Let’s talk about panhandling on Parliament Hill…a new CFL might look like the (really) old CFL…the PWHPA pity party…a tip of the bonnet to Melissa Martin…the week in jock journalism…dead weight and dead horses…and other things on my mind

Hey, buddy, can you spare a dime?

How about 300 million of them? Do I hear 1,500,000,000?

Commish Randy

Apparently Randy Ambrosie doesn’t think that’s too much of an ask, because he’s panhandling on Parliament Hill these days, hoping that Prime Minister Trudeau the Younger is a fan of three-downs football and has a spare $30 million to $150 million stashed in his couch at Rideau Cottage.

If not…well, that’s the part of the big beg that Ambrosie has yet to spell out, but it suggests the end could be nigh for the Canadian Football League. Final score: COVID-19, CFL-0.

And, no, now that you’ve asked, I don’t think that’s being alarmist or extremist.

Look, I realize the CFL already has had more sticks of Acme dynamite blow up in its face than Wile E. Coyote, but the COVID-19 pandemic is a different kind of beast. The sports world will be harder to put together than a broken egg, and our quirky game requires a special kind of fix.

Rouge Football, you see, isn’t doable without fannies in the pews, even if the Argonauts and the dismissive citizenry in the Republic of Tranna do their best to prove otherwise. It can’t work. Not in The ROT, not in Good Ol’ Hometown, not on the Left Flank, where the locals won’t even come in from the rain to watch the Lions.

Thus, if turnstiles aren’t turning, it’s folly to discuss a Coles Notes version of a 2020 CFL crusade commencing on the Labor Day weekend.

PM Trudeau the Younger

Which means, yes, short of Trudeau the Younger morphing into PM Pigskin and tossing $30M into Commish Randy’s begging cap immediately (and another $120M if this season is a no-go), the CFL as we know it is likely a done deal.

“What would happen if that $30 million assistance was denied?” TSN’s Dave Naylor asked Randy the Panhandler the other day.

“I’m not indulging in the question what happens if it doesn’t work because I believe we’re going to find a way to make it work,” came the answer.

No surprise that Commish Randy would decline to engage in doomsday talk. He’s one of those dudes who’ll tell you his watch can’t possibly be broken because it shows the correct time twice a day. He’s never seen a half-empty stadium. Not even BMO Field in The ROT. Always half full. He knows what an empty piggy bank looks like, though, and he recognizes that saving the CFL will take more than a GoFundMe page.

And that’s a very grim reckoning for many of my vintage.

I remember when the CFL was the big dog in town, because we didn’t have National Hockey League outfits to call our own out in the colonies. But we had Kenny Ploen, the Lincoln Locomotive, Bud Grant and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Saskatchewan had the Little General, George, Gluey Huey and the Roughriders. Calgary had Eagle Day, Earl the Earthquake, Ham Hands and the Stampeders. Edmonton had Spaghetti Legs, the China Clipper, Johnny Bright and the Eskimos. B.C. had Peanut Butter Joe, Willie the Wisp, Nub and the Lions.

So a Canada without Rouge Football? Sorry, that’s not my Canada.

It would be like a pub without pints. A church without prayer. The McKenzie Brothers without brown pops, toques, earmuffs and a “beauty day, eh.”

But that’s my take, owing to the fact I was weaned on the game when single-bar face masks were still in vogue, and east was east and west was west and never the twain did meet until the Grey Grail was up for grabs.

Mike Reilly, down again.

Others, however, won’t be swayed by notions of nostalgia and Canadiana culture. They don’t want their tax dollars used to pay Mike Reilly’s and Bo Levi Mitchells’ $700,000 salaries, and certainly not Commish Randy’s reported annual stipend of half a million loonies. That’s an impossible sell when many thousands among the rabble are forced to feed at the public trough due to COVID-19, and going-out-of-business signs are popping up like dandelions.

I’ve heard the CFL described as a mom-and-pop operation and, in the grand scheme of things, I suppose it is. It’s dwarfed by the goliath that is the National Football League, and robust broadcasting contracts allow the other main players (National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, National Hockey League, Major League Soccer) to re-enter the fray sans customers. At least temporarily.

Not so Rouge Football.

Pundits suggest Commish Randy’s beg is a Hail Mary pass, and I’m inclined to agree. But, hey, Trudeau the Younger is a good Catholic boy, so he probably owns a rosary and might have an “in” when it comes to answered prayers.

If not, I fear there’s a very real possibility the CFL will run out of downs.

Bo Levi Mitchell

I don’t want to pay Bo Levi Mitchell’s wage anymore than the next person but, for the record, I have no problem with the CFL panhandling on Parliament Hill. I’d do the same thing. That doesn’t make it the right thing, but it doesn’t make it wrong, either.

