At first blush, the inclination was to suggest that Khari Jones had it all wrong. That he was misremembering.
I mean, death threats? To the Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback? Naw. Can’t be.
Look, I realize the football faithful in Good Ol’ Hometown can be a demanding lot. They’ll turn on a starting QB faster than Judas on Jesus (hello Dieter Brock, Matt Nichols, etc.), and they’ll get louder and more ornery as the beer snakes grow longer and longer in the fourth quarter of a losing skirmish.
But threaten to snuff him out? That’s something you’d rather not believe.
Except as Jones told the tale the other day, his nose wasn’t growing and his pants weren’t on fire.
He delivered his revelation in a calm, matter-of-fact cadence, like he was telling us what he had for lunch or what his kids ordered the last time at a McDonald’s drive-thru. He even smiled, almost as if he recognized that some among the rabble might suggest there was a tich of far-fetchedness to the disturbing narrative of his 2002 Canadian Football League crusade.
“In Winnipeg,” Jones began, “I received death threats, you know, because my wife is a different color than me. We had police officers staying at our house, kinda patrolling our house while I was at away games. There was a series of letters, and I still have those letters.”
I don’t know about you, but those words produce chilling imagery for me:
A woman—Jones’ bride Justine—home alone with her newborn, Jaelyn, while hubby and dad is flinging footballs hundreds of miles away, unable to protect his family from a wingnut lurking in the shadows of a darkening night. The stalker might have a gun. Or a knife. Maybe both. Stealth, slow-moving cop cars appear in the haze of dimly lit lamp posts, then disappear into the same darkness that protects the unseen scoundrel, prepared to pounce. It’s positively Hitchcockian.
It was just one person, we’re told, a racist who believes black and white belong together on piano keyboards, salt-and-pepper shakers and Oreo cookies, but not in the skin hue of a married couple. He penned a dozen letters to Jones, each peppered with vulgar language and threats. He was never caught.
Eighteen years later, Jones is finally talking about it because racism is the topic du jour in North America and he recognizes that his is a story people need to hear, even if they’d prefer not to hear it.
It’s the kind of stuff that gives pause for ponder, and you try to convince yourself that such a level of hate can’t possibly exist in Good Ol’ Hometown.
I was born, raised and spent most of my working life in Winnipeg and, sure, I recognize that racists, bigots, homophobes, etc. walk among the throng, but death threats because a quarterback is black and his bride is white? Come on, man, isn’t that supposed to be a 1960s Alabama thing? If only.
Truth is, I had my own close encounter with one of the wackos back in the day.
It was late March of 1979 and, with the Parti Québécois beating the separatist drums with gusto, the political climate was a tinderbox. Anti-Québec sentiment flowed freely in Western Canada and peaked in full, ugly voice the night the Finnish National B shinny side was in town for a friendly with the Winnipeg Jets, then still the World Hockey Association’s flagship franchise but soon to be a charter member of the National Hockey League.
Because the skirmish was televised locally on the CBC’s English and French channels, public address announcements were delivered in both our official languages. That didn’t work so well.
Each time PA announcer Germain Massicotte would parlez vous, the audience of 10,113 filled the Old Barn On Maroons Road with a robust chorus of boos, which ramped up in volume with each word he uttered en francais. By the time Morris Lukowich scored in overtime, Massicotte’s voice had totally disappeared beneath the might of the anti-Québec outpouring.
“It was kind of rude,” said young Rich Gosselin, a product of nearby St. Malo and one of two francophones wearing Jets linen that night.
“I just consider the source,” muttered Bobby Guindon, the veteran forward who, a year ealier, had been anointed most valuable player in the Jets championship crusade.
Like Gosselin and Guindon, I was unamused, so I scribbled as essay in the Winnipeg Tribune, giving the booing, bigoted boors a stern tsk-tsking.
“Winnipeg, if this is how you’re going to act next season when you’re in the National Hockey League, then you don’t deserve to see the Montreal Canadiens,” is how I signed off.
The following morning, the ringing of my kitchen telephone stirred me from slumber. It was a man. An angry man. He didn’t appreciate the tone of my column and volunteered to provide me with one-way passage to the Great Beyond. Yup, he’d bomb my house. Blow it up, me and my family with it. Apparently, that’s what you do with a “frog lover.”
Unlike Khari Jones, I didn’t call the cops. I told the boys at work about the bomb threat and we had a giggle, although I must confess mine was a bit of a nervous chuckle and there was some skittishness to my step for a few days.
But, hey, that house on Leighton Avenue in East Kildonan is still standing, a block away from the Red River, and I’m still ticking, so I guess the guy had a bad batch of dynamite or he was a graduate of the Wile E. Coyote School of Mayhem.
I don’t know if you’ve been following Paul Friesen’s work on the Khari Jones file for the Winnipeg Sun, but it’s boffo stuff. Top drawer in every way. Makes me proud that I played a part in poaching Paul from CJOB all those many years ago, and it all began with a chance meeting in a checkout line at the Safeway on Roslyn Road in Osborne Village. So, if you like Paul’s work, kudos to him. If you don’t like it, blame me.
Really hard to believe the boys at the Drab Slab basically ignored the Jones death-threat narrative, except to run one Canadian Press piece. That’s shoddy. Or lazy. Maybe both.
Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks are supposed to be bright guys. They aren’t allowed to be the dullest knife in the drawer, although Terry Bradshaw tests that theory every time he opens his squawkbox on Fox Sports NFL coverage. So what’s Drew Brees’ excuse for being such a D’Oh Boy? I mean, seriously, he thought Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling protest was about the American flag and not social injustice and police brutality? That’s like believing the Bible is porn. But wait. The New Orleans Saints QB experienced an awakening, as if he’d shared a bodhi tree with the Buddha, and a couple of days after dumbing down he was schooling Donald Trump, advising the Commander-in-Chaos that kneeling protests have “never” been about the Stars ‘n’ Stripes. I swear, we haven’t seen a retreat that rapid since Tiger Woods’ wife came at him with a 9-iron. Makes you wonder how Buddha Brees ever mastered the Saints playbook.
Every time I hear someone like Brees rage against Kaepernick and other National Football League kneelers, branding them as disrespectful ingrates, I am reminded of this excerpt from baseball legend Jackie Robinson’s book, I Never Had It Made: “There I was, the black grandson of a slave, the son of a black sharecropper, part of a historic occasion, a symbolic hero to my people. The air was sparkling. The sunlight was warm. The band struck up the national anthem. The flag billowed in the wind. It should have been a glorious moment for me as the stirring words of the national anthem poured from the stands. Perhaps, it was, but then again, perhaps, the anthem could be called the theme song for a drama called The Noble Experiment. Today, as I look back on that opening game of my first world series, I must tell you that it was Mr. Rickey’s drama and that I was only the principal actor. As I write this twenty years later, I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world. In 1972, in 1947, at my birth in 1919, I know that I never had it made.” So there.
The other night on TSN SportsCentre, anchor Jennifer Hedger said racism is an “uncomfortable” conversation. Why? And who’s uncomfortable? Before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down social gatherings, my friends and I discussed racism, bigotry, homophobia, sexism, etc. on numerous occasions, with zero discomfort.
Big shakeup in the Tower of Babble On, with Chris Cuthbert defecting from TSN football to Sportsnet and Hockey Night in Canada. Initial reaction: Geez, can he take Glen Suitor with him?
Apparently Suitor was unavailable for comment on his longtime sidekick’s departure. “He’s still in rehab after having his nose surgically removed from Keith Urban’s butt,” a TSN spokesperson familiar with the situation confirmed.
Seriously, this is an opportunity for TSN to bring a new, fresh sound to its Canadian Football League broadcasts. Surely there’s a vibrant, young voice out there who can slide behind Cuthbert’s play-by-play mic and, at the same time, they can spare us another season of groupie Glen’s gushing over Urban. If they insist on going with the old guard, I say give the job to Gord Miller, who’s solid whenever he calls Rouge Football. And, for gawd’s sake, keep Kate Beirness away from the CFL on TSN panel.
Oh, dear, the body count continues to grow in the toy department, and Ken Wiebe is among the latest casualties. The Athletic slashed salary and scribes the other day, handing out 46 pink slips, and that leaves Murat Ates to fly solo on the Jets beat. I never met Ken, but I’m told he’s one of the good guys, and we can only wonder when this carnage will end and who’ll be left standing.
The Winnipeg Sun made it through the week without anyone heading to the pogey line, but the overlords at Postmedia have decided to eliminate one day of the week—Monday. Commencing June 22, the tabloid will become a six-days-a-week print publication (Tuesday-Sunday), which means they’ll be a day late and a dollar short whenever something big breaks on the Sabbath. You know, like the Bombers winning the Grey Cup. Or—dare to dream—the Jets hoisting the Stanley Cup on a Sunday.
And, finally, news that the Sun is becoming a six-pack provided reflection on my time with the tabloid.
Now in its 40th year (the official anniversary date is Nov. 5), the Sun wasn’t supposed to have a shelf life longer than four months, never mind four decades, but a three-days-a-week sheet bulked up to a seven-day production in 1992, and they’ve been going toe-to-toe with the Goliath on Mountain Avenue every morning since.
You don’t survive that long unless you deliver something the rabble is looking for and, in the case of the tabloid, that’s meant a heavy emphasis on cops and robbers, entertainment and, of course, sports scribbling served with sizable portions of sass, irreverence and 200-point headlines.
Oops. Almost forgot Page 3 (or was it Page 2?), which once featured a damsel in her scantilly-clads and heels as high as a giraffe’s forehead.
The Sunshine Girl was just one of the oddball things we did at the Sun. I also recall management’s curious fascination for Panda bears, and there was a cheeky promo during the 1999 Pan American Games that attracted the attention of El Presidenté, Fidel Castro.
Seems ol’ Cigar Breath was so distraught over Cuban defectors prior to/during the Games that it became the focal point of his annual Revolution Day natter, with the Bearded One barking about “traps and tricks” and “schemes” and “filth.”
We ran a “guess the number of Cuban defectors” contest, offering airfare and a one-week vacation in Havana, cigars not included.
“If this is a goodwill gesture, it is a perverse one,” noted José Fernandez, president of the Cuban Olympic Committee.
I don’t recall if it was eight or 10 Cubans who went over the wall during the Pan Ams, but that was us—the perverse paper.
If live sports returns and no one is there to see it, does it really happen?
I mean, this weekend there was UFC bloodletting in Florida. Footy in Germany. The good, ol’ boys were bending fenders in Darlington, S.C. Ponies were at full giddyup at Churchill Downs in Kentucky. Men showing skin played Skins golf at Juno Beach, Fla.
All that without a paying customer in sight. Anywhere.
I didn’t watch any of the live stuff live, but I caught the highlights and there was a creepy weirdness to it all, which is not meant as a commentary on Robin Black’s wacko hair and his odd facial gymnastics during TSN’s UFC post-fights package.
It’s just that sports without an audience and live soundtrack doesn’t work for moi. It’s tinny and hollow, like your cable TV guy forgot to connect a wire or two.
Will we become accustomed to the sounds of silence? I suppose. After all, there’s not much choice. The COVID-19 pandemic has put a cork in the regularly scheduled hoorawing of the rabble, and that won’t change if and when Major League Baseball and other big-league sports are given the okie dokie to proceed next month, or later in the summer.
Besides, it’s not like we’ve never seen sports played in empty ball parks before. But enough about the Toronto Argonauts.
Sounds like Donald Trump is also a fan of fans. The American president gave his Twitter thumbs a five-minute rest on Sunday, and had a telephone natter with Mike Tirico during NBC’s coverage of Skins golf featuring Dustin Johnson/Rory McIlroy v. Rickie Fowler/Matthew Wolff. Among other topics, he discussed the absence of a gallery. “We want to be back to normal where you have the big crowds and they are practically standing on top of each other and enjoying themselves. The country is ready to start moving forward,” he said. That’s right, Make America Sick Again.
Interesting to see the boys wearing short pants during the Skins match. Just don’t expect it to become commonplace on the PGA Tour. When it comes to breaking from tradition, men’s golf moves about as fast as a sloth in quicksand.
Hey, a pair of Michael Jordan’s old sneakers from 1985 sold at auction for $560,000. Apparently, the running shoes actually cost just $1. The remaining $559,999 went toward a lifetime supply of Odor Eaters.
Once all the beans had been counted, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers came out $588,860 on the right side of the ledger on their 2019 operations. You know what $588,860 will buy you these days? That’s right, a pair of Michael Jordan’s smelly, old sneakers.
There’s continued talk that the National Hockey League will reboot its 2019-20 season, perhaps in July with very strict COVID-19 guidelines for player conduct. For example, they’ll no longer be allowed to spit. Ya, that’ll happen when dogs stop peeing on trees.
In the department of Telling It Like It Is, I present David Braley: “I really believe if we don’t play this year, there’s a very good chance that we won’t survive,” says the owner of the B.C. Lions. And he meant the entire Canadian Football League, not just his Leos. I don’t think Braley is being alarmist, nor do I believe it’s his sly way of inserting himself into the argument for federal funding to save Rouge Football. But, as I wrote more than two weeks ago, if COVID-19 kills our three-downs game something will rise from the ashes, a structure that will look very much like it did in the 1950s and ’60s.
