Working with Bob (Knuckles) Irving came with a laugh track

I sometimes hit the mute button on my TV remote when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are grabbing grass on TSN, and it has nothing to do with Glen Suitor crushing on Keith Urban.

It’s just that I’d rather lend an ear to Bob (Knuckles) Irving, who’s been painting blue-and-gold word pictures from the CJOB broadcast booth with his smooth, calm delivery most every year since 1974, when he was fresh-scrubbed and greener than St. Paddy’s Day.

shania Twain

Knuckles’ voice is comfort food, like a bowl of soup and a grilled cheese sandwich on a chilly Manitoba morn, and I can’t imagine him swooning over Mr. Nicole Kidman during an in-game interview. (Mind you, as I recall, he had a thing for Shania Twain back in the day, so if she were to poke her head into the booth I’m guessing his play-by-play call suddenly would become about as smooth as a long stretch of unpaved country road.)

The thing is, Knuckles doesn’t have much roadway left, just three more Bombers skirmishes, including the Dec. 5 West Division final at the Local Ball Yard In Fort Garry. And maybe—just maybe—he won’t pull the plug until after the Grey Cup game in The Hammer a week later, should the blue-and-gold clad lads advance to the Canadian Football League title joust.

In any event, Knuckles made his adios as voice of Winnipeg FC official this morning, at age 71, and I’m certain his retirement notice received an enthusiastic okie-dokie from his bride Daye, who’s watched her hubby swan off hither and yon every summer for nigh on half a century.

It kind of reminds me of the lyrics in a wonderful tune by country songstress Kathy Mattea, Eighteen Wheels And A Dozen Roses: “Charlie’s had a good life, and Charlie’s got a good wife, and after tonight she’ll no longer be counting the days.”

Those of us who were privileged to work alongside Knuckles are counting down the days, though, because he ranks at, or near, the top of anyone’s list of good guys among news snoops. Anyone in the Winnipeg media more respected than Knuckles? Nope.

I started in jock journalism three years before Knuckles had his Bombers broadcast baptism in 1974 and, to this day, I’ve yet to hear anyone utter a discouraging word about the man who took the long way around the barn (Regina, Estevan, Brandon) before finding his wheelhouse in Good Ol’ Hometown. But why would they? He’s very funny, extremely witty, admirably thoughtful, and not at all prone to vanity in a business full of people who like what they see in mirrors. He’s as down to earth as a fresh layer of top soil.

The thing I remember most fondly about Knuckles is standing on the sidelines at Bombers grunt sessions, or in the stands during training camp, and laughing. Laughing at stupid things. Laughing at silly things. A lot of self-deprecating humor, like his acute fear of flying, which inspired his nickname.

Knuckles Irving

One year at Camp Cal in Brandon, for example, the two of us were perched on some wooden bleachers on the edge of the yellow, gnarled practice field near the university dorms, and Knuckles took note of a group of young boys loitering nearby.

“Punks,” he said, nodding in their direction.

“Punks?” I responded. “What makes you think they’re punks? They look like nice kids to me.”

“They’re teenage boys, aren’t they? All teenage boys are punks. Punks!”

He was smiling while yanking my chain.

“Punk is a good word,” I said. “It’s a descriptive word. Tells you right away that there’s a rough edge to a kid. And you can only call a boy a punk. Girls aren’t punks. Never.”

We watched a beat-up, old car rumble down the road.

“Jalopy,” Knuckles observed. “That’s a good word, too.”

“Also descriptive,” I agreed. “Soon as you say ‘jalopy’ everybody knows you’re talking about a rusty, dented ol’ beater of a car. And only guys drive jalopies. Women don’t drive jalopies. Never.”

Like I said, it was stupid stuff. Silly stuff. Kind of like a Seinfeld episode. About nothing.

But, hey, we had to humor ourselves while baking in a hot, summer sun for two hours, while awaiting Cal Murphy’s call to terminate training exercises.

Knuckles and I are the same age (okay, I won’t be 71 until Nov. 27), and I’ve often wondered why and how he kept trucking on. I wonder the same thing about a sports scribe like Terry Jones of Postmedia Edmonton. I thought the same about Bob Picken, who covered curling almost until the day he departed for the great misty beyond. Why and how? Why and how? After all, I bailed due to burnout after 30 years.

Well, it’s simple: They love(d) what they’re doing.

Knuckles still does, but he’s heard and acknowledged Father Time’s whispers about health challenges, and there’s a different kind of road to travel with his bride.

I doubt that means there’s an 18-wheeler in their future, but a few Shania tunes might be.

Why are business people in Canada so eager to lose millions on men’s sports but they treat female pro sports like it has the cooties?

To date, no one is telling us the sticker price on the B.C. Lions.

It might have been 10 bucks in Canadian Tire money, it might have been $10 million in cold, hard Canadian currency, and it might have been nothing more than a few specks of lint from Amar Doman’s deep pockets.

Amar Doman

We just know that Doman dipped into those deep pockets of his and pulled out enough something-or-other to satisfy the wants and needs of the David Braley estate, which had been holding the purse strings on the Canadian Football League franchise since the longtime owner’s death last October.

