Scattershooting on a Tuesday night while pondering the CFL without Knuckles . . .


Blackie Sherrod would have turned 102 years of age on Tuesday. Born on Nov, 9, 1919, he left us on April 28, 2016. He won’t be forgotten.

Bob Irving has been the radio voice of the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers on 680 CJOB since 1974.

But the time has come . . .

Irving, 71, revealed on Tuesday that he is retiring and that his final game will be the Blue Bombers’ last home game of this season — the West Division final on Dec. 5.

Irving, a native of Regina, has been inducted into the Blue Bombers Hall of Fame and the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. He also is a member of the Order of Manitoba. No doubt more honours will follow his retirement.

He joined CJOB in 1973 after a stint at Brandon radio station CKX. His time there included a run as the all-night DJ — remember when real, live people played the tunes all night? — and I would join him on occasion after the Brandon Sun’s sports pages had been put to bed.

Later, I would leave Brandon for the Winnipeg Tribune, and the Irvings and Drinnans were known to drop a bob or two on the nags at Assiniboia Downs.

I would spend some of my time at The Trib covering the Blue Bombers, which meant the odd road trip with the likes of Irving, “Cactus” Jack Wells and Kenny Ploen.

Irving is known far and wide by his nickname — “Knuckles” — which reflects an awful fear of flying that I believe he has overcome.

Anyway, once upon a time, we were on a jet plane for Winnipeg after another of those Labour Day Classics in Regina. And, wouldn’t you know it, we encountered some turbulence.

Well, “Cactus” Jack never travelled without his medication. He brought out the leather case — it was round, with a zippered top on it — and extracted the bottle. I can’t remember if it was Canadian Club or Johnny Walker.

“Knuckles,” he said, as the plane rocked and rolled, “we better have a drink just in case it’s our last one.”

I seem to recall the knuckles turning even whiter.

Ahh, those were the days.

Irving was blessed with great pipes and a knack for calling football games. If you have never listened to him, you should treat yourself and tune in to one of the Blue Bombers’ final games of this season. There are two left — Saturday at Montreal and Nov. 20 at Calgary — before the West final.

IF . . . IF . . . IF: If you have been watching the Vancouver Canucks in the early going of this NHL season you have to think that G Thatcher Demko is in the hunt for the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s MVP. . . . Demko didn’t play Tuesday night as the Canucks dropped a 3-2 OT decision to the visiting Anaheim Ducks. . . . If you watch sports on TV you have to have noticed the gambling-related commercials and conversations that seem to be part of every live telecast. What this means is that video review isn’t going anywhere. In fact, I would suggest that video reviews will become more and more prevalent because of the importance — it really is all about the Benjamins — of getting things correct.


It would seem the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers and Kelowna Rockets will be Kamloopswaiting for a while longer before being allowed to play to crowds of 100 per cent capacity in their home arenas.

COVID-19 protocols implemented by health officials mean that both teams have been limited to 50 per cent capacity so far this season.

At a news conference on Tuesday, Adrian Dix, B.C.’s health minister, said that COVID-19 is causing problems at hospitals in the two cities.

Kelowna General Hospital has had to close operating rooms.

“Last week, Kelowna General Hospital had reduced two operating rooms to Rocketscompensate for staff who did not meet vaccination requirements,” Dix said. “This week, only one operating room had to be reduced for this reason. To support critical care, though, Kelowna General Hospital has reduced an additional two operating rooms.”

Meanwhile, in Kamloops, Royal Inland Hospital is battling two COVID-19 outbreaks, one involving four patients testing positive on 7N, which deals with cardiac and renal patients. An outbreak on 5S that started last week has had 27 positives — 21 patients and six members. There also has been one death.

Dr. Carol Fenton, Interior Health’s medical health officer, told CFJC-TV that officials had hoped Kamloops’ high vaccination rates would have prevented such outbreaks.

“But,” she said, “our surrounding areas continue to have the lowest vaccination rates in the Interior and that’s definitely affecting us and we are seeing that.”

Castanet Kamloops reported Tuesday that “some areas within the Interior Health region have some of the lowest vaccination rates within the province, including Enderby, Kettle Valley, Cariboo/Chilcotin, Creston and Kootenay Lake health areas (that) are all below 70 per cent.”

According to B.C. health officials, about 90 per cent of those eligible have had one dose of vaccine, with more than 85 per cent having had two.

MORE COVID NOTES: Public Health Sudbury and Districts issued a new set of restrictions on Monday, so the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves are back to having their arena capacity set at 50 per cent. . . . The NHL’s Ottawa Senators were without Covidfive players when they dropped a 3-2 decision to the host Boston Bruins on Tuesday. D Victor Mete was added to Ottawa’s COVID-19 list earlier in the day, joining F Connor Brown, F Dylan Gambrell, F Austin Watson and D Nick Holden. Assistant coach Jack Capuano also is on the list. . . . The 2021 U.S. college football season has its first pandemic-related postponement. A game between the USC Trojans and host California Golden Bears that was to have been played on Saturday in Berkeley has been moved to Dec. 4. It’s all because of COVID-19 issues with the Golden Bears. . . . The NFL’s Cleveland Browns have had four positive tests this week — RB Nick Chubb, RB Demetric Felton, RB John Kelly and WR Lawrence Cager, who was on the practice squad. It all left the Browns with one active RB — D’Ernest Johnson — as they prepare to face the host New England Patriots on Sunday. . . . Looks like there is an Australian Open story developing. From 7NEWS Melbourne: “Australian Open organizers are pushing for capacity crowds at January’s grand slam. But a standoff with unvaccinated tennis stars is looming as the Premier doubles down on his threat to lock them out.”


