Let’s talk about the challenges of the Bombers and Jets…Big Buff is done as a useful member of Winnipeg HC…Doug Brown wondering if the Canadian Mafia has tapped out…when in doubt call Pinball…is Coach Grunge destined for The ROT?…a Rhapsody in Ramble On…and Ponytail Puck

A hump day smorgas-bored…and let’s hope this is the only hump in your week…

These are fretsome times on the playgrounds of Good Ol’ Hometown.

I mean, there’s still plenty of grass to grab, but many among the rabble have already stuck a fork in the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, whose 29th annual rebuilding year is beginning to resemble the first 28.

Oh, sure, our football heroes have secured a ticket to next month’s post-season frolic, but recent developments (three-game skid, flat-lining offence) indicate they’ll earn nothing more than a participation badge and, soon enough, we’ll hear much talk of backing up the truck to load and haul away Kyle Walters’ belongings. And Mike O’Shea’s. And Richie Hall’s. And Paul LaPolice’s.

Wade Miller

That would make CEO Wade Miller the last man standing, and some of us had it figured to be that way all along.

But maybe we should let this thing play out before calling the moving company, no?

Like many of you, I don’t think Chris Streveler is a Grey Cup-quality quarterback, but I didn’t think Sean Salisbury was either, and he has a Grey Cup ring. The fact that the Bombers copped the 1988 Canadian Football League crown in spite of Salisbury, not because of him, might win you an argument in a pub, but it doesn’t mean he has to return the jewelry. A title is a title is a title.

So if Salisbury can win a Coupe de Grey, why not Tim Tebow In A Toque?

I know, I know. Streveler isn’t much for throwing the football. He tosses the rock like it’s…well, a rock. But, then, Salisbury wasn’t the second coming of Dieter Brock, either. More than half his passes landed on the ground or in the wrong hands (26 picks before being kicked off the team in 1989), but he benefited from a take-no-prisoners defensive dozen that arrived at the ball yard in a bad mood and stayed in snarl mode for three hours.

“We didn’t have what you would call a traditional quarterback in Sean Salisbury who might have looked like he couldn’t get it done, but we realized as long as he didn’t jack it up, we would still win,” rollicking linebacker James (Wild) West once told Ed Tait of bluebombers.com.

Chris Streveler

The same goes for Streveler. Just don’t “jack it up” like he did last Saturday v. the Saskatchewan Roughriders (two picks, one spilled ball) on the Flattest of Lands, and there’s hope, albeit faint.

Go ahead and accuse me of typing with rose-tainted glasses, and maybe I am, but I believe the CFL West Division remains a crap shoot and the Bombers aren’t completely out of the discussion.

All the same, it might be an idea to have the moving company keep the trucks on standby. Parked near the loading dock, of course.

Meantime, it’s about the Winnipeg Jets who, unlike the Bombers, can score, but perhaps not frequently enough once they get into the deep grind of the National Hockey League season.

The local shinny side, now 2-2 after a unexpected and admirable 4-1 victory over the Penguins on Tuesday night in Pittsburgh, features a blueline corps that has no business calling itself an NHL defence, and it doesn’t help that Dustin Byfuglien remains in limbo.

Or does Big Buff’s absence really matter, other than his wage impacting the salary cap?

Big Buff

Don’t run off with the notion that Byfuglien will provide a quick fix on the blueline if and when he returns from his personal Tour de Navel. Big Buff does his best work when the puck is on his stick, not when the guys on the other side have it and he’s scrambling to make up for his latest gaffe.

That’s not to say the second coming of Buff wouldn’t provide some benefit, but, given that he can’t possibly be in game trim (as if anything about Buff is ever trim), he might add nothing more than comic relief.

There is, of course, a school of thought that Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff should declare a state of urgency and instruct Byfuglien to fish or cut bait. That is, if he’s going to retire, fine. Sign the papers and they can free up $7.6 million in cap space. If he’s going to return, get his big butt back on the blueline. Pronto.

What’s the point of that, though? You want a guy who’s not physically/mentally NHL-ready in your lineup? There are enough of them already.

