cover coach Brian Dobie’s Bisons, and there might be some high school grid in her resumé, too, because that’s what most of us did back in the day. We started at the bottom and worked our way up. So it seems to me that the boys on the beat should find room for trailblazers like Ashley or Joanne.
Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna has made his annual plea for Dick Thornton’s induction to the CFHF, and I can’t disagree with Sy. Tricky Dick certainly has the bona fides, including two Grey Cup victories with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and multiple all-star salutes, and he also happens to be one of the more colorful characters in CFL lore. Legendary Bombers coach Bud Grant once said this of his defensive back/wannabe quarterback/kick returner/kicker: “When most players arrive in a new town, the first thing they do is phone a girl. When Dick Thornton arrives, he phones a sports writer.”
Tricky Dick had an ego the size of a football field, and here’s how the great columnist Jack Matheson once described him in the Winnipeg Tribune: “The writers and broadcasters treat No. 14 with considerable respect because he’s hot copy, in or out of uniform. His eccentricities are always guaranteed to liven a dull scene and for conversation Thornton holds all records for Blue Bombers of the modern era. The conversation always seems to revolve around Dick Thornton, but he has a magnetism and I’ve never seen anybody walk away from Dick Thornton when his mouth was open.” Another time, Matty wrote this of Thornton: “An incurable extrovert who played harder with his larynx than his limbs.”
Final note on Dick Thornton: The Bombers traded him to the Toronto Argos the same day the Maple Leafs cleared the track and sent Eddie Shack to the Boston Bruins. I guess the Republic of Tranna just wasn’t big enough for two clown acts.
Still getting creepy vibes from those face mashups TSN featured on its NHL trade deadline coverage. It’s clever work by Matty Go Sens, but morphing the faces of Gino Reda and Craig Button into one is the kind of stuff that will keep kids awake at night. Ditto the James Duthie/Bob McKenzie blending. I haven’t been so frightened since Alfred Hitchcock had all those nasty birds attack Tippi Hedren.
This from Steve Simmons: “The top four goaltenders in all-time wins are Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy, Roberto Luongo and now Marc-Andre Fleury. All of them Quebecois. And there’s not a single Quebec goalie of consequence (apologies to Jonathan Bernier) playing in today’s NHL.” Hmmm. Last time I checked, Marc-Andre Fleury was still a Quebecois and leading the NHL in shutouts.
Patrick Marleau will lace ’em up for his 1,768th NHL skirmish on Monday night, moving past Gordie Howe for most games played. It’s a terrific achievement. Worth noting, however, are their birth certificates. Howe was 52 when he finally shut down, Marleau is 41. And, at 52, Howe was a significant contributor for the Hartford Whalers, scoring 15 goals and 41 points in 80 games, plus another two points in three playoff jousts. Marleau is 4-4-8 in what looks to be another lost season for the San Jose Sharks.
And, finally, on the subject of legendary performers, I discovered a DVD of Tony Bennett: An American Classic at a local video story the other day, and I snapped it up immediately. Fan-freaking-tastic. Tony’s duets with Barbra Streisand and our Canadian songbird k.d. lang brought on the water works (sheer brilliance renders me very emotional), and there was only one sour note struck—the November 2006 TV special was far too short, just 42 minutes. I wanted at least an hour more.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and let’s salute the girls and ladies of sports on the eve of International Women’s Day…
I spent 30 years in the rag trade and worked alongside four women—Peggy Stewart and Rita Mingo at the Winnipeg Tribune, Mary Ormsby at the Toronto Sun, and Judy Owen at the Winnipeg Sun.
Oh, wait. There was a fifth.
We had a summer intern at the Calgary Sun, although her name escapes me. I recall that she failed to surface for her first day of work (something about her car breaking down in Banff on a long weekend—nudge-nudge, wink-wink), and that was our initial clue that she might have made a wrong turn on her career path.
Hey, I get it. Cars break down all the time. Been there, done that and had the hefty repair bills to prove it. Happens to us all. But in Banff? On a long weekend? How positively convenient.
I jokingly informed sports editor John Down that I would have crawled from Banff to Calgary if it meant arriving to my first assignment at the designated hour, but Downsy was as laid back as a Sunday afternoon on the porch, and he let it slide. Alas, that young lady with the pleasant personality one day showed up to cover a golf tournament a bit too uncovered. She was wearing hot pants and stilettos, and she sashayed onto the practice green in her spiked heels, puncturing the immaculately groomed lawn.
Her internship was aborted shortly thereafter.
Not because of her wardrobe malfunction, understand. That would have been an unacceptable double standard, even in the early 1980s.
I mean, none of my male colleagues back in the day were GQ cover material, the exception being Shakey Johnson, who knew how to hang a three-piece suit. The rest of the lot were borderline slobs. Some looked like they’d spent the night sleeping with a raccoon family under a bridge. Their idea of evening wear was a white shirt with anything less than three ketchup or mustard stains. But sartorial slobbery was a non-issue.
So, no, the young lady intern’s dismissal wasn’t about one ghastly fashion foible. It was her lack of zest for the job, the absence of an all-in mindset, and iffy subject knowledge. Let’s just say it became readily apparent that writing sports at the Sun wasn’t meant to be her calling.
Anyway, there were four full-time female sports scribes during my tour of duty, and I can’t imagine any of them considered wearing a pair of Daisy Dukes to the golf course, rink, ball park or stadium.
