Let’s talk about Jacob Trouba and Kurt Overhardt…playing a game of chicken with Chevy and the Winnipeg Jets…the sticker price for a bottom-six forward…Mum’s the word for Mitch…swapping clunkers in Alberta…faux football a tough sell…going to beat ’60…working the CFL beat…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and while munching on cold pizza and watching the Open Championship, I wondered if I could break 200 playing Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland…

To all those among the rabble who told us that Jacob Trouba was the class dunce for listening to the wrong people (read: Kurt Overhardt), what say you now?

Still think he’s stupid? Misguided? Gullible? Easily duped?

Jacob Trouba

You’ll recall, I’m sure, that those were among the words used to describe the young Winnipeg Jets defender when he a) asked for a ticket on the first stage out of Dodge, b) refused to report to training camp, c) stayed home the first two months of one season, d) signed a bridge deal instead of a long-term contract, e) took the club to arbitration.

Here are more less-than-flattering insults hurled Trouba’s way: Immature. Greedy. Big loser. Idiot. Petulant. Fool. Malcontent. Problem child. Liar.

One of his teammates, Mathieu Perreault, joined the braying chorus and called Trouba “selfish.”

And, of course, there were those with quill-and-notebook and/or microphone, their critical essays and rants ranging from a benign tsk-tsking to thunderous accusations, with gusts up to poisonous. Former Drab Slab columnist Paul Wiecek, in particular, conducted a shameful, bitter crusade to discredit the top-pairing rearguard.

“Trouba, for one, has a long track record of doing what’s right for Trouba, even when it’s been what’s wrong for Trouba,” Wiecek wrote, apparently mistaking himself for Dr. Phil. “Trouba is a problem again.”

Kurt Overhardt

So, basically, it was the opinion of the masses that Trouba and Homer Simpson shared a brain, because he blindly allowed his greedy, no-goodnik agent Overhardt to lead him down the garden path (“Look at all the money that douchebag is costing the kid! Oh, the humanity!”)

Well, agent Overhardt led Trouba down the garden path, all right—to Madison Square Garden in Gotham and a $56 million windfall.

The New York Rangers have agreed to compensate Trouba to the merry tune of $8M (average) for the next seven National Hockey League seasons, and $22M of that comes in signing bonuses to be collected in the first three years. So, if there’s a soundtrack to Trouba’s life, it goes something like this: Ka-ching! Ka-ching! Ka-ching!

We should all be so stupid, misguided, gullible and easily duped.

Go ahead and pooh-pooh the Rangers for an overpay the size of Manhattan if you like, but the fact is Overhardt/Trouba played chicken with Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff for three years, and they won. Trouba wanted a zip code instead of a postal code. He got it. He wanted more coin than the $4 million the Jets offered in arbitration a year ago. He’ll get double that on Broadway. And what did the Jets get? Neal Pionk.

Andrew Copp

You think Patrik Laine’s agent hasn’t noticed how the Trouba saga played out? If it’s true that Puck Finn’s nose is out of joint, all he has to do is sign a two-year bridge deal, take les Jets to arbitration down the road, then force a trade. Josh Morrissey, about to enter the second year of his bridge deal, might be doing that very thing. Kyle Connor could do the same. Ditto Andrew Copp, who has the aforementioned Kurt Overhardt whispering sweet nothings in his ear as they begin a stroll down the garden path. Overhardt/Copp say they’ll be happy with $2.9 million per season. Chipman/Chevy have countered with $1.5M per for two years. Barring an 11th-hour agreement, an arbitrator will decide. Do the Jets really want or need to engage in another game of chicken they can’t win?

Bobby Hull and clan.

The first guy to wear sweater No. 9 with les Jets, Robert Marvin Hull, came at a cost of $1.75 million spread over 10 years, plus a $1 million signing bonus. Total sticker price for the Golden Jet: $2.75 million. The guy now wearing sweater No. 9, Copp, reckons he’s worth $2.9 million. Or at least his agent believes that’s the going rate for a bottom-six forward. I agree, it’s absurd, if not flat-out insane. But what if we convert the dollars? Hull’s $2.75M in 1972 is worth $16,851,513.16 in today’s U.S. coin, which would make him the most handsomely compensated player on Planet Puckhead, just as he was when Benny Hatskin and his renegade pals in the World Hockey Association lured the Golden Jet away from the Chicago Blackhawks. Meanwhile, Copp’s $2.9M today would be $473,420.16 in 1972 pay. Guaranteed no bottom-sixer with les Jets was pulling down more than $400K in ’72. So, in either era, that’s an overpay.

Worst new cliché: “He’s betting on himself.” That’s quickly become most tiresome and scribes and natterbugs should lose it faster than their per diem on a road trip to Las Vegas. Look, pro athletes bet on themselves every time they step into the arena. Cripes, man, we all bet on ourselves every morning when we decide to crawl out of the sack. Like, I’m betting I’ll annoy someone with this essay, if I haven’t already.

Mitch Marner

Got a kick out of the Sportsnet website front page in the small hours of Friday morning, after various news snoops had attempted to pry nuggets of insight from Tranna Maple Leafs restricted free agent Mitch Marner:

“Marner mum on contract talks with Maple Leafs at charity event.”
“Marner’s contract talks with Leafs a roller-coaster of anticipation.”
“Maple Leafs’ Marner talks contract, charity on Tim and Sid.”
“Marner wants to be in Maple Leafs uniform at camp, won’t go without deal.”

Hmmm. Four stories. Apparently, Marner had a helluva lot to say for a guy who was “mum.”

