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

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

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

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

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

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

Lancaster and Reed

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

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

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

Green People in B.C. Place.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, who needs them in 2019?

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

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

Matty

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

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

Big Bluto: Stories, stories, stories.

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

Mariano Rivera

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

Marcus Stroman

Tweets that struck my fancy in recent days:

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

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

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

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

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

Coach Potty Mouth

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

Andrew Copp

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

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

Stevie Nicks

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

About the Toronto Argonauts being no laughing matter…CFL shrinkage…a mad hatter at bluebombers.com…pigskin prayer power…when Michael Sam was the man…CFL power rankings…greybeard golf…and other things on my mind

One fried egg-and-cheese sandwich on whole wheat toast and some leftover thoughts for a Monday morning breakfast

It has occurred to me, and many others, that we might be witnessing the death throes of the Toronto Argonauts—the franchise, if not this year’s on-field product.

BMO Field when Toronto FC is playing.

I mean, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment’s motto is “Bringing The World To Its Feet,” but very few of those feet are parading to BMO Field. Unless, of course, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Sebastian Giovinco and friends are having a kick-about.

Oh, yes, they love their footy in the Republic of Tranna. Red-clad, scarf-wearing locals traipse to BMO Field whenever Toronto FC is in frolic, and it matters little that the level of play in Major League Soccer isn’t a match for the English Premier League, the Bundesliga in Germany, Serie A in Italy, or Spain’s La Liga. Fitba is a “happening” in the ROT, and the Reds are averaging 26,591 customers this year, marginally down from a 27,647 head count in 2017.

The Argos, on the other hand, they’re a “happening” like the Don River is the Pacific Ocean.

BMO Field when the Argos are playing.

How sparse are the audiences when the Boatmen are grabbing the real and fake grass at BMO Field? I’ve seen more circus clowns squeeze into a Volkswagen Beetle. The winner of the 50/50 draw at the last home game was later seen asking Yonge Street panhandlers for spare change.

We tend to joke about stuff like that because, let’s face it, cracking wise about The 6ix is what those of us who dwell in the colonies do. The ROT is always good for cheap laughs, whether it’s Drake making an ass clown of himself at a Raptors game, Premier Buck-a-Beer promising cheap suds, or the Maple Leafs’ 51st annual retooling season.

This Argos business, however, isn’t yuk-it-up material. Not if you’re a fan of the Canadian Football League.

I started following three-down football in the 1950s. Most of my heroes wore the blue-and-gold linen of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, but Dick Shatto, adorned in the double blue of the Boatmen, was among my favorite players. He was so smooth, and an impossibly handsome man. I remember reading about Tobin Rote, the gunslinger of a quarterback, and Cookie Gilchrist, the fierce and feared running back. I watched them intently, and with much admiration and awe, whenever the Argos appeared on the black-and-white screen of our rabbit-eared TV.

That’s why it pains me to see an ocean of unoccupied seats at BMO Field on Argos game nights/days.

In their 2017 crusade, the Boatmen attracted an average of 13,913 customers. This year the head count is worse—12,836 average, with a low-water mark of 10,844 for a visit from the Bombers. That’s cringeworthy, also alarming, and the hit to MLSE’s bottom line must be substantial.

I’ve never completely bought into the argument that the CFL absolutely needs the ROT to survive, and I’m confident that western football can exist without it. I will, however, submit that the three-down enterprise is much better with a robust Argos franchise in the mix. It would be a shame if MLSE chose to tap out.

After all, if not for the Argos, what would we have to laugh about in the summer and autumn? Oh, that’s right…there’s always the Blue Jays.

Damien Cox of the Toronto Star/Sportsnet posted this tweet last week after 35,623 folks showed up at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton for a showdown between the Eskimos and Saskatchewan Roughriders: “A crowd of less than 36,000 is the biggest in the CFL this season and is considered a big success. My goodness, this league has shrunk.” Well, yes and no. Toronto and Montreal certainly have shrunk significantly, both in attendance and size of facility. The rest of the CFL, not so much. High tide for CFL attendance arrived in 1978, when the league averaged 31,879. The Montreal Alouettes and Argos led the way with 54,471 and 46,545, respectively. This year, they’re down to 17,861 and 12,836. That’s 36,610 customers lost in Montreal and 33,709 in the ROT. That’s what you call shrinkage.

