Let’s talk about goals and lumps of coal in the toy department

Sports Santa arrives on the morrow and he’s given us a sneak peak at what he has tucked inside his bag, so let’s see if it’s Goal or a Lump o’ Coal for the good and not-so-good girls and boys in the toy department of life…

GOAL: If at first you don’t succeed…get it right in an extra end. And that’s what Kerri Einarson and her Buffalo girls—Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard, Briane Mielleur, Jennifer Clark-Rouire, coach Patti Wuthrich—did to win the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Moose Jaw. Kerri had a chance to end it all in the 10th end of the title match vs. Rachel Homan and her Ontario group, but she was heavy with her last-rock draw to the four-foot. She got the job done in the 11th, though, sliding her final stone to the button for an 8-7 victory and the Canadian women’s curling championship.

LUMP O’ COAL: The year 2020. Seriously. Someone needs to give it a good, swift kick to the groin, and it’s not too late.

GOAL: Connor Hellebuyck won the Vezina Trophy as top goaltender in the National Hockey League, putting a bit of shine on an otherwise empty season for the Winnipeg Jets.

LUMP O’ COAL: Sportsnet was guilty of a blatant double standard when it allowed Elliotte Friedman to repeatedly appear on Hockey Night in Canada with a ghastly, unruly beard that made him look like he’d been sleeping under a bridge for three months. No chance a female broadcaster would be allowed on camera with a head of hair that looks like a cluster of dead animals.

GOAL: The Winnipeg Sun celebrated its 40th anniversary, not bad for a sheet that wasn’t supposed to last much longer than a pint of beer in front of Chris Walby.

LUMP O’ COAL: 50 Below Sports + Entertainment ignored provincial health rules and allowed Winnipeg Freeze and Winnipeg Blues of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League to practice outside the city. So make that two lumps o’ coal, one for 50 Below bossman Greg Fettes and the other for bossman Matt Cockell.

GOAL: The good ol’ boys in NASCAR banned the Confederate Flag from race sites. Full sets of teeth, corn squeezin’s and MAGA caps remained optional.

LUMP O’ COAL: Mike Milbury, Brendan Leipsic, Thom Brennaman, Cris Collinsworth, Brett Hull, Evander Kane spewed sexist, racist and/or homophobic slurs. Come on, guys. We’re 21 years into the 21st century, and that language just doesn’t cut it.

GOAL: Katie Sowers became the first female to coach in the Super Bowl, albeit in a losing role with the San Francisco 49ers, Kim Ng became the first female GM of a Major League Baseball team, Alyssa Nakken became the first uniformed female to coach on-field in MLB, Kathryn Nesbitt became the first female to referee in a Major League Soccer championship match, and Sarah Fuller became the first female to play in an NCAA Power 5 men’s football game.

LUMP O’ COAL: Canadian Football League commissioner Randy Ambrosie went panhandling on Parliament Hill, asking PM Trudeau the Younger for anywhere from $30 million to $150 million in welfare to get Rouge Football on the field during the COVID-19 pandemic. Trouble was, he failed to receive input from the Players Association, and the feds were not amused. Commish Cap-in-Hand was spurned repeatedly, and the CFL finally fell off the grid when Trudeau the Younger batted away his final Hail Mary beg in early August. Thus, there was no season, no Grey Cup week. Just a whole lot of radio silence from the commish.

GOAL: Kid curlers Jacques Gauthier and Mackenzie Zacharias joined Einarson in bringing more glory to Manitoba with their world junior championship wins in Russia.

LUMP O’ COAL: Damien Cox and the Exalted Guardians of the Lou Marsh Trophy at the Toronto Star. The Marsh trinket is supposed to honor Canada’s athlete-of-the-year, except Cox and Co. don’t invite jock journos west of the Republic of Tranna to the top-jock party. Well, okay, that’s not quite true. They granted a voice and a vote to four news snoops from the colonies. That would be four out of 37 voices and votes. How gracious of them.

GOAL: O-lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif walked away from the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs and millions of American dollars to fight the good fight against COVID in long-term care homes.

LUMP O’ COAL: TSN named its all-time Winnipeg Jets roster and didn’t include the great Lars-Erik Sjoberg among the top six defencemen. But wait. The geniuses declared The Shoe to be the franchise’s “foundational” player. Sigh. That’s like telling Jesus he has to sit at the kids’ table for the Last Supper. Neither the original Jets franchise nor the second coming knew a better blueliner than The Shoe.

GOAL: Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun and Jeff Hamilton of the Drab Slab showed us their fab journalistic chops with fab features. Freezer relived the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 2019 Grey Cup championship with a nine-part series, while young Jeff took a deep, deep dive into the dark and sordid world of disgraced sexual predator and former hockey coach Graham James.

LUMP O’ COAL: Mainstream jock journos, shinny division, held a group pity party when the NHL revealed it wouldn’t make public the various owies suffered by players during the summer made-for-TV playoff tournament. It was as if they’d been ordered to gather in a small room to watch an Adam Sandler movie marathon, or listen to Barry Manilow’s greatest hits 24/7.

GOAL: Various sports franchises played the name game, including the CFL team formerly known as the Edmonton Eskimos, the NFL team formerly known as the Washington Redskins, and the MLB team to be named something other than Cleveland Indians. We still don’t know what any of them will be called, but it’s believed the animal kingdom has the inside track and they can only hope the people at PETA don’t have a beef with any new names.

LUMP O’ COAL: Former NBC Sports hockey gab guy Jeremy Roenick went on a podcast to declare his admiration for a co-worker’s “ass and boobs” and mentioned something about three-way sex with his wife and the co-worker. He was promptly punted. But wait. There’s more. Rather than go quietly into the night, Roenick decided to kick up a legal fuss and sued NBC Sports for wrongful dismissal, claiming discrimination based on his sexual orientation. His argument: If he was a gay man and said the things he said, he’d still have a job. But because he’s a straight man, he’s out of work. Ya, good luck with that, hetero boy.

GOAL: Sue Bird of the Seattle Storm won her fourth WNBA title and became engaged to soccer diva Megan Rapinoe, while another gay woman, triple jumper Yulimar Rojas of Venezuela, was named female athlete-of-the-year by World Athletics.

LUMP O’ COAL: Bryson DeChambeau spouted off about Augusta National prior to the Masters in November, boasting that it would be a pitch-and-putt course for him while the mere mortals on the PGA Tour would be playing to par-72. “I’m looking at it as a par-67 for me,” he said. In that case, DeChambeau shot 18-over par with rounds of 70-74-69-73, which left him tied for 34th, 18 swings behind winner Dustin Johnson and one behind 63-year-old Bernhard Langer.

GOAL: It was girl power on Sportsnet in March, when an all-female broadcast crew worked a Calgary Flames-Vegas Golden Knights skirmish on Hockey Night in Canada. Leah Hextall handled the play-by-play call, Cassie Campbell-Pascall delivered color commentary and Christine Simpson was rinkside. Question is: Was it a one-off, or will they be back?

LUMP O’ COAL: Justin Turner of the Los Angeles Dodgers was yanked from the deciding game of the World Series due to a positive COVID test, but he returned to join his teammates in an on-field celebration and removed his mask. MLB chose not to punish Turner for allowing his bare face to hang out and expose L.A. players and hangers-on to the virus, so it gets a lump o’ coal, too.

GOAL: Zamboni driver David Ayres took over the blue paint for the Carolina Hurricanes one night in the Republic of Tranna, and the emergency goaltender beat the Maple Leafs. Not since Sid Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon pulled into the Tim Hortons drive-thru has a Zamboni driver received so much attention.

LUMP O’ COAL: Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz thought COVID-19 was a big joke, so he mocked news snoops about the virus at a press session. A couple days later, he tested positive and the kibitzing stopped. As did the NBA and the rest of the sports world.

GOAL: Our leading lady of soccer, Christine Sinclair, became the top goal-scorer of all time in international fitba. She finishes the year with 186, and there might be more to come if the women get back on the pitch in preparation for the Tokyo Olympics.

LUMP O’ COAL: Novak Djokovic, who wears a tin-foil hat and might lead the sports world in hissy fits, ignored scientific and medical advice and staged a mini-tennis tour when almost all sports had shut down due to the COVID pandemic. Social distancing was ignored by players and fans, and the Joker was one of four players to test positive. The final tourney was canceled. Later, he was ushered out of the U.S. Open tennis tournament for whacking a lines judge in the face with a ball. What a doofus.

GOAL: Rafael Nadal won his 13th French Open title and his 20th tennis Gran Slam, at the same time running his career record at Roland Garros to 100-2.

LUMP O’ COAL: Steve Simmons of Postmedia Toronto spent much of the year shaking his fists and shouting at clouds, as is his wont, and he reserved his most ignorant hit pieces for PM Trudeau the Younger and the National Women’s Hockey League expansion franchise in the Republic of Tranna. He claimed Trudeau had “let us down again” by permitting the Blue Jays “to play their home games this summer in Toronto. That is beyond stupid.” He later doubled down, calling the decision “beyond ridiculous.” Except Trudeau and the feds never gave the Jays the okie-dokie to play in the Republic of Tranna. In fact, he told them to pack their bats and balls and find a home in the U.S., which they did in Buffalo. Meantime, Simmons assailed the NWHL when it would add a team in The ROT. “You don’t gain credibility by announcing a team with no name, no place to play and no big-name players,” he harrumphed. He also noted there was no team logo. “When you have all that in place, then make the announcement. The press release referred to the expansion team as a ‘first-class team of professionals.’ Time will answer that, but the new Toronto Whatevers are not off to a great start.” Except he had no such harsh words for the NHL when it introduced expansion franchises in Las Vegas and Seattle. They were introduced without team names, without team logos, and without big-name players. They were the Vegas and Seattle Whatevers for two years. So let’s see if I’ve got this straight: If women do it, bad; if men do it, cool. I believe we can file that under subtle sexism.

And, finally, GOAL: To everyone who indulged an old lady by visiting the River City Renegade. We’ve topped 57,000 views this year, and that’s a new high-water mark for the third successive year. So thanks. Happy Christmas.

Let’s talk about the silence of the Puck Pontiff…Barry Shenkarow didn’t hide…big bucks in the blurt box…Fake It Like Beckham…that ain’t chicken feed those pigeons are fetching…fiddle farting around on the snooker table…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and you are not required to wear a mask to read this blog…

Is it just me, or does anyone else wonder what’s rattling around in the grey matter between Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman’s ears these days?

Mark Chipman, the Puck Pontiff.

I mean, with the National Hockey League ensnared in a state of iffiness re a 2021 crusade, and the players royally PO’d due to a proposed wave of wage rollbacks (again), wouldn’t you like to know what the Winnipeg Jets co-bankroll thinks about the current state of affairs?

Wouldn’t you like to hear his thoughts on the local shinny side playing in an empty Little Hockey House On The Prairie this winter?

Wouldn’t you like to know if he’d prefer to scrap a 2021 season rather than lose a small fortune paying six- and seven-figure salaries with no game-day revenue?

Wouldn’t you like to hear the Puck Pontiff’s take on the NHL owners’ ploy to renege on the agreement they willingly signed with the work force just this past summer?

Wouldn’t you like to know how he feels about the Jets frolicking in an all-Canadian division?

Wouldn’t you like to hear some assurance that, COVID-19 be damned, the Jets are here for the long haul, even as the pandemic gnaws away at his bottom line like termites on a two-by-four?

I know I would.

I won’t hold my breath, though, because the Puck Pontiff is not a man given to disclosure. He’s more guarded with his thoughts than a Rottweiler growling at the gates of a junkyard. The Kremlin was less secretive during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

But that’s his right, of course.

Chipman heads up a private company, True North Sports + Entertainment, so he isn’t obliged to make us privy to any secrets, dirty or otherwise. Except for one thing: There’s ample and rabid outside interest in the centrepiece of his fiefdom, that being an NHL franchise that pigs out at the public trough. The faithful flock to his Little Hockey House On The Prairie a minimum of 41 nights every year, give or take a pandemic, and many thousands of them also spend many thousands of dollars on Jets merchandise. Others purchase TV cable and/or Internet streaming packages to watch their hockey heroes as they fight the good fight hither and yon.

