Let’s talk about death threats and bomb threats in Good Ol’ Hometown…the Buddha and Brees…Jackie Robinson and the American flag…Chris Cuthbert goes over the wall…another jock journo out of work…the Winnipeg Sun’s six-pack…and Fidel Castro’s angst

At first blush, the inclination was to suggest that Khari Jones had it all wrong. That he was misremembering.

Khari Jones

I mean, death threats? To the Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback? Naw. Can’t be.

Look, I realize the football faithful in Good Ol’ Hometown can be a demanding lot. They’ll turn on a starting QB faster than Judas on Jesus (hello Dieter Brock, Matt Nichols, etc.), and they’ll get louder and more ornery as the beer snakes grow longer and longer in the fourth quarter of a losing skirmish.

But threaten to snuff him out? That’s something you’d rather not believe.

Except as Jones told the tale the other day, his nose wasn’t growing and his pants weren’t on fire.

He delivered his revelation in a calm, matter-of-fact cadence, like he was telling us what he had for lunch or what his kids ordered the last time at a McDonald’s drive-thru. He even smiled, almost as if he recognized that some among the rabble might suggest there was a tich of far-fetchedness to the disturbing narrative of his 2002 Canadian Football League crusade.

“In Winnipeg,” Jones began, “I received death threats, you know, because my wife is a different color than me. We had police officers staying at our house, kinda patrolling our house while I was at away games. There was a series of letters, and I still have those letters.”

I don’t know about you, but those words produce chilling imagery for me:

Justine Jones

A woman—Jones’ bride Justine—home alone with her newborn, Jaelyn, while hubby and dad is flinging footballs hundreds of miles away, unable to protect his family from a wingnut lurking in the shadows of a darkening night. The stalker might have a gun. Or a knife. Maybe both. Stealth, slow-moving cop cars appear in the haze of dimly lit lamp posts, then disappear into the same darkness that protects the unseen scoundrel, prepared to pounce. It’s positively Hitchcockian.

It was just one person, we’re told, a racist who believes black and white belong together on piano keyboards, salt-and-pepper shakers and Oreo cookies, but not in the skin hue of a married couple. He penned a dozen letters to Jones, each peppered with vulgar language and threats. He was never caught.

Eighteen years later, Jones is finally talking about it because racism is the topic du jour in North America and he recognizes that his is a story people need to hear, even if they’d prefer not to hear it.

It’s the kind of stuff that gives pause for ponder, and you try to convince yourself that such a level of hate can’t possibly exist in Good Ol’ Hometown.

I was born, raised and spent most of my working life in Winnipeg and, sure, I recognize that racists, bigots, homophobes, etc. walk among the throng, but death threats because a quarterback is black and his bride is white? Come on, man, isn’t that supposed to be a 1960s Alabama thing? If only.

Truth is, I had my own close encounter with one of the wackos back in the day.

It was late March of 1979 and, with the Parti Québécois beating the separatist drums with gusto, the political climate was a tinderbox. Anti-Québec sentiment flowed freely in Western Canada and peaked in full, ugly voice the night the Finnish National B shinny side was in town for a friendly with the Winnipeg Jets, then still the World Hockey Association’s flagship franchise but soon to be a charter member of the National Hockey League.

Because the skirmish was televised locally on the CBC’s English and French channels, public address announcements were delivered in both our official languages. That didn’t work so well.

Each time PA announcer Germain Massicotte would parlez vous, the audience of 10,113 filled the Old Barn On Maroons Road with a robust chorus of boos, which ramped up in volume with each word he uttered en francais. By the time Morris Lukowich scored in overtime, Massicotte’s voice had totally disappeared beneath the might of the anti-Québec outpouring.

“It was kind of rude,” said young Rich Gosselin, a product of nearby St. Malo and one of two francophones wearing Jets linen that night.

Bobby Guindon

“I just consider the source,” muttered Bobby Guindon, the veteran forward who, a year ealier, had been anointed most valuable player in the Jets championship crusade.

Like Gosselin and Guindon, I was unamused, so I scribbled as essay in the Winnipeg Tribune, giving the booing, bigoted boors a stern tsk-tsking.

“Winnipeg, if this is how you’re going to act next season when you’re in the National Hockey League, then you don’t deserve to see the Montreal Canadiens,” is how I signed off.

The following morning, the ringing of my kitchen telephone stirred me from slumber. It was a man. An angry man. He didn’t appreciate the tone of my column and volunteered to provide me with one-way passage to the Great Beyond. Yup, he’d bomb my house. Blow it up, me and my family with it. Apparently, that’s what you do with a “frog lover.”

Unlike Khari Jones, I didn’t call the cops. I told the boys at work about the bomb threat and we had a giggle, although I must confess mine was a bit of a nervous chuckle and there was some skittishness to my step for a few days.

But, hey, that house on Leighton Avenue in East Kildonan is still standing, a block away from the Red River, and I’m still ticking, so I guess the guy had a bad batch of dynamite or he was a graduate of the Wile E. Coyote School of Mayhem.

I don’t know if you’ve been following Paul Friesen’s work on the Khari Jones file for the Winnipeg Sun, but it’s boffo stuff. Top drawer in every way. Makes me proud that I played a part in poaching Paul from CJOB all those many years ago, and it all began with a chance meeting in a checkout line at the Safeway on Roslyn Road in Osborne Village. So, if you like Paul’s work, kudos to him. If you don’t like it, blame me.

Really hard to believe the boys at the Drab Slab basically ignored the Jones death-threat narrative, except to run one Canadian Press piece. That’s shoddy. Or lazy. Maybe both.

The Donald and Drew.

Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks are supposed to be bright guys. They aren’t allowed to be the dullest knife in the drawer, although Terry Bradshaw tests that theory every time he opens his squawkbox on Fox Sports NFL coverage. So what’s Drew Brees’ excuse for being such a D’Oh Boy? I mean, seriously, he thought Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling protest was about the American flag and not social injustice and police brutality? That’s like believing the Bible is porn. But wait. The New Orleans Saints QB experienced an awakening, as if he’d shared a bodhi tree with the Buddha, and a couple of days after dumbing down he was schooling Donald Trump, advising the Commander-in-Chaos that kneeling protests have “never” been about the Stars ‘n’ Stripes. I swear, we haven’t seen a retreat that rapid since Tiger Woods’ wife came at him with a 9-iron. Makes you wonder how Buddha Brees ever mastered the Saints playbook.

Every time I hear someone like Brees rage against Kaepernick and other National Football League kneelers, branding them as disrespectful ingrates, I am reminded of this excerpt from baseball legend Jackie Robinson’s book, I Never Had It Made: “There I was, the black grandson of a slave, the son of a black sharecropper, part of a historic occasion, a symbolic hero to my people. The air was sparkling. The sunlight was warm. The band struck up the national anthem. The flag billowed in the wind. It should have been a glorious moment for me as the stirring words of the national anthem poured from the stands. Perhaps, it was, but then again, perhaps, the anthem could be called the theme song for a drama called The Noble Experiment. Today, as I look back on that opening game of my first world series, I must tell you that it was Mr. Rickey’s drama and that I was only the principal actor. As I write this twenty years later, I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world. In 1972, in 1947, at my birth in 1919, I know that I never had it made.” So there.

Jennifer Hedger

The other night on TSN SportsCentre, anchor Jennifer Hedger said racism is an “uncomfortable” conversation. Why? And who’s uncomfortable? Before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down social gatherings, my friends and I discussed racism, bigotry, homophobia, sexism, etc. on numerous occasions, with zero discomfort.

Big shakeup in the Tower of Babble On, with Chris Cuthbert defecting from TSN football to Sportsnet and Hockey Night in Canada. Initial reaction: Geez, can he take Glen Suitor with him?

Apparently Suitor was unavailable for comment on his longtime sidekick’s departure. “He’s still in rehab after having his nose surgically removed from Keith Urban’s butt,” a TSN spokesperson familiar with the situation confirmed.

Chris Cuthbert

Seriously, this is an opportunity for TSN to bring a new, fresh sound to its Canadian Football League broadcasts. Surely there’s a vibrant, young voice out there who can slide behind Cuthbert’s play-by-play mic and, at the same time, they can spare us another season of groupie Glen’s gushing over Urban. If they insist on going with the old guard, I say give the job to Gord Miller, who’s solid whenever he calls Rouge Football. And, for gawd’s sake, keep Kate Beirness away from the CFL on TSN panel.

Oh, dear, the body count continues to grow in the toy department, and Ken Wiebe is among the latest casualties. The Athletic slashed salary and scribes the other day, handing out 46 pink slips, and that leaves Murat Ates to fly solo on the Jets beat. I never met Ken, but I’m told he’s one of the good guys, and we can only wonder when this carnage will end and who’ll be left standing.

