That date, you see, marks the 50th anniversary of my first byline article in the Winnipeg Tribune, and I always wanted to be like Vince Leah and scribble about sports in Good Ol’ Hometown for at least half a century.
Well, as Maxwell Smart used to say, “missed it by that much.” One month and change.
And I’m okay with that.
I mean, Uncle Vince is a legend whose longevity as a chronicler of local jockdom shall forever remain unmatched. Indeed, unchallenged.
He’s won more awards than Meryl Streep, among them the Manitoba Order of the Buffalo Hunt, and I’m not in the order of anything, except maybe the Order of Bull Droppings, and we all know that’s how more than a few folks have described my scribblings at the Trib, the Winnipeg Sun and on this blog. So, be certain, there’s no attempt here to parallel my career with his.
In truth, Uncle Vince and I share just two commonalities: We both wrote sports at the Trib and we walked out the door the same day, figuratively if not literally, and neither of us had a choice.
Actually, there is one other thing: Neither of us covered a Stanley Cup parade, but I’ll get to that in a moment.
The point is, I’m finally riding off into the sunset, 49 years and 11 months after my initial byline article, a brief report on the 1971 Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association annual meeting tucked into the back pages of the sports section, along with Harold Loster’s horse racing copy.
I’d like to tell you it was a glittering piece of wordsmithing but, in reality, it was unremarkable and totally forgettable, which would explain its positioning on the back pages.
It did, however, serve as the starting point of a career-long, unbreakable link to hockey and, most notably, the Winnipeg Jets.
As much as I covered every sport known to man, it always seemed to come back to hockey for me, and the Old Barn On Maroons Road became my second home.
I watched the Portage Terriers win the Centennial Cup there in May 1973; I watched The Shoe and the Jets parade around the freeze with the Avco World Trophy exactly six years later; I watched one Soviet side and one Russian side win World Junior titles there; I watched the 1981 Canada Cup there; I watched the Jets’ National Hockey League home debut there in ’79 and I watched them say goodbye there on the Day of the Long Faces in ’96. I played alongside Eddie Shack in Schmockey Night there, and I skated with the West Kildonan North Stars against the Winnipeg Monarchs there. Hell, my birth certificate is so dog-eared that I watched Billy Mosienko play there.
So, ya, local hockey and I were a thing. Still are, albeit from a considerable distance.
Back in the day, people would ask me about the Jets, wondering if their favorite player was a good guy or a bit of a twit, or if Fergy really was as tough as 10 miles of gnarly backroad. Even now, whenever I visit Cool Aid here in Victoria to collect the meds that keep me on the green side of the sod, Jim in the dispensary always wants to talk about “your Jets.”
Yes, he thinks of them as my Jets because it’s guilt by association.
The folks out here on the Left Flank, you see, know just three things about Good Ol’ Hometown: 1) It’s bitterly cold, 2) the Jets, 3) the Blue Bombers. In that order.
I’ve spent the past 21-plus years listening to rude laughter about “Winterpeg” and jokes about the Jets and cheap shots about the Bombers, although our football heroes nipped that in the bud in November 2019 when they took custody of the Grey Cup, and it’ll serve all the wise acres right if the Bombers never have to give the thing back.
If only the Jets had been able to do the same with hockey’s holy grail.
A Stanley Cup parade. Was/is that too much to ask? I mean, I’ve covered/watched some damn fine local shinny sides, but the Jets always came undone like a school kid’s shoelace when the games mattered most. I don’t have to tell you it’s happening again this year, although we shouldn’t be surprised given that the general manager, Kevin Cheveldayoff, twiddled his thumbs at the National Hockey League shop-and-swap deadline last month. Damn him.
But I won’t be here to praise or bury the Jets as they play out the string this year. I’m fresh out of cheek, irreverence, sarcasm, cynicism and goof-balling around. My snark tank is also empty.
I’ll continue to root, root, root for them, of course, because I’ve always wanted the Jets, Bombers, our curlers and all local athletes/outfits to succeed, which is most sports scribes’ dirty, little secret. They’ll tell you they don’t cheer for the home side, but don’t believe them. Oh, they don’t rah, rah, rah and siss-boom-bah out loud, but they want to see the locals succeed. It’s human nature, and I have personal knowledge that a good many of them are human. Honest, they are. The trick, of course, is to not allow a fondness for the girls and boys you cover to creep into your copy.
Anyway, I’m outta here, kids, 49 years and 11 months after the first hot-lead byline.
In closing, if I were to offer one morsel of counsel to jock journos hither and yon, it would be this: Take your job seriously, but not yourself. You aren’t splitting the atom, you aren’t running into a burning building to rescue small children, you aren’t digging water wells in a Third World country. So have fun with the gig. And, remember, the people you’re writing about are just that—people. They aren’t athletes who happen to be humans, they’re humans who happen to be athletes.
Adios and thanks kindly for dropping by. I’ve always appreciated it.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and still no word on the if and when of a CFL season, but here’s something else that’s real iffy…
Stop me if you’ve heard this before:
“I believe we’re close to having a team that has a chance to challenge for the Stanley Cup, and I’m really looking forward to that…we’re a lot closer than some people will give us credit for…I look forward to these next five years.”
Sound familiar? It should.
Blake Wheeler said much the same as Adam Lowry scant seconds after scratching his John Hancock on a six-year contract with the Winnipeg Jets.
“I believe in people like (owner) Mark Chipman and Chevy, what everyone stands for and especially in my teammates. I have believed since I got here that we have what it takes to get to the next level, so this is just a part of that process. I truly believe that great things are in store for this group,” the then-future captain told news snoops.
Wheels was 26 at the time. There will be 35 candles on his birthday cake in August.
Lend an ear to Rink Rat Scheifele who, upon agreeing to an eight-year contract in 2016, expressed a robust belief in “the organization, in the players on the team, in the future prospects.”
The Rink Rat was 23. He’s now 28.
Connor Hellebuyck, the Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender, locked in for six years and said, “The tools are in this locker room to be a championship team. I love it here and I want to be here and I really believe this team has what it takes.”
Hellebuyck was 25. He turns 28 next month.
And now we have another long-hauler, Lowry, parroting his teammates’ faith in a process that began in 2011 and has delivered the grand sum of two post-season series victories, both in the spring of 2018.
Lowry is 28. The freshly minted contract he signed on Friday will take him to 33.
So what’s my point? Just this: Unless your name is Evander Kane, Jacob Trouba, Dustin Byfuglien, Patrik Laine or Jack Roslovic, the Jets have all gulped down the Kool-Aid in a cultish-like obedience. They believe. And that’s the reason what went down at last week’s National Hockey League shop-and-swap deadline rankles.
We know Kevin Cheveldayoff kicked some tires on top-four defencemen, and we know the sticker price sent the Jets general manager running like a guy trying to stay two steps ahead of a loan shark.
We can assume his contemporaries were eager to fleece him and take Ville Heinola, Cole Perfetti and other shiny objects off his hands in exchange for their lame, halting and hard of seeing, but that was never going to happen because Chevy places premium value on his young studs. You might have a better chance of prying his bride, Janet, and their two kids away from him.
So it was no sale. Chevy allowed the NHL trade window to close with a whimper, and the Jets are no closer to the Stanley Cup today than a week ago, unless you consider a bottom-end, plug-in blueliner (hello, Jordie Benn) a shiny object.
Oddly enough, many among the rabble, also some news snoops, have given Chevy a tip of the chapeau and a slap on the back for his do-little day, because he “protected assets,” meaning he clung to young wannabes Heinola, Perfetti and others like gum to the bottom of a shoe.
Well let me tell you something about assets: They don’t stay forever young.
Chevy is protecting the future when most of the parts are in place for today’s Jets team. Add the right top-four defender and we might be talking about a parade route. But the Jets GM chose to stand still, even as time refuses to stand still for his significant core workers.
Wheeler’s prime years have been wasted. Scheifele and Hellebuyck are into prime time. Same with Lowry, Andrew Copp and Dylan DeMelo. And don’t look now, but Josh Morrissey is 26.
Which begs this question: If the Jets GM was unwilling to go all-in now, when?
This was the time for derring-do, an opportunity for Chevy to orchestrate what could have become his signature moment, lifting the Jets to that “next level” Wheeler spoke of all those years ago.
Well, here’s something else the captain said, when he re-upped in September 2018: “It kind of looks like that (Stanley Cup) window is opening up.”
Apparently Chevy missed the memo.
I don’t know if the GM will reflect on this crusade five years from now and view it as the one that got away, but Blake Wheeler might. Rink Rat Scheifele, Connor Hellebuyck and others like Lowry who’ve committed long term might, as well.
Chevy should be kicking himself. Right in the assets.
Something Bryan Little said when the Jets’ playoff aspirations had been dashed in March 2017 is haunting: “It’s another year of your career that you can’t get back. Some of the best players in this room are the youngest. There’s definitely a bright future, but some guys are older and want to do something right now. That’s the thinking going into next year.” Little was 29. He’s now 33, wounded beyond repair, and there is no next year. Not for him. But why must it always be “next year” for Scheifele, Hellebuyck, Lowry et al?
As I was saying last week, I don’t buy into the Jack Campbell hype that news snoops in the Republic of Tranna have been spreading like thick, gooey peanut butter. He’s been a career backup goaltender for a reason, and Maple Leafs loyalists are beginning to see why. For all their talent, the Leafs are vulnerable in the blue paint, whereas Hellebuyck gives the Jets the best puck stopping in the Hoser Division (yes, including Carey Price). And we all know what that means when the boys begin to play for keeps, which is the very reason Chevy shouldn’t have dithered last week.
I don’t know about you, but I’m digging the threads our Canadian athletes will be wearing for the closing ceremonies at the Tokyo Olympics this summer, if there is a Tokyo Olympics, that is. Ya, sure, you can say the denim jacket looks like a teenage graffiti artist had a moment of madness, but I look at it more as a stroke of genius. There’s a youth-cool vibe to the kit, something you might wear on a pub crawl, or wherever it is that our young people go these days. It’s totally boffo compared to the get-ups that noted needle-and-thread guy Ralph Lauren designed for our American friends. I can’t tell if he’s dressed the U.S. team for the next space shuttle mission or an expedition to the South Pole.
I’ll take nose-pickers for $2,000, Alex. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has completed his gig as guest host on Jeopardy!, and he let us in on a little secret about the sticky notes he used to aid his performance. One of them read: “Don’t pick your butt/nose.” Seriously. He needs a sticky note to remind himself not to pick his nose on camera? And the Packers trust Rodgers to call audibles in the red zone?
Apparently, producers of Fox NFL Sunday were so impressed with Rodgers’ work on Jeopardy! that they plan to equip Terry Bradshaw with sticky notes to improve his work: 1. “Remember, this ain’t Hee Haw.” 2. “Powder shiny head during every commercial break.” 3. “Do not mention gap in Michael’s teeth.” 4. “Do not laugh at Howie’s 1950s haircut because at least he has hair.” 5. “Resist all urges to muss up Jimmy’s hair.” 6. “Do not tell Rob Riggle he isn’t as funny as Frank Caliendo.” 7. “Remember, guy sitting beside you is Curt, not James.” 8. “Jay Glazer is human, he just looks like a garden gnome.” 9. “Mention four Super Bowl rings whenever Jimmy mentions two Super Bowl rings.” 10. “When in doubt, always refer to sticky note No. 1.”
Favorite headline of the weekwas delivered by the New York Post: “How Yankees can address their crappiness.” Anything that combines New York Yankees and “crappiness” is right by me, although I’m sure George Steinbrenner’s son Hal wouldn’t agree.
If your product needs to add some sizzle and pizzazz, who you gonna call? Well, Major League Baseball has called Brian Stedman, now responsible for strategy and development. That would be the same Brian Stedman who, for the past seven years, carried the sizzle-and-pizzazz portfolio for Vince McMahon’s cast of characters in World Wrestling Entertainment. That will be quite an adjustment for Stedman. I mean, the play actors in wrestling are allowed to hit each other with everything including the kitchen sink, but the Yankees can’t hit anything.
Old friend Big Jim Bender took a bit of a paddywhacking on Twitter last week, after he made a flippant remark about the Brendan Bottcher foursome failing to win a trinket at the world curling championship but securing an Olympic berth for Canada. “Was the very least they could do,” Big Jim wrote. The Pebble People pounced. Darren Moulding, third on the Bottcher team, called the former Winnipeg Sun scribe “a joke,” adding, “You’re a stain on our country, not me.” Harsh. Olympian and TSN talking head Cheryl Bernard weighed in, describing Bender’s comment as “crap.” Oh my. Who knew the delightful Cheryl could be so undelightful? Anyway, not that he plans to call me to the stand as a character witness, but let the record show that Big Jim is a friend of curler’s everywhere. He’s spent more time in chilly two-sheeters than most people I know, so, as Strother Martin told Cool Hand Luke, “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”
Speaking of Pebble People, Rachel Homan played in the Scotties Tournament of Hearts title match on the final day of February while eight months pregnant. She then went home to bring daughter Bowyn into the world, and now the former Canadian/world champ has returned to the fray, skipping her team in the Humpty’s Champions Cup just three weeks after giving birth. Meanwhile, Kawhi Leonard won’t be available to the L.A. Clippers today because he needs a rest—after sitting the last four games. I swear, if men could get pregnant and give birth, there would be no male sports.
