Winnipeg Blue Bombers: Wade Miller started the train wreck, but he’ll be the last man standing

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

Wade Miller
Wade Miller

Let’s not sugar coat this. Someone has to lose a job. Pronto.

Start with Wade Miller. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers board of directors went all-in on their Chief Executive Officer the day they put his hands on the till in the summer of 2013. It didn’t matter that he had zero experience operating a Canadian Football League outfit. Surely, he couldn’t do more damage than Garth Buchko, right? And, hey, he played the game. Thus it was Miller time in Pegtown.

Alas, Miller’s inexperience surfaced almost immediately, when he hired the wrong guy, who then hired the wrong guy, who then hired the wrong guys.

Miller’s “exhaustive” search for the right man to generally manage the Winnipeg Football Club was laughable. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and submit he might have picked up his phone once or twice and made a long-distance call or two, but basically his GM hunt started and ended with a stroll down the hall at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry, whereupon he poked his head into Kyle Walters’ office and said, “The job’s yours if you want it,” then retreated to his own bunker.

That was Miller’s idea of a “full search.” Cripes, man, I’d wager he travels further to order a Quarter Pounder and large fries. Seriously, it was the laziest manhunt since O.J. swore he’d find the real killers.

So now the Bombers had a rookie CEO and a rookie GM tasked with the chore of mopping up the mess defrocked general manager Joe Mack had left behind. What better way to accomplish the cleanup than to bring in another greenhorn, right? Enter rookie Mike O’Shea, the filmaholic head coach whose 41-game sideline stewardship has been notable for failure, his quarterback blindness/stubbornness and his penchant for firing every coordinator he’s hired.

I suppose the Greenhorn Three could be forgiven rookie mistakes when they were, in fact, rookies. You know, growing pains and all that rot. But what’s the excuse today?

The Bombers were given yet another wedgie on Thursday night, and simple math indicates that someone ought to be out of work post haste. Their uninspiring, 33-18 loss in a skirmish with the Calgary Stampeders was the fourth of this 2016 crusade, against one success, but that 1-4 log provides just a glimpse of the big picture.

Overall, Walters is 15-38 and O’Shea is 13-28. Even more damning for the head coach is his record since a 5-1 start in 2014: 8-27. That’s positively Reineboldian!

So, where does the buck stop? At Wade Miller’s desk? At Kyle Walters’s desk? In Mike O’Shea’s film room? At offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice’s playbook? At quarterback Drew (One Hop) Willy’s changing stall?

Miller isn’t going anywhere, not as long as the bottom line on the financial statement is written in black ink (mind you, approximately 9,000 unoccupied seats at each of the last two home dates probably provides pause). Similarly, it’s unlikely that either Walters or O’Shea will be dismissed in advance of the Bombers’ next assignment, on Thursday night in Edmonton. LaPolice is safe with his plink-and-plunk offence, if only because O’Shea cannot continue to blame others for his own misgivings.

Which means…that’s right, Drew Willy is the first sacrificial lamb.

I don’t know if someone working at a higher pay scale will have to force his hand, but O’Shea really has no choice but to fire his quarterback. If he goes against the Eskimos with One Hop Willy at the controls, O’Shea is signing his own pink slip. He’s surrendering to the inevitable. And he’ll be next out the door. Followed by Walters.

My prediction: The last man standing will be Wade Miller, the guy who started the train wreck by hiring the wrong guy, who hired the wrong guy, who hired the wrong guys.

Kyle Walters
Kyle Walters

Here are the gory details of the Miller-Walters-O’Shea era compared to their predecessors:

General manager Joe Mack: 21-39
General manager Kyle Walters: 15-38
Head coach Paul LaPolice: 16-28
Head coach Tim Burke: 7-21
Head coach Mike O’Shea: 13-28

Interesting point made by Bombers running back Andrew Harris on the heels of the loss to Calgary. Harris, who was with the B.C. Lions when they stubbed their toes and came out of the gate at 0-5 in 2011, noted that the Leos recovered and hoisted the Grey Cup that November. So, sure, it’s doable. Except the Lions had Wally Buono as a GM, not Kyle Walters. They had Wally Buono as a head coach, not Mike O’Shea. They had a healthy Travis Lulay as a starting quarterback, not One Hop Willy.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 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 the Henrik Stenson-Phil Mickelson epic…flag football…tennis hot takes… 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…

Phil Mickelson and Henrik Stenson.
Phil Mickelson and Henrik Stenson.

My goodness, what a glorious finish to the Open Championship at Troon, Scotland.

It was mano-a-mano, Henrik Stenson vs. Phil Mickelson for the honor of being introduced by some stiff British upper lip as “golf champion of the year.” Mickelson played bogey free, shooting 65. When you’re in the final pairing on a Sunday at a golf major and you take just 65 swings, you expect to be holding a trophy and a winner’s cheque on the 18th green.

