Happy Christivus: A day for gifts and the airing of grievances in the sports world!

You might think of today as Christmas Eve, kids, but it’s also Christivus, a day-before-Christmas and a day-after-Festivus celebration of all that is good in the playground and, just as important, a time for the airing of grievances. Some athletes/sports figures discover lovely gifts under the Christivus treepole, while others find a big, ol’ lump o’ coal with their name on it…

GIFT: There’s just no beating the Gimli Girls at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts. Kerri Einarson, Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard and Briane Harris are three-peat belles of the ball, and you wouldn’t want to bet against them when they Go For Four two months hence at the national women’s curling championship in Kamloops. Only the Colleen Jones quartet from Nova Scotia has managed to put up a four-spot at the Scotties (2001-2004), so Kerri and her gal pals could be breathing rarified air in beautiful B.C. And, by the way, last time I checked, the Gimli Girls were ranked No. 1 among all the world’s female Pebble People, and I’d say that sounds about right.

GIFT: Juggernaut. That’s the word to describe Manitoba’s female curlers. You’ve got Einarson and her gal pals from Gimli, plus the Jennifer Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Abby Ackland and Cheleas Carey rinks ranked in the world top 22. All together now: Buffalo Girls rock!

GIFT: Let’s have a show of hands. Who among us believed that Mike O’Shea would one day become the winningest head coach in the lengthy and lore-filled history of the Winnipeg Football Club? Not me. Not you, either. I mean, Coach Grunge was greener than St. Paddy’s Day when they handed him the headset in 2014, and I doubt even Blue Bombers CEO Wade Miller and GM Kyle Walters figured they had an all-timer on their hands. It was as unlikely as prayer service in the Rum Hut. But now that O’Shea is locked in as sideline steward of the Bombers for another three Canadian Football League seasons, it’s a question of when, not if, he reaches the most hallowed of gridiron ground in Good Ol’ Hometown. Bud Grant, a legend in a trench coat, collected 102 regular-season Ws in his 10 crusades of mostly pushing the right buttons. O’Shea, a legend in the making in short pants, faded t-shirt/hoodie and ratty, ol’ ball cap, has 82 notches on his belt. Do the math. Sometime in the autumn of 2024, Coach Grunge should pull astride the Silver Fox, if not pass him. Who had that on their radar? Nobody.

GIFT: Zach Collaros became a two-timer, collecting the Most Outstanding Player Award in Rouge Football for the second successive season and, no, we aren’t going to talk about his dodgy performance in the Bombers 24-23 loss to the Toronto Argos in the grass-grabber for the Grey Grail in late November.

LUMP O’COAL: We will, however, discuss Marc Liegghio’s right leg. Two missed converts in the West Division final, one missed convert and a botched field goal attempt in the Grey Cup game doesn’t cut it. He has the worst limb since Long John Silver and everyone from Buzz and Boomer to Dancing Gabe knew all about it, but it somehow escaped the notice of Bombers brass and it cost them dearly. We can talk all we like about other foulups (there were plenty) in the bid for a Grey Grail three-peat, but a kicker has one job to do and Liegghio failed miserably.

LUMP O’ COAL: Yo! David Asper! I think maybe you’ve been spending too much time at the Journey to Churchill exhibit at Assiniboine Park Zoo. Either that or you’ve been having nightmares about polar bears lumbering through the pot-holed streets of Good Ol’ Hometown. I mean, the Winnipeg Sea Bears? And a polar bear logo? Seriously? That’s the best you could come up with for your newbie, summertime Canadian Elite Basketball League outfit? C’mon, man. Winnipeg is a seaside locale like a box of Crackerjack is fine dining, and there hasn’t been anything resembling a polar bear near Portage and Main since Chris Walby retired.

AN ENTIRE COAL MINE: Oh, woe is Hockey Canada, guardian of our national pastime and keeper of secrets, slush funds and trafficker of lies. We discovered that HC had stacks and stacks of coin to quietly pay off victims of sexual assault, and some board members summoned to Parliament Hill to explain themselves looked like so many Pinocchios after a big, fat fib. This was the biggest and, by far, the most disturbing sports story on Our Mostly Frozen Tundra in 2022. It rocked HC to the core.

AN ENTIRE COAL MINE: As Hockey Canada roiled in the guck and muck of egregious wrong-doing and a sex-assault scandal, since-defrocked CEO Scott Smith had the dreadful manners to surface in Denmark and strut on-ice to dispense gold medals to our Canadian women at the world championship. It was like the graduating class at a police academy receiving their badges from Tony Soprano. Smith’s appearance was callous, tacky and a rented-bowling-shoes level of odious.

GIFT: Rick Westhead of TSN was at the forefront of reporting on L’Affaire Hockey Canada and all other manner of misdeeds in the playground.

GIFT: Our national women’s team provided a ray of light in the Hockey Canada darkness, striking gold at the Winter Olympic Games and the world tournament. Brianne Jenner was our leading goal-scorer and MVP in Beijing, and Sarah Nurse set an Olympic record for most points, 18. Meantime, Jenner scored both goals in a 2-1 victory over the U.S. in the gold-medal match in Denmark, while Sarah Fillier was our leading scorer and a world tournament all-star.

LUMP O’ COAL: Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star decided that Beijing 2022 was an appropriate time to piddle on Ponytail Puck at the Olympics. “I’ll get crucified for saying so, but women’s hockey doesn’t belong in the Games,” Rosie informed her readers. “It’s a cheap medal, in no way comparable to the paramountcy that some nations historically enjoy in a specific sport—like the Norwegians and cross-country skiing or Jamaicans and sprinting. There is at least some semblance of competition—gobs of it actually—with scads of elite athletes to make a challenge.” She added: “It will doubtless come down, as ever before, to a U.S.-Canada final on Feb. 17, with the Canadians looking for revenge after their loss to the Americans in Pyeongchang. Honestly, I’m getting sick of this mythologized rivalry and everybody else an also-ran. It ain’t sportin’.” Whatever you say, Rosie. But, honestly, I’m getting sick of mainstream media pooh-poohing or ignoring females in the playground.

GIFT: Two of my favorite Dons—Baizley and Duguid—received overdue hosannas this year. Baiz, a lawyer and player agent to many of hockey’s glitterati, was inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame, while Dugie, a world curling champion and pioneer among Pebble People, became an official member of the Order of Canada. I just wish Baiz was still around to enjoy the honor, even if he was never comfortable with people fawning over him.

GIFT: There’s been a Rouge Football revival on the Wet Coast of the land thanks to B.C. Leos bankroll Amar Doman and his foot soldiers. The Leos attracted an average audience of 20,387 to B.C. Place Stadium during the past CFL season, which is a hefty bump of 7,879 customers from a year ago, and they had a league-high gathering of 34,082 for their home opener. (Does it matter now that half the audience was there for a OneRepublic concert?)

LUMP O’ COAL: They have a Grey Cup champion football team, yet the rabble in the Republic of Tranna avoid the Argos the way a letter carrier dodges a mutt baring fangs. The average head count at BMO Field was 11,875 with a low of 9,806, and it’s apparent that only a halftime show featuring Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner streaking au naturel will bring The ROT rabble out to Argos games.

LUMP O’ COAL: Good grief. Another year and still zero female news snoops in the media wing of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. By my count, the CFHF media wing has a roll call of 103 members, 100 per cent of them male, 99.9 per cent of them white, 0 per cent of them female or gay. News snoops are quick to call out sports organizations for a lack of diversity, but apparently the same rules don’t apply to their own houses. The Football Reporters of Canada need to recognize that any female news snoop who survived close encounters with Cal Murphy in the 1980s and ’90s belongs in the Hall of Fame.

LUMP O’ COAL: The staggering proliferation of betting banter on sports TV news/highlight programming is a distressing bit of business.

GIFT: There’s been considerable gum-flapping about a play-for-pay women’s futbol league on Our Mostly Frozen Tundra three years hence, and the people doing the yakkety-yakking seem to have a clue. Diana Matheson and her business partner, Thomas Gilbert, have yet to put all their ducks in a row, but they’ve got two franchises in place (Vancouver and Calgary), they’ve brought Christine Sinclair on board (it’s never a bad idea to link arms with the all-time international goal-scoring leader), and they’re playing with CIBC and Air Canada money. By the time they kick off in 2025, the League To Be Named Later will feature eight teams across the land (four west, four east), and players can expect salaries ranging from $35,000-$75,000. My question: Is there anyone in Good Ol’ Hometown anxious to pony up with a $1 million up-front fee and $8-$10 million in operating costs for women’s soccer?

LUMP O’ COAL: TSN natterbug Kara Wagland described the creation of a women’s pro futbol circuit in Canada as a “monumental development.” Ya, it’s so “monumental” that TSN slotted it as the final item on its hour-long, overnight SportsCentre news/highlights package. Cripes, man, Joey Chestnut eating perogies got more prominent play that night, and I think we can all agree that the sight of Chestnut stuffing food into his gob is right up there on the cringe-o-metre with Glen Suitor swooning over Keith Urban on TSN’s broadcast of the 2019 Grey Cup game. Beasts with cloven hooves have better table manners than Chestnut. Yet TSN determined that his stomach-turning pigout was more newsworthy than the “monumental” women’s fitba story. Sigh.

GIFT: Sue Bird retired after 19 seasons and four WNBA championships with Seattle Storm, also five hoops gold medals at the Olympic Games…Brooke Henderson won two LPGA tournaments, including a major…Hoopster Brittney Griner found her way home to the U.S. after spending too much time in a Russian gulag…Felix Auger-Aliassime won four events on the ATP Tour and anchored Canada’s successful run at the Davis Cup…Iga Swiatek won 37 tennis matches in a row from February to July and two Grand Slam titles, the French Open and U.S. Open. Overall, she was 67-9 with eight titles…Roger Federer retired and the tennis maestro went out the same way he came in—with class…Aaron Judge swatted 62 dingers, more than any non-steroid-era player in Major League Baseball history…Nathan Rourke dazzled Rouge Football audiences until a foot owie laid him low nine games into the B.C. Lions crusade…Phil Kessel became the NHL’s iron man with a Pilsbury Dough Boy body. Go figure…Ironically, the first World Series since 1950 with zero U.S.-born Black players on either roster was won by a U.S.-born Black man, manager Dusty Baker of the Houston Astros.

GIFT: The Premier Hockey Federation remains the sole women’s shinny league in North America that actually is a league and—get this—it pays its players in salary, benefits and marketing share. In other words, it walks the walk. Now in its eighth season, there’s a $750,000 per-team player payroll that doubles to $1.5 million a year from now. Notably, that’s a 10-fold increase since 2021.

LUMP O’ COAL: The Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association. Created in May 2019, there was no league then—just a hissy fit—and there’s no league today—just the same old, tiresome hissy fit. Rather than play in the Premier Hockey Federation or unite to form a Ponytail Puck super league that the rabble might want to watch, PWHPA members prefer to hold their breath, stamp their feet and assemble for a scattering of glorified scrimmages that are mostly ignored by fans and mainstream media each winter. In the meantime, they talk, talk, talk and hope someone is listening. Oddly enough, the talking stopped at the recent all-star gala in Ottawa—PWHPA officials refused to make players available for natters with news snoops after the event. Way to sell your game, ladies.

LUMP O’ COAL: Back on Nov. 3, the puppetmasters at Postmedia informed Winnipeg Sun readers that they would be spiking the weekly TV listings and bulking up the sports section, “so you can get more from our award-winning sports reporters.” To which I responded: “Let’s hope going forward they fill the additional space with local copy, or off-beat copy, not a bunch of dreary rot from the Republic of Tranna.” Well, as advertised, Postmedia has bulked up the sports section in the Winnipeg Sun on Sundays, averaging 12 pages. But, as feared, it’s being filled with rot originating from hither and yon, with only 1-to-3 pages devoted to local sports and the majority of bylines from Republic of Tranna scribes. Don’t believe me? Well, in the four Sunday sections since Nov. 27, this is the byline tally:
Toronto writers: 25
Winnipeg writers: 10
So, yes, it reads like the Torontopeg Sun. (Or should it be the Winnironto Sun?)

LUMP O’ COAL: Why does Postmedia insist on forcing Steve Simmons’ weekly alphabet fart on the Winnipeg market? His musings and cheap shots are almost totally Republic of Tranna-centric, and he mentions the goings-on in Good Ol’ Hometown about as often as a squandron of pink elephants perform a fly-by before a Bombers game. In his most-recent offering, for example, Simmons had 17 items on athletes/teams from the The ROT and the grand total of one (1) on the Jets/Bombers/anything Winnipeg. Do the suits at Postmedia truly believe that’s what the rabble in River City want to read?

LUMP O’ COAL: Management geniuses at the Drab Slab refuse to hire a sports columnist. The guy they bill as their sports columnist, Mad Mike McIntyre, has never written a piece on the fabulous female curlers in Manitoba, which is like scribbling for National Geographic and not writing a word about Mother Nature. I mean, the jock news pecking order in Good Ol’ Hometown is Jets, Bombers and curling. So how do you snub female Pebble People when all they’ve done is win four of the past five Scotties (it’s five-for-five if you want to include homegrown Chelsea Carey in 2019)? He also mostly ignores the Bombers, who’ve been in the past three Grey Cup games, winning twice. It’s lame, negligent and unacceptable, and I’ll never understand how a big-city daily allows its sports columnist to snub two of the three major beats.

GIFT: Between Ted Wyman at the Winnipeg Sun and Jeff Hamilton at the Drab Slab, Good Ol’ Hometown receives the best print coverage of Rouge Football on Our Mostly Frozen Tundra. Teddy and Jeff lap the field every year.

LUMP O’ COAL: Carey Price put up a pro-gun post four days prior to the 33rd anniversary of the Ecole Polytechnique massacre, in which 14 women were slaughtered. It’s okay for the Montreal Canadiens goaltender to be pro firearms, but the timing of his post was ghastly. Almost as bad was teammate Joel Edmundson, who said this about that: “None of us are really aware of what happened 30 years ago. The (Polytechnique) anniversary is fast approaching—it’s news to all of us, to be honest.” Good grief.

GIFT: To say Rick Bowness came in with a bang would be the biggest understatement since Noah said, “Geez, it smells like rain.” The Winnipeg Jets freshly minted head coach hadn’t been in town long enough to order a cup o’ java and cheese nip at the Sals when he instructed the seamstress to snip the ‘C’ off Blake Wheeler’s jersey, and I’d say it’s been win-win for both parties. Bones’ Jets are running with the National Hockey League’s big dogs, and Wheeler, until being felled by an owie, had been productive with less ice time and less face time with news snoops. That’s the bonus, of course: No more daily sourpuss sound bites from the former Captain Grumpy Pants.

