Let’s talk about riding off into the sunset after scribbling about the sports scene in Good Ol’ Hometown for (not quite) half a century

I wasn’t going to post this essay until June 14.

That date, you see, marks the 50th anniversary of my first byline article in the Winnipeg Tribune, and I always wanted to be like Vince Leah and scribble about sports in Good Ol’ Hometown for at least half a century.

Well, as Maxwell Smart used to say, “missed it by that much.” One month and change.

And I’m okay with that.

I mean, Uncle Vince is a legend whose longevity as a chronicler of local jockdom shall forever remain unmatched. Indeed, unchallenged.

He’s won more awards than Meryl Streep, among them the Manitoba Order of the Buffalo Hunt, and I’m not in the order of anything, except maybe the Order of Bull Droppings, and we all know that’s how more than a few folks have described my scribblings at the Trib, the Winnipeg Sun and on this blog. So, be certain, there’s no attempt here to parallel my career with his.

In truth, Uncle Vince and I share just two commonalities: We both wrote sports at the Trib and we walked out the door the same day, figuratively if not literally, and neither of us had a choice.

Actually, there is one other thing: Neither of us covered a Stanley Cup parade, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

The point is, I’m finally riding off into the sunset, 49 years and 11 months after my initial byline article, a brief report on the 1971 Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association annual meeting tucked into the back pages of the sports section, along with Harold Loster’s horse racing copy.

I’d like to tell you it was a glittering piece of wordsmithing but, in reality, it was unremarkable and totally forgettable, which would explain its positioning on the back pages.

It did, however, serve as the starting point of a career-long, unbreakable link to hockey and, most notably, the Winnipeg Jets.

As much as I covered every sport known to man, it always seemed to come back to hockey for me, and the Old Barn On Maroons Road became my second home.

I watched the Portage Terriers win the Centennial Cup there in May 1973; I watched The Shoe and the Jets parade around the freeze with the Avco World Trophy exactly six years later; I watched one Soviet side and one Russian side win World Junior titles there; I watched the 1981 Canada Cup there; I watched the Jets’ National Hockey League home debut there in ’79 and I watched them say goodbye there on the Day of the Long Faces in ’96. I played alongside Eddie Shack in Schmockey Night there, and I skated with the West Kildonan North Stars against the Winnipeg Monarchs there. Hell, my birth certificate is so dog-eared that I watched Billy Mosienko play there.

So, ya, local hockey and I were a thing. Still are, albeit from a considerable distance.

Back in the day, people would ask me about the Jets, wondering if their favorite player was a good guy or a bit of a twit, or if Fergy really was as tough as 10 miles of gnarly backroad. Even now, whenever I visit Cool Aid here in Victoria to collect the meds that keep me on the green side of the sod, Jim in the dispensary always wants to talk about “your Jets.”

Yes, he thinks of them as my Jets because it’s guilt by association.

The folks out here on the Left Flank, you see, know just three things about Good Ol’ Hometown: 1) It’s bitterly cold, 2) the Jets, 3) the Blue Bombers. In that order.

I’ve spent the past 21-plus years listening to rude laughter about “Winterpeg” and jokes about the Jets and cheap shots about the Bombers, although our football heroes nipped that in the bud in November 2019 when they took custody of the Grey Cup, and it’ll serve all the wise acres right if the Bombers never have to give the thing back.

If only the Jets had been able to do the same with hockey’s holy grail.

A Stanley Cup parade. Was/is that too much to ask? I mean, I’ve covered/watched some damn fine local shinny sides, but the Jets always came undone like a school kid’s shoelace when the games mattered most. I don’t have to tell you it’s happening again this year, although we shouldn’t be surprised given that the general manager, Kevin Cheveldayoff, twiddled his thumbs at the National Hockey League shop-and-swap deadline last month. Damn him.

But I won’t be here to praise or bury the Jets as they play out the string this year. I’m fresh out of cheek, irreverence, sarcasm, cynicism and goof-balling around. My snark tank is also empty.

I’ll continue to root, root, root for them, of course, because I’ve always wanted the Jets, Bombers, our curlers and all local athletes/outfits to succeed, which is most sports scribes’ dirty, little secret. They’ll tell you they don’t cheer for the home side, but don’t believe them. Oh, they don’t rah, rah, rah and siss-boom-bah out loud, but they want to see the locals succeed. It’s human nature, and I have personal knowledge that a good many of them are human. Honest, they are. The trick, of course, is to not allow a fondness for the girls and boys you cover to creep into your copy.

Anyway, I’m outta here, kids, 49 years and 11 months after the first hot-lead byline.

In closing, if I were to offer one morsel of counsel to jock journos hither and yon, it would be this: Take your job seriously, but not yourself. You aren’t splitting the atom, you aren’t running into a burning building to rescue small children, you aren’t digging water wells in a Third World country. So have fun with the gig. And, remember, the people you’re writing about are just that—people. They aren’t athletes who happen to be humans, they’re humans who happen to be athletes.

Adios and thanks kindly for dropping by. I’ve always appreciated it.

Let’s talk about the ongoing iffiness of the Canadian Football League

So here’s how I’m reading what went down in the Canadian Football League this week:

The iffiness of a 2021 crusade is no less iffy today than the last time commissioner Randy Ambrosie surfaced to inform us that a 2021 crusade was iffy.

That was back in early March, when Commish Randy was mostly “talking about talking” with Dwayne Johnson and his new toy, the XFL. On Wednesday, “talking about talking” with The Rock had become a secondary squawking point, because Amrosie had moved on to flapping his gums about “backup plans and backup plans to the backup plans and backup plans to back up those plans.”

Welcome to Bafflegab 101, kids.

Yogi Berra and Casey Stengel would be proud of Commish Randy’s word gymnastics, but it’s not like the front man for the Lords of Rouge Football had anything definitive to tell us.

Commish Randy

To recap: The very deep-thinkers who chart course for the good ship CFL gathered on Tuesday and, after considerable natter, they instructed Commish Randy to inform the rabble of their findings. Among other things, it was determined that they’d prefer to kick off a 2021 crusade on Aug. 5, that each team would play a runted 14-game schedule, and that Ambrosie would present the Grey Cup to a bone-chilled champion on Dec. 12 at Timbits Field in Hamilton.

And, yes, now that you mention it, I can think of better places to be than sitting outdoors on a hard, cold bench in the Hammer just 13 days before carving the Christmas turkey, but iffy weather holds a special place in three-down football folklore so, sure, let’s pull on a pair of extra-thick longjohns and watch the large lads grab frozen grass.

Anyway, we all know the proposed start and finish points are target dates best peed into a snow bank than chiseled in stone.

Which is why Commish Randy couldn’t swear on a stack of pigskin-covered playbooks that Aug. 5-Dec. 12 Rouge Football is a done deal. Oh, sure, he informed us that “we’re gonna have a CFL season,” but you have to remember that he’s part politician and assumes we have short memories and won’t hold him to promises.

So he kind of talked in tangled tongues while assuring us that he is “supportive of vaccinations” (well, duh), that there are no guarantees in life except “death and taxes,” that “every kid” should play football because of the life lessons it teaches, and, perhaps my favorite, he and the Lords of Rouge Football have developed “a rather elaborate decision-making matrix.”

G. Sydney Halter

I’m not 100 per cent certain, but I believe that makes Ambrosie the first CFL commish to ever use the word “matrix,” although I suppose G. Sydney Halter might have gone there since he was a distinguished fellow and lawyer who knew and appreciated the value of a well-crafted sentence.

At any rate, Commish Randy has a matrix and he advised Dave Naylor of TSN that “the cells in that matrix will be populated with information.”

Until then, it’s all iffy. Just call it the Ifth Estate.

Meanwhile, go ahead and call me skeptical and cynical, but that’s the product of 30 years in jock journalism and listening to too many people with rose-tinted glasses propped on their nose. Believe me, I want to see a 2021 crusade and I’m glad Commish Randy stepped forward with a message that many among the rabble view with optimism.

It’s just that we know the CFL is at the whims of COVID-19 and a hit-and-miss vaccine rollout that differs from precinct to precinct, thus Commish Randy’s we-will-play promise is built of straw rather than brick and mortar.

“We know that we’re gonna have to be willing to be flexible in order to pull this off,” he conceded.

So let me just say this: If you plan to watch three-down football on Aug. 5, you’re free to circle that date on your calendar, but I suggest you have a backup plan and a backup plan for your backup plan and backup plan to back up that plan.

In other words, circle it in pencil rather than a Sharpie, and make sure there’s an eraser handy.

Let’s talk about spittin’ watermelon seeds with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers

I’ve told this tale before, but it bears repeating given the shaky status of the Canadian Football League.

In a distant time and place, my friend Chester and I would hop on our bikes and make the trek to St. Boniface, twice a day, to watch the Winnipeg Blue Bombers frolic on a parched patch of earth known as Packers Field, so-named because of the Canada Packers rendering plant across the road.

Leo Lewis

We were allowed to get up close and personal with Kenny Ploen and Leo Lewis and Ernie Pitts and Bud Grant, who actually acknowledged our existence and once presented us scamps with a watermelon to share at the conclusion of the two-a-day, preseason training exercises.

How many kids could say they sat and spat watermelon seeds among sporting deity? Just Chester and myself, and it was magical.

The Bombers, after all, were top dog. The Winnipeg Jets had yet to arrive to adjust the pecking order, and our football heroes brought glory to Good Ol’ Hometown, winning the Grey Cup with great frequency in the late 1950s and early ’60s.

I’m uncertain what became of Chester, but, for me, those morning/afternoon sessions at Packers Field served as the stirrings of a life-long fling with Rouge Football.

