About 49 years from Day One at the Trib…good for Ted Wyman…good reads in the Drab Slab…a TSN WTF moment…CFL power rankings…Serena unhinged…and other things on my mind

It occurs to me

If you’ll permit me a personal note right off the top (and you must, because this is my blog), this morning marks the 49th anniversary of my start in the rag trade.

Yup, it all began in the mail room on the second floor of the Winnipeg Tribune building on Sept. 10, 1969, me an 18-year-old, know-nothing kid fresh out of Miles Madonell Collegiate working at what had always been my newspaper of choice.

After a brief time running incoming and outgoing mail to the various arms of the Trib operation at the corner of Smith and Graham, directly across the street from the main post office, I was shuffled up to the fifth floor, whereupon I became a midnight-to-8 a.m. copy runner and began scribbling non-byline Manitoba Junior Hockey League rewrites in 1970.

Legendary sports columnist and editor Jack Matheson was somehow struck with the notion that I might be a suitable replacement for a departing sports scribe, and my first byline appeared in print on Page 16 of the Trib on June 14, 1971.

It was back-of-the-section, bottom-of-the-page stuff—a short blurb about a Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association financial shortfall of $8,753—nestled between the Assiniboia Downs form chart and horse racing writer Harold Loster’s graded selections. Humble beginnings, indeed.

My first beat was local tennis, which I totally enjoyed. Then high school football, a good place to earn your chops. But Matty had me mostly on hockey, at all levels and all leagues, at home and riding the bus across the frozen tundra with Gerry Brisson, Muzz MacPherson and the Winnipeg Clubs in the Western Canada Hockey League.

Butch Goring

There wasn’t a hockey league I didn’t cover and, in fact, my final writing assignment at the Trib was to pen a sports-front, up-close-and-personal piece on local lad Butch Goring, weaned on the frozen ponds of Windsor Park/St. Vital and a Stanley Cup champion with the New York Islanders. Photog Jon Thordarson and I had visited Butch at his home. Spent more than an hour with him. The article and pics were in the can and good to go as a late-summer feature. Alas, the mucky-mucks at Southam had the bad manners to shut down the joint on what we called Black Wednesday, Aug. 27, 1980, and the Tribune was no more.

But, hey, here I am 49 years later, and old bag of bones still scribbling about shinny, football, curling and athletes in Good Ol’ Hometown, albeit from a distance. Don’t know when or how to stop.

Which means you’re right—there’s definitely something wrong with me. Like, does the term ‘get a life’ mean anything to me?

Apparently not. I might actually make it to 50 years.

Ted Wyman

A tip of the bonnet to Ted Wyman, soon to be the latest inductee to the Manitoba Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour. Ted’s been cranking out the good stuff for 26 years, earning his chops at the Moose Jaw Times Herald and Brandon Sun before bringing his act to Good Ol’ Hometown in 2003. He’s been a steady hand on the wheel of the Winnipeg Sun sports department since 2006.

Really enjoyed Melissa Martin’s piece on Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler in the Winnipeg Free Press last week. Melissa doesn’t stray into the toy department too often, but I always enjoy her take on sports and athletes. She’s my favorite scribe at the Drab Slab.

So I’m sitting in my local watering hole, watching the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Saskatchewan Roughriders duke it out on Saturday afternoon. They were down to the short strokes, with about three minutes remaining and Gang Green clinging to an iffy lead. The end result was very much in the balance. And what does TSN do? It cuts away to the Calgary Stampeders-Edmonton Eskimos skirmish, which had yet to start. You talk about your WTFTSN moments.

Here are this week’s Canadian Football League power rankings…

1. Calgary (9-2): Bo Levi was brilliant; the defence not so much.
2. Saskatchewan (7-4): Four straight Ws.
3. Edmonton (7-5): Got it done vs. Calgary this time.
4. Hamilton (6-5): Wicked offence, wicked QB, wicked Speedy B.
5. Ottawa (6-5): Continue to be a puzzle.
6. Winnipeg (5-7): A bye week just what the doctor ordered.
7. B.C. (4-6): Still say they’re done like dinner.
8. Montreal (3-8): Took the week off.
9. Toronto (3-8): QB woes continue.

Last week in CFL quarterbacking…

It’s about Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers: Wow. Just wow.

Still baffled by Serena Williams bringing motherhood into the equation during her epic hissy fit in the women’s final at the U.S. Open tennis tournament. “I have a daughter and I stand what’s right for her!” she shrieked, in full bully mode, at chair umpire Carlos Ramos. That simply does not compute. It makes no sense at all. What did Ramos’s rulings—questionable or not—have to do with Williams’ little girl? Can you say completely unhinged, kids?

Novak Djokovic

For those of you scoring at home, the last eight Grand Slam tennis tournaments have delivered eight different champions on the women’s side and only three on the men’s side. Meanwhile, the same three guys winning everything now—Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic—have been winning everything since Wimbledon 2003, when Federer claimed his first Slam title. The scoreboard reads: Big Three 51, Rest of Guys 11. And who are those Rest of Guys? Stan Wawrinka (3), Andy Murray (3), Andy Roddick, Marin Cilic, Juan Martin del Potro, Marat Safin and Gaston Gaudio. So, 10 champions total. In the same time frame, 24 different women have won Slam tournaments.

