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.

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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.