GIFT: The Jets hit all the right notes when they unveiled a downtown pigeon perch to legend Dale Hawerchuk in October.

LUMP O’ COAL: Let’s be clear, Greg Norman and Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson et al have a right to earn a living with the LIV Golf Series, even if it means they need to wash the Saudi blood off their hands every time they cash a paycheque. But does Norman have to be so bitter about it? My goodness, it’s as if every horse in the Kentucky Derby piddled on the Shark’s Corn Flakes one morning.

LUMP O’ COAL: Here’s all you need to know about the Saudi/Greg Norman LIV Golf Series: Pat Perez was handed a four-year, $10 million deal, just to stick a tee in the ground. “Look, I know I can’t beat those kids (on the PGA Tour) anymore. This was a great opportunity for me. I have nothing against the PGA Tour; they did a lot for me, but I had to earn everything I got out there.” Imagine that. Earning your wage. What a concept.

LUMP O’ COAL: TV talking heads made complete donkeys of themselves with their gushing over has-beens Tiger Woods and Serena Williams like they’re still at the top of their games. Hey, maybe Tiger will win another golf tournament (doubtful), and perhaps Williams hasn’t actually retired and she’ll return to win another tennis tourney. Until then, the boys and girls in the blurt box need to use their yakkety-yak time to talk about athletes winning today, not back in the day.

LUMP O’ COAL: Damien Cox and friends of the Toronto Star still believe they have the final say on Canada’s athlete-of-the-year. As if…Novak Djokovic is still wearing tin foil on his head…Bob Costas sat behind the play-by-play mic during MLB playoffs and he refused to shut the hell up. He talked about everything but baseball…The Arizona Coyotes play in a 4,800-seat rinky-dink rink…Danny Maciocia canned Khari Jones due to a lack of discipline and hired himself as head coach of the Montreal Larks. So what happened in the fourth quarter of their East Division final vs. the Toronto Argos? Maciocia’s Larks took four undisciplined penalties to seal their fate…TSN talking heads continually lied about head counts for CFL games. Yo! Boys! We aren’t stupid. We can see the empty seats. Glen Suitor was the worst, constantly blabbing about “packed” ballparks and telling us there was “close to 40,000” at B.C. Place Stadium for the West semifinal, even if attendance was scarcely more than 30,000. Meanwhile, Milt Stegall informed us the Bombers had “sellouts through the season.” There were, in fact, two sellouts, both in September…Kyrie Irving, just because he’s Kyrie Irving…The Boston Bruins signed bully Mitchell Miller and the Montreal Canadiens signed Logan Mailloux, a young man who likes to take pics of women engaged in sexual activity and, without their consent, share the photos with his frat boy buddies. Oinkers.

LUMP O’ COAL: Dumbest tweet of the year from Theoren Fleury, the former NHLer and current conspiracy theorist who, when last seen, was plummeting into a deep rabbit hole: “The biggest spreaders of misinformation are the ones who are spreading misinformation.”

And, finally…

Let’s talk about hockey and the Hollywood hunk…Toronto Sun still playing the NFL card while the Argos still playing football…fairy tales in the TSN booth…prose and panhandling at the Drab Slab…old man Bones getting the job done with Winnipeg Jets…P.K. takes his slew foots to ESPN…and other things on my mind…

Ryan Reynolds and Jimmy Fallon

Top o’ the morning to you, Ryan Reynolds.

I must say, you sure know how to make a splash without doing anything, other than flapping your gums. The rest of us flap our gums and…crickets. But, hey, you’re a big-time Hollywood star, and a sound bite from a big-time Hollywood star is all it takes to get other gums flapping, especially if you’re perched on a chair beside Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.

(Quick aside, Ryan: I’m not a Jimmy Fallon fan. I guess he’s a talented guy and people seem to like him, but not as many as in 2014 when he landed The Tonight Show gig and 11 million people tuned in. Today his audience is 2 million, or thereabouts, a dramatic dip that suggests it’s not just my own self who’s found him to be a fawning fool as a host on late-night gab TV.)

Anyway, Ryan, this isn’t about your buddy’s ratings. It’s about you telling Jimmy that you’re on the sniff for a “sugar mommy or sugar daddy,” a filthy rich someone willing to dip into her/his pockets and aid you in a bid to buy the Ottawa Senators.

Blake Lively

I caught your natter with Fallon and here’s what I thought, Ryan: It’s only fitting that an actor wants to purchase Ottawa HC. After all, the Senators have been play-acting as an National Hockey League team for the past five seasons.

Ya, I went for a cheap laugh, Ryan, (Ta-dum! We’re here all week, folks.) just like you did with your quip to Jimmy F. about buying U.S. senators on your Tonight Show bit.

Seriously, though, this is what I really thought of your notion: What does it say when a guy worth $150 million needs a “sugar mommy or sugar daddy” to help him get a shiny, new toy? I mean, folks worth $150M shouldn’t be looking for sugar mommies or daddies. People ought to be coming to you for handouts, Ryan.

But I get it.

Forbes, after all, put a sticker price of $525 million on the Senators a year ago, and Sportico pegged the franchise at $655 million just last month, so it’s not like you’re looking to buy a newly knitted ugly Christmas sweater or a dinky toy (do they still make those things?) to put under the tree next month. Even if you and your bride, Blake Lively, coupled your fortunes, $180 million will only get you a tank of gas for the Zamboni. And maybe a backup goaltender, although he’d have to moonlight and drive the Zamboni.

So, sure, bring on the sugar mommy and/or daddy if that’s what it takes, Ryan. We can’t have enough Hollywood celeb owners.

John Candy

I think John Candy was the last one we had up here on our Frozen Tundra, when he threw in with Wayne Gretzky and Bruce McNall to bankroll the Toronto Argos. That worked out okay. The Boatmen won the Grey Cup and Candy was a delightful diversion for all who follow Rouge Football. And I suppose Humpty Harold Ballard qualified as a celeb bankroll while paying the bills for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Hamilton Tabbies, but I don’t recall anyone ever calling him Hollywood Harold. More like Hoosegow Harold.

No doubt they’d love you as a front man in Bytown, Ryan, because you’re a nice blend of Tinsel Town star power and aw shucks, home boy charm, a guy who does right by others without being phony or loud about it.

I hope it works out for you, Ryan. And, hey, if you find your sugar mommy or daddy, don’t let them talk you into doing something totally daft. You know, like selling the next Daniel Alfredsson or Erik Karlsson for a bag of pucks. Don’t be like Eugene.

Borje Salming in better days.

That was quite an emotional pre-game scene on Friday night in the Republic of Tranna, where Toronto Maple Leafs great Borje Salming stepped front and centre (with assistance from Darryl Sittler) and received a warm greeting from the gathering at Scotiabank Arena. Salming is suffering from ALS, so send a kind thought his way.

I was a perfect 0-2 in forecasting the opening salvo of the Canadian Football League playoffs last weekend, and I blame it all on TSN natterbug Davis Sanchez, because he confuses me. Chezy aside, I like the Winnipeg Blue Bombers over the B.C. Leos in Good Ol’ Hometown this afternoon, and the Toronto Argos over the Montreal Larks at a half empty BMO Field. (I actually think the Larks will prevail, but I don’t fancy Danny Maciocia’s smugness, so I want him to lose.)

During the buildup to today’s Argos-Larks skirmish, the Toronto Sun devoted a full page to the pipe-dream prospect of the NFL chipping in to construct an NFL-worthy stadium in the Republic of Tranna. “CHEERING FOR T.O.” was the headline. Surely to gawd they could have chosen a better time to run that piece. Like, oh I don’t know, never! But I guess The ROT’s obsession with four-down football will never end, and the tabloid is happy to play along.

Interesting how newspapers with dogs in the fights played the Rouge Football division finals in their sports sections today:
Winnipeg Sun: Front page of paper, sports Pages 1-8.
Winnipeg Free Press: Sports P. 1-2.
Vancouver Province: Sports P. 6-8.
Toronto Sun: Sports P. 6-7.
Toronto Star: Sports P. 8.
Montreal Gazette: Sports P. 2.
In Good Ol’ Hometown, the tabloid Sun absolutely mauled the broadsheet Drab Slab with its coverage.

B.C. Place Stadium

Okay, once again, why do the squawk boxes on TSN insist on lying to us about head counts for Rouge Football games?

I mean, to listen to Glen Suitor last Sunday, half the people in Vancouver were crammed into B.C. Place Stadium to witness the Leos-Calgary Stampeders grass-grabber. More than once he mentioned the place was “packed” (there was repeated reference to an audience numbering “close” to 40,000) and that the Leos had created the “template” for turning around a sagging franchise.

As if.

The ballyard in Vancouver accommodates 54,500. Attendance: 30,114. That’s not “close” to 40,000 and, if my math is correct, it’s 24,386 empty chairs. Ergo, not “packed.”

So let’s deal in facts rather than the fiction Suits was spewing:

The Leos attracted 20,387 customers per game during the regular season, a notable hike of 7,879 from a year ago. That’s boffo stuff. They twice sold out the lower bowl at B.C. Place Stadium, first for the home-opener that featured a OneRepublic concert, and for last weekend’s West Division semifinal. Again, boffo stuff.

That tells us team bankroll Amar Doman and his worker bees have done a remarkable and praiseworthy job in their quest to make the Leos relevant on the Left Flank of the land again, so accentuate the positive but spare us the bedtime fairy tales.

What’s the over/under on how often Suitor mentions “three chords and the truth, baby” during today’s Blue Bombers-Leos skirmish for bragging rights in the West Division? Whatever it is, I’ll take the over.

As the Grey Cup game approaches, I find myself wondering if this is the year the Football Reporters of Canada finally vote a female scribe/talking head into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. I’ve been touting Robin Brown, Joanne Ireland, Judy Owen and Ashley Prest as hall-worthy for years, because they have the bona fides and it’s wrong that the media wing of the CFHF remains an all-boys club this deep into the 21st century. If the world’s oldest golf club, the Royal Burgess in Edinburgh, has finally opened its doors to women, surely the FRC can, too.

At a time when more and more toxicity in sports is being unearthed, Judy Owen’s piece on the Bombers culture is a refreshing read. Judy’s been churning out Rouge Football copy, on and off, for more than a quarter-century, and it’s nice to know she still has the touch.

On the subject of the write stuff, Jeff Hamilton of the Drab Slab delivers a major takeout on Winnipeg FC QB Zach Collaros. It’s an easy, informative read, so pour yourself a cup of java, settle in, and enjoy Jeff’s scribbling.

The Drab Slab has gone PBS on us, panhandling online by asking 1,500 readers and/or friends to pony up $150 apiece and join something called the Free Press Patron program. The annual $225,000 cash grab is (supposedly) required due to lost advertising revenue and no more feeding at the public trough, and it will (supposedly) “safeguard the future of the Free Press and journalism that matters.” Hmmm. If I’m going to donate $150 of my meager pension to a panhandling newspaper, I want them to hire a sports columnist who stays home to write about the Bombers instead of swanning off to Calgary and Seattle for ho-hum games No. 13 and 14 of the Winnipeg Jets 82-match marathon. That’s just wrong. Every local sports columnist from Rouge Football playoffs past must be spinning like a lathe in his grave, even those who aren’t yet in the grave.

Watched both TSN SportsCentre and Sportsnet Central in the small hours this morning, and couldn’t help but notice the avalanche of American college football highlights. Meantime, there was no mention of Canadian U Sports football playoffs on TSN, and Sportsnet showed highlights from two skirmishes in Eastern Canada and ignored the University of Saskatchewan Huskies 23-8 victory over the UBC Thunderbirds. Typical, also pathetic.

The removal of the ‘C’ from Blake Wheeler’s jersey was the most obvious indication that the Jets no longer have their wagon tied to the veteran winger, and additional evidence can be found on the freeze. He’s now a second-line performer whose ice-time allotment averaged 19:12 a year ago but has been slashed to 17:08 through 13 skirmishes this time around, with no negative impact on his production. Hmmm. Why didn’t Paul Maurice think of that? Whatever, the Wheeler Window has been closed, and it appears the Jets have a better chance of doing some damage in the Stanley Cup merry-go-round next spring with the former captain in a supporting role.

Rick Bowness

Just curious: If Dusty Baker can manage the Houston Astros—and win the World Series—at age 73, why did many among the rabble think Rick Bowness was too long-in-tooth for the Jets coaching gig at age 67? How do you like the old man so far, people?

Sideshow Gary Bettman was in Good Ol’ Hometown last week, and the NHL commish informed news snoops that empty seats in the Little Hockey House On The Prairie is no biggie. “I don’t think there’s an attendance issue,” he said. Hmmm. I suppose when you have another franchise that maxes out at 5,000 customers in the Arizona desert, 13,000+ doesn’t look so bad.

I’m guessing Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman, the 3rd Baron Thomson of Fleet and the bean counters at True North Sports + Entertainment don’t view 1,000+ unoccupied chairs in the Little Hockey House the same as Commish Gary. I’m guessing they think it’s “an issue” and it sucks. But, since the Puck Pontiff delivers fewer sound bites than a street mime, we really don’t know what he’s thinking.

What kind of scheduling is this? The Calgary Flames put the wrap on a three-games-in-four-nights road swing on the East Coast, then they were required to scurry across the continent from Boston to Calgary, where a Jets outfit that had played one game in six nights sat in wait. So how did Winnipeg HC conspire to lose 3-2 last night?

An aside to those among the rabble in E-Town who’ve soured on Jack Campbell’s goaltending and demand to see Mike Smith back in the blue paint for the Oilers: That’s like asking Bonnie and Clyde to guard your valuables.

Hey, former defenceman P.K. Subban has landed a job talking about all things NHL on ESPN. Apparently his contract includes a clause that allows him to step outside the studio and slew foot anyone on the street whenever he’s feeling frisky.

Did you know there’s a National Toy Hall of Fame in the U.S.? Yup, true story. It’s in Rochester, N.Y., and they just announced the newest inductees—the spinning top, Masters of the Universe and Lite Brite. I’d say the salute to the top is long overdue, because the twirling toy has been around for about 5,000 years, or the same amount of time it’ll take Pete Rose to get into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

There’s been a lot of yakkety-yak lately comparing Flightline to Secretariat. Well, let me say this about that: Whoa Nellie! I watched Flightline romp to the wire in the Breeders Cup Classic last weekend, and it was gobsmackingly brilliant, but my measuring stick for race horses is the giddyup they show in the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes. Until a pony comes along and betters Secretariat’s record in all three gallops, I’ll take Big Red every time.