Not this time, though. Mickelson’s 65 wasn’t good enough. Not by two strokes!

Stenson, whose closing, record-equaling 63 made him the first Swede to win the Claret Jug, and Mickelson delivered an epic. It was as riveting a final round of golf as you’re apt to see.

The Tom Watson-Jack Nicklaus duel of 1977 was classic. This was Classic-plus.

I don’t know about you, but I was root, root, rooting for Stenson to claim the Claret Jug, in part because he’d never won one of golf’s majors and I have a soft spot for Swedish people. But there’s also something about Phil Mickelson that I find grating. Perhaps it’s Lefty’s goody-two-shoes persona. Maybe it’s his prissy fist pump and his dainty putting grip. I know, I know…that’s dumb. But I can’t help it. He’s too squeaky clean for me.

So, Rory McIlroy smashes his 3-wood in a momentary hissy fit at the Open Championship and the club head snaps off. The Irishman’s little temper tantrum was met with ho-hum indifference by most, while the boys in the booth shared a few giggles about it on Sunday. Now, had that been Tiger Woods, what do you suppose the reaction would have been? He’d have been crucified.

A typical scene at a CFL game.
A typical scene at a CFL game.

So, I’m watching a Canadian Football League game and (penalty flag) Kevin Fogg is hauled down after a 15-yard punt return (penalty flag), and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (coach’s challenge) are told to move half the distance (coach’s challenge) toward their goal line before they can scrimmage the football (penalty flag). After (TV timeout) play resumes, quarterback Drew Willy (penalty flag) flings the football in the direction of Darvin Adams (coach’s challenge) and there’s jostling on the sidelines (penalty flag), where order is restored before (three-minute warning/timeout) one of the Bombers (coach’s challenge) does something stupid (injury/TV timeout).

Total time playing football: 15 seconds.
Total time for penalties, coach’s challenges, injury/TV/three-minute warning delays/timeouts: 25 minutes.

Just wondering: Is Chris Jones still a genius, or is he only a genius when Mike O’Reilly is his quarterback? Jones, of course, went to Edmonton and turned water into Molson Canadian when his Eskimos went from Sad Sacks to Grey Cup champions. Now he’s trying to work similar hocus-pocus in Saskatchewan, but it isn’t going so well for the Roughriders head coach and grand poobah of everything football related. Gang Green, at 0-3, are all that’s keeping the Bombers our of the basement.

Department of irony: Bobby Orr wants to slow down the game of hockey. What’s next? Don Cherry calling for a ban on fisticuffs and high collars? It’s true, though. No. 4 Bobby Orr, the revolutionary rearguard who made all others appear to be standing still while he went about the business of winning two National Hockey League scoring titles, wants to open up the game by slowing it down. “We’re losing too many players, too many injuries,” he tells TSN’s Gino Reda. Thus, he advocates bringing the centre-ice line back into play. I don’t know about you, but when Bobby Orr speaks I think we ought to listen.

Serena Williams is not the greatest athlete.
Serena Williams is not the greatest athlete.

ESPN tennis gab guy Patrick McEnroe is not unlike many TV commentators who tend to get caught up in the moment and spew inflated superlatives that defy logic and stand in conflict with reality. McEnroe stared into the camera last weekend and declared Serena Williams to be “the greatest athlete of all time.” Oh, shut the front door, Little Mac. I doubt very much that Williams is a superior athlete to any man who’s ever won the world/Olympic decathlon or any women who’s won the world/Olympic heptathlon. Williams, who claimed her 22nd Grand Slam singles title at Wimbledon, is not even the best tennis player of all time. She would be hard pressed to win a game, let alone a set, off either of the two chaps who contested the gentlemen’s final, Andy Murray and Milos Raonic. If you want to rate Williams as history’s finest female tennis player, fine. But let’s not get carried away.

Based on her scribblings, Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star is not fond of the Murrays, Andy and his bride Kim. According to rambling Rosie, Wimbledon champion Andy is “utterly humourless” and Kim is “prissy—except when mouthing obscenities.” I don’t know about you, but I can’t say that I know a whole lot of “prissy” potty-mouth girls.

Yo! Don Cherry! I think most hosers agree that Remigio Peirera struck a sour note when he turned the Tenors’ version of O Canada into a political statement at the Major League Baseball all-star game. But to suggest the rogue tenor’s solo act makes all the “left-wing weirdos happy” is a bit much. I mean, you can call me a left-wing pinko, but don’t ever call me weird.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 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 throwing a No Hoper instead of a Hail Mary…the Winnipeg Blue Bombers firing and hiring coaches…yellow hankies…and BMO field

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

Mike O'Shea
Mike O’Shea

So let me see if I’ve got this straight: The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are trailing the Edmonton Eskimos by four points. They’re scrimmaging on the visitors’ 42-yard stripe. Seven ticks remain on the clock, just enough time to go all-in. Quarterback Drew Willy has no choice but to fling the football into the end zone. He must, he must, he must, he must.

