About an eastern bum and creep invading River City…Champions ‘R’ Us…No. 4 Bobby Orr…Puck Finn, Twig Ehlers and the puck…goaltender shrinkage?…hype from The ROT…going to pot…and other things on my mind

Monday morning coming down in three, two, one…

Every now and then, a news snoop from the Republic of Tranna gets distracted or lost and mistakenly wanders into the colonies, whereupon he feels obliged to remind the locals that they suck.

Damien Cox is one such news snoop.

Jennifer Jones and gal pals won Olympic gold, but didn’t get a parade.

Apparently, Cox took a wrong turn on the way to another Auston Matthews revival meeting last week, and he found himself in the Little Hockey House on the Prairie on the occasion of the Winnipeg Jets commencing the home-ice portion of their National Hockey League crusade.

This, be advised, is known in his trade as “slumming it,” because no one from The ROT considers a trip to the frozen tundra a plum assignment, even if the tundra has not yet frozen over. So the Sportsnet scribe/gab guy must have lost a bet or wet the bed in order to draw such an odious chore. In either case, he made a whistlestop in River City, no doubt holding his nose while going about the business of informing the nation that Peggers have been root, root, rooting for a batch of Sad Sack athletic outfits lo these many years.

“There’s a thirst for a championship here,” he advised his vast audience.

That simply isn’t true. How can Winnipeg “thirst” for anything when it’s the Slurpee Capital of the World? Nineteen years running, no less! That, my friends, is literally the ultimate in thirst-quenching titles.

Alas, like so many before him, Cox ignored our 19-year world domination in sucking up sugary slush, focusing instead on how our football and hockey heroes suck. He noted that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have come up empty every year since their Grey Cup-winning crusade of 1990, while les Jets are oh-fer-the NHL.

“It’s been a while since they held a parade in these parts,” he added.

Well, excuuuuuuse us all to hell just because we don’t bust out the floats and marching bands every time one of our jocks or teams brings a title home. If we did that, we’d have no time to shovel the sidewalks or swat mosquitoes.

Winnipeg Goldeyes: More proof of a championship team from River City.

But Cox wants championships? I’ll give him championships:

Olympic curling: 2
World curling: 5
Canadian curling: 13
Olympic speed skating: 2
World speed skating: 6
CIS football: 1
CIS basketball: 5
CIS hockey: 1
Professional baseball: 4
Slurpee Capital of the World: Nine-freaking-teen!

All that since the Bombers last ruled the Canadian Football League.

But, hey, no parades. And if a championship isn’t parade-worthy apparently it’s like that tree falling in the forest—it doesn’t really happen if no one is there to suck down a Slurpee at the same time.

The 1979 WHA champion Winnipeg Jets. Hedberg, Nilsson and Hull are nowhere to be seen.

Having outriders come to town and point out flaws is bad enough, but they really get up my nose when they don’t do their homework. For example, Cox included this in the first of two dispatches from Winnipeg: “Not since the Avco Cup days of Bobby Hull, Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson have the Jets been as serious a contender for a championship as they are now.” Totally wrong. Hedberg, Nilsson and Hull weren’t in the vicinity when les Jets won their third, and final, World Hockey Association title in 1979. The Swedes were in Gotham and Hull had retreated to a cattle ranch. Thus, les Jets haven’t been a “serious contender” since the Avco World Trophy days of Terry Ruskowski, Rich Preston, Kent Nilsson, Morris Lukowich, Willy Lindstrom, Peter Sullivan, Scott Campbell, Suitcase Smith et al.

Cox also suggests that June 2019 would be the “perfect time” to hold the next championship parade in River City. Wrong again. Late next month would be the perfect time. That would mean the Bombers have won la Coupe Grey. A Stanley Cup parade in June would be the cherry on the sundae.

Loved the Hometown Hockey feature on No. 4 Bobby Orr on Sunday night. You can have Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux or Gordie Howe, but I’ll start my team with Bobby Orr every time. I still get goosebumps watching film of that man skate and sift through foes like they’re pylons.

Fashion note: My goodness but that Jets third jersey is a dreadful garment. Winnipeg HC broke out the new threads vs. the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday night, and they actually look worse than I had imagined. Seriously, is it too late for a do-over?

What exactly does Puck Finn of les Jets do when he doesn’t have the puck? Not a whole lot, it would appear. What does Twig Ehlers do when he has the puck? Again, a whole lot of nada. And these guys play on the same line?

If goaltender equipment is supposedly getting smaller, why does Laurent Brossoit of les Jets look like he has a sofa bed stuffed under his uniform?

If you listen to Greg Millen long enough, you’ll become convinced that everything that happens in a hockey game is “unbelievable!” It’s kind of “unbelievable” that he’s still on the air.

Can you hear the hype about Auston Matthews.

Yes, the hype machine in the Republic of Tranna is operating at peak volume now that the Maple Leafs are playing hockey like it’s the 1980s.

Auston Matthews has scored 10 goals in the first two weeks of the NHL season, so surely he’s better than Connor McDavid. And, hey, while we’re at it let’s mention him in the same sentence as Wayne Gretzky (yikes!). Then there’s defenceman Morgan Rielly, mentioned in the same breath as Bobby Orr (double yikes!) because he has 13 points half a dozen games in.

I agree, the east media’s rush-to-greatness for the Leafs and their star performers is a tad over the top.

If nothing else, though, the silliness spawned a giggle-worthy, east-west Twitter to-and-fro between two longtime shinny scribes—the aforementioned Cox of Sportsnet/Toronto Star and Jim Matheson of Postmedia E-Town.

