Let’s talk about Willie J. and the big, bad Winnipeg Blue Bombers D-men…the Studly Sophomore QB…the road to the Grey Cup goes through River City…oh so dumb in E-Town…Bianca, Bianca, Bianca!…the value of a 14-goal season…Coach PottyMo talks and talks and talks…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and we’re a bit behind schedule due to a swimming pool in my apartment, which is a little too close to the Pacific Ocean for my liking…

Whenever his universe unfolds as it should, Cody Fajardo likes to say his good fortune was a “sprinkling of Jesus.”

Well, unfortunately for Corn Dog Cody, he had a “sprinkling” of Willie Jefferson and friends on Saturday afternoon at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry, and that seldom ends well for a quarterback.

So, as much as many among the rabble will rain hosannas down on Chris Streveler for his work in the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 35-10 paddywhacking of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, they might want to send a few atta boys in the direction of Richie Hall’s defensive dozen.

The Winnipeg D-men had a thing or two to prove, of course, because it was only a week ago when they coughed up a hairball the size of a St. Bernard’s head, costing the Bombers a W in the opening gambit of a home-and-home dosey doe with Gang Green. You had to know they were still licking that open wound when they arrived at the local ballyard for a sold out Banjo Bowl and, sure enough, they had a serious grouch on.

Fajardo never had a chance, but I suppose even Jesus needs a day off now and then.

Jefferson, naturally, was in the middle of the hell-raising with a bunch of tackles, a couple of QB take-downs and a forced fumble, and if there’s a better D-man in the Canadian Football League he’s yet to show his face. Give Willie J. the top-defender trinket now and be done with it.

Meantime, it’s about Streveler. You’re right. Matt Nichols couldn’t have done what the studly sophomore QB pulled off v. the Riders. I mean, that 17-yard scamper on second-and-17 from their own three-yard stripe? The one that pushed Winnipeg FC from one end of the pitch to the other and a 7-0 lead they refused to relinquish? In Nichols’ dreams. Scattering wannabe Sask. tacklers like so many bowling pins? In Nichols’ dreams, baby. But if you believe head coach Mike O’Shea will allow the 2-1 Studly Soph to keep the ball once Nichols returns from the repair shop, you also believe a unicorn will win next year’s Kentucky Derby. It ain’t gonna happen, kids.

What does this ninth W tell us about Winnipeg FC? Try this: In the past month, the Bombers have had first-place throw-downs with three clubs. Here are the results:
Aug. 8 v. Calgary Stampeders    26-24 W
Aug. 23 v. Edmonton Eskimos   34-28 W
Sept. 7 v. Saskatchewan*            35-10 W (* without Nichols, Andrew Harris, Lucky Whitehead, Nic Demski)
So there is no quarrel. Those three Prairie outfits have to go through the guys in the blue-and-gold kits if they expect to be playing football on the last Sunday in November, and I guess we haven’t been able to say that since 2011.

Bo Levi Mitchell

Right now, I really don’t want to hear a lot of blah, blah, blah about the Stampeders. Ya, Bo Levi Mitchell is back in harness and Bo is being Bo. The thing is, I’d be really impressed by the Cowpokes dusting the Eskimos in both ends of their two-game Alberta to-and-fro, except E-Town has either the dumbest players in the CFL or the dumbest head. I’m just not sure which one it is.

On a similar subject, old friend Rod Black had a d’oh moment when he described Bombers kicker Justin Medlock as “the ageless wonder” during the TSN broadcast. Come on, Blackie. The guy’s only 35 for cripes sake. That ain’t old for a kicker. Weren’t Bob Cameron and Lui Passaglia still thumping footballs well into the sixties?

Mike Benevides and his ill-fitting suit returned to the TSN squawk box panel this weekend and had this to say about the Bytown RedBlacks: “If they can find a way to get something done, they’ve got a lot to do.” What the hell does that even mean?

Bianca Andreescu

Bianca Andreescu. Canadian. Grand Slam tennis champion. Well I never. Seriously. I began covering and writing about tennis in 1971 and, over the years, I often wondered why smaller countries Sweden and Switzerland could crank out elite players like Bjorn Borg, Stefan Edberg, Mats Wilander, Martina Hingis, Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka, while the best we could do was turncoat Greg Rusedski and Darling Carling Bassett. Then along came the close-but-no-cigar careers of Milos Raonic and Genie Bouchard. But now we have the marvel that is Bianca Andreescu, women’s singles champion of the U.S. Open after her victory over the neighborhood bully, Serena Williams, on Saturday in Queens, NYC. I’m not sure where Bianca’s achievement ranks in Canadian sports folklore, because that takes in a lot of territory, but I started watching sports when the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn and it’s surely in my personal top five.

This just in: Auston Matthews has a mustache. Stayed tuned while media in the Republic of Tranna discuss Boy Wonder’s facial foliage with Drake.

Got a kick out of this post on the TSN Twitter account: “Raiders officially release disgruntled receiver Antonio Brown.” Disgruntled? That’s like saying WWII was a pillow fight.

Clayton Keller

I believe it’s safe to say Arizona Coyotes general manager John Chayka won’t be receiving a thank-you note from his counterpart with the Winnipeg Jets anytime soon. Chayka, you see, did Kevin Cheveldayoff a total dirty by agreeing to pay Clayton Keller an average wage of $7.15 million over eight years, and if I’m the mouthpiece for Patrick Laine or Kyle Connor there’s no chance I’m settling for a dime less than Keller coin. I mean, Keller scored 14 goals last winter. Four-freaking-teen! Puck Finn had more than that in one month. He more than doubled it (30) in an “off” season. Connor lit it up 34 times. So, short of getting them and their agents high on whacky tabacky, how can Chevy possibly convince his two blue-chip restricted free agents that reupping for less than Keller is the right thing to do? I’m not sure there’s enough quality Mary Jane in all of Manitoba to pull that off.

According to CapFriendly, Chevy has $15 million and David Thomson’s couch change to play with in trying to satisfy Puck Finn/Connor and fill out his NHL roster, which now numbers 20 players (maximum 23). Do the math. Unless his bean counters are David Copperfield, Penn, Teller and Criss Angel, Chevy is royally pooched.

We all have our ways of getting kicks, and for Mathew Barzal of the New York Islanders it appears seeing unsigned NHL restricted free agents squirm is his thing. “I think it’s kind of fun,” he told Sportsnet’s 31 Thoughts podcast. “It gives the league a little bit of excitement.” We’ll see how much fun and how exciting it is next year when it’s young Matt’s turn to take a spin on the unsigned RFA squirm-mobile.

Coach Potty Mo

So, Murat Ates had a chin-wag with Paul Maurice that was so staggering in length that he felt obliged to run it as a two-parter in The Athletic and, after digesting 90 per cent of the marathon blah-blah-blah, here’s my main takeaway: Coach Potty Mouth has given captain Blake Wheeler—or any of les Jets, for that matter—permission to be a total dink to news snoops.

“He lathers himself for the lack of a better word,” the Winnipeg HC head coach told Ates. “He gets himself wired to the point that, when you ask a question 10 minutes after a game, you’re going to get some edge on your question. And that’s true. That’s the confrontation he’s just been through for an hour so he gives you a bit of that. Let him breathe for 10 seconds and he’s going to answer your question. Most players—most people—will do one or the other. It’s either all emotional and they don’t have the capacity or the grace to give you a nuanced answer or, what I’m sure bothers you guys sometimes, is that there’s no emotion—it’s all out of the book. Blake’s unusual in that he’ll show you both sides to him and that’s what makes him great.”

Blake Wheeler aka Captain F-Bomb

In other words, belligerent Blake might tell you to “fuck off,” as he did to Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun last spring, but that’s okay because he’ll still answer your question. That’s his “greatness as a leader.”

Spare me. Sure, Wheeler is wired after a game. So are 700 other guys in the NHL.

You think Sidney Crosby isn’t wired after a tough day at the office? Like after a playoff ouster? Damn straight, he is. But I don’t recall him telling anyone to “fuck off.” Mark Messier was wired tighter than the strings on a banjo. Gordie Howe. Wired. Stan Mikita. Wired. Bobby Orr. Wired. John Ferguson. Wired. I have yet to hear audio evidence, or see video evidence, of them telling a news snoop to “fuck off.”

Coach PottyMo believes Wheeler being a vulgar, condescending boor then turning all nicey-face is his “greatness as a leader.” It’s quite the opposite, actually. It’s his most notable failing.

