Let’s talk about Howie Meeker and raccoon droppings for $2,000, Alex…fake news and Leavenworth…Vlad the Gifted and Ball Park Franks…Sid and Connor say it’s okay to be gay…and other things on my mind

A Monday morning smorgas-bored…and I never realized how little I knew until Alex Trebek showed up on TV…

In honor of Canadian TV icon Alex Trebek, who left us at age 80 on Sunday, let’s play Jeopardy!

CLUE: Golly gee and Jiminy Crickets, this man was a National Hockey League rookie-of-the-year who scored five goals in one game, a four-times Stanley Cup champion, an all-star, a Member of Parliament, and a broadcasting icon on Hockey Night in Canada.

ANSWER: Who is Howie Meeker?

CLUE: Howie died at the age of 97 on Sunday, meaning this man is now the oldest living Toronto Maple Leaf.

ANSWER: Who is Joe Thornton?

Howie Meeker and Dave Hodge

I remember sitting in the media room of the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver one night many winters ago, gnoshing on a plate of free food while having a pre-game natter with either Friar Nicolson or Sod Keilback.

Actually, it might have been both of the Winnipeg Jets radio guys. No matter.

At some point, Meeker joined us at our table and the chin-wag focused on Dale Hawerchuk, the captain and centrepiece of a decent Jets outfit. I suggested that Ducky had been off his game a bit, but Howie would have none of it.

“Ah, you don’t know a hockey puck from a pinch of coon shit,” he informed me.

I’m not sure why, but hearing Howie Meeker pooh-pooh my hockey know-how somehow made me feel good. I mean, the Squeaker was already a legend of the Hockey Night in Canada blurt box by then, so it was an absolute honor to have him break bread with a stray scribe from the flatlands and, at the same time, confirm that my grasp of the game was no better than a pinch of raccoon droppings. Never before had someone so famous told me I was full of crap.

I thought perhaps Howie was going to pull out his telestrator and draw some squiggly lines to emphasize his point, or maybe even whack me upside the head with the thing.

But no. Howie wasn’t being mean. He was being Howie. Blunt.

That was my only inter-action with Meeker, so I never got to know him in any depth. But, like so many others, I knew him from his HNIC gig, where he’d break down a play and instruct one of the boys in the truck to “Stop it right there!” or to “Back it up!” or, when a defenceman was beaten badly, he’d show the replay and, in a scolding tone, squawk, “What’s he doing down on his knees looking for nickels?”

Howie wasn’t into tap dancing, and his tell-it-like-it-isms surely livened up HNIC intermissions. He gave the show juice and made it fun.

My mom, mind you, thought Howie to be quite the noisy and annoying know-it-all, and I’m sure she would have been horrified by his table manners. But I got a kick out of the guy, coon droppings and all.

Speaking of former HNIC squawkers, Dave Hodge made me giggle with this tweet after jock legends Bobby Orr, Jack Nicklaus and Brett Favre had raised their voices in support of Donald Trump in the U.S. presidential election: “Thanks to Orr, Nicklaus and Favre, Donald Trump says the only channel that doesn’t broadcast fake news is ESPN.”

Donald Trump

Damien Cox of the Toronto Star describes Trump as a “distinctly unpopular politician.” Ya, he’s so unpopular that only 70,903,094 Americans voted for him. That’s more than Barack Obama tallied in 2008 and ’12. It beats Hilary Clinton’s total in 2016. It’s more than double what JFK received in 1960. We should all be so “distinctly unpopular.”

The Washington Nationals want president-elect Joe Biden to toss the ceremonial first pitch at their Major League Baseball home opener in 2021. To which former broadcaster Peter Young tweets: “Trump counters with claim he’ll throw out the first pitch at Leavenworth.” That made me laugh.

Just wondering: Does Trump’s election loss mean Mexico doesn’t have to pay for his invisible wall?

Speaking of money, I read something the other day about Microsoft dude Bill Gates saying his three children would inherit only $10 million each from his $100 billion-plus fortune, because giving them “massive amounts of money is not a favor to them.” Excuse me? Ten million bucks isn’t a massive amount of money? C’mon, man, that’s like saying Babe Ruth was a singles hitter.

In the past MLB season, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. couldn’t hit his own weight. Literally. He arrived at Summer Camp a whopping 282 pounds, was promptly shifted from third to first base, and hit .262. But word out of Toronto Blue Jays Nation is that Vlad the Gifted is no longer Vlad the Bloated. That’s right, Vladdy’s lost 32 pounds of blubber and now tips the Toledo at 250, give or take a side order of Nathan’s Ball Park Franks. He also wants his old job back with the Tranna Nine, at third base. That would be quite a trip: From the hot dog stand to the hot corner.

