Top o’ the morning to you, Mike O’Shea.
Well, Coach Grunge, you have a chance to boldly go where no Winnipeg Blue Bombers sideline steward has gone before in Rouge Football—three Grey Cup parades in three years.
I don’t know if that means we should alert the sculptor, but statues of legendary coaches Bud Grant and Cal Murphy stand outside the Ballyard In Fort Garry and they never brought the Grey Grail to Good Ol’ Hometown for a downtown celebration in back-to-back-to-back years, so maybe a hammer and chisel wouldn’t be such a bad idea.
I can see it now: A bronze likeness of you in your grunge look of faded hoodie (or t-shirt), battered ball cap, Papa Smurf chin whiskers and, of course, short pants, which were the object of much scorn before the rabble (and at least one news snoop) realized the length of a man’s pant legs has nothing to do with the execution of X’s and O’s.
But I don’t want to get ahead of myself, Coach Grunge.
Before anyone hails the sculptor, there’s the matter of your blue-and-gold-clad lads grabbing frozen grass with the Toronto Argos this afternoon at Mosaic Stadium on the Flattest of Lands. Get the job done to put a wrap on this Canadian Football League crusade and comparisons to Bud Grant will be unavoidable, since, as mentioned, the Silver Fox never managed a three-peat.
Oh, he came close, Coach Grunge. Relics like myself can recall four title shindigs in five years when trees seemed to stand taller (1958-59, 1961-62), and nice guy Mike Riley gave it a go during his brief whirl as head coach, winning in 1988 and 1990, but skipping a beat in ’89.
So you’d stand alone in Winnipeg FC annals, which date back to 1930, and it would put you in some interesting company in Rouge Football lore.
By my count, Coach Grunge, four men have pulled the strings for three-peat champions: Hugh Campbell, who was greedy and copped the Grey Grail five years in succession (Edmonton Elks, nee Eskimos, 1978-82), Pop Ivy (Edmonton, 1954-56), Teddy Morris shortly after the boys came marching home from WWII (Argos, 1945-47), and Billy Hughes (Queen’s University, 1922-24).
I’m sure you recognize the names Campbell and Ivy, and perhaps you’re familiar with Teddy Morris, too, since the Argos are part of your background story. But Billy Hughes? I hadn’t heard of him until his name popped up on a Google search.
Familiarity or not, Coach Grunge, a W today in Regina would lock you in with legends, and who would have thought that possible after the early returns on your Blue Bombers gig?
That was a scary bit of business. You broke from the gate 12-24. That’s when the rabble talked more about your short pants and grunge gear than your quarterbacks. And, I’ll admit, I figured you had a shorter shelf life than toilet paper during a pandemic. Then boom: 70-34, three division titles, two Grey Cup championships, with gusts up to three, and twice anointed coach-of-the-year.
I don’t know how often you think about the dark days, Coach Grunge, but I’m guessing you’re grateful that CEO Wade Miller and GM Kyle Walters didn’t jerk their knees and drop-kick you into the coaching recycle bin.
Question is: Where do you go from here?
You’re at the end of your tether contract-wise and, as much as I’d like to think the preference of Miller/Walters would be to keep the Canadian Mafia intact, you might have other ideas. Could be that you’ll eyeball opportunities in Ottawa or Montreal, which are closer to your roots. Maybe even another one of your old haunts, Hamilton, will come calling if Orlondo Steinauer decides his head set is no longer a good fit.
Oh, I know you showed Good Ol’ Hometown and Winnipeg FC loads of love during Grey Cup week, and Miller insists he’ll lock you in a room and toss away the key until next summer if that’s what it takes to prevent an escape, but let me say this about that: We all thought Bud Grant was a lifer, except it turned out he preferred the hunting and fishing back home in Minnesota, so he bolted in 1966 and transformed the Vikings into an NFL power. He also took his trusty sidekick, Johnny Michels, with him for good measure, leaving Winnipeg FC high and dry until the mid-1980s.