Overall, the Ates-Maurice gum-flapper is good stuff, even if they sometimes drag us into the dreary nuances of systems play. And there’s some syrupy, groupie-like gushing from Ates (“How great is it that Byfuglien is in his mid-30s and still playing like he is?”) that made me cringe, but it’s definitely worth your time.

Ken Wiebe

Now that Ken Wiebe has defected to The Athletic, I dare say the former Sun scribe and Ates might form the best one-two punch on the Jets beat, especially since they plan to shadow Winnipeg HC hither and yon. I just hope they won’t be covering the team old-school style, which is to say with yawn-inducing recaps of the previous night’s game and breathless quotes about “moving our feet.” If the local dailies choose to remain stuck in the 20th century, let ’em. (Seriously, a detailed game story from the rookie camp in Saturday’s Drab Slab? That is so 1970s.). Give me news, but give me off-beat, give me quirkiness, give me features, give me analysis and, by all means, give me opinion that doesn’t read like something fresh from the Xerox machine in the Jets propaganda department. Oh, one more thing: Go easy on the pie charts.

Speaking of which, newby Scott Billeck has brought pie charts and graphs with colored, squiggly swirls to the sports pages of the Sun, whether we like it or not. Oh, joy. Can’t get enough of gizmo jock journalism. As if. You’ll have to excuse me, but I prefer my sports writing without do-dads that make my eyes bleed.

Rink Rat and Wheeler

Let’s be clear: I don’t believe the earth is flat, and I don’t believe fancy stats are useless like ear muffs in Arizona. But I lean toward Rink Rat Scheifele’s way of thinking when he talks about a special something that exists between teammates, like himself and Wheeler: “I think chemistry’s the biggest thing in this game,” the Jets centre says. “You want to play with guys you click with and play well with. I think chemistry is a thing that is kind of put away on people. Especially nowadays with analytics and all that extra junk. Chemistry is something you can’t quantify, there’s no statistic that says chemistry, and I think that’s something that needs to be looked at.”

Pierre and Kendall

Seems Pierre McGuire has lost his perch between the benches on NBC’s No. 1 NHL broadcasting team, and that must be such troubling news for Kendall Coyne Schofield. I mean, how will the poor dear possibly find her way around the rink without Pierre to point the way and mansplain the game to her?

Kendall, of course, made her debut with NBC last winter, joining Pierre at ice level for a Lightning-Penguins skirmish. “Tampa’s gonna be on your left, Pittsburgh’s gonna be on your right,” he informed the U.S. Olympic champion, adopting the tone and manner of a school marm advising a six-year-old girl where she could find the washroom and lunch room. Well, it turns out Kendall knows the way to San Jose (yes, without Pierre’s hand signals), because she’s signed on as a member of the Sharks TV broadcast team. No word on whether or not her contract includes directions to the biffy, though.

And, finally, good thoughts for Dale Hawerchuk, who’s stepped away from his coaching chores with Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League. All they’re telling us about Ducky is that he’s wrestling with health issues, and I’d say that’s all we really need to know.

Let’s talk about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers QBs…counting heads…Corn Dog Cody Fajardo…awesome and ugly football…’minor’ concussions…tweet, tweet, tweet…ponytail puck…and a bounce-back season for Puck Finn?

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and if you’re reading this at the cottage on the last leg of a long weekend, I can only wonder what’s wrong with you…

So the stage is set. Two Goliaths. Temporary bragging rights at stake.

And, yes, I still consider the Blue Bombers a Goliath, because I firmly subscribe to that old chestnut ‘you are what your record says your are,’ and it doesn’t get any better than Winnipeg FC and the Calgary Stampeders, who’ll be the house guests at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry on Thursday night.

Matt Nichols

Although there are those among us who believe the Bombers’ W-L log is the product of smoke, mirrors and a steady diet of 98-pound weaklings, I’m not going to quibble about a 5-2 record.

The doubting Thomas argument gained strength, of course, when the local lads were bullied by Pee-wee Herman on the back half of Winnipeg FC’s recent 0-for-Southern Ontario misadventure, but I feel obligated to point out that the Bombers and Stamps have played the same sides, with one exception—the Saskatchewan Roughriders. As we all know, Canadian Football League schedule-makers tend to save the Blue-and-Gold/Gang Green tiffs for Labour Day weekend on the Flattest of Lands and a few days later in Good Ol’ Hometown, when they tune up the banjos for the follow-up dosey doe.

In the meantime, it seems to me that Thursday’s duel of 5-2 outfits should serve as a statement skirmish for Winnipeg FC. Win and they gain believers, lose and talk radio becomes a blood sport.

There’s already plenty of nattering that suggests head coach Mike O’Shea is actually Homer Simpson with a head set, and his refusal to insert Chris Streveler into the fray when starting quarterback Matt Nichols can’t pass wind, never mind a football, seems to be the main irritant. Some, in fact, would prefer to have the two QBs reverse roles, but I’m guessing those folks are also flat-earth fanatics who walk around with wide strips of tin foil on their heads.

Chris Streveler

Hey, I agree that Streveler is a good change of pace and we should see more of him behind centre, but make him the main man? Sorry, we’ve had enough backup QBs thrust into the starting role this season, thank you very much, and the product has suffered.

I suppose the good folks on the Flattest of Lands might pipe up and dispute that, because their No. 2 guy, Corn Dog Cody Fajardo, has done such boffo business that the Saskatchewan Roughriders decided they can get along just fine without Zach Collaros and shipped him—and the ever-present bats in his belfry—to the Republic of Tranna.

Much the same can be said in the Alberta Foothills, where Nick Arbuckle has kept things mostly neat and tidy during Bo Levi Mitchell’s time in the repair shop. He’s 4-1, that’s all, and if you expect more than that from a fill-in QB you’re more demanding than the nuns who taught me in Catholic school.

Anyway, it’s about Streveler and Nichols and the notion that they should swap snaps. Look, I don’t like what I saw of Nichols in the Golden Horseshoe any more than many of you, but if Coach O’Grunge has them trading places, he really would be a “D’oh!” boy.

Football Follies Field in Fort Garry

I’m curious to see what kind of a statement the football faithful in Good Ol’ Hometown will make on Thursday night. A grab-grass-and-growl argument to determine top dog in a West Division that has taken on the look of a mosh pit ought to be a best-seller, except the Bombers’ bumbling in the Hammer and The ROT likely cost them a customer or two. I hope I’m wrong, but a head count of just 20,433 for the Battle of Alberta in Cowtown on Saturday tells me that people are finding other things to do as we dig into the dog days of August.

Hey, check it out. We finally know how many people have been ignoring the Argonauts in The ROT. According to CFLdb.ca, they’ve topped out at 16,734 patrons and bottomed out at 11,428 in their three BMO Field assignments this crusade, but the Scullers are the only CFL outfit showing a year-over-year increase in attendance from 2018. Meanwhile, I don’t understand why we have to search CFLdb.ca to discover what the CFL should be telling us on its own website. That’s just wrong.

Corn Dog Cody

Not only has Fajardo got a nose for football, Corn Dog Cody’s sniffer also leads him to fun and games and growlies, like the kind you’ll find at the Queen City Ex in Regina. We know this because the Riders QB confessed to a special kind of motivation after his late-game TD put the seal on a 24-19 victory over the Hamilton Tabbies. “I’m really excited to get a corn dog to be honest,” he told news snoops, as the aroma of those carny treats wafted his way from the nearby Ex. “I’m a big carnival corn dog guy and I was like hopefully the game goes well so I can get a corn dog. So that’s probably what gave me the will to score that touchdown, a little inspiration of a corn dog at the carnival.” If that’s what corn dogs do for a QB, what say we make them Matt Nichols’ pre-game meal? (It’s also refreshing to hear an athlete deliver something other than cookie-cutter, club-approved, yawner quotes for news snoops. Atta boy, Corn Dog.) 

Duane Forde

So, how do you like what you’ve seen to date in our quirky three-down game? Opinions differ.

Veteran news snoop Frank Zicarelli of Postmedia Tranna wrote this last month: “There is no legitimate quarterback on the (Argos) roster in a league where the position is so thin that most games have become virtually unwatchable.” The granddaddy of E-Town jock journos, Terry Jones, agreed: “Too many CFL games are unwatchable this season.” And, of course, TSN talkers Duane Forde and Davis Sanchez both slapped an “ugly” label on different games in the past two weeks.

Then there’s Knuckles Irving, the Winnipeg FC play-by-play guy who, like Jonesy, has very long teeth. His take: “Awesome weekend for the CFL. 4 close, entertaining games, although as my pal Herb Zurkowsky already pointed out, it would be nice if they could speed them up a bit and keep them under 3 hours.”

