About the Gang Green joke book…honk if you like Knuckles…Pip-Pip to Johnny Rotten…Rink Rat Scheifele better than Blake Wheeler?…playing shirts-and-skins tennis…tsk-tsk and tut-tut to Serena’s tutu…gospel singing…and other things on my mind

A Sunday morning smorgasbord on a lazy Labor Day weekend

In advance of this afternoon’s Pile O’ Bones Bowl betwixt the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Mosaic Stadium in (rhymes with vagina), we share with you a few snippets from the official Gang Green Joke Book.

Q: How do you know when you’ve arrived in Regina?
A: The highway sign says “Paved Road Ends Here.”

  • The teacher couldn’t understand why Little Johnny wasn’t all geeked up about the Labor Day Classic between the Riders and Bombers.
    “It’s the biggest football game of the year,” she said. “Why aren’t you excited, Little Johnny?”
    “I’m not a football fan. My parents like curling, so I like curling, too,” Little Johnny replied.
    “That’s not a very good reason. What if your parents were morons?”
    “Then I’d definitely be a Roughriders fan.”

Q: What does a Riders fan call his tattered, old couch and living room chair?
A: Brand new lawn furniture.

  • Two Riders fans arrived at the big game and one said to the other, “I wish I’d brought my piano with me.”
    “Why would you bring a piano to the football game?” his friend asked.
    “Because that’s where I left the tickets.”

Q: What’s the biggest problem for Riders fans at a pie-eating contest?
A: The cows keep stepping on them.

  • Two buddies were walking in downtown Regina when one spotted a pair of Roughriders season tickets nailed to a telephone pole.
    “I think I’ll have me some of that!” one said to the other.
    “I can’t believe your good fortune!” his friend said excitedly.
    “I’ll say…I’ve been looking for a nail just like this for months now.”

Q: What did the Roughriders fan say when his wife gave birth to twins?
A: “Okay, cousin Doreen, who’s the other father?”

  • Five things you’ll never hear a Riders fan say:
    “I’ll meet you at the library.”
    “I’ll take classic literature for $1,000, please Alex.”
    “I feel
    soooooo underdressed in this John Deere t-shirt and ball cap.”
    “Johnny Cash! Johnny Cash! Is that all you can play on that damned jukebox?”
    “No pork rinds for me, thanks. I’m watching my waist.”

Knuckles Irving

I must join the Atta Boy Chorus and present today’s Happy Honker Award (apologies to Cactus Jack Wells) to Bob (Knuckles) Irving, who celebrates 45 years with CJOB by calling the play-by-play for the Riders-Bombers skirmish. Not only is Knuckles unequaled among Canadian Football League broadcast voices, he’s a lovely lad. One of the finest people I met during 30 years in mainstream jock journalism.

The Montreal Alouettes have now won two successive matches with Antonio Pipkin at quarterback. Would they seriously consider sending him back to the sideline and trotting out Johnny Manziel when they return from a bye two weeks hence? Only if ownership sticks its snoot into head coach Mike Sherman’s business and orders it. If so, shame on them.

Mike O’Shea

Some terrific stuff, as always, on the CFL from Kirk Penton of The Athletic. Among the insider (coaches/general managers) comments was this gem: “I took my daughters to see the movie Dumb and Dumber. Felt like I was watching it again when the Bombers were down by 20 points, with one minute left, and they still had (Andrew) Harris and (Matt) Nichols in the game (vs. Ottawa). What were Mike (O’Shea) and Paul (LaPolice) thinking?” Short answer: They weren’t.

One of the coaches/GMs also gave the talking heads on TSN a slap: “We all hear the guys on the panel because we have games on in the office, but we tune them out. If we do say something about what they’ve said, it’s seldom positive. It’s surprising how little some of them know but present as fact.” I think he’s looking at you, Milt Stegall.

Rink Rat Scheifele

So, the gab guys and scribes at Sportsnet put their noggins together and compiled a list of the top 100 National Hockey League players heading into the 2018-19 crusade. They had our guy, Rink Rat Scheifele, slotted in at No. 13, which is an odd bit of business given that he isn’t even the best player with the Winnipeg Jets. That would be the captain, Blake Wheeler, who came in at No. 19. Other local lads to crack the Sportsnet 100 were Puck Finn, No. 27, Big Buff, No. 38, Connor Hellebuyck, No. 64, and Twig Ehlers, No. 84.

Captain Mark Giordano, Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, Curtis Lazar and Sam Bennett of the Flames marched in the Calgary Pride parade on Saturday. Good on them.

Alizé Cornet

Sometimes you have to give your head a shake and wonder if this is 2018 or 1958. I mean, Alizé Cornet was assessed a code violation the other day at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York, New York. Her heinous crime? Revealing an unrevealing sports bra. Oh, yes, after realizing she had put her top on backwards during a heat recess, Cornet stepped toward the shadows at the back of the court and, in two bats of an eyelash, she stripped the garment on and off. It took all of 10 seconds. If that. Chair umpire Christian Rask was having none of it. He slapped her with the code violation for unsportsmanlike conduct. Either he’s no fan of sports bras, or he didn’t get a good enough look. Whatever the case, he’s a fool. Male players peel off their shirts courtside as often as Genie Bouchard double faults, and nothing is said, even when they sit topless during the entirety of an end change. We have to get the fashion police off the tennis courts.

Genie Bouchard: No code violation, just plenty of money.

Alizé Cornet takes her top off at the U.S. Open and earns a reprimand. Genie Bouchard takes her clothes off for Sports Illustrated and earns thousands of dollars. Go figure.

Dumb headline of the week was found on the TSN website: “Bouchard is reviving her career.” Ya, Canada’s tennis diva Genie Bouchard made it all the way to the second round in Gotham, whereupon she bowed out to Marketa Vondrousova. Such a revival. Meanwhile, Mark Roe of TSN had a chin-wag with Sport Illustrated‘s Jon Wertheim, who informed us that “The tennis world, no question, is taking notice of her.” Basically, no one notices Bouchard unless she’s taking her clothing off for the SI swimsuit issue.

Serena Williams

I only have this to say about the tutu look that Serena Williams has been rocking at the U.S. Open—tut-tut and tsk-tsk. Sorry, the tutu is not my favorite look unless I’m at the Nutcracker or Swan Lake.

Let me see if I’ve got this straight: Larry Nassar sexually abused hundreds of female student athletes during 20 years as a doctor at Michigan State University, yet the NCAA has ruled that no one at MSU did anything wrong? There were zero violations? It gets a clean bill of health, so to speak? Ya, and Donald Trump has never told a fib.

Joe McCarthy

This why some jock journos should definitely stick to sports: Damien Cox of the Toronto Star/Sportsnet tweets, “This is an extraordinary time in US history. More than half a decade after McCarthyism, Russia controls the White House.” Half a decade? Try more than half a century. U.S. Senator Joe McCarthy went on his commie witch hunt in the 1950s and died in 1957, four years before Cox drew his first breath.

The results are in on amateur sports coverage in the Winnipeg Free Press and Winnipeg Sun for the month of August: Drab Slab 11.3 per cent of all articles were devoted to amateurs; Sun 1.5 per cent. Meanwhile, Drab Slab opinionist Paul Wiecek, who scribbled an essay in early July expressing his dismay and considerable umbrage over the nation’s unappreciation of amateur athletes vs. play-for-pay jocks, wrote 11 columns in 30 publishing days. The closest he came to acknowledging amateurs was a rant about rich parents. Combined in July and August, he penned 24 pieces in 59 sports sections. Zero were on amateur athletes or their teams. So I guess he’s right: Amateur athletes are unappreciated, especially by newspapers and sports scribes.