Matt Nichols and mad hatter Ed Tait.

Good bit on Bombers QB Matt Nichols by young Eddie Tait of bluebombers.com. I’m not sure if the highlight of the piece is the tale Nichols tells about almost being stuck with a huge restaurant tab while a member of the Dallas Cowboys, or young Eddie’s lid. He’s really rockin’ the funny hat. You might want to check it out.

Kirk Penton continues to crank out the good CFL stuff for The Athletic, and last week one of his insiders (a coach or GM) had this to say about the Argos switching from James Franklin to McLeod Bethel-Thompson at starting quarterback: “I have no idea if this played a role in it or not, but Franklin has a different personality. He’s not your average guy. It makes me wonder if the players have adopted him or not. He’s hugely religious.” Why would religion be part of the equation? The great Pinball Clemons is a man of deep faith, and I don’t ever recall it being a problem in his time as a player or coach with the Boatmen.

Michael Sam

It’s three years ago tomorrow that Michael Sam became the only openly gay man to perform in a CFL game. Playing rush end for the Montreal Alouettes against the Ottawa RedBlacks, he was on the field for just 12 plays, making no tackles and, quite frankly, looking as out of place as the Pope in a pub. One week later, the former St. Louis Rams draft pick walked out on the Als, citing mental health issues, and never played another down on either side of the border.

The morning after Johnny Manziel made his disastrous CFL debut, TSN had nine videos of the Alouettes QB on its main web page. Sportsnet had one. But, hey, who’s counting?

Here are this week’s CFL power rankings…

1. Calgary (7-0): The beat goes on.
2. Edmonton (5-2): Three wins vs. West outfits.
3. Winnipeg (4-3): Three wins vs. East outfits.
4. Saskatchewan (3-4): Terrell Owens anyone?
5. Hamilton (3-4): Alouettes were just what the doctor ordered.
6. Ottawa (4-3): Talk about coughing up an ugly hairball.
7. B.C. (2-4): Got screwed by a zebra, but still not good enough.
8. Toronto (2-5): What a comeback. Too bad no one cares in the Republic of Tranna.
9. Montreal (1-6): Getting worse in either official language.

Phil and Tiger

Apparently, the hokey Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson mano-a-mano, greybeard golf challenge will take place on American Thanksgiving weekend. Just what everyone will need. Another turkey.

Max Domi says the Montreal Canadiens have the “pieces it takes to win,” in the upcoming National Hockey League crusade. And he would know this how? He spent the past three seasons playing in the Arizona desert, where the Coyotes did nothing but lose.

Mark Stone

In the WTF department, the Ottawa Senators have agreed to pay Mark Stone $7.35 million to play right wing in 2018-19. That’s $1.75 million more than captain Blake Wheeler earns with the Winnipeg Jets. It’s $1.225 million more than les Jets pay Rink Rat Scheifele. How does Winnipeg general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff convince his players to sign on the cheap? Is he Reveen, the great hypnotist? Does he have damning photos? To date, only one player, Jacob Trouba, has had the strength to ward off Chevy’s mystic powers. Hard to figure.

Just wondering: Is it possible for Murat Ates of The Athletic Winnipeg to write an article on the Jets without mentioning salaries and advanced stats?

And, finally, I notice I have 312 followers on Twitter, a revelation that begat this simple question: Why? I mean, I wouldn’t follow me. But if you’re one of the 312, merci beaucoup. If you aren’t one of the 312, I don’t blame you.

About the Winnipeg Jets being built on free agents…the ice fishing is great, right Big Buff?…Richie’s a Hall of a coach this week…pigging out in the (hot) dog days of summer…media friendly Vic Peters…Caroline Cameron gives Tim & Sid a fresh voice and look…those wacky Wimbledon women…don’t diss Ronaldo…and a sports scribe who preaches one thing but writes about another

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Welcome to Winnipeg, armpit of the National Hockey League.

