Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Sports guys score big interview

But Toronto mayor mainly talks football

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WASHINGTON -- A quartet of self-described "knuckleheads" celebrated a journalistic touchdown Thursday as they nabbed a timely, unexpected interview with Rob Ford.

The Washington, D.C., sports-radio hosts described how they'd sent the Toronto mayor an invitation a few weeks back, mainly as a lark, to offer football predictions on their show.

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But to their great surprise, Ford agreed to appear once a week on The Sports Junkies, a CBS morning radio show on WJFK-FM.

Little did they know the first show would end up airing one day after a fresh eruption of explosive allegations about Ford, leaving them with an unanticipated news exclusive.

Before they knew it, the hosts told listeners, CNN was asking to send a camera crew into their studio to tape their segment on NFL football picks.

"We're happy to be joined by the most controversial political figure in the world right now," one said as he introduced Ford.

Barely a minute earlier, they'd been mocking him. The hosts made fun of Ford's weight before he joined them on the air, describing him as having a "quadruple chin."

They also shared a laugh over one of the new allegations -- that Ford is believed to have offered purported gang members $5,000 and a car in exchange for a video that purportedly shows the mayor smoking crack cocaine.

The latest allegations, which have not been proven in court, are contained in wiretap summaries put together as part of a guns-and-gangs investigation that were in a police document released Wednesday.

"(Wow), $5,000!" one of the hosts exclaimed, sarcastically.

It wasn't all laughter and levity, though.

The hosts acknowledged the seriousness of the allegations and said they had a duty to address them on the air, if only in passing. But they made it clear they'd invited Ford onto their show to talk football, and that's what they mostly planned to do.

"We're not the Smoking Gun. We're not 60 Minutes," one host said. "We're four knuckleheads who want to have this larger-than-life personality on... We're not going to backstab the guy. We're not the moral police."

Ford has admitted to smoking crack cocaine in the past and apologized for it, but says he does not use the drug and is not an addict.

When the hosts did ask about the latest court documents, Ford dismissed the allegations and referred any further questions on the subject to his lawyer.

In the end, they mostly talked football. Ford wound up impressing them with his knowledge of the sport and offered predictions on all of this week's games, going beyond the few picks the hosts had asked him to make.

Ford explained he'd coached for 22 years. He said his admiration for the Washington Redskins stemmed from his stint at a pro football camp years ago.

He also revealed he bets regularly on NFL football through the provincial lottery board. His hosts, who were taping their show from an Atlantic City casino, expressed support for Canada's legal sports gambling.

The mayor was asked about an embarrassing viral video that shows him tumbling to the ground while preparing to pass a football.

"I'm not a quarterback," Ford said. "I was a centre."

He denied stealing anyone's seat at a recent Buffalo Bills game in Toronto and said he'd been escorted to that spot by an usher. He also said he enjoyed having people come up to him throughout the game to have their picture taken with him.

"I'm really humbled by all the support," he said, describing himself as a historically great mayor for keeping taxes low, returning people's phone calls and maintaining labour peace.

"I have a lot of supporters in Toronto."

But he said he knew he was taking a risk at the Bills game, as a politician in a public venue, by digging into a helping of chicken wings with so many photographers present.

"I dipped into those hot wings and they got me -- whammo!"

Ford also fielded some political questions.

Asked for his opinion about U.S. President Barack Obama, Ford said he liked him personally, but not his politics. In another recent U.S. media interview, Ford's brother Doug described the mayor as "the white Obama."

Rob Ford said he's a conservative and, if he were American, he'd be a Republican.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 6, 2013 A18

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