Let’s talk about our Leading Lady of the Links…Rink Rat Scheifele in the Bow Wow Bungalow for dogging it…the Toronto Maple Blue Meanies…Ponytail Puck and gender bias…CFL is showing some leg…Hockey Night in Canada in tongues…Chucklehead Barkley…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and the Oscar for excellence in (computer) screen writing certainly doesn’t go to this blog…

We can all use a little good news these days and, thankfully, we have Brooke Henderson for that.

Brooke is the 20-dollar bill you find in the pocket of an old coat you haven’t worn for a year. She’s that unexpected job promotion that includes a corner office. She’s waking up early in the morning and realizing you can sleep in for another hour or two. Nothing but nice surprises.

Brooke Henderson and her new trinket.

The 23-year-old is also one of those special athletes who make you feel like you’re right there beside her as she puts the finishing brush strokes on another work of art and flashes that winning smile, which the 5-feet-4 mighty mite did in the final round of the LA Open at Wilshire Country Club in Los Angeles on Saturday.

Our Leading Lady of the Links took 67 swings to get the job done and nail down her 10th victory on the LPGA Tour, ending a win-free stretch dating back to June 2019.

The irony, of course, is that while the delightful native of Smiths Falls brought greater golf glory to a province ravaged by COVID-19, no one in Ontario is allowed to tee it up, meaning the next Brooke Henderson out there is on hold.

“I think golf is a great way to be outdoors and get some exercise, and it’s really unfortunate that they’re shut down right now,” Brooke told the Toronto Star. “Hopefully they’ll open up sooner than later. It’s a great way to, like I said, get exercise, fresh air and also have a little bit of social (interaction) by doing it pretty safely.”

That’s Brooke Henderson: A ray of sunshine in the gloom.

Rink Rat in the pooch palace.

Do I smell a scandal brewing in Good Ol’ Hometown? Have feathers been ruffled? I mean, Rink Rat Scheifele spent some time in coach Paul Maurice’s pooch palace on Saturday night for, appropriately enough, dogging it. Coach PottyMo plunked Scheifele on the pine and kept the Winnipeg Jets’ leading point-collector in the Bow Wow Bungalow for 12 minutes and 53 seconds during the second period of the home side’s 4-1 smackdown by the Toronto Maple Leafs, and there’s no way to put a happy face on that. We await the fallout in these Doghouse Days of April.

Zach Hyman was so mean to Neal Pionk.

Can anyone tell me exactly when those big, bad, blue meanies from the Republic of Tranna supposedly became a bunch of dirty, rotten no-goodniks who steal lunch money? I’ve never once thought of Zach Hyman as a dirty hockey player, even if he mistook Neal Pionk’s coconut for a pinata. Jumbo Joe Thornton and Nick Foligno? Sure, they’ve been known to play with an edge and take no prisoners. But Alex Galchenyuk? Come on, man. He’s as menacing as a kid with a pea shooter. But to hear it, the Leafs are Hells Angels on skates. There hasn’t been this much talk about T.O. toughness since Conn Smythe muttered something about beating ’em in the alley. But the Toronto Maple Blue Meanies they ain’t. The Jets and their faithful have to get over it and get on with it, even if it might mean elbows high.

When a sports scribe feels obliged to inform his readers that he isn’t a “homer” for fear they might view his essay on the home team getting beat up as homerism, chances are he’s a homer. Just saying.

Sarah Nurse

Apparently, the best female hockey players on the Big Blue Orb aren’t allowed to have nice things anymore, like their best-on-best world tournament, scuttled (for now) by politicians unwilling to open the Nova Scotia border to visitors from hither and yon for fear they might have the deadly COVID-19 virus as a travelling companion.

So it’s deja vu all over again for the women, whose world showcase is now a once-cancelled (2020), twice-postponed (2021) event due to the killer pandemic.

Except, while they’re left holding the bag (or, in this case, unpacking their travel bags) and await word on new dates and/or locale, it’s business as usual for the boys/men operating under the International Ice Hockey Federation banner.

  • World Junior championship: Been there, done that in Edmonton.
  • U18 championship: Drop the puck in Frisco and Plano, Texas, on Monday.
  • World championship: Still good to go, May 21-June 6, in Riga, Latvia.

Looks like, walks like, talks like, smells like gender bias, no?

It’s understandable, therefore, that practitioners of Ponytail Puck are feeling like red-haired, freckle-faced stepchildren these days.

“Without pointing a finger and placing blame, because we can’t really compare our tournament location to any other tournament, every government has their own guidelines so I definitely want to make that clear, but I just feel like it’s very hard not to look at it from a gender standpoint because it seems like a little bit of a trend,” Team Canada forward Sarah Nurse told Donna Spencer of the Canadian Press.

“It’s hard not to look at it through that lens for sure.”

Well, Sarah might want to take another peek through “that lens,” or at least get out the Windex and give it a thorough cleaning.

First of all, Premier Iain Rankin is the scoundrel who pulled the plug on the world tournament, initially scheduled for April 7-17 then reworked for May 6-16 in Halifax and Truro, N.S., and there’s nothing to indicate he performed the dirty deed because most of the players tie their hair in ponytails.

Second, at last count the IIHF had cancelled 18 men’s events this year, that after scuttling the world championship and 14 other tournaments in 2020. Do the math: 33 men’s events chopped.

Kendall Coyne Schofield

Thus, unless Sarah Nurse or anyone in Ponytail Puck can produce compelling and unassailable evidence to the contrary, this wasn’t a decision based on gender, even if some, like Kendall Coyne Scofield, choose to take that narrative and shout it from rooftops or bark about it on Twitter.

“Like so many of us, I’m tired of saying this…but even more exhausted from feeling it: Women’s hockey, once again, deserves more and better,” the U.S. national team captain huffed and puffed. “We deserve a World Championship before the end of this hockey season—it has been 739 days since the last.”

True.

And it’s been 700 days since the last men’s world, with no guarantee they’ll actually get on the ice in Latvia next month.

Coyne Schofield went on to scold the IIHF for not having a Plan B and immediately shuffle the women’s world to an alternate site, adding, “This response shows the lack of care that the IIHF had when it came to making sure the Women’s Worlds was successful like the other international hockey events we have so joyfully watched over the last year and will be watching very soon.”

Hilary Knight

One of Coyne Schofield’s American accomplices, Hilary Knight, provided the backup vocals, saying the postponement is “just another reminder that women’s hockey continues to be treated as an afterthought. Why is women’s hockey not afforded the same opportunity to compete within a bubble environment as the men? Why is our tournament expendable when others are not?”

Again, the biting disappointment is understandable, but making it a goose-and-gander squawk misses the mark.

So, repeat after me, kids: This women’s tournament was postponed not because it’s a women’s tournament, it was scuttled (for now) because Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin (right or wrong) believed it to be a grave health risk to his constituents.

It’s a COVID thing, not a she thing.

The Coyne Schofield harrumph brought Hailey Salvian of The Athletic into the fray with this take: “Kendall Coyne Schofield is the captain of Team USA and one of the best players in the women’s game, so her statement carries a ton of weight here. And it’s more than just the women’s worlds she is speaking about. It’s women’s hockey as a whole, which most players will tell you is consistently an afterthought. Look no further than the fact that the women’s hockey calendar since 2019 has almost entirely been wiped out at the professional and international level. And while the women sit at home, the men (for the most part) continue to play.” Hailey, who’s done some fabulous work on the Ponytail Puck file, ought to know better than to play the gender card. As for the women’s game being “almost entirely wiped out” since 2019, much of that is of their own authorship. The Canadian Women’s Hockey League shuttered its doors in spring of that year and, rather than link up with the National Women’s Hockey League and create a super league, the survivors went rogue to form the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, choosing to participate in a series of hit-and-miss friendly matches (Dream Gap Tour) that are glorified scrimmages and largely ignored. Seldom on the ice, the non-professional PWHPA has expended much energy sniping at the NWHL because it won’t get out of the way. So, yes, it’s an absolute shame that the women’s world event has been put on hold, but it’s also a shame Ponytail Puck can’t get its house in order.

So, let me see if I’ve got this straight: Premier Rankin of Nova Scotia pulls the plug on the women’s world showcase at the 11th hour because of COVID-19, a decision that led the rank-and-file of the PWHPA, also their friends in the media, to raise a skunk-level stink with direct accusations of gender bias against the IIHF. But wait. Correct me if I’m wrong (I’m not), but didn’t the PWHPA postpone its very own scheduled showcase in St. Louis earlier this month? At the 11th hour? By gosh, they sure did. Why? COVID-19. What, no Plan B? They couldn’t move it to another locale on a moment’s notice? No and no. But they say they’ll reschedule the event. You know, just like the IIHF. Funny how that works.

This from Tara Slone of Sportsnet in a natter with Canadian national team forward Natalie Spooner: “We have to talk about the PWHPA. The Dream Gap Tour has been, you know, pretty full swing south of the border…” Okay, I get it. Slone is a PWHPA groupie. She’ll never toss a tough question at Spooner or any of the Dream Gappers. It’s forever fluff. But does she have to lie to us? I mean, to say the Dream Gap Tour is in “full swing” is to say six Hearts and five Clubs is a full deck of cards. They’ve completed two stops this year, in Gotham and Chicago, and a third stop in St. Louis was postponed with no makeup date set. Total friendlies played 115 days into 2021: 4. I’m reasonably certain that Slone knows four skirmishes in 115 days is not “full swing.” For all the good work Sportsnet does on the female athletes file, it’s puzzling why they allow Slone and others to pander to the PWHPA rather than engage in meaningful and truthful dialogue about big-picture Ponytail Puck.

Betty Grable

At the recent Canadian Football League global draft, 11 kickers/punters were selected by the nine teams, including four in the first round. There hasn’t been that much interest in legs since Betty Grable became every American GI’s favorite pinup girl during WWII.

For the youngsters in the audience, Betty Grable was an actor, singer, dancer and model, and the Gable gams once were insured for $1 million, which translates into $14.6 million today.

On the subject of body parts, Hockey Night in Canada was broadcast/streamed in 10 different tongues on Saturday night. It would have been 11 different languages, except Don Cherry was fired a year and a half ago.

The owner of Linnie’s Pub in Cincinnati is refusing to show National Basketball Association games until LeBron James is “expelled” from the league. “They just need to play the game and that’s it,” Jay Linneman says. “Their opinion doesn’t really matter. They’re using their position to push their opinion, and that’s just not right.” Number of night’s sleep King James has lost because of Linneman’s protest: Zero.

Uga X

Sometimes Charles Barkley makes me laugh. Other times he makes me cringe. Last week, for example, he used his Inside the NBA on TNT pulpit for misogyny disguised as frat boy humor. “Georgia the only school in the world they named their mascot after the women down there,” Barkley said. The University of Georgia mascot, if you didn’t know, is a bulldog, and Uga X is no one’s notion of pretty. Sadly, it wasn’t the first time Sir Chucklehead has used women as fodder to feed his funny bone. Like his take on the female citizenry of San Antonio. “Some big ol’ women down there … that’s a gold mine for Weight Watchers,” he said. “Victoria is definitely a secret (in San Antonio)…they can’t wear no Victoria’s Secret down there. They wear big, ol’ bloomers down there. They ain’t wearin’ no…ain’t nothin’ skimpy down in San Antonio.” Yo, Chuck. It’s the 21st century calling.

It’s about that now-you-see-us, now-you-don’t bully gambit by European soccer power brokers hoping to form a breakaway Super League: I’m not saying the venture was short-lived, but I’ve taken pee breaks that lasted longer.

