Let’s talk about skeptics and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers…the long and short of Check Down Charlie…get off my lawn!…that rainy day feeling in the CFL…no one like Gizmo…Smilin’ Hank, bad manners and cheese…Brooke and Bianca…just the facts, ma’am…and going to beat 100,000

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and hold all my phone calls today while I watch women’s tennis…

Skepticism abounds. And I get that.

I mean, when there’s been nothing but nothingness for going on 29 years, the tendency is to stick an italicized “ya but” at the end of every happy thought about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

They beat the Calgary Stampeders. “Ya but…they’ve gotta play ’em two more times.”

Janarion Grant

Janarion Grant is an electric kick returner. “Ya but…what about that lame offence?”

Crown Lands was a boffo halftime show. “Ya but…don’t they have any barber shops where those boys come from?”

And so it was for me while watching Winnipeg FC make fewer mistakes than the Stampeders on Thursday night at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry. It was like those commercials where there’s a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other, both of them yanking on some poor sap’s good-versus-evil chain?

Only instead of a devil and an angel, it was a Cynic and a Polyanna nattering in my ears and, after listening to them squawk for three hours and a day, I needed an aspirin. Or a pint.

Seriously, for every blah-blah-blah there was a yadda-yadda-yadda.

Coach LaPo

Pollyanna: “Isn’t that new guy Janarion Grant absolutely wonderful? Two touchdowns on punt returns! Over 300 yards bringing back kicks! Meet the new Gizmo! But let’s call him Quick Six!”

Cynic: “Good bloody thing he was there, because Paul LaPolice’s offence totally sucked. No imagination. No creativity. No freaking TDs.”

Pollyanna: “Matt Nichols silenced his critics. Great game management and zero picks.”

Cynic: “You mean Check Down Charlie? Hard for anyone to pick off one of his passes when he’s afraid to toss the football more than two yards at a time. The hair on those two dudes doing the halftime show is longer than any of Nichols’ passes. He does more dunking than a cop in a donut shop.”

Justin Medlock

Pollyanna: “Impressive. Justin Medlock kicked four field goals, including a 55-yarder.”

Cynic: Whatever. Early August. Perfect weather. No pressure. We’ll talk about Medlock if he does it in mid-November when the wind is howling like a couple of frat boys at closing time.”

Pollyanna: “Richie Hall’s defence came up big when it had to, with a key interception to close the first half and another one to seal the victory. Gotta love that!”

Cynic: “Let me know when they actually beat a certified starting quarterback. They haven’t had to deal with anything but clipboard jockeys since Mike Reilly and Trevor Harris in June.”

So, yes, I remain (mildly) conflicted about Winnipeg FC after pondering its 26-24 victory over the always difficult Stampeders. Oh, I’m convinced the Bombers’ 6-2 log is legit. They’ve earned their perch atop the tables and, one game shy of the midway mark of their Canadian Football League crusade, there’s ample cause to believe there’ll be a playoff skirmish at Football Follies Field come November, when it’s a reasonable assumption that the aforementioned Medlock and his left leg will, indeed, be battling winds howling like a couple of frat boys at closing time.

Mike Reilly, down again.

Further, the local lads ought to deliver the B.C. Lions a good paddywhacking later this week, because Mike Reilly can’t beat them while lying on his back. Reilly is the toughest dude QB in the CFL, but the Leos keep asking him to win a knife fight with a plastic straw, and that seldom leads to a happily ever after ending.

So I’m saying the Bombers will head into the back half of their crusade at 7-2, also with a leg up on finishing first in the bumper-to-bumper crawl that is the West Division.

Alas, the alpha-dog argument likely won’t be settled until the late-October, home-and-home dosey doe with the Stampeders, which means everything in between is filler guaranteed to fascinate, infuriate and, hopefully, entertain.