Rita, Judy and Mary all enjoyed lengthy, admirable careers in journalism, but I don’t know what became of the ever-smiling Peggy Stewart, hired by Jack Matheson as the first female to write sports full time at a major daily newspaper in Western Canada.
Today, the landscape in Good Ol’ Hometown is barren, with zero females in the toy departments at either of the daily newspapers.
Why is that? I’m uncertain. It could be that the rag trade has become too much of a bad bet. Maybe it’s still too much of a boys club. Perhaps it’s a reluctance to enter man caves and deal with brooding, boorish male athletes and/or coaches
“You know, it may just be a lack of interest in writing sports, rather than doors being closed for them,” Judy Owen suggests in an email. “After all, sports hours—when the world is normal—are kind of crappy and the sometimes-crazy deadline writing isn’t very appealing to a lot of journalists.”
Good point. The hours really do suck and often mean you’re not hopping into the kip until well after the pumpkin hour on game nights.
Whatever the case, the female sports scribe is extinct in Winnipeg, so here’s to those who were once there—Judy, Rita, Ashley Prest, Barb Huck and Melissa Martin.
How are we doing with coverage of women’s sports? Not so good. A 2019 U.S. study tells us that 40 per cent of athletes are female, yet the distaff side of the playground receives just 4 per cent of ink and air time. What about in Good Ol’ Hometown, though? Are the Winnipeg Sun and Drab Slab giving the ladies a fair shake? Well, I monitored both sheets for three months—November, December, January—and the findings aren’t favorable. The evidence:
Women on the sports front
Free Press 16 of 90 editions.
Sun 3 of 89 editions.
Copy on female sports
Free Press 74 articles, 30 briefs.
Sun 20 articles, 7 briefs.
Editions with coverage of female sports
Free Press 63 of 90.
Sun 24 of 89.
Naturally, the numbers were jacked up in February during the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, but I suspect coverage will revert to same old, same old moving forward.
TSN’s ratings for the Scotties final last Sunday took a face plant from a year ago, with an average of 682,000 sets of eyeballs checking out Kerri Einarson-Rachel Homan II, a sequel to the 2020 championship match that attracted 979,000 viewers. I trust no one is surprised, because it’s an industry-wide reality for major events during the COVID pandemic. Here are the facts, ma’am:
Stanley Cup final: -61%
U.S. Open golf: -56%
NBA final: -49%
Kentucky Derby: -49%
U.S. Open tennis: -45%
World Series: -31%
Super Bowl: -15%
I didn’t tune in to every draw of the Scotties, but I can report that I never heard one F-bomb, or any other salty language, from the lady curlers in the draws I watched. Somehow I doubt I’ll be able to say the same of the men at the close of business at this week’s Brier. They can be quite potty-mouthed Pebble People.
Gather ’round the campfire, kids, old friend Peter Young has a curling tale to tell. It’s all about a Snake and the longtime broadcaster faking it, which is to say Pete covered a Brier in Ottawa from the Forum in Montreal. True story. I don’t know if that makes him the Father of Zoom, but he surely was ahead of his time.
If the Columbus Blue Jackets send head coach John Tortorella packing, please don’t tell me there’s a job waiting for him on Sportsnet or TSN.
Jennifer Botterill is fantastic on Sportsnet’s hockey coverage. Just saying.
Muhammad Yaseen of Alberta’s provincial Hee-Haw Party has introduced a bill in the Legislature proposing that rodeo become the official sport of Wild Rose Country. He sees it as a “beacon of hope.” Animal rights activists, meanwhile, see it as a steaming pile of BS. They figure if you’re going to pay homage to a bunch of big, dumb animals that work for no more than eight seconds a day, why not the Calgary Flames?
When you think about it, Yaseen’s pitch makes sense for Alberta, where Wrangler jeans and straw hats are considered formal attire. Each year the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association sanctions approximately 50 events in Wild Rose Country, and there are probably just as many rodeos that fly under the radar. Hmmm. That’s a lot of road apples to clean up. About the biggest mess since Flames GM Brad Treliving took on Milan Lucic’s contract.
Actually, the Looch is having a decent year. He has more goals (six) than National Hockey League luminaries Nathan MacKinnon, Evgeni Malkin, Jack Eichel, Claude Giroux and Taylor Hall, so maybe I should stop picking on him. On second thought, naw.
Cleveland Browns QB Baker Mayfield claims he observed a UFO while driving home from dinner in Austin, Texas, last week. He described the object as a “very bright ball of light.” UFO experts immediately pooh-poohed the sighting, claiming Mayfield had actually just seen the top of Terry Bradshaw’s head.
Archaeologists continue to make amazing discoveries in the ruins of Pompeii, the ancient Roman city buried by volcanic spewings in 79 AD. The latest finding has them really excited. It’s a ceremonial chariot that features ornate decorations of bronze and tin medallions, although they don’t know what to make of the Tom Brady rookie card stuck in the spokes of one of the wheels.
Speaking of Brady, his National Football League rookie card sold for $1.32 million at auction last week. Remind me once again how money is tight during this pandemic.
On the subject of high finance, some people think Fox Sports is nuts for agreeing to pay annoying squawkbox Skip Bayless $32 million over the next four years. I don’t know about that. When you break it down, it’ll work out to only 50 cents an insult.
