A different kind of Sunday smorgas-bored…and it’s only fair to warn you that I’ve got a bad case of the bah-humbugs today because the PC Police are ruining Christmas songs for me. Seriously, Baby It’s Cold Outside is a banned song? What next, they haul Rudolph and his red nose off the air because he was bullied by the other reindeer and he drinks too much? Anyway, Robert Mueller is up Donald Trump’s nose (still) and here are some people and things that have crawled up my nose:
News snoops who vote on the Lou Marsh Trophy get up my nose, because they don’t have a clue about curling and curlers. Their snub of Rachel Homan last year was ghastly, so you can be sure that our girl Jennifer Jones won’t get a whiff of consideration this week when the girls and boys on the beat(s) put their little heads together to declare Canada’s top jock for 2018. I’m not saying Jones deserves the honor. Brooke Henderson does. But it would be nice if the world champion curler is at least in the conversation. Trouble is, few jock journos in the east know a hogline from Hog Town. Some of them still consider curling a social activity rather than a sport. (True story: When I joined the Toronto Sun sports staff, I was dispatched to London, Ont., for the 1981 world curling championships because, as sports editor George Gross informed me, “You’re from Western Canada, so you must know curling. No one else on our staff knows anything about it.”)
The national sports media (Sportsnet, TSN, Globe and Mail, National Post) are up my nose for their groupie-like gushing over the Tranna Maple Leafs. The Auston Matthews adulation is painfully over the top, and the Willy Boy Nylander contract saga received more coverage than the JFK assassination. Daily updates on Willy Boy’s whereabouts and activity while he played hooky instead of hockey included everything from the brushing of his teeth to the clipping of his toenails. There were 15—count ’em, 15!—breathless articles/videos about him on the Sportsnet website last Monday morning. The second coming of Christ won’t get that much play. Unless, of course, Jesus signs with the Maple Leafs and plays on a line with Matthews.
The Edmonton Oilers are up my nose because, their current run of decent play notwithstanding, they’ve been a mess of steaming, hot hooey for too long. Normally I wouldn’t care, except they have this kid named Connor McDavid who deserves so much more than a supporting cast full of invalids. McDavid was too ill to play last Monday. Little wonder. The Oilers make me sick, too.
- The National Hockey League is up my nose because it continues to snub Québec City, my favorite burg in North America. Okay, it didn’t work first time around for Ville de Québec, but the same must also be said for Winnipeg. And just look at what’s happening in River City now.
A portion of the rabble in River City are up my nose for the constant whinging about a perceived anti-Jets bias among NHL referees. As conspiracy theories go, it ranks right up there with the moon landing and whatever boogymen Donald Trump is spooked by these days. Nobody wearing arm bands is out to get the locals. Missed calls happen. Bad calls happen. That’s because some NHL refs are lousy. So there’s nothing to see here. Move along.
Former Kansas City Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt is up my nose because he’s apologized to everyone for shoving and kicking a woman except the woman he shoved and kicked while she was on the ground.
The Drab Slab known as the Winnipeg Free Press is up my nose for providing retired sports columnist Paul Wiecek with a platform to spew scandalous gossip about elite curlers being a bunch of “swingers” who spend their weekends cheating on their spouses with other curlers who are cheating on their spouses. Infidelity is newsworthy if an athlete’s name is Tiger Woods, but the everyday Janes and Joes who curl don’t deserve to be branded as adulterous sexaholics by a former jock journo with too much free time on his hands. The sexual hijinx of curlers is nobody’s business. It’s the sort of careless gossip you tell the boys at the bar, but a responsible newspaper wouldn’t print such trash. It serves no purpose other than to titillate and cast the “cheater” cloud of suspicion over everyone.
Postmedia is up my nose because of the way it has destroyed the Winnipeg Sun sports pages. I don’t recognize it as a Winnipeg newspaper anymore.