Except he doesn’t. Instead of a Hail Mary, Willy, master of the one-hopper, throws a No Hoper.

Game, set and wedgie No. 3 for the Bombers in a Canadian Football League crusade that is resembling a toboggan ride after just four starts.

It mattered not that Willy’s final delivery in the Bombers’ latest toe-stubber arrived at the wrong address, which is to say it was picked off by Neil King of the Eskimos. It’s important to note that, even had the Winnipeg quarterback’s intended target, Darvin Adams, latched on to the ball, he would have been hauled down shy of the desired destination. He was surrounded by five—count ’em, five—guys wearing green-and-gold linen just inside the 10-yard stripe.

Is that poor quarterbacking? Why toss the ball to a guy who has no chance of scoring? Is it poor coaching? Who calls a last-gasp play that doesn’t send every receiver into the end zone? Is it poor receiving? Why didn’t Adams battle for the ball?

This is the Bomber way, though. This is why the sound track to their 20-16 beatdown by the Eskimos at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry on Thursday night was a chorus of boos, many of them showered upon the deep ball-challenged Willy and others directed at sideline steward Mike O’Shea, who, should there not be an about face in fortune for his band of misfits, might not have much more game film to critique.

Oh, yes, howls for the head coach’s hide shall assume a higher pitch in the coming days.

Let’s play role reversal. Let’s say it was the Eskimos, not the Bombers, with one shot from the 42-yard stripe to win. Does Edmonton QB Mike Reilly hurl the football into the end zone for the decisive points, or does he toss it 10 yards short and hope like hell there’s an interference penalty? I’ll ask a simpler question: Does the Pope wear pointy hats?

I don’t know about you, but every time I watch Reilly beat the Bombers (which is always and, apparently, forever) I can’t help but think of Joe Mack, the much-maligned man who generally mismanaged the local football heroes before he was kicked to the curb in favor of the men who today generally mismanage the Bombers. Mack could have had Reilly for a song. The Eskimos got him for a second-round draft pick instead. Nice job, Joe.

Paul LaPolice
Paul LaPolice

It isn’t about who you fire, it’s about who you hire to replace those you’ve fired. For those of us keeping score at home, here’s what the last round of hiring and firing has done for the Bombers…

General manager Joe Mack (fired):      21-39
General manager Kyle Walters (hired): 15-37

Head coach Paul LaPolice (fired): 16-28
Head coach Time Burke (fired):      7-21
Head coach Mike O’Shea (hired):  13-27

Football is a challenging game, but I say it’s time they took the yellow hankies away from the CFL’s sideline stewards. That is, there are far too many coach’s challenges, so many, in fact, that O’Shea doesn’t know what he can or cannot challenge. He took a delay-of-game penalty for challenging the unchallengeable in the third quarter. I agree, a head coach ought to know the rules. But, remember, this is a coach who doesn’t tell his offensive co-ordinator to tell his quarterback to throw the ball into the end zone when the game hangs in the balance.

With the Bombers saluting legendary QB Kenny Ploen by adding his name to the Ring of Honour at halftime, I couldn’t help but wonder if any among the current crop of local football heroes might one day see his name added to the collection of greats, which now includes just Ploen and Chris Walby but shall be nine strong by season’s end. Couldn’t think of a soul. Especially not One Hop Willy.

Noting Ploen’s induction to the Roll of Honour, a friend observed, “They sure don’t make quarterbacks like they used to.” To which I replied, “Not true. They do make quarterbacks like they used to. It’s just that none of them play for the Bombers.”

Just wondering: Was BMO Field in the Republic of Tranna half empty or half full when the Argonauts fell flat against the Ottawa RedBlacks on Wednesday night? Officially, the head count was 12,373. But I swear I’ve seen more circus clowns crawl out of a Volkswagen. Just saying.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 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 the Bombers’ binge…Huf huffing and puffing…a menage-a-goaltender…spoiled brats…and media groupies obsessed with a Raptors groupie

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

Many people were surprised to learn that Winnipeg has been ranked among the top seven most intelligent communities in the world. We’re not talking about one of the brightest burgs just in Manitoba, Canada or North America, understand. This is the whole world. The. Entire. Planet.

Ya, well, if there are so many Einsteins in Pegtown, why can’t one of them show the Winnipeg Blue Bombers how to win the Grey Cup?

John Hufnagel
John Hufnagel

I’m not sure what caused more raised eyebrows last week, the Bombers signing seven players scant seconds after the opening bell rang for the Canadian Football League’s annual livestock auction of untethered talent, or John Hufnagel’s reaction to the Big Blue’s free-agent binge. “I’d say that’s a little surprising,” the Calgary Stampeders grand poobah huffed and puffed. “How many years are they going to do it? You answer me that. They didn’t sign any of their guys, and they sign other people’s guys. I prefer to sign my own guys. That’s just me.” One day later, “just me” signed two “other people’s guys,” Bakari Grant and Taylor Reed of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, then added a third, James Green, late of the Ottawa RedBlacks. Pot, meet kettle.