The Winnipeg Sun made it through the week without anyone heading to the pogey line, but the overlords at Postmedia have decided to eliminate one day of the week—Monday. Commencing June 22, the tabloid will become a six-days-a-week print publication (Tuesday-Sunday), which means they’ll be a day late and a dollar short whenever something big breaks on the Sabbath. You know, like the Bombers winning the Grey Cup. Or—dare to dream—the Jets hoisting the Stanley Cup on a Sunday.

And, finally, news that the Sun is becoming a six-pack provided reflection on my time with the tabloid.

Now in its 40th year (the official anniversary date is Nov. 5), the Sun wasn’t supposed to have a shelf life longer than four months, never mind four decades, but a three-days-a-week sheet bulked up to a seven-day production in 1992, and they’ve been going toe-to-toe with the Goliath on Mountain Avenue every morning since.

You don’t survive that long unless you deliver something the rabble is looking for and, in the case of the tabloid, that’s meant a heavy emphasis on cops and robbers, entertainment and, of course, sports scribbling served with sizable portions of sass, irreverence and 200-point headlines.

Oops. Almost forgot Page 3 (or was it Page 2?), which once featured a damsel in her scantilly-clads and heels as high as a giraffe’s forehead.

The Sunshine Girl was just one of the oddball things we did at the Sun. I also recall management’s curious fascination for Panda bears, and there was a cheeky promo during the 1999 Pan American Games that attracted the attention of El Presidenté, Fidel Castro.

Fidel Castro

Seems ol’ Cigar Breath was so distraught over Cuban defectors prior to/during the Games that it became the focal point of his annual Revolution Day natter, with the Bearded One barking about “traps and tricks” and “schemes” and “filth.”

We ran a “guess the number of Cuban defectors” contest, offering airfare and a one-week vacation in Havana, cigars not included.

“If this is a goodwill gesture, it is a perverse one,” noted José Fernandez, president of the Cuban Olympic Committee.

I don’t recall if it was eight or 10 Cubans who went over the wall during the Pan Ams, but that was us—the perverse paper.

Let’s talk about the challenges of the Bombers and Jets…Big Buff is done as a useful member of Winnipeg HC…Doug Brown wondering if the Canadian Mafia has tapped out…when in doubt call Pinball…is Coach Grunge destined for The ROT?…a Rhapsody in Ramble On…and Ponytail Puck

A hump day smorgas-bored…and let’s hope this is the only hump in your week…

These are fretsome times on the playgrounds of Good Ol’ Hometown.

I mean, there’s still plenty of grass to grab, but many among the rabble have already stuck a fork in the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, whose 29th annual rebuilding year is beginning to resemble the first 28.

Oh, sure, our football heroes have secured a ticket to next month’s post-season frolic, but recent developments (three-game skid, flat-lining offence) indicate they’ll earn nothing more than a participation badge and, soon enough, we’ll hear much talk of backing up the truck to load and haul away Kyle Walters’ belongings. And Mike O’Shea’s. And Richie Hall’s. And Paul LaPolice’s.

Wade Miller

That would make CEO Wade Miller the last man standing, and some of us had it figured to be that way all along.

But maybe we should let this thing play out before calling the moving company, no?

Like many of you, I don’t think Chris Streveler is a Grey Cup-quality quarterback, but I didn’t think Sean Salisbury was either, and he has a Grey Cup ring. The fact that the Bombers copped the 1988 Canadian Football League crown in spite of Salisbury, not because of him, might win you an argument in a pub, but it doesn’t mean he has to return the jewelry. A title is a title is a title.

So if Salisbury can win a Coupe de Grey, why not Tim Tebow In A Toque?

I know, I know. Streveler isn’t much for throwing the football. He tosses the rock like it’s…well, a rock. But, then, Salisbury wasn’t the second coming of Dieter Brock, either. More than half his passes landed on the ground or in the wrong hands (26 picks before being kicked off the team in 1989), but he benefited from a take-no-prisoners defensive dozen that arrived at the ball yard in a bad mood and stayed in snarl mode for three hours.

“We didn’t have what you would call a traditional quarterback in Sean Salisbury who might have looked like he couldn’t get it done, but we realized as long as he didn’t jack it up, we would still win,” rollicking linebacker James (Wild) West once told Ed Tait of bluebombers.com.

Chris Streveler

The same goes for Streveler. Just don’t “jack it up” like he did last Saturday v. the Saskatchewan Roughriders (two picks, one spilled ball) on the Flattest of Lands, and there’s hope, albeit faint.

Go ahead and accuse me of typing with rose-tinted glasses, and maybe I am, but I believe the CFL West Division remains a crap shoot and the Bombers aren’t completely out of the discussion.

All the same, it might be an idea to have the moving company keep the trucks on standby. Parked near the loading dock, of course.

Meantime, it’s about the Winnipeg Jets who, unlike the Bombers, can score, but perhaps not frequently enough once they get into the deep grind of the National Hockey League season.

The local shinny side, now 2-2 after a unexpected and admirable 4-1 victory over the Penguins on Tuesday night in Pittsburgh, features a blueline corps that has no business calling itself an NHL defence, and it doesn’t help that Dustin Byfuglien remains in limbo.

Or does Big Buff’s absence really matter, other than his wage impacting the salary cap?

Big Buff

Don’t run off with the notion that Byfuglien will provide a quick fix on the blueline if and when he returns from his personal Tour de Navel. Big Buff does his best work when the puck is on his stick, not when the guys on the other side have it and he’s scrambling to make up for his latest gaffe.

That’s not to say the second coming of Buff wouldn’t provide some benefit, but, given that he can’t possibly be in game trim (as if anything about Buff is ever trim), he might add nothing more than comic relief.

There is, of course, a school of thought that Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff should declare a state of urgency and instruct Byfuglien to fish or cut bait. That is, if he’s going to retire, fine. Sign the papers and they can free up $7.6 million in cap space. If he’s going to return, get his big butt back on the blueline. Pronto.

What’s the point of that, though? You want a guy who’s not physically/mentally NHL-ready in your lineup? There are enough of them already.

Reality is, retire or return, Byfuglien has excused himself from the Jets’ future. I mean, if he lacks the jam to join them for this crusade, I can’t imagine he’ll feel any differently a year from now. Let’s face it, he’s done as a useful member of Winnipeg HC. Even if he chooses to return a week or a month from now, they should trade him at that point and get on with it. Look, the Jets would be iffy to qualify for Beard Season with Buff in harness, so it’s not like he’s the difference between a Stanley Cup parade or just another day in late June.

The Canadian Mafia: Mike O’Shea, Wade Miller, Kyle Walters.

Interesting take on the Bombers from Doug Brown in the Drab Slab. Noting management’s failure to land a seasoned QB to prop up Streveler for the final playoff push, the former D-lineman wondered if Miller, Walters and O’Shea had waved the surrender cloth. “So with Matt Nichols done for the year, and a guaranteed playoff game, has this management team that has always attacked issues and problems at a fever pitch, decided this is as good as it gets at the most critical position on the field?” he wrote earlier this week of Winnipeg FC going all-in with Streveler. He then suggested remaining status quo “makes you think the team is ok with using the Matt Nichols injury as the reason the season went off the rails.” As much as I applaud Doug’s calling out the Canadian Mafia, numerous reports indicated Winnipeg FC had, in fact, pitched woo only to find no takers in a QB hunt that didn’t end until they took brittle Zach Collaros hostage from the Tranna Argonauts, at the 11th hour on trade deadline Wednesday. But, trust me, even had they lured Kevin Glenn off his couch, he was never going to be the answer, and I have my doubts about Collaros and his squishy grey matter. The Bombers didn’t tap out, but they brought in an insurance policy that will last no longer than the first blindside hit. Sad to say, Collaros is Buck Pierce II.

Pinball Clemons

When there’s something strange in your neighborhood, who you gonna call? Pinball Clemons, naturally. That at least seems to be the reflex move in the Republic of Tranna whenever the Bottomless Boatmen go glub, glub, glub, which they’ve done this CFL season with a 2-12 record. Pinball (his mama named him Michael) has been a player, the head coach (twice), the team president, the CEO, the vice-chair and, as of Tuesday morning, the little man with the mega-watt smile and glistening teeth is occupant of the GM’s office vacated by Jim Popp. There’s no official record of it, but he’s probably washed socks and jocks and cooked some pre-game pasta, too. So I suppose if any GM hiring can put seats in the stands at BMO Field in The ROT, it would be the wildly popular Pinball, but I fail to see how his extreme likability will translate into Ws on the field when he has zero experience. It’ll help, of course, that the Pinster has longtime CFL skills sleuth John Murphy at his beck and call to turn over stones in search of talent, and I suspect Corey Chamblin is in his finals days as head coach of the Argos. Still, Pinball’s appointment comes across as a bowl of comfort food more than something that’ll stick to your ribs long term.

