Nice of you to come out of hibernation. How long had it been since we last saw and heard from you? At least three months, I’d say.
Some of us were beginning to worry about you, Commish. I mean, every pro sports operation known to woman and man has rebooted during the COVID-19 pandemic, yet your Canadian Football League turned out the lights. And you went radio silent.
So I figured flicking on the flatscreen and watching all those athletes in other leagues frolic might have driven you a bit batty. If not full-on bonkers.
I feared you might have done the Howard Hughes thing, Commish. You know, become a recluse.
I had visions of you holed up in a windowless bunker left over from the Cold War, cut off from civilization and peeing into pop bottles and eating nothing but nachos and chocolate bars. I imagined you pacing back and fourth…back and forth…back and forth, all the while muttering, “It’s Trudeau’s fault…it’s Trudeau’s fault…it’s Trudeau’s fault.” After all, Prime Minister Trudeau the Younger and his skinflint pals wouldn’t cough up $30 million when you went panhandling on Parliament Hill last spring.
You’re right, Commish, they seemed to have ample coin for everyone and everything—except three-downs football. So it’s understandable if you were gripped with paranoia, kind of like Captain Queeg and the strawberries.
I don’t know if you’ll face a mutiny like Captain Queeg once the COVID storm is behind us, Commish, but for now your hand is still on the wheel of the good ship CFL, and the rabble is looking to you for answers and signs that indicate a 2021 season is not only possible, but good to go.
I know that’s what I was hoping to hear on Monday when you made like Shubenacadie Sam or Fred de la Marmotte on Groundhog Day, finally popping your head out of a hole to study the landscape.
You had yourself a half-hour natter with Sara Orlesky of TSN, and who wouldn’t want to join Sara for a chat? She seems like such a lovely, young lass and, like yourself, I miss seeing her the sidelines, toque or not.
The thing is, I’d like to see Zach Collaros and Mike Reilly and Speedy B and Willie Jefferson between the lines a whole lot more, even if it means another summer and autumn listening to Glen Suitor, assuming TSN can pry him away from Keith Urban.
But you didn’t tell us when Rouge Football will return, Commish. Or if it will return.
You told us that Canada “is the greatest country on earth,” and you talked about putting “bums in seats,” and revenue streams, and CFL 2.0, and front-line health workers, and Rouge Football on the East Coast. It was all rah, rah, rah and siss-boom-bah boosterism.
You also confirmed there’ll soon be a 2021 schedule, but that isn’t worth the paper it will be printed on if the large lads in pads aren’t grabbing grass in June.
Near as I can tell, Commish, nothing has changed. Nada.
It would have taken $30 million from the feds to get you on the field for a runted season of six games per team this year—in a Winnipeg hub/bubble—and the CFL still doesn’t have any money, unless there’s a sugar daddy you aren’t telling us about.
Thus, unlike all other pro sports leagues in our part of the world, you stand alone as completely dependent upon squints in lab coats peering into microscopes.
The renewal of Rouge Football is only doable with the “bums in seats” that you talked about on Monday, Commish, and there has to be plenty of them. I don’t have to remind you that social distancing in the stands was the pre-pandemic norm in CFL danger locales of Vancouver, Montreal and the Republic of Tranna, but that’ll never do on the Prairies, Hamilton or Ottawa.
We both know the only avenue forward is a COVID-19 vaccine, Commish, and even at that we’re left to wonder how long it will take for the rabble to once again feel comfy enough to gather in large numbers.
I’m a Rouge Football lifer, Commish. Been following the three-downs game since I was knee high to Kenny Ploen and Leo Lewis, and I’ve been scribbling about it since 1980. That’s taking in a lot of territory. So I feel your pain. You should be on the Flattest of Lands this week to hand the Grey Grail to the winning side of the championship skirmish, and I’d like to be watching it on TSN.
I guess we can only hope for next year, Commish. In the meantime, do us CFL lifers a favor and don’t go back into hibernation. Keep us informed. Don’t let out of sight become out of 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 was Groundhog Day on Friday. I woke up, stared at my TV screen and saw 4 1/2 more months of bad goaltender interference calls ahead.
Seriously. There are three things in life that I do not understand: 1) goaltender interference in hockey; 2) goaltender interference in hockey; 3) goaltender interference in hockey.
