I’ve told this tale before, but it bears repeating given the shaky status of the Canadian Football League.
In a distant time and place, my friend Chester and I would hop on our bikes and make the trek to St. Boniface, twice a day, to watch the Winnipeg Blue Bombers frolic on a parched patch of earth known as Packers Field, so-named because of the Canada Packers rendering plant across the road.
We were allowed to get up close and personal with Kenny Ploen and Leo Lewis and Ernie Pitts and Bud Grant, who actually acknowledged our existence and once presented us scamps with a watermelon to share at the conclusion of the two-a-day, preseason training exercises.
How many kids could say they sat and spat watermelon seeds among sporting deity? Just Chester and myself, and it was magical.
The Bombers, after all, were top dog. The Winnipeg Jets had yet to arrive to adjust the pecking order, and our football heroes brought glory to Good Ol’ Hometown, winning the Grey Cup with great frequency in the late 1950s and early ’60s.
I’m uncertain what became of Chester, but, for me, those morning/afternoon sessions at Packers Field served as the stirrings of a life-long fling with Rouge Football.
I was fortunate. Actually, blessed would be a better word. I grew up with the CFL, then got to cover it for 19 years in three locales—Winnipeg, Calgary and the Republic of Tranna—and that’s something you should understand about the boys and girls on the beat: They’re fans.
Those who chronicle the daily doings of the three-down game care. About the league, about the players, about management, about the quirky rules that differentiate us from the four-down colossus south of the 49th. We embrace the notion of humble community ownership, in the same way the citizenry of Green Bay embraces its Packers.
Thus, we tend to take it personal when we hear squawkings of a sellout to American interests, or when the feds decline to pony up with cash to see the CFL through the COVID pandemic. Who are these snake-oil salesmen from the U.S. planning to butcher our game, and how dare Trudeau the Younger and his pals on Parliament Hill give Air Canada, the film industry and the arts community money hand over fist while leaving the lords of Rouge Football to sit, hat in hand, on a cold, dark street corner?
The iffiness of the CFL’s very existence, let alone a 2021 crusade, rattles us to the core, and we nod in agreement when we hear Russ Jackson speaking our language.
“I think if there was an amalgamation of the American and Canadian side, it would lead towards playing the American game,” the great quarterback told 3DownNation. “I have no interest in that. I have four season tickets here in Hamilton. I’m not sure I would keep those season seats if we turned into an American-type football game.”
You tell ’em, Russ. Maybe they’ll listen to you.
I doubt it, though, because they’ve heard it all before. They know all about the 100-plus-year history of the game on this side of the great divide, they’re familiar with folklore about horses clomping into hotel lobbies during Grey Cup week, and about fog bowls, mud bowls and ice bowls, so nothing a legendary QB says will sway them. Heck, we could trot out a lineup of legends including Jackson, Dirty Thirty, Peanut Butter Joe and Big Angie to preach the gospel according to G. Sydney Halter, but the stewards of the game will do what they’re going to do.
Question is: How many among the rabble would be bent out of shape if the lords of Rouge Football sold out to Americans, or if the CFL disappeared like a slab of beef on Chris Walby’s dinner plate? I mean, I like to think that it isn’t just folks of my vintage who want to preserve our game.
Well, I remind you of an Angus Reid poll conducted last May. Slightly more than 1,500 sports fans across the tundra were contacted and asked if they would be “disappointed” should the 2020 CFL season be scuttled. Only in Manitoba and Saskatchewan did the majority respond with a “damn straight I would!” Elsewhere, there was a collective shrug of the shoulders.
Manitoba: 63 per cent Saskatchewan: 61 per cent Alberta: 45 per cent B.C.: 34 per cent Quebec: 31 per cent Ontario: 28 per cent Atlantic Canada: 17 per cent
Significantly, east of the Manitoba-Ontario border, a greater percentage of people indicated they would miss an NFL season more than a CFL crusade.
We don’t know if those numbers have changed, but something tells me the Lords of Rouge Football and commissioner Randy Ambrosie haven’t attracted any new friends, or brought back old friends, with their fumbled appeals for federal financing and their dithering in the past year.
We’re told the tall foreheads will gather on Tuesday to plot strategy, and I don’t know if I should fear the worst or expect to see Commish Randy pull something that resembles Bugs Bunny out of his hat.
I just know they’re messing with memories, and if they shut down again or sell out to Yankee Doodle dollars I’ll be mad enough to spit. Only this time it won’t be watermelon seeds at Packers Field.
A hump day smorgas-bored…and let’s clean out one final notebook before I find a nice, warm corner to sit in…
As the Winnipeg Blue Bombers passed the Grey Grail around like a joint at a love-in on Sunday, no doubt there were lumps on bar stools and dudes in man caves across the land who noticed a smallish, raven-haired woman hoisting the goblet.
“Who’s the chick with the Grey Cup?” they likely wondered aloud.
That would be Dayna Spiring, first and only female chair of the Bombers board of directors and, once the engraver is done with his handiwork, the first woman to have her name etched on the ultimate prize in Rouge Football.
And, yes, now that you mention it, I do find it mildly amusing that after 28 Canadian Football League seasons of Winnipeg FC never failing to fail, Dayna showed the boys how it’s done her first time out of the chute. You go, girl.
I suppose there are some among the rabble who might pooh-pooh Dayna’s contribution to the Bombers’ success, because they reckon she doesn’t really do much except sit at a big table in a big boardroom and make life difficult for Wade Miller, a real football guy and CEO of our community-run franchise.