Fact is, retire or return, Byfuglien has excused himself from the Jets’ future. I mean, if he lacks the jam to join them for this crusade, I can’t imagine he’ll feel any differently a year from now. Let’s face it, he’s done as a useful member of Winnipeg HC. Even if he chooses to return a week or a month from now, they should trade him at that point and get on with it. Look, the Jets would be iffy to qualify for Beard Season with Buff in harness, so it’s not like he’s the difference between a Stanley Cup parade or just another day in late June.

The Canadian Mafia: Mike O’Shea, Wade Miller, Kyle Walters.

Interesting take on the Bombers from Doug Brown in the Drab Slab. Noting management’s failure to land a seasoned QB to prop up Streveler for the final playoff push, the former D-lineman wondered if Miller, Walters and O’Shea had waved the surrender cloth. “So with Matt Nichols done for the year, and a guaranteed playoff game, has this management team that has always attacked issues and problems at a fever pitch, decided this is as good as it gets at the most critical position on the field?” he wrote earlier this week of Winnipeg FC going all-in with Streveler. He then suggested remaining status quo “makes you think the team is ok with using the Matt Nichols injury as the reason the season went off the rails.” As much as I applaud Doug’s calling out the Canadian Mafia, numerous reports indicated Winnipeg FC had, in fact, pitched woo only to find no takers in a QB hunt that didn’t end until they took brittle Zach Collaros hostage from the Tranna Argonauts, at the 11th hour on trade deadline Wednesday. But, trust me, even had they lured Kevin Glenn off his couch, he was never going to be the answer, and neither is Collaros and his squishy grey matter. The Bombers didn’t tap out, but they brought in an insurance policy that will last no longer than the first blindside hit. Sad to say, Collaros is Buck Pierce II.

Pinball Clemons

When there’s something strange in your neighborhood, who you gonna call? Pinball Clemons, naturally. That at least seems to be the reflex move in the Republic of Tranna whenever the Bottomless Boatmen go glub, glub, glub, which they’ve done this CFL season with a 2-12 record. Pinball (his mama named him Michael) has been a player, the head coach (twice), the team president, the CEO, the vice-chair and, as of Tuesday morning, the little man with the mega-watt smile and glistening teeth is occupant of the GM’s office vacated by Jim Popp. There’s no official record of it, but he’s probably washed socks and jocks and cooked some pre-game pasta, too. So I suppose if any GM hiring can put seats in the stands at BMO Field in The ROT, it would be the wildly popular Pinball, but I fail to see how his extreme likability will translate into Ws on the field when he has zero experience. It’ll help, of course, that the Pinster has longtime CFL skills sleuth John Murphy at his beck and call to turn over stones in search of talent, and I suspect Corey Chamblin is in his finals days as head coach of the Argos. Still, Pinball’s appointment comes across as a bowl of comfort food more than something that’ll stick to your ribs long term.

Here’s a thought: If the Bombers’ season continues to go south and they back up the trucks at Winnipeg FC headquarters in Fort Garry next month, the hiring of Clemons might provide O’Shea with a soft place to land. Coach Grunge played with and for Pinball in The ROT, and they won Grey Cups together, so I’d have to think he’d be a candidate for the head coaching gig once Chamblin is obliged to leave. But would he take LaPolice along as his O-coordinator?

Don Cherry

A couple of questions about Don Cherry and his rambling sermons on Hockey Night in Canada: 1) Does anybody really listen—I mean really listen—to what the fossil has to say? 2) Never mind that he treats the language like a pit bull on a pork chop, why hasn’t anyone in the ivory tower at Rogers noticed that he long ago became borderline incoherent? Here’s a sample of his Rhapsody in Ramble On from this past Saturday:

“Ya know, the Leafs, ya know, the Leafs…highly skilled team. I will say highly skilled team, but they’re regular-season game. You cannot win unless you’re tough in the, in the (closes eyes, shakes head)…the playoffs have proven by St. Louis. Sixteen Canadians, Canadian coach, Canadian GM, tough. Look what they did to San Jose, they put…now I know a lot of guys, we know a lot of guys that don’t like this…they put out Hertl, Pavelski and Karlsson. They put out…and, uh…I like what Berube said. Berube said, ‘Don’t worry about the penalties.’ SIXTEEN CANADIANS! You CANNOT WIN unless you’re tough.”