The hardest part of Commish Randy’s sales pitch? Convincing the feds that people hither and yon actually give a damn about Rouge Football. He can wax poetic about the beauty of the three-downs game, how it’s a significant and historic thread in the country’s fabric, but he can’t sugar coat the head counts in our three largest markets—the Republic of Tranna, Montreal, Vancouver. I’ve seen more people at a neighborhood flea market than the Argos attract to BMO Field. The Lions are a rumor in B.C. Montreal showed a pulse late last season, but it was faint. So never mind the odious notion of bailing out millionaire and billionaire owners, how does Commish Randy sell the feds on a product that most of the rabble is meh about?

No matter how this all shakes down, I’m convinced we’ll see someone ride a horse into a big-city hotel lobby on the final Sunday in November once again. But not this year. A post-pandemic CFL won’t look the same, at least not initially. I see reduced rosters, more Canadians and fewer imports on game-day rosters, wage shrinkage (on and off the field), and two leagues under the CFL banner: The Western Football League and the Eastern Football Union. No more interlocking play. Just West v. West/East v. East until the Grey Cup game. You know, like it was in the 1950s and into the ’60s. And road trips on the bus (except to B.C.) to lower costs. That’s what the tea leaves are telling me, so remember where you read it first. Or not.

Liz Knox

What a surprise—the CFL asks for money from the feds and we hear squawking from other athletes, notably Liz Knox, one of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association mouthpieces. “We’re asking for peanuts compared to a $150-million ask,” she bleated, recalling the collapse of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League last spring. “When the CWHL was folding, we were talking in the hundreds of thousands to get us in the clear so the league didn’t have to fold. We’re talking two or three CFL salaries. That would (have) made the difference of us literally surviving or not. Women’s sport is often seen as a charity, but that’s not the narrative that we’re hearing about the CFL and their situation right now.” Well, actually, that’s exactly what many among the rabble are calling the CFL these days—a charity case. Liz might want to try a different narrative.

Why is it that members of the PWHPA seem to be caught in a never-ending pity party, constantly griping about the sorry lot in life that they’ve created for themselves and demanding what they “deserve,” yet we never hear similar grumbling from the National Women’s Hockey League? NWHL leaders simply go about their business, adding an expansion franchise in the Republic of Tranna, conducting a player draft, and prepping for the 2020 crusade. At last report, 26 women are already on board for the NWHL’s sixth season, and none of them are bitching about “deserving” a living wage. That’s what they’re building toward—a better tomorrow for Ponytail Puck—and I’d say they’re going about it the right way.

Melissa Martin

In the winter of 2015, I was having a discussion with friend/former colleague Judy Owen about sports scribes at Winnipeg’s two dailies, and I directed her attention to a young writer still trying to find her way in the rag trade. “I really like Melissa Martin’s stuff,” I told Jude. “She doesn’t cover things the same old, same old way. She has a different style, and I like different. She’s the best pure writer they have at the Freep.” Jude didn’t disagree, but she seemed genuinely surprised, if not mildly amused, that I harbored such high regard for Melissa. Well, fast forward to spring 2020: Melissa won her second National Newspaper Award the other night, as top columnist in the country. Like I was saying five years ago, she’s the best they’ve got at the Drab Slab. Still. Too bad she only makes cameo appearances in the toy department.

Kate Beirness

The week in jock journalism…

Really nice read from Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab on Ralph Wild, a 101-year-old who’s been root, root, rooting for the Blue Bombers since Buddy Tinsley almost drowned during the Mud Bowl at Varsity Stadium in the Republic of Tranna. If you’re scoring at home, that was in 1950, so Ralph has seen some football…Shrinkage alert: The Winnipeg Sun sports section was reduced to just four pages three days last week. And, get this: They managed to fill those pages mostly with local copy. Imagine that. Running local copy by local scribes instead of all the usual flapdoodle from the Republic of Tranna. What a concept…Mind you, it was back to normal for today’s edition, with a Toronto-centric piece on the sports front and more on the inside…Made a point of watching the Her Mark show on TSN, but I’m afraid it totally missed the mark. The guest list included Christine Sinclair, Tessa Virtue, Marie-Philip Poulin, Kia Nurse, Natalie Spooner and Hayley Wickenheiser, and host Kate Beirness said, “I hope the stories they share will be as uplifting to viewers as they have been to me.” Excuse me? What stories? It was a series of public service announcements. So let’s just call it an opportunity lost for female athletes…Why does TSN, or anyone for that matter, think Will Ferrell is funny? He isn’t. Ferrell pranked the Seattle Seahawks on a Zoom gathering the other day, expressing his “love” for quarterback Russell Wilson and saying “let’s make a baby.” Beirness described the bit as “fantastic.” No. It was totally lame, just like Ferrell’s gig in the TSN curling booth…Sad news out of Calgary: Longtime broadcaster Russ Peake died at age 80. You’d have to look long and hard to find a nicer man than Russ.

If you have a spare 50 minutes in your day (and who doesn’t?), grab a beer or a glass of vino and check out Road to the Grey Cup, a documentary on the Bombers’ journey to their three-downs title last November. It’s the handiwork of Rheanne Marcoux (creative director), Riley Marra (producer, editor, videographer), Jeremy Derochers and Sam Calvert (videographers) and it’s boffo stuff.