Well, look, I don’t pretend to know the inner-workings of the Bombers board, nor am I privy to her private chit-chats with Miller, who, I’m told, has a head as hard as a bowling ball and whose mug shot appears beside the word ‘mulish’ in the dictionary. And I can’t tell you what goes on when CFL governors gather behind closed doors. But I’ll assume that Dayna is more than just a pretty face in an old boys club, and if David Braley of the B.C. Lions barks at her she’ll bark right back if it’s in the best interest of Winnipeg FC.
So, no, she has no sway in who starts at quarterback, but she might have something to say about what kind of QB the football club can afford, not to mention the quality of character the large lads stuffed inside those blue-and-gold uniforms possess.
The point is, the Bombers’ 33-12 victory over the Hamilton Tabbies in the 107th Grey Cup skirmish on Sunday wasn’t just about football.
Young women and girls across the land also saw Dayna hoist the Grey Grail during the post-game hooraw at McMahon Stadium in the Alberta Foothills, and that tells them they can do it, too. Since we all have mothers, daughters, sisters and nieces, isn’t that something we should all want for them? The belief in self? The belief in can do?
You bet it is.
I’ve never met Dayna Spiring, and I doubt I ever will, but, for me, she’s the real feel-good story of the Bombers’ first Grey Cup victory in 29 years, and a true role model for all women.
Say, does this Winnipeg FC win mean my dear friend yound Eddie Tait gets a championship ring? I hope so. Once upon a time, of course, Young Eddie was the best football beat writer in all the land, first at the Winnipeg Sun then the Drab Slab, but he escaped the rag trade a couple years back to join the football club and crank out all that quality scribbling for bluebombers.com. I don’t know how far down the food chain he is, but it seems to me that someone should be sizing one of Young Eddie’s digits for a Grey Cup ring. If so, he’ll be the second former Sun scribe to earn one. Mike Petrie went over the wall more than a dozen years ago and eventually became John Hufnagel’s right-hand man with the Calgary Stampeders.
For the record, I have zero championship rings, but I seem to recall legendary coach Cal Murphy once letting me kiss his ring finger. It sure beat the other part of his anatomy that some news snoops were kissing.
Just wondering, has Chris Streveler put his clothes on yet? The Bombers backup QB has been half naked since the local football heroes whupped the Tabbies, and he’s definitely the most likely candidate to do the Ovie and take a dip in a fountain with the Coupe Grey.
Also wondering, can the CFL not find a welder capable of fixing the Grey Cup so it doesn’t fall apart every time one of the large lads takes a swig of beer from the thing? Apparently the binder twine and denture adhesive aren’t working.
The Sun clobbered the Drab Slab in playoff and Grey Cup coverage, but the broadsheet scored a big win with its front page on Monday. Brilliant. Probably a collector’s item. I don’t know who made the call on the Sun front, but it was a bigger flop than the Hamilton offence. I mean, a pic of Andrew Harris running the ball squeezed between a key and an ad? Lame, lame, lame.
Modesty does not prevent me from tooting my own horn at times, and this is one of those times. Here’s what I wrote last February, the day after Bombers GM Kyle Walters convinced Willie Jefferson to come on board: “Winnipeg FC might only require Justin Medlock’s left leg to get the job done in 2019. I mean, who’s going to score on the Bombers? D-coordinator Richie Hall can simply dial up 1-800-GET-SACK and if Jefferson isn’t in the QB’s kitchen, Jackson Jeffcoat will be. Should the J-Boys falter, Beastmo Bighill will be right behind to tidy things up.” And how did it unfold v. the Tabbies? Well, Jefferson had three sacks and two forced fumbles, Jeffcoat had two sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery, while Bighill scooped up a loose ball. Meantime, Medlock hoofed six three-pointers and a rouge for 19 points, more than enough to win the day. I call that Blind Squirrel Syndrome. Sometimes I get it right.
Still can’t get over groupie Glen Suitor swooning like a tennybopper when Keith Urban joined him and Chris Cuthbert in the TSN booth late in the third quarter of Sunday’s skirmish. The gooey gushing and impromptu lesson in the workings of three-down football were just…so…creepy, and I think Doug Brown of the Drab Slab put it best about the Suitor Swoon with this tweet: “How about we teach Keith Urban Canadian football in a game that isn’t the Grey Cup?” Right on, Doug.
Almost as bad as Suitor’s orgasmic carry-on was that ridiculous split screen, featuring a blurry vision of Urban on the left, like he was the Pope on his Vatican balcony, and the actual game shown in ant-size. My eyes and ears bled.
Found this post-Grey Cup take from Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab interesting: “Full disclosure. I had no rooting interest in this game.” I call BS on that. I refuse to believe that a guy working and writing in Good Ol’ Hometown for more than two decades didn’t want the Bombers to beat the Tabbies. You can’t permit bias to creep into your copy, but you sure as hell hope the good guys win.
Mad Mike’s piece reminded me of something my first sports editor, the great Jack Matheson, wrote when readers suggested he was soft on the Bombers due to a perceived friendship with then-coach Ray Jauch. “All right, I’ll come clean, Ray Jauch is a friend of mine, but I didn’t know they had enacted some sort of legislation making it a crime for sports writers to have friends. I don’t see anything wrong with being friendly with a man you work with every day of the week. Where does it say a football writer and a football coach have to have an adversary relationship? Yes, we’re friends. I don’t know about ‘good’ friends, but that doesn’t sound like such a bad idea, either, because we have something in common. We’re thrown together into the football jungle, and Ray Jauch wants to win because it’s his job and I want to win because I live here and I like to be proud of the athletes who represent us.” Exactly. And if that was good enough for Matty, it’s good enough for me, and it should be good enough for today’s scribes.