Well, okay, that’s not exactly how shinny scribes Scott Burnside and Sean McIndoe worded it when Paul Stastny chose Glitter Gulch over Good Ol’ Hometown, but that was the sentiment of each pundit’s analysis—River City sucks. Still. Otherwise Stastny wouldn’t have vamoosed from the Winnipeg Jets to the Vegas Golden Knights scant seconds after the NHL opened its grab bag of free agents a week ago this very morning.

Here’s Burnside of The Athletic:

“While he did choose to waive his no-trade clause to go to the Jets at the trade deadline, Stastny’s departure as an unrestricted free agent merely reinforces the idea that, as good as the Jets are—and they are really good—they still aren’t at the stage where they are a destination for free agents. Not yet at least.”

Here’s McIndoe of Sportsnet:

“They were a darn good team before Stastny arrived, and they’ll be a good one with him gone. But seeing a top UFA walk away will reinforce the old idea that the Jets are at a disadvantage when it comes to attracting top players.”

Paul Stastny

Both scribes stopped short of stereotypical jabs about the dark, the cold, the crappy WiFi, the pothole-to-person ratio, and summer skeeters the size of a Zamboni in River City, but the gist of their analysis is unmistakable, and this Winnipeg-as-NHL armpit narrative is oh so dog-eared. Also wearisome.

I mean, I’d buy it if Stastny had gone on record saying he defected to Sin City because “Winnipeg is a garbage dump with a lousy zoo and an ugly museum.” But no.

“In the end,” the 32-year-old centre-ice man told the Las Vegas Sun, “sometimes you just have to go with your gut feeling. Sometimes it’s just one of those things that is the best fit, hockey-wise, family-wise and everything in between.”

Doesn’t sound damning to me.

Yet those of the Burnside/McIndoe ilk trot out the woe-is-Winnipeg refrain every time someone gives Good Ol’ Hometown the cold shoulder, mainly because it’s a convenient and lazy plot line that plays to the ill-informed among the rabble and, at the same time, ignores history. Yes, history.

Benny Hatskin and Bobby Hull on a happy day in Winnipeg.

Go ahead, kids. Name the most significant free-agent signing—ever—in professional hockey. That’s right, the name is Hull, Bobby Hull. And where did that game-shaping event take place? At the intersection of Portage Avenue and Main Street, where a flock of thousands gathered to witness Robert Marvin Hull, fresh off his fifth 50-goal season for the Chicago Blackhawks, scrawl his John Hancock on a Winnipeg Jets contract on June 27, 1972. This was the NHL’s glam guy, choosing Pegtown over Chitown. The sport and salaries were forever altered by one free-agent signing.

More to the point, the very foundation of the Winnipeg Jets was built exclusively on free agents, guys who willingly came to River City to form the World Hockey Association’s flagship franchise.

Ab Mcdonald, Joe Daley, Sudsy Sutherland, Ernie Wakely and others from the ‘hood came home from hither and yon to wear Jets linen. Anders Hedberg chose Winnipeg over Toronto. Kent Nilsson chose Winnipeg over Toronto and Atlanta. Willy Lindstrom could have played anywhere in North America. He chose Winnipeg. Ulf Nilsson and Lars-Erik Sjoberg chose Winnipeg. Peter Sullivan chose Winnipeg. Etcetera, etcetera and blah, blah, blah.

So enough of the tired, old refrain about Pegtown being a shinny leper colony.

Big Buff

Are there guys who’d rather not play in River City? Absolutely. We’re told Good Ol’ Hometown makes most no-trade lists. Just ask Ilya Bryzgalov. But, hey, John Tavares rejected 30 cities just last week, so it’s not like Winnipeg is unique. Look, players talk about three main things when wrestling with free-agency options: 1) Money; 2) the opportunity to win; 3) location. Well, Ben Hatskin wasn’t paying Hull $2.7 million in Monopoly or Canadian Tire money in 1972, and David Thomson and Mark Chipman aren’t paying Dustin Byfuglien $7.6 million per annum in food stamps with the present-day Jets. Competitively, les Jets were a final four team in this past spring’s Stanley Cup runoff. As for location, the ice fishing is boffo, thank you. Just ask Big Buff. So what’s not to like?

