The River City Renegade


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The sports media dealing with social/political issues is nothing new

Stick to sports? Why?

Why should jock journalists and opinionists be limited to one-trick pony-ism, writing and gabbing about nothing other than wins and losses, home runs and touchdowns, free throws and three-pointers, and how much air there is in Tom Brady’s balls?

Sam Lacy, Dan Bankhead and Wendell Smith.

I mean, I’m guessing that if Twitter had been around in the 1930s and ’40s, Sam Lacy, Wendell Smith and other black sportswriters might have used their 140-character allotment to say something significant about segregation in baseball. Twitter didn’t exist back then, though. So they used newspapers like the Pittsburgh Courier, the Chicago Defender and the Baltimore Afro-American as pulpits from which to openly lobby for desegregation.

For example, when Major League Baseball commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis died in 1944, Lacy used his Afro-American platform to scribble this about the appointment of Happy Chandler as MLB commish: “It appears that his choice was the most logical one for the bigoted major league operators, of which there is a heavy majority on hand.”

Similarly, in the chaotic 1960s, when young heavyweight boxing champion Cassius Clay joined the Nation of Islam and became Cassius X then Muhammad Ali, (white) sports scribes refused to use his Muslim name in their copy (it wasn’t until October 1970, six years after the fact, that the New York Times issued a directive that sportswriters were to call him Muhammad Ali) and they weren’t shy about spicing their prose with biting social commentary re “Clay,” race and religion.

Here are two examples from New York columnist Jimmy Cannon:

The fight racket since its rotten beginnings has been the red light district of sports. But this is the first time it has been turned into an instrument of mass hate…Clay is using it as a weapon of wickedness.”

And…

Jimmy Cannon

I pity Clay and abhor what he represents. In the years of hunger during the Depression, the Communists used famous people the way the Black Muslims are exploiting Clay. This is a sect that deforms the beautiful purpose of religion.”

The noise became amplified, also more threatening and vicious, when the champ refused to step forward for induction into the United States military in 1967.

Red Smith, legendary New York columnist: “Squealing over the possibility that the military may call him up, Cassius makes as sorry a spectacle as those unwashed punks who picket and demonstrate against the war.”

Really? Those protesting the Vietnam War were “unwashed punks?”

Jim Murray, legendary Los Angeles Times columnist, who mocked Ali by calling him Abdul the Bull Bull Ameer: “Cassius Marcellus Clay, one of the greatest heroes in the history of his people, has decided to secede from the Union. He will not disgrace himself by wearing the uniform of the Army of the United States…From the safety of 103 years, he waves his fist at dead slave owners. Down to his last four Cadillacs, the thud of Communist jackboots holds no dread for him. He is in this country but not of it.”

Really? Dead slave owners and Communist jackboots in a sports column?

So, you see, when ESPN anchor Jemele Hill went off on Donald Trump on her personal Twitter account recently, calling the United States president a “white supremacist,” she wasn’t digging a shovel into fresh, unbroken ground. Social/political commentary in print and on air is older than the contract Jackie Robinson signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers to become the first black player in baseball’s major leagues. Do you think the names and words Jesse Owens, Adolph Hitler, Nazis and Aryan supremacy have never appeared in a sportswriter’s copy?

Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star is among the elite wordsmiths in Canadian jock journalism today, but social/political commentary on his Twitter account heavily outweighs the sports content. Why would anyone find that objectionable?

Red Smith

I think it should be a personal decision, based partly on who employs you,” he said as a member of a Sports Illustrated panel. “But if you’re informed—or even just feel strongly about something—and you’re comfortable making your voice heard, then you should be able to say what you think. Sports are great, but they’re not the world. It’s okay to live in the world a little, too.”

On the night of the 2016 American presidential election, with Donald Trump winning the White House, Steve Simmons of Postmedia tweeted: “The saddest night in American history.” That is, of course, a totally illogical comment, especially coming from a non-American, but is he not allowed his emotional, if uninformed, opinion? Does it reflect on Simmons or Postmedia? I would submit the former rather than the latter, and numerous followers suggested he “stick to sports.”

If I have an issue with sports opinionists and their social/political commentary, it’s when they say nothing at all. Or when they’re inconsistent.

Ray Rice is pilloried for beating up one woman. Floyd Mayweather Jr. is given a pass on his thick file of repeated domestic violence. (I suppose the arrival of Johnny Manziel to a Canadian Football League outfit will be greeted with literary high fives.) That isn’t merely inexcusable, it’s the abandonment of responsible reporting.

Sports and politics/social activism are bedfellows, and to think otherwise is to live in a Utopian world. Social media has upped the ante, to be sure, but jock journos have always been there to write and talk about it. Usually in more than 140 characters.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling mostly about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.

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About the Winnipeg Jets secrecy in re-upping two guys without a playoff win…the Pope is on board…hockey discipline vs. tennis discipline…the ladies rock at the U.S. Open…the Vancouver Canucks odd youth movement…insults are Steve…and so long Steely Dan

I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Mark Chipman, the Puck Pontiff.

Well, Darren Dreger and Elliotte Friedman were correct and both Kevin Cheveldayoff and Paul Maurice have been rewarded for chronic nonachievement, which begs this question: Why the secrecy?

