Canada’s true national sports columnist

I miss Jim Coleman. I miss driving him home from football games, 20 minutes when I had him, his history and his personality to myself. I miss that for years he good-naturedly chided my girlfriend Nancy, now my wife, for taking years off his life the wintry night she drove him downtown, after a hockey game at the Winnipeg Arena, in her hot (and fast) little ’67 Camaro.

Most of all, I miss his writing. For decades, Jim Coleman was the keeper of Canada’s place in sports, a conscience and a cheerleader who was not only the country’s best national sports columnist, but really, its only one.

He is relevant today, at least in this space, because there is a legitimate opportunity for a Canadian team to win the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1993. Nobody would be more delighted. Coleman was known to lobby for a Canadian division of the National Hockey League. He could never have imagined it would take a pandemic for that to happen, as it did last season, nor that it would be so short-lived. But for one season, he would have been right…and thrilled.

Until he left for good in 2001, Coleman would also never have imagined that the mighty Montreal Canadiens would go 29 years (and counting) without a Stanley Cup for the first time in hockey history. His passion was not just hockey, but also Canadian football and horse racing, although patriot that he was he’d be waving the flag today for Canada’s World Cup-bound soccer team.

He and I were both born in January in Winnipeg and we both launched newspaper careers at that city’s Tribune. That’s where the similarities end. When I first edited his column — a more apt description is that I proof-read it for mistakes that were never there — I was a kid reporter who didn’t appreciate the privilege he’d been given. When I last edited his column, it was for a short-lived weekly newspaper based on legalized sports betting. His impact on me, professionally and personally, was profound. That doesn’t make me unique, only lucky. My favourite sports book remains the first of four he wrote, A Hoofprint On My Heart. It brought tears to my eyes, both of joy and sorrow, and left me with a lifetime appreciation for horse racing far beyond any betting window.

I still miss seeing him walk away from the Hotel Vancouver, one of the railway hotels that he loved and that were once his home, as son of a CPR president. Coleman lived in six cities across the country (Calgary, Montreal, Toronto, Victoria, Vancouver, Winnipeg), so fitting for a national columnist. He wrote for three newspapers but really he wrote for all Southam’s newspapers, as its syndicated sports columnist for 33 years. I first saw him on The Jim Coleman Show, a 15-minute sports roundtable that pioneered TV talk shows. I found it boring, as any pre-teen would. In our 35-year friendship, that was the only time Jim Coleman bored me.

If the Flames or Leafs or Oilers win the Stanley Cup in June, remember Jim Coleman.