You’ll have to excuse me if I hesitate to join the hallelujah chorus in touting the Bombers as new, improved and bound for glory. No doubt general manager Kyle Walters has added some top-end talent in running back Andrew Harris, size-smurf receivers Weston Dressler and Ryan Smith, and place-kicker Justin Medlock, but it’s still about the offensive line, the starting quarterback, Drew Willy, and, perhaps most important, the sideline maestro and film fanatic, head coach Mike O’Shea. Does Walters’ handiwork make O’Shea any smarter today than he was at the close of business in 2015? I think the GM said it best when asked how much better a product he’ll field in the ’16 CFL crusade: “Well, we’ll see.” So color me curious but not convinced.

Connor Hellebuyck
Connor Hellebuyck

Speaking of curious, I viewed the three’s-a-crowd demotion of Connor Hellebuyck to the farm as a bit of a head-scratcher. Not surprising, though, because the Winnipeg Jets have long been goaltender blind. Hellebuyck did enough good things during his time in the blue paint to convince me that he’s a National Hockey League-calibre goaltender and might be the Jets’ starter-in-waiting, so Michael Hutchinson should have been the fall guy and dispatched to the American Hockey League Manitoba Moose once Ondrej Pavelec returned from sick bay. Yes, I realize Hutchinson would have been exposed to the waiver wire were he the odd man out in the Jets’ menage-a-goaltender, but so what. I doubt another outfit would have claimed him. If so, no loss. I just cannot see where he fits into the club’s future.

There can be just one reason for the Winnipeg Free Press to have recruited Scott Campbell to pen a weekly column on the Winnipeg Jets: To provide a (former) player’s insight. His latest offering? Zero insight. I mean, telling us that Michael Hutchinson is having “a disappointing season” is lame. And implying that Andrew Copp has struggled as an NHL rookie because he’s been flanked by “a variety of nondescript players” is a copout (pun intended). From everything I’ve seen, Copp himself is a nondescript player. Gotta do better than that, Scott.

So let me see if I’ve got this straight: Cam Newton, the losing quarterback in the National Football League championship joust, walks out during a post-game chin-wag with news scavengers and he’s Darth QB. The Carolina Panthers’ main man is roasted and toasted as a sore loser, a spoiled brat and cited as an example of everything that is wrong with today’s pro jocks. Yet, two days later, Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville waves his arms in frustration and stomps out of a gab-session with the media and there isn’t a peep of protest. What am I missing here? Why is it unacceptable for an NFL quarterback to behave like a brat, but it’s permissble for an NHL coach?

Raptors groupie Drake
Raptors groupie Drake

I’m sorry, but I just don’t get this groupie-like love affair between scribes in the Republic of Tranna and the rapper Drake. I mean, I’ve read more headlines about Drake in the past few days than Stephen Curry, who, give or take a Lebron James, is the best basketball player on the planet. The National Basketball Association all-star weekend in Toronto has become a testimonial to Drake. There are feature pieces on him in both the Globe and Mail and National Post sports sections. And the headlines: Drake receives coaching tips from Michael Jordan; Drake starstruck by Michael Jordan; How Drake became the king of Toronto; Celebrate Valentine’s Day the Drake way; Drake gets key to the city; Drake to introduce all-stars.There were two pics of Drake on the front page of Toronto Sun website and three more on the sports front. And for what? Because he’s a Toronto Raptors groupie. And the media are groupies of the groupie.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 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 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.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers: Will head coach Mike O’Shea follow one bad move with another?

This is down to Mike O’Shea.

He never should have sent Drew Willy back into the fray to begin the second half of Sunday’s train wreck in Hamilton. It was 31-No Hope at the time. The Tiger-Cats were home and cooled. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers, meanwhile, were anxious just to get home.

Yet the Bombers’ still-greenhorn head coach dispatched Willy to take the snaps. And the lumps. Dumb, dumber and dumbest.

This isn’t hindsight speaking, simply because we’ve received word that Willy, the Bombers starting quarterback and offensive lifeblood, has a wonky right knee that renders him hors de combat for the next six weeks to two months. I said it when the large lads disappeared for recess at Timbits Park in the Hammer. With the tally 31-zip after 30 minutes, the Bombers were as likely to win that football game as Wade Miller is to sprout to 6-feet-5 inches tall over the summer. So, I figured, let’s see what kind of junk the understudy has.

No, I didn’t mean Brian Brohm. He never has been, nor will he ever be, a quality starting quarterback in the Canadian Football League. The jury long ago delivered that verdict on him.

Thus, like many others in Bombers Nation, I wanted to see the flavor of the month go in and stir the drink. That would be Robert Marve, third on the QB pecking order. Give him the reps. Let him experience an entire half’s worth of growing pains.

