The River City Renegade


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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.


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About the Winnipeg Blue Bombers aiming for first place…Johnny Football a perfect fit for Toronto…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. What, our women, bars and casinos aren’t good enough for Johnny Football?

The Tiger-Cats hold CFL negotiation rights to Manziel, a former Heisman Trophy winner as the top player in American college football, but a better fit would be the Republic of Tranna, where the Argonauts desperately need someone or something to generate interest in a franchise whose straits are as dire as the newspaper business. The Argos attracted 11,000 and change to their most recent assignment at BMO Field, and I’m thinking a novelty act like Manziel might bump the head count up to 20,000. Besides, the Boatmen need a quarterback. Ricky Ray is always in the repair shop and there’s no one of substance behind him. A nutbar like Manziel might be the ticket.

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.


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About Genie Bouchard and the weight of the Maple Leaf…terrible tennis towels…the real CFL West Division standings…male golfers in short pants…and bad-ass athletes

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

Donna Vekic and Genie Bouchard

Genie Bouchard wants no part of the “burden of Canada.” Furthermore, she thinks it’d be real swell if “the media doesn’t put pressure on me, that would be nice.”

Good thing she isn’t a hockey player.

I mean, Bouchard wants to talk about the “burden of Canada?” Try trading places with Sidney Crosby or Jonathan Toews or Carey Price. Or Shannon Szabados and Marie Philip Poulan.

We’re Planet Puckhead, from the bottom of Sid the 30-year-old Kid’s skate blades to Don Cherry’s white chin whiskers. Our men (or teenage boys) lose a shinny competition and there’s blood in the streets. Heads roll. Parliament is recalled. There are demands for a Royal Commission. National angst isn’t quite as intense and irrational when our women stumble and fall, but expectations of success might actually be greater for the girls, given that they compete in a field consisting of two thoroughbreds and a collection of pasture ponies.

No such emotional outlay and investment exists when One-and-Done Genie steps on court to lose yet again in the opening round of a tennis tournament, as she did on Tuesday at the Rogers Cup in the Republic of Tranna, this time qualifier Donna Vekic nudging her wayside, 6-3, 6-4.

Since no one has ever accused Canada of being a tennis nation, we don’t huddle around flatscreen TVs at home or in pubs and hold our collective breath on the Quebec belle’s every groundstroke or double fault. Large numbers hope she wins. Few expect her to win. Thus, whatever weight she feels from the Maple Leaf is self-inflicted, not fan or media imposed.

Unlike others, I won’t pretend to analyze the reasons behind Bouchard’s plummet from world No. 5 to No. 70 in the three years since she advanced to the Wimbledon final, whereupon she received a 6-3, 6-0 paddling at the racquet of Petra Kvitova in less than an hour. As she hastened to instruct news snoops and those who would draw a link between her increased social media/cover girl activity and her on-court faceplants, “You have no idea what my life is like and what my days are like.”

True that.

In terms of Genie’s game, though, it doesn’t take a Chrissie Evert or Billie Jean King to recognize distress. From 2-2 in the second set vs. Vekic, it was painfully evident that the Rogers Cup would be another one-and-done tournament for our tennis diva. Her body language was ghastly. It was defeatist.

Hard to believe that all those scattered shots had anything to do with the heft of the Maple Leaf. She’s just as lost in the Republic of Tranna as she is in Istanbul, Monterrey, Acapulco or Indian Wells.

Men just can’t do without their terrible tennis towels.

Just wondering: How is it that the elite of women’s tennis can start and finish a match without reaching for a towel every 10 seconds, whereas the men feel the need to wipe themselves down—from stem to stern—after every…single…point? It’s actually quite disgusting if you’re a ball girl or boy. Icky.

All best wishes to Eddie Olczyk, one of the good guys who wore Winnipeg Jets linen before the National Hockey League franchise fled to Arizona. Eddie O is battling colon cancer.

So, it turns out Jeff Reinebold was the problem in Hamilton. And here I thought the head coach, Kent Austin, was responsible for the Tiger-Cats’ 0-6 record. Silly me. Austin fired biker boy coach Reinebold as his defensive coordinator this week, just in time for a visit from Coach Harley’s former group, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. If the Tabbies fail to get off the schneid on Saturday, who does Austin next blame for his own misgivings?