Oh, dear, the universe is not unfolding as the U.S. women’s national soccer side would have it. Motormouth Megan Rapinoe and the Yankee Doodle Damsels were beaten 2-1 by Germany the other night in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., their third consecutive L in friendlies and first on their star-spangled homeland in more than five years. The team only an American can like had gone unbeaten in 71 successive matches inside U.S. borders. Longtime national team member Carli Lloyd suggests accountability has taken a hit in the U.S. side, saying it “has been slowly fizzling away. Wanting to win has taken on a different meaning.” Meantime, our Canadian women have won five friendlies in a row, the latest a 2-1 verdict over Brazil in Santos on Friday, so the stars and planets are aligning on our side of the great U.S.-Canada divide.

George Costanza and The Boss, George Steinbrenner.

Just a thought: If George Steinbrenner was still picking up the tab for the New York Yankees would he have allowed home run king Aaron Judge to reach free agency? Over George Costanza’s dead body.

From the department of You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: The Houston Astros managed to win the World Series earlier this month without using garbage cans to cheat (we think), then, scant days later, they tied the can to GM James Click and assistant GM Scott Powers. What, they didn’t cheat enough?

There are loud rumblings that the most bitter of men, grumpy Greg Norman, soon will be out as mouthpiece for the Saudi-moneyed LIV Golf Series. The Saudis deny they plan to DQ the Shark. But, hey, they also deny killing people.

And, finally…

Let’s talk about the Toronto Maple Elites and the Art of Angst…oh no, no O Canada en francais in the Little Hockey House On The Prairie…the Puck Pontiff and the 3rd Baron have an $805 million toy…a Prairie town with Seabears…the CFL and the kind of voting Donald Trump would love…and other things on my mind…

No one does Chicken Little quite like the rabble and news snoops in the Republic of Tranna, which has a faster-falling sky than any other National Hockey League habitat.

I mean, the Toronto Maple Elites failed, once again, to win the Stanley Cup in October—just like 31 other outfits—and it was a dire bit of business that apparently demanded the dismissal of everyone from the hot dog vendors to the ivory tower, where Brendan Shanahan presides and sits in judgment of the serfs below.

Ten skirmishes into the current crusade, the Shanaleafs were 4-4-2, a tolerable account in most jurisdictions but totally objectionable in the Centre of the Hockey Universe, where the floor for acceptable conduct is first-round playoff success and the ceiling is a Stanley Cup parade. The reality that neither can be achieved in October seemingly escaped the comprehension of the faithful, many of whom recognized a month’s worth of .500 hockey as cause to flood the Twitterverse with 280 characters worth of angst and urgent urgings for the ouster of head coach Sheldon Keefe and/or general manager Kyle Dubas. (And, just for good measure, one or two want to show Mayor John Tory the door, as well.)

News snoops and opinionists, meanwhile, were less inclined to lean toward scorching the earth, with their analysis ranging from cheeky to pragmatic to harsh. Here’s a sampling of their scribblings:

James Mirtle, The Athletic: “They’re just really, to put it charitably, meh right now.”

Cathal Kelly, Globe and Mail: “The Toronto Maple Leafs just finished a western road swing that resembled a man falling down a flight of stairs in slow motion. The Leafs have a lot of problems. Their biggest is that they keep changing problems. Hanging above it all is their level of play: soft. Giggling Pillsbury Doughboy-level soft.”

Steve Simmons, Toronto Sun: “An underperforming mess.”

Marty Klinkenberg, Globe and Mail: “A hot mess. If this were Bugtussle it would be no big deal. But Toronto isn’t a hockey outpost. The faithful who have grown used to an annual collapse are already twitchy.”

Damien Cox, Toronto Star: “No, it’s not too early to ask hard questions about this squad after a lousy western road trip. But it’s definitely too early to reach any meaningful conclusions, particularly after Keefe’s team had a nearly identical start last season and ended up setting a franchise record with 115 points.”

That was before the Philly Flyers arrived in The ROT, and 4-4-2 became 5-4-2. Next up were the Boston Bruins, brandishing the league’s best record, and 5-4-2 became 6-4-2. And then they vanquished Carolina to make it 7-4-2. Yup, the Elites are 3-for-November. Better re-order all those snazzy convertibles for the Stanley Cup parade!

Or not.

As sure as Johnny Bower liked the poke check, another acorn shall fall on Chicken Little’s head soon enough, and great and mournful cries—“They sky is falling! The sky is falling!”—shall again rumble and echo throughout The ROT and, indeed, in all corners of our Frozen Tundra.

Like I said, no one does Chicken Little quite like the rabble/news snoops in the Republic of Tranna. But, hey, they’ve had since 1967 to perfect the Art of Angst.

The Little Hockey House On The Prairie, a no-French zone.

Stu Cowan of the Montreal Gazette has a beef with the Winnipeg Jets: “O Canada was sung in English and French for Habs in both St. Louis and Minnesota but only in English in Winnipeg. Not right,” he tweets. Stu is absolutely correct, of course. If sports teams on our vast Frozen Tundra insist on trotting out crooners for a pre-game anthem (it’s a dumb tradition), it should be in English et en francais. Especially when the Montreal Canadiens are in the Little Hockey House On The Prairie.

Cowan’s comment brings to mind an incident back in the day, when the rabble booed PA announcements en francais during a Jets exhibition game vs. the Finnish National B side. Once back in the Winnipeg Tribune newsroom, I was instructed to pen a front-page piece on the audience’s bad manners, and followed that up with a good and proper scolding of the anti-French boors. The next morning, I received a phone call from a man who threatened to bomb my house. Tough crowd.

The Puck Pontiff

So, Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and his co-bankroll, the 3rd Baron Thomson of Fleet, purchased the Atlanta Thrashers, lock, stock and jock, for US $170 million in 2011, and today Sportico has the Jets valued at $805 million. (And you thought the price of gas and groceries has taken a hike.)

The thing is, $805 million is just a number on a piece of paper unless the Puck Pontiff and the 3rd Baron are inclined to peddle the franchise, and that’s about as likely as palm trees and a nude beach sprouting up at the intersection of Portage and Main in January.

Still, the Sportico list makes for good bar banter and, if you missed it, here’s how the NHL’s seven Canadian franchises stack up in the grand scheme of things:

1. Maple Leafs: $2.12 billion
3. Canadiens: $1.7 billion
8. Oilers: $1.29 billion
11. Canucks: $1 billion
19. Flames: $870 million
22. Jets: $805 million
27. Senators: $655 M

Just wondering: What do you suppose Barry Shenkarow thinks when he looks at those numbers? I’m guessing he winces, gives his head a shake and mutters, “if only.” After all, Barry and the group that bankrolled Jets 1.0 sold the club for $65 million in 1995.

Nothing makes me switch off an NHL game faster than Ron MacLean throwing to a commercial on Hockey Night in Canada by saying, “Cabbie after the break.” Why is there a Cabbie?

You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t get excited about Alexander Ovechkin chasing down Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky as the NHL’s all-time leading goal-scorer. Tough to feel good about Vlad the Bad Putin’s pal when bombs are still raining on Ukraine.

I’m liking what the Drab Slab is doing with it’s Jets post-match coverage. Gone are the yawn-a-thon game stories that drone on in play-by-play style, with cookie-cutter clichés from players schooled in the art of cookie-cutter clichés. Sports editor Jason Bell now has Mad Mike McIntyre and the boys on the beat delivering dispatches in point form, which lends itself to variety of thought and analysis rather than dreary recitation of every pass, shot and save the night before. Give me opinion, anecdotes and harsh truths if required, not a running tally of plus/minus numbers.

According to Mike Sawatzky of the Drab Slab, the Canadian Elite Basketball League is primed to set up shop in Good Ol’ Hometown, with a team to be called the Seabears. I guess that’s because Winnipeg is a seaside town and there are so many bears roaming the streets. I mean, who came up with a name like Seabears for a sports franchise on the bald prairie?

It truly pains me to see the Winnipeg Sun putting out a three-page tabloid sports section. Damn. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be for a daily sheet in a market the size of Good Ol’ Hometown. How are the tabloid’s Toy Department 3—Paul Friesen, Teddy Wyman and Scott Billeck—expected to compete against the Drab Slab, which pumped out eight broadsheet pages on Saturday? It’s like bobbing for apples with your lips zipped shut. So a pox on the suits at Postmedia. Double damn them.

Here’s the page counts for sports sections in Postmedia tabloids across the country Saturday:
Vancouver Province: No paper (13 pages Friday)
Toronto Sun: 11
Ottawa Sun: 8
Calgary Sun: 8
Edmonton Sun: 8
Winnipeg Sun: 3

But, hey, check it out: The tabloid has trashed its TV listings in the Sunday sheet and expanded the sports section, with 12 pages today. Let’s hope going forward they fill the additional space with local copy, or off-beat musings, not a bunch of rot from the Republic of Tranna.

Boffo stuff from Paul Friesen on the 1990 Blue Bombers, many of whom found their way back to Good Ol’ Hometown last week for induction to the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame. Paul, as usual, captures the moment magnificently.

D’oh! The Canadian Football League announced its West and East Division all-star teams on Wednesday, then, scant hours later, sent out a missive saying they had it all wrong and provided revised results (with 19 corrections) after a recount. Now that’s the kind of election Donald Trump would like.

The Glieberguys, Bernie and Lonie.

A number of folks believe the Lords of Rouge Football ought to be red faced because of the voting snafu. Maybe. Maybe not. I mean, you want embarrassing? Try Dexter Manley and the Glieberguys and Mardi Gras beads and bare breasts in Bytown back in the day. How about Commish Randy Ambrosie panhandling on Parliament Hill in the thick of the pandemic? How about those many thousands of unoccupied seats at BMO Field for every Toronto Argos game? Let’s not forget dinosaurs Joe Kapp and Angelo Mosca brawling at a meet-and-greet Grey Cup function. Drafting dead guys in the 1990s? And, hey, have you heard Dennis Casey Park’s rendition of O Canada before the Las Vegas Posse home opener in 1994? The list of Rouge Football’s red-faced moments is longer than a Winnipeg winter, but our quirky, three-downs game has survived ’em all and shall continue to chug along, even if it’s with a red face.

Nathan Rourke

Quiz me this, kids: How many is enough? No, that isn’t a Zen koan. It’s the question I have for the Football Reporters of Canada. The girls and boys on the beat, you see, have decided that B.C. Leos QB Nathan Rourke was not the most dazzling performer in Rouge Football this year, presumably because he only played half a season, whereas Winnipeg Blue Bombers QB Zach Collaros was behind centre for 17 skirmishes. But wait. That same half-season was sufficient to earn Rourke the nomination as Most Outstanding Canadian.

Sorry, but that does not compute. I mean, he’s out as MOP but good to go as MOC? Is that some sort of Canadian exchange rate?

Well, here’s Teddy Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun to explain his thinking on CFL awards balloting: “There was talk among FRC colleagues about voting for Nathan Rourke over Collaros for MOP. Eventually I think right call was made. Rourke had amazing half season but no way of predicting how it would have gone after that. Collaros is deserving of the nomination.

“I voted for Rourke for most outstanding Canadian and majority of FRC voters did as well. The fact is, his half-season numbers were strong enough to outshine other Canadians. They weren’t strong enough to outshine Collaros for MOP.”

And now here’s Jeff Hamilton of the Drab Slab: “Collaros had another solid season and is deserving of the nomination. Nathan Rourke was on his way, and it’s a testament to how great he was when playing. But winning MOP after playing just half the season would have been embarrassing for the CFL.

“Rourke was incredible though. And my basis for voting—I had Collaros MOP; Rourke MOC—is that Rourke had a better season than all other Canadians but not as good as Collaros. Guy had 7 rushing TDs, to go with 25 passing. But, again, I agree with sked and the opposite opinion.”

So, what’s the minimum number of games required to qualify as MOP? Twelve? Fourteen?

Quick picks for today’s opening round in the quest for Rouge Football’s Grey Grail: Calgary Stampeders over B.C. Leos; Hamilton Tabbies over Montreal Larks; Matt Dunigan “gets ‘er done” on the TSN panel; and I foresee a pepperoni pizza-and-football day at Chez Swansson.

The Saskatchewan Flatlanders’ coughed up a hairball the size of a prairie canola field in the back half of the Rouge Football season, going 2-11 with seven successive Ls to close the crusade, and now we know who was most responsible for the fiasco: Offensive coordinator Jason Maas, O-line coach Stephen Sorrells and receivers coach Travis Moore are the official scapegoats. Oh, and let’s not forget starting QB Cody Fajardo, also fired. (His permanent dismissal has yet to be made official.) Meantime, sideline steward Craig Dickenson and GM Jeremy O’Day survive to clean up the mess left behind (apparently) by Messrs. Maas, Sorrells, Moore and Fajardo. My guess: The Flatlanders replace Fajardo with the ghost of Bo Levi Mitchell, which gives them a convenient scapegoat for next year.

Cliff Clavin in a classic episode of Cheers.

Tyler Hubbard, Jordan Davis and Josh Ross are the halftime performers for the Grey Cup game on the Flattest of Lands, Nov. 20. That sounds like an answer Cliff Clavin would give on Final Jeopardy!: “Who are three people who’ve never been in my kitchen?” In this case, it’s more like: Who are three people I’ve never heard of? Well, apparently, they’re country crooners, so do we see one, two or all three of them surface in the TSN booth for face time with Glen Suitor? Or does Groupie Glen limit his man crush gushing to Keith Urban? Better yet, will TSN let us watch the game or force us to endure Suits Goes Fan Boy, the sequel?

A young dude at a New York Knicks game sank a half-court shot to win a car on Saturday. More important, they also gave him $1,000. You know, so he could afford about half a tank of gas.

The Houston Astros have won the World Series. Which reminds me, I have a bag of garbage I need to take to the trash bin.

And, finally…

Let’s talk about the Rouge Football playoffs and the MOP…the Blue-and-Gold’s best in show head count…creepy things in sports that creep me out…Hot Dog! Phil’s the NHL Iron Man…a rinky dink rink…jersey fling in the Republic of Tranna?…and other things on my mind…

Forget about the CFL gas bags on TSN. For the best take on all things Rouge Football, lend an ear to my two favorite gridiron girls, Lady Portage and Dame Main, both unabashed admirers of large lads in blue-and-gold. Take it away, ladies…

Lady Portage: “Well, girlfriend, another Canadian Football League regular season has arrived at the finish line and we move on to the playoffs to see if our Winnipeg Blue Bombers can threepeat.”

Dame Main: “Oh, wouldn’t that be special?”

Lady Portage: “You know it. Not even the Bombers of the glory days brought the Grey Cup home three years in a row. The Bombers of Kenny Ploen and Leo Lewis and Herbie Gray won the thing four times in five years back in the 1950s/60s, but not three straight.”

