The River City Renegade


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About the Winnipeg Blue Bombers aiming for first place…Johnny Football a perfect fit for Toronto…don’t call Shania a country crooner…a tennis rivalry is born…more hate for Caster Semenya…and other things on my mind

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

Mike O’Shea

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers should finish their 2017 crusade at 14-4.

Note: I’m not saying they will be 14-4 at the close of regular-season business, I’m saying they should be.

The way I have it figured, there are six gimme games remaining on the Bombers schedule—Saskatchewan Roughriders (twice), Montreal Alouettes, Ottawa RedBlacks, Toronto Argonauts and Hamilton Tiger-Cats. They should also sweep their two remaining skirmishes with the B.C. Lions (both at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry). Finally, a split with the Edmonton Eskimos puts the Bombers at 14 Ws.

That ought to translate into home cooking for the Canadian Football League playoffs, perhaps even top seeding in the demanding West Division.

Alas, a different scenario is more likely to unfold, because head coach Mike O’Shea won’t be able to get out of his own way for 11 games, and Richie Hall’s defence is…well, it’s Richie Hall’s defence. But the Bombers have been gifted with an incredibly benign schedule and second place, if not first, is theirs for the taking.

So, Johnny Manziel tells us that the CFL is “definitely something I’ve looked into,” then he goes on to say he’d prefer to get into coaching, most likely at the collegiate level in the U.S. What, our women, bars and casinos aren’t good enough for Johnny Football?

The Tiger-Cats hold CFL negotiation rights to Manziel, a former Heisman Trophy winner as the top player in American college football, but a better fit would be the Republic of Tranna, where the Argonauts desperately need someone or something to generate interest in a franchise whose straits are as dire as the newspaper business. The Argos attracted 11,000 and change to their most recent assignment at BMO Field, and I’m thinking a novelty act like Manziel might bump the head count up to 20,000. Besides, the Boatmen need a quarterback. Ricky Ray is always in the repair shop and there’s no one of substance behind him. A nutbar like Manziel might be the ticket.

Shania Twain

I have no quarrel with the CFL hiring Shania Twain to lip-sync during the Grey Cup halftime hijinks in Ottawa, but I wish people would stop referring to her as a country crooner. She isn’t my kind of country. She’s pop. With that in mind, here’s this morning’s list: My top five favorite real female country singers…

1. Patsy Cline: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vwKPgqBC00o
2. Emmylou Harris:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JE_sUN_M7p0
3. Alison Krauss:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=To1_nOjlLBQ
4. Reba:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FUP9DnurODw
5. Dolly:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L0eeSoU35wM

Up-and-down week in Canadian tennis. Milos Ranoic and Genie Bouchard go out in a whimper at their respective Rogers Cup tournaments, but teenager Denis Shapovalov rocks Rafael Nadal’s world en route to an appearance in the semifinals in Montreal, whereupon he met his Waterloo in the form of Alexander Zverev on Saturday, 6-4, 7-5. The good news is that Shapovalov is only 18 years old. The bad news is that the Zverev is only 20. Actually, upon further review, that’s probably a double dose of good news, because it means Shapovalov and Zverev ought to be butting heads for the next decade.

Dumbest comment of the week was delivered by Mark Masters, who, after Shapovalov’s astonishing run in Montreal came to an end, told TSN viewers: “It wasn’t a completely unexpected run.” Oh, shut the front door, Mark! There was no hint that Shapovalov was about to wreak havoc on the game’s top players, including Nadal and former U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro. But, hey, maybe Masters is right. Let’s ask the kid himself. What say you, Denis Shapovalov? “Obviously, I didn’t expect it.”

Denis Shapovalov

Shapovalov, who, by the way, was born in Tel Aviv and whose parents, Tessa and Viktor, brought him to Canada before his first birthday, had been delivering good results on the Challenger Tour, which is the men’s B series. It is what the American Hockey League is to the National Hockey League. But, prior to the Rogers Cup, he had only beaten two top-100 players—Thomas Fabbiano, 86, and Kyle Edmund, 47.

Some interesting comments from tennis notables: “I’m concentrating a lot on working hard, being very humble,” said former French Open and current Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza. “You have to like being the centre of attention. You have to think it’s not a bad thing to have people talking about you. You have to welcome being on centre court, to play against the best players and prove yourself. You can’t be scared of those moments,” said Roger Federer, winner of 19 Grand Slam titles. Hmmm. I wonder if Genie Bouchard was listening.