Personally, I’ve seen too many clunkers. Too many nights only the lickety-split of the kick returners has prevented me from switching channels or nodding off.

Montreal Larks head coach Khari Jones tells us that his QB, Vernon Adams Jr., suffered a “minor concussion” when J.R. Tavai of the Bytown RedBlacks cracked him with a head-to-head cheap shot that went unpunished. Sorry, Khari, but I never considered any of my 10 concussions “minor.” They still put me in a dark room.

Knuckles Irving

Tweets that grabbed my attention in the past week…

* The aforementioned Knuckles Irving, after a follower called Mike O’Shea an “idiot”: “He hasn’t won the big one but Our idiot head coach is 38-23 since 2016. Bring me more idiots.” Just as long as they aren’t wearing tin foil on their heads, right Knuckles?

* Former all-star D-lineman, CJOB gab guy and freelance columnist Doug Brown, during the Argos 28-27 victory over the Bombers: “Imagine losing to Dane Evans, and McLeod Bethel-Thompson, back to back. That might be a bit of a buzz kill.” Exactly 17 minutes later: “My god.” Too funny.

* Old friend and all-round good guy Scott Campbell: “I’m expecting regression from #NHLJets and not mad about it. It would be worse had they given those contracts to Myers, Tanev and Chiarot. I’m more worried about the coaches optimizing the lineup. Hoping Maurice got back to summer work.” I guess two steps forward and one step back beats one step forward and two steps back every time.

* And, of course, Steve Simmons continued to be a total Twitter troll. The Postmedia Tranna columnist cited a handful of top-drawer quill jockeys as the reason he subscribes to The Athletic, then added: “I do wish they’d stop drooling over each other every time someone writes something good.” He posted that at 10:59 a.m. on July 31. At 1:13 p.m. that same day, look who was “drooling over” one of his own Postmedia colleagues, Rob Longley. Yup, Simmons. “Our guy, baseball’s most underrated writer, has broken the stories thus (sic) afternoon of Blue Jays trading Aaron Sanchez and Joe Biagini to Houston.” Two days later, he was “drooling over” Longley again. Pot, meet kettle. And I hope he was wearing a bib.

I didn’t think it possible, but the new teleprompter reader on TSN Sportscentre, Kayla Gray, is actually louder than Kate Beirness. Enthusiasm is a good thing. Making my ears bleed is not.

Dani Rylan

Officially, there will be a fifth National Women’s Hockey League season. Unofficially, there might not be a fifth NWHL crusade. Two months before they’re scheduled to drop the puck, commish Dani Rylan’s house league has scared up just 39 players willing to boycott the boycott of the ForTheGame200 gang, a group of elite performers who insist they will continue to stomp their feet, hold their breath and refuse to play hockey until a sugar daddy comes along and pays them a living wage. Unfortunately, only a few of us notice, or care, that they’re missing, so I hope they aren’t expecting an amber alert.

And, finally, interesting piece by Ian Tulloch of The Athletic Tranna. Ian goes about the business of listing 10 National Hockey League players likely to have a “bounce-back” season, and he has our own Patrik Laine at No. 6. Well, let me just say this about that: You know Puck Finn is some kind of special when he lights 30 lamps and pundits are talking about him in terms of rediscovering his scoring touch.

Let’s talk about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and hold the tar and feathers…QB Matt Meh…mirror, mirror on the wall…The ROT’s big secret…TSN’s cleavage is showing…ugly on ugly…Button’s not down on Jets…big loss for the Dub…the Blue Jays dog-and-phony show…and others things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and you know these are the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer when you’re walking downtown and see a naked woman sitting on a blanket in the middle of a four-lane street (true story)

Coach O’Grunge

Looking for symbolism, kids?

Try this: Mike O’Shea was wearing a tattered ball cap during a natter with news snoops on Thursday night.

That pretty much describes Winnipeg FC: Tattered.

But, no, not in ruins.

True, the suddenly shabby Blue Bombers limped home after a faceplant, a pratfall and perhaps too much down time for Tom foolery in Southern Ontario, but when I checked the tables this morning Coach O’Grunge’s group was joint leader in the West Division of a Canadian Football League crusade that’s become a crap shoot. And I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t be cool with that.

What’s that you say? I’ve got the rose-tinted goggles on?

Not really.

Matt Nichols, whipping boy.

It’s just that I don’t get all bent out of shape in early August over a first-place outfit that grew accustomed to having its own way, only to discover that the other kids in the schoolyard aren’t quite so eager to turn over their lunch money anymore.

Trust me, I saw the flaws, first when the Bombers stumbled v. the Tabbies in the Hammer, then on Thursday night v. the previously laughable and mockable Arrrrrrgoos at BMO Field in the Republic of Tranna, where Winnipeg FC piddled away a 20-point advantage like it was summer wages.

Matt Nichols, the starting quarterback who’s become the rabble’s favorite whipping boy again, was gawdawful in the opening act of the Bombers’ pilgrimage to the Golden Horseshoe, and the best he could do for an encore was upgrade to meh in a 28-27 loss to the Boatmen. Matt Meh would be wise to keep the ear plugs close by, because he’s sure to hear it from the peanut gallery when the Calgary Stampeders trot onto Football Follies Field in Fort Garry later this week.

Coach LaPo

The rabble might want to save a hoot and a holler for the guy who plots offensive strategy, though.

Unless there’s something about Nichols’ pitching wing that Winnipeg FC medics aren’t sharing with us, Paul LaPolice apparently has forgotten that a Canadian football field is 110 yards in length. I mean, Willie Jefferson can probably toss manhole covers farther than Nichols is allowed to fling the football. How often did Coach LaPo instruct his QB to stretch the field v. the Argos? Here’s a hint: It’s the same number of Grey Cup victories for the Bombers since 1990.

So, barring a Nichols owie that’s being kept on the QT, LaPolice’s play selection is dismal.

And now let’s talk about Richie Hall’s defensive dozen.

The lads went from swagger to sleepwalking v. the Argos in less time than it takes a Democrat to call out Donald Trump for one of his hot-take tweets. I don’t know if the Boatmen were boring them, but I’m guessing it was by Hall’s design that the Blue and Gold laid down like a picnic blanket as time expired in the first half. Thus, 20-nada begat 20-3 begat 20-10 and the Scullers had wind in their sales.

Anyone can see that’s dumb coaching—on both sides of scrimmage—but I’m still not prepared to pick up and run with the “off with their heads” mob. Not yet.

As much as losing to the CFL Sad Sack is an irksome bit of business, I can think of worse places for Winnipeg FC to be than atop the tables, so let’s save any talk of pitchforks and torches because we all know the season doesn’t really begin until the Labour Day weekend and, of course, when they break out the banjos a week later.

If Coach O’Grunge and his chief lieutenants haven’t figured it out by then, I’ll supply the tar and you can bring the feathers.

These are words I didn’t want to hear: Quizzed about Nichols’ play, Coach O’Grunge went all wishy-washy, saying, “That’s a question that has to be answered after we, unfortunately, look at the film.” I don’t know about you, kids, but I don’t need to see the film. The QB has quickly become Matt Meh, and we’ll be hearing the name Chris Streveler mentioned frequently between now and the Stampeders’ visit on Thursday. But I suggest you save your breath. It will take the jaws of life pry the football away from Nichols.

Andrew Harris

Another disturbing remark was delivered by running back Andrew Harris, whose otherwise boffo performance was scarred by a fumble that cost the Bombers points: “They wanted it more tonight obviously.” Really? Getting a W meant more to the bottom-feeding Boatmen than it did to a top-dog club looking to keep ground between itself and a closing posse? If that’s true, Bombers brass needs to pass out mirrors with this week’s paycheques.

During the E-Town Eskimos/Cowtown Stampeders clash on Saturday, TSN sideline talker Sara Orlesky reported that wounded QB Bo Levi Mitchell tossed 50 passes the other day, all of them 10 yards or less. Hmmm. Sounds like Coach LaPo’s game plan.

CFL commish Randy Ambrosie has been known to puff out his ample chest and gab about transparency. So how about ordering the Argos to release the head count at BMO Field, Commish Randy. We know it’s as bad as a bear’s breath, but why is the number a secret?

We might have to call the folks at Guinness, because I swear TSN directors/cameramen set a world record for most closeup shots of young ladies wearing tank tops and other tight, skimpy summer attire during the Bombers-Boatmen telecast. Seriously. You’ll see less cleavage on an episode of the Kardashians. (Not that I watch Kim K and the girls as a rule, you understand, but it can be a hazard of channel surfing.) I’m sure it wasn’t intentional, though. All those attractive girls simply got in the way of the camera.