Hafthor Bjornsson

There was considerable ballyhoo on Saturday when an extremely large Icelandic lad named Hafthor Bjornsson established a world record for dead-lifting 1,104 pounds. What’s the big deal? The Cleveland Browns have been carrying that much dead weight since the 1960s.

There’s also been much natter about the incomparable Secretariat winning NBC’s virtual running of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday. Big Red out-galloped a field that included 12 other Triple Crown champions, including 1919 winner Sir Barton, who finished last by about 15 lengths. Talk about flogging a dead horse.

The talented Murat Ates of The Athletic has scanned the Winnipeg Jets roster and determined that there are five untouchables: Connor Hellebuyck, Rink Rat Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Josh Morrissey and Neal Pionk. That’s right, he’ll trade away Twig Ehlers, Kyle Connor or Puck Finn, but not Neal Pionk, whose only a top-pairing defenceman by default. I admire Murat’s way with words, but I’m not hiring him as GM of my hockey team.

And, finally, if the last month and a half has seemed more like an entire year, and if you can’t tell one day from the next, you’ve got an idea what life is like for a lot of seniors. Isolation can be very numbing, physically and mentally.

Let’s talk about the Buffalo Boys and the Brier…the Jets, the Oilers and Coach PoMo’s excuses…the NHL’s feel-good stories…Sid the Kid’s goal…Commish Randy’s road trip…Tony Romo’s gum flapping…power women in hockey…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and nobody dropped me on my head last week, so some of this might make sense…

Mike McEwen

I trust Mike McEwen and Jason Gunnlaugson realize what’s at stake at the Brier this week in Kingston. If not, someone needs to clue them in immediately that nothing less than the top step on the podium is acceptable.

I know, I know. That’s expecting a lot. But such is the Burden of the Buffalo. Especially on pebbled ice.

In case you hadn’t noticed, Manitoba curlers are on the mother of all rolls this season, winning three world titles and the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, and I’m assuming Messrs. McEwen and Gunnlaugson would rather not let the side down.

Colin Kurz certainly didn’t. He skipped his team to the world Mixed crown in Aberdeen, Scotland, last October. Next up were Mackenzie Zacharias and Jacques Gauthier, who double dipped at the world Juniors in Krasnoyarsk, Russia. Then along came Kerri Einarson and her gal pals out of Gimli to claim the national women’s championship in Moose Jaw.

So, over to you, Mike and Jason. Show us what you’ve got, boys.

Jeff Stoughton

Hard to believe, but our Buffalo Boys are 1-for-the-21st century at the Brier, with only Jeff Stoughton managing to get the job done in 2011. It pains me to say that Alberta outfits have had their way at the men’s championship, taking the Tankard home to Wild Rose Country 11 times since 2000, and I’m not sure I’d want to bet against either Brendan Bottcher or Kevin Koe claiming a 12th title next weekend. If they do, His Royal Smugness Terry Jones of Postmedia E-Town will be positively insufferable, and that’s one column I won’t want to read.

Interesting chin wag between Jay Onrait, Dan O’Toole and Ontario skip John Epping last week on TSN. According to O’Toole, curling is “uniquely Canadian.” Ya, tell that to the Scots, Danny boy. They only invented the bloody game and brought it to our shores.

Yes, now that you mention it, that was a spirited skirmish the Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers delivered on Saturday night, and it left me wanting more of the same. It’s quite possible that these two outfits will meet in the initial jousting of the Stanley Cup tournament and, as I was saying last weekend, I’d like Winnipeg HC’s chances against the McDavids in a seven-game series.

Coach PoMo

Only one thing I didn’t like about the Jets 3-2 loss in E-Town—Paul Maurice’s post-match spewings. “I think it’s nine (games) in 16 (days) for us and a couple of time zone changes,” Coach PoMo told news snoops. Oh, boo flipping hoo. Everybody’s tired, everybody’s limping this deep into the National Hockey League season, so it’s no time for lame excuses about scheduling and travel.

Coach PoMo must be the envy of head coaches everywhere. He’s in danger of failing to qualify for Beard Season for the fourth time in seven crusades, yet he has a new, three-year, $9-million contract tucked in his hip pocket. You know, right beside the horse shoe, the four-leaf clover, the rabbit’s foot, the smoke and the mirrors.

Bobby Ryan

So who had the better feel-good story, Bobby Ryan or David Ayres? It has to be Ryan. Ya, sure, Ayres climbing down from a Zamboni to play goal for the Carolina Hurricanes and beat the Maple Leafs was boffo, but I saw it more as Sideshow Bob stuff. You know, something good for a few yuks at Tranna’s expense and, lord knows, a lot of us like to laugh at the Leafs. Ryan, on the other hand, had a hat trick in his return to Ottawa after three months on the shelf to put his life back in order, and I say a guy triumphing in his battle with the bottle trumps quirky every time. It had me reaching for the Kleenex.