Marshawn Lynch

This is curious: Colin Kaepernick takes a knee or sits during the singing/playing of the Star-Spangled Banner before his National Football League games and he’s a pariah. He can’t get a job even as a third-string quarterback. Marshawn Lynch, meanwhile, sits on a cooler and eats a banana during the American National Anthem prior to his Oakland Raiders dress rehearsal with the Arizona Cardinals, and everything is cool. What part of that makes sense to anyone?

Speaking of making no sense, where does Major League Baseball get off telling longtime ump Joe West to get lost for three days? All he did was relay an anecdote about Adrian Beltre, for cripes sake. If you missed it, West was asked which player was the biggest pain in the keester in baseball. He named Beltre of the Texas Rangers. “Every pitch you call that’s a strike, he says, ‘Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!’ I had a game with him recently and the pitch was right down the middle. He tells me, ‘That ball is outside.’ I told him, ‘You may be a great ballplayer, but you’re the worst umpire in the league. You stink.’” West told USA Today. That’s worth a three-game suspension? I’m scratching my head.

Some kind of down and dirty delivered by Mail Online columnist Katie Hopkins, who won’t be exchanging warm-and-fuzzies with Caster Semenya any time soon. Hopkins wrote this after the South African runner easily won her 800-metre heat at the world track and field championships in London: “Caster Semenya was on hand to show the world how to be a true women’s champion. All it takes are levels of testosterone three times higher than is expected in women due to hyperandrogenism, no womb or ovaries, and internal testes because of a chromosomal abnormality. Back in January Caster even married her girlfriend in a traditional wedding ceremony, appearing in the guise of a man. Yet, curiously, enough, out here on the track, Semenya identifies as a woman.” Sorry, but I fail to see the connection between running an 800-metre race and who a woman marries or what she’s wearing when she says “I do.” I also know numerous women who dress in what is considered male clothing. Some writers are just bloody nasty.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling mostly about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.


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About Mike O’Shea’s stubborn streak…clothes don’t make the coach…Kent Austin still has a job?…strange brew from a Postmedia scribe…and Genie’s charisma

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

Mike O’Shea and Bill Belichick: Clothes don’t make the coach.

For the record, I think Mike O’Shea is a seriously flawed head coach.

His most notable wart would be his mule-like refusal to acknowledge blatant blunders. I mean, when a man makes a mistake and then tells the rabble that, yes, given the opportunity for a do-over he would make the same stupid gaffe again, he’s not someone who should have the nuclear codes.

But that’s O’Shea.

Did he learn from an ill-advised 61-yard field goal attempt that fell seven yards short of the target and ended the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ season last November at B.C. Place Stadium? Nope. Three days after the fact, O’Shea advised news snoops that, “Yup, absolutely,” he’d ignore logic and again put his faith in Justin Medlock’s left leg.

Did he learn from an ill-advised faux punt that turned potential victory into defeat a little more than a week ago vs. the B.C. Lions? Nope. “We’d do it again,” he confirmed.

They say hindsight is 20/20 vision. I suppose it is. Unless your name is Mike O’Shea.

I swear, if it were up to O’Shea he’d have the Edsel back on the road. He’d say the guy at Decca records who rejected the Beatles made the right call. He’d let Custer have another go at all those Indians at the Little Big Horn.

So, ya, he’s stubborn like a Winnipeg winter is cold. It’s a flaw that, at some point, will likely cost him his job.

Until then, he’ll continue to keep us scratching our heads, and I’m guessing that he’ll keep doing it in a pair of short pants that somehow keep popping up as a talking point.

I’m sorry, but the significance of O’Shea’s pant legs escapes me. So the guy dresses like some shlub squatting on a street corner in Osborne Village, begging for nickels and dimes. Bill Belichick does, too. Even worse. He’s a hobo in a hoodie. But he’s also the best head coach in professional football. He’s just never let success go to his clothes, is all.

Jeff Reinebold: What a goof.

I can think of just one example of a coach’s wardrobe possibly impacting on team performance—Jeff Reinebold. He looked like a guy who got lost on his way to a beach volleyball game. He was a total goof-off. So were the Bombers under his watch. It was party time in flip-flops with Bob Marley until someone finally shot the sheriff, 32 games and 26 losses too late.

Calgary Stampeders 60, Hamilton Tiger-Cats 1. Hamilton Tiger-Cats 0-5. Only win-free outfit in the Canadian Football League. Fewest points scored, most points allowed. And head coach Kent Austin still has a job? How is this possible?

Pet peeve: Broadcasters and reporters who describe a short kickoff as an “onside kick.” All kickoffs are onside. They have to be, otherwise there’d be a five-yard penalty. Is that picky of me? Ya, about as picky as people who talk about O’Shea’s short pants.