Alas, head coach No’Shea would have none of that. Damned if he wasn’t going to feed Willy back to the wolves, who had already taken a substantial chunk out of his hide with five first-half sacks. The end result was a 38-8 whupping and a right knee that suffered more damage than Donald Trump after he opens his mouth.

“I got a lot of faith in Drew and I still believe he gave us the best chance to win,” was No’Shea’s unreasoned response to news scavengers when asked, post-match, why he hadn’t pulled the plug on Willy when it was obvious to everyone from Ken Ploen to the ghost of Cal Murphy that the Bombers had #NoHope.

Oh, shut the front door, Mike!

And now, with Willy gone for perhaps the remainder of this 2015 crusade, the head coach is spewing similar spittle that flies in the face of reason.

So, who’s your starting QB when the Toronto Argonauts roll into River City on Friday, coach Mike?

“Well, I’m not gonna tell ya right now,” a tight-lipped No’Shea said at a Tuesday afternoon inquisition, very much playing the coy boy. “We’ll go through practice tomorrow and we’ll know then for sure. I don’t want to offer our opponent any competitive advantage, right, in terms of prep. My choice.”

Again, shut the front door, Mike. Your opponents already have a competitive advantage in terms of prep—you’re the Bombers and they’re not.

As much as it probably doesn’t matter whether it’s eeny or meeny behind centre vs. the Boatmen, it’s all about the best chance to win, as the coaching mantra goes. My guess is that No’Shea will determine that man to be Brohm and anoint him the starter, but it will be the wrong thing to do. Again.

Marve has skedaddle to his game. Plenty of it. Brohm has stand still. More’s the pity.

“Brian is a very efficient quarterback,” the coach told news scavengers hanging on his every evasive word Tuesday. “He’s more like Drew in terms of his pocket presence, his passing ability, how he goes through the process of reading a defence and using the tools he has in our offence.”

Which is exactly why you shouldn’t start him.

Going “through the process” doesn’t get it done for a Bombers QB. That gets you time in sick bay. What you need is some lickety-split. And some now-you-see-him, now-you-don’t Houdini.

That’s Marve. He might actually finish what he starts.

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.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers: From Brittle Buck to Wonky Willy, the beat(ing) goes on

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Down goes Willy! Down goes Willy! Down goes Willy!

Drew Willy, of course, always gets up and dusts himself off because, as we are reminded ad nauseum, he’s one tough dude. Trouble is, he doesn’t always finish what he starts. That is, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback too often is seen staggering off to the infirmary while his understudies are left to pick up the broken pieces of another fine mess the offensive line has gotten them into.

Such was the case yet again on Sunday afternoon at Timbits Park in Hamilton, where the Tiger-Cats beat up Willy. Then they beat up Brian Brohm. Then they beat up Robert Marve.

Why, I haven’t seen QBs get beat up like this since…well, since the last quarterback to play behind the Blue and Gold O-line. Guy’s name was Pierce. Buck Pierce. Had more owies than the ER at the Health Sciences Centre. Buck was as brittle as a piece of burnt toast. He doesn’t play football anymore, though. He got out before medics had to put a tag on one of his big toes.

Why do you think the Bombers’ starting pivot gets paid such large coin? His wage isn’t based on merit. Willy’s base salary is $100,000. The other $300,000 is danger pay.

I swear, if I’m Willy, I’m marching into general manager Kyle Walters’ office this morning and demanding to renegotiate. I want to cut a better deal. Except Willy can’t march, can he? At best, he can limp after being chased from the fray in the third quarter of Sunday’s skirmish, a 38-8 paddywhacking by the Ticats, who look to be the finest outfit in the eastern precinct of the Canadian Football League.

How bad was the O-line? The Tabbies had seven sacks in all, five in a laughable first half. Cripes, man, Caitlyn Jenner gets better protection than that from her fleet of hangers-on.

That’s not to say this face plant is all on the hogs up front. The Bombers specialty teams did some toe-stubbing, as well. Like on a punt that was partially blocked, and on a botched kickoff return, both plays leading to Ticat TDs as the home side put the game out of reach with a 21-0 advantage seven minutes in.

It was a good, old fashioned mollywhomping. That, at least, is how Milt Stegal described it in the TSN studio once the damage had reached 31-nada. The Bombers were “getting mollywhomped,” he declared, and I didn’t bother to look up the word “mollywhomped” in the dictionary. But I’m sure there’s a pic of a big, ol’ can of whup-ass beside the definition.

I must say, though, I’ve seen worse. Honest. I have. Hey, when you’ve been watching large lads grab grass and growl for more than half a century, you’ve always seen worse.

There was a playoff game in 1996, for example. It was 31-1 at the half. It was 68-7 at the finish. For the other guys. And that was a playoff game. That shameful exercise on a slick, snow-covered patch of earth at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton cost Cal Murphy the one thing he cherished almost as much as his transplanted heart—his job as head coach of the Bombers.