Just wondering: Are we still calling for Richie Hall’s head to roll? Probably not. Hall is the much-maligned man tasked with mapping out strategy for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive dozen, whose deficiencies were exposed like a porn star’s privates in two of their first three skirmishes this Canadian Football League crusade. Then along came the B.C. Lions with a benign offence designed to heal whatever ails a wonky defence. So I assume Winnipeg FC’s 41-19 victory over the Leos on Saturday evening at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry means it’s safe for Hall to go grocery shopping and pump his own gas this week. Just to be safe, though, he should have Adam Bighill tag along.

Joey Chestnut

Here’s something to chew on: Joey Chestnut celebrated the dog days of summer by successfully defending his Nathan’s hot dog eating title, scarfing down 74 tube steaks in 10 minutes. It’s believed that no one has ever gone through that many dogs. Except the Edmonton Oilers, of course.

Richard Deitsch of The Athletic asked this question of jock journos on Twitter: “Who is the most media-friendly athlete you have dealt with?” For me, that’s a no-brainer: The late Vic Peters, with about 100 other curlers tied in second. Vic, in the grand scheme of jockdom, was a smooth-edged gem on a beach full of sharp stones. A most obliging, engaging man, he had time for us all. Always.

Sid Seixeiro and Caroline Cameron

Loved the new look and sound on the Tim & Sid show last week. Unfortunately, it’s only temporary. Caroline Cameron has been sitting in for the vacationing Sid Seixeiro on the Sportsnet gabfest, and they’re as different as a pit bull and a kitten. I mean, Sid’s shtick is to talk tough. He dresses the part, too. He looks like he belongs on the set of a gangster movie, skulking around with Luca Brasi and nervously glancing over his shoulder to see if Eliot Ness is on his tail. He wears his sneer on his sleeve. He’s prone to prop humor and theatrical orations that would earn him a failing grade in a high school drama class, and his rants are usually about as sincere as a Neymar dive-writhe-and-roll. Caroline, on the other hand…we’re talking Mary Richards from the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Polished, professional, knowledgeable, smiling, impeccable, pretty, a girl making her way and succeeding in a guy’s world. A lot of viewers (read: guys) pooh-pooh women on sports talk TV as empty heads. Well, Caroline Cameron is compelling evidence that there should be more female voices in the jock gab game. She’s very good.

Yes, now that you mention it, the goings-on in London are very strange, most notably on the women’s side of Wimbledon. They’re spitting out seeds like it’s a baseball dugout. Gone are nine of the top 10 seeds and 25 of 32 overall. Wimbledon has never seen such carnage. Serena Williams will have to break both legs and carry her baby on her back to lose this tournament. Even at that, she could probably win the thing and claim her 24th tennis Grand Slam title on crutches.

Ronaldo and Messi

A lot of British accents on our flatscreens during the World Cup, one of them belonging to Danny Dichio, former forward in the English Premier League. Sportsnet trotted him out as an analyst during the group stage of the event, and he had this exchange with Jesse Fuchs…

Fuchs: “People love to compare Lionel Messi and Christiano Ronaldo…Messi missed a penalty earlier in the tournament, now so has Ronaldo. And it ends up costly, as Portugal are held to a draw. Is it fair at all to criticize CR7?”

Dichio: “No. Not at all fair.”

So, let’s see if I’ve got this straight: The president of the United States, the Pope, Queen Liz, the Beatles, any journalist you care to name, and Jesus Christ himself are fair game for a roasting when they cough up a hairball, but Ronaldo, a guy who’s supposedly god’s gift to soccer, is untouchable when he gags on a shot from the 12-yard spot? As if. Dichio gets a red card for being a nincompoop.

Kaitlyn Lawes and Jennifer Jones

And, finally, based on his scribblings over the years, it’s apparent that Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press does not harbour a healthy fondness for professional athletes. He often writes of them with resentment, contempt and scorn, painting them with one broad brush stroke—they’re all money-grubbing elitists who look down on the rabble from their perch of privilege.

“A tiny cadre of coddled millionaires,” is how he described the Jets players in one of his tamer remarks.

