The River City Renegade


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About my favorite athletes…Mike O’Shea and brown tap water…no more hanky-panky from CFL coaches…scuzzy Pete Rose…Usain Bolt losing to a drug cheat…and another gay slur

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

From the top: Wilma Rudolph, Sandy Koufax and Arnold Palmer, Martina Navratilova, Rafa Nadal and Bjorn Borg.

Came across an interesting item on social media the other day, whereby folks were listing their all-time favorite athletes. Not a greatest athlete list, understand. A fave list. Here’s mine:

Wilma Rudolph: So sleek, so elegant. Such regal bearing. The Italians called her La Gazzella Negra and, to the French, she was La Perle Noir. I adored the American sprinter who blossomed from sickly child (polio, double pneumonia, scarlet fever) into an Olympic champion sprinter. She wowed the world at the 1960 Games in Rome, skedaddling to three gold medals. Once back home in Clarksville, Tenn., she insisted that a parade/gala in her honor include all townsfolk, and history records it as the first fully integrated municipal event in town history.

Martina Navratilova: When the tennis legend defected from the former Czechoslovakia in 1975, she was a high school kid with everything going against her. English was not her first language. Family and friends were on the other side of the world. Fear of being seized and hauled back to her homeland by thugs in trench coats was ever-present. She had a fondness for Big Macs and large fries. And, as we discovered a few years later, she was a lesbian, which was a lot less cool then than it is now. But, as she was to tell news snoops in early September of ’75, “I wanted my freedom.” Once untethered from the leash of communist state suppression, Navratilova became the greatest player of her generation. To some, the greatest ever. And she’s long been a leading voice in the LGBT community.

Sandy Koufax: I should have been mad at Koufax on Oct. 6, 1965. The Los Angeles Dodgers—my team—were in Minneapolis to engage a hefty-hitting Minnesota Twins batting lineup in Game 1 of the World Series. Koufax, the premier pitcher in Major League Baseball, should have been on the mound. Instead, it was Don Drysdale, who, although no slouch on the hill, was no Koufax. But I couldn’t get mad at the great lefthander because his reason for taking the day off was unassailable—it was Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. Sandy Koufax was my favorite player long before he deferred to his faith by declining to start Game 1, but his decision still resonates with me, much more than any of the other-wordly numbers that he posted during the 1960s. It was a shining life lesson, even for a Roman Catholic kid. (p.s. The Dodgers won the Series, with Koufax pitching successive shutouts in Games 5 and 7, the latter on only two days rest.)

Bjorn Borg: He was the anti-Johnny Mac. While John McEnroe would disrupt matches with volcanic eruptions of petulance, Borg played tennis with a Zen-like calm, utilizing an assortment of two-fisted, cross-court backhands and top-spinning forehands to disassemble foes en route to 11 Grand Slam championships, including five successive Wimbledon titles. I admired the Swede’s calm amidst chaos, his unflappable resolve, and his quiet intensity—all wrapped in a cloak of mystery—as much as I did his groundstrokes. To this day, I wonder what made Borg tick.

Arnold Palmer/Rafael Nadal: Okay, this is cheating. But I couldn’t decide between Rafa, the king of clay court tennis, and Arnie, the king of golf. Arnie and Sandy Koufax were my go-to guys as a kid, Rafa is my go-to guy in my dotage. Arnie was a swashbuckler, daring and charismatic, and universally respected and admired as a sportsman and, more important, as a person. Rafa arrived on the tennis scene with bulging biceps, sleeveless tops and pirate pants. “Different,” I thought upon seeing him for the first time. Well, vive la difference! Rafa adorns himself in regular tennis togs now, but there’s never been anything regular about his game. Especially on clay. And the Spaniard seems like such a nice, young man.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers offed the RedBlacks, 33-30, in Ottawa on Friday night, in large part because Mike O’Shea managed to stay out of his own way. I guess that means the natterbugs will have to squawk about something other than the head coach’s short pants this week. Maybe they can blame him for that scuzzy brown tap water in River City.

