I’ve told this tale before, but it bears repeating given the shaky status of the Canadian Football League.
In a distant time and place, my friend Chester and I would hop on our bikes and make the trek to St. Boniface, twice a day, to watch the Winnipeg Blue Bombers frolic on a parched patch of earth known as Packers Field, so-named because of the Canada Packers rendering plant across the road.
We were allowed to get up close and personal with Kenny Ploen and Leo Lewis and Ernie Pitts and Bud Grant, who actually acknowledged our existence and once presented us scamps with a watermelon to share at the conclusion of the two-a-day, preseason training exercises.
How many kids could say they sat and spat watermelon seeds among sporting deity? Just Chester and myself, and it was magical.
The Bombers, after all, were top dog. The Winnipeg Jets had yet to arrive to adjust the pecking order, and our football heroes brought glory to Good Ol’ Hometown, winning the Grey Cup with great frequency in the late 1950s and early ’60s.
I’m uncertain what became of Chester, but, for me, those morning/afternoon sessions at Packers Field served as the stirrings of a life-long fling with Rouge Football.
I was fortunate. Actually, blessed would be a better word. I grew up with the CFL, then got to cover it for 19 years in three locales—Winnipeg, Calgary and the Republic of Tranna—and that’s something you should understand about the boys and girls on the beat: They’re fans.
Those who chronicle the daily doings of the three-down game care. About the league, about the players, about management, about the quirky rules that differentiate us from the four-down colossus south of the 49th. We embrace the notion of humble community ownership, in the same way the citizenry of Green Bay embraces its Packers.
Thus, we tend to take it personal when we hear squawkings of a sellout to American interests, or when the feds decline to pony up with cash to see the CFL through the COVID pandemic. Who are these snake-oil salesmen from the U.S. planning to butcher our game, and how dare Trudeau the Younger and his pals on Parliament Hill give Air Canada, the film industry and the arts community money hand over fist while leaving the lords of Rouge Football to sit, hat in hand, on a cold, dark street corner?
The iffiness of the CFL’s very existence, let alone a 2021 crusade, rattles us to the core, and we nod in agreement when we hear Russ Jackson speaking our language.
“I think if there was an amalgamation of the American and Canadian side, it would lead towards playing the American game,” the great quarterback told 3DownNation. “I have no interest in that. I have four season tickets here in Hamilton. I’m not sure I would keep those season seats if we turned into an American-type football game.”
You tell ’em, Russ. Maybe they’ll listen to you.
I doubt it, though, because they’ve heard it all before. They know all about the 100-plus-year history of the game on this side of the great divide, they’re familiar with folklore about horses clomping into hotel lobbies during Grey Cup week, and about fog bowls, mud bowls and ice bowls, so nothing a legendary QB says will sway them. Heck, we could trot out a lineup of legends including Jackson, Dirty Thirty, Peanut Butter Joe and Big Angie to preach the gospel according to G. Sydney Halter, but the stewards of the game will do what they’re going to do.
Question is: How many among the rabble would be bent out of shape if the lords of Rouge Football sold out to Americans, or if the CFL disappeared like a slab of beef on Chris Walby’s dinner plate? I mean, I like to think that it isn’t just folks of my vintage who want to preserve our game.
Well, I remind you of an Angus Reid poll conducted last May. Slightly more than 1,500 sports fans across the tundra were contacted and asked if they would be “disappointed” should the 2020 CFL season be scuttled. Only in Manitoba and Saskatchewan did the majority respond with a “damn straight I would!” Elsewhere, there was a collective shrug of the shoulders.
Manitoba: 63 per cent Saskatchewan: 61 per cent Alberta: 45 per cent B.C.: 34 per cent Quebec: 31 per cent Ontario: 28 per cent Atlantic Canada: 17 per cent
Significantly, east of the Manitoba-Ontario border, a greater percentage of people indicated they would miss an NFL season more than a CFL crusade.
We don’t know if those numbers have changed, but something tells me the Lords of Rouge Football and commissioner Randy Ambrosie haven’t attracted any new friends, or brought back old friends, with their fumbled appeals for federal financing and their dithering in the past year.
We’re told the tall foreheads will gather on Tuesday to plot strategy, and I don’t know if I should fear the worst or expect to see Commish Randy pull something that resembles Bugs Bunny out of his hat.
I just know they’re messing with memories, and if they shut down again or sell out to Yankee Doodle dollars I’ll be mad enough to spit. Only this time it won’t be watermelon seeds at Packers Field.
Sports Santa arrives on the morrow and he’s given us a sneak peak at what he has tucked inside his bag, so let’s see if it’s Goal or a Lump o’ Coal for the good and not-so-good girls and boys in the toy department of life…
GOAL: If at first you don’t succeed…get it right in an extra end. And that’s what Kerri Einarson and her Buffalo girls—Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard, Briane Mielleur, Jennifer Clark-Rouire, coach Patti Wuthrich—did to win the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Moose Jaw. Kerri had a chance to end it all in the 10th end of the title match vs. Rachel Homan and her Ontario group, but she was heavy with her last-rock draw to the four-foot. She got the job done in the 11th, though, sliding her final stone to the button for an 8-7 victory and the Canadian women’s curling championship.
LUMP O’ COAL: The year 2020. Seriously. Someone needs to give it a good, swift kick to the groin, and it’s not too late.
GOAL: Connor Hellebuyck won the Vezina Trophy as top goaltender in the National Hockey League, putting a bit of shine on an otherwise empty season for the Winnipeg Jets.
LUMP O’ COAL: Sportsnet was guilty of a blatant double standard when it allowed Elliotte Friedman to repeatedly appear on Hockey Night in Canada with a ghastly, unruly beard that made him look like he’d been sleeping under a bridge for three months. No chance a female broadcaster would be allowed on camera with a head of hair that looks like a cluster of dead animals.
GOAL: The Winnipeg Sun celebrated its 40th anniversary, not bad for a sheet that wasn’t supposed to last much longer than a pint of beer in front of Chris Walby.
LUMP O’ COAL: 50 Below Sports + Entertainment ignored provincial health rules and allowed Winnipeg Freeze and Winnipeg Blues of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League to practice outside the city. So make that two lumps o’ coal, one for 50 Below bossman Greg Fettes and the other for bossman Matt Cockell.
GOAL: The good ol’ boys in NASCAR banned the Confederate Flag from race sites. Full sets of teeth, corn squeezin’s and MAGA caps remained optional.
LUMP O’ COAL: Mike Milbury, Brendan Leipsic, Thom Brennaman, Cris Collinsworth, Brett Hull, Evander Kane spewed sexist, racist and/or homophobic slurs. Come on, guys. We’re 21 years into the 21st century, and that language just doesn’t cut it.
GOAL: Katie Sowers became the first female to coach in the Super Bowl, albeit in a losing role with the San Francisco 49ers, Kim Ng became the first female GM of a Major League Baseball team, Alyssa Nakken became the first uniformed female to coach on-field in MLB, Kathryn Nesbitt became the first female to referee in a Major League Soccer championship match, and Sarah Fuller became the first female to play in an NCAA Power 5 men’s football game.
LUMP O’ COAL: Canadian Football League commissioner Randy Ambrosie went panhandling on Parliament Hill, asking PM Trudeau the Younger for anywhere from $30 million to $150 million in welfare to get Rouge Football on the field during the COVID-19 pandemic. Trouble was, he failed to receive input from the Players Association, and the feds were not amused. Commish Cap-in-Hand was spurned repeatedly, and the CFL finally fell off the grid when Trudeau the Younger batted away his final Hail Mary beg in early August. Thus, there was no season, no Grey Cup week. Just a whole lot of radio silence from the commish.
GOAL: Kid curlers Jacques Gauthier and Mackenzie Zacharias joined Einarson in bringing more glory to Manitoba with their world junior championship wins in Russia.
LUMP O’ COAL: Damien Cox and the Exalted Guardians of the Lou Marsh Trophy at the Toronto Star. The Marsh trinket is supposed to honor Canada’s athlete-of-the-year, except Cox and Co. don’t invite jock journos west of the Republic of Tranna to the top-jock party. Well, okay, that’s not quite true. They granted a voice and a vote to four news snoops from the colonies. That would be four out of 37 voices and votes. How gracious of them.
GOAL: O-lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif walked away from the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs and millions of American dollars to fight the good fight against COVID in long-term care homes.
LUMP O’ COAL: TSN named its all-time Winnipeg Jets roster and didn’t include the great Lars-Erik Sjoberg among the top six defencemen. But wait. The geniuses declared The Shoe to be the franchise’s “foundational” player. Sigh. That’s like telling Jesus he has to sit at the kids’ table for the Last Supper. Neither the original Jets franchise nor the second coming knew a better blueliner than The Shoe.
GOAL: Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun and Jeff Hamilton of the Drab Slab showed us their fab journalistic chops with fab features. Freezer relived the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 2019 Grey Cup championship with a nine-part series, while young Jeff took a deep, deep dive into the dark and sordid world of disgraced sexual predator and former hockey coach Graham James.
LUMP O’ COAL: Mainstream jock journos, shinny division, held a group pity party when the NHL revealed it wouldn’t make public the various owies suffered by players during the summer made-for-TV playoff tournament. It was as if they’d been ordered to gather in a small room to watch an Adam Sandler movie marathon, or listen to Barry Manilow’s greatest hits 24/7.
GOAL: Various sports franchises played the name game, including the CFL team formerly known as the Edmonton Eskimos, the NFL team formerly known as the Washington Redskins, and the MLB team to be named something other than Cleveland Indians. We still don’t know what any of them will be called, but it’s believed the animal kingdom has the inside track and they can only hope the people at PETA don’t have a beef with any new names.
LUMP O’ COAL: Former NBC Sports hockey gab guy Jeremy Roenick went on a podcast to declare his admiration for a co-worker’s “ass and boobs” and mentioned something about three-way sex with his wife and the co-worker. He was promptly punted. But wait. There’s more. Rather than go quietly into the night, Roenick decided to kick up a legal fuss and sued NBC Sports for wrongful dismissal, claiming discrimination based on his sexual orientation. His argument: If he was a gay man and said the things he said, he’d still have a job. But because he’s a straight man, he’s out of work. Ya, good luck with that, hetero boy.
GOAL: Sue Bird of the Seattle Storm won her fourth WNBA title and became engaged to soccer diva Megan Rapinoe, while another gay woman, triple jumper Yulimar Rojas of Venezuela, was named female athlete-of-the-year by World Athletics.
LUMP O’ COAL: Bryson DeChambeau spouted off about Augusta National prior to the Masters in November, boasting that it would be a pitch-and-putt course for him while the mere mortals on the PGA Tour would be playing to par-72. “I’m looking at it as a par-67 for me,” he said. In that case, DeChambeau shot 18-over par with rounds of 70-74-69-73, which left him tied for 34th, 18 swings behind winner Dustin Johnson and one behind 63-year-old Bernhard Langer.
GOAL: It was girl power on Sportsnet in March, when an all-female broadcast crew worked a Calgary Flames-Vegas Golden Knights skirmish on Hockey Night in Canada. Leah Hextall handled the play-by-play call, Cassie Campbell-Pascall delivered color commentary and Christine Simpson was rinkside. Question is: Was it a one-off, or will they be back?
LUMP O’ COAL: Justin Turner of the Los Angeles Dodgers was yanked from the deciding game of the World Series due to a positive COVID test, but he returned to join his teammates in an on-field celebration and removed his mask. MLB chose not to punish Turner for allowing his bare face to hang out and expose L.A. players and hangers-on to the virus, so it gets a lump o’ coal, too.
GOAL: Zamboni driver David Ayres took over the blue paint for the Carolina Hurricanes one night in the Republic of Tranna, and the emergency goaltender beat the Maple Leafs. Not since Sid Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon pulled into the Tim Hortons drive-thru has a Zamboni driver received so much attention.