Logic suggests Doman bought the Leos—lock, stock and perhaps Joe Kapp’s old jock—for a bargain basement price this week because, like all outfits in Rouge Football, they surely did a belly flop into a pool of red ink on their 2020 (un)operation. No games. No revenue. Except perhaps a piddling amount of merchandise sales.

We know the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, for example, took a financial bath ($6.98 million), as did their community-run Prairie kin in Saskatchewan (the Roughriders dropped $7.5 million) and Edmonton (Elks’ losses came in at $7.1 million), so it follows that the Leos faced similar hardship.

Collectively, it’s been reported that the CFL was $60 million-$80 million into the glue on its COVID-canceled 2020 crusade and, during its most recent season (2019), the nine member clubs combined for $20 million in losses.

Little wonder commissioner Randy Ambrosie went hat in hand to Trudeau the Younger and his pals on Parliament Hill, looking for a one-time pogey payment of $30 million.

When the feds told Commish Randy to take his begging cup and go panhandle on another street corner, there was legitimate concern that some outfits might not survive a lengthy shutdown, and a lot of people were looking directly toward the far side of the Rocky Mountains, where the Leos have gone into a Witness Protection Program.

David Braley

Indeed, Braley himself delivered a sizable heaping of gloom and doom in May 2020, telling TSN 1040, “I really believe if we don’t play this year, there’s a very good chance that we won’t survive. There’s no money. How can you afford to lose five, 10 million a team?”

But lose it, and survive, they did.

The Leos were back in B.C. Place Stadium on Thursday night for a grass-grabber with the Edmonton Elks, and (reportedly) 12,500 of their friends and family dropped by for a looksee at Amar Doman’s new toy.

Doman was also in the house (he’s probably still hosing himself down after enduring an in-game natter with TSN’s resident boot-licker and insufferable, gushing groupie Glen Suitor), and his readiness to roll up his sleeves and make the Leos relevant again was evident.

But it also had me thinking this thought: Why are deep-pocketed business people in Canada so eager to go all-in on a losing hand like the B.C. Leos or Toronto Argos, but they won’t do the same for women’s professional sports?

We are a hockey nation, yet look across our vast, oft-frozen tundra and you shall find just one female pro outfit, the Toronto Six of the National Women’s Hockey League, and it’s bankrolled by a group of Boston-based investors headed by Johanna Neilson Boynton.

The NWHL will have a salary cap of $300,000 per team in 2021-22. Amar Doman will pay his main man, quarterback Michael Reilly, $525,000 for 14 games this year, win, lose or wonky arm.

I’m no financial whiz, but it seems to me that any losses would be less staggering in the NWHL.

Meantime, we have become a world soccer power on the women’s side, yet there are zero professional teams in the True North. Nada. Zilch. Squat.

Minimum wage in the all-U.S. National Women’s Soccer League is $22,000. Max is $52,000. The team cap is $682,500. In Rouge Football, the low-end salary is $65,000 and the top-end depends on how stupid an owner chooses to be. Each team is capped at $5.35 millions.

Who figures to drop more coin, Portland Thorns FC or the B.C. Lions?

Yet smart guys like Amar Doman are positively giddy about frittering away great gobs of cash on a CFL business plan that has proven to be broken and, at the same time, they steer clear of female sports like it’s a kid with the cooties.

Go figure.

Don’t believe what they say about Winnipeg, Nate Schmidt…it’s (mostly) lies

Top o’ the morning to you, Nate Schmidt.

Have you been out back chopping wood and contemplating life today? I don’t have to tell you that’s good for the health and good for the soul.

I used to do something similar back in the day, Nate, when I owned 15 acres just outside St-Pierre-Jolys. I’d give the horses their morning feed, turn them out and then muck out the stalls and/or chop firewood. Very therapeutic. Came to some life-altering decisions while knee-deep in horse manure or whacking a tree with an ax.

So I can kind of relate to your soul-searching in recent days, wondering if leaving the Vancouver Canucks for the Winnipeg Jets was the right thing to do.

They tell me you had strong reservations about changing your postal code from the Great Wet North to the frozen tundra. They say you were as reluctant as a tax cheat heading to an audit. More to the point, like a lot of National Hockey League players, you had Good Ol’ Hometown at, or near, the top of your no-trade list.

Not sure what your hangups were, Nate, but I can assure you that whatever you’ve heard about Winnipeg is lies. All lies.

Except the weather, of course.

It gets cold, Nate. Bitterly cold. Cold enough to freeze the brass monkeys off the Golden Boy. You’re going to need all that firewood you’ve been chopping.

Nate Schmidt

Winnipeg won’t be anything like Vegas or Vancouver, where you could loiter on an outdoor patio in January, sipping a latté and staring at your smart phone, or whatever it is that young millionaires do with their down time. But you already knew that because you’ve spent time in Good Ol’ Hometown with the Washington Capitals, the Golden Knights and the Canucks.

The thing is, Nate, you haven’t seen Pegtown in its best bib and tucker. It isn’t the armpit outriders would have you believe. I can assure you that it’s not 10 months of winter and two months of bad skating.