And, finally, this from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: “I really hope the Maple Leafs pick a captain soon—so everybody can just shut up about it. The captain stuff: Relatively meaningless.” Interesting. In July, Simmons went on Tranna 1050 TSN radio and flapped his gums about the “relatively meaningless” Leafs captaincy for more than seven minutes. But now that he’s had his say on the topic he wants the rest of us to “shut up.” As if.

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About Mike O’ Shea throwing TSN’s CFL journalists (not!) under the bus…Brooke Henderson’s smile…a tiger in our tanks at the “filling station”…and other CFL stuff

Two soft-boiled eggs and more weekend leftovers for a Tuesday morning breakfast

Mike O’Shea has totally lost the plot.

Never mind the botched fake punts, phantom 63-yard field goals, ill-conceived gambles, curious quarterback deployment, or any of the goofball decisions he’s made as sideline jockey with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Those were merely “d’oh” moments. Brain farts, if you will.

Mike O’Shea

But get this: O’Shea actually thinks Milt Stegall is a journalist. Ditto Matt Dunigan. And—good grief—Davis Sanchez.

That’s cow-jumped-over-the-moon stuff.

I mean, Stegall is a hall of fame receiver with a hall of fame mouth that landed him a gig as a gum-flapper on TSN’s Canadian Football League coverage. He knows a fake punt from a fair catch. But he’s a journalist like Sarah Huckabee Sanders is Honest Abe Lincoln.

If you missed it, Stegall went off on Matt Nichols on Saturday afternoon, accusing the Winnipeg FC quarterback of hurling his receivers under the bus scant seconds after the Bombers had limped off the McMahon Stadium gridiron in Calgary, losers for the second successive week, this time a 39-26 face plant vs. the Stampeders.

Matt Nichols, still No. 1.

“They just do their jobs very well,” Nichols said of the Stamps defensive dozen while he and CJOB’s Bob (Knuckles) Irving sifted through the rubble of the Bombers’ fifth L against five Ws this crusade. “When they’re in zone I’m going through four and five reads and finding no one open…they’re doing a good job.”

Nichols had other things to say, including some self-indictment, but all Stegall heard was “finding no one open.”

“Just throw me under the bus,” the old receiver griped angrily, his forehead in full frown and his eyebrows knitted together. “I’m gonna roll up on Matt Nichols if I’m Darvin Adams or one of those receivers and say, ‘Did you really say that? Is this what you feel about us? Are we calling each other out? So if I’m wide open and you miss me should I go to the media and say we need a quarterback who’s gonna throw it to me when I’m open?’ What is this? He needs to come out there and play and keep his mouth shut.”

So now we have O’Shea entering the verbal fray during a chin-wag with Knuckles Irving, play-by-play voice of Winnipeg FC on ‘OB since Dieter Brock was as wet behind the ears as Michael Phelps.

“Completely irresponsible,” is the damning term the Bombers head coach used Monday night to catalog the bleatings of Stegall. “The journalism was irresponsible. You know, Bob, you asked the question about Calgary’s defence and it was nothing about our receiving corps and their ability. They took a small snippet of Matt’s answer and tried to run with it. Frankly, it’s a little embarrassing for them, I’m sure. How Matt answered the question I thought was a perfectly good answer.

“One of the things is these guys have to create news obviously and create a story and create excitement on the panel…I don’t know. It doesn’t sit well with us because it’s so far from what was said, it’s so taken out of context it’s just not fair really. They need to make a show, and it’s too bad. I believe they made a mistake and I do think it’s irresponsible, you know, they sort of ran with it. I guess that’s…like I said they need to make a show.”

Milt Stegall: He’s no journo.

O’Shea later added this: “When you take a fragment of a quote, or a fragment of an interview and use it as you will, haphazardly, it’s a dangerous business. It’s not fair. It’s not good journalism.”

That’s because Stegall isn’t a journalist.

He’s a retired receiver who’s afraid of thunder and lightning and often finds axes to grind as the angriest member of the TSN panel. He shows up on our flatscreens wearing fancy threads twice a week, and he provides Xs-and-Os insight and bitches about whatever’s up his nose that day/night. Which is great. As misguided as he sometimes is, I don’t want Stegall to zip his lips.

Just don’t confuse what he does with journalism, Mikey.

A smiling Brittany Henderson and a grinning Brooke Henderson on the 18th fairway.

Moving on to actual journalists, apparently Bob Weeks of TSN and Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail watched a different Brooke Henderson during her victory march at the CP Canadian Open women’s golf championship on Sunday.

Here’s Kelly on Henderson: “It’s hard to think of any golf pro who looks like they’re having less fun out there. Ms. Henderson lives so deeply in the moment that she is functionally underground. On the walk up the 18th fairway on Sunday—victory assured, the crowd hooting her name—she still did not allow herself the freedom of a grin.”

Here’s Weeks on Henderson: “She normally will smile a little bit, she’ll kind of interact with the fans. There was none of that today. The first time I saw her smile was after she was walking up to the 18th green.”

I’m uncertain where Kelly had plunked himself to observe Henderson’s final round of the Open (or if he even watched it), but I know Weeks’s feet were on the ground at the Wascana Country Club in Regina. He saw Henderson smile on the 18th fairway. So did I. And most other reports indicated that Henderson did, indeed, interact with patrons during the first three rounds of her successful crusade. She was not “functionally underground.”

