The River City Renegade


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About the greatest of them all Roger Federer…an emotional breakdown at Wimbledon…the still great Venus Williams…British knickers in a knot…a $1 million gaffe…and Sportsnet ignoring the CFL

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

I never thought I’d see a better running back than Jim Brown. I haven’t (although Gayle Sayers was absolutely breathtaking).

I never thought I’d see a better pitcher than Sandy Koufax. I haven’t.

I never thought I’d see a better baseball player than Willie Mays. I haven’t.

I never thought I’d see a better boxer than Muhammad Ali in his prime. I haven’t.

I never thought I’d see a better race horse than Secretariat. I haven’t.

I never thought I’d see a better hockey player than Bobby Orr. I haven’t.

I never thought I’d see a better tennis player than Bjorn Borg. I have. Roger Federer.

Roger Federer

Of all the athletes I have witnessed in my 66 1/2-year (so far) lifetime, Federer just might be the pinnacle. It’s a tough call, but he’s definitely in the discussion.

What I find most intriguing about Federer, who won his eighth Wimbledon singles title Sunday morning by dismantling a distraught Marin Cilic 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 on the lumpy lawn of the All England Club’s Centre Court, is his casual greatness. He plays tennis with a Zen-like calm that suggests the game is more of a stroll than a struggle. While his foes fret and fuss, it’s like Federer’s lounging in a recliner. He makes it look so…dang…easy. I mean, why does the Swiss maestro bother with a towel, on or off court? It can’t be to wipe away sweat. He sweats like the Pope swears.

Federer has been the dominant force in what must be cataloged as the platinum age of men’s tennis, with only health managing to slow him down. Temporarily.

He disappeared to the repair shop immediately after the 2016 Wimbledon fortnight and re-emerged six months later to earn the Australian Open title, with a five-set victory over nemesis Rafael Nadal, long Federer’s Kryptonite. He’s won five of the seven tournaments he’s entered this year, and he’s 2-for-2 in Grand Slam events.

Federer did, of course, skip the French Open in late May/early June, a decision he might regret should he carry on to triumph at the U.S. Open. That, mind you, is not to say Federer can’t get the job done on clay. He’s won on every surface but the moon. Still, success in Paris this year (or any year) was extremely unlikely, because Roland Garros is a Rafa Nadal thing. Ten times a Rafa Nadal thing. Jesus in sneakers couldn’t beat an on-form Nadal in Paris. Thus, Federer passed on Paris and prepped for Wimbledon. The results are in. Good call.

So, who or what can beat and stop Federer? Age. Eventually. There’ll be 36 candles on his birthday cake next month, and the aging process has to kick in one of these years.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to enjoy this seemingly ageless athlete who’s one for the ages.

Marin Cilic

How do you spell both the men’s and ladies’ singles championship matches at Wimbledon? D-U-D-S. After a final week of superb play—the Rafa Nadal-Gilles Muller fifth set was spellbinding—the lasting image of the ultimate matches is not one of terrific shot-making but that of Marin Cilic being reduced to an emotional train wreck during a side changeover vs. Federer. That was wince-inducing and very painful to watch. Been there, done that on the field of play, which is why I wanted to cry right along with him.

What’s that you say? Women’s tennis is lacking star power? Well, yes it is, with Serena Williams becoming a mama and Maria Sharapova trying to figure out how to play without the aid of banned substances. But there’s hope. The two most recent Grand Slam champions are French Open queen Jelena Ostapenko, just 21 and a powder keg of charisma and talent, and Garbine Muguruza, the 23-year-old Venezuelan-born Spaniard who paddywhacked five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams 7-5, 6-0 in the ladies’ final. Muguruza is the only woman to beat both of the Williams sisters in a Grand Slam final.

Steve Simmons of Postmedia just can’t seem to get out of his own way. After Muguruza had mopped Centre Court with Venus Williams on Saturday, he wrote: “Williams was a dominant player in 2000 and 2001 when she won the U.S. Open and Wimbledon. Since then, a good player, just not a great one.” Really. I’m uncertain how Simmons measures greatness in athletes, but Williams won Wimbledon in 2005, 2007 and 2008, and only four women—her sister Serena, Justine Henin, Sharapova and Kim Clijsters—have won more Grand Slams post-2001. Venus also has won 10 doubles Grand Slams post-2001. Venus Williams has been a great, not just good, player and champion for two decades.