Jeff Blair of Sportsnet is up my nose for writing that no general manager in the Republic of Tranna has “won anything of significance for years, going back to 1992-93.” Figures. Let’s ignore the Argonauts. Typical Tranna, where the Canadian Football League is less significant than Drake’s bowel movements. The Boatmen have brought the Grey Cup home five times since 1993. Apparently Blair considers those meh moments. So only the Maple Leafs, Blue Jays and Raptors matter in The ROT. Sounds about right. And that’s a shame.
The CFL is up my nose for its football operations salary cap. It’s the dumbest cap since someone put that pointy thing on the Pope’s head. Do we really care if the Saskatchewan Roughriders have 15 coaches and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers only 10? Or how much or how little they’re paid? The Montreal Alouettes just fired a mittful of coaches/scouts because of this new cap. And did Mike Benevides and the Edmonton Eskimos part ways because of the new cap? Losing quality coaches and scouts makes the on-field product better how?
Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna is up my nose for his sanctimonious scribblings re Baseball Hall of Fame balloting. Citing Rule 5 of qualifications for induction to Cooperstown, he focuses on “integrity, sportsmanship and character” in explaining his steadfast refusal to vote for Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Manny Ramirez or any other ballplayer who stuck a needle in their butt. But this holier-than-thou Simmons is the same guy who glorifies woman-beater Floyd Mayweather, writing about his “dignity,” and he also expresses how much “fun” it is to have woman-beater Johnny Manziel in the CFL. Can you say fake piety, kids?
Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail is up my nose for his pungent description of heavyweight boxer and oinker Tyson Fury. The British pug is a “delightful and often tortured oddball,” according to Kelly. Well, yes, he’s tortured. He’s battled the bottle, drugs, depression and suicide ideation. He also spews sexist, racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic and transphobic venom. A woman’s place is “in the kitchen and on her back” would be one of his tamer comments. He once said he would hang his sister were he to discover she’d been promiscuous. He compares homosexuality to pedophilia. Jews and Zionists own all the banks, newspapers and TV stations and have us all “brainwashed.” This is Kelly’s idea of a delightful human being?
I’ve probably gotten up some noses with this series of bah-humbugish mini-rants, but I’m sure the spirit of the season shall fa-la-la-la-la all over me once again on the morrow. Unless, of course, I find out about more Christmas carols that the PC Police won’t let me listen to.
I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
I think I know what some of you were thinking.
You were thinking that Richie Hall’s defence would become Richie Hall’s defence. Oh yes you were.
As the Hamilton Tiger-Cats gnawed away at a substantial deficit Friday, you were convinced that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive dozen was about to fall back on bad habits and, thus, a hot, steamy evening at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry would conclude with the local lads squandering 19-7 and 26-10 leads like a teenage kid with his first summer wages. I was thinking the same thing.
Not this time, though.
On a night when quarterback Matt Nichols kept flinging the football to empty spaces instead of willing hands, the oft-crucified Hall and his oft-crucified group secured the Bombers’ fifth W in their eight skirmishes this Canadian Football League crusade, and their 29-23 success means the defensive coordinator is good to flit about town this week sans disguise.
Same goes for the head coach, Mike O’Shea, who today is a .500 head coach.
How long has it been since the oft-skewered O’Shea last saw anything other than the dark side of the moon? Well, Sam Katz was still the mayor. Jeff Stoughton was still king of Manitoba’s curlers. Evander Kane was still dining and dashing. It was Sept. 13, 2014. The Bombers were 6-6 and soon to be 6-7. That pit eventually grew so deep that O’Shea had to carry a canary to work. He’s finally come up for air. His record, once 13-28, now stands at 40-40. The canary’s work is done.
Yup, life is good for coaches Tar & Feather. For now. There’s another game in five days. The jackals are forever crouching at their door.
Make no mistake, much of the criticism heaped on whipping boys O’Shea and Hall has been warranted, most notably on those occasions when the head man was guilty of mind-numbing buffoonery. Like attempting a season-halting, no-chance-in-hell, 61-yard field goal in the dead air of B.C. Place Stadium. Coach Mikey will wear that particular moment of madness until he actually wins a playoff game, but, in the meantime, shouldn’t the rabble—and all knights of the keyboard—acknowledge that he and Hall are getting the job done?
