A first pay-per-view

PPV
On Sunday, I took my son to his first WWE pay-per-view … though how much longer we continue to call them that is in question, with them airing primarily on the WWE Network.

It was the Tables, Ladders and Chairs … and Stairs show in Cleveland, at the Quicken Loans Arena — “The Q.” [Here's my report: Browns loss offset by Ziggler win at TLC.]

We had fun. The seats were good, the action great, and the fans were pretty into it. The only issue with a show that has so much plunder and so much action away from the ring is that you end up watching a lot on the big screens.

And, because we’d been the Cleveland Browns game earlier in the afternoon, we had already had our fill of soda and popcorn, so didn’t need to buy anything at the show!

Naturally, the whole experience got me thinking a little bit about some of my own experiences at pay-per-views in the past.

My memory ain’t what it used to be … but here’s an attempt to list some of the pay-per-views I have been to through the years.

1) WrestleMania VI in 1990 — It was at Toronto’s SkyDome, and it was the last year that I wrote my Canadian Wrestling Report newsletter.

2) WWE Breakdown: In Your House on September 27, 1998 — It was at Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, Ontario, where I’d seen a ton of hockey over the years, as well as other events, like MoscaMania. The show was notable for the debut of Christian, a mysterious figure who arrived during the Edge vs Owen Hart bout.

3) WrestleMania XV in 1999 – The show was at Philadelphia’s First Union Center, but what really stands out for me was the fan fest — a precursor to the more ambitious Fan Axxess events — at the convention centre. They had a media room set up and continually brought out various WWF stars for interviews. I told Jerry Lawler that I owned a Lawler AWA World title T-shirt (still do). I joked with Edge that I didn’t need to talk to him, as I had only just seen him in Toronto. And I got to meet Isaac Hayes, who was there because of his celebrity as Chef in South Park, but who I knew as one of the greatest musicians and writers of all-time.

4) WCW Mayhem on November 21, 1999 – The Air Canada Centre in Toronto was rocking for WCW’s first PPV in town. There was a tournament for the WCW World title, and I remember the WCW PR guy tipping me off: “You Canadians are going to like the result.” The main event ended up being Bret Hart vs Chris Benoit, with the Hitman winning.

5) WrestleMania 2000 – This was the first and only time I’d done the triple-shot that a lot of fans do now, going to Anaheim’s Arrowhead Pond for the big show, then to Los Angeles for Raw and San Jose for Smackdown. Lots of memories with this one, particularly because my Dad made the trek with me. Of note, and this demonstrates the time, there was no wireless connection in the arena, and WWF didn’t pay to turn on the phone lines to file electronically in the press box. To file my story to the Sun newspaper chain (and SLAM! Wrestling), we had to go to an office of an employee of the Pond, where I put my story from a disc, and put that disc in their computer … once it booted up. (The next year in Houston, WWE had the phone lines working.)

6) WrestleMania X-Seven in 2001 – The Astrodome in Houston struck me as a bit of a dump, with water leaking up in the media room, and other excitement. Again, I find myself remembering things away from the show. WWE Canada hosted a dinner for its clients and even lowly media like me at Fogo de Chão Brazilian Steakhouse. Various WWE wrestlers are called upon to visit these type of events during the lead-up to WrestleMania, so everyone could go home saying they met a wrestler. Al Snow was dispatched to visit with us. I told him about a New Fabulous Kangaroos boomerang that I owned with his visage on it. His reply? “Burn it.” (Ironically, I didn’t go to WrestleMania X-8 in Toronto, as I had been laid off by Canoe, and wasn’t brought back to run the SLAM! Wrestling section until March 2003.)

7) WrestleMania 22 in 2006 – My hotel was right across the parking lot from Chicago’s Allstate Arena. It’s a tiny venue, maybe the smallest arena ever for WrestleMania. There was no press box, so I was typing in my seat. After the show, I ran across the parking lot — in the pouring rain — to my hotel so I could file the story. Then I had lots of wrestling fans to have a couple beers with once the work was done.

8) Unforgiven on September 17, 2006 – It’s always convenient when show at at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre. Alas, it is the last WWE PPV in town.

9) WWE TLC 2014 in Cleveland

Often I’ll hear, “Oh, you’re so lucky” because I’ve gone to WrestleMania, and all that — and I am — but it was also work, sometimes frustratingly so, butting my head up against the WWE machine.

No relation

oliver-murray

When retired NHL veteran Murray Oliver suddenly passed away from a heart attack on November 23, 2014, at the age of 77, I faced the inevitable question: “Are you guys related?”

Nope. We were not related, though we had some friends in common — in particular old wrestler Bruce Swayze.

I interviewed Murray a few times, and he was a nice guy. He was most appreciative of a big package of old documents from the files of the Minnesota North Stars that I copied and sent to him.