David Ayres

Don’t get me wrong. I think the Ayres story is terrific, and there’s a very real human element to it. He has one of his mom’s kidneys, you see, and his new-born celebrity allows Ayres to raise awareness and funds for a disease that, according to the National Kidney Foundation, causes more deaths in the U.S. than breast or prostate cancer. One in 10 Canadians has kidney disease, and I happen to be among them. I’m at Stage 4, and there’s no cure for the silent killer. Not surprisingly, though, the kidney angle is too often an afterthought in the telling of the Ayres tale, because who thinks about their kidneys until they go on the fritz?

Just wondering: Would there have been as big a fuss over Ayres had he made his cameo appearance in San Jose against the New Jersey Devils instead of in the Republic of Tranna vs. the Leafs on Hockey Night In Canada? Somehow I doubt it.

Celebration time for Sid the Kid.

Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet did the natter thing with Sidney Crosby, tripping back to Sid the Kid’s golden goal at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. “Everybody remembers where they were,” Friedman said of the moment when Crosby whipped the puck past American goalie Ryan Miller to win the tournament for the good guys. Well, I consider myself among the “everybody,” but I don’t have a clue where I was, who I was with, or what I was doing on Feb. 28, 2010. I remember where I was when Paul Henderson scored in 1972. And when Marie-Philip Poulin scored in 2014. But Sid’s goal escapes me. Does that make me unCanadian?

It seems to me that “tweener” goals in the NHL have become as commonplace as missing teeth. Those between-the-leg goals have gone from highlight reel to ho-hum.

Commish Randy

Canadian Football League commish Randy Ambrosie is on a to-and-fro across the country, hobnobbing with the rabble and nattering about a new playoff format proposed by Wade Miller, CEO of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Apparently the rank-and-file are fully on board with the notion of the top two outfits, West and East, earning first-round byes, and the next four clubs qualifying for the Grey Cup tournament regardless of locale. That, of course, could mean five West Division teams in the post-season. Hey, works for me. As for the idea of having the club with the best regular-season record choose its playoff foe, fuhgeddaboudit. It’s a very loud no-go. No surprise, really. Everyone would want to play the Cleveland Browns.

Tony Romo

Wow, CBS will be paying Tony Romo $17 million to flap his gums during National Football League games next season. Hmmm, I wonder how much it would take for Fox to get Terry Bradshaw to stop talking.

Loved this Twitter exchange between Danny Austin of Postmedia Calgary and Terry Jones of Postmedia Edmonton:
Austin: “Removing all politics from this statement, it is so embarrassing that in Calgary, Canada’s fourth biggest city, the LRT only comes every 15 minutes on weekends.”
Jones: “Yeah, but a chuckwagon comes by every 10 minutes.”
That’s cheeky, also very funny.

Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed that news snoops in the Republic of Tranna no longer tell us that Kawhi Leonard is God’s gift to the hardwood? Why do you suppose that is? Oh, that’s right, Kawhi is a traitor and doesn’t play in The ROT anymore.

Dani Rylan

And, finally, in the good reads department, Emily Sadler of Sportsnet has a piece on the 25 most powerful women in hockey, and I know what some of your are thinking: You didn’t know there were 25 women in hockey, right? Well don’t be cheeky. Emily has Kendall Coyne Schofield ranked No. 1, followed by Kim Davis of the NHL office and National Women’s Hockey League commish Dani Rylan. It’s worth checking out.

Let’s talk about Andrew Luck moving forward…the worst kind of hot take…Bjorn Borg and others saying so long too soon…boffo show from the Argos and Larks…the CFL’s best fans…old friend John is a dear…buck naked Brooks…the Pucker Up Police in Denver…and other things on my mind

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and it’s mostly short snappers to start the final work week of August…

Who are these people making rude noise about Andrew Luck?

What’s his crime?

I mean, it’s not like he’s been tripping old ladies and kicking small dogs.

Andrew Luck

Luck took his leave from the National Football League because he has no desire to spend the rest of his life using a walker, or being pushed around in a wheelchair while a care worker wipes drool from his lips.

“I can’t live the life I want to live moving forward,” the chronically wounded, now-former Indianapolis Colts quarterback said during a natter with news snoops on Saturday. “I feel quite exhausted and quite tired.”

His parting gift at age 29 and after six seasons of being battered fore and aft by very large, very angry men was a disturbing chorus of boos from the faithful as he strolled off Lucas Oil Field in Indy. Lame.

I’d like to say I’m shocked at some of the negative reaction to Luck’s retirement, but I can’t be shocked because, you know, people.

Doug Gottlieb

The worst take on the Luck adios was delivered by Doug Gottlieb, a paid gob with Fox Sports radio who offered this bit of snark in a tweet: “Retiring because rehabbing is ‘too hard’ is the most millennial thing ever #AndrewLuck.” Oh, that’s rich. A guy once disciplined for plagiarism and banished from Notre Dame after being found guilty of stealing, and using, other students’ credit cards poses himself as adjudicator of not only a Stanford U. grad but an entire generation of young people. That’s offensive to the max, but I suppose it’ll make for boffo ratings for Gottlieb’s show this week.

