Let’s talk about the aging of the Winnipeg Jets…to Tokyo in denim…Aaron Rodgers’ sticky notes…MLB grappling with lack of sizzle…old friend Big Jim takes a paddywhacking…Canadian Football Hall of Fame gets it right…what about Tricky Dick Thornton?…nightmare on TSN…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and still no word on the if and when of a CFL season, but here’s something else that’s real iffy…

Stop me if you’ve heard this before:

“I believe we’re close to having a team that has a chance to challenge for the Stanley Cup, and I’m really looking forward to that…we’re a lot closer than some people will give us credit for…I look forward to these next five years.”

Sound familiar? It should.

Blake Wheeler said much the same as Adam Lowry scant seconds after scratching his John Hancock on a six-year contract with the Winnipeg Jets.

Blake Wheeler

“I believe in people like (owner) Mark Chipman and Chevy, what everyone stands for and especially in my teammates. I have believed since I got here that we have what it takes to get to the next level, so this is just a part of that process. I truly believe that great things are in store for this group,” the then-future captain told news snoops.

Wheels was 26 at the time. There will be 35 candles on his birthday cake in August.

Lend an ear to Rink Rat Scheifele who, upon agreeing to an eight-year contract in 2016, expressed a robust belief in “the organization, in the players on the team, in the future prospects.”

The Rink Rat was 23. He’s now 28.

Connor Hellebuyck, the Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender, locked in for six years and said, “The tools are in this locker room to be a championship team. I love it here and I want to be here and I really believe this team has what it takes.”

Hellebuyck was 25. He turns 28 next month.

Adam Lowry

And now we have another long-hauler, Lowry, parroting his teammates’ faith in a process that began in 2011 and has delivered the grand sum of two post-season series victories, both in the spring of 2018.

Lowry is 28. The freshly minted contract he signed on Friday will take him to 33.

So what’s my point? Just this: Unless your name is Evander Kane, Jacob Trouba, Dustin Byfuglien, Patrik Laine or Jack Roslovic, the Jets have all gulped down the Kool-Aid in a cultish-like obedience. They believe. And that’s the reason what went down at last week’s National Hockey League shop-and-swap deadline rankles.

We know Kevin Cheveldayoff kicked some tires on top-four defencemen, and we know the sticker price sent the Jets general manager running like a guy trying to stay two steps ahead of a loan shark.

We can assume his contemporaries were eager to fleece him and take Ville Heinola, Cole Perfetti and other shiny objects off his hands in exchange for their lame, halting and hard of seeing, but that was never going to happen because Chevy places premium value on his young studs. You might have a better chance of prying his bride, Janet, and their two kids away from him.

Chevy

So it was no sale. Chevy allowed the NHL trade window to close with a whimper, and the Jets are no closer to the Stanley Cup today than a week ago, unless you consider a bottom-end, plug-in blueliner (hello, Jordie Benn) a shiny object.

Oddly enough, many among the rabble, also some news snoops, have given Chevy a tip of the chapeau and a slap on the back for his do-little day, because he “protected assets,” meaning he clung to young wannabes Heinola, Perfetti and others like gum to the bottom of a shoe.

Well let me tell you something about assets: They don’t stay forever young.

Chevy is protecting the future when most of the parts are in place for today’s Jets team. Add the right top-four defender and we might be talking about a parade route. But the Jets GM chose to stand still, even as time refuses to stand still for his significant core workers.

Wheeler’s prime years have been wasted. Scheifele and Hellebuyck are into prime time. Same with Lowry, Andrew Copp and Dylan DeMelo. And don’t look now, but Josh Morrissey is 26.

Rink Rat Scheifele

Which begs this question: If the Jets GM was unwilling to go all-in now, when?

This was the time for derring-do, an opportunity for Chevy to orchestrate what could have become his signature moment, lifting the Jets to that “next level” Wheeler spoke of all those years ago.

Well, here’s something else the captain said, when he re-upped in September 2018: “It kind of looks like that (Stanley Cup) window is opening up.”

Apparently Chevy missed the memo.

