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.

Let’s talk about empty seats in the Little Hockey House On The Prairie after COVID-19…what’s on my book shelf?…tee times…horrible takes on Ponytail Puck…a bull session with Chris Streveler in the Drab Slab…and other things on my mind

There’s been much natter about National Hockey League millionaires returning this summer to perform in front of empty seats in four select cities, none of which will be named Winnipeg (reportedly).

That’s a deep concern because the NHL is a gate-driven enterprise.

There is, however, a greater fret and threat looming. Try this: How many of those empty seats will remain unoccupied once the faithful have been given the okie-dokie to gather in groups and return to rinks hither and yon?

The Jets have made due with 15,000 and change at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie since 2011 and, once they’ve finished feeding at the public trough, it’s believed there’s black ink on the bottom line of the balance sheet. The profit is likely minimal, but we don’t know for certain because True North Sports+Entertainment has never been eager to open its books, even as it smugly expects the rabble to continue opening their wallets.

Unfortunately, the scourge that is COVID-19 has many thousands of workers also feeding from the public trough, and some of them won’t have a job at the far end of the pandemic.

It’s tough to part with thousands of dollars in support of the players’ millionaire lifestyles when you’re on pogey.

So let’s say the Jets lose 1,000 customers post-COVID-19 and can’t replace them. Is the NHL doable in Good Ol’ Hometown with just 14K in the pews? Well, when the Atlanta caravan rolled into River City in 2011, I seem to recall NHL commish Gary Bettman saying something about sellouts and SRO audiences being the absolute, no-margin-for-error requirement.

If so, 14,000 customers won’t cut it.

Oh, sure, the Jets boast of a robust wait list, so any available tickets would be scooped up faster than toilet paper at the start of the pandemic. But whoa Nellie. That was pre-COVID-19. The game has changed. It costs $100 (non-refundable) per annum to stay on that list, and $50 (non-refundable) to get on that list. Know anyone with a spare C-note or 50-dollar bill lying around these days, just in the hope of spending in excess of $1,000 to watch the millionaires frolic on the local freeze?

This isn’t meant to be a doomsday essay. It’s simply a cautionary note that once there’s a vaccine and the NHL arrives at its “new normal,” crowd concern might not be limited to warm-weather locales like Sunrise, Fla, and Glendale, Ariz. It might hit hard at the frost-bitten heart of the continent as well.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been catching up on my reading during the COVID-19 lockdown. So far, these have been my favorite books:

  • My Pants Were Always Lower Than My Score: The Sex Scandal That Sank Tiger Woods, In His Own Words.

  • If It’s Too Late for a Prenup, I’m Totally Screwed: The Tiger Woods Tell-All About Infidelity and Divorce (with special forward by Elin Nordegren).

  • I Bit Off More Than I Could Chew: Mike Tyson Recounts the Night He Made a Snack Out of Evander Holyfield’s Ear.

  • D’oh Canada! The Duping of a Dope: The Rise and Fall of Ben Johnson at the Seoul Olympics.

  • Deflated: Who Really Let the Air Out of Tom Brady’s Balls (with special forward by Gisele Bundchen)?

  • The Dead Speak Scrolls: Complete Transcripts of Everything Bill Belichick has Ever Said that the Media Understood (Total number of pages-2).

  • Serena Williams

    I’ll Shove This %$#% Ball Down Your *%$#% Throat: Memoirs of Serena Williams at the U.S. Open.

  • Grey Cup and the Groupie: E! News Canada Takes A Deep Dive Into the Glen Suitor-Keith Urban Broadcast Booth Bromance (with special forward by Nicole Kidman).

  • You People: The Official Don Cherry Code of Conduct for Wannabe Canadians, where the former star of Coach’s Corner explains Milk & Honey & Poppies & EVERYTHINK LIKE THAT!

  • Still Searching In A White Ford Bronco After All These Years: O.J. Simpson Takes Us to Various Golf Courses In His Hunt for the Real Killers.

Speaking of golf, it looks like some courses across the land will be opening next month (a few in my neck of the woods never closed). I haven’t swung the sticks in more than 12 years, but I’ve been thinking about my ideal foursome were I ever to tee it up again. This is it: Moi, Alison Krauss, Babs Streisand and, of course, Jesus, because I figure that walk-on-water thing might come in handy given my skill level.

Oh drat. The Scripps National Spelling Bee in the U.S. has fallen victim to COVID-19, canceled for the first time since World War II. Such a shame. I was really looking forward to watching 10-year-old kids make me feel like a complete doofus again. Or is that spelled d-u-f-u-s? Or d-o-o-f-a-s? Or d-u-f-is? Or d-u-f-f-a-s? Geez, where’s a 10-year-old whiz kid when you really need one?

I note that Scotiabank Arena in the Republic of Tranna is now a kitchen, where they’re cooking 10,000 meals a day for front-line health workers, their families and the needy. Just wondering: How will the Tranna media make that feel-good story about Drake?

So, the National Women’s Hockey League has added an expansion franchise in the Republic of Tranna and, not surprisingly, at least one of the Dream Gappers (Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association) couldn’t resist the urge to take a cheap shot at the team to be named later. That would be Liz Knox, who attempted to paint NWHL execs as uncaring, tone-deaf oafs for conducting business during the pandemic. “It’s difficult to imagine expansion being at the forefront of many business strategies,” she snarked in a text message. Oh, for sure, Liz. No businesses should look ahead to the day COVID-19 is behind us. The NHL shouldn’t make plans to finish its season or begin the 2020-21 crusade. The National Football League shouldn’t have conducted its draft last week. And, hey, Roger Federer has no business talking about a marriage between the women’s and men’s pro tennis tours. All sports operations should just sit and twiddle their thumbs. What a pathetic take, but totally in line with the PWHPA hate-on for the NWHL, which refuses to get out of the Dream Gappers’ way.

Tim & Sid granted air time on Sportsnet to another Dream Gapper, Natalie Spooner, who informed the boys that the PWHPA will “keep fighting for what we deserve.” Part of what they claim they “deserve” is a living wage, but none of the Dream Gappers has ever explained how anyone can pay for it.

Second worst take on the NWHL franchise in The ROT came from (who else?) Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna.

“It has been officially announced that Toronto has been awarded an expansion team in the National Women’s Hockey League,” he scribbled without allowing his grey matter and fingers to connect. “What hasn’t been announced: the team’s name; the team’s logo; the team’s venue. And some of those things, if not all of them, can make an outsider rather skeptical and troubled about the future of this kind of endeavour. You don’t gain credibility by announcing a team with no name, no place to play, and no big-name players. When you have all that in place, then make the announcement. The press release referred to the expansion team as a ‘first class team of professionals.’ Time will answer that, but the new Toronto Whatevers are not off to a great start.”

Really? There’s no credibility without a team name, a team logo or big-name players? Like the NHL’s expansion franchise in Seattle? The one that was announced in December 2018 and, 16 months later, remains without a team name, a team logo or any players. Or like the NHL Las Vegas expansion franchise that was announced in June 2016 without a team name, a team logo or any players? Or like the Jets, who arrived in Winnipeg sans a team name or a team logo in 2011?

Or does that lack of “credibility” only apply to female shinny outfits with no name, no logo and no big-name players at startup?

Simmons is on record as saying Ponytail Puck is a “charade,” so he’d be wise to concentrate on Golden Boy Auston Matthews’ mustache, Phil Kessel’s hot dog stand and Drake’s clown act, and leave the women’s game to news snoops who actually care and know something about it.

This week in jock journalism…

Jason Bell of the Drab Slab wins the prize for best off-beat yarn, with his piece on a Charolais bull named after Chris Streveler, former Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback and party boy. Streveler the bull is 1,499 pounds of pure Western Manitoba beef on the hoof—about the same as the entire Bombers O-line—and the brute recently sold for a whopping $45,000 at the Nykoliation family auction. The way Jason tells the story, 50 bulls were sold that day for $335,000, or about the value of a Tier-II starting QB in the Canadian Football League…I monitored bylines in the Winnipeg Sun from last Sunday through Saturday, and here’s the scorecard: Postmedia bylines 32; Toronto bylines 21; Winnipeg bylines 15; lady rassler bylines (Natalya Neidhart) 1. I swear, if I ever win Lotto Max, I’ll offer Postmedia the $1 Cdn. that the tabloid is worth today and convert it back to a local newspaper with local stories and enough scribes to actually cover the city…The NFL’s remote draft received favorable reviews from Bombers play-by-play guy Knuckles Irving and Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab. Here’s Knuckles on Twitter: “Watching the NFL draft and once again it’s completely apparent that no sports entity in the world can deliver elaborately choreographed, brilliantly produced, dragged out, mind-numbing TV hype like the NFL. Man are they good at it. Gotta be impressed.” And here’s Mad Mike: “You’ve got to hand it to the National Football League. Real life handed the league a lemon—in this case, the COVID-19 pandemic—but they showed why they’re the world’s most popular and successful sports operation by turning it into glorious, refreshing lemonade.” I never watched one second of the production, so I’ll just have to take their word for it…Laura Armstrong of the Toronto Star misses sports and feels guilty about it. I don’t miss sports and feel guilty about it. Hmmm. I never thought of COVID-19 as a guilt trip, but apparently that’s what it is.

Jesse Stone and Thelma, one of his many female admirers.

And, finally, I went on a Jesse Stone movie binge last week. Watched all nine of the made-for-TV flicks. Jesse, played by Tom Selleck, is a scotch-swilling, non-smiling wreck of a cop so hung up on his ex-wife that he talks to her long distance every night. Between benders, sessions with his ex-wife’s shrink, and trying to figure out how to work a cellphone, Jesse always catches the bad guys in Paradise, Mass. He probably drinks too much caffeine, but Jesse’s coffee breath isn’t a turnoff to the ladies in Paradise. Apparently the woman who can resist his dimples has yet to be born. Jesse always gets the girl. And I do mean always. Tall, short, black, white, young, old…every woman falls prey to Jesse’s dimples and must dine or do lunch with him. Even a nun, Sister Mary John! It’s quite silly stuff, really. So why do I like it so much?