My, oh my, the things we discover when poring over a newspaper.
For example, not until I read the Drab Slab the other day was I aware that I had spent the largest portion of my 30 years in the newspaper dodge slumming. How so? Well, I had the bad manners to work for two River City dailies not named the Winnipeg Free Press.
The Freep, you see, is “the journalism big leagues,” meaning the Winnipeg Tribune was not, and the Winnipeg Sun is not.
We know this to be so thanks to Mad Mike McIntyre, who chose the occasion of his 25th anniversary in the rag trade to reach around with both hands and deliver himself a hearty pat on the back. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose. It’s a noteworthy milestone, especially given that much of his time was spent documenting the gritty misdeeds of scofflaws who like to spill blood on the streets.
If only he had confined his essay to self-admiration.
After mentioning that he had received his baptism at the Sun, working the cops-and-robbers beat for two-plus years, Mad Mike offered this nugget of pure piffle: “I got my call up to the journalism big leagues in the fall of 1997 when the Free Press welcomed me into the fold.”
So there you have it, folks. Broadsheet equals “journalism big leagues.” Tabloid equals…well, Mad Mike doesn’t tell us if the Sun is Triple AAA, Double AA or a sandlot operation. It just ain’t “the journalism big leagues.”
I’ve long held that inordinate levels of pompous assness is part of the Drab Slab’s DNA, but this particular whiff of arrogance cranks it up a notch. It’s ignorant and insulting to the very people at the Sun who were good enough to give a wet-eared Red River CreCom grad his kick start in the rag trade.
I swear, the wonder of the Freep is not that they put out a quality product, it’s how they manage to squeeze all those fat egos into one newsroom.
Nobody’s keeping score at home but, for the record, since Mad Mike defected from the Sun to join the “journalism big leagues” at the Drab Slab, 10 sports scribes from the tabloid have been inducted into the Manitoba Sportswriters and Sportscasters Roll of Honour and only seven from the Freep. He might want to have a rethink on that “big leagues” bunk.
I could be wrong, but it seems to me that there have been more women’s hockey games on TV during the two months of the COVID-19 sports shutdown than I saw live during the past decade, Olympic Games excluded. Ponytail Puck never has been a priority for either TSN or Sportsnet, and I say they should be ashamed of themselves for using “dead” games as a convenient filler after ignoring the women when they were “live.”
On the matter of Ponytail Puck, it’s interesting to note that the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association has been moving some furniture around, reducing its training bases from eight to five. The Dream Gappers will set up shop in the Republic of Tranna, Calgary, Montreal, Minnesota and New Hampshire, with groups of 25 players in each. Do the math: That’s 125 total. Last year it was 150 (approximately). So it’s addition by subtraction, I guess, although the 25 women who’ll be left out in the cold might not see it that way. Odd bit of business, that.
How ironic that we didn’t hear from PWHPA main squawk box Liz Knox during the restructuring. I mean, when the National Women’s Hockey League announced its expansion franchise in the Republic of Tranna, Knox was quick to tsk-tsk them for conducting business during the COVID-19 crisis. “It’s difficult to imagine expansion being at the forefront of many business strategies,” she pooh-poohed. But apparently it’s okay for the Dream Gappers.
If it’s a voice of reason you’d like to hear from in the mess that is Ponytail Puck, try Digit Murphy, president of the Tranna NWHL franchise. In a natter with Roger Lajoie, George Rusic and Rob Wong on Sportsnet 590, she had this to say:
“I really don’t play for either side. I play for the growth of the game mindset. So I’ve reached out to players on the Dream Gap Tour, I’ve talked to them, told them what I’m doing and, again, this isn’t an either/or, it’s an and. The players can do the Dream Gap Tour and we can do an NWHL. It doesn’t have to be exclusive. To think that hockey’s an exclusive game on one side or the other just isn’t in the conversation. It’s how do we include everyone that wants to be a women’s sports fan, a women’s hockey fan, because those are the words you really need.
“We’re in a tiny pond, a very, very small pond in women’s sports and we need to expand it and do whatever we can to grow it and not tear anyone down. Let’s build them up, empower them and let’s all work together toward a bigger goal.”
Digit made similar comments in a chin-wag with Emily Kaplan of ESPN, and it’s refreshing.
And, finally, I’m walking home from the market the other day and felt a sudden need to lighten my load. So, I plunked my weary and over-burdened bones on a bench two blocks from home. I hear a loud voice cry out from the nearest side street. “A woman!” an angry man shouts, glaring in my direction. “You’re just a bitch!” How charming. In another time and another place, I might have been wounded. But now? I just assume the guy reads this sports blog.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and great Caesar’s ghost, does anything good ever happen on the Ides of March?
My most-distant recollection of sports dates back to the mid-1950s, either ’55 or ’56, when I sat in the nose-bleed pews of Winnipeg Arena, which was rather spiffy in its newness.
Below on the freeze whirled Billy Mosienko and Eric Nesterenko and Spider Mazur and others adorned in the gold-and-black livery of the Winnipeg Warriors, a freshly minted outfit in a nine-team Western Hockey League that stretched from Good Ol’ Hometown to Victoria and dipped south into Seattle.
I would have been five or six years old at the time, my eyes as wide as the centre-ice faceoff circle, and although I don’t recall the Warriors’ foe—nor the final score or whether I had a hot dog, a box of popcorn or both to go with my Coke—I can report that none of us in attendance gave consideration to “social distancing.” We were scrunched into the barn, somewhere between 9,000 and 10,000 of us cheek-to-jowl, each delighted to be eye witnesses to a real, live professional hockey match.
That night represents Ground Zero for me in a lifetime of observing the kid’s games that grown men play for what once was a working-man’s wage but now makes them instant millionaires.
I’m now four months into my 70th spin around the sun and I’ve not known a world without sports since my Winnipeg Arena baptism in ’55 or ’56, even if I have sometimes wondered what a world without sports would be like.
I played sports. I watched sports. I harbored a voracious appetite for sports reading. Had I spent as much time with my nose stuck in school text books as I did jock journals and the sports section of the daily newspapers, I might have achieved higher loft than a C student. And bringing my report card home might not have been done with such paralyzing dread.
That enchantment with all things jock led to a career in sports journalism, not by design so much as circumstance and a favorable nod from Dame Fortune.
But I divorced myself from sports on a professional level 20-plus years ago, three decades after walking into the fifth-floor toy department at the Winnipeg Tribune for the first time. I’d like to say it was a full, never-look-back split, but that would be a mistruth. There have been numerous freelance gigs. There was a brief and self-aborted return to the rag trade. There have been contributions to various websites. And, of course, every time I’m struck with the notion to shut down this River City Renegade blog, something or someone (e.g. my doctor) reels me back in.
“You have to keep your mind active,” has been his repeated reminder, always accompanied by a caution that a rousing game of bingo does nothing to activate my grey matter.
Thus, I have discovered there is no world without sports.
Sports is over. It’s been dark since last Thursday.
They won’t flip the switch back on until intelligent women and men in lab coats and with microscopes and test tubes discover a vaccine to corral the coronavirus, then give health authorities the okie-dokie for athletes and the rabble to return to the playground.
So while the squints stare at germs under glass and sports remains in limbo, will it change my life? A smidgen.
I’ll still make my twice-a-week pilgrimage to my favorite watering hole, Bart’s Pub, and the pints Jack the Bartender pours will still be wet and cold. I just won’t be able to sneak a peek at the flatscreen in the corner to see how the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the Jets or Manitoba’s curlers are getting on, and I’m okay with that.
Frankly, the suspension/pause/cancellation of sports might be my cue to exit. Finally. I mean, I’ve had my innings. Like, more than 50 years worth of innings scribbling about the jocks in Good Ol’ Hometown.
It’s been a trip. A bloody good trip.
Truthfully, I’m concerned about today’s jock journos, print division. They had no desire to quit sports, but sports has quit them. And now they’ll begin to run on fumes. I mean, they’ve already exhausted their main talking point—shutting down was “the right thing to do; life is bigger than sports”—so there’s nothing left for them to wax on about until the squints have their say, and that will be many, many months from now. Their only hope is for the Olympic Games to proceed, which is a faint and delusional expectation, and I’m sure it’s a shuddering reality for some. I really wonder how many of them will still be there when sports breaks through to the other side.
You think I’m kidding about the ink-stained wretches running on fumes? Consider this: The sports front in the Drab Slab this very day is a full-page pic of a Chinese badminton player and, inside, you can read all about vasectomies and dog sled racing. Meanwhile, columnist Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna was tweeting about women’s Olympic wrestling on Saturday. He cares as much about women’s grappling, and ponytail sports in general, as Jose Altuve and the Houston Astros care about getting caught stealing signs. It’s anything to justify one’s existence, I suppose.
Come to think of it, why were women wrestling in Ottawa when every other sports activity known to man has gone dark (except the UFC, where Dana White insists on showcasing grown women and men beating each other to a bloody pulp)? What, wrestlers don’t touch each other’s face with dirty hands while rolling around on a dirty floor? Odd bit of business, that.
It’s not my business to tell Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman or David Thomson how to spend their millions and billions of dollars, but I wonder if the Jets co-bankrolls know how chintzy they look by leaving their 1,050 event workers at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie high, dry and out of pocket now that the National Hockey League has hit the pause button. “They work when we work,” the Puck Pontiff informed news snoops last week, his tone as cold and callous as a jury foreman reading a guilty verdict at a murder trial. So the minions don’t get paid, but the millionaire players continue to fatten their wallets, and that’s something Cheech and Chintzy might want to reconsider. It’s a dreadful optic. Just because you don’t have to do something, it doesn’t mean you can’t do it.
This just in: Cheech and Chintzy now say they’ll pay their casual and part-time workers for postponed events until the end of the month. As I was saying, just because you don’t have to do something, it doesn’t mean you can’t do it. But True North Sports+Entertainment took a massive PR hit nonetheless.
Kudos to Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun for calling out Chipman on the no-pay for arena part-timers issue. It had to be written. Scott Billeck of the tabloid, meanwhile, shamed the Jets co-bankrolls on social media. Unless I missed it, opinionists at the Drab Slab have been mum on the matter, but I suppose they were too busy digging up those compelling vasectomy and dog sled stories.
Some seriously strange scribbling out of the Republic of Tranna last week, starting with Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail. In reference to COVID-19 shutting down 99.9 per cent of the sports world, he offered this:
“When I think of the very best of sports in the city I live in, I remember that night last May when the Toronto Raptors beat the Milwaukee Bucks for the NBA’s Eastern Conference title. A lot of Canadians hadn’t cared until that moment. Suddenly, every single one of us did.”
We did? My friends and I must have missed that memo.
Kelly then added, “Whatever comes next is not going to be good, but I believe the spirit of that night will hold in this city, and every other one in Canada.”
Oh, good gawd. Only someone from The ROT would believe that those of us who live in the colonies are clinging to the memory of a distant basketball game to get us through the coronavirus crisis. I guess we can all stop stocking up on toilet paper now.
Similarly silly was Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star calling Rudy Gobert “a hero.” I don’t know about you, but my idea of a hero is a war veteran, a firefighter, a cop, a first-responder, a doctor, a nurse, not a basketball player who thought the coronavirus was a big joke and likely infected people because he acted like a complete doofus.
Then there was Steve Simmons, whose weak attempt at humor re pro teams performing in front of empty facilities fell flat. “Anyone who attended Atlanta Thrashers games back in the day knows what it’s like to have a pro sporting event without fans,” he tweeted. That’s rich. A guy from The ROT trashing another burg because of poor attendance. The Tranna Argonauts, with their sub-10,000 head counts at BMO Field, are an embarrassment to the Canadian Football League, and the Blue Jays have led Major League Baseball in lost customers two years in a row. Fact is, the Argos attracted an average of 12,493 last season, and we all know the actual head count was considerably lower than that. In their final whirl in Atlanta, the Thrashers attracted an average of 13,469, and that included audiences of 16,000-plus five times down the stretch. But, hey, let’s ignore the facts and take cheap shots Atlanta. What a d’oh boy.
Hey, turns out there’s an easy fix for the deadly coronavirus—gather all 7.5 billion of us together and squeeze us into the Church of Maggie, otherwise known as the Victory Life Church, a temple in Perth, Australia, created by tennis legend and raging homophobe Margaret Court. Seems Pastor Maggie sent out a communiqué last week claiming: “We are in agreement that this Convid-19 (sic) will not come near our dwelling or our church family. We are praying daily for you, knowing that we are all protected by the Blood of Jesus.” Hmmm. If only Tom Hanks and his bride Rita Wilson knew.
Pastor Maggie’s statement included this ‘oh, by the way’: “For your convenience, hand sanitiser readily available at all of our sites.” Meaning what? The “Blood of Jesus” isn’t enough?
So Rachel Homan and her gal pals have fired lead Lisa Weagle from their fab curling team, and apparently Homan, Emma Miskew and Joanne Courtney did the dirty deed behind Lisa’s back. Just wondering, will Homan now be crapped on from high heights, or is that treatment still reserved for Jennifer Jones? If you recall, Jones fired Cathy Overton-Clapham from her championship team back in 2010, and it was as if she’d tied a large rock to a little, warm puppy and dropped her in the middle of Lake Winnipeg. It will be interesting to see if there’s similar fallout for Homan, but somehow I doubt it.