Here’s a thought: If the Bombers’ season continues to go south and they back up the trucks at Winnipeg FC headquarters in Fort Garry next month, the hiring of Clemons might provide O’Shea with a soft place to land. Coach Grunge played with and for Pinball in The ROT, and they won Grey Cups together, so I’d have to think he’d be a candidate for the head coaching gig once Chamblin is obliged to leave. But would he take LaPolice along as his O-coordinator?

Don Cherry

A couple of questions about Don Cherry and his rambling sermons on Hockey Night in Canada: 1) Does anybody really listen—I mean really listen—to what the fossil has to say? 2) Never mind that he treats the language like a pit bull on a pork chop, why hasn’t anyone in the ivory tower at Rogers noticed that he long ago became borderline incoherent? Here’s a sample of his Rhapsody in Ramble On from this past Saturday:

“Ya know, the Leafs, ya know, the Leafs…highly skilled team. I will say highly skilled team, but they’re regular-season game. You cannot win unless you’re tough in the, in the (closes eyes, shakes head)…the playoffs have proven by St. Louis. Sixteen Canadians, Canadian coach, Canadian GM, tough. Look what they did to San Jose, they put…now I know a lot of guys, we know a lot of guys that don’t like this…they put out Hertl, Pavelski and Karlsson. They put out…and, uh…I like what Berube said. Berube said, ‘Don’t worry about the penalties.’ SIXTEEN CANADIANS! You CANNOT WIN unless you’re tough.”

Translation: The Tranna Maple Leafs aren’t tough enough to win the Stanley Cup.

Dani Rylan

In case you didn’t notice (which probably means most of you), Dani Rylan’s National Women’s Hockey League dropped the puck on its fifth season last weekend, while boycotting members of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association took their hissy fit to New Hampshire and staged glorified scrimmages for the benefit of friends and family. None of which furthered the cause of Ponytail Puck. “When the boycott happened, it refragmented the market,” NWHL commissioner Rylan said recently. “I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to quantify the opportunity lost this offseason, and how maybe the game has slowed because of the boycott.” I agree with Rylan. The boycotters’ main goal is to put her NWHL out of business in the belief that Gary Bettman and the NHL will swoop in to pick up the pieces, forming a WNHL that offers $50,000 to $100,000 wages. Talk about unicorns and fairy dust.

Members of the boycotting PWHPA, by the way, played a young men’s team from André-Laurendeau College in Quebec last month and were beaten 4-3 in OT. Not sure how the best female players in the world losing to a band of fuzzy-cheeked lads advances their quest for the “living wage” salaries they believe they “deserve.”

Sandy Koufax

Every time I see Clayton Kershaw cough up a hairball in the Major League Playoffs or World Series, I can’t believe some people still compare him favorably to Los Angeles Dodgers legend Sandy Koufax. They’re both lefties and their last names begin with the letter K, but that’s where the comparisons end for me.

And, finally, I gave ponder to watching the federal leaders election debate the other night, but I heard enough lies and double talk during 30 years in jock journalism to last what’s left of my lifetime, thus I gave it a pass. I’m told, however, that Justin Trudeau showed up without shoe polish on his face, which was thoughtful of him, and Andrew Scheer is still an anti-abortion American who prefers to wade into the name-calling swamp rather than debate issues and platforms. Some choice.

About Mike O’ Shea throwing TSN’s CFL journalists (not!) under the bus…Brooke Henderson’s smile…a tiger in our tanks at the “filling station”…and other CFL stuff

Two soft-boiled eggs and more weekend leftovers for a Tuesday morning breakfast

Mike O’Shea has totally lost the plot.

Never mind the botched fake punts, phantom 63-yard field goals, ill-conceived gambles, curious quarterback deployment, or any of the goofball decisions he’s made as sideline jockey with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Those were merely “d’oh” moments. Brain farts, if you will.

Mike O’Shea

But get this: O’Shea actually thinks Milt Stegall is a journalist. Ditto Matt Dunigan. And—good grief—Davis Sanchez.

That’s cow-jumped-over-the-moon stuff.

I mean, Stegall is a hall of fame receiver with a hall of fame mouth that landed him a gig as a gum-flapper on TSN’s Canadian Football League coverage. He knows a fake punt from a fair catch. But he’s a journalist like Sarah Huckabee Sanders is Honest Abe Lincoln.

If you missed it, Stegall went off on Matt Nichols on Saturday afternoon, accusing the Winnipeg FC quarterback of hurling his receivers under the bus scant seconds after the Bombers had limped off the McMahon Stadium gridiron in Calgary, losers for the second successive week, this time a 39-26 face plant vs. the Stampeders.

Matt Nichols, still No. 1.

“They just do their jobs very well,” Nichols said of the Stamps defensive dozen while he and CJOB’s Bob (Knuckles) Irving sifted through the rubble of the Bombers’ fifth L against five Ws this crusade. “When they’re in zone I’m going through four and five reads and finding no one open…they’re doing a good job.”

Nichols had other things to say, including some self-indictment, but all Stegall heard was “finding no one open.”

“Just throw me under the bus,” the old receiver griped angrily, his forehead in full frown and his eyebrows knitted together. “I’m gonna roll up on Matt Nichols if I’m Darvin Adams or one of those receivers and say, ‘Did you really say that? Is this what you feel about us? Are we calling each other out? So if I’m wide open and you miss me should I go to the media and say we need a quarterback who’s gonna throw it to me when I’m open?’ What is this? He needs to come out there and play and keep his mouth shut.”

So now we have O’Shea entering the verbal fray during a chin-wag with Knuckles Irving, play-by-play voice of Winnipeg FC on ‘OB since Dieter Brock was as wet behind the ears as Michael Phelps.

“Completely irresponsible,” is the damning term the Bombers head coach used Monday night to catalog the bleatings of Stegall. “The journalism was irresponsible. You know, Bob, you asked the question about Calgary’s defence and it was nothing about our receiving corps and their ability. They took a small snippet of Matt’s answer and tried to run with it. Frankly, it’s a little embarrassing for them, I’m sure. How Matt answered the question I thought was a perfectly good answer.

“One of the things is these guys have to create news obviously and create a story and create excitement on the panel…I don’t know. It doesn’t sit well with us because it’s so far from what was said, it’s so taken out of context it’s just not fair really. They need to make a show, and it’s too bad. I believe they made a mistake and I do think it’s irresponsible, you know, they sort of ran with it. I guess that’s…like I said they need to make a show.”

Milt Stegall: He’s no journo.

O’Shea later added this: “When you take a fragment of a quote, or a fragment of an interview and use it as you will, haphazardly, it’s a dangerous business. It’s not fair. It’s not good journalism.”

That’s because Stegall isn’t a journalist.

He’s a retired receiver who’s afraid of thunder and lightning and often finds axes to grind as the angriest member of the TSN panel. He shows up on our flatscreens wearing fancy threads twice a week, and he provides Xs-and-Os insight and bitches about whatever’s up his nose that day/night. Which is great. As misguided as he sometimes is, I don’t want Stegall to zip his lips.

Just don’t confuse what he does with journalism, Mikey.

A smiling Brittany Henderson and a grinning Brooke Henderson on the 18th fairway.

Moving on to actual journalists, apparently Bob Weeks of TSN and Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail watched a different Brooke Henderson during her victory march at the CP Canadian Open women’s golf championship on Sunday.

Here’s Kelly on Henderson: “It’s hard to think of any golf pro who looks like they’re having less fun out there. Ms. Henderson lives so deeply in the moment that she is functionally underground. On the walk up the 18th fairway on Sunday—victory assured, the crowd hooting her name—she still did not allow herself the freedom of a grin.”

Here’s Weeks on Henderson: “She normally will smile a little bit, she’ll kind of interact with the fans. There was none of that today. The first time I saw her smile was after she was walking up to the 18th green.”

I’m uncertain where Kelly had plunked himself to observe Henderson’s final round of the Open (or if he even watched it), but I know Weeks’s feet were on the ground at the Wascana Country Club in Regina. He saw Henderson smile on the 18th fairway. So did I. And most other reports indicated that Henderson did, indeed, interact with patrons during the first three rounds of her successful crusade. She was not “functionally underground.”

Kelly went on to write of Henderson: “She is already pulling away from Masters champion Mike Weir as Canada’s greatest golfer of modern times.”

Wrong. Henderson, with seven titles on the Ladies Professional Golf Association Tour, has yet to catch Weir, let alone pull away from him. Weir won eight times on the Professional Golf Association circuit.

Murray Westgate

Those of us of a certain vintage will be saddened by the passing of Murray Westgate at the age of 100 on Monday. Westgate was the Esso pitchman who put a tiger in our tanks during Hockey Night in Canada broadcasts during the 1950s and ’60s, and most of us kids actually believed he pumped gas, checked the oil and wiped windshields for a living. I always hoped we’d pull into a “filling station” one day and see his smiling face approach our car. But no. He was an actor who made $75 a gig in the beginning at a couple grand per night by the time Esso pulled the plug on its sponsorship.

