Let’s talk about Randy Carlyle and Body by Pillsbury…liars, liars pants on fire…what say you, Jeff Hecht?…E-Town trumps Pegtown…the CFL’s best newspaper market…men overboard at Sportsnet…and the WJM newsroom

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and this post was written without the benefit of performance-enhancing nouns, verbs, adjectives or metaphors, but there are trace amounts of sarcasm, irreverence and flippancy…

Back in April 1989, when drug cheat Ben Johnson still had our attention after his fall from grace at the Seoul Olympics, word drifted out of Stockholm that Randy Carlyle had failed a drug test.

I laughed.

Anyone who’d ever met or seen Randy Carlyle probably laughed.

Randy Carlyle

I mean, you didn’t get Carlyle’s body with daily visits to the gym, augmented by human growth hormone milk shakes. We’re talking Body by Pillsbury. Whatever muscle the Winnipeg Jets defender had was well concealed by a pleasantly soft exterior, most likely the product of jam-filled pop tarts or crescent rolls stuffed with cheese and bacon. His soft under belly really was his soft underbelly.

Thus, after Carlyle had piddled in a bottle at the World Hockey Championship and women/men wearing lab coats didn’t like the color of his pee—they discovered traces of the banned substance mesterolone—there were many giggles, even though he had officially joined Johnson on the Drug Cheat Hall of Shame roll call.

“When we first heard the words ‘steroids’ and ‘Randy’ in the same sentence, everyone in the room laughed,” Dave Ellett, a teammate of Carlyle’s in Sweden and with the Jets, once recalled in a natter with Lance Hornby of the Toronto Sun. “John Ferguson Sr. had the best line: ‘If that’s what steroids does for your body, a lot of people will want their money back.’ Then we realized how serious it was.”

As it happened, Carlyle’s ‘B’ sample came back cleaner than a saint’s soul, so neither he nor Team Canada was disqualified from the tournament.

“I’ve been through hell,” the Pillsbury D-Boy told news snoops at the scene of the non-crime. “I was in total shock. How do you live with yourself when they say you’ve taken this and you know you haven’t? I lost a few pounds with sweaty palms.”

Andrew Harris

So, sure, squints make mistakes, and many among the rabble believe the lab rats did a dirty to Andrew Harris, who won’t join his Winnipeg Blue Bombers teammates in their annual Labor Day Weekend frolic v. the Saskatchewan Roughriders today on the Flattest of Lands. He’s also been told to find something else to do when the large lads assemble for the rematch in Good Ol’ Hometown on Sept. 7.

The Canadian Football League’s now-suspended leading rusher vows he didn’t knowingly take the illegal drug they say he took, but, for every local who believes Harris got a raw deal and shouldn’t be twiddling his thumbs this afternoon, there are probably 10 beyond the boundaries of Manitoba who’ll tell us that his pants are on fire. You’d have better luck convincing them that O.J. is honest-to-gosh looking for the real killers.

And that’s for good reason: When caught with their hands in the juice jar—or, in the case of Pete Rose, cozying up to friendly neighborhood bookie—most high-profile cheats in sports immediately take a trip to Planet Pinocchio. Examples…

Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong: “If you consider my situation, a guy who comes back from arguably, you know, a death sentence (cancer), why would I then enter in a sport and dope myself up and risk my life again? That’s crazy. I would never do that. No. No way.”

Mark McGwire (appearing before U.S. Congress): “I’m not here to talk about the past.”

Rafael Palmeiro: “I have never used steroids. Period.”

Sammy Sosa: Pretended he couldn’t understand English when asked about his steroid use.

Roger Clemens: “I’ve been accused of something I’m not guilty of…I’ve never taken steroids or HGH.”

Justin Gatlin: “I am not using and have not used PEDs.”

Marion Jones: “I am against performance enhancing drugs. I have never taken them and I never will take them.”