What’s up with Matt Nichols? I mean, the guy missed more long-range targets on Friday night than an Iraqi scud missile. His receivers would have required arms longer than Pinocchio’s nose to latch onto some of his passes. It brought to mind something a CFL coach or GM told Kirk Penton of The Athletic when discussing the league’s premier QBs: “Nichols is just a game manager.” And that’s the best you can say about his work against the Tabbies—he managed to win the game. But isn’t that the bottom line for quarterbacks?
This from Damien Cox of the Toronto Star/Sportsnet: “There was a great deal of chest-thumping last week when Edmonton announced a crowd of 35,623 for a game against Saskatchewan, the CFL’s biggest live audience of the season. Given that Commonwealth Stadium was still 40 per cent empty, you might wonder what all the celebrating was about. Twenty years ago, nobody would have got excited about that kind of crowd.”
A couple layers to peel here: First, I didn’t read or hear about anyone dancing in the streets of The Chuck because of that head count. If there was a celebration, I missed it. Second, what a mook. I mean, had Cox taken five minutes for research, he’d know that seven of the eight CFL franchises averaged less than 30,000 customers per home date “20 years ago.” Half the league (Hamilton, Toronto, Montreal and B.C.) averaged less than 20,000. Thus, I submit that every club, save possibly for the Eskimos, would have been very “excited” about an audience of 35,623. More to the point, they’d have been shouting about it from the rooftops if it happened the first week of August, which is not exactly prime time for spending an evening sitting at the 55-yard line.
Just the facts, ma’am. They aren’t hard to find.
I note that a record number of our friends south of the great U.S.-Canada divide tuned in to witness TSN’s favorite lousy quarterback, Johnny Manziel, make his CFL debut on Aug. 3. Yup, 406,000 sets of peepers watched in wonder as Johnny Rotten fell flat on his face in his three-down baptism. Best ever ESPN2 audience for a CFL skirmish. Confirming, of course, that American football fans’ taste in quarterbacks is much like their taste in beer—watered down.
Let’s see if I’ve got this straight: Trevor Harris of the Ottawa RedBlacks flung the football 54 times on Saturday night. Forty-four of those passes—44!—landed in the right hands. That’s the second highest, single-game completion total in CFL history. Those passes/catches covered 487 of terrain, and one went for a touchdown in Ottawa’s 24-17 victory over the Montreal Alouettes. And yet, once the dust had settled, we had Rod Smith and Davis Sanchez of TSN flapping their gums about Johnny freaking Manziel, the losing quarterback whose performance was noteworthy only for the fact he didn’t toss four interceptions? “On a night where Trevor Harris throws for nearly 500 yards, it seems kind of crazy to be talking about the other quarterback, but that’s the Manziel world now in the CFL,” said Smith. No, Rod, it isn’t “kind of crazy.” It’s stupid and insulting, and TSN’s credibility is taking a big hit with its relentless and shameful gushing over a National Football League washout.
For two years, Jacob Trouba has been so far up Paul Wiecek’s nose that a team of U.S. Navy SEALs wouldn’t be able to rescue him. Now we find Josh Morrissey up the other nostril.
Oh, yes, if Trouba is Darth Defenceman, Morrissey is Darth Lite.
And what heinous trespass has the young defender committed? Well, in a plot-thickening essay seemingly plucked out of River City’s hazy, sticky summer air and primarily designed to get tongues wagging, Wiecek informs us that Morrissey, like Trouba before him, is playing by the rules. The nerve.
Morrissey, to date, has declined to accept whatever hometown discount the Winnipeg Jets have asked him to accept in contract discussions, and thus he remains listed among the National Hockey League’s unsigned restricted free agents. That simply won’t do. Never mind that he’s merely exercising his bargained-for rights. Playing by the rules, in the world according to Wiecek, is bad manners, especially if it means you might upend a cart of apples.