Dame Main: “If they pull it off, wouldn’t that make these the glory days?”

Lady Portage: “I suppose it would, for a younger generation. But it’s going to be a tall task.”

Dame Main: “You aren’t sold on the Big Blue?”

Lady Portage: “I am. They’ve got the best quarterback in the league, Zach Collaros, and that rookie receiver, Dalton Schoen, has made people sit up and take notice. Richie Hall’s D-dozen is as stout and as stingy as ever, and I imagine guys like Biggie Bighill and the J Men—Jefferson and Jeffcoat—are plenty geeked up about another championship ring. But I think the Calgary Stampeders will be a tough out. They’ve got a defence to match Winnipeg’s, and their running back, Ka’Deem Carey, is a beast. If the weather’s foul on Nov. 13, he could be the difference-maker. I like him more than our guy, Brady Oliveira.

Dame Main: “So you’re saying the Stampeders will take out the B.C. Lions in the semifinal next weekend?”

Lady Portage: “The Leos are done like burnt toast. Hey, I’m sold on Lions QB Nathan Rourke—fan-tabulous!—but I’m not sold on him as a QB who’s played part of one game since August.”

Dame Main: “He didn’t look like he was wearing a coat of rust against the Bombers on Friday night.”

Lady Portage: “No, but he didn’t look other-worldly, either. Not like before he suffered the foot owie that put him on the shelf for two months. If I can use just one word to describe his play, it would be ‘meh’. I fear he’s in for an afternoon of hurt courtesy the Stamps D-men. Total misery.”

Dame Main: “What do you think would have happened if Rourke hadn’t been injured? Think we’d be talking about Zach Collaros as Most Outstanding Player?”

Lady Portage: “What if Willie Jefferson had alligator arms instead of a wing span that stretches from Winnipeg to Kenora? I’m not into what-ifs, girlfriend. Rourke got hurt and played in 10 games. Zach didn’t get hurt and led the league in TD tosses and wins.”

Dame Main: “Ya, but the guy in Toronto, Mcleod Bethel-Thompson, had more passing yards and completions than Collaros. Maybe he’s the MOP.”

Lady Portage: “And maybe somebody spiked your tea. You and I will land a gig singing backup vocals for Lady Gaga before McBeth gets the nod as East Division MOP. The guy looks all-world for 30 minutes, then he looks like a kid trying to tie his laces with one hand. Sorry, but Eugene Lewis or Tim White deserves the East nomination. But, hey, the girls and boys on the beat are smitten with QBs, so…”

Dame Main: “I sure hope Zach wins. He seems like a wonderful young man, with an adorable family. And it’s so nice that he’s staying around for a few more years.”

Lady Portage: “As sure as O-linemen like second helpings of mashed potatos and anything that moos, Zach repeats as MOP, then it’s just a question of whether or not the Bombers threepeat. All they need is two more Ws—one vs. Calgary on our Frozen Tundra on Nov. 13, then vs. the Toronto Argos on the Flattest of Lands, Nov. 20.

Dame Main: “So that’s your call? Bombers-Boatmen? Who wins the Grey Grail?”

Lady Portage: “The good guys, of course. Best QB always wins, and that’s our boy Zach. He’ll be flinging TD passes while Bethel-Thompson is trying to figure out how to tie his boot laces with one hand.”

Dame Main: “Guess that’s a wrap for us, girlfriend. We’ll have to do this again Grey Cup week. Ya think the Calgary mob will bring a horse to Regina and clomp him into a hotel?”

Lady Portage: “For sure. And if the nag takes a dump in the hotel lobby, Rob Vanstone and the boys at the Regina Leader-Post can write it up as an editorial comment on the Saskatchewan Roughriders season.”

So, Milt Stegall tells us the Bombers have enjoyed “sellouts through the season.” I demand a recount. I mean, it’s nice that Milt wants to tout Winnipeg FC as the showcase franchise in Rouge Football, but he doesn’t need to fudge facts for the CFL on TSN panel. Here’s the reality: The folks in Good Ol’ Hometown packed the Football Field In Fort Garry twice this crusade, both times in September and both times with a Pil-swilling mob from the Flattest of Lands in town for a visit. But Milt’s correct about the Blue-and-Gold being a model operation, on and off the gridiron. Head counts this year:

26,002 (Ottawa)
23,600 (Hamilton)
29,746 (Calgary)
31,053 (Montreal)
30,062 (Calgary)
33,234 (Saskatchewan)
33,234 (Saskatchewan)
27,159 (Edmonton)
23,685 (B.C.)
Total: 28,641 average (best in show and up from 25,947 in 2021).

Zach Collaros

Dave Naylor asked this question of the TSN panel on Friday: “When’s the last time Zach Collaros stunk the joint out?” Answer: July 22, vs. Edmonton Elks when he was 7/16, 188 yards, 2 TD, 2 picks. But, hey, the Bombers still won, 24-10.

Collaros and Nathan Rourke aside, I can’t remember a more iffy crop of QBs in Rouge Football than what we’ve seen in the past two crusades. Bo Levi Mitchell and Cody Fajardo have become spare parts, Mcleod Bethel-Thompson is as uneven as the back roads in Alabama, we’re still trying to get a reading on Dane Evans, Jeremiah Masoli and Trevor Harris, and Tayler Cornelius might be the next Mike Reilly in Edmonton or the next Great White Nope.

Bytown RedBlacks QB Caleb Evans rushed for a QB record 16 TDs this season. Total yards traveled on those 16 TD rushes: 16.

It’s oft said that the CFL season doesn’t truly begin until the Labor Day weekend, so here’s how the nine teams stacked up in crunch time:

Ron MacLean

It’s Halloween eve and it’s scary out there, kids. Here are five things/people in sports that really, really creep me out:
1. Ron MacLean’s puns and librarian-like references to ridiculously obscure footnotes about historical events/people. The puns are mostly lame and the detours into the unknown are as baffling as they are painful. Just tell the guy to put on a cardigan, call his Hockey Night in Canada gig Mr. MacLean’s Neighborhood and be done with it. He’s become creepy, kids.
2. Conor McGregor. He’s rude, vulgar, obnoxious, a bully, objectionable on every level, and probably thinks mashed potatoes is finger food. Every time I see him on my flatscreen, I feel the need to hose down. He’s creepy, kids.
3. Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. I don’t know which of the two aging, slower-than-Sunday NFL quarterbacks creeps me out more. My problem with Brady is simple: His ego is the size of Texas, thus his plan apparently is to force himself upon us until he’s older than every tortoise on the Galapagos Islands. (Fittingly, Brady and the turtles move at the same pace.) Rodgers, meanwhile, has a matching ego and seems to fancy himself as a svengali, determined to bend and shape the Green Bay Packers into his image with his every thought. Or maybe it’s his idea of a Zen thing, where he props himself up as the Dalai QB. I’m uncertain. And when they lose? Never his fault. But it’s creepy, kids.
4. Ever since Phil Mickelson teed it up on the Saudis’ LIV Golf Series, he always looks like he needs a bath. That’s creepy, kids.
5. The fawning by news snoops over Tiger Woods and Serena Williams, two more ego-fueled jocks who refuse to take the off-ramp. Woods has three tournament titles since 2013, his most recent in 2019, then he drove his SUV into a ravine. Williams has won one event since becoming a mom five years ago. Yet both are gabbed and written about like they’ve ended the scourge of global homelessness. Can Woods and Williams still win? I suppose, if all the planets align favorably, but they’re both deep on the downside of the slope and I wonder what part of over-the-hill do the talking heads and scribes not understand? They’re creepy, kids.

Tom Brady

Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed that Brady looks like he’s on a hunger strike? I realize he’s flying solo these days and probably can’t be bothered cooking for himself, but has he not heard of Skip the Dishes?

Things you don’t expect to read or hear in the same sentence: Donald Trump and humility. Andrea Bocelli and sour notes. Phil Kessel and NHL Iron Man. But a tip of the bonnet to Kessel, who hasn’t skipped a day of work since 2009, or 991 games ago. Not too shabby for a guy reportedly on a tube steak-a-day diet.

Hey, fans have stopped flinging $250 jerseys on the ice in Vancouver, which can only mean the Canucks are no longer playing like a bunch of ankle-benders. Most likely next stop for the Jersey Fling: The Republic of Tranna. The Toronto Maple Elites, after all, are second-last in the Atlantic Division and run the risk of going 0-for-California tonight vs. the Disney Ducks in Anaheim. Another L makes them a sub.-500 outfit, and that simply won’t do in a town where they’re accustomed to winning the Stanley Cup every October. Ladies and gentlemen, start your jerseys.

Nothing but positive dispatches from Mullett Arena, jazzy new playpen of the Arizona Coyotes in Tempe. It’s the size of a college dorm, which is fitting since it also houses college hockey, and we’re told those 5,026 fans crammed into the joint can really raise a ruckus. Well, so do kids in an elementary school playground, but that doesn’t make it college. A rinky dink rink is rinky dink rink is rinky dink rink.

Where did TSN dig up this Frankie Corrado dude? What are the bona fides that compelled TSN to prop him up as a hockey analyst? Well, Google tells me he spent time with 10 teams in 11 seasons of pro hockey, some of it in the NHL (76 games), some of it in Sweden and Russia, and that’s fine. But this is part of a recent Q&A Frankie did with Ben Kuzma of Postmedia Vancouver:
Kuzma: “Why are the Canucks struggling?”
Frankie: “I think that team is in trouble.”
Wow. Move aside, Sherlock Holmes. There’s a new super sleuth in town. And, yes, that’s sarcasm. I mean, the Canucks were the only NHL outfit without a W. What was Frankie’s first clue? If that’s the type of penetrating analysis he’ll bring to TSN, I’ll switch channels and listen to Ron MacLean’s puns.

In a dog-bites-man story, this headline from The Athletic: “PWHPA still working toward a new women’s pro hockey league.” In other news, WWII is over, JFK is dead, Cassius Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali, and The Beatles broke up. I mean, we’ve been hearing about a league for the Ponytail Puck renegades for nigh on four years. When will they tell us something we don’t know?

Dusty Baker

How ironic that the first World Series since 1950 with zero U.S.-born Black players on either roster might be won by a Black manager, Dusty Baker of the Houston Astros. I’ve liked Dusty ever since my one and only visit to Dodger Stadium in the 1980s. Every inning when he trotted out to his post in left field, he’d stop and natter with us fans in the bleachers. Nice man.

I want to go on record as saying I like Camila Cabello and Gwen Stefani on The Voice. John Legend is agreeable and Blake Shelton is Terry Bradshaw with a good head of hair, but not necessarily a better singing voice. Hee haw.

Here’s all you need to know about the Saudi/Greg Norman LIV Golf Series: PGA Tour defector Pat Perez was handed a four-year, $10 million deal, just to show up. “Look, I know I can’t beat those kids anymore. This was a great opportunity for me. I have nothing against the PGA Tour; they did a lot for me, but I had to earn everything I got out there.” What a concept. Earning your wages. Meantime, Peter Uihlein collected $11.3 million in seven LIV events, compared to $4 million in 126 PGA tournaments. But, remember, it isn’t about the money.

And, finally…

Let’s talk about the Winnipeg Jets 50th anniversary…another MOP for Zach Collaros…D’oh! More Rouge Football on The Simpsons…lumbering Logan and leadership…boos in the Bronx…Troy Aikman’s ‘dresses’…simpleton scribblings…and other things I’m not going to write about…

Here’s some stuff I was going to write about this morning, but decided not to write about:

I was going to write about the original home game in Winnipeg Jets history, because somebody should.

The Jets and the World Hockey Association were, of course, an iffy bit of business from the get-go, and we wondered what kind of a buy-in there’d be for what many among the rabble considered a lark—a tier-two operation with National Hockey League hand-me-downs and minor league lifers filling rosters, and a life expectancy of about a week and a half.

The early returns weren’t encouraging, with the Jets basically skating in front of friends and family (1,000 and change) in pre-season rehearsals, which prompted this remark from old friend Vic Grant in the Winnipeg Tribune: “If there aren’t more than six thousand people in the stands Sunday then we know that Winnipeg is a penny ante sports town.”

Well, the turnstiles at the Ol’ Barn On Maroons Road on the night of Oct. 15, 1972, didn’t make anyone’s head spin, even though the going rate was a bargain basement $6 (plus 60 cents tax) for a chair in the Reds and $5 (plus 50 cents tax) up higher where noses begin to bleed. The Jets had 3,300 season ticket subscribers going in, and the walk-up crowd more than doubled that, for a final head count of 7,283 for the coming-out party.

The rabble left disappointed, with the Jets found lacking in a 5-2 loss to the Alberta Oilers, but it was the beginning of a seven-year stretch of oft-glorious WHA shinny in the Ol’ Barn.

Alas, 50 years later, the golden anniversary was ignored by local news snoops, so I’m not going to write about the Jets original home opener either. I guess it’s true what a wise man once said: Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.

I was going to write about the present-day Jets, who were strutting their stuff in front of numerous unoccupied chairs at The Little Hockey House On The Prairie on Friday night.

Unsold seats always give rise to angst among owners and bean counters of any pro sports franchise, even if the Lords of True North Sports + Entertainment ought to be used to it by now. When did the Jets last put up the soldout sign? Before any of us put on a face mask and allowed medics to jab us in the arm with needles to ward off COVID.

Many still cite the pandemic as the cause of yet another non-sellout. Others point to ticket costs (a C-note to sit where noses begin to bleed), concession costs, parking costs, soaring cost of living, an uncaring and smug ownership, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff’s Summer of Nothing, and players who’d rather earn their living elsewhere.

But I’m not going to write about unsold seats, because these Jets aren’t an iffy bit of business. They’re backed by a dude, David Thomson, whose pockets are deeper than Buddhist dharma.

Zach Collaros

I was going to write about Zach Collaros, because it seems to me that he’s the heir apparent to himself.

That is to say, as sure as there shall be frost on the pumpkin when the showcase event of Rouge Football—the Grey Cup game—arrives on the Flattest of Lands in late November, Zach will be there to accept the Most Outstanding Player Award for the second successive season.

Oh, yes, I believe his bona fides are sufficient to satisfy members of the Football Reporters of Canada that there’s not been a finer performer on our Frozen Tundra, even if Nathan Rourke had eyes popping and jaws dropping through the first half of the 2022 crusade. And the fact Collaros won’t fling another football until Oct. 28 shouldn’t matter either. I mean, it’s not like Mcleod Bethel-Thompson is apt to suddenly morph into the second coming of Doug Flutie between now and closing time. He’ll have (some) better passing numbers than the Winnipeg Blue Bombers QB, but Macbeth’s play has been as spotty as a Dalmation. He looks like Ricky Ray one game, then looks like he can’t tie his own boot laces the next.

