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

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

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

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

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

Swamp Dog

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

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

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

“Me?” he yelped. “Me? I’m swamped!”

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

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

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

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

And now Swamp’s ticker has stopped.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rest easy, old friend.

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

Jennifer Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patrik Laine

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

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

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

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

Bernie Parent and Bobby Clarke (right)

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

Shaq

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

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

James Duthie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s talk about those ugly Yankee Doodle Damsels…a home run for TSN…Kaylyn Kyle’s hair…a Bronx cheer for Sid Seixeiro…writers ignoring the Raptors…terrific tweets…Trudeau’s nuts…and play it again, Sam

Serving up a special mid-week smorgas-bored…and if you thought Hope Solo was an ugly American, check out their World Cup soccer team…

The Yankee Doodle Damsels officially arrived in France on Tuesday and, boy, are they ugly.

Ugly Americans

I mean, there’s butt cleavage ugly, then there’s American ugly, and I don’t think I’ve seen Americans quite as ugly as in their women’s World Cup debut, a 13-nada paddywhacking of Thailand at Stade Auguste-Delaune in Reims.

Score 13 goals? Sure. Go for it. There’s no mercy rule at that level of soccer.

But celebrate goals six through 13 like you just landed on the moon? Lame in the extreme.

You don’t squish an ant or pluck the wings off a house fly then hold a block party to celebrate. Five-year-old kids might do that, but the American soccer elite are not five-year-old kids. They just act like it.

“This was disgraceful from the United States,” said TSN analyst Clare Rustad, a former Canadian national team player. “I would have hoped they could have won with humility and grace.”

Still celebrating after all those goals.

Humility and grace are not the American way these days. Just look at the primary resident in the White House.

“I’m all about passion, but as a Canadian we would never ever think of doing something like that,” chimed in Kaylyn Kyle, also a former Canadian national, sitting next to Rustad on the TSN panel. “For me, it’s disrespectful, it’s disgraceful.”

Yup.

But wait. Here’s Abby Wambach, former American captain and the all-time leading goal-scorer in the women’s game.

“Would you tell a men’s team to not score or celebrate?” she asked.

Good gawd, woman. This isn’t about gender. It’s about being rude. It’s about being unsportsmanlike. It’s about acting like you’ve been there before instead of like a bunch of tools.

Nancy Armour

Nancy Armour provided Wambach with some backup vocals.

“Take the pearl clutching and righteous indignation somewhere else,” she snarled with righteous indignation in USA Today, proving Americans can be just as ugly in print as on the pitch. “This is the World Cup, not a rec league tournament. There are some who seem to think the U.S. women’s 13-0 thrashing of Thailand on Tuesday night was piling on, that their celebrating of every goal was unseemly. Tough. You want the Americans to impose the slaughter rule or patronize their opponents by pretending they didn’t just tack another goal onto the scoreline? Go join the six-year-olds in the park. Maybe you’ll get a participation trophy and an orange slice while you’re at it. Getting players confidence, getting momentum are the names of the game at the World Cup and that’s what the U.S. did.”

Oh, just shut the hell up, Nancy.

The Yankee Doodle Damsels might go on and successfully defend their World Cup title, but they’ll be wearing this disgrace while a FIFA official is wrapping gold medals around their necks. It’s going to stick to them like guilt to O.J.

I didn’t think it possible, but these American women actually out-uglied Hope Solo.

Kate Beirness, Clare Rustad, Kaylyn Kyle and Diana Matheson.

TSN has really hit it out of the park with its soccer panel of Rustad, Kyle and Diana Matheson. They’re insightful, intelligent and extremely blunt. Kyle is the most passionate of the trio, and she isn’t shy about expressing honest feelings. On Canadian captain Christine Sinclair she said this: “I have a massive woman crush on her.” I cannot imagine Jeff O’Dog or any of the boys on the various TSN hockey panels confessing to a man crush on Sidney Crosby or Connor McDavid.

Fashion note: I mentioned the other day that Kyle has hair to die for, but I found her mane to be extremely distracting on Tuesday. She had it done up in a top knot, and it looked like a fire hydrant growing out of her head. I couldn’t stop staring at the thing. And, no, that isn’t being sexist. I’d say the same thing about Bob McKenzie if he had a fire hydrant on the top of his head.

What a pleasure it is to watch soccer when it isn’t bogged down by needless play-acting. The women do it right. There are no Neymars in their game, at least none that I’ve noticed.

