Cheering in the press box: All jock journos do it, but most keep it on the down low

Until Tuesday morning, I couldn’t have picked out Mike Chambers in a police lineup.

Today I can.

Chambers is the guy wearing wrinkled, brown trousers and a white, beer-stained shirt that battles mightily to conceal an ample belly; he’s also sucking on a celebratory stogie and holding the Stanley Cup aloft, a ritual normally reserved for those who’ve actually accomplished something more than tapping out 1,000-word essays for the Denver Post.

That’s right, Chambers is a jock journo whose task it has been to chronicle Colorado’s blood-sweat-tears-bruises-and-broken bones run to the National Hockey League championship, a mission accomplished on their foe’s freeze Sunday night when the Avalanche laid waste to the title-holding Tampa Bay Lightning, 2-1.

As far as it can be determined, Chambers’ contribution to the Avs’ success was nil. He didn’t score a goal, he didn’t help Nathan MacKinnon get on the scoresheet, and I doubt he had a hand in cooking Cale Makar’s pre-game meals. In reality, he did nothing other than make his editors less grumpy by meeting deadline, something that doesn’t qualify him to a) have his name engraved on the Stanley Cup or b) hoist hockey’s holy grail in the manner of a champion.

So one wonders what Chambers was thinking when he posted a couple of pics of himself and Stanley on his Twitter feed. Well, clearly he wasn’t thinking straight, and the half dozen empty beer bottles behind him would be the first clue to support that notion.

He describes it as “probably the most memorable experience” of his career, which began full time at the Post in 2000, but he doesn’t make it clear if he’s referring to the plum assignment of tracking a Stanley Cup champion hither and yon or lifting the battered mug.

The thing is, the boys and girls on the beat (any beat) are there to talk and write about the athletes/teams they follow, not wave pom-poms. It’s that old ‘No Cheering In the Press Box’ thing.

My question is this: Does anybody really give a damn?

Well, certainly Chambers’ misstep is a dent to his credibility, and hard-core adherents to jock journo’s golden rule have hastened to deliver a stern tsk-tsking from their seats on the press row. Meantime, observers on social media have given a hasty thumbs down, while others haven’t been so quick to coat him with tar and a layer of feathers. They note that he had been caught up in the moment and saw it as a harmless bit of carry-on. Besides, they point out, the pics were posted on Twitter, not on the sports pages of the Post.

Except a news snoop need not be sitting on a perch in the press box to be cheering in the press box. Chambers was cheering in the press box, even if on the cesspool of nasty natter that is Twitter. He has made it an extension of his job. Most jock journos do.

Most, however, also keep their cheering interests on the down low.

Trust me when I tell you that the boys and girls on the beat are telling a big, fat fib when they say they don’t cheer for the athletes and/or teams they cover, even if you don’t see their noses growing or their pants on fire. Sports scribes/broadcasters are human (okay, there’s some question about Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless), so they have their favorites.

An example would be Mike McIntyre of the Winnipeg Free Press. On Feb. 18 this year, he wrote this: “If I’m to be taken seriously as a journalist, I can’t be out here waving pom-poms for the home team.” Fine. Except less than a month later, here’s what he scribbled: “The 2022 MLB season is especially exciting for those of us who root, root root for the home team — as in the Toronto Blue Jays.” In his newsletter to readers, he mentioned his “beloved Toronto Blue Jays.”

His boss, sports editor Jason Bell, admits to cheering “unabashedly for the Toronto Blue Jays.”

So what happens if the Blue Jays advance to the World Series? Does the Blue Jays fan/editor dispatch the Blue Jays fan/scribe to the Republic of Tranna to deliver dispatches from the event? How credible can the reporting be when both parties are waving pom-poms?

Former Chicago columnist Jerome Holtzman wrote the book (literally) on cheering in the press box, and this is what he had to say: “I won’t deny that the heavy majority of sportswriters, myself included, have been and still are guilty of puffing up the people they write about. I remember one time when Stanley Woodward, my beloved leader, was on the point of sending me a wire during spring training, saying, ‘Will you stop Godding up those ball players?’ I didn’t realize what I had been doing. I thought I had been writing pleasant little spring training columns about ball players.”