Nobody asked me, but I’d say the selection committee for the Canadian Football Hall of Fame got it right when they chose Marv Levy, Nik Lewis, Will Johnson, Mike Walker, Orlondo Steinauer, Don Wilson and Doug Mitchell as this year’s inductees. These things are always ripe for debate, of course, and we usually hear some squawking whenever a sports body salutes the best of the best, but I don’t hear any arguments about the class of 2021, nor should there be.
And that’s not to ignore broadcasters Bernie Pascall and Bob Hooper, who got the nod from the Football Reporters of Canada and will go into the CFHF media wing. Hooper was a long-time Hamilton Tabbies play-by-play voice, and Pascall’s career chatting about Rouge Football on radio and TV spans decades. Unfortunately, Bob’s not around to enjoy the honor, but Bernie’s still with us, so he has something fresh to talk about with the neighbors on beautiful Vancouver Island.
The CFHF media wing is the ultimate boys’ club. By my scorecard, there are now 101 members, all men. Yup, 101-0. I realize there haven’t been a lot of women on the beat, but in my 20 years covering the Canadian Football League in three cities (Winnipeg, Calgary, Republic of Tranna), I can recall sharing a press box at Grey Cup games with Ashley Prest of the Drab Slab and Joanne Ireland of the Edmonton Journal. Ashley also knew her way around the University of Manitoba campus to cover coach Brian Dobie’s Bisons, and there might be some high school grid in her resumé, too, because that’s what most of us did back in the day. We started at the bottom and worked our way up. So it seems to me that the boys on the beat should find room for trailblazers like Ashley or Joanne.
Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna has made his annual plea for Dick Thornton’s induction to the CFHF, and I can’t disagree with Sy. Tricky Dick certainly has the bona fides, including two Grey Cup victories with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and multiple all-star salutes, and he also happens to be one of the more colorful characters in CFL lore. Legendary Bombers coach Bud Grant once said this of his defensive back/wannabe quarterback/kick returner/kicker: “When most players arrive in a new town, the first thing they do is phone a girl. When Dick Thornton arrives, he phones a sports writer.”
Tricky Dick had an ego the size of a football field, and here’s how the great columnist Jack Matheson once described him in the Winnipeg Tribune: “The writers and broadcasters treat No. 14 with considerable respect because he’s hot copy, in or out of uniform. His eccentricities are always guaranteed to liven a dull scene and for conversation Thornton holds all records for Blue Bombers of the modern era. The conversation always seems to revolve around Dick Thornton, but he has a magnetism and I’ve never seen anybody walk away from Dick Thornton when his mouth was open.” Another time, Matty wrote this of Thornton: “An incurable extrovert who played harder with his larynx than his limbs.”
Final note on Dick Thornton: The Bombers traded him to the Toronto Argos the same day the Maple Leafs cleared the track and sent Eddie Shack to the Boston Bruins. I guess the Republic of Tranna just wasn’t big enough for two clown acts.
Still getting creepy vibes from those face mashups TSN featured on its NHL trade deadline coverage. It’s clever work by Matty Go Sens, but morphing the faces of Gino Reda and Craig Button into one is the kind of stuff that will keep kids awake at night. Ditto the James Duthie/Bob McKenzie blending. I haven’t been so frightened since Alfred Hitchcock had all those nasty birds attack Tippi Hedren.
This from Steve Simmons: “The top four goaltenders in all-time wins are Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy, Roberto Luongo and now Marc-Andre Fleury. All of them Quebecois. And there’s not a single Quebec goalie of consequence (apologies to Jonathan Bernier) playing in today’s NHL.” Hmmm. Last time I checked, Marc-Andre Fleury was still a Quebecois and leading the NHL in shutouts.
Patrick Marleau will lace ’em up for his 1,768th NHL skirmish on Monday night, moving past Gordie Howe for most games played. It’s a terrific achievement. Worth noting, however, are their birth certificates. Howe was 52 when he finally shut down, Marleau is 41. And, at 52, Howe was a significant contributor for the Hartford Whalers, scoring 15 goals and 41 points in 80 games, plus another two points in three playoff jousts. Marleau is 4-4-8 in what looks to be another lost season for the San Jose Sharks.
And, finally, on the subject of legendary performers, I discovered a DVD of Tony Bennett: An American Classic at a local video story the other day, and I snapped it up immediately. Fan-freaking-tastic. Tony’s duets with Barbra Streisand and our Canadian songbird k.d. lang brought on the water works (sheer brilliance renders me very emotional), and there was only one sour note struck—the November 2006 TV special was far too short, just 42 minutes. I wanted at least an hour more.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and let’s salute the girls and ladies of sports on the eve of International Women’s Day…
I spent 30 years in the rag trade and worked alongside four women—Peggy Stewart and Rita Mingo at the Winnipeg Tribune, Mary Ormsby at the Toronto Sun, and Judy Owen at the Winnipeg Sun.
Oh, wait. There was a fifth.
We had a summer intern at the Calgary Sun, although her name escapes me. I recall that she failed to surface for her first day of work (something about her car breaking down in Banff on a long weekend—nudge-nudge, wink-wink), and that was our initial clue that she might have made a wrong turn on her career path.
Hey, I get it. Cars break down all the time. Been there, done that and had the hefty repair bills to prove it. Happens to us all. But in Banff? On a long weekend? How positively convenient.
I jokingly informed sports editor John Down that I would have crawled from Banff to Calgary if it meant arriving to my first assignment at the designated hour, but Downsy was as laid back as a Sunday afternoon on the porch, and he let it slide. Alas, that young lady with the pleasant personality one day showed up to cover a golf tournament a bit too uncovered. She was wearing hot pants and stilettos, and she sashayed onto the practice green in her spiked heels, puncturing the immaculately groomed lawn.
Her internship was aborted shortly thereafter.
Not because of her wardrobe malfunction, understand. That would have been an unacceptable double standard, even in the early 1980s.
I mean, none of my male colleagues back in the day were GQ cover material, the exception being Shakey Johnson, who knew how to hang a three-piece suit. The rest of the lot were borderline slobs. Some looked like they’d spent the night sleeping with a raccoon family under a bridge. Their idea of evening wear was a white shirt with anything less than three ketchup or mustard stains. But sartorial slobbery was a non-issue.
So, no, the young lady intern’s dismissal wasn’t about one ghastly fashion foible. It was her lack of zest for the job, the absence of an all-in mindset, and iffy subject knowledge. Let’s just say it became readily apparent that writing sports at the Sun wasn’t meant to be her calling.
Anyway, there were four full-time female sports scribes during my tour of duty, and I can’t imagine any of them considered wearing a pair of Daisy Dukes to the golf course, rink, ball park or stadium.
Rita, Judy and Mary all enjoyed lengthy, admirable careers in journalism, but I don’t know what became of the ever-smiling Peggy Stewart, hired by Jack Matheson as the first female to write sports full time at a major daily newspaper in Western Canada.
Today, the landscape in Good Ol’ Hometown is barren, with zero females in the toy departments at either of the daily newspapers.
Why is that? I’m uncertain. It could be that the rag trade has become too much of a bad bet. Maybe it’s still too much of a boys club. Perhaps it’s a reluctance to enter man caves and deal with brooding, boorish male athletes and/or coaches
“You know, it may just be a lack of interest in writing sports, rather than doors being closed for them,” Judy Owen suggests in an email. “After all, sports hours—when the world is normal—are kind of crappy and the sometimes-crazy deadline writing isn’t very appealing to a lot of journalists.”
Good point. The hours really do suck and often mean you’re not hopping into the kip until well after the pumpkin hour on game nights.
Whatever the case, the female sports scribe is extinct in Winnipeg, so here’s to those who were once there—Judy, Rita, Ashley Prest, Barb Huck and Melissa Martin.
How are we doing with coverage of women’s sports? Not so good. A 2019 U.S. study tells us that 40 per cent of athletes are female, yet the distaff side of the playground receives just 4 per cent of ink and air time. What about in Good Ol’ Hometown, though? Are the Winnipeg Sun and Drab Slab giving the ladies a fair shake? Well, I monitored both sheets for three months—November, December, January—and the findings aren’t favorable. The evidence:
Women on the sports front
Free Press 16 of 90 editions.
Sun 3 of 89 editions.
Copy on female sports
Free Press 74 articles, 30 briefs.
Sun 20 articles, 7 briefs.
Editions with coverage of female sports
Free Press 63 of 90.
Sun 24 of 89.
Naturally, the numbers were jacked up in February during the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, but I suspect coverage will revert to same old, same old moving forward.
TSN’s ratings for the Scotties final last Sunday took a face plant from a year ago, with an average of 682,000 sets of eyeballs checking out Kerri Einarson-Rachel Homan II, a sequel to the 2020 championship match that attracted 979,000 viewers. I trust no one is surprised, because it’s an industry-wide reality for major events during the COVID pandemic. Here are the facts, ma’am:
Stanley Cup final: -61%
U.S. Open golf: -56%
NBA final: -49%
Kentucky Derby: -49%
U.S. Open tennis: -45%
World Series: -31%
Super Bowl: -15%
I didn’t tune in to every draw of the Scotties, but I can report that I never heard one F-bomb, or any other salty language, from the lady curlers in the draws I watched. Somehow I doubt I’ll be able to say the same of the men at the close of business at this week’s Brier. They can be quite potty-mouthed Pebble People.
Gather ’round the campfire, kids, old friend Peter Young has a curling tale to tell. It’s all about a Snake and the longtime broadcaster faking it, which is to say Pete covered a Brier in Ottawa from the Forum in Montreal. True story. I don’t know if that makes him the Father of Zoom, but he surely was ahead of his time.
If the Columbus Blue Jackets send head coach John Tortorella packing, please don’t tell me there’s a job waiting for him on Sportsnet or TSN.
Jennifer Botterill is fantastic on Sportsnet’s hockey coverage. Just saying.
Muhammad Yaseen of Alberta’s provincial Hee-Haw Party has introduced a bill in the Legislature proposing that rodeo become the official sport of Wild Rose Country. He sees it as a “beacon of hope.” Animal rights activists, meanwhile, see it as a steaming pile of BS. They figure if you’re going to pay homage to a bunch of big, dumb animals that work for no more than eight seconds a day, why not the Calgary Flames?
When you think about it, Yaseen’s pitch makes sense for Alberta, where Wrangler jeans and straw hats are considered formal attire. Each year the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association sanctions approximately 50 events in Wild Rose Country, and there are probably just as many rodeos that fly under the radar. Hmmm. That’s a lot of road apples to clean up. About the biggest mess since Flames GM Brad Treliving took on Milan Lucic’s contract.
Actually, the Looch is having a decent year. He has more goals (six) than National Hockey League luminaries Nathan MacKinnon, Evgeni Malkin, Jack Eichel, Claude Giroux and Taylor Hall, so maybe I should stop picking on him. On second thought, naw.
Cleveland Browns QB Baker Mayfield claims he observed a UFO while driving home from dinner in Austin, Texas, last week. He described the object as a “very bright ball of light.” UFO experts immediately pooh-poohed the sighting, claiming Mayfield had actually just seen the top of Terry Bradshaw’s head.
Archaeologists continue to make amazing discoveries in the ruins of Pompeii, the ancient Roman city buried by volcanic spewings in 79 AD. The latest finding has them really excited. It’s a ceremonial chariot that features ornate decorations of bronze and tin medallions, although they don’t know what to make of the Tom Brady rookie card stuck in the spokes of one of the wheels.
Speaking of Brady, his National Football League rookie card sold for $1.32 million at auction last week. Remind me once again how money is tight during this pandemic.
On the subject of high finance, some people think Fox Sports is nuts for agreeing to pay annoying squawkbox Skip Bayless $32 million over the next four years. I don’t know about that. When you break it down, it’ll work out to only 50 cents an insult.
Baseball is peanuts, Crackjack and hot dogs. And beer, of course. But how much booze? Well, the folks at njonlinegambling.com talked to 2,631 Major League Baseball fans to determine which team’s following is the booziest of the bunch, and nowhere do they swill more suds than on the south side of Chicago. White Sox loyalists chug down 4.2 drinks per nine innings, spending $46 on their libations, so you know they’re well-juiced by the seventh-inning stretch. Blue Jays fans, meanwhile, are middle of the pack when it comes to drinking (3 per game, $25), but they top one category: 70 per cent of them get into the grog before the opening pitch. Yup, they feel the need brace themselves for what’s to come.
TSN’s favorite washed-up quarterback, Johnny Manziel, apparently has used up all his Mulligans in football, so he plans to devote the next 12 years of his troubled life to earning his way onto the PGA Tour. As what? Tiger Woods’ chauffeur?