Kelly went on to write of Henderson: “She is already pulling away from Masters champion Mike Weir as Canada’s greatest golfer of modern times.”

Wrong. Henderson, with seven titles on the Ladies Professional Golf Association Tour, has yet to catch Weir, let alone pull away from him. Weir won eight times on the Professional Golf Association circuit.

Murray Westgate

Those of us of a certain vintage will be saddened by the passing of Murray Westgate at the age of 100 on Monday. Westgate was the Esso pitchman who put a tiger in our tanks during Hockey Night in Canada broadcasts during the 1950s and ’60s, and most of us kids actually believed he pumped gas, checked the oil and wiped windshields for a living. I always hoped we’d pull into a “filling station” one day and see his smiling face approach our car. But no. He was an actor who made $75 a gig in the beginning at a couple grand per night by the time Esso pulled the plug on its sponsorship.

Here are this week’s CFL power rankings…

1. Calgary (8-1): Back on track after a slight misstep.
2. Edmonton (6-4): Stumbled in Hamilton.
3. Saskatchewan (5-4): Tough to win in B.C. but they got the job done.
4. Ottawa (6-3): Status quo.
5. Winnipeg (5-5): That was ugly in Cowtown.
6. Hamilton (4-5): Might have turned it around.
7. B.C. (3-6): Done like dinner.
8. Toronto (3-6): Duron Carter can’t help them yet.
9. Montreal (2-8): What’s not to like about Antonio Pipkin.

Last week in CFL quarterbacking (starters only)…

About Matt Nichols still the man for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers…a battle for first place on Oct. 26?…adios Duran Carter…when is a concussion not a concussion?…CFL power rankings…headline hunting QBs…beer and Dodgers baseball…hockey in August…Tiger wows ’em…Daniel Nestor’s “window dressing”…and other things on my mind

Two soft-boiled eggs on whole wheat toast and some weekend leftovers for a Monday morning breakfast

Matt Nichols, still No. 1.

It has come to my attention that some among the rabble are less than enthusiastic about the work of Matt Nichols.

A pocket of people, in fact, were calling for Nichols’ removal on Friday night at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry, even though he had the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in front of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, 19-7, when the large lads retreated to their changing rooms for mid-match down time.

To which I can only say: Have you lost your flipping minds?

I mean, sure, Nichols was off his game when tossing the long ball. If misses were kisses he’d have been covered in hickies. But take him out? You don’t want to go there. All Nichols has done for Winnipeg FC is win (27-15). If not for the objectionable and curious decision-making of his head coach, Mike O’Shea, in the past two Novembers there’d likely be a playoff victory or two on his resume.

Ask yourself this: What Canadian Football League quarterback would you rather have ahead of Nichols? If you say Mike Reilly or Bo Levi Mitchell, I’ll agree. If you say anyone else, I’ll be inclined to give you an argument.

So, unless Nichols is hobbled and sent to the repair shop, let’s have no more talk of his ouster.

First the bad news: The head count at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry is down 6,140 through four home dates. Now the good news: Still on the Winnipeg FC calendar are visits from the Saskatchewan Roughriders (2) and Calgary Stampeders (1). In an ideal world, which is to say if the pointy ball bounces in the Bombers box-office favor, the Oct. 26 skirmish vs. the Stamps would be an argument over top spot in the West Division. Can you say sellout, kids?

The surprise is not that the Roughriders shed themselves of multi-purpose pain in the ass Duron Carter the other day, the surprise is that he lasted so long with Gang Green.

Apparently, CFL concussion protocol doesn’t apply to quarterbacks named Johnny Manziel. He was knocked loopy in Montreal Alouettes’ loss to the Ottawa RedBlacks, yet permitted to carry on without missing a beat. Scary stuff.

Here are this week’s CFL power rankings…

1. Calgary (7-0): Didn’t play last week. Didn’t matter.
2. Edmonton (5-3): Three wins vs. West outfits.
3. Winnipeg (5-3): Still feasting on the East.
4. Saskatchewan (3-4): What’s next from mad scientist Chris Jones?
5. Ottawa (5-3): They were tooth and toenail to beat a horrible Montreal team. Not impressed.
6. Hamilton (3-5): Hard team to figure out.
7. B.C. (3-4): Dudes are tough at home.
8. Toronto (2-5): Didn’t play. Nobody noticed.
9. Montreal (1-7): Getting worse in either official language.

Quick now! Name the only starting quarterback who failed to toss a touchdown pass in the CFL last week. I’ll give you a hint—he’s TSN’s favorite lousy QB. That’s right, Johnny Manziel.

Now, who among the six starters flung the football for the fewest number of yards? Right again, Johnny Rotten.

Finally, who among the starting six is 0-for-the-CFL? Yup, heeeere’s Johnny!

So why is it that his name still dominates headlines in mainstream media and on the Internet?

News snoops and talking heads continue to fawn over Manziel like Republicans and Donald Trump, regardless how dreadful or ordinary his work might be. Most notable among the groupies is, of course, the ever-drooling mob in the Cult of Johnny, otherwise known as TSN, but they aren’t alone. The morning after Manziel and the Alouettes were paddywhacked by the RedBlacks, it was Johnny this and Johnny that clear across the www universe.