Loud shoutout to Pat O’Neill, equipment manager of the Vancouver Canucks who reached the 3,000-game milestone last week. You might not know this, but Patty got his start sharpening skates, washing jocks and serving as a sounding board for the quirky, the demanding and the pampered of the NHL in Good Ol’ Hometown with the Jets in the 1980s. As I recall, he usually had a friendly greeting for us pesky scribes when we would invade the inner sanctum, which automatically qualifies him one of the good guys.

Another loud shoutout to Jeff Hamilton of the Drab Slab. His six-part series about the shattered lives left behind by sexual predator Graham James has been shortlisted for two national journalism awards. A Stain On Our Game was fabulous work, even if much of the content was grim reading.

The Winnipeg Sun last Wednesday: 2 sports pages, 2 sports stories, both on the Jets. That’s rock bottom and, as a Sun sports alum, it truly saddens me.

On the same day, this was the page count for Postmedia sports sections (tabloid) across the tundra:

Vancouver Province 15
Toronto Sun 12
Ottawa Sun 8
Edmonton Sun 8
Calgary Sun 7
Winnipeg Sun 2

Talk about your red-headed, freckle-faced stepchild. Five papers get to sit at the big table with the grownups while the Winnipeg Sun is stuck in another room at the kiddies’ table with the nieces, nephews and cousins they scarcely know.

And, finally, Conservative MP Tamara Jansen of Cloverdale-Langley City in B.C. believes “lesbian activity” can be cured with conversion therapy. Well, I plan a full schedule of “lesbian activity” today. You know, make breakfast, watch a movie or two, check/send some emails, maybe step outside for a walk around the block or go for a pint at my local watering hole, make dinner, watch a bit of the Oscars, go to bed. I wonder if all the straight people know there’s a cure for all the “lesbian activity” they engage in during the day.

Let’s talk about the ongoing iffiness of the Canadian Football League

So here’s how I’m reading what went down in the Canadian Football League this week:

The iffiness of a 2021 crusade is no less iffy today than the last time commissioner Randy Ambrosie surfaced to inform us that a 2021 crusade was iffy.

That was back in early March, when Commish Randy was mostly “talking about talking” with Dwayne Johnson and his new toy, the XFL. On Wednesday, “talking about talking” with The Rock had become a secondary squawking point, because Amrosie had moved on to flapping his gums about “backup plans and backup plans to the backup plans and backup plans to back up those plans.”

Welcome to Bafflegab 101, kids.

Yogi Berra and Casey Stengel would be proud of Commish Randy’s word gymnastics, but it’s not like the front man for the Lords of Rouge Football had anything definitive to tell us.

Commish Randy

To recap: The very deep-thinkers who chart course for the good ship CFL gathered on Tuesday and, after considerable natter, they instructed Commish Randy to inform the rabble of their findings. Among other things, it was determined that they’d prefer to kick off a 2021 crusade on Aug. 5, that each team would play a runted 14-game schedule, and that Ambrosie would present the Grey Cup to a bone-chilled champion on Dec. 12 at Timbits Field in Hamilton.

And, yes, now that you mention it, I can think of better places to be than sitting outdoors on a hard, cold bench in the Hammer just 13 days before carving the Christmas turkey, but iffy weather holds a special place in three-down football folklore so, sure, let’s pull on a pair of extra-thick longjohns and watch the large lads grab frozen grass.

Anyway, we all know the proposed start and finish points are target dates best peed into a snow bank than chiseled in stone.

Which is why Commish Randy couldn’t swear on a stack of pigskin-covered playbooks that Aug. 5-Dec. 12 Rouge Football is a done deal. Oh, sure, he informed us that “we’re gonna have a CFL season,” but you have to remember that he’s part politician and assumes we have short memories and won’t hold him to promises.

So he kind of talked in tangled tongues while assuring us that he is “supportive of vaccinations” (well, duh), that there are no guarantees in life except “death and taxes,” that “every kid” should play football because of the life lessons it teaches, and, perhaps my favorite, he and the Lords of Rouge Football have developed “a rather elaborate decision-making matrix.”

G. Sydney Halter

I’m not 100 per cent certain, but I believe that makes Ambrosie the first CFL commish to ever use the word “matrix,” although I suppose G. Sydney Halter might have gone there since he was a distinguished fellow and lawyer who knew and appreciated the value of a well-crafted sentence.

At any rate, Commish Randy has a matrix and he advised Dave Naylor of TSN that “the cells in that matrix will be populated with information.”

Until then, it’s all iffy. Just call it the Ifth Estate.

Meanwhile, go ahead and call me skeptical and cynical, but that’s the product of 30 years in jock journalism and listening to too many people with rose-tinted glasses propped on their nose. Believe me, I want to see a 2021 crusade and I’m glad Commish Randy stepped forward with a message that many among the rabble view with optimism.

It’s just that we know the CFL is at the whims of COVID-19 and a hit-and-miss vaccine rollout that differs from precinct to precinct, thus Commish Randy’s we-will-play promise is built of straw rather than brick and mortar.

“We know that we’re gonna have to be willing to be flexible in order to pull this off,” he conceded.

So let me just say this: If you plan to watch three-down football on Aug. 5, you’re free to circle that date on your calendar, but I suggest you have a backup plan and a backup plan for your backup plan and backup plan to back up that plan.

In other words, circle it in pencil rather than a Sharpie, and make sure there’s an eraser handy.

Let’s talk about spittin’ watermelon seeds with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers

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.

Leo Lewis

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.

Commish Randy

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.

Let’s talk about the chicken, the egg, the Argos, the CFL and the media

I stumbled upon an interesting Twitter to-and-fro last week involving three of the nation’s notable jock journos, two of whom are widely respected and the third not so much.

BMO Field

The exchange—between Winnipeg Blue Bombers longtime voice Bob (Knuckles) Irving, veteran observer of three-downs football Dave Naylor of TSN, and Damien Cox of the Toronto Star—centred on the Toronto Argos and the reason(s) behind woeful head counts whenever the Boatmen come up for air at BMO Field in the Republic of Tranna.

The Argos, be advised, don’t attract crowds to BMO. It’s more like pockets of stragglers. You know, folks who get lost while looking for something better to do.

Officially, average attendance in 2019 was 12,493, although we know better. That might have been tickets sold, but it wasn’t bums on benches. My guess is that the audience numbered sub-10,000 more than one day/night, meaning the Canadian Football League’s largest market has the smallest following, a level of neglect challenged only by indifference on the Left Flank of the land, where people won’t even come in out of the rain to watch the B.C. Lions.

One reason advanced for Argos apathy is a generation thing. That is, Rouge Football doesn’t appeal to anyone without age in their eyes and grey in their temples, which set off this Irving-Naylor-Cox exchange:

Knuckles Irving

Irving: “Part of the reason for that is the Toronto media basically ignores the CFL—not good enough for most of them.”

Naylor: “Come on Bob, it’s the media’s fault? The Winnipeg media reports aggressively on the Bombers because there is a demand for information. If that existed in Toronto, the media would respond accordingly.”

Cox: “Individual media people don’t make these decisions. Sports departments do. In Toronto, sports staffs are stretched to the limit, fewer ppl doing more. There’s a lot more sporting events to cover in Toronto than Winnipeg.”

Okay, let’s unwrap that.

First, Knuckles Irving is correct when he submits that mainstream media in the Republic of Tranna treats the Argos and Rouge Football as an afterthought.

For example, the Toronto Star no longer cares enough about the CFL to dispatch a scribe to the Grey Cup game unless it’s played in The ROT, and Tranna-based Sportsnet pays only token attention to the CFL simply because its competition, TSN, holds the broadcast rights. (No one expects Sportsnet to promote the other guy’s property, but it is a news gathering and distributing outlet and, as such, has a responsibility to inform viewers of CFL games/stories on air and on the website with an expected level of substance.)

Meanwhile, when Rouge Football went dark last August, the cancellation of the season was front page of every sports section of every daily on The Prairies, but the story served as inside filler (pages 8 and 9) in the Toronto Sun. (I don’t recall what made the Sun front that day, but I suppose Auston Matthews might have been trimming his mustache, which would have warranted a lede, sidebar and a 150-point headline.)

In terms of the Argos-media, it really is a chicken-and-egg riddle. Is the media indifferent because the rabble steers clear of BMO on Argos game days, or does the rabble steer clear of BMO on Argos game days because the media is indifferent?

It certainly isn’t the responsibility of news snoops to do the bidding of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, which bankrolls the Boatmen and BMO’s more popular tenant, Toronto FC. But, although historically the most successful of The ROT’s pro sports franchises (17 Grey Cup championships, including three this century), the Boatmen have fallen to fifth on the pecking order, behind the Maple Leafs, Raptors, Blue Jays and Toronto FC. That isn’t about to change anytime soon, no matter what the local rags put on their sports pages or radio/TV puts on their air.

Which brings us to Cox’s point that “there’s a lot more sporting events to cover in Toronto than Winnipeg.”

What a load of hooey.

Had Cox said there were more “pro sporting events,” I’d agree. But overall sports? No.

It’s all about priorities, and they differ from town to town. In the Republic of Tranna, the major beats are the Leafs, Raptors, Blue Jays and Toronto FC, with the Argos the runt of the litter. In Winnipeg, it’s the Jets, Blue Bombers and…curling.

Pebble People have made the front page of the Winnipeg Free Press sports section 23 times this year. That’s right, 23. I doubt curling has been on the sports front of either the Toronto Star or Toronto Sun once this century, let alone 23 times in a three-month, one week time frame.

Also making the front page of the Freep sports section were two levels of junior hockey, high school hockey, women’s amateur hockey, volleyball, university sports, auto racing, etc. At different points in the year, they make room for local golf, tennis, high school football/hoops, Usports, and more of what you’ll never find in the Toronto rags.

The Sun and the Star have become pro sports sheets, whereas the Free Press continues to cover the peripheral sports, during a pandemic with a stable of scribes that has shrunk to four.

Dating back to my start in the rag trade in 1969 when the Bombers were top dog, it’s always been that way in Good Ol’ Hometown. Lower-level sports were never given short shrift, even after the Jets arrived to nudge the Bombers down a notch, and I suspect the Freep will carry on that way.

I just wish I could say the same for the Winnipeg Sun. Unfortunately, the suits at Postmedia in the Republic of Tranna ruined a good thing.

Let’s talk about the NFNFL (No Fans, No Football League)…COVID on the West Coast…The Rock and the Sugar Daddies ‘R’ Us shop…an all-Easter sports lineup…Tiger’s tight lips…Men In Green Jackets chow down…a “huggable” Blue Jay…the Boston D’oh Boys…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and Happy Easter; may you find all those hidden eggs while I lay another one…

Okay, we knew there would be at least six zeroes on the bottom line of the Winnipeg Football Club’s 2020 operation, and we knew all those zeroes would be written in red ink, if not blood.

So the $7,000,000 bath the Blue Bombers took shouldn’t surprise any among us, except perhaps those who believe in the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny and The Rock as a turn-red-ink-into-black-ink Messiah of the Canadian Football League.

Some might even put on a pair of rose-tinted glasses and look at the financial wallop WFC took as favorable tidings because, even with a lost crusade due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a $7 million shortfall, the doors remain open out there at postal code R3T 1Z2 on Chancellor Matheson Road in Fort Garry. That the community-operated Bombers remain in business is a testament to the dollars-and-cents gymnastics of once-maligned CEO Wade Miller and the board.

Mind you, it’s good news like a guy who had his arms and legs shattered in a car accident, but he’s happy he didn’t break his nose, even if he can’t blow it without someone holding the hanky.