The Queen of Soul

And, finally, this has nothing to do with sports, but I must say that they really got after the gospel music at the Aretha Franklin memorial on Friday in Detroit. Mmm, mmm, that was some kind of fiiiiine singing. Haven’t heard anything that uplifting since the Barack Obama inauguration, where the Queen of Soul sang My Country ‘Tis of Thee. Wept then, wept Friday.

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About Winnipeg Blue Bombers coaches Tar & Feather…Matt Nichols, game manager…counting heads in the CFL…Johnny Rotten, American beer and more TSN gushing…the morphing of Josh Morrissey…a nightmare on Donald Street…homeless in Detroit…the great Gretzky getaway to La La Land…dial Mark Stone for “exhausted”…and a Christmas Day “snub”

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.

Richie Hall

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.

Mike O’Shea

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?

Matt Nichols

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?

Commonwealth Stadium

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.

Trevor Harris

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.

Josh Morrissey

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.

Jacob Trouba

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.

Weeping Wayne

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.

Mark Stone

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.

About the Toronto Argonauts being no laughing matter…CFL shrinkage…a mad hatter at bluebombers.com…pigskin prayer power…when Michael Sam was the man…CFL power rankings…greybeard golf…and other things on my mind

One fried egg-and-cheese sandwich on whole wheat toast and some leftover thoughts for a Monday morning breakfast

It has occurred to me, and many others, that we might be witnessing the death throes of the Toronto Argonauts—the franchise, if not this year’s on-field product.

BMO Field when Toronto FC is playing.

I mean, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment’s motto is “Bringing The World To Its Feet,” but very few of those feet are parading to BMO Field. Unless, of course, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Sebastian Giovinco and friends are having a kick-about.

Oh, yes, they love their footy in the Republic of Tranna. Red-clad, scarf-wearing locals traipse to BMO Field whenever Toronto FC is in frolic, and it matters little that the level of play in Major League Soccer isn’t a match for the English Premier League, the Bundesliga in Germany, Serie A in Italy, or Spain’s La Liga. Fitba is a “happening” in the ROT, and the Reds are averaging 26,591 customers this year, marginally down from a 27,647 head count in 2017.

The Argos, on the other hand, they’re a “happening” like the Don River is the Pacific Ocean.

BMO Field when the Argos are playing.

How sparse are the audiences when the Boatmen are grabbing the real and fake grass at BMO Field? I’ve seen more circus clowns squeeze into a Volkswagen Beetle. The winner of the 50/50 draw at the last home game was later seen asking Yonge Street panhandlers for spare change.

We tend to joke about stuff like that because, let’s face it, cracking wise about The 6ix is what those of us who dwell in the colonies do. The ROT is always good for cheap laughs, whether it’s Drake making an ass clown of himself at a Raptors game, Premier Buck-a-Beer promising cheap suds, or the Maple Leafs’ 51st annual retooling season.

This Argos business, however, isn’t yuk-it-up material. Not if you’re a fan of the Canadian Football League.

I started following three-down football in the 1950s. Most of my heroes wore the blue-and-gold linen of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, but Dick Shatto, adorned in the double blue of the Boatmen, was among my favorite players. He was so smooth, and an impossibly handsome man. I remember reading about Tobin Rote, the gunslinger of a quarterback, and Cookie Gilchrist, the fierce and feared running back. I watched them intently, and with much admiration and awe, whenever the Argos appeared on the black-and-white screen of our rabbit-eared TV.

That’s why it pains me to see an ocean of unoccupied seats at BMO Field on Argos game nights/days.

In their 2017 crusade, the Boatmen attracted an average of 13,913 customers. This year the head count is worse—12,836 average, with a low-water mark of 10,844 for a visit from the Bombers. That’s cringeworthy, also alarming, and the hit to MLSE’s bottom line must be substantial.

I’ve never completely bought into the argument that the CFL absolutely needs the ROT to survive, and I’m confident that western football can exist without it. I will, however, submit that the three-down enterprise is much better with a robust Argos franchise in the mix. It would be a shame if MLSE chose to tap out.

After all, if not for the Argos, what would we have to laugh about in the summer and autumn? Oh, that’s right…there’s always the Blue Jays.

Damien Cox of the Toronto Star/Sportsnet posted this tweet last week after 35,623 folks showed up at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton for a showdown between the Eskimos and Saskatchewan Roughriders: “A crowd of less than 36,000 is the biggest in the CFL this season and is considered a big success. My goodness, this league has shrunk.” Well, yes and no. Toronto and Montreal certainly have shrunk significantly, both in attendance and size of facility. The rest of the CFL, not so much. High tide for CFL attendance arrived in 1978, when the league averaged 31,879. The Montreal Alouettes and Argos led the way with 54,471 and 46,545, respectively. This year, they’re down to 17,861 and 12,836. That’s 36,610 customers lost in Montreal and 33,709 in the ROT. That’s what you call shrinkage.

Matt Nichols and mad hatter Ed Tait.

Good bit on Bombers QB Matt Nichols by young Eddie Tait of bluebombers.com. I’m not sure if the highlight of the piece is the tale Nichols tells about almost being stuck with a huge restaurant tab while a member of the Dallas Cowboys, or young Eddie’s lid. He’s really rockin’ the funny hat. You might want to check it out.

Kirk Penton continues to crank out the good CFL stuff for The Athletic, and last week one of his insiders (a coach or GM) had this to say about the Argos switching from James Franklin to McLeod Bethel-Thompson at starting quarterback: “I have no idea if this played a role in it or not, but Franklin has a different personality. He’s not your average guy. It makes me wonder if the players have adopted him or not. He’s hugely religious.” Why would religion be part of the equation? The great Pinball Clemons is a man of deep faith, and I don’t ever recall it being a problem in his time as a player or coach with the Boatmen.

Michael Sam

It’s three years ago tomorrow that Michael Sam became the only openly gay man to perform in a CFL game. Playing rush end for the Montreal Alouettes against the Ottawa RedBlacks, he was on the field for just 12 plays, making no tackles and, quite frankly, looking as out of place as the Pope in a pub. One week later, the former St. Louis Rams draft pick walked out on the Als, citing mental health issues, and never played another down on either side of the border.

The morning after Johnny Manziel made his disastrous CFL debut, TSN had nine videos of the Alouettes QB on its main web page. Sportsnet had one. But, hey, who’s counting?

Here are this week’s CFL power rankings…

1. Calgary (7-0): The beat goes on.
2. Edmonton (5-2): Three wins vs. West outfits.
3. Winnipeg (4-3): Three wins vs. East outfits.
4. Saskatchewan (3-4): Terrell Owens anyone?
5. Hamilton (3-4): Alouettes were just what the doctor ordered.
6. Ottawa (4-3): Talk about coughing up an ugly hairball.
7. B.C. (2-4): Got screwed by a zebra, but still not good enough.
8. Toronto (2-5): What a comeback. Too bad no one cares in the Republic of Tranna.
9. Montreal (1-6): Getting worse in either official language.

Phil and Tiger

Apparently, the hokey Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson mano-a-mano, greybeard golf challenge will take place on American Thanksgiving weekend. Just what everyone will need. Another turkey.