Why, if you were to come up from your hideaway in the wilds of Minnesota this very weekend, I’d wager you’ll find that most of the snow from last winter is gone. What drifts remain are probably only ankle high now.

It’s true, though, Nate. You’ll be trading in your Shangri-La La Land umbrella for a snow blower, but you figure to make $6 million playing defence for the Winnipeg Jets next autumn, winter and spring, so you can afford to hire a kid from down the street and let him or her do your grunt work.

Just don’t chintz out on their Christmas tip, Nate, because I’m sure you know what it’s like to be on the business end of a shovel. You’re from St. Cloud, which sees plenty of the white stuff.

You’re also just a hoot and holler up the road from Minneapolis-St. Paul, which means you likely root, root, root for the Vikings.

Did you know that one of our favorite adopted sons is the greatest coach in Vikings history, Nate? That’s right. Harry Peter Grant is his name, but everyone in Good Ol’ Hometown knows him as Bud, and some even kiss his ring finger whenever he puts away his fishing pole to grace us with his presence on special occasions.

Bud coached our Winnipeg Blue Bombers to four Grey Cup titles, which is why he’s deity.

Win the Stanley Cup just once, Nate, and the locals might not be inclined to kiss your ring finger but they’ll probably never let you buy a beer again. Ever.

Meantime, I think it’s important that we discuss Winnipeg’s WiFi, Nate. You’ve visited enough to know that it’s just another lie. The WiFi doesn’t really suck, no matter what the San Jose Sharks say. I know this because I’ve used it. My connection never broke down more than two or three times every half hour.

So let me just leave you with this final thought, Nate: Winnipeg isn’t all about a wonky WiFi connection. It’s all about a good block heater.

Doggone it, the girls and boys on the beat are all barking up the same tree

I feel bad for today’s jock journos.

Not bad as in “sorry to hear that your dog just died,” but bad in the sense that the whole COVID thing has forced them into the world of Zoom, whereby they stare at a monitor and interrogate athletes/coaches from a great distance.

It’s a remote scrum and, unfortunately, the girls and boys on the beat collect the same sound bites.

Consider a Zoom chin wag with Paul Stastny the other day. The Winnipeg Jets forward informed news snoops that head coach Paul Maurice had been channeling his inner Winston Churchill, bidding to rally the troops during their most challenging and fretsome stretch of a National Hockey League crusade that had fallen off the rails.

Sir Winnie

“The one thing you guys don’t see is he’s got these Winston Churchill speeches and I don’t even know how he thinks of them,” said Stastny.

That right there, kids, is sound-bite gold.

It isn’t just a quote, it’s a column. You take it and run with it for 700-800 words. You have fun with it. You have the Jets fighting them on the beaches, fighting them on the landing grounds, fighting them on the fields, the hills and the streets. Just like Sir Winnie said of the British when Hitler was lobbing bombs at London during WWII.

Except everyone else can be, and is, doing the same thing.

I read the Stastny sound bite on Twitter, in the Winnipeg Sun, in the Drab Slab and I’m guessing it made the gab shows in Good Ol’ Hometown.

Because of the Zoom world, the one-off quote has gone the way of the 8-track.

But it never used to be that way.

Back in the day, we had post-game/post-practice scrums, but some, like myself, would listen in only because we didn’t want to miss anything significant. We’d jot down a quote or two and then, once the rabble had dispersed, we would pull a player or coach off to the side for a natter on the QT and ask a question that we hoped would lead to a verbal nugget that no one else had.

Terry Jones of the Edmonton Sun was adept at that. He’d base an entire column on a sound bite that had escaped all other ears.

I dug up some nuggets that way, as well. Examples:

Ulf Nilsson chasing Valeri Kharlamov.
  • The night the Jets became the first North American club team to paddywhack the Soviet Union national side, I sought Swedish forward Ulf Nilsson for some insight, given that he had two goals and two helpers in the 5-3 victory. I found him on a rubbing table, waiting for trainer Billy Bozak to come along and use his magic fingers to soothe Ulf’s wonky hip.

“I was proud to be a Canadian tonight,” Ulf told me.

It was an astonishing comment. Here was a Swede repeatedly beaten black-and-blue by Canadian-born ruffians who resented his very existence during his fledgling years in the World Hockey Association, yet he was “proud to be a Canadian.” There wasn’t another news snoops within earshot. The quote was mine.

  • At training camp, I slid beside Jets head coach Tommy McVie during a morning scrimmage and we both watched Morris Lukowich burst in from the left wing and snap a shot into the top corner.

“Watching that is better than having sex,” Tommy said in his big, baritone voice that sounded like it came from the bottom of an oil drum.

“Geez Tom,” I responded, “that doesn’t say much for your wife.”

“Maybe not, but she didn’t score 60 goals last season.”

No one else had that quote.

Bob Cameron
  • At another training camp in another sport, I went on the prowl for veteran punter Bob Cameron, the senior citizen of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. I located him, alone, in a small room. He was tugging at his eyebrows, first the left then the right…then the left then the right.

