About Matt Nichols still the man for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers…a battle for first place on Oct. 26?…adios Duron Carter…when is a concussion not a concussion?…CFL power rankings…headline hunting QBs…beer and Dodgers baseball…hockey in August…Tiger wows ’em…Daniel Nestor’s “window dressing”…and other things on my mind

Two soft-boiled eggs on whole wheat toast and some weekend leftovers for a Monday morning breakfast

Matt Nichols, still No. 1.

It has come to my attention that some among the rabble are less than enthusiastic about the work of Matt Nichols.

A pocket of people, in fact, were calling for Nichols’ removal on Friday night at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry, even though he had the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in front of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, 19-7, when the large lads retreated to their changing rooms for mid-match down time.

To which I can only say: Have you lost your flipping minds?

I mean, sure, Nichols was off his game when tossing the long ball. If misses were kisses he’d have been covered in hickies. But take him out? You don’t want to go there. All Nichols has done for Winnipeg FC is win (27-15). If not for the objectionable and curious decision-making of his head coach, Mike O’Shea, in the past two Novembers there’d likely be a playoff victory or two on his resume.

Ask yourself this: What Canadian Football League quarterback would you rather have ahead of Nichols? If you say Mike Reilly or Bo Levi Mitchell, I’ll agree. If you say anyone else, I’ll be inclined to give you an argument.

So, unless Nichols is hobbled and sent to the repair shop, let’s have no more talk of his ouster.

First the bad news: The head count at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry is down 6,140 through four home dates. Now the good news: Still on the Winnipeg FC calendar are visits from the Saskatchewan Roughriders (2) and Calgary Stampeders (1). In an ideal world, which is to say if the pointy ball bounces in the Bombers box-office favor, the Oct. 26 skirmish vs. the Stamps would be an argument over top spot in the West Division. Can you say sellout, kids?

The surprise is not that the Roughriders shed themselves of multi-purpose pain in the ass Duron Carter the other day, the surprise is that he lasted so long with Gang Green.

Apparently, CFL concussion protocol doesn’t apply to quarterbacks named Johnny Manziel. He was knocked loopy in Montreal Alouettes’ loss to the Ottawa RedBlacks, yet permitted to carry on without missing a beat. Scary stuff.

Here are this week’s CFL power rankings…

1. Calgary (7-0): Didn’t play last week. Didn’t matter.
2. Edmonton (5-3): Three wins vs. West outfits.
3. Winnipeg (5-3): Still feasting on the East.
4. Saskatchewan (3-4): What’s next from mad scientist Chris Jones?
5. Ottawa (5-3): They were tooth and toenail to beat a horrible Montreal team. Not impressed.
6. Hamilton (3-5): Hard team to figure out.
7. B.C. (3-4): Dudes are tough at home.
8. Toronto (2-5): Didn’t play. Nobody noticed.
9. Montreal (1-7): Getting worse in either official language.

Quick now! Name the only starting quarterback who failed to toss a touchdown pass in the CFL last week. I’ll give you a hint—he’s TSN’s favorite lousy QB. That’s right, Johnny Manziel.

Now, who among the six starters flung the football for the fewest number of yards? Right again, Johnny Rotten.

Finally, who among the starting six is 0-for-the-CFL? Yup, heeeere’s Johnny!

So why is it that his name still dominates headlines in mainstream media and on the Internet?

News snoops and talking heads continue to fawn over Manziel like Republicans and Donald Trump, regardless how dreadful or ordinary his work might be. Most notable among the groupies is, of course, the ever-drooling mob in the Cult of Johnny, otherwise known as TSN, but they aren’t alone. The morning after Manziel and the Alouettes were paddywhacked by the RedBlacks, it was Johnny this and Johnny that clear across the www universe.

I swear, the last Johnny to get this kind of attention was a guy called Appleseed. Difference is, he actually accomplished something worth writing about.

I should point out that a couple other QBs also saw their names in headlines. But, whereas Johnny Rotten was described as “better” and “improved” in defeat, Matt Nichols “struggled” in victory. Mike Reilly, meanwhile, was “crap,” and that will never be mistaken for a compliment.

Here’s what went down in CFL quarterbacking last week, including the newest advance stat, Name in Headlines…

Manziel delivered a most curious sound bite after his second loss in two starts as the Larks QB: “It’s not about wins and losses right now.” It isn’t? Since when? Vince Lombardi must be spinning like a lathe in his grave.

This just in: If a trip to Los Angeles to watch the Dodgers in on your agenda, you no longer will be required to trudge up and down the stairs to concession stands for your beer. That’s right, patrons at Dodger Stadium now can order their brown pop from the comfort of their seats behind home plate, down the lines or in the bleachers. And I think that’s only fair. After all, Dodger fans like myself have been crying in our beer for 30 years, so why should we have to get up to get it?

