Let’s talk about the aging of the Winnipeg Jets…to Tokyo in denim…Aaron Rodgers’ sticky notes…MLB grappling with lack of sizzle…old friend Big Jim takes a paddywhacking…Canadian Football Hall of Fame gets it right…what about Tricky Dick Thornton?…nightmare on TSN…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and still no word on the if and when of a CFL season, but here’s something else that’s real iffy…

Stop me if you’ve heard this before:

“I believe we’re close to having a team that has a chance to challenge for the Stanley Cup, and I’m really looking forward to that…we’re a lot closer than some people will give us credit for…I look forward to these next five years.”

Sound familiar? It should.

Blake Wheeler said much the same as Adam Lowry scant seconds after scratching his John Hancock on a six-year contract with the Winnipeg Jets.

Blake Wheeler

“I believe in people like (owner) Mark Chipman and Chevy, what everyone stands for and especially in my teammates. I have believed since I got here that we have what it takes to get to the next level, so this is just a part of that process. I truly believe that great things are in store for this group,” the then-future captain told news snoops.

Wheels was 26 at the time. There will be 35 candles on his birthday cake in August.

Lend an ear to Rink Rat Scheifele who, upon agreeing to an eight-year contract in 2016, expressed a robust belief in “the organization, in the players on the team, in the future prospects.”

The Rink Rat was 23. He’s now 28.

Connor Hellebuyck, the Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender, locked in for six years and said, “The tools are in this locker room to be a championship team. I love it here and I want to be here and I really believe this team has what it takes.”

Hellebuyck was 25. He turns 28 next month.

Adam Lowry

And now we have another long-hauler, Lowry, parroting his teammates’ faith in a process that began in 2011 and has delivered the grand sum of two post-season series victories, both in the spring of 2018.

Lowry is 28. The freshly minted contract he signed on Friday will take him to 33.

So what’s my point? Just this: Unless your name is Evander Kane, Jacob Trouba, Dustin Byfuglien, Patrik Laine or Jack Roslovic, the Jets have all gulped down the Kool-Aid in a cultish-like obedience. They believe. And that’s the reason what went down at last week’s National Hockey League shop-and-swap deadline rankles.

We know Kevin Cheveldayoff kicked some tires on top-four defencemen, and we know the sticker price sent the Jets general manager running like a guy trying to stay two steps ahead of a loan shark.

We can assume his contemporaries were eager to fleece him and take Ville Heinola, Cole Perfetti and other shiny objects off his hands in exchange for their lame, halting and hard of seeing, but that was never going to happen because Chevy places premium value on his young studs. You might have a better chance of prying his bride, Janet, and their two kids away from him.

Chevy

So it was no sale. Chevy allowed the NHL trade window to close with a whimper, and the Jets are no closer to the Stanley Cup today than a week ago, unless you consider a bottom-end, plug-in blueliner (hello, Jordie Benn) a shiny object.

Oddly enough, many among the rabble, also some news snoops, have given Chevy a tip of the chapeau and a slap on the back for his do-little day, because he “protected assets,” meaning he clung to young wannabes Heinola, Perfetti and others like gum to the bottom of a shoe.

Well let me tell you something about assets: They don’t stay forever young.

Chevy is protecting the future when most of the parts are in place for today’s Jets team. Add the right top-four defender and we might be talking about a parade route. But the Jets GM chose to stand still, even as time refuses to stand still for his significant core workers.

Wheeler’s prime years have been wasted. Scheifele and Hellebuyck are into prime time. Same with Lowry, Andrew Copp and Dylan DeMelo. And don’t look now, but Josh Morrissey is 26.

Rink Rat Scheifele

Which begs this question: If the Jets GM was unwilling to go all-in now, when?

This was the time for derring-do, an opportunity for Chevy to orchestrate what could have become his signature moment, lifting the Jets to that “next level” Wheeler spoke of all those years ago.

Well, here’s something else the captain said, when he re-upped in September 2018: “It kind of looks like that (Stanley Cup) window is opening up.”

Apparently Chevy missed the memo.

I don’t know if the GM will reflect on this crusade five years from now and view it as the one that got away, but Blake Wheeler might. Rink Rat Scheifele, Connor Hellebuyck and others like Lowry who’ve committed long term might, as well.

Chevy should be kicking himself. Right in the assets.

Something Bryan Little said when the Jets’ playoff aspirations had been dashed in March 2017 is haunting: “It’s another year of your career that you can’t get back. Some of the best players in this room are the youngest. There’s definitely a bright future, but some guys are older and want to do something right now. That’s the thinking going into next year.” Little was 29. He’s now 33, wounded beyond repair, and there is no next year. Not for him. But why must it always be “next year” for Scheifele, Hellebuyck, Lowry et al?

As I was saying last week, I don’t buy into the Jack Campbell hype that news snoops in the Republic of Tranna have been spreading like thick, gooey peanut butter. He’s been a career backup goaltender for a reason, and Maple Leafs loyalists are beginning to see why. For all their talent, the Leafs are vulnerable in the blue paint, whereas Hellebuyck gives the Jets the best puck stopping in the Hoser Division (yes, including Carey Price). And we all know what that means when the boys begin to play for keeps, which is the very reason Chevy shouldn’t have dithered last week.

I don’t know about you, but I’m digging the threads our Canadian athletes will be wearing for the closing ceremonies at the Tokyo Olympics this summer, if there is a Tokyo Olympics, that is. Ya, sure, you can say the denim jacket looks like a teenage graffiti artist had a moment of madness, but I look at it more as a stroke of genius. There’s a youth-cool vibe to the kit, something you might wear on a pub crawl, or wherever it is that our young people go these days. It’s totally boffo compared to the get-ups that noted needle-and-thread guy Ralph Lauren designed for our American friends. I can’t tell if he’s dressed the U.S. team for the next space shuttle mission or an expedition to the South Pole.

I’ll take nose-pickers for $2,000, Alex. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has completed his gig as guest host on Jeopardy!, and he let us in on a little secret about the sticky notes he used to aid his performance. One of them read: “Don’t pick your butt/nose.” Seriously. He needs a sticky note to remind himself not to pick his nose on camera? And the Packers trust Rodgers to call audibles in the red zone?

Curt, Terry, Howie, Michael and Jimmy.

Apparently, producers of Fox NFL Sunday were so impressed with Rodgers’ work on Jeopardy! that they plan to equip Terry Bradshaw with sticky notes to improve his work:
1. “Remember, this ain’t Hee Haw.”
2. “Powder shiny head during every commercial break.”
3. “Do not mention gap in Michael’s teeth.”
4. “Do not laugh at Howie’s 1950s haircut because at least he has hair.”
5. “Resist all urges to muss up Jimmy’s hair.”
6. “Do not tell Rob Riggle he isn’t as funny as Frank Caliendo.”
7. “Remember, guy sitting beside you is Curt, not James.”
8. “Jay Glazer is human, he just looks like a garden gnome.”
9. “Mention four Super Bowl rings whenever Jimmy mentions two Super Bowl rings.”
10. “When in doubt, always refer to sticky note No. 1.”