And, finally, I’m down to my last pack of toilet paper, so why do I feel guilty about going to the market and buying another dozen rolls?
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I sprung forward this morning and brought some random thoughts along with me…
I think TSN and Sportsnet are trying to fool us into believing they actually give a damn about women’s sports.
I mean, both of our national jock networks have devoted copious air to the distaff portion of the playground in the past week, featuring interviews with movers and shakers like Stacey Allaster, Kim Davis, Kim Ng, Cammi Granato and Kendall Coyne Schofield, and they’ve also given us retro peeks at moments of girl glory delivered by Brooke Henderson, Bianca Andreescu and others.
It’s been boffo stuff.
And tonight we’ll hear the all-female broadcast crew of Leah Hextall, Cassie Campbell-Pascall and Christine Simpson work the Calgary Flames-Vegas Golden Knights skirmish on Hometown Hockey, something that—dare I say?—smacks of gimmickry and likely will have numerous men squirming and pressing the mute button on their remotes.
But here’s my question in the midst of all this rah, rah, rah about ponytail sports: Where are TSN and Sportsnet when it really matters?
You know, like when the Canadian Women’s Hockey League was in business. Like during the women’s Under-18 world hockey championship. TSN covering competition like the world shinny tourney or World Cup soccer are no-brainers, but to the best of my recollection Sportsnet broadcast the grand sum of two CWHL games before the operation bolted its doors last spring. I could be wrong. It might have been three. Meanwhile, TSN completely ignored the U18 event.
The National Women’s Hockey League, meanwhile, dropped the puck on its playoffs Friday night, but I haven’t heard a whisper about it on either network.
In the small hours of Thursday, Friday and Saturday mornings, I counted 136 news-related videos on the TSN website. The male sports v. female sports scorecard read 133-3 in favor of the dudes, and that included Justin Bieber practicing his shootout skills.
None of that’s surprising, of course, because numerous studies advise us that female jocks receive just two to six per cent of air time on sportscasts in the True North and U.S. The amount of space allotted to female sports in our daily newspapers would be similar. Maybe even less.
So, ya, it’s great that TSN and Sportsnet have been saluting women the past few days, but what’s their excuse for the other 51 weeks of the year?
According to a 2016 report, a study of sports coverage on our national networks (French and English) in 2014 showed that female athletes were featured in just four per cent of 35,000 hours of programming. More than half of that four per cent allotment showed women’s events at the Sochi Olympics and/or women’s tennis. Which means, of course, all other female activity received less than two per cent air time.
Whenever I contemplate the minimalist coverage female sports receives on air and in print, I think of comments from noted jock journos Steve Simmons and Bruce Dowbiggin.
“I don’t believe there’s a demand from the public for women’s sports,” Postmedia’s Simmons told the Ryerson Review of Journalism in 2002. He also advocated for the removal of women’s hockey from the Olympic Games in 2010, calling it a “charade.”
Dowbiggin, meanwhile, wrote last year that ponytail sports was “second-tier entertainment” and, in another piece, added, “You can’t swing a cat without hitting a lesbian in a women’s sport.”
I’m quite uncertain why Dowbiggin would want to swing a cat and hit a lesbian, or any woman for that matter, but I believe his indelicate and disturbingly crass remark about felines and females was an attempt at cutesy humor. If so, he failed. Miserably.
Point is, those are two loud voices in jock journalism completely dismissing female athletes.
Dowbiggin once was an award-winning jock journo and a main player on the national stage, twice winning a Gemini Award for sports reporting and broadcasting. He now cranks out opinion essays for Troy Media and his own Not The Public Broadcaster. Simmons is a high-profile columnist whose scribblings appear in Postmedia rags across the country.
As much as I wish it was otherwise, I’m afraid theirs is the prevailing attitude in our jock media.
It’s worth noting that neither of the Winnipeg dailies has a female in its stable of full-time sports scribes. The Drab Slab allows the talented and very readable Melissa Martin to make guest appearances for the provincial and national Scotties Tournament of Hearts, but the Sun hasn’t had a Jill writing jock stuff since Judy Owen left the building. Judy is one of only four female scribes with whom I worked during 30 years in the rag trade, the others being Peggy Stewart (Winnipeg Tribune), the lovely Rita Mingo (Trib) and Mary Ormsby (Toronto Sun). It’s been more than 50 years since I started at the Trib, and in that time I’ve known just five female sports writers in Good Ol’ Hometown—Judy, Peggy, Rita, Barb Huck and Ashley Prest. I know some women applied the last time the Sun had an opening, but Scott Billeck got the gig.
What a truly dreadful time it’s been for Ponytail Puck. First the CWHL ceased operations last spring, then close to 200 of the planet’s best players had a hissy fit and decided to boycott and trash talk the NWHL, and now the world championship in Nova Scotia has been cancelled due to the coronavirus. Tough to grow the game when all you have at the end of the day is a bunch of photo-ops with Billie Jean King.
Speaking of Billie Jean, she’ll be part of the Hometown Hockey telecast tonight on Sportsnet, but we shouldn’t expect any hard-hitting questions from either Ron MacLean or Tara Slone. My guess is MacLean will serve the tennis legend and women’s rights activist nothing but softball questions, while Tara swoons.
Sportsnet won’t be the only network featuring an all-female broadcast crew tonight. Kate Scott, Kendall Coyne Schofield and AJ Mleczko will be the voices for NBCSN’s telecast of the St. Louis Blues-Chicago Blackhawks skirmish, and I just hope they realize that criticism is part of the gig because they’ll be hearing it from the yahoos.
The PWHPA—also the talking heads on Sportsnet—would like the five-team NWHL to disappear at the conclusion of its fifth season, so they’ll be disappointed to hear this sound bite from NWHLPA director Anya Packer: “I’m excited to watch the growth. I think there’s going to be a lot of growth in the off-season. There’s a lot of conversations hosted today that will affect tomorrow. There’s a lot of conversations that happened before the season began that are going to make some major strides and changes as we move into season six. I’m excited for season six.” If they want to play serious shinny next winter, the PWHPA might want to rethink that boycott thing.
The rapidly spreading coronavirus has a number of sports teams/leagues talking about playing in empty stadiums. In other words, just like a Toronto Argonauts home game.
Ya, I think it’s great that the National Hockey League salary cap is going up and Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff will have a boatload of Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman’s cash to spend on free agents this summer, but that won’t make it any easier for Chevy to sell Good Ol’ Hometown to high-profile players. River City remains No. 1 on most NHLers’ no-go lists, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
I don’t know about you, but every time I see the Nashville Predators play, I have the same thought: “How do these guys beat anybody?”
Does this make sense to anyone other than Tranna Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas?
William Nylander: 30-goal seasons—1; salary—$9 million ($8.3 million bonus).
Kyle Connor: 30-goal seasons—3; salary—$7.5 million ($0 bonus).
People poke fun at the Canadian Football League for rewarding failure by giving a single point on a missed field goal. Well, excuse me, but the NHL does that very thing almost nightly with its ridiculous loser point.
Watched Sports Central on Sportsnet on Friday morning and I didn’t hear one word about the Brier. Nada. They managed to squeeze in highlights of Joey Chestnut pigging out on Big Macs, but the Canadian men’s curling championship wasn’t worthy of their attention. Canada’s #1 Sports Network my ass.
There’ve been so many incredible circus shots during this year’s Brier, I expected to see Barnum and Bailey meeting in today’s final.
So I call up the Globe and Mail on Saturday and note that Cathal Kelly is writing about the Brier. I roll my eyes, because Kelly doesn’t know a hog line from Hog Town. Well, surprise, surprise. It’s an excellent, entertaining read. And honest. “Don’t look for curling expertise here,” he writes. “You won’t find any.”
Did Northern Ontario skip Brad Jacobs look like he was having any fun before being ushered out of the Brier? I swear, the’s more serious than a tax audit, and it isn’t a good look.
WTF? During the first two Brier matches I watched on TSN last weekend, I heard three F-bombs and one goddamn. I heard zero F-bombs and zero goddamns during the entire week of watching the Scotties on TSN. Just saying.
Actually, I’d like to know why male curlers feel a need to go all potty mouth, yet the women don’t. I mean, they’re playing the same game, playing for the same stakes, making the same shots, feeling the same pressure. It would make for an interesting social study.
Big headlines all over the Internet last week about movie guy Spike Lee having a hissy fit and refusing to attend any more New York Knicks games this season. Hmmm. I must have missed the memo that informed us we’re supposed to give a damn what Spike Lee does.
Gotta say, TSN’s man on UFC, Robin Black, is the creepiest guy on sports TV.
The aforementioned Joey Chestnut set some sort of world record for gluttony last week when he scarfed down 32 Big Macs in 38 minutes. We haven’t seen a pigout like that since Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs offence ate the San Francisco 49ers’ lunch in the Super Bowl.
The Winnipeg Jets are in the grip of an intense playoff battle, two Manitoba teams were running hot at the Brier, and what was featured on the sports front of the Winnipeg Sun last Monday morning? Toronto Blue Jays wannabe pitcher Nate Pearson. Good gawd, man, who makes those horrible decisions?
And, finally, in a salute to International Women’s Day, these are my five fave female athletes of all time: Wilma Rudolph, Martina Navratilova, Tessa Virtue, Nancy Greene and Evonne Goolagong. (Honorable mentions go to to Katarina Witt, Steffi Graf and Jennifer Jones.)
Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and if you’re old enough to vote today, you’re old enough to do the right thing…
Okay, it’s agreed. Chris Streveler is one tough dude.
I mean, someone could huck a live grenade down the guy’s pants and he might miss a play or two while medics re-attached both his legs with a tube of Gorilla Glue and some Scotch Tape. But he’d be back in the fray pronto.
We know this because Streveler, when last seen, was walking like a man who’d just let a Rottweiler use his right ankle for a chew toy. While a dingo gnawed on his right wrist.
The Calgary Stampeders didn’t just chew him up and spit him out on Saturday night in the Alberta foothills. They turned him into a blue-and-gold pinata. I haven’t seen one man take that bad a beating since Mel Gibson let the Romans thrash Jesus Christ for two hours.
Somebody should have called a cop. And arrest Mike O’Shea.
Apparently Coach Grunge was the only person who didn’t notice that his starting quarterback’s body parts were strewn all over the field at McMahon Stadium. Wrist at the 40-yard stripe. Ribs at the 52. Ankle at the 35.
Instead of turning over control of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers offence to understudy Sean McGuire or newby Zach Collaros in the last-gasp moments of a Canadian Football League game that was every bit the barroom brawl, Coach Grunge instructed the much-mangled Streveler to finish what he had started, even though he belonged in ICU rather than a mosh pit of large, angry men. It was like telling Custer to have another go at Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse and their braves.
The result was predictable, of course. Streveler, try as he might, was unable to muster another score and the Bombers were left wanting in a 37-33 loss that exhausted their aspirations of a first-place finish.
But never mind regular-season bragging rights. It’s about O’Shea’s refusal to sit Streveler down when there’s another weighty dosey doe with the Stampeders on Friday night, not to mention November football when there are no more excuses or tomorrows.
Streveler is O’Shea’s guy, we know that, so why did Coach Grunge jeopardize his health and Winnipeg FC’s playoff aspirations?
“You trust your players,” he told news snoops after the fact. “If he says he can go, he can go. At this time of year all these guys are nicked up, but obviously Strev got a little nicked up in that game.”
A little nicked up? Ya, like Evander Holyfield’s ear was just a “little nicked up” after Mike Tyson had it for a late-night snack.
It was reckless coaching, the sort of thing I thought O’Shea had gotten past. But no. Apparently, someone will have to saw off one of Streveler’s legs at the hip and hand the limb to Coach Grunge before he considers an alternative course of action at the most important position on the field.
And it isn’t good enough that Streveler wanted to re-enter the skirmish due to some warrior code.
“When guys do that they just, they’re putting it on the line for teammates,” said O’Shea. “They wanna be out there for ’em, they just love working for their teammates.”
Look, we all know professional athletes are wired differently than us mere mortals. Broken ankle? No biggie. It’s a long way from the heart, kid. Walk it off. Sometimes, however, they need to be protected from themselves. This was one of those times, and O’Shea ignored the risks because that’s the way he played the game. Balls to the wall, baby.
That’s what Coach Grunge knows best. That’s what got him into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. And Streveler has that same linebacker mentality. It’s admirable. But dumb for a QB.
Just not as dumb as a head coach allowing it to happen.
So who do you like for the Most Outsanding Player Award in the CFL? I’ve got Speedy B of the Hamilton Tabbies, but Reggie Begelton of the Stampeders is closing fast on the inside. And, yes, even though the B.C. Leos have been a bust, Bryan Burnham warrants consideration because he’s a human highlight reel and the trinket goes to the most outstanding player, not most valuable.
I fully expect the Winnipeg chapter of the football writers to nominate Andrew Harris as the local MOP candidate, but I’d vote for Willie Jefferson. Sorry, but Harris is a tainted tailback.
On the subject of head coaches, a tip of the bonnet to Paul Maurice, whose Winnipeg Jets outlasted the Edmonton McDavids, 1-nada in a shootout, on Sunday night at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie. If you’re scoring at home—and aren’t we all?—that gives Coach Potty Mouth 700 Ws as a National Hockey League bench puppeteer, and I say that deserves something more than the sound of one hand clapping.