I mean, Dreger tells us that Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman gave the only general manager the Winnipeg Jets have known a hearty pat on the back in the form of a contract extension “months ago.” Perhaps the deal was done scant days after the locals failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup derby for the fifth time in six whirls under Chevy’s watch. Or maybe it was in May, June or July.

Whatever the case, the Secret Society known as True North Sports & Entertainment chose to keep that morsel of information on the QT until this very morning.

Same with Maurice, the potty-mouthed head coach destined to become the losingest bench boss in National Hockey League history sometime during the 2017-18 crusade. Apparently, his endorsement of a job not well done arrived more recently, which could mean June, July or August, but, again, the Secret Society chose not to share that tidbit with the very people who fill the Little Hockey House On The Prairie 41 days/nights each year and purchase all that merchandise with the Royal Canadian Air Force logo.

In other words, screw the rabble.

Try as I might, I cannot scare up a single reason why the Secret Society adopted a mum’s-the-word posture vis-a-vis extensions for the GM and head coach, except that the Puck Pontiff likely didn’t fancy the bother of detailing the rationale behind re-upping two men accustomed to standing on the outside with their noses pressed to the window when the real fun begins in April. They’re a pair of oh-fers: 0-for-the playoffs. Zero wins. In six seasons for Chevy and 3.5 for Coach Potty-Mo. Tough to justify a reward for never failing to fail.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

But, hey, maybe this is a Winnipeg thing. After all, the Blue Bombers handed their GM, Kyle Walters, and sideline steward, Mike O’Shea, a fresh set of downs even though they’d never won a Canadian Football League post-season match. Received three-year add-ons, they did.

Which leads me to believe that contract extensions are like skeeters in Pegtown: You’re gonna get ’em whether you deserve ’em or not.

Did the work of either Chevy or Maurice warrant renewals? Well, it’s a results-driven business, and booking tee times at St. Charles or Glendale while those about you are still playing hockey isn’t anyone’s idea of getting the job done.

Clearly, something is broken.

If, as has been suggested by numerous pundits, Cheveldayoff and his bird dogs have assembled an array of blue-chip talent, why no playoffs? Must be the coach. If it’s the coach, why the extension? And if not the coach, who? The players? Can’t be, because we’re told they’re blue-chippers. Unless they aren’t blue-chippers, in which case Chevy’s at fault.

Would I have gone all-in on either Chevy or Maurice? Or both? I’m iffy on the former, because it’s uncertain how much interference he receives from on high, but I’m definitely not sold on the latter.

Paul Maurice

I’d have allowed Coach Potty-Mo to enter the 2017-18 fray on his existing deal, which had a shelf life of 82 more games. This is a show-me season for Maurice. Show us you can coach without Chris Thorburn and Mark Stuart getting in the way. Qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament and you won’t have to change your postal code. Miss and we have some swell parting gifts for you.

Aha, you say. That would make him a lame-duck coach. Well, yes, it would. And your point is?

Delivering a contract extension to Maurice doesn’t make him a better coach. It doesn’t turn Steve Mason and Connor Hellebuyck into Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur. It doesn’t improve the penalty kill. It doesn’t even buy Coach Potty-Mo more time. It’s on him either way. If the Jets aren’t part of the post-season fun next April, the Puck Pontiff will be paying Maurice not to coach.

I just hope they don’t keep it a secret when and if they let the guy go.

It’s about the Declaration of Principles that several hockey organizations, including the NHL, signed off on this week, with the endorsement of the real Puck Pontiff, Pope Francis of Vatican fame: I’ll believe in the vow of inclusiveness when NHL players (hello, Andrew Shaw and Ryan Getzlaf) cease using gay slurs as their go-to insults, and when I see women on NHL coaching, management and scouting staffs and openly gay men on NHL rosters. Women’s hockey at the highest level is inclusive, men’s hockey at the highest level not so much.

You want inclusiveness? Try big-time tennis. At the U.S. Open in Gotham, we’ve seen women sitting in the umpire’s chair during men’s matches. Sadly, one of those women, Louise Engzell of Switzerland, was called a “whore” and a “cocksucker” by Italian No. 1 Fabio Fognini. Although slow to respond to the verbal assault, tennis officialdom slapped Fognini with $24,000 in fines and instructed him to vacate the premises, even though he had advanced to the third round of doubles play. Soon, the other shoe shall drop. It’s possible that Fognini will be banned from future Grand Slam tournaments and fined upwards of $250,000. By way of comparison, when Disney Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf barked out the same C-slur during an NHL playoff game last spring, he was docked pocket change of $10,000 and permitted to play on.

Fognini’s mea culpa was priceless. “I have nothing against women,” he insisted. “I have been called sexist, which I am not. I am a family man, I have a wife, a mother, a sister. I have always loved women, I have always respected them.” Reminds me of the homophobes who defend their actions and use of anti-gay slurs by saying, “I have gay friends.”

Sloane Stephens

Three thoughts on the U.S. Open this morning: 1) The women’s draw has been much more compelling than the men’s, especially with the prospects and hopes of a Rafa Nadal-Roger Federer skirmish dashed by Juan Martin Del Petro. 2) I think it’s terrific that four American women have advanced to the semifinals of their national tournament. 3) Some of the women can really whack a tennis ball and get around the court (love Sloane Stephens), but how does Serena Williams ever lose?

