It’s all here: classic reports on Canada’s great sporting triumphs, from Joe Carter’s World Series–winning home run for the Toronto Blue Jays in 1993 to the excitement of the back-to-back men’s and women’s hockey gold medals in Salt Lake City. Stephen Brunt gives an entire section to writers who, unlike those covering other beats, must work tightly by the clock, submitting their stories just as soon as the action for the day is over. But he has also chosen our best writers’ more thoughtful pieces on our national obsessions — such as Ed Willes on the WHA’s seven tumultuous years and Wayne Johnston on the Original Six — and a good sampling of the great sportswriters such as Trent Frayne, Peter Gzowski and Milt Dunnell. The net effect is an examination of the deep role sport plays in our lives and imaginations, in our sense of self and nationhood.
Stephen Brunt has cast his net widely. He includes superb stories of lower profile Canadian sports such as wrestling and horse racing, even Monster Truck battles, and allows space for his own unequalled and unforgettable profiles of Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson, as well as his post-mortem on Ben Johnson’s fall from grace.
Full of triumph and heartbreak, great writing and great passions — and a few wonderful surprises — this book will be essential reading for every serious sports fan.
• Ian Brown on the stud-horse business
• Christie Blatchford on the 2003 Women’s Olympic Hockey Gold
• Rosie DiManno on the Men’s
• James Christie on Ben Johnson’s 1988 Olympic triumph in Seoul
• Michael Faber on Pat Burns
• Red Fisher on Lemieux and Gretzky at the 1987 Canada Cup
• Trent Frayne on Canadian Open golf champ Ken Green deciding to play Sun City during apartheid
• Bruce Grierson on Canada’s best squash player
• Peter Gzowski on the Oilers with Gretzky
• Tom Hawthorn on John Brophy’s last brawl
• Brian Hutchinson on Owen Hart’s widow’s revenge
• Wayne Johnston on the Montreal Canadiens
• Guy Lawson on curling
• Allan Maki on the 1989 Hamilton–Saskatchewan Grey Cup
• Dave Perkins on the biggest home run in World Series history
• Mordecai Richler on snooker’s Cliff Thorburn
• Steve Simmons on Donovan Bailey
• Mike Ulmer on Cujo’s charm
From the Hardcover edition.
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About the Author
From the Hardcover edition.
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.
From the Hardcover edition.
Table of ContentsIntroduction
• Raines Beats $1000-a-Week Habit, Michael Farber — The Gazette (Montreal)
• Carter’s No Ordinary Joe after Series-Winning Blast, Dave Perkins — Toronto Star, deadline writing
• Walker Worthy Target for Jays, Milt Dunnell — Toronto Star, deadline writing
• August 7, 1921, Steven Hayward — From Buddha Stevens and Other Stories, fiction
• White Rules, Gare Joyce — Saturday Night
• Part of the Game, Allen Abel — The Globe and Mail, deadline writing
• Discord Works in Tyson’s Favour, Milt Dunnell — Toronto Star, deadline writing
• Boxing the Greatest at Ali’s Farm, Stephen Brunt — The Globe and Mail
• Going the Distance from Reality, Chris Jones — National Post
• The Trouble with Tyson, Stephen Brunt — The Globe and Mail
• Merv Curls Lead, Guy Lawson — Saturday Night
• Destiny Finally Arrives for Long-Suffering Franchise, Allan Maki — Calgary Herald, deadline writing
• Garry Sawatzky: Uncaged Lion, Jim Taylor — Sports Only
• Out of Africa, Jack Todd — The Gazette (Montreal)
• Rough Stuff in the Rain, Cam Cole — National Post, deadline writing
• Issue Black and White, but Green Sees Only the Colour of Money, Trent Frayne — The Globe and Mail, deadline writing
• Weir Wins in Canadian Style, Cam Cole — National Post, deadline writing
• Lemieux, Gretzky Team for Winner: Oh, Canada!, Red Fisher — The Gazette (Montreal), deadline writing
• Pat Burns Goes Home, Michael Farber — The Gazette (Montreal)
• Real-Life Slap Shot, Tom Hawthorn — Toronto Life
• Mogilny, Iain MacIntyre — The Vancouver Sun
• The Montreal Canadiens, Wayne Johnston — From Original Six: True Stories from Hockey’s Classic Era, fiction
• The WHA Revisited, Ed Willes — Ottawa Citizen
• Curtis’s Charm, Mike Ulmer — Saturday Night
• The Best in the World, Peter Gzowski — Maclean’s
• Still Scrapping After All These Years, Dave Feschuk — National Post
• A Win When It Counts, Christie Blatchford — National Post, deadline writing
• Gretzky’s Gang Beats U.S. 5–2 — and Keeps the Faith for a Desperate Nation, Rosie DiManno — Toronto Star, deadline writing
• Saving the Game, Ken Dryden — The Globe and Mail
• Orr’s Left Knee Gone for Good, Damien Cox — Toronto Star
• Goaltender Suite (iii) “One of You”; Things in Our Day; Desperate Moves, Randall Maggs — From The Sawchuk Poems, unpublished
• The Flood, Jim Coleman — Toronto Telegram
• Front Page Girl, Archie McDonald — The Vancouver Sun
• Racing’s Other Plate, Beverley Smith — The Globe and Mail
• A Stud Is Born, Ian Brown — The Globe and Mail
• Silent Cruise, Timothy Taylor — From Silent Cruise: Stories, fiction
• Return of the Battle of the Monster Trucks, Tom Hawthorn — This Magazine
• Mr. Iceberg, Stan Dragland — From Stormy Weather: Foursomes, unpublished
• From On Snooker: The Game and the Characters Who Play It, Mordecai Richler
• Court Jester, Bruce Grierson — Saturday Night
• Olympic Pressure Takes Personal Toll, James Christie — The Globe and Mail
• World’s Fastest Man Even Faster, James Christie — The Globe and Mail, deadline writing
• Simply the Best, Steve Simmons — The Toronto Sun
• Unforgiven, Stephen Brunt — Toronto Life
• The Widow’s Revenge, Brian Hutchinson — Saturday Night
From the Hardcover edition.