Unlike Luck, I didn’t spend my work life being physically rag-dolled by two-legged, muscle-bound beasts, but I know burnout. When I heard Luck tell his audience that he felt “quite exhausted and quite tired,” I nodded and whispered “been there, done that.” No need to go into the gory details, but the day I walked out of the Winnipeg Sun newsroom in tears I knew the end of my newspaper career was nigh, even though I was only 48 going on 49. But I didn’t feel like I was quitting the newspaper business. I thought of it as a necessary step in the motion of life. Moving forward with my life. And, at the same time, preserving my sanity. Luck is doing something similar, and I applaud him for it.

Bjorn Borg

Luck, of course, isn’t the first athlete to leave the big stage while in his prime, and his departure brought to mind some of the others, including my favorite tennis player, Bjorn Borg. The Swede tapped out at age 26, with 11 Grand Slam titles already in his diddy bag, and a lot of us weren’t convinced we’d seen the last of his double-fisted backhand. He fooled us, though. Bjorn made his retirement stick until an ill-advised return eight years later, when he was paddywhacked by someone named Jordi Arrese at the Monte Carlo Open. Others who left too early for our liking were Sandy Koufax, 30, Jim Brown, 29, Barry Sanders, 30, Gronk, 29, Mike Bossy, 30, Robert Smith, 28, Rocky Marciano, 32, Ken Dryden 31, Bobby Orr, 30, and Gale Sayers, 29.

Jim Brown, with Donald Sutherland and Clint Walker.

Of that group, Brown’s is the best farewell story. The NFL rushing champion was in London hanging out with Chuck Bronson, Donald Sutherland, Lee Marvin and the rest of The Dirty Dozen when Cleveland Browns’ owner Art Modell sent a dispatch that included dire warnings of fines for tardiness in arriving at training camp. Brown, not one to be pushed and prodded, responded with his own missive, advising Modell that he had carried a football for the last time: “This decision is final and is made only because of the future that I desire for myself, my family and, if not to sound corny, my race.”

On the subject of early departures, how much longer will our Milos Raonic carry on with a body that repeatedly betrays him? He’s a no-show at the U.S. Open, which commences this very day at Flushing Meadows in Queens, NYC, and I really don’t know how many times he’s had to withdraw from a tournament due to an owie. It’s because of Milos’ many wounds that his will end as an “if only” tennis career.

Thought about passing on the Sunday skirmish between the Tranna Argonauts and Montreal Larks, but I’m glad I tuned in. The Boatmen and Larks dazzled in the second half, with Montreal prevailing 28-22, and they offered everything we like about the Canadian Football League. Boffo stuff.

They tell us there were 10,126 witnesses at Croix Bleue Medavie Stadium in Moncton for the neutral-site joust, and that’s supposedly a full house. So why did I see all those unoccupied blue seats? Do that many people take a pee break at the same time?

What would a Larks game be without the boys in the TSN Tower of Babble On gushing about their favorite lousy quarterback, Johnny Manziel? Sure enough, Rod Black went into groupie mode, telling us that “Everyone in Canada was so intoxicated with the Johnny Manziel story” last year. No, Blackie, you were intoxicated. Apparently, you still are. Sigh.

How long have the Edmonton Eskimos been the dumbest team in the CFL? Oh, that’s right, ever since Jason Maas became head coach.

David Braley

David Braley has put his 1-9 B.C. Lions on the market. So how long will it be before the CFL owns both the Leos and the Larks? I mean, the Lions are running on fumes. Nobody watches them, nobody talks about them. That’s a tough sell.

In Sunday’s post I mentioned that Mike O’Shea has reached the century mark as head coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, joining an exclusive club that includes Bud Grant and Cal Murphy. But that’s regular-season games. If we are to include post-season participation, add the name Dave Ritchie to the sideline steward Century Club. So it’s Grant (177), Murphy (152), Coach Grunge (104) and Ritchie (104).

An odd bit of banter from Steve Lyons, sports editor of the Drab Slab, discussing fandom in the CFL. “I’ve been in the sports department in Winnipeg for a long time, and certainly I’ve seen how Bomber fans, in my opinion, are the most dedicated fans, you know, right there with the Rider fans, anyways, in the CFL,” he said in a retro look at the 1990 Bombers. “You’d be hard-pressed to say there’s a more dedicated following.” Oh, please. File that under pathetic pandering to the local rabble. The most faithful flock in Rouge Football is colored green, and Lyons knows it. Perhaps he needs to make the five-hour, 45-minute drive to Regina next weekend just to remind himself where the CFL’s best fans nest. He’ll recognize them when he sees the watermelons on their heads.

Lyons and his paid pen pal, retired columnist Paul Wiecek, served up the latest installment of their backyard banter last week, and Wiecek had high praise for his former colleagues at the Drab Slab, writing about “the great reporting of our own Jason Bell and Mike McIntyre about there being dissension in the (Winnipeg Jets) room last season.” Ya, great reporting. Except for one small matter: It’s been five months and they still haven’t introduced anything but gossip and innuendo to the conversation. Wiecek went on to write, “Blake Wheeler came out this week and actually denied there were problems in the room last season and seemed to suggest that he was angry about our reporting to the contrary. I would encourage Wheeler to take it up with his head coach and ask him what he meant by ‘ruffled feathers’ if not exactly that.” If Wiecek took the time to read his own newspaper, he’d know that head coach Paul Maurice answered that very question in June, telling McIntyre and other news snoops that “sour is a better word” than ruffled feathers. “Maybe I just made a poor choice of words,” he said.