The Edsel

Interesting goings-on in Wild Rose Country, where the Oilers and Flames swapped an Edsel for a Gremlin. And it spawned more silliness on Sportsnet, this time from Eric Francis, who delivered this analysis of the transaction that sent seven-goal scorer James Neal wheeling up Highway 402 from Calgary to Edmonton and six-goal scorer Milan Lucic boogying south from Edmonton to Calgary:

“Few would disagree that Lucic is the toughest guy in the NHL.”
“Lucic’s speed is still much better than many would think and his fitness levels are beyond repute.”
“Lucic provides something few players left in the league can. In fact, he may still be the very best at what he’s being brought in to do.”
“Although Lucic has fought very little in the last couple, few players dared to mess with Connor McDavid during Lucic’s watch.”

Good grief. Is it too late to reopen the legalize marijuana debate? Seriously, Eric, take another toke. Looch has the urgency of a filibuster. Only an income tax return moves slower. As for his work as a guard dog, if Looch did such a boffo job why did McDavid become Connor McMugged last season?

Dear friend Judy Owen of The Canadian Press reports that ticket sales to the Green Bay Packers-Oakland Raiders dress rehearsal at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry next month aren’t exactly brisk. Matter of fact, they’re slower than a sports writer reaching for a bar tab. Should we be surprised? Not really. Asking a Winnipegger to pay upwards of $400 to watch faux football is like asking Chris Walby to pass on second helpings.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying Pegtowners are penny-pinchers. After all, I’m one of them and it’s not by coincidence that I do all my shopping at thrift stores. But I believe the Ojibway words for Portage and Main are “Cheap and Chintzy.” We only pay asking price if you toss in a free Slurpee.

Come to think of it, maybe that’s Chevy’s problem. He keeps trying to buy his hockey players wholesale.

So, after their 31-1 curb-stomping of the Bytown RedBlacks on Friday night, our Winnipeg Blue Bombers are 5-nada. First time since 1960. Would you call me a Debbie Downer if I pointed out that the 5-0 outfit in ’60 did a playoff faceplant? Yup. Didn’t even get to the big dance. Lost to the E-Town Eskimos in a best-of-three Western final, dropping the deciding game 4-2. It was the only season from 1958 to 1962 that our football heroes failed to bring the Grey Cup home to River City. Thus, the less we talk about 1960 the better.

Some folks aren’t convinced that the Bombers are the real deal and point to namby-pamby foes—E-Town, Bytown, Tranna Argos, B.C. Lions—and their combined record of 6-15 as evidence of phony superiority. Sorry, but I’m not buying what those people are selling. Who is Winnipeg FC supposed to play? The New England Patriots? The Bombers can only follow the dictates of the Canadian Football League schedule-maker, and if that means whacking 98-pound weaklings, so be it.

Kirk Penton

More good CFL stuff from Kirk Penton in The Athletic, including these nuggets in his insiders segment that features unvarnished comments from team management, coaches and executives:

“The Simoni (Lawrence) decision was more than fair. Probably one of the dirtiest plays I’ve seen in the CFL. The fact he lies about not doing it deliberately makes it worse. At least Kyries Hebert took his medicine for his dirty plays and didn’t bullshit saying it was accidental.”

“When Joe Mack was our GM we could have traded for Ricky Ray. He said we didn’t need him. Same year we drafted Tyson Pencer in the first round. But when (the team was) struggling, he fired (Paul LaPolice) in August. Look, I’ve heard both sides of the Ray debate. Great player who couldn’t stay healthy, but at that point, Buck’s (Pierce) injury history was worse.”

What are the odds of Mike Reilly finishing this CFL season in one piece? He’s not a quarterback, he’s a pinata. Reilly was basically wearing D-lineman Charleston Hughes on Saturday night in Regina, and that’s never anyone’s idea of a good time. If Leos GM Ed Hervey doesn’t get Reilly some protection, it isn’t going to end well for the CFL’s best QB.

Matty

And, finally, when I started in the rag trade, the Bombers were the big dog in Good Ol’ Hometown.

The Jets and the World Hockey Association weren’t even a talking point at that time, so great swaths of forest were felled to provide enough newsprint for coverage of our CFL outfit in both the Winnipeg Tribune and Drab Slab

The boys on the beat were the great Jack Matheson and Don Blanchard, and they worked the Bombers every which way but loose, establishing what I considered the standard to which other football scribes should strive. The measuring stick, if you will.

So how are the boys on the beat doing today? I’d say the torch is in reliable hands with Jeff Hamilton and Ted Wyman.

Ted Wyman

It’s been that way for quite some time, actually, and I could make an argument that no sheet in the country has done a better job at chronicling a CFL outfit than the two River City rags. Young Eddie Tait was the best in the biz before going over the wall, and I’d say the aforementioned Kirk Penton was right there with him, scoop for scoop and feature for feature. Ashley Prest, Judy Owen, Big Jim Bender, Dave Supleve, Granny Granger and others did wonderful work, and it helped that they truly cared about the football club.

Matty and Blanch would be pleased.

Let’s talk about Mayor Brian Bowman bailing on the Blue Bombers…split screens and Benny on TSN…Sleepy Joe and Wile E. Coyote…CFL head counts…the Roger and Novak show…Simona Halep beating the bully…and fond memories of local tennis

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and you won’t find any aces in here but there are plenty of double faults…

So, Brian Bowman wants the City of Winnipeg to wash its hands of the Blue Bombers.

Mayor Brian Bowman

Was it something they said? Is it that 28-year, no Grey Cup parade thing? Someone at City Hall doesn’t like Mike O’Shea’s sideline look? Whatever the case, surely we can work this out, even if it means convincing Coach Mikey to shop at Mr. Big & Tall instead of finding his game-day attire on the racks at Sally Ann’s.

Personally, Coach Mikey’s t-shirt-and-shorts chic has never bothered me. I look at him as Coach Grunge. You know, the way Neil Young is the Godfather of Grunge.