Max Domi says the Montreal Canadiens have the “pieces it takes to win,” in the upcoming National Hockey League crusade. And he would know this how? He spent the past three seasons playing in the Arizona desert, where the Coyotes did nothing but lose.

Mark Stone

In the WTF department, the Ottawa Senators have agreed to pay Mark Stone $7.35 million to play right wing in 2018-19. That’s $1.75 million more than captain Blake Wheeler earns with the Winnipeg Jets. It’s $1.225 million more than les Jets pay Rink Rat Scheifele. How does Winnipeg general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff convince his players to sign on the cheap? Is he Reveen, the great hypnotist? Does he have damning photos? To date, only one player, Jacob Trouba, has had the strength to ward off Chevy’s mystic powers. Hard to figure.

Just wondering: Is it possible for Murat Ates of The Athletic Winnipeg to write an article on the Jets without mentioning salaries and advanced stats?

And, finally, I notice I have 312 followers on Twitter, a revelation that begat this simple question: Why? I mean, I wouldn’t follow me. But if you’re one of the 312, merci beaucoup. If you aren’t one of the 312, I don’t blame you.

About the Winnipeg Blue Bombers ending their manhunt…what’s with all those empty seats?…already calling for heads to roll…Bo Levi’s tired of hearing about Johnny Rotten…Kirk Penton’s byline is back…Lefty Phil is a cheater, cheater pumpkin eater…red cards to John Doyle and Donald Trump…who is Robbie Williams?…Steve Simmons’ alphabet farts…and Damien Cox blaming cyber bullying on the victims

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

It’s easy to examine Winnipeg FC’s first frolic of this fresh football crusade and file it under ‘same old, same old’ because, let’s face it, Richie Hall’s defence looked like Richie Hall’s defence.

Which is to say, the Blue Bombers D-men couldn’t stop a sniffle, let alone Mike Reilly.

Richie Hall

I mean, when it came down to the short strokes on Friday morning at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry, Reilly and his Edmonton Eskimos offensive accomplices gobbled up land like Homer Simpson working on a box of Timbits. They covered more real estate than the first settlers to bring their ox carts to the Red River Valley. You know, just like last November, when they turned a spirited argument into a rout by rag dolling the Bombers defensive dozen to the tune of 28 points in fewer than 15 minutes.

So, ya, when the Eskimos seized victory in the final grunting of the 2018 Canadian Football League curtain-raiser, it was like a recurring nightmare.

But wait.

This was no ordinary skirmish. The game began on Thursday and ended in the small hours of Friday. It took them five hours and 40 minutes to complete 60 minutes of football. There were two lengthy, thunder-and-lightning delays that kept the large lads in their changing rooms, nibbling on munchies and chilling, for just shy of three hours. By the time the boys gathered to grab grass and growl for a third time, there was no grass to grab. The field looked like the Lake of the Woods. They could have sold cottage lots.

Chris Streveler

Thus, I’m reluctant to measure this match in any substantial way. Except one: Rookie Chris Streveler can play.

Although on the south side of a 33-30 score, Streveler provided ample evidence to suggest the longest manhunt this side of D.B. Cooper is over. The Bombers have found a quarterback.

Hey, I’m not prepared to say Streveler will make anyone forget about Kenny Ploen or Dieter Brock, but three touchdown tosses and some serious lickety-split in his stride are a noteworthy start. He could become the first in-house discovery to put his footprint on the CFL landscape since the Bombers brought Danny McManus north of the border in 1990.

Danny Mac

Let’s just hope Streveler has more patience than McManus.

Danny Mac, remember, grew weary of holding a clipboard for Tom Burgess and Matt Dunigan, so he felt obliged to get out of Dodge and take his talents to the B.C. Lions after three seasons of mop-up duty in River City. Similarly, Streveler retreats to the backup role once the main man, Matt Nichols, returns from the repair shop in about a month. Nichols isn’t going anywhere. He’s only 31 and locked in through 2019. So, barring owies to Nichols, where is Streveler’s opportunity to start?

I’m not saying it will be deja Danny, but I’m guessing that Streveler is inclined to become something more than a career backup QB.

Where did everybody go? Aside from the weather, the sourest note struck at the Bombers-Eskimos to-and-fro was the official head count at Football Follies Field—just 25,458. That’s less than all but two home dates last season and 4,707 fewer than the 2017 home opener. It’s also down 5,096 from the Eskimos’ visit last August. Not sure if that downsizing has resulted in fretful, furrowed foreheads in the Winnipeg FC ivory tower, but it should. That’s a lot of lost revenue.

I always find media takes on Bombers games interesting. A case in point would be the scribblings of Paul Friesen and Paul Wiecek in the aftermath of the Bombers-Eskimos joust that droned on for five-plus hours.

Here’s Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun: “There was enough good in the marathon, 33-30 loss to Mike Reilly and the Edmonton Eskimos that it strangely felt like something of a moral victory for the Big Blue. The most important thing we learned is the loss of starter Matt Nichols for the first month might be survivable. With real victories. Not just moral ones.”

Mike O’Shea

Here’s Wiecek of the Drab Slab: “How can a defence this good on paper still be that lousy on the field? The answer, of course, is that for all the changes made to the defence in the off-season—an upgraded secondary, defensive line and the addition of maybe the best middle linebacker in the game, Adam Bighill—the guys at the top remain the same, head coach Mike O’Shea and defensive coordinator Richie Hall. At some point, someone in authority down at Investors Group Field is going to have to figure out that the problem with this Bombers defence isn’t the players, it’s the scheme. It’s a long season and there is still plenty of time for redemption. But at some point, if Hall cannot figure out a way to make a defence this good on paper play a lot better than that on the field, he has to go. And if O’Shea cannot figure that out, then he should be the one to go.”

My take on those two takes? One game into an 18-game season and Wiecek is already writing about heads rolling? Tough crowd.

Bo Levi Mitchell

So, I’m watching the the Calgary Stampeders double down on the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, 28-14, on Saturday and I’m thinking, “Okay, how in the name of Joe Theismann is TSN going to make this about Johnny Manziel?” I mean, the Tabbies starting QB, Jeremiah Masoli, put up some handsome numbers before his singular d’oh moment sealed the deal. Johnny Rotten, meanwhile, never set a cleated foot on the playing field at McMahon Stadium. He was an observer, just like any lump sitting on a bar stool. Manziel was a non-story. Totally. Except TSN decided he was a story, with three headlines on the website main page and two videos, one of which featured Milt Stegall in a barking-dog role:

Manziel sits in Tiger-Cats’ opening loss.
Masoli shines in Tiger-Cats’ loss, keeps Manziel at bay.
What does Mazoli’s performance mean for Manziel?

Sigh. I believe Stampeders quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell said it best in a chin-wag with Eric Francis of Postmedia Cowtown: “Any guy in the league that has already earned that respect is probably tired of hearing about him. That’s just truthful.”

So nice to see Kirk Penton’s byline appearing in The Athletic. When he was among the small stable of sports scribes at the Winnipeg Sun, Kirk became the best football beat writer in Canada, give or take young Eddie Tait, who went from the Sun to the Winnipeg Free Press to his role today as scribbler of quality stuff at bluebombers.com. The rag trade lost two very good people when they defected.

It’s all a big laugh to Phil Mickelson.