I was fortunate. Actually, blessed would be a better word. I grew up with the CFL, then got to cover it for 19 years in three locales—Winnipeg, Calgary and the Republic of Tranna—and that’s something you should understand about the boys and girls on the beat: They’re fans.

Those who chronicle the daily doings of the three-down game care. About the league, about the players, about management, about the quirky rules that differentiate us from the four-down colossus south of the 49th. We embrace the notion of humble community ownership, in the same way the citizenry of Green Bay embraces its Packers.

Thus, we tend to take it personal when we hear squawkings of a sellout to American interests, or when the feds decline to pony up with cash to see the CFL through the COVID pandemic. Who are these snake-oil salesmen from the U.S. planning to butcher our game, and how dare Trudeau the Younger and his pals on Parliament Hill give Air Canada, the film industry and the arts community money hand over fist while leaving the lords of Rouge Football to sit, hat in hand, on a cold, dark street corner?

The iffiness of the CFL’s very existence, let alone a 2021 crusade, rattles us to the core, and we nod in agreement when we hear Russ Jackson speaking our language.

“I think if there was an amalgamation of the American and Canadian side, it would lead towards playing the American game,” the great quarterback told 3DownNation. “I have no interest in that. I have four season tickets here in Hamilton. I’m not sure I would keep those season seats if we turned into an American-type football game.”

You tell ’em, Russ. Maybe they’ll listen to you.

I doubt it, though, because they’ve heard it all before. They know all about the 100-plus-year history of the game on this side of the great divide, they’re familiar with folklore about horses clomping into hotel lobbies during Grey Cup week, and about fog bowls, mud bowls and ice bowls, so nothing a legendary QB says will sway them. Heck, we could trot out a lineup of legends including Jackson, Dirty Thirty, Peanut Butter Joe and Big Angie to preach the gospel according to G. Sydney Halter, but the stewards of the game will do what they’re going to do.

Question is: How many among the rabble would be bent out of shape if the lords of Rouge Football sold out to Americans, or if the CFL disappeared like a slab of beef on Chris Walby’s dinner plate? I mean, I like to think that it isn’t just folks of my vintage who want to preserve our game.

Well, I remind you of an Angus Reid poll conducted last May. Slightly more than 1,500 sports fans across the tundra were contacted and asked if they would be “disappointed” should the 2020 CFL season be scuttled. Only in Manitoba and Saskatchewan did the majority respond with a “damn straight I would!” Elsewhere, there was a collective shrug of the shoulders.

Manitoba: 63 per cent
Saskatchewan: 61 per cent
Alberta: 45 per cent
B.C.: 34 per cent
Quebec: 31 per cent
Ontario:  28 per cent
Atlantic Canada: 17 per cent

Significantly, east of the Manitoba-Ontario border, a greater percentage of people indicated they would miss an NFL season more than a CFL crusade.

Commish Randy

We don’t know if those numbers have changed, but something tells me the Lords of Rouge Football and commissioner Randy Ambrosie haven’t attracted any new friends, or brought back old friends, with their fumbled appeals for federal financing and their dithering in the past year.

We’re told the tall foreheads will gather on Tuesday to plot strategy, and I don’t know if I should fear the worst or expect to see Commish Randy pull something that resembles Bugs Bunny out of his hat.

I just know they’re messing with memories, and if they shut down again or sell out to Yankee Doodle dollars I’ll be mad enough to spit. Only this time it won’t be watermelon seeds at Packers Field.

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

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

Stop me if you’ve heard this before:

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

Sound familiar? It should.

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

Blake Wheeler

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

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

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

The Rink Rat was 23. He’s now 28.

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

Hellebuyck was 25. He turns 28 next month.

Adam Lowry

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

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

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

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

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

Chevy

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

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

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

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

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

Rink Rat Scheifele

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

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

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

Apparently Chevy missed the memo.

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

Chevy should be kicking himself. Right in the assets.

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

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

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

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

Curt, Terry, Howie, Michael and Jimmy.

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

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

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

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

Rachel Homan

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

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

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

Ashley Prest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s talk about the chicken, the egg, the Argos, the CFL and the media

I stumbled upon an interesting Twitter to-and-fro last week involving three of the nation’s notable jock journos, two of whom are widely respected and the third not so much.

BMO Field

The exchange—between Winnipeg Blue Bombers longtime voice Bob (Knuckles) Irving, veteran observer of three-downs football Dave Naylor of TSN, and Damien Cox of the Toronto Star—centred on the Toronto Argos and the reason(s) behind woeful head counts whenever the Boatmen come up for air at BMO Field in the Republic of Tranna.

The Argos, be advised, don’t attract crowds to BMO. It’s more like pockets of stragglers. You know, folks who get lost while looking for something better to do.

Officially, average attendance in 2019 was 12,493, although we know better. That might have been tickets sold, but it wasn’t bums on benches. My guess is that the audience numbered sub-10,000 more than one day/night, meaning the Canadian Football League’s largest market has the smallest following, a level of neglect challenged only by indifference on the Left Flank of the land, where people won’t even come in out of the rain to watch the B.C. Lions.

One reason advanced for Argos apathy is a generation thing. That is, Rouge Football doesn’t appeal to anyone without age in their eyes and grey in their temples, which set off this Irving-Naylor-Cox exchange:

Knuckles Irving

Irving: “Part of the reason for that is the Toronto media basically ignores the CFL—not good enough for most of them.”

Naylor: “Come on Bob, it’s the media’s fault? The Winnipeg media reports aggressively on the Bombers because there is a demand for information. If that existed in Toronto, the media would respond accordingly.”

Cox: “Individual media people don’t make these decisions. Sports departments do. In Toronto, sports staffs are stretched to the limit, fewer ppl doing more. There’s a lot more sporting events to cover in Toronto than Winnipeg.”

Okay, let’s unwrap that.

First, Knuckles Irving is correct when he submits that mainstream media in the Republic of Tranna treats the Argos and Rouge Football as an afterthought.

For example, the Toronto Star no longer cares enough about the CFL to dispatch a scribe to the Grey Cup game unless it’s played in The ROT, and Tranna-based Sportsnet pays only token attention to the CFL simply because its competition, TSN, holds the broadcast rights. (No one expects Sportsnet to promote the other guy’s property, but it is a news gathering and distributing outlet and, as such, has a responsibility to inform viewers of CFL games/stories on air and on the website with an expected level of substance.)

Meanwhile, when Rouge Football went dark last August, the cancellation of the season was front page of every sports section of every daily on The Prairies, but the story served as inside filler (pages 8 and 9) in the Toronto Sun. (I don’t recall what made the Sun front that day, but I suppose Auston Matthews might have been trimming his mustache, which would have warranted a lede, sidebar and a 150-point headline.)

In terms of the Argos-media, it really is a chicken-and-egg riddle. Is the media indifferent because the rabble steers clear of BMO on Argos game days, or does the rabble steer clear of BMO on Argos game days because the media is indifferent?

It certainly isn’t the responsibility of news snoops to do the bidding of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, which bankrolls the Boatmen and BMO’s more popular tenant, Toronto FC. But, although historically the most successful of The ROT’s pro sports franchises (17 Grey Cup championships, including three this century), the Boatmen have fallen to fifth on the pecking order, behind the Maple Leafs, Raptors, Blue Jays and Toronto FC. That isn’t about to change anytime soon, no matter what the local rags put on their sports pages or radio/TV puts on their air.

Which brings us to Cox’s point that “there’s a lot more sporting events to cover in Toronto than Winnipeg.”

What a load of hooey.

Had Cox said there were more “pro sporting events,” I’d agree. But overall sports? No.

It’s all about priorities, and they differ from town to town. In the Republic of Tranna, the major beats are the Leafs, Raptors, Blue Jays and Toronto FC, with the Argos the runt of the litter. In Winnipeg, it’s the Jets, Blue Bombers and…curling.

Pebble People have made the front page of the Winnipeg Free Press sports section 23 times this year. That’s right, 23. I doubt curling has been on the sports front of either the Toronto Star or Toronto Sun once this century, let alone 23 times in a three-month, one week time frame.

Also making the front page of the Freep sports section were two levels of junior hockey, high school hockey, women’s amateur hockey, volleyball, university sports, auto racing, etc. At different points in the year, they make room for local golf, tennis, high school football/hoops, Usports, and more of what you’ll never find in the Toronto rags.

The Sun and the Star have become pro sports sheets, whereas the Free Press continues to cover the peripheral sports, during a pandemic with a stable of scribes that has shrunk to four.

Dating back to my start in the rag trade in 1969 when the Bombers were top dog, it’s always been that way in Good Ol’ Hometown. Lower-level sports were never given short shrift, even after the Jets arrived to nudge the Bombers down a notch, and I suspect the Freep will carry on that way.

I just wish I could say the same for the Winnipeg Sun. Unfortunately, the suits at Postmedia in the Republic of Tranna ruined a good thing.

Let’s talk about chess with Swamp Dog…bravo Jennifer Jones…flush go the Habs…TSN’s flawed ‘Toba Top 10…Shaq’s name game…Ali vs. Tiger…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and, sadly, one of the old gang from the Trib, Swamp Dog Rauw, has left us…

The thing I remember most fondly about Murray Rauw is playing chess in the small hours of the morning, after we’d put the sports section to bed at the Winnipeg Tribune.

Swamp Dog and I would unwind from the grind by retreating to my modest dwelling on Leighton Avenue in East Kildonan, whereupon I would crack open the brown pops while he cracked open one of my many chess sets.

There’d be Beatles music playing in the background—on the down low since all others in the house were in slumber—and I would quietly sing along with the Fab Four while Swamp Dog contemplated a next misguided move that surely would lead to checkmate or stalemate. I sometimes wondered if my singing disturbed his thought process, but he never offered so much as a mumble in protest.