Moving back to the ugly theme, it’s about Sid Seixeiro of Tim & Sid fame on Sportsnet. This was his take on fans in the Republic of Tranna cheering when Kevin Durant of the Golden State Juggernaut was felled by injury in Game 5 of the National Basketball Association final:

“I don’t know exactly how many people in that building last night were cheering the injury, because people were cheering the injury. Anyone who suggests no one was cheering the injury is either lying or stupid. Anyone who booed that kid, whether or not they knew the severity of the injury is scum. Period. I don’t wanna talk about it. There was a lot of people in that building doing it. Now, the other part of this…if that game last night was in Philadelphia, how would they have reacted? If that’s the reaction in Toronto last night, what do Philly fans do? What do Celtic fans do? In any Eastern Conference building last night, that exact same thing would happen.”

And what? Because Philly fans are boors that makes it okay for fans in The ROT to be dinks too?

Using that logic, if the Jurassics lose the NBA final, it’s okay for the rabble in The ROT to torch the town because, hey, that’s what they did in Vancouver after the 2011 Stanley Cup final.

Get a grip, Sid.

Media in the Republic of Tranna can talk all they like about Canada being swept up in Raptors fever, but I’m sorry, it isn’t an official national party until someone rides a horse into a hotel lobby.

Jack Todd

So, are the flowers of sports journalism across our vast land into the Jurassics like we’re led to believe? Nope. On Monday, with Tranna poised to win the National Basketball Association title, here’s what they were writing about:

Terry Jones, Postmedia Edmonton: The Edmonton Eskimos.
Ed Willes, Postmedia Vancouver: Led off his weekly musings column with a take on building a Stanley Cup champion and mentioned the Jurassics at the tail end.
Paul Friesen,
Winnipeg Sun: Khari Jones, new head coach of the Montreal Alouettes.
Rob Vanstone,
Regina Leader Post: The Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Postmedia Calgary: Front page story was equestrian.
Jack Todd,
Montreal Gazette: Fast car racing.

Todd, in fact, took a snarky swipe at all the Jurassics hype, pooh-poohing it while praising Formula 1’s Canadian Grand Prix: “Montreal has its answer to Toronto, where the Raptors are almost certain to win the NBA championship sometime this week. Overnight, Toronto the Insufferable will become Toronto the Extremely Insufferable. Glasses of skim milk will be raised to the queen. Drake’s mug will replace that of Sir Wilfred Laurier on the five-dollar bill. To all of which, Montreal will reply with a world-weary Gallic shrug, another glass of wine and the distinctive yowl of (Sebastian) Vettel’s Ferrari as it leaps out of the Senna ‘S’ at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.”

Rob Vanstone

Great tweet from Rob Vanstone of the Leader Post re the upcoming Canadian Football League season: “I’m picking the Schooners to finish ahead of Montreal.”

Best tweet so far this week was delivered by Bob Weeks of TSN, following Rory McIlroy’s victory in the Canadian Open golf tournament:
Q: Do you wish the US Open started tomorrow?
Rory: No because I’ll be hung over.”

Also got a kick out of this cheeky tweet from Terry Jones of Postmedia E-Town: “I’d like to see the Raptors win it in seven. Just like to see Toronto squirm a little more. So sue me.” Not surprisingly, hostiles with zero sense of humor surfaced to brand Jonesy a “hater” and “bitter” and “obese.” If I know Jonesy, he’s still laughing at the mooks.

U.S. speaker Nancy Pelosi and Trudeau the 2nd have one of those silly politician wagers on the NBA final. If Golden State wins, Pelosi gets Atlantic salmon, chocolates, bagels, bison meat, Nanaimo bars and beer. If the Jurassics triumph, Trudeau the 2nd receives chocolate, wine, almonds and walnuts. I don’t know about the chocolate and wine, but the nuts will come in handy for Trudea. You know, to replace the pair that Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott took from him during the SNC-Lavalin scandal.

I sometimes forget that this is my blog and I can write about whatever catches my fancy. So, this tweet from Ricky Gervais has nothing to do with sports but it piqued my interest: “What five albums have you listened to most in your life? Be honest, not trendy.”

These are mine:

Sinatra at the Sands (with Count Basie & the Orchestra)—Frank Sinatra
Classical Barbra—Barbra Streisand
Old Ways—Neil Young
Cowboyography—Ian Tyson
Greatest Hits—Steely Dan

I plunked each one of those platters on the turntable this week and I’m pleased to report they’re still brilliant.

And, finally, I like to think of all these musings as original thoughts, but how can I be sure when I don’t know what anyone else is thinking? And if you do think the same as me, be afraid. Be very afraid.