Phil Mickelson cheated, like a petulant, weekend hack. He should have be turfed from the U.S. Open on Saturday. Instead, he was allowed to soldier on after deliberately striking his moving ball lest it should roll off the 13th green at Shinnecock Hills in New York and add to the embarrassment of his inflated score. He then laughed, smirked and basically gave tournament officials and critics the finger, telling them to “toughen up.” He confessed that he’d thought of doing this very thing on numerous occasions, even at the Masters. One can only imagine how the humorless men in the ugly green jackets at Augusta National would have dealt with Mickelson had he pulled his sophomoric, unsportsmanlike stunt on their pristine, hallowed grounds. I’m guessing he’d have been on his way home faster than you could say, “Y’all never did see Arnie or Jack doing that.”

Christine Sinclair

My first red card of the World Cup goes to John Doyle. Straight-shooting TV critic at the Globe and Mail, Doyle tends to stray from his comfort zone and join the kids in the sandbox whenever he sees Ronaldo or Messi playing footy. And so it was that he offered this nugget of nonsense last week: “Christine Sinclair is the best soccer player, male or female, this country has produced.” On a stupid scale of 1-to-10, that hits tilt! It’s like saying Nickelback is Canada’s greatest musical export. An argument can be made that Sinclair is our best-known soccer player, but to submit that she’s our finest player is an insult to Dwayne De Rosario, Owen Hargreaves, Craig Forest, Jason De Vos, Alphonso Davies, Atiba Hutchinson, Alex Bunbury, Brian Budd, Bob Lenarduzzi and so many others who would dribble circles around her. Back to your flatscreen, John.

Robbie Williams

I keep hearing that some dude named Robbie Williams flipped the bird to a global TV audience while performing “a slew of his hits” at the World Cup opening ceremony. Should I apologize if I have to ask who Robbie Williams is? Seriously. Never heard of him until he extended his middle digit, so I Googled him and discovered that he looks like the personification of middle-age crisis.

Did you know that you have Donald Trump to thank for bringing the World Cup to a North American stadium near you in 2026? Yup. President Tarrif tweets: “Thank you for all the compliments on getting the World Cup to come to the U.S.A., Mexico and Canada. I worked hard on this, along with a Great Team of talented people.” In related news, Trump also claims to have coached the Washington Capitals, played quarterback for the New England Patriots and will caddy for the winner of Sunday’s U.S. Open golf tournament.

Randy Lee

Once again, I wonder if Steve Simmons reads the alphabet farts he produces for Postmedia Tranna before he hits the send button. I say that because of a tweet he posted on Friday after the Ottawa Senators suspended assistant manager Randy Lee, who, after an early-June incident, faces a charge of second-degree harassment for allegedly making lewd comments and rubbing the shoulders of a 19-year-old shuttle driver at the National Hockey League combine in Buffalo. “What took so long?” Simmons asked. Yet, when the CFL punted Euclid Cummings of the B.C. Lions after it was revealed that he’d been charged with two counts of sexual assault, one count of assault and one count of uttering a threat to cause death or bodily harm, Simmons wrote this: “Don’t like the fact the CFL voids contracts after players are charged with a crime. Being charged is one thing. Being convicted is another. CFL shouldn’t play judge and jury here with people’s lives.” So, let’s see if I’ve got this straight: Simmons believes a guy who allegedly touched another man’s shoulders and made lewd remarks should be out of work immediately, but a guy who sexually assaulted a woman and threatened her with death should still be working. Wow, just wow.

Melinda and Erik Karlsson

Interesting discussion on Hockey Central at Noon last week, whereby the natterbugs went off on the nasty social media spat featuring Erik Karlsson and Mike Hoffman of the Senators and their main squeezes, Melinda Karlsson and Monika Caryk.

The Karlssons have been subjected to the most vile bullying, including death wishes and accusations of drug use by Melinda and hopes for a career-ending injuries for Erik.

John Shannon wanted no part of the to-and-fro, but host Daren Millard and Damien Cox of Sportsnet/Toronto Star had at it. Not surprisingly, Cox made an ass-clown of himself, basically blaming victims of cyber bullying.

I think the one thing about social media that we’re learning more and more and I think all of us have experienced, you can only be cyber bullied to some extent if you allow yourself to be,” he said. “If you go on social media, if you participate in social media, if it’s something that’s important to you, then you are vulnerable to that. If you say, ‘I’m not gonna have anything to do with that,’ then you’re not as vulnerable.”

In other words, if you step outside your house and get hit by one of the many stoned or drunk drivers on our roads it’s your fault because you stepped outside your house.

Erik and Melinda (Karlsson) are a brand, they have the right to be on social media,” Millard said.

They also have to recognize the dangers of social media,” Cox countered.

And yet Sportsnet, which trumpets its anti-bullying/harassment police and recently dismissed baseball gab guy Gregg Zaun for that very thing, keeps putting Cox on their air. Wow, just wow.

About Sleepy-Eye Joe Mack passing on Mike Reilly…TSN’s continuing love affair with Johnny Rotten…the King of Clay…intrigue in women’s tennis…Secretariat still the greatest…a Capital way to party…the skier and the hockey player…expensive cardboard…and other things on my mind

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

It’s Darian Durant’s fault. A pox on his house for taking the money and running to retirement!

No. Wait.

It’s Joe Mack’s fault.

The statute of limitations hasn’t run out on Sleepy-Eye Joe’s stupidity, has it? Nope. So, whenever the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ universe isn’t unfolding as it should, the former general manager and everyone’s favorite whipping boy is still fair game for blame. He’s the reason the Big Blue will begin their 2018 Canadian Football League crusade with a starting quarterback on training wheels.

I mean, think about it.

Mike Reilly

Had Sleepy-Eye Joe reeled in Mike Reilly in 2013, we wouldn’t be talking about Matt Nichols’ wonky wheels and a QB pool that has all the depth of an Archie-Jughead plot line. Well, would we? Reilly, after all, is Marlboro Man rugged, even when he’s wearing one of his funny, little hats. He’s voted annually by his peers as the toughest hombre in the three-down game, and he hasn’t missed a beat due to an owie since the first week of September 2015.

The sad thing is, Mack could have had Reilly for a song.

The sticker price the B.C. Lions listed for Reilly was a swap of second-round picks in the 2013 CFL college draft, plus a second-rounder in ’14. The Edmonton Eskimos were willing to pay it. Mack didn’t even want to kick the tires. Sleepy-Eye Joe remained convinced and confident that Buck Pierce was the answer at quarterback, and his backup plan was putting the legendary Justin Goltz behind centre. Or Max Hall.

As history records, that worked out about as well as New Coke.

To say Pierce was injury prone is to say Bill Gates has a bit of money. When fit enough to actually start a game, they didn’t strap a play chart to Brittle Buck’s left wrist. It was an IV needle. He didn’t survive the first month of the ’13 season, leaving various body parts and what was left of his marbles strewn on the field.

Sleepy-Eye Joe

That QB fiasco, among other things, cost Mack his job generally mismanaging the Bombers, and Pierce finished that season in B.C., from whence he came. He’s now an assistant coach in Pegtown. No word on the whereabouts of Goltz and Hall, but I suspect they’re asking customers if they’d like fries with their Big Macs and Quarter Pounders.

As for Reilly, well, I’m sure you’re familiar with his story after the Eskimos lured him away from the Lions: Grey Cup champion and Grey Cup game most valuable player in ’15; CFL’s most outstanding player in ’17; two-time West Division all-star; one-time league all-star. And, perhaps most significant, Reilly is still with the Eskimos. No drive-thru orders for him. He’ll be barking signals and gutting it out on Thursday night when the Green-and-Gold engage the Bombers in a season-opening frolic at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry.

