About Paul Romanuk’s Where’s Wheeler? gaffe…Brooke Henderson, national treasure…Les Lazaruk’s a beauty guy…Bob Cole is silenced…take me out to the brawl game…god and golf…on bended knee and beating women…he’s sorry but not really…and other things on my mind

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Okay, Paul Romanuk had himself a serious “D’oh!” moment on Friday morning when, in a media scrum, he called out to Blake Wheeler by shouting, “Mark! Mark!”

Paul Romanuk

Major blunder. It shouldn’t happen because, as Paul Wiecek correctly points out in his Winnipeg Free Press column that exposed the incident, Romanuk’s one job is to “tell the players apart.” He’s a play-by-play guy, for cripes sake. He has the call for Wheeler’s Winnipeg Jets in their Stanley Cup skirmish with the Minnesota Wild on Sportsnet.

So, ya, he ought to know. I mean, this isn’t a Where’s Waldo? kind of thing. Wheeler is easily recognized: He’s the guy with a ‘C’ on his Jets jersey and scowl on his face.

But here’s my question for you, dear readers: Did Wiecek cross an ethical line?

That is, should he have used his platform to embarrass the veteran broadcaster in a front page piece guaranteed to attract the attention of the rabble, if not incite them? Isn’t there some sort of unspoken honor-among-thieves code with the sports media?

Apparently not.

Personally, I have no problem with jock journos calling each other out. I’d prefer they do it more often. But where I think Wiecek went wrong, was in using the Romanuk affair as (shocking and damning) anecdotal evidence to prop up his ongoing case that no one east of Falcon Lake and west of Elkhorn gives a damn about Winnipeg and its Jets. Not only does the rest of the country not give a damn, Wiecek submits, they don’t even know who they don’t give a damn about.

“And so it still goes for a team that had the second-best record in the NHL this season, but apparently still needs to pin ‘Hello, My Name Is…’ stickers on its players,” Wiecek writes.

Romanuk’s astonishing gaffe would be the smoking gun in that argument.

Blake Wheeler

But I believe it’s at this point that I’m obliged to point out that, hey, brain farts happen. Wiecek, for example, once referenced the 1991 and 2006 Grey Cup games in Winnipeg, scribbling, “both of those games were played at the downtown stadium.” Oops. Totally wrong. The closest thing River City has had to a downtown football facility, Osborne Stadium, lost an argument to a wrecking ball in 1956. But somehow Wiecek had two Grey Cup matches being contested there, 35 and 50 years after the walls came tumbling down. So there’s that. Last year, meanwhile, he described Wally Buono as a “former” coach, even as Buono stood on the sideline coaching the B.C. Lions. So there’s also that.

None of that excuses Romanuk, but there’s something to be said about pots calling kettles black.

I’ll tell you something else Wiecek and his newly expressed “we” and “us” homerism is wrong about—the Jets and national attention. When I hopped on the Internet surfboard at 2:30 Saturday morning (yes, I’m mobile at that hour), here’s what I discovered on various websites:

Globe and Mail—two Jets stories at the top of the page.
National Post—four Jets-related stories at the top of the page.
Sportsnet—three Jets stories and two videos at the top of the page.
TSN—top of the page story and five of the top six videos.
Toronto Star—one of the five stories at the top of the page.

It was much the same after Game 1 of the Jets-Wild series and, frankly, some might think of that as Jets overkill. But not Wiecek and the Freep. It isn’t enough to satisfy them.

“The rest of the country is still struggling to pay attention to a team—and a city, for that matter—they’ve grown accustomed to ignoring for so long,” he writes.

Oh, pu-leeze. What Wiecek and the Freep are serving up is Fake News 101.

Sorry, but I simply do not understand this desperate, irrational need for the love of outriders. Somehow I thought Winnipeg was comfortable in its own skin since the National Hockey League returned in 2011. It was running with the big dogs again. So, when did River City require the “rest of the country’s” acknowledgement, approval and endorsement? For anything. And what exactly do Wiecek and the Freep expect from “the rest of the country?” A parade? Pep rallies from Tofino to St. John’s? A gold star like the teacher gives to the kid who wins a Grade Three spelling bee?

Look, the story that Pegtown and les Jets are authoring in their Stanley Cup crusade isn’t some zen koan about a tree falling in the forest. It’s happening. In real time. It’s loud enough that anyone with a pair of ears can hear. And the national media are reporting it. In depth.

Using Paul Romanuk’s misstep to suggest there’s nationwide snubbery at play is not only inaccurate and misguided, it’s dishonest and stupid.