“What are you doing, Bob?” I asked.

“Checking out my eyebrows,” he replied. “I’ve already got old man eyebrows. I’m not old enough to have old man eyebrows. I have to trim these suckers. I need a pair of scissors. You don’t have any scissors on you, do ya?”

I scribbled a column on Bob’s eyebrows, because only I had that quirky quote.

  • I was writing for the Toronto Sun in 1982 when Jimmy Mann of the Jets sucker punched Paul Gardner, breaking his jaw in two places. Not long after that, the Jets were in the Republic of Tranna for a skirmish with the Maple Leafs, and I was sitting with a gaggle of news snoops about two dozen rows from the ice surface in Maple Leaf Gardens. The Jets were below us, going through the motions of a pre-game skate.

At one point, Jimmy wandered off on his own, stopping at the nearby boards and motioning to me. I withdrew myself from the pack of news snoops, and met him.

“There’s something everyone needs to know,” he said.

“What’s that, Jimmy?” I asked.

“I am not an animal.”

That was the big, bold, shouting headline on the front page of our sports section the next day. Neither the Globe and Mail nor the Toronto Star had that quote, but it was used in follow-up articles.

But again, unlike today’s batch of news snoops who have zero access except via Zoom, we had the advantage of going one-on-one with the athletes/coaches. Hell, we could call them at home. And that, in turn, meant the readers weren’t finding the same old, same old in each of the newspapers or on air.

I’m uncertain how it will shake down once we’re past the pandemic, but it will never be the way it was back in the day.

And that’s why I feel bad for the girls and boys on the beat. Nobody’s dog died, but they’re all barking up the same tree, and that’s most unfortunate.

My beautiful friend Beverley Southgate is gone and I want to remember her with smiles instead of tears

It was a lovely, nothing-but-blue-sky Saturday afternoon in the mid-1990s, and I had taken refuge from the high heat by ducking into the Toad In The Hole Pub, a small, charming watering hole tucked away in Osborne Village.

I had just moved into the area, which sits a hoot and a holler across the Assiniboine River from downtown Winnipeg, so the shops, the eateries, the bustle and the faces were as fresh as morning dew. I liked it. Very much. It had a small-town quaintness, yet also the vibrancy of something bigger brewing.

Inside the British-themed Toad, there were only a handful of patrons, all speaking in down-low tones while the barman, an impish Scottish fellow named Des whom I grew to love quite deeply, filled ketchup bottles and swabbed at his gnarled bar with a ratty cloth, sweeping away what was left of the previous night’s spillage.

“Service at the bar when you’re ready!” he shouted, as was his custom whenever an unfamiliar face walked in and sat down.

I looked up from my table and could scarcely see the top of his balding head. I approached to discover this gnome of a man had what was left of his silver hair tied back in a ponytail, and I ordered a pint of Kokanee Gold, then retreated to my table.

I sat there for the next hour and a half, lost in thought and reading the Globe and Mail, all the while blind to the gathering mob of locals.

Then two women arrived, one short and blonde, the other tall and elegant and stylish and intriguing. She was the first person I truly noticed that day, because it was impossible not to notice Beverley Southgate when she entered a room with her sexy, Lauren Bacall vibe.

Bogie would have loved Beverley. I certainly did. Totally.

Beverley and her companion Linda took root at the table nearest mine, and engaged in a deep conversation that I tried not to hear but couldn’t help but hear. It seemed Linda was experiencing a spot of difficulty in her life, so she talked while Beverley listened, as a good friend would. In time, woe gave way to levity and, quite unexpectedly, Beverley invited me to join them.

“Why would you want me sitting with you girls?” I asked.

“Because you look interesting, and I like interesting people,” Beverley replied with a warm, melt-butter smile.

Given my shyness, taking up an offer to sit with strangers was not among my habits, but I picked up my chair and positioned it at their table. Two hours later, I was still perched there and, by the time Beverley left, I had decided this South African woman was someone I would rather have in my life than not.

Apparently, it was a mutual feeling because, in the ensuing few years before my departure and relocation in Victoria, we shared many giggles.

Sometimes we would hop in my convertible and toot around Osborne Village, hoorawing and waving at “the peasants” on the sidewalks. We would spend a night or afternoon at Assiniboia Downs and bet on the ponies. We would dine together in the Village. We would spend time at my place, listening to vinyl albums while she sang along with Ella or Miss Peggy Lee or Shirley Bassey—quite loudly and with a to-hell-with-the-neighbors attitude—at 3 o’clock in the morning. Nobody filed a complaint, likely because her singing voice leaned heavily toward the favorable side or the musical ledger. Once she tagged along with me to Winnipeg Blue Bombers training camp in Portage la Prairie, where her mom lived. Judging by the popping of eyeballs, the football players were quite taken by her looks.

But to suggest Beverley’s substance was limited to physical appearance would be to say a raindrop or a wave is wet. There was so much more to her than that. Beverley’s beauty ran as deep as a coal pit. She was the rainbow after the storm. She had the earth-tones of a commoner yet, at the same time, her’s was a regal-like bearing. Classy. Yes, that’s a word I would use to describe her. And fun. So much fun. And real. So very real.