Ben Johnson: “When I was a kid, I never took drugs. People who know me in Jamaica and people who know me here know I would never take drugs. I have never, ever knowingly taken illegal drugs, and I would never embarrass my family, my friends, and my country, and the kids who love me. For now, there’s nothing more I can tell you, because I just don’t know.”

Floyd Landis: “I declare convincingly and categorically that my winning the Tour de France has been exclusively due to many years of training and my complete devotion to cycling, to the sacrifice of an entire life to carry out my dream, a dream of thousands of kilometres that I have completed through an absolute respect to the cleanness of the sport.”

Alex Rodriguez: “I have been clear that I did not use performance enhancing substances as alleged.”

Pete Rose (gambling): “I’m not going to admit to something that didn’t happen. Never bet as a player. That’s a fact.”

Martina Hingis (cocaine 2007 Wimbledon): “I am frustrated and angry. I believe that I am absolutely 100 per cent innocent.” Notably, she promptly retired rather than fight lab findings and a two-year ban.

Manny Ramirez: “Recently I saw a physician for a personal health issue. He gave me a medication, not a steroid.” After taking another medication that wasn’t a steroid, Ramirez failed another drug test and retired rather than be banished for 100 games.

Ryan Braun: “I truly believe in my heart, and would bet my life that this substance never entered my body at any point. I am the victim of a process that completely broke down and failed the way it was applied to me in this case.”

Vladimir Putin: “State-sponsored doping system has never been created in Russia, it is simply not possible, and we will do everything we can to make sure such state-sponsored system of doping support never exists.”

That, kids, is the reason people are hesitant, or flat-out refuse, to believe Harris. They’ve heard all the nose-growing excuses before.

And, unlike Randy Carlyle, his isn’t Body by Pillsbury.

Jeff Hecht

So, when Louis-Phillipe Bourassa was banished for being a drug cheat, Bombers safety Jeff Hecht pounced, calling out the Bytown RedBlacks long snapper on Twitter with this post: “Sometimes you just have to work hard instead of being lazy and buying an edge.” It followed, therefore, that he’d deliver the same public tsk-tsking to Harris. But no. “To think that I would treat my teammate the same as I would somebody else, I think, is kind of naive from some people, because I’m a team-first guy,” he said in a chin-wag with Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun. He then told Teddy Football that “I think lying is the tool of the coward, so I’m not going to hide my stance on anything.” Except, of course, he’ll hide his stance on Andrew Harris, thank you very much. Hypocrisy, thy name is Jeff Hecht.

The Bombers are without Matt Nichols, Andrew Harris and Chris Matthews today on the Flattest of Lands, so why do I think they have a snowball’s chance of beating Gang Green? Because they aren’t without Willie Jefferson and the D.

I like most of what young Jeff Hamilton does in the Drab Slab. Grade A reporter. Good writer. On top of the beat. Alas, young Jeff is off the mark when he suggests Saskatchewan and River City are the “two best markets in the CFL.” That’s only half accurate. The main measuring stick for any CFL market is the box office and, yes, Gang Green has developed a most rabid fan base. But Winnipeg? Not so much. Edmonton has been, and is, a better market. Even with this year’s sharp downturn in bodies at Commonwealth Stadium, the Eskimos are attracting 3,335 more than the Bombers per game. More to the point, if the Eskimos don’t nudge their head count up a couple thousand, this will be the first time—the only time!—this century that their average attendance falls below 30,000. Winnipeg FC has averaged 30,000 once. Repeat: Once. That was in 2013, the year Football Follies Field in Fort Garry opened for business and became a destination for curiosity seekers. So, sorry to say, Jeff, Good Ol’ Hometown is a better market than E-Town like Bob Dylan is a better singer than Sinatra.

There are, of course, other methods of measuring a CFL market, one of them being media coverage. That, of course, is subjective. But I submit that no one in our vast land does it better than the girls and boys on the Bombers beat in Pegtown, and I can already hear the squawks of protest from news snoops in E-Town and on the Flattest of Lands. Well, let ’em squawk. They’re wrong.