So, sure, the cheering can be hidden in the subconscious, but that’s one of the reasons newspapers have sports editors. To keep writers on-point and credible.

I recall my time covering the Winnipeg Jets for the Winnipeg Tribune. The team was in disarray, on and off the ice, and I received a phone call from the newsroom while hunkered down in a Marriott Hotel in Cincinnati.

“We don’t think you can see the forest for the trees,” I was informed. “We think maybe you’re missing the problem…the coach. But if you don’t think he’s the problem, don’t write it.”

Larry Hillman, a very nice man, was bench puppeteer of that Jets outfit, and I was quite fond of him. He was sincere, soft-spoken and always obliging of his thoughts and time. Cutting him a new one wasn’t something I had considered. Still, I’d been given pause for ponder, and concluded that better coaching was the very thing the Jets required. I wrote the column. Shortly thereafter, Hillman was dismissed and I felt like throwing up for skewering such a good man in print.

So, sure, there were people and teams I rooted for during my 30 years in jock journalism, and I don’t apologize for it. I believe, as a human, it comes with the territory. You just have to keep it out of your copy and/or commentary, and you certainly don’t post it on social media (that’s just dense).

Whenever the topic is cheering in the press box, I leave the final word to my first sports editor, Jack Matheson, once accused of being too buddy-buddy with Ray Jauch, coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

“All right,” he informed his Tribune readers one day, “I’ll come clean, Ray Jauch is a friend of mine, but I didn’t know they had enacted some sort of legislation making it a crime for sports writers to have friends. I don’t see anything wrong with being friendly with a man you work with every day of the week. Where does it say a football writer and a football coach have to have an adversary relationship? Yes, we’re friends. I don’t know about ‘good’ friends, but that doesn’t sound like such a bad idea, either, because we have something in common. We’re thrown together into the football jungle, and Ray Jauch wants to win because it’s his job and I want to win because I live here and I like to be proud of the athletes who represent us.”

An ode to the old ‘hood by a one-time, would-be mayor of East Kildonan

Once upon a very long time ago, when I was no taller than a picket fence and weighed less than a bushel of grass clippings, I used to tell the other five people in our East Kildonan household three things:

  • I would one day be elected mayor of E.K.
  • I would one day become a world-renowned photographer.
  • I would one day play in the National Hockey League and be in the Hall of Fame.

Snickering always ensued whenever I would spew my impish bravado, but, to me, it wasn’t pie-in-the-sky dreaming. It all made sense in my tiny mind, which did not include boundaries or restraints.

Melrose Park CC

After all, I was the best little hockey player my age in E.K. (won the Little NHL scoring title at Melrose Park Community Club with eight goals in the final game of the 1960 season), so it wasn’t a fanciful notion that I one day would follow in the skate marks left behind by someone like Terry Sawchuk, an E.K. lad whose goalie pads I once wore until a coach wisely determined that our team would be better served with me playing centre and scoring scads of goals than stinking out the joint by standing between two red, metal posts and allowing scads of goals. More to the point, it was pure fantasy that I wouldn’t get to the NHL.

Similarly, I could think of not a single compelling reason that would prevent my photographs from being displayed in renowned galleries hither and yon. “Photog of the year,” I would tell the others, weekly.

Being chosen mayor of E.K. and its 25,937 citizens (1960) was more of an iffy bit of business.

E.K. City Hall

I mean, what did I know from politics? But I remember reading once in the Elmwood Herald that there were 48 homes in E.K. that still had outhouses in 1959, and I didn’t think that was right. Seemed to me, even at my tender age, that everyone should have been in full flush. I also took note of various rat infestations and trouble with delinquent teens. You know, hooligans who ran in packs and got their jollies busting into schools and businesses, or just hanging out in large numbers prepping for gang rumbles.

It all made for an appealing Triple P platform: I would flush out the Poop, the Pests and the Punks. Vote me.

