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.

Let’s talk about Ted Green OF THE WINNIPEG JETS…a “family discussion” in The ROT…double speak from Mike O’Shea…Edmonton Eskimos fans eat well, Winnipeg Blue Bombers fans drink well…no female news snoops in Canadian Football Hall of Fame…a twit on Twitter…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and bravo to the 20,907 souls who trudged through the white stuff and made it to Football Follies Field in Fort Gary for the Bombers-Larks skirmish on Saturday…

I remember the day Teddy Green retired. He cried.

Not for himself, understand. I don’t recall Teddy ever feeling sorry for himself, even though he never experienced a pain-free day after Wayne Maki clubbed him over the head with a hockey stick.

So, if the tears couldn’t possibly have been for the one-time toughest dude in hockey, who?

“I remember a guy who used to play on the Million Dollar Line before he came to Boston,” Green explained the day he stepped away from a professional playing career that had come full cycle, starting in Winnipeg with the Warriors in 1959 and concluding with the Jets in 1979. “He went out and busted his butt every game and then would sit at the end of the bench spitting out blood. Murray Balfour was dying of cancer. I’d like to think I fashioned some of my courage from Murray Balfour.”

None of us who traveled with the Jets back in the day ever questioned Teddy’s sand.

We’d watch him hobble onto buses and through airports like an old man on a pair of knees that had endured the slicing and dicing of a surgeon’s scalpel five times, and we knew all about the headaches that often put him into a state of paralysis. But Teddy was tire-iron tough. He played through all the searing discomfort, and did so admirably. We marveled.

“I only missed one game in seven years because of the headaches,” he said with a proper level of pride on the January 1979 day he bid adieu to his playing career, but not the game.

The headaches, of course, were a reminder of his ugly stick-swinging duel with Wayne Maki of the St. Louis Blues on Sept. 21, 1969. They had clashed near one of the nets in a National Hockey League exhibition game, Teddy wielding his lumber first, striking Maki with a blow to the shoulder. The St. Louis forward retaliated and, unfortunately, he had better aim, chopping down on Teddy’s head with Bunyanesque force.

Teddy lay on the freeze in a contorted mess and was whisked away from the rink to an Ottawa hospital, where medics spent five hours repairing his fractured skull and keeping the Grim Reaper at bay. By the time Teddy was fit enough to rejoin the Boston Bruins, in 1970-71, there was a plate in his head and a helmet on top of it. He helped them win the Stanley Cup in the spring of ’72.

“I never met a guy with more intestinal fortitude,” Phil Esposito said of his former teammate, who drew his final breath the other day at age 79.

The thing you should know about Teddy, is that his on-ice persona didn’t match the man away from the freeze. A bonfire burned in his belly in battle, but once removed from the fray he was gentle, thoughtful and soft spoken, sometimes to the point of mumbling. His words were often accompanied by a devlish cackle, as if he’d just pulled a prank, and he probably had.

The 1959 Winnipeg Braves. Teddy is second from the left in the back row.

As mentioned, Teddy’s career began and ended in Good Ol’ Hometown. He started on the frozen ponds of St. Boniface, and upper-level hockey people began taking notice of the tough guy on defence when he lined up on the blueline with les Canadiens in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League. Legendary shinny lifers Bill Addison and Bill Allum recruited Teddy to join the Winnipeg Braves for their Memorial Cup crusade in 1959, and they won the national Junior title, beating the Scotty Bowman-coached Peterborough Petes in five games.

Teddy added a Stanley Cup with the Bruins, he captained the New England Whalers to the inaugural World Hockey Association title, and he added two more after joining the Jets in 1975-76.

“I ended up in Winnipeg, which was a real plus, and I won a couple of championships,” he told me at his retirement presser. “I also got to play with one of the best forward lines ever put together in hockey in Ulf (Nilsson), Anders (Hedberg) and Bobby (Hull). And I was part of the European influx.”

Teddy Green, the Big Bad Bruin.

Teddy always kept good company on the freeze, dating back to his time with the Braves, an outfit that included Ernie Wakely, Bobby Leiter, Gary Bergman, and local Junior legends Wayne Larkin and Laurie Langrell. He played with Bobby Orr, Espo and the Big Bad Bruins, Hull, Hedberg and the two Nilssons, Ulf and Kent, with the Jets, and he coached Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Mark Messier and the boys on the bus in Edmonton.

Most of the headlines and dispatches since his death have been devoted to Teddy’s time with the Bruins and Oilers, but his formative years on the rinks of River City and three-plus winters with the Jets should be more than a footnote.

He was one of us, a local lad who found his way home to bookend his Memorial Cup championship with two WHA titles.

Great career, better guy.

Shame on the Drab Slab for reducing Green’s death to a sports brief. That’s all he deserves? What, no one at the broadsheet has a phone that works? They couldn’t call some of his former teammates? Do they not realize this guy was hockey royalty in River City? The Winnipeg Sun, meanwhile, ran a nice piece by Jimmy Matheson of Postmedia E-Town, but it was totally Oilers-centric. It’s as if Teddy never played hockey in Good Ol’ Hometown. Well, he did, dammit. He earned his chops on our frozen ponds and he was a significant part of the Jets’ WHA glory days.

Oh dear. After three straight losses, the Tranna Maple Leafs felt obliged to conduct a special think tank to discuss their repeated face plants. “A family discussion,” is how head coach Mike Babcock described the behind-closed-doors to and fro. “It’s just honest. Like any family, you keep each other accountable.” So, when les Leafs huddle on the QT it’s a “family discussion,” but when les Jets do that very thing some zealots in the media tell us the changing room is “rotten to the core” and “fractured.” Go figure.

