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-tainted 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.

Fact 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 neither is 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.

Let’s talk about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers QBs…counting heads…Corn Dog Cody Fajardo…awesome and ugly football…’minor’ concussions…tweet, tweet, tweet…ponytail puck…and a bounce-back season for Puck Finn?

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and if you’re reading this at the cottage on the last leg of a long weekend, I can only wonder what’s wrong with you…

So the stage is set. Two Goliaths. Temporary bragging rights at stake.

And, yes, I still consider the Blue Bombers a Goliath, because I firmly subscribe to that old chestnut ‘you are what your record says your are,’ and it doesn’t get any better than Winnipeg FC and the Calgary Stampeders, who’ll be the house guests at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry on Thursday night.

Matt Nichols

Although there are those among us who believe the Bombers’ W-L log is the product of smoke, mirrors and a steady diet of 98-pound weaklings, I’m not going to quibble about a 5-2 record.

The doubting Thomas argument gained strength, of course, when the local lads were bullied by Pee-wee Herman on the back half of Winnipeg FC’s recent 0-for-Southern Ontario misadventure, but I feel obligated to point out that the Bombers and Stamps have played the same sides, with one exception—the Saskatchewan Roughriders. As we all know, Canadian Football League schedule-makers tend to save the Blue-and-Gold/Gang Green tiffs for Labour Day weekend on the Flattest of Lands and a few days later in Good Ol’ Hometown, when they tune up the banjos for the follow-up dosey doe.

In the meantime, it seems to me that Thursday’s duel of 5-2 outfits should serve as a statement skirmish for Winnipeg FC. Win and they gain believers, lose and talk radio becomes a blood sport.

There’s already plenty of nattering that suggests head coach Mike O’Shea is actually Homer Simpson with a head set, and his refusal to insert Chris Streveler into the fray when starting quarterback Matt Nichols can’t pass wind, never mind a football, seems to be the main irritant. Some, in fact, would prefer to have the two QBs reverse roles, but I’m guessing those folks are also flat-earth fanatics who walk around with wide strips of tin foil on their heads.

Chris Streveler

Hey, I agree that Streveler is a good change of pace and we should see more of him behind centre, but make him the main man? Sorry, we’ve had enough backup QBs thrust into the starting role this season, thank you very much, and the product has suffered.

I suppose the good folks on the Flattest of Lands might pipe up and dispute that, because their No. 2 guy, Corn Dog Cody Fajardo, has done such boffo business that the Saskatchewan Roughriders decided they can get along just fine without Zach Collaros and shipped him—and the ever-present bats in his belfry—to the Republic of Tranna.

Much the same can be said in the Alberta Foothills, where Nick Arbuckle has kept things mostly neat and tidy during Bo Levi Mitchell’s time in the repair shop. He’s 4-1, that’s all, and if you expect more than that from a fill-in QB you’re more demanding than the nuns who taught me in Catholic school.

Anyway, it’s about Streveler and Nichols and the notion that they should swap snaps. Look, I don’t like what I saw of Nichols in the Golden Horseshoe any more than many of you, but if Coach O’Grunge has them trading places, he really would be a “D’oh!” boy.

Football Follies Field in Fort Garry

I’m curious to see what kind of a statement the football faithful in Good Ol’ Hometown will make on Thursday night. A grab-grass-and-growl argument to determine top dog in a West Division that has taken on the look of a mosh pit ought to be a best-seller, except the Bombers’ bumbling in the Hammer and The ROT likely cost them a customer or two. I hope I’m wrong, but a head count of just 20,433 for the Battle of Alberta in Cowtown on Saturday tells me that people are finding other things to do as we dig into the dog days of August.

Hey, check it out. We finally know how many people have been ignoring the Argonauts in The ROT. According to CFLdb.ca, they’ve topped out at 16,734 patrons and bottomed out at 11,428 in their three BMO Field assignments this crusade, but the Scullers are the only CFL outfit showing a year-over-year increase in attendance from 2018. Meanwhile, I don’t understand why we have to search CFLdb.ca to discover what the CFL should be telling us on its own website. That’s just wrong.

Corn Dog Cody

Not only has Fajardo got a nose for football, Corn Dog Cody’s sniffer also leads him to fun and games and growlies, like the kind you’ll find at the Queen City Ex in Regina. We know this because the Riders QB confessed to a special kind of motivation after his late-game TD put the seal on a 24-19 victory over the Hamilton Tabbies. “I’m really excited to get a corn dog to be honest,” he told news snoops, as the aroma of those carny treats wafted his way from the nearby Ex. “I’m a big carnival corn dog guy and I was like hopefully the game goes well so I can get a corn dog. So that’s probably what gave me the will to score that touchdown, a little inspiration of a corn dog at the carnival.” If that’s what corn dogs do for a QB, what say we make them Matt Nichols’ pre-game meal? (It’s also refreshing to hear an athlete deliver something other than cookie-cutter, club-approved, yawner quotes for news snoops. Atta boy, Corn Dog.) 

Duane Forde

So, how do you like what you’ve seen to date in our quirky three-down game? Opinions differ.

Veteran news snoop Frank Zicarelli of Postmedia Tranna wrote this last month: “There is no legitimate quarterback on the (Argos) roster in a league where the position is so thin that most games have become virtually unwatchable.” The granddaddy of E-Town jock journos, Terry Jones, agreed: “Too many CFL games are unwatchable this season.” And, of course, TSN talkers Duane Forde and Davis Sanchez both slapped an “ugly” label on different games in the past two weeks.

Then there’s Knuckles Irving, the Winnipeg FC play-by-play guy who, like Jonesy, has very long teeth. His take: “Awesome weekend for the CFL. 4 close, entertaining games, although as my pal Herb Zurkowsky already pointed out, it would be nice if they could speed them up a bit and keep them under 3 hours.”

Personally, I’ve seen too many clunkers. Too many nights only the lickety-split of the kick returners has prevented me from switching channels or nodding off.

Montreal Larks head coach Khari Jones tells us that his QB, Vernon Adams Jr., suffered a “minor concussion” when J.R. Tavai of the Bytown RedBlacks cracked him with a head-to-head cheap shot that went unpunished. Sorry, Khari, but I never considered any of my 10 concussions “minor.” They still put me in a dark room.

Knuckles Irving

Tweets that grabbed my attention in the past week…

* The aforementioned Knuckles Irving, after a follower called Mike O’Shea an “idiot”: “He hasn’t won the big one but Our idiot head coach is 38-23 since 2016. Bring me more idiots.” Just as long as they aren’t wearing tin foil on their heads, right Knuckles?