Matheson: “Typical Toronto bias that anybody would think Matthews is as good as McDavid. Did I miss the two scoring titles that Matthews has won? Can we just put a halt on the hysteria surrounding Matthews and Rielly here, besting Gretzky and Orr feats. We’ve played two weeks of the schedule folks. If Matthews gets 216 pts in a season call me. If Rielly gets 47 goals in a season call me.”

Cox (being smarmy, of course): “Now if they played for Edmonton, hysteria would be understandable and sensible.”

Debating the best in shinny is nothing new. When I was a kid, the argument centred on Gordie Howe and Bobby Hull. It became a Gretzky-Mario Lemieux discussion for the next generation. Then Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin. Some pundits still believe that Denis Potvin was better than Orr (as if).

Best lip service of the week was delivered by Lars Eller of the Washington Capitals, who had this take on les Leafs. “We were just playing against (Sidney) Crosby and (Evgeni) Malkin, so everything kind of drops off from there,” he told the Washington Post following a loss to Tranna. “It’s not that special, to be honest. It’s a good team, like a lot of others. They’ll probably be a playoff team, I would think.”

Bravo to Bob Irving of CJOB. The broadcasting legend called his 800th Bombers game on Saturday when the local lads gave the Saskatchewan Roughriders a 31-zip wedgie. I don’t think I’ve done anything 800 times, except maybe go for pints.

This week’s CFL power rankings…

1. Calgary (12-3): Cracks beginning to show.
2. Winnipeg (9-7): From the dregs to the playoffs?
3. Saskatchewan (10-6): Have to do it on D or won’t get it done.
4. Edmonton (8-8): Finally righted the ship.
5. B.C. (8-7): Hard to believe they’re still alive.
6. Hamilton (8-7): Team to beat in the East.
7. Ottawa (8-7): Still can’t get a handle on them.
8. Toronto (3-12): Blah, blah, blah.
9. Montreal (3-12): Worst starting QB in the league.

And, finally, pot becomes legal in Canada this week. Might try some of that whacky tobbacky to dull the noise the next time TSN broadcasts a Johnny Manziel game. Actually, no. Didn’t do weed in the 1960s, not going to go there now.

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About the Gang Green joke book…honk if you like Knuckles…Pip-Pip to Johnny Rotten…Rink Rat Scheifele better than Blake Wheeler?…playing shirts-and-skins tennis…tsk-tsk and tut-tut to Serena’s tutu…gospel singing…and other things on my mind

A Sunday morning smorgasbord on a lazy Labor Day weekend

In advance of this afternoon’s Pile O’ Bones Bowl betwixt the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Mosaic Stadium in (rhymes with vagina), we share with you a few snippets from the official Gang Green Joke Book.

Q: How do you know when you’ve arrived in Regina?
A: The highway sign says “Paved Road Ends Here.”

  • The teacher couldn’t understand why Little Johnny wasn’t all geeked up about the Labor Day Classic between the Riders and Bombers.
    “It’s the biggest football game of the year,” she said. “Why aren’t you excited, Little Johnny?”
    “I’m not a football fan. My parents like curling, so I like curling, too,” Little Johnny replied.
    “That’s not a very good reason. What if your parents were morons?”
    “Then I’d definitely be a Roughriders fan.”

Q: What does a Riders fan call his tattered, old couch and living room chair?
A: Brand new lawn furniture.

  • Two Riders fans arrived at the big game and one said to the other, “I wish I’d brought my piano with me.”
    “Why would you bring a piano to the football game?” his friend asked.
    “Because that’s where I left the tickets.”

Q: What’s the biggest problem for Riders fans at a pie-eating contest?
A: The cows keep stepping on them.

  • Two buddies were walking in downtown Regina when one spotted a pair of Roughriders season tickets nailed to a telephone pole.
    “I think I’ll have me some of that!” one said to the other.
    “I can’t believe your good fortune!” his friend said excitedly.
    “I’ll say…I’ve been looking for a nail just like this for months now.”

Q: What did the Roughriders fan say when his wife gave birth to twins?
A: “Okay, cousin Doreen, who’s the other father?”

  • Five things you’ll never hear a Riders fan say:
    “I’ll meet you at the library.”
    “I’ll take classic literature for $1,000, please Alex.”
    “I feel
    soooooo underdressed in this John Deere t-shirt and ball cap.”
    “Johnny Cash! Johnny Cash! Is that all you can play on that damned jukebox?”
    “No pork rinds for me, thanks. I’m watching my waist.”

Knuckles Irving

I must join the Atta Boy Chorus and present today’s Happy Honker Award (apologies to Cactus Jack Wells) to Bob (Knuckles) Irving, who celebrates 45 years with CJOB by calling the play-by-play for the Riders-Bombers skirmish. Not only is Knuckles unequaled among Canadian Football League broadcast voices, he’s a lovely lad. One of the finest people I met during 30 years in mainstream jock journalism.

The Montreal Alouettes have now won two successive matches with Antonio Pipkin at quarterback. Would they seriously consider sending him back to the sideline and trotting out Johnny Manziel when they return from a bye two weeks hence? Only if ownership sticks its snoot into head coach Mike Sherman’s business and orders it. If so, shame on them.