I note that Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister has declared a state of emergency. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ quarterbacking situation is that bad.

Mike O’Shea

Ever wonder why news snoops become such cynical SOBs? Well, consider the sound bites delivered by head coach Mike O’Shea when asked if his Bombers would recruit a veteran quarterback to baby sit Chris Streveler:

Sept. 30 (to Knuckles Irving on the CJOB Coach’s Show): “That’s not gonna happen, and I’m good with it. I like our guys. Very confident in our guys. Dance with the one you brung.”

Oct. 2: “To really think that a guy’s gonna come in and change your franchise this late in the season, it’s pretty difficult in football. Even if you trade for a veteran presence, unless he knows your guys, it’s really hard for even a veteran guy to come in late in a season and lead. I really just don’t think those scenarios work or can be applied to football this late in the season. Especially (a quarterback). Quarterbacks usually do a lot better when they’ve got a playbook and a training camp and exhibition games to play with.”

Oct. 10 (after the signing of veteran Zach Collaros): “I think it’s a good move. We said right from the get-go about bringing in a veteran guy. Now we got a seasoned veteran who comes in and, you know, will have a role and it’ll definitely be a good guy to have in the building. Knowing Zach, he’s a smart guy, a competitive guy, he’s going to pick things up very quickly. I’m sure the concepts are very familiar to him. The terminology will be probably different, but, I mean, that’s the reason we talked about a veteran guy, because it comes that much quicker and understanding CFL defences is something these guys do no matter what the play call is. That’s important.”

So, to sum up: O’Shea never wanted a veteran QB but he wanted one “right from the get-go,” and even a veteran QB is too stupid to pick up the system in a short time, except Collaros isn’t too stupid to pick up the system in a short time. Good grief.

Well lookee here. According to Gaming Club Casino, there’s no better burg to be a Canadian Football League fan than Edmonton, with Winnipeg a solid second. First thought: Obviously, it has nothing to do with winning. Sure enough, the folks at GCC used six measuring sticks, only one of which—touchdowns—

A Bombers beer snake.

involves the on-field product, so findings were based mainly on ticket costs, precipitation, pollution and the tariff on burgers and beer. Turns out that E-Town has the best burger prices and the second-lowest admission fees, while Good Ol’ Hometown has the cheapest booze, which is probably a good thing. I mean, when you’ve been watching your team lose every year since 1990, chances are you need a drink or two.

A couple of peculiarities in the GCC study: B.C. Lions received the worst mark for all the wet stuff than falls in Lotus Land, except for one thing—the Leos play in the air-conditioned comfort of B.C. Place Stadium. Indoors. Under a $514-million umbrella. Meanwhile, Ottawa scored high marks for being the least-polluted city. Hmmm. Apparently they didn’t watch either of last week’s federal election debates.

This year’s inductees to the media wing of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame are former colleagues Steve Simmons (Calgary Sun) and Larry Tucker (Winnipeg Tribune). That brings to 14 the number of CFHofFamers that I worked beside at one time or another during my 30 years in jock journalism. My all-time all-star team from that bunch: Trent Frayne, Jack Matheson, young Eddie Tait, Shakey Hunt, Jim Coleman and Knuckles Irving.

Ashley Prest

It’s worth noting that the media wing of the Canadian grid hall is the ultimate boys club. There are now 99 card-carrying members and, unless I missed something when I called up the CFHofF website, not one of them is female. Zero. Nada. Seems to me that they should have made room for trailblazers like Joanne Ireland, Ashley Prest, Robin Brown and Judy Owen by now.

The CFL has always been blessed by quality news snoops on the beat, and I don’t think anyone covers Rouge Football better today than Dave Naylor of TSN. Just saying.

Todd Bertuzzi

This week’s Twit on Twitter: The aforementioned Simmons of Postmedia Tranna. The Vancouver Canucks put on the glitz for their home opener last week, and the production featured an on-ice, in-uniform cameo appearance by Todd Bertuzzi, he of the infamous Steve Moore goon job. That prompted Simmons to tweet, “Sad.” My oh my. How thoughtless of the Canucks for not clearing their guest list with a mook columnist from the Republic of Tranna. Never mind that Bert is among Vancity’s favorite hockey sons and the Canucks had every right to include him in their puck pageantry. A mook columnist from The ROT says it was wrong, so it must be. As freaking if. Simmons’ morality metre is sorely out of whack. He believes Bertuzzi should be persona non grata for mugging Moore, yet he celebrated the arrival of a woman-beater, Johnny Manziel, to the CFL. “Personally, I think the CFL is stronger, maybe more fun, possibly more fan-appealing, with Manziel playing or trying to play the Canadian game,” he wrote. “Where do I sign up?” So, if you’re scoring at home, Simmons believes an on-ice mugging is a more egregious trespass than beating up, and threatening to kill, a woman. The mind boggles.

Elena Delle Donne

When soccer’s purple-haired diva Megan Rapinoe shouted “Gays rule!” during last summer’s women’s soccer World Cup, she wasn’t kidding. Rapinoe, a lesbian, was anointed FIFA female footballer of the year. Jill Ellis, a lesbian, was anointed FIFA female coach of the year. Elena Delle Donne, a lesbian, is the Women’s National Basketball Association MVP and league champion with the Washington Mystics. Katie Sowers, a lesbian, is an assistant offensive coach with the San Francisco 49ers, who remain unbeaten this year in the  National Football League. Meanwhile, all the gay guys remain in hiding.