* Former all-star D-lineman, CJOB gab guy and freelance columnist Doug Brown, during the Argos 28-27 victory over the Bombers: “Imagine losing to Dane Evans, and McLeod Bethel-Thompson, back to back. That might be a bit of a buzz kill.” Exactly 17 minutes later: “My god.” Too funny.

* Old friend and all-round good guy Scott Campbell: “I’m expecting regression from #NHLJets and not mad about it. It would be worse had they given those contracts to Myers, Tanev and Chiarot. I’m more worried about the coaches optimizing the lineup. Hoping Maurice got back to summer work.” I guess two steps forward and one step back beats one step forward and two steps back every time.

* And, of course, Steve Simmons continued to be a total Twitter troll. The Postmedia Tranna columnist cited a handful of top-drawer quill jockeys as the reason he subscribes to The Athletic, then added: “I do wish they’d stop drooling over each other every time someone writes something good.” He posted that at 10:59 a.m. on July 31. At 1:13 p.m. that same day, look who was “drooling over” one of his own Postmedia colleagues, Rob Longley. Yup, Simmons. “Our guy, baseball’s most underrated writer, has broken the stories thus (sic) afternoon of Blue Jays trading Aaron Sanchez and Joe Biagini to Houston.” Two days later, he was “drooling over” Longley again. Pot, meet kettle. And I hope he was wearing a bib.

I didn’t think it possible, but the new teleprompter reader on TSN Sportscentre, Kayla Gray, is actually louder than Kate Beirness. Enthusiasm is a good thing. Making my ears bleed is not.

Dani Rylan

Officially, there will be a fifth National Women’s Hockey League season. Unofficially, there might not be a fifth NWHL crusade. Two months before they’re scheduled to drop the puck, commish Dani Rylan’s house league has scared up just 39 players willing to boycott the boycott of the ForTheGame200 gang, a group of elite performers who insist they will continue to stomp their feet, hold their breath and refuse to play hockey until a sugar daddy comes along and pays them a living wage. Unfortunately, only a few of us notice, or care, that they’re missing, so I hope they aren’t expecting an amber alert.

And, finally, interesting piece by Ian Tulloch of The Athletic Tranna. Ian goes about the business of listing 10 National Hockey League players likely to have a “bounce-back” season, and he has our own Patrik Laine at No. 6. Well, let me just say this about that: You know Puck Finn is some kind of special when he lights 30 lamps and pundits are talking about him in terms of rediscovering his scoring touch.

Let’s talk about ending the CFL’s interlocking schedule…Winnipeg Blue Bombers were first to head East…golfing with Bluto…sticking to sports…tweet-tweet…gift of the gab in the NHL…Andrew Copp’s shelf life…and a self-proclaimed Stevie Nicks groupie

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and it’s pay day for us seniors, so get out of our way…

Where I live, on the shores of the Pacific Ocean and across a small puddle from Vancouver, it’s almost as if the B.C. Lions don’t exist.

The Canucks are huge, of course. Ditto European soccer and the English Premier League. The Blue Jays receive plenty of noise, especially when they’re in nearby Seattle to duel the Mariners. Golf, notably the Grand Slam tournaments, gets a sizable chunk of the sports discussion, in part because we can tee it up 365 days of the year.

But the Lions…I hear more chatter about rugby and the Shamrocks, a highly decorated lacrosse outfit.

Unless a lass named Jody and a gent named Doug are in my downtown Victoria watering hole, any mention of the Canadian Football League and its member clubs is as rare as a winter without rain. And, just for the record, the wet stuff doesn’t fall in the quantities you’re led to believe. That’s propaganda. We just let the myth persist, otherwise there’d be tourists getting in our way 24/7/12 and we like to reserve our little island for ourselves a few months each year.

Lancaster and Reed

At any rate, Jody and Doug are Green People, which is to say they pledge allegiance to the Saskatchewan Roughriders and can probably tell you the name of the goomer inside the Gainer the Gopher costume. Whether or not they pluck the banjo, I can’t say, but it goes without saying they’re good people and good for a gab about the CFL, even if it’s unavoidably Riders-centric and always references Ron Lancaster and George Reed.

Otherwise, the CFL and Leos are non-starters in these parts and I’m quite uncertain why that is, except to say that after close to two decades here (20 years on Sept. 3) it’s my experience that the citizenry of the Garden City are indifferent to most things east of the Strait of Georgia.

We tend to focus on bike lanes, Orca pods and green spaces, rather than Green People with watermelons on their heads.

Green People in B.C. Place.

What I’d really like to know, however, is why the rest of our vast land seems to be tuning out our delightfully quirky three-down game.

Again, I’ve heard all the theories and, as I suggested on Sunday, the skirmishing has become borderline unwatchable, due in large part to starting quarterbacks dropping like ducks in a carnival shooting gallery, but also because TSN refuses to pull the plug on insufferable gimmickry that makes our eyes and ears bleed.

The Prairies, of course, remains the CFL fortress, with the Flattest of Lands boasting the most rabid and portable of fan bases, and they were out in all their melon-headed, green glory to watch the Riders ragdoll Mike Reilly and the Lions on Saturday night. It’s not by coincidence that the 20,950 head count was tops this season at B.C. Place Stadium. By 2,892 noggins. I’m not sure if that’s enough to make Leos bankroll David Braley smile, because there’s the matter of just one W in seven tries for the B.C. 24, but I’m guessing what didn’t get done on the field was done in suds sales.

There are two things I know about Green People, your see: They love their football and they love their Pilsner, and not necessarily in that order. Mind you, they might have been forced to chug some kind of Lotus Land hippie swill rather than Pil at B.C. Place, because it’s a different world out here. Still, a pint is a pint is a pint when your side is on the laughing end of a 48-15 score.

Whatever the case, here’s what I’m thinking: Let’s go back to the future. That is, no more interloping. Let west be west and east be east, and never the twain shall meet until the Grey Cup game. (Apologies to Rudyard Kipling for butchering his poem.)

That’s how the CFL rolled when I was knee high to Willie Fleming and Peanut Butter Joe Kapp. We never saw the whites of an eastern invader’s eyes until the final weekend in November, or the first weekend in December. Then some wise acres decided it would be a swell idea to have clubs flit to and fro across four time zones, and eastern outfits have been stumbling across the Manitoba border ever since.

Well, who needs them in 2019?

Let them keep to their own, with their four-team house league (five when Halifax joins the party; back to four when the Tranna Argos turn out the lights). I believe the five West Division outfits would get along quite nicely without the misfits and stumblebums from o’er there, thank you. Especially if it meant an extra visit from the melon heads.