Anybody else MOP worthy? Well, I’d say Ka’Deem Carey has done boffo work lugging the leather for the Calgary Stampeders, but I wouldn’t say he’s having a Mike Pringle season, and that’s what it would take for the exalted members of the FRC to take their eyes off Collaros.

The girls and boys on the beat, you see, are smitten with quarterbacks. They fancy QBs the way Homer Simpson fancies donuts and Duff beer, and the evidence is there for all to see: They’ve dished out the MOP trinket 68 times, and the scoreboard reads: QBs 40, All Other Positions 28.

So I’d say Zach will be off to Regina, and I don’t expect he’ll be flying solo.

Guaranteed that one of the guy’s he’s been playing catch with, Dalton Shoen, will go along for the ride and collect a bauble as the Canadian Football League’s top frosh.

And, assuming I’m reading the room correctly, a second straight MOP Award puts Collaros in rather lofty company, because only four other players (Dieter Brock, Doug Flutie, Anthony Calvillo and Jackie Parker) have been anointed in consecutive seasons, and it’s shouldn’t shock anyone that they’re all QBs.

But I’m not going to write about Zach Collaros this morning, because he booked off work Saturday night and couldn’t pad his stats in a 40-32 loss vs. the B.C. Leos.

I was going to write about The Simpsons lampooning the CFL yet again, because I think Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and the entire cast of characters are a hoot. They still make me laugh out loud, even when the yuks are at the expense of three-downs football.

But I’m not going to write about The Simpsons, because I think you should watch it yourself. Here’s a spoiler alert, though: A left-handed Doug Flutie makes a cameo appearance and Homer does Homer things. D’oh!

I was going to write about shoddy journalism because of a “D’oh!” headline in the Drab Slab. To wit: “Now the West is won.” In the accompanying article, we’re told this: “With the West Division crown already placed atop their heads, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers blah, blah, blah…”

Uh, no. That simply isn’t true.

The B.C. Leos or Calgary Stampeders still have something to say about bragging rights in the West Division, because there’s the matter of the final on Nov. 13 at The Football Field In Fort Garry, and I’m guessing that the Bombers, to a man, would tell the gang at the Freep and anyone else who’d care to listen that they haven’t won squat. The large lads in blue-and-gold livery have clinched top spot in the West, but that won’t buy them a cup of java at Tims.

Finishing first is a feather in the cap. It means you’ve earned a bye to the division final, and the advantage of home turf. But you haven’t “won” anything. And, no, I’m not picking nits or splitting hairs

Any editor with passable knowledge of Rouge Football in Good Ol’ Hometown would know the West Division champion is determined in the final, and the Bombers are a recent case in point. In 2019, the Saskatchewan Flatlanders topped the regular-season tables, but it got them diddly. Winnipeg FC, which finished third, won the West, then claimed the Grey Grail.

But I’m not going to write about shoddy journalism at the Drab Slab, because people who don’t know a rouge from a rickshaw edit sports copy these days. Besides, the squawk boxes on TSN are spewing the same false narrative, and they’re just as wrong.

Logan Stanley

I was going to write about lumbering Logan Stanley starting another National Hockey League crusade with the Winnipeg Jets and Ville Heinola being banished to the farm again.

As far as I can determine, Stanley’s sole skill is being tall. Heinola, meanwhile, is notable for his skating, passing and puck smarts, but he has the (apparent) bad manners to be untall. He isn’t kiddie ride at Disneyland short, but he’d have to stand on a beer keg to look Stanley eyeball-to-eyeball. Apparently, that’s good enough reason to convince Jets intelligentsia to keep the unskilled No. 1 draft pick over the skilled No. 1 draft pick.

But I’m not going to write about Logan Stanley, because if the the geniuses haven’t figured it out by now it’s a lost cause.

I was going to write about the “new” leadership group with the Jets—Rink Rat Scheifele, Josh Morrissey and Adam Lowry.

That’s “new” like the Edsel is hot off the assembly line in Detroit.

I mean, the Rink Rat and Morrissey each wore an ‘A’ last season. Now they’ve stitched one on Lowry’s jersey. Well, big whoop-de-do.

All they’ve done is confirm that whatever virus ran though the changing room in the past started and ended with the ‘C’ that’s been ripped off Blake Wheeler’s chest, but the defrocked captain has already vowed to carry on as if nothing has changed.

So I’m not going to write about the Jets “new” leadership, because it’s same old, same old.

Aaron Judge

I was going to write about the mob at Yankee Stadium booing Aaron Judge.

That would be the same Aaron Judge who swatted 62 dingers this Major League Baseball season, the same guy who finished a couple of base knocks shy of the Triple Crown, the same guy to whom his New York Yankees playmates hitched their wagon all season. Now he’s scuffling in the playoffs and the rabble let him know about it in the seventh inning of a 4-2 loss vs. Cleveland Guardians.

“It’s the Bronx, man,” mused Pinstripes skipper Aaron Boone.

“It happens,” said the big man himself. “It’s happened many times in my career here.”

That doesn’t make it right. Nobody goes to the Vatican to heckle the Pope. Nobody went to Churchill Downs to razz Secretariat. And you don’t go to Yankee Stadium to boo Aaron Judge, not this October.

But I’m not going to write about the Yankees faithful turning on their marquee player, because there’s just no explaining the bad manners of some people.

Troy Aikman

I was going to write about Troy Aikman and ask him to join us in the 21st century, because the former NFL QB and current gab guy on Monday Night Football stuck both feet in it last week with a lazy, 20th century sexist trope.

After Chris Jones of the K.C. Chiefs had been flagged for roughing the passer vs. the Las Vegas Raiders, Aikman was quick to tsk-tsk game officials for the suspect call and observed: “My hope is the competition committee looks at this in the next set of meetings and, you know, we take the dresses off.” Sigh.

Aikman later performed an emergency foot-in-mouthectomy, saying: “My comments were dumb, just shouldn’t have made them. Just dumb remarks on my part.” Well, yes, they were.

But I’m not going to write about Aikman’s sexist drivel, because he isn’t a lone wolf. Male jocks think of women as lesser-thans, so that’s what they say.

Dustin and Paulina

I was going to write about Dustin Johnson collecting more coin for 18 rounds of golf than Tiger Woods earned through 26 years of golf. True story. DJ’s take through six of eight events on the LIV Golf Series tour is a whopping $155,758,600 in 4½ months: $125 million signing bonus, $12,758,600 prize winnings, $18 million payout for claiming the individual season championship. Poor Tiger he’s had to scrape by on a mere $120,895,206 for the past quarter century on the PGA Tour.

But I’m not going to write about Johnson and his blood-stained Saudi money, because he’s got to do what’s best for his family, and I suppose some guys can never have enough jingle in their jeans when a rainy day arrives. And, hey, his bride Paulina might need some skimpy new outfits to wear at The Masters.

I was going to write about Steve Simmons, because he’s totally lost the plot re racism in hockey.

Akim Aliu

In his alphabet fart for Postmedia last Sunday, the Toronto Sun scribe wrote: “No one wants to say this because of the politically correct police and all, but those who coached Akim Aliu must cringe every time they see him in a news report or a commercial talking about what’s wrong with hockey. Like he would know. By my count, Aliu played for 23 teams in nine different leagues in 12 professional seasons and rarely finished any season with the same team he started with. If that was colour-related, how is it that Wayne Simmonds spent just about the same 12 seasons playing in the NHL?”

To parrot a phrase from PM Trudeau the Younger in his comments about the Hockey Canada scandal, it “boggles the mind” that Simmons suggests knowledge of racism cannot be gained by someone bouncing around hockey’s outback. It’s appallingly ignorant.

What dazzling insights will Simmons share with us next, that a gay athlete can only speak to homophobia in sports if she or he has participated in X number of Pride parades?

I don’t pretend to harbor first-person experience of being a Black person, but I read. A lot. It’s something Simmons might want to try, because multiple studies show that BIPOC communities, gays and women learn about, and experience, the horrors of marginalization in their youth. Some overcome the abuse and bullying to reach the highest level. Many quit sports.

But I’m not going to write about Simmons’ simpleton scribblings, because I think Nazem Kadri of the Calgary Flames said it best: “He’s a guy who’s a little dated in his writing.”

And, finally…

Let’s talk about Bones and the stripping of the ‘C’…Blue Bombers D-Dozen…a Rouge Football rumble in the parking lot…horrors, an RBC logo on La Sainte-Flanelle…a fitting tribute for good guy Baiz…Roger, over and out…the MVP and the ‘dissolvement of ego’…The Shark’s raging PGA hate-on…bull droppings and the Golden Jet…and other things on my mind…

Rick Bowness

Top o’ the morning to you, Rick Bowness.

Boy, you sure know how to make an entrance, don’t you? I thought only Sinatra could “bring it” like that. I mean, you haven’t even spent a nanosecond behind the Winnipeg Jets bench and you’ve already ripped the ‘C’ off Blake Wheeler’s jersey. Ballsy move.

Mind you, that’s the kind of decision you don’t make without first getting the official okie-dokie from on high, which is to say Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman. After all, defrocking teacher’s pet is like telling Tiger Woods he can’t wear a red shirt on Sunday. Still, you pulled it off, and I just wish I’d been a fly on the wall during those discussions, because it must have been some juicy banter.

Whatever was said, Coach Bones, it’s no more Captain Cranky Pants for Winnipeg HC, which means no more sourpuss sound bites from a guy who enjoyed his natters with news snoops the way Donald Trump likes the FBI knocking on his door.

Also no way of knowing if the stripping of the ‘C’ will translate to more Ws from the same old-same old National Hockey League outfit that you inherited due to GM Kevin Cheveldayoff’s Summer of Nothing, but I guess we’re about to find out.

Blake Wheeler

One thing the Jets faithful need remember: Wheeler is now ‘C’-less, but he’s still in the dressing room and has no desire to fade into the background like an old piece of furniture destined for a yard sale. Anyone who thinks otherwise is “sorely mistaken,” he told news snoops, adding “I don’t envision changing my role at all” and “I’m still gonna be doing the things I would have done with the ‘C’ on my jersey.” It sounded more like a threat than a promise.

Something I kept thinking after the big news broke on Friday: The Puck Pontiff and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff actually hitched their wagon to Wheeler instead of Patrik Laine. It was an astonishing blunder that will continue to bite them.

I note some Jets gathered for “informal” skates last week. In other words, just like most of their games last season.

Dane Evans

Missing Person’s Alert! Richie Hall’s D-Dozen. When last seen, they were making Dane Evans look like Patrick Mahomes and the Hamilton Tabbies offence look like the Kansas City Chiefs. If seen, call the missing persons hotline at 1-800-We STUNK. Seriously, a 48-31 paddywhacking? I don’t think the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defence has surrendered more than 40 points since leather helmets. Scoring on the Bombers is normally more difficult than opening a bag of airline peanuts, especially in the second half. But the Winnipeg FC D-Dozen decided to sit this one out, and the Tabbies much-maligned QB, Evans, and his receivers were in full frolic, finding their way into the end zone five times Saturday at Timbits Field in the Hammer. But, hey, stuff happens. The Canadian Football League season is long and taxing, and the Bombers haven’t had much time to catch their breath, with just one bye week since late May. We won’t see them again until Sept. 30, by which time we can assume they’ll have licked their wounds and won’t be in the mood to play nice with Cody Fajardo and the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Speaking of Corn Dog Cody, he served some vintage whine after a 26-24 loss to the bottom-feeding E-Town Elks on Friday, suggesting folks on the Flattest of Lands displayed bad manners in booing their hometown heroes. “I feel like the whole world is basically against us,” he moaned. “I’ll be honest, it wasn’t great when you hear your own fans booing you. It hurt.” Yo! Cody! There’s a cure for that. It’s called winning.

Apparently, the B.C. Leos and Calgary Stampeders took their hostilities off the field and into the parking lot after their grass-grabber Saturday in the Alberta Foothills. Something was said, a punch was thrown (not necessarily in that order), and cops became involved out on the pavement at McMahon Stadium. The Leos won the quarrel over second seeding in the West Division, 31-29 in OT, and the two sides will do it all over again next Saturday, this time at B.C. Place Stadium. No word on whether they’ll be selling ringside seats in the parking lot.

Anyone out there still not convinced Quebec is a different kind of world? If so, consider the appointment of Nick Suzuki as capitaine des Canadiens de Montréal. One look at the ‘C’ stitched on Nick’s chest and Premier Francois Legault promptly inserted the matter into the provincial election campaign, insisting Suzuki “will have to learn French.” Excusez-moi? It’s essential that Suzuki learn to say “it sucks to miss the playoffs again” en francais? Only in Quebec.

At what age do people begin shouting at clouds and telling kids to get off the lawn over piffling things like tiny ads on hockey uniforms? Seriously, why would any noses be out of joint because an RBC logo is sewn onto the Montreal Canadiens’ jersey? For cripes sake, man, it’s a smelly hockey sweater. It’s not like someone stitched a Burger King logo on the Shroud of Turin. Yet, many among the rabble (no doubt with grey hair and bladder-control issues) see this as blasphemy, even though it’s done in every sport you’d care to name. The most famous uni in North American jockdom—the New York Yankees pinstripes—features a Nike swoosh. It didn’t when Babe Ruth and Roger Maris were swatting 60 dingers in a season, but Aaron Judge wears one and it hasn’t hindered his home run stroke. Something tells me an RBC patch on La Sainte-Flanelle won’t slow down Nick Suzuki either.

The fear, of course, is that those 3×3.5-inch patches will grow into a monster skating billboard. The naysayers insist that, soon enough, NHL players will look like the people who drive fast cars in F1 and/or NASCAR, and civilization as we know it will collapse like Wall Street in 1929. Oh, please. NHL outfits are allowed two patches max (worth between $5 million to $10 million each) and, unlike soccer, the team logo remains the centrepiece of the jersey.

I think the Jets should wear a 7-Eleven logo. Good Ol’ Hometown, after all, is the Slurpee Capital of the World.