It has been less than 24 hours since I learned that my dear, beautiful friend Beverley is no longer with us in the physical realm, and I have yet to fully take grip of the notion that I shall never see or talk to her again.

We communicated regularly, sometimes by phone (we would talk at great length) but mostly via email, and we last connected on July 3. We discussed the absence of live music during the COVID-19 lockdown—“No live music yet, boo hoo,”—because one of her pleasures was spending time at the Times Change(d) High & Lonesome Club on Main Street. She loved the blues and jazz. She mentioned she’d been listening to Bobby Hatfield and his “beautiful voice.”

She confirmed that, at age 71, she was now retired, and she surely had earned her warm corner of the room. She also mentioned that her immune system had been “compromised.” That gave me pause for ponder but, since she didn’t elaborate, I let it go.

“Need to give you a call soon,” she said.

Six days later, she was dead.

Beverley was a blessing in my life, so this hurts. It hurts like hell. And I have spent the last number of hours reminding myself of something I had written in the latest volume of my Songs of Life series of books: “Try to remember that when a dear one passes on, it shall not be long before each memory of her brings a smile to your face instead of a tear to your eye.”

I’m still at the teary-eyed stage, but I know I shall arrive at the smiling stage. That’s one of the things Beverley Southgate did for me. She made me smile. Me and many others.

I shall miss her as deeply as I love her.

San Jose has a great big rat and Winnipeg has a Golden Boy with great big balls

So here’s what I’m thinking about three members of the San Jose Sharks bashing good, ol’ Hometown…

First of all, Tomas Hertl, Justin Braun and Tim Heed could have been a tad more creative in dissing Winnipeg. I mean, describing River City as “cold and dark” is so much meh. Same old, same old.

The Golden Boy: Tall, proud and buck naked.

It’s frigid in Winnipeg, you say? Well, duh. So wrap yourself in a parka and trundle to and fro in those subterranean tunnels and above-ground test tubes that connect the downtown corridors. And it gets dark in Winnipeg? Ya, like, after the freaking sun sets, dudes. A setting Sol is not peculiar to Pegtown. At last report, River City was still part of the Solar System, so, ya, they have to deal with that pesky dark-of-night thing.

Second, if you hang your hat in El Pueblo de San Jose de Guadalupe, you might want to trigger the filter between your brain and tongue before opening your gob.

Technology aside, what’s San Jose really known for?

Well, news outlet FiveThirtyEight named it “the most forgettable major American city.” Economist and migration blogger Lyman Stone ranked it as the “weirdest city in America” in 2016. On WalletHub’s listing of the most fun cities in the U.S., it comes in at a distant 95th, behind notable good-times spots like Akron, Lincoln, Omaha, Grand Rapids and Des Moines.

Little wonder the mayor of all 1,042,094 people, Sam Liccardo, says, We’re not big on bluster.”

Apparently, Mayor Sam and other civic leaders have been trying to come up with a fresh slogan for San Jose. Hmmm. The city has this quirky law which prohibits animals from publically fornicating if within 1,500 feet of a church, school or pub. Might make for a catchy slogan—San Jose: We never screw the dog.

A better question would be: How do those horny critters know if they’re inside the 1,500-foot, no-humping zone? Do they post doggy signs?

Whatever, San Jose is not without its selling points.

Reportedly, more than half the adults in the self-proclaimed Capital of the Silicon Valley have a college education. I assume the other half voted for Donald Trump.

Joey Chestnut

And, hey, San Jose has celebrities. Like Joey Chestnut.

Nobody on this planet eats more hot dogs in less time than Chestnut, the renowned face-stuffer who’s been known to scarf as many as 72 Nathan’s tube steaks in 10 minutes. What city wouldn’t be proud of a world-class glutton?

I’d say Chestnut’s achievement is admirable, except I’d be more impressed if he could gobble down 72 Salisbury House cheese nips in 10 minutes.

San Jose also has notable landmarks. Like the world’s largest rat. That would be a 30-foot Chuck E. Cheese. The thing is, they keep the rodent caged. And indoors. Wimps.

By way of comparison, Winnipeg has the Golden Boy—all 17.2 feet and 3,640 pounds of him—and he stands outside (even when it’s dark), proudly atop the Manitoba Legislative Building with his bare balls hanging out. Try that in minus-40 weather.

Winnipeg can even match San Jose school dropout for school dropout. They have Stevie Nicks, who left San Jose State University and eventually found fame with Fleetwood Mac. But I’ll call their Stevie Nicks and raise them a Neil Young, the Kelvin High dropout who joined Buffalo Springfield, then Crosby, Stills & Nash.

But, listen, I’m not hear to trash San Jose, even though trash talking the other guy’s town is as old as a Bob Hope joke. Happens every day. And Winnipeggers definitely do it, too.

Think about it, when was the last time you heard anyone in River City say something warm and fuzzy about Regina? As if. I recall a former Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach, Professor Mike Kelly, describing the good folks of the Saskatchewan capital as the “toothless, green, watermelon-helmet-wearing people from the crotch of Canada.” And Ol’ Lefty, Bombers place-kicker Troy Westwood, called the flatlanders “a bunch of banjo-picking inbreds.”