Mike O’Shea

Some terrific stuff, as always, on the CFL from Kirk Penton of The Athletic. Among the insider (coaches/general managers) comments was this gem: “I took my daughters to see the movie Dumb and Dumber. Felt like I was watching it again when the Bombers were down by 20 points, with one minute left, and they still had (Andrew) Harris and (Matt) Nichols in the game (vs. Ottawa). What were Mike (O’Shea) and Paul (LaPolice) thinking?” Short answer: They weren’t.

One of the coaches/GMs also gave the talking heads on TSN a slap: “We all hear the guys on the panel because we have games on in the office, but we tune them out. If we do say something about what they’ve said, it’s seldom positive. It’s surprising how little some of them know but present as fact.” I think he’s looking at you, Milt Stegall.

Rink Rat Scheifele

So, the gab guys and scribes at Sportsnet put their noggins together and compiled a list of the top 100 National Hockey League players heading into the 2018-19 crusade. They had our guy, Rink Rat Scheifele, slotted in at No. 13, which is an odd bit of business given that he isn’t even the best player with the Winnipeg Jets. That would be the captain, Blake Wheeler, who came in at No. 19. Other local lads to crack the Sportsnet 100 were Puck Finn, No. 27, Big Buff, No. 38, Connor Hellebuyck, No. 64, and Twig Ehlers, No. 84.

Captain Mark Giordano, Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, Curtis Lazar and Sam Bennett of the Flames marched in the Calgary Pride parade on Saturday. Good on them.

Alizé Cornet

Sometimes you have to give your head a shake and wonder if this is 2018 or 1958. I mean, Alizé Cornet was assessed a code violation the other day at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York, New York. Her heinous crime? Revealing an unrevealing sports bra. Oh, yes, after realizing she had put her top on backwards during a heat recess, Cornet stepped toward the shadows at the back of the court and, in two bats of an eyelash, she stripped the garment on and off. It took all of 10 seconds. If that. Chair umpire Christian Rask was having none of it. He slapped her with the code violation for unsportsmanlike conduct. Either he’s no fan of sports bras, or he didn’t get a good enough look. Whatever the case, he’s a fool. Male players peel off their shirts courtside as often as Genie Bouchard double faults, and nothing is said, even when they sit topless during the entirety of an end change. We have to get the fashion police off the tennis courts.

Genie Bouchard: No code violation, just plenty of money.

Alizé Cornet takes her top off at the U.S. Open and earns a reprimand. Genie Bouchard takes her clothes off for Sports Illustrated and earns thousands of dollars. Go figure.

Dumb headline of the week was found on the TSN website: “Bouchard is reviving her career.” Ya, Canada’s tennis diva Genie Bouchard made it all the way to the second round in Gotham, whereupon she bowed out to Marketa Vondrousova. Such a revival. Meanwhile, Mark Roe of TSN had a chin-wag with Sport Illustrated‘s Jon Wertheim, who informed us that “The tennis world, no question, is taking notice of her.” Basically, no one notices Bouchard unless she’s taking her clothing off for the SI swimsuit issue.

Serena Williams

I only have this to say about the tutu look that Serena Williams has been rocking at the U.S. Open—tut-tut and tsk-tsk. Sorry, the tutu is not my favorite look unless I’m at the Nutcracker or Swan Lake.

Let me see if I’ve got this straight: Larry Nassar sexually abused hundreds of female student athletes during 20 years as a doctor at Michigan State University, yet the NCAA has ruled that no one at MSU did anything wrong? There were zero violations? It gets a clean bill of health, so to speak? Ya, and Donald Trump has never told a fib.

Joe McCarthy

This why some jock journos should definitely stick to sports: Damien Cox of the Toronto Star/Sportsnet tweets, “This is an extraordinary time in US history. More than half a decade after McCarthyism, Russia controls the White House.” Half a decade? Try more than half a century. U.S. Senator Joe McCarthy went on his commie witch hunt in the 1950s and died in 1957, four years before Cox drew his first breath.

The results are in on amateur sports coverage in the Winnipeg Free Press and Winnipeg Sun for the month of August: Drab Slab 11.3 per cent of all articles were devoted to amateurs; Sun 1.5 per cent. Meanwhile, Drab Slab opinionist Paul Wiecek, who scribbled an essay in early July expressing his dismay and considerable umbrage over the nation’s unappreciation of amateur athletes vs. play-for-pay jocks, wrote 11 columns in 30 publishing days. The closest he came to acknowledging amateurs was a rant about rich parents. Combined in July and August, he penned 24 pieces in 59 sports sections. Zero were on amateur athletes or their teams. So I guess he’s right: Amateur athletes are unappreciated, especially by newspapers and sports scribes.

The Queen of Soul

And, finally, this has nothing to do with sports, but I must say that they really got after the gospel music at the Aretha Franklin memorial on Friday in Detroit. Mmm, mmm, that was some kind of fiiiiine singing. Haven’t heard anything that uplifting since the Barack Obama inauguration, where the Queen of Soul sang My Country ‘Tis of Thee. Wept then, wept Friday.

About Mike O’ Shea throwing TSN’s CFL journalists (not!) under the bus…Brooke Henderson’s smile…a tiger in our tanks at the “filling station”…and other CFL stuff

Two soft-boiled eggs and more weekend leftovers for a Tuesday morning breakfast

Mike O’Shea has totally lost the plot.

Never mind the botched fake punts, phantom 63-yard field goals, ill-conceived gambles, curious quarterback deployment, or any of the goofball decisions he’s made as sideline jockey with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Those were merely “d’oh” moments. Brain farts, if you will.

Mike O’Shea

But get this: O’Shea actually thinks Milt Stegall is a journalist. Ditto Matt Dunigan. And—good grief—Davis Sanchez.

