About Sleepy-Eye Joe Mack passing on Mike Reilly…TSN’s continuing love affair with Johnny Rotten…the King of Clay…intrigue in women’s tennis…Secretariat still the greatest…a Capital way to party…the skier and the hockey player…expensive cardboard…and other things on my mind

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

It’s Darian Durant’s fault. A pox on his house for taking the money and running to retirement!

No. Wait.

It’s Joe Mack’s fault.

The statute of limitations hasn’t run out on Sleepy-Eye Joe’s stupidity, has it? Nope. So, whenever the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ universe isn’t unfolding as it should, the former general manager and everyone’s favorite whipping boy is still fair game for blame. He’s the reason the Big Blue will begin their 2018 Canadian Football League crusade with a starting quarterback on training wheels.

I mean, think about it.

Mike Reilly

Had Sleepy-Eye Joe reeled in Mike Reilly in 2013, we wouldn’t be talking about Matt Nichols’ wonky wheels and a QB pool that has all the depth of an Archie-Jughead plot line. Well, would we? Reilly, after all, is Marlboro Man rugged, even when he’s wearing one of his funny, little hats. He’s voted annually by his peers as the toughest hombre in the three-down game, and he hasn’t missed a beat due to an owie since the first week of September 2015.

The sad thing is, Mack could have had Reilly for a song.

The sticker price the B.C. Lions listed for Reilly was a swap of second-round picks in the 2013 CFL college draft, plus a second-rounder in ’14. The Edmonton Eskimos were willing to pay it. Mack didn’t even want to kick the tires. Sleepy-Eye Joe remained convinced and confident that Buck Pierce was the answer at quarterback, and his backup plan was putting the legendary Justin Goltz behind centre. Or Max Hall.

As history records, that worked out about as well as New Coke.

To say Pierce was injury prone is to say Bill Gates has a bit of money. When fit enough to actually start a game, they didn’t strap a play chart to Brittle Buck’s left wrist. It was an IV needle. He didn’t survive the first month of the ’13 season, leaving various body parts and what was left of his marbles strewn on the field.

Sleepy-Eye Joe

That QB fiasco, among other things, cost Mack his job generally mismanaging the Bombers, and Pierce finished that season in B.C., from whence he came. He’s now an assistant coach in Pegtown. No word on the whereabouts of Goltz and Hall, but I suspect they’re asking customers if they’d like fries with their Big Macs and Quarter Pounders.

As for Reilly, well, I’m sure you’re familiar with his story after the Eskimos lured him away from the Lions: Grey Cup champion and Grey Cup game most valuable player in ’15; CFL’s most outstanding player in ’17; two-time West Division all-star; one-time league all-star. And, perhaps most significant, Reilly is still with the Eskimos. No drive-thru orders for him. He’ll be barking signals and gutting it out on Thursday night when the Green-and-Gold engage the Bombers in a season-opening frolic at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry.

Reilly remains the ‘what could have been’ and ‘what should have been’ for the Bombers. That’s Sleepy-Eye Joe’s legacy.

Matt Nichols and Mike Reilly

None of the above is meant to disparage Nichols. Hey, he’s a tough dude, too. And he’s a keeper. Trouble is, he’s developed a most curious habit of falling down without being touched. His left leg caved on him in a game last October, and his right leg collapsed in a training session last week. Officially, he’s run out of legs that work properly. This, of course, is where Durant was expected to fit in. The Bombers paid the veteran QB $70,000 up front to serve as a safety net, thus, with Nichols in the repair shop for as few as four weeks and as many as six, it would have been his show. Alas, instead of playing catch with an interesting array of receivers, Durant is at home changing his new-born daughter’s dirty diapers, and the Bombers are unlikely to grovel at the feet of man who jilted them on the eve of training camp and trolled them on Twitter. Would Durant be an upgrade on Alex Ross, Bryan Bennett or Chris Streveler, the three lads who auditioned for the starter’s role on Friday night against the Lions in Vancouver? Naw. When last seen, which is to say with the Montreal Alouettes in 2017, Durant seldom delivered a pass without the football bouncing once or twice before landing at a receiver’s feet. He’s spent.

Welcome to TJMN—The Johnny Manziel Network, formerly known as The Sports Network. Seriously. TSN has gone loopy over Manziel. Last week, following a CFL debut that consisted of nine completed passes and zero points, TSN featured nine—count ’em, nine!—Johnny Rotten videos. One video per completion. Sunday morning, after he was good on a dozen of 20 pass attempts (including a TD toss), there were five more Johnny Rotten videos on the main TSN web page. They also featured something called Johnny Football Watch. All that for a guy who won’t start a game for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats unless Jeremiah Masoli is wounded or implodes.

Winner and still champion on clay, Rafa Nadal.

Can you say undécima, kids? Rafael Nadal can. His 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 paddywhacking of Dominic Thiem in the men’s singles final Sunday was his 11th French Open title, and I can’t think of an athlete—in any sport—who is more dominant than the muscular Rafa on the red clay of Roland Garros. What the Spanish maestro has accomplished in Paris is insane. He’s 86-2. Eighty-freaking-six and two! Nobody goes 86-2. Except the Harlem Globetrotters, and their games are as rigged as a Vegas slot machine. Nadal on clay is a one-off. Never seen anything like him. Never will. (By the way, here’s the answer to the trivia question: Robin Soderling and Novak Djokovic are the only two men to have beaten Nadal at Roland Garros.)

Simona Halep

The Big Four in men’s tennis is no more, but the Big Two remains. While Andy Murray is MIA and Djokovic is trying to sort out things in his head, if not other parts of his body, the younger generation of hot-shot racqueteers can’t kick Nadal or Roger Federer to the curb. Each of the 30somethings has won three of the past six Grand Slam championships and, Federer’s allergy to red clay notwithstanding, there’s no sign of surrender in either man. One suspects Wimbledon will be another episode in the Rafa-and-Roger show. All of which means the distaff side of tennis is much more intriguing. Check it out: In the past six GS tournaments, there have been six different champions—Serena Williams, Jelena Ostapenko, Garbine Muguruza, Sloane Stephens, Caroline Wozniacki and Simona Halep. Wimbledon will be another complete crapshoot, even if a healthy Williams joins the field.

Secretariat romping to the wire in the 1973 Belmont Stakes.

On the subject of great champions, 45 years to the day that Secretariat completed horse racing’s Triple Crown by winning the Belmont Stakes, Justify romped wire-to-wire at Belmont to become the 13th Triple Crown winner. But let’s provide some perspective. Justify ran the mile and a half in 2:28.18 on Saturday. Secretariat did it in 2:24.0 in 1973. In other words, Secretariat would have beaten Justify by more than 20 lengths. Big Red’s Belmont victory (he won by 31 lengths) remains the single greatest sporting achievement I have witnessed.

Perhaps Damien Cox would prefer it if the Washington Capitals partied like Canadian women.