Favorite headline of the week was delivered by the New York Post: “How Yankees can address their crappiness.” Anything that combines New York Yankees and “crappiness” is right by me, although I’m sure George Steinbrenner’s son Hal wouldn’t agree.

If your product needs to add some sizzle and pizzazz, who you gonna call? Well, Major League Baseball has called Brian Stedman, now responsible for strategy and development. That would be the same Brian Stedman who, for the past seven years, carried the sizzle-and-pizzazz portfolio for Vince McMahon’s cast of characters in World Wrestling Entertainment. That will be quite an adjustment for Stedman. I mean, the play actors in wrestling are allowed to hit each other with everything including the kitchen sink, but the Yankees can’t hit anything.

Old friend Big Jim Bender took a bit of a paddywhacking on Twitter last week, after he made a flippant remark about the Brendan Bottcher foursome failing to win a trinket at the world curling championship but securing an Olympic berth for Canada. “Was the very least they could do,” Big Jim wrote. The Pebble People pounced. Darren Moulding, third on the Bottcher team, called the former Winnipeg Sun scribe “a joke,” adding, “You’re a stain on our country, not me.” Harsh. Olympian and TSN talking head Cheryl Bernard weighed in, describing Bender’s comment as “crap.” Oh my. Who knew the delightful Cheryl could be so undelightful? Anyway, not that he plans to call me to the stand as a character witness, but let the record show that Big Jim is a friend of curler’s everywhere. He’s spent more time in chilly two-sheeters than most people I know, so, as Strother Martin told Cool Hand Luke, “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”

Rachel Homan

Speaking of Pebble People, Rachel Homan played in the Scotties Tournament of Hearts title match on the final day of February while eight months pregnant. She then went home to bring daughter Bowyn into the world, and now the former Canadian/world champ has returned to the fray, skipping her team in the Humpty’s Champions Cup just three weeks after giving birth. Meanwhile, Kawhi Leonard won’t be available to the L.A. Clippers today because he needs a rest—after sitting the last four games. I swear, if men could get pregnant and give birth, there would be no male sports.

Nobody asked me, but I’d say the selection committee for the Canadian Football Hall of Fame got it right when they chose Marv Levy, Nik Lewis, Will Johnson, Mike Walker, Orlondo Steinauer, Don Wilson and Doug Mitchell as this year’s inductees. These things are always ripe for debate, of course, and we usually hear some squawking whenever a sports body salutes the best of the best, but I don’t hear any arguments about the class of 2021, nor should there be.

And that’s not to ignore broadcasters Bernie Pascall and Bob Hooper, who got the nod from the Football Reporters of Canada and will go into the CFHF media wing. Hooper was a long-time Hamilton Tabbies play-by-play voice, and Pascall’s career chatting about Rouge Football on radio and TV spans decades. Unfortunately, Bob’s not around to enjoy the honor, but Bernie’s still with us, so he has something fresh to talk about with the neighbors on beautiful Vancouver Island.

Ashley Prest

The CFHF media wing is the ultimate boys’ club. By my scorecard, there are now 101 members, all men. Yup, 101-0. I realize there haven’t been a lot of women on the beat, but in my 19 years covering the Canadian Football League in three cities (Winnipeg, Calgary, Republic of Tranna), I can recall sharing a press box at Grey Cup games with Ashley Prest of the Drab Slab and Joanne Ireland of the Edmonton Journal. Ashley also knew her way around the University of Manitoba campus to cover coach Brian Dobie’s Bisons, and there might be some high school grid in her resumé, too, because that’s what most of us did back in the day. We started at the bottom and worked our way up. So it seems to me that the boys on the beat should find room for trailblazers like Ashley or Joanne.

Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna has made his annual plea for Dick Thornton’s induction to the CFHF, and I can’t disagree with Sy. Tricky Dick certainly has the bona fides, including two Grey Cup victories with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and multiple all-star salutes, and he also happens to be one of the more colorful characters in CFL lore. Legendary Bombers coach Bud Grant once said this of his defensive back/wannabe quarterback/kick returner/kicker: “When most players arrive in a new town, the first thing they do is phone a girl. When Dick Thornton arrives, he phones a sports writer.”

Tricky Dick had an ego the size of a football field, and here’s how the great columnist Jack Matheson once described him in the Winnipeg Tribune: “The writers and broadcasters treat No. 14 with considerable respect because he’s hot copy, in or out of uniform. His eccentricities are always guaranteed to liven a dull scene and for conversation Thornton holds all records for Blue Bombers of the modern era. The conversation always seems to revolve around Dick Thornton, but he has a magnetism and I’ve never seen anybody walk away from Dick Thornton when his mouth was open.” Another time, Matty wrote this of Thornton: “An incurable extrovert who played harder with his larynx than his limbs.”

Final note on Dick Thornton: The Bombers traded him to the Toronto Argos the same day the Maple Leafs cleared the track and sent Eddie Shack to the Boston Bruins. I guess the Republic of Tranna just wasn’t big enough for two clown acts.

Gino Button and James McKenzie, or is it Craig Reda and Bob Duthie? Either way, it’s scary, kids.

Still getting creepy vibes from those face mashups TSN featured on its NHL trade deadline coverage. It’s clever work by Matty Go Sens, but morphing the faces of Gino Reda and Craig Button into one is the kind of stuff that will keep kids awake at night. Ditto the James Duthie/Bob McKenzie blending. I haven’t been so frightened since Alfred Hitchcock had all those nasty birds attack Tippi Hedren.

This from Steve Simmons: “The top four goaltenders in all-time wins are Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy, Roberto Luongo and now Marc-Andre Fleury. All of them Quebecois. And there’s not a single Quebec goalie of consequence (apologies to Jonathan Bernier) playing in today’s NHL.” Hmmm. Last time I checked, Marc-Andre Fleury was still a Quebecois and leading the NHL in shutouts.

Patrick Marleau will lace ’em up for his 1,768th NHL skirmish on Monday night, moving past Gordie Howe for most games played. It’s a terrific achievement. Worth noting, however, are their birth certificates. Howe was 52 when he finally shut down, Marleau is 41. And, at 52, Howe was a significant contributor for the Hartford Whalers, scoring 15 goals and 41 points in 80 games, plus another two points in three playoff jousts. Marleau is 4-4-8 in what looks to be another lost season for the San Jose Sharks.

And, finally, on the subject of legendary performers, I discovered a DVD of Tony Bennett: An American Classic at a local video story the other day, and I snapped it up immediately. Fan-freaking-tastic. Tony’s duets with Barbra Streisand and our Canadian songbird k.d. lang brought on the water works (sheer brilliance renders me very emotional), and there was only one sour note struck—the November 2006 TV special was far too short, just 42 minutes. I wanted at least an hour more.