Got a kick out of Blake Wheeler’s reaction to Coach PottyMo’s milestone. “What an accomplishment,” said the Jets captain, who also happens to be teacher’s pet. “Obviously, been in the game a long time, he’s turned into an old man on us and, you know, I think the biggest quality of Paul is his ability to adapt to different seasons and different teams. Throughout his tenure as a coach, I think that’s why he’s had such great longevity. Players never tune him out, never get sick of his message, ’cause he’s able to keep it fresh and refreshing, and I think when you see teams really fall off and really struggling big time it’s ’cause the players stop buying into the coach’s message. Not even close to what’s happening here.” No, they only tuned out Coach PottyMo in Carolina (twice), Toronto, and Russia.
Hey, I’m not here to scoff at or trivialize Coach PottyMo’s accomplishment. Just to prove it, I won’t even mention that his 624 losses put him No. 1 on the NHL all-time loser list.
I don’t know about you, but the Jets are exactly what I figured them to be this crusade, which is to say all over the map. Really, nobody should be surprised by their herky-jerky start, and I suspect it’ll be like this for the long haul. Question is, will .500 hockey be good enough to get them to Beard Season?
Oh, dear, is there a controversy—indeed, a scandal—brewing in the Republic of Tranna? I ask that, because Mitch Marner says he wants to skate alongside his good buddy Auston Matthews. “Hopefully,” he told news snoops on Sunday, “we do play together a little more often.” Does this mean young Mitch’s feathers are ruffled? Is he calling his coach, Mike Babcock, a bit of a bozo? Is he saying he considers John Tavares a slug? Of course not. And nobody’s nose appears to be out of joint in The ROT. It’s strictly meh stuff, unlike in Good Ol’ Hometown after Patrik Laine expressed similar sentiments about his role with the Jets. Puck Finn told a Finnish reporter that he wanted to play with the big dogs, Rink Rat Scheifele and Blake Wheeler, and that was interpreted as a mortal slap at Coach PottyMo and centre Bryan Little. A tempest ensued. Big headlines. Puck Finn texted an apology to Little. Didn’t matter. Many among the rabble wanted him on the first stage out of town. Some jock journos suggested he zip his lips. I’d never thought of local news snoops as bigger drama queens than the mob in The ROT, but apparently they are.
As a folo to my Sunday post, whereby I mentioned something about a beer and a hot dog costing more at a Jets game today than an admission ticket in 1974, this was the going rate back in the day at Winnipeg Arena: Reds $7, Blues $6, Nosebleed $4. There was also a promo that allowed a parent to purchase a seat in the greys at the old barn on Maroons Road for the regular $4 fare, plus a second seat for their son or daughter for $2. Buy the kid a hot dog and Coke, and you were still under a 10-dollar bill for the night. Now the hot dog alone is $10.
Came across this interesting tidbit from my first boss at the Winnipeg Tribune, legendary scribe Jack Matheson: “You Read It Here First Dept.: The Jets will be long gone by 1976 because too many big business people in this town are big four-flushers,” he wrote in October 1974. Matty was out by 20 years, but his prediction came true, nonetheless. And he was spot-on in reasoning why the Jets would disappear. As he forecast, they split for Phoenix because none of the high rollers in town were interested in losing money.
Our guy Denis Shapovalov has finally won an ATP tournament, besting Filip Krajinovic of Serbia, 6-4, 6-4 on Sunday, and let’s not quibble about the Stockholm Open having less glitz and glam than in the past. A win is a win is a win, and anytime you can put your name in the same grouping as tennis legends Bjorn Borg, Arthur Ashe, John McEnroe, Stefan Edberg, Ivan Lendl, Mats Wilander, Boris Becker and Roger Federer you’ve done alright for yourself. They’re all past champions in Stockholm, so I’d say Shapo is keeping good company.
I must say, I’d be more interested in the World Series if the New York Yankees were involved. Not that I like the Yankees. Can’t stand the Yankees, because I was weaned on the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers and the damn Yankees always seemed to have our number. So I like to see them lose in the annual Fall Classic. As it is, neither the Houston Astros or Washington Nationals do it for me. Should be boffo pitching, though.
And, finally, this tweet from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: “The autumn colors are spectacular this time of the year.” What, as opposed to the autumn colors in winter, spring and summer?
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and bravo to the 20,907 souls who trudged through the white stuff and made it to Football Follies Field in Fort Gary for the Bombers-Larks skirmish on Saturday…
I remember the day Teddy Green retired. He cried.
Not for himself, understand. I don’t recall Teddy ever feeling sorry for himself, even though he never experienced a pain-free day after Wayne Maki clubbed him over the head with a hockey stick.
So, if the tears couldn’t possibly have been for the one-time toughest dude in hockey, who?
“I remember a guy who used to play on the Million Dollar Line before he came to Boston,” Green explained the day he stepped away from a professional playing career that had come full cycle, starting in Winnipeg with the Warriors in 1959 and concluding with the Jets in 1979. “He went out and busted his butt every game and then would sit at the end of the bench spitting out blood. Murray Balfour was dying of cancer. I’d like to think I fashioned some of my courage from Murray Balfour.”
None of us who traveled with the Jets back in the day ever questioned Teddy’s sand.
We’d watch him hobble onto buses and through airports like an old man on a pair of knees that had endured the slicing and dicing of a surgeon’s scalpel five times, and we knew all about the headaches that often put him into a state of paralysis. But Teddy was tire-iron tough. He played through all the searing discomfort, and did so admirably. We marveled.
“I only missed one game in seven years because of the headaches,” he said with a proper level of pride on the January 1979 day he bid adieu to his playing career, but not the game.
The headaches, of course, were a reminder of his ugly stick-swinging duel with Wayne Maki of the St. Louis Blues on Sept. 21, 1969. They had clashed near one of the nets in a National Hockey League exhibition game, Teddy wielding his lumber first, striking Maki with a blow to the shoulder. The St. Louis forward retaliated and, unfortunately, he had better aim, chopping down on Teddy’s head with Bunyanesque force.
Teddy lay on the freeze in a contorted mess and was whisked away from the rink to an Ottawa hospital, where medics spent five hours repairing his fractured skull and keeping the Grim Reaper at bay. By the time Teddy was fit enough to rejoin the Boston Bruins, in 1970-71, there was a plate in his head and a helmet on top of it. He helped them win the Stanley Cup in the spring of ’72.
“I never met a guy with more intestinal fortitude,” Phil Esposito said of his former teammate, who drew his final breath the other day at age 79.
The thing you should know about Teddy, is that his on-ice persona didn’t match the man away from the freeze. A bonfire burned in his belly in battle, but once removed from the fray he was gentle, thoughtful and soft spoken, sometimes to the point of mumbling. His words were often accompanied by a devlish cackle, as if he’d just pulled a prank, and he probably had.
As mentioned, Teddy’s career began and ended in Good Ol’ Hometown. He started on the frozen ponds of St. Boniface, and upper-level hockey people began taking notice of the tough guy on defence when he lined up on the blueline with les Canadiens in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League. Legendary shinny lifers Bill Addison and Bill Allum recruited Teddy to join the Winnipeg Braves for their Memorial Cup crusade in 1959, and they won the national Junior title, beating the Scotty Bowman-coached Peterborough Petes in five games.
Teddy added a Stanley Cup with the Bruins, he captained the New England Whalers to the inaugural World Hockey Association title, and he added two more after joining the Jets in 1975-76.
“I ended up in Winnipeg, which was a real plus, and I won a couple of championships,” he told me at his retirement presser. “I also got to play with one of the best forward lines ever put together in hockey in Ulf (Nilsson), Anders (Hedberg) and Bobby (Hull). And I was part of the European influx.”
Teddy always kept good company on the freeze, dating back to his time with the Braves, an outfit that included Ernie Wakely, Bobby Leiter, Gary Bergman, and local Junior legends Wayne Larkin and Laurie Langrell. He played with Bobby Orr, Espo and the Big Bad Bruins, Hull, Hedberg and the two Nilssons, Ulf and Kent, with the Jets, and he coached Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Mark Messier and the boys on the bus in Edmonton.
Most of the headlines and dispatches since his death have been devoted to Teddy’s time with the Bruins and Oilers, but his formative years on the rinks of River City and three-plus winters with the Jets should be more than a footnote.
He was one of us, a local lad who found his way home to bookend his Memorial Cup championship with two WHA titles.
Great career, better guy.
Shame on the Drab Slab for reducing Green’s death to a sports brief. That’s all he deserves? What, no one at the broadsheet has a phone that works? They couldn’t call some of his former teammates? Do they not realize this guy was hockey royalty in River City? The Winnipeg Sun, meanwhile, ran a nice piece by Jimmy Matheson of Postmedia E-Town, but it was totally Oilers-centric. It’s as if Teddy never played hockey in Good Ol’ Hometown. Well, he did, dammit. He earned his chops on our frozen ponds and he was a significant part of the Jets’ WHA glory days.
Oh dear. After three straight losses, the Tranna Maple Leafs felt obliged to conduct a special think tank to discuss their repeated face plants. “A family discussion,” is how head coach Mike Babcock described the behind-closed-doors to and fro. “It’s just honest. Like any family, you keep each other accountable.” So, when les Leafs huddle on the QT it’s a “family discussion,” but when les Jets do that very thing some zealots in the media tell us the changing room is “rotten to the core” and “fractured.” Go figure.
I note that Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister has declared a state of emergency. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ quarterbacking situation is that bad.
Ever wonder why news snoops become such cynical SOBs? Well, consider the sound bites delivered by head coach Mike O’Shea when asked if his Bombers would recruit a veteran quarterback to baby sit Chris Streveler:
Sept. 30 (to Knuckles Irving on the CJOB Coach’s Show): “That’s not gonna happen, and I’m good with it. I like our guys. Very confident in our guys. Dance with the one you brung.”
Oct. 2: “To really think that a guy’s gonna come in and change your franchise this late in the season, it’s pretty difficult in football. Even if you trade for a veteran presence, unless he knows your guys, it’s really hard for even a veteran guy to come in late in a season and lead. I really just don’t think those scenarios work or can be applied to football this late in the season. Especially (a quarterback). Quarterbacks usually do a lot better when they’ve got a playbook and a training camp and exhibition games to play with.”
Oct. 10 (after the signing of veteran Zach Collaros): “I think it’s a good move. We said right from the get-go about bringing in a veteran guy. Now we got a seasoned veteran who comes in and, you know, will have a role and it’ll definitely be a good guy to have in the building. Knowing Zach, he’s a smart guy, a competitive guy, he’s going to pick things up very quickly. I’m sure the concepts are very familiar to him. The terminology will be probably different, but, I mean, that’s the reason we talked about a veteran guy, because it comes that much quicker and understanding CFL defences is something these guys do no matter what the play call is. That’s important.”
So, to sum up: O’Shea never wanted a veteran QB but he wanted one “right from the get-go,” and even a veteran QB is too stupid to pick up the system in a short time, except Collaros isn’t too stupid to pick up the system in a short time. Good grief.
Well lookee here. According to Gaming Club Casino, there’s no better burg to be a Canadian Football League fan than Edmonton, with Winnipeg a solid second. First thought: Obviously, it has nothing to do with winning. Sure enough, the folks at GCC used six measuring sticks, only one of which—touchdowns—
involves the on-field product, so findings were based mainly on ticket costs, precipitation, pollution and the tariff on burgers and beer. Turns out that E-Town has the best burger prices and the second-lowest admission fees, while Good Ol’ Hometown has the cheapest booze, which is probably a good thing. I mean, when you’ve been watching your team lose every year since 1990, chances are you need a drink or two.
A couple of peculiarities in the GCC study: B.C. Lions received the worst mark for all the wet stuff than falls in Lotus Land, except for one thing—the Leos play in the air-conditioned comfort of B.C. Place Stadium. Indoors. Under a $514-million umbrella. Meanwhile, Ottawa scored high marks for being the least-polluted city. Hmmm. Apparently they didn’t watch either of last week’s federal election debates.
This year’s inductees to the media wing of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame are former colleagues Steve Simmons (Calgary Sun) and Larry Tucker (Winnipeg Tribune). That brings to 14 the number of CFHofFamers that I worked beside at one time or another during my 30 years in jock journalism. My all-time all-star team from that bunch: Trent Frayne, Jack Matheson, young Eddie Tait, Shakey Hunt, Jim Coleman and Knuckles Irving.
It’s worth noting that the media wing of the Canadian grid hall is the ultimate boys club. There are now 99 card-carrying members and, unless I missed something when I called up the CFHofF website, not one of them is female. Zero. Nada. Seems to me that they should have made room for trailblazers like Joanne Ireland, Ashley Prest, Robin Brown and Judy Owen by now.
The CFL has always been blessed by quality news snoops on the beat, and I don’t think anyone covers Rouge Footballbetter today than Dave Naylor of TSN. Just saying.