I don’t know if the GM will reflect on this crusade five years from now and view it as the one that got away, but Blake Wheeler might. Rink Rat Scheifele, Connor Hellebuyck and others like Lowry who’ve committed long term might, as well.

Chevy should be kicking himself. Right in the assets.

Something Bryan Little said when the Jets’ playoff aspirations had been dashed in March 2017 is haunting: “It’s another year of your career that you can’t get back. Some of the best players in this room are the youngest. There’s definitely a bright future, but some guys are older and want to do something right now. That’s the thinking going into next year.” Little was 29. He’s now 33, wounded beyond repair, and there is no next year. Not for him. But why must it always be “next year” for Scheifele, Hellebuyck, Lowry et al?

As I was saying last week, I don’t buy into the Jack Campbell hype that news snoops in the Republic of Tranna have been spreading like thick, gooey peanut butter. He’s been a career backup goaltender for a reason, and Maple Leafs loyalists are beginning to see why. For all their talent, the Leafs are vulnerable in the blue paint, whereas Hellebuyck gives the Jets the best puck stopping in the Hoser Division (yes, including Carey Price). And we all know what that means when the boys begin to play for keeps, which is the very reason Chevy shouldn’t have dithered last week.

I don’t know about you, but I’m digging the threads our Canadian athletes will be wearing for the closing ceremonies at the Tokyo Olympics this summer, if there is a Tokyo Olympics, that is. Ya, sure, you can say the denim jacket looks like a teenage graffiti artist had a moment of madness, but I look at it more as a stroke of genius. There’s a youth-cool vibe to the kit, something you might wear on a pub crawl, or wherever it is that our young people go these days. It’s totally boffo compared to the get-ups that noted needle-and-thread guy Ralph Lauren designed for our American friends. I can’t tell if he’s dressed the U.S. team for the next space shuttle mission or an expedition to the South Pole.

I’ll take nose-pickers for $2,000, Alex. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has completed his gig as guest host on Jeopardy!, and he let us in on a little secret about the sticky notes he used to aid his performance. One of them read: “Don’t pick your butt/nose.” Seriously. He needs a sticky note to remind himself not to pick his nose on camera? And the Packers trust Rodgers to call audibles in the red zone?

Curt, Terry, Howie, Michael and Jimmy.

Apparently, producers of Fox NFL Sunday were so impressed with Rodgers’ work on Jeopardy! that they plan to equip Terry Bradshaw with sticky notes to improve his work:
1. “Remember, this ain’t Hee Haw.”
2. “Powder shiny head during every commercial break.”
3. “Do not mention gap in Michael’s teeth.”
4. “Do not laugh at Howie’s 1950s haircut because at least he has hair.”
5. “Resist all urges to muss up Jimmy’s hair.”
6. “Do not tell Rob Riggle he isn’t as funny as Frank Caliendo.”
7. “Remember, guy sitting beside you is Curt, not James.”
8. “Jay Glazer is human, he just looks like a garden gnome.”
9. “Mention four Super Bowl rings whenever Jimmy mentions two Super Bowl rings.”
10. “When in doubt, always refer to sticky note No. 1.”

Favorite headline of the week was delivered by the New York Post: “How Yankees can address their crappiness.” Anything that combines New York Yankees and “crappiness” is right by me, although I’m sure George Steinbrenner’s son Hal wouldn’t agree.

If your product needs to add some sizzle and pizzazz, who you gonna call? Well, Major League Baseball has called Brian Stedman, now responsible for strategy and development. That would be the same Brian Stedman who, for the past seven years, carried the sizzle-and-pizzazz portfolio for Vince McMahon’s cast of characters in World Wrestling Entertainment. That will be quite an adjustment for Stedman. I mean, the play actors in wrestling are allowed to hit each other with everything including the kitchen sink, but the Yankees can’t hit anything.