Except it never came to a vote.

East Kildonan merged with numerous municipalities to form one big Winnipeg in 1972 (Unicity, we called it), and that gathering of bits and pieces ended my political career before I could take my notions to the people.

That meant Stanley Dowhan served as the final mayor of E.K., and I have no recollection of his worthiness for the job. Ditto Frank Dryden, George Suttie, Mike Spack and Mike Ruta, although I recall that my dad didn’t think any among them was worth a lick, perhaps because they failed to rid the various neighborhoods of the outhouses, rats and teen punks, but more likely because he didn’t seem to like anything.

At any rate, I never became mayor of East Kildonan.

Bronx Park

Never made it to the NHL or the Hockey Hall of Fame as a player either. Turned out that the Manitoba Junior Hockey League was my ceiling, although I had a flirtation with pro hockey when I took up John Ferguson’s offer to suit up with the Winnipeg Jets in the final exhibition skirmish of their inaugural rookie camp in Sainte-Agathe, Que, in 1979. I set up the first goal in that game, then picked up my pen, notebook and tape recorder to resume a 30-year career in jock journalism, one that took me from the outdoor frozen ponds of Melrose Park and Bronx Park to Maple Leaf Gardens, the Montreal Forum, Madison Square Garden and all the finest shinny barns on the continent. I wrote about Pee Wee champions, Junior champions, World Hockey Association champions, Stanley Cup champions and global champions, so I took a different route to the NHL.

As for photography, exactly zero galleries made room on their walls for my work. The best I could do was an honorable mention certificate in the North America-wide Kodak International Photo Contest, and a cover pic on a golf magazine.

I don’t view those as failings, though. Not even missteps. It’s life. It’s the journey.

And I can’t imagine a better starting point on the journey than our middle-class neighborhoods in East Kildonan, tucked into the northeast section of Winnipeg.

89 Helmsdale Avenue

E.K. was very much a work in progress when our family put stakes into the ground in the mid-1950s, initially in a very modest story-and-a-half homestead at 429 Melbourne Ave., then at 89 Helmsdale Ave., a grand house that stood majestically where Helmsdale and Kildonan Drive intersect, just four dwellings removed from the banks of the always-rushing Red River.

The first traffic lights weren’t installed until 1955, at the intersection of Henderson and Melrose (now Kimberly), work crews were still paving my block on Melbourne in spring ’56, telephone booths were located at various street corners, and we weren’t connected to the bustle of downtown Winnipeg in a significant way until October 1960, when the Disraeli Freeway opened to traffic.

Until then, we lived in our own little world, and everything we needed was within walking distance.

The Roxy

The Roxy Theatre was a 10-minute scamper from home, and we often spent our Saturday mornings there watching cartoons and horse opera. Once Porky Pig told us “that’s all folks” for the final time in May 1960 (last movie, Sleeping Beauty), it became Roxy Lanes. If my dad needed nails or other handyman supplies, Melrose Hardware was two blocks away, a few shops removed from Ebbeling Pharmacy on Watt Street. If they didn’t have the right goods, Kildonan Hardware was just a whoop and a holler away, next door to Helmsdale Pharmacy where us teenage kids would hang out and sample Mrs. Anderson’s banana splits and ice cream sodas when we weren’t in frolic at Bronx Park.

Mom could do her shopping at a variety of markets, including Safeway, Nell’s Grocery, Zellers and Petty’s Meat Market, which served the tastiest corned beef east of the Red River. Corned beef on rye was often a Saturday afternoon treat.

Fast food joints and restaurants were plentiful, from Dairy Queen to Champs, which served Colonel Sanders’ Kentucky Fried Chicken, to Gondola Pizza and its its nine-inch pies (with a drink) for $1.25.

Again, everything in walking distance.

But if my parents wanted a one-day getaway to, say, Palm Beach just north of E.K., corner filling stations were in abundance and gas was sold by the gallon, not the litre. And my parents didn’t require a loan from one of the neighborhood banks to put an Esso tiger in the tank.

