Bob Irving: As great as the voice of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers is as a play-by-play man, he’s even a better person

Knuckles Irving

I’ve often wondered how, and why, Bob Irving has kept trucking along.

I mean, the man we know affectionately as Knuckles has been the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ main storyteller since 1974. It’s easy to do the math. That’s 43 years ago. Numbers, however, don’t provide perspective on his time describing the goings-on of the Canadian Football League outfit.

For perspective, try this: The year Knuckles began blah, blah, blahing about the Bombers on CJOB…

  • Mike Riley’s pop, Bud, was head coach and Dieter Brock was a rookie backup quarterback we knew as Ralph.
  • The Winnipeg Tribune was a vibrant alternative to the Winnipeg Free Press.
  • Richard Milhouse Nixon was still in the White House, although RMH left the building in August and our American friends said hello to President Gerald Ford.
  • Trudeau the 1st was Prime Minister of Canada, Ed Schreyer was Premier of Manitoba, and Steve Juba was Mayor of all the people in Winnipeg.
  • One-time teenage heartthrob Paul Anka released the regrettable (You’re) Having My Baby, but the top song in Canada was Seasons in the Sun by Terry Jacks.
  • The top-selling album worldwide was Band on the Run by breakaway Beatle Paul McCartney and Wings.
  • Archie Bunker was the No. 1 bigot on TV, with he, Edith, Gloria and Meathead ruling the ratings on All in the Family.
  • Mikhail Baryshnikov defected from the Soviet Union.
  • Muhammad Ali played Rope-a-Dope, then KO’d George Foreman to reclaim the heavyweight boxing championship in the Rumble In The Jungle.
  • The RCMP swore in its first female police officers.
  • A Big Mac cost .65, a loaf of bread .28, a car $3,500, and minimum wage in Manitoba was $2.15.

So, ya, Knuckles has been around some. Squints use carbon dating to determine his age. But that doesn’t mean he’s passed his best-before date. His voice is still as smooth as Tennessee whiskey, his delivery as descriptive as a Steinbeck novel, his integrity unassailable.

That will be absent from the ‘OB broadcast on Friday night in Vancouver, when the Bombers pay a visit to B.C. Place for a skirmish with the Lions. Knuckles has retreated to the repair shop to permit medics to tinker with his ticker and, while there’s little doubt the capable Kelly Moore will perform admirably in his stead, Knuckles is one of those guys you fill in for but cannot replace.

If there is a Vin Scully of the CFL, it’s Knuckles Irving, who’s actually a nicer guy than he is a play-by-play broadcaster.

The sports media, on both the print and electronic side, can be an open range for galloping egos and a misguided sense of significance, but it is largely the province of genuinely good, honest women and men who recognize they’re working in the toy department and, thus, acknowledge that they’ve got a great gig.

I don’t think Knuckles has ever lost sight of that. He’s a humble, earthy man with a killer wit that often keeps the sidelines at Bombers practices at full guffaw. He takes his job seriously but not himself. His passion for his work, the Bombers and the CFL is unparalleled, and I suppose that’s what keeps him trucking after all these years.

No telling how long Knuckles will continue to blah, blah, blah about the Bombers, but his career is kind of like his forehead—it never seems to end.

And that’s a beautiful thing.

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

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About raw sewage and Paul Maurice…the Freep recruiting Shakey Johnson…a herd of Buffalo Girls at the Scotties…and idiocy in print

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

I see where the city of Winnipeg allowed five million litres of raw sewage to pour into the Red River earlier this month. That’s nothing compared to what Paul Maurice keeps pouring over the boards.

Winnipeg Jets head coach Maurice has lost the plot. Totally. Or he’s gone into tank-for-Auston mode.

Coach-Maurice-post-game-Dec-29-609x291
Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice

I mean, really. The Jets are down two goals vs. the New Jersey Devils, Maurice instructs his goaltender to vacate the net in favor of a sixth attacker in a final, frantic push to get a puck past Cory Schneider at the far end of the freeze, and one of his half-dozen wannabe heroes is Chris flipping Thorburn?

