I’ve never been much for taking a stand. You know that story, “and when they came for me, there was no one left…” I’ve always thought that would be me. I’m not proud of it … but I know myself. These days, though, “Silence is Violence,” so here’s what I’d like to see in terms of sports protests.
First of all, despite all the plans now in place, I’m not convinced that any sports will (or should) start up right now. And if they do, it’s one thing for the Canadian government to say we’ll allow NHL players into Toronto (or Edmonton or Vancouver) because at least they’ll be sort of self-isolating. But, despite writing and commenting mostly about hockey, I’m a baseball fan above all else. A Blue Jays fan above all else. Still, I sure as hell hope the Canadian government won’t let the Blue Jays play at home, coming and going from the United States every three days to a week, and bringing in players from visiting American teams equally as often. That seems like madness to me. If Dunedin is unsafe (and I sure wouldn’t want to be in Florida right now), let the Blue Jays play out of Buffalo.
IF sports do resume, I hope that athletes will continue to protest. But if they do, here’s what I’d like to see. Please do not protest during the National Anthem. Not that I disagree with doing that, but by removing the National Anthem from the protests, you’d remove all the wrong-headed “they’re disrespecting the flag” nonsense. Don’t give them the chance.
Instead, when the referee or umpire brings the teams together for the opening kick-off, face-off, tip-off, or pitch, please take a knee then. On opening day, in each sport, perhaps take a knee for the 8-and-a-half minutes it took to murder George Floyd. The rest of the time, maybe a symbolic 30-seconds will do.
Stadiums will mostly be empty, but, if not, I bet there’d be a fair share of people booing and expressing “shut up and play” sentiments. Even if many people wouldn’t feel emboldened to speak out these days, I suspect plenty still feel that way. Even without the ability to say it, I’m sure there are too many who would like to see Black people kept in their place. I hope I’m wrong.
You may disagree with me if you’d like. Maybe my thoughts are naive. I won’t respond to comments on this story regardless of whether they’re positive or negative. If you agree with my thoughts on protesting, feel free to share this post. I’m not on Twitter, but if you are, and you agree, I’d be happy to have you Tweet this. But that’s up to you.
Auston Matthews scored his 46th goal of the season in San Jose on Tuesday during the first game of the Maple Leafs’ three-game California road trip which continues tonight in Los Angeles. I’m not looking to jinx anything, but it seems pretty certain that he’ll become the first Toronto player to score 50 in a season since 1993–94, making him just the fourth in franchise history to do so. And, really, at this point, it would be disappointing if he’s not able to break Rick Vaive’s single-season record of 54 goals.
Vaive was the first Leaf to score 50 when he set the team record back in 1981–82. But seven seasons before that — and coming up on 45 years ago later this month — another player on another Toronto team became the city’s first pro athlete to reach the 50-goal plateau. I was there on March 25, 1975 when “Shotgun” Tom Simpson scored his 50th for the Toronto Toros. This was just going to be a short piece about that … but then I found something more.
As I mentioned in my most recent story, the Toros and the WHA were a big part of my young hockey life. I do have many fond memories, but, it seems that as the years go by, they’re all starting to blend together!
Back in 2016, I posted a story here about Olympic memories. I wrote that the Munich Olympic Games ran from August 26 to September 11, 1972. (The massacre of Israeli athletes occurred on September 5-6). My grandfather had died that August 26, and Team Canada and the Soviets played all four Canadian games of the Summit Series between September 2 and September 8. I remember all of this, of course, but each event now seems so separate and distinct to me that it’s hard to believe they all happened within two weeks.
No tragedies in today’s story, but although I do remember that I was there when Tom Simpson scored his 50th goal, I really had no memory of all that went on. Turns out, Simpson entered the game against the Vancouver Blazers on that Tuesday night with 46 goals … and scored four to reach 50. He also added two assists for six points in Toronto’s 8-4 win. I don’t clonazepam mail order really recall any of that, but what really amazed me was that it happened on the same night as one of my other greatest Toros memories; the night that Evel Knievel went one-on-one against Les Binkley for ABC’s Wide World of Sports!
I do remember that Knievel scored a couple of cheap goals. And I think I remember him skating back to center ice after each of his attempts to talk things over with Frank Gifford of ABC. In my memory, they weren’t mic’ed up in a way that we could hear them, although I believe we did hear Frank Gifford introduce Evel so maybe we heard their conversations too. What I didn’t know until researching this story was that Global TV, who used to broadcast Toros games, wasn’t allowed to air this second-period intermission stunt because ABC had the exclusive rights to it. So maybe the conversations were ABC property as well?