Others in Pegtown have used different parts of the human anatomy to describe Regina, and each of those body parts leaks and emits foul odors.

So there’s that.

Chuck E. Cheese

Legendary jock journalist Jim Murray, meanwhile, seldom squandered an opportunity to have sport with his many ports of call as columnist with the Los Angeles Times.

On Cincinnati: “They still haven’t finished the freeway…it’s Kentucky’s turn to use the cement mixer.”

On Baltimore: “The weather is like the team. Gray. Colorless. Drab. The climate would have to improve to be classified as merely lousy. It really doesn’t rain, it just kind of leaks. You get a picture of Baltimore as a guy just standing on a corner with no place to go and rain dropping off his hat. Baltimore’s a great place if you’re a crab.”

On Minneapolis-St. Paul: “They don’t like each other and from what I could see, I didn’t blame either of them.”

On San Francisco: “It is so civilized, it would starve to death if it didn’t get a salad or the right wine. It fancies itself Camelot, but comes off more like Cleveland. Its legacy to the world is quiche.”

Thus, when Hertl, Braun and Heed went off on Winnipeg, describing it as “dark and cold” and, at the same time, suggesting it was a horse-and-buggy burg that had yet to be introduced to the world of hashtags and tweets (“I don’t know if they have WiFi there yet.”), they weren’t exactly breaking fresh (frozen) ground. People have been taking frost-bitten cheap shots at good, ol’ Hometown since the first Red River cart blew a tire (what other reason could there have been for stopping and settling there?).

Remember old friend Ilya Bryzgalov? The former National Hockey League goaltender wasn’t afraid of anything in this entire world. Except “Bear in forest.” And living in Pegtown.

You don’t want to go to Winnipeg, right?” he once advised news snoops. “Not many people live there. Not many Russian people there. Plus it’s cold. There’s no excitement except the hockey. No park, no entertaining for the families, for the kids. It’s going to be tough life for your family.”

Bryzgalov made me laugh. Hertl, Braun and Heed not so much.

If you’re going to trash talk, boys, come up with some fresh material.

Michael Sam: There are no gay voices in Canadian jock journalism to tell the story about a gay football player

And, now, a word about Michael Sam from all the gay sports writers at major daily newspapers in Canada…

Oh. Wait. There are no gay sports writers at the major dailies in Canada.

patti dawn swansson
patti dawn swansson

At least, there are none that I know of.

So, everything that you have read, or will read, about Michael Sam potentially performing in the Canadian Football League comes from the perspective of white heterosexual males, or, in much smaller numbers, white heterosexual females.

Some of them will care that Sam is gay, only because it gives them a fresh angle to scribble about once the large lads commence to grabbing grass and growling at the Montreal Alouettes training camp this month and next. He’ll make for juicy copy. Others will care because of the social significance of an openly gay man participating in the most macho of professional team sports. Still others will care because they are homophobic (if you believe there aren’t homophobes among the flowers of print jock journalists, I’ve got some oceanfront property in Winnipeg that I’d like to sell you).

Nary a word, however, will be written by a man or woman who actually understands what it’s like to be gay.

I maintain that one need not be gay to write about gay issues, any more than one need be an accomplished actor to opine about the merits of George Clooney’s latest work, or a priest to discuss the pros and cons of the 10 commandments.

It helps, though.

I mean, only a gay person can write the Sam story with an appropriate portion of passion. Only a gay person can relate to the paralyzing fear and anxiety of being outed, or coming out, to friends, family and co-workers. Only a gay person knows the sting of rejection and discrimination based soley on a preference of bedmates. Only a gay person can relate to the catcalls and hate language borne of homophobia.

How does one get to the meat of an issue if she or he cannot possibly understand the issue?

I often write about LGBT matters not merely because they are important to me, but because they are me. I live it. Every day. I know what Michael Sam has gone through. What he is going through. What he will go through. It’s all on a different scale and in a different arena, that’s all.

The point is, I can write it from a personal perspective. Nobody in Canada’s mostly white, mostly old-boys club of heterosexual sports scribes can do that vis-a-vis Sam.

Is that important? Absolutely, because it speaks to credibility.

Why do you think we see so many ex-jocks propped up as talking heads on the various panels on televised hockey, football, baseball, basketball, soccer, etc.? Let go of the notion that some of them (hello P.J. Stock, Glenn Healy, Nick Kypreos, Glen Suitor, Milt Stegall, etc.) can be terribly annoying. They’re there because they’ve been there, done that.

Doug Brown, ex of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, pens a piece in the Winnipeg Free Press not because he’s a gifted wordsmith. In general, the former defensive lineman’s weekly column is an exercise in how many big words he can cram into his alloted space. On occasion, however, he puts major points on the scoreboard because he takes us inside the locker room and into the players’ heads, something only a gridiron gladiator who spent considerable time in the trenches can do.