Chez

More honesty in broadcasting: A week ago, TSN natterbug Duane Forde described the Calgary Stampeders-Bytown RedBlacks joust as “remarkably ugly,” and Davis Sanchez was similarly unimpressed with the RedBlacks-Montreal Larks on Friday night, telling us, “I can’t lie to you, that was ugly, really it was.” I should point out that Chez was talking about the offensive play, not the Gizmo/Pinball-like kick returning of Devonte Dedmon that had breathless Rod Black gasping for superlatives.

Every time I see Dave Dickenson, I think of a yappy, little lap dog. Coach Chihuahua, the Calgary Stampeders sideline steward, is forever tugging on game officials’ pant cuffs and you just want to slap him on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper. But in today’s CFL that’s definitely a 15-yard penalty and probably a fine.

Craig Button

Shortly after the National Hockey League grab bag of awe-shucks teens and the initial free-agent frenzy expired, I went on a manhunt for a pundit who saw silver linings in the Summer of Chevy. Turned out that man or woman didn’t exist. But now along comes Craig Button, the self-proclaimed TSN opinionista, and he’s pumping Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff’s tires.

Button analyzed a five-item Chevy-to-do list:

1) Sign Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor: Hasn’t done it.
2) Trade Jacob Trouba: Been there, done that, received Neal Pionk in barter and that was a “really good move. Neal Pionk plays 22 minutes a night, he’s a good, solid player. Kevin Cheveldayoff did what was necessary.”
3) Get the names of tier II RFAs Pionk, Andrew Copp and Laurent Brossoit on contracts: Been there, done that, which was “very important.”
4) Improve forward depth: There are some “very good depth forwards”
5) Sign Josh Morrissey long term: Hasn’t done it.

Button summarized by gushing like an overflowing toilet: “To me this is still a very, very good team. This is still a very good team. This is still a very good team.”

I don’t know if Craig was trying to convince us or himself, but he’s mightily impressed that Chevy has managed to check off two of the five boxes, three if you consider Mark Letestu, Andrei Chibisov and Kristian Vesalainen “very good depth forwards.”

I beg to differ with Button, and I don’t care if hockey is the bread and butter on his dinner table and just a hobby for moi. The Jets, as of today, are not “a very good team.” There’s been a substantial downgrade on the blueline, and why are we still growing worry lines because of the iffy No. 2 centre slot? The good news, of course, is there’s plenty of time for Chevy to check off the most important box (Laine/Connor), plus amend his roster with player movement, before the puck is dropped in October.

The ol’ Greaser

Well, this is not good news for followers of the Dub: The best blog on all matters Western Hockey League is no more. Gregg Drinnan, the ol’ Greaser, is shifting gears from shinny to kidneys, and I really don’t know where we’ll find indepth intel on the WHL now. Greaser was the go-to guy and he leaves a big, empty space. But, hey, it’s all about priorities, and I know Gregg’s bride Dorothy had a kidney transplant a few years ago. He assures me that she’s A-okay, and that’s really what I wanted to hear after I caught wind of his change in direction. As someone with Stage 4 chronic kidney disease, I can relate, so nothing but kind thoughts to both of them. Meanwhile, Gregg has pulled the plug on his WHL blog, but not his Taking Note bit, whereby he does some good, old-fashioned scattershooting on Sundays. It’s good stuff.

Just an observation: Brooks Koepka is the alpha dog of golf, but I can’t recall anyone looking so bored while being so great. I sometimes wonder if he’ll need a wakeup call to play the back nine.

Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez

What do you call what’s left of the Tranna Blue Jays roster and management sugar-coating the value of trades that sent hurlers Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez and others down the road? A dog-and-phony show.

What do you call what’s left of the Blue Jays pitching staff any time they face the Yankees or Red Sox? A three-dog night.

Cutting comment from baseball columnist Gregor Chisholm of the Toronto Star on Jays management: “The lies that get told around this place sometimes just have to make you laugh.”

Seriously, can anyone tell me why it’s so important that the Tranna Jurassics play on Christmas day? An even better question: Why is anyone playing hoops on Christmas day?

Similarly, why are our teenage boys playing high-level hockey tournaments during the dog days of August? Bobby Orr and Wayne Gretzky weren’t on the ice 12 months a year. Why should these kids be?

And, finally, the ladies will be bringing on the glam with their fancy bonnets and summer frocks for the 71st running of the Manitoba Derby at Assiniboia Downs on Monday afternoon. It’s always a highlight on the River City sports calendar, and the ponies break from the starting gate at 1:45, with the Derby scheduled as the final gallop on a seven-race card.

Let’s talk about the CFL’s QB carnage…“remarkably ugly” football…Argos no laughing matter…Popp’s big hairy deal…news snoops in a snit…Miss Manners’ son Stevie…old broadcasters and friends…and green leaves and jujubes at Carnarvon Park…

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and if I want to eat plants I’ll have a salad, not a plant masquerading as a hamburger…

If that was a Grey Cup preview Friday night at Timbits Field in the Hammer, I might opt for a Steve McQueen or Duke Wayne marathon on the final Sunday in November.

Shabby? Like an old hobo’s hair.

Alas, that’s what we get when there’s a neophyte quarterback on one side and a veteran quarterback playing like the neophyte’s understudy on the other.

The Hamilton Tabbies certainly were the superior outfit in the short time Jeremiah Masoli was behind centre during their 23-15 W, but a wonky left knee forced the all-star QB to excuse himself and the Tiger-Cats spent the remainder of the evening in safety-first mode, with tenderfoot Dane Evans barking signals into one of TSN’s live mics. He was meh at best.

If only the game itself had reached that level.

This was (supposedly) the Canadian Football League marquee match, with a pair of first-place outfits grabbing artificial grass and growling. The visiting Winnipeg Blue Bombers arrived in the Hammer sans an L on their registry. A perfect 5-nada. The Tabbies had just one hiccup in five assignments. So, ya, it walked and talked like a Grey Cup dress rehearsal.

Then they kicked off and the large lads forgot how to play.

Matt Nichols

Correction: Matt Nichols forgot how to play.

I keep hearing that football is the ultimate team game, but the Bombers’ first stumble of this crusade is mostly down to QB Nichols, who kept throwing passes he had no business throwing, and three of them landed in the eager and welcoming arms of guys dressed in black and gold.

Had a quarterback more accomplished than Dane Evans been available to make Winnipeg FC pay for Nichols’ (also the kick returners) sins, we might be talking about a rout of biblical levels.

Sadly, Evans’ presence and Masoli’s absence is part of the CFL’s increasingly bleak big-picture story.

Bo Levi Mitchell

Forget that Masoli has the worst QB body since Danny McManus. (Seriously. He looks like Fred Flintstone in shoulder pads.) He gets the job done. He’s elite. But he’s the sixth starter to go down for the count this summer, joining Bo Levi Mitchell, Zach Collaros, Antonio Pipken, Dominique Davis and James Franklin in the repair shop. And it’s only due to extreme good fortune that someone hasn’t put a toe tag on Mike Reilly’s season.

Commissioner Randy Ambrosie spent much of the past winter and spring blah, blah, blahing about a new vision that he likes to call CFL 2.0. What I didn’t know is that CFL 2.0 meant every team would be starting its QB 2.0 before Labour Day.

I mean, by the time the playoffs commence, the body count will be so high that we might be watching Andrew Sheer and Justin Trudeau fling the football in the West Division final instead of Nichols and Trevor Harris.

Can anything be done to halt the QB carnage?

Simoni Lawrence took out Zach Collaros.

Well, quarterbacks are now treated like pricey porcelain figurines, with better protection than Queen Liz. Hostile defenders breath on them at their own peril, and Commish Randy underscored the CFL’s keep-QBs-vertical agenda by ordering Simoni Lawrence to take a two-game respite for the unlawful hit that sent Collaros to a dark room.

Unfortunately, threats of vacations without pay couldn’t have prevented the Masoli owie. It was the result of a freakish play, whereby his left knee caved in during his attempt to escape large, angry men with a different agenda.

So on came neophyte Evans and, with the inept Nichols far off his game, it made for rather dreary theatre with four picks, seven turnovers and not a single play from scrimmage exceeding 27 yards.

I hate to say this because the CFL is my favorite pro sports league, but it’s becoming almost unwatchable.

It doesn’t help, of course, that TSN insists on trying to doll up its broadcasts with that annoying split screen, the voices of natterbugs in the booth competing with live-mic’d players/officials, and cameras that appear to be located in a distant area code. Live mics are boffo for curling and golf, and even baseball, but not so much during a football telecast.