Brooke Henderson

Brooke Henderson is a national treasure. There’s no other way to put it. Just 20, she has six victories (including a major) on the Ladies Pofessional Golf Association Tour, her latest success a wire-to-wire romp in the Lotte Championship in Hawaii. She has won in four consecutive seasons. Did I mention she’s only 20? If one of our male golfers had won six times in four seasons before the age of 21, surely there’d be a statue. And Brooke’s always struck me as a delightful, young person, a notion supported by her post-event remarks in Hawaii. “It’s extremely sad, a terrible tragedy what happened up there,” said Henderson, dedicating her victory to victims and survivors of the Humboldt Broncos bus accident. “I know it kind of affected my whole country. Everybody really took it kind of personal. For all the survivors that are still fighting through it all and the ones who have passed away, I want to show them that we’re here for them and we’re supporting them. They’re always going to be in our thoughts and prayers.” Beautiful kid, our Brooke, who, I hasten to add, is the same age as some of the kids on that bus.

Ronnie Lazaruk

On the subject of beauties, a major tip of the bonnet to old friend Les Lazaruk. Ronnie has come up with a boffo idea to honor Tyler Bieber, the Humboldt play-by-play voice who was among the Fallen 16 on the team bus involved in the fatal crash nine days ago. Now the mouthpiece of the Saskatoon Blades of the Western Hockey League, Ronnie has volunteered to sit in the play-by-play seat for one game during the Broncos 2018-19 Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League season, as a tribute to Bieber. No fee. No expenses. He’s suggested other broadcasters do the same, and look who’s on board with the idea—Chris Cuthbert, Gord Miller, Dave Randorf, Kelly Moore, Rob Faulds, Brian Munz, Jamie Campbell, Roger Millions, Darren Pang and Peter Young, among many other notable voices. It truly is a beautiful thing that Ronnie is doing. No surprise, though. He’s one of the genuinely good guys in the biz. (If you wondering, those of us who worked at the Winnipeg Tribune call him Ronnie because back in the day he had a head of hair just like Ronald McDonald’s.)

Bob Cole

On the matter of hockey broadcasters, you might have noticed that the voice of Bob Cole has been silent during this spring’s Stanley Cup tournament. NHL rights holder in Canada, Rogers, has shut down the 84-year-old. “The decision sure wasn’t mutual,” Cole tells Michael Traikos of Postmedia. “It was right out of the blue. Rogers decided to go with other teams and I have to live with that. But it was their decision—not mine.” Oh, baby! No question Cole has lost a step, but his ouster is sad, nonetheless.

Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet refers to the Ted Lindsay Award as the “NHLPA vote for MVP.” Not true. The Lindsay trinket goes to the NHL’s “most outstanding player,” as determined by members of the players’ association. If the media can’t get these things right, why are they allowed to vote for seven award winners?

Last Wednesday night in sports: NHL teams toss everything but hand grenades at each other as the Stanley Cup tournament begins. Number of bench-clearing brawls: 0. Major League Baseball teams throw baseballs at each other. Number of bench-clearing brawls: 3. Yet hockey still gets a bad rap for being a goon sport. Go figure.

Yogi Berra-ism of the week comes from Nazem Kadri of the Tranna Maple Leafs, suspended three games for his predatory hit on Boston Bruins Tommy Wingels: “I certainly wasn’t trying to hit him when he was down like that, I just felt like he, uh, I was already committed to the hit.”

Tweet of the week comes from Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun, following a media exchange with Jets head coach Paul Maurice:

Media: “If Jack Roslovic was the Beatles and (Mathieu) Perreault was the Rolling Stones, what song would you be humming this morning?”

Maurice: “It’s all Led Zeppelin. It usually is.”

Masters champion Patrick Reed on fighting off challenges from Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler at Augusta last Sunday: “It’s just a way of God basically saying, ‘Let’s see if you have it.'” Question: If God was at Augusta National watching golf last Sunday and helping Reed win an ugly green jacket, who was watching over my church?

Colin Kaepernick

So let me see if I’ve got this straight: The Seattle Seahawks cancel a workout for outcast quarterback Colin Kaepernick because he might take a knee during the national anthem, yet Reuben Foster is still a member of the San Francisco 49ers after punching his girlfriend eight to 10 times, dragging her by the hair and rupturing her eardrum. Foster is charged with felony domestic violence, inflicting great bodily injury, forcefully attempting to prevent a victim from reporting a crime, and possession of an assault rifle. He faces up to 11 years in the brig. But, unlike Kaepernick, he’s good to go. So that’s your NFL: Take a knee, go home; beat the hell out of a woman, play on. And they wonder why people aren’t watching anymore.

