It’s all well and good, un­til …

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - STEVE MIL­TON

The Hamil­ton Bull­dogs stage their an­nual Teddy Bear Toss on Satur­day at First On­tario Place, and it’s al­ways a sat­is­fy­ing, and sur­pris­ingly emo­tional, ex­pe­ri­ence. How­ever, not all sports pro­mo­tions pro­duce the same rich re­ac­tions, and we’ve had a few beauts around here. In con­ver­sa­tions last week with col­league Scott Radley and former Spec­ta­tor writer Garry McKay, we got to re­call­ing three or four of them that I hap­pened to be at with one or the other of them. There was the time in the sec­ond year of the brief, and long-for­got­ten ten­ure of the Hamil­ton Canucks (the AHL team which died a quick death in 1994) when they’d in­ex­pli­ca­bly gone to a cave­man theme at what was then Copps Coli­seum. For some other un­de­ter­mined rea­son, they would fly a small di­ri­gi­ble around the up­per reaches of the rink as a pro­mo­tion ve­hi­cle. But one day the bal­loon sud­denly lost air and flac­cidly flopped upon a group of shocked fans who had to scram­ble to avoid it. No­body smoth­ered, but it’s likely no­body bought sea­son’s tick­ets for the next year, ei­ther. Not that there was go­ing to be a next year. And you can’t think of pro­mo­tions in the lo­cal ice palace with­out im­me­di­ately re­mem­ber­ing the launch­ing tool that the AHL Bull­dogs staff em­ployed to ri­fle free swag into the au­di­ence. A sub­ma­rine chain was a spon­sor at the time, so the tool was called the “Sub Gun,” and staff would fire tightly-wrapped sand­wiches into the stands. Some­where in the early 2000s Toronto Maple Leaf pres­i­dent Ken Dry­den was in the press box when an er­rant sand­wich screamed into the box, slam­ming into the wall an inch or so above Dry­den’s head and ex­plod­ing. Cov­ered in food de­tri­tus, he was not overly amused. The gun was pow­er­ful enough that its con­tents could reach the rafters if the shooter’s aim was off, which it some­times was. More than once sand­wiches hit the metal rafters, were ripped open, and an aerial salad bar — meats, vegeta­bles, mayo, ketchup, mustard and spe­cial sauce — rained down on un­sus­pect­ing fans be­low. “Go­ing to the hockey game? Don’t for­get your um­brella.” Over at Ivor Wynne, when Bob Young took over the Tiger-Cats in 2004, he hired a lot of re­ally good, young mar­ket­ing peo­ple. One of their early pro­mo­tions was a post-game py­rotech­nic dis­play, and about 20,000 fans stayed in their seats to take it in. About two min­utes into the eight-minute show, it all fell apart as the fire­works seemed to lose their grip on the turf and be­gan fir­ing off in all di­rec­tions. It was rem­i­nis­cent of Les­lie Nielsen in “Naked Gun” yelling, “Move along there’s noth­ing to see here!” as he’s stand­ing in front of a blaze at a fire­works ware­house. Some py­rotech­nics fired straight down into the turf, which had just been re­placed for $1.5 mil­lion, and now there were small sec­tions of it in flames. They burned a scar more than a foot in di­am­e­ter in the west end zone, and charred streaks all over the sur­face were still vis­i­ble a few days later. Fans in the east end zone were en­veloped in smoke and those in the west end zone — in cor­po­rate tents made of can­vas — had to make tracks as spin­ning fire­works threat­ened to move toward them. And, there was a chance sparks would land in the post-game garbage, or on the flammable wooden seats in the grand­stand. It all ended well and the Ti­cats staged a witty fol­lowup pro­mo­tion later, laugh­ing at the whole af­fair. Hu­mour is of­ten rooted in pathos and neardis­as­ter, and as long as no one is re­ally hurt, the closer the call the more in­tense the hu­mour. That was never truer than prior to the Labour Day game against the Arg­onauts a cou­ple of years af­ter the py­rotech­nic failure. Sky­divers were to soar down into Ivor Wynne prior to kick­off, but a se­ri­ous wind be­gan blow­ing just as they jumped. No­body came close to a clas­sic land­ing on the field, which was funny un­til you re­al­ized that some of the divers were ac­tu­ally in peril. One sailed into the score­board in the west end and, as Radley re­called to me this week, “It was the only time in my life I will­ingly held an­other man’s hand.” I’d for­got­ten that part. We had a perfect view from the press box and as we fol­lowed the path of one parachutist, we re­al­ized he was prob­a­bly go­ing to hit the hy­dro wires near Prince of Wales School. Radley in­stinc­tively grabbed my hand and said: “He’s go­ing to die.” When the sky­diver ex­e­cuted a great ma­noeu­vre or two to avoid the wires, we let out a huge sigh of re­lief; and even from where we sat, you could see he did too. But then he sud­denly rec­og­nized he was land­ing right in front of a mov­ing school bus, whose driver had ab­so­lutely no rea­son to ex­pect a para­trooper to ap­pear in front of him like a ghost. But some­how he avoided the bus, ev­ery­one was safe, and we didn’t stop laugh­ing for a week. We still laugh about it now, al­though we got some nasty emails, which sug­gested maybe we should try sky­div­ing in a brisk wind and see just how funny that ac­tu­ally is. We didn’t try it, of course, be­cause we know our job: It’s mak­ing fun of chaos, not be­ing part of it.

Vet­eran Spec­ta­tor colum­nist Steve Mil­ton has pretty much seen it all in his 40 years cov­er­ing sports around the world and, in Be­ing There, re­lives spe­cial mo­ments of those sto­ries, from the in­side out, ev­ery Fri­day. If there’s a mem­o­rable sporting event you want Steve to re­call, let him know at smil­[email protected]­ Chances are, he was there.

smil­[email protected]­ 905-526-3268 | @mil­to­natthes­pec


A scar left be­hind by a py­rotech­nic pro­mo­tion gone awry at Ivor Wynne Sta­dium in 2004.

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