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

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

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

BMO Field when Toronto FC is playing.

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

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

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

BMO Field when the Argos are playing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt Nichols and mad hatter Ed Tait.

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

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

Michael Sam

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

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

Here are this week’s CFL power rankings…

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

Phil and Tiger

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

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

Mark Stone

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

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

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

About the McKenzie Brothers (Bob, Doug and Scott)…shootouts bite…a session with a shrink…Uncle Sam’s beer league curlers…poking fun at Canada…Tessa, Tessa, Tessa…gold-medal writing from Bruce Arthur…and other Olympic stuff on my mind

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

Bob, Doug and long-lost brother Scott—the McKenzie Brothers.

Scott Moir—beauty, eh?

Who knew a fancy skater (and an ice dancer at that) could be such a party animal? Who knew there was a third McKenzie Brother?

Moir’s beer-fuelled antics during the women’s hockey gold-medal match between Canada and the United States at the Olympic Games of Snow and Ice Sports were straight out of the SCTV playbook. It was Bob and Doug McKenzie do PyeongChang. It couldn’t have been more Canadian if it was a Mountie eating back bacon while reading a Pierre Berton book and listening to a Gordon Lightfoot album.

Coo-roo-coo-coo-coo-coo-coo-coo!

Shootouts suck! Sound like a batch of sour grapes? Probably. But it isn’t. The Americans were worthy winners of the women’s gold hockey trinket in South Korea. They were the superior side through 80 minutes of actual hockey and, had the championship match continued to a second period of sudden-victory overtime rather than the shootout, surely Uncle Sam’s girls would have prevailed. It seemed to me that the Canadians had begun to run on fumes. Thus, the 3-2 U.S. victory was a just result. The Games methodology, however, is greatly flawed. The shootout never was, never will be a good idea. Next time, what do you say we ask the Canadian and U.S. women if they’d rather continue playing hockey until someone scores a goal? Let’s leave the shootouts to soccer.

Joceleyne Larocque, third from left.

If I’m Jocelyne Larocque, I’m not apologizing for a damn thing. I mean, it’s not like she did something stupid. You know, like get drunk, steal a Hummer, race around PyeongChang like Danica Patrick on uppers, then spend some quality time at a cop shop. Do something stupid like that (hello Willie Raine, Dave and Maja Duncan), you apologize and hope you get a judge who goes easy on drunk drivers. But do what Larocque did and…meh. So she removed a silver trinket that had been wrapped around her neck by some Olympic Games mucky-muck at a most awkward moment—during the lengthy parting-gifts ceremony post-match. Big flipping deal. Larocque was PO’d. The loss to the Americans was a fresh, open wound, and silver wasn’t a suitable salve. So she held it in her left hand. And for that the Canadian rearguard receives an online scolding from Miss Manners wannabes on both sides of the great divide? That’s why she offered a mea culpa? As if. Raw emotion is the very reason I buy into the Olympic Games. Sometimes that means tears of joy. Sometimes it’s tears of sorrow. In Larocque’s case, it meant an angst-of-the-moment act of defiance. I don’t see the problem. Stop piling on.

Lucy Van Pelt

Should we book a session with Dr. Phil? Or maybe Charlie Brown’s shrink, Lucy Van Pelt. Either way, I’m thinking some of us might need to vent. I mean, our hockey women had to settle for silver. Our hockey men had the gall to lose to Germany at a most inopportune time. Our women’s and men’s curling teams? Bupkus.

I swear, this is the biggest downer since Nickelback landed the halftime gig at the 99th Grey Cup game.

But let’s save the shrink fees and accept that hockey and curling haven’t been Canada’s personal play things for much of the 21st century? Consider what has transpired since 2000:

Hockey

World championship titles—Canada 10, Rest of World 21
Olympic titles—Canada 7, Rest of World 3
Total—Canada 17, Rest of World 24.

Curling World championship titles—Canada 17, Rest of World 19
Olympic titles—Canada 5, Rest of World 6
Total—Canada 22, Rest of World 25.

British coach Glenn Howard.

Ya, sure, this is still Planet Puckhead. We’re very good at hockey. The best. Our women and men aren’t supposed to lose. When they do, we lower our psyche to half staff and share a group hug that stretches from Tofino to St. John’s. We don’t commit to as much navel gazing when our curlers slip on a banana peel, yet we do give some pause whenever our Pebble People don’t occupy the top step of the podium.