Bayne Pettinger

I’m not convinced that the outing of player agent Bayne Pettinger moves the needle toward acceptance of an openly gay performer in the National Hockey League, but the enthusiastic support from Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid might carry some sway with a young, closeted gay kid who’s thinking of quitting the game. Both Crosby and McDavid are fully behind Pettinger, a former Hockey Canada operations manager now with CAA Hockey, and if the game’s greatest players say it’s okay to be gay, then it’s okay.

If the day dawns when an NHL player chooses to come out, he’d be wise to follow the Pettinger blueprint: Find a trusted news snoop to tell the story, which Pettinger did in Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic, and do it during down time, which is to say the off-season. That way, the fuss and muss and circus is dispensed with long before training exercises commence, and he can simply get on with getting on.

Like most newspaper sports editors, Steve Lyons of the Drab Slab is expected to find room in his section for female sports. “It’s not always easy,” he wrote on Nov. 5. “The reality is there are less women participating in sports and there are less women’s pro leagues. That adds up—or I guess doesn’t add up to an equal number of stories to be written and published. We can’t control how many wire stories we get each day on women’s sports, so our solution to moving the needle in this area has always been to focus on being as equitable as possible on local sports. While I did once win a national award for a series on gender equity in sports, I’m a guy—and slow sometimes—so, I admit to needing to be poked and kept aware on this subject.” Toward that end, Lyons is bringing Andrea Katz on board, and she’ll be writing about the distaff side of the playground “once or twice a month.” That’s a good thing.

Rafa Nadal

Rafael Nadal didn’t triumph at the Paris Masters tennis tournament, but much was made of the fact Rafa joined the 1,000-win club and trails only Jimmy Connors (1,274), Roger Federer (1,242) and Ivan Lendl (1068) in career singles victories during the Open Era. Not true. Rafa and everyone else is still chasing the great Martina Navratilova and her 1,442 singles match victories. And before they catch Martina, they have to catch Chrissie Evert (1,309 Ws). Just saying.

And, finally, another example of the shameful Torontofication of the Winnipeg Sun could be found on the sports front Nov. 3. It was a piece on Jeffrey Knox Jr., and don’t feel bad if you’re not familiar with the name. A vagabond football player last seen in frolic with the Ottawa RedBlacks, Knox Jr. signed to join the Toronto Argos for a 2020 Canadian Football League crusade that never happened, and now he’s facing an attempted homicide rap, among other things, in the U.S. He never played in Winnipeg for the Blue Bombers. Yet one of the geniuses on the Postmedia sports desk decided that his tale of woe was what sports fans in Good Ol’ Hometown wanted to read first and foremost on Nov. 3, rather than Ted Wyman’s real-news piece on local sports facilities and rec leagues going dark for two weeks due to COVID-19. They tucked Ted’s article on Page 4. Sigh.

Let’s talk about Bobby Orr’s boot-licking…a rout for the Drab Slab…ignoring female sports…and other things on my mind…

A Monday morning smorgas-bored…and welcome to the 71st November of my lifetime…

So, I’m doing some research the other day and I stumble upon this May 9 headline from the Boston Globe:

“50 years later, Bobby Orr remains gracious, humble, and incomparable.”

Oops.

Robert Gordon Orr

Few have been describing Robert Gordon Orr as gracious, humble and incomparable in the past few days. More like dumb, ignorant and fallen idol.

All that because the great No. 4 has outed himself as a hard-core Trumpite who plans to scratch an X next to the name Donald Trump on his ballot for tomorrow’s U.S. presidential election.

Lest there be any doubt about his political posturing, Orr took out a full-page ad in the New Hampshire Union Leader last week to confirm his unwavering devotion to the current resident at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW in Washington, D.C., trumpeting Trump as “the kind of teammate I want.”

I’m not sure what Derek Sanderson or Eddie Westfall or Wayne Cashman or Pie McKenzie have to say about that, but I suspect one or two of Bobby’s former big, bad Bruins teammates might be cringing.

Many among the rabble and numerous pundits certainly are.

I mean, this is Bobby Orr. Canadian icon. Squeaky-clean boy next door. The greatest player in National Hockey League history on many scorecards, including mine. And he’s marching in lockstep with a man known to put children in cages, who believes groping women is harmless horseplay, who wouldn’t know the truth if it slapped him on his orange face? That’s who Bobby Orr has cozied up to?

What, he couldn’t find a better pair of boots to lick?