Starring in the role of grumpy grandpa this week is Toronto Star and Sportsnet gasbag Damien Cox. On the heels of the Washington Capitals’ Stanley Cup conquest of the Vegas Golden Knights, Alex Ovechkin and the boys have been tooting about in full celebratory mode, carousing and fussing and sharing the moment with the rabble on the streets of D.C. Oh, they’ve also been drinking. How positively scandalous. And that just won’t do in Damien’s delicate, little world. There’s no room for random, unharnessed merriment. Or booze. “Rafael Nadal won his ELEVENTH French Open today,” Cox tweeted in a pious, tsk-tsking tone Sunday morning. “No video yet of him drunkenly rolling around in a public fountain because apparently some believe that’s how champions should behave.” Well, excuuuuuse the Capitals for having fun. I wonder if Damien Cox awakens some mornings and regrets being Damien Cox.

P.K. Subban and Lindsey Vonn

Social Note: It must be spring because sports power couples keep popping up. Not so long ago, noted flinger of footballs Aaron Rodgers and fast-car driver Danica Patrick were observed canoodling in public, and now it’s hockey’s diving diva, P.K. Subban, and Lindsey Vonn, glam gal of the ski slopes and one-time main squeeze of golfer Tiger Woods. Don’t know if going from putters to pucks is a dating step up or a step down for Vonn, but she probably won’t get any late-night calls from P.K. asking for bail money. (For the record, my fave sports power couple is Sue Bird and Megan Rapinoe, with Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi a close second.)

I note that a Connor McDavid rookie card recently sold at auction for $55,655. That’s a lot of coin for a small hunk of cardboard. But it made me wonder if kids still stick trading cards in the spokes of their bike wheels. Better question: Do kids still ride bikes, or are they too busy texting each other?

Serena Williams

Zero female athletes appeared on the Forbes list of the top 100 money-makers in sports for the first time, but we shouldn’t be surprised. The annual Forbes 100 is based on earnings from June to June, a period of almost total inactivity in 2017-18 for Serena Williams, who slotted in at No. 51 a year ago with total income of $27 million. Her haul this time around was $18M, all via endorsement deals. Maria Sharapova, meanwhile, once was a regular on the Forbes 100, but, after being caught with her hand in the illegal-drug jar, some sponsors abandoned her and she has yet to return to championship form. Sharapova is hardly a pauper, though. Her estimated worth is well in excess of $100 million.

And, finally, an interesting albeit indelicate quote from the elegant Garbine Muguruza, who, after routing the equally elegant Sharapova, 6-2, 6-1, in the French Open, described the five-time Grand Slam champion as “an old-time player.” Ouch. Sharapova just turned 31.

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About Johnny Rotten in the Hammer…media giving Manziel a pass on domestic violence…a rat’s ass on the diamond…Chevy getting his due…a fall guy in goal for the Winnipeg Jets…quick fixes in the NHL…playing the race card and pretty white girls in sports…and some fresh Steve-isms

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

Colleen Crowley

Her name is Colleen Crowley. Johnny Manziel dragged her by the hair. Rag-dolled her. He beat her up. He threatened to kill her. She felt obliged to file a restraining order against him. It was granted. Charges were filed, then disappeared when Manziel (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) promised to be a good boy.

I was lucky to have survived. I fought for my life,” Crowley has said of her relationship with Manziel.

And that’s the man who would be starting quarterback for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

The Ticats added Johnny Rotten to their stable of bad-boy QBs on Saturday, and they did so with the blessing of the Canadian Football League, an organization that likes to include itself among the angels in the fight against domestic violence but, in reality, is more aligned with the dark forces if it means getting a former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback on its wider and longer fields.

The Tabbies and CFL don’t want to hear chatter about Manziel beating up women when there are games to win and over-priced merchandise to peddle.

Johnny Manziel and his guard dog June Jones.

Indeed, Drew Edwards of the Hamilton Spectator attempted to discuss the elephant in the room during Manziel’s meet-and-greet on Saturday, but the Ticats head coach, June Jones, sitting beside his freshly minted QB like a big, scary guard dog, would have none of it.

There’s a time for that,” he harrumphed, intercepting the question like a cornerback jumping on a Jeremiah Masoli wobbler. “We’re talking football right now. Ask us about football stuff. That other stuff, we’ve done everything we can to appease the protocol.”

Well, actually you haven’t done “everything” about that “other stuff,” June.

According to an excellent article written by Jeff Hamilton of the Winnipeg Free Press, at no time in the vetting of Manziel did anyone with the Tiger-Cats or the CFL seek an impact statement from the woman who was on the receiving end of his anger and the back of his hand—Colleen Crowley. Apparently, a woman being beaten up and fearing for her life isn’t worth a visit or a phone call from anyone in the CFL’s ivory tower.

So, if they’re unwilling to discuss Manziel’s history of thumping women with his victim, why would they have any desire to wash his dirty laundry in public?

The CFL and Ticats are turning the calendar back to the 20th century, when pro sports leagues pretended “that stuff” never happened. So trust them, kids. Johnny Football is a really, really, really good guy. A humble guy (just ask him). All that Colleen Crowley “stuff?” Not to worry. She’s moved on with her life. She has a boyfriend who doesn’t beat her up. Nothing to see here, kids. So just get out there and buy all those Johnny Manziel jerseys and everyone will live happily ever after.

Well, it’s sad and the CFL looks pathetic.

Chris Cuthbert

Kudos to the Spec’s Edwards for attempting to address the domestic violence issue, but it appears his brethren in mainstream media, like the Ticats and CFL, are prepared to give Manziel a free pass. No surprise, really, since none of the news snoops are women who’ve been rag-dolled by men. Some samples from the welcoming committee:

Stephen Brunt, Sportsnet: “There is no down-side here.”

Chris Cuthbert, CFL play-by-play voice on TSN: “Looking forward to seeing Johnny Manziel play in the CFL. Win-Win for the CFL.”

Matthew Scianitti, TSN: “Whatever you think of Johnny Manziel, the attention he’ll bring to the CFL won’t hurt.”

Dan Barnes, Postmedia Edmonton: “It will be fun for everyone to watch.”

Steve Simmons, Postmedia Tranna: “Welcome to Canada, Johnny Football. Johnny Football is coming to Canada. And where do I sign up?”

I don’t know about you, but when I hear someone describe themselves as “humble,” which Manziel did on Saturday, I’m convinced he’s humble like a football has four corners and a handle. Humble people don’t brag about being humble. They allow others to make that call. Manziel, to be sure, struck all the right notes during his meet-and-greet with news snoops, but beneath all the puffery you know he believes a move to the CFL is slumming.