Old friend Big Jim Bender took a bit of a paddywhacking on Twitter last week, after he made a flippant remark about the Brendan Bottcher foursome failing to win a trinket at the world curling championship but securing an Olympic berth for Canada. “Was the very least they could do,” Big Jim wrote. The Pebble People pounced. Darren Moulding, third on the Bottcher team, called the former Winnipeg Sun scribe “a joke,” adding, “You’re a stain on our country, not me.” Harsh. Olympian and TSN talking head Cheryl Bernard weighed in, describing Bender’s comment as “crap.” Oh my. Who knew the delightful Cheryl could be so undelightful? Anyway, not that he plans to call me to the stand as a character witness, but let the record show that Big Jim is a friend of curler’s everywhere. He’s spent more time in chilly two-sheeters than most people I know, so, as Strother Martin told Cool Hand Luke, “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”

Rachel Homan

Speaking of Pebble People, Rachel Homan played in the Scotties Tournament of Hearts title match on the final day of February while eight months pregnant. She then went home to bring daughter Bowyn into the world, and now the former Canadian/world champ has returned to the fray, skipping her team in the Humpty’s Champions Cup just three weeks after giving birth. Meanwhile, Kawhi Leonard won’t be available to the L.A. Clippers today because he needs a rest—after sitting the last four games. I swear, if men could get pregnant and give birth, there would be no male sports.

Nobody asked me, but I’d say the selection committee for the Canadian Football Hall of Fame got it right when they chose Marv Levy, Nik Lewis, Will Johnson, Mike Walker, Orlondo Steinauer, Don Wilson and Doug Mitchell as this year’s inductees. These things are always ripe for debate, of course, and we usually hear some squawking whenever a sports body salutes the best of the best, but I don’t hear any arguments about the class of 2021, nor should there be.

And that’s not to ignore broadcasters Bernie Pascall and Bob Hooper, who got the nod from the Football Reporters of Canada and will go into the CFHF media wing. Hooper was a long-time Hamilton Tabbies play-by-play voice, and Pascall’s career chatting about Rouge Football on radio and TV spans decades. Unfortunately, Bob’s not around to enjoy the honor, but Bernie’s still with us, so he has something fresh to talk about with the neighbors on beautiful Vancouver Island.

Ashley Prest

The CFHF media wing is the ultimate boys’ club. By my scorecard, there are now 101 members, all men. Yup, 101-0. I realize there haven’t been a lot of women on the beat, but in my 19 years covering the Canadian Football League in three cities (Winnipeg, Calgary, Republic of Tranna), I can recall sharing a press box at Grey Cup games with Ashley Prest of the Drab Slab and Joanne Ireland of the Edmonton Journal. Ashley also knew her way around the University of Manitoba campus to cover coach Brian Dobie’s Bisons, and there might be some high school grid in her resumé, too, because that’s what most of us did back in the day. We started at the bottom and worked our way up. So it seems to me that the boys on the beat should find room for trailblazers like Ashley or Joanne.

Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna has made his annual plea for Dick Thornton’s induction to the CFHF, and I can’t disagree with Sy. Tricky Dick certainly has the bona fides, including two Grey Cup victories with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and multiple all-star salutes, and he also happens to be one of the more colorful characters in CFL lore. Legendary Bombers coach Bud Grant once said this of his defensive back/wannabe quarterback/kick returner/kicker: “When most players arrive in a new town, the first thing they do is phone a girl. When Dick Thornton arrives, he phones a sports writer.”

Tricky Dick had an ego the size of a football field, and here’s how the great columnist Jack Matheson once described him in the Winnipeg Tribune: “The writers and broadcasters treat No. 14 with considerable respect because he’s hot copy, in or out of uniform. His eccentricities are always guaranteed to liven a dull scene and for conversation Thornton holds all records for Blue Bombers of the modern era. The conversation always seems to revolve around Dick Thornton, but he has a magnetism and I’ve never seen anybody walk away from Dick Thornton when his mouth was open.” Another time, Matty wrote this of Thornton: “An incurable extrovert who played harder with his larynx than his limbs.”

Final note on Dick Thornton: The Bombers traded him to the Toronto Argos the same day the Maple Leafs cleared the track and sent Eddie Shack to the Boston Bruins. I guess the Republic of Tranna just wasn’t big enough for two clown acts.

Gino Button and James McKenzie, or is it Craig Reda and Bob Duthie? Either way, it’s scary, kids.