After Aaron Rodgers doubled down on Tuesday, columnist Ann Killion of the San Francisco Chronicle tweeted: “Steph Curry tried to get more information on COVID so he conferred with Dr. Fauci. The GB QB tried to get more information so he conferred with Joe Rogan and ‘about a dozen friends of mine.’ ”


On Monday, Jack Finarelli, aka The Sports Curmudgeon, weighed in on the Aaron Rodgers clown show . . .

“In the case of Aaron Rodgers, I am afraid that his ‘star player status’ could get in the way of him suffering some consequences of his behavior.  And by ‘his behavior’ I do not mean his decision not to take the vaccine — that is HIS business and HIS decision. What I mean by ‘his behavior’ is his mendacity and his deceit.  Here is my position on the matter and I suspect that it will not resonate well with many NFL fans:

  1. Tom Brady was suspended for four games a few years ago. The nominal behavior that got him suspended was deflating footballs; that charge was not well-supported by evidence and science said there were environmental factors that could have caused whatever measurements were made to have been what they were. Brady was also non-cooperative with the investigation and supposedly was not candid with the folks doing the investigating.
  2. Aaron Rodgers’ behavior is potentially far more consequential than was Tom Brady’s. Rodgers has been lying about this status and availing himself of the relaxed restrictions enjoyed by vaccinated players for at least two months — and probably four months.
  3. I think Aaron Rodgers deserves a longer suspension than Tom Brady got. For me, it is a minimum of six games.


I hope my friend, the curmudgeonly one, wasn’t holding his breath waiting for the NFL to drop the hammer on Rodgers.


THAT’LL TEACH HIM: The NFL has fined the Packers $300,000 for violating COVID protocols. Aaron Rodgers and WR Allen Lazard were fined $14,650 for violating those same protocols. Reports indicate that the NFL’s investigation is over. . . . The Packers also apparently were told that future violations could result in more discipline, like the loss of draft picks. . . . Rob Demovsky of ESPN reported: “The violations included the unvaccinated Rodgers not wearing a mask during his news conferences and because the team did not report that Rodgers and Lazard attended a Halloween party, even though it was away from the team facility. By attending, Rodgers and Lazard violated the protocol that prevents unvaccinated players from gathering in groups of more than three, which was the reason for their fine. The amount of the players’ fines were part of the jointly agreed upon fine schedule between the league and the players union.” . . . All is well because the shield has been protected. Again.


SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE: Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) did the math. Based on Aaron Rodgers’ salary of $22.4 million, the fine of $14,650 is “the equivalent of fining the average American $33.80.”

ANOTHER SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE: Big Bird, almost everyone’s friend from Sesame Street, encourages youngsters to get vaccinated and ends up involved in a social media tiff with a U.S. senator.


GET OFF MY LAWN: I was in a grocery store — one of the big chains — for the first time in about 20 months on Tuesday. One thing I didn’t miss? People blocking aisles while chatting on their phones.

JUST NOTES: Some of the organizers will be in Whistler, B.C., on Nov. 17 to reveal details of a WHA 50th anniversary reunion that is to be held there in November 2022. . . . If you haven’t read the statement issued Tuesday by Carey Price involving his decision to enter a residential treatment facility “for substance use” please find it and give it a look. It’ll make you a bigger fan than you already are. . . . Headline at The Beaverton: Saskatchewan demands to be recognized as a nation whose main export is ICU patients. . . . The Saskatoon Blades staged quite a comeback in scoring a 4-3 OT victory over the visiting Edmonton Oil Kings on Tuesday night. Now, with Canada’s Olympic curling trials taking over their home arena through Nov. 28, the Blades will head out on the road for a nine-pack. Their next home game is scheduled for Dec. 10. Darren Steinke, the travellin’ blogger, was at last night’s game and his report is right here.


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Remembering my days at The Trib . . . Like the time I was given Earl Lunsford’s suite . . .


By Aug. 27, 1980, I had been back at the Brandon Sun for almost two years. So, no I wasn’t at The Trib when Southam folded it on the same day that Thompson buried the Ottawa Journal.

That left Thompson with a monopoly in Winnipeg with the Free Press, while Southam now owned Ottawa with the Citizen. But none of this was underhanded or in violation of any laws. Wink! Wink!!

Even though I had left Winnipeg, that day still stung. You bet it did. And it still does.

I had started what turned into an almost-43-year newspaper career at The Sun in the summer of 1971, catching on as the sports department was expanded from two writers (Bill Davidson and Bruce Penton) to three. In time, after I had done what seemed like a million rewrites and answered a gazillion phone calls and done a whole lot of learning, I got to cover the Manitoba Senior Baseball League. If this was heaven, I loved it.