Maybe Check Down Charlie will even throw a pass that stretches farther than Pinocchio’s nose at some point. Wouldn’t that be something?.

check Down Charlie

Lest anyone run off with the wrong notion, I believe Nichols can take the Bombers where they need and want to be in November. No, he’s not the kind of QB to grab a game by the back collar and give it a good rag-dolling, but there’s enough there there to get the job done. I mean, if Sean Salisbury can win the Grey Cup, so can Check Down Charlie. It’s just that he’ll have to stop playing with one arm tied behind his back. Either he and Coach LaPo add variety to the offence (read: a few more long balls) or this crusade aborts earlier than planned and someone is looking for work.

Crown Lands

It’s about Crown Lands, the halftime entertainment last Thursday: Oh my. Don Cherry’s wardrobe isn’t that loud. I spent most of the next day playing my vinyl albums from the 1960s, just to remind myself what real rock ‘n’ roll is supposed to sound like. But, hey, the young people at Football Follies Field seemed to enjoy the show, so I’m not going to be an old frump and shake my fist and shout at clouds. I would, mind you, call the cops if Crown Lands showed up to play on my lawn.

Actually, I was shaking my fist and shouting at clouds on Friday night. I mean, handing a W to the Saskatchewan Roughriders after less than 45 minutes of football because of a cloud burst in Montreal? Wrong. Dumb rule. Should be revisited. What’s the hurry that they can’t wait out the lightning, thunder and wet stuff for more than an hour? The large lads that anxious to get to the bar?

Having said that, they could have called off the Edmonton Eskimos-Bytown RedBlacks skirmish any time after the first quarter and you wouldn’t have heard a peep out of me. Purely dreadful.

The hosannas, rightly so, are raining down on this year’s crop of lickety-split, whiz-bang kick returners, on pace to take a CFL record 42 boots back to the house. But don’t let me hear anyone put them in Gizmo Williams’ class. Giz was the best ever. And probably always.

Smilin’ Hank

If you see Henry Burris and the TSN squawkbox is thoughtful enough to open a door for you, for gawd’s sakes thank the man! I say that because Smilin’ Hank reckons us hosers are short on behavior and tall on rude. Asked by Sean Fitz-Gerald of The Athletic how he explains Americans to his Canadian friends, Hank replied: “I always tell people America is sectional. In the South, where I’m from, people are typically much nicer. They’re more accommodating. We cook our food differently than they do in the northeast. Even though people still barbeque and do those things, for us, BBQ and fry, that’s how we do it down south—we want it on the grill, or we want it in the fryer (smiles). The people are very respectful and their manners are excellent. I always tell Canadians—Canadians could learn something from Southerners. Canadians are nice people, but Canadians can be rude. There’s a lot of rude Canadians. I’ve held the door for a lot of Canadians, and they’ll walk in and not even say thank you.” Listen, Hank, that door swings both ways. Don’t let it hit you on the ass on your way out.

Just kidding, of course. Hank’s always struck me as a good guy, and he makes a point of informing his American pals that we don’t actually live in igloos and that the Republic of Tranna is “a bit like Chicago and has the mentality of New York, to a point.” He didn’t say what Winnipeg is “a bit like,” to a point, but I’m thinking Buffalo with the mentality of Green Bay. Sans the cheddar on our heads, of course.

Hey, I don’t mean to sound insulting. I like Green Bay. Had a wonderful time there in the late 1990s. But I’m still trying to get the cheese smell out of my hair.

Bianca Andreescu

Speaking of cheesy, I try my best to root, root, root for our young tennis guy Denis Shapovalov. Really, I do. It’s a struggle, though. The kid has too much of the P.K. Subban hot dog in him for my liking, and I don’t know how much of his playing to the crowd is an act and how much is sincere. Teen sensation Bianca Andreescu also plays to the crowd, but it never strikes me as cheesy.

Brooke Henderson

Our girl Bianca was across the net from the neighborhood bully, Serena Williams, in today’s Rogers Cup final in The ROT, and her victory gives the clowns who choose the Lou Marsh Trophy recipient something to chew on. It’s her second tournament W this year, the same as our Lady of the Links, Brooke Henderson. So what carries more value, tennis or golf? Last year, Brooke won twice, including the Canadian Open, but they gave her a pass and anointed a guy in a fringe sport (Mikael Kingsbury, moguls skiing) our country’s top jock. This year, Brooke’s second W was her historic ninth, making her the most successful Canadian on either the LPGA or PGA tour. That should be the determining factor. Unless, of course, another moguls skier catches the voters’ fancy.