Something else I remember about that night was that although we were told that Knievel had some hockey experience in his background, not everyone believed that. Maybe that was just my father being cynical and not a widespread belief, but that’s how I remember it. (Then again, my memories of that night are obviously not as sharp as I used to think!)
In reading through the articles now from before the game, it was made pretty clear that Evel Knievel had played some competitive amateur hockey in his younger days … which other hockey researchers have pretty much confirmed over the years. (It’s interesting, now, to be able to read hockey stories about a young Bob Knievel in Montana newspapers online.) Knievel even claimed that Gordie Howe and the boxer Joe Louis were his sports idols.
Still, it definitely seems that Toronto sportswriters thought Knievel’s appearance at the Toros game was just a cheap publicity stunt … but it’s one of my best childhood hockey memories. So was being there when Tom Simpson became Toronto’s first 50-goal scorer. I just didn’t remember that both things happened on the very same night!
It’s one of those things I usually ignore. Facebook “challenges” to copy something, or list this, that or the other. But, this one intrigued me. The challenge was to post an image a day for 10 days — I always used more than one image! — that were memorable or meaningful to my hockey life, with zero explanations. Frankly, as a writer, the explanation is the best part. Based on how few likes and comments these images actually got on Facebook, this may be a waste of time … but, I figured, why not tell the stories? So, here we go.
Many of the images I might have chosen are in family albums at my mother’s condo in Toronto, so I didn’t have access to them here in Owen Sound. Also, my own pictures and albums are among the last things I have yet to get around to unpacking since my move, so I really only had access to images on my phone and computer, or that are accessible online. Still, these tell a pretty good story of my hockey life.
I was only eight years old in September of 1972. I honestly didn’t even know they played hockey in Russia before this series was announced. Of course I bought the hype we’d win the series in eight straight! Given the family I grew up in, I have no doubt I would have become a huge sports fan anyway, but after Paul Henderson’s goal in game eight, there was no doubt! And I must have flipped through Twenty-Seven Days in September a thousand times!
I was a sports fan, and already working as at least a psuedo-sportswriter when I got the idea to write Hockey Night in the Dominion of Canada in the summer of 1990. I was unhappy in a job I used to love, and knowing myself and that I would NEVER write a book in my spare time, I quit my job to write this. I was only 26 years old. My father had recently quit dentistry – which he’d always hated – and when I said I wanted to take a year and move up to the cottage and write a book he said, “You won’t have too many more chances to do something like this.” Both my parents were very supportive. It’s no exaggeration to say my whole life changed because of this book. (I included the picture of Frank Patrick because he’s one of the real-life hockey characters in the book … and I love this cartoon!)
The Leafs book (which came out in 1977 when the team was still counting its age from the name change to Maple Leafs in 1927) was my first real introduction to the history of the team. That, and the old pictures that used to line the walls at Maple Leaf Gardens. The newspaper clipping is from after Toronto beat Montreal 9-2 on December 26, 1973. I was there with my brother David. (I think it was the second NHL game for both of us.) We went down together on the subway. I was 10 and he’d just turned 8 the day before. Imagine anyone letting their kids do that today?!?
It was hard to get tickets to see the Leafs at Maple Leaf Gardens when I was a kid. So, we went to a lot of Marlies games instead. And when the Toros moved from Varsity to the Gardens, my father got season’s tickets. (I definitely saw the Toros play at Varsity too, but I don’t think we got the tickets until the move.) I saw some amazing things at Toros games… Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Paul Warfield in the stands when they were being wooed for the Toronto Northmen (who became the Memphis Southmen) of the World Football League; Gordie Howe playing with Mark and Marty (I’d seen them all at Marlies games too when Gordie was only watching his kids instead of playing with them); Bobby Hull with the Winnipeg Jets; Jacques Plante with the Edmonton Oilers; and Evel Knievel taking shots at Les Binkley between periods for a segment on ABC’s Wide World of Sports.
Brian McFarlane has become a friend over the years I’ve worked in hockey. It’s an honour. This book of his — and his creation of Peter Puck! — is what really introduced me to hockey history. Buffalo Sabres goalie Roger Crozier ran a summer hockey school in Barrie, Ontario, near where our family has a cottage. David, Jonathan and I (along with our cousin Bob) all attended. For David and me in particularly, our first summer there (it was only for a week or two, actually) turned us from beginners with one year’s experience and little idea of what we were doing on the ice into pretty good hockey players. Well, I was pretty good. David was great!