Baseball is peanuts, Crackjack and hot dogs. And beer, of course. But how much booze? Well, the folks at njonlinegambling.com talked to 2,631 Major League Baseball fans to determine which team’s following is the booziest of the bunch, and nowhere do they swill more suds than on the south side of Chicago. White Sox loyalists chug down 4.2 drinks per nine innings, spending $46 on their libations, so you know they’re well-juiced by the seventh-inning stretch. Blue Jays fans, meanwhile, are middle of the pack when it comes to drinking (3 per game, $25), but they top one category: 70 per cent of them get into the grog before the opening pitch. Yup, they feel the need brace themselves for what’s to come.
TSN’s favorite washed-up quarterback, Johnny Manziel, apparently has used up all his Mulligans in football, so he plans to devote the next 12 years of his troubled life to earning his way onto the PGA Tour. As what? Tiger Woods’ chauffeur?
While saluting friend and former teammate Chris Schultz, who died of a heart attack on Friday, did Pinball Clemons really refer to the Toronto Argonauts as Canada’s Team? Sure enough, he did. Someone ought to share that little secret with the citizenry in the Republic of Tranna. That way the Boatmen might attract more than friends and family to BMO Field next time they grab grass, whenever that might be.
Watched the movie Creed a few days ago. I won’t make that mistake again. Total rubbish. Yo! Adrian! Tell Rocky to do us all a favor and find another hobby.
If you’re a fan of Ponytail Puck (guilty, yer honor), there’s good and not-so-good tidings.
First, select members of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association have assembled in Chicago to continue the renewal of their Dream Gap Tour and pose for the mandatory photo-ops with Billie Jean King.
It’s the sequel to last weekend’s engagement at historic Madison Square Garden in Gotham.
That the Dream Gappers have returned to the freeze is a favorable development, to be sure, even if they can’t seem to blow their noses without borrowing a Kleenex from BJK.
Not so good, on the other hand, is the setup.
These are glorified scrimmages, featuring many of the top female players on the planet. There is no league. Nothing is at stake, save for bragging rights, some post-match bottles of bubbly, and a share of the $1 million pot Secret Deodorant has donated.
There is no rooting interest, either. Unless, of course, Team adidas throwing down on Team Women’s Sports Foundation gives you the urge to break out the pom-poms.
I think we can agree that identity is vital in sports. We (mostly) pledge allegiance to our local sides/athletes, whether on a community, national or international level. We like to have a dog in the fight because it gives us a sense of ownership and allows us to get sucked up in rivalries (Red Sox-Yankees, Canada-Russia, Ali-Frazier, Chrissie-Martina, Arnie-Jack, Canada-U.S. in women’s hockey, Habs-Leafs, Tiger-Phil, Rafa-Roger, Serena-nobody, etc.).
Alas, there’s nothing compelling about the Dream Gap Tour structure. They play their friendlies, they pat themselves on the back for existing, then they sit back and listen to their pals in the media heap praise on the product but ignore the problem.
Those of us who want Ponytail Puck to work (one viable league) have yet to see or hear a doable business plan from the Dream Gappers. The mission remains as it was at the PWHPA start-up in May 2019: Bury the National Women’s Hockey League and wish, hope and cross fingers that the NHL is prepared to adopt approximately 125 orphans.
Trouble is, unless there’s something developing behind closed doors that we aren’t privy to, that isn’t about to happen anytime soon. The NWHL has shown no inclination to cede the territory it’s staked out in the past six years, and NHL commish Gary Bettman has made it abundantly clear that he harbors no eagerness to further muddy the waters of a divided women’s game.
Which brings us back to the matter of identity sports.
Who are the Dream Gappers? Well, they’re barnstormers. A curiosity piece. A novelty act, if you will, much like the Harlem Globetrotters or Stars On Ice. But that isn’t who they want to be. It isn’t what fans of Ponytail Puck want them to be.
Unfortunately, they’ve trapped themselves in a contradiction of their own creation. That is, they want to play hockey in a professional league, but they refuse to play in the only professional league available to them.
Thus, without an attitude adjustment, they’re destined to be nothing more than a sideshow.
And that’s a shame.
And, finally, can we call for a moratorium on broadcasters using the word “unbelievable” to describe everything from Auston Matthews’ mustache to a five-point game from Connor McDavid? I mean, Darryl Sittler once scored 10 points in a match, so why is five points unbelievable? Nothing in sports is unbelievable if it’s already happened, and when something happens for the first time it has to be believable because it’s happened. So knock it off.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In another century that today seems so distant, the use of sexist language and stereotyping in sports was not uncommon, and that included the writing game.
I recall, for example, the great Jack Matheson using what now would be considered sexist terms when mentioning female athletes or politicians in his Winnipeg Tribune column. One might be “a doll” and another might be “a cutey.” When Pierre Trudeau introduced Iona Campagnolo as his Minister of Sport in 1976, she became “Elegant Iona” to Matty, and it was true. She was elegant.
Other women were “beautiful” or “sweet” or “glamorous or “a dame” or “a broad.”
High jumper Debbie Brill became “Darling Debbie” and “Delicious Debbie,” and Matty made note of her long, shapely legs more than once.