So, here are the head counts at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry for the Bombers this crusade: 30,165 (Calgary), 25,085 (Toronto Argonauts), 25,931 (Montreal Alouettes). Average attendance: 27,060. Only the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Edmonton Eskimos play to larger audiences. This is a problem how?

In the D’oh! Department: Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press refers to John Hufnagel and Wally Buono as “former coaches.” When last seen, Buono was standing on the B.C. Lions sideline and he wasn’t there as window dressing. He’s the Leos’ current, not former, head coach.

Some strange brew from Steve Simmons in his weekly three-dot column for Postmedia. Let me count the ways:

  1. He describes Ted Williams as baseball’s “greatest hitter ever.” Well, let’s see. The Postmedia columnist was born in 1957. He was barely out of the cradle the day Williams last swatted a baseball in 1960, hitting a dinger in his final Major League at-bat. I hardly think someone who was a three-year-old boy at the time and never once watched Williams play with the Boston Red Sox is qualified to determine anything about the Splendid Splinter.
  2. He writes this of three-down football: “I really wish the CFL faithful would stop telling people how many great games there are” Huh? You have a boffo product and you shouldn’t—repeat, should not—brag about it? And I thought Mike O’Shea said strange things.
  3. He writes this of women’s tennis: “The top tennis player in the world, according to the WTA, is Karolina Pliskova. The No. 5 player is Elina Svitolina. If either of those women knocked on your door and said hello, would have any idea who they were?” Well, Stevie, you’re supposedly the most-read sports columnist in Canada. If you knocked on my neighbor’s door and said hello, would she have any idea who you are?

Genie Bouchard

In the world according to Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail, tennis player Genie Bouchard is “this country’s most charismatic athlete.” Well, I’ve never met our girl Genie. Probably never will. So I can only go by what I’ve seen/heard/read on TV and the Internet, and she strikes me as sullen, guarded and totally lacking in charm. I can’t help but cheer for terrific young Canadian athletes like golfer Brooke Henderson and swimmer Penny Oleksiak, but I struggle mightily to root, root, root for our Genie. Henderson and Oleksiak are far more charismatic. So, too, is P.K. Subban. Henry Burris was charismatic. Pinball Clemons was the very definition of charismatic. Still is. Hey, I don’t want to sound like a Debbie Downer, because I’m sure little girls flock to Genie. Just like they flock to Justin Bieber. It’s just that I find both her and him disagreeable.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling mostly about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.


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Winnipeg Blue Bombers: Are they gaining traction or spinning their wheels one year after Matt Nichols became the starting QB?

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

We still don’t know if Mike O’Shea had an awakening or if someone whacked him upside the head, but he was compelled to take the football from Drew Willy and hand it to Matt Nichols a year ago this very day.

That decision saved what looked to be another sorry season for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and, quite likely, O’Shea’s job.

Mike O’Shea

The Bombers, 1-4 at the time of the quarterback switcheroo, beat lightning, thunder, a lengthy weather delay and what had been a marauding Edmonton Eskimos defence in Nichols’ baptism as Winnipeg’s starting QB, and he’s engineered another dozen Ws since. That’s against six losses.

I’m still inclined to believe that an interloping party from on high instructed O’Shea to change starters, because this head coach wears his stubbornness like an extra layer of skin. He knows special teams and defence but diddly about QBs and offence, and only the jaws of life or an executive order was going to pry the ball out of Willy’s hands. It might have been Wade Miller, who occupies the top perch in the Canadian Football League club’s pecking order. It might have been Kyle Walters, the general manager who often can be found on the sidelines looking over O’Shea’s shoulder.

Whomever, the call to punt Willy and put Nichols behind centre is about the best example of trading places since the whiny Diane Chambers walked out the doors at Cheers and Rebecca Howe walked in.

Nichols orchestrated his 13th victory as the Bombers’ trigger man on Thursday night at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry, a 41-40 verdict over the Montreal Alouettes that featured a most unlikely finish thanks, in part, to an astonishingly compliant Als defence and an atrocious roughing-the-passer call on Chris Ackie of the Larks.

Having said all that, here’s what I find myself wondering on the one-year anniversary of Nichols’ first start: Are the Bombers actually gaining traction in their quest to satisfy a championship hunger that now is measured by the quarter-century?

Not really.

Matt Nichols

To date, the Bombers have mostly beaten up on the Sad Sacks from the East Division and the free space known as the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Nichols, as terrific as he’s been, is 10-1 against the four eastern outfits and Gang Green, but only 3-5 vs. the Calgary Stampeders, Eskimos and B.C. Lions.