While saluting friend and former teammate Chris Schultz, who died of a heart attack on Friday, did Pinball Clemons really refer to the Toronto Argonauts as Canada’s Team? Sure enough, he did. Someone ought to share that little secret with the citizenry in the Republic of Tranna. That way the Boatmen might attract more than friends and family to BMO Field next time they grab grass, whenever that might be.
Watched the movie Creed a few days ago. I won’t make that mistake again. Total rubbish. Yo! Adrian! Tell Rocky to do us all a favor and find another hobby.
If you’re a fan of Ponytail Puck (guilty, yer honor), there’s good and not-so-good tidings.
First, select members of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association have assembled in Chicago to continue the renewal of their Dream Gap Tour and pose for the mandatory photo-ops with Billie Jean King.
It’s the sequel to last weekend’s engagement at historic Madison Square Garden in Gotham.
That the Dream Gappers have returned to the freeze is a favorable development, to be sure, even if they can’t seem to blow their noses without borrowing a Kleenex from BJK.
Not so good, on the other hand, is the setup.
These are glorified scrimmages, featuring many of the top female players on the planet. There is no league. Nothing is at stake, save for bragging rights, some post-match bottles of bubbly, and a share of the $1 million pot Secret Deodorant has donated.
There is no rooting interest, either. Unless, of course, Team adidas throwing down on Team Women’s Sports Foundation gives you the urge to break out the pom-poms.
I think we can agree that identity is vital in sports. We (mostly) pledge allegiance to our local sides/athletes, whether on a community, national or international level. We like to have a dog in the fight because it gives us a sense of ownership and allows us to get sucked up in rivalries (Red Sox-Yankees, Canada-Russia, Ali-Frazier, Chrissie-Martina, Arnie-Jack, Canada-U.S. in women’s hockey, Habs-Leafs, Tiger-Phil, Rafa-Roger, Serena-nobody, etc.).
Alas, there’s nothing compelling about the Dream Gap Tour structure. They play their friendlies, they pat themselves on the back for existing, then they sit back and listen to their pals in the media heap praise on the product but ignore the problem.
Those of us who want Ponytail Puck to work (one viable league) have yet to see or hear a doable business plan from the Dream Gappers. The mission remains as it was at the PWHPA start-up in May 2019: Bury the National Women’s Hockey League and wish, hope and cross fingers that the NHL is prepared to adopt approximately 125 orphans.
Trouble is, unless there’s something developing behind closed doors that we aren’t privy to, that isn’t about to happen anytime soon. The NWHL has shown no inclination to cede the territory it’s staked out in the past six years, and NHL commish Gary Bettman has made it abundantly clear that he harbors no eagerness to further muddy the waters of a divided women’s game.
Which brings us back to the matter of identity sports.
Who are the Dream Gappers? Well, they’re barnstormers. A curiosity piece. A novelty act, if you will, much like the Harlem Globetrotters or Stars On Ice. But that isn’t who they want to be. It isn’t what fans of Ponytail Puck want them to be.
Unfortunately, they’ve trapped themselves in a contradiction of their own creation. That is, they want to play hockey in a professional league, but they refuse to play in the only professional league available to them.
Thus, without an attitude adjustment, they’re destined to be nothing more than a sideshow.
And that’s a shame.
And, finally, can we call for a moratorium on broadcasters using the word “unbelievable” to describe everything from Auston Matthews’ mustache to a five-point game from Connor McDavid? I mean, Darryl Sittler once scored 10 points in a match, so why is five points unbelievable? Nothing in sports is unbelievable if it’s already happened, and when something happens for the first time it has to be believable because it’s happened. So knock it off.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and the ground where I live is covered in a foreign fluffy, white substance. It bears a remarkable resemblance to snow, which I didn’t sign up for when I relocated to Victoria 21 years ago…
I know what it’s like to stir from slumber and discover you don’t have a job. Without warning. Not even a hint.
One night you’re helping put together the Winnipeg Tribune sports section, editing copy and writing headlines, and the next morning you’re informed that some suits in the Republic of Tranna have stopped the presses. Permanently.
Initially, you’re in denial. Naw. Can’t be. Surely the news reader on the radio got it wrong. It was the Ottawa Journal that went belly up, not the Trib.
So you dash downtown, expecting it to be business as usual once you step off an elevator and stroll into the fifth-floor newsroom. Then you gaze upon a collection of long faces and you see the front page headline—“Tribune ceases publication.” It’s true. After 11 years working your way from the business office to editorial copy runner to the Winnipeg Jets beat, you realize there’s no tomorrow. At least not the tomorrow you had mapped out.
Suddenly you’re searching for another job, at another newspaper, in another town. That wasn’t part of the plan. Resumé? Who needed a resumé? You were meant to retire at the Trib.
Friends and colleagues assure you that “a door shall swing open,” yet you can only think of the one that closed.
You’re still young, just 29, but you don’t share the level of confidence that others have in your ability. There’s a family to feed, a mortgage and bills to pay. The severance package is generous, but not sustaining over the long haul. The uncertainty and anxiety are gripping, if not crippling.
More than 200 people are out of work, wondering what comes next after the “let’s talk” communications giant ransacked its radio and TV newsrooms hither and yon, a plundering that included pulling the plug on all-gab sports radio TSN 1290 in Good Ol’ Hometown and jock-speak stations in Vancouver and Hamilton.
Similar to us at the Trib on Aug. 27, 1980, the fatal blow was as ruthless as Charles Barkley barging his way to the front of the line at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Other than Troy Westwood, I don’t know any of the victims at TSN 1290, which is now CFRW and has gone to standup-comedy programming. (Quick question: How can we be sure that a comedian is standing up when it’s on radio?) No doubt some of the natterbugs will land another broadcasting gig. Others won’t be so fortunate, because it’s not as if radio stations are popping up like daisies in May.
Here’s the irony, though: What’s happened to them is among the very reasons they had a job squawking about sports.
Athletes, coaches and managers get fired. They go to the gallows every week, and their misfortune becomes fodder for the yackety-yack-yackers with 24 hours of air to fill.
Some see it coming, because they know the numbers or they know how to read a room.
Jeff Reinebold, for example, would have been a total doofus to believe a 6-26 record as head coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers was sufficient to keep him employed and playing Bob Marley tunes at practice.
Some dismissals come out of left field.
Dwane Casey was coach-of-the-year and the Tranna Jurassics set records for wins and points in 2018, but he was kicked to the curb because he had the bad manners to lose to LeBron James in the NBA playoff tournament.
And it works both ways. Dustin Byfuglien quit the Jets. Jim Rutherford quit the Pittsburgh Penguins. Jim Brown quit the Cleveland Browns to make movies. Barry Sanders quit the Detroit Lions. Andrew Luck quit the Indianapolis Colts. Ken Dryden quit the Montreal Canadiens. Bjorn Borg quit tennis. Annika Sorenstam quit golf. Rocky Marciano quit boxing.
Professional sports is a cold, harsh business, and that’s the operative word: Business.
Sports media is a large part of that business, and the talking heads and scribes aren’t exempt from the same fates as the men and women they talk and write about.
We don’t like to see good people out of work, of course, and I agree that gab guys Westwood, Jim Toth, Rick Ralph, Darrin Bauming, Brandon Rewucki, Brian Munz, Kevin Olszewski and the Hustler, Andrew Paterson at TSN 1290, got a raw deal. As did the others.
Sadly, it’s the way of the jock journo jungle. They’re all just one Bay Street suit’s whim away from the unemployment line.
But, at the very least, the dearly departed deserved a heads-up. Good luck to them all.
Insightful take on the Bell bloodletting from the talented Natasha Staniszewski, a casualty after close to 10 years of gracing our flatscreens: “When you get into this industry, you know you’re not getting into it for the job security,” the now-former TSN co-anchor told Sean Fitz-Gerald of The Athletic. “Media has never been safe. And throughout my whole career, there’s always been rumors of cuts here, or cuts there. You think that you should be prepared for it at all times. I will say last year, especially with COVID—when sports disappeared and there was no SportsCentre for a while—I felt that whole year was a little bit precarious. I kept telling myself, ‘Be ready: It could happen at any moment.’”
Here’s what I found myself wondering after the purge at TSN, TV division: How did the suits go about the business of picking and choosing those who stayed and those told to leave the building? I mean, I’m not sure I want to watch men’s soccer unless Kristian Jack is explaining the ins-and-outs to me, and why pull the plug on Staniszewski while Kayla Grey gets to squawk on?
Staying on the subject of blah, blah, blah, Yoshiro Mori is now former head of the Tokyo Olympic Games organizing group, because he couldn’t keep his lips zipped. Speaking at a recent gathering of the Japanese Olympic Committee, Mori suggested women talk too much: “On boards with a lot of women, the board meetings take so much time. Women have a strong sense of competition. If one person raises their hand, others probably think, I need to say something too. That’s why everyone speaks. You have to regulate speaking time to some extent. Or else we’ll never be able to finish.” He added that a woman’s perceived need to prattle on endlessly is “annoying.” Apparently Mori has never watched Terry Bradshaw on Fox NFL Sunday.
What was that sound we all heard during the fourth quarter of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 31-9 victory over Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV last Sunday? Oh, that’s right. Click! The couch potato countfor the grass-grabber took a dip from a year ago, with 91.6 million watching on regular TV and 96.4 million when you include CBS’ other platforms. The 2020 number was 101.3 million. It’s not that 5 million folks found something better to do. It’s just that what a lot of people were saying in advance of the skirmish was true: Watching Tom Brady in another Super Bowl game was a real turnoff. Literally.
The only thing that surprised me about the Buccaneers championship boat parade was seeing Brady on one of the boats. I thought for sure he’d be walking on the water.
Hard to believe some are still debating Brady’s place among the greatest in history. I mean, the guy’s won the Super Bowl seven times. Jesus only walked on water once, and we still haven’t seen game film to confirm it actually happened.
Don’t count Lorraine Grohs among Brady’s legion of fans. She’s the daughter of Greg Grohs, the man who created and crafted the Lombardi Trophy, which the Bucs QB tossed from one boat to another during the parade. Lorraine says Brady “disgraced and disrespected” her pop’s handiwork, and she’s demanding a mea culpa. I’m thinking Brady will do what he does best—he’ll pass.
The NFL issued 4,000 fewer Super Bowl media credentials compared to last year. Breaking it down, that’s approximately 40,000 fewer dumb questions, 8,000 fewer free meals, 20,000 fewer free drinks, and 3,700 fewer poorly dressed men with ketchup stains on their shirts per day.
Not all numbers were down. The NFL set a Super Bowl record for most cardboard cutouts, with 30,000 faux fans propped up at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. They went for $100 a pop, and now I hear the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has inquired about obtaining some for display. I call BS on that. I mean, I don’t know about you, but I say The Guess Who belong in the Rock Hall before a cardboard cutout of Ozzy Osbourne.
I understand why the NFL used faux fans, but Patrick Mahomes is demanding to know why Kansas City coach Andy Reid used cardboard cutouts instead of his regular offensive linemen.
I’m not saying Mahomes spent most of the game running for his life, but the Chiefs quarterback had more people chasing him than Dr. Richard Kimble.
Speaking of harassed quarterbacks, NFL/CFL/AAF washout Johnny Manziel says he has “zero interest, zero desire” to return to “serious” football. Great. Finally something we can agree on.
Johnny Rotten is doing his thing down in Georgia these days, playing with something called the Zappers in something called the Fan Controlled Football League, and he basically summed up his pro career after a season-opening loss: “Win or lose, we booze.”
There’s a chain of eateries and watering holes in Pittsburgh called Primanti Bros. They specialize in sandwiches. The owners say if the Steelers sign J.J. Watt to join brothers Derek and T.J., they’ll change the sandwich shop name to Watt Bros. And Steelers fans will say it’s the best thing since sliced bread.
For those of you scoring at home, I have Winnipeg Jets bench puppeteer Paul Maurice leading the field in salty talk this month, with one F-bomb, three horse shits and two pisses you offs in his natters with news snoops. That will never land Coach Potty Mouth a guest gig on Sesame Street, but it sure plays well when the audience is a gathering of (perceived) negative nabobs wielding notebooks and recording gadgets and panting for spicy sound bites.
On another scorecard, the name Paul Stastny has appeared on the tally sheet in just four of the Jets 14 skirmishes this National Hockey League crusade. He’s collected five of his eight points vs. the Ottawa Senators, a determined but over-matched outfit that’s managed three Ws in 16 assignments. That’s what $6.5 million buys the Jets? A guy who steals the 98-pound weakling’s lunch money then vanishes? Oh wait. I forgot. They brought Stastny back to keep Patrik Laine happy and for his post-season savvy. Well, Puck Finn now plays in a different country and time zone, and the jury’s still out on the Jets qualifying for Beard Season. Feel free to discuss among yourselves.