Mad Mike also reported that there was a nasty and heated verbal exchange post-match between the Bombers faithful and Postmedia Tranna scribe Steve Simmons, who had scribbled a piece suggesting Andrew Harris had no business playing in the Grey Cup game due to his PED bust during the regular season. Let me just say this about that: Simmons is more a hit man than he is a writer. His column has become mean-spirited, slanderous, deliberately incendiary, fraught with factual inaccuracies, and quite witless. He has made a career of assailing and insulting athletes, coaches, managers, etc. of every stripe, so he was simply getting some of his own. As long as it isn’t physical, it’s part of the gig.
The Simmons incident reminds me of the day I was walking home from the Toad In The Hole in Osborne Village one spring. I have no idea what I had written, but a large chap on the sidewalk opposite me suddenly shouted, “You’re a complete piece of shit!” I wasn’t eager to cross River Avenue and discuss the raw sewage seeping from his mouth, but I did hasten my pace and made it home safely.
The surprise isn’t that Calgary Flames head coach Bill Peters once (allegedly) dropped N-bombs in a changing room, the surprise is that so many people are surprised that this sort of racist language and behavior occurs in hockey.
During the tar-and-feathering of Don Cherry after his commentary on immigrants and poppies a few weeks back, numerous opinionists used the occasion to remind us that “hockey is for everyone,” as if white ice and a black puck make it so. But the Peters-Akim Aliu incident is a disturbing reminder that hockey is not for everyone. If hockey was for everyone, there would be more faces of color on the ice. If hockey was for everyone, there would have been an openly gay man in the National Hockey League by now. Hockey is a lot closer to being “for everyone” on the women’s side, where we’ve seen lesbians on Olympic and national teams around the globe, and transgender players in the National Women’s Hockey League. The men? It’s still a horse-and-buggy sport.
And, finally, until we meet again, it’s been a slice.
Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and, say, it turned out nice again…
Well I’ll be damned. The Canadian Mafia got it done.
And, yes, I’ll confess there were times when I harbored serious doubt that the True North Trinity had what it takes to build a championship cocktail, and I figured one of Mike O’Shea, Kyle Walters or Wade Miller would have been out the door by now.
My money was always on O’Shea to be kicked to the curb first, because head coaches tend to get a lot less leash than general managers or CEOs. Some of them, in fact, don’t last much longer than a pint of beer in front of Chris Walby.
In Coach Grunge’s case, though, at some point in the past six years O’Shea learned to get out of his own way, leaving the gadgetry and gimmickry (read: fake punts, phantom field goals and truly dopey coaching) to others, and the rabble was partying at Portage and Main for the first time in 29 years on Sunday night because of it.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are rulers of all they survey in Rouge Football, and Coach Grunge’s lads didn’t just take down the dreaded Hamilton Tabbies in the 107th edition of Grey Cup skirmishing. They turned McMahon Stadium in the Alberta Foothills into a woodshed. They delivered a man-to-boys paddywhacking to an outfit that had better credentials entering the fray, but the Tabbies’ 16-3 record and a couple of bucks wouldn’t have bought them a cup of coffee at Tim’s.
Even if it did, they wouldn’t have been able to sit and enjoy it, because their lips were too swollen and bruised.
Did someone say smash mouth? It was Winnipeg FC 33, Hamilton 12 when the tears of joy began rolling down cheeks, including Richie Hall’s, but that 33-12 scoreline looked a lot more like 50-12, and it truly was a made-in-Canada production.
Look at the main players. O’Shea…hoser. GM Walters…hoser. CEO Miller…hoser. Then, of course, there was Andrew Harris, the day’s most outstanding player…hoser.
Good day, eh? Yes, it was. It was a very good day.
Random thoughts and observations while watching the Bombers ragdoll the Tabbies to become Canadian Football League titleholders:
Pre-Game: Nice to see truly good guy Brian Williams on the TSN set, and the veteran broadcaster doesn’t go all wishy-washy in his chin-wag with CFL grand poobah Randy Ambrosie. When Commish Randy puts on his happy face and describes the lame market in the Republic of Tranna as “an opportunity,” Williams scoffs and calls it “a disaster.” Atta boy, Brian…Mike Benevides drops by to explain how the Bombers might stop Brandon Banks, and he mentions something about a “kill Speedy B” strategy. “He goes to the bathroom for popcorn (follow him),” he said. Excuse me, but who gets their popcorn in a bathroom?…Fun chin-wag between the TSN panel and Winnipeg FC assistant GM and hall-of-fame quarterback Danny McManus. Milt Stegall notes that Danny Mac always seemed to be in good humor during his playing days, even when tossing four picks in a game. “If someone caught it,” Danny Mac jokes, “I just counted it as a completion.”…I don’t know about you, but I’m liking The Beaches. Three guitars, a drum kit, and keyboards. Yup, looks and sounds like a rock band to me. Hope Nicole Kidman’s husband, Keith Urban, is as good during the halftime show…Tabbies lose the coin toss. Might be a harbinger.
First Quarter: Brandon Alexander picks Hamilton QB Dane Evans’ first pass, and the Bombers are geeked up…Andrew Harris head butts Darth Defender, Simoni Lawrence, after a whistle and directly in front of an official, but the zebra keeps his hanky in his pocket. Go figure…Willie Jefferson forces Evans to spill the football and Beastmo Bighill gobbles it up. One play later, Harris skedaddles 15 yards to the house. Bombers 7, Tabbies nada…What’s this? Does Speedy B have an owie? Looks like it. Need to keep an eye on that…Lirim Hajrullahu’s right leg puts the Tabbies on the board with a three-pointer. Bombers 7, Tabbies 3…Old reliable Justin Medlock’s left leg isn’t so reliable, and he’s wayward on a field goal attempt, but Speedy B doesn’t bring it out of the end zone. Strange. Bombers 8, Tabbies 3…Bombers D-line stuffs the Tabbies on a third-and-one…Total dominance by the Bombers on both sides of the line, so why is it only 8-3 for the good guys?