Moreover, the Winnipeg Free Press scribe tells us that Morrissey is displaying a “darker side.” He’s morphed from Ned Flanders into Mr. Burns. Surely, Wiecek hints, there’s something foul afoot. “It’s no accident we’ve reached this point,” is his cryptic conclusion.
Good grief. The heat certainly affects people in peculiar ways, doesn’t it?
Look, there’s no story here. Not unless Wiecek has inside intel that he isn’t sharing, which I doubt. If Morrissey remains unsigned by the time the local lads assemble next month for their training sessions, then sure, let’s talk. Until then, let’s dispense with the flights of fantasy (read: fake news) and try to keep it real.
Naturally, Wiecek couldn’t pen a piece about the Jets without skewering Trouba. Referencing the 24-year-old defenceman’s recent contract negotiations, which resulted in an arbitrator-awarded salary of $5.5 million, he wrote: “You knew that was going to be a nightmare.” So let’s recap. Trouba became a restricted free agent. He filed for arbitration, as is his right under the terms of the NHL-NHL Players Association contract. When his agent, Kurt Overhardt, and Jets ownership/management agreed to disagree on wage/term, it went to an arbitrator. Both parties signed the awarded one-year deal. Trouba will report to training camp and be a significant contributor to the group on its next Stanley Cup crusade. Exactly what part of that is a “nightmare?”
Hey, check out what Craig Custance of The Athletic Detroit has to say about our local hockey heroes. “If I had to bet the mortgage on a team right now to win the Stanley Cup, it’d be Winnipeg,” he writes. I’d take that bet in a heart beat, except I don’t want to live in Detroit and I’d hate to see Custance out on the street.
Geez, it’s been 30 years since the Los Angeles Kings landed the biggest fish of them all, reeling in Wayne Gretzky from the Edmonton Oilers. Where were you the day No. 99 broke down and wept when informed he’d be neighbors in La La Land with Tom Hanks, Michael Douglas and Jodie Foster? I was in my late 30s and vacationing at a cottage somewhere in the wilds of the Whiteshell, but I interrupted my hiatus long enough to take my toes out of the water and scribble a column for the Winnipeg Sun. It was probably a lousy essay that offered little insight, but, hey, I had other fish to fry that day. Literally.
Some interesting thoughts on contract negotiations from homeboy Mark Stone, who recently settled on a one-year, $7.35 million pact with the Ottawa Senators to avoid arbitration at the 11th hour. “It’s lots of hours, you’re spending a lot of time on the phone and you’re thinking about what you should do and how you should approach things. It’s actually mentally exhausting,” said Stone. Ya, such a hardship. I once worked the phones for 7 1/2 hours a day, five days a week for a year and a half in the Cordova Bay Golf Course pro shop. I think they paid me 12 bucks an hour. Stone spent a few days on the phone and his NHL club will pay him about $30,000 an hour. And he’s exhausted?
And, finally, I don’t get it. Why are some people on our side of the border bent out of shape, saying and writing that the NBA has “snubbed” the Tranna Raptors by not including them on the Christmas Day TV menu? Seriously. That’s what people do on Christmas now? They watch a bunch of multi-millionaire stringbeans play bouncy-bouncy on the hardwood when there’s probably a feel-good Jimmy Stewart or Bing Crosby movie on TV? I shudder. And if that makes me sound old, it’s because I am old.
What is it that I don’t understand about last place? About a bottom-feeder? About doing the Auston Matthews jig?
I mean, when last seen, the Winnipeg Jets were rolling in the deep, wearing 50 shades of gawd awful in pursuit of a repeat of their one and only, albeit brief, entry into the Stanley Cup tournament last spring. They’re feeding from the bottom of the National Hockey League’s most treacherous waters, the Central Division, and only the unexpected free fall of the Disney Ducks and the usual buffoonery from the Edmonton McDavids has prevented the Jets from claiming sole squatter’s rights to the Western Conference cellar.
But, hey, everything is cool. That sub-.500 record? Not an accurate measurement of their true mettle. Just ask them.