Come to think of it, perhaps Neil Young will be Mayor Bowman’s next target. No more official bragging about the Sugar Mountain kid skipping school at Kelvin High to earn his musical chops hither and yon with the Squires, Buffalo Springfield, CSNY and Crazy Horse. Who wants to be bragging on a high school dropout as a homeboy? Let the Republic of Tranna claim him.

And, hey, while he’s at it, maybe Mayor BB can order favorite citizen Kenny Ploen deported back to Lost Nation, Iowa. After all, it’s been more than half a century since K.P. had a hand in bringing the Grey Cup to Good Ol’ Hometown.

Mind you, Mayor BB wouldn’t know much about that. He wasn’t around in the late-1950s and early-1960s, when Ploen, the Lincoln Locomotive, Choo Choo Shepard, Zazu, Kid Dynamite and the large lads in Blue and Gold won championships like kids collected bubble gum cards of their Canadian Football League heroes.

By the time Mayor BB squeezed out of the womb, those legends were long gone and so were the Bombers’ glory days.

Mayor Steve Juba: Friend of the Bombers.

But I’ll tell you who could have filled him in on those “best of times”—Steve Juba, one of his predecessors in the mayor’s office. Trouble is, Steve left us in 1993, so he isn’t available for a fireside chat with the present-day Hizzoner. If he were, no doubt Mayor Steve would regale Mayor BB in what it was like back in the day. You know, when the mayor of all the people actually embraced the connection between city and Winnipeg FC.

True story…

Once upon a time, the Bombers held a Blue and Gold intersquad game during training exercises. It was a huge deal. Anywhere from 17,000 to 19,500 locals would make their way to the real-grass football field on Maroons Road to take in the annual frolic, and I was among the east-side rabble on the night of July 21, 1960.

The opening kickoff tumbled near the Gold goalline, whereupon a return man scooped it up and began to skedaddle toward the right sideline. He had the awkward gait of peg-leg pirate and the giddyup of a sloth, but admirable escapeability. Would-be tacklers flung themselves at him in desperation without success, and he made it untouched to the far 35-yard stripe before an unknowing skunk shirt ruled him out of bounds.

I describe the game official as “unknowing” because the fix was in. The return man, you see, was Mayor Juba and the pre-arranged script had him lugging the kickoff back for a touchdown. Alas, someone forgot to clue in the sideline official. Didn’t really matter, though. Mayor Steve had punked the audience.

Three years later, a Blue and Gold game official ejected Kenny Ploen and receiver Farrell Funston when they connected for a TD. On the first play from scrimmage. The rabble howled in protest, demanding that Ploen and Funston be reinserted to the fray. They hadn’t paid $2 a pop to see some clown in a striped shirt turf two of their heroes. Upon closer inspection, however, it was discovered that the man in stripes was…you guessed it, Steve Juba. Yup, once again, Mayor Prankster had pulled one over on the Big Blue masses.

It was fun stuff. And a charming, folksy chapter in the historic bond between city and football club.

Yet, given his druthers, Mayor BB is inclined to bail on the burg’s beloved (well, aren’t they?) Blue Bombers. He’s not interested in the City of Winnipeg occupying a seat on the board.

Mayor Steve must be spinning like a lathe in his cold, Blue and Gold grave.

One thing to keep in mind about Winnipeg FC: It isn’t a community-owned operation. No one owns the football club. It’s community-run.

A couple of words on TSN’s innovative(?) split screen/live mic thingy during the Bytown RedBlacks-Montreal Alouettes skirmish on Saturday: The worst. We were forced to watch Antoine Pruneau and Henoc Muamba do absolutely nothing on the left side of our flatscreens for a dozen or more plays, while squinting at the right side of the screen to see what the other 22 players were doing. I’m all for new-fangled gadgetry, but this was a colossal failure. And, since I can’t afford a 70-inch TV, I hope this experiment goes the way of the Indian head test pattern (Google it, kids).

Mike Benevides

Kirk Penton, as always, delivered the good stuff in his CFL column for The Athletic last week, and it included this gem from a former coach: “It was great to see one of us (coaches) on TSN. Benny (Mike Benevides) sounded like what he is—a solid football guy. He understands our game. He picks up the keys to the game and explains them. Without him, the rest of that group is no different than watching Entertainment Tonight Canada. A lot of expensive clothes and a lot of talk about nothing.” Burn! Personally, I find Benevides uppity, if not flat-out arrogant. He doesn’t talk as much as he lectures, as if the former players on the TSN panel are still in film study. Benny could spend a bit more time in wardrobe, too. He’s not smoooooth like Milt Stegall. But, then, who is?

Anyone have a clue what’s going on in Montreal? Or maybe this is a better question: Does anyone in Montreal have a clue, period? I mean, the Alouettes are a welfare case (read: no owner); they play in a half-empty house; they fired head coach Mike Sherman on the eve of the CFL season; now they punt GM Kavis Reed after twin Ws leveled their record at 2-2. Strange bit of business. But here’s where it gets Rod Serling/Twilight Zone weird (cue the creepy music)—they’ve handed the keys to the shop to Joe Mack. That’s like giving Wile E. Coyote another stick of dynamite. Nothing good will come of it.

Sleepy Joe

Blue Bombers loyalists can tell the Larks all about Sleepy Joe and how he believed a brittle Buck Pierce was a better option at quarterback than Mike Reilly in 2013. It took present-day GM Kyle Walters more than three years to find his way out of the rubble that Sleepy Joe left behind, but we still feel an after-shock every now and then.

Sorry to report that attendance across the CFL is not on the rebound. The numbers continue to plummet everywhere but Calgary, and it’s gotten so bad in the Republic of Tranna that they don’t bother to take a head count. I agree. That’s unacceptable. After all, how long does it take to count to 100? Maybe they can bring in the Army to do it for them.