Let’s talk about Bell’s bloodletting…Super thoughts and counting couch potatoes…girl talk in the board room…losing and boozing with Johnny Rotten…Coach Potty Mouth…the NHL’s second best Orr…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and the ground where I live is covered in a foreign fluffy, white substance. It bears a remarkable resemblance to snow, which I didn’t sign up for when I relocated to Victoria 21 years ago…

I know what it’s like to stir from slumber and discover you don’t have a job. Without warning. Not even a hint.

One night you’re helping put together the Winnipeg Tribune sports section, editing copy and writing headlines, and the next morning you’re informed that some suits in the Republic of Tranna have stopped the presses. Permanently.

Initially, you’re in denial. Naw. Can’t be. Surely the news reader on the radio got it wrong. It was the Ottawa Journal that went belly up, not the Trib.

So you dash downtown, expecting it to be business as usual once you step off an elevator and stroll into the fifth-floor newsroom. Then you gaze upon a collection of long faces and you see the front page headline—“Tribune ceases publication.” It’s true. After 11 years working your way from the business office to editorial copy runner to the Winnipeg Jets beat, you realize there’s no tomorrow. At least not the tomorrow you had mapped out.

Suddenly you’re searching for another job, at another newspaper, in another town. That wasn’t part of the plan. Resumé? Who needed a resumé? You were meant to retire at the Trib.

Friends and colleagues assure you that “a door shall swing open,” yet you can only think of the one that closed.

You’re still young, just 29, but you don’t share the level of confidence that others have in your ability. There’s a family to feed, a mortgage and bills to pay. The severance package is generous, but not sustaining over the long haul. The uncertainty and anxiety are gripping, if not crippling.

So, yes, I can relate to those caught up in the recent bloodletting at Bell Media.

More than 200 people are out of work, wondering what comes next after the “let’s talk” communications giant ransacked its radio and TV newsrooms hither and yon, a plundering that included pulling the plug on all-gab sports radio TSN 1290 in Good Ol’ Hometown and jock-speak stations in Vancouver and Hamilton.

Similar to us at the Trib on Aug. 27, 1980, the fatal blow was as ruthless as Charles Barkley barging his way to the front of the line at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Ol’ Lefty, Troy Westwood

Other than Troy Westwood, I don’t know any of the victims at TSN 1290, which is now CFRW and has gone to standup-comedy programming. (Quick question: How can we be sure that a comedian is standing up when it’s on radio?) No doubt some of the natterbugs will land another broadcasting gig. Others won’t be so fortunate, because it’s not as if radio stations are popping up like daisies in May.

Here’s the irony, though: What’s happened to them is among the very reasons they had a job squawking about sports.

Athletes, coaches and managers get fired. They go to the gallows every week, and their misfortune becomes fodder for the yackety-yack-yackers with 24 hours of air to fill.

Some see it coming, because they know the numbers or they know how to read a room.

Jeff Reinebold, for example, would have been a total doofus to believe a 6-26 record as head coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers was sufficient to keep him employed and playing Bob Marley tunes at practice.

Some dismissals come out of left field.

Dwane Casey was coach-of-the-year and the Tranna Jurassics set records for wins and points in 2018, but he was kicked to the curb because he had the bad manners to lose to LeBron James in the NBA playoff tournament.

Dustin Byfuglien

And it works both ways. Dustin Byfuglien quit the Jets. Jim Rutherford quit the Pittsburgh Penguins. Jim Brown quit the Cleveland Browns to make movies. Barry Sanders quit the Detroit Lions. Andrew Luck quit the Indianapolis Colts. Ken Dryden quit the Montreal Canadiens. Bjorn Borg quit tennis. Annika Sorenstam quit golf. Rocky Marciano quit boxing.

Professional sports is a cold, harsh business, and that’s the operative word: Business.

Sports media is a large part of that business, and the talking heads and scribes aren’t exempt from the same fates as the men and women they talk and write about.

We don’t like to see good people out of work, of course, and I agree that gab guys Westwood, Jim Toth, Rick Ralph, Darrin Bauming, Brandon Rewucki, Brian Munz, Kevin Olszewski and the Hustler, Andrew Paterson at TSN 1290, got a raw deal. As did the others.

Sadly, it’s the way of the jock journo jungle. They’re all just one Bay Street suit’s whim away from the unemployment line.

But, at the very least, the dearly departed deserved a heads-up. Good luck to them all.

Natasha Staniszewski

Insightful take on the Bell bloodletting from the talented Natasha Staniszewski, a casualty after close to 10 years of gracing our flatscreens: “When you get into this industry, you know you’re not getting into it for the job security,” the now-former TSN co-anchor told Sean Fitz-Gerald of The Athletic. “Media has never been safe. And throughout my whole career, there’s always been rumors of cuts here, or cuts there. You think that you should be prepared for it at all times. I will say last year, especially with COVID—when sports disappeared and there was no SportsCentre for a while—I felt that whole year was a little bit precarious. I kept telling myself, ‘Be ready: It could happen at any moment.’”

Here’s what I found myself wondering after the purge at TSN, TV division: How did the suits go about the business of picking and choosing those who stayed and those told to leave the building? I mean, I’m not sure I want to watch men’s soccer unless Kristian Jack is explaining the ins-and-outs to me, and why pull the plug on Staniszewski while Kayla Grey gets to squawk on?

Staying on the subject of blah, blah, blah, Yoshiro Mori is now former head of the Tokyo Olympic Games organizing group, because he couldn’t keep his lips zipped. Speaking at a recent gathering of the Japanese Olympic Committee, Mori suggested women talk too much: “On boards with a lot of women, the board meetings take so much time. Women have a strong sense of competition. If one person raises their hand, others probably think, I need to say something too. That’s why everyone speaks. You have to regulate speaking time to some extent. Or else we’ll never be able to finish.” He added that a woman’s perceived need to prattle on endlessly is “annoying.” Apparently Mori has never watched Terry Bradshaw on Fox NFL Sunday.

What was that sound we all heard during the fourth quarter of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 31-9 victory over Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV last Sunday? Oh, that’s right. Click! The couch potato count for the grass-grabber took a dip from a year ago, with 91.6 million watching on regular TV and 96.4 million when you include CBS’ other platforms. The 2020 number was 101.3 million. It’s not that 5 million folks found something better to do. It’s just that what a lot of people were saying in advance of the skirmish was true: Watching Tom Brady in another Super Bowl game was a real turnoff. Literally.

Boat boy Tom Brady

The only thing that surprised me about the Buccaneers championship boat parade was seeing Brady on one of the boats. I thought for sure he’d be walking on the water.

Hard to believe some are still debating Brady’s place among the greatest in history. I mean, the guy’s won the Super Bowl seven times. Jesus only walked on water once, and we still haven’t seen game film to confirm it actually happened.

Don’t count Lorraine Grohs among Brady’s legion of fans. She’s the daughter of Greg Grohs, the man who created and crafted the Lombardi Trophy, which the Bucs QB tossed from one boat to another during the parade. Lorraine says Brady “disgraced and disrespected” her pop’s handiwork, and she’s demanding a mea culpa. I’m thinking Brady will do what he does best—he’ll pass.