LUMP O’ COAL: Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz thought COVID-19 was a big joke, so he mocked news snoops about the virus at a press session. A couple days later, he tested positive and the kibitzing stopped. As did the NBA and the rest of the sports world.
GOAL: Our leading lady of soccer, Christine Sinclair, became the top goal-scorer of all time in international fitba. She finishes the year with 186, and there might be more to come if the women get back on the pitch in preparation for the Tokyo Olympics.
LUMP O’ COAL: Novak Djokovic, who wears a tin-foil hat and might lead the sports world in hissy fits, ignored scientific and medical advice and staged a mini-tennis tour when almost all sports had shut down due to the COVID pandemic. Social distancing was ignored by players and fans, and the Joker was one of four players to test positive. The final tourney was canceled. Later, he was ushered out of the U.S. Open tennis tournament for whacking a lines judge in the face with a ball. What a doofus.
GOAL: Rafael Nadal won his 13th French Open title and his 20th tennis Gran Slam, at the same time running his career record at Roland Garros to 100-2.
LUMP O’ COAL: Steve Simmons of Postmedia Toronto spent much of the year shaking his fists and shouting at clouds, as is his wont, and he reserved his most ignorant hit pieces for PM Trudeau the Younger and the National Women’s Hockey League expansion franchise in the Republic of Tranna. He claimed Trudeau had “let us down again” by permitting the Blue Jays “to play their home games this summer in Toronto. That is beyond stupid.” He later doubled down, calling the decision “beyond ridiculous.” Except Trudeau and the feds never gave the Jays the okie-dokie to play in the Republic of Tranna. In fact, he told them to pack their bats and balls and find a home in the U.S., which they did in Buffalo. Meantime, Simmons assailed the NWHL when it would add a team in The ROT. “You don’t gain credibility by announcing a team with no name, no place to play and no big-name players,” he harrumphed. He also noted there was no team logo. “When you have all that in place, then make the announcement. The press release referred to the expansion team as a ‘first-class team of professionals.’ Time will answer that, but the new Toronto Whatevers are not off to a great start.” Except he had no such harsh words for the NHL when it introduced expansion franchises in Las Vegas and Seattle. They were introduced without team names, without team logos, and without big-name players. They were the Vegas and Seattle Whatevers for two years. So let’s see if I’ve got this straight: If women do it, bad; if men do it, cool. I believe we can file that under subtle sexism.
And, finally, GOAL: To everyone who indulged an old lady by visiting the River City Renegade. We’ve topped 57,000 views this year, and that’s a new high-water mark for the third successive year. So thanks. Happy Christmas.
Rather than the usual Sunday morning smorgas-bored, I give you the top 50-plus movers and shakers in Good Ol’ Hometown over the past half century.
This isn’t one of those hum-drum, greatest-athlete lists. We’re talking positive impact, what a sports figure did to enhance the local sporting landscape, whether that meant the wow factor of Teemu Selanne’s 76-goal rookie season or Harvey Warner keeping the ponies at a full gallop out at Assiniboia Downs.
And, while our play-for-pay jocks tend to gobble up the big headlines on a day-to-day basis, it’s often the owners and managers and coaches and administrators who make things happen when we aren’t staring at the scoreboard, and that also means our amateur playing fields, where we have a rich tradition of magnificence and the impact has been significant.
So here’s the list of the 50-plus most-impactful movers and shakers in Winnipeg sports dating back to 1970, and I should warn you that this list includes jock journos, because once upon a time before the Internet, 24-hour TV and social media, there was a gadget called the radio. Not every game was televised or live streamed. We needed our newspapers and radios to take us to the action.
One final note: Remember, this is only one person’s opinion, so don’t get your knickers in a twist if you don’t see the name of one of your faves.
1. Ben Hatskin: Well, this is the ultimate no-brainer. It’s like naming Pope Francis to an all-Catholic team. I mean, Benny didn’t just bring the Winnipeg Jets and the World Hockey Association to Good Ol’ Hometown in 1972, he hijacked Bobby Hull from the Chicago Blackhawks in a shocking coup that reshaped the shinny landscape. Without Benny’s derring-do, there would have been no National Hockey League Jets 1.0 and no Jets 2.0.
2. Mark Chipman: The Puck Pontiff filled the void left by the 1996 departure of the Jets to Arizona, but his Manitoba Moose of the International Hockey League and the American Hockey League were just the appetizer. Aided by billionaire David Thomson’s bulging bankroll, there was an NHL rebirth in River City in 2011, with the Atlanta Thrashers moving north. Oh, and did I mention that along the way Chipman and Thomson built a downtown arena?
3. Bobby Hull: The Golden Jet informed Hatskin and the other WHA renegade owners that it would take $1 million dollars for him to leave the Blackhawks and pull on a Jets jersey in ’72. Done deal. The Hull signing legitimized the WHA, and other top-level players soon followed. And, remember, Robert Marvin was also part of the ownership group that took the Jets into the NHL.
4. Michael Gobuty/Barry Shenkarow: I know, I know. Michael is the guy who let Wayne Gretzky get away. Mook. But don’t hold that against him. Michael and his ownership group kept the Jets afloat in the late 1970s, allowing for one final, rewarding whirl in the WHA by purchasing the contracts of a group of Houston Aeros, including Terry Ruskowski, Morris Lukowich, Rich Preston and Scott Campbell. He also recruited John Bowie Ferguson, and Michael offered a loud and influential voice in the NHL’s decision to absorb the Jets and three other WHA franchises in 1979. As for Barry, talk about shooting the messenger. By the time the whole thing went south for Jets 1.0, he was front man for the ownership group that sold the club to American buyers, who then loaded up the truck and bugged out to Arizona, lock, stock and jock. So Barry became the fall guy. But it’s a bad rap. No locals were willing to dig into their deep pockets to purchase the franchise and lose millions of dollars every year, so he/they really had no choice.
5. Cal Murphy: Cantankerous, curmudgeonly and very funny, Cal ruled the Winnipeg Blue Bombers roost with an iron fist from 1983-96, as either head coach or general manager. Along the way, there were three Grey Cup championships, one heart transplant, and one human rights kerfuffle over female news snoops in the locker room. He also brought the Grey Cup game to Good Ol’ Hometown for the first time, and became a vocal advocate for organ donations. Today there’s a pigeon perch of Kindly Cal outside Football Follies Field In Fort Garry.
6. Wade Miller: The leader of the Canadian Mafia inherited a Sad Sack, laughing stock-level Bombers team and the longest title drought in the Canadian Football League when he was anointed CEO in 2013. He was more like the CE-D’oh! in the early years, but Wade ignored the wolves howling at his door and stuck by his fellow hosers, GM Kyle Walters and sideline steward Mike O’Shea. Today the Bombers reign as Grey Cup champions, with money in the bank, and only the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed Miller down.
7. Dr. Gerry Wilson/Billy Robinson/Don Baizley: No North American shinny side tapped into the European hockey market as swiftly, deeply and as eagerly as the Jets, and it was this trio of forward-thinkers that brought the first wave of Scandinavians to Good Ol’ Hometown in the mid-1970s. Dr. Wilson caught the first glimpse of Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson and alerted Robinson, the Jets main bird dog. Robby scampered across the big pond to Sweden and liked what he saw, signing both players pronto. Lars-Erik Sjoberg and Curt Larsson came along for the ride, and player agent Baizley took them under his wing. Championship parades ensued.
8. Anders/Ulf/the Shoe: It’s no exaggeration to suggest Anders and Ulf revolutionized the game once in partnership with Hull. They made magic with their swashbuckling, freestyle frolicking on the local freeze, but it was Sjoberg—the Shoe—who stirred the drink from the back end. Together, they dominated the WHA and—damn them!—also provided Glen Sather with the blueprint for his Edmonton Oilers dynasty of the 1980s.
9. John Ferguson: So, here’s the irony—he was the cad who lured the ultra-popular Hedberg and Nilsson away from Portage and Main to make them stars on Broadway, then the Rangers fired Fergy and he joined the Jets to oversee their final WHA title and aid the entry into the NHL. Go figure. Full of bluster and occasional rage, Fergy made certain that life around the Jets camp was never boring, which sometimes meant kicking holes in walls and dumping buckets of ice on the opposing team’s bench. As Jets GM, he assembled a string of formidable NHL outfits during the 1980s, even if he couldn’t quite get them over the hump. Stars like Dale Hawerchuk, Teemu Selanne, David Babych, Thomas Steen and Dave Christian were drafted during his watch, and we won’t talk about Jimmy Mann.
10. Clara Hughes: When they name parks, playgrounds and schools in your honor, and when they put your pic on a postage stamp, you know you’ve done something right. Clara is a two-sport Olympian—speed skating and cycling—and the only athlete in history to win multiple medals in both the Summer and Winter Games. But it’s her advocacy on behalf of mental health and children’s sports/recreation that makes Clara truly impactful. She’s a leading voice in the Bell Let’s Talk campaign, and she’s donated/raised many thousands of dollars for various causes.
11. Cindy Klassen: She has as many shiny Olympic trinkets as Clara Hughes (six), including one gold medal, so Clara’s two-sport bona fides is all that separates the two world champion speed skaters.
12. Chris Walby: If ever there’s been a larger-than-life athlete, it was Bluto—all 6-feet, 7-inches and 300-plus pounds of him (give or take a Big Mac and a six pack). Bluto grabbed grass and growled for the Bombers from 1981-96, collecting three Grey Cup rings, nine CFL all-star nods, two top O-lineman awards, and a bust in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. But it wasn’t just what he did on the field and his size that made Bluto stand out. He was among the great characters in Rouge Football, a good-time Charlie and a deliverer of delicious quotes. No surprise he became a talking head on CBC’s football coverage, even if English sometimes seemed to be his second language.
13. Dale Hawerchuk: He came to the Jets as a freshly scrubbed 18-year-old from Cornwall, and much was expected of Ducky. He delivered. Winnipeg HC went from the free space on the NHL’s bingo card to the best shinny outfit this side of the Edmonton Gretzkys, and Ducky was the centrepiece.
14. Jennifer Jones: The only thing Jennifer hasn’t won is the Brier, and that’s only because the boys won’t let her play. There’s never been a finer female curler in our country, even if some in Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia might want to point to Sandra Schmirler and Colleen Jones and debate the issue. Well, let ’em hash it out. We know they’re wrong.
15. Jill Officer: It will be interesting to monitor how Jennifer gets along without Jill throwing second stones. They were together almost as long as Mick and Keith, but Officer retreated from competitive curling in 2018. Jill’s haul is the same as Jen’s: An Olympic gold, two world championships and six Scotties titles in her trophy case. Also one park named in her honor.
16. Teemu Selanne: Like Anders and Ulf, the Finnish Flash wasn’t in Good Ol’ Hometown for a long time, but it sure was a good time. Those 76 goals in his freshman NHL crusade had the burg in a buzz, and it’s a record that will stand as long as there are frozen ponds for kids to skate on. Teemu might have been the most popular Jet ever, give or take Ducky.
17. Don Duguid: The Digit toddled off to two world curling championships as a skip and never lost a game. Yup, 17-0. Dugie then thought it would be a swell idea to go on TV and tell the rest of us how to curl, which he did for 29 years until someone at the CBC had a brain fart and let him go. And just the other day he was made a member of the Order of Canada for his wonderful work as a curler and teacher of the game.
18. Ray Turnbull: His friends called him Moosie, and he had scads of friends in and beyond the curling community. A true visionary, Moosie’s impact began at the Mother Club on Granite Way, but his influence spread across the globe when he buddied up with Don Duguid for instructional clinics to curling curious nations beginning in the 1970s. So he’s largely to blame for the rest of the world catching up to us on pebbled ice. A broadcasting icon with TSN from 1984 to 2010, Moosie coached no fewer than 17 world champions.