Let’s talk about a life without sports on TV

So, what’s life going to be like without sports? How can TSN and Sportnet fill all that air time with the playground shut down due to coronavirus?

Not to worry kids.

Both our national sports networks have clever, innovative programmers, plus expansive libraries full of film featuring vintage, classic events that can be aired 24/7. And, hey, some of it might even include teams from outside the Republic of Tranna.

Just don’t count on it.

As a matter of fact, we’ve already had a sneak peek at what the Tranna-centric TSN and Sportsnet have planned while the coronavirus has all sports shut down. Here’s the menu:

Midnight: Replay (black and white) of 1967 Stanley Cup final, Maple Leafs vs. Montreal                        Canadiens.
3 a.m.:   Interviews with every member of the Leafs who isn’t dead.
4 a.m.:   James Duthie and the panel gather ’round a Ouija board and interview every                             member of the Leafs who is dead (black and white).
5 a.m.:   Replay of Maple Leafs ’67 victory parade (black and white).
6 a.m.:   Special edition of The Reporters, where Dave Hodge, Michael Farber and Steve                       Simmons pretend they remember ’67.
7 a.m.:   Replay of Auston Matthews’ first NHL game.
10 a.m.: Interview with Auston Matthews about his first NHL game.
11 a.m.:  James Duthie and the panel break down each of Auston Matthews’ four goals in his                 first NHL game. (Jeff O’Dog gets bored and hungry and leaves the studio after the                    third goal.)
Noon:     Leafs Lunch with Jeff O’Dog, Andi Petrillo and Noodles McLennan. O’Dog is still                 bored and hungry, so he rejoins James Duthie and the panel to talk more about                         Auston Matthews.
1 p.m.:   Replay of 1991 Grey Cup game, Tranna Argos vs. Calgary Stampeders.
4 p.m.:   Interview with Rocket Ismail about the beer can one fan tossed at him on his TD                     run in the ’91 Grey Cup game.
5 p.m.:   Special CFL on TSN feature hosted by Rod Smith, who goes in-depth with the only                 six people in The ROT who still attend Argonauts games.
6 p.m.:   Sports Centre; Rod Smith spends an hour to confirm there are no games scheduled.
7 p.m.:   Glen Suitor Unplugged—Why I Left My Day Job to Become a Roadie for My Man                 Crush, Keith Urban.
8 p.m.:   Celebrity Hot Stove special, featuring Drake, Spike Lee and Jack Nicholson in                         conversation with celebrity host Dr. Phil, who moderates a discussion that asks the                 question: What makes a grown man make a complete ass clown of himself at a                       sports event?
9 p.m.:   Maple Leafs Poker After Dark.
10 p.m.: Maple Leafs 8-Ball After Dark.
11 p.m.: Maple Leafs Darts After Dark.
Midnight: Repeat loop.

Midnight: Replay of Game 7, Tranna Jurassics vs. Philly 76ers.
3 a.m.:   Interview with Kawhi Leonard about The Shot.
4 a.m.:   Interview with Drake about The Shot.
5 a.m.:   Drake interviews Leonard about The Shot.
6 a.m.:   Replay of Game 6, Tranna Jurassics vs. Golden State Warriors.
9 a.m.:   Interview with Drake about winning NBA championship.
10 a.m.: Replay of Tranna Jurassics victory parde.
Noon:    Highlights of Drake’s courtside antics.
1 p.m.:   Drake explains his courtside antics.
2 p.m.:   Replay of Game 6 of 1993 World Series, Blue Jays vs. Philly Phillies.
3 p.m.:   Feature on Joe Carter called “Touch ‘Em All, Joe.”
4 p.m.:    Interview with Joe Carter, who confirms he touched ’em all.
5 p.m.:    A ‘Where Were You When?’ special featuring various celebrities from the                                Republic of Tranna, who recall where they were when Joe Carter touched ’em all.
6 p.m.:   Sports Central with Carly Agro and Eric Thomas, who spend an hour to confirm                     there are no games scheduled.
7 p.m.:    Replay of 1992 World Series, Blue Jays vs. Atlanta Braves.
10 p.m.:  Interview with Drake, who explains why he isn’t a Blue Jays groupie.
11 p.m.:  Panel discussion among Sportsnet anchors who discuss why they talk about Drake                  so much.
Midnight: Repeat loop.

Let’s talk about sports in 2020: Megan Rapinoe for VP…Bemidji Buff…Coach PoMo’s dog days…Winnipeg Blue Bombers QB situation is a zoo…curling and diaper duty…and other things in the crystal ball…

No looking back. Only looking ahead.

And who better to do that than Madame Redneck, my bony recluse friend who lives above the timber line with 12 cats on Vancouver Island and grants me an audience once a year, as long as I supply the Kokanee?

She’s a crazy, old girl—I suppose in polite company we’d call her eccentric—but she possesses the best psychic powers this side of Nostradamus. She’s my personal Nostra Damn-Miss.

I spent an afternoon with her on the weekend, and here’s what she saw in her crystal ball for 2020…

  • The Yankee Doodle Damsels win soccer gold at the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo and, once again, loud mouth lesbian Megan Rapinoe is the star of the show and the most popular athlete in the U.S. Seeing this as an opportunity to boost his sagging approval rating, Donald Trump ditches VP Mike Pence and asks Rapinoe to join him as his running mate on the GOP ticket in the presidential campaign.

Megan Rapinoe

“It’s only right that I have a gay running mate, because nobody’s been a better friend to the gay community than me…nobody,” Trump says. “Megan knows it. All the gays know it. You wouldn’t believe the things I’ve done for the gays. Even the gays don’t believe it. Just ask them. They’ll tell you I’ve done things like they’ve never seen. I’ve done so many things for the gays that I actually wish I was gay, just so I could take advantage of all the things I’ve done for the gays. I’ve told Melania that. She thinks I’d make a great gay. I’d be a gay like you’ve never seen. I was at the Stonewall Riots, by the way. I threw the first brick. I freed the gays the same way Lincoln freed the slaves. There wouldn’t have been a gay pride movement if I hadn’t tossed that first brick at the cops. Me and Harvey Milk, we’re the most influential people in gay history. The gays know that.”

Asked if she would accept Trump’s overture, Rapinoe says: “Sure, as soon as he paints the White House pink.”

  • Dustin Byfuglien continues his rehab in an ice fishing hut at Lockport, but the Winnipeg Jets reluctant blueliner decides to retire from the National Hockey League and buys a fishing lodge near Bemidji, Minn.

Dustin Byfuglien

“There’s been a lot of talk about ruffled feathers,” general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff tells news snoops, “but, again, I can assure you that Buff’s feathers were never ruffled. Frankly, my feathers are a bit ruffled because you people keep asking me about ruffled feathers. Again, we would have preferred that Buff rejoin us for our drive to the playoffs. Again, we like Buff. Unfortunately, he likes fishing and hunting more than he likes us. But, again, that doesn’t mean his feathers are ruffled. We wish Buff all the best and, again, this had nothing to do with ruffled feathers.”

When contacted by reporters at his Lockport Buff Hut, Byfuglien says he has nothing to say.

  • Chevy and Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman re-sign Paul Maurice, thus snuffing out speculation that Coach Potty Mouth plans to join the expansion Seattle To Be Named Laters.

Coach Potty Mo

“Again, Paul was never going anywhere,” Chevy says. “It’s my understanding that he’s building a big-ass house somewhere in the city. That would be a crazy commute to Seattle. Again, I don’t know how these rumors start. Again, just because Paul is friends with Ron Francis doesn’t mean he was leaving. Again, Paul has many friends in hockey. I like to think I’m one of them. Again, if we all worked for our friends, there would only be one team in the NHL. Again, you guys slay me with your rumors.”

Asked about re-upping with the Jets, Maurice says: “I look forward to making as many people as possible cry in that effing dressing room.”

  • Three days after the announcement of Maurice’s new contract, the Jets are forced to fire him.

Chevy

“We thought we had done our due diligence during the vetting process,” Chevy explains, “but we later discovered that Paul kicked a teammate’s dog when he was playing PeeWee hockey as a 10-year-old. Again, with the league’s new policy on squeaky-clean conduct by coaches, we had no choice but to let him go. I realize it happened 42 years ago, but, again, kicking a dog is kicking a dog is kicking a dog, and it doesn’t matter that poor Spot has been dead for a quarter century. Again, we endorse the league’s witch hunt of coaches guilty of wrong-doing, no matter how far back we have to look.”

Asked where he would find a replacement for Maurice, Chevy mutters: “Maybe it will have to be an altar boy to be named later, because, again, all the known saints are dead.”

  • Ron MacLean is removed as host of Hockey Night in Canada and replaced by David Amber.

Ron MacLean

“First they got Don Cherry, now they got me,” says MacLean. “Grapes lost his job because of poppies, and I lose my job because I’m a white guy. Go figure. I mean, what’s the NHL about if it isn’t about old white guys running everything? I might be the first white guy in hockey to lose his job because of his skin color. Don’t get me wrong, David is a talented young guy, but let’s face it, he’s got my job because I’m white and he isn’t. I just recently noticed that he wasn’t an old white guy. Oh, well, at least I’ve still got Hometown Hockey with Tara Slone. Funny thing is, I didn’t even notice she was a woman until last year. I guess there’s been a lot of stuff I didn’t notice.”

  • QB Zach Collaros takes his Grey Cup ring and runs to the Republic of Tranna, where he becomes the starter with the Boatmen.

Zach Collaros

“I loved playing for coach O’Shea and coach LaPolice, and I loved playing with all the guys, and I loved being a Blue Bomber and winning the Grey Cup,” he says. “But it’s Winnipeg. Not a lot going on there. I mean, how many times can you go to the zoo?”

  • QB Matt Nichols decides to forego free agency and signs a fresh three-year deal with the Bombers.

