I’ve told this tale before, but it bears repeating given the shaky status of the Canadian Football League.
In a distant time and place, my friend Chester and I would hop on our bikes and make the trek to St. Boniface, twice a day, to watch the Winnipeg Blue Bombers frolic on a parched patch of earth known as Packers Field, so-named because of the Canada Packers rendering plant across the road.
We were allowed to get up close and personal with Kenny Ploen and Leo Lewis and Ernie Pitts and Bud Grant, who actually acknowledged our existence and once presented us scamps with a watermelon to share at the conclusion of the two-a-day, preseason training exercises.
How many kids could say they sat and spat watermelon seeds among sporting deity? Just Chester and myself, and it was magical.
The Bombers, after all, were top dog. The Winnipeg Jets had yet to arrive to adjust the pecking order, and our football heroes brought glory to Good Ol’ Hometown, winning the Grey Cup with great frequency in the late 1950s and early ’60s.
I’m uncertain what became of Chester, but, for me, those morning/afternoon sessions at Packers Field served as the stirrings of a life-long fling with Rouge Football.
I was fortunate. Actually, blessed would be a better word. I grew up with the CFL, then got to cover it for 19 years in three locales—Winnipeg, Calgary and the Republic of Tranna—and that’s something you should understand about the boys and girls on the beat: They’re fans.
Those who chronicle the daily doings of the three-down game care. About the league, about the players, about management, about the quirky rules that differentiate us from the four-down colossus south of the 49th. We embrace the notion of humble community ownership, in the same way the citizenry of Green Bay embraces its Packers.
Thus, we tend to take it personal when we hear squawkings of a sellout to American interests, or when the feds decline to pony up with cash to see the CFL through the COVID pandemic. Who are these snake-oil salesmen from the U.S. planning to butcher our game, and how dare Trudeau the Younger and his pals on Parliament Hill give Air Canada, the film industry and the arts community money hand over fist while leaving the lords of Rouge Football to sit, hat in hand, on a cold, dark street corner?
The iffiness of the CFL’s very existence, let alone a 2021 crusade, rattles us to the core, and we nod in agreement when we hear Russ Jackson speaking our language.
“I think if there was an amalgamation of the American and Canadian side, it would lead towards playing the American game,” the great quarterback told 3DownNation. “I have no interest in that. I have four season tickets here in Hamilton. I’m not sure I would keep those season seats if we turned into an American-type football game.”
You tell ’em, Russ. Maybe they’ll listen to you.
I doubt it, though, because they’ve heard it all before. They know all about the 100-plus-year history of the game on this side of the great divide, they’re familiar with folklore about horses clomping into hotel lobbies during Grey Cup week, and about fog bowls, mud bowls and ice bowls, so nothing a legendary QB says will sway them. Heck, we could trot out a lineup of legends including Jackson, Dirty Thirty, Peanut Butter Joe and Big Angie to preach the gospel according to G. Sydney Halter, but the stewards of the game will do what they’re going to do.
Question is: How many among the rabble would be bent out of shape if the lords of Rouge Football sold out to Americans, or if the CFL disappeared like a slab of beef on Chris Walby’s dinner plate? I mean, I like to think that it isn’t just folks of my vintage who want to preserve our game.
Well, I remind you of an Angus Reid poll conducted last May. Slightly more than 1,500 sports fans across the tundra were contacted and asked if they would be “disappointed” should the 2020 CFL season be scuttled. Only in Manitoba and Saskatchewan did the majority respond with a “damn straight I would!” Elsewhere, there was a collective shrug of the shoulders.
Manitoba: 63 per cent Saskatchewan: 61 per cent Alberta: 45 per cent B.C.: 34 per cent Quebec: 31 per cent Ontario: 28 per cent Atlantic Canada: 17 per cent
Significantly, east of the Manitoba-Ontario border, a greater percentage of people indicated they would miss an NFL season more than a CFL crusade.
We don’t know if those numbers have changed, but something tells me the Lords of Rouge Football and commissioner Randy Ambrosie haven’t attracted any new friends, or brought back old friends, with their fumbled appeals for federal financing and their dithering in the past year.
We’re told the tall foreheads will gather on Tuesday to plot strategy, and I don’t know if I should fear the worst or expect to see Commish Randy pull something that resembles Bugs Bunny out of his hat.
I just know they’re messing with memories, and if they shut down again or sell out to Yankee Doodle dollars I’ll be mad enough to spit. Only this time it won’t be watermelon seeds at Packers Field.
The first Sunday morning smorgas-bored of 2021…and I can’t say how many more are to follow…
Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed a trend with the Winnipeg Jets? Consider:
Evander Kane wanted out.
Jacob Trouba wanted out/tardy to training camp.
Josh Morrissey tardy to training camp.
Patrik Laine tardy to training camp.
Kyle Connor tardy to training camp.
Jack Roslovic wants out/tardy to training camp.
All young. All first-round draft picks.
Of that bunch, only Morrissey and Connor are locked in longterm with the National Hockey League club. Kane and Trouba vamoosed. Laine’s agents believe it would be “mutually beneficial” for Puck Finn and the Jets to part company, and if they’re saying it we can assume Laine put the notion in their noggins. Roslovic, meanwhile, will likely sign, then bide his time playing third- or fourth-line minutes—or eating popcorn in the press box—for a very modest wage until his wish for a new postal code is granted.
Losing four young studs isn’t how draft-and-develop is supposed to work. But when—yes, I said when—Laine and Roslovic are gone, it will have become the Winnipeg way. That’s not a good look.
But, hey, Blake Wheeler will still be there to ride shotgun for Rink Rat Scheifele, and I sometimes think that’s all that matters to the Holy Trinity of Jets co-bankroll Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and head coach Paul Maurice.
That’s not a good look, either.
Just a thought: Would the Holy Trinity ever part company with captain Wheeler the way the Boston Bruins discarded Zdeno Chara, the greybeard who wore the C for so many years? Not bloody likely. I say it’s even money that Wheeler is still captain of Winnipeg HC—and playing right wing on the first line if Maurice is still behind the bench—when he’s 43.
Always get a giggle out of Chevy’s gum-flappers, and he was in peak form last week during 40-plus minutes of to-and-fro with news snoops. The thing is, Chevy-speak usually requires de-coding because, when asked the time of day, the GM is apt to tell you how to build a watch. But that’s why I’m here. To translate his natter.
On Laine’s status and trade rumors lingering into the season…
What Chevy said: “I think, again, everybody is a professional and certainly, you know, I was a professional trying to do my job this summer in looking at all the different options, you know, to improve our team, and I think, you know, we have done that. As far as, you know, with Patrik, you know, again, I assume he’s probably gonna have one of the best years of his career, you know, given the group of players that we have and the professionalism that is there and the maturity level that, you know, that all players gain, you know, year over year over year, I think just, you know, helps us move forward.”
What Chevy really meant: “Sure other clubs called and asked if Patty’s available, but do the names Teemu Selanne and John Paddock mean anything to you? What do people remember John for? That’s right, for trading Teemu. You think I want them remembering me as the doofus who traded Patty for a couple of used jock straps? If he’s gonna score 50 goals, it’s gonna be here, not in Philly or Carolina.”
On the Jets maligned blueline, which has added only Derek Forbort…
What Chevy said (take a deep breath, kids): “Well, you know, again, we’re excited, you know, the opportunity to have him. You know, he’s someone that when he was in L.A., he put up some top minutes before he had an injury, put up some, you know, really good years playing against some good players, playing, you know, some shutdown roles, you know, he relishes the penalty kill, which is, you know, something that we, you know, look at improving. Obviously we’re excited that Dylan DeMelo, you know, chose to stay with us, you know, from a free agent standpoint. I’m sure there was…I know there’d be lots of opportunity for him elsewhere, you know, judging by the phone calls I got after, you know, we got him signed, so, you know, again, excited about having that. Really excited about, you know, again, just the continuity of, you know, Josh taking another step and Neal Pionk taking another step. Tucker Poolman, you know, now got a year, you know, under his belt, Sami Niku, just, you know, really hope that he can, you know, just take, you know, use training camp as an opportunity to springboard because there’s so much I think more, you know, in his game that unfortunately through, you know, injuries and the like…I guess we just have to make sure he doesn’t drive to training camp so he doesn’t get in a car accident and, you know, to kick things off. And then, you know, we’ve got some young players that, you know, looking forward to seeing. Dylan Samberg has not had the benefit of coming to an NHL training camp yet, so we really have, you know, we’ve kind of been frothing at the mouth for a couple years to get him into the pro ranks and, you know, now the time is here. Ville Heinola has had the benefit of playing over in Finland, you know, so his game, you know, hopefully will be at a level that will, you know, turn heads here, you know, right away. Obviously he had a great training camp last year and, you know, we’re just looking for, you know, obviously for him to come in and have matured that much more, you know, over the course of time. And a player like Logan Stanley, who’s had the opportunity to play two years of pro, you’re looking for that development and you’re looking for those guys to take that next step. We think we’ve got great depth and we’ve got a couple of guys that we think there’s a lot of room to grow with.”
What Chevy really meant: “Fingers and toes crossed. It’s all on Connor Hellebuyck to, you know, give us Vezina Trophy goaltending again or, you know, we’re up Schitt’s Creek without a paddle.”
Why are news snoops referring to it as the 2020-21 NHL season when all games will be played in 2021?
I agree, after his lengthy tenure with the Bruins, it’s going to be weird seeing Zdeno Chara in Washington Capitals garb this winter. It’ll be kind of like Pope Francis holding mass in Wrangler jeans, Tony Lama snake skin boots and a Stetson instead of his robe and pointy hat.
Is it too much for Sportsnet to tell Elliotte Friedman to drag a hair brush across his scalp? The man looks absolutely disgraceful and, again, there’s no chance a female broadcaster would be permitted to appear on camera looking like she spent the night sleeping in a back-alley dumpster.
Social note: Lindsey Vonn and P.K. Subban won’t be exchanging wedding vows after all. Engaged in 2019, the sports power couple called the whole thing off last week, and it’s hard to figure. After all, P.K. is one of the NHL’s most notorious divers. And now he’s not willing to take the plunge? Go figure.
Belmont Stakes winner Tiz the Law is now Tiz the Stud, and if you want the great bay stallion to service your mare the price tag is $40,000. Imagine that, $40,000 for sex. Tom Brady must feel ripped off. I mean, he screwed the New England Patriots and never got a dime for it.
This is rich: In a Twitter hissing contest, Damien Cox of the Toronto Star scolded musician/actor Stevie Van Zandt, who had the (apparent) bad manners to trash talk news snoops for the lame questions they ask athletes. “Don’t criticize things you’ve never done,” the pompous Cox harrumphed. That just might be the dumbest tweet…by anyone… ever. It’s a hot, steamy pile of stupid. Unless, of course, I was sleeping during those years when Cox played in the NHL, MLB, NBA, NFL and MLS. Seriously. The guy’s made a career of crapping on athletes, coaches, managers, owners and officials. He’s a recreational golfer and wannabe tennis player who pooh-poohs pros of all stripes. He’s never spent five seconds in the White House, let alone presided over an entire nation, but he’s spent the past four years crucifying Donald Trump. But, hey, don’t you dare trash talk Cox or other news snoops unless you’ve held a notebook or microphone in a post-game scrum. As if. Like I said, a hot, steamy pile of stupid, and the Star continues to publish his alphabet farts.
