About the Winnipeg Blue Bombers ending their manhunt…what’s with all those empty seats?…already calling for heads to roll…Bo Levi’s tired of hearing about Johnny Rotten…Kirk Penton’s byline is back…Lefty Phil is a cheater, cheater pumpkin eater…red cards to John Doyle and Donald Trump…who is Robbie Williams?…Steve Simmons’ alphabet farts…and Damien Cox blaming cyber bullying on the victims

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

It’s easy to examine Winnipeg FC’s first frolic of this fresh football crusade and file it under ‘same old, same old’ because, let’s face it, Richie Hall’s defence looked like Richie Hall’s defence.

Which is to say, the Blue Bombers D-men couldn’t stop a sniffle, let alone Mike Reilly.

Richie Hall

I mean, when it came down to the short strokes on Friday morning at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry, Reilly and his Edmonton Eskimos offensive accomplices gobbled up land like Homer Simpson working on a box of Timbits. They covered more real estate than the first settlers to bring their ox carts to the Red River Valley. You know, just like last November, when they turned a spirited argument into a rout by rag dolling the Bombers defensive dozen to the tune of 28 points in fewer than 15 minutes.

So, ya, when the Eskimos seized victory in the final grunting of the 2018 Canadian Football League curtain-raiser, it was like a recurring nightmare.

But wait.

This was no ordinary skirmish. The game began on Thursday and ended in the small hours of Friday. It took them five hours and 40 minutes to complete 60 minutes of football. There were two lengthy, thunder-and-lightning delays that kept the large lads in their changing rooms, nibbling on munchies and chilling, for just shy of three hours. By the time the boys gathered to grab grass and growl for a third time, there was no grass to grab. The field looked like the Lake of the Woods. They could have sold cottage lots.

Chris Streveler

Thus, I’m reluctant to measure this match in any substantial way. Except one: Rookie Chris Streveler can play.

Although on the south side of a 33-30 score, Streveler provided ample evidence to suggest the longest manhunt this side of D.B. Cooper is over. The Bombers have found a quarterback.

Hey, I’m not prepared to say Streveler will make anyone forget about Kenny Ploen or Dieter Brock, but three touchdown tosses and some serious lickety-split in his stride are a noteworthy start. He could become the first in-house discovery to put his footprint on the CFL landscape since the Bombers brought Danny McManus north of the border in 1990.

Danny Mac

Let’s just hope Streveler has more patience than McManus.

Danny Mac, remember, grew weary of holding a clipboard for Tom Burgess and Matt Dunigan, so he felt obliged to get out of Dodge and take his talents to the B.C. Lions after three seasons of mop-up duty in River City. Similarly, Streveler retreats to the backup role once the main man, Matt Nichols, returns from the repair shop in about a month. Nichols isn’t going anywhere. He’s only 31 and locked in through 2019. So, barring owies to Nichols, where is Streveler’s opportunity to start?

I’m not saying it will be deja Danny, but I’m guessing that Streveler is inclined to become something more than a career backup QB.

Where did everybody go? Aside from the weather, the sourest note struck at the Bombers-Eskimos to-and-fro was the official head count at Football Follies Field—just 25,458. That’s less than all but two home dates last season and 4,707 fewer than the 2017 home opener. It’s also down 5,096 from the Eskimos’ visit last August. Not sure if that downsizing has resulted in fretful, furrowed foreheads in the Winnipeg FC ivory tower, but it should. That’s a lot of lost revenue.

I always find media takes on Bombers games interesting. A case in point would be the scribblings of Paul Friesen and Paul Wiecek in the aftermath of the Bombers-Eskimos joust that droned on for five-plus hours.

Here’s Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun: “There was enough good in the marathon, 33-30 loss to Mike Reilly and the Edmonton Eskimos that it strangely felt like something of a moral victory for the Big Blue. The most important thing we learned is the loss of starter Matt Nichols for the first month might be survivable. With real victories. Not just moral ones.”

Mike O’Shea

Here’s Wiecek of the Drab Slab: “How can a defence this good on paper still be that lousy on the field? The answer, of course, is that for all the changes made to the defence in the off-season—an upgraded secondary, defensive line and the addition of maybe the best middle linebacker in the game, Adam Bighill—the guys at the top remain the same, head coach Mike O’Shea and defensive coordinator Richie Hall. At some point, someone in authority down at Investors Group Field is going to have to figure out that the problem with this Bombers defence isn’t the players, it’s the scheme. It’s a long season and there is still plenty of time for redemption. But at some point, if Hall cannot figure out a way to make a defence this good on paper play a lot better than that on the field, he has to go. And if O’Shea cannot figure that out, then he should be the one to go.”

My take on those two takes? One game into an 18-game season and Wiecek is already writing about heads rolling? Tough crowd.

Bo Levi Mitchell

So, I’m watching the the Calgary Stampeders double down on the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, 28-14, on Saturday and I’m thinking, “Okay, how in the name of Joe Theismann is TSN going to make this about Johnny Manziel?” I mean, the Tabbies starting QB, Jeremiah Masoli, put up some handsome numbers before his singular d’oh moment sealed the deal. Johnny Rotten, meanwhile, never set a cleated foot on the playing field at McMahon Stadium. He was an observer, just like any lump sitting on a bar stool. Manziel was a non-story. Totally. Except TSN decided he was a story, with three headlines on the website main page and two videos, one of which featured Milt Stegall in a barking-dog role:

Manziel sits in Tiger-Cats’ opening loss.
Masoli shines in Tiger-Cats’ loss, keeps Manziel at bay.
What does Mazoli’s performance mean for Manziel?

Sigh. I believe Stampeders quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell said it best in a chin-wage with Eric Francis of Postmedia Cowtown: “Any guy in the league that has already earned that respect is probably tired of hearing about him. That’s just truthful.”

So nice to see Kirk Penton’s byline appearing in The Athletic. When he was among the small stable of sports scribes at the Winnipeg Sun, Kirk became the best football beat writer in Canada, give or take young Eddie Tait, who went from the Sun to the Winnipeg Free Press to his role today as scribbler of quality stuff at bluebombers.com. The rag trade lost two very good people when they defected.

It’s all a big laugh to Phil Mickelson.

Phil Mickelson cheated, like a petulant, weekend hack. He should have be turfed from the U.S. Open on Saturday. Instead, he was allowed to soldier on after deliberately striking his moving ball lest it should roll off the 13th green at Shinnecock Hills in New York and add to the embarrassment of his inflated score. He then laughed, smirked and basically gave tournament officials and critics the finger, telling them to “toughen up.” He confessed that he’d thought of doing this very thing on numerous occasions, even at the Masters. One can only imagine how the humorless men in the ugly green jackets at Augusta National would have dealt with Mickelson had he pulled his sophomoric, unsportsmanlike stunt on their pristine, hallowed grounds. I’m guessing he’d have been on his way home faster than you could say, “Y’all never did see Arnie or Jack doing that.”

Christine Sinclair

My first red card of the World Cup goes to John Doyle. Straight-shooting TV critic at the Globe and Mail, Doyle tends to stray from his comfort zone and join the kids in the sandbox whenever he sees Ronaldo or Messi playing footy. And so it was that he offered this nugget of nonsense last week: “Christine Sinclair is the best soccer player, male or female, this country has produced.” On a stupid scale of 1-to-10, that hits tilt! It’s like saying Nickelback is Canada’s greatest musical export. An argument can be made that Sinclair is our best-known soccer player, but to submit that she’s our finest player is an insult to Dwayne De Rosario, Owen Hargreaves, Craig Forest, Jason De Vos, Alphonso Davies, Atiba Hutchinson, Alex Bunbury, Brian Budd, Bob Lenarduzzi and so many others who would dribble circles around her. Back to your flatscreen, John.

Robbie Williams

I keep hearing that some dude named Robbie Williams flipped the bird to a global TV audience while performing “a slew of his hits” at the World Cup opening ceremony. Should I apologize if I have to ask who Robbie Williams is? Seriously. Never heard of him until he extended his middle digit, so I Googled him and discovered that he looks like the personification of middle-age crisis.