“Like, as if I really had a choice,” he says. “Take a look around the league. There aren’t any openings for a starter. Except maybe Ottawa. If it’s between Ottawa and Winnipeg, I’ll take Winnipeg every time. I mean, I just can’t get enough of that zoo, man.”

  • QB Chris Streveler sobers up in time to strut his stuff for a handful of National Football League outfits, but he returns to Canada and signs with the Ottawa RedBlacks, now coached by Paul LaPolice.

Chris Streveler

“I enjoyed working out for those NFL teams,” he says, “but it’s too much of a zoo down there.”

  • Canadian Football League commissioner Randy Ambrosie amps up his CFL 2.0 initiative by announcing working agreements with organizations in Fiji, Papua New Guinea and the Falkland Islands.

“One day you’ll be seeing Fijians, New Guineans and Falklanders on CFL rosters,” he boasts.

Asked how that will increase interest and attendance in the league’s weakest markets, Toronto and Vancouver, Commish Randy replies: “We have teams in those cities? Who knew?”

  • CFL on TSN talking head Glen Suitor turns in his microphone and becomes tour bus driver and resident groupie for singer and heatthrob Keith Urban.

Chris Cuthbert, Keith Urban and groupie Glen Suitor.

“After meeting Keith at the Grey Cup and sucking up to him the way I did on national TV, I couldn’t turn down this opportunity,” Suitor says. “How many guys can say they get to drive Keith Urban’s bus and lick his boots every day? Just me. He might even give me a bit part in his next music video. Eat your heart out, Nicole Kidman.”

  • Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman expands his True North Sports & Entertainment empire when granted a National Women’s Hockey League expansion franchise, called the Jettes.

Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman

“This is something I should have done a long time ago,” Chipman says. “I like women. I married one. And I have three daughters. All of them play or played hockey. I’d love it if one day one of them, or one of my granddaughters, could play for the Jettes. Based on the NWHL pay scale, it’d be cheaper than giving them an allowance.”

  • New moms Rachel Homan and Joanne Courtney win the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and, along with Lisa Weagle and Emma Miskew, become the first women to earn a purse equal to the Brier champions.

Rachel Homan

“It’s the 20th century,” says Homan. “About time. But we’ve already won this thing three times. You don’t suppose they could make the pay retroactive, do you? Diapers cost more than I thought.”

  • The boys on the hockey beat at the Drab Slab overhear a neighbor talking to a butcher who talked to a school teacher who talked to a cab driver who talked to a bartender who talked to a nurse who overheard Rink Rat Scheifele’s hair stylist mention a travel agent, so they scribble an article saying the Jets centre has demanded a trade.

“Now we know for certain whose feathers are ruffled,” they write. “If you can’t believe a hair stylist, who can you believe?”

  • I retire from scribbling the River City Renegade blog, but I return for more.

“What can I say?” I say. “As long as those mooks at the Drab Slab keep writing their fiction, I’m going to keep cranking out my BS.”

Let’s talk about goals and lumps of coal in the toy department

Yes, it’s a return of the Sunday smorgas-bored, but with a slight twist: Sports Santa arrives on Wednesday and he’s given us a sneak peak at what he’s tucked inside his bag, so let’s see if it’s Goal or a Lump o’ Coal for the good and not-so-good girls and boys in the toy department of life…

GOAL: The Winnipeg Blue Bombers ended the longest dry spell since prohibition, so all hosannas to the Canadian Mafia—Wade Miller (CEO), Kyle Walters (GM) and Mike O’Shea (head coach)—who brought the Grey Cup home to River City and turned Chris Streveler into a flesh-flashing party animal. I don’t recall Kenny Ploen getting half naked and noodle-legged during Grey Grail celebrations back in the day, but good on Streveler for letting his wolf loose. After all, this sort of thing only happens every 29 years.

LUMP O’ COAL: Andrew Harris. Ya, I realize the local product was top dog in the Canadian Football League championship game, but he became a tainted tailback by failing a mid-season pee test. Harris claimed innocence, but don’t they all when caught using PEDs?

GOAL: Dayna Spiring became the first female board chair in the 89-years history of the local three-down football outfit, and the lady is a champ. You might have seen Dayna down on the field at McMahon Stadium in Calgary, hoisting the Grey Grail after the Bombers had waffled the Hamilton Tabbies on the final Sunday in November, and that’s girl power, baby.

LUMP O’ COAL: Actually, make it an entire coal bin for Glen Suitor, the TSN gasbag whose swooning over singer-of-songs Keith Urban during the Grey Cup telecast registered 10 on the creep-me-out meter. We haven’t seen or heard teenage-girly gushing like that since John, Paul, George and Ringo worked their first Ed Sullivan Show gig. I truly believe Suitor wet his pants.

GOAL: All aboard the Bianca Andreescu Tennis Express. First she won the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, then the Rogers Cup in the Republic of Tranna, then the U.S. Open in Gotham, where she slayed neighborhood bully Serena Williams in the final. Along the way, former world No. 1 Angelique Kerber called Bianca the “biggest drama queen ever,” and you know you’re doing something right when the claws come out.

LUMP O’ COAL: Apparently the ‘C’ on Blake Wheeler’s sweater stands for “cantankerous cuss,” because the Winnipeg Jets captain went full-on potty mouth at the close of business last April, telling Winnipeg Sun scribe Paul Friesen to “fuck off.” And don’t talk to me about a heat-of-the-moment comment after a tough loss. Fifteen teams were eliminated from the Stanley Cup runoff last spring, and only one captain told a news snoop to “fuck off.” Look, Wheeler doesn’t have to like the questions, he doesn’t even have to answer ever question, he doesn’t have to get warm and fuzzy with news snoops, but civility also starts with a ‘C’. Hopefully he’ll try it on for size when the Jets are ousted next spring.

GOAL: I’m not sure there’s anyone in sports more delightful than Brooke Henderson, our Lady of the Links who won two more tournaments to become the most successful hoser golfer on either the LPGA or PGA tours. That’s nine titles for Brooke now, and I hope we never take her for granted because there should be nothing ho hum about winning two events every year. Brooke is a bringer-of-joy and a national treasure.

LUMP O’ COAL: The U.S. women’s national soccer side established new, disturbing standards for rub-it-in-their-faces hoorawing during a 13-0 rout of lowly Thailand. The Yankee Doodle Damsels celebrated each of their scores as if they’d retaken France from Hitler’s Nazis, and their over-the-top, cringeworthy carry-on after goals eight through 13 was an ugly pock mark on an otherwise masterful World Cup performance in Paris and the surrounding French countryside.

GOAL: I have two words for the TSN World Cup panel of Clare Rustad, Kaylyn Kyle and Diana Matheson—c’est magnifique. Actually, I have more than two words for them: Brisk and blunt, feisty, fiery and unafraid to put noses out of joint, the trio provided commentary as insightful as it was entertaining, and it didn’t matter if they were talking about hand balls or Marta’s shade of lipstick. TSN gave three women a voice and they knew what to do with it. What a concept. Add Kyle’s killer hair to the mix and it all worked.

LUMP O’ COAL: Donald Trump picked a Twitter fight with America’s leading lady on the pitch, Megan Rapinoe. Seriously, what’s up with that? I mean, wasn’t Trump too busy separating Mexican mothers from their kids to worry about a fitba diva?

GOAL: Katherine Henderson, CEO of Curling Canada, wanted to bring equal pay to the pebble and she’s done it. Prize purses at both the 2020 Scotties Tournament of Hearts and the Brier will be $300,000, with each winning outfit collecting $105,000. Hurry hard to that pay window, girls. You’ve earned it.

LUMP O’ COAL: Auston Matthews of the Tranna Maple Leafs and some of his boozed-up buddies thought it would be a swell idea to act like damn fools and prank a female security guard at 2 o’lock in the morning last summer in Scottsdale, Ariz. They attempted to climb into her locked car, then got all leaky-mouthed when she turned them back. When last seen, Matthews had dropped his trousers and was mooning the guard. What a charmer.

LUMP O’ COAL: Many mainstream jock journos wrote off L’Affaire Matthews as nothing more than the yuk-it-up, boys-will-be-boys hijinks of youth, and that’s because too many mainstream jock journos are guys who relate to frat-boy hijinks. I imagine the narrative would have been different had it been their mother, sister, wife or daughter sitting alone in that car.

GOAL: Greg Fettes and Matt Cockell brought the Western Hockey League back to Winnipeg, playing out of a cramped Wayne Fleming Arena at the U of M. Nice. Now, if only Greg and Matt would do something about ditching the Sasquatch logo and changing the team name to something more River City-centric.

GOAL: When Murat Ates joined The Athletic to work the Jets beat, I feared he’d be too heavy on numbers and too light on storytelling. Turns out he’s found an acceptable mix. I still won’t read him if I need an abacus, because that’s just typing, not writing, but I don’t turn away when he’s spinning a good yarn. Murat has a nice way with words. Boffo addition to the beat.

GOAL: Bob Cameron. Blue Bombers. Ring of Honour. Brilliant.

GOAL: Jennifer Jones became the most successful skip in Scotties history, nailing down win No. 141 last winter in Sydney, and I really wish everyone would get past that whole Cathy O thing. C’mon people, can’t we just talk about Jennifer as the greatest female curler ever?

GOAL: The Seattle To Be Named Laters have yet to play a game, but they’ve already scored big by bringing Cammi Granato on board as a fulltime pro scout, a first for the very male, very old boys club known as the National Hockey League.

LUMP O’ COAL: Hockey Day in Canada is a celebration of our great game, which is supposed to be for everyone, but the tall foreheads at CBC and Sportsnet couldn’t find a way to squeeze a women’s match into their 12-hours marathon last February. Oh, sure, the natterbugs mentioned Ponytail Puck, but the Tranna Furies-les Canadiennes joust should have been part of the package.

LUMP O’ COAL: Never mind that Ron MacLean enabled Don Cherry’s pulpit bullying for 33 years, the Hockey Night in Canada host confessed to not recognizing “the structural racism or sexism that’s going on” in hockey. I don’t believe for a nanosecond that MacLean is truly that naive. He saw it and heard it. He just ignored it.