19. Frank McKinnon: Those who knew him best would probably tell us that Frank never slept, because he didn’t have time for zzzzzzs. How busy was he? Let me count the ways: Five years president and 20 years on the executive board of Hockey Manitoba; 10 years commissioner of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League; founding father of the Centennial Cup tournament and the inaugural World Junior championship; first chairman of the board of Hockey Canada; two years director Sports Federation of Canada; four years vice-president Canadian Olympic Association; founding member of the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association. Frank was based in Carman, but he spent enough time in Good Ol’ Hometown to qualify for this list.
20. Donny Lalonde: The Golden Boy was in the ring with Sugar Ray. Yes, that Sugar Ray, as in Leonard. He even put the boxing legend on the canvas—one of only two men to do so—scoring a fourth-round knockdown in their 1988 bout at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Alas, Sugar Ray ruled the day, battering Lalonde about the ears in the ninth round and scoring a TKO. But it’s enough that the Golden Boy went from working out in the old firehall gym on Talbot Avenue in Elmwood to champion of the boxing world’s light heavyweights.
21.Jeff Stoughton: It’s easier to break out of jail than win the Manitoba men’s curling championship, but Jeff wore the Buffalo on his back 11 times. Crazy, man. A two-time world champion and three times the best at the Brier, Jeff also has two Canadian Mixed titles on his resume. Once he retired his tuck delivery and his spinorama showtime shtick, he took to coaching and administration, first helping Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris strike gold in Mixed Doubles at the Seoul Olympics, and he’s now coach and program manager for the national men’s team.
22. Coleen Dufresne: When you spend 17 years coaching and another 15 as athletic director at the University of Manitoba, you’ve had an impact on more young people than you can count. Coleen, who wore the Maple Leaf as a player at the 1976 Olympic Games, coached U of M Bisons women’s basketball teams to three national championships and five Great Plains Athletic Conference titles. She is a member of the Basketball Manitoba Hall of Fame in three categories—builder, coach and player—and the Canada West Hall of Fame.
23. Garth Pischke: Tom Hanks talked to a volleyball in the movies, but Garth made people talk volleyball in real life. Nobody put the W in the word “win” like Garth. He won a staggering 1,353 games in his 38 seasons as mastermind of the U of M Bisons men’s volleyball team, losing just 414 times. Chew on that and digest it—1,353-414. Who does that? Only Pischke, the winningest coach in collegiate V-ball history, on either side of the border. A two-time Olympian and six-time MVP at the Nationals as a player, Garth coached the Bisons to nine national titles and was named the Manitoba amateur athlete of the 20th century.
24. Brian Dobie: If this was just about being a nice guy, the U of M Bisons football coach would be at, or near, the top of the heap. Lovely man. He’s been sideline steward of the Herd since 1996, a gig that came on the heels of a 21-year watch with Churchill Bulldogs in high school grid. Do the math. Coach Dobie has been impacting the lives of teenagers and young men for close to half a century. Oh, and he’s also a five-time Canada West coach-of-the-year and a USports coach-of-the-year, plus he brought the Vanier Cup to the Fort Garry campus in 2007.
25. Vic Pruden: There was no women’s or men’s intercollegiate basketball program at the University of Winnipeg (nee United College) until Vic came along, so all the hoops glory stems from there. The annual Wesmen Classic was Vic’s brain child, ditto the Fort Garry Invitational. The Wesmen Classic became such a landmark event that it had to be shuffled from Riddell Hall to the Winnipeg Arena, and was televised nationally. Vic was also founder and first president of the Manitoba Basketball Coaches’ Association.
26. Coach Tom Kendall/University of Winnipeg Lady Wesmen: Few took notice of women’s hoops back in the day, but then along came coach Kendall and his fabulous University of Winnipeg Lady Wesmen who, from October 1992 to November 1994, never lost a game. Eighty-eight teams tried to topple them, and 88 teams failed. Even fabled UCLA coach John Wooden was talking about the Lady Wesmen. Under Kendall’s watch, the Lady Ws went 101-2, with three national titles.
27. Coach Mike Burchuk/U of W Lady Wesmen volleyball team: The U of W women’s hoopsters received the 250-point newspaper headlines for their 88-game winning streak, but the women on the volleyball court trumped them with 123 consecutive Ws from January 1987 to January 1989. That included a 58-0 record in 1987-88 and, along the way, the ladies won six consecutive national titles and beat the NCAA champion Texas Longhors and a pro team, the Minnesota Monarchs.
28. Jennifer Botterill: It should be enough to say that Jennifer is the only female player ever inducted into the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame, but we’ll also mention that she’s a three-time Olympic champion, five times a world champion, two times the Patty Kazmaier Award winner as the top player in U.S. women’s college hockey, twice the MVP at the world championship, and she once had an 80-game scoring streak (beat that, Connor McDavid!). If young girls are looking for a role model, Jen’s it.
29. Paul Robson: Can a sports list be complete without a guy named Mad Dog on it? We think not. So come on down, Mad Dog Robson, architect of the Winnipeg Football Club’s return to glory in the 1980s, a Lazarus-like rebirth that included the 1984 Grey Cup championship crusade, the first in 22 years. His handiwork as assistant GM/GM included going stealth to lure Chris Walby out of Montreal, hiring Cal Murphy as sideline steward, and engineering the Dieter Brock-for-Tom Clements trade. Paul was also once publisher of the Winnipeg Sun, but we won’t penalize him for that.
30. Harvey Warner: It’s probably safe to say the ponies wouldn’t be galloping at Assiniboia Downs if not for Harvey and his Manitoba Jockey Club. Harvey is a founding father and current president of the MJC, which took possession of the Downs in 1993. It’s never been an easy ride for Harvey and cohorts like Darren Dunn and Sharon Gulyas out at the racing oval on the western edge of Good Ol’ Hometown, but they’ve managed to keep the barns open and the horses fed and watered. So, yes, the reins have been in the right man’s hands for 27 years.
31. Mike Riley: When Leo Durocher coined the phrase “nice guys finish last,” he certainly wasn’t thinking of a guy like Mike Riley. Aside from bringing the Grey Cup home twice in his four years as sideline steward of the Bombers, Mike might be the most decent man to ever coach a pro team in Good Ol’ Hometown (John Paddock would be second in line), and that counts for something on my scorecard.
32. Milt Stegall: The Turtle Man would be higher on this list, except for one thing—every time I look at his hands, I don’t see any Grey Cup rings. For all his personal accomplishments—all-time TD leader in CFL history with 147 and a Most Outstanding Player award—the Bombers had just four winning seasons in his 14 crusades. No player ever looked better while mostly losing, though, and he’d be the first to tell you that. Milt continues to be a Bombers booster as one of the gab guys on TSN’s CFL coverage, and that’s always a good thing.
33. Sam Katz: Full disclosure—I’m not fond of Sammy. I think him to be a snake oil salesman. If he told me today is Sunday, I’d double check the calendar. But he brought professional baseball back to Good Ol’ Hometown, and the Winnipeg Goldeyes frolic in a beautiful, downtown ballyard thanks to Sammy.
34. Andy Van Hellemond: Whistleblowers don’t always get respect, but Andy Van did. The kid weaned on the frozen ponds of Isaac Brock was, arguably, the best man to ever pull on a striped shirt, and he was also a trend-setter, becoming the first on-ice official to wear a helmet, in 1984. The NHL made lids mandatory for the zebras four years later (a grandfather clause allowed some to officiate sans head protection until 2006-07). Andy Van refereed 1,475 regular season games, 227 in the playoffs and 19 Stanley Cup finals, all records. He was named Manitoba’s referee-of-the-century.
35. Sylvia Burka: Before Clara Hughes and Cindy Klassen and Susan Auch, there was Sylvia Burka, three times a world speed skating champion. She has held over 40 Canadian speedskating records, and once set a world indoor cycling mark at one kilometer. She won 12 national cycling titles. But her true legacy can be found in the skate marks she left for others to follow.
36. Dawn McEwen: I suppose you could say Dawn is to Team Jennifer Jones what Ringo Starr was to the Beatles. She seems content in the background while Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer and Cathy Overton-Clapham attracted most of the attention, but without her lead stones and robust sweeping they wouldn’t have become the finest female outfit in Canadian curling history. Dawn has an Olympic gold medal, two world titles and five Scotties crowns in her trophy case, so don’t even think of her as a spare part.
37. Kaitlyn Lawes: She branched out from throwing third stones for Jennifer Jones to strike Olympic gold with John Morris in the debut of mixed doubles at the Winter Olympic Games. So she has a nice collection of two gold trinkets, a world championship and a Scotties title.
38. Susan Auch: Although never making it to the top level of the Olympic podium, Susan made speed skating front page news in Good Ol’ Hometown with two silver medals and a bronze in the Winter Games, three gold in World Cup racing in 1995, three Manitoba athlete-of-the-year honors and a Canadian athlete-of-the-year salute. There’s a Susan Auch Oval out at the Cindy Klassen Recreation Complex and a Susan Auch Park in Transcona, and she’s now CEO of Speed Skating Canada.
39. Troy Westwood/David Asper: Board member Asper came up with the concept and gave the Banjo Bowl it’s name, but it was the spinoff of a quote from Ol’ Lefty, the former Bombers place-kicker who, in an interview prior to a 2003 playoff skirmish, called Saskatchewan Roughriders fans “a bunch of banjo-picking inbreds.” Much caterwauling from the Flattest of Lands ensued, and the Banjo Bowl was born in 2004. It’s the most-anticipated event on the local sports calendar every year, and it’s been strictly SRO since 2005. When he wasn’t trash talking Flatlanders, Ol’ Lefty was hoofing more field goals (617) and more points (2,745) than anyone in Bombers history.
40. Connie Laliberte: They called her the Ice Queen, but underneath that cucumber-cool exterior burned a competitive bonfire. Connie gave every female curler in Manitoba something to aim for when she became the first Buffalo Girl to win the world crown, in 1984. She also won three Scotties titles and today is the high performance director for Curl Manitoba.
41. Sandy Riley: The former sailor (1976 Olympic Games) and former president of the Manitoba Sports Federation served as chair of Winnipeg’s 1999 Pan American Games, an event that helped revive the sagging spirit of a city that had lost its NHL franchise only three years earlier. As a bonus, it attracted the attention of Ol’ Cigar Breath, Cuban strongman Fidel Castro, who used his Revolution Day address to go on a mini-rant about mysterious “traps and tricks and schemes and filth” that encouraged his athletes to clamber over the wall to freedom. Cuban defectors aside, the Pan Ams were an artistic and financial success. More latterly, the Riley family donated $500,000 toward construction of the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame.
42. Dayna Spiring: It doesn’t matter that Dayna wasn’t on the receiving end of any passes, nor did she hoof any field goals or tackle any running backs. The lady was a champ in her first year as Chair of the Blue Bombers board of directors, and she became the first woman to have her name engraved on the Grey Cup. For young girls and women, that makes her Dayna Inspiring.
43. Desiree Scott: A former star and coach with the U of M Bisons, the lady they call The Destroyer joined our national women’s soccer side in 2010, and she’s now just one of five to have earned 150 caps. Along the way, she’s collected two Olympic bronze medals and participated in three World Cup tournaments. Away from the competitive pitch, Desiree is heavily involved with soccer camps for KidSport and she’s an ambassador for the Homeless World Cup.
44. Bill Wedlake: A head coach for 32 years, first at St. John’s High where he won two provincial titles, then 16 years at the U of W, Bill was also athletic director at the downtown campus for eight years. A co-founder of the Winnipeg Invitational tournament, he’s written three books on coaching and is a former president of the National Association of Basketball Coaches.
45. Mo Glimcher: If you think it’s tough dealing with teenagers these days, consider Mo Glimcher’s gig—he had 30,000-40,000 kids under foot every year between 1975 and 2016. Mo retired after 41 years as Executive Director of the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association, and I’d say he’s earned a master’s degree in babysitting.