Novak Djokovic

Sports theatre doesn’t get much better than what played out on Centre Court Wimbledon on Sunday, with Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer knocking the fuzz off tennis balls at the All-England Club. Five sets, tiebreaker in the fifth, three ‘breakers total…bloody brilliant. And dare I say, the loser in this historic 7-6, 1-6, 7-6, 4-6, 13-12 tussle was the better player most of the afternoon. It’s just that Djokovic won the points that mattered most in claiming his 16th Grand Slam title, and that included fighting off two match points against Federer’s serve.

Simona Halep

I must confess, while watching the very likable Simona Halep give bully Serena Williams a good and proper rag-dolling in the women’s final on Saturday, I kept wondering if tournament officials would be required to dial 911 and call for a SWAT team to restore law and order. That is, I expected Williams to dig into her bag of angry theatrics and take the event hostage, much like she did in losing last year’s U.S. Open to Naomi Osaka. Thankfully, she brought her prim and proper manners to the English party. But she’s still a bully.

Halep worked a mere 56 minutes in winning her title. Djokovic needed four hours and 57 minutes to get the job done v. Federer. Each champion received a winner’s purse of $2.95 million. Any complaints about pay equity? I hope not.

Since Federer claimed his first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon in 2003, it’s been same old, same old on the men’s tour. Only 10 men have won a major. That’s it, just 10 in 17 years. Between Swiss maestro Federer, Djokovic and Rafa Nadal, they’ve collected 54 of the 65 majors, which is insane. Meanwhile, on the women’s side, there have been 24 Grand Slam champions in the same time frame.

Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club

I’m partial to tennis because it was my favorite beat at the Winnipeg Tribune. I spent countless enjoyable hours courtside at both the Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club and the Canoe Club through most of the 1970s, and I have fond memories of people like Rick Borland, Judy Peake, Jo and Jack Brown, Eleanor O’Gorman, the Campbell sisters, Glen Booth, Jim Matthews, Al Skaletar, George Kylar, and so many others. So it pains me that the Winnipeg Sun would choose to ignore the National Bank Challenger tournament, which wrapped up at the WLTC on Sunday. The Drab Slab, meanwhile, did it right with young Taylor Allen’s feet on the ground through the entirety of the event.

And, finally, here’s something for the Winnipeg Jets rabble to chew on, and I’m guessing some might not like the taste:
Jordan Binnington salary: $4.4 million.
Connor Hellebuyck salary: $6.166,666 million.
Stanley Cup rings: Binnington 1; Hellebuyck 0.
Feel free to discuss among yourselves.

Let’s talk about the Zach Attack…a little r-e-s-p-e-c-t, please…a GoFundMe account to pay Mike Reilly…CFL head counts…the NB-Eh champions…TSN’s Drake state of mind…blame it on the Lakers…NHL vs. NBA trinkets…it’s your move, Chevy…and a day of rest for news snoops

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and I wonder if I’ll still be breathing when River City gets another championship parade…

The Zach Attack

Well, that didn’t take long.

Three snaps of the pointy ball into the Canadian Football League season and a starting quarterback was on his wonky way to the repair shop, not to return to the fray.

Sigh.

How silly of me to expect head shots on QBs to go the way of the rotary-dial telephone and hand-written letters.

Let’s face it, there are certain things we now check for at the end of each week’s skirmishing in the CFL: 1) who won; 2) who lost; 3) how horrible East Division outfits not named Hamilton Tiger-Cats are; and 4) the QB body count.

Zach Collaros was first on the quarterback casualty list in this freshly minted 2019 crusade, and the Saskatchewan Roughriders signal-caller has become three-down football’s latest hard-luck case. I’m not sure how many damaging blows to the belfry Zach’s taken, but when he, Matt Dunigan and Buck Pierce get together you’ll hear more bells ringing than on Sunday morning at the Vatican. They’ve taken to calling him QuasiQB on the flatlands (“The bells…the bells…”).

Simoni Lawrence

Naturally, the villain of the piece on Friday night in the Hammer, Ticats linebacker Simoni Lawrence, delivered a post-match mea culpa, insisting the collision between his shoulder and Collaros’ melon was unavoidable and he’s “super sorry.” And, hey, he’s really, really fond of the Riders QB, don’t you know.

“I love Zach to death,” he told TSN’s Matthew Scianitti.

He just doesn’t love him enough to ignore an opportunity to take Collaros out of a game with the kind of dirty, cheap shot that the CFL is supposedly trying to eliminate.

Commish Randy

I trust commissioner Randy Ambrosie wasn’t moved to tears by Lawrence’s warm-and-fuzzy sentiments, and he has no choice but to instruct Lawrence to take a seat in the timeout corner. I’d say anything less than a two-game suspension will confirm that Commish Randy has lost the plot in the quest to keep QBs upright and out of dark rooms.

The punishment for head shots like that which Lawrence laid on Collaros should be chiseled in stone: 25-yard penalty, ejection, suspension. Every time.

Reducing or ridding the CFL of head-hunting isn’t strictly down to Commish Randy. This is very much on the players, too. It’s supposed to be a brotherhood, yet they insist on doing 100 km/h in a 15-km/h school zone, even though their reckless and callous indifference is apt to end a career. The CFL Players Association, it seems, is a brotherhood with very little r-e-s-p-e-c-t between the lines and even less going on between the ears.

Mike Reilly and Leos GM Ed Hervey.