Here are this week’s CFL power rankings…

1. Calgary (8-1): Back on track after a slight misstep.
2. Edmonton (6-4): Stumbled in Hamilton.
3. Saskatchewan (5-4): Tough to win in B.C. but they got the job done.
4. Ottawa (6-3): Status quo.
5. Winnipeg (5-5): That was ugly in Cowtown.
6. Hamilton (4-5): Might have turned it around.
7. B.C. (3-6): Done like dinner.
8. Toronto (3-6): Duron Carter can’t help them yet.
9. Montreal (2-8): What’s not to like about Antonio Pipkin.

Last week in CFL quarterbacking (starters only)…

About Winnipeg Blue Bombers Coach D’oh!…an odd final round at Royal Birkdale…gay female athletes dating…pretty on the tennis court…and why don’t some guys just shut up?

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

I’m not sure what happens to Mike O’Shea when he gets to B.C. Place Stadium.

Coach D’oh

Maybe it’s the drinking water. Ya, that’s it. Someone is spiking his H2O with mind-altering drugs, because it’s become evident that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach is seeing things that aren’t there. I mean, the rest of us see an impossible 61-yard field goal attempt, but O’Shea sees a ho-hum chip shot. We see Justin Medlock as a punter/place-kicker, but O’Shea sees him as Dieter Brock or Kenny Ploen.

He’s delusional like the Nevada Parole Board.

Mind you, nobody can accuse the Bombers sideline steward of being a one-trick pony.

He did, after all, give us two displays of hocus-pocus for the price of one on Friday night in Vancouver. Trouble is, an argument can be made that O’Shea’s smoke and mirrors is the main reason the Bombers were found wanting in their Canadian Football League skirmish with the B.C. Lions.

Yes, I’m aware that a fake field goal was executed to perfection and resulted in seven points. Kudos for venturesome and creative football. Alas, we were also reminded that there’s a time and place for sleight of hand, and midway through the fourth quarter—on third-and-15 with the ball nestled on your own 26-yard stripe!—is neither the time nor the place for Justin Medlock to be passing instead of punting.

Unless, of course, you’re Coach D’oh and you’re hallucinating.

O’Shea’s fourth-quarter brain cramp also resulted in points. Eight of them. For the Lions, who were less into gimmickry and more into gutting it out while turning a 15-point deficit into a 45-42 success.

Go ahead and give O’Shea full marks for his daring if you like. It can be get-out-of-your-seat exciting. But it’s folly for a head coach to double dog dare himself into making dumb decisions, which seems to now be the rule rather than the exception for the Bombers puppet master on the Wet Coast.

Justin Medlock

It’s all about picking your spots, and when O’Shea allowed Medlock to pass rather than punt while nursing an eight-point lead on Friday he picked the wrong spot.

We don’t think of them as trick plays,” he advised news snoops after the fact. “They’re well designed and well thought out and well executed by the players that buy into that.”

Well, okay. Except receiver Derek Jones must have missed the memo, because he had his back turned to Medlock’s wonky pass on the “called play.”

It was just dumb, dumb, dumb.

So, was the faux punt really a “called play” as O’Shea insists or was it a Medlock ad lib? “I’ll take the blame for it,” Medlock said post-gaffe. “Whatever comes if it, I’m not going to sit here and point fingers.” And I’ll take that to mean someone else screwed up. In either case, it still comes down to coaching. Football is very much a situational game, and an alert coach doesn’t permit his punter to fiddle fart around when it’s third-and-15 at the 26-yard stripe while nursing an eight-point lead with slightly more than eight minutes to play.

A few words about the final round of the Open golf championship Sunday at the Royal Birkdale in Southport, England: Brutal and brilliant. Ragged and remarkable. Seriously. Champion golfer of the year Jordan Spieth was all over the British Isles through the first four holes, carding three bogeys, and his tee shot on 13 hole was so far off the mark that the ball almost landed in Ireland. It took him half an hour to complete the hole. Then he goes birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie in less time than it takes to whip up a full English breakfast. Incredible. What I like most about Spieth, who now has a collection of three Grand Slam titles, is his manner: He seems like a lovely, young man.

Garbine Muguruza

Attention Politically Correct Police: If sports scribes choose to describe ascending tennis star Garbine Muguruza as pretty or sexy, spare us your squawking because they have her blessing. “I see a lot of criticism sometimes when a sportswoman wants to feel pretty on the court,” the reigning Wimbledon and 2016 French Open ladies’ champion says. “I want to feel pretty out there, I’m going to feel more comfortable and confident if I have a beautiful dress on. It doesn’t go against being an athlete.” So there. Don’t scream sexism when a jock journo writes about her appearance.

Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird, at 36 the oldest player in the Women’s National Basketball Association, tells ESPNW magazine that she’s a lesbian and, except for the fact she’s dating American soccer star Megan Rapinoe, it’s a ho-hum revelation. There’s a reason for that: Gay female athletes at the highest echelons are commonplace, whereas their male counterparts are about half a century behind when it comes to acceptance and inclusiveness. Both Bird and Rapinoe, by the way, are Olympic gold medallists, further evidence that having gays on a team roster is not an impediment to success.

The quote machine has gone into overdrive the past couple of weeks, and much of it has been painful to hear and read. For example…

  • Boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. said this about Conor McGregor, his opponent in an Aug. 26 bout: “He totally disrespected black women. He called black people monkeys. Then he spoke disrespectfully to my daughter’s mother and he spoke disrespectfully to my daughter.” Yo! Floyd! You’re a serial woman-beater. You’ve gone to jail for beating up women. Don’t talk to us about disrespecting women.

  • Former National Football League quarterback Michael Vick had these words of advice for blackballed QB Colin Kaepernick: “(The) first thing we got to get Colin to do is cut his hair. I’m not here trying to be politcially correct, but, even if he puts cornrows in there, I don’t think he should represent himself in that way. The most important thing he needs to do is just try and be presentable. He may need a life coach.” Yo! Mikey! You used to torture and kill dogs in a dog-fighting operation. You went to jail for torturing and killing dogs. Don’t talk to us about life coaches.

  • Unconvicted killer and convicted armed robber O.J. Simpson said this while sweet-talking four members of the Nevada Parole Board into granting him his freedom after almost nine years behind bars: “I basically spent a conflict-free life,” and “No one ever accused me of pulling a weapon on them.” Yo! Juice! You beat your ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson so severely one night that she was taken to hospital, you hacked her and friend Ron Goldman to death, you robbed people at gunpoint. Don’t talk to us about non-conflict and deadly weapons.

Frankly, while wooing the Nevada parole commissioners, I’m surprised the dreadful Simpson didn’t tell them that he absolutely had to get out of jail to resume his bogus search “for the real killers” of his ex-wife and friend. No doubt he’ll resume his search on the first tee of some swanky golf course in Florida. What a disingenuous, deplorable cad.

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.

Bob Irving: As great as the voice of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers is as a play-by-play man, he’s even a better person

Knuckles Irving

I’ve often wondered how, and why, Bob Irving has kept trucking along.

I mean, the man we know affectionately as Knuckles has been the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ main storyteller since 1974. It’s easy to do the math. That’s 43 years ago. Numbers, however, don’t provide perspective on his time describing the goings-on of the Canadian Football League outfit.

For perspective, try this: The year Knuckles began blah, blah, blahing about the Bombers on CJOB…

  • Mike Riley’s pop, Bud, was head coach and Dieter Brock was a rookie backup quarterback we knew as Ralph.
  • The Winnipeg Tribune was a vibrant alternative to the Winnipeg Free Press.
  • Richard Milhouse Nixon was still in the White House, although RMH left the building in August and our American friends said hello to President Gerald Ford.
  • Trudeau the 1st was Prime Minister of Canada, Ed Schreyer was Premier of Manitoba, and Steve Juba was Mayor of all the people in Winnipeg.
  • One-time teenage heartthrob Paul Anka released the regrettable (You’re) Having My Baby, but the top song in Canada was Seasons in the Sun by Terry Jacks.
  • The top-selling album worldwide was Band on the Run by breakaway Beatle Paul McCartney and Wings.
  • Archie Bunker was the No. 1 bigot on TV, with he, Edith, Gloria and Meathead ruling the ratings on All in the Family.
  • Mikhail Baryshnikov defected from the Soviet Union.
  • Muhammad Ali played Rope-a-Dope, then KO’d George Foreman to reclaim the heavyweight boxing championship in the Rumble In The Jungle.
  • The RCMP swore in its first female police officers.
  • A Big Mac cost .65, a loaf of bread .28, a car $3,500, and minimum wage in Manitoba was $2.15.