When we went to Marlies games as kids, we usually bought tickets in the greens for $1. In February of 1978, our dad took all three of us to see Wayne Gretzky of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. I remember Gretzky scoring a nice goal … but what I remember most of all was that our father bought us four seats in the golds! It cost $16. That seemed like a fortune! David and I followed Wayne Gretzky very closely after that. I saw him play his first two games against the Leafs at the Gardens in November of 1979 and March of 1980. Gretzky had two goals and four assists in the March game (the Oilers beat the Leafs 8-5) to close in on Marcel Dionne for the NHL scoring lead. It was amazing!
I worked with Dan Diamond & Associates on the NHL Guide & Record Book and many other publications from 1996 to 2018. If I have a “name” at all in hockey, it’s because of my time there. I was brought in during the summer of 1996 because Dan had more projects on the go than they’d ever had before. Writing sidebars for the Hockey Hall of Fame Book was the first work I ever did for Dan. We also did the media guide for the first World Cup of Hockey that summer. I should probably have posted the covers of Total Hockey, which kind of made us all, but these were my first.
Steve Yzerman starred for the Peterborough Petes in his last year of Junior hockey when I was in my first year at Trent University. I never actually saw him play, but I heard his name on the radio all the time and followed him for his whole career because of that. But these images don’t actually have much to do with Yzerman or the Red Wings. My father died in May of 1997. A month later, my brothers and my mother were all at our house with me and Barbara to watch the Red Wings (we have cousins from Detroit) finish off their sweep of the Philadelphia Flyers and win their first Stanley Cup in 42 years.
Though I’ve written a couple of novels and a few books for “grown ups” (saying adult books always sounds pornographic or something!), I guess I’ve made much of whatever my reputation is as a children’s author. I can’t complain. (Although I sometimes do!) It’s been a good gig.
It took me 10 years to do the work involving in writing my biography of Art Ross, which came out in 2015. Believe me, it did NOT pay off financially, but the friends that Barbara and I made in the Ross family are worth more than money. It was a book I really wanted to write … and the launch party was a lot of fun. It wasn’t very long ago, but so much has changed since then.
Thanks to everyone, but especially to Lynn and to my family, who helped me through this past year. Lots to adjust to, but things are good. I know that many of you have experienced losses, or health issues, or other changes, in your own lives this year. I wish you all strength and hope that you (like me) have the love and support you need.
So, Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, or anything else you celebrate at this season. All the best to everyone in the New Year. (It’s going to be 2020! How did that happen?)
My web site recently turned five years old. I posted my first story on October 10, 2014. Seems hard to believe. The intention at the time was to promote my writing and to try and drum up more appearances for me at schools to talk about my kids books. It was NOT to help me work through my problems.
That said, a lot of you have only been reading my site since I started posting stories about Barbara and me. Even for those who’ve followed me since the beginning, I’ve certainly gotten more reaction from these personal stories than anything else … and it helped me. A lot. So, thank you. Still, I’m not one who really likes to talk about his feelings! When I had something to say (or something to work through) I wrote about it. But I haven’t felt the need for a while. I guess that’s good.
When my web site was first set up, I told people that I would use the News and Views section to “share some of the quirky sports history stories I come across during my research.” It was fun for me, so I pretty much shared something every week. But I haven’t had much cause to be poking through old hockey stories lately. Nor much inclination, either. The truth is, the only real lingering side effect that I can detect in myself after 14 months is that I don’t have much enthusiasm for work. That might be a function of aging as much as anything. I don’t know. But even when I’ve had work, and I’ve gotten into it – and expected that would make doing more work easier – I still wake up the next day thinking, “I have to do it again?!?”
Well, I may not like working, but I do like to eat … so early this past summer, I agreed to do a book about football for National Geographic Kids. (Mainly American football, but I slide in the occasional Canadian reference when I can.) The book will be very similar to many of the hockey books I’ve done in the past, but I have to admit it’s been kind of fun to be researching something different. (As it was several years ago when I did a soccer book for NGK.) This one’s going a little slower than I’d like, but I’ll still have it ready for them on deadline at the end of this month. And, recently, while working on it, I came across the kind of story that I love to dig into. So, I thought I’d share it.
The football book is part of a series of Sports by Numbers, so it needs to include as many numbers as it can. Math when possible, but statistical lists are more than acceptable. So, plenty of those. And when delving into the longest field goals in football history (NFL, CFL, NCAA, anything!), I stumbled across the fact that a man named John Triplett “Jerry” Haxall had kicked a 65-yard field goal for Princeton versus Yale … in 1882!
Given how large and heavy a football of that era would have been, this struck me as pretty much impossible! I had to know more.
