I AM CANADIAN

I am Canadian. Let me count the ways on our 150th birthday…

I walked before I could skate, but only by about a day or two.

I believe that Lanny McDonald’s mustache is one of the seven wonders of the world.

I’m politely bitter that the Guess Who and BTO are not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I mean, Journey gets into the Hall and the Guess Who and BTO don’t? Who did Randy Bachman and Burton Cummings tick off?

Bob and Doug McKenzie: Coo-roo-coo-coo-coo-coo-coo-coo!

If I hear “Coo-roo-coo-coo-coo-coo-coo-coo” I know the McKenzie Brothers are on TV and I’m going to laugh myself silly.

Our pet was Juliette.

I still know the sweater numbers for all the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs from the 1960s.

I’m convinced that our real national anthem is the theme music for Hockey Night in Canada, not O Canada.

I feel embarrassed every time Justin Bieber does something stupid.

I cheer every time Perry Mason kicks Hamilton Burger’s butt in court, because Raymond Burr is one of us.

I know that former Prime Minister Lester Pearson’s middle name was Bowles and that people also called him Mike.

I remember Diefenbunkers, Cold War government hideouts so-named in reference to former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker.

I know the Neil Young tune Long May You Run is about his hearse, Mort.

I stuck my tongue on a metal pole in winter, scant seconds after my mom warned me never to stick my tongue on a metal pole in winter.

I wore two pair of socks and plastic bags over my feet so they wouldn’t freeze solid while skating on the outdoor rinks in Winnipeg.

I know what playing spongey is.

If you tell me you have a new pair of garbos, you’re good to go for a game of spongey.

The plaintive cry of “Car!” can only mean one thing—road hockey.

I know a road apple is something you don’t eat.

I know the difference between prairie oysters (bull’s balls) and Prairie Oyster, a terrific country band that doesn’t appear to be making music anymore.

I can’t parlez vous fluently in both of our official languages, but I can converse enough well en francais to order a beer and some poutine in Quebec.

I don’t really believe Toronto is the Centre of the Universe.

Yeehaw! I know the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth is all about horses, doggies, cowboys, cowgirls and Wrangler jeans, and everybody in Calgary dresses in character during the Stampede.

I know people who are being white-hatted in Cowtown are putting a Smithbilt on their heads, not a Stetson.

I remember corn brooms and the poetic sound they made on a sheet of pebbled ice.

I can tell you that the Trail Smoke Eaters were a world champion hockey team from beautiful British Columbia, not a bunch of cowboys choking on trail dust.

I still get teary-eyed when I hear Foster Hewitt cry out “Henderson has scored for Canada!”

I remember when Americans would come to Canada to play in the Canadian Football League and stay for the rest of their lives (hello, Kenny Ploen and Jackie Parker).

I know Ol’ Spaghetti Legs and Twinkle Toes were CFL players, not contestants on Dancing with the Stars.

Robert Gordon Orr

I know Bobby Orr’s middle name. And Bobby Hull’s. And Guy Lafleur’s. And Wayne Gretzky’s. And Donald S. Cherry’s.

To me a flower isn’t something you grow in the garden…Flower wore No. 10 for les Canadiens.

I like my temperature in Fahrenheit and my distances in feet, yards and miles.

I always wish hockey players would put their teeth in before a TV interview.

To me, winter headwear is a toque, not a knitted cap.

I know Butch Goring’s hockey helmet was a SPAPS.

When I see someone with a watermelon on her or his head, I know their favorite football team is the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

I know who Youppi, Gainer the Gopher, Buzz and Boomer, Ralph the Dog, Harvey the Hound and Crazy George are.

I’m still politely bitter about the Montreal Expos leaving.

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

Meet Mike O’Shea, Coach-for-Life of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have given head coach Mike O’Shea a new set of downs (three years worth) and general manager Kyle Walters is good to go for another four Canadian Football League seasons. To discuss this development, I bring in my two Gridiron Girls who, when last seen, were at the Grey Cup game in the Republic of Tranna but disappeared somewhere into cyberspace.

Take it away, ladies…

gridiron-galsLady Blue: Well, I guess it’ll be a very merry Christmas in the Walters and O’Shea households this year now that they’ve got those spanking, new contracts.

Lady Gold: Nobody should be surprised that the Bombers have re-upped both the head coach and general manager, because the club showed substantial improvement in the final two-thirds of this past season. But giving O’Shea three years instead of two? What’s that all about?