This would be laughable if it weren’t so sad: Vancouver Canucks president Trevor Linden says his club’s “focus is on youth.” Right. Two-thirds of the Canucks’ No. 1 forward unit, the Sedin twins, are 37 years old. They just reeled in Thomas Vanek. He’s 33. The other two featured off-season recruits, Sam Gagner and Michael Del Zotto, are 28 and 27, respectively. Their big catch a year ago was Loui Eriksson, 32. If that’s putting the focus on youth, then Don Cherry is a spring chicken.

The question must be asked: Does Donovan Bennett of Sportsnet actually watch Canadian Football League games? I mean, the guy does weekly power rankings and he’s somehow determined that the Edmonton Eskimos are the No. 2 outfit. That would be the same Edmonton group that has been totally dismantled by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Saskatchewan Roughriders and Calgary Stampeders in consecutive weeks. Bennett had the Eskimos ranked No. 3 a week ago, then they were blitzed by the Stampeders and he moved them into the No. 2 slot. I don’t know if Bennett is embarrassed, but he ought to be.

Todd Bertuzzi

Speaking of totally losing the plot, Sportsnet 650 in Vancouver announced it will feature Todd Bertuzzi, he of Steve Moore infamy, on its air every Tuesday on The Starting Lineup, and Steve Simmons of Postmedia used the occasion to totally trash West Coast media with a completely unfounded statement of non-fact. You know, much like his piece about Phil Kessel and hot dogs. “One of the truly dumb things about Vancouver,” he tweeted. “It never took the Steve Moore incident seriously. Never covered it. Never shouted about it.” He later referenced “Vancouver Twitter idiots.” Apparently ignoring facts and name-calling is what passes for a national sports columnist these days. The great Trent Frayne and Jim Coleman must be spinning in their graves.

Can’t even guess the number of hours I’ve spent listening to Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, aka Steely Dan. Brilliant stuff. Becker died last weekend and we’re left with the music. These are my five favorite Steely Dan tunes…
1. Bodhisattva
2. Deacon Blues
3. Peg
4. Hey Nineteen
5. Do It Again

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling mostly about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.


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Winnipeg Blue Bombers-Saskatchewan Roughriders: Hey, spit happens, so let’s not lose our heads here (except maybe Gainer)

I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Duron Carter: Spit happens.

Duron Carter is spittin’ mad. Gainer the Gopher is losing his head. Rod Pedersen wants to call the cops. And Doug Brown is so PO’d that he almost forgot his thesaurus at home.

Where to begin?

Well, let’s start with Carter, a Canadian Football League pass-catching marvel whose strings are sometimes pulled a tad too tight and apt to snap at any second. Seems Chris Carter’s lad was engaged in some post-joust schmoozing with the Saskatchewan Roughriders faithful on Saturday afternoon at Taylor Field in Regina, scant seconds after Gang Green had rag-dolled the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, 38-24, when out of the blue (and gold) someone launched a loogie.

Splat!

A trash ass Bombers fan spit on me…worst fans in the league…can’t wait to kick y’all ass again!” griped Carter, who describes himself on his Twitter account as an “expert level troll.”

Thus, he continued trolling.

Gainer: Going out of his head.

The worst part about it, he definitely didn’t brush his teeth in about 20 years!!!” Carter ranted. “Who knows what creepy crawlers were hiding in there!!! The old me would have dragged him to the 50 yard line and gave him a beating like his parents failed to do in 1955.”

Whew. That’s a lot to absorb.

First of all, we know Carter must be some kind of ticked off because he used seven exclamation points!!!!!!! That’s a serious mad-on!!!!!!! Second, while some accuse the Riders wideout of fabricating the spitting story, I believe him. Yup, I’m convinced that a Bombers loyalist did, indeed, unload a loogie on Carter because he said the guy hadn’t brushed his “teeth” in 20 years. Had it been a Riders fan, he would have said the guy hadn’t brushed his “tooth” in 20 years.

Meanwhile, Gang Green play-by-play squawker Rod Pedersen, in a classic case of over-the-top hyperbole, went all drama queen in rallying to Carter’s side in Gobgate.

I think spitting on anyone is the most heinous act that anybody can commit, in sports or in society,” Pedersen spat.

Well, yes. There’s something sinful in saliva if used as a weapon. Still, it’s a most curious bit of logic from Pedersen. I mean, most of us in the rest of the country would place crimes like rape, murder, pedophilia and human trafficking higher on the heinous metre than unleashing a loogie. Must be a Saskatchewan thing.

Pederson also lashed out at a Bomber-ite who, in a shocking display of bad manners from a house guest, attempted to yank the head off the Riders prairie dog mascot, Gainer the Gopher. Gab guy Rod described the incident as a “disturbing act of violence” and, when asked if the long arm of the law ought to reach out and charge the cad with assault, he replied, “absolutely.”

Which brings us to Doug Brown, a former Bombers defensive lineman who sits in the CJOB booth during broadcasts and also scribbles a weekly column for the Winnipeg Free Press.

Chris Jones: A cheater, cheater pumpkin eater?

Brown wants you all to know that Chris Jones is a dirty, rotten scoundrel. A cheater, cheater pumpkin-eater. How so? Well, the Riders head coach apparently has a defensive front four that includes Ronaldo, Neymar, Arjen Robben and Luis Suarez, lads notorious for pulling up lame or slipping into their death throes whenever inconvenienced on the soccer pitch. Same thing with the Riders. The moment the Bombers choose to shift into their no-huddle offence, down goes a Gang Green D-man. Gut shot. And laughing.