This week’s Twit on Twitter: The aforementioned Simmons of Postmedia Tranna.The Vancouver Canucks put on the glitz for their home opener last week, and the production featured an on-ice, in-uniform cameo appearance by Todd Bertuzzi, he of the infamous Steve Moore goon job. That prompted Simmons to tweet, “Sad.” My oh my. How thoughtless of the Canucks for not clearing their guest list with a mook columnist from the Republic of Tranna. Never mind that Bert is among Vancity’s favorite hockey sons and the Canucks had every right to include him in their puck pageantry. A mook columnist from The ROT says it was wrong, so it must be. As freaking if. Simmons’ morality metre is sorely out of whack. He believes Bertuzzi should be persona non grata for mugging Moore, yet he celebrated the arrival of a woman-beater, Johnny Manziel, to the CFL. “Personally, I think the CFL is stronger, maybe more fun, possibly more fan-appealing, with Manziel playing or trying to play the Canadian game,” he wrote. “Where do I sign up?” So, if you’re scoring at home, Simmons believes an on-ice mugging is a more egregious trespass than beating up, and threatening to kill, a woman. The mind boggles.
When soccer’s purple-haired diva Megan Rapinoe shouted “Gays rule!” during last summer’s women’s soccer World Cup, she wasn’t kidding. Rapinoe, a lesbian, was anointed FIFA female footballer of the year. Jill Ellis, a lesbian, was anointed FIFA female coach of the year. Elena Delle Donne, a lesbian, is the Women’s National Basketball Association MVP and league champion with the Washington Mystics. Katie Sowers, a lesbian, is an assistant offensive coach with the San Francisco 49ers, who remain unbeaten this year in the National Football League. Meanwhile, all the gay guys remain in hiding.
Price comparison: A standing-room ticket to see the Jets and Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday in the Toddlin’ Town was $27. Meanwhile, a standing room ticket to watch the Buffalo Beauts v. Boston Pride, or Metropolitan Riveters v. Minnesota Whitecaps, of the National Women’s Hockey League went for $20. I don’t know if the NWHL is overpricing its product or the Blackhawks are underpricing, but a $7 difference seems out of whack to me.
Hey, check it out. Head coach Tim Hunter of the Moose Jaw Warriors has hired a female, Olivia Howe, as one of his assistants. That’s a first for the Western Hockey League, and I say good on Hunter.
And, finally, if you’re having a gobbler dinner with all the fixings today or Monday, be thankful that turkeys don’t fly.
A special anniversary smorgas-bored…and it’s my doctor’s fault that I’m still doing this after all these years…
I walked into a newsroom for the first time 50 years ago today, fresh out of high school, and I still remember the hum of activity.
It wasn’t loud, not at that time of the morning in those days of PM papers, but it was steady and easy and soothing and vibrant.
I liked it, the way I liked Sinatra and Streisand.
I listened to the constant clatter of the teletype machines and discovered there was a hypnotic rhythm to their tap-tap-ta-tap-tap. There were three of them, as I recall, one for national and Southam news, another for dispatches from across Western Canada, and the third for United Press International. Every so often, one of them would send out a ding-ding-ding chirp. Breaking news. A copy boy would scurry over, read the alert, then tear off the story and distribute the front sheet to the appropriate department head and the carbon copy to the news rim.
City editor Peter Warren might have been on the Winnipeg Tribune news rim Sept. 10, 1969, or maybe it was Harry Mardon or Jim Shilliday, who later would become the first but not last editor to bark at me. (It was for messing up a coffee order, something about too much sugar or not enough cream. He was wrong, I was right, and desker Peter Salmon, noticing my body quiver like a kitten on a limb, told him so, for which I remain immensely grateful.)
I know Gene Telpner was on assignment in the Middle East that long-ago day, but I suspect Val Werier and Hugh Allan were on site. Jack Matheson, too. Matty would have been hunkered down and proofing sports pages in his bunker in the far left corner of the newsroom, opposite the artsy-fartsy department, a domain shared by Telpner, Frank Morriss and Joan Druxman, whose flair for fashion was extraordinary and resonates to this day.
As I soaked it all in, I decided then and there that the Trib newsroom was where I wanted to be. Where I belonged.
It took me 10 months to get up to the fifth floor from the business office, where I handled incoming and outgoing mail, but I made it as a copy runner and, not long after that, Matty had a notion to bring me into the toy department.
I wanted to stay at the Trib for 50 years, but the dark forces at Southam Inc. headquarters in the Republic of Tranna had other ideas and put more than 300 of us out of work, kicking if not screaming, in late-August 1980.
But here I am, half a century after my first day on the job in the rag trade, out of work again but still scribbling about Winnipeg sports, albeit from a distance. Go figure.
I sometimes wonder why I carry on with this carry-on. I mean, it’s not like someone is paying me to put this alphabet soup together, although I suspect some among the rabble might be willing to take up a collection to shut me the hell up, and I can’t say I blame them. The thing is, one of my medics tells me it’s best that I keep my mind busy, and I’m not about to go against someone who gets to stick a needle in me on a whim. So, on doctor’s orders, I look for ways to humor myself at 1:30 in the a.m., and poking fun at sacred cows and media mooks works for moi. I don’t know how long I’ll keep going, but I know the end is closer to 50 days away than another 50 years.
Now that I’ve mentioned mooks, I’m surprised that so many in mainstream media have saluted Bianca Andreescu as the first Canadian to win a tennis Grand Slam tournament. It simply isn’t so. Daniel Nestor won 12 of them in doubles play, and Gabriel Dabrowski has two major titles on her resumé. Ya, ya, I know. Doubles sucks and nobody cares. But a Slam is a Slam is a Slam, and I’m not going to insult Daniel or Gabby by saying their achievements don’t matter.
Here’s something else that gets up my nose: Our flowers of jock journalism wax on about the “greatest moments” in the history of game-playing by True North athletes, and they spew the same names and the same events. The Henderson goal. Sid’s golden goal. Donovan Bailey’s lickety-split at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. Mike Weir at the Masters. Joe Carter touching them all. The Tranna Jurassics. And now, of course, Bianca’s victory over the neighborhood bully, Serena Williams, in the U.S. Open. Which is fine and fitting, except for one glaring omission: None of them ever mention Marie-Philip Poulin’s golden goal. I don’t know about you, but nothing at the 2014 Sochi Olympics had my heart beating faster than Marie-Philip’s OT goal in Canada’s 3-2 victory over Uncle Sam’s Yankee Doodle Damsels. I still get chills watching the video. Alas, Marie-Philip’s goal fails to get the respect it deserves simply because it’s women’s hockey, which appears on the radar once every four years for most news snoops, and it’s quickly forgotten.
We all have our personal “Where were you when?” moments, and this is my top five in Canadian sports:
1. Paul Henderson’s goal in the 1972 Summit Series between the good guys and the Red Menace from Red Square Moscow.
2. Marie-Philip Poulin’s golden goal.
3. Kenny Ploen’s 18-yard skedadlde in OT to nail down a Grey Cup win for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 1961.
4. Jennifer Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer, Dawn McEwen winning curling gold at the Sochi Olympics.
5. Bianca Andreescu beating Williams in Queens, NYC, on Saturday.
Honorable mention: Brooke Henderson winning the Canadian Open golf tournament in 2018.
I try to stay in my lane when it comes to rating the events from a lifetime of watching sports, and that means 1957, or thereabouts, to the present. Anything that happened pre-1957, I don’t have a clue, other than what I’ve read about or watched on grainy, black-and-white film. I suggest young opinionists do the same. If you weren’t even on the breast when Paul Henderson slid a puck under Vladislav Tretiak in 1972, you have no business comparing Bianca’s achievement to that moment. Like, if you weren’t around when John, Paul, George and Ringo landed in Gotham, don’t tell me about Beatlemania. Stay in your lane.
Even veteran jock journos like Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna make that mistake. Simmons likes to present himself as a sports historian, and he’s fooled TSN into believing it, but his point of reference can’t start any earlier than 1965, if not later. He tweets, “I choose not to make assertions about athletes I’ve never seen unless they’re Ted Williams or Babe Ruth,” yet he was arrogant enough to compile a list of the National Hockey League’s greatest 100 players. Except he never saw 20 of them play. He added a list of 40 honorable mentions. He never saw 16 of them play. Ergo, the list was a sham.
Here’s what legendary sports scribe Grantland Rice had to say on drawing parallels to events and athletes from one era to another: “Probably the greatest waste of time known to man is the matter of comparing some star or champion with another who lived and played in a different decade.” It’s a trap we all fall into, of course, and I’m convinced that Steffi Graf would kick Serena Williams’ butt six out of every 10 matches. But Ol’ Grantland is likely correct. It’s just that the then-v.-now debate always makes for such good barroom banter.
Best read I’ve had this week is Eric Duhatschek’s piece in The Athletic on Winnipeg Jets young defender Josh Morrissey. Really, really good stuff. If you’re looking for a reason to subscribe to The Athletic, this is it.
On the subject of Josh, why all the fuss last week about him saying he wants to stay in Good Ol’ Hometown for the duration? “I want to be a Jet” screamed a Winnipeg Sun headline, in type size normally reserved for a declaration of war, moon landings or the assassination of JFK. People, people. I agree it’s swell that young Josh wants to stick around, because he does boffo work on the Jets blueline and he seems like the kind of lad you’d want your daughter bringing home for Sunday dinner. But it’s dog-bites-man stuff. It’s not news.
Here’s Josh in May 2018: “I love playing here, I love being a Winnipeg Jet.”
Here’s Josh in August 2018: “I love being here. I love playing here. I love being a Winnipeg Jet.”
Here’s Josh in September 2018: “I love playing here and love being a Jet. I hope I can be here for a long time in the future.”
So he repeats what he said three times last year and it warrants a screaming headline? I shudder to think how large the type will be when he actually signs long term.
Speaking of the Winnipeg Sun and headlines, what’s up with that sports front this morning? There are pics of Bianca and hoops guy Kawhi Leonard towering over the CN tower and the Republic of Tranna skyline, with this captioning: “Bianca Andreescu and the Raptors got the country buzzing—and have changed sports forever in Toronto.” Excuse me, but we care about the sports landscape in The ROT why? The article was written by a ROT scribe, Steve Simmons, and aimed at a ROT audience. Neither the column or the cover belong in a River City rag. But it’s just the latest example of Postmedia’s pathetic Torontoization of its newspaper chain, and it sickens me.
I really hope boycotting women’s shinny players are getting on with their lives, because Dani Rylan isn’t in any hurry to shut down her National Women’s Hockey League to make way for an NHL takeover. “I see us as an international league spanning both the U.S. and Canada with a great broadcast deal, the best players in the world, and a fan base that is continuing to grow exponentially,” commish Dani told The Ice Garden. “So I think the options are endless. The future of women’s hockey is incredibly bright.” As for the recently formed Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, Dani reports that “unfortunately, they have refused to communicate with us.” The five teams have 83 players under contract for a fifth season.
Be advised that I scribbled a good portion of this post while groovin’ to the Rolling Stones album BIG HITS (High Tide and Green Grass), which might be the best 12-song, 36-minute set in the history of recorded rock ‘n’ roll. You’ve got Keith’s kick-ass guitar licks, the thumping beat of Charlie’s drum kit, Mick’s snarl and sass, and some of the best, straight-ahead rock songs ever written—Satisfaction, The Last Time, It’s All Over Now, Get Off My Cloud, 19th Nervous Breakdown. Brilliant.
And, finally, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of my entry into the rag trade, a quick tip of the bonnet to a few of my all-time faves, news snoops who made the journey more enjoyable and still inspire me: Dave Komosky, with whom I spent a sizable portion of 50 years in the trenches, young Eddie Tait, Knuckles Irving, Shakey Johnson and Ringo Mingo, Big Jim, Greaser, Uncle Tom, the Caveman, Homer, Ketch, Sinch, Swampdog, Scotty Morrison, Trent Frayne, Shaky Hunt, Willie Lever, Downsy, Jon Thordarson, Ronny (Les Lazaruk), Judy Owen, Paul Friesen, Marty Falcon, Buzz Currie, Doc Holliday, the Friar, Sod, Pick, Witt, Cactus, Matty, Peter Young, Blackie, Reyn, Joe Pascucci. And thanks to the late Don Delisle for hiring me right out of Miles Macdonell Collegiate.
Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and it’s pay day for us seniors, so get out of our way…
Where I live, on the shores of the Pacific Ocean and across a small puddle from Vancouver, it’s almost as if the B.C. Lions don’t exist.
The Canucks are huge, of course. Ditto European soccer and the English Premier League. The Blue Jays receive plenty of noise, especially when they’re in nearby Seattle to duel the Mariners. Golf, notably the Grand Slam tournaments, gets a sizable chunk of the sports discussion, in part because we can tee it up 365 days of the year.
But the Lions…I hear more chatter about rugby and the Shamrocks, a highly decorated lacrosse outfit.
Unless a lass named Jody and a gent named Doug are in my downtown Victoria watering hole, any mention of the Canadian Football League and its member clubs is as rare as a winter without rain. And, just for the record, the wet stuff doesn’t fall in the quantities you’re led to believe. That’s propaganda. We just let the myth persist, otherwise there’d be tourists getting in our way 24/7/12 and we like to reserve our little island for ourselves a few months each year.
At any rate, Jody and Doug are Green People, which is to say they pledge allegiance to the Saskatchewan Roughriders and can probably tell you the name of the goomer inside the Gainer the Gopher costume. Whether or not they pluck the banjo, I can’t say, but it goes without saying they’re good people and good for a gab about the CFL, even if it’s unavoidably Riders-centric and always references Ron Lancaster and George Reed.