Baiz

All-time good guy Don Baizley has been elected to the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame in November as a builder/hockey, and I just wish he was still with us to enjoy the moment. Not that he would want a big fuss, understand. Baiz, a local lawyer who left us in June 2013 at age 71 after a battle with non-smoker’s cancer, preferred any attention be kept on the down low, even though he had a client list that read like a who’s who in hockey: AndersHeberg, Ulf Nilsson, Lars-Erik Sjoberg, Kent Nilsson, Willy Lindstrom, Peter Forsberg, Jari Kurri, Paul Kariya, Joe Sakic, Saku Koivu, etc. He surrounded himself with more Scandinavians than ABBA and was at the forefront of the European invasion, smoothing their path and transition to North American life and its oft-barbaric style of shinny. Listen to enough people in hockey, and they’ll have you convinced there isn’t a body of water on earth that Baiz didn’t walk on. He’s had more nice things said about him than Mr. Rogers. But perhaps Hedberg put it best when he described Baiz as “the kind of person we would like to be and our sons to become.”

More than half the teams in Rouge Football are playing sub-.500 football, and two of the five will qualify to chase the Grey Grail in November. A most unfortunate state of affairs, Stanley.

It’s been a boffo year for the sale of used clothing. In May, the Hand of God jersey worn by Diego Maradona in the 1986 World Cup sold at auction for $9.8 million and, just this week, a Michael Jordan top from the 1998 NBA final went for $10.1 million. I’m not saying sports memorabilia collectors are suckers, but I understand they come in 50 flavors, from grape to “give your head a shake.”

Rafa and Roger

Adios to Roger Federer, sublime tennis virtuoso who’ll take his racquet and go home after this week’s Laver Cup in London. The best ever? Always debatable. All-world classy? Never debatable. In a sport rife with me-myself-and-I boors who stomp their feet and hold their breath whenever their universe fails to unfold as it should, Federer was a beacon of all that is admirable in a professional athlete.

Both Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have superior mano-a-mano records vs. Federer (24-16 and 27-23, respectively), but this is the difference from my perch in the cheap seats: Rafa and Djokovic use a tennis racquet, Federer used an artist’s brush and painted lovely pictures with the strokes of a genius.

Our guy Denis Shapovalov lists Federer as “a role model.” In that case, Shapo should try to behave more like Roger and less like a brattish John McEnroe wannabe on court.

Chicago Bears placekick holder Trenton Gill was penalized 15 yards last Sunday for patting down a patch of soggy Soldier Field with a towel prior to a field goal attempt by Cairo Santos. Apparently that’s unsportsmanlike conduct. Why didn’t I think to tell my mom that whenever she ordered me to dry the dishes?

Aaron Rodgers

Just wondering: If you aren’t a Cheese Head, which is to say one of the Green Bay Packers faithful, is it possible to like Aaron Rodgers? The guy’s become all sorts of creepy weird. Seriously, I don’t care what he smokes, drinks or eats, or if he dresses like he got lost on the way to Woodstock, but if he wants us to believe his Zen shtick about “dissolvement of the ego” he should probably stop reminding us about the MVP awards he’s won. As the Wise Woman of the Village once said: “Clap with just one hand at your own good deeds.”

Every time Greg Norman opens his cake hole, the more convinced I am that someone piddles on his Corn Flakes every morning. Is there a more bitter man in sports than the LIV Golf Series mouthpiece? Maybe all that anger stems back to the final round of the 1996 Masters, when the Shark authored one of golf’s all-time gag jobs, taking 78 swings to blow a six-shot lead and lose to Nick Faldo by five strokes. Whatever the case, someone or something has really done a number on Norman.

Zach Collaros and Sara Orlesky

I’ve asked this before but, given the love and admiration heaped upon Sideline Sara Orlesky last weekend in Blue Bombersville, I again ask: Why it is that broadcasters become darlings of the rabble whereas newspaper scribes are lower than a guy who farts on a crowded elevator? No doubt Sara is a lovely person and the hosannas after working the Bombers beat for 14 years were warranted, but I have it on good authority that Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun is also a lovely person who’s been scribbling sterling stuff about the Bombers since the turn of the century. You think the rabble will rush for his autograph when he slaps a -30- on his final dispatch for the tabloid? You think Winnipeg FC CEO Wade Miller will present him with a team jersey in front of a packed house? You think Zach Collaros will give him a game ball? Hmph! King Charles III will stop counting all that money Mommy left him and fly into Good Ol’ Hometown to knight Friesen and dub him Sir Paul of the Poison Pen before any of that happens.

I covered the Jets/NHL for 20 years and the Bombers/CFL for 20, and the closet thing I got to a salute was a bunch of middle fingers. And, you’re right, I probably deserved every one of them.

The Sara Sendoff makes me wonder: Will she be the first female inducted into the ultimate all-boys club known as the Media Wing of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame? By my count, the current roll call is 101 men, 0 women, even though females have written and talked about the three-downs game from pee wee to the pros for decades, and that math just doesn’t add up.

The Shoe

The show of affection for Sara (totally deserved) reminded me of my first encounter with Robert Marvin Hull, on my initial visit to the Winnipeg Jets lair. It was the season of 1977-78 and I sought sound bites from young Kent Nilsson, a dazzling young player in his freshman whirl. While talking to Kenta, I noted the Golden Jet and Lars-Erik (The Shoe) Sjoberg standing nearby, both of them clad only in white towels wrapped around their flat midsections. This was their conversation as they gave me the once-over:
The Shoe: “It looks like we’ve got a new reporter with the team.”
Hull: “Just another asshole to try and stir up shit.”
Yup, Hull could be a real charmer.

And, finally, old friend Peter Young confirms the Golden Jet’s attendance at the WHA’s 50th anniversary hooraw next month in Whistler. Hmmm. Maybe I should drop by. You know, just to stir up shite for old time’s sake.

Let’s talk about sayonara, Sara…a salute to Scotty…greatest Oilers vs. Jets…failing the sniff test…gay golden girls and role models on the ice and hardwood…a clown act on court…balls and strikes and robots…park it, Cam…goodbye Queen Liz…and other things on my mind

Sara Orlesky

Top o’ the morning to you, Sara Orlesky.

Gonna miss watching you do your thing on Rouge Football sidelines. Truly enjoyed your yadda, yadda, yadda during Canadian Football League broadcasts on TSN. Very professional, with a nice blend of knowledge, insight, good-hearted banter, and girl-next-door charm. That’s role model material for little and big girls everywhere.

And, hey, I don’t suppose there are many better ways of going out than working the Banjo Bowl in front of a packed ballyard of Melon Heads and blue-and-gold beer-snakers in Good Ol’ Hometown. Hope you didn’t let them drag you up to the Rum Hut while you were still on the clock yesterday.

Best of luck at your new gig with the Winnipeg Jets. I’m not sure the local shinny side deserves you, Sara, but hopefully you can help Captain Cranky Pants find a personality.

Speaking of guys who wear/wore the ‘C’ with the Jets, so sad to learn of the passing of the uncranky captain Scott Campbell. Scotty lost his battle with cancer (screw cancer!) at age 65, and let it be known that he was one of the truly good guys. Or, as legendary squawk box Friar Nicolson would say about salt-of-the-earthers like Scotty, he was “good people.” Always obliging, always a good sound bite, always quick with a smile and a giggle, forever genuine, Scotty took whatever life threw at him and kept swinging for the fences.

Scott Campbell

Always loved this story about Scotty: Drill sergeant Tom McVie became bench puppeteer of the Jets in the back half of the World Hockey Association’s final fling, and he made a habit of working the lads like rented mules. During one punishing session, Scotty, who had a broken jaw, could take no more and began upchucking. Unmoved, McVie snarled, “Get sick on your own time!”

Nice tribute piece on Scotty by Mike Sawatzky in the Drab Slab, with commentary from former teammates Terry Ruskowski, Morris Lukowich, and Jimmy Mann. Alas, Scotty’s death didn’t warrant a mention on the sports pages of the Winnipeg Sun, because the suits at Postmedia in the Republic of Tranna decided the rabble in Good Ol’ Hometown would rather read a full page on a golfer from The ROT than a guy who wore Jets linen in both the WHA and National Hockey League. It’s ultra disappointing that the local tabloid continues to be the Torontopeg Sun.

I note the Edmonton Oilers have established a franchise Hall of Fame and will induct this Class of 2022 at a gala in early November: Wayne Gretzky, Grant Fuhr, Al Hamilton, Jarri Kurri, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, Kevin Lowe, Glen Sather, Glenn Anderson and broadcaster Rod Phillips. Hmmm. Powerful lineup. But let’s compare that group to the Jets Hall of Fame—Teemu Selanne, Teppo Numminen, Thomas Steen, Randy Carlyle, Ab McDonald, Lars-Erik Sjoberg, Dale Hawerchuk, Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson, Bobby Hull—and let’s imagine they played a game of pond hockey. Conclusion: The Jets wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance in Fiji for one basic reason—no goalie.

Come to think of it, who would be the Jets all-time best masked man? Old friend Joe Daley, that’s who.

This is how brilliant B.C. Leos QB Nathan Rourke was prior to an owie aborting his 2022 Rouge Football crusade: In nine games, he flung the football for 3,281 yards; it took Macleod Bethel-Thompson of the Toronto Argos 12 games to pass Rourke, and Winnipeg Blue Bombers QB Zach Collaros is still trying to track him down after 13 skirmishes.

I always thought Dave was the wingnut of the CFL’s coaching Dickenson brothers, but it turns out it’s Craig, sideline steward of the Saskatchewan Roughriders and official apologist for the dumbest players in the three-downs game. They were ticketed for another 13 felonies and 141 yards in yesterday’s 54-20 paddywhacking by the Bombers. They should be clad in orange jump suits, not green-and-white football togs.

Scott Smith

In terms of nose-holding optics, I can think of few things more odious than Hockey Canada CEO Scott Smith doling out gold medals to members of our national shinny side at the world championship in Denmark. The sight of Smith smiling like Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire Cat as the Canadian women skated forward to receive their just rewards last Sunday at the KVIK Hockey Arena in Herning was rotten eggs kind of foul. It’s like getting your law diploma from Rudy Giuliani.

Tessa Bonhomme, Jayna Hefford and Sami Jo Small did a lot of yakkety, yak, yakking on TSN during the Ponytail Puck tournament in Denmark, but I wish they had told us why Melodie Daoust was MIA. Melodie has been a Team Canada mainstay for years, and if they explained her absence I missed it.

The TSN talking heads, which included Kenzie Lalonde on play-by-play and Cheryl Pounder flapping her gums faster than a scofflaw fleeing a crime scene, kept insisting that U.S.A. vs. Canada in women’s shinny is the “best rivalry in sports.” Hmmm. I think the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees and their faithful might have something to say about that. And, hey, the E-Town Oilers and Calgary Flames don’t exactly play “friendlies.” Nor do Man U and Liverpool.

Nobody asked me, but I like Kenzie Lalonde’s play-by-play. Bigger and better gigs await that young lady.

Julie Chu, Caroline Ouellette and the kiddies, Liv and Tessa.

Did you know or do you care that the woman whose two goals staked Canada to its 2-1, gold-medal win over the Yankee Doodle Damsels, Brianne Jenner, is a lesbian? Ditto one of the True North coaches, Caroline Ouellette. True story. Both are gay, both are married, and both are moms. Brianne and bride Hayleigh Cudmore have a daughter, June, while Caroline and bride Julie Chu are moms to Liv and Tessa. Chances are you don’t care about this sort of thing, but I believe we should all care about inclusivity, especially in sports, which if often slow on the uptake. LGBT(etc.) youth need role models like Brianne and Caroline. It matters.

On that note, it’s adios to Sue Bird, among the finest female athletes of any sport, any era. Sue, who’ll have 42 candles on her birthday cake next month, played the final game of her WNBA career with Seattle Storm last week, and she leaves the hardwood with more decorations than a Christmas tree: 4 WNBA titles, 5 Oly gold, 2 NCAA crowns, 4 FIBA World Cup titles, 5 EuroLeague championships. And did I mention she’s lesbian and her main squeeze is yappy Yankee Doodle soccer star Megan Rapinoe? Can you say “role models,” kids?

I don’t know about you, but after watching and listening to mainstream jock journalists lather Serena Williams with the highest hosannas at the U.S. Open, I’m now convinced she’s the only female athlete in history to continue competing after giving birth, she’s the planet’s foremost fashion designer, she’s the first person to ever slice a loaf of bread, and now that she has some spare time on her hands she’ll probably swan off to Moscow for a tete-a-tete with Vlad the Bad Putin and bully him and his KGB butt out of Ukraine. As if.

Chrissie and Serena

Chrissie Evert told her ESPN audience that “no man” could do what Williams has done at age 40. Oh, for gawd’s sake. I mean, what did Williams do? She won two matches, bringing her W/L tally on the year to 3/4. That’s it. Full stop. By comparison, a year ago at age 39 years, 11 months (let’s round it off at 40), Roger Federer won four matches to reach the quarterfinals at Wimbledon. So stick a sock in it, Chrissie.

Why is it that whenever someone suggests Queen Hissy Fit is sub-saintly they’re immediately branded a racist or a misogynist? Before S. Williams came along, my least-favorite tennis players were John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors and Ilie Nastase, all male, all white and all off-the-chart boors. That didn’t make me anti-white or anti-male. It made me anti-jerk. So it isn’t always about race and gender. It’s okay to not worship at the S. Williams shrine simply because you think she’s a self-absorbed jerk.

Another question: Why is Nick Kyrgios so popular among the tennis mob? Ya, I know. The guy has immense skill. So do circus clowns. And the Kyrgios shtick is the same sort of carnival sideshow. I swear, Nick the Carny doesn’t sign autographs for kids after his matches. He makes them balloon animals instead. All that’s missing are the big, floppy shoes, clothes that look like something Don Cherry would wear, and a big, round, red nose that goes honk-honk.

Jessica Pegula

After being vanquished in a quarterfinal match vs. Iga Swiatek at the U.S. Open, American Jessica Pegula was observed sipping on a tall can of Heineken during her post-match natter with news snoops. “I’m trying to pee for doping,” she told them. The marketing geniuses at the brew giant promptly launched an ad campaign, resurrecting an old Heineken tagline but changing it from “It’s All About the Beer” to “It’s All About the Pee Bottle.”

On the subject of brewskies, wasn’t that golfer John Daly tossing out the ceremonial first pitch for the St. Louis Cardinals-Washington Nationals rounders game last Wednesday at Busch Stadium? Sure was. Long John looked like Santa on vacation, and he threw a stee-rike! Apparently he then retired a six-pack of Budweiser before the home half of the first inning.

Two animal rights activists interrupted the L.A. Rams-Buffalo Bills NFL lid-lifter on Thursday night at SoFi Stadium in Tinsel Town. Apparently their squawk had something to do with abuse of hogs, but after a brief interruption those two little piggies went wee, wee, wee all the way to the hoosegow.

