“Sports at 11…..Take 2”
Updated: Nov 25, 2020
By Mike Toth
The best and worst days of my broadcasting life both happened at the same place.
My best day occurred in 1987 when I walked into the Calgary 2 & 7 television station for the first time. I'd just been hired to replace Paul Romanuk, who'd left Calgary for a TSN gig in Toronto. What a thrill to join a 2 & 7 Sports team that featured a storied list of famous alumni that included Romanuk, Jim Van Horne and Ron MacLean. But there was still an all-star cast residing at the 2 & 7 studios - a group of guys that I'd always dreamed of working with.
Ed Whalen - What can you say? A true broadcast legend who had the rare ability to handle a variety of assignments and pull them off with incredible class and credibility. That wasn't an easy task when one of Ed’s major duties was hosting "Stampede Wrestling" and dealing with colorful characters such as Bad News Allen, Dynamite Kid and The Honky Tonk Man.
Grant Pollock - Grant and Ed were partners on Calgary Flames telecasts - the top dog on 2 & 7's TV schedule. Grant covered the Flames on a daily basis and often said that his goal was to compete with the local newspapers when it came to getting scoops and providing inside information. A lot of newspapers look at television talking heads as just a bunch of "pretty boys". But because of Grant's tremendous ability, work ethic and passion, he earned a ton of respect from outstanding Flames beat writers such as Eric Duhatschek and George Johnson.
Mike Lownsbrough - Speaking of "pretty boys", Lownsbrough was one of a kind. In the words of The Honky Tonk Man, Lownsbrough was "a rich girl's lover and a poor girl's dream". In my 30-plus years of broadcasting, I never worked with anyone who had more natural charisma. Sure, big Mike's devil-may-care spirit got him into hot water sometimes. But it was also the fuel behind iconic characters such as Mr. Ski and hilarious segments like Sports Shorts.
Ron Manz - The hardest working man in show business, Ron played a huge part in 2 & 7's success. From climbing mountains in the dead of winter as he reported on Canada's ski team to jumping on the back of a raging bull to get up-close experience on the life of a rodeo cowboy, no assignment was too daunting for Ron "Daredevil" Manz.
With such a talented broadcast team in place, and with Calgary coming off a hugely successful job of hosting the 1988 Winter Olympics, it was the perfect time to showcase the fantastic sports scene the city had to offer. So, in the fall of '88, 2 & 7 launched "Sports at 11", a nightly half-hour show that offered a unique combination of sports and entertainment.
Hilites from as many games as possible; live post-game shows from the Saddledome; feature reports on high-achieving amateur athletes; and a "Who's Who" line-up of in-studio guests that ranged from Canadian track & field legend Diane Jones-Konihowski to Jerry Jones, the billionaire owner of the Dallas Cowboys. (I still remember debating whether we should give Jerry a $25 certificate to "La Brezza" - a popular Italian eatery back in the day, and the gift we gave every "Sports at 11" guest. In the end, we did fork the certificate over and, who knows? Maybe the 25 bucks Jones saved on rigatoni helped him build the palatial AT and T Stadium in the big “D”.
At any rate, that kind of quality coverage was the backbone of "Sports at 11". But influenced by Lownsbrough's "evil ways" and a natural Canadian leaning towards comedy, ("SCTV", "Saturday Night Live" and "Letterman" were all huge in the 80's and 90's, with all those shows featuring significant Canadian content) "Sports at 11" began to develop its own line-up of zany characters and sketches. Soon, (for better or worse!) Hot Tub Night, Toga Party Night, and The Adventures of Ed and Honky Tonk became a regular part of the "Sports at 11 Experience".
Unfortunately, however, it's now time to talk about my worst day in broadcasting.
In the mid-90's, TSN began spreading its wings across the country (soon to be joined by Sportsnet) and suddenly, "Sports at 11" wasn't the only show in town. Meanwhile, as we started to lose a chunk of our audience, we also lost our time slot. "Sports at 11.30" just didn't have the same ring to it and before we ended up being named "Sports at 2 a.m.", the 2 & 7 bigwigs decided to pull our plug. So, on a gloomy evening in 1997, we gathered together for our farewell performance - the sad ending to an incredible nine-year run.
But now for some much brighter news.
Welcome to "Sports at 11…..Take 2".
Over the next few weeks, the old gang is getting back together for a series of on-line reunion shows. (Unfortunately, Ed passed away in 2001. But his influence on the "Sports at 11" crew will live on forever.) Believe it or not, this will be the first time that Pollock, Lownsbrough, Manz and Toth will be together as a group since that fateful farewell 23 years ago. With that in mind, it's going to be a pretty special experience and we'd love to have you share it with us.
So check out Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. in the days ahead for details on how you can jump aboard for "Sports at 11…..Take 2".
We can't promise you that we'll fire up the old hot tub. But we can promise you a lot of great laughs and a bunch of special memories.
See you soon!