Now, if the bottomless Boatmen beat the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Thursday night, I take it all back.

Matty

The local football heroes, be advised, were guilty of playing along with the interlocking schedule nonsense when it was introduced in 1961, although they really had no choice. So head coach Bud Grant and his troops trudged to Montreal for an Aug. 11 assignment, beating the Larks 21-15 in the CFL’s first West-East regular-season skirmish. Here’s how legendary football scribe and columnist Jack Matheson described the occasion for Winnipeg Tribune readers: “There were no special ceremonies to welcome a new era in Canadian football. There was, however, terrific humidity that was eventually chased by incessant drizzles, and through it all the Winnipeg team played their best football of the season. Their efforts weren’t particularly appreciated by 18,059 fans.” Apparently those 18,059 customers never left, because that’s still what the Alouettes draw today.

Incidentally, Winnipeg FC began its ’61 crusade with four games in 10 days. That is not a typo. Ten days, four games. So let’s not hear any whinging about a demanding sked today.

Big Bluto: Stories, stories, stories.

Big doings on the south side of River City this very afternoon and evening, with the boys and girls teeing it up in the Dreams Take Flight Tournament at Southwood Golf & Country Club. Bombers legend Chris Walby is among the celebs swinging the sticks, and we all know the large man will also give his jaw a workout. Peter Young has a boffo take on Big Bluto’s modus operandi when he attends one of these functions: “Opens car door in parking lot…starts telling stories…10 hours later gets back in car…stops telling stories…drives home…practices stories for next event.” They’ll fire a shotgun at 1 p.m. to get it all started, and some lucky kid will be going to Disney World in Orlando thanks to the money raised. Good stuff.

Mariano Rivera

I don’t agree that jock journos should stick to sports, but there are times when it’s the preferred option. A case in point would be Damien Cox of the Toronto Star. Noting that Baseball Hall of Fame hurler Mariano Rivera expressed support for Donald Trump, Cox tweeted: “Sad to hear such a great athlete is a nut. Real shame. But that’s life.” So, if your political leanings don’t dovetail with Cox’s, you’re a nut. Hmmm. Sad to hear. Real shame. Cox, unfortunately, couldn’t resist the urge to also weigh in on the Calgary arena agreement, whereby the City foots half the bill for a new shinny palace: “Why in the world don’t the Flames just pay for their own bloody arena?” Here’s a better question: Why in the world would a dude who writes for a rag in the Republic of Tranna care how taxpayer coin is spent in a burg 2,700 km away?

Marcus Stroman

Tweets that struck my fancy in recent days:

Bruce Arthur, Toronto Star: “Marcus Stroman always looked forward to pitching in big competitive moments, to playing for a great organization, and the Jays traded him to the Mets. That’s like breaking up with someone by burning down their house and stealing their credit cards and taking their dog.” (I swear I heard Willie Nelson sing those very lyrics at a concert a few years back.)

Farhan Lalji, TSN reporter during the Lions 45-18 wedgie v. the Roughriders: “Not sure it was the right time for the #BCLions to run an inhouse promo on the jumbotron called “Bad Jokes.” (I suppose the joke is on Mike Reilly.)

Doug Brown, former Bombers D-lineman, gab guy on CJOB, freelance scribe for the Drab Slab, on Winnipeg FC’s stumble in the Hammer: “You just don’t expect this team to lose their first game to a QB named Dane Evans.” (I agree with Doug. If the Bombers are going to lose to Hamilton, the quarterback should be named Bernie Faloney, Frank Cosentino or Joe Zuger.)

Chris Walby, Junior hockey legend and celebrity golfer: “I’ve been fortunate to be on a lot of great Bomber teams in my 16 year career, but this Bombers team is as dominant a team in all phases that I can remember. Keep it up my Bomber brothers. The drought ends in 2019!!” (Oops.)

It came to my attention the other day that Zach Parise of the Minnesota Wild is 35 years old. Can that be so? Seems like Zach just got started.

Coach Potty Mouth

Interesting read by Craig Custance in The Athletic. Craig polled 36 boys and girls on the National Hockey League beat to determine which players/coaches have the gift of the gab, and look who topped out as the best natterbug among bench bosses—that’s right, our guy Paul Maurice. The Winnipeg Jets puppeteer received nine votes, three more than John Tortorella, and it’s really saying something (literally) when what comes out of Coach Potty Mouth’s squawk box is more interesting than Torts’ spewings. Who knew snake oil was in such demand? As for the players, apparently lip service isn’t a Jets thing. None among the locals made the all-talk team. No surprise, really. I mean, when the team captain tells news snoops to “eff off” there’s not much left to say.

Andrew Copp

So, what’s Andrew Copp’s shelf life in River City? One year? Two? Guaranteed the Jets utility forward is as good as gone, because an arbitration hearing is a one-way ticket out of Dodge. We know this to be so thanks to Custance. Citing NHL Players Association numbers, Custance tells us that 27 player/team salary stalemates between 2009 and this summer landed on an arbitrator’s desk. Twenty-one of the 27 skaters had a new mailing address inside three years; 14 said adios inside two years; 14 didn’t survive a year. The latter group would include Jacob Trouba, the only guy nervy enough to play chicken with les Jets until Copp came long with his beef. An arbitrator awarded Trouba a $5.5 million, one-year wage in July 2018, and the top-pair defender was dispatched to Gotham last month. So I give Copp two years tops, but I wouldn’t bet against him being gone as early as autumn. He’s an easily replaced part.

Just wondering: Why was Trouba the target of intense hostility for hopping on the Arbitration Train, yet Copp hasn’t heard similar name-calling?

Stevie Nicks

And, finally, this has nothing to do with sports, but I watched a 1997 Fleetwood Mac concert on PBS Sunday evening and was reminded of the band’s brilliance. Fan-flipping-tastic! Love Stevie Nicks…her growly, entrancing voice, her mystical, occultish vibe, her fabulous fashion sense. I’ll be 69 this year and I don’t mind admitting that I’m still a Steve Nicks groupie. That girl’s got the sexy going on.

Let’s talk about cheering in the press box…negative bias…Red Smith getting the heave-ho…Brown Bagging It in the Drab Slab…Tim & Sid & Puck Finn…rooting for les Leafs…TV ratings…and sports IQ

A mid-week, media-centric smorgas-bored coming down in 3, 2, 1…and a happy hump day to all you working stiffs…

A couple of weekends back, I mentioned something about cheering in the press box and entered a guilty plea on the charge of silently root, root, rooting for the 1978-79 Winnipeg Jets in the final waltz of the final World Hockey Association playoff gala.