GOAL: Richie Hall had been the most maligned man in Good Ol’ Hometown since taking command of the Bombers defensive dozen, but it was Richie’s D that ruled the day in each of Winnipeg FC’s playoff victories. Winning the Grey Cup looked good on him.

GOAL: Anyone who purchased and scarfed down a Walby Burger at a Bombers game deserves a lifetime supply of Tums or Pepto. And maybe a cardiologist to be named later. I mean, that sucker was a heart attack in the making—six meat patties, six chicken strips, six wieners, six hunks of bacon, cheese, French fries, pickles, lettuce, onions, tomatoes and special sauce stuffed between two buns the size of an umbrella.

LUMP O’ COAL: CFL commish Randy Ambrosie has been flitting about the globe, making nice with Mexicans, Europeans and Aussies, but it seems he’s forgotten about his own back yard. The CFL lost more than 76,000 customers between 2018 and ’19 and, notably, even the longtime flagship franchise in Edmonton took a huge hit at the box office (minus-15,898). Commish Randy doesn’t appear to have a plan to make Rouge Football a happening again in Vancouver or the Republic of Tranna, but, hey, I hear he’s big in Frankfurt and Vienna.

LUMP O’ COAL: The Green Bay Packers-Oakland Raiders adventure at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry was a gong show from the get-go, and we have some dude named John Graham to blame for that. Ticket prices were $75-$340 (plus tax/fees), which was never going to work in a burg that only buys wholesale; Oakland punter A. J. Cole arrived wearing a Winnipeg, Alberta, t-shirt; the Packers sat 33 starters; they found potholes in the end zones, thus the field for the faux football game was reduced to 80 yards in length. Oh, and did I mention there were fewer than 20,000 customers in the ball park? Graham blamed it all on the media, naturally, and he had the bad manners to attempt to boot Paul Friesen from the press box. Friesen stayed, the National Football League didn’t. And four-down football will never be back.

GOAL: Paul Friesen continues to crank out his Night Before Christmas sports poem, a tradition started by Uncle Vince Leah back in the day at the Winnipeg Tribune. I resurrected it for the Winnipeg Sun in the 1990s (or was it the ’80s?), so I’m delighted that Paul picked up that pen. I assume it’ll be featured in the tabloid’s Tuesday edition and, like most of his stuff, it’ll be boffo.

LUMP O’ COAL: Mad Mike McIntyre turned the Drab Slab into gossip central by telling us that the Jets changing room was “rotten to the core.” He mentioned something about “multiple sources,” but neglected to tell us what his “multiple sources” actually told him. Thus, galloping gossip among the rabble ensued. That was April 5. On April 17, he advised us that there was “unity among teammates, both in the room and on the ice,” but by April 20 the players apparently couldn’t stand the sight of each other again. In May, he informed us that any “ruffled feathers” in the room belonged to Rink Rat Scheifele, and in June he once again told us that the Jets were “a fractured bunch.” But wait. In August, he advised us that there was “nothing going on that winning couldn’t fix.” Confused yet? So was I. More latterly, which is to say last week, he insisted that AWOL defender Dustin Byfuglien was the root of all evil, because was was siphoning too much alpha oxygen out of the room. Meanwhile, his stooge-in-laws at the Freep, Steve Lyons and yesterday’s man Paul Wiecek, told us that captain Blake Wheeler was the rottenest of all apples in that barrel. All that and, nine months later, they’ve yet to provide a shred of evidence to support the “rotten to the core” narrative, other than one late-season, closed-door-meeting, which is commonplace in the NHL. Apparently, innuendo and back-fence gossip trump facts and anecdotal evidence at the Drab Slab.

And, finally, GOAL: To everyone who indulged an old lady by stopping by for a read of the River City Renegade. We hit 48,000 views this year, and that’s a high-water mark. So thanks. Happy Christmas, happy New Year, and happy trails to you.

Let’s talk about Dayna Spiring, role model and feel-good Grey Cup story…a ring for young Eddie?…Chris Steveler doing the Ovi and flashing flesh…the Drab Slab wins the front page war…the J-Boys and Beastmo…the Suitor Swoon…root, root, rooting for the home team…jock journo under attack…and hockey is not for everyone

A hump day smorgas-bored…and let’s clean out one final notebook before I find a nice, warm corner to sit in…

As the Winnipeg Blue Bombers passed the Grey Grail around like a joint at a love-in on Sunday, no doubt there were lumps on bar stools and dudes in man caves across the land who noticed a smallish, raven-haired woman hoisting the goblet.

“Who’s the chick with the Grey Cup?” they likely wondered aloud.

Dayna Spiring

That would be Dayna Spiring, first and only female chair of the Bombers board of directors and, once the engraver is done with his handiwork, the first woman to have her name etched on the ultimate prize in Rouge Football.

And, yes, now that you mention it, I do find it mildly amusing that after 28 Canadian Football League seasons of Winnipeg FC never failing to fail, Dayna showed the boys how it’s done her first time out of the chute. You go, girl.

I suppose there are some among the rabble who might pooh-pooh Dayna’s contribution to the Bombers’ success, because they reckon she doesn’t really do much except sit at a big table in a big boardroom and make life difficult for Wade Miller, a real football guy and CEO of our community-run franchise.

Well, look, I don’t pretend to know the inner-workings of the Bombers board, nor am I privy to her private chit-chats with Miller, who, I’m told, has a head as hard as a bowling ball and whose mug shot appears beside the word ‘mulish’ in the dictionary. And I can’t tell you what goes on when CFL governors gather behind closed doors. But I’ll assume that Dayna is more than just a pretty face in an old boys club, and if David Braley of the B.C. Lions barks at her she’ll bark right back if it’s in the best interest of Winnipeg FC.

So, no, she has no sway in who starts at quarterback, but she might have something to say about what kind of QB the football club can afford, not to mention the quality of character the large lads stuffed inside those blue-and-gold uniforms possess.

The point is, the Bombers’ 33-12 victory over the Hamilton Tabbies in the 107th Grey Cup skirmish on Sunday wasn’t just about football.

Young women and girls across the land also saw Dayna hoist the Grey Grail during the post-game hooraw at McMahon Stadium in the Alberta Foothills, and that tells them they can do it, too. Since we all have mothers, daughters, sisters and nieces, isn’t that something we should all want for them? The belief in self? The belief in can do?

You bet it is.

I’ve never met Dayna Spiring, and I doubt I ever will, but, for me, she’s the real feel-good story of the Bombers’ first Grey Cup victory in 29 years, and a true role model for all women.

Young Eddie

Say, does this Winnipeg FC win mean my dear friend yound Eddie Tait gets a championship ring? I hope so. Once upon a time, of course, Young Eddie was the best football beat writer in all the land, first at the Winnipeg Sun then the Drab Slab, but he escaped the rag trade a couple years back to join the football club and crank out all that quality scribbling for bluebombers.com. I don’t know how far down the food chain he is, but it seems to me that someone should be sizing one of Young Eddie’s digits for a Grey Cup ring. If so, he’ll be the second former Sun scribe to earn one. Mike Petrie went over the wall more than a dozen years ago and eventually became John Hufnagel’s right-hand man with the Calgary Stampeders.

For the record, I have zero championship rings, but I seem to recall legendary coach Cal Murphy once letting me kiss his ring finger. It sure beat the other part of his anatomy that some news snoops were kissing.

Just wondering, has Chris Streveler put his clothes on yet? The Bombers backup QB has been half naked since the local football heroes whupped the Tabbies, and he’s definitely the most likely candidate to do the Ovie and take a dip in a fountain with the Coupe Grey.

Also wondering, can the CFL not find a welder capable of fixing the Grey Cup so it doesn’t fall apart every time one of the large lads takes a swig of beer from the thing? Apparently the binder twine and denture adhesive aren’t working.

The Sun clobbered the Drab Slab in playoff and Grey Cup coverage, but the broadsheet scored a big win with its front page on Monday. Brilliant. Probably a collector’s item. I don’t know who made the call on the Sun front, but it was a bigger flop than the Hamilton offence. I mean, a pic of Andrew Harris running the ball squeezed between a key and an ad? Lame, lame, lame.

Modesty does not prevent me from tooting my own horn at times, and this is one of those times. Here’s what I wrote last February, the day after Bombers GM Kyle Walters convinced Willie Jefferson to come on board: “Winnipeg FC might only require Justin Medlock’s left leg to get the job done in 2019. I mean, who’s going to score on the Bombers? D-coordinator Richie Hall can simply dial up 1-800-GET-SACK and if Jefferson isn’t in the QB’s kitchen, Jackson Jeffcoat will be. Should the J-Boys falter, Beastmo Bighill will be right behind to tidy things up.” And how did it unfold v. the Tabbies? Well, Jefferson had three sacks and two forced fumbles, Jeffcoat had two sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery, while Bighill scooped up a loose ball. Meantime, Medlock hoofed six three-pointers and a rouge for 19 points, more than enough to win the day. I call that Blind Squirrel Syndrome. Sometimes I get it right.

Chris Cuthbert, Keith Urban and groupie Glen Suitor.

Still can’t get over groupie Glen Suitor swooning like a tennybopper when Keith Urban joined him and Chris Cuthbert in the TSN booth late in the third quarter of Sunday’s skirmish. The gooey gushing and impromptu lesson in the workings of three-down football were just…so…creepy, and I think Doug Brown of the Drab Slab put it best about the Suitor Swoon with this tweet: “How about we teach Keith Urban Canadian football in a game that isn’t the Grey Cup?” Right on, Doug.

Almost as bad as Suitor’s orgasmic carry-on was that ridiculous split screen, featuring a blurry vision of Urban on the left, like he was the Pope on his Vatican balcony, and the actual game shown in ant-size. My eyes and ears bled.

Found this post-Grey Cup take from Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab interesting: “Full disclosure. I had no rooting interest in this game.” I call BS on that. I refuse to believe that a guy working and writing in Good Ol’ Hometown for more than two decades didn’t want the Bombers to beat the Tabbies. You can’t permit bias to creep into your copy, but you sure as hell hope the good guys win.

