Let’s talk about Black Wednesday at the Trib…the toy department roll call…dead soldiers at dawn…hitting dingers off Nolan Ryan…the dog ate Eddie Dearden’s golf copy…the dreaded Green Monsters…Sals cheese nips and fries with Jeems Coleman…what’s in a (nick)name?…and a “damn good job”

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 and his bride Peggy, the LGIW.

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.

Dave Komosky

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.

The esteemed Jeems Coleman

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.”

About Jennifer Botterill breaking into the old boys club and lighting the way for young female hockey players in Manitoba…old friend Barry Bonni from The Bronx in the Hall of Fame…and old friend Vic Grant getting the last laugh about Bobby Hull

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

Bathgate, Broda, Belfour and now Botterill…as in Jennifer Botterill. Female. Alongside the giants in the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame. As a player.

Step aside, boys, your old club ain’t what it used to be.

Jennifer Botterill

The historic significance of Jennifer Botterill’s nomination as the first female inductee to the MHHofF’s players roll call seemed lost on Tuesday when the class of 2017 was introduced. The focus was on Michael Gobuty. And for just reason.

Gobuty, to be enshrined in October as a builder, is a very nice man who long ago secured his place in local shinny lore by a) tossing the Winnipeg Jets a $250,000 lifeline when the World Hockey Association flagship franchise was about to go glub, glub, glub, and b) assuming one of the lead roles in the Jets’ move from the WHA to the National Hockey League.

Quick digression: We’re duty bound to point out that Gobuty, a mover and shaker in the local rag trade back in the day, also is the man who looked a gift horse in the mouth and balked at spending another quarter of a million dollars (chump change in today’s inflated market) on a scrawny kid named Gretzky.

Wayne spent two days in my house,” Gobuty was saying on Tuesday. “I had the opportunity to get him.”

Except Rudy Pilous, a learned man with a rich pedigree that included coaching Memorial Cup and Stanley Cup champions, wasn’t keen on this Gretzky kid. Believed him to be “too skinny.” Thus, the Jets general manager counseled Gobuty to consider better ways to spend $250,000. D’oh! We all know how well losing Wayne Gretzky to the Edmonton Oilers worked out for the Jets. But, hey, let’s not be too hard on ol’ Rudy. I mean, someone at Decca records once rejected The Beatles, so there’s been at least one bigger gaffe.

So we won’t hold the Gretzky thing against Gobuty, who, not for the first time, also debunked the folksy myth that he lost the Great One at a backgammon table.

We played backgammon,” he confirmed in recalling a rendezvous with Nelson Skalbania during which the Indianapolis Racers bankroll offered up Gretzky for the sticker price of $250,000, “but it was not for Wayne.”

Anyway, as much as Gobuty’s tales make for terrific copy and get gums flapping, it’s about Jennifer Botterill.

I’d like to say that the Harvard honours grad (psychology) and much-decorated member of our national and Olympic women’s shinny side is keeping great company with legends like Andy Bathgate, Turk Broda, Ed Belfour, Bobby Clarke, Mosie and the rest of the boys who’ve been inducted since the creation of the MHHofF in 1985, but it must be said that they are in great company, as well.

Jen Botterill’s bonafides are exceptional:

* Five times a world champion.
* Three times an Olympic champion.
* The only two-time winner of the Patty Kazmaier Award as the top female player in NCAA hockey.
* National champion with Harvard.
* MVP at the 2001 and 2004 women’s world hockey championship.
* Best forward at the 2001 women’s world hockey championship.
* Leading scorer in the 2007-08 Canadian Women’s Hockey League season.
* Manitoba’s female athlete of the year in 2001.

The Botterill induction in October won’t be all about the trinkets, decorations and records, though. It’s a message. The Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame no longer is an old boys club for players. It’s an anybody’s club. And young girls playing hockey in Manitoba can follow Jen Botterill’s path. She lit the way for them.

It should be emphasized that there are other female members of the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame. Referee Laura Loeppky, for example, is enshrined in the Officials wing, while Dianne Woods and Jill Mathez are honored as Builders. Jen Botterill, however, is the first to go in based purely on her playing cred.

Barry Bonni (front row, third from right) and the 1981-82 MMJHL champion River East Royal Knights.

So pleased to see old friend Barry Bonni get the nod in the MHHofF Builders category. Both Barry and I froze our tootsies more than once on the outdoor freezes at Bronx Park in East Kildonan, but we survived to tell tales about Dunc the Rat and other oddball characters in The Bronx. Barry went on to build a dynasty with his River East Royal Knights in the Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League.