That, kids, is not how the West can be won.

I suppose O’Shea would pooh-pooh those numbers, because he looks at historical data the same way Donald Trump looks at news scavengers. He’d point out that faces and names change, so what does it matter that the Bombers haven’t rung up a W against the Stampeders in a meaningful match since the leather-helmet era? To a degree, he’d be correct. Yesterday’s team is not today’s team.

One thing has been constant for three-plus crusades, though: O’Shea.

During his watch, O’Shea is 1-8 vs. the Stamps and 1-6 vs. the Eskimos. It doesn’t matter who’s been coaching in Calgary—John Hufnagel or Dave Dickenson—or in Edmonton—Chris Jones or Jason Maas—O’Shea can’t beat them. And if you can’t beat Calgary or Edmonton, you don’t get home playoff dates. If you don’t get home playoff dates, you have to win twice in hostile territory just to advance to the Grey Cup game, let alone win it.

So, until O’Shea can devise a scheme to outwit Dickenson or Maas, the Bombers are spinning their tires. No matter who’s at quarterback.

Blame it on geography. If the Bombers were still in the East, they’d be the beast. Here’s the local lads’ East-West record since O’Shea rolled into River City:

2014: 5-3 vs. East        2-8 vs. West
2015: 1-7 vs. East        4-6 vs. West
2016: 6-2 vs. East        5-6 vs. West (including playoff game)
2017: 2-0 vs. East        1-2 vs. West
Total: 14-12 (.538)      12-22 (.352)

What’s that you say? The Bombers will be better off if they earn a crossover playoff spot this season? Don’t even go there. West Division crossover teams are 0-for-life trying to get to the Grey Cup through Ontario and/or Montreal. The Eskimos discovered last year how difficult a chore it is. If I’m O’Shea, I’ll take my chances with the land mines in Saudi Alberta.

Yikes! Exactly when did O’Shea piddle in Paul Wiecek’s breakfast Cheerios? I mean, it’s one thing for the Winnipeg Free Press columnist to take the Bombers coach to task for some of his dunder-headed decision-making, but pointing an accusing finger at him for the empty seats at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry is a bit extreme. Seriously. O’Shea’s short pants are an issue? Wiecek’s latest attack piece reads mean, with gusts up to nasty.

Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun comes dangerously close to cheering in the press box with this line in his gamer following the Bombers’ 41-40 victory over the Als: “They might not be able to stop the opposition, but as long as they score one more point than the other team, who really cares?” That’s cringe-worthy.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling mostly about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.


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About the mother of all bad schedules…look who’s climbing the NHL’s all-time loser list…adios to Cam Cole…a Penny for your thoughts…dumb debates…the golden age of nothing…and fun sports writing

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

You want to talk about a tough schedule, kids (we all know Paul Maurice does)?

Well, let me tell you about the mother of all tough schedules. Then I don’t want to hear another word about what the Winnipeg Jets have endured in the first two-plus months of their current National Hockey League crusade.

shoe

A horrible schedule didn’t prevent captain Lars-Erik Sjoberg and the Winnipeg Jets from parading around the Winnipeg Arena with the World Avco Trophy.

Here’s the deal…

Beginning on Jan. 1 and ending on Feb. 27 in the final World Hockey Association season (1978-79), the Jets played 30 games (17 road, 13 home). Do the math. That’s 30 assignments in 58 nights. At one point, they played five games in six nights (3-2) and eight games in 10 nights (4-4). Overall, they went 14-14-2. I don’t recall anyone bitching about the grind and unfairness of the schedule. We just spoke to its quirkiness.

During a wacky stretch in February, for example, we were in Cincinnati long enough to qualify as registered voters in the Ohio primaries. Here’s what the itinerary looked like:

Feb. 8: arrive Cincinnati
Feb. 9: play Cincinnati Stingers
Feb. 10: leave Cincinnati, play at New England Whalers
Feb. 11-13: return to Cincinnati; practice in Cincinnati
Feb. 14: play at Cincinnati
Feb. 15: leave Cincinnati
Feb. 16: play at Birmingham Bulls; return to Cincinnati
Feb. 17: play at Cincinnati
Feb. 18: leave Cincinnati, play at home vs. New England
Feb. 19: return to Cincinnati
Feb. 20: play at Cincinnati
Feb. 21: leave Cincinnati, play at home vs. New England

We spent more time in Cincinnati than Venus Flytrap and Dr. Johnny Fever (Google WKRP in Cincinnati, kids; it was a terrific sitcom). Our home base had become the Cincinnati Marriott. A couple of times, we weren’t required to pack our bags and check out of the hotel because we would be back in less than 24 hours.