Price comparison: A standing-room ticket to see the Jets and Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday in the Toddlin’ Town was $27. Meanwhile, a standing room ticket to watch the Buffalo Beauts v. Boston Pride, or Metropolitan Riveters v. Minnesota Whitecaps, of the National Women’s Hockey League went for $20. I don’t know if the NWHL is overpricing its product or the Blackhawks are underpricing, but a $7 difference seems out of whack to me.

Hey, check it out. Head coach Tim Hunter of the Moose Jaw Warriors has hired a female, Olivia Howe, as one of his assistants. That’s a first for the Western Hockey League, and I say good on Hunter.

And, finally, if you’re having a gobbler dinner with all the fixings today or Monday, be thankful that turkeys don’t fly.

Let’s talk about Willie J. and the big, bad Winnipeg Blue Bombers D-men…the Studly Sophomore QB…the road to the Grey Cup goes through River City…oh so dumb in E-Town…Bianca, Bianca, Bianca!…the value of a 14-goal season…Coach PottyMo talks and talks and talks…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and we’re a bit behind schedule due to a swimming pool in my apartment, which is a little too close to the Pacific Ocean for my liking…

Whenever his universe unfolds as it should, Cody Fajardo likes to say his good fortune was a “sprinkling of Jesus.”

Well, unfortunately for Corn Dog Cody, he had a “sprinkling” of Willie Jefferson and friends on Saturday afternoon at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry, and that seldom ends well for a quarterback.

So, as much as many among the rabble will rain hosannas down on Chris Streveler for his work in the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 35-10 paddywhacking of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, they might want to send a few atta boys in the direction of Richie Hall’s defensive dozen.

The Winnipeg D-men had a thing or two to prove, of course, because it was only a week ago when they coughed up a hairball the size of a St. Bernard’s head, costing the Bombers a W in the opening gambit of a home-and-home dosey doe with Gang Green. You had to know they were still licking that open wound when they arrived at the local ballyard for a sold out Banjo Bowl and, sure enough, they had a serious grouch on.

Fajardo never had a chance, but I suppose even Jesus needs a day off now and then.

Jefferson, naturally, was in the middle of the hell-raising with a bunch of tackles, a couple of QB take-downs and a forced fumble, and if there’s a better D-man in the Canadian Football League he’s yet to show his face. Give Willie J. the top-defender trinket now and be done with it.

Meantime, it’s about Streveler. You’re right. Matt Nichols couldn’t have done what the studly sophomore QB pulled off v. the Riders. I mean, that 17-yard scamper on second-and-17 from their own three-yard stripe? The one that pushed Winnipeg FC from one end of the pitch to the other and a 7-0 lead they refused to relinquish? In Nichols’ dreams. Scattering wannabe Sask. tacklers like so many bowling pins? In Nichols’ dreams, baby. But if you believe head coach Mike O’Shea will allow the 2-1 Studly Soph to keep the ball once Nichols returns from the repair shop, you also believe a unicorn will win next year’s Kentucky Derby. It ain’t gonna happen, kids.

What does this ninth W tell us about Winnipeg FC? Try this: In the past month, the Bombers have had first-place throw-downs with three clubs. Here are the results:
Aug. 8 v. Calgary Stampeders    26-24 W
Aug. 23 v. Edmonton Eskimos   34-28 W
Sept. 7 v. Saskatchewan*            35-10 W (* without Nichols, Andrew Harris, Lucky Whitehead, Nic Demski)
So there is no quarrel. Those three Prairie outfits have to go through the guys in the blue-and-gold kits if they expect to be playing football on the last Sunday in November, and I guess we haven’t been able to say that since 2011.

Bo Levi Mitchell

Right now, I really don’t want to hear a lot of blah, blah, blah about the Stampeders. Ya, Bo Levi Mitchell is back in harness and Bo is being Bo. The thing is, I’d be really impressed by the Cowpokes dusting the Eskimos in both ends of their two-game Alberta to-and-fro, except E-Town has either the dumbest players in the CFL or the dumbest head. I’m just not sure which one it is.

On a similar subject, old friend Rod Black had a d’oh moment when he described Bombers kicker Justin Medlock as “the ageless wonder” during the TSN broadcast. Come on, Blackie. The guy’s only 35 for cripes sake. That ain’t old for a kicker. Weren’t Bob Cameron and Lui Passaglia still thumping footballs well into the sixties?

Mike Benevides and his ill-fitting suit returned to the TSN squawk box panel this weekend and had this to say about the Bytown RedBlacks: “If they can find a way to get something done, they’ve got a lot to do.” What the hell does that even mean?

Bianca Andreescu

Bianca Andreescu. Canadian. Grand Slam tennis champion. Well I never. Seriously. I began covering and writing about tennis in 1971 and, over the years, I often wondered why smaller countries Sweden and Switzerland could crank out elite players like Bjorn Borg, Stefan Edberg, Mats Wilander, Martina Hingis, Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka, while the best we could do was turncoat Greg Rusedski and Darling Carling Bassett. Then along came the close-but-no-cigar careers of Milos Raonic and Genie Bouchard. But now we have the marvel that is Bianca Andreescu, women’s singles champion of the U.S. Open after her victory over the neighborhood bully, Serena Williams, on Saturday in Queens, NYC. I’m not sure where Bianca’s achievement ranks in Canadian sports folklore, because that takes in a lot of territory, but I started watching sports when the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn and it’s surely in my personal top five.

This just in: Auston Matthews has a mustache. Stayed tuned while media in the Republic of Tranna discuss Boy Wonder’s facial foliage with Drake.