Well, okay, there are more than three things I don’t understand. Pass interference in football is another. And exactly where do socks disappear to when you’re doing laundry? (The socks thing I’ve remedied. I no longer wear them. I don’t even own a pair. For the record, I wear tights in winter and go barefoot in summer.) But this goaltender interference thing is more baffling than the National Hockey League hiring Kid Rock to sing.
I mean, I swear I saw James Neal of the Vegas Golden Knights go all lumberjack the other night at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie in Winnipeg, breaking his twig in two with a Paul Bunyanesque wallop to the masked face of Jets ‘tender Connor Hellebuyck. It wasn’t ruled goaltender interference. Not even after a coach’s challenge and video review that, in the opinions of the two men wearing orange arm bands, validated a Vegas score.
You whack a goaltender across the face with a two-hander and that isn’t interference? If not, it surely is a slashing penalty (like, five minutes and a game). Whistle blows. No goal. But not in today’s NHL, where reason has fled the building and logic is only a step behind.
The good news is, NHL deep-thinkers have time to put this part of their house in order before it corrupts the Stanley Cup tournament. The bad news is, they’re the same deep-thinkers who hired Kid Rock to sing.
Aside from Michael Sam, who became famous for being gay, has any football player generated more headlines by not playing football on this side of the north-south divide than Johnny Manziel?
The Canadian Football League remains a Manziel-free zone (for now), yet this frat boy who would play quarterback for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats very much remains a hot-button topic. According to TSN, Manziel and the Tabbies are further apart on money than Bill Gates and a panhandler. His reported sticker price is half a million bucks. The Tabbies are offering in the neighborhood of $150,000.
“Nahhh,” tweets Manziel. “We asked for a fair deal, that’s it.” But then he added: “Has there ever been a rookie that will sell more money in jersey sales and season tickets than his entire two-year contract would be worth? OK good talk…Humble as can be. Just stating FACTS sorry you don’t agree.”
Yo! Johnny! The Ticats played to 97 per cent capacity at Timbits Field in The Hammer last season. They need a woman-beater like you to sell tickets and garments like Charlize Theron needs a makeover.
Lengthy but excellent read from Jeff Hamilton of the Winnipeg Free Press on domestic violence as it relates to Manziel and the CFL. The most startling revelation in the article: In performing their “due diligence” on Manziel, no one from the CFL or the Tiger-Cats contacted Colleen Crowley. She’s the young woman the former Cleveland Browns QB beat up a couple of years ago, leading her to file for, and be granted, a restraining order against him. You’d think seeking a victim impact statement would be a no-brainer.
Some quality journalism last week about mental illness, and I never saw or read anything better than Darren Dreger’s TSN feature on Paul Ranger, whose battle with inner demons cost him his NHL career. It was a gripping, touching piece. Boffo work.
All power to Ricky Ray, who, at age 38, will give it another whirl as starting QB with the Tranna Argonauts. The worry, of course, is that he’ll end his Canadian Football Hall of Fame career on the back of a Gator cart, because he has all the mobility of an ATM and he’s as brittle as a piece of burnt toast. Fingers (and toes) crossed for him.
You wonder why so many people believe journalists are lower than the bowels of hell? Alex Reimer is a reason. Howard Stern is a reason.
Reimer, a gab guy with WEEI in Boston, established new standards for tacky when, commenting on the Tom Brady Facebook feature Tom vs Time, he described the quarterback’s five-year-old daughter Vivian as “an annoying little pissant.” Hey, take shots and Brady and his New England Patriots if you like. That seems to be a national pastime on either side of the U.S.-Canada border. Just leave his kids alone, right?
But wait. Let’s let another juror weigh in.
“I’ve got to stick up for radio guys, because number one, you’re on the air and it’s not like there’s a script,” Serius XM radio gasbag Howard Stern huffs and puffs. “But for godsakes—Tom Brady should know better. If you’re going to put your young child on a TV show, on the Internet, you’re putting her out there for comment.
“It’s really Tom’s fault. And I don’t know Tom—I’m a great admirer of his physical prowess and his football ability—but don’t put your kid up on an Internet show and then get pissed when people comment on her behavior. You’re putting it out there for people to comment on. That’s what a TV show is.”
Instant analysis: Who knew Howard Stern was still a thing?
