About the Three Lions…Winnipeg Blue Bombers taking a hit at the box office…that empty feeling at BMO Field…the Neymar dive-writhe-and-roll…Tiger vs. Lefty…Shapo vs. Milos…the Nayl Gun does Johnny Rotten…CFL power rankings…and other things on my mind

Bacon, eggs, toast, but no bangers or beans, and some leftover thoughts for a Monday morning breakfast

I have Irish blood pumping through my veins—or so I’ve been told—and I know the Irish and British have had their squabbles through the centuries, but I’ve got no quarrel with them, so I’m root, root, rooting for England in the World Cup? Go Harry Kane and all you Three Lions!

In the good news-bad news department, I present the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

First the glad tidings: The local lads delivered a proper paddywhacking to the B.C. Lions on Saturday evening, a result that leveled their performance sheet at 2-2 and puts them on equal footing with the Edmonton Eskimos and Saskatchewan Roughriders in the mosh pit that is the West Division of the Canadian Football League.

Now for the bad tidings: The head count at Football Follies Field was 26,567. Measured against any franchise in the eastern precinct of the land, that’s a boffo bit of business. Measured against their own bottom line, not so much.

Winnipeg FC has attracted 52,025 to its fancy digs in Fort Garry for the first two home skirmishes of this Grey Cup crusade, down 3,225 from Games 1-2 a year ago. That’s a minimum of $90,000 in lost ticket revenue (based on a $28 ticket), and only the club bean counters and Wade Miller know how much of a hit they’ve taken in concessions and merchandise. Do the math and the Bombers are staring at a dip of $405,000 (minimum) in ticket sales for their nine home dates unless there’s a sharp reversal. Ouch.

It could always be worse, of course. In the Republic of Tranna, home of the Grey Cup champion Argonauts, only 12,196 souls were coerced into spending Saturday afternoon at BMO Field, where quarterback James Franklin put up a surprising W in his first start in Ricky Ray’s stead. Total for two home dates in TROT: 28,656. Seriously, how long can the Argos stay in business? And should those of us in the colonies care?

It’s 11 a.m., does Senators Nation know where Erik Karlsson is?

Aside to any National Hockey League outfit that might be contemplating a contract offer for wife-beating, disgraced defenceman Slava Voynov: Just say “no” to Slava.

Why is it that when any of our baseball, football or hockey teams prevent a foe from scoring, we call it “a shutout” but soccer people call it “a clean sheet?”

Neymar

Does anybody miss the Neymar dive-writhe-and-roll at the World Cup? I do. The Brazilian’s antics were comedy gold, even if his thespian skills are suspect. Jim Calder, acting coach from the University of New York, provided the New York Times with this critique: “Neymar does what all beginning actors do. They oversell the event. All humans are acting. You learn when you’re a baby. If I cry, my mother will come over. If I cry, this guy will get a red card. It’s the same thing.”

I note that Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are talking about a mano-a-mano, winner-take-all $10-million challenge in Las Vegas. Apparently, both golf legends have agreed to a special concession that allows ol’ Lefty to hire English goalkeeper Jordan Pickford as his caddy. Pickford won’t be carrying Mickelson’s clubs, though. His sole duty will be to block any of Phil’s putts that roll past the hole and are in danger of skidding off the green.

What’s the over/under on how many restricted free agents Kevin Cheveldayoff will sign this week? Three? I have a hunch the Winnipeg Jets general manager will deal with most of his pertinent paper work swiftly, and that includes Jacob Trouba.

Milos Raonic

I’ve read and heard a lot about how Denis Shapovalov had usurped Milos Raonic as Canada’s top tennis player, an assessment based solely on one match between the two and the world tennis rankings. But look who’s still playing at Wimbledon. That’s right, Raonic, not Shapo, who can’t advance through the second round of any tournament that matters. I never bought into the Shapo over-hype. He’s a terrific, young talent (although far too geeked-up on court for my tastes). He might be the best tennis talent every produced in our country. But, for now, the kid’s still on training wheels. The gushing last year after wins over Rafa Nadal and Juan Martin del Potro should have been tempered.

TSN just won’t let the Johnny Manziel narrative go. In the wake of the CFL’s four Week 4 matches, there was plenty of fodder for interesting chatter, but not at TSN. Rather than talk about quarterbacks who actually played in the games, it always has been and, apparently, always will be about the Hamilton Tiger-Cats backup QB for TSN’s gab guys. Thus, Frick and Frack (more commonly know as Jay and Dan) invited football insider Dave Naylor to their show for something they call the Nayl Gun. Here’s how it went:

Dan: “At this pace, I don’t see Johnny Manziel hitting the field at all for the Ticats.”

Naylor: “I’ll tell ya, if you’d taken a hundred people who’ve studied the Ticats quarterback situation and said, ‘Do you think they’ll get to the bye week without Johnny Manziel taking a snap?’ a hundred people would have told you ‘No way’ and I’d have been to the front of the line. Look Jeremiah Masoli played really well, he’s had three 300-yard games, four 300-yard games, but the one issue that I think has been there, there’s been two games—Week 1 in Calgary and the other night in Saskatchewan—you know, he had the ball in his hands late in the game, down by less than a touchdown, and he couldn’t produce a win. Until he does that, I think there’s still gonna be a lot of scrutiny over his play. Will Johnny Manziel go through the year without getting on the field? No way. He’s gonna play at some point, and I think we’re getting close to that time. Is it possible he doesn’t start all season? I do think that’s possible because Jeremiah Masoli has earned the right to stay as the Ticats starter.”