Tsk, tsk. Venus Williams was in the pink at Wimbledon.

Nobody does pomp better than the British, but nobody gets bent out of shape like the British, either. I mean, tsk-tsking Venus Williams because she’s wearing a pink bra? Ordering players to the changing room to put on white skivvies? Talk about getting your knickers in a knot over nothing.

Okay, enough about Wimbledon. It’s about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. I’m sorry, but I simply didn’t understand all the teeth-gnashing and angst after the Bombers came out of the chute at 1-1. How bad was it? Bad enough that those two pesky Grumpets at the Winnipeg Free Press actually had a chin-wag during which sports editor Steve Lyons asked columnist Paul Wiecek if Thursday night’s assignment against the Toronto Argonauts was a “must win.” Are you kidding me? A “must win” three games into the Canadian Football League season? Come on, man. Don’t talk to us about must wins until the frost is on the pumpkin.

A drophead in the Freep described the Bombers-Argos joust as an “epic battle.” Ya, 10 field goals, that’s epic. The Argos failed to score an offensive touchdown. That’s epic like I’m Shania Twain. Come on, man.

Only one thing about that game was epic—the officiating blunder that jobbed Karen Kuldys out of $1 million. For those who missed it, Karen was the Safeway/Sobeys Touchdown to Win contestant, meaning if two kickoff returns went the distance she’d win a million Canadian bucks. Well, Ryan Lankford of the Bombers takes the opening kickoff to the house, then Martese Jackson of the Boatmen skedaddles 109 yards for a TD. But wait. There’s a flag on the play. One of the zebras has observed Toronto’s Llevi Noel ambushing Mike Miller from behind, whereas in fact the Bombers special-teamer has tripped over his own shoelace. No touchdown. No million Canadian bucks for Karen. The good news is, all Touchdown to Win contestants are now allowed one challenge flag per half.

So which head coach gets punted first, Chris Jones of the Saskatchewan Roughriders or Kent Austin of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats? The smart money has to be on Austin, whose Tabbies are winless. Somehow I don’t think there’ll be a whole lot of tears shed when he’s shown the door.

Two games in the CFL on Friday night and not a mention of either on the front page of the Sportsnet website at 2 o’clock Saturday morning. And this is the gang that trumpets itself as Canada’s #1 Sports Network. They had headlines about Kevin Klein signing to play hockey in Switzerland, some guy named Nikita Gusev signing to play hockey in Russia, and a piece on a Honda Indy practice, but nary a whisper about the CFL. I returned for a looksee at 4:30 a.m. Still nada. There was no mention of Wimbledon either. That, like dissing Venus Williams, is totally lame.

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 a Hall pass for “hell-ya!” girl Hayley Wickenheiser…keeping it behind closed doors for the Winnipeg Jets…fickle fans…and a new turn for the CFL quarterback carousel

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

I suppose the manner in which Hayley Wickenheiser walked away from hockey says something about the women’s game, if not her: Under-stated. Under the radar.

Hayley Wickenheiser

Hayley Wickenheiser

There was no ballyhoo. No emotion-charged, tear-jerker live press gathering on TV or streaming across the Internet. Just a simple tweet from Wickenheiser at 4:02 in the afternoon on a Friday the 13th , stating, “Dear Canada. It has been the great honour of my life to play for you. Time to hang ’em up!! Thank you!”

In the world’s greatest hockey nation, that’s how the greatest of all our female players bid adieu. A 22-word tweet, almost one for each of the 23 years the product of Shaunavon, Sask., wore the Maple Leaf with Canada’s national women’s team. As farewells go, you can’t do it at a lower volume than that, unless you say nothing at all.

That’s the nature of the beast, though.

I don’t believe I’d be off the mark were I to submit that female hockey operates under the radar three out of every four winters. We get geeked up about the girls’ game only when the Olympics arrive. Then it roars into our consciousness, like a hell-bent Hayley Wickenheiser dropping a shoulder and driving to the net against those always troublesome American girls.

