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 Brad Marchand talking in tongues…sports in the key of F-bombs…Ab’s the man in St. Jimmy…ranking Ricky Ray…a fan boy in the press box…watching a train wreck…gay girl power in SI…a diamond is this girl’s best friend…and they’re at the post

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and happy Mom’s Day to all the moms…

Read the following quotes, kids, then name the high-profile Boston athlete they target:

“(He) removed himself from the ranks of decent sportsmen. Yesterday he was a little man, and in his ungovernable rage, a dirty little man.”

“No grown man in full possession of his faculties would make the vile gestures that he made on one occasion.”

Gotta be that rotten, little scoundrel Bad Brad Marchand, right?

Ted Williams

Wrong. Try Boston Red Sox legendary hitter-of-baseballs Ted Williams, who harbored an extreme dislike for most people holding a pen and notepad and more than once spat at the hometown fans, calling them “buffoons.”

So I suppose we can say Marchand is in lofty company.

Bad Brad was at his petulant worst last week, and I’m not sure which sent up a greater plume of outrage, him licking an opponent’s face in spring 2018 or him having sport with news snoops in the current Stanley Cup runoff.

Either way, if Bad Brad didn’t have a tongue, opinionists would be lost for words.

Think about it.

A year ago this month, the Boston Bruins’ adolescent-like forward used an opponent’s face for a lollipop, and what ensued was an outpouring of scorn the likes of which is normally reserved for those on the sex offender registry. More latterly, this cringe-worthy fellow again has been the target of a verbal tomato tossing, this time for biting the very tongue he used to lick foes.

If you missed it, here’s how the most-recent tempest took grip:

  • Kyle Bukauskas of Sportsnet engaged Marchand in a rinkside natter scant moments before Game 6 of the Boston-Columbus Blue Jackets playoff skirmish last week. Asked a cheeky question about the sharpness of his skates, an offended Bad Brad dashed away.

  • Once the Bs had taken their measure of the Jackets, winning 3-nada, Bukauskas and Bad Brad again were rinkside. Three questions were delivered…three one- or two-word answers were provided.

  • Once inside the Bruins changing room, a media mob surrounded Marchand, offering 19 questions for his consideration. He countered with 19 answers—total word count 39.

Elliotte Friedman

“It’s almost like he’s making fun of us,” gasped an aggrieved Elliotte Friedman.

Imagine that. Marchand had the bad manners to take a poke at news snoops. Oh, the humanity!

“He goes into the scrum and it goes from being ticked off to actually getting enjoyment out of it, like it was a game to him or it was for his own amusement. That’s where it got really stupid and goofy,” offered Nick Kypreos.

Imagine that. A former National Hockey League meathead—who puts bread on his table by saying really stupid and goofy things—thinks someone else is being stupid and goofy.

Kelly Hrudey

“He’s just so immature and, you know, he’s not that clever. He’s gonna be 31 in a month. At what age do you sort of grow up a little bit?” chimed in Kelly Hrudey.

Imagine that. Three talking heads, three pairs of knickers in a twist.

The hand-wringing wasn’t restricted to the Sportsnet panel, though. Many others weighed in. Examples:

Darren Dreger, TSN: “This was him sucking his thumb over something. Disrespectful.”

Steve Whyno, Associated Press: “Just plain rude.”

Stu Cowan, Postmedia Montreal: “Marchand went into full-jerk mode.”

All that because Bad Brad was frugal with his words. Boo flipping hoo.

Bugsy Watson

Look, I agree, Marchand is a rat. He’s not the original rat, understand, because both Bugsy Watson and Ken Linseman beat him to it. Bad Brad has, however, surely cranked it up a notch on the creep-o-metre with his rather unconventional methods.

But here’s the deal, kids: No athlete, Brad Marchand included, owes news snoops quality sound bites. Nor are they governed by a word count.

You know what I’d do if I were Marchand? Next time they come looking for bon mots, I’d talk to them in tongues.

While listening to the fallout of this latest L’affaire Marchand, a couple of things occurred to me: 1) It truly exposed news snoops’ egg-shell egos; 2) where was this great hue and cry when Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler told Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun to “fuck off” in a post-match scrum? I also wondered if Wheeler received a tsk-tsking or a pat on the back from les Jets ownership/management.