What am I missing here?

The last time Thorburn scored, the Prime Minister of Canada was a guy named Trudeau. Pierre, not Justin. Okay, so that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Thorburn actually has five snipes this winter. Trouble is, that’s his average over eight National Hockey League crusades. His career high is nine goals. He lights the lamp about as often as Adam Sandler makes a good movie. Thus, expecting Thorburn to come up with a big goal is like expecting Caitlyn Jenner to win a war of wits with Ricky Gervais.

So what is it that Maurice sees that the rest of us don’t?

Understand something here. I have no problem with Chris Thorburn being Chris Thorburn. The guy’s a gamer. Does whatever is asked of him.

My issue is with Maurice not recognizing that Chris Thorburn is Chris Thorburn.

So, after spending a few days to digest the ouster of old friend George (Shakey) Johnson as sports columnist at the Calgary Herald, here’s what I’m thinking: Why isn’t Winnipeg Free Press sports poobah Steve Lyons on the phone, making a pitch to bring Shakey home? The Freep hasn’t replaced Gary (La La) Lawless, who defected to TSN not so long ago. Since La La took his leave, columnist duties have been shared by the very capable Ed Tait and Paul Wiecek in something of a good cop, bad cop tandem. They’ve been cranking out boffo stuff. But Shakey Johnson is only the best sports writer in Canada (newspaper division). He got his start in River City, at the Winnipeg Tribune in the 1970s. It would be nice if he could finish it off in Pegtown.

chelsea carey
Alberta champ Chelsea Carey.

Can you say Buffalo Girls, kids? There will be a heavy Manitoba flavor to the Scotties Tournament of Hearts next month in Grand Prairie, Alta. Kerri Einarson and friends, of course, will have the Buffalo on their backs when the Canadian women’s curling championship slides from the hacks Feb. 20, but Winnipeg’s Jennifer Jones and gal pals (Team Canada) will join the freshly minted Manitoba queens in the annual rock fest. There’s more. Chelsea Carey of the famed Carey curling clan and a former Manitoba champion is also headed for Grande Prairie as the rep from Wild Rose Country. Chelsea knocked off defending Alberta champion Val Sweeting on Sunday. We’re talking three of the morning-line favorites, all from the Keystone province.

How do you write a story about the provincial women’s curling championship without telling readers that you’re writing about the provincial women’s curling championship? That’s a good question to ask Jim Bender of the Winnipeg Sun, because he managed to report on Sunday’s Manitoba Scotties Tournament of Hearts final between Kerri Einarson and Kristy McDonald in Beausejour without once mentioning the sport of curling. Tsk, tsk Big Jim.

I have long harbored great admiration for a number of sports scribes in our home and native land. I think of wordsmiths like Jack Matheson, John Robertson, Jim Taylor, Jim Coleman, Milt Dunnell, Dick Beddoes and current-day jock journalists Cam Cole and Bruce Arthur. Giants, each of them. But, in terms of pure writing talent, there are precious few about whom I have said, “I wish I could write as well as him/her.” Atop that list would be the legendary Trent Frayne, whose way with words was unequalled. There has not been a better sports scribe in the True North. Ever. After Trent, my personal fab four includes Allen Abel, Stephen Brunt and Shakey Johnson.

Nothing to admire in this quip from Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun: “The idiocy of social media: Fans arguing online who was the better Leaf, (Dave) Keon or Wendel Clark.” Apparently, no one is allowed an opinion unless it jives with Little Stevie Blunder’s. If he says Keon is the greatest of the Toronto Maple Leafs, cased closed. As if, Stevie. Talk about idiocy.

This from my very own self just 15 days ago: “Prediction: By the end of this month, the Jets will be in a playoff position.” D’oh! What a mook.