I’d say that warrants a word or two from the guy who signs the cheques, wouldn’t you?

Geoff Molson, the beer baron bankroll of the storied Montreal Canadiens, thought so, which is why he sat down for a natter with Herb Zurkowsky of the Montreal Gazette recently.

Among other things, Molson pooh-poohed any notion of a lost season, no matter how harsh the financial wallop, and he expressed a hope that there would be patrons in the pews before the close of business on a runted season.

“I really do think it’s the right thing to play,” he said. “I think we can get there. The thought of making a profit this year isn’t even in my mindset. It’s more about returning to play.”

Why can’t the Puck Pontiff poke his head out of the ivory tower and do the same?

Again, he’s under no obligation to address the faithful, but the right to remain silent is a good policy if you’re sitting in the back seat of a police cruiser, not when you’re at the wheel of an NHL franchise in the heartland of Canada.

I’d like to think that one or more of the girls and boys on the beat have requested an audience with His Royal Hockeyness during these most uncertain of times. If not, shame on them. If so (and I suspect that’s the case), shame on him and his hangups. Not so long ago, Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab confessed that he’s never engaged in a verbal parry-and-thrust with the Puck Pontiff. Not in four years on the beat, but not for lack of effort. Mad Mike assured us he has put in a bid to tap the Puck Pontiff’s brain pan more than once, only to be rejected each time. And that’s just wrong.

Barry Shenkarow

Back in the day, Benny Hatskin or Michael Gobuty or Barry Shenkarow were usually just a phone call away, and we were never required to genuflect and kiss their ring fingers before they agreed to talk to us. We had their home phone numbers, for cripes sake, and they knew where to find us. Did Shenkarow enjoy standing or sitting in front of the media mob, painting a gloom-and-doom scenario for the Jets 1.0 franchise? No. He didn’t. I can tell you there was always pain in his voice, sadness in his eyes and a great burden on his slender shoulders whenever he spoke. At times there was also anger. And extreme frustration. But he became the front man for the ownership group and accepted that his voice needed to be heard, even when there was nothing but sad tidings to deliver. Many among the rabble made Barry out to be the bad guy when it became apparent that the NHL couldn’t work in Good Ol’ Hometown in the 1990s, but no one could accuse him of hiding.

It occurs to me that if there’s one thing the rabble dislikes more than jock journos complaining about lousy press box food, tight deadlines and uppity athletes, it’s millionaire jocks and billionaire owners bickering over big bucks. That doesn’t play well at the best of times, so it’s particularly irksome during a global pandemic that’s forcing people out of work, out of homes and sending them to food banks. I mean, if NHL bankrolls get their way in the latest squabble with the NHL Players Association, Kyle Connor of the Jets won’t collect his $8 million salary for a 2021 crusade. He’ll have to get by on $4.4 million in U.S. coin. At the lower end of the pay scale, Jansen Harkins will have to make due on $385,000 instead of $700,000. I agree, boo-freaking-hoo. Hey, I’m all for the workers squeezing every copper they can out of owners trying to weasel their way out of an agreement they signed four months ago, but a money spat is a tough sell when the world is upside down.

On the subject of high finance, the most noted voice in the CBS sports blurt box, Jim Nantz, is looking for a hefty raise in pay from the $6.5 million he now collects for flapping his gums on the network’s NFL, college hoops, and PGA coverage. Nantz’ contract expires next summer and it’s a good bet that he’s aware his sidekick in the CBS football booth, Tony Romo, draws an annual stipend of $17.5 million. I’m sure he also knows that Fox Sports pays its do-everything squawk box Joe Buck $10.5 million per annum. I don’t know what the bookies in Vegas are thinking, but I’d say the over/under on Nantz’ next deal is $12 million.

If that isn’t obscene enough for you, consider this: England footy legend David Beckham will be paid $53 million over the next three years to do nothing. Becks has signed on as an ‘icon’ player in the EA Sports video game FIFA 21, and he’ll be making more money in fake footy than he did while kicking real balls for sides like Man U, Real Madrid and LA Galaxy. Makes for a nifty marketing promo, don’t you think—Fake It Like Beckham!

New Kim, a two-year-old female Belgian racing pigeon, recently sold for $1.9 million at auction. No bird has ever landed that large a windfall. At least not since Elin Nordegren flew the coop on Tiger.

If I owned a pigeon, I believe I would name it Clay.

The most vulgar man in sports, Conor McGregor, has signed to fight someone I’ve never heard of in the UFC octagon next month. I’m pretty sure I’ll be too busy to give a damn that night. Or any other night, for that matter.

Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News calls Derek Jeter “the most famous Yankee since Mickey Mantle.” Apparently Mike nodded off when Reggie Jackson arrived in Gotham and became Mr. October.

TSN has decided that the 1981 Edmonton E-Somethings are the greatest of all Canadian Football League championship sides. No argument here.

Some folks are quite giddy that the CFL has released a 2021 schedule, with a full 18-game crusade for each of the nine sides. Rick LeLacheur is, in fact, “beyond excited” at the prospect of his B.C. Lions performing in front of fewer than the 12,000 bodies that normally gather under the B.C. Place Stadium bubble top in downtown Vancity. What the Leos president and no one else in Rouge Football can tell us, though, is who’s footing the bill. I mean, if they couldn’t afford a mini-season in 2020, what makes anyone believe the three-downs game is good to go next summer/autumn? The schedule is nothing more than a goodwill gesture and, as I scribbled last week, it isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on unless the large lads are grabbing grass in June. Sorry to be a Debbie Downer about my favorite league, but it’s true.

The Edmonton Oilers owe a Dallas hotel $55,000 for two stays last season. And here I thought the World Hockey Association was dead.

A most foul wind blew during a recent match between world No. 2 Ronnie O’Sullivan and Matthew Stevens at the Northern Ireland Open snooker tournament. One of the participants farted, you see, and it was no silent bomb. “That was a very unfortunate noise there,” one of the commentators observed while the players and match referee glanced mischievously at one another. “I don’t know who it was from…I’ve got my suspicions.” Eventually, O’Sullivan won the match, 4-2, then copped a guilty plea, saying, “I’m taking full ownership of that one.”

Akim Aliu

The Florida Panthers have hired Brett Peterson, a Black man, as assistant general manager, which prompted this reaction from Akim Aliu of the Hockey Diversity Alliance: “It’s long overdue. We feel there’s a lot of people of color that are deserving of jobs and also people from different genders. Obviously women I think are very adapt at doing a good job in the game of hockey.” Ya, Aliu and his HDA think so highly of women in hockey that there isn’t a Mrs., Miss, Ms or Ma’am in the group. Go ahead. Call up the HDA website and you’ll see nothing but the faces and names of men. I contacted the HDA to inquire about its lack of diversity, but received no reply. Aliu and his boys-only club might want to practise diversity before squawking about diversity.

I get a laugh out of bandwagon jumpers in jock journalism, guys like Jack Todd, whose column has returned to the sports pages of the Montreal Gazette, and Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna. Todd called the Miami Marlins’ hiring of Kim Ng as general manager “the best thing that has happened to Major League Baseball since the Red Sox shook the curse. The time is now and Ng is the woman.” Simmons, meanwhile, wrote: “I wish I had a daughter to share this with.” I call BS on that. When was the last time either of them wrote about women’s sports, other than the Olympics when there’s no choice? Where were they when the Canadian Women’s Hockey League was still in operation and hungering for coverage? They didn’t notice the CWHL until the doors were shuttered. So they can spare us the faux concern.

Simmons, of course, has a long history of pooh-poohing female athletes and the games they play, and his recent list of the 50 most influential sports figures in the Republic of Tranna over the past 50 years tells us all we need to know about his thoughts on the distaff portion of the playground. His top-50 actually includes 59 people, all but one of them men. That’s right, in half a century, only one woman, tennis player Bianca Andreescu, made the cut. No Fran Rider and no Angela James, each hugely influential in Ponytail Puck and based in The ROT. One of them, James, is in the Hockey Hall of Fame and Rider should be.

I don’t know if anyone at the Winnipeg Sun has plans to compile a similar top-50 for the most influential sports figures in Good Ol’ Hometown during past half century, but I guarantee there’d be more than one woman included in the group. Benny Hatskin would top the list, of course, but you can be damn certain there’d be room for Clara Hughes, Jennifer Jones, Cindy Klassen, Connie Laliberte and Susan Auch, among other women.

And, finally, there’s only one thing worse than wearing a mask—not wearing a mask.

Lordy, lordy, the Winnipeg Sun is turning 40

The ultimate underdog.

That’s what the Winnipeg Sun was, is and likely always shall be.

The tabloid—pooh-poohed and tsk-tsked by many as a tacky, tawdry, kissing cousin of the National Enquirer—wasn’t supposed to be around much longer than a pork chop on a pit bull’s dinner dish, but here we are, four decades after rising from the ashes of the Winnipeg Tribune, and the Sun presses continue to roll.

Go figure.

***

I wasn’t a day-oner at the Sun, although I must confess there have been many moments of quiet reflection when I wish I had been there on the morning of Nov. 5, 1980, the day the tabloid hit the streets of Good Ol’ Hometown for the first time.

The Sun’s first front page.

By the time I arrived, which is to say the mid-1980s, the Sun had bulked up from a three-days-a-week sheet trying to find its groove to a six-day publication about to truly hit its full stride, which it did later in the decade and through the entirety of the 1990s and onward.

The Winnipeg Free Press was, of course, the neighborhood bully. Still is.

But, although recognizing that we were the underdogs against a daily that had pushed the Tribune to extinction, damned if any of us in the toy department at the Sun would allow it to define us.

From the get-go, whether it be Big Jim Bender on curling, or young Eddie Tait on the Bombers, or Judy Owen having a natter with Manon Rheaume, or Tom Brennan sharing bon mots from the camp of world light heavyweight boxing champion Donny Lalonde, or Ed Willes on the Jets, we refused to let the Drab Slab push us around.

Oh, they got their licks in, to be sure. But so did we, most notably when the Blue Bombers went on the prowl for a head coach in the wake of a 1996 Canadian Football League crusade that found Winnipeg FC sadly lacking.

The Bombers didn’t just lose their West Division semifinal skirmish v. the Eskimos at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton that year, they were Hindenburged. That’s right, scorched. Beyond recognition. Final score: Edmonton 68, Winnipeg 7.

Cal Murphy

It didn’t take long for the Bombers board of directors to sift through the wreckage, and the main casualty was Cal Murphy, a legendary coach whose guiding hand as sideline steward and/or general manager had directed the Bombers to three Grey Cup titles. He was swept away pronto, and the hunt for his successor would become the biggest sports story of the year.

We had young Eddie Tait and Judy Owen on the scent, and a managing editor who was, frankly, a gnat-like irritant.

“You gonna get that story first?” Glenn Cheater, the ME, asked me one day.

“Yes,” I told him. “We’ve got the right people on the job. They’ll get it.”

“You better. I don’t want to read it in the Free Press or hear it on the radio.”

Cheater, a man with a reluctance to smile, was a bothersome buttinski during the process. He expected everything to unfold to his urgent cadence, as if his nagging would magically put the Bombers board into a hurry-up offence simply because he was impatient. He would ask the same thing, and I would tell him the same thing. Every day.

All the while, young Eddie and Judy soldiered on, leaning hard on their contacts, instincts and reporting skills until the day/night of Jan. 6, 1997, when they became 99.9 per cent convinced that off-the-wall, surfer dude Jeff Reinebold would land the head coaching gig.

Judy Owen

OWEN: “(Team president) Lynn Bishop seemed to want someone opposite from Cal Murphy and we considered Reinebold the dark horse in the race. The night of our big scoop, I was working the phones, including talking to Bishop. I got the gut feeling that it was going to be Reinebold by the way he was answering questions, plus I was having trouble reaching Reinebold, who usually returned my calls. There were rumors, though, that he might be skiing. When we were digging into the rumor about Reinebold skiing, Cheater suggested we send a pizza to Reinebold’s house and if it was successfully delivered, we’d know he was still in B.C. And he said to put anchovies on it. Never understood where that came from.”