Therefore it wasn’t out of character that he assailed play-for-pay jocks—defrocked Jets goaltender Steve Mason in particular—while making the case that the amateur athletes in our great nation are underfunded by the feds and underappreciated by the unwashed masses.

“Such is the deification that we accord professional hockey players in this country that we think nothing of paying the washouts millions not to play, while at the same time throwing chump change at our amateur athletes and then scolding them if they dare return home without Olympic medals every four years when we remember again that they exist,” he writes.

He calls financial support for our top amateurs “laughable” and “a complete joke.”

Mike O’Shea

Actually, the joke is a sports columnist prattling on about underfunding and underappreciation for amateurs when 95 per cent of his yearly material is devoted to his personal hot-button issues like Jacob Trouba’s attitude, Mike O’Shea’s “goofy” short pants, and Mark Chipman’s past life as a used-car salesman. His own newspaper treats amateur athletes like they have the cooties. Unless, of course, they’re holding a curling rock in one hand and a broom or sliding apparatus in the other. Kaitlyn Lawes, Jennifer Jones, Mike McEwen, Reid Carruthers and other pebble people get the jock star treatment from the Freep. The rest? Basically bupkus.

Here’s the professional/amateur story scorecard from the past seven editions of the Drab Slab: 140-13. Granted, seven days of sports sections is a small sample size, but just 8.5 per cent of all articles was devoted to amateurs.

In that same seven-paper time frame, Wiecek wrote three columns: his apples-to-oranges argument about amateur funding vs. greedy professional jocks getting too much coin for not enough work; the Blue Bombers lousy defence and firing lousy coaches O’Shea and Hall; and, once again, greedy pro athletes.

What’s that you say? Some sports scribes must be overpaid, underworked and coddled, too? Who knew?

2016: It was very good year in the toy department

Top o’ the morning to you, 2016.

Talk about playing to a tough crowd. I mean, a lot of people are saying you’re the worst year. Ever. Ever. Ever. Yes, even worse than 1968, when a presidential candidate (see: Kennedy, Robert F.) and a civil rights giant (see: King Jr., Martin Luther) were gunned down in cold blood.

Chicago riots, 1968
Chicago riots, 1968

The King Jr. assassination in April 1968 ignited race riots in 130 cities and there were 46 riot-related deaths. Riot troops were positioned on the White House lawn and machine gun nests were established at the Capital. At the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August ’68, 10,000 anti-Vietnam War protesters clashed with 26,000 cops, national guardsmen and soldiers, who beat and wounded at least 1,000 civilians. Just under 200 cops also required medical attention. There were close to 600 arrests.

The black cloud that was 1968 also included…

  • North Korean patrol boats seized the USS Pueblo, an intelligence ship. The North Koreans accused the 82-man crew of spying, then imprisoned, beat and tortured them for 11 months.
  • The Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia.
  • Sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos were kicked off the American Olympic team in Mexico after their silent demonstration against racial discrimination in the U.S.
  • Richard Nixon was elected president of the United States.
  • American troops slaughtered 347 civilians in the My Lai massacre in Vietnam.
  • Richard Harris recorded the regrettable MacArthur Park, where someone left a cake out in the rain and they’ll never have that recipe again.

All that gloom and doom is a tough act to top, 2016. But apparently you trumped it, right down to the last drop of protesters’ blood. Pollster Angus Reid, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times all say it’s so, so I guess that’s what you are, 2016—the…worst…ever.

Tommie Smith, centre, and John Carlos at the Summer Olympics in Mexico.
Tommie Smith, centre, and John Carlos at the Summer Olympics in Mexico.

But, hey, that’s why we have sports. To escape things like terrorism and an apparent racist, bigot and misogynist moving into the White House. And you didn’t let us down in the toy department, 2016. You were on your game, so to speak.

I mean, any time you can say “Cubs win! Cubs win! Cubs win!” the World Series, it has to be a very good year. The best year since 1908, the last time the Cubbies won the annual Fall Classic. That’s why more than 5 million people gathered for the championship parade in the Toddlin’ Town. And Chicago cops didn’t beat up anyone. You delivered a classic Game 7, 2016. Brilliant stuff. It’s just too bad the Cubbies had to beat the Cleveland Indians, who continue to look for their first WS title since 1948.

