The River City Renegade


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About Mike O’Shea’s stubborn streak…clothes don’t make the coach…Kent Austin still has a job?…strange brew from a Postmedia scribe…and Genie’s charisma

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

Mike O’Shea and Bill Belichick: Clothes don’t make the coach.

For the record, I think Mike O’Shea is a seriously flawed head coach.

His most notable wart would be his mule-like refusal to acknowledge blatant blunders. I mean, when a man makes a mistake and then tells the rabble that, yes, given the opportunity for a do-over he would make the same stupid gaffe again, he’s not someone who should have the nuclear codes.

But that’s O’Shea.

Did he learn from an ill-advised 61-yard field goal attempt that fell seven yards short of the target and ended the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ season last November at B.C. Place Stadium? Nope. Three days after the fact, O’Shea advised news snoops that, “Yup, absolutely,” he’d ignore logic and again put his faith in Justin Medlock’s left leg.

Did he learn from an ill-advised faux punt that turned potential victory into defeat a little more than a week ago vs. the B.C. Lions? Nope. “We’d do it again,” he confirmed.

They say hindsight is 20/20 vision. I suppose it is. Unless your name is Mike O’Shea.

I swear, if it were up to O’Shea he’d have the Edsel back on the road. He’d say the guy at Decca records who rejected the Beatles made the right call. He’d let Custer have another go at all those Indians at the Little Big Horn.

So, ya, he’s stubborn like a Winnipeg winter is cold. It’s a flaw that, at some point, will likely cost him his job.

Until then, he’ll continue to keep us scratching our heads, and I’m guessing that he’ll keep doing it in a pair of short pants that somehow keep popping up as a talking point.

I’m sorry, but the significance of O’Shea’s pant legs escapes me. So the guy dresses like some shlub squatting on a street corner in Osborne Village, begging for nickels and dimes. Bill Belichick does, too. Even worse. He’s a hobo in a hoodie. But he’s also the best head coach in professional football. He’s just never let success go to his clothes, is all.

Jeff Reinebold: What a goof.

I can think of just one example of a coach’s wardrobe possibly impacting on team performance—Jeff Reinebold. He looked like a guy who got lost on his way to a beach volleyball game. He was a total goof-off. So were the Bombers under his watch. It was party time in flip-flops with Bob Marley until someone finally shot the sheriff, 32 games and 26 losses too late.

Calgary Stampeders 60, Hamilton Tiger-Cats 1. Hamilton Tiger-Cats 0-5. Only win-free outfit in the Canadian Football League. Fewest points scored, most points allowed. And head coach Kent Austin still has a job? How is this possible?

Pet peeve: Broadcasters and reporters who describe a short kickoff as an “onside kick.” All kickoffs are onside. They have to be, otherwise there’d be a five-yard penalty. Is that picky of me? Ya, about as picky as people who talk about O’Shea’s short pants.

So, here are the head counts at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry for the Bombers this crusade: 30,165 (Calgary), 25,085 (Toronto Argonauts), 25,931 (Montreal Alouettes). Average attendance: 27,060. Only the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Edmonton Eskimos play to larger audiences. This is a problem how?

In the D’oh! Department: Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press refers to John Hufnagel and Wally Buono as “former coaches.” When last seen, Buono was standing on the B.C. Lions sideline and he wasn’t there as window dressing. He’s the Leos’ current, not former, head coach.

Some strange brew from Steve Simmons in his weekly three-dot column for Postmedia. Let me count the ways:

  1. He describes Ted Williams as baseball’s “greatest hitter ever.” Well, let’s see. The Postmedia columnist was born in 1957. He was barely out of the cradle the day Williams last swatted a baseball in 1960, hitting a dinger in his final Major League at-bat. I hardly think someone who was a three-year-old boy at the time and never once watched Williams play with the Boston Red Sox is qualified to determine anything about the Splendid Splinter.
  2. He writes this of three-down football: “I really wish the CFL faithful would stop telling people how many great games there are” Huh? You have a boffo product and you shouldn’t—repeat, should not—brag about it? And I thought Mike O’Shea said strange things.
  3. He writes this of women’s tennis: “The top tennis player in the world, according to the WTA, is Karolina Pliskova. The No. 5 player is Elina Svitolina. If either of those women knocked on your door and said hello, would have any idea who they were?” Well, Stevie, you’re supposedly the most-read sports columnist in Canada. If you knocked on my neighbor’s door and said hello, would she have any idea who you are?

Genie Bouchard

In the world according to Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail, tennis player Genie Bouchard is “this country’s most charismatic athlete.” Well, I’ve never met our girl Genie. Probably never will. So I can only go by what I’ve seen/heard/read on TV and the Internet, and she strikes me as sullen, guarded and totally lacking in charm. I can’t help but cheer for terrific young Canadian athletes like golfer Brooke Henderson and swimmer Penny Oleksiak, but I struggle mightily to root, root, root for our Genie. Henderson and Oleksiak are far more charismatic. So, too, is P.K. Subban. Henry Burris was charismatic. Pinball Clemons was the very definition of charismatic. Still is. Hey, I don’t want to sound like a Debbie Downer, because I’m sure little girls flock to Genie. Just like they flock to Justin Bieber. It’s just that I find both her and him disagreeable.

