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.
A one and a two—the second Sunday morning smorgas-bored of 2021…and the year’s only going to get better, kids…
Oh, the humanity. CBS backup blurt box boy Boomer Esiason crapped on the Canadian Football League, and it was as if he’d peed on a Mountie’s horse. During the Musical Ride.
I swear, we haven’t heard this loud a hue and cry since Maggie Trudeau went clubbing with the Rolling Stones and hitched a late-night ride in Mick’s limo.
If you missed it, Boomer worked the L.A. Rams-Arizona Cardinals skirmish last Sunday, a National Football League growler featuring former Winnipeg Blue Bombers backup quarterback, Grey Cup champion and resident party boy Chris Streveler. As it happened, Streveler hurled an ill-advised, second-quarter pass that was taken the other way for a pick-six by Roy Hill of the Rams.
“What a horrific mistake by Reveler (sic), barked Boomer, who was keeping the broadcast booth seat warm for disabled talking head Tony Romo. “This isn’t the Grey Cup. This isn’t the CFL. You can’t just take chances and throw the ball down the middle of the field and expect somebody not to come down with it. There’s just no reason to throw the ball there.”
Cue the outrage.
Players and coaches with the lived experience of actually suiting up in 12-man football took to social media and pounced on Boomer, like a panhandler spotting loose change on a sidewalk.
Many among the rabble and media pundits across the tundra also weighed in with wagging tongues and fingers, defending Rouge Football with the same fervor that Rudy Giuliani has Donald Trump’s back (only without the black shoe polish dribbling down their faces and audible farting).
“That’s a silly comment,” one-time DB Davis Sanchez said of Boomer’s cheap shot, in a natter with TSN’s Kate Beirness that was meant to be a tsk-tsking of Esiason but instead detoured into a negative riff on the Arizona QB, leaving me to believe Streveler doesn’t know how to bend down and tie his own boot laces, let alone fling a football.
“I get joy in watching guys in the CFL get a shot down there and succeed,” Sanchez continued in his peculiar brand of English, “but when I’m looking at all the high-level quarterbacks we have in the CFL, Chris Streveler’s not the guy I’m gonna put out there on display to represent the great quarterbacks we have in the CFL. They said that Chris Streveler, on the broadcast, was a star in Canada. Well, a little research may be necessary, Boomer. He wasn’t a star. He’s a star personality and a great athlete, but he was actually a backup quarterback. Actually, he was really the third-string quarterback, because when the quarterback got injured, instead of playing Chris Streveler at quarterback at the end of the season, they brought in a third-string quarterback, so he’s a third-string quarterback.”
Way to keep it classy, Davis. Crap on one guy by taking an even bigger dump on the other guy.
Meantime, Sanchez’ loud-squawking colleague at TSN, Kayla Grey, tweeted, “the CFL slander has to stop.”
Or what? She’ll lecture Boomer with her phony southern “y’alls” and “thangs” at 150 decibels or higher?
Look, Rouge Football boosterism is great. Been there, been doing that since the 1950s. But let’s not get our knickers in a twist just because Boomer Esiason doesn’t know Flutie Flakes from Corn Flakes.
I mean, what do you expect? He’s an American, and most Americans couldn’t find Winnipeg if you plunked them down at Portage and Main. Think about it. Have you ever noticed the look on a Jeopardy! contestant’s face when the category is anything Canada? That’s right, it’s the same look a dog gets when it sees itself in the mirror for the first time. You know, head cocked to one side, blank stare, curious, no clue.
The difference, I suppose, is that it’s funny when a dog does it, not so much when it’s a high-salaried football analyst on national TV in the stooge role.
But, hey, we don’t kick the dog for being dumb. We laugh, call him over, rub his head and tell him he’s “such a good boy.”
Well, you’re such a good boy, Boomer. Now go play fetch and bring Tony Romo back.
Since I’ve mentioned Jeopardy!, if there’s any category that contestants know less about than Canada, it’s sports, a truism underscored on the game show last Thursday. The clue: “The announcers on NBC Sunday Night Football are Al Michaels and this former wide receiver.” None of the three contestants buzzed in to say, “Who is Cris Collinsworth?” even though the one-time Cincinnati Bengals pass-catcher has been providing the backup vocals for Michaels on the Peacock Network since 2009. A lot of women can relate. They talk and talk and talk, but their husbands/boyfriends don’t hear a word they say.
Now that you’ve asked, no, I don’t believe pasting corporate logos on players’ helmets or attaching corporate names to National Hockey League divisions is a sign that the apocalypse is nigh. Matter of fact, I fully expect to see brand names on jerseys before long, although it will be subtle as opposed to the vulgar, billboardish displays in European shinny or NASCAR. I actually think players ought to be allowed to sell themselves, like they do in tennis and golf. Phil Kessel could skate about the freeze with a Nathan’s Fabulous Franks patch on his Arizona Coyotes jersey. Auston Matthews, first at the NHL pay window, could be sponsored by Brinks. The possibilities are unlimited.
My first year in baseball, each of us kids on the Melrose Park Little League team had an individual sponsor, with the company name displayed on the back, directly above our uni number. Mine was Red Patch Taxi. By the end of the season, the C and H in Patch had disappeared, so I was Red Pat Taxi, something that did not escape the notice of my mom. “Why do you always come home with such a dirty and torn uniform when your brothers’ are clean?” she demanded to know one day. I had no answer. She washed my uniform, put it in my closet, and I got it dirty again.
As one who has bled Dodgers blue since their final days as “Dem Bums” in Brooklyn, Tommy Lasorda became one of my all-time favorite characters in baseball, and his passing the other day at age 93 brought two things to mind—sound bites and the denial of his son’s homosexuality.