Did you know that you have Donald Trump to thank for bringing the World Cup to a North American stadium near you in 2026? Yup. President Tarrif tweets: “Thank you for all the compliments on getting the World Cup to come to the U.S.A., Mexico and Canada. I worked hard on this, along with a Great Team of talented people.” In related news, Trump also claims to have coached the Washington Capitals, played quarterback for the New England Patriots and will caddy for the winner of Sunday’s U.S. Open golf tournament.

Randy Lee

Once again, I wonder if Steve Simmons reads the alphabet farts he produces for Postmedia Tranna before he hits the send button. I say that because of a tweet he posted on Friday after the Ottawa Senators suspended assistant manager Randy Lee, who, after an early-June incident, faces a charge of second-degree harassment for allegedly making lewd comments and rubbing the shoulders of a 19-year-old shuttle driver at the National Hockey League combine in Buffalo. “What took so long?” Simmons asked. Yet, when the CFL punted Euclid Cummings of the B.C. Lions after it was revealed that he’d been charged with two counts of sexual assault, one count of assault and one count of uttering a threat to cause death or bodily harm, Simmons wrote this: “Don’t like the fact the CFL voids contracts after players are charged with a crime. Being charged is one thing. Being convicted is another. CFL shouldn’t play judge and jury here with people’s lives.” So, let’s see if I’ve got this straight: Simmons believes a guy who allegedly touched another man’s shoulders and made lewd remarks should be out of work immediately, but a guy who sexually assaulted a woman and threatened her with death should still be working. Wow, just wow.

Melinda and Erik Karlsson

Interesting discussion on Hockey Central at Noon last week, whereby the natterbugs went off on the nasty social media spat featuring Erik Karlsson and Mike Hoffman of the Senators and their main squeezes, Melinda Karlsson and Monika Caryk.

The Karlssons have been subjected to the most vile bullying, including death wishes and accusations of drug use by Melinda and hopes for a career-ending injuries for Erik.

John Shannon wanted no part of the to-and-fro, but host Daren Millard and Damien Cox of Sportsnet/Toronto Star had at it. Not surprisingly, Cox made an ass-clown of himself, basically blaming victims of cyber bullying.

I think the one thing about social media that we’re learning more and more and I think all of us have experienced, you can only be cyber bullied to some extent if you allow yourself to be,” he said. “If you go on social media, if you participate in social media, if it’s something that’s important to you, then you are vulnerable to that. If you say, ‘I’m not gonna have anything to do with that,’ then you’re not as vulnerable.”

In other words, if you step outside your house and get hit by one of the many stoned or drunk drivers on our roads it’s your fault because you stepped outside your house.

Erik and Melinda (Karlsson) are a brand, they have the right to be on social media,” Millard said.

They also have to recognize the dangers of social media,” Cox countered.

And yet Sportsnet, which trumpets its anti-bullying/harassment police and recently dismissed baseball gab guy Gregg Zaun for that very thing, keeps putting Cox on their air. Wow, just wow.

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Are you ready for some three-down football?

It’s time to grab grass and growl, kids, which is to say the Canadian Football League season is upon us, and my two Gridiron Girls are here to discuss the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and other things pigskin.

The Bombers, of course, engage the Edmonton Eskimos in their season-opening frolic on Thursday night at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry, and they do so with their starting quarterback, Matt Nichols, in the repair shop and greenhorn Chris Streveler behind centre.

That might sound like a recipe for disaster, but the Gridiron Gals don’t think so.

Take it away, ladies…

Chris Streveler

Lady Blue: Well, here we are, ready for another football season. I haven’t been this excited since we went all-in at that big sale on summer shoes at the Bay last month.

Lady Gold: Shoes is the operative word, because that nice, young man Chris Streveler has totally huge shoes to fill as the Bombers starting quarterback. I don’t know if I should be excited for him or feel sorry for him. True rookies—and by that I mean a kid with more wet behind his ears than Michael Phelps—seldom start at QB in the CFL. It’s as rare as Chris Walby passing on free burgers and beers. I’m told Anthony Calvillo was the last one. That was in 1994.

Lady Blue: Has it really been that long?

Lady Gold: Yup. You know who the Bombers starting QB was back then? Matt Dunigan. One of the other QBs that season was Sammy Garza, aka Slingin’ Sammy Son-in-Law. He had journeyman talent, but he also had the good sense to marry one of head coach Cal Murphy’s daughters.

Lady Blue: Did Kindly Cal still have his first heart in ’94, or was he operating with heart No. 2 by then?

Lady Gold: No. 2. Cal’s heart transplant surgery was in ’92. Bless his soul. Wonderful guy. Lots of laughs. And a football legend.

Lady Blue: Did you Google this stuff, or did you know it off the top of your head?

Lady Gold: Hey, I’m pushing 68. Google was invented for cobwebbed people like me. The mind might not be the first thing to go, but it’s running a close second.

Lady Blue: Well, we digress. What were you saying about Chris Streveler?

Lady Gold: Just that it might be leading a lamb to slaughter. As I said, not since Calvillo with the Las Vegas Posse in 1994 has a kid fresh out of a college classroom—or wherever it is that American college football players hide when they’re supposed to be in class—started a season behind centre in the CFL. It’s a tough gig.

Lady Blue: What’s the best-case scenario?

Lady Gold: That he has a career like Calvillo.

Lady Blue: What’s the worst-case scenario?

Lady Gold: That he has a career like Sammy Garza and doesn’t marry one of Cal Murphy’s granddaughters.

Lady Blue: They say Streveler has a good set of wheels.

Matt Nichols, still No. 1.

Lady Gold: He’ll need them. I’m guessing the Eskimos will be bringing more heat than the Earp boys and Doc Holliday at the OK Corral. You think there isn’t some serious chop-licking going on with the Edmonton defensive dozen right now, knowing there’ll be fresh meat on the other side of the line of scrimmage Thursday night?

Lady Blue: Does the entire 2018 season come down to the four-to-six week window when Streveler is subbing for Matt Nichols?

Lady Gold: Not at all. Think back to 2016. The Bombers came out of the gate at 1-4, largely because Drew Willy kept bouncing the ball to his receivers. Head coach Mike O’Shea—or someone above him—finally had seen enough of that Sad Sack show, so he handed the ball to Nichols, albeit grudgingly, and the lads went 10-3 the rest of the way. Going 1-4 in the CFL in June or July isn’t a death sentence, not even in the West Division. But you don’t want to do it once the frost is on the pumpkin.

Lady Blue: So you’re telling me that if the Bombers stumble out of the chute like Johnny Depp at closing time, I shouldn’t fret.

Adam Bighill

Lady Gold: Exactly. And I’ll give you two names why—Adam and Bighill. I cannot emphasize how significant a signing this was for the Bombers. I mean, are you kidding me? Bighill is Studly Linebacker. Essentially, he replaces Sam Hurl. That’s like going from Barry Manilow to Led Zeppelin. We haven’t seen that kind of an upgrade in River City since Sam Katz vacated the mayor’s office.

Lady Blue: Ouch. That was a cheap shot.

Lady Gold: I suppose it was. But I like to toss a cheap shot in every now and then just to see if anyone is paying attention. Anyway, as Doug Brown scribbled in the Drab Slab—that’s what I call the Winnipeg Free Press—the Bombers will have a beastly D dozen this year, and Bighill’s finger prints will be all over it. They could steal a game or two to ease Streveler’s burden.

Lady Blue: What else is critical to a successful crusade?

Mike O’Shea

Lady Gold: O’Shea has to stay out of his own way. No more glaring brain cramps or goofy gimmicks at the most inopportune times, like when you’re deep in your own half of the field and holding a comfy lead. Seriously. Punters passing to phantom receivers on third down in your own zone? Hey, I’m all for derring-do and a bit of hocus-pocus—and O’Shea can be quite creative on special teams—but he’s got to be more selective when he rolls the dice. You aren’t going to sneak the sun past a rooster by using a couple of hens as a diversion.

Lady Blue: Speaking of animals, is it going to be a zoo in Hamilton this year with Johnny Manziel on board?

Lady Gold: Well, TSN sure thinks he’s the cock of the walk. It’s been total overkill since he arrived in the Hammer, and it’s ridiculous. He’s a backup quarterback, for cripes sake.

Le Coupe de Grey

Lady Blue: I read a piece in the National Post the other day that suggested Manziel will drive attendance at Timbits Field in Hamilton.

