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Bruce Dowbiggin

Western Discontent: The Days Of Our Lives

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“When Chekhov saw the long winter, he saw a winter bleak and dark and bereft of hope. Yet we know that winter is just another step in the cycle of life. But standing here among the people of Punxsutawney and basking in the warmth of their hearths and hearts I couldn’t imagine a better fate than a long and lustrous winter.” — Bill Murray as Phil Conners in Groundhog Day.

Twenty-three years ago this week I arrived in Calgary to take a job as sports columnist for the Calgary Herald. It was like an ice palace, covered with snow drifts and frozen dirt. (I’d golfed in Toronto two days earlier.) As I shuffled to my rental car I seriously wondered why I had risked everything to move West, a place my mother hated after three dismal years living in the 1950s in Edmonton.

I certainly didn’t need the job. I was comfortable at CBC Radio in Toronto doing sports nationally in the morning. My executive thought I’d lost my mind. “Why are you going there? You’re a big city guy from Montreal and Toronto.” (My first inkling what CBC executives thought of the West)

But I was looking for a challenge and relief from getting up at 4 A.M. When the Herald’s editor told me, “At your age (45) you won’t get this offer again” I thought, “Why not?” To understand Canada you have to live in all of Canada. Describing the country from Toronto is like a worm describing the garden.

So hello Calgary, goodbye Toronto. Little did I know I was about to enter the plot from Bill Murray’s brilliant existential comedy Ground Hog Day. In the film Murray plays Phill Conners, an acerbic weatherman for a Pittsburgh TV station. He hates his assignment covering Punxsutawney Phil the groundhog who sees his shadow on Ground Hog Day.

He is snotty with what he sees as bucolic rubes. “This is pitiful. A thousand people freezing their butts off waiting to worship a rat. What hype. Groundhog Day used to mean something in this town. They used to pull the hog out, and they used to eat it. You’re hypocrites, all of you!”

Through a strange quirk he suddenly becomes destined to live the same day, February 2, in an endless loop till he gets it right spiritually and romantically. He is baffled, enraged, frustrated, depressed, suicidal as the same people and situations repeat themselves. Each day begins with the radio in his room playing “I Got You, Babe” by Sonny & Cher.

Phil wonders about the Buddhist nightmare he’s living. “Well maybe the real God uses tricks, you know? Maybe he’s not omnipotent. He’s just been around so long he knows everything.”

Like Phil Conners I was a TV snob who maybe thought he was slumming in Stampede land. With my Toronto and CBC biases intact, I sought to change Calgary rather than the obverse. It showed. After I wrote critically about a fatal chuckwagon accident, one local columnist hissed that I didn’t know “a Charolais from a Chardonnay”. Good line, BTW.

Like Phil Conners, I was destined to live the same day over and over till I got right with the people I met in Calgary. Replacing Toronto/ CBC data in my brain with an appreciation of the people I now met took time. Not everything in Calgary was perfect. Not everything from Toronto was worth abandoning.

But I found myself liking the authenticity of the West, the determination of the people to pursue a goal, the long line of purple mountains to the west as my plane would bring me back after assignments. (Nothing can make me like the weather.)

I began rooting for them in their eternal struggle against the snobs— like my exec who thought Calgary was Baffin Island with an energy industry. As this column from 2018 illustrates, I had become a vendu, a sell-out to the petro billionaires. I was a traitor to my class.

Like Murray’s character I began to see the honest beauty in so many and the value of their dreams. And got right with the freedom to speak, the freedom to pursue goals now being suffocated by the blue-check elite. Canada had enough liberal enclaves. It needs checks and balances.

Which is why I sympathize with how they’re being made non-people by the current prime minister and the Media Party. The recent naming of a Greenpeace agitprop extremist as cabinet minister for the energy industry is a clear provocation against his Western political enemies. The preening press conference in Glasgow where he grandiosely proclaimed a cap on an industry that made the entire nation prosperous was an excommunication (thanks Rex Murphy) of the West.

Worse the provincial Conservatives, who planned a challenge to the equalization system, have become mired in the Covid crisis, distracted by the diktats of the health “experts” whose remedies changed every five minutes. It got so bad that Calgary elected a new mayor who thinks the city is in the midst of a climate disaster.

For what? A Boy Scout badge for global citizenship while the rest of the world snickers at Canada’s gullibility?