In the case of Sam, who signed a two-year contract with the Als on Friday, I suspect Brown’s next offering will do that very thing.

Assuming Sam survives the final cut and is with the Larks for a portion, or the entirety, of the 2015 CFL season, the “gay” angle will be beaten to death. Like it or not. And it’s my guess that sports scribes across the nation will offer a favorable slant on the one-time Missouri Tiger defensive end’s personal story.

Unfortunately, their copy will be devoid of passion, insight and first-hand knowledge. In other words, the mountain of Sam stuff you read will be missing everything that writing should be about.

Humble beginnings in a small, second-floor mail room

For those of you, like Amelia, who have asked (and keep asking), yes, it’s true, I once worked as a sports scribe. But please don’t hold that against me. I’ve reformed. I don’t write about jocks anymore. Quit cold gobbler just last week.

I began my journalism career in the mail room of a Winnipeg newspaper in 1969, the same year man first walked on the moon. The moon is still there. The newspaper isn’t. I would lug two, sometimes three, large sacks of mail from the post office across the street to the business office at the Winnipeg Tribune. Twice a day. Then I’d sort it and distribute it to the various departments of the six-story structure. It was my baptism in a career that stretched across three decades, followed by an after-life as a freelance writer/blogger.

I might write a book about it—Mail Room to Menopause: That’s all She Wrote after 45 Years. Here are the gory details…

Winnipeg Tribune—1969-80: Mail room, editorial copy runner, sports reporter.

Covered: Winnipeg Jets in the World Hockey Association and the National Hockey League, Manitoba Junior Hockey League, Western Canada Hockey League, Canadian Amateur Senior Hockey League, Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League, amateur and professional boxing, tennis, high school football, university football, junior football, provincial curling championships, figure skating, auto racing, horse racing at Assiniboia Downs, Manitoba Junior Baseball League, high school track championships, bowling, Canadian national tennis championships…

Toronto Sun—1980-82: Sports columnist.

Covered: Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Blue Jays, Toronto Argonauts, Toronto Blizzard, North American Soccer League, National Football League, Super Bowl, Grey Cup, Major League Baseball, world championship boxing, world curling championships, minor league baseball, ATP tennis, Virginia Slims tennis, Canadian Open tennis, Canadian Open golf, horse racing at Woodbine, Harlem Globetrotters, 1981 Canada Cup, world junior hockey championships, world hockey championships…

Calgary Sun—1982-85: Sports columnist, sports editor

Covered: Calgary Flames, Calgary Stampeders, Grey Cup, Super Bowl, Pacific Coast League baseball, Pioneer League baseball, World Cup skiing, Stanley Cup final, local tennis, the Brier, Calgary Stampede rodeo, horse racing at Stampede Park, Seniors PGA tournament…

Toronto Star—1986: Sports copy editor.

Winnipeg Sun—1986-99: Sports columnist, Jets beat writer, sports editor (twice)

Covered: Winnipeg Jets, Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Winnipeg Goldeyes, the Grey Cup, Super Bowl, Stanley Cup playoffs, world championship boxing, local boxing, the Pan-American Games, horse racing at Assiniboia Downs, the Brier, world curling championships, provincial curling championships, Olympic curling trials, Morris Stampede rodeo, Manitoba Open golf tournament, junior golf, ladies’ Canadian Open golf tournament…


  • Only living sports reporter to cover both the Jets final game in the WHA and first game in the NHL.

  • Only living sports writer to cover Winnipeg Jets’ first rookie training camp in Ste. Agathe, Que.

  • Only sports writer to ever play an official game for the Winnipeg Jets (as a replacement for Patrick Daley in the final exhibition of rookie training camp in Ste. Agathe).

  • Only living sports writer to cover the last three Winnipeg Blue Bombers Grey Cup victories.
  • Only living sports writer to cover the 1975 World Junior Hockey Championships in Winnipeg.

  • One of only a handful of sports journalists to cover the Don Lalonde-Sugar Ray Leonard title bout in Las Vegas.

  • One of only a handful of living Canadian sports writers to cover Muhammad Ali’s final fight in the Bahamas.

  • One of only a handful of Canadian sports journalists to cover Canada’s first World Junior hockey championship gold medal victory, in Rochester, Minn., 1982.

  • Covered Edmonton Oilers’ first Stanley Cup championship.

Major events covered: Super Bowl-6

                                                Grey Cup-10

                                                Stanley Cup final-2

                                                World Hockey Association final-2

                                                World Hockey Championships-1

                                                World Junior Hockey Championships-2


                                                World Curling Championships-3

                                                Olympic curling trials-1

                                                World boxing title fights-2

                                                World Series-1

                                                Special Olympics-1

                                                Canadian Open golf-2

                                                Canadian Open tennis-1

Radio: Color commentary on Winnipeg Jets broadcasts, WHA and NHL; Host of Prime Time Sports on CJOB; daily sports commentary on CJAY in Calgary.

Television: Regular guest on Global late night sports, Sports Hot Seat (Calgary).

Freelance sports writing: The Hockey News (Winnipeg reporter), MVP magazine, Calgary Magazine, Canada History magazine, Tankard Times, Heart Chart, The Huddle magazine, Manitoba Hockey News magazine.