This week’s notable quotable is from Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail, on New England Patriots head coach Box Car Willie Belichick: “(He) has a thing for wearing sleeveless shirts, which is a serious problem that does not get enough attention.” Either Kelly’s tongue was in his cheek, or he’s totally lost the plot. I mean, I can think of a number of “serious problems” with the National Football League (like, when is a catch a catch; when is a concussion a concussion?), but Box Car Belichick’s bare arms are not among them. Would Kelly have him drag a brush through his hair as well? Maybe ask him to spray on some cologne? C’mon man.
Interesting that Mike Fisher is ending his retirement to rejoin the Nashville Predators for their Stanley Cup push. Guess being Mr. Carrie Underwood and a stay-at-home papa isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Whatever, the well-seasoned centre’s return makes a hard-to-play-against Predators outfit harder to play against.
I agree with Michelle Englot, the Team Canada skip at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Penticton: People should “chill out” about the new format. True, no one wants to see the Canadian women’s curling championship reduced to an ant-squishing competition, but lopsided scores are commonplace at the Scotties. Consider these results:
In other words, it’s been same old, same old at this year’s Scotties and the new format isn’t the reason for blowouts in Penticton—it’s the have and have-not dynamic. You have Grand Slam curlers sharing the same pebble as club curlers. That usually won’t end well.
And don’t run off with the notion that routs are an element particular to curling. It happens in both women’s and men’s hockey as well.
2016/17 women’s world hockey championship: 7-0, 8-0, 11-0, 8-0, 8-1, 8-0, 9-0.
2016/17 men’s world hockey championship: 7-2, 10-1, 8-1, 7-2, 7-2, 6-0, 7-0, 10-1, 7-1, 8-0, 7-2, 6-0.
This week’s nasty Stevie-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna is directed at Pedro Martinez, one of this year’s inductees to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. According to Grandpa Simmons, the Martinez appointment is “ridiculous” because he only spent four seasons with the Expos in Montreal. “Pedro Martinez does not belong here. Makes the Hall look cheap,” Simmons tweets angrily. “Do you honestly believe a player with four years service belongs in the Hall of Fame? Any Hall of Fame?” Well, let’s see: Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson spent only four winters in Winnipeg, yet they’re in both the Jets and Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame. Do they belong? Absolutely. Doug Flutie spent only two seasons quarterbacking the Toronto Argonauts, yet he’s in the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame. Does he belong? Two Grey Cup titles says yes. Gale Sayers played the equivalent of 4.25 seasons (just 68 games) for the Chicago Bears, yet he’s in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Does he belong? Ya think? I wish people would stop dropping Grandpa Simmons on his head.
Sifting through The River City Renegade archives, I note that on Sept. 14, 2017, I provided odds on each Canadian team ending the Great White North Stanley Cup drought. Here was my morning line:
Edmonton McDavids: 3/1
Winnipeg Jets: 5/1
Calgary Flames: 5/1
Tranna Maple Leafs: 10/1
Montreal Canadiens: 20/1
Ottawa Senators: Fuhgeddaboudit.
Vancouver Canucks: You’re kidding, right?
February update! February update! February update!
Winnipeg Jets: 1/1
Calgary Flames: 5/1
Tranna Maple Leafs: 10/1
Edmonton McDavids: 25/1
Montreal Canadiens: Not in my lifetime.
Ottawa Senators: Not in my grandchildren’s lifetime.
Vancouver Canucks: Not even when the Sedin twins are playing on a forward line with one of their grandchildren.
Does anyone remember what sports was like before the Politically Correct Police mobilized? I mean, Chief Wahoo soon will be gone from the Cleveland Indians unis. Formula 1’s Grid Girls are gone. The U.K.’s professional darts Walk-On Girls are gone. Next thing you know, Postmedia’s tabloid newspapers across the land will be ordering their Sunshine Girls to cover up the cleavage.
Get ready, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, the bitch-a-thon is about to commence. That is to say, the flowers of Canadian sports journalism are on their way to South Korea for the Winter Olympic Games, and the moment they touch down in PyeongChang they shall commence to feeding us a steady diet of whine with their cheesey commentary about poor facilities, poor food, poor shuttle service, poor accommodations, poor travel connections, and poor port-o-potties. Trust me, they’ll deliver more complaints than a Republican watching CNN.
I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
It’s almost Groundhog Day. Does that mean Grand Master Kevin Cheveldayoff is about to poke his head out of his hiding hole and do something? Or say something?
That would be refreshing, since the man who does Saint Mark Chipman’s bidding hasn’t done or said much of anything since shuffling Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian off to Buffalo. For those of you keeping score at home, that was almost 365 days ago.
