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 return of the Sunday morning smorgas-bored after a pause that was supposed to last a month…and you’ll have to forgive me if I play a bit of catch-up…
Whenever I see the name Mike Milbury trending on Twitter, it tells me that he’s said something stupid and has undergone an emergency footectomy, whereby one of his large feet has been surgically removed from his even larger yap. Yet again.
It also prompts me to check my calendar to confirm that this is 2020, not 1960.
Whenever I hear someone like Thom Brennaman spew an anti-gay slur on-air and then, in delivering a mea culpa, he assures us that “this is not who I am, it never has been,” I sigh, then wait for my eyeballs to roll back into their sockets.
And, again, I glance at the calendar to confirm that we are post-Stonewall, not stuck in the ’60s.
Sadly, it was a messy week in the sports blurt box, and it’s frustrating and wearisome in the extreme that we’re still listening to the “did he really say that?” natterings of dinosaurish men unable to drag their hairy knuckles into the 21st century.
One of them, Milbury, is a product of the 1950s. The other, Brennaman, is circa ’60s.
Milbury is a former National Hockey League player of plodding mediocrity, his career noteworthy only because he one night clambered into the seating area of Madison Square Garden and whacked a paying patron on the head with a shoe. In terms of shinny theory, he’s a direct descendant of rock ’em, sock ’em Don Cherry, a lineage that failed him miserably as an NHL general manager and has racked up similarly unfavorable results in the NBC Sports broadcast booth.
Milbury, is a serial sexist, with strong leanings toward homophobia.
He laments the “pansification” of hockey. He once observed the play of NHL scoring champions Henrik and Daniel Sedin and called the supremely talented twins “Thelma and Louise.” Years after Slava Voynov was sent to jail and deported to Russia for thumping the crap out of his bride, Milbury described the wife-
beating as an “unfortunate incident.” He called fellow talking head Pierre McGuire a “soccer mom.” More recently, he drew a parallel between empty NHL rinks and women’s college hockey, even though numerous American female college teams attract robust audiences. And, of course, there’s his latest bit of sexist misspeak during a New York Islanders-Washington Capitals skirmish the other night. Discussing the impenetrable playoff bubble the NHL has established in the Republic of Tranna, he noted, “Not even any women here to disrupt your concentration.”
Apparently, it has escaped Milbury’s notice that each year, scant seconds after the Stanley Cup has been awarded, the smiling, giddy victors are joined on the freeze and at rinkside by smiling, giddy wives and girlfriends.
Imagine that. Winning a championship with all those pesky women on site to “disrupt” their concentration. How is that even possible?
But, hey, maybe this explains why Milbury was such a colossal flop as GM of the Islanders: The poor sap went home to a woman every night. She was such a disruption to his concentration that he traded away Zdeno Chara and Roberto Luongo.
Brennaman, meanwhile, was raised by baseball broadcasting royalty, his dad Marty the voice of the Cincinnati Reds for nearly half a century. He insists he isn’t homophobic (he’s a “man of faith,” don’t you know), except the evidence supports the notion that he’s very much anti-gay. He was heard, on-air, calling an unidentified locale “one of the fag capitals of the world” during a bit of banter with co-workers, and his emphasis on the word “fag” carried an unmistakable tone of contempt.
“That is not who I am. It never has been,” Brennaman said while apologizing “for the people who sign my paycheque, for the Reds, for Fox Sports Ohio, for the people I work with.”
Notably, he did not apologize to the very people he thinks he might have offended—the LGBT(etc.) collective.
It was an “I’ve gotta save my ass,” clichéd mea culpa. At no point did he mention the word gay. Or homosexual. Or the LGBT(etc.) community. Worse, he followed the next day with Part 2 of his exercise in ass-saving: “I had no idea it was so rooted in hate and violence,” he said of his slur.
Oh, shut the hell up, man. Nobody’s that thick.
Brennaman believed his mic was dead when he uttered the offensive word, which suggests he’s quite comfortable using anti-gay language in his work space, and only the most naive among us would conclude that this was a one-off.
Look, there’s no crime in growing old. It happens to most of us. But there is something terribly wrong with networks hiring wrinkled men who can’t adjust to the motion of life. Some of what was acceptable in the 20th century doesn’t cut it anymore. That’s not hard to figure out.