Milos Raonic

Here’s someone way out of his lane—Steve Simmons (I know; what a shock). The Postmedia Tranna columnist graced the Rogers Cup in the Republic of Tranna with his presence last week, and all he did was double fault on his facts. First, he scribbled this of our Andreescu: “She’s never lost to anybody in the top 10 because she’s never played anybody in the top 10.” Incorrect. Bianca played four matches v. top-10 opponents prior to the Rogers Cup: World No. 3 Caroline Wozniacki in Auckland, world No. 6 Elina Svitolina and No. 8 Angelique Kerber at Indian Wells, and world No. 4 Kerber at Miami. Whupped ’em all. Next, Simmons advised us that Genie Bouchard was “the highest-rated Canadian player, man or woman in tennis history.” Again incorrect. Genie’s career best was world No. 5 in 2014. Milos Raonic reached world No. 3 in 2016 and ’17. This information is easily accessible. But apparently taking two minutes to visit the WTA and ATP websites is too much to ask of a national sports columnist. Why clutter an essay with correct information when misinformation will do, right? So I’m not sure what lane Simmons is supposed to be in, but it definitely isn’t women’s tennis. Or, really, anything to do with women’s sports..

And, finally, I noticed that this River City Renegade blog passed the 30,000 milestone for views this year and 100,000 overall for 3½ years. To those who have stopped by for a peek, I thank you, with a caution that if you make a return visit it won’t be any better. To those who haven’t visited, I can’t say I blame you.

About drinking the Winnipeg Jets Kool-Aid…a pity party…size doesn’t really matter…beer-league hockey and a bean counter…a losing MVP…Nathan MacKinnon for MVP…Shaq’s still PO’d about Steve Nash…women in the broadcast booth…and Le Grand Orange bids adieu

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

I didn’t think anyone would buy the “everything goes under the radar when you play in Winnipeg,” bunk that Jets captain Blake Wheeler was selling last week. Other than the gullible, fawning faithful, that is.

But along comes Paul Wiecek and he’s actually swallowing that cup of Winnipeg Jets Kool-Aid.

Right to the very last drop.

Here’s what the Winnipeg Free Press columnist wrote about Wheeler’s “under the radar” malarkey: “That might have been true before this season. In fact, it almost certainly was true.”

In fact, it almost certainly was not true.

Which National Hockey League outfit, the Jets (versions 1.0 and 2.0) or the mega-market Tranna Maple Leafs, do you suppose has produced more individual regular-season award winners and more all-stars since River City was invited to join the fun for the 1979-80 season (excluding, of course, the years when Winnipeg was dark)? I’ll give you a hint: It isn’t the team that skates in the shadow of the CN Tower.

Here are the facts, ma’am…just the facts (they aren’t hard to find):

Winnipeg Jets 1979-80 to 1995-96; 2011-12 to 2016-17

Calder Trophy: Dale Hawerchuk 1981-82, Teemu Selanne 1992-93
Jack Adams Trophy: Tom Watt 1981-82, Bob Murdoch 1989-90
King Clancy Memorial Trophy: Kris King 1995-96
All-star teams (1st or 2nd): Hawerchuk 1984-85, Selanne 1992-93, Keith Tkachuk 1994-95, Phil Housley 1991-92, Alexei Zhamnov 1994-95
Rookie all-star team: Selanne 1992-93, Bob Essensa 1989-90, Iain Duncan 1987-88, Boris Mironov 1993-94, Patrik Laine 2016-17
Total: 5 individual awards, 5 all-star teams, 5 rookie all-stars15.

Tranna Maple Leafs 1979-80 to 1995-96; 2011-12 to 2016-17

Calder Trophy: Auston Matthews 2016-17
Frank Selke Trophy: Doug Gilmour 1992-93
Jack Adams Trophy: Pat Burns 1992-93
All-star teams: Borje Salming 1979-80
Rookie all-star team: Felix Potvin 1992-93, Wendel Clark 1985-86, Dan Daoust 1982-83, Kenny Jonsson 1994-95, Jake Gardiner 2011-12, Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews 2016-17
Total: 3 individual awards, 1 all-star team, 7 rookie all-stars—11.