Maybe we should all just have our mail delivered to us at the hotel,” silky-smooth centre Peter Sullivan quipped one day.

Some of us could recite the Marriott restaurant menu from memory.

By way of comparison, here’s how often, or seldom, the six WHA outfits played during that Jan. 1-Feb. 27 time frame:

mother-of-all-schedules

 

 

 

 

The Jets were so tuckered out from their 30-games-in-58-nights grind that they only managed to go 19-10 the rest of the way, finishing 11-8 down the regular-season stretch then 8-2 in the playoffs to win the final WHA title. That’s why I refuse to listen to any more whining about the current Jets’ tough schedule. I don’t want to hear it from Maurice, his players, his parrots in mainstream media, or fans. I’ve witnessed worse and saw it conclude with the best result possible.

Paul Maurice: Soon he'll be No. 3 on the NHL's all-time loser list.

Paul Maurice: Soon he’ll be No. 3 on the NHL’s all-time loser list.

I’m not into fancy stats. I like my stats like my life: simple. Thus, I look at the numbers in the W and L columns and they tell me all I need to know about a head coach. And here’s what they tell me about Paul Maurice: He has the second-worst won-lost percentage of all active NHL head coaches who have been on the job more than a month and, by the close of business next spring, the Jets bench boss will be the third-losingest head coach in the history of the NHL. At present, he has 550 career losses. Another 12 and he’ll pass Ron Wilson to slide into the No. 3 slot. That, mind you, puts him in mighty fine company, because the only two men ahead of him on the loser list will be Scotty Bowman and Al Arbour, both Hockey Hall of Famers. The difference, of course, is that Bowman and Arbour are also Nos. 1 and 3 on the all-time win list and they’ve coached nine and four Stanley Cup champions, respectively.

I was sold on Maurice when he worked wonders with the Jets in his first full whirl behind the bench. He got them into the Stanley Cup tournament. Two seasons later, he no longer is working wonders. Some, in fact, wonder how he’s still working. Worth considering is this: A number of the Jets young players will improve as they mature, but Maurice won’t ever be a better coach than he is today. If the head coach can’t grow with his players, when is the right time to dismiss him?

The best of jock journalism in Canada is no more. Cam Cole of Postmedia has arrived at trail’s end, after 41 years as a jock sniffer. Cam was never a ranter and raver like, say, his Postmedia colleague Steve Simmons, who believes he who squawks the loudest rules the day. Cam, a very nice man, most always wrote in reasoned, measured tones with a subtle wit, and he had a heck of a ride, showing up in time to write about both the Edmonton Eskimos and Edmonton Oilers dynasties. Cam’s retirement means the torch as our nation’s top jock columnist is passed to Bruce Arthur, who’s very socially conscious and actually injects humor into his scribblings for the Toronto Star.

The boys and girls in the toy departments of the land got it right in their salute to kid swimmer Penny Oleksiak as Canada’s athlete-of-the-year. She struck gold in the pool at the Rio Summer Olympic Games and twice at the recent world short course championships. It was a no-brainer. I did, however, find it odd that Andre De Grasse was part of the Lou Marsh Trophy discussion. Yes, I realize his bromance with Usain Bolt in Rio was a warm-and-fuzzy Olympic storyline, but De Grasse never won a race. He finished second or third. Shouldn’t you actually have to win something before you warrant consideration as the True North’s top jock? There should have been just three athletes in that conversation: Oleksiak, hockey player Sidney Crosby and golfer Brooke Henderson.

Puck Finn

Puck Finn

I don’t know about you, but I find the Auston Matthews-Patrik Laine debate kind of silly. Go ahead and discuss which of the two is enjoying the better freshman season if you like, but to engage in a verbal to-and-fro over who will have the better NHL career is foolish in the extreme. Discuss that amongst yourselves when Matthews and Puck Finn have some mileage behind them. Like, in about 15 years.

Once again, Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail has referred to this as the “golden age” of Canadian tennis and, once again, he has failed to explain himself. Yes, Milos Raonic is the world No. 3 on the men’s side, but he went another year without winning a tournament of significance. Genie Bouchard, meanwhile, has fallen off the grid. So, our premier men’s player can’t win the big match and our top female player can’t find her game. That’s what passes for a “golden age?”

