I’ve told this tale before, but it bears repeating given the shaky status of the Canadian Football League.
In a distant time and place, my friend Chester and I would hop on our bikes and make the trek to St. Boniface, twice a day, to watch the Winnipeg Blue Bombers frolic on a parched patch of earth known as Packers Field, so-named because of the Canada Packers rendering plant across the road.
We were allowed to get up close and personal with Kenny Ploen and Leo Lewis and Ernie Pitts and Bud Grant, who actually acknowledged our existence and once presented us scamps with a watermelon to share at the conclusion of the two-a-day, preseason training exercises.
How many kids could say they sat and spat watermelon seeds among sporting deity? Just Chester and myself, and it was magical.
The Bombers, after all, were top dog. The Winnipeg Jets had yet to arrive to adjust the pecking order, and our football heroes brought glory to Good Ol’ Hometown, winning the Grey Cup with great frequency in the late 1950s and early ’60s.
I’m uncertain what became of Chester, but, for me, those morning/afternoon sessions at Packers Field served as the stirrings of a life-long fling with Rouge Football.
I was fortunate. Actually, blessed would be a better word. I grew up with the CFL, then got to cover it for 19 years in three locales—Winnipeg, Calgary and the Republic of Tranna—and that’s something you should understand about the boys and girls on the beat: They’re fans.
Those who chronicle the daily doings of the three-down game care. About the league, about the players, about management, about the quirky rules that differentiate us from the four-down colossus south of the 49th. We embrace the notion of humble community ownership, in the same way the citizenry of Green Bay embraces its Packers.
Thus, we tend to take it personal when we hear squawkings of a sellout to American interests, or when the feds decline to pony up with cash to see the CFL through the COVID pandemic. Who are these snake-oil salesmen from the U.S. planning to butcher our game, and how dare Trudeau the Younger and his pals on Parliament Hill give Air Canada, the film industry and the arts community money hand over fist while leaving the lords of Rouge Football to sit, hat in hand, on a cold, dark street corner?
The iffiness of the CFL’s very existence, let alone a 2021 crusade, rattles us to the core, and we nod in agreement when we hear Russ Jackson speaking our language.
“I think if there was an amalgamation of the American and Canadian side, it would lead towards playing the American game,” the great quarterback told 3DownNation. “I have no interest in that. I have four season tickets here in Hamilton. I’m not sure I would keep those season seats if we turned into an American-type football game.”
You tell ’em, Russ. Maybe they’ll listen to you.
I doubt it, though, because they’ve heard it all before. They know all about the 100-plus-year history of the game on this side of the great divide, they’re familiar with folklore about horses clomping into hotel lobbies during Grey Cup week, and about fog bowls, mud bowls and ice bowls, so nothing a legendary QB says will sway them. Heck, we could trot out a lineup of legends including Jackson, Dirty Thirty, Peanut Butter Joe and Big Angie to preach the gospel according to G. Sydney Halter, but the stewards of the game will do what they’re going to do.
Question is: How many among the rabble would be bent out of shape if the lords of Rouge Football sold out to Americans, or if the CFL disappeared like a slab of beef on Chris Walby’s dinner plate? I mean, I like to think that it isn’t just folks of my vintage who want to preserve our game.
Well, I remind you of an Angus Reid poll conducted last May. Slightly more than 1,500 sports fans across the tundra were contacted and asked if they would be “disappointed” should the 2020 CFL season be scuttled. Only in Manitoba and Saskatchewan did the majority respond with a “damn straight I would!” Elsewhere, there was a collective shrug of the shoulders.
Manitoba: 63 per cent Saskatchewan: 61 per cent Alberta: 45 per cent B.C.: 34 per cent Quebec: 31 per cent Ontario: 28 per cent Atlantic Canada: 17 per cent
Significantly, east of the Manitoba-Ontario border, a greater percentage of people indicated they would miss an NFL season more than a CFL crusade.
We don’t know if those numbers have changed, but something tells me the Lords of Rouge Football and commissioner Randy Ambrosie haven’t attracted any new friends, or brought back old friends, with their fumbled appeals for federal financing and their dithering in the past year.
We’re told the tall foreheads will gather on Tuesday to plot strategy, and I don’t know if I should fear the worst or expect to see Commish Randy pull something that resembles Bugs Bunny out of his hat.
I just know they’re messing with memories, and if they shut down again or sell out to Yankee Doodle dollars I’ll be mad enough to spit. Only this time it won’t be watermelon seeds at Packers Field.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and still no word on the if and when of a CFL season, but here’s something else that’s real iffy…
Stop me if you’ve heard this before:
“I believe we’re close to having a team that has a chance to challenge for the Stanley Cup, and I’m really looking forward to that…we’re a lot closer than some people will give us credit for…I look forward to these next five years.”
Sound familiar? It should.
Blake Wheeler said much the same as Adam Lowry scant seconds after scratching his John Hancock on a six-year contract with the Winnipeg Jets.
“I believe in people like (owner) Mark Chipman and Chevy, what everyone stands for and especially in my teammates. I have believed since I got here that we have what it takes to get to the next level, so this is just a part of that process. I truly believe that great things are in store for this group,” the then-future captain told news snoops.
Wheels was 26 at the time. There will be 35 candles on his birthday cake in August.
Lend an ear to Rink Rat Scheifele who, upon agreeing to an eight-year contract in 2016, expressed a robust belief in “the organization, in the players on the team, in the future prospects.”
The Rink Rat was 23. He’s now 28.
Connor Hellebuyck, the Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender, locked in for six years and said, “The tools are in this locker room to be a championship team. I love it here and I want to be here and I really believe this team has what it takes.”
Hellebuyck was 25. He turns 28 next month.
And now we have another long-hauler, Lowry, parroting his teammates’ faith in a process that began in 2011 and has delivered the grand sum of two post-season series victories, both in the spring of 2018.
Lowry is 28. The freshly minted contract he signed on Friday will take him to 33.
So what’s my point? Just this: Unless your name is Evander Kane, Jacob Trouba, Dustin Byfuglien, Patrik Laine or Jack Roslovic, the Jets have all gulped down the Kool-Aid in a cultish-like obedience. They believe. And that’s the reason what went down at last week’s National Hockey League shop-and-swap deadline rankles.
We know Kevin Cheveldayoff kicked some tires on top-four defencemen, and we know the sticker price sent the Jets general manager running like a guy trying to stay two steps ahead of a loan shark.
We can assume his contemporaries were eager to fleece him and take Ville Heinola, Cole Perfetti and other shiny objects off his hands in exchange for their lame, halting and hard of seeing, but that was never going to happen because Chevy places premium value on his young studs. You might have a better chance of prying his bride, Janet, and their two kids away from him.
So it was no sale. Chevy allowed the NHL trade window to close with a whimper, and the Jets are no closer to the Stanley Cup today than a week ago, unless you consider a bottom-end, plug-in blueliner (hello, Jordie Benn) a shiny object.
Oddly enough, many among the rabble, also some news snoops, have given Chevy a tip of the chapeau and a slap on the back for his do-little day, because he “protected assets,” meaning he clung to young wannabes Heinola, Perfetti and others like gum to the bottom of a shoe.
Well let me tell you something about assets: They don’t stay forever young.
Chevy is protecting the future when most of the parts are in place for today’s Jets team. Add the right top-four defender and we might be talking about a parade route. But the Jets GM chose to stand still, even as time refuses to stand still for his significant core workers.
Wheeler’s prime years have been wasted. Scheifele and Hellebuyck are into prime time. Same with Lowry, Andrew Copp and Dylan DeMelo. And don’t look now, but Josh Morrissey is 26.
Which begs this question: If the Jets GM was unwilling to go all-in now, when?
This was the time for derring-do, an opportunity for Chevy to orchestrate what could have become his signature moment, lifting the Jets to that “next level” Wheeler spoke of all those years ago.
Well, here’s something else the captain said, when he re-upped in September 2018: “It kind of looks like that (Stanley Cup) window is opening up.”
Apparently Chevy missed the memo.
I don’t know if the GM will reflect on this crusade five years from now and view it as the one that got away, but Blake Wheeler might. Rink Rat Scheifele, Connor Hellebuyck and others like Lowry who’ve committed long term might, as well.
Chevy should be kicking himself. Right in the assets.
Something Bryan Little said when the Jets’ playoff aspirations had been dashed in March 2017 is haunting: “It’s another year of your career that you can’t get back. Some of the best players in this room are the youngest. There’s definitely a bright future, but some guys are older and want to do something right now. That’s the thinking going into next year.” Little was 29. He’s now 33, wounded beyond repair, and there is no next year. Not for him. But why must it always be “next year” for Scheifele, Hellebuyck, Lowry et al?
As I was saying last week, I don’t buy into the Jack Campbell hype that news snoops in the Republic of Tranna have been spreading like thick, gooey peanut butter. He’s been a career backup goaltender for a reason, and Maple Leafs loyalists are beginning to see why. For all their talent, the Leafs are vulnerable in the blue paint, whereas Hellebuyck gives the Jets the best puck stopping in the Hoser Division (yes, including Carey Price). And we all know what that means when the boys begin to play for keeps, which is the very reason Chevy shouldn’t have dithered last week.
I don’t know about you, but I’m digging the threads our Canadian athletes will be wearing for the closing ceremonies at the Tokyo Olympics this summer, if there is a Tokyo Olympics, that is. Ya, sure, you can say the denim jacket looks like a teenage graffiti artist had a moment of madness, but I look at it more as a stroke of genius. There’s a youth-cool vibe to the kit, something you might wear on a pub crawl, or wherever it is that our young people go these days. It’s totally boffo compared to the get-ups that noted needle-and-thread guy Ralph Lauren designed for our American friends. I can’t tell if he’s dressed the U.S. team for the next space shuttle mission or an expedition to the South Pole.
I’ll take nose-pickers for $2,000, Alex. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has completed his gig as guest host on Jeopardy!, and he let us in on a little secret about the sticky notes he used to aid his performance. One of them read: “Don’t pick your butt/nose.” Seriously. He needs a sticky note to remind himself not to pick his nose on camera? And the Packers trust Rodgers to call audibles in the red zone?
Apparently, producers of Fox NFL Sunday were so impressed with Rodgers’ work on Jeopardy! that they plan to equip Terry Bradshaw with sticky notes to improve his work: 1. “Remember, this ain’t Hee Haw.” 2. “Powder shiny head during every commercial break.” 3. “Do not mention gap in Michael’s teeth.” 4. “Do not laugh at Howie’s 1950s haircut because at least he has hair.” 5. “Resist all urges to muss up Jimmy’s hair.” 6. “Do not tell Rob Riggle he isn’t as funny as Frank Caliendo.” 7. “Remember, guy sitting beside you is Curt, not James.” 8. “Jay Glazer is human, he just looks like a garden gnome.” 9. “Mention four Super Bowl rings whenever Jimmy mentions two Super Bowl rings.” 10. “When in doubt, always refer to sticky note No. 1.”
Favorite headline of the weekwas delivered by the New York Post: “How Yankees can address their crappiness.” Anything that combines New York Yankees and “crappiness” is right by me, although I’m sure George Steinbrenner’s son Hal wouldn’t agree.