Vancouver Canucks bankroll Francesco Aquilini went on a Trump-like Twitter binge Saturday, ragging on those pesky West Coast news snoops and assuring the rabble that he has no intention of giving general manager Jim Benning and/or head coach Travis Green their walking papers. “When the media starts pouring gas on the fire, dealing in rumours and misinformation as if it’s fact, it’s time for me to speak up,” he harrumphed. He added that he’s “sticking to the path we’re on,” and he has “full confidence” in his braintrust. “I have no plans to make changes.” Which means changes are coming down in 3-2-1.
One final scorecard to contemplate: The Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association has dispatched a collection of its elite torch carriers to Florida for a second series of skirmishes vs. teenage boys from the United States Premier Hockey League. To date, it’s USPHL 6, PWHPA 3, with two games remaining.
Jock journos hither and yon have spent the past few hours paying tribute to Frank Orr, who went to the great misty on Saturday at age 84. Frank was the second best Orr in the NHL during the 1960s and ’70s. He became the best Orr after Bobby retired. A legend among shinny scribes and a very funny man, five minutes spent in Frank’s company would leave you with a face aching from laughter. I seldom ran with the pack, preferring to plunk myself down in a blues or jazz joint and eat at greasy spoons, but I had occasion to break bread with Frank a few times. Without fail, his one-liners would have beer spewing from my nostrils. I’d like to tell you my favorite Frank Orr story, but I don’t use the same language as Paul Maurice, so I can’t. Notably, most of the hosannas he’s now receiving mention his mentorship and his fondness for fine dining, fine drink and the theatre as much as his scribblings in the Toronto Star. Frank was one of the good ones.
I note the New York Mets have invited former football guy Tim Tebow to spring training. Which means Tebow and I have something in common: Neither of us will be in the Amazins lineup this Major League Baseball season.
And, finally, it’s Valentine’s Day. Don’t let it be the only day of the year that you give your main squeeze a squeeze.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and this blog is officially listed as day-to-day…
First of all, Patrik Laine wasn’t a swing and a miss for Kevin Chevldayoff and his bird dogs.
When the ping pong balls bounced their way at the National Hockey League’s 2016 draft lottery, they wisely used that good fortune to claim Puck Finn with the second shoutout at the annual auction of teenage wannabes.
The kid’s a stud, and there’s been scant second-guessing the Winnipeg Jets’ choice, even if hindsight suggests a case can be made that Matthew Tkachuk might have been a better way to go.
Laine mostly delivered as the Jets had hoped, with 36-, 44-, 30- and 28-goal crusades, plus two more snipes in the opening gambit of his fifth season, which has been temporarily derailed due to an undisclosed upper-body owie of unknown origin.
Unfortunately, somewhere and somehow, the Jets-Laine union hit a very large pothole and we’re left to wonder what went wrong.
None of the usual suspects were willing to drill down to the core of the matter on Saturday after Chevy had completed his latest bit of handiwork, sending Laine to the Columbus Blue Jackets in barter for Pierre-Luc Dubois. Puck Finn spoke. General manager Chevy spoke. Potty-mouth coach Paul Maurice spoke. Captain Blake Wheeler spoke. Trouble is, it was nothing but hollow blah, blah, blah. We still don’t know why a 22-year-old stud with 140 notches on his shooting stick was expendable.
So we speculate, and here’s my guess: Coach PottyMo and Wheeler chased him out of town.
In his sole frolic this season, Laine was given 16 minutes, 20 seconds of ice. Wheeler logged 21:27. Maurice stubbornly insists that the 34-year-old captain is a better bet at right wing, and that wasn’t about to change. No matter the numbers either player put up. So Puck Finn put a bug in his agent’s ear, whispering something about the desire for a new zip code, and he’ll now be collecting his fan mail at 200 W Nationwide Blvd., Columbus, OH 43215.
And that isn’t a good optic for Chevy.
None of us knows for certain what it would have taken to make Laine happy, but we can assume that Chevy wasn’t prepared to instruct Coach PottyMo to up the big Finn’s ice time. We can also assume that the Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, had a sizable say in the matter, because you don’t part company with a player of Laine’s loft without the owner signing off on the deal. Which means he’s okay with the reality that he’s now had four first-round draft picks and/or their reps walk into the GM’s office and request and receive a one-way ticket out of town—Evander Kane, Jacob Trouba, Puck Finn and Jack Roslovic.
So, rather than a mantra of draft-and-develop, it’s become draft-develop-defect.
Oh, yes, I realize that a handful of the Jets young studs have locked in for the long haul, but having four walk away is at least three too many. And, in Laine’s case, it didn’t have to shake down this way.
Rather than reward Wheeler with a ridiculous five-year extension (including a No-Move Clause) in 2018 and stunt Laine’s growth, Chevy and the Puck Pontiff should have cut the captain adrift. He would have fetched a handsome return, certainly better than he would today or two years from now given the dog ears on his birth certificate.
Instead, they opted to keep the senior citizen over the young gun, which I’m sure makes no sense to most of us outside the Jets think tank.
Hey, anyone can be traded, including Patrik Laine. And the Jets will learn to live without Puck Finn. But that doesn’t mean anyone should be traded. Chevy and the Puck Pontiff bungled this one. Badly. And if they can’t convince Dubois to sign up for the long haul, they’ll really wear it.
Remember last October when Chevy brought Paul Stastny back on board? According to the pundits, it was a move designed to put a happy face on Laine. Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab, for example, wrote this: “One thing I no longer expect to see based on this week’s events is a trade involving Patrik Laine. The Jets didn’t bring Stastny and his big cap hit in just to send their Finnish sniper packing. They brought him in to play with Laine, a paring (along with Nikolaj Ehlers) that had great chemistry during the 2018 run to the Western Conference final.” Others provided backup vocals. So how’s that working out?
I always enjoy reading what the boys on the beat have to say about these big trades. Here’s a sampling:
Paul Friesen, Winnipeg Sun: “The Winnipeg Jets’ trading of Patrik Laine to the Columbus Blue Jacks is an abject organizational failure.”
Ken Wiebe, Sportsnet: “By strengthening themselves down the middle, the Jets have taken an important—and necessary—step to widening their collective window of contention. It came at a significant cost, but this blockbuster was a risk worth taking for the Jets.”
Murat Ates, The Athletic: “What does this acquisition mean for the rest of Winnipeg’s roster? The shortest, simplest read is that the Jets want to build strength down the middle and just traded a power-play star at right wing for an even-strength star at centre. It also gives Winnipeg the best player in the trade, while acknowledging that Laine’s potential for growth is as big of a wild card as he is.”
Ted Wyman, Winnipeg Sun: “Cheveldayoff has to bear responsibility for what has happened here—the trading of a very popular young star. He was unable to get Laine signed to a long-term deal before last season and the Jets salary cap situation—based on long-term deals given to other players—made it unlikely they’d be able to do so after this season. The cost, as it turns out, is the Jets traded two first-round draft picks for a player who was taken third overall. On paper, it simply looks like too much. The pressure will be immense on Dubois to make it look more even.”
Has there been a bigger swap involving local jocks than Laine-Dubois? I can think of just one—Dieter Brock to the Hamilton Tabbies for Tom Clements in 1983. Hall-of-fame quarterback for hall-of-fame quarterback. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers won the Grey Cup with Clements behind centre one year later, beating Brock and the Tabbies.
This is rich: Rebel News has started a petition to have disgraced hockey-talker Don Cherry succeed the disgraced Julie Payette as Governor General of Canada.
“He’s a loyal monarchist, perhaps the most loyal monarchist in the county!” the far-right wingnuts at the Rebel write. “And he upholds our Canadian values. Unlike Payette, he represents what it means to be Canadian. There is nobody more dignified and worthy of filling this historic and noble role for Canadians than Don Cherry.”
Hoo boy. That’s a whole lot of stupid.
When last seen and heard, Grapes was on Hockey Night in Canada, demonizing “you people that come here” (read: immigrants) because they enjoy “our milk and honey” but have the (apparent) bad manners to not wear poppies for Remembrance Day. After decades of similar rants peppered with bigotry, zenophobia, misogyny and anti-Quebec sentiments, they finally took away the Lord of Loud’s bully pulpit, yet now the Rebel would have him become Queen Liz’s official rep and take up residence in Rideau Hall. What next? Ron MacLean at 24 Sussex Drive?
I’m sure Queen Liz has enough worries with the royal litter without having to explain Don Cherry and his wardrobe to her loyal subjects loitering outside Buckingham Palace.
Big tidings from the Toronto Blue Jays camp last week, with the addition of outfielder/slugger George Springer, late of the cheating Houston Astros. Apparently Springer leaked the news of his signing by banging on the lid of a trash can.
There’s a fabulous anecdote about Bobby Hull, his boy Brett and Kelly Chase in James Duthie’s book Beauties, whereby they let the wolf loose after a game one night in Chicago, returning to the Drake Hotel at 2 o’clock in the a.m.
“The Drake has this elderly gentleman working the elevators, all dressed up with white gloves on,” Chase says. “He recognizes Bobby right away and says, ‘Mr. Hull, pleasure to meet you.’ Bobby says, ‘Good evening, young man. Could you press floor one for me?’ And Brett goes, ‘No, dad, we’re on three.’ Bobby says, ‘Goddamnit, I said press one!’ And out he goes on the first floor.
“We go up to our room, and a few minutes later, in walks Bobby with this food tray. He’s got a quarter of a clubhouse sandwich, a piece of pizza and a couple of chicken wings. I’m like, ‘What the…?’ And Bobby says, ‘Wasteful bastards! This is how Stan Mikita and I ate in the old days. He took the even floors, I took the odd!’
“This is my idol! Then they bring the cot up, and Bobby is insisting on sleeping on the cot. Well, there is no way I am letting Bobby Hull sleep on a cot, so I take it. Bobby goes into the bathroom, comes out, whips the rug off his head, hangs it on the bedpost and gets in bed. The first time I meet my idol, and he’s eating off food trays left outside people’s doors and his hair is hanging on the bed!”
Ya, that sounds about right.
Can’t let the day slip away without mentioning Henry Aaron, because the home run champ’s death on Friday meant another chunk of my youth has been snatched away.
Hammerin’ Hank, you see, was my older brother Richard’s favorite baseball player. Mickey Mantle was my younger brother Mick’s main man. Mine was Sandy Koufax. We’d squabble the way kids do, nattering about who was the best of the three—the rakish Black man from Mobile, Ala., the brawny Okie who spent his early off-seasons working in lead and zinc mines with his dad, or the soft-speaking Jewish kid from Brooklyn.
None of us budged from our positions. Still won’t.
I do, however, concede and conclude that Aaron traveled a more challenging path to baseball immortality because, whereas both Mantle and Koufax wrestled with chronic ailments, it was death threats for Hammerin’ Hank. Not just to him, but his family.
The nearer Aaron came to reeling in Babe Ruth and laying claim to the greatest record in sports—714 career home runs—the greater the peril for the Atlanta Braves outfielder. Not all of America was prepared to accept a Black man usurping the Sultan of Swat. Not in the 1970s. Yet Aaron soldiered on, swatting dingers and chasing the larger-than-life Bambino until the night of April 8, 1974, when he sent an Al Downing pitch over the left-field fence and into the Braves bullpen. He had touched ’em all for the 715th time.
“What a marvelous moment, for baseball, what a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia, what a marvelous moment for the country and the world. A Black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol. It’s a marvelous, wonderful, enjoyable moment here in Atlanta,” is how legendary broadcaster Vin Scully described it.
Shortly thereafter, I made my way to the Winnipeg Tribune building, anxious to lay out and design the next day’s sports section. Even though the Jets had opened a playoff series vs. Houston Aeros that night, I relegated them to the inside pages. The sports front was reserved for the great Henry Aaron. Every inch of it.
Jared Porter has been outed as an oinker of the highest rank and, thankfully, the New York Mets squandered nary a nano-second in defrocking their creepy general manager.
Mind you, it’s not like the Amazins had any choice.
I mean, Porter’s one-man crusade to bed an unidentified female reporter while overseeing the Chicago Cubs stable of scouts in 2016 was as relentless as it was disturbing. More than 60 times he hounded the woman with come-hither texts and pics, the last of which brought an erect penis into focus, and it doesn’t matter that he claims the erect-penis pic he sent wasn’t a pic of his erect penis.
“The more explicit ones are not of me,” Porter assured ESPN. “Those are like, kinda like joke-stock images.”
Oh, ya, unwelcomed graphic porn is a real knee-slapper, Jared.
Listen, most women I know appreciate a man with a healthy sense of humor, but some scuzzball visiting porn sites and playing copy-and-paste with images of boners doesn’t qualify as giggle-worthy.
It’s sad, pathetic, dangerous and no one’s idea of slapstick.
Fortunately, the Mets did every female news snoop a solid by kicking Porter to the curb, and I can’t imagine any other Major League Baseball team bringing him and his baggage on board.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve grown weary of Postmedia treating the Winnipeg Sun like the red-hair, freckle-face step-child of the chain. When I call up the Postmedia tabloids in the Republic of Tranna, Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver, I normally find seven or more pages in the sports section. In Good Ol’ Hometown it’s usually four pages. Some days just two. Other days there’s two pages of sports near the front of the rag and two more near the back. Ridiculous.