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


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About bad behaviour in sports…straight guys talking about gay things…sports scribes eating their own…the unlovable Blue Jays…clay-court tennis…and cole slaw on a hamburger?

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

It’s been an interesting and odd past couple of weeks in the sandbox. Let’s recap:

  • Kevin Pillar of the Toronto Blue Jays was shut down for two Major League Baseball games and instructed to do some serious soul searching after directing a homophobic nasty toward Atlanta Braves pitcher Jason Motte.
  • The National Hockey League lightened Ryan Getzlaf’s pay envelope to the tune of $10,000 after the Anaheim Ducks captain went all potty-mouth and homophobic in a playoff match.
  • Four heterosexual men who, to the best of my knowledge, have not spent a single day of their lives as gay men, gathered around a table in a TSN studio and discussed gay issues as if they harbored special insight into what words do and don’t offend gay people.
  • Tiger Woods

    Tiger Woods, much like his golf game, was discovered asleep at the wheel and hauled off to a Florida hoosegow on a DUI charge. Tiger’s mug shot was rather ghastly but, hey, who looks good in the small hours of the morning when they’re hopped up on every pill known to man?

  • Terry Frei, award-winning sports columnist with the Denver Post, was told to leave the building and not return after a tweet in which he expressed his discomfort with a Japanese man, Takuma Sato, winning the Indianapolis 500 on Memorial Day in the United States. Frei later said we’re free to call him an idiot for his idiotic and racist remark, but he asks that we don’t call him a racist for his idiotic and racist remark.
  • Tennis legend Margaret Court has gone completely off her nut. She described the women’s tour as a lesbian-infested enterprise in which senior players groom vulnerable youngsters to adopt a lesbian lifestyle; she bemoaned the birth of Casey Dellacqua’s second child because she’ll be raised by two mamas and no papas; she insisted that transgender kids are the work of the devil; she compared a phantom LGBT lobby to Adolph Hitler and communism; she accused that same phantom gay lobby as the force behind a move to have her name scrubbed from one of the venues used for the Australian Open. (What is it with old tennis farts? It wasn’t so long ago when Romanian pig Ilie Nastase went off his nut with racist remarks about Serena Williams’ unborn baby—“Let’s see what color it has. Chocolate with milk?” and he made sexist comments about Britain’s top female player Johanna Konta, calling her a “bitch” and asking for her hotel room number.)
  • French tennis player Maxime Hamou, perhaps in an attempt to disprove Court’s theory that everyone in tennis is gay, was kicked out of Roland Garros for forcibly and repeatedly kissing Eurosport reporter Maly Thomas during a live TV interview.

I think that pretty much sums up the seedy side of sports in recent days, and I think we can agree that there’s been a whole lot of ugly going on.

The worst optic for me was the TSN panel on The Reporters with Dave Hodge. I mean, when I think of poor casting, Johnny Depp as Tonto comes to mind. Kevin Costner as Robin Hood. John Wayne as Genghis Khan. Ashton Kutcher as anybody. All bad, bad, bad, bad. But four heterosexual sports guys talking about gay things? The worst.

Heterosexual male sports scribes should be discussing gay issues only if they are gay, if they have spent considerable time in the LGBT community, if they offer a named gay source as a point of reference, if they have felt the sting of a homophobic barb, or if they have had to fight society for the right to marry the partner of their choice.

I doubt Hodge, Michael Farber, Steve Simmons or Dave Feschuk qualify on any count.

Farber suggested the way the Blue Jays and MLB handled the Pillar situation was “admirable.” Well, I’m sure it was to him. But he isn’t gay. Perhaps a gay sports writer might think the punishment for calling an opponent a “faggot” was too namby-pamby.

Trouble is, there are no gay sports scribes in Canada. At least not in the mainstream. If you’re talking about a jock journo at big city daily rags in the True North, there’s a 99.9 per cent probability that he’s a he, he’s white and he’s a confirmed heterosexual. The other 0.1 per cent is female. And probably straight.

Mark Spector

Mark Spector of Sportsnet represents the 99.9 per cent, and he recently wondered why the NHL cannot hear a homophobic slur “the way a gay man would hear the word.” Well duh. It’s because the people who occupy the ivory tower in the NHL are not gay.

Spector’s piece is thoughtful (he actually solicited gay insight from Brock McGillis, a former Ontario Hockey League goaltender who came out post-career) and he asks this question: “Why have the other sports experienced players come out, but not the National Hockey League? Or Canadian Major Junior Hockey?” Spector might pose the same query about his own business. I started in the rag trade in 1969. I worked with gay entertainment writers, gays on news side, gay librarians, gay department heads, but never once a gay male jock journo. You’d think that in the ensuing 48 years there’d have been at least one gay guy scribbling about sports at one of the big-city, mainstream dailies. But no. There have been more sightings of Sasquatch. Why no openly gay sports scribes? Probably the same reason there are no openly gay hockey players—they fear ridicule and don’t want to be thought of as a weaker-than or a lesser-than.