Swamp Dog

Swamp Dog seldom complained, although a small flap of fuss is how he earned his delightful nickname.

I was in the cockpit one night, laying out the Trib sports pages, while others wrote their stories, edited copy, wrote headlines, handled the phones and did rewrites. Swamp Dog, still reasonably new to staff, had two or three things on the go.

“Murray,” I said at one point, interrupting his work, “I need you to do something.”

“Me?” he yelped. “Me? I’m swamped!”

“You’re swamped?” I responded, snickering. “Let me tell you something about being swamped.”

I informed him how it worked in the Trib sports department. We were all multi-taskers, often expected to handle more than one beat on the same day. It was not uncommon for a select few of us to cover an event in the morning or afternoon, write our article, then design a six- or seven-page sports section that night. It made for long shifts, but it was an accepted part of the gig. Besides, most of us were young, full of P and V and eager to earn a “damn good stuff” from our sports editor, Jack Matheson.

“That’s okay,” I told Swamp Dog. “You just do what you’re doing. I’ll take care of the rest, because you’re swamped! You’re our Swamp Dog.”

Swamp Dog became a fabulous multi-tasker, skillfully covering everything from badminton to boxing to backing up Matty on the Blue Bombers beat, until Southam had the bad manners to stop the Trib presses for the final time in August 1980.

And now Swamp’s ticker has stopped.

Swamp Dog died last Sunday in Calgary, after a lengthy illness, and I spent much of the past week sifting through recollections of him and our cast of kooky characters at the Trib. (We would have made for a boffo sitcom.)

An unpretentious, fun guy, I can’t think of a former colleague who harbored a greater, more genuine appreciation for landing a sports writing gig than Swamp Dog. He was like a kid who sneaked in and out of the ice cream parlor every night without getting caught, and he never tried to hide his appreciation for his good fortune.

Swamp Dog made me laugh without trying. His eyeglasses, for example, were a trip. Back in the 1970s, they would sit at a 45-degree angle on the bridge of his nose, the large lenses plastered with very visible fingerprints from his constant but failed attempts to make the specs fit his face. His mustache drooped and would go months without a much-needed pruning. Then there was the day I learned he had tagged the lovely lady who would become his bride, Maureen, with the most unflattering of nicknames: Mush.

“Geez, Swamp, I don’t know many women who’d fancy being called Mush,” I said. “Doesn’t it bother Maureen?”

“Why would it?” he answered as if I had asked a very dumb question. “She’s my Mush.”

Once the Trib folded, both Swamp Dog and I found our way to Calgary, first him at the Herald and then myself at the Sun a couple years later. I didn’t know a soul, other than Swamp Dog, Maureen and the two people who had hired me. Swamp Dog promptly set me up to play slo-pitch on one of the city’s elite outfits, and he dragged me to his raquetball club. After our always-enjoyable matches, we’d sometimes retire to his home and Maureen would be kind enough to feed us.

Oddly enough, Swamp Dog and I never played another game of chess. I guess that was our Winnipeg thing. But we’d get together for some giggles, or he’d get serious on occasion and discuss his MS. He’d unfailingly inquire about my Uncle Dennis, who’d been confined to a wheelchair due to MS since I was a sprig.

After I left Calgary and returned to Good Ol’ Hometown, we seldom saw each other, basically when road assignments would take us to the Grey Cup, the Brier or Stanley Cup playoffs. The Canadian Football League and curling were his main beats, and he was among the best at both.

Foremost for me, though, are the personal recollections, and I smile at the memory of us shifting chess pieces across the board, his knight taking my rook or my bishop taking his queen. Eventually, one of us would notice the morning sun peeking through my living room drapes, and he’d take his leave.

Now Swamp Dog is gone permanently, but I’d say his sun is still shining—through Maureen and the kids, Josh and Cayley, and granddaughter Charlotte.

Rest easy, old friend.

The Grim Reaper has now fetched Matty, Swamp Dog, Gus Collins Uncle Vince Leah, and freelancers Harold Loster and Ronnie Meyers from our 1970s toy department at the Trib. And that’s not to forget photog Jon Thordarson, whom I always considered one of us. Those of us still drawing oxygen are in our 60s and 70s, or older, so Dave Komosky and I often wonder who’ll be next. My kidneys are suggesting it might be moi. If that’s how it shakes down, in lieu of flowers send laughter.

Jennifer Jones

Big tip of the bonnet to Jennifer Jones, who’s now won more games at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts (159) than any curler. Ever. By the time she’s finished, Jen’s collection of Ws might be unbeatable, although I suppose Rachel Homan will have something to say about that. For now, though, Jen is the standard, and I say it’s only fitting and proper that someone from Winnipeg stands atop the heap. After all, Good Ol’ Hometown is the curling capital of the world, no matter what some folks in Alberta might want you to believe.

Is it just me, or does anyone else get the impression that the women at the Scotties have a whole lot more fun than the men at the Brier? Just saying.

Some people haven’t been impressed with the quality of play at the Scotties in Calgary. Too many flubbed shots. Iffy strategy. Well, what did you expect? I mean, they’d been away from the pebble for a year, and I’m guessing we’ll see a similar number of hairballs coughed up when the boys gather for the Brier at the end of this week.

Apparently it’s been so quiet at the fan-free Scotties that Saskatchewan skip Sherry Anderson says she “heard the toilet flush” while on the pebble the other day. But, hey, let’s not talk about the Montreal Canadiens.

I’m not saying the Habs’ hope for a successful crusade is down the toilet. If they can get rid of the imposter wearing Carey Price’s jersey, they might yet qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament. Then again, maybe O.J. will find the real killers.

Paul Stastny poached a goal from Twig Ehlers to give the Winnipeg Jets their 2-1 OT win over the Habs on Saturday night. You just don’t do that. It’s chintzy.

Patrik Laine

Let’s see if I’ve got this straight: Patrik Laine wanted first-line minutes skating alongside Rink Rat Scheifele, but Jets head coach Paul Maurice would have none of it. So they shipped him to Columbus. Now Pierre-Luc Dubois, the guy the Jets received in barter for Puck Finn, is getting first-line minutes skating alongside Scheifele. What am I missing here?

Dumb headline in the Winnipeg Sun: “Coach, teammates like new Jet Dubois.” Well, duh. What does anyone expect them to say? That he’s a sloth? Bring Patty back? Now that would be a story. The fact the Jets have warm-and-fuzzy feelings for the new kid in town isn’t newsworthy.

Good stuff from Mad Mike McIntyre in the Drab Slab on local Black shinny players who found their way to the upper levels of professional hockey. Among those he chatted with are Bill Riley and Ray Neufeld, one of the nicest men to wear Jets linen. It’s worth a look.

So why is it that I don’t believe Canadian Football League commish Randy Ambrosie when he tells us there’ll be Rouge Football this year, but I believe Winnipeg Blue Bombers CEO Wade Miller when he says the same thing? Maybe it’s because Wade transformed Winnipeg FC from a laughing stock into a Grey Cup champion, whereas Commish Randy couldn’t sell a spare tire to a guy with a flat.

Bernie Parent and Bobby Clarke (right)

Nice touch by TSN to serve up a Top 10 moments for Manitoba athletes last week. Except they should have consulted someone from the Keystone Province before revealing the list. There was no Clara Hughes collecting medals at both the Summer and Winter Olympics. There was no Donny Lalonde knocking Sugar Ray Leonard to the canvas. There was no George Knudson winning on the PGA Tour. There was no Bobby Clarke, the first captain of a National Hockey League expansion outfit to hoist the Stanley Cup. There was no Reggie Leach, scorer of 80 goals in the 1975-76 NHL season/playoffs. There was no Don Duguid going unbeaten to win consecutive world curling titles. No Jeff Stoughton. No University of Winnipeg Lady Wesmen hoops team winning 88 consecutive matches. But Anthony Coombs made the grade with a catch in a meaningless game for the Toronto Argos. Skeleton guy Jon Montgomery was featured drinking beer and pretending to be an auctioneer. Corey Koskie cracked the list for catching a foul ball in a game no one remembers. And Andrew Harris was featured running the ball for the B.C. Lions in a game no one remembers. Totally lame.

Shaq

Shaquille O’Neal has taken some heat for his work as a TV analyst. It seems Shaq is unfamiliar with the first names of numerous National Basketball Association players, including Pascal Siakam of the Tranna Jurassics. “Oh, I never knew his first name,” Shaq confessed in a panel natter with Ernie Johnson in a recent NBA on TNT broadcast. I guess that makes Siakam the ultimate player to be named later.

Tim and Sid are no more. Well, okay Tim is still Micaleff and Sid is still Seixeiro, but they’re no longer Tim & Sid, after 17 years together on Sportsnet. Sid’s next gig is Breakfast Television in the Republic of Tranna and, given his penchant for goofing around, the show might become known as Dog’s Breakfast Television. Tim & Sid was sometimes-see TV for me, never must-see TV, but you don’t last that long without doing something right. Having said that, Tim drew a parallel between he and Sid breaking up and Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David parting ways. Uh, no. You don’t want to go there, man.

James Duthie

I’ve long admired James Duthie’s work on TSN. Who hasn’t? He’s witty, clever, knowledgeable and doesn’t take himself seriously. And he’s done it all without perfect hair and perfect teeth.

But when he waxed on about Tiger Woods last week…well, let’s just say he was showing his age.

“There’s not another…he’s the most famous athlete of our lives,” Duthie said of Woods in a squawk with Rod Smith. “Maybe you can make an argument Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, but there has been no more fascinating, complex character in sport in our lives.”