46. Bob Picken: There are three major sports operatives in Good Ol’ Hometown—the Jets, the Blue Bombers, and curling. Yes, curling. Our Pebble People don’t make the big bucks like the Jets and Bombers, but they don’t want for media exposure, due in large part to jock journos like Pick. Pebble People have never known a better media friend than Pick, whose magnificent pipes blessed the airwaves of CJOB, CKY and the CBC for half a century. He played the game, served as president of the Manitoba Curling Association, worked with both the Canadian Curling Association and the World Curling Federation, and there’s a bonspiel at the Thistle named in his honor. Pick made certain that curling was never back-page news or filler at the end of a sportscast.
47. Jack Matheson: Admittedly, there’s bias in this choice, because Matty gave me my start at the Winnipeg Tribune, but his sassy and brassy sports column was the only absolute must-read in town during the 1970s. And when Furnaceman fired him up for his daily rants on CJOB, it was must-listening. Matty set an incredibly high bar as a sports scribe, and no one has come close to reaching it since the Trib folded.
48. Friar Nicolson: There’s no way of knowing how many young men and women went into broadcasting because of the curmudgeonly Friar, but I’d suggest the number is closer to 50 than one. The longtime play-by-play voice of the Jets, Friar is the man who lured Knuckles Irving to CJOB in 1973, and he also gave one-time do-everything CKY/CTV voice Peter Young his start in the gab game. That’s serious impact.
49. Bob Irving: When Knuckles became the voice of the Blue Bombers, Don Jonas and Chuck Ealey were the starting QBs and Dieter Brock was a little-known rookie who answered to the name Ralph. Bud Riley was the head coach, and there have been 14 more since Knuckles moved in behind the mic. So he goes back some, and he’s still going. At least he was until COVID-19 interrupted regularly schedule play-by-play. We assume (hope) the well-liked and highly respected Knuckles will be back for a 46th season once the pandemic is in the rear-view mirror.
50. Don Wittman: How versatile was Witt? Well, we know he covered the CFL and the NHL and tennis and the Olympics and world-class track and top-flight curling during close to half a century with the CBC, but he also broadcast cricket. Ya, cricket. Witt traveled the globe and was on site to call the Ben Johnson race in Seoul and Donovan Bailey in Atlanta, but home base was always Winnipeg.
Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and today’s post is dedicated to my lovely friend Beverley, who died earlier this month and always appreciated my quirky sense of humor…
According to those who like to track the whereabouts of little green men, UFO sightings were up in Manitoba last year, with folks in Winnipeg observing the third most in the entire country.
Says local Ufology researcher Chris Rutkowski: “People are seeing things for the first time that they may not have noticed before.”
Ya, it’s called the Grey Cup.
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister dug into his slush fund and came up with $2.5 million in support of Good Ol’ Hometown as the Canadian Football League’s official hub city should there be a 2020 season. Hmmm. That ought to take care of Chris Walby’s bar tab, but it won’t leave much for COVID-19 testing.
Greybeard boxers Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr. have signed to go dukes up sometime in September, and they’ve agreed to wear head protection. So let’s see if I’ve got this straight: Two fiftysomething guys with a combined 133 fights behind them think it’s a swell idea to exchange punches for another eight rounds. Seems to me it’s a little too late to be thinking about head protection.
So, the orphaned Tranna Blue Jays have finally found a home for their 2020 Major League Baseball crusade. They had hoped to play in the Republic of Tranna, of course, but when that notion was nixed by Trudeau the Younger, the Tranna Nine sought Pittsburgh as a playground, then Baltimore, before landing in Buffalo. That’s kind of like trying to book John Lennon or Paul McCartney or George Harrison to play your birthday gig, but settling for Ringo.
Big league ball players are kneeling during the Star Spangled Banner. Hoops stars are kneeling. Fitba’s best are kneeling. NFL players have vowed to kneel. I feel a Donald Trump Twitter rant coming down in 3, 2, 1.
Seriously. Why are they even playing the national anthem at fan-free sporting events? Come to think of it, why do they play it when patrons are in the pews?
Nice ceremonial first pitchby America’s favorite doc, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the other night at the Washington Nationals-New York Yankees opener in DC. Flame-Thrower Fauci he ain’t. The ball never made it halfway to home plate and dribbled into foul territory on the first base side of the field. It was the worst. You know, like Donald Trump’s COVID strategy.
Former NBC gab guy Jeremy Roenick is suing the Peacock Network for wrongful dismissal, claiming his lewd comments about lusting after a co-worker’s “ass and boobs” and having sex with a male co-worker had nothing to do with his ouster. He was punted because he’s an ungay guy, don’t you know. It’s an interesting gambit. I don’t know if Roenick’s “I’m a straight man” case will ever get to court, but I have a pretty good idea what Judge Judy would tell him to do with it.
Roenick also claims his removal was due, in part, to his support of Donald Trump. Again, more about an ass and a boob.
Fanless, TV-only sports has arrived, which makes the following comment eerily prophetic: “I’m fully prepared to hear not more than 10 years from now that a hockey game, for instance, will be played behind the locked doors of an arena. The only people in the place will be the players, two cameramen, a floor director, a script assistant, a sound technician, a play-by-play man, a color man and two guards on the door. The guards will have a simple duty. They’ll intercept loiterers and old-fashioned hockey fans and put them to flight. The vagrants will be advised they have exactly 15 minutes to get to the nearest television set.” That, girls and boys, is a passage from a column written by the great Jack Matheson for the Winnipeg Tribune on Nov. 14, 1964. Today it’s so very real.
Kevin McGran has a gripe. The Toronto Star shinny scribe is miffed because Commish Gary Bettman has ruled mainstream news snoops persona non grata in the National Hockey League’s two playoff hub bubbles, Edmonton and the Republic of Tranna. Only in-house scribes need apply. In a lengthy grumble, McGran grouses that there will be “no colour from inside the room.” Right, we’re all going to miss those emotional renderings from players reminding each other to “keep our feet moving.” McGran closes with this: “Don’t get me wrong. This access isn’t about us. It’s about you. The reader. We do this for our readers. We want to do it the best we can, and now the NHL is not letting. They are shortchanging you, the fans.” If McGran listens closely enough, he’ll hear the sound of readers not giving a damn.
Some of us saw this day coming quite some time ago, it’s just that the COVID-19 pandemic hastened its arrival. This is what I wrote in January 2017: “Pro sports franchises will find fresh ways to increase the disconnect between press row and their inner sanctums, thus making it more difficult for news scavengers to perform their duties. What must newspapers do to combat this? Well, bitching won’t help. They can caterwaul about lack of access as much as Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice whinges about the National Hockey League schedule, but that doesn’t solve anything. They have to be innovative. Newspapers must stop choking on their indignation and feeling sorry for themselves. It isn’t up to pro sports franchises to revert to the old ways of doing business, it’s up to the newspapers to discover new and better ways of doing business.” So there.
It’s rather ironic, don’t you think, that news snoops have their boxers in a bunch because the NHL will control the message during its Stanley Cup runoff when, in fact, no enterprise this side of Vlad (The Bad) Putin controls the message more than media?
I am an unfamous person, therefore there is no interest in my health chart.
If I catch the sniffles or develop a mild case of fanny fungus, it’s my business. If my kidneys go kaput, you could squeeze the number of people who’d actually give a damn into a phone booth, and there’d still be enough room for a couple of circus clowns.
But pro athletes are not unfamous. Well, okay, some are. But, in general, the faithful like to know everything about their sports heroes, from their fave brand of toothpaste to whether or not they hoarded toilet paper at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The rabble is keen on knowing about owies, too, especially if it impacts their fantasy leagues or office pools. But usually they’re satisfied to learn how long Sidney Crosby or David Pastrnak will be on the shelf.
Jock journos, meanwhile, demand to know the details, as if it’s a birthright.
Crosby and Pastrnak are “unfit to practice?” Sports scribes demand to know if it’s cancer, a canker sore or COVID-19. Except the NHL is shy on health specifics these days, a policy that continues to put so many knickers into so many knots. Numerous news snoops like Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna and Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab have flailed at Commish Bettman for his don’t-ask, don’t-tell directive on absenteeism during the attempted reboot of the paused 2020 crusade. Basically, they’d like him to take his hush-hush dictate and shove it where you won’t find any daylight.
The thing is, the NHL and its member clubs are under no obligation to make jock journos, or the rabble, privy to the personal health information of workers. It’s no different today than in the 1960s, when Frank Mahovlich went from the hockey rink to the hospital.
The Big M’s disappearance from the Toronto Maple Leafs’ lineup on Nov. 12, 1964, was sudden and mysterious. Officially, he was in sick bay for “constant fatigue,” which, in today’s parlance, translates to “unfit to practice.”
“If you want any information on my condition you will have to talk to Dr. Smythe,” he told news snoops.
So that’s what they did, only to discover that Dr. Hugh Smythe was no more forthcoming when prodded by the pen-and-paper pack.
“Without discussing the diagnosis, I can say there’ll be no embarrassment to Mr. Mahovlich or myself when the nature of it is known,” he explained.
The specifics of what ailed Mahovlich remained shrouded in secrecy by the time he returned to the fray on Dec. 9, yet somehow the media mob managed to file their daily copy. If privy to the particulars, they kept it on the QT.
Similarly, in the small hours of the morning on Nov. 2, 1967, the Big M walked off a sleeper car at Union Station in the Republic of Tranna and went directly to hospital, while his teammates departed for Detroit.
“I realize this is a difficult thing to request, but the less said by the press, radio and TV people about the reason he is in hospital, the better it would be for Frank,” Dr. Smythe informed news snoops.
Turns out Mahovlich had suffered a nervous breakdown, and the boys on the beat were informed that he might be hors de combat for two weeks, two months or for the duration of the season. He was “unfit to practice.” Case closed. Nothing more to see.
Fast forward to the present, and we have had many mysterious disappearances. Or mysterious no-shows. All explained as “unfit to practice.”
Well, that’s all anyone need know until such time as the athlete and/or team choose to come clean. What part of that do news snoops not understand?
Simmons’ pout on the NHL’s posture re players deemed “unfit to practice” was truly silly, and I had to laugh at Mad Mike’s take. In a 1,000-word whinge, he suggests that the cone of silence is ill-conceived because it leads to “speculation.” Oh, the horror! Stop the presses! Sports scribes forced to speculate! That, my friends, is a wholly bogus take. What does Mad Mike think he and the rest of them have been doing for the past four months? They’ve speculated about hub cities. They’ve speculated about playoff formats. They’ve speculated about life in a bubble. They’ve speculated about a Canadian Football League season. They’ve speculated about Trudeau the Younger tossing CFL Commish Randy Ambrosie some spare change. They’ve speculated about a roost for the orphaned Blue Jays. They’ve speculated about Donald Trump’s head exploding if one more athlete takes a knee. Sports is, if nothing else, speculation, and so is sports scribbling. It’s a large, and fun, part of the gig. Get a grip, man.
Geez, that last item included my third mention of Donald Trump this morning. This makes it four. I promise that the remainder of this post will be a Trump-free (five) zone.
To all the sports scribes who insist there’s no stigma attached to a positive COVID-19 test, tell that to Hutterites in Manitoba.
Say, those Seattle Kraken unis are spiffy. Love the logo, love the design, love the colors, love the name. Now we wait for some self-interest group like PETA to bellyache about cruelty to sea monsters and demand a name change.
On the subject of fashion, who’s responsible for dressing the women on Sportsnet Central, which returned to air last week? I swear, Carly Agro looked like a giant, upholstered chocolate bar, while Martine Gaillard and Danielle Michaud wore outfits that someone must have dug out of the freebe box at a thrift store. Either that or they’ve hired Don Cherry’s former tailor.
A tip of the bonnet to Scott Oake of Hockey Night in Canada and old friend and colleague Bob (Doc) Holliday. Scotty’s one of the truly good guys among jock journos, so it’s no surprise that he’s included in this year’s inductees to the Order of Manitoba, while Doc, one of my all-time favorite people, has had a street in St. Vital named in his honor—Bob Holliday Way. I’m not sure where you’d find Bob Holliday Way in St. Vital, but it’s probably the first stop on a Streetcar Named Retire, just past the Red Top Drive-In.