Got a kick out of this post on the TSN Twitter account: “Raiders officially release disgruntled receiver Antonio Brown.” Disgruntled? That’s like saying WWII was a pillow fight.

Clayton Keller

I believe it’s safe to say Arizona Coyotes general manager John Chayka won’t be receiving a thank-you note from his counterpart with the Winnipeg Jets anytime soon. Chayka, you see, did Kevin Cheveldayoff a total dirty by agreeing to pay Clayton Keller an average wage of $7.15 million over eight years, and if I’m the mouthpiece for Patrick Laine or Kyle Connor there’s no chance I’m settling for a dime less than Keller coin. I mean, Keller scored 14 goals last winter. Four-freaking-teen! Puck Finn had more than that in one month. He more than doubled it (30) in an “off” season. Connor lit it up 34 times. So, short of getting them and their agents high on whacky tabacky, how can Chevy possibly convince his two blue-chip restricted free agents that reupping for less than Keller is the right thing to do? I’m not sure there’s enough quality Mary Jane in all of Manitoba to pull that off.

According to CapFriendly, Chevy has $15 million and David Thomson’s couch change to play with in trying to satisfy Puck Finn/Connor and fill out his NHL roster, which now numbers 20 players (maximum 23). Do the math. Unless his bean counters are David Copperfield, Penn, Teller and Criss Angel, Chevy is royally pooched.

We all have our ways of getting kicks, and for Mathew Barzal of the New York Islanders it appears seeing unsigned NHL restricted free agents squirm is his thing. “I think it’s kind of fun,” he told Sportsnet’s 31 Thoughts podcast. “It gives the league a little bit of excitement.” We’ll see how much fun and how exciting it is next year when it’s young Matt’s turn to take a spin on the unsigned RFA squirm-mobile.

Coach Potty Mo

So, Murat Ates had a chin-wag with Paul Maurice that was so staggering in length that he felt obliged to run it as a two-parter in The Athletic and, after digesting 90 per cent of the marathon blah-blah-blah, here’s my main takeaway: Coach Potty Mouth has given captain Blake Wheeler—or any of les Jets, for that matter—permission to be a total dink to news snoops.

“He lathers himself for the lack of a better word,” the Winnipeg HC head coach told Ates. “He gets himself wired to the point that, when you ask a question 10 minutes after a game, you’re going to get some edge on your question. And that’s true. That’s the confrontation he’s just been through for an hour so he gives you a bit of that. Let him breathe for 10 seconds and he’s going to answer your question. Most players—most people—will do one or the other. It’s either all emotional and they don’t have the capacity or the grace to give you a nuanced answer or, what I’m sure bothers you guys sometimes, is that there’s no emotion—it’s all out of the book. Blake’s unusual in that he’ll show you both sides to him and that’s what makes him great.”

Blake Wheeler aka Captain F-Bomb

In other words, belligerent Blake might tell you to “fuck off,” as he did to Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun last spring, but that’s okay because he’ll still answer your question. That’s his “greatness as a leader.”

Spare me. Sure, Wheeler is wired after a game. So are 700 other guys in the NHL.

You think Sidney Crosby isn’t wired after a tough day at the office? Like after a playoff ouster? Damn straight, he is. But I don’t recall him telling anyone to “fuck off.” Mark Messier was wired tighter than the strings on a banjo. Gordie Howe. Wired. Stan Mikita. Wired. Bobby Orr. Wired. John Ferguson. Wired. I have yet to hear audio evidence, or see video evidence, of them telling a news snoop to “fuck off.”

Coach PottyMo believes Wheeler being a vulgar, condescending boor then turning all nicey-face is his “greatness as a leader.” It’s quite the opposite, actually. It’s his most notable failing.

Overall, the Ates-Maurice gum-flapper is good stuff, even if they sometimes drag us into the dreary nuances of systems play. And there’s some syrupy, groupie-like gushing from Ates (“How great is it that Byfuglien is in his mid-30s and still playing like he is?”) that made me cringe, but it’s definitely worth your time.

Ken Wiebe

Now that Ken Wiebe has defected to The Athletic, I dare say the former Sun scribe and Ates might form the best one-two punch on the Jets beat, especially since they plan to shadow Winnipeg HC hither and yon. I just hope they won’t be covering the team old-school style, which is to say with yawn-inducing recaps of the previous night’s game and breathless quotes about “moving our feet.” If the local dailies choose to remain stuck in the 20th century, let ’em. (Seriously, a detailed game story from the rookie camp in Saturday’s Drab Slab? That is so 1970s.). Give me news, but give me off-beat, give me quirkiness, give me features, give me analysis and, by all means, give me opinion that doesn’t read like something fresh from the Xerox machine in the Jets propaganda department. Oh, one more thing: Go easy on the pie charts.

Speaking of which, newby Scott Billeck has brought pie charts and graphs with colored, squiggly swirls to the sports pages of the Sun, whether we like it or not. Oh, joy. Can’t get enough of gizmo jock journalism. As if. You’ll have to excuse me, but I prefer my sports writing without do-dads that make my eyes bleed.

Rink Rat and Wheeler

Let’s be clear: I don’t believe the earth is flat, and I don’t believe fancy stats are useless like ear muffs in Arizona. But I lean toward Rink Rat Scheifele’s way of thinking when he talks about a special something that exists between teammates, like himself and Wheeler: “I think chemistry’s the biggest thing in this game,” the Jets centre says. “You want to play with guys you click with and play well with. I think chemistry is a thing that is kind of put away on people. Especially nowadays with analytics and all that extra junk. Chemistry is something you can’t quantify, there’s no statistic that says chemistry, and I think that’s something that needs to be looked at.”