Jurgen Klopp

It was F-bombs away in the wide, wide world of sports last week. Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp launched the lewd language on live U.S. TV, then Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr parroted Klopp and, finally, Tranna Blue Jays skipper Charlie Montoyo provided the backup vocals in the key of F. Of the three, Klopp’s WTF moment on the heels of Liverpool’s 4-nada win over Barcelona in Champions League play was my favorite:

Klopp: “You can look at this game in different ways. You can look at it as a manager and say, ‘Okay, we could have done this or that better,’ or you can look at it as a fan and say, ‘What the fuck was that?’”

Interviewer: “We apologize for the language there.”

Klopp: “I thought in America it’s okay.”

Here’s a boffo idea: Let’s say we name the shinny freeze at the St. James Civic Centre Complex in honor of Ab McDonald, first to wear the ‘C’ with les Jets. Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame president Don Kuryk, Teddy Foreman and city councillor Scott Gillingham are leading the push to do that very thing, and if old friend Teddy F. is behind it I say the mucky-mucks who make those decisions ought to be on board as well. Ab was a salt-of-the-earth guy, and the Ab McDonald Memorial Arena sounds spot-on.

Ricky Ray

Not spot-on is Matt Dunigan. In terms of quality quarterbacking in Canadian Football League history, the former gunslinger and present-day TSN gab guy insists that now-retired Toronto Argonauts QB Ricky Ray belongs “at the top” of the all-time greatest list. Matty knows quarterbacks, but I’m afraid he’s off the mark. You start with Warren Moon and Doug Flutie, then fit Ray in somewhere after that. And, just for the record, I’ve been watching CFL QBs since Jim Van Pelt and Ken Ploen were playing catch with Ernie Pitts and Farrell Funston. In other words, before Dunigan ran a bootleg out of his mama’s womb.

This is rich. Columnist Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun harrumphs in a tweet: “A Hall of Famer like Ricky Ray shouldn’t be announcing his retirement on a conference call. He deserves to go out with more pageantry for all he’s accomplished and meant to people.” So where did Simmons’ own paper play the Ray retirement story? They buried it on Pages 18-19 of the sports section, behind everything but the cricket scores and monster truck standings. Pot, meet kettle.

Apparently, Simmons possesses a very rare skill: He can type, wave pom-poms, and grovel at the same time. We know this because Simmons has penned a “heartfelt” fan boy letter to Kawhi Leonard, begging him to lock in longterm with the Toronto Raptors: “I’m writing this with the hope you’ll consider remaining with the Raptors after this season, making Toronto your basketball home—for you, for the city, for the basketball team, for Canada.” Oh my. Yo! Steve-o! Is there a Kawhi poster on your bedroom wall? You wear Raptors jammies to bed? I mean, I can’t recall ever reading such insipid, fan-boy tripe from a lead columnist at a major daily.

The Ice Garden website tells us there’s good news for women’s hockey: Online interest in distaff shinny has never been higher. Alas, there’s also bad news: It seems people just like looking at train wrecks. That is to say, folks and mainstream media are paying attention only due to the collapse of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and a proposed boycott of the 2019-20 National Women’s Hockey League season. If not for the product going completely off the rails, interest would still be meh with gusts up to completely ignored.

Here’s a woman Sports Illustrated couldn’t ignore—Megan Rapinoe, longtime member of the U.S. National women’s soccer side. You can debate the merits of the SI Swimsuit Edition all you like, but Megan’s inclusion in this year’s scantily clad issue is a landmark moment for the LGBT collective. She’s the first out lesbian to be featured, so I guess we can say gay female athletes finally have some skin in the game.

On the subject of busting down barriers, bravo and a tip of the bonnet to Brittney Langlais, the first female to play with the boys in the Manitoba Junior Baseball League. The MJBL has been around for 43 years, so you know that Brittney is some kind of special lady, and Jason Bell has the skinny on the Interlake Blue Jays hurler in the Drab Slab.

If you’re looking to put some giddyup in your life, you can’t go wrong with Assiniboia Downs. The ponies start running on the western flank of River City this very day, and it brings back memories of some very enjoyable summer afternoons and evenings thanks to people like Sharon Gulyas and Darren Dunn. Both Sharon and Darren are Downs lifers—she started in 1978, him in ’82—and it’s nice to know they’re still around to make a day at the racetrack a pleasant experience.

And, finally, I saw a promo for The X-Files the other day, and it occurred to me that after all these years I still don’t know which one is Scully and which one is Mulder.

