Let’s talk about skeptics and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers…the long and short of Check Down Charlie…get off my lawn!…that rainy day feeling in the CFL…no one like Gizmo…Smilin’ Hank, bad manners and cheese…Brooke and Bianca…just the facts, ma’am…and going to beat 100,000

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and hold all my phone calls today while I watch women’s tennis…

Skepticism abounds. And I get that.

I mean, when there’s been nothing but nothingness for going on 29 years, the tendency is to stick an italicized “ya but” at the end of every happy thought about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

They beat the Calgary Stampeders. “Ya but…they’ve gotta play ’em two more times.”

Janarion Grant

Janarion Grant is an electric kick returner. “Ya but…what about that lame offence?”

Crown Lands was a boffo halftime show. “Ya but…don’t they have any barber shops where those boys come from?”

And so it was for me while watching Winnipeg FC make fewer mistakes than the Stampeders on Thursday night at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry. It was like those commercials where there’s a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other, both of them yanking on some poor sap’s good-versus-evil chain?

Only instead of a devil and an angel, it was a Cynic and a Polyanna nattering in my ears and, after listening to them squawk for three hours and a day, I needed an aspirin. Or a pint.

Seriously, for every blah-blah-blah there was a yadda-yadda-yadda.

Coach LaPo

Pollyanna: “Isn’t that new guy Janarion Grant absolutely wonderful? Two touchdowns on punt returns! Over 300 yards bringing back kicks! Meet the new Gizmo! But let’s call him Quick Six!”

Cynic: “Good bloody thing he was there, because Paul LaPolice’s offence totally sucked. No imagination. No creativity. No freaking TDs.”

Pollyanna: “Matt Nichols silenced his critics. Great game management and zero picks.”

Cynic: “You mean Check Down Charlie? Hard for anyone to pick off one of his passes when he’s afraid to toss the football more than two yards at a time. The hair on those two dudes doing the halftime show is longer than any of Nichols’ passes. He does more dunking than a cop in a donut shop.”

Justin Medlock

Pollyanna: “Impressive. Justin Medlock kicked four field goals, including a 55-yarder.”

Cynic: Whatever. Early August. Perfect weather. No pressure. We’ll talk about Medlock if he does it in mid-November when the wind is howling like a couple of frat boys at closing time.”

Pollyanna: “Richie Hall’s defence came up big when it had to, with a key interception to close the first half and another one to seal the victory. Gotta love that!”

Cynic: “Let me know when they actually beat a certified starting quarterback. They haven’t had to deal with anything but clipboard jockeys since Mike Reilly and Trevor Harris in June.”

So, yes, I remain (mildly) conflicted about Winnipeg FC after pondering its 26-24 victory over the always difficult Stampeders. Oh, I’m convinced the Bombers’ 6-2 log is legit. They’ve earned their perch atop the tables and, one game shy of the midway mark of their Canadian Football League crusade, there’s ample cause to believe there’ll be a playoff skirmish at Football Follies Field come November, when it’s a reasonable assumption that the aforementioned Medlock and his left leg will, indeed, be battling winds howling like a couple of frat boys at closing time.

Mike Reilly, down again.

Further, the local lads ought to deliver the B.C. Lions a good paddywhacking later this week, because Mike Reilly can’t beat them while lying on his back. Reilly is the toughest dude QB in the CFL, but the Leos keep asking him to win a knife fight with a plastic straw, and that seldom leads to a happily ever after ending.

So I’m saying the Bombers will head into the back half of their crusade at 7-2, also with a leg up on finishing first in the bumper-to-bumper crawl that is the West Division.

Alas, the alpha-dog argument likely won’t be settled until the late-October, home-and-home dosey doe with the Stampeders, which means everything in between is filler guaranteed to fascinate, infuriate and, hopefully, entertain.

