The River City Renegade


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About Mike O’Shea’s stubborn streak…clothes don’t make the coach…Kent Austin still has a job?…strange brew from a Postmedia scribe…and Genie’s charisma

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

Mike O’Shea and Bill Belichick: Clothes don’t make the coach.

For the record, I think Mike O’Shea is a seriously flawed head coach.

His most notable wart would be his mule-like refusal to acknowledge blatant blunders. I mean, when a man makes a mistake and then tells the rabble that, yes, given the opportunity for a do-over he would make the same stupid gaffe again, he’s not someone who should have the nuclear codes.

But that’s O’Shea.

Did he learn from an ill-advised 61-yard field goal attempt that fell seven yards short of the target and ended the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ season last November at B.C. Place Stadium? Nope. Three days after the fact, O’Shea advised news snoops that, “Yup, absolutely,” he’d ignore logic and again put his faith in Justin Medlock’s left leg.

Did he learn from an ill-advised faux punt that turned potential victory into defeat a little more than a week ago vs. the B.C. Lions? Nope. “We’d do it again,” he confirmed.

They say hindsight is 20/20 vision. I suppose it is. Unless your name is Mike O’Shea.

I swear, if it were up to O’Shea he’d have the Edsel back on the road. He’d say the guy at Decca records who rejected the Beatles made the right call. He’d let Custer have another go at all those Indians at the Little Big Horn.

So, ya, he’s stubborn like a Winnipeg winter is cold. It’s a flaw that, at some point, will likely cost him his job.

Until then, he’ll continue to keep us scratching our heads, and I’m guessing that he’ll keep doing it in a pair of short pants that somehow keep popping up as a talking point.

I’m sorry, but the significance of O’Shea’s pant legs escapes me. So the guy dresses like some shlub squatting on a street corner in Osborne Village, begging for nickels and dimes. Bill Belichick does, too. Even worse. He’s a hobo in a hoodie. But he’s also the best head coach in professional football. He’s just never let success go to his clothes, is all.

Jeff Reinebold: What a goof.

I can think of just one example of a coach’s wardrobe possibly impacting on team performance—Jeff Reinebold. He looked like a guy who got lost on his way to a beach volleyball game. He was a total goof-off. So were the Bombers under his watch. It was party time in flip-flops with Bob Marley until someone finally shot the sheriff, 32 games and 26 losses too late.

Calgary Stampeders 60, Hamilton Tiger-Cats 1. Hamilton Tiger-Cats 0-5. Only win-free outfit in the Canadian Football League. Fewest points scored, most points allowed. And head coach Kent Austin still has a job? How is this possible?

Pet peeve: Broadcasters and reporters who describe a short kickoff as an “onside kick.” All kickoffs are onside. They have to be, otherwise there’d be a five-yard penalty. Is that picky of me? Ya, about as picky as people who talk about O’Shea’s short pants.

So, here are the head counts at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry for the Bombers this crusade: 30,165 (Calgary), 25,085 (Toronto Argonauts), 25,931 (Montreal Alouettes). Average attendance: 27,060. Only the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Edmonton Eskimos play to larger audiences. This is a problem how?

In the D’oh! Department: Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press refers to John Hufnagel and Wally Buono as “former coaches.” When last seen, Buono was standing on the B.C. Lions sideline and he wasn’t there as window dressing. He’s the Leos’ current, not former, head coach.

Some strange brew from Steve Simmons in his weekly three-dot column for Postmedia. Let me count the ways:

  1. He describes Ted Williams as baseball’s “greatest hitter ever.” Well, let’s see. The Postmedia columnist was born in 1957. He was barely out of the cradle the day Williams last swatted a baseball in 1960, hitting a dinger in his final Major League at-bat. I hardly think someone who was a three-year-old boy at the time and never once watched Williams play with the Boston Red Sox is qualified to determine anything about the Splendid Splinter.
  2. He writes this of three-down football: “I really wish the CFL faithful would stop telling people how many great games there are” Huh? You have a boffo product and you shouldn’t—repeat, should not—brag about it? And I thought Mike O’Shea said strange things.
  3. He writes this of women’s tennis: “The top tennis player in the world, according to the WTA, is Karolina Pliskova. The No. 5 player is Elina Svitolina. If either of those women knocked on your door and said hello, would have any idea who they were?” Well, Stevie, you’re supposedly the most-read sports columnist in Canada. If you knocked on my neighbor’s door and said hello, would she have any idea who you are?