Wade Miller

And, really, that’s what the Bombers and their eight partners in Rouge Football require today—help.

As mentioned last week, the CFL is in an arms race, as in vaccines in arms. It’s become the NFNFL—No Fans, No Football League—so the immediate future of our quirky game rests in the hands of needle-pushers hither and yon.

Trouble is, the number of COVID vaccinations required to make football fields across the tundra fan friendly is a mystery.

When I last looked, 13.4 per cent of the citizenry in Manitoba had been vaccinated, so let’s say 80 per cent in Good Ol’ Hometown have been jabbed by June. Is that ample enough to get the turnstiles spinning at Football Follies Field In Fort Garry? If so, how many would be cleared to visit the Rum Hut and watch the large lads grab grass? Will they require a proof-of-vaccine badge? Also, keep in mind there’s no guarantee the faithful will rush back to the ball yard. After all, the thought of joining a large gathering likely will make some among the rabble quite antsy, like a Hertz rent-a-car clerk seeing Tiger Woods approach the counter.

Miller, of course, was talking a good game the other day, assuring Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun that “we’re going to get on the field,” and telling Taylor Allen of the Drab Slab “we’re getting ready to play with fans in the stands.”

I want to believe him. I really do. But we all know the harsh reality: The Bombers CEO doesn’t control the vaccine rollout in Manitoba, let alone across the dominion.

What’s happening in Winnipeg isn’t necessarily what’s happening in Vancouver or the Republic of Tranna, not that anyone other than friends and family in those latter two ports-o-call gives a damn about Rouge Football. Point is, we have six different provincial health authorities receiving an unequal number of vaccine shipments and poking needles into arms in accordance to their parochial priorities.

Furthermore, there seems to exist a bit of a helter-skelter vibe to the vaccine rollout nation-wide, and that certainly doesn’t help the CFL put its house in order or butts on benches.

Cardboard cutouts don’t cut it. They don’t drink beer, they don’t eat hot dogs or popcorn, and they don’t buy $250 jerseys. They just mean no long lineups at the washrooms.

So, really, it’s vaccines or bust on a 2021 CFL crusade. In other words: Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls…present arms!

So here’s another question: Can Rouge Football kick off a 2021 crusade if the Bombers were allowed to welcome, say, 8,250 patrons (25 per cent capacity) to Football Follies Field while the B.C. Leos, Tranna Argos and Montreal Larks grab grass in empty buildings? I know, I know. The Leos and Argos are accustomed to crowds the size of a yard sale, and the folks in Montreal only pay attention when the Larks are winning, so an imbalance at the box office already exists. But can the CFL allow some teams to collect game-day revenue while others must keep their tills closed? I think not.

Frankly, I’m most concerned about B.C. If the Leos fail to get the okie-dokie for patrons in B.C. Place Stadium, do they take a leave of absence rather than pay 50-plus players’ wages with zero game-day revenue? Does the CFL shrink to an eight-team operation for a year? I wouldn’t be too quick to dismiss that possibility. Keep in mind that B.C.’s top docs wanted no part of an NHL bubble last summer, and they’ll be less inclined to green light a Rouge Football season now that the coronavirus and its variants have ransacked the Vancouver Canucks roster. I mean, if the bug(s) can’t be kept at bay in the Canucks’ rigidly controlled environment, what chance would the Leos have with twice as many players wandering about the burg? B.C. health officials talk about the vaccine rollout being completed by the end of June, but what they really mean is sometime in July. The Leos allegedly gather for training sessions next month, they allegedly have a dress rehearsal at an empty facility on June 4, and they allegedly begin playing for full wages (three times) later that month. Do the math. I’m sure the guardians of the late David Braley’s estate have done that very thing and don’t like the numbers.

We have yet to hear 2020 bottom-line numbers from our prairie friends in Edmonton and on the Flattest of Lands, but we can assume they’ll be dripping in as much red ink as WFC. We already know that most, if not all, of the E-Town E-Somethings’ $12.9 million rainy day fund has vanished like summer wages, and the Saskatchewan Roughriders face their “biggest financial crisis in 110 years,” according to team president Craig Reynolds. Sigh. If only there was a Sugar Daddies ‘R’ Us shop available to the three community-operated clubs. Oh wait. Isn’t that where The Rock is supposed to come in?

Apparently The Rock and his accomplices, Dany Garcia/RedBird Capital, continue to make nice with CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie and the Lords of Rouge Football, working toward a CFL-XFL alliance. But what do they actually bring to the table? Well, yes, their pockets are coal-miner deep, but they offer a twice-failed brand name, zero franchises, zero players, and the hope of springtime football, which has always landed in the gridiron graveyard. Sorry, but short of them underwriting all CFL-XFL losses, I fail to see the upside.

Moving on from the CFL, here’s my all-time, all-Easter-themed lineup:
10. Bunny Ahearne, longtime IIHF executive
9. Rabbit Maranville, baseball player
8. Bugsy Watson, hockey player
7. Luke Easter, baseball player
6. The Eggman, golfer Dan Halldorson
5. Christian Laettner, hoops player
4. Roman Gabriel, football player
3. Jesus Alou, baseball player
2. God Shammgod, hoops player
1. Connor McJesus, Edmonton Oilers messiah.

Officials have determined the cause of Tiger Woods’ car crash in February, but they’ll keep it on the QT until the golf great gives them the okie-dokie to release the information. Hmmm. I wonder which will arrive first, details of Tiger driving his SUV into a ditch or Haley’s Comet, due on July 28, 2061. My money’s on the comet.

Hey, I’m not saying Tiger is tight-lipped, but a bag of airline peanuts is easier to pry apart than his lips.

Just wondering: Do you think Woods will have hired a chauffeur by July 28, 2061?

So here’s some real dirt on Jack Nicklaus, told by the man himself on Twitter: “I was a switch-hitting catcher growing up & and if I hadn’t chosen golf baseball might’ve been my future. But I never liked standing around on a dusty field waiting for 10 kids to show up. With golf, it was me against myself, my own abilities & the course. But I still loved baseball!” Ya, almost as much as he loves Donald Trump.

I assume the Golden Bear will be at Augusta National this week to put on the feedbag at the Men In Green Jackets chow-down in advance of The Masters. It’s officially known as the Masters Club Dinner, but you don’t get a seat at the table unless you’re wearing one of those ugly green jackets that champions are allowed to wear only at Augusta (tie optional). The Men In Green Jackets menu was chosen this year by the reigning Man In Green, Dustin Johnson. What, no greens?

What’s this? Connor McDavid went McSquirrely the other night? Sure did. The Oilers captain shoved his right elbow into Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s chops, and I couldn’t have been more surprised had I found a copy of Sinatra: The Rapper Years at my local vinyl store. The reaction, on the other hand, was not unexpected. Some among the rabble were calling for the hangman, and to them I say, “Come on, people.” I mean, Gordie Howe is glorified to this day for using his elbows to perform unlicensed dental surgery on foes. Rumor has it that Mr. Hockey nailed two pallbearers and the grave digger as they lowered his casket. And now you want to crucify McDavid for one errant elbow? Hey, I’m no fan of goon hockey, but he isn’t Charlie Manson. He did it, he’s paid his $5,000 fine, so let’s move on.

The “huggable” Alejandro Kirk.

Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star wrote this about Toronto Blue Jays pudgy catcher Alejandro Kirk last week: “Kirk is immensely huggable.” Nothing offensive, right? But let me ask this: If a male jock journo used the same adjective to describe our leading lady of the links, Brooke Henderson, would he be branded a sexist oinker? Damn straight, he would. And that would be unfortunate. Descriptive scribbling in sports has become passé, if not a lost art, in our daily newspapers. The boys on the beat don’t dare write that our Brooke is “huggable,” for fear of a robust and thorough tarring-and-feathering on social media. So they simply write about birdies, bogeys and unplayable lies. But wait. Brooke Henderson is a delight. She seems very approachable. She smiles a lot. She has that squeaky clean, girl-next-door quality. Every time I see her, I want to pinch her chipmunk cheeks. She strikes me as teddy bear “huggable.” Why shouldn’t the boys on the beat feel comfortable writing that about Brooke the person? It’s no more sexist than Rosie DiManno telling us that Alejandro Kirk is “huggable.”

Mathew Barzal

So I’m watching Mathew Barzal rack up the points (three goals, two helpers) in the New York Islanders 8-3 rout of the Washington Capitals the other night, and I couldn’t help but flash back to the 2015 National Hockey League entry draft. The Boston Bruins had three successive shoutouts that day, Nos. 13, 14 and 15. They chose Jakob Zboril, Jake DeBrusk and Zachary Senyshyn, otherwise known as the Boston D’oh! Boys. DeBruck is the only one of the three who’s been worth half a lick. Meanwhile, plucked immediately after were Barzal, Kyle Connor and Thomas Chabot. Here’s what the scorecard looks like today:

Barzal: 272 games, 241 points.
Conner: 287 games, 237 points.
Chabot: 240 games, 142 points.
Totals: 799 games, 620 points.

DeBrusk: 224 games, 127 points.
Zboril: 34 games, 7 points.
Senyshyn: 12 games, 3 points.
Totals: 270 games, 137 points.

Damien Cox of the Toronto Star might have established a new standard for poor taste in tweets when discussing the Vancouver Canucks and their raging COVID crisis, which has shelved the entire operation and puts the club’s season in jeopardy. Noting that Iain MacIntyre of Sportsnet suggested the Canucks schedule could be tweaked by eliminating four games vs. the Ottawa Senators late this month and replacing them with skirmishes vs. playoff-bound outfits, Cox had this horrible hot take: “The question then becomes are you handicapping those playoff bound teams by forcing them to play against a VAN team that’s more rested than it otherwise would be?” Seriously? Lying in a sick bed with an IV needle stuck in your arm or hand becomes a competitive advantage? It makes you more rested? My goodness. When someone is that tuned out, there are no words.

Here are the numbers for coverage devoted exclusively to female athletes/teams in the Winnipeg Sun and Drab Slab for March:

Front Page
Free Press: 4
Sun: 1

Articles
Free Press: 35 stories, 20 briefs.
Sun: 4 stories, three briefs.

Number of issues with female coverage
Free Press: 27 of 31 days.
Sun: 6 of 31 days.

And, finally, I give up. Why was there a promo for Steve Simmons on the front page of the Winnipeg Sun last Tuesday? He is a Tranna-based scribe, he writes a Tranna-centric column, he mentions athletes/teams from Good Ol’ Hometown in his alphabet pharts perhaps half a dozen times a year, and the local tabloid seldom runs his copy. Yet there was his scruffy mug on the front page of the Winnipeg Sun. This makes sense to whom, other than the misguided suits at Postmedia HQ on Bloor Street East in the Republic of Tranna?

Let’s talk about the yin and yang of Ponytail Puck…English soccer women hit the mother lode…local treasure Jennifer Botterill…Mike Tyson’s meal ticket…the CFL arms race…Chevy and the Arctic ice melt…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and the days are getting longer and so is this blog…

A “shambles.”

That’s the word Kendall Coyne Schofield used to describe the state of women’s hockey in 2019, and it was a harsh truth.

Kendall Coyne Schofield

The mostly ignored Canadian Women’s Hockey League had shuttered its doors permanently, giving rise to a group of malcontents demanding, among other things, a living wage, preferably from billionaire owners in the National Hockey League. Rather than sign on with National Women’s Hockey League outfits and form one super league, 150-200 orphaned players chose to participate in mostly ignored pickup games hither and yon, pose for photos with Billie Jean King, and trash talk the NWHL, which was wrestling with its own credibility demons in its fifth season.