If your product needs to add some sizzle and pizzazz, who you gonna call? Well, Major League Baseball has called Brian Stedman, now responsible for strategy and development. That would be the same Brian Stedman who, for the past seven years, carried the sizzle-and-pizzazz portfolio for Vince McMahon’s cast of characters in World Wrestling Entertainment. That will be quite an adjustment for Stedman. I mean, the play actors in wrestling are allowed to hit each other with everything including the kitchen sink, but the Yankees can’t hit anything.
Old friend Big Jim Bender took a bit of a paddywhacking on Twitter last week, after he made a flippant remark about the Brendan Bottcher foursome failing to win a trinket at the world curling championship but securing an Olympic berth for Canada. “Was the very least they could do,” Big Jim wrote. The Pebble People pounced. Darren Moulding, third on the Bottcher team, called the former Winnipeg Sun scribe “a joke,” adding, “You’re a stain on our country, not me.” Harsh. Olympian and TSN talking head Cheryl Bernard weighed in, describing Bender’s comment as “crap.” Oh my. Who knew the delightful Cheryl could be so undelightful? Anyway, not that he plans to call me to the stand as a character witness, but let the record show that Big Jim is a friend of curler’s everywhere. He’s spent more time in chilly two-sheeters than most people I know, so, as Strother Martin told Cool Hand Luke, “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”
Speaking of Pebble People, Rachel Homan played in the Scotties Tournament of Hearts title match on the final day of February while eight months pregnant. She then went home to bring daughter Bowyn into the world, and now the former Canadian/world champ has returned to the fray, skipping her team in the Humpty’s Champions Cup just three weeks after giving birth. Meanwhile, Kawhi Leonard won’t be available to the L.A. Clippers today because he needs a rest—after sitting the last four games. I swear, if men could get pregnant and give birth, there would be no male sports.
Nobody asked me, but I’d say the selection committee for the Canadian Football Hall of Fame got it right when they chose Marv Levy, Nik Lewis, Will Johnson, Mike Walker, Orlondo Steinauer, Don Wilson and Doug Mitchell as this year’s inductees. These things are always ripe for debate, of course, and we usually hear some squawking whenever a sports body salutes the best of the best, but I don’t hear any arguments about the class of 2021, nor should there be.
And that’s not to ignore broadcasters Bernie Pascall and Bob Hooper, who got the nod from the Football Reporters of Canada and will go into the CFHF media wing. Hooper was a long-time Hamilton Tabbies play-by-play voice, and Pascall’s career chatting about Rouge Football on radio and TV spans decades. Unfortunately, Bob’s not around to enjoy the honor, but Bernie’s still with us, so he has something fresh to talk about with the neighbors on beautiful Vancouver Island.
The CFHF media wing is the ultimate boys’ club. By my scorecard, there are now 101 members, all men. Yup, 101-0. I realize there haven’t been a lot of women on the beat, but in my 20 years covering the Canadian Football League in three cities (Winnipeg, Calgary, Republic of Tranna), I can recall sharing a press box at Grey Cup games with Ashley Prest of the Drab Slab and Joanne Ireland of the Edmonton Journal. Ashley also knew her way around the University of Manitoba campus to cover coach Brian Dobie’s Bisons, and there might be some high school grid in her resumé, too, because that’s what most of us did back in the day. We started at the bottom and worked our way up. So it seems to me that the boys on the beat should find room for trailblazers like Ashley or Joanne.
Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna has made his annual plea for Dick Thornton’s induction to the CFHF, and I can’t disagree with Sy. Tricky Dick certainly has the bona fides, including two Grey Cup victories with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and multiple all-star salutes, and he also happens to be one of the more colorful characters in CFL lore. Legendary Bombers coach Bud Grant once said this of his defensive back/wannabe quarterback/kick returner/kicker: “When most players arrive in a new town, the first thing they do is phone a girl. When Dick Thornton arrives, he phones a sports writer.”
Tricky Dick had an ego the size of a football field, and here’s how the great columnist Jack Matheson once described him in the Winnipeg Tribune: “The writers and broadcasters treat No. 14 with considerable respect because he’s hot copy, in or out of uniform. His eccentricities are always guaranteed to liven a dull scene and for conversation Thornton holds all records for Blue Bombers of the modern era. The conversation always seems to revolve around Dick Thornton, but he has a magnetism and I’ve never seen anybody walk away from Dick Thornton when his mouth was open.” Another time, Matty wrote this of Thornton: “An incurable extrovert who played harder with his larynx than his limbs.”
Final note on Dick Thornton: The Bombers traded him to the Toronto Argos the same day the Maple Leafs cleared the track and sent Eddie Shack to the Boston Bruins. I guess the Republic of Tranna just wasn’t big enough for two clown acts.
Still getting creepy vibes from those face mashups TSN featured on its NHL trade deadline coverage. It’s clever work by Matty Go Sens, but morphing the faces of Gino Reda and Craig Button into one is the kind of stuff that will keep kids awake at night. Ditto the James Duthie/Bob McKenzie blending. I haven’t been so frightened since Alfred Hitchcock had all those nasty birds attack Tippi Hedren.
This from Steve Simmons: “The top four goaltenders in all-time wins are Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy, Roberto Luongo and now Marc-Andre Fleury. All of them Quebecois. And there’s not a single Quebec goalie of consequence (apologies to Jonathan Bernier) playing in today’s NHL.” Hmmm. Last time I checked, Marc-Andre Fleury was still a Quebecois and leading the NHL in shutouts.
Patrick Marleau will lace ’em up for his 1,768th NHL skirmish on Monday night, moving past Gordie Howe for most games played. It’s a terrific achievement. Worth noting, however, are their birth certificates. Howe was 52 when he finally shut down, Marleau is 41. And, at 52, Howe was a significant contributor for the Hartford Whalers, scoring 15 goals and 41 points in 80 games, plus another two points in three playoff jousts. Marleau is 4-4-8 in what looks to be another lost season for the San Jose Sharks.
And, finally, on the subject of legendary performers, I discovered a DVD of Tony Bennett: An American Classic at a local video story the other day, and I snapped it up immediately. Fan-freaking-tastic. Tony’s duets with Barbra Streisand and our Canadian songbird k.d. lang brought on the water works (sheer brilliance renders me very emotional), and there was only one sour note struck—the November 2006 TV special was far too short, just 42 minutes. I wanted at least an hour more.
Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and Happy Summer to you all…
Now that Hal Johnson has ‘outed’ TSN for racist hiring practices that included a limit on the number of Black reporters (one maximum) in 1988, here’s a question that needs to be answered:
What is the Black quota in 2020?
We know it’s more than one, because Farhan Lalji, Jermain Franklin and Kayla Grey are part of Team Yakety-Yak at TSN, but, in offering a lame mea culpa to Johnson the other day, the network’s spin doctors neglected to confirm or deny that a ceiling on the number of minority hires remains in place.
“There is still much work to do to improve our commitment to on-air and editorial diversity,” was part of a pre-fab statement on Twitter.
So, is what happened to fitness guru Johnson in 1988 still happening today?
If you missed it, here’s the Coles Notes version of Johnson’s TSN tale: Hired in the morning. Fired in the afternoon. By a suit in the ivory tower who believed adding a second Black news snoop was bad for business. So thanks for dropping in, Hal, and you can pick up your parting gifts on the way out. Oh, and by the way, we’d be happy to air your boffo Body Break fitness show with Joanne McLeod, but only if you hire a white actor to replace yourself because we can’t have an interracial couple exercising and having fun together on TV.
The spin doctors describe that as “a shameful part of our past,” (ya think?) but 32 years later TSN remains almost as white as a bowl of rice. It’s a sea of bleached faces, with a few former football players, Grey and John Lu in the mix.
All of which has provided pause for ponder.
The popular thing to do today is discuss diversity, also all the isms and phobias that are a pox on society. Suddenly, everyone has a tale to tell, and the great unwashed nod in enthusiastic agreement whenever it’s mentioned that discrimination, racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia and bullying are bad manners.
Many have been drawn into the conversation out of genuine concern, a yearning to understand and a will to effect change, while others have felt obliged to participate for fear of a tsk-tsking. Even though mistreatment of the marginalized is older than the ink on the Dead Sea Scrolls, only now are they gazing into the looking glass.
It will be interesting to learn what they discover and, more important, what they’ll do about it.
Be certain that TSN isn’t flying solo here. Denise Balkissoon has written an essay for Chatelaine on racism at the Globe and Mail, and Morgan Campbell hasn’t been shy about detailing his experience with racism at the Toronto Star.
Meanwhile, I’ve been squawking about the lack of diversity in jock journalism for much of this 21st century, and when I look at the sports landscape in the rag trade I see that it’s still whiter than a box of Titleist golf balls. Not only that, finding a female face among jock journos at our daily newspapers is like playing a game of Where’s Waldo’s Sister?
So what’s the scoop? Is there a restriction on hiring females? Or is it a hesitancy owing to the horse-and-buggy notion that women can’t possibly know sports?
The last time there was an opening in the toy department of the Winnipeg Sun, more than 30 wannabes applied. Four of them were women. Scott Billeck landed the gig. It’s proven to be a beneficial hire, even as he’s become the tabloid’s Virus Boy, but it’s worth noting that the Sun’s stable of sports scribes hasn’t included a female since the turn of the century, when Judy Owen discovered better things to occupy her time and left the building.
As for gay jock journos, I know of two in this country’s mainstream—the terrific curling writer Devin Heroux of CBC, and Scott MacArthur of Sportsnet 590 The Fan.
It terms of diversity, it’s a rather bleak scorecard.
Our guy Alphonso Davies set gums a-flapping with his eye-popping lickety-split in a recent Bundesliga soccer match, dashing up the pitch at a dazzling 36.5 km/h. Not sure what the big deal is, though. I mean, I know sports writers who run a lot faster than that every time the bar tab arrives.
Hey, I’m not saying jock journos are cheap, but there’s a reason why Canada took the penny out of circulation—sports scribes had them all squirreled away.
I must confess that I can do without all the fuzzballs that romp around sports facilities, but I’ve always liked Youppi!, one-time mascot of the Montreal Expos and now the official furball of les Canadiens. Youppi! has been inducted into the Mascot Hall of Fame (yes, there really is such a thing, in Whiting, Indiana), and I suppose that makes him this country’s best two-sport big-league star since Gerry James, aka Kid Dynamite. For those of you who haven’t been introduced, Kid Dynamite played for both the Tranna Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Blue Bombers, sometimes in the same year. He also won hockey’s Memorial Cup and football’s Grey Cup. Youppi! won neither, but kids really like him and that has to count for something.
I’ve been writing about the Canadian Football League since 1980—Toronto Sun, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and now as a blogger—so I must report that, yes, not having anything but Commish Randy Ambrosie’s awkward mutterings to opine about these days is a total bummer. Like all who follow the goings-on of Rouge Football, I would rather be discussing passers and pass rushers than Commish Randy’s panhandling on Parliament Hill, but it should be obvious to all that the large lads in pads will not be grabbing grass and growling this year. And that truly is a shame.
North American professional team sports in 2020: An unhealthy scratch.
Things that make me go Hmmm, Vol. 1: Donald Trump vows he won’t watch soccer or National Football League games if players are allowed to kneel during the U.S. national anthem. Hmmm. Something tells me they’ll all be watching when he takes a knee in November.
