The Hit Parade column

TED WYMAN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 12:54 PM ET

 There was a time when many Winnipeggers would have preferred root canal to rooting for the Calgary Flames.

  It was the mid-'80s. Michael Jackson was still the king of pop instead of a circus freak show, mullets and rat tails were popular hairstyles and a young Wayne Gretzky was scoring as many goals as Art Ross Trophy winners nowadays get points.

 And there was a little thing called the Smythe Division, which produced Stanley Cup finalists for eight straight years.

 In those times, many of the hockey fans in Winnipeg had four things they loved to see:

 1. The Winnipeg Jets win. 2. The Edmonton Oilers lose. 3. The Vancouver Canucks lose. 4. The Calgary Flames lose.

 A long time has passed since those days when Jamie Macoun was public enemy No. 1 in this burg, and the Jets hightailed it out of town eight years ago (has it really been that long?), but old habits die hard.

 There are plenty of Winnipeggers who still find it difficult to do anything but throw a remote at the TV whenever one of those old Smythe Division rivals finds success.

 Like, for instance, today's edition of the Flames.

 But, even though it is laughable to see Flames fans dancing in the streets and crooning We are the Champions when there are two rounds remaining in the playoffs, there is something about this magical run of success that even the most hardened Flame-haters (hello Edmonton) have to appreciate.

 For one thing, the Flames are Canada's team -- the last remaining hope for this country to win a Stanley Cup before Armageddon.

 Secondly, the Flames and Philadelphia Flyers stand in the way of two teams from the Sun Belt competing for a championship (imagine a California vs. Florida Stanley Cup final!), and to many Winnipeggers it's the very fact that the league has teams in San Jose and Tampa instead of Manitoba, that is ruining the NHL.

 Finally, the Flames are just plain good -- too young and dumb to realize they're not supposed to be doing this and full of enough energy and enthusiasm to fuel the dreams of a whole nation.

 Given the parties they've thrown after winning thrillers over the Vancouver Canucks and Detroit Red Wings, we have to wonder if Calgary will have anything left to burn if the Flames win the Stanley Cup.

 But, speaking as one who once liked the Flames about as much as kindling likes a bonfire, here's hoping we find out.

 WHOA, T.O.! How do you suppose Detroit Lions coach Steve Mariucci, who used to coach a certain Sharpie-loving, trash-talking, self-serving receiver in San Francisco, reacted when newly drafted wideout Roy Williams compared himself to Terrell Owens? We're guessing shock paddles were involved ... The bad news is lovely Lisa Guerrero has been turfed as the sideline reporter on Monday Night Football. The good news is, we believe there's a job available for her as CJOB's sideline idol ... If Ken Hitchcock ever gets tired of coaching, we're sure there is a position available as the Iraqi information minister. Baghdad Bob himself couldn't have put together a more embarrassing press conference performance than Hitchcock did after his Philadelphia Flyers beat the Toronto Maple Leafs last Sunday. First, Hitch trotted out more horse bleep than Smarty Jones with the old "upper body injury" explanation for goaltender Robert Esche's bout with the flu (it really was the flu, honest). Then he suggested he would tell the truth eventually. When a media member asked when that might be, he replied: "We don't know the time frame of the truth." Hitch, here's a suggestion. Stick to the prescribed double speak.

 QUICK HITS: David Letterman's No. 7 way Saddam Hussein celebrated his 67th birthday: "Thanked Allah he wasn't drafted by the San Diego Chargers." ... From Greg Cote of the Miami Herald: "Jose Canseco supposedly has a book and a movie coming out. His fans are said to be excited, although one slightly more than the other one." ... Alan Ray in the San Francisco Chronicle on the newest Internet innovation: "The National Rifle Association has launched its own web-casting network. It will promote the carrying of guns with a new series. It's called, 'This Week in the NBA.' " ... From Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: "Three reasons why NASCAR fans hate Jeff Gordon so much: 1) He speaks in complete sentences. 2) He has all his teeth. 3) He actually drove his way to the top and became a champion without having his famous racing daddy open all the doors for him." ... Minnesota Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders on getting showered with beer during a playoff game in Denver: "You can tell those people aren't from (Minnesota) because up there, people don't waste beer like that." ... From Jim Armstrong of the Denver Post: "Great news, Yankees fans. After his recent 1-for-8 hot streak, Derek Jeter is hitting his girlfriend's weight." ... From Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle: "Mike Tyson, cryogenically frozen since his last fight, will get back to biz this summer, fighting Kevin McBride. Media experts tell me this will be the first pay-per-view fight where the fighters pay the viewers." ... Yankees outfielder Bernie Williams on speculation that Pedro Martinez might bolt to New York when he becomes a free agent after this season: "I would think he would want an opportunity to play for a team that wins." Ouch. As if the Red Sox didn't have enough motivation already ... Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press on Brett Hull's performance in the Red Wings loss to the Flames: "(He was) playing like an old man trying to avoid getting puddle-splashed by a bus." ... Saturday Night Live's Tina Fey on the acquittal of former NBA player Jayson Williams on manslaughter charges: "The verdict sends a clear message that, no matter where you live, retired sports stars are allowed to kill you." ... Comedy writer Alan Ray on Dennis Rodman getting sentenced to 30 days of house arrest after a DUI conviction: "The case is not done in the courts. The sentence will be appealed by his neighbors." ... Bob Hille of The Sporting News offering a tip to NFL rookies attending their first mini-camp: "Find a bail bondsman in your new city." ... From Jerry Greene of the Orlando Sentinel: "If you're getting ready to bet on Smarty Jones in the Preakness, the horse is on this week's Sports Illustrated cover, meaning a meteorite will strike him during the race."

 NUMBERS GAME

 70

 Percentage of 200,000-plus voters so far who picked cyclist Lance Armstrong as the greatest male athlete in the world over Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick (30%) in ESPN.com's Ultimate Athlete Championship final. Baseball player Barry Bonds and swimmer Michael Phelps also made the final four. The challenge started with 64 athletes. Peter Forsberg and Sergei Fedorov were the only hockey players to make it to the second round, but they were stopped there, along with such notables as golfer Tiger Woods, NBA MVP Kevin Garnett and football star Terrell Owens.

 KNUCKLEHEADS

 Fans and television viewers at the Embassy World Championship Snooker finals in Sheffield, England saw more balls than they bargained for when serial streaker Mark Roberts made an appearance. You might remember Roberts, a 39-year-old from Liverpool, from such events as the Super Bowl (dancing a jig in Houston) and a Real Madrid match vs. Barcelona last year.

 SAY WHAT?!

 "He didn't get hit with a shot, we know that."

 - CBC broadcaster Harry Neale on Robert Esche of the Philadelphia Flyers suffering an injury during a period in which the Toronto Maple Leafs scored on their only shot.

 ARENA MEMORIES

 MAY 6, 1995 -- An event commonly referred to as 'the funeral' was held at the Arena. About 15,000 fans gathered at the Old Barn to say farewell to the Winnipeg Jets. Thomas Steen's Number (25) was retired and celebs such as Don Cherry and ex-Jet captain Ab MacDonald made appearances. The Jets were later 'saved' but only stayed in the city for one more year.


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