A 55-10 loss in the Banjo Bowl half a dozen years back wasn’t exactly the Mona Lisa, either. Nor was a 52-0 licking in the 2012 Labor Day Classic.

So, sure, the goings-on of Sunday afternoon were ugly. This was Tiger Woods golf game ugly. It was Donald Trump hair ugly. It was Jeff Reinebold head coach ugly. But it was far from the ugliest of the ugly. And ugly won’t even begin to describe what the Bombers will look like if Wonky Willy is unable to start another game he won’t finish due to his gimpy right knee.

Mind you, it doesn’t really matter who takes the snaps, does it. He’s a lamb going to slaughter. Make room in the infirmary for Robert Marve or Brian Brohm.

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.

Winnipeg Sports: Ondrej Pavelec’s new body and Dave Ritchie’s hall-of-fame induction are both mysteries

Cheat Shots from the Cheap Seats, Vol. 2…

If we are to believe the gospel according to Allan Walsh—and why wouldn’t we, since player agents never lie except when they move their lips?)—Ondrej Pavelec has “totally changed his body.”

What can I say? I just hope he doesn’t have Gump Worsley’s body now.

Actually, when word arrived from Walsh that his client, the worst starting goaltender in the National Hockey League, had “totally changed his body,” I couldn’t shake this image of lipstick on pigs.

I suppose that’s kind of harsh, but I think it’s safe to say that I know more about changing bodies than most. I changed mine “totally” five years ago. Sorry to report that it didn’t transform me into an elite NHL goalie. So unless Pavelec has become Dominik Hasek’s body double, the Winnipeg Jets’ most significant weakness remains their most significant weakness.

SUB-STANDARD STANDARDS: Dave Ritchie in the Winnipeg Football Club Hall of Fame? You’re kidding me, right?

Ritchie wore the headset for five-plus seasons with the Blue Bombers. His clubs had one first-place finish, one appearance in the Grey Cup game (a loss to a vastly inferior Calgary Stampeders outfit) and they were sub-.500 three times. He had a losing record in the playoffs.

If this is what qualifies as a hall-of-fame career, then Doug Berry and Paul LaPolice best prepare their acceptance speeches for next year. I mean, Berry got the Bombers into a Grey Cup game. Ditto LaPolice. They both lost, too.

Ritchie’s inclusion in the Hall class of 2014 is wrong. Period.

THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE LA LA: You’re not likely to find critics of the Dave Ritchie honor among the local media. He made their jobs easier with quotes that could be one part acidic, one part home-spun blarney and two parts Yogi Berra. His gift was gab. News scavengers were smitten by Ritchie’s folksy charm. They giggled about his grumpy, old man persona. They were John Boy or Mary Ellen to his Grandpa Walton. So, it’s agreed, he was a hall-of-fame interview. He was not a hall-of-fame coach…So, I’m listening to Craig Button on TSN 1290 and he advises host Rick Ralph that the Jets are “two years behind Anaheim.” Since it was radio, I don’t know if Button said it with a straight face, but, if so, the TSN hockey analyst’s credibility took a serious whack. I mean, the Ducks finished first (116 points) in the Western Conference last season and were a sniff away from ousting the L.A. Kings in the Conference semifinal. They had two of the top five scorers in the NHL, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Does that sound like the Jets to you in two years? Didn’t think so…Belated bravo to Paul Edmonds, freshly minted radio play-by-play voice of the Jets. In the discussion about his appointment, someone actually compared Jets TV voice, Dennis Beyak, to Danny Gallivan. Ya, and I’m Doris Day…I get a kick out of analysis of the Jets. A summer of management by paralysis renders any attempt at analysis an exercise in nothingness. Unless there’s a major surprise at Camp PoMo next month, the Jets are no better or no worse than last season…It’s about those Bombers “signature” uniforms: It’s no longer the Blue and Gold; it’s the Blue and Bird Droppings…I haven’t taken the Ice Bucket Challenge yet. But my building was out of hot water the other day, so does a cold shower count?…I see it’s still the season of silly superlatives with River City scribes. First we had Gary (La La) Lawless of the Winnipeg Free Press describing Bombers quarterback Drew Willy as “part Joe Montana, part Johnny Unitas, part John Elway.” Now we have Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun labeling the rookie starter as a “growing legend.” I think the Bombers would settle for Willy being part Ken Ploen. You know, the part of him that won Grey Cups. Until then, there are no comparisons to be made to anyone and there is no growing legend…We can stop wondering if GM Kyle Walters made a wise choice when he anointed Mike O’Shea head coach of the Bombers, because La La Lawless assures us that he is the “supreme leader. He’s the right man for this team. And this town. He’s the right coach for this franchise.” If that sounds familiar, it ought to. Gary La La said the very same thing about Jets GM Kevin (The Possum) Cheveldayoff: “We all have our views and opinions on the Jets in this city. Here’s mine: Kevin Cheveldayoff is the right guy for this job, this market and this set of circumstances.”…Love Bomber linebacker Derek Jones’s description of O’Shea: “He’s a big, scary dude.”

