There’s not a lot I can point to and say that it is what differentiates me from the vast majority of sports fans in Canada. Sure, I may want to write about sports for a living, have a fixation with the business workings of the NHL, and be one of the few curling fans remaining under the age of 40, but there always was something different. It was an allegiance to the Little Network That Could.
I never did have a connection with TSN — for anyone outside of Canada reading this, TSN is Canada’s version of ESPN, even being under the same umbrella — and I can’t really point to any real reason why. I remember Jim Van Horne. I remember the old black and yellow logo. I still tune in for one solid week at a time in February and March to watch both the Scotties and Brier. Of course, we all tune in to watch TSN’s hockey coverage. But even with that, it just wasn’t for me. It didn’t represent me as a sports fan, if that makes any sense.
I have a very vivid memory of sitting next to my grandfather on the couch inside the duplex my grandparents took residence in in Brandon, MB. My memory isn’t necessarily a moment, but rather an article of clothing. A polo shirt, embroidered with Headline Sports. For those unaware, before there was theScore, there was Headline Sports. It’s on Headline Sports I became aware of names — Canadian sports media icons to me now — like Greg Sansone, Elliotte Friedman, Tim Micallef, and Sid Seixeiro.
To be a sports fan is to enjoy the games. To be a sports fan is to realize that no matter what we have or feel, sports are entertainment and should be enjoyed as such. Headline Sports, and it’s successor theScore, always made the mundane highlight packages exponentially more entertaining. They were packed with pop culture references, flashbacks, quips, and one-liners. It was like each and every single person working had a dedication to one-upping each other in the least competitive of ways. To me, theScore is what a sports network should be.
If I’m not mistaken, theScore was the first network in Canada to place the Maple Leaf next to Canadian athletes to signify they were countrymen. They embraced not just the four major North American leagues, but the non-traditional ones in our nation like cricket, futbol, rugby, et al. They didn’t just pass off like they knew the games either. They truly did. To paraphrase how Tim Micallef might put it, sports fans enjoy sport in all shapes and sizes.
With a great deal of honesty and certainty, I can say that there are not a lot of defining moments or figures in my life. There aren’t inspirational people I look at and think, “Hey. You know, that could be me.” But theScore gave me two heroes and guided me to the path of a hopeful sports journalist. I was no older than 13 when I first stumbled across Score Tonight hosted by the aforementioned Seixeiro and Micallef.
Micallef I knew. I had seen him before. Matter of fact, I remember watching theScore with my dad during an afternoon one summer while Tim hosted an afternoon highlight show similar to what the network now calls Score Today. Before Tim said word one, my dad hipped me to the fact that this guy on TV was hilarious when he delivered the packs.
Seixeiro, on the other hand, I had never seen before. But I quickly got acquainted. What was me stumbling across a sports program one evening quickly morphed into appointment viewing. The PO-Dubs with Cabbie, both pre- and post-Sportsnet for Mr. Richards. The Wayne’s World-esque flashbacks (“Doodoodoo-doodoodoo-doodoodoo…”). The line I recite on occasion to this day, “99 problems but a pitch ain’t one.” The list goes on. I was hooked. It wasn’t just some middling sports network to me. I kind of felt like a piece of it when very few else were.
Eventually, Score Tonight would go off the air. What I can only assume had to do with ratings, schedule conflicts (often times near the end of the shows tenure, I would tune in to only Tim or only Sid behind the desk), or just a management decision to pull the plug on the show, Tim and Sid were gone from the airwaves. They didn’t disappear by any stretch of the imagination, but their hour time slot in my daily viewing was gone.
It would only be a few short months later when I would stumble across Tim and Sid: Uncut. It was eight episodes in, but it was Tim and Sid back together again talking about anything and everything. Sports, pop culture, ketchup chips and Moosehead, and Helen Mirren. It was Score Tonight with something extra. When I listened to it, it felt like a conversation I would be a part of with friends of mine. Free-roaming sports talk with absurd innuendo and smatterings of pop culture in everything.
The podcast also did me great favours. In an interview with CBC talk show host George Strombolopolous, Sid brought up that he, too, was a Humber Hawk. This was the first time I had ever heard of Humber College. This was the first time I knew Sid was a graduate of their, or that Strombo, one of Canada’s most noteworthy celebrities, had been a Hawk too. That afternoon, after the show ended, I looked into Humber College. That evening, I brought it to the attention of my mom. The following September, I was living in room S127 at the North Campus of Humber College, enrolled in the journalism program with hopes of following in the footsteps of two men I look up to in the sports journalism industry.
I remember when the podcast went from once a week to daily. I remember listening to the 100th episode, live, as a caller shouted out, “Tim and Sid are straight fosses!” on a crowded Toronto streetcar. And I remember the day they went off the air again.
Full disclosure, I cried that day. I can’t explain it and there’s no way to say it with any semblance of bravado, but I don’t feel the need to save face. I cried quite a bit. Listening to Tim talk about how thankful he was for the opportunity, Sid thank those who had helped him along the way, and realizing that this would likely signal the end of theScore as I knew it, I was faced with the odd reality that a network I, for some reason, held near and dear to my heart was probably headed into its last days.
It wasn’t just about Tim and Sid. It was about Relentless, the show which still has roughly 30 episodes on my iTunes. It was about Puck Daddy Radio. It was about theScore being the network that didn’t have the financial resources, but still found ways to give the best coverage possible.
The sale of theScore to Rogers Media Inc. won’t necessarily signal the end of the network entirely. I am sure in some capacity they will remain. But what theScore stood for might disappear, and that’s what deeply saddens me. If any network was going to help make the sports media landscape better, it was theScore.
One last anecdote: There was an online chat put on by the journalism program at Humber the month before I was to leave to attend. In the discussion, the question of internships — an integral part of the third year of the program — was raised. I asked if it was possible to intern at theScore. The response was something to the tune of, “We have students who get internships throughout the networks.” When I left for Toronto, my dream was to go there. On my first trip downtown, I stopped outside the studio and stared up at the building. It sounds exactly as cheesy as it probably looked, but there was something so surreal about standing outside the building. It felt like my, “One day, I’m going to play for them, dad!” moment.
I likely won’t ever get that moment now.
So, to Tim and Sid, to Cabbie, to DJ, Rob, Curt, Dart, Noon, Bronnsteter, Sansone, Pizzo. To Mavado’s “So Special,” Jay-Z lyrics-made-to-homerun-calls, to Tribal Jail, The Answer, and jokes about Rick Marjerus. To sentences that inexplicably ended with the word, “fuck.” To that time Friedman’s final words got cut off and the CBL had a homerun derby without a single jack. To every single stupid moment that made a 14-year-old me, a 15-year-old me, and so on and so forth laugh.
To pushing me in the right direction.