Genie Bouchard

In the world according to Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail, tennis player Genie Bouchard is “this country’s most charismatic athlete.” Well, I’ve never met our girl Genie. Probably never will. So I can only go by what I’ve seen/heard/read on TV and the Internet, and she strikes me as sullen, guarded and totally lacking in charm. I can’t help but cheer for terrific young Canadian athletes like golfer Brooke Henderson and swimmer Penny Oleksiak, but I struggle mightily to root, root, root for our Genie. Henderson and Oleksiak are far more charismatic. So, too, is P.K. Subban. Henry Burris was charismatic. Pinball Clemons was the very definition of charismatic. Still is. Hey, I don’t want to sound like a Debbie Downer, because I’m sure little girls flock to Genie. Just like they flock to Justin Bieber. It’s just that I find both her and him disagreeable.

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.


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Jimmy Piersall was a funny guy, but there is nothing funny about mental illness

It was in the autumn of 1964 and, as we gathered around our TV set with the black-and-white screen and rabbit ears to watch Hockey Night in Canada, we were puzzled.

Frank Mahovlich, the Big M of the Toronto Maple Leafs, wouldn’t be playing that night.

The Big M, Frank Mahovlich

None of the talking heads (I can’t recollect if it was Foster or Bill Hewitt calling the game, or if it was Ward Cornell or Ed Fitkin as the studio host) provided us with the definitive why and wherefore of the Big M’s absence from the Leafs lineup, except to say something about fatigue. Mahovlich was plum tuckered out. The remainder of the story was a mystery.

How can Mahovlich be tired?” the 13-year-old version of my former self wondered. “The season has just started.”

As history records, the Big M was bedded down in a Toronto hospital that night, a victim of depression. Acute depression. The Leafs and their tyrannical head coach Punch Imlach, later identified as the main source of Mahovlich’s emotional undoing, had to get along without him for a month. And there was always a hush-hushness about his absence. Mental illness, you see, was among the taboo topics of the day. Most folks didn’t talk about their “crazy uncle in the attic.” It was looked upon not as an illness, but a weakness, if not an embarrassment. And, in the case of a National Hockey League star like Mahovlich, any whisper of mental frailty implied a softness, which seldom found favor with fans or media and certainly not Imlach.

The abrupt, abrasive Leafs’ dictator once said this of Mahovlich: “Hockey is a streetcar named desire and too many days Ma-hal-o-vich doesn’t catch the train.”

The Big M, whose life under Imlach seemed so much like a Shakespearean tragedy, managed to flee the tyrant and the Leafs, but not before surviving a second major bout of depression, exactly three years after the first. His escape led him to Detroit, then Montreal, where he played a significant role in two Stanley Cup-winning crusades, then the Hockey Hall of Fame, the Canadian Senate and, by most accounts, a happily-ever-after life.

I thought of Mahovlich when I heard about Roberto Osuna, the Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher who booked off work the other night because he’s been feeling “a little bit anxious, a little bit weird, a little bit lost” and doesn’t know why (been there, felt that). I also thought of the late Jimmy Piersall, the original poster boy for athletes dealing with mental illness.

Piersall was 22 years old and 56 games into his rookie Major League Baseball season when the Boston Red Sox thought it wise to have his head examined, thus they sent him to a mental hospital, whereupon medics probed the young centre fielder’s mind and determined what to do about his bipolar disorder.

Jimmy Piersall ran the bases backwards after hitting his 100th home run in 1963.

Unlike the Mahovlich situation, there was nothing hush-hush about Piersall’s descent into depression. He wrote a book with Al Hirshberg, Fear Strikes Out, which became a TV movie then a feature film, and he followed with his 1985 memoir, The Truth Hurts. People called him an oddball, a kook and a basket case because of his antics and fits of rage that would sometimes lead to fisticuffs. He labeled himself “crazy” and a “gooney bird” and confirmed it by running the bases backwards after hitting his 100th career home run, shimmying up a flag pole during a game and wearing a Beatles wig to home plate.

I remember reading Fear Strikes Out as a teenager and thinking, “Wow, this guy has some serious issues. But he’s funny.”

When his issues struck close to home—visiting a family member in a psych ward and hearing a heavy, metal door clank shut and locked tight—Jimmy Piersall didn’t seem so funny anymore. When I was confronted by my own mental challenges—blackouts from anxiety attacks, suicidal ideation, uncontrollable crying, elaborate mood swings, panic attacks—it wasn’t funny at all.

To this day, I sometimes feel like a recluse because the thought of stepping out of doors can be a serious challenge. Like Roberto Osuna, I feel anxious, weird and lost. Also afraid. And that depresses me.