I’d have something to say about the Hlinka-Gretzky teenage tournament that just concluded in Edmonton, but—how do I put this without sounding unCanadian?—the hockey thing just doesn’t work for me in the dog days of August. I realize we live on Planet Puckhead and some folks need their shinny fix 12 months of the year, but shouldn’t we all just all go to the beach? Or, in my case, the ocean?

I have just one thing to say about Tiger Woods and the mob that followed him in the final round of the PGA Championship on Sunday: Wow. Just wow.

Question for anyone who follows men’s tennis: If Denis Shapovalov weren’t one of us, which is to say Canadian, would we like him or would we look at him as a cocky kid who needs to be brought down a peg or two?

Noted hockey scribe Eric Duhatschek was on the tennis beat for The Athletic during the Rogers Cup in the Republic of Tranna, and he wrote that Shapovalov and Greek teen Stefanos Tsitsipas are “currently taking men’s tennis by storm.” Really?

Career titles on ATP World Tour: Tsitsipas 0, Shapovalov 0.
Career finals on ATP World Tour: Tsitsipas 2, Shapovalov 0.
Won/lost 2018: Tsitsipas 30-19, Shapovalov 23-19.

If that’s a storm, I’m Serena Williams’ live-in nanny.

Daniel Nestor

Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star writes that tennis is “primarily a game of singles—the rest is window-dressing and filler.” That’s highly insulting if your name is Daniel Nestor, the most accomplished player ever produced in the True North. Nestor has made a career out of doubles tennis, on numerous occasions reaching world No. 1 status. His CV includes eight Grand Slam men’s titles, 91 tournaments titles, four Grand Slam mixed titles, one Olympic gold trinket, and career earnings of $12,821,626. If that’s window dressing, the window is the size of the Pacific Ocean.

I note that Donald Trump was back riding his hobby horse last week, hoo-rawing about National Football League players who take a knee or raise a fist during the national anthem. “Find another way to protest,” he tweeted. I say they should make a deal with the deal-maker: They’ll find another way to protest if he finds another way to pay for his wall.

Here’s the latest from Roberto Osuna, the Houston Astros relief pitcher who awaits his day in court on a charge of beating up a woman: “It’s easy to forget about the stuff that’s going on off the field.” That is such a wince-inducing, insensitive comment. He says it’s easy for him to forget “stuff” like roughing up a woman, but I doubt his victim has forgotten. I also doubt I’m alone when I say I hope karma bites the Astros in the butt during the Major League Baseball post-season. Their blind eye toward domestic violence and disrespect for women is appalling.

So, I’m reading Willie Nelson’s biography, My Life It’s a Long Story, and he mentions guys like Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell among those who inspired him and belong on the Mount Rushmore of country music. That got me thinking about the jocks who grabbed my attention as a sprig in the 1950s and never let go; athletes who form the very bedrock of a lifetime watching sports and 48 years of writing about it. After about 30 seconds of deliberation, I got out the hammer and chisel and went to work on my personal Mount Jock—Sandy Koufax, Floyd Patterson, Wilma Rudolph and Arnold Palmer. If not for those four, I likely would have done something radical. Like pick up a guitar and write and sing hurtin’ songs that wouldn’t have been anywhere near as good as Willie’s.

Stan Mikita

And, finally, if I were to create my own Mount Rushmore of hockey, guaranteed Stan Mikita would be included. I was in my mid-to-late teens when Stosh was at his absolute best with the Chicago Blackhawks, and I marveled at the things he could do with the puck. I had a Stan Mikita helmet and, later, a Blackhawks jersey No. 21. The helmet and sweater are gone and, sadly, so is NHL legend Mikita, a victim of Lewy body dementia at age 78. I never met him, but often wished I had.

Bobby Hull: Spousal abuse or not, they’ll still line up for his autograph

I believe I am on the side of the angels when I suggest men should not beat up women or children. Ever. I also believe most level-thinking people would agree.

What, then, are we to make of the legacy of Robert Marvin Hull vis-a-vis hockey in River City?

Ben Hatskin is, of course, the father of professional shinny in Good, Ol’ Hometown and should forever be recognized as such. It was his vision that delivered the World Hockey Association to Winnipeg and, more significant, it was Benny’s pie-in-the-sky dreaming and bulldog tenacity that brought us Hull in 1972.

That was a favorable development then. It remains so today.