Hey, look who’s back! It’s the two Grumpets, Steve Lyons and Paul Wiecek. They’ve reappeared on the Winnipeg Free Press sports pages, and they did the unthinkable with their return volley: They ate their own. Actually, it was Wiecek who called out Cathal Kelly in a discussion about Tiger Woods’ arrest on a DUI charge. “The normally staid Globe and Mail had a hyperventilating column by Cathal Kelly up on their site already by Monday afternoon, which made the paper and Kelly—who is usually excellent—looking very stupid.” Yowzers. I can’t recall the last time I read one sports scribe dissing one of the brethren like that, but I think JFK was still alive.

Got a kick out of good guy Doug Smith’s blog in the Toronto Star. “How can you not hope for the best for a team that’s lost so many vital components already and still manages to soldier on?” Smith asks of the beleaguered Blue Jays. Well, Doug, I’ll give you two names to explain why I cannot root, root, root for the Tranna Nine: Jose and Bautista. He is the most tedious, tiresome man in professional sports.

While watching a McDonald’s commercial during the terrific five-setter between our top tennis guy Milos Raonic and Pablo Carreno Busta at Roland Garros on Sunday morning, I couldn’t help but wonder: Who thought it would be a good idea to put coleslaw on a hamburger? I’m not lovin’ it.

I do love clay-court tennis and its long rallies, though, which might explain why the French Open is my preferred Grand Slam event and my two main men of all time are Bjorn Borg and Rafa Nadal. The Raonic-Carreno Busta match was terrific theatre, with the Spaniard enduring 4-6, 7-6, 6-7, 6-4, 8-6.

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


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About the mother of all bad schedules…look who’s climbing the NHL’s all-time loser list…adios to Cam Cole…a Penny for your thoughts…dumb debates…the golden age of nothing…and fun sports writing

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

You want to talk about a tough schedule, kids (we all know Paul Maurice does)?

Well, let me tell you about the mother of all tough schedules. Then I don’t want to hear another word about what the Winnipeg Jets have endured in the first two-plus months of their current National Hockey League crusade.

shoe

A horrible schedule didn’t prevent captain Lars-Erik Sjoberg and the Winnipeg Jets from parading around the Winnipeg Arena with the World Avco Trophy.

Here’s the deal…

Beginning on Jan. 1 and ending on Feb. 27 in the final World Hockey Association season (1978-79), the Jets played 30 games (17 road, 13 home). Do the math. That’s 30 assignments in 58 nights. At one point, they played five games in six nights (3-2) and eight games in 10 nights (4-4). Overall, they went 14-14-2. I don’t recall anyone bitching about the grind and unfairness of the schedule. We just spoke to its quirkiness.

During a wacky stretch in February, for example, we were in Cincinnati long enough to qualify as registered voters in the Ohio primaries. Here’s what the itinerary looked like:

Feb. 8: arrive Cincinnati
Feb. 9: play Cincinnati Stingers
Feb. 10: leave Cincinnati, play at New England Whalers
Feb. 11-13: return to Cincinnati; practice in Cincinnati
Feb. 14: play at Cincinnati
Feb. 15: leave Cincinnati
Feb. 16: play at Birmingham Bulls; return to Cincinnati
Feb. 17: play at Cincinnati
Feb. 18: leave Cincinnati, play at home vs. New England
Feb. 19: return to Cincinnati
Feb. 20: play at Cincinnati
Feb. 21: leave Cincinnati, play at home vs. New England

We spent more time in Cincinnati than Venus Flytrap and Dr. Johnny Fever (Google WKRP in Cincinnati, kids; it was a terrific sitcom). Our home base had become the Cincinnati Marriott. A couple of times, we weren’t required to pack our bags and check out of the hotel because we would be back in less than 24 hours.

Maybe we should all just have our mail delivered to us at the hotel,” silky-smooth centre Peter Sullivan quipped one day.

Some of us could recite the Marriott restaurant menu from memory.

By way of comparison, here’s how often, or seldom, the six WHA outfits played during that Jan. 1-Feb. 27 time frame:

mother-of-all-schedules

 

 

 

 

The Jets were so tuckered out from their 30-games-in-58-nights grind that they only managed to go 19-10 the rest of the way, finishing 11-8 down the regular-season stretch then 8-2 in the playoffs to win the final WHA title. That’s why I refuse to listen to any more whining about the current Jets’ tough schedule. I don’t want to hear it from Maurice, his players, his parrots in mainstream media, or fans. I’ve witnessed worse and saw it conclude with the best result possible.

Paul Maurice: Soon he'll be No. 3 on the NHL's all-time loser list.