While in ponder of diversity, equality and inclusiveness, I found myself wondering if the Football Reporters of Canada will make this the year they finally vote a female into the media wing of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. At present, it’s the ultimate boys’ club, with 100 per cent male membership, and that’s something that needs correcting.
By golly, I do believe TSN nailed it with its all-time Blue Bombers team. As long as Bud Grant is the coach, Kenny Ploen is the quarterback, and Leo Lewis is one of the running backs, you can’t go wrong. If I have a slight quibble (of course I do), it’s the absence of Ernie (Zazu) Pitts among the receivers. Pitts is on my team before Rick House every time, but I’m not going to sue TSN for giving Houser the nod.
Just curious: Is baseball still a thing? Seriously. By the time Major League Baseball’s millionaire players and billionaire owners have finished bickering over who deserves how many bucks for playing however many games, nobody will give a damn. Maybe they’ve already arrived at that point.
Things that make me go Hmmm, Vol. 2: In a chin wag last week with Ron MacLean of Sportsnet, sports sociologist Dr. Cheryl MacDonald claimed to have interviewed “openly gay men’s hockey players who’ve played at elite levels.” Hmmm. We shouldn’t be surprised that Doc MacDonald didn’t name names, but I found myself wondering if she meant National Hockey League players. That seemed the logical next query to me, but MacLean declined to pursue that line of questioning. Frankly, his natters have become long on fluff and short on substance.
The lady doctor also suggested that the lack of out gay men in major team sports “might be even a masculinity thing.” Might be? What was her first clue?
It’s incredible how many people are just now discovering that hockey is not for everyone. The latest example of this ‘awakening’ is an essay on the Colored Hockey League by Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star. “Canadians call hockey ‘our game.’ But history tells us it hasn’t been everybody’s,” he scribbles. It’s a well-written, informative piece, but we don’t have to go back 100 years to realize that men’s hockey isn’t an inclusive enterprise. Its lack of acceptance is right in front of us today.
I’m a doctor of absolutely nothing, so COVID-19 is a mystery. I do, however, know that I’d prefer NHL players to be as far removed from me as possible during this pandemic, which means Vancouver is too close for my comfort. We haven’t had an active case of COVID-19 on Vancouver Island in more than a month, so I’m fine with the NHL choosing Edmonton or the Republic of Tranna as hub bubbles for the Stanley Cup tournament, thank you very much.
I like Murat Ates. A lot. He does boffo work for The Athletic. I like Sara Orlesky. A lot. She does boffo work for TSN’s Winnipeg bureau. But I believe Murat’s recent Q&A with Sara is a sure signal that he’s struggling for story ideas this deep into the pandemic.
Ever wonder what it’s like to be a jock columnist? Well, let’s have Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna tell us: “Life as a columnist. On Thursday, I write about my dad and Father’s Day and everybody loves me and thinks I’m great. On Friday, I break the (Auston) Matthews (COVID-19) story and I get called every name in the book and some that haven’t gotten there yet. On Saturday, I’m putting this notes column together, which is next to impossible with no games going on. On Sunday, thankfully, I exhale. And now on to next week.” The poor dear. I wonder if he’d like some cheese with that whine.
True, the gig can be a grind, but it isn’t “next to impossible” to churn out a notes column “with no games going on.” I do it every Sunday. I just do it in a different format and, unlike Simmons, I don’t get paid for it.
Simmons also continues to present himself as a hockey historian, even though his lived experience with the game doesn’t predate the 1960s. Commenting on Herb Carnegie, he writes: “Carnegie was more than good enough to play in the National Hockey League in the late 1940s, early ’50s. The Maple Leafs and the rest of the NHL wouldn’t sign him. He never got the chance to play at the highest level because he was black.” Actually, Carnegie did have the chance, even though he was Black. According to Cecil Harris’ book, Breaking the Ice: The Black Experience in Professional Hockey, the New York Rangers invited him to their 1948 training camp, and he stayed for 11 days, during which time the club presented three contract bids that would have had him begin the season in the minor leagues— $2,700 to play in Tacoma, $3,700 to play in St. Paul, $4,700 to play with the Rangers’ American Hockey League affiliate in New Haven. In other words, Carnegie was offered the same path to the big leagues that Jackie Robinson took with baseball’s Brooklyn Dodgers. Start in the minors, graduate to the show. But Carnegie rejected each of the Rangers’ bids for his services, preferring to earn $5,100 with the Sherbrooke Saint-Francois of the Quebec Senior Hockey League. His choice.
And, finally, I note that Paul McCartney turned 78 last week. It seems like only Yesterday that I was watching him and the other three Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. They were fab…yeah, yeah, yeah.
How about 300 million of them? Do I hear 1,500,000,000?
Apparently Randy Ambrosie doesn’t think that’s too much of an ask, because he’s panhandling on Parliament Hill these days, hoping that Prime Minister Trudeau the Younger is a fan of three-downs football and has a spare $30 million to $150 million stashed in his couch at Rideau Cottage.
If not…well, that’s the part of the big beg that Ambrosie has yet to spell out, but it suggests the end could be nigh for the Canadian Football League. Final score: COVID-19, CFL-0.
And, no, now that you’ve asked, I don’t think that’s being alarmist or extremist.
Look, I realize the CFL already has had more sticks of Acme dynamite blow up in its face than Wile E. Coyote, but the COVID-19 pandemic is a different kind of beast. The sports world will be harder to put together than a broken egg, and our quirky game requires a special kind of fix.
Rouge Football, you see, isn’t doable without fannies in the pews, even if the Argonauts and the dismissive citizenry in the Republic of Tranna do their best to prove otherwise. It can’t work. Not in The ROT, not in Good Ol’ Hometown, not on the Left Flank, where the locals won’t even come in from the rain to watch the Lions.
Thus, if turnstiles aren’t turning, it’s folly to discuss a Coles Notes version of a 2020 CFL crusade commencing on the Labor Day weekend.
Which means, yes, short of Trudeau the Younger morphing into PM Pigskin and tossing $30M into Commish Randy’s begging cap immediately (and another $120M if this season is a no-go), the CFL as we know it is likely a done deal.
“What would happen if that $30 million assistance was denied?” TSN’s Dave Naylor asked Randy the Panhandler the other day.
“I’m not indulging in the question what happens if it doesn’t work because I believe we’re going to find a way to make it work,” came the answer.
No surprise that Commish Randy would decline to engage in doomsday talk. He’s one of those dudes who’ll tell you his watch can’t possibly be broken because it shows the correct time twice a day. He’s never seen a half-empty stadium. Not even BMO Field in The ROT. Always half full. He knows what an empty piggy bank looks like, though, and he recognizes that saving the CFL will take more than a GoFundMe page.
And that’s a very grim reckoning for many of my vintage.
I remember when the CFL was the big dog in town, because we didn’t have National Hockey League outfits to call our own out in the colonies. But we had Kenny Ploen, the Lincoln Locomotive, Bud Grant and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Saskatchewan had the Little General, George, Gluey Huey and the Roughriders. Calgary had Eagle Day, Earl the Earthquake, Ham Hands and the Stampeders. Edmonton had Spaghetti Legs, the China Clipper, Johnny Bright and the Eskimos. B.C. had Peanut Butter Joe, Willie the Wisp, Nub and the Lions.
So a Canada without Rouge Football? Sorry, that’s not my Canada.
It would be like a pub without pints. A church without prayer. The McKenzie Brothers without brown pops, toques, earmuffs and a “beauty day, eh.”
But that’s my take, owing to the fact I was weaned on the game when single-bar face masks were still in vogue, and east was east and west was west and never the twain did meet until the Grey Grail was up for grabs.
Others, however, won’t be swayed by notions of nostalgia and Canadiana culture. They don’t want their tax dollars used to pay Mike Reilly’s and Bo Levi Mitchells’ $700,000 salaries, and certainly not Commish Randy’s reported annual stipend of half a million loonies. That’s an impossible sell when many thousands among the rabble are forced to feed at the public trough due to COVID-19, and going-out-of-business signs are popping up like dandelions.
I’ve heard the CFL described as a mom-and-pop operation and, in the grand scheme of things, I suppose it is. It’s dwarfed by the goliath that is the National Football League, and robust broadcasting contracts allow the other main players (National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, National Hockey League, Major League Soccer) to re-enter the fray sans customers. At least temporarily.
Not so Rouge Football.
Pundits suggest Commish Randy’s beg is a Hail Mary pass, and I’m inclined to agree. But, hey, Trudeau the Younger is a good Catholic boy, so he probably owns a rosary and might have an “in” when it comes to answered prayers.
If not, I fear there’s a very real possibility the CFL will run out of downs.
I don’t want to pay Bo Levi Mitchell’s wage anymore than the next person but, for the record, I have no problem with the CFL panhandling on Parliament Hill. I’d do the same thing. That doesn’t make it the right thing, but it doesn’t make it wrong, either.
The hardest part of Commish Randy’s sales pitch? Convincing the feds that people hither and yon actually give a damn about Rouge Football. He can wax poetic about the beauty of the three-downs game, how it’s a significant and historic thread in the country’s fabric, but he can’t sugar coat the head counts in our three largest markets—the Republic of Tranna, Montreal, Vancouver. I’ve seen more people at a neighborhood flea market than the Argos attract to BMO Field. The Lions are a rumor in B.C. Montreal showed a pulse late last season, but it was faint. So never mind the odious notion of bailing out millionaire and billionaire owners, how does Commish Randy sell the feds on a product that most of the rabble is meh about?
No matter how this all shakes down, I’m convinced we’ll see someone ride a horse into a big-city hotel lobby on the final Sunday in November once again. But not this year. A post-pandemic CFL won’t look the same, at least not initially. I see reduced rosters, more Canadians and fewer imports on game-day rosters, wage shrinkage (on and off the field), and two leagues under the CFL banner: The Western Football League and the Eastern Football Union. No more interlocking play. Just West v. West/East v. East until the Grey Cup game. You know, like it was in the 1950s and into the ’60s. And road trips on the bus (except to B.C.) to lower costs. That’s what the tea leaves are telling me, so remember where you read it first. Or not.
What a surprise—the CFL asks for money from the feds and we hear squawking from other athletes, notably Liz Knox, one of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association mouthpieces. “We’re asking for peanuts compared to a $150-million ask,” she bleated, recalling the collapse of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League last spring. “When the CWHL was folding, we were talking in the hundreds of thousands to get us in the clear so the league didn’t have to fold. We’re talking two or three CFL salaries. That would (have) made the difference of us literally surviving or not. Women’s sport is often seen as a charity, but that’s not the narrative that we’re hearing about the CFL and their situation right now.” Well, actually, that’s exactly what many among the rabble are calling the CFL these days—a charity case. Liz might want to try a different narrative.
Why is it that members of the PWHPA seem to be caught in a never-ending pity party, constantly griping about the sorry lot in life that they’ve created for themselves and demanding what they “deserve,” yet we never hear similar grumbling from the National Women’s Hockey League? NWHL leaders simply go about their business, adding an expansion franchise in the Republic of Tranna, conducting a player draft, and prepping for the 2020 crusade. At last report, 26 women are already on board for the NWHL’s sixth season, and none of them are bitching about “deserving” a living wage. That’s what they’re building toward—a better tomorrow for Ponytail Puck—and I’d say they’re going about it the right way.