There is pushback. Alberta approved the referendum to renegotiate the equalization scheme. In Saskatchewan premier Scott Moe says the province needs a new deal within Confederation. That led Globe & Mail editors to sniff, “Moe wants Saskatchewan to have nationhood status. Yes, it’s as bizarre as it sounds “

That snark prompted Toronto author and psychoanalyst Jordan Peterson to take up the West’s cause. “This is not bizarre, you elitist centralist snobs. This is exactly what is going to happen given Trudeau’s antipathy toward the economic engines of the west. It’s absolutely inevitable. Wake up, Toronto.”

But Peterson is unique. Led by Toronto media/ culture voices the West is a whipping post. My heart is with my neighbours as they try to keep their bearings in these stormy seas. I’m not sure how long I’ll remain here (my kids and grandkids have moved elsewhere to pursue their lives), but like Phil Conners my loyalty will be with the proud, rambunctious Albertans who’ve taught me the meaning of a fulfilled life.

 

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com). The best-selling author of Cap In Hand has been nominated for the BBN Business Book award of 2020 for Personal Account with Tony Comper. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s also a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. His new book with his son Evan is called InExact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft Years In NHL History is now available on http://brucedowbigginbooks.ca/book-personalaccount.aspx

BRUCE DOWBIGGIN Award-winning Author and Broadcaster Bruce Dowbiggin's career is unmatched in Canada for its diversity and breadth of experience . He is currently the editor and publisher of Not The Public Broadcaster website and is also a contributor to SiriusXM Canada Talks. His new book Cap In Hand was released in the fall of 2018. Bruce's career has included successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster for his work with CBC-TV, Mr. Dowbiggin is also the best-selling author of "Money Players" (finalist for the 2004 National Business Book Award) and two new books-- Ice Storm: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Vancouver Canucks Team Ever for Greystone Press and Grant Fuhr: Portrait of a Champion for Random House. His ground-breaking investigations into the life and times of Alan Eagleson led to his selection as the winner of the Gemini for Canada's top sportscaster in 1993 and again in 1996. This work earned him the reputation as one of Canada's top investigative journalists in any field. He was a featured columnist for the Calgary Herald (1998-2009) and the Globe & Mail (2009-2013) where his incisive style and wit on sports media and business won him many readers.

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Bruce Dowbiggin

Concussed: The NFL Needs Its Head Read

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In 2014 Tipping Point author Malcolm Gladwell commented that, within 25 years, the NFL might become a renegade sport outside the mainstream of culture. “We will go to a middle position where we will disclose the risks and essentially dare people to play …,” Gladwell repeated in the recent film United State of Football  “That’s what the Army does. So we leave the Army for kids who have no other options, for whom the risks are acceptable.

“That’s what football is going to become. It’s going to become the Army. That’s a very, very different situation. That’s a ghettoized sport, not a mainstream American sport.” Many derided Gladwell at the time, but events this past week have leant credence to his theory.

Perhaps it’s the hangover from being lied to about The Science of Covid-19 by the mahatmas of healthcare. But if the NFL medics were hoping the public would give them the benefit of the doubt about their treatment of the gruesome Tua Tagovailoa head injury the past ten days they are sadly mistaken.

For a league that has pounded its chest about its attempts to lessen the danger from head hits, the farce that followed Tagovailoa’s injury the past week is a cruel deception. Whatever the facts eventually reveal (the NFL says it’s investigating) the PR failure of a system designed to protect employees is irreversible.

Former All Pro and now NBC broadcaster Rodney Harrison summed up the players’ reaction to the Tua episode. ““Please take care of yourself. Don’t depend on the NFL. Don’t depend on anybody. If something’s wrong with your head, report it.” – @Rodney_Harrison

Tagovailoa exhibited concussion symptoms after hitting his head late in the first half of Miami’s Week 3 game against Buffalo. He staggered and weaved before being helped off the field and into the dressing room. He was soon cleared by a team physician and an unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant to return in the second half as Miami beat the favoured Bills. Tagovailoa and the team later said his legs were wobbly because of a back injury.

Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel said that he was comfortable with his team’s processes regarding Tagovailoa’s health and clearance to return to play so quickly. “He was evaluated and then cleared by several layers of medical professionals, who – I don’t pretend to be one – but those people, the collection of them, cleared him of any head injury whatsoever. He had a back and ankle issue.” The team said it was good with sending  Tagovailoa to play in Cincinnati.  again on Thursday, just four days later.