The NFL issued 4,000 fewer Super Bowl media credentials compared to last year. Breaking it down, that’s approximately 40,000 fewer dumb questions, 8,000 fewer free meals, 20,000 fewer free drinks, and 3,700 fewer poorly dressed men with ketchup stains on their shirts per day.

The cardboard Ozzy

Not all numbers were down. The NFL set a Super Bowl record for most cardboard cutouts, with 30,000 faux fans propped up at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. They went for $100 a pop, and now I hear the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has inquired about obtaining some for display. I call BS on that. I mean, I don’t know about you, but I say The Guess Who belong in the Rock Hall before a cardboard cutout of Ozzy Osbourne.

I understand why the NFL used faux fans, but Patrick Mahomes is demanding to know why Kansas City coach Andy Reid used cardboard cutouts instead of his regular offensive linemen.

I’m not saying Mahomes spent most of the game running for his life, but the Chiefs quarterback had more people chasing him than Dr. Richard Kimble.

Speaking of harassed quarterbacks, NFL/CFL/AAF washout Johnny Manziel says he has “zero interest, zero desire” to return to “serious” football. Great. Finally something we can agree on.

Johnny Manziel

Johnny Rotten is doing his thing down in Georgia these days, playing with something called the Zappers in something called the Fan Controlled Football League, and he basically summed up his pro career after a season-opening loss: “Win or lose, we booze.”

There’s a chain of eateries and watering holes in Pittsburgh called Primanti Bros. They specialize in sandwiches. The owners say if the Steelers sign J.J. Watt to join brothers Derek and T.J., they’ll change the sandwich shop name to Watt Bros. And Steelers fans will say it’s the best thing since sliced bread.

Coach Potty Mouth

For those of you scoring at home, I have Winnipeg Jets bench puppeteer Paul Maurice leading the field in salty talk this month, with one F-bomb, three horse shits and two pisses you offs in his natters with news snoops. That will never land Coach Potty Mouth a guest gig on Sesame Street, but it sure plays well when the audience is a gathering of (perceived) negative nabobs wielding notebooks and recording gadgets and panting for spicy sound bites.

On another scorecard, the name Paul Stastny has appeared on the tally sheet in just four of the Jets 14 skirmishes this National Hockey League crusade. He’s collected five of his eight points vs. the Ottawa Senators, a determined but over-matched outfit that’s managed three Ws in 16 assignments. That’s what $6.5 million buys the Jets? A guy who steals the 98-pound weakling’s lunch money then vanishes? Oh wait. I forgot. They brought Stastny back to keep Patrik Laine happy and for his post-season savvy. Well, Puck Finn now plays in a different country and time zone, and the jury’s still out on the Jets qualifying for Beard Season. Feel free to discuss among yourselves.

Francesco Aquilini

Vancouver Canucks bankroll Francesco Aquilini went on a Trump-like Twitter binge Saturday, ragging on those pesky West Coast news snoops and assuring the rabble that he has no intention of giving general manager Jim Benning and/or head coach Travis Green their walking papers. “When the media starts pouring gas on the fire, dealing in rumours and misinformation as if it’s fact, it’s time for me to speak up,” he harrumphed. He added that he’s “sticking to the path we’re on,” and he has “full confidence” in his braintrust. “I have no plans to make changes.” Which means changes are coming down in 3-2-1.

One final scorecard to contemplate: The Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association has dispatched a collection of its elite torch carriers to Florida for a second series of skirmishes vs. teenage boys from the United States Premier Hockey League. To date, it’s USPHL 6, PWHPA 3, with two games remaining.

Frank Orr

Jock journos hither and yon have spent the past few hours paying tribute to Frank Orr, who went to the great misty on Saturday at age 84. Frank was the second best Orr in the NHL during the 1960s and ’70s. He became the best Orr after Bobby retired. A legend among shinny scribes and a very funny man, five minutes spent in Frank’s company would leave you with a face aching from laughter. I seldom ran with the pack, preferring to plunk myself down in a blues or jazz joint and eat at greasy spoons, but I had occasion to break bread with Frank a few times. Without fail, his one-liners would have beer spewing from my nostrils. I’d like to tell you my favorite Frank Orr story, but I don’t use the same language as Paul Maurice, so I can’t. Notably, most of the hosannas he’s now receiving mention his mentorship and his fondness for fine dining, fine drink and the theatre as much as his scribblings in the Toronto Star. Frank was one of the good ones.

I note the New York Mets have invited former football guy Tim Tebow to spring training. Which means Tebow and I have something in common: Neither of us will be in the Amazins lineup this Major League Baseball season.

And, finally, it’s Valentine’s Day. Don’t let it be the only day of the year that you give your main squeeze a squeeze.

Let’s talk about Buck-a-Year Sammy and One Buck Ballpark…Up Schitt’s Creek without a Bucky…0-for-life Lefty…Bones and grass…the well-rounded Blue Jays…hockey scribes have spoken…Canada on the world stage…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored..and I love autumn, especially when there are no leaves for me to rake…

Sam Katz is no longer in politics, but he’s still playing politics.

Oh, yes, the former mayor of Good Ol’ Hometown has grown weary of waiting for city council to give the okie-dokie on a new lease for his Winnipeg Goldeyes’ downtown digs so, while the civil servants at 510 Main St. dither, Sammy thought it would be a swell idea to cast his gaze upon the landscape and find someone willing to play ball with him. By his rules, of course.

Ottawa Baseball Stadium

Lo and behold, he found an empty ballyard in Ottawa, also politicos anxious to take down the for-rent sign. What a happy coincidence.

Thus, Sammy signed a 10-year lease at Ottawa Baseball Stadium, where he’ll field a starting nine in the Frontier League, and he’ll happily pay $473,000 in arrears plus $125,000 in annual rent, which is exactly $124,999 more than he shells out each year to have his Goldeyes frolic in Winnipeg’s lovely One Buck Ballpark near The Forks.

And that’s the rub.

Buck-a-Year Sammy’s sweetheart deal expires on July 27, 2023, and the Scrooges on Main Street have had the bad manners to request more than $15 from the Goldeyes owner on a new 15-year lease. They expect him to pony up $75,000 in each of the first five years, then $85,000 per in the middle five, and $95,000 per on the back end.

The nerve. Have they forgotten all that Buck-a-Year Sammy has done for Good Ol’ Hometown?

If so, he isn’t shy about reminding them of his magnificence.

“It’s not the fact that what they’re looking for is outrageous,” he told Global News in July. “It’s just hard to swallow the fact that you spend $13 million to build this (ballpark) for the city and they give you absolutely zero credit or acknowledgement for it.”

If you listen closely, you can hear the sound of the world’s smallest violin playing in the background.