In the winter of 2015, I was having a discussion with friend/former colleague Judy Owen about sports scribes at Winnipeg’s two dailies, and I directed her attention to a young writer still trying to find her way in the rag trade. “I really like Melissa Martin’s stuff,” I told Jude. “She doesn’t cover things the same old, same old way. She has a different style, and I like different. She’s the best pure writer they have at the Freep.” Jude didn’t disagree, but she seemed genuinely surprised, if not mildly amused, that I harbored such high regard for Melissa. Well, fast forward to spring 2020: Melissa won her second National Newspaper Award the other night, as top columnist in the country. Like I was saying five years ago, she’s the best they’ve got at the Drab Slab. Still. Too bad she only makes cameo appearances in the toy department.
The week in jock journalism…
Really nice read from Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab on Ralph Wild, a 101-year-old who’s been root, root, rooting for the Blue Bombers since Buddy Tinsley almost drowned during the Mud Bowl at Varsity Stadium in the Republic of Tranna. If you’re scoring at home, that was in 1950, so Ralph has seen some football…Shrinkage alert: The Winnipeg Sun sports section was reduced to just four pages three days last week. And, get this: They managed to fill those pages mostly with local copy. Imagine that. Running local copy by local scribes instead of all the usual flapdoodle from the Republic of Tranna. What a concept…Mind you, it was back to normal for today’s edition, with a Toronto-centric piece on the sports front and more on the inside…Made a point of watching the Her Mark show on TSN, but I’m afraid it totally missed the mark. The guest list included Christine Sinclair, Tessa Virtue, Marie-Philip Poulin, Kia Nurse, Natalie Spooner and Hayley Wickenheiser, and host Kate Beirness said, “I hope the stories they share will be as uplifting to viewers as they have been to me.” Excuse me? What stories? It was a series of public service announcements. So let’s just call it an opportunity lost for female athletes…Why does TSN, or anyone for that matter, think Will Ferrell is funny? He isn’t. Ferrell pranked the Seattle Seahawks on a Zoom gathering the other day, expressing his “love” for quarterback Russell Wilson and saying “let’s make a baby.” Beirness described the bit as “fantastic.” No. It was totally lame, just like Ferrell’s gig in the TSN curling booth…Sad news out of Calgary: Longtime broadcaster Russ Peake died at age 80. You’d have to look long and hard to find a nicer man than Russ.
If you have a spare 50 minutes in your day (and who doesn’t?), grab a beer or a glass of vino and check out Road to the Grey Cup, a documentary on the Bombers’ journey to their three-downs title last November. It’s the handiwork of Rheanne Marcoux (creative director), Riley Marra (producer, editor, videographer), Jeremy Derochers and Sam Calvert (videographers) and it’s boffo stuff.
There was considerable ballyhoo on Saturday when an extremely large Icelandic lad named Hafthor Bjornsson established a world record for dead-lifting 1,104 pounds. What’s the big deal? The Cleveland Browns have been carrying that much dead weight since the 1960s.
There’s also been much natter about the incomparable Secretariat winning NBC’s virtual running of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday. Big Red out-galloped a field that included 12 other Triple Crown champions, including 1919 winner Sir Barton, who finished last by about 15 lengths. Talk about flogging a dead horse.
The talented Murat Ates of The Athletic has scanned the Winnipeg Jets roster and determined that there are five untouchables: Connor Hellebuyck, Rink Rat Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Josh Morrissey and Neal Pionk. That’s right, he’ll trade away Twig Ehlers, Kyle Connor or Puck Finn, but not Neal Pionk, whose only a top-pairing defenceman by default. I admire Murat’s way with words, but I’m not hiring him as GM of my hockey team.
And, finally, if the last month and a half has seemed more like an entire year, and if you can’t tell one day from the next, you’ve got an idea what life is like for a lot of seniors. Isolation can be very numbing, physically and mentally.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I’m in a Grey Cup state of mind…
Welcome to the O-For-The-Century Bowl, featuring the two biggest losers since Decca took a pass on The Beatles and Ford went all-in on the Edsel.
I mean, we’re talking Wile E. Coyote v. his own twin brother here, without the ACME explosives or falling anvils, although I wouldn’t put anything past Simoni Lawrence, the Darth Defender of Rouge Football.
Simoni figures to be one of the central participants in today’s Grey Cup skirmish between the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Hamilton Tabbies, and if he hasn’t dropped a boulder on Zach Collaros’ head by the end of the day, chances are the guys in blue-and-gold togs will claim bragging rights in the Canadian Football League for the first time in almost three decades.
Pundits across the landscape have dubbed this 107th edition of the three-down championship the Drought Bowl, and it’s a nice, catchy title, even if the Paper Bag Bowl would be just as apt.
It’ll be exactly 29 years tomorrow when the Bombers last grabbed the Grey Grail, while the Tabbies haven’t taken a swig from the goblet since Nov. 28, 1999, so one of these storied franchises will finally join the rest of us in the 21st century.
And, yes, I would prefer Winnipeg FC to be on the high side of the tote board.
What can I say? I’m a lowly blogger, not one of the ink-stained wretches who pretend they don’t have any rooting interest in the joust, thus I’m allowed to wave pom-poms, and mine just happen to be blue and gold.
So make the final: Winnipeg 28, Hamilton 27.
More predictions: Most valuable player, Bombers’ quarterback Collaros; most outstanding Canadian, Andrew Harris; most annoying natterbug, Glen Suitor; smarmiest smile, Mike Benevides.
Things I learned while watching too much blah, blah, blah on TSN’s pre-game coverage Saturday: Kate Beirness doesn’t like to talk about sex, and Davis Sanchez shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a microphone. Not sure why blushing Kate is so skittish about discussing the annual Jim Hunt Memorial Question re the large lads engaging in pre-match nookie, but she came across as Queen of the Prudes while hiding her head and moaning, “I hate it.” As for Sanchez, I’ll be kind and just say that he and microphones are meant for each other like a cow is meant to sing opera.
Brief fashion observation I: Kate might want to tone down on the eye makeup. Ru Paul uses less.
Brief fashion observation II: Benevides and Sanchez don’t know how to wear a cowboy hat. Milt Stegall does.
Someone at TSN needs to tell Matthew Scianitti that he’s reporting on a game, not the JFK assassination or the Hindenburg disaster. The dude smiles less often than a hangman, and his walky-talky interviews are about as light and breezy as closing arguments at a murder trial.
I don’t know about you, but I found it interesting that members of the CFL Players Association voted William Stanback, not Andrew Harris, the all-star running back this season. The Bombers’ PED-tainted tailback outnumbered Stanback by a considerable margin—1,909 rushing/passing yards to 1,377—so I have to believe the players’ vote was the ultimate and definitive judgement on Harris getting caught with his hand in the juice jar. Except there’s this: They voted Louis-Philippe Bourassa as the all-star long snapper, even though he failed a pee test and, like Harris, was told to get lost for two games. Why did Harris’ drug rap disqualify him from all-star consideration, but not Bourassa’s?
Better question: Why is there such a thing as an all-star long snapper?
On the subject of honors and trinkets, it was between Brandon Banks of the Tabbies and Corn Dog Cody Fajardo of the Saskatchewan Flatlanders as the grandest of all performers in Rouge Football, and Speedy B received 41 of a possible 50 first-place votes from the nation’s grid reporters. Which begs this question: Why were Saskatchewan news snoops allowed nine votes?
Since taking my leave from the rag trade in 1999, there are only two events I’ve missed covering: The Brier and Grey Cup, even if the work became a total grind as the week progressed. I’ve never been a party animal, but I enjoyed watching everyone else whoop it up during the Grand National Drunk, and I can tell you that nobody threw a better bash than the folks from E-Town. The Spirit of Edmonton was a must-visit venue during any Grey Cup hooraw I attended.
Actually, Edmonton was my favorite Grey Cup city. I have fond memories of bending elbows with Terry Jones of the E-Town Sun and Al Ruckaber of the C-Town Sun—in a cop shop well after last call. True story. Ruckaber and I were also politely asked to leave the piano lounge at the Chateau Lacombe that week, because we kept winning Name That Tune and getting our tab picked up by the house. On the third night, the host saw us walk in, bought us both a beer and quietly told us to hit the pavement so someone else could win.
Worst Grey Cup cities were the Republic of Tranna and Vancouver. I recall being on the Left Flank one November with Ed Tait when he was still Young Eddie and working in the rag trade. We were leaving a busy-as-bees lobby of the Bayshore Inn the day of the game when an elderly chap stopped us at the exit.
“Is there something special happening here this week?” he asked.
“Ya,” Young Eddie confirmed, “it’s the Grey Cup.”
“The Greek what?”
Randy Ambrosie, the commish of Rouge Football, was in total blow-smoke-up-their-butts mode during Grey Cup week, calling the CFL “the world’s largest global football league” and telling interrogators that he’s “super optimistic” about the markets in the Republic of Tranna and Vancouver. Here are some numbers that he’s “super optimistic” about:
I cringe every time I hear Commish Randy talk about the CFL’s stance on domestic violence, because it’s such hollow prattle. He’s the guy who welcomed woman-beating Johnny Manziel north of the border.
Plenty of quality copy came out of Cowtown in the past week, and my favorite reads were Paul Friesen’s insight on Bombers QB Zach Collaros in the Winnipeg Sun, and Chris O’Leary’s take on Winnipeg FC head coach Mike O’Shea at CFL.ca. As my first sports editor Jack Matheson would say, “damn good stuff.”
Also found a piece by the aforementioned T. Jones notable and interesting due to some ghastly blasphemy from Gerry James, a celebrated running back and kicker with the Blue-and-Gold in the glory years. According to Kid Dynamite, legendary sideline steward Bud Grant “was a miserable bastard. Bud was very stoic. You could have a helluva game and he didn’t give anybody any credit. I don’t think anybody liked him.” Apparently, Gerry also believes the Buddha was a fat tub of goo who needed to get more exercise, and Jesus was a layabout who bounded about the countryside because he couldn’t hold down a steady job.
By the way, shouldn’t our so-called national newspaper have dispatched its sports columnist to Cowtown for Grey Cup week? You bet. Alas, the deep thinkers at the Globe and Mail thought it would be wiser to keep Cathal Kelly close to home in The ROT, I suppose just in case Mike Babcock stubbed his toe on the way back from his retirement party.
The Drab Slab, perhaps recognizing that the Winnipeg Sun has given it a serious paddywhacking, a wedgie and a swirly in playoff coverage, finally noticed that the Bombers are still playing football. So the cavalry arrived in the form of Jen Zoratti, Kevin Rollason, Doug Speirs, Ben Waldman and yesterday’s man, Paul Wiecek. Waldman is the only one of that bunch to join Jeff Hamilton and Mad Mike McIntyre with feet on the ground in Calgary, and he used them to track down Gabe Langlois, better known as Dancing Gabe. Ya, that’s what every Coupe Grey package needs, a feature on Dancing Gabe. Not! Much of the additional copy made it to the website, but not the print editions, and I’m pleased to report that yesterday’s man Wiecek shook off the moth balls and managed to scribble an entire column without mentioning Mike O’Shea’s smirk or short pants. Apparently retirement has mellowed him.
I enjoy newspaper wars and, even though the Drab Slab came at the Sun with a flury of copy on Saturday, they were trounced on the weekend. Here are the numbers for Bombers coverage:
Friday: Drab Slab 3 pages, 5 articles; Sun 14 pages, 17 articles.