Still getting creepy vibes from those face mashups TSN featured on its NHL trade deadline coverage. It’s clever work by Matty Go Sens, but morphing the faces of Gino Reda and Craig Button into one is the kind of stuff that will keep kids awake at night. Ditto the James Duthie/Bob McKenzie blending. I haven’t been so frightened since Alfred Hitchcock had all those nasty birds attack Tippi Hedren.

This from Steve Simmons: “The top four goaltenders in all-time wins are Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy, Roberto Luongo and now Marc-Andre Fleury. All of them Quebecois. And there’s not a single Quebec goalie of consequence (apologies to Jonathan Bernier) playing in today’s NHL.” Hmmm. Last time I checked, Marc-Andre Fleury was still a Quebecois and leading the NHL in shutouts.

Patrick Marleau will lace ’em up for his 1,768th NHL skirmish on Monday night, moving past Gordie Howe for most games played. It’s a terrific achievement. Worth noting, however, are their birth certificates. Howe was 52 when he finally shut down, Marleau is 41. And, at 52, Howe was a significant contributor for the Hartford Whalers, scoring 15 goals and 41 points in 80 games, plus another two points in three playoff jousts. Marleau is 4-4-8 in what looks to be another lost season for the San Jose Sharks.

And, finally, on the subject of legendary performers, I discovered a DVD of Tony Bennett: An American Classic at a local video story the other day, and I snapped it up immediately. Fan-freaking-tastic. Tony’s duets with Barbra Streisand and our Canadian songbird k.d. lang brought on the water works (sheer brilliance renders me very emotional), and there was only one sour note struck—the November 2006 TV special was far too short, just 42 minutes. I wanted at least an hour more.

Let’s talk about a Yankee Doodle Disaster…the Winnipeg Jets climb toward the top…short skirts on SportsCentre…another bad Brier for the Buffalo Boys…a free ride for Patrick Mahomes’ daughter…owning our words…and other things on my mind

A Monday morning smorgas-bored coming down in 3, 2, 1…and it’s the Ides of March, the day Julius Caesar was slain, so here’s something else that might slay you…

I had a wacko dream the other night. Seriously, it was total Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds stuff.

Except instead of newspaper taxis, cellophane flowers, marmalade skies, and rocking horse people eating marshmallow pies, I saw Mad Dogs and Pirates and Gold Miners and Glieberguys and football players bunked down in a barn and a Vegas lounge lizard.

Oh, and a Rock. There was a Rock with arms thicker than Louisiana gumbo and a bankroll that could choke a Budweiser Clydesdale.

Canadian Football League commissioner Randy Ambrosie was also in the dream. He was talking about talking, and he was excited to be talking about talking. That’s the only part that seemed real, because Commish Randy always seems geeked up about something or other, even when the feds are telling him to take his begging cap and stick it where the sun don’t shine. He’s more upbeat than a 1960s Who concert.

Anyway, Commish Randy wasn’t just talking about talking. He was also talking about crawling into bed with the Rock, and that’s when I stirred from slumber.

“Whoa,” I said to myself, clearing my eyes and wondering if someone had spiked my fish sticks and fries the night before. “That’s some serious whack-a-do dreaming. No way Rouge Football is going down that road again.”

Commish Randy

As we now know, that’s exactly where Commish Randy plans to take the CFL. To the United States of Four Down Football, lock, stock and to hell with the import ratio and rouge.

Naturally, since whispers of an alliance between Rouge Football and The Rock’s XFL became a roar last week, considerable hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing has ensued, much of it because there’s a belief Commish Randy and his CFL overlords are about to sell the very soul of our quirky three-downs game.

You know, just like during the 1990s.

Well, okay, they didn’t completely sell their soul to accommodate a handful of American expansion franchises in the ’90s, but they peddled enough of it to make some of us who were there antsy. We hear that Dwayne Johnson (aka The Rock) and Commish Randy have engaged in something more significant than pillow talk, and we squirm like a fresh batch of hemorrhoids has kicked in.

We remember how the U.S. expansion experiment became a Yankee Doodle Disaster. The CFL was as much a sitcom as it was a sports operation.