These clearly are faux fallen foes and Brown describes the tactic as “a B.S. manoeuvre.” Jones has arrived at an “all-time low in coaching malfeasance.” Yes, he actually used the word malfeasance. No sports scribe I know uses the word malfeasance. Ever. Most would write about wrong-doing or hanky-panky or coaching chicanery, but not our Doug. He has a thesaurus.

What does it all add up to? Hey, spit happens. Which ought to make for an interesting week in advance of the Banjo Bowl on Saturday afternoon at Formerly Football Follies Field in Fort Garry, where the Bombers and Riders will do it all over again.

I thought it was awful sporting of game officials and the CFL command centre to basically hand the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, now 1-8, their first win of the season on Monday at Timbits Field. Three absolutely atrocious calls late in the fourth quarter—a fumble that was ruled an incomplete pass; a 15-yard no-yards penalty that never should have drawn a flag; and a pass ruled complete when the ball obviously bounced to Luke Tasker—all went in favor of the Tabbies, who topped the Toronto Argonauts, 24-22, in a dreadful match delayed two hours and eight minutes due to a thunder-and-lightning storm. And we won’t even mention the fact that timekeepers twice were instructed to add time on the clock because they allowed it to run after play had stopped. This was one for the conspiracy theorists.

Say, who was that guy delivering pizza to the press box during the storm stoppage at Timbits? Why, it was CFL commish Randy Ambrosie. Nice touch. Not that sports scribes need an extra injection of pasta and carbs, but still a nice touch.

Well, Jay and Dan made their much-anticipated return to late-night Sports Centre on TSN shortly after the football game. My take: New set, same old silliness. But it works for them and their faithful. Meanwhile, The Reporters with Dave Hodge returns to TSN’s air on Sunday, and I’m assuming the usual suspects—Bruce Arthur, Michael Farber and Steve Simmons—will join Hodge to sit at a table and agree with each other. Just wondering: If those four guys were The Beatles, which one would be Ringo? I’d have to say Simmons.

The Beatles

Which brings me to today’s top five—my five favorite Beatles tunes…
1. A Day In the Life: Totally brilliant.
2. I Am the Walrus: An astonishing psychedelic journey of incredible lyrical imagery. There’s “yellow matter custard dripping from a dead dog’s eye” and a naughty girl who “let her knickers down” and “man you should have seen them kicking Edgar Allan Poe.”
3. Hey Bulldog: George gets after it on the guitar.
4. Rocky Raccoon: Her name was Magill and she called herself Lil, but everyone knew her as Nancy.
5. You Know My Name (Look Up the Number): Way, way out there. The lads are having us on.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling mostly about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.


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Labor Day weekend a non-classic for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers

Random thoughts during the Winnipeg Blue Bombers annual visit to the Green House in Regina for the Labor Day weekend grab-grass-and-growl with the Saskatchewan Roughriders…

  • Where’s Schultzie?

    I miss Schultzie on the TSN panel. Where’d the big lug go?

  • TSN didn’t show the singing of O Canada, so I’ll have to assume that none of the combatants took a knee.
  • I swear, the Roughriders receivers have been offside on every play since Ray Elgaard was a rookie. And they never get flagged for it.
  • What’s the over/under on how often TSN blabber boy Glen Suitor mentions the silly sound meter they’re using to gauge crowd caterwauling at Mosaic Stadium?
  • I really don’t like the name Mosaic Stadium, so I’m going to call the Riders’ ritzy, new digs Taylor Field.
  • Oops. Nice pass by Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols. Too bad it went to one of the guys in green, Ed Gainey. Not sure what Nichols saw there, but he definitely didn’t see the guy in green.
  • Nic Demski is a University of Manitoba Bisons grad and would look better in blue-and-gold linen than green and white.
  • Geez, who’s the guy wearing Kevin Glenn’s uniform? The Saskatchewan QB is spot on. Normally, he makes the kind of passes that Nichols threw to Ed Gainey.
  • What’s with the candy stripes on the officials’ uniform tops? When did that happen? Did I miss a memo from the Canadian Football League head office? I might have to red flag them for a fashion faux pas.
  • Yikes—24-3 for Gang Green after 15 minutes. This is a serious paddywhacking. Not getting good vibes from the Bombers’ body language.
  • Timothy Flanders scores a TD and tosses the football to a Big Blue loyalist in the pews. Nice. Except one of the candy-stripers saw something no one else saw, so he flips a flag and the touchdown is voided. Not to worry. Nichols and Flanders collaborate again. This time the score stands. Flanders flips the football to another fan in blue-and-gold. Does he realize he has to pay for those things?
  • Hey, Sam Hurl actually makes a play, sacking Glenn. Guess that’s his quota for the month. Won’t hear from him again until Thanksgiving.
  • Weston Dressler

    I thought Weston Dressler was supposed to be back in the Bombers lineup for this game. Somebody should let Nichols in on the secret.