Those who can’t—or refuse—are the true disruption. And a great many of us are tired of it.
Turns out the boys in the NBC Sports blurt box will have to get along without Milbury’s mangled mutterings for the remainder of the Stanley Cup runoff, because he’s retreated from the Republic of Tranna bubble. No word on how he plans to spend his downtime, but perhaps he’ll go on a search for the real Seattle Space Needle.
Honest, I hadn’t planned on returning to the keyboard until the Labor Day weekend. You know, the same time the Canadian Football League was supposed to kick off its Coles Notes version of a 2020 crusade. But here I am. Back early, even if Rouge Football isn’t and won’t be.
The cancellation of the CFL season brought to mind an incident a few years ago while I was walking to my home on the hem of downtown Victoria.
I passed a pair of panhandlers and tossed two toonies into their begging cap.
One of the men politely thanked me. The other made a crude comment about my skirt. I reached down, withdrew both toonies from the cap and handed one to the fellow who had expressed his gratitude for the offered alms. The guy with the potty mouth squawked mightily, but there would be no toonie for him.
Moral of the story: Panhandlers cannot afford to be dumb.
And so it was with CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie and his three-downs overlords, who thought it would be a swell idea to put the squeeze on Trudeau the Younger for a COVID-19 handout. We’re told the ask was $150 million in early May. Then $30 million. Then $42.5 million. Then $30 million again, interest free.
Considering Trudeau the Younger and his pals on Parliament Hill have earmarked many billions of dollars for at-risk businesses and salary-strapped working stiffs since spring, the CFL beg was chump change.
Alas, the buck stopped with Rouge Football. No funds for you!
Thus the three-downs overlords—some of them (hello, Wade Miller) absolutely aghast that the feds had no appetite for propping up an enterprise that took a $20 million bath in red ink a year ago—put the kibosh on the 2020 crusade. No hub in Good Ol’ Hometown, no six-game season, and no swilling of bubbly from the Grey Cup for the first time since Prohibition. (The very thought must send shivers up and down Chris Streveler’s spine.)
Many accusing fingers, not surprisingly, have been pointed in the direction of Commish Randy, for proper reason.
Aside from apparently finding his business plan at the bottom of a box of Flutie Flakes, he had the bad manners to do his Parliamentary panhandling sans the input and allyship of the very people who, in non-COVID times, attract customers to all those fancy-shmancy, government-subsidized facilities that dot the landscape—the players.
That was dumb, and we’ve already established that panhandlers cannot afford to be dumb.
Worth noting: Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez just forked out $40 million for new digs. Maybe Commish Randy should have hit up JLo and ARod instead of Trudeau the Younger for the $30 million.
Hey, we aren’t here to flog Commish Randy this morning. We’ll leave it to the three-downs overlords to determine if his work warrants a few whacks of the lash, or if they’d be wise to look for someone else to do their bidding as they proceed toward a 2021 season that surely must include patrons in the pews. Whichever route they take, the best starting point in the reworking of the CFL would be for the overlords to cozy up to the players association.
As much as I miss our quirky three-downs game, I remind you of an Angus Reid poll conducted in May, whereby the citizenry was asked if they would be “disappointed” should the CFL season be scuttled. Only in Manitoba (63 per cent) and Saskatchewan (61 per cent) did the majority respond with a “hell ya!” The rest of the land? Just a shrug of the shoulders. Here are the numbers: Alberta 45 per cent, B.C. 34 per cent, Quebec 31 per cent, Ontario 28 per cent, Atlantic Canada 17 per cent.
Interesting how sports sheets across the land played the big CFL story. It was front page news in every rag on the Prairies. It was inside filler in the Toronto Sun (pages 8-9), the Montreal Gazette (page 2) and the Vancouver Sun (pages 6-7). The National Post, meanwhile, ran Scott Stinson’s column on a news page, beside a piece on Peter Nygard and rape. Little wonder that those are Rouge Football’s three worst markets.
Let’s see, what else went down during my time away from the keyboard? Well, Dale Hawerchuk left us, so we lost one of the good guys. I never got to know Ducky well. Unlike other news snoops, I kept my relationships with jocks strictly professional, and I always found Ducky to be obliging and authentic. He was seldom shy about sharing his feelings re my scribblings (he thought them to be complete “crap”), but that didn’t prevent me from defending him in print when the Drab Slab stirred the pot with a story on a deep rift between Ducky and Dan Maloney, then head coach of the Winnipeg Jets. It was pure fiction, and both Friar Nicolson and I reported it that way.