Otherwise, the CFL and Leos are non-starters in these parts and I’m quite uncertain why that is, except to say that after close to two decades here (20 years on Sept. 3) it’s my experience that the citizenry of the Garden City are indifferent to most things east of the Strait of Georgia.
We tend to focus on bike lanes, Orca pods and green spaces, rather than Green People with watermelons on their heads.
What I’d really like to know, however, is why the rest of our vast land seems to be tuning out our delightfully quirky three-down game.
Again, I’ve heard all the theories and, as I suggested on Sunday, the skirmishing has become borderline unwatchable, due in large part to starting quarterbacks dropping like ducks in a carnival shooting gallery, but also because TSN refuses to pull the plug on insufferable gimmickry that makes our eyes and ears bleed.
The Prairies, of course, remains the CFL fortress, with the Flattest of Lands boasting the most rabid and portable of fan bases, and they were out in all their melon-headed, green glory to watch the Riders ragdoll Mike Reilly and the Lions on Saturday night. It’s not by coincidence that the 20,950 head count was tops this season at B.C. Place Stadium. By 2,892 noggins. I’m not sure if that’s enough to make Leos bankroll David Braley smile, because there’s the matter of just one W in seven tries for the B.C. 24, but I’m guessing what didn’t get done on the field was done in suds sales.
There are two things I know about Green People, your see: They love their football and they love their Pilsner, and not necessarily in that order. Mind you, they might have been forced to chug some kind of Lotus Land hippie swill rather than Pil at B.C. Place, because it’s a different world out here. Still, a pint is a pint is a pint when your side is on the laughing end of a 48-15 score.
Whatever the case, here’s what I’m thinking: Let’s go back to the future. That is, no more interloping. Let west be west and east be east, and never the twain shall meet until the Grey Cup game. (Apologies to Rudyard Kipling for butchering his poem.)
That’s how the CFL rolled when I was knee high to Willie Fleming and Peanut Butter Joe Kapp. We never saw the whites of an eastern invader’s eyes until the final weekend in November, or the first weekend in December. Then some wise acres decided it would be a swell idea to have clubs flit to and fro across four time zones, and eastern outfits have been stumbling across the Manitoba border ever since.
Well, who needs them in 2019?
Let them keep to their own, with their four-team house league (five when Halifax joins the party; back to four when the Tranna Argos turn out the lights). I believe the five West Division outfits would get along quite nicely without the misfits and stumblebums from o’er there, thank you. Especially if it meant an extra visit from the melon heads.
Now, if the bottomless Boatmen beat the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Thursday night, I take it all back.
The local football heroes, be advised, were guilty of playing along with the interlocking schedule nonsense when it was introduced in 1961, although they really had no choice. So head coach Bud Grant and his troops trudged to Montreal for an Aug. 11 assignment, beating the Larks 21-15 in the CFL’s first West-East regular-season skirmish. Here’s how legendary football scribe and columnist Jack Matheson described the occasion for Winnipeg Tribune readers: “There were no special ceremonies to welcome a new era in Canadian football. There was, however, terrific humidity that was eventually chased by incessant drizzles, and through it all the Winnipeg team played their best football of the season. Their efforts weren’t particularly appreciated by 18,059 fans.” Apparently those 18,059 customers never left, because that’s still what the Alouettes draw today.
Incidentally, Winnipeg FC began its ’61 crusade with four games in 10 days. That is not a typo. Ten days, four games. So let’s not hear any whinging about a demanding sked today.
Big doings on the south side of River City this very afternoon and evening, with the boys and girls teeing it up in the Dreams Take Flight Tournament at Southwood Golf & Country Club. Bombers legend Chris Walby is among the celebs swinging the sticks, and we all know the large man will also give his jaw a workout. Peter Young has a boffo take on Big Bluto’s modus operandi when he attends one of these functions: “Opens car door in parking lot…starts telling stories…10 hours later gets back in car…stops telling stories…drives home…practices stories for next event.” They’ll fire a shotgun at 1 p.m. to get it all started, and some lucky kid will be going to Disney World in Orlando thanks to the money raised. Good stuff.
I don’t agree that jock journos should stick to sports, but there are times when it’s the preferred option. A case in point would be Damien Cox of the Toronto Star. Noting that Baseball Hall of Fame hurler Mariano Rivera expressed support for Donald Trump, Cox tweeted: “Sad to hear such a great athlete is a nut. Real shame. But that’s life.” So, if your political leanings don’t dovetail with Cox’s, you’re a nut. Hmmm. Sad to hear. Real shame. Cox, unfortunately, couldn’t resist the urge to also weigh in on the Calgary arena agreement, whereby the City foots half the bill for a new shinny palace: “Why in the world don’t the Flames just pay for their own bloody arena?” Here’s a better question: Why in the world would a dude who writes for a rag in the Republic of Tranna care how taxpayer coin is spent in a burg 2,700 km away?
Tweets that struck my fancy in recent days:
Bruce Arthur, Toronto Star: “Marcus Stroman always looked forward to pitching in big competitive moments, to playing for a great organization, and the Jays traded him to the Mets. That’s like breaking up with someone by burning down their house and stealing their credit cards and taking their dog.” (I swear I heard Willie Nelson sing those very lyrics at a concert a few years back.)
Farhan Lalji, TSN reporter during the Lions 45-18 wedgie v. the Roughriders: “Not sure it was the right time for the #BCLions to run an inhouse promo on the jumbotron called “Bad Jokes.” (I suppose the joke is on Mike Reilly.)
Doug Brown, former Bombers D-lineman, gab guy on CJOB, freelance scribe for the Drab Slab, on Winnipeg FC’s stumble in the Hammer: “You just don’t expect this team to lose their first game to a QB named Dane Evans.” (I agree with Doug. If the Bombers are going to lose to Hamilton, the quarterback should be named Bernie Faloney, Frank Cosentino or Joe Zuger.)
Chris Walby, Junior hockey legend and celebrity golfer: “I’ve been fortunate to be on a lot of great Bomber teams in my 16 year career, but this Bombers team is as dominant a team in all phases that I can remember. Keep it up my Bomber brothers. The drought ends in 2019!!” (Oops.)
It came to my attention the other day that Zach Parise of the Minnesota Wild is 35 years old. Can that be so? Seems like Zach just got started.
Interesting read by Craig Custance in The Athletic. Craig polled 36 boys and girls on the National Hockey League beat to determine which players/coaches have the gift of the gab, and look who topped out as the best natterbug among bench bosses—that’s right, our guy Paul Maurice. The Winnipeg Jets puppeteer received nine votes, three more than John Tortorella, and it’s really saying something (literally) when what comes out of Coach Potty Mouth’s squawk box is more interesting than Torts’ spewings. Who knew snake oil was in such demand? As for the players, apparently lip service isn’t a Jets thing. None among the locals made the all-talk team. No surprise, really. I mean, when the team captain tells news snoops to “eff off” there’s not much left to say.
So, what’s Andrew Copp’s shelf life in River City? One year? Two? Guaranteed the Jets utility forward is as good as gone, because an arbitration hearing is a one-way ticket out of Dodge. We know this to be so thanks to Custance. Citing NHL Players Association numbers, Custance tells us that 27 player/team salary stalemates between 2009 and this summer landed on an arbitrator’s desk. Twenty-one of the 27 skaters had a new mailing address inside three years; 14 said adios inside two years; 14 didn’t survive a year. The latter group would include Jacob Trouba, the only guy nervy enough to play chicken with les Jets until Copp came long with his beef. An arbitrator awarded Trouba a $5.5 million, one-year wage in July 2018, and the top-pair defender was dispatched to Gotham last month. So I give Copp two years tops, but I wouldn’t bet against him being gone as early as autumn. He’s an easily replaced part.
Just wondering: Why was Trouba the target of intense hostility for hopping on the Arbitration Train, yet Copp hasn’t heard similar name-calling?
And, finally, this has nothing to do with sports, but I watched a 1997 Fleetwood Mac concert on PBS Sunday evening and was reminded of the band’s brilliance. Fan-flipping-tastic! Love Stevie Nicks…her growly, entrancing voice, her mystical, occultish vibe, her fabulous fashion sense. I’ll be 69 this year and I don’t mind admitting that I’m still a Steve Nicks groupie. That girl’s got the sexy going on.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and while munching on cold pizza and watching the Open Championship, I wondered if I could break 200 playing Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland…
To all those among the rabble who told us that Jacob Trouba was the class dunce for listening to the wrong people (read: Kurt Overhardt), what say you now?
Still think he’s stupid? Misguided? Gullible? Easily duped?
You’ll recall, I’m sure, that those were among the words used to describe the young Winnipeg Jets defender when he a) asked for a ticket on the first stage out of Dodge, b) refused to report to training camp, c) stayed home the first two months of one season, d) signed a bridge deal instead of a long-term contract, e) took the club to arbitration.
Here are more less-than-flattering insults hurled Trouba’s way: Immature. Greedy. Big loser. Idiot. Petulant. Fool. Malcontent. Problem child. Liar.
One of his teammates, Mathieu Perreault, joined the braying chorus and called Trouba “selfish.”
And, of course, there were those with quill-and-notebook and/or microphone, their critical essays and rants ranging from a benign tsk-tsking to thunderous accusations, with gusts up to poisonous. Former Drab Slab columnist Paul Wiecek, in particular, conducted a shameful, bitter crusade to discredit the top-pairing rearguard.
“Trouba, for one, has a long track record of doing what’s right for Trouba, even when it’s been what’s wrong for Trouba,” Wiecek wrote, apparently mistaking himself for Dr. Phil. “Trouba is a problem again.”
So, basically, it was the opinion of the masses that Trouba and Homer Simpson shared a brain, because he blindly allowed his greedy, no-goodnik agent Overhardt to lead him down the garden path (“Look at all the money that douchebag is costing the kid! Oh, the humanity!”)
Well, agent Overhardt led Trouba down the garden path, all right—to Madison Square Garden in Gotham and a $56 million windfall.
The New York Rangers have agreed to compensate Trouba to the merry tune of $8M (average) for the next seven National Hockey League seasons, and $22M of that comes in signing bonuses to be collected in the first three years. So, if there’s a soundtrack to Trouba’s life, it goes something like this: Ka-ching! Ka-ching! Ka-ching!
We should all be so stupid, misguided, gullible and easily duped.
Go ahead and pooh-pooh the Rangers for an overpay the size of Manhattan if you like, but the fact is Overhardt/Trouba played chicken with Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff for three years, and they won. Trouba wanted a zip code instead of a postal code. He got it. He wanted more coin than the $4 million the Jets offered in arbitration a year ago. He’ll get double that on Broadway. And what did the Jets get? Neal Pionk.
You think Patrik Laine’s agent hasn’t noticed how the Trouba saga played out? If it’s true that Puck Finn’s nose is out of joint, all he has to do is sign a two-year bridge deal, take les Jets to arbitration down the road, then force a trade. Josh Morrissey, about to enter the second year of his bridge deal, might be doing that very thing. Kyle Connor could do the same. Ditto Andrew Copp, who has the aforementioned Kurt Overhardt whispering sweet nothings in his ear as they begin a stroll down the garden path. Overhardt/Copp say they’ll be happy with $2.9 million per season. Chipman/Chevy have countered with $1.5M per for two years. Barring an 11th-hour agreement, an arbitrator will decide. Do the Jets really want or need to engage in another game of chicken they can’t win?
The first guy to wear sweater No. 9 with les Jets, Robert Marvin Hull, came at a cost of $1.75 million spread over 10 years, plus a $1 million signing bonus. Total sticker price for the Golden Jet: $2.75 million. The guy now wearing sweater No. 9, Copp, reckons he’s worth $2.9 million. Or at least his agent believes that’s the going rate for a bottom-six forward. I agree, it’s absurd, if not flat-out insane. But what if we convert the dollars? Hull’s $2.75M in 1972 is worth $16,851,513.16 in today’s U.S. coin, which would make him the most handsomely compensated player on Planet Puckhead, just as he was when Benny Hatskin and his renegade pals in the World Hockey Association lured the Golden Jet away from the Chicago Blackhawks. Meanwhile, Copp’s $2.9M today would be $473,420.16 in 1972 pay. Guaranteed no bottom-sixer with les Jets was pulling down more than $400K in ’72. So, in either era, that’s an overpay.
Worst new cliché: “He’s betting on himself.” That’s quickly become most tiresome and scribes and natterbugs should lose it faster than their per diem on a road trip to Las Vegas. Look, pro athletes bet on themselves every time they step into the arena. Cripes, man, we all bet on ourselves every morning when we decide to crawl out of the sack. Like, I’m betting I’ll annoy someone with this essay, if I haven’t already.
Got a kick out of the Sportsnet website front page in the small hours of Friday morning, after various news snoops had attempted to pry nuggets of insight from Tranna Maple Leafs restricted free agent Mitch Marner:
“Marner mum on contract talks with Maple Leafs at charity event.”
“Marner’s contract talks with Leafs a roller-coaster of anticipation.”
“Maple Leafs’ Marner talks contract, charity on Tim and Sid.”
“Marner wants to be in Maple Leafs uniform at camp, won’t go without deal.”