  • Riders have won two in a row and are up 34-16 at the half. Does that mean Chris Jones is a genius again?
  • TSN panel gab guy Jock Climie tells us that Chris Randle was the goat on Naaman Roosevelt’s 53-yard TD catch in the first quarter. Interesting. Suitor had told us that TJ Heath was the guilty party. I’ll take Climie’s word for it.
  • I’m still missing Schultzie.
  • That Trivago Guy has to be the worst dancer in the world. Does he realize how nerdy he looks?
  • Hey, look who’s in the Green House. It’s Jay and Dan. Well, it’s cardboard cutouts of Jay and Dan, who bring their goofy brand of broadcasting back to TSN this week. The buffoonery begins at midnight, which is too late for moi.
  • What’s this? The Roughriders have a punter? Who knew?
  • The great George Reed.

    Nice touch by the Riders to erect statues saluting legends Ronnie Lancaster and George Reed outside Taylor Field. Interesting that they do former players and the Bombers do former coaches. A bronze But Grant is already outside Formerly Football Follies Field in Fort Garry and a Cal Murphy statue will be unveiled later this month.

  • It’s 37-16 at three-quarter time. I don’t sense a comeback today.
  • Are the Riders faking injuries in a bid to stall the Bombers no-huddle offence? Naw. That would be cheating and we all know that Chris Jones would never cheat.
  • I’m not sure why, but I get the feeling that Saskatechewan wideout Duron Carter is about to go off his nut. You know, like he did last season when he bowled over Ottawa RedBlacks head coach Rick Campbell. He always seems to be one bad call away from a major meltdown.
  • Hey, there’s Weston Dressler. Nice to see Nichols finally invited him to the party. We’ll just call it his Labor Day weekend non-classic.
  • Nichols tosses another ball to Ed Gainey. Yo! Matt! That guy’s picked off six passes in two games. You might want to take on someone else in the future.
  • Suitor is still squawking about that stupid sound meter. Don’t know how often he went to that well, but it must have been a dozen.
  • Final score: Roughriders 38, Bombers 24. Guess Chris Jones really is a genius again.
  • Break out the banjos, boys! Let’s do it all over again in a week.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling mostly about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.


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About RIP for Winnipeg Jets 1.0…good reads…a tip of the chapeau to Shapo…separated at birth…a wedgie for Frasier and Niles Crane…big-belly baseball…fancy skating music…and great balls of Three Stooges humor

I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, we are gathered here today to pay final respects to a dear friend, one who warmed our hearts on many a frigid winter night even as our car batteries froze and rendered our vehicles blocks of ice: The Winnipeg Jets 1.0 are dead. Officially.

Cause of death: Retirement, Shane Doan.
Time of death: Wednesday, Aug. 30.
Place of death: Phoenix, Arizona.

Shane Doan

Jets 1.0 will be remembered for many things and when Doan, the final remnant of that storied but not gloried National Hockey League franchise, excused himself from active duty last week in a letter to an Arizona newspaper, his surrender to Father Time at age 40 stirred submerged recollections and raised them to the surface.

Doan was the last on-ice link to Jets 1.0, but I remember those who were there at the beginning, a motley, rag-tag assortment of earnest but overmatched men who conspired to win just 20 of 80 skirmishes in 1979-80, the first of the franchise’s 17 crusades in River City before fleeing like carpetbaggers to the southern United States, specifically the Arizona desert, where the Jets morphed into the Phoenix Coyotes and Doan played another 20 seasons.

There will be no attempt here to romanticize Winnipeg’s first whirl in the NHL, because each year the hope of autumn was trumped by the disappointment of spring and, of course, the day of the long faces arrived in 1996 when the moving vans pulled up to the loading docks at the ol’ barn on Maroons Road.

That, however, is not to say we were without events (Tuxedo Night) and moments (Dave Ellett’s overtime goal) to remember. And people. Especially people.

None cast a longer shadow than John Bowie Ferguson, the cigar-chomping, heart-on-his-sleeve, Jets-tattoo-on-his-butt general manager who stoked unbridled passion in players and patrons. Fergy, crusty on the outside but a cream puff inside, brought the Jets into the NHL and delivered at least one outfit (1984-85) of genuine Stanley Cup mettle. Alas, Dale Hawerchuk’s shattered ribs (a pox on your house, Jamie Macoun) and the Edmonton Oilers stood in their way.

We tend to posit that the Oilers forever stood in Jets 1.0’s way, but that isn’t accurate.

At the outset, for example, the NHL conspired to ransack the roster that had captured the final World Hockey Association title in the spring of ’79. Repatriated by their original NHL clubs were Kent Nilsson, Terry Ruskowski, Rich Preston, Barry Long and Kim Clackson, among others. Left behind was no-hope.

Still, I harbor a healthy fondness for that outfit, led by jocular head coach Tom McVie and Lars-Erik Sjoberg, the original team captain with the Barney Rubble body and the Zen-like calm on the blueline.

The Shoe is gone now, as are Fergy, assistant head coach Sudsy Sutherland and, with the retirement of Shane Doan, the Jets 1.0. What remains, materially, is a paper trail of franchise records, an all-time roster and a couple of banners that hang in the Gila River Arena in Glendale, Ariz., where they don’t belong (that’s a discussion for another day).

So the book on Jets 1.0 is closed. It’s not a great book (it needed a Stanley Cup for that), but it’s a good book. Having been there and known a lot of the characters, it’s one of my favorite books.