Joey Votto

Some rat’s ass took a terrible beating last week. I mean, first Joey Votto said he doesn’t give a “rat’s ass” about baseball in Canada. Then, upon further review, he said he does, indeed, give a rat’s ass about baseball in Canada, and the Cincinnati Reds first sacker delivered a mea culpa that, to me, sounded sincere. Others bought in, too. Richard Giffin, baseball columnist at Toronto Star, described Votto’s apology as “thorough and heartfelt.” Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail wrote, “Votto’s apology was that true rarity—one that not only showed contrition, but also made sense.” Then there was our favorite glass-is-half-empty scribe Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna, who cannot resist finding dark clouds in silver linings. The apology “rings hollow for me,” he tweeted. Something tells me that Votto doesn’t give a rat’s ass what Simmons thinks of his mea culpa.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

Tip of the bonnet to Kevin Cheveldayoff, one of the finalists in voting for the National Hockey League’s top general manager. By my count, Chevy makes it three members of the Winnipeg Jets who’ve been nominated to collect a trinket at the NHL awards soiree next month in Vegas—captain Blake Wheeler is up for Mark Messier Leadership Award and goaltender Connor Hellebuyck is up for Vezina. Perhaps the scribes at the Winnipeg Free Press can tell us once again how everything flies “under the radar” in Pegtown.

Connor Hellebuyck

Interesting that many among the rabble in Jets Nation had their fall guy even before the local hockey heroes came up short in their Stanley Cup crusade—the aforementioned Hellebuyck. Is that fair? Perhaps not. Is it an accurate analysis? Absolutely. Goaltending was the critical difference between the Jets and Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL Western Conference final, which wrapped up Sunday afternoon at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie. Hellebuyck wasn’t horrible, but a couple of iffy moments (some would call them total blunders) vs. Vegas represented the fine line between success and failure. At the other end of the rink, Marc-André Fleury was, as they say, lights out in four of the five games it took Vegas to oust les Jets in the best-of-seven series. He was one save from perfect in the clincher on Sunday, a 2-1 Vegas win, and you wouldn’t want to bet against him in the Stanley Cup final vs. either Tampa Bay Lightning or Washington Capitals. 

Chris Johnston of Sportsnet writes this of the NHL: “There are simply no quick fixes in this league anymore.” Really? Tell that to the Golden Knights, who went from non-existent to a 109-point season and the Western Conference final in less than 12 months. Tell it to the Tranna Maple Leafs, who went from a 69-point outfit to a 105-point club in the three seasons since Brendan Shanahan, Lou Lamoriello and Mike Babcock set up shop. Tell that to the Colorado Avalanche, who went from 48 to 95 points in one season. Quick fixes are doable. You just need the right people working the wheel.

Francoise Abanda

Francoise Abanda is probably correct—she’ll never receive the exposure provided Canadian tennis diva Genie Bouchard. But she loses the plot in her reasoning.

(It’s) because I am black. It’s the truth,” she says, which is her way of calling Tennis Canada and/or the media racist.

Here’s some truth for young Francoise: The top money-earner among all female athletes on this planet is Serena Williams, a black woman. According to Forbes, she collected $27 million between June 2016 and June 2017, $19 million of her haul accumulated off-court. Her sister Venus, also unmistakably a black woman, was No. 5 on the Forbes list in overall earnings ($10.5 million) and No. 2 in off-court income ($7 million).

Anna Kournikova: The look of marketability.

Now, it’s also a truth that news snoops and advertising agencies are, of course, fools for pretty, blonde, white female athletes with cover girl looks, whether they’re successful or not (see: Bouchard, Genie; Kournikova, Anna), and the media remain guilty of fawning over Bouchard even as she’s in free fall in the Women’s Tennis Association rankings and has accomplished little of note in the past two years, other than to remove most of her clothing for Sports Illustrated. So, yes, being a pretty, white girl comes with benefits. Maria Sharapova, for example, wasn’t the top-earning female athlete 11 years running because she was superior to Serena Williams on the tennis court. Although a multiple Grand Slam champion, her income was mostly about blonde hair, long legs and marketability.

Abanda can’t count on that for greater exposure. She’ll first need a signature moment. Like what Denis Shapovalov delivered at the Rogers Cup last summer. People didn’t notice Shapo because he’s white. It’s because he beat Rafael Nadal.

At present, Abanda is the world No. 128, top-ranked among Canadian women, and other than giving Jelena Ostapenko a bit of a scare last summer at Wimbledon, her body of work on the WTA main circuit is non-descript. Nothing she’s done screams 150-point headline. It’s that black and white.

Genie Bouchard: The look of marketability.

If you’re curious, behind the Williams sisters at the 2016-17 endorsement/special fees pay window were all the pretty white girls (Forbes 2017 list).

Genie Bouchard (tennis): $6.5 million.
Danica Patrick (auto racing): $5 million.
Angelique Kerber (tennis): $5 million.
Caroline Wozniakcki (tennis): $5 million.
Garbine Muguruza (tennis): $3.5 million.
Ronda Rousey (UFC): $3 million.

This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna (Volume 1): “Don’t know what’s more disappointing—the Jets losing tonight or the Jets not selling out in the smallest arena in the NHL.” That from a guy who lives in the Republic of Tranna—population 6.4 million—where they can’t scrounge up more than 14,000 to watch the Tranna Argonauts play football. Where they had to give away 2016 Grey Cup game tickets with pizza to fill the pews at BMO Field. Where employees at TSN and Bell were offered free tickets. Where they had to slash ticket prices. And where they still couldn’t fill the joint, with the lowest head count for the CFL title match in 41 years.

This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna (Volume 2): “Been a Winnipeg supporter going back to 99 Pan Am Games. Enjoyed Grey Cups there.” Really? Here’s what Simmons wrote in November 2015: “My report card of Grey Cup Week in Winnipeg: Just so-so. Not as much fun as Winnipeg usually is at Grey Cup time. A touch disappointing.”

This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna (Volume 3): “Forgot how much fun it is to cover boxing. Have really enjoyed the past few days.” Ya, wouldn’t we all just love to hang out with that fun bunch at the light-heavyweight title fight on Saturday in The ROT? The champion, Adonis Stevenson, once was jailed for pimping out women; the challenger’s promoter, Floyd Mayweather Jr., is a convicted wife beater who beat up the mother of his children before their very eyes. Fun for the entire family.

 

About an Officer and a world champion…thank you notes from Jill Officer and Vic Peters…dumb hockey prophets…no Calder for Connor…transparency from hockey scribes…an Irishman and booze…Mac and Martina…what about Tricky Dick and Leo the Lip?…and other things on my mind

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

Jill Officer has yet to utter the R-word. Retirement. She insists she’s just taking “a step back.”

Well, okay. If she says so.

I mean, Officer can define her retreat from elite curling with the terminology of her choosing, but she wept openly last month after going public with her decision. You don’t cry if you’re staying. You cry when you’re leaving.

Thus, there’s no escaping the fact that we have arrived at the end of an era. An unparalleled era.

Thelma and Louise

Officer, of course, has been playing Thelma to Jennifer Jones’s Louise since…well, since about the same time the fictional Thelma and Louise were on the lam, leading cops on a catch-us-if-you-can romp across America. That classic chick flick arrived on the big screen in May 1991. Curling’s two J Girls united shortly thereafter, and foes and friends have been chasing them ever since.