I swear, the last Johnny to get this kind of attention was a guy called Appleseed. Difference is, he actually accomplished something worth writing about.

I should point out that a couple other QBs also saw their names in headlines. But, whereas Johnny Rotten was described as “better” and “improved” in defeat, Matt Nichols “struggled” in victory. Mike Reilly, meanwhile, was “crap,” and that will never be mistaken for a compliment.

Here’s what went down in CFL quarterbacking last week, including the newest advance stat, Name in Headlines…

Manziel delivered a most curious sound bite after his second loss in two starts as the Larks QB: “It’s not about wins and losses right now.” It isn’t? Since when? Vince Lombardi must be spinning like a lathe in his grave.

This just in: If a trip to Los Angeles to watch the Dodgers in on your agenda, you no longer will be required to trudge up and down the stairs to concession stands for your beer. That’s right, patrons at Dodger Stadium now can order their brown pop from the comfort of their seats behind home plate, down the lines or in the bleachers. And I think that’s only fair. After all, Dodger fans like myself have been crying in our beer for 30 years, so why should we have to get up to get it?

I’d have something to say about the Hlinka-Gretzky teenage tournament that just concluded in Edmonton, but—how do I put this without sounding unCanadian?—the hockey thing just doesn’t work for me in the dog days of August. I realize we live on Planet Puckhead and some folks need their shinny fix 12 months of the year, but shouldn’t we all just all go to the beach? Or, in my case, the ocean?

I have just one thing to say about Tiger Woods and the mob that followed him in the final round of the PGA Championship on Sunday: Wow. Just wow.

Question for anyone who follows men’s tennis: If Denis Shapovalov weren’t one of us, which is to say Canadian, would we like him or would we look at him as a cocky kid who needs to be brought down a peg or two?

Noted hockey scribe Eric Duhatschek was on the tennis beat for The Athletic during the Rogers Cup in the Republic of Tranna, and he wrote that Shapovalov and Greek teen Stefanos Tsitsipas are “currently taking men’s tennis by storm.” Really?

Career titles on ATP World Tour: Tsitsipas 0, Shapovalov 0.
Career finals on ATP World Tour: Tsitsipas 2, Shapovalov 0.
Won/lost 2018: Tsitsipas 30-19, Shapovalov 23-19.

If that’s a storm, I’m Serena Williams’ live-in nanny.

Daniel Nestor

Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star writes that tennis is “primarily a game of singles—the rest is window-dressing and filler.” That’s highly insulting if your name is Daniel Nestor, the most accomplished player ever produced in the True North. Nestor has made a career out of doubles tennis, on numerous occasions reaching world No. 1 status. His CV includes eight Grand Slam men’s titles, 91 tournaments titles, four Grand Slam mixed titles, one Olympic gold trinket, and career earnings of $12,821,626. If that’s window dressing, the window is the size of the Pacific Ocean.

I note that Donald Trump was back riding his hobby horse last week, hoo-rawing about National Football League players who take a knee or raise a fist during the national anthem. “Find another way to protest,” he tweeted. I say they should make a deal with the deal-maker: They’ll find another way to protest if he finds another way to pay for his wall.

Here’s the latest from Roberto Osuna, the Houston Astros relief pitcher who awaits his day in court on a charge of beating up a woman: “It’s easy to forget about the stuff that’s going on off the field.” That is such a wince-inducing, insensitive comment. He says it’s easy for him to forget “stuff” like roughing up a woman, but I doubt his victim has forgotten. I also doubt I’m alone when I say I hope karma bites the Astros in the butt during the Major League Baseball post-season. Their blind eye toward domestic violence and disrespect for women is appalling.

So, I’m reading Willie Nelson’s biography, My Life It’s a Long Story, and he mentions guys like Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell among those who inspired him and belong on the Mount Rushmore of country music. That got me thinking about the jocks who grabbed my attention as a sprig in the 1950s and never let go; athletes who form the very bedrock of a lifetime watching sports and 48 years of writing about it. After about 30 seconds of deliberation, I got out the hammer and chisel and went to work on my personal Mount Jock—Sandy Koufax, Floyd Patterson, Wilma Rudolph and Arnold Palmer. If not for those four, I likely would have done something radical. Like pick up a guitar and write and sing hurtin’ songs that wouldn’t have been anywhere near as good as Willie’s.

Stan Mikita

And, finally, if I were to create my own Mount Rushmore of hockey, guaranteed Stan Mikita would be included. I was in my mid-to-late teens when Stosh was at his absolute best with the Chicago Blackhawks, and I marveled at the things he could do with the puck. I had a Stan Mikita helmet and, later, a Blackhawks jersey No. 21. The helmet and sweater are gone and, sadly, so is NHL legend Mikita, a victim of Lewy body dementia at age 78. I never met him, but often wished I had.

About Winnipeg Blue Bombers coaches Tar & Feather…Matt Nichols, game manager…counting heads in the CFL…Johnny Rotten, American beer and more TSN gushing…the morphing of Josh Morrissey…a nightmare on Donald Street…homeless in Detroit…the great Gretzky getaway to La La Land…dial Mark Stone for “exhausted”…and a Christmas Day “snub”

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

I think I know what some of you were thinking.

You were thinking that Richie Hall’s defence would become Richie Hall’s defence. Oh yes you were.