Saturday: Drab Slab 6 pages, 12 articles; Sun 17 pages, 14 articles.
Sunday: Drab Slab 5 pages, 8 articles; Sun 19 pages, 15 articles.
Totals: Drab Slab 14 pages, 25 articles; Sun 50 pages, 46 articles.
Can you say overkill, kids? Sportsnet certainly can. I mean, I tuned into Sportsnet Central at 2 o’clock in the a.m. on Thursday and, 20 minutes later, the talking heads were still gasbagging about Mike Babcock’s ouster as bench puppeteer of the underachieving Tranna Maple Leafs. I’d like to tell you how many pundits Sportsnet trotted out to wax poetically about Babs, either on air or the website, but I ran out of fingers, thumbs and toes to count on. Let’s just say everyone from the Dalai Lama to Doug Ford had their say, and you know Sportsnet has jumped the shark when it posts 11 minutes of in-your-face rambling from novelty act Steve Dangle. It wasn’t any different on Friday morning, when the main page on the Sportsnet website featured a staggering 27 articles/videos devoted to Babcock and his successor, Sheldon Keefe, and that included an open letter from Dangle to the new head coach. Good grief. This wasn’t Neil Armstrong leaving footprints on the moon. It was a hockey coach being told to clear out his desk. Happens all the time.
Earth to Sportsnet/TSN! Earth to Sportsnet/TSN! Most of us who live in the colonies don’t enjoy you force-feeding us 20 minutes of news on Auston Matthews’ grooming habits every night before acknowledging that life exists beyond The ROT. We have our own preferences. Like, here’s where the major dailies on the western frontier played the Babs’ adios on their sports pages: Winnipeg Sun: Page 17. Calgary Sun: Page 16. Edmonton Sun: Page 6. Winnipeg Free Press: Page 5. Vancouver Province: Page 5. Regina Leader-Post: Page 2.
That’s right, Babs being kicked to the curb wasn’t page 1 sports news anywhere in the colonies. And no sheet was printing open letters from Steve Dangle to anyone.
Just wondering: Why is there a Steve Dangle? His gig isn’t clever, it isn’t funny, it isn’t witty, it isn’t informative, it isn’t entertaining. It’s just some wannabe somethingorother sitting in his man cave and close-talking to a camera. I can’t imagine anyone with an IQ higher than Auston Matthews’ sweater number actually enjoys it.
Really enjoyed GM Brad Treliving’s take on the recent struggles of his Calgary Flames. “The manager’s been horse shit,” he confessed. At last, some truth about the Milan Lucic trade.
And, finally, I don’t know about you, but I’ve reached the stage in my life where I’d rather sit in a bar than raise the bar.
A Monday smorgas-bored coming down in 3, 2, 1…and I’m thinking of Kenny Ploen today…
Those of my vintage remember the glory days, when our local football heroes would make a pilgrimage to the Republic of Tranna or Lotus Land every November.
Our Winnipeg Blue Bombers didn’t go for the weather, understand, because it was usually cold, wet, windy, foggy or flat-out gnarly at that time of the year, and it wasn’t the lure of big-city lights and big-city temptations either. It was business, and that business was to whup the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
We learned to dislike the Tabbies with unharnessed gusto, because they were always in the way. In 1957. In 1958. In ’59, ’61 and ’62.
They were big, menacing and vulgar men named Mosca and Barrow and Nagurski, all raised on sour milk and appropriately dressed in villain black. One of them, Ralph Goldston, was a thug of such ill temper that he once was ejected from a Canadian Football League championship match for punching Winnipeg Blue Bombers sublime running back, Leo Lewis, in the face. Their coach, Jungle Jim Trimble, was a trash-talking loudmouth from coal mining country in Pennsylvania and, in advance of the ’58 Grey Cup game, he considered the Bombers’ roster and declared, “The Winnipeg club didn’t show me anything to worry about.”
Jungle Jim also spewed this legendary line that November: “We’ll waffle ’em. We’ll leave ’em with lumps on the front and back.”
The nerve. The very notion that one of the Hamilton ruffians would have the bad manners to leave lumps on Kenny Ploen was a most disagreeable and distasteful notion. I mean, you didn’t mess with the Lone Ranger, you didn’t tug on Superman’s cape, and you didn’t put lumps on Kenny Ploen.
Ploen, the Bombers quarterback and sometimes ball-hawking defensive back, was a sweetheart. They all were, and I say that based on memories of an urchin who, along with my friend Chester, would ride a bike from Melbourne Avenue in East Kildonan out to a parched patch of hard, scuffed earth known as Canada Packers Field in St. Boniface twice a day during the Bombers preseason training exercises.
Before and after each workout, Chester and I would collect the signatures of our blue-and-gold heroes, asking them to scribble their names on paper scraps, magazines, newspaper articles and footballs.
“How many of these do you have?” Ploen asked one day as he signed my white football.
“I don’t know, Mr. Ploen,” I answered. “I hope we aren’t pestering you by asking for your autograph every day.”
“Not at all. I’m glad to do it.”
None of them complained. They simply signed, sometimes the perspiration from their foreheads dripping onto our paper scraps to make the blue ink smudge and run. Ernie (Zazu) Pitts one day greeted Chester and I with a smile, saying, “Good morning, people of the jury,” and, at the conclusion of the two-a-day sessions, god-like head coach Bud Grant trucked in watermelons for the large lads and handed us one as well.
To announce to neighborhood chums that Chester and I had shared a watermelon with Bud Grant, Kenny Ploen and Leo Lewis was a bragging point of considerable heft, believe me.
Like I said, sweethearts.
Ah, but once opposite the dreaded Tabbies, the measure of Blue Bombers’ snark and sass was sizable and more than a match for their black-clad foes. Herb Gray, Jack Delveaux, Dave Burkholder and Norm Rauhaus were no quarterback’s notion of a picnic, while the Lincoln Locomotive, Choo Choo Shepard, Carver Shannon and Zazu made things go bump in the night for Hamilton defenders.
Winnipeg FC waffled the Jungle Jim-coached Tabbies four times in their five Grey Cup skirmishes starting in 1957 and ending in ’62, with one game determined in overtime and another taking two days to finish.
Many years after the fact, I caught up with Winnipeg FC lineman Ed Kotowich during a Grey Cup week and asked him about the dislike between the Tabbies and Bombers back in the day.
“There was nothing made up about it,” he said with a growl and a tightening of his jaw muscles. “They didn’t like us and I guarantee we hated them and their big-mouth coach.”
So now the Bombers and Ticats are set to renew their classic CFL squabble, Nov. 24 at McMahon Stadium in the Alberta Foothills, and I was feeling that 1950s/60s vibe the moment Winnipeg FC took out the Saskatchewan Flatlanders, 20-13, in Sunday’s slob-knocker of a West Division final.
All the old villains are long gone, of course, but it’s easy for me to picture Simoni Lawrence in the Angie Mosca or Ralph Goldston roles. Total cads, every one of them.
I don’t know if the Bombers will waffle ’em, and I doubt either head coach plans to take the Jungle Jim route and provide bulletin board reading, but somebody’s going home without any marbles and the loser of Coupe de Grey No. 107 will remain 0-for-the-century.
That, alone, is a good storyline, but I’m guessing we’ll be hearing more about Zach Collaros and Simoni Lawrence in the leadup to next Sunday’s large match. And why not? It’s good v. evil. The Sweetheart QB v. Darth Defender.
You know, just like the good, ol’ days.
It’s interesting to note that when the Bombers beat the Tabbies in the ’58 Grey Cup game, it ended a 17-year championship drought, and when the two franchises did it all again in 1984, Winnipeg FC ended a 22-year famine. Now they’re hoping to end 29 years of never failing to fail.
Random thoughts from lying on the loveseat and staring at the flatscreen for six hours on Sunday: No doubt the Bombers earned their victory over the Flatlanders on Sunday, but it must be said that they benefited from some incredibly dopey coaching by Craig Dickenson, horrid clock management by Dickenson/Corn Dog Cody Fajardo, and a serious brain cramp by Marcus Thigpen. Just saying…Interesting that the two semifinal skirmishes featured four of the five CFL markets that care the most about Rouge Football—Winnipeg, Saskatchewan, Edmonton and Hamilton. The fifth, Calgary, gets the consolation prize—the Grey Cup game…Not since Pinball Clemons and Gizmo Williams has there been a player more fun to watch than Speedy B of the Tabbies…The boys in the TSN booth(s) were all about nicknames on Sunday. They mentioned, Speedy B, Speedy A, Great Dane, Inspector Gadget, Magic and El Diablo, Shake and Bake, the Special Teams Vulture, and Timbits Field in the Hammer was the Cathouse. Hey, I like nicknames. Big fan. But that’s a bit much…Why do all the TSN talking heads call Mike Benevides “Coach?” He isn’t a coach. He’s an ex-coach. So is Matt Dunigan, but no one is calling him “Coach.”…This was weird: They trotted out former Ticat Rob Hitchcock to present the East Division championship trophy to the Tabbies, but he wouldn’t give it to them. He hoisted it instead…
Really annoying people: The 7-Eleven Guy and Matthew McConaughey. I think a perfect commercial would be the 7-Eleven Guy spilling a strawberry Slurpee on the posh seats of McConaughey’s fancy-schmancy Lincoln…Further evidence that Glen Suitor isn’t watching the same game as us: 1) At one point, he informed us that Saskatchewan was going into a “no-huddle” offence, even as the cameras showed QB Fajardo standing in the huddle, looking at his wrist play chart, and shouting out a play; 2) on the Flatlanders’ final gasp, he said, “The Bombers made the last play.” They did nothing of the sort. Fajardo’s final fling of the football went clunk against the crossbar and the Bombers didn’t have to do anything except celebrate…Hey, look who’ll be coaching in the Grey Cup game—old friend Jeff Reinebold, the Ticats special teams guru. Bravo to one of the game’s true survivors…What is it with TSN and the Reklaws? They keep promoting a new album featuring the tune Old Country Soul, which might be the worst country tune ever recorded. Enough already.
And, finally, it’s about my forecasts for the division finals:
Prediction: Winnipeg 29, Saskatchewan 12 (no touchdowns, only field goals).
Actual score: Winnipeg 20, Saskatchewan 13 (no TDs, only FGs and a rouge).
Prediction: Hamilton 36, Edmonton 34.
Actual score: Hamilton 36, Edmonton 16.
Feel free to discuss among yourselves. Or not.
Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and it’s mostly short snappers to start the final work week of August…
Who are these people making rude noise about Andrew Luck?
What’s his crime?
I mean, it’s not like he’s been tripping old ladies and kicking small dogs.
Luck took his leave from the National Football League because he has no desire to spend the rest of his life using a walker, or being pushed around in a wheelchair while a care worker wipes drool from his lips.
“I can’t live the life I want to live moving forward,” the chronically wounded, now-former Indianapolis Colts quarterback said during a natter with news snoops on Saturday. “I feel quite exhausted and quite tired.”
His parting gift at age 29 and after six seasons of being battered fore and aft by very large, very angry men was a disturbing chorus of boos from the faithful as he strolled off Lucas Oil Field in Indy. Lame.
I’d like to say I’m shocked at some of the negative reaction to Luck’s retirement, but I can’t be shocked because, you know, people.