Lady Gold: As if. That’s a stupid comment. Who’s going to pay money just to watch him stand on the sidelines? Besides, the Tiger-Cats played to 97.6 per cent capacity last season, third in the league behind Ottawa and Saskatchewan, and they were gawdawful. It’s not like they need him to put rumps in the pews.

Lady Blue: So you’re not a Johnny Football fan.

Lady Gold: Does Sarah Huckabee Sanders tell the truth?

Lady Blue: Any predictions ahead of Thursday’s opening kickoff?

Lady Gold: Ya, the Bombers will beat Hamilton in the Grey Cup game and Matt Nichols will be the MVP, but TSN will cut away from the awards ceremony to show highlights of Johnny Manziel holding a clipboard on the sidelines.

Lady Blue: Okay, it’s game on. Enjoy the season.

Lady Gold: You too.

About Sleepy-Eye Joe Mack passing on Mike Reilly…TSN’s continuing love affair with Johnny Rotten…the King of Clay…intrigue in women’s tennis…Secretariat still the greatest…a Capital way to party…the skier and the hockey player…expensive cardboard…and other things on my mind

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

It’s Darian Durant’s fault. A pox on his house for taking the money and running to retirement!

No. Wait.

It’s Joe Mack’s fault.

The statute of limitations hasn’t run out on Sleepy-Eye Joe’s stupidity, has it? Nope. So, whenever the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ universe isn’t unfolding as it should, the former general manager and everyone’s favorite whipping boy is still fair game for blame. He’s the reason the Big Blue will begin their 2018 Canadian Football League crusade with a starting quarterback on training wheels.

I mean, think about it.

Mike Reilly

Had Sleepy-Eye Joe reeled in Mike Reilly in 2013, we wouldn’t be talking about Matt Nichols’ wonky wheels and a QB pool that has all the depth of an Archie-Jughead plot line. Well, would we? Reilly, after all, is Marlboro Man rugged, even when he’s wearing one of his funny, little hats. He’s voted annually by his peers as the toughest hombre in the three-down game, and he hasn’t missed a beat due to an owie since the first week of September 2015.

The sad thing is, Mack could have had Reilly for a song.

The sticker price the B.C. Lions listed for Reilly was a swap of second-round picks in the 2013 CFL college draft, plus a second-rounder in ’14. The Edmonton Eskimos were willing to pay it. Mack didn’t even want to kick the tires. Sleepy-Eye Joe remained convinced and confident that Buck Pierce was the answer at quarterback, and his backup plan was putting the legendary Justin Goltz behind centre. Or Max Hall.

As history records, that worked out about as well as New Coke.

To say Pierce was injury prone is to say Bill Gates has a bit of money. When fit enough to actually start a game, they didn’t strap a play chart to Brittle Buck’s left wrist. It was an IV needle. He didn’t survive the first month of the ’13 season, leaving various body parts and what was left of his marbles strewn on the field.

Sleepy-Eye Joe

That QB fiasco, among other things, cost Mack his job generally mismanaging the Bombers, and Pierce finished that season in B.C., from whence he came. He’s now an assistant coach in Pegtown. No word on the whereabouts of Goltz and Hall, but I suspect they’re asking customers if they’d like fries with their Big Macs and Quarter Pounders.

As for Reilly, well, I’m sure you’re familiar with his story after the Eskimos lured him away from the Lions: Grey Cup champion and Grey Cup game most valuable player in ’15; CFL’s most outstanding player in ’17; two-time West Division all-star; one-time league all-star. And, perhaps most significant, Reilly is still with the Eskimos. No drive-thru orders for him. He’ll be barking signals and gutting it out on Thursday night when the Green-and-Gold engage the Bombers in a season-opening frolic at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry.

Reilly remains the ‘what could have been’ and ‘what should have been’ for the Bombers. That’s Sleepy-Eye Joe’s legacy.

Matt Nichols and Mike Reilly

None of the above is meant to disparage Nichols. Hey, he’s a tough dude, too. And he’s a keeper. Trouble is, he’s developed a most curious habit of falling down without being touched. His left leg caved on him in a game last October, and his right leg collapsed in a training session last week. Officially, he’s run out of legs that work properly. This, of course, is where Durant was expected to fit in. The Bombers paid the veteran QB $70,000 up front to serve as a safety net, thus, with Nichols in the repair shop for as few as four weeks and as many as six, it would have been his show. Alas, instead of playing catch with an interesting array of receivers, Durant is at home changing his new-born daughter’s dirty diapers, and the Bombers are unlikely to grovel at the feet of man who jilted them on the eve of training camp and trolled them on Twitter. Would Durant be an upgrade on Alex Ross, Bryan Bennett or Chris Streveler, the three lads who auditioned for the starter’s role on Friday night against the Lions in Vancouver? Naw. When last seen, which is to say with the Montreal Alouettes in 2017, Durant seldom delivered a pass without the football bouncing once or twice before landing at a receiver’s feet. He’s spent.

Welcome to TJMN—The Johnny Manziel Network, formerly known as The Sports Network. Seriously. TSN has gone loopy over Manziel. Last week, following a CFL debut that consisted of nine completed passes and zero points, TSN featured nine—count ’em, nine!—Johnny Rotten videos. One video per completion. Sunday morning, after he was good on a dozen of 20 pass attempts (including a TD toss), there were five more Johnny Rotten videos on the main TSN web page. They also featured something called Johnny Football Watch. All that for a guy who won’t start a game for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats unless Jeremiah Masoli is wounded or implodes.

Winner and still champion on clay, Rafa Nadal.

Can you say undécima, kids? Rafael Nadal can. His 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 paddywhacking of Dominic Thiem in the men’s singles final Sunday was his 11th French Open title, and I can’t think of an athlete—in any sport—who is more dominant than the muscular Rafa on the red clay of Roland Garros. What the Spanish maestro has accomplished in Paris is insane. He’s 86-2. Eighty-freaking-six and two! Nobody goes 86-2. Except the Harlem Globetrotters, and their games are as rigged as a Vegas slot machine. Nadal on clay is a one-off. Never seen anything like him. Never will. (By the way, here’s the answer to the trivia question: Robin Soderling and Novak Djokovic are the only two men to have beaten Nadal at Roland Garros.)

Simona Halep

The Big Four in men’s tennis is no more, but the Big Two remains. While Andy Murray is MIA and Djokovic is trying to sort out things in his head, if not other parts of his body, the younger generation of hot-shot racqueteers can’t kick Nadal or Roger Federer to the curb. Each of the 30somethings has won three of the past six Grand Slam championships and, Federer’s allergy to red clay notwithstanding, there’s no sign of surrender in either man. One suspects Wimbledon will be another episode in the Rafa-and-Roger show. All of which means the distaff side of tennis is much more intriguing. Check it out: In the past six GS tournaments, there have been six different champions—Serena Williams, Jelena Ostapenko, Garbine Muguruza, Sloane Stephens, Caroline Wozniacki and Simona Halep. Wimbledon will be another complete crapshoot, even if a healthy Williams joins the field.

Secretariat romping to the wire in the 1973 Belmont Stakes.

On the subject of great champions, 45 years to the day that Secretariat completed horse racing’s Triple Crown by winning the Belmont Stakes, Justify romped wire-to-wire at Belmont to become the 13th Triple Crown winner. But let’s provide some perspective. Justify ran the mile and a half in 2:28.18 on Saturday. Secretariat did it in 2:24.0 in 1973. In other words, Secretariat would have beaten Justify by more than 20 lengths. Big Red’s Belmont victory (he won by 31 lengths) remains the single greatest sporting achievement I have witnessed.

Perhaps Damien Cox would prefer it if the Washington Capitals partied like Canadian women.

Starring in the role of grumpy grandpa this week is Toronto Star and Sportsnet gasbag Damien Cox. On the heels of the Washington Capitals’ Stanley Cup conquest of the Vegas Golden Knights, Alex Ovechkin and the boys have been tooting about in full celebratory mode, carousing and fussing and sharing the moment with the rabble on the streets of D.C. Oh, they’ve also been drinking. How positively scandalous. And that just won’t do in Damien’s delicate, little world. There’s no room for random, unharnessed merriment. Or booze. “Rafael Nadal won his ELEVENTH French Open today,” Cox tweeted in a pious, tsk-tsking tone Sunday morning. “No video yet of him drunkenly rolling around in a public fountain because apparently some believe that’s how champions should behave.” Well, excuuuuuse the Capitals for having fun. I wonder if Damien Cox awakens some mornings and regrets being Damien Cox.