But, hey, if it’s only a pat on the back that Sammy’s looking for to get a deal done and soothe his bruised ego, that should be an easy fix. How about an annual Saint Sammy Day parade and picnic at Assiniboine Park? Maybe replace the Golden Boy atop the Legislative building with a statue of Sammy (clothing not optional). Name a street after him, or at the very least a cul-de-sac.

Don’t be fooled, though. Sammy isn’t looking for a pat on the back any more than Donald Trump is looking for another scandal.

He’s a businessman angling for the best possible deal to improve his bottom line, and no one can blame him for that, but his method is as greasy as a pan fry. Sammy’s believable like the back of a garbage truck is an all-you-can-eat buffet. He swears on a stack of Street & Smith’s Baseball Yearbooks that his intention was/is to keep the Goldeyes in Good Ol’ Hometown “forever and ever,” yet earlier this year he made it very clear that he might be inclined to haul ass out of town. He cautions that without a ballpark lease there can be no renewed tie-in with the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball.

“If we don’t have an affiliation agreement, we don’t play—there’s no Goldeyes, there’s no baseball in Winnipeg,” he said.

And he must have that agreement pronto. Like next month. Talk about a squeeze play.

Sammy insists that he doesn’t “threaten, never threaten” people, but that sure sounds like a threat to me and, not surprisingly, he’s already set up the gang on Main Street as the bad guys if he feels obliged to bug out.

“Ultimately, that will be in the hands of Winnipeg city council,” he told Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun.

Lovely One Buck Ballpark

He repeated that mantra two more times in the natter with Wyman and once to Taylor Allen of the Drab Slab, adding this: “In Winnipeg, we pay property taxes and business taxes. In Ottawa, there’s no property taxes, no business taxes. In Winnipeg, we pay all the utilities. In Ottawa, they pay all the utilities. In Winnipeg, we take care of the field maintenance. In Ottawa, they take care of the field maintenance. And we don’t have to put up $13 million to build a park like we did here in Winnipeg. So, you can compare apples with apples.”

Yup, sure can, and some apples are just plain rotten.

Look, Sammy hasn’t come up with a unique strategy here. Sports entrepreneurs have been putting the squeeze on government since mortar was lathered onto stone to build the Coliseum in Rome.

It just sounds greasier when Sammy says it.

Hart Trophy

Connor Hellebuyck has been anointed top goaltender in the National Hockey League, but two boys on the beat believe he was stiffed. Murat Ates of The Athletic and Scott Billeck of the Winnipeg Sun are convinced Bucky was worthy of a second laurel—the Hart Memorial Trophy, as most valuable player. They might have a valid argument. I mean, let’s face it, where would the Winnipeg Jets have been without him? Up Schitt’s Creek. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Loved seeing the Canadian cast and creators of Schitt’s Creek win all those Emmy Awards last Sunday. Seven in total. Now if we could only crack that Stanley Cup code.

Fake Stanley and Jimmy

Enjoyed Emmy host Jimmy Kimmel’s jab at us and our Stanley Cup drought that dates back to 1993. “I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough of this Canadian stuff,” the honorary mayor of Dildo, NL, said. “Canadians have won all the Emmys tonight. Canada has, like, 200 people in it. As of tonight, one out of every four living Canadians has an Emmy Award. Schitt’s Creek won seven of them…oh, they fell just short—this is a killer—if they’d won one more Emmy, they would have been able to trade them in for this…a Stanley Cup. But they didn’t, so we’re gonna keep it here for another 27 years.” Good burn. There’s just one thing Jimmy ought to know, though. That Stanley Cup propped up beside him? It’s like a lot of female orgasms—fake.

Oh woe is Lefty.

I keep hearing hockey people say the Stanley Cup is the hardest trophy in sports to win. They might want to ask Phil Mickelson about that. He’s 0-for-life at the U.S. Open. How long has Lefty been banging his head against the wall at the Open? Well, Tiger Woods was a scrawny high school freshman when he first teed it up. Papa George Bush was president of the U.S. Lefty has whiffed 29 times in total, and it should be obvious that it’s never going to happen. But he’s in good company. Hall of fame golfers Sam Snead, Greg Norman, Nick Faldo and Seve Ballesteros never hoisted the U.S. Open Trophy, either.

Hoops legend Michael Jordan, owner of the always awful Charlotte Hornets of the NBA, has gone into the fast car business as part-owner of a NASCAR team. How fitting. Now he can spin his wheels in two sports.

Speaking of NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports was fined $100,000 recently for spending too much time in a wind tunnel. Curt Menefee can relate. He has to sit beside Terry Bradshaw for five hours every weekend on Fox NFL Sunday.

Here’s yet another example of our upside-down, inside-out 2020: The Oakland/Los Angeles/Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders are 2-0.

What did Chris Streveler say when he heard that Finnish squints had discovered a cure for the hangover? “I’ll drink to that!”

Good guy Dallas Stars head coach Rick Bowness says life inside the NHL’s Edmonton playoff bubble has been a mental challenge, mainly because players and coaches are confined to quarters. “Man, I haven’t walked on grass in over eight weeks,” he mused last week. Hmmm. Just a thought, but maybe Bones should try smoking some grass to chill out between games. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

I don’t know about you, but I find the Tranna Blue Jays a rather intriguing ball club. The Tranna Nine certainly won’t win the World Series this autumn, but I wouldn’t be anxious to bet against them two years from now.

Alejandro Kirk

It’s about Tranna Nine newbe catcher Alejandro Kirk: He’s the classic big league talent, beer league body. The guy’s listed at 265 pounds, but someone forgot to give him a pair of legs. They shortchanged him on the arms, too. An alligator has a longer reach. Two hundred and 65 pounds isn’t supposed to work on a 5-feet-8 frame. It’s like trying to stuff Dustin Byfuglien into your kid’s backpack. So what’s he doing on a Major League Baseball roster? Well, apparently he can hit. And they say he’s adequate behind the plate. But what about the body? Ya, the Blue Jays are concerned, because that’s a load of heft to be hauling around on a fire-hydrant frame, but it’s likely the reason so many are root, root, rooting for the kid. He’s one of those against-all-odds stories that gives us the warm and fuzzies.

Between Alejandro and Vlad the Gifted Guerrero, the Blue Jays certainly have given new meaning to the term “a well-rounded team.”

Blake Wheeler thinks everyone in Manitoba should be mandated to wear a mask during the COVID-19 pandemic. Fair opinion. But here’s another opinion that I think is fair: Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice should be mandated to drop Wheeler to the second line if the captain’s on-ice bromance with Rink Rat Scheifele means losing Patrik Laine.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

According to NHL insider Darren Dreger, putting Laine on the TSN trade bait board “isn’t just eye candy,” and he informs us that general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has been fielding phone calls about the Jets right winger. Well, duh. Any hint that Puck Finn might be available in barter should activate a GM’s spidey sense. It’s all about the return, though. It’s always about the return. So let’s not get our knickers in a knot over a Laine adios until we know who and what is coming the other way to compensate for the loss of his 30-plus goals.