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, 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 her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers: Green is the new Blue, so take a deep breath

Escaping the past isn’t so simple when a group of greenhorns is pushing the buttons and pulling the strings. Keep in mind that GM Kyle Walters is still on training wheels. We don’t know if he’s the right man for the job. Ditto head coach Mike O’Shea. QB Drew Willy has less than a dozen starts on his resume. There’s mounting evidence to suggest tailback Nic Grigsby might have made the wrong decision when he chose football over baseball.

Let me begin by saying I didn’t expect the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to qualify for the playoffs. I still don’t. I believed it to be too daunting a task. I still do.

Let’s remember—how could we ever forget?—that the local football heroes had waged an historically inept campaign just a year ago, failing 15 times in 18 assignments, and they entered the 2014 fray with the most obvious facelift since Joan Rivers surfaced with a mug as plastic as a Canadian $5 bill.

The Bombers didn’t undergo a minor procedure by Drs. Nip and Tuck, you understand. They went for the deluxe package. They showed up for business this Canadian Football League crusade with a rookie CEO. A rookie general manager. A rookie head coach. A rookie starting quarterback. A rookie tailback. A rookie running backs coach. A rookie…oh, let’s just say the Bombers have more green people than a 1960s sci-fi novel.

Green became the new Blue.

It isn’t easy being green. Especially when you’re trying to run with the big dogs in the West Division. And now the greening of the Blue has come to roost. The Bombers have lost their past two skirmishes and the pie-in-the-sky of a 5-1 start is falling. From facelift to face plant.

A lot of us saw this coming. I’m not saying the Bombers’ early-season success was fraudulent. A win is a win is a win and worth two points every time. Each was earned. And not to be devalued.

The thing is, escaping the past isn’t so simple when a group of greenhorns is pushing the buttons and pulling the strings. Keep in mind that GM Kyle Walters is still on training wheels. We don’t know if he’s the right man for the job. Ditto head coach Mike O’Shea. QB Drew Willy has less than a dozen starts on his resume. There’s mounting evidence to suggest tailback Nic Grigsby might have made the wrong decision when he chose football over baseball.

Then there’s Buck Pierce, running backs coach. I’m still not convinced his appointment was a wise hire. Seems to me it was more of a reward for being beat up while playing quarterback behind a train wreck of an offensive line. But, hey, I almost forgot that we don’t criticize Pierce. Not in River City. Buck has a lifetime Get Our of Jail Free card. So it isn’t his fault that the Bombers’ ground game has as much traction as Gord Steeves’s mayoral campaign.

You want to point accusatory fingers? Aim them at the O-linemen. The large lads are to blame. For everything. Well aren’t they? I mean, they can’t run block, they can’t pass block. And when, pray tell, are they going to clear a path so it’s safe for women and children to use the skywalks?

Meanwhile, it’s about the defensive dozen. It’s said that D guru Gary Etcheverry has 20 different schemes to baffle and befuddle enemy forces. Unfortunately, none of the 20 is designed to stop the run. That’s because the Bombers have a group of linebackers who weigh less than a T-bone steak on Chris Walby’s dinner plate. They look like refugees from Smurf Village.

Combine it all and you have considerable gnashing of the teeth in Bombers Nation.

Well, allow me to provide a pinch of perspective before the lads re-enter the fracas when the Montreal Alouettes pay a visit to Green Acres Field in Fort Garry on Aug. 22:

  • You wanted a new CEO. You got one.
  • You wanted a new general manager. You got one.
  • You wanted a new head coach. You got one.
  • You wanted a new starting quarterback. You got one.

In other words, you got exactly what you wanted. You just didn’t necessarily get who you wanted.

In the end, I’m guessing it’ll prove to be too much green and not enough grey and the rookies won’t turn last season’s sow’s ear into this season’s silk purse. But I’m willing to give the greenies more than eight games to find their footing. To sort things out.

They had a terrific start. They’ve stumbled. Hey, stuff happens.

But it’s not the kind of stuff that went down last year. And the year before. That was Cirque du Bombers. It was Barnum, Bailey and the Big Blue. They spent two seasons trying to see how many clowns they could stuff in a Volkswagen.

I’d say the clown act is over. I mean, the Bombers now actually have a head coach who wanted the job. Apparently he still does want the job. What a concept.

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, 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 her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C.

Winnipeg Sports: I come to praise some (Arctic Ice Hockey) and I come to bury others (you know who you are)

Maybe it’s an age thing, but as I watched our Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil contest the first all-Canadian final in Association of Tennis Professionals history today, I found myself drifting off to another time and another place. A fond time. A fond place.