Matty

Mad Mike’s piece reminded me of something my first sports editor, the great Jack Matheson, wrote when readers suggested he was soft on the Bombers due to a perceived friendship with then-coach Ray Jauch. “All right, I’ll come clean, Ray Jauch is a friend of mine, but I didn’t know they had enacted some sort of legislation making it a crime for sports writers to have friends. I don’t see anything wrong with being friendly with a man you work with every day of the week. Where does it say a football writer and a football coach have to have an adversary relationship? Yes, we’re friends. I don’t know about ‘good’ friends, but that doesn’t sound like such a bad idea, either, because we have something in common. We’re thrown together into the football jungle, and Ray Jauch wants to win because it’s his job and I want to win because I live here and I like to be proud of the athletes who represent us.” Exactly. And if that was good enough for Matty, it’s good enough for me, and it should be good enough for today’s scribes.

Mad Mike also reported that there was a nasty and heated verbal exchange post-match between the Bombers faithful and Postmedia Tranna scribe Steve Simmons, who had scribbled a piece suggesting Andrew Harris had no business playing in the Grey Cup game due to his PED bust during the regular season. Let me just say this about that: Simmons is more a hit man than he is a writer. His column has become mean-spirited, slanderous, deliberately incendiary, fraught with factual inaccuracies, and quite witless. He has made a career of assailing and insulting athletes, coaches, managers, etc. of every stripe, so he was simply getting some of his own. As long as it isn’t physical, it’s part of the gig.

The Simmons incident reminds me of the day I was walking home from the Toad In The Hole in Osborne Village one spring. I have no idea what I had written, but a large chap on the sidewalk opposite me suddenly shouted, “You’re a complete piece of shit!” I wasn’t eager to cross River Avenue and discuss the raw sewage seeping from his mouth, but I did hasten my pace and made it home safely.

Bill Peters and Akim Aliu.

The surprise isn’t that Calgary Flames head coach Bill Peters once (allegedly) dropped N-bombs in a changing room, the surprise is that so many people are surprised that this sort of racist language and behavior occurs in hockey.

During the tar-and-feathering of Don Cherry after his commentary on immigrants and poppies a few weeks back, numerous opinionists used the occasion to remind us that “hockey is for everyone,” as if white ice and a black puck make it so. But the Peters-Akim Aliu incident is a disturbing reminder that hockey is not for everyone. If hockey was for everyone, there would be more faces of color on the ice. If hockey was for everyone, there would have been an openly gay man in the National Hockey League by now. Hockey is a lot closer to being “for everyone” on the women’s side, where we’ve seen lesbians on Olympic and national teams around the globe, and transgender players in the National Women’s Hockey League. The men? It’s still a horse-and-buggy sport.

And, finally, until we meet again, it’s been a slice.

Let’s talk about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ Canadian Mafia getting the job done…popcorn in the bathroom?…a paddywhacking in the woodshed…groupie Glen Suitor gets gooey over Keith Urban…Andrew Harris and the “haters”…and it’s time to sign off

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and, say, it turned out nice again…

Well I’ll be damned. The Canadian Mafia got it done.

And, yes, I’ll confess there were times when I harbored serious doubt that the True North Trinity had what it takes to build a championship cocktail, and I figured one of Mike O’Shea, Kyle Walters or Wade Miller would have been out the door by now.

My money was always on O’Shea to be kicked to the curb first, because head coaches tend to get a lot less leash than general managers or CEOs. Some of them, in fact, don’t last much longer than a pint of beer in front of Chris Walby.

The Canadian Mafia: Mike O’Shea, Wade Miller, Kyle Walters.

In Coach Grunge’s case, though, at some point in the past six years O’Shea learned to get out of his own way, leaving the gadgetry and gimmickry (read: fake punts, phantom field goals and truly dopey coaching) to others, and the rabble was partying at Portage and Main for the first time in 29 years on Sunday night because of it.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are rulers of all they survey in Rouge Football, and Coach Grunge’s lads didn’t just take down the dreaded Hamilton Tabbies in the 107th edition of Grey Cup skirmishing. They turned McMahon Stadium in the Alberta Foothills into a woodshed. They delivered a man-to-boys paddywhacking to an outfit that had better credentials entering the fray, but the Tabbies’ 16-3 record and a couple of bucks wouldn’t have bought them a cup of coffee at Tim’s.

Even if it did, they wouldn’t have been able to sit and enjoy it, because their lips were too swollen and bruised.

Did someone say smash mouth? It was Winnipeg FC 33, Hamilton 12 when the tears of joy began rolling down cheeks, including Richie Hall’s, but that 33-12 scoreline looked a lot more like 50-12, and it truly was a made-in-Canada production.

Look at the main players. O’Shea…hoser. GM Walters…hoser. CEO Miller…hoser. Then, of course, there was Andrew Harris, the day’s most outstanding player…hoser.

Good day, eh? Yes, it was. It was a very good day.

Random thoughts and observations while watching the Bombers ragdoll the Tabbies to become Canadian Football League titleholders:

Danny Mac

Pre-Game: Nice to see truly good guy Brian Williams on the TSN set, and the veteran broadcaster doesn’t go all wishy-washy in his chin-wag with CFL grand poobah Randy Ambrosie. When Commish Randy puts on his happy face and describes the lame market in the Republic of Tranna as “an opportunity,” Williams scoffs and calls it “a disaster.” Atta boy, Brian…Mike Benevides drops by to explain how the Bombers might stop Brandon Banks, and he mentions something about a “kill Speedy B” strategy. “He goes to the bathroom for popcorn (follow him),” he said. Excuse me, but who gets their popcorn in a bathroom?…Fun chin-wag between the TSN panel and Winnipeg FC assistant GM and hall-of-fame quarterback Danny McManus. Milt Stegall notes that Danny Mac always seemed to be in good humor during his playing days, even when tossing four picks in a game. “If someone caught it,” Danny Mac jokes, “I just counted it as a completion.”…I don’t know about you, but I’m liking The Beaches. Three guitars, a drum kit, and keyboards. Yup, looks and sounds like a rock band to me. Hope Nicole Kidman’s husband, Keith Urban, is as good during the halftime show…Tabbies lose the coin toss. Might be a harbinger.

Willie Jefferson

First Quarter: Brandon Alexander picks Hamilton QB Dane Evans’ first pass, and the Bombers are geeked up…Andrew Harris head butts Darth Defender, Simoni Lawrence, after a whistle and directly in front of an official, but the zebra keeps his hanky in his pocket. Go figure…Willie Jefferson forces Evans to spill the football and Beastmo Bighill gobbles it up. One play later, Harris skedaddles 15 yards to the house. Bombers 7, Tabbies nada…What’s this? Does Speedy B have an owie? Looks like it. Need to keep an eye on that…Lirim Hajrullahu’s right leg puts the Tabbies on the board with a three-pointer. Bombers 7, Tabbies 3…Old reliable Justin Medlock’s left leg isn’t so reliable, and he’s wayward on a field goal attempt, but Speedy B doesn’t bring it out of the end zone. Strange. Bombers 8, Tabbies 3…Bombers D-line stuffs the Tabbies on a third-and-one…Total dominance by the Bombers on both sides of the line, so why is it only 8-3 for the good guys?

Glen Suitor

Second Quarter: Hajrullahu and Medlock exchange FGs. Bombers 11, Tabbies 6…The Bombers defensive dozen, especially the front four, is mauling the Tabbies O-line. This thing should already be a route…Check it out. Chris Streveler is in at QB for Winnipeg FC and he’s throwing the ball. Complete to Andrew Harris. Touchdown. Bombers 18, Tabbies 6…I know there’s plenty of football left to play, but I’m already declaring a winner. This game is over. The Bombers have everything, the Tabbies nothing. Trust me, it’s in the bag…Hey, there’s Nicole Kidman’s hubby Keith heading inside to warm his hands…Oh dear. One look at Keith Urban and Glen Suitor is swooning in the TSN broadcast booth, comparing country music to football. He tells us there are “twelve chords” in a country music song and 12 players on the Bombers offence. Fabulous insight, Suits…Zach Collaros connects with Rasheed Bailey for an 11-yard gain. “Another hit song for (offensive co-ordinator) Paul LaPolice,” says Suitor. Good grief…Another FG from Medlock. Bombers 21, Tabbies 6…Like I said, it’s a done deal…There’s Bob Young, the Tabbies bankroll. But don’t call him the team owner, he insists he’s the team caretaker. In that case, he should grab a broom and sweep up the gawdawful mess his club is leaving on the McMahon Stadium carpet.

Halftime: It’s Keith Urban time…My young daughter in the B.C. interior tells me he’s a country music superstar, but without a steel guitar or a fiddle, his isn’t my kind of country…He does three tunes, none of which sound country. In fact, Nicole’s hubby sounds a lot like Barry Gibb and the Bee Gees on his third number…The kids seem to like it, though, and that’s all that matters.

Keith Urban

Third Quarter: Receiver Darvin Adams takes a direct snap and completes a pass to QB Streveler. The Bombers are rubbing their noses in it now…Another Medlock FG. Bombers 24, Tabbies 6…Bombers stuff the Tabbies on another third-and-one. Someone call a priest and have him go to the Hamilton sideline, STAT!…Hey, look who’s joined Suits and Chris Cuthbert in the TSN booth. Why, it’s Nicole Kidman’s hubby, and Suitor immediate goes into teenybopper/groupie mode. “What’s your favorite song?” he gushes. “You set a new standard (in the halftime show), Keith. I am a huge, huge fan.”…Jaelon Acklin hauls in an Evans pass near the sideline, and Suitor instructs the boys in the truck to run a replay. “Take a look at the replay, ’cause Keith Urban wants to know,” he says…It’s time for Urban to go home to Australia or Nashville, so Suitor, celebrating his 57th birthday, wraps his left arm around him and says, “I can tell all my buddies Keith Urban sang happy birthday,” he squeals…Hey, it’s my 69th birthday on Wednesday. Wonder if Keith will stop by to serenade me. Probably not…I don’t know if Suitor asked for an autograph, but I’m pretty sure he had to wipe himself dry after Urban left.