Lady Blue: Beats me. The guy in the short pants is 23-31, so I guess his first two seasons on the sideline were like the tree falling in the forest—it didn’t really happen. It’s like Walters and CEO Wade Miller based everything on the final 13 games of the 2016 crusade, when the Bombers went 10-3. They conveniently ignored the first 41 games of O’Shea’s sideline stewardship, when he was 13-28.

Lady Gold: I’m okay with O’Shea coming back, but if 23-31 and losing your one and only playoff game—after leading by 19 points!—is worth a three-year reward and probably a raise in pay, what do they give him if the Bombers actually accomplish something worth shouting about? You know, like ending a 26-year Grey Cup drought.

Lady Blue: I guess he’ll get a lifetime contract and a statue right beside the bronze Bud Grant outside Football Follies Field in Fort Garry. I wonder if the guy who sculpts the O’Shea statue will have him wearing short pants.

Lady Gold: Wouldn’t they make quite the pair? A bronzed Bud Grant in his trademark trench coat and O’Shea right beside him in a pair of baggy, bronze shorts. I know which one I’d poop on if I was a pigeon.

Lady Blue: Ouch. That’s a low blow.

Lady Gold: I guess it was. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. It’s just that I don’t understand how O’Shea’s record warrants a three-year contract. Seriously, if 23-31 and no playoff victories earns you that kind of security, the guy basically has become the Bombers coach-for-life. I agree with you that Miller and Walters based everything on 13 games and turned a blind eye to O’Shea’s most glaring gaffes.

Lady Blue: Like starting the wrong guy, Drew Willy, at quarterback. Like not starting Taylor Loffler at safety until injuries forced his hand. That’s brutal player evaluation.

Mike O'Shea: A do-over? I don't need no do-over.
Mike O’Shea

Lady Gold: And let’s not forget the lamentable 61-yard field goal attempt that ended the Bombers’ season in Vancouver. And to think, given the same scenario, O’Shea says he wouldn’t do anything different. He’d still put his team’s fate on the left leg of Justin Medlock, knowing full well that no one has ever hoofed a 61-yard field goal in B.C. Place Stadium. He’d do the same dumb thing.

Lady Blue: That decision rated a 10 on the dumb-o-metre. Dumbest call ever. Ever.

Lady Gold: Worse than what Dave Dickenson did in the Grey Cup game? I mean, the Calgary Stampeders were two yards away from winning and he takes the league’s Most Outstanding Player, Bo Levi Mitchell, out of the game and puts the ball in a rookie, third-string quarterback’s hands. And he doesn’t give it to the league’s leading rusher, Jerome Messam. That’s a massive brain fart.

Lady Blue: I still say O’Shea’s decision to attempt a 61-yard field goal rather than gamble on third-and-four was the dumbest coaching decision ever. Except maybe Marc Crawford’s refusal to tap Wayne Gretzky on the shoulder to take part in the shootout at the Nagano Olympic Games.

Lady Gold: Pete Carroll’s call that cost the Seattle Seahawks the 2015 Super Bowl was epicly dumb, too. O’Shea’s not the only coach to ever wear a dunce cap.

Lady Blue: What bothers me most is that O’Shea didn’t learn anything by his mistake. He’d do it again. Isn’t that the definition of insanity?

Lady Gold: Something like that. But let’s move on to another pertinent issue: Matt Nichols. Do the Bombers bring him back at any cost?

Lady Blue: Did you hear Walters’ answer to a variation of that question at the presser on Friday? It took him half a dozen seconds of silence before he managed to mumble, “Um.” He says he’s “cautiously optimistic” that Nichols will re-up, but he also says there are Plans B-C-D…all the way to Plan Z if Nichols bolts. The head coach has already proven to be quarterback blind, so I shudder to think what Plan B is and I’m horrified at the thought of Plan Z. That might include 81-year-old Kenny Ploen or a Ouija board to summon the spirit of Jack Jacobs.

A couple of Winnipeg scribes believe the Blue Bombers and quarterback Matt Nichols would be better off finishing fourth.
Matt Nichols

Lady Gold: I can’t imagine there’d be much of a market for Nichols.

Lady Blue: Toronto needs a starting quarterback because Ricky Ray has become as brittle as burnt toast and Drew Willy is a washout. Montreal is still looking for the heir to Anthony Calvillo’s throne. But the coaching/management situation in both those towns is iffy. Nobody knows who’ll be minding the store. If Nichols arrives at free agency, those are his likely landing spots. Saskatchewan might need a QB, but I doubt Chris Jones would be interested in him. He didn’t want him in Edmonton, why would he want him on the flatlands?

Lady Gold: What about the cost, though? He’s asking for $450,000. That’s a stiff sticker price for a guy who hasn’t won anything.