Here’s truth in broadcasting: During the first half of the Calgary Stampeders-Bytown RougeNoir frolic on Thursday night, TSN natterbug Duane Forde described it as “remarkably ugly.” That is remarkably honest. Also remarkably refreshing.

Yoko Ono

Neither of the two skirmishes on the Thursday menu will be included in CFL promo material. On the entertainment scale, they were somewhere between an Adam Sandler movie and the ear-blitzing screeching of a Yoko Ono concert. I mean, three teams—Tranna Argonauts, Calgary and Bytown—had a combined total of one touchdown. In 148 plays from scrimmage. The Argos couldn’t even scrounge up a measly rouge vs. the Eskimos in E-Town. You know how difficult it is to get blanked in the CFL? O.J. Simpson will have an easier time getting through the Pearly Gates. But the bottomless Boatmen managed it. Uh-glee. I suffered through both jousts and, yes, I’d like to have those six hours of my life back, if you don’t mind.

Many of us who dwell in the colonies aren’t opposed to crude jokes and rude laughter when outfits from the Republic of Tranna perform face plants, but there’s nothing funny about the oarless Scullers being oh-fer-2019. The Argos are the boil on the CFL’s butt. On and off the field. Their freshly completed (mis)adventure on the Prairies was a ghastly bit of business, and you know losing three games and being outscored 100-37 won’t win them new admirers. Mind you, they’re still mourning the loss of Kawhi Leonard in The ROT, so it’s unlikely that anyone there noticed. That, too, is sad.

Jim Popp

In the department of ‘what have you done for us lately,’ I present Jim Popp, GM of the Boatmen. Once considered a gridiron guru in three-down circles, it’s become apparent that Popp has a fabulous head of hair and not much else. He failed to find a replacement for Anthony Calvillo in Montreal (the Larks have been paying for it ever since) and he hasn’t found a replacement for Ricky Ray in The ROT. No QB, no hope, no job for Popp if he doesn’t do something about it.

Beastmo Bighill

Prior to the Bombers’ departure to our eastern precincts last week, it was noted that neither Beastmo Bighill or Chris Matthews was made available for chin-wags post-practice on Monday. Not surprisingly, there was harrumphing among news snoops. “This is the CFL,” Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna squawked on Twitter. “Every player should be available to media every day. Doing the opposite is small-time, small-town backwards thinking.” Hmmm. You mean like Kawhi Leonard and the Tranna Jurassics? He spoke less often than a street mime during his one-and-done pit stop in The ROT, yet somehow those pesky jock journos managed to get the job done without Kawhi’s daily pearls of wisdom. Is every player on every team in the National Hockey League available every day? Nope. Problem is, some news snoops have a misguided sense of entitlement and still believe athletes/coaches are at their every beck and call. Doesn’t work that way, kids. Not anymore. So boo freaking hoo. Find someone else to talk to.

The outrageously arrogant Simmons didn’t limit his pompous tsk-tsking to the CFL last week. No sir. He slid into full Grandpa Simpson, fist-shaking mode after Kawhi Leonard was introduced as a member of the L.A. Clippers. “Four people Kawhi had to thank and didn’t,” he tweeted from the fetal position. “1) Masai (Ujiri) 2) Larry Tanenbaum 3) Alex (load management) McKechnie 4) Nick Nurse. He did thank restaurants for giving him free food, though.” Why, shame on Kawhi. I mean, such nerve. How dare he wag his tongue without first conferring with Miss Manners’ son Stevie. I hope all the nominees for Emmy Awards in September realize they must clear their acceptance/thank you speeches through Stevie before approaching the microphone.

Others on the hoops beat in The ROT resisted any urge to play the jilted lover role, offering less of an emotional take on Leonard’s first utterings as a Clipper:
Bruce Arthur,
Toronto Star: “(Kawhi) did it right.”
Leo Rautins, TSN: “(Kawhi was) very thoughtful in his words.”
Tim Micallef, Sportsnet: “I don’t care about any of that stuff. I really don’t. I understand the fans do. I really don’t care about it.”

Brian Williams

So nice to see Brian Williams on TSN’s coverage of the Prince of Wales Stakes last Tuesday. Brian is a lovely man and an exceptional broadcaster. Not many talkers on TV are more polished and, hey, he’s one of us. Which is to say, he drew his first breath in Good Ol’ Hometown.

I hear they had a big adios bash last week for three Globe and Mail sports scribes, including Dave Shoalts. I worked with Shoaltsy in Calgary and I can report that he’s one of the truly good guys in a business full of good guys. He’s also a funny man. Enjoy the rocking chair, Shoaltsy.

A big hi-de-ho to old friend Peter Young. Pete’s ticker gave him a spot of grief not so long ago, but I see the old broadcaster is back on social media and taking aim at Bob Cameron.

Michelle Liu

And, finally, ever since I heard that 12-year-old Michelle Liu had qualified to play with the grown-ups at the CP Women’s Open golf tournament next month in Aurora, Ont., I’ve been trying to remember what I was doing in the summer of 1963, when I was her age. I believe I was building sand castles at Willows Beach in Oak Bay (Victoria). No. Wait. Now I remember. They wouldn’t allow me to play with the 14-year-olds in a baseball tourney at Carnarvon Park (arrived too late for registration), so I sold programs instead and made $5 one day and $3 the next. That bought a kid a lot of green leaves and jujubes back in the day.

Let’s talk about the Uproar Over the Rodent…Chevy’s smarts and the Winnipeg Jets jail break…Ben Chiarot hearing boo birds en francais…Aho’s contract and other RFAs…the Yankee Doodle Damsels go Dutch…macho Matt Nichols’ head games…Pencil Neck Paul…and dining with Matt Dunigan

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and there’s a whole lotta shakin’ going on out here on the Left Coast… 

I try not to obsess on things, other than breathing which, at my age, is a worthy obsession.

I mean, the way I have it figured, the longer I can keep breathing, the longer I can continue to draw enjoyment from the obsessions of sports fans whose every breath is linked to their favorite clubs. And, depending on the locale in our vast land, those obsessions greatly differ.

Old Gainer, new Gainer.

In Good Ol’ Hometown, for example, it’s Chevy and all things Jets

In the Republic of Tranna, it’s been Kawhi Leonard 24/7 and now it’ll be Mitch Marner 24/7 until he puts pen to paper.

In Montreal, it’s Marc Bergevin and his silly offer sheet.

In Bytown, it’s whatever toxic goop that spews from Eugene Melnyk’s mouth.

In Calgary, it’s Bo Levi Mitchell’s wonky throwing wing.

In E-Town, it’s the never-ending search for someone to skate alongside Connor McWasted.

On the West Coast, it’s…well, I live on the Left Flank and the rabble doesn’t obsess over anything but the weather and annoying tourists. (There is, mind you, a strong constituency that frets over every breath that Jim Benning takes, because it usually means another lousy player has been given a Canucks jersey.)

Meanwhile, on the Flattest of Lands, it’s the Uproar Over the Rodent.

Oh, yes, a rodent.

Summer swathing and happy banjo plucking came to a halt on the Flattest of Lands last week, after Gainer the Gopher went missing and was feared to be lost in a corn maze or abducted by body-snatching aliens. Left behind was a hairball that looked like Chucky’s pet rodent.

The new Gainer was introduced to Flatlanders on Canada Day, and he definitely was not their grandmother’s gopher. The beloved fuzzball of the Saskatchewan Roughriders had been given the most abrupt makeover since Bruce became Caitlyn. I don’t know who Gainer’s plastic surgeon is, but I’m thinking Alfred Hitchcock. Or the guy who played nip-tuck-and-yank with Joan Rivers’ face seven or eight times. And what of Gainer’s Kardashian-sized caboose? Has the once-pleasantly plump rodent been sharing Nutrisystem shakes with Marie Osmond? We haven’t seen that big a weight loss since Angie dumped Brad. 

As for his peepers, we’re talking psycho rodent (seriously, Hitchcock had a hand in this). Clearly Gainer was off his meds, and there was a chainsaw and a massacre in his future.

Not surprisingly, up went a hue, also a cry. Free the real Rodent! There hadn’t been that much commotion on the Flattest of Lands since someone discovered a crop circle near Langenburg in 1974. Everyone from radio gab guys to former premiers weighed in on the maniacal-looking muppet, while Mothers shielded their children’s eyes to spare the urchins nightmares and many years of costly psychiatric treatment for gopheraphobia.