Bad idea. After the Dophins QB rolled out on a play, 340-pound Bengals defensive tackle Josh Tupou slammed Tagovailoa backward into the turf. In the classic sign of concussion, Tagovailoa’s hands froze in an upright position while his fingers splayed awkwardly as he lay still on the ground. After a long delay he was taken away on a stretcher and sent to a local hospital. He was later released from the hospital and flew home with the Dolphins hours later.

The tsunami of outrage from media, fans and players quickly destroyed the NFL’s cultivated narrative of a proper protocol. So a scapegoat had to found. Accordingly, the neuro-trauma consultant who let Tagovailoa back into the Bills game in Miami was fired by the NFLPA after it was discovered that the doctor has made ‘several mistakes’ in his evaluation.

Sure. You go with that. Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh— for one— was not buying., “I couldn’t believe what I saw,” Harbaugh said about Thursday night’s re-injury. “I couldn’t believe what I saw last Sunday. It was astonishing to see. I’ve been coaching for 40 years — college and the NFL — and I’ve never seen anything like it before.”

Players present day and retired chimed in. Chris Long: “Now IF protocol wasn’t followed & I’m a coach or executive who greenlit him playing 4 days after a head injury… I have no idea how you’re focused on the game… shit is going to get real.” Patriots star DB Adrian Phillips: “Dude should not have been playing tonight.”

Shannon Sharp: “That’s a serious injury . Tua shouldn’t have been out there with Sunday Thursday turn around. Sometimes players need protecting from themselves. Dolphins failed Tua”

Ben Watson: “I know what I saw and Tua was concussed last week. The fact that he was able to return to play is everything that’s wrong with the game so many of us love. A full investigation is forthcoming. Praying for this young man right now. This is awful to witness.”

What even lay people now understand is that one brain injury makes a person more vulnerable to another injury— especially in a short period of time. Meaning the NFL needed to be extra diligent with Tagavailoa. They failed. Now no one can say when— or if— Tagavailoa will return to playing.

While attention is focussed on the NFL’s shortcomings it needs to be pointed out that the NHL continues its own nonsense over brain injuries. Knowing what is known now the league still allows fit, powerful players to punch each other in the head over… no one is sure. If Don Cherry were still the measuring stick he’d say it’s about honour.

NHL commissioner Gary “The Good Doctor” Bettman somehow can say that the link between punching a man in the head and brain trauma is still unproven. He seems unaware that protecting the NHL’s sluggo past may make him popular with his owners, but sponsors and fans are no longer with him.

Jarred Tinordi #24 of the Montreal Canadiens fights with Cody McLeod #55 of the Colorado Avalanche in the NHL game at the Bell Centre on October 18, 2014 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Francois Lacasse/NHLI/Getty Images)

They are eventually going to follow Gladwell’s advice and avoid a lucrative sport that employs only those who have nothing to lose.

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com). A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft YearsIn NHL History, , his new book with his son Evan, was voted the eighth best professional hockey book of by bookauthority.org . His 2004 book Money Players was voted seventh best, and is available via http://brucedowbigginbooks.ca/book-personalaccount.aspx

 

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Bruce Dowbiggin

Dramatic? Yes. But 1972 Was Not The Greatest Hockey Ever

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One of the advantages of being alive for an extended period is how you develop a filter for propaganda. Experiencing seminal sports events in real time affords the ability to separate hype from history. Perhaps the greatest sports events for Canadians of a certain age were those in September 1972, when— as a first-year student at U of Toronto— we cut classes to watch the national mental trauma of The Showdown Series.

Even 50 years after the emotional tumult of Canada/USSR, it’s fair to say that it was a drama unlike any other. It legitimized International hockey competition. In an age when a 36-inch TV was a luxury, hockey sticks were made of wood and Foster Hewitt was still semi-coherent the eight-game matchup between Canada’s top NHL stars and the “amateurs” of the Soviet Union delivered as a clash of cultures. Many who weren’t there call it the greatest hockey ever played.

The greatest hockey ever? Certainly the Soviets played their best. But the Slap Shot quality of Canada’s winning effort could not hold a candle to the 1987 Canada Cup squad that beat a Soviet team in a three-game final as the USSR was collapsing. Without Bobby Orr, Bobby Hull and Gerry Cheevers in the 1972 lineup— and lulled into complacency by homer media— Team Canada squandered its obvious advantages by arriving out of shape for Game 1.