The key word is “silently.”

I totally understood the ‘no cheering in the press box’ mantra and I subscribed to it without reservation during my 30 years in the rag trade. More to the point, I was inclined to cast the stink eye at anyone who betrayed the precious, unwritten code that dates back to the first chisel striking a stone tablet following David’s epic upset win over Goliath.

Thus it was with interest that I read Mad Mike McIntyre’s thoughts on the matter at the conclusion of his recent hoops safari to the Republic of Tranna at the behest of the Drab Slab.

While the Jurassics and the Golden State Juggernaut had at it on the hardwood, Mad Mike found himself somewhat discomforted by the presence of the most scorned and tut-tutted of press box inhabitants—he/she who waves pom-poms.

“That’s just gross,” he opined. “To be clear, I didn’t witness this from any of the mainstream press—who I expect would know better—but from a handful of fringe online writers who managed to score access. A big no-no, but the kind of thing that is happening in this rapidly growing media world where ‘fan-friendly’ copy can score you easy clicks and likes.

“Let me say this as loudly as I can: I don’t cheer for any team I cover. And I would hope my copy, not to mention 24-year journalism career in this city, would reflect that. The only things I root for are good storylines and quick-moving games that leave plenty of time for deadline to file. And Diet Pepsi in the press box, instead of Diet Coke.”

Well, let me say this about that (without being too loud) once again: Any news snoop who tells you that he/she doesn’t have favorites, trust me, he/she is lying. And because they have favorites, they want those people and/or teams to succeed. That isn’t wrong, nor does it make them sellouts to a sacred trust. It makes them human.

Imagine that. Sports scribes as humans. What a concept. It’s true, though. Especially among the women. I’ve yet to meet a female jock journo who isn’t human. The men, not so much.

But even the men are suckers for a good story from good people.

You think there wasn’t silent cheering in the press box at the old barn on Maroons Road when Teemu Selanne was about to shatter Mike Bossy’s rookie record for goal scoring in 1993? Teemu wasn’t just a fan favorite in Good Ol’ Hometown. He was a media darling. Scribes and talking heads loved the obliging, aw-shucks kid with the flashy nickname from Finland. They couldn’t get enough of him. So when Selanne passed Bossy, you wanted to stand up and damn well cheer.

Other things made you want to break down and bloody well cry, like a spring afternoon in 1996 when the Winnipeg Jets bid farewell to the faithful and bolted for the Arizona desert. (I know, for certain, there were news snoops with tears in their eyes that day.)

The trick, of course, is to keep any bias on the down low while perched in the press box and, most imperative, prevent it from creeping into your copy.

To date, Mad Mike has managed to do that while sucking back his Diet Pepsi. But Big Sister is watching and reading.

Prejudice, you realize, can cut both ways. The most recent example of negative bias I can think of was the extreme and shameful hate-on former Drab Slab columnist Paul Wiecek had for Jacob Trouba. The young Jets defender (allegedly) lied to Wiecek about a desire to play in Winnipeg, and the Freep scribe went into attack mode, never squandering an opportunity to discredit Trouba’s character, if not his play. It became an obsession, very personal, nasty and uncomfortable. That is as much a betrayal to the trade as standing up and cheering in the press box.

Red Smith

Here’s how legendary American columnist Red Smith handled a run-in with an athlete back in the day (from the book No Cheering in the Press Box by Jerome Holtzman):

“Over the years, of course, all sports writers, especially those assigned to and traveling with ball clubs, have difficulty with a ball player, or ball players. I never had anything as crucial as an actual fist fight, but I did have some differences with Bill Werber. This was when I was in Philadelphia and he was traded or sold. The A’s sent him to the Cincinnati Reds, and when the deal was announced I probably wrote something to the general effect of ‘Good riddance.’ I’m not sure. I didn’t care deeply for Bill. I thought he paraded his formal education. He was out of Duke, you know, and he used to correct the grammar of other ball players. There were things about Bill that didn’t enchant me.

“In 1939 the Reds were in the World Series. When we got to Cincinnati for the third game I went down to the bench before the game, and my old friend Paul Derringer said, ‘Hello, Red, you know Bill Werber don’t you?’ And Werber said, ‘Yes, I know the sonofabitch.’

“It went on, a tiny few exchanges like that, and then he said, ‘Get off this bench! Get out of the dugout!’

“I said, ‘No, I’m a guest here.’

“And he got up and shouldered me out of the dugout, just kind of strongarmed me out. I had my portable and I was strongly tempted to let him have it—with the typewriter. But I somehow didn’t feel like doing that on the field before the first World Series game in Cincinnati and so I left.

“I remember Charlie Dexter coming along behind me and he said, ‘What are you going to do? Are you going to protest to the Baseball Writers Association?’

“I said, ‘No, Charlie, the player doesn’t like me.’

“I didn’t speak to him again.”

Doug Brown

Another interesting entry from Doug Brown on the pages of the Drab Slab. Despite evidence to the contrary in the 2018 Canadian Football League crusade, Doug’s not convinced that Chris Streveler is a suitable backup quarterback for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. “It can take a lot more time to develop a pocket-passing acumen than a couple of starts, a year of practice and some preseason games. Call it a hunch, a best guess, but I’m not sure he eventually will.” Brown adds that Streveler’s “habits, and affinity for contact, aren’t sustainable for the long-term in the CFL.” Like I said, interesting. Brown, of course, saw some QBs during his time on D-lines in both the CFL and National Football League, but I’m saying he misses his “guess” on Streveler.

So, some dude named David Pagnotta from a blog called The Fourth Period cites “multiple sources close to the situation” and tells us that restricted free agent Patrik Laine plans to “explore” all his options. That, in turn, leads to rampant rumor that Puck Finn wants out of River City if les Jets don’t pony up to the tune of $10 million per season on a new contract. That’s where Tim & Sid weighed in on Sportsnet.

Tim Micallef: “Laine is an elite goal scorer.”
Sid Seixeiro: “But here’s the thing. Laine…there are some red flags on Laine a little bit. Would you not acknowledge? He’s extremely hard on himself, he’ll go in that slump…there are parts of Laine, when he’s scoring 45-plus you kind of ignore, but when he had a year like he had last year…look, they’re gonna pay him, they’re gonna keep him, I’m not saying they’re not. But his rep isn’t what it was 18 months ago.”