Okay, here’s the deal: There are standings within standings in the Canadian Football League. You look at the Bombers as a 4-2 outfit, I see them as 0-2 because what they do against the big dogs in the West Division will determine their fate. They’ve already been beaten by the B.C. Lions and Calgary Stampeders, with the Edmonton Eskimos scheduled to pay a visit to Football Follies Field in Fort Garry on Aug. 17. If they harbor any hope of securing a home playoff date, it’ll take a 4-1 record, if not 5-0, the rest of the way to get the job done.

Here’s a look at the CFL West Division top four head-to-head:

Edmonton    2-0 (6 remaining: at Winnipeg, at Calgary, Calgary, Winnipeg, at B.C., Calgary)
Calgary        1-0 (6 remaining: at B.C., Edmonton, at Edmonton, B.C., at Edmonton, Winnipeg)
B.C.             1-2 (5 remaining: Calgary, at Calgary, at Winnipeg 2, Edmonton)
Winnipeg     0-2 (5 remaining: Edmonton, at Edmonton, B.C. 2, at Calgary)

What in the name of Chef Boyardee are they feeding the scribes at the Drab Slab? First it was Steve Lyons chirping about the Bombers doing themselves a favor by finishing fourth, and now young Jeff Hamilton and grizzled Paul Wiecek have joined in with the backup vocals. “It may just be the best-case scenario for the Bombers. That would mean a crossover to a weak East Division and a much easier road to a Grey Cup berth,” scribbles Hamilton. Apparently, this is now the weekly mantra of Winnipeg Free Press writers, despite undeniable historical evidence to the contrary. Do the math, boys.

British Open champion Jordan Spieth

Horrors! Male golfers were allowed to wear short pants during practice rounds for the PGA Championship tournament that commences on Thursday in Charlotte, N.C. Better not tell Paul Wiecek. The Freep scribe is having a tough enough time dealing with Mike O’Shea’s short pants.

TSN had Craig Button do a bit on Canada’s projected roster for the 2018 World Junior Hockey Championships. Geez Louise. We’re only at the front end of August. Can we enjoy what’s left of summer without talking about lineups for a hockey tournament that begins on Boxing Day and wraps up in 2018?

This past Sunday I listed my five favorite all-time athletes (actually, I cheated because I had Arnold Palmer and Rafael Nadal sharing the fifth spot), so today I’m listing the five jocks I have most disliked. They are:

  • Mike Tyson: Convicted rapist. Cannibal.

  • Floyd Mayweather Jr.: Convicted woman beater and painfully boring boxer.

  • Angelo Mosca: Willie Fleming of the B.C. Lions was my favorite football player. Mosca, a Hamilton Tiger-Cats D-lineman, took Willie the Wisp out of the 1963 Grey Cup game with a dirty hit. I don’t promote violence, but I was most delighted when Joe Kapp laid out big Angie with a solid right-hand punch to the head at a Grey Cup function a few years ago.

  • Pete Rose: Long before we discovered he was having sex with teenage girls while in his 30s, married and the father of two children, the Major League Baseball hit leader creeped me out. From his stupid haircut to his galloping ego, I always believed there was a phoniness to Rose. He’s forever been fingernails on a chalk board.

  • Jose Bautista: So arrogant. He’s the reason I cannot watch the Toronto Blue Jays.

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.


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About the greatest of them all Roger Federer…an emotional breakdown at Wimbledon…the still great Venus Williams…British knickers in a knot…a $1 million gaffe…and Sportsnet ignoring the CFL

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

I never thought I’d see a better running back than Jim Brown. I haven’t (although Gayle Sayers was absolutely breathtaking).

I never thought I’d see a better pitcher than Sandy Koufax. I haven’t.

I never thought I’d see a better baseball player than Willie Mays. I haven’t.

I never thought I’d see a better boxer than Muhammad Ali in his prime. I haven’t.

I never thought I’d see a better race horse than Secretariat. I haven’t.