We all know les Leafs fly “under the radar” like Donald Trump is subtle on Twitter, yet voters have ignored them season after season after season.

Teemu Selanne and the Calder Trophy

Consider the Calder Trophy as an e.g. Until Auston Matthews was anointed the NHL’s leading freshman last spring, do you know how long it had been since a member of les Leafs won the top frosh bauble? Fifty-one freaking years! Half a century! When Brit Selby accepted the trinket, Lester Pearson was Prime Minister of Canada. Neil Young had just joined Buffalo Springfield. Hockey Night in Canada was still televised in black and white.

But two Jets—Dale Hawerchuk and Teemu Selanne—copped the Calder after Selby and before Mathews. And a third, Patrik Laine, was runnerup last year.

Go figure.

This whole Winnipeg is “under the radar” thing is a total copout. It’s such a lame lament. It sounds like the theme of an “Oh, woe are we” pity party. I can hear Leslie Gore singing “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to” as I type. Rodney Dangerfield should be their poster boy. No respect, I’ll tell ya…no respect. Look, I get the drill. Winnipeg is mocked, maligned and ridiculed as a backwater burg. It’s so remote, you have to drive 500 miles just to get to the Middle of Nowhere, also known as Regina. But I invite anyone to provide evidence in support of the notion that a Jets player or coach has been cheated out of an award due to locale.

Blake Wheeler

Wiecek didn’t stop at one swig of the Jets Kool-Aid. He doubled down on the conspiracy theory in a follow-up essay: “There has been some loose talk in recent weeks about Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler having an outside shot at taking down this season’s Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player,” he wrote. “That’s not going to happen for a lot of reasons, beginning with the fact the Hart Trophy is voted upon by the media and Wheeler plays in the smallest media market in the entire NHL.” He wants to talk about size? Like size matters? Okay, let’s talk size. If Winnipeg is the nail on your little toe, Edmonton is the nail on your pinky finger. Yet the Oilers won 30—count ’em, 30—individual awards that are voted on (mostly by the media), 10 of them going to players not named Wayne Gretzky (in the years Winnipeg wasn’t dark). There were also 32 first- or second-team all-star selections, including six chosen to the rookie team. In the National Football League, tinytown Green Bay can boast of eight Associated Press MVP awards from five players, dating back to the early 1960s. The Goliath known as New York City, with two teams since 1970, has had just two NFL MVPs. Size doesn’t matter, performance does.

Scott Foster shuts the door on Paul Stastny.

So, the mighty Jets juggernaut couldn’t put a puck past a bean counter who plays goal in a beer league at Johnny’s Ice House West in Chicago. They tried for 14 minutes and one second. They tested him seven times. Nada. Scott Foster, the Blackhawks backup goaltender to the backup goaltender, was perfect on Thursday night at the United Center. His NHL career goals-against average is 0.00. I swear, there hasn’t been a better emergency replacement story in sports since Lou Gehrig took over at first base for Wally Pipp and the New York Yankees. Difference is, Gehrig hung in there for another 2,130 consecutive games. Bean Counter Foster didn’t quit his day job. He went back to his spreadsheets the following morning, knowing he’s the NHL’s feel-good story of the year. Brilliant stuff.