Richie Hall

As the Hamilton Tiger-Cats gnawed away at a substantial deficit Friday, you were convinced that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive dozen was about to fall back on bad habits and, thus, a hot, steamy evening at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry would conclude with the local lads squandering 19-7 and 26-10 leads like a teenage kid with his first summer wages. I was thinking the same thing.

Not this time, though.

On a night when quarterback Matt Nichols kept flinging the football to empty spaces instead of willing hands, the oft-crucified Hall and his oft-crucified group secured the Bombers’ fifth W in their eight skirmishes this Canadian Football League crusade, and their 29-23 success means the defensive coordinator is good to flit about town this week sans disguise.

Same goes for the head coach, Mike O’Shea, who today is a .500 head coach.

Mike O’Shea

How long has it been since the oft-skewered O’Shea last saw anything other than the dark side of the moon? Well, Sam Katz was still the mayor. Jeff Stoughton was still king of Manitoba’s curlers. Evander Kane was still dining and dashing. It was Sept. 13, 2014. The Bombers were 6-6 and soon to be 6-7. That pit eventually grew so deep that O’Shea had to carry a canary to work. He’s finally come up for air. His record, once 13-28, now stands at 40-40. The canary’s work is done.

Yup, life is good for coaches Tar & Feather. For now. There’s another game in five days. The jackals are forever crouching at their door.

Make no mistake, much of the criticism heaped on whipping boys O’Shea and Hall has been warranted, most notably on those occasions when the head man was guilty of mind-numbing buffoonery. Like attempting a season-halting, no-chance-in-hell, 61-yard field goal in the dead air of B.C. Place Stadium. Coach Mikey will wear that particular moment of madness until he actually wins a playoff game, but, in the meantime, shouldn’t the rabble—and all knights of the keyboard—acknowledge that he and Hall are getting the job done?

Matt Nichols

What’s up with Matt Nichols? I mean, the guy missed more long-range targets on Friday night than an Iraqi scud missile. His receivers would have required arms longer than Pinocchio’s nose to latch onto some of his passes. It brought to mind something a CFL coach or GM told Kirk Penton of The Athletic when discussing the league’s premier QBs: “Nichols is just a game manager.” And that’s the best you can say about his work against the Tabbies—he managed to win the game. But isn’t that the bottom line for quarterbacks?

Commonwealth Stadium

This from Damien Cox of the Toronto Star/Sportsnet: “There was a great deal of chest-thumping last week when Edmonton announced a crowd of 35,623 for a game against Saskatchewan, the CFL’s biggest live audience of the season. Given that Commonwealth Stadium was still 40 per cent empty, you might wonder what all the celebrating was about. Twenty years ago, nobody would have got excited about that kind of crowd.”

A couple layers to peel here: First, I didn’t read or hear about anyone dancing in the streets of The Chuck because of that head count. If there was a celebration, I missed it. Second, what a mook. I mean, had Cox taken five minutes for research, he’d know that seven of the eight CFL franchises averaged less than 30,000 customers per home date “20 years ago.” Half the league (Hamilton, Toronto, Montreal and B.C.) averaged less than 20,000. Thus, I submit that every club, save possibly for the Eskimos, would have been very “excited” about an audience of 35,623. More to the point, they’d have been shouting about it from the rooftops if it happened the first week of August, which is not exactly prime time for spending an evening sitting at the 55-yard line.

Just the facts, ma’am. They aren’t hard to find.

I note that a record number of our friends south of the great U.S.-Canada divide tuned in to witness TSN’s favorite lousy quarterback, Johnny Manziel, make his CFL debut on Aug. 3. Yup, 406,000 sets of peepers watched in wonder as Johnny Rotten fell flat on his face in his three-down baptism. Best ever ESPN2 audience for a CFL skirmish. Confirming, of course, that American football fans’ taste in quarterbacks is much like their taste in beer—watered down.

Trevor Harris

Let’s see if I’ve got this straight: Trevor Harris of the Ottawa RedBlacks flung the football 54 times on Saturday night. Forty-four of those passes—44!—landed in the right hands. That’s the second highest, single-game completion total in CFL history. Those passes/catches covered 487 of terrain, and one went for a touchdown in Ottawa’s 24-17 victory over the Montreal Alouettes. And yet, once the dust had settled, we had Rod Smith and Davis Sanchez of TSN flapping their gums about Johnny freaking Manziel, the losing quarterback whose performance was noteworthy only for the fact he didn’t toss four interceptions? “On a night where Trevor Harris throws for nearly 500 yards, it seems kind of crazy to be talking about the other quarterback, but that’s the Manziel world now in the CFL,” said Smith. No, Rod, it isn’t “kind of crazy.” It’s stupid and insulting, and TSN’s credibility is taking a big hit with its relentless and shameful gushing over a National Football League washout.

Josh Morrissey

For two years, Jacob Trouba has been so far up Paul Wiecek’s nose that a team of U.S. Navy SEALs wouldn’t be able to rescue him. Now we find Josh Morrissey up the other nostril.

Oh, yes, if Trouba is Darth Defenceman, Morrissey is Darth Lite.

And what heinous trespass has the young defender committed? Well, in a plot-thickening essay seemingly plucked out of River City’s hazy, sticky summer air and primarily designed to get tongues wagging, Wiecek informs us that Morrissey, like Trouba before him, is playing by the rules. The nerve.