Reilly remains the ‘what could have been’ and ‘what should have been’ for the Bombers. That’s Sleepy-Eye Joe’s legacy.

Matt Nichols and Mike Reilly

None of the above is meant to disparage Nichols. Hey, he’s a tough dude, too. And he’s a keeper. Trouble is, he’s developed a most curious habit of falling down without being touched. His left leg caved on him in a game last October, and his right leg collapsed in a training session last week. Officially, he’s run out of legs that work properly. This, of course, is where Durant was expected to fit in. The Bombers paid the veteran QB $70,000 up front to serve as a safety net, thus, with Nichols in the repair shop for as few as four weeks and as many as six, it would have been his show. Alas, instead of playing catch with an interesting array of receivers, Durant is at home changing his new-born daughter’s dirty diapers, and the Bombers are unlikely to grovel at the feet of man who jilted them on the eve of training camp and trolled them on Twitter. Would Durant be an upgrade on Alex Ross, Bryan Bennett or Chris Streveler, the three lads who auditioned for the starter’s role on Friday night against the Lions in Vancouver? Naw. When last seen, which is to say with the Montreal Alouettes in 2017, Durant seldom delivered a pass without the football bouncing once or twice before landing at a receiver’s feet. He’s spent.

Welcome to TJMN—The Johnny Manziel Network, formerly known as The Sports Network. Seriously. TSN has gone loopy over Manziel. Last week, following a CFL debut that consisted of nine completed passes and zero points, TSN featured nine—count ’em, nine!—Johnny Rotten videos. One video per completion. Sunday morning, after he was good on a dozen of 20 pass attempts (including a TD toss), there were five more Johnny Rotten videos on the main TSN web page. They also featured something called Johnny Football Watch. All that for a guy who won’t start a game for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats unless Jeremiah Masoli is wounded or implodes.

Winner and still champion on clay, Rafa Nadal.

Can you say undécima, kids? Rafael Nadal can. His 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 paddywhacking of Dominic Thiem in the men’s singles final Sunday was his 11th French Open title, and I can’t think of an athlete—in any sport—who is more dominant than the muscular Rafa on the red clay of Roland Garros. What the Spanish maestro has accomplished in Paris is insane. He’s 86-2. Eighty-freaking-six and two! Nobody goes 86-2. Except the Harlem Globetrotters, and their games are as rigged as a Vegas slot machine. Nadal on clay is a one-off. Never seen anything like him. Never will. (By the way, here’s the answer to the trivia question: Robin Soderling and Novak Djokovic are the only two men to have beaten Nadal at Roland Garros.)

Simona Halep

The Big Four in men’s tennis is no more, but the Big Two remains. While Andy Murray is MIA and Djokovic is trying to sort out things in his head, if not other parts of his body, the younger generation of hot-shot racqueteers can’t kick Nadal or Roger Federer to the curb. Each of the 30somethings has won three of the past six Grand Slam championships and, Federer’s allergy to red clay notwithstanding, there’s no sign of surrender in either man. One suspects Wimbledon will be another episode in the Rafa-and-Roger show. All of which means the distaff side of tennis is much more intriguing. Check it out: In the past six GS tournaments, there have been six different champions—Serena Williams, Jelena Ostapenko, Garbine Muguruza, Sloane Stephens, Caroline Wozniacki and Simona Halep. Wimbledon will be another complete crapshoot, even if a healthy Williams joins the field.

Secretariat romping to the wire in the 1973 Belmont Stakes.

On the subject of great champions, 45 years to the day that Secretariat completed horse racing’s Triple Crown by winning the Belmont Stakes, Justify romped wire-to-wire at Belmont to become the 13th Triple Crown winner. But let’s provide some perspective. Justify ran the mile and a half in 2:28.18 on Saturday. Secretariat did it in 2:24.0 in 1973. In other words, Secretariat would have beaten Justify by more than 20 lengths. Big Red’s Belmont victory (he won by 31 lengths) remains the single greatest sporting achievement I have witnessed.

Perhaps Damien Cox would prefer it if the Washington Capitals partied like Canadian women.

Starring in the role of grumpy grandpa this week is Toronto Star and Sportsnet gasbag Damien Cox. On the heels of the Washington Capitals’ Stanley Cup conquest of the Vegas Golden Knights, Alex Ovechkin and the boys have been tooting about in full celebratory mode, carousing and fussing and sharing the moment with the rabble on the streets of D.C. Oh, they’ve also been drinking. How positively scandalous. And that just won’t do in Damien’s delicate, little world. There’s no room for random, unharnessed merriment. Or booze. “Rafael Nadal won his ELEVENTH French Open today,” Cox tweeted in a pious, tsk-tsking tone Sunday morning. “No video yet of him drunkenly rolling around in a public fountain because apparently some believe that’s how champions should behave.” Well, excuuuuuse the Capitals for having fun. I wonder if Damien Cox awakens some mornings and regrets being Damien Cox.

P.K. Subban and Lindsey Vonn

Social Note: It must be spring because sports power couples keep popping up. Not so long ago, noted flinger of footballs Aaron Rodgers and fast-car driver Danica Patrick were observed canoodling in public, and now it’s hockey’s diving diva, P.K. Subban, and Lindsey Vonn, glam gal of the ski slopes and one-time main squeeze of golfer Tiger Woods. Don’t know if going from putters to pucks is a dating step up or a step down for Vonn, but she probably won’t get any late-night calls from P.K. asking for bail money. (For the record, my fave sports power couple is Sue Bird and Megan Rapinoe, with Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi a close second.)

I note that a Connor McDavid rookie card recently sold at auction for $55,655. That’s a lot of coin for a small hunk of cardboard. But it made me wonder if kids still stick trading cards in the spokes of their bike wheels. Better question: Do kids still ride bikes, or are they too busy texting each other?

Serena Williams

Zero female athletes appeared on the Forbes list of the top 100 money-makers in sports for the first time, but we shouldn’t be surprised. The annual Forbes 100 is based on earnings from June to June, a period of almost total inactivity in 2017-18 for Serena Williams, who slotted in at No. 51 a year ago with total income of $27 million. Her haul this time around was $18M, all via endorsement deals. Maria Sharapova, meanwhile, once was a regular on the Forbes 100, but, after being caught with her hand in the illegal-drug jar, some sponsors abandoned her and she has yet to return to championship form. Sharapova is hardly a pauper, though. Her estimated worth is well in excess of $100 million.

And, finally, an interesting albeit indelicate quote from the elegant Garbine Muguruza, who, after routing the equally elegant Sharapova, 6-2, 6-1, in the French Open, described the five-time Grand Slam champion as “an old-time player.” Ouch. Sharapova just turned 31.

About the WHA Jets vs. les Canadiens…B. Hull still ragging on Fergy…remember Benny and the Jets…a roster of rejects isn’t fair?…newspaper wars…meet the new Leafs GM, Harry Potter…Kypreos has ‘no idea’…Daren Millard and a smarmy guy on Hockey Central…Evander Kane’s wish list…dirty, rotten Darian Durant…fashionista Phil…boxing’s jail break…the greatest cheater…and other things on my mind

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

The boys are back in town, so let’s settle this Habs-Jets thing once and for all.

Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson

Let me begin by saying that I stand second to few people in admiration for the Winnipeg Jets, circa Hedberg-Nilsson-Sjoberg-Hull-et al. They played hybrid hockey. Canadian grit met Scandinavian swirl to form a swashbuckling brand of shinny not seen on this side of the great waters until the two cultures dovetailed in the mid-to-late 1970s.

If we are to believe Slats Sather, those Jets provided the blueprint for his rollicking Edmonton Oilers outfits that ruled the frozen ponds of the National Hockey League a decade later.

So, ya, the Jets were good. Good enough to give the mighty Soviet Union national side a 5-3 paddywhacking one January night in 1978.

But…were they Montreal Canadiens good? That is, how might the World Hockey Association’s signature team have measured up against the Habs juggernaut that featured a Hockey Hall of Fame head coach and nine HHOF players who produced Stanley Cup parades in four successive springs, 1976-79? Well, let’s ask three people who ought to know—Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson and Bobby Hull.

Peter Young, Ulf Nilsson, Kathy Kennedy, Bobby Hull, Anders Hedberg and Sod Keilback.

The three members of the legendary Hot Line were in Good, Ol’ Hometown this weekend for a gathering of the players who conspired to win the club’s second WHA title 40 years ago this month, and Kathy Kennedy summoned them to her CJOB studio for a gab session. Also sitting in for the 40-minute chin-wag were veteran broadcasters Peter Young and Sod Keilback, who steered the chatter in the direction of les Canadiens.

Keiback: “Would you have beaten the Montreal Canadiens?”

Hull: “No, but it would have been a great game.”

Keilback: “I want to ask this to Ulf, because Friar Nicolson told me the most honest man he ever met in his life—the guy couldn’t lie—was Ulf Nilsson. Ulf, would you have been able to win the Stanley Cup with the WHA Jets?”

Nilsson: “No, I don’t think so. I agree with both Bobby and Anders. We were short maybe a few defencemen. Goaltending was good, though, and I think we had enough good forwards, but defence, we could have used one or two more.”

Hedberg: “We could have reached the final, no question.”

So, there you have it. While hundreds (thousands?) of locals to this day remain convinced the Jets could have given the Habs a wedgie, three of the WHA club’s four most influential players (defenceman Lars-Erik Sjoberg was the fourth) insist it’s a notion built on fantasy.

It would have been a boffo series, though.

Bobby Hull and John Ferguson in the good, ol’ days.

Former Jets general manager John Ferguson has been bones in the ground since 2007, but Hull won’t let his feud with Fergy go to the grave. Proudly talking about the open-door policy the Jets had with fans during the WHA days, Hull said this during the ‘OB gabfest: “They wanted me to take over the team, and they brought in a guy by the name of Ferguson and Tommy McVie, and that was all the goodwill we’d built up in all those years from 1972 to 1979 or ’80, or whenever it was that they joined with the NHL, went out the window. Doors were closed, there was rippin’ and cursin’ and kickin’ buckets and throwin’ oranges.” When host Kathy Kennedy relayed a story about an angry Fergy once kicking a hole through the Jets’ dressing room door, Hull said, “He not only had the foot in the door lots of times, he had that size 13 in his mouth.”

Ben Hatskin

As the present-day Jets continue their Stanley Cup crusade vs. the Vegas Golden Knights, give a thought to the WHA Jets, because they’re the reason what’s happening today is happening today. Had original owner Ben Hatskin folded his tent, the NHL wouldn’t have given River City a second glance. Edmonton and Ottawa probably wouldn’t have franchises either.

Interesting take from Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun on the Jets-Golden Knights skirmish for bragging rights in the NHL Western Conference. “I get that Vegas being good is beneficial for the league, but it still doesn’t seem fair that an expansion team can come in and contend for a Stanley Cup right away.” Fair? You tell me what’s fair. I mean, the Golden Knights entered the fray last October with a roster of rejects. Nobody thought it was unfair back then. So now that same roster of rejects is eight wins from hoisting the holy grail in Glitter Gulch and it isn’t fair? As if.

It occurs to me that it isn’t just the clubs competing in the NHL’s annual spring runoff. It’s also the daily rags. And, two series and one game deep into the playoffs, I’d say the Sun has opened a big, ol’ can of whupass on the Winnipeg Free Press. The tabloid troika of Wyman, Paul Friesen and Ken Wiebe have been cranking out the good stuff daily since the puck dropped on the Jets-Minnesota Wild series. Over at the Drab Slab, Mike McIntyre, Jason Bell and Mike Sawatzky are doing boffo business, but it doesn’t help that the Freep’s Sunday edition is an after-thought and the sports columnist seems to be MIA every second day.

kyle dubas3
Harry Potter lookalike Kyle Dubas

I turned on the TV the other day to watch the coronation of Kyle Dubas as GM of the Tranna Maple Leafs and they introduced Harry Potter instead. Seriously. If Dubas isn’t Harry Potter, he’s Harry’s big brother. The question now is this: Can he do anything about the boggarts on the Leafs blueline?

Nick Kypreos has come clean about running off at the mouth. Sort of. If you’ll recall, our man Kipper implied that Leafs head coach Mike Babcock and his star player, Auston Matthews, have been giving each other the ol’ stink eye. “Babcock lost Matthews. There was no trust anymore. For whatever reason, Babcock lost Matthews,” he said after les Leafs had bowed out of the Stanley Cup tournament. Kipper offered zero evidence to support his suggestion of a spat. And now? “It is based purely on my instincts following a 12-year professional career,” the Sportsnet and Hockey Night in Canada gab guy tells us. “It is nothing more, nothing less. To my knowledge, there is no major rift between Babcock and Matthews. There is no conspiracy, but trust me, it isn’t fake news either. I have no idea how Matthews feels about his coach.” I think that last sentence sums it up: Kypreos has no idea.

Daren Millard

Loved the chatter between Daren Millard and “smarmy” Damien Cox on Hockey Central at Noon last Wednesday, when they engaged in a to-and-fro about ice time for elite NHL performers.

Cox: “Good teams don’t give their best players 23 minutes. Or, if they do it’s very rare. Or they’re coached by John Tortorella.”

Millard: “Barkov plays…Sasha Barkov plays 23 minutes.”

Cox: “Oh, Connor McDavid plays more than 22 minutes and they’re horrible. So, that’s what you want? The idea is to have a well-balanced team. Now…”

Millard: “You’re so smarmy sometimes.”

Cox: “Why is that smarmy?”

Millard: “You just…you are. You’re just…”

Cox: “I was giving you an example.”

Millard: “It’s the way you say it. ‘No, they’re terrible. Is that what you want?‘”

Cox: “That is not smarmy. You can say it’s overcritical, but it’s not smarmy.”

Well, let’s see. Smarmy is defined by Merriam-Webster as: “Of low sleazy taste or quality; revealing or marked by a smug, ingratiating, or false earnestness.” The urban dictionary describes smarmy as: “A certain attitude often accompanied by a squinty look and a superior smile that makes you instantly hate a person.” It’s settled then: Millard is correct—Cox is smarmy.

Evander Kane

Old friend Evander Kane, soon eligible for free agency, has revealed his needs-and-wants list for re-signing with the San Jose Sharks or moving to another NHL club: “Common sense tells you there are three priorities that you look for as a player: money, chance to win and lifestyle. Those are the three priorities and it just depends on how you rank them.” In Kane’s case, considerations of lifestyle would have to include proximity to Las Vegas, a private jet and, of course, comfy jail cells. Okay, okay. That was a cheap shop. I mean, it’s been at least a year since cops have had to slap the handcuffs on Kane in public. Shame on me.