TAIT: “At one point (Cheater) came down to our little corner with a brilliant idea. We thought we knew what hotel (Reinebold) was staying at for some reason—maybe this was before we had confirmed he had left for Winnipeg. Cheater said, ‘Reinebold is a vegetarian, right? Why don’t you order a vegetarian pizza and have it delivered to his hotel room with a note to call us?’ I mean, I’m open for any and all ideas to get a story, but…”

There was no pizza order. There was not pizza delivery. Not even in 30 minutes or less.

Young Eddie began cranking out his copy, with contributions from Judy, and we were prepared to go to press declaring Reinebold the new man. But his unknown whereabouts provided a sliver of doubt.

Granny Granger

Granny Granger was working the copy desk that night. He was from the West Coast and harbored a healthy familiarity with flight schedules out of Vancouver, and he informed us that there’d be a few more planes touching down later.

“You guys keep doing what you’re doing,” I told them, “and I’ll go to the airport. I’ll stake it out until the last flight from Vancouver is in.”

I don’t recall precisely how long I loitered at the airport, but I do recall repeatedly moving from one baggage carousel to another. Then I spotted Jeff Reinebold. In the flesh, earrings and all, fresh off Air Canada flight 268. It was just past 11 p.m. He had a phone clamped to his left ear, his eyes darting east, west, north and south. At one point, he attempted to hide behind a pay phone. I immediately called Granny in the newsroom and advised him that I could see the whites of Reinebold’s eyes. Shortly thereafter, club president Bishop and his bride, Lesley, joined Reinebold and made their way toward an exit. I intercepted them, asking the new coach if he had anything to say to the championship-starved Bombers faithful. He flashed a crooked smile, mumbled a few words about looking forward to “the great skiing” in Manitoba, then disappeared into the night.

GRANGER: “That was such a rush, even if I was getting it vicariously through your reporting.”

OWEN: “We all cheered in the newsroom. We knew for sure we had the scoop. I then called Lynn Bishop and when he answered, I screeched something like, ‘We gotcha.’ I think he laughed and remember hearing his wife, Lesley, yell in the background, ‘Way to go Judy,’ or something similar.”

Still, we didn’t know for certain if we’d scooped the Freep on the biggest story of the year. It was quite possible that their man on the beat, the very capable Dave Supleve, also had the goods. Nope.

Jeff Reinebold

OWEN: “Supleve had a story on the front of the sports section that Reinebold was skiing. We celebrated pretty hard.”

GRANGER: “We went to Picasso’s afterward to celebrate and we were all pretty happy. But we really got giddy after Mr. Golf (Darron Hargreaves) went by the Freep building and picked up a copy of their early edition and Supleve basically dismissed Reinebold as a candidate and put forth one or two others likely to get the job. That’s when the gathering turned from being a self-congratulatory pat on the back into a hubristic celebration. Not only did we have a scoop, but the other guy was waaaaaaay off base! We had killed the big bad bunch on Mountain on the biggest sports story of the year! And even CJOB didn’t have the scoop! Although I played a minor role, that night is a big highlight for me.”

The Bombers introduced a Harley-riding Reinebold as the head coach the following day, and a glum Supleve was standing at the doorway when I entered the room.

“How long did you wait at the airport?” he asked.

I felt bad for him. I truly did. We all know what it feels like to get beat on a big story, and Supes is a good guy. There would be no gloating from me. Just deep, delicious satisfaction that the little, underdog paper had whupped the neighborhood bully.

***

Later that day, I retreated to the newsroom and found Glenn Cheater.

“I told you we’d get the story,” I said, full of impish cheek. “Maybe next time you’ll let our people do their job without getting in their face every five minutes.”

He smiled.

I went home to write my column on Reinebold. Once finished, I ordered a pizza and told them to hold the anchovies.

***

I spent 13 of my 30 years in the rag trade at the Winnipeg Sun, and that was my most memorable day/night. I was happiest for Judy, who latched onto the task and refused to let go. But she was just one of the truly wonderful people and terrific journalists with whom I worked at the tabloid. Topping my list of faves would be Dave Komosky, one of the funniest men I know and a friend for close to 50 years, dating back to our formative days at the Tribune. Like myself, Davey Boy did two tours of duty as sports editor and was a boffo layout person. He could make the pages sing. So, too, could Homer Connors, a lovely lad. There were so many others that I admired, respected and genuinely liked: Tom Brennan, young Eddie, Judy Owen, Abby St. Rose, Pat Watts Stevens, Rhonda Brown, Jim Ketcheson, John Kendle, Bob Holliday, Paul Friesen, Granny Granger, John Danakas, Brian Smiley, Jon Thordarson, Denise Duguay, Shaun Best, Mark Stevens, Big Jim Bender, Mr. Golf, Marten Falcon, Barry Horeczy, Bill Davidson, and the lovely songstress Rhonda Hart. It’s a lengthy roll call, too many to mention.

***

It wasn’t all fun and games at the Sun, but sometimes it was exactly that—fun and games. A couple of the boys—I believe it was Davey and young Eddie—screwed a mini basketball hoop to a wall in our corner of the newsroom and they’d shoot hoops during downtime, while waiting for phone calls to come in. My gig was tossing coins (quarters) against a wall. I took on all comers, but mostly young Eddie. I believe he still owes me $37.25. Same with John Danakas. He’d try his luck every now and then, but it was a fool’s bet. I’m not sure how much he owes me, but I know I’ll never see it. No problem. John is one of the really good guys.

***

One of my favorite Sun stories goes back to the first of my two runs as sports editor. It’s a yarn I’ve told a few times, but it’s worth repeating.

Young Eddie Tait

Young Eddie Tait was an aw-shucks, freshly scrubbed greenhorn when I dispatched him to North Dakota for a weekend gig, covering either high school or college hockey. It was his first road trip. Ever. He was geeked up and I don’t recall giving him specific directives, other than to get the story, enjoy himself and return to us safely.

“And keep your receipts,” I emphasized. “You’ll need them for your expense report.”

So I’m sitting at the desk in the closet-sized cubbyhole that passed for my office on the second floor of the Sun building when young Eddie returned from the fray.

“How did it go?” I asked.

“Great,” he answered, still geeked up from his maiden journey.

“Nice. Very nice. You did a great job. We’ll have to get you on the road again. When you’ve got time, fill out your expense form and make sure you include your receipts.”

He left and, scant seconds later, young Eddie was back in my bunker.

“Here,” he said, handing me the lid from a pizza box.

“What’s this?” I asked, staring at a rumpled piece of cardboard coated with tomato sauce stains.

“That’s what I ate.”

“That’s it? That’s all you ate for the entire weekend? One pizza?”

“No, but…”

“How much did it cost?”

“Ten bucks.”

“You spent $10 for the entire weekend? Just $10?”

“No, but…”

I have no idea what else young Eddie shoved down his pie hole that weekend, but I suspect a few bags of chips and Big Gulps were on the menu. He likely splurged on two or three packs of bubblegum, too.

***

Although I served in management on three occasions, I was never big on management. They always seemed to be getting in our way, or at least trying to.

I liked Paul Robson as a publisher, because ol’ Mad Dog was a jock who understood jocks. But John Cochrane, a nice fellow and veteran newsman who moved from CJOB to the big office in the Sun building, baffled me.

Serge Savard

For example, when Montreal Canadiens president Ronald Corey got the axe out and whacked both general manager Serge Savard and head coach Jacques Demers, that bloodletting was our sports front story. Homer Connors and I put our grey matter together, him designing the page with a large picture of Savard and me providing the all-caps headline: SAVARDIAN SACK-O-RAMA. It was boffo stuff.

The next day Cochrane wandered down to the toy department for a fireside chat.

“Tell me something,” he began, speaking in a non-confrontational tone. “Why did you run a photo of Savard on the front page instead of Ronald Corey?”

“Because Savard and Demers were the story. Savard is a multi-Stanley Cup winner with the Canadiens, both as a player and a GM,” I replied calmly. “Savard is a Habs legend. Nobody cares about Ronald Corey.”

Ronald Corey

“But the Globe and Mail ran a photo of Corey, not Savard. Don’t you think that was the right thing to do?”

He handed me a copy of the Globe, which featured a pic of Corey sitting in front of a bank of microphones and looking very much like a hangman.

“No, I don’t think they made the right call,” I said, still quite calm. “We were right, they were wrong, and I’d do the same thing again. We don’t really concern ourselves with the pictures the Globe runs.”

He arched his eyebrows, turned and walked away. That was our first and final fireside chat.

***

I’m saddened by what’s become of the Sun sports section.

I know the boys on the beat—Paul Friesen, Ted Wyman and Scott Billeck—fight the good fight, but Postmedia has handcuffed them with a distant, centralized sports desk that force feeds them copy from hither and yon, too much of it focusing on athletes/teams based in the Republic of Tranna.

Local amateur sports coverage has become next to non-existent, and it’s never a good thing when a newspaper turns its back on its constituents.

I don’t think it’s as cheeky, sassy, brassy and irreverent as it once was, but the Sun’s existence makes Winnipeg the only true two-paper town west of the ROT, and that is a good thing.

So happy 40th to my old battalion on Thursday.

Let’s talk about the Jets and Canucks…craziness with the Yotes…another reason for Chris Streveler to celebrate…Ducky makes a kid’s day…sinking ships…a new kid on the MJHL block…the Joker goes wild at U.S. Open…Journalism 101…and other things on my mind

A bonus, Labor Day smorgas-bored…and it’s mostly short snappers because there’s tennis to watch and maybe some golf if Dustin Johnson hasn’t lapped the field…

Stop me if you’ve heard this before from two noted hockey observers:

“There’s a lot to be excited about.”

“This team is going to be a force for awhile in the West. Great young players.”

Sounds like they’re talking about the Winnipeg Jets, circa spring 2018, doesn’t it?

Brian Burke

But, no. Brian Burke and John Shannon were directing their hosannas toward the Vancouver Canucks, who recently vacated the National Hockey League bubble in Edmonton after coming up one shot/save short in a Stanley Cup skirmish v. the Dallas Stars.

And, sure enough, there’s reason for the jar-half-full gushing. The Canucks look to be an outfit on a favorable trajectory. You know, just like two years ago when the local hockey heroes went deep, advancing to the Western Conference final before receiving a paddywhacking from the upstart Vegas Golden Knights. The Jets haven’t been the same since, in large part due to the mismanagement of assets and a cap crunch that squeezed general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff into a corner.

Chevy lost half his blueline (Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers, Ben Chiarot, Dustin Byfuglien) in one foul swoop, and only the retreat of Big Buff was not of his own authorship. He also couldn’t or wouldn’t keep rent-a-centres Paul Stastny or Kevin Hayes, either of whom would have been more than adequate playing second fiddle to Mark Scheifele.

Jim Benning

So that’s the cautionary tale for GM Jim Benning in Lotus Land. It can unravel very rapidly.

Quinn Hughes, Elias Pettersson and Alex Edler will be looking for new deals whenever the next NHL crusade ends and, as Burke emphasized on Hockey Night in Canada, “they’re gonna need a math professor from Harvard to figure this out.”

Chevy hasn’t been able to figure it out in Good Ol’ Hometown. The hope on the Left Flank has to be that Benning has better bean counters.

Pierre McGuire

I’ve long wondered what it would take to pry Jets 1.0 out of the Arizona desert, and anointing Pierre McGuire GM of the Coyotes just might be the thing to do it. If we’re to believe Chris Johnston of Sportsnet, Yotes ownership has been pitching woo to Pierre as a replacement for defrocked GM John Chayka, and that sounds like a recipe for disaster. Pierre has spent the past 20 years rinkside or in the studio for TSN and NBC, and I can’t see how sucking up to players and mansplaining the game to Kendall Coyne Schofield makes him GM worthy.

So, another year without a Stanley Cup champion for the True North, and did you know that’s “humiliating?” That, at least, is Cathal Kelly’s take on Canada’s drought, which dates back to the spring of 1993. “The hockey of Canadian hockey? That is not working out so well,” he writes in the Globe and Mail. “It’s beginning to seem as though the building of an NHL winner is planting it somewhere in the United States where no one cares. Then you have happy employees and the luxury of a free hand to shuffle them around.” Ya, that’s worked out soooo well for the Winnipeg Jets-cum-Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes.