Among other things, the end zone at Liberty Bowl Stadium in Memphis was about the size of a cocktail napkin. Bernie and Lonie Glieberman skipped town in Ottawa to set up shop in Shreveport, La., where players were bedded down on the second floor of a milking barn during training camp. The Glieberguys fired their head coach, John Huard, before the opening kickoff. Pepper Rodgers, chief cook and bottle washer of the Memphis Mad Dogs, liked everything about the CFL except the rules, and he was never shy about critiquing the quirkiness of our game.

“You Canadians can sit around and do what you want up there in Canada,” he said, “but no one understands the rules here because we have some really weird stuff in this league.”

Dennis K.C. Parks

In Glitter Gulch, meanwhile, the Las Vegas Posse sometimes practiced in the parking lot of the Riviera Hotel, and they once attracted 2,350 customers to a game at Sam Boyd Stadium. That is not a typo. Do not adjust your screen. Just 2,350 fans. They played their final home game in Edmonton. The Posse also trotted out a lounge singer named Dennis K.C. Parks, who mangled O Canada so badly that it became the biggest strain on 49th parallel relations since the torching of the White House.

So, ya, any hint of Rouge Football mixing with the twice-failed XFL sets off alarm bells.

But, as was the case in the 1990s, the CFL needs money like a vagabond needs a hot meal and a bath, and I can think of worse people for them to hook up with than the Rock and his ex-bride, Dany Garcia.

Vince McMahon

After washing out as a player with the Calgary Stampeders, Johnson found fame as a faux fighter with Vince McMahon’s WWE wrestling troupe, then became boffo box office by conquering Hollywood. Along the way, he grew very deep pockets and, according to Celebrity Net Worth, the mega-movie star is valued at $400 million. Garcia comes in at $20M, thus the $15M they forked over to purchase McMahon’s XFL table scraps last summer is chump change.

Money can’t buy credibility, though, so you can color me skeptical.

I don’t see a second venture into the land of stars, stripes and the maskless happening. It would be as calamitous as a Trump presidency. But, hey, I’ve misread the tea leaves before. I mean, I never imagined Rosie O’Donnell would make me laugh, but she was funny in A League of Their Own. So maybe a CFL-XFL will happen. Maybe they’ll make a go of it this time around. And maybe Johnny Manziel will collect as many Super Bowl rings as Tom Brady.

Let me just say this about all that: If there is a CFL-XFL and they take away the rouge, add a down, take away a player, shrink the field, or if I hear the regrettable Dennis K.C. Parks clearing his throat, they’ll lose me.

So, the Winnipeg Jets made a pilgrimage to the Republic of Tranna and took five of a possible six points from the Maple Leafs. Is there any doubt which is the best National Hockey League outfit on the northern tundra? Didn’t think so.

I still don’t like the Jets blueline, but no team in the Hoser Division knows how to play defence, so it’s a moot point.

I might be in the minority, but I won’t miss the all-Canadian house league next season. It’s too much same old, same old for my taste.

Yes, I realize Patrik Laine wanted out of Good Ol’ Hometown and the Jets obliged, but that doesn’t mean we should take glee in his struggles with the Columbus Blue Jackets. I don’t like bullies and his coach, John Tortorella, is a bully, so I feel sorry for the kid.

Just wondering, is it my imagination, or are the hemlines on TSN SportsCentre getting higher? And, if so, are the lady anchors being instructed to wear their skirts/dresses that short, or is it by choice?

Brendan Bottcher, Darren Moulding, Brad Thiessen and Karrick Martin.

Oh, woe are our male Pebble People. The Mike McEwen and Jason Gunnlaughson teams left the Brier bubble in Calgary battered and bruised, which means our Buffalo Boys remain stalled at 1-for-the-2000s. It’s one thing to have a bad year, but a bad century? Only Jeff Stoughton and pals have managed to get the job done, winning back in 2011, so these are very lean times. Meanwhile, Alberta outfits have lapped the field at the Canadian men’s curling championship, with Brendan Bottcher’s success on Sunday the 12th title this century for the boys from Wild Rose Country. Along with the dozen Brier wins, there have been three Scotties Tournament of Hearts titles from Alberta women in the 2000s. Manitoba’s Pebble People have combined for nine. So perhaps it’s time I conceded that Wild Rose Country, not our Keystone Province, is the Curling Capital Of The World. Naw. Not going there. Can’t go there.