Good grief. Tom Brady is about as complex as Grade 1 arithmetic. He throws a football, wins the Super Bowl, then paints the town bland. The most fascinating thing he’s ever done is get drunk and hurl the Lombardi Trophy from one boat to another. Jordan? Best hoops player ever. Full stop.

Duthie wants fascinating and complex? Let me introduce him to Muhammad Ali, the boxer once known as Cassius Clay.

There were more layers to Ali than an onion. Let’s start with the name change, the Nation of Islam and the shift to Sunni Islam. Let’s talk about political activism and civil rights. Let’s talk about the U.S. government taking away his livelihood and untold millions of dollars for 3½ years because he refused to travel across the world to kill people in Vietnam. Let’s talk about his willingness to go behind bars rather than spray bullets. Let’s talk about the anger and hostility, then the warm admiration, of a nation. Let’s talk about a unanimous victory in the Supreme Court. Let’s talk about the Grammy nominations. Let’s talk about the movies and the Broadway musical. Let’s talk about whimsy, doggerel and rapping before rap was a thing. Let’s talk about the campus speaking tours. Let’s talk about the battle with Parkinson’s. Let’s talk about winning the world heavyweight title three times when it actually meant something. Let’s talk about the Rumble in the Jungle and the Thrilla in Manila. Let’s talk about media savvy. Let’s talk about showmanship and the oversized personality. Let’s talk about the multiple marriages and infidelities. Let’s talk about the irony of being meaner and more cruel to Black boxers than white fist-fighters.

Duthie is 54, which means he missed the opening act of the theatre that was Ali. He can’t relate to the Vietnam War or the civil rights movement of the 1960s, just as those who weren’t there when John Paul, George and Ringo invaded America can’t truly understand and appreciate Beatlemania.

But when he speaks of “our lives,” I have to assume that includes myself and those of my vintage.

Tiger Woods is arguably the finest to ever strike a dimpled ball. We marveled at his wizardry, how he would make the best in the game wither before they even teed it up on a Thursday. He was fascinating to watch. Gobsmackingly so. But whereas Ali allowed us inside his world, Woods tried to keep most everyone out. Except his many mistresses.

Other than his genius at golf, we knew nothing of Woods the person until caught with his trousers down and the tabloids exposed him as a raging philanderer. And, of course, he’s made headlines for getting behind the wheel of a luxury vehicle when it wasn’t wise. But cheating on your spouse and reckless driving hardly makes one fascinating or complex. It makes him one of a million guys.

So let’s put it this way: Given one word to describe Tiger Woods, it would be “golf.” Given one word to describe Muhammad Ali, it would be…sorry, can’t do it in one word. He was too fascinating and complex.

And, finally, looks like this will be a pizza-and-pebble day, because I’m hitting the couch and won’t budge until either Jen Jones or Kerri Einarson has (hopefully) won the Scotties Tournament of Hearts this evening.

Let’s talk about Patrik Laine’s adios…what the boys on the beat are saying…Grapes for GG of Canada…Bobby Hull dining on table scraps…Hammerin’ Hank…the Mets and their oinker GM…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and this blog is officially listed as day-to-day…

First of all, Patrik Laine wasn’t a swing and a miss for Kevin Chevldayoff and his bird dogs.

When the ping pong balls bounced their way at the National Hockey League’s 2016 draft lottery, they wisely used that good fortune to claim Puck Finn with the second shoutout at the annual auction of teenage wannabes.

Patrik Laine

The kid’s a stud, and there’s been scant second-guessing the Winnipeg Jets’ choice, even if hindsight suggests a case can be made that Matthew Tkachuk might have been a better way to go.

Laine mostly delivered as the Jets had hoped, with 36-, 44-, 30- and 28-goal crusades, plus two more snipes in the opening gambit of his fifth season, which has been temporarily derailed due to an undisclosed upper-body owie of unknown origin.

Unfortunately, somewhere and somehow, the Jets-Laine union hit a very large pothole and we’re left to wonder what went wrong.

None of the usual suspects were willing to drill down to the core of the matter on Saturday after Chevy had completed his latest bit of handiwork, sending Laine to the Columbus Blue Jackets in barter for Pierre-Luc Dubois. Puck Finn spoke. General manager Chevy spoke. Potty-mouth coach Paul Maurice spoke. Captain Blake Wheeler spoke. Trouble is, it was nothing but hollow blah, blah, blah. We still don’t know why a 22-year-old stud with 140 notches on his shooting stick was expendable.

So we speculate, and here’s my guess: Coach PottyMo and Wheeler chased him out of town.

Puck Finn and Blake Wheeler.

In his sole frolic this season, Laine was given 16 minutes, 20 seconds of ice. Wheeler logged 21:27. Maurice stubbornly insists that the 34-year-old captain is a better bet at right wing, and that wasn’t about to change. No matter the numbers either player put up. So Puck Finn put a bug in his agent’s ear, whispering something about the desire for a new zip code, and he’ll now be collecting his fan mail at 200 W Nationwide Blvd., Columbus, OH 43215.

And that isn’t a good optic for Chevy.

None of us knows for certain what it would have taken to make Laine happy, but we can assume that Chevy wasn’t prepared to instruct Coach PottyMo to up the big Finn’s ice time. We can also assume that the Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, had a sizable say in the matter, because you don’t part company with a player of Laine’s loft without the owner signing off on the deal. Which means he’s okay with the reality that he’s now had four first-round draft picks and/or their reps walk into the GM’s office and request and receive a one-way ticket out of town—Evander Kane, Jacob Trouba, Puck Finn and Jack Roslovic.

So, rather than a mantra of draft-and-develop, it’s become draft-develop-defect.

Paul Maurice

Oh, yes, I realize that a handful of the Jets young studs have locked in for the long haul, but having four walk away is at least three too many. And, in Laine’s case, it didn’t have to shake down this way.

Rather than reward Wheeler with a ridiculous five-year extension (including a No-Move Clause) in 2018 and stunt Laine’s growth, Chevy and the Puck Pontiff should have cut the captain adrift. He would have fetched a handsome return, certainly better than he would today or two years from now given the dog ears on his birth certificate.

Instead, they opted to keep the senior citizen over the young gun, which I’m sure makes no sense to most of us outside the Jets think tank.

Hey, anyone can be traded, including Patrik Laine. And the Jets will learn to live without Puck Finn. But that doesn’t mean anyone should be traded. Chevy and the Puck Pontiff bungled this one. Badly. And if they can’t convince Dubois to sign up for the long haul, they’ll really wear it.

Paul Stastny

Remember last October when Chevy brought Paul Stastny back on board? According to the pundits, it was a move designed to put a happy face on Laine. Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab, for example, wrote this: “One thing I no longer expect to see based on this week’s events is a trade involving Patrik Laine. The Jets didn’t bring Stastny and his big cap hit in just to send their Finnish sniper packing. They brought him in to play with Laine, a paring (along with Nikolaj Ehlers) that had great chemistry during the 2018 run to the Western Conference final.” Others provided backup vocals. So how’s that working out?

I always enjoy reading what the boys on the beat have to say about these big trades. Here’s a sampling:

Paul Friesen, Winnipeg Sun: “The Winnipeg Jets’ trading of Patrik Laine to the Columbus Blue Jacks is an abject organizational failure.”

Ken Wiebe, Sportsnet: “By strengthening themselves down the middle, the Jets have taken an important—and necessary—step to widening their collective window of contention. It came at a significant cost, but this blockbuster was a risk worth taking for the Jets.”

Murat Ates, The Athletic: “What does this acquisition mean for the rest of Winnipeg’s roster? The shortest, simplest read is that the Jets want to build strength down the middle and just traded a power-play star at right wing for an even-strength star at centre. It also gives Winnipeg the best player in the trade, while acknowledging that Laine’s potential for growth is as big of a wild card as he is.”

Ted Wyman, Winnipeg Sun: “Cheveldayoff has to bear responsibility for what has happened here—the trading of a very popular young star. He was unable to get Laine signed to a long-term deal before last season and the Jets salary cap situation—based on long-term deals given to other players—made it unlikely they’d be able to do so after this season. The cost, as it turns out, is the Jets traded two first-round draft picks for a player who was taken third overall. On paper, it simply looks like too much. The pressure will be immense on Dubois to make it look more even.”

Has there been a bigger swap involving local jocks than Laine-Dubois? I can think of just one—Dieter Brock to the Hamilton Tabbies for Tom Clements in 1983. Hall-of-fame quarterback for hall-of-fame quarterback. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers won the Grey Cup with Clements behind centre one year later, beating Brock and the Tabbies.

This is rich: Rebel News has started a petition to have disgraced hockey-talker Don Cherry succeed the disgraced Julie Payette as Governor General of Canada.

“He’s a loyal monarchist, perhaps the most loyal monarchist in the county!” the far-right wingnuts at the Rebel write. “And he upholds our Canadian values. Unlike Payette, he represents what it means to be Canadian. There is nobody more dignified and worthy of filling this historic and noble role for Canadians than Don Cherry.”

Hoo boy. That’s a whole lot of stupid.

When last seen and heard, Grapes was on Hockey Night in Canada, demonizing “you people that come here” (read: immigrants) because they enjoy “our milk and honey” but have the (apparent) bad manners to not wear poppies for Remembrance Day. After decades of similar rants peppered with bigotry, zenophobia, misogyny and anti-Quebec sentiments, they finally took away the Lord of Loud’s bully pulpit, yet now the Rebel would have him become Queen Liz’s official rep and take up residence in Rideau Hall. What next? Ron MacLean at 24 Sussex Drive?

I’m sure Queen Liz has enough worries with the royal litter without having to explain Don Cherry and his wardrobe to her loyal subjects loitering outside Buckingham Palace.