“Indoor track fans always enjoy watching girls jump high,” he wrote, “especially girls with legs like Debbie’s.”
Legendary sports scribe Trent Frayne similarly gazed upon the Brill gams with unreserved admiration, writing, “There she is, maybe 20 yards from the crossbar, calmly eyeing it, one foot slightly ahead of the other, teetering slowly, back and forth, back and forth, long legs bare and smooth and tanned, twin cynosures.”
Seriously. Twin cynosures? I had to cozy up to my good friend Merriam-Webster to clue in. Means Debbie Brill’s underpinnings were “the centre of attention or attraction.”
So where am I going with this?
Well, it certainly isn’t to discredit Matty, my first sports editor and the best jock essayist during my time in Good Ol’ Hometown, or Trent, with whom I had the considerable good fortune of sharing a work space at the Toronto Sun. They weren’t guilty of some heinous crime punishable by public flogging or prison time.
Those old boys wrote in the fashion of the 20th century, which allowed for descriptors not meant to be viewed through the judgmental lens of 2020. (Actually, reading it today, one might find humor in its antiquity. Like, they actually got away with writing that stuff?)
I don’t suppose Matty or Trent would use many, if any, of those terms were they around today to crank out their cheeky, witty, sassy essays, because the Politically Correct Police would be knocking on their doors and it wouldn’t be a social call. (Mind you, chances are Matty would tell them to shove it, but their visit might put him off his dinner, nonetheless.)
And it’s not like they’d gone rogue in their scribblings.
As we learn from Maclean’s magazine and The Girl and the Game: A History of Women’s Sports in Canada by Margaret Ann Hall, it was commonplace for scribes, almost exclusively male, to wax poetically about the different “cynosures” of various female athletes, and it wasn’t always flattering.
This, for example, is the way Jack Batten of Maclean’s described the women on the LPGA Tour in 1973: “Tousle-haired, sunshiny, more muscular and perhaps more ‘masculine’ than most women, like a gang of phys-ed teachers, but fresh and appealing in an Anne Murray kind of way.”
Of Canadian Jocelyne Bourassa, he wrote: “She’s a husky woman, a little broad in the beam. Her face can’t make up its mind whether it belongs to the cute kid next door or to a determined pug, someone with a tough style. It lets you know, anyway, that it is the face of someone independent, aggressive, a woman who can—what the hell—play touch football or baseball with the men.” He added that, at a formal function, Bourassa “radiated an approachable tomboy charm.”
Which is sort of like saying she wasn’t full-on butch, but butch nonetheless.
Meanwhile, here’s how journalist/author Paul Grescoe described members of the Vancouver Chimos volleyball team: “They are not the big, butch girls the male chauvenist might expect. Under their loose sweaters—’Up Your Volleyball,’ the back of one reads—their baggy sweatpants and shorts, the protective pads on their knees, lurk some women who’d be whistled at in their civvies. Only thick thighs and the occasional masculine-muscled arm reflect their training.”
Hmmm. Whistled at in their civvies. No doubt what every elite female athlete strives for—not!
An even more-blatant example of sexism in sports writing would be an Associated Press dispatch from the U.S. Women’s National Open golf tournament in 1967. It mentioned that former champion Mrs. Murle Lindstrom was “a pretty divorcee of 28,” but not as pretty as Sharron Moran, declared the “prettiest golfer” in America by Golf Digest. Marlene Bauer wasn’t pretty, but she was “little and cute.”
The article included this comment from tour director Leonard Wirtz: “A few paint on their shorts. If their figures are good, we don’t say anything to them. But if some of the plumper girls do it, we give them a gentle hint. We figure it’s good for them and the tour.” So Jennifer Aniston would be permitted to “paint on” her shorts, but Amy Schumer would receive a verbal undressing (pun intended) if she teed off in anything more form-fitting than a hoop skirt.
When the U.S. Women’s Open tees off later this week in Houston, I don’t expect we’ll be reading or hearing a discussion about butchness, hemlines, pretty divorcees and plump girls. The focus will be on their golf, not their gams.
Times change. Language changes. What’s tolerable changes. What’s acceptable changes.
I mean, it’s one thing to mention that our Brooke Henderson has a fabulous smile and girl-next-door appeal, because it’s true. She seems like an absolute delight. But her “babe” factor ought not come into play. Go ahead and describe her outfit, just don’t tell us she’d look a whole lot “hotter” golfing in short skirts. Not unless a higher hemline would help her get the ball into the hole.
Female athletes have made strides in how they’re perceived, but most still struggle to be taken seriously, just as female sports scribes and broadcasters do.
If only they didn’t have those damn “twin cynosures” for the boys on the beat to gawk at.
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.
A bonus, Labor Day smorgas-bored…and it’s mostly short snappers because there’s tennis to watch and maybe some golf if Dustin Johnson hasn’t lapped the field…
Stop me if you’ve heard this before from two noted hockey observers:
“There’s a lot to be excited about.”
“This team is going to be a force for awhile in the West. Great young players.”
Sounds like they’re talking about the Winnipeg Jets, circa spring 2018, doesn’t it?
But, no. Brian Burke and John Shannon were directing their hosannas toward the Vancouver Canucks, who recently vacated the National Hockey League bubble in Edmonton after coming up one shot/save short in a Stanley Cup skirmish v. the Dallas Stars.