Today is Jackie Robinson Day in Major League Baseball, so it’s worth noting that there were only 63 Blacks on opening-day rosters this year. That’s 8.4 per cent of all players. And for pure irony, consider this: The Kansas City Royals were one of two teams sans a Black player—K.C. is home to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

Mark McGwire tells The Athletic that he could have swatted 70 home runs in the 1998 MLB season without the benefit of steroids. “Yes. Definitely,” the former St. Louis Cardinals slugger says. Right, Mark, and Rosie Ruiz would have finished the 1980 New York Marathon without riding a subway for 26 of the 26.2 miles. And she would have won the 1980 Boston Marathon if she had run all 26.2 miles, not just .2 miles.

Marc Savard, right, on the set with Daren Millard and John Shannon.

When is a mea culpa not an apology? When Steve Simmons delivers it. The Postmedia Tranna columnist last week expressed a callous disregard for Marc Savard’s mental health issues, slamming the freshly minted Sportsnet commentator for failing to make time for media while dealing with post-concussion symptoms. And now? “What I wrote about Savard had nothing to do with concussions or his personal battles. But what I wrote about him was improperly worded and far too harsh. For that, I apologize. For not welcoming new media members who have treated the industry disrespectfully, I don’t apologize.”

And, finally, this week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons: “I’ll never understand the NHL. Playoff series starts tomorrow. Patrice Bergeron not available for 50 or so media members, many of whom just flew into Boston this morning.” The poor dear. Marc Savard wouldn’t take his phone calls and now Bergeron of the Bruins is unavailable. Oh, the humanity.

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About Olympians who are not also-rans…passing on Johnny Manziel…shitholes and Presidents…writing in bits and pieces…angry lesbian tennis legends…and Tonya is still a thug

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Well, okay, the names aren’t sexy.

There’s no glitz and glam.

They’re more lunch pail and brown bag than champagne and caviar.

A gloomy Gus is apt to suggest that they’re scrubs on skates. That the men’s hockey tournament next month in PyeongChang, South Korea, will be the Spengler Cup dressed up as the Winter Olympic Games.

Wojtek Wolski

To that I say “no.” They’re Olympians. Our Olympians. The 25 lads selected to wear the Maple Leaf—from Rene Bourque to Wojtek Wolski—got there the hard way. They earned it, playing hither and yon in remote outposts as far removed from the National Hockey League as Minsk is from Manhattan. And I harbor zero doubt that they’ll deliver good, Canadian pluck and backbone in abundance. That might earn them a gold, silver or bronze trinket. It might not be enough. Doesn’t matter. They’re our guys. Hop on board the bandwagon. There’s plenty of room.

Pierre LeBrun gets it. Steve Simmons…(as usual) not a freaking clue.

Here’s LeBrun of The Athletic Toronto and TSN on men’s shinny rosters at the Winter Games: “We all agree the Olympics without NHL players stinks. But let’s have respect for the players selected in their place. They’re proud Canadians living out their Olympic dream.”

Here’s Postmedia’s Simmons after the U.S. declared its roster: Those named to the team are “also rans.” Read: Bottom feeders. Which means he also believes the Canadians are bottom feeders.

Brian Gionta

Rather than insult the American Olympians, the rude Simmons might have done some research. He’d have discovered that at least 18 of Uncle Sam’s reps are champions at the NHL, NCAA, American Hockey League, Major Junior or European professional level. Which disqualifies them as “also rans.” (Sourpuss Steve might want to invest in a dictionary.)

Check it out:

Mark Arcobello: Champion with SC Bern of Swiss National League and champion with Yale University in 2009;
Chad Billins: Calder Cup (AHL) champion with Grand Rapids Griffins; Johnathon Blum: Western Hockey League and Memorial Cup champion with Vancouver Giants;
Will Borgen: NCHC champion with St. Cloud State University;
Chris Bourque: Three-time Calder Cup champion and Deutschland Cup champion;
Bobby Butler: Calder Cup champion;
Matt Gilroy: NCAA champion with Boston University;
Brian Gionta: Stanley Cup champion with New Jersey Devils and NCAA champion with Boston College;
Ryan Gunderson: Swedish Hockey League champion with Brynas IF;
Chad Kolarik: Two-time CCHA champion with University of Michigan; David Leggio: ECAC champion with Clarkson University and SM-Liiga champion with TPS;
Broc Little: ECAC champion with Yale;
John McCarthy: NCAA champion with Boston University;
Brian O’Neill: ECAC champion with Yale;
Bobby Sanguinetti: Swiss Cup champion with EHC Kloten;
Ryan Stoa: WCHA champion with University of Minnesota;
Troy Terry: NCAA champion with University of Denver;
Noah Welch: SHL champion with Vaxjo Lakers HC; two-time ECAC champion with Harvard.

Johnny Manziel

Good reads: 1) Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star on Nigerian born and raised Masai Ujiri, general manager of the Tranna Raptors; 2) Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail on a ticking time bomb named Johnny Manziel. No one in Canadian sports writing gets to the heart of a social issue quite like Arthur, while Kelly’s crystal ball has him convinced that Manziel is destined to become a Grade A pain in the ass to whichever Canadian Football League outfit is foolish enough to recruit him.