Think Sochi 2014. Anything at those Games more dramatic, breath-halting and inspiring than the finish to the women’s gold-medal game? Nope. At least not for us. Our neighbors to the south, no doubt, don’t share such romantic sentiments.

The point is, we genuflect in the direction of the women’s game during the five-ring circus that is the Winter Olympics, otherwise it’s an out-of-sight, out-of-mind venture.

The two main organizations in North America—the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and the National Women’s Hockey League that operates in the northeastern U.S.—basically function in anonymity. I mean, until the Wickenheiser tweet on Friday, the only headlines in female shinny this season were the coming out of Harrison Browne, a transgender forward with the Buffalo Beauts, and the Edward Scissorhands-like slashing of NWHL salaries.

Not many people were shocked to read about a transgender hockey player or a 50-per cent cut in wages—they were gobsmacked to learn that something called the NWHL actually existed.

I doubt many are aware that the CWHL, in which players are not paid, is enjoying its 10th season.

All hail Hayley.

All hail Hayley.

So, Wickenheiser doing her thing on the down low was rather in lockstep with the women’s game, but no doubt any and all tributes that accompany her into retirement won’t be so muffled.

Wickenheiser is deserving of fanfare, not merely because of the unprecedented numbers (168 goals, 379 points in 276 games with the national side) or the gold trinkets she collected at the Olympics (four) and world hockey championships (seven). Most significant, it’s about what she has done for girls and women who wish to play hockey without being viewed as freakish or not quite right.

It wasn’t so long ago when boys wore the black skates and girls wore the white skates with the toe picks. It was considered the natural order of things. Any deviation was viewed with cynicism, if not open ridicule and bullying. Indeed, Wickenheiser speaks of her early days on the frozen ponds of Western Canada, when she felt obliged to conceal her identity in order to play hockey.

I remember when I was a kid, I hid in the bathroom and tucked my hair up so no one would know I was a girl,” the 38-year-old told Donna Spencer of The Canadian Press. “I just went through hell really, to play. Girls don’t have to go through hell anymore to play hockey.”

No they don’t. And much of that is Hayley Wickenheiser’s doing.

Does she belong in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Hell ya, girl! And that will be worth more than a 22-word tweet.

I’m not sure what’s worse, being paddywhacked 7-4 by the Montreal Canadiens or surrendering four first-period goals to the Arizona Coyotes. I mean, the Desert Dogs are the only National Hockey League outfit that has yet to reach double digits in wins this season. They’ve collected nine Ws in 41 assignments. But here’s the deal: The Winnipeg Jets, in dropping a 4-3 verdict to the ‘Yotes on Friday night, now have 22 losses for their 2016-17 crusade. Only one club, the Colorado Avalanche, has more Ls. Grim.

So, the Jets were late in allowing news snoops to enter their inner sanctum at Gila River Arena on Friday, because they thought it would be a swell idea to discuss their misgivings amongst themselves before captain Blake Wheeler surfaced to share a terse bon mot with the media. Next up was a chin-wag with head coach Paul Maurice on Saturday morning in Tinseltown. It’s official, then: The Jets have had more emergency meetings than wins this week.

It has come to my attention that there are those among us in Jets Nation who believe much-maligned goaltender Ondrej Pavelec is the remedy for what ails the local hockey heroes. Yes, oh ye fickle fans, and Donald Trump will fix the great racial divide in the U.S.

Oops newspaper headline of the week comes from the Winnipeg Sun: “Jets catching Canadiens at right time.” D’oh. I’m guessing Paul Maurice would disagree, since coach Potty-Mo has expressed nothing but four-letter displeasure in the wake of the 7-4 wedgie the Habs gave the Jets at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie on Wednesday night.

I note there might be a starting quarterback vacancy in Saskatchewan, where Roughriders’ chief cook and bottle washer Chris Jones parted company with Darian Durant by dispatching him to the Montreal Alouettes for a song. One line of logic suggests this is an opening for Matt Nichols, potential free agent QB. That might make sense if not for the fact Jones tossed Nichols into the dumpster when they were both with the Edmonton Eskimos. Once the Canadian Football League QB carousel stops spinning, I believe you’ll find Nichols where he was last year—behind centre with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

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

 


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Meet Mike O’Shea, Coach-for-Life of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have given head coach Mike O’Shea a new set of downs (three years worth) and general manager Kyle Walters is good to go for another four Canadian Football League seasons. To discuss this development, I bring in my two Gridiron Girls who, when last seen, were at the Grey Cup game in the Republic of Tranna but disappeared somewhere into cyberspace.