Speaking of TorStar, it’s added former NHLer and current TSN gab guy Dave Poulin to its stable of sports scribes. That would be the same Dave Poulin who, in 2018, left Connor McDavid off his all-star ballot, even though the Edmonton Oilers captain was the NHL scoring champion and winner of the Ted Lindsay Award as the best player in the world. Note to self: Cancel Toronto Star subscription first thing on Monday.
It’s about Becky Hammon: Rock on, girl. Becky became the first female to coach a National Basketball Association team last week, taking the wheel of the San Antonio Spurs after bossman Gregg Popovich was told to leave the building in the second quarter of a skirmish v. the Los Angeles LeBrons. She joins a list of impressive “first” ladies in sports that includes Kim Ng, Katie Sowers, Kathryn Nesbitt, Callie Brownson and Alyssa Nakken, so don’t tell me that nothing good happened in 2020.
I don’t know about you, but I get a kick out of jock journos and others in the rag trade listing their top 10 or 20 articles/columns from 2020. Never mind that it’s a rather arrogant exercise in ego-stroking, it seems to me that it’s the readers who should decide something like that.
I can’t remember 10 of my posts from last year, let alone 20, and I doubt the five or six people who read this blog can either. So I’ll spare one and all my greatest hits.
Sean Fitz-Gerald of The Athletic lists his “top 10 Canadian sports media stories of 2020.” Nos. 9 and 10 are strictly about radio in the Republic of Tranna. Sigh. Only someone from The ROT would presume to believe those of us who live/work in the colonies actually give a damn. Oh, and apparently we haven’t been introduced to radio and TV, because not one of the “top 10” stories targets a Western Canada market. Or anywhere east of The ROT, for that matter. Double sigh.
There’s an old Righteous Brothers song with the lyrics “If there’s a rock and roll heaven, well you know they’ve got a hell of a band.” Well, we can say the same about baseball, because the Big Ballpark In The Sky gained a helluva team last year. Included among the legends leaving our mortal coil were Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, Whitey Ford and Phil Niekro, and how would you like to go into a World Series with those four as your starting rotation? Backing them up would be an infield of Bob Watson at first, Joe Morgan at second, Tony Fernandez at shortstop and Dick Allen at third, with Al Kaline, Lou Brock and Claudell Washington patrolling the outfield. The only position the Grim Reaper didn’t tap on the shoulder was catcher.
Canadian Football League outfits are busy getting signatures on contracts for a 2021 season, and that’s good news. The not-so-good news is that nobody has explained how Rouge Football works without people in the pews. As you know, commish Randy Ambrosie went panhandling on Parliament Hill last year, hoping for a pogey cheque to cover the costs of an abbreviated season, but the CFL fell off the grid when Trudeau the Younger and the feds rejected the beg. So how can it be doable this year? Even with a COVID vaccine available, head counts will be limited. Every skirmish will look like a Toronto Argos home game. And what’s left of rainy day funds can’t possibly cover operating costs of a full season, especially for community-run franchises like our Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Some players across the dominion have rejigged their contracts, but where’s the revenue to pay Bo Levi Mitchell $541,000, Mike Reilly $525,000 and Cody Fajardo $405,000, to name just three high-salaried quarterbacks?
Count me as shocked when I called up the Winnipeg Sun this morning to see an article about girls high school volleyball on the sports front. The tabloid doesn’t do local, other than the pro teams and curling. It doesn’t do women’s sports. So it was a pleasant surprise. Having said that, the Drab Slab continues to wallop the Sun in female sports coverage. Here are the numbers for exclusively female content in the 30 publishing days of December:
Sports front: 7
Days with female sports coverage: 27 of 30.
Sports front: 1
Articles/briefs: 8/2 (plus one sentence on Sarah Fuller)
Days with female sports coverage: 10 of 30.
And finally,I keep reading and hearing people write and say if 2020 has taught us anything it’s to be kind to one another. Seriously? You needed a killer pandemic to learn that?
Sports Santa arrives on the morrow and he’s given us a sneak peak at what he has tucked inside his bag, so let’s see if it’s Goal or a Lump o’ Coal for the good and not-so-good girls and boys in the toy department of life…
GOAL: If at first you don’t succeed…get it right in an extra end. And that’s what Kerri Einarson and her Buffalo girls—Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard, Briane Mielleur, Jennifer Clark-Rouire, coach Patti Wuthrich—did to win the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Moose Jaw. Kerri had a chance to end it all in the 10th end of the title match vs. Rachel Homan and her Ontario group, but she was heavy with her last-rock draw to the four-foot. She got the job done in the 11th, though, sliding her final stone to the button for an 8-7 victory and the Canadian women’s curling championship.
LUMP O’ COAL: The year 2020. Seriously. Someone needs to give it a good, swift kick to the groin, and it’s not too late.
GOAL: Connor Hellebuyck won the Vezina Trophy as top goaltender in the National Hockey League, putting a bit of shine on an otherwise empty season for the Winnipeg Jets.
LUMP O’ COAL: Sportsnet was guilty of a blatant double standard when it allowed Elliotte Friedman to repeatedly appear on Hockey Night in Canada with a ghastly, unruly beard that made him look like he’d been sleeping under a bridge for three months. No chance a female broadcaster would be allowed on camera with a head of hair that looks like a cluster of dead animals.
GOAL: The Winnipeg Sun celebrated its 40th anniversary, not bad for a sheet that wasn’t supposed to last much longer than a pint of beer in front of Chris Walby.
LUMP O’ COAL: 50 Below Sports + Entertainment ignored provincial health rules and allowed Winnipeg Freeze and Winnipeg Blues of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League to practice outside the city. So make that two lumps o’ coal, one for 50 Below bossman Greg Fettes and the other for bossman Matt Cockell.
GOAL: The good ol’ boys in NASCAR banned the Confederate Flag from race sites. Full sets of teeth, corn squeezin’s and MAGA caps remained optional.
LUMP O’ COAL: Mike Milbury, Brendan Leipsic, Thom Brennaman, Cris Collinsworth, Brett Hull, Evander Kane spewed sexist, racist and/or homophobic slurs. Come on, guys. We’re 21 years into the 21st century, and that language just doesn’t cut it.
GOAL: Katie Sowers became the first female to coach in the Super Bowl, albeit in a losing role with the San Francisco 49ers, Kim Ng became the first female GM of a Major League Baseball team, Alyssa Nakken became the first uniformed female to coach on-field in MLB, Kathryn Nesbitt became the first female to referee in a Major League Soccer championship match, and Sarah Fuller became the first female to play in an NCAA Power 5 men’s football game.
LUMP O’ COAL: Canadian Football League commissioner Randy Ambrosie went panhandling on Parliament Hill, asking PM Trudeau the Younger for anywhere from $30 million to $150 million in welfare to get Rouge Football on the field during the COVID-19 pandemic. Trouble was, he failed to receive input from the Players Association, and the feds were not amused. Commish Cap-in-Hand was spurned repeatedly, and the CFL finally fell off the grid when Trudeau the Younger batted away his final Hail Mary beg in early August. Thus, there was no season, no Grey Cup week. Just a whole lot of radio silence from the commish.
GOAL: Kid curlers Jacques Gauthier and Mackenzie Zacharias joined Einarson in bringing more glory to Manitoba with their world junior championship wins in Russia.
LUMP O’ COAL: Damien Cox and the Exalted Guardians of the Lou Marsh Trophy at the Toronto Star. The Marsh trinket is supposed to honor Canada’s athlete-of-the-year, except Cox and Co. don’t invite jock journos west of the Republic of Tranna to the top-jock party. Well, okay, that’s not quite true. They granted a voice and a vote to four news snoops from the colonies. That would be four out of 37 voices and votes. How gracious of them.
GOAL: O-lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif walked away from the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs and millions of American dollars to fight the good fight against COVID in long-term care homes.
LUMP O’ COAL: TSN named its all-time Winnipeg Jets roster and didn’t include the great Lars-Erik Sjoberg among the top six defencemen. But wait. The geniuses declared The Shoe to be the franchise’s “foundational” player. Sigh. That’s like telling Jesus he has to sit at the kids’ table for the Last Supper. Neither the original Jets franchise nor the second coming knew a better blueliner than The Shoe.
GOAL: Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun and Jeff Hamilton of the Drab Slab showed us their fab journalistic chops with fab features. Freezer relived the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 2019 Grey Cup championship with a nine-part series, while young Jeff took a deep, deep dive into the dark and sordid world of disgraced sexual predator and former hockey coach Graham James.
LUMP O’ COAL: Mainstream jock journos, shinny division, held a group pity party when the NHL revealed it wouldn’t make public the various owies suffered by players during the summer made-for-TV playoff tournament. It was as if they’d been ordered to gather in a small room to watch an Adam Sandler movie marathon, or listen to Barry Manilow’s greatest hits 24/7.
GOAL: Various sports franchises played the name game, including the CFL team formerly known as the Edmonton Eskimos, the NFL team formerly known as the Washington Redskins, and the MLB team to be named something other than Cleveland Indians. We still don’t know what any of them will be called, but it’s believed the animal kingdom has the inside track and they can only hope the people at PETA don’t have a beef with any new names.
LUMP O’ COAL: Former NBC Sports hockey gab guy Jeremy Roenick went on a podcast to declare his admiration for a co-worker’s “ass and boobs” and mentioned something about three-way sex with his wife and the co-worker. He was promptly punted. But wait. There’s more. Rather than go quietly into the night, Roenick decided to kick up a legal fuss and sued NBC Sports for wrongful dismissal, claiming discrimination based on his sexual orientation. His argument: If he was a gay man and said the things he said, he’d still have a job. But because he’s a straight man, he’s out of work. Ya, good luck with that, hetero boy.
GOAL: Sue Bird of the Seattle Storm won her fourth WNBA title and became engaged to soccer diva Megan Rapinoe, while another gay woman, triple jumper Yulimar Rojas of Venezuela, was named female athlete-of-the-year by World Athletics.
LUMP O’ COAL: Bryson DeChambeau spouted off about Augusta National prior to the Masters in November, boasting that it would be a pitch-and-putt course for him while the mere mortals on the PGA Tour would be playing to par-72. “I’m looking at it as a par-67 for me,” he said. In that case, DeChambeau shot 18-over par with rounds of 70-74-69-73, which left him tied for 34th, 18 swings behind winner Dustin Johnson and one behind 63-year-old Bernhard Langer.
GOAL: It was girl power on Sportsnet in March, when an all-female broadcast crew worked a Calgary Flames-Vegas Golden Knights skirmish on Hockey Night in Canada. Leah Hextall handled the play-by-play call, Cassie Campbell-Pascall delivered color commentary and Christine Simpson was rinkside. Question is: Was it a one-off, or will they be back?