That’s cow-jumped-over-the-moon stuff.

I mean, Stegall is a hall of fame receiver with a hall of fame mouth that landed him a gig as a gum-flapper on TSN’s Canadian Football League coverage. He knows a fake punt from a fair catch. But he’s a journalist like Sarah Huckabee Sanders is Honest Abe Lincoln.

If you missed it, Stegall went off on Matt Nichols on Saturday afternoon, accusing the Winnipeg FC quarterback of hurling his receivers under the bus scant seconds after the Bombers had limped off the McMahon Stadium gridiron in Calgary, losers for the second successive week, this time a 39-26 face plant vs. the Stampeders.

Matt Nichols, still No. 1.

“They just do their jobs very well,” Nichols said of the Stamps defensive dozen while he and CJOB’s Bob (Knuckles) Irving sifted through the rubble of the Bombers’ fifth L against five Ws this crusade. “When they’re in zone I’m going through four and five reads and finding no one open…they’re doing a good job.”

Nichols had other things to say, including some self-indictment, but all Stegall heard was “finding no one open.”

“Just throw me under the bus,” the old receiver griped angrily, his forehead in full frown and his eyebrows knitted together. “I’m gonna roll up on Matt Nichols if I’m Darvin Adams or one of those receivers and say, ‘Did you really say that? Is this what you feel about us? Are we calling each other out? So if I’m wide open and you miss me should I go to the media and say we need a quarterback who’s gonna throw it to me when I’m open?’ What is this? He needs to come out there and play and keep his mouth shut.”

So now we have O’Shea entering the verbal fray during a chin-wag with Knuckles Irving, play-by-play voice of Winnipeg FC on ‘OB since Dieter Brock was as wet behind the ears as Michael Phelps.

“Completely irresponsible,” is the damning term the Bombers head coach used Monday night to catalog the bleatings of Stegall. “The journalism was irresponsible. You know, Bob, you asked the question about Calgary’s defence and it was nothing about our receiving corps and their ability. They took a small snippet of Matt’s answer and tried to run with it. Frankly, it’s a little embarrassing for them, I’m sure. How Matt answered the question I thought was a perfectly good answer.

“One of the things is these guys have to create news obviously and create a story and create excitement on the panel…I don’t know. It doesn’t sit well with us because it’s so far from what was said, it’s so taken out of context it’s just not fair really. They need to make a show, and it’s too bad. I believe they made a mistake and I do think it’s irresponsible, you know, they sort of ran with it. I guess that’s…like I said they need to make a show.”

Milt Stegall: He’s no journo.

O’Shea later added this: “When you take a fragment of a quote, or a fragment of an interview and use it as you will, haphazardly, it’s a dangerous business. It’s not fair. It’s not good journalism.”

That’s because Stegall isn’t a journalist.

He’s a retired receiver who’s afraid of thunder and lightning and often finds axes to grind as the angriest member of the TSN panel. He shows up on our flatscreens wearing fancy threads twice a week, and he provides Xs-and-Os insight and bitches about whatever’s up his nose that day/night. Which is great. As misguided as he sometimes is, I don’t want Stegall to zip his lips.

Just don’t confuse what he does with journalism, Mikey.

A smiling Brittany Henderson and a grinning Brooke Henderson on the 18th fairway.

Moving on to actual journalists, apparently Bob Weeks of TSN and Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail watched a different Brooke Henderson during her victory march at the CP Canadian Open women’s golf championship on Sunday.

Here’s Kelly on Henderson: “It’s hard to think of any golf pro who looks like they’re having less fun out there. Ms. Henderson lives so deeply in the moment that she is functionally underground. On the walk up the 18th fairway on Sunday—victory assured, the crowd hooting her name—she still did not allow herself the freedom of a grin.”

Here’s Weeks on Henderson: “She normally will smile a little bit, she’ll kind of interact with the fans. There was none of that today. The first time I saw her smile was after she was walking up to the 18th green.”

I’m uncertain where Kelly had plunked himself to observe Henderson’s final round of the Open (or if he even watched it), but I know Weeks’s feet were on the ground at the Wascana Country Club in Regina. He saw Henderson smile on the 18th fairway. So did I. And most other reports indicated that Henderson did, indeed, interact with patrons during the first three rounds of her successful crusade. She was not “functionally underground.”

Kelly went on to write of Henderson: “She is already pulling away from Masters champion Mike Weir as Canada’s greatest golfer of modern times.”

Wrong. Henderson, with seven titles on the Ladies Professional Golf Association Tour, has yet to catch Weir, let alone pull away from him. Weir won eight times on the Professional Golf Association circuit.

Murray Westgate

Those of us of a certain vintage will be saddened by the passing of Murray Westgate at the age of 100 on Monday. Westgate was the Esso pitchman who put a tiger in our tanks during Hockey Night in Canada broadcasts during the 1950s and ’60s, and most of us kids actually believed he pumped gas, checked the oil and wiped windshields for a living. I always hoped we’d pull into a “filling station” one day and see his smiling face approach our car. But no. He was an actor who made $75 a gig in the beginning at a couple grand per night by the time Esso pulled the plug on its sponsorship.

