Monthly Archives: November 2017

Leon’s Revenge!

I’ve written before about how Canadian Football runs deep in my family. I’d say the Argos, much more than the Maple Leafs, were my first favorite team. I saw my first Leafs game in December of 1970 when I was seven years old. They were only 3 1/2 years removed from their last Stanley Cup victory. I was 3 1/2 when that happened … and I have absolutely no memory of it. It’s ancient history to me. I saw my first Argos game a few months later, in the summer of 1971. They had not won the Grey Cup since 1952 and were coming off pretty close to two decades of misery. But I had no idea about that either. It was also ancient history.

In my first season of Argos fandom, the team went 10-4 and won the East Division … only to lose the Grey Cup to Calgary. Leon McQuay’s fumble wasn’t the only reason they lost that game, but perhaps the 109-yard fumble return for a touchdown that was the key to this year’s Argonauts victory over the Stampeders was Leon’s revenge!


I am certainly not the Argos fan that I once was. I worshiped Joe Theismann when I was young. I had his Quarterbacking book and tried to run the plays he diagramed with my brother David. It was tough to do with just the two of us! Jonathan was never much of a football fan, but he did have an inflatable Argos souvenir player we used to call Leon. We all played a little too rough with Leon, and the seams in his ankle gave way. My father would try to patch him for us, but our Leon always had a slow leak, which made him look kind of sad.

In my second season of Argos fandom in 1972, Joe Theismann broke his ankle. (It’s a much less famous injury than his career-ender with the Washington Redskins in 1985.) I broke my wrist around the same time. No, I was not trying to emulate my hero … but I did get to meet him at a game a week or two later. Theismann hobbled by my father and me on his crutches as the rest of the team was making its way to the field to start the game. I was too shy, but my father asked him to sign my cast.

“Well, kid,” said Theismann, “signing casts isn’t exactly my bag…” But he was smiling when he said it, and he did sign it for me. I kept it until it virtually crumbled into dust!

Toronto Star coverage of the 1983 Grey Cup Parade.

For a while after the Blue Jays came to town, we held on to our Argos season tickets, but like many in Toronto, our family’s football loyalty faded. I’ve always continued to follow the team, and we’ve often (though we didn’t this year) made it a point to at least attend any home playoff games. But really, my last great Argos enthusiasm dates back to 1983.

The year before, Toronto had hosted the 1982 Grey Cup. On either the Friday night or the Saturday before the game, my friends and I (all in first year at university at the time) headed downtown on the subway. Someone had told one of us there was a better chance of getting into the best parties if you were well dressed, so we were all in suits and ties … but I don’t recall us getting into any place special.

The Argos celebrate after a thrilling 27-24 come-from-behind
victory over Calgary on a snowy evening in Ottawa.

The Argos lost to Edmonton that year (the last of five straight for that great dynasty), but the next year, Toronto returned to the Grey Cup and defeated the B.C. Lions in Vancouver. This was the first time in my memory that my hometown team had won a championship. Given how long it had taken the Argos since their last Grey Cup, how poor the Leafs had become, and how relatively little the Blue Jays had accomplished yet, I had no idea if I’d ever see one again! So, I did everything you’re supposed to do to celebrate. I went out to the airport to welcome the team home (there was a pretty big crowd there!) and I went to the championship parade. It was all a lot of fun, but I guess the excitement didn’t really last for me.

The weather was much nicer yesterday for the Grey Cup rally at City Hall in Toronto.

The Argos were founded in 1874, which makes them the oldest team in North American professional sports. It’s a shame to see how far out of favor Canadian football has fallen in the country’s largest city. I hope this year’s championship gives the team a real boost … but I know I’m not the only one who has his doubts about that.

On This Day in History … Or That Day in History

For close to 90 years, the NHL noted the date of its creation as November 22, 1917. It’s easy enough to understand why. Elmer Ferguson of the Montreal Herald long claimed to be the lone observer still on site at the Windsor Hotel in Montreal that day when the formative meetings wrapped up. Much of what is known about the formation of the NHL comes from stories he wrote about it over the years – and he always wrote November 22.

Gazette 22
From the Montreal Gazette, November 22, 1917.

More than just the word of Elmer Ferguson, we have the writings in the original Minute Book of [the] National Hockey League housed at the Hockey Hall of Fame. Page 1 begins: “At a meeting of representatives of hockey clubs held at the Windsor Hotel, Montreal, November 22, (the notation 1917 appears to have been written in later), the following present…” It then goes on to list those in attendance and the steps they took to form the National Hockey League as a replacement for the old National Hockey Association.