The good news is, the attendance-challenged B.C. Lions hijacked QB Mike Reilly from Edmonton. The bad news is, nobody in Lotus Land gives a damn. Just 18,058 folks found their way to B.C. Place Stadium on Saturday night for a marquee matchup between the Leos and Winnipeg Blue Bombers, and that head count is down from their home opener a year ago (-2,124) and down on their 2018 average (-1,917). A 33-23 loss to the Bombers in the lid-lifter certainly won’t do anything to attract new customers. The Lions are paying Reilly $2.9 million over the next four years, but owner David Braley might have to start a GoFundMe account to cover his QB’s salary.

Attendance took a dive across the board in Week 1 of the CFL season. Here are the numbers compared to 2018 averages:
Calgary:         26,301    (26,339)
B.C.:              18,058    (19,975)
Edmonton:     25,263    (31,107)
Hamilton:      22,287    (23,523)

Just what I had hoped forthe return of the CFL season means the return of Kirk Penton’s scribblings in The Athletic. All is right with the world again.

John Naismith

In view of recent developments, many young people have discovered that a Canadian, John Naismith, was the dude who thought tossing a round ball into a peach basket would be a swell way to kill time. So welcome to Canada—home of the NB-Eh champion Tranna Jurassics.

So, this is how I learned that the Jurassics had captured the National Basketball Eh-ssociation title: I awoke at 1:22 Friday morning after six hours of sleep, turned on my flatscreen, and there was the Insufferable Courtside Clown, Drake, wearing a champions cap and flapping his gums in front of a TSN microphone and camera. Since I didn’t have my ear buds in, I have no idea what blah, blah, blah the Jurassics’ resident groupie was spewing, but I’m sure it was as idiotic as it was irrelevant. The Sportsnet/TSN/Republic of Tranna media infatuation with the rapper is as much a mystery as the Cadbury candy bar.

That was some wild celebration following the Jurassics’ Game 6 win over the Golden State Juggernaut on Thursday. The way people were carrying on, I thought something historic had happened. You know, like maybe the American women’s soccer team had scored another goal to make it 14-0.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Some folks are puzzled by my indifference toward the Jurassics. Allow me to explain. As a sprig, we sometimes played hoops at school, but never on the playground (we’d arrange a rousing game of tin-can cricket before considering basketball). And, being a squirt, I quickly discovered that the requirements to arrive at an acceptable level of on-court competency escaped me. So hoops wasn’t my thing. Still, I developed a great fondness for the Los Angeles Lakers and their marquee performer in the 1960s, NB-Eh logo-boy Jerry West, and my appreciation and admiration for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar dates

Jerry West

back to his days at UCLA, when we knew him as Lew Alcindor and his Bruins seldom lost. I believe it was after Kareem left the Lakers that my interest in hoops began to dwindle, and it didn’t help that HIV took Magic out of the game. By the time guys like Shaq and Kobe stopped bickering long enough to divorce each other, it was strictly meh. So blame it on the Lakers. Anyway, you’ll have to forgive me my failure to embrace the Jurassics. Try as I might, their climb to the top of the hoops heap was not exactly a Beatles-arrive-in-North America occasion for me. But if you’re on the bandwagon, I’m happy for you. Enjoy the parade.

The Jurassics with the Larry O’Brien Trophy

Quiz me this, kids: Which is the most-difficult chore, winning the Stanley Cup or the Larry O’Brien Trophy? By the numbers, both are daunting tasks. Consider:

The National Hockey League playoffs faced off on April 10 and ended on June 12. The St. Loo Blues played 26 games (16-10), two below maximum, in that 64-day time frame. The NHL plays 60-minute matches.

The NB-Eh playoffs tipped off on April 13 and ended on June 13. The Tranna Jurassic played 24 games (16-8), four below maximum, in that 62-day time frame. The NBA plays 48-minute matches.

Personally, I think the Stanley Cup is the harder trinket to win, if for no reason other than the fact hockey players are walloping each other with clubs almost every second night for two months.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

If Kevin Cheveldayoff does nothing more than twiddle his thumbs this week, the NHL’s annual garage sale of freshly scrubbed teenage boys will be a bummer for the rabble in River City. I mean, watching the entry draft when Chevy doesn’t have a first-round shout-out is like going into a pub that doesn’t sell beer. Like, what’s the point? But that’s where the Winnipeg Jets general manager sits today. C’mon, Chevy, do something other than sign European no-names to fill Manitoba Moose jerseys next winter. We need a reason to tune in to the cattle call next Friday night in Vancity.

And, finally, to all the news snoops who’ve been covering the NHL or NBA playoffs for the past two months, take a deep breath, pour yourselves a cocktail or pop a top off a brown bottle, then relaaaaaaax. You’ve earned your day(s) of rest.

About holding Coach LaPo hostage…letting the Saskatchewan Roughriders clean up their own mess…Buck up, man…Scrooge McFootball’s nifty handiwork…Tony Nostraromos sees all…and hell breaking loose in Edmonton

A Tuesday smorgas-bored…and I don’t want to go to Regina either…

Does anyone else see and appreciate the irony in the Paul LaPolice situation?

I mean, back in 2012, Coach LaPo was sideline steward with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the general manager of the day, Sleepy Joe Mack, told him to get lost. Hoofed his heinie out of Dodge eight games into the season. Yet here we are today and GM Kyle Walters is holding the guy hostage.

Paul LaPolice

Talk about not knowing if you’re coming or going.

We aren’t privy to the why and wherefore behind Winnipeg FC’s refusal to grant LaPolice permission to chin wag with the Saskatchewan Roughriders about their head coaching vacancy, because Walters has been mum on the matter to this point. But a couple of theories have been advanced. To wit:

1) LaPolice, the Bombers offensive coordinator, knows too much. (More irony there; Sleepy Joe didn’t think he knew enough.)

2) It’s too late in the Canadian Football League off-season for Walters to go scrambling for a suitable replacement.

Well, okay, let’s unwrap.