“The women’s professional game is in shambles,” Coyne Schofield, the brightest star in the female shinny galaxy, told the San Francisco Chronicle in December 2019. “I dream of the day a young girl can dream of one day being a professional hockey player, and we’re nowhere near that.”

So, fast forward 15 months, and it’s fair to wonder if that dream is any nearer. Is Ponytail Puck any less in shambles?

Well, let’s take inventory:

The Isobell Cup champion Boston Pride.

The NWHL emerged from its COVID cocoon in January and assembled in Lake Placid for a two-week frolic meant to determine an Isobel Cup winner. Alas, the pandemic put the kibosh on that. The semifinals and final were aborted, but the NWHL returned to the freeze to complete its unfinished business on Friday and Saturday in Boston, declaring the Boston Pride as champions, and all three skirmishes were broadcast live on NBCSN.

Coyne Schofield and friends in the PWHPA, meanwhile, cranked up their second Dream Gap Tour last month, first strutting their stuff in a true sporting cathedral, Madison Square Garden in Gotham, then shifting their barnstorming showcase to the United Center in Chicago. Both friendlies were broadcast live on NBCSN, a first in the United States.

Finally, there’s loud chatter about the NWHL adding a seventh franchise, in Montreal, for its seventh season, and the planet’s elite are scheduled to gather in Nova Scotia for the 20th Women’s World Championship, May 6-16, and TSN will be all-in for the global showcase.

Thus, it sounds like the women are gaining traction. Or not.

As much as the national TV exposure is boffo, certain among the Dream Gappers can’t resist the urge to slag the NWHL, indicating that Ponytail Puck is as much a house divided as in late December 2019, when Coyne Schofield talked about an enterprise “in shambles.”

Cassie Campbell-Pascall

“I don’t think you’ll get the PWHPA and the NWHL together,” Cassie Campbell-Pascall informed Tim Micallef early this month on Sportsnet’s Tim & Friends.

The former Canadian Olympian and current Sportsnet squawk box suggested it would be “awesome” if the NWHL survives, and that it might one day be “a great league,” or grow up and become “a feeder system” to a Women’s NHL featuring Dream Gappers. But it’s “not the future of women’s hockey,” she harrumphed. So there.

“I think the PWHPA is gonna go down as that moment in women’s hockey, that group in women’s hockey, that really, truly made a difference in providing a professional women’s hockey league,” Campbell-Pascall tooted. So there again.

Dani Rylan Kearney

It should be pointed out that Campbell-Pascall is not a member of the PWHPA board. Nor is she an official adviser. But she’s thrown in fully with the Dream Gappers, and Sportsnet continues to provide a pulpit for her unchallenged propaganda. She uses her position for divisive dialogue, sometimes spewing inaccuracies about the NWHL, other times accusing former NWHL commissioner and founder Dani Rylan Kearney of “ulterior motives” without naming her and without introducing evidence.

Others among the Dream Gappers have shown an inclination toward schoolyard banter. Hilary Knight branded the NWHL a “glorified beer league” and former board member Liz Knox tsk-tsked the NWHL for having the (apparent) bad manners to add an expansion team during a sports-wide pandemic shutdown, even as every other jock operation was plotting strategy for a return to the playing fields.

“There is a lot of history there that is uncomfortable,” Tyler Tumminia acknowledged in a natter with Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman on their 31 Thoughts podcast three weeks ago.

Tyler Tumminia

Tumminia became a fresh voice in the discussion after stepping forward as interim NWHL commissioner last October. She earned her executive chops in the boardrooms of baseball (she’s named after Ty Cobb), and she’s attempting to apply lessons learned to Ponytail Puck. Not just the NWHL, understand. The big picture. Which explains her sweet tweet saluting the PWHPA for its landmark appearance at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 28.

“To me, (the tweet) was saying, ‘I value and I see you and I applaud what you guys are doing for the women’s game, for women’s hockey in particular.’” she said. “I shouldn’t be commissioner of a women’s hockey league if I didn’t applaud that. I’m not dismissing the fact that there’s some raw emotions around it. What I’m saying, is that, you know, some of that narrative is actually outdated now, so let’s sit at the table and have a true sense of what is actually going on here and how we can get to where everybody wants to get to. We all want to get to the same spot. So how can we get together. But, ya, I think that there needs to be some therapeutic conversation, and I’m open to that of course. Now, I don’t have much history there, but I’m open to having those conversations of what had happened but, mostly, what can we do going forward.”

The difference in tone between Tumminia and Campbell-Pascall is startling. One is reaching out with an olive branch, the other is swinging a wrecking ball.

Their views on the direction of Ponytail Puck are just as conflicting.

Here’s Campbell-Pascall: “I think the next step is an announcement, the NHL to step up and make an announcement. ‘This is what we’re gonna do, here’s how we’re gonna do it, and this is when we’re gonna do it.’ That’s the only logical step and the only thing in my opinion that makes sense. Ya, I’m putting pressure on the NHL, because I’ve sat in meetings and worked with them for a long time and talked and discussed this for a long time, and it is time. They know it’s time. They have the infrastructure. Obviously COVID has hit the league hard and they’re losing money as well. Obviously timing is not ideal, but the time is now. The time is now for them to step up and make an announcement about how they want to support women’s hockey.”

And now Tumminia: “I think it’s kinda unfair on the NHL’s part for me to say, ‘Hey, they should take it on themselves and, you know, help this all out.’ Meaning, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, everybody’s hurting financially. For them to take on the entire business model, I don’t know. I think that would be a little unfair at this time to ask them to do that. That’s a little bit tough to ask at this point. Now, in a couple years that might be a little bit different. Right now what I think it should look like, is you get a business model that’s strong in a league that goes past a couple of years, in combination with other parties involved and kinda go in the direction where it’s sustainable on its own. And at the time there’s market share, there’s viewership and there’s tribal fandom in these markets, and the markets are actually showing there’s growth and it’s sustainable and it’s fueling and funding revenue streams that are consistent. Then I think at that time, you know, I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s something they take on.”

We can only speculate what’s ahead for Ponytail Puck, but I submit the cause can use a lot less of Campbell-Pascall’s militant mutterings and a lot more of Tumminia’s reasoned rhetoric.

Let’s put it another way: I know which of the two women I’d choose to represent me in a boardroom. (Hint: It isn’t the one making demands of NHL owners who aren’t fishing for fresh ways to squander money.)

Here’s a reason the NWHL and PWHPA need to get their crap together: The English Women’s Super League just hit the mother lode, signing a three-year TV deal with BBC and Sky Sports. Total value: 24 million English pounds, which translates into $33M in U.S. greenbacks. The BBC will show 22 matches and there’ll be as many as 44 more on Sky. Our practitioners of Ponytail Puck will drool at those numbers. That’s where they want to be, visible and with substantial TV revenue. And if it’s doable in English soccer it ought to be doable for shinny in North America, especially in Canada. How do they arrive at that point? Simple: Follow Tumminia’s lead. Sit down and talk. Hash out differences. Clear up misconceptions. Grab an oar and row in the same direction. Campbell-Pascall has said more than once that “this isn’t about one league versus the other league,” but that’s exactly what the Dream Gappers have done to Ponytail Puck. They’ve turned it into a family feud. Now they have a chance to grab an olive branch. We’ll see.

Every time I see and hear Jennifer Botterill talk hockey on Sportsnet, I’m reminded what a local treasure she is and how the decision-makers got it right in making her the first female player inducted to the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame. One of the all-timers in local shinny lore, Jennifer is an Olympic champion, world champion, two-time winner of the Patty Kazmaier Award as the top player in NCAA women’s hockey, team captain at Harvard, CWHL scoring champion, CWHL all-star, and now a respected voice on hockey TV. It’s just too bad Jennifer had to leave home to do all that heavy lifting. Wouldn’t it have been nice if the final notation on her career read: Played professional hockey in Winnipeg?

Having said that, I wonder if the Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, harbors an appetite for bringing a women’s team under the True North umbrella. Has anyone asked the Winnipeg Jets co-bankroll about it? If not, why not?

This is an example of what Ponytail Puck is up against in terms of coverage in mainstream media: The Toronto Six met the Boston Pride in an Isobel Cup semifinal skirmish on Friday. Number of column inches devoted to the match in the Toronto Sun pre- and post-game, zero. But, hey, they managed to squeeze in a full-page Sunshine Girl. Meanwhile, both TSN and Sportsnet used the Boston-Minnesota Whitecaps championship joust as bottom-feeder filler on their highlight shows Saturday night/Sunday morning. The Isobel Cup final was a 52nd-minute afterthought on SportsCentre and a 47th-minute snippet on Sports Central, scant seconds in front of two NASCAR mud-racing pickup trucks.

Mike Tyson takes a chomp out of the champ’s right ear.

I note that cannibal boxer Mike Tyson, who once ate Evander Holyfield’s right ear for a late-night snack, won’t be fighting his former foe for a third time, thus losing out on a multi-million-dollar payday. Guess that means Iron Mike will have to find himself a new meal ticket.

Apparently negotiations between the greybeard boxers broke down when Tyson scared off Holyfield by arriving at one bargaining session with a knife and fork.

Here’s a transcript from the final Tyson-Holyfield verbal to-and-fro:
Tyson: “We have an offer you can’t refuse, Evander.”
Holyfield: “Talk to me, Mike…I’m all ears.”
Tyson: “No you’re not.”

There was also a hangup over the marketing slogan for the proposed Tyson-Holyfield III at Hard Rock Stadium. The two sides agreed it should be something catchy like Rumble in the Jungle or Thrilla in Manila, but Holyfield balked when the Tyson camp insisted on Finger Lickin’ Fightin’ ‘n’ Late Night Munchies In Miami.

Chevy

The Winnipeg Jets lost Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot from their blueline in June/July 2019. Dustin Byfuglien disappeared in September that year. So we started discussing the pressing need for a top-four defenceman 18½ months ago. Question is, why are we still talking about it a year and a half after Big Buff and the boys bailed? What, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff hasn’t noticed those four guys are missing? Of course he has. Yet we still await his next move. It’s official then: Chevy actually moves slower than the Arctic ice melt.

According to the 2021 World Happiness report, Finnish people are the happiest on the planet for the fourth straight year. Hmmm. Did anyone think to ask Patrik Laine about that?

There’s a large cargo ship stuck in the Suez Canal and, after a week of failed attempts to free the vessel, the captain and crew are desperate to get out. You know, just like anyone who plays for the Buffalo Sabres.

Seems to me that the Ottawa Senators might become an NHL force once all their players are old enough to shave. Then, of course, Eugene Melnyk will sell them off like used tupperware containers at a yard sale.

Commish Randy

Go figure the Canadian Football League. One week commissioner Randy Ambrosie is talking tall about a budding bromance with Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson and his XFL, and the next week he’s pleading poverty (yes, again) and asking players to take an across-the-board hit at the pay window (yes, again). So let’s no longer wonder why Commish Randy and the Lords of Rouge Football would consider an iffy alliance with a fly-by operation south of the 49th, let’s instead wonder why The Rock would consider a partnership with a bunch of guys whose sole game plan appears to be begging. I don’t know if Commish Randy and his bosses are embarrassed, but they should be.

The CFL has become an arms race, and it has nothing to do with quarterbacks. It’s all about how many needles medics can poke into fans’ arms. Rouge Football isn’t doable without patrons in the pews, so what’s the over/under on the number of COVID-19 vaccine shots required before the faithful can flock into ball yards hither and yon? Is it 20 million? Twenty-five mill? Is Vegas offering odds?