I had the over/under at five draws for the first F-bomb at the Brier. Turns out the cuss word landed during the third match I watched. Never heard one F-bomb during the Scotties, and I still don’t understand why the boys get all potty-mouthed while the women can keep it clean.

One place you will never find my name: The list of Relevant People on Twitter.

Golf’s Incredible Bulk, Bryson DeChambeau

I don’t like to cheer against athletes, but I’d rather not see Bryson DeChambeau win another tournament. Golf’s incredible bulk is an irksome fellow, especially when he says things like, “I don’t think you can Bryson-proof a golf course.” Is that confidence or arrogance? I tend to think it’s the latter. So you’ll have to excuse me for rooting for the field against him at the Players Championship on Sunday.

Here’s something you don’t hear too often: An athlete misses the media. It’s true. Belarusian tennis player Aryna Sabalenka had a natter with news snoops recently, and she got all warm-and-fuzzy, if not touchy-feely. “I prefer to see you guys in person actually,” she said. “I prefer that everything gets back to normal life. I feel okay with this kind of Zoom press conference, but I feel better emotionally to see each other and to have this eye contact when you guys ask me some questions.” Aw shucks.

Talk about robbing the cradle. Texas Tech has offered Sterling Skye Mahomes a full soccer scholarship, which wouldn’t be notable except Sterling Skye isn’t even a month old. Her parents, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Brittany Matthews, received the scholarship offer two days after the baby was born. So let me get this straight: Mahomes recently signed a contract that will pay him $450 million over the next 10 years, and his kid needs a free ride?

So what’s the new term for when a spoiled six-year-old kid in the playground takes his ball and goes home because he thinks the other kids are being mean? Pulling a Piers Morgan.

Meyers Leondard

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of sports figures spewing racist, homophobic or bigoted bile, then expecting us to believe that they aren’t actually racist, homophobic or bigoted.

The latest to join that list is Meyers Leonard, a Miami Heat centre caught uttering an anti-Jewish slur while live-streaming video game play.

“This is not a proper representation of who I am,” he insisted in his mea culpa.

The National Basketball Association believed Leonard, but still fined him $50,000 and the Heat ordered him to go stand in a corner and also seek guidance.

But Leonard’s “that isn’t who I am” defence is far too commonplace. Some examples:

  • Justin Thomas

    Golfer Justin Thomas, after dropping a gay F-bomb during a recent tournament: “It’s not a word I use. It’s not who I am. It’s not the kind of person that I am.”

  • Baseball broadcaster Thom Brennaman, who dropped an anti-gay F-bomb during a broadcast: “That is not who I am and never has been.”

  • Heavyweight boxer Tyson Fury, who said being gay is one of three things that will lead to the apocalypse and homosexuality equals pedophilia: “I’m not homophobic, I’m not racist.”

  • Baseball player Kevin Pillar, after dropping an anti-gay F-bomb: “This is not who I am.”

  • Chris Culliver of the San Francisco 49ers, who said he doesn’t want gay teammates: “Those discriminating feelings are truly not in my heart. It’s not what I feel in my heart.”

  • James Harrison of Pittsburgh Steelers, dropping the anti-gay F-bomb on NFL commish Roger Goodell: “I am not a homophobic bigot.”

  • Joakim Noah of the Chicago Bulls, dumping the gay F-bomb on a fan: “Anybody who knows me knows that I’m not like that.”

  • Josh Hader of the Milwaukee Brewers, who issued a series of anti-gay remarks on social media: “That doesn’t resemble the person I am now. Those are not my beliefs at all. They never were my beliefs.”

  • The late Kobe Bryant, who lashed out at a referee with the anti-gay F-bomb: “The words expressed do NOT express my feelings towards the gay and lesbian communities and were NOT meant to offend anyone.”

Words matter. If you say it, own it. Then try to get better.

And, finally, my idea of March Madness has nothing to do with American college hoops and everything to do with reading dispatches from the Republic of Tranna when the Maple Leafs take their predictable nose dive.