Take it away, ladies…

gridiron-galsLady Blue: Well, I guess it’ll be a very merry Christmas in the Walters and O’Shea households this year now that they’ve got those spanking, new contracts.

Lady Gold: Nobody should be surprised that the Bombers have re-upped both the head coach and general manager, because the club showed substantial improvement in the final two-thirds of this past season. But giving O’Shea three years instead of two? What’s that all about?

Lady Blue: Beats me. The guy in the short pants is 23-31, so I guess his first two seasons on the sideline were like the tree falling in the forest—it didn’t really happen. It’s like Walters and CEO Wade Miller based everything on the final 13 games of the 2016 crusade, when the Bombers went 10-3. They conveniently ignored the first 41 games of O’Shea’s sideline stewardship, when he was 13-28.

Lady Gold: I’m okay with O’Shea coming back, but if 23-31 and losing your one and only playoff game—after leading by 19 points!—is worth a three-year reward and probably a raise in pay, what do they give him if the Bombers actually accomplish something worth shouting about? You know, like ending a 26-year Grey Cup drought.

Lady Blue: I guess he’ll get a lifetime contract and a statue right beside the bronze Bud Grant outside Football Follies Field in Fort Garry. I wonder if the guy who sculpts the O’Shea statue will have him wearing short pants.

Lady Gold: Wouldn’t they make quite the pair? A bronzed Bud Grant in his trademark trench coat and O’Shea right beside him in a pair of baggy, bronze shorts. I know which one I’d poop on if I was a pigeon.

Lady Blue: Ouch. That’s a low blow.

Lady Gold: I guess it was. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. It’s just that I don’t understand how O’Shea’s record warrants a three-year contract. Seriously, if 23-31 and no playoff victories earns you that kind of security, the guy basically has become the Bombers coach-for-life. I agree with you that Miller and Walters based everything on 13 games and turned a blind eye to O’Shea’s most glaring gaffes.

Lady Blue: Like starting the wrong guy, Drew Willy, at quarterback. Like not starting Taylor Loffler at safety until injuries forced his hand. That’s brutal player evaluation.

Mike O'Shea: A do-over? I don't need no do-over.

Mike O’Shea

Lady Gold: And let’s not forget the lamentable 61-yard field goal attempt that ended the Bombers’ season in Vancouver. And to think, given the same scenario, O’Shea says he wouldn’t do anything different. He’d still put his team’s fate on the left leg of Justin Medlock, knowing full well that no one has ever hoofed a 61-yard field goal in B.C. Place Stadium. He’d do the same dumb thing.

Lady Blue: That decision rated a 10 on the dumb-o-metre. Dumbest call ever. Ever.

Lady Gold: Worse than what Dave Dickenson did in the Grey Cup game? I mean, the Calgary Stampeders were two yards away from winning and he takes the league’s Most Outstanding Player, Bo Levi Mitchell, out of the game and puts the ball in a rookie, third-string quarterback’s hands. And he doesn’t give it to the league’s leading rusher, Jerome Messam. That’s a massive brain fart.

Lady Blue: I still say O’Shea’s decision to attempt a 61-yard field goal rather than gamble on third-and-four was the dumbest coaching decision ever. Except maybe Marc Crawford’s refusal to tap Wayne Gretzky on the shoulder to take part in the shootout at the Nagano Olympic Games.

Lady Gold: Pete Carroll’s call that cost the Seattle Seahawks the 2015 Super Bowl was epicly dumb, too. O’Shea’s not the only coach to ever wear a dunce cap.

Lady Blue: What bothers me most is that O’Shea didn’t learn anything by his mistake. He’d do it again. Isn’t that the definition of insanity?

Lady Gold: Something like that. But let’s move on to another pertinent issue: Matt Nichols. Do the Bombers bring him back at any cost?