And, finally, the other day I watched a replay of Secretariat’s gallop in the 1973 Belmont Stakes, and I must report that it remains the most gob-smacking, astonishing individual athletic performance I’ve ever witnessed. And that’s taking in a lot of turf, because I started watching sports in the mid-1950s. I suppose some folks might get emotional gazing upon the Mona Lisa or the Shroud of Turin, but I get teary-eyed watching Big Red romp to the wire in the Belmont. It’s very spiritual.

Let’s talk about all-hoser hockey…the Puck Pontiff speaks…Torts does Finland…old-school rubbish…Iron Mike back in the ring…what really happened to Dani Rylan Kearney?…Wally’s AOK with XFL and CFL…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and happy spring to you all…

I recognize that I’m likely in the minority, but I find the Canadian precinct of the National Hockey League a bit of a bore.

There, I said it. A bore.

Charlie Chamberlain, Marg Osburne and Don Messer.

Does that make me an un-hoser? Fine. Sue me. Sentence me to a lifetime of watching nothing but reruns of Don Messer’s Jubilee. Frankly, I’d just as soon see Don, Charlie Chamberlain and Marg Osburne pop up on my flatscreen on a Saturday night rather than endure another episode of Winnipeg Jets-Ottawa Senators/Vancouver Canucks/Calgary Flames.

The Jets and Sens have already met five times this year, with another five on the docket. Oh joy. That’s like looking forward to a root canal.

This week, we get a steady diet of the Canucks (two games) and Flames (three). That isn’t a treat. It’s cruel and unusual punishment, like listening to Nickelback music while trapped in an elevator.

Between March 31 and April 24, the Jets will face off vs. the Toronto Maple Leafs six times. But didn’t they just finish a three-game set? Yup, sure did. Hey, I enjoy watching Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews do their thing, but I’d rather have some Sidney Crosby or Nathan MacKinnon or Patrick Kane sprinkled into the mix.

An all-hoser division seemed like a good idea before they dropped the puck in January, and I realize gathering the seven Canadian outfits together in one playground was a necessary byproduct of COVID-19, but it’s become too much like turkey dinner at Christmas. You love it at the time, but you don’t want to still be noshing on cold gobbler sandwiches two weeks into the New Year.

So you can count me among those happy that the Canadian House League will be a one-off.

The Puck Pontiff

Say, look who’s talking. Why, it’s none other than the Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, who came out of hiding for a natter with Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic. Their topic? All-hoser hockey.

“I think that for us, and I assume that the other Canadian teams feel the same way, there’s something very compelling about playing iconic franchises, the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens, and there’s a lot of history here dating back to the Smythe Division days with a lot of people’s recollections drawn to those games against Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver,” the Winnipeg Jets co-bankroll said.

“So sure, I would love to play the Canadian teams more frequently. The challenge with that is, where do you find the games to do that? Because I would say we do enjoy and we’ve established some really good rivalries in the Central with Chicago, St. Louis, Minnesota, Nashville and Dallas. So on the one hand, I look forward to returning to that. On the other, I wish there was a way we can play Toronto and Montreal more.

“It’s not a perfect world, scheduling. So for now, I’m really enjoying the games as I think most fans in Canada are and we’ll enjoy it while it lasts. Maybe some day, there would be a way to play the Canadian teams more often. That would be my hope.”

My hope is that the Puck Pontiff doesn’t get his wish.

Given that Chipman delivers sound bites only slightly more often than a street mime, I find it interesting, also puzzling, that he would wag his chin with LeBrun rather than one of the boys on the Jets beat in Good Ol’ Hometown. Does he have something against Paul Friesen, Ted Wyman, Scott Billeck, Mad Mike McIntyre and Murat Ates? Do they refuse to genuflect and kiss his ring finger? I know that Mad Mike has requested an audience with the Puck Pontiff, but not once in his four-plus years on the beat at the Drab Slab has his ask been granted. “I don’t really care, nor am I losing any sleep over it,” he scribbled last July. I wouldn’t either, but that doesn’t make it right.

Twig Ehlers on his knees.

I agree, cheap-shot artist Zack Kassian got away with a flagrant foul on Twig Ehlers in the Jets 4-2 loss to the Edmonton McDavids on Saturday night. The guys wearing the orange arm bands blew it, but I find myself wondering if they turned a blind eye because Ehlers is recognized as one of those players who loses his feet too easily. Remember, he once was fined for diving, and faking it tends to stick.

Torts

Finnish publication Ilta-Sanomat ran a lengthy takeout on John Tortorella the other day and, no shock, the Columbus Blue Jackets bench puppeteer had some interesting observations. Among other things, Torts believes, “The NHL is a league of young and stupid players.” Ya, that’s the kind of guy I’d want for a coach. “I miss the old type of player and old-fashioned hockey,” he added. “There were clashes on the ice and the players acted as cops. There are so many rules and different levels of discipline in the NHL today that this has become a ‘no-hitter’ league. I know people consider me Neanderthal, but I don’t care. I don’t want to lose the values of the old school. I think the game has lost some of its old values. I want to evolve and adapt to the new era, but I think today’s players need to learn some of those good, old values. Sometimes when I look at some payers on or off the ice, I wonder who the hell they think they are.” Which is precisely what many of us wonder about Torts.

Ben Chiarot, breaking his right hand.

Speaking of relics, why do so many hockey people continue to spew the “no one ever gets hurt in a hockey fight” refrain? It’s rubbish and the old-school thinkers who insist on repeating the illogical mantra know it’s rubbish. Ben Chiarot’s right hand is the latest piece of evidence. It’s broken and Chiarot is lost to the Montreal Canadiens for six-eight weeks. He isn’t the first player to go on the shelf after suffering an owie in a scrap, and he won’t be the last. So the horse-and-buggy crowd is advised to do what Archie Bunker often told Edith—stifle yourself.

On the subject of fisticuffs, as advertised following his thrown-down with Roy Jones Jr. last November, former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson plans to return to the ring in May. No word on the identity of Iron Mike’s opponent, but promoters promise he’ll have a matching set of ears when he enters the ring.

Can someone—anyone—tell me why Tiger Woods returning to his home base in Florida to rehab from his most-recent car crash is newsworthy? Does anyone actually care where his broken bones mend? It’s time mainstream media stopped fawning over Woods and told it like it is—he’s a reckless and dangerous man who puts the health and lives of others at risk when he gets behind the wheel of an automobile.

Dani Rylan, former commissioner and founder of the National Women’s Hockey League.

It would be interesting to know the story behind the story of Dani Rylan Kearney’s exit from the National Women’s Hockey League. She stepped down as commissioner in October, then last week resigned as advisor/president of W Hockey Group, which owns four of the six NWHL franchises—Minnesota Whitecaps, Buffalo Beauts, Connecticut Whale and Metropolitan Riveters. That’s a fast fall for the NWHL founder and the timing is curious, given that the Isobel Cup will be awarded on Saturday in Beantown. I’m sure mainstream media will get right on top of the story…oh, wait, it’s women’s hockey. They’ll give it a hard pass.

When our latest tennis phenom, Leylah Annie Fernandez, reaches the final of the Monterrey Open, shouldn’t it be more than a brief toss-in item on the back half of TSN SportsCentre? Is it necessary for us to absorb highlights from 20 U.S. college hoops games before they show us a Canadian kid making good on the Women’s Tennis Association tour? If Leylah Annie wins in Monterrey, I trust TSN will move her to the top of the show.

Melissa Martin

Tip of the bonnet to my favorite scribe at the Winnipeg Free Press, Melissa Martin. Her piece on Hometown Hockey in Cree attracted the attention of National Newspaper Award judges, and she’s one of three finalists for top sports writing honors. This sort of thing has become old hat for Melissa, who’s won the NNA as top columnist twice, and I like her chances this year against Cathal Kelly and Michael Doyle, both of the Globe and Mail.

For the benefit of those who aren’t keeping score at home, this is the 50th consecutive year that I have not been nominated for a National Newspaper Award. Or almost the same amount of time as the Republic of Tranna has gone without a Stanley Cup parade.

Wally Buono

Longtime Canadian Football League coach and executive Wally Buono has weighed in on a proposed alliance between the stewards of Rouge Football and Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson’s idle XFL. Surprisingly, he’s “all for it” if it’s a way to “preserve our game.” I say surprisingly, because no one has to tell Wally about the Yankee Doodle Disaster that U.S. expansion became during the 1990s. “I was pleased that the CFL is looking at other ways to grow the game,” the former Calgary Stampeders and B.C. Lions bossman told TSN 1200 in Ottawa. “We have a great game. Maybe we’ve kept it a secret too long. It’s time to showcase our league, showcase our game so we can grow revenues.” He also believes the American football fan will buy our quirky game, lock, stock and rouge. “There was places we went to (in the 1990s), Baltimore and San Antonio and Birmingham, where the people there loved the game,” Buono recalled. “It was an exciting night of football when we were there with Doug Flutie and Tracy Ham and Matt Dunigan. These guys put on a tremendous show, and it was a three-down game. So, you know, football is football. The fans enjoyed it, there was a lot of excitement in the stadium.” Ya, until they discovered you get a single point for missing a field goal.

As expected, ratings for the Brier final last Sunday on TSN took a dive, 33 per cent, compared to last year’s Canadian men’s curling championship. The all-Alberta skirmish featuring Brendan Bottcher and Kevin Koe attracted an average of 728,000 viewers compared to 1.09 million a year ago, when Bottcher and Brad Gushue met in the ultimate match. Overall, 5.2 million watched the Brier at some point. Comparatively, the women’s Scotties Tournament of Hearts had 4.7 million total viewers and an average of 682,000 for the Kerri Einarson-Rachel Homan final, down from 979,000 in 2020. Those dipping numbers follow a trend for all big-ticket events throughout sports, and we’re left to wonder if people will return to their flatscreens post-COVID. I’m not convinced they will.

Bravo to Beth Mowins, who on Saturday became the first woman to call play-by-play of a Chicago Cubs game, a Cactus League joust vs. Colorado Rockies. Beth will make her regular season debut on May 8 and—holy cow!—I’m wondering what Harry Caray would think of that.

Favorite quote of the week, from Robin Lehner of the Vegas Golden Knights: “The stigma around mental health is insane.” True words, those. And kudos to Lehner for talking about mental health.

And, finally, if the Conservative Party of Canada doesn’t have to officially believe in climate change, I don’t have to believe Connor McDavid really skates that fast.

Let’s talk about a Yankee Doodle Disaster…the Winnipeg Jets climb toward the top…short skirts on SportsCentre…another bad Brier for the Buffalo Boys…a free ride for Patrick Mahomes’ daughter…owning our words…and other things on my mind

A Monday morning smorgas-bored coming down in 3, 2, 1…and it’s the Ides of March, the day Julius Caesar was slain, so here’s something else that might slay you…

I had a wacko dream the other night. Seriously, it was total Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds stuff.

Except instead of newspaper taxis, cellophane flowers, marmalade skies, and rocking horse people eating marshmallow pies, I saw Mad Dogs and Pirates and Gold Miners and Glieberguys and football players bunked down in a barn and a Vegas lounge lizard.

Oh, and a Rock. There was a Rock with arms thicker than Louisiana gumbo and a bankroll that could choke a Budweiser Clydesdale.

Canadian Football League commissioner Randy Ambrosie was also in the dream. He was talking about talking, and he was excited to be talking about talking. That’s the only part that seemed real, because Commish Randy always seems geeked up about something or other, even when the feds are telling him to take his begging cap and stick it where the sun don’t shine. He’s more upbeat than a 1960s Who concert.

Anyway, Commish Randy wasn’t just talking about talking. He was also talking about crawling into bed with the Rock, and that’s when I stirred from slumber.