Translation: The Tranna Maple Leafs aren’t tough enough to win the Stanley Cup.

Dani Rylan

In case you didn’t notice (which probably means most of you), Dani Rylan’s National Women’s Hockey League dropped the puck on its fifth season last weekend, while boycotting members of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association took their hissy fit to New Hampshire and staged glorified scrimmages for the benefit of friends and family. None of which furthered the cause of Ponytail Puck. “When the boycott happened, it refragmented the market,” NWHL commissioner Rylan said recently. “I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to quantify the opportunity lost this offseason, and how maybe the game has slowed because of the boycott.” I agree with Rylan. The boycotters’ main goal is to put her NWHL out of business in the belief that Gary Bettman and the NHL will swoop in to pick up the pieces, forming a WNHL that offers $50,000 to $100,000 wages. Talk about unicorns and fairy dust.

Members of the boycotting PWHPA, by the way, played a young men’s team from André-Laurendeau College in Quebec last month and were beaten 4-3 in OT. Not sure how the best female players in the world losing to a band of fuzzy-cheeked lads advances their quest for the “living wage” salaries they believe they “deserve.”

Sandy Koufax

Every time I see Clayton Kershaw cough up a hairball in the Major League Playoffs or World Series, I can’t believe some people still compare him favorably to Los Angeles Dodgers legend Sandy Koufax. They’re both lefties and their last names begin with the letter K, but that’s where the comparisons end for me.

And, finally, I gave ponder to watching the federal leaders election debate the other night, but I heard enough lies and double talk during 30 years in jock journalism to last what’s left of my lifetime, thus I gave it a pass. I’m told, however, that Justin Trudeau showed up without shoe polish on his face, which was thoughtful of him, and Andrew Scheer is still an anti-abortion American who prefers to wade into the name-calling swamp rather than debate issues and platforms. Some choice.

About Puck Finn and sports folklore from “back in the day” in Good Ol’ Hometown

Many years from now, when people of a certain vintage gather to advise young’uns what it was like “back in the day,” Patrik Laine surely will occupy a place in the spinning of yarns.

The tales the elders tell will be tall and, no doubt, embellished to the point whereby Puck Finn is remembered as a larger-than-life National Hockey League player who, when not scoring goals, rescued babies from burning buildings and single-handedly dug a mile-wide trench around Duff’s Ditch to spare River City from cataclysmic spring flooding.

Puck Finn

“I was there when he dug that trench,” they’ll swear. “Took him a week. And danged if he didn’t go out an hour after putting down his shovel and score five goals on five shots. I was there when that happened, too. Still have the ticket stub to prove it.”

And that’s okay. It’s what us old farts do. We traffic in folklore and expect whippersnappers to accept that everything “back in the day” was better than everything today.

I recall my oldest son, for example, sitting at the dinner table in the mid-1980s and pooh-poohing the notion that Gordie Howe might have been a better hockey player than Wayne Gretzky.

“What did Howe ever do that was so great?” he asked with considerable adolescent cheek and a smirk that needed to be wiped from his face.

“Excuse me? What did Gordie Howe do?” I replied, almost choking on my pork chop. “You mean aside from the six scoring titles, the six MVPs, the four Stanley Cup rings, the five goal-scoring titles, the most goals and points in the history of hockey, the 20 all-star teams? You mean aside from all that? And let me tell you something else…Gretzky was spoiled as a kid. His dad built him a rink in his back yard. Mr. Hockey—that’s Gordie Howe—wasn’t spoiled. He had to trudge two miles barefoot through three feet of snow just to get to the rink and back when he was a kid. All of us kids had to do that.”

Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe

My boy bowed his head. He had been properly chastised, yet he remained unconvinced of Howe’s superiority before finishing the last of his green peas and slinking off to the living room.

“Gretzky’s better,” were his defiant, parting words, “and I don’t believe that stuff about Howe walking barefoot in the snow. I’m sure they had buses back then.”