Al Rollins

Speaking of Chitown goaltenders, does the name Al Rollins mean anything to you? Didn’t think so. Well, he tended goal for Chicago in 1953-54. The Blackhawks occupied the cellar in the NHL that season. They won just 12 of 70 assignments, missing the playoffs by a whopping 43 points. Rollins’ 3.23 goals-against average was worst in the league. Guess who was NHL MVP. Yup, Al Rollins. So don’t tell me Connor McDavid shouldn’t be considered for the Hart Trophy simply because his Oilers teammates suck and didn’t qualify for this spring’s Stanley Cup tournament. History records that numerous outriders have been MVP, in all leagues. Andre (Hawk) Dawson, for example, was MVP on a Major League Baseball bottom-feeder. Ditto Alex Rodriguez. Here’s a partial list of non-playoff MVPs: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Los Angeles Lakers,1975-76; Larry Walker, Colorado Rockies, 1997; Barry Bonds, San Francisco Giants, 2001, 2004; Alex Rodriguez, Texas Rangers, 2003; Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies, 2006; Albert Puhols, St. Louis Cardinals, 2008; O.J. Simpson, Buffalo Bills, 1973; Johnny Unitas, Baltimore Colts, 1967; Andre Dawson, Chicago Cubs, 1987; Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals, 2015; Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins, 2017; Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels, 2016; Robin Yount, Milwaukee Brewers, 1989; Cal Ripken, Baltimore Orioles, 1991; Ernie Banks, Chicago Cubs, 1958-59; Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh Penguins, 1987-88; Andy Bathgate, New York Rangers, 1958-59.

If I had a vote, I’d be inclined to give serious consideration to Brad Marchand as MVP in the NHL, because the Boston Bruins would be in Nowheresville without him. But I’d have to hold my nose if I included him on my ballot, because he’s a skunk. A total dweeb. People say Marchand plays “with an edge,” but I disagree. He plays dirty. He’s also a diver. Ultimately, I’d have his name on my ballot, but not at the top. I’d put Nathan MacKinnon and his 93 points/11 game-winning goals for the Colorado Avalanche first, followed by McDavid. Yup, possibly two non-playoff participants one-two. I’d have Blake Wheeler of les Jets third (he plays an honest game as opposed to Marchand’s shenanigans), then Sidney Crosby (Evgeni Malkin has marginally better numbers, but Sid the Kid still makes the Pittsburgh Penguins tick) and Marchand.

I’m not a hoops fan. Never have been. But it’s boffo that Victoria’s Steve Nash will be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, in part because he was a two-time National Basketball Association most valuable player. Mind you, his former sidekick with the Phoenix Suns, Shaquille O’Neal, figures Nash’s two MVP awards were a rob job. “(I should have won) three, easily. (I should have won) the two that Steve Nash got over me. It pisses me off. (Nash) knows,” Shaq once told SI.com. Get over it, Shaq.

How unusual, also refreshing, to hear an all-female broadcast team work a hockey game. Sportsnet pulled it off with Leah Hextall handling the play-by-play, Cassie Campbell-Pascall providing the backup vocals in the booth, and Nikki Reyes standing at rink-side for the Clarkson Cup, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League title match between the Markham Thunder and Kunlun Red Star. Wonder how long it will be before we hear three women working an NHL game? No doubt the very thought will make a lot of men cringe and feel like they’ve been gelded. Well, it’ll happen one day. Deal with it, boys.

Le Grand Orange

Le Grand Orange has left the building. That would be Rusty Staub, who died Thursday, three days before his 74th birthday. I have one vivid memory of Staub—he stole a base in the first Major League Baseball game I witnessed live. An original member of the Montreal Expos, Staub was with the Detroit Tigers at the time and I was sitting in the first base bleachers at old Exhibition Stadium in the Republic of Tranna. Because he had the foot speed of an ATM, the Blue Jays thought it unlikely that Staub would bolt. Yet away he went. It was like watching a man pull a milk wagon. I could have poured back three pints by the time he arrived at second base. But he got there safely. Standing up, no less. Staub stood there, smiling, like a schoolboy who’d pulled the perfect prank. A nice memory.

And, finally, this week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: Not so long ago, he described the induction of Pedro Martinez to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame as a “ridiculous choice. He spent four seasons in Montreal. That’s all.” Apparently, that made the Hall “look cheap.” And “Do you honestly believe a player with four years service belongs in a Hall of Fame? Any Hall of Fame?” Ah, but now he writes glowingly of Staub as “the baseball player in Canada so many of us cared about. The first who mattered across the country.” Staub actually spent less time with the Expos than Martinez, just 3 ½ season with the Expos, but he was inducted into the CBHF in 2012 and I don’t hear Grandpa Simmons shouting that it was a “ridiculous choice.” Nor should he. So shut up about Pedro, Steve.