P.K. Subban and Lindsey Vonn

Social Note: It must be spring because sports power couples keep popping up. Not so long ago, noted flinger of footballs Aaron Rodgers and fast-car driver Danica Patrick were observed canoodling in public, and now it’s hockey’s diving diva, P.K. Subban, and Lindsey Vonn, glam gal of the ski slopes and one-time main squeeze of golfer Tiger Woods. Don’t know if going from putters to pucks is a dating step up or a step down for Vonn, but she probably won’t get any late-night calls from P.K. asking for bail money. (For the record, my fave sports power couple is Sue Bird and Megan Rapinoe, with Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi a close second.)

I note that a Connor McDavid rookie card recently sold at auction for $55,655. That’s a lot of coin for a small hunk of cardboard. But it made me wonder if kids still stick trading cards in the spokes of their bike wheels. Better question: Do kids still ride bikes, or are they too busy texting each other?

Serena Williams

Zero female athletes appeared on the Forbes list of the top 100 money-makers in sports for the first time, but we shouldn’t be surprised. The annual Forbes 100 is based on earnings from June to June, a period of almost total inactivity for Serena Williams, who slotted in at No. 51 a year ago with total income of $27 million. Her haul this time around was $18M, all via endorsement deals. Maria Sharapova, meanwhile, once was a regular on the Forbes 100, but, after being caught with her hand in the illegal-drug jar, some sponsors abandoned her and she has yet to return to championship form. Sharapova is hardly a pauper, though. Her estimated worth is well in excess of $100 million.

And, finally, an interesting albeit indelicate quote from the elegant Garbine Muguruza, who, after routing the equally elegant Sharapova, 6-2, 6-1, in the French Open, described the five-time Grand Slam champion as “an old-time player.” Ouch. Sharapova just turned 31.

About Johnny TMZ and jock journos going ga-ga over a backup QB…Matty gushing on TSN…the Anna Kournikova of car racing departs…mom’s the word for Serena in France…ultra-hyper Shapo…put some clothes on, Celine…Chevy and Coach Potty-Mouth don’t have much to say…Jacob Trouba’s pants are on fire…the “second-rate” Jets…a novelty act in Tranna…and standing for the anthem in pubs

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Johnny Manziel. Johnny Football. Johnny Magic. Johnny Be Good. Johnny Rotten. Johnny Backup. Johnny TMZ.

By any name, it’s all Johnny all of the time, and even media giants in the Republic of Trump are taking notice of our quirky brand of football now that Johnny Manziel is using his hands for something other than providing fingerprints for police, hoisting shot glasses and hitting women.

Indeed, ESPN and USA Today dispatched news snoops to Timbits Field for Manziel’s debut with the home-standing Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Friday night, while other outlets—Dallas Morning News, NBC Sports, New York Daily News, New York Post, etc.—have been dutifully recording his every move since he became the Canadian Football League’s latest American reclamation project.

Johnny TMZ

Manziel, of course, was a total washout with the Cleveland Browns in the National Football League. He was even more of a washout as a human being. Drugs. Booze. Bar brawls. Beating up women. Arrests. A grand jury. Court appearances. We need not go into the gory details. Suffice to say, he was Prince Charming like Roseanne Barr is Miss Manners. He was, by numerous accounts, a snot-nose rich kid.

So now that someone has tidied him up, Manziel is on our side of the great U.S.-Canadian divide, at his Last Chance Saloon, and the media are on a feeding frenzy.

Manziel did nothing extraordinary as a backup quarterback in the Tiger-Cats loss to the Toronto Argonauts on Friday night. He flung the football 11 times, with nine completions for 80 yards and zero points on the board, but Johnny Ordinary still appeared at the top of the page on the TSN website—with nine freaking videos! Sportsnet had him at the top as well, with two videos. He made the ESPN front page. Ditto USA Today. Also the Dallas Morning News. He was the lead football story on the New York Post website. Etcetera.

And let’s be clear here: This was a flipping exhibition football game, the most mind-numbing, sleep-inducing exercise in sports! Manziel was the backup QB! In a flipping exhibition game!

The sports media has lost whatever was left of its mind.

I don’t think Manziel should be in the CFL. You beat up a woman, you don’t qualify. But, hey, I didn’t get a vote. Just like I didn’t get a vote when they allowed bad actors Dexter Manley, Lawrence Phillips and Ricky Williams to cross the border back in the day. Is the CFL really so desperate that any player with a salable name is welcome, regardless what it says on his rap sheet? And are jock journos so desperate for a story that they gleefully play along with the CFL’s folly?

Matt Dunigan

Totally dumbest comment about Manziel was delivered by Matt Dunigan, the CFL on TSN gab guy who talks like he’s still in a locker room. After Manziel’s do-nothing performance, Dunigan absolutely gushed, saying, “On the off-script plays, boy, it’s magic, it’s Flutie-esque.” Oh FFS. He actually compared a backup QB to Doug Flutie, arguably the best player in CFL history. Shut the hell up, Matty. At least Milt Stegall was honest in his assessment of Manziel. “Not bad,” the Hall of Fame receiver said.

The absurdity of the Manziel fixation reached its peak when Matthew Scianitti of TSN took to Twitter last week and posted a play-by-play account of the backup QB’s performance—complete with passing statistics—in practice. Seriously? Play-by-play and passing stats from a training exercise with the Ticats second team offence and defence? You might want to think about getting a life, Matthew.

Danica Patrick

Speaking of overhyped athletes, Danica Patrick has taken her leave from the world of fast car racing, and she did so, perhaps appropriately, in a mangled wreck on the 68th lap of the Indianapolis 500. The bottom line on her exaggerated, 13-year career behind the wheel: 307 starts, one victory (1-for-116 in IndyCar, her sole victory coming in a skeletal, 18-car field in 2008; 0-for 191 in NASCAR with zero top-five finishes and only seven top-10s). If she led either series in anything, it was self-indulgence and hissy fits. She was never involved in an accident that she couldn’t blame on another driver. “More than anything I just hope they remember me as a great driver,” Patrick said prior to the Indy 500. Nope. Doesn’t work that way. Many framed the GoDaddy girl as a pioneer who would lead other women to the race track, but it simply hasn’t happened. Unfortunately, she was Anna Kournikova with Quaker State motor oil under her fingernails.

Evonne Goolagong Cawley

Had Serena Williams won the French Open, she wouldn’t have broken new ground as a Grand Slam-winning mama, but she would have been in select company. Margaret Court became the first mother to win a Grand Slam tennis tournament in the open era, claiming the Australian, French and U.S. Opens in 1973, a year after giving birth to her first child. Another Aussie, the graceful and delightful Evonne Goolagong Cawley, won the Aussie Open the same year (1977) she gave birth to her first child. And Kim Clijsters gave birth to the first of her three children in 2008 and won the U.S. Open the following two years and the Australia Open in 2011.

I suppose this is treasonous to say, but I have great difficulty watching our guy Denis Shapovalov play tennis. Bouncing the ball between his legs and bouncing on the balls of his feet before every serve is mildly annoying, but his fist-pumping after every winning point is too much. I swear, that boy is going to suffer a nervous breakdown right on court.

Celine Dion

Canada’s gift to Glitter Gulch, songstress Celine Dion, is so excited about the Vegas Golden Knights being in the Stanley Cup final that she wore a team jersey during a recent performance. Trouble is, she forgot to put on the rest of her clothes. Nice legs, though.

Is anyone actually watching the National Hockey League championship series between the Golden Knights and the Washington Ovies? I must confess that I tuned out the moment les Jets de Winnipeg were ushered out of the Stanley Cup runoff. Haven’t watched a minute of the final. If I had any rooting interest, it would be behind the Washington bench, where Barry Trotz paces. He’s a homebrew who cut his coaching teeth at the University of Manitoba and with Dauphin Kings in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

How do we know the Jets had a successful season? Kevin Cheveldayoff and Paul Maurice had less to say at their exit chin-wags with news snoops. Last year, general manager Chevy and Coach Potty-Mouth held separate gab sessions and flapped their gums for a total of one hour, 14 minutes and 22 seconds. This year, they sat side-by-each. Total chin-wag time: 0:32:20.