River City is the only true two-newspaper town in Western Canada, thus Winnipeg FC gets double the print coverage from competing rags. The operative word is “competing.” Standard cookie-cutter, scrum-collected quotes aside, what you read in the Drab Slab won’t be what you read in the Sun, and the Andrew Harris situation is an excellent example of the difference. Paul Friesen’s take in the Sun had a harsh, but fair, tone, while Hamilton delivered a more personal, reined-in essay. Both pieces worked for me in their own way. And that’s something you don’t get in points west, because Postmedia eliminated newspaper competition in other Prairie provinces. In terms of CFL coverage, the E-Town Sun is the E-Town Journal; the Calgary Sun is the Calgary Herald; the Vancity Sun is the Vancity Province; and you’ll read the same Riders copy in both the Regina Leader-Post and the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. They’re kin. Kissing cousins, if you will. That’s not the way it should be, but that’s what you get when Postmedia is still pinching pennies long after our copper coin went out of circulation.

Nick Kypreos

So, Sportsnet (thankfully) has pulled the plug on resident meathead Nick Kypreos, and we can only hope he’s replaced by someone who isn’t stuck in the 1970s, when clubbing an opponent over the head with a piece of lumber was an oft-used gambit in winning hockey games. Kypreos spent two decades using his Sportsnet pulpit to deliver a “to hell with turning the other cheek” sermon, promoting back-alley bullying to the point of advising skilled players like Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews to adopt rat-like stickwork and fisticuffs as tactics in dealing with the National Hockey League weasel element. That dinosaur logic is now left to blowhard Donald S. Cherry and the bellicose Brian Burke, although Burkie often delivers juicy insight when he isn’t talking about truculence.

John Shannon

I hope the last person to leave Sportsnet’s stable of shinny voices remembers to turn out the lights. Gone are Kypreos, Doug MacLean and John Shannon, which leaves who to natter with Jeff Marek on Hockey Central At Noon? Muppet head Colby Armstrong and Gord Stellick (meh)? Anthony Stewart and Mike Zigomanis (spare us)? The return of Damien Cox (shudder)? I’m not a Shannon fan, because there’s more than a whiff of arrogance to his delivery and he can be annoyingly interruptive, but he certainly knows where a lot of bodies are buried. I suspect he won’t be in the unemployment queue for long.

Murray, Lou, Mary, Ted, Sue Ann, Georgette, Rhoda and Phyllis in the WJM newsroom.

And, finally, Mary is gone, Ted is gone, Georgette is gone, and now Rhoda is gone. Thank goodness for reruns so I can still watch The Mary Tyler Moore show every afternoon and keep them and the WJM newsroom in my life. Love that show. Love the characters. I actually have a framed pic of Mary Tyler Moore beside my flatscreen TV, a gift from dear friends Jeff and Paul, who know I still want to be Mary Richards when I grow up and have a friend like Rhoda Morgenstern.

Winnipeg Jets: Their victory over the Soviets was the signature moment for an undervalued team

Perhaps because a broad brushstroke of hockey nostalgia is about to sweep across Good, Ol’ Hometown, I find myself reaching back to distant times and a shinny barn long ago reduced to rubble.

I couldn’t begin to inventory the number of days and nights I spent in the Winnipeg Arena during my three decades writing about hockey in River City, but I confess that the large majority of the games I witnessed have faded to black, lost in the foggy moors of my ever-eroding memory. Mostly, they come back to me in vignettes. A highlight here, an incident there.