Chris Streveler

Speaking of Arizona, I note that Chris Streveler has survived final cuts with the Arizona Cardinals. The former Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback and party boy is listed third on the depth chart, so Lord help them if they win the Super Bowl. There won’t be enough beer in the entire state to handle that celebration.

Just wondering: What was the first thing Alain Vigneault read or watched after his Philly Flyers were ushered out of the NHL bubble in the Republic of Tranna? Do you think he knows that Black Lives Matter yet?

Randy Ambrosie

Did you know that it takes eight to 10 hours to deep clean each hotel room once they’ve been vacated in the Edmonton and ROT bubbles? Hmmm. Wonder how long it will take Randy Ambrosie to clean up the mess he’s made.

The Montreal Canadiens now have $15 million tied up in two goaltenders, Carey Price and Jake Allen. Hmmm. That would pay for half a Canadian Football League shortened-season.

Enjoyed this tweet from Terry Jones of Postmedia E-Town: “If I ever own a race horse I might name him ‘Pink Fred’. That’s what Hugh Campbell called Pink Floyd when he announced a change in the Edmonton EE schedule to accommodate the then very hot act.”

Coolest recent tweet was delivered by Rob Vanstone of Postmedia Flatlands: “How amazing was Dale Hawerchuk? I wrote to him c/o Winnipeg Jets in 1982, requesting an autograph. Yes, I got the autograph—and so much more! He must have been deluged with fan mail, but he still made time to go above and beyond.” What made the tweet so special was the pic that Rob attached. It helps explain why there were so many long faces the day Ducky died.

Rob’s tweet brought to mind my first experience as an autograph seeker. I was a sprig of no more than 10 years, living on Melbourne Avenue in Good Ol’ Hometown. One day I took pic of broadcasting pioneer Foster Hewitt from a hockey magazine and mailed it to his radio station in the Repblic of Tranna, asking for a signature. Two weeks later, a brown envelope arrive in the mail box, and there it was…Foster Hewitt’s autograph. He called me “a real hockey fan.” I don’t know what became of that autographed pic, but Foster’s gesture made me want to get into sports journalism.

Mark Spector

Mark Spector of Sportsnet E-Town is confused: “It’s official: the term ‘learning lesson’ has replaced ‘irregardless’ as my pet peeve,” he tweets. “Can someone define a ‘lesson’ from which the recipient did NOT ‘learn?’ Are their ‘non-learning lessons’ out there?” Yo! Mark! As the venerable Zen master Dalai Jocklama tells us, “A lesson taught is not always a lesson learned.” As my mom was wont to say, I hope you’ve learned your lesson.

According to Donald Trump, canned soup is now the weapon of choice for bad guys because bricks are too heavy to throw. I can just hear it next time I’m in my local market: “Clean up on the ammunition aisle! Clean up on the ammunition aisle!”.

They held a Lake Travis Trump Boat Parade off the shore of Auston, Texas, the other day and at least four craft went glub, glub, glub to a watery grave. There’s no truth to the rumor that the Milwaukee Bucks were among the sunken ships, but they have sent out a Mayday signal.

Andy Murray

Cathal Kelly likes to write about tennis, but I’m not sure how much tennis he actually watches. I mean, he claims that our guy Felix Auger-Aliassime put “an end to the whole idea of the Big Four in men’s tennis” when he whupped Andy Murray at the U.S. Open last week. Apparently, Kelly hadn’t noticed that there’s only been a Big Three—Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic—for the past three years. Andy Murray last won a Grand Slam tournament in 2016. He hasn’t been a top-10 player since 2017, when he was world No. 3 in October. He hasn’t been in the top 100 for more than two years. He’s beaten just one top-10 player since 2017. He’s part of a Big Four like Miley Cyrus is one of the Beatles. What part of all that does Kelly not understand? Furthermore, he listed Djokovic as the “reigning champion” at Flushing Meadows. That will come as news to Rafa Nadal.

A wounded lines judge gives Novak Djokovic the stink eye.

Djokovic’s departure from the U.S. Open on Sunday was sudden and deserved. Tennis players can be a right petulant lot, few more so than the Serb. He’s long been prone to bouts of pique, and it caught up to him when, in another hissy fit, he whacked a ball that struck a female line judge in the throat. Automatic ouster. Even if it wasn’t deliberate. Why it took officials 10 minutes to convince Djokovic that he wouldn’t be allowed to play on is a mystery, but I’m sure he’ll put his tin foil hat back on and figure it out in time for the French Open later this month.

ESPN certainly had the perfect guy in the blurt box to talk about poor on-court manners Sunday—John McEnroe. The one-time brat of tennis called Djovik’s hissy fit “bone-headed,” and Johnny Mac ought to know more about that than most.

Hey, there’s a new kid in town. The Manitoba Junior Hockey League has added a second Winnipeg-based franchise for its 2020-21 crusade, and that’s interesting news for those of us who can remember an MJHL that included four outfits in Good Ol’ Hometown. 50 Below Sports + Entertainment is the money behind the freshly minted outfit, to be dubbed the Freeze according to Mike Sawatzky of the Drab Slab, and I can only hope they aren’t hitting parents with a $12,000 tab to have their kids play Junior shinny.

Steve Nash

The appointment of Steve Nash as head coach of the Brooklyn Nets stirred up considerable controversy, given that his experience as a bossman totals zip and, significantly, he’s a White man in the very Black National Basketball Association. “Two words that never, ever, should be attached to Steve Nash: White privilege,” Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna harrumphed in his always-pompous weekly alphabet soup column of odds and ends. “But there they were, the screamers of black and white, somehow insisting that Nash’s surprising hiring as coach of the Brooklyn Nets was yet another example of white privilege in North American professional sports.” What that is, folks, is “another example” of shoddy journalism. Simmons failed to identify the “screamers of black and white,” nor did he tell us what they said or what they’re saying. We’re talking Journalism 101 here, folks: Who, what, when, where and why. Apparently that doesn’t apply to big-shot columnists who refuse to burden themselves with the pesky details.

I have often lamented the lack of lower-level local sports coverage in the two Winnipeg dailies, most notably the Sun, which has been ransacked by Postmedia. To underscore how woeful it has become, I monitored the amount of ink devoted to outfits not named Jets, Blue Bombers, Moose, Goldeyes and Valour FC in August. The results are discouraging, but not surprising:
Drab Slab (31 editions)—32 articles, 6 briefs (Assiniboia Downs, amateur hockey, junior hockey, amateur golf, university volleyball, curling, junior football, junior baseball, tennis, sports books).
Winnipeg Sun (30 editions)—1 article (junior football).

At least sports editor Steve Lyons and his boys on the beat at the Drab Slab are trying, but the Sun surrendered to the whims and dictates of Postmedia suits in the Republic of Tranna long ago. I mean, one local story in an entire month? That isn’t just sad, it’s wrong. Amateur Sports Matters, dammit.

And, finally, I’ll conclude this holiday edition of the RCR with a Matty-ism from my first sports editor Jack Matheson: “You don’t have to be strange to live in B.C., but it helps.” Hey, I resemble that remark.

Let’s talk about bye, bye EskimoPie…the Edmonton E-Somethings…when Muhammad was Cassius…being wrong about Bucky…Postmedia’s D’Oh Boy…fake noise and fake fans…lesbian love and Ponytail Puck…splitsville for Aaron and Danica…and other things on my mind

A Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and it’s only fair to warn you that the odds are 2-to-1 that this post will offend someone…

Racist and/or bigoted language was not uncommon in the home of my early upbringing.

Eastern Europeans (read: Poles and Ukrainians) who had found their way to Canadian shores were “dumb DPs” (displaced persons) or “squareheads,” a descriptive I always found notably inaccurate given that, upon examination through the curious, wide eyes of youth, their heads looked no less round or long than any other adult head in the neighborhood.

Italians were “wops,” Japanese were “Japs” or “nips,” the Chinese were “chinks,” and Indians were “lousy redskins.” None of it was meant to be complimentary.

Black people, meanwhile, were “dumb darkies,” and usually “good for nothing,” and my dad reserved his most disgusting verbal bile for one of my favorite entertainers in those 1950s and ’60s, Sammy Davis Jr., who had the (apparent) bad manners to be both Black and Jewish, which made him a “dirty, little (N-bomb) Jew.”

I know, my dad was a real charmer.

Anyway, at no point did it occur to me that the word “Eskimo” was a racist slur. It was either someone who lived in an igloo up north, a tasty chocolate-coated ice cream treat (EskimoPie), or someone like Jackie Parker or Johnny Bright who played football in Edmonton.

Yet here we are today, with the forced rebranding of the Edmonton Eskimos.

Jonesy

The word “Eskimo” is considered offensive by many Inuit people and, in today’s social climate, that will never do, so the storied Canadian Football League franchise soon shall be the Team Formerly Known As The Eskimos.

“It should be considered a dark day,” scribbles Terry Jones, the dean of Canadian jock journos who wrote the book on Edmonton FC (Clearance Sale! Regular $249, now $99 plus tax and shipping; limited number of books remaining). “It’s a crime, considering the traditions involved, that they’re going to have to take down the sign over the dressing room door: ‘Once An Eskimo, Always An Eskimo.’”

Jonesy, who’s old enough to remember all but one or two of Edmonton’s 14 Grey Cup successes, closes his essay with this: “They’ll always be the Eskimos to me.”

I suspect he’ll have ample company on the disgruntled side of the name debate, because the die-hards will want to hang onto the old rather than grab onto the new.

Spaghetti Legs Parker

Let’s be clear about something, though: A name change doesn’t alter the legacy of this model franchise. It still has 14 Rouge Football championships. Spaghetti Legs Parker and the China Clipper and Rollie Miles and Wilkie and numerous others are still in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame as Eskimos. (Come to think of it, so is Jonesy, the documentarian of all things green and gold.) And a new handle won’t erase the five successive years Edmonton FC hoisted the Grey Grail (1978-82).

So why would anyone get bent out of shape?

As Gertrude Stein wrote more than 100 years ago, not long after the Esquimaux became the Eskimos: “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.” Or, as noted football correspondent Willie Shakespeare scribbled, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

And so it shall be with Edmonton FC.

I suppose I’d have different thoughts about this name-changing business if the rabble bullied the Winnipeg Blue Bombers into becoming something other than the Blue Bombers. But there hasn’t been much of a social outcry over airplanes that carry bombs since the Vietnam War, so I think we’re safe.

Apparently Edmonton FC would like to keep the alliteration in the name, thus no logo change, so they’re destined to become the E-Somethings. Here are five suggestions:
1. Edmonton Evolution.
2. Edmonton Empire.
3. Edmonton Emus.
4. Edmonton Elephants.
5. Edmonton Eeny Meeny Miney Moes.
Or…they can go all-in on something completely different, such as:
1. Edmonton Rockies (named after Premier Jason Kenney’s private downtown mountain range).
2. Edmonton Rough Riders (the CFL has gone too long without a second Roughriders team).
3. Edmonton Klondike (a salute to the city’s minimal role in the Klondike Gold Rush).
4. Edmonton Mallers (named after E-Town’s sole tourist attraction).
5. Edmonton Reboot (isn’t everything in sports a reboot these days?).

The moral of the story: Don’t name your franchise after people. Or marginalized groups of people. Or people who prey upon the marginalized (which rules out Daniel Snyder naming his National Football League franchise the Washington Trumps or Republicans).

I suppose the most famous name change in sports was Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. to Muhammad Ali. Clay became Ali after whupping Sonny Liston to claim the heavyweight boxing title in 1964, but numerous New York scribes refused to acknowledge his Islamic name. Dick Young described it as a “hate name” and wrote, “I do not believe Cassius Clay or anyone who thinks like him is good for my country. He is for separatism. He is for black man against white man.” Red Smith called him Cassius Clay and described him as one of the “unwashed punks who picket and demonstrate against the war.” Arthur Daley refused to call him Ali and would refer to him as “the former Cassius Clay” into the 1970s. When Robert Lipsyte wrote Muhammad Ali in his copy, editors at the New York Times would change it to Cassius Clay. The Times refused to accept Muhammad Ali as his official name until 1970. The great Jim Murray of the Los Angeles Times called him Cassius as late as 1967. My guess is Edmonton scribes won’t be so petty with the Edmonton E-Somethings.