So, ya, Knuckles has been around some. Squints use carbon dating to determine his age. But that doesn’t mean he’s passed his best-before date. His voice is still as smooth as Tennessee whiskey, his delivery as descriptive as a Steinbeck novel, his integrity unassailable.

That will be absent from the ‘OB broadcast on Friday night in Vancouver, when the Bombers pay a visit to B.C. Place for a skirmish with the Lions. Knuckles has retreated to the repair shop to permit medics to tinker with his ticker and, while there’s little doubt the capable Kelly Moore will perform admirably in his stead, Knuckles is one of those guys you fill in for but cannot replace.

If there is a Vin Scully of the CFL, it’s Knuckles Irving, who’s actually a nicer guy than he is a play-by-play broadcaster.

The sports media, on both the print and electronic side, can be an open range for galloping egos and a misguided sense of significance, but it is largely the province of genuinely good, honest women and men who recognize they’re working in the toy department and, thus, acknowledge that they’ve got a great gig.

I don’t think Knuckles has ever lost sight of that. He’s a humble, earthy man with a killer wit that often keeps the sidelines at Bombers practices at full guffaw. He takes his job seriously but not himself. His passion for his work, the Bombers and the CFL is unparalleled, and I suppose that’s what keeps him trucking after all these years.

No telling how long Knuckles will continue to blah, blah, blah about the Bombers, but his career is kind of like his forehead—it never seems to end.

And that’s a beautiful thing.

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.

About Evander Kane…Winnipeg Jets coach Pa Ingalls…sugar-coating a loss…intimidating the media…Cubs win, Cubs win…and other things on my mind

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

Evander Kane fought the law and won.
Evander Kane fought the law and won.

Okay, what’s the over/under on Evander Kane? One month? Two months? Or can he go the distance and keep his nose clean for the next six months, thus escaping the long arm of the law?

I you missed it, old friend Evander fought the law and won this week in upstate New York, where it seems that men physically assailing women—i.e. grabbing a fistful of their hair, grabbing them by the throat, grabbing them by the wrist—is such a common occurrence on the Buffalo bar scene that prosecutors react with all the scorn of a parent scolding a child for failing to wash behind his ears.

This type of activity in bars occurs every weekend,” Erie county District Attorney Michael Flaherty said quite ho-humishly when explaining how it was that Kane walked on charges of misdemeanor trespass and non-criminal violations of harassment and disorderly conduct on Monday.

It didn’t matter that surveillance evidence from the Bottoms Up bar security cameras showed images of Kane “in contact with other patrons, grabbing a girl by her hair, grabbing another girl by her wrist and then scuffling with some bouncers as they try to escort him.” According to Flaherty (he apparently overlooked or ignored the part of the security film that showed Kane wrapping his hands around a woman’s throat), this behaviour “could be described as arrogant, surly and boorish, but at the end of the day what he did did not rise to the level of criminal offence.”

(Yes, I suppose that begs this question: What the hell does pass for a criminal offence in Buffalo?)

Whatever, Kane, the former oft-injured, underachieving, controversial Winnipeg Jets winger and now an oft-injured, underachieving, controversial Buffalo Sabres winger, received a get-out-of-jail-free card. There was, mind you, a caveat: He must straighten up and fly right between now and March 30, otherwise some big-bellied sheriff will stir from his boys-will-be-boys posture and revisit Kane’s improprieties on that late June night at Bottoms Up.

Assuming Kane keeps his hands to himself and eats all his vegetables for the next six months, Lady Justice will turn a blind eye to his misdeeds and pretend they never happened. You know, sort of like what the National Hockey League is already doing.

Well, good luck with that.

I mean, keeping one’s name off a police blotter for half a year wouldn’t be a burden for 99.99999 per cent of 25-year-old men in North America, but we’re talking Evander Kane here. Party boy. Loads of loot. Doesn’t much give a damn what you or I or someone wearing a tin badge think or say about him. If he wants to jaywalk, he’ll jaywalk. If he wants to spit on a city sidewalk, he’ll unload a loogie. And if he wants to grab a woman’s hair in a bar, he’ll have a mitt full of splint ends.

But, hey, he promises to eat all his veggies for the next six months, which apparently is good enough for the Buffalo legal system, the Sabres and the NHL.

Alexander Burmistrov, aka Paul Maurice's adopted son.
Alexander Burmistrov, aka Paul Maurice’s adopted son.

I have a few questions for Jets head coach Paul Maurice: It’s about Alexander Burmistrov…why, Paul? Why? Did you pull a Madonna and legally adopt the wandering waif when you were coaching in Russia? I mean, this isn’t Little House on the Prairie, where Ma and Pa Ingalls continually brought strays and orphans home to their wee shack on the flatland. The guy’s a bust. Let’s move on.

Speaking of coach Pa Ingalls, he delivered a rather harsh indictment of the linesman who ticketed the Jets for a too-many-men violation in the bonus period of their 4-3 overtime loss to Team Ovechkin in Washington on Thursday night. “Horse shit,” is how Maurice described the call. Well, I’ll see his “horse shit” and raise him a “horse’s ass” for his interpretation of the play and rule. Captain Blake Wheeler was in a different time zone when his replacement, Patrik Laine, hopped over the boards as the Capitals dashed forward on a two-on-one. Forty feet from the players’ bench is a penalty. At any time.

Dumbest headline of the week was delivered by the Winnipeg Sun after the local hockey heroes’ defeat in Donald Trump’s kind of town: “Jets winners even in loss.” The accompanying article by Ted Wyman was just as lame. I swear, there was more sugar coating on his game story than on a dozen glazed Timbits. I got a toothache just reading the thing. Spare us the pom-pom waving, boys. Moral victories are for the forlorn and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Coach Paul Maurice: Is this the look that intimidates the Winnipeg media?
Coach Paul Maurice: Is this the look that intimidates the Winnipeg media?

Here’s more on Maurice. Interesting chin-wag between the two Grumpets in the Winnipeg Free Press toy department, sports editor Steve Lyons and columnist Paul Wiecek, who discuss the likelihood that news snoops in River City walk on egg shells around the Jets bench boss. I cannot imagine that coach Pa Ingalls is a more intimidating man than John Bowie Ferguson back in the day. Seldom did we see Fergy when there wasn’t smoke seeping from his mouth, nose and ears. And that was before he lit his cigar. I don’t recall news scavengers running scared, though. Yo! Journos! Any man who harbors hope for Alexander Burmistrov and his rudderless game is never the smartest man in the room. Next time Maurice goes into intimidation mode, remind him of his NHL coaching record: 18 seasons, 11 seasons out of playoffs, two times fired mid-season, won-lost percentage .500, give or take a shootout.

I note that the Freep Grumpets allowed the induction of Doug Brown to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers Roll of Honour to pass without mention. I find that interesting because Lyons and Wiecek pooh-poohed a similar salute to quarterbacking legend Dieter Brock. “He never won anything,” is what Lyons said of Diet the Treat, twice anointed the Most Outstanding Player in the Canadian Football League. Well, okay, Brock failed to bring the Grey Cup to River City. And D-lineman Brown did it how many times? Once? Twice. Thrice? Nope. Try zero. Zilch. Zip. He never won anything. But hey. Brown delivers once-a-week alphabet soup to the Freep sports pages, and we can’t have the Grumpets eating their own, now can we.

I don’t want to be accused of ageism, but it’s about the B.C. Lions. Seriously? Paul McCallum? If you missed it, the Leos have hauled McCallum out of moth balls and he’ll be doing the short-range place-kicking in the Leos’ final regular-season game and the CFL playoffs. My initial thought: Can Joe Kapp be far behind? Upon further review, however, McCallum’s 46-year-old right leg can’t be any worse than Richie Leone’s 24-year-old right limb. Leone has been about as dependable as a leaky condom. He’s had more misses than Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton combined. So, based on coach/GM Wally Buono’s track record, this will probably work.

Legendary Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray.
Legendary Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray.

My takes on the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series: 1) Finally, Steve Bartman can leave his house; 2) Love the Budweiser commercial featuring a Harry Caray voiceover, it’s pure genius; 3) Game 7 of the Cubs-Cleveland Indians series was the reason I love baseball more than any other sport.

Steve Simmons, whose work often appears in the Winnipeg Sun, has been voted favorite sports writer by readers of the Toronto Sun. He calls it “humbling.” Not so humbling, apparently, that he couldn’t resist the urge to advise his Twitter followers that “it’s 21 times now” that he’s felt so humbled.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

 

About more flag football…beers and boozing with Matt Dunigan…the two Freep Grumpets dissing Dieter Brock…and Shaq’s laugh track

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

homer-melon-headQuiz me this, kids: What’s the most common comment heard around the Canadian Football League these days? Nope. You’re wrong. It isn’t “When did Chris Jones morph into Homer Simpson?”