Pierre and Kendall

Seems Pierre McGuire has lost his perch between the benches on NBC’s No. 1 NHL broadcasting team, and that must be such troubling news for Kendall Coyne Schofield. I mean, how will the poor dear possibly find her way around the rink without Pierre to point the way and mansplain the game to her?

Kendall, of course, made her debut with NBC last winter, joining Pierre at ice level for a Lightning-Penguins skirmish. “Tampa’s gonna be on your left, Pittsburgh’s gonna be on your right,” he informed the U.S. Olympic champion, adopting the tone and manner of a school marm advising a six-year-old girl where she could find the washroom and lunch room. Well, it turns out Kendall knows the way to San Jose (yes, without Pierre’s hand signals), because she’s signed on as a member of the Sharks TV broadcast team. No word on whether or not her contract includes directions to the biffy, though.

And, finally, good thoughts for Dale Hawerchuk, who’s stepped away from his coaching chores with Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League. All they’re telling us about Ducky is that he’s wrestling with health issues, and I’d say that’s all we really need to know.

Let’s talk about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers D letting one get away…the Quiet Dickenson…Sportsnet snubbing the CFL…Carli Lloyd getting her kicks…Ponytail Puck vs. men?…ruffled feathers in E-Town…and poverty and the Pacific Ocean

A holiday Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and happy September, even if it means the frost soon shall be on your pumpkin

Never mind that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers had built-in excuses in advance of the muckabout at Mosaic Stadium on Sunday afternoon—no Matt Nichols, no Andrew Harris.

All that really matters is that the large lads in blue-gold-and-white linen returned home from Pile O’ Bones with tire marks on their chests—again—and I’d say losing 14 of the last 15 holiday weekend visits to the Flattest of Lands qualifies as road kill. So maybe it’s time people stopped calling this thing the Labor Day Classic and bill it as the Road Kill Classic. Or the annual Gang Green Gives Winnipeg FC A Wedgie And A Swirly Classic.

Oh, sure, it was close. They tipped a canoe. Burned a barn.

But don’t talk to me about the Bombers deserving a better fate, not when the guys on the D-side of the ball lost the plot when it mattered most.

Corn Dog Cody Fajardo

I mean, Richie Hall’s defensive dozen made greenhorn quarterback Cody Fajardo look like a greenhorn quarterback much of the afternoon, then watched as Corn Dog Cody directed his Saskatchewan Roughriders down the field like a puffed-up, strutting halftime marching band. He, along with running back William Powell, smoothly navigated the Gang Green offence across the Mosaic terrain, whereupon Brett Lauther delivered the final and decisive points in a smash-mouth skirmish that, until then, had mostly moved to the cadence of two gnarly defences.

I suppose that D-dominance was predictable, given that the two QBs had a combined total of 14 Canadian Football League starts going in.

Chris Streveler

Still, it appeared that Chris Streveler, subbing for Nichols, had squeezed enough juice out of Winnipeg FC’s anemic offence to get ‘er done. It should have been game, set and bring on the Banjo Bowl when the Riders offence assembled for their final thrust, trailing 17-16 with three minutes and 18 ticks on the clock and the ball on their five-yard stripe.

What ensued went entirely against the grain, with the stingy Winnipeg D suddenly becoming as submissive as a house pet. Eleven plays, 87 yards, one 26-yard Lauther field goal, and a 19-17 W for a home side that has strung together half a dozen victories.

There was nothing classic about that 3:18 of football, unless you wear a watermelon on your head.

Should we look for more of the same when the large lads gather for a redux next Saturday, this time at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry? Well, I don’t think we should expect the Winnipeg D to cough up a hairball the size of a small horse again, but Nichols will still be in the repair shop and Harris in detention, so I suggest it’ll be on the D to rule the day.

For 60 minutes, not just 56:42.

Craig Dickenson

Why don’t I hear the name Craig Dickenson included in chatter about the top sideline steward this season? Is it because, unlike his brother Dave, the Gang Green rookie head coach doesn’t have a non-stop, 24/7 squawk box? Seems to me that the Quiet Dickenson deserves to be in the discussion.

What’s the deal with the CFL giving three teams a bye on this Labor Day weekend? Shouldn’t the Montreal Larks and Bytown RedBlacks be included in the fun? As for the also-inactive B.C. Lions, they don’t have a natural rivalry and, frankly, the 12,000 people in Lotus Land who actually know the Leos exist probably prefer to sit on a patio sipping their latté or having a toke rather than watch Mike O’Reilly be roughed up like a Gitmo prisoner one more time.

Speaking of indifference, can anyone at Sportsnet explain why they basically ignore the CFL? I realize that Rouge Football is a TSN property, but sports news is sports news is sports news. Call up the CFL on the Sportsnet website and you’ll find three videos: One from July, one from February and one from December 2018. That’s disgraceful.

As a folo to an item in my Sunday smorgas-bored, in which I insisted Edmonton is a better CFL market than Winnipeg, I feel obliged to point out that not since 1973 have the Bombers out-performed the Eskimos at the box office, never mind on the field. This will make it 46 successive seasons with a higher head count in E-Town, and you simply can’t argue with that. Good Ol’ Hometown is a boffo market but, as much as it pains me to say it, both E-Town and Saskatchewan are better.