Second Quarter: Hajrullahu and Medlock exchange FGs. Bombers 11, Tabbies 6…The Bombers defensive dozen, especially the front four, is mauling the Tabbies O-line. This thing should already be a route…Check it out. Chris Streveler is in at QB for Winnipeg FC and he’s throwing the ball. Complete to Andrew Harris. Touchdown. Bombers 18, Tabbies 6…I know there’s plenty of football left to play, but I’m already declaring a winner. This game is over. The Bombers have everything, the Tabbies nothing. Trust me, it’s in the bag…Hey, there’s Nicole Kidman’s hubby Keith heading inside to warm his hands…Oh dear. One look at Keith Urban and Glen Suitor is swooning in the TSN broadcast booth, comparing country music to football. He tells us there are “twelve chords” in a country music song and 12 players on the Bombers offence. Fabulous insight, Suits…Zach Collaros connects with Rasheed Bailey for an 11-yard gain. “Another hit song for (offensive co-ordinator) Paul LaPolice,” says Suitor. Good grief…Another FG from Medlock. Bombers 21, Tabbies 6…Like I said, it’s a done deal…There’s Bob Young, the Tabbies bankroll. But don’t call him the team owner, he insists he’s the team caretaker. In that case, he should grab a broom and sweep up the gawdawful mess his club is leaving on the McMahon Stadium carpet.
Halftime: It’s Keith Urban time…My young daughter in the B.C. interior tells me he’s a country music superstar, but without a steel guitar or a fiddle, his isn’t my kind of country…He does three tunes, none of which sound country. In fact, Nicole’s hubby sounds a lot like Barry Gibb and the Bee Gees on his third number…The kids seem to like it, though, and that’s all that matters.
Third Quarter: Receiver Darvin Adams takes a direct snap and completes a pass to QB Streveler. The Bombers are rubbing their noses in it now…Another Medlock FG. Bombers 24, Tabbies 6…Bombers stuff the Tabbies on another third-and-one. Someone call a priest and have him go to the Hamilton sideline, STAT!…Hey, look who’s joined Suits and Chris Cuthbert in the TSN booth. Why, it’s Nicole Kidman’s hubby, and Suitor immediate goes into teenybopper/groupie mode. “What’s your favorite song?” he gushes. “You set a new standard (in the halftime show), Keith. I am a huge, huge fan.”…Jaelon Acklin hauls in an Evans pass near the sideline, and Suitor instructs the boys in the truck to run a replay. “Take a look at the replay, ’cause Keith Urban wants to know,” he says…It’s time for Urban to go home to Australia or Nashville, so Suitor, celebrating his 57th birthday, wraps his left arm around him and says, “I can tell all my buddies Keith Urban sang happy birthday,” he squeals…Hey, it’s my 69th birthday on Wednesday. Wonder if Keith will stop by to serenade me. Probably not…I don’t know if Suitor asked for an autograph, but I’m pretty sure he had to wipe himself dry after Urban left.
Fourth Quarter: The rest, as they say, is history. The Bombers continue to maul the Tabbies and send Speedy B to the infirmary. He’s done for the night. Make the final: Bombers 33, Tabbies 12.
Postgame: Richie Hall is wiping tears from his eyes, and I can’t say I blame the much maligned man in charge of the Bombers defensive dozen. He lost a brother not so long ago, so emotions are pouring out…Andrew Harris, banished for two regular-season games after lab squints found a PED in his pee, is a bit of an ugly winner. “All the haters out there who talk shit, this is for you,” he snarls at Sara Orlesky of TSN. He says something similar after accepting his most outstanding player/Canadian awards, suggesting “haters” can take his trinkets and shove ’em where there’s only darkness. Understandable, I suppose, given what he went through, but ugly nonetheless…O’Shea stands back and allows the longest-serving member of the Bombers, Jake Thomas, to get his paws on the Grey Cup first. And that would explain why Coach Grunge is so popular with his troops….Smilin’ Hank Burris informs us that “We didn’t see one Bomber player limp off that field.” Tell that to Streveler who, at times, could scarcely walk…The boys in the booth and on the TSN panel repeatedly made reference to Harris’ two-game suspension, but I don’t recall any of them mentioning it was for a drug bust. Odd…It’s all over but the hangovers and the parade…Cuthbert and Suitor sign off, but not before Suits thanks his new heartthrob Keith Urban.
And, finally, I’ve now witnessed eight Blue Bombers Grey Cup victories, dating back to QB Jim Van Pelt’s 22-point game in 1958, and I covered three of them. This one feels special, and it’s a good way to bow out. I’m taking a break from the River City Renegade blog, and it might turn out to be permanent. We’ll see. In the meantime, thanks to the 116,000-plus who stopped by for a read, and enjoy the parade.
Welcome to the River City Shrink Wrap, the world-renowned sports psychology clinic. If you can’t wrap your head around something, Dr. Pigskin or her twin sister Dr. Puck will do it for you. Today, Dr. Pigskin is on duty and has just one patient, Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea…
DR. PIGSKIN: Good morning, Coach O’Shea. I must say, I was surprised when you called to book an appointment, because everything I read and hear about you and your Bombers these days is positive. Nobody’s talking about your goofy shorts and smirk anymore. Seems to me that you’ve become the flavor of the month in the Canadian Football League.
COACH O’SHEA: Ya, they like me today—at least some of them do—but what about tomorrow?