I never thought I’d see a better hockey player than Bobby Orr. I haven’t.

I never thought I’d see a better tennis player than Bjorn Borg. I have. Roger Federer.

Roger Federer

Of all the athletes I have witnessed in my 66 1/2-year (so far) lifetime, Federer just might be the pinnacle. It’s a tough call, but he’s definitely in the discussion.

What I find most intriguing about Federer, who won his eighth Wimbledon singles title Sunday morning by dismantling a distraught Marin Cilic 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 on the lumpy lawn of the All England Club’s Centre Court, is his casual greatness. He plays tennis with a Zen-like calm that suggests the game is more of a stroll than a struggle. While his foes fret and fuss, it’s like Federer’s lounging in a recliner. He makes it look so…dang…easy. I mean, why does the Swiss maestro bother with a towel, on or off court? It can’t be to wipe away sweat. He sweats like the Pope swears.

Federer has been the dominant force in what must be cataloged as the platinum age of men’s tennis, with only health managing to slow him down. Temporarily.

He disappeared to the repair shop immediately after the 2016 Wimbledon fortnight and re-emerged six months later to earn the Australian Open title, with a five-set victory over nemesis Rafael Nadal, long Federer’s Kryptonite. He’s won five of the seven tournaments he’s entered this year, and he’s 2-for-2 in Grand Slam events.

Federer did, of course, skip the French Open in late May/early June, a decision he might regret should he carry on to triumph at the U.S. Open. That, mind you, is not to say Federer can’t get the job done on clay. He’s won on every surface but the moon. Still, success in Paris this year (or any year) was extremely unlikely, because Roland Garros is a Rafa Nadal thing. Ten times a Rafa Nadal thing. Jesus in sneakers couldn’t beat an on-form Nadal in Paris. Thus, Federer passed on Paris and prepped for Wimbledon. The results are in. Good call.

So, who or what can beat and stop Federer? Age. Eventually. There’ll be 36 candles on his birthday cake next month, and the aging process has to kick in one of these years.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to enjoy this seemingly ageless athlete who’s one for the ages.

Marin Cilic

How do you spell both the men’s and ladies’ singles championship matches at Wimbledon? D-U-D-S. After a final week of superb play—the Rafa Nadal-Gilles Muller fifth set was spellbinding—the lasting image of the ultimate matches is not one of terrific shot-making but that of Marin Cilic being reduced to an emotional train wreck during a side changeover vs. Federer. That was wince-inducing and very painful to watch. Been there, done that on the field of play, which is why I wanted to cry right along with him.

What’s that you say? Women’s tennis is lacking star power? Well, yes it is, with Serena Williams becoming a mama and Maria Sharapova trying to figure out how to play without the aid of banned substances. But there’s hope. The two most recent Grand Slam champions are French Open queen Jelena Ostapenko, just 21 and a powder keg of charisma and talent, and Garbine Muguruza, the 23-year-old Venezuelan-born Spaniard who paddywhacked five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams 7-5, 6-0 in the ladies’ final. Muguruza is the only woman to beat both of the Williams sisters in a Grand Slam final.

Steve Simmons of Postmedia just can’t seem to get out of his own way. After Muguruza had mopped Centre Court with Venus Williams on Saturday, he wrote: “Williams was a dominant player in 2000 and 2001 when she won the U.S. Open and Wimbledon. Since then, a good player, just not a great one.” Really. I’m uncertain how Simmons measures greatness in athletes, but Williams won Wimbledon in 2005, 2007 and 2008, and only four women—her sister Serena, Justine Henin, Sharapova and Kim Clijsters—have won more Grand Slams post-2001. Venus also has won 10 doubles Grand Slams post-2001. Venus Williams has been a great, not just good, player and champion for two decades.

Tsk, tsk. Venus Williams was in the pink at Wimbledon.

Nobody does pomp better than the British, but nobody gets bent out of shape like the British, either. I mean, tsk-tsking Venus Williams because she’s wearing a pink bra? Ordering players to the changing room to put on white skivvies? Talk about getting your knickers in a knot over nothing.