Had Hatskin not convinced the game’s glam guy to accept a $2.75 million bribe and defect from the Chicago Blackhawks and the National Hockey League, the Pegtown sporting landscape would be noticably more barren, figuratively and literally. There would have been no Winnipeg Jets/NHL 1.0.There would be no Jets 2.0. This isn’t a “What came first, the chicken or the egg?” thing. We know what came first: Hatskin and the Jets/WHA. Then Bobby Hull. Then the NHL. Then Mark Chipman and the Manitoba Moose. Then the Little Hockey House on the Prairie. Then the Jets/NHL 2.0.

Thus, the three most noteworthy and influential figures in local lore are Ben Hatskin, Bobby Hull and Mark Chipman.

One of the three is recognized as a man who hits women. So, with the knowledge that Hull whacked his wife, Joanne, on the head with the steel heel of her own shoe and bloodied her, and because she was granted a divorce on the grounds of physical cruelty, mental cruelty and adultery, do we erase his accomplishments while he wore No. 9 in Jets linen? No. We cannot.

Hull still signed that $1 million WHA contract and agreed to accept an additional $1.75 million to coach and play for the Jets, a development which forever shifted the salary structure in not just hockey, but all major professional sports in North America. He still scored all those goals. He still made magic with Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson. He still brought the first two of three WHA titles to Pegtown.

These realities are stored in memories. For some, they cannot be jarred loose.

I have made no secret of my dislike for Bobby Hull. I am repulsed by his behaviour. He is a cad of high rank. Yet I can separate the man from the hockey player. Just as I can so many other athletes who have led lives of imperfection and are guilty of being human beings.

I mean, retreat to Babe Ruth’s days. The great Bambino bounced from brothel to bar to brothel to bar. Yet he continued to swat home runs at a then-unparalleled pace. The game went on.

Ty Cobb was a nasty bit of business given to fits of anger and fisticuffs. He whacked a hotel elevator operator for being “uppity.” He slashed a security guard with a knife. He choked a woman. He thumped a disabled fan. He fought on the streets. Yet he continued to collect base knocks and steal sacks. The game went on.

Move ahead to the 1950s. In May of ’57, a group of New York Yankees gathered to celebrate Billy Martin’s 29th birthday at the Copacabana at 10 East 60th St. in Gotham. Martin, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Hank Bauer, Whitey Ford and Johnny Kucks engaged in a brawl with a bunch of bowlers that included Edwin Jones, who was decked by Bauer. The party-boy Yankees were required to appear before a grand jury. Yet they continued to put on their pinstripes and won the American League pennant, before bowing to the Milwaukee Braves in the World Series. The game went on.

You want a bad ass? Try former heavyweight boxing champion Sonny Liston.

After doing a two-year stretch in the brig for armed robbery and assaulting a police officer, ex-con Liston fought for a group linked to St. Louis underworld bad boy John Vitale. His contract was later taken over by mobsters Frankie Carbo and Blinky Palermo. Liston took the title from Floyd Patterson with a first-round knockout at Comiskey Park in Chicago on Sept. 25, 1962, and it was of little significance that the heavyweight champion of the world was a convicted felon run by the Mafia, who really “whacked” people. The game went on.

Muhammad Ali, long admired worldwide, was a serial philanderer who arrived in the Phillipines for the final fight in his Joe Frazier trilogy with his mistress in tow and his wife at home. He refused induction into the U.S. military, was convicted of draft evasion, drummed out of boxing, then returned three and a half years later to eventually regain his heavyweight crown. The game went on.

Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich of the Yankees held separate press conferences on March 4, 1973, to announce they had swapped wives, children, pets and homes. Combined, they won nine games while wearing N.Y. pinstripes that year. The game went on.

In January of 1984, Craig MacTavish of the Boston Bruins got behind the wheel of his car. He was impaired. He killed a 26-year-old woman and was convicted of vehicular homicide. After spending a year behind bars, he renewed his NHL career with the Edmonton Oilers, and today is the team general manager. The game went on.

This is a tip-of-the-iceberg sampling of athlete misconduct from times that are often romanticized as kinder, more gentle, innocent. Yet the music never died.

If people were truly affronted and truly cared about the egregious trespasses of professional athletes, they would protest by refusing to purchase game tickets. They wouldn’t watch on TV or online. But they don’t protest, do they? The National Football League flourishes regardless how many players’ names surface on police blotters or on a court docket. Fist-fighter Floyd Mayweather Jr. continues to earn $30 million paydays regardless how many women he beats up. Convicted rapist Mike Tyson continues to earn a living simply for being Mike Tyson.

And so it is with Bobby Hull. He will be judged both as a hockey player and as a man, and I believe it’s safe to say that he will grade significantly higher for his achievements on a frozen sheet of water than for what he did behind the closed doors of his home.

That’s why they’ll line up for Hull’s signature the next time he surfaces in River City for an autograph session…and the queue will include women.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg hockey and the Jets for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of hockey knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old, comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she doesn’t know when to quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for literary contributions to the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C.