And, sure enough, there’s reason for the jar-half-full gushing. The Canucks look to be an outfit on a favorable trajectory. You know, just like two years ago when the local hockey heroes went deep, advancing to the Western Conference final before receiving a paddywhacking from the upstart Vegas Golden Knights. The Jets haven’t been the same since, in large part due to the mismanagement of assets and a cap crunch that squeezed general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff into a corner.
Chevy lost half his blueline (Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers, Ben Chiarot, Dustin Byfuglien) in one foul swoop, and only the retreat of Big Buff was not of his own authorship. He also couldn’t or wouldn’t keep rent-a-centres Paul Stastny or Kevin Hayes, either of whom would have been more than adequate playing second fiddle to Mark Scheifele.
So that’s the cautionary tale for GM Jim Benning in Lotus Land. It can unravel very rapidly.
Quinn Hughes, Elias Pettersson and Alex Edler will be looking for new deals whenever the next NHL crusade ends and, as Burke emphasized on Hockey Night in Canada, “they’re gonna need a math professor from Harvard to figure this out.”
Chevy hasn’t been able to figure it out in Good Ol’ Hometown. The hope on the Left Flank has to be that Benning has better bean counters.
I’ve long wondered what it would take to pry Jets 1.0 out of the Arizona desert, and anointing Pierre McGuire GM of the Coyotes just might be the thing to do it. If we’re to believe Chris Johnston of Sportsnet, Yotes ownership has been pitching woo to Pierre as a replacement for defrocked GM John Chayka, and that sounds like a recipe for disaster. Pierre has spent the past 20 years rinkside or in the studio for TSN and NBC, and I can’t see how sucking up to players and mansplaining the game to Kendall Coyne Schofield makes him GM worthy.
So, another year without a Stanley Cup champion for the True North, and did you know that’s “humiliating?” That, at least, is Cathal Kelly’s take on Canada’s drought, which dates back to the spring of 1993. “The hockey of Canadian hockey? That is not working out so well,” he writes in the Globe and Mail. “It’s beginning to seem as though the building of an NHL winner is planting it somewhere in the United States where no one cares. Then you have happy employees and the luxury of a free hand to shuffle them around.” Ya, that’s worked out soooo well for the Winnipeg Jets-cum-Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes.
Speaking of Arizona, I note that Chris Streveler has survived final cuts with the Arizona Cardinals. The former Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback and party boy is listed third on the depth chart, so Lord help them if they win the Super Bowl. There won’t be enough beer in the entire state to handle that celebration.
Just wondering: What was the first thing Alain Vigneault read or watched after his Philly Flyers were ushered out of the NHL bubble in the Republic of Tranna? Do you think he knows that Black Lives Matter yet?
Did you know that it takes eight to 10 hours to deep clean each hotel room once they’ve been vacated in the Edmonton and ROT bubbles? Hmmm. Wonder how long it will take Randy Ambrosie to clean up the mess he’s made.
The Montreal Canadiens now have $15 million tied up in two goaltenders, Carey Price and Jake Allen. Hmmm. That would pay for half a Canadian Football League shortened-season.
Enjoyed this tweet from Terry Jones of Postmedia E-Town: “If I ever own a race horse I might name him ‘Pink Fred’. That’s what Hugh Campbell called Pink Floyd when he announced a change in the Edmonton EE schedule to accommodate the then very hot act.”
Coolest recent tweet was delivered by Rob Vanstone of Postmedia Flatlands: “How amazing was Dale Hawerchuk? I wrote to him c/o Winnipeg Jets in 1982, requesting an autograph. Yes, I got the autograph—and so much more! He must have been deluged with fan mail, but he still made time to go above and beyond.” What made the tweet so special was the pic that Rob attached. It helps explain why there were so many long faces the day Ducky died.
Rob’s tweet brought to mind my first experience as an autograph seeker. I was a sprig of no more than 10 years, living on Melbourne Avenue in Good Ol’ Hometown. One day I took pic of broadcasting pioneer Foster Hewitt from a hockey magazine and mailed it to his radio station in the Repblic of Tranna, asking for a signature. Two weeks later, a brown envelope arrive in the mail box, and there it was…Foster Hewitt’s autograph. He called me “a real hockey fan.” I don’t know what became of that autographed pic, but Foster’s gesture made me want to get into sports journalism.
Mark Spector of Sportsnet E-Town is confused: “It’s official: the term ‘learning lesson’ has replaced ‘irregardless’ as my pet peeve,” he tweets. “Can someone define a ‘lesson’ from which the recipient did NOT ‘learn?’ Are their ‘non-learning lessons’ out there?” Yo! Mark! As the venerable Zen master Dalai Jocklama tells us, “A lesson taught is not always a lesson learned.” As my mom was wont to say, I hope you’ve learned your lesson.
According to Donald Trump, canned soup is now the weapon of choice for bad guys because bricks are too heavy to throw. I can just hear it next time I’m in my local market: “Clean up on the ammunition aisle! Clean up on the ammunition aisle!”.
They held a Lake Travis Trump Boat Parade off the shore of Auston, Texas, the other day and at least four craft went glub, glub, glub to a watery grave. There’s no truth to the rumor that the Milwaukee Bucks were among the sunken ships, but they have sent out a Mayday signal.