And, finally, I don’t like to say I told you so, but I did. At least six times between February 2019 and last week, I warned you that Patrik Laine would not finish his career in Good Ol’ Hometown. Moreover, I posed this question in June 2016, days before the Jets drafted him: “Is the Flamboyant Finn and his loose lips a fit for the Winnipeg Jets or will he give them fits?” Puck Finn conceded on Saturday that “it wasn’t the right fit for me and for the team.”
This being Manitoba Hockey Heritage Day, it puts me in a reflective mood, pondering my former life as a rink rat.
It began as a wobbly, Bambi-legged urchin on the outdoor freezes at Melrose Park Community Club, Bronx Park and East End, then moved to shinny shacks both primitive and elegant, from Transcona to Texas, from Sargent Park to Stockholm, from the Old Barn On Maroons Road to the Forum in Montreal (best hot dogs, ever) and Maple Leaf Gardens.
It was a lengthy trip, 30 years of it scribbling for the Winnipeg Tribune and Winnipeg Sun (with a couple of brief pit stops in the Republic of Tranna and Calgary), and there were highs and lows and in-betweens. This is what’s on my mind today:
I’m thinking about Mosie and the Winnipeg Warriors. I attended my first live pro game in the mid-1950s, a Western Hockey League skirmish featuring Billy Mosienko in the twilight years of a boffo career that included a 1952 record that stands uncontested to this day in the National Hockey League—three goals in the lickety-split time of 21 seconds. Mosie left the Chicago Blackhawks to wind it down with the Warriors in Good Ol’ Hometown, and it was a treat beyond description for a six-year-old kid to observe hockey royalty in person, in a swanky, new Winnipeg Arena.
I’m thinking about Father David Bauer and our national men’s team, based in River City during the 1960s. Our amateur Nats faced insurmountable odds in a quest to wrestle global supremacy from the U.S.S. R. “amateurs.” We all knew the Soviets were “amateurs” like cherry Kool-Aid is Russian vodka.
I’m thinking about Benny Hatskin and the original Winnipeg Jets, a Junior outfit in the Western Canada Hockey League that engaged in epic battles with the Flin Flon Bombers of coach Paddy Ginnell. Come playoff time, they’d pack the joint.
I’m thinking about Bill Addison, longtime commissioner of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League. As a journalist and rink rat, I can’t think of anyone with whom I enjoyed talking all things puck more than Bill, a true gentleman in an era when a fellow would wear a necktie and a fedora to the rink.
I’m thinking about Frank McKinnon, the first sports figure I ever interviewed for the Trib, and the Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association was the subject matter of my first byline article on June 14, 1971. It was buried on the back pages of the sports section, surrounded by Harold Loster’s horse racing copy, and it included a ghastly error—I wrote the MAHA had elected Frank president of the “1871-72” executive. What can I say? I’m an old soul. And, hey, I was only out by 100 years.
I’m thinking about Benny Hatskin signing Bobby Hull at Portage and Main in June 1972. I was a few blocks away in the Trib building when it all went down to change the shinny landscape forever. A younger generation might suggest Mark Chipman and David Thomson bringing the National Hockey League back to Good Ol’ Hometown in 2011 was a bigger story, but no. Everything flowed from Benny getting Hull’s signature on a World Hockey Association contract.
I’m thinking about the Jets introducing Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson and Lars-Erik Sjoberg to the masses in May 1974. Some of us were convinced that Benny and his minions had lost the plot because Swedes, thought to be cottony soft, couldn’t possibly survive vs. the barbarians who occupied too many roster spots on WHA outfits. Well, we now know they didn’t simply survive, they excelled, and served as Pied Pipers to numerous Europeans who found their way to the Jets.
I’m thinking about Junior hockey. I remember my first road trip, a milk run from Winnipeg to Dauphin for MJHL playoffs, and there were other junkets on the iron lung with the Winnipeg Clubs and Monarchs. Kevin McCarthy was the most talented local kid I ever covered, and watching him and Doug Wilson anchor a powerplay was special. My old coach Gerry Brisson, who owned the Junior Jets/Clubs/Monarchs before whisking the WHL franchise to Calgary, was a different head of lettuce, and my favorite character was Muzz MacPherson, coach of the 1973 Centennial Cup champion Portage Terriers before moving behind Brisson’s bench with the Clubs.
I’m thinking about the many hours I spent in the company of scouts, guys like Bob Goring, Bruce Cheatley, Jimmy Walker, Bruce Southern and Dino Ball, who made the down time more enjoyable.
I’m thinking about my favorite hockey people, in no particular order: Don Baizley, Jeep Woolley, Tom McVie, Terry Hind, Earl Dawson, George Allard, Gordie Pennell, Bill Addison, Frank McKinnon, Barry Bonni, Spider Mazur, Julie Klymkiw, Rudy Pilous, Teddy Foreman, Mike Doran, Sudsy, Aime Allaire, Bill Juzda, Bones Raleigh, Ed Sweeney, Billy Robinson, Aggie Kukulowicz, Marc Cloutier, Gordie Tumilson, Bill Bozak, John Ferguson, Peter Piper, Brian Gunn, Adam Tarnowski, Andy Murray, Teddy Green, Laurie Boschman, the Swedes (all of them), Portage Terriers.
I’m thinking about covering both the Jets final skirmish in the WHA, vs. the Edmonton Oilers (a 7-3 win), and their NHL baptism, in Pittsburgh vs. the Penguins (a 4-2 loss). Reyn Davis and I were the beat writers of the day for both those games, and Friar Nicolson was the play-by-play guy on radio. Sadly, Reyn and Friar left us long ago.
I’m thinking about the 1975 World Junior tourney, with a group of WCHL all-stars facing off against the elite of the Soviet Union, Sweden, Finland, Czechoslovakia and the U.S. The lads from Mother Russia ruled the day, besting the our kids 4-3 in the final game, prompting this rather peculiar observation of the comrades from Bobby Hull: “I’d like to see those guys in the shower, I’ll bet they’re all muscle.”
I’m thinking about Aime Allaire, the hard-luck case of my time covering shinny in Good Ol’ Hometown. Aime did everything possible to bring Senior hockey’s Allan Cup home, but his St. Boniface Mohawks always came up a day late and a dollar short. I rode the iron lung with the Mohawks one winter, and Aime once hired me to handle stats for the Central Amateur Senior Hockey League.
I’m thinking about refereeing Winnipeg Colts tryout scrimmages for Stan Bradley and Harold Loster before they departed on their annual junket to a PeeWee tournament in Goderich, Ont.
I’m thinking about the night the Jets whupped the Soviet national side, 5-3, and Ulf Nilsson telling me in a noisy changing room that he was “proud to be a Canadian tonight.”
I’m thinking about Mike Smith, the egghead scout/coach/GM of the Jets who shall long be remembered for two things: 1) his make-work-for-Russians project; 2) running Ducky Hawerchuk out of town. The man I called Mikhail had a degree in Russian studies and a maniacal obsession with every Vladimir or Igor who laced up a pair of skates, and he attempted to transform the local shinny side into the Central Red Jets. The plan was a colossal flop and Hawerchuk became a casualty, moving to Buffalo.
I’m thinking about Billy Bozak, a very nice man known as Magic Fingers. Boz was responsible for healing the lame and halting among the Jets, and there wasn’t an owie the longtime team trainer couldn’t cure. How his healing hands made Terry Ruskowski suitable for combat in the 1979 WHA final I’ll never know.
I’m thinking about the day of the long faces, which is to say the final farewell for the original Jets, who packed up and skedaddled lock, stock and jock strap to Arizona. There weren’t many dry eyes in the joint on April 28, 1996, and it had nothing to do with a 4-1 playoff loss to the Detroit Red Wings. It had everything to do with a funeral. The NHL was dead in Good Ol’ Hometown. It took 15 years for many among the rabble to recover from the Jets’ departure. Many still mourn the loss.
I’m thinking about piggy banks and pucks and Peter Warren of CJOB roaming the landscape on a flatbed truck, accepting donations from the young, the old and the in-between in a bid to Save the Jets from extinction. It worked once or twice, but kids emptying their piggy banks and little, old ladies signing over pension cheques was never going to be the solution.
I’m thinking about Tuxedo Night and how snazzy all the luminaries and the Zamboni driver looked in their monkey suits. The promo was the brainchild of marketing guru Marc Cloutier, who wanted Good Ol’ Hometown to look its spiffy best for the first appearance of NHL royalty, the Montreal Canadiens. Lafleur and Savard and Robinson and Gainey and Shutt et al were greeted by a gathering of 15,723 on Dec. 15, 1979, and the Jets faithful feared the worst. But a rag-tag roster filled with hand-me-downs rag-dolled the Stanley Cup champions, winning 6-2, with Willy Lindstrom scoring three goals and Peter Sullivan collecting five points.
I’m thinking about Bobby Hull and how he was greeted with such pomp and pageantry at Portage and Main in June 1972, and how he left the building in such an undignified manner seven years later. The Golden Jet was scheduled to be in the lineup for Tuxedo Night, nationally televised on Hockey Night in Canada, but he was confused about faceoff time and arrived late. Coach Tommy McVie, not one for bending rules, informed Hull that he’d be sitting this one out. When advised of Hull’s punishment, GM John Ferguson pitched a fit, kicking a hole in a dressing room door. Didn’t matter. Hull, one of the team owners, was out. He never wore Jets linen again.
I’m thinking about Teemu Selanne’s astonishing 76-goal rookie season, in 1992-93, and GM John Paddock trading the Finnish Flash to the Disney Ducks three years later. D’oh!
I’m thinking about doing color commentary to Friar Nicolson’s play-by-play on Jets radio broadcasts, in the WHA and NHL, and I’m sure I was awful.
I’m thinking about tossing back vodka and beer with the Russians at the Viscount Gort during the Winnipeg portion of the 1981 Canada Cup tournament. They couldn’t speak English, I couldn’t speak Russian, but we managed to conduct an impromptu and teary-eyed wake for legendary Soviet forward Valeri Kharlamov, who was buried that day back home in Mother Russia.
I’m thinking about all the good guys no longer with us, too many to list.
I’m no longer a rink rat. I haven’t attended a live hockey game since 1999, when I put Good Ol’ Hometown in my rear view mirror after 30 years in the rag trade. But it was a rush. Some might even think of it as a bit of a charmed life, and I suppose watching hockey and writing about the game for a living was every bit of that.
The only thing missing was girls/women’s hockey, and I hope Ponytail Puck receives more ink in the local dailies once it’s back on the ice. Ditto Junior, university and high school shinny. I realize readers can’t get enough of their Jets, but they weren’t the only game in town during my time at the Trib and Sun, and they still aren’t.
In another century that today seems so distant, the use of sexist language and stereotyping in sports was not uncommon, and that included the writing game.
I recall, for example, the great Jack Matheson using what now would be considered sexist terms when mentioning female athletes or politicians in his Winnipeg Tribune column. One might be “a doll” and another might be “a cutey.” When Pierre Trudeau introduced Iona Campagnolo as his Minister of Sport in 1976, she became “Elegant Iona” to Matty, and it was true. She was elegant.
Other women were “beautiful” or “sweet” or “glamorous or “a dame” or “a broad.”
High jumper Debbie Brill became “Darling Debbie” and “Delicious Debbie,” and Matty made note of her long, shapely legs more than once.
“Indoor track fans always enjoy watching girls jump high,” he wrote, “especially girls with legs like Debbie’s.”
Legendary sports scribe Trent Frayne similarly gazed upon the Brill gams with unreserved admiration, writing, “There she is, maybe 20 yards from the crossbar, calmly eyeing it, one foot slightly ahead of the other, teetering slowly, back and forth, back and forth, long legs bare and smooth and tanned, twin cynosures.”
Seriously. Twin cynosures? I had to cozy up to my good friend Merriam-Webster to clue in. Means Debbie Brill’s underpinnings were “the centre of attention or attraction.”
So where am I going with this?
Well, it certainly isn’t to discredit Matty, my first sports editor and the best jock essayist during my time in Good Ol’ Hometown, or Trent, with whom I had the considerable good fortune of sharing a work space at the Toronto Sun. They weren’t guilty of some heinous crime punishable by public flogging or prison time.
Those old boys wrote in the fashion of the 20th century, which allowed for descriptors not meant to be viewed through the judgmental lens of 2020. (Actually, reading it today, one might find humor in its antiquity. Like, they actually got away with writing that stuff?)
I don’t suppose Matty or Trent would use many, if any, of those terms were they around today to crank out their cheeky, witty, sassy essays, because the Politically Correct Police would be knocking on their doors and it wouldn’t be a social call. (Mind you, chances are Matty would tell them to shove it, but their visit might put him off his dinner, nonetheless.)