Jacob Trouba

Jets very capable defenceman Jacob Trouba tells the rabble that his desire is to remain in Good Ol’ Hometown for the long haul. “The quicker the better,” he told news snoops when asked about signing a long-term deal before they drop the puck next autumn. Paul Wiecek says he’s a liar. Yup. Says Trouba’s pants are on fire. Says he’s a regular Pinocchio. “I was struck how excited everyone was that Trouba told reporters he really wants to stay in Winnipeg and play for the Jets,” Wiecek wrote in the Winnipeg Free Press. “For the record, that is the exact same thing Trouba told me at the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto in 2016—a week before his agent announced he wanted out and Trouba proceeded to hold out for four weeks of the 2016-17 season. Trouba told reporters what they wanted to hear this week—his agent will be telling Chevy something very different, which is that if the Jets want to lock down Trouba for years to come it is going to cost them, big time.” Little wonder the relationship between athletes and scribes is often adversarial.

Worth repeating: “We have some good young players,” Chevy said in April 2017. “We will make the necessary steps and necessary decisions to keep those good young players. That’s been our promise, that’s been our mandate, that’s been something we’ve said since day one. And that day is coming.” That day is here, Chevy.

There was nothing “second rate” about the WHA Jets.

Someone might want to give Dan Lett a lesson in local hockey lore. The political scribe at the Freep, Lett had this to say in a recent siss-boom-bah, rah-rah-rah piece about the Jets and Winnipeg “Before they bolted for Arizona, the previous incarnation of the Jets was a source of frustration and, at times, embarrassment. There were some good teams, but they always fell to teams from cities that seemed larger, more successful, more complete. Our second-rate team seemed to reinforce the idea that Winnipeg was a second-rate community.” Yo! Danny boy! That “second-rate team” won three World Hockey Association titles. I suppose Lett can be forgiven, though. He’s from the Republic of Tranna. What could he possibly know about championship hockey?

Evander Kane

Seriously? Evander Kane signs with the San Jose Sharks for $49 million over seven seasons? For real? He’s never had a 60-point season. He’s scored 30 goals once. He’s.never played an entire 82-game schedule. Kane, now 27, just completed his most productive season, with 57 points. By way of comparison, Kyle Connor of the Jets ( 31-26-57) did that as a 20-year-old rookie. Twig Ehlers, 22, already has two 60-point seasons and two 82-game seasons. Puck Finn has had 64- (36 goals) and 70-point (44 goals) seasons as a teenager. Rink Rat Scheifele, 25, has had three 60-point seasons and a 32-goal season. They all collect less coin than Kane. Either Chevy is a genius or Sharks GM Doug Wilson is a fool.

Okay, officially the Tranna Blue Jays are no longer a baseball team. They’re a novelty act. I mean, Russell Martin playing shortstop? Kendrys Morales pitching? “We really don’t have a true shortstop on the team,” says beleaguered manager John Gibbons. That’s a fine job Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins have done since since defecting from Cleveland to take the wheel of our country’s Major League Baseball outfit. They’ve turned an American League East Division champion into a clunker in less than three seasons.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump tells National Football League players who kneel during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner that “You have to stand proudly for the national anthem. Or you shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there. Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.” I’ll agree that kneeling during the anthem is disrespectful only when I see people in pubs put down their pint mugs and stand when they’re watching a game on TV. And how many guys haul their big butts off the sofa to stand for the anthem at home? None that I know.

Two Hens in the Hockey House: It’s about humble pie…the plum tuckered out Winnipeg Jets…Connor Hellebuyck’s delusional take on goaltending…backing up the Brinks truck for Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey…re-upping Blake Wheeler…and dining on Kentucky Fried Crow

Meaningful hockey in the merry month of May? At the Little Hockey House On The Prairie? Who’d have thought? Not many. So, while there were long faces when the Winnipeg Jets’ Stanley Cup crusade ground to a halt on Sunday afternoon with a 2-1 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights, there was also a feel-good vibe among the rabble. My Two Hens in the Hockey House are here to discuss what went wrong in the Western Conference final vs. Vegas, what went right and what lies ahead for les Jets.

Take it away, ladies…

Question Lady: Well, what was on the breakfast menu for you this morning, girlfriend? Humble pie or bowl of crow?

Answer Lady: Neither. I just had two slices of toast.

Question Lady: Toast. How appropriate. The Jets are toast, too. Can’t say I’m surprised, but I know you are. As I recall, you picked them to take out the Golden Knights in six games, then win the Stanley Cup. You said something about the Jets being too fast, too quick, too deep, too tough, too every blah, blah, blah thing. Turns out it was just the opposite. Did you underestimate the Golden Knights or oversell the Jets?

Answer Lady: I don’t think I considered the fatigue factor. The Jets didn’t have the usual zippity-do-da in their stride at the end. They lost their lickety-split. Their oomph. At times they were skating with hunched shoulders against the wind. The Nashville Predators took more out of them in the second round than I thought. They were plum tuckered out.

Question Lady: Really? Fatigue did them in?

Answer Lady: It just seemed to me that their usual split-second sharpness deserted them, both physically and mentally. At this level, even a nanosecond of hesitation means your shot is redirected by a stick, or the puck is in the back of your net. Especially against the Golden Knights. Those boys are cobra quick. They pounce on mistakes faster than CNN can poke holes in a Donald Trump tweet.

Connor Hellebuyck

Question Lady: Speaking of holes, a lot of the pundits are saying this series was decided in the blue paint. Marc-André Fleury did boffo work in goal for Vegas and Connor Hellebuyck was leaking oil at the other end of the rink. Agree?

Answer Lady: To a point. It’s not like Hellebuyck was Ondrej Pavelec bad, but he had too many iffy moments that were extremely damaging. At no time was he gobsmackingly good. Fleury was gobsmackingly good most of the time.

Question Lady: Hellebuyck kept talking about ‘luck’ as if there was nothing more to Fleury’s game than rabbit’s feet, horse shoes and four-leaf clovers. A bit of a sore loser, wouldn’t you say?

Answer Lady: He sounded like a teenage punk who’d light up a smoke at the dinner table. The kind of nogoodnik that no parent wants their daughter dating. Totally disrespectful. Anyone who knows a puck from petunias will tell you Fleury was the superior ‘tender. If Hellebuyck doesn’t want to throw himself under the bus, fine. But sometimes you just have to accept that the other guy was better. Given enough time for sober second thought, Hellebuyck might agree. Probably not, though. He’ll continue to be a doorknob about it.

Question Lady: Kind of harsh, don’t you think?

Answer Lady: Not really. Just kind of the truth. Hey, I like it when athletes speak out of turn, but Hellebuyck is delusional and his disrespect is most objectionable.

Question Lady: Do we agree that the Jets have a legitimate No. 1 goaltender?

Answer Lady: Based on Hellebuyck’s entire body of work this season, for sure. But it would help if they had a backup ‘tender who can go more than two minutes without visiting the repair shop. Steve Mason is as fragile as a sports writer’s ego. Who made his body, Royal Doulton? He’s brittle like the burnt toast I ate this morning. They’re paying him what, $4 million to be an innocent bystander? Nice gig.

Question Lady: Why such emphasis on a capable caddy for Hellebuyck?

Answer Lady: Again, the fatigue factor. Hellebuyck played 67 games in the National Hockey League regular season and another 17 in the Stanley Cup tournament. That’s 84 games. He played 56 games total last year. He’s never carried this demanding a workload. By way of comparison, Fleury was in the blue paint for 46 and 15 games. That’s a whole lot less wear and tear. Which of the two looked the most spry and alert to you by the end of Game 5?

Jacob Trouba

Question Lady: What are the Jets other pressing needs?

Answer Lady: I’ll parrot exactly what I said in April 2017—convincing Jacob Trouba that Winnipeg is where he wants to play his hockey. That ought to be priority uno. He and Josh Morrissey are cornerstone defencemen.

Question Lady: I wonder if there’s still residue from the Trouba-Jets contract stare-down of two years ago. Remember, he wanted out of Dodge. On the surface, everything’s cool now, but that might be window dressing. What happens if there’s still a bit of bitterness bubbling beneath the surface?