Donald Trump

The same could be said, of course, for golf great Jack Nicklaus and Brett Favre, one-time flinger of footballs and renowned flip-flopper. They, too, are confirmed Trumpites. But we don’t care about them so much on this side of the great U.S.-Canada divide.

It’s Orr who has taken a paddywhacking in print and on social media, as if he’s the product of Satan’s loins.

Some examples:

Stu Cowan, Montreal Gazette: “It’s always a sad day when your childhood sports heroes let you down. I’ll never again look at Orr with the same boyhood wonder. (The endorsement of Trump) hit me like an open-ice bodycheck. It shouldn’t have because I’ve been around pro sports as a journalist long enough to know that sometimes the less fans know about their heroes away from the field or arena, the better off they are. But this one did hurt. I’ll sadly scratch him off my hero list. The stain of Trump just won’t wash away.”

Damien Cox, Toronto Star: “Sadly, Orr’s comments reek of appalling ignorance, of a man who has watched too much Fox News. He says he just wants ‘my grandchildren to know the America that I know’ and then chooses to cast Trump as some sort of victim.”

Jack Nicklaus and Donald Trump

Ted Wyman, Winnipeg Sun: “It’s not easy for many sports fans to hear that men they have held as idols for the last half century would endorse a political candidate known for his racism, his sowing of divisiveness in his country and his thorough disregard of the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic. Like most golf fans, I’ve always revered Nicklaus. Like most Canadians, I’ve always idolized Orr. Like many, I’m bitterly disappointed in them.”

Bruce Arthur, the Toronto Star/TSN: “These guys are wealthy. They’re really rich and Donald Trump wants to airlift money from the poor to the rich, and that helps them. This tells you a lot about Bobby Orr and Jack Nicklaus, what they value in life and what they don’t have to worry about.”

Cathal Kelly, Globe and Mail: “On one level, Orr’s and Nicklaus’s statements took some stones. Neither of them needs the hassle. This opens them up to all sorts of nastiness from the other faction. On the other level, it is dumb beyond measure. Not because of their choice (though that is also dumb), but because two giants of their respective games felt the need to announce it. The United States is tilting sideways for a bunch of reasons. This is one of them.”

Well, let me say this about that: Must be nice to be so filthy rich that you can afford to take out a full-page ad in a newspaper. But I’ll robustly defend Bobby Orr’s right to be as horribly wrong about Donald Trump as any of the other lemmings wearing a MAGA cap. His choice. And if you don’t like it, don’t put halos on athletes.

Sue Bird and Megan Rapinoe

Last week in America: The sports power couple of hoops great Sue Bird and soccer star Megan Rapinoe announced their wedding engagement and, one day later, U.S. senator and Trumpite bootlicker Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told “every young woman” that “there’s a place for you in America if you are pro-life, if you embrace your religion, and you follow traditional family structure.” Which means there’s no “place” in Graham’s America for a woman who’s won Olympic gold for Uncle Sam in basketball and another women who’s won Olympic gold for Uncle Sam in soccer, because they’re lesbians. Lindsey Graham is a special kind of messed up.

Why is it that whenever I watch men’s tennis highlights, there’s a trainer rubbing down one of Milos Raonic’s broken-down body parts, or either Denis Shapovalov or Felix Auger-Alliassime are tossing racquets?

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: The Drab Slab is kicking butt when it comes to coverage of lower-tiered sports in Good Ol’ Hometown. I know this because I monitored both the Freep and Winnipeg Sun sections during the past three months, and both rags do boffo work on the big-ticket beats—Blue Bombers, Jets, Moose, Goldeyes and Valour FC. But it’s a rout otherwise. Here’s the tally on coverage of local/amateur sports (excluding pro teams):

Free Press
August ……..32 articles, 6 briefs
September….39 articles, 6 briefs
October……..49 articles, 3 briefs
Totals……..122 articles, 15 briefs

Sun
August ……..1 article
September….7 articles, 3 briefs
October…….10 articles
Totals………18 articles, 3 briefs

Seriously, 122-18. That reads like a Harlem Globetrotters scoreline.

Do readers want more local coverage? My experience tells me they do, but the suits at Postmedia in the Republic of Tranna won’t let them have it in the Sun. And that’s wrong. So don’t point accusing fingers at the Sun’s Scribblers Three—Paul Friesen, Ted Wyman, Scott Billeck. It isn’t their fault. It’s a corporate call.