A quarter century. Who stays together that long? The Lone Ranger and Tonto. Homer and Marge. Mick and Keith. Fish and chips. That’s about it.

Here’s some time perspective: One of the J Girls’ teammates on the Canadian rep at the world women’s championship in North Bay the past week, fifth Shannon Birchard, wasn’t even in her mama’s womb when Officer and Jones first joined forces. The outfit’s third, Kaitlyn Lawes, had yet to begin grade school.

Jennifer Jones and Jill Officer

And it’s been quite the trip that skip Jen and second Jill have taken us on since that day in the early ’90s when the teenage Jones pulled the teenage Officer aside for a chit-chat by a Coke machine at the Highlander Curling Club in Winnipeg, whereupon they forged a partnership that has produced provincial (nine), Canadian (seven), Grand Slam (15), world (two) and Olympic titles. (Did I mention it was an unparalleled era among Manitoba curlers?)

Following Canada’s drama-drenched 7-6, extra-end victory over Sweden (brilliant game) on Sunday, there’ll be two curtain calls for the 42-year-old Officer in Grand Slam of Curling competition, then she’ll ease away, making only cameo appearances for the world-champion Jones team, which includes lead Dawn McEwen and will add Jocelyn Peterman to throw second stones next season.

This world title was the ideal, also appropriate, way for Officer to leave the big stage. One final run for glory. One final crown. And a perfect (14-0) storybook ending.

It was a beautiful thing.

Vic Peters

Terrific Jill Officer story from Paul Wiecek, longtime curling scribe and now columnist with the Winnipeg Free Press: “For the longest time, she would come to every major curling event the Jones team was competing in with these little chocolate curling rocks she’d buy at Morden’s in Winnipeg before she left. She’d tie a little ribbon around those chocolate rocks and attach a thank you card. And then, win or lose, Officer, who was a TV reporter back in the day, would come up to the media bench at the end of those curling events and hand those cards and chocolates to the reporters who’d been covering her team, just to thank us for the coverage. You know who else I covered over the last three decades who gave me a thank you card? Nobody.” I can relate. After covering the 1997 Brier in Calgary, I received a thank you card in the mail. It was from the late, great Vic Peters, his bride Deb, and their kids, Elisabeth, Kassie and Daley. That card sits atop my bookcase, 21 years after the fact. Curlers are wonderful and Peters, who left us almost exactly two years ago to this very day, was a total treat.

Doug Flutie

This is an equal-opportunity blog, folks. That is, any and all who do, say or write something stupid in sports are fair game for scorn, ridicule, rude laughter and no-insults-barred cheap shots. No exceptions. Sacred cows do not exist. Unless, of course, I harbor a special fondness for someone (hello, Tessa Virtue), in which case nary a discouraging word shall be written.

With that in mind, it’s only fair that I direct your attention to an analysis delivered prior to the first puck drop of the Winnipeg Jets current National Hockey League crusade. To wit:

It appears that the Western Conference road to the Stanley Cup is likely to go through Northern Alberta. If not, it’ll be Southern Alberta, where the Calgary Flames are shaping up to be a force. The trouble with the Jets—aside from the people behind the bench—is geography. Until they prove otherwise, they’re still the third best outfit on the Canadian Prairies.”

And what goomer wrote that tripe? Guilty, yer honor. Yup, it was little ol’ moi. D’oh! D’oh! D’oh!

But, hey, it’s not the dumbest thing I’ve ever scribbled. I once referred to the Major League Baseball all-star game as the “annual Fall Classic,” even though it’s played in July. And, of course, there was the time I mentioned something about Doug Flutie being nothing more than a fair-weather quarterback, only to then watch him win a Grey Cup game in a blizzard.

So, ya, Brain Cramps ‘R’ Me.

Connor McDavid

I find little or no consolation in the knowledge that the Edmonton McDavids and Flames fooled the majority of those who observe the goings-on of the NHL. I mean, seven of 16 “experts” at Sportsnet picked the McDavids to win the West. Fifteen of 16 forecast either the McDavids or Flames to finish with the highest points total among the seven Canadian clubs. Over at USA Today, the boys and girls on the beat had the McDavids finishing first in the Pacific Division, with Calgary in third. Yet, once the Stanley Cup tournament commences next month, the McDavids and Flames will have their noses pressed to the window, watching the fun from the outside. Sigh. The difference between me and the scribes/talking heads at Sportsnet and USA Today? They get paid to be dumb. I don’t. Sometimes life just isn’t fair.

This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna dates back to a Dec. 12 tweet, in which he wrote: “With four points tonight, @cmcdavid97 moves into 3rd in NHL scoring behind Steve Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. McDavid be back in the scoring lead within 10 days, I figure, maybe sooner.” Connor McDavid moved atop the scoring chart on Saturday night, meaning Simmons missed the mark by 92 days, or three months. Yup, another guy getting paid to be dumb.

Kyle Connor

Going from dumb to dumber, we give you this headline from the Winnipeg Sun last week: “Jets Connor for Calder?” Oh, shut the front door! I like Kyle Connor. He’s been the second-best contributor named Connor on the Jets roster this crusade. So, I agree, the kid’s boffo. But the NHL’s leading freshman? As if. Donald Trump will give up golf, Playmates and porn stars before that happens. Mathew Barzal of the New York Islanders is your top frosh. No debate. After that, it’s Brock Boeser and the rest. And it won’t have anything to do with Connor doing his thing in out-of-the-way Winnipeg. “Everything goes under the radar when you play in Winnipeg,” says Jets captain Blake Wheeler. Road apples! Dale Hawerchuk didn’t go under the radar. Teemu Selanne didn’t go under the radar. Barzal will win because he’s had the better rookie season, to date by 29 points.

Sweeney Odd

Lest we forget, the Jets have Don Sweeney to thank for Connor’s 28 goals, because the Boston Bruins general manager passed on the University of Michigan winger on three consecutive shout-outs during the first round of the 2015 NHL entry draft. Odd bit of business, that. Sweeney Odd, we hasten to add, also overlooked Barzal and Brock Boeser to instead claim Jake DeBrusk, Jakub Zboril and Zachary Senyshyn. So let’s do the math: The trio of Connor, Barzal and Boeser have combined for 77 goals and 178 points this season. The three guys the Boston GM swooped in on have contributed 14 goals and 39 points to the Bruins’ cause. Difference: 63 goals, 139 points. Sweeney Odd gets to keep his day job, though, because his club is already selling playoff tickets.

Humpty Harold Ballard

So, it only took the Professional Hockey Writers Association half a century to do what they’ve been demanding of everyone from Clarence Campbell to Harold Ballard’s parole officer since forever—full disclosure. Oh, yes, in recent balloting, 81.3 per cent of the jewels of puck journalism agreed that voting on the NHL’s annual year-end trinkets ought to be made public. PHWA vice-president Frank Seravalli of TSN declared this “a big moment.” I hope he didn’t pull a muscle patting himself on the back. I mean, if 81.3 per cent were in favor of complete transparency, 18.7 per cent still prefer the process be kept hush-hush. In other words, they don’t have the balls to defend their choices for the Hart, Norris, Lady Byng, Masterton, Calder, Selke and Smythe nick-nacks. If ever there was a vote that should have been unanimous, that was it.

