Three soft-boiled eggs on whole wheat toast and some leftover thoughts for a Monday morning breakfast…
I cut my teeth in the rag trade by standing on the lumpy, pock-marked sidelines of local football fields, covering the Sisler Spartans, Churchill Bulldogs, Elmwood Eskimos and other outfits in the Winnipeg High School Football League.
If not at high school grid, I was courtside watching the best local tennis players do their thing on the clay courts of the Winnipeg Canoe Club or Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club.
Major Junior/Junior/Senior hockey, kids curling, high school track and field, badminton, junior golf, bowling, figure skating, fastball, gymnastics, Junior baseball, hoops, amateur boxing…you name it, I was there to write about it. And if I wasn’t on site, I was on the Winnipeg Tribune sports desk, doing rewrites or laying out the pages that would prominently feature the games that local people played for no pay.
People continue to play those games today, but the sports sections of the two daily rags in River City have abandoned them. Almost entirely. And that is, indeed, sad and most unfortunate.
I mean, why am I reading about Miguel Angel Jiminez leading the Senior British Open golf tournament and a tie atop the ladies’ Scottish Open leaderboard in the Winnipeg Free Press instead of, say, the Manitoba Junior Baseball League playoffs, which are down to the short strokes and will feature two local outfits, the St. James A’s and Elmwood Giants, in the final?
Why does the Winnipeg Sun devote two full pages to a guy from Vancouver, Adam Zaruba, who’s in the training camp of the Philadelphia Eagles, two full pages to UFC blood-spilling in Calgary, and another two full pages to the Tranna-centric musings of Steve Simmons instead of the MJBL final four?
I know the reason behind the Sun’s dismissal of all local sports outfits that aren’t named Jets, Blue Bombers, Moose or Goldeyes, and I addressed it in January 2016, after parent company Postmedia adopted a centralized sports desk for its member papers:
“Some invisible head sitting behind some invisible desk in some remote outpost of the land now will decide what Winnipeg sports fans want to read. How this serves Pegtown provides serious pause for ponder. I mean, shouldn’t a sports editor be able to reach out and feel the pulse of the people? It’s easy enough to recognize that the Winnipeg Jets and Winnipeg Blue Bombers are the big dogs in town and, thus, generate the most talk. But what of lesser players such as the Manitoba Moose, the Winnipeg Goldeyes, the University of Manitoba Bisons, Junior hockey, local tennis, golf, curling, figure skating, etc.? My concern is that they shall be lost in the shuffle.”
The Moose and Goldeyes haven’t been ignored, but the others? Bupkus.
From July 15 until this very morning, the Sun printed 313 stories in 16 sports sections, and the professional-amateur split reads like a Harlem Globetrotters-Washington Generals scoreline—308-5. That’s a paltry 1.6 per cent of all copy devoted to amateur sports coverage, which has been sacrificed for Postmedia piffle from hither and yon, articles that have scant or zero significance to the River City rabble. Seriously. Steve Simmons taking issue with Kyle Lowry’s silence is something I want or need to read about in a Winnipeg newspaper?
It’s only marginally better at the Freep, where sports columnist Paul Wiecek wrote this at the start of the month: “A confluence of events over the Canada Day long weekend got me thinking about how we as Canadians so dramatically undervalue the contributions our amateur athletes make to this country, while simultaneously just as dramatically overvalue the contributions of our professional athletes.”
That particular column was more a gripe piece about greedy play-for-pay athletes, but the Drab Slab toy department and Wiecek then proved how little they value amateurs. From June 30 until this morning, they ran 614 articles and here’s the pro-amateur split: 558-56, or 9.1 per cent for amateurs. In that same time frame, Wiecek scribbled a dozen essays, 100 per cent aimed at pro athletes and pro sports (hmmm, 12 columns in 31 days…nice work if you can get it).
Like I said, I understand why the Sun has bottomed out on local amateur coverage. It’s marching to a national drummer. But the Freep has no excuse. It’s an independent paper with a sports section that doesn’t have any less space today than it did in the 1970s, and there’s no less staff. Which means there can only be one reason—they just don’t give a damn.