Ducky was sports royalty in Good Ol’ Hometown, and I can’t imagine many, if any, among the rabble objecting to Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman’s plan to plop a statue of No. 10 outside the Little Hockey House On The Prairie.
I still say there should be a likeness of Ben Hatskin somewhere in the vicinity of the Little Hockey House, because there’d be no Jets today if not for the original bankroll. But I doubt I’ll ever see that happen.
Read a couple of truly wonderful essays on Ducky after his death, one by Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun and the other by the Drab Slab’s Mad Mike McIntyre. Both are worth the read if you missed them.
The Winnipeg Jets’ frolic at the Jason Kenney Mountain Resort in downtown Edmonton came to a rather inglorious conclusion earlier this month, and the farewell natter between news snoops and head coach Paul Maurice delivered one terrific sound bite.
Jason Bell of the Drab Slab: “Why are you still the right man for the job in this organization?”
Maurice: “We would say off the start that the first playoff round that we won two years ago was the first playoff round this franchise won, so it’s the right guy then. You know, I’ve been to the conference final three times, Stanley Cup final. This year I’m gonna rate as top three years that I’ve had in this league, and I’ll include my staff on that. We did a fantastic job surviving what we went through.”
Coach Potty Mouth added some other mindless blah, blah, blah about going forward, but he chose to ignore the facts. The Jets were not in a playoff position when the NHL shut down in March. They failed to qualify for the playoffs for the second time in four years, ousted by the Calgary Flames in four games. Maurice has missed the playoffs four times in his seven seasons as the Jets bench jockey. He has won the grand sum of two playoff series and is 12-19 post-season, including this month’s failed qualifier. They have regressed. But, sure, he’s the right man for the job.
Some interesting, also poor, analysis on the Jets season from news snoops. Mad Mike McIntyre glorified the local lads because they tried really, really hard, don’t you know. We should think of them with “pride” he tells us, because “they busted their tails right to the bitter end.” Oh joy. Let’s give them a participation badge. Over at the tabloid, Scott Billeck mentioned something about “what the Jets did achieve.” Good grief. They achieved squat. Bupkis.
The only honest breakdown on the Jets was provided by Ted Wyman who, following their ouster from the Stanley Cup qualifying tournament, wrote this in the Sun: “The Flames had better scoring, better defence, better goaltending, better special teams, better physicality and better production from their very best players. If you were picking the five best performers in the series, they’d all be Calgary players—including goaltender Cam Talbot, who outplayed Jets Vezina Trophy favourite Connor Hellebuyck by a wide margin.” That’s telling it like it is, Teddy boy.
Nice to see Rick Bowness has his Dallas Stars running hot in the Stanley Cup tournament. Bench boss Bones is a former Jets player/coach and one of the truly good guys in the game.
I must confess that I had my doubts about the NHL successfully pulling off their playoffs in the two bubbles, one in E-Town and the other in the Republic of Tranna, but it’s working. And what is it proving? Just this: The NHL doesn’t need in-rink fans and it doesn’t need independent media to send out the message. Makes you wonder what it’s all going to look like on the other side of COVID-19, doesn’t it? Daily newspapers should fear the worst.
So, Elliotte Friedman has hacked off his mangled chin whiskers. That’s a good thing. The Hockey Night in Canada gabber looked like a guy who’d spent too much time stranded on an island, talking to a volleyball with Tom Hanks. And there’s not a chance that a female broadcaster would be allowed to appear on camera looking that unkempt, which is what we call a double standard.
Steve Simmons is in a stew because the Vancouver Canucks are the last hoser team standing in the Stanley Cup tournament, and the NHL/Sportsnet are disturbing his bedtime sked. “One team left in Canada and the NHL can’t figure out how to schedule them at a time when the country can be awake to watch? Dumb of Sportsnet, dumb of the NHL. That’s an 11:30 pm start in Nova Scotia, midnight in NFLD,” the Postmedia Tranna scribe whinges. Yes, by all means, let’s televise the Canucks games when all their faithful followers on the West Coast are still at work, just so easterners who don’t give a damn can ignore them in prime time. Just put on your jammies, Steve, and watch the game.