Really enjoyed old friend Paul Friesen’s piece on the fictional Bud’s Diner in the Winnipeg Sun last week. It’s a nice, lighthearted piece that, although some might find hokey, shows imagination, creativity and a sense of humor, something that’s lacking in jock journalism. I was also pleased to see the return of my favorite Grumpets—Paul Wiecek and Steve Lyons—to the Winnipeg Free Press sports pages. Their Say What?! print chin-wag is light, breezy and often self-deprecating, with an appropriate amount of bite.

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

 


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About pig-headed coaching…Matt Nichols to the rescue…the Freep’s two muppets…slow white guys…beers and puns…and other things on my mind

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

So, by proving himself to be right, Mike O’Shea has proven himself to be horribly wrong.

Say what?

Well, O’Shea was right to fire starting quarterback Drew (One Hop) Willy, but when Matt Nichols went behind centre and rag-dolled an Edmonton Eskimos’ defensive dozen to the tune of 30 points before and after the flashing of lightning and the rumbling of thunder on Thursday night at Commonwealth Stadium, it underscored how wrong/stubborn/pig headed the Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach had been before his employment and his club’s season was put on amber alert.

Let’s excuse the fact that the Eskimos can’t stop a runny nose right now. Nichols was superb in the Bombers’ 30-23 beatdown of the defending Canadian Football League champions, orchestrating two touchdown drives and directing another five excursions into enemy territory that produced Justin Medlock three-point hoofs.

You are, therefore, allowed to ask why it took O’Shea so long to turn away from Willy and hand the ball to Nichols. The short answer: He’s stubborn. The long answer: He’s really stubborn.

Had O’Shea stuck a fork in ol’ One Hop a game or two sooner, the local football heroes might be 3-3 today, rather than 2-4. Like I said, the much-maligned man was right to make the QB change, but he was extremely misguided in confining Nichols to the sideline and clipboard duty five skirmishes into this crusade.

There’s no suggestion here that we ought to reserve a spot for the name Matt Nichols on the Bombers’ Roll of Honour. It’s one game, one win. Still, the Eastern Washington alumni took what had been a comatose offence under the direction of the woeful Willy and delivered a kiss of life that, while not Biblical in loft, surely has saved the coach’s job. For now.

It’s still about the big picture.

Mike O’Shea is a better coach this morning by one win, his 14th W against 28 Ls. That said, I maintain the over/under on his long-term employment is early September.

If O’Shea is still wearing the head set by the time we break out the banjos for the Bombers’ annual frolic with the Saskatchewan Roughriders at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry on Sept. 10, he’s probably good to go for the remainder of the season.

If not, that can mean just one of two things has transpired: 1) Nichols is wounded; 2) O’Shea has a moment of madness and sends Willy, his $411,000 quarterback, back into the fray.

O’Shea insists that Bombers Nation hasn’t seen or heard the last of Willy. That’s what scares me.

say what banner4I don’t know what to make of the newest wrinkle on the sports pages of the Winnipeg Free Press, a little something headlined Say What?! Basically, it’s a print version of a chin-wag between sports editor Steve Lyons and columnist Paul Wiecek. Think Waldorf and Statler, the two grumpy, old muppets who sit in a balcony and bitch about the world. Now you’ve got a good read on what Say What?! is all about. After two offerings of Wiecek and Lyons (oh, what the hey, let’s call them Viscount and Gort), I still don’t know if it works for me. It might be too vaudevillian. Then again, maybe it isn’t. I love off-the-wall stuff and I’m thinking Say What?! will grow on me. Either way, it’s interesting that the Freep is doing more tabloid-style stuff than the tabloid in town.

Who says you can’t give the Bombers any props? We have proof to the contrary, thanks to noted white-knuckle fly boy Bob Irving. Play-by-play voice Knuckles delivered this terrific tweet prior to the club’s takeoff for its assignment with the Eskimos: “Getting set to fly to Edmonton on a plane with propellers? What year is this and whose idea was this?” Props to you, Knuckles.

Did I actually hear Jock Climie refer to former Montreal Alouettes receiver Ben Cahoon as a “slow white guy” when the Bombers and Eskimos took a lightning break and the TSN studio gab guys were required to fill air? I sure did. Jock called Cahoon a “slow white guy.” Now, what do you suppose the reaction would have been had Jock’s sidekick on the night, Matt Dunigan, referred to, say, Nik Lewis as a “slow black guy?” You bet. The stuff would have hit the fan.

If men’s golf majors were the Beatles, The Masters and the Open Championship would be Lennon and McCartney, the U.S. Open would be George Harrison, and the PGA would be Ringo. The Players Championship would be Pete Best—close but failed to make the cut.