And it’s not like they’d gone rogue in their scribblings.
As we learn from Maclean’s magazine and The Girl and the Game: A History of Women’s Sports in Canada by Margaret Ann Hall, it was commonplace for scribes, almost exclusively male, to wax poetically about the different “cynosures” of various female athletes, and it wasn’t always flattering.
This, for example, is the way Jack Batten of Maclean’s described the women on the LPGA Tour in 1973: “Tousle-haired, sunshiny, more muscular and perhaps more ‘masculine’ than most women, like a gang of phys-ed teachers, but fresh and appealing in an Anne Murray kind of way.”
Of Canadian Jocelyne Bourassa, he wrote: “She’s a husky woman, a little broad in the beam. Her face can’t make up its mind whether it belongs to the cute kid next door or to a determined pug, someone with a tough style. It lets you know, anyway, that it is the face of someone independent, aggressive, a woman who can—what the hell—play touch football or baseball with the men.” He added that, at a formal function, Bourassa “radiated an approachable tomboy charm.”
Which is sort of like saying she wasn’t full-on butch, but butch nonetheless.
Meanwhile, here’s how journalist/author Paul Grescoe described members of the Vancouver Chimos volleyball team: “They are not the big, butch girls the male chauvenist might expect. Under their loose sweaters—’Up Your Volleyball,’ the back of one reads—their baggy sweatpants and shorts, the protective pads on their knees, lurk some women who’d be whistled at in their civvies. Only thick thighs and the occasional masculine-muscled arm reflect their training.”
Hmmm. Whistled at in their civvies. No doubt what every elite female athlete strives for—not!
An even more-blatant example of sexism in sports writing would be an Associated Press dispatch from the U.S. Women’s National Open golf tournament in 1967. It mentioned that former champion Mrs. Murle Lindstrom was “a pretty divorcee of 28,” but not as pretty as Sharron Moran, declared the “prettiest golfer” in America by Golf Digest. Marlene Bauer wasn’t pretty, but she was “little and cute.”
The article included this comment from tour director Leonard Wirtz: “A few paint on their shorts. If their figures are good, we don’t say anything to them. But if some of the plumper girls do it, we give them a gentle hint. We figure it’s good for them and the tour.” So Jennifer Aniston would be permitted to “paint on” her shorts, but Amy Schumer would receive a verbal undressing (pun intended) if she teed off in anything more form-fitting than a hoop skirt.
When the U.S. Women’s Open tees off later this week in Houston, I don’t expect we’ll be reading or hearing a discussion about butchness, hemlines, pretty divorcees and plump girls. The focus will be on their golf, not their gams.
Times change. Language changes. What’s tolerable changes. What’s acceptable changes.
I mean, it’s one thing to mention that our Brooke Henderson has a fabulous smile and girl-next-door appeal, because it’s true. She seems like an absolute delight. But her “babe” factor ought not come into play. Go ahead and describe her outfit, just don’t tell us she’d look a whole lot “hotter” golfing in short skirts. Not unless a higher hemline would help her get the ball into the hole.
Female athletes have made strides in how they’re perceived, but most still struggle to be taken seriously, just as female sports scribes and broadcasters do.
If only they didn’t have those damn “twin cynosures” for the boys on the beat to gawk at.
Rather than the usual Sunday morning smorgas-bored, I give you the top 50-plus movers and shakers in Good Ol’ Hometown over the past half century.
This isn’t one of those hum-drum, greatest-athlete lists. We’re talking positive impact, what a sports figure did to enhance the local sporting landscape, whether that meant the wow factor of Teemu Selanne’s 76-goal rookie season or Harvey Warner keeping the ponies at a full gallop out at Assiniboia Downs.
And, while our play-for-pay jocks tend to gobble up the big headlines on a day-to-day basis, it’s often the owners and managers and coaches and administrators who make things happen when we aren’t staring at the scoreboard, and that also means our amateur playing fields, where we have a rich tradition of magnificence and the impact has been significant.
So here’s the list of the 50-plus most-impactful movers and shakers in Winnipeg sports dating back to 1970, and I should warn you that this list includes jock journos, because once upon a time before the Internet, 24-hour TV and social media, there was a gadget called the radio. Not every game was televised or live streamed. We needed our newspapers and radios to take us to the action.
One final note: Remember, this is only one person’s opinion, so don’t get your knickers in a twist if you don’t see the name of one of your faves.
1. Ben Hatskin: Well, this is the ultimate no-brainer. It’s like naming Pope Francis to an all-Catholic team. I mean, Benny didn’t just bring the Winnipeg Jets and the World Hockey Association to Good Ol’ Hometown in 1972, he hijacked Bobby Hull from the Chicago Blackhawks in a shocking coup that reshaped the shinny landscape. Without Benny’s derring-do, there would have been no National Hockey League Jets 1.0 and no Jets 2.0.
2. Mark Chipman: The Puck Pontiff filled the void left by the 1996 departure of the Jets to Arizona, but his Manitoba Moose of the International Hockey League and the American Hockey League were just the appetizer. Aided by billionaire David Thomson’s bulging bankroll, there was an NHL rebirth in River City in 2011, with the Atlanta Thrashers moving north. Oh, and did I mention that along the way Chipman and Thomson built a downtown arena?
3. Bobby Hull: The Golden Jet informed Hatskin and the other WHA renegade owners that it would take $1 million dollars for him to leave the Blackhawks and pull on a Jets jersey in ’72. Done deal. The Hull signing legitimized the WHA, and other top-level players soon followed. And, remember, Robert Marvin was also part of the ownership group that took the Jets into the NHL.
4. Michael Gobuty/Barry Shenkarow: I know, I know. Michael is the guy who let Wayne Gretzky get away. Mook. But don’t hold that against him. Michael and his ownership group kept the Jets afloat in the late 1970s, allowing for one final, rewarding whirl in the WHA by purchasing the contracts of a group of Houston Aeros, including Terry Ruskowski, Morris Lukowich, Rich Preston and Scott Campbell. He also recruited John Bowie Ferguson, and Michael offered a loud and influential voice in the NHL’s decision to absorb the Jets and three other WHA franchises in 1979. As for Barry, talk about shooting the messenger. By the time the whole thing went south for Jets 1.0, he was front man for the ownership group that sold the club to American buyers, who then loaded up the truck and bugged out to Arizona, lock, stock and jock. So Barry became the fall guy. But it’s a bad rap. No locals were willing to dig into their deep pockets to purchase the franchise and lose millions of dollars every year, so he/they really had no choice.
5. Cal Murphy: Cantankerous, curmudgeonly and very funny, Cal ruled the Winnipeg Blue Bombers roost with an iron fist from 1983-96, as either head coach or general manager. Along the way, there were three Grey Cup championships, one heart transplant, and one human rights kerfuffle over female news snoops in the locker room. He also brought the Grey Cup game to Good Ol’ Hometown for the first time, and became a vocal advocate for organ donations. Today there’s a pigeon perch of Kindly Cal outside Football Follies Field In Fort Garry.
6. Wade Miller: The leader of the Canadian Mafia inherited a Sad Sack, laughing stock-level Bombers team and the longest title drought in the Canadian Football League when he was anointed CEO in 2013. He was more like the CE-D’oh! in the early years, but Wade ignored the wolves howling at his door and stuck by his fellow hosers, GM Kyle Walters and sideline steward Mike O’Shea. Today the Bombers reign as Grey Cup champions, with money in the bank, and only the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed Miller down.
7. Dr. Gerry Wilson/Billy Robinson/Don Baizley: No North American shinny side tapped into the European hockey market as swiftly, deeply and as eagerly as the Jets, and it was this trio of forward-thinkers that brought the first wave of Scandinavians to Good Ol’ Hometown in the mid-1970s. Dr. Wilson caught the first glimpse of Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson and alerted Robinson, the Jets main bird dog. Robby scampered across the big pond to Sweden and liked what he saw, signing both players pronto. Lars-Erik Sjoberg and Curt Larsson came along for the ride, and player agent Baizley took them under his wing. Championship parades ensued.
8. Anders/Ulf/the Shoe: It’s no exaggeration to suggest Anders and Ulf revolutionized the game once in partnership with Hull. They made magic with their swashbuckling, freestyle frolicking on the local freeze, but it was Sjoberg—the Shoe—who stirred the drink from the back end. Together, they dominated the WHA and—damn them!—also provided Glen Sather with the blueprint for his Edmonton Oilers dynasty of the 1980s.
9. John Ferguson: So, here’s the irony—he was the cad who lured the ultra-popular Hedberg and Nilsson away from Portage and Main to make them stars on Broadway, then the Rangers fired Fergy and he joined the Jets to oversee their final WHA title and aid the entry into the NHL. Go figure. Full of bluster and occasional rage, Fergy made certain that life around the Jets camp was never boring, which sometimes meant kicking holes in walls and dumping buckets of ice on the opposing team’s bench. As Jets GM, he assembled a string of formidable NHL outfits during the 1980s, even if he couldn’t quite get them over the hump. Stars like Dale Hawerchuk, Teemu Selanne, David Babych, Thomas Steen and Dave Christian were drafted during his watch, and we won’t talk about Jimmy Mann.
10. Clara Hughes: When they name parks, playgrounds and schools in your honor, and when they put your pic on a postage stamp, you know you’ve done something right. Clara is a two-sport Olympian—speed skating and cycling—and the only athlete in history to win multiple medals in both the Summer and Winter Games. But it’s her advocacy on behalf of mental health and children’s sports/recreation that makes Clara truly impactful. She’s a leading voice in the Bell Let’s Talk campaign, and she’s donated/raised many thousands of dollars for various causes.
11. Cindy Klassen: She has as many shiny Olympic trinkets as Clara Hughes (six), including one gold medal, so Clara’s two-sport bona fides is all that separates the two world champion speed skaters.
12. Chris Walby: If ever there’s been a larger-than-life athlete, it was Bluto—all 6-feet, 7-inches and 300-plus pounds of him (give or take a Big Mac and a six pack). Bluto grabbed grass and growled for the Bombers from 1981-96, collecting three Grey Cup rings, nine CFL all-star nods, two top O-lineman awards, and a bust in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. But it wasn’t just what he did on the field and his size that made Bluto stand out. He was among the great characters in Rouge Football, a good-time Charlie and a deliverer of delicious quotes. No surprise he became a talking head on CBC’s football coverage, even if English sometimes seemed to be his second language.
13. Dale Hawerchuk: He came to the Jets as a freshly scrubbed 18-year-old from Cornwall, and much was expected of Ducky. He delivered. Winnipeg HC went from the free space on the NHL’s bingo card to the best shinny outfit this side of the Edmonton Gretzkys, and Ducky was the centrepiece.
14. Jennifer Jones: The only thing Jennifer hasn’t won is the Brier, and that’s only because the boys won’t let her play. There’s never been a finer female curler in our country, even if some in Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia might want to point to Sandra Schmirler and Colleen Jones and debate the issue. Well, let ’em hash it out. We know they’re wrong.
15. Jill Officer: It will be interesting to monitor how Jennifer gets along without Jill throwing second stones. They were together almost as long as Mick and Keith, but Officer retreated from competitive curling in 2018. Jill’s haul is the same as Jen’s: An Olympic gold, two world championships and six Scotties titles in her trophy case. Also one park named in her honor.
16. Teemu Selanne: Like Anders and Ulf, the Finnish Flash wasn’t in Good Ol’ Hometown for a long time, but it sure was a good time. Those 76 goals in his freshman NHL crusade had the burg in a buzz, and it’s a record that will stand as long as there are frozen ponds for kids to skate on. Teemu might have been the most popular Jet ever, give or take Ducky.
17. Don Duguid: The Digit toddled off to two world curling championships as a skip and never lost a game. Yup, 17-0. Dugie then thought it would be a swell idea to go on TV and tell the rest of us how to curl, which he did for 29 years until someone at the CBC had a brain fart and let him go. And just the other day he was made a member of the Order of Canada for his wonderful work as a curler and teacher of the game.
18. Ray Turnbull: His friends called him Moosie, and he had scads of friends in and beyond the curling community. A true visionary, Moosie’s impact began at the Mother Club on Granite Way, but his influence spread across the globe when he buddied up with Don Duguid for instructional clinics to curling curious nations beginning in the 1970s. So he’s largely to blame for the rest of the world catching up to us on pebbled ice. A broadcasting icon with TSN from 1984 to 2010, Moosie coached no fewer than 17 world champions.
19. Frank McKinnon: Those who knew him best would probably tell us that Frank never slept, because he didn’t have time for zzzzzzs. How busy was he? Let me count the ways: Five years president and 20 years on the executive board of Hockey Manitoba; 10 years commissioner of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League; founding father of the Centennial Cup tournament and the inaugural World Junior championship; first chairman of the board of Hockey Canada; two years director Sports Federation of Canada; four years vice-president Canadian Olympic Association; founding member of the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association. Frank was based in Carman, but he spent enough time in Good Ol’ Hometown to qualify for this list.