St. Alphonsus

Not once did I take a bus to any of the three schools I attended but didn’t like—St. Alphonsus, St. Clements, Munroe Junior High—and the one I did like, Miles Macdonell Collegiate, and we came home for lunch. Every day. Sometimes my mom would be there to make soup and sandwiches for us, otherwise we’d whip up the peanut-butter-and-jam sammies on our own. When we returned to school after chowing down, we didn’t bother to bolt the doors, even though E.K. was not without nogoodniks.

Our top cop was Chief Constable Einfeld, who once was in hot foot pursuit of two two bank robbers only to hopelessly watch them flee to safety when he tripped on a curb and did a face plant, like something us kids might have seen in a Keystone Kops film at the Roxy.

Rossmere golf course: Hold the onions!

There was another oddball legal snafu in the 1950s, whereby a nearby resident thought it would be a swell idea to plant onions on one of the fairways at Rossmere Golf & Country Club (oh, yes, we had our own golf track and a couple of curling clubs). Apparently the guy had been given the okie-dokie to onion-up the golf course, and I’m guessing that members, albeit annoyed, were grateful he hadn’t planted a tomato or potato patch.

We read all about these goings-on in the Elmwood Herald, which was our go-to source for local news, even as most homes subscribed to either the Winnipeg Tribune or Winnipeg Free Press. I don’t recall either the Trib or Freep publishing the scores and goal-scorers from our Little NHL games at Melrose Park or Playground A-B-C games at Bronx Park on a weekly basis, but the Herald did, and that included my eight-goal gem, which I mistakenly assumed to be the first step on my path to the NHL and shinny immortality.

So many good memories, including the arrival of color TV (Ronny Cruikshank was the first of our group to get it), cable TV, and both CJAY TV (CKY) and KCND signed on. Those of us who didn’t have cable could bring in the KCND signal from North Dakota via wonky rooftop antennas and TV-top rabbit ears (and maybe a wad of tin foil.)

One entrance to Fraser’s Grove

It all sounds so quirky today, but it was my childhood and I loved E.K., even if I ran away from home numerous times (I never got any farther than the railway tracks that separated us from Morse Place). I’ve owned two homes in the old ‘hood, one on Leighton and the other on Kimberly, and I’ve long imagined myself living on Kildonan Drive, near Fraser’s Grove, where us Catholic kids would have our once-a-year school picnics.

That isn’t part of the picture now, though. Just like the NHL/Hockey Hall of Fame, the photo galleries and the political career that have faded from focus.

Hey, stuff happens, but sometimes stuff doesn’t happen, and even I can giggle about my impish impulses now.

International Women’s Day: Where are all the female sports writers in our daily newspapers?

I’ve never wanted to be one of those wrinkled relics who gently rocks on the porch or in the parlor and reminds anyone who cares to listen that everything was “so much better back in the day.”

Back in the day, after all, covers a whole lot of ground and, for me, that’s a retreat to the 1950s, shortly after one war ended, another kicked in and a third, which none of us fully understood, droned on until the 1970s.

We also had the very real threat of nuclear annihilation, the assassinations of three good men, the Ohio National Guard gunning down college kids at Kent State, segregated washrooms/schools/watering taps/lunch counters, and thousands on the streets in protests that began peacefully but often turned violent (“Four dead in Ohio,” sang Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young). The young people weren’t in outrage because of something silly, like wearing a mask to the corner store. Their talking points were racism, equal rights and bombs bursting half a world away in Vietnam.

We also had vaccines. Oh, yes, we were required to stand in line at school while a non-smiling nurse jabbed a needle into an arm.

There was nothing kind and gentle and “so much better” about any of that, and even as The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Woodstock et al served as delightful diversions and girls wore flowers in their hair, they couldn’t make the Kennedys and Martin Luther King Jr., bulletproof, nor could they convince the American war machine to lay down arms. They were playing music, not sprinkling stardust.

But there was noise of another kind, too. Good noise.