He also hooked me up with his old pal Lou Nanne for an interview.

Thanks, Murray. Rest in peace.


* * *

In case you were wondering, there are three players in National Hockey League history with the last name Oliver: David Oliver (played with the Michigan Wolverines before making the NHL with the Olivers, Rangers, Senators, Coyotes and Stars from 1995-2006), the aforementioned Murray Oliver, and the Hockey Hall of Famer, Harry “Pee-Wee” Oliver, who played in the NHL from 1926-37, with the Bruins and Americans.


* * *

oliver-al

For the record, I’m not related to Al Oliver either — but he was always one of our favourite baseball players growing up. My brother and I had an Al Oliver-licensed bat, and we still have it here in Toronto.

Al Oliver was such a beast of a player, a big guy who could hammer it. We collected baseball cards, so we learned about him that way, but once he played for the Montreal Expos, well — now there was something to brag about in the schoolyard, even if the hues of our skin didn’t match.

And I LOVE the way his hat doesn’t fit on his head in the baseball card posted here because of his afro.


* * *

Courtesy BaseballReference.com, here are the Major League Baseball Players named Oliver:
Al Oliver 1968-1985
Andy Oliver 2010-2011
Bob Oliver 1965-1975
Darren Oliver 1993-2013
Dave Oliver 1977-1977
Gene Oliver 1959-1969
Joe Oliver 1989-2001
Nate Oliver 1963-1969
Tom Oliver 1930-1933

* * *

Football? Not familiar with these guys listed at pro-football-reference.com, so we’re probably not related:
Bill Oliver G 1927-1927
Bob Oliver DE 1969-1969
Branden Oliver RB 2014-2014
Chip Oliver LB 1968-1969
Clancy Oliver DB 1969-1973
Darryl Oliver RB 1987-1987
Frank Oliver DB 1975-1976
Greg Oliver RB 1973-1974
Hubie Oliver RB 1981-1986
Jack Oliver T 1987-1987
Jeff Oliver T-G 1989-1989
Louis Oliver DB 1989-1996
Maurice Oliver LB 1991-1991
Melvin Oliver DE 2006-2006
Muhammad Oliver DB 1992-1995
Paul Oliver DB 2008-2011
Vince Oliver QB 1945-1945
Winslow Oliver RB 1996-2000

* * *

As for basketball, I’ve got nothing. Never heard of any of these guys, from BasketballReference.com:
Brian Oliver 1991-1998
Dean Oliver 2002-2003
Jimmy Oliver 1992-1999

But the greatest Oliver involved in basketball is by far my brother, Chris Oliver, to whom I AM related! He’s been the head coach at the University of Windsor for a decade now, and has taken the Lancers to a couple of Canadian championship Final 8 tournaments.

We need to get a basketball card made of him.

Go Lancers!


large_Oliver6
We are family! All hail coach Chris Oliver!

Going live on the radio for the first time

kern

Foreigner sang about how it “feels like the first time” and I had that feeling again on Friday, December 5th, when I accompanied my son, Quinn, on his first-ever radio appearance to promote Duck With the Puck.

He was on The War Room, with Mick Kern and Peter Berce, on Sirius XM’s NHL Network.

Truthfully, I can’t remember the first time I was on the radio live, but it must have been when I was doing my Canadian Wrestling Report newsletter as a teenager in the late 1980s. But I’d already been on TV by that point, a couple of times — once on Romper Room (really!) and once when I was a Cub Scout, so about 8 or 9, interviewing Betty Clay, the daughter of the founder of Scouting, Lord Baden Powell. That was on the local Rogers station, so it wasn’t live, though.

But Quinn will be able to remember this one forever, thanks to the glory of YouTube and Dad’s silliness in staying up late on Friday night putting together a video to compliment the audio.




It was a good time, and Mick Kern, with a 10-year-old hockey-loving son of his own, was a great host as well. He didn’t focus on me, as the adult who wrote the book with his son, never talked down to Quinn, rescued him on a couple of occasions when his train of thought got a little tangled (we talked about that happening later — it happens to us all!), and celebrated Quinn’s quirks, which brought out the love of Roberto Luongo and his Florida Panthers.

When Mick asked Quinn for a closing thought for Panthers fans, he delivered a classic quote: “Believe in Bobby Lu.” Both Mick and producer Peter Berce lost it at that point, and I do hope the clip ends up in circulation.

Will it lead to more? Hopefully. Quinn certainly proved that he could hang in real time, thinking on the spot.

Did it goose sales at all? We sold a few after yeah, but that’s not what was important in the end.

What really matters is that we got to spend the PD Day together and share a first-time experience.





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The inevitability of bad days

tea

I always chuckle when people refer to me as a prolific writer. If anything, I’m the opposite. Sure, since 2003, I’ve put out 10 different books, and written countless stories for SLAM! Wrestling, The Hockey News, and various other newspapers and publications, but there’s a deep shame in me that knows there could have been a hell of a lot more.