Tim & Sid

Tim: “But even then, so what do you drop to, a Phil Kessel? Like, honestly, the guy can score in his sleep, right?”
Sid: “When he’s scoring.”
Tim: “But when he’s scoring he ends up with 40, in and around. Right? Like, even with the slumps, he ends up with in and around 40, which, I don’t know if you checked, gets a lot of money in the NHL these days.”
Sid: “Oh, it does. Look, the Cheveldayoff thing and Laine, we’re gonna hear a lot of the breaking rumors, he is not leaving Winnipeg, he is signing long term in Winnipeg, he is not being traded, he is not exploring those options. Of all the restricteds, that one is gonna get locked down guaranteed.”

I’m with Sid, even though his numbers are a bit wonky (Laine has yet to score “45-plus” in a season). Puck Finn isn’t going anywhere.

Strange tweet from Scott Stinson of the National Post: “No one from outside Ontario would dare cheer for the Maple Leafs. The Raptors, though…” What rock has that dude been hiding under? When les Leafs make their annual pilgrimage to Western Canada, it’s like they’re the home team. Stinson might want to get out of the house more often. Or at least stay up late enough to turn on his TV and watch les Leafs when they’re playing in the colonies.

D’oh boy tweet from Damien Cox of the Toronto Star: “More people watching these Raptor games in the NBA Finals than watch Grey Cups these days. That’s exceeding an annual piece of Canadiana. Think about that for a moment.” I don’t have to think about it. Although Cox doesn’t spell out what “these days” are, here are Canadian TV ratings from Grey Cup matches this century vs. the NBA final:

2009 Montreal-Saskatchewan 6.1 million average
2010 Montreal-Saskatchewan 6M
2012 Calgary-Toronto 5.8M
2002 Montreal-Edmonton 5.2M
2011 B.C.-Winnipeg 4.6M
2013 Hamilton-Saskatchewan 4.5M
2003 Edmonton-Montreal 4.4M
2015 Ottawa-Edmonton 4.3M
2017 Toronto-Calgary 4.3M
2019 Game 2 NBA final 4.3M
2014 Hamilton-Calgary 4.1M
2006 B.C.-Montreal 4M
2005 Edmonton-Montreal 4M
2004 Toronto-B.C. 4M
2016 Calgary-Ottawa 3.9M
2008 Calgary-Montreal 3.65M
2007 Winnipeg-Saskatchewan 3.5M
2019 Game 1 NBA final 3.3M
2018 Calgary-Ottawa 3.1M
2001 Calgary-Winnipeg 2.7M

And, finally, I keep hearing pundits talk about hockey IQ and basketball IQ and football IQ, but I never hear anyone mention baseball IQ. I guess after listening to Yogi Berra and Casey Stengel, the notion of intelligent life on Planet Baseball was ruled out years ago.

Let’s talk about the Jurassics and waving the Maple Leaf (or not)…the WHA Winnipeg Jets and tall tales…getting out of Dodge…the curious case of the E-Town Oilers…Brown bagging it in the Drab Slab…girl power in the CFL…the Round Mound of the Ring…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and happy Pride Month to everyone in the LGBT collective and all our allies…

Apparently, I’ve been “swept up.” You have been, too, in case you didn’t know.

Oh, yes, (I’m told) we have become a nation of 37 million bouncy-bouncy, hoopster hosers, entranced and enthralled by the antics of those long, tall Jurassics from the Republic of Tranna, a talented troupe that might or might not soon be champions of all the world’s hardwood floors.

It will require three more Ws from the Jurassics before they can be anointed rulers of a game invented by a Canadian and perfected by Americans, but their opening salvo—a 118-109 beatdown of the Golden State Juggernaut—in the National Basketball Association title skirmish has put us (I’m told) in a nation-wide tizzy, the likes of which we haven’t experienced since the last time we were in a nation-wide tizzy.

We in the north don’t get into too many tizzies, understand, because we’re understated and polite. But, when we do go ga-ga, it usually involves a hockey puck, like the one Paul Henderson slid under Soviet Union goaltender Vladislav Tretiak in September 1972, thus plopping the lid on a shinny cold war called the Summit Series and igniting a nation-wide hooraw.

I recall quite vividly where I was the moment Henderson, Espo, ankle-breaking Bobby Clarke et al put the Soviets in their place: At home. In my living room. Going bonkers.

Similarly, I know exactly where I was the other night when the Jurassics and their one-and-done superstar, Kawhi Leonard, took the measure of the Juggernaut in Game 1 of the NBA’s final tussle: At home. In bed. Catching zzzzzzs. And, no, I wasn’t dreaming of Drake.

Imagine my surprise, therefore, to learn in the ensuing days that I have been “swept up” by something one Postmedia Tranna essayist labeled “Rapstock,” the jock equivalent of Woodstock.

That same scribe, Joe Warmington, considered the Raptors’ success so significant and global in scope that he sought words of wisdom from that noted authority on pink slips and layoffs, Paul Godfrey, his boss at Postmedia. (Nothing quite like sucking up to the boss to flesh out your copy.)

“It is definitely something we haven’t seen since the Blue Jays 1992 and 1993 years that the whole country got swept up in,” the God-man gushed.

Hmmm. I seem to recall being “swept up” in gold medal crusades by our women and men hockey players at the 2002, 2006, 2010, 2014 Winter Olympic Games, but, hey, that didn’t happen in the Republic of Tranna, so it’s total meh, I guess.

I don’t know about you, but I truly appreciate it when people from The ROT tell those of us in the colonies what we’re thinking and feeling.

You know, people like Steve Simmons, who informed us, “The country won.” His columnist colleague with Postmedia, Scott Stinson of the National Post, spoke to a chap in Quebec and advises us that folks in La Belle Province have embraced the Jurassics “in a way that matters.” He didn’t say in what way it matters, but I’ll take his word for it that it matters to les Quebecois. Curtis Rush of Forbes reminded us that “Canadians swelled with pride,” the moment the Jurassics arrived in The ROT late last century. (For the record, the only thing that swells on me are my ankles, and that has everything to do with failing kidneys and nothing to do with a hoops outfit more than 4,000 kilometres away.)

On jock TV, meanwhile, the propaganda machine at Drake-onian Sportsnet went into overdrive, cranking out dispatches that trumpet record-breaking viewership numbers. An average of 3.3 million sets of Canadian eyeballs caught Game 1. Yowza!

You know what that means, don’t you? That’s right, 33.7 million of us found something better to do than watch the Jurassics tame the Juggernaut last Thursday night. Like me…I got “swept up” in sleep.

I’d like to see a regional breakdown of the Sportsnet numbers. It’s my understanding that two-thirds of the 3.3 million viewers live in Ontario. So much for a nation-wide tizzy.