Big tidings from the Toronto Blue Jays camp last week, with the addition of outfielder/slugger George Springer, late of the cheating Houston Astros. Apparently Springer leaked the news of his signing by banging on the lid of a trash can.

Bobby Hull

There’s a fabulous anecdote about Bobby Hull, his boy Brett and Kelly Chase in James Duthie’s book Beauties, whereby they let the wolf loose after a game one night in Chicago, returning to the Drake Hotel at 2 o’clock in the a.m.

“The Drake has this elderly gentleman working the elevators, all dressed up with white gloves on,” Chase says. “He recognizes Bobby right away and says, ‘Mr. Hull, pleasure to meet you.’ Bobby says, ‘Good evening, young man. Could you press floor one for me?’ And Brett goes, ‘No, dad, we’re on three.’ Bobby says, ‘Goddamnit, I said press one!’ And out he goes on the first floor.

“We go up to our room, and a few minutes later, in walks Bobby with this food tray. He’s got a quarter of a clubhouse sandwich, a piece of pizza and a couple of chicken wings. I’m like, ‘What the…?’ And Bobby says, ‘Wasteful bastards! This is how Stan Mikita and I ate in the old days. He took the even floors, I took the odd!’

“This is my idol! Then they bring the cot up, and Bobby is insisting on sleeping on the cot. Well, there is no way I am letting Bobby Hull sleep on a cot, so I take it. Bobby goes into the bathroom, comes out, whips the rug off his head, hangs it on the bedpost and gets in bed. The first time I meet my idol, and he’s eating off food trays left outside people’s doors and his hair is hanging on the bed!”

Ya, that sounds about right.

Can’t let the day slip away without mentioning Henry Aaron, because the home run champ’s death on Friday meant another chunk of my youth has been snatched away.

Hammerin’ Hank, you see, was my older brother Richard’s favorite baseball player. Mickey Mantle was my younger brother Mick’s main man. Mine was Sandy Koufax. We’d squabble the way kids do, nattering about who was the best of the three—the rakish Black man from Mobile, Ala., the brawny Okie who spent his early off-seasons working in lead and zinc mines with his dad, or the soft-speaking Jewish kid from Brooklyn.

None of us budged from our positions. Still won’t.

I do, however, concede and conclude that Aaron traveled a more challenging path to baseball immortality because, whereas both Mantle and Koufax wrestled with chronic ailments, it was death threats for Hammerin’ Hank. Not just to him, but his family.

The nearer Aaron came to reeling in Babe Ruth and laying claim to the greatest record in sports—714 career home runs—the greater the peril for the Atlanta Braves outfielder. Not all of America was prepared to accept a Black man usurping the Sultan of Swat. Not in the 1970s. Yet Aaron soldiered on, swatting dingers and chasing the larger-than-life Bambino until the night of April 8, 1974, when he sent an Al Downing pitch over the left-field fence and into the Braves bullpen. He had touched ’em all for the 715th time.

“What a marvelous moment, for baseball, what a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia, what a marvelous moment for the country and the world. A Black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol. It’s a marvelous, wonderful, enjoyable moment here in Atlanta,” is how legendary broadcaster Vin Scully described it.

Shortly thereafter, I made my way to the Winnipeg Tribune building, anxious to lay out and design the next day’s sports section. Even though the Jets had opened a playoff series vs. Houston Aeros that night, I relegated them to the inside pages. The sports front was reserved for the great Henry Aaron. Every inch of it.

Jared Porter

Jared Porter has been outed as an oinker of the highest rank and, thankfully, the New York Mets squandered nary a nano-second in defrocking their creepy general manager.

Mind you, it’s not like the Amazins had any choice.

I mean, Porter’s one-man crusade to bed an unidentified female reporter while overseeing the Chicago Cubs stable of scouts in 2016 was as relentless as it was disturbing. More than 60 times he hounded the woman with come-hither texts and pics, the last of which brought an erect penis into focus, and it doesn’t matter that he claims the erect-penis pic he sent wasn’t a pic of his erect penis.

“The more explicit ones are not of me,” Porter assured ESPN. “Those are like, kinda like joke-stock images.”

Oh, ya, unwelcomed graphic porn is a real knee-slapper, Jared.

Listen, most women I know appreciate a man with a healthy sense of humor, but some scuzzball visiting porn sites and playing copy-and-paste with images of boners doesn’t qualify as giggle-worthy.

It’s sad, pathetic, dangerous and no one’s idea of slapstick.

Fortunately, the Mets did every female news snoop a solid by kicking Porter to the curb, and I can’t imagine any other Major League Baseball team bringing him and his baggage on board.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve grown weary of Postmedia treating the Winnipeg Sun like the red-hair, freckle-face step-child of the chain. When I call up the Postmedia tabloids in the Republic of Tranna, Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver, I normally find seven or more pages in the sports section. In Good Ol’ Hometown it’s usually four pages. Some days just two. Other days there’s two pages of sports near the front of the rag and two more near the back. Ridiculous.

And, finally, I don’t like to say I told you so, but I did. At least six times between February 2019 and last week, I warned you that Patrik Laine would not finish his career in Good Ol’ Hometown. Moreover, I posed this question in June 2016, days before the Jets drafted him: “Is the Flamboyant Finn and his loose lips a fit for the Winnipeg Jets or will he give them fits?” Puck Finn conceded on Saturday that “it wasn’t the right fit for me and for the team.”

Let’s talk about Boomer and Rouge Football…Cris who?…ads on NHL unis…homophobia on the diamond and golf course…sticking to sports…and other things on my mind

A one and a two—the second Sunday morning smorgas-bored of 2021…and the year’s only going to get better, kids…

Oh, the humanity. CBS backup blurt box boy Boomer Esiason crapped on the Canadian Football League, and it was as if he’d peed on a Mountie’s horse. During the Musical Ride.

I swear, we haven’t heard this loud a hue and cry since Maggie Trudeau went clubbing with the Rolling Stones and hitched a late-night ride in Mick’s limo.

If you missed it, Boomer worked the L.A. Rams-Arizona Cardinals skirmish last Sunday, a National Football League growler featuring former Winnipeg Blue Bombers backup quarterback, Grey Cup champion and resident party boy Chris Streveler. As it happened, Streveler hurled an ill-advised, second-quarter pass that was taken the other way for a pick-six by Roy Hill of the Rams.

Boomer Esiason in the Bow Wow Bungalow.

“What a horrific mistake by Reveler (sic), barked Boomer, who was keeping the broadcast booth seat warm for disabled talking head Tony Romo. “This isn’t the Grey Cup. This isn’t the CFL. You can’t just take chances and throw the ball down the middle of the field and expect somebody not to come down with it. There’s just no reason to throw the ball there.”

Cue the outrage.

Players and coaches with the lived experience of actually suiting up in 12-man football took to social media and pounced on Boomer, like a panhandler spotting loose change on a sidewalk.

Many among the rabble and media pundits across the tundra also weighed in with wagging tongues and fingers, defending Rouge Football with the same fervor that Rudy Giuliani has Donald Trump’s back (only without the black shoe polish dribbling down their faces and audible farting).

“That’s a silly comment,” one-time DB Davis Sanchez said of Boomer’s cheap shot, in a natter with TSN’s Kate Beirness that was meant to be a tsk-tsking of Esiason but instead detoured into a negative riff on the Arizona QB, leaving me to believe Streveler doesn’t know how to bend down and tie his own boot laces, let alone fling a football.

“I get joy in watching guys in the CFL get a shot down there and succeed,” Sanchez continued in his peculiar brand of English, “but when I’m looking at all the high-level quarterbacks we have in the CFL, Chris Streveler’s not the guy I’m gonna put out there on display to represent the great quarterbacks we have in the CFL. They said that Chris Streveler, on the broadcast, was a star in Canada. Well, a little research may be necessary, Boomer. He wasn’t a star. He’s a star personality and a great athlete, but he was actually a backup quarterback. Actually, he was really the third-string quarterback, because when the quarterback got injured, instead of playing Chris Streveler at quarterback at the end of the season, they brought in a third-string quarterback, so he’s a third-string quarterback.”

Davis Sanchez

Way to keep it classy, Davis. Crap on one guy by taking an even bigger dump on the other guy.

Meantime, Sanchez’ loud-squawking colleague at TSN, Kayla Grey, tweeted, “the CFL slander has to stop.”

Or what? She’ll lecture Boomer with her phony southern “y’alls” and “thangs” at 150 decibels or higher?

Look, Rouge Football boosterism is great. Been there, been doing that since the 1950s. But let’s not get our knickers in a twist just because Boomer Esiason doesn’t know Flutie Flakes from Corn Flakes.

I mean, what do you expect? He’s an American, and most Americans couldn’t find Winnipeg if you plunked them down at Portage and Main. Think about it. Have you ever noticed the look on a Jeopardy! contestant’s face when the category is anything Canada? That’s right, it’s the same look a dog gets when it sees itself in the mirror for the first time. You know, head cocked to one side, blank stare, curious, no clue.

The difference, I suppose, is that it’s funny when a dog does it, not so much when it’s a high-salaried football analyst on national TV in the stooge role.

But, hey, we don’t kick the dog for being dumb. We laugh, call him over, rub his head and tell him he’s “such a good boy.”

Well, you’re such a good boy, Boomer. Now go play fetch and bring Tony Romo back.

Cris Collinsworth

Since I’ve mentioned Jeopardy!, if there’s any category that contestants know less about than Canada, it’s sports, a truism underscored on the game show last Thursday. The clue: “The announcers on NBC Sunday Night Football are Al Michaels and this former wide receiver.” None of the three contestants buzzed in to say, “Who is Cris Collinsworth?” even though the one-time Cincinnati Bengals pass-catcher has been providing the backup vocals for Michaels on the Peacock Network since 2009. A lot of women can relate. They talk and talk and talk, but their husbands/boyfriends don’t hear a word they say.