Best lip service of the week comes from Tranna Blue Jays manager John Gibbons: “My experience in this game is that sometimes it’s better to be smart than stupid.” Sometimes? You only want to be unstupid sometimes? Tells me it’s gonna be another long baseball season for the Tranna Nine.

Rory McIlroy

If Rory McIlroy had his druthers, the ‘P’ in PGA Tour would stand for Prohibition. Yup, McIlroar wants them to turn off the taps at golf tournaments. “I think they need to limit alcohol sales on the course,” he said after the third round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational last weekend. Imagine that. An Irishman calling for a ban on booze. St. Patty is spinning. But McIlroar is serious. By his measure, too man fans are getting banjo’d, Magooed, gee-eyed and jarred at PGA events. “It used to be you bring beers on the course, but not liquor,” he went on. “And now it seems like everyone is walking around with a cocktail. So I don’t know if it’s just people walking around with beers in their hand, that’s fine.” Ya, we all know that no guy drinking beer has ever gotten loud, obnoxious and blethered. Slainte, Rory.

Martina Navratilova and John McEnroe

So, Martina Navratilova is having herself a proper, little hissy fit after learning how much the BBC stuffs into John McEnroe’s pay envelope ($210,000-$280,000) for flapping his gums during the Wimbledon fortnight. The tennis legend is “not happy” and “it’s shocking” that Johnny Mac earns 10 times the $27,000 she collects. “It’s still the good old boys’ network,” she says. “The bottom line is that male voices are valued more than women’s voices.” Get a grip, girl. You’re both getting paid by the word, and McEnroe never shuts the hell up.

Seriously, although the BBC is guilty of gender pay inequity, the McEnroe-Navratilova situation isn’t a he-she thing. It’s a talent thing. He’s the best tennis talker. Is he 10 times better than her? That can’t be measured, but I’ll submit he’s superior by a considerable margin. His work load is also considerably heavier. Look, Al Michaels reportedly earns $5 million per year to talk football on NBC. His sidekick, Cris Collinsworth, collects $1 million, or thereabouts. They sit in the same broadcast booth, for the same length of time; they watch the same players and the same game. Yet one hauls in $5 mill and the other $1 mill. It’s the same 5-1 ratio with Joe Buck and Troy Aikman over at Fox Sports. Nothing to do with gender.

And, finally, I’ve heard little quarrel about the Canadian Football Hall of Fame class of 2018—Hank Ilesic, Scott Flory, Baron Miles, Brent Johnson, Frank Cosentino, Paul Brule and Tom Hugo.

One dissenting voice, however, comes from Steve Simmons (I know, what a surprise). He wonders why Tricky Dick Thornton, the all-purpose player with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Tranna Argonauts in the 1960s and early ’70s, and Leo (The Lip) Cahill, former head coach and general manager of the Boatmen, continue to be snubbed.

It’s a shame and overdue because both were significant to the success of the Canadian Football League and for reasons I’ve never ascertained, have been pushed aside on an annual basis,” he writes.

I agree with Simmons on Thornton. Makes no sense. Ya, sure, he was a non-conformist. He wore his hair long, he wore an earring, he had a Fu Manchu mustache, he wrote poetry and sucked up to the media. But he also played every position but percussion in the symphony orchestra. And played them all exceptionally well.

As for Cahill, he was a charming, colorful character but a career .500 head coach. He never won the Grey Cup.

About death by wedgie in the CFL…the Rodney Dangerfield Blue Bombers…diversity on the gridiron…nonsense on Sportsnet…boffo stuff from Ed Tait…dump the ump…hockey pride at Pride…and hot dogs for Phil Kessel

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

Randy Ambrosie wants to talk. That’s a good thing. I think.

Specifically, the Canadian Football League commissioner would welcome a fireside chat about division alignment and playoff structure, both of which are becoming hot-button issues due to a West-East competitive imbalance that borders on the sadistic.

I’m happy to have that conversation with everyone and I think we should have it,” the commish told Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun.

For those of you keeping score at home, West has met East 20 times during the current crusade. The tally is 17-2-1 in favor of the five outfits left of the Manitoba-Ontario boundary. One game finished 60-1.

That is not a typo. Do not adjust your monitors. It really was 60-1.

Seriously. This is death by wedgie.

Actually, West Division clubs aren’t simply giving their nerdy eastern foes a basic wedgie. They’re the high school senior pulling the freshman’s underpants up to his ears, sticking his head in a toilet bowl, flushing, then stuffing him into a locker. Oh, but first he steals his lunch money.

And yet, under the current structure, two of the eastern rag dolls will qualify for the playoffs in November. And be rewarded with home dates. Nice gig if you can get it.

Little wonder that Ambrosie says he’s “willing to have the conversation for sure.”

Wyman and others suggest the CFL scrap its antiquated West-East divisional arrangement. Lump all nine teams together, with the top six advancing to the Grey Cup tournament. Radical, yes. After all, geographic rivalry has been the heartbeat of the CFL since its inception, and getting some people to abandon tradition is like trying to pry Donald Trump’s thumbs off his Twitter account. You’ll need the jaws of life, baby.

I don’t think you have to sacrifice tradition, though. Just tweak the schedule. Reduce it to 16 games (18 is two too many) and either eliminate, or reduce by half, interlocking play. You know, just like in the good, ol’ days when West and East were separate entities. In other words, go back to the future.

Works for me. So, gentlemen, start your chins wagging.

I wondered when one of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers would play the Rodney Dangerfield no-respect card, and running back Andrew Harris delivered not long after he and his blue-and-gold clad pals had paddywhacked the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, 39-12, on Saturday at Timbits Field in Hamilton. “I always think someone is out there slouching us and not giving us any respect.” Here’s the deal, Andrew: Beat someone other than one of the lame and halting outfits from the east and more people will climb on board.

Chad Owens and CFL commish Randy Ambrosie

The CFL broke out its Diversity is Strength T-shirts last weekend, and it occurs to me that it’s more than just a fresh marketing slogan. Among other things, the CFL has included a female general manager, Jo-Anne Polak with the Ottawa Rough Riders; another female, Catherine Raiche, is an assistant GM with the Montreal Alouettes; the Larks once had an openly gay man, Michael Sam, in their lineup; Ambrosie’s predecessor in the commish’s office, Jeffrey Orridge, is African-American; and a black man, Bernie Custis, was playing quarterback for Hamilton as far back as 1951. That’s diversity.