Here are this week’s CFL power rankings…

1. Calgary (8-1): Back on track after a slight misstep.
2. Edmonton (6-4): Stumbled in Hamilton.
3. Saskatchewan (5-4): Tough to win in B.C. but they got the job done.
4. Ottawa (6-3): Status quo.
5. Winnipeg (5-5): That was ugly in Cowtown.
6. Hamilton (4-5): Might have turned it around.
7. B.C. (3-6): Done like dinner.
8. Toronto (3-6): Duron Carter can’t help them yet.
9. Montreal (2-8): What’s not to like about Antonio Pipkin.

Last week in CFL quarterbacking (starters only)…

About TSN’s CFL gab guy Milt Stegall getting it wrong…the Winnipeg Boo Bombers…O Canada, Brooke’s the champion…Maple Leafs like the ladies…the Paris fashion police…where’s Josh?…and other things on my mind

Cold pizza and some weekend leftovers for a Monday morning breakfast

These are the worst of times for Matt Nichols. First, his elbow was bruised. Then his ego. And now his eyesight has betrayed him.

Milt Stegall

I mean, how else do you explain the pass he tossed to Ja’Gared Davis late in the fray Saturday afternoon at McMahon Stadium in Cowtown? Davis is as large as a prairie silo, for cripes sake. He’s visible from outer space. Yet Nichols didn’t see him when he flipped the football in the direction of Nic Demski. End result: Pick six.

This, of course, was salt-to-the-wound stuff, because the Calgary Stampeders had matters well in hand before Davis arrived in the end zone, but that play served as a snap shot of Nichols’ life on and off the field for the past 10 days.

To recap, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers starting quarterback was booed by some of the faithful in a sub-standard performance in a losing cause vs. the Ottawa RedBlacks. He allowed that to get under his thinning skin and felt obliged to expose his frayed feelings to news snoops. Discussion ensued for much of the week in advance of the skirmish with the Stampeders, prompting Nichols to suggest his gripe with Winnipeg FC loyalists was “way blown out of proportion.” Then came Calgary and a 39-26 paddywacking, followed by a tsk-tsking from two of three talking heads on TSN’s panel of retired grid guys. They accused him of hurling his teammates under the bus because he mentioned something about “finding no one open.”

Matt Dunigan

“I just think that he’s gotta check himself, get his emotions under control because the pressure’s only gonna get hotter. Get used to it,” said Matt Dunigan, the old QB.

“He needs to come out there and play and keep his mouth shut,” added Milt Stegall, the old receiver who, it should be pointed out, does not own a Grey Cup ring.

Dunigan is right about the pressure. Stegall is full of horse hooey.

Nothing Nichols said in his post-joust discussion with Knuckles Irving on CJOB, or during his scrum with news snoops, was a hatchet job on his pass-catchers or his running backs. If anything, he acknowledged the skill of Calgary’s defensive dozen, which takes no prisoners and is, by the numbers, the stingiest group in the Canadian Football League.

But Nichols is under siege. He might want to consider a witness protection program this week.

Here’s the deal, though: He still provides the Bombers with their best opportunity to win. His understudy, neophyte Chris Streveler, is more popular than Christ in a cathedral, but he’s still as raw as garden vegetables.

Chris Streveler

Could and should head coach Mike O’Shea utilize Streveler more often? Totally. It’s not like Nichols has been lighting it up lately. Streveler can fling the football and he’s definitely got better wheels than Nichols (so does a sloth), so allowing him rot on the sideline is non-productive. Also dopey. But that’s O’Shea—a sometimes very dopey coach.

O’Shea says the whole Boo Bombers thing re his QB was “driven by the media,” as if that’s a bad thing. “There’s comments made and it’s probably easy to make news out of that,” he says. Ya think, Mikey? That’s kind of how the news thing works. People in prominent positions, like Nichols, do and say things. News snoops record and report it. The rabble talks about it. And they’ll continue to talk about Winnipeg FC quarterbacking in the leadup to the Labor Day weekend joust vs. the Saskatchewan Roughriders. That’s the main narrative.

In Winnipeg, a game between the Roughriders and Bombers is called the Banjo Bowl. In Saskatchewan, a game between the Riders and Bombers is called “another win.”

Coordinator Richie Hall’s defence has surrendered 1,016 yards of real estate in the past two games. That’s the equivalent of nine football fields. It’s a $25 cab ride. Just spitballing here, but Richie might want to try something different when the Bombers arrive in Regina.

Interesting that no one at TSN has noticed how truly unremarkable Davis Sanchez is as a gab guy on the CFL panel. The former defensive back offers nothing but poorly delivered, fractured thoughts, and he allowed Stegall to bully him into silence on Saturday.

Brooke Henderson

Meet Brooke Henderson, my new favorite athlete. It’s still August, but with her victory in the Canadian Open golf tournament, distaff division, the delightful young woman from Smiths Falls, Ont., has ended any discussion about this country’s athlete of the year. No one can touch her. And I find myself wondering how many little girls will want to pick up a golf club now that Brooke has won our national championship. What she did Sunday was beautiful and inspiring.

Speaking of inspirational women, there’s something special going on in the Republic of Tranna, where the Maple Leafs added three females to their payroll—Haley Wickenheiser, assistant director of player development; Noelle Needham, amateur scout; and Dr. Meg Popovic, director of athlete well-being and performance. I don’t know if that gets them any closer to a Stanley Cup parade, but you have to know that Humpty Harold Ballard is spinning like a lathe in his grave.

Serena Williams

I note that the Paris fashion police have outlawed Serena Williams’ black catsuit at the French Open. So here’s my question: Would French Tennis Federation president Bernard Giudicelli and cronies have banned the form-fitting catsuit if glam gal Maria Sharapova had arrived at Roland Garros wearing one? Of course not. It would have taken the grounds crew the entire French fortnight to mop up their drool.