Lady Blue: Did you hear Walters’ answer to a variation of that question at the presser on Friday? It took him half a dozen seconds of silence before he managed to mumble, “Um.” He says he’s “cautiously optimistic” that Nichols will re-up, but he also says there are Plans B-C-D…all the way to Plan Z if Nichols bolts. The head coach has already proven to be quarterback blind, so I shudder to think what Plan B is and I’m horrified at the thought of Plan Z. That might include 81-year-old Kenny Ploen or a Ouija board to summon the spirit of Jack Jacobs.

A couple of Winnipeg scribes believe the Blue Bombers and quarterback Matt Nichols would be better off finishing fourth.

Matt Nichols

Lady Gold: I can’t imagine there’d be much of a market for Nichols.

Lady Blue: Toronto needs a starting quarterback because Ricky Ray has become as brittle as burnt toast and Drew Willy is a washout. Montreal is still looking for the heir to Anthony Calvillo’s throne. But the coaching/management situation in both those towns is iffy. Nobody knows who’ll be minding the store. If Nichols arrives at free agency, those are his likely landing spots. Saskatchewan might need a QB, but I doubt Chris Jones would be interested in him. He didn’t want him in Edmonton, why would he want him on the flatlands?

Lady Gold: What about the cost, though? He’s asking for $450,000. That’s a stiff sticker price for a guy who hasn’t won anything.

Lady Blue: It’s either that or they break out the Ouija board and talk to ghosts. Pick your poison.

Lady Gold: I’m guessing that Nichols re-ups. He’s got a good thing going here. He’d have to reinvent himself all over again in Montreal or Toronto.

Lady Blue: I hope you’re right. Anyway, time to go. Got some last-minute shopping to do.

Lady Gold: Okay. Happy Christmas and merry New Year.

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 more flag football…beers and boozing with Matt Dunigan…the two Freep Grumpets dissing Dieter Brock…and Shaq’s laugh track

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

homer-melon-headQuiz me this, kids: What’s the most common comment heard around the Canadian Football League these days? Nope. You’re wrong. It isn’t “When did Chris Jones morph into Homer Simpson?”

That’s running a close second, although it might be No. 1 with a bullet among plow jockeys and people who wear water melons on their heads. I mean, if you park your pickup truck anywhere between Fertile and Lloydminster, chances are you’re convinced the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ chief cook and bottle washer is to coaching what Homer is to good parenting.

For evidence, they will point to Jones’s curious call on third down late in Gang Green’s skirmish with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Saturday afternoon at the Facility Formerly Known as Football Follies Field in Fort Garry. Without going into the gory details, suffice to say Rider loyalists will suggest that the play was brought to you by the letters WTF.

Still, while Jones becoming a d’oh boy might be the topic du jour among Green People, the main CFL catch-phrase right about now is: “…there’s a flag on the play…”

There’s always a flag on the play in the CFL. Red flags. Yellow flags. Flags for bumping, grinding, grabbing grass, growling, bad breath, bad hair, bad attitude and, as excitable TSN gab guy Matt Dunigan put it at one point, “checking naughty parts.”

I swear, if the two play-by-play voices, Chris Cuthbert and Rod (Friggin’) Black, said “there’s a flag on the play” once, they said it 52 times during Saturday’s doubleheader on TSN. And that was just for the penalties, phantom or legitimate. The coaches can’t resist the urge to get in on the act and hurl their yellow hankies, too. Trouble is, I’m convinced they now sometimes do it because they can, not because they should.

Matt Dunigan...let's have some beer and go to Hooters.

Matt Dunigan…let’s have some beer and go to Hooters.

Actually, I don’t know what’s worse, the coach’s challenge or pass interference/contact.

Hands up anybody who can explain pass interference. How about illegal contact? Didn’t think so. The insufferable TSN talking head Glen Suitor is forever prattling on about PI/contact, attempting to educate us mere mortals, but he should save his breath. He doesn’t have any more of a clue than we do. Or the game officials.

Seriously. A receiver deliberately runs into a defender, yet the defender is flagged?

I say we ditch the coach’s challenge, ditch the five-yard contact rule and get back to playing football.