Strange commentary on Chevy from Ken Wiebe of Sportsnet: “During nine-plus years as the GM, Cheveldayoff hasn’t been backed into a corner by a player, even when that individual has asked for a trade—sometimes multiple times.” Say what? That’s total bunk. We know of two players who requested relocation—Evander Kane and Jacob Trouba. Chevy dithered, but eventually caved each time, first because Kane decided to act like an intolerable dink and, second, Trouba was headed for free agency and the Jets would have received squat in return. What part of those scenarios does Ken not understand?

Selected news snoops are tasked with the duty of choosing the winners of various NHL year-end trinkets—Hart, Norris, Lady Byng, Calder, Selke and Masterton trophies—plus the all-star and all-rookie teams. This year, ballots were sent to 174 members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, and that included four of the boys on the beat in Good Ol’ Hometown. Here’s how Ates, Billeck, Mad Mike McIntyre (Drab Slab) and Wiebe voted:
Hart Trophy: Ates, Hellebuyck; Billeck Hellebuyck; Mad Mike, Nathan MacKinnon; Ken Wiebe, MacKinnon.
Norris Trophy: Ates, Roman Josi; Billeck, Josi; Mad Mike, John Carlson; Wiebe, Josi.
Calder Trophy: Ates, Adam Fox; Billeck, Cale Makar; Mad Mike, Cale Makar; Wiebe, Quinn Hughes.
Selke Trophy: Ates, Ryan O’Reilly; Billeck, Phillip Danault; Mad Mike, Patrice Bergeron, Wiebe, Sean Couturier.
Lady Byng Trophy: Ates, Jacob Slavin; Billeck, Nathan MacKinnon; Mad Mike, MacKinnon; Wiebe, Jacob Slavin.
Masterton Trophy: Ates, Oskar Lindblom; Billeck, Bobby Ryan; Mad Mike, Connor McDavid; Wiebe, Ryan.

Lou Marsh Trophy

Had to laugh (rudely) at a Damien Cox tweet after the PHWA had exposed its final ballots for scrutiny last week. “Any possible reason why the HHOF can’t be this transparent?” he asked in an unveiled cheap shot at the Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee. Hypocrisy, thy name is Damien Cox. It just so happens that the Toronto Star columnist is executive director of the mystery group that chooses the Lou Marsh Trophy winner as our country’s top jock each year. He does not reveal the names of the voters, he does not reveal the names of all the nominees, he does not reveal the voting totals. That’s as transparent as a jar of peanut butter. Area 51 is less secretive. But, sure, go ahead and call out the HHOF. Talk about pots and kettles.

Fergie Jenkins

While lauding our current crop of athletes on the world stage, Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna made this statement: “Once upon a time in Canadian sport, there was Ferguson Jenkins and just about no one else on the highest pedestal of sport that wasn’t hockey.” That’s both wrong and ignorant. Fergie pitched from 1965-83. His peak years were 1967-74, when he had seven 20-win seasons, and he was still winning a lot of ball games at the back end of the 1970s (18 in ’78). Meanwhile, there was a steady stream of our “no one else” athletes reaching the “highest pedestal” in their sports at the same time:

  • Canada won five world curling championships, including two by our guys from the Granite—Dugie, Bryan Wood, Jim Pettapiece and the Arrow, Rod Hunter—and one by the Big O, Orest Meleschuk.

  • Sandra Post won the LPGA championship.

  • George Knudson

    George Knudson won five PGA Tour events and a World Cup title with Al Balding.

  • Karen Magnussen won a world figure skating championship and a silver medal at the 1972 Olympic Games.

  • Nancy Greene was the 1968 Olympic champion in giant slalom and world champion in 1967. She won seven of 16 World Cup races in ’67 and became the first non-European to win the WC. She had 16 WC victories total.

  • Kathy Kreiner won ski gold at the 1976 Olympics.

  • George Chuvalo was ranked No. 4 among the world’s heavyweight fist fighters in 1968, No. 7 in 1970.

  • Elaine Tanner won three swimming medals at the 1968 Olympics.

  • Roy Gerela

    Roy Gerela was a Pro Bowl kicker in the NFL and a three-time Super Bowl champion.

  • Bruce Robertson was the world 100-metre butterfly champion and a two-time medalist at 1972 Olympics.

  • Jim Elder, Jim Day and Tom Gayford won 1968 gold medal in equestrian team jumping.

  • Gilles Villeneuve claimed his first F1 victory in 1978.

  • Susan Nattrass won five world trap shooting championships during the 1970s.

Etcetera, etcetera and blah, blah, blah.

Like I said, to suggest it was Fergie Jenkins and “just about no one else” is wrong and ignorant.

And, finally, Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun reports that Winnipeg Blue Bombers bird dogs are wandering hither and yon to unearth talent on their own dime. That’s just wrong, but it speaks to how bleak the times have become in the Canadian Football League.

Let’s talk about death threats and bomb threats in Good Ol’ Hometown…the Buddha and Brees…Jackie Robinson and the American flag…Chris Cuthbert goes over the wall…another jock journo out of work…the Winnipeg Sun’s six-pack…and Fidel Castro’s angst

At first blush, the inclination was to suggest that Khari Jones had it all wrong. That he was misremembering.

Khari Jones

I mean, death threats? To the Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback? Naw. Can’t be.

Look, I realize the football faithful in Good Ol’ Hometown can be a demanding lot. They’ll turn on a starting QB faster than Judas on Jesus (hello Dieter Brock, Matt Nichols, etc.), and they’ll get louder and more ornery as the beer snakes grow longer and longer in the fourth quarter of a losing skirmish.

But threaten to snuff him out? That’s something you’d rather not believe.

Except as Jones told the tale the other day, his nose wasn’t growing and his pants weren’t on fire.

He delivered his revelation in a calm, matter-of-fact cadence, like he was telling us what he had for lunch or what his kids ordered the last time at a McDonald’s drive-thru. He even smiled, almost as if he recognized that some among the rabble might suggest there was a tich of far-fetchedness to the disturbing narrative of his 2002 Canadian Football League crusade.

“In Winnipeg,” Jones began, “I received death threats, you know, because my wife is a different color than me. We had police officers staying at our house, kinda patrolling our house while I was at away games. There was a series of letters, and I still have those letters.”

I don’t know about you, but those words produce chilling imagery for me:

Justine Jones

A woman—Jones’ bride Justine—home alone with her newborn, Jaelyn, while hubby and dad is flinging footballs hundreds of miles away, unable to protect his family from a wingnut lurking in the shadows of a darkening night. The stalker might have a gun. Or a knife. Maybe both. Stealth, slow-moving cop cars appear in the haze of dimly lit lamp posts, then disappear into the same darkness that protects the unseen scoundrel, prepared to pounce. It’s positively Hitchcockian.

It was just one person, we’re told, a racist who believes black and white belong together on piano keyboards, salt-and-pepper shakers and Oreo cookies, but not in the skin hue of a married couple. He penned a dozen letters to Jones, each peppered with vulgar language and threats. He was never caught.