Women began to raise their voices, first with Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, published in February 1963. Unfulfilled housewives took to the notion that there was something for them other than the June Cleaver wife/mother model, something more substantial and rewarding than spending their days vacuuming in pearls and heels, wiping the Beaver’s runny nose and, of course, dutifully putting a hot meal on the dinner table for hubby the moment he arrived home from a demanding day in the real world.

Moreover, women took to the streets, protesting outside the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City in 1968 and figuratively burning their bras by tossing high heels, makeup, mops, pearls and undergarments into the Freedom Trash Can.

Girl power hit the streets in another way in December 1971, when Gloria Steinem’s Ms. magazine arrived at newsstands, and Time magazine, duly noting this wave of fresh female awareness, named American Women its Person of the Year in 1975.

Gloria Steinem, circa 1970s.

“Enough U.S. women have so deliberately taken possession of their lives that the event is spiritually equivalent to the discovery of a new continent,” Lance Morrow wrote in Time.

Cinderella no longer was waiting to be asked to the ball, she asked the man, and some were so bold as to pick up the tab on a dinner date in full view of other patrons, hitherto a social taboo. The female workforce in the United States had doubled from the 1950s, and women on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border began going where few had ventured—to police forces, fire departments, courtrooms, construction sites, boardrooms, the political arena, West Point, etc.

Many took to journalism, at daily newspapers, which were not yet an endangered species, and they didn’t wander solely into the arts, entertainment or society sections. They invaded news and—egads!—the toy department, where gnarly, booze-swilling, stubble-chinned, good-time Charlies held sway.

There had, of course, been female sports scribes on our Frozen Tundra pre-1970s, Bobbie Rosenfeld of the Globe and Mail and Myrtle Cook McGowan of the Montreal Star to name two, but they were rarities, like snowfall in June.

Then it happened. A proliferation. Christie Blatchford joined the Globe and Mail and soon was penning the coveted main sports column. Mary Trueman and Nora McCabe were also on board, the latter described by Sports Illustrated as “an obscure journalist” after she had rattled John McEnroe’s cage to the point whereby the tennis brat expressed an unsolicited interest in her sex life, suggesting she needed to get laid more often.

Meanwhile, the Toronto Sun hired tennis pro Jane O’Hara to write sports, and Alison Gordon signed on at the Toronto Star to tell all about baseball’s Blue Jays.

Rita Mingo

On the home front, Winnipeg Tribune sports editor Jack Matheson had the good sense to hire Peggy Stewart and Rita Mingo, while SE Maurice Smith countered with Barb Huck at the Winnipeg Free Press. Pioneers all. (Oh, we also had a female managing editor at the Trib, the youthful Dona Harvey, who was full of upside.)

And I think of them—and others like Judy Owen, Ashley Prest and Melissa Martin, who came along post-’70s to write sports at the Winnipeg Sun and Freepevery International Women’s Day.

When gazing across the jock journo landscape today (newspaper division), I don’t see a lot of female staff bylines in our major dailies. There’s Rosie DiManno, who flits between hard-core news and the toy department, and Laura Armstrong at the Star; Rachel Brady writes for what passes as a sports section at the Globe; Kristen Anderson covers hockey for Postmedia Calgary.

Neither of my hometown papers includes a female in its stable of sports scribes.

I wrote about this lack of female sports writing exactly 10 years ago this month (and a few times since), and nothing’s really changed. The boys are still dug in like ticks in a hound dog’s ear. Why is that?

Maybe it’s because newspapers are dying and women don’t see jock journalism as a career path that warrants their attention. Perhaps it’s the “women don’t know sports” stigma/narrative that still has oxygen to this day. Could be they shy away rather than expose themselves to the cesspool of gender-based commentary on Twitter and other social media platforms. But, hey, that doesn’t prevent them from picking up a microphone and talking to a TV camera.

I don’t have the answer. But I do know this: It was “so much better back in the day.”

Half a century later, a salute to the many who made my life in the rag trade a trip

Fifty years ago today, at age 20, my byline appeared in the Winnipeg Tribune for the first time.