Osuna is 22. So young, so vulnerable, such a shame. But not helpless or hopeless.

Here’s what Piersall wrote in Fear Strikes Out in 1955: “I want the world to know that people like me who have returned from the half-world of mental oblivion are not forever contaminated. We have been sick. The best way to help us get well and stay well is to treat us like human beings—as I’ve been treated. We don’t have to talk about our sickness in whispers or prowl about on the edge of society with our hands to our ears to block out the whispers of others. We have nothing to be ashamed of. All we want is to be understood by those who have never been where we have. There is no better therapy than understanding.”

I’d like to think people will try to understand about Roberto Osuna, even if they’ve never been where he’s at.

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.


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Dean Blundell’s bit on Shane Doan was funny like the back of a garbage truck is a salad bar

At my former favorite saloon, the Toad In the Hole Pub & Eatery in Osborne Village, Mick the late-night barman was oft heard delivering the pained plea, “Can I have the last three minutes of my life back?”

His lament always was born of the empty-headed blather of those who sat before him at his bar.

And so it was for me in the small hours of Tuesday. (No, I wasn’t sitting at Mick’s bar, although after hearing what I heard on Sportsnet I surely had to suppress the urge to reach for a bottle.)

Shane Doan, Arizona Coyotes captain.

Shane Doan, Arizona Coyotes captain.

While on my morning jog to numerous websites, you see, I made the most unfortunate discovery of a creature called Dean Blundell, a dinosaur of sorts in that he is a radio shock jock, a species I thought to be extinct. Imagine my surprise to learn that a) shock jocks still exist, and b) people actually still listen to the radio. Who knew?

Anyway, my unearthing of Blundell on the Sportsnet website was a misadventure because seldom, if ever, has a bigger boatload of bilge dropped anchor at my ears. For two minutes and 52 seconds, I listened to an astonishing verbal assult on Shane Doan, a longtime National Hockey League worker of admirable loft who, according to Blundell, had the bad manners to re-up with the Arizona Coyotes.

Give a listen:

I don’t really care whatsoever, but this was running through my mind when I read it this morning,” Blundell began on Sportsnet 590 The Fan in the Republic of Tranna. “Have you ever in your life seen a guy in any professional sport that likes losing as much as Shane Doan? I don’t know that there’s another man who’s been as good as he’s been in his sport that’s been not just okay with sucking, but looked forward to it, preferred it, took pay cuts to do it and is staying and finishing his career in a place he knows he can’t win.

I don’t get it whatsoever. This is why they’ve sucked for as long as they’ve sucked. They’ve got a guy that loves sucking. Like, he looks forward to it. Every season. I read this the other day and Shane Doan’s like, ‘I’m not going anywhere.’ I’m like, no kidding because you love to suck and that’s the centre of the suck universe when it comes to the NHL.

He has no clue, he has no desire to win. I have never in my life seen anything like it. Never. He’s gonna get $2.5 million, with his bonuses and incentives he could make up to $5 million just to suck. If that’s the goal for him, good for him. Job well done. You’re the Stanley Cup of suckage. Shane Doan prefers to suck.”

I believe it was supposed to be funny, because Blundell had at least one hand-picked stooge, perhaps two, providing the backup vocals and a cheesey laugh track. But this was funny like gonorrhea is a knee-slapper. I got more belly laughs watching The English Patient.

I suppose we ought to be thankful, though. I mean, Blundell stifled any urge to include crude homophobic humor in his rotten-to-the-core rant. He also fought off any compulsion to use a young hockey player’s death as part of a punch line about life in Edmonton.

Those, be advised, were among the trespasses for which Blundell was punted from his shock-jock gig at 102.1 the Edge in the Republic of Tranna. Yup, the guy is a class act. Like raw sewage is a martini and the back of a garbage truck is a salad bar. That didn’t stop the geniuses at Rogers Media from diving in and digging him out of the 102.1 dumpster for their morning show, though. I guess toilet humor and groundless guttersniping was in short supply at Sportsnet 590 The Fan.

Shane Doan, Winnipeg Jets rookie.

Shane Doan, Winnipeg Jets rookie.

Rather than lashing out at Doan for choosing to re-up for a 21st crusade with a franchise that drafted him when still housed in Winnipeg, Blundell might have put his two minutes and 52 seconds of slander to better use.