Phil Kessel

Now that you’ve asked, no, I don’t believe pasting corporate logos on players’ helmets or attaching corporate names to National Hockey League divisions is a sign that the apocalypse is nigh. Matter of fact, I fully expect to see brand names on jerseys before long, although it will be subtle as opposed to the vulgar, billboardish displays in European shinny or NASCAR. I actually think players ought to be allowed to sell themselves, like they do in tennis and golf. Phil Kessel could skate about the freeze with a Nathan’s Fabulous Franks patch on his Arizona Coyotes jersey. Auston Matthews, first at the NHL pay window, could be sponsored by Brinks. The possibilities are unlimited.

My first year in baseball, each of us kids on the Melrose Park Little League team had an individual sponsor, with the company name displayed on the back, directly above our uni number. Mine was Red Patch Taxi. By the end of the season, the C and H in Patch had disappeared, so I was Red Pat Taxi, something that did not escape the notice of my mom. “Why do you always come home with such a dirty and torn uniform when your brothers’ are clean?” she demanded to know one day. I had no answer. She washed my uniform, put it in my closet, and I got it dirty again.

Lasord Jr. and Lasorda Sr.

As one who has bled Dodgers blue since their final days as “Dem Bums” in Brooklyn, Tommy Lasorda became one of my all-time favorite characters in baseball, and his passing the other day at age 93 brought two things to mind—sound bites and the denial of his son’s homosexuality.

First the sound bites. These are my two favorite quotes from the longtime Los Angeles manager:

  • “I walk into the clubhouse today and it’s like walking into the Mayo Clinic. We have four doctors, three therapists and five trainers. Back when I broke in, we had one trainer who carried a bottle of rubbing alcohol, and by the seventh inning he’d already drunk it.”

  • Prior to the 1988 World Series between L.A. and Oakland, Lasorda approached A’s slugger Jose Canseco and said: “Jose, I just want you to know, if we don’t win this thing I hope you guys do.”

Now the gay son part. Most tributes to Lasorda were glowing in praise and completely ignored, or merely glossed over, his relationship with Tommy Jr., who died of complications from AIDS at age 33. A year after Tommy Jr.’s death in 1991, Lasorda Sr. told Peter Richmond of GQ magazine that his son “wasn’t gay. No way. No way. I read that in a paper. I also read in that paper that a lady gave birth to a fuckin’ monkey, too. That’s not the fuckin’ truth. That’s not the truth.” He also denied that Tommy Jr. had died of AIDS. When Tommy Jr. began chumming around with the Dodgers Glenn Burke, known to his teammates and others in Major League Baseball as gay, the outfielder was promptly banished to Oakland. Those are the kind of words and actions that keep young gay people in the closet. Still.

Justin Thomas

Justin Thomas is another reason why gay youth remain hidden. The world No. 3 golfer coughed up a hairball on a five-foot par putt at the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii on Saturday, then expressed his annoyance by dropping the homophobic F-bomb. “It’s not who I am. It’s not the kind of person that I am,” he insisted while delivering a mea culpa. Except he went on to say it was only “when I was done with my round” that he realized he’d spewed the slur. That suggests this wasn’t a one-off. It’s just the first time he was caught on mic.

Tip of the bonnet No. 1: To Lance Hornby, who last week reached the 40-year signpost of scribbling boffo shinny stuff on the sports pages of the Toronto Sun. There are a lot of good people in jock journalism, and Lance certainly is one of them.

Tip of the bonnet No. 2: To Team USA’s Theresa Feaster, the first female to be part of a coaching staff to win the World Junior Hockey Championship. Asked by Fluto Shinzawa of The Athletic what message she has for mothers with young daughters, Feaster said: “Work hard and keep dreaming. Don’t let naysayers or obstacles get in your way. You can achieve great things. Put your head down and work hard. You can accomplish great things.” Exactly.

On the subject of ponytails and pucks, members of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association spent the past three days in Florida, playing teenage boys from the United States Premier Hockey League. The women opened with a 5-3 win v. Tampa Bay Juniors, then dropped a 4-2 verdict to the South Shore Kings and absorbed a 5-zip whupping from the Philadelphia Hockey Club. It pains me to say it, but losing to teenage boys won’t convince many people that Ponytail Puck is worth buying into.

MeTV is showing classic cartoons every morning, Monday-Saturday, with all the usual suspects—Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Popeye and Bluto, Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner, etc. What, there wasn’t enough violence on TV already?

After 15 years together, Mookie Betts of the L.A. Dodgers has finally asked his childhood sweetheart Brianna Hammonds for her hand in matrimony. Talk about a human rain delay.

No surprise that there was plenty of political/social commentary from jock journos in the wake of the siege on the Capitol in Washington, D.C., last week, and I’m not one of those people who expect them to “stick to sports.” I figure if they have a platform, use it. And did they ever. Examples:

Damien Cox of the Toronto Star called Rudy Giuliani a “moron” and Donald Trump “the Orange Clown,” then attacked Ontario health officials and the government for allowing the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators to set up shop for the NHL season.

“WHY CAN THE NHL PLAY IN ONTARIO WHEN NONE OF US CAN PLAY A SPORT—ANY SPORT—INDOORS???” went his Twitter rant.

“Share your pain Damo,” Pat Hickey of the Montreal Gazette moaned in concert. “Had to cancel my tennis after QC locked down this week and my gym has been closed since March.”

Donald Trump in full incite mode.

Jack Todd of the Gazette on Trump: “One of the worst human beings who ever lived. Any country, any era. Given enough time and power, he would have gone into the history books with Hitler, Stalin and Caligula.”

Bob Irving, CJOB: “As I anxiously await this weekend’s NFL wildcard games, I also anxiously await the day when we’re not hearing about or talking about the worst human being to ever lead the most powerful country in the free world.”

Ken Campbell, The Hockey News: “Hockey icon Bobby Orr endorsed Donald Trump two months ago. Now it’s time for him to repudiate the man who incited the violence and anarchy that was unleashed on the U.S. Capitol Wednesday.”

Mad Mike McIntyre, the Drab Slab: “This is the America Trump created. This is the America Trump wanted. History will never forget that U.S. President Donald Trump said “we love you” today to a group of armed domestic terrorists who dropped pipe bombs and stormed the U.S. Capitol in his name (leaving at least one woman dead) while also calling them “very special.”

Troy Westwood, 1290 TSN: “Donald Trump has been a horrible human being his entire adult life. His history is well documented. Yet tens of millions of people line up behind him as if he has the virtues of Jesus Christ. Please Trumpsters, Christians, Evangelicals, explain this to me.”

Terry Jones, Postmedia Edmonton, after the Americans won gold at the World Junior Hockey Championship: “At least the USA has a fine group of young men with gold medals around their necks to be proud of today. Hard to believe they’re from the same country as those that were part of the mob in Washington, D.C.”

And finally, Space X guy Elon Musk is now richest man on the planet, with a worth of $188.5 billion. Just wondering: Do you think he’d be interested in bankrolling a quirky, three-downs football league? I really don’t want to go another year without watching all those Rouge Football quarterbacks that Boomer Esiason thinks are lousy because they throw the ball down the middle of the field.

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

Sports Santa arrives on the morrow and he’s given us a sneak peak at what he has 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: If at first you don’t succeed…get it right in an extra end. And that’s what Kerri Einarson and her Buffalo girls—Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard, Briane Mielleur, Jennifer Clark-Rouire, coach Patti Wuthrich—did to win the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Moose Jaw. Kerri had a chance to end it all in the 10th end of the title match vs. Rachel Homan and her Ontario group, but she was heavy with her last-rock draw to the four-foot. She got the job done in the 11th, though, sliding her final stone to the button for an 8-7 victory and the Canadian women’s curling championship.

LUMP O’ COAL: The year 2020. Seriously. Someone needs to give it a good, swift kick to the groin, and it’s not too late.

GOAL: Connor Hellebuyck won the Vezina Trophy as top goaltender in the National Hockey League, putting a bit of shine on an otherwise empty season for the Winnipeg Jets.

LUMP O’ COAL: Sportsnet was guilty of a blatant double standard when it allowed Elliotte Friedman to repeatedly appear on Hockey Night in Canada with a ghastly, unruly beard that made him look like he’d been sleeping under a bridge for three months. No chance a female broadcaster would be allowed on camera with a head of hair that looks like a cluster of dead animals.

GOAL: The Winnipeg Sun celebrated its 40th anniversary, not bad for a sheet that wasn’t supposed to last much longer than a pint of beer in front of Chris Walby.

LUMP O’ COAL: 50 Below Sports + Entertainment ignored provincial health rules and allowed Winnipeg Freeze and Winnipeg Blues of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League to practice outside the city. So make that two lumps o’ coal, one for 50 Below bossman Greg Fettes and the other for bossman Matt Cockell.

GOAL: The good ol’ boys in NASCAR banned the Confederate Flag from race sites. Full sets of teeth, corn squeezin’s and MAGA caps remained optional.

LUMP O’ COAL: Mike Milbury, Brendan Leipsic, Thom Brennaman, Cris Collinsworth, Brett Hull, Evander Kane spewed sexist, racist and/or homophobic slurs. Come on, guys. We’re 21 years into the 21st century, and that language just doesn’t cut it.

GOAL: Katie Sowers became the first female to coach in the Super Bowl, albeit in a losing role with the San Francisco 49ers, Kim Ng became the first female GM of a Major League Baseball team, Alyssa Nakken became the first uniformed female to coach on-field in MLB, Kathryn Nesbitt became the first female to referee in a Major League Soccer championship match, and Sarah Fuller became the first female to play in an NCAA Power 5 men’s football game.