Okay, enough about Wimbledon. It’s about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. I’m sorry, but I simply didn’t understand all the teeth-gnashing and angst after the Bombers came out of the chute at 1-1. How bad was it? Bad enough that those two pesky Grumpets at the Winnipeg Free Press actually had a chin-wag during which sports editor Steve Lyons asked columnist Paul Wiecek if Thursday night’s assignment against the Toronto Argonauts was a “must win.” Are you kidding me? A “must win” three games into the Canadian Football League season? Come on, man. Don’t talk to us about must wins until the frost is on the pumpkin.

A drophead in the Freep described the Bombers-Argos joust as an “epic battle.” Ya, 10 field goals, that’s epic. The Argos failed to score an offensive touchdown. That’s epic like I’m Shania Twain. Come on, man.

Only one thing about that game was epic—the officiating blunder that jobbed Karen Kuldys out of $1 million. For those who missed it, Karen was the Safeway/Sobeys Touchdown to Win contestant, meaning if two kickoff returns went the distance she’d win a million Canadian bucks. Well, Ryan Lankford of the Bombers takes the opening kickoff to the house, then Martese Jackson of the Boatmen skedaddles 109 yards for a TD. But wait. There’s a flag on the play. One of the zebras has observed Toronto’s Llevi Noel ambushing Mike Miller from behind, whereas in fact the Bombers special-teamer has tripped over his own shoelace. No touchdown. No million Canadian bucks for Karen. The good news is, all Touchdown to Win contestants are now allowed one challenge flag per half.

So which head coach gets punted first, Chris Jones of the Saskatchewan Roughriders or Kent Austin of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats? The smart money has to be on Austin, whose Tabbies are winless. Somehow I don’t think there’ll be a whole lot of tears shed when he’s shown the door.

Two games in the CFL on Friday night and not a mention of either on the front page of the Sportsnet website at 2 o’clock Saturday morning. And this is the gang that trumpets itself as Canada’s #1 Sports Network. They had headlines about Kevin Klein signing to play hockey in Switzerland, some guy named Nikita Gusev signing to play hockey in Russia, and a piece on a Honda Indy practice, but nary a whisper about the CFL. I returned for a looksee at 4:30 a.m. Still nada. There was no mention of Wimbledon either. That, like dissing Venus Williams, is totally lame.

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.

 


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About toasting the Winnipeg Blue Bombers…no-fear football…the biggest free-agent catch…the Hamilton Tiger-Cats…and other CFL matters 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…

Chris Walby had the bad manners to get too old to play football.

Chris Walby had the bad manners to get too old to play football.

Here’s how positively delightful (that’s sarcasm, kids) it has been for me at my watering hole of choice in downtown Victoria during this 21st century of Sad Sackian Winnipeg Blue Bombers football:

You’re from Winnipeg, aren’t you Patti?” one of the regular bar lumps would ask as I entered the room.

That’s right,” I’d reply, knowing full well that the cad already was aware that I had strayed westward 17 years ago from the land of Slurpees, Sal’s cheese nips and skeeters the size of drones.

Shame about your Bombers,” he’d then say as he strode away to see a man about a horse (what does that even mean, boys?) or to duck outdoors for a smoke, leaving an appropriate sprinkling of rude laughter for me to munch on.

I would offer no rebuttal. What was I to say? Tell him “Ya, the Bombers suck but, hey, I hear the Royal Winnipeg Ballet is having a boffo season?”

Both Mike Riley, left, and Bud Grant skipped town.

Both Mike Riley, left, and Bud Grant skipped town.

Didn’t want to go there, of course. I mean, mention ballet in a barroom full of boys and it’s seldom going to end well. Thus, there existed no possibility of me offering a vigorous defence for the Bombers. They had become bums. So I’d sit alone at my table in the corner of the room, detached from the barside banter, and silently curse Kenny Ploen and Leo Lewis and Chris Walby and James Murphy and Stan Mikawos for having the bad manners to grow old. And both Bud Grant and Mike Riley for skipping town. And kindly Cal Murphy’s first heart for failing him.

