Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The secret life of a hockey hater

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It astonishes me to say this. I plan to spend Sunday afternoon watching a hockey game on TV.

Well, at least the first period of you know which game. We'll see if it holds my attention. The truth is that NHL hockey bores me stiff, and I probably have not watched more than five minutes of a game in 40 years. My wife, truly, does not realize how lucky she is.

But like so many red-blooded Winnipeggers, I have been caught up in the excitement of the return of the Jets. I have puffed up my chest with the best of us, Air Canada managers aside, as our city enjoys its moment in the national limelight.

You don't have to be a hockey lover to appreciate how much it means to the city's self-image. We're "back in the bigs," to quote the title of my sportswriter colleague Randy Turner's newly released book, a sure-fire instant bestseller.

The Jets story has been top of newscasts across the country since last May. The New York Times has a reporter here this weekend. But it hit home on a personal level a couple of weeks ago. I forwarded an internal Free Press email offering a staff discount on Turner's book to my brother, a chartered accountant in Calgary.

He lives and dies by the Flames and is more "regular guy" than I. Still, I expected his response to be a bit snarky. I was wrong.

"Cool," came his instant iPhone text. "Can you get me two copies?"

Regardless of how great this is for our reputation outside the province, what thrills me most is the sense of pride and hope the team's return has given young Winnipeggers.

Life goes so fast. I'm now one of the old guys. I made my decision to make this city my home a long time ago, and nothing short of a massive failure of Duff's Ditch will dislodge me.

But those in their teens and 20s are making their big life decisions now. If the presence of an NHL franchise helps them to feel that Winnipeg has a brighter future than it once did, and maybe they'll stay and chip in, then who can doubt its value?

I contemplate my lack of interest in spectator sports all the time. In my hierarchy of self-identity, I am a male first and Canadian second. Both of these words are wound up with watching games on TV, especially hockey. Is there something lacking in my maleness or Canadianness because I don't?

For the record, I was quite normal as a boy, at least in this regard. My mood could be gauged by how well the Saskatchewan Roughriders were doing.

But when I moved here in my early 20s, my male cohort, Winnipeggers born and bred every one, paid no attention to professional sports.

To this day, the majority of my male friends outside this newsroom care little for sports and never attend games.

Inside the newsroom, I am in the minority, and that's as it should be. Being a professional sports illiterate in any area of media is nothing to be proud of. The best newspaper people are well-rounded; they know the inside of a hockey arena as well as they understand policy around the legislative cabinet table.

Oh, on some kind of intellectual level, I appreciate the group solidarity that spectator sports enhances, and there's no doubt that athletic prowess at the highest levels can be stunning to watch. As a war substitute, among 21st-century nation states, sports provide a useful release valve.

But the big things one learns watching sports -- how to win and lose gracefully, the value of perseverance, etc. -- are the lessons of adolescence. Better to put them into action yourself than waste all those hours watching them unfold again and again in front of the TV.

In the last couple of years, if you permit me a little bragging, I've put my money where my mouth is in this regard. I've become a regular with the Manitoba Table Tennis Association -- even playing in a ladder league where I have been trounced by 11-year-old girls. For the last two summers, a friend and I have been playing tennis on public courts up to three times a week.

For a guy who has spent too much of his life in front of a computer screen, it feels great to be more physically active and, yes, a bit smug. I'm aware that many men my age can no longer flounder around on a tennis court for two hours.

My tennis partner is an alumnus of our newsroom and, it must be said, a huge Jets fan. Huge. He is part of a group that got two season tickets, because one of their eight was a Moose ticket holder.

He has been insufferable over the last month in his anticipation of the season beginning. He has hinted that, maybe, if he's desperate, he'll take me to one of the games he has drawn, as long as I pay the full price of my ticket.

I've been too proud to tell him, but secretly I want to go. It's the Jets, after all. They're back. What Winnipegger would give up a chance to be part of that?

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 8, 2011 A18

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