Donnovan Bennett has a go at Manziel on the Sportsnet website, listing five reasons why the Hamilton Tiger-Cats should pawn off the former Heisman Trophy winner. He makes a compelling case. Unfortunately, Bennett doesn’t list the main reason why Johnny Football ought to be persona non grata in the Hammer or any other CFL port o’ call—he beats up women. That’s where any discussion of Manziel should begin and end.

Best lip service this week: Ujiri was, understandably, unamused when U.S. President Donald Trump referenced immigrants who arrive in America from Africa’s “shithole countries.” Said the Raptors GM: “If I grew up in a shithole, I am proud of my shithole.”

Lias Andersson

It’s about that Swedish kid who hucked his world teenage hockey tournament silver medal into the stands after the title match in Buffalo: So Lias Andersson didn’t want to take his trinket home and stuff the thing in a box. His choice. Get off the kid’s case. I mean, why did Andersson take such a fierce paddywhacking on social media? It’s not like he’s the first athlete to get rid of a trinket. New York Islanders/Pittsburgh Penguins legend Bryan Trottier sold two of his Stanley Cup rings. Hall of Fame goaltender Rogie Vachon sold a Stanley Cup ring. The noblest of them all, Jean Beliveau, peddled a Stanley Cup ring. So, in Andersson’s case, there’s really nothing to see there.

Best tweet about a twit this week is courtesy of veteran broadcaster Dave Hodge: “Less than a month til the Winter Olympics, or as the U-S (sic) President calls them—games involving athletes from non-shithole countries.” That made me laugh out loud and reminded me of the type of banter I used to hear in the press boxes of North America. It’s all adult humor and quite profane, of course, but press boxes were funny, funny places back in the day. I’d like to think they still are, although the humor doesn’t show up in much of the sports writing I read.

Red Smith

A while back Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press reviewed his least-read columns from 2017 and, among other things, he said “a bits column is just lazy. Pick a topic—and then write about (it) in an interesting way. It’s not that hard.”

Two things here:

1) Herb Caen wrote a “bits” column in San Francisco for 60 years. That’s a whole lot of lazy. It’s so much lazy that the Pulitzer Prize people awarded him a special honor. It’s so much lazy that there’s a walkway in Frisco named after him. The aforementioned Simmons does a weekly dibs column. Lazy. Ed Willes of Postmedia Vancouver writes a weekly bits column. Lazy. Doug Smith and Kevin McGran write regular bits columns for the Toronto Star. Lazy. Legendary Winnipeg Tribune scribe Jack Matheson penned a weekly dibs column. Lazy. Frankly, if done well, bits and dibs columns can be more enjoyable reads than a lengthy essay on a boring topic. It isn’t lazy.

2) There’s nothing easy about producing a daily sports column. It’s bloody hard. Here’s what notable New York scribe Red Smith had to say when asked if churning out a column was a chore: “Why no. You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins and bleed.” Smith’s take on writing is a lot closer to the truth than Wiecek’s.

Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King

Noted lesbians Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova insist that they’d boycott the Australian Open if required to perform in the Margaret Court Arena.  When anti-gay preacher Court compared gays to Hitler and communism, then submitted that same-sex marriage would bring an end to Christmas and Easter in the Land of Oz, she lost considerable, if not all, cred as a voice of reason and her verbal attack on the LGBT community was repugnant for its rancor. While it’s easy for the long-retired tennis greats to say they’d boycott the AO because of Court’s hurtful words, neither King nor Navratilova has ever been a shrinking Violet, so I believe them when they say they’d skip the event. I just wish some of today’s players would do it.

By most accounts, former fancy skater Tonya Harding remains every ounce the charmless thug who spent the past 24 years as the queen of denial re her role in the mindless and chilling plot to assault fellow skater Nancy Kerrigan. So you’ll have to excuse me if I’m in no hurry to watch the movie I, Tonya, which apparently portrays Harding as a victim of life. Hey, I feel bad for anyone who’s been physically abused. Especially kids. It’s horrible and I can relate. I felt the sting of my dad’s belt buckle on my backside and the back of his hand to my head more than once. And he once put the boots put to me (literally) so hard that I piddled in my pants. But it never occurred to me to take a club to his or anyone else’s kneecaps. So let there be no pity party for Harding.

About clowns in mainstream media…depth in pro tennis…lady star power…budget cuts at TSN…too much Nadal-Federer…great rivalries…sports scribes defecting…and aiming for 50 years

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

Venus Williams

Steve Simmons has secured his position as the biggest assclown in Canadian sports media.