I must confess that I was totally wrong about Connor Hellebuyck, Vezina Trophy finalist. When Bucky joined the Winnipeg Jets, he was gangly and awkward and seemingly confused, so I never had him figured for an elite goaltender, but he’s among the three Vezina finalists for the second time in the past three National Hockey League crusades. Who knew? Certainly not moi.

Trudeau the Younger

On the subject of getting it wrong, nobody was a bigger D’Oh Boy last week than Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna. He had himself a right proper Twitter fit on Thursday, scolding Trudeau the Younger and his squints for permitting the Blue Jays to spend what’s left of summer frolicking in the Republic of Tranna. “The government of Canada—do as we say, not as we do—has let us down again,” he harrumphed. “They are allowing the Blue Jays to play home games this summer in Toronto. That is beyond stupid.” No, beyond stupid is sending out that tweet, then doubling down on it (“beyond ridiculous”) when, in fact, Trudeau the Younger had not granted the Tranna Nine permission to set up shop in The ROT. As we suspected, the Jays have been orphaned and shall truck their bats and their balls south of the U.S.-Canada border for an abbreviated Major League Baseball crusade. D’oh!

Simmons took to Twitter on Saturday and offered a mea culpa to the feds. He’s now “proud” of them, don’t you know. I’m sure Trudeau the Younger will sleep better at night knowing that.

Donovan Bailey

Simmons also submits that Donovan Bailey has not been awarded the Order of Canada because—wait for it—he’s a Black man. Yup, if not for the hue of his skin, the former Olympic sprint champion would have received the honor long ago. Hmmm. Apparently the advisory council that selects Order of Canada recipients didn’t notice Herb Carnegie’s skin color. Or Willie O’Ree’s. Or Ben Johnson’s. That’s right, Ben freaking cheater Johnson became a member of the Order in 1987. He has very black skin. Among the original group of recipients was Isaac Phills, a Black steelworker. So to suggest that Bailey has been blackballed due to race is “beyond stupid and ridiculous.” Simmons might want to consider another mea culpa, this one to members of the advisory council for branding them as racist.

MLB plans to use canned crowd noise from video games during the season, and sound engineers will have a selection of 75 audio choices. Apparently, the folks at Fenway Park in Boston have yet to decide if they’ll be using racial or anti-gay slurs as part of their sound package.

Also, a few MLB outfits will place cardboard images of actual fans in their empty ballparks. Lucky stiffs.

Just wondering: Will they still play Take Me Out To The Ballgame during the seventh-inning stretch at Wrigley Field?

Alex Rodriguez wants to buy the New York Mets and introduce an economic system that sounds suspiciously like a salary cap. Ya, says the guy who made $448,000,000 under the old system.

Sofia Reideborn

Here’s something you’ll never hear or read about in men’s professional hockey: Romantic relationships between teammates can be problematic. So says Sofia Reideborn, now a former goaltender with SDE of the Swedish women’s league. During a recent Summer Talk podcast she said, “SDE did well last season but my opinion is that we still didn’t reach our full potential because there were so many love relationships and so much drama within the team. The relationships become a problem. I have nothing against homosexual relationships, it is not what I turn against, but it is relationships with a team because it affects the sporting performance. If you want money, prospects or respect, a team in the highest league cannot possibly have five couples. Ten people involved in a relationship with each other. Half the team.”

SDE defender Jacquie Pierri delivered a robust rebuttal to Reideborn, tweeting, “To argue we should ban player relationships because they are inconvenient in one straight-person’s eyes is backwards and not befitting of any airtime or publicity.”

Danica and Aaron

Speaking of relationships, it looks like football hero Aaron Rodgers and former fast-car racer Danica Patrick have hit the ultimate speed bump and arrived at splitsville. Apparently they had a flare-up over driving: He refused to stop and ask for directions, she couldn’t do anything but make left turns.

And, finally, according to Zodiak readings, if I were a pie I’d be a classic apple pie. And if I were Canadian comfort food, I’d be a Peameal Bacon Sandwich. I’m not sure what any of that means, but it’s making me hungry. Time for brekky.

Gay athletes need allies, too

I really expected Christion Jones to say, “but I have gay friends.”

That, you realize, is the standard go-to squawk from any jock cited for uttering anti-gay slurs or, in Jones’ case, informing gays that their choice of life or sexual partners is sinfully wrong. As long as the shamers have at least one token homosexual buddy to prop up like a blue-ribbon steer at the county fair, they can’t possibly be homophobic, or so their thinking goes.

If they don’t invoke the “but I have gay friends” defence, they’ll turn to Page 2 in the Walk-Back-Those-Words manual and insist, “That’s not who I am.”

But the rest of us know that’s exactly who they are, otherwise we wouldn’t be having the discussion.

Christion Jones

I mean, if you go around kicking dogs and someone calls you out for animal cruelty, claiming to have a pet Border Collie at home won’t convince the people at PETA that you’re actually a swell guy who spends most of his spare time feeding lambs at the petting zoo.

The thing is, Jones didn’t spew the typical dreck after this tweet on Global Pride Day:

“I’ma keep it this real….Man ain’t suppose to be with a man. A women is not suppose to be with another women. THAT’S ME THO! Live life with safety.”

Rather than retreat, he doubled down more often than a bad Black Jack player, responding to criticism with defiance and indignation. “Won’t be changing how I feel anytime soon. STAND ON WHAT I SAID FOREVER,” he tweeted. “Where’s the sign on Twitter that says you can’t give your opinion?” He also seems to believe that being “diverse” means having the right to speak evil of a marginalized segment of society.

Jones spent three hours mentioning God and defending his position on gay relationships and, the following day, recanted with a mea culpa conceding that his words were “deeply hurtful, painful and served zero purpose. I added to the struggle of a community, to live a life free of oppression of any kind. I sincerely apologize. I was wrong.”

Oops. A day late and a dollar short, fella.

The kickback was swift. Jones lost his job as a receiver/kick returner with the Edmonton Eskimos, and it’s unlikely another Canadian Football League team will be anxious to provide a soft landing spot for a player whose public spewings about gay lives sits in conflict with an organization that champions a Diversity Is Strength program.

Thus closes Pride month 2020, with another shrill siren to serve as a reminder that much work remains before major men’s sports in North America openly embraces an openly gay player, either at an elite level or in a subordinate role.

We presume there to be gays in the National Hockey League, National Basketball Association, National Football League, Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer, but they’re so deep in the closet it would take a team of U.S. Navy SEALS to ferret them out of their hiding places. Christion Jones, and those of his ilk, keep them closeted.

An exception would be John Epping, a world-class curler, although only folks on the Canadian Prairies and certain spots in Europe would consider the roarin’ game to be worthy of the ‘major’ label.

Tom Shipton and John Epping.

Epping has been out and proud competing with and against the planet’s premier players since 2012, and his husband, Tom Shipton, has been known to tag along with the Ontario skip to the Brier, without fanfare or ugly incident. (Further evidence that Pebble People are, as a group, the finest in sports.)

“It started with, ‘I just want to help one person.’ I remember saying that to Tom,” Epping told Kristina Rutherford in a fantastic article for Sportsnet. “If it can make a difference in one person’s life, announcing it to the public and media, it’s worth it. I don’t need to do it for me. I don’t need to tell people I’m gay—I don’t. But I feel somewhat of an obligation to. I’m privileged to be given a talent in my life and to have people that watch and enjoy it, and I feel and obligation to use that platform. And I want to.”

Adds Shipton: “I know a lot of people say, ‘Well, why is this a story in this day and age?’ But I think people also don’t realize that marginalized communities aren’t treated the same as others. There still is a need for these voices and for these people to find courage in.”

We don’t read a lot about gay issues in mainstream sports media, because it isn’t trendy, and 99 per cent of the placeholders are white, heterosexual men, some of them perhaps homophobic. So, it isn’t a topic they give much of a damn about. Oh, sure, news snoops dutifully reported developments in the unfortunate Christion Jones incident, but it’s been mum’s the word from the main opinionists. They don’t see it as their battle.

But, as I have written numerous times, civil rights should be an everybody battle, not just for those of us in the LGBT(etc.) collective. Each of us has gay neighbors, friends, family and co-workers. We need allies. With voices.

Let’s talk about the Winnipeg Jets and Blue Bombers standing by their men…Bruce Boudreau’s pink slip and Coach PoMo’s $9 million reward…silly Seattle rumors…scofflaws in the Jets Hall of Fame…WHA vs. NHL…good reads in the Drab Slab…silly sound bites…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and a restful Louis Riel Long Weekend to you all…

So, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers re-up Mike O’Shea because he brought home the Grey Cup, and the Winnipeg Jets re-up Paul Maurice because…well, some of us are still trying to work our way through that.

Coach PoMo

I mean, Coach Potty Mouth hasn’t brought anything home, except the bacon, and at a reported $3 million per year that’s a whole lot of pork rinds and BLTs. I’m sure his bride and kids appreciate it, even if many among the rabble don’t like what he brings to the table, and O’Shea can only wish his championship-calibre coaching paid as handsomely as Coach PoMo’s six years of mostly mediocrity.

But, hey, this isn’t meant to be a hit piece on Maurice.

Everybody loves Coach PoMo. Well, okay, not everybody. But the people who matter the most do—Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, the lads in the changing room. Why, listening to them gush about their bench puppeteer after locking him down for the next three winters, I was convinced he’d discovered a cure for the Coronavirus while helping little old ladies cross busy streets. Who knew winning just two playoff rounds in half a dozen crusades was such a laudable achievement?

But, again, this isn’t meant to be a hit piece on Coach PoMo.

The moral of today’s story, kids, is this: Stand By Your Man (and I make no apologies for riffing on the title of a country classic by the legendary Tammy Wynette).

The Jets and Bombers, you see, stand by their men like no other National Hockey League/Canadian Football League combo in Canada, although it hasn’t always been that way for our gridiron Goliaths.

Mike O’Shea

Once upon a time not so long ago, Winnipeg FC went through head coaches like Kleenex during a chick flick, but the revolving-door strategy ended on Dec. 4, 2013, when CEO Wade Miller brought in O’Shea as sideline steward. It took Coach Grunge six seasons to get the job done, but nobody’s complaining today, except perhaps city workers still burdened with the task of cleaning up the mess Chris Streveler left behind at the Grey Cup parade.

The point is, the Grey Grail is back in Good Ol’ Hometown due to the stick-to-itness of the Canadian Mafia, which includes GM Kyle Walters, and O’Shea has been rewarded with a fresh set of downs (three-year contract).

There’s been no such success for the Jets, of course, just some warm-and-fuzzies from a series of downtown whiteout parties during a deep Beard Season run two springs back. Still, the Puck Pontiff has chosen to stay the course with the man he recruited a month after O’Shea arrived in town, extending Maurice’s gig for another three winters, whether we think he’s earned it or not.

So, since December 2013, the Bombers have known one head coach. Ditto the Jets since January 2014.

Now gaze upon the Canadian pro sports landscape (read: CFL, NHL). What do you see? That’s right, coaching chaos. There’ve been eight head knocks in the Republic of Tranna. Same in Montreal, E-Town and Lotus Land. Bytown has had seven. Calgary six. All since both Coach Grunge and Coach PoMo took root in River City.

What does it all mean?

Well, I don’t know about you, but I’ll take a steady hand over a knee-jerking gong show anytime, so long as it delivers favorable results in a results-driven business, and stability got the Bombers a CFL title, to be sure. It’s done squat for the Jets, though. Other than stir up the anti-PoMo mob, that is.

Bruce Boudreau

It really doesn’t matter that I think Maurice is something of a snake charmer the way he hypnotizes news snoops and fans with his smooth sound bites. As mentioned, it’s about results, and his numbers just don’t add up to the unflinching faith the Puck Pontiff has in PoMo’s coaching ability. Let’s, for example, stack his numbers against those of Bruce Boudreau, the recently defrocked head coach of the Minnesota Wild.