On the subject of preferred reading material, here are my top-five all-time fave sports books…
1. The Boys of Summer, Roger Kahn
2. Bang the Drum Slowly, Mark Harris
3. The Game, Ken Dryden
4. Instant Replay, Jerry Kramer
5. Paper Lion, George Plimpton

I’d never be so presumptuous as to suggest I know more about tennis than Mats Wiland, but I’m thinking the multi-Grand Slam-champion Swede might want to put the brakes on his gushing about our guy Denis Shapovalov. “It’s like watching a combination of (Rafael) Nadal and (Roger) Federer at 18 years old,” Wilander says. “He has the fire of Nadal and the speed around the court of Nadal and he has the grace of Federer. It’s unbelievable.” Geez, why stop there, Mats? Surely Super Shapo is also faster than a speeding bullet, can leap tall buildings in a single bound and changes into his tennis togs in a phone booth. Sorry, but comparing Shapovalov to Nadal and Federer is a tad premature and likely the kind of hype the Canadian kid can do without.

Martina Navratilova and Denis Shapovalov: Separated at birth?

Is it just me, or does anyone else notice something eerily and strikingly similar between Shapovalov and tennis legend Martina Navratilova? I know they weren’t separated a birth, but it’s almost as if Shapo is channeling the great champion. The athleticism, the left-handed power, the one-handed backhands, the muscles, the oversized left forearms, the animation, the hair, the look. It’s as if they’re mother and son.

Globe and Mail headline this week: “How much should Canada expect of Denis Shapovalov?” Well, we don’t have the right to expect anything of him at the current U.S. Open, where he bowed out in the round of 16 on Sunday, or at any of his globe-trotting ports of call. All we can do is root, root, root for our home boy and hope he doesn’t pitch an on-court fit and whack another match umpire in the eye with a tennis ball.

Alexander Zverev

I’m not sure what was worse, Alexander Zverev wearing a pair of ghastly knee-high socks in his one-and-done match at the U.S. Open, or that the high school cheerleader things cost $35 a pair. I’m thinking that the German whiz kid’s outfit is something that would have earned the nerdy Frasier and Niles Crane a series of wedgies while at prep school.

TSN’s excellent reporter Dave Naylor has promoted the notion of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats pursuing bad boy quarterback Johnny Manziel, while Steve Simmons of Postmedia has floated the idea of a Manziel-Toronto Argonauts union. I have a better idea: The Canadian Football League just says “no” to any players or coaches with a history of domestic violence.

Still can’t wrap my head around the sports media reacting with such ferocity over the Ticats hiring of contaminated coach Art Briles, who apparently looked the other way while his players at Baylor University were sexually assaulting and raping women, yet they spent a week in Las Vegas glorifying a man who spent two months in jail for beating up a woman. How can they possibly rationalize their position that Briles should not be allowed to work but serial woman-beater Floyd Mayweather Jr. should be?

CC Sabathia

New York Yankees hurler CC Sabathia was in a high-class snit last week because the Boston Red Sox had the bad manners to bunt on him. Yo! CC! Next time you see McDonald’s golden arches, skip the Big Macs and large fries and it might not be so hard to bend down and pick up a baseball.

The good news is, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League will pay players anywhere from a floor of $2,000 to a ceiling of $10,000 in the upcoming season. The bad news is, $2,000-$10,000 probably works out to about .20 cents-to-$1 a shift. Kidding aside, there is no bad news. It’s a good place to start. And it doesn’t matter that each club’s salary cap ($100,000) is less than CC Sabathia’s monthly grocery bill.

Apparently, the great “mystery” has been solved: Canada’s fancy skating team of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir will perform their free skate at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea to music from Moulin Rouge. I don’t know about you, but I’m soooo relieved to know that. I mean, I was convinced they’d be skating to something cheesey by Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky or Nickelback. I’ll sleep so much better now. (Yes, that’s sarcasm.)

Kate Beirness and Jennifer Hedger

In the Department of WTF, it appears that video of men getting whacked in the testicles by baseballs, cricket balls and tennis balls is what now passes for high humor on TSN’s Sports Centre. I say that because two of the station’s stable of gab girls, Kate Beirness and Jennifer Hedger, devoted a segment of their late-night show on Thursday to dudes getting drilled in the knackers, or, as Hedger described the male genitalia, “pills.” Was it just me, or did anyone else find it awkwardly inappropriate that two women would be having great sport with men taking one to the junk? I mean, I suppose it’s giggle-worthy in a Three Stooges kind of way, but c’mon, girls don’t dig the Three Stooges. Leave the nyuk-nyuks and noogies to Jay and Dan.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling mostly about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.


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About mob justice and the Canadian Football League…the hypocritical media…”Oskee wee wee! Oskee wa wa! Holy WTF Hamilton!”…and the Sharapova Shriek returns to the U.S. Open

I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Now that sober second thought has won the day and it’s no longer necessary to lock up every mother’s daughter in Hamilton, I must say that the rush by fans and media to tar and feather Art Briles and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats was shocking in its swiftness and ferocity. Also its effectiveness.

Art Briles

I mean, Briles and his off-the-charts creep quotient won’t be coming across the border into Canada. That’s a good thing. A very good thing.