LUMP O’ COAL: Justin Turner of the Los Angeles Dodgers was yanked from the deciding game of the World Series due to a positive COVID test, but he returned to join his teammates in an on-field celebration and removed his mask. MLB chose not to punish Turner for allowing his bare face to hang out and expose L.A. players and hangers-on to the virus, so it gets a lump o’ coal, too.
GOAL: Zamboni driver David Ayres took over the blue paint for the Carolina Hurricanes one night in the Republic of Tranna, and the emergency goaltender beat the Maple Leafs. Not since Sid Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon pulled into the Tim Hortons drive-thru has a Zamboni driver received so much attention.
LUMP O’ COAL: Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz thought COVID-19 was a big joke, so he mocked news snoops about the virus at a press session. A couple days later, he tested positive and the kibitzing stopped. As did the NBA and the rest of the sports world.
GOAL: Our leading lady of soccer, Christine Sinclair, became the top goal-scorer of all time in international fitba. She finishes the year with 186, and there might be more to come if the women get back on the pitch in preparation for the Tokyo Olympics.
LUMP O’ COAL: Novak Djokovic, who wears a tin-foil hat and might lead the sports world in hissy fits, ignored scientific and medical advice and staged a mini-tennis tour when almost all sports had shut down due to the COVID pandemic. Social distancing was ignored by players and fans, and the Joker was one of four players to test positive. The final tourney was canceled. Later, he was ushered out of the U.S. Open tennis tournament for whacking a lines judge in the face with a ball. What a doofus.
GOAL: Rafael Nadal won his 13th French Open title and his 20th tennis Gran Slam, at the same time running his career record at Roland Garros to 100-2.
LUMP O’ COAL: Steve Simmons of Postmedia Toronto spent much of the year shaking his fists and shouting at clouds, as is his wont, and he reserved his most ignorant hit pieces for PM Trudeau the Younger and the National Women’s Hockey League expansion franchise in the Republic of Tranna. He claimed Trudeau had “let us down again” by permitting the Blue Jays “to play their home games this summer in Toronto. That is beyond stupid.” He later doubled down, calling the decision “beyond ridiculous.” Except Trudeau and the feds never gave the Jays the okie-dokie to play in the Republic of Tranna. In fact, he told them to pack their bats and balls and find a home in the U.S., which they did in Buffalo. Meantime, Simmons assailed the NWHL when it would add a team in The ROT. “You don’t gain credibility by announcing a team with no name, no place to play and no big-name players,” he harrumphed. He also noted there was no team logo. “When you have all that in place, then make the announcement. The press release referred to the expansion team as a ‘first-class team of professionals.’ Time will answer that, but the new Toronto Whatevers are not off to a great start.” Except he had no such harsh words for the NHL when it introduced expansion franchises in Las Vegas and Seattle. They were introduced without team names, without team logos, and without big-name players. They were the Vegas and Seattle Whatevers for two years. So let’s see if I’ve got this straight: If women do it, bad; if men do it, cool. I believe we can file that under subtle sexism.
And, finally, GOAL: To everyone who indulged an old lady by visiting the River City Renegade. We’ve topped 57,000 views this year, and that’s a new high-water mark for the third successive year. So thanks. Happy Christmas.
Nice of you to come out of hibernation. How long had it been since we last saw and heard from you? At least three months, I’d say.
Some of us were beginning to worry about you, Commish. I mean, every pro sports operation known to woman and man has rebooted during the COVID-19 pandemic, yet your Canadian Football League turned out the lights. And you went radio silent.
So I figured flicking on the flatscreen and watching all those athletes in other leagues frolic might have driven you a bit batty. If not full-on bonkers.
I feared you might have done the Howard Hughes thing, Commish. You know, become a recluse.
I had visions of you holed up in a windowless bunker left over from the Cold War, cut off from civilization and peeing into pop bottles and eating nothing but nachos and chocolate bars. I imagined you pacing back and fourth…back and forth…back and forth, all the while muttering, “It’s Trudeau’s fault…it’s Trudeau’s fault…it’s Trudeau’s fault.” After all, Prime Minister Trudeau the Younger and his skinflint pals wouldn’t cough up $30 million when you went panhandling on Parliament Hill last spring.
You’re right, Commish, they seemed to have ample coin for everyone and everything—except three-downs football. So it’s understandable if you were gripped with paranoia, kind of like Captain Queeg and the strawberries.
I don’t know if you’ll face a mutiny like Captain Queeg once the COVID storm is behind us, Commish, but for now your hand is still on the wheel of the good ship CFL, and the rabble is looking to you for answers and signs that indicate a 2021 season is not only possible, but good to go.
I know that’s what I was hoping to hear on Monday when you made like Shubenacadie Sam or Fred de la Marmotte on Groundhog Day, finally popping your head out of a hole to study the landscape.
You had yourself a half-hour natter with Sara Orlesky of TSN, and who wouldn’t want to join Sara for a chat? She seems like such a lovely, young lass and, like yourself, I miss seeing her the sidelines, toque or not.
The thing is, I’d like to see Zach Collaros and Mike Reilly and Speedy B and Willie Jefferson between the lines a whole lot more, even if it means another summer and autumn listening to Glen Suitor, assuming TSN can pry him away from Keith Urban.
But you didn’t tell us when Rouge Football will return, Commish. Or if it will return.
You told us that Canada “is the greatest country on earth,” and you talked about putting “bums in seats,” and revenue streams, and CFL 2.0, and front-line health workers, and Rouge Football on the East Coast. It was all rah, rah, rah and siss-boom-bah boosterism.
You also confirmed there’ll soon be a 2021 schedule, but that isn’t worth the paper it will be printed on if the large lads in pads aren’t grabbing grass in June.
Near as I can tell, Commish, nothing has changed. Nada.
It would have taken $30 million from the feds to get you on the field for a runted season of six games per team this year—in a Winnipeg hub/bubble—and the CFL still doesn’t have any money, unless there’s a sugar daddy you aren’t telling us about.
Thus, unlike all other pro sports leagues in our part of the world, you stand alone as completely dependent upon squints in lab coats peering into microscopes.
The renewal of Rouge Football is only doable with the “bums in seats” that you talked about on Monday, Commish, and there has to be plenty of them. I don’t have to remind you that social distancing in the stands was the pre-pandemic norm in CFL danger locales of Vancouver, Montreal and the Republic of Tranna, but that’ll never do on the Prairies, Hamilton or Ottawa.
We both know the only avenue forward is a COVID-19 vaccine, Commish, and even at that we’re left to wonder how long it will take for the rabble to once again feel comfy enough to gather in large numbers.
I’m a Rouge Football lifer, Commish. Been following the three-downs game since I was knee high to Kenny Ploen and Leo Lewis, and I’ve been scribbling about it since 1980. That’s taking in a lot of territory. So I feel your pain. You should be on the Flattest of Lands this week to hand the Grey Grail to the winning side of the championship skirmish, and I’d like to be watching it on TSN.
I guess we can only hope for next year, Commish. In the meantime, do us CFL lifers a favor and don’t go back into hibernation. Keep us informed. Don’t let out of sight become out of mind.
A return of the Sunday morning smorgas-bored after a pause that was supposed to last a month…and you’ll have to forgive me if I play a bit of catch-up…
Whenever I see the name Mike Milbury trending on Twitter, it tells me that he’s said something stupid and has undergone an emergency footectomy, whereby one of his large feet has been surgically removed from his even larger yap. Yet again.
It also prompts me to check my calendar to confirm that this is 2020, not 1960.
Whenever I hear someone like Thom Brennaman spew an anti-gay slur on-air and then, in delivering a mea culpa, he assures us that “this is not who I am, it never has been,” I sigh, then wait for my eyeballs to roll back into their sockets.
And, again, I glance at the calendar to confirm that we are post-Stonewall, not stuck in the ’60s.
Sadly, it was a messy week in the sports blurt box, and it’s frustrating and wearisome in the extreme that we’re still listening to the “did he really say that?” natterings of dinosaurish men unable to drag their hairy knuckles into the 21st century.
One of them, Milbury, is a product of the 1950s. The other, Brennaman, is circa ’60s.
Milbury is a former National Hockey League player of plodding mediocrity, his career noteworthy only because he one night clambered into the seating area of Madison Square Garden and whacked a paying patron on the head with a shoe. In terms of shinny theory, he’s a direct descendant of rock ’em, sock ’em Don Cherry, a lineage that failed him miserably as an NHL general manager and has racked up similarly unfavorable results in the NBC Sports broadcast booth.
Milbury, is a serial sexist, with strong leanings toward homophobia.
He laments the “pansification” of hockey. He once observed the play of NHL scoring champions Henrik and Daniel Sedin and called the supremely talented twins “Thelma and Louise.” Years after Slava Voynov was sent to jail and deported to Russia for thumping the crap out of his bride, Milbury described the wife-
beating as an “unfortunate incident.” He called fellow talking head Pierre McGuire a “soccer mom.” More recently, he drew a parallel between empty NHL rinks and women’s college hockey, even though numerous American female college teams attract robust audiences. And, of course, there’s his latest bit of sexist misspeak during a New York Islanders-Washington Capitals skirmish the other night. Discussing the impenetrable playoff bubble the NHL has established in the Republic of Tranna, he noted, “Not even any women here to disrupt your concentration.”
Apparently, it has escaped Milbury’s notice that each year, scant seconds after the Stanley Cup has been awarded, the smiling, giddy victors are joined on the freeze and at rinkside by smiling, giddy wives and girlfriends.
Imagine that. Winning a championship with all those pesky women on site to “disrupt” their concentration. How is that even possible?
But, hey, maybe this explains why Milbury was such a colossal flop as GM of the Islanders: The poor sap went home to a woman every night. She was such a disruption to his concentration that he traded away Zdeno Chara and Roberto Luongo.
Brennaman, meanwhile, was raised by baseball broadcasting royalty, his dad Marty the voice of the Cincinnati Reds for nearly half a century. He insists he isn’t homophobic (he’s a “man of faith,” don’t you know), except the evidence supports the notion that he’s very much anti-gay. He was heard, on-air, calling an unidentified locale “one of the fag capitals of the world” during a bit of banter with co-workers, and his emphasis on the word “fag” carried an unmistakable tone of contempt.
“That is not who I am. It never has been,” Brennaman said while apologizing “for the people who sign my paycheque, for the Reds, for Fox Sports Ohio, for the people I work with.”
Notably, he did not apologize to the very people he thinks he might have offended—the LGBT(etc.) collective.
It was an “I’ve gotta save my ass,” clichéd mea culpa. At no point did he mention the word gay. Or homosexual. Or the LGBT(etc.) community. Worse, he followed the next day with Part 2 of his exercise in ass-saving: “I had no idea it was so rooted in hate and violence,” he said of his slur.
Oh, shut the hell up, man. Nobody’s that thick.