Since the 2014-15 season:
Maurice:   246-175-48 (11-16 in playoffs), one conference final, missed playoffs twice.
Boudreau: 255-159-53 (16-17 in playoffs), one conference final, missed playoffs once.

For that, Boudreau received a pink slip. Twice (in Anaheim and Minny). Yet, for doing less with more, Maurice received a three-year reward and a $9 million windfall. Go figure.

More than once, Jets capitano Blake Wheeler has said he’d “go through a brick wall” for Maurice. At least now Coach PoMo can afford to fix the wall.

Elliotte Friedman

Remember those Maurice-to-Seattle whispers? Well, actually they weren’t just whispers. Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet first mentioned it on his 31 Thoughts podcast with Jeff Marek in early December. When asked who might be the first head coach of Seattle’s NHL Team To Be Named Later, Friedge said, “I’ll tell you this, I’ve got some guys who think it’s going to be Paul Maurice.” Well, don’t you just know that Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab, although “loathe to play the role of gossip monger,” took that sound bite the very next day and gossip-mongered it into a froth. “Could the delay in getting Maurice extended be less about Winnipeg’s desire to take a wait-and-see approach—which, at this point, wouldn’t make much sense—and more about the 52-year-old wanting to hold off and perhaps eventually test the waters?” he asked in a bout of reckless speculation that was cloak-and-dagger in tone and offered zero substance. He also informed readers that Maurice and Seattle GM Ron Francis have a bit of a bromance, as if to thicken the plot. I don’t know if Friedman and Mad Mike feel like damn fools today, but I doubt it.

Chevy

Some of us, of course, knew from the get-go that Coach PoMo was in Good Ol’ Hometown to stay, and modesty doesn’t prevent me from reminding you of that fact. Here’s what I wrote on Sept. 16: “Maurice ain’t going anywhere. You don’t fire the coach when the two main puppeteers, Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, hurl half of his blueline into the dumpster.” And this is what my Two Hens In The Hockey House added on Oct. 3: “Mark Chipman and Chevy will part ways with Maurice when the Dalai Lama punches out the Pope.” But, hey, what do we know? We don’t have our feet on the ground like the all-knowing (not!) boys on the beat.

Yes, now that Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun has mentioned it, I thought it was rather cringeworthy that the Jets would salute Bobby Hull the same night they celebrated Thomas Steen as one of the two latest inductees to the club’s Hall of Fame. Hull has a well-documented history of domestic abuse/violence. Ditto Steen.

Bobby Hull

If nothing else, the Jets lead the league in Hall of Fame scofflaws, and this was part of Friesen’s take:

“Given how far we’ve come as a society in recognizing the horrors of abuse of women, the shadow victims are forced to live in because they’re afraid to come forward, the price the victim often pays, particularly with a popular or powerful public figure—given all that, how can organizations still celebrate a man with such a history? Hockey’s culture is supposed to be changing. Physical abuse and racially or gender-motivated verbal abuse is no longer tolerated, but rather vigorously investigated, with perpetrators held accountable. It’s supposed to be an inclusive, respectful environment, for all races, genders and sexual orientations. So what message does it send when a team trots out Hull for a special occasion, asking its fans to applaud him?”

Seriously. What part of domestic violence do the Jets not understand?

No surprise there was a bit of pushback to my recent post about the 1977-78 Jets holding the record for most consecutive wins by a Canadian pro sports franchise. Some have pooh-poohed the Jets’ 15 straight Ws as the product of a watered-down, tier-II World Hockey Association. Well, let me just say this about that: WHA outfits faced off against NHL sides 63 times and the final tally was 34-22-7 in favor of the WHA. The Jets were 7-5-2. Meantime, two of the top five scorers (Wayne Gretzky, Mike Rogers) and four of the top 10 (Blaine Stoughton, Blair MacDonald) in the first season after the merger were WHA grads. And Mark Howe, also a WHA product, was the top scoring defenceman. So there.

Rick St. Croix

Some truly terrific scribbling in the Drab Slab last week, first from Mike Sawatzky and then Melissa Martin. Mike filled us in on the back-from-the-dead experience of Rick St. Croix, goaltending guru of the Manitoba Moose. Rick, one of the nicest, most-decent men you’ll ever meet, almost left us when his ticker kicked up a fuss at the airport in December, but he’s now in full recovery and back at work. Melissa, meanwhile, took a road trip to Drumheller, Alta., where she had a natter with Steve Vogelsang, the sportscaster-turned teacher-turned back robber-turned jail bird. It’s gripping stuff for those of us who remember Steve as the glib guy on the CKY sports desk.

Renée Zellweger

I stayed up past my normal bedtime to watch the Oscars last Sunday. Just wondering: Have Renée Zellweger and Joaquin Phoenix finished their speeches yet?

I find myself wondering this, too: Between Skip The Dishes, UberEats and DoorDash, does anyone still actually cook dinner at home?

Major League Baseball is talking about expanding its playoffs and, the way I hear it, the post-season soon shall include everyone but the Little League World Series champions. Oh for the days when only two teams qualified for the rounders championship and they settled the debate when the sun was high and kids could listen to the weekday games in school. And, no, that doesn’t mean I’m living in the past. It means the MLB post-season shouldn’t be like a day at the beach. You know, “Everybody in!”

Some very strange blah, blah, blah in the playground last week. Start with Jim Crane, dismissive owner of the Houston Astros, who cheated their way to a MLB title with an elorate sign-stealing scheme. Asked if his club’s chicanery was the difference in its 2017 World Series win, Crane said, “this didn’t impact the game.” When challenged by a news snoop to explain how blatant cheating didn’t influence the outcome, he said, “I didn’t say it didn’t impact the game.”

I believe Crane’s pants are still on fire.

Meanwhile, Mark Spector of Sportsnet delivered a head-scratching analysis of the Zack Kassian kicking incident, whereby the Edmonton Oilers forward put the bladed boots to Erik Cernak of the Tampa Bay Lightning while they were tangled in an on-ice heap. Spector said Cernak took “what appeared to be a skate sort of across the chest, got up, skated away like it was nothing. Didn’t even give a second look to Kassian. So, yes, it looked like it happened.”

There are no words to describe how dumb that sounds.

Robo Bruin

The Boston Red Sox might have cheated their way to the 2018 World Series title, and the New England Patriots apparently cheated their way to a couple of Super Bowl championships. Thus I asked Beantown booster Jack the Bartender how the Boston Bruins are cheating in their latest quest for a Stanley Cup. “Zdeno Chara is a robot,” he answered. “He actually died four years ago.”

And, finally, I wouldn’t still be scribbling these musings if not for my doctor and Brian Adam, a former radio guy who insists I keep cranking it out. Brian is a Montreal Canadiens booster, although I don’t hold that against him, and he has a radio voice that makes him sound like one of the Bee Gees, and I definitely take issue with that. At any rate, if you don’t like what you’re reading, direct all complaints to Bee Gee Brian, not moi. You’ll find him in Bart’s Pub.

Let’s talk about renewing the old Winnipeg-Hamilton Grey Cup rivalry and random thoughts after overdosing on Rouge Football

A Monday smorgas-bored coming down in 3, 2, 1…and I’m thinking of Kenny Ploen today…

Those of my vintage remember the glory days, when our local football heroes would make a pilgrimage to the Republic of Tranna or Lotus Land every November.

Our Winnipeg Blue Bombers didn’t go for the weather, understand, because it was usually cold, wet, windy, foggy or flat-out gnarly at that time of the year, and it wasn’t the lure of big-city lights and big-city temptations either. It was business, and that business was to whup the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

We learned to dislike the Tabbies with unharnessed gusto, because they were always in the way. In 1957. In 1958. In ’59, ’61 and ’62.

Jungle Jim

They were big, menacing and vulgar men named Mosca and Barrow and Nagurski, all raised on sour milk and appropriately dressed in villain black. One of them, Ralph Goldston, was a thug of such ill temper that he once was ejected from a Canadian Football League championship match for punching Winnipeg Blue Bombers sublime running back, Leo Lewis, in the face. Their coach, Jungle Jim Trimble, was a trash-talking loudmouth from coal mining country in Pennsylvania and, in advance of the ’58 Grey Cup game, he considered the Bombers’ roster and declared, “The Winnipeg club didn’t show me anything to worry about.”

Jungle Jim also spewed this legendary line that November: “We’ll waffle ’em. We’ll leave ’em with lumps on the front and back.”

The nerve. The very notion that one of the Hamilton ruffians would have the bad manners to leave lumps on Kenny Ploen was a most disagreeable and distasteful notion. I mean, you didn’t mess with the Lone Ranger, you didn’t tug on Superman’s cape, and you didn’t put lumps on Kenny Ploen.

Ploen, the Bombers quarterback and sometimes ball-hawking defensive back, was a sweetheart. They all were, and I say that based on memories of an urchin who, along with my friend Chester, would ride a bike from Melbourne Avenue in East Kildonan out to a parched patch of hard, scuffed earth known as Canada Packers Field in St. Boniface twice a day during the Bombers preseason training exercises.

Before and after each workout, Chester and I would collect the signatures of our blue-and-gold heroes, asking them to scribble their names on paper scraps, magazines, newspaper articles and footballs.

“How many of these do you have?” Ploen asked one day as he signed my white football.

“I don’t know, Mr. Ploen,” I answered. “I hope we aren’t pestering you by asking for your autograph every day.”

“Not at all. I’m glad to do it.”

None of them complained. They simply signed, sometimes the perspiration from their foreheads dripping onto our paper scraps to make the blue ink smudge and run. Ernie (Zazu) Pitts one day greeted Chester and I with a smile, saying, “Good morning, people of the jury,” and, at the conclusion of the two-a-day sessions, god-like head coach Bud Grant trucked in watermelons for the large lads and handed us one as well.

To announce to neighborhood chums that Chester and I had shared a watermelon with Bud Grant, Kenny Ploen and Leo Lewis was a bragging point of considerable heft, believe me.

Like I said, sweethearts.

Ah, but once opposite the dreaded Tabbies, the measure of Blue Bombers’ snark and sass was sizable and more than a match for their black-clad foes. Herb Gray, Jack Delveaux, Dave Burkholder and Norm Rauhaus were no quarterback’s notion of a picnic, while the Lincoln Locomotive, Choo Choo Shepard, Carver Shannon and Zazu made things go bump in the night for Hamilton defenders.

Winnipeg FC waffled the Jungle Jim-coached Tabbies four times in their five Grey Cup skirmishes starting in 1957 and ending in ’62, with one game determined in overtime and another taking two days to finish.

Many years after the fact, I caught up with Winnipeg FC lineman Ed Kotowich during a Grey Cup week and asked him about the dislike between the Tabbies and Bombers back in the day.

“There was nothing made up about it,” he said with a growl and a tightening of his jaw muscles. “They didn’t like us and I guarantee we hated them and their big-mouth coach.”

So now the Bombers and Ticats are set to renew their classic CFL squabble, Nov. 24 at McMahon Stadium in the Alberta Foothills, and I was feeling that 1950s/60s vibe the moment Winnipeg FC took out the Saskatchewan Flatlanders, 20-13, in Sunday’s slob-knocker of a West Division final.

All the old villains are long gone, of course, but it’s easy for me to picture Simoni Lawrence in the Angie Mosca or Ralph Goldston roles. Total cads, every one of them.

I don’t know if the Bombers will waffle ’em, and I doubt either head coach plans to take the Jungle Jim route and provide bulletin board reading, but somebody’s going home without any marbles and the loser of Coupe de Grey No. 107 will remain 0-for-the-century.

That, alone, is a good storyline, but I’m guessing we’ll be hearing more about Zach Collaros and Simoni Lawrence in the leadup to next Sunday’s large match. And why not? It’s good v. evil. The Sweetheart QB v. Darth Defender.

You know, just like the good, ol’ days.

It’s interesting to note that when the Bombers beat the Tabbies in the ’58 Grey Cup game, it ended a 17-year championship drought, and when the two franchises did it all again in 1984, Winnipeg FC ended a 22-year famine. Now they’re hoping to end 29 years of never failing to fail.