It was on Page 16 at the back of the sports section, squeezed between Harold Loster’s horse racing copy and next to a Texico ad offering free tickets and 59-cent Winnipeg Whips t-shirts.

It wasn’t the first thing I had written at the Trib, just the first with my name at the top. And, no, I didn’t keep a clipping of the article, although I suppose it would have made for a nice keepsake to store away in a shoebox.

At any rate, I thought I’d mark the occasion with a salute and merci beaucoup to some of the significant others who made my time in the rag trade in Good Ol’ Hometown (mostly) enjoyable.

In hockey: Frank MacKinnon, Bill Addison, George Allard, Aime Allaire, Tim Ryan, Gordie Tumilson, Adam Tarnowski, Gerry Brisson, the Thompson brothers, Kevin McCarthy, Kelly Greenbank, Jerry Rollins, Doug Wilson, Butch Goring, Bob Goring, Bruce Cheatley, Deno Ball, Jimmy Walker, Julie Klymkiw, Spider Mazur, Ed Sweeney, Bones Raleigh, Billy Robinson, Benny Hatskin, Fergy, Marc Cloutier, Teddy Foreman, Teddy Green, Tommy McVie, Sudsy, Ab McDonald, Joe Daley, Silky Sullivan, Muzz MacPherson, the 1973 Portage Terriers, the 1979 Winnipeg Jets, Roscoe, Luke, Scotty Campbell, Rich Preston, Jude Drouin, Pierre Hamel, Bobby Guindon, Billy Lesuk, Billy Bozak, Don Baizley, Barry Shenkarow, Rena Shenkarow, Michael Gobuty, Ulf, Anders, The Shoe, Kent Nilsson, Willy Lindstrom, Suitcase Smith, Ducky, Paul MacLean, Dave Babych, Bosch, Mike Doran, Mike Smith, Gordie Pennell, George Dorman, John Paddock, Dougie Smail, Randy Carlyle, Teemu, Andy Murray, Vladislav Tretyak, Anatoli Segelin, Beaner McBain, the Bandit, Tim Watters, Tom Watt, Mud Murdoch, Goalie Bob, Patty O’Neill, Kenny Fenson, Mike O’Hearn, Murray Harding, Don Binda, Madeline Hanson, Jennifer Hanson, Earl Dawson, George Depres, Jeep Woolley, Don Lewis, Gary Whyte, Brian Gunn, Aggie Kukulowicz, Boris Alexandrov, Viktor Khatulev, Vladimir Tretyak, Barry Bonni, Rudy Pilous, Randy Gilhen, Ray Neufeld, Larry Hillman, Ernie Wakely, Kim Clackson, Dave Christian, Jim Kyte, Igor Kuperman, Ray Mawhinney, Hannu Jarvenpaa, Freddy Olausson, Dave Christian, Bill Christian, Cal Marvin, Mosie, the guys at the media entrance to the Ol’ Barn On Maroons Road.

Cal Murphy

In football: Cal Murphy, Joyce Murphy, Urban Bowman, Troy Westwood, Bob Cameron, Chris Walby, Matt Dunigan, Tom Clements, Bob Molle, Dave Vankoughnet, Rod Hill, Mike Riley, Dee Riley, Kevin O’Donovan, Mike Kelly, Tyrone Jones, Jeff Reinebold, Mad Dog Robson, Brian Dobie, Kas Vidruk, Kenny Ploen, Wade Miller, Brendan Rogers, Paul Bennett, Sean Salisbury, Joe Pop, Elfrid Payton, Bruce Robinson, Larry Smith, Doug Mitchell, Trevor Kennard, Darryl Rogers, Blaise Bryant.

Vic Peters, Dan Carey, Chris Neufeld, Don Rudd.

