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Lisa Guerrero

If you only watched the trailer - the one they show every ... single ... game ... on TSN - where the Saskatchewan lead wins the Ford Hot Shots competition, you would think the Canadian Curling Association had its head offices in Stockholm.

Or perhaps it is just the enthusiasm with which TSN's Vic Rauter announces, "And Steve Laycock wins the two-year lease on the Ford Fusion!"

A two-year lease?

The Brier is being run out of the 15,000-seat MTS Centre in Winnipeg, where about a quarter-million people will go through the gates this week. The Brier Patch alone makes more money in 10 days than most pubs do in two good years. The event has a huge television contract and scads of multi-national major sponsors.

Laycock, on the other hand, is likely using his holiday time from work to play in this 'spiel. He may well have driven to Winnipeg, or be staying at Aunt Marcia's house in Winnipeg. And all the Brier people can do is "lend" him a car for a couple of years?

Welcome to curling, folks. The biggest small-time game in the world.

Televised curling still has the feel of that old Canadian game show, Pay Cards. While Bob Barker was giving away cars, boats and expensive trips up the dial on The Price is Right, Canada's game show was hawking vacuums, giving away parting gifts from Pepperidge Farms, and awarding its grand prize of "a neeeeew suit!"

Somehow, though, the Brier still manages to take TSN hostage every year, serving the Greater Toronto Area a delicious slice of what the rest of the country eats all year long.

For 10 days in Toronto, the sport the rest of Canada loves hijacks sports television for the exact same reason that the networks force-feed Canada's worst hockey team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, to the rest of the country.


But can you blame TSN? Who isn't glued to their sets this week to drink in some of that folksy repartee between Ray Turnbull, Linda Moore and Rauter, who has become the Bob Cole of curling? Aren't curling rinks all full of men named Vic, talking about hit-and-rolls, tickin' the guard, and those trusty "broomers?"

Rauter was talking about the "catcher on the side" long before anyone had ever even heard of Eliot Spitzer. He will wonder aloud if Kevin Martin can get a roll off that "run-back missile" and shout "From the hip!" as Martin rifles a rock towards his target.

Rauter is the Rick Jeanneret of ice bowling. He can say, "Bump it over. Bump it over. Bump ... it .... over! And bury it!" - and you'll know exactly what he's talking about. It's a "nice scrub to pick up the single" when Rauter is at the mic. And they never just get past a guard. They "paper it."

How long before kids across the country are asking for Vic Rauter Fatheads for Christmas? And while we're asking obtuse questions, has anyone ever seen Mats Sundin and Kevin Martin in the same room?

They even have a sideline reporter on TSN now, Cathy Gauthier. She might not show as much cleavage as Lisa Guerrero once did on Monday Night Football, but Gauthier handily translates the conversation between the members of Team Quebec. So even though the only English spoken is when the Quebec skip bellows, "Urreee! Urrreeeee! Aaaard-a!" you know what his end game is thanks to Gauthier's nifty bilingualism.

I have to admit it: every year I fall back in love with this game, despite the fact I never played it. Name another game where they "force you to take the single?" Where the skip will come off the ice after surrendering a lead, and tell the sideline reporter, "Well, we got the brick back, so that's the good news."

There was an e-mail circulated through the sportswriting ranks this week of one of my colleagues, face down on the couch in what looked like the media lounge inside the MTS Centre. What's great about that is, if a team heard the kind of shape their local scribe was in, they would probably come to the lounge, wake the reporter up, pour a Red Eye and replay the game into a tape recorder.

Then, in appreciation, the writer would step in front of the curler in line at the Brier Patch later that night and buy a round.

These are all things that just don't happen at a Super Bowl. Because there are still regular people in curling.

On the ice, behind the microphones, or face down on the couch.

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