There are, however, three matches that remain indelible: 1) The Winnipeg Jets’ victory over the Soviet Union National team; 2) Game 6 of the 1979 World Hockey Association championship; 3) the first Tuxedo Night.

jets-sovietsThe latter two I recall because one carried historical significance, in that it was the WHA’s final act and the local lads took permanent ownership of the Avco World Trophy, while the other was noteworthy for its marketing quirkiness and behind-the-scenes madness that brought closure to Bobby Hull’s career in Jets linen. Poor Bobby was all dressed up with no place to go on Tuxedo Night, and his clumsy exit is a humorous, oft-told chapter of folklore that I’m certain will be recited and embellished when the old boys gather for their Heritage Classic hijinks this week.

That’s strictly Sideshow Bob stuff, though, when measured against the caging of the great Russian Bear. That was the defining moment for a team and its players whose accomplishments often were pooh-poohed by the hockey establishment because of the company they kept. The WHA and its member teams, you see, were looked upon like the Canadian dollar is today—not up to par. Devalued. Or so the prevailing logic went.

But wait. Don’t talk to us about second-class citizens. The Jets beat the Soviet National side, dammit!

I can still see Ulf Nilsson delivering a short, delicate pass to Dave Dunn, a big, lumbering defenceman with a square, planter-like pot for a helmet. No one had ever mistaken Dunn for, say, the smooth-as-silk Peter Sullivan or Kent Nilsson. More to the point, his was a hunch-shouldered, laborious skating style that evoked imagery of a beast of burden pulling a milk wagon. Yet there was Dunn, suddenly with some lickety-split in his stride as he departed the neutral zone and navigated his way into enemy territory.

Looking up from the end boards, Dunn spied Hull standing at the lip of the crease, and he dished a backhand pass to the Golden Jet, who flicked the puck past Vladislav Tretiak. Game, set and match. The Jets had beaten the Soviets, 5-3.

It is the irony of Dunn’s daring, as much as Hull’s three scores and Ulf Nilsson’s four points, that revisits me when I ponder the events of Jan. 5, 1978.

I recall watching from on high, in the Arena press box, as Dunn accepted Nilsson’s feed and began his foray along the right wing boards and into a corner. I thought it totally out of character for him to be so ambitious. Dunn’s technique and skill level were directly at odds with the shock-and-awe swagger of his playmates, Nilsson, Hull and Anders Hedberg. Not to mention the three Soviet forwards on the freeze at that moment—Valeri Kharlamov, Boris Mikhailov and Vladimir Petrov. Dave Dunn belonged in that group like Don Cherry belonged in the Kremlin.

This can’t possibly end well,” I muttered to myself.

It did, though, and the Jets had their signature game, the one match we can point to after this great passage of time and say “that’s how good those guys were.”

***

This wasn’t a championship skirmish. It was, as soccer people are wont to say, a “friendly.” A pleasant interlude of sporting pleasure to perhaps soothe the sting of another long and dreary Winnipeg winter.

Yet any frolic with the Soviet National side during the Cold War, circa 1970s, carried political overtones, if not intrigue, plus the promotional wallop of a heavyweight tiff.

Dave Dunn
Dave Dunn

And so it was when the Jets, with their blend of smooth Swedes and good, ol’ bent-nosed Canadian boys, engaged the best of Mother Russia. None among the combatants arrived at the rink to make nice. This was a “friendly” like Winnipeg is New York City.

Few beyond the walls of the Jets’ changing quarters expected the WHA’s marquee team to topple the comrades. Even the most rabid of the rabble would have told you victory was less likely than Cherry taking a mail-order Russian bride.

I mean, this was the creme de la borscht of Soviet shinny. It was one thing to whup a club side from Mother Russia, like Wings or Dynamo or, yes, even the National team’s doppelganger, CKSA, more commonly known as the Central Red Army. A few WHA and NHL outfits already had been there and done that. But beat the communist colossus? Nyet.

To further underscore the enormity of the task, the Russkies already had given the Jets three wedgies in “friendlies” in Tokyo, Japan—7-5, 4-2, 5-1—prior to the comrades’ arrival on our shores (at which point Ivan promptly administered a 7-2 paddywhacking to the Edmonton Oilers).