Paul Maurice: Soon he’ll be No. 3 on the NHL’s all-time loser list.

I’m not into fancy stats. I like my stats like my life: simple. Thus, I look at the numbers in the W and L columns and they tell me all I need to know about a head coach. And here’s what they tell me about Paul Maurice: He has the second-worst won-lost percentage of all active NHL head coaches who have been on the job more than a month and, by the close of business next spring, the Jets bench boss will be the third-losingest head coach in the history of the NHL. At present, he has 550 career losses. Another 12 and he’ll pass Ron Wilson to slide into the No. 3 slot. That, mind you, puts him in mighty fine company, because the only two men ahead of him on the loser list will be Scotty Bowman and Al Arbour, both Hockey Hall of Famers. The difference, of course, is that Bowman and Arbour are also Nos. 1 and 3 on the all-time win list and they’ve coached nine and four Stanley Cup champions, respectively.

I was sold on Maurice when he worked wonders with the Jets in his first full whirl behind the bench. He got them into the Stanley Cup tournament. Two seasons later, he no longer is working wonders. Some, in fact, wonder how he’s still working. Worth considering is this: A number of the Jets young players will improve as they mature, but Maurice won’t ever be a better coach than he is today. If the head coach can’t grow with his players, when is the right time to dismiss him?

The best of jock journalism in Canada is no more. Cam Cole of Postmedia has arrived at trail’s end, after 41 years as a jock sniffer. Cam was never a ranter and raver like, say, his Postmedia colleague Steve Simmons, who believes he who squawks the loudest rules the day. Cam, a very nice man, most always wrote in reasoned, measured tones with a subtle wit, and he had a heck of a ride, showing up in time to write about both the Edmonton Eskimos and Edmonton Oilers dynasties. Cam’s retirement means the torch as our nation’s top jock columnist is passed to Bruce Arthur, who’s very socially conscious and actually injects humor into his scribblings for the Toronto Star.

The boys and girls in the toy departments of the land got it right in their salute to kid swimmer Penny Oleksiak as Canada’s athlete-of-the-year. She struck gold in the pool at the Rio Summer Olympic Games and twice at the recent world short course championships. It was a no-brainer. I did, however, find it odd that Andre De Grasse was part of the Lou Marsh Trophy discussion. Yes, I realize his bromance with Usain Bolt in Rio was a warm-and-fuzzy Olympic storyline, but De Grasse never won a race. He finished second or third. Shouldn’t you actually have to win something before you warrant consideration as the True North’s top jock? There should have been just three athletes in that conversation: Oleksiak, hockey player Sidney Crosby and golfer Brooke Henderson.

Puck Finn

Puck Finn

I don’t know about you, but I find the Auston Matthews-Patrik Laine debate kind of silly. Go ahead and discuss which of the two is enjoying the better freshman season if you like, but to engage in a verbal to-and-fro over who will have the better NHL career is foolish in the extreme. Discuss that amongst yourselves when Matthews and Puck Finn have some mileage behind them. Like, in about 15 years.

Once again, Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail has referred to this as the “golden age” of Canadian tennis and, once again, he has failed to explain himself. Yes, Milos Raonic is the world No. 3 on the men’s side, but he went another year without winning a tournament of significance. Genie Bouchard, meanwhile, has fallen off the grid. So, our premier men’s player can’t win the big match and our top female player can’t find her game. That’s what passes for a “golden age?”

Really enjoyed old friend Paul Friesen’s piece on the fictional Bud’s Diner in the Winnipeg Sun last week. It’s a nice, lighthearted piece that, although some might find hokey, shows imagination, creativity and a sense of humor, something that’s lacking in jock journalism. I was also pleased to see the return of my favorite Grumpets—Paul Wiecek and Steve Lyons—to the Winnipeg Free Press sports pages. Their Say What?! print chin-wag is light, breezy and often self-deprecating, with an appropriate amount of bite.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit. She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

 


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About Mike O’Shea still wearing short pants and getting the job done…Rodney Dangerfield…girl power in the NHL…running mates for Donald Trump…Jacob Trouba wanting out…and top-drawer sports writing

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

Mike O'Shea: He's no Jeff Reinebold anymore.

Mike O’Shea: He’s no Jeff Reinebold anymore.

Well, who saw this coming? Mike O’Shea suddenly looking like the second coming of Mike Riley.

Well, okay, we don’t want to get carried away. Riley coached the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to a pair of Canadian Football League championships. I assume he still has the Grey Cup rings to prove it. O’Shea, on the other hand, has accomplished squat. But, hey, when the good times roll so does hyperbole.

What kind of a roll are the local football heroes on? Let’s just say the fact we’re mentioning O’Shea and Riley in the same sentence—rather than O’Shea and Jeff Reinebold—ought to be your first clue.

Your second clue would be that no one is talking or writing about O’Shea’s short pants anymore.