Maybe Check Down Charlie will even throw a pass that stretches farther than Pinocchio’s nose at some point. Wouldn’t that be something?.

check Down Charlie

Lest anyone run off with the wrong notion, I believe Nichols can take the Bombers where they need and want to be in November. No, he’s not the kind of QB to grab a game by the back collar and give it a good rag-dolling, but there’s enough there there to get the job done. I mean, if Sean Salisbury can win the Grey Cup, so can Check Down Charlie. It’s just that he’ll have to stop playing with one arm tied behind his back. Either he and Coach LaPo add variety to the offence (read: a few more long balls) or this crusade aborts earlier than planned and someone is looking for work.

Crown Lands

It’s about Crown Lands, the halftime entertainment last Thursday: Oh my. Don Cherry’s wardrobe isn’t that loud. I spent most of the next day playing my vinyl albums from the 1960s, just to remind myself what real rock ‘n’ roll is supposed to sound like. But, hey, the young people at Football Follies Field seemed to enjoy the show, so I’m not going to be an old frump and shake my fist and shout at clouds. I would, mind you, call the cops if Crown Lands showed up to play on my lawn.

Actually, I was shaking my fist and shouting at clouds on Friday night. I mean, handing a W to the Saskatchewan Roughriders after less than 45 minutes of football because of a cloud burst in Montreal? Wrong. Dumb rule. Should be revisited. What’s the hurry that they can’t wait out the lightning, thunder and wet stuff for more than an hour? The large lads that anxious to get to the bar?

Having said that, they could have called off the Edmonton Eskimos-Bytown RedBlacks skirmish any time after the first quarter and you wouldn’t have heard a peep out of me. Purely dreadful.

The hosannas, rightly so, are raining down on this year’s crop of lickety-split, whiz-bang kick returners, on pace to take a CFL record 42 boots back to the house. But don’t let me hear anyone put them in Gizmo Williams’ class. Giz was the best ever. And probably always.

Smilin’ Hank

If you see Henry Burris and the TSN squawkbox is thoughtful enough to open a door for you, for gawd’s sakes thank the man! I say that because Smilin’ Hank reckons us hosers are short on behavior and tall on rude. Asked by Sean Fitz-Gerald of The Athletic how he explains Americans to his Canadian friends, Hank replied: “I always tell people America is sectional. In the South, where I’m from, people are typically much nicer. They’re more accommodating. We cook our food differently than they do in the northeast. Even though people still barbeque and do those things, for us, BBQ and fry, that’s how we do it down south—we want it on the grill, or we want it in the fryer (smiles). The people are very respectful and their manners are excellent. I always tell Canadians—Canadians could learn something from Southerners. Canadians are nice people, but Canadians can be rude. There’s a lot of rude Canadians. I’ve held the door for a lot of Canadians, and they’ll walk in and not even say thank you.” Listen, Hank, that door swings both ways. Don’t let it hit you on the ass on your way out.

Just kidding, of course. Hank’s always struck me as a good guy, and he makes a point of informing his American pals that we don’t actually live in igloos and that the Republic of Tranna is “a bit like Chicago and has the mentality of New York, to a point.” He didn’t say what Winnipeg is “a bit like,” to a point, but I’m thinking Buffalo with the mentality of Green Bay. Sans the cheddar on our heads, of course.

Hey, I don’t mean to sound insulting. I like Green Bay. Had a wonderful time there in the late 1990s. But I’m still trying to get the cheese smell out of my hair.

Bianca Andreescu

Speaking of cheesy, I try my best to root, root, root for our young tennis guy Denis Shapovalov. Really, I do. It’s a struggle, though. The kid has too much of the P.K. Subban hot dog in him for my liking, and I don’t know how much of his playing to the crowd is an act and how much is sincere. Teen sensation Bianca Andreescu also plays to the crowd, but it never strikes me as cheesy.