The same thing happened in June as I watched our Genie Bouchard in the ladies’ singles final on the lumpy lawn of Centre Court Wimbledon.

I saw myself sitting alone in a section of bleachers bordering the har-tru courts of the Winnipeg Canoe Club, where I received my baptism as a tennis scribe. I don’t recall who was playing on Court One that morning and afternoon in the opening round of the Canadian National Tennis Tournament, but I do remember grappling with the quirky method of scoring and the notion that, in tennis, love is nothing. I also remember suffering a case of sun stroke so severe that I was rendered incapable of filing my copy to the Winnipeg Tribune.

Undaunted and with a ball cap firmly in place to shield my noggin from sol, I returned the next day. And the next. And the next. I became a fixture at every significant tennis tournament—and the small events—in River City during the 1970s, covering the matches and the people for the Trib.

So as Raonic dispatched Pospisil, 6-1, 6-4, in an hour and seven minutes in their Washington, D.C., showdown, I saw the old Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club, when it was located where a sprawling Safeway now stands in Osborne Village. I saw Judy Peake and her brother, Rick Borland. I saw Ellie O’Gorman and Pierre LaMarche and Rejean Genois and Jim Boyce and Jane O’Hara and Richard Legendre and Peter Burwash and Vicki Berner. I saw the Campbell sisters, Linda and Sandy, and I saw Jim Matthews and Glen Booth. I saw the lovely Jo Brown, her hubby, Jack, and their kids, Tom and Bonny.

Those were special people. The tennis community was a special, tight-knit group. Those were special times.

THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE LA LA: If you’re looking for a terrific piece on the Winnipeg Jets, go to Arctic Ice Hockey and check out Dog Day Afternoon. It’s a creative, fun, light-hearted read written by Mike Fraser (bcjet), a Jets loyalist in New Westminster, B.C., just across the water from my Vancouver Island hideaway. I don’t exaggerate when I tell you it’s the sort of thing you just won’t find in either of the two River City dailies. The mainstream scribes aren’t into fun and creativity. Yet, as much as Fraser is having sport with the local hockey heroes, he’s also making a statement, one that many share…Good on the Anaheim Ducks to honor old friend Teemu Selanne when the Jets are in Mickey and Minnie’s neighborhood on Jan. 11. Nice touch for a nice guy…Ask yourself this: If Rick Dudley were generally managing the Jets, how many player-for-player trades would he have made in the past 3 1/2 years? One? Two? Half a dozen?…Was that really Ferguson Jenkins in town for the American Association all-star hijinks at the Ballyard by The Forks? It sure was. Nice of the Baseball Hall of Famer to drop by and give the event a big-league touch…I’m not sure why head coach Mike O’Shea has put the muzzle on his assistants, but I’m sure it bothers the boys and girls on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers beat. But hands up if anyone else cares…I like the work Kirk Penton does on three-down football for the Winnipeg Sun. I’d take him on my staff…Gary (La La) Lawless broke away from his True North Toady scribblings this week to pay homage to Drew Willy after the first-year Bombers quarterback engineered a last-minute drive that carried the Winnipegs to a 27-26 victory over Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Incredibly, the Winnipeg Free Press sports columnist wrote Willy is “Part Joe Montana, part Johnny Unitas, part John Elway.” Good grief. How lofty the praise if Willy actually wins a football game in November? You know, like the Grey Cup game, for example. Turn down the volume, La La. Oh, and next time you write something about a football game, mention the final score. It’s a rather significant detail.

DOUG DAYS OF SUMMER: I began reading a Doug Brown piece on the Bombers this week in the Free Press and a Miss Lonelyhearts column broke out.

Seriously, this was lame. How lame was it? Well, apparently Doug had a bowl of relationship metaphors for breakfast because he had the Bombers everywhere from the boudoir to the Palomino Club.

My personal favorite was this gem: “We’ve been on five dates with this new team, and it has only disappointed us once. Sure, it may have shown up late and drunk and got vomit stuck in its hair against Edmonton…”

THE BOW WOW BUNGALOW: Some writers never fail to fail, and Steve Simmons of Sun Media is one of them.

bow wow bungalowIn his three-dot column this very day, Little Stevie Blunder refers to former Blue Jays and current Boston Red Sox skipper John Farrell as “Benedict Farrell.” In other words, he’s calling the man a traitor for defecting from Toronto to Beantown. Hmmm.

As I recall, Simmons was a columnist and sports editor when I joined the Calgary Sun in the early 1980s. Not long after my arrival, he defected to the Calgary Herald. Yup, he left us high and dry for the opposition. And that means he was negotiating his move to the Herald while still in the employ of the Sun. Benedict Simmons then defected to the Toronto Sun.

So, it’s okay for Stevie to jump ship, but not John Farrell. Pot meet kettle.

For that, Little Stevie Blunder earns this week’s stay in the Bow Wow Bungalow.

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, 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 her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C.