Neither were they prepared mentally for the political consequences of eight games on two continents over 26 days in September. How high were tempers and how damning the criticism? The late Rod Gilbert’s own brother called him “a disgrace” after Canada suffered an embarrassing 7-3 defeat in the opener. While time has soothed frayed tempers the Summit Series was not Canada at its best psychologically. To be blunt, Canada’s top stars were their often own worst enemies when adversity appeared.

That’s been largely forgotten today as fans smooth out the team’s rough edges. Perhaps the best example of revisionism was Phil Esposito’s pouting, whiny screed after Canada lost Game 4 in Vancouver. Espo was pure entitlement, demanding that fans ignore the ill-tempered, slap-dash attitude of their heroes. While sycophantic journalists have re-fashioned the Johnny Esaw interview as a call to arms, it was more like a put-upon call to Canadians for pity.

Almost as egregious was the deliberate injuring of Soviet star Valeri Kharlamov, the speedy winger (think Pavel Bure) who had destroyed Canada with his skill. And so Bobby Clarke went full Ogie Ogelthorpe, breaking Kharlamov’s ankle in Game 6 with a cynical slash. Kharlamov tried to continue, but he was done as a factor in the remaining games. (Years later series star Paul Henderson admitted, “I really don’t think any part of that should ever be in the game.”

Then there was the late Jean Paul Parisé’s intimidating assault on controversial referee Josef Kompalla in Game 8. Frustrated about calls in the final game, Parisé charged at Kompalla with his stick raised. Just before he brought the stick down on Kompalla he pulled back. Parisé was ejected, but it proved an ugly moment mitigated only by Henderson’s later heroics.

To say nothing of Alan Eagleson’s obstreperous behaviour skittering across the ice with a raised finger after reportedly escaping the KGB. He was matched by Bill Goldsworthy’s raised finger at Game 8’s end. Espo’s repeated “choke” signs at bemused Soviets. Or the four Canadian players who jumped ship before the series switched to Moscow. It was high drama. The greatest hockey? No.

Thanks to Canada’s globalist PM Pierre Trudeau, Canada was looking to break its image as an imperial chattel of Great Britain. The series was a springboard to that for many. But Canada had to win. My friend Bob Lewis, who covered the series for Time magazine, is excellent in the Icebreaker documentary at presenting the trauma for a vulnerable Canada. The country headed for a federal election in October wondering how a defeat might hurt Trudeau’s chances. (The win didn’t keep Trudeau from losing his majority.)

The 50th anniversary, like previous anniversaries of the 1972 series,  has produced documentaries and films reliving the moments with surviving players and journalists who were there in the flesh. While neither CBC’s four-part series Summit 1972 nor Icebreaker: The ‘72 Canada Soviet Summit Series breaks any new ground on the Cold War climate, they do serve as a reminder to anyone born after the Series of the cultural impact of the showdown with a feared nuclear rival. And it uses the latest technology to clean up video and audio that was being lost to time.

The principal difference between the two productions— besides length— is the scoreboard of which players on the two teams appear in each documentary. Who gets Ken Dryden? Who nails down Phil Esposito? Who gets Vladislav Tretiak? The greatest impression is the age of the surviving men now (10 Team Canada members have passed away) who look more like WW II vets than hockey heroes.

Sadly, the producers of Icebreaker also include extensive interviews with convicted felon Alan Eagleson, who stole the glory from Joe Krycka and Fred Page of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association who originally negotiated the series. The corrupt Toronto lawyer then pushed them aside in his position as player agent and NHL Players Association director. Yes, he was part of the series, but allowing him to restore his integrity via a starring role in this documentary makes for tough watching.

So for those beleaguered by a modern world, the 1972 retellings will be a balm with a happy ending— like when Esposito met noted USSR hockey fan and cold-blooded dictator Vladimir Putin years later. “Mr. Esposito, I thought you hated all Russians,” Putin remarked. “Mr. Putin, I did until my daughter married one,” Esposito replied.

For others it might fill in the stories told by now-deceased relatives and friends who saw it all. And for aging Boomers, whose proxy was carried by Team Canada 1972, the throwback will be a reminder that something of worth more than bell bottoms and sideburns emerged from their glory days.

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com). A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft YearsIn NHL History, , his new book with his son Evan, was voted the eighth best professional hockey book of by bookauthority.org . His 2004 book Money Players was voted seventh best, and is available via http://brucedowbigginbooks.ca/book-personalaccount.aspx

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