DR. PIGSKIN: Well, beat the Saskatchewan Roughriders tomorrow in Regina and the love-in continues. It doesn’t have to be any more complicated than that. It’s really quite simple, Coach.
COACH O’SHEA: That’s easy for you to say, Doc. That’s a very hostile environment we’re walking into. You should see those sodbusters. They’re big and hairy, they’ve all got beer bellies, and half of them don’t have more than three teeth in their head. Then there’s the men. They’re even uglier. And thick between the ears. Really, what kind of a guy dates a woman who wears a watermelon on her head?
DR. PIGSKIN: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, Coach.
COACH O’SHEA: Trust me, Doc, there ain’t nothing beautiful about what comes out of their mouths. You should hear some of the things they call me and my players, especially after they’ve got a few cans of wobbly pop in them.
DR. PIGSKIN: Give me an example.
COACH O’SHEA: I can’t do that, Doc. You’re a lady and I’d never repeat those things in the company of a lady. Let’s just say that the fans in Regina mention my mother a lot, and it’s usually as an adjective in front of a word that rhymes with trucker.
DR. PIGSKIN: Oh my, that is nasty.
COACH O’SHEA: Nasty ain’t the word for it, Doc. You think there’s a lot of raw sewage pouring into the Red and Assiniboine Rivers in Winnipeg? You ain’t seen nothing until you’ve been to Mosaic Stadium. I ain’t saying Regina is the crotch of the country like another Bombers coach once did, but I need to get hosed down every time I leave the place.
DR. PIGSKIN: Well, okay, so you won’t be playing in friendly confines on Sunday. Boo freaking hoo. And you were expecting what for a playoff football game in enemy territory? The Welcome Wagon? A rose-petal pathway to your changing room? Man up, Mikey!
COACH O’SHEA: You’re right, Doc. I guess I sound kinda lame.
DR. PIGSKIN: Lame doesn’t begin to describe it. Look, I don’t believe for a minute that you’ve come to see me just because football fans in Regina have bad manners. Why don’t you tell me the real reason you’re here, Coach.
COACH O’SHEA: Well, the Toronto Argonauts just fired Marc Trestman. He’s won the Grey Cup three times, including last November. I’ve had this Bombers gig for five years and I’m still looking for my first playoff win. I’m Coach O-Fer. If I don’t get off the schneid in Regina, I’m thinking I’ll be saying one of two things at this time next week: 1) “Welcome to Wallmart;” 2) “Would you like fries with your order?” I mean, if a coach like Marc Trestman can’t hold on to his job, what hope do the rest of us slugs have?
DR. PIGSKIN: Oh, come on, Coach. Again, man up. Every one of us has an expiry date. Especially you professional coaches. It comes with the territory. So let’s try this one more time…why are you here talking to a shrink? Give me the straight goods.
COACH O’SHEA: Okay! Okay! I’m a compulsive gambler! There. I said it. Happy now?
DR. PIGSKIN: This isn’t about my happiness, Coach. It’s about you being comfortable in your own skin heading into your playoff game against Gang Green. Now, tell me about this compulsive gambling of yours. Do you bet on the ponies, the NFL, the NHL, dog racing, if Donald Trump will be impeached? What is it?
COACH O’SHEA: Naw, it ain’t that kind of gambling, Doc. They don’t pay me enough to waste my money like that. I gamble on strategy. Just when everything is going great for the team and it’s looking like we’re gonna win, I’ll make some dumb-ass decision and—kaflooey!—it blows up in my face like one of those exploding gadgets that Wile E. Coyote gets from ACME. Instead of punting on third down, I gamble. Even when the ball’s deep in our own end, I gamble. Ka-oom! Wrong again! Other times, like a couple of years ago in B.C. when I should have gone for it on third down, I gambled that my kicker could hoof a 61-yard field goal indoors where the air is deader than Jimmy Hoffa. Ask me how that worked out.
DR. PIGSKIN: Life is a gamble, Coach.
COACH O’SHEA: Ya, but I don’t know when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em. I keep thinking I can fool ’em with trick plays, like Wile E. Coyote trying to fool the Roadrunner. Sometimes I do fool ’em. That’s when you’ll see me smirk. But I can’t get the timing right for my gambling.
DR. PIGSKIN: Life is timing, Coach.
COACH O’SHEA: Is that the best you’ve got, Doc? Life is timing? I could have gone for a beer and the bartender could have told me that. I need you to tell me what to do about my compulsive gambling before I have another “D’oh!” moment that costs us another playoff game. Help me out here!
DR. PIGSKIN: First, there’s something you need to remember…every football coach makes bone-headed decisions. They’ve been doing it ever since someone thought a ball with pointy ends would be a cool thing to kick and toss around. The exception, of course, would be Bud Grant, a flawless coach who’s so respected in these parts that the pigeons refuse to poop on his statue outside Football Follies Field in Fort Garry. So here’s what you do next time you’re looking at third-and-one or more, especially on your half of the field—ask yourself this question: What do I want the pigeons to do?
COACH O’SHEA: That’s pretty deep, Doc. Kinda zenish. But can you spell it out for me in layman’s terms?
DR. PIGSKIN: If you want to be remembered as a royal screw-up, grasshopper, you’ll gamble. If you want to be remembered as the head coach who brought the Grey Cup home to Winnipeg after 27 years of failure, you’ll kick the ball away and rely on your defence.
COACH O’SHEA: You make it sound so simple, Doc.
DR. PIGSKIN: As legendary football coach Siddhartha Gautama said to his grasshoppers during a film session: “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” Now, head to Mosaic Stadium and kick some Roughrider butt.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 struckat 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.”
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.