“Whoa,” I said to myself, clearing my eyes and wondering if someone had spiked my fish sticks and fries the night before. “That’s some serious whack-a-do dreaming. No way Rouge Football is going down that road again.”

Commish Randy

As we now know, that’s exactly where Commish Randy plans to take the CFL. To the United States of Four Down Football, lock, stock and to hell with the import ratio and rouge.

Naturally, since whispers of an alliance between Rouge Football and The Rock’s XFL became a roar last week, considerable hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing has ensued, much of it because there’s a belief Commish Randy and his CFL overlords are about to sell the very soul of our quirky three-downs game.

You know, just like during the 1990s.

Well, okay, they didn’t completely sell their soul to accommodate a handful of American expansion franchises in the ’90s, but they peddled enough of it to make some of us who were there antsy. We hear that Dwayne Johnson (aka The Rock) and Commish Randy have engaged in something more significant than pillow talk, and we squirm like a fresh batch of hemorrhoids has kicked in.

We remember how the U.S. expansion experiment became a Yankee Doodle Disaster. The CFL was as much a sitcom as it was a sports operation.

Among other things, the end zone at Liberty Bowl Stadium in Memphis was about the size of a cocktail napkin. Bernie and Lonie Glieberman skipped town in Ottawa to set up shop in Shreveport, La., where players were bedded down on the second floor of a milking barn during training camp. The Glieberguys fired their head coach, John Huard, before the opening kickoff. Pepper Rodgers, chief cook and bottle washer of the Memphis Mad Dogs, liked everything about the CFL except the rules, and he was never shy about critiquing the quirkiness of our game.

“You Canadians can sit around and do what you want up there in Canada,” he said, “but no one understands the rules here because we have some really weird stuff in this league.”

Dennis K.C. Parks

In Glitter Gulch, meanwhile, the Las Vegas Posse sometimes practiced in the parking lot of the Riviera Hotel, and they once attracted 2,350 customers to a game at Sam Boyd Stadium. That is not a typo. Do not adjust your screen. Just 2,350 fans. They played their final home game in Edmonton. The Posse also trotted out a lounge singer named Dennis K.C. Parks, who mangled O Canada so badly that it became the biggest strain on 49th parallel relations since the torching of the White House.

So, ya, any hint of Rouge Football mixing with the twice-failed XFL sets off alarm bells.

But, as was the case in the 1990s, the CFL needs money like a vagabond needs a hot meal and a bath, and I can think of worse people for them to hook up with than the Rock and his ex-bride, Dany Garcia.

Vince McMahon

After washing out as a player with the Calgary Stampeders, Johnson found fame as a faux fighter with Vince McMahon’s WWE wrestling troupe, then became boffo box office by conquering Hollywood. Along the way, he grew very deep pockets and, according to Celebrity Net Worth, the mega-movie star is valued at $400 million. Garcia comes in at $20M, thus the $15M they forked over to purchase McMahon’s XFL table scraps last summer is chump change.

Money can’t buy credibility, though, so you can color me skeptical.

I don’t see a second venture into the land of stars, stripes and the maskless happening. It would be as calamitous as a Trump presidency. But, hey, I’ve misread the tea leaves before. I mean, I never imagined Rosie O’Donnell would make me laugh, but she was funny in A League of Their Own. So maybe a CFL-XFL will happen. Maybe they’ll make a go of it this time around. And maybe Johnny Manziel will collect as many Super Bowl rings as Tom Brady.

Let me just say this about all that: If there is a CFL-XFL and they take away the rouge, add a down, take away a player, shrink the field, or if I hear the regrettable Dennis K.C. Parks clearing his throat, they’ll lose me.

So, the Winnipeg Jets made a pilgrimage to the Republic of Tranna and took five of a possible six points from the Maple Leafs. Is there any doubt which is the best National Hockey League outfit on the northern tundra? Didn’t think so.

I still don’t like the Jets blueline, but no team in the Hoser Division knows how to play defence, so it’s a moot point.

I might be in the minority, but I won’t miss the all-Canadian house league next season. It’s too much same old, same old for my taste.

Yes, I realize Patrik Laine wanted out of Good Ol’ Hometown and the Jets obliged, but that doesn’t mean we should take glee in his struggles with the Columbus Blue Jackets. I don’t like bullies and his coach, John Tortorella, is a bully, so I feel sorry for the kid.

Just wondering, is it my imagination, or are the hemlines on TSN SportsCentre getting higher? And, if so, are the lady anchors being instructed to wear their skirts/dresses that short, or is it by choice?

Brendan Bottcher, Darren Moulding, Brad Thiessen and Karrick Martin.

Oh, woe are our male Pebble People. The Mike McEwen and Jason Gunnlaughson teams left the Brier bubble in Calgary battered and bruised, which means our Buffalo Boys remain stalled at 1-for-the-2000s. It’s one thing to have a bad year, but a bad century? Only Jeff Stoughton and pals have managed to get the job done, winning back in 2011, so these are very lean times. Meanwhile, Alberta outfits have lapped the field at the Canadian men’s curling championship, with Brendan Bottcher’s success on Sunday the 12th title this century for the boys from Wild Rose Country. Along with the dozen Brier wins, there have been three Scotties Tournament of Hearts titles from Alberta women in the 2000s. Manitoba’s Pebble People have combined for nine. So perhaps it’s time I conceded that Wild Rose Country, not our Keystone Province, is the Curling Capital Of The World. Naw. Not going there. Can’t go there.

I had the over/under at five draws for the first F-bomb at the Brier. Turns out the cuss word landed during the third match I watched. Never heard one F-bomb during the Scotties, and I still don’t understand why the boys get all potty-mouthed while the women can keep it clean.

One place you will never find my name: The list of Relevant People on Twitter.

Golf’s Incredible Bulk, Bryson DeChambeau

I don’t like to cheer against athletes, but I’d rather not see Bryson DeChambeau win another tournament. Golf’s incredible bulk is an irksome fellow, especially when he says things like, “I don’t think you can Bryson-proof a golf course.” Is that confidence or arrogance? I tend to think it’s the latter. So you’ll have to excuse me for rooting for the field against him at the Players Championship on Sunday.

Here’s something you don’t hear too often: An athlete misses the media. It’s true. Belarusian tennis player Aryna Sabalenka had a natter with news snoops recently, and she got all warm-and-fuzzy, if not touchy-feely. “I prefer to see you guys in person actually,” she said. “I prefer that everything gets back to normal life. I feel okay with this kind of Zoom press conference, but I feel better emotionally to see each other and to have this eye contact when you guys ask me some questions.” Aw shucks.

Talk about robbing the cradle. Texas Tech has offered Sterling Skye Mahomes a full soccer scholarship, which wouldn’t be notable except Sterling Skye isn’t even a month old. Her parents, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Brittany Matthews, received the scholarship offer two days after the baby was born. So let me get this straight: Mahomes recently signed a contract that will pay him $450 million over the next 10 years, and his kid needs a free ride?

So what’s the new term for when a spoiled six-year-old kid in the playground takes his ball and goes home because he thinks the other kids are being mean? Pulling a Piers Morgan.

Meyers Leondard

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of sports figures spewing racist, homophobic or bigoted bile, then expecting us to believe that they aren’t actually racist, homophobic or bigoted.

The latest to join that list is Meyers Leonard, a Miami Heat centre caught uttering an anti-Jewish slur while live-streaming video game play.

“This is not a proper representation of who I am,” he insisted in his mea culpa.

The National Basketball Association believed Leonard, but still fined him $50,000 and the Heat ordered him to go stand in a corner and also seek guidance.

But Leonard’s “that isn’t who I am” defence is far too commonplace. Some examples:

  • Justin Thomas

    Golfer Justin Thomas, after dropping a gay F-bomb during a recent tournament: “It’s not a word I use. It’s not who I am. It’s not the kind of person that I am.”

  • Baseball broadcaster Thom Brennaman, who dropped an anti-gay F-bomb during a broadcast: “That is not who I am and never has been.”

  • Heavyweight boxer Tyson Fury, who said being gay is one of three things that will lead to the apocalypse and homosexuality equals pedophilia: “I’m not homophobic, I’m not racist.”

  • Baseball player Kevin Pillar, after dropping an anti-gay F-bomb: “This is not who I am.”

  • Chris Culliver of the San Francisco 49ers, who said he doesn’t want gay teammates: “Those discriminating feelings are truly not in my heart. It’s not what I feel in my heart.”

  • James Harrison of Pittsburgh Steelers, dropping the anti-gay F-bomb on NFL commish Roger Goodell: “I am not a homophobic bigot.”

  • Joakim Noah of the Chicago Bulls, dumping the gay F-bomb on a fan: “Anybody who knows me knows that I’m not like that.”

  • Josh Hader of the Milwaukee Brewers, who issued a series of anti-gay remarks on social media: “That doesn’t resemble the person I am now. Those are not my beliefs at all. They never were my beliefs.”

  • The late Kobe Bryant, who lashed out at a referee with the anti-gay F-bomb: “The words expressed do NOT express my feelings towards the gay and lesbian communities and were NOT meant to offend anyone.”

Words matter. If you say it, own it. Then try to get better.

And, finally, my idea of March Madness has nothing to do with American college hoops and everything to do with reading dispatches from the Republic of Tranna when the Maple Leafs take their predictable nose dive.

Let’s talk about chess with Swamp Dog…bravo Jennifer Jones…flush go the Habs…TSN’s flawed ‘Toba Top 10…Shaq’s name game…Ali vs. Tiger…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and, sadly, one of the old gang from the Trib, Swamp Dog Rauw, has left us…

The thing I remember most fondly about Murray Rauw is playing chess in the small hours of the morning, after we’d put the sports section to bed at the Winnipeg Tribune.

Swamp Dog and I would unwind from the grind by retreating to my modest dwelling on Leighton Avenue in East Kildonan, whereupon I would crack open the brown pops while he cracked open one of my many chess sets.

There’d be Beatles music playing in the background—on the down low since all others in the house were in slumber—and I would quietly sing along with the Fab Four while Swamp Dog contemplated a next misguided move that surely would lead to checkmate or stalemate. I sometimes wondered if my singing disturbed his thought process, but he never offered so much as a mumble in protest.

Swamp Dog

Swamp Dog seldom complained, although a small flap of fuss is how he earned his delightful nickname.

I was in the cockpit one night, laying out the Trib sports pages, while others wrote their stories, edited copy, wrote headlines, handled the phones and did rewrites. Swamp Dog, still reasonably new to staff, had two or three things on the go.

“Murray,” I said at one point, interrupting his work, “I need you to do something.”

“Me?” he yelped. “Me? I’m swamped!”

“You’re swamped?” I responded, snickering. “Let me tell you something about being swamped.”

I informed him how it worked in the Trib sports department. We were all multi-taskers, often expected to handle more than one beat on the same day. It was not uncommon for a select few of us to cover an event in the morning or afternoon, write our article, then design a six- or seven-page sports section that night. It made for long shifts, but it was an accepted part of the gig. Besides, most of us were young, full of P and V and eager to earn a “damn good stuff” from our sports editor, Jack Matheson.

“That’s okay,” I told Swamp Dog. “You just do what you’re doing. I’ll take care of the rest, because you’re swamped! You’re our Swamp Dog.”

Swamp Dog became a fabulous multi-tasker, skillfully covering everything from badminton to boxing to backing up Matty on the Blue Bombers beat, until Southam had the bad manners to stop the Trib presses for the final time in August 1980.

And now Swamp’s ticker has stopped.