Donnovan Bennett of Sportsnet writes this: “The MOP at the halfway point of the season is a kicker.” Say again? A punter/place kicker, Justin Medlock of the Bombers, is the most oustanding player in the CFL? Spare us the nonsense, Donnovan. Everyone knows that kickers aren’t football players (sorry Bob Cameron and Troy Westwood). Once upon a time kickers were, indeed, football players (hello Kid Dynamite James, Choo Choo Shepard, Spaghetti Legs Parker, Jack Abendschan, Don Jonas, etc.), but now they boot the football and go for a Slurpee. Your MOP right now is Mike Reilly.

Terrific read from Ed Tait on Winnipeg O-lineman Jermarcus (Yoshi) Hardrick, who look a long, hard road to the CFL. Tait’s piece is the type of feature you seldom read in either of River City’s two dailies, due largely to space and access restrictions, and it’s a reminder of what the Winnipeg Free Press sports pages lost when he defected to bluebombers.com. Anyone at the Drab Slab who thinks Tait is a hack (hello, Paul Wiecek) has totally lost the plot.

Let’s see now, umpire Joe West provides a harmless, fun anecdote about Adrian Beltre and he’s suspended for three days. So what will Major League Baseball do with Detroit Tigers second sacker Ian Kinsler? He dumped all over ump Angel Hernandez, telling the Detroit Free Press, “He needs to find another job, he really does. He’s messing with baseball games, blatantly. I’m just saying it’s pretty obvious that he has to stop ruining baseball games. Candidly, leave the game. No one wants you behind the plate anymore.” I’m guessing MLB will be making an ATM withdrawal from Kinsler’s account, at the least.

Nice to see Erik Gudbranson, Troy Stecher and Jake Virtanen of the Canucks get into the spirit at Vancouver’s Pride parade and hijinks. It takes some special kind of gonads for macho hockey players to put on a rainbow-colored skirt and lei.

Bravo to Phil Kessel. The Pittsburgh Penguins forward has posted a pic of himself and the Stanley Cup stuffed with BBQ’d hot dogs, in what was a direct shot at Postmedia columnist Steve Simmons, who’d written a blistering piece about Kessel after he’d been dealt away by the Toronto Maple Leafs two years ago. Among other things, Simmons called Kessel “poison” and he claimed that the winger pigged out daily at a certain downtown hot dog stand in the Republic of Tranna (proven to be false). So what did Simmons think of the Kessel burn? “One, I thought ‘Phil’s pretty funny. Good for Phil for making a joke about it.’” he said on TSN 1050’s Breakfast Club. “Two, ‘This is your day with the Cup. This is your day…you’ve worked this hard, you get this thing, you’re having a party, why be so small to reference something that really isn’t important in your life?’” Yo! Steve! “Small” is writing about a guy’s rumored eating habits and getting the rumored facts wrong. What Kessel did to you, meanwhile, is a classic burn. Try lightening up.

Which brings me to today’s list: Biggest hot dogs in sports…

1. Muhammad Ali: The former heavyweight boxing champion was many things, but he most definitely was a hot dog (in a fun way).
2. Reggie Jackson: Mr. October was also Mr. Swagger.
3. Terrell Owens: Popcorn anyone?
4. Deion Sanders: He once said, “They don’t pay nobody to be humble.” He’s living proof.
5. Johnny Manziel: There isn’t enough mustard in the world to cover this do-nothing hot dog.

Further evidence of the Torontofication of the Winnipeg Sun sports section: In Steve Simmons’ past two odds-and-ends, three-dot columns that appear weekly, he devoted 21 items to sports franchises or figures in the Republic of Tranna. That’s compared to zero (0) Winnipeg references. To repeat: Toronto 21, Winnipeg 0. So, again, I ask why is a Toronto-centric column appearing weekly in a River City sheet? Aren’t any of the local writers capable of stringing together a series of wide-ranging quotes, notes and anecdotes that include opinion snippets about Winnipeg’s sports scene? I mean, if I can do it from Victoria, surely someone with their feet on the ground in good Ol’ Hometown can do it.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling mostly about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.

About the Winnipeg Blue Bombers aiming for first place…don’t call Shania a country crooner…a tennis rivalry is born…more hate for Caster Semenya…and other things on my mind

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

Mike O’Shea

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers should finish their 2017 crusade at 14-4.

Note: I’m not saying they will be 14-4 at the close of regular-season business, I’m saying they should be.

The way I have it figured, there are six gimme games remaining on the Bombers schedule—Saskatchewan Roughriders (twice), Montreal Alouettes, Ottawa RedBlacks, Toronto Argonauts and Hamilton Tiger-Cats. They should also sweep their two remaining skirmishes with the B.C. Lions (both at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry). Finally, a split with the Edmonton Eskimos puts the Bombers at 14 Ws.

That ought to translate into home cooking for the Canadian Football League playoffs, perhaps even top seeding in the demanding West Division.

Alas, a different scenario is more likely to unfold, because head coach Mike O’Shea won’t be able to get out of his own way for 11 games, and Richie Hall’s defence is…well, it’s Richie Hall’s defence. But the Bombers have been gifted with an incredibly benign schedule and second place, if not first, is theirs for the taking.

So, Johnny Manziel tells us that the CFL is “definitely something I’ve looked into,” then he goes on to say he’d prefer to get into coaching, most likely at the collegiate level in the U.S. Good. One less woman abuser on our streets.

Shania Twain

I have no quarrel with the CFL hiring Shania Twain to lip-sync during the Grey Cup halftime hijinks in Ottawa, but I wish people would stop referring to her as a country crooner. She isn’t my kind of country. She’s pop. With that in mind, here’s this morning’s list: My top five favorite real female country singers…

1. Patsy Cline: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vwKPgqBC00o
2. Emmylou Harris:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JE_sUN_M7p0
3. Alison Krauss:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=To1_nOjlLBQ
4. Reba:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FUP9DnurODw
5. Dolly:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L0eeSoU35wM

Up-and-down week in Canadian tennis. Milos Ranoic and Genie Bouchard go out in a whimper at their respective Rogers Cup tournaments, but teenager Denis Shapovalov rocks Rafael Nadal’s world en route to an appearance in the semifinals in Montreal, whereupon he met his Waterloo in the form of Alexander Zverev on Saturday, 6-4, 7-5. The good news is that Shapovalov is only 18 years old. The bad news is that the Zverev is only 20. Actually, upon further review, that’s probably a double dose of good news, because it means Shapovalov and Zverev ought to be butting heads for the next decade.

Dumbest comment of the week was delivered by Mark Masters, who, after Shapovalov’s astonishing run in Montreal came to an end, told TSN viewers: “It wasn’t a completely unexpected run.” Oh, shut the front door, Mark! There was no hint that Shapovalov was about to wreak havoc on the game’s top players, including Nadal and former U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro. But, hey, maybe Masters is right. Let’s ask the kid himself. What say you, Denis Shapovalov? “Obviously, I didn’t expect it.”