Brennaman believed his mic was dead when he uttered the offensive word, which suggests he’s quite comfortable using anti-gay language in his work space, and only the most naive among us would conclude that this was a one-off.
Look, there’s no crime in growing old. It happens to most of us. But there is something terribly wrong with networks hiring wrinkled men who can’t adjust to the motion of life. Some of what was acceptable in the 20th century doesn’t cut it anymore. That’s not hard to figure out.
Those who can’t—or refuse—are the true disruption. And a great many of us are tired of it.
Turns out the boys in the NBC Sports blurt box will have to get along without Milbury’s mangled mutterings for the remainder of the Stanley Cup runoff, because he’s retreated from the Republic of Tranna bubble. No word on how he plans to spend his downtime, but perhaps he’ll go on a search for the real Seattle Space Needle.
Honest, I hadn’t planned on returning to the keyboard until the Labor Day weekend. You know, the same time the Canadian Football League was supposed to kick off its Coles Notes version of a 2020 crusade. But here I am. Back early, even if Rouge Football isn’t and won’t be.
The cancellation of the CFL season brought to mind an incident a few years ago while I was walking to my home on the hem of downtown Victoria.
I passed a pair of panhandlers and tossed two toonies into their begging cap.
One of the men politely thanked me. The other made a crude comment about my skirt. I reached down, withdrew both toonies from the cap and handed one to the fellow who had expressed his gratitude for the offered alms. The guy with the potty mouth squawked mightily, but there would be no toonie for him.
Moral of the story: Panhandlers cannot afford to be dumb.
And so it was with CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie and his three-downs overlords, who thought it would be a swell idea to put the squeeze on Trudeau the Younger for a COVID-19 handout. We’re told the ask was $150 million in early May. Then $30 million. Then $42.5 million. Then $30 million again, interest free.
Considering Trudeau the Younger and his pals on Parliament Hill have earmarked many billions of dollars for at-risk businesses and salary-strapped working stiffs since spring, the CFL beg was chump change.
Alas, the buck stopped with Rouge Football. No funds for you!
Thus the three-downs overlords—some of them (hello, Wade Miller) absolutely aghast that the feds had no appetite for propping up an enterprise that took a $20 million bath in red ink a year ago—put the kibosh on the 2020 crusade. No hub in Good Ol’ Hometown, no six-game season, and no swilling of bubbly from the Grey Cup for the first time since Prohibition. (The very thought must send shivers up and down Chris Streveler’s spine.)
Many accusing fingers, not surprisingly, have been pointed in the direction of Commish Randy, for proper reason.
Aside from apparently finding his business plan at the bottom of a box of Flutie Flakes, he had the bad manners to do his Parliamentary panhandling sans the input and allyship of the very people who, in non-COVID times, attract customers to all those fancy-shmancy, government-subsidized facilities that dot the landscape—the players.
That was dumb, and we’ve already established that panhandlers cannot afford to be dumb.
Worth noting: Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez just forked out $40 million for new digs. Maybe Commish Randy should have hit up JLo and ARod instead of Trudeau the Younger for the $30 million.
Hey, we aren’t here to flog Commish Randy this morning. We’ll leave it to the three-downs overlords to determine if his work warrants a few whacks of the lash, or if they’d be wise to look for someone else to do their bidding as they proceed toward a 2021 season that surely must include patrons in the pews. Whichever route they take, the best starting point in the reworking of the CFL would be for the overlords to cozy up to the players association.
As much as I miss our quirky three-downs game, I remind you of an Angus Reid poll conducted in May, whereby the citizenry was asked if they would be “disappointed” should the CFL season be scuttled. Only in Manitoba (63 per cent) and Saskatchewan (61 per cent) did the majority respond with a “hell ya!” The rest of the land? Just a shrug of the shoulders. Here are the numbers: Alberta 45 per cent, B.C. 34 per cent, Quebec 31 per cent, Ontario 28 per cent, Atlantic Canada 17 per cent.
Interesting how sports sheets across the land played the big CFL story. It was front page news in every rag on the Prairies. It was inside filler in the Toronto Sun (pages 8-9), the Montreal Gazette (page 2) and the Vancouver Sun (pages 6-7). The National Post, meanwhile, ran Scott Stinson’s column on a news page, beside a piece on Peter Nygard and rape. Little wonder that those are Rouge Football’s three worst markets.
Let’s see, what else went down during my time away from the keyboard? Well, Dale Hawerchuk left us, so we lost one of the good guys. I never got to know Ducky well. Unlike other news snoops, I kept my relationships with jocks strictly professional, and I always found Ducky to be obliging and authentic. He was seldom shy about sharing his feelings re my scribblings (he thought them to be complete “crap”), but that didn’t prevent me from defending him in print when the Drab Slab stirred the pot with a story on a deep rift between Ducky and Dan Maloney, then head coach of the Winnipeg Jets. It was pure fiction, and both Friar Nicolson and I reported it that way.
Ducky was sports royalty in Good Ol’ Hometown, and I can’t imagine many, if any, among the rabble objecting to Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman’s plan to plop a statue of No. 10 outside the Little Hockey House On The Prairie.
I still say there should be a likeness of Ben Hatskin somewhere in the vicinity of the Little Hockey House, because there’d be no Jets today if not for the original bankroll. But I doubt I’ll ever see that happen.
Read a couple of truly wonderful essays on Ducky after his death, one by Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun and the other by the Drab Slab’s Mad Mike McIntyre. Both are worth the read if you missed them.
The Winnipeg Jets’ frolic at the Jason Kenney Mountain Resort in downtown Edmonton came to a rather inglorious conclusion earlier this month, and the farewell natter between news snoops and head coach Paul Maurice delivered one terrific sound bite.
Jason Bell of the Drab Slab: “Why are you still the right man for the job in this organization?”
Maurice: “We would say off the start that the first playoff round that we won two years ago was the first playoff round this franchise won, so it’s the right guy then. You know, I’ve been to the conference final three times, Stanley Cup final. This year I’m gonna rate as top three years that I’ve had in this league, and I’ll include my staff on that. We did a fantastic job surviving what we went through.”
Coach Potty Mouth added some other mindless blah, blah, blah about going forward, but he chose to ignore the facts. The Jets were not in a playoff position when the NHL shut down in March. They failed to qualify for the playoffs for the second time in four years, ousted by the Calgary Flames in four games. Maurice has missed the playoffs four times in his seven seasons as the Jets bench jockey. He has won the grand sum of two playoff series and is 12-19 post-season, including this month’s failed qualifier. They have regressed. But, sure, he’s the right man for the job.
Some interesting, also poor, analysis on the Jets season from news snoops. Mad Mike McIntyre glorified the local lads because they tried really, really hard, don’t you know. We should think of them with “pride” he tells us, because “they busted their tails right to the bitter end.” Oh joy. Let’s give them a participation badge. Over at the tabloid, Scott Billeck mentioned something about “what the Jets did achieve.” Good grief. They achieved squat. Bupkis.
The only honest breakdown on the Jets was provided by Ted Wyman who, following their ouster from the Stanley Cup qualifying tournament, wrote this in the Sun: “The Flames had better scoring, better defence, better goaltending, better special teams, better physicality and better production from their very best players. If you were picking the five best performers in the series, they’d all be Calgary players—including goaltender Cam Talbot, who outplayed Jets Vezina Trophy favourite Connor Hellebuyck by a wide margin.” That’s telling it like it is, Teddy boy.
Nice to see Rick Bowness has his Dallas Stars running hot in the Stanley Cup tournament. Bench boss Bones is a former Jets player/coach and one of the truly good guys in the game.
I must confess that I had my doubts about the NHL successfully pulling off their playoffs in the two bubbles, one in E-Town and the other in the Republic of Tranna, but it’s working. And what is it proving? Just this: The NHL doesn’t need in-rink fans and it doesn’t need independent media to send out the message. Makes you wonder what it’s all going to look like on the other side of COVID-19, doesn’t it? Daily newspapers should fear the worst.
So, Elliotte Friedman has hacked off his mangled chin whiskers. That’s a good thing. The Hockey Night in Canada gabber looked like a guy who’d spent too much time stranded on an island, talking to a volleyball with Tom Hanks. And there’s not a chance that a female broadcaster would be allowed to appear on camera looking that unkempt, which is what we call a double standard.
Steve Simmons is in a stew because the Vancouver Canucks are the last hoser team standing in the Stanley Cup tournament, and the NHL/Sportsnet are disturbing his bedtime sked. “One team left in Canada and the NHL can’t figure out how to schedule them at a time when the country can be awake to watch? Dumb of Sportsnet, dumb of the NHL. That’s an 11:30 pm start in Nova Scotia, midnight in NFLD,” the Postmedia Tranna scribe whinges. Yes, by all means, let’s televise the Canucks games when all their faithful followers on the West Coast are still at work, just so easterners who don’t give a damn can ignore them in prime time. Just put on your jammies, Steve, and watch the game.
And, finally, the greybeard boxing match between Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr. has been pushed back from mid-September to the end of November. Apparently scientists require the extra time to complete carbon testing on the ancient pugs.
A Tuesday morning smorgas-bored…and it’s 3 a.m. and I’m tired, so I think I’ll try to get some shuteye…
The other day I mentioned how ironic it is that numerous jock essayists have been giving the National Hockey League a stern tsk-tsking for its brazen, unapologetic bid to control the message.
Scribes hither and yon have been beating that drum like John Bonham gone bonkers and, officially, there are now more noses out of joint on press row than you’ll see at Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn. Or any other boxing gym for that matter.
The scribes’ squawk can be summed up in eight words: Commissioner Gary Bettman is a dirty, rotten scoundrel.
Emperor Gary, you see, has decreed that only house organs (read: scribes on NHL or member team payrolls) shall be permitted inside the Edmonton and Republic of Tranna player bubbles during the Stanley Cup runoff. All others, sorry, but they won’t get any closer to an actual hockey player than heaven is to hell. They’ll have to be satisfied with pressing their noses against a window and squinting in.
Oh, sure, the girls and boys on the beat are allowed to attend matches and perch themselves in the press box, located way up there where noses begin to bleed, but that doesn’t cut it. They want more. They asked for more, but Emperor Gary turned them down in less time than it takes to stick a swab up their nose.
As a consequence, the mainstream media mob insists the playing surface isn’t level. NHL-approved news snoops will be privy to activity and conversation that isn’t available to them. And that, in turn, will result in “sanitized” coverage of the 24-team tournament because, as many have emphasized in their critiques, the various house organs aren’t allowed to mention things like concussions or fisticuffs in their copy.
“If anything unusual, untoward, troublesome, or remotely negative happens in the bubble, will we ever hear about it?” asks Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun. “Likely not. That’s a shame.”
Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab provides the backup vocals, writing: “If a star goes down in a heap during a drill and has to be carried off the ice, there’s a good chance you won’t hear about it beyond the coach eventually identifying them as being ‘unfit to play’ when they’re not on the ice at puck drop. If teammates get into a dust-up during practice—remember when Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler and Ben Chiarot dropped the gloves a couple of years ago?—you can bet you won’t hear a peep.”