Both Bob and Scotty, by the way, are also members of the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame, so their trophy rooms are getting cluttered.
I once dreamed of being in the MHHofF, but my dad ran off with my hockey equipment one day and I never played another game.
Nice to see the Winnipeg Sun back to publishing on Mondays, and I must say that the Winnipeg Free Press package on Saturdays is first rate. I’m not just talking about sports in the Drab Slab. It’s the entire Saturday sheet, from front to back. Terrific stuff.
Kudos to Alyssa Nakken, who became the first female to coach on-field in a Major League Baseball game. Alyssa worked first base for the San Francisco Giants v. the Oakland A’s last week, and I think that’s fantastic.
Scott Billeck of the Winnipeg Sun is convinced that Connor Hellebuyck was snubbed in Hart Trophy balloting for the NHL’s most valuable performer. Scotty submits that being a goaltender worked against the Winnipeg Jets keeper, opining, “if your name isn’t Dominik Hasek, it’s not an easy code to crack.” Wrong. Carey Price cracked the code in 2015.
And, finally, as we approach the back end of July and I look out my window to gaze upon the Olympic Mountains in the United States, I note that there’s still snow on the peaks. What’s up with that? Is it something I should be telling Greta Thunberg about?
Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and, say, it turned out nice again…
Well I’ll be damned. The Canadian Mafia got it done.
And, yes, I’ll confess there were times when I harbored serious doubt that the True North Trinity had what it takes to build a championship cocktail, and I figured one of Mike O’Shea, Kyle Walters or Wade Miller would have been out the door by now.
My money was always on O’Shea to be kicked to the curb first, because head coaches tend to get a lot less leash than general managers or CEOs. Some of them, in fact, don’t last much longer than a pint of beer in front of Chris Walby.
In Coach Grunge’s case, though, at some point in the past six years O’Shea learned to get out of his own way, leaving the gadgetry and gimmickry (read: fake punts, phantom field goals and truly dopey coaching) to others, and the rabble was partying at Portage and Main for the first time in 29 years on Sunday night because of it.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are rulers of all they survey in Rouge Football, and Coach Grunge’s lads didn’t just take down the dreaded Hamilton Tabbies in the 107th edition of Grey Cup skirmishing. They turned McMahon Stadium in the Alberta Foothills into a woodshed. They delivered a man-to-boys paddywhacking to an outfit that had better credentials entering the fray, but the Tabbies’ 16-3 record and a couple of bucks wouldn’t have bought them a cup of coffee at Tim’s.
Even if it did, they wouldn’t have been able to sit and enjoy it, because their lips were too swollen and bruised.
Did someone say smash mouth? It was Winnipeg FC 33, Hamilton 12 when the tears of joy began rolling down cheeks, including Richie Hall’s, but that 33-12 scoreline looked a lot more like 50-12, and it truly was a made-in-Canada production.
Look at the main players. O’Shea…hoser. GM Walters…hoser. CEO Miller…hoser. Then, of course, there was Andrew Harris, the day’s most outstanding player…hoser.
Good day, eh? Yes, it was. It was a very good day.
Random thoughts and observations while watching the Bombers ragdoll the Tabbies to become Canadian Football League titleholders:
Pre-Game: Nice to see truly good guy Brian Williams on the TSN set, and the veteran broadcaster doesn’t go all wishy-washy in his chin-wag with CFL grand poobah Randy Ambrosie. When Commish Randy puts on his happy face and describes the lame market in the Republic of Tranna as “an opportunity,” Williams scoffs and calls it “a disaster.” Atta boy, Brian…Mike Benevides drops by to explain how the Bombers might stop Brandon Banks, and he mentions something about a “kill Speedy B” strategy. “He goes to the bathroom for popcorn (follow him),” he said. Excuse me, but who gets their popcorn in a bathroom?…Fun chin-wag between the TSN panel and Winnipeg FC assistant GM and hall-of-fame quarterback Danny McManus. Milt Stegall notes that Danny Mac always seemed to be in good humor during his playing days, even when tossing four picks in a game. “If someone caught it,” Danny Mac jokes, “I just counted it as a completion.”…I don’t know about you, but I’m liking The Beaches. Three guitars, a drum kit, and keyboards. Yup, looks and sounds like a rock band to me. Hope Nicole Kidman’s husband, Keith Urban, is as good during the halftime show…Tabbies lose the coin toss. Might be a harbinger.
First Quarter: Brandon Alexander picks Hamilton QB Dane Evans’ first pass, and the Bombers are geeked up…Andrew Harris head butts Darth Defender, Simoni Lawrence, after a whistle and directly in front of an official, but the zebra keeps his hanky in his pocket. Go figure…Willie Jefferson forces Evans to spill the football and Beastmo Bighill gobbles it up. One play later, Harris skedaddles 15 yards to the house. Bombers 7, Tabbies nada…What’s this? Does Speedy B have an owie? Looks like it. Need to keep an eye on that…Lirim Hajrullahu’s right leg puts the Tabbies on the board with a three-pointer. Bombers 7, Tabbies 3…Old reliable Justin Medlock’s left leg isn’t so reliable, and he’s wayward on a field goal attempt, but Speedy B doesn’t bring it out of the end zone. Strange. Bombers 8, Tabbies 3…Bombers D-line stuffs the Tabbies on a third-and-one…Total dominance by the Bombers on both sides of the line, so why is it only 8-3 for the good guys?
Second Quarter: Hajrullahu and Medlock exchange FGs. Bombers 11, Tabbies 6…The Bombers defensive dozen, especially the front four, is mauling the Tabbies O-line. This thing should already be a route…Check it out. Chris Streveler is in at QB for Winnipeg FC and he’s throwing the ball. Complete to Andrew Harris. Touchdown. Bombers 18, Tabbies 6…I know there’s plenty of football left to play, but I’m already declaring a winner. This game is over. The Bombers have everything, the Tabbies nothing. Trust me, it’s in the bag…Hey, there’s Nicole Kidman’s hubby Keith heading inside to warm his hands…Oh dear. One look at Keith Urban and Glen Suitor is swooning in the TSN broadcast booth, comparing country music to football. He tells us there are “twelve chords” in a country music song and 12 players on the Bombers offence. Fabulous insight, Suits…Zach Collaros connects with Rasheed Bailey for an 11-yard gain. “Another hit song for (offensive co-ordinator) Paul LaPolice,” says Suitor. Good grief…Another FG from Medlock. Bombers 21, Tabbies 6…Like I said, it’s a done deal…There’s Bob Young, the Tabbies bankroll. But don’t call him the team owner, he insists he’s the team caretaker. In that case, he should grab a broom and sweep up the gawdawful mess his club is leaving on the McMahon Stadium carpet.
Halftime: It’s Keith Urban time…My young daughter in the B.C. interior tells me he’s a country music superstar, but without a steel guitar or a fiddle, his isn’t my kind of country…He does three tunes, none of which sound country. In fact, Nicole’s hubby sounds a lot like Barry Gibb and the Bee Gees on his third number…The kids seem to like it, though, and that’s all that matters.
Third Quarter: Receiver Darvin Adams takes a direct snap and completes a pass to QB Streveler. The Bombers are rubbing their noses in it now…Another Medlock FG. Bombers 24, Tabbies 6…Bombers stuff the Tabbies on another third-and-one. Someone call a priest and have him go to the Hamilton sideline, STAT!…Hey, look who’s joined Suits and Chris Cuthbert in the TSN booth. Why, it’s Nicole Kidman’s hubby, and Suitor immediate goes into teenybopper/groupie mode. “What’s your favorite song?” he gushes. “You set a new standard (in the halftime show), Keith. I am a huge, huge fan.”…Jaelon Acklin hauls in an Evans pass near the sideline, and Suitor instructs the boys in the truck to run a replay. “Take a look at the replay, ’cause Keith Urban wants to know,” he says…It’s time for Urban to go home to Australia or Nashville, so Suitor, celebrating his 57th birthday, wraps his left arm around him and says, “I can tell all my buddies Keith Urban sang happy birthday,” he squeals…Hey, it’s my 69th birthday on Wednesday. Wonder if Keith will stop by to serenade me. Probably not…I don’t know if Suitor asked for an autograph, but I’m pretty sure he had to wipe himself dry after Urban left.
Fourth Quarter: The rest, as they say, is history. The Bombers continue to maul the Tabbies and send Speedy B to the infirmary. He’s done for the night. Make the final: Bombers 33, Tabbies 12.
Postgame: Richie Hall is wiping tears from his eyes, and I can’t say I blame the much maligned man in charge of the Bombers defensive dozen. He lost a brother not so long ago, so emotions are pouring out…Andrew Harris, banished for two regular-season games after lab squints found a PED in his pee, is a bit of an ugly winner. “All the haters out there who talk shit, this is for you,” he snarls at Sara Orlesky of TSN. He says something similar after accepting his most outstanding player/Canadian awards, suggesting “haters” can take his trinkets and shove ’em where there’s only darkness. Understandable, I suppose, given what he went through, but ugly nonetheless…O’Shea stands back and allows the longest-serving member of the Bombers, Jake Thomas, to get his paws on the Grey Cup first. And that would explain why Coach Grunge is so popular with his troops….Smilin’ Hank Burris informs us that “We didn’t see one Bomber player limp off that field.” Tell that to Streveler who, at times, could scarcely walk…The boys in the booth and on the TSN panel repeatedly made reference to Harris’ two-game suspension, but I don’t recall any of them mentioning it was for a drug bust. Odd…It’s all over but the hangovers and the parade…Cuthbert and Suitor sign off, but not before Suits thanks his new heartthrob Keith Urban.
And, finally, I’ve now witnessed eight Blue Bombers Grey Cup victories, dating back to QB Jim Van Pelt’s 22-point game in 1958, and I covered three of them. This one feels special, and it’s a good way to bow out. I’m taking a break from the River City Renegade blog, and it might turn out to be permanent. We’ll see. In the meantime, thanks to the 116,000-plus who stopped by for a read, and enjoy the parade.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I really wish that young woman on TSN Sportscentre would stop yelling at us…
The notion that Matt Nichols and his wonky throwing wing might be in the repair shop until there’s frost on the pumpkin isn’t what scares me.
Kevin Glenn scares me.
Brandon Bridge scares me.
Drew Willy (definitely) scares me.
And Kyle Walters scares me, because he might be enough of a nitwit to recruit one of the above to play quarterback, just as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are set to embark on the nitty-gritty segment of a promising Canadian Football League crusade that now is in peril.
Actually, check that: Walters is daft enough.
The Winnipeg FC general manager jerked his knee and attempted to pry the 40-year-old Glenn off his comfy sofa in Detroit this weekend, but the former Bomber/Ticat/Eskimo/Rider/Stampeder/Lion/Lark/Argo/RedBlack had the good sense to decline the come-hither overture, and I believe the blue-and-gold rabble can be thankful for that.
I mean, Glenn manufactured an admirable career at mostly being second best, but a journey in the way-back machine isn’t what the Bombers need going forward.
Chris Streveler is, of course, the logical choice to sub for Nichols, laid low late in a 32-16 victory over the B.C. Leos on Thursday night at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry. Streveler has been a useful second-in-command for the past year and a half, although I must confess that even the high-octane sophomore scares me. To a point. He’s done some good things. He’s done some not so good things. But, sure, give him the ball and let’s all cross our fingers, our toes and any other crossable body parts while we ride out the storm.
How long will that be? We await word on Nichols’ wounded wing from Winnipeg FC medics, but anytime your starting QB walks off the field and he’s unable to lift his hand high enough to scratch behind his ear we’re probably talking long term before he’s flinging footballs again.
Which means Walters likely has developed blisters on his dialing thumb in the past few days, because we have to assume he has numbers other than Glenn’s on his contact list.
But I see this as a Streveler-or-bust situation, which means you can put Nichols’ owie in the ‘be careful what you wish for’ file.
