About Winnipeg Blue Bombers coaches Tar & Feather…Matt Nichols, game manager…counting heads in the CFL…Johnny Rotten, American beer and more TSN gushing…the morphing of Josh Morrissey…a nightmare on Donald Street…homeless in Detroit…the great Gretzky getaway to La La Land…dial Mark Stone for “exhausted”…and a Christmas Day “snub”

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

I think I know what some of you were thinking.

You were thinking that Richie Hall’s defence would become Richie Hall’s defence. Oh yes you were.

Richie Hall

As the Hamilton Tiger-Cats gnawed away at a substantial deficit Friday, you were convinced that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive dozen was about to fall back on bad habits and, thus, a hot, steamy evening at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry would conclude with the local lads squandering 19-7 and 26-10 leads like a teenage kid with his first summer wages. I was thinking the same thing.

Not this time, though.

On a night when quarterback Matt Nichols kept flinging the football to empty spaces instead of willing hands, the oft-crucified Hall and his oft-crucified group secured the Bombers’ fifth W in their eight skirmishes this Canadian Football League crusade, and their 29-23 success means the defensive coordinator is good to flit about town this week sans disguise.

Same goes for the head coach, Mike O’Shea, who today is a .500 head coach.

Mike O’Shea

How long has it been since the oft-skewered O’Shea last saw anything other than the dark side of the moon? Well, Sam Katz was still the mayor. Jeff Stoughton was still king of Manitoba’s curlers. Evander Kane was still dining and dashing. It was Sept. 13, 2014. The Bombers were 6-6 and soon to be 6-7. That pit eventually grew so deep that O’Shea had to carry a canary to work. He’s finally come up for air. His record, once 13-28, now stands at 40-40. The canary’s work is done.

Yup, life is good for coaches Tar & Feather. For now. There’s another game in five days. The jackals are forever crouching at their door.

Make no mistake, much of the criticism heaped on whipping boys O’Shea and Hall has been warranted, most notably on those occasions when the head man was guilty of mind-numbing buffoonery. Like attempting a season-halting, no-chance-in-hell, 61-yard field goal in the dead air of B.C. Place Stadium. Coach Mikey will wear that particular moment of madness until he actually wins a playoff game, but, in the meantime, shouldn’t the rabble—and all knights of the keyboard—acknowledge that he and Hall are getting the job done?

Matt Nichols

What’s up with Matt Nichols? I mean, the guy missed more long-range targets on Friday night than an Iraqi scud missile. His receivers would have required arms longer than Pinocchio’s nose to latch onto some of his passes. It brought to mind something a CFL coach or GM told Kirk Penton of The Athletic when discussing the league’s premier QBs: “Nichols is just a game manager.” And that’s the best you can say about his work against the Tabbies—he managed to win the game. But isn’t that the bottom line for quarterbacks?

Commonwealth Stadium

This from Damien Cox of the Toronto Star/Sportsnet: “There was a great deal of chest-thumping last week when Edmonton announced a crowd of 35,623 for a game against Saskatchewan, the CFL’s biggest live audience of the season. Given that Commonwealth Stadium was still 40 per cent empty, you might wonder what all the celebrating was about. Twenty years ago, nobody would have got excited about that kind of crowd.”

A couple layers to peel here: First, I didn’t read or hear about anyone dancing in the streets of The Chuck because of that head count. If there was a celebration, I missed it. Second, what a mook. I mean, had Cox taken five minutes for research, he’d know that seven of the eight CFL franchises averaged less than 30,000 customers per home date “20 years ago.” Half the league (Hamilton, Toronto, Montreal and B.C.) averaged less than 20,000. Thus, I submit that every club, save possibly for the Eskimos, would have been very “excited” about an audience of 35,623 “20 years ago.” More to the point, they’d have been shouting about it from the rooftops if it happened the first week of August, which is not exactly prime time for spending an evening sitting at the 55-yard line.

Just the facts, ma’am. They aren’t hard to find.

I note that a record number of our friends south of the great U.S.-Canada divide tuned in to witness TSN’s favorite lousy quarterback, Johnny Manziel, make his CFL debut on Aug. 3. Yup, 406,000 sets of peepers watched in wonder as Johnny Rotten fell flat on his face in his three-down baptism. Best ever ESPN2 audience for a CFL skirmish. Confirming, of course, that American football fans’ taste in quarterbacks is much like their taste in beer—watered down.

Trevor Harris

Let’s see if I’ve got this straight: Trevor Harris of the Ottawa RedBlacks flung the football 54 times on Saturday night. Forty-four of those passes—44!—landed in the right hands. That’s the second highest, single-game completion total in CFL history. Those passes/catches covered 487 of terrain, and one went for a touchdown in Ottawa’s 24-17 victory over the Montreal Alouettes. And yet, once the dust had settled, we had Rod Smith and Davis Sanchez of TSN flapping their gums about Johnny freaking Manziel, the losing quarterback whose performance was noteworthy only for the fact he didn’t toss four interceptions? “On a night where Trevor Harris throws for nearly 500 yards, it seems kind of crazy to be talking about the other quarterback, but that’s the Manziel world now in the CFL,” said Smith. No, Rod, it isn’t “kind of crazy.” It’s stupid and insulting, and TSN’s credibility is taking a big hit with its relentless and shameful gushing over a National Football League washout.