So, yes, the Russian Bear was in full-throated growl.

The Jets, however, were not without bark and bite of their own.

Although appropriately respectful of a foe that collected World and Olympic championships like little boys collected bubble gum cards, the Jets delighted a gathering of 10,315 eye witnesses by laying waste to the Soviets early, building a 4-0 advantage on two goals each from Ulf Nilsson and Hull. Shortly thereafter, taskmaster Viktor Tikhonov removed Aleksandr Sidelnikov from the Soviets’ goal and replaced him with Tretiak.

As if on cue, the great Russian Bear stirred, making it 4-2 before the second period had expired, both goals coming off the stick of diminutive and unsmiling Boris Alexandrov. Vasily Pervukhin then supplied third-period drama, beating Jets goaltender Joe Daley two minutes and 43 seconds in. A collective murmur rumbled from the pews to the rafters in the old barn on Maroons Road. Fans feared the worst.

The Jets quelled the Russian uprising, though, guarding their one-goal advantage with Scrooge-like stinginess until Hull converted Dunn’s pass into his third score and the Jets’ fifth, eight seconds from time.

Never before had the Soviet National side been beaten by a club team.

***

Scant seconds after the fact, those of us with pens, notepads and microphones were granted access to the locals’ lair, where we discovered half the players still fully adorned in their Jets livery and the other half already baring well-sculpted chests, abs and arms. Some roamed to the four corners of their cramped quarters, smiling and slapping broad-shouldered backs and tousling the stringy, matted-down hair on sweat-soaked heads. A few sat in silent reflection, giving ponder to a job well done and nursing post-work refreshments.

Ulf Nilsson
Ulf Nilsson

They were properly pleased and proud, these Jets, also weary to the marrow.

They seemed in unspoken agreement that the early after-moments of their conquest of the CCCP was a time for softened celebration, rather than unrestrained revelry, and it is their muffled merriment and a quiet quote from Ulf Nilsson that I also remember about the goings-on of that magical night.

“The Russians are so hard to play against…I don’t think I ever beat them before tonight,” offered Nilsson, a native of Nynashamn who along with fellow Swede Hedberg and Hull combined to outscore the Soviets’ fabled forward troika of Mikhailov, Kharlamov and Petrov 10 points to zero. “I’m proud to be a Canadian tonight.”

That sentiment worked both ways, that night and so many others for the Jets and their flock.

(Footnote: To put the Jets’ victory in perspective, the Soviets went 5-0 against five other WHA outfits on that tour, beating the Oilers (7-2), Quebec Nordiques (6-3), Cincinnati Stingers (9-2), Indianapolis Racers (8-3) and New England Whalers (8-4) for a combined score of 38-14).

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.

About Steve Simmons ‘outing’ two Raptors…apologies to Canada…cheering for Doug Wilson…and the best of tennis

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

bow wow bungalowSo, let me see if I’ve got this straight: DeMarre Carroll and Cory Joseph are observed strolling through Jack Casino in Cleveland at 2 o’clock in the a.m.; they are in breach of no laws of the land; they are in breach of no code of ethics; they are guilty of no trespasses against team-imposed guidelines. They are, quite simply, two adults talking and walking in retreat to their hotel rooms, in the company, it should be pointed out, of four other adults.

And this is news?

It is if you’re Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun and you are the self-appointed hall monitor of the Toronto Raptors and you believe Carroll and Joseph should be tucked in bed by 2 ayem, not “wandering around in the middle of the night.” After all, Carroll and Joseph were expected to participate in a significant National Basketball Association playoff skirmish in another 18 1/2 hours, which, on the Steve-o-Metre, apparently is not sufficient kip time to be up to the task of subduing the Cleveland LeBrons.