Here’s McIntyre’s latest on the Jets “fractured” dressing room: “To be honest, there was nothing going on with these Jets that winning couldn’t fix.” Say what? He’s spent the past five months telling us that the boudoir was “rotten to the core,” and now there’s “nothing going on” that can’t be cured with a few Ws? The mind boggles.

John Paddock

A tweet I liked, from Rob Vanstone of the Regina Leader-Post on old friend John Paddock, head coach and washer of bottles for the Regina Pats: “One of the perks of my fake job: Getting to chat with John Paddock. It’s always a pleasure. In a day and age of structured media availabilities, it’s refreshing to deal with someone who likes to shoot the breeze and does it so enjoyably.” It’s true. Paddock is an old-school hockey guy and he’s got the yarns to prove it. Rob and the boys in Regina are lucky to have him around for a casual natter.

Something else I liked this weekend: Kelly Dine worked home plate for the Little League World Series final between Louisiana and Curacao on Sunday. Kelly’s just the sixth woman to umpire at the LLWS, and I didn’t see her miss many balls or strikes.

Brooks Koepka

Interesting week in golf. Brooks Koepka took his clothes off for ESPN The Magazine and, thankfully, John Daly didn’t.

Koepka, by the way, has an answer for those who tsk-tsk his nudie shoot in the Body Issue: “It’s one of those things where all these people that talk crap and whatever on social media, they don’t have the balls to do it, and they wouldn’t look that good.”

Coors Field

And, finally, the Pucker Up Police at Coors Field in Denver ticketed a lesbian couple who had the (apparent) bad manners to exchange a “casual” smooch during a recent Colorado Rockies game. The women, celebrating an anniversary, were abruptly given lip service of another kind and informed by a storm-trooper usher that kissing at Coors was a no-no because “it’s a family park and it’s Sunday.” Ah, yes, that oft-forgotten 11th commandment: Thou shall not kiss lesbians on the Sabbath.” The Rockies have apologized and asked the women to return as their guests for another game, but this is just another example of why we still have Pride Week, Pride Month and Pride parades.

About Beastmo Bighill and the Blue Bombers…Kyle Walters’ sales pitch…that Jones boy in Saskatchewan…coloring Marc Trestman and Mike Reilly green…the CFL head count…and what about Coach LaPo?

A midweek smorgas-bored…because stuff happens…

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.

Adam Bighill

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.

Kyle Walters

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.

It ain’t Mexico, amigos.

Walters claimed an Ortiz, a Reyes and a Pérez in the CFL’s auction of 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.

Marc Trestman

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?”

Chris Jones

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.

About the big, bad Blue Bombers defence…turkeys on Turkey Day…Chris Streveler vs. Johnny Rotten…a Bolt in soccer…Brees doesn’t make the top 10…domestic violence and the NHL…and Connor McJesus

Another Sunday smorg full of cheap shots, short shots and shots of sarcasm…

Zero points. Richie Hall’s defensive dozen surrendered zero points. In a Canadian Football League skirmish.

Do you realize how rare that is? There’s a better chance of Brad Pitt leaving a singles bar alone at closing time. I think Jack Delveaux, Herb Gray and Gordie Rowland were part of the D-Dozen the last time the Winnipeg Blue Bombers hung a donut on a foe at home.

Actually, it doesn’t date back to the Bud Grant era. It was in ’86, when Winnipeg FC paddywhacked the Saskatchewan Roughriders 56-nada at their gradually decaying stadium on Maroons Road. Bill Norrie was mayor in River City. Howard Pawley was Manitoba premier. Brian Mulroney was leader of all the land. And a star really was born that year—Lady Gaga.

Adam Bighill

So it was a touch of deja vu all over again on Saturday afternoon at Football Follies in Fort Garry. The scoreboard carnage wasn’t as extreme. Just 31-zip this time. But the Bombers’ ragdolling of the Riders was every bit as severe.

As ass kickings go, this was right up there with the Six Day War and Tiger Woods’ divorce settlement.

It helped, of course, that the Riders offence is only a rumor. The Gang Green 12 are so inept that Johnny Manziel might be an upgrade at quarterback. Yup, that woeful. Also a rumor is their place kicker, some dude named Brett Lauther. If he exists he must have entered a witness protection program, because not once was he required to swing his right leg at the football. Never attempted a field goal. Never kicked off.

The Sask. QB, Zach Collaros, likely wishes he’d been given the day off, too. If he wasn’t seeing Adam Bighill in his nightmares last night, it was Taylor Loffler.