Don Cherry and Ron MacLean

Don Cherry and Ron MacLean

Nice to see two good Canadian boys, Donald S. Cherry and Ron MacLean, honored with a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame. Well deserved. Apparently, Grapes celebrated by tossing back a six pack of Molson Canadian while MacLean delivered a six pack of really bad puns.

Yo! Duane Forde and Rod Black! Zip your lips when the head skunk shirt is announcing penalties to the audience during CFL jousts. Nothing you two gas bags have to say is so important that it can’t wait five seconds.

It’s late July, the warmest day of the year where I hang my bonnet, I call up the Winnipeg Sun sports section and see a lengthy dissertation by Ken Wiebe on—wait for it—projected line combinations for the Winnipeg Jets? This is something I want to read during the dog days of summer? Whether Mark Scheifele is going to have Nikolaj Ehlers for a linemate or Patrick Laine once the National Hockey League season commences in mid-October? Cripes, man, that makes Say What?! in the Freep come across as Pulitzer Prize-worthy.

Speaking of things that don’t make sense, Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons continues to hand the ball to R.A. Dickey. Why? Dickey is to the Jays’ starting pitching what Drew Willy is to the Blue Bombers’ quarterbacking.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

 


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About cheering for Matt Nichols…bloggers vs. mainstream media…cops putting the cuffs on Kane…a cheeseless Cheesehead…and other stuff on my mind

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

Matt Nichols

Matt Nichols

I don’t mind admitting that I’m root, root, rooting for Matt Nichols to get the job done this week when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers haul their sorry butts into Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton.

Hey, I’m not in mainstream jock journalism anymore, so I’m allowed to wave pom-poms and type at the same time now.

Actually, true confession: I always did cheer for certain athletes. Just like every sports scribe then and now. Oh, they’d have us believe that they’re flatliners when it comes to partisanship, but that’s a load of hooey for two reasons: 1) The beat is more enjoyable to work when writing dispatches about a winning outfit, because the to-and-fro with jocks tends to be less adversarial; 2) writers develop a fondness for some players—especially the “good quotes”—so they wish for them to succeed.

They’re just supposed to keep it on the QT and not allow it to leak into their copy, that’s all.

Here in the blogosphere, on the other hand, we’re not bound by that unwritten code. We can lash them or we can laud them based on our biases.

I’m partial to the Bombers. My personal history with them dates back to the beginning of the glory years in the late 1950s; ergo, my preference is that they once again become something other than the free space on the Canadian Football League bingo card. Is Nichols the quarterback to take them where they haven’t been since 1990? One can hope, so one can cheer for him.

Bobby Hull and former bride Joanne

Bobby Hull and former bride Joanne

Interesting to note the difference between how bloggers and mainstream media tackled the announcement that Bobby Hull would be among the first three inductees to the Winnipeg Jets Hall of Fame. Bloggers Mitch Kasprick at Winnipeg Hockey Talk and Cara at Arctic Ice Hockey addressed the matter of Hull’s history of domestic violence head on, whereas mainstream jock journalists didn’t touch it. Cara’s piece spurred a healthy debate among AIH readers and contributors, which makes me wonder what opinionists at the Winnipeg Sun and Winnipeg Free Press were afraid of.

Also interesting are the literary gymnastics that Paul Wiecek has performed on the sports pages of the Freep during the past few months. I hope he didn’t hurt himself. I mean, in mid-April, he was advocating contract extensions for the losing tandem of Bombers general manager Kyle Walters and head coach Mike O’Shea. Earlier this month, he advised us that O’Shea was not to be faulted for the local football heroes stumbling out of the gate. And now? It’s all Mikey’s mess. Apparently CEO Wade Miller has held up his end. Ditto Walters. So Mikey has to wear that 1-4 record. I make no secret that I’m a Wiecek fan, but I’m concerned when he goes all Gary Lawless on us.

So I have just one question after seeing that photo of Buffalo cops slapping the bracelets on old friend Evander Kane and charging him with several counts of wrong-doing that involved the physical mistreatment of women: Has Sabres Tim Murray called his counterpart with the Winnipeg Jets, Kevin Cheveldayoff, and asked, “Any possibility of a do-over on that trade, ol’ pal, ol’ buddy?” I feel bad for Murray. I mean, how’s he going to off-load Kane to another National Hockey League outfit now?

Aaron Rodgers the Cheesehead

Aaron Rodgers the Cheesehead

Can this be true? Aaron Rodgers, the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers, has cut cheese from his diet? The main Cheeshead going cheese free? In Wisconsin? What’s next? Winnipeggers stop eating Sals nips and shopping wholesale?