Eighteen years later, Jones is finally talking about it because racism is the topic du jour in North America and he recognizes that his is a story people need to hear, even if they’d prefer not to hear it.

It’s the kind of stuff that gives pause for ponder, and you try to convince yourself that such a level of hate can’t possibly exist in Good Ol’ Hometown.

I was born, raised and spent most of my working life in Winnipeg and, sure, I recognize that racists, bigots, homophobes, etc. walk among the throng, but death threats because a quarterback is black and his bride is white? Come on, man, isn’t that supposed to be a 1960s Alabama thing? If only.

Truth is, I had my own close encounter with one of the wackos back in the day.

It was late March of 1979 and, with the Parti Québécois beating the separatist drums with gusto, the political climate was a tinderbox. Anti-Québec sentiment flowed freely in Western Canada and peaked in full, ugly voice the night the Finnish National B shinny side was in town for a friendly with the Winnipeg Jets, then still the World Hockey Association’s flagship franchise but soon to be a charter member of the National Hockey League.

Because the skirmish was televised locally on the CBC’s English and French channels, public address announcements were delivered in both our official languages. That didn’t work so well.

Each time PA announcer Germain Massicotte would parlez vous, the audience of 10,113 filled the Old Barn On Maroons Road with a robust chorus of boos, which ramped up in volume with each word he uttered en francais. By the time Morris Lukowich scored in overtime, Massicotte’s voice had totally disappeared beneath the might of the anti-Québec outpouring.

“It was kind of rude,” said young Rich Gosselin, a product of nearby St. Malo and one of two francophones wearing Jets linen that night.

Bobby Guindon

“I just consider the source,” muttered Bobby Guindon, the veteran forward who, a year ealier, had been anointed most valuable player in the Jets championship crusade.

Like Gosselin and Guindon, I was unamused, so I scribbled as essay in the Winnipeg Tribune, giving the booing, bigoted boors a stern tsk-tsking.

“Winnipeg, if this is how you’re going to act next season when you’re in the National Hockey League, then you don’t deserve to see the Montreal Canadiens,” is how I signed off.

The following morning, the ringing of my kitchen telephone stirred me from slumber. It was a man. An angry man. He didn’t appreciate the tone of my column and volunteered to provide me with one-way passage to the Great Beyond. Yup, he’d bomb my house. Blow it up, me and my family with it. Apparently, that’s what you do with a “frog lover.”

Unlike Khari Jones, I didn’t call the cops. I told the boys at work about the bomb threat and we had a giggle, although I must confess mine was a bit of a nervous chuckle and there was some skittishness to my step for a few days.

But, hey, that house on Leighton Avenue in East Kildonan is still standing, a block away from the Red River, and I’m still ticking, so I guess the guy had a bad batch of dynamite or he was a graduate of the Wile E. Coyote School of Mayhem.

I don’t know if you’ve been following Paul Friesen’s work on the Khari Jones file for the Winnipeg Sun, but it’s boffo stuff. Top drawer in every way. Makes me proud that I played a part in poaching Paul from CJOB all those many years ago, and it all began with a chance meeting in a checkout line at the Safeway on Roslyn Road in Osborne Village. So, if you like Paul’s work, kudos to him. If you don’t like it, blame me.

Really hard to believe the boys at the Drab Slab basically ignored the Jones death-threat narrative, except to run one Canadian Press piece. That’s shoddy. Or lazy. Maybe both.

The Donald and Drew.

Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks are supposed to be bright guys. They aren’t allowed to be the dullest knife in the drawer, although Terry Bradshaw tests that theory every time he opens his squawkbox on Fox Sports NFL coverage. So what’s Drew Brees’ excuse for being such a D’Oh Boy? I mean, seriously, he thought Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling protest was about the American flag and not social injustice and police brutality? That’s like believing the Bible is porn. But wait. The New Orleans Saints QB experienced an awakening, as if he’d shared a bodhi tree with the Buddha, and a couple of days after dumbing down he was schooling Donald Trump, advising the Commander-in-Chaos that kneeling protests have “never” been about the Stars ‘n’ Stripes. I swear, we haven’t seen a retreat that rapid since Tiger Woods’ wife came at him with a 9-iron. Makes you wonder how Buddha Brees ever mastered the Saints playbook.

Every time I hear someone like Brees rage against Kaepernick and other National Football League kneelers, branding them as disrespectful ingrates, I am reminded of this excerpt from baseball legend Jackie Robinson’s book, I Never Had It Made: “There I was, the black grandson of a slave, the son of a black sharecropper, part of a historic occasion, a symbolic hero to my people. The air was sparkling. The sunlight was warm. The band struck up the national anthem. The flag billowed in the wind. It should have been a glorious moment for me as the stirring words of the national anthem poured from the stands. Perhaps, it was, but then again, perhaps, the anthem could be called the theme song for a drama called The Noble Experiment. Today, as I look back on that opening game of my first world series, I must tell you that it was Mr. Rickey’s drama and that I was only the principal actor. As I write this twenty years later, I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world. In 1972, in 1947, at my birth in 1919, I know that I never had it made.” So there.

Jennifer Hedger

The other night on TSN SportsCentre, anchor Jennifer Hedger said racism is an “uncomfortable” conversation. Why? And who’s uncomfortable? Before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down social gatherings, my friends and I discussed racism, bigotry, homophobia, sexism, etc. on numerous occasions, with zero discomfort.

Big shakeup in the Tower of Babble On, with Chris Cuthbert defecting from TSN football to Sportsnet and Hockey Night in Canada. Initial reaction: Geez, can he take Glen Suitor with him?

Apparently Suitor was unavailable for comment on his longtime sidekick’s departure. “He’s still in rehab after having his nose surgically removed from Keith Urban’s butt,” a TSN spokesperson familiar with the situation confirmed.

Chris Cuthbert

Seriously, this is an opportunity for TSN to bring a new, fresh sound to its Canadian Football League broadcasts. Surely there’s a vibrant, young voice out there who can slide behind Cuthbert’s play-by-play mic and, at the same time, they can spare us another season of groupie Glen’s gushing over Urban. If they insist on going with the old guard, I say give the job to Gord Miller, who’s solid whenever he calls Rouge Football. And, for gawd’s sake, keep Kate Beirness away from the CFL on TSN panel.

Oh, dear, the body count continues to grow in the toy department, and Ken Wiebe is among the latest casualties. The Athletic slashed salary and scribes the other day, handing out 46 pink slips, and that leaves Murat Ates to fly solo on the Jets beat. I never met Ken, but I’m told he’s one of the good guys, and we can only wonder when this carnage will end and who’ll be left standing.

The Winnipeg Sun made it through the week without anyone heading to the pogey line, but the overlords at Postmedia have decided to eliminate one day of the week—Monday. Commencing June 22, the tabloid will become a six-days-a-week print publication (Tuesday-Sunday), which means they’ll be a day late and a dollar short whenever something big breaks on the Sabbath. You know, like the Bombers winning the Grey Cup. Or—dare to dream—the Jets hoisting the Stanley Cup on a Sunday.