Also pleased to know another old friend, Winnipeg Tribune colleague Vic Grant, will be enshrined in the Media category in October. Whenever I think of Vic, I retreat to the spring of 1972, when he’d arrive in our sports department bunker on the fifth floor of the now-vanished Trib building in downtown River City. He was usually wearing a Chicago Blackhawks jacket, a gift from scout Jimmy Walker I believe, and he’d advise us that Ben Hatskin was about to take Bobby Hull hostage and sign him to a Jets contract. We guffawed. As history records, however, Vic had the last laugh.

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

Winnipeg Sun sports: Still punching above its weight class after all these years.

It has been said of the 1960s that if you remember them you weren’t really there.

I sort of feel the same way about my dozen or so years working at the Winnipeg Sun—overwhelming evidence supports the notion that I was there during the 1980s and ’90s, but I’m not convinced that I was there.

I must have been there, though. If not, Paul Friesen wouldn’t be there now. Nor would Mark Hamm.

Oh, yes, I’m responsible for Friesen. If you enjoy his sports column in the Sun, all praise to him. If you don’t enjoy his column, blame me. I got him the gig. Correction: I got him the gig that led to the gig.

True story…

I was standing in the queue at one of the checkout counters in the Osborne Village Safeway store when Friesen stepped behind me. A young and bright, top-drawer reporter with radio station CJOB at the time, he had once confessed to me that he harbored career yearnings that leaned more toward the print division of journalism.

“Are you still interested in becoming an ink-stained wretch?” I asked him.

“Ya,” he confirmed. “That’s what I’ve always wanted to do. Why do you ask?”

“Because something might be happening at the Sun. I can’t tell you what, but something’s going down. Let me talk to some people.”

So I did. I talked. To some people. They talked to Friesen and hired him. That was 1997. He’s still there. I think he’s grateful, but I suppose that depends on the ever-changing temperature of the sports columnist gig, which tends to run hot and cold on a day-to-day basis.

It was also in the summer of 1997 that I decided to make a one-day whistlestop in Kenora, a lovely, little resort getaway not far removed from the Manitoba-Ontario border. I mentioned my escape to one of the mucky-mucks who made all the decisions of loft at the Sun.

“While you’re there,” he said, “maybe you could meet with a young guy named Mark Hamm. He’s applied for a job here and you can do the interview.”

I did. In a pub. Then returned home to report my findings.

“I like him,” I advised the mucky-mucks. “Nice, young guy. Enthusiastic. Wants to get ahead. I got a good vibe.”

“Would you hire him?” the mucky-muck asked.

“Yes. I think he would fit in nicely.”

Apparently, it’s still a nice fit. Eighteen years later, Hamm is the Sun’s editor-in-chief.

Much has been said of the Winnipeg Sun since its presses started rolling 35 years ago this week, not all of it favorable. The Sun has been maligned, mocked and ridiculed. Scorned, battered and dismissed as a trashy, tits-and-ass tabloid that once attempted to make rock stars out of panda bears. Through it all, though, there has been one constant source of pride: The sports section.

From the formative days in the claustrophobic, cramped confines of a makeshift newsroom on Garry Street, with Vic Grant cranking out Winnipeg Jets copy and Jim Ketcheson holding the maestro’s baton, to the present, we punched above our weight class. We played Rocky to the Winnipeg Free Press’s Apollo Creed. Always and forever the underdog. Always and forever the scrappy, iron-willed fighter who could give as good as take. We embraced that role. We wore it.

No doubt we hit the canvas a few times, but we were always standing at the end of 12 rounds. And we scored a good many knockdown blows of our own.

I think of wonderful writers like George (Shakey) Johnson and Ed Willes (now the main sports columnists at the Calgary Herald and Vancouver Province, respectively) and Ed Tait (beat writer/columnist at the Freep) who gave their gift to the Sun sports pages. And that’s not to ignore creative layout people like Ketch, Dave (Homer) Connors and Dave Komosky, who, by the way, ought to be in the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Media Roll of Honor.

The Sun is still a middleweight fighting a heavyweight. Whereas it seems as though the Freep has three or four scribes for every beat, the Sun gets the job done—and they really do get it done—with a skeletal stable of one columnist and two beat guys—Friesen, Kirk Penton and Ken Wiebe.

They’re fighting the good fight…always and forever.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 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 to her 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.