Kyle Walters

In regards to Point 1, yes, Coach LaPo has insider intel that the Canadian Mafia—Walters, head coach Mike O’Shea, chief cook and biscuit-maker Wade Miller—would prefer to keep to themselves. Allowing the arch-rival on the Flatlands to recruit and hire LaPolice would put that classified information at risk.

In regards to Point 2, cow patties! Great big fresh steamy cow patties!

Allow me to direct your attention to the Toronto Argonauts, bless their ignored souls.

The Boatmen punted general manager Jim Barker on Jan. 24, 2017, and head coach/quarterback whisperer Scott Milanovich pulled the pin three days later.

Thus, the Rowers found themselves up Schitt’s Creek without a paddle. No GM. No head knock. No hope. Right?

Jim Popp and Marc Trestman

Well, it would be a full month before the Argos filled those two voids, with the Jim Popp-Marc Trestman tag team coming on board on the last day of February, yet history reminds us that the Argos were holding the Grey Cup aloft in Nathan Phillips Square in the Republic of Tranna just nine months later.

So if it’s timing that the Canadian Mafia is selling, I’m not buying.

C’mon, man, we’re talking about an offensive coordinator here, not finding a GM and a head coach at the 11th hour. Hard to believe LaPolice is the only guy capable of getting the job done, which, of course, he didn’t get done in the West Division final last November.

Basically, Coach LaPo’s gotten a raw deal from the Bombers for a second time and no one can blame this one on Sleepy Joe Mack’s itchy trigger finger.

Buck Pierce

Too late to find an O-coordinator? If so, what’s Buck Pierce’s excuse? He was the Winnipeg FC running backs coach for two seasons and he’s been the QB guru for the past three. Has Buck had his eyes closed and his ears plugged the whole time? If he isn’t ready now, when?

Having said all that, Winnipeg FC is under no obligation to mop up the mess that Chris Jones created on the Flatlands. The Roughriders gave their GM, head coach and D-coordinator an escape clause, which he used to flee to the Cleveland Browns of the National Football League, and the Bombers aren’t in the business of doing Gang Green any favors. Still, to hold LaPolice back is bad form and a dreadful optic.

Both LaPolice and Bytown RedBlacks OC Jaime Elizondo want the Riders’ job. They do realize that there’s no quarterback, no receivers and it would mean living most of the year in Regina, right?

Aside from being Scrooge McFootball in matters of coaches climbing ladders, who’s prepared to quibble about the work Walters has done this off-season? Not me. He’s already sweet-talked Justin Medlock, Beastmo Bighill, Stanley Bryant and Jackson Jeffcoat into returning. And, for all we know, he’s the reason QB Matt Nichols has sworn off cheeseburgers and fries. That’s fine work.

Tony Romo

I really don’t believe CBS football gab guy Tony Romo can see the future, but if he tells me it isn’t safe to get on an airplane I’m taking a bus. If he tells me an earthquake will strike the West Coast tomorrow, I’m buying a survival kit today. Romo’s work in the American Football Conference final between the K.C. Chiefs and New England Brady/Belichicks was Rod Serling kind of spooky. He knew what Tom Brady would do before Tom Brady knew what he would do. Just call him Tony Nostraromos.

And, finally, does anybody have a clue what’s going on with the Oilers in Edmonton? If so, you can reach GM Peter Chiarelli at allhell’sbrokenloose.com.

About Sleepy-Eye Joe Mack passing on Mike Reilly…TSN’s continuing love affair with Johnny Rotten…the King of Clay…intrigue in women’s tennis…Secretariat still the greatest…a Capital way to party…the skier and the hockey player…expensive cardboard…and other things on my mind

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

It’s Darian Durant’s fault. A pox on his house for taking the money and running to retirement!

No. Wait.

It’s Joe Mack’s fault.

The statute of limitations hasn’t run out on Sleepy-Eye Joe’s stupidity, has it? Nope. So, whenever the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ universe isn’t unfolding as it should, the former general manager and everyone’s favorite whipping boy is still fair game for blame. He’s the reason the Big Blue will begin their 2018 Canadian Football League crusade with a starting quarterback on training wheels.

I mean, think about it.

Mike Reilly

Had Sleepy-Eye Joe reeled in Mike Reilly in 2013, we wouldn’t be talking about Matt Nichols’ wonky wheels and a QB pool that has all the depth of an Archie-Jughead plot line. Well, would we? Reilly, after all, is Marlboro Man rugged, even when he’s wearing one of his funny, little hats. He’s voted annually by his peers as the toughest hombre in the three-down game, and he hasn’t missed a beat due to an owie since the first week of September 2015.

The sad thing is, Mack could have had Reilly for a song.

The sticker price the B.C. Lions listed for Reilly was a swap of second-round picks in the 2013 CFL college draft, plus a second-rounder in ’14. The Edmonton Eskimos were willing to pay it. Mack didn’t even want to kick the tires. Sleepy-Eye Joe remained convinced and confident that Buck Pierce was the answer at quarterback, and his backup plan was putting the legendary Justin Goltz behind centre. Or Max Hall.

As history records, that worked out about as well as New Coke.

To say Pierce was injury prone is to say Bill Gates has a bit of money. When fit enough to actually start a game, they didn’t strap a play chart to Brittle Buck’s left wrist. It was an IV needle. He didn’t survive the first month of the ’13 season, leaving various body parts and what was left of his marbles strewn on the field.

Sleepy-Eye Joe

That QB fiasco, among other things, cost Mack his job generally mismanaging the Bombers, and Pierce finished that season in B.C., from whence he came. He’s now an assistant coach in Pegtown. No word on the whereabouts of Goltz and Hall, but I suspect they’re asking customers if they’d like fries with their Big Macs and Quarter Pounders.