Swamp Dog died last Sunday in Calgary, after a lengthy illness, and I spent much of the past week sifting through recollections of him and our cast of kooky characters at the Trib. (We would have made for a boffo sitcom.)

An unpretentious, fun guy, I can’t think of a former colleague who harbored a greater, more genuine appreciation for landing a sports writing gig than Swamp Dog. He was like a kid who sneaked in and out of the ice cream parlor every night without getting caught, and he never tried to hide his appreciation for his good fortune.

Swamp Dog made me laugh without trying. His eyeglasses, for example, were a trip. Back in the 1970s, they would sit at a 45-degree angle on the bridge of his nose, the large lenses plastered with very visible fingerprints from his constant but failed attempts to make the specs fit his face. His mustache drooped and would go months without a much-needed pruning. Then there was the day I learned he had tagged the lovely lady who would become his bride, Maureen, with the most unflattering of nicknames: Mush.

“Geez, Swamp, I don’t know many women who’d fancy being called Mush,” I said. “Doesn’t it bother Maureen?”

“Why would it?” he answered as if I had asked a very dumb question. “She’s my Mush.”

Once the Trib folded, both Swamp Dog and I found our way to Calgary, first him at the Herald and then myself at the Sun a couple years later. I didn’t know a soul, other than Swamp Dog, Maureen and the two people who had hired me. Swamp Dog promptly set me up to play slo-pitch on one of the city’s elite outfits, and he dragged me to his raquetball club. After our always-enjoyable matches, we’d sometimes retire to his home and Maureen would be kind enough to feed us.

Oddly enough, Swamp Dog and I never played another game of chess. I guess that was our Winnipeg thing. But we’d get together for some giggles, or he’d get serious on occasion and discuss his MS. He’d unfailingly inquire about my Uncle Dennis, who’d been confined to a wheelchair due to MS since I was a sprig.

After I left Calgary and returned to Good Ol’ Hometown, we seldom saw each other, basically when road assignments would take us to the Grey Cup, the Brier or Stanley Cup playoffs. The Canadian Football League and curling were his main beats, and he was among the best at both.

Foremost for me, though, are the personal recollections, and I smile at the memory of us shifting chess pieces across the board, his knight taking my rook or my bishop taking his queen. Eventually, one of us would notice the morning sun peeking through my living room drapes, and he’d take his leave.

Now Swamp Dog is gone permanently, but I’d say his sun is still shining—through Maureen and the kids, Josh and Cayley, and granddaughter Charlotte.

Rest easy, old friend.

The Grim Reaper has now fetched Matty, Swamp Dog, Gus Collins Uncle Vince Leah, and freelancers Harold Loster and Ronnie Meyers from our 1970s toy department at the Trib. And that’s not to forget photog Jon Thordarson, whom I always considered one of us. Those of us still drawing oxygen are in our 60s and 70s, or older, so Dave Komosky and I often wonder who’ll be next. My kidneys are suggesting it might be moi. If that’s how it shakes down, in lieu of flowers send laughter.

Jennifer Jones

Big tip of the bonnet to Jennifer Jones, who’s now won more games at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts (159) than any curler. Ever. By the time she’s finished, Jen’s collection of Ws might be unbeatable, although I suppose Rachel Homan will have something to say about that. For now, though, Jen is the standard, and I say it’s only fitting and proper that someone from Winnipeg stands atop the heap. After all, Good Ol’ Hometown is the curling capital of the world, no matter what some folks in Alberta might want you to believe.

Is it just me, or does anyone else get the impression that the women at the Scotties have a whole lot more fun than the men at the Brier? Just saying.

Some people haven’t been impressed with the quality of play at the Scotties in Calgary. Too many flubbed shots. Iffy strategy. Well, what did you expect? I mean, they’d been away from the pebble for a year, and I’m guessing we’ll see a similar number of hairballs coughed up when the boys gather for the Brier at the end of this week.

Apparently it’s been so quiet at the fan-free Scotties that Saskatchewan skip Sherry Anderson says she “heard the toilet flush” while on the pebble the other day. But, hey, let’s not talk about the Montreal Canadiens.

I’m not saying the Habs’ hope for a successful crusade is down the toilet. If they can get rid of the imposter wearing Carey Price’s jersey, they might yet qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament. Then again, maybe O.J. will find the real killers.

Paul Stastny poached a goal from Twig Ehlers to give the Winnipeg Jets their 2-1 OT win over the Habs on Saturday night. You just don’t do that. It’s chintzy.

Patrik Laine

Let’s see if I’ve got this straight: Patrik Laine wanted first-line minutes skating alongside Rink Rat Scheifele, but Jets head coach Paul Maurice would have none of it. So they shipped him to Columbus. Now Pierre-Luc Dubois, the guy the Jets received in barter for Puck Finn, is getting first-line minutes skating alongside Scheifele. What am I missing here?

Dumb headline in the Winnipeg Sun: “Coach, teammates like new Jet Dubois.” Well, duh. What does anyone expect them to say? That he’s a sloth? Bring Patty back? Now that would be a story. The fact the Jets have warm-and-fuzzy feelings for the new kid in town isn’t newsworthy.

Good stuff from Mad Mike McIntyre in the Drab Slab on local Black shinny players who found their way to the upper levels of professional hockey. Among those he chatted with are Bill Riley and Ray Neufeld, one of the nicest men to wear Jets linen. It’s worth a look.

So why is it that I don’t believe Canadian Football League commish Randy Ambrosie when he tells us there’ll be Rouge Football this year, but I believe Winnipeg Blue Bombers CEO Wade Miller when he says the same thing? Maybe it’s because Wade transformed Winnipeg FC from a laughing stock into a Grey Cup champion, whereas Commish Randy couldn’t sell a spare tire to a guy with a flat.

Bernie Parent and Bobby Clarke (right)

Nice touch by TSN to serve up a Top 10 moments for Manitoba athletes last week. Except they should have consulted someone from the Keystone Province before revealing the list. There was no Clara Hughes collecting medals at both the Summer and Winter Olympics. There was no Donny Lalonde knocking Sugar Ray Leonard to the canvas. There was no George Knudson winning on the PGA Tour. There was no Bobby Clarke, the first captain of a National Hockey League expansion outfit to hoist the Stanley Cup. There was no Reggie Leach, scorer of 80 goals in the 1975-76 NHL season/playoffs. There was no Don Duguid going unbeaten to win consecutive world curling titles. No Jeff Stoughton. No University of Winnipeg Lady Wesmen hoops team winning 88 consecutive matches. But Anthony Coombs made the grade with a catch in a meaningless game for the Toronto Argos. Skeleton guy Jon Montgomery was featured drinking beer and pretending to be an auctioneer. Corey Koskie cracked the list for catching a foul ball in a game no one remembers. And Andrew Harris was featured running the ball for the B.C. Lions in a game no one remembers. Totally lame.

Shaq

Shaquille O’Neal has taken some heat for his work as a TV analyst. It seems Shaq is unfamiliar with the first names of numerous National Basketball Association players, including Pascal Siakam of the Tranna Jurassics. “Oh, I never knew his first name,” Shaq confessed in a panel natter with Ernie Johnson in a recent NBA on TNT broadcast. I guess that makes Siakam the ultimate player to be named later.

Tim and Sid are no more. Well, okay Tim is still Micaleff and Sid is still Seixeiro, but they’re no longer Tim & Sid, after 17 years together on Sportsnet. Sid’s next gig is Breakfast Television in the Republic of Tranna and, given his penchant for goofing around, the show might become known as Dog’s Breakfast Television. Tim & Sid was sometimes-see TV for me, never must-see TV, but you don’t last that long without doing something right. Having said that, Tim drew a parallel between he and Sid breaking up and Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David parting ways. Uh, no. You don’t want to go there, man.

James Duthie

I’ve long admired James Duthie’s work on TSN. Who hasn’t? He’s witty, clever, knowledgeable and doesn’t take himself seriously. And he’s done it all without perfect hair and perfect teeth.

But when he waxed on about Tiger Woods last week…well, let’s just say he was showing his age.

“There’s not another…he’s the most famous athlete of our lives,” Duthie said of Woods in a squawk with Rod Smith. “Maybe you can make an argument Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, but there has been no more fascinating, complex character in sport in our lives.”

Good grief. Tom Brady is about as complex as Grade 1 arithmetic. He throws a football, wins the Super Bowl, then paints the town bland. The most fascinating thing he’s ever done is get drunk and hurl the Lombardi Trophy from one boat to another. Jordan? Best hoops player ever. Full stop.

Duthie wants fascinating and complex? Let me introduce him to Muhammad Ali, the boxer once known as Cassius Clay.

There were more layers to Ali than an onion. Let’s start with the name change, the Nation of Islam and the shift to Sunni Islam. Let’s talk about political activism and civil rights. Let’s talk about the U.S. government taking away his livelihood and untold millions of dollars for 3½ years because he refused to travel across the world to kill people in Vietnam. Let’s talk about his willingness to go behind bars rather than spray bullets. Let’s talk about the anger and hostility, then the warm admiration, of a nation. Let’s talk about a unanimous victory in the Supreme Court. Let’s talk about the Grammy nominations. Let’s talk about the movies and the Broadway musical. Let’s talk about whimsy, doggerel and rapping before rap was a thing. Let’s talk about the campus speaking tours. Let’s talk about the battle with Parkinson’s. Let’s talk about winning the world heavyweight title three times when it actually meant something. Let’s talk about the Rumble in the Jungle and the Thrilla in Manila. Let’s talk about media savvy. Let’s talk about showmanship and the oversized personality. Let’s talk about the multiple marriages and infidelities. Let’s talk about the irony of being meaner and more cruel to Black boxers than white fist-fighters.

Duthie is 54, which means he missed the opening act of the theatre that was Ali. He can’t relate to the Vietnam War or the civil rights movement of the 1960s, just as those who weren’t there when John Paul, George and Ringo invaded America can’t truly understand and appreciate Beatlemania.

But when he speaks of “our lives,” I have to assume that includes myself and those of my vintage.

Tiger Woods is arguably the finest to ever strike a dimpled ball. We marveled at his wizardry, how he would make the best in the game wither before they even teed it up on a Thursday. He was fascinating to watch. Gobsmackingly so. But whereas Ali allowed us inside his world, Woods tried to keep most everyone out. Except his many mistresses.

Other than his genius at golf, we knew nothing of Woods the person until caught with his trousers down and the tabloids exposed him as a raging philanderer. And, of course, he’s made headlines for getting behind the wheel of a luxury vehicle when it wasn’t wise. But cheating on your spouse and reckless driving hardly makes one fascinating or complex. It makes him one of a million guys.

So let’s put it this way: Given one word to describe Tiger Woods, it would be “golf.” Given one word to describe Muhammad Ali, it would be…sorry, can’t do it in one word. He was too fascinating and complex.

And, finally, looks like this will be a pizza-and-pebble day, because I’m hitting the couch and won’t budge until either Jen Jones or Kerri Einarson has (hopefully) won the Scotties Tournament of Hearts this evening.

Let’s talk about Pebble People getting a raw deal…McDavid, Draisaitl and who are those other guys?…dirty rotten scoundrels…no room in Cooperstown for cheats and Schilling…the Babe, booze and babes…Ponytail Puck…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and in honor of Groundhog Day, I’ll pop my head out of the ground on Tuesday and let you know if there’ll be six more weeks of bad blogging…

Kerri Einarson, Val Sweeting, Briane Meilleur, Shannon Birchard (clockwise from top left) from Gimli are the defending Scotties Tournament of Hearts champions.