Bighill, the beastly linebacker who signed on with Winnipeg FC at the 11th hour, is a force of nature. A tornado does less damage. He and Collaros spent more time together Saturday than newlyweds. Three of his eight tackles were sacks. He forced Kyran Moore to spill a football that was eagerly gobbled up by Anthony Gaitor, who promptly skedaddled 45 yards to the house. Game, set and match, as it turned out.

Matt Nichols

On the other side of the ledger, QB Joe Ordinary put up another set of modest numbers (10 for 18, 155 yards), but Matt Nichols is no longer in self-destruct mode. He even completed a deep ball that Darvin Adams accepted and carried to the house for a 72-yard score, prompting a comical Conor McGregor-like swagger from the QB.

Nothing but fun and games when you’re on the favorable end of a 31-nada score.

Here’s the bottom line for Winnipeg FC, though: Nothing has changed. The Bombers entered the fray holding down third place in the mosh pit that is the West Division, with an outside shot at a home playoff date. And that’s where they sit this morning because the Edmonton Eskimos and the surprising B.C. Lions refuse to co-operate. One of those two outfits will have pulled even with the Bombers by the time they come back to work on Oct. 26 (it’s Winnipeg FC’s bye week), and this mess might not be sorted out until the final weekend of the crusade. The good news for the Bombers is this: They don’t need any favors. There are two spots remaining on the local lads’ dance card (at home vs. the suddenly vulnerable Calgary Stampeders and vs. the Eskimos in E-Town). Win them both and they’re in. A split probably gets them in, too, but it might mean heading east in the Grey Cup tournament.

Final scores from the two Thanksgiving Day skirmishes in the CFL: 12-6, 19-12. Three of the four teams failed to produce an offensive touchdown. We have a name for games like that—National Football League.

Jason Maas

Why is Edmonton Eskimos oft-unhinged head coach Jason Maas allowed to walked 20 yards onto the football field to bitch at game officials? Isn’t that the very definition of unsportsmanlike conduct? Somebody toss a flag at that man.

Just once I’d like to hear one of the geniuses on TSN tell the truth about their favorite lousy quarterback, Johnny Manziel, rather than make feeble excuses and apologies about feeble-fingered receivers and a leaky offensive line. Here’s the truth: Antonio Pipkin started four games for the Montreal Alouettes and went 2-2. Johnny 0-Fer has started five games and he’s 0-5. Both QBs have operated behind the same O-line and with the same pass-catchers.

Chris Streveler

Here are some numbers to digest for two first-year CFL QBs:
Chris Streveler (three starts and a bit of spot duty):
77/125, 944 yards, 10 TDs, 5 Int., 343 rush yards, 8 rush TDs
Johnny Manziel (five starts):
72/116, 872 yards, 2 TDs, 6 Int., 139 rush yards, 0 rush TDs.

Streveler has outpassed and outrun Johnny Rotten in considerably less time on the field. And keep in mind that he is a true freshman. He never played a down of professional football until this season with the Bombers. Manziel, on the other hand, spent two non-noteworthy years with the Cleveland Browns of the NFL.

Johnny Rotten

Is it possible that the Johnny Rotten novelty act has worn thin everywhere but in the TSN broadcast booth and studio? I mean, the head count at Percival Molson Stadium for the Larks’ skirmish with the Calgary Stampeders on Turkey Day was 16,764. That’s down 1,606 from their preceding home assignment, vs. the Roughriders. Even the locals have figured it out.

World’s fastest man and retired Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt scored two goals in his professional soccer debut with the Central Coast Mariners of the Australian A-League. Brazilian star Neymar was so impressed that he apparently said Bolt’s performance “knocked me off my feet.” Like, who doesn’t?

Drew Brees has flung a football farther than any quarterback in the history of the four-down game, but who among us would choose him as the starting QB in a must-win match ahead of NFL greats Joe Montana, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, John Elway, Steve Young, Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers, Johnny Unitas, or even Terry Bradshaw? No one. I doubt Brees would make many top-10 QB lists.

Austin Watson, right.

I don’t like to hear women blame themselves after a man roughs them up, which, unfortunately, is what Jenn Guardino is doing. It isn’t her fault that Austin Watson of the Nashville Predators hit her last summer and consequently received a 27-game suspension from National Hockey League commish Gary Bettman (reduced to 18 by a lame arbitrator). A witness told police that he observed Watson “swat” Guardino. That’s assault. The official police report noted that Guardino said Watson caused the scratches on her chest. Her left shin was bruised and bloody. She also told police that Watson sometimes gets “handsy.” Now she’s taking the rap for Watson’s abuse, insisting he would “never hit or abuse” her, even though he’s admitted doing that very thing. I don’t care how drunk she was or what she said. It isn’t her fault that a 6-feet-4, 204-pound man swatted her, shoved her or laid hands on her in any harmful manner. She’s the victim.

Shame on the Predators for trotting Watson out for the pre-game ceremonies at their home opener last week. The guy is on probation after a no-contest plea on a charge of domestic violence.