Morrissey, to date, has declined to accept whatever hometown discount the Winnipeg Jets have asked him to accept in contract discussions, and thus he remains listed among the National Hockey League’s unsigned restricted free agents. That simply won’t do. Never mind that he’s merely exercising his bargained-for rights. Playing by the rules, in the world according to Wiecek, is bad manners, especially if it means you might upend a cart of apples.

Moreover, the Winnipeg Free Press scribe tells us that Morrissey is displaying a “darker side.” He’s morphed from Ned Flanders into Mr. Burns. Surely, Wiecek hints, there’s something foul afoot. “It’s no accident we’ve reached this point,” is his cryptic conclusion.

Good grief. The heat certainly affects people in peculiar ways, doesn’t it?

Look, there’s no story here. Not unless Wiecek has inside intel that he isn’t sharing, which I doubt. If Morrissey remains unsigned by the time the local lads assemble next month for their training sessions, then sure, let’s talk. Until then, let’s dispense with the flights of fantasy (read: fake news) and try to keep it real.

Jacob Trouba

Naturally, Wiecek couldn’t pen a piece about the Jets without skewering Trouba. Referencing the 24-year-old defenceman’s recent contract negotiations, which resulted in an arbitrator-awarded salary of $5.5 million, he wrote: “You knew that was going to be a nightmare.” So let’s recap. Trouba became a restricted free agent. He filed for arbitration, as is his right under the terms of the NHL-NHL Players Association contract. When his agent, Kurt Overhardt, and Jets ownership/management agreed to disagree on wage/term, it went to an arbitrator. Both parties signed the awarded one-year deal. Trouba will report to training camp and be a significant contributor to the group on its next Stanley Cup crusade. Exactly what part of that is a “nightmare?”

Hey, check out what Craig Custance of The Athletic Detroit has to say about our local hockey heroes. “If I had to bet the mortgage on a team right now to win the Stanley Cup, it’d be Winnipeg,” he writes. I’d take that bet in a heart beat, except I don’t want to live in Detroit and I’d hate to see Custance out on the street.

Weeping Wayne

Geez, it’s been 30 years since the Los Angeles Kings landed the biggest fish of them all, reeling in Wayne Gretzky from the Edmonton Oilers. Where were you the day No. 99 broke down and wept when informed he’d be neighbors in La La Land with Tom Hanks, Michael Douglas and Jodie Foster? I was in my late 30s and vacationing at a cottage somewhere in the wilds of the Whiteshell, but I interrupted my hiatus long enough to take my toes out of the water and scribble a column for the Winnipeg Sun. It was probably a lousy essay that offered little insight, but, hey, I had other fish to fry that day. Literally.

Mark Stone

Some interesting thoughts on contract negotiations from homeboy Mark Stone, who recently settled on a one-year, $7.35 million pact with the Ottawa Senators to avoid arbitration at the 11th hour. “It’s lots of hours, you’re spending a lot of time on the phone and you’re thinking about what you should do and how you should approach things. It’s actually mentally exhausting,” said Stone. Ya, such a hardship. I once worked the phones for 7 1/2 hours a day, five days a week for a year and a half in the Cordova Bay Golf Course pro shop. I think they paid me 12 bucks an hour. Stone spent a few days on the phone and his NHL club will pay him about $30,000 an hour. And he’s exhausted?

And, finally, I don’t get it. Why are some people on our side of the border bent out of shape, saying and writing that the NBA has “snubbed” the Tranna Raptors by not including them on the Christmas Day TV menu? Seriously. That’s what people do on Christmas now? They watch a bunch of multi-millionaire stringbeans play bouncy-bouncy on the hardwood when there’s probably a feel-good Jimmy Stewart or Bing Crosby movie on TV? I shudder. And if that makes me sound old, it’s because I am old.

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

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

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

BMO Field when Toronto FC is playing.

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

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

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

BMO Field when the Argos are playing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt Nichols and mad hatter Ed Tait.

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

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

Michael Sam

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

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

Here are this week’s CFL power rankings…

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

Phil and Tiger

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

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

Mark Stone

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

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

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

About Johnny Four Picks and Vince Ferragamo…what they’re saying about Johnny…a good read in the Freep…Daren Millard pulls the pin on Sportsnet…the Drab Slab dumps Scotty…how did all that Tranna copy get in my Winnipeg Sun?…the Houston Astros ninth-inning tolerance on domestic violence…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…

To say Johnny Manziel’s debut as a starting quarterback in three-down, 12-man football was a disaster is to say the Hindenburg had a bumpy landing.

Seriously. This was bad. Hermann Goering had a better day at Nurenburg.

As first impressions go, this was your daughter’s high school prom date showing up at the door with a six-pack and hitting on her mom.

Forrest Gump

Johnny Football came, he saw, he did not conquer. He became Johnny Four Picks. He spent much of the night in flight, frantically trying to escape the clutches of large, angry men. I swear, we haven’t seen a man run this much since Forrest Gump decided to skedaddle across America.

Those expecting, or hoping, to see the second coming of Joe Theismann or Doug Flutie instead saw ample evidence that Manziel might be Vince Ferragamo the Sequel.

Ferragamo, in his brief fling with the Montreal Alouettes in 1981, never could quite figure out the 12th man on defence in the Canadian Football League, that guy who kept popping up like an uninvited house guest. That 12th man pilfered 25 of Vince’s passes. Manziel might toss that many picks by Labor Day.