And, finally, the greybeard boxing match between Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr. has been pushed back from mid-September to the end of November. Apparently scientists require the extra time to complete carbon testing on the ancient pugs.
Plenty to unpack this morning, kids, so let’s get right down to business…
Well, the boys at TSN almost got it right, the operative word being “almost.”
I mean, they pieced together their all-time Winnipeg Jets roster and they’re trying to tell us that The Shoe, Larks-Erik Sjoberg, is not—repeat, is not—one of the top six blueliners to wear the local shinny side’s livery? Instead, they name him the “foundational” player?
Good gawd. That’s like giving Jesus Christ a participation badge for showing up at the Last Supper.
Speaking of Christians…it’s about Dave Christian. Fabulous guy. Part of the Miracle On Ice. Saw him score his first goal, seven seconds into his first shift in his first National Hockey League game. Crowd at the Old Barn On Maroons Road went bonkers. Led the team in scoring one winter. But no. He isn’t an all-timer.
And on what planet known to man is Rink Rat Scheifele superior to Alexei Zhamnov? Only Planet TSN.
Andrew freaking Ladd? Talk about losing the plot. Freddy Olausson? Great kid, scattershot game. Paul Maurice? Are they spoofing us now?
Look, I realize this exercise by TSN was meant to generate chatter at a time when there isn’t a whole lot of sports to chatter about and, on that score, I suppose it’s mission accomplished. And, as mentioned, they struck most of the right notes. But their gaffes were as big as Ondrej Pavelec’s five-hole.
Start with The Shoe.
I don’t know the makeup of the TSN selection panel, but apparently none of them saw Sjoberg play. Here’s how I described him in a recent essay: “Squat like a fire hydrant, The Shoe was equal parts wizard and hockey Einstein, a smooth, puck-moving rearguard who always saw what others failed to see. Everything he did was accomplished with the calm of a Buddhist monk and the subtle skill of a heart surgeon.”
And this from Ron Chipperfield of the Edmonton Oilers: “I’m still waiting for somebody, anybody, to beat him one-on-one, and I’ve been in the (World Hockey Association) five years.”
Here are some of Sjoberg’s bona fides: Team captain in both the WHA and NHL; three WHA titles; most outstanding defenceman in WHA (1977-78); first team all-star (’77-78); member of WHA Hall of Fame; member of Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame; member of Jets Hall of Fame.
Apparently all that escaped the notice of the boys at TSN, who slotted Olausson into the starting six instead. Hey, Freddy was a treat. Always quick with a smile. But if he was a better defenceman than The Shoe, then a bowl of Cheerios is a cure for COVID-19. We won’t see the day when Freddy’s name and number are raised to the rafters at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie beside The Shoe’s banner.
Now let’s move on to Scheifele v. Zhamnov. No comparison.
Zhamnov was slick, inventive, clever and did things with the puck that Rink Rat can only pull off with a PlayStation or Xbox joystick in his hand. The Russian finished third in NHL scoring one season, behind Jaromir Jagr and Eric Lindros, and he averaged 1.14 points per game with the Jets. Scheifele’s PPG is .855. Zhamnov also knew his way around the defensive end of the freeze, something that is too often a concept foreign to Scheifele.
Meanwhile, it’s about Paul Maurice.
Coach Potty Mouth is TSN’s choice as bench puppeteer, even though he’s accomplished squat. They trumpet his longevity and a .579 win/loss percentage, but ignore the reality that his Jets had their noses pressed to the window looking in at the Stanley Cup tournament three times in his first six crusades. When they did qualify for the spring runoff, his win/loss percentage is .407. That’s beyond lame.
Bobby Kromm should be the coach. Regular season record: .621; playoff record, .697; WHA titles, 1.
Finally, part of the TSN all-time team criteria was a checking unit. So, you remove Ladd and Christian from their lineup and insert Bill Lesuk, and Willy Lindstrom, who flank Thomas Steen.
The most talented of all Jets was Kent Nilsson, but the Swedish maestro wasn’t eligible due to a lack of games played. Kenta wore Jets linen for just two seasons before being taken hostage by the Atlanta Flames, and they were memorable. Both ended in WHA championships, he produced 107 points in each, and he was a two-time award winner (top rookie, most gentlemanly player).