But, hey, your future is a natter for another day, Coach Grunge.
The Argos and history are right in front of you. Win today and you can show up on the sideline next year wearing a thong and tank top and nary a discouraging word shall be heard or written. It might throw the sculptor for a loop, but we can’t worry about artsy-fartsy types who tend to get into a tizzy over the simplest things. We’ll talk about a proper pose for the statue once the job’s done vs. the Boatmen.
The nation’s football reporters had head coaches O’Shea and Ryan Dinwiddie of the Argos on the spit last Wednesday, and absent from the media/coaches to-and-fro was the traditional question about the sexual conduct of players in advance of the large game: Were bedroom romps permitted, or not? The cheap-yuks query stirred up great giggles when first launched by legendary scribe Jim Hunt back in the 20th century, in part because Shakey was a loud and funny guy, but, over time, it became more of a groan-worthy, eyeballs-a-rolling moment. That’s no knock against Terry Jones, who took the torch from Shakey. It’s just that the sideline stewards weren’t always eager to play along and their replies were flatter than Saskatchewan. There were, mind you, moments of rich levity when Shakey and Jonesy were rewarded with quality sound bites, but its expiry date had arrived.
The Rose-Colored Glasses Award goes to Dinwiddie, who believes a W today will force folks in the Republic of Tranna to sit up and take notice of the Boatmen. “I think there will be a buzz around the city. I think if we can win on Sunday, I think it’s going to open up some eyes that the Argos can bring something to the city,” he told news snoops. Ya, and maybe Pinocchio will turn into a real boy and join Rod Smith and Glen Suitor in the TSN broadcast booth today (I shudder to think how that interview would play out). Still, full marks to Dinwiddie for his fairy-tale optimism.
There was, as usual, much blah, blah, blah and yadda, yadda, yadda in advance of today’s grass-grabber in ol’ Pile o’ Bones, but the only storyline that truly mattered was QB Zach Collaros’ availability to the Bombers. The rest of it? Filler and free food for news snoops. Trust me, I know. You arrive on Monday, start cranking out the copy and/or sound bites in earnest on Tuesday, and, by Saturday morning, you’ve exhausted all worthy story-time narratives. And you’re screaming, “Just play the damn game, already!” It’s a 10-plus-hour-a-day grind, but a fun grind that makes the pints taste better once you slap a -30- on your last piece or file your final sound bite. The rush of Grey Cup Week remains one of the few things I miss about the rag trade. (Don’t ask me about the Grey Cup Week when Terry Jones, Al Ruckaber and myself shut down at 5 in the a.m. after wetting our whistles in an Edmonton cop shop.)
Staying on that theme, one aspect of Grey Cup Week that I enjoy is newspaper wars, which are amped up when the home team is part of the fray. The boys on the Bombers beat had at it the past six days, and the Winnipeg Sun whomped the Drab Slab in volume. The tabloid team of Paul Friesen and Teddy Wyman (with contributions from other Postmedia scribes) churned out 38 articles, compared to 22 from Jeff Hamilton and young Taylor Allen (contributions from Canadian Press, newsside, arts department) over at the broadsheet. Team Sun finished with a nine-page flourish today. In terms of quality copy, let’s call it a wash, because they all did boffo work. I’m a big fan of all four and, remember, Good Ol’ Hometown is the only locale west of the Manitoba-Ontario boundary that offers that level of competition.
Wait. What’s this? CFL commish Randy Ambrosie wasn’t yakking about unicorns, the Tooth Fairy or sprinkling pixie dust during his annual chin-wag with news snoops? Well, actually he was…just not as much as is his custom. Normally, the commish comes across as giddy as a guy who just found a 50-dollar bill in his coat pocket, but this was a more reigned-in Randy. He gave his gums a rigorous, one-hour workout while saying a whole lot of nothing, but we did learn that next year’s playoff grass-grabbers shall be on Saturdays, although the skirmish for the Grey Grail remains a Sunday staple. Oh, he also informed the gathering that Rouge Football now has something called a “watchability index” and “touch points.” Meh.