Denis Shapovalov

Shapovalov, who, by the way, was born in Tel Aviv and whose parents, Tessa and Viktor, brought him to Canada before his first birthday, had been delivering good results on the Challenger Tour, which is the men’s B series. It is what the American Hockey League is to the National Hockey League. But, prior to the Rogers Cup, he had only beaten two top-100 players—Thomas Fabbiano, 86, and Kyle Edmund, 47.

Some interesting comments from tennis notables: “I’m concentrating a lot on working hard, being very humble,” said former French Open and current Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza. “You have to like being the centre of attention. You have to think it’s not a bad thing to have people talking about you. You have to welcome being on centre court, to play against the best players and prove yourself. You can’t be scared of those moments,” said Roger Federer, winner of 19 Grand Slam titles. Hmmm. I wonder if Genie Bouchard was listening.

Marshawn Lynch

This is curious: Colin Kaepernick takes a knee or sits during the singing/playing of the Star-Spangled Banner before his National Football League games and he’s a pariah. He can’t get a job even as a third-string quarterback. Marshawn Lynch, meanwhile, sits on a cooler and eats a banana during the American National Anthem prior to his Oakland Raiders dress rehearsal with the Arizona Cardinals, and everything is cool. What part of that makes sense to anyone?

Speaking of making no sense, where does Major League Baseball get off telling longtime ump Joe West to get lost for three days? All he did was relay an anecdote about Adrian Beltre, for cripes sake. If you missed it, West was asked which player was the biggest pain in the keester in baseball. He named Beltre of the Texas Rangers. “Every pitch you call that’s a strike, he says, ‘Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!’ I had a game with him recently and the pitch was right down the middle. He tells me, ‘That ball is outside.’ I told him, ‘You may be a great ballplayer, but you’re the worst umpire in the league. You stink.’” West told USA Today. That’s worth a three-game suspension? I’m scratching my head.

Some kind of down and dirty delivered by Mail Online columnist Katie Hopkins, who won’t be exchanging warm-and-fuzzies with Caster Semenya any time soon. Hopkins wrote this after the South African runner easily won her 800-metre heat at the world track and field championships in London: “Caster Semenya was on hand to show the world how to be a true women’s champion. All it takes are levels of testosterone three times higher than is expected in women due to hyperandrogenism, no womb or ovaries, and internal testes because of a chromosomal abnormality. Back in January Caster even married her girlfriend in a traditional wedding ceremony, appearing in the guise of a man. Yet, curiously, enough, out here on the track, Semenya identifies as a woman.” Sorry, but I fail to see the connection between running an 800-metre race and who a woman marries or what she’s wearing when she says “I do.” I also know numerous women who dress in what is considered male clothing. Some writers are just bloody nasty.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling mostly about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.

About my favorite athletes…Mike O’Shea and brown tap water…no more hanky-panky from CFL coaches…scuzzy Pete Rose…Usain Bolt losing to a drug cheat…and another gay slur

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

From the top: Wilma Rudolph, Sandy Koufax and Arnold Palmer, Martina Navratilova, Rafa Nadal and Bjorn Borg.

Came across an interesting item on social media the other day, whereby folks were listing their all-time favorite athletes. Not a greatest athlete list, understand. A fave list. Here’s mine:

Wilma Rudolph: So sleek, so elegant. Such regal bearing. The Italians called her La Gazzella Negra and, to the French, she was La Perle Noir. I adored the American sprinter who blossomed from sickly child (polio, double pneumonia, scarlet fever) into an Olympic champion sprinter. She wowed the world at the 1960 Games in Rome, skedaddling to three gold medals. Once back home in Clarksville, Tenn., she insisted that a parade/gala in her honor include all townsfolk, and history records it as the first fully integrated municipal event in town history.

Martina Navratilova: When the tennis legend defected from the former Czechoslovakia in 1975, she was a high school kid with everything going against her. English was not her first language. Family and friends were on the other side of the world. Fear of being seized and hauled back to her homeland by thugs in trench coats was ever-present. She had a fondness for Big Macs and large fries. And, as we discovered a few years later, she was a lesbian, which was a lot less cool then than it is now. But, as she was to tell news snoops in early September of ’75, “I wanted my freedom.” Once untethered from the leash of communist state suppression, Navratilova became the greatest player of her generation. To some, the greatest ever. And she’s long been a leading voice in the LGBT community.

Sandy Koufax: I should have been mad at Koufax on Oct. 6, 1965. The Los Angeles Dodgers—my team—were in Minneapolis to engage a hefty-hitting Minnesota Twins batting lineup in Game 1 of the World Series. Koufax, the premier pitcher in Major League Baseball, should have been on the mound. Instead, it was Don Drysdale, who, although no slouch on the hill, was no Koufax. But I couldn’t get mad at the great lefthander because his reason for taking the day off was unassailable—it was Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. Sandy Koufax was my favorite player long before he deferred to his faith by declining to start Game 1, but his decision still resonates with me, much more than any of the other-wordly numbers that he posted during the 1960s. It was a shining life lesson, even for a Roman Catholic kid. (p.s. The Dodgers won the Series, with Koufax pitching successive shutouts in Games 5 and 7, the latter on only two days rest.)

Bjorn Borg: He was the anti-Johnny Mac. While John McEnroe would disrupt matches with volcanic eruptions of petulance, Borg played tennis with a Zen-like calm, utilizing an assortment of two-fisted, cross-court backhands and top-spinning forehands to disassemble foes en route to 11 Grand Slam championships, including five successive Wimbledon titles. I admired the Swede’s calm amidst chaos, his unflappable resolve, and his quiet intensity—all wrapped in a cloak of mystery—as much as I did his groundstrokes. To this day, I wonder what made Borg tick.

Arnold Palmer/Rafael Nadal: Okay, this is cheating. But I couldn’t decide between Rafa, the king of clay court tennis, and Arnie, the king of golf. Arnie and Sandy Koufax were my go-to guys as a kid, Rafa is my go-to guy in my dotage. Arnie was a swashbuckler, daring and charismatic, and universally respected and admired as a sportsman and, more important, as a person. Rafa arrived on the tennis scene with bulging biceps, sleeveless tops and pirate pants. “Different,” I thought upon seeing him for the first time. Well, vive la difference! Rafa adorns himself in regular tennis togs now, but there’s never been anything regular about his game. Especially on clay. And the Spaniard seems like such a nice, young man.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers offed the RedBlacks, 33-30, in Ottawa on Friday night, in large part because Mike O’Shea managed to stay out of his own way. I guess that means the natterbugs will have to squawk about something other than the head coach’s short pants this week. Maybe they can blame him for that scuzzy brown tap water in River City.

CFL commish Randy Ambrosie

Upon further review, further review was ruining the game, so bravo to commish Randy Ambrosie and Canadian Football League team poobahs for taking away every head coach’s favorite toy—the challenge flag. Well, okay, the sideline stewards aren’t exactly hanky-free. Each coach is still allowed to toss one yellow hanky each game, but that beats a total of six potential challenges per match.