So let me see if I’ve got this straight:

National Hockey League players traipse willy-nilly across the COVID-infected tundra, and they’re granted a quarantine exemption from Manitoba’s top docs and politicos. Meanwhile, our curlers plan to shelter themselves in a Calgary bubble for the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, the Brier and the mixed nationals, yet they’re told they must go into isolation for the full 14 days once they return home from two weeks of hijinks in February/March. No quarantine exemption for you!

This is fair how?

Oh, wait. Silly me. I forgot that the millionaire hockey players provide an “essential” service (as if the Ottawa Senators are “essential” to anyone), while bunking down in five-star hotels and being whisked about in charter or private aircraft. The curlers? Apparently, hurrying hard is not an “essential” service. Pebble People are just everyday working stiffs blessed with good draw weight, so it doesn’t matter that they might have to carpool their way to and from Calgary. Or that they might be out of pocket if away from the salt mines for an additional 14 days. It only matters that the millionaire hockey players are happy.

That is so wrong.

Hey, I’ve never thought of hockey players as coddled and pampered. They have a special skill that means they take in rarified oxygen, but the same has to be said of our curlers, who are among the best on the planet. And Pebble People are the salt of the earth.

If hockey players deserve a quarantine concession, the curlers do too.

Quick thought on the Winnipeg Jets: Evander Kane has an oversized personality. Gone. Patrik Laine has an oversized personality. Gone. Dustin Byfuglien has an oversized personality. Gone. What are we to make of that?

We need to discuss the Edmonton Oilers, because they annoy me. The Oilers are Jesse James, Billy the Kid and 18 guys with water pistols. Seriously, they have more no-names than the Witness Protection Program. I watch the Oilers play and, 60 minutes later, it’s like Butch and Sundance: “Who are those guys?” They’re as memorable as the second man to leave a footprint on the moon. You know, Ol’ What’shisname.

That bothers me.

It shouldn’t, of course, because the Oilers became the Evil Empire in Good Ol’ Hometown during the 1980s, when they made paddywhacking the Jets a spring ritual during their Stanley Cup binge. It’s been a pox on the E-Town house ever since. But I can’t help it. I want Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl to succeed. So sue me.

I just don’t think the Oilers should stink. Just like the Montreal Canadiens, Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, New York Yankees and Green Bay Packers should never stink. It’s okay to root, root, root against any or all of those storied franchises, but you shouldn’t want them to stink.

Oh, I know, many among the rabble in Good Ol’ Hometown can’t get past that 1980s thing, and they’re probably still sticking pins in their old Slats Sather, Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier voodoo dolls.

Well, hocus-pocus rituals aren’t necessary these days. The Oilers stink on their own merit.

Yes, I realize they managed to muster up a victory on Saturday night, nudging the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3 in OT, but they’re 4-6 and that’s no way to behave when your lineup features McDavid and Draisaitl.

Fashion note: Those reverse retro unis that the Oilers wore on Saturday night looked like poorly designed Orange Crush bottles, and the Leafs’ threads were absolutely ghastly. Seriously. Dark blue numbers on dark blue sweaters? The ghost of Humpty Harold Ballard lives on.

The Tkachuk boys, Brady, top, and Matthew.

Random observations two weeks into the 2021 NHL crusade: There’s a very good reason why so many players in the Hoser Division are at or near the top of the NHL scoring table: Nobody plays defence. There are no big, ugly, nasty teams that lean on you, just a bunch of fly boys. That works now, but not so much once they’re down to the final four in Beard Season and the Canadian survivor is required to deal with big bodies that try to slow them down…You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t join the chorus and rave about the entertainment level of COVID hockey. Much of the activity I’ve seen has been, to borrow a Danny Gallivanism, “as shabby as an old hobo’s coat.”…The Tkachuk brothers are soooo smarmy. Both Matthew and Brady are more irritating than a bad case of fanny fungus. They’re the dirty, rotten scoundrels who like to sit at the back of the class and fire spitballs at the nerds. They probably stole enough lunch money to prop up a third-world country. But, yes, I’d take either one of them on my team…The Ottawa Senators are an embarrassment best kept off prime time TV…It’s obvious the Hoser Division playoff positions will come down to this: The two teams that piddle away the most points v. the Senators will be on the outside looking in. That means the next week is pivotal to the Oilers’ post-season aspirations. They’ll be fed a steady diet of the Sens, meeting them four times…Yes, I still think a Hoser Division is a boffo idea, but I’m not sold on the baseball-style schedule. I understand the reasoning behind it, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it…Hands up anyone who knows what teams are leading the other three divisions. Actually, hands up anyone who can name the other three divisions…I was wrong about the Montreal Canadiens. They look legit. I was wrong about the Senators. I thought youthful enthusiasm would serve them well. I was right about the Calgary Flames. Their win over the Habs on Saturday notwithstanding, the Flames are a false bill of goods, and will continue to be as long as they have Milan Lucic dragging his knuckles up and down the freeze…Shouldn’t Sportsnet lift their regional blackouts and give us the full menu each night in this special season? If it’s all the same to them, I’d much rather watch the Jets-Habs than Canucks-Senators.

Part of Curt Schilling’s Nazi memorabilia.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame will go 0-for-2021, with no players receiving the required 75 per cent of the vote for enshrinement to Cooperstown, and that means “integrity, sportsmanship, character” won out over stats. Noted steroids cheats Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens struck out in this year’s balloting, as did Curt Schilling, who collects Nazi SS memorabilia and isn’t fond of anyone unless they wear a MAGA hat and attend Toby Keith concerts. It’s the ninth time Schilling has been snubbed by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, and now he wants his name erased from the ballot. “I’ll defer to the veterans committee and men whose opinions actually matter and who are in a position to actually judge a player,” he wrote in a self-indulgent, 1,200-word whinge on Facebook. He also labeled Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy a “morally decrepit” man, and accused scribes of lining up to “destroy my character.” I don’t know about that. Seems to me Schilling has assassinated his own character on social media, with transphobic tweets, a posting that suggested lynching journalists is “so much awesome,” calling Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones a liar for accusing fans at Fenway Park in Boston of dropping N-bombs in his direction, and giving thumbs up to the recent riot at the U.S. Capitol. Bottom line on Schilling’s NBHOF candidacy: “I don’t think I’m a hall of famer,” he said. Fine. Case closed.

The Babe and the babes.

Most peculiar take on the latest NBHOF voting was delivered by TSN analyst Steve Phillips. The former Major League Baseball exec drew a parallel between segregation and ‘roid cheaters Bonds and Clemens sticking needles in their butts. “There’s been performance enhancement in every era of baseball,” Phillips said. “Babe Ruth didn’t play against some of the best Negro League players of the time, players went to war, players stayed home, the mound was lowered, the DH was entered, ballparks have changed. So it’s been in every era.” Hmmm. I thought the Babe hit all those home runs (714) because he was a rare breed, but now I find out it was only because he never saw the spin on a Satchel Paige slider. Who knew? Actually, I have a different theory, and it has nothing to do with Jim Crow-era baseball or the boys of summer marching off to kick Hitler’s ass. To wit: Had the Babe laid off the booze, the babes and the speakeasies, and had he not missed playing time due to STDs, he would have swatted 914 dingers.

In his first natter with news snoops after signing with Toronto, slugger George Springer compared the Blue Jays to his Houston Astros outfit that cheated its way to a World Series title. “This (Jays) lineup reminds me a lot of them,” he said. Great. Vlad the Gifted gets a trash can. Bo Bichette gets a trash can. Cavan Biggio gets a trash can. Everybody gets a trash can. Bang the can slowly, boys.

Nice to see Sportsnet and, on a more subdued level, TSN have discovered the National Women’s Hockey League. Until last week, any talk of Ponytail Puck at Sportsnet was reserved for the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, and it was mostly pathetic pandering from Tara Slone and Ron MacLean. Now Sportsnet Central is delivering nightly updates/highlights on the Isobel Cup season/tournament in Lake Placid, and there are numerous articles on the website. It’s fabulous.

An outfit from the Republic of Tranna is in Lake Placid. It’s called the Six. It has a 3-1-1 record, and stands atop the NWHL tables. Someone might want to clue in the geniuses at the Toronto Sun. I look daily but, unless I missed it, the tabloid has given its home team less ink than Bernie Sanders’ mittens. TorSun trumpets itself as the top sports sheet in the nation, but I call BS on that if they can’t squeeze in a few paragraphs about Ponytail Puck.

It’s puzzling that the aforementioned PWHPA has gone radio silent on its website since Dec. 21. Not a peep. The propaganda peddlers have stopped telling us that they “deserve” a living wage, that they “deserve” an affiliation with the NHL, that they “deserve” our undivided attention, and there have been no photo-ops with Billie Jean King. The Dream Gappers have $1 million of funding from Secret, and they’ve said they’ll stage a series of barnstorming showcase tournaments, but they still aren’t telling us where or when they’ll drop the puck. Silence is a peculiar way to sell your product.

Speaking of product, the Argos need all the help they can get to make the rabble in the Republic of Tranna sit up, take notice and find their way to BMO Field, so what do they do? That’s right, they sign a repeat offender of the National Football League drug policy. Martavis Bryant was first banished for four games in 2015, then sent to his room for the entire 2016 crusade, then punted indefinitely in 2018. The Canadian Football League needs guys like Bryant the way Bill Gates needs my spare change.

It was a double whammy of bad tidings for Rouge Football last week. Aside from the Bryant hiring, Scott Milanovich took his three Grey Cup rings and walked away from the E-Town E-Somethings before ever stepping onto the sideline at Commonwealth Stadium, and can anyone really blame him? Coaches gotta coach, and since we don’t know if there’ll be three-downs football this year, Milanovich opted for the sure thing as quarterbacks guru with the Indianapolis Colts. I just wonder if this means the second coming of Chris Jones to the E-Somethings.

Pam Shriver, left, and Martina Navratilova.

So, TSN ran a feature discussing the greatest athlete of all time in North American “team sports.” Names tossed about were Tom Brady, LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky. SportsCentre co-anchor Kayla Grey immediately added this to the debate: “Ask Serena Williams about all that,” she said smugly. Just wondering: What part of “team sports” does Grey not understand? Last time I looked, Williams is a tennis player. Her specialty is singles play. If, however, we were to consider her form chart in doubles, which certainly is a team sport, Williams isn’t the GOAT in the women’s game. It’s Martina Navratilova, who once partnered with Pam Shriver to win 109 consecutive matches and went more than two years without a loss. Check it out:

Grand Slam Doubles Titles
Navratilova 41 Williams 16

Doubles Match Victories
Navratilova 747 Williams 190

Doubles Titles
Navratilova 187 Williams 25

There are at least 37 women and 55 men with more doubles titles than Williams, including our guy Daniel Nestor with 95. Do the math. Williams’ 25 doesn’t spell G-O-A-T in “team sports” to me.

Really, it’s time for Serena-ites like Grey to cease with the GOAT narrative. She isn’t the greatest tennis player of all time (hello Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic—take your pick), ergo she cannot possibly be the finest athlete in history. So do us all a favor and clam up.

The January numbers are in for coverage of female athletes in the two local rags (30 publishing days):

Sports front
Winnipeg Free Press-4.
Winnipeg Sun-1.

Total number of articles
Winnipeg Free Press-29 (plus 12 briefs).
Winnipeg Sun-3 (plus 4 briefs).

Number of days with female-centric copy
Winnipeg Free Press-21 of 30.
Winnipeg Sun-6 of 30.

And, finally, I think it’s great that so many people are willing to share their mental health challenges on Bell’s Let’s Talk day, but it would be even better if we did it more than once a year. I’ve always thought of mental health as an every-day thing.