It’s one thing to have an ego higher than the CN Tower and deliver opinion, which the Postmedia columnist and TSN talking head offers in abundance, but Simmons totally lost the plot when he stooped to age shaming on the return of The Reporters with Dave Hodge to TSN’s air Sunday morning.

Discussing the U.S. Open, Simmons said:

Women’s tennis is in a bad way without Serena (Williams). There’s no real star. You’ve had four Grand Slams this year and four different winners. Venus Williams is in a final at Wimbledon and she’s what, 92 years old or something like that?”

Shameful. Also objectionable, rude and insulting in the extreme. It might even have an undercurrent of sexism.

I mean, Simmons had no quarrel with Roger Federer winning Wimbledon in July, scant days before he blew out 36 candles on his birthday cake. It was bravo Roger. Called him the “best ever” before the Swiss maestro rag-dolled Marin Cilic in the final. Thing is, Federer is just one year and two months younger than Venus Williams, who was beaten by Garbine Muguruza in the Wimbledon ladies’ final.

Serena Williams

It’s good for tennis that 37-year-old Venus Williams didn’t win,” he wrote. “To win now would speak badly for the state of women’s tennis.”

But it was okay for a 36-year-old man to win Wimbledon? Interesting logic.

Once he was done age bashing Williams, Simmons—he’s 60, by the way—attacked the depth of the women’s game, comparing it unfavorably to the men’s draw. “There isn’t the depth…you look at men’s tennis, there’s the core at the top and then there’s about 15 deep of really good players,” he stammered. “It doesn’t exist on the women’s side.” Really? Factual evidence supports the notion that Grandpa Simmons is full of the stuff that comes out of the south end of a bull. In the past 48 men’s Grand Slam finals, only three lads not named Nadal, Federer, Murray or Djokovic have won—Stan Wawrinka, Juan Martin Del Potro and Marin Cilic. They’ve combined for a grand sum of five titles. In 12 flipping years! Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic claimed the other 43. For those of you scoring at home, that’s Big Four 43, Rest of World 5. That’s deep like a thimble.

Grandpa Simmons pooh-poohs the women’s side for delivering four different Grand Slam champions this year, as if that’s a bad thing. Yet he says there’s no depth on tour. Total contradiction. Total clown. You want depth? Sixteen women not named Williams have combined for 30 titles in the past 48 majors. None of the four women who won a Grand Slam this year was a top seed. Serena Williams was the closest, seeded second at the Australian Open. The French and U.S. Open champions, Jelena Ostapenko and Sloane Stephens, were unseeded and ranked world Nos. 47 and 83, respectively. The Wimbledon winner, Muguruza, was seeded 14th and ranked world No. 15. The final four at the U.S. Open—Venus Williams, Madison Keys, CoCo Vandeweghe and Stephens—were world Nos. 9, 16, 22 and 83.

Maria Sharapova

As for “no real star” on the women’s side…excuse me? Apparently Grandpa Simmons missed the memo advising us that Maria Sharapova is back on tour. No female athlete on this planet has more star power than her Royal Blondeness. The bottom line on her bank statement is proof. Had there been a lack of oomph to the women’s tour? You bet. Then Ostapenko happened on the red clay of Roland Garros. She’s a spark plug. Muguruza has style and tremendous appeal. Stephens is a bundle of charisma. Now Sharapova is back, and new mama Serena Williams hopefully will resurface at the Australian Open in January, perhaps with her bambino in tow. I’d pay to watch any of them play. Venus Williams, too. She should be saluted, not scorned, for being so competitive at age 37.

Guess the weekly commute from Montreal to the Republic of Tranna is quite costly, because Michael Farber was cut from the starting lineup on The Reporters due to budget restrictions. I just wish they’d given us a vote on who got culled from the herd.

Rafa and Roger

Grandpa Simmons wasn’t the only scribe donning a clown costume last week. Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail tells us he’s had his fill of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. Doesn’t want to see them anymore. “For its own sake, men’s tennis needs to start moving on from its top-two fetish,” he scribbles in a rambling treatise. “And not just as far as Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, who are exactly like their better, older peers, only boring. Tennis needs to turn a page, rip the page out, then find a new book. We’ve been at this for a decade and it started to get old when Stephen Harper was still in charge. It’s time to move on from the greatest rivalry in the history of men’s tennis.” Oh, yes, by all means let’s do that. I mean, doesn’t everyone want to see Kevin Anderson in more Grand Slam finals? Good grief. Get a grip, man.

Here’s what Kelly wrote after Roger Federer had won the Australian Open last January: “We now have to confront the real possibility that Federer might never stop being great at tennis. Maybe he’ll just go on forever. Nobody would complain.” And now here he is, eight months later, complaining about Federer seemingly going on forever. Sigh.

Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe

My five favorite all-time rivalries…
1. Bjorn Borg-John McEnroe: Bjorn was my main man.
2. Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier: Brutal, especially the Thrilla in Manilla.
3. Jack and Arnie: I was a member of Arnie’s Army.
4. Secretariat-Sham: Never saw anything like Secretariat, before or since 1973.
5. Martina Navratilova-Chris Evert: Liked Chrissie until she got engaged to loathsome Jimmy Connors.

Longtime hockey scribe Eric Duhatschek has defected from the Globe and Mail to The Athletic Calgary, part of an expanding online sports venture that features some top-level writing talent. Pierre LeBrun, Michael Russo, James Mirtle and Craig Custance are among the ever-growing stable of scribes at The Athletic, which now has franchises in each of Canada’s National Hockey League cities. No word on who’s covering the Jets and Blue Bombers in Winnipeg, but Mirtle, the man putting it all together, says she or he is on the way.

I walked into a newsroom for the first time 48 years ago yesterday. My hope was to stay at the Winnipeg Tribune for 50 years. Neither of us made it. The Trib went toes up in my 11th year and I felt obliged to bail from the rag trade after 30 years. To the day. None of the people with whom I worked at the beginning—running mail and copy to the various departments inside the old building at the corner of Smith and Graham—remain in the newspaper business. Five of the sports guys—Jack Matheson, Uncle Vince Leah, Gus Collins and freelancers Harold Loster and Ron Meyers—are dead. The very nice man who took a chance and hired a scrawny, 18-year-old kid fresh out of Miles Macdonell Collegiate on Sept. 10, 1969, Don Delisle, left us 10 years ago this month. I’m not sure how and why I’m still here, but I believe I shall continue to crank out the crap for a bit longer. Might still make it to 50 years. Or maybe just five more days. We’ll see.

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

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

Knuckles Irving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s a beautiful thing.

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

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

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

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

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

Jennifer Botterill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jen Botterill’s bonafides are exceptional:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About a guard dog for Puck Finn…the goalie blind Winnipeg Jets…soccer stupidity in hockey…a classy King…classy curlers…and adios to a classy Ken Fidlin

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

puck-finn2As Dire Straits advised us in the early 1990s, sometimes you’re the windshield and sometimes you’re the bug. We know which one Patrik Laine was on Saturday afternoon, and let’s agree that the Winnipeg Jets rookie extraordinaire was the victim of a clean hit. Not clean-ish. Clean.

If you can’t agree, please proceed to another blog, because I’m not prepared to debate it.

I will, however, happily engage in a verbal to-and-fro re the suggestion that the Jets ought to send an SOS to former guard dog Anthony Peluso.

I mean, seriously? Anthony Peluso?

Yes, some among the rabble think it a swell idea to insert Peluso’s bare knuckles into the Jets’ lineup to discourage ruffians like Jake McCabe of the Sabres from taking liberties with the likes of Puck Finn, as he did in Buffalo. Well, sure. And some people also believe Donald Trump in the White House is a swell idea.

Look, it’s bad enough that a roster spot is occupied by Chris Thorburn, a loyal foot soldier whose sole purpose when not munching on popcorn appears to be dropping his hockey mitts and wrestling a foe of equally limited skills for 30 seconds or less. Unless this is 1975 and the Broad St. Bullies are pillaging the National Hockey League, adding another no-talent thug who would be tethered to the end of the bench or banished to the press box is not a wise use of personnel.

So no. Anthony Peluso is not the answer.

Puck Finn
Puck Finn

As one who has suffered multiple concussions (10 at last count), I know what a dark and nasty place La La Land can be. The nausea, the dizziness, the ringing in the ears, the headaches, the imbalance, the forgetfulness…horrible. I was first concussed at age 13. Got hit in the head by a baseball. When I awoke in St. Boniface Hospital, the kid in the bed next to me had control of the TV. I asked him to put on Hockey Night in Canada. It was mid-July. I thought it was winter. I hope Laine knows it’s winter and there’s plenty of hockey to be played. More to the point, I hope Puck Finn doesn’t miss too much of it.

Almost lost in the hue and cry that arose after McCabe sent Laine to La La Land was the numbing reality that the Jets coughed up a huge hair ball in losing 4-3 to Buffalo. Ahead 3-1 less than 20 minutes from time, they gagged and it didn’t help that they received more minor league-level goaltending from Connor Hellebuyck. I’m not prepared to close the book on Hellebuyck, but I do find it odd, also annoying, that general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and his bird dogs can recognize blue-chippers up front (the Lickety-Split Line of Puck Finn, Twig Ehlers and Rink Rat Scheifele, as an e.g.) and on the blueline (Jacob Trouba, Josh Morrissey) but they continue to be goalie blind. Should it really take six years to find a legitimate starting goaltender?