“I think we’re in a lot better shape than the standings look,” insists Paul Maurice, the head coach and president of the Anthony Peluso fan club. “I like the way our game is being played. We’ve been in some games and have had some tough defeats lately, but we’ve played right and played hard.”
What say you, Bryan Little?
“I feel like we are better than a .500 team and you haven’t seen the best of us yet,” says the veteran centre. “I think we have a better team in this room than our record shows.”
Earth to Jets! Earth to Jets! Put away the rose-tinted glasses. You are what your record says you are, a last-place club with apparent designs on first call in next June’s NHL entry draft, whereupon the name Auston Matthews shall be shouted out and one lucky outfit lands a potential game-changer.
Trouble is, that fortunate outfit is supposed to be named something other than Jets.
I mean, I don’t believe there was intent to tank from the get-go of the 2015-16 crusade, but now that we’ve arrived at the Christmas break and the Jets are a mere two points clear of last place in the Western Conference and eight removed from the playoff line, what’s the plan? Unload Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd for youth and make an unveiled bid to better the chances of winning the draft lottery? Hope kids like Nikolaj Ehlers, Andrew Copp, Adam Lowry, Connor Hellebuyk, Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba grow up fast? Like, real fast? ‘Fess up to the fawning faithful, advising them to prepare for the pain and frustration that accompanies the flaws and foibles of freshly scrubbed greenhorns?
The Jets won’t say, of course, because they don’t have to say anything. Their Little Hockey House on the Prairie is sold out every game and their merchandise shops are doing boffo business, so, at best, they’ll continue to drone on about their draft-and-develop strategy and hope that their prospects are superior to the other guys’.
Someone, however, should be answering for what has transpired this season. For example:
- Chris Thorburn has more goals than Mathieu Perreault. How is it that a player with fourth-line skill has lit the lamp more often than a second-line forward who enjoys time on the powerplay? Explain, please.
- Is this what the Jets expected of rookie Ehlers? One goal in 25 games? No doubt the Dane has NHL speed and skills, but does he have an NHL game? Explain, please.
- The Jets summoned Joel Armia from the farm in November, then sat him in the press box for three weeks before reassigning him back to the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League. What was up with that? Someone—anyone—explain, please.
- Much was made of the Jets moving the Moose from Newfy Land to across the hall at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie, because it made for swifter and more economic movement of players from the farm to the big club. But what is the point of having the Moose so close at hand if Grand Master Kevin Cheveldayoff is going to stock his AHL roster with players who, when called up to the Jets, can fill a uniform but not a void? Explain, please.
- Anthony Peluso. Explain, please, Paul Maurice.
- We all know that Alexander Burmistrov is no Michael Frolik, but he isn’t even a reasonable facsimile of the departed all-purpose forward. Actually, the second coming of Burmistrov has been a failed experiment. Explain, please, GM Chevy.
- Jacob Trouba once was thought to be “all that” on defence. Now we’re wondering what “all that” is. Explain, please.
- Captain Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien remain unsigned, untraded and headed for unrestricted free agency. Explain, please.
- The Jets have long been goalie blind. That is, they’ve been convinced that Ondrej Pavelec was a legitimate No. 1 NHL goaltender, even though the rest of the hockey world knew otherwise. Since Pavelec went on the shelf with an owie last month, neither Michael Hutchinson nor Connor Hellebuyck has done much to convince me they’ve got what it takes to be numero uno. Explain, please.
- Five years in, we’re still wondering why the Jets are so thin in the bottom six up front. Explain, please.
- Last season, the Jets were fast, hard on the puck and heavy on their foes. This year I see Mark Scheifele make a one-handed wave of his stick while the smurf-like Johnny Gaudreau out-hustles and out-finesses him to a puck that finds its way to the back of the Jets goal. Explain, please.
- The Jets are bankrolled, in part, by the wealthiest man in Canada, David Thomson, but they spend like Scrooge, with the lowest payroll in the NHL. Explain, please.
Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.