And, finally, news that the Sun is becoming a six-pack provided reflection on my time with the tabloid.

Now in its 40th year (the official anniversary date is Nov. 5), the Sun wasn’t supposed to have a shelf life longer than four months, never mind four decades, but a three-days-a-week sheet bulked up to a seven-day production in 1992, and they’ve been going toe-to-toe with the Goliath on Mountain Avenue every morning since.

You don’t survive that long unless you deliver something the rabble is looking for and, in the case of the tabloid, that’s meant a heavy emphasis on cops and robbers, entertainment and, of course, sports scribbling served with sizable portions of sass, irreverence and 200-point headlines.

Oops. Almost forgot Page 3 (or was it Page 2?), which once featured a damsel in her scantilly-clads and heels as high as a giraffe’s forehead.

The Sunshine Girl was just one of the oddball things we did at the Sun. I also recall management’s curious fascination for Panda bears, and there was a cheeky promo during the 1999 Pan American Games that attracted the attention of El Presidenté, Fidel Castro.

Fidel Castro

Seems ol’ Cigar Breath was so distraught over Cuban defectors prior to/during the Games that it became the focal point of his annual Revolution Day natter, with the Bearded One barking about “traps and tricks” and “schemes” and “filth.”

We ran a “guess the number of Cuban defectors” contest, offering airfare and a one-week vacation in Havana, cigars not included.

“If this is a goodwill gesture, it is a perverse one,” noted José Fernandez, president of the Cuban Olympic Committee.

I don’t recall if it was eight or 10 Cubans who went over the wall during the Pan Ams, but that was us—the perverse paper.

About the return of the Prodigal Pun…keeping Patrick Kane out of trouble…draft day busts…Sin City…and stocking an expansion team

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

George Stromboy
George Stromboy

So, tight and shiny, ill-fitting suits are no longer in vogue on Hockey Night in Canada, and horrible, cringe-inducing cornballism is back. The hip host is out and the old, greybeard is in.

Well, okay, Rogers Media hasn’t made it official yet, but all indicators point to the ouster of George Stroumboloupouloupouloupoulous as host of HNIC and the return of the Prodigal Pun, Ron MacLean. Which is sort of like replacing Drake with Bing Crosby.

No doubt this development shall be received with a rousing chorus of rah-rahs from the rabble on Planet Puckhead who care about such matters, but I’m not so sure Stromboy is/was the problem.

You want culprits for HNIC’s nosedive in ratings? Start with the game itself. Most National Hockey League regular-season skirmishes are exciting like Don Cherry is bashful. And it doesn’t help that the majority of matches Rogers delivers to our living rooms feature bottom-feeding outfits from our home and native land. Really, who beyond the borders of British Columbia would want to watch the Vancouver Canucks? Does anyone outside of the nation’s capital know the Ottawa Senators exist?

Then there’s Stromboy’s supporting cast. Seriously, P.J. Stock? A career minor-leaguer, he suited up for a grand total of eight NHL playoff games and does commercials for adult diapers. Ya, that’s real star power. Nick Kypreos? He owns a Stanley Cup ring, but was a spare part who played just three of 23 games in the New York Rangers’ 1994 title run. Glenn Healy? The most annoying man on TV since the original Canadian Tire Guy. A career backup goaltender. Notable for playing the bagpipes. Insider Damien Cox? Oy vey.

fox
The Fox NFL Sunday gang.

By way of comparison, consider the lineup that Fox NFL Sunday trots out: Terry Bradshaw, Hall of Fame quarterback and multiple Super Bowl champion; Howie Long, Hall of Fame defensive lineman and Super Bowl champion; Michael Strahan, Hall of Fame defensive lineman and Super Bowl champion; Jimmy Johnson, two-time Super Bowl champion coach and College Hall of Fame coach. The insider is Jay Glazer, who actually appears to have a personality, unlike Cox, who stares creepily into the camera and no doubt sends little children scurrying to the cover of their bedrooms.

I can’t say that I’m a fan of Stromboy’s—and I have little doubt he shall find another TV studio with red chairs to call home—but if he’s the fall guy he should be only the first domino to tumble.

Will Arnett, I am informed, is an accomplished actor, nominated for several Emmy Awards. Okay, I’ll take your word for it. He’s a good actor. What he isn’t, is a good comedian. I’m sorry if you’re a fan, but he was a very unfunny host of the NHL Awards show on Wednesday night. His Mr. Genius skit with Gary Bettman and Brendan Shanahan was as wince-inducing as Ron MacLean’s puns.

How will Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks celebrate his MVP-winning season, by punching out a cab driver or molesting a woman? Apparently, the Blackhawks have asked Kane to stay in the Toddlin’ Town this summer rather than have him return to his favorite haunts in Buffalo. Ya, as if that’s going to keep him out of trouble. I mean, I have it on good authority that there are plenty of cab drivers and women in Chicago.

Alexandre Daigle
Alexandre Daigle

Interesting headline in the Winnipeg Sun this morning: “Jets can’t go wrong in Friday’s draft.” Really? Can you say Alexandre Daigle, kids? Can you say Patrik Stefan? Or Rick DiPietro? There’s no such thing as a sure thing in the NHL entry draft until they become a sure thing. The Winnipeg Jets will pluck Finnish forward Patrik Laine from the pool of freshly scrubbed teenagers on Friday night, then hope they haven’t gone wrong.

If you were Lou Lamoriello, general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, would you trade the first overall pick in the NHL entry draft for the negotiation rights to Steven Stamkos, Jonathan Drouin and Tampa Bay Lightning’s first-round choice, which falls at No. 27? I would. Then open the vault for homeboy Stamkos.

What an interesting country we live in. I mean, upon his death, hockey great Gordie Howe was glorified and deified for six decades of using his elbows to bust jaws and send people to the dentist. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau throws one errant elbow and he’s crucified. Go figure.

vegasDon’t count me among the skeptics suggesting an NHL franchise in Las Vegas won’t work. It will work because Gary Bettman, the pointy-nosed and bobble-head commish, will make it work come hell or high odds. If he hasn’t bailed on Arizona by now, he’ll never bail on Sin City.

Got a kick out of a Paul Wiecek piece in the Winnipeg Free Press re next year’s expansion draft to stock the Las Vegas Rat Pack roster. The Jets, like all 30 current NHL outfits, will lose one player, a reality that “some think is going to hit the Jets as hard—or even harder—than any team in the league.” The way Wiecek has it reasoned, one of the following will have to get out of Dodge: Chris Thorburn, Anthony Peluso, Andrew Copp, Joel Armia, Marko Dano, Alexander Burmistrov. Oh, how will the Jets possibly survive?

I went to the Winnipeg Sun website last Sunday morning and the Calgary Sun popped up. Seriously, five stories on the Calgary Flames on the sports front and zero on the Winnipeg Jets. This is what happens when one media giant owns 99 per cent of the newspapers in Canada.

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.