I think most of us will agree that losing Nichols is a significant setback for Winnipeg FC.
I say “most of us” because I acknowledge there exists a constituency that has never been sold on the most-maligned 7-2 quarterback in the history of our quirky, three-down game.
The anti-Matt sector of the rabble is considerable and often loud. They figure Nichols for a false bill of goods, and they’re wholly convinced that a championship drought that began in another century cannot end with No. 15 behind centre.
While others certainly have absorbed their portion of tsk-tsking for almost 29 years of the Bombers never failing to fail, blame often comes down to the quarterback, and Nichols has the lash marks to prove it. He’s been damned if he did, damned if he didn’t in a ‘what have you done for us lately?’ world, and if there was a sudden outbreak of rump rot in River City, I’m sure he’d take the rap for that too.
It matters not to the naysayers that recent history confirms Nichols, not Streveler, to be Winnipeg FC’s best bet for a W. They want their young stud behind centre, damnit, and they’ve been panting in anticipation of this moment, almost to the point of hyperventilating.
The question is: Will Streveler take their breath away with his play?
I’ve liked Streveler ever since he subbed for Nichols during the first three skirmishes of the 2018 crusade, and I believe he can keep the boat afloat. But it’s worth noting that Winnipeg FC is 1-3 with him behind centre in the past season and a half. Nichols is 17-8 in the same time frame. Just saying.
Here’s something we know for certain: No one in the Alberta Foothills or on the Flattest of Lands is spilling crocodile tears because the Bombers have hit a bump in the road. The Calgary Stampeders and Saskatchewan Roughriders have learned to live without their starting QBs for most of the season, so they’ll see the Nichols departure as a leveling of the playing field. Ditto the folks in the Hammer, where the TabbyCats lost Jeremiah Masoli for the duration. Can’t say I disagree with them.
You’ll have to excuse Trevor Harris and Mike Reilly if they’ve begun to glance nervously over their shoulders like two guys who just pulled a dine-and-dash. They’re the only original starting QBs yet to miss a beat in 2019, you see. No surprise with Harris, because the large lads on the E-Town Eskimos O-line don’t let angry defenders get close enough to their QB to know if he had garlic bread with lunch. But it’s incredible that Reilly is still standing. He’s been hit more often than Ringo Starr’s drum kit.
Big tip of the bonnet to Andrew Harris, a local guy who’s now covered more real estate than any CFL player carrying a Canadian passport. The Bombers tailback will, of course, add to his 13,377 yards running/pass catching total before he’s done lugging the football, and we might be talking all-time best homebrew if not for guys named Russ Jackson, Gerry James and Chris Walby. But wherever Harris falls on the final pecking order, he’s already had a hall of fame career.
Does Glen Suitor take us for a bunch of rubes who just woke up from a month-long nap? Seriously. The TSN natterbug became Nichols’ unofficial apologist during Thursday’s telecast, excusing Matt Meh’s inclination to dump off the football to Harris rather than feed his downfield guys in Winnipeg FC’s two most recent matches prior to the Leos visit. Nichols “doesn’t check down,” Suitor told us. I assume he said it with a straight face, but it might have registered a new high on the ignorant scale, which is really saying something when you consider the amount of tripe that has escaped his gob during the past two dozen years. Every QB from Pop Warner to pro checks down, and Suitor knows it. Really, really dumb. Him not us.
It’s about the Walby Burger, the 5½-pound Gastronomical Goliath selling at Football Follies Field: I’m not sure which would be harder to stomach, the six meat patties, six chicken strips, six hot dogs, six hunks of bacon, cheese, French fries, pickles, lettuce, onions, tomatoes and special secret sauce stuffed between two buns the size of circus tent, or the $45 price tag. Mind you, it supposedly feeds a family of four, so when you look at it that way it’s only $11.25 per heart attack.
Old friend Troy Westwood did a bit of myth-busting about Chris Walby, the inspiration behind the Gastronomical Goliath. “All this noise about the Walby Burger. Truth is, Walby doesn’t eat a whole bunch,” the former Bombers kicker and current TSN 1290 gab guy tweets. Ya, sure. What’s ol’ Lefty going to tell us next? That Trump doesn’t fib much. Sorry, Lefty, but you don’t grow to Walby’s proportions without strapping the feed bag on your head and refusing to come up for air until the last pork chop is gone. Bluto doesn’t just dine at all-you-can-eat buffets. He puts them out of business.
Some harsh stuff in Kirk Penton’s latest edition of natter from CFL coaches, managers and execs in The Athletic, with one taking aim at former QB and now TSN talking head Smilin’ Hank Burris. “I coached Henry Burris. Saw him choke in a bunch of big games. But they give him a microphone, and he has all the answers now. Calling out Paul LaPolice the week his mom died was classless. Henry should come by our place and let me put some old film on. Remind him how many times he fucked up and cost us games. Him. Henry. Not the offensive co-ordinator.” Ouch.
In a far, faraway land, Patrik Laine spoke and the earth moved in Good Ol’ Hometown. “You never know where you’re going to play next year so I’m just prepared for anything,” Puck Finn told Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston, who tracked down the Winnipeg Jets winger in Lahti, Finland. Does “anything” include re-upping with les Jets? “Well, I’ve got nothing bad to say about Winnipeg, you know?” Puck Finn answered. “It’s been good so far, but you never know.” If I hadn’t seen Laine’s lips move, I’d have sworn it was Evander Kane talking.
Exactly what are we to make of Puck Finn’s remarks? Does he want out of Pegtown? Was it his way of getting his agent, Mike Liut, and Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff in the same room to nail down a new contract? Or was the restricted free agent merely yanking Johnston’s chain? I really don’t think there’s anything to see here. If Puck Finn is still home in Finland when the lads assemble for training exercises next month, then we’ll talk.
I don’t get it. Why is Kyle Connor competing in the Players Cup a front-page sports story? That’s what hockey players do during the summer. They golf. Poorly. Connor’s gimmicky presence in the field at Southwood wasn’t newsworthy, and he proved it by taking 94 swings his first day and another 90 before leaving the southside course to the real golfers.
I’m uncertain what kind of cred Corey Pronman of The Athletic has, but he ranks the Jets farm system at No. 27 among the 31 National Hockey League teams, better than only Pittsburgh, Boston, Washington and Calgary. The good news, I suppose, is that’s one spot better than in 2018.
Hey, look who’s a pitchman for Direct Auto Insurance. Why, it’s TSN’s favorite lousy former quarterback Johnny Manziel and equally disgraced former fancy skater Tonya Harding. I assume they both work in the Train Wreck division.
Speaking of train wrecks, maybe Johnny Rotten and Terrible Tonya can help ESPN baseball analyst and former Major League Baseball drug cheat Alex Rodriguez, a recent victim of auto theft in San Francisco. The bad guys broke into A-Rod’s parked rental and made off with a reported $500,000 in plunder, which apparently included items of a personal, sentimental nature. So far cops haven’t recovered any of the drug cheat’s belongings, but they say it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack.
Diva receiver Antonio Brown had a hissy fit and stayed away from Oakland Raiders training camp because the NFL wouldn’t allow him to wear his old helmet, which does not meet current safety standards. Similarly, the NHL has informed Boston Bruins ancient defenceman Zdeno Chara that he no longer can wear his old Eatons catalogs for shin pads.
And, finally, the Winnipeg Sun will be bringing Scott Billeck on board next month to write the good stuff about the Jets and Bombers. I’m told there were more than 30 applicants for the position, four of them women, and it’s nice to see some young people still believe scribbling sports for a newspaper remains a worthy pursuit.
Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and it’s pay day for us seniors, so get out of our way…
Where I live, on the shores of the Pacific Ocean and across a small puddle from Vancouver, it’s almost as if the B.C. Lions don’t exist.
The Canucks are huge, of course. Ditto European soccer and the English Premier League. The Blue Jays receive plenty of noise, especially when they’re in nearby Seattle to duel the Mariners. Golf, notably the Grand Slam tournaments, gets a sizable chunk of the sports discussion, in part because we can tee it up 365 days of the year.
But the Lions…I hear more chatter about rugby and the Shamrocks, a highly decorated lacrosse outfit.
Unless a lass named Jody and a gent named Doug are in my downtown Victoria watering hole, any mention of the Canadian Football League and its member clubs is as rare as a winter without rain. And, just for the record, the wet stuff doesn’t fall in the quantities you’re led to believe. That’s propaganda. We just let the myth persist, otherwise there’d be tourists getting in our way 24/7/12 and we like to reserve our little island for ourselves a few months each year.
At any rate, Jody and Doug are Green People, which is to say they pledge allegiance to the Saskatchewan Roughriders and can probably tell you the name of the goomer inside the Gainer the Gopher costume. Whether or not they pluck the banjo, I can’t say, but it goes without saying they’re good people and good for a gab about the CFL, even if it’s unavoidably Riders-centric and always references Ron Lancaster and George Reed.
Otherwise, the CFL and Leos are non-starters in these parts and I’m quite uncertain why that is, except to say that after close to two decades here (20 years on Sept. 3) it’s my experience that the citizenry of the Garden City are indifferent to most things east of the Strait of Georgia.
We tend to focus on bike lanes, Orca pods and green spaces, rather than Green People with watermelons on their heads.
What I’d really like to know, however, is why the rest of our vast land seems to be tuning out our delightfully quirky three-down game.
Again, I’ve heard all the theories and, as I suggested on Sunday, the skirmishing has become borderline unwatchable, due in large part to starting quarterbacks dropping like ducks in a carnival shooting gallery, but also because TSN refuses to pull the plug on insufferable gimmickry that makes our eyes and ears bleed.
The Prairies, of course, remains the CFL fortress, with the Flattest of Lands boasting the most rabid and portable of fan bases, and they were out in all their melon-headed, green glory to watch the Riders ragdoll Mike Reilly and the Lions on Saturday night. It’s not by coincidence that the 20,950 head count was tops this season at B.C. Place Stadium. By 2,892 noggins. I’m not sure if that’s enough to make Leos bankroll David Braley smile, because there’s the matter of just one W in seven tries for the B.C. 24, but I’m guessing what didn’t get done on the field was done in suds sales.
There are two things I know about Green People, your see: They love their football and they love their Pilsner, and not necessarily in that order. Mind you, they might have been forced to chug some kind of Lotus Land hippie swill rather than Pil at B.C. Place, because it’s a different world out here. Still, a pint is a pint is a pint when your side is on the laughing end of a 48-15 score.
Whatever the case, here’s what I’m thinking: Let’s go back to the future. That is, no more interloping. Let west be west and east be east, and never the twain shall meet until the Grey Cup game. (Apologies to Rudyard Kipling for butchering his poem.)
That’s how the CFL rolled when I was knee high to Willie Fleming and Peanut Butter Joe Kapp. We never saw the whites of an eastern invader’s eyes until the final weekend in November, or the first weekend in December. Then some wise acres decided it would be a swell idea to have clubs flit to and fro across four time zones, and eastern outfits have been stumbling across the Manitoba border ever since.
Well, who needs them in 2019?
Let them keep to their own, with their four-team house league (five when Halifax joins the party; back to four when the Tranna Argos turn out the lights). I believe the five West Division outfits would get along quite nicely without the misfits and stumblebums from o’er there, thank you. Especially if it meant an extra visit from the melon heads.
Now, if the bottomless Boatmen beat the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Thursday night, I take it all back.
The local football heroes, be advised, were guilty of playing along with the interlocking schedule nonsense when it was introduced in 1961, although they really had no choice. So head coach Bud Grant and his troops trudged to Montreal for an Aug. 11 assignment, beating the Larks 21-15 in the CFL’s first West-East regular-season skirmish. Here’s how legendary football scribe and columnist Jack Matheson described the occasion for Winnipeg Tribune readers: “There were no special ceremonies to welcome a new era in Canadian football. There was, however, terrific humidity that was eventually chased by incessant drizzles, and through it all the Winnipeg team played their best football of the season. Their efforts weren’t particularly appreciated by 18,059 fans.” Apparently those 18,059 customers never left, because that’s still what the Alouettes draw today.