20. Donny Lalonde: The Golden Boy was in the ring with Sugar Ray. Yes, that Sugar Ray, as in Leonard. He even put the boxing legend on the canvas—one of only two men to do so—scoring a fourth-round knockdown in their 1988 bout at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Alas, Sugar Ray ruled the day, battering Lalonde about the ears in the ninth round and scoring a TKO. But it’s enough that the Golden Boy went from working out in the old firehall gym on Talbot Avenue in Elmwood to champion of the boxing world’s light heavyweights.
21.Jeff Stoughton: It’s easier to break out of jail than win the Manitoba men’s curling championship, but Jeff wore the Buffalo on his back 11 times. Crazy, man. A two-time world champion and three times the best at the Brier, Jeff also has two Canadian Mixed titles on his resume. Once he retired his tuck delivery and his spinorama showtime shtick, he took to coaching and administration, first helping Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris strike gold in Mixed Doubles at the Seoul Olympics, and he’s now coach and program manager for the national men’s team.
22. Coleen Dufresne: When you spend 17 years coaching and another 15 as athletic director at the University of Manitoba, you’ve had an impact on more young people than you can count. Coleen, who wore the Maple Leaf as a player at the 1976 Olympic Games, coached U of M Bisons women’s basketball teams to three national championships and five Great Plains Athletic Conference titles. She is a member of the Basketball Manitoba Hall of Fame in three categories—builder, coach and player—and the Canada West Hall of Fame.
23. Garth Pischke: Tom Hanks talked to a volleyball in the movies, but Garth made people talk volleyball in real life. Nobody put the W in the word “win” like Garth. He won a staggering 1,353 games in his 38 seasons as mastermind of the U of M Bisons men’s volleyball team, losing just 414 times. Chew on that and digest it—1,353-414. Who does that? Only Pischke, the winningest coach in collegiate V-ball history, on either side of the border. A two-time Olympian and six-time MVP at the Nationals as a player, Garth coached the Bisons to nine national titles and was named the Manitoba amateur athlete of the 20th century.
24. Brian Dobie: If this was just about being a nice guy, the U of M Bisons football coach would be at, or near, the top of the heap. Lovely man. He’s been sideline steward of the Herd since 1996, a gig that came on the heels of a 21-year watch with Churchill Bulldogs in high school grid. Do the math. Coach Dobie has been impacting the lives of teenagers and young men for close to half a century. Oh, and he’s also a five-time Canada West coach-of-the-year and a USports coach-of-the-year, plus he brought the Vanier Cup to the Fort Garry campus in 2007.
25. Vic Pruden: There was no women’s or men’s intercollegiate basketball program at the University of Winnipeg (nee United College) until Vic came along, so all the hoops glory stems from there. The annual Wesmen Classic was Vic’s brain child, ditto the Fort Garry Invitational. The Wesmen Classic became such a landmark event that it had to be shuffled from Riddell Hall to the Winnipeg Arena, and was televised nationally. Vic was also founder and first president of the Manitoba Basketball Coaches’ Association.
26. Coach Tom Kendall/University of Winnipeg Lady Wesmen: Few took notice of women’s hoops back in the day, but then along came coach Kendall and his fabulous University of Winnipeg Lady Wesmen who, from October 1992 to November 1994, never lost a game. Eighty-eight teams tried to topple them, and 88 teams failed. Even fabled UCLA coach John Wooden was talking about the Lady Wesmen. Under Kendall’s watch, the Lady Ws went 101-2, with three national titles.
27. Coach Mike Burchuk/U of W Lady Wesmen volleyball team: The U of W women’s hoopsters received the 250-point newspaper headlines for their 88-game winning streak, but the women on the volleyball court trumped them with 123 consecutive Ws from January 1987 to January 1989. That included a 58-0 record in 1987-88 and, along the way, the ladies won six consecutive national titles and beat the NCAA champion Texas Longhors and a pro team, the Minnesota Monarchs.
28. Jennifer Botterill: It should be enough to say that Jennifer is the only female player ever inducted into the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame, but we’ll also mention that she’s a three-time Olympic champion, five times a world champion, two times the Patty Kazmaier Award winner as the top player in U.S. women’s college hockey, twice the MVP at the world championship, and she once had an 80-game scoring streak (beat that, Connor McDavid!). If young girls are looking for a role model, Jen’s it.
29. Paul Robson: Can a sports list be complete without a guy named Mad Dog on it? We think not. So come on down, Mad Dog Robson, architect of the Winnipeg Football Club’s return to glory in the 1980s, a Lazarus-like rebirth that included the 1984 Grey Cup championship crusade, the first in 22 years. His handiwork as assistant GM/GM included going stealth to lure Chris Walby out of Montreal, hiring Cal Murphy as sideline steward, and engineering the Dieter Brock-for-Tom Clements trade. Paul was also once publisher of the Winnipeg Sun, but we won’t penalize him for that.
30. Harvey Warner: It’s probably safe to say the ponies wouldn’t be galloping at Assiniboia Downs if not for Harvey and his Manitoba Jockey Club. Harvey is a founding father and current president of the MJC, which took possession of the Downs in 1993. It’s never been an easy ride for Harvey and cohorts like Darren Dunn and Sharon Gulyas out at the racing oval on the western edge of Good Ol’ Hometown, but they’ve managed to keep the barns open and the horses fed and watered. So, yes, the reins have been in the right man’s hands for 27 years.
31. Mike Riley: When Leo Durocher coined the phrase “nice guys finish last,” he certainly wasn’t thinking of a guy like Mike Riley. Aside from bringing the Grey Cup home twice in his four years as sideline steward of the Bombers, Mike might be the most decent man to ever coach a pro team in Good Ol’ Hometown (John Paddock would be second in line), and that counts for something on my scorecard.
32. Milt Stegall: The Turtle Man would be higher on this list, except for one thing—every time I look at his hands, I don’t see any Grey Cup rings. For all his personal accomplishments—all-time TD leader in CFL history with 147 and a Most Outstanding Player award—the Bombers had just four winning seasons in his 14 crusades. No player ever looked better while mostly losing, though, and he’d be the first to tell you that. Milt continues to be a Bombers booster as one of the gab guys on TSN’s CFL coverage, and that’s always a good thing.
33. Sam Katz: Full disclosure—I’m not fond of Sammy. I think him to be a snake oil salesman. If he told me today is Sunday, I’d double check the calendar. But he brought professional baseball back to Good Ol’ Hometown, and the Winnipeg Goldeyes frolic in a beautiful, downtown ballyard thanks to Sammy.
34. Andy Van Hellemond: Whistleblowers don’t always get respect, but Andy Van did. The kid weaned on the frozen ponds of Isaac Brock was, arguably, the best man to ever pull on a striped shirt, and he was also a trend-setter, becoming the first on-ice official to wear a helmet, in 1984. The NHL made lids mandatory for the zebras four years later (a grandfather clause allowed some to officiate sans head protection until 2006-07). Andy Van refereed 1,475 regular season games, 227 in the playoffs and 19 Stanley Cup finals, all records. He was named Manitoba’s referee-of-the-century.
35. Sylvia Burka: Before Clara Hughes and Cindy Klassen and Susan Auch, there was Sylvia Burka, three times a world speed skating champion. She has held over 40 Canadian speedskating records, and once set a world indoor cycling mark at one kilometer. She won 12 national cycling titles. But her true legacy can be found in the skate marks she left for others to follow.
36. Dawn McEwen: I suppose you could say Dawn is to Team Jennifer Jones what Ringo Starr was to the Beatles. She seems content in the background while Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer and Cathy Overton-Clapham attracted most of the attention, but without her lead stones and robust sweeping they wouldn’t have become the finest female outfit in Canadian curling history. Dawn has an Olympic gold medal, two world titles and five Scotties crowns in her trophy case, so don’t even think of her as a spare part.
37. Kaitlyn Lawes: She branched out from throwing third stones for Jennifer Jones to strike Olympic gold with John Morris in the debut of mixed doubles at the Winter Olympic Games. So she has a nice collection of two gold trinkets, a world championship and a Scotties title.
38. Susan Auch: Although never making it to the top level of the Olympic podium, Susan made speed skating front page news in Good Ol’ Hometown with two silver medals and a bronze in the Winter Games, three gold in World Cup racing in 1995, three Manitoba athlete-of-the-year honors and a Canadian athlete-of-the-year salute. There’s a Susan Auch Oval out at the Cindy Klassen Recreation Complex and a Susan Auch Park in Transcona, and she’s now CEO of Speed Skating Canada.
39. Troy Westwood/David Asper: Board member Asper came up with the concept and gave the Banjo Bowl it’s name, but it was the spinoff of a quote from Ol’ Lefty, the former Bombers place-kicker who, in an interview prior to a 2003 playoff skirmish, called Saskatchewan Roughriders fans “a bunch of banjo-picking inbreds.” Much caterwauling from the Flattest of Lands ensued, and the Banjo Bowl was born in 2004. It’s the most-anticipated event on the local sports calendar every year, and it’s been strictly SRO since 2005. When he wasn’t trash talking Flatlanders, Ol’ Lefty was hoofing more field goals (617) and more points (2,745) than anyone in Bombers history.
40. Connie Laliberte: They called her the Ice Queen, but underneath that cucumber-cool exterior burned a competitive bonfire. Connie gave every female curler in Manitoba something to aim for when she became the first Buffalo Girl to win the world crown, in 1984. She also won three Scotties titles and today is the high performance director for Curl Manitoba.
41. Sandy Riley: The former sailor (1976 Olympic Games) and former president of the Manitoba Sports Federation served as chair of Winnipeg’s 1999 Pan American Games, an event that helped revive the sagging spirit of a city that had lost its NHL franchise only three years earlier. As a bonus, it attracted the attention of Ol’ Cigar Breath, Cuban strongman Fidel Castro, who used his Revolution Day address to go on a mini-rant about mysterious “traps and tricks and schemes and filth” that encouraged his athletes to clamber over the wall to freedom. Cuban defectors aside, the Pan Ams were an artistic and financial success. More latterly, the Riley family donated $500,000 toward construction of the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame.
42. Dayna Spiring: It doesn’t matter that Dayna wasn’t on the receiving end of any passes, nor did she hoof any field goals or tackle any running backs. The lady was a champ in her first year as Chair of the Blue Bombers board of directors, and she became the first woman to have her name engraved on the Grey Cup. For young girls and women, that makes her Dayna Inspiring.
43. Desiree Scott: A former star and coach with the U of M Bisons, the lady they call The Destroyer joined our national women’s soccer side in 2010, and she’s now just one of five to have earned 150 caps. Along the way, she’s collected two Olympic bronze medals and participated in three World Cup tournaments. Away from the competitive pitch, Desiree is heavily involved with soccer camps for KidSport and she’s an ambassador for the Homeless World Cup.
44. Bill Wedlake: A head coach for 32 years, first at St. John’s High where he won two provincial titles, then 16 years at the U of W, Bill was also athletic director at the downtown campus for eight years. A co-founder of the Winnipeg Invitational tournament, he’s written three books on coaching and is a former president of the National Association of Basketball Coaches.
45. Mo Glimcher: If you think it’s tough dealing with teenagers these days, consider Mo Glimcher’s gig—he had 30,000-40,000 kids under foot every year between 1975 and 2016. Mo retired after 41 years as Executive Director of the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association, and I’d say he’s earned a master’s degree in babysitting.
46. Bob Picken: There are three major sports operatives in Good Ol’ Hometown—the Jets, the Blue Bombers, and curling. Yes, curling. Our Pebble People don’t make the big bucks like the Jets and Bombers, but they don’t want for media exposure, due in large part to jock journos like Pick. Pebble People have never known a better media friend than Pick, whose magnificent pipes blessed the airwaves of CJOB, CKY and the CBC for half a century. He played the game, served as president of the Manitoba Curling Association, worked with both the Canadian Curling Association and the World Curling Federation, and there’s a bonspiel at the Thistle named in his honor. Pick made certain that curling was never back-page news or filler at the end of a sportscast.
47. Jack Matheson: Admittedly, there’s bias in this choice, because Matty gave me my start at the Winnipeg Tribune, but his sassy and brassy sports column was the only absolute must-read in town during the 1970s. And when Furnaceman fired him up for his daily rants on CJOB, it was must-listening. Matty set an incredibly high bar as a sports scribe, and no one has come close to reaching it since the Trib folded.
48. Friar Nicolson: There’s no way of knowing how many young men and women went into broadcasting because of the curmudgeonly Friar, but I’d suggest the number is closer to 50 than one. The longtime play-by-play voice of the Jets, Friar is the man who lured Knuckles Irving to CJOB in 1973, and he also gave one-time do-everything CKY/CTV voice Peter Young his start in the gab game. That’s serious impact.
