From the Publisher
"What drives a Bobby Orr to push along on wrecked knees? How was Wayne Gretzky able to see patterns opening up on a rush before they did? Why did Tim Raines risk all his potential on cocaine? Not all of the answers are to be found in this eclectic and intentionally quirky collection of exceptional Canadian sports reportage, but the questions are posed frankly and with no ulterior motive beyond sincere curiosity." Ottawa Citizen
"The way it looks from here is pretty darn good. With Mordecai Richler writing on former world snooker champion Cliff Thorburn of Victoria, Peter Gzowski on Gretzky, Ken Dryden on saving hockey and Stephen Brunt on the still unforgiven Ben Johnson, how can it not be?... These varied and mostly well-chosen pieces reflect [the Canadian] understated yet sometimes surprisingly feisty national sporting character." The Times-Colonist
"[Brunt] has assembled an eclectic and intentionally quirky collection of exceptional Canadian sports reportage.... As a whole, [the selections] explore what it is about sports that captivates so many of us.... Questions are posed frankly and with no ulterior motive beyond sincere curiosity." The Gazette
"Skillfully selected.… Sure to take readers back to a more innocent timewhen Wayne Gretzky was the world’s greatest hockey player, not a Hockey Canada executive, Ben Johnson was the world’s fastest human, not a drug cheat, and the Montreal Expos and Toronto Blue Jays were at the top of the baseball world and had more than a few thousand fans in the stands per game to witness it." Winnipeg Free Press
Read an Excerpt
Anyone who has written about sport for a living has received the letter, or e-mail or phone call, that always begins with the same few, stinging words: “I don’t know what game you were watching . . .” What invariably follows are great waves of outrage. The correspondent has missed a flagrant foul against the fan’s favourite team, or erred by pointing out some hero’s sin; he or she has overlooked a great coaching blunder, been oblivious to the key contribution of an unsung star, thought the wrong guy won the fight, and in general couldn’t see the forest for the trees.
Sometimes, any or all of that is true, or at least true for one set of eyes, because perspective matters so much. The way it looks from here is not the way it looks from elsewhere because of the life experience and passion and need and cultural baggage we all bring to the table. What’s great and powerful about spectator sport, the reason the athletes and owners make all those millions, is that it can be anything you want it to be, from light background noise to all-consuming obsession, from empty spectacle to full-blown belief system. Unlike the movies or the theatre, sport requires a real commitment from its audience, a sense of identification with the competitors, a rooting interest that extends beyond the final whistle or the last out. That continuing relationship can originate in community identification, or family history, in forging a bond with a single star, in riding high with a great team, or suffering along with a hopeless underdog. Always, though, it’s personal, and in some way unique.
This collection, a very subjectively assembled cross-section of some of the best Canadian writing on sport, is the product of two, commingled “heres.”
The first is the press box — a place where people who have seen too much, who have told the same story too often, who have witnessed the sports gods at both their best and worst and so can’t help but be a bit cynical — still rise to the occasion night after night, capturing the moment in words. There remains the notion that the sports section is the toy department of newspapers, a place not known for journalistic heavy lifting, but where tall tales are spun out of facts. Once upon a time, there was some truth to that, but the contemporary sports writer often faces a far more complex task than do confreres in the parliamentary press gallery or at a corporate annual meeting. A touch of artistry is a given: the sports pages have always been and always will be a place where good writing truly matters. But sports reporters and columnists have been forced to adapt to a world in which it pays to have some knowledge of economics and labour law, of the ins and outs of a criminal prosecution and the machinations of the stock market, of racial politics and government fiscal policy and, of course, the infield fly rule. Even the fantasy part has become more complex, since any fan can see any game at any time. Thanks to the double-edged miracle of the five-hundred-channel universe, the writer no long enjoys free rein as the lone witness to an otherwise mysterious event. It’s not good enough merely to describe, and perhaps even embellish just a little, what people have already seen for themselves (and seen over and over again, in the replays and highlights). And in some ways, they know too much. Readers now harbour doubts about their athletic heroes, and aren’t always willing to suspend disbelief.
So the challenge for the ink-stained wretch is to spin the event and the personalities involved into a neat little story, with insight, with wit, with insider knowledge, to know when to go with the emotion, to be a fan, and when to stand at arm’s length and deconstruct, chipping away at the myth’s foundation. And do all of that in about twenty minutes, or less.
Deadline writing is rapidly becoming a lost art in the business. So much of what fills the pages in the news, the business, the arts sections of any paper, are forms of institutional reporting and analysis, easily collected and written during a nine-to-five day, long before the presses run for what are now all morning newspapers. (The Internet, obviously, is a different animal, with its perpetual deadlines. So far, though, in terms of sport, it’s a medium that is sensational in providing raw information instantly, but that delivers little or nothing of literary value.) Sportswriters are among the last of a dying breed, called upon to think and write very quickly, to watch an event, to analyze what’s taken place, to turn some aspect of that into an easily digestible tale suitable for a saucy T&A&Sports tabloid, or a mass-market broadsheet, or a gray, super-serious, business-driven rag. The selections contained here come from all of the above, and there are gems to be found in every genre. Stories written to deadline, by definition, aren’t as polished as newspaper features that are fretted over for days, or magazine pieces that are fretted over for weeks, or books that are fretted over for years. It’s a literature made up entirely of first drafts. But there’s also an immediacy to it, something raw, in the moment. The images are still fresh in the writers’ minds; the crowd’s roar still rings in their ears. To have started typing seconds after Ben Johnson crossed the finish line, or after Joe Carter’s home run sailed over the left field fence in SkyDome, or after Mario Lemieux’s goal won the Canada Cup at Copps Coliseum, is different than mulling over the event months later. When it’s done well, a little bit of life and blood and sweat and joy makes its way right on to the page.