It got to the point whereby I would only visit my watering hole of choice after Bombers’ victories. Which meant I was on the wagon. Never drank a drop for pretty near two months this season. But just look at those Bombers now. Five successive Ws. And I don’t care if the last one was ugly. They’re in the Canadian Football League playoff conversation. 

Another beer, barkeep! And get one for my favorite bar lump, too!

From where I sit, here’s the difference between the two men who have started five games each at quarterback for the Bombers in this increasingly optimistic crusade: Matt Nichols, currently behind centre, plays like he isn’t afraid to screw up. Willy did. Admittedly, that’s a simplistic analysis, but I believe that’s what basically separates the two. Nichols plays no-fear football.

I suppose there might have been some discussion among the tall foreheads in Bomberville about releasing Willy before the Bombers became obligated to pay their backup QB the remaining $200,000 of his season’s salary, but I like to think it was a brief chin-wag. Very brief.

My goodness, Winnipeg offensive lineman Travis Bond is an extremely large lad, isn’t he? Do the Bombers feed him a pre-game meal, or do they just tie him to a hitching post and let him lick a salt block?

The Bombers have a leg up with Justin Medlock.

The Bombers have a leg up with Justin Medlock doing the kicking.

Quiz me this, kids: Who was general manager Kyle Walters’ trophy catch when he went on his safari at the opening bell of the CFL free-agent hunt in February? All those who said Justin Medlock can move to the head of the class. Yes, running back Andrew Harris has been a major contributor, but the Bombers are in nowheresville without Medlock’s left leg. If you haven’t been paying attention, the Winnipeg offence has skidaddled crossed the enemy goal line twice in their past two assignments. That’s it. Just twice. Medlock, meanwhile, contributed 13 field goals to the cause. That’s 39 points in two games that were decided on, or very close to, the final play. We don’t need Einstein to work out the math. Without Medlock’s limb, the Bombers lose both matches. If Nichols isn’t your team MVP, the place-kicker is.

Since it’s Labour Day, we can begin to pay attention to the crossover standings, even if the league’s website wizards can’t be bothered to post them. Regardless what transpires when the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Toronto Argonauts grab grass and growl this evening at Timbits Field in the Hammer, the Bombers will finish the weekend four points clear of the East Division’s third-place outfit. That’s good enough for a playoff position if their universe doesn’t unfold as it should the rest of the way in the West Division.

I look at the schedule and can’t help but think the Bombers’ post-season aspirations will be determined by two games—the October home-and-home exchange with the B.C. Lions. Win them both and they’re likely in. Lose them both and they’re talking crossover or going home early again.

My pick to come out of the East Division: Hamilton. The Tabbies have been rather dysfunctional this season, but I see them getting to the Grey Cup game as long as quarterback Zach Collaros doesn’t return to the repair shop. And he’ll be the MVP.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 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 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.


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Kenny Ploen: Not always the star, but always the straw that stirred the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ drink

The first time I saw Kenny Ploen, he was one of two dozen tiny figures scurrying about on the tiny black-and-white screen of a living room TV set with rabbit ears (ask your grandparents about that, kids).

Ken_PloenI don’t recall if I was watching the 1957, ’58 or ’59 Grey Cup game. I just know that Ploen was in the lineup that afternoon, running the ball, catching the ball, flinging the ball or hauling down foes with the ball as he and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers conspired to deliver the Canadian Football League championship to a town that was to grow accustomed to gridiron glory during his watch.

Jungle Jim Trimble, the big-lunged blowhard who coached the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, warned that his large lads would “waffle” the Winnipegs, but bragging rights belonged to the Bombers, who four times bettered Trimble’s Tabbies in their five Grey Cup arguments between 1957 and ’62.

Ploen wasn’t always the star, but he was always the straw that stirred the Blue-and-Gold drink.

That’s why it was Ploen’s signature that my friend Chester and I most sought when we’d hop on our bikes during the late 1950s and make a twice-daily pilgrimage to Canada Packers Field in St. Boniface, where coach Bud Grant would put our football heroes through their training camp exercises in the morning and again in the afternoon. We seldom missed a shift at that sun-scorched patch of earth, and Ploen never refused an autograph, no matter how often we reached out to him with pen and paper.

How many of these do you have?” he once asked as he signed my small, white football.