Jay: “What do you think is more likely…gonna throw you a quick one here…more likely that he plays for the Tabbies this season or gets traded at some point this season?”

Jeremiah Masoli

Naylor: “I think it’s far more likely he plays. Look, if we get to the end of this year and Jeremiah Masoli puts up the kind of numbers he put through the first four weeks, I think we will see a trade in the off-season. And I think there’s an understanding, ‘Hey, Johnny Manziel committed for two years in the Canadian Football League,’ but after a year of backing up, the Ticats would owe it to him to either trade Jeremiah Masoli or to trade him to somewhere where he can get on the field. So, I think a trade this season, highly unlikely, a trade within the division ever is unlikely, but can I see him traded out west or Masoli traded out west after the year? Ya I could.”

Yo! Boys! It ain’t news until Johnny Rotten actually takes a snap. Until then, talk about the guys who are, as Matt Dunigan would say, gettin’ ‘er done.

And, finally, this week’s CFL power rankings:

1. Calgary (3-0): Only unbeaten outfit will be tested by the RedBlacks in Ottawa.
2. Winnipeg (2-2): Highest scoring outfit in the league, and defence stepped up vs. B.C.
3. Ottawa (2-1): We’ll know if RedBlacks are the real deal this week.
4. Hamilton (2-2): Seriously? A loss to the Roughriders?
5. Edmonton (2-2): Seriously? A loss to the Argonauts?
6. Saskatchewan: (2-2): I don’t care if they beat the Ticats; Chris Jones has created a mess.
7. B.C. (1-2): Quarterback issues aren’t going away.
8. Toronto (1-2): The win over the Eskimos is an anomoly.
9. Montreal (1-3): Really bad in either official language.

Advertisements

About RIP for Winnipeg Jets 1.0…good reads…a tip of the chapeau to Shapo…separated at birth…a wedgie for Frasier and Niles Crane…big-belly baseball…fancy skating music…and great balls of Three Stooges humor

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

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, we are gathered here today to pay final respects to a dear friend, one who warmed our hearts on many a frigid winter night even as our car batteries froze and rendered our vehicles blocks of ice: The Winnipeg Jets 1.0 are dead. Officially.

Cause of death: Retirement, Shane Doan.
Time of death: Wednesday, Aug. 30.
Place of death: Phoenix, Arizona.

Shane Doan

Jets 1.0 will be remembered for many things and when Doan, the final remnant of that storied but not gloried National Hockey League franchise, excused himself from active duty last week in a letter to an Arizona newspaper, his surrender to Father Time at age 40 stirred submerged recollections and raised them to the surface.

Doan was the last on-ice link to Jets 1.0, but I remember those who were there at the beginning, a motley, rag-tag assortment of earnest but overmatched men who conspired to win just 20 of 80 skirmishes in 1979-80, the first of the franchise’s 17 crusades in River City before fleeing like carpetbaggers to the southern United States, specifically the Arizona desert, where the Jets morphed into the Phoenix Coyotes and Doan played another 20 seasons.

There will be no attempt here to romanticize Winnipeg’s first whirl in the NHL, because each year the hope of autumn was trumped by the disappointment of spring and, of course, the day of the long faces arrived in 1996 when the moving vans pulled up to the loading docks at the ol’ barn on Maroons Road.

That, however, is not to say we were without events (Tuxedo Night) and moments (Dave Ellett’s overtime goal) to remember. And people. Especially people.

None cast a longer shadow than John Bowie Ferguson, the cigar-chomping, heart-on-his-sleeve, Jets-tattoo-on-his-butt general manager who stoked unbridled passion in players and patrons. Fergy, crusty on the outside but a cream puff inside, brought the Jets into the NHL and delivered at least one outfit (1984-85) of genuine Stanley Cup mettle. Alas, Dale Hawerchuk’s shattered ribs (a pox on your house, Jamie Macoun) and the Edmonton Oilers stood in their way.

We tend to posit that the Oilers forever stood in Jets 1.0’s way, but that isn’t accurate.

At the outset, for example, the NHL conspired to ransack the roster that had captured the final World Hockey Association title in the spring of ’79. Repatriated by their original NHL clubs were Kent Nilsson, Terry Ruskowski, Rich Preston, Barry Long and Kim Clackson, among others. Left behind was no-hope.

Still, I harbor a healthy fondness for that outfit, led by jocular head coach Tom McVie and Lars-Erik Sjoberg, the original team captain with the Barney Rubble body and the Zen-like calm on the blueline.

The Shoe is gone now, as are Fergy, assistant head coach Sudsy Sutherland and, with the retirement of Shane Doan, the Jets 1.0. What remains, materially, is a paper trail of franchise records, an all-time roster and a couple of banners that hang in the Gila River Arena in Glendale, Ariz., where they don’t belong (that’s a discussion for another day).