But all the righteous indignation and condemnation that rained down on Briles and the Tabbies on Monday, where was it during the past two months when a chronic and convicted beater of women, Floyd Mayweather Jr., was preparing to collect upwards of $350 million for a fist fight? Mayweather was allowed to go about his business, pre- and post-beatdown of Conor McGregor, sans universal censure. Indeed, the boxing champion is today lauded for running his ring record to 50-0.

Atta boy, Floyd,” goes the verbal back-patting of enablers and hangers-on. “You beat Rocky’s record. You’re the greatest, champ.”

Evidence indicates that fight fans and media cannot get their fill of Mayweather. Morals be damned. They continue to feed at his trough of dismissive arrogance, blatant misogyny and utter indecency, and it doesn’t matter how many women he sends to the hospital.

Is it because boxing is the seediest of all sports, with its assortment of sinister characters forever lurking on the periphery, that the rabble and (especially) opinionists on air and in print look the other way?

Perhaps, but isn’t looking the other way the very reason Briles is a pariah? Well, yes it is. We didn’t want him anywhere near our vulnerable young people because, while head football coach at Baylor University in Texas, he turned a blind eye to the systemic sexual assault of college women and other wrong-doing by his players, criminal activity that reportedly included gang rape. For that, Briles was dismissed and, little wonder, he’d been unable to secure employment until the Tiger-Cats came calling with an offer to serve the sorriest outfit in the Canadian Football League as an assistant coach.

The Briles hire was, of course, an affront to anyone with a moral compass, and it’s absolutely appalling to consider that he would be working with randy young men today had CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie not felt obliged to step in and force the Tabbies’ misguided management/ownership into giving their heads a good and proper shaking until all the stupid had fallen out.

CFL commish Randy Ambrosie

In this case, there’s something to be said for mob justice, because the Ticats recruiting Briles was as wrong as rain is wet and the social media warriors, team sponsors, bloggers and mainstream media were having none of it.

But, again, I challenge the media’s role in this shameful episode that might have been the total undoing of the Hamilton franchise had it moved forward with the contaminated coach, who was dismissed less than 24 hours after being hired.

Why are jock journalists picking and choosing the bad guys, like they’re at the market shopping for vegetables and fruit? Why is Floyd Mayweather Jr. a rotten apple and Art Briles a rancid orange? This isn’t apples and oranges. It’s rotten apples and rotten apples. How is it that the guy who went to jail for beating up women is less of a cad than the guy who ignored frat boys on a gang-banging binge?

I simply cannot wrap my head around that.

The media, across the land and on both sides of the border, were absolutely correct in condemning the Briles hire, just as they were on the side of angels when they railed against National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell for his clumsy work on the Ray Rice domestic violence file. But they are the very picture of hypocrisy in looking the other way whenever Floyd Mayweather Jr. is in the room.

Yes, you have every right to wonder what the hell is going on in Hamilton. Never mind between the sidelines, where the Tabbies are 0-8. Are they operating a professional football organization or a halfway house? The general manager, Eric Tillman, couldn’t keep his hands off the family’s teenage babysitter in 2010 and entered a guilty plea on a sexual assault charge; they displayed ghastly judgement in attempting to bring Briles on board; and rumors persist that they’ll make a strong pitch for bad boy quarterback Johnny Manziel, who only last December had his day in court on sexual assault charges. All together now: “Oskee wee wee! Oskee wa wa! Holy WTF Hamilton!”

Maria Sharapova

Really got into the Maria Sharapova-Simona Halep first-round match at the U.S. Open on Monday night at the Arthur Ashe Stadium in Gotham. It was electric. I can do without the Sharapova Shriek (couldn’t we all?), but Her Royal Blondeness’s 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 victory over the world No. 2 was high drama for an opening act at the tennis season’s final Grand Slam tournament. Even though she was dressed in all black for the occasion, I don’t see Sharapova as a villain. Call me gullible, but I’m not convinced she’s a cheater in the sense that Ben Johnson was a cheater. I’m inclined to sing in concert with commentator Chrissie Evert, who, during the broadcast, suggested someone made a dumb mistake that resulted in a 15-month ban for using the drug meldonium. Sharapova is a longshot to win the tournament, but her presence provides considerable oomph to the women’s draw.

Interesting that U.S. Open organizers would choose a Canadian crooner, Shania Twain, as the feature performer for the opening ceremonies at Arthur Ashe Stadium. Guess Americans don’t get as bummed out about that sort of thing as we do.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling mostly about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.


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About the first-place (for a few hours) Winnipeg Blue Bombers…near-perfection…laughing it up about naked women…new wrinkles in curling…best of the Blue Jays…good writing…a strange tweet…and other things on my mind

I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

I looked at the Canadian Football League standings on Saturday morning and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers were atop the tables. I know, totally weird.

It was kind of like staring at a solar eclipse without eye protection.

Matt Nichols

I mean, these are the 0-for-a quarter-century Blue Bombers and, even though the Calgary Stampeders had slipped past them by the end of the day, I’m wondering if it’s now safe to say that general manager Kyle Walters and head coach Mike O’Shea actually know what they’re doing. Naw. Probably not.

As much as the Bombers are full marks for their 7-2 log at the midway point of their current crusade, we’ll reserve judgement until all the evidence is in. Six of their final nine skirmishes are against West Division foes, one of whom is a Saskatchewan Roughriders outfit that looked like two gimme wins three weeks ago but suddenly has a pulse.

