Let’s talk about Dayna Spiring, role model and feel-good Grey Cup story…a ring for young Eddie?…Chris Steveler doing the Ovi and flashing flesh…the Drab Slab wins the front page war…the J-Boys and Beastmo…the Suitor Swoon…root, root, rooting for the home team…jock journo under attack…and hockey is not for everyone

A hump day smorgas-bored…and let’s clean out one final notebook before I find a nice, warm corner to sit in…

As the Winnipeg Blue Bombers passed the Grey Grail around like a joint at a love-in on Sunday, no doubt there were lumps on bar stools and dudes in man caves across the land who noticed a smallish, raven-haired woman hoisting the goblet.

“Who’s the chick with the Grey Cup?” they likely wondered aloud.

Dayna Spiring

That would be Dayna Spiring, first and only female chair of the Bombers board of directors and, once the engraver is done with his handiwork, the first woman to have her name etched on the ultimate prize in Rouge Football.

And, yes, now that you mention it, I do find it mildly amusing that after 28 Canadian Football League seasons of Winnipeg FC never failing to fail, Dayna showed the boys how it’s done her first time out of the chute. You go, girl.

I suppose there are some among the rabble who might pooh-pooh Dayna’s contribution to the Bombers’ success, because they reckon she doesn’t really do much except sit at a big table in a big boardroom and make life difficult for Wade Miller, a real football guy and CEO of our community-run franchise.

Well, look, I don’t pretend to know the inner-workings of the Bombers board, nor am I privy to her private chit-chats with Miller, who, I’m told, has a head as hard as a bowling ball and whose mug shot appears beside the word ‘mulish’ in the dictionary. And I can’t tell you what goes on when CFL governors gather behind closed doors. But I’ll assume that Dayna is more than just a pretty face in an old boys club, and if David Braley of the B.C. Lions barks at her she’ll bark right back if it’s in the best interest of Winnipeg FC.

So, no, she has no sway in who starts at quarterback, but she might have something to say about what kind of QB the football club can afford, not to mention the quality of character the large lads stuffed inside those blue-and-gold uniforms possess.

The point is, the Bombers’ 33-12 victory over the Hamilton Tabbies in the 107th Grey Cup skirmish on Sunday wasn’t just about football.

Young women and girls across the land also saw Dayna hoist the Grey Grail during the post-game hooraw at McMahon Stadium in the Alberta Foothills, and that tells them they can do it, too. Since we all have mothers, daughters, sisters and nieces, isn’t that something we should all want for them? The belief in self? The belief in can do?

You bet it is.

I’ve never met Dayna Spiring, and I doubt I ever will, but, for me, she’s the real feel-good story of the Bombers’ first Grey Cup victory in 29 years, and a true role model for all women.

Young Eddie

Say, does this Winnipeg FC win mean my dear friend yound Eddie Tait gets a championship ring? I hope so. Once upon a time, of course, Young Eddie was the best football beat writer in all the land, first at the Winnipeg Sun then the Drab Slab, but he escaped the rag trade a couple years back to join the football club and crank out all that quality scribbling for bluebombers.com. I don’t know how far down the food chain he is, but it seems to me that someone should be sizing one of Young Eddie’s digits for a Grey Cup ring. If so, he’ll be the second former Sun scribe to earn one. Mike Petrie went over the wall more than a dozen years ago and eventually became John Hufnagel’s right-hand man with the Calgary Stampeders.

For the record, I have zero championship rings, but I seem to recall legendary coach Cal Murphy once letting me kiss his ring finger. It sure beat the other part of his anatomy that some news snoops were kissing.

Just wondering, has Chris Streveler put his clothes on yet? The Bombers backup QB has been half naked since the local football heroes whupped the Tabbies, and he’s definitely the most likely candidate to do the Ovie and take a dip in a fountain with the Coupe Grey.

Also wondering, can the CFL not find a welder capable of fixing the Grey Cup so it doesn’t fall apart every time one of the large lads takes a swig of beer from the thing? Apparently the binder twine and denture adhesive aren’t working.

The Sun clobbered the Drab Slab in playoff and Grey Cup coverage, but the broadsheet scored a big win with its front page on Monday. Brilliant. Probably a collector’s item. I don’t know who made the call on the Sun front, but it was a bigger flop than the Hamilton offence. I mean, a pic of Andrew Harris running the ball squeezed between a key and an ad? Lame, lame, lame.