Steve Lyons

Here’s something I found interesting: In a recent edition of his morning Playbook feature on the Drab Slab website, sports editor Steve Lyons took issue with commissioner Randy Ambrosie and the aborted Canadian Football League crusade. “It’s been a little over two months since the CFL cancelled its 2020 season,” he wrote. “Since then, a Stanley Cup has been awarded; Game 1 of the World Series was last night; the NFL is into Week 7; LeBron James won another NBA title; heck, even the upstart CPL had a championship. The CFL? Silence.” Notice something missing there? That’s right, no mention of the Women’s National Basketball Association starting and completing a season, nor the National Women’s Soccer League commencing its Fall Series. Unfortunately, that’s the default position for too many upper-management people in sports media—female sports is an after-thought. Or no thought at all.

I’m still reading and hearing that the signing of Dylan DeMelo improves the Winnipeg Jets defence. That simply is not true. Repeat after me: DeMelo was with the Jets last season. That’s not an improvement. It’s status quo. So the glass-is-half-full pundits can cease with their false narrative any time now.

There’s talk of the Ontario Hockey League going to pure pond hockey this winter, which is to say no bodychecking. Hmmm. If they had that rule when I was a kid, I might still be playing.

And, finally, Agent 007, Sean Connery, is dead and I still don’t know what I’m missing, because I’ve never watched a James Bond movie. Loved Sir Sean in Finding Forrester and The Untouchables, though.

About the big, bad Blue Bombers defence…turkeys on Turkey Day…Chris Streveler vs. Johnny Rotten…a Bolt in soccer…Brees doesn’t make the top 10…domestic violence and the NHL…and Connor McJesus

Another Sunday smorg full of cheap shots, short shots and shots of sarcasm…

Zero points. Richie Hall’s defensive dozen surrendered zero points. In a Canadian Football League skirmish.

Do you realize how rare that is? There’s a better chance of Brad Pitt leaving a singles bar alone at closing time. I think Jack Delveaux, Herb Gray and Gordie Rowland were part of the D-Dozen the last time the Winnipeg Blue Bombers hung a donut on a foe at home.

Actually, it doesn’t date back to the Bud Grant era. It was in ’86, when Winnipeg FC paddywhacked the Saskatchewan Roughriders 56-nada at their gradually decaying stadium on Maroons Road. Bill Norrie was mayor in River City. Howard Pawley was Manitoba premier. Brian Mulroney was leader of all the land. And a star really was born that year—Lady Gaga.

Adam Bighill

So it was a touch of deja vu all over again on Saturday afternoon at Football Follies in Fort Garry. The scoreboard carnage wasn’t as extreme. Just 31-zip this time. But the Bombers’ ragdolling of the Riders was every bit as severe.

As ass kickings go, this was right up there with the Six Day War and Tiger Woods’ divorce settlement.

It helped, of course, that the Riders offence is only a rumor. The Gang Green 12 are so inept that Johnny Manziel might be an upgrade at quarterback. Yup, that woeful. Also a rumor is their place kicker, some dude named Brett Lauther. If he exists he must have entered a witness protection program, because not once was he required to swing his right leg at the football. Never attempted a field goal. Never kicked off.

The Sask. QB, Zach Collaros, likely wishes he’d been given the day off, too. If he wasn’t seeing Adam Bighill in his nightmares last night, it was Taylor Loffler.

Bighill, the beastly linebacker who signed on with Winnipeg FC at the 11th hour, is a force of nature. A tornado does less damage. He and Collaros spent more time together Saturday than newlyweds. Three of his eight tackles were sacks. He forced Kyran Moore to spill a football that was eagerly gobbled up by Anthony Gaitor, who promptly skedaddled 45 yards to the house. Game, set and match, as it turned out.

Matt Nichols

On the other side of the ledger, QB Joe Ordinary put up another set of modest numbers (10 for 18, 155 yards), but Matt Nichols is no longer in self-destruct mode. He even completed a deep ball that Darvin Adams accepted and carried to the house for a 72-yard score, prompting a comical Conor McGregor-like swagger from the QB.

Nothing but fun and games when you’re on the favorable end of a 31-nada score.

Here’s the bottom line for Winnipeg FC, though: Nothing has changed. The Bombers entered the fray holding down third place in the mosh pit that is the West Division, with an outside shot at a home playoff date. And that’s where they sit this morning because the Edmonton Eskimos and the surprising B.C. Lions refuse to co-operate. One of those two outfits will have pulled even with the Bombers by the time they come back to work on Oct. 26 (it’s Winnipeg FC’s bye week), and this mess might not be sorted out until the final weekend of the crusade. The good news for the Bombers is this: They don’t need any favors. There are two spots remaining on the local lads’ dance card (at home vs. the suddenly vulnerable Calgary Stampeders and vs. the Eskimos in E-Town). Win them both and they’re in. A split probably gets them in, too, but it might mean heading east in the Grey Cup tournament.