But let’s spare ourselves a National Day of Teeth Gnashing.

I’m singing the backup vocals for Glenn Howard when he suggests we all just chill after what transpired in South Korea.

Settle down folks,” said Howard, a Canadian and world champion curler who coached Eve Muirhead’s Great Britain team that ushered our Rachel Homan outfit out of playoff contention. “Canadians have to understand that these teams outside of Canada are really good.”

Been that way for a long time.

Rachel Homan

Most stinging (and over the top) criticism of our women curlers came from Paul Wiecek. The Winnipeg Free Press sports columnist aimed his poison arrows not only at Homan and her gal pals from Ottawa, but also at “that most worthless species in all of sports, the curling coach.” He explained: “As far as I’m concerned, the Homan team’s problems here begin with their coach, Adam Kingsbury, an academic with zero curling background who the Homan team has nonetheless ascribed a Koreshian-like influence in recent years. Homan has been putting the ‘less’ in ‘joyless’ since she was curling juniors and Kingsbury has just made that worse from my vantage point, turning these women into walking robots. If they were having any fun competing at an event they had devoted their lives towards, I saw no evidence of it. And if you’re not having fun playing a sport for which the monetary reward is somewhere between nothing and next to nothing, then what’s the point?” That’s cruel and mean in spirit.

America’s gold-medal curlers: Tyler George, John Landsteiner, John Shuster and Matt Hamilton.

Nothing says Monday night beer league curling like the four men who struck gold for Uncle Sam in South Korea.

Seriously. How much did they spend on their outfits? A buck fifty at a thrift shop? Third Tyler George wears eight-year-old sneakers. They’re full of holes. And U.S. second Matt Hamilton doesn’t use a belt to hold up his trousers. That’s Secretariat’s old girth strap. But, hey, if a guy of Hamilton’s dimensions can win an Olympic Games gold medal I wouldn’t rule out an Ed Werenich comeback.

All of which made them easy to like.

These Yankee doodle dandies are a throwback to the 1970s. I kept waiting for one of ’em to break out a pack of smokes and light up. On the ice.

Their back story is brilliant. A few years ago, USA Curling wanted them in their program like Donald Trump wants to tick off the NRA. But now John Shuster, George, Hamilton and lead John Landsteiner are Olympic champions. We’re apt to see them chatting with one of the gab guys on late-night TV, and there’s probably marketing possibilities. Who knows, they might make enough cash on the side to get rid of their slo-pitch uniforms and purchase actual curling duds.

Headline writers south of the 49th parallel are having great sport at our expense. A New York Times headline reads: “Canada’s Curling Is Crumbling! Or Something Like That.” The accompanying article suggests our double donut on PyeongChang pebble “would be comparable to the United States men’s and women’s basketball teams failing to win a medal at the Summer Olympics.”

Other samples of American cheek:

Washington Post (after the U.S. beat us in both men’s curling and women’s hockey on the same day): “For six glorious hours, the United States owned Canada like a Tim Hortons franchisee.”

Wall Street Journal: “Canadian Grief: Curling and Hockey Losses are ‘Terrible, Terrible, Terrible’.”

MarketWatch: “Hug a Canadian, urges German Foreign Office after dramatic ice-hockey upset.”

Quick! Someone get a match! Let’s burn down the White House again!

Whiteboard Willie Desjardins

As predicted, jock journalists were quick to apply a coat of tar and feathers to head coach Whiteboard Willie Desjardins in the wake of Canada’s mournful, 4-3 semifinal shinny loss to Germany.

Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star opined the “coaching was a mess.”

Dave Feschuk, also a Star scribe, wrote: “What went wrong? Maybe it was Desjardins’ infectious nervousness, or his odd overreliance on his bottom-six grinders, playing the old-time Saskatchewan stereotype to a tee. Even in a 4-on-4 situation needing desperately to score, Desjardins tossed out (Eric) O’Dell and Maxim Lapierre, his skill-challenged energy guys.”

Not to be out-nastied, Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna added: “Desjardins had much to answer for. He didn’t change lines. He didn’t change styles. He didn’t adjust to the Germans’ trapping ways. He didn’t shorten his bench when he needed to. He continued to use ineffective players. The coach, Willie Desjardins, froze.”

And what did the natterbugs of negativity have to say about Desjardins after Canada’s bounce-back, 6-4 win over the Czech Republic in the bronze-medal match? Crickets. Nothing but the sound of crickets. Mooks.