Hmmm. Four stories. Apparently, Marner had a helluva lot to say for a guy who was “mum.”
Interesting goings-on in Wild Rose Country, where the Oilers and Flames swapped an Edsel for a Gremlin. And it spawned more silliness on Sportsnet, this time from Eric Francis, who delivered this analysis of the transaction that sent seven-goal scorer James Neal wheeling up Highway 402 from Calgary to Edmonton and six-goal scorer Milan Lucic boogying south from Edmonton to Calgary:
“Few would disagree that Lucic is the toughest guy in the NHL.”
“Lucic’s speed is still much better than many would think and his fitness levels are beyond repute.”
“Lucic provides something few players left in the league can. In fact, he may still be the very best at what he’s being brought in to do.”
“Although Lucic has fought very little in the last couple, few players dared to mess with Connor McDavid during Lucic’s watch.”
Good grief. Is it too late to reopen the legalize marijuana debate? Seriously, Eric, take another toke. Looch has the urgency of a filibuster. Only an income tax return moves slower. As for his work as a guard dog, if Looch did such a boffo job why did McDavid become Connor McMugged last season?
Dear friend Judy Owen of The Canadian Press reports that ticket sales to the Green Bay Packers-Oakland Raiders dress rehearsal at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry next month aren’t exactly brisk. Matter of fact, they’re slower than a sports writer reaching for a bar tab. Should we be surprised? Not really. Asking a Winnipegger to pay upwards of $400 to watch faux football is like asking Chris Walby to pass on second helpings.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying Pegtowners are penny-pinchers. After all, I’m one of them and it’s not by coincidence that I do all my shopping at thrift stores. But I believe the Ojibwe words for Portage and Main are “Cheap and Chintzy.” We only pay asking price if you toss in a free Slurpee.
Come to think of it, maybe that’s Chevy’s problem. He keeps trying to buy his hockey players wholesale.
So, after their 31-1 curb-stomping of the Bytown RedBlacks on Friday night, our Winnipeg Blue Bombers are 5-nada.First time since 1960. Would you call me a Debbie Downer if I pointed out that the 5-0 outfit in ’60 did a playoff faceplant? Yup. Didn’t even get to the big dance. Lost to the E-Town Eskimos in a best-of-three Western final, dropping the deciding game 4-2. It was the only season from 1958 to 1962 that our football heroes failed to bring the Grey Cup home to River City. Thus, the less we talk about 1960 the better.
Some folks aren’t convinced that the Bombers are the real deal and point to namby-pamby foes—E-Town, Bytown, Tranna Argos, B.C. Lions—and their combined record of 6-15 as evidence of phony superiority. Sorry, but I’m not buying what those people are selling. Who is Winnipeg FC supposed to play? The New England Patriots? The Bombers can only follow the dictates of the Canadian Football League schedule-maker, and if that means whacking 98-pound weaklings, so be it.
More good CFL stuff from Kirk Penton in The Athletic, including these nuggets in his insiders segment that features unvarnished comments from team management, coaches and executives:
“The Simoni (Lawrence) decision was more than fair. Probably one of the dirtiest plays I’ve seen in the CFL. The fact he lies about not doing it deliberately makes it worse. At least Kyries Hebert took his medicine for his dirty plays and didn’t bullshit saying it was accidental.”
“When Joe Mack was our GM we could have traded for Ricky Ray. He said we didn’t need him. Same year we drafted Tyson Pencer in the first round. But when (the team was) struggling, he fired (Paul LaPolice) in August. Look, I’ve heard both sides of the Ray debate. Great player who couldn’t stay healthy, but at that point, Buck’s (Pierce) injury history was worse.”
What are the odds of Mike Reilly finishing this CFL season in one piece? He’s not a quarterback, he’s a pinata. Reilly was basically wearing D-lineman Charleston Hughes on Saturday night in Regina, and that’s never anyone’s idea of a good time. If Leos GM Ed Hervey doesn’t get Reilly some protection, it isn’t going to end well for the CFL’s best QB.
And, finally, when I started in the rag trade, the Bombers were the big dog in Good Ol’ Hometown.
The Jets and the World Hockey Association weren’t even a talking point at that time, so great swaths of forest were felled to provide enough newsprint for coverage of our CFL outfit in both the Winnipeg Tribune and Drab Slab
The boys on the beat were the great Jack Matheson and Don Blanchard, and they worked the Bombers every which way but loose, establishing what I considered the standard to which other football scribes should strive. The measuring stick, if you will.
So how are the boys on the beat doing today? I’d say the torch is in reliable hands with Jeff Hamilton and Ted Wyman.
It’s been that way for quite some time, actually, and I could make an argument that no sheet in the country has done a better job at chronicling a CFL outfit than the two River City rags. Young Eddie Tait was the best in the biz before going over the wall, and I’d say the aforementioned Kirk Penton was right there with him, scoop for scoop and feature for feature. Ashley Prest, Judy Owen, Big Jim Bender, Dave Supleve, Granny Granger and others did wonderful work, and it helped that they truly cared about the football club.
Forty years ago this weekend, the Winnipeg Jets put an exclamation mark on an incredible, unlikely run to the final World Hockey Association championship, their third title during the rebel league’s seven-year history. I was fortunate enough to go along for the ride in that winning 1978-79 season—as the main Jets beat writer for the Winnipeg Tribune—and I share the following recollections while thinking of Fergy, Sudsy, the Shoe, my two media traveling companions, Friar Nicolson and Reyn Davis, and that wonderful photog with both the Trib and Winnipeg Free Press, Jon Thordarson, all of whom have left us.
It was early March 1979 and the Winnipeg Jets were back in Birmingham, the scene of their most heinous crime.
Only 11 days earlier, the defending World Hockey Association champions had absorbed a shameful and shocking 9-1 paddywhacking at the neophyte hands of Alabama’s Baby Bulls, and the pungent residue of that humiliation remained. The bus carrying the workforce turned into a parking lot and lurched haltingly (much like the Jets’ on-ice product) toward the team hotel, and one of the players observed two Birmingham cop cars parked in front of the main entrance.
“They must have been at our last game here,” muttered a wise-cracking John Gray. “They’ve come to arrest us for impersonating a hockey team.”
I don’t recall if everyone laughed, but I did. Ditto Tom McVie, the freshly minted head coach who could not be implicated in the 9-1, scorched-earth debacle. He had an-air tight alibi for that night—he’d been sitting at home in Washington, waiting for the phone to ring and hoping it would be someone (anyone) in hockey calling to offer him a job behind their bench.
So McVie was off the hook, as were Terry Ruskowski, Kim Clackson and Gary Smith. (A nasty rib owie had limited Roscoe to four shifts that night; Clacker, in head coach Larry Hillman’s doghouse as usual, had been left behind in Winnipeg; recently arrived goaler Suitcase Smitty had yet to unpack his bags.)
The other boys on the bus, however…they wore the stink of 9-1, all complicit in what had been to that point in the Jets final WHA crusade the most damning evidence that this was Team Dysfunction.
To truly appreciate what went down that season, you must consider the nuances of a nine-month journey full of barking headlines, baffling sideshows, bitching, firings, hirings, disappearances and scoldings. Or, as I like to call it: Troubles Before Triumph.
This, understand, was not an outfit that fed off the warm-and-fuzzy remains of the previous campaign, a successful frolic that produced a second victory parade down the two main drags of River City. Gone to Gotham were Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson, while other prominent performers such as Thommie Bergman and Dan Labraaten also took leave. In their stead skated Terry Ruskowski, Rich Preston, Morris Lukowich, Scott Campbell, Steve West, John Gray and Paul Terbenche, all refugees from an abandoned Houston Aeros franchise.
The remnants of the Jets championship outfit and the orphaned Aeros were confirmed enemies. They buddied-up like Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner.
“At the start, the Houston players hung around together and the Winnipeg players hung around together,” Lukowich confirmed at the close of business on May 20, 1979, the night les Jets gained permanent possession of the Avco World Trophy with a 7-3 victory over the Edmonton Gretzkys. “There was a time when it got so bad that I phoned my agent and told him to get me the hell out of here. I hated being a Jet.”
“They called us the New York Yankees because there were bad vibes on the team,” Ruskowski agreed.
There were other fractures, most notably between fan favorite/resident ruffian Kim Clackson and the head coach, Larry Hillman.
Clacker was a work in progress, a young guy whose game was more fury and fists than finesse, and his style seldom found favor with bench jockey Hillman, who did not fancy the blueline bully’s perceived lack of puck-moving skills. So, like Lukowich, the frustrated Clacker was anxious to acquire a new postal code.
“I can’t play for that guy anymore,” he barked in early November. “I’m tired of all the bull. I was brought here to play hockey and take care of some of the guys. But it’s never worked out that way. I want to go somewhere else so I can play. I just want to play and be appreciated.”
It didn’t help that foes like Edmonton Oilers smug puppet master Glen Sather took delight in giving that particular pot a vigorous stirring.
“If (Hillman) ever wants to get rid of him, we’ll gladly take him,” Sather snickered rather cheekily one night after his Oilers had taken their measure of the Jets. “He’d fit right in with us.”
Others around the league also saw merit in Clackson’s presence.
“There’s no question that we prefer to play Winnipeg when he’s not in the lineup,” confessed Rick Adduono of the Bulls. “When Clackson’s out there and you come down on a three-on-two, you know you’re going to get a good two-hander when you skate in front of the net.”
“Leaving Clackson at home only helps us,” agreed Bulls coach John Brophy. “Every team needs a policeman, especially on the road.”
Jets team president and co-bankroll Michael Gobuty was unamused by the discordant notes being struck and, two weeks later, he took the extraordinary measure of entering the players’ lair to, among other things, instruct Clackson and any other malcontents to put an end to their pity party and play hockey.
“Michael came in and let us know he was the boss around here,” said Lukowich. “He told us where we stand, kind of put our minds at ease. I think we needed somebody to come in and show some authority. Nobody wants to get smart with Mr. Gobuty.”
That wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of Hillman.
Larry Hillman was a nice man. A very nice man. And he owned a WHA championship ring that provided proof he was no pooch as a coach.
The man some of us called Morley had pushed all the right buttons six months earlier when the Jets secured the World Avco Trophy for a second time, yet Hillman fell prey to the whims of fate as unsteady dominoes began to tumble.
It wasn’t his fault, for example, that Hedberg and Nilsson defected to the New York Rangers.
It wasn’t his fault that the Achilles tendon in Lars-Erik Sjoberg’s right heel exploded during a late-September exhibition skirmish vs. the St. Louis Blues, and the captain was lost until the butt end of March.
It wasn’t his fault that Robert Marvin Hull suited up for four games then disappeared to battle his bride, Joanne, in a divorce court.
It wasn’t his fault that Teddy Green followed Hull into retirement.
Nor was he the mastermind behind the stroke of brilliance that brought the Houston cartel to River City.
It was, however, Hillman’s duty to make the Jets-Aeros alliance work. Unfortunately, he wasn’t up to the task of blending this hybrid outfit of fierce foes into a unified force.
“We didn’t please each other at the start and still haven’t come to great harmony,” Hillman allowed during the rough patch of mid-November. “Maybe it’s because I mentioned (the Houston guys) more frequently than others in discussing this team. You know, the owners, the public and even the media expected a lot from the one line (Ruskowski-Lukowich-Preston), and maybe I expected too much, like everybody else. I can’t keep relating the Houston guys to the big line (Hedberg-Nilsson-Hull).
“This isn’t a give-up situation, it’s something that we’ll have to overcome. But if something isn’t done soon, there are two objectives—either the coach has to be fired or some changes have to be made on the playing roster. Hopefully we’re all mature enough to realize we have the same objective.”
Hillman survived until Feb. 27, four days and another loss (to the Baby Bulls) after the infamous 9-1 blitz in Birmingham.
“I don’t know how he controls himself,” Hillman’s second-in-command, assistant coach Bill (Sudsy) Sutherland, said on the day of the dismissal. “If I was in his position, I would have had some of those guys by the throat. His biggest fault is that he was too good to the guys…he took the blame for everything.”
Only 24 hours earlier, general manager John Ferguson had granted Hillman a stay of execution, saying, “I was seriously considering making a change. But there won’t be any at this time.” A 5-2, home-ice loss to Birmingham, however, sealed the coach’s fate.
“I did not give him a vote of confidence,” Fergy explained of his abrupt about-face. “I said I would leave it up to the players.”
Apparently, the players said it all in that 5-2 defeat, a performance Ferguson described as “horrendous.”
There was delicious irony in the hiring of John Bowie Ferguson as GM of the Jets on Nov. 22 of the final season.
Fergy, you see, was the cad who had lured Hedberg and Nilsson away from River City, where they were looked upon by the rabble with deity-like reverence. Turns out the two Swedes were his parting gift to Gotham and the Rangers, because the National Hockey League club relieved him of his GM duties three days before officially introducing the former Jets to Times Square and the masses in the city that never sleeps.
Gobuty tossed Fergy a lifeline six months later, and it was goodbye Broadway and hello boondocks.
“We are, in effect, handing Ferguson the key to the club,” said Gobuty. “My partners and I plan to take a much less active role in the running of the club. It’ll take time, but we’re confident that he’ll mold the people he wants into the organization.”