49. Bob Irving: When Knuckles became the voice of the Blue Bombers, Don Jonas and Chuck Ealey were the starting QBs and Dieter Brock was a little-known rookie who answered to the name Ralph. Bud Riley was the head coach, and there have been 14 more since Knuckles moved in behind the mic. So he goes back some, and he’s still going. At least he was until COVID-19 interrupted regularly schedule play-by-play. We assume (hope) the well-liked and highly respected Knuckles will be back for a 46th season once the pandemic is in the rear-view mirror.
50. Don Wittman: How versatile was Witt? Well, we know he covered the CFL and the NHL and tennis and the Olympics and world-class track and top-flight curling during close to half a century with the CBC, but he also broadcast cricket. Ya, cricket. Witt traveled the globe and was on site to call the Ben Johnson race in Seoul and Donovan Bailey in Atlanta, but home base was always Winnipeg.
That’s what the Winnipeg Sun was, is and likely always shall be.
The tabloid—pooh-poohed and tsk-tsked by many as a tacky, tawdry, kissing cousin of the National Enquirer—wasn’t supposed to be around much longer than a pork chop on a pit bull’s dinner dish, but here we are, four decades after rising from the ashes of the Winnipeg Tribune, and the Sun presses continue to roll.
I wasn’t a day-oner at the Sun, although I must confess there have been many moments of quiet reflection when I wish I had been there on the morning of Nov. 5, 1980, the day the tabloid hit the streets of Good Ol’ Hometown for the first time.
By the time I arrived, which is to say the mid-1980s, the Sun had bulked up from a three-days-a-week sheet trying to find its groove to a six-day publication about to truly hit its full stride, which it did later in the decade and through the entirety of the 1990s and onward.
The Winnipeg Free Press was, of course, the neighborhood bully. Still is.
But, although recognizing that we were the underdogs against a daily that had pushed the Tribune to extinction, damned if any of us in the toy department at the Sun would allow it to define us.
From the get-go, whether it be Big Jim Bender on curling, or young Eddie Tait on the Bombers, or Judy Owen having a natter with Manon Rheaume, or Tom Brennan sharing bon mots from the camp of world light heavyweight boxing champion Donny Lalonde, or Ed Willes on the Jets, we refused to let the Drab Slab push us around.
Oh, they got their licks in, to be sure. But so did we, most notably when the Blue Bombers went on the prowl for a head coach in the wake of a 1996 Canadian Football League crusade that found Winnipeg FC sadly lacking.
The Bombers didn’t just lose their West Division semifinal skirmish v. the Eskimos at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton that year, they were Hindenburged. That’s right, scorched. Beyond recognition. Final score: Edmonton 68, Winnipeg 7.
It didn’t take long for the Bombers board of directors to sift through the wreckage, and the main casualty was Cal Murphy, a legendary coach whose guiding hand as sideline steward and/or general manager had directed the Bombers to three Grey Cup titles. He was swept away pronto, and the hunt for his successor would become the biggest sports story of the year.
We had young Eddie Tait and Judy Owen on the scent, and a managing editor who was, frankly, a gnat-like irritant.
“You gonna get that story first?” Glenn Cheater, the ME, asked me one day.
“Yes,” I told him. “We’ve got the right people on the job. They’ll get it.”
“You better. I don’t want to read it in the Free Press or hear it on the radio.”
Cheater, a man with a reluctance to smile, was a bothersome buttinski during the process. He expected everything to unfold to his urgent cadence, as if his nagging would magically put the Bombers board into a hurry-up offence simply because he was impatient. He would ask the same thing, and I would tell him the same thing. Every day.
All the while, young Eddie and Judy soldiered on, leaning hard on their contacts, instincts and reporting skills until the day/night of Jan. 6, 1997, when they became 99.9 per cent convinced that off-the-wall, surfer dude Jeff Reinebold would land the head coaching gig.
OWEN: “(Team president) Lynn Bishop seemed to want someone opposite from Cal Murphy and we considered Reinebold the dark horse in the race. The night of our big scoop, I was working the phones, including talking to Bishop. I got the gut feeling that it was going to be Reinebold by the way he was answering questions, plus I was having trouble reaching Reinebold, who usually returned my calls. There were rumors, though, that he might be skiing. When we were digging into the rumor about Reinebold skiing, Cheater suggested we send a pizza to Reinebold’s house and if it was successfully delivered, we’d know he was still in B.C. And he said to put anchovies on it. Never understood where that came from.”
TAIT: “At one point (Cheater) came down to our little corner with a brilliant idea. We thought we knew what hotel (Reinebold) was staying at for some reason—maybe this was before we had confirmed he had left for Winnipeg. Cheater said, ‘Reinebold is a vegetarian, right? Why don’t you order a vegetarian pizza and have it delivered to his hotel room with a note to call us?’ I mean, I’m open for any and all ideas to get a story, but…”
There was no pizza order. There was not pizza delivery. Not even in 30 minutes or less.
Young Eddie began cranking out his copy, with contributions from Judy, and we were prepared to go to press declaring Reinebold the new man. But his unknown whereabouts provided a sliver of doubt.
Granny Granger was working the copy desk that night. He was from the West Coast and harbored a healthy familiarity with flight schedules out of Vancouver, and he informed us that there’d be a few more planes touching down later.
“You guys keep doing what you’re doing,” I told them, “and I’ll go to the airport. I’ll stake it out until the last flight from Vancouver is in.”
I don’t recall precisely how long I loitered at the airport, but I do recall repeatedly moving from one baggage carousel to another. Then I spotted Jeff Reinebold. In the flesh, earrings and all, fresh off Air Canada flight 268. It was just past 11 p.m. He had a phone clamped to his left ear, his eyes darting east, west, north and south. At one point, he attempted to hide behind a pay phone. I immediately called Granny in the newsroom and advised him that I could see the whites of Reinebold’s eyes. Shortly thereafter, club president Bishop and his bride, Lesley, joined Reinebold and made their way toward an exit. I intercepted them, asking the new coach if he had anything to say to the championship-starved Bombers faithful. He flashed a crooked smile, mumbled a few words about looking forward to “the great skiing” in Manitoba, then disappeared into the night.
GRANGER: “That was such a rush, even if I was getting it vicariously through your reporting.”
OWEN: “We all cheered in the newsroom. We knew for sure we had the scoop. I then called Lynn Bishop and when he answered, I screeched something like, ‘We gotcha.’ I think he laughed and remember hearing his wife, Lesley, yell in the background, ‘Way to go Judy,’ or something similar.”
Still, we didn’t know for certain if we’d scooped the Freep on the biggest story of the year. It was quite possible that their man on the beat, the very capable Dave Supleve, also had the goods. Nope.
OWEN: “Supleve had a story on the front of the sports section that Reinebold was skiing. We celebrated pretty hard.”
GRANGER: “We went to Picasso’s afterward to celebrate and we were all pretty happy. But we really got giddy after Mr. Golf (Darron Hargreaves) went by the Freep building and picked up a copy of their early edition and Supleve basically dismissed Reinebold as a candidate and put forth one or two others likely to get the job. That’s when the gathering turned from being a self-congratulatory pat on the back into a hubristic celebration. Not only did we have a scoop, but the other guy was waaaaaaay off base! We had killed the big bad bunch on Mountain on the biggest sports story of the year! And even CJOB didn’t have the scoop! Although I played a minor role, that night is a big highlight for me.”
The Bombers introduced a Harley-riding Reinebold as the head coach the following day, and a glum Supleve was standing at the doorway when I entered the room.
“How long did you wait at the airport?” he asked.
I felt bad for him. I truly did. We all know what it feels like to get beat on a big story, and Supes is a good guy. There would be no gloating from me. Just deep, delicious satisfaction that the little, underdog paper had whupped the neighborhood bully.
Later that day, I retreated to the newsroom and found Glenn Cheater.
“I told you we’d get the story,” I said, full of impish cheek. “Maybe next time you’ll let our people do their job without getting in their face every five minutes.”
I went home to write my column on Reinebold. Once finished, I ordered a pizza and told them to hold the anchovies.
I spent 13 of my 30 years in the rag trade at the Winnipeg Sun, and that was my most memorable day/night. I was happiest for Judy, who latched onto the task and refused to let go. But she was just one of the truly wonderful people and terrific journalists with whom I worked at the tabloid. Topping my list of faves would be Dave Komosky, one of the funniest men I know and a friend for close to 50 years, dating back to our formative days at the Tribune. Like myself, Davey Boy did two tours of duty as sports editor and was a boffo layout person. He could make the pages sing. So, too, could Homer Connors, a lovely lad. There were so many others that I admired, respected and genuinely liked: Tom Brennan, young Eddie, Judy Owen, Abby St. Rose, Pat Watts Stevens, Rhonda Brown, Jim Ketcheson, John Kendle, Bob Holliday, Paul Friesen, Granny Granger, John Danakas, Brian Smiley, Jon Thordarson, Denise Duguay, Shaun Best, Mark Stevens, Big Jim Bender, Mr. Golf, Marten Falcon, Barry Horeczy, Bill Davidson, and the lovely songstress Rhonda Hart. It’s a lengthy roll call, too many to mention.
It wasn’t all fun and games at the Sun, but sometimes it was exactly that—fun and games. A couple of the boys—I believe it was Davey and young Eddie—screwed a mini basketball hoop to a wall in our corner of the newsroom and they’d shoot hoops during downtime, while waiting for phone calls to come in. My gig was tossing coins (quarters) against a wall. I took on all comers, but mostly young Eddie. I believe he still owes me $37.25. Same with John Danakas. He’d try his luck every now and then, but it was a fool’s bet. I’m not sure how much he owes me, but I know I’ll never see it. No problem. John is one of the really good guys.
One of my favorite Sun stories goes back to the first of my two runs as sports editor. It’s a yarn I’ve told a few times, but it’s worth repeating.
Young Eddie Tait was an aw-shucks, freshly scrubbed greenhorn when I dispatched him to North Dakota for a weekend gig, covering either high school or college hockey. It was his first road trip. Ever. He was geeked up and I don’t recall giving him specific directives, other than to get the story, enjoy himself and return to us safely.
“And keep your receipts,” I emphasized. “You’ll need them for your expense report.”
So I’m sitting at the desk in the closet-sized cubbyhole that passed for my office on the second floor of the Sun building when young Eddie returned from the fray.
“How did it go?” I asked.
“Great,” he answered, still geeked up from his maiden journey.
“Nice. Very nice. You did a great job. We’ll have to get you on the road again. When you’ve got time, fill out your expense form and make sure you include your receipts.”
He left and, scant seconds later, young Eddie was back in my bunker.
“Here,” he said, handing me the lid from a pizza box.
“What’s this?” I asked, staring at a rumpled piece of cardboard coated with tomato sauce stains.
“That’s what I ate.”
“That’s it? That’s all you ate for the entire weekend? One pizza?”
“How much did it cost?”
“You spent $10 for the entire weekend? Just $10?”
I have no idea what else young Eddie shoved down his pie hole that weekend, but I suspect a few bags of chips and Big Gulps were on the menu. He likely splurged on two or three packs of bubblegum, too.
Although I served in management on three occasions, I was never big on management. They always seemed to be getting in our way, or at least trying to.
I liked Paul Robson as a publisher, because ol’ Mad Dog was a jock who understood jocks. But John Cochrane, a nice fellow and veteran newsman who moved from CJOB to the big office in the Sun building, baffled me.
For example, when Montreal Canadiens president Ronald Corey got the axe out and whacked both general manager Serge Savard and head coach Jacques Demers, that bloodletting was our sports front story. Homer Connors and I put our grey matter together, him designing the page with a large picture of Savard and me providing the all-caps headline: SAVARDIAN SACK-O-RAMA. It was boffo stuff.
The next day Cochrane wandered down to the toy department for a fireside chat.
“Tell me something,” he began, speaking in a non-confrontational tone. “Why did you run a photo of Savard on the front page instead of Ronald Corey?”
“Because Savard and Demers were the story. Savard is a multi-Stanley Cup winner with the Canadiens, both as a player and a GM,” I replied calmly. “Savard is a Habs legend. Nobody cares about Ronald Corey.”
“But the Globe and Mail ran a photo of Corey, not Savard. Don’t you think that was the right thing to do?”
He handed me a copy of the Globe, which featured a pic of Corey sitting in front of a bank of microphones and looking very much like a hangman.
“No, I don’t think they made the right call,” I said, still quite calm. “We were right, they were wrong, and I’d do the same thing again. We don’t really concern ourselves with the pictures the Globe runs.”
He arched his eyebrows, turned and walked away. That was our first and final fireside chat.
I’m saddened by what’s become of the Sun sports section.
I know the boys on the beat—Paul Friesen, Ted Wyman and Scott Billeck—fight the good fight, but Postmedia has handcuffed them with a distant, centralized sports desk that force feeds them copy from hither and yon, too much of it focusing on athletes/teams based in the Republic of Tranna.
Local amateur sports coverage has become next to non-existent, and it’s never a good thing when a newspaper turns its back on its constituents.
I don’t think it’s as cheeky, sassy, brassy and irreverent as it once was, but the Sun’s existence makes Winnipeg the only true two-paper town west of the ROT, and that is a good thing.