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

Not at all. I’m glad to do it.”

Kenny Ploen rocked. He still does.

Ken_PloenWhen they add the old quarterback/defensive back/safety/receiver/kick returner’s name to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers Ring of Honour on Thursday night at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry, I’m hoping that those of my vintage will speak to younger generations not merely of Ploen as a gridiron great but as a wonderful person.

Ploen came to us as an American college hot shot, fresh from success in the Rose Bowl game where his Iowa Hawkeyes took the measure of the Oregon State Beavers, 35-19. He was saluted as the game’s most valuable performer. Yet he never acted like an American college hot shot MVP. He didn’t have a flashy nickname like the Rocket and he didn’t brand himself The Ordinary Superstar. He didn’t come to River City to take the money and run home to Iowa, either. He did his running on the field, like during the overtime session in the 1961 Grey Cup game, when he fled the grasp of ill-intentioned Tiger-Cats and skedaddled 18 yards down the right sidelines to deliver the decisive points.

Given two words to describe Kenny Ploen, I would use “aw, shucks.” He’s as humble and modest as a Winnipeg winter is cold and gnarly.

Born 81 years ago in Lost Nation, a town of fewer than 500 folks surrounded by corn fields in eastern Iowa, and raised in Clinton on the western shore of the Mississippi River, Ploen could have given the National Football League a go. The Cleveland Browns wanted him in their defensive backfield and were willing to compensate him to the tune of $500 as a signing bonus and a $5,000 salary. He came north instead, accepting a $3,000 bonus and an annual stipend of $9,000 from the Bombers.

It wasn’t the money that lured Ploen here, though. He never spent a penny of his $3,000 bonus. He handed it to his father, who operated a motel in Fulton, Ill.

I feel like I played at a time when sports were sports,” he said upon the occasion of his induction into the Quad-City Sports Hall of Fame in 2005. “I think I had a lot more fun playing when I did than what guys do today. People weren’t chasing dollar bills the way they do now. It was a game.”

Ken_Ploen (1)The real draw for Ploen to Winnipeg was the opportunity to play quarterback for the Blue Bombers, plus he’d caught wind that “the hunting and fishing was pretty good up here.”

So Ploen, who raised three children with his bride Janet, was in River City for a good time and a long time.

Over the years, Kenny Ploen has become our Jean Beliveau. He is to the Bombers and Winnipeg what big Beliveau was to les Canadiens and Montreal, a favorable blend of style and substance, class and dignity, grace and gridiron gallantry, and the athletic bona fides of a champion.

There are none, nor have there been any, so admired as Kenny Ploen.

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 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.


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About the Winnipeg Jets spending more big bucks…the Blue Bombers’ winning formula…”gutless” comments…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…

Mark Scheifele: A $49 million smile.

Mark Scheifele: A $49 million smile.

It’s no surprise that the Winnipeg Jets have tossed top dollar at Mark Scheifele.

Yes, in the grand scheme of things, the Jets operate on the chintz. In any payroll search of National Hockey League clubs, you’ll always find the locals nearer the bottom of the heap than the top. This is a “budget” team.

Yet the Secret Society that is True North Sports & Entertainment contradicts itself. That is, it is not a big spender, yet it has never been shy about spending big.

I mean, any outfit willing to compensate a lowly foot soldier like Chris Thorburn to the tune of $1.2 million per annum isn’t afraid to chuck the change around. Co-bankroll David Thomson likely found enough to pay Thorbs’s salary hidden behind and beneath the cushions of his sofa.

The point is, stuffing $49 million (US) into Scheifele’s piggy bank doesn’t represent a seismic shift in how True North does business. The Jets have a history of showing a willingness to deliver term and top-market compensation to those they deem their most valued workers. Anyone who thinks otherwise hasn’t been paying attention.

Earlier this year, the Jets committed $38 million to defenceman Dustin Byfuglien. Two days ago, it was $16.5 million for Mathieu Perreault, a generous stipend for a guy who might be playing third-line minutes. None of this is chump change. Nor was the $93.1 million they doled out to three players—Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little and Zach Bogosian—three years ago this month. Thirteen months before that, they agreed to pay Ondrej Pavelec $19.5 million over five years (ignore the reality that it was money not wisely spent on their much-maligned goaltender).