If pro golfers had to tote their own bags, I think Brooks Koepka would win every tournament. The guy is a beast.

Josh Morrissey

It’s Aug. 27, Jets Nation: Do you know where Josh Morrissey is?

I suppose he might be in a gym, refining his fettle for the rigors of an advancing hockey crusade. Or he might be on the first tee somewhere in the urban forestry of Winnipeg. Or he might be at his favorite fishing hole on one of Manitoba’s 100,000-plus large puddles, impaling a big, fat, juicy, wiggly worm on a hook.

Bait? Did I mention bait? Well, yes I did, and Morrissey has yet to take it.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

Whatever temptation Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and his main point man, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, have dangled in front of their young defender has been ineffective. They’d have more success getting a rainbow trout to swallow a football. Thus Morrissey remains an unsigned chattel of les Jets, less than a month in advance of their annual gathering of National Hockey League incumbents and wannabes.

And speculators speculate.

Oh, yes, the blah, blah, blah machine has been operating at full throttle—must be contentious negotiations; Morrissey must be demanding too much term and money; les Jets must be offering too little, in both term and compensation; Morrissey’s another Jacob Trouba and won’t report to training camp; could be that some prickliness has developed between the two sides.

“No, not at all. None whatsoever,” Morrissey informed Jason Bell of the Winnipeg Free Press last week. “At the end of the day, everything’s been going great.

“Everyone’s confident (a fresh contract) will be handled and done, definitely in time for the season. I think things have really started to progress. For me, I love being here, I love playing here. You look at the playoff run last year that we had and just the support from the fans, I love being a Winnipeg Jet.”

Jacob Trouba

I’ve never met Josh Morrissey. Probably never will. So I have no cause to doubt him. When he says he’ll be part of the group that commences another Stanley Cup crusade next month, I don’t think his pants are on fire or his nose is longer than a Winnipeg winter. I expect it’ll be business as usual, with Morrissey working in tandem with Trouba on les Jets back line.

Then we all can move on to a fresh narrative. Like what kind of coin it will take to keep captain Blake Wheeler on board. That ought to hold our attention for the next 10 months.

Morrissey’s hyper-positive comments to Bell stand in stark contrast to the scribblings of Freep sports columnist Paul Wiecek. Exactly two weeks earlier, the Drab Slab’s resident ray of sunshine (not!) suggested there was something foul afoot, advising us that the young defenceman’s “darker side is on display this summer” and “it’s no accident we’ve reached this point.” It was, of course, a sourceless serving of codswallop that placed responsibility for any contract obstruction on Morrissey’s doorstep. Like, Chipman and/or Cheveldayoff could never be the hangup. It has to be the worker. As if. Again, that essay is yet another example of why jocks don’t trust jock journos.

A social gathering at The Little Hockey House On The Prairie in Winnipeg.

And, finally, Wiecek also took out another of his favorite chew toys last week—rich people. Apparently, there’s a gap between the wealthy and poor among us. Who knew? That’s like telling me there’s some empty space between Donald Trump’s ears. But here’s where Wiecek lost me: He dismissed the social worth of athletes and sports, like a horse’s tail swishing away a barn fly.

“Look, rich people are allowed to spend their money any way they want,” he writes. “If you can find someone dumb enough to give you millions of dollars a year just because you can shoot a frozen disc into a six-by-four foot net, that buys a lot of freedom. I wish I had a skill that was in high demand despite serving no useful social purpose.”

Say what? No useful social purpose? I suppose that’s why city, provincial, state and national governments devote so much money to the construction and upkeep of sports facilities. Because they serve “no social purpose.”

Sorry, but nowhere in our society does the rabble assemble in greater numbers and on a more frequent basis than at sporting events. They are the ultimate social gatherings, the notable exceptions being rock concerts and religious revivals when Billy Graham was still alive to preach the word.

The notion that skilled athletes serve “no useful social purpose” is totally daft.

Bob Irving: As great as the voice of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers is as a play-by-play man, he’s even a better person

Knuckles Irving

I’ve often wondered how, and why, Bob Irving has kept trucking along.

I mean, the man we know affectionately as Knuckles has been the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ main storyteller since 1974. It’s easy to do the math. That’s 43 years ago. Numbers, however, don’t provide perspective on his time describing the goings-on of the Canadian Football League outfit.

For perspective, try this: The year Knuckles began blah, blah, blahing about the Bombers on CJOB…

  • Mike Riley’s pop, Bud, was head coach and Dieter Brock was a rookie backup quarterback we knew as Ralph.
  • The Winnipeg Tribune was a vibrant alternative to the Winnipeg Free Press.
  • Richard Milhouse Nixon was still in the White House, although RMH left the building in August and our American friends said hello to President Gerald Ford.
  • Trudeau the 1st was Prime Minister of Canada, Ed Schreyer was Premier of Manitoba, and Steve Juba was Mayor of all the people in Winnipeg.
  • One-time teenage heartthrob Paul Anka released the regrettable (You’re) Having My Baby, but the top song in Canada was Seasons in the Sun by Terry Jacks.
  • The top-selling album worldwide was Band on the Run by breakaway Beatle Paul McCartney and Wings.
  • Archie Bunker was the No. 1 bigot on TV, with he, Edith, Gloria and Meathead ruling the ratings on All in the Family.
  • Mikhail Baryshnikov defected from the Soviet Union.
  • Muhammad Ali played Rope-a-Dope, then KO’d George Foreman to reclaim the heavyweight boxing championship in the Rumble In The Jungle.
  • The RCMP swore in its first female police officers.
  • A Big Mac cost .65, a loaf of bread .28, a car $3,500, and minimum wage in Manitoba was $2.15.