LUMP O’ COAL: Canadian Football League commissioner Randy Ambrosie went panhandling on Parliament Hill, asking PM Trudeau the Younger for anywhere from $30 million to $150 million in welfare to get Rouge Football on the field during the COVID-19 pandemic. Trouble was, he failed to receive input from the Players Association, and the feds were not amused. Commish Cap-in-Hand was spurned repeatedly, and the CFL finally fell off the grid when Trudeau the Younger batted away his final Hail Mary beg in early August. Thus, there was no season, no Grey Cup week. Just a whole lot of radio silence from the commish.

GOAL: Kid curlers Jacques Gauthier and Mackenzie Zacharias joined Einarson in bringing more glory to Manitoba with their world junior championship wins in Russia.

LUMP O’ COAL: Damien Cox and the Exalted Guardians of the Lou Marsh Trophy at the Toronto Star. The Marsh trinket is supposed to honor Canada’s athlete-of-the-year, except Cox and Co. don’t invite jock journos west of the Republic of Tranna to the top-jock party. Well, okay, that’s not quite true. They granted a voice and a vote to four news snoops from the colonies. That would be four out of 37 voices and votes. How gracious of them.

GOAL: O-lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif walked away from the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs and millions of American dollars to fight the good fight against COVID in long-term care homes.

LUMP O’ COAL: TSN named its all-time Winnipeg Jets roster and didn’t include the great Lars-Erik Sjoberg among the top six defencemen. But wait. The geniuses declared The Shoe to be the franchise’s “foundational” player. Sigh. That’s like telling Jesus he has to sit at the kids’ table for the Last Supper. Neither the original Jets franchise nor the second coming knew a better blueliner than The Shoe.

GOAL: Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun and Jeff Hamilton of the Drab Slab showed us their fab journalistic chops with fab features. Freezer relived the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 2019 Grey Cup championship with a nine-part series, while young Jeff took a deep, deep dive into the dark and sordid world of disgraced sexual predator and former hockey coach Graham James.

LUMP O’ COAL: Mainstream jock journos, shinny division, held a group pity party when the NHL revealed it wouldn’t make public the various owies suffered by players during the summer made-for-TV playoff tournament. It was as if they’d been ordered to gather in a small room to watch an Adam Sandler movie marathon, or listen to Barry Manilow’s greatest hits 24/7.

GOAL: Various sports franchises played the name game, including the CFL team formerly known as the Edmonton Eskimos, the NFL team formerly known as the Washington Redskins, and the MLB team to be named something other than Cleveland Indians. We still don’t know what any of them will be called, but it’s believed the animal kingdom has the inside track and they can only hope the people at PETA don’t have a beef with any new names.

LUMP O’ COAL: Former NBC Sports hockey gab guy Jeremy Roenick went on a podcast to declare his admiration for a co-worker’s “ass and boobs” and mentioned something about three-way sex with his wife and the co-worker. He was promptly punted. But wait. There’s more. Rather than go quietly into the night, Roenick decided to kick up a legal fuss and sued NBC Sports for wrongful dismissal, claiming discrimination based on his sexual orientation. His argument: If he was a gay man and said the things he said, he’d still have a job. But because he’s a straight man, he’s out of work. Ya, good luck with that, hetero boy.

GOAL: Sue Bird of the Seattle Storm won her fourth WNBA title and became engaged to soccer diva Megan Rapinoe, while another gay woman, triple jumper Yulimar Rojas of Venezuela, was named female athlete-of-the-year by World Athletics.

LUMP O’ COAL: Bryson DeChambeau spouted off about Augusta National prior to the Masters in November, boasting that it would be a pitch-and-putt course for him while the mere mortals on the PGA Tour would be playing to par-72. “I’m looking at it as a par-67 for me,” he said. In that case, DeChambeau shot 18-over par with rounds of 70-74-69-73, which left him tied for 34th, 18 swings behind winner Dustin Johnson and one behind 63-year-old Bernhard Langer.

GOAL: It was girl power on Sportsnet in March, when an all-female broadcast crew worked a Calgary Flames-Vegas Golden Knights skirmish on Hockey Night in Canada. Leah Hextall handled the play-by-play call, Cassie Campbell-Pascall delivered color commentary and Christine Simpson was rinkside. Question is: Was it a one-off, or will they be back?

LUMP O’ COAL: Justin Turner of the Los Angeles Dodgers was yanked from the deciding game of the World Series due to a positive COVID test, but he returned to join his teammates in an on-field celebration and removed his mask. MLB chose not to punish Turner for allowing his bare face to hang out and expose L.A. players and hangers-on to the virus, so it gets a lump o’ coal, too.

GOAL: Zamboni driver David Ayres took over the blue paint for the Carolina Hurricanes one night in the Republic of Tranna, and the emergency goaltender beat the Maple Leafs. Not since Sid Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon pulled into the Tim Hortons drive-thru has a Zamboni driver received so much attention.

LUMP O’ COAL: Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz thought COVID-19 was a big joke, so he mocked news snoops about the virus at a press session. A couple days later, he tested positive and the kibitzing stopped. As did the NBA and the rest of the sports world.

GOAL: Our leading lady of soccer, Christine Sinclair, became the top goal-scorer of all time in international fitba. She finishes the year with 186, and there might be more to come if the women get back on the pitch in preparation for the Tokyo Olympics.

LUMP O’ COAL: Novak Djokovic, who wears a tin-foil hat and might lead the sports world in hissy fits, ignored scientific and medical advice and staged a mini-tennis tour when almost all sports had shut down due to the COVID pandemic. Social distancing was ignored by players and fans, and the Joker was one of four players to test positive. The final tourney was canceled. Later, he was ushered out of the U.S. Open tennis tournament for whacking a lines judge in the face with a ball. What a doofus.

GOAL: Rafael Nadal won his 13th French Open title and his 20th tennis Gran Slam, at the same time running his career record at Roland Garros to 100-2.

LUMP O’ COAL: Steve Simmons of Postmedia Toronto spent much of the year shaking his fists and shouting at clouds, as is his wont, and he reserved his most ignorant hit pieces for PM Trudeau the Younger and the National Women’s Hockey League expansion franchise in the Republic of Tranna. He claimed Trudeau had “let us down again” by permitting the Blue Jays “to play their home games this summer in Toronto. That is beyond stupid.” He later doubled down, calling the decision “beyond ridiculous.” Except Trudeau and the feds never gave the Jays the okie-dokie to play in the Republic of Tranna. In fact, he told them to pack their bats and balls and find a home in the U.S., which they did in Buffalo. Meantime, Simmons assailed the NWHL when it would add a team in The ROT. “You don’t gain credibility by announcing a team with no name, no place to play and no big-name players,” he harrumphed. He also noted there was no team logo. “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.” Except he had no such harsh words for the NHL when it introduced expansion franchises in Las Vegas and Seattle. They were introduced without team names, without team logos, and without big-name players. They were the Vegas and Seattle Whatevers for two years. So let’s see if I’ve got this straight: If women do it, bad; if men do it, cool. I believe we can file that under subtle sexism.

And, finally, GOAL: To everyone who indulged an old lady by visiting the River City Renegade. We’ve topped 57,000 views this year, and that’s a new high-water mark for the third successive year. So thanks. Happy Christmas.

Let’s talk about the sexism gene in sports coverage…Sarah Fuller getting her kicks…the Drab Slab and moth balls…bravo Dugie…fabulous Friesen and his Bombers epic…fiftysomething fossils fighting, plus Big Angie and Peanut Butter Joe…our greatest Olympians…and other things on my mind

A Monday morning smorgas-bored…and adios to November and let those sleighbells ring…

I have sometimes wondered if sports editors and scribes consciously ignore female sports, or if it’s simply because they’re wired that way.

You know, like it’s a sexism gene that carries a built-in bias.

I mean, because it’s scientifically accepted that male athletes are bigger, stronger and faster—as are the major pro sports leagues—it seems to me that there’s an automatic reflex to play a guys’ story at the front of the sports section and relegate the women’s article to the back pages, if not spike the thing.

Consider hockey as a prime e.g.

The Canadian Women’s Hockey League was ignored out of business. There was scant game-day, or off-day coverage, in print or on air. Only when the CWHL turned out the lights did mainstream media sit up and take notice. Basically, they attended a total stranger’s funeral and gasped, “Oh, what a shame.”

When the Toronto Six of the National Women’s Hockey League anointed Digit Murphy head coach, it was like a tree falling in the forest. No one there to hear it? Guess it didn’t happen.

When the NWHL outlined its blueprint for a 2021 crusade last week, trumpeting a six-team tournament Jan. 23-Feb. 5 in a Lake Placid, N.Y., fan-free bubble, it was a three-paragraph brief on the last page of a 12-page sports section in the Toronto Sun. I found no mention of it on the Toronto Star website. That, even though there’s a franchise in the Republic of Tranna.

When was the last time we read anything about the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association and its Dream Gap Tour?

Let’s face it, unless it’s Canada v. U.S.A., Ponytail Puck is an afterthought in mainstream media. Why is that? Is it because the decision-makers know the finest female players in the world strain mightily to beat teenage boys at the Midget AAA or prep school level? And since they don’t cover Midget AAA or prep school level shinny, the women don’t warrant coverage either? Or is it the sexism gene?

Whatever the case, if Canadian newspapers aren’t prepared to write about the best female shinny players on the planet, what hope is there for other sports?

Oh, sure, female Olympic athletes are granted their due every two years, but none of the boys on the beat cover rhythmic gymnastics or synchronized swimming by choice. They hold their noses and do so because it’s a small, inconvenient price to pay for an all-expenses-paid trip to Greece or Tokyo or London or Rio.