Modesty does not prevent me from tooting my own horn at times, and this is one of those times. Here’s what I wrote last February, the day after Bombers GM Kyle Walters convinced Willie Jefferson to come on board: “Winnipeg FC might only require Justin Medlock’s left leg to get the job done in 2019. I mean, who’s going to score on the Bombers? D-coordinator Richie Hall can simply dial up 1-800-GET-SACK and if Jefferson isn’t in the QB’s kitchen, Jackson Jeffcoat will be. Should the J-Boys falter, Beastmo Bighill will be right behind to tidy things up.” And how did it unfold v. the Tabbies? Well, Jefferson had three sacks and two forced fumbles, Jeffcoat had two sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery, while Bighill scooped up a loose ball. Meantime, Medlock hoofed six three-pointers and a rouge for 19 points, more than enough to win the day. I call that Blind Squirrel Syndrome. Sometimes I get it right.

Chris Cuthbert, Keith Urban and groupie Glen Suitor.

Still can’t get over groupie Glen Suitor swooning like a tennybopper when Keith Urban joined him and Chris Cuthbert in the TSN booth late in the third quarter of Sunday’s skirmish. The gooey gushing and impromptu lesson in the workings of three-down football were just…so…creepy, and I think Doug Brown of the Drab Slab put it best about the Suitor Swoon with this tweet: “How about we teach Keith Urban Canadian football in a game that isn’t the Grey Cup?” Right on, Doug.

Almost as bad as Suitor’s orgasmic carry-on was that ridiculous split screen, featuring a blurry vision of Urban on the left, like he was the Pope on his Vatican balcony, and the actual game shown in ant-size. My eyes and ears bled.

Found this post-Grey Cup take from Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab interesting: “Full disclosure. I had no rooting interest in this game.” I call BS on that. I refuse to believe that a guy working and writing in Good Ol’ Hometown for more than two decades didn’t want the Bombers to beat the Tabbies. You can’t permit bias to creep into your copy, but you sure as hell hope the good guys win.

Matty

Mad Mike’s piece reminded me of something my first sports editor, the great Jack Matheson, wrote when readers suggested he was soft on the Bombers due to a perceived friendship with then-coach Ray Jauch. “All right, I’ll come clean, Ray Jauch is a friend of mine, but I didn’t know they had enacted some sort of legislation making it a crime for sports writers to have friends. I don’t see anything wrong with being friendly with a man you work with every day of the week. Where does it say a football writer and a football coach have to have an adversary relationship? Yes, we’re friends. I don’t know about ‘good’ friends, but that doesn’t sound like such a bad idea, either, because we have something in common. We’re thrown together into the football jungle, and Ray Jauch wants to win because it’s his job and I want to win because I live here and I like to be proud of the athletes who represent us.” Exactly. And if that was good enough for Matty, it’s good enough for me, and it should be good enough for today’s scribes.

Mad Mike also reported that there was a nasty and heated verbal exchange post-match between the Bombers faithful and Postmedia Tranna scribe Steve Simmons, who had scribbled a piece suggesting Andrew Harris had no business playing in the Grey Cup game due to his PED bust during the regular season. Let me just say this about that: Simmons is more a hit man than he is a writer. His column has become mean-spirited, slanderous, deliberately incendiary, fraught with factual inaccuracies, and quite witless. He has made a career of assailing and insulting athletes, coaches, managers, etc. of every stripe, so he was simply getting some of his own. As long as it isn’t physical, it’s part of the gig.

The Simmons incident reminds me of the day I was walking home from the Toad In The Hole in Osborne Village one spring. I have no idea what I had written, but a large chap on the sidewalk opposite me suddenly shouted, “You’re a complete piece of shit!” I wasn’t eager to cross River Avenue and discuss the raw sewage seeping from his mouth, but I did hasten my pace and made it home safely.

Bill Peters and Akim Aliu.

The surprise isn’t that Calgary Flames head coach Bill Peters once (allegedly) dropped N-bombs in a changing room, the surprise is that so many people are surprised that this sort of racist language and behavior occurs in hockey.