Work has appeared in: Every major daily newspaper in Canada, plus the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Seattle Times, the Denver Post.

Freelance work: Statistician and PR for Canadian Amateur Senior Hockey League.

                               Statistician and PR for Manitoba Junior Baseball League.

Post-mainstream media career: Copy editor, Canwest News Service in Winnipeg.

                                                                    Sports reporter, Victoria News

                                                                    Copy editor, Victoria Times Colonist

                                                                    Freelance writer, Monday Magazine

                                                                    Author of 10 books, including five with sports-related themes and one based in Winnipeg/St-Pierre-Jolys

Writing awards: 2012 Q Award for writing on LGBT issues in Victoria.

In the Community: Represented Winnipeg Tribune and Winnipeg Sun at countless charity functions.

                                         Bi-weekly contributions to Harvest food bank.

                                         Played for West Kildonan North Stars of the MJHL.

                                         Most valuable player in 1969 Greater Winnipeg Minor Hockey Association Juvenile tournament.

                                         Played for various teams in local slo-pitch and fastball leagues.

                                         Coached Peanuts League baseball at Bronx Park Community Club.

                                         Coached Midget hockey team at East End Community Club.

                                         Refereed and umpired kids’ hockey/baseball at Bronx Park.

Now you know the rest of the story.

Dear Miss, Vol. IV

And those who arrived heard Dear Miss say:

“He without arms still has reach;

He without legs still has a path to travel;

He without sight still has a vision;

He without a tongue still has a voice;

He without ears still can hear;

Only the handicapped believe they are handicapped.”

Candlelight & a quill pen cover—Excerpt from Candlelight and a Quill Pen, by patti dawn swansson
First published as Lotus Life in 2007 by Rooftop Riting
copyright, patti dawn swansson

Winnipeg Blue Bombers are the Maple Leafs of Canadian football

Do you realize what the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have become? The Toronto Maple Leafs, that’s what.

Patti Dawn Swansson

We know this to be a certainty because, in yet another disastrous, last-place season that can best be described as The Barnum, Bailey & Blue Bombers Circus, exactly one person has paid a price for any wrongdoing with the Winnipeg Football Club—Paul LaPolice.

There’ll be no attempt here to revisit the removal of LaPolice as head coach eight games into a 6-12 campaign that was equal parts horror show, slapstick and pure incompetence, because I’m not into flogging horses, dead or otherwise.

The thing is, anyone who follows Blue-and-Gold (mis)fortunes can tell you the coaching change changed nothing. Buck Pierce kept getting hurt, Joey Elliott/Alex Brink kept throwing interceptions, Gary Crowton kept proving he knew very little about three-down football, players kept suffering brain cramps and taking undisciplined penalties, and Teflon Joe Mack the GM kept making no sense by talking about coaches having the bad manners to die.

So, in the results-driven business that is professional football, the mind boggles at the notion that Paul LaPolice—and only Paul LaPolice— pays for the sins of this Sad Sack season.

There is, of course, something to be said for continuity, and lord knows the Winnipeg Football Club has already paid enough people to not coach and/or generally manage. That’s seldom a good way of conducting business. Especially if it’s going to cost you half a million bucks, which is what Teflon Joe is due over the next two Canadian Football League seasons.

But to maintain the status quo following an 18-game journey that, at times, has drawn parallels to the best-forgotten Jeff Reinebold and Mike Kelly regimes?

Raise your hand if this makes sense to you.

I mean, Teflon Joe has been generally managing this once-proud franchise for three seasons. He has a 19-34 record. He has twice finished in last place. He wouldn’t know a quarterback if Peyton Manning was standing in front of him.

Meanwhile, the man he gave the head coaching job to after deep-sixing LaPolice has a 3-6 record and is guilty of making some of the most brainless decisions ever conceived. That would be Tim Burke, who, until Thursday, was the interim head coach.

He’s now the permanent head coach. Or at least he is until the Bombers do what they always do, which is pay him to not coach after two seasons.

So Teflon Joe stays on as GM. Burke gets a promotion.

Oh, I almost forgot. Gary Crowton, the architect of the CFL’s worst offence east of Edmonton, returns to devise his head-scratching game plans which usually mean passing the ball when you should be running the ball.

Terrific. Everyone keeps his job.

And for what? For finishing in last place? Again?

This certainly challenges logic.

But, hey, not to worry. Flip, Flop and Fly will now be held accountable. If they soil the sheets in 2013, they’ll be run out of Dodge.

This is a truism because Garth Buchko, the radio guy with zero football background and even less football know-how, says so.

“Next year we have to win,” is how the CEO with no gridiron cred put it on Thursday when advising the people that pay his salary that he doesn’t give a damn what they think. “We could line up excuses for this year. But we’re not in the excuse business. We have to be responsible. There are no excuses next year. We have to be accountable to wins.”

Next year? Who’s accountable for this year?

Oh, yeah. Paul LaPolice, who was 2-2 in his final four games before being ambushed by Teflon Joe.

Go figure.

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