Alas, the story has a happy ending. Plow jockeys can climb back aboard their swathers and combines, folks can break out the banjos, and it’s safe to let the kiddies out of the house again—Gainer has had yet another facelift. Gone are the psycho, green eyes. He no longer looks like the neighborhood peeping Tom. Life on the Flattest of Lands is good. 

Meanwhile, on the field, the rabble’s favorite football team lost another game on Saturday night, and hardly anyone noticed.

Chevy

Let me see if I’ve got this straight: Because Kevin Cheveldayoff didn’t swallow a stupid pill, many among the rabble—and a few news snoops—are showering him with hosannas. It doesn’t matter that we’ve witnessed the equivalent of a jail break since the close of business in April, with Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers, Ben Chiarot, Brandon Tanev, Kevin Hayes and Par Lindholm going over the wall to chase dreams and fortune, if not fame. The Chevy fan boys and girls instead point to all the coin the Winnipeg Jets GM hasn’t spent since the National Hockey League free agent market opened.

He didn’t spend $50 million on Hayes. Bravo!
He didn’t spend $30 million on Myers. Atta boy, Chevy!
He didn’t spend $21 million on Tanev. Pure genius!
He didn’t spend $10.5 million on Chariot. Smooth move!
He didn’t spend $1.7 million on Lindholm. Beauty, eh!

Add it up and Chevy didn’t spend $113.2 million, or an AAV of $20,992,857, for next season and, apparently, that’s a feather in his cap. Never before has doing nothing been so widely applauded. Why, our man is the Einstein of Puck. Well, spare me.

There was nothing clever or intelligent in Chevy’s (in)activity during the initial week of the NHL free agent frolic. He didn’t shell out all those big bucks for one basic reason: Whatever loose change he has left is earmarked for bank accounts belonging to Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor, Andrew Copp and Neal Pionk. Even a mathematical midget, and some sports scribes, could see that. So why the serenade to his genius?

The measure of Chevy’s smarts comes this summer as he attempts to rebuild a back end that has lost Trouba, Myers and Chiarot. That will take savvy. He pulls it off, let the hosannas rain down.

Noodles McLennan

I looked long and hard in search of someone beyond the boundary of River City who endorses Chevy’s handiwork, but I’m afraid that person doesn’t exist. Pierre McGuire of TSN/NBC cited the Jets as the biggest “loser” on Day 1 of free agency. Noodles McLennan, another TSN natterbug, chimed in with this: “Winnipeg Jets, I can’t give them a grade because they haven’t done anything yet. Incomplete work so far. Now, that’s Kevin Cheveldayoff. He works methodically, at his own pace. Now they got Nathan Beaulieu, brought him back, other than that did nothing.” Scott Burnside of The Athletic gave Chevy a C-plus: “This is a deep, well-built team that just happens to be a little bit less than what it was.” If I discover an outrider who actually embraces what Chevy has done, you’ll be the first to know.

Ben Chiarot

I don’t know about you, but I found some of Ben Chiarot’s comments interesting, also curious, after he checked in with les Habitants, at $10.5 million for three years. “The opportunity to play for the Montreal Canadiens and be in a city like that on a team that is up-and-coming like the Canadiens was hard to turn down,” the useful blueliner said. So what’s big Ben telling us? That Good Ol’ Hometown isn’t “a city like that?” That he doesn’t view Winnipeg HC as an up-and-coming outfit? The nerve. I mean, Pegtown’s streets can match les rues de Montreal pothole-for-pothole, and les Jets can match les Habs prospect-for-prospect. He added: “The Bell Centre has been my favorite place to play since I came into the NHL. To me, it’s not like playing in any other building in the league. In Montreal on a Saturday night is something special. There’s nothing better in hockey. So to get to experience that every week now is a dream come true.” C’mon, Benny. What does the Bell Centre have that the Little Hockey House On The Prairie doesn’t? Oh, that’s right—24 Stanley Cup banners and 15 retired jersey numbers in the rafters. Ya, I guess that trumps a Winnipeg Whiteout.

The arrival of Chiarot did not meet with unanimous approval among the rabble in Montreal. It was, in fact, quite bitter and did not escape the notice of Postmedia columnist Jack Todd. “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at the appalling reaction to the Ben Chiarot signing. It’s Montreal, it’s Marc Bergevin—so of course they hate it. Why do a silly thing like wait and see how it goes when you can start with the hate NOW?” he tweeted. Sounds like our boy Benny already has a bull’s-eye on his back. Wonder how much he’ll enjoy getting the raspberry in both official languages. Les oiseaux boo can be very loud en francais.

Puck Finn

So, how will the Sebastian Aho contract ($8.454 million AAV/five years) impact on the way Winnipeg HC conducts business with blue-chip restricted free agents Laine and Connor? It won’t. Prevailing wisdom suggests it was dumb of Montreal to tender such a faint-hearted offer sheet to the Carolina Hurricanes centre, so agents won’t use it as a guideline. Frankly, I’ll be shocked if Puck Finn gets Blake Wheeler money ($8.25 million), or even if he’s in the Rink Rat Scheifele neighborhood (($6.125M). As for Connor, he won’t make as much as Scheifele. He can’t. He won’t get a penny more than Twig Ehlers ($6M).

Happy American soccer players.

I find myself wondering if the Netherlands will actually attempt to score in their winner-take-all skirmish v. the Yankee Doodle Damsels today in France, or will they play for a stalemate and take their chances on penalty kicks to determine a champion in the women’s World Cup? I’m guessing the Dutch will play 11 back. Final score: U.S.A. 4, Netherlands nil, Alex Morgan 4 (fake injuries/dives).

Alex Morgan: A spot of tea before a dive.

I’ve watched a lot of the World Cup and truly enjoyed the mostly dive-free soccer. But Morgan cranked the theatrics up a notch in the Americans’ semifinal victory over England, and I’m not talking about her mockish, tea-sipping goal celebration. That was cute, even if cocky. But she came across as a graduate of the Neymar Academy of Faux Faceplants, and it wasn’t her most charming look. With global supremacy at issue today, I’m thinking as little as a menacing stare from one of the Dutch will have her twitching and writhing in make-believe distress and adding to fake injury time. Too bad. The Yankee Doodle Damsels are better than that.

Megan Rapinoe and Sue Bird.

If it’s a different kind of read you’re looking for, check out Sue Bird’s piece in The Players’ Tribune. Sue, for those of you who haven’t been formally introduced, is the main squeeze of Donald Trump’s favorite Yankee Doodle Damsel (not!), Megan Rapinoe. After the Trumpster had a little hissy fit over Megan’s (apparent) bad manners, girlfriend Sue sprung to the nearest keyboard and assailed the Rude Man on Twitter. “O.K. I’ll answer The Question. The one that’s probably most on your mind,” she scribbled. “And by that I mean: What’s it like to have the literal President of the literal United States (of literal America) go Full Adolescent Boy on your girlfriend? Hmm. Well…it’s WEIRD. And I’d say I actually had a pretty standard reaction to it: which was to freak out a little.” Sue has an interesting writing style, but she gets her point across: She loves her soccer star girlfriend, and a menage-a-president is out of the question.

Matt Nichols

Memo to Matt Nichols: You don’t have to prove to us that you’re a tough guy. We’ll take your word for it. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback didn’t finish what he started on Friday night in Bytown because, well, he did the macho thing instead of the smart thing. As a result, the Canadian Football League lost its fifth starting QB in four weeks. Observing him in civvies on the sideline while Chris Streveler mopped up in a 29-14 W over the RedBlacks, Nichols seemed fine. He said he felt “great.” But blows to the head have a way of their own. He might find himself in a room with the drapes closed tight and all the lights turned out in a day or two. Next time you see the whites of a linebacker’s eyes, Matt, make like Neymar—dive, dive, dive.

So, the Bombers are 3-nada on the season, the CFL’s only unbeaten outfit. Richie Hall’s defensive dozen has surrendered 12 field goals and exactly one touchdown in those three skirmishes. Any more complaints? Didn’t think so.

Just wondering: Did TSN place its cameras for the Winnipeg-Bytown skirmish on the Quebec side of the border? I shouldn’t need the Hubble Telescope to watch a football game on a flatscreen 10 feet away in my living room.

Did TSN newboy panelist Mike Benevides really call Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun “some pencil neck” during the pregame natter? As a matter of fact he did, without naming him. Well, just who does Benevides think he is? A journalist? You just talk football, Benny, and leave the cheap shots to the experts.

Speaking of experts, no surprise that Paul would have the perfect comeback: “My ears are burning. You know, the ones above my pencil neck.” So we add Pencil Neck to some of the all-time nicknames in River City jock journalism: Cactus Jack, Coconut Willie, Friar, Knuckles, Knobby, Doc, Sod, etc. 