Olympic Games aside, it’s almost as if a female athlete or women’s event must include a circus side-show element to attract serious attention.

Sarah Fuller and her one and only kick.

We’ve seen plenty of the novelty acts, like the Kendall Coyne Schofield skedaddle and the 3-on-3 game during National Hockey League all-star hijinks, and Phil Esposito using Manon Rheaume as a publicity stunt in goal. And, of course, most recently we watched Sarah Fuller become the first female to participate in an NCAA Power 5 football game on Saturday.

It was as if Sarah had discovered a fool-proof vaccine for COVID-19, the way folks carried on, but she didn’t actually do anything other than breathe, unless one considers a 30-yard pooch kickoff and walking off the field without touching a foe a remarkable athletic accomplishment. But, hey, there were 21 male football players on the field and one female soccer player, so her presence certainly warranted ink and air time, and Sarah received more of each than any female footy player in a non-World Cup or Olympic year. Eat your heart out, Megan Rapinoe.

But, sans the carnival-barker component, mainstream media doesn’t seem interested, and it’s a sticking point they struggle to get past.

Early last month, SE Steve Lyons of the Winnipeg Free Press wrote about “being as equitable as possible” in terms of female/male coverage. So how is he doing since then?

Let’s just say that, to date, he talks a good game.

His Freep published 30 times in November. Copy/pics strictly about female athletes were featured on the front page of the section just five times—curler Kerri Einarson, retired volleyball player Tammy Mahon, WNBA, a pic of Kim Ng (the story was on the inside pages), and an Andrea Katz column. Total stories/briefs devoted to women in 30 days: 13/7.

That’s equitable like an Archie comic is deep reading material.

Over at the Winnipeg Sun, the picture is much more bleak. Females (curlers) found their way to the sports front once—repeat, once—in 29 editions. Total stories/briefs devoted to women: 9/1.

Pick up a daily newspaper—any newspaper—across our vast land and it’s the same.

Andrea Katz

Lyons has taken a step toward correcting the imbalance of sports coverage in the Drab Slab, bringing Katz on board to focus on the distaff side of the playground, and she made her first appearance on Saturday. The actual column failed to tell us anything many of us didn’t already know, but one assumes (hopes) it will become more informative and shine a light on our fabulous female athletes.

Credit to Lyons. It’s a starting point, which is a whole lot more than I can say for the lord and masters at Postmedia.

Here’s a prime example of the sexism gene at play: On Nov. 20, the Drab Slab ran golf stories on Tiger Woods and his son Charlie, the RSM Classic in Georgia and a brief on the Joburg Classic in Johannesburg. Meanwhile, there wasn’t a single word on the LPGA event that featured Canadians Brooke Henderson and Alena Sharp. Two days later, there was a full story on each of the men’s tournaments, while the Pelican Women’s Championship was a sports brief.

Initial reaction to Sarah Fuller suiting up to handle kicking chores for Vanderbilt on Saturday: Seriously? Vanderbilt has a football team?

Jason Whitlock

As much as Sarah’s participation in a major men’s college football game was newsworthy and hailed as a significant moment, many on social media dismissed the occasion as Tom-foolery and at least one prominent American jock journo, Jason Whitlock of Outkick the Coverage, gave it a long, hard crapping-on. “I don’t believe she played football,” wrote Whitlock, who’s scribbled for the Kansas City Star, ESPN and Fox Sports, among others. “She scored a point in the culture war. The people who believe the only difference between men and women is in how they choose to identify consider Fuller a poor woman’s Jackie Robinson. She broke big time football’s gender barrier. But did she? Sarah Fuller received a standing ovation for kicking the ball 30 yards or so and high-tailing it to the sidelines to be greeted by the winless head coach using her to save his job. This wasn’t Jackie Robinson 2.0. It was Make A Wish. Treating Sara Fuller like she’s a special-needs kid does not uplift the cause of equality.” Harsh, but not entirely inaccurate.

By the way, if you’re wondering why Vanderbilt recruited Sarah’s right leg rather than someone from the school’s men’s soccer side, there is no men’s soccer side. It was shut down in 2006.

It was a bit of the old, a bit of the new for the Drab Slab last week, with SE Lyons pulling his buddy and former columnist Paul Wiecek out of moth balls and introducing Katz on the same day. Nothing wrong with bringing Wiecek back for a cameo appearance. The guy can write. And he actually managed to scribble an entire essay without taking a cheap shot at Jacob Trouba, so I guess he’s mellowed since walking away from the columnist gig a couple of years ago.

Paul Friesen

Fabulous series from Paul Friesen of the Sun on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ journey to their 2019 Grey Cup win. It was a very readable, insightful, nine-part epic, even if there was no rhyme nor reason to the way the geniuses at Postmedia handled it. I believe they published Part One at the start of the pandemic and delivered the final installment this past Friday. Seriously, it took less time to film all the Rocky and Godfather movies combined. In reality, the Friesen series began on Oct. 9 and concluded on Nov. 27, and we had to guess on which days it would appear. Sometimes it was one day between installments, other times it was eight or nine days. Shabby. But oh so Postmedia.

A huge tip of the bonnet to home boy Don Duguid, one of my favorite people. The former world curling champ and longtime gab guy for the People’s Network has been appointed to the Order of Canada, and I trust that meets with everyone’s approval.

Just wondering, when the Winnipeg Jets brought Dave Lowry on board last week, did they hire their next head coach at the same time?

I saw highlights (if you want to call it that) of Charles Barkley playing golf the other day, and I’m lost to find an accurate description for Sir Charles’ swing. But a milking cow trying to climb a tree comes to mind.

Roy Jones Jr. and Mike Tyson.

Mike Tyson informed news snoops that he smoked a joint or two prior to his fiftysomethings fist-fight v. Roy Jones Jr. on Saturday night. It’s also been reported and confirmed that anyone who actually paid to watch the two boxing fossils fight was also on drugs.

Loved this tweet from Rob Vanstone of the Regina Leader-Post on the Tyson-Jones Jr. tiff: “This fight will be scored by using the 10-point rust system.”

Peanut Joe and Big Angie.

I didn’t watch Tyson-Jones Jr., but you’ll never convince me that it was a more entertaining old geezer dust-up than Joe Kapp v. Angelo Mosca, two Canadian Football League legends who’ve never exchanged Christmas cards. If you missed it, Peanut Butter Joe offered Big Angie a flower; Big Angie told him to “stick it up your ass.” Big Angie attempted to cocobonk Peanut Butter Joe with his metal cane; Peanut Butter Joe lashed out with a right fist to the jaw. Down goes Big Angie! Down goes Big Angie! A Grey Cup week classic.

December arrives on the morrow, so I grant permission to one and all to begin playing Christmas tunes.

Clara Hughes

This from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: Former lickety-split champion of the track, Donovan Bailey, is “Canada’s greatest modern Olympian.” Really? Let me count the ways Bailey, a two-time gold medalist, falls short:

Clara Hughes: Only Olympian in history to win multiple medals in both the Summer and Winter Games—1 gold, 1 silver, 4 bronze.
Cindy Klassen: Six medals—1 gold, 1 silver, 3 bronze.
Hayley Wickenheiser, Jayna Hefford: Five medals—4 gold, 1 silver.
Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir: Five medals—3 gold, 2 silver.
Charles Hamelin: Five medals— 3 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze.
Marc Gagnon: Five medals—3 gold, 2 bronze.
Francois-Louis Tremblay: Five medals—2 gold, 2 silver, 1 bronze.
Lesley Thompson: Five medals—1 gold, 3 silver, 1 bronze.
Caroline Ouillette: Four medals—4 gold.
Jennifer Botterill, Becky Kellar, Meghan Agosta: Four medals—3 gold, 1 silver.
Kathleen Heddle, Marnie McBean: Four medals—3 gold, bronze.
Gaetan Boucher: Four medals—2 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze.
Eric Bedard: Four medals—2 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze.
Victor Davis: Four medals—1 gold, 3 silver.
Denny Morrison: Four medals—1 gold, 2 silver, 1 bronze.
Adam van Koeverden: Four medals—1 gold, 2 silver, 1 bronze.
Penny Oleksiak: Four medals—1 gold, 1 silver, 2 bronze
Kim St-Pierre, Cherie Piper, Colleen Sostorics, Gillian Apps, Charline Labonte: Three medals—3 gold.
Danielle Goyette: Three medals—2 gold, 1 silver.
Carolyn Waldo: Three medals—2 gold, 1 silver.
Rosie MacLennan: Two medals—2 gold.

Either Simmons doesn’t consider any of the above to be “modern” Olympians, or he can’t count.

Why the Winnipeg Sun continues to run Simmons’ Tranna-centric copy is an ongoing mystery, and it continues to get up my nose. In his most recent alphabet fart, he prattled on about attendance at Blue Jays games, the Maple Leafs payroll, Auston Matthews, Blue Jays play-by-play guy Mike Wilner, the Blue Jays pursuit of free agents, Terence Davis of the Tranna Jurassics, Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster contract situations with the Jurassics, the Toronto FC payroll, sports gambling in Ontario, Serge Ibaka leaving the Jurassics, a new ballpark for the Republic of Tranna, and the Argos losing the 1971 Grey Cup game. This is what Postmedia believes people in Good Ol’ Hometown want to read on a Sunday morning? The Winnironto Sun? Spare me.

And, finally, the RCR has topped the 50,000 mark in views for the year, which is my cue to retreat for a spell. I shall return Christmas week and not a day sooner. Unless, of course, stupid happens before Santa touches down. In the meantime, thanks for dropping by.