It wasn’t so long ago, remember, that the Bombers were a Sad Sackian 1-4 outfit and O’Shea was being fitted for a neck-tie party. A funny thing happened on the way to the gallows, though. He changed quarterbacks (or someone did it for him), a whack of starters sustained owies that put them on the shelf, and the guys filling in have done something the prime-timers couldn’t do—win.

So what am I saying? That it’s necessity, not design, that is at the root of the Bombers’ rise to respectability? Yes. And no.

Only those who share the inner sanctum—and, perhaps, a few flies on the wall at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry—know the true story behind the QB switch. To that point, the head coach had displayed either a shocking quarterback blindness or a peculiar infatuation with his do-nothing starter, Drew Willy. Thus it’s my guess that O’Shea was prodded, if not instructed, to take the ball from Willy and hand it to Matt Nichols. His hand was further forced due to the injuries on the offensive line, at receiver and among the defensive dozen.

But here’s where O’Shea got it right: He’s plugged the proper people into the appropriate places (hello, Taylor Loffler). The result: four games, four Ws and a 5-4 record at the halfway juncture of their 2016 crusade.

Now let’s see if he has the smarts to get it right once the original starters are back from sick bay.

Rodney Dangerfield doesn't get any respect, and neither do the Blue Bombers.

Rodney Dangerfield doesn’t get any respect, and neither do the Blue Bombers.

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that the Bombers are playing the Rodney Dangerfield card. “We feel like we’re not respected,” linebacker Mo Leggett said scant seconds after Friday night’s brawl in Montreal, with the Winnipegs on the favorable end of a 32-18 score against the Alouettes. “We feel like we’re still underrated by everyone, so we’re just going to keep going making plays and we’re going to stay hungry.” This, of course, is a common rallying cry from players on outfits that go from punching bag to pick-of-the-litter seemingly overnight. But whatever works, right?

It occurred to me while watching the Bombers and Alouettes grab grass and growl that the jury remains out on Duron Carter, who received a one-game sentence for bowling over Ottawa RedBlacks head coach Rick Campbell yet has not missed a beat. We still await an arbitrator’s ruling. Good grief. The O.J. Trial didn’t take this long.

John Bowman of the Larks had a legit gripe with officiating when one of the zebras flagged him for roughing late in the fourth quarter and the result very much in the balance. Bombers O-lineman Travis Bond shoved Bowman post-whistle. Bowman shoved back. Bond, a 6-feet-6, 329-lb. behemoth, went all soccer player, abruptly leaning back and his arms flailing as if the victim of a terrorist attack. Out came the hanky. That cost the Als 15 yards. Lip service from Bowman cost him another 10 yards. Brutal. If Bowman’s shove was worth 15 yards, Bond’s embellishment should have been worth 15 yards.

Speaking of embellishment, I’m sorry but Kevin Pillar of the Toronto Blue Jays doesn’t have to leave his feet to catch a ball quite as often as he does. No doubt he’s among the premier glovesmiths in Major League baseball, but the Jays centrefielder made a play on an Albert Pujols drive the other night that had mustard dripping all over it. Yes, he ran a long way to make the catch, but, no, he didn’t have to launch himself into the Superman routine. It was pure hot-dogging.

Barbara Underhill has provided the NHL with girl power for years.

Barbara Underhill has provided the NHL with girl power for years.

The arrival of Dawn Braid as full-time skating coach with the Arizona Coyotes was met with much ballyhoo, because she’s a she. Except neither Braid nor the Desert Dogs is breaking new ground here. The Toronto Maple Leafs have had former figure skating champion Barbara Underhill on payroll as skating coach since 2012. Previously, she had worked for the Disney Ducks, New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lighting. The Hockey News once named her among the 100 most influential people in the game. Figure skating females have, in fact, been coaching in the National Hockey League since the 1970s, when Laura Stamm worked with Bob Nystrom of the New York Islanders. Underhill, Cathy Andrade, Barb Aidelbaum and Braid have followed her lead. Girl power has long been in the NHL…it’s just that a lot of people never noticed until the Braid hire.

Is it too late for Donald Trump to recruit either Hope Solo or Ryan Lochte as a running mate in the U.S. presidential election race? Nobody, other than the Donald, has offended more Americans than the soccer goalie and the swimmer, so I figure one of them is a perfect fit.

Bill Watters, former player agent, former NHL executive, current radio gab-and-gossip guy, says Jacob Trouba wants out of Winnipeg. He offers no insider info to support his theory that the Jets’ young defenceman wishes to fly the coop. He uses only the deductive reasoning of a man who has spent a lifetime in the game at many different levels. You know something? I’m inclined to believe Watters.

My three stars at the Rio Olympics, print division, were Bruce Arthur (Toronto Star), Cam Cole and Ed Willes (Team Postmedia), with an honorable mention to Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail for his wrapup piece. Each wrote a column that has stayed with me. More than one, actually. Some other scribes’ work stayed with me as well. Like a batch of bad chili. But we don’t want to go there.