As for Reilly, well, I’m sure you’re familiar with his story after the Eskimos lured him away from the Lions: Grey Cup champion and Grey Cup game most valuable player in ’15; CFL’s most outstanding player in ’17; two-time West Division all-star; one-time league all-star. And, perhaps most significant, Reilly is still with the Eskimos. No drive-thru orders for him. He’ll be barking signals and gutting it out on Thursday night when the Green-and-Gold engage the Bombers in a season-opening frolic at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry.

Reilly remains the ‘what could have been’ and ‘what should have been’ for the Bombers. That’s Sleepy-Eye Joe’s legacy.

Matt Nichols and Mike Reilly

None of the above is meant to disparage Nichols. Hey, he’s a tough dude, too. And he’s a keeper. Trouble is, he’s developed a most curious habit of falling down without being touched. His left leg caved on him in a game last October, and his right leg collapsed in a training session last week. Officially, he’s run out of legs that work properly. This, of course, is where Durant was expected to fit in. The Bombers paid the veteran QB $70,000 up front to serve as a safety net, thus, with Nichols in the repair shop for as few as four weeks and as many as six, it would have been his show. Alas, instead of playing catch with an interesting array of receivers, Durant is at home changing his new-born daughter’s dirty diapers, and the Bombers are unlikely to grovel at the feet of man who jilted them on the eve of training camp and trolled them on Twitter. Would Durant be an upgrade on Alex Ross, Bryan Bennett or Chris Streveler, the three lads who auditioned for the starter’s role on Friday night against the Lions in Vancouver? Naw. When last seen, which is to say with the Montreal Alouettes in 2017, Durant seldom delivered a pass without the football bouncing once or twice before landing at a receiver’s feet. He’s spent.

Welcome to TJMN—The Johnny Manziel Network, formerly known as The Sports Network. Seriously. TSN has gone loopy over Manziel. Last week, following a CFL debut that consisted of nine completed passes and zero points, TSN featured nine—count ’em, nine!—Johnny Rotten videos. One video per completion. Sunday morning, after he was good on a dozen of 20 pass attempts (including a TD toss), there were five more Johnny Rotten videos on the main TSN web page. They also featured something called Johnny Football Watch. All that for a guy who won’t start a game for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats unless Jeremiah Masoli is wounded or implodes.

Winner and still champion on clay, Rafa Nadal.

Can you say undécima, kids? Rafael Nadal can. His 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 paddywhacking of Dominic Thiem in the men’s singles final Sunday was his 11th French Open title, and I can’t think of an athlete—in any sport—who is more dominant than the muscular Rafa on the red clay of Roland Garros. What the Spanish maestro has accomplished in Paris is insane. He’s 86-2. Eighty-freaking-six and two! Nobody goes 86-2. Except the Harlem Globetrotters, and their games are as rigged as a Vegas slot machine. Nadal on clay is a one-off. Never seen anything like him. Never will. (By the way, here’s the answer to the trivia question: Robin Soderling and Novak Djokovic are the only two men to have beaten Nadal at Roland Garros.)

Simona Halep

The Big Four in men’s tennis is no more, but the Big Two remains. While Andy Murray is MIA and Djokovic is trying to sort out things in his head, if not other parts of his body, the younger generation of hot-shot racqueteers can’t kick Nadal or Roger Federer to the curb. Each of the 30somethings has won three of the past six Grand Slam championships and, Federer’s allergy to red clay notwithstanding, there’s no sign of surrender in either man. One suspects Wimbledon will be another episode in the Rafa-and-Roger show. All of which means the distaff side of tennis is much more intriguing. Check it out: In the past six GS tournaments, there have been six different champions—Serena Williams, Jelena Ostapenko, Garbine Muguruza, Sloane Stephens, Caroline Wozniacki and Simona Halep. Wimbledon will be another complete crapshoot, even if a healthy Williams joins the field.

Secretariat romping to the wire in the 1973 Belmont Stakes.

On the subject of great champions, 45 years to the day that Secretariat completed horse racing’s Triple Crown by winning the Belmont Stakes, Justify romped wire-to-wire at Belmont to become the 13th Triple Crown winner. But let’s provide some perspective. Justify ran the mile and a half in 2:28.18 on Saturday. Secretariat did it in 2:24.0 in 1973. In other words, Secretariat would have beaten Justify by more than 20 lengths. Big Red’s Belmont victory (he won by 31 lengths) remains the single greatest sporting achievement I have witnessed.

Perhaps Damien Cox would prefer it if the Washington Capitals partied like Canadian women.

Starring in the role of grumpy grandpa this week is Toronto Star and Sportsnet gasbag Damien Cox. On the heels of the Washington Capitals’ Stanley Cup conquest of the Vegas Golden Knights, Alex Ovechkin and the boys have been tooting about in full celebratory mode, carousing and fussing and sharing the moment with the rabble on the streets of D.C. Oh, they’ve also been drinking. How positively scandalous. And that just won’t do in Damien’s delicate, little world. There’s no room for random, unharnessed merriment. Or booze. “Rafael Nadal won his ELEVENTH French Open today,” Cox tweeted in a pious, tsk-tsking tone Sunday morning. “No video yet of him drunkenly rolling around in a public fountain because apparently some believe that’s how champions should behave.” Well, excuuuuuse the Capitals for having fun. I wonder if Damien Cox awakens some mornings and regrets being Damien Cox.

P.K. Subban and Lindsey Vonn

Social Note: It must be spring because sports power couples keep popping up. Not so long ago, noted flinger of footballs Aaron Rodgers and fast-car driver Danica Patrick were observed canoodling in public, and now it’s hockey’s diving diva, P.K. Subban, and Lindsey Vonn, glam gal of the ski slopes and one-time main squeeze of golfer Tiger Woods. Don’t know if going from putters to pucks is a dating step up or a step down for Vonn, but she probably won’t get any late-night calls from P.K. asking for bail money. (For the record, my fave sports power couple is Sue Bird and Megan Rapinoe, with Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi a close second.)