Interesting to note that Jets head coach Paul Maurice doesn’t discuss the NHL standings with his workers. “I don’t talk about the standings and I don’t talk about any of that in the room,” he says. “It’s on a board somewhere and they can look at it if they like.” Perhaps that explains their lack of urgency some nights.

Netherlands' Arjen Robben, right, reacts after being tackled by Brazil's Michel Bastos, left, during the World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between the Netherlands and Brazil at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, Friday, July 2, 2010. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
We can do without this and the shootout in hockey.

At the risk of sounding like Don Cherry, it occurs to me that Europeans have brought two things to hockey—soccer’s twin evils of diving and the shootout. Yes, of course, some hockey players (hello, Bill Barber) were acting like Italian footballers in their death throes before the great European wave arrived on our shores, but it got so bad that the NHL was motivated to pass anti-diving legislation in an effort to nip it in the bud. As for the shootout, I’m sure most of us would agree that it’s the devil’s handiwork. Under no circumstances should the gold-medal match at the World Junior Championship be determined by gimmickry. The Canadian and American kids put on a boffo show the other night, and they deserved better than soccer stupidity to decide the issue. I mean, it’s not like anyone was in a hurry to leave the rink.

So nice to see Dave King acting like a kid on Christmas morning after Canada’s success at the recent Spengler Cup tournament in Davos. King, who was Luke Richardson’s associate coach at the Swiss event, is among the finest men I met in 30 years of covering sports in mainstream media. He was always classy, always honest and always obliging. No doubt he still is.

Speaking of classy, former world champs Kerry Burtnyk and Jeff Ryan were two of the reasons I enjoyed working the curling beat back in the day, and now their names are in the news again. Only this time, it’s their kids chasing glory. Laura Burtnyk and Hailey Ryan teamed up to win the Manitoba Junior women’s title, while J.T. Ryan skipped his team to the men’s crown. The kids will be wearing the Buffalo on their backs at the Canadian championships later this month in Victoria, and it’s never wise to bet against a Manitoba outfit at a national curling event. Especially if their names are Burtnyk and Ryan. Go get ’em, kids.

Ken Fidlin
Ken Fidlin

Another good one has left the toy department. That would be the now-retired Ken Fidlin, longtime jock journalist with the Toronto Sun. Fids and I arrived at the Sun at the same time, in late 1980, after his Ottawa Journal and my Winnipeg Tribune both ceased operation in the same 24-hour period. I bailed after a year and a half in the Republic of Tranna, moving to Calgary and then back to Pegtown, but Fids never left and the Little Paper That Grew was always better for it. He’s a terrific writer and an even better person.

Postmedia truly has done a nasty number on sports writing in Canada. Fidlin joins a lengthy parade of quality writers and people who have been bought out, forced out or walked out on the newspaper chain in the past 12 months—George (Shakey) Johnson, Cam Cole, Bill Lankhof, Dave Stubbs, Randy Sportak, John MacKinnon, Joanne Ireland and Kirk Penton, among others. I suppose Terry Jones of the Edmonton Sun will be next on the chopping block. Sad.

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

 

Sports Santa delivers the goods to the naughty and nice in toyland

santa-crapping-2016Sports Santa is back in town and the jolly, ol’ boy isn’t so jolly this year. He’s actually in a bit of a snit. So tell us, Sports Santa, what do you have for the girls and boys in the toy department, a large lump of coal or a nice gift for those who scored big in 2016?

COAL: Mike O’Shea. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach deserves the entire coal bin, not just a lump or two. Where do we begin? It took him five games to realize that Drew Willy was a complete washout as a starting quarterback, he shows nothing but contempt for the media, he made an epic, boneheaded blunder that cost the Bombers any chance of winning the only Canadian Football League playoff game he’s coached in three seasons, then he went on record as saying he’d make the same epic, boneheaded blunder again if given the opportunity. Sigh.

GOAL: Justin Medlock. The guy hoofed 60 field goals, a CFL record, but he’ll be remembered as the victim of O’Shea’s playoff brain fart. Asked to kick a 61-yard FG in the dead air of B.C. Place Stadium to preserve the Bombers’ Grey Cup aspirations, his attempt fell seven yards short of the target. He doesn’t take the rap, though. O’Shea does for asking his kicker to do the impossible.

GOAL: Matt Nichols took the ball that O’Shea was ordered to hand him and ran and passed it all the way to the playoffs, putting together a 10-3 record after taking over from Willy as the starting QB.

COAL: I put plugs in my ears, so someone please tell me that Paul Maurice has finally stopped squawking about the Winnipeg Jets’ schedule. The head coach provided his workers with a built-in excuse for failure with his constant, oh-woe-is-me carping about the grind foisted upon them by National Hockey League schedule-makers. Coach PoMo’s pity party was pathetic.