CFL commish Randy Ambrosie

Upon further review, further review was ruining the game, so bravo to commish Randy Ambrosie and Canadian Football League team poobahs for taking away every head coach’s favorite toy—the challenge flag. Well, okay, the sideline stewards aren’t exactly hanky-free. Each coach is still allowed to toss one yellow hanky each game, but that beats a total of six potential challenges per match.

In the world according to Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press, changing the coach’s challenge rule this deep into the season makes the CFL head office a “clown show.” It’s “amateur hour.” Actually, it’s quite the opposite. The real “clown show” was coaches using frivolous challenges to challenge nothing but the integrity of the game and spirit of the rule, which is to “get it right.” I watched all four games last week and that “clown show” is definitely over. No more hanky-panky from the coaches.

Oh boy. Some people just don’t pay attention. We’re only at the front end of August and already Freep sports editor and Wiecek’s Grumpet twin, Steve Lyons, is promoting folly. “Best place to finish might be fourth in the West” for the Bombers, he advises us. That way, they’d earn a crossover post-season berth and play the patsies in Eastern Canada. Repeat after me, Mr. Lyons: No, no, no, no, no…nine times no. No West outfit has successfully navigated the eastern route to the Grey Cup game. Never. Ever. In nine tries. And you think it’ll work for the Bombers? Ya, just like attempting a 61-yard field goal worked at B.C. Place last November.

So, champion sprinter Usain Bolt lost some of the lickety-split in his long legs and was beaten to the finish line in his final individual race at the world track and field championships in London. No big deal. Sandy Koufax lost the final game he ever pitched for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Muhammad Ali lost his final fight (badly). Babe Ruth grounded out in his final at-bat. Hey, stuff happens. I just wish Bolt hadn’t lost to a guy, Justin Gatlin, who’s twice been told to go away for failed drug tests.

Scuzzball Pete Rose

Pete Rose, Major League Baseball’s all-time hit leader, has been holding his own poor Petey pity party since being banned for betting on games while managing the Cincinnati Reds, and the one-time jailbird has actually found sympathetic ears. In an ESPN sports poll conducted by Luker on Trends between November 2016 and last February, Rose was No. 50 on a list of most popular athletes in the U.S., active or retired. Only two ballplayers—Derek Jeter at No. 13 and Babe Ruth, No. 30—finished ahead of him in voting by 6,000 people 12 and over. I wonder what the Rose-ites have to say now that their hero has confessed to having had sex with a 16-year-old girl while he was in his 30s, married and a father of two. The man is a scuzzy as the brown tap water in Winnipeg.

Outfielder Matt Joyce of the Oakland Athletics is “beyond sorry” for using a gay slur during a hissing contest with a fan in Anaheim on Friday night. I’m sorry, but it’s “beyond sorry” that male pro athletes are still using homophobic language as their go-to slurs in 2017.

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

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So, who gets the sports columnist gig at the Winnipeg Free Press?

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

Okay, who’s next at the Freep? Paul Wiecek? Ed Tait? Paul Friesen? Some new kid on the block? Some recycled old coot on the block?

If it were up to me, I’d anoint Wiecek to replace the departing Gary Lawless as sports columnist at the Winnipeg Free Press. He’s got the stones for the job. He’s cheeky, irreverent, a top-drawer scribe and not afraid to get in your face. Question is: Is he content where he is, covering curling, horse racing and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers?

Ed Tait

Ed Tait

The Freep wouldn’t go wrong with Tait. I’m a huge fan. Terrific reporter, solid writer. I’m not convinced he has the right temperment for that full-time gig, though. Eddie is such a nice guy. He’s Mike Riley and Brian Dobie nice. A columnist has to have a bit of bad-ass in him, and that ain’t my boy Eddie. But he’d still do a boffo job.