I note that a Connor McDavid rookie card recently sold at auction for $55,655. That’s a lot of coin for a small hunk of cardboard. But it made me wonder if kids still stick trading cards in the spokes of their bike wheels. Better question: Do kids still ride bikes, or are they too busy texting each other?

Serena Williams

Zero female athletes appeared on the Forbes list of the top 100 money-makers in sports for the first time, but we shouldn’t be surprised. The annual Forbes 100 is based on earnings from June to June, a period of almost total inactivity in 2017-18 for Serena Williams, who slotted in at No. 51 a year ago with total income of $27 million. Her haul this time around was $18M, all via endorsement deals. Maria Sharapova, meanwhile, once was a regular on the Forbes 100, but, after being caught with her hand in the illegal-drug jar, some sponsors abandoned her and she has yet to return to championship form. Sharapova is hardly a pauper, though. Her estimated worth is well in excess of $100 million.

And, finally, an interesting albeit indelicate quote from the elegant Garbine Muguruza, who, after routing the equally elegant Sharapova, 6-2, 6-1, in the French Open, described the five-time Grand Slam champion as “an old-time player.” Ouch. Sharapova just turned 31.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers: Green is the new Blue, so take a deep breath

Escaping the past isn’t so simple when a group of greenhorns is pushing the buttons and pulling the strings. Keep in mind that GM Kyle Walters is still on training wheels. We don’t know if he’s the right man for the job. Ditto head coach Mike O’Shea. QB Drew Willy has less than a dozen starts on his resume. There’s mounting evidence to suggest tailback Nic Grigsby might have made the wrong decision when he chose football over baseball.

Let me begin by saying I didn’t expect the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to qualify for the playoffs. I still don’t. I believed it to be too daunting a task. I still do.

Let’s remember—how could we ever forget?—that the local football heroes had waged an historically inept campaign just a year ago, failing 15 times in 18 assignments, and they entered the 2014 fray with the most obvious facelift since Joan Rivers surfaced with a mug as plastic as a Canadian $5 bill.

The Bombers didn’t undergo a minor procedure by Drs. Nip and Tuck, you understand. They went for the deluxe package. They showed up for business this Canadian Football League crusade with a rookie CEO. A rookie general manager. A rookie head coach. A rookie starting quarterback. A rookie tailback. A rookie running backs coach. A rookie…oh, let’s just say the Bombers have more green people than a 1960s sci-fi novel.

Green became the new Blue.

It isn’t easy being green. Especially when you’re trying to run with the big dogs in the West Division. And now the greening of the Blue has come to roost. The Bombers have lost their past two skirmishes and the pie-in-the-sky of a 5-1 start is falling. From facelift to face plant.

A lot of us saw this coming. I’m not saying the Bombers’ early-season success was fraudulent. A win is a win is a win and worth two points every time. Each was earned. And not to be devalued.

The thing is, escaping the past isn’t so simple when a group of greenhorns is pushing the buttons and pulling the strings. Keep in mind that GM Kyle Walters is still on training wheels. We don’t know if he’s the right man for the job. Ditto head coach Mike O’Shea. QB Drew Willy has less than a dozen starts on his resume. There’s mounting evidence to suggest tailback Nic Grigsby might have made the wrong decision when he chose football over baseball.

Then there’s Buck Pierce, running backs coach. I’m still not convinced his appointment was a wise hire. Seems to me it was more of a reward for being beat up while playing quarterback behind a train wreck of an offensive line. But, hey, I almost forgot that we don’t criticize Pierce. Not in River City. Buck has a lifetime Get Our of Jail Free card. So it isn’t his fault that the Bombers’ ground game has as much traction as Gord Steeves’s mayoral campaign.

You want to point accusatory fingers? Aim them at the O-linemen. The large lads are to blame. For everything. Well aren’t they? I mean, they can’t run block, they can’t pass block. And when, pray tell, are they going to clear a path so it’s safe for women and children to use the skywalks?

Meanwhile, it’s about the defensive dozen. It’s said that D guru Gary Etcheverry has 20 different schemes to baffle and befuddle enemy forces. Unfortunately, none of the 20 is designed to stop the run. That’s because the Bombers have a group of linebackers who weigh less than a T-bone steak on Chris Walby’s dinner plate. They look like refugees from Smurf Village.

Combine it all and you have considerable gnashing of the teeth in Bombers Nation.

Well, allow me to provide a pinch of perspective before the lads re-enter the fracas when the Montreal Alouettes pay a visit to Green Acres Field in Fort Garry on Aug. 22:

  • You wanted a new CEO. You got one.
  • You wanted a new general manager. You got one.
  • You wanted a new head coach. You got one.
  • You wanted a new starting quarterback. You got one.

In other words, you got exactly what you wanted. You just didn’t necessarily get who you wanted.

In the end, I’m guessing it’ll prove to be too much green and not enough grey and the rookies won’t turn last season’s sow’s ear into this season’s silk purse. But I’m willing to give the greenies more than eight games to find their footing. To sort things out.

They had a terrific start. They’ve stumbled. Hey, stuff happens.

But it’s not the kind of stuff that went down last year. And the year before. That was Cirque du Bombers. It was Barnum, Bailey and the Big Blue. They spent two seasons trying to see how many clowns they could stuff in a Volkswagen.

I’d say the clown act is over. I mean, the Bombers now actually have a head coach who wanted the job. Apparently he still does want the job. What a concept.

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, comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she doesn’t know when to 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.