Fortunately, Wikipedia has a short entry on Haxall. He was from a wealthy Virginia family and later went on to a long and successful career in banking in Baltimore. Not that Wikipedia tells you much about that. But it did have a reference to a story by legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice on November 30, 1915 that proved a fine starting point.
As it turned out, on October 16, 1915, a player named Mark Payne at Dakota Wesleyan University had drop kicked a field goal from 63 yards out, breaking the 1898 drop-kick record of 62 yards by P.J. O’Dea of Wisconsin (both of which also strike me as impossible!) This put Haxall’s 65-yard place kick — which had been noted year in and year out in the Spalding Football Guide – back in the news. And (like me, now) there were people who doubted it.
Apparently, Grantland Rice asked to hear from anyone who’d been at the game and could testify to Haxall’s record. He got a response from James O. Lincoln, Yale class of 1884. “Dear Sir,” wrote Lincoln. “Luther Price, a newspaper man whom I know well, is correct. Haxall kicked that goal against Yale in 1882. I saw him perform the feat. Although, of course, the spectators did not measure the distance, it was beyond the midfield, and was announced at the time as being sixty-five yards.”
This satisfied Grantland Rice … but I was still skeptical. So, I began looking for contemporary accounts of the game played at New York City’s old Polo Grounds. In reporting on it, the Boston Globe on December 1, 1882, said only that, “This was the greatest kick ever seen.” The New York Sun said, “It was a long distance, and nobody believed that he could make it.” However, the Sun also order tramadol from canada said the ball “was 115 feet from the goal.” That’s only 38 yards or so, and, apparently, it was this account that led people in 1915 to wonder. But the New York Times (who wrote Haxall’s name as Hoxall) had said in its game report, “He was over 65 yards from Yale’s goal,” and the Hartford Courant (which spelled his name as Hachall) said he “sent the ball 66 yards across the field to the goal.”
But I was still curious, so I kept digging…
Next, I found a story from December 12, 1915, which quotes Parke H. Davis writing a few days before in the New York Herald. “Since I am the compiler of this record,” wrote Davis of his work for the Spalding Guide, “I beg the privilege of defending its accuracy… My authorities for fixing the distance of this field goal at sixty-five yards are the accounts in the Yale News, the periodicals at Princeton, and the testimony of several eyewitnesses of the kick.”
The Yale News of December 5, 1882, quoted by Davis, says that the Yale team knew to look out for Haxall, and that he was 65 yards from the Yale goal, “when he made a kick that would have disturbed the transit of Venus. Slowly, steadily the ball was blown onward by the wind over the heads of the breathless players to drop at last on the wrong side of the goal for Yale. And now pandemonium reigned among the yellow and black. It is said that this is the finest kick ever made. You should erect a bronze statue of Haxall, Princeton.”
As to the players Davis interviewed, many had gone on to be prominent business men. “The members of these football pioneers are strikingly clear as to the events of the game, he says. “While no one of them says positively that the goal was kicked down sixty-five yards, in the absence of any mark except the midfield mark, which was fifty-five yards distant from the goal [NOTE: American fields were not reduced to the 100-yard standard of today until 1912, while Canadian football fields have remained 110-yards long], all of these players, nevertheless, assert that the kick was ‘about sixty-five yards.’”
It’s interesting to note that the Princeton narration of the game says only that “Haxall kicked (a) magnificent goal from midfield among Princeton cheers.” Yet Davis then quotes a player from that game who’d become a well-known clergyman in New York … though he chooses not to mention him by name: “Haxall put the ball down for a place kick fully 65 yards from the goal line,” states the clergyman at the end of a lengthy recollection of the game, “and what is more he stood at least 15 yards towards the one side line from the center of the field, thereby not only making the kick more difficult but in reality making the kick longer than 65 yards. The ball sailed in the wind squarely between the posts.”
Not surprisingly, all the talk of his 33-year-old field goal record came to the attention of J. Triplett Haxall himself. He was then asked by a fellow Prinecton alum to give his account of the kick, which he did for the Princeton Alumni Weekly in mid December of 1915.
Haxall writes that he and Tommy Baker (apparently an uncle of U.S. hockey legend Hobey Baker) had practiced their kicking “for some time preceding the Yale game of 1882.” They discovered that having the holder place the ball practically perpendicular to the ground and then kicking it on the bottom end, “started it accurately revolving on its long axis and resulted in long distance being realized before it began to drop.” Haxall added, “why the tendency nowadays seems to be to kick the ball in its middle and not on its ends I have never been able to understand.” (I guess kickers eventually rediscovered Haxall’s technique.)