He could have Googled the name Ernie Banks, who spent 19 Major League Baseball seasons as a lovable loser with the Chicago Cubs, not once participating in a playoff game. Never once getting a sniff of a World Series title. Yet not once did he ask for, or demand, a trade to a contending team. He just kept arriving at Wrigley Field every day, saying, “Let’s play two.” I guess Mr. Cub “sucked” and had “no desire to win.”

He could have Googled anyone who’s ever willingly signed with the Cubbies post-1908, or anyone who wore Boston Red Sox linen between 1918 and 2004, or anyone who’s played for the Toronto Maple Leafs post-Punch Imlach, or anyone who’s happily pulled a San Diego Chargers jersey over his head. They all must have sucked and had no desire to win.

Sports is overflowing with franchises that never win. That suck.

The Edmonton Oilers suck like nobody has sucked for the past 10 years. So what does that say about Milan Lucic, who decided he’d rather spend his next seven NHL winters on the frozen tundra of the Alberta capital than with a Stanley Cup contender in Los Angeles?

Actually, a better question is this: Why would Sportsnet post the Blundell bile on its website?

Hey, I’m all for having fun. I love cynicism, irreverence, wit, satire and parody. But Dean Blundell’s calling out of Shane Doan was none of the above. It was lame and insulting. It was three minutes of cheap theatrics aimed for the kind of cheap laughs the loudest lump on a bar stool gets from his drunken buddies.

It failed. Miserably.

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.


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Winnipeg Blue Bombers: Will Mike O’Shea fire the special teams coach this week?

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

Well, it’s obvious what Mike O’Shea has to do now, isn’t it? Right. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach has to fire his special teams coach. Punt the bum. Pronto. Just like he did in making a sacrificial lamb of previous special teams coach Pat Tracey.

Except O’Shea is his own special teams coach now. Talk about job security.

Sigh.

I don’t know what was more disturbing Sunday afternoon, watching Stefan Logan skedaddle through the Bombers’ kick coverage like a jack rabbit hopped up on Red Bull (273 yards, one touchdown) or the reality that the Montreal Alouettes now hold down a playoff position—in the West Division. In giving the Bombers a good an proper paddywhacking, 35-14 at Percival Molson Stadium, the Larks lurched ahead of Canadian Football League turtles in B.C. and, of course, Winnipeg. An eastern team in the western playoffs would not be cool. Definitely not cool.

walters

Winnipeg Blue Bombers general manager Kyle Walters.

Could Kyle Walters’ and Wade Miller’s friend in the Winnipeg media (you know who you are, Gary Lawless) please explain to us one more time why it must take more than two years to turn around a moribund CFL outfit? The Ottawa RedBlacks were an expansion franchise a year ago. They finished their maiden season at 2-16. Today they are 7-4, sniffing at first place in the East Division. Why do Bombers CEO Miller and GM Walters require more time than their counterparts in Bytown?

Big improvements at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie. They’ve added 278 premium seats, meaning they now can accommodate 15,282 sets of eyeballs for Winnipeg Jets games. Not only that, these are swivel chairs. How convenient. Whenever goaltender Ondrej Pavelec coughs up a hair ball, you can simply turn your back on him.

I see where cops made a big drug raid in Quincy, Mass., about 12 miles southeast of Fenway Park in Boston. They discovered oxycodone pills, money-counting machines, police scanners and $9,000 in cash. Oh, ya, and a 2004 Red Sox World Series ring was part of the ill-gotten loot, confirming that you really do have to be on drugs to cheer for the Bosox.

Evander Kane

Evander Kane

Well, look who’s talking tall again. It’s old friend Evander Kane. It was right about this time a year ago when the now-former Jets problem child was flapping his gums about scoring 50 goals in the 2014-15 National Hockey League season. Never happened. Now he’s popping off again, saying, “Maybe I want to score 40 or 50” with his new team in Buffalo. I’m guessing the Sabres would settle for 25-30 goals, and they’ll be absolutely delighted if he doesn’t leave his clothes lying around in the dressing room.

When Patrick Kane read a prepared statement the other day claiming he had “done nothing wrong,” why was I thinking of Richard Nixon? Well, it’s because Tricky Dick kept telling us that he was “not a crook.” We all know how that turned out, don’t we? I don’t know if Kane, the Chicago Blackhawks resident bad boy, raped a women this summer, but I found his presser to be offensive in the extreme and wondered why the the Hawks trotted him out for news scavengers. Bad move, bad taste.

Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun is somewhat miffed because the Toronto Maple Leafs won’t be making room on their charter flights for team broadcasters. Oh, those poor boys. They’ll have to fly commercial and mingle with all those pesky brats who squawk during an entire flight. When will people like Simmons learn that, on the Give-a-Damn meter, the public simply doesn’t give a damn about media woes like seating arrangements on an airplane or the cost for a pre-game meal in Chicago? I mean, Boo flipping hoo.