Vince Ferragamo and Johnny Manziel

None of this is to suggest that Johnny Four Picks was solely responsible for the 50-11 paddywhacking the Als absorbed at the hands of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Friday night at Percival Molson Stadium in Montreal, but let’s not sugar-coat what went down in his CFL baptism: He was gawdawful. Here’s the bottom line for the National Football League washout and former Heisman Trophy winner with Texas A&M: 20 tosses, 11 completions, 104 yards, 0 touchdowns, four interceptions.

Manziel finished the game where he should have started it—on the sideline. He was as unpolished as an old hobo’s shoes.

Apparently, this all escaped the notice of one TSN gum-flapper. Davis Sanchez, who loses credibility each time he parts his lips to allow unfiltered thought to become words, actually gave Manziel a passing grade in three of four categories.

“We’ll have to equate it to an SAT without really studying,” Sanchez said before handing out a report card that included a B (composure), a C+ (creativity), a C- (arm strength/accuracy), and one F (decision-making).

That’s like giving Neymar a gold star for staying on his feet for more than five seconds. Don’t we all wish we had Sanchez to grade our exams in school?

Jock Climie

Sanchez wasn’t the only talking head at TSN to fluff up Manziel’s face plant on Friday. Jock Climie and Glen Suitor both tried to apply lipstick to that pig.

Here’s Suitor: “We have to temper our analysis. There were flashes. We saw him escape, we saw him create, we saw him improvise.”

Here’s Climie: “Is there a positive in this? It looked to me like Manziel was just going out there and learning. It looked to me like he stopped keeping score, which is the right thing to do. It didn’t matter, one, two, three interceptions…he just kept slinging it, because he’s learning the game. If he can keep that mentality, I think this could be a growing process. I think he will learn more from doing what he’s doing here than he will learn from sitting on the bench. I’m just saying, there could be a positive to this, and we did see some positives. Some of his flashes of brilliance, some of his scrambling around, I thought was impressive.”

It was left for two former quarterbacks, Matt Dunigan and Henry Burris, to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the unvarnished truth.

“After four practices, this is what you expect,” Dunigan growled when it was all over. “It’s a process that’s painfully long and it takes a lot of effort, more than four practices. This was fully expected. I don’t think they got anywhere down the road by starting him tonight.”

“You can’t speed up that process,” Burris sang in concert. “That was a bad decision by (Montreal). Vernon Adams should have been the starting quarterback.”

Rod Black

Most shameful comment about Manziel was delivered by old friend Rod Black, who, in his post-match analysis, said, “He’s faced a lot of adversity, let’s face it, in his life.” Oh, FFS, Blackie. Most of Manziel’s wounds have been self-inflicted, the product of booze, drugs, barroom brawling and leading a frat boy lifestyle. You want to talk about adversity? Talk about Colleen Crawley. That’s the woman Manziel beat up and threatened to kill.

Terrific piece in the Winnipeg Free Press by Mike Sawatzky about the night the Winnipeg Blue Bombers blew the doors off the aforementioned Ferragamo and a talent-laded Alouettes outfit, 58-2, in 1981. It’s a lengthy read but worth the time, because Sawatzky talked to all the key players and they provide delicious anecdotal insight.

I note that former defensive tackle Bryant Turner signed a one-day contract so he could retire as a Blue Bomber. Hmmm. I can think of plenty of guys I wish had only signed with Winnipeg FC for one day then got lost, starting with Jeff Reinebold. Actually, Jeff was a fun guy. He just wasn’t cut out to be a head coach.

Not sure what to make of Daren Millard’s departure from Sportsnet after 20 years. I remember him as a freshly scrubbed kid broadcaster in Winnipeg, and I believe it was Joe Pascucci who had the smarts to bring him from Brandon to River City. Daren is one of the truly good guys, and there were days when his voice of reason was the only thing that made Hockey Central at Noon bearable. Having said that, there were times last winter when I didn’t think his heart was in it. Perhaps having Damien Cox as a guest once too often sours a guy.

Also leaving his gig is Scott Campbell, who, for the past couple of National Hockey League seasons, has been scribbling good stuff about the Jets for the Free Press. Apparently Scotty is the victim of budget cuts, or the Drab Slab plans to spend its freelance coin in other areas. Perhaps they’ll use it to cover local sports other than the pro outfits in town.

A week ago, I detailed how both the Freep and Winnipeg Sun had abandoned their own community, vis-a-vis local amateur athletes. Well, Exhibit A would be the July 31 edition of the Sun, which had 16 sports pages (including cover). Here’s the damning evidence of neglect:

* 5-page feature (including cover) on Tranna Blue Jays prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who’s with the Triple A Buffalo Bisons.
* 1 page on the trade that sent Tranna Blue Jays relief pitcher Roberto Osuna to the Houston Astros.
* 1 page on pro golfer Brooke Henderson (with a small sidebar on Rink Rat Scheifele of the Winnipeg Jets joining the field for the Players Cup tournament, which tees off at Southwood later this month).
* 2-page feature on now-retired Jarome Iginla, the face of the Calgary Flames for so many years.
* 1 page on Johnny Manziel.
* 1 page on the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
* 1 page on the Tranna Argonauts.
* 1 page on the Ottawa RedBlacks.
* 2 pages of agate.
* 1 page on the Winnipeg Goldeyes.