During the tar-and-feathering of Don Cherry after his commentary on immigrants and poppies a few weeks back, numerous opinionists used the occasion to remind us that “hockey is for everyone,” as if white ice and a black puck make it so. But the Peters-Akim Aliu incident is a disturbing reminder that hockey is not for everyone. If hockey was for everyone, there would be more faces of color on the ice. If hockey was for everyone, there would have been an openly gay man in the National Hockey League by now. Hockey is a lot closer to being “for everyone” on the women’s side, where we’ve seen lesbians on Olympic and national teams around the globe, and transgender players in the National Women’s Hockey League. The men? It’s still a horse-and-buggy sport.

And, finally, until we meet again, it’s been a slice.

Forty-seven years of Winnipeg hockey memories from a former rink rat

Forty-seven years. That’s how long it has been, to the day, since I began a newspaper career that brought neither fame nor fortune but provided a fair bit of fun.

That’s why I still scribble about sports to this day, 17 years removed from mainstream media—it’s a hoot.

Winnipeg Arena

The pay as a freelancer/blogger isn’t nearly as good, mind you. It’s mice nuts. It isn’t enough to keep me well watered and fed. I mean, I can’t afford to make spaghetti and meatballs anymore. It’s one or the other. But, hey, the payoff is the giggles I get by poking the bear, tipping sacred cows or tilting at windmills (I promise, no more cliches for today).

One would think that I’d have gotten the Winnipeg Jets out of my system by now. But no. Some habits are hard to kick, if not impossible. I just can’t let the Jets go. And, to a lesser degree, the Blue Bombers.

I don’t know how many hours I spent in the old barn on Maroons Road, but I do know that Winnipeg Arena was my home away from home for a good number of years. As were various other shinny shacks throughout North America, from the story-studded Montreal Forum to Jack Kent Cooke’s Fabulous Forum in Tinseltown to the rickety Corral in Calgary to frost-bitten wooden huts that passed for hockey rinks in numerous Western Canada outposts.

And that’s what I am remembering this morning…

I remember Frank McKinnon, a remarkable, special man and the person I interviewed for my first Winnipeg Tribune byline story in 1971. Frank, president of the Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association at the time, was one of those people I always thought I should address as “Mister,” because he commanded such respect. But he would have none of it. “I’m Frank,” he told me early in our initial conversation, “and I want you to know that you can call me any time.” Frank and I talked often, but probably not as often as I would have liked.

I remember the night in Atlanta when Winnipeg Jets coach Tom McVie attempted to scale the glass partition separating the two benches so he could fight his counterpart with the Flames, Al MacNeil. Tommy took off his sports coat, took off his necktie, took off his wrist watch, partially unbuttoned his shirt—then took out his teeth! “When he took his teeth out and started undressing,” said MacNeil, “I knew he was serious.”

Muzz MacPherson and his Portage Terriers.
Muzz MacPherson and his Portage Terriers.

I remember riding a bus with coach Muzz MacPherson and his Portage Terriers during their successful 1973 Centennial Cup crusade. Muzz liked his hockey with an edge and there was nothing sissified about the way his lads played. So physical were the Terriers that Humboldt Broncos’ coach Dr. Terry Henning took his puck and went home after five games rather than finish their playoff series with Muzz’s Manitoba Junior Hockey League champions. “Can you believe it?” Muzz asked me. “They quit. The good doctor said my guys are too dirty. He says we’re too mean and nasty. So he quit. I sure as hell wouldn’t want him doing open-heart surgery on me—he’d walk out in the middle of the operation!”

I remember interviewing Vladislav Tretiak at a house on Elm Street in River Heights. I don’t recall who owned the house or why I had to meet the great Soviet goaltender there, but he was in town to promote his book and we gabbed for about an hour at a kitchen table (rather, the interpreter and I chin-wagged for an hour). When we parted, Tretiak said something to the interpreter, who relayed to me that “Vladimir thinks you are a hockey expert.” As photographer Jon Thordarson and I walked toward our vehicle, I said, “Imagine that, Tretiak thinks I’m a hockey expert…sure fooled him, didn’t I?”

I remember being in Indianapolis with the Jets on American Thanksgiving Day and Racers coach Pat (Whitey) Stapleton inviting myself, play-by-play legend Friar Nicolson and Winnipeg Free Press hockey writer Reyn Davis to turkey dinner with his family. It was such a thoughtful gesture, but that’s the kind of relationship media and hockey people sometimes had back then, especially in the World Hockey Association.