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-wag 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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
Random thoughts during the Winnipeg Blue Bombers annual visit to the Green House in Regina for the Labor Day weekend grab-grass-and-growl with the Saskatchewan Roughriders…
I miss Schultzie on the TSN panel. Where’d the big lug go?
TSN didn’t show the singing of O Canada, so I’ll have to assume that none of the combatants took a knee.
I swear, the Roughriders receivers have been offside on every play since Ray Elgaard was a rookie. And they never get flagged for it.
What’s the over/under on how often TSN blabber boy Glen Suitor mentions the silly sound meter they’re using to gauge crowd caterwauling at Mosaic Stadium?
I really don’t like the name Mosaic Stadium, so I’m going to call the Riders’ ritzy, new digs Taylor Field.
Oops. Nice pass by Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols. Too bad it went to one of the guys in green, Ed Gainey. Not sure what Nichols saw there, but he definitely didn’t see the guy in green.
Nic Demski is a University of Manitoba Bisons grad and would look better in blue-and-gold linen than green and white.
Geez, who’s the guy wearing Kevin Glenn’s uniform? The Saskatchewan QB is spot on. Normally, he makes the kind of passes that Nichols threw to Ed Gainey.
What’s with the candy stripes on the officials’ uniform tops? When did that happen? Did I miss a memo from the Canadian Football League head office? I might have to red flag them for a fashion faux pas.
Yikes—24-3 for Gang Green after 15 minutes. This is a serious paddywhacking. Not getting good vibes from the Bombers’ body language.
Timothy Flanders scores a TD and tosses the football to a Big Blue loyalist in the pews. Nice. Except one of the candy-stripers saw something no one else saw, so he flips a flag and the touchdown is voided. Not to worry. Nichols and Flanders collaborate again. This time the score stands. Flanders flips the football to another fan in blue-and-gold. Does he realize he has to pay for those things?
Hey, Sam Hurl actually makes a play, sacking Glenn. Guess that’s his quota for the month. Won’t hear from him again until Thanksgiving.
I thought Weston Dressler was supposed to be back in the Bombers lineup for this game. Somebody should let Nichols in on the secret.
Riders have won two in a row and are up 34-16 at the half. Does that mean Chris Jones is a genius again?
TSN panel gab guy Jock Climie tells us that Chris Randle was the goat on Naaman Roosevelt’s 53-yard TD catch in the first quarter. Interesting. Suitor had told us that TJ Heath was the guilty party. I’ll take Climie’s word for it.
I’m still missing Schultzie.
That Trivago Guy has to be the worst dancer in the world. Does he realize how nerdy he looks?
Hey, look who’s in the Green House. It’s Jay and Dan. Well, it’s cardboard cutouts of Jay and Dan, who bring their goofy brand of broadcasting back to TSN this week. The buffoonery begins at midnight, which is too late for moi.
What’s this? The Roughriders have a punter? Who knew?
Nice touch by the Riders to erect statues saluting legends Ronnie Lancaster and George Reed outside Taylor Field. Interesting that they do former players and the Bombers do former coaches. A bronze But Grant is already outside Formerly Football Follies Field in Fort Garry and a Cal Murphy statue will be unveiled later this month.
It’s 37-16 at three-quarter time. I don’t sense a comeback today.
Are the Riders faking injuries in a bid to stall the Bombers no-huddle offence? Naw. That would be cheating and we all know that Chris Jones would never cheat.
I’m not sure why, but I get the feeling that Saskatechewan wideout Duron Carter is about to go off his nut. You know, like he did last season when he bowled over Ottawa RedBlacks head coach Rick Campbell. He always seems to be one bad call away from a major meltdown.
Hey, there’s Weston Dressler. Nice to see Nichols finally invited him to the party. We’ll just call it his Labor Day weekend non-classic.
Nichols tosses another ball to Ed Gainey. Yo! Matt! That guy’s picked off six passes in two games. You might want to take on someone else in the future.
Suitor is still squawking about that stupid sound meter. Don’t know how often he went to that well, but it must have been a dozen.
Final score: Roughriders 38, Bombers 24. Guess Chris Jones really is a genius again.
Break out the banjos, boys! Let’s do it all over again in a week.
Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling mostly about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.
So, here’s what I’m thinking: How do you capture curmudgeonly and penny-pinching in bronze?
I mean, Cal Murphy was cantankerous and a tightwad. Expansion to the United States? “Blasphemy!” Female reporters in the locker room? “Not on my watch!” Chris Walby needs a new jock strap? “Tell him to wear Leo Lewis’s old jock!” The players demand meat sauce in their post-game spaghetti? “Give it to ’em—but dock their pay!”
Ya, Cal was a penny-pincher. You think it was coincidence that the Royal Canadian Mint stopped producing the penny the same year he died? Cal was the last person who had any use for them.
During Cal’s stewardship of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the Canadian Football League club’s purse strings were pulled tighter than a bullfighter’s pants. Unless, of course, it meant signing an all-star quarterback (hello, Matt Dunigan). Then he could stretch a dollar like it was a bungee cord.
That’s how Cal rolled, though. Frugal and free-spending. Cantankerous and a cut-up. Crusty and kindly. Fearsome and fatherly. Tight-fisted and tender. Good cop and bad cop. He was a walking, talking contradiction.
Whatever it took to win football games, Cal played the necessary part. No apologies.
He had an eye for talent like Sinatra had an ear for a song. Like Tom Hanks has a feel for a movie role. Like Hemmingway had a mind for muse.
There have been more successful CFL coaches than Cal Murphy, but only one in Winnipeg, where Bud Grant set the kind of standard (102 victories, four Grey Cup titles) that lends itself to legendary status and the chiseling of a bronze statue. You can find a larger-than-life likeness of Grant outside Gate 1 at the Facility Formerly Known As Football Follies Field in Fort Garry, where the hall of fame coach stands 7-feet, 6-inches tall, stoic and arms folded in his trademark trench coat.