I’m sticking with my suggestion that the Bombers should finish 14-4, though. Then I’ll agree that Walters and O’Shea know what they’re doing. At least until Coach Mikey asks kicker Justin Medlock to hoof a 61-yard field goal or play quarterback.

Just wondering: Is Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols now in the Most Outstanding Player discussion? Until the goings-on of this past week, I would have said no. Mike Reilly, the Edmonton Eskimos QB, was the man, but he imploded in a shocking loss to Gang Green. I think Nichols has to be considered.

Take that, Conor McGregor!

Nope. Didn’t watch the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Conor McGregor dust-up at T-Mobile Arena in Glitter Gulch on Saturday. I try not to spend my money in support of a man who spends his spare time beating up women.

I keep hearing how Mayweather broke some sort of a record with his 10-round TKO of McGregor. He’s had his hand raised in a boxing ring 50 times, and not once has he walked out a loser. Is 50-0 exceptional? You betcha. The best ever? Hardly. Julio Cesar Chavez was 87-0 before there was a blemish on his record (a controversial draw against Pernell Whitaker) and he wasn’t beaten until his 91st bout. Willie Pep went 62-0 before losing. Then he went 72-0-1 before his next defeat. That’s one loss in 136 bouts. When Ricardo Lopez hung ’em up, he was 51-0-1.

I don’t believe in perfection. A boxer can have a perfect record, but that doesn’t make him a perfect boxer. With that in mind, here’s today’s top-five list: Near-perfection…
1. Alison Krauss’s voice: Angelic.
2. Secretariat in the Belmont Stakes: The most breathtaking performance I’ve ever seen in sports.
3. Sandy Koufax: How did the great Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher ever lose?
4. Bobby Orr: He travelled a different orbit than any other hockey player.
5. Jimmy Stewart: Can’t think of a movie I didn’t like him in.

Will Mayweather now do us a favor and exit quietly? That would be nice, but, sadly, I suspect we’ll be hearing from him again, and we can only hope it isn’t because cops have been called to put the cuffs on him for beating up another woman.

Floyd Mayweather and Jimmy Kimmel sharing giggles about naked women.

Add Jimmy Kimmel to the list of Mayweather enablers. The late-night TV chin-wagger had the serial women-beater on his Jimmy Kimmel Live! gab-fest recently, and it was a shameful exercise in fan worship, fraught with weak humor and fawning. Not once during the schmooze did Kimmel mention domestic abuse. But, hey, we learned why Mayweather got into the business of having women remove their clothing at his Girl Collection strip club in Sin City: “Because I knew breasts, the vagina, music and alcohol would never go out of style,” he said. Jimmy Kimmel giggled. So did much of his audience. Sigh.

Steve Simmons of Postmedia, one of Mayweather’s hypocritical enablers on press row, wrote this in advance of Saturday night’s tiff against the excessively vulgar and obnoxious loudmouth McGregor: “Give Mayweather some credit on press conference Wednesday. He seems to want to say goodbye with some dignity.” Good grief. Dignity is a word that ought never be used when describing a man who beats up women.

Simmons, who fancies himself as a boxing expert because he’s covered more than a dozen prize fights, offered this prediction prior to Mayweather-McGregor: “It could end early. It could go eight or nine rounds. Or it could go the distance. That’s not being wishy-washy.” If that isn’t wishy-washy, then the Pope isn’t Catholic. Simmons then wrote, “Mayweather wins early, late or by decision.” What’s it going to be, Steve? “PREDICTION WITHOUT COMMITMENT: Mayweather in 9 rounds.” In other words, he didn’t have a clue.

Quick review on the Everest Curling Challenge in Fredericton: It was like eating a Sloppy Joe—really enjoyable but kind of messy. The concept is brilliant, with eight mixed all-star teams pieced together in a draft, then shooting for a $200,000 winner-take-all prize. And the bonus extra point for shot stone covering the pin hole is a terrific wrinkle. But the timing is off. Curling in August is like skinny dipping in January. The players, clearly not in fighting trim, were guessing on ice, guessing on weight, guessing in their decision-making. At one point, TSN talking head Russ Howard mentioned something about “amateur” mistakes. Find a better date and the event is a total winner.

Interesting that none of the four outfits skipped by women—Rachel Homan, Jennifer Jones, Val Sweeting and Chelsea Carey—advanced out of the first round in Fredericton. I’m not sure what to make of that. I mean, it’s not like male skips are better strategists.

I note that Sportsnet has declared second-sacker Roberto Alomar the greatest player to ever wear a Tranna Blue Jays uni. Can’t argue with that. When he wasn’t spitting on umpires, Alomar was wowing ’em in the field and at the dish.

Terrific piece on former Winnipeg Jets knuckle-dragger Jimmy Mann by Mike Sawatzky in the Winnipeg Free Press. Jimmy will always be remembered as GM John Ferguson’s most glaring d’oh moment at the National Hockey League draft, but he was a nice kid off the ice.

Bravo to Todd Fanning, winner of the Canadian Men’s Mid-Amateur golf championship last week in Regina. I remember covering Todd on the Canadian pro tour a number of years back. Good guy.

Interesting tweet from young Jeff Hamilton of the Freep: “Montreal update: guy that was using the urinal beside me was holding his toothbrush with his other hand.” Yo! Jeff! My gay friends want to know why you were peeking down there.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling mostly about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.