I remember Aime Allaire and his never-ending quest to bring Senior hockey’s Allan Cup home to Winnipeg. Alas, Aime’s St. Boniface Mohawks could never get the job done.

I remember the Jets’ first visit to New York City, to play the Rangers. Friar, Reyn, Sod Keilback and I went for a stroll of Manhattan on game-day afternoon and we ducked into magnificent St. Patrick’s Cathedral for a look-see. “I’m going to light a candle for the Jets,” I said. “They’re going to need all the help they can get against the Rangers.” Sod greeted that notion with rude laughter. The Jets beat the Rangers that night, 6-4.

John Ferguson
John Ferguson

I remember another trip to Manhattan. Our bus driver wanted to make a detour down a side street, but he couldn’t navigate the turn because a Volkswagen Beetle was parked too close to the corner. General manager John Ferguson and the driver stepped outside to investigate. Fergy came back on the bus and shouted, “Jimmy! You and a few other guys come with me. We’ve gotta move this car.” Fergy, Jimmy Mann and three or four other players lifted half the Volkswagen on to the sidewalk and away we went.

I remember Muzz MacPherson refusing to talk to me after a Winnipeg Clubs’ game. “I’m too upset,” the gravel-voice coach barked. “I don’t want to talk. Just make up the quotes. You know me well enough by now that you know what I’ll say.” So, for the only time in my career, I made up quotes. The following day, Muzz called me and he was frothing at the mouth. “What are you trying to do to me?” he yelped. “I wouldn’t have said all those things you said I said—I would have done a lot more swearing.”

I remember talking to Ulf Nilsson the night the Jets whupped the Soviet national team, 5-3, and the great Swedish centre saying, “I’m proud to be a Canadian tonight.”

I remember Friar Nicolson allowing me to do five minutes of play-by-play one night when Dave Keon and the New England Whalers were in town. It was a classical gas.

I remember watching the 1973 Belmont Stakes with Muzz and various hockey sorts who had assembled at the Viscount Gort for an annual chin wag. As the great Secretariat romped down the home stretch, about 30 lengths in front of the field, Muzz stared at the TV and shouted, “Don’t break a leg! Don’t break a leg!” Big Red didn’t even break stride and became horse racing’s first Triple Crown winner since Citation in 1948.

I remember Teddy Green’s headaches. I often wondered how a man could be in such crippling pain and still go out and perform so admirably on the Jets blueline.

I remember riding the iron lung with Gerry Brisson and his Winnipeg Clubs on a junket that took us to Brandon, Regina, Swift Current, Calgary and Kamloops and back. Kevin McCarthy was on that team. He was the most-talented Junior I ever covered.

I remember covering an MJHL that included four Winnipeg teams—the Winnipeg Monarchs, St. James Canadians, St. Boniface Saints and my alma mater, the West Kildonan North Stars. (That’s right, I played in the MJHL and covered it. I believe Doug Lunney is the only other person to do so.)

I remember taking pride in the championship work of Barry Bonni with his River East Royal Knights of the Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League, because his team represented my old ‘hood.

Morris Lukowich
Morris Lukowich

I remember Morris Lukowich barking at me after the Jets’ initial NHL game, in Pittsburgh. Luke had been credited with the team’s first NHL goal, tipping in a Peter Marsh shot. “Where did that shot hit you?” I asked him. “Friar and I never saw it change direction.” He shot me with a stone-cold stare and said, “Are you calling me a liar?” I was doing nothing of the sort, of course. “No, Luke, I’m not calling you a liar,” I said. “I have a game story to write and I need to know where the puck hit you so I can describe the goal accurately.”

I remember being part of a media team for Schmockey Night. Ray Jauch was our coach and Eddie (Clear the Track) Shack, the clown prince of the National Hockey League, was my left winger. Jauch, head coach with the Blue Bombers at the time, wouldn’t let Shack or I come off the ice in the final five minutes because we needed a goal to tie the game. Neither of us scored.

I remember wonderful conversations with hockey lifers Bruce Cheatley, Ed Sweeney, Bill Addison, Julian Klymkiw, Aggie Kukulowicz and Billy Robinson, who, along with Dr. Gerry Wilson, was responsible for bringing the first wave of Swedes to North America and transorming the Jets into a WHA power.