Lady Blue: It’s either that or they break out the Ouija board and talk to ghosts. Pick your poison.

Lady Gold: I’m guessing that Nichols re-ups. He’s got a good thing going here. He’d have to reinvent himself all over again in Montreal or Toronto.

Lady Blue: I hope you’re right. Anyway, time to go. Got some last-minute shopping to do.

Lady Gold: Okay. Happy Christmas and merry New Year.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit. She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

 

Kenny Ploen: Not always the star, but always the straw that stirred the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ drink

The first time I saw Kenny Ploen, he was one of two dozen tiny figures scurrying about on the tiny black-and-white screen of a living room TV set with rabbit ears (ask your grandparents about that, kids).

Ken_PloenI don’t recall if I was watching the 1957, ’58 or ’59 Grey Cup game. I just know that Ploen was in the lineup that afternoon, running the ball, catching the ball, flinging the ball or hauling down foes with the ball as he and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers conspired to deliver the Canadian Football League championship to a town that was to grow accustomed to gridiron glory during his watch.

Jungle Jim Trimble, the big-lunged blowhard who coached the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, warned that his large lads would “waffle” the Winnipegs, but bragging rights belonged to the Bombers, who four times bettered Trimble’s Tabbies in their five Grey Cup arguments between 1957 and ’62.

Ploen wasn’t always the star, but he was always the straw that stirred the Blue-and-Gold drink.

That’s why it was Ploen’s signature that my friend Chester and I most sought when we’d hop on our bikes during the late 1950s and make a twice-daily pilgrimage to Canada Packers Field in St. Boniface, where coach Bud Grant would put our football heroes through their training camp exercises in the morning and again in the afternoon. We seldom missed a shift at that sun-scorched patch of earth, and Ploen never refused an autograph, no matter how often we reached out to him with pen and paper.

How many of these do you have?” he once asked as he signed my small, white football.

I don’t know, Mr. Ploen,” I answered. “I hope we aren’t pestering you by asking for your autograph every day.”

Not at all. I’m glad to do it.”

Kenny Ploen rocked. He still does.

Ken_PloenWhen they add the old quarterback/defensive back/safety/receiver/kick returner’s name to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers Ring of Honour on Thursday night at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry, I’m hoping that those of my vintage will speak to younger generations not merely of Ploen as a gridiron great but as a wonderful person.

Ploen came to us as an American college hot shot, fresh from success in the Rose Bowl game where his Iowa Hawkeyes took the measure of the Oregon State Beavers, 35-19. He was saluted as the game’s most valuable performer. Yet he never acted like an American college hot shot MVP. He didn’t have a flashy nickname like the Rocket and he didn’t brand himself The Ordinary Superstar. He didn’t come to River City to take the money and run home to Iowa, either. He did his running on the field, like during the overtime session in the 1961 Grey Cup game, when he fled the grasp of ill-intentioned Tiger-Cats and skedaddled 18 yards down the right sidelines to deliver the decisive points.

Given two words to describe Kenny Ploen, I would use “aw, shucks.” He’s as humble and modest as a Winnipeg winter is cold and gnarly.

Born 81 years ago in Lost Nation, a town of fewer than 500 folks surrounded by corn fields in eastern Iowa, and raised in Clinton on the western shore of the Mississippi River, Ploen could have given the National Football League a go. The Cleveland Browns wanted him in their defensive backfield and were willing to compensate him to the tune of $500 as a signing bonus and a $5,000 salary. He came north instead, accepting a $3,000 bonus and an annual stipend of $9,000 from the Bombers.

It wasn’t the money that lured Ploen here, though. He never spent a penny of his $3,000 bonus. He handed it to his father, who operated a motel in Fulton, Ill.

I feel like I played at a time when sports were sports,” he said upon the occasion of his induction into the Quad-City Sports Hall of Fame in 2005. “I think I had a lot more fun playing when I did than what guys do today. People weren’t chasing dollar bills the way they do now. It was a game.”

Ken_Ploen (1)The real draw for Ploen to Winnipeg was the opportunity to play quarterback for the Blue Bombers, plus he’d caught wind that “the hunting and fishing was pretty good up here.”

So Ploen, who raised three children with his bride Janet, was in River City for a good time and a long time.

Over the years, Kenny Ploen has become our Jean Beliveau. He is to the Bombers and Winnipeg what big Beliveau was to les Canadiens and Montreal, a favorable blend of style and substance, class and dignity, grace and gridiron gallantry, and the athletic bona fides of a champion.

There are none, nor have there been any, so admired as Kenny Ploen.

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