Speaking of pro sports, I must say, there was some gawdawful officiating on display during the Bombers-Tranna Argonauts skirmish on Friday night at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry, and it greatly benefited the home side. Winnipeg FC still would have beaten the Boatmen sans the generous flag-tossing, but, had the phantom infractions not been called, it might have made for a more compelling match.
The Bombers had a head count of 27,116 on Friday, their largest gathering of this Canadian Football League crusade, but Winnipeg FC is still 2,040 behind last-season’s three-game pace. That’s a dip of at least $57,000 in ticket revenue.
I like Jim Barker’s input as one of the newbies among TSN’s cast of characters on CFL coverage, but he’s got to do something about his lid. If Barker’s grey-and-black locks aren’t flopping over his right eye, they’re sticking out at the back like he’s got bed head. Very distracting. As for that other newby, Davis Sanchez, if I want to listen to a man butcher the English language I’ll take Chris Walby any day. Bluto has better stories and he’s a lot funnier.
Listening to Kate Beirness of TSN glorify Johnny Manziel before and after the Edmonton Eskimos-Montreal Alouettes grass-grabber on Thursday night, I couldn’t help but wonder this: What does she really think about a guy who beat up his (former) girlfriend? What does she say about the Als quarterback once the camera is turned off? Is she being forced to promote him as the CFL’s shiny, new object?
I’ll say this for Paul Wiecek, he’s the only columnist in Canada who’s had the junk to write that Johnny Manziel’s doesn’t belong in the CFL due to his domestic violence history. If another scribe has spoken out, I missed it. So good on him.
Here are this week’s CFL power rankings…
1. Calgary (6-0): Who’ll stop these guys?
2. Winnipeg (4-3): Feasting on Tranna.
3. Edmonton (4-2): All those penalties (17) won’t cut it against a top-level foe.
4. Saskatchewan (3-3): Has anyone figured out what Chris Jones is trying to do?
5. Ottawa (4-2): Not going to win many games kicking seven field goals.
6. B.C. (2-3): Not convinced Travis Lulay is the answer at QB.
7. Hamilton (2-4): Going…going…gone?
8. Toronto (1-5): Time to try another quarterback.
9. Montreal (1-5): Still awful in either official language.
I note that hockey legend Mario Lemieux is selling his shack in Mont-Tremblant, Que., for a mere $21,999,066 million. It has eight bedrooms and nine washrooms. That’s $2,444,340.66 per biffy, for those of you keeping score at home.
On the subject of bathrooms, tennis great Serena Williams is whinging about men in lab coats continually knocking on her door and demanding that she pee in a bottle. Apparently, the doping sleuths have visited her five times this year. So what’s the big deal? I’ve had to pee in a bottle six times in the past 10 months, and I’m not even a world-ranked tennis player.
Shouldn’t the promotion of Gina Kingsbury to general manager of Canada’s national women’s hockey team warrant more than an ‘oh, by the way’ blurb in the media? It was bottom-of-the back-pages news in the Free Press, and 10 pages deep into the Sun sports section.
And, finally, the silence since a National Hockey League arbitrator awarded Jacob Trouba a $5.5 million contract has been deafening. Nothing from Winnipeg Jets ownership/management. Nothing from the Trouba camp. Kind of puts a chill into Winnipeg’s hottest summer in 30 years.
I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
Happy Canada day, kids. Great country. Best country. Land of maple syrup, peameal bacon, the McKenzie Brothers, the good, ol’ hockey game and the rouge. Wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Whatever you choose to do today, bring your eh game.
The suggestion that there might be a quarterback controversy on the boil in Winnipeg is, well, silly. Also totally asinine.
It’s the sort of thing a bored jock journalist might dream up on a slow news day, giving so many lumps on so many bar stools something to bark about when too much of the brown pop is flowing in their local watering hole.
So don’t run off with the notion that Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea will experience a moment of sheer madness once Matt Nichols is given the okie-dokie from medics and he’s freed from the repair shop. As sure as Donald Trump will tweet about “13 Angry Democrats,” Coach Mikey will insert Nichols behind centre Matthias Goossen, at the same time reducing Chris Streveler’s responsibilities to staring at tablets on the sideline.