Carli Lloyd

So, Carli Lloyd hoofed a 55-yard field goal at a Philadelphia Eagles/Baltimore Ravens training exercise, and there’s been breathless natter about the U.S. women’s fitba star booting balls in the National Football League. Uh, not so fast says old friend Troy Westwood. “Carli Lloyd could not beat out the best competing for the job and kick in the #NFL. No chance,” he tweets. Is it because she’s a she? Or because she lacks the skill? Ol’ Lefty declined to explain why Carli would be in over her head, and I can see how someone would view his blunt analysis as sexist. Well, that ain’t Westwood. I submit that Ol’ Lefty was speaking purely from his vantage point as a former place-kicker with the Bombers, so you might want to holster any PC outrage.

Longtime NFL boot meister Adam Venatieri is among the many to weigh in on Carli’s right leg: “For you to go out and hit a ball without a rush and a snap and a hold and no get-off time and stuff, it’s different than doing live stuff. But I saw it, it was pretty impressive how far she kicked the ball.” I guess there’s only one way to know for sure: Give that girl a tryout.

Except there’s this: On the day in question, video evidence showed Lloyd whomping that 55-yarder, but we didn’t see two misses at shorter distances and at 57 yards. By her own accounting, Lloyd was 2-for-5 in pristine conditions. No pads, no defence, no urgency, and a five-yard runup to the ball. NFL kickers who go 2-for-5 also go to the unemployment queue.

Nancy Armour

Commentary on Lloyd’s kick ranged from enthusiastic to supportive to dismissive to absolute drivel. Not surprisingly, the latter was supplied by Nancy Armour of USA Today. Armour writes, “Lloyd absolutely deserves a chance with an NFL team.” Based on what? One kick? “There is little doubt Lloyd could be an NFL placekicker.” Well, actually, there’s considerable doubt. “The heckles and jeers of ignorant and misogynistic NFL fans aren’t going to faze Lloyd.” So, if Lloyd were to get booed off the field after going 2-for-5, it’s not because she’s lousy at her job, it’s because all those loutish, beer-swilling men are empty-headed oinkers? I see. Armour’s gob-smackingly uninformed piece suggests she landed her columnist gig as part of a PR stunt or she won it in a raffle. (Yes, it’s that bad, and so is she.)

Jayna Hefford

On the subject of female athletes, Ponytail Puck will be coming to a neighborhood rink near you this autumn if you live in the Republic of Tranna, Hudson, N.H., Chicago, Boston and San Jose, and the ForTheGame200 boycotting players also have barnstorming plans for other locales. They’re calling it the Dream Gap Tour, and I say good for them. Stay visible. Don’t let the rabble forget about you. But here’s what scares me: There’ll be regional training centres hither and yon, two of them in The ROT, and Jayna Hefford tells The Athletic “(They could play) against men’s teams…” Whoa. Stop it right there. Jayna, head of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, might want to rethink that part of the scheme. Our Olympic distaff team is tooth-and-toenail to beat Midget boys in exhibition skirmishes, and those results are usually kept on the QT. But skating against, and possibly losing to, a bunch of beer-leaguers is a marketing grenade waiting to go ka-boom. That wouldn’t be ignored and the argument that the women “deserve” a living wage would be totally lost, if it hasn’t been already.

Centre Court Wimbledon

Why are people calling Arthur Ashe Stadium in Gotham the “biggest court” in tennis when we all know it’s Centre Court Wimbledon? In literal terms, sure, Ashe can accommodate a flock of 23,771 observers and that dwarfs the main stage at SW19 (14,979), but in stature you’ll find the “biggest court” in tennis is a lawn and it’s at the All-England Club.

I don’t get it. Why is Denis Shapovalov losing at the U.S. Open a bigger story than Bianca Andreescu winning at the U.S. Open? It shouldn’t be, of course, but Shapo’s loss to Gael Monfils was the lead story on TSN at 3 in the a.m. on Sunday and that’s just wrong.

The Minnesota Twins swatted six home runs on Saturday and lost. How do you do that?

Jesse Puljujarvi

Definition of Ruffled Feathers: See Puljujarvi, Jesse. Many among the rabble in River City believe a “fractured” dressing room undid the Winnipeg Jets last spring, in part because head coach Paul Maurice mentioned something about “ruffled feathers” in his season-over natter with news snoops, but mainly due to the narrative the Drab Slab has been spreading for five months. Now along comes Puljujarvi in E-Town to show us what ruffled feathers actually look like. Not only has the Finnish forward bailed on the Oilers, choosing to stay home and play with Oulun Karpat of the Liiga, he’ll only return to the National Hockey League if given a new postal code. Those, kids, are ruffled feathers.

Murat Ates of The Athletic has taken a deep dive into the Jets (it’s an excellent late-summer perspective), and he briefly touches on the “ruffled feathers” issue. “Let me state this clearly: I have been asked about ‘the room’ all summer and my position is the same as it’s always been; if I ever learn anything that I can fairly and accurately attribute, I’ll write that,” he scribbles. “Until then, not only do I allow for discord as a healthy component of a team’s dynamics, I expect it—Winnipeg was a bottom-third NHL team in the second half of 2018-19. That should piss people off.” So, he hasn’t sniffed out a smoking gun. No one at the Winnipeg Sun has sniffed out a smoking gun. No one at the Drab Slab has sniffed out a smoking gun. No on-air pundits have produced a smoking gun. Ergo, there is no smoking gun.

Welcome to my backyard.