Doesn’t say much for their reporting skills if they need to see it to know about it, does it? Whatever became of inside contacts?
Look, I totally get it. Mainstream jock journos want equal access so they can deliver unfettered, unpolished dispatches during the risky business of conducting a major sporting event while the global COVID-19 pandemic continues to kill people and send others to the infirmary. That’s a fair ask. But when they trot out the “control the message” argument, as Mad Mike did (the NHL will be “drunk with power in this situation”), they lose me.
I mean, there’s the irony I wrote about the other day. They’re bellyaching because the NHL insists on controlling the message, yet that’s exactly what newspapers do 24/7, 365 days of the year (minus holidays).
When was the last time anyone from either the Winnipeg Sun or Drab Slab asked you what you wanted to see on the sports front? Or the front page, for that matter? When was the last time either Wyman or Mad Mike asked you for a column idea, then wrote it? When was the last time someone at Postmedia asked if you want all that copy from the Republic of Tranna in the Winnipeg Sun sports section? When was the last time you were invited to a daily newsroom meeting? When was the last time an editor-in-chief asked you what slant to put on a story?
They don’t ask because they don’t want you controlling their message. You might say, they’re drunk with power.
Interesting that both Wyman and Mad Mike concede that the rabble likely view their gripe as “whining.” There’s a reason for that: It is whining.
Mad Mike’s essay was approximately 1,000 words, most of it condemning the NHL, but here’s how he sums up: “Here in Edmonton, it will be business as usual for me, even if the situation itself is anything but usual. It’s not ideal, but it won’t hamper my ability to bring you compelling daily stories, features and columns from the hub and document an event we’re all going to remember for the rest of our lives. And I will happily do it from outside the bubble.” If that’s the case, why the 1,000-word whinge about the horrors of not being in the bubble? I’m sorry, but that’s just stupid.
Similarly, but not as dense, Wyman writes this: “As a member of the independent media, representing readers who want original stories, columns and features that are not league presentations, I say what the NHL is doing is wrong.” But here’s the deal: No one is preventing him from scribbling those original stories, columns and features. And therein lies the challenge. He must come up with something that Mad Mike and the in-house scribes aren’t doing. He has to be creative. Inventive. He has to offer his readers something we can only find in the Sun. I’m sure he’s up to the task.
Would I think differently were I still in mainstream media? No. You deal with what’s in front of you.
There was one interesting nugget of information in Mad Mike’s piece: He hasn’t had a chin-wag with the Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, in his four years on the beat. He’s asked for an audience, but the Winnipeg Jets co-bankroll or one of his minions has repeatedly declined. “Frankly, I don’t really care, nor am I losing any sleep over it,” Mad Mike scribbles. Nor should he.
I’d like to hear from the Puck Pontiff more often. I wouldn’t want him to be a Eugene Melnyk or a Humpty Harold Ballard type of owner, but an annual state-of-the-union would be nice, especially this year with the quirky Stanley Cup tournament that’s about to commence. I’d also really like to know if he’d consider operating a franchise in the National Women’s Hockey League.
The Miami Marlins have been shut down by COVID-19. The Philadelphia Phillies have been shut down. So how totally dumb does the Ontario government and its health authority look today? They were prepared to welcome the Marlins and other Major League Baseball outfits to the Republic of Tranna this summer, where they could wander about willy-nilly and spread their germs. Trudeau the Younger wouldn’t have any of it, though, and he instructed the Blue Jays to find another playground. Finally, something the PM doesn’t have to apologize for.
Just wondering how many COVID-19 positives it will take to shut down the NHL’s reboot.
A British boxer, James Hawley, has been dropped by his management team for spewing anti-gay/anti-transgender bile. But, hey, he can’t possibly be homophobic or transphobic. After all, he’s okay with lesbian sex and, more important, he has “friends who are gay and I have a cousin who is gay.” Sigh. And people wonder why most gay male athletes are stuck in the closet.
And, finally, if you saw Dr. Anthony Fauci’s ceremonial first pitch last week in Washington, you’ll know it was grim. But there’s a reason. Seems the good doctor over-prepped for his moment in the sports spotlight, and he “completely miscalculated the distance from the mound.” According to the New York Times, Dr. Fauci had gone to a local school for a toss-around to get the feel of hurling a baseball again. “I pitched and pitched,” he said. “I threw my arm out. I hadn’t thrown a baseball literally in decades. After I practiced, my arm was hanging around my feet.” He also mis-measured. A Major League Baseball pitching rubber is 60 feet, six inches from home plate, but Dr. Fauci mistakenly hurled his practice pitches from 40 feet. Catcher Sean Doolittle “looked to me like he was like 500 feet away.” So now you know the rest of the story.
A Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and it’s only fair to warn you that the odds are 2-to-1 that this post will offend someone…
Racist and/or bigoted language was not uncommon in the home of my early upbringing.
Eastern Europeans (read: Poles and Ukrainians) who had found their way to Canadian shores were “dumb DPs” (displaced persons) or “squareheads,” a descriptive I always found notably inaccurate given that, upon examination through the curious, wide eyes of youth, their heads looked no less round or long than any other adult head in the neighborhood.
Italians were “wops,” Japanese were “Japs” or “nips,” the Chinese were “chinks,” and Indians were “lousy redskins.” None of it was meant to be complimentary.
Black people, meanwhile, were “dumb darkies,” and usually “good for nothing,” and my dad reserved his most disgusting verbal bile for one of my favorite entertainers in those 1950s and ’60s, Sammy Davis Jr., who had the (apparent) bad manners to be both Black and Jewish, which made him a “dirty, little (N-bomb) Jew.”
I know, my dad was a real charmer.
Anyway, at no point did it occur to me that the word “Eskimo” was a racist slur. It was either someone who lived in an igloo up north, a tasty chocolate-coated ice cream treat (EskimoPie), or someone like Jackie Parker or Johnny Bright who played football in Edmonton.
Yet here we are today, with the forced rebranding of the Edmonton Eskimos.
The word “Eskimo” is considered offensive by many Inuit people and, in today’s social climate, that will never do, so the storied Canadian Football League franchise soon shall be the Team Formerly Known As The Eskimos.
“It should be considered a dark day,” scribbles Terry Jones, the dean of Canadian jock journos who wrote the book on Edmonton FC (Clearance Sale! Regular $249, now $99 plus tax and shipping; limited number of books remaining). “It’s a crime, considering the traditions involved, that they’re going to have to take down the sign over the dressing room door: ‘Once An Eskimo, Always An Eskimo.’”
Jonesy, who’s old enough to remember all but one or two of Edmonton’s 14 Grey Cup successes, closes his essay with this: “They’ll always be the Eskimos to me.”
I suspect he’ll have ample company on the disgruntled side of the name debate, because the die-hards will want to hang onto the old rather than grab onto the new.
Let’s be clear about something, though: A name change doesn’t alter the legacy of this model franchise. It still has 14 Rouge Football championships. Spaghetti Legs Parker and the China Clipper and Rollie Miles and Wilkie and numerous others are still in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame as Eskimos. (Come to think of it, so is Jonesy, the documentarian of all things green and gold.) And a new handle won’t erase the five successive years Edmonton FC hoisted the Grey Grail (1978-82).
So why would anyone get bent out of shape?
As Gertrude Stein wrote more than 100 years ago, not long after the Esquimaux became the Eskimos: “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.” Or, as noted football correspondent Willie Shakespeare scribbled, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
And so it shall be with Edmonton FC.
I suppose I’d have different thoughts about this name-changing business if the rabble bullied the Winnipeg Blue Bombers into becoming something other than the Blue Bombers. But there hasn’t been much of a social outcry over airplanes that carry bombs since the Vietnam War, so I think we’re safe.
Apparently Edmonton FC would like to keep the alliteration in the name, thus no logo change, so they’re destined to become the E-Somethings. Here are five suggestions:
1. Edmonton Evolution.
2. Edmonton Empire.
3. Edmonton Emus.
4. Edmonton Elephants.
5. Edmonton Eeny Meeny Miney Moes. Or…they can go all-in on something completely different, such as:
1. Edmonton Rockies (named after Premier Jason Kenney’s private downtown mountain range).
2. Edmonton Rough Riders (the CFL has gone too long without a second Roughriders team).
3. Edmonton Klondike (a salute to the city’s minimal role in the Klondike Gold Rush).
4. Edmonton Mallers (named after E-Town’s sole tourist attraction).
5. Edmonton Reboot (isn’t everything in sports a reboot these days?).
The moral of the story: Don’t name your franchise after people. Or marginalized groups of people. Or people who prey upon the marginalized (which rules out Daniel Snyder naming his National Football League franchise the Washington Trumps or Republicans).
I suppose the most famous name change in sports was Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. to Muhammad Ali. Clay became Ali after whupping Sonny Liston to claim the heavyweight boxing title in 1964, but numerous New York scribes refused to acknowledge his Islamic name. Dick Young described it as a “hate name” and wrote, “I do not believe Cassius Clay or anyone who thinks like him is good for my country. He is for separatism. He is for black man against white man.” Red Smith called him Cassius Clay and described him as one of the “unwashed punks who picket and demonstrate against the war.” Arthur Daley refused to call him Ali and would refer to him as “the former Cassius Clay” into the 1970s. When Robert Lipsyte wrote Muhammad Ali in his copy, editors at the New York Times would change it to Cassius Clay. The Times refused to accept Muhammad Ali as his official name until 1970. The great Jim Murray of the Los Angeles Times called him Cassius as late as 1967. My guess is Edmonton scribes won’t be so petty with the Edmonton E-Somethings.
I must confess that I was totally wrong about Connor Hellebuyck, Vezina Trophy finalist. When Bucky joined the Winnipeg Jets, he was gangly and awkward and seemingly confused, so I never had him figured for an elite goaltender, but he’s among the three Vezina finalists for the second time in the past three National Hockey League crusades. Who knew? Certainly not moi.
On the subject of getting it wrong, nobody was a bigger D’Oh Boy last week than Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna. He had himself a right proper Twitter fit on Thursday, scolding Trudeau the Younger and his squints for permitting the Blue Jays to spend what’s left of summer frolicking in the Republic of Tranna. “The government of Canada—do as we say, not as we do—has let us down again,” he harrumphed. “They are allowing the Blue Jays to play home games this summer in Toronto. That is beyond stupid.” No, beyond stupid is sending out that tweet, then doubling down on it (“beyond ridiculous”) when, in fact, Trudeau the Younger had not granted the Tranna Nine permission to set up shop in The ROT. As we suspected, the Jays have been orphaned and shall truck their bats and their balls south of the U.S.-Canada border for an abbreviated Major League Baseball crusade. D’oh!
Simmons took to Twitter on Saturday and offered a mea culpa to the feds. He’s now “proud” of them, don’t you know. I’m sure Trudeau the Younger will sleep better at night knowing that.