I remember defenceman Tim Watters buying Friar and I beer when he came in after curfew one night in Vancouver. “You don’t have to do that, Tim,” Friar told him. “We’re not going to rat you out. You’re good people.” I never ratted out any of the Jets. Neither did Friar. What they did on their time was their business.

I remember covering the Jets rookie training camp in Sainte Agathe, Que., in 1979 for the Winnipeg Tribune, and Fergy asking me to play in the final exhibition game because Patrick Daley had pulled a groin during the morning skate. “Are you serious? You want me to play tonight?” I asked him. He did. So I did. Assisted on the first goal, too. All the players at Sainte Agathe moved on to the Jets main training camp in Winnipeg, then some were assinged to the Tulsa Oilers. I went back to the Trib with a grand total of one assist in my only pro game. And I never got paid.

I remember the Jets first visit to the Montreal Forum. Friar and I walked in with Fergy, who was still a hero in Quebec, and he directed us to the concession stands. “Troi chien chauds,” Fergy ordered. He looked at us and said, “These will be the best hot dogs you’ll ever eat.” They were. To this day.

I remember bringing beer to former Soviet referee Anatoli Segelin, who was part of the U.S.S.R. traveling party for the 1981 Canada Cup. Upon his arrival at the Viscount Gort, Anatoli, who loved Canadian journalists, begged me to bring some beer up to his room on the second floor. I asked Stew MacPherson if he could spare a couple of 12-packs from the media hospitality room for Anatoli and comrades, and he agreed. Upon seeing me at his door with 24 beer, Anatoli flashed a smile as wide as Mother Russia and said, “Canada! Come! Come! We drink!” Segelin, myself and two other comrades did just that.

Willy Lindstrom
Willy Lindstrom

I remember Willy Lindstrom’s pranksterism. Every time the Jets’ travels would take us to Quebec City, Willy would visit a joke shop not far from the Chateau Frontenac and load up on stink bombs and sneezing powder. He would then unleash them on our airplanes. Go to sleep during a flight and it was guaranteed you’d wake up in a sneezing fit, because Willy would sneak up from behind and sprinkle powder on you. And the stink bombs were absolutely paralyzing.

I remember sitting in an airport, listening to Mike Smith deliver a 10-minute oration on the methodology of the Richter Scale after an earthquake hit the West Coast. As he spoke, I thought, “Man, this guy is a different head of lettuce.” I didn’t realize exactly how different Smith was until the day he drafted Sergei Bautin.

I remember going to the draft in Montreal the year Fergy chose defenceman David Babych second overall, ahead of Denis Savard and Paul Coffey. More interesting, however, was the fact Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran were next door, prepping for the Brawl in Montreal, the first fight in their boxing trilogy.

I remember feeling sorry for Ray Neufeld, a truly nice, young man who came to the Jets from Hartford in exchange for David Babych. It was recognized as Fergy’s worst transaction and fans took out their frustrations on poor Ray. That wasn’t fair.

I remember the first time I ever saw Peter Sullivan play hockey and asking, “How is this guy not playing in the NHL?”

I remember Jimmy Mann trying to convince me that he was “not an animal” after his sucker punch had shattered Paul Gardner’s jaw into a dozen pieces. It wasn’t me Jimmy had to convince…it was everyone else in hockey.

I remember Laurie Boschman’s on- and off-ice personalities. He was such a nasty bit of business when they dropped the puck, yet so soft-spoken, sincere and genuinely nice once the final buzzer sounded.

friarI remember a pilot delaying takeoff from Atlanta when we realized rookie broadcaster Sod Keilback was AWOL. Turns out the big lug had gotten lost in the airport, which was larger than his hometown of Yorkton, Sask., and he heard some serious braying once Friar Nicolson had located him and brought him on board. Sod made a feeble attempt to explain his wandering ways, but we were having none of it. “You’re just a big sodbuster,” I said. The name stuck. He was known as Sod thereafter.

I remember my traveling partners in the WHA, Friar and Reyn Davis, two terrific guys. Both of them are in the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame, and rightly so. Sadly, both of them are also dead. I’m neither in the Hall of Fame nor dead, but it’s only a matter of time before I arrive at the Pearly Gates (I probably haven’t been good enough to get in there either).

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.