“They did, but Howe got kicked off for elbowing all the other boys,” I replied.

Similar tall tales will be told about Patrik Laine, his five goals on five shots in Winnipeg Jets’ 8-4 victory over the St. Louis Blues last weekend destined to be included in the I-was-there-when-it-happened folklore 40-50 years hence.

And that set me to thinking…

I began watching and following River City athletes more than 60 years ago, in the mid-1950s just as Billy Mosienko was returning to Good Ol’ Hometown to join Winnipeg Warriors of the Western Hockey League. So I’ve seen some jocks. And these are the 10 I mention most when asked about the way it was “back in the day.”

  • Ken Ploen

    Kenny Ploen: Once upon a time, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers won the Grey Cup. Repeatedly. And Ploen was usually at the forefront of those powerful 1950s-60s Canadian Football League outfits—as a quarterback, a defensive back, or both. Oh, yes, Ploen played two ways. Sometimes in the same game. And he was an all-star at both positions. He also might be the nicest man alive. I recall riding my bike, twice a day, out to Packers Field in St. Boniface during Bombers training camp. I’d ask Mr. Ploen for his autograph after each of the morning and afternoon sessions. Every day for a week. He never once declined my request for his signature.

  • Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson and the Shoe, Lars-Erik Sjoberg: Hedberg was a cheetah on skates. Nilsson had four eyes, two in the front of his head and two in the back. The Shoe was short and squat, kind of like Barney Rubble. It was as if an unseen giant had put his thumb on the top of the Shoe’s head and squashed him. But move the puck? The best. And the beatings those Swedish boys took from North American ruffians after joining the Jets in the World Hockey Association? Rented mules don’t get whacked that often.

  • Terry Sawchuk

    Terry Sawchuk: The great goalie grew up in the same area of town as I did, East Kildonan. When I began playing Little NHL hockey at Melrose Park, rumor had it that a pair of goalie pads we used once belonged to Sawchuk. That set of pillows had magical, mystic powers. The kid who wrapped the Sawchuk pads around his legs always got a shutout. Honest. He did.

  • Donny Lalonde: I remember the first time I saw the Golden Boy working out in a firehall-turned gym, his every move in concert with the sound of Bob Dylan’s great album Infidels. He struck me as kind of scrawny for a light-heavyweight boxer. He wasn’t much of a ring technician. And he fought with his left arm tied behind his back. But his one good arm won a world championship and he became just the second man to floor the legendary Sugar Ray Leonard.

  • Bluto

    Chris Walby: If it’s possible for anyone to actually be larger than life, Bluto is your man. He went from total junior hockey goon with the West Kildonan North Stars to a career as arguably the best offensive lineman in CFL history. He later became a talking head on CBC football coverage, mangling the English language while actually making sense. If you ever see Walby, check out his hands. His fingers are as gnarled and as bent as tree bark. They’ve been broken more often than a politician’s promises.

  • Jeff Stoughton: A curler who didn’t drink. Go figure. And I don’t recall ever hearing cuss words escape his lips. That certainly made him suitable for mixed company and, in fact, mostly forgotten is that his breakthrough on the national stage came in the mixed game, where he skipped his rink to a pair of Canadian titles before beginning his run as the most successful male curler in a curling-rich province. His spin-o-rama delivery is legendary.

  • The Finnish Flash

    Teemu Selanne: I’m not convinced that the Finnish Flash actually happened. I mean, 76 goals and 132 points as an NHL rookie? Go on. You’re making that up. That’s pure fiction. But it’s not. Teemu actually did it in real life, not PlayStation. Then—poof!—he was gone, like Col. Flagg on M*A*S*H.

  • Vic Peters: Like Selanne, seemingly too good to have been real. Forget that he was a champion curler. Vic was the loveliest of lads. A total people person who, when not winning curling championships or making pebbled ice, could be found at Larters or The Meadows golf courses, grooming the fairways/greens or playing a few holes while still wearing his superintendent’s galoshes. If K. Ploen isn’t the nicest man, Vic was and he left us far too soon.