Today’s one of those bad days, where I can hardly build momentum to do anything. There’s transcribing to do, editing and posting of wrestling stories, interviews to conduct (none scheduled, so they are mostly cold-calls), some pieces to write for future books, filing, a documentary script to attempt, publicity to beg for … but I find myself unable to do much.

Writing a blog post counts, I guess. That only came about after a second cup of tea though.

In the past, I’ve asked other writers about it and all will confess there are days like this, where you throw on the jogging pants and don’t get much done. It doesn’t mean your brain isn’t working, it just isn’t focused in the most productive way. Being alone in the house instead of in an office environment is part of it, of course, and why I often make myself go to the local library to get some work done.

Perhaps it came to light particularly after the book launch last night of Stephen Smith’s book Puckstruck: Distracted, Delighted and Distressed by Canada’s Hockey Obsession. I only know Stephen a little, and we’ve helped each other out as fellow hockey historians a couple of times, but I went to the launch as you never know what you’ll find. For a while, I got to spend some time with D’Arcy Jenish, a writer I really admire, so that’s a bonus.

What struck home, though, was when Evan Solomon of CBC was introducing his friend, Stephen, and teasing him about how long it took to get the book out. Years and years. And years. From all accounts, the book itself is worth the wait (my copy is on its way), but it speaks to the complications of this trade.

I have NEVER found the writing to be the issue. The words seem to come easy. After labouring to gather up the interviews, newspaper clippings and with the browser open to hockey stats, I banged out six write-ups for the next book on hockey documents yesterday without much effort. No re-writes, no second guessing. Just writing.

There is no solution. It’s not a crippling issue by any means, just something that will pass. Eventually.

Maybe after another cup of tea. And chocolate.

Finding greatness in The Lost 10 Point Night

lost10point

One of the rules that exists, at least in my mind, is that a writer should never sign up to review a book by someone that they know well. Similarly, it’s important to distance yourself from giving your opinion on any books published by your own publisher — which in my case is ECW Press, the company which has put out nine of my books (with two more confirmed for down the road).

The idea is to show impartiality and transparency. Not everyone agrees with the rule, and I’ve seen reviews of my books by people I’ve hired for jobs the past, or worked with for years. Still, any publicity is good publicity as they, and they spelled my name right, so it’s all good.

All this brings me in a roundabout way to The Lost 10 Point Night: Searching for My Hockey Hero . . . Jim Harrison, which is written by the brother of one of my SLAM! Wrestling writers and is published by ECW Press. I’d like to tell you more about it, with the above as a confession of sorts to reveal any perceived bias.

It’s David Ward’s first book, and I did get to go to his book launch in Waterloo, Ontario, a couple of months back, which was the first time I met him. As an aside, nothing ever compares to your first book launch, as all your friends and family make it their mission to be there; later books hardly merit a shrug, it seems.

The book sat around the house for a bit, and I’d planned to read it. Then I started it, got deeply into it, and then distracted. Finally, a trip to the doctor resulted in the necessary time to finish it.

Wow.

This is one great book.

From the publisher:

Jim Harrison grew up on the prairies, played Junior in Saskatchewan, and pro with the Bruins, Leafs, Hawks, and Oilers. Three years before a former teammate equaled the mark, Harrison set one of the most enduring and seemingly unreachable records in professional hockey with three goals and seven helpers on January 30, 1973. And almost nobody remembers.

This is Harrison’s story: the games he played, the agent who stole from him, the woman he mourned, the fights he fought, and the friends he made — and lost — including Bobby Orr and Darryl Sittler. It’s about the injuries he suffered, the pedophiles who preyed on him and other young players, and a Players Association that, he says, “wants me to die.”

But The Lost 10 Point Night is also a response to Stephen Brunt’s Searching for Bobby Orr and Gretzky’s Tears — a book as much about Harrison as it is about author David Ward, a 50-year-old guy who went in search of his childhood hero.

When I finished it, I wrote to David and said, “It’s certainly in the top echelon of hockey books in my opinion, simply because it’s so raw and honest, both on your part, but also from Jim’s.”

The Lost 10 Point Night ends up being both a biography on Jim Harrison and a smaller autobiography on David Ward, which is a difficult path for a writer to walk, especially a rookie.

But Ward knocks it out of the park.

You will find yourself interested in both protagonists — how Harrison’s career progressed and how he ended up as he did, and how Ward got to this point in his own life, throwing away a teaching career to seek out his (somewhat obscure) hockey hero. Ward also weaves numerous other interviews with coaches and contemporaries of Harrison’s to round out the picture.

It’s my favourite hockey book so far this fall, and I suspect it’ll probably stay there.




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