Some might be surprised that I included Lesuk on my all-time team. Don’t be. When it came to dogging opposing forwards, no Jet did it better than the Tractor. He was like an extra layer of skin on foes, and also one of the nicest men in hockey.
Quick sidebar on Lesuk: After a particularly harsh critique in which I suggested the Jets had been wearing Pampers in a lopsided loss, the Tractor pulled me aside for a quiet chat the following day. “I don’t mind you being critical when we deserve it, but is it really necessary to write that we’re wearing diapers? I’m sure you can do better than that.” No screaming, no ranting, no confrontation. Just a reasoned comment. I’d never received such a polite dressing down. And, of course, he was correct.
By the way, I’m not alone in my rejection of TSN’s all-time Jets team. Old friend and longtime broadcaster Joe Pascucci and Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun took to Twitter to provide their choices. I’ll let you decide if they’re flawed. (Hint: They are.)
Canadian Football League commish Randy Ambrosie made his pitch for great gobs of cash ($30 million-$150 million) to the feds the other day, and he leaned heavily on syrupy sentiment, telling members of Parliament that private owners in our three-downs game aren’t in it for fame and certainly not fortune. “Sports philanthropists,” is how he described people like David Braley in B.C. and Bob Young in the Hammer, while Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment purchased the Tranna Argos out of “love,” don’t you know. There was also the predictable mention of “Canadian culture” and how much the CFL means to the masses. Except, according to a recent Angus Reid poll, the rabble doesn’t appear to be all-in on our quirky game. Asked if they would be “disappointed” should the 2020 CFL season be scuttled, here are the numbers:
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
As you can see, a huge majority of folks in Eastern Canada really don’t give a damn about the CFL and, in fact, they’ll be more disappointed if the National Football League season is trashed.
No COVID-19 vaccine, no herd immunity, no large gatherings in B.C. Which means no pro football. “The B.C. Lions need to have bums in the seats. I don’t see that happening,” Premier John Horgan said last week. So it won’t happen. The Leos’ bankroll, David Braley, isn’t going to pay his players to perform in front of empty pews at B.C. Place Stadium without cash flowing his way. Which begs the question: Will the Lions ever return, given the indifference that already exists on the Left Flank?
Just a thought: If the Winnipeg Blue Bombers don’t survive the COVID-19 pandemic, how long will it take for David Asper to hop on a white steed and rescue the franchise?
Now that Brendan Leipsic has been used as a pinata the past three days (justified) and the Washington Capitals have washed their hands of the fringe forward (also justified) for his dreadful, callous comments about women, let me just say this about that: I hope he enjoys hockey in Russia. The KHL, of course, is a haven for those with a sordid past. For evidence, see: Voynov, Slava. See: Peters, Bill. Hey, perhaps the Peters-coached Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg can provide a soft landing for Leipsic. Mind you, can there be anything “soft” about a place called Yekaterinburg, Sverdlovsk Oblast. Sounds like 200 square miles of hard labor.
Not all young, testosterone-fueled hockey players think of women as nothing more than meat on the hoof, but no one should be surprised that Leipsic and buddies harbor a mindset that belongs in another century. Their vulgar, body-shaming natter simply underscores the reality that misogyny and sexism in male sports remains as commonplace as chin whiskers at playoff time. And don’t run off with the notion that it’s limited to the locker room. It exists in the pews, or have you forgotten about the “Sedin sisters” and “Cindy” Crosby?
Former player Brett Hull has weighed in on Leipsic and pals, offering these thoughts: “We did the same things, we said the same things, but there was no way to get caught. We can go out after games, we can go to strip clubs, we can go to bars, and we could do whatever we wanted, and it would all be hearsay. The fun is gone. The game is not fun anymore to me.” Yes, hockey was so much more fun when the lads could spend their down time on the QT, hooting and hollering at a woman while she peeled off her clothing. Sigh.