The worst take on the Luck adios was delivered by Doug Gottlieb, a paid gob with Fox Sports radio who offered this bit of snark in a tweet: “Retiring because rehabbing is ‘too hard’ is the most millennial thing ever #AndrewLuck.” Oh, that’s rich. A guy once disciplined for plagiarism and banished from Notre Dame after being found guilty of stealing, and using, other students’ credit cards poses himself as adjudicator of not only a Stanford U. grad but an entire generation of young people. That’s offensive to the max, but I suppose it’ll make for boffo ratings for Gottlieb’s show this week.
Unlike Luck, I didn’t spend my work life being physically rag-dolled by two-legged, muscle-bound beasts, but I know burnout. When I heard Luck tell his audience that he felt “quite exhausted and quite tired,” I nodded and whispered “been there, done that.” No need to go into the gory details, but the day I walked out of the Winnipeg Sun newsroom in tears I knew the end of my newspaper career was nigh, even though I was only 48 going on 49. But I didn’t feel like I was quitting the newspaper business. I thought of it as a necessary step in the motion of life. Moving forward with my life. And, at the same time, preserving my sanity. Luck is doing something similar, and I applaud him for it.
Luck, of course, isn’t the first athlete to leave the big stage while in his prime, and his departure brought to mind some of the others, including my favorite tennis player, Bjorn Borg. The Swede tapped out at age 26, with 11 Grand Slam titles already in his diddy bag, and a lot of us weren’t convinced we’d seen the last of his double-fisted backhand. He fooled us, though. Bjorn made his retirement stick until an ill-advised return eight years later, when he was paddywhacked by someone named Jordi Arrese at the Monte Carlo Open. Others who left too early for our liking were Sandy Koufax, 30, Jim Brown, 29, Barry Sanders, 30, Gronk, 29, Mike Bossy, 30, Robert Smith, 28, Rocky Marciano, 32, Ken Dryden 31, Bobby Orr, 30, and Gale Sayers, 29.
Of that group, Brown’s is the best farewell story. The NFL rushing champion was in London hanging out with Chuck Bronson, Donald Sutherland, Lee Marvin and the rest of TheDirty Dozen when Cleveland Browns’ owner Art Modell sent a dispatch that included dire warnings of fines for tardiness in arriving at training camp. Brown, not one to be pushed and prodded, responded with his own missive, advising Modell that he had carried a football for the last time: “This decision is final and is made only because of the future that I desire for myself, my family and, if not to sound corny, my race.”
On the subject of early departures, how much longer will our Milos Raonic carry on with a body that repeatedly betrays him? He’s a no-show at the U.S. Open, which commences this very day at Flushing Meadows in Queens, NYC, and I really don’t know how many times he’s had to withdraw from a tournament due to an owie. It’s because of Milos’ many wounds that his will end as an “if only” tennis career.
Thought about passing on the Sunday skirmish between the Tranna Argonauts and Montreal Larks, but I’m glad I tuned in. The Boatmen and Larks dazzled in the second half, with Montreal prevailing 28-22, and they offered everything we like about the Canadian Football League. Boffo stuff.
They tell us there were 10,126 witnesses at Croix Bleue Medavie Stadium in Moncton for the neutral-site joust, and that’s supposedly a full house. So why did I see all those unoccupied blue seats? Do that many people take a pee break at the same time?
What would a Larks game be without the boys in the TSN Tower of Babble On gushing about their favorite lousy quarterback, Johnny Manziel? Sure enough, Rod Black went into groupie mode, telling us that “Everyone in Canada was so intoxicated with the Johnny Manziel story” last year. No, Blackie, you were intoxicated. Apparently, you still are. Sigh.
How long have the Edmonton Eskimos been the dumbest team in the CFL? Oh, that’s right, ever since Jason Maas became head coach.
David Braley has put his 1-9 B.C. Lions on the market. So how long will it be before the CFL owns both the Leos and the Larks? I mean, the Lions are running on fumes. Nobody watches them, nobody talks about them. That’s a tough sell.
In Sunday’s post I mentioned that Mike O’Shea has reached the century mark as head coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, joining an exclusive club that includes Bud Grant and Cal Murphy. But that’s regular-season games. If we are to include post-season participation, add the name Dave Ritchie to the sideline steward Century Club. So it’s Grant (177), Murphy (152), Coach Grunge (104) and Ritchie (104).
An odd bit of banter from Steve Lyons, sports editor of the Drab Slab, discussing fandom in the CFL. “I’ve been in the sports department in Winnipeg for a long time, and certainly I’ve seen how Bomber fans, in my opinion, are the most dedicated fans, you know, right there with the Rider fans, anyways, in the CFL,” he said in a retro look at the 1990 Bombers. “You’d be hard-pressed to say there’s a more dedicated following.” Oh, please. File that under pathetic pandering to the local rabble. The most faithful flock in Rouge Football is colored green, and Lyons knows it. Perhaps he needs to make the five-hour, 45-minute drive to Regina next weekend just to remind himself where the CFL’s best fans nest. He’ll recognize them when he sees the watermelons on their heads.
Lyons and his paid pen pal, retired columnist Paul Wiecek, served up the latest installment of their backyard banter last week, and Wiecek had high praise for his former colleagues at the Drab Slab, writing about “the great reporting of our own Jason Bell and Mike McIntyre about there being dissension in the (Winnipeg Jets) room last season.” Ya, great reporting. Except for one small matter: It’s been five months and they still haven’t introduced anything but gossip and innuendo to the conversation. Wiecek went on to write, “Blake Wheeler came out this week and actually denied there were problems in the room last season and seemed to suggest that he was angry about our reporting to the contrary. I would encourage Wheeler to take it up with his head coach and ask him what he meant by ‘ruffled feathers’ if not exactly that.” If Wiecek took the time to read his own newspaper, he’d know that head coach Paul Maurice answered that very question in June, telling McIntyre and other news snoops that “sour is a better word” than ruffled feathers. “Maybe I just made a poor choice of words,” he said.
Here’s McIntyre’s latest on the Jets “fractured” dressing room: “To be honest, there was nothing going on with these Jets that winning couldn’t fix.” Say what? He’s spent the past five months telling us that the boudoir was “rotten to the core,” and now there’s “nothing going on” that can’t be cured with a few Ws? The mind boggles.
A tweet I liked, from Rob Vanstone of the Regina Leader-Post on old friend John Paddock, head coach and washer of bottles for the Regina Pats: “One of the perks of my fake job: Getting to chat with John Paddock. It’s always a pleasure. In a day and age of structured media availabilities, it’s refreshing to deal with someone who likes to shoot the breeze and does it so enjoyably.” It’s true. Paddock is an old-school hockey guy and he’s got the yarns to prove it. Rob and the boys in Regina are lucky to have him around for a casual natter.
Something else I liked this weekend: Kelly Dine worked home plate for the Little League World Series final between Louisiana and Curacao on Sunday. Kelly’s just the sixth woman to umpire at the LLWS, and I didn’t see her miss many balls or strikes.
Interesting week in golf. Brooks Koepka took his clothes off for ESPN The Magazine and, thankfully, John Daly didn’t.
Koepka, by the way, has an answer for those who tsk-tsk his nudie shoot in the Body Issue: “It’s one of those things where all these people that talk crap and whatever on social media, they don’t have the balls to do it, and they wouldn’t look that good.”
And, finally, the Pucker Up Police at Coors Field in Denver ticketed a lesbian couple who had the (apparent) bad manners to exchange a “casual” smooch during a recent Colorado Rockies game. The women, celebrating an anniversary, were abruptly given lip service of another kind and informed by a storm-trooper usher that kissing at Coors was a no-no because “it’s a family park and it’s Sunday.” Ah, yes, that oft-forgotten 11th commandment: Thou shall not kiss lesbians on the Sabbath.” The Rockies have apologized and asked the women to return as their guests for another game, but this is just another example of why we still have Pride Week, Pride Month and Pride parades.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and now they know how many holes it takes to fix an NFL field…
Did it really happen? Were the Green Bay Packers and Oakland Raiders really in Good Ol’ Hometown for a National Football League dress rehearsal last Thursday?
Well, yes, they were.
We know this for certain because there were sightings and photographic evidence to confirm the existence and presence of Aaron Rodgers, who apparently was separated from Borat at birth and looked positively hoser-ish in his Canadian Tuxedo.
Coo-roo-coo-coo-coo-coo-coo-coo! Good day, eh.
Mind you, I thought Rodgers was a bit too much of a denim dude. The jeans and jacket were fine, and the bolo tie was a boffo accessory, but he should have gone with a lumberjack shirt to complete the ensemble. Take it from a fashionista, overdoing denim is never a good look. On the red carpet or strolling through Osborne Village.
Anyway, a garment glitch aside, Rodgers was meant to be the star attraction in an exhibition of faux football between two storied four-down franchises at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry, but I’m sure you know by now that the Pro Bowl quarterback was one of 33 Packers no-shows. That’s right, 33 scratches. Sounds like a bad case of hemorrhoids.
Perhaps that’s fitting, though, since River City has become the butt of jokes.
To wit: How could the NFL tell it was in Winnipeg? They found potholes.
In re-configuring a Canadian Football League playground (110 yards with 20-yard end zones) to meet NFL dimensions (100 yards with 10-yard end zones), removal of CFL goal posts was required and, apparently, no one with the NFL thought to toss a few shovelfuls of good, rich prairie dirt into the holes left behind. Instead, they plopped something that looked like a swath of Austin Powers’ discarded shag carpeting on top and expected the boys to “Play on!” The Packers would have none of that. “No way, baby,” they squawked. Thus the pothole patches were ruled hazardous to the wellness of millionaire footballers and shrinkage ensued. Rather than frolic on their regulation-size grid, the large lads had to make do on an 80-yard pitch with makeshift end zones.
I’m not sure if the shrinkage was a salute to our metric system or the U.S.-Canada currency exchange rate, but it made for the kind of farce you’d find on Fawlty Towers.
Difference is, Fawlty Towers is funny, this wasn’t.
But, hey, it will forever be known as the NFL Hole of Fame game, and I suppose that’s something to shout about. Or not.
Watching the events unfold on TSN, it reminded me of another time and another place and another show fraught with farce. It was the night of Dec. 11, 1981, and Muhammad Ali was to meet Trevor Berbick in the main event of a calamitous fight card on a parched patch of earth in Nassau, The Bahamas. Before the first punch was thrown, someone discovered there was no official timer, no ringside bell to signal the start and end of each round, and only two pairs of boxing mitts. For the entire card. Promoters dispatched a man to Miami with instructions to return with fresh gloves for the Ali-Berbick bout, a stopwatch was located, and a TV crew loaned organizers a cow bell. In-ring hostilities began more than two hours late and, eventually, Berbick earned a unanimous decision for thoroughly boxing Ali’s ears over 10 rounds. Ali never fought again and, even though the card commenced on Dec. 11, none of us filed our final copy until Dec. 12. One wise acre on press row awarded the event the No Bell Prize for boxing. We laughed and agreed.
The villain in the Gaffe-O-Rama that was the NFL experience in River City appears to be John Graham, mouthpiece for On Ice Entertainment. He didn’t have a clue about his market, hence the $75-$340 (plus taxes/fees) sticker prices and the insulting PR prattle that implied Pegtowners are backwater bumpkins who don’t know moonshine from a Slurpee. “It’s a premier event,” Graham gushed the day before they discovered the potholes. “In musical terms, it’s like the Rolling Stones or U2 type of thing.” Ya, for sure, John. Take away Mick, Keith, Bono and The Edge and it was just like that.