Two years later, Matty came calling. Jack Matheson, the legendary sports editor at the Winnipeg Tribune, wanted me. If memory serves, he offered me $125 a week, up from the $75 I was making at The Sun.

Truth be told, I would have gone for a whole lot less.

A few years earlier, while growing up in Lynn Lake, Man., I had delivered The Trib. The papers came in via rail three times a week — Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. I would load my wagon at the post office and head out in the dark of night. During the summer, on occasion, I would visit a garden, grab a few carrots and find a street light. There I would sit on the paper and read The Trib’s sports section.

One summer, maybe even two of them, Uncle Vince Leah, who was almost as much a legend as was Matty, brought a bunch of Winnipeg boys to Lynn Lake. They were there to fish and play a little baseball and soccer. Uncle Vince always wrote a column or two while there, and I would hop on my bike and take his copy to the CN station so that it could be sent via telegraph to Winnipeg.

Now here I was, all those years later, heading to the Manitoba capital to work for Matty and be in the same office as Uncle Vince.

The 1973-74 Selkirk Steelers, winners of the Centennial Cup.

I spent a lot of time covering the MJHL, which, in those days, meant spending springs with George Dorman’s Selkirk Steelers, who always seemed to meet up with Terry Simpson’s Prince Albert Raiders along the playoff trail.

It was in my first year at The Trib that I saw one of the two best hockey games of my writing career.

The Steelers won the 1974 Centennial Cup by beating the Smiths Falls Bears, 1-0 in OT, on a goal by Gord Kaluzniak in Nepean, Ont. (There wasn’t ice in the Smiths Falls rink, so the best-of-seven series was played in the Nepean Sportsplex.) In those days, under Canadian Amateur Hockey Association rules, teams played a 10-minute OT session before going into sudden-death. Kaluzniak scored with two minutes left in that first OT period and the Steelers were able to hold the lead.

I also learned an important lesson during that series. With the Steelers leading the series, 3-1, I wrote that the Bears were done like dinner. LOL! Lesson learned.

(BTW, the other best game that I witnessed was the final of the 1979 Memorial Cup with the Brandon Wheat Kings losing 2-1 in OT to the Peterborough Petes in Verdun, Que.)

Back then, The Trib didn’t have copy editors who laid out the sports pages. Rather, the writers shared the layout duties; if you weren’t writing, chances are Trib2you were laying out pages. It wasn’t long before I realized that I didn’t want to spend summers in the office, so I decided to turn motorsports into a beat, even though I wouldn’t know how to put air in a tire. So I ended up spending time at Bison Dragways, an NHRA-sanctioned strip located 29 miles east of Winnipeg, and Winnipeg Speedway, where the stock cars ran on a short track south of the city. I point this out because it’s how I picked up the nickname Greaser, which is what Matty started calling me after my first motorsport-related byline.

In time, I ended up covering the Blue Bombers, spending time at training camp at St. John’s-Ravenscourt and travelling to the odd regular-season game whenever Matty wanted to stay home.

That’s how I got to be in Toronto’s Exhibition Stadium on June 22, 1978, when a limousine pulled onto the field and Tom Jones — yes, that Tom Jones — climbed out to handle the ceremonial opening kickoff before a CFL exhibition game.

“The ball,” I wrote, “went off the side of his shoe and travelled about 12 yards.”

A week later I was in Calgary with the Blue Bombers when I ended up the beneficiary of something of a mistake by the front desk at the hotel in which we would stay. I picked up the key to my room and headed upstairs, with Bob Irving, (Cactus) Jack Wells and Ken Ploen, all of radio station CJOB, who were on the same floor. I opened the door to my room, took a look and suggested that the three might want to take a look. I had been given the suite that was to have gone to general manager Earl Lunsford. Yes, it was well-stocked with booze and snacks.

Before I could close the door, the wrapping was removed from sandwiches and drinks were poured. I spent the next day and game night avoiding Lunsford.

Upon returning to Winnipeg, I filed my expenses and then made sure to steer clear of Matty. There was a news conference prior to the next Bombers’ home game, which I was to cover. I knew that Matty would be there, meaning there no longer would be a way to avoid him.

And here he came, strolling into the room with a glint in his eyes.

“Hey, Okie,” he said in Lunsford’s direction, “do my guys travel first class, or what?”

I never heard another word, nor did I ever again end up in Lunsford’s suite.

Later that year, with The Sun looking for someone to cover the 1978-79 Wheat Kings, perhaps the best team in WHL history, I left The Trib and returned to Brandon.

Patti Dawn Swansson was one of the other sports writers at The Trib when I was there, and wrote a wonderful piece last week on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the newspaper’s closing.

If you wonder what it was like working there, give this a read right here. Yes, I got a little misty-eyed while reading it. But, damn, those were great times!

The stories about sitting around late at night and arguing about the chances of hitting a home run off Nolan Ryan or surviving a jump from a fifth-floor window are accurate. Those are the conversations that were important in the mid-’70s.