Brooke Henderson

Our girl Bianca was across the net from the neighborhood bully, Serena Williams, in today’s Rogers Cup final in The ROT, and her victory gives the clowns who choose the Lou Marsh Trophy recipient something to chew on. It’s her second tournament W this year, the same as our Lady of the Links, Brooke Henderson. So what carries more value, tennis or golf? Last year, Brooke won twice, including the Canadian Open, but they gave her a pass and anointed a guy in a fringe sport (Mikael Kingsbury, moguls skiing) our country’s top jock. This year, Brooke’s second W was her historic ninth, making her the most successful Canadian on either the LPGA or PGA tour. That should be the determining factor. Unless, of course, another moguls skier catches the voters’ fancy.

Milos Raonic

Here’s someone way out of his lane—Steve Simmons (I know; what a shock). The Postmedia Tranna columnist graced the Rogers Cup in the Republic of Tranna with his presence last week, and all he did was double fault on his facts. First, he scribbled this of our Andreescu: “She’s never lost to anybody in the top 10 because she’s never played anybody in the top 10.” Incorrect. Bianca played four matches v. top-10 opponents prior to the Rogers Cup: World No. 3 Caroline Wozniacki in Auckland, world No. 6 Elina Svitolina and No. 8 Angelique Kerber at Indian Wells, and world No. 4 Kerber at Miami. Whupped ’em all. Next, Simmons advised us that Genie Bouchard was “the highest-rated Canadian player, man or woman in tennis history.” Again incorrect. Genie’s career best was world No. 5 in 2014. Milos Raonic reached world No. 3 in 2016 and ’17. This information is easily accessible. But apparently taking two minutes to visit the WTA and ATP websites is too much to ask of a national sports columnist. Why clutter an essay with correct information when misinformation will do, right? So I’m not sure what lane Simmons is supposed to be in, but it definitely isn’t women’s tennis. Or, really, anything to do with women’s sports..

And, finally, I noticed that this River City Renegade blog passed the 30,000 milestone for views this year and 100,000 overall for 3½ years. To those who have stopped by for a peek, I thank you, with a caution that if you make a return visit it won’t be any better. To those who haven’t visited, I can’t say I blame you.

About l’affaire Manziel and his choirboy clause…TSN’s Cult of Johnny…yummy Texas road kill…Burkie and Mac telling us what they really think…the Guy Boucher boot…Popcorn Petan lights a lamp in The ROT…a group hug for Johnny T in The ROT…Puck Finn as lousy as Winnipeg wifi?

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and if you came here looking for deep thoughts, keep in mind that I always swim in the shallow end…

Four days after speculation began to gallop faster than the James Gang with a posse on their tail, we still don’t know for certain why Johnny Manziel became Passer Non Grata in three-down football.

Johnny Manziel

We’ve been told that the defrocked Montreal Alouettes quarterback stepped out of line, but, given his inclination toward reckless, frat-boy antics, that could mean anything from jaywalking to being part of the plot to kill JFK. Could be that he’s back on the bottle. Maybe it’s drugs. A barroom brawl? Skipped a session with his shrink? Perhaps he whacked another woman upside the head and dragged her to and fro by the hair.

Whatever the trespass, Johnny Rotten’s been a naughty boy again and his shelf life in the Canadian Football League has expired. Commissioner Randy Ambrosie instructed the Alouettes to release him on Wednesday, at the same time advising the other eight outfits to keep their paws off the former Heisman Trophy winner.

Leading to continued speculation as to the why and wherefore of Manziel’s ouster.

Charlize Theron

Some, perhaps accurately, theorize that this was all part of a grand scheme, suggesting that TSN’s favorite lousy quarterback deliberately stepped out of line in a calculated gambit to free himself from his three-down slum lords. Let’s face it, the Manziel vibe was always that of a guy “slumming it.” He wanted to play football in Canada like Charlize Theron wants a dime-size zit on the tip of her nose. Johnny Rotten was merely biding his time, awaiting opportunity’s next knock stateside, where they apparently play “real” football, with four downs, narrow fields and no 12th man on defence to boggle his mind.

The conspiracy theorists submit that the freshly minted Alliance of American Football will serve as a convenient landing spot and, at the same time, a launching platform, because the prodigal QB returning to the National Football League is what it’s always been about for Manziel.