“It sounded both quick and congenial,” notes my friend Andrew Ross, author of Joining the Clubs: The Business of the National Hockey League to 1945, “but the minutes elided both time and space. Despite the evidence of the official records, newspaper reports suggest not all the decisions ascribed to the 22 November meeting were taken on that day.”

Indeed they were not.

Ott 23
This story from the Ottawa Journal on November 23, 1917,
indicates that nothing was done at the meeting on November 22.

When we at Dan Diamond and Associates published Total Hockey in 1998, Brian McFarlane noted of the November 22 meeting in his essay ‘The Founding of a New League’ that “no official report of their discussions was released.” He then added that the meeting was adjourned until November 24, “but was not actually held until November 26 at Montreal’s Windsor Hotel. On that day it was formally announced that there would be a new hockey league – the National Hockey League.”

Ott 26
The Ottawa Journal, quoting from the Montreal Star on November 26, 1917.

So, clearly, the date of the actual announcement of the NHL was known to those who had searched for it, and yet the formation date of November 22, 1917, remained part of the league’s “official” history. To the best of my knowledge, this didn’t begin to change until after the publication of Deceptions and Doublecross: How the NHL Conquered Hockey, by Morey Holzman and Joseph Nieforth, in 2002.

TStar 26
This article from the Toronto Star on November 26 states that the meeting on November 24 was postponed and that plans for the new season would be announced that afternoon.

It’s long been said that the NHL was created to rid the others owners of Toronto’s meddlesome Eddie Livingstone. That appears truly to have been the case. In Deceptions, it’s stated that in the Ottawa Citizen on November 20, 1917, Tommy Gorman had made it known that the likely successor to the NHA would known as the National Hockey League. So, the name was already in the air, and it was expected that all would be worked out at the meeting in Montreal on November 22 … but it wasn’t. With Quebec dithering about whether or not to enter a team, no decisions were announced that day. It wasn’t until November 26 that Quebec officially opted out, and Toronto – under the stewardship of the owners of the Arena Gardens on Mutual Street – was given a team instead.

Two Nov 27
These stories in Toronto’s Globe and the Ottawa Journal on November 27, 1917,
confirm that the NHL had come into existence the previous afternoon.

It wasn’t until the publication of the 2006 NHL Official Guide & Record Book in the fall of 2005 (after the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season) that the NHL began to recognize the date of its organization as November 26, 1917. It seems to have slowly made its way into the world as the correct date since then.

This week, on Sunday, the NHL will officially mark the 100th Anniversary of the Founding of the League on November 26, 2017. I’m certainly of the opinion they’ve got it right.

Remembering Roy

I wasn’t going to write about Roy Halladay. After all the tributes to him I’ve read since his death was confirmed late Tuesday afternoon, I didn’t really think I had anything to say. I’d already had a story in mind for today, but it didn’t feel right to write about something and not to mention Halladay at all. Or to just tack on a word of condolence to a different story. So, allow me a few moments to share some thoughts.

As many of you know, my entire family has been huge Blue Jays fans from the very beginning. We’ve had seasons tickets since the moment they went on sale prior to the first season in 1977. I worked on the ground crew for five years from 1981 to 1985 when the team literally went from worst to first, and although I don’t get to more than a game or two most seasons these days, I still watch or listen almost every day. The Blue Jays have meant a lot to me over the years. Probably more than they should.

Strange thing is, I’ve never been a “favourite player” type of guy. I like the team; I like the game; I like being a fan … but I’ve never had a jersey for the Blue Jays or the Maple Leafs with a name and a number on the back. That’s just not me. If forced to pick, I’d agree with the general consensus that Roberto Alomar was the best Blue Jay ever. But my own personal favourite would be a toss up between Dave Stieb and Roy Halladay. I do like good pitching.

Roy Halladay posed for this picture with me at Spring Training circa 2006.

I was there on the final day of the 1998 season when Halladay had a no-hitter broken up with two out in the ninth inning of his second career start. (I read in a newspaper yesterday that it was a perfect game, but although Halladay hadn’t walked anyone, second baseman Felipe Crespo had made an error in the fifth inning to allow a baserunner.) It was an exciting game, but I can’t honestly say that I felt like I was watching the birth of baseball’s next great pitcher.

And, indeed, Halladay struggled until pitching coach Mel Queen famously helped him to overhaul his mechanics and his mental approach to the game when he was sent back to the minors after spring training in 2001. When Halladay returned to Toronto that July, he struggled briefly … and then was brilliant. He had only a 5-3 record that season, but his 3.16 ERA was impressive and I remember clearly believing that he should have won at least eight games, not just five.

From then on, Halladay was the player I wanted to see. I admired his skill, and I admired his dedication. If I didn’t have access to our family’s season tickets (and we were sharing them around pretty widely by those years), I’d still happily pay for a cheap seat to get into the park when Halladay was pitching.