That’s running a close second, although it might be No. 1 with a bullet among plow jockeys and people who wear water melons on their heads. I mean, if you park your pickup truck anywhere between Fertile and Lloydminster, chances are you’re convinced the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ chief cook and bottle washer is to coaching what Homer is to good parenting.

For evidence, they will point to Jones’s curious call on third down late in Gang Green’s skirmish with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Saturday afternoon at the Facility Formerly Known as Football Follies Field in Fort Garry. Without going into the gory details, suffice to say Rider loyalists will suggest that the play was brought to you by the letters WTF.

Still, while Jones becoming a d’oh boy might be the topic du jour among Green People, the main CFL catch-phrase right about now is: “…there’s a flag on the play…”

There’s always a flag on the play in the CFL. Red flags. Yellow flags. Flags for bumping, grinding, grabbing grass, growling, bad breath, bad hair, bad attitude and, as excitable TSN gab guy Matt Dunigan put it at one point, “checking naughty parts.”

I swear, if the two play-by-play voices, Chris Cuthbert and Rod (Friggin’) Black, said “there’s a flag on the play” once, they said it 52 times during Saturday’s doubleheader on TSN. And that was just for the penalties, phantom or legitimate. The coaches can’t resist the urge to get in on the act and hurl their yellow hankies, too. Trouble is, I’m convinced they now sometimes do it because they can, not because they should.

Matt Dunigan...let's have some beer and go to Hooters.
Matt Dunigan…let’s have some beer and go to Hooters.

Actually, I don’t know what’s worse, the coach’s challenge or pass interference/contact.

Hands up anybody who can explain pass interference. How about illegal contact? Didn’t think so. The insufferable TSN talking head Glen Suitor is forever prattling on about PI/contact, attempting to educate us mere mortals, but he should save his breath. He doesn’t have any more of a clue than we do. Or the game officials.

Seriously. A receiver deliberately runs into a defender, yet the defender is flagged?

I say we ditch the coach’s challenge, ditch the five-yard contact rule and get back to playing football.

I am perhaps in the minority, but I get a kick out of Matt Dunigan’s color commentary. The guy is as geeked up as the players, and it’s always interesting and entertaining when there’s no filter between the brain and the lips. Everything Get ‘er Done Dunigan does is wrong. Like, he talks about beer and boozing (not to forget Hooters) as much he does football. And he talks over Rod Black too often (which is probably a good thing even if it’s wrong). But he works for me, as long as I get him in small doses.

say what banner4In the weekly segment of Say What?, an in-print gab session between the two resident Grumpets in the Winnipeg Free Press toy department, editor Steve Lyons (Viscount) and columnist Paul Wiecek (Gort) pooh-pooh the induction of quarterbacking legend Dieter Brock to the Blue Bombers Roll of Honour because “he never won anything.” Interesting. Neither did Milt Stegall. Why no whinging from the Grumpets when loser Milty got the call? Viscount and Gort also had to mention Brock and the zoo. Let it go, boys.

If you want to read a terrific piece on Brock, check out Ed Tait’s article on the Birmingham Rifle at bluebombers.com. It offers wonderful anecdotal insight, including a tale about the day he tossed a football 93 yards. Or, as Rod Black put it while chin-wagging with Brock in the booth during the Blue Bombers-Riders joust, “93 friggin yards.”

At the back end of May this year, when the natterbugs were already wagging their chins about the World Cup of Cash Grabs, I wrote: “Is it unCanadian of me if I really don’t care to talk about the World Cup of Hockey again until September? I don’t believe so. If, on the other hand, I still don’t wish to talk about it once the frost is on the pumpkin, feel free to take away my maple syrup, my back bacon and my Don Cherry voodoo doll.” Well, it’s September and I still can’t arouse any passion for the gimmicky WCOH.

Shaq...a funny man.
Shaq…a funny man.

Watched Shaquille O’Neal’s Basketball Hall of Fame induction speech. Too funny. And Shaq hasn’t missed many meals in retirement. He’s bigger than some third-world countries, at least five of the United States and one Canadian province. He’s also one of the funniest and most engaging, charismatic athletes ever.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

 

Matt Nichols: The answer at quarterback or a lamb being led to slaughter with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers?

Take comfort, Bombers Nation. Rest easy. The cavalry has been summoned and, no doubt, Matt Nichols arrived in River City with a pocket full of miracles, a satchel full of high hopes and a truckload of good-luck charms.

The mere fact he’s in town, of course, must be recognized as a favorable development, in that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers latest quarterbacking lamb didn’t have a change of heart and retire from football while en route from Edmonton.

I mean, playing QB for the Winnipegs is not exactly a plum assignment. It ain’t what it used to be. You know, back when Ken Ploen and Don Jonas and Dieter Brock and Matt Dunigan and Khari Jones were flinging the football behind offensive linemen who performed as big as they ate. Now it’s more of a bug-and-windshield thing, and you ain’t the windshield, baby. But, hey, you get danger pay.

So, sure, come on down, Matt. Hit us with your best shot.

Naturally, there are those among you who pooh-pooh the acquisition of Nichols as yet another swan dive into yet another Canadian Football League’s dumpster by Kyle Walters, the club’s general manager who is often seen wearing the look of a very perplexed man. (This, of course, is what happens when your original starting QB, Drew Willy, is in sick bay, your current starter, Robert Marve, is also in sick bay, and your third option, Brian Brohm, is quite healthy but unfortunately has a birth defect known as his throwing arm.)

But come now, ye negative natterbugs. You ought to know by now that this is the Bomber way. They dare not wander out into the vast football forest and discover their own quarterback, sign him and groom him into star starter. They wouldn’t recognize a quality quarterback if Bo Levi Mitchell and Zach Collaros were playing catch in Walters’ back yard. Doing it in-house is old school. That kind of thinking went out with Dieter Brock.

Thus, we have Matt Nichols, plucked from the back alley bin of the Edmonton Eskimos for a token finder’s fee of a seventh-round draft choice. A conditional choice, at that. Cripes, man, that’s like giving a kid a participation prize in Pop Warner.

So, I shall not be joining the chorus of harrumphs that arose once word of the Nichols-for-nil transaction arrived. What, I ask, was Walters supposed to do? Bring Danny McManus out of moth balls?

Besides, I have it on good authority that Nichols is of substantive stock. That authority would be none other than the head coach, Mike O’Shea, who stared at a gathering of interrogators on Wednesday afternoon and announced that he had “seen enough film on him” to confirm his new QB’s bona fides. It is always a good thing to hear the coach say he has “seen film” on a player or a game, because it means he doesn’t respond to every question like he’s been asked to explain Donald Trump’s take on Hispanics.

The coach also advised news scavengers that they, and fans, are to ignore Nichols’ numbers while he was adorned in the green-and-gold linen of the Eskimos. Except one—the No. 5, as in the number of Ws he racked up as the Edmonton starter this season.

“The No. 1 job for any quarterback,” stressed O’Shea, “is winning. The first test is winning and he’s passed that.”

Apparently the tall foreheads on the Eskimos’ sideline don’t share that sentiment, because they busted Nichols down to backup and handed the starting job to a CFL neophyte, James Franklin. And, with Mike Reilly soon to rejoin the fray, his best-before date had expired.

Unfortunately, we’re told we shouldn’t expect to see what Nichols has to offer on the Sabbath when the Bombers are in Regina for their annual day-before-Labor Day skirmish with the winless Roughriders. Apparently, three days isn’t a sufficient amount of time to absorb the Winnipeg playbook.

Geez, I would have thought reading football’s version of Dick and Jane wouldn’t take more than, oh, 10 minutes.

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.

MY WINNIPEG: You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave

Keep in mind that many of our adopted jocks are not in Winnipeg by choice. The sports system forced them to drop anchor in Pegtown, so it could be that they feel the system is holding them hostage, which could lend itself to no small level of bitterness about a burg.

Does Winnipeg get a bad rap, or are the good citizens of River City a tad too touchy? Lord knows we have a fragile psyche, because we get our knickers in a knot at the mere suggestion that our burg is not fit for man, beast nor professional athlete. Well, here’s one person’s four-part take on what makes Pegtown tick.

PART ONE: It’s okay if you don’t like us (but we aren’t anybody’s arm pit)

PART TWO: Snub us and we won’t drink your beer (and it’s all Harold Ballard’s fault)

PART THREE: Some athletes we love, some athletes we loath (but we’ll love you more and loath you less if you win)

PART FOUR: Everybody knows this is nowhere (you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave)

 

PART ONE: It’s okay if you don’t like us (but we aren’t anybody’s arm pit)

It was the winter of 1998 and I was standing beside Ross McLennan in the Winnipeg Sun newsroom.

We peered out the window as an angry winter storm began to bare its fangs and growl, and we both knew that if we didn’t leave the building in the next half hour, or so, there existed a very real probability that we were hunkered in for the night.