Josh Morrissey

For two years, Jacob Trouba has been so far up Paul Wiecek’s nose that a team of U.S. Navy SEALs wouldn’t be able to rescue him. Now we find Josh Morrissey up the other nostril.

Oh, yes, if Trouba is Darth Defenceman, Morrissey is Darth Lite.

And what heinous trespass has the young defender committed? Well, in a plot-thickening essay seemingly plucked out of River City’s hazy, sticky summer air and primarily designed to get tongues wagging, Wiecek informs us that Morrissey, like Trouba before him, is playing by the rules. The nerve.

Morrissey, to date, has declined to accept whatever hometown discount the Winnipeg Jets have asked him to accept in contract discussions, and thus he remains listed among the National Hockey League’s unsigned restricted free agents. That simply won’t do. Never mind that he’s merely exercising his bargained-for rights. Playing by the rules, in the world according to Wiecek, is bad manners, especially if it means you might upend a cart of apples.

Moreover, the Winnipeg Free Press scribe tells us that Morrissey is displaying a “darker side.” He’s morphed from Ned Flanders into Mr. Burns. Surely, Wiecek hints, there’s something foul afoot. “It’s no accident we’ve reached this point,” is his cryptic conclusion.

Good grief. The heat certainly affects people in peculiar ways, doesn’t it?

Look, there’s no story here. Not unless Wiecek has inside intel that he isn’t sharing, which I doubt. If Morrissey remains unsigned by the time the local lads assemble next month for their training sessions, then sure, let’s talk. Until then, let’s dispense with the flights of fantasy (read: fake news) and try to keep it real.

Jacob Trouba

Naturally, Wiecek couldn’t pen a piece about the Jets without skewering Trouba. Referencing the 24-year-old defenceman’s recent contract negotiations, which resulted in an arbitrator-awarded salary of $5.5 million, he wrote: “You knew that was going to be a nightmare.” So let’s recap. Trouba became a restricted free agent. He filed for arbitration, as is his right under the terms of the NHL-NHL Players Association contract. When his agent, Kurt Overhardt, and Jets ownership/management agreed to disagree on wage/term, it went to an arbitrator. Both parties signed the awarded one-year deal. Trouba will report to training camp and be a significant contributor to the group on its next Stanley Cup crusade. Exactly what part of that is a “nightmare?”

Hey, check out what Craig Custance of The Athletic Detroit has to say about our local hockey heroes. “If I had to bet the mortgage on a team right now to win the Stanley Cup, it’d be Winnipeg,” he writes. I’d take that bet in a heart beat, except I don’t want to live in Detroit and I’d hate to see Custance out on the street.

Weeping Wayne

Geez, it’s been 30 years since the Los Angeles Kings landed the biggest fish of them all, reeling in Wayne Gretzky from the Edmonton Oilers. Where were you the day No. 99 broke down and wept when informed he’d be neighbors in La La Land with Tom Hanks, Michael Douglas and Jodie Foster? I was in my late 30s and vacationing at a cottage somewhere in the wilds of the Whiteshell, but I interrupted my hiatus long enough to take my toes out of the water and scribble a column for the Winnipeg Sun. It was probably a lousy essay that offered little insight, but, hey, I had other fish to fry that day. Literally.

Mark Stone

Some interesting thoughts on contract negotiations from homeboy Mark Stone, who recently settled on a one-year, $7.35 million pact with the Ottawa Senators to avoid arbitration at the 11th hour. “It’s lots of hours, you’re spending a lot of time on the phone and you’re thinking about what you should do and how you should approach things. It’s actually mentally exhausting,” said Stone. Ya, such a hardship. I once worked the phones for 7 1/2 hours a day, five days a week for a year and a half in the Cordova Bay Golf Course pro shop. I think they paid me 12 bucks an hour. Stone spent a few days on the phone and his NHL club will pay him about $30,000 an hour. And he’s exhausted?

And, finally, I don’t get it. Why are some people on our side of the border bent out of shape, saying and writing that the NBA has “snubbed” the Tranna Raptors by not including them on the Christmas Day TV menu? Seriously. That’s what people do on Christmas now? They watch a bunch of multi-millionaire stringbeans play bouncy-bouncy on the hardwood when there’s probably a feel-good Jimmy Stewart or Bing Crosby movie on TV? I shudder. And if that makes me sound old, it’s because I am old.

About the return of the Prodigal Pun…keeping Patrick Kane out of trouble…draft day busts…Sin City…and stocking an expansion team

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

George Stromboy
George Stromboy

So, tight and shiny, ill-fitting suits are no longer in vogue on Hockey Night in Canada, and horrible, cringe-inducing cornballism is back. The hip host is out and the old, greybeard is in.