I am perhaps in the minority, but I get a kick out of Matt Dunigan’s color commentary. The guy is as geeked up as the players, and it’s always interesting and entertaining when there’s no filter between the brain and the lips. Everything Get ‘er Done Dunigan does is wrong. Like, he talks about beer and boozing (not to forget Hooters) as much he does football. And he talks over Rod Black too often (which is probably a good thing even if it’s wrong). But he works for me, as long as I get him in small doses.

say what banner4In the weekly segment of Say What?, an in-print gab session between the two resident Grumpets in the Winnipeg Free Press toy department, editor Steve Lyons (Viscount) and columnist Paul Wiecek (Gort) pooh-pooh the induction of quarterbacking legend Dieter Brock to the Blue Bombers Roll of Honour because “he never won anything.” Interesting. Neither did Milt Stegall. Why no whinging from the Grumpets when loser Milty got the call? Viscount and Gort also had to mention Brock and the zoo. Let it go, boys.

If you want to read a terrific piece on Brock, check out Ed Tait’s article on the Birmingham Rifle at bluebombers.com. It offers wonderful anecdotal insight, including a tale about the day he tossed a football 93 yards. Or, as Rod Black put it while chin-wagging with Brock in the booth during the Blue Bombers-Riders joust, “93 friggin yards.”

At the back end of May this year, when the natterbugs were already wagging their chins about the World Cup of Cash Grabs, I wrote: “Is it unCanadian of me if I really don’t care to talk about the World Cup of Hockey again until September? I don’t believe so. If, on the other hand, I still don’t wish to talk about it once the frost is on the pumpkin, feel free to take away my maple syrup, my back bacon and my Don Cherry voodoo doll.” Well, it’s September and I still can’t arouse any passion for the gimmicky WCOH.

Shaq...a funny man.

Shaq…a funny man.

Watched Shaquille O’Neal’s Basketball Hall of Fame induction speech. Too funny. And Shaq hasn’t missed many meals in retirement. He’s bigger than some third-world countries, at least five of the United States and one Canadian province. He’s also one of the funniest and most engaging, charismatic athletes ever.

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 the Henrik Stenson-Phil Mickelson epic…flag football…tennis hot takes… 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…

Phil Mickelson and Henrik Stenson.

Phil Mickelson and Henrik Stenson.

My goodness, what a glorious finish to the Open Championship at Troon, Scotland.

It was mano-a-mano, Henrik Stenson vs. Phil Mickelson for the honor of being introduced by some stiff British upper lip as “golf champion of the year.” Mickelson played bogey free, shooting 65. When you’re in the final pairing on a Sunday at a golf major and you take just 65 swings, you expect to be holding a trophy and a winner’s cheque on the 18th green.

Not this time, though. Mickelson’s 65 wasn’t good enough. Not by two strokes!

Stenson, whose closing, record-equaling 63 made him the first Swede to win the Claret Jug, and Mickelson delivered an epic. It was as riveting a final round of golf as you’re apt to see.

The Tom Watson-Jack Nicklaus duel of 1977 was classic. This was Classic-plus.

I don’t know about you, but I was root, root, rooting for Stenson to claim the Claret Jug, in part because he’d never won one of golf’s majors and I have a soft spot for Swedish people. But there’s also something about Phil Mickelson that I find grating. Perhaps it’s Lefty’s goody-two-shoes persona. Maybe it’s his prissy fist pump and his dainty putting grip. I know, I know…that’s dumb. But I can’t help it. He’s too squeaky clean for me.

So, Rory McIlroy smashes his 3-wood in a momentary hissy fit at the Open Championship and the club head snaps off. The Irishman’s little temper tantrum was met with ho-hum indifference by most, while the boys in the booth shared a few giggles about it on Sunday. Now, had that been Tiger Woods, what do you suppose the reaction would have been? He’d have been crucified.

A typical scene at a CFL game.

A typical scene at a CFL game.

So, I’m watching a Canadian Football League game and (penalty flag) Kevin Fogg is hauled down after a 15-yard punt return (penalty flag), and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (coach’s challenge) are told to move half the distance (coach’s challenge) toward their goal line before they can scrimmage the football (penalty flag). After (TV timeout) play resumes, quarterback Drew Willy (penalty flag) flings the football in the direction of Darvin Adams (coach’s challenge) and there’s jostling on the sidelines (penalty flag), where order is restored before (three-minute warning/timeout) one of the Bombers (coach’s challenge) does something stupid (injury/TV timeout).