And, finally, I don’t know if TSN squawker Matt Dunigan has an endorsement deal with Fatboys Southern Smokehouse in Bytown, but I have to think anything he eats and drinks is on the house next time he’s in the nation’s capital. How many free plugs did he give Fatboys during the Bombers-RedBlacks broadcast? Four? Five? Made me want to pick up the phone and order a side of beef and some fries, except I doubt they could have delivered in 30 minutes or less.

Let’s talk about the Summer of Chevy…the Atlanta cartel’s greybeards…rose-colored glasses on press row…winners and losers…Bogo-for-Roslo…grading the wannabes…the Winnipeg Jets road show…an ace for John Paddock…CFL stuff…gay power…and garbage

A Tuesday morning smorgas-bored…and I’m still a free agent but my phone still ain’t ringing and there ain’t no offer sheets on the way

Let me guess. You’re underwhelmed.

I mean, the National Hockey League annual grab bag of teenage talent has come and gone, the frenzy that is Day 1 of free agency is behind us, Tyler Myers and Brandon Tanev are memories, the return on Jacob Trouba was scant, and there’s a hole the size of Don Cherry’s ego on the right side of the Winnipeg Jets’ defence.

Chevy

In other words, the Summer of Chevy is unfolding as expected.

Kevin Cheveldayoff is paid to generally manage les Jets, but what we have here is an example of the tail wagging the dog. The system now dictates his every move. He was forced to deal Trouba. He was forced to watch Myers and Tanev skate away as UFAs on Monday. He’ll be forced to make Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor and Andrew Copp mega-millionaires. He might be forced to unload useful workers and, perhaps, elite talent. And, unless he can find a sucker or two, he’s stuck with some contracts that will grow old in a hurry, if they haven’t already (read: Byfuglien, Dustin; Wheeler, Blake; Little, Bryan).

In short, it’s a fine mess Chevy and Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman have gotten themselves into.

Bryan Little

Granted, there’s still much heavy lifting in front of Chevy, and the rabble can always hope that he has a bit of Harry Houdini in him. Or that he can find some hats with rabbits inside. For now, though, it looks like the third defence pairing in October will be a couple of guys named Wing and A Prayer.

And to think, a year ago Winnipeg HC was viewed as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. Today they’d be lucky to win a cup of soup.

Chevy and the Puck Pontif (on the rare occasions when he’s spoken) have used up considerable oxygen reciting and trumpeting their draft-and-develop mantra. Which is fine. Except for all the good work their bird dogs have done identifying blue-chip kids, the braintrust is doing everything else all wrong.

Big Buff

That is, Chevy and the Puck Pontiff haven’t been building around Rink Rat Scheifele, Josh Morrissey, Twig Ehlers, Kyle Connor, Patrik Laine and the departed Jacob Trouba. They’ve been building around the aforementioned Byfuglien, Wheeler and Little. They still are. And that’s totally bass ackwards.

Let’s forget for a moment what’s in their pay envelopes. Think term. Do you realize that Twig Ehlers is the only player—that’s right, just one!—with a longer-term contract than Wheeler and Little (both five years)? They’re 33 and 32 years old. No defender has more term than Big Buff (two more years). He’s 34. Those are the deals that Chevy and the Puck Pontiff continue to build around. And, now that it’s time to pay the piper in the form of re-ups for Puck Finn, Connor and Copp, those ill-advised contracts with their no-movement and no-trade addendums are in the way.

Blake Wheeler

Wheeler, of course, is fresh off repeat 91-point seasons, so he isn’t spent, but if he keeps producing at that level into his shinny dotage someone will demand he pee in a bottle. That is to say, at some point his numbers have to drop faster than F-bombs at a stag. Big Buff, meanwhile, is a necessary evil now that Trouba and Myers have skipped town, and we all know Little is no longer a No.-2 centre. It’s just that Chevy ignores that obvious flaw until he gets his annual wakeup call before the NHL shop-and-swap deadline, at which time he’s moved to squander a first-round draft choice for a two-month rental.

Look, I concede there’s value to thirtysomething hockey players. I just don’t think a guy should be at the front end of a five-year term once his chin whiskers turn grey. And they certainly can’t be considered building blocks.

Like I said, it’s bass ackwards.

I don’t know if it’s just me, but I find it interesting that Wheeler, Little and Big Buff are the only remnants of the Atlanta cartel that arrived in 2011. I’m not sure what that means, but it occurs to me that they’ve been coddled from the get-go. Just saying.

Looks like a couple of boys on the beat have been swilling the Jets Kool-Aid. Both Ken Wiebe of the Winnipeg Sun and Murat Ates of The Athletic used the same word to describe how we should view Chevy’s do-nothing handiwork—patience. Wiebe acknowledged that Winnipeg HC is in retreat mode, but he managed to find a silver lining in that cloud: “Reclaiming some semblance of underdog status probably suits the Jets just fine.” (I don’t even know what the hell that means.) He then stressed “the importance of patience for a small-market organization like the Jets.” Ates provided the backup vocals, opining, “I believe Cheveldayoff’s best play is to show patience.” Wow. I’ve gotta get me a pair of those rose-tinted glasses.

What say you, Pierre McGuire? Give us your take on the Summer of Chevy. “This pains me to say this, ’cause I think Kevin Cheveldayoff and all the people in Winnipeg have done a phenomenal job with their group,” the TSN natterbug said when asked to identify a “loser” on Day 1 of NHL free agency. “That being said, James (Duthie) talked about losing people, when you lose Jacob Trouba for nothing, basically, when you lose Tyler Myers for nothing, when you lose Tanev for nothing, you lose Kevin Hayes for a fifth-round pick, you’re losing a lot. That hasn’t even addressed Ben Chiarot yet. So that could be a lot of losses. Winnipeg is not as good. They’re not as good as they were a year ago.” Some of us feel your pain, Pierre.

Evander Kane

Remember old friend Evander Kane? Of course you do. Chevy shipped out the young winger in February 2015 (along with Zach Bogosian and Jason Kasdorf) and received a handful of live bodies in barter with the Buffalo Sabres—Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford, Brendan Lemieux, Joel Armia—plus a draft pick he turned into Jack Roslovic. Myers is now a member of the Vancouver Canucks, which means Chevy has Roslovic to show for that transaction and Buffalo has Bogo. Would any of us take Roslo for Bogo today? I would.

Craig Button

TSN scout-in-residence, Craig Button, isn’t as high on les Jets top prospects as you might be. Naming Ville Heinola, Dylan Samberg, Kristian Vesalainen, Mason Appleton, Logan Stanley, David Gustafsson, Simon Lundmark, Mikhail Berdin, Declan Chisholm and Santeri Vertanen as the top-10 wannabes, he gives Chevy’s bird dogs a B-minus for their work, worse than every Canadian club except the Calgary Flames, also a B-minus.

“Winnipeg’s list is populated by prospects projected to be middle-six, bottom-half-of-the-lineup NHLers,” he says.

Here’s how Button rates them:

Montreal:    A+
Edmonton:  B+
Ottawa:       B+
Vancouver:  B
Toronto:      B
Calgary:      B-
Winnipeg:   B-.

This is interesting: According to NBC, the Edmonton McDavids, your Winnipeg Jets and the Tranna Maple Leafs are the top road draws in the NHL, with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philly Flyers rounding out the top five. And here I thought the Royal Winnipeg Ballet was the best road show out of River City.

Hey, check it out. Old friend John Paddock scored a hole-in-one on the 12th at Clear Lake on the weekend. You’ll remember good, ol’ John as a terrific guy, but also the man who had the bad manners to ship Teemu Selanne to the Disney Ducks back in the day. The former Jets GM accepted Oleg Tverdovsky, Chad Kilger and a third-round draft pick in barter for Teemu, Marc Chouinard and a fourth-rounder. “In hindsight would you do it differently? Of course you would,” Paddock, now GM of the Regina Pats, told ESPN a few years ago. “But that’s hindsight. The owners talked about budget and contracts and trying to get a defenceman…and there was a health concern with Teemu…there were different factors.” Some of us were concerned for John’s health after that trade.

Mike Reilly

Let’s play Jeopardy! Your category: The Canadian Football League after Week 3.

Clue: This is what $2.9 million buys you these days. Answer: What is a zero-3 record?
B.C. Lions bankroll David Braley coughed up large coin for starting QB Mike Reilly, and I’m guessing he’s given more than a fleeting thought to a do-over. A donut in the W column and a 2,124 drop in attendance for the home opener can’t be what he had in mind.