They tell us that 21,992 bought the snake oil that Graham was selling, but I believe that like I believe the cow really did jump over the moon. Based on what I saw on TSN, Football Follies Field was a glass half empty. Naturally, Graham pointed an accusing finger at news snoops, because that’s what some PR flacks tend to do when their face hits the floor. He whinged to Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun about “very biased articles” and “things that aren’t accurate,” then attempted to have Freezer banned from the press perch. What a tool.
My favorite headline on the NFL Hole of Fame Game was delivered by the Washington Post: “Canadians are very politely not buying tickets to the Packers-Raiders game in Winnipeg.”
Much was made of Raiders punter A.J. Cole wearing a t-shirt with the words “Winnipeg, Alberta” pasted across the front. Alberta only wishes it was so.
Cole was thoughtful enough to offer a mea culpa for his geographical goof-up, so I say we cut the guy some slack. Come to think of it, Cole has a degree in Industrial Engineering from North Carolina State. What, no one thought to ask him to come up with a better solution to the goal post/pothole problem than an 80-yard football field?
By the way, those “Winnipeg, Alberta” t-shirts and hoodies are available from TeeChip on the Internet. They come in sizes S-XXXXXXL and nine colors. I’m not saying I endorse them, but they might make a good gag gift for family and friends unfortunate enough to live in Wild Rose Country.
When the Packers-Raiders skirmish was announced, Winnipeg Blue Bombers CEO Wade Miller described it as a “once in a lifetime experience.” After Thursday, I’d say that sounds about right.
Moving on to football with a rouge, if you’ve ever wondered what Tim Tebow might have looked like in the CFL, Chris Streveler provided a hint on Friday night in E-Town.
Pretty he ain’t, not at all like Trevor Harris, his counterpart with the Eskimos who usually looks like the ‘after’ part of a Tide commercial. You know, all spiffy, fresh and clean. Streveler, on the other hand, is kind of like Mike O’Shea, his head coach with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Grungy. With a game to match his scruffy chin whiskers.
Going by the QB numbers on Friday, Streveler had no business beating the Eskimos 34-28 in a West Division top-dog throw-down at Commonwealth Stadium. Harris flung the football for 430 yards and a touchdown, Streveler 89 on just seven completions and zero scores. But they don’t give the guy operating a wrecking ball marks for artistic impression, and that’s the way it is with some quarterbacks.
Guys like Harris are a candy store. Streveler is a hardware store, full of nuts and bolts and wrenches and all manner of heavy-metal gadgets. He’s Tebow of the North. Tebow with a toque. It’s all about the legs and smash-mouth with the neophyte QB, subbing for wounded starter Matt Nichols.
Streveler crash-banged his way to one Tebowesque TD and set up another with a 30-yard Tebowesque boogie, and small DBs and safeties across the CFL landscape better get used to the idea of being the bug rather than the windshield for the next month-plus while Nichols is in the repair shop.
You know what the narrative would be today had it been Nichols tossing the rock for just 89 yards, don’t you? That’s right, even in victory, the rabble would be breaking out the pitch forks and putting a match to torches.
That old bromide “statistics are for losers” certainly applies to the quarterbacks in the two Winnipeg-E-Town skirmishes this season. Here are the numbers:
Trevor Harris 61/94 775 yds.
Nichols/Streveler 20/38 289 yds.
Sean Whyte of the Eskimos hoofed 14 field goals v. Winnipeg FC, so why would I still rather have Justin Medlock doing my three-point kicking in a big game?
A quick thought on Willie Jefferson, the holy terror who most often lines up at defensive end for the Bombers: Exactly what part of Jefferson did the Saskatchewan Roughriders not like? Seriously. Gang Green let this guy get away? I’m pretty sure when Trevor Harris brushed his hair after Friday’s game, Jefferson fell out.
I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking Glen Suitor would be a much better broadcaster if he actually knew what was in the CFL rule book. Just saying.
Speaking of Suitor and the squawk boxes on TSN, here are a couple of juicy snippets from Kirk Penton’s latest offering of sound bites from CFL GMs, coaches and suits in The Athletic:
* “They were down 10-0 in the first quarter, and Suitor said the Lions are improved. I’ve gained 20 pounds since training camp. Too many desserts and too many late-night chips. But if Suitor says the Lions are improved, guess I can tell my wife that the fatter me is improved too.”
* “We (coaches) respect Matt Nichols more than you media guys do. When the Bombers lose the next three without him, you’ll see why coaches are smarter than newspaper guys and talking heads.”
And, finally, never thought I would mention Mike O’Shea, Bud Grant and Cal Murphy in the same sentence, but Coach Grunge has joined the Bombers coaching legends in a very exclusive club—the only Winnipeg FC sideline stewards to work 100 regular-season games. O’Shea hit the century mark on Friday night in the E-Town rain, and I thought someone would have made a big deal out of the milestone. Trouble is, a lot of folks still aren’t sold on Coach Grunge, and they won’t be until he brings the Grey Cup back to Good Ol’ Hometown, like Bud (four times) and Cal (once) did. Still, 100 games is a noteworthy achievement, and there’s a boatload of us who didn’t think O’Shea would last this long.
Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and it’s pay day for us seniors, so get out of our way…
Where I live, on the shores of the Pacific Ocean and across a small puddle from Vancouver, it’s almost as if the B.C. Lions don’t exist.
The Canucks are huge, of course. Ditto European soccer and the English Premier League. The Blue Jays receive plenty of noise, especially when they’re in nearby Seattle to duel the Mariners. Golf, notably the Grand Slam tournaments, gets a sizable chunk of the sports discussion, in part because we can tee it up 365 days of the year.
But the Lions…I hear more chatter about rugby and the Shamrocks, a highly decorated lacrosse outfit.
Unless a lass named Jody and a gent named Doug are in my downtown Victoria watering hole, any mention of the Canadian Football League and its member clubs is as rare as a winter without rain. And, just for the record, the wet stuff doesn’t fall in the quantities you’re led to believe. That’s propaganda. We just let the myth persist, otherwise there’d be tourists getting in our way 24/7/12 and we like to reserve our little island for ourselves a few months each year.
At any rate, Jody and Doug are Green People, which is to say they pledge allegiance to the Saskatchewan Roughriders and can probably tell you the name of the goomer inside the Gainer the Gopher costume. Whether or not they pluck the banjo, I can’t say, but it goes without saying they’re good people and good for a gab about the CFL, even if it’s unavoidably Riders-centric and always references Ron Lancaster and George Reed.
Otherwise, the CFL and Leos are non-starters in these parts and I’m quite uncertain why that is, except to say that after close to two decades here (20 years on Sept. 3) it’s my experience that the citizenry of the Garden City are indifferent to most things east of the Strait of Georgia.
We tend to focus on bike lanes, Orca pods and green spaces, rather than Green People with watermelons on their heads.
What I’d really like to know, however, is why the rest of our vast land seems to be tuning out our delightfully quirky three-down game.
Again, I’ve heard all the theories and, as I suggested on Sunday, the skirmishing has become borderline unwatchable, due in large part to starting quarterbacks dropping like ducks in a carnival shooting gallery, but also because TSN refuses to pull the plug on insufferable gimmickry that makes our eyes and ears bleed.
The Prairies, of course, remains the CFL fortress, with the Flattest of Lands boasting the most rabid and portable of fan bases, and they were out in all their melon-headed, green glory to watch the Riders ragdoll Mike Reilly and the Lions on Saturday night. It’s not by coincidence that the 20,950 head count was tops this season at B.C. Place Stadium. By 2,892 noggins. I’m not sure if that’s enough to make Leos bankroll David Braley smile, because there’s the matter of just one W in seven tries for the B.C. 24, but I’m guessing what didn’t get done on the field was done in suds sales.
There are two things I know about Green People, your see: They love their football and they love their Pilsner, and not necessarily in that order. Mind you, they might have been forced to chug some kind of Lotus Land hippie swill rather than Pil at B.C. Place, because it’s a different world out here. Still, a pint is a pint is a pint when your side is on the laughing end of a 48-15 score.
Whatever the case, here’s what I’m thinking: Let’s go back to the future. That is, no more interloping. Let west be west and east be east, and never the twain shall meet until the Grey Cup game. (Apologies to Rudyard Kipling for butchering his poem.)
That’s how the CFL rolled when I was knee high to Willie Fleming and Peanut Butter Joe Kapp. We never saw the whites of an eastern invader’s eyes until the final weekend in November, or the first weekend in December. Then some wise acres decided it would be a swell idea to have clubs flit to and fro across four time zones, and eastern outfits have been stumbling across the Manitoba border ever since.
Well, who needs them in 2019?
Let them keep to their own, with their four-team house league (five when Halifax joins the party; back to four when the Tranna Argos turn out the lights). I believe the five West Division outfits would get along quite nicely without the misfits and stumblebums from o’er there, thank you. Especially if it meant an extra visit from the melon heads.
Now, if the bottomless Boatmen beat the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Thursday night, I take it all back.
The local football heroes, be advised, were guilty of playing along with the interlocking schedule nonsense when it was introduced in 1961, although they really had no choice. So head coach Bud Grant and his troops trudged to Montreal for an Aug. 11 assignment, beating the Larks 21-15 in the CFL’s first West-East regular-season skirmish. Here’s how legendary football scribe and columnist Jack Matheson described the occasion for Winnipeg Tribune readers: “There were no special ceremonies to welcome a new era in Canadian football. There was, however, terrific humidity that was eventually chased by incessant drizzles, and through it all the Winnipeg team played their best football of the season. Their efforts weren’t particularly appreciated by 18,059 fans.” Apparently those 18,059 customers never left, because that’s still what the Alouettes draw today.
Incidentally, Winnipeg FC began its ’61 crusade with four games in 10 days. That is not a typo. Ten days, four games. So let’s not hear any whinging about a demanding sked today.
Big doings on the south side of River City this very afternoon and evening, with the boys and girls teeing it up in the Dreams Take Flight Tournament at Southwood Golf & Country Club. Bombers legend Chris Walby is among the celebs swinging the sticks, and we all know the large man will also give his jaw a workout. Peter Young has a boffo take on Big Bluto’s modus operandi when he attends one of these functions: “Opens car door in parking lot…starts telling stories…10 hours later gets back in car…stops telling stories…drives home…practices stories for next event.” They’ll fire a shotgun at 1 p.m. to get it all started, and some lucky kid will be going to Disney World in Orlando thanks to the money raised. Good stuff.
I don’t agree that jock journos should stick to sports, but there are times when it’s the preferred option. A case in point would be Damien Cox of the Toronto Star. Noting that Baseball Hall of Fame hurler Mariano Rivera expressed support for Donald Trump, Cox tweeted: “Sad to hear such a great athlete is a nut. Real shame. But that’s life.” So, if your political leanings don’t dovetail with Cox’s, you’re a nut. Hmmm. Sad to hear. Real shame. Cox, unfortunately, couldn’t resist the urge to also weigh in on the Calgary arena agreement, whereby the City foots half the bill for a new shinny palace: “Why in the world don’t the Flames just pay for their own bloody arena?” Here’s a better question: Why in the world would a dude who writes for a rag in the Republic of Tranna care how taxpayer coin is spent in a burg 2,700 km away?