And, finally, it was 20 years tomorrow when I put Good Ol’ Hometown in the rear-view mirror and arrived in Victoria with little money, no job and no prospects for work. Since then, I’ve been an apartment block manager, a golf club maintenance/office/desktop publishing guru, an editor, a cleaner at a pub, a golf pro shop call centre/graphics guru, an antique/vintage furniture salesperson, a cleaner at a downtown eatery, a cleaner/cover girl/Jill of all trades at a gay nightclub, and I live in poverty. So why am I smiling? Because I can step outside today, take a 20-minute stroll and dip my toes into the Pacific Ocean while gazing at the Olympic Mountains and maybe observe some bald eagles or orcas. And I can do it 12 months of the year. Na, na, na, na, na.

Let’s talk about Randy Carlyle and Body by Pillsbury…liars, liars pants on fire…what say you, Jeff Hecht?…E-Town trumps Pegtown…the CFL’s best newspaper market…men overboard at Sportsnet…and the WJM newsroom

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and this post was written without the benefit of performance-enhancing nouns, verbs, adjectives or metaphors, but there are trace amounts of sarcasm, irreverence and flippancy…

Back in April 1989, when drug cheat Ben Johnson still had our attention after his fall from grace at the Seoul Olympics, word drifted out of Stockholm that Randy Carlyle had failed a drug test.

I laughed.

Anyone who’d ever met or seen Randy Carlyle probably laughed.

Randy Carlyle

I mean, you didn’t get Carlyle’s body with daily visits to the gym, augmented by human growth hormone milk shakes. We’re talking Body by Pillsbury. Whatever muscle the Winnipeg Jets defender had was well concealed by a pleasantly soft exterior, most likely the product of jam-filled pop tarts or crescent rolls stuffed with cheese and bacon. His soft under belly really was his soft underbelly.

Thus, after Carlyle had piddled in a bottle at the World Hockey Championship and women/men wearing lab coats didn’t like the color of his pee—they discovered traces of the banned substance mesterolone—there were many giggles, even though he had officially joined Johnson on the Drug Cheat Hall of Shame roll call.

“When we first heard the words ‘steroids’ and ‘Randy’ in the same sentence, everyone in the room laughed,” Dave Ellett, a teammate of Carlyle’s in Sweden and with the Jets, once recalled in a natter with Lance Hornby of the Toronto Sun. “John Ferguson Sr. had the best line: ‘If that’s what steroids does for your body, a lot of people will want their money back.’ Then we realized how serious it was.”

As it happened, Carlyle’s ‘B’ sample came back cleaner than a saint’s soul, so neither he nor Team Canada was disqualified from the tournament.

“I’ve been through hell,” the Pillsbury D-Boy told news snoops at the scene of the non-crime. “I was in total shock. How do you live with yourself when they say you’ve taken this and you know you haven’t? I lost a few pounds with sweaty palms.”

Andrew Harris

So, sure, squints make mistakes, and many among the rabble believe the lab rats did a dirty to Andrew Harris, who won’t join his Winnipeg Blue Bombers teammates in their annual Labor Day Weekend frolic v. the Saskatchewan Roughriders today on the Flattest of Lands. He’s also been told to find something else to do when the large lads assemble for the rematch in Good Ol’ Hometown on Sept. 7.

The Canadian Football League’s now-suspended leading rusher vows he didn’t knowingly take the illegal drug they say he took, but, for every local who believes Harris got a raw deal and shouldn’t be twiddling his thumbs this afternoon, there are probably 10 beyond the boundaries of Manitoba who’ll tell us that his pants are on fire. You’d have better luck convincing them that O.J. is honest-to-gosh looking for the real killers.

And that’s for good reason: When caught with their hands in the juice jar—or, in the case of Pete Rose, cozying up to friendly neighborhood bookie—most high-profile cheats in sports immediately take a trip to Planet Pinocchio. Examples…

Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong: “If you consider my situation, a guy who comes back from arguably, you know, a death sentence (cancer), why would I then enter in a sport and dope myself up and risk my life again? That’s crazy. I would never do that. No. No way.”

Mark McGwire (appearing before U.S. Congress): “I’m not here to talk about the past.”

Rafael Palmeiro: “I have never used steroids. Period.”

Sammy Sosa: Pretended he couldn’t understand English when asked about his steroid use.

Roger Clemens: “I’ve been accused of something I’m not guilty of…I’ve never taken steroids or HGH.”

Justin Gatlin: “I am not using and have not used PEDs.”

Marion Jones: “I am against performance enhancing drugs. I have never taken them and I never will take them.”

Ben Johnson: “When I was a kid, I never took drugs. People who know me in Jamaica and people who know me here know I would never take drugs. I have never, ever knowingly taken illegal drugs, and I would never embarrass my family, my friends, and my country, and the kids who love me. For now, there’s nothing more I can tell you, because I just don’t know.”

Floyd Landis: “I declare convincingly and categorically that my winning the Tour de France has been exclusively due to many years of training and my complete devotion to cycling, to the sacrifice of an entire life to carry out my dream, a dream of thousands of kilometres that I have completed through an absolute respect to the cleanness of the sport.”

Alex Rodriguez: “I have been clear that I did not use performance enhancing substances as alleged.”

Pete Rose (gambling): “I’m not going to admit to something that didn’t happen. Never bet as a player. That’s a fact.”

Martina Hingis (cocaine 2007 Wimbledon): “I am frustrated and angry. I believe that I am absolutely 100 per cent innocent.” Notably, she promptly retired rather than fight lab findings and a two-year ban.

Manny Ramirez: “Recently I saw a physician for a personal health issue. He gave me a medication, not a steroid.” After taking another medication that wasn’t a steroid, Ramirez failed another drug test and retired rather than be banished for 100 games.

Ryan Braun: “I truly believe in my heart, and would bet my life that this substance never entered my body at any point. I am the victim of a process that completely broke down and failed the way it was applied to me in this case.”