Final scores from the two Thanksgiving Day skirmishes in the CFL: 12-6, 19-12. Three of the four teams failed to produce an offensive touchdown. We have a name for games like that—National Football League.

Jason Maas

Why is Edmonton Eskimos oft-unhinged head coach Jason Maas allowed to walked 20 yards onto the football field to bitch at game officials? Isn’t that the very definition of unsportsmanlike conduct? Somebody toss a flag at that man.

Just once I’d like to hear one of the geniuses on TSN tell the truth about their favorite lousy quarterback, Johnny Manziel, rather than make feeble excuses and apologies about feeble-fingered receivers and a leaky offensive line. Here’s the truth: Antonio Pipkin started four games for the Montreal Alouettes and went 2-2. Johnny 0-Fer has started five games and he’s 0-5. Both QBs have operated behind the same O-line and with the same pass-catchers.

Chris Streveler

Here are some numbers to digest for two first-year CFL QBs:
Chris Streveler (three starts and a bit of spot duty):
77/125, 944 yards, 10 TDs, 5 Int., 343 rush yards, 8 rush TDs
Johnny Manziel (five starts):
72/116, 872 yards, 2 TDs, 6 Int., 139 rush yards, 0 rush TDs.

Streveler has outpassed and outrun Johnny Rotten in considerably less time on the field. And keep in mind that he is a true freshman. He never played a down of professional football until this season with the Bombers. Manziel, on the other hand, spent two non-noteworthy years with the Cleveland Browns of the NFL.

Johnny Rotten

Is it possible that the Johnny Rotten novelty act has worn thin everywhere but in the TSN broadcast booth and studio? I mean, the head count at Percival Molson Stadium for the Larks’ skirmish with the Calgary Stampeders on Turkey Day was 16,764. That’s down 1,606 from their preceding home assignment, vs. the Roughriders. Even the locals have figured it out.

World’s fastest man and retired Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt scored two goals in his professional soccer debut with the Central Coast Mariners of the Australian A-League. Brazilian star Neymar was so impressed that he apparently said Bolt’s performance “knocked me off my feet.” Like, who doesn’t?

Drew Brees has flung a football farther than any quarterback in the history of the four-down game, but who among us would choose him as the starting QB in a must-win match ahead of NFL greats Joe Montana, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, John Elway, Steve Young, Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers, Johnny Unitas, or even Terry Bradshaw? No one. I doubt Brees would make many top-10 QB lists.

Austin Watson, right.

I don’t like to hear women blame themselves after a man roughs them up, which, unfortunately, is what Jenn Guardino is doing. It isn’t her fault that Austin Watson of the Nashville Predators hit her last summer and consequently received a 27-game suspension from National Hockey League commish Gary Bettman (reduced to 18 by a lame arbitrator). A witness told police that he observed Watson “swat” Guardino. That’s assault. The official police report noted that Guardino said Watson caused the scratches on her chest. Her left shin was bruised and bloody. She also told police that Watson sometimes gets “handsy.” Now she’s taking the rap for Watson’s abuse, insisting he would “never hit or abuse” her, even though he’s admitted doing that very thing. I don’t care how drunk she was or what she said. It isn’t her fault that a 6-feet-4, 204-pound man swatted her, shoved her or laid hands on her in any harmful manner. She’s the victim.

Shame on the Predators for trotting Watson out for the pre-game ceremonies at their home opener last week. The guy is on probation after a no-contest plea on a charge of domestic violence.

How positively hypocritical of Postmedia columnist Steve Simmons to call for the NHL to create a domestic violence policy in the wake of the Watson suspension fooferaw. “A strong policy needs to be in place and soon,” he sermonizes. This is the same guy who, in September 2017, wrote: “Personally, I think the CFL is stronger, maybe more fun, possibly more fan-appealing, with Manziel playing or trying to play the Canadian game.” In May of this year, under the headline “Welcome to Canada, Johnny Football,” he wrote: “Johnny Football is coming to Hamilton. And where do I sign up?” Manziel beat up his former girlfriend and threatened to kill her. Yet it’s “Welcome Johnny!” and get rid of louts like Austin Watson. Too dumb.

Just wondering: How’s that stand-pat thing working out for the Edmonton McDavids?

Connor McDavid

The Edmonton Oilers have scored five goals. Connor McDavid has five points. If management doesn’t do something to provide McDavid with a better supporting cast, it’ll go down as the greatest waste of talent since Jesus stopped walking on water.

And, finally, I would call these little notes that I patch together each week “musings,” except that would imply that I actually think before I type. And we certainly wouldn’t want that.