Cathal Kelly likes to write about tennis, but I’m not sure how much tennis he actually watches. I mean, he claims that our guy Felix Auger-Aliassime put “an end to the whole idea of the Big Four in men’s tennis” when he whupped Andy Murray at the U.S. Open last week. Apparently, Kelly hadn’t noticed that there’s only been a Big Three—Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic—for the past three years. Andy Murray last won a Grand Slam tournament in 2016. He hasn’t been a top-10 player since 2017, when he was world No. 3 in October. He hasn’t been in the top 100 for more than two years. He’s beaten just one top-10 player since 2017. He’s part of a Big Four like Miley Cyrus is one of the Beatles. What part of all that does Kelly not understand? Furthermore, he listed Djokovic as the “reigning champion” at Flushing Meadows. That will come as news to Rafa Nadal.
Djokovic’s departure from the U.S. Open on Sunday was sudden and deserved. Tennis players can be a right petulant lot, few more so than the Serb. He’s long been prone to bouts of pique, and it caught up to him when, in another hissy fit, he whacked a ball that struck a female line judge in the throat. Automatic ouster. Even if it wasn’t deliberate. Why it took officials 10 minutes to convince Djokovic that he wouldn’t be allowed to play on is a mystery, but I’m sure he’ll put his tin foil hat back on and figure it out in time for the French Open later this month.
ESPN certainly had the perfect guy in the blurt box to talk about poor on-court manners Sunday—John McEnroe. The one-time brat of tennis called Djovik’s hissy fit “bone-headed,” and Johnny Mac ought to know more about that than most.
Hey, there’s a new kid in town. The Manitoba Junior Hockey League has added a second Winnipeg-based franchise for its 2020-21 crusade, and that’s interesting news for those of us who can remember an MJHL that included four outfits in Good Ol’ Hometown. 50 Below Sports + Entertainment is the money behind the freshly minted outfit, to be dubbed the Freeze according to Mike Sawatzky of the Drab Slab, and I can only hope they aren’t hitting parents with a $12,000 tab to have their kids play Junior shinny.
The appointment of Steve Nash as head coach of the Brooklyn Nets stirred up considerable controversy, given that his experience as a bossman totals zip and, significantly, he’s a White man in the very Black National Basketball Association. “Two words that never, ever, should be attached to Steve Nash: White privilege,” Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna harrumphed in his always-pompous weekly alphabet soup column of odds and ends. “But there they were, the screamers of black and white, somehow insisting that Nash’s surprising hiring as coach of the Brooklyn Nets was yet another example of white privilege in North American professional sports.” What that is, folks, is “another example” of shoddy journalism. Simmons failed to identify the “screamers of black and white,” nor did he tell us what they said or what they’re saying. We’re talking Journalism 101 here, folks: Who, what, when, where and why. Apparently that doesn’t apply to big-shot columnists who refuse to burden themselves with the pesky details.
I have often lamented the lack of lower-level local sports coverage in the two Winnipeg dailies, most notably the Sun, which has been ransacked by Postmedia. To underscore how woeful it has become, I monitored the amount of ink devoted to outfits not named Jets, Blue Bombers, Moose, Goldeyes and Valour FC in August. The results are discouraging, but not surprising:
Drab Slab (31 editions)—32 articles, 6 briefs (Assiniboia Downs, amateur hockey, junior hockey, amateur golf, university volleyball, curling, junior football, junior baseball, tennis, sports books).
Winnipeg Sun (30 editions)—1 article (junior football).
At least sports editor Steve Lyons and his boys on the beat at the Drab Slab are trying, but the Sun surrendered to the whims and dictates of Postmedia suits in the Republic of Tranna long ago. I mean, one local story in an entire month? That isn’t just sad, it’s wrong. Amateur Sports Matters, dammit.
And, finally, I’ll conclude this holiday edition of the RCR with a Matty-ism from my first sports editor Jack Matheson: “You don’t have to be strange to live in B.C., but it helps.” Hey, I resemble that remark.
Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and it’s another long weekend until the next long weekend…
Okay, let’s get this out of the way right off the hop:
Babe Ruth was sold. Wayne Gretzky was traded. The New York Mets told Nolan Ryan to get lost. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wanted out of the U.S. Midwest and the Milwaukee Bucks obliged. Three husbands dumped Marilyn Monroe.
So don’t talk to me about untouchables with the Winnipeg Jets.
I mean, untouchables? You’re talking untouchables? Tell that to Peter Pocklington.
Peter Puck’s the dude who dispatched Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings, then sat in a flashy convertible during a Stanley Cup parade in downtown Edmonton less than two years later.
It doesn’t always work out that way, of course, and we need look no further than Fenway Park in Boston for evidence. The Red Sox peddled the Bambino to the dreaded Evil Empire in New York for the kingly sum of $100,000, the first of four $25,000 payments made on Dec. 19, 1919.
“I do not wish to detract one iota from Ruth’s ability as a ballplayer nor from his value as an attraction, but there is no getting away from the fact that despite his 29 home runs, the Red Sox finished sixth in the race last season,” Bosox bankroll Harry Frazee harrumphed. “What the Boston fans want, I take it, and what I want because they want it, is a winning team, rather than a one-man team which finishes in sixth place.”
Well, the Red Sox didn’t celebrate another World Series championship until 2004. Ruth and the Yankees, meanwhile, sprayed each other with bubbly after seven American League pennants and four WS victories by the time the Sultan of Swat bid adieu to the Bronx and Yankee Stadium in 1934.