Interesting that the Drab Slab would dispatch their main man, Mad Mike McIntyre, to Games 1 and 2 of the NBA final. Even more interesting is that Mad Mike would eagerly swallow the Kool-Aid they’re serving in The ROT. I mean, he calls a “foul on anyone” who claims she or he isn’t caught up in Rapstock. He also writes: “You’ll have a hard time convincing me that a Raptors championship won’t instill a sense of pride to even the most fair-weather fan out there.” Yo! Mad Mike! Some of us just…don’t…care. And we don’t have to convince you or anyone else of that.

Photo by Jon Thordarson

I wonder what the fib count was during this weekend’s 40th anniversary gathering of the 1979 champion Winnipeg Jets in Good Ol’ Hometown. Hockey people, especially a guy like Tommy McVie, like to tell stories, and I’m guessing they’ve been stretching the truth further than the elastic waist bands on some of their trousers. It’s just too bad Fergy, Sudsy, the Shoe, Friar, Jon and Turbo weren’t there to share the tall tales.

Still surprised when I hear someone suggest the World Hockey Association Jets could have laid a licking on the late-1970s Montreal Canadiens. Wouldn’t have happened, kids. The Jets were very good, but not Habs good.

It’s Sunday morning, June 2, 2019: Do we know where Jacob Trouba is? Does Kevin Cheveldayoff know where he’s sending the young defender? Time to play show-and-tell, Chevy.

Trouba sits in the No. 2 slot on TSN’s National Hockey League trade board, and here’s something to keep in mind when Chevy moves him: We know for certain that two players have asked the general manager for a trade—old friend Evander Kane and Trouba. Kane got his wish. Trouba will, too, one way or the other. Moral of the story: Any player who wants to get out of Dodge simply has to be patient because, in the end, Chevy can’t prevent him from bolting.

Always find the goings-on in Edmonton a curious bit of business, with the Oilers forever hiring and firing scouts, coaches and GMs to be fired and rehired. The latest to step behind the E-Town bench as future ex-head coach is Dave Tippett, who replaces Ken Hitchock who replaced Todd McLellan who replaced…oh, you know the story. Odd thing is, Tippett’s record is no better than McLellan’s. Check it out…
Tippett:     14 seasons, 553-413-28 .563…missed playoffs six times…33-41 .446…twice reached conference final…Stanley Cup titles 0.
McLellan: 11 seasons, 434-282-90 .594…missed playoffs three times…37-38 .493…twice reached conference final…Stanley Cup titles 0.
I doubt this latest changing of the guard will make Looch Lucic’s feet move any faster.

Nice to see Doug Brown’s big words back on the sports pages of the Drab Slab. I haven’t always been a fan of his work, but Doug’s essays on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Canadian Football League serve two purposes: 1) they usually provide readers the kind of insight that only a former player can deliver; 2) they often give my dictionary a good workout.

Emily Clarke

Bravo and a tip of the bonnet to Emily Clarke and Georgina Paull, both of whom worked the Calgary Stampeders-Saskatchewan Roughriders skirmish on Friday night in Cowtown. Emily (side judge) and Georgina (line judge) are the first women to wear the stripes in a CFL game, and it somehow doesn’t seem right to call game officials skunk shirts or zebras anymore.

Also a tip of the bonnet to the Tranna Argonauts, whose first dress rehearsal of the CFL preseason was a daytime gig at old Varsity Stadium in The ROT. Only 4,313 witnesses watched the Boatmen beat the Montreal Alouettes, 45-20, but that’s okay because most of them were school kids who got to skip class. That, not trips to Mexico and Europe by Commish Randy Ambrosie, is the ticket for the CFL—make nice with Next Gen fans.

Speaking of school kids, the d-i-c-t-i-o-n-a-r-y took a beating at the recent Scripps National Spelling Bee in the U.S., when officials ran out of words for the young geniuses to s-p-e-l-l. So they declared the last kids standing co-champions—all eight of them. There hasn’t been that many hands pawing a trophy since Lyle Lovett started dating Julia Roberts.

Andy Ruiz and Anthony Joshua.

On the subject of champions and the alphabet, a real shocker in boxing on Saturday night when Andy Ruiz Jr. paddywhacked defending heavyweight chump Anthony Joshua at Madison Square Garden in Gotham. After boxing Joshua’s ears, Ruiz Jr. now holds most of big boy boxing’s title belts—WBA, WBO, IBF. Deontay Wilder owns the other alphabet belt (WBC) and, for those of you scoring at home, Manuel Charr is the WBA Regular champion and Trevor Bryan is the WBA Interim champion, whatever that means. The Ring magazine, meanwhile, refuses to recognize any of the aforementioned pugs as world champeen. Apparently the self-proclaimed Bible of Boxing is holding out for a Mike Tyson comeback.

Ruiz Jr., who stopped Joshua in the seventh round, looks like a guy who spends a lot more time in a donut or ice cream shop than a gym. He’s definitely the Round Mound of the Ring, and his considerable girth did not escape the notice of some of the mooks in MSG. Here’s how Tom Gray of The Ring described the pre-fight scene: “As he stood proudly listening to the Mexican national anthem, Ruiz was heckled by hordes of idiots around the ringside area over his body shape. ‘You fat bastard!’ they cried in unison. ‘Get your tits out for the lads!’ they sang.” Way to keep it classy, New York.

For those of you wondering, here’s the skinny on women’s pro sports in North America:
WNBA: Average attendance  6,721    Minimum wage $40,000
NWSL: Average attendance   6,024    Minimum wage $16,538
NWHL: Average attendance     954    Minimum wage   $4,000
As much as I would like women’s hockey to grow and flourish, in whose universe can you earn a $50,000-$100,000 salary when no one is buying what you’re selling? The ForTheGame200 boycotting the National Women’s Hockey League might want to rethink their wants and needs, not to mention their strategy.

And, finally, I’m going to come right out and say it: The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are your 2019 Grey Cup champions. I’m not going to explain myself. Not yet anyway.

About peace in the Red River Valley…Jekyll and Hyde in the CFL…the cost of beer and bowels…dance moves…Johnny Average…coach’s choice…oh, baby…TSN’s top 50…hanky-panky in women’s hockey…a Stanley Cup parade in The ROT?…and let the NHL games begin

Another Sunday smorg on another lovely, albeit damp, autumn morning…

It’s about that quarterback controversy—the sound you hear is silence. It’s not even crickets.