Tweets that struck my fancy in recent days:
Bruce Arthur, Toronto Star: “Marcus Stroman always looked forward to pitching in big competitive moments, to playing for a great organization, and the Jays traded him to the Mets. That’s like breaking up with someone by burning down their house and stealing their credit cards and taking their dog.” (I swear I heard Willie Nelson sing those very lyrics at a concert a few years back.)
Farhan Lalji, TSN reporter during the Lions 45-18 wedgie v. the Roughriders: “Not sure it was the right time for the #BCLions to run an inhouse promo on the jumbotron called “Bad Jokes.” (I suppose the joke is on Mike Reilly.)
Doug Brown, former Bombers D-lineman, gab guy on CJOB, freelance scribe for the Drab Slab, on Winnipeg FC’s stumble in the Hammer: “You just don’t expect this team to lose their first game to a QB named Dane Evans.” (I agree with Doug. If the Bombers are going to lose to Hamilton, the quarterback should be named Bernie Faloney, Frank Cosentino or Joe Zuger.)
Chris Walby, Junior hockey legend and celebrity golfer: “I’ve been fortunate to be on a lot of great Bomber teams in my 16 year career, but this Bombers team is as dominant a team in all phases that I can remember. Keep it up my Bomber brothers. The drought ends in 2019!!” (Oops.)
It came to my attention the other day that Zach Parise of the Minnesota Wild is 35 years old. Can that be so? Seems like Zach just got started.
Interesting read by Craig Custance in The Athletic. Craig polled 36 boys and girls on the National Hockey League beat to determine which players/coaches have the gift of the gab, and look who topped out as the best natterbug among bench bosses—that’s right, our guy Paul Maurice. The Winnipeg Jets puppeteer received nine votes, three more than John Tortorella, and it’s really saying something (literally) when what comes out of Coach Potty Mouth’s squawk box is more interesting than Torts’ spewings. Who knew snake oil was in such demand? As for the players, apparently lip service isn’t a Jets thing. None among the locals made the all-talk team. No surprise, really. I mean, when the team captain tells news snoops to “eff off” there’s not much left to say.
So, what’s Andrew Copp’s shelf life in River City? One year? Two? Guaranteed the Jets utility forward is as good as gone, because an arbitration hearing is a one-way ticket out of Dodge. We know this to be so thanks to Custance. Citing NHL Players Association numbers, Custance tells us that 27 player/team salary stalemates between 2009 and this summer landed on an arbitrator’s desk. Twenty-one of the 27 skaters had a new mailing address inside three years; 14 said adios inside two years; 14 didn’t survive a year. The latter group would include Jacob Trouba, the only guy nervy enough to play chicken with les Jets until Copp came long with his beef. An arbitrator awarded Trouba a $5.5 million, one-year wage in July 2018, and the top-pair defender was dispatched to Gotham last month. So I give Copp two years tops, but I wouldn’t bet against him being gone as early as autumn. He’s an easily replaced part.
Just wondering: Why was Trouba the target of intense hostility for hopping on the Arbitration Train, yet Copp hasn’t heard similar name-calling?
And, finally, this has nothing to do with sports, but I watched a 1997 Fleetwood Mac concert on PBS Sunday evening and was reminded of the band’s brilliance. Fan-flipping-tastic! Love Stevie Nicks…her growly, entrancing voice, her mystical, occultish vibe, her fabulous fashion sense. I’ll be 69 this year and I don’t mind admitting that I’m still a Steve Nicks groupie. That girl’s got the sexy going on.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and apparently there have been sightings of Donald S. Cherry in my neck of the woods…
When I heard that Paul Maurice had been talking about statues the other day, I assumed it was a reference to Patrik Laine and his stone hands.
Turns out Maurice meant a pigeon perch outside the Little Hockey House On The Prairie, in the likeness of Rink Rat Scheifele.
“I have a higher opinion of Mark Scheifele than he has,” Coach Potty Mouth told news snoops who had assembled to collect bon mots from their daily to-and-fro with the Winnipeg Jets bench puppeteer. “I think he has the (potential) to be a one-team player that wins Cups and is the captain of it at some point and gets a bronze statue in front of the building kind of guy. I do. I do. In order to do that, you got to play 20 years, you got to win Stanley Cups, eventually you have to captain the team…there’s some (Steve) Yzerman there.”
My goodness. That’s a tall can of whoop-de-do.
I mean, I like Scheifele. Been a big fan ever since he arrived in River City as a scrawny kid with Bambi legs. But a statue? Coach Potty Mouth might want to do a nip and tuck on the hosannas.
Seriously. Ben Hatskin, the man who started the pro hockey business in Good Ol’ Hometown, doesn’t have a statue—bronze, chiseled in stone, or built of popsicle sticks. Nor do B. Hull, Ulf, Anders, the Shoe, Ducky or Teemu.
Pegtown really isn’t a bronze statue kind of burg as it relates to saluting our sporting giants.
Oh, sure, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have genuflected in the direction of Bud Grant and Cal Murphy with pigeon perches over at Football Follies Field In Fort Garry, and I’d like to think that one day legendary quarterback and salt-of-the-earth citizen Ken Ploen will join the former Grey Cup champion coaches. Maybe Chris Walby, too.
For the most part, though, River City is more into murals, buildings, parks and streets.
Billy Mosienko has a mural. Joe Daley has a mural. Jennifer Jones and her curling gal pals—Jill Officer, Kaitlyn Lawes, Dawn McEwen—have a mural. We have Terry Sawchuk Arena and Mosienko Arena. We have Clara Hughes Park and Jill Officer Park. We have Ken Ploen Way, Milt Stegall Drive, Cindy Klassen Way and Team Jones Way.
But we have just two statues, neither of which honors an athlete.
I’ve long held that Hatskin, more than anyone, deserves a pigeon perch, and it shouldn’t be necessary for me to go into the blah, blah, blah and yadda, yadda, yadda of his bona fides. Suffice to say, Coach Potty Mouth wouldn’t be in River City to talk about Rink Rat Scheifele and bronze statues if not for Benny and his Jets in 1972.
What would it take to get Benny in bronze outside the Little Hockey House On The Prairie? A willingness on the part of some movers and shakers (hello, Mark Chipman) and money.
Do that first, then we can discuss taking a couple hundred pounds of clay and molding it into a likeness of Scheifele 20 years from now.
What would we call a statue of Scheifele? The Bronze Bambi, of course. (If you saw the Rink Rat in his first few years, you’ll understand.)
Another game, another donut for Laine, and this is what the always-blunt Brian Burke had to say about Puck Finn on Hockey Night in Canada: “This is not a slump now. This is a horrible Grand Canyon of failure.” Ouch.
Speaking of Burke, it should be obvious to one and all that the former NHL executive and GM is HNIC’s curmudgeon-in-waiting. Once Donald S. Cherry’s gasbag hits empty, Burkie will slide into the main pulpit and receive seven minutes of spew time instead of his current 4 1/2. An ugly wardrobe will be optional.
Well, it’s six days since the Canadian Football League livestock auction began and what does Kyle Walters have to show for it? Look, ma, no hands! Talk all you like about Willie Jefferson, but the Winnipeg Blue Bombers general manager has yet to convince someone with a pair of sure hands to come to River City and play catch with quarterback Matt Nichols. Let’s not sugar coat this. It’s a massive fail. There’s no other way to look at it. Sure, Walters has ample time to find someone willing to play in Pegtown, but the best of the free agent batch are otherwise occupied and it’s now a matter of his bird dogs poking their beaks under rocks hither and yon. I’d like to say I’ve got confidence in Walters and his scouts to flesh out a high-end pass-catcher, but I don’t.
Deluxe receiver Derel Walker would have looked boffo in blue-and-gold, but he chose double blue and the Republic of Tranna over River City. Go figure. What does The ROT have that Good Ol’ Hometown doesn’t? Oh, that’s right, 15,000 empty seats.
If Walker catches 100 footballs in 2019 but no one is at BMO Field in The ROT to see it, does it really happen?
Another receiver who won’t be doing his thing in Pegtown is Duron Carter, now the problem child of the B.C. Lions. “I am looking forward to making a fresh start on the West Coast,” he told news snoops. By my count, Carter has had six “fresh” starts in seven years: Two in Montreal and one each in Indianapolis, Saskatchewan, the Republic of Tranna and now Lotus Land. His ass-clown act lasts about as long as food on Chris Walby’s dinner plate. Carter’s hands are never the problem, of course. It’s his yap. Can’t see that changing, even if Lotus Land is the natural habitat of more flakes per capita than anywhere else in the country.
Got a kick out of Marcel Desjardins’ comment when his quarterback, Trevor Harris, bolted the Bytown RedBlacks and skedaddled to Saudi Alberta and the Edmonton Eskimos. “When we signed Dominique (Davis) to his contract, which was the end of January, we had a pretty good sense as to how things were going to play out with Trevor,” the RedBlacks GM said. “And we were more than comfortable allowing him the chance to compete to be our starting quarterback.” Ya, Desjardins was so comfortable with Davis that he went out and recruited Jonathon Jennings in a panic signing the next day.
So, blackballed QB Colin Kaepernick has settled his collusion claim against the National Football League, which means the NFL’s dirty laundry will remain tucked away in a closet. Meanwhile, it’s reported that Kaepernick will receive $60 million, or more, in compensation. Imagine that. Paying someone $60 million to shut the hell up and go away. You think that would work with Don Cherry?
Okay, it’s agreed. Matt Kuchar is Scrooge McGolfer for initially chintzing out on an appropriate payment to his caddie, David Ortiz, after winning the Mayakoba Golf Classic and $1.3 million in November.
Ortiz expected a payout of $50,000, with which he planned to purchase a laundromat in Mexico. Instead, Kuchar rewarded his bag mule with a paltry $5,000.
Talk about taking a guy to the cleaners.
Kuchar, who had always come across as a goody two-shoes kind of guy, has been flogged fore and aft by news snoops and the rabble on social media, and it doesn’t seem to matter that he eventually made things right by Ortiz, forking over the $50,000. His payment and mea culpa were a day late and a dollar short. But here’s what I find myself wondering: Who are news snoops to tell Matt Kuchar how to spend his money?
“An under-reported aspect of the professional athletic life is the extreme cheapness of many competitors,” Cathal Kelly informs us in the Globe and Mail. “After all, it’s not really any of our business.”
Yet he made it his business with a 900-words essay.
For the record, it’s my experience that news snoops are some of the chintziest creatures roaming terra firma, even when on an expense account. They are kings of the freebe. So their sanctimonious scribblings are nothing more than a pot meeting a kettle.
On the subject of sanctimony, this from pompous Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: “Is it possible to have an awards show of any kind these days without the winners turning into political moralists? I liked the world better when actors won awards and were wise enough to know that without scripts they had nothing important to say.” Hmmm. I liked the world better when sports scribes were wise enough to know that they have nothing important to say.
And, finally, it’s about singer and lesbian of note Brandi Carlile at the Grammy Awards: She had something important to say and sing about and, as one of the “misfits” she referenced, I was deeply moved. It was gobsmackingly brilliant. Beautiful. Just beautiful.