If only they had been in bed by, oh, let’s say 10 p.m., surely the Raptors would have delivered greater resistance against the Cleveland assault. No doubt they’d have fallen by a mere 28 points, rather than 38, on Wednesday night in Game 5 of the final dispute on the Eastern Conference side of the NBA divide.

But wait. In Simmons’ own words, the Carroll-Joseph late-nighter “may have had nothing to do with how or why the Raptors were decimated and embarrassed 116-78.”

I see how it works. The two Raptors weren’t intoxicated, they weren’t raising a ruckus, they didn’t have a woman hanging on each arm, they weren’t playing with guns, and their influence—positive or negative—on what transpired on the hardwood floor of the Quicken Loans Arena could not be measured vis-a-vis their slumber habits. Yet let’s ‘out’ them anyway, thus giving rise to suspicion and perception that Carroll and Joseph are a couple of good-time Charlies or, even worse, a pair of no-goodnicks.

It is, frankly, laughable that a member of mainstream sports media would bring into question, or tsk-tsk, the nocturnal wanderings of professional athletes, given that there isn’t a jock sniffer alive who, after filing copy on game nights, is in the sack with lights out by the stroke of 12. The nature of their beast is very similar to that of the athletes they write and talk about. They just earn considerably less coin, is all.

So, I’m sorry, but the issue here is not about the sleeping patterns of Carroll and Joseph. The issue is one that mainstream media won’t address, because they tend not to eat their own. To wit: Should Steve Simmons have ‘outed’ the two Raptors?

Well, to use a hoops term, since there was no harm, no foul, the answer is “no.”

Thus, you can mark down Simmons’ column as reason No. 546,592 why professional athletes consider jock journalists lower than Homer Simpson’s IQ.

We won't apologize for the Biebs.
We won’t apologize for the Biebs.

I see where ESPN blowhard Stephen A. Smith has delivered a mea culpa for dissing the Raptors two games into their best-of-seven skirmish with the LeBrons. “I gotta be a man of my word,” he said after Toronto had leveled the series at 2-2, “and just apologize to Canada, all Canadians everywhere.” That’s all well and fine, Stephen. Just don’t expect us to apologize for Celine Dion, Nickelback or Justin Bieber. (As an aside, Stephen: No need to apologize to “all” of us hosers, because, beyond the borders of the Republic of Tranna, few care about the Raptors.)

I’ve always cheered silently for Doug Wilson to succeed as general manager of the San Jose Sharks, because he played for the Winnipeg Clubs in 1973-74 when I worked the Western Canada Hockey League beat for the Winnipeg Tribune. I remember Wilson as a soft-spoken, shy, polite kid. So good on him now that his National Hockey League outfit has advanced to meet the Pittsburgh Penguins in the final of the Stanley Cup tournament.

The most-ballyhooed hockey players outside the NHL have to be teenagers Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine and Mitch Marner. Matthews and Laine did boffo work at the just-concluded World Hockey Championships in the Republic of Putin, while Marner is killing it with his London Knights at the Memorial Cup tournament in Saudi Alberta. All are worthy of the hosannas, but one thing separates Matthews and Laine from Marner: They were playing against men (mostly), Marner is playing against boys.

Bjorn Borg
Bjorn Borg

Bjorn Borg will always be my favorite tennis player, but Rafael Nadal, searching for his 15th Grand Slam title until a wrist injury shelved him at the French Open, is the best I’ve ever seen. My all-time dream match would be Borg in his prime vs. Nadal in his prime at Roland Garros in Paris. Nadal would win in five sets. I think. Maybe. Dream match No. 2 would be Steffi Graf vs. Serena Williams at Roland Garros. Graf would win in three. Definitely.

I have trouble watching Andy Murray play tennis. I mean, it’s painful. Whether ahead or chasing the match, the Scotsman always looks like a tormented soul straight out of a Shakespearean tragedy. Every time he turns to grab a towel, I expect to see a shiv or arrows in his back.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 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.