Incidentally, Winnipeg FC began its ’61 crusade with four games in 10 days. That is not a typo. Ten days, four games. So let’s not hear any whinging about a demanding sked today.
Big doings on the south side of River City this very afternoon and evening, with the boys and girls teeing it up in the Dreams Take Flight Tournament at Southwood Golf & Country Club. Bombers legend Chris Walby is among the celebs swinging the sticks, and we all know the large man will also give his jaw a workout. Peter Young has a boffo take on Big Bluto’s modus operandi when he attends one of these functions: “Opens car door in parking lot…starts telling stories…10 hours later gets back in car…stops telling stories…drives home…practices stories for next event.” They’ll fire a shotgun at 1 p.m. to get it all started, and some lucky kid will be going to Disney World in Orlando thanks to the money raised. Good stuff.
I don’t agree that jock journos should stick to sports, but there are times when it’s the preferred option. A case in point would be Damien Cox of the Toronto Star. Noting that Baseball Hall of Fame hurler Mariano Rivera expressed support for Donald Trump, Cox tweeted: “Sad to hear such a great athlete is a nut. Real shame. But that’s life.” So, if your political leanings don’t dovetail with Cox’s, you’re a nut. Hmmm. Sad to hear. Real shame. Cox, unfortunately, couldn’t resist the urge to also weigh in on the Calgary arena agreement, whereby the City foots half the bill for a new shinny palace: “Why in the world don’t the Flames just pay for their own bloody arena?” Here’s a better question: Why in the world would a dude who writes for a rag in the Republic of Tranna care how taxpayer coin is spent in a burg 2,700 km away?
Tweets that struck my fancy in recent days:
Bruce Arthur, Toronto Star: “Marcus Stroman always looked forward to pitching in big competitive moments, to playing for a great organization, and the Jays traded him to the Mets. That’s like breaking up with someone by burning down their house and stealing their credit cards and taking their dog.” (I swear I heard Willie Nelson sing those very lyrics at a concert a few years back.)
Farhan Lalji, TSN reporter during the Lions 45-18 wedgie v. the Roughriders: “Not sure it was the right time for the #BCLions to run an inhouse promo on the jumbotron called “Bad Jokes.” (I suppose the joke is on Mike Reilly.)
Doug Brown, former Bombers D-lineman, gab guy on CJOB, freelance scribe for the Drab Slab, on Winnipeg FC’s stumble in the Hammer: “You just don’t expect this team to lose their first game to a QB named Dane Evans.” (I agree with Doug. If the Bombers are going to lose to Hamilton, the quarterback should be named Bernie Faloney, Frank Cosentino or Joe Zuger.)
Chris Walby, Junior hockey legend and celebrity golfer: “I’ve been fortunate to be on a lot of great Bomber teams in my 16 year career, but this Bombers team is as dominant a team in all phases that I can remember. Keep it up my Bomber brothers. The drought ends in 2019!!” (Oops.)
It came to my attention the other day that Zach Parise of the Minnesota Wild is 35 years old. Can that be so? Seems like Zach just got started.
Interesting read by Craig Custance in The Athletic. Craig polled 36 boys and girls on the National Hockey League beat to determine which players/coaches have the gift of the gab, and look who topped out as the best natterbug among bench bosses—that’s right, our guy Paul Maurice. The Winnipeg Jets puppeteer received nine votes, three more than John Tortorella, and it’s really saying something (literally) when what comes out of Coach Potty Mouth’s squawk box is more interesting than Torts’ spewings. Who knew snake oil was in such demand? As for the players, apparently lip service isn’t a Jets thing. None among the locals made the all-talk team. No surprise, really. I mean, when the team captain tells news snoops to “eff off” there’s not much left to say.
So, what’s Andrew Copp’s shelf life in River City? One year? Two? Guaranteed the Jets utility forward is as good as gone, because an arbitration hearing is a one-way ticket out of Dodge. We know this to be so thanks to Custance. Citing NHL Players Association numbers, Custance tells us that 27 player/team salary stalemates between 2009 and this summer landed on an arbitrator’s desk. Twenty-one of the 27 skaters had a new mailing address inside three years; 14 said adios inside two years; 14 didn’t survive a year. The latter group would include Jacob Trouba, the only guy nervy enough to play chicken with les Jets until Copp came long with his beef. An arbitrator awarded Trouba a $5.5 million, one-year wage in July 2018, and the top-pair defender was dispatched to Gotham last month. So I give Copp two years tops, but I wouldn’t bet against him being gone as early as autumn. He’s an easily replaced part.
Just wondering: Why was Trouba the target of intense hostility for hopping on the Arbitration Train, yet Copp hasn’t heard similar name-calling?
And, finally, this has nothing to do with sports, but I watched a 1997 Fleetwood Mac concert on PBS Sunday evening and was reminded of the band’s brilliance. Fan-flipping-tastic! Love Stevie Nicks…her growly, entrancing voice, her mystical, occultish vibe, her fabulous fashion sense. I’ll be 69 this year and I don’t mind admitting that I’m still a Steve Nicks groupie. That girl’s got the sexy going on.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and apparently there have been sightings of Donald S. Cherry in my neck of the woods…
When I heard that Paul Maurice had been talking about statues the other day, I assumed it was a reference to Patrik Laine and his stone hands.
Turns out Maurice meant a pigeon perch outside the Little Hockey House On The Prairie, in the likeness of Rink Rat Scheifele.
“I have a higher opinion of Mark Scheifele than he has,” Coach Potty Mouth told news snoops who had assembled to collect bon mots from their daily to-and-fro with the Winnipeg Jets bench puppeteer. “I think he has the (potential) to be a one-team player that wins Cups and is the captain of it at some point and gets a bronze statue in front of the building kind of guy. I do. I do. In order to do that, you got to play 20 years, you got to win Stanley Cups, eventually you have to captain the team…there’s some (Steve) Yzerman there.”
My goodness. That’s a tall can of whoop-de-do.
I mean, I like Scheifele. Been a big fan ever since he arrived in River City as a scrawny kid with Bambi legs. But a statue? Coach Potty Mouth might want to do a nip and tuck on the hosannas.
Seriously. Ben Hatskin, the man who started the pro hockey business in Good Ol’ Hometown, doesn’t have a statue—bronze, chiseled in stone, or built of popsicle sticks. Nor do B. Hull, Ulf, Anders, the Shoe, Ducky or Teemu.
Pegtown really isn’t a bronze statue kind of burg as it relates to saluting our sporting giants.
Oh, sure, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have genuflected in the direction of Bud Grant and Cal Murphy with pigeon perches over at Football Follies Field In Fort Garry, and I’d like to think that one day legendary quarterback and salt-of-the-earth citizen Ken Ploen will join the former Grey Cup champion coaches. Maybe Chris Walby, too.
For the most part, though, River City is more into murals, buildings, parks and streets.
Billy Mosienko has a mural. Joe Daley has a mural. Jennifer Jones and her curling gal pals—Jill Officer, Kaitlyn Lawes, Dawn McEwen—have a mural. We have Terry Sawchuk Arena and Mosienko Arena. We have Clara Hughes Park and Jill Officer Park. We have Ken Ploen Way, Milt Stegall Drive, Cindy Klassen Way and Team Jones Way.
But we have just two statues, neither of which honors an athlete.
I’ve long held that Hatskin, more than anyone, deserves a pigeon perch, and it shouldn’t be necessary for me to go into the blah, blah, blah and yadda, yadda, yadda of his bona fides. Suffice to say, Coach Potty Mouth wouldn’t be in River City to talk about Rink Rat Scheifele and bronze statues if not for Benny and his Jets in 1972.
What would it take to get Benny in bronze outside the Little Hockey House On The Prairie? A willingness on the part of some movers and shakers (hello, Mark Chipman) and money.
Do that first, then we can discuss taking a couple hundred pounds of clay and molding it into a likeness of Scheifele 20 years from now.
What would we call a statue of Scheifele? The Bronze Bambi, of course. (If you saw the Rink Rat in his first few years, you’ll understand.)
Another game, another donut for Laine, and this is what the always-blunt Brian Burke had to say about Puck Finn on Hockey Night in Canada: “This is not a slump now. This is a horrible Grand Canyon of failure.” Ouch.
Speaking of Burke, it should be obvious to one and all that the former NHL executive and GM is HNIC’s curmudgeon-in-waiting. Once Donald S. Cherry’s gasbag hits empty, Burkie will slide into the main pulpit and receive seven minutes of spew time instead of his current 4 1/2. An ugly wardrobe will be optional.
Well, it’s six days since the Canadian Football League livestock auction began and what does Kyle Walters have to show for it? Look, ma, no hands! Talk all you like about Willie Jefferson, but the Winnipeg Blue Bombers general manager has yet to convince someone with a pair of sure hands to come to River City and play catch with quarterback Matt Nichols. Let’s not sugar coat this. It’s a massive fail. There’s no other way to look at it. Sure, Walters has ample time to find someone willing to play in Pegtown, but the best of the free agent batch are otherwise occupied and it’s now a matter of his bird dogs poking their beaks under rocks hither and yon. I’d like to say I’ve got confidence in Walters and his scouts to flesh out a high-end pass-catcher, but I don’t.
Deluxe receiver Derel Walker would have looked boffo in blue-and-gold, but he chose double blue and the Republic of Tranna over River City. Go figure. What does The ROT have that Good Ol’ Hometown doesn’t? Oh, that’s right, 15,000 empty seats.
If Walker catches 100 footballs in 2019 but no one is at BMO Field in The ROT to see it, does it really happen?
Another receiver who won’t be doing his thing in Pegtown is Duron Carter, now the problem child of the B.C. Lions. “I am looking forward to making a fresh start on the West Coast,” he told news snoops. By my count, Carter has had six “fresh” starts in seven years: Two in Montreal and one each in Indianapolis, Saskatchewan, the Republic of Tranna and now Lotus Land. His ass-clown act lasts about as long as food on Chris Walby’s dinner plate. Carter’s hands are never the problem, of course. It’s his yap. Can’t see that changing, even if Lotus Land is the natural habitat of more flakes per capita than anywhere else in the country.
Got a kick out of Marcel Desjardins’ comment when his quarterback, Trevor Harris, bolted the Bytown RedBlacks and skedaddled to Saudi Alberta and the Edmonton Eskimos. “When we signed Dominique (Davis) to his contract, which was the end of January, we had a pretty good sense as to how things were going to play out with Trevor,” the RedBlacks GM said. “And we were more than comfortable allowing him the chance to compete to be our starting quarterback.” Ya, Desjardins was so comfortable with Davis that he went out and recruited Jonathon Jennings in a panic signing the next day.
So, blackballed QB Colin Kaepernick has settled his collusion claim against the National Football League, which means the NFL’s dirty laundry will remain tucked away in a closet. Meanwhile, it’s reported that Kaepernick will receive $60 million, or more, in compensation. Imagine that. Paying someone $60 million to shut the hell up and go away. You think that would work with Don Cherry?
Okay, it’s agreed. Matt Kuchar is Scrooge McGolfer for initially chintzing out on an appropriate payment to his caddie, David Ortiz, after winning the Mayakoba Golf Classic and $1.3 million in November.
Ortiz expected a payout of $50,000, with which he planned to purchase a laundromat in Mexico. Instead, Kuchar rewarded his bag mule with a paltry $5,000.
Talk about taking a guy to the cleaners.
Kuchar, who had always come across as a goody two-shoes kind of guy, has been flogged fore and aft by news snoops and the rabble on social media, and it doesn’t seem to matter that he eventually made things right by Ortiz, forking over the $50,000. His payment and mea culpa were a day late and a dollar short. But here’s what I find myself wondering: Who are news snoops to tell Matt Kuchar how to spend his money?
