Politics vs. sports

DAVE CAMERON -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 12:46 PM ET

Let's be real. Nobody ever cracks open a six-pack and sits down with friends to watch an election.

On the other hand, we all know sports isn't rocket surgery.

Still, it's not going to stop us from arguing about it until we're blue in the face. Or red. Depending on your team's colours.

Al Stafford has no problem arguing about sports. After all, the 630 CHED broadcaster spent five years arguing politics on a daily public affairs phone-in show.

"Political callers, absolutely," Stafford said when asked which is the tougher call to take, tougher discussion to make.

"There's more at stake. You can argue all day about who should be playing first-line centre for the Oilers, but at the end of it, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn't matter.

"Government, social issues ... those are flesh-and-blood issues. That's the stuff that impacts lives on a day-to-day basis."

For some - and call me guilty - political chatter induces headaches.

"That (attitude) always surprises me," Stafford said. "We hire people to make decisions for us, we hire people to spend money for us, set up our government programs for us, and then people say, 'I'm not interested.'

"I can understand not following it every day. But I can not understand just being passengers at the back of the bus and not knowing who's driving. That doesn't make any sense to me."

Another great thing about sports - what's sense got to do with it?

For instance, Canadian hockey fans. We were all so angered, so let down, so betrayed.

And back at the ticket office at the drop of the gloves.

"I had a lot of people call and say, 'That's it. I'm finished. I'm not watching hockey anymore. Not buying another ticket. Not buying another jersey or any of that stuff,' " Stafford said, now behind the mic of a sports-talk show, Inside Sports, for almost two years on CHED (nightly from 8 to 11 p.m.).

"I had a guy call me this week and say, 'I was one of those guys ... (but) now with the new climate, I think I can make an emotional investment in being an NHL fan again.'

"It's because the owners won. I think the owners finally woke up to the fact that the product, really, is the National Hockey League. The product is not the Philadelphia Flyers, the product is not the New York Rangers or the Detroit Red Wings.

"It's like a corporation with 30 branch offices. If a Tampa is having problems, if an Edmonton is having problems, then the whole company is suffering.

"Now, who knows where that guy's going to be in three to six months after we've actually seen the product? I think we really want to believe that it's going to be better."

GAME ON: Judging by his calls, Stafford believes the Edmonton-Calgary rivalry will be red-hot again.

"It's different now than it was (in recent years) because now both cities believe they can be competitive again, that it's going to matter again. It won't be as bloody as it was (in the '80s), but it will be passionate."

Stafford saw the original Battle of Alberta template first-hand.

After moving west in the '80s from hometown Toronto, Al was working in Cowtown when he took a transfer north with CKO radio network to cover the legislature as well as doing some sports.

"It wasn't an easy decision to make, with the ('88 Winter) Olympics on their way (to Calgary)."

His first assignment here? Game 7 of the 1986 Oilers-Flames heavyweight tilt. The Steve Smith game.

"I was saying to all my buddies, 'I'm going to Edmonton. Going to watch the Oilers win another Stanley Cup! See ya!'

"My first opportunity to cover the Stanley Cup. Two nights after I got to Edmonton the season was done.

"You have no idea how many voice messages (from the Calgary crew) got left on my phone."

And you can imagine how many arguments it started.


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