Alphonso Davies’ readiness for futbol’s World Cup has been an iffy bit of business and, in a moment of galloping hyperbole, TSN’s Lindsay Hamilton told us “every single person in Canada is watching this storyline.” Nope. Not all 39 million of us. You’ll have to excuse me, but I’ve been more concerned about Collaros’ owie than Alphonso’s hamstring. (I wonder if talking heads watch the tape and ask themselves, “How could I have said something so stupid?” Lindsay’s normally spot on, so stooping to ridiculous exaggeration isn’t a good look.)
Quiz me this, kids: Who would you rather have on your team, Willie Jefferson or Shawn Lemon? I agree, it’s Willie J. So how can the Bombers DE not be a Rouge Football all-star? It’s like leaving the Pope off an all-Catholic team.
Just wondering: What is it about Brandon Banks that makes him whine and squawk and stomp his little feet whenever he drops the football? He’s forever yelping at the zebras, demanding a pass interference flag and, no doubt, questioning their ancestry. Yo! Speedy B! Chill. Sometimes a play goes sideways because of good coverage, sometimes it’s the QB’s fault, and here’s something else to consider—sometimes it’s your own damn fault! Guaranteed the Argos pint-sized receiver is good for at least one XXXL-size hissy fit today.
Danny Maciocia cited a lack of discipline as one of the bugaboos behind his decision to sack Montreal Larks head coach Khari Jones four games into the 2022 Rouge Football crusade. So what happens in crunch time with the smug Maciocia wearing the head set? The Larks were penalized four times, twice to keep Argos drives alive, in the fourth quarter of their East Division final loss to the Boatmen.
9:11 (time remaining): Pass interference on 2nd and 14.
4:07: Offside on 1st and 10.
1:17: Face mask on 2nd and 11.
1:12: Offside on 1st and 10.
Atta boy, Danny. Way to keep your lads reigned in.
So, the Hamilton Tabbies have surrendered two draft picks and future goodies for the privilege of pitching woo to Bo Levi Mitchell, the Calgary Stampeders defrocked QB. But wait. Bo says he’ll lend an ear to all other suitors before agreeing to pitch his tent in The Hammer. Fine. But, wherever and whenever he lands, it’s a matter of Buyer Beware. This isn’t Cadillac Showroom Bo. It’s more like Used Car Lot Bo. Teams will have to be cautious when they kick the tires, because something might fall off.
While the Tabbies whisper sweet nothings into Mitchell’s ears, Nathan Rourke will be strutting his stuff stateside for NFL outfits. Such a shame if we lose the Victoria-born phenom after just half a season of sheer brilliance.
Egads! KUB Bakery is no more. Good Ol’ Hometown hasn’t taken this big a hit since the last bite of the last turkey clubhouse sandwich at the Wagon Wheel Restaurant. Winnipeg without KUB is like Sunday without prayer. I’ve been out here on the Left Flank for 23 years, and I’ve yet to find rye bread to match KUB rye. Can’t find corned beef to match Oscar’s, either. Oh, sure, mountain views and palm trees and benign temps in January are a nice tradeoff, but Oscar’s corned beef on KUB rye with mustard would be a boffo halftime snack today. I’ll have to settle for the Hawaiin pizza instead.
Just so you know, I’m a Grey Cup baby. Yup, I came into this world two days after the most-recent Bombers-Argos tussle for the Grey Grail, which wasn’t recent at all. It was the infamous Mud Bowl on Nov. 25, 1950, in the Republic of Tranna. Photographic evidence confirms the playing surface at Varsity Stadium was more pig pen than football field that day, with the large lads grabbing hands full of muck and guck where grass used to be. The Bombers lost 13-zip, so the doc didn’t have to smack my butt to get the squawking started after I’d poked my head out of the chute. I already had reason to bawl.