In curling: Vic Peters, Deb Peters, Dan Carey, Dugie, Moosie Turnbull, Linda Moore, Vic Rauter, Arnold Asham, Jon Mead, little Dugie, Jeff Ryan, Jeff Stoughton, Kerry Burtnyk, Steve Gould, Gary Vandenberghe, Bill Carey, Dave Iverson, The Snake, Colleen Jones, Ken Tresoor, Rob Meakin, Keith Fenton, Schmirler the Curler, Hurry Hard Howard, Kevin Martin, Connie Laliberte, Mike Harris, The Wrench, Chris Neufeld, Guy Hemmings, Paul Gowsell, Don Rudd.

Rick Borland and Judy Peake.

In other sports: Jo and Jack Brown, Rick Borland, Heather Borland, Kathy Hope, Judy Peake, Eleanor O’Gorman, Glen Booth, Jim Matthews, Bob Moffatt, George Kylar, Glen Ziprick, the Campbell sisters, Pierre Lamarche, Rejean Genois, Richard Legendre, Jimmy Boyce, Dale Power, Vicki Berner, Andrea Martin, Susan Stone, Jane O’Hara, Peter Burwash., Tex Burns, Wayne Caplette, Ed Yaremchuk, Peter Piper, Al Sparks, Donny Lalonde, Nicky Furlano, Ralph Racine, Dave Wolf, Teddy Atlas, Terry Hind, Evelyn Hind, Harry Bueckert, Archie and Pal Chawla, Stubby Clapp, Ernie Whitt, Sherman Greenfeld, Todd Fanning, Robbie McMillan, the Eggman, Brian Bochinski, Jim Wright, Sharon Gulyas, Darren Dunn, Julie Krone.

Matty and Cactus Jack.

In the media: Matty, Dave Komosky, Don Delisle, Shakey, Rita, Peggy Stewart, Swampdog, Caveman, Greaser, Gus, Ketch, Sinch, Gibber, Judy O, Freezer, Marten Falcon, Steady Eddie, Friar, Sod, Knuckles, Young Eddie, Peter Young, Joe Pascucci, Barry Moroz, Ernie Nairn, Cactus Jack, Pick, Witt, Homer Connors, Big Jim, Granny, Brian Swain, Jon Thordarson, Dona Harvey, Lyle Sinkewicz, Peter Warren, Kelly Moore, Reyn Davis, Siggy, Al Besson, Tim Campbell, Dallis Beck, Supes, Tom Brennan, Elston, Bruce Penton, Bill Davidson, Hughie Allan, Stew MacPherson, Rod Black, Uncle Vince, Ronnie Lazaruk, Vic Grant, Mitch Zalnasky, Otis, Harold Loster, Ronnie Meyers, Jim Coleman, Larry Tucker, Doug Lunney, Brian Williams, Moe Carter, Smitty, Coconut Willie, Mike Beauregard, Scotty O., Scotty M., Scotty T., Frank Luba, Smiles, Chuckles, Robin Brown, Randy Turner, Steve Lyons, John Cherneski, John Korobanek, Gerry Hart, Frank Chalmers, Big Sinc, Mr. Golf, Rafter Man Petrie, Marcel Gauthier, Harvey Rosen, Clay Man Dreger, Kelly Armstrong, Resby Coutts, John Down.

Of course, there’s been Life After the Rag Trade and, in the 22 years since I walked out of the Winnipeg Sun newsroom, I’ve observed from a distance and written a blog mostly centred on activity in the playgrounds of Good Ol’ Hometown.

Dawn McEwen, Jill Officer, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jennifer Jones.

Many athletes have piqued my curiosity, so here are some people I wish I’d had the chance to cover in person and, more important, have a natter with away from the scrumlords: Dayna Spiring, Chelsea Carey, Jennifer Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer, Dawn McEwen, Mike McEwen, Jennifer Botterill, Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman, Big Buff, Chris Streveler, Andrew Harris, Mike O’Shea, Bryan Little, Puck Finn, Chevy, Coach Potty Mouth, David Thomson.

And there are news snoops with whom I wish I’d had the opportunity to work alongside: Kirk Penton, Melissa Martin, Jeff Hamilton, Paul Edmonds, Teddy Wyman, Scott Billeck, the Hustler.

Been there, did all that by the time I was 21…now what?