So no one should be surprised that the Jets went all-in with an eight-year, $49 million contract for Scheifele. It wasn’t a debunking of a “cheapskate tag,” as the Winnipeg Free Press suggests. It’s what they’ve done and will continue to do. Nothing has changed.

Blake Wheeler

Blake Wheeler

I have one question about the Jets signing of Scheifele: Why didn’t they name the 23-year-old centre team captain at the same time? While prevailing sentiment suggests Wheeler ought to wear the C, Scheifele will be doing his thing at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie for the next eight winters. Wheeler, whose birthday cake next month will feature 30 candles, won’t be.

In Florida, owners of the Panthers talk about winning the Stanley Cup. “They expect a Stanley Cup and we have a duty to bring the best team possible to our fans,” general manager Tom Rowe says of owner Vincent Viola and vice-chairman Doug Cifu. In Winnipeg, meanwhile, His Holy Hockeyness, Mark Chipman, and his valet, Kevin Cheveldayoff, talk about a “process.”

Nice to see the Winnipeg Blue Bombers finally found a winning formula—play a team that will commit six turnovers. That’s what went down when the Bombers bettered the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, 28-24, Thursday night at Timbits Field in the Hammer. The trick now, of course, is to find a few more teams as inept as the Tabbies.

On that note, who stole the real Hamilton Tiger-Cats and what have you done with them? Not to discredit the Bombers, who’ll take Ws in any shape or size, but the Tabbies were gawd awful and aren’t even a reasonable facsimile of the outfit that has been a Canadian Football League force since Kent Austin put his hands on the till. Yes, I realize the starting quarterback, Zach Collaros, is in sick bay, but that’s no excuse for the Keystone Kops routine.

Just wondering: Did South African High Court Judge Thokozile Masipa give her “fallen hero” Oscar Pistorius a hug and a kiss before shipping her “broken man” off to jail for the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, or did she settle for an autograph?

fish wrapCathal Kelly is among the finer wordsmiths in Canadian jock journalism, but I fear he’s lost the plot when it comes to tennis. Scribbling in the Globe and Mail, he mentions “the golden era of Canadian tennis” and cites Genie Bouchard’s march to the 2014 ladies’ final at Wimbledon and Milos Raonic advancing to the gentlemen’s semi-final round before bowing to Roger Federer that same summer. That’s Kelly’s idea of a golden era? One fortnight on the lumpy lawns of the All England Club? I’m sorry, but there’s nothing “golden” about one exceptional-yet-unsuccessful run at a tennis Grand Slam, then operating on the periphery of the sport’s elite. I would suggest that if Raonic topples Andy Murray in the Wimbledon final on Sunday morning, we can begin talking about a “golden” era of Canadian tennis. But not before he’s actually won something of note.

Shame on Steve Simmons, Postmedia sports columnist and TSN gab guy who this week on The Reporters with Dave Hodge advised us that Kevin Durant has “no spine” and his signing with a stacked Golden State Warriors outfit was “gutless.” In case we didn’t hear him the first time, he repeated his reckless “no spine” insult in his weekly three-dot column. Yo! Stevie! I’ll tell you what takes “no spine” and is “gutless.” Sitting in the shelter of a faraway TV studio or in your home office and slandering one of the top five performers in the National Basketball Association. Stand on a chair, look Durant in the eyes and then say he’s spineless and gutless or don’t say it at all.

I’m liking two new features in the Winnipeg Free Press toy department: 1) Paul Wiecek’s Sticks and Stones column (a string of brief opinion blurbs can make for a bright and breezy read; 2) TV columnist Brad Oswald’s take on the sports shows we watch. I’m anxious to see if Oswald will critique sports scribes freelancing as broadcasters or treat them like sacred cows. I’m betting it’s the latter, because people in the toy department don’t tend to eat their own.

It’s about that Trivago guy who shows up in all those commercials during sports programs: Someone has to tell him to stop dancing. He’s smooth like JLo is ugly.

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 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.