So, ya, parting ways with a young blue-chipper can blow up in your face like a Wile E. Coyote scheme gone wrong, but the value is in the return. Always.
Frazee accepted paper money in barter for Babe Ruth. Poor return. Pocklington, on the other hand, insisted on live bodies (Jimmy Carson and Martin Gelinas) in exchange for Gretzky, plus first-round picks in 1989, ’91, ’93, plus $15 million of Bruce McNall’s bankroll. The Oilers won a title sans No. 99, the Kings had a sniff in 1993 but never won with him.
Which brings us back to the Jets and untouchables.
Let’s suppose, for the sake of discussion, that general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff answers the phone one day and it’s Joe Sakic on the line. The Colorado Avalanche GM is offering Cale Makar. He wants Patrick Laine in return. Is Chevy supposed to say “Sorry Joe, but Patty’s an untouchable,” and hang up? Maybe Jim Benning will call and offer up Quinn Hughes, asking for Nikolaj Ehlers in barter. You don’t really believe Chevy would decline because “Nik is an untouchable” do you?
Sorry, kids, but there hasn’t been an Untouchable since Eliot Ness and accomplices went after Al Capone’s booze dens in Chicago.
Certainly there are players you’d like to keep in Jets linen, but if the right offer falls onto Chevy’s lap, damn straight he has to pull the trigger. (Assuming, of course, that the Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, gives it the official okie-dokie from on high.)
This, remember, is an outfit that failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament. A side that hasn’t won a post-season skirmish since skating to the National Hockey League’s final four more than two years ago. So it doesn’t matter if we’re talking Rink Rat Scheifele, Twig Ehlers, Puck Finn, Josh Morrissey or Kyle Connor.
If the right deal comes along, you do it.
What about goalkeeper Connor Hellebuyck, you ask? Same thing. In case you haven’t noticed, with the exception of Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning, teams still alive in the current Stanley Cup runoff are doing it without Vezina Trophy-winning puck stoppers. The Colorado Avalanche were one Michael Hutchinson save away from advancing to the final four. Ditto the Vancouver Canucks and Thatcher Demko. The New York Islanders won Game 7 vs. the Philly Flyers with backup Thomas Greiss in the blue paint. And don’t get me started on Anton Khudobin. So repeat after me: There should be no untouchables with the Winnipeg Jets.
In this, the strangest of years, the first leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown, the Kentucky Derby, became the second leg, and the second leg, the Preakness Stakes, will be the third leg, and the third leg, the Belmont Stakes, became the first leg. I swear, there hasn’t been this much confusion about legs since Joe Namath did that pantyhose commercial in the 1970s.
No horse had better legs than Authentic on Saturday at Churchill Downs in Louisville. The Kentucky-bred bay colt showed 14 other ponies his heels in the Run for the Roses, which means his four legs now have one leg. And if that sounds like some kind of a Zen koan, blame it on the Dalai Jocklama.
Normally, of course, the Kentucky Derby goes to the post the first Saturday in May, and the pews at Churchill Downs are full of fashionable ladies trying not to spill their mint juleps while bumping into one another with their big hats. Not so on the first Saturday in September 2020. The grandstand was basically barren before and after Authentic stuck his nose under the wire, and it just didn’t feel right without the Derby day buzz. Then again, is there anything about 2-aught-20 that feels right?
Come to think of it, were I a horse breeder, I’d have named my first foal this year Bizarro World. You know, as a salute to a time in history when up is down, over is under, right is left, and Terry Bradshaw gets his own reality TV show.
For real. Bradshaw has a show on the telly to call his own. The concept for The Bradshaw Bunch on E! Channel seems simple enough: The former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback surrounds himself with a bevy of beauties (his wife and three daughters), and cameras follow them about the ranch in Oklahoma while they discuss such urgent family matters as one of the girls getting a boob job. In other words, it’s the Kardashians do Hee Haw.
Hey, it’s the Labor Day weekend. The Saskatchewan Roughriders and Winnipeg Blue Bombers should be grabbing grass and growling this very afternoon in the annual Labor Day Weekend Classic on the Flattest of Lands. Not happening, though, because Canadian Football League coffers are as empty as a politician’s promise and its line of credit is worse than the COVID curve stateside. But that doesn’t mean the true tradition need end—taking cheap shots at Flatlanders and their football team. Which brings to mind a Matty-ism from a Jack Matheson column in the Winnipeg Tribune after a trade sent Tom Clements from the Ottawa Rough Riders to Saskatchewan in 1979: “Mrs. Tom Clements is said to have been the push behind her QB husband’s recent move because she felt ‘Ottawa’s a hick town,’ so you have to wonder how Regina will grab her.”
Premier Scott Moe has declared this Saskatchewan Roughriders Day on the Flattest of Lands, and he’s encouraged the rabble to adorn themselves in green-and-white garb. To which every citizen in the province said: “Huh? Ya means to tell us they makes tank tops and ball caps in other colors?” Seriously, a melonhead needs urging to wear green and white like a priest needs a reminder to say prayers on Sunday.