Bo Levi Mitchell

Clue: Rub-a-dub-dub, three men in an ice tub. Answer: Who are Zach Collaros, Antonio Pipkin and Bo Levi Mitchell?
Three starting quarterbacks down due to owies, six to go. At this rate, we can expect to see TSN natterbugs Matt Dunigan and Hank Burris back in pads and flinging the football by mid-August.

Clue: Seen mostly in B.C., Toronto, Montreal and, now, Edmonton. Answer: What are empty seats?
If the Eskimos didn’t perform in such a monstrosity of a stadium, the optics wouldn’t be so bad. But when you put 23,639 into a 60,081 facility, there’s more empty space than in Homer Simpson’s head. That’s not what Prairie football is supposed to look like.

Got a kick out of Megan Rapinoe’s comments after the Americans’ 2-1 women’s World Cup quarterfinal win v. France: “Go gays. You can’t win a championship without gays on your team, it’s never been done before, ever. That’s science right there.” Seems ridiculous, but Megan makes a valid point as it relates to the World Cup. The website Outsports advises us that there are 40 out lesbians/bisexuals playing, coaching or on team support staff in France, and 19 of them are on sides that reached the last four—U.S. (6), England (3), the Netherlands (5) and Sweden (5). So it’s a fact: You can’t win without gays.

And, finally, a ship carrying 1,500 tons of Canadian garbage arrived on our shores last week, but there’s no truth to the rumor that Chevy was there to meet it and look for defencemen.

About the great escape of CFL stars to the NFL…Mexico, Commish Randy and Martha Stewart…chasing Mr. Reilly…lady power in the NFL playoffs…backup goalies and backup QBs…and so long to Jim Taylor

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and I wonder how many Corona CFL execs sucked back during their dog-and-pony show in Mexico…

Will the last all-star to leave the Canadian Football League please turn out the lights.

Already among the dearly departed are Alex Singleton, Bryant Mitchell, Duke Williams, Marken Michel, Diontae Spencer, Jameer Thurman, James Vaughters and Samuel Eguavoen. Most oustanding player Bo Levi Mitchell soon may follow.

I swear, we haven’t seen this many good men flee since the disciples abandoned Christ.

At least those guys had a legit excuse. It was either leave Christ to fend for himself or become a starving lion’s lunch. That’s kind of a no-brainer.

This southbound exodus of quality CFL talent is another matter. The large lads are skipping town because they want to compete with the best of the best, plus they’re tired of bashing their brains for chump change. And collecting it in Canadian coin. Up here, signing bonuses are paid in Canuck Tire money and wages in Monopoly money. At least that’s how the American import might see it.

Randy Ambrosie

But, hey, make a National Football League roster and he collects Dead Presidents and Founding Fathers. Scads of them.

A practice squad shlep, for example, earns $7,600 per week in four-down football. That’s $129,200 per season. For doing squat. Minimum wage for an NFL freshman in 2019 will be $495,000. A two-year guy can’t earn less than $645,000, even if he does nothing more than spend an entire Sunday afternoon standing on the sideline staring at a Microsoft tablet.

In comparison, the CFL minimum last season was $54,000. That isn’t a typo. Do not add a zero. And it’s only $40,559.40 on the U.S. exchange. That makes staying home in Alabama to offer Big Macs and large fries to drive-thru customers a viable option. Especially if it means you don’t have to leave a bride and kids behind.

Bo Levi Mitchell, MOP.

We won’t know the 2019 CFL salary structure until the league and the Players Association agree on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, but we do know the bottom feeders won’t see more than five figures on their pay stubs.

So, ya, head south young man.

What puzzles me is that CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie is cool with the high volume of defectors.

“The NFL thing is just evidence of how fundamentally close the talent level in our league is to the talent level in the NFL,” he told news snoops last week at the winter meetings in Mont-Tremblant, Que. “That’s been a long and important story as it relates to our football. Our guys are world-class athletes and I’m always happy for them when they get a chance to take a shot at the NFL.”

Dave Dickenson

Oh, sure, let’s all paste on our happy faces like Commish Randy. Losing quality people to the NFL is a meh issue. Why, we can replace all those lost all-stars with any scrawny Mexican who can crawl under, climb over, or run around Donald Trump’s wall and make his way to Canada. So not to worry.

“Wonderful, young players,” Commish Randy said of Mexican talent while laying out his global scheme during a fireside chat with Dave Naylor of TSN. “It’s a brand new world, a brave new world out there.”

Sure is. But if Bo Levi Mitchell bolts to the NFL, I doubt John Hufnagel and Dave Dickenson of the Calgary Stampeders will be “brave” enough to replace their starting quarterback with Juan Valdez.

Sorry, but the CFL climbing into bed with Liga de Futbol Ay Chihuahua isn’t the feel-good story Commish Randy makes it out to be. Not when we’re witnessing the football equivalent of a jail break by our premier performers.

Seems to me his time would be better spent working on a CBA that doesn’t pay in Canuck Tire money.

Martha Stewart

In another fireside chat at the CFL winter meetings, Commish Randy channeled his inner Betty Crocker and advised Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun that he wants to “build the mother of all pies. We want to build a big pie.” Terrific. Martha Stewart can succeed him as commissioner when his world vision falls flatter than a sad soufflé.

Commish Randy began building his pie at Estadio Azul in Mexico City on Sunday, with cooks and bottle washers from the nine CFL teams assembling for the inaugural Look Under Every Rock Talent Tour. After observing 50 aspirants run, jump, pass, catch and kick, the consensus seemed to be there were a “couple of guys” who “wouldn’t embarrass themselves” at a training camp. I say we let the Tranna Argonauts have all 50 players. If they fail to make the team, maybe they’ll stay and buy season tickets. That would double attendance at BMO Field from last season.

According to Commish Randy and others, this Mexico’s Got Talent dog-and-pony show is all about growing the game globally. How about growing the game in the Republic of Tranna, Montreal and B.C. first.

Sarah Thomas

The CFL prides itself on diversity, but the NFL one-upped our league this weekend when Sarah Thomas and Terri Valenti worked playoff matches. Thomas became the first woman to officiate a post-season game, serving as the down judge in the American Football Conference division skirmish between the Los Angeles Chargers and New England Brady-Belichicks, while Valenti was the replay official for the Kansas City Chiefs-Indianapolis Colts joust. Awesome.

Moving to a more seasonal topic, I don’t understand why so many people are saying and writing that Rink Rat Scheifele is the engine that drives the Winnipeg Jets. Seems to me that it’s captain Blake Wheeler. Still.

In my next life I want to be a backup goalie or a backup quarterback. They’re always the most popular player with the rabble. A case in point would be Laurent Brossoit, currently Connor Hellebuyck’s caddie with les Jets. Listening to the faithful, Brossoit is boffo and Hellebuyck sucks. And the numbers suggest that. But, no, you don’t want to turn the blue paint over to Brossoit. It’s that old nugget about not fixing what ain’t broke. The Jets sit atop the National Hockey League Central Division leaderboard. They ain’t broke.

Jim Taylor

The West Coast said goodbye to one of Canada’s jock journo legends when Jim Taylor cashed out at age 82 last week on Vancouver Island. There was much to admire about Skull’s scribblings, but what I liked most was his approach to writing sports: Taylor recognized that the games people play aren’t really all that important in the grand scheme of things—hence the term ‘toy department’—so he went about it with a wink and a nod. Taylor used wit and sarcasm, irreverence and cheek to deliver his message of the day to Vancouver Sun and Province readers for 30 years. Sometimes he did it with the bite of a bulldog, other times the purr of a kitten. The main ingredient, however, was humor. He was a funny guy who poked fun and had fun. If there were any sacred cows in his world, no one noticed it in his writing. That’s why he was among my favorites.

Taylor had a quirk: He would run his one-liners by you before he’d ship his copy off to his editors. It was his idea of a test drive. He didn’t have to do that, though. They were all funny and made you laugh. Out loud. And you’d laugh again the next morning when you saw the same line in print.

Taylor’s passing provided pause for ponder on the state of sports writing in our vast nation. There are some fine wordsmiths, people who can spin a yarn and turn a phrase, but I don’t find much cheekiness and humor in most scribblings. The scribes all seem to take themselves so bloody seriously, and I often wonder what some of them are so angry about. It’s probably why I rag on guys like Steve Simmons and Damien Cox so much. They just don’t appear to be having any fun with the gig.

And, finally, is the Drab Slab known as the Winnipeg Free Press ever going to hire a sports columnist? It’s been more than three months since the last guy left the building. Get on with it already.