Do the math and it adds up to seven of 16 pages devoted to athletes and outfits from the Republic of Tranna—in a Winnipeg newspaper!

Roberto Osuna

Boffo stuff from John Lott of The Athletic Tranna on the Blue Jays unloading relief pitcher Roberto Osuna, who still faces a domestic violence charge: “Good riddance. Whatever their motives—and the tea leaves present murky messages—the Blue Jays did a good thing. Not because of the return they received in the trade, but because they rubbed out an unsightly stain on an organization looking for model citizens to lead their impending youth movement.”

The Houston Astros, who accepted Osuna in barter with the Blue Jays, claim to have a “zero tolerance” policy on domestic violence. As if. What the Astros have is “ninth-inning tolerance.” That is to say, as long as Osuna can get batters out in the ninth inning and help them win another World Series title, they don’t care if he hits women.

Jerry Jones, right, gabbing and yukking it up.

This is rich: Jerry Jones has threatened to fire any of his Dallas Cowboys who stay in the lockerroom or take a knee during the playing of the American national anthem prior to NFL games, yet he’s been observed talking and yukking it up, also wearing a Cowboys ball cap, while the Star Spangled Banner played at practice. Dallas sportscaster Dale Hansen called out the Cowboys owner for his hypocrisy.

And, finally, best quote of the week came from former Calgary Flames radio play-by-play guy Peter Maher, a very nice man who had this to say about now-retired forward Jarome Iginla’s 60-plus fights in the NHL: “I think he won them all. At least he did on the radio.”

CFL: Zero tolerance for voyeurism but a green light for a guy who beats up women

Those who occupy the ivory tower of the Canadian Football League have this peculiar knack for doing the right thing and the wrong thing at the same time. And, it must be said, they’ve totally lost the plot.

I mean, voyeurism is a firing offence and kicking the crap out of a woman isn’t?

Jerome Messam

Jerome Messam has been dismissed by the Saskatchewan Roughriders and barred from the CFL and, at the same time, the league and its boot-licking, lap-dog accomplices at TSN celebrate in full throat and pomp the expected arrival of Johnny Manziel as starting quarterback for the Montreal Alouettes.

Just to refresh: Johnny Manziel beat the hell out of, and offered to end the life of, his former girlfriend. He was indicted by a grand jury in Texas. She applied for, and was granted, a restraining order.

Serious stuff.

Now we have Messam, who apparently took video evidence of a roll in the hay while a member of the Calgary Stampeders two years ago. Disgusting? If done without consent, absolutely. That’s total perv territory. The emotional damage to the victim can be immeasurable. Which is why Messam has been charged with voyeurism.

And it’s fine for the CFL to punt him. No argument.

Randy Ambrosie

“The Canadian Football League is aware that Jerome Messam has been charged with Voyeurism, a Criminal Code offence,” the league said in a statement. “He has been released by the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Commissioner Randy Ambrosie has informed all member clubs that the league will not register a contract for Messam should any team attempt to sign him.”

Ah but…they allow the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to sign Manziel and permit the Alouettes to pick up his contract.

Again, what part of its own policy of violence against women does the CFL not understand?

What does commissioner Randy Ambrosie require? Film at 11? Maybe of Johnny Rotten dragging Colleen Crawley by her hair? Or slamming her head into a car window? Or whacking her on the side of the head, rendering her deaf in one ear? Perhaps sound bites of him offering to commit homicide/suicide?

No way Manziel should be prepping for a date vs. the Tiger-Cats on Friday at Timbits Field in the Hammer.

Johnny Manziel

But, hey, Johnny Frat Boy is a Heisman Trophy winner, don’t you know. He’ll make for boffo box office and have the cash registers humming in the gift shop.

Messam on the other hand…he couldn’t sell a raffle ticket for a free lifetime supply of Pioneer canola seed to a Saskatchewan farmer. Head coach Chris Jones had already reduced the big, burly running back to a bit part in the Gang Green offensive scheme, so anything more disturbing than an agreed-upon French kiss and the Riders—also the league—were prepared to give Messam the ultimate kiss-off. They rode him out of Dodge faster than you can say Marshal Dillon fancies Miss Kitty.

Now, no one has ever accused me of being a scholar (I had the poor grades to confirm it), but surely I’m not the only one who recognizes the contradiction here. Messam, the alleged voyeur, was put out of work on the same day that Manziel, the guy who beat up a woman, was taking first-team reps in advance of the Montreal-Hamilton skirmish.

What astonishes me is that no one in mainstream media has called out Ambrosie on this glaring and obscene miscalculation, one that mocks the CFL’s domestic violence policy.

Art Briles

Where is the great hue and cry we heard from news snoops, opinionists and fans last year when the Ticats sought to bring Art Briles on board as an assistant coach? The considerable and justified noise forced the Tabbies and Ambrosie to do a rethink, and Briles never crossed the border.

That’s where Johnny Manziel should have been stopped, too.

But, hey, there’s a set of rules for guys with a Heisman trinket in their trophy case and a set of rules for regular working stiffs like Messam and Briles. So damn straight they’re gonna cut Johnny Rotten some slack. He’s good to go, and TSN’s ratings will shoot through the roof on Friday night.

More’s the pity.