Chevy is the Howard Hughes of National Hockey League general managers. A recluse. He is the anti-John Ferguson.
When Fergy was at the wheel during the Winnipeg Jets’ initial whirl in the NHL, he took ownership of his deeds. Good (hello, Dale Hawerchuk) or bad (hello, Jimmy Mann). He didn’t hide from the faithful or news scavengers. From the moment he arrived in River City from Gotham until the day he was asked to leave, Fergy was up front and loud. His was the face and voice of the franchise.
What we now have with Cheveldayoff and the present-day Jets is complete non-accountability.
If there is a face and/or voice to this franchise, I can’t see it or hear it. No one can. Cheveldayoff says less than a street mime. The Winnipeg Sun recently requested an audience with the Grand Master for its three-part, state-of-the-union series on the Jets and was told, “Sorry, no can do. Chevy’s too busy doing stuff that is none of your business or anybody else’s business.”
That is so lame.
What I find myself wondering is this: Is Cheveldayoff standoffish by nature, or is he under some sort of gag order issued by team co-bankroll Saint Mark? I mean, it’s one thing for Chipman to operate a secretive society that suckles at the public teat in the form of tax advantages/subsidies and gaming revenue, but this isn’t about True North Sports & Entertainment profits. It’s about a hockey team, one in which the community has invested deeply, whether through ticket/merchadise sales or emotions. What is he afraid of?
If Chipman hasn’t instructed Cheveldayoff to keep his lips zipped, what is the GM afraid of?
Answering a few questions in advance of a looming NHL trade deadline ought not be an option. It ought to be an obligation.
On a similar theme, it was interesting to read dispatches from this weekend’s NHL all-star hijinks in Twang Town, Tennessee, because we discovered a side of Dustin Byfuglien seldom, if ever, seen in Winnipeg. Turns out Big Buff is humorous, witty, glib and an all-round nice guy who seemingly enjoyed his 25-minute parry-and-thrust with hockey scribes on media day. That Nashville scene, of course, would never take place in River City, because the Jets are so freakish about controlling the message that they shield their players from prying eyes and ears. News scavengers aren’t granted the opportunity or time to get to know players like Byfuglien as people and, by extension, Joe and Josephine Phan are also left out of the loop. Shame, that.
Not surprisingly, the Big Buff chin wag referenced his contract negotiations with the Jets. The all-star rearguard and pending free agent was asked point blank if his desire was to remain in Winnipeg, and, while he had some favorable comments about good, ol’ Hometown, part of his reply likely left a few in Jets Nation a tad uneasy. “I just want to put on a jersey, to be honest with you.” He didn’t say a Jets jersey. Apparently, any NHL jersey will do. He later said, “I wouldn’t want to go anywhere else, but business is business.” Reminds me of the answer Evander Kane delivered in July 2014 when Team 1040 Radio in Vancouver quizzed him on his status with the Jets: “Well, I think, um, I’m a Winnipeg Jet right now and, um, you know there’s been speculation and rumors for the three years since I got there. You know, we’ll see what happens, and we’ll carry on as if I’m a Winnipeg Jet.” We all know how that ended.
Sad, but not surprising, that there’s no Winnipeg Sun presence in Nashville. The tabloid was served by the Toronto-based Michael Traikos of Postmedia and Mike Zeisberger of the Toronto Sun. Get used to it, people. Meanwhile, the Winnipeg Free Press has its own man, Tim Campbell, on site. Score one for the Freep.
Best reads this week were delivered by the Freep’s Paul Wiecek,whose piece on Saint Mark Chipman is superb. It’s Wiecek at his best and a prime example that the Free Press is well-served with him in the columnist’s seat. Meanwhile, the much-maligned John Scott told it like it is in a Players Tribune article that offers insight and humanizes one of the NHL’s dying breed—the enforcer.
Tell me if this is coincidence or an attitude adjustment: On Jan. 7, the NHL dinged Nikolaj Ehlers $2,000 for diving/embellishment. It meant he was a repeat offender. To that point in time, the diving Dane had scored six goals and 13 points in 40 games. Since the NHL dipped into his pay envelope, the Jets freshman winger has scored six goals and collected nine points in nine games. Apparently, Ehlers has concluded that staying on his feet is more productive than flopping around like a European soccer player. Skating alongside linemates not named Chris Thorburn likely helps, too.
Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit. She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.