Fergy accepted the job sight unseen, and he joined the lads in Quebec City for a first-hand look and a speech from the throne four days later.
“I don’t know how I should put this,” defenceman Scott Campbell said after a 2-2 stalemate with les Nordiques. “Let’s just say it’s nice to know who the boss is around here. Now we know who we have to answer to.”
It’s not like Fergy came in, waved a magic wand and—poof!—the Jets were rid of the toxins that had tainted the water through the first two months of the grind.
More to the point, Winnipeg HC continued to sputter like an old jalopy and, along the way, they were forced to do without Teddy Green, the legendary, tough-as-a-tire iron defenceman who stepped away from the game on Jan. 22 after 19 1/2 seasons and a near-fatal head injury.
I often wondered how Teddy repeatedly returned to the fray. I would watch him hobble onto the team bus or airplane, then observe him sitting in a stony, seemingly catatonic silence, paralyzed from the pain in his knees and, more significantly, his head. He had been on the losing end of a vicious stick-swinging duel with Wayne Maki in 1969, a confrontation that put him in a hospital bed and near death. After the passage of much time, he still had “never fully recovered” from that blow to the head.
“I’ve got no feeling at all in my left hand,” he said at his farewell presser. “Some nights I couldn’t even get my glove on before the game. I’d be putting four fingers in the same hole.”
I marveled at, and admired, Teddy’s courage, but he pooh-poohed any pity hurled his way.
“I remember a guy who used to play on the Million Dollar Line before he came to Boston,” he said. “He went out and busted his butt every game and then would sit at the end of the bench spitting out blood. Murray Balfour was dying of cancer. I’d like to think I fashioned some of my courage from Murray Balfour.”
There are differing stories on what brought these Jets together as a true team, but I favor the one about Gary Smith, known to some as Suitcase and to others as Axe.
By any name, he was not a goaltender of gaudy credentials upon his arrival in River City in mid-February. He had begun the season guarding the Indianapolis Racers goal, but that franchise went belly up 10 days before Christmas, leaving Smitty and his 0-10-1 record and his 5.51 goals-against average wanting for work.
He called Fergy asking for employment, and here’s how Ruskowski remembers the Axe’s introduction to the lads.
“He came walking into the locker room,” Roscoe told Hockey Digest in 2001. “He was pretty much overweight. He sat down and he said, ‘Half you guys don’t know me, but my name is Gary The Axe Smith because I’ve been around 15 teams in the past two years. My goals against is about 5.33 and I won one game and lost 13. But don’t let that fool you: I’m not that good.’ Everyone just cracked up. But you could see we were coming together as a team.”
Not yet, they weren’t. Not until Tom McVie came aboard.
Tommy and Fergy had been childhood chums in Vancouver and, hockey being very much a buddy network, it was reasonable for the latter to reach out to his out-of-work pal to fill the Jets’ coaching vacancy.
We knew little about Tommy, except that he’d been deep-sixed by the worst outfit in NHL history, the Washington Capitals. His reputation as a hard-ass taskmaster preceded him, and he said/did everything to confirm he was a bit off his nut, even telling a vomiting Scott Campbell at practice to “get sick on your own time.”
Although fitness-freak Tommy’s preachings and rigid, nutbar demands failed to translate into Ws at the get-go, we saw evidence that they soon would deliver favorable results. There was renewed vigor. More purpose in their play. Superior conditioning began to take grip, most noticeably in the third period of games.
Better yet—at least for us news snoops—Tommy was a quote machine. A funny quote machine.
On teams in a slump: “You know what happens when you get into a rut like that? People start talking behind your back. When I was with Washington, I remember standing in the Los Angeles airport and I could see a couple of guys talking. As soon as I walked near them, they stopped. I’d walk up to a couple more and they’d stop talking too. Hell, it got so bad in Washington, that one night I was at a football game and the Redskins went into their huddle…I thought THEY were talking about me too.”
Upon arrival in Quebec City, he heard players whinging about their tiny rooms in Le Chateau Frontenac: “I don’t know what you guys are bitching about. The last time I was here, my room was so small that when I put my key in the door I broke a window.”
After the Jets had swept les Nordiques in their first-round playoff series, Gobuty gave Tommy a huge thank-you hug: “The last guy who did that to me was Abe Pollin (chairman of the board for the Washington Capitals). He hugged me and told me he should give me a 20-year contract…then he fired me 19 years too soon.”
More than anything, though, McVie proved to be the right man at the right time for that team.
The Jets had somehow maneuvered their way into top spot on Feb. 15, but they finished the month in third place, five points in arrears of the Edmonton Gretzkys, and every other outfit in the league had at least three games in hand. They lost six of eight, then eight of 10.
Gradually, however, whatever flavor of Kool-Aid McVie was selling kicked in. It was balls to the wind. The Jets came down the stretch like Secretariat at the Belmont Stakes, winning 11 of 17 and four of their final five matches, and only once after March 6 did they absorb back-to-back losses.
“It took them a while before they started winning,” observed Jacques Demers, head coach of the Quebec Nordiques. “Now every one of those guys is proud to wear a Jets sweater…you can see that Winnipeg has togetherness, that pride just by looking at their bench. I think now the Jets may be a better team than they’ve ever been. They’ve got so many leaders.”
It was convenient and a blessing that one of those leaders, captain Lars-Erik Sjoberg, returned from the repair shop for the finishing strokes of the regular season.
Squat like a fire hydrant, the Shoe was equal parts wizard and hockey Einstein, a smooth, puck-moving rearguard who always saw what others failed to see. Everything he did was accomplished with the calm of a Buddhist monk and the subtle skill of a heart surgeon.
The Jets were unsuccessful in his comeback game, dropping a 2-nada decision to les Nordiques, but the Shoe was magnificent in his understated manner.
“I told Fergy after the game that he should cut Shoe’s wages,” McVie joked. “He makes the game look so easy. Any guy having that good a time out there shouldn’t get paid.”
“Now I know why I always had to chop him in Houston,” added Lukowich, the feisty 65-goal winger. “The only way to stop him is to put the lumber to him.”
“I’m still waiting for somebody, anybody, to beat him one-on-one, and I’ve been in the league five years,” Edmonton Oilers centre Ron Chipperfield said of the Shoe.
Let the record show that the Jets went 13-6 with Sjoberg orchestrating the show from the back end and, although his point total was modest, it’s unlikely they would have gone on their successful 8-2 playoff run without him.
This was a WHA title that almost never happened.
The Jets had finished in third place, a whopping 14 points in back of Edmonton and three behind Quebec, and when they departed River City to open a best-of-seven skirmish vs. Quebec there were no assurances that les Nordiques would be waiting for them at the other end.
There was a money dispute, you see.
The WHA’s agreement with the WHA Players Association called for a payout of no less than $10,000 to each member of the championship side. The league was offering between $6,000 and $7,000 and the players insisted they receive no less than $8,000. Les Nordiques and Cincinnati Stingers voted to cancel the playoffs, while the Oilers and New England Whalers were in favor of proceeding as scheduled.
So was there a possibility of the WHA collapsing before its final act?
“Sure there is,” said Peter Sullivan, the silky-smooth centre who served as the Jets player rep. “Even if we vote in favor, Quebec and Cincinnati still might not come over and agree with the other three clubs. I just hope for the league’s sake it doesn’t happen.”
The Jets never took a formal vote, but at least one player, Clackson, was against a work stoppage.
“Don’t write me down as one of the malcontents,” he said. “I’ll take $7,000 anytime. We shouldn’t be concerned about anything right now except winning this series of ours.”
The Jets touched down in Quebec City on a Friday (first game was scheduled for Monday), and the club withheld the players’ per diem ($24), with a further caution: If there was a cancellation of the post-season, the players would be returning home on their own dime.
As it happened, the WHA and WHAPA agreed to put the dispute on hold until after the playoffs, so it was game on.
Much was made of the impact the threatened boycott had on les Nordiques, who became a house divided over the issue.
Reports of fights involving Curt Brackenbury, Serge Bernier and Marc Tardiff came out of the Quebec camp, although defenceman Paul Baxter insisted it was nothing more than mountains-out-of-molehills nattering from news snoops.
“We haven’t played for a week now,” Baxter said with a dismissive shrug, “that sort of thing happens.”
Brackenbury chirped in, saying, “I can’t remember anything about them.”
Whatever the case, the Jets took out les Nordiques in a romp, sweeping the series with 6-3, 9-2, 9-5 and 6-2 wins and outshooting Quebec 50-14 in Game 4.
“There are players on this team who will never wear a Quebec Nordiques uniform again,” vowed the vanquished Quebec coach Demers. “They were unprofessional. They didn’t try at all…all of this because of money. The Jets went through the same thing as my players, but they still wanted to play hockey. What hurts most is when you stand behind the bench and see your players laughing.”
That’s what the semifinal series was…a laugher.
Like many others, I often wondered how the Jets would function without Terry Ruskowski.
If Clackson provided the team with its spine (in the figurative realm), Roscoe was its heartbeat, and that’s not to discredit the Shoe and Barry Long, who wore the ‘C’ while Sjoberg was in the repair shop. It’s just that Ruskowski had that special ingredient you couldn’t reach out and touch. Call it the ‘it’ factor.
“He’s a very talented hockey player, but it’s more than that,” winger Lyle Moffat suggested during the final vs. the Oilers. “I don’t know what it is that the man has, but he has to have something magic about him. He’s just a great leader.”
After 3-1 and 3-2 victories on Edmonton ice to open the championship series, the Jets lost Roscoe to a serious shoulder owie in Game 3, and they were promptly outscored 4-zip in the third period of an 8-3 loss. They gutted out a 3-2 victory in Game 4, then received a royal rag-dolling by the Oilers, 10-2. So, let’s do the math: In seven periods sans Roscoe, the Jets were outscored 16-5. Ouch.
Chances are there wouldn’t have been a happily-ever-after ending to this story except for trainer Billy Bozak. The nicest of men, Boz used his magic fingers and perhaps some voodoo on Roscoe’s shoulder, and he was good to go for Game 6, even though the hard-boiled centre couldn’t raise his left arm and truthfully had no business being on the ice. All he did was set up four goals in a 7-3 victory that brought the curtain down on the WHA, on May 20, 1979.
“I just love the man,” gushed McVie. “I’ve never met a man in my life like Terry Rukowski (Tommy often dropped the first ‘s’ when he spoke Ruskowski’s name).”
I was happiest for the Houston players, who hadn’t been warmly embraced initially and were handed a very tough act to follow.
Thus I wandered down to the Jets changing room in the bowels of a decaying Winnipeg Arena and sought to engage in chin-wags with four of them—Roscoe, Luke, Rich Preston (the playoff MVP) and Scotty Campbell. I don’t recall ever seeing four happier, more contented men. They wore that victory well.
They all did, of course, from Suitcase Smitty to shutdown forwards Lyle Moffat-Bill (Tractor) Lesuk-Roland Eriksson-Bobby Guindon, to fancy-schmancy offensive wizards Silky Sullivan and Magic Man Kent Nilsson, to gut-check guys like Clackson and Long, to greenhorns Glenn Hicks and Paul MacKinnon, to the guy who scored the final goal in Jets WHA history 40 years ago tomorrow—Willy Lindstrom.
“I had a bad season, so I had to have a good playoff,” said Willy, who contributed 10 goals and five assists in the 10 games that mattered most. “I wanted to show that I was a better player than Larry Hillman thought I was. When he was coach, I used to get only five or six shifts a game. I was thinking this would be my last season in North America, and I was thinking of playing over in Germany or Switzerland next year. But now things are different. Tom McVie gave me chance to play and I wanted to make good on that chance.”
No one in that changing room was happier than McVie.
“Three months ago I didn’t have a job in hockey and now they’re measuring me for a championship ring,” Tommy gushed. “This is better than sex…well, maybe.”
Often I have taken pause for ponder on that 1978-79 season and how the events unfolded. Was there one decision that served as the catalyst? Actually, yes. Here’s how I rate the five most-significant developments in that championship crusade:
Michael Gobuty and his 8 Hockey Ventures Inc. partners purchased the contracts of a dozen Houston Aeros, bringing Ruskowski, Preston, Lukowich, Campbell, West, Gray and Terbenche to Winnipeg.
The Gobuty Group hired John Ferguson and handed him the keys to the shop.
Fergy hired Tom McVie.
The return of Lars-Erik Sjoberg.
Suitcase Smitty put in a phone call to Fergy and asked for a job.
The 1978-79 Jets, playoff team: Terry Ruskowski, Rich Preston, Morris Lukowich, Scott Campbell, Steve West, John Gray, Paul Terbenche, Peter Sullivan, Willy Lindstrom, Kent Nilsson, Bill Lesuk, Lyle Moffat, Bobby Guindon, Roland Eriksson, Paul MacKinnon, Lars-Erik Sjoberg, Glenn Hicks, Kim Clackson, Gary Smith, Joe Daley, Barry Long. Coaches Tom McVie, Bill Sutherland. General manager John Ferguson.
Also playing during the regular season: Markus Mattsson, Rich Gosselin, John Gibson, Ted Green, Bobby Hull, Bill Davis, Mike Amodeo, Dale Yakiwchuk. Coach Larry Hillman. Executive Director of Hockey Operations/assistant GM Rudy Pilous.