Corn Dog Cody

Random thoughts from lying on the loveseat and staring at the flatscreen for six hours on Sunday: No doubt the Bombers earned their victory over the Flatlanders on Sunday, but it must be said that they benefited from some incredibly dopey coaching by Craig Dickenson, horrid clock management by Dickenson/Corn Dog Cody Fajardo, and a serious brain cramp by Marcus Thigpen. Just saying…Interesting that the two semifinal skirmishes featured four of the five CFL markets that care the most about Rouge Football—Winnipeg, Saskatchewan, Edmonton and Hamilton. The fifth, Calgary, gets the consolation prize—the Grey Cup game…Not since Pinball Clemons and Gizmo Williams has there been a player more fun to watch than Speedy B of the Tabbies…The boys in the TSN booth(s) were all about nicknames on Sunday. They mentioned, Speedy B, Speedy A, Great Dane, Inspector Gadget, Magic and El Diablo, Shake and Bake, the Special Teams Vulture, and Timbits Field in the Hammer was the Cathouse. Hey, I like nicknames. Big fan. But that’s a bit much…Why do all the TSN talking heads call Mike Benevides “Coach?” He isn’t a coach. He’s an ex-coach. So is Matt Dunigan, but no one is calling him “Coach.”…This was weird: They trotted out former Ticat Rob Hitchcock to present the East Division championship trophy to the Tabbies, but he wouldn’t give it to them. He hoisted it instead…

Matthew McConaughney

Really annoying people: The 7-Eleven Guy and Matthew McConaughey. I think a perfect commercial would be the 7-Eleven Guy spilling a strawberry Slurpee on the posh seats of McConaughey’s fancy-schmancy Lincoln…Further evidence that Glen Suitor isn’t watching the same game as us: 1) At one point, he informed us that Saskatchewan was going into a “no-huddle” offence, even as the cameras showed QB Fajardo standing in the huddle, looking at his wrist play chart, and shouting out a play; 2) on the Flatlanders’ final gasp, he said, “The Bombers made the last play.” They did nothing of the sort. Fajardo’s final fling of the football went clunk against the crossbar and the Bombers didn’t have to do anything except celebrate…Hey, look who’ll be coaching in the Grey Cup game—old friend Jeff Reinebold, the Ticats special teams guru. Bravo to one of the game’s true survivors…What is it with TSN and the Reklaws? They keep promoting a new album featuring the tune Old Country Soul, which might be the worst country tune ever recorded. Enough already.

And, finally, it’s about my forecasts for the division finals:
Prediction:     Winnipeg 29, Saskatchewan 12 (no touchdowns, only field goals).
Actual score: Winnipeg 20, Saskatchewan 13 (no TDs, only FGs and a rouge).
Prediction:     Hamilton 36, Edmonton 34.
Actual score: Hamilton 36, Edmonton 16.
Feel free to discuss among yourselves. Or not.

Let’s talk about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and a rout…the Sun ragdolls the Drab Slab…helmet to helmet…Kap’s dog-and-pony and clown show…Grapes really has left the building…Alpo barks back…Planet Puckhead has non-hockey regions?…Ponytail Puck…ugly Americans…and Rafa calls a news snoop on his B.S

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and it’s grey, cloudy and wet where I live, a good day to stay inside and watch three-down football…

Bombers by 17.

There. I said it. Not going to change it.

A few hours from now, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers will have booked themselves a trip to Calgary for the Grey Cup skirmish on Nov. 24, and it won’t be close, not even if Corn Dog Cody Fajardo makes a side trip to Lourdes between now and this afternoon’s kickoff at Mosaic Stadium on the Flattest of Lands.

And, no, this isn’t the rambling of a Jenny-come-lately swayed by the Bombers paddywhacking of the Calgary Stampeders a week ago

Zach Collaros

I’ll remind you that I’ve been telling anyone willing to listen for more than a month that Winnipeg FC wasn’t a fool’s bet to be grabbing grass at McMahon Stadium in the final frolic of Rouge Football 2019. Just to refresh:

Oct. 9 (before the Bombers brought Zach Collaros on board): “Go ahead and accuse me of typing with rose-tinted glasses, and maybe I am, but I believe the CFL West Division remains a crap shoot and the Bombers aren’t completely out of the discussion.”

Oct. 27: “Playing on the final Sunday in November is doable.”

Nov. 3: “After watching the Calgary Stampeders and Saskatchewan Flatlanders struggle mightily against inferior foes in the final thrusts of the Canadian Football League regular season on Saturday, who’s prepared to write off the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the chase for the Grey Cup? I’m not. Ya, sure, they’ll have to win twice on foreign soil to get the job done, but there isn’t anything about either team that should keep the Bombers awake at night. My pre-season prediction was a Winnipeg-Hamilton Tabbies Grey Cup game, and I’m sticking with that.”

So now here we are, Winnipeg v. Saskatchewan Roughriders for bragging rights of the West Division and Prairie pigskin, and when I hear Gang Green plans to use everyone from Corn Dog Cody to Premier Scott Moe at quarterback this afternoon, well, that seals the deal for me.

Corn Dog Cody

They tell us that Fajardo is good to go, but the guy’s nursing an upper-body owie that prevents him from airing it out, which means sideline steward Craig Dickenson will also trot out wet-eared Isaac Harker and Winnipeg FC washout Bryan Bennett, and maybe Scott Moe in a pinch. Well, QB by committee seldom works, and it certainly won’t get the job done against that nasty Bombers defensive dozen.

Add to that the iffy fettle of praise-worthy pass-catcher Shaq Evans, and the Flatlanders enter the fray with one hand tied behind their back and one foot in the gridiron grave.

I could be wrong, of course. Been there, done that. But I just don’t see the Bombers D surrendering anything but three-point scores, and it will take at least seven of them to make this an interesting disagreement. That ain’t going to happen.

So, make the final: Winnipeg 29, Saskatchewan 12.

Speaking of routs, the boys at the Winnipeg Sun—Paul Friesen, Teddy Football and friends in the Postmedia chain—gave the Drab Slab a thorough and proper ragdolling in local newspaper wars the past two playoff Sundays. Today, the Sun delivered an 8 1/2-page package on the Bombers-Riders, with 11 articles and stats. A week ago it was eight pages, eight stories and stats for Bombers-Stamps. The Drab Slab, meanwhile, gave us one Jeff Hamilton story and one Mad Mike McIntyre column today, and that’s actually a step up compared to a week ago when the broadsheet didn’t consider the West Division semifinal significant enough to dispatch Mad Mike to Cowtown. Hamilton wrote one piece on the weather, and they also ran wire copy (also on the weather). So, if you’re keeping score at home (and I know you aren’t), the final tally is: Sun, 16½ pages, 19 articles; Drab Slab, 4 pages, 4 articles. We haven’t seen that big a rout since Tiger Woods’ divorce settlement.

I don’t know if anyone at the Drab Slab is embarrassed by the paddywhacking they’ve taken on Bombers coverage, but the tall foreheads there have always been an arrogant, smug bunch, so I doubt it.

Moving back to reading tea leaves, the Hamilton Tabbies aren’t about to waste the best season in franchise history by coughing up a hairball v. the Edmonton Eskimos in the East Division final at Timbits Field in the Hammer today. They’ll tip a canoe, though, with five lead changes. Tabbies 36, Eskimos 34.

Does this make sense to anyone? Rip the helmet off a foe’s head and cocabonk him with it in the National Football League and you’re slapped with an indefinite suspension, minimum six games. Do the same thing in the CFL (hello, Vernon Adams Jr.) and it earns you a one-game slap on the wrist. Is there some sort of U.S.-Canada exchange rate on criminal activity that I’m unaware of? Or is Commish Randy Ambrosie too busy making nice with Mexico and Europe to give a damn about CFL player safety.

What do you get when a dog-and-pony show is missing the dog and pony? Just the clown (hello, Colin Kaepernick). Seriously. What was that Kaepernick-NFL showcase all about on Saturday? His 1970s hair style?

Ron MacLean

Is it true? Has Don Cherry really left the building? Of course he has. Coach’s Corner is Coachless Corner after close to four decades on Hockey Night in Canada. But, hey, not to worry. Grapes’ former straight man, Ron MacLean, still managed to work in two token Bobby Orr references during four minutes, 44 seconds worth of groveling on Saturday night. He just did it without insulting Francophones, Russians, Europeans, pinkos, women, immigrants and men who prefer to play hockey rather than fight.

I keep hearing that Brian Burke is the curmudgeon-in-waiting at HNIC, but that’s too same old, same old for me. I like much of Burke’s work since he joined Sportsnet, but, even though 21 years younger than the 85-year-old Cherry, he preaches from the same horse-and-buggy hockey bible. That is, he’s still a fists first, finesse second advocate, and that’s not the way the game is played today. For evidence, see Milan Lucic and his three points in 20 games.

Alpo Suhonen

The most biting snarl directed toward the now-defrocked Grapes came from Alpo Suhonen, long-time Finnish coach and a former Winnipeg Jets assistant once mocked by Cherry for having a name that sounded like “some kind of dog food.” Following Cherry’s ouster from HNIC, Suhonen launched this missile in an interview with Postmedia: “I found him to be a nationalistic, chauvinistic, narcissistic, toxic man…I know a lot of Canadians love his style, but his opinions about Europeans and their hockey, and the style he’s speaking, I find it very narrow-minded.” Ouch..

Jacques Cartier

In the fallout since the Don Cherry dismissal on Remembrance Day, the most curious comment was delivered by Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail. “If America has blue states and red states, Canada has hockey regions and non-hockey regions,” he wrote. Say what? I’ve been drawing breath for 69 years (99.9 per cent of it “good Canadian” oxygen), I’ve spent time in burgs coast to coast, and I’ve yet to discover any of these “non-hockey regions” that Kelly scribbles about. Where are these mysterious locales? Are they lost civilizations? If not hockey, what goes on there? And how did John Cabot, Samuel de Champlain, Jacques Cartier, James Cook and George Vancouver all miss these “non-hockey regions?” Inquiring minds need to know.

Before the puck was dropped in October, I had the Winnipeg Jets pegged for a bubble team, with a wild card playoff spot their best-case scenario. But here they are today, running with the big dogs in the National Hockey League Central Division, just four points out of top spot. Trouble is, they’re also only three points away from falling out of the post-season picture. Yup, sounds like a bubble team to me. But they’re a good-news story one-quarter of the way through this crusade, and I’d say both Connor Hellebuyck and Laurent Brossoit are making Paul Maurice look like a darned good coach.

Frank Seravalli

TSN squawk box/scribe Frank Seravalli is cruising out of his lane again. It wasn’t enough that he once made the laughable and totally fraudulent suggestion that Daniel and Henrik Sedin were “the faces of hockey in Western Canada for much of the 21st century,” this American born, American raised, American schooled, American resident is now sticking his star-spangled snoot into our global puck affairs. “Hayley Wickenheiser has been called the Wayne Gretzky of women’s hockey,” he writes. “It would be fitting then to bestow an honour on her that has only been given to Gretzky at the NHL level: Wickenheiser’s No. 22 should never be worn again by a Canadian woman on the international stage. It’s time for Hockey Canada to officially make that the case.” Well, excuse us all to hell, Frankie boy, but if you promise not to tell us how to dress our female hockey players, we’ll promise not to tell your female soccer players how to behave in a 13-0 rout.

Megan Rapinoe

On second thought, forget that. We’ll mention ugly Americans and Megan Rapinoe’s big mouth every chance we get. But Seravalli still has no business telling us how to dress our Ponytail Pucksters.

I note that the National Women’s Hockey League has had an infusion of funding and there’s talk of expansion to the Republic of Tranna next autumn, which means the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association crusade to put Commish Dani Rylan and her operation out of business is failing. The PWHPA boycotters can continue to stage glorified scrimmages and photo-ops with Billie Jean King, but Ponytail Puck won’t move forward until they sit down and have a chat with Rylan. I’m not sure what part of that they don’t understand.

Rafael Nadal and his bride, Xisca.