Total time playing football: 15 seconds.
Total time for penalties, coach’s challenges, injury/TV/three-minute warning delays/timeouts: 25 minutes.

Just wondering: Is Chris Jones still a genius, or is he only a genius when Mike O’Reilly is his quarterback? Jones, of course, went to Edmonton and turned water into Molson Canadian when his Eskimos went from Sad Sacks to Grey Cup champions. Now he’s trying to work similar hocus-pocus in Saskatchewan, but it isn’t going so well for the Roughriders head coach and grand poobah of everything football related. Gang Green, at 0-3, are all that’s keeping the Bombers our of the basement.

Department of irony: Bobby Orr wants to slow down the game of hockey. What’s next? Don Cherry calling for a ban on fisticuffs and high collars? It’s true, though. No. 4 Bobby Orr, the revolutionary rearguard who made all others appear to be standing still while he went about the business of winning two National Hockey League scoring titles, wants to open up the game by slowing it down. “We’re losing too many players, too many injuries,” he tells TSN’s Gino Reda. Thus, he advocates bringing the centre-ice line back into play. I don’t know about you, but when Bobby Orr speaks I think we ought to listen.

Serena Williams is not the greatest athlete.

Serena Williams is not the greatest athlete.

ESPN tennis gab guy Patrick McEnroe is not unlike many TV commentators who tend to get caught up in the moment and spew inflated superlatives that defy logic and stand in conflict with reality. McEnroe stared into the camera last weekend and declared Serena Williams to be “the greatest athlete of all time.” Oh, shut the front door, Little Mac. I doubt very much that Williams is a superior athlete to any man who’s ever won the world/Olympic decathlon or any women who’s won the world/Olympic heptathlon. Williams, who claimed her 22nd Grand Slam singles title at Wimbledon, is not even the best tennis player of all time. She would be hard pressed to win a game, let alone a set, off either of the two chaps who contested the gentlemen’s final, Andy Murray and Milos Raonic. If you want to rate Williams as history’s finest female tennis player, fine. But let’s not get carried away.

Based on her scribblings, Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star is not fond of the Murrays, Andy and his bride Kim. According to rambling Rosie, Wimbledon champion Andy is “utterly humourless” and Kim is “prissy—except when mouthing obscenities.” I don’t know about you, but I can’t say that I know a whole lot of “prissy” potty-mouth girls.

Yo! Don Cherry! I think most hosers agree that Remigio Peirera struck a sour note when he turned the Tenors’ version of O Canada into a political statement at the Major League Baseball all-star game. But to suggest the rogue tenor’s solo act makes all the “left-wing weirdos happy” is a bit much. I mean, you can call me a left-wing pinko, but don’t ever call me weird.

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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Winnipeg Jets never had a five-year plan…smoking weed…rewarding failure…and a lame-duck coach

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

When, oh when, will people stop prattling on about the Winnipeg Jets’ five-year plan?

The latest to trot out this mouthful of mystical misinformation is Winnipeg Free Press sports columnist Paul Wiecek, who writes: “What was originally a five-year plan now looks more like a 10-year plan…”

fish wrapI challenge Wiecek, or anyone for that matter, to produce a documented sound bite from either Jets co-bankroll Mark Chipman or his right-hand man, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, that confirms they had a self-imposed mandate of five years to develop a roster that would qualify for the Stanley Cup derby on an annual basis.

Sorry, but said sound bite does not exist. It is as fictional as Peter Pan, Harry Potter and Ondrej Pavelec’s Vezina Trophy-winning season (bet you never thought you’d see the names Ondrej Pavelec and Vezina Trophy in the same sentence).

Here’s what Chipman told Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun in September 2013, scant seconds after he had bestowed a two-year contract extension on his GM, one year for each of Chevy’s first two failed seasons as steward of the National Hockey League club:

We will have success. I’m convinced of that. I wish I could give you a date and a definition of what that is exactly, but we’re moving in the right direction.”

That was then. This is what he told Tim Campbell of the Freep on Friday:

I believe the path we’re on is the correct one. It’s difficult but I’m more than happy to be patient.”

So there. Don’t hold your breath, because Chipman isn’t.