Simmons also submits that Donovan Bailey has not been awarded the Order of Canada because—wait for it—he’s a Black man. Yup, if not for the hue of his skin, the former Olympic sprint champion would have received the honor long ago. Hmmm. Apparently the advisory council that selects Order of Canada recipients didn’t notice Herb Carnegie’s skin color. Or Willie O’Ree’s. Or Ben Johnson’s. That’s right, Ben freaking cheater Johnson became a member of the Order in 1987. He has very black skin. Among the original group of recipients was Isaac Phills, a Black steelworker. So to suggest that Bailey has been blackballed due to race is “beyond stupid and ridiculous.” Simmons might want to consider another mea culpa, this one to members of the advisory council for branding them as racist.
MLB plans to use canned crowd noise from video games during the season, and sound engineers will have a selection of 75 audio choices. Apparently, the folks at Fenway Park in Boston have yet to decide if they’ll be using racial or anti-gay slurs as part of their sound package.
Also, a few MLB outfits will place cardboard images of actual fans in their empty ballparks. Lucky stiffs.
Just wondering: Will they still play Take Me Out To The Ballgame during the seventh-inning stretch at Wrigley Field?
Alex Rodriguez wants to buy the New York Mets and introduce an economic system that sounds suspiciously like a salary cap. Ya, says the guy who made $448,000,000 under the old system.
Here’s something you’ll never hear or read about in men’s professional hockey: Romantic relationships between teammates can be problematic. So says Sofia Reideborn, now a former goaltender with SDE of the Swedish women’s league. During a recent Summer Talk podcast she said, “SDE did well last season but my opinion is that we still didn’t reach our full potential because there were so many love relationships and so much drama within the team. The relationships become a problem. I have nothing against homosexual relationships, it is not what I turn against, but it is relationships with a team because it affects the sporting performance. If you want money, prospects or respect, a team in the highest league cannot possibly have five couples. Ten people involved in a relationship with each other. Half the team.”
SDE defender Jacquie Pierri delivered a robust rebuttal to Reideborn, tweeting, “To argue we should ban player relationships because they are inconvenient in one straight-person’s eyes is backwards and not befitting of any airtime or publicity.”
Speaking of relationships, it looks like football hero Aaron Rodgers and former fast-car racer Danica Patrick have hit the ultimate speed bump and arrived at splitsville. Apparently they had a flare-up over driving: He refused to stop and ask for directions, she couldn’t do anything but make left turns.
And, finally, according to Zodiak readings, if I were a pie I’d be a classic apple pie. And if I were Canadian comfort food, I’d be a Peameal Bacon Sandwich. I’m not sure what any of that means, but it’s making me hungry. Time for brekky.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and, speaking of flattening the curve, here’s something else that’ll probably fall flat…
Did I miss a memo?
I mean, all I heard three months ago was this mantra: COVID-19 is “bigger than sports.” Athletes said it, league leaders said it, owners said it, medics said it, the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker and your neighborhood bookie said it.
It became the most-repeated creed since the Sermon on the Mount. Or at least since Richard M. Nixon tried to convince us that he was “not a crook.”
Thus, power brokers pulled the plug on every athletic event known to the human species—including the Olympic Games—and, hey, while we’re at it, let’s shutter the Canada-U.S. border for the first time since the British put a torch to the White House. We’ll open it again once squints in lab coats have a handle on this pesky coronavirus thing, because it’s “bigger than sports.”
News snoops and opinionists brayed in concert, even though jock journos recognized that there would be a scramble to fill sports pages and air time with quality content while every league remained in lockdown.
No doubt about it. This was a three-alarm pandemic. Much “bigger than sports.” Still is, actually.
Except here we are today and apparently COVID-19 has become an inconvenience no worse than a bad case of zits or rump rot.
Seriously. The squints have yet to discover a vaccine. Medics don’t have a handle on long-term effects of the coronavirus. There is no herd immunity. To mask or not to mask remains a debate. People are still dying. All hell is breaking loose in the United States. But, hey, the girls and boys have been without their play things long enough, so let’s allow the athletes back into the playground. After all, “sports is bigger than COVID-19.”
Now, I haven’t heard any among the decision-makers actually say that aloud, but that’s only because words tend to get muffled behind those pesky coronavirus face masks.
Oh, wait. In their rush to return to the playgrounds at the elite level of professional jockdom, the power brokers forgot to put on their face masks. Either that or, like Donald Trump, they don’t believe they’re necessary, even as the pandemic eats away at the United States like termites on a two-by-four.
Whatever the circumstance, the Toronto Blue Jays requested permission to flee a COVID-19 hot zone, Florida, and transport their bats, their balls and, perhaps, a fresh wave of COVID-19 to the Republic of Tranna. And, sure enough, Trudeau the Younger has given them the okie-dokie to commence training exercises in The ROT.
Moreover, Trudeau the Younger shall give ponder to the Tranna Nine’s wish to contest the home portion of their 60-game Major League Baseball crusade at home, allowing outfits from the COVID-ravaged U.S. to cross the uncrossable border and wander among the rabble willy-nilly. Even as 38 MLB players/employees have already tested positive for COVID-19.
I’m no epidemiologist, but I’d feel safer telling Mike Tyson his face tattoo looks stupid.
Meantime, the National Hockey League plans to establish hub bubbles in the Republic of Tranna and Edmonton, allowing players/attendants from two dozen American-based clubs to cross the uncrossable border and put locals at risk.
Oh, sure, they’re telling us the shinny elite will be going about their daily business in a safety zone sealed tighter than the tombs housing little green people at Area 51, but that isn’t as simple as stuffing last night’s leftovers into a Ziploc bag. Anyone who’s spent time observing young, testosterone-fueled athletes can tell you they don’t tuck themselves in when the street lights go on. To some, curfew and a wake-up call arrive at the same hour in the a.m.
Trust me, after a month in lockup, even downtown Edmonton will begin to look like Shangri-La, and a few of the boys (probably the St. Louis Blues led by Brett Hull) will make a jail break in search of peeler bars and those mountain ranges and streams Alberta Premier Jason Kenney promised them.
I suppose I shouldn’t care, because I’m safely removed from the fray, and if the deep thinkers in E-Town and the Republic of Tranna want to expose their rabble to a hike in COVID cases, who am I to squawk?
But I’d really like to know how and when the pandemic being “bigger than sports” became a case of sports being “bigger than COVID-19.”
I realize I can be a total ditz at times, a circumstance that plagues me with increasing regularity as I slide deeper into my dotage, but it confounds me how fan-free NHL games would make anyone in E-Town or The ROT giddy. I mean, oh joy, they get to watch the Oilers and Leafs on TV. You know, just like the rest of us.
Count veteran essayist Terry Jones of Postmedia E-town among the giddy. Once the Alberta capital had been confirmed as one of the two zip-lock shinny sites, he could scarcely contain his glee. “Edmonton in the summer is a festival city and this year all those festivals have been cancelled,” the dean of Canadian jock journos wrote. “But with proper social distancing, you can have a hockey festival. It’s going to be fun to see what Edmonton can create. Imagine big screen video boards erected around town and fans watching games in their cars Drive-In Movie style with Dog & Suds style car hops delivering food and beverages.” Ya, sure, and maybe the Fonz, Richie, Potsie and Ralph can drop by for the ceremonial faceoff.
I’m not saying the E-Town-proud Jonesy is wrong to wave pom-poms for his burg. Hometown boosterism is one of his admirable qualities, and I get a kick out of it, no matter how delusional it might be (especially when the topic is curling). But a roller-blading car hop asking, “Would you like fries with your order of COVID-19?” wouldn’t be my idea of a good time. I’d be surprised if the majority in northern Wild Rose Country share Jonesy’s enthusiasm for a COVID Carnival.
Similarly, why would any among the rabble in Good Ol’ Hometown want to welcome nine Canadian Football League outfits for a Coles Notes version of a no-fans, three-downs season? What, mosquitoes the size of St. Bernards and potholes the size of the Bermuda Triangle aren’t enough to deal with without adding an invasion of Yankee Doodle Dandies into the mix? If anyone can tell me what’s to be gained by trucking hundreds of Americans across the uncrossable border into Winnipeg, I’m prepared to listen.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers voice Knuckles Irving is fully onside with the large lads in pads assembling in River City to grab grass and growl at Football Follies Field In Fort Garry. “We’ve been saying for weeks on the CJOB sports show that Wpg is the obvious choice as a CFL hub city, IF it comes to that,” he tweeted. “And it might come to that, but it hasn’t yet. NOTHING has been finalized. When it is and the CFL decides ‘hubbing it” is the way to go, hello Winnipeg!!”
I mentioned this a week ago, but it bears repeating now that the feds have allowed the Blue Jays to nestle in The ROT: Perhaps they’ll explain why the Winnipeg Goldeyes are forced to call Fargo, N.D., home this summer. Oh, that’s right, Trudeau the Younger and cronies don’t want non-essential workers crossing the uncrossable border. Apparently Charlie Montoyo is essential but Rick Forney isn’t.
The Washington Redskins will likely change their team name (money talks). The Cleveland Indians will think about changing their team name. The Seattle NHL expansion franchise remains a Team To Be Named Later. Meanwhile, New York Knicks fans are hoping James Dolan changes his name to the Billionaire Formerly Known As Owner.
I note that Vlad (The Bad) Putin has signed a one-way deal to rule Russia until at least 2036, about the same time Tom Brady is expected to show signs of slowing down.
Speaking of lifetime contracts, the New York Mets continue to pay Bobby Bonilla to not play baseball. The Amazin’s top up Bonilla’s bank account by a whopping $1,193,248.20 each July 1 and will do so until 2035, even though he last wore their double-knits in 1999. If nothing else, the Bonilla deal gives new meaning to Casey Stengel’s lament about his 1962 Mets: “Can’t anybody here play this game?” Bonilla doesn’t have to.
Imagine getting paid all that money to do absolutely squat. You know, like the Kardashians.
So David Price of the Los Angeles Dodgers has decided to skip the 2020 MLB season. That’s different. He doesn’t normally disappear until the playoffs.
What’s this? The Drab Slab plans to eliminate reader comments on July 14? Shame that. There’ve been days when the readers’ thread was more interesting and entertaining than the articles.
It’s fair to wonder what fantasy world Evander Kane exists in. I mean, the co-creator of the Hockey Diversity Alliance did the Zoom thing recently and claimed that the misdeeds of white athletes, such as Brendan Leipsic, are nothing more than “a footnote” on sports pages and TV.
“This guy does what he does, has a group message where he’s saying some not so good comments, to put it lightly,” Kane began. “I go on TSN and I’m trying to look for the article. I’m thinking, ‘Big story, career over, it’ll be at the top of the page’ because every time something happened to me or another Black player, top of the page, blowing up, front-line news. They want to make sure everybody can see it.
“I’ve got to scroll all the way down and there’s a little blurb. It’s not ‘Brendan Leipsic makes horrific comments about player’s girlfriend’ or ‘Makes misogynist comment or fat shames,’ it’s ‘Brendan Leipsic apologizes for comments.’ How generic and undetailed is that for a headline?’