Answer Lady: I guess we’ll find out shortly. Trouba’s a restricted free agent. Either he signs another one of those piddly, two-year deals, or he’s in it for the long haul, which is to say six or more years.

Question Lady: What’s it going to cost the Jets to re-sign him?

Twig Ehlers

Answer Lady: Back up the Brinks truck, girlfriend. The Trouba camp might try to hardball the Jets. He’s been playing at a bargain-basement rate for the past two seasons, so they might be looking for payback. And he’s arbitration eligible. We’re not talking lunch money or the spare change David Thomson finds under the cushions on his sofa. Trouba won’t become the highest-paid Jet, but it’ll be obscene if he’s making a dime less than the $6 million Twig Ehlers is due. Actually, it’s an obscenity that Ehlers will be earning more coin than Blake Wheeler next season. That simply does not compute.

Question Lady: No kidding. Like, what exactly did Ehlers accomplish in these playoffs?

Blake Wheeler

Answer Lady: Squat. He did diddly. He does diddly faster than most players, but it’s still diddly. I’m not really a fan anymore. His flash-and-dash game is built for the regular season. Or Ice Capades. Wheeler, on the other hand…complete pro, except when he’s barking and snarling at news snoops. Seriously, it’s criminal that he’ll be making less money than Twig next season. I think they ought to re-up Wheeler. Add a couple years to the one he has left.

Josh Morrissey

Question Lady: A few of the lads are due raises, no?

Answer Lady: Yup, and Josh Morrissey is among them. He and Trouba became the Jets top defensive pairing, and there probably wasn’t a better blueline bargain in the NHL. Combined they earned less than $4 million. That total is going to more than double. And if the Jets want to lock them in long term, it’ll take some serious gymnastics by the bean counters to keep Trouba-Morrissey under $10 million.

Question Lady: Any chance Paul Stastny will stick around?

Paul Stastny

Answer Lady: Age tells me no if he’s looking long term, and who isn’t? Stastny’s 33 in December. The Jets already have Bryan Little tied up for six years. Unless you’re convinced you can win the Stanley Cup right now, you don’t want two 30something centres clogging up development down the middle for the next five/six years.

Question Lady: It’s going to be an interesting summer for general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff. Think he’ll have anything interesting to say at his exit presser?

Answer Lady: Oh, it’ll all be Chevy-speak, but this time it won’t come across as a phony bill of goods. The Jets were the real deal this season. It was a fun ride.

Question Lady: Okay, gotta go. Let’s stay home tonight. Maybe watch a replay of the royal wedding. Instead of cooking dinner, we can order in. Maybe a bucket of Kentucky Fried Crow for madame?

Answer Lady: Funny girl.

About Johnny Rotten in the Hammer…media giving Manziel a pass on domestic violence…a rat’s ass on the diamond…Chevy getting his due…a fall guy in goal for the Winnipeg Jets…quick fixes in the NHL…playing the race card and pretty white girls in sports…and some fresh Steve-isms

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Colleen Crowley

Her name is Colleen Crowley. Johnny Manziel dragged her by the hair. Rag-dolled her. He beat her up. He threatened to kill her. She felt obliged to file a restraining order against him. It was granted. Charges were filed, then disappeared when Manziel (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) promised to be a good boy.

I was lucky to have survived. I fought for my life,” Crowley has said of her relationship with Manziel.

And that’s the man who would be starting quarterback for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

The Ticats added Johnny Rotten to their stable of bad-boy QBs on Saturday, and they did so with the blessing of the Canadian Football League, an organization that likes to include itself among the angels in the fight against domestic violence but, in reality, is more aligned with the dark forces if it means getting a former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback on its wider and longer fields.

The Tabbies and CFL don’t want to hear chatter about Manziel beating up women when there are games to win and over-priced merchandise to peddle.

Johnny Manziel and his guard dog June Jones.

Indeed, Drew Edwards of the Hamilton Spectator attempted to discuss the elephant in the room during Manziel’s meet-and-greet on Saturday, but the Ticats head coach, June Jones, sitting beside his freshly minted QB like a big, scary guard dog, would have none of it.

There’s a time for that,” he harrumphed, intercepting the question like a cornerback jumping on a Jeremiah Masoli wobbler. “We’re talking football right now. Ask us about football stuff. That other stuff, we’ve done everything we can to appease the protocol.”

Well, actually you haven’t done “everything” about that “other stuff,” June.

According to an excellent article written by Jeff Hamilton of the Winnipeg Free Press, at no time in the vetting of Manziel did anyone with the Tiger-Cats or the CFL seek an impact statement from the woman who was on the receiving end of his anger and the back of his hand—Colleen Crowley. Apparently, a woman being beaten up and fearing for her life isn’t worth a visit or a phone call from anyone in the CFL’s ivory tower.

So, if they’re unwilling to discuss Manziel’s history of thumping women with his victim, why would they have any desire to wash his dirty laundry in public?

The CFL and Ticats are turning the calendar back to the 20th century, when pro sports leagues pretended “that stuff” never happened. So trust them, kids. Johnny Football is a really, really, really good guy. A humble guy (just ask him). All that Colleen Crowley “stuff?” Not to worry. She’s moved on with her life. She has a boyfriend who doesn’t beat her up. Nothing to see here, kids. So just get out there and buy all those Johnny Manziel jerseys and everyone will live happily ever after.

Sad.

Chris Cuthbert

Kudos to the Spec’s Edwards for attempting to address the domestic violence issue, but it appears his brethren in mainstream media, like the Ticats and CFL, are prepared to give Manziel a free pass. No surprise, really, since none of the news snoops are women who’ve been rag-dolled by men. Some samples from the welcoming committee:

Stephen Brunt, Sportsnet: “There is no down-side here.”

Chris Cuthbert, CFL play-by-play voice on TSN: “Looking forward to seeing Johnny Manziel play in the CFL. Win-Win for the CFL.”

Matthew Scianitti, TSN: “Whatever you think of Johnny Manziel, the attention he’ll bring to the CFL won’t hurt.”

Dan Barnes, Postmedia Edmonton: “It will be fun for everyone to watch.”

Steve Simmons, Postmedia Tranna: “Welcome to Canada, Johnny Football. Johnny Football is coming to Canada. And where do I sign up?”

I don’t know about you, but when I hear someone describe themselves as “humble,” which Manziel did on Saturday, I’m convinced he’s humble like a football has four corners and a handle. Humble people don’t brag about being humble. They allow others to make that call. Manziel, to be sure, struck all the right notes during his meet-and-greet with news snoops, but beneath all the puffery you know he believes a move to the CFL is slumming.

Joey Votto

Some rat’s ass took a terrible beating last week. I mean, first Joey Votto said he doesn’t give a “rat’s ass” about baseball in Canada. Then, upon further review, he said he does, indeed, give a rat’s ass about baseball in Canada, and the Cincinnati Reds first sacker delivered a mea culpa that, to me, sounded sincere. Others bought in, too. Richard Giffin, baseball columnist at Toronto Star, described Votto’s apology as “thorough and heartfelt.” Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail wrote, “Votto’s apology was that true rarity—one that not only showed contrition, but also made sense.” Then there was our favorite glass-is-half-empty scribe Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna, who cannot resist finding dark clouds in silver linings. The apology “rings hollow for me,” he tweeted. Something tells me that Votto doesn’t give a rat’s ass what Simmons thinks of his mea culpa.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

Tip of the bonnet to Kevin Cheveldayoff, one of the finalists in voting for the National Hockey League’s top general manager. By my count, Chevy makes it three members of the Winnipeg Jets who’ve been nominated to collect a trinket at the NHL awards soiree next month in Vegas—captain Blake Wheeler is up for Mark Messier Leadership Award and goaltender Connor Hellebuyck is up for Vezina. Perhaps the scribes at the Winnipeg Free Press can tell us once again how everything flies “under the radar” in Pegtown.