O’Shea shall do this for two basic reasons: 1) He likes his job and would prefer to keep it; 2) Nichols gives Winnipeg FC its best chance to win, ergo O’Shea keeps the job he likes.
None of that is to suggest Streveler has been inept as Nichols’ stand-in. He’s done boffo business, a sketchy effort Friday night at Timbits Field in Hamilton notwithstanding. Raw like road kill, the greenhorn out of South Dakota finally looked the part of rookie in a 31-17 loss to the Tiger-Cats, but let’s keep perspective here: When a wonky leg felled Nichols during training exercises, what was expected of Streveler as the Canadian Football League’s first true freshman starting QB since Anthony Calvillo in 1994? Not much. The rabble hoped he’d win a game. Two if the pointy ball took a few favorable bounces. Well, he’s performed admirably enough to be 2-1 rather than 1-2 in three starts, but a Charmin-soft defensive dozen has betrayed Streveler and the Bombers, who sit at the bottom of a West Division that surely shall produce four playoff teams for the third successive season.
Here’s my take on Streveler: He’s provided ample evidence to support a belief that the Bombers have found their future starter and, in the present, he’s a most capable QB in a pinch.
But be certain, this never was about auditioning for Nichols’ job.
Anyone who thinks otherwise is a jock journalist with too much time on his hands, or a lump on a bar stool who’s been overserved.
TSN’s “live mic” broadcast of the Bombers-Tabbies skirmish, with head coaches and quarterbacks wired for sound, was brought to you by the letter F, as in F-bombs. Mind you, I’m surprised there were so few of them. I heard just six, maybe seven F-bombs. Profanity is “part of the game,” advised the ever-enthusiastic Matt Dunigan, the one member of TSN’s panel of natterbugs who clearly wishes he was still on the football field getting his bell rung and cussin’ about it. Matty’s right, of course. Football players cuss. They sometimes couple their F-bombs with a reference to another player’s mother. It’s crude and raw. You know, the same kind of language you hear in most schoolyards.
This is never good: We’re only three weeks into the 2018 CFL crusade and already four starting QBs are on the wonk. Nichols, of course, couldn’t answer the opening bell for the Bombers, Zach Collaros of the Saskatchewan Roughriders is on the six-game injury list, Drew Willy couldn’t finish what he started for the Montreal Alouettes on Saturday night, and the fabulous Ricky Ray is probably lost to the Tranna Argonauts and the CFL forever. Watching Ray being carted off BMO Field last weekend was disturbing, and it reminded me of Chris Walby, perhaps the greatest of all Blue Bombers. That’s how big Bluto’s career ended, on a Gator cart. Such a sad and cruel way to go out for such grand performers.
Can TSN do us a favor and ditch the split screen feature, whereby we’re shown a replay on the left side and live ant-sized action on the right? Not all of us have a 70-inch flatscreen that allow us to count Johnny Manziel’s nose hairs, and I don’t think I should require the Hubble Telescope to watch a football game.
Speaking of Manziel (isn’t TSN always talking about him?), finally someone in mainstream media has called out the broadcaster for its shameless pandering to Johnny Rotten. That would be Mike Ganter of Postmedia Tranna, who, in his CFL Blitz package, writes about “the TSN-pushed agenda to make (Manziel) a starter in this league regardless of the stunning numbers put up by Jeremiah Masoli.” Last week on the The Johnny Manziel Network, the boys (Michael Landsberg, Dave Naylor, Mark Roe and Carlo Colaiacovo) discussed a possible trade of Johnny Rotten to the Argonauts, while Naylor and Davis Sanchez discussed a Manziel trade to either the Argos or Roughriders. Then, in the chin-wag preceding the Bombers-Ticats joust, gab guys Dunigan, Milt Stegall and Jock Climie spent more time talking about Johnny Rotten than Chris Streveler. I swear, if Manziel actually steps foot on the field and takes a snap, someone’s head at TSN is going to explode.