“An under-reported aspect of the professional athletic life is the extreme cheapness of many competitors,” Cathal Kelly informs us in the Globe and Mail. “After all, it’s not really any of our business.”
Yet he made it his business with a 900-words essay.
For the record, it’s my experience that news snoops are some of the chintziest creatures roaming terra firma, even when on an expense account. They are kings of the freebe. So their sanctimonious scribblings are nothing more than a pot meeting a kettle.
On the subject of sanctimony, this from pompous Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: “Is it possible to have an awards show of any kind these days without the winners turning into political moralists? I liked the world better when actors won awards and were wise enough to know that without scripts they had nothing important to say.” Hmmm. I liked the world better when sports scribes were wise enough to know that they have nothing important to say.
And, finally, it’s about singer and lesbian of note Brandi Carlile at the Grammy Awards: She had something important to say and sing about and, as one of the “misfits” she referenced, I was deeply moved. It was gobsmackingly brilliant. Beautiful. Just beautiful.
Adam Bighill. Three years. That’s big. It’s big like Chris Walby’s appetite. Big like Duron Carter’s ego.
Why, this is the biggest football news in River City since the last time the Winnipeg Blue Bombers signed Beastmo Bighill as a free agent. That was less than a year ago, when the great middle linebacker parachuted in on the cusp of training camp.
It’s different this time around, though.
This time, Winnipeg FC has the Canadian Football League’s most outstanding defensive player locked up for three years. Yup. A small amount of arm-twisting convinced Beastmo’s bride, Kristina, that Good Ol’ Hometown is the place to be for them and their two little ones, frigid winters and all.
But, hey, $250,000 will buy a lot of firewood to keep three-year-old A.J. and his little sister, 20-month-old Leah, warm and cozy.
This, understand, isn’t just a field-good story for the Bombers, whose quest to end a 28-year championship drought is enhanced considerably by Bighill’s presence as the centrepiece of the defensive dozen. It’s also glad tidings for the CFL.
At a time when there’s been a jail break of quality players fleeing south to the National Football League—and when CFL strategists kowtow to commissioner Randy Ambrosie’s rose-colored world vision and dutifully sift through the riff-raff of a semi-pro league in Mexico—it’s encouraging to know that we’re keeping one of our best at home.
Mind you, it’s not like Bighill had an urge to scoot south, because he’s scratched that itch. The NFL became a been-there, done-that, got-the-t-shirt thing in 2017 when, after six seasons with the B.C. Lions, Beastmo gave it a go in New Orleans and appeared in three skirmishes with the Saints. Didn’t work out. Thus he returned to our side of the great U.S.-Canada divide and found his way to Winnipeg. To stay, as it turns out.
No doubt his signing Tuesday turned heads across the CFL landscape, because Bighill could have shopped himself on the open market come Feb. 12. He would have fielded more come-ons than Brad Pitt in a singles bar.
I mean, to say this guy is a difference-maker is to say Donald Trump is fond of fast food.
So the fact that Bighill chose to forego possibly greater riches and at least one much warmer locale (Vancouver) speaks volumes for Winnipeg FC general manager Kyle Walters. And it isn’t just Bighill that he’s lured back. Last week he sweet-talked punter/placekicker Justin Medlock into another two-year gig.
Apparently some people really can sell ice cream at the North Pole. Well done, Kyle Walters.
Biggest smile in town after the re-signing of Bighill? Defensive coordinator Richie Hall, who went from tar and feathers to flavor of the month as the 2018 progressed, thanks largely to Beastmo’s play.
Walters claimed an Ortiz, a Reyes and a Pérez in the CFL’s auctionof Mexican talent on Monday, and I can only imagine how his sales pitch will go with the fresh recruits from Liga de Futbol Ay Chihuahua: “Listen, guys, I don’t want to scare you off, but I ain’t gonna lie to you. We never win and Winnipeg ain’t Shangi-La. This Blue-and-Gold outfit has done nothing but lose, like, forever. Last time we won the Grey Cup, your ancestors were taking care of business at the Alamo. That’s right, amigos, it’s been that long. Then there’s our weather. It gets so cold during the winter that it’ll freeze the brass monkeys off a brass monkey. You don’t know shrinkage until you’ve stood at Portage and Main in January. But you can always go underground. That’s how we get from Point A to Point B here in the Peg. We become moles. But, hey, here’s the most important thing to remember about Winnipeg, amigos—it ain’t Regina.”
Apparently Commish Randy’s Mexican adventure that has included a combine and a draft does not include the CFL Players Association. “We’re not in a position to be able to explain what the league is doing, because we don’t know,” is what CFLPA executive director Brian Ramsay told Scott Stinson of Postmedia. If you find it odd that the league has left the players on the outside looking in, so do I.
That’s a fine mess Chris Jones has left the Saskatchewan Roughriders to mop up. No general manager. No head coach. No defensive coordinator. No quarterback. So is he a scoundrel for defecting to the Cleveland Browns as a defensive specialist a week after signing an extension with Gang Green? Some see it that way. But it’s nothing that signing Marc Trestman and Mike Reilly wouldn’t cure. Do that and folks on the Flatlands will be asking, “Chris who?”
Let’s be clear: Jones’ move is bad for the CFL because you never like to see talent get away, inside or outside the sidelines. But the 2018 coach-of-the-year has done nothing wrong. Jones had an escape clause in his contract. The NFL and the Browns provided the escape route. He took it. At worst it’s a bad optic. Moralists in the media inclined to tsk-tsk Jones and label him a Benedict Arnold first must look in the mirror, because I know very few veteran sports scribes who have worked for only one newspaper.
If I told you that the Republic of Tranna and Vancouver were the only CFL markets to show a hike in attendance last season would you believe me? Of course not. But it’s true. Trouble is, the situation is so bad in The ROT and Lotus Land that the minimal gains are meaningless. According to the number crunchers at CFLdb, the league lost 63,864 customers in 2018, and almost one-third of the defectors (19,708) were folks in Montreal who abandoned the Alouettes. Attendance continues to be boffo on the Prairies and in Ottawa and Hamilton. Here are the details:
And, finally, I find myself wondering if the Roughriders will look at Bombers offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice to fill the head coaching vacancy on the Flatlands. It would be a tough sell to the melon-headed faithful, given that Coach LaPo’s offence failed to score a touchdown in the West Division final last November.
Many years from now, when people of a certain vintage gather to advise young’uns what it was like “back in the day,” Patrik Laine surely will occupy a place in the spinning of yarns.
The tales the elders tell will be tall and, no doubt, embellished to the point whereby Puck Finn is remembered as a larger-than-life National Hockey League player who, when not scoring goals, rescued babies from burning buildings and single-handedly dug a mile-wide trench around Duff’s Ditch to spare River City from cataclysmic spring flooding.
“I was there when he dug that trench,” they’ll swear. “Took him a week. And danged if he didn’t go out an hour after putting down his shovel and score five goals on five shots. I was there when that happened, too. Still have the ticket stub to prove it.”
And that’s okay. It’s what us old farts do. We traffic in folklore and expect whippersnappers to accept that everything “back in the day” was better than everything today.
I recall my oldest son, for example, sitting at the dinner table in the mid-1980s and pooh-poohing the notion that Gordie Howe might have been a better hockey player than Wayne Gretzky.
“What did Howe ever do that was so great?” he asked with considerable adolescent cheek and a smirk that needed to be wiped from his face.
“Excuse me? What did Gordie Howe do?” I replied, almost choking on my pork chop. “You mean aside from the six scoring titles, the six MVPs, the four Stanley Cup rings, the five goal-scoring titles, the most goals and points in the history of hockey, the 20 all-star teams? You mean aside from all that? And let me tell you something else…Gretzky was spoiled as a kid. His dad built him a rink in his back yard. Mr. Hockey—that’s Gordie Howe—wasn’t spoiled. He had to trudge two miles barefoot through three feet of snow just to get to the rink and back when he was a kid. All of us kids had to do that.”
My boy bowed his head. He had been properly chastised, yet he remained unconvinced of Howe’s superiority before finishing the last of his green peas and slinking off to the living room.
“Gretzky’s better,” were his defiant, parting words, “and I don’t believe that stuff about Howe walking barefoot in the snow. I’m sure they had buses back then.”
“They did, but Howe got kicked off for elbowing all the other boys,” I replied.
Similar tall tales will be told about Patrik Laine, his five goals on five shots in Winnipeg Jets’ 8-4 victory over the St. Louis Blues last weekend destined to be included in the I-was-there-when-it-happened folklore 40-50 years hence.
And that set me to thinking…
I began watching and following River City athletes more than 60 years ago, in the mid-1950s just as Billy Mosienko was returning to Good Ol’ Hometown to join Winnipeg Warriors of the Western Hockey League. So I’ve seen some jocks. And these are the 10 I mention most when asked about the way it was “back in the day.”
Kenny Ploen: Once upon a time, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers won the Grey Cup. Repeatedly. And Ploen was usually at the forefront of those powerful 1950s-60s Canadian Football League outfits—as a quarterback, a defensive back, or both. Oh, yes, Ploen played two ways. Sometimes in the same game. And he was an all-star at both positions. He also might be the nicest man alive. I recall riding my bike, twice a day, out to Packers Field in St. Boniface during Bombers training camp. I’d ask Mr. Ploen for his autograph after each of the morning and afternoon sessions. Every day for a week. He never once declined my request for his signature.
Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson and the Shoe, Lars-Erik Sjoberg: Hedberg was a cheetah on skates. Nilsson had four eyes, two in the front of his head and two in the back. The Shoe was short and squat, kind of like Barney Rubble. It was as if an unseen giant had put his thumb on the top of the Shoe’s head and squashed him. But move the puck? The best. And the beatings those Swedish boys took from North American ruffians after joining the Jets in the World Hockey Association? Rented mules don’t get whacked that often.
Terry Sawchuk: The great goalie grew up in the same area of town as I did, East Kildonan. When I began playing Little NHL hockey at Melrose Park, rumor had it that a pair of goalie pads we used once belonged to Sawchuk. That set of pillows had magical, mystic powers. The kid who wrapped the Sawchuk pads around his legs always got a shutout. Honest. He did.
Donny Lalonde: I remember the first time I saw the Golden Boy working out in a firehall-turned gym, his every move in concert with the sound of Bob Dylan’s great album Infidels. He struck me as kind of scrawny for a light-heavyweight boxer. He wasn’t much of a ring technician. And he fought with his left arm tied behind his back. But his one good arm won a world championship and he became just the second man to floor the legendary Sugar Ray Leonard.
Chris Walby: If it’s possible for anyone to actually be larger than life, Bluto is your man. He went from total junior hockey goon with the West Kildonan North Stars to a career as arguably the best offensive lineman in CFL history. He later became a talking head on CBC football coverage, mangling the English language while actually making sense. If you ever see Walby, check out his hands. His fingers are as gnarled and as bent as tree bark. They’ve been broken more often than a politician’s promises.
Jeff Stoughton: A curler who didn’t drink. Go figure. And I don’t recall ever hearing cuss words escape his lips. That certainly made him suitable for mixed company and, in fact, mostly forgotten is that his breakthrough on the national stage came in the mixed game, where he skipped his rink to a pair of Canadian titles before beginning his run as the most successful male curler in a curling-rich province. His spin-o-rama delivery is legendary.
Teemu Selanne: I’m not convinced that the Finnish Flash actually happened. I mean, 76 goals and 132 points as an NHL rookie? Go on. You’re making that up. That’s pure fiction. But it’s not. Teemu actually did it in real life, not PlayStation. Then—poof!—he was gone, like Col. Flagg on M*A*S*H.
Vic Peters: Like Selanne, seemingly too good to have been real. Forget that he was a champion curler. Vic was the loveliest of lads. A total people person who, when not winning curling championships or making pebbled ice, could be found at Larters or The Meadows golf courses, grooming the fairways/greens or playing a few holes while still wearing his superintendent’s galoshes. If K. Ploen isn’t the nicest man, Vic was and he left us far too soon.