Connor Hellebuyck

Interesting that many among the rabble in Jets Nation had their fall guy even before the local hockey heroes came up short in their Stanley Cup crusade—the aforementioned Hellebuyck. Is that fair? Perhaps not. Is it an accurate analysis? Absolutely. Goaltending was the critical difference between the Jets and Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL Western Conference final, which wrapped up Sunday afternoon at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie. Hellebuyck wasn’t horrible, but a couple of iffy moments (some would call them total blunders) vs. Vegas represented the fine line between success and failure. At the other end of the rink, Marc-André Fleury was, as they say, lights out in four of the five games it took Vegas to oust les Jets in the best-of-seven series. He was one save from perfect in the clincher on Sunday, a 2-1 Vegas win, and you wouldn’t want to bet against him in the Stanley Cup final vs. either Tampa Bay Lightning or Washington Capitals. 

Chris Johnston of Sportsnet writes this of the NHL: “There are simply no quick fixes in this league anymore.” Really? Tell that to the Golden Knights, who went from non-existent to a 109-point season and the Western Conference final in less than 12 months. Tell it to the Tranna Maple Leafs, who went from a 69-point outfit to a 105-point club in the three seasons since Brendan Shanahan, Lou Lamoriello and Mike Babcock set up shop. Tell that to the Colorado Avalanche, who went from 48 to 95 points in one season. Quick fixes are doable. You just need the right people working the wheel.

Francoise Abanda

Francoise Abanda is probably correct—she’ll never receive the exposure provided Canadian tennis diva Genie Bouchard. But she loses the plot in her reasoning.

(It’s) because I am black. It’s the truth,” she says, which is her way of calling Tennis Canada and/or the media racist.

Here’s some truth for young Francoise: The top money-earner among all female athletes on this planet is Serena Williams, a black woman. According to Forbes, she collected $27 million between June 2016 and June 2017, $19 million of her haul accumulated off-court. Her sister Venus, also unmistakably a black woman, was No. 5 on the Forbes list in overall earnings ($10.5 million) and No. 2 in off-court income ($7 million).

Anna Kournikova: The look of marketability.

Now, it’s also a truth that news snoops and advertising agencies are, of course, fools for pretty, blonde, white female athletes with cover girl looks, whether they’re successful or not (see: Bouchard, Genie; Kournikova, Anna), and the media remain guilty of fawning over Bouchard even as she’s in free fall in the Women’s Tennis Association rankings and has accomplished little of note in the past two years, other than to remove most of her clothing for Sports Illustrated. So, yes, being a pretty, white girl comes with benefits. Maria Sharapova, for example, wasn’t the top-earning female athlete 11 years running because she was superior to Serena Williams on the tennis court. Although a multiple Grand Slam champion, her income was mostly about blonde hair, long legs and marketability.

Abanda can’t count on that for greater exposure. She’ll first need a signature moment. Like what Denis Shapovalov delivered at the Rogers Cup last summer. People didn’t notice Shapo because he’s white. It’s because he beat Rafael Nadal.

At present, Abanda is the world No. 128, top-ranked among Canadian women, and other than giving Jelena Ostapenko a bit of a scare last summer at Wimbledon, her body of work on the WTA main circuit is non-descript. Nothing she’s done screams 150-point headline. It’s that black and white.

Genie Bouchard: The look of marketability.

If you’re curious, behind the Williams sisters at the 2016-17 endorsement/special fees pay window were all the pretty white girls (Forbes 2017 list).

Genie Bouchard (tennis): $6.5 million.
Danica Patrick (auto racing): $5 million.
Angelique Kerber (tennis): $5 million.
Caroline Wozniakcki (tennis): $5 million.
Garbine Muguruza (tennis): $3.5 million.
Ronda Rousey (UFC): $3 million.

This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna (Volume 1): “Don’t know what’s more disappointing—the Jets losing tonight or the Jets not selling out in the smallest arena in the NHL.” That from a guy who lives in the Republic of Tranna—population 6.4 million—where they can’t scrounge up more than 14,000 to watch the Tranna Argonauts play football. Where they had to give away 2016 Grey Cup game tickets with pizza to fill the pews at BMO Field. Where employees at TSN and Bell were offered free tickets. Where they had to slash ticket prices. And where they still couldn’t fill the joint, with the lowest head count for the CFL title match in 41 years.

This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna (Volume 2): “Been a Winnipeg supporter going back to 99 Pan Am Games. Enjoyed Grey Cups there.” Really? Here’s what Simmons wrote in November 2015: “My report card of Grey Cup Week in Winnipeg: Just so-so. Not as much fun as Winnipeg usually is at Grey Cup time. A touch disappointing.”

This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna (Volume 3): “Forgot how much fun it is to cover boxing. Have really enjoyed the past few days.” Ya, wouldn’t we all just love to hang out with that fun bunch at the light-heavyweight title fight on Saturday in The ROT? The champion, Adonis Stevenson, once was jailed for pimping out women; the challenger’s promoter, Floyd Mayweather Jr., is a convicted wife beater who beat up the mother of his children before their very eyes. Fun for the entire family.

 

About the WHA Jets vs. les Canadiens…B. Hull still ragging on Fergy…remember Benny and the Jets…a roster of rejects isn’t fair?…newspaper wars…meet the new Leafs GM, Harry Potter…Kypreos has ‘no idea’…Daren Millard and a smarmy guy on Hockey Central…Evander Kane’s wish list…dirty, rotten Darian Durant…fashionista Phil…boxing’s jail break…the greatest cheater…and other things on my mind

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

The boys are back in town, so let’s settle this Habs-Jets thing once and for all.

Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson

Let me begin by saying that I stand second to few people in admiration for the Winnipeg Jets, circa Hedberg-Nilsson-Sjoberg-Hull-et al. They played hybrid hockey. Canadian grit met Scandinavian swirl to form a swashbuckling brand of shinny not seen on this side of the great waters until the two cultures dovetailed in the mid-to-late 1970s.

If we are to believe Slats Sather, those Jets provided the blueprint for his rollicking Edmonton Oilers outfits that ruled the frozen ponds of the National Hockey League a decade later.

So, ya, the Jets were good. Good enough to give the mighty Soviet Union national side a 5-3 paddywhacking one January night in 1978.

But…were they Montreal Canadiens good? That is, how might the World Hockey Association’s signature team have measured up against the Habs juggernaut that featured a Hockey Hall of Fame head coach and nine HHOF players who produced Stanley Cup parades in four successive springs, 1976-79? Well, let’s ask three people who ought to know—Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson and Bobby Hull.

Peter Young, Ulf Nilsson, Kathy Kennedy, Bobby Hull, Anders Hedberg and Sod Keilback.

The three members of the legendary Hot Line were in Good, Ol’ Hometown this weekend for a gathering of the players who conspired to win the club’s second WHA title 40 years ago this month, and Kathy Kennedy summoned them to her CJOB studio for a gab session. Also sitting in for the 40-minute chin-wag were veteran broadcasters Peter Young and Sod Keilback, who steered the chatter in the direction of les Canadiens.

Keiback: “Would you have beaten the Montreal Canadiens?”

Hull: “No, but it would have been a great game.”

Keilback: “I want to ask this to Ulf, because Friar Nicolson told me the most honest man he ever met in his life—the guy couldn’t lie—was Ulf Nilsson. Ulf, would you have been able to win the Stanley Cup with the WHA Jets?”

Nilsson: “No, I don’t think so. I agree with both Bobby and Anders. We were short maybe a few defencemen. Goaltending was good, though, and I think we had enough good forwards, but defence, we could have used one or two more.”

Hedberg: “We could have reached the final, no question.”

So, there you have it. While hundreds (thousands?) of locals to this day remain convinced the Jets could have given the Habs a wedgie, three of the WHA club’s four most influential players (defenceman Lars-Erik Sjoberg was the fourth) insist it’s a notion built on fantasy.

It would have been a boffo series, though.

Bobby Hull and John Ferguson in the good, ol’ days.

Former Jets general manager John Ferguson has been bones in the ground since 2007, but Hull won’t let his feud with Fergy go to the grave. Proudly talking about the open-door policy the Jets had with fans during the WHA days, Hull said this during the ‘OB gabfest: “They wanted me to take over the team, and they brought in a guy by the name of Ferguson and Tommy McVie, and that was all the goodwill we’d built up in all those years from 1972 to 1979 or ’80, or whenever it was that they joined with the NHL, went out the window. Doors were closed, there was rippin’ and cursin’ and kickin’ buckets and throwin’ oranges.” When host Kathy Kennedy relayed a story about an angry Fergy once kicking a hole through the Jets’ dressing room door, Hull said, “He not only had the foot in the door lots of times, he had that size 13 in his mouth.”