Roger Maris and Aaron Judge

I don’t care what anyone thinks or says. If Aaron Judge swats 62 home runs to surpass the 61 dingers Roger Maris clouted in 1961, he’ll hold the Major League Baseball single-season mark for most round-trippers. What about Barry Bonds, you say? Sorry, it doesn’t count if you had to stick a needle in your butt cheeks to do it.

How do I know Judge isn’t also on the juice? Because, unlike Bonds, his head hasn’t grown to the size of a prize-winning pumpkin at the county fair.

The lords of Major League Baseball will put in a hurry-up-and-throw-the-damn ball pitch clock and outlaw infield shifts next season. Big changes. If they keep this up, baseball will start to look like baseball again.

R2-D2

There was also talk of replacing the home plate umpire with a robot to call balls and strikes, but the notion was nixed when seven-times ejected New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone protested, saying, “Oh no you don’t. If I’m going to toss a temper tantrum and kick dirt on anyone, it’ll be Angel Hernandez, not that cute, little R2-D2.”

The PGA Tour-LIV Golf Series war continues, and the latest casualty is Cameron Smith’s parking space outside the clubhouse at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. As Players Championship titleholder, mullet-boy Smith had earned the right to park his ride in the prime location, but then he had the bad manners to accept $145 million in Saudi blood money and become persona non grata in the Sawgrass parking lot. I’d feel really bad for the guy, except I can never find a decent parking spot when I go to the mall, and I don’t have $145 million to buy my own mall.

This from Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail: “Few professional athletes are likeable any more.” I wonder if that’s true, or has Kelly become jaded? I mean, I had natters with hundreds (thousands?) of play-for-pay jocks during my 30 years in the rag trade, and there might have been five whom I found to be flat-out unlikable. The jock-news snoop dynamic has changed since my exit, stage west, 23 years ago, but has it soured that much?

Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna tells long-time shinny scribe Ken Campbell that he was “too young” to understand the Us-vs.-Them political backdrop of the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union. Campbell was eight years old at the time. Well, let me say this about that: When I was a sprig growing up in Good Ol’ Hometown in the 1950s and ’60s, the Cold War and the accompanying air raid drills scared the hell out of me. Whenever I heard those sirens wail, I’d either duck for cover or look to the sky for nuclear bombs, because I understood that Nikita Khrushchev was one push of a button away from blowing us all the hell up. Even at a tender age, I understood that Dwight Eisenhower/JFK were the good guys and Khrushchev was the bad guy. Us vs. Them. And, believe me, no one ever mistook me for a political science savant. All of us kids understood. But, sure, tell us more about what we were “too young” to know back in the day, Grandpa Simmons.

And, finally, I’ll leave you with this because it seems like the right thing to do…

Let’s talk about the chicken, the egg, the Argos, the CFL and the media

I stumbled upon an interesting Twitter to-and-fro last week involving three of the nation’s notable jock journos, two of whom are widely respected and the third not so much.

BMO Field

The exchange—between Winnipeg Blue Bombers longtime voice Bob (Knuckles) Irving, veteran observer of three-downs football Dave Naylor of TSN, and Damien Cox of the Toronto Star—centred on the Toronto Argos and the reason(s) behind woeful head counts whenever the Boatmen come up for air at BMO Field in the Republic of Tranna.

The Argos, be advised, don’t attract crowds to BMO. It’s more like pockets of stragglers. You know, folks who get lost while looking for something better to do.

Officially, average attendance in 2019 was 12,493, although we know better. That might have been tickets sold, but it wasn’t bums on benches. My guess is that the audience numbered sub-10,000 more than one day/night, meaning the Canadian Football League’s largest market has the smallest following, a level of neglect challenged only by indifference on the Left Flank of the land, where people won’t even come in out of the rain to watch the B.C. Lions.

One reason advanced for Argos apathy is a generation thing. That is, Rouge Football doesn’t appeal to anyone without age in their eyes and grey in their temples, which set off this Irving-Naylor-Cox exchange:

Knuckles Irving

Irving: “Part of the reason for that is the Toronto media basically ignores the CFL—not good enough for most of them.”

Naylor: “Come on Bob, it’s the media’s fault? The Winnipeg media reports aggressively on the Bombers because there is a demand for information. If that existed in Toronto, the media would respond accordingly.”

Cox: “Individual media people don’t make these decisions. Sports departments do. In Toronto, sports staffs are stretched to the limit, fewer ppl doing more. There’s a lot more sporting events to cover in Toronto than Winnipeg.”

Okay, let’s unwrap that.

First, Knuckles Irving is correct when he submits that mainstream media in the Republic of Tranna treats the Argos and Rouge Football as an afterthought.

For example, the Toronto Star no longer cares enough about the CFL to dispatch a scribe to the Grey Cup game unless it’s played in The ROT, and Tranna-based Sportsnet pays only token attention to the CFL simply because its competition, TSN, holds the broadcast rights. (No one expects Sportsnet to promote the other guy’s property, but it is a news gathering and distributing outlet and, as such, has a responsibility to inform viewers of CFL games/stories on air and on the website with an expected level of substance.)

Meanwhile, when Rouge Football went dark last August, the cancellation of the season was front page of every sports section of every daily on The Prairies, but the story served as inside filler (pages 8 and 9) in the Toronto Sun. (I don’t recall what made the Sun front that day, but I suppose Auston Matthews might have been trimming his mustache, which would have warranted a lede, sidebar and a 150-point headline.)

In terms of the Argos-media, it really is a chicken-and-egg riddle. Is the media indifferent because the rabble steers clear of BMO on Argos game days, or does the rabble steer clear of BMO on Argos game days because the media is indifferent?

It certainly isn’t the responsibility of news snoops to do the bidding of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, which bankrolls the Boatmen and BMO’s more popular tenant, Toronto FC. But, although historically the most successful of The ROT’s pro sports franchises (17 Grey Cup championships, including three this century), the Boatmen have fallen to fifth on the pecking order, behind the Maple Leafs, Raptors, Blue Jays and Toronto FC. That isn’t about to change anytime soon, no matter what the local rags put on their sports pages or radio/TV puts on their air.

Which brings us to Cox’s point that “there’s a lot more sporting events to cover in Toronto than Winnipeg.”

What a load of hooey.

Had Cox said there were more “pro sporting events,” I’d agree. But overall sports? No.

It’s all about priorities, and they differ from town to town. In the Republic of Tranna, the major beats are the Leafs, Raptors, Blue Jays and Toronto FC, with the Argos the runt of the litter. In Winnipeg, it’s the Jets, Blue Bombers and…curling.

Pebble People have made the front page of the Winnipeg Free Press sports section 23 times this year. That’s right, 23. I doubt curling has been on the sports front of either the Toronto Star or Toronto Sun once this century, let alone 23 times in a three-month, one week time frame.

Also making the front page of the Freep sports section were two levels of junior hockey, high school hockey, women’s amateur hockey, volleyball, university sports, auto racing, etc. At different points in the year, they make room for local golf, tennis, high school football/hoops, Usports, and more of what you’ll never find in the Toronto rags.

The Sun and the Star have become pro sports sheets, whereas the Free Press continues to cover the peripheral sports, during a pandemic with a stable of scribes that has shrunk to four.

Dating back to my start in the rag trade in 1969 when the Bombers were top dog, it’s always been that way in Good Ol’ Hometown. Lower-level sports were never given short shrift, even after the Jets arrived to nudge the Bombers down a notch, and I suspect the Freep will carry on that way.

I just wish I could say the same for the Winnipeg Sun. Unfortunately, the suits at Postmedia in the Republic of Tranna ruined a good thing.

Let’s talk about the NFNFL (No Fans, No Football League)…COVID on the West Coast…The Rock and the Sugar Daddies ‘R’ Us shop…an all-Easter sports lineup…Tiger’s tight lips…Men In Green Jackets chow down…a “huggable” Blue Jay…the Boston D’oh Boys…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and Happy Easter; may you find all those hidden eggs while I lay another one…

Okay, we knew there would be at least six zeroes on the bottom line of the Winnipeg Football Club’s 2020 operation, and we knew all those zeroes would be written in red ink, if not blood.

So the $7,000,000 bath the Blue Bombers took shouldn’t surprise any among us, except perhaps those who believe in the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny and The Rock as a turn-red-ink-into-black-ink Messiah of the Canadian Football League.

Some might even put on a pair of rose-tinted glasses and look at the financial wallop WFC took as favorable tidings because, even with a lost crusade due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a $7 million shortfall, the doors remain open out there at postal code R3T 1Z2 on Chancellor Matheson Road in Fort Garry. That the community-operated Bombers remain in business is a testament to the dollars-and-cents gymnastics of once-maligned CEO Wade Miller and the board.

Mind you, it’s good news like a guy who had his arms and legs shattered in a car accident, but he’s happy he didn’t break his nose, even if he can’t blow it without someone holding the hanky.

Wade Miller

And, really, that’s what the Bombers and their eight partners in Rouge Football require today—help.

As mentioned last week, the CFL is in an arms race, as in vaccines in arms. It’s become the NFNFL—No Fans, No Football League—so the immediate future of our quirky game rests in the hands of needle-pushers hither and yon.

Trouble is, the number of COVID vaccinations required to make football fields across the tundra fan friendly is a mystery.

When I last looked, 13.4 per cent of the citizenry in Manitoba had been vaccinated, so let’s say 80 per cent in Good Ol’ Hometown have been jabbed by June. Is that ample enough to get the turnstiles spinning at Football Follies Field In Fort Garry? If so, how many would be cleared to visit the Rum Hut and watch the large lads grab grass? Will they require a proof-of-vaccine badge? Also, keep in mind there’s no guarantee the faithful will rush back to the ball yard. After all, the thought of joining a large gathering likely will make some among the rabble quite antsy, like a Hertz rent-a-car clerk seeing Tiger Woods approach the counter.

Miller, of course, was talking a good game the other day, assuring Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun that “we’re going to get on the field,” and telling Taylor Allen of the Drab Slab “we’re getting ready to play with fans in the stands.”

I want to believe him. I really do. But we all know the harsh reality: The Bombers CEO doesn’t control the vaccine rollout in Manitoba, let alone across the dominion.

What’s happening in Winnipeg isn’t necessarily what’s happening in Vancouver or the Republic of Tranna, not that anyone other than friends and family in those latter two ports-o-call gives a damn about Rouge Football. Point is, we have six different provincial health authorities receiving an unequal number of vaccine shipments and poking needles into arms in accordance to their parochial priorities.

Furthermore, there seems to exist a bit of a helter-skelter vibe to the vaccine rollout nation-wide, and that certainly doesn’t help the CFL put its house in order or butts on benches.

Cardboard cutouts don’t cut it. They don’t drink beer, they don’t eat hot dogs or popcorn, and they don’t buy $250 jerseys. They just mean no long lineups at the washrooms.

So, really, it’s vaccines or bust on a 2021 CFL crusade. In other words: Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls…present arms!

So here’s another question: Can Rouge Football kick off a 2021 crusade if the Bombers were allowed to welcome, say, 8,250 patrons (25 per cent capacity) to Football Follies Field while the B.C. Leos, Tranna Argos and Montreal Larks grab grass in empty buildings? I know, I know. The Leos and Argos are accustomed to crowds the size of a yard sale, and the folks in Montreal only pay attention when the Larks are winning, so an imbalance at the box office already exists. But can the CFL allow some teams to collect game-day revenue while others must keep their tills closed? I think not.

Frankly, I’m most concerned about B.C. If the Leos fail to get the okie-dokie for patrons in B.C. Place Stadium, do they take a leave of absence rather than pay 50-plus players’ wages with zero game-day revenue? Does the CFL shrink to an eight-team operation for a year? I wouldn’t be too quick to dismiss that possibility. Keep in mind that B.C.’s top docs wanted no part of an NHL bubble last summer, and they’ll be less inclined to green light a Rouge Football season now that the coronavirus and its variants have ransacked the Vancouver Canucks roster. I mean, if the bug(s) can’t be kept at bay in the Canucks’ rigidly controlled environment, what chance would the Leos have with twice as many players wandering about the burg? B.C. health officials talk about the vaccine rollout being completed by the end of June, but what they really mean is sometime in July. The Leos allegedly gather for training sessions next month, they allegedly have a dress rehearsal at an empty facility on June 4, and they allegedly begin playing for full wages (three times) later that month. Do the math. I’m sure the guardians of the late David Braley’s estate have done that very thing and don’t like the numbers.

We have yet to hear 2020 bottom-line numbers from our prairie friends in Edmonton and on the Flattest of Lands, but we can assume they’ll be dripping in as much red ink as WFC. We already know that most, if not all, of the E-Town E-Somethings’ $12.9 million rainy day fund has vanished like summer wages, and the Saskatchewan Roughriders face their “biggest financial crisis in 110 years,” according to team president Craig Reynolds. Sigh. If only there was a Sugar Daddies ‘R’ Us shop available to the three community-operated clubs. Oh wait. Isn’t that where The Rock is supposed to come in?

Apparently The Rock and his accomplices, Dany Garcia/RedBird Capital, continue to make nice with CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie and the Lords of Rouge Football, working toward a CFL-XFL alliance. But what do they actually bring to the table? Well, yes, their pockets are coal-miner deep, but they offer a twice-failed brand name, zero franchises, zero players, and the hope of springtime football, which has always landed in the gridiron graveyard. Sorry, but short of them underwriting all CFL-XFL losses, I fail to see the upside.

Moving on from the CFL, here’s my all-time, all-Easter-themed lineup:
10. Bunny Ahearne, longtime IIHF executive
9. Rabbit Maranville, baseball player
8. Bugsy Watson, hockey player
7. Luke Easter, baseball player
6. The Eggman, golfer Dan Halldorson
5. Christian Laettner, hoops player
4. Roman Gabriel, football player
3. Jesus Alou, baseball player
2. God Shammgod, hoops player
1. Connor McJesus, Edmonton Oilers messiah.

Officials have determined the cause of Tiger Woods’ car crash in February, but they’ll keep it on the QT until the golf great gives them the okie-dokie to release the information. Hmmm. I wonder which will arrive first, details of Tiger driving his SUV into a ditch or Haley’s Comet, due on July 28, 2061. My money’s on the comet.

Hey, I’m not saying Tiger is tight-lipped, but a bag of airline peanuts is easier to pry apart than his lips.

Just wondering: Do you think Woods will have hired a chauffeur by July 28, 2061?

So here’s some real dirt on Jack Nicklaus, told by the man himself on Twitter: “I was a switch-hitting catcher growing up & and if I hadn’t chosen golf baseball might’ve been my future. But I never liked standing around on a dusty field waiting for 10 kids to show up. With golf, it was me against myself, my own abilities & the course. But I still loved baseball!” Ya, almost as much as he loves Donald Trump.