(That unfortunate loss to the Germans doesn’t seem like such a stunner today does it? Not after they took Russia to OT in the title match.)

Tessa Virtue

I’m not sure what it is about Tessa Virtue, but I cannot turn my eyes away from her when she’s on TV. It doesn’t matter if she’s skating, marching into the stadium or standing on the podium, holding a stuffed toy in one of her dainty hands. I am hypnotized. And it’s been that way for years.

She is a spellbinding temptress, sexy, sensual and seductive. As playful as a kitten and as smoky as a femme fatale, she is Snow White with come-hither tease and erotic athleticism. As she floats about the ice, her lissome body bending, twisting and twirling to the whims of her dance partner, Scott Moir, I wonder what world she has disappeared into. Her smile tells us it must be a pleasing place, full of passion and Zen-like serenity.

Others skate as well as Virtue. Perhaps better. But no one else has her ‘it’ factor.

She and Moir will leave South Korea with two gold medals, adding to a collection of Winter Games trinkets that now numbers five, more than any other fancy skaters in history. Alas, we might never see the Canadian couple skate together again, after 20 years. But what a beautiful trip they took us on.

Matthew Scianitti of TSN shares a lovely to-and-fro he enjoyed with Virtue, scant seconds after she had arrived in the mixed area following her gold-medal skate with Scott Moir in the ice dance last Wednesday.

Virtue (to assembled news scavengers): “How are you guys?”

Scianitti: “You mean us?”

Virtue: “Ya.”

Scianitti: “Dude, you just skated in front of the world and won a gold medal. Doesn’t matter how we are.”

Virtue: “Yes it does. The Olympics are tough on everyone.”

Can you say classy, kids? Totally.

Going from a beauty to a beast, it’s about Mike Milbury. The NBC gab guy’s filter between his grey matter and tongue was on the fritz during a Russia-U.S. men’s hockey game. Discussing Russkie rearguard Slava Voynov, he said: “This guy was a special player, and an unfortunate incident left the Los Angeles Kings without a great defenceman.” So, that’s what we’re calling wife-beating these days? An “unfortunate incident.” Voynov was sentenced to nine months in the brig for beating the hell out of his wife, and he served two months before slithering back to his hole in Russia. He shouldn’t have been allowed to participate in South Korea any more than Milbury should be allowed near a microphone.

Kirstie Alley

Actor Kirstie Alley took a bit of a pummelling on social media after she tweeted that curling is “boring.” I don’t understand the great hue and cry. Fact is, she’s right. I love curling, but I acknowledge that it sometimes can push the needle high on the bore-o-metre. Then, again, so can baseball, football, hockey and hoops. Oh, and most any movie/TV show that Kirstie Alley has ever appeared in.

I never covered an Olympics. Had no desire to. So I have to wonder: When did news scavengers in South Korea find time to sleep? Did they sleep? I mean, new stuff seemed to pop up on the Internet every half hour. It was non-stop scribbling. Thus, I harbor considerable admiration for everyone who went through that grind. Tough gig. And they’re still cranking out the good stuff. Best of last week was delivered by…

Gold medal: Bruce Arthur for the truly Canadian story that is Brigette Lacquette, the first Indigenous player on the Canadian women’s hockey team.

Silver medal: Arthur again, for his piece defending Jocelyne Larocque’s behaviour during the women’s hockey medal ceremony.

Bronze medal: Arthur one more time, for his piece on Canada’s Pride House and the LGBT scene at the Winter Games.

Had there been any doubt, Arthur’s work in South Korea confirms his position as this country’s top sports columnist. Nobody’s close to him.

About female footballers…pants on fire…gay medal winners…body shaming…Caster Semenya and creepy tweets…and other Olympic things on my mind

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

I love our soccer team, distaff division. Those women have a remarkable ability to make tap water taste like wine. Good wine. $150-a-bottle wine. They did it in England in 2012. And they did it again in Brazil on Friday. Bronze-medal bookends.

Bronze is beautiful for Canad's female soccer side.
Bronze is beautiful for Canad’s female soccer side.

Except those Summer Olympic Games trinkets they’re bringing home to the True North have the glitter of gold, rather than the blandness of bronze.

Some of the faces changed in the four years between the two crusades, but the ingredients that we like to think define us as Canadians remained intact. We are modest and passive by nature yet fierce when suitably aroused. Forever the underdog, except on the frozen ponds of the globe, our successes oft are the product of a strong-willed, bulldog-determined mindset.