Matt Nichols completed just 16 passes for 179 yards on Saturday night at Commonwealth Stadium in E-Town. He failed to hurl the football for a touchdown. One of his 20 tosses landed in the wrong hands. Totally pedestrian numbers. The kind of numbers that had the rabble reaching for the torches and pitch forks two-three-four weeks ago.

Except this time Nichols’ work, however ordinary, was good enough and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers were on the favorable end of a 30-3 score vs. the Edmonton Eskimos.

Matt Nichols

Thus, we don’t hear anyone squawking about Chris Streveler getting the next start, which, of course, always was a fool’s argument that the Bombers oft-misguided head coach, Mike O’Shea, properly ignored. The payoff has been two efficient work days for Nichols and two successive wins—including the Bombers’ first W this season against an outfit that actually has a pulse—and Winnipeg FC now holds joint custody of third place in the Canadian Football League’s West Division to-and-fro.

So we have a different narrative.

Nichols is no longer a bum and the Winnipeg Free Press sports columnist might actually let a week go by without telling us that O’Shea and his sidekick, defensive co-ordinator Richie Hall, should be collecting pogey.

That all changes if the Bombers soil the sheets vs. the RedBlacks in Bytown next Friday, but for now there’s peace in the Red River Valley.

There’s certainly some Jekyll and Hyde in this Winnipeg FC outfit, although the same can be said about at least four other clubs—the Eskimos, B.C. Lions, Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Bytown RedBlacks. I’m guessing it will be the Leos with their noses pressed against the window and looking in when the post-season fun commences on the second Sunday in November, leaving the Bombers and Eskimos to settle the argument for third place on the final day of the crusade. The loser gets the crossover playoff berth, which is your basic CFL death sentence. History records that no western club has advanced to the Grey Cup game via the eastern route, and beating the RedBlacks and Tabbies back-to-back in enemy territory in November might be doable but it’s highly improbable.

Jason Maas

The cost of a beer at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday: $5. The cost of a hot dog: $2. Seeing Eskimos head coach Jason Maas look like he had blocked bowels: Priceless.

I note the Hamilton Tiger-Cat had themselves a bit of a hissy fit after the B.C. Lions held a dance party on their logo at Timbits field in the Hammer. Such scandal. You’d think Fred Astaire had stepped on Ginger Rogers’ toes. Get a grip, boys.

I think it’s great that Alessia Cara will perform the halftime show at the Grey Cup game. But remind me to Google her so I can find out who she is.

Johnny Rotten

Doug Brown has forgotten more about football than I’ll ever know, so it was with considerable interest that I read the former defensive lineman’s take on Montreal Alouettes quarterback Johnny Manziel. “I would dare say, especially after watching a full four quarters of his work in the 31-14 loss against the Bombers, that he is not a first-round quarterback talent,” he wrote in the Drab Slab. “He is pretty accurate with the football, and has a quick release; he has a pretty average arm, and doesn’t always throw a great football. When Manziel operates from the confines of the pocket, which is the most important measurable of any quarterback—scrambling or otherwise—he looks to be of the ilk of a very average quarterback in the CFL.” Brown will never get a job as a gab guy on TSN if he’s going to dis Johnny Average like that.

Brian Burke

Interesting comment from Brian Burke, former National Hockey League general manager and now a talking head on Sportsnet: “Well certainly from my perspective, you’re going to fire the coach if he doesn’t win enough games,” he told Sportsnet 650 in Vancouver, “so you better let him pick the roster.” Makes sense, but I doubt that’s how it works in Winnipeg. I’d wager the rent money that GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has a large say in who starts the season with les Jets.

Bob Cole

Apparently, Rogers believes there’s a sprinkling of “Oh, baby!” left in 85-year-old Bob Cole, so he’ll be at the play-by-play microphone for 10 games to be broadcast on Sportsnet this NHL season, his 50th on sid. But here’s my question: If Cole is still good enough to do 10 games, why not 15 or 20? We know he wanted to work the Stanley Cup tournament last spring, but Rogers shut him out. If there isn’t a health issue, Rogers is actually giving Cole the equivalent of a gold watch with his 10-game package. It’s a token gesture.

Having said that, Cole is definitely past his best-before date. He still has the great pipes, but he doesn’t recognize many players other than Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid.

Connor McDavid

So, TSN names its top 50 NHL performers, and here’s James Duthie to ask “the panel” how much of a talent gap exists between No. 1 Connor McDavid and everybody else, including runnerup Sidney Crosby.

“Substantial,” says Dave Poulin. “You put McDavid No. 1, then you start thinking about No. 2. There’s a gap after McDavid and there’s another gap after Crosby.”

Well, excuuuuuse me all to hell, but wasn’t it Poulin who left leading scorer McDavid off his all-star ballot last spring? Why, yes it was. He voted for Nathan MacKinnon, Anze Kopitar and Evgeni Malkin as the best centre-ice men in the game. Yet there he was last week, unflinching and insistent that McDo-it-all is not only superior to that troika—he’s two gaps greater.

Based on what? How many catfish and muskee McDavid caught during his summer vacation?

Seriously. The Edmonton Oilers captain played zero hockey between late May and early September, so how did he go from being no better than the fourth-best centre in the NHL to the absolute premier performer after three months of doing squat?

He didn’t. He was No. 1 then, and he’s No. 1 now. Poulin has some explaining to do, but I doubt we’ll hear it.

Gillian Apps and Meghan Duggan

It’s about hockey and hanky-panky. We know that the American and Canadian women knock the bejeebers out of each other once the puck is dropped. They maintain one of the most intense, heated rivalries in sports. But it’s the passion that goes on off the ice that’s interesting. One of our most-decorated shinny stars, Olympic gold medalist Gillian Apps, wed Meghan Duggan of Team USA last weekend in Maine, that less than a year after former Canadian captain Caroline Ouillette and former U.S. captain Julie Chu became moms by welcoming baby daughter Liv into the world. Puts a different twist on the old bromide about keeping your friends close and your enemies closer, doesn’t it? Beautiful stuff.

There are two thing I’m quite certain I’ll never see in my lifetime: 1) The captains of the Canadian and U.S. men’s Olympic hockey teams exchanging “I do’s” and raising a child together; 2) another Stanley Cup parade in the Republic of Tranna. And if I had to make a wager, I’d bet on the same-sex marriage happening first.

Speaking of Lord Stanley’s silver goblet, this from Stephen Whyno of the Associated Press: “Toronto appears to have the best chance to end Canada’s Stanley Cup drought that dates back a quarter century to 1993.” So, the addition of John Tavares to the Maple Leafs roster makes Jake Gardiner a better defenceman? Ron Hainsey a better defenceman? Frederik Andersen a better goaltender? Don’t think so. I still like les Jets to do it.