First the sound bites. These are my two favorite quotes from the longtime Los Angeles manager:
“I walk into the clubhouse today and it’s like walking into the Mayo Clinic. We have four doctors, three therapists and five trainers. Back when I broke in, we had one trainer who carried a bottle of rubbing alcohol, and by the seventh inning he’d already drunk it.”
Prior to the 1988 World Series between L.A. and Oakland, Lasorda approached A’s slugger Jose Canseco and said: “Jose, I just want you to know, if we don’t win this thing I hope you guys do.”
Now the gay son part. Most tributes to Lasorda were glowing in praise and completely ignored, or merely glossed over, his relationship with Tommy Jr., who died of complications from AIDS at age 33. A year after Tommy Jr.’s death in 1991, Lasorda Sr. told Peter Richmond of GQ magazine that his son “wasn’t gay. No way. No way. I read that in a paper. I also read in that paper that a lady gave birth to a fuckin’ monkey, too. That’s not the fuckin’ truth. That’s not the truth.” He also denied that Tommy Jr. had died of AIDS. When Tommy Jr. began chumming around with the Dodgers Glenn Burke, known to his teammates and others in Major League Baseball as gay, the outfielder was promptly banished to Oakland. Those are the kind of words and actions that keep young gay people in the closet. Still.
Justin Thomas is another reason why gay youth remain hidden. The world No. 3 golfer coughed up a hairball on a five-foot par putt at the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii on Saturday, then expressed his annoyance by dropping the homophobic F-bomb. “It’s not who I am. It’s not the kind of person that I am,” he insisted while delivering a mea culpa. Except he went on to say it was only “when I was done with my round” that he realized he’d spewed the slur. That suggests this wasn’t a one-off. It’s just the first time he was caught on mic.
Tip of the bonnet No. 1: To Lance Hornby, who last week reached the 40-year signpost of scribbling boffo shinny stuff on the sports pages of the Toronto Sun. There are a lot of good people in jock journalism, and Lance certainly is one of them.
Tip of the bonnet No. 2: To Team USA’s Theresa Feaster, the first female to be part of a coaching staff to win the World Junior Hockey Championship. Asked by Fluto Shinzawa of The Athletic what message she has for mothers with young daughters, Feaster said: “Work hard and keep dreaming. Don’t let naysayers or obstacles get in your way. You can achieve great things. Put your head down and work hard. You can accomplish great things.” Exactly.
On the subject of ponytails and pucks, members of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association spent the past three days in Florida, playing teenage boys from the United States Premier Hockey League. The women opened with a 5-3 win v. Tampa Bay Juniors, then dropped a 4-2 verdict to the South Shore Kings and absorbed a 5-zip whupping from the Philadelphia Hockey Club. It pains me to say it, but losing to teenage boys won’t convince many people that Ponytail Puck is worth buying into.
MeTV is showing classic cartoons every morning, Monday-Saturday, with all the usual suspects—Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Popeye and Bluto, Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner, etc. What, there wasn’t enough violence on TV already?
After 15 years together, Mookie Betts of the L.A. Dodgers has finally asked his childhood sweetheart Brianna Hammonds for her hand in matrimony. Talk about a human rain delay.
No surprise that there was plenty of political/social commentary from jock journos in the wake of the siege on the Capitol in Washington, D.C., last week, and I’m not one of those people who expect them to “stick to sports.” I figure if they have a platform, use it. And did they ever. Examples:
Damien Cox of the Toronto Star called Rudy Giuliani a “moron” and Donald Trump “the Orange Clown,” then attacked Ontario health officials and the government for allowing the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators to set up shop for the NHL season.
“WHY CAN THE NHL PLAY IN ONTARIO WHEN NONE OF US CAN PLAY A SPORT—ANY SPORT—INDOORS???” went his Twitter rant.
“Share your pain Damo,” Pat Hickey of the Montreal Gazette moaned in concert. “Had to cancel my tennis after QC locked down this week and my gym has been closed since March.”
Jack Todd of the Gazette on Trump: “One of the worst human beings who ever lived. Any country, any era. Given enough time and power, he would have gone into the history books with Hitler, Stalin and Caligula.”
Bob Irving, CJOB: “As I anxiously await this weekend’s NFL wildcard games, I also anxiously await the day when we’re not hearing about or talking about the worst human being to ever lead the most powerful country in the free world.”
Ken Campbell,The Hockey News: “Hockey icon Bobby Orr endorsed Donald Trump two months ago. Now it’s time for him to repudiate the man who incited the violence and anarchy that was unleashed on the U.S. Capitol Wednesday.”
Mad Mike McIntyre, the Drab Slab: “This is the America Trump created. This is the America Trump wanted. History will never forget that U.S. President Donald Trump said “we love you” today to a group of armed domestic terrorists who dropped pipe bombs and stormed the U.S. Capitol in his name (leaving at least one woman dead) while also calling them “very special.”
Troy Westwood, 1290 TSN: “Donald Trump has been a horrible human being his entire adult life. His history is well documented. Yet tens of millions of people line up behind him as if he has the virtues of Jesus Christ. Please Trumpsters, Christians, Evangelicals, explain this to me.”
Terry Jones, Postmedia Edmonton, after the Americans won gold at the World Junior Hockey Championship: “At least the USA has a fine group of young men with gold medals around their necks to be proud of today. Hard to believe they’re from the same country as those that were part of the mob in Washington, D.C.”
And finally, Space X guy Elon Musk is now richest man on the planet, with a worth of $188.5 billion. Just wondering: Do you think he’d be interested in bankrolling a quirky, three-downs football league? I really don’t want to go another year without watching all those Rouge Football quarterbacks that Boomer Esiason thinks are lousy because they throw the ball down the middle of the field.