If there’s a top-drawer sports columnist in the True North with better social awareness than Arthur, I haven’t read him or her. His piece from the Olympics on American skeet shooter Kim Rhode and fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, who, like Rhode, contributed a bronze medal to the U.S. collection, is a prime example. It’s about hijabs, blue hair, the Second Amendment and the beauty of social acceptance. It’s worth a read.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.


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About the Winnipeg Jets spending more big bucks…the Blue Bombers’ winning formula…”gutless” comments…and other things on my mind

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

Mark Scheifele: A $49 million smile.

Mark Scheifele: A $49 million smile.

It’s no surprise that the Winnipeg Jets have tossed top dollar at Mark Scheifele.

Yes, in the grand scheme of things, the Jets operate on the chintz. In any payroll search of National Hockey League clubs, you’ll always find the locals nearer the bottom of the heap than the top. This is a “budget” team.

Yet the Secret Society that is True North Sports & Entertainment contradicts itself. That is, it is not a big spender, yet it has never been shy about spending big.

I mean, any outfit willing to compensate a lowly foot soldier like Chris Thorburn to the tune of $1.2 million per annum isn’t afraid to chuck the change around. Co-bankroll David Thomson likely found enough to pay Thorbs’s salary hidden behind and beneath the cushions of his sofa.

The point is, stuffing $49 million (US) into Scheifele’s piggy bank doesn’t represent a seismic shift in how True North does business. The Jets have a history of showing a willingness to deliver term and top-market compensation to those they deem their most valued workers. Anyone who thinks otherwise hasn’t been paying attention.

Earlier this year, the Jets committed $38 million to defenceman Dustin Byfuglien. Two days ago, it was $16.5 million for Mathieu Perreault, a generous stipend for a guy who might be playing third-line minutes. None of this is chump change. Nor was the $93.1 million they doled out to three players—Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little and Zach Bogosian—three years ago this month. Thirteen months before that, they agreed to pay Ondrej Pavelec $19.5 million over five years (ignore the reality that it was money not wisely spent on their much-maligned goaltender).

So no one should be surprised that the Jets went all-in with an eight-year, $49 million contract for Scheifele. It wasn’t a debunking of a “cheapskate tag,” as the Winnipeg Free Press suggests. It’s what they’ve done and will continue to do. Nothing has changed.

Blake Wheeler

Blake Wheeler

I have one question about the Jets signing of Scheifele: Why didn’t they name the 23-year-old centre team captain at the same time? While prevailing sentiment suggests Wheeler ought to wear the C, Scheifele will be doing his thing at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie for the next eight winters. Wheeler, whose birthday cake next month will feature 30 candles, won’t be.

In Florida, owners of the Panthers talk about winning the Stanley Cup. “They expect a Stanley Cup and we have a duty to bring the best team possible to our fans,” general manager Tom Rowe says of owner Vincent Viola and vice-chairman Doug Cifu. In Winnipeg, meanwhile, His Holy Hockeyness, Mark Chipman, and his valet, Kevin Cheveldayoff, talk about a “process.”

Nice to see the Winnipeg Blue Bombers finally found a winning formula—play a team that will commit six turnovers. That’s what went down when the Bombers bettered the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, 28-24, Thursday night at Timbits Field in the Hammer. The trick now, of course, is to find a few more teams as inept as the Tabbies.

On that note, who stole the real Hamilton Tiger-Cats and what have you done with them? Not to discredit the Bombers, who’ll take Ws in any shape or size, but the Tabbies were gawd awful and aren’t even a reasonable facsimile of the outfit that has been a Canadian Football League force since Kent Austin put his hands on the till. Yes, I realize the starting quarterback, Zach Collaros, is in sick bay, but that’s no excuse for the Keystone Kops routine.

Just wondering: Did South African High Court Judge Thokozile Masipa give her “fallen hero” Oscar Pistorius a hug and a kiss before shipping her “broken man” off to jail for the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, or did she settle for an autograph?

fish wrapCathal Kelly is among the finer wordsmiths in Canadian jock journalism, but I fear he’s lost the plot when it comes to tennis. Scribbling in the Globe and Mail, he mentions “the golden era of Canadian tennis” and cites Genie Bouchard’s march to the 2014 ladies’ final at Wimbledon and Milos Raonic advancing to the gentlemen’s semi-final round before bowing to Roger Federer that same summer. That’s Kelly’s idea of a golden era? One fortnight on the lumpy lawns of the All England Club? I’m sorry, but there’s nothing “golden” about one exceptional-yet-unsuccessful run at a tennis Grand Slam, then operating on the periphery of the sport’s elite. I would suggest that if Raonic topples Andy Murray in the Wimbledon final on Sunday morning, we can begin talking about a “golden” era of Canadian tennis. But not before he’s actually won something of note.