I assume the Golden Bear will be at Augusta National this week to put on the feedbag at the Men In Green Jackets chow-down in advance of The Masters. It’s officially known as the Masters Club Dinner, but you don’t get a seat at the table unless you’re wearing one of those ugly green jackets that champions are allowed to wear only at Augusta (tie optional). The Men In Green Jackets menu was chosen this year by the reigning Man In Green, Dustin Johnson. What, no greens?

What’s this? Connor McDavid went McSquirrely the other night? Sure did. The Oilers captain shoved his right elbow into Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s chops, and I couldn’t have been more surprised had I found a copy of Sinatra: The Rapper Years at my local vinyl store. The reaction, on the other hand, was not unexpected. Some among the rabble were calling for the hangman, and to them I say, “Come on, people.” I mean, Gordie Howe is glorified to this day for using his elbows to perform unlicensed dental surgery on foes. Rumor has it that Mr. Hockey nailed two pallbearers and the grave digger as they lowered his casket. And now you want to crucify McDavid for one errant elbow? Hey, I’m no fan of goon hockey, but he isn’t Charlie Manson. He did it, he’s paid his $5,000 fine, so let’s move on.

The “huggable” Alejandro Kirk.

Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star wrote this about Toronto Blue Jays pudgy catcher Alejandro Kirk last week: “Kirk is immensely huggable.” Nothing offensive, right? But let me ask this: If a male jock journo used the same adjective to describe our leading lady of the links, Brooke Henderson, would he be branded a sexist oinker? Damn straight, he would. And that would be unfortunate. Descriptive scribbling in sports has become passé, if not a lost art, in our daily newspapers. The boys on the beat don’t dare write that our Brooke is “huggable,” for fear of a robust and thorough tarring-and-feathering on social media. So they simply write about birdies, bogeys and unplayable lies. But wait. Brooke Henderson is a delight. She seems very approachable. She smiles a lot. She has that squeaky clean, girl-next-door quality. Every time I see her, I want to pinch her chipmunk cheeks. She strikes me as teddy bear “huggable.” Why shouldn’t the boys on the beat feel comfortable writing that about Brooke the person? It’s no more sexist than Rosie DiManno telling us that Alejandro Kirk is “huggable.”

Mathew Barzal

So I’m watching Mathew Barzal rack up the points (three goals, two helpers) in the New York Islanders 8-3 rout of the Washington Capitals the other night, and I couldn’t help but flash back to the 2015 National Hockey League entry draft. The Boston Bruins had three successive shoutouts that day, Nos. 13, 14 and 15. They chose Jakob Zboril, Jake DeBrusk and Zachary Senyshyn, otherwise known as the Boston D’oh! Boys. DeBruck is the only one of the three who’s been worth half a lick. Meanwhile, plucked immediately after were Barzal, Kyle Connor and Thomas Chabot. Here’s what the scorecard looks like today:

Barzal: 272 games, 241 points.
Conner: 287 games, 237 points.
Chabot: 240 games, 142 points.
Totals: 799 games, 620 points.

DeBrusk: 224 games, 127 points.
Zboril: 34 games, 7 points.
Senyshyn: 12 games, 3 points.
Totals: 270 games, 137 points.

Damien Cox of the Toronto Star might have established a new standard for poor taste in tweets when discussing the Vancouver Canucks and their raging COVID crisis, which has shelved the entire operation and puts the club’s season in jeopardy. Noting that Iain MacIntyre of Sportsnet suggested the Canucks schedule could be tweaked by eliminating four games vs. the Ottawa Senators late this month and replacing them with skirmishes vs. playoff-bound outfits, Cox had this horrible hot take: “The question then becomes are you handicapping those playoff bound teams by forcing them to play against a VAN team that’s more rested than it otherwise would be?” Seriously? Lying in a sick bed with an IV needle stuck in your arm or hand becomes a competitive advantage? It makes you more rested? My goodness. When someone is that tuned out, there are no words.

Here are the numbers for coverage devoted exclusively to female athletes/teams in the Winnipeg Sun and Drab Slab for March:

Front Page
Free Press: 4
Sun: 1

Articles
Free Press: 35 stories, 20 briefs.
Sun: 4 stories, three briefs.

Number of issues with female coverage
Free Press: 27 of 31 days.
Sun: 6 of 31 days.

And, finally, I give up. Why was there a promo for Steve Simmons on the front page of the Winnipeg Sun last Tuesday? He is a Tranna-based scribe, he writes a Tranna-centric column, he mentions athletes/teams from Good Ol’ Hometown in his alphabet pharts perhaps half a dozen times a year, and the local tabloid seldom runs his copy. Yet there was his scruffy mug on the front page of the Winnipeg Sun. This makes sense to whom, other than the misguided suits at Postmedia HQ on Bloor Street East in the Republic of Tranna?

Let’s talk about all-hoser hockey…the Puck Pontiff speaks…Torts does Finland…old-school rubbish…Iron Mike back in the ring…what really happened to Dani Rylan Kearney?…Wally’s AOK with XFL and CFL…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and happy spring to you all…

I recognize that I’m likely in the minority, but I find the Canadian precinct of the National Hockey League a bit of a bore.

There, I said it. A bore.

Charlie Chamberlain, Marg Osburne and Don Messer.

Does that make me an un-hoser? Fine. Sue me. Sentence me to a lifetime of watching nothing but reruns of Don Messer’s Jubilee. Frankly, I’d just as soon see Don, Charlie Chamberlain and Marg Osburne pop up on my flatscreen on a Saturday night rather than endure another episode of Winnipeg Jets-Ottawa Senators/Vancouver Canucks/Calgary Flames.

The Jets and Sens have already met five times this year, with another five on the docket. Oh joy. That’s like looking forward to a root canal.

This week, we get a steady diet of the Canucks (two games) and Flames (three). That isn’t a treat. It’s cruel and unusual punishment, like listening to Nickelback music while trapped in an elevator.

Between March 31 and April 24, the Jets will face off vs. the Toronto Maple Leafs six times. But didn’t they just finish a three-game set? Yup, sure did. Hey, I enjoy watching Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews do their thing, but I’d rather have some Sidney Crosby or Nathan MacKinnon or Patrick Kane sprinkled into the mix.

An all-hoser division seemed like a good idea before they dropped the puck in January, and I realize gathering the seven Canadian outfits together in one playground was a necessary byproduct of COVID-19, but it’s become too much like turkey dinner at Christmas. You love it at the time, but you don’t want to still be noshing on cold gobbler sandwiches two weeks into the New Year.

So you can count me among those happy that the Canadian House League will be a one-off.

The Puck Pontiff

Say, look who’s talking. Why, it’s none other than the Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, who came out of hiding for a natter with Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic. Their topic? All-hoser hockey.

“I think that for us, and I assume that the other Canadian teams feel the same way, there’s something very compelling about playing iconic franchises, the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens, and there’s a lot of history here dating back to the Smythe Division days with a lot of people’s recollections drawn to those games against Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver,” the Winnipeg Jets co-bankroll said.

“So sure, I would love to play the Canadian teams more frequently. The challenge with that is, where do you find the games to do that? Because I would say we do enjoy and we’ve established some really good rivalries in the Central with Chicago, St. Louis, Minnesota, Nashville and Dallas. So on the one hand, I look forward to returning to that. On the other, I wish there was a way we can play Toronto and Montreal more.

“It’s not a perfect world, scheduling. So for now, I’m really enjoying the games as I think most fans in Canada are and we’ll enjoy it while it lasts. Maybe some day, there would be a way to play the Canadian teams more often. That would be my hope.”

My hope is that the Puck Pontiff doesn’t get his wish.

Given that Chipman delivers sound bites only slightly more often than a street mime, I find it interesting, also puzzling, that he would wag his chin with LeBrun rather than one of the boys on the Jets beat in Good Ol’ Hometown. Does he have something against Paul Friesen, Ted Wyman, Scott Billeck, Mad Mike McIntyre and Murat Ates? Do they refuse to genuflect and kiss his ring finger? I know that Mad Mike has requested an audience with the Puck Pontiff, but not once in his four-plus years on the beat at the Drab Slab has his ask been granted. “I don’t really care, nor am I losing any sleep over it,” he scribbled last July. I wouldn’t either, but that doesn’t make it right.

Twig Ehlers on his knees.

I agree, cheap-shot artist Zack Kassian got away with a flagrant foul on Twig Ehlers in the Jets 4-2 loss to the Edmonton McDavids on Saturday night. The guys wearing the orange arm bands blew it, but I find myself wondering if they turned a blind eye because Ehlers is recognized as one of those players who loses his feet too easily. Remember, he once was fined for diving, and faking it tends to stick.

Torts

Finnish publication Ilta-Sanomat ran a lengthy takeout on John Tortorella the other day and, no shock, the Columbus Blue Jackets bench puppeteer had some interesting observations. Among other things, Torts believes, “The NHL is a league of young and stupid players.” Ya, that’s the kind of guy I’d want for a coach. “I miss the old type of player and old-fashioned hockey,” he added. “There were clashes on the ice and the players acted as cops. There are so many rules and different levels of discipline in the NHL today that this has become a ‘no-hitter’ league. I know people consider me Neanderthal, but I don’t care. I don’t want to lose the values of the old school. I think the game has lost some of its old values. I want to evolve and adapt to the new era, but I think today’s players need to learn some of those good, old values. Sometimes when I look at some payers on or off the ice, I wonder who the hell they think they are.” Which is precisely what many of us wonder about Torts.

Ben Chiarot, breaking his right hand.

Speaking of relics, why do so many hockey people continue to spew the “no one ever gets hurt in a hockey fight” refrain? It’s rubbish and the old-school thinkers who insist on repeating the illogical mantra know it’s rubbish. Ben Chiarot’s right hand is the latest piece of evidence. It’s broken and Chiarot is lost to the Montreal Canadiens for six-eight weeks. He isn’t the first player to go on the shelf after suffering an owie in a scrap, and he won’t be the last. So the horse-and-buggy crowd is advised to do what Archie Bunker often told Edith—stifle yourself.

On the subject of fisticuffs, as advertised following his thrown-down with Roy Jones Jr. last November, former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson plans to return to the ring in May. No word on the identity of Iron Mike’s opponent, but promoters promise he’ll have a matching set of ears when he enters the ring.

Can someone—anyone—tell me why Tiger Woods returning to his home base in Florida to rehab from his most-recent car crash is newsworthy? Does anyone actually care where his broken bones mend? It’s time mainstream media stopped fawning over Woods and told it like it is—he’s a reckless and dangerous man who puts the health and lives of others at risk when he gets behind the wheel of an automobile.

Dani Rylan, former commissioner and founder of the National Women’s Hockey League.

It would be interesting to know the story behind the story of Dani Rylan Kearney’s exit from the National Women’s Hockey League. She stepped down as commissioner in October, then last week resigned as advisor/president of W Hockey Group, which owns four of the six NWHL franchises—Minnesota Whitecaps, Buffalo Beauts, Connecticut Whale and Metropolitan Riveters. That’s a fast fall for the NWHL founder and the timing is curious, given that the Isobel Cup will be awarded on Saturday in Beantown. I’m sure mainstream media will get right on top of the story…oh, wait, it’s women’s hockey. They’ll give it a hard pass.

When our latest tennis phenom, Leylah Annie Fernandez, reaches the final of the Monterrey Open, shouldn’t it be more than a brief toss-in item on the back half of TSN SportsCentre? Is it necessary for us to absorb highlights from 20 U.S. college hoops games before they show us a Canadian kid making good on the Women’s Tennis Association tour? If Leylah Annie wins in Monterrey, I trust TSN will move her to the top of the show.

Melissa Martin

Tip of the bonnet to my favorite scribe at the Winnipeg Free Press, Melissa Martin. Her piece on Hometown Hockey in Cree attracted the attention of National Newspaper Award judges, and she’s one of three finalists for top sports writing honors. This sort of thing has become old hat for Melissa, who’s won the NNA as top columnist twice, and I like her chances this year against Cathal Kelly and Michael Doyle, both of the Globe and Mail.

For the benefit of those who aren’t keeping score at home, this is the 50th consecutive year that I have not been nominated for a National Newspaper Award. Or almost the same amount of time as the Republic of Tranna has gone without a Stanley Cup parade.

Wally Buono

Longtime Canadian Football League coach and executive Wally Buono has weighed in on a proposed alliance between the stewards of Rouge Football and Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson’s idle XFL. Surprisingly, he’s “all for it” if it’s a way to “preserve our game.” I say surprisingly, because no one has to tell Wally about the Yankee Doodle Disaster that U.S. expansion became during the 1990s. “I was pleased that the CFL is looking at other ways to grow the game,” the former Calgary Stampeders and B.C. Lions bossman told TSN 1200 in Ottawa. “We have a great game. Maybe we’ve kept it a secret too long. It’s time to showcase our league, showcase our game so we can grow revenues.” He also believes the American football fan will buy our quirky game, lock, stock and rouge. “There was places we went to (in the 1990s), Baltimore and San Antonio and Birmingham, where the people there loved the game,” Buono recalled. “It was an exciting night of football when we were there with Doug Flutie and Tracy Ham and Matt Dunigan. These guys put on a tremendous show, and it was a three-down game. So, you know, football is football. The fans enjoyed it, there was a lot of excitement in the stadium.” Ya, until they discovered you get a single point for missing a field goal.

As expected, ratings for the Brier final last Sunday on TSN took a dive, 33 per cent, compared to last year’s Canadian men’s curling championship. The all-Alberta skirmish featuring Brendan Bottcher and Kevin Koe attracted an average of 728,000 viewers compared to 1.09 million a year ago, when Bottcher and Brad Gushue met in the ultimate match. Overall, 5.2 million watched the Brier at some point. Comparatively, the women’s Scotties Tournament of Hearts had 4.7 million total viewers and an average of 682,000 for the Kerri Einarson-Rachel Homan final, down from 979,000 in 2020. Those dipping numbers follow a trend for all big-ticket events throughout sports, and we’re left to wonder if people will return to their flatscreens post-COVID. I’m not convinced they will.

Bravo to Beth Mowins, who on Saturday became the first woman to call play-by-play of a Chicago Cubs game, a Cactus League joust vs. Colorado Rockies. Beth will make her regular season debut on May 8 and—holy cow!—I’m wondering what Harry Caray would think of that.

Favorite quote of the week, from Robin Lehner of the Vegas Golden Knights: “The stigma around mental health is insane.” True words, those. And kudos to Lehner for talking about mental health.

And, finally, if the Conservative Party of Canada doesn’t have to officially believe in climate change, I don’t have to believe Connor McDavid really skates that fast.