Fourth Quarter: The rest, as they say, is history. The Bombers continue to maul the Tabbies and send Speedy B to the infirmary. He’s done for the night. Make the final: Bombers 33, Tabbies 12.

Andrew Harris and his trinkets.

Postgame: Richie Hall is wiping tears from his eyes, and I can’t say I blame the much maligned man in charge of the Bombers defensive dozen. He lost a brother not so long ago, so emotions are pouring out…Andrew Harris, banished for two regular-season games after lab squints found a PED in his pee, is a bit of an ugly winner. “All the haters out there who talk shit, this is for you,” he snarls at Sara Orlesky of TSN. He says something similar after accepting his most outstanding player/Canadian awards, suggesting “haters” can take his trinkets and shove ’em where there’s only darkness. Understandable, I suppose, given what he went through, but ugly nonetheless…O’Shea stands back and allows the longest-serving member of the Bombers, Jake Thomas, to get his paws on the Grey Cup first. And that would explain why Coach Grunge is so popular with his troops….Smilin’ Hank Burris informs us that “We didn’t see one Bomber player limp off that field.” Tell that to Streveler who, at times, could scarcely walk…The boys in the booth and on the TSN panel repeatedly made reference to Harris’ two-game suspension, but I don’t recall any of them mentioning it was for a drug bust. Odd…It’s all over but the hangovers and the parade…Cuthbert and Suitor sign off, but not before Suits thanks his new heartthrob Keith Urban.

And, finally, I’ve now witnessed eight Blue Bombers Grey Cup victories, dating back to QB Jim Van Pelt’s 22-point game in 1958, and I covered three of them. This one feels special, and it’s a good way to bow out. I’m taking a break from the River City Renegade blog, and it might turn out to be permanent. We’ll see. In the meantime, thanks to the 116,000-plus who stopped by for a read, and enjoy the parade.

Let’s talk about the Paper Bag Bowl…the Winnipeg Blue Bombers winning by a rouge…Kate’s down on sex…Andrew Harris still paying the price for his PED bust…E-Town is the best Grey Cup town…Commish Randy blowing smoke…Kid Dynamite trashing football deity…the Drab Slab beefs up in newspaper wars…Babs overkill on Sportsnet…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I’m in a Grey Cup state of mind…

Welcome to the O-For-The-Century Bowl, featuring the two biggest losers since Decca took a pass on The Beatles and Ford went all-in on the Edsel.

I mean, we’re talking Wile E. Coyote v. his own twin brother here, without the ACME explosives or falling anvils, although I wouldn’t put anything past Simoni Lawrence, the Darth Defender of Rouge Football.

Simoni figures to be one of the central participants in today’s Grey Cup skirmish between the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Hamilton Tabbies, and if he hasn’t dropped a boulder on Zach Collaros’ head by the end of the day, chances are the guys in blue-and-gold togs will claim bragging rights in the Canadian Football League for the first time in almost three decades.

Pundits across the landscape have dubbed this 107th edition of the three-down championship the Drought Bowl, and it’s a nice, catchy title, even if the Paper Bag Bowl would be just as apt.

It’ll be exactly 29 years tomorrow when the Bombers last grabbed the Grey Grail, while the Tabbies haven’t taken a swig from the goblet since Nov. 28, 1999, so one of these storied franchises will finally join the rest of us in the 21st century.

And, yes, I would prefer Winnipeg FC to be on the high side of the tote board.

What can I say? I’m a lowly blogger, not one of the ink-stained wretches who pretend they don’t have any rooting interest in the joust, thus I’m allowed to wave pom-poms, and mine just happen to be blue and gold.

So make the final: Winnipeg 28, Hamilton 27.

More predictions: Most valuable player, Bombers’ quarterback Collaros; most outstanding Canadian, Andrew Harris; most annoying natterbug, Glen Suitor; smarmiest smile, Mike Benevides.

Kate Beirness

Things I learned while watching too much blah, blah, blah on TSN’s pre-game coverage Saturday: Kate Beirness doesn’t like to talk about sex, and Davis Sanchez shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a microphone. Not sure why blushing Kate is so skittish about discussing the annual Jim Hunt Memorial Question re the large lads engaging in pre-match nookie, but she came across as Queen of the Prudes while hiding her head and moaning, “I hate it.” As for Sanchez, I’ll be kind and just say that he and microphones are meant for each other like a cow is meant to sing opera.

Brief fashion observation I: Kate might want to tone down on the eye makeup. Ru Paul uses less.

Brief fashion observation II: Benevides and Sanchez don’t know how to wear a cowboy hat. Milt Stegall does.

Someone at TSN needs to tell Matthew Scianitti that he’s reporting on a game, not the JFK assassination or the Hindenburg disaster. The dude smiles less often than a hangman, and his walky-talky interviews are about as light and breezy as closing arguments at a murder trial.

Andrew Harris

I don’t know about you, but I found it interesting that members of the CFL Players Association voted William Stanback, not Andrew Harris, the all-star running back this season. The Bombers’ PED-tainted tailback outnumbered Stanback by a considerable margin—1,909 rushing/passing yards to 1,377—so I have to believe the players’ vote was the ultimate and definitive judgement on Harris getting caught with his hand in the juice jar. Except there’s this: They voted Louis-Philippe Bourassa as the all-star long snapper, even though he failed a pee test and, like Harris, was told to get lost for two games. Why did Harris’ drug rap disqualify him from all-star consideration, but not Bourassa’s?

Better question: Why is there such a thing as an all-star long snapper?

Speedy B

On the subject of honors and trinkets, it was between Brandon Banks of the Tabbies and Corn Dog Cody Fajardo of the Saskatchewan Flatlanders as the grandest of all performers in Rouge Football, and Speedy B received 41 of a possible 50 first-place votes from the nation’s grid reporters. Which begs this question: Why were Saskatchewan news snoops allowed nine votes?

Since taking my leave from the rag trade in 1999, there are only two events I’ve missed covering: The Brier and Grey Cup, even if the work became a total grind as the week progressed. I’ve never been a party animal, but I enjoyed watching everyone else whoop it up during the Grand National Drunk, and I can tell you that nobody threw a better bash than the folks from E-Town. The Spirit of Edmonton was a must-visit venue during any Grey Cup hooraw I attended.

Actually, Edmonton was my favorite Grey Cup city. I have fond memories of bending elbows with Terry Jones of the E-Town Sun and Al Ruckaber of the C-Town Sun—in a cop shop well after last call. True story. Ruckaber and I were also politely asked to leave the piano lounge at the Chateau Lacombe that week, because we kept winning Name That Tune and getting our tab picked up by the house. On the third night, the host saw us walk in, bought us both a beer and quietly told us to hit the pavement so someone else could win.

Worst Grey Cup cities were the Republic of Tranna and Vancouver. I recall being on the Left Flank one November with Ed Tait when he was still Young Eddie and working in the rag trade. We were leaving a busy-as-bees lobby of the Bayshore Inn the day of the game when an elderly chap stopped us at the exit.
“Is there something special happening here this week?” he asked.
“Ya,” Young Eddie confirmed, “it’s the Grey Cup.”
“The Greek what?”

Randy Ambrosie, the commish of Rouge Football, was in total blow-smoke-up-their-butts mode during Grey Cup week, calling the CFL “the world’s largest global football league” and telling interrogators that he’s “super optimistic” about the markets in the Republic of Tranna and Vancouver. Here are some numbers that he’s “super optimistic” about:

I cringe every time I hear Commish Randy talk about the CFL’s stance on domestic violence, because it’s such hollow prattle. He’s the guy who welcomed woman-beating Johnny Manziel north of the border.

Paul Friesen

Plenty of quality copy came out of Cowtown in the past week, and my favorite reads were Paul Friesen’s insight on Bombers QB Zach Collaros in the Winnipeg Sun, and Chris O’Leary’s take on Winnipeg FC head coach Mike O’Shea at CFL.ca. As my first sports editor Jack Matheson would say, “damn good stuff.”

Also found a piece by the aforementioned T. Jones notable and interesting due to some ghastly blasphemy from Gerry James, a celebrated running back and kicker with the Blue-and-Gold in the glory years. According to Kid Dynamite, legendary sideline steward Bud Grant “was a miserable bastard. Bud was very stoic. You could have a helluva game and he didn’t give anybody any credit. I don’t think anybody liked him.” Apparently, Gerry also believes the Buddha was a fat tub of goo who needed to get more exercise, and Jesus was a layabout who bounded about the countryside because he couldn’t hold down a steady job.

By the way, shouldn’t our so-called national newspaper have dispatched its sports columnist to Cowtown for Grey Cup week? You bet. Alas, the deep thinkers at the Globe and Mail thought it would be wiser to keep Cathal Kelly close to home in The ROT, I suppose just in case Mike Babcock stubbed his toe on the way back from his retirement party.

The Drab Slab, perhaps recognizing that the Winnipeg Sun has given it a serious paddywhacking, a wedgie and a swirly in playoff coverage, finally noticed that the Bombers are still playing football. So the cavalry arrived in the form of Jen Zoratti, Kevin Rollason, Doug Speirs, Ben Waldman and yesterday’s man, Paul Wiecek. Waldman is the only one of that bunch to join Jeff Hamilton and Mad Mike McIntyre with feet on the ground in Calgary, and he used them to track down Gabe Langlois, better known as Dancing Gabe. Ya, that’s what every Coupe Grey package needs, a feature on Dancing Gabe. Not! Much of the additional copy made it to the website, but not the print editions, and I’m pleased to report that yesterday’s man Wiecek shook off the moth balls and managed to scribble an entire column without mentioning Mike O’Shea’s smirk or short pants. Apparently retirement has mellowed him.