GOAL: What’s not to like about the Jets’ Lickety-Split Line of Patrik Laine, Nikolaj Ehlers and Mark Scheifele, or as I call them Puck Finn, Twig and Rink Rat? The Lickety-Split Line should be terrorizing NHL defenders and goaltenders for the next dozen years. Mind you, with Maurice pulling the strings behind the bench, forward combinations last about as long as a Grade One kid’s attention span. He might have them split up before New Year’s Eve.

COAL: When Jacob Trouba and his agent went public with their trade request and the young defenceman chose to stay home rather than attend Jets training camp, teammate Mathieu Perreault branded him “selfish.” Perreault should flap his gums less and do more of what he’s paid to do—produce points. The overpaid and underachieving forward has a whopping seven points (two goals). Stop my beating heart.

christmas-stocking-coalCOAL: He’s among my favorite scribes, but Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press totally lost the plot with what came across as a personal attack on Trouba, rather than reasoned analysis. Among other things, Wiecek called him a “malcontent” and “impetuous” and “the biggest loser” and chided him for his “petulance” in requesting a trade and holding out. Well, excuse me, but Trouba was merely exercising his bargained-for right as a restricted free agent. It’s fair to question his decision, but we can do without the schoolyard insults. Wiecek is better than that.

GOAL: I’m told Kirk Penton is riding off into the sunset. The best CFL beat guy in the country, Penton leaves the Winnipeg Sun at the end of the year, and that’s a huge blow to the tabloid. No word on where Kirk is headed, but he’ll be a success wherever he lands.

GOAL: He didn’t appear in the Sun sports pages often enough, but the now-retired Cam Cole of Postmedia will be missed. His copy was golden.

COAL: Postmedia has ransacked the sports writing biz in Canada, with its non-stop stream of force-outs and buyouts of people like Cole, Penton and George (Shakey) Johnson, among others. Postmedia has also left the country with exactly one two-newspaper town west of the Republic of Tranna. That would be Winnipeg, where the Sun and Freep still try to beat the other guy to the story.

COAL: Steve Simmons of Postmedia said Kevin Durant had “no spine” and it was “gutless” of him to sign with the Golden State Warriors. He told both pro golfer Brooke Henderson and Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman to “grow up.” He repeatedly has called people “idiots” and engaged in childish hissing contests on his Twitter feed. Seems to me that there’s a soon-to-be 60-year-old sports scribe who should take his own advice and “grow up.”

GOAL: Bravo Desiree Scott. The Winnipeg-born midfielder.made her 100th appearance for Canada in international soccer in February (the 15th woman to do so) and she helped our Olympic side earn a bronze medal at the Rio Summer Games. Desiree and her gal pals beat Germany, France, Australia and Brazil, all ahead of them in the world rankings.

GOAL: Executive director Mo Glimcher retired after 41 years with the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association. I remember dealing with Mo when I worked at the Winnipeg Tribune in the 1970s. Great guy.

GOAL: Although she was wearing Alberta colors, Chelsea Carey did Manitoba proud when she skipped her Wild Rose Country team to the Scotties Tournament of Hearts title. Chelsea, the daughter of Dan Carey, was groomed on the curling rinks of Winnipeg.

COAL: Evander Kane simply cannot stay out of trouble. Or court.

christmas-stocking-goodGOAL: A tip of the bonnet to the Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, for bringing the Heritage Classic to Winnipeg and linking the current Jets franchise to the roots of professional hockey as we know it in River City.

COAL: The Puck Pontiff blew it when he didn’t make original Jets franchise founder Ben Hatskin the first inductee to the Winnipeg Jets Hall of Fame. The late, great Lars-Erik Sjoberg, who wore the C during the Jets glory years in the World Hockey Association, also should have been among the first group to be enshrined.

COAL: Bobby Hull refused to join Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson at a ceremony to salute the first three members of the Jets Hall of Fame. What a drip.

GOAL: Kyle Walters did boffo business in the CFL free-agent market, purchasing seven free agents at the opening bell. Justin Medlock was the pick of the litter.

GOAL (posthumously): We lost curling champion Vic Peters in March. A wonderful person.

GOAL: Old friend Ed Tait bolted from the Winnipeg Free Press toy department to the Blue Bombers, where he’s made the CFL club’s website sing with his fine prose.

GOAL: Mr. Everything with the Brandon Wheat Kings, Kelly McCrimmon, moved to Las Vegas, where he sits at the right hand of general manager George McPhee with the NHL expansion outfit.

GOAL: Winnipeg Goldeyes are rulers of all they survey in baseball’s American Association. The local nine has brought two titles to River City this decade.

COAL: Goldeyes owner Sam Katz took a cheap shot at the Bombers and Jets for their lack of success. Such a shame to know you’re still a total drip after all these years, Sammy.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit. She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.