As for the big kick in the Yale game – which Princeton lost, by the way: “I have always understood the distance was as recorded by the officials who had such matters in hand. The claim lately advanced that, due to a typographical error, the distance should have been 35 yards and not 65 yards, I think all the writings of the time sufficiently refute.”
Haxall recalls, “the wind was blowing sufficiently to require testing its direction by tossing up a bunch of grass or something of the kind,” but states that his record kick, “was the result of quite long practice by Tommy Baker and myself.”
Following his death on June 5, 1939, an obituary in the Princeton Alumi Weekly from July 7, 1939 (which is quoted on Wikipedia), notes that Haxall had once remarked, “My epitaph will probably be:
J.T. Haxall Kicked a football. That’s all.
Well, he did get a larger writeup in the Baltimore Sun, but he wasn’t far off.
It still may not be 100 percent official, but if it wasn’t for that lengthy kick, who’d still be writing about John Triplett Haxall today?
Well, I’ve moved. The house closed on August 30, but I pretty much moved out on August 26. Given that the deal was reached on August 1, it was a very hectic month. Going from a three-storey house to what is essentially a three-room apartment on the second floor of another house, meant a lot of stuff wasn’t coming with me. It was emotional at times, parting with many things Barbara had collected over a lifetime, and things we’d accumulated during our years together. But, I think I did a good job. And I was very pleased with how well organized I was. I’m certainly not done yet, but unpacking, and making my new place feel like home, has been easier than I imagined.
That being said, I’m not sure I could have done any of this without my friend Lynn. Lynn was Barbara’s friend first. Sadly, because her own daughter was already battling cancer, Lynn had lots of practical advice when Barbara was diagnosed. We’ve spent a lot of time together, Lynn and I, since we both lost our loved ones. I used to tell people, “we’re sort of a lonely-hearts club.” But we’ve become more than that recently.
In addition to the emotional support we’ve given each other, Lynn found this apartment for me. She’d lived here with her daughter many years ago. Lynn’s continued support (and physical strength!) — not to mention the occasional kick-in-the-butt — got me through all the packing and moving. Thank you, Lynn.
I haven’t moved far, but it’s a huge change. I kind of fought it for a little while, yet I know for sure now it’s the right thing to do. There’s still pictures to hang and clutter to make disappear, but the apartment and I are both going to be fine. And, hey, you’re all invited to drop by! Until then, enjoy a quick tour…
Last week, at about 2 p.m. on Thursday, August 1, I signed the papers to sell our house. A few hours earlier, I’d e-transfered my first month’s rent to the landlord for my new apartment here in town. So, pretty good timing!
When I made my deposit of last month’s rent on the apartment back in May, it felt like August was a long way off. As July raced on without a sale, I was getting pretty nervous! I knew I’d be able to carry both the house and the apartment for a little while — not very long! — but I didn’t like the potential open-ended-ness of it. So, phew! By the next day, I literally felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders.
Packing up (and, really, I’m still in the purging phase — going from a three-storey house to a three-bedroom apartment means A LOT of thing won’t be going with me) has been strange. I’m sure it will continue to be, but I’m feeling good about this.
Except for university, I didn’t leave home until I was 29 years old, and I moved in directly with Barbara. This is the first time I’ve ever lived on my own … and this new apartment will be the first time I’ve lived on my own in a place with no connection to Barbara. But people keep telling me you bring those memories with you. I’m sure I will.
Until then, here are some memories of the places we shared together…
Our first house. A tiny little rental in Toronto at Mount Pleasant & Eglinton.
The first house we owned, in Toronto at Bayview and Davisville.
I shouldn’t be doing this. It’s 11:25 pm on Thursday night as I start writing this. I’m exhausted. I went to bed two hours ago, but I can’t sleep. (Odie just came in. He was asleep on my bed when I decided to come up here and do this. He sleeps light.) So, please forgive any typos, or rambling…
My house — Our house — has been for sale since late April. I’m expecting an offer, perhaps as soon as today as you’re reading this. My thinking is that it won’t be for as much as I’m hoping to get, so I guess we’ll have to play the negotiating game. I’m not really looking forward to that.
It’s been an emotional time, as you can probably imagine. People say, “you shouldn’t do anything major for a year” after someone dies. I suppose that’s good advice … but the truth is, Barbara and I had discussed what the other one might do with the house if one of us died almost from the moment we bought it.
It was always more house than made sense for the two of us, but we loved it. We said to ourselves, “who knows how long we’ll get here? Two years? Ten? But it’ll be worth it.” We got almost 12 years here together … and it was! But now it’s time — for so many reasons — for me to go.