So, ya, Knuckles has been around some. Squints use carbon dating to determine his age. But that doesn’t mean he’s passed his best-before date. His voice is still as smooth as Tennessee whiskey, his delivery as descriptive as a Steinbeck novel, his integrity unassailable.

That will be absent from the ‘OB broadcast on Friday night in Vancouver, when the Bombers pay a visit to B.C. Place for a skirmish with the Lions. Knuckles has retreated to the repair shop to permit medics to tinker with his ticker and, while there’s little doubt the capable Kelly Moore will perform admirably in his stead, Knuckles is one of those guys you fill in for but cannot replace.

If there is a Vin Scully of the CFL, it’s Knuckles Irving, who’s actually a nicer guy than he is a play-by-play broadcaster.

The sports media, on both the print and electronic side, can be an open range for galloping egos and a misguided sense of significance, but it is largely the province of genuinely good, honest women and men who recognize they’re working in the toy department and, thus, acknowledge that they’ve got a great gig.

I don’t think Knuckles has ever lost sight of that. He’s a humble, earthy man with a killer wit that often keeps the sidelines at Bombers practices at full guffaw. He takes his job seriously but not himself. His passion for his work, the Bombers and the CFL is unparalleled, and I suppose that’s what keeps him trucking after all these years.

No telling how long Knuckles will continue to blah, blah, blah about the Bombers, but his career is kind of like his forehead—it never seems to end.

And that’s a beautiful thing.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling mostly about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.

About pig-headed coaching…Matt Nichols to the rescue…the Freep’s two muppets…slow white guys…beers and puns…and other things on my mind

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

So, by proving himself to be right, Mike O’Shea has proven himself to be horribly wrong.

Say what?

Well, O’Shea was right to fire starting quarterback Drew (One Hop) Willy, but when Matt Nichols went behind centre and rag-dolled an Edmonton Eskimos’ defensive dozen to the tune of 30 points before and after the flashing of lightning and the rumbling of thunder on Thursday night at Commonwealth Stadium, it underscored how wrong/stubborn/pig headed the Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach had been before his employment and his club’s season was put on amber alert.

Let’s excuse the fact that the Eskimos can’t stop a runny nose right now. Nichols was superb in the Bombers’ 30-23 beatdown of the defending Canadian Football League champions, orchestrating two touchdown drives and directing another five excursions into enemy territory that produced Justin Medlock three-point hoofs.

You are, therefore, allowed to ask why it took O’Shea so long to turn away from Willy and hand the ball to Nichols. The short answer: He’s stubborn. The long answer: He’s really stubborn.

Had O’Shea stuck a fork in ol’ One Hop a game or two sooner, the local football heroes might be 3-3 today, rather than 2-4. Like I said, the much-maligned man was right to make the QB change, but he was extremely misguided in confining Nichols to the sideline and clipboard duty five skirmishes into this crusade.

There’s no suggestion here that we ought to reserve a spot for the name Matt Nichols on the Bombers’ Roll of Honour. It’s one game, one win. Still, the Eastern Washington alumni took what had been a comatose offence under the direction of the woeful Willy and delivered a kiss of life that, while not Biblical in loft, surely has saved the coach’s job. For now.

It’s still about the big picture.

Mike O’Shea is a better coach this morning by one win, his 14th W against 28 Ls. That said, I maintain the over/under on his long-term employment is early September.

If O’Shea is still wearing the head set by the time we break out the banjos for the Bombers’ annual frolic with the Saskatchewan Roughriders at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry on Sept. 10, he’s probably good to go for the remainder of the season.

If not, that can mean just one of two things has transpired: 1) Nichols is wounded; 2) O’Shea has a moment of madness and sends Willy, his $411,000 quarterback, back into the fray.

O’Shea insists that Bombers Nation hasn’t seen or heard the last of Willy. That’s what scares me.

say what banner4I don’t know what to make of the newest wrinkle on the sports pages of the Winnipeg Free Press, a little something headlined Say What?! Basically, it’s a print version of a chin-wag between sports editor Steve Lyons and columnist Paul Wiecek. Think Waldorf and Statler, the two grumpy, old muppets who sit in a balcony and bitch about the world. Now you’ve got a good read on what Say What?! is all about. After two offerings of Wiecek and Lyons (oh, what the hey, let’s call them Viscount and Gort), I still don’t know if it works for me. It might be too vaudevillian. Then again, maybe it isn’t. I love off-the-wall stuff and I’m thinking Say What?! will grow on me. Either way, it’s interesting that the Freep is doing more tabloid-style stuff than the tabloid in town.

Who says you can’t give the Bombers any props? We have proof to the contrary, thanks to noted white-knuckle fly boy Bob Irving. Play-by-play voice Knuckles delivered this terrific tweet prior to the club’s takeoff for its assignment with the Eskimos: “Getting set to fly to Edmonton on a plane with propellers? What year is this and whose idea was this?” Props to you, Knuckles.

Did I actually hear Jock Climie refer to former Montreal Alouettes receiver Ben Cahoon as a “slow white guy” when the Bombers and Eskimos took a lightning break and the TSN studio gab guys were required to fill air? I sure did. Jock called Cahoon a “slow white guy.” Now, what do you suppose the reaction would have been had Jock’s sidekick on the night, Matt Dunigan, referred to, say, Nik Lewis as a “slow black guy?” You bet. The stuff would have hit the fan.