I haven’t watched a great portion of the NHL’s made-for-TV frolic in the Edmonton and Republic of Tranna bubbles, but my sampling has been sufficient enough to know that Sportsnet’s Chris Cuthbert calls a terrific game. He’s going to be missed in the TSN blurt box once the CFL is back in business, whenever that is.
I agree, the hiring of Steve Nash as head coach of the Brooklyn Nets is a peculiar bit of business. I mean, he’s a scrawny white guy in a league full of large Black men, he’s Canadian in a league of mostly Americans, and he has zero experience. We haven’t seen anyone that miscast since a movie mogul put Kevin Costner in a pair of tights and told him he was Robin Hood.
Speaking of media, cheering in the press box is supposed to be taboo, but news snoops in the Republic of Tranna must have missed the memo. Just watch the sports highlights shows on TSN and Sportsnet and you’ll hear them openly swooning and unabashedly root, root, rooting for the Toronto Jurassics in the National Basketball Association playoffs, and the same must be said of the boys on the beat at the daily newspapers. They don’t give the Maple Leafs, Blue Jays, Tranna FC or Argonauts a similar amount of sugar, which leaves me to wonder what it is about the Jurassics that has won over such a normally hard-scrabble lot.
Got a kick out of Gregg Drinnan’s piece on his time at the Winnipeg Tribune, a tour of duty that included a case of mistaken identity. No spoilers here, though. I’ll let Gregg tell the story. I’ll just say it involved the Greaser (that’s Gregg), Knuckles Irving, Cactus Jack, Kenny Ploen, Blue Bombers GM Earl Lunsford and a fancy, shmancy hotel suite in Calgary (don’t worry, it’s not X-rated). Gregg also confirms that some of the Trib tales I told last week might actually contain a morsel of truth.
One of the things I didn’t mention in my remembrances of the Trib folding 40 years ago was Strat-O-Matic Baseball, a board game based on the actual stats of Major League players. We’d play it during our down time, waiting for late copy or phone calls to come in, and the death of Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver last week reminded me of the year we held a Strat-O-Matic player draft. Seaver was among my starting hurlers, and one night he spun a no-hitter against the Ian (Caveman) Dutton Nine. A few years later while with the Calgary Sun, I had occasion to interview Tom Terrific and, as an ice-breaker, I mentioned the no-no he had hurled v. the Dutton Nine. He looked at me like I was speaking Casey Stengelese, but chuckled. “Don’t laugh,” I told him, “that board game no-hitter will probably be the deciding factor that gets you to Cooperstown some day. The Hall of Fame voters won’t be able to ignore it.” Sure enough, the great New York Mets righthander was elected in 1992, and you can only imagine my disappointment when he failed to mention that Strat-O-Matic perfect game in his acceptance speech.
I’m not sure if Ed Willes left the building by choice or if he’s the latest victim of Postmedia buffoonery, but he’s done after 38 years in the rag trade, the last 22 at the Vancouver Province. Some of you might remember Ed’s time with the Winnipeg Sun, where he detailed the daily goings-on of the Jets and wrote a column during the 1990s. It was always high-end stuff. The guy can flat-out scribble. Ed turns 65 in November, so perhaps this was the end game all along, but I’m always suspicious whenever quality writers walk away from Postmedia, which has destroyed newspaper competition everywhere west of Winnipeg. If it was his call, good on him. He’s earned his warm corner. If he was nudged by the suits in the Republic of Tranna, shame on Postmedia.
The Willes adios brings to mind a quote from Trent Frayne, the finest jock essayist in my lifetime: “It is an axiom of sports that the legs go first. For sportswriters, it’s the enthusiasm.”
Once upon a time, I officiated kids sports, so I speak from lived experience when I tell you it can be a thankless, often intimidating experience. Some coaches, parents and officials are at odds with acceptable behavior in mixed company, which is putting it politely. So what in the name of Pele was the Manitoba Soccer Association thinking when it instructed its game referees to play the role of rat fink and virtually red card fans who fail to observe physical distancing protocol at kids’ matches? Expecting whistle blowers to be, well, whistle blowers isn’t just unfair, it’s stupid.
Last week we mentioned that Jennifer Lopez and her main squeeze, Alex Rodriguez, had failed in their bid to buy the New York Mets. If successful, JLo would have joined a short list of female owners in Major League Baseball. The first was Helene Britton, who inherited the St. Louis Cardinals from her uncle, Stanley Robison, in 1911, when women still hadn’t won the right to vote in the U.S. This is how the St. Louis Post-Dispatch described the Redbirds’ new lady owner: “She is small and round and trim, with decided chic. Her mourning costume (for her uncle) failed to subdue certain lively touches that indicate a love of life and gayety…her attitude is ever alert.” Other National League owners, all men, tried to bully the small, round and trim Helene into selling the Cardinals “for the good of the game,” but she held out until 1917, finally accepting $350,000 for the club and ballpark. Among other things while bankrolling the Redbirds, she introduced Ladies Day providing free attendance to women. But only if accompanied by a male escort.
And, finally, today marks the 20th anniversary of Major League Baseball’s first Pride-themed night. It took place at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, mainly because a lesbian couple had been escorted out of the ballpark a week earlier by eight heavy-handed security guards. The crime? The women shared a smooch in the bleachers. Who could imagine back then that two lesbians, Billie Jean King and partner Ilana Kloss, would be part-owners of the Dodgers today?
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 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.
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.
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.”