I’ve felt for a while like things are in limbo. Like my life won’t really start again until I’m into someplace new and working on something that I really want to do again. (I’ve got a new kids hockey book due out in the fall, and I’ve just started work on another kid’s book — football, this time — that’ll keep me busy for a while … but the truth is, I’m getting a little tired of doing the same old thing.) Still, it doesn’t mean I’m really ready to leave here yet. I don’t feel uncomfortable, or even sad, in the house by myself; I just know I can’t stay much longer. I won’t be leaving Owen Sound. I’m still very happy here. I just need some place smaller and more manageable for me on my own.
Of course, it hasn’t been easy. Just “staging” the house was emotional. Getting rid of the things I’ve gotten rid off. (I have a friend sort of “coaching” me through it. It takes her a while to talk me into doing anything. When I finally do, I go at it with gusto … and I’m happy for a while, then I’m sad, but then I get over it. And then it all happens again.) The actual move, when it comes, is going to be harder still. But it’s something I have to do.
People say (I suppose the same “people” I mentioned above!) that selling a house is stressful. It is! Which may sound strange considering the stress I was under at this same time last year. But, in truth, a year ago today as you’re reading this — July 19, 2018 –– was a good day, if a somewhat strange one.
Barbara had been on her “chemo break” for close to a month and was feeling as good as she had at pretty much any time since her diagnosis in March. On July 19, we went to Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, where we’d been sent by our oncologist in Owen Sound for a second opinion. It was all very interesting. I’ve written a little about this before, so I’ll say only that we learned a lot more than we had known previously, and it seemed very encouraging. (Over the last 11 months, I’ve read and re-read the notes the Princess Margaret doctors sent back to Owen Sound, and looked at the test results. I’ve come to believe that Barbara was actually a lot sicker than anyone was letting on. Still, no one seemed to think that the end would come as quickly as it did. Barely another three weeks.) The next day, we had a lovely time at Edwards Gardens with Barbara’s son Josh and Danielle and our granddaughter. As I’ve said before, it was the last truly care-free day…
So, that’s where I’m at these days. I’ll probably write some sort of update after the house has sold and I’ve made my move.
But, honestly, as I’ve said in many of these more personal posts over the last few months— and despite the way this probably reads — I think I’m doing quite well. Still, sometimes I feel the need to write something like this. And now it’s 12:46 in the morning, so it’s time to go to sleep.
You’d never call me a Raptors fan, but I’m glad they won … and I’m particularly happy for their fans. It’s a lot of fun when your team wins. As Nuke Laloosh says in Bull Durham (a movie Barbara loved, and a line we quoted often) “It’s, like, better than losing!” So, good for the Raptors, and good for basketball fans all across Canada.
I admit, I was a doubter pretty much right up until they won it in Game 6 last Thursday. (I’m not so disinterested that I don’t know their past history of playoff defeats!) I’d been watching a little since the Philadelphia series, but not very closely. In fact, the championship game is now the only Raptors game I’ve ever watched from start to finish … including the one I attended many years ago.
I think the Raptors just came along too late for me. I used to really love basketball. Though I never actually saw them live, I remember the Buffalo Braves and their games in Toronto when I was a kid. I knew who Bob McAdoo was when he was winning scoring titles. I really started paying attention as a teenager, with Magic Johnson and Larry Bird in the NCAA championship in 1979 and was hooked when their Lakers and Celtics teams were battling for titles throughout the ’80s. But by the time the Raptors entered the NBA in 1995, it was too late for me. I was with Barbara and helping to raise Amanda. It was nothing they did. I still watched a ton of baseball, and hockey was becoming my regular “day job.” I was happy — and I didn’t have any interest in more sports or another team.
Amanda and Barbara were happy to be Blue Jays fans, though they didn’t care much about the Leafs. I did take Amanda to the Raptors Fanfest in January of 1999 after the NBA lockout … but that was pretty much it for basketball.
Although I’m not really a Raptors fan, I’m not truly a basketball band-wagon jumper either. So, I think that I’m allowed to say that it annoys me that so many American commentators seem to think that basketball in Canada didn’t exist before the Raptors! That used to bug me about the Blue Jays too. We had the Maple Leafs baseball team in Toronto from 1896 to 1967. My parents – especially my mother – grew up as huge baseball fans! As for basketball, we had a hoop in our driveway 40 years ago, and I played on a team in Grade Six. (I was terrible, and never played for our school teams in Junior High or High School, but we had them!) I know my Uncle Gerry, who recently turned 90, played basketball when he was in high school. (When Jews were inner city kids, basketball was a Jewish game!)