Although the intimate details re locale and principals are sketchy, I recall standing on the fringe of a circle of Winnipeg Jets one winter, all of us loitering in an airport boarding area while awaiting a connecting flight. The topic du jour was trash talk. Although not a lengthy natter, it produced one nugget of insight: Players can rag on each other about anything—“Except wives, girlfriends and kids; they’re off limits.” I’m thinking it was Peter Sullivan who said it, but, as stated, my memory is iffy. It might have been Lyle Moffat or Kim Clackson. Doesn’t matter. Leipsic called Vancouver Canuck forward Tanner Pearson’s bride Meaghan “fat,” and that’s breaking an unwritten code.
My favorite tweet re L’Affaire Leipsic was delivered by Melissa Martin of the Drab Slab: “To be honest, I’m super burned out on writing about shitty men in sports. So I wrote about some awesome women instead.” Melissa’s column is top drawer, and hers is one of the few mainstream media female voices heard in the discussion. Which is most unfortunate. Only women can speak to the very heart of this issue, given that they’ve spent a lifetime listening to such bile, so we need more of them in jock journalism. Not just on the print side, understand. On air, too. As it is, it was left for Jeff O’Dog, Jamie McLennan, Ray Ferraro and Bryan Hayes to do the blah, blah, blah thing on TSN Overdrive. And what did they discuss? Leipsic not being welcomed back into the Capitals locker room and privacy issues/social media. There was very little mention of misogyny. Hayes feels “horrible for Tanner Pearson and his wife,” but he and the others expressed scant concern for the other woman trashed by Leipsic and fellow cads.
Worst take had to be a Twitter exchange between Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab and a reader/follower. The latter called the former “a fat looking nerd” and the former responded by calling the latter “a garbage human being.” Good grief. Are we back in Grade 5, boys?
There’s talk of former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson returning to the ring at age 53 to fight Kiwi boxer-turned-rugby star Sonny Bill Williams. But apparently Williams began to have second thoughts when Tyson looked at him and said, “My, what big ears you have.”
Is it just me, or does anyone else look at TSN’s UFC guy Robin Black and see an aging Eddie Munster? I swear, Eddie and Robin were separated at birth, and Herman and Lily Munster probably don’t even know about it.
And, finally, how big a star was Little Richard, who died on Saturday? Well, the Beatles and Rolling Stones once were his opening acts. Yup, that big. My favorite Little Richard tune is Long Tall Sally, and rock ‘n’ roll doesn’t get much better than the Beatles’ version. Paul McCartney really gets after it on vocals and Ringo gives his Ludwig drum kit a fearsome thrashing. The lads recorded Long Tall Sally in one take, and it’s the last song they ever performed on tour.
Talk about playing to a tough crowd. I mean, a lot of people are saying you’re the worst year. Ever. Ever. Ever. Yes, even worse than 1968, when a presidential candidate (see: Kennedy, Robert F.) and a civil rights giant (see: King Jr., Martin Luther) were gunned down in cold blood.
The King Jr. assassination in April 1968 ignited race riots in 130 cities and there were 46 riot-related deaths. Riot troops were positioned on the White House lawn and machine gun nests were established at the Capital. At the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August ’68, 10,000 anti-Vietnam War protesters clashed with 26,000 cops, national guardsmen and soldiers, who beat and wounded at least 1,000 civilians. Just under 200 cops also required medical attention. There were close to 600 arrests.
The black cloud that was 1968 also included…
North Korean patrol boats seized the USS Pueblo, an intelligence ship. The North Koreans accused the 82-man crew of spying, then imprisoned, beat and tortured them for 11 months.
The Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia.
Sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos were kicked off the American Olympic team in Mexico after their silent demonstration against racial discrimination in the U.S.
Richard Nixon was elected president of the United States.
American troops slaughtered 347 civilians in the My Lai massacre in Vietnam.
Richard Harris recorded the regrettable MacArthur Park, where someone left a cake out in the rain and they’ll never have that recipe again.
All that gloom and doom is a tough act to top, 2016. But apparently you trumped it, right down to the last drop of protesters’ blood. Pollster Angus Reid, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times all say it’s so, so I guess that’s what you are, 2016—the…worst…ever.
But, hey, that’s why we have sports. To escape things like terrorism and an apparent racist, bigot and misogynist moving into the White House. And you didn’t let us down in the toy department, 2016. You were on your game, so to speak.
