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