And so it is with our female footballers. Ranked 10th in the world, they beat three of the top five and four of the top eight nations—Germany (2), France (3), Australia (5) and Brazil (8). Zimbabwe (93) was another casualty. The sole setback came in a semifinal match, at the boots of the German side that carried on to strike gold. Our girls soothed that wound with their energetic, 2-1 success over a Brazilian outfit that perhaps was not properly engaged at the outset but warmed to the task in plenty of time to provide the bronze-medal match with an edge-of-your-seat climax.

It is easy to admire the Canadian women. Diana Matheson is my favorite, a 5-feet-0 burst of energy. Ashley Lawrence is electric and adventurous. Christine Sinclair, the captain, has a regal bearing and carriage.

Unfortunately, they now will disappear from our sight lines until 2020, because that’s the nature of the beast for female summer sports and the media. The Fourth Estate takes note of, and celebrates, their good deeds every four years, then largely ignores them between the lighting of the Olympic torch.

I must say that I enjoyed the bluntness of soccer color commentator Clare Rustad, a former member of our national side. Rustad was very unforgiving in the matter of swan diving and particularly harsh in citing numerous German players for embellishment. And she was correct in her indictments. In the semifinal, I hadn’t seen that many Germans hit the deck since I last watched Battle of the Bulge. Germany was full value for its 2-nil victory, but also gets the gold medal for bad acting.

Liar, liar Ryan Lochte.
Liar, liar Ryan Lochte.

Liar, liar Ryan Lochte’s speedos were on fire, but the gold standard for Ugly American was established by Hope Solo, not Lochte and three of his swimming pals who got all liquored up, vandalized a gas station and flat-out fibbed about their drunken, frat-boy hijinks. I assume Solo, keeper with the U.S. women’s soccer side, was sober when she branded the Swedish 11 as a “bunch of cowards” after they’d eliminated the Americans in a shootout. Lochte apologized. Solo hasn’t been heard from since. Which, come to think of it, is probably a good thing.

According to Outsports.com, there were 53 openly gay or bisexual athletes at the Brazil Olympics and 25 won medals—10 gold, 11 silver and four bronze. Among teams with LGB athletes collecting medals were the Canadian and Swedish women’s soccer sides, the U.S. women’s basketball outfit and Great Britain and Netherlands women’s field hockey collectives. So perhaps the homophobes can tell us one more time how a team cannot win with openly gay players on the roster. Or does that bogus theory only apply to men’s team sports? By the way, the breakdown of those 25 LGB medalists by gender is three gay men, 22 lesbians.

The gold for body shaming goes to Rosie DiManno, the Toronto Star columnist who, in an A-to-Z of the Games piece, described Ethiopian swimmer Robel Kiros Habte as “rather paunchy for an athlete—beer gut midriff spilling over his swimsuit.” Had a male scribe written a similarly stinging critique about the physical appearance of a female athlete he’d have been drawn and quartered. Rosie, in fact, would be among the first to call the cad a chauvinist troglodyte.

Someone must have piddled in Ramblin’ Rosie’s Corn Flakes, because she didn’t stop at body shaming in her Games wrapup column. DiManno also whinged about “the snarky commentariat ‘colleagues’ not here, who sniped at reporters’ work from the comfort of their TV sofa.” Oh, the poor dear. Is someone not treating her and her overworked, underfed colleagues like the sacred cows they believe themselves to be? Get over yourself, Rosie. If you make a living critiquing every mother’s son and daughter, you and your kind are fair game.

Caster Semenya: What is it about her that Steve Simmons would like us to discuss?
Caster Semenya: What is it about her that Steve Simmons would like us to discuss?

Tackiest tweet during the Olympics was delivered by Steve Simmons of Postmedia. He wrote: “Caster Semenya is easily through to the 800 finals. Talk amongst yourselves.” What would you have us discuss, Steve? Her incredible athlete skills? Or is it her appearance you would have us talk about? Or maybe her voice? Or her hyperandrogenism? I have a better idea for Simmons: He can give us his opinion on all of the above, then we’ll have a discussion. Except he won’t go there. Doesn’t have the gonads. He’d rather hide behind a cryptic, creepy tweet. I can only take that to mean he silently believes that Semenya, the gold-medal winner from South Africa, is too manly to be running with the real girls. Sad.

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.