Everyone seems to know that James Naismith, who invented basketball in 1891, was a Canadian. And many know that the first NBA game in 1946 (when the league was actually called the Basketball Association of America) was played at Maple Leaf Gardens, where the Toronto Huskies hosted the New York Knicks. That’s really it for pro basketball in Canada before the Raptors, but it’s not like the sport was unknown here! It was played by boys and girls, men and women, in clubs and in schools, since the very beginning. Google the Edmonton Grads, if you’ve never heard of them.
With that in mind, I was agreeable when a producer from CTV News Channel asked me to talk about the historic significance of the Raptors’ victory. Perhaps you saw it? (But probably not!) Anyway, three or four minutes on TV go by so quickly, I barely had any time to discuss anything beyond the comparisons with the Blue Jays winning the World Series. So, if you’re interested, you can read this (slightly bulked up) exchange below between me and the producer to get a sense of what I really hoped to talk about…
(Oh, and by the way, I was disappointed that I didn’t mention the Women’s World Cup and Canada’s team when Marcia MacMillan asked me what was worth watching now. Barbara never followed anything in sports the way she was briefly hooked on Christine Sinclair and the Canadian women’s team after watching that epic semifinal game with the U.S. at the 2012 London Olympics.)
Here are some talking points ahead of tomorrow’s interview at 10:45 AM EST
1. How monumental is this victory?
It’s huge. As the only Canadian team in an American sport, it feeds into the love-hate relationship with our neighbours. When they validate our victory, it’s even bigger. Though the Leafs have a following all across the country, there is also that national hatred of Toronto. The Raptors and the Blue Jays seem to overcome that. The big thing is, how much does this do for basketball in Canada going forward… (See more in the “Where does it rank…” question.)
2. How does it compare to other Toronto titles of the past? The Leafs in 67 and the Blue Jays in 1992 and 1993?
The Leafs in 67 has become much bigger in retrospect than it was at the time, although upsetting Montreal in the Centennial year was noteworthy. Very similar to the Blue Jays (see below). But the next Leafs victory — if it ever comes — will be the big one! Though, of course, while the Leafs have a following all across the country, there is also that national hatred of Toronto. The Raptors and the Blue Jays seem to overcome that, as I said.
3. Where does it rank amongst Canada’s greatest wins? (please provide specific examples)
The most obvious comparison is the Blue Jays. I think this is at least as big as that. Possibly bigger. As I already said, as the only Canadian team in an American sport, it feeds into the love-hate relationship with our neighbours. When they validate our victory, it’s even bigger. And basketball is such a global game. No Grey Cup team has a shot at that, and, really no NHL team either.
The birth of the Blue Jays, and then the World Series win, increased interest in baseball all across Canada, and we’ve seen record numbers of Canadians in the Majors in recent years. The birth of the Raptors, and the success of Steve Nash, has already led to more and more Canadians making it to the NBA. This should only increase that in the years to come…
Other examples are the Canadian Olympic hockey wins for the men’s team both in 2002 and, especially in Vancouver in 2010. And, of course, Paul Henderson’s goal in 1972. But those only confirmed that we’re a hockey-crazy country. Just having a women’s national team that competes for World and Olympic titles (and often wins them) has been a huge boost for women’s hockey. More and more girls are playing … but it hasn’t done much to help the women’s professional game.
Donovan Bailey, and the 4 x 100 relay team at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. Perhaps there’s no Andre de Grasse without that. (Ben Johnson would have been HUGE). Another historic comparison would be Mike Weir winning The Masters … though I think the Raptors and Blue Jays are bigger. Still, is there a Brooke Henderson without that?
The only other examples are really extremely old. There’s the Paris Crew, four rowers from New Brunswick who won Canada’s first World Championship in any sport when they won in Paris, France in 1867. (There was a Heritage Minute about that) Rowing was a huge sport internationally then, and during the 1880s, Toronto’s Ned Hanlon became a world champion and was probably the most famous athlete in the world.
4. What do you think James Naismith would think about the Raptors success?
I’m sure he’d be pleased. But he’d probably wonder what took so long! Naismith (1861-1939) lived long enough to see how popular his sport became all around the world. In fact, basketball became hugely popular very quickly, even in Canada. Canada won bronze in the first official Olympic basketball tournament in 1936, and the sport was very popular in pockets of the country (particularly Windsor, ON and Victoria BC) much as hockey has always been popular in parts of the United States.