Shame on Steve Simmons, Postmedia sports columnist and TSN gab guy who this week on The Reporters with Dave Hodge advised us that Kevin Durant has “no spine” and his signing with a stacked Golden State Warriors outfit was “gutless.” In case we didn’t hear him the first time, he repeated his reckless “no spine” insult in his weekly three-dot column. Yo! Stevie! I’ll tell you what takes “no spine” and is “gutless.” Sitting in the shelter of a faraway TV studio or in your home office and slandering one of the top five performers in the National Basketball Association. Stand on a chair, look Durant in the eyes and then say he’s spineless and gutless or don’t say it at all.

I’m liking two new features in the Winnipeg Free Press toy department: 1) Paul Wiecek’s Sticks and Stones column (a string of brief opinion blurbs can make for a bright and breezy read; 2) TV columnist Brad Oswald’s take on the sports shows we watch. I’m anxious to see if Oswald will critique sports scribes freelancing as broadcasters or treat them like sacred cows. I’m betting it’s the latter, because people in the toy department don’t tend to eat their own.

It’s about that Trivago guy who shows up in all those commercials during sports programs: Someone has to tell him to stop dancing. He’s smooth like JLo is ugly.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

 


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Sports scribes are every bit as disloyal as football coaches

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

It’s Thursday morning…do you know where your football coach is?

sportswritersI mean, it’s difficult keeping track of the Canadian Football League sidelines stewards these days, what with Chris Jones going here, Jason Maas going there, John Hufnagel moving upstairs, Wally Buono moving downstairs, Paul LaPolice returning to the scene of the crime, Noel Thorpe neither here nor there, and Mike O’Shea still watching film.

I swear, you’ll see less traffic flow at the Syrian border.

In the case of Jones, he didn’t fly solo in his first-to-worst defection from the Grey Cup champion Edmonton Eskimos to the Sad Sack Saskatchewan Roughriders. Apparently, his traveling party included eight assistant coaches, seven slick free agents, six large O-lineman, five cleaning ladies…and a punter in a pear tree. We haven’t seen this large an exodus since Moses did his thing at the Red Sea. Or at least since the Berlin Wall came a tumblin’ down.

Little wonder that CFL commissioner Jeffrey Orridge has built his own metaphorical Berlin Wall. Stop. Do not pass go. Do not collect another team’s playbook. There shall be no more coach’s crossings until such time as the commish de-dizzies his head. So there.

All of which moved Ed Tait to ask this in the Winnipeg Free Press: “What about loyalty, or the disappearance of it, when it comes to coaches packing up their playbooks to move on to a league rival?”

Loyalty? Loyalty? A jock journalist talking loyalty? It is to laugh.

Look across the sportswriting landscape in the True North and it’s littered with defectors. Examples:

Ed Tait: Winnipeg Sun-Saskatoon StarPhoenix-Winnipeg Sun-Winnipeg Free Press.
Paul Friesen: CJOB-Winnipeg Sun.
Gary Lawless: Thunder Bay Chronicle Journal-Winnipeg Free Press-TSN.
Cam Cole: Edmonton Journal-National Post-Vancouver Sun.
Ed Willes: Medicine Hat News-Regina Leader-Post-Winnipeg Sun-freelance-Vancouver Province.
Terry Jones: Edmonton Journal-Edmonton Sun.
George Johnson: Winnipeg Tribune-Edmonton Sun-Calgary Sun-Calgary Herald.
Steve Simmons: Calgary Herald-Calgary Sun-Calgary Herald-Toronto Sun.
Bruce Arthur: National Post-Toronto Star.
Cathal Kelly: Toronto Star-Globe and Mail.

Most of them are, or have been, sleeping with the enemy, but there’s no wrong-doing there. Not unless you have some moral hangups about negotiating with the opposition while still drawing pay from your current employer. Sportswriters trade places like kids trade bubble gum cards and, basically, it’s just a bunch of guys looking out for No. 1.

You know, just like Chris Jones and Jason Maas and Noel Thorpe and others are looking out for No. 1.

Grand Master Kevin Cheveldayoff

Grand Master Kevin Cheveldayoff

What part of the Winnipeg Jets’ draft-and-develop strategy do I not understand? Oh, that’s right, it’s this part: Grand Master Kevin Cheveldayoff brings Joel Armia up to the NHL club and plops him in the press box, there to munch on popcorn for three weeks. This is a most curious method of developing young talent. I cannot see how this was a benefit to the player. Or the club, for that matter. Unless, of course, Armia was there solely to file a report on whether the pressbox popcorn has too much salt and not enough butter.

So, what are we to make of the reported contract asks of Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd and Jacob Trouba? I believe I can sum it up with these five words: Not a hope in hell. I mean, giving Byfuglien a lifetime contract? Essentially, that’s what his reps are asking of the Jets, because he’ll be 31 at the end of this NHL crusade, making him 39 at the tail end of an eight-year deal. His usefullness will have been exhausted long before then. I imagine there might be an NHL outfit willing to sign him for eight seasons, but it won’t be the Jets. At least it better not be.