Poaching Paul Friesen from the Winnipeg Sun would be an interesting gambit. He’s got some bad-ass. Trouble is, given that the Freep is in bed with the Winnipeg Jets, it wouldn’t be a good fit. Paul is no True North toady.

Another option would be to bring in a fresh face. Seems to me the Freep—and the Sun, for that matter—could use some new blood. It’s been too much same old, same old for too long.

Whomever, I just hope the newbe spends more time writing than talking on TV/radio.

As much as I used him as a whipping boy, I hope the TSN gig works out for Gary Lawless. He joins a long list of newspaper jock sniffers—Dave Naylor, Stephen Brunt, Damien Cox, Jeff Blair, etc.—who’ve gone over the wall to the other side, and it brings to mind something that longtime jock columnist Tony Kornheiser once wrote about sports scribes appearing on TV: “There’s a reason print journalists work in print. It’s because they look like bridge trolls. They have bags under their eyes the size of hero sandwiches. They wear lounge-lizard suits and shiny ties spotted with marinara stains. They have $8 haircuts and foam flecks form at the corners of their mouths as they stare creepily into the camera. Their pallor suggests they’ve just climbed out of a sarcophagus. And these are the women! The men are unspeakable.”

That’s big of the Canadian Football League to admit one of its skunk shirts screwed up royally on Friday night, perhaps costing the Winnipeg Blue Bombers a victory over the Calgary Stampeders. In offering a mea culpa, the league assures us that the official in question will be “disciplined in accordance with the gravity of the situation.” Given that the guy’s basically a volunteer, that likely means he’ll be sent to his room without dinner.

Pete Rose

Pete Rose

I see where the disgraced Pete Rose got together with Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred for a chin-wag last week. Rose, the all-time hits leader, met with the commish to plead his case for the lifting of his lifetime ban for gambling while skipper of the Cincinnati Reds. Apparently, Manfred will make a decision before the year’s out. Good grief, why does it take four months to say no?

I enjoy watching the Toronto Blue Jays. Exciting team. High likeability quotient. But if I don’t root, root, root for the home team once the Major League Baseball post-season commences, that doesn’t make me unCanadian. I’m a St. Louis Cardinals fan. If my Redbirds were to meet the Toronto Nine in the World Series, color me Cardinals red.

Anyone looking for proof that Michael Sam is all messed up between the ears? Give a listen to his recent gum-flap with host Dan Patrick on the aptly named Dan Patrick Show. Among other things, the first openly gay man to play professional football tells Patrick that he “never really wanted to go to the CFL” and that those inconsiderate Montreal Alouettes had the bad manners to employ a defensive system unlike anything he’d seen. The Als didn’t do it the St. Louis Rams way, don’t you know. Or the Dallas Cowboys way. Yo, Mikey! That might have something to do with the fact there are 12 men on the field, not 11. Whatever, rather than learn and adapt, Sam quit the Als. Not once, but twice. And now he’s delusional enough to believe an NFL outfit will make room for him on its roster next year. Ya, and I’ll be the Dallas Cowboys head cheerleader. Time to go, Mikey. Your 15 minutes have expired.

Michael Sam

Michael Sam

Actually, I’m not sure which is stronger evidence that Michael Sam is living in a fantasy world, the fact he’s convinced he can still play in the National Football League or his stated goal of getting into broadcasting. A times during his tete-a-tete with Dan Patrick, I wasn’t convinced that English is his first language.

Have they already presented the Calder Trophy to Connor McDavid, or will they actually make him play some games before handing him the silverware as top freshman in the National Hockey League? I can’t recall the hype being this frenzied for Sidney Crosby, perhaps because Sid the Kid went to Pittsburgh whereas McDavid is in hockey’s heartland, Canada.

I’m old enough to remember Yogi Berra, the Hall of Fame baseball player who died last week. Yogi, of course, is known as much, if not more, for what he said as for what he did on the ball field with the New York Yankees. Among the many classic Yogi quotes, my favorite is this gem: “Home openers are always exciting, whether they’re at home or on the road.”

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