Well, good luck with that. This dumpster fire has gone from damaged goods in the NFL to banned substance on this side of the great divide. If Johnny Rotten came to Canada to outrun his past, he ran smack-dab into it last week, like a bug hitting a windshield.

Kavis Reed

This is what I find curious about l’affaire Manziel, though: His mystery indiscretion was diabolical enough that Commish Randy punted him out of the country, yet not so egregious that the Alouettes were inclined to do the same.

We know this to be so because that’s what Larks general manager Kavis Reed said in a chin-wag with news snoops.

Reporter: “If the league would not have intervened would you have let Manziel go?”

Reed: “No sir.”

Reed went on to add some blah, blah, blah about “Mr. Manziel” being in violation of the choirboy clause in the top-secret document that outlined the requirements of his continued three-down employment, but “no sir” he would not have instructed his QB to vamoose from Montreal, Quebec or Canada.

Also curious was the answer Commish Randy supplied when asked by Farhan Lalji of TSN if Manziel walked through a one-way door when he exited stage south.

“I think I’ve learned in life never say never,” he said. “There’s always things that could happen that might change things. If circumstances changed, who knows? We might see that player come back.”

So Johnny Rotten is bad, but not really that bad. I’m glad Commish Wishy-Washy cleared that up.

Milt Stegall and Matt Dunigan

Oh dear. Whatever will Matty, Hank, Milt, Davis and the groupies in TSN’s Cult of Johnny gab about now that the CFL has fired their favorite lousy quarterback? Are Rod Black and Glen Suitor wearing black arm bands today? Has Kate Beirness reduced her golly-gee-whiz-ain’t-Johnny-dreamy gushing to a trickle? The TSN blabbermouths did everything but make the Grey Cup game about Manziel last year, and it was shameful and creepy. Hopefully they’ll fawn over guys who don’t beat up women next season.

If there is a next season, that is. We’re still waiting on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, and all we hear from Commish Randy (when he isn’t blathering on about Mexicans, Europeans, etc.) is empty yadda, yadda, yadda. I don’t know about you, but I begin to tune out Commish Randy about 90 seconds after he launches into his rambling commish-speak.

Five possible reasons why Johnny Manziel was kicked out of Montreal…

1. Took one bite from a Montreal smoked meat sandwich at Schwartz’s Deli and told the sandwich-maker, “Dude, I can find tastier meat than this lyin’ on the side of the road in Texas.”
2. Saw Youppi at a Habs game and asked: “Is he that Beliveau dude you all keep talkin’ about?”
3. Met Celine Dion and said, “Didn’t I see you on the Ru Paul Drag Show? Think you could give ol’ Johnny Football a lap dance, darlin’?”
4. Insisted on calling poutine “those soggy fries all you Frenchy dudes pig out on.”
5. Shoved one of his old Cleveland Browns football cards into a stripper’s G-string instead of showing her the money.

Just wondering: Now that the National Hockey League shop-and-swap deadline has passed, do you think Sportsnet will be able to squeeze in some news about the Tranna Maple Leafs?

Doug MacLean

I’ll say this about Leafsnet: You won’t find better hockey talk anywhere on TV, or the internet, than what Brian Burke and Doug MacLean deliver on Hockey Central at Noon on Fridays. The two former GMs are jack-hammer blunt and have the kick of Kentucky corn squeezings. Mac went off on the Ottawa Senators the other day, and I thought he was on the edge of a cardiac event. Meanwhile, during their Ask the GM segment, Burkie and Mac tell boffo background stories (many of them giggle-worthy) that take us into the ivory towers of the NHL, often naming names. It’s wonderful stuff, and whatever Sportsnet is paying them, it isn’t enough.

Seriously, Senators’ loose-cannon bankroll Eugene Melnyk and general manager Pierre Dorion let all the stallions out of the barn, then fire the head coach, Guy Boucher? I suppose he’s also responsible for knocking the halo off Justin Trudeau’s head.