Even before the recent change in the stories I’ve posted to this web site, much of what I wrote —even some of the nerdiest of the hockey nerd stuff — was for Barbara. As I’ve said before, a big part of my enjoyment in all this was to see how she’d react. Quirky just hasn’t been as much fun without her.
This story — while not nearly as “romantic” as some of my recent ones — is definitely for Barbara. But, as is often the case, you have to let me work my way around to it…
This past weekend, the British and Polish air forces honored the 75th anniversary of the Great Escape — the actual breakout from Stalag Luft III, the Nazi prisoner-of-war camp in the town of Zagan (sometimes written as Sagan), now in eastern Poland. The events took place in the late night and early morning hours of March 24 and 25, 1944.
The movie came out in 1963. Barbara (on the right in the center photo) is with her
friend Peggy around then. That’s me with my father about the same time!
I won’t go into much of the story, but the Allied air force prisoners at Stalag Luft III had hoped to free some 200 men through a series of tunnels dug under the camp. They knew it was unlikely that any would make their way back to England, but they hoped to do as much as possible to disrupt the German forces who would have to chase them down. Due to a series of unforeseen circumstances, only 76 men got out before the Germans discovered what was going on.
Over the next few weeks, all but three men were recaptured. Hitler was so angry he wanted all 73 men shot. Other German authorities pointed out that an action showing such blatant disregard for the Geneva Conventions might endanger the lives of German prisoners held by the Allies. Even so, Hitler personally ordered that “more than half” should be shot. In the end, 50 men were killed. It’s the deaths of those 50 that was commemorated in Poland this past weekend.
Barbara first learned of this story — as did so many other people — when the Hollywood movie The Great Escape came out in 1963. Even then (and ever since she was a little girl), if Barbara was interested in something, she was INTERESTED! It wasn’t enough just to see the movie — which, of course, she did — over and over. She needed to know more! So, she got herself a copy of the 1950 book The Great Escape by Australian Paul Brickhill, who’d been held at Stalag Luft III during the War.
Barbara told the story of Wally Floody in her book, The Tunnel King. The Desert Hawk
is about Stocky Edwards, one of the leading Canadian aces of World War II.
She worried about glorifying war in books for children, but felt it was important
to put a human face on what happened.
It was through Brickhill’s book that Barbara first learned about Wally Floody, the Canadian who was so integral to the tunnel buy clonazepam india construction for the Great Escape. (The movie is actually a very accurate description of events – up to a point! – although there were a lot more Canadians, and a lot fewer Americans, who were involved.)
Wally Floody (the Charles Bronson character in the movie is based loosely upon him) lived most of his life in Toronto, not far from where Barbara lived most of her Toronto life. Older accounts of him always claimed that Wally was a mining engineer in Canada, and that’s why he was in charge of the tunnels for the Great Escape. But that was just a bit of British prejudice. The Brits simply couldn’t wrap their heads around the fact that someone who’d actually worked in the mines might one day become a fighter pilot. Wally worked in both Timmins and Kirkland Lake as a young man, although his experience with hard-rock mining there was very much different from tunnelling through the sandy soil beneath Stalag Luft III.
Barbara always believed that Wally’s true story was worth telling, and she finally got to write about him in her 2004 book The Tunnel King, which was a big success. Floody had died in 1989, and Barbara regretted that she’d lived in Toronto for 20 years by then and had never tried to meet him. Wally’s wife, Betty, died just around the time that Barbara started working on the book, but she did get a lot of assistance from Wally’s sister, Catherine, and his son Brian. They were both more than happy to share stories – and photographs – of their brother and father.
Wally Floody (left) wears his cap at the proper rakish angle for a
fighter pilot. He married his wife, Betty, very early in his air force career.
Just recently, I received a very nice letter from a man who works at the Museum of Northern History in Kirkland Lake. The city is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, and the museum is interested in telling Wally’s story among their centennial celebrations. His letter gave me the occasion to get back in touch with Brian Floody, and it got me thinking about all this again.
One of Barbara’s nerdiest interests was her love of movie soundtracks. Not just songs, but the full score. If a movie she liked happened to be on television and she was in the other room, I used to like to turn it up loud and see how long it took before she’d say, “Is that … To Kill a Mockingbird?” or whatever it was. When it was The Great Escape – no matter where it was in the movie – it only took a few seconds. And there was no question necessary…
Wally Floody (in the centre, with the tie) served as the technical advisor for the movie.
Brian Floody had some amazing pictures in an album from that time. This is my favorite.
Wally with the film’s biggest stars, James Garner and Steve McQueen.
Betty was much more taken with Garner, who signed the photo.
Wally with Charles Bronson, who played Danny “The Tunnel King.”