Now Murphy is moving into the neighborhood, two entrances removed from Grant at Gate 3, and I wonder how BST Bronze Ltd. will capture the essence of the man who three times brought the Grey Cup home to River City, once as a head coach and twice as general manager.
Well, they can start with Cal’s smile, because that’s what I’ll always remember most about the God-fearing Irishman who marched through life with a wink and a nod, even after medics took out his first heart and replaced it with a second. His loud, always-at-the-ready, belly laughter outdistanced his grumpiness like Secretariat leaving the field behind in the 1973 Belmont Stakes. Whether it was scant seconds after one of his 86 wins or his 51 losses, he’d manage to sprinkle his post-match chin-wags with a wry comment or two that would inspire giggles. On off days, a visit to his bunker on Maroons Road was often like a trip to the Winnipeg Comedy Festival. He was a hoot and a dear man.
Whatever the finished product looks like, there’s delicious irony in the Cal Murphy statue (financed by private donors) that will be unveiled by the Bombers on Sept. 21—according to chief executive officer Wade Miller, the sticker price to honor the noted tightwad is “six figures.”
Imagine that. More than 100K to put Cal in bronze.
That would buy an awful lot of meat sauce for the players’ spaghetti…and you’d still have spare change left over to buy Matt Nichols a new jock strap.
Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have given head coach Mike O’Shea a new set of downs (three years worth) and general manager Kyle Walters is good to go for another four Canadian Football League seasons. To discuss this development, I bring in my two Gridiron Girls who, when last seen, were at the Grey Cup game in the Republic of Tranna but disappeared somewhere into cyberspace.
Take it away, ladies…
Lady Blue: Well, I guess it’ll be a very merry Christmas in the Walters and O’Shea households this year now that they’ve got those spanking, new contracts.
Lady Gold: Nobody should be surprised that the Bombers have re-upped both the head coach and general manager, because the club showed substantial improvement in the final two-thirds of this past season. But giving O’Shea three years instead of two? What’s that all about?
Lady Blue: Beats me. The guy in the short pants is 23-31, so I guess his first two seasons on the sideline were like the tree falling in the forest—it didn’t really happen. It’s like Walters and CEO Wade Miller based everything on the final 13 games of the 2016 crusade, when the Bombers went 10-3. They conveniently ignored the first 41 games of O’Shea’s sideline stewardship, when he was 13-28.
Lady Gold: I’m okay with O’Shea coming back, but if 23-31 and losing your one and only playoff game—after leading by 19 points!—is worth a three-year reward and probably a raise in pay, what do they give him if the Bombers actually accomplish something worth shouting about? You know, like ending a 26-year Grey Cup drought.
Lady Blue: I guess he’ll get a lifetime contract and a statue right beside the bronze Bud Grant outside Football Follies Field in Fort Garry. I wonder if the guy who sculpts the O’Shea statue will have him wearing short pants.
Lady Gold: Wouldn’t they make quite the pair? A bronzed Bud Grant in his trademark trench coat and O’Shea right beside him in a pair of baggy, bronze shorts. I know which one I’d poop on if I was a pigeon.
Lady Blue: Ouch. That’s a low blow.
Lady Gold: I guess it was. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. It’s just that I don’t understand how O’Shea’s record warrants a three-year contract. Seriously, if 23-31 and no playoff victories earns you that kind of security, the guy basically has become the Bombers coach-for-life. I agree with you that Miller and Walters based everything on 13 games and turned a blind eye to O’Shea’s most glaring gaffes.
Lady Blue: Like starting the wrong guy, Drew Willy, at quarterback. Like not starting Taylor Loffler at safety until injuries forced his hand. That’s brutal player evaluation.
Lady Gold: And let’s not forget the lamentable 61-yard field goal attempt that ended the Bombers’ season in Vancouver. And to think, given the same scenario, O’Shea says he wouldn’t do anything different. He’d still put his team’s fate on the left leg of Justin Medlock, knowing full well that no one has ever hoofed a 61-yard field goal in B.C. Place Stadium. He’d do the same dumb thing.
Lady Blue: That decision rated a 10 on the dumb-o-metre. Dumbest call ever. Ever.
Lady Gold: Worse than what Dave Dickenson did in the Grey Cup game? I mean, the Calgary Stampeders were two yards away from winning and he takes the league’s Most Outstanding Player, Bo Levi Mitchell, out of the game and puts the ball in a rookie, third-string quarterback’s hands. And he doesn’t give it to the league’s leading rusher, Jerome Messam. That’s a massive brain fart.
Lady Blue: I still say O’Shea’s decision to attempt a 61-yard field goal rather than gamble on third-and-four was the dumbest coaching decision ever. Except maybe Marc Crawford’s refusal to tap Wayne Gretzky on the shoulder to take part in the shootout at the Nagano Olympic Games.
Lady Gold: Pete Carroll’s call that cost the Seattle Seahawks the 2015 Super Bowl was epicly dumb, too. O’Shea’s not the only coach to ever wear a dunce cap.
Lady Blue: What bothers me most is that O’Shea didn’t learn anything by his mistake. He’d do it again. Isn’t that the definition of insanity?
Lady Gold: Something like that. But let’s move on to another pertinent issue: Matt Nichols. Do the Bombers bring him back at any cost?