That was quite a week for John Tavarespeasants and pitchforks on Long Island, then warm-and-fuzzies in the Republic of Tranna. Pajama Boy’s return to Long Island was interesting theatre, and who am I to say the rabble went over the top in greeting the former New York Islanders captain with the ultimate Bronx Cheer? They want to call him Judas for signing with les Leafs, go for it. I have no problem with the rabble in The ROT giving him a group hug on Saturday night, either. I mean, aren’t fans supposed to be passionate? So why is Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna tossing out kudos to the forsaken faithful on Long Island, yet ragging on The ROT rabble? “Give Islanders fans credit for their passion and energy,” he writes, then adds, “This apparent business of Leafs fans giving a standing ovation for Tavares—ah, let’s make him feel good—this #TavaresDayTO thing borders on the embarrassing, doesn’t it?” He also tweeted this gem: “This John Tavares day thing at Scotiabank Arena is a meaningless overreaction to the expected booing on Long Island Thursday night. Thought we, as a hockey town, were bigger than this.” So, booing, insults and hurling objects on the ice—good; a standing O—bad. I swear, someone must pee on Simmons’ Corn Flakes every…single…morning.

Nice things to see: Former captains and good guys Ab McDonald and the Shoe, Lars-Erik Sjoberg, honored as the latest inductees to the Winnipeg Jets Hall of Fame; Nic (Popcorn) Petan being freed from the press box and scoring in his debut with the Tranna Maple Leafs on Hockey Night in Canada.

No surprise: NHL players think Good Ol’ Hometown is the armpit of the league. In The Athletic poll of 198 players, 38 per cent name River City as the worst place to visit during the season, and no other burg came close (Buffalo was second at 15 per cent). Who knew that Winnipeg’s wifi was really that bad? Meantime, the lads figure our boy Puck Finn isn’t much better than the wifi and weather, because nine per cent rank Patrik Laine the most overrated player. Only the annoyingly flamboyant P.K. Subban had a higher rank (23 per cent). I’d demand a recount, but I’m inclined to agree with the players (about Laine, not the wifi).

And, finally, boffo move by Chelsea Carey to add Jill Officer to her roster for the women’s world curling championship later this month in Denmark. Jill is the alternate with the Calgary-based outfit, but I have a hunch she’ll be more than a broom mule for our reps on the world stage.

Paul Maurice: Does the Winnipeg Jets coach enjoy his parry-and-thrust with the media?

A little bit of this, a little bit of that and a whole lot of opinion in a weekend wrap…

I’m not quite sure what to make of Paul Maurice vis-a-vis news scavengers.

I watch him work the Fourth Estate during his press gatherings and he is serious, sometimes sharp, snappy and abrupt. Coach PoMo often answers a question before it has been completely framed, which is to say he interrupts, hinting at a pinch of impatience. It seems to be his way of saying, “I’ve got things to do, let’s get to the point.” I sometimes see a smug man, with gusts approaching snarky.

Even on those occasions when he slips into light-hearted mode and kibitzes with his interrogators, his jabs at jocularity seem tempered.

At the same time, this Winnipeg Jets head coach is obliging, thoughtful, articulate, respectful and he’s media savvy, in a much different way than his predecessor, the joy-seeking Claude Noel, who was forever feeding scribes and talking heads with bons mots that made for brilliant, knee-slapping sound bites but offered little substance.

I really can’t determine if Maurice enjoys this part of his job or if he’d rather be elsewhere. My guess would be it’s the latter, but he surely understands that it is part of his job and he is better at it than most National Hockey League bench bosses.

