There is not much that can make a Winnipeg Transit bus driver run late. They will stay pretty well on schedule through all but the worst of blizzards, floods, tsunamis or earthquakes although, fortunately, we don't get many of the last two catastrophes here, grounded as we are on dry prairie and bedrock Canadian shield.
In recent weeks, the buses have been running late occasionally, but it's not because of the weather. Something -- something good -- has happened to this city. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are contenders again, giving a thumping Friday night to the hated Hamilton Tiger Cats and guaranteeing the team a place in the playoffs -- it doesn't get much better than that. Or does it?
After 15 years on the road, the Winnipeg Jets have finally come home. Yesterday they opened the regular season of the National Hockey League with a game against the Montreal Canadiens.
The whole city went a little wild for a day. The Forks started its pre-game party at noon, the MTS Centre opened an hour early to accommodate fans lucky enough to have tickets -- or rich enough to buy one; scalpers were apparently asking more than $2,000 for a seat at the show -- sports bars were busy with the TV broadcast of the game, Thanksgiving dinners were rescheduled to accommodate the hockey and the buses may have been running late, what with the game traffic and partying and all.
That's why the buses were running late on Sept. 30. Both the Jets and Bombers had home games and the city centre was bustling with Jets fans walking to the arena on Portage with their cowbells clunking and football fans in their Bomber blue lining up to catch a bus to the stadium. You can beat anything but human traffic was one bus driver's explanation.
The Winnipeg Jets have been in the NHL before and it wasn't a happy experience. The best team in the World Hockey Association was emasculated by the NHL as its price of admission, its best players auctioned off to other teams. That first NHL team was not very good and it never got much better -- in the 1980-1981 season it won only nine games.
There is a certain poetry, then, in the fact that, whether it was an accident of scheduling or an act of penitence by the league, the first home game of the new Winnipeg Jets in the regular season of this new NHL was against the (literally) fabulous Montreal Canadiens.
During the 1970s, the Habs in the NHL and the Jets in the WHA were perhaps the two best teams in hockey. Les Canadiens won the Stanley Cup an astonishing five times in the six years between 1973 and 1979 and the Jets were in WHA championship games five times, winning three Avco Cups. On Dec. 15, 1979, the emasculated Jets beat the Habs at home, 6-2 -- "They played the game like they were playing for the Stanley Cup," said the Montreal coach.
We can only hope the new Jets will play all their games like that, because this city cannot afford to lose a hockey team twice. It would crush the spirit that Winnipeg has finally won back. As comment editor Gerald Flood points out elsewhere on this page, the Jets and the Bombers aren't the only things that are making this city better. There are more important ones. The new airport and CentrePort may have a far bigger economic impact and the Canadian Museum of Human Rights at The Forks certainly means more in the grand scheme than some guys playing shinny in a new arena.
But the cold truth is that they are not hockey. You are not going to see Citizens for CentrePort cluttering up Kenaston or Mobs for the Museum clogging Portage and Main. It is the Jets that define the new spirit of Winnipeg and make the buses run late. It doesn't matter that score was 5-1 for Montreal last night. What matters is that Winnipeg, deep in its heart, cared so much that the game took place at all. It's our town, our team; be proud of both.