Lady Blue: Did you hear Walters’ answer to a variation of that question at the presser on Friday? It took him half a dozen seconds of silence before he managed to mumble, “Um.” He says he’s “cautiously optimistic” that Nichols will re-up, but he also says there are Plans B-C-D…all the way to Plan Z if Nichols bolts. The head coach has already proven to be quarterback blind, so I shudder to think what Plan B is and I’m horrified at the thought of Plan Z. That might include 81-year-old Kenny Ploen or a Ouija board to summon the spirit of Jack Jacobs.
Lady Gold: I can’t imagine there’d be much of a market for Nichols.
Lady Blue: Toronto needs a starting quarterback because Ricky Ray has become as brittle as burnt toast and Drew Willy is a washout. Montreal is still looking for the heir to Anthony Calvillo’s throne. But the coaching/management situation in both those towns is iffy. Nobody knows who’ll be minding the store. If Nichols arrives at free agency, those are his likely landing spots. Saskatchewan might need a QB, but I doubt Chris Jones would be interested in him. He didn’t want him in Edmonton, why would he want him on the flatlands?
Lady Gold: What about the cost, though? He’s asking for $450,000. That’s a stiff sticker price for a guy who hasn’t won anything.
Lady Blue: It’s either that or they break out the Ouija board and talk to ghosts. Pick your poison.
Lady Gold: I’m guessing that Nichols re-ups. He’s got a good thing going here. He’d have to reinvent himself all over again in Montreal or Toronto.
Lady Blue: I hope you’re right. Anyway, time to go. Got some last-minute shopping to do.
Lady Gold: Okay. Happy Christmas and merry New Year.
Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit. She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.
I’ll say this for Mike O’Shea—he’s lost his mind but not his sense of humor.
The much-maligned man, whose moment of madness denied the Winnipeg Blue Bombers an opportunity to keep on trucking in this month’s Grey Cup tournament, took time out from player exit interviews on Wednesday to get up close but not personal with the very news snoops who had spent much of the preceding 48-hour period reminding the head coach that he is a complete bonehead.
That, mind you, is a reciprocal sentiment in the jock/media dynamic.
Most, if not all, football coaches believe people with pens, notebooks and microphones to be complete boneheads who don’t know an X from an O or a corner route from a paper route. For evidence, look no further than Wally Buono’s chin-wag with the boys and girls on the beat after his B.C. Lions had taken their measure of the Bombers in their Sunday skirmish in Lotus Land. When old friend Ed Willes of the Vancouver Province apparently showed bad manners in suggesting that Leos quarterback Jonathon Jennings took a couple of missteps in the early going of their rousing, 32-31 victory, B.C. boss Buono bit back and launched into a good and proper rant.
“Why do you always wanna find fault? I’m tired of you guys always looking for the negatives,” he snapped, at the same time positing that Willes’s comment very much reminded him of what comes out of the south end of a male bovine.
“Bull shit,” Buono spat.
Fortunately, the to-and-fro between O’Shea and news snoops on Wednesday didn’t similarly slide off the rails. Although the coach made no attempt to disguise his distaste for the discussion, civility ruled the day and, indeed, there was a fleeting moment of jocularity during the 16-minute tete-a-tete.
When asked by Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun to place a priority on the re-signing of starting quarterback Matt Nichols, O’Shea quipped “higher than mine,” to the accompaniment of much tittering.
Well, yes, the Bombers would do well to get Nichols’ signature on a new contract, preferably prior to the opening bell on the Canadian Football League’s free-agent blitz, which was both frenzied and fruit-bearing for the locals last February.
It’s my guess, however, that the Winnipeg Football Club’s chief bottle washer and cook, Smilin’ Wade Miller, will deal with off-field matters first, meaning job-well-done pats on the back and a contract extension for his general manager, Kyle Walters, and a fresh set of downs for his beleaguered head coach, whose original three-year deal expires at the close of business this CFL season.
Oddly enough—but perhaps not at all surprising—the stubborn O’Shea actually presented a strong case against himself on Wednesday.
Those assembled wanted to know if the coach would welcome a do-over. That is, if placed in the same predicament as Sunday afternoon in the dead air of B.C. Place Stadium, whereby his Bombers trailed by one point with just 36 ticks remaining on the clock in the West Division semifinal, would he gamble on third-and-four or would he turn to Justin Medlock and ask him to kick the most improbable field goal in more than 100 years of Canadian football?
“You check your process to see how valid that was,” O’Shea said, as if reading from a prepared statement. “Is the process right, did I do the right things to arrive at that decision? As long as you’re doing that, hopefully you’re comfortable with the decision, which I am. Does that lead me to arrive at the same decision again. Yup, absolutely it does.”
So there you have it, kids. Mike O’Shea admits he will make the same mistake this time next year that he made this past weekend. He again would put his faith in Medlock’s inability to hoof a 61-yard field goal. Cripes, man, he might as well ask the guy to boot the ball clear across the Strait of Georgia, the body of water that separates Vancouver from Vancouver Island. The result would be the same.
And this is how O’Shea makes his case for a new contract? Smilin’ Wade might want a rethink on that.
“That decision is not based on hope,” O’Shea went on to explain. “It’s based on the history we have with Justin, which says he makes those kicks in practice every single week.”
Yo! Mikey! I remember watching Chris Walby make a series of catches with just one of his gnarled hands in practice back in the day. That’s right. Chris Walby. Big-bellied O-lineman. Making one-handed catches. In practice. Somehow Cal Murphy always fought off the temptation to let Bluto play wide receiver, though.
Practice is like Las Vegas, Mikey…what happens in practice stays in practice. Tell us what a guy does in games.
I don’t know what’s become of O’Shea’s mind. Maybe it’s buried beneath that thatch of Papa Smurf chin whiskers he sprouted during the back half of the CFL season. Whatever and wherever, it’s on the lam.
Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.