Giving thanks on Turkey Day in Canada

Turkey Day in Canada seems like the appropriate time to talk about gobblers in sports, but I’m going to give thanks on Thanksgiving Day instead…

Jennifer Jones

Thanks to curling and curlers. Real people. Regular working stiffs who just happen to have better draw weight than the rest of us. Easily the most pleasant, most obliging athletes to cover.

Thanks to Jennifer Jones. Give or take Jeff Stoughton, Dugie, Kerry Burtnyk and Vic Peters, she’s the best curler ever produced in Manitoba. I know all about the nasty Cathy Overton-Clapham business, but it’s one of those things people should have let go of years ago. I don’t understand why Jones hasn’t felt universal love from the rabble. She’s always struck me as a lovely young woman.

Thanks to the Canadian Football League. I was born and raised on the Prairies and weaned on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of Kenny Ploen, the Lincoln Locomotive, Zazu Pitts, Choo Choo Shepard, Kid Dynamite and Tricky Dick Thornton. So I care.

Thanks to the Bombers. See above.

Thanks to the Winnipeg Jets. I no longer reside in Good Ol’ Hometown, but I know how long and harsh the winters can be. (I believe I still have some frost bite from the winter of 1998-99.) The Jets can’t change that, but they do provide locals with a delightful diversion while waiting for the deep freeze to disappear. And, for transplanted Peggers like myself in Canucks country, they’ve become a source of pride.

Thanks to newspapers. I can’t recall the last time I actually held some fish wrap in my wrinkled hands, because I get my daily dose of the rag trade on the Internet. I unfailingly call up the two River City sheets in the small hours each morning and (usually) enjoy the scribblings of the boys on the beats at both the Winnipeg Free Press and Winnipeg Sun. I don’t always agree with what’s written, how it’s written, or how it’s displayed, but I’m grateful that Paul Friesen, Ted Wyman, Ken Wiebe, Jeff Hamilton, Mike McIntyre, Jason Bell, Mike Sawatzky et al are there to detail the goings-on in the toy department.

Thanks to the Athletic. A digital sports section, it’s become a gathering place for some very good scribes who either chose, or were obliged, to leave mainstream jock journalism. That includes my favorite football writer, Kirk Penton. (If only they’d hire more people to join Kirk on the CFL beat.)

Thanks to the Republic of Tranna. Yes, I’m grateful for big, bad TO. The (so-called) 6ix unites us out here in the colonies. Oh, there are a few misguided dissidents who actually root, root, root for the Maple Leafs, Blue Jays, Argonauts, Raptors and Tranna FC, but mostly The ROT outfits provide us with a laugh track. And it’s always good to laugh.

Black-and-white proof that the Maple Leafs have won the Stanley Cup.

Thanks to the ROT media. Such an annoying mob. Always mentioning the Leafs and Stanley Cup in the same sentence. Totally delusional. But, again, I wouldn’t have it any other way, because they provide more fodder for rude and/or smug laughter. (I’ve actually seen les Leafs win the Stanley Cup. Four times, in fact. But I was 16 years old the last time they did it and I’m guessing I’ll be ashes in a urn before it happens again.)

Thanks to TSN and Sportsnet. Some of the natterbugs drive me bonkers, most notably the gab guys on TSN (yes, I’m looking at you Rod Black and Glen Suitor). Their slobbering over TSN’s favorite lousy quarterback, Johnny Manziel, is embarrassing and makes the viewing experience painful. But, hey, thanks also to the guy who invented the mute button on the remote, right? The point is, our two sports networks usually deliver the goods. If there’s something worth watching, chances are one of them is there.

Thanks to women in sports media. It’s a tough gig. Much tougher when you’re seen as nothing more than a Sideline Barbie. I’d like to see more female bylines and hear more female voices, but as long as the old boys’ network exists in print and on the air, it continues to be an agonizingly slow process.

Thanks to sports blogs and bloggers. Got something to get off your chest? No need to write a letter to the editor that gets slashed down to 100 words. Just create your own blog (guilty as charged). Or join a blog site like Arctic Ice Hockey, Winnipeg Hockey Talk, or HockeyBuzz. The writing on sports blogs is often more pointed and honest than what you’ll read in the mainstream.

And, finally, thanks to everyone who visits this silly blog. I’ll try to get better. I promise.