As for Cheveldayoff, the best anyone has gotten out of him is, “We have a plan. It’s a process. We’re on the right path.”

So here’s the Jets’ plan in its simplest form: They will draft and develop, all the while hoping they draft and develop better than 29 other NHL outfits. They will arrive as a bonifide contender when they arrive, not a moment sooner.

It would, of course, be folly for Cheveldayoff to start his own clock, because he would be setting himself up for failure. That aside, though, this ongoing belief that there was a five-year plan is nothing but pink ponies and flying pigs, and a quality jock journalist like Wiecek ought to know better than to perpetuate the myth.

A fixation for Chris Thorburn.

A fixation for Chris Thorburn.

I suppose some found the chin-wag between the Official Paper of the Winnipeg Jets and Chipman interesting, but I thought it to be an exercise in blah, blah, blah and yadda, yadda, yadda. That’s because Tim Campbell of the Freep was playing lob ball instead of hard ball. Why he didn’t ask His Holy Hockeyness to articulate the depth of his involvement in roster decisions (trades, contract negotiations, team captaincy, etc.) is as much a mystery as Paul Maurice’s fixation for Chris Thorburn. Campbell didn’t have to go all Mike Wallace on Chipman, because they were, after all, talking hockey not ISIS, but it isn’t a provocative question. It’s a fair question. So ask it already.

I’ll say this for Paul Wiecek: He doesn’t shy from adopting an unpopular posture. It’s one of the reasons he’s among my favorite sports scribes. But to submit that Kyle Walters and Mike O’Shea warrant rewards as GM and head coach, respectively, of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers is, shall I say, ballsy in the extreme. As a tandem, they are 12-24 over two Canadian Football League seasons. It is a results-driven business, the sole measuring stick being wins-losses. You win, you stay. You lose, you get a new postal code. Yet here’s Wiecek on the not-so-dynamic duo: “The Bombers should also extend the contracts of general manager Kyle Walters and head coach Mike O’Shea—and they should do it before the new season begins. (You read that right: a duo who missed the playoffs in their first two seasons should get contract extensions before we even get to see what they’ve put together for 2016. Yes, marijuana is basically legal at this point. No, I’m not smoking it by the bale.)” He might not be smoking weed by the bale, but Wiecek’s advocating that the Bombers reward colossal failure suggests he is, at the very least, sprinkling something more mind adjusting than sugar on his Corn Flakes.

Cal Murphy

Cal Murphy

In supporting his argument, Wiecek directs our attention to “long-term academic studies of college football, the NHL, and Italian soccer” that conclude switching coaches “does not measurably improve a team’s performance, it frequently makes it worse.” Really? Well, let’s see:

  • In 1957, the Bombers changed coaches (Bud Grant) and went to the Grey Cup game that year, then won the CFL title four of the next five seasons.
  • In 1983, the Bombers changed coaches (Cal Murphy) and won the Grey Cup in ’84.
  • In 1987, the Bombers changed coaches (Mike Riley) and won the Grey Cup in ’88 and ’90.
  • In 2007, the Saskatchewan Roughriders changed coaches (Kent Austin) and won the Grey Cup.
  • In 2008, the Calgary Stampeders changed coaches (John Hufnagel) and won the Grey Cup.
  • In 2008, the Montreal Alouettes changed coaches (Marc Trestman) and went to the Grey Cup game, then won the title in ’09 and ’10.
  • In 2012, the Toronto Argonauts changed coaches (Scott Milanovich) and won the Grey Cup.
  • In 2012, the Roughriders changed coaches (Corey Chamblin) and won the Grey Cup in 2013.
  • In 2013, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats changed coaches (Kent Austin) and advanced to the Grey Cup game that season and the next two.
  • In 2014, the Edmonton Eskimos changed coaches (Chris Jones) and reached the West Division final that year, then won the Grey Cup in 2015.

What does it all mean? Constantly changing coaches isn’t the reason the Bombers haven’t held a Grey Cup parade since 1990. It’s due to the fact they’re constantly hiring the wrong person.

Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun did the chin-wag thing with Kyle Walters, who, among other things, said: “I believe in Mike (O’Shea) wholeheartedly.” Apparently, wholeheartedly means letting O’Shea walk into the 2016 CFL season as a lame-duck coach.

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.