These salary demands, exposed by Tim Campbell of the Winnipeg Free Press, place Grand Master Chevy in a bit of a pickle. The Jets general manager cannot allow Ladd and Byfuglien to skate away in free agency next summer, as he did in receiving bupkus for Michael Frolik, but dealing them might be more difficult now that the sticker price and term are public knowledge. I mean, would you be anxious to exchange assets for a defenceman who’ll likely balloon to 300 pounds by the third year an eight-year deal?

What’s the over/under on Bruce Boudreau remaining behind the Disney Ducks’ bench? I say Boxing Day, because the current four-game junket to the East Coast surely will determine the fate of the head coach of an Anaheim team pegged as a Stanley Cup favorite before skirmishing commenced this season. If the Ducks are still bottom feeders in the NHL Western Conference by the time Santa has unloaded his loot, say goodbye to Brucie and, perhaps, hello to old friend Randy Carlyle.

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

 


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The boys on the football beat in Winnipeg are second to none

It occurs to me that…

There is no city in the Great White North with as superb a stable of scribes detailing all things three-down football than River City.

Start with Ed Tait of the Winnipeg Free Press. Best beat writer in the whole land. His accomplice at the Freep, Paul Wiecek, and Kirk Penton over at the Winnipeg Sun complete a menage-a-terrific that keeps readers fully informed of the goings-on of not only the Winnipeg Blue Bombers but the entirety of the Canadian Football League.

I also like Herb Zurkowsky in Montreal and the tandem of Rob Vanstone and Murray McCormick in Regina, but the quality and quantity that Messrs. Tait, Wiecek and Penton churn out is unmatched.

* There were fewer, if any, finer people on the Winnipeg/Manitoba sports scene than Frank McKinnon.

Frank McKinnon

Frank McKinnon

Frank, who passed away at age 80 last week, was the first person I interviewed and quoted in a byline story as a rookie reporter for the Winnipeg Tribune. It was at a Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association annual meeting, and he was gracious, obliging and generous with his time. We spoke often over the ensuing 30 years and the former head of hockey in the province never changed. He always was a delight.

When I reflect on all the truly wonderful people I met during my time in mainstream jock journalism, Frank’s name is at the top of the good-guy list, alongside former player agent Don Baizley and University of Manitoba Bisons football coach Brian Dobie.

* I’m wounded. Crestfallen. And it’s all Gary (La La) Lawless’s doing.

La La, you see, has made an attempt to find a proper place in the pecking order of hockey homebrews for Jonathan Toews, the Chicago Blackhawks centre who’s three wins away from adding to his collection of Stanley Cup rings. The main mouthpiece in the Freep sports section reckons that legendary goaltender Terry Sawchuk is the pre-eminent Manitoba born-and-bred shinny star. How did he arrive at this conclusion? Well, he claims to have talked to a number of writers and former scribes who cover(ed) the local shinny scene.

Well, I’ve been following hockey in Winnipeg since the 1950s. I’ve been scribbling about it for the past 44 years. Nobody’s been at it longer. Alas, my phone still isn’t ringing, so I assume it still ain’t La La calling. Perhaps I was out or in the shower when his call came. Or maybe he just didn’t call.

This hurts, Gary. You never write or phone anymore. Is it something I wrote?

* If you’re looking for an example of what some sports scribes do when they’re bored with themselves, take a looksee at this Cathal Kelly offering in the Globe and Mail last week.

Cathal Kelly

Cathal Kelly

Kelly piddles on our prairie cousins in Edmonton because…well, because, in the world according to Cathal, Edmonton has the bad manners to not be the Republic of Toronto. Apparently, Edmonton is supposed to behave like the backwater burg Kelly believes it to be and excuse itself from hosting elite sporting events. You know, like the FIFA Women’s World Cup that commenced with Canada’s 1-nil verdict over China on Saturday afternoon at Commonwealth Stadium in The Chuck.

He cites the 2011 WWC as an example of how things ought to be done. That footy extravaganza was showcased in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium, a stately, magnificent structure that, again, in the world according to Cathal, makes Commonwealth seem like a shelter for the homeless.

“It’s actively ugly,” crows Cathol, a bald, bespectacled man of horn-rims that some might describe as, well, actively ugly. “The field is circled by a track—the perfect bush-league touch that says ‘high school.’ “

Berlin Olympic Stadium, complete with track around soccer pitch.

Berlin Olympic Stadium, complete with track around soccer pitch.

Ah, yes. Nothing says high school like a running track around a football pitch. You know, just like the running track that encircles the football pitch in the BERLIN OLYMPIC STADIUM!

We wouldn’t want the facts to get in the way of a good hissy fit, though, would we, Cathal? You just go right ahead and rant. Stomp your little feet and hold your breath. Perhaps one day your beloved Republic of Toronto will grow up to become a city big enough to host a prestigious event like the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

For now, though, it’s shut out of the soccer circus and I’m afraid you’ll have to settle for the Pan American Games in July. Those would be the same Games that Winnipeg has already hosted. Twice.

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