Sports history unfolds in book

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 12:00 PM ET

Squinting through ringlets of cigar smoke, the late Jim Coleman peers out from the cover photo with eyes that witnessed the greatest Canadian sports moments of the 20th century.

That the fabled newspaper columnist also brandished a charming and uniquely witty style (who knew there were so many euphemisms for swilling alcohol?), matched with a pitbull's persistence to keep up with the dodge for more than half a century, is a gift for sports fans from coast to coast.

The Best of Jim Coleman, 114 pieces plucked from five decades of splendid writing, provides a clever and funny perspective on the last century of sport in Canada.

It recounts the exploits of colourful characters -- real or imagined -- the likes of Johnny Needle-Nose and The Blow-Back Kid alongside more famous Canadian sports luminaries from the NHL, CFL as well as the characters from curling rinks and ball fields long since torn down.

Local sports fans will enjoy Coleman's accounts of the Stampeders' 1948 Grey Cup win in Toronto, when "Calgary supporters were boisterous and noisy but well-behaved and courteously declined to ride their horses into the elevators."

Highlights include columns penned from both sides of the Atlantic during the 1972 Summit Series, along with stories filed from Canadian football outposts and numerous contributions from the race track.

The columns were lovingly compiled by former Calgary Sun columnist Jim Taylor, Coleman's friend, most loyal fan and a brilliant columnist in his own rite. Taylor was in town yesterday for a book signing.

"In this country, we take so little pride in the past and so many of the great stories of how things were get lost," explained Taylor, who revelled in the task of sifting through the thousands of columns, painstakingly selecting the ones published in this book.

"This was a history of sport and a history of sports writing in this country. I want it in journalism schools and libraries so people can look back and get a sense of how it was."

As this country's first syndicated columnist, Coleman spent most of his career in Toronto along with lengthy stays in Winnipeg and Vancouver, paving the way for his induction into five Canadian sports halls of fame. Each column, even after the advent of computers, was hammered out on an old upright typewriter.

After Coleman's death in 2001 at the age of 89, Taylor discovered a collection of columns squirreled away in boxes, locked in a filing cabinet and almost lost forever.

Thanks to Coleman's widow, Maggie, Taylor was provided access to the decades of writings stashed in cardboard boxes, revealing what Taylor called a "time machine," and this wonderful book was born.

"As I read through the stuff from the 1940s and '50s, it occurred to me that, as long as I'd been reading him, I'd had no idea how good he really was," Taylor said.


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