Well, okay, Rogers Media hasn’t made it official yet, but all indicators point to the ouster of George Stroumboloupouloupouloupoulous as host of HNIC and the return of the Prodigal Pun, Ron MacLean. Which is sort of like replacing Drake with Bing Crosby.

No doubt this development shall be received with a rousing chorus of rah-rahs from the rabble on Planet Puckhead who care about such matters, but I’m not so sure Stromboy is/was the problem.

You want culprits for HNIC’s nosedive in ratings? Start with the game itself. Most National Hockey League regular-season skirmishes are exciting like Don Cherry is bashful. And it doesn’t help that the majority of matches Rogers delivers to our living rooms feature bottom-feeding outfits from our home and native land. Really, who beyond the borders of British Columbia would want to watch the Vancouver Canucks? Does anyone outside of the nation’s capital know the Ottawa Senators exist?

Then there’s Stromboy’s supporting cast. Seriously, P.J. Stock? A career minor-leaguer, he suited up for a grand total of eight NHL playoff games and does commercials for adult diapers. Ya, that’s real star power. Nick Kypreos? He owns a Stanley Cup ring, but was a spare part who played just three of 23 games in the New York Rangers’ 1994 title run. Glenn Healy? The most annoying man on TV since the original Canadian Tire Guy. A career backup goaltender. Notable for playing the bagpipes. Insider Damien Cox? Oy vey.

fox
The Fox NFL Sunday gang.

By way of comparison, consider the lineup that Fox NFL Sunday trots out: Terry Bradshaw, Hall of Fame quarterback and multiple Super Bowl champion; Howie Long, Hall of Fame defensive lineman and Super Bowl champion; Michael Strahan, Hall of Fame defensive lineman and Super Bowl champion; Jimmy Johnson, two-time Super Bowl champion coach and College Hall of Fame coach. The insider is Jay Glazer, who actually appears to have a personality, unlike Cox, who stares creepily into the camera and no doubt sends little children scurrying to the cover of their bedrooms.

I can’t say that I’m a fan of Stromboy’s—and I have little doubt he shall find another TV studio with red chairs to call home—but if he’s the fall guy he should be only the first domino to tumble.

Will Arnett, I am informed, is an accomplished actor, nominated for several Emmy Awards. Okay, I’ll take your word for it. He’s a good actor. What he isn’t, is a good comedian. I’m sorry if you’re a fan, but he was a very unfunny host of the NHL Awards show on Wednesday night. His Mr. Genius skit with Gary Bettman and Brendan Shanahan was as wince-inducing as Ron MacLean’s puns.

How will Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks celebrate his MVP-winning season, by punching out a cab driver or molesting a woman? Apparently, the Blackhawks have asked Kane to stay in the Toddlin’ Town this summer rather than have him return to his favorite haunts in Buffalo. Ya, as if that’s going to keep him out of trouble. I mean, I have it on good authority that there are plenty of cab drivers and women in Chicago.

Alexandre Daigle
Alexandre Daigle

Interesting headline in the Winnipeg Sun this morning: “Jets can’t go wrong in Friday’s draft.” Really? Can you say Alexandre Daigle, kids? Can you say Patrik Stefan? Or Rick DiPietro? There’s no such thing as a sure thing in the NHL entry draft until they become a sure thing. The Winnipeg Jets will pluck Finnish forward Patrik Laine from the pool of freshly scrubbed teenagers on Friday night, then hope they haven’t gone wrong.

If you were Lou Lamoriello, general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, would you trade the first overall pick in the NHL entry draft for the negotiation rights to Steven Stamkos, Jonathan Drouin and Tampa Bay Lightning’s first-round choice, which falls at No. 27? I would. Then open the vault for homeboy Stamkos.

What an interesting country we live in. I mean, upon his death, hockey great Gordie Howe was glorified and deified for six decades of using his elbows to bust jaws and send people to the dentist. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau throws one errant elbow and he’s crucified. Go figure.

vegasDon’t count me among the skeptics suggesting an NHL franchise in Las Vegas won’t work. It will work because Gary Bettman, the pointy-nosed and bobble-head commish, will make it work come hell or high odds. If he hasn’t bailed on Arizona by now, he’ll never bail on Sin City.

Got a kick out of a Paul Wiecek piece in the Winnipeg Free Press re next year’s expansion draft to stock the Las Vegas Rat Pack roster. The Jets, like all 30 current NHL outfits, will lose one player, a reality that “some think is going to hit the Jets as hard—or even harder—than any team in the league.” The way Wiecek has it reasoned, one of the following will have to get out of Dodge: Chris Thorburn, Anthony Peluso, Andrew Copp, Joel Armia, Marko Dano, Alexander Burmistrov. Oh, how will the Jets possibly survive?

I went to the Winnipeg Sun website last Sunday morning and the Calgary Sun popped up. Seriously, five stories on the Calgary Flames on the sports front and zero on the Winnipeg Jets. This is what happens when one media giant owns 99 per cent of the newspapers in Canada.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.