“From my own personal experience, they want to make it as detailed as possible. They want to overstate it, blow it up. They want to portray you in such a negative light that it gathers so much attention. When it comes to white players, it’s a footnote.”
What a load of complete crap.
Leipsic’s conversation about women was front-page news, not a footnote, in the Winnipeg Free Press, the Winnipeg Sun, the Washington Post, the Globe and Mail, the National Post and numerous other dailies and websites. Headlines included descriptives like “Misogynistic and reprehensible,” and “vulgar” and “offensive.” He’s been drummed out of the NHL. And he’s a white guy.
Drew Brees is also a white guy. He took a royal beating for a regrettable (stupid) comment about not respecting athletes who kneel during the American national anthem.
Johnny Manziel is a white guy. He’s been battered fore and aft for a string of ugly trespasses.
Josh Hader, Kevin Pillar, Ryan Getzlaf, John Rocker, Curt Schilling, Andrew Shaw, Brock Lesnar, Tyson Fury are among numerous white guys who’ve been called out in print and on air for homophobic/racist/sexist natter.
Just like Kane himself.
You might recall a tweet the then-Winnipeg Jets forward posted during an NBA playoff game in 2013: Chris Bosh of the Miami Heat “looked like a fairy going to the rim.” When challenged on the homophobic tone of the tweet, he stood firm, responding, “Man, there’s a lot of overly sensitive people on here. It’s unreal how some of you on here turn absolutely nothing into something so wrong. As I have said before and I’ll say it again if you can’t handle real talk unfollow.”
Ya, that’s the guy I want heading up a Diversity Alliance.
And, finally, my favorite tweet last week was delivered by old friend/broadcaster Peter Young: “In early 70s while teaching grade 9 Phys Ed one class was devoted to mild version on Sex Ed. One 14 year old female on fill in the blank question. ‘Most sexual diseases are transmitted in the area of the REGINA.’” So I guess former Blue Bombers head coach Mike Kelly was right when he called the Saskatchewan capital the “crotch of Canada.”
How about 300 million of them? Do I hear 1,500,000,000?
Apparently Randy Ambrosie doesn’t think that’s too much of an ask, because he’s panhandling on Parliament Hill these days, hoping that Prime Minister Trudeau the Younger is a fan of three-downs football and has a spare $30 million to $150 million stashed in his couch at Rideau Cottage.
If not…well, that’s the part of the big beg that Ambrosie has yet to spell out, but it suggests the end could be nigh for the Canadian Football League. Final score: COVID-19, CFL-0.
And, no, now that you’ve asked, I don’t think that’s being alarmist or extremist.
Look, I realize the CFL already has had more sticks of Acme dynamite blow up in its face than Wile E. Coyote, but the COVID-19 pandemic is a different kind of beast. The sports world will be harder to put together than a broken egg, and our quirky game requires a special kind of fix.
Rouge Football, you see, isn’t doable without fannies in the pews, even if the Argonauts and the dismissive citizenry in the Republic of Tranna do their best to prove otherwise. It can’t work. Not in The ROT, not in Good Ol’ Hometown, not on the Left Flank, where the locals won’t even come in from the rain to watch the Lions.
Thus, if turnstiles aren’t turning, it’s folly to discuss a Coles Notes version of a 2020 CFL crusade commencing on the Labor Day weekend.
Which means, yes, short of Trudeau the Younger morphing into PM Pigskin and tossing $30M into Commish Randy’s begging cap immediately (and another $120M if this season is a no-go), the CFL as we know it is likely a done deal.
“What would happen if that $30 million assistance was denied?” TSN’s Dave Naylor asked Randy the Panhandler the other day.
“I’m not indulging in the question what happens if it doesn’t work because I believe we’re going to find a way to make it work,” came the answer.
No surprise that Commish Randy would decline to engage in doomsday talk. He’s one of those dudes who’ll tell you his watch can’t possibly be broken because it shows the correct time twice a day. He’s never seen a half-empty stadium. Not even BMO Field in The ROT. Always half full. He knows what an empty piggy bank looks like, though, and he recognizes that saving the CFL will take more than a GoFundMe page.
And that’s a very grim reckoning for many of my vintage.
I remember when the CFL was the big dog in town, because we didn’t have National Hockey League outfits to call our own out in the colonies. But we had Kenny Ploen, the Lincoln Locomotive, Bud Grant and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Saskatchewan had the Little General, George, Gluey Huey and the Roughriders. Calgary had Eagle Day, Earl the Earthquake, Ham Hands and the Stampeders. Edmonton had Spaghetti Legs, the China Clipper, Johnny Bright and the Eskimos. B.C. had Peanut Butter Joe, Willie the Wisp, Nub and the Lions.
So a Canada without Rouge Football? Sorry, that’s not my Canada.
It would be like a pub without pints. A church without prayer. The McKenzie Brothers without brown pops, toques, earmuffs and a “beauty day, eh.”
But that’s my take, owing to the fact I was weaned on the game when single-bar face masks were still in vogue, and east was east and west was west and never the twain did meet until the Grey Grail was up for grabs.
Others, however, won’t be swayed by notions of nostalgia and Canadiana culture. They don’t want their tax dollars used to pay Mike Reilly’s and Bo Levi Mitchells’ $700,000 salaries, and certainly not Commish Randy’s reported annual stipend of half a million loonies. That’s an impossible sell when many thousands among the rabble are forced to feed at the public trough due to COVID-19, and going-out-of-business signs are popping up like dandelions.
I’ve heard the CFL described as a mom-and-pop operation and, in the grand scheme of things, I suppose it is. It’s dwarfed by the goliath that is the National Football League, and robust broadcasting contracts allow the other main players (National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, National Hockey League, Major League Soccer) to re-enter the fray sans customers. At least temporarily.
Not so Rouge Football.
Pundits suggest Commish Randy’s beg is a Hail Mary pass, and I’m inclined to agree. But, hey, Trudeau the Younger is a good Catholic boy, so he probably owns a rosary and might have an “in” when it comes to answered prayers.
If not, I fear there’s a very real possibility the CFL will run out of downs.
I don’t want to pay Bo Levi Mitchell’s wage anymore than the next person but, for the record, I have no problem with the CFL panhandling on Parliament Hill. I’d do the same thing. That doesn’t make it the right thing, but it doesn’t make it wrong, either.
The hardest part of Commish Randy’s sales pitch? Convincing the feds that people hither and yon actually give a damn about Rouge Football. He can wax poetic about the beauty of the three-downs game, how it’s a significant and historic thread in the country’s fabric, but he can’t sugar coat the head counts in our three largest markets—the Republic of Tranna, Montreal, Vancouver. I’ve seen more people at a neighborhood flea market than the Argos attract to BMO Field. The Lions are a rumor in B.C. Montreal showed a pulse late last season, but it was faint. So never mind the odious notion of bailing out millionaire and billionaire owners, how does Commish Randy sell the feds on a product that most of the rabble is meh about?
No matter how this all shakes down, I’m convinced we’ll see someone ride a horse into a big-city hotel lobby on the final Sunday in November once again. But not this year. A post-pandemic CFL won’t look the same, at least not initially. I see reduced rosters, more Canadians and fewer imports on game-day rosters, wage shrinkage (on and off the field), and two leagues under the CFL banner: The Western Football League and the Eastern Football Union. No more interlocking play. Just West v. West/East v. East until the Grey Cup game. You know, like it was in the 1950s and into the ’60s. And road trips on the bus (except to B.C.) to lower costs. That’s what the tea leaves are telling me, so remember where you read it first. Or not.
What a surprise—the CFL asks for money from the feds and we hear squawking from other athletes, notably Liz Knox, one of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association mouthpieces. “We’re asking for peanuts compared to a $150-million ask,” she bleated, recalling the collapse of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League last spring. “When the CWHL was folding, we were talking in the hundreds of thousands to get us in the clear so the league didn’t have to fold. We’re talking two or three CFL salaries. That would (have) made the difference of us literally surviving or not. Women’s sport is often seen as a charity, but that’s not the narrative that we’re hearing about the CFL and their situation right now.” Well, actually, that’s exactly what many among the rabble are calling the CFL these days—a charity case. Liz might want to try a different narrative.
Why is it that members of the PWHPA seem to be caught in a never-ending pity party, constantly griping about the sorry lot in life that they’ve created for themselves and demanding what they “deserve,” yet we never hear similar grumbling from the National Women’s Hockey League? NWHL leaders simply go about their business, adding an expansion franchise in the Republic of Tranna, conducting a player draft, and prepping for the 2020 crusade. At last report, 26 women are already on board for the NWHL’s sixth season, and none of them are bitching about “deserving” a living wage. That’s what they’re building toward—a better tomorrow for Ponytail Puck—and I’d say they’re going about it the right way.
In the winter of 2015, I was having a discussion with friend/former colleague Judy Owen about sports scribes at Winnipeg’s two dailies, and I directed her attention to a young writer still trying to find her way in the rag trade. “I really like Melissa Martin’s stuff,” I told Jude. “She doesn’t cover things the same old, same old way. She has a different style, and I like different. She’s the best pure writer they have at the Freep.” Jude didn’t disagree, but she seemed genuinely surprised, if not mildly amused, that I harbored such high regard for Melissa. Well, fast forward to spring 2020: Melissa won her second National Newspaper Award the other night, as top columnist in the country. Like I was saying five years ago, she’s the best they’ve got at the Drab Slab. Still. Too bad she only makes cameo appearances in the toy department.
The week in jock journalism…
Really nice read from Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab on Ralph Wild, a 101-year-old who’s been root, root, rooting for the Blue Bombers since Buddy Tinsley almost drowned during the Mud Bowl at Varsity Stadium in the Republic of Tranna. If you’re scoring at home, that was in 1950, so Ralph has seen some football…Shrinkage alert: The Winnipeg Sun sports section was reduced to just four pages three days last week. And, get this: They managed to fill those pages mostly with local copy. Imagine that. Running local copy by local scribes instead of all the usual flapdoodle from the Republic of Tranna. What a concept…Mind you, it was back to normal for today’s edition, with a Toronto-centric piece on the sports front and more on the inside…Made a point of watching the Her Mark show on TSN, but I’m afraid it totally missed the mark. The guest list included Christine Sinclair, Tessa Virtue, Marie-Philip Poulin, Kia Nurse, Natalie Spooner and Hayley Wickenheiser, and host Kate Beirness said, “I hope the stories they share will be as uplifting to viewers as they have been to me.” Excuse me? What stories? It was a series of public service announcements. So let’s just call it an opportunity lost for female athletes…Why does TSN, or anyone for that matter, think Will Ferrell is funny? He isn’t. Ferrell pranked the Seattle Seahawks on a Zoom gathering the other day, expressing his “love” for quarterback Russell Wilson and saying “let’s make a baby.” Beirness described the bit as “fantastic.” No. It was totally lame, just like Ferrell’s gig in the TSN curling booth…Sad news out of Calgary: Longtime broadcaster Russ Peake died at age 80. You’d have to look long and hard to find a nicer man than Russ.
