It’s not what you say, it’s where you say it

The Intelligencer (Belleville) - - SPORTS - PAUL SVOBODA CZECH POINTS

You just had to laugh at the re­cent con­tro­versy sur­round­ing a group of young mem­bers of the Ot­tawa Sen­a­tors and their Uber ride in Ari­zona last month.

Well, un­less you were the as­sis­tant coach — Marty Ray­mond — they were crap­ping on.

This group of young, im­ma­ture Sens, rid­ing in an Uber in Phoenix ( that’s trou­ble right away) and cor­rectly be­liev­ing they were en­joy­ing a pri­vate con­ver­sa­tion, pro­ceeded to dump on Ray­mond and his pow­er­play and penalty- killing acu­men. Fair enough.

Th­ese kids aren’t the only pro­fes­sional ath­letes in any pro­fes­sional sport in the his­tory of pro­fes­sional sports to bad- mouth a coach in pri­vate. In any gen­er­a­tion.

How­ever, that’s where this story goes south.

There was a time, not so long ago but also very long ago, when pro­fes­sional ath­letes could oc­cupy a cor­ner ta­ble in a bar and state their griev­ances among each other. Even with a news­pa­per re­porter in tow. And it never got re­ported.

It was just the way it was.

Not to­day, un­for­tu­nately, where ev­ery hiccup made by a pro ath­lete is breath­lessly re­ported in the next day’s news­pa­per. Or, more in tune with the times, on so­cial me­dia.

Too bad.

Yes, the young Sens were goofy enough not to re­al­ize there was prob­a­bly a cam­era in the Uber which has to be com­mon th­ese days in case of a crime. And they were prob­a­bly more goofy enough not to un­der­stand that some idiot would post this stuff.

Still, I feel sorry for th­ese guys. I re­mem­ber the first of two sea­sons when I made the triple- A Belleville hockey team back in 1975. ( Yes, a long time ago, Belleville was a triple- A cen­tre). The coach was Rob Bur­rowes. I was ter­ri­fied of him.

I was the ab­so­lute last guy added to the ros­ter when the fi­nal cuts were made af­ter the week­end try­outs at Memo­rial Arena. I was a util­ity player, at best, and never wanted to com­pro­mise my po­si­tion by say­ing any­thing that might send me back to house league at dreaded Dick El­lis Rink.

As per­haps the least tal­ented player on the team, I en­dured many long nights un­der the men­tor­ship of Coach Bur­rowes, in­clud­ing a Thurs­day night game in Kingston when he told me -- in front of the en­tire dress­ing room -- that his daugh­ter had a bet­ter slap­shot than me.

For years, I was never sure Coach Bur­rowes even had a daugh­ter. But I was con­vinced she could shoot the puck harder than me.

When the 1975- 76 sea­son ended, I was won­der­ing what I would do for a sum­mer job. I was go­ing into Grade 13 and wanted to date this par­tic­u­lar girl I was most fond of and needed gas money for the ‘ 69 Chev­elle my mother was will­ing to lend me on week­ends.

Low and be­hold, one evening the phone rang. It was Coach Bur­rowes.

“How would you like to work for me this sum­mer,” he said.

“Ah, sure, great,” I stam­mered. When I hung up the phone, the look of shock on my face must’ve been pretty ob­vi­ous. Coach Bur­rowes was re­cre­ation fa­cil­i­ties man­ager for Belleville. He doled out the best sum­mer jobs. Why me? I thought he hated me.

“What’s wrong?” said my mom. “Ah, Coach Bur­rowes just of­fered me a sum­mer job,” I man­aged to re­ply.

It turned out to be the best sum­mer job I ever had. ( A close sec­ond was work­ing for Coke a cou­ple of years later as a de­liv­ery as­sis­tant when the old plant was lo­cated where Loy­al­ist Plaza stands to­day.)

Years af­ter, Coach Bur­rowes and I be­came good friends. We still are to­day.

A few years af­ter my triple- A days, I wound up reg­is­tered at the Univer­sity of Toronto. The var­sity hockey team, coached by the leg­endary Tom Watt, was look­ing for play­ers for the first open week­end try­outs. I signed up.

No­body dumped on Coach Watt at U of T in those days. The Var­sity Blues were the best col­lege team in the coun­try. He was god of univer­sity hockey.

Af­ter the fi­nal day of the two- a- day open­ing week­end work­outs, the first cuts were made. Coach Watt skated up to me and said: “Mr Svoboda. You are not ready for this level of hockey.” I nod­ded. “Hey coach,” I asked, “will I ever be ready?” Coach Watt did not hes­i­tate to re­ply. “No,” he said.

Hello beer leagues.

How­ever, be­cause -- I be­lieve -I had main­tained a solid re­la­tion­ship with Coach Watt, he hired me to be the PA an­nouncer for Var­sity Blues home games on Fri­day nights at Var­sity Arena. I jumped at the chance.

I hope th­ese young Sen­a­tors re­al­ize the er­ror of their way. No, it was not in dump­ing on a coach -- that’s been done, for­ever, in ev­ery sport, in ev­ery gen­er­a­tion.

It was done in the wrong place at the wrong time. But maybe it would never be right.

I re­cently read a bi­og­ra­phy of leg­endary NFL quar­ter­back Johnny Uni­tas. Johnny U.

When he played for the Bal­ti­more Colts, he was per­haps the last great QB in pro­fes­sional foot­ball to call all of his own plays. But, once in a while, head coach Weeb Ew­bank would send some­thing in.

“We’re not run­ning that,” Uni­tas would most of­ten say.

Years later, re­ported the author, Tom Cal­la­han, some ob­servers were sur­prised to learn that Uni­tas re­spected Ew­bank. A lot.

He just never crapped on him. In pub­lic.

Yes, the rules were dif­fer­ent in those days. But no­body ever called Johnny U stupid.


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