If men’s golf majors were the Beatles, The Masters and the Open Championship would be Lennon and McCartney, the U.S. Open would be George Harrison, and the PGA would be Ringo. The Players Championship would be Pete Best—close but failed to make the cut.

Don Cherry and Ron MacLean
Don Cherry and Ron MacLean

Nice to see two good Canadian boys, Donald S. Cherry and Ron MacLean, honored with a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame. Well deserved. Apparently, Grapes celebrated by tossing back a six pack of Molson Canadian while MacLean delivered a six pack of really bad puns.

Yo! Duane Forde and Rod Black! Zip your lips when the head skunk shirt is announcing penalties to the audience during CFL jousts. Nothing you two gas bags have to say is so important that it can’t wait five seconds.

It’s late July, the warmest day of the year where I hang my bonnet, I call up the Winnipeg Sun sports section and see a lengthy dissertation by Ken Wiebe on—wait for it—projected line combinations for the Winnipeg Jets? This is something I want to read during the dog days of summer? Whether Mark Scheifele is going to have Nikolaj Ehlers for a linemate or Patrick Laine once the National Hockey League season commences in mid-October? Cripes, man, that makes Say What?! in the Freep come across as Pulitzer Prize-worthy.

Speaking of things that don’t make sense, Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons continues to hand the ball to R.A. Dickey. Why? Dickey is to the Jays’ starting pitching what Drew Willy is to the Blue Bombers’ quarterbacking.

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.

 

Winnipeg Blue Bombers: How long a leash will Mike O’Shea give Matt Nichols?

As I was saying last week in the wake of another Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ wedgie, Drew (One Hop) Willy would be the first sacrificial lamb placed on the spit because Mike O’Shea had no choice but to fire his starting quarterback.

Mike O'Shea: End of the line?
Mike O’Shea: End of the line?

So the head coach did that very thing on Sunday.

Quite possibly (more than likely?), the move to flip-flop Willy and Matt Nichols was strongly suggested to the stubborn O’Shea by a voice from above, because he did mention something about “conversation” being part of the decision-making process. He didn’t say whom that tete-a-tete involved, but nothing speaks louder than roughly 9,000 empty seats at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry, so club CEO Wade Miller might have whispered a not-so-sweet something in his ear.

That, mind you, is pure speculation.

Maybe Miller wasn’t being a buttinski and O’Shea made this call sans pressure from on high. After all, the much-maligned man might be mule-like, but stubborn isn’t stupid. He doesn’t need to see the wall to read the writing on it that tells him he has arrived at coaching’s cliff edge.

Something had to give. It was Willy. And, yes, this smacks of Hail Mary-ism.

I mean, sideline stewards are loath to turn to their No. 2 QB when No. 1 is in fine physical fettle, and all indications support the notion that Willy is free of any owies that might prevent him from taking the starter’s snaps. Thus, sacrificing Willy’s job to perhaps salvage his own is a nervy gambit by O’Shea. Also necessary. His troops, after all, are 1-4 and, while many gaze upon him as a dead man coaching, there are other culprits responsible for the shoddy start to this Canadian Football League crusade.

Matt Nichols: Behind centre, but for how long?
Matt Nichols: Behind centre, but for how long?

Foremost, at least in the consideration of many among the rabble, is Willy. His numbers suggest he’s doing boffo business, but we know better, don’t we. Much, if not the most generous portion, of his yardage has been collected in garbage time. When it most matters, he flings the football like someone has sucked all the air out of the thing. Or he’s afraid it’ll give him the cooties. Seriously. There are penguins with better hang time than a lot of Willy’s passes.

Which is why the Bombers will have $411,000 worth of QB standing on the sidelines at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton on Thursday night, and a backup with a losing record attempting to outwit the Eskimos defensive dozen.

Or will they?

Color me skeptical, but I’m not convinced O’Shea will grant Nichols a long leash. After all, the coach knows that if his universe is not unfolding as it should early in the skirmish with the Eskimos, not even a dip into the healing waters of Lourdes will keep him out of the unemployment queue. So, it’s my guess that he’ll turn to Willy faster than Knuckles Irving can say “another two and out for the Bombers.”

Willy got five games. Nichols might get five minutes. If this is to be O’Shea’s last waltz, he’ll finish it with the QB he brought to the dance.

Drew Willy: Down but not necessarily out.
Drew Willy: Down but not necessarily out.

The ginger-haired head coach said nothing of the sort during his brief chin-wag with news scavengers post-practice on Sunday. Not in so many words. But he went to great lengths to emphasize his unwavering faith in ol’ One Hop. Not that anyone expected O’Shea to kick the poor guy when he’s down, but he made it sound very much like he believes beyond all reasonable doubt that this is but a blip in the Willy career arc.

More to the point, I found his answer—or non-answer—to this point-blank question extremely telling: Does Matt Nichols give this team the best chance to win?

This week, absolutely, he gives us a good chance to win. For sure,” O’Shea said.

The answer I had expected to hear was, “Of course he does. That’s why he’ll be starting against the Eskimos. We need a win and he gives us our best shot.” Instead, it was “a good chance” to win rather than “the best” chance to win. Call it splitting hairs, if you like, but what he didn’t say told me more than what he did say.

If Nichols stubs his toe in The Chuck, he’ll be holding a clipboard again. Bet on it.

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.