So let’s see if I’ve got this straight, the Tiger-Cats womped the Edmonton Eskimos 38-21 in Week 2, but Scott Cullen’s TSN power rankings had the Esks rated second in the CFL and the Tabbies No. 5. Go figure. Meanwhile, at cfl.ca, the Esks were listed at No. 2 and the Tabbies No. 3, and somehow the B.C. Lions, who had won their only game, were ranked lower than the Tranna Argonauts, who are 0-2 and don’t have a quarterback. Does any of that make sense? To anyone? I didn’t think so. Thus, I give you the first weekly River City Renegade power rankings:
1. Calgary: Same old, same old.
2. Hamilton: Won two of three against tough West Division opponents.
3. Edmonton: Back on track.
4. Ottawa: A split against tough West Division opponents.
5. Winnipeg: Defensive deficiency.
6. B.C.: Didn’t look sharp vs. Montreal and Wally Buono’s swan song took a big hit vs. Eskimos.
7. Montreal: Thought they’d go 0-for-2018.
8. Saskatchewan: Gotta get Duron Carter back on offence.
9. Toronto: No quarterback, no hope.
If rumors are true, Dougie Hamilton is the first National Hockey League player to be traded for a museum to be named later. Hard to believe that the Calgary Flames would ship out Hamilton because his head is shaped like an egg. I mean, so the guy would rather spend time in a museum or reading than join the boys for some back-slapping and hoo-rawing at Moxie’s. Last time I looked, being smart wasn’t the new stupid. The Hamilton situation brings to mind Kim Clackson, guard dog for the Winnipeg Jets during their final two World Hockey Association crusades. I don’t recall ever seeing Clacker without a book in his hands on road trips. Can’t say that I remember the subject matter, but he was always reading on team flights. Didn’t seem to bother his teammates or management when Clacker put down the book to chuck knuckles with Dave Semenko.
Caught an episode of Tim & Sid on Sportnets last week, with the boys and guest John Shannon interviewing Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Willie O’Ree, the first black man to play in the NHL. Immediately after the chin wag, they mentioned how “hockey is for everyone.” No. It isn’t. I’ll believe hockey is for everyone the day there’s an openly gay man on one of the 31 NHL rosters. I’ll believe hockey is for everyone the day a woman is standing behind an NHL bench. Major League Baseball has had an openly gay umpire. The National Basketball Association has had an openly gay player, female coaches and female game officials. The National Football League has female coaches and game officials. The Canadian Football League has had an openly gay player and a female general manager. Major League Soccer is the only major men’s team sport in North America that currently features an openly gay player, Collin Martin of Minnesota United FC. So I don’t want to hear about hockey being “for everyone” when the NHL is the least diverse of all major men’s sports leagues.
Luis Suarez is having a great World Cup. His Uruguay side is into the quarterfinals and he hasn’t bitten any Italians. It helps, of course, that the Italians didn’t qualify for Russia, but it’s comforting to know that soccer’s Count Dracula seems to have curbed his nasty biting habit. Three times the Uruguay striker has been punished for putting the bite on foes, including an incident in the 2014 World Cup, whereby he chomped on Giorgio Chiellini’s left shoulder. “I know biting appalls a lot of people, but it’s relatively harmless,” he wrote in his autobiography, Crossing the Line: My Story. “None of the bites has been like Mike Tyson on Evander Holyfield.” Like, that makes it okay?
Interesting comment from Tranna Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins when asked if pitcher Roberto Osuna would be welcomed back to the fold next month after serving a 75-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy: “Roberto is our closer. We’re running a baseball team and our goal is to win championships. Roberto could potentially be very much a part of that.” In other words, it doesn’t matter how many women Osuna beats the hell out of. As long as he throws a nasty cutter, he’ll be in the Jays bullpen.
Quote of the week was delivered by baseball’s non-steroid home run king, Hank Aaron: “Would I visit the White House? Would I go? I have no reason to go. I’ve been there once or twice. And there’s nobody there I want to see.”
And, finally, this item has nothing to do with sports, but it’s too cool by far, so I wanted to include it: I’m not a fan of James Corden or his late-night gab show, because he’s always shouting. I am, however, a big Beatles fan and Corden’s Carpool Karaoke with Paul McCartney was a brilliant and beautiful segment that should be shared. Watch it to the absolute end and enjoy.