“Ross,” I said to him as I stared at the white stuff swirling about outside, “why do we live here?”

“I don’t know,” he answered.

There was a pause for silence. We just stared at the snow.

“You know something,” I finally said, turning to my right and looking up at Ross. “We don’t have to live here. No. We don’t have to live here.”

So I don’t. Live there. But I do. Live there.

I have come to realize, you see, that I don’t live where I live. I live where I used to live. Where I’ve always lived. Where I always will live.

It’s just that I’m now approximately 2,300 kilometres to the left of Portage and Main. I have an ocean view. And a mountain view. There are palm trees, 365 days of golf, a wet rather than a white winter, nobody plugs in their car, and I’ve discovered uses for my arms other than swatting at mosquitos 24/7.

I hang my bonnet in Victoria, but, trust me, I live in Winnipeg.

I mean, I’m ashamed to admit this (and probably shouldn’t admit it), but I can’t tell you the name of Victoria’s mayor. I believe it’s Dean Fortin, but I’m not positive. Yes, I agree, shame on me.

The thing is, I not only can name the (soon-to-be former) mayor of Winnipeg, I know him. Personally. Mind you, I never was particularly fond of Sammy Katz, nor his smarmy smile. Always thought he was a bit like a soccer injury. You know, phony.

I figure Sammy for one of those soccer players who has been mortally wounded by a kick to the left shin bone, yet, as play continues to swirl about him as he lay clutching at his face, he’s peeking through his fingers to determine if the referee will go to his pocket and produce a red card.

The red card is, of course, the miracle cure of futbol. It has the healing powers of Jesus’s hands. The moment a mortally wounded lad is secure in the knowledge that his assailant has been shown a red card—and thereby banished from proceedings—he makes a Lourdes-like recovery and springs back into the fray with renewed vigor and an exaggerated limp that vanishes the very second play is whistled in. To me, that’s Sammy.

But I digress…

My point was/is, I know Sammy Katz is mayor in River City and I even know the names of some of those who would be mayor come October. Like Gord Steeves, who claims to know how many pot holes it takes to fill the streets of Winnipeg, because, by gosh, he’s going to fill ’em all.

I know these things because I left good, ol’ Hometown 15 years ago, but I never left.

I mean, when I make reference to the “local” paper, I’m talking about the Winnipeg Sun or Winnipeg Free Press, not the Victoria Times Colonist or Victoria News. My first order of business each morning is to call up both the Sun and Freep. I need to know what’s happening. Where it’s happening. When it’s happening. Why it’s happening. I need to know who’s happening and who isn’t happening.

I read it all. News, entertainment, sports, arts, Miss Lonelyhearts. Everything. I even stop by Mr. Sinclair Jr.’s neighborhood in the Freep on occasion, just to check out Gordo’s most recent exercise in name-dropping self-indulgence. (Quick question: Does Gordo ever eat at home with his bride, or does he always eat out with somebody who’s a somebody?)

At any rate, I care about Winnipeg. I care about its people. I am, after all, of them. Born and raised. Spent the largest segment of a 30-year career in jock journalism there.

That, however, doesn’t mean I’m under obligation to do the rah-rah, siss-boom-bah thing about all that is River City, and neither are the professional athletes we adopt.

Keep in mind that many of our adopted jocks are not in Winnipeg by choice. The sports system forced them to drop anchor in Pegtown, so it could be that they feel the system is holding them hostage, which could lend itself to no small level of bitterness about a burg.

None of us wishes to be where we don’t want to be, and there are hundreds—correction: thousands—of people living and working in Pegtown who don’t wish to live and work in Pegtown. Some of those people edit copy at a newspaper. Some flip cheese nips at The Sals. Some serve tables in pubs. Some are university profs. Some collect your garbage. And, yes, some are in the employ of the Winnipeg Jets and Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

There is mounting suspicion that Evander Kane is among those people. That he wants to hop on the next stagecoach out of Dodge. Well, the Jets left winger should know that it’s okay if he doesn’t like us. It’s okay if he wants out of Winnipeg. That doesn’t make him O.J. or Willie Pickton or Paul Bernardo any more than it makes me Karla Homolka because I dialed up a new area code in 1999.

And it doesn’t make our burg Toronto’s, Montreal’s, Calgary’s or Vancouver’s arm pit, either. So who gives two dumps if an athlete doesn’t like us?

 

PART TWO: Snub us and we won’t drink your beer (and it’s all Harold Ballard’s fault)

Winnipeg has many favorable qualities to offer. A self-deprecating sense of humor is not one of them.

Winnipeg is…it’s…well, it has Napolean Complex. Small man syndrome, if you will. Its skin is thinner than the margin of error on an Angus Reid poll.

A space cadet like Ilya Bryzgalov makes a flippant statement about our burg’s parks, the frigid climes and no Russian playmates for his kids and it’s as if he’s climbed atop the Legislature building and gelded the Golden Boy. Or replaced it with a bronze statue of Joseph Stalin.

Ben Hatskin and Bobby Hull
Ben Hatskin and Bobby Hull

Shane Doan is tarred and feathered (figuratively) for saying he doesn’t wish to uproot his family from Phoenix when the possibility exists that the Coyotes are about to become buzzard bait in the Arizona desert. Not once does Doan utter a disparaging remark about Winnipeg, though. Nary a discouraging word. He says he doesn’t wish to move his family anywhere. Not to Vancouver. Not to Calgary or Edmonton. Not to New York or Chicago. Yet many in Thin Skin City get their knickers in a knot, in part because of a jingoistic media that includes at least one prominent True North Toady who misrepresents Doan’s feelings in a column that falsely accuses the Coyotes captain of slander.

Dieter Brock cracks wise about the Assiniboine Park Zoo three decades ago and, to this day, there are many among the rabble who would lock him in a cage with the rest of the skunks.

We get our frozen noses out of joint at the slightest suggestion we aren’t where it’s at, don’t we? How dare these filthy rich, pampered ingrates not like us. The nerve. Don’t they know we have The Forks, Folklorama, the French Quarter, Festival du Voyageur, a thriving arts and entertainment community that includes a world-renowned ballet and symphony orchestra, the Museum of Asper, affordable real estate, blah, blah, blah, yadda, yadda, yadda?

And, hey, it’s the Slurpee capital of the planet. No place sucks like Winnipeg. Literally. So if you slag our city, no Slurpees for you!

I can’t say with absolute certainty when we developed our Napolean Complex, but I do believe we should point an accusing finger at Humpty Harold Ballard. And the Molson family.

When I was a kid, you see, Winnipeg didn’t have an inferiority complex, even though we didn’t have a National Hockey League team to call our own. Only Toronto and Montreal did. No big deal. Besides, there was no need to feel like the ginger-haired stepchild because we had a football club that could kick big-city butt. And that’s what the Blue Bombers did. Every year.

So everything was cool.

It even got better when Ben Hatskin hijacked Robert Marvin Hull. We still didn’t have an NHL franchise, but we had the Jets and the World Hockey Association. More significant, we had Bobby Hull. The Golden Jet. The most dynamic player north, south, east and west of Boston was ours. We could turn in any direction and go “nah, nah, nah, nah, nah.”

Our smugness rapidly turned to anger, though, because the hockey establishment refused to play nice. First, they went to court to prevent our Bobby from joining the Jets. Next, they refused to include our Bobby on the Team Canada side that faced off against the Soviet Union in the 1972 Summit Series. They spent the next seven years pooh-poohing our product as paperweight, even as the Jets iced an outfit that could lay a licking on 90 per cent of teams in the NHL. Eventually, most parties realized there had to be a ceasefire between the NHL and WHA, for financial sanity. There were merger talks. And a show of hands on the NHL inviting Winnipeg, Quebec City, Edmonton and New England to the party. The tally was 12-5 in favor, with Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, which landed an NHL franchise in 1970, Boston and Los Angeles on the nay side of the vote. That was enough to defeat the merger.

8-harold-ballard-worst-moments-in-maple-leafs-history
Humpty Harold Ballard

The loudest anti-acceptance voice, that with the most huff, puff and bluster, belonged to Humpty Harold Ballard, resident felon and bankroll of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“I feel so elated,” Ballard brayed in celebration. “It’s like the North beating the South in the Civil War.”

“As far as Harold was concerned, Winnipeg didn’t exist,” Jets part-owner and governor Barry Shenkarow recalls in the Ed Willes book, The Rebel League: The Short and Unruly Life of the World Hockey Association.

So, Ballard and his buddies in Montreal and Vancouver were telling us we weren’t big enough. We weren’t classy enough. We weren’t sexy enough. We weren’t sophisticated enough for the NHL.

Well, we were big enough and old enough to drink beer.