Ben Hatskin

As the present-day Jets continue their Stanley Cup crusade vs. the Vegas Golden Knights, give a thought to the WHA Jets, because they’re the reason what’s happening today is happening today. Had original owner Ben Hatskin folded his tent, the NHL wouldn’t have given River City a second glance. Edmonton and Ottawa probably wouldn’t have franchises either.

Interesting take from Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun on the Jets-Golden Knights skirmish for bragging rights in the NHL Western Conference. “I get that Vegas being good is beneficial for the league, but it still doesn’t seem fair that an expansion team can come in and contend for a Stanley Cup right away.” Fair? You tell me what’s fair. I mean, the Golden Knights entered the fray last October with a roster of rejects. Nobody thought it was unfair back then. So now that same roster of rejects is eight wins from hoisting the holy grail in Glitter Gulch and it isn’t fair? As if.

It occurs to me that it isn’t just the clubs competing in the NHL’s annual spring runoff. It’s also the daily rags. And, two series and one game deep into the playoffs, I’d say the Sun has opened a big, ol’ can of whupass on the Winnipeg Free Press. The tabloid troika of Wyman, Paul Friesen and Ken Wiebe have been cranking out the good stuff daily since the puck dropped on the Jets-Minnesota Wild series. Over at the Drab Slab, Mike McIntyre, Jason Bell and Mike Sawatzky are doing boffo business, but it doesn’t help that the Freep’s Sunday edition is an after-thought and the sports columnist seems to be MIA every second day.

kyle dubas3
Harry Potter lookalike Kyle Dubas

I turned on the TV the other day to watch the coronation of Kyle Dubas as GM of the Tranna Maple Leafs and they introduced Harry Potter instead. Seriously. If Dubas isn’t Harry Potter, he’s Harry’s big brother. The question now is this: Can he do anything about the boggarts on the Leafs blueline?

Nick Kypreos has come clean about running off at the mouth. Sort of. If you’ll recall, our man Kipper implied that Leafs head coach Mike Babcock and his star player, Auston Matthews, have been giving each other the ol’ stink eye. “Babcock lost Matthews. There was no trust anymore. For whatever reason, Babcock lost Matthews,” he said after les Leafs had bowed out of the Stanley Cup tournament. Kipper offered zero evidence to support his suggestion of a spat. And now? “It is based purely on my instincts following a 12-year professional career,” the Sportsnet and Hockey Night in Canada gab guy tells us. “It is nothing more, nothing less. To my knowledge, there is no major rift between Babcock and Matthews. There is no conspiracy, but trust me, it isn’t fake news either. I have no idea how Matthews feels about his coach.” I think that last sentence sums it up: Kypreos has no idea.

Daren Millard

Loved the chatter between Daren Millard and “smarmy” Damien Cox on Hockey Central at Noon last Wednesday, when they engaged in a to-and-fro about ice time for elite NHL performers.

Cox: “Good teams don’t give their best players 23 minutes. Or, if they do it’s very rare. Or they’re coached by John Tortorella.”

Millard: “Barkov plays…Sasha Barkov plays 23 minutes.”

Cox: “Oh, Connor McDavid plays more than 22 minutes and they’re horrible. So, that’s what you want? The idea is to have a well-balanced team. Now…”

Millard: “You’re so smarmy sometimes.”

Cox: “Why is that smarmy?”

Millard: “You just…you are. You’re just…”

Cox: “I was giving you an example.”

Millard: “It’s the way you say it. ‘No, they’re terrible. Is that what you want?‘”

Cox: “That is not smarmy. You can say it’s overcritical, but it’s not smarmy.”

Well, let’s see. Smarmy is defined by Merriam-Webster as: “Of low sleazy taste or quality; revealing or marked by a smug, ingratiating, or false earnestness.” The urban dictionary describes smarmy as: “A certain attitude often accompanied by a squinty look and a superior smile that makes you instantly hate a person.” It’s settled then: Millard is correct—Cox is smarmy.

Evander Kane

Old friend Evander Kane, soon eligible for free agency, has revealed his needs-and-wants list for re-signing with the San Jose Sharks or moving to another NHL club: “Common sense tells you there are three priorities that you look for as a player: money, chance to win and lifestyle. Those are the three priorities and it just depends on how you rank them.” In Kane’s case, considerations of lifestyle would have to include proximity to Las Vegas, a private jet and, of course, comfy jail cells. Okay, okay. That was a cheap shop. I mean, it’s been at least a year since cops have had to slap the handcuffs on Kane in public. Shame on me.

Quote of the week comes from the Boston Licker, Brad Marchand, whose filthy habit of licking opposition players commandeered much of the chatter during Round 2 of Stanley Cup skirmishing: “I have to cut that shit out,” he said. Ya think? What was your first clue, Inspector Clouseau?

Darian Durant

I’d like to feel sorry for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers today. I really would. I mean, they got stiffed. That dirty, no-good, rotten scoundrel and noted green guy Darian Durant took their money and ran. Paid him $70,000 and he flat out quit. Didn’t even have the good manners to bid a polite adieu. And now the Canadian Football League club is left without its security blanket for starting quarterback Matt Nichols, a week before the large lads in pads gather to grab grass and growl at their 2018 training sessions. Well, here’s a thought: Stop relying on other outfits to do your dirty work. That is, find and develop your own damn QBs instead of this decades-long dependency on others’ retreads. I think Dieter Brock was the last in-house starter of note, and the Bombers haven’t groomed a backup who could toss a spiral since Hal Ledyard rode shotgun for Kenny Ploen.

Having said that, Durant’s departure was totally lame. Really bad form. You want to quit, fine, quit. That’s cool. Get on with your life. But, good gawd, have the gonads to tell the people who invested $70,000 in you. Pick up a phone and call them. Don’t let them find out on social media.

Phil Mickelson

Meet Phil Mickelson, fashionista. Who knew? If you missed it, the normally frumpy and flabby Phil has taken to wearing button-up dress shirts on the golf course, complete with starched collars and cuffs. What, no cufflinks, Lefty? No ascot? Not sure if Lefty is caught in a middle-age crisis, but this is a good look like Hair In A Can was a good idea. It’s Giorgio Armani bogies the back nine.

The good news is, Drake has been eliminated from the National Basketball Association playoffs. The bad news is, jock journos in the Republic of Tranna will have to scramble to find another groupie to fawn over. Are there any rapper/hip-hop stars who like the Blue Jays? If not, I’m sure they’ll settle for a B-list celeb like Dave Foley or Steven Page.

Boxing is on the menu in The ROT next Saturday, with champion Adonis Stevenson defending his WBC light-heavyweight title against Badou Jack. It’s quite the seedy main event: Stevenson has spent time behind bars for pimping out women; Jack is known as The Ripper, an obvious reference to Jack the Ripper, serial killer of prostitutes; and the challenger is among the stable of boxers promoted by Floyd Mayweather Jr., himself a convicted woman-beater. That’s not a sports event, it’s a jail break. And yet people will part with their money to watch. Go figure.

This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna (Volume 1): “The greatest Toronto athletes in my time: Donovan Bailey, Ben Johnson. @De6rasse has a chance to surpass both.” Can you say hypocrite, kids? I mean, Simmons sits on a horse named Morality and refuses to vote for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens in Baseball Hall of Fame balloting because they flunked his smell test. That is, they stuck needles in their butts. They cheated. Yet he lists this country’s most-disgraced cheater, druggie Ben Johnson, as one of the two greatest Tranna athletes during his 61 years drawing oxygen. A freaking cheat! Can you say zero credibility, kids? Zero!

This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna (Volume 2): “The Leafs can’t beat Boston three straight. Probably no team in hockey can.” Tell that to the Tampa Bay Lightning, who just beat the Bruins four straight.

This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna (Volume 3): “It’s entirely possible that all four conference finalists in the NHL will be teams that have never won the Stanley Cup before.” No, it was not possible. Tampa and Boston, who met in the eastern semifinal, have both won the Stanley Cup. Simmons explained his gaffe by saying he was soooooo “tired,” then deleted the tweet.