And, finally, 30 NHL teams begin their quest for the Stanley Cup this week. Meanwhile, in Ottawa, the Senators begin their quest for Jack Hughes.

Are you ready for some three-down football?

It’s time to grab grass and growl, kids, which is to say the Canadian Football League season is upon us, and my two Gridiron Girls are here to discuss the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and other things pigskin.

The Bombers, of course, engage the Edmonton Eskimos in their season-opening frolic on Thursday night at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry, and they do so with their starting quarterback, Matt Nichols, in the repair shop and greenhorn Chris Streveler behind centre.

That might sound like a recipe for disaster, but the Gridiron Gals don’t think so.

Take it away, ladies…

Chris Streveler

Lady Blue: Well, here we are, ready for another football season. I haven’t been this excited since we went all-in at that big sale on summer shoes at the Bay last month.

Lady Gold: Shoes is the operative word, because that nice, young man Chris Streveler has totally huge shoes to fill as the Bombers starting quarterback. I don’t know if I should be excited for him or feel sorry for him. True rookies—and by that I mean a kid with more wet behind his ears than Michael Phelps—seldom start at QB in the CFL. It’s as rare as Chris Walby passing on free burgers and beers. I’m told Anthony Calvillo was the last one. That was in 1994.

Lady Blue: Has it really been that long?

Lady Gold: Yup. You know who the Bombers starting QB was back then? Matt Dunigan. One of the other QBs that season was Sammy Garza, aka Slingin’ Sammy Son-in-Law. He had journeyman talent, but he also had the good sense to marry one of head coach Cal Murphy’s daughters.

Lady Blue: Did Kindly Cal still have his first heart in ’94, or was he operating with heart No. 2 by then?

Lady Gold: No. 2. Cal’s heart transplant surgery was in ’92. Bless his soul. Wonderful guy. Lots of laughs. And a football legend.

Lady Blue: Did you Google this stuff, or did you know it off the top of your head?

Lady Gold: Hey, I’m pushing 68. Google was invented for cobwebbed people like me. The mind might not be the first thing to go, but it’s running a close second.

Lady Blue: Well, we digress. What were you saying about Chris Streveler?

Lady Gold: Just that it might be leading a lamb to slaughter. As I said, not since Calvillo with the Las Vegas Posse in 1994 has a kid fresh out of a college classroom—or wherever it is that American college football players hide when they’re supposed to be in class—started a season behind centre in the CFL. It’s a tough gig.

Lady Blue: What’s the best-case scenario?

Lady Gold: That he has a career like Calvillo.

Lady Blue: What’s the worst-case scenario?

Lady Gold: That he has a career like Sammy Garza and doesn’t marry one of Cal Murphy’s granddaughters.

Lady Blue: They say Streveler has a good set of wheels.

Matt Nichols, still No. 1.

Lady Gold: He’ll need them. I’m guessing the Eskimos will be bringing more heat than the Earp boys and Doc Holliday at the OK Corral. You think there isn’t some serious chop-licking going on with the Edmonton defensive dozen right now, knowing there’ll be fresh meat on the other side of the line of scrimmage Thursday night?

Lady Blue: Does the entire 2018 season come down to the four-to-six week window when Streveler is subbing for Matt Nichols?

Lady Gold: Not at all. Think back to 2016. The Bombers came out of the gate at 1-4, largely because Drew Willy kept bouncing the ball to his receivers. Head coach Mike O’Shea—or someone above him—finally had seen enough of that Sad Sack show, so he handed the ball to Nichols, albeit grudgingly, and the lads went 10-3 the rest of the way. Going 1-4 in the CFL in June or July isn’t a death sentence, not even in the West Division. But you don’t want to do it once the frost is on the pumpkin.

Lady Blue: So you’re telling me that if the Bombers stumble out of the chute like Johnny Depp at closing time, I shouldn’t fret.

Adam Bighill

Lady Gold: Exactly. And I’ll give you two names why—Adam and Bighill. I cannot emphasize how significant a signing this was for the Bombers. I mean, are you kidding me? Bighill is Studly Linebacker. Essentially, he replaces Sam Hurl. That’s like going from Barry Manilow to Led Zeppelin. We haven’t seen that kind of an upgrade in River City since Sam Katz vacated the mayor’s office.

Lady Blue: Ouch. That was a cheap shot.

Lady Gold: I suppose it was. But I like to toss a cheap shot in every now and then just to see if anyone is paying attention. Anyway, as Doug Brown scribbled in the Drab Slab—that’s what I call the Winnipeg Free Press—the Bombers will have a beastly D dozen this year, and Bighill’s finger prints will be all over it. They could steal a game or two to ease Streveler’s burden.

Lady Blue: What else is critical to a successful crusade?

Mike O’Shea

Lady Gold: O’Shea has to stay out of his own way. No more glaring brain cramps or goofy gimmicks at the most inopportune times, like when you’re deep in your own half of the field and holding a comfy lead. Seriously. Punters passing to phantom receivers on third down in your own zone? Hey, I’m all for derring-do and a bit of hocus-pocus—and O’Shea can be quite creative on special teams—but he’s got to be more selective when he rolls the dice. You aren’t going to sneak the sun past a rooster by using a couple of hens as a diversion.

Lady Blue: Speaking of animals, is it going to be a zoo in Hamilton this year with Johnny Manziel on board?

Lady Gold: Well, TSN sure thinks he’s the cock of the walk. It’s been total overkill since he arrived in the Hammer, and it’s ridiculous. He’s a backup quarterback, for cripes sake.

Le Coupe de Grey

Lady Blue: I read a piece in the National Post the other day that suggested Manziel will drive attendance at Timbits Field in Hamilton.

Lady Gold: As if. That’s a stupid comment. Who’s going to pay money just to watch him stand on the sidelines? Besides, the Tiger-Cats played to 97.6 per cent capacity last season, third in the league behind Ottawa and Saskatchewan, and they were gawdawful. It’s not like they need him to put rumps in the pews.

Lady Blue: So you’re not a Johnny Football fan.

Lady Gold: Does Sarah Huckabee Sanders tell the truth?

Lady Blue: Any predictions ahead of Thursday’s opening kickoff?

Lady Gold: Ya, the Bombers will beat Hamilton in the Grey Cup game and Matt Nichols will be the MVP, but TSN will cut away from the awards ceremony to show highlights of Johnny Manziel holding a clipboard on the sidelines.

Lady Blue: Okay, it’s game on. Enjoy the season.

Lady Gold: You too.