In the world according to Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press, changing the coach’s challenge rule this deep into the season makes the CFL head office a “clown show.” It’s “amateur hour.” Actually, it’s quite the opposite. The real “clown show” was coaches using frivolous challenges to challenge nothing but the integrity of the game and spirit of the rule, which is to “get it right.” I watched all four games last week and that “clown show” is definitely over. No more hanky-panky from the coaches.

Oh boy. Some people just don’t pay attention. We’re only at the front end of August and already Freep sports editor and Wiecek’s Grumpet twin, Steve Lyons, is promoting folly. “Best place to finish might be fourth in the West” for the Bombers, he advises us. That way, they’d earn a crossover post-season berth and play the patsies in Eastern Canada. Repeat after me, Mr. Lyons: No, no, no, no, no…nine times no. No West outfit has successfully navigated the eastern route to the Grey Cup game. Never. Ever. In nine tries. And you think it’ll work for the Bombers? Ya, just like attempting a 61-yard field goal worked at B.C. Place last November.

So, champion sprinter Usain Bolt lost some of the lickety-split in his long legs and was beaten to the finish line in his final individual race at the world track and field championships in London. No big deal. Sandy Koufax lost the final game he ever pitched for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Muhammad Ali lost his final fight (badly). Babe Ruth grounded out in his final at-bat. Hey, stuff happens. I just wish Bolt hadn’t lost to a guy, Justin Gatlin, who’s twice been told to go away for failed drug tests.

Scuzzball Pete Rose

Pete Rose, Major League Baseball’s all-time hit leader, has been holding his own poor Petey pity party since being banned for betting on games while managing the Cincinnati Reds, and the one-time jailbird has actually found sympathetic ears. In an ESPN sports poll conducted by Luker on Trends between November 2016 and last February, Rose was No. 50 on a list of most popular athletes in the U.S., active or retired. Only two ballplayers—Derek Jeter at No. 13 and Babe Ruth, No. 30—finished ahead of him in voting by 6,000 people 12 and over. I wonder what the Rose-ites have to say now that their hero has confessed to having had sex with a 16-year-old girl while he was in his 30s, married and a father of two. The man is a scuzzy as the brown tap water in Winnipeg.

Outfielder Matt Joyce of the Oakland Athletics is “beyond sorry” for using a gay slur during a hissing contest with a fan in Anaheim on Friday night. I’m sorry, but it’s “beyond sorry” that male pro athletes are still using homophobic language as their go-to slurs in 2017.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling mostly about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers: Are they gaining traction or spinning their wheels one year after Matt Nichols became the starting QB?

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

We still don’t know if Mike O’Shea had an awakening or if someone whacked him upside the head, but he was compelled to take the football from Drew Willy and hand it to Matt Nichols a year ago this very day.

That decision saved what looked to be another sorry season for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and, quite likely, O’Shea’s job.

Mike O’Shea

The Bombers, 1-4 at the time of the quarterback switcheroo, beat lightning, thunder, a lengthy weather delay and what had been a marauding Edmonton Eskimos defence in Nichols’ baptism as Winnipeg’s starting QB, and he’s engineered another dozen Ws since. That’s against six losses.

I’m still inclined to believe that an interloping party from on high instructed O’Shea to change starters, because this head coach wears his stubbornness like an extra layer of skin. He knows special teams and defence but diddly about QBs and offence, and only the jaws of life or an executive order was going to pry the ball out of Willy’s hands. It might have been Wade Miller, who occupies the top perch in the Canadian Football League club’s pecking order. It might have been Kyle Walters, the general manager who often can be found on the sidelines looking over O’Shea’s shoulder.

Whomever, the call to punt Willy and put Nichols behind centre is about the best example of trading places since the whiny Diane Chambers walked out the doors at Cheers and Rebecca Howe walked in.

Nichols orchestrated his 13th victory as the Bombers’ trigger man on Thursday night at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry, a 41-40 verdict over the Montreal Alouettes that featured a most unlikely finish thanks, in part, to an astonishingly compliant Als defence and an atrocious roughing-the-passer call on Chris Ackie of the Larks.

Having said all that, here’s what I find myself wondering on the one-year anniversary of Nichols’ first start: Are the Bombers actually gaining traction in their quest to satisfy a championship hunger that now is measured by the quarter-century?

Not really.

Matt Nichols

To date, the Bombers have mostly beaten up on the Sad Sacks from the East Division and the free space known as the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Nichols, as terrific as he’s been, is 10-1 against the four eastern outfits and Gang Green, but only 3-5 vs. the Calgary Stampeders, Eskimos and B.C. Lions.

That, kids, is not how the West can be won.

I suppose O’Shea would pooh-pooh those numbers, because he looks at historical data the same way Donald Trump looks at news scavengers. He’d point out that faces and names change, so what does it matter that the Bombers haven’t rung up a W against the Stampeders in a meaningful match since the leather-helmet era? To a degree, he’d be correct. Yesterday’s team is not today’s team.

One thing has been constant for three-plus crusades, though: O’Shea.

During his watch, O’Shea is 1-8 vs. the Stamps and 1-6 vs. the Eskimos. It doesn’t matter who’s been coaching in Calgary—John Hufnagel or Dave Dickenson—or in Edmonton—Chris Jones or Jason Maas—O’Shea can’t beat them. And if you can’t beat Calgary or Edmonton, you don’t get home playoff dates. If you don’t get home playoff dates, you have to win twice in hostile territory just to advance to the Grey Cup game, let alone win it.

So, until O’Shea can devise a scheme to outwit Dickenson or Maas, the Bombers are spinning their tires. No matter who’s at quarterback.

Blame it on geography. If the Bombers were still in the East, they’d be the beast. Here’s the local lads’ East-West record since O’Shea rolled into River City:

2014: 5-3 vs. East        2-8 vs. West
2015: 1-7 vs. East        4-6 vs. West
2016: 6-2 vs. East        5-6 vs. West (including playoff game)
2017: 2-0 vs. East        1-2 vs. West
Total: 14-12 (.538)      12-22 (.352)

What’s that you say? The Bombers will be better off if they earn a crossover playoff spot this season? Don’t even go there. West Division crossover teams are 0-for-life trying to get to the Grey Cup through Ontario and/or Montreal. The Eskimos discovered last year how difficult a chore it is. If I’m O’Shea, I’ll take my chances with the land mines in Saudi Alberta.

Yikes! Exactly when did O’Shea piddle in Paul Wiecek’s breakfast Cheerios? I mean, it’s one thing for the Winnipeg Free Press columnist to take the Bombers coach to task for some of his dunder-headed decision-making, but pointing an accusing finger at him for the empty seats at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry is a bit extreme. Seriously. O’Shea’s short pants are an issue? Wiecek’s latest attack piece reads mean, with gusts up to nasty.

Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun comes dangerously close to cheering in the press box with this line in his gamer following the Bombers’ 41-40 victory over the Als: “They might not be able to stop the opposition, but as long as they score one more point than the other team, who really cares?” That’s cringe-worthy.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling mostly about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.