So the book on Jets 1.0 is closed. It’s not a great book (it needed a Stanley Cup for that), but it’s a good book. Having been there and known a lot of the characters, it’s one of my favorite books.

On the subject of preferred reading material, here are my top-five all-time fave sports books…
1. The Boys of Summer, Roger Kahn
2. Bang the Drum Slowly, Mark Harris
3. The Game, Ken Dryden
4. Instant Replay, Jerry Kramer
5. Paper Lion, George Plimpton

I’d never be so presumptuous as to suggest I know more about tennis than Mats Wilander, but I’m thinking the multi-Grand Slam-champion Swede might want to put the brakes on his gushing about our guy Denis Shapovalov. “It’s like watching a combination of (Rafael) Nadal and (Roger) Federer at 18 years old,” Wilander says. “He has the fire of Nadal and the speed around the court of Nadal and he has the grace of Federer. It’s unbelievable.” Geez, why stop there, Mats? Surely Super Shapo is also faster than a speeding bullet, can leap tall buildings in a single bound and changes into his tennis togs in a phone booth. Sorry, but comparing Shapovalov to Nadal and Federer is a tad premature and likely the kind of hype the Canadian kid can do without.

Martina Navratilova and Denis Shapovalov: Separated at birth?

Is it just me, or does anyone else notice something eerily and strikingly similar between Shapovalov and tennis legend Martina Navratilova? I know they weren’t separated a birth, but it’s almost as if Shapo is channeling the great champion. The athleticism, the left-handed power, the one-handed backhands, the muscles, the oversized left forearms, the animation, the hair, the look. It’s as if they’re mother and son.

Globe and Mail headline this week: “How much should Canada expect of Denis Shapovalov?” Well, we don’t have the right to expect anything of him at the current U.S. Open, where he bowed out in the round of 16 on Sunday, or at any of his globe-trotting ports of call. All we can do is root, root, root for our home boy and hope he doesn’t pitch an on-court fit and whack another match umpire in the eye with a tennis ball.

Alexander Zverev

I’m not sure what was worse, Alexander Zverev wearing a pair of ghastly knee-high socks in his one-and-done match at the U.S. Open, or that the high school cheerleader things cost $35 a pair. I’m thinking that the German whiz kid’s outfit is something that would have earned the nerdy Frasier and Niles Crane a series of wedgies while at prep school.

TSN’s excellent reporter Dave Naylor has promoted the notion of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats pursuing bad boy quarterback Johnny Manziel, while Steve Simmons of Postmedia has floated the idea of a Manziel-Toronto Argonauts union. I have a better idea: The Canadian Football League just says “no” to any players or coaches with a history of domestic violence.

Still can’t wrap my head around the sports media reacting with such ferocity over the Ticats hiring of contaminated coach Art Briles, who apparently looked the other way while his players at Baylor University were sexually assaulting and raping women, yet they spent a week in Las Vegas glorifying a man who spent two months in jail for beating up a woman. How can they possibly rationalize their position that Briles should not be allowed to work but serial woman-beater Floyd Mayweather Jr. should be?

CC Sabathia

New York Yankees hurler CC Sabathia was in a high-class snit last week because the Boston Red Sox had the bad manners to bunt on him. Yo! CC! Next time you see McDonald’s golden arches, skip the Big Macs and large fries and it might not be so hard to bend down and pick up a baseball.

The good news is, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League will pay players anywhere from a floor of $2,000 to a ceiling of $10,000 in the upcoming season. The bad news is, $2,000-$10,000 probably works out to about .20 cents-to-$1 a shift. Kidding aside, there is no bad news. It’s a good place to start. And it doesn’t matter that each club’s salary cap ($100,000) is less than CC Sabathia’s monthly grocery bill.

Apparently, the great “mystery” has been solved: Canada’s fancy skating team of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir will perform their free skate at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea to music from Moulin Rouge. I don’t know about you, but I’m soooo relieved to know that. I mean, I was convinced they’d be skating to something cheesey by Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky or Nickelback. I’ll sleep so much better now. (Yes, that’s sarcasm.)

Kate Beirness and Jennifer Hedger

In the Department of WTF, it appears that video of men getting whacked in the testicles by baseballs, cricket balls and tennis balls is what now passes for high humor on TSN’s Sports Centre. I say that because two of the station’s stable of gab girls, Kate Beirness and Jennifer Hedger, devoted a segment of their late-night show on Thursday to dudes getting drilled in the knackers, or, as Hedger described the male genitalia, “pills.” Was it just me, or did anyone else find it awkwardly inappropriate that two women would be having great sport with men taking one to the junk? I mean, I suppose it’s giggle-worthy in a Three Stooges kind of way, but c’mon, girls don’t dig the Three Stooges. Leave the nyuk-nyuks and noogies to Jay and Dan.

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

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

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

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

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

Ed Tait
Ed Tait

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Rose
Pete Rose

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

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

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

Michael Sam
Michael Sam

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

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

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

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