Quote of the week comes from the Boston Licker, Brad Marchand, whose filthy habit of licking opposition players commandeered much of the chatter during Round 2 of Stanley Cup skirmishing: “I have to cut that shit out,” he said. Ya think? What was your first clue, Inspector Clouseau?

Darian Durant

I’d like to feel sorry for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers today. I really would. I mean, they got stiffed. That dirty, no-good, rotten scoundrel and noted green guy Darian Durant took their money and ran. Paid him $70,000 and he flat out quit. Didn’t even have the good manners to bid a polite adieu. And now the Canadian Football League club is left without its security blanket for starting quarterback Matt Nichols, a week before the large lads in pads gather to grab grass and growl at their 2018 training sessions. Well, here’s a thought: Stop relying on other outfits to do your dirty work. That is, find and develop your own damn QBs instead of this decades-long dependency on others’ retreads. I think Dieter Brock was the last in-house starter of note, and the Bombers haven’t groomed a backup who could toss a spiral since Hal Ledyard rode shotgun for Kenny Ploen.

Having said that, Durant’s departure was totally lame. Really bad form. You want to quit, fine, quit. That’s cool. Get on with your life. But, good gawd, have the gonads to tell the people who invested $70,000 in you. Pick up a phone and call them. Don’t let them find out on social media.

Phil Mickelson

Meet Phil Mickelson, fashionista. Who knew? If you missed it, the normally frumpy and flabby Phil has taken to wearing button-up dress shirts on the golf course, complete with starched collars and cuffs. What, no cufflinks, Lefty? No ascot? Not sure if Lefty is caught in a middle-age crisis, but this is a good look like Hair In A Can was a good idea. It’s Giorgio Armani bogies the back nine.

The good news is, Drake has been eliminated from the National Basketball Association playoffs. The bad news is, jock journos in the Republic of Tranna will have to scramble to find another groupie to fawn over. Are there any rapper/hip-hop stars who like the Blue Jays? If not, I’m sure they’ll settle for a B-list celeb like Dave Foley or Steven Page.

Boxing is on the menu in The ROT next Saturday, with champion Adonis Stevenson defending his WBC light-heavyweight title against Badou Jack. It’s quite the seedy main event: Stevenson has spent time behind bars for pimping out women; Jack is known as The Ripper, an obvious reference to Jack the Ripper, serial killer of prostitutes; and the challenger is among the stable of boxers promoted by Floyd Mayweather Jr., himself a convicted woman-beater. That’s not a sports event, it’s a jail break. And yet people will part with their money to watch. Go figure.

This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna (Volume 1): “The greatest Toronto athletes in my time: Donovan Bailey, Ben Johnson. @De6rasse has a chance to surpass both.” Can you say hypocrite, kids? I mean, Simmons sits on a horse named Morality and refuses to vote for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens in Baseball Hall of Fame balloting because they flunked his smell test. That is, they stuck needles in their butts. They cheated. Yet he lists this country’s most-disgraced cheater, druggie Ben Johnson, as one of the two greatest Tranna athletes during his 61 years drawing oxygen. A freaking cheat! Can you say zero credibility, kids? Zero!

This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna (Volume 2): “The Leafs can’t beat Boston three straight. Probably no team in hockey can.” Tell that to the Tampa Bay Lightning, who just beat the Bruins four straight.

This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna (Volume 3): “It’s entirely possible that all four conference finalists in the NHL will be teams that have never won the Stanley Cup before.” No, it was not possible. Tampa and Boston, who met in the eastern semifinal, have both won the Stanley Cup. Simmons explained his gaffe by saying he was soooooo “tired,” then deleted the tweet.

 

About P.K. Subban, boo birds and ‘laughably stupid’ tweets…the Boston Licker…an NHL rule book that ain’t worth a lick…when is a hot dog not a hot dog?…Burkie is boffo on Sportsnet…hi, ho silver—away with those Swedish ingrates!…a parting gift for the Sedin twins…soccer’s Stone Age, the Age of Enlightenment in the NBA…and jock journos in the Republic of Tranna making a big deal out of a drip named Drake.

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Dr. Phillip McGraw, Host, Dr. Phil

I opened a newspaper the other day and a Dr. Phil show broke out.

Seriously. I went directly to Section D of the Winnipeg Free Press to read Paul Wiecek’s column, figuring the oft-snarky scribe might have something contentious to say about the Winnipeg Jets-Nashville Predators engagement in the National Hockey League playoffs, and instead I found 1,200 words devoted to the optics of a hostile, white-skinned, white-clad mob numbering 15,000-plus raining boos, obscenities and taunts upon a black man.

Apparently, that’s not a good look. Apparently, it conjures KKK imagery of torch-bearing men adorned in white bed sheets and pillow cases, and burning crosses in a remote setting. And the people on Twitter who actually believe this are “laughably stupid,” as Wiecek accurately describes them.

Well, let me say this about all that: There are times when I read or hear something that makes me say, “Stop the world, I want to get off!” Most Jimmy Fallon monologues do that to me. Most Donald Trump tweets do that to me. And so did that Wiecek column. Made me want to call up Oprah and ask her to haul her couch out of storage so we could have a sit-down.

P.K. Subban

I mean, really? Some among the Twitter rabble cringe at the thought of outriders viewing Good, Ol’ Hometown as racist should the faithful in The Little Hockey House On The Prairie boo P.K. Subban of the Predators? This is Mississippi Burning visits Manitoba?

Sorry, but that’s a bigger stretch than the waistband on a pair of Charles Barkley’s old pants.

Wiecek writes “in the normal course of events, stupid things get said on Twitter all the time.” He’s correct. He adds that he is “loathe to give any of it further oxygen.” Yet he gives this racist “optics” nonsense 1,200 words worth of oxygen in a post-game column.

I wouldn’t describe that as “laughably stupid,” but it is stupid.

We now know that Brad Marchand is a serial licker. He has the most famous tongue this side of a Rolling Stones album or a KISS concert. And I can’t stop laughing about it. Don’t get me wrong. Uninvited licking is icky. I wouldn’t want Marchand’s tongue anywhere near me. He creeps me out. Totally. I’d rather have Roseanne slip me the tongue (trust me, I’m cringing at that thought). It’s just that this entire Boston Licker thing is so gob-smackingly absurd that my warped sense of humor keeps kicking in. I mean, think about it. When Marchand’s kid says, “My dad can lick your dad!” to another kid in the playground, he really means it. Literally.

The NHL, of course, has been in full howl since Marchand used Ryan Callahan’s face for a lollipop on Friday night (that after laying a licking on Leo Komarov’s neck in an earlier playoff game), and it’s been an outrage normally reserved for truly heinous crimes. The Boston Licker has become Beantown’s most notorious no-goodnik since Albert DeSalvo copped to the Boston Strangler slayings. The thing is, licking is such an unspeakable atrocity that NHL mucky-mucks didn’t think to include it in the 218 pages of their rule book. Spitting is in there. Hair-pulling is. Biting is. Cussing is. But not licking. Which only confirms what many of us have been saying during the mayhem that is the current Stanley Cup tournament—the NHL rule book ain’t worth a lick.