I enjoy newspaper wars and, even though the Drab Slab came at the Sun with a flury of copy on Saturday, they were trounced on the weekend. Here are the numbers for Bombers coverage:
Friday:     Drab Slab   3 pages,   5 articles;     Sun 14 pages, 17 articles.
Saturday: Drab Slab   6 pages, 12 articles;     Sun 17 pages, 14 articles.
Sunday:   Drab Slab   5 pages,   8 articles;     Sun 19 pages, 15 articles.
Totals:     Drab Slab 14 pages,  25 articles;    Sun 50 pages, 46 articles.

Mike Babcock

Can you say overkill, kids? Sportsnet certainly can. I mean, I tuned into Sportsnet Central at 2 o’clock in the a.m. on Thursday and, 20 minutes later, the talking heads were still gasbagging about Mike Babcock’s ouster as bench puppeteer of the underachieving Tranna Maple Leafs. I’d like to tell you how many pundits Sportsnet trotted out to wax poetically about Babs, either on air or the website, but I ran out of fingers, thumbs and toes to count on. Let’s just say everyone from the Dalai Lama to Doug Ford had their say, and you know Sportsnet has jumped the shark when it posts 11 minutes of in-your-face rambling from novelty act Steve Dangle. It wasn’t any different on Friday morning, when the main page on the Sportsnet website featured a staggering 27 articles/videos devoted to Babcock and his successor, Sheldon Keefe, and that included an open letter from Dangle to the new head coach. Good grief. This wasn’t Neil Armstrong leaving footprints on the moon. It was a hockey coach being told to clear out his desk. Happens all the time.

Earth to Sportsnet/TSN! Earth to Sportsnet/TSN! Most of us who live in the colonies don’t enjoy you force-feeding us 20 minutes of news on Auston Matthews’ grooming habits every night before acknowledging that life exists beyond The ROT. We have our own preferences. Like, here’s where the major dailies on the western frontier played the Babs’ adios on their sports pages:
Winnipeg Sun: Page 17.
Calgary Sun: Page 16.
Edmonton Sun: Page 6.
Winnipeg Free Press: Page 5.
Vancouver Province: Page 5.
Regina Leader-Post: Page 2.
That’s right, Babs being kicked to the curb wasn’t page 1 sports news
anywhere in the colonies. And no sheet was printing open letters from Steve Dangle to anyone.

Just wondering: Why is there a Steve Dangle? His gig isn’t clever, it isn’t funny, it isn’t witty, it isn’t informative, it isn’t entertaining. It’s just some wannabe somethingorother sitting in his man cave and close-talking to a camera. I can’t imagine anyone with an IQ higher than Auston Matthews’ sweater number actually enjoys it.

Really enjoyed GM Brad Treliving’s take on the recent struggles of his Calgary Flames. “The manager’s been horse shit,” he confessed. At last, some truth about the Milan Lucic trade.

And, finally, I don’t know about you, but I’ve reached the stage in my life where I’d rather sit in a bar than raise the bar.

Let’s talk about renewing the old Winnipeg-Hamilton Grey Cup rivalry and random thoughts after overdosing on Rouge Football

A Monday smorgas-bored coming down in 3, 2, 1…and I’m thinking of Kenny Ploen today…

Those of my vintage remember the glory days, when our local football heroes would make a pilgrimage to the Republic of Tranna or Lotus Land every November.

Our Winnipeg Blue Bombers didn’t go for the weather, understand, because it was usually cold, wet, windy, foggy or flat-out gnarly at that time of the year, and it wasn’t the lure of big-city lights and big-city temptations either. It was business, and that business was to whup the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

We learned to dislike the Tabbies with unharnessed gusto, because they were always in the way. In 1957. In 1958. In ’59, ’61 and ’62.

Jungle Jim

They were big, menacing and vulgar men named Mosca and Barrow and Nagurski, all raised on sour milk and appropriately dressed in villain black. One of them, Ralph Goldston, was a thug of such ill temper that he once was ejected from a Canadian Football League championship match for punching Winnipeg Blue Bombers sublime running back, Leo Lewis, in the face. Their coach, Jungle Jim Trimble, was a trash-talking loudmouth from coal mining country in Pennsylvania and, in advance of the ’58 Grey Cup game, he considered the Bombers’ roster and declared, “The Winnipeg club didn’t show me anything to worry about.”

Jungle Jim also spewed this legendary line that November: “We’ll waffle ’em. We’ll leave ’em with lumps on the front and back.”

The nerve. The very notion that one of the Hamilton ruffians would have the bad manners to leave lumps on Kenny Ploen was a most disagreeable and distasteful notion. I mean, you didn’t mess with the Lone Ranger, you didn’t tug on Superman’s cape, and you didn’t put lumps on Kenny Ploen.

Ploen, the Bombers quarterback and sometimes ball-hawking defensive back, was a sweetheart. They all were, and I say that based on memories of an urchin who, along with my friend Chester, would ride a bike from Melbourne Avenue in East Kildonan out to a parched patch of hard, scuffed earth known as Canada Packers Field in St. Boniface twice a day during the Bombers preseason training exercises.

Before and after each workout, Chester and I would collect the signatures of our blue-and-gold heroes, asking them to scribble their names on paper scraps, magazines, newspaper articles and footballs.

“How many of these do you have?” Ploen asked one day as he signed my white football.

“I don’t know, Mr. Ploen,” I answered. “I hope we aren’t pestering you by asking for your autograph every day.”

“Not at all. I’m glad to do it.”

None of them complained. They simply signed, sometimes the perspiration from their foreheads dripping onto our paper scraps to make the blue ink smudge and run. Ernie (Zazu) Pitts one day greeted Chester and I with a smile, saying, “Good morning, people of the jury,” and, at the conclusion of the two-a-day sessions, god-like head coach Bud Grant trucked in watermelons for the large lads and handed us one as well.

To announce to neighborhood chums that Chester and I had shared a watermelon with Bud Grant, Kenny Ploen and Leo Lewis was a bragging point of considerable heft, believe me.

Like I said, sweethearts.

Ah, but once opposite the dreaded Tabbies, the measure of Blue Bombers’ snark and sass was sizable and more than a match for their black-clad foes. Herb Gray, Jack Delveaux, Dave Burkholder and Norm Rauhaus were no quarterback’s notion of a picnic, while the Lincoln Locomotive, Choo Choo Shepard, Carver Shannon and Zazu made things go bump in the night for Hamilton defenders.

Winnipeg FC waffled the Jungle Jim-coached Tabbies four times in their five Grey Cup skirmishes starting in 1957 and ending in ’62, with one game determined in overtime and another taking two days to finish.

Many years after the fact, I caught up with Winnipeg FC lineman Ed Kotowich during a Grey Cup week and asked him about the dislike between the Tabbies and Bombers back in the day.

“There was nothing made up about it,” he said with a growl and a tightening of his jaw muscles. “They didn’t like us and I guarantee we hated them and their big-mouth coach.”

So now the Bombers and Ticats are set to renew their classic CFL squabble, Nov. 24 at McMahon Stadium in the Alberta Foothills, and I was feeling that 1950s/60s vibe the moment Winnipeg FC took out the Saskatchewan Flatlanders, 20-13, in Sunday’s slob-knocker of a West Division final.

All the old villains are long gone, of course, but it’s easy for me to picture Simoni Lawrence in the Angie Mosca or Ralph Goldston roles. Total cads, every one of them.

I don’t know if the Bombers will waffle ’em, and I doubt either head coach plans to take the Jungle Jim route and provide bulletin board reading, but somebody’s going home without any marbles and the loser of Coupe de Grey No. 107 will remain 0-for-the-century.

That, alone, is a good storyline, but I’m guessing we’ll be hearing more about Zach Collaros and Simoni Lawrence in the leadup to next Sunday’s large match. And why not? It’s good v. evil. The Sweetheart QB v. Darth Defender.

You know, just like the good, ol’ days.

It’s interesting to note that when the Bombers beat the Tabbies in the ’58 Grey Cup game, it ended a 17-year championship drought, and when the two franchises did it all again in 1984, Winnipeg FC ended a 22-year famine. Now they’re hoping to end 29 years of never failing to fail.

Corn Dog Cody

Random thoughts from lying on the loveseat and staring at the flatscreen for six hours on Sunday: No doubt the Bombers earned their victory over the Flatlanders on Sunday, but it must be said that they benefited from some incredibly dopey coaching by Craig Dickenson, horrid clock management by Dickenson/Corn Dog Cody Fajardo, and a serious brain cramp by Marcus Thigpen. Just saying…Interesting that the two semifinal skirmishes featured four of the five CFL markets that care the most about Rouge Football—Winnipeg, Saskatchewan, Edmonton and Hamilton. The fifth, Calgary, gets the consolation prize—the Grey Cup game…Not since Pinball Clemons and Gizmo Williams has there been a player more fun to watch than Speedy B of the Tabbies…The boys in the TSN booth(s) were all about nicknames on Sunday. They mentioned, Speedy B, Speedy A, Great Dane, Inspector Gadget, Magic and El Diablo, Shake and Bake, the Special Teams Vulture, and Timbits Field in the Hammer was the Cathouse. Hey, I like nicknames. Big fan. But that’s a bit much…Why do all the TSN talking heads call Mike Benevides “Coach?” He isn’t a coach. He’s an ex-coach. So is Matt Dunigan, but no one is calling him “Coach.”…This was weird: They trotted out former Ticat Rob Hitchcock to present the East Division championship trophy to the Tabbies, but he wouldn’t give it to them. He hoisted it instead…

Matthew McConaughney

Really annoying people: The 7-Eleven Guy and Matthew McConaughey. I think a perfect commercial would be the 7-Eleven Guy spilling a strawberry Slurpee on the posh seats of McConaughey’s fancy-schmancy Lincoln…Further evidence that Glen Suitor isn’t watching the same game as us: 1) At one point, he informed us that Saskatchewan was going into a “no-huddle” offence, even as the cameras showed QB Fajardo standing in the huddle, looking at his wrist play chart, and shouting out a play; 2) on the Flatlanders’ final gasp, he said, “The Bombers made the last play.” They did nothing of the sort. Fajardo’s final fling of the football went clunk against the crossbar and the Bombers didn’t have to do anything except celebrate…Hey, look who’ll be coaching in the Grey Cup game—old friend Jeff Reinebold, the Ticats special teams guru. Bravo to one of the game’s true survivors…What is it with TSN and the Reklaws? They keep promoting a new album featuring the tune Old Country Soul, which might be the worst country tune ever recorded. Enough already.