If you have a spare 50 minutes in your day (and who doesn’t?), grab a beer or a glass of vino and check out Road to the Grey Cup, a documentary on the Bombers’ journey to their three-downs title last November. It’s the handiwork of Rheanne Marcoux (creative director), Riley Marra (producer, editor, videographer), Jeremy Derochers and Sam Calvert (videographers) and it’s boffo stuff.
There was considerable ballyhoo on Saturday when an extremely large Icelandic lad named Hafthor Bjornsson established a world record for dead-lifting 1,104 pounds. What’s the big deal? The Cleveland Browns have been carrying that much dead weight since the 1960s.
There’s also been much natter about the incomparable Secretariat winning NBC’s virtual running of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday. Big Red out-galloped a field that included 12 other Triple Crown champions, including 1919 winner Sir Barton, who finished last by about 15 lengths. Talk about flogging a dead horse.
The talented Murat Ates of The Athletic has scanned the Winnipeg Jets roster and determined that there are five untouchables: Connor Hellebuyck, Rink Rat Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Josh Morrissey and Neal Pionk. That’s right, he’ll trade away Twig Ehlers, Kyle Connor or Puck Finn, but not Neal Pionk, whose only a top-pairing defenceman by default. I admire Murat’s way with words, but I’m not hiring him as GM of my hockey team.
And, finally, if the last month and a half has seemed more like an entire year, and if you can’t tell one day from the next, you’ve got an idea what life is like for a lot of seniors. Isolation can be very numbing, physically and mentally.
A hump day smorgas-bored…and let’s hope this is the only hump in your week…
These are fretsome times on the playgrounds of Good Ol’ Hometown.
I mean, there’s still plenty of grass to grab, but many among the rabble have already stuck a fork in the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, whose 29th annual rebuilding year is beginning to resemble the first 28.
Oh, sure, our football heroes have secured a ticket to next month’s post-season frolic, but recent developments (three-game skid, flat-lining offence) indicate they’ll earn nothing more than a participation badge and, soon enough, we’ll hear much talk of backing up the truck to load and haul away Kyle Walters’ belongings. And Mike O’Shea’s. And Richie Hall’s. And Paul LaPolice’s.
That would make CEO Wade Miller the last man standing, and some of us had it figured to be that way all along.
But maybe we should let this thing play out before calling the moving company, no?
Like many of you, I don’t think Chris Streveler is a Grey Cup-quality quarterback, but I didn’t think Sean Salisbury was either, and he has a Grey Cup ring. The fact that the Bombers copped the 1988 Canadian Football League crown in spite of Salisbury, not because of him, might win you an argument in a pub, but it doesn’t mean he has to return the jewelry. A title is a title is a title.
So if Salisbury can win a Coupe de Grey, why not Tim Tebow In A Toque?
I know, I know. Streveler isn’t much for throwing the football. He tosses the rock like it’s…well, a rock. But, then, Salisbury wasn’t the second coming of Dieter Brock, either. More than half his passes landed on the ground or in the wrong hands (26 picks before being kicked off the team in 1989), but he benefited from a take-no-prisoners defensive dozen that arrived at the ball yard in a bad mood and stayed in snarl mode for three hours.
“We didn’t have what you would call a traditional quarterback in Sean Salisbury who might have looked like he couldn’t get it done, but we realized as long as he didn’t jack it up, we would still win,” rollicking linebacker James (Wild) West once told Ed Tait of bluebombers.com.
The same goes for Streveler. Just don’t “jack it up” like he did last Saturday v. the Saskatchewan Roughriders (two picks, one spilled ball) on the Flattest of Lands, and there’s hope, albeit faint.
Go ahead and accuse me of typing with rose-tinted glasses, and maybe I am, but I believe the CFL West Division remains a crap shoot and the Bombers aren’t completely out of the discussion.
All the same, it might be an idea to have the moving company keep the trucks on standby. Parked near the loading dock, of course.
Meantime, it’s about the Winnipeg Jets who, unlike the Bombers, can score, but perhaps not frequently enough once they get into the deep grind of the National Hockey League season.
The local shinny side, now 2-2 after a unexpected and admirable 4-1 victory over the Penguins on Tuesday night in Pittsburgh, features a blueline corps that has no business calling itself an NHL defence, and it doesn’t help that Dustin Byfuglien remains in limbo.
Or does Big Buff’s absence really matter, other than his wage impacting the salary cap?
Don’t run off with the notion that Byfuglien will provide a quick fix on the blueline if and when he returns from his personal Tour de Navel. Big Buff does his best work when the puck is on his stick, not when the guys on the other side have it and he’s scrambling to make up for his latest gaffe.
That’s not to say the second coming of Buff wouldn’t provide some benefit, but, given that he can’t possibly be in game trim (as if anything about Buff is ever trim), he might add nothing more than comic relief.
There is, of course, a school of thought that Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff should declare a state of urgency and instruct Byfuglien to fish or cut bait. That is, if he’s going to retire, fine. Sign the papers and they can free up $7.6 million in cap space. If he’s going to return, get his big butt back on the blueline. Pronto.
What’s the point of that, though? You want a guy who’s not physically/mentally NHL-ready in your lineup? There are enough of them already.
Reality is, retire or return, Byfuglien has excused himself from the Jets’ future. I mean, if he lacks the jam to join them for this crusade, I can’t imagine he’ll feel any differently a year from now. Let’s face it, he’s done as a useful member of Winnipeg HC. Even if he chooses to return a week or a month from now, they should trade him at that point and get on with it. Look, the Jets would be iffy to qualify for Beard Season with Buff in harness, so it’s not like he’s the difference between a Stanley Cup parade or just another day in late June.
Interesting take on the Bombers from Doug Brown in the Drab Slab. Noting management’s failure to land a seasoned QB to prop up Streveler for the final playoff push, the former D-lineman wondered if Miller, Walters and O’Shea had waved the surrender cloth. “So with Matt Nichols done for the year, and a guaranteed playoff game, has this management team that has always attacked issues and problems at a fever pitch, decided this is as good as it gets at the most critical position on the field?” he wrote earlier this week of Winnipeg FC going all-in with Streveler. He then suggested remaining status quo “makes you think the team is ok with using the Matt Nichols injury as the reason the season went off the rails.” As much as I applaud Doug’s calling out the Canadian Mafia, numerous reports indicated Winnipeg FC had, in fact, pitched woo only to find no takers in a QB hunt that didn’t end until they took brittle Zach Collaros hostage from the Tranna Argonauts, at the 11th hour on trade deadline Wednesday. But, trust me, even had they lured Kevin Glenn off his couch, he was never going to be the answer, and I have my doubts about Collaros and his squishy grey matter. The Bombers didn’t tap out, but they brought in an insurance policy that will last no longer than the first blindside hit. Sad to say, Collaros is Buck Pierce II.
When there’s something strange in your neighborhood, who you gonna call? Pinball Clemons, naturally. That at least seems to be the reflex move in the Republic of Tranna whenever the Bottomless Boatmen go glub, glub, glub, which they’ve done this CFL season with a 2-12 record. Pinball (his mama named him Michael) has been a player, the head coach (twice), the team president, the CEO, the vice-chair and, as of Tuesday morning, the little man with the mega-watt smile and glistening teeth is occupant of the GM’s office vacated by Jim Popp. There’s no official record of it, but he’s probably washed socks and jocks and cooked some pre-game pasta, too. So I suppose if any GM hiring can put seats in the stands at BMO Field in The ROT, it would be the wildly popular Pinball, but I fail to see how his extreme likability will translate into Ws on the field when he has zero experience. It’ll help, of course, that the Pinster has longtime CFL skills sleuth John Murphy at his beck and call to turn over stones in search of talent, and I suspect Corey Chamblin is in his finals days as head coach of the Argos. Still, Pinball’s appointment comes across as a bowl of comfort food more than something that’ll stick to your ribs long term.
Here’s a thought: If the Bombers’ season continues to go south and they back up the trucks at Winnipeg FC headquarters in Fort Garry next month, the hiring of Clemons might provide O’Shea with a soft place to land. Coach Grunge played with and for Pinball in The ROT, and they won Grey Cups together, so I’d have to think he’d be a candidate for the head coaching gig once Chamblin is obliged to leave. But would he take LaPolice along as his O-coordinator?
A couple of questions about Don Cherry and his rambling sermons on Hockey Night in Canada: 1) Does anybody really listen—I mean really listen—to what the fossil has to say? 2) Never mind that he treats the language like a pit bull on a pork chop, why hasn’t anyone in the ivory tower at Rogers noticed that he long ago became borderline incoherent? Here’s a sample of his Rhapsody in Ramble On from this past Saturday:
“Ya know, the Leafs, ya know, the Leafs…highly skilled team. I will say highly skilled team, but they’re regular-season game. You cannot win unless you’re tough in the, in the (closes eyes, shakes head)…the playoffs have proven by St. Louis. Sixteen Canadians, Canadian coach, Canadian GM, tough. Look what they did to San Jose, they put…now I know a lot of guys, we know a lot of guys that don’t like this…they put out Hertl, Pavelski and Karlsson. They put out…and, uh…I like what Berube said. Berube said, ‘Don’t worry about the penalties.’ SIXTEEN CANADIANS! You CANNOT WIN unless you’re tough.”
Translation: The Tranna Maple Leafs aren’t tough enough to win the Stanley Cup.
In case you didn’t notice (which probably means most of you), Dani Rylan’s National Women’s Hockey League dropped the puck on its fifth season last weekend, while boycotting members of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association took their hissy fit to New Hampshire and staged glorified scrimmages for the benefit of friends and family. None of which furthered the cause of Ponytail Puck. “When the boycott happened, it refragmented the market,” NWHL commissioner Rylan said recently. “I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to quantify the opportunity lost this offseason, and how maybe the game has slowed because of the boycott.” I agree with Rylan. The boycotters’ main goal is to put her NWHL out of business in the belief that Gary Bettman and the NHL will swoop in to pick up the pieces, forming a WNHL that offers $50,000 to $100,000 wages. Talk about unicorns and fairy dust.
Members of the boycotting PWHPA, by the way, played a young men’s team from André-Laurendeau College in Quebec last month and were beaten 4-3 in OT. Not sure how the best female players in the world losing to a band of fuzzy-cheeked lads advances their quest for the “living wage” salaries they believe they “deserve.”
Every time I see Clayton Kershaw cough up a hairball in the Major League Playoffs or World Series, I can’t believe some people still compare him favorably to Los Angeles Dodgers legend Sandy Koufax. They’re both lefties and their last names begin with the letter K, but that’s where the comparisons end for me.
And, finally, I gave ponder to watching the federal leaders election debate the other night, but I heard enough lies and double talk during 30 years in jock journalism to last what’s left of my lifetime, thus I gave it a pass. I’m told, however, that Justin Trudeau showed up without shoe polish on his face, which was thoughtful of him, and Andrew Scheer is still an anti-abortion American who prefers to wade into the name-calling swamp rather than debate issues and platforms. Some choice.