Got a kick out of Rafael Nadal’s reaction to the dumbest of dumb comments the other day at the ATP tennis event in London. The world No. 1 had just been beaten by Alexander Zverev, and Italian news snoop Ubaldo Scanagatta wondered aloud if Rafa’s stumble was due, in part, to his recent exchange of “I do’s” with longtime squeeze Xisca Perello.

“I’d like to know, for many people to get married is a very important distracted thing,” said Scanagatta. “Before the marriage, during the marriage, after the marriage. Your concentration on tennis life has been bit different even if you were going out with the same girl for many, many years.”

“Honestly, are you asking me this?” Rafa responded. “Is this a serious question or a joke? Is it serious? Ya?”

Nadal then engaged in a bit of a to-and-fro before finally saying, “Okay, we move to Spanish, because that’s bull shit.”

And, finally, on the matter of bull leavings, it has come to my attention that this is post No. 500 for the River City Renegade blog. All I can say is that’s a whole lot of BS. Probably way too much, in fact.

Let’s talk about Chevy-speak and Buffcapades…what fans “deserve” from the Winnipeg Jets…Looch=goon…snark from Finland…faulty football tea leaves…Simoni and Zach against one another in the Grey Cup game?…calling out the boss…Bianca bugs out…a pub punch-up…and facts as an option

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and we can turn our clocks back, but we can’t turn back time…

It’s never a surprise when Kevin Cheveldayoff stands before a gaggle of news snoops, flaps his gums, then slays them with Chevy-speak.

The man who generally manages the Winnipeg Jets long ago mastered the art of gasbagging his interrogators, filling their notebooks and recording devices with such a high level of hollow blah, blah, blah that you’d swear he’s auditioning for a job on Parliament Hill.

So, of course, that’s what Chevy did the other day in San Jose when he poked his head out of the True North traveling gopher hole to address the curious case of Dustin Byfuglien, the reluctant blueliner.

Chevy

To say Chevy said nothing insightful or informative about Big Buff’s retreat from the fray is to say Rudy Giuliani has loose lips. Like, thanks Captain Obvious. The GM used up six minutes, 17 seconds worth of oxygen to deliver his empty message, and he repeated his nothingness so often that he used the word “again” 17 times. Mind you, I might have missed an “again” or two.

But, again (there’s that word again), why would any of us expect anything different?

That’s the way it’s been since 2011, and that’s the way it’s going to be as long as Chevy is Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman’s official mouthpiece. Mum’s the word. Always. You’ll get more out of a street mime. I mean, compared to True North, the people at Area 51 in Nevada are a bunch of blabbermouths.

Elliotte Friedman

The thing is, according to Elliotte Friedman of Hockey Night in Canada, this time Chevy had a reason for keeping his lips zipped: He’s under a National Hockey League gag order.

“The Jets have been told they can’t say anything, which is why Kevin Cheveldayoff has been so guarded in his comments,” reported Friedman, who went on to explain that Byfuglien’s unexpected, pre-season withdrawal was due to the wonky ankle he injured last winter.

Friedman also described a brewing standoff between Winnipeg HC and Big Buff’s camp as “emotional, heated” and “likely going to arbitration.”

So let’s recap the Buffcapades saga:

Big Buff

Big Buff arrived in Good Ol’ Hometown on the eve of the Jets training exercises, but he was a no-show at medicals. He was granted a leave of absence for reasons that were hush-hush, although speculators suggested the large lad was gazing at his navel, which is to say contemplating retirement at age 34. Suspended without pay, some among the rabble spied him in watering holes about town, then he disappeared Stateside, where medics took a scalpel to his wonky ankle last week, and it’s reported that he won’t be available until early 2020. If, that is, he’s of a mind to make himself available, or if the Jets still want him on their blueline.

There will, of course, be additional twists and turns to this clandestine caper, which head coach Paul Maurice initially wrote off as “nothing sinister.” I’m uncertain what Coach Potty Mouth’s definition of “sinister” is, but this all sounds quite sinister to me and, an NHL gag order notwithstanding, Chevy’s verbal stickhandling hasn’t been a good look for the Jets.

I’d tell you what he told news snoops the other day, except he didn’t tell them anything worth noting, so I’ll just paraphrase the essence of his six-plus minutes of gum flapping: “Again, you guys asked me to come out and speak, so here I am speaking, except, again, it’s complicated and I’m not saying anything, so, again, you know, I guess I’m not really speaking about something that, again, I can’t speak about.”

Pure, unvarnished gobbledygook, and the suggestion has been made by many among the rabble, also some news snoops, that they “deserve” better from Chevy and True North.

Well, okay, let’s take a look at that. What exactly does True North owe the faithful?

A winning team? Sorry, it’s strictly buyer beware. The only sure thing in sports is that TSN and Sportsnet will talk about Auston Matthews more than the Pope talks about Jesus. So icing a successful side is a hope, not mandatory.

Honesty? Everyone in hockey lies, and to expect the Jets to be an exception is pure Pollyanna.

Transparency? That would be nice but, frankly kids, True North isn’t obligated to tell us anything, even as they pig out at the public trough and make no apology for subsidies and tax breaks that help keep the bottom line in black, not red, ink.

I agree, it’s irksome, with gusts up to infuriating, and listening to Chevy prattle on like a Sunday preacher with nowhere to go makes my ears bleed the same way a Barry Manilow song does.

Here’s the bottom line, though: Again, revealing what goes on behind closed doors at True North isn’t part of Chevy’s mandate. That might not be what the frustrated flock wants or likes to hear, but it’s the reality of the situation.

While watching and listening to Chevy babble on the other day, it occurred to me that not answering questions he isn’t allowed to answer likely isn’t at the top of his to-do list. He had a root-canal vibe going. I’d like to say I felt sorry for him, but I didn’t.

One final thought on this matter: Isn’t it wonderful to have an NHL team to bitch about?

The Looch

Seriously, why is Milan Lucic still in the NHL? The Looch is a cheap imitation of a 1970s Broad Street Bully, and there shouldn’t be any room in the game for slow, plodding thugs whose sole purpose is to beat up people. His assault on Kole Sherwood of the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday was a throwback to the disgraceful goon days of Schultz, Saleski and Hound Dog, and I hope the league hurls the book at him.

Chances are you’re unfamiliar with a chap named Pekka Jalonen, so be advised he’s a Finnish sports scribe with some rather harsh, point-blank opinions on Winnipeg HC. For example, after the Jets had dispatched young defender Ville Heinola to their American Hockey League farm, Jalonen sent out this tweet: “It’s good for Heinola to get away from all that mess in Winnipeg and Jets awful defence. All he can learn there is how NOT to play.” The Iltalehta jock journo also found time to take a broadside at Bryan Little without actually naming him. “Patrik Laine is sentenced to a ‘Donut line’ (there is a hole in the middle).” Well, that Donut Boy in the middle scored a winning goal and helped set up another in two of the Jets’ last three Ws. But, I must say, I like Jalonen’s snark.

Okay, after watching the Calgary Stampeders and Saskatchewan Flatlanders struggle mightily against inferior foes in the final thrusts of the Canadian Football League regular season on Saturday, who’s prepared to write off the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the chase for the Grey Cup? I’m not. Ya, sure, they’ll have to win twice on foreign soil to get the job done, but there isn’t anything about either team that should keep the Bombers awake at night. My pre-season prediction was a Winnipeg-Hamilton Tabbies Grey Cup game, and I’m sticking with that.

On the subject of reading tea leaves, I have just one word for my CFL forecast last June—D’oh! I couldn’t have been more wrong if I’d told you Donald Trump is a Democrat. I had the large lads finishing in this order: West Division—Winnipeg, B.C., Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatchewan. East Division—Hamilton, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal. But, hey, how was I to know every starting quarterback in the league would land in the repair shop, and that the Montreal Larks would fire everybody before the opening kickoff?

Simoni Lawrence took out Zach Collaros.

Let’s play the ‘what if’ game. What if the Bombers knock off the Stampeders in the opening salvo of the Grey Cup frolic next Sunday? And what if they go on to beat the Flatlanders to earn a berth in the championship skirmish? And what if they become rulers of all they survey in Rouge Football for the first time in 29 years? And what if Zach Collaros is the winning quarterback and Grey Cup MVP? Who, then, gets the credit? Why, it’s Simoni Lawrence, of course.

Follow the bouncing ball and think about it:

  • Simoni set off an unpredictable chain of events when he had the bad manners to lay Collaros low with a nasty, illegal hit to the noggin on the third play of the season.

  • That thuggery sent Zach to the repair shop, whereupon Corn Dog Cody Fajardo emerged as a legitimate starting QB and the Flatlanders no longer had any use for Collaros.

  • The Flatlanders then conned the Tranna Scullers into taking the head case off their hands, but they really had no use for Collaros either, so they had him stand on the sidelines and count empty seats at BMO Field.

  • Bombers GM Kyle Walters noticed Zach counting all those empty seats and, with his season falling off the rails, placed an 11th-hour, Hail Mary phone call to the Scullers’ freshly minted GM, Pinball Clemons, asking for Collaros. The answer was, “Yes, take our broken quarterback, please.”

  • Shortly thereafter, the Calgary Stampeders beat Chris Streveler like a rented mule, putting him in the repair shop and Collaros behind centre.

All that, simply because Simoni Lawrence is a dirty football player.

Makes for a great Grey Cup storyline, don’t you think? Be even better if Collaros gets there and Simoni and the Hamilton Tabbies are across the line of scrimmage.

Paul Friesen

Sifting through a collection of commentary on the Andrew Harris snub in CFL year-end awards voting, the most interesting came from Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun. “I din’t get a vote for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ most outstanding player nominees, but if I had received a ballot one of the names on it would have been Andrew Harris. In fact, No. 33 would have been on my ballot twice. Harris has been both the Bombers’ top player this season and their top Canadian. Slam-dunk. Nobody in their right mind would argue against that. While I defend their right to express their opinion through their ballots, I say they blew it.” Strong stuff, considering Friesen was calling out his boss, Sun sports editor Ted Wyman. Teddy Football was one of three voters who supposedly “blew it” by snubbing Harris due to his PED-related suspension this season, but I happen to think he made the correct call. So maybe I’m not in my right mind, either.

Bianca’s adios at the WTA finals in China.

Such a shame that our Bianca Andreescu had to bug out of the WTA finals in China because of a wounded left knee. Bianca delivered a dream season, winning three tournaments—Indian Wells, the Rogers Cup, the U.S. Open—and we can only hope some much-deserved down time can fix a body that has too often betrayed her. In the meantime, a coronation as Canada’s athlete of the year awaits.

Red Auerbach

Some truly strange stuff from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna this week. He notes that Scotty Bowman coached nine NHL championship squads and “no one in history is close” to that number. Say what? I’m no Einstein, but I believe eight is as close to nine as damn is to cussing, and that’s how many Stanley Cup rings Toe Blake earned as head coach of the Montreal Canadiens. Meanwhile, Simmons maintains that Bowman accomplished something that “no one has done before in any professional sport.” Except Red Auerbach took home nine National Basketball Association titles with the Boston Celtics, including eight in a row, before Bowman had even stood behind an NHL bench. Mind you, Red and Toe were doing their thing while Steve was still in diapers, so I guess that doesn’t count.

There’s also the matter of Phil Jackson, who coached his ninth NBA championship squad the same year Scotty reached No. 9 in the NHL. Jackson then added two more. Apparently facts are optional for some sports columnists.

I note the most vulgar man in sports, Conor McGregor, stood before a judge in Dublin District Court last week and received a 1,000-euros ($1,120) fine for his unprovoked attack on an elderly chap in an Irish pub. “I assure you nothing of this nature will happen again,” vowed McGregor. Right. He’ll limit his criminal activity to throwing dollies through bus windows in the U.S. instead of punching out pub patrons in Ireland.

And, finally, a tip of the bonnet to Kirk Penton, inducted into the Manitoba Sports Media Roll of Honour on Saturday night. Kirk’s part of a long line of superb CFL beat writers in Winnipeg, and we won’t hold it against him that he left Good Ol’ Hometown for the kinder climes of Kelowna and a gig with The Athletic.