Okay, if you hadn’t heard of Rosie MacLennon prior to last week, you’re forgiven. Not forgiven, however, is Steve Simmons of Postmedia for his catty and crass comments of Rosie’s selection to carry the Canadian flag at the opening of next month’s Olympic Games in Rio. In the world according to Little Stevie Blunder, a trampolinist has no business leading our athletes into the five-ring circus. He submits that her sport is “more backyard than Olympian.” If I’m reading him right, he’s telling us that if kids can do it in the backyard, then it doesn’t belong in the Olympics. Good thing Walter Gretzky didn’t know about that when he built that backyard hockey rink for his boy Wayne.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

 


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Winnipeg Blue Bombers: How long a leash will Mike O’Shea give Matt Nichols?

As I was saying last week in the wake of another Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ wedgie, Drew (One Hop) Willy would be the first sacrificial lamb placed on the spit because Mike O’Shea had no choice but to fire his starting quarterback.

Mike O'Shea: End of the line?

Mike O’Shea: End of the line?

So the head coach did that very thing on Sunday.

Quite possibly (more than likely?), the move to flip-flop Willy and Matt Nichols was strongly suggested to the stubborn O’Shea by a voice from above, because he did mention something about “conversation” being part of the decision-making process. He didn’t say whom that tete-a-tete involved, but nothing speaks louder than roughly 9,000 empty seats at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry, so club CEO Wade Miller might have whispered a not-so-sweet something in his ear.

That, mind you, is pure speculation.

Maybe Miller wasn’t being a buttinski and O’Shea made this call sans pressure from on high. After all, the much-maligned man might be mule-like, but stubborn isn’t stupid. He doesn’t need to see the wall to read the writing on it that tells him he has arrived at coaching’s cliff edge.

Something had to give. It was Willy. And, yes, this smacks of Hail Mary-ism.

I mean, sideline stewards are loath to turn to their No. 2 QB when No. 1 is in fine physical fettle, and all indications support the notion that Willy is free of any owies that might prevent him from taking the starter’s snaps. Thus, sacrificing Willy’s job to perhaps salvage his own is a nervy gambit by O’Shea. Also necessary. His troops, after all, are 1-4 and, while many gaze upon him as a dead man coaching, there are other culprits responsible for the shoddy start to this Canadian Football League crusade.

Matt Nichols: Behind centre, but for how long?

Matt Nichols: Behind centre, but for how long?

Foremost, at least in the consideration of many among the rabble, is Willy. His numbers suggest he’s doing boffo business, but we know better, don’t we. Much, if not the most generous portion, of his yardage has been collected in garbage time. When it most matters, he flings the football like someone has sucked all the air out of the thing. Or he’s afraid it’ll give him the cooties. Seriously. There are penguins with better hang time than a lot of Willy’s passes.

Which is why the Bombers will have $411,000 worth of QB standing on the sidelines at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton on Thursday night, and a backup with a losing record attempting to outwit the Eskimos defensive dozen.

Or will they?

Color me skeptical, but I’m not convinced O’Shea will grant Nichols a long leash. After all, the coach knows that if his universe is not unfolding as it should early in the skirmish with the Eskimos, not even a dip into the healing waters of Lourdes will keep him out of the unemployment queue. So, it’s my guess that he’ll to turn to Willy faster than Knuckles Irving can say “another two and out for the Bombers.”

Willy got five games. Nichols might get five minutes. If this is to be O’Shea’s last waltz, he’ll finish it with the QB he brought to the dance.

Drew Willy: Down but not necessarily out.

Drew Willy: Down but not necessarily out.

The ginger-haired head coach said nothing of the sort during his brief chin-wag with news scavengers post-practice on Sunday. Not in so many words. But he went to great lengths to emphasize his unwavering faith in ol’ One Hop. Not that anyone expected O’Shea to kick the poor guy when he’s down, but he made it sound very much like he believes beyond all reasonable doubt that this is but a blip in the Willy career arc.

More to the point, I found his answer—or non-answer—to this point-blank question extremely telling: Does Matt Nichols give this team the best chance to win?

This week, absolutely, he gives us a good chance to win. For sure,” O’Shea said.

The answer I had expected to hear was, “Of course he does. That’s why he’ll be starting against the Eskimos. We need a win and he gives us our best shot.” Instead, it was “a good chance” to win rather than “the best” chance to win. Call it splitting hairs, if you like, but what he didn’t say told me more than what he did say.

If Nichols stubs his toe in The Chuck, he’ll be holding a clipboard again. Bet on it.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.