It is not quite two weeks since I huffed and puffed and blew out the three-alarm blaze that was my 65th birthday cake.

newest pic
patti dawn swansson

(Full disclosure: I didn’t actually have a 65th birthday cake with 65 candles. I wasn’t prepared to bake or buy one myself, and the neighborhood where I live has a strict code about the size of open fires. Thus, when I talk about summoning enough hot gasses to extinguish the three-alarm blaze that was my 65th birthday cake, it is in the figurative, not literal, sense. But work with me here.)

In the brief time since that birthday bonfire was extinguished, it has occurred to me that I’ve been there and done that. All of it.

I mean, society provides us with a list of milestones that we are expected to check off (at specific ages) between the moment we escape our mother’s womb and our retreat to the grave or crock pot, and, as much as I don’t necessarily subscribe to the dictates of the “they say” mob (mainly because I don’t know who “they” are), I have given pause for ponder vis-a-vis the so-called hallmark moments of life.

To most, I suppose, the first day of school tops the checklist, although, at the time, I thought it to be very much a journey into unspeakable horrors rather than a life milestone. I was a blubbering mess, standing on the sidewalk on Munroe Avenue and refusing to cross the threshold of St. Alphonsus Catholic School in Winnipeg. I have experienced worse moments in my 65 years, but those are few in number. To this day, I cannot walk into a school and I whistle while walking past the schoolyard.

Neurosis aside, early life milestones differed for those of us raised Roman Catholic in the 1950s, in that the sacraments of Confirmation and Eucharist (Holy Communion) were significant benchmarks.

I cannot recall with clarity at what age I was confirmed, but I know I was no more than knee high to Sister Superior. Probably six or seven years old. I would have received my first communion shortly thereafter, a peculiar rite of initiation in that a priest places a very thin, white wafer on your tongue and you are expected to swallow it. Whole. Or so I believed. Supposedly, the wafer had been dipped in wine, but it was drier than a popcorn fart and I spent what was left of that mass attempting to scrape the thing from the roof of my mouth. It stuck like a spoonful of peanut butter, only it didn’t taste anywhere near as yummy.

milestonesAt any rate, with those milestones out of the way, it was game on…

First kiss: I puckered up and planted one on Patsy Chivers, a little girl who lived down the road on Melbourne Avenue. I believe that first smooch actually took place prior to my first communion and, as I recall, nothing about it stuck to the roof of my mouth. I then turned my attention to Gaylene Dahl, an almond-skinned damsel who lived down the road in an westerly direction.

Turned 16: 1966, recall nothing of it.

Graduated high school: Miles Macdonell Collegiate, 1969, age 18.

First job: In the business office at the Winnipeg Tribune. I was 18.

Moved out on my own: I was 19.

First date: Age 20.

First love: Colleen. I was 18, she was 21.

Lost virginity: I was 20 and on my honeymoon (it’s true, I was a virgin when I got married). Alas, it wasn’t with Colleen.

First child: Tony, a special, beautiful kid. I was 21.

First drink: A Tom Collins in Victoria at age 19. I quite enjoyed it, but I haven’t had one since.

Turned 21: Like my 16th, a non-event.

First house: A side-by-side bungalow on Wayoata Street in Transcona, the eastern-most part of Winnipeg. I was 21.

Driver’s license: Got it at age 20, but I was driving a car on the streets of Winnipeg long before then.

So, you see, I’m a been-there, done-that girl who got in all done before there were 22 candles on my cake, and now I have arrived at the final two life signposts, 65 and retired…so why do I feel like there’s so much more to do?

Perhaps it’s due to the fact that I’ve yet to embrace retirement. It’s boring and doesn’t pay well. Maybe it’s because I’ve never had a marriage or romantic relationship that truly worked. I’d like to give that a go. You know, fall in love for the first time again. I suppose it also could be the reality that none of us truly has been there and done all that.

But, hey, there’s always time to put up and aim for more milestones, isn’t there?

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…

Noteworthy:

  • 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

                                                Brier-7

                                                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.

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