My mother-in-law had the picture reproduced on a ball, which Halladay signed the next year.

I remember late in the 2003 season. The Jays weren’t horrible that year, but were hopelessly behind the Yankees and Red Sox (as they always were in those day!) and not in contention for the wild card either. Now a Cy Young favourite, Halladay had won his 20th and 21st games on the road, and was pitching back at home on a Monday night, September 23. I wanted to be there to see him win his 22nd game and set a new team record. I took our daughter Amanda and bought a pair of seats, the two of us sitting among a fairly sparse crowd of just under 23,000 people in the 50,000-seat stadium.

There had a been a bit of bad blood recently between the Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Devils Rays, and – apparently – warnings had been issued to both teams before the game, although no one had told Halladay. In the sixth inning, after giving up a lead-off homer to put the Jays down 1-0, followed by a single, the third batter was hit by pitch … and Halladay was ejected. The crowd was pretty angry. I was incensed!

“I don’t know where it came from,” Halladay said after the game. “But in … a 1-0 game and a man on base, that run is important to me. I’m just trying to get out of the inning, I can’t see why they would think I’m trying to hit someone.”

To make matters worse, reliever Dan Reichert (who?!?) promptly gave up a walk and two straight hits to allow both of Halladay’s base-runners to score. Yet another hit put us down 5-0. The Jays lost 5-2.

“Doc’s out there trying to win a Cy Young and he gets charged with three earned runs without having the chance to get them off the field,” said Jays GM J.P. Riccardi. “Maybe common sense could have been used, you know?”

I wasn’t there when Halladay won his 22nd game on the final Saturday of the season. And, of course, he did win the Cy Young Award that year.

Such was Halladay’s skill and dedication, that almost no one in Toronto held it against him when he asked to be traded to a contender after the 2009 season. My brothers and I often joke that when anyone gets traded away, “we wish them nothing but the worst” with their new team. Not Halladay. I was pleased to watch his success in Philadelphia at a distance, and thrilled to have been watching on television when he threw a no-hitter in his first postseason appearance in 2010. He was just that good.

Celebrity deaths don’t usually affect me, but the death of Roy Halladay has been hard.

Pictures and Publicity For My Latest Book

My newest book, the Toronto Maple Leafs: The Complete Oral History is in stores now. Here are a few images from our recent launch at The Sport Gallery in Toronto’s Distillery District…

The cover of the book, and the front entrance to The Sport Gallery.

Launch 1
My brothers and I were suitably attired!

Launch 2
The author with his proud mother.

And from my signing at Manticore Books in Orillia.

Launch 3
The front window of a very charming book store.

Launch 4
Me with many of my books, both old and new.

If you’re up for even more, you can check out the recent column by Andrew Armitage in the Owen Sound Sun-Times or my in-studio interview with Bill Murdoch on CFOS in Owen Sound. I was on with him for the full hour, which was a lot of fun for me but if that’s too much Eric Zweig for you, you can check out this much shorter phone interview on CFOS with Fred Wallace.

And if you’re in the Owen Sound area, I hope you’ll join us at The Ginger Press on Wednesday November 22 at 7 pm for some hockey-and-book talk. Should be a fun evening! There’ll also be a signing at Book Lore in Orangeville beginning at 11 am on December 2.

Launching Books With World Series Winners

Just in case I haven’t hit you over the head with it enough times already, here’s another reminder that I have a new book that just came out. Hopefully we’ll see many of you this Saturday for the Toronto launch. Others, perhaps, may be able to stop by at upcoming events in Orillia, Owen Sound, and Orangeville. (And yes, it IS an odd coincidence that everything arranged so far is in an Ontario town that begin with O.)


I’ve also got some new children’s books coming out a little later this month, which will push my official book count above 40. It all began 25 years ago right about now with the publication of my first book, Hockey Night in the Dominion of Canada. That capped a pretty amazing stretch of days for me and my family.

The fun began on October 24, 1992, when the Blue Jays won their first World Series … and Barbara and I made our first official appearance as a couple. (Belated happy anniversary, Greg and Anne!)


Anyone who knew my family then – and, let’s face it, knows my family now – knows we’re pretty crazy about the Blue Jays. The World Series celebration had barely subsided when, just a few days later, a box of books arrived at our family home…


…followed, just a few days after that, by our first launch party 25 years ago today.

Hockey Night

This time around, my teen-favourite Astros are going to game seven of the World Series against my mother’s childhood favourite Dodgers. It’s been an amazing series so far, but matter who wins, it won’t be the same for us as 1992. Still, it’ll be a fun time on Saturday. We look forward to seeing you.