Apparently, it’s unanimous: Marchand should stop licking people. Even that Boston Bruins-loving blowhard on Hockey Night in Canada, Don Cherry, agrees. “Kids, you never do this,” was his sermon from the bully pit on Saturday night. “Gotta stop that nonsense. A kiss is all right, but…” No, Grapes, a kiss is not “all right.” Marchand needs to keep his lips and tongue to himself.

The Big Buff dance.

So, let me see if I’ve got this straight: When P.K. Subban breaks into dance after scoring a goal in the Jets-Preds NHL playoff skirmish, he’s a self-serving showboat. A hot dog dripping with mustard. But when Dustin Byfuglien of Club de Hockey Winnipeg does a post-goal jig, it’s just so gosh-darned cute because, hey, that’s just big, warm-and-fuzzy Buff being big, warm-and-fuzzy Buff. Sorry, folks, you can’t have it both ways. Hey, I’m no fan of Subban’s theatrics. As a Shakesperean actor, he makes a fine hockey player. But I don’t see how anyone can condemn him for having fun.

Brian Burke

Hockey Central at Noon last Thursday was boffo. Best episode. Ever. Joining host Daren Millard on the panel were Brian Burke and Doug MacLean, two been-there, done-that former NHL general managers who engaged in banter that was humorous, insightful, revealing, raw and sincere. Basically, it was Millard lending an ear to two crusty, ol’ boys spinning yarns. Man, this was some kind of good chatter. So much more enjoyable than the pontifical natterings of Damien Cox and the gatling-gun prattling of Todd Hlushko (stop and take a breath once in a while, man). It reminded me of the old days, sitting in the bowels of the Winnipeg Arena and listening to local bird dogs like Bruce Cheatley, Billy Robinson, Dino Ball and Jimmy Walker talk hockey and swap lies. Good times.

Bringing “Burkie” on board as a talking head was a thumbs-up move by Sportsnet, and I have to believe it’s driving Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna bonkers. “I get disappointed when I see Bill Parcells or Jim Rice or John Tortorella or others who have treated the media with a certain disdain winding up in media positions on television or radio,” he wrote not so long ago when crapping on Marc Savard’s appearance as a gab guy on Sportsnet. “If you don’t care for media, I’ve always thought, don’t be part of it.” Well, okay. Except Simmons treats many of the athletes/coaches (e.g. Kevin Durant, John Farrell, Venus Williams) and sports (e.g. curling, figure skating, women’s hockey, 3-on-3 hoops) he writes about with complete disdain. If you don’t care about the athletes/coaches and sports you write about, Steve, don’t be part of it.

Lias Andersson: Take this silver medal and shove it.

So, the International Ice Hockey Federation has suspended five players and three coaches with Sweden’s national Junior side for the dastardly deed of displaying frustration. Oh, yes, the Swedes had the bad manners to remove silver trinkets from their necks at the most-recent world junior championships, and captain Lias Andersson, who hucked his medal into the stands in Buffalo, received the harshest slap on the wrist. The IIHF has grounded him for four games. “To be ‘frustrated’ by the loss of a game is not the right attitude,” some mucky-muck in a suit said in a statement. I suppose that’s tough love. But I can’t help but wonder what the punishment might have been had young Lias licked someone’s face.

I say the King Clancy Memorial Trophy would be a lovely, also fitting, parting gift for Henrik and Daniel Sedin, and I’d also say you can make book on the Swedish twins walking off stage with the bauble at the NHL awards shindig in Glitter Gulch next month. P.K. Subban and Jason Zucker are the other finalists for the Clancy trinket, which salutes leadership qualities on and off the ice and humanitarian contribution to community, but I have to think the Sedins’ retirement swayed voters.

Stephanie Labbé

Stephanie Labbé has been told by the Premier Development League to take her soccer ball and go home. The reason? She’s a she. One of our national women’s team keepers with 49 caps, the 31-year-old Labbé is good enough to earn a spot on the Calgary Foothills FC roster, but the PDL will have none of it. No penis, no play. So I ask: What year is this? 2018 or 1918?

But wait. It must be 2018, at least in basketball, because the Milwaukee Bucks plan to interview Becky Hammon for their vacant head coaching position. She, like Labbé, is a she. The Bucks apparently don’t care. They’re only interested in ability. Hammon has been apprenticing as an assistant coach with Gregg Popovich’s San Antonio Spurs since 2014, and that’s good enough for the Bucks to take a look-see at her resumé and have a chin-wag. Good on them.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

I’m not really into hoops and haven’t harbored a rooting interest since my main man Kareem dropped his final sky hook for the Los Angeles Lakers, so I truly don’t give a damn how much of an ass clown the hip-hop artist/rapper known as Drake makes of himself as the Tranna Raptors’ unofficial court jester.

I mean, to me, the high-profile groupie’s hissing contest with Kendrick Perkins during and after Game 1 of the Raptors-Cleveland LeBrons playoff joust was a meh moment. Nothing to see here, folks. Just another puffed-up, self-inflated celebrity who’s entranced by himself and believes it’s all about him. Ignore him.

Except that’s not how media in the Republic of Tranna play it with the National Basketball Association’s celeb buffoon. To them, Drake is very much a “thing.” They can’t ignore him. They are the flies to his cow paddy.

Drake

Like, never mind DeMar DeRozan, Serge Ibaka and the Raptors’ collective faceplant in Game 1, followed by their total surrender in Game 2. Drake was in the house, don’t you know? Got into a gob-knocker with Kendrick Perkins. Talked smack. Huffed and puffed. Nasty stuff. He then received a tsk-tsking from the NBA and was told to go to his room. By the time he slinked back into the Air Canada Centre for the second Raps-Cavaliers go-round, Drake was as quiet as a church mouse tippy-toeing on cotton. All of which inspired Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna, Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail, and Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star to make Drake the central point of their off-day analysis.

Drake

Here’s a portion of Simmons’ alphabet fart: “The Raptors’ global ambassador is becoming a global embarrassment. This isn’t Drake’s time or place to get in the way. He has become an annoyance, even by his own rather distinguished annoying standards, even if the Raptors don’t necessarily view it that way. This is his time to sit down, shut up, stop posing for the cameras and acting like you’re part of the show.”

Here’s Feschuk: “Beginning with Game 2, (the Raptors) need to play with a lot less ‘we’re-not-worthy’ self-doubt and a lot more Drake-esque ‘we-own-the-place’ swagger. They’re better off inhabiting the spirit of a hip-hop god than playing like they’re haunted by the ghosts of LeBron-induced failures past. This team doesn’t need to ban Drake. It needs to be a bit more like him.”

It’s all about Drake in the Republic of Tranna

And now Kelly (in mournful muse): “Among the many sad and disappointing things about Thursday’s basketball game in Toronto—basketball among them—Drake stood out. He arrived later than normal, flanked by bodyguards. He came out of the tunnel laughing a little too hard and slapped more hands than usual. Over on the Cavaliers bench, his recent sparring partner, Kendrick Perkins, pretended not to notice. Drake sat down and angled his body toward the Toronto Raptors bench. And that was it. Where he would normally have stood up and started shouting, getting in Dwane Casey’s way as the coach stalked the sideline, he just sat there. No jawing with the opponents, no encouragement, no nothing. This was Toronto’s first citizen tamed. As bad a week as the Raptors had, Drake’s was more terrible in factors. Seeing him brought low for the sin of caring too much, of embarrassing the rest of us by showing it, of being so damned Canadian pains me.”

Talk about people making ass clowns of themselves.