HITHER & YAWN: I have added a new item to my Bucket List—appearing on TSN’s Off the Record with Michael Landsberg. I figure it’s the Canadian sports TV equivalent to being on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. It’d be a cool gig, especially the Next Question segment……So, how do you spell desperate? Evander Kane spells it: B-u-f-f-a-l-o. I say that because Kane is “very excited” about shuffling off to Buffalo, which tells us how desperate he was to get out of River City. I mean, if you’ve ever been to the upstate New York burg (I have), you know that it isn’t Shangri-la. But good luck to Kane and the Buffalo McDavids next hockey season…If the Winnipeg Blue Bombers make big noise in Canadian Football League free agency and no one hears it because the Winnipeg Jets trade Evander Kane a day later, did it really happen? I mean, poor Kyle Walters. The Bombers general manager went about the task of upgrading his last-place product by signing five bodies, and it was greeted with a yawn…We all know there are many differences between the CFL and National Football League. Here’s the latest: The NFL stages its neutral-site games in London in the U.K. The CFL goes to Fort McMurray, Alta., where a team from Toronto is the home side and a team from Alberta is the visitor…Has Kirk Penton of the Winnipeg Sun become the best football beat writer in Canada? If it isn’t Penton, it’s either Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press or Herb Zurkowsky of the Montreal Gazette.

fish wrapTHE WRITE STUFF: Very disappointed to see a scribe from the Republic of Tranna, Mike Koreen, in Moose Jaw to cover the Scotties Tournament of Hearts for Sun Media. Nothing against Koreen as a scribe, but readers of the Winnipeg Sun would be much better served if one of their own was on site. To date, we’ve read about Richard Hart coaching Team Canada (Rachel Homan from Ottawa), a piece on Kerry Galusha and Tracy Horgan discussing the new pre-qualifying portion of the Canadian women’s curling championship, and a feature on Lori Olson-Johns of Val Sweeting’s Alberta foursome. The only item on Jennifer Jones and her Buffalo Girls was a pre-event advancer for their Monday night skirmish with defending champ Homan. The Winnipeg Free Press, meanwhile, has staffer Melissa Martin in Moose Jaw to deliver daily dispatches about Jones and Co. Score one for the Freep…The most complete coverage of the Scotties can be found in the Heart Chart, the daily sheet produced in Moose Jaw by former Winnipeg Sun sports editor and longtime curling journalist Dave Komosky. He has ex-Saskatoon Star Phoenix sports scribe Cam Hutchinson riding shotgun, and the two of them are putting out a boffo product…So, Doug Brown scribbles a column for the Winnipeg Free Press about the horrors of pro sports dressing rooms. Good idea. Except the former Blue Bombers defensive lineman provides zero anecdotal evidence from his 20 years in football to support the notion that they can be raunchy, nasty, bad-news bunkers that foster bullying. Thus, he didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know. He used a lot of really big words, though, which often seems to be the purpose of the exercise…This penetrating analysis from Gary (La La) Lawless of the Freep on the Jets post-season push: “The key for the Jets as they hope to secure a playoff berth for the first time since returning to Winnipeg will be to collect points on as many nights as possible over the remaining 24 games.” Well, duh. What was your first clue, Sherlock?

bow wow bungalowBOW WOW BUNGALOW: Little Stevie Blunder Simmons of the Toronto Sun has stepped in it again (he never fails to fail). This was his take on the Jets large trade featuring Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian going to the Buffalo McDavids…

“I seem to be in the minority on this, but I don’t think the Winnipeg Jets won the Evander Kane trade handily. I break it down this way: Tyler Myers for Zack (sic) Bogosian is one developing defenceman for another. Slight edge to Winnipeg. Now Buffalo gets Kane, a proven commodity with mounds of baggage in exchange for a late first-round pick, Claude Lemieux’s son and a minor leaguer. They may get something for Kane or they may end up with nothing. Late first-round picks are no sure thing. Buffalo gets a sure-thing NHL player in Kane to play alongside whichever centre they draft first in June.”

So, let’s see: He spelled Zach Bogosian’s first name incorrectly. He didn’t bother to identify Claude Lemieux’s son as Brendan Lemieux and, worst of all, he ignored the fact that the Jets also received Drew Stafford in barter from Buffalo. That would be the same Drew Stafford who’s already paid dividends, scoring one goal in regulation time and the shootout winner in the Jets 5-4 verdict over the Red Wings in Detroit on Saturday night.

Enjoy your stay in the Bow Wow Bungalow, Stevie.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.