And, finally, it’s about my forecasts for the division finals:
Prediction:     Winnipeg 29, Saskatchewan 12 (no touchdowns, only field goals).
Actual score: Winnipeg 20, Saskatchewan 13 (no TDs, only FGs and a rouge).
Prediction:     Hamilton 36, Edmonton 34.
Actual score: Hamilton 36, Edmonton 16.
Feel free to discuss among yourselves. Or not.

Let’s talk about the NFL Hole of Fame Game…a fist-fighting farce…a snake-oil salesman…welcome to Alberta…Tebow of the North…QBs by the numbers…and Coach Grunge hits the century mark

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and now they know how many holes it takes to fix an NFL field…

Did it really happen? Were the Green Bay Packers and Oakland Raiders really in Good Ol’ Hometown for a National Football League dress rehearsal last Thursday?

Well, yes, they were.

Aaron Rodgers: Good day, eh.

We know this for certain because there were sightings and photographic evidence to confirm the existence and presence of Aaron Rodgers, who apparently was separated from Borat at birth and looked positively hoser-ish in his Canadian Tuxedo.

Coo-roo-coo-coo-coo-coo-coo-coo! Good day, eh.

Mind you, I thought Rodgers was a bit too much of a denim dude. The jeans and jacket were fine, and the bolo tie was a boffo accessory, but he should have gone with a lumberjack shirt to complete the ensemble. Take it from a fashionista, overdoing denim is never a good look. On the red carpet or strolling through Osborne Village.

Anyway, a garment glitch aside, Rodgers was meant to be the star attraction in an exhibition of faux football between two storied four-down franchises at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry, but I’m sure you know by now that the Pro Bowl quarterback was one of 33 Packers no-shows. That’s right, 33 scratches. Sounds like a bad case of hemorrhoids.

Perhaps that’s fitting, though, since River City has become the butt of jokes.

To wit: How could the NFL tell it was in Winnipeg? They found potholes.

In re-configuring a Canadian Football League playground (110 yards with 20-yard end zones) to meet NFL dimensions (100 yards with 10-yard end zones), removal of CFL goal posts was required and, apparently, no one with the NFL thought to toss a few shovelfuls of good, rich prairie dirt into the holes left behind. Instead, they plopped something that looked like a swath of Austin Powers’ discarded shag carpeting on top and expected the boys to “Play on!” The Packers would have none of that. “No way, baby,” they squawked. Thus the pothole patches were ruled hazardous to the wellness of millionaire footballers and shrinkage ensued. Rather than frolic on their regulation-size grid, the large lads had to make do on an 80-yard pitch with makeshift end zones.

I’m not sure if the shrinkage was a salute to our metric system or the U.S.-Canada currency exchange rate, but it made for the kind of farce you’d find on Fawlty Towers.

Difference is, Fawlty Towers is funny, this wasn’t.

But, hey, it will forever be known as the NFL Hole of Fame game, and I suppose that’s something to shout about. Or not.

Watching the events unfold on TSN, it reminded me of another time and another place and another show fraught with farce. It was the night of Dec. 11, 1981, and Muhammad Ali was to meet Trevor Berbick in the main event of a calamitous fight card on a parched patch of earth in Nassau, The Bahamas. Before the first punch was thrown, someone discovered there was no official timer, no ringside bell to signal the start and end of each round, and only two pairs of boxing mitts. For the entire card. Promoters dispatched a man to Miami with instructions to return with fresh gloves for the Ali-Berbick bout, a stopwatch was located, and a TV crew loaned organizers a cow bell. In-ring hostilities began more than two hours late and, eventually, Berbick earned a unanimous decision for thoroughly boxing Ali’s ears over 10 rounds. Ali never fought again and, even though the card commenced on Dec. 11, none of us filed our final copy until Dec. 12. One wise acre on press row awarded the event the No Bell Prize for boxing. We laughed and agreed.

John Graham holding court.

The villain in the Gaffe-O-Rama that was the NFL experience in River City appears to be John Graham, mouthpiece for On Ice Entertainment. He didn’t have a clue about his market, hence the $75-$340 (plus taxes/fees) sticker prices and the insulting PR prattle that implied Pegtowners are backwater bumpkins who don’t know moonshine from a Slurpee. “It’s a premier event,” Graham gushed the day before they discovered the potholes. “In musical terms, it’s like the Rolling Stones or U2 type of thing.” Ya, for sure, John. Take away Mick, Keith, Bono and The Edge and it was just like that.

They tell us that 21,992 bought the snake oil that Graham was selling, but I believe that like I believe the cow really did jump over the moon. Based on what I saw on TSN, Football Follies Field was a glass half empty. Naturally, Graham pointed an accusing finger at news snoops, because that’s what some PR flacks tend to do when their face hits the floor. He whinged to Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun about “very biased articles” and “things that aren’t accurate,” then attempted to have Freezer banned from the press perch. What a tool.

My favorite headline on the NFL Hole of Fame Game was delivered by the Washington Post: “Canadians are very politely not buying tickets to the Packers-Raiders game in Winnipeg.”

A.J. Cole

Much was made of Raiders punter A.J. Cole wearing a t-shirt with the words “Winnipeg, Alberta” pasted across the front. Alberta only wishes it was so.

Cole was thoughtful enough to offer a mea culpa for his geographical goof-up, so I say we cut the guy some slack. Come to think of it, Cole has a degree in Industrial Engineering from North Carolina State. What, no one thought to ask him to come up with a better solution to the goal post/pothole problem than an 80-yard football field?

By the way, those “Winnipeg, Alberta” t-shirts and hoodies are available from TeeChip on the Internet. They come in sizes S-XXXXXXL and nine colors. I’m not saying I endorse them, but they might make a good gag gift for family and friends unfortunate enough to live in Wild Rose Country.

When the Packers-Raiders skirmish was announced, Winnipeg Blue Bombers CEO Wade Miller described it as a “once in a lifetime experience.” After Thursday, I’d say that sounds about right.

Chris Streveler

Moving on to football with a rouge, if you’ve ever wondered what Tim Tebow might have looked like in the CFL, Chris Streveler provided a hint on Friday night in E-Town.

Pretty he ain’t, not at all like Trevor Harris, his counterpart with the Eskimos who usually looks like the ‘after’ part of a Tide commercial. You know, all spiffy, fresh and clean. Streveler, on the other hand, is kind of like Mike O’Shea, his head coach with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Grungy. With a game to match his scruffy chin whiskers.

Going by the QB numbers on Friday, Streveler had no business beating the Eskimos 34-28 in a West Division top-dog throw-down at Commonwealth Stadium. Harris flung the football for 430 yards and a touchdown, Streveler 89 on just seven completions and zero scores. But they don’t give the guy operating a wrecking ball marks for artistic impression, and that’s the way it is with some quarterbacks.

Tim Tebow

Guys like Harris are a candy store. Streveler is a hardware store, full of nuts and bolts and wrenches and all manner of heavy-metal gadgets. He’s Tebow of the North. Tebow with a toque. It’s all about the legs and smash-mouth with the neophyte QB, subbing for wounded starter Matt Nichols.

Streveler crash-banged his way to one Tebowesque TD and set up another with a 30-yard Tebowesque boogie, and small DBs and safeties across the CFL landscape better get used to the idea of being the bug rather than the windshield for the next month-plus while Nichols is in the repair shop.

You know what the narrative would be today had it been Nichols tossing the rock for just 89 yards, don’t you? That’s right, even in victory, the rabble would be breaking out the pitch forks and putting a match to torches.

Trevor Harris

That old bromide “statistics are for losers” certainly applies to the quarterbacks in the two Winnipeg-E-Town skirmishes this season. Here are the numbers:
Trevor Harris       61/94   775 yds.
Nichols/Streveler 20/38   289 yds.

Sean Whyte of the Eskimos hoofed 14 field goals v. Winnipeg FC, so why would I still rather have Justin Medlock doing my three-point kicking in a big game?

A quick thought on Willie Jefferson, the holy terror who most often lines up at defensive end for the Bombers: Exactly what part of Jefferson did the Saskatchewan Roughriders not like? Seriously. Gang Green let this guy get away? I’m pretty sure when Trevor Harris brushed his hair after Friday’s game, Jefferson fell out. 

I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking Glen Suitor would be a much better broadcaster if he actually knew what was in the CFL rule book. Just saying.

Speaking of Suitor and the squawk boxes on TSN, here are a couple of juicy snippets from Kirk Penton’s latest offering of sound bites from CFL GMs, coaches and suits in The Athletic:

* “They were down 10-0 in the first quarter, and Suitor said the Lions are improved. I’ve gained 20 pounds since training camp. Too many desserts and too many late-night chips. But if Suitor says the Lions are improved, guess I can tell my wife that the fatter me is improved too.”

* “We (coaches) respect Matt Nichols more than you media guys do. When the Bombers lose the next three without him, you’ll see why coaches are smarter than newspaper guys and talking heads.”

Mike O’Shea

And, finally, never thought I would mention Mike O’Shea, Bud Grant and Cal Murphy in the same sentence, but Coach Grunge has joined the Bombers coaching legends in a very exclusive club—the only Winnipeg FC sideline stewards to work 100 regular-season games. O’Shea hit the century mark on Friday night in the E-Town rain, and I thought someone would have made a big deal out of the milestone. Trouble is, a lot of folks still aren’t sold on Coach Grunge, and they won’t be until he brings the Grey Cup back to Good Ol’ Hometown, like Bud (four times) and Cal (once) did. Still, 100 games is a noteworthy achievement, and there’s a boatload of us who didn’t think O’Shea would last this long.