I mean, any time you can say “Cubs win! Cubs win! Cubs win!” the World Series, it has to be a very good year. The best year since 1908, the last time the Cubbies won the annual Fall Classic. That’s why more than 5 million people gathered for the championship parade in the Toddlin’ Town. And Chicago cops didn’t beat up anyone. You delivered a classic Game 7, 2016. Brilliant stuff. It’s just too bad the Cubbies had to beat the Cleveland Indians, who continue to look for their first WS title since 1948.
I guess you just didn’t want Cleveland to get greedy, though, 2016. After all, King LeBron James and his Cavaliers claimed the National Basketball Association crown, toppling the mighty Golden State Warriors in seven games after trailing 3-1. More brilliant stuff.
And what a gift you gave us in the Ottawa RedBlacks. They didn’t even exist four years ago, and already they’re champions of all they survey in the Canadian Football League. Their overtime victory against the star-studded Calgary Stampeders was even more brilliant stuff from you, 2016.
Naturally, a whole lot of folks in River City had been hoping that their beloved Winnipeg Blue Bombers would have been in that 104th Grey Cup game, but at least you let them participate in the playoffs, 2016. It’s just a shame that you also chose the final seconds of that one-and-done post-season game to deliver head coach Mike O’Shea his signature moment of madness, when he had place-kicker Justin Medlock attempt an unmakeable 61-yard field goal.
You weren’t terribly kind to the Winnipeg Jets on the ice, 2016, but you blessed them with lucky bouncing ping-pong balls at the National Hockey League draft lottery, giving the locals the No. 2 shout overall in June. The harvest from that stroke of good fortune was Patrik Laine. Puck Finn has been dazzling ’em this season. I doubt that your heir, 2017, will give him the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top freshman, because the guy chosen ahead of him by the Toronto Maple Leafs at the annual garage sale of freshly scrubbed teenagers, Auston Matthews, isn’t exactly chopped liver. And, of course, he’s sure to earn the eastern bloc vote. That’s okay, though. Puck Finn will be your gift that keeps giving long after your shelf life has expired, 2016.
What other delights did you deliver, 2016? Well, speaking of teenagers, there was Penny Oleksiak, the Toronto high school student who struck for swimming gold and collected three other medals at the Summer Olympic Games in Rio. She’s a real sweetie.
So, too, is Brooke Henderson, who won her first Ladies Professional Golf Association major and one other tournament. A few of the boys on the beat weren’t kind to Brooke, but some jock journalists are always looking for dark clouds in silver linings.
One of the things I liked about you, 2016, is that you had a social conscious. You had San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick take a knee during the Star-Spangled Banner, which inspired a discussion about racial discrimination in the United States. Unlike Tommie Smith and John Carlos in 1968, Kaepernick wasn’t kicked off his team.
You also had 56 openly gay athletes competing in the Rio Olympics and winning 25 medals—11 gold, 10 silver and four bronze—and lesbian Amanda Nunes is an Ultimate Fighting Championship titleholder who walloped Ronda Rousey in just 48 seconds on Friday night in Las Vegas. You told North Carolina you wouldn’t tolerate its anti-LGBT legislation and announced that the 2017 National Basketball Association all-star game would be moved out of Charlotte.
You let us watch Peyton Manning, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Big Papi ride off into the sunset. A-Rod did, too, although I suppose not a whole lot of folks care that he’s bid adieu.
You allowed us to say farewell to The Greatest, the King and Mr. Hockey—Muhammad Ali, Arnold Palmer and Gordie Howe. We didn’t mourn their deaths so much as we celebrated their athletic accomplishments, their lives and their legacies.
All of this is not to say you were without your rough edges, 2016. You did, after all, give us two ugly Americans in Rio. The disgraced duo would be soupuss soccer goalkeeper Hope Solo and swimmer Ryan Lochte. Solo branded the Swedish women’s side a bunch of “cowards” because they refused to play a run-and-gun game with the U.S., while Lochte claimed to have been robbed with a cocked gun pointed at his head. In reality, he was taking a pee on the wall outside a Rio gas station.
Those were mere blips, though, 2016. And they were easily offset by Jimmie Johnson claiming his record-tying seventh NASCAR driving title, Leicester City, a 5,000-1 longshot, winning the English Premier League soccer title, and the great Serena Williams earning her 22nd Grand Slam tennis championship to equal the equally great Steffi Graf.
You were a wonderful year, 2016, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
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.