Vladimir Putin: “State-sponsored doping system has never been created in Russia, it is simply not possible, and we will do everything we can to make sure such state-sponsored system of doping support never exists.”

That, kids, is the reason people are hesitant, or flat-out refuse, to believe Harris. They’ve heard all the nose-growing excuses before.

And, unlike Randy Carlyle, his isn’t Body by Pillsbury.

Jeff Hecht

So, when Louis-Phillipe Bourassa was banished for being a drug cheat, Bombers safety Jeff Hecht pounced, calling out the Bytown RedBlacks long snapper on Twitter with this post: “Sometimes you just have to work hard instead of being lazy and buying an edge.” It followed, therefore, that he’d deliver the same public tsk-tsking to Harris. But no. “To think that I would treat my teammate the same as I would somebody else, I think, is kind of naive from some people, because I’m a team-first guy,” he said in a chin-wag with Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun. He then told Teddy Football that “I think lying is the tool of the coward, so I’m not going to hide my stance on anything.” Except, of course, he’ll hide his stance on Andrew Harris, thank you very much. Hypocrisy, thy name is Jeff Hecht.

The Bombers are without Matt Nichols, Andrew Harris and Chris Matthews today on the Flattest of Lands, so why do I think they have a snowball’s chance of beating Gang Green? Because they aren’t without Willie Jefferson and the D.

I like most of what young Jeff Hamilton does in the Drab Slab. Grade A reporter. Good writer. On top of the beat. Alas, young Jeff is off the mark when he suggests Saskatchewan and River City are the “two best markets in the CFL.” That’s only half accurate. The main measuring stick for any CFL market is the box office and, yes, Gang Green has developed a most rabid fan base. But Winnipeg? Not so much. Edmonton has been, and is, a better market. Even with this year’s sharp downturn in bodies at Commonwealth Stadium, the Eskimos are attracting 3,335 more than the Bombers per game. More to the point, if the Eskimos don’t nudge their head count up a couple thousand, this will be the first time—the only time!—this century that their average attendance falls below 30,000. Winnipeg FC has averaged 30,000 once. Repeat: Once. That was in 2013, the year Football Follies Field in Fort Garry opened for business and became a destination for curiosity seekers. So, sorry to say, Jeff, Good Ol’ Hometown is a better market than E-Town like Bob Dylan is a better singer than Sinatra.

There are, of course, other methods of measuring a CFL market, one of them being media coverage. That, of course, is subjective. But I submit that no one in our vast land does it better than the girls and boys on the Bombers beat in Pegtown, and I can already hear the squawks of protest from news snoops in E-Town and on the Flattest of Lands. Well, let ’em squawk. They’re wrong.

River City is the only true two-newspaper town in Western Canada, thus Winnipeg FC gets double the print coverage from competing rags. The operative word is “competing.” Standard cookie-cutter, scrum-collected quotes aside, what you read in the Drab Slab won’t be what you read in the Sun, and the Andrew Harris situation is an excellent example of the difference. Paul Friesen’s take in the Sun had a harsh, but fair, tone, while Hamilton delivered a more personal, reined-in essay. Both pieces worked for me in their own way. And that’s something you don’t get in points west, because Postmedia eliminated newspaper competition in other Prairie provinces. In terms of CFL coverage, the E-Town Sun is the E-Town Journal; the Calgary Sun is the Calgary Herald; the Vancity Sun is the Vancity Province; and you’ll read the same Riders copy in both the Regina Leader-Post and the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. They’re kin. Kissing cousins, if you will. That’s not the way it should be, but that’s what you get when Postmedia is still pinching pennies long after our copper coin went out of circulation.

Nick Kypreos

So, Sportsnet (thankfully) has pulled the plug on resident meathead Nick Kypreos, and we can only hope he’s replaced by someone who isn’t stuck in the 1970s, when clubbing an opponent over the head with a piece of lumber was an oft-used gambit in winning hockey games. Kypreos spent two decades using his Sportsnet pulpit to deliver a “to hell with turning the other cheek” sermon, promoting back-alley bullying to the point of advising skilled players like Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews to adopt rat-like stickwork and fisticuffs as tactics in dealing with the National Hockey League weasel element. That dinosaur logic is now left to blowhard Donald S. Cherry and the bellicose Brian Burke, although Burkie often delivers juicy insight when he isn’t talking about truculence.

John Shannon

I hope the last person to leave Sportsnet’s stable of shinny voices remembers to turn out the lights. Gone are Kypreos, Doug MacLean and John Shannon, which leaves who to natter with Jeff Marek on Hockey Central At Noon? Muppet head Colby Armstrong and Gord Stellick (meh)? Anthony Stewart and Mike Zigomanis (spare us)? The return of Damien Cox (shudder)? I’m not a Shannon fan, because there’s more than a whiff of arrogance to his delivery and he can be annoyingly interruptive, but he certainly knows where a lot of bodies are buried. I suspect he won’t be in the unemployment queue for long.

Murray, Lou, Mary, Ted, Sue Ann, Georgette, Rhoda and Phyllis in the WJM newsroom.

And, finally, Mary is gone, Ted is gone, Georgette is gone, and now Rhoda is gone. Thank goodness for reruns so I can still watch The Mary Tyler Moore show every afternoon and keep them and the WJM newsroom in my life. Love that show. Love the characters. I actually have a framed pic of Mary Tyler Moore beside my flatscreen TV, a gift from dear friends Jeff and Paul, who know I still want to be Mary Richards when I grow up and have a friend like Rhoda Morgenstern.