The WHA teams needed one NHL outfit to change its vote. Just one. Ballard, ever the curmudgeon, never would be swayed from his position, not as long as it meant receiving a smaller slice of the Hockey Night in Canada pie. So the Molson family, owner of Club du Hockey Canadien, became the target. We stopped swilling their beer. Not just in River City. In Edmonton. In Quebec City. In Calgary. In Vancouver.

The power of the pint won the day and Humpty Harold’s happiness was replaced with a harrumph when Winnipeg, Edmonton, Quebec City and New England were absorbed by the NHL.

I’m convinced, however, that residue remains from that 1970s scenario. It’s why we get our backs up and go all bantam rooster at the mere hint that we can’t run with the big dogs. And, of course, our fragile psyche took a massive wallop when the original Jets loaded up the truck, lock stock and jock strap, and departed hockey’s high country for the Arizona desert in 1996.

But Winnipeg shouldn’t give a damn what anyone thinks or says of us. We can, and should, feel good about what we see when we look in the mirror.

We shouldn’t be afraid to laugh at ourselves, either. We’ve got our quirks. I mean, we want people to love us. To experience us. Yet we build a perimeter highway around our city just so people can avoid us as they make their way across the country. Go figure.

 

PART THREE: Some athletes we love, some athletes we loath (but we’ll love you more and loath you less if you win)

Carbon dating confirms that I am a relic. A fossil. I am a drawing on a cave-dweller’s wall. The amateurish sketch depicts me sitting in the old barn on Maroons Road in the 1950s, watching Billy Mosienko and the Winnipeg Warriors.

bowlingWe all loved Mosie. He authored an admirable career in Chicago, where he played on the Blackhawks’ famed Pony Line with the Bentley brothers, Doug and Max, and the highlight for Mosie arrived on the final night of the 1951-52 NHL season when he tallied three goals in the lickety-split time of 21 seconds. It remains an unassailable feat of scoring fury.

It wasn’t just his time in the NHL, nor his name in the record book, that endeared us to Mosie, though. He was a local boy who made good, then came home to us in 1955 to lead the Warriors to a Western Hockey League title. And he never left.

There’s now a hockey rink that bears his name. Also a tournament. And, of course, Mosienko Lanes continues to thrive at the corner of Redwood and Main in the gritty North End.

Ken Ploen is another former athlete we love. Unlike Mosie, he’s an adopted son, coming to us from tiny Lost Nation, Iowa, in the late 1950s to play an unparalled role in the golden years of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Grey Cup parades became commonplace once Ploen arrived to play defensive back and quarterback, and there isn’t a River City athlete, past or present, more revered than No. 11. He is our humble hero. He is to Winnipeg football what Jean Beliveau is to Montreal hockey. His affection for us is genuine. Real. It is not pasted on to gain sway. Once here, he, like Mosie, never left.

“I think when you look back at things, you say do you second guess yourself. I think it was a great decision I made back then and I certainly don’t ever regret that,” is what he said when inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame. “It’s been a great place to live. One of the reasons I stayed in Winnipeg was warm people.”

He echoed those sentiments when the great Bombers squads of 1959 and ’62 were celebrated by the MSHOF.

“I thought about it a lot today and I said how fortunate we were to play in a city like Winnipeg, with the fans that we had. It was always a great feeling to represent the province of Manitoba and the city of Winnipeg. I think a number of times because of that support we were able to pull off victories that maybe we wouldn’t have pulled off in another circumstance. It was a thrill representing the Blue and Gold, it was an honor wearing their uniforms and we look back at it with nothing but fond memories.”

Young people unfamiliar with Ploen would be shocked to learn that the great QB actually snubbed the National Football League to ply his trade on the lonesome prairie, in part because the Bombers offered him more money than the Cleveland Browns. I know, that’s hard to imagine, but it’s true. The Browns were willing to give Ploen a $500 signing bonus and a $5,000 yearly stipend to play DB. The Bombers went all-in with $3,000 and $9,000 as a DB/QB.

Ken_PloenAs an added bonus, Ploen heard that the “hunting and fishing was pretty good up here.”

Winnipeg prefers its sporting heroes to be a product of the Mosienko or Ploen template. Feet firmly on the ground. Genuine. Blue collar work ethic. Confident, not cocky. Community awareness. Little, if any, bling.

And we don’t care about their roots.

For example, Winnipeg probably holds European hockey players closer to the heart than any market in North America, although Mikhail Smith soured us ever so slightly on Soviets/Russians with his ill-concieved and failed attempt to transform Portage and Main into Red Square. We love Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson, two of the many Scandinavians who brought titles to River City before departing for Gotham. The super Swedes have not forgotten us, nor we them. Ditto Teemu Selanne, the fab Finn who took us on a magic carpet ride in his NHL rookie season.

It helps to win, of course. Mosie won. Ploen won. Chris Walby won. Bob Cameron won. Hedberg and Nilsson won. Had Dieter Brock brought the Grey Cup home, we’d talk more about what he did on the football field than what he said about the zoo. Hell, we’d let him pull a Kramer and hurl banana peels at the zoo monkeys.

Win and there’s a chance that some will forgive, or look beyond, your trespasses.

Bobby Hull’s name has been, and still is, linked to spousal abuse, which is a most loathsome bit of business. His ex-wife, Joanne, was granted a divorce on grounds of physical cruelty, mental cruelty and adultery. She has spoken of him beating and bloodying her head with the steel heel of her shoe. He has been convicted of assaulting a Chicago police officer. He had a DUI arrest. He drank excessively. But, hey, Robert Marvin Hull put Winnipeg on the pro hockey map. There would be no NHL franchise if not for the him. Thus, many eyes look beyond, or are blind to, his violent, off-ice nastiness.

Personally, I acknowledge what the Golden Jet did for good, ol’ Hometown as a hockey player. Only Ben Hatskin has done more. But Hull the man was a cad.

I don’t harbor any warm and fuzzies for him, but a great many in River City do. And always will.

 

PART FOUR: Everybody knows this is nowhere (you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave)

This isn’t a news bulletin to anyone who’s spent more than a month in the Manitoba capital, but it must be mentioned: Winnipeg is not Shangri-La.

Let’s ignore the usual suspects of winter, mosquitos, crime, spring flooding, middle-of-nowhere location, etc., because every city has acne (have you ever been to Buffalo?). Let us, instead, focus on sports. Explain to me, in 25 words or less, why a free agent hockey or football player would want to pitch his tent in Pegtown, or why those currently under contract would wish to stay? And, no, a lifetime supply of Slurpees is not enticement enough to lure prime jock stock to the Little Hockey House on the Prairie or Football Follies Field in Fort Garry.

Above all, athletes want to win. Well, a championship parade in River City is as rare as a green winter. Our burg has been a Grey Cup-free zone since Wade Miller was knee high to Buzz and Boomer (come to think of it, Wade’s still only knee high to Buzz and Boomer). Meanwhile, the management-by-paralysis stylings of Jets GM Kevin The Possum means our hockey heroes are always first to the tee box each April.

When a number of the Jets core players (Bryan Little, Zach Bogosian, Blake Wheeler, Ondrej Pavelec, Evander Kane) inked long-term deals, they expressed a fondness for the city, the True North organization and confidence that the club was headed in the right direction.

I do not, however, think they anticipated the general manager going completely comatose.

Winning is not part of the hockey equation in Winnipeg. That, alone, makes the acquisition of Grade A free agents remote, if not impossible. At best, our city and the Jets will land a Grade B player, but the likelihood is that River City is the preferred destination of Grade C and D players. Like Mathieu Perreault, who stands as The Possum’s sole free-agent signing to date this off-season.

Many are geeked up about the arrival of Perreault, who replaces Olli Jokinen. But ask yourself this: Why would Perreault rather be the No. 3 centre on a non-playoff team than the No. 3 centre on a Stanley Cup contender?

Whatever, I don’t think Perreault makes the Jets better. Just younger.

So, again, why would someone like Kane wish to remain in Winnipeg? If he’s going to be a much-maligned man, why not go where he’ll cash a playoff cheque for his trouble?

At any rate, the fact that top-quality players steer clear of Pegtown does not make our city unique. John Elway wanted no part of Baltimore. Eli Manning didn’t dig San Diego. Eric Lindros snubbed Quebec City, which, in my experience, is the most beautiful burg in North America. Ryan Kesler and Roberto Luongo wanted out of Vancouver. Josh Gorges turned his nose up at Toronto. James Reimer wants out of Toronto. Ryan Suter left Nashville. Patrick Roy forced his way out of Montreal. Jason Spezza spurned an entire country.

The reasons, of course, vary, but the sentiment is the same: Nobody wants to be where they don’t want to be.

This all reminds me of the title of a song written by one of our favorite sons, Neil Young: Everybody Knows This is Nowhere. That’s what the outside world thinks of River City. But we know better, don’t we? River City is more like the Hotel California: You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.

I wonder if Evander Kane knows that.

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