How positively hypocritical of Postmedia columnist Steve Simmons to call for the NHL to create a domestic violence policy in the wake of the Watson suspension fooferaw. “A strong policy needs to be in place and soon,” he sermonizes. This is the same guy who, in September 2017, wrote: “Personally, I think the CFL is stronger, maybe more fun, possibly more fan-appealing, with Manziel playing or trying to play the Canadian game.” In May of this year, under the headline “Welcome to Canada, Johnny Football,” he wrote: “Johnny Football is coming to Hamilton. And where do I sign up?” Manziel beat up his former girlfriend and threatened to kill her. Yet it’s “Welcome Johnny!” and get rid of louts like Austin Watson. Too dumb.

Just wondering: How’s that stand-pat thing working out for the Edmonton McDavids?

Connor McDavid

The Edmonton Oilers have scored five goals. Connor McDavid has five points. If management doesn’t do something to provide McDavid with a better supporting cast, it’ll go down as the greatest waste of talent since Jesus stopped walking on water.

And, finally, I would call these little notes that I patch together each week “musings,” except that would imply that I actually think before I type. And we certainly wouldn’t want that.

Kenny Ploen: Not always the star, but always the straw that stirred the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ drink

The first time I saw Kenny Ploen, he was one of two dozen tiny figures scurrying about on the tiny black-and-white screen of a living room TV set with rabbit ears (ask your grandparents about that, kids).

Ken_PloenI don’t recall if I was watching the 1957, ’58 or ’59 Grey Cup game. I just know that Ploen was in the lineup that afternoon, running the ball, catching the ball, flinging the ball or hauling down foes with the ball as he and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers conspired to deliver the Canadian Football League championship to a town that was to grow accustomed to gridiron glory during his watch.

Jungle Jim Trimble, the big-lunged blowhard who coached the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, warned that his large lads would “waffle” the Winnipegs, but bragging rights belonged to the Bombers, who four times bettered Trimble’s Tabbies in their five Grey Cup arguments between 1957 and ’62.

Ploen wasn’t always the star, but he was always the straw that stirred the Blue-and-Gold drink.

That’s why it was Ploen’s signature that my friend Chester and I most sought when we’d hop on our bikes during the late 1950s and make a twice-daily pilgrimage to Canada Packers Field in St. Boniface, where coach Bud Grant would put our football heroes through their training camp exercises in the morning and again in the afternoon. We seldom missed a shift at that sun-scorched patch of earth, and Ploen never refused an autograph, no matter how often we reached out to him with pen and paper.

How many of these do you have?” he once asked as he signed my small, white football.

I don’t know, Mr. Ploen,” I answered. “I hope we aren’t pestering you by asking for your autograph every day.”

Not at all. I’m glad to do it.”

Kenny Ploen rocked. He still does.

Ken_PloenWhen they add the old quarterback/defensive back/safety/receiver/kick returner’s name to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers Ring of Honour on Thursday night at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry, I’m hoping that those of my vintage will speak to younger generations not merely of Ploen as a gridiron great but as a wonderful person.

Ploen came to us as an American college hot shot, fresh from success in the Rose Bowl game where his Iowa Hawkeyes took the measure of the Oregon State Beavers, 35-19. He was saluted as the game’s most valuable performer. Yet he never acted like an American college hot shot MVP. He didn’t have a flashy nickname like the Rocket and he didn’t brand himself The Ordinary Superstar. He didn’t come to River City to take the money and run home to Iowa, either. He did his running on the field, like during the overtime session in the 1961 Grey Cup game, when he fled the grasp of ill-intentioned Tiger-Cats and skedaddled 18 yards down the right sidelines to deliver the decisive points.

Given two words to describe Kenny Ploen, I would use “aw, shucks.” He’s as humble and modest as a Winnipeg winter is cold and gnarly.

Born 81 years ago in Lost Nation, a town of fewer than 500 folks surrounded by corn fields in eastern Iowa, and raised in Clinton on the western shore of the Mississippi River, Ploen could have given the National Football League a go. The Cleveland Browns wanted him in their defensive backfield and were willing to compensate him to the tune of $500 as a signing bonus and a $5,000 salary. He came north instead, accepting a $3,000 bonus and an annual stipend of $9,000 from the Bombers.

It wasn’t the money that lured Ploen here, though. He never spent a penny of his $3,000 bonus. He handed it to his father, who operated a motel in Fulton, Ill.

I feel like I played at a time when sports were sports,” he said upon the occasion of his induction into the Quad-City Sports Hall of Fame in 2005. “I think I had a lot more fun playing when I did than what guys do today. People weren’t chasing dollar bills the way they do now. It was a game.”

Ken_Ploen (1)The real draw for Ploen to Winnipeg was the opportunity to play quarterback for the Blue Bombers, plus he’d caught wind that “the hunting and fishing was pretty good up here.”

So Ploen, who raised three children with his bride Janet, was in River City for a good time and a long time.

Over the years, Kenny Ploen has become our Jean Beliveau. He is to the Bombers and Winnipeg what big Beliveau was to les Canadiens and Montreal, a favorable blend of style and substance, class and dignity, grace and gridiron gallantry, and the athletic bona fides of a champion.

There are none, nor have there been any, so admired as Kenny Ploen.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.