Wayne Gretzky

Wayne Gretzky

So, Wayne Gretzky has weighed in on the federal election. The Great One is backing the Grate One, Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The Great One advises us that the Grate One has been “wonderful to the whole country” and “an unreal prime minister.” I’ve always liked Gretzky, but ex-hockey players who live in the United States and cannot cast a ballot in Canada shouldn’t be telling us how to vote.

Just wondering, but does Ronda Rousey scare men? She surely seems scary. But any talk of the UFC diva and fist-fighter Floyd Mayweather climbing into the octagon together is reckless and irrational gibberish. I mean, everybody knows Mayweather only hits women who won’t fight back.

Wow, NASA has named a patch of Mars after Winnipeg. Yup, there’s now a Winnipeg, Mars. In related news, just to be safe, 725 players in the National Hockey League immediately added Winnipeg, Mars, to their list of won’t-go-there destinations in the no-trade clauses of their contracts.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 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 to her 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.


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When is a gay football player not a gay football player? When Steve Simmons says so

This just in: Michael Sam isn’t gay. He never happened.

No, really. That guy who played rush end for the Montreal Alouettes on Aug. 7? The guy with the name Sam stitched on the back of his No. 94 jersey? Not gay. Not real.

As much as we believed we were eye witnesses to an historic moment that hot August night in Ottawa, there’s never been an openly gay performer in the Canadian Football League. We know this because Little Stevie Blunder says so.

“In reality,” Steve Simmons scribbles in his weekly serving of three-dot alphabet soup for the Toronto Sun and its sister sheets in Sun Media, “pro football still awaits its first openly gay player.”

I see. We are to ignore the reality that Sam actually joined the fray for 12 plays against the homestanding RedBlacks this month. Expunge it from the official record, kids. According to the Steve-O-Meter, apparently it takes more than one game and one dozen snaps of a football to qualify you as a gay man playing professional football.

As for the reality that Sam was a seventh-round draft pick of the St. Louis Rams and participated in preseason play? Not gay, didn’t happen. And the reality that he was on the Dallas Cowboys practice roster? Not gay, didn’t happen. And the reality that an ESPN reporter, Josina Anderson, filed a live report about Sam’s showering habits while with the Rams? Not gay, didn’t happen. And the reality that he was engaged to be married to another man? Not gay, didn’t happen.

But wait.

In one sentence, Little Stevie tells us that “pro football still awaits its first openly gay player,” but in another he tells us “Michael Sam was openly gay.”

Now I’m confused.

How can a man be openly gay at home, at church, at the market, at the theatre, on Dancing With The Stars, in the locker room…but not when he’s in full (albeit futile) frolic on a football field?

I think this is what Little Stevie is actually trying to tell us in his awkward way: Your gayness only counts if you’re a good football player. If you show some staying power. If, on the other hand, you are some shmuck who plays a mere 12 downs and records zero quarterback sacks and zero tackles, your gayness scores a big, fat zero on the Steve-O-Meter. You don’t exist and neither does your gayness.

What a wheeze bag.

In reality, Michael Sam is the first, and only, openly gay man to compete in a CFL game. That’s how he shall be remembered, even if only as a footnote, although Little Stevie Blunder is having none of that, either.

Asked by Bryan Hayes on TSN’s The Reporters on Sunday morning how people will reflect upon the Sam saga now that he has walked out on the Alouettes, thus likely signaling the end to his football journey, Little Stevie had this to say:

“I don’t think it will be remembered.”

I think it might be wise of Simmons if he were to steer his scribblings and comments clear of social issues.

I mean, this is a man who staked claim to the moral high ground when he pooh-poohed Roger Goodell for the NFL commish’s horrid handling of the Ray Rice domestic violence case, yet his credibility in that area took a serious drubbing when he posted a happy birthday tweet to Floyd Mayweather, a convicted and serial hitter of women. Simmons repeatedly has referred to John Farrell as “Benedict” Farrell because the Red Sox skipper bolted the Toronto Blue Jays for Boston. Yet, in the 1980s, Little Stevie signed on with the Calgary Herald while still drawing pay from the Calgary Sun. Pot, meet kettle.

Now he’s reduced the arrival of Michael Sam, the first openly gay man to play professional football, to nothingness.

Stick to what you know best, Little Stevie—stalking Phil Kessel and his hot dog stands.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 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 to her 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.