I guess you just didn’t want Cleveland to get greedy, though, 2016. After all, King LeBron James and his Cavaliers claimed the National Basketball Association crown, toppling the mighty Golden State Warriors in seven games after trailing 3-1. More brilliant stuff.

And what a gift you gave us in the Ottawa RedBlacks. They didn’t even exist four years ago, and already they’re champions of all they survey in the Canadian Football League. Their overtime victory against the star-studded Calgary Stampeders was even more brilliant stuff from you, 2016.

Naturally, a whole lot of folks in River City had been hoping that their beloved Winnipeg Blue Bombers would have been in that 104th Grey Cup game, but at least you let them participate in the playoffs, 2016. It’s just a shame that you also chose the final seconds of that one-and-done post-season game to deliver head coach Mike O’Shea his signature moment of madness, when he had place-kicker Justin Medlock attempt an unmakeable 61-yard field goal.

Puck Finn
Puck Finn

You weren’t terribly kind to the Winnipeg Jets on the ice, 2016, but you blessed them with lucky bouncing ping-pong balls at the National Hockey League draft lottery, giving the locals the No. 2 shout overall in June. The harvest from that stroke of good fortune was Patrik Laine. Puck Finn has been dazzling ’em this season. I doubt that your heir, 2017, will give him the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top freshman, because the guy chosen ahead of him by the Toronto Maple Leafs at the annual garage sale of freshly scrubbed teenagers, Auston Matthews, isn’t exactly chopped liver. And, of course, he’s sure to earn the eastern bloc vote. That’s okay, though. Puck Finn will be your gift that keeps giving long after your shelf life has expired, 2016.

What other delights did you deliver, 2016? Well, speaking of teenagers, there was Penny Oleksiak, the Toronto high school student who struck for swimming gold and collected three other medals at the Summer Olympic Games in Rio. She’s a real sweetie.

So, too, is Brooke Henderson, who won her first Ladies Professional Golf Association major and one other tournament. A few of the boys on the beat weren’t kind to Brooke, but some jock journalists are always looking for dark clouds in silver linings.

kaepernickOne of the things I liked about you, 2016, is that you had a social conscious. You had San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick take a knee during the Star-Spangled Banner, which inspired a discussion about racial discrimination in the United States. Unlike Tommie Smith and John Carlos in 1968, Kaepernick wasn’t kicked off his team.

You also had 56 openly gay athletes competing in the Rio Olympics and winning 25 medals—11 gold, 10 silver and four bronze—and lesbian Amanda Nunes is an Ultimate Fighting Championship titleholder who walloped Ronda Rousey in just 48 seconds on Friday night in Las Vegas. You told North Carolina you wouldn’t tolerate its anti-LGBT legislation and announced that the 2017 National Basketball Association all-star game would be moved out of Charlotte.

You let us watch Peyton Manning, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Big Papi ride off into the sunset. A-Rod did, too, although I suppose not a whole lot of folks care that he’s bid adieu.

You allowed us to say farewell to The Greatest, the King and Mr. Hockey—Muhammad Ali, Arnold Palmer and Gordie Howe. We didn’t mourn their deaths so much as we celebrated their athletic accomplishments, their lives and their legacies.

Sour Hope Solo
Sour Hope Solo

All of this is not to say you were without your rough edges, 2016. You did, after all, give us two ugly Americans in Rio. The disgraced duo would be soupuss soccer goalkeeper Hope Solo and swimmer Ryan Lochte. Solo branded the Swedish women’s side a bunch of “cowards” because they refused to play a run-and-gun game with the U.S., while Lochte claimed to have been robbed with a cocked gun pointed at his head. In reality, he was taking a pee on the wall outside a Rio gas station.

Those were mere blips, though, 2016. And they were easily offset by Jimmie Johnson claiming his record-tying seventh NASCAR driving title, Leicester City, a 5,000-1 longshot, winning the English Premier League soccer title, and the great Serena Williams earning her 22nd Grand Slam tennis championship to equal the equally great Steffi Graf.

You were a wonderful year, 2016, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

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.