Let’s talk about the Untouchables and Winnipeg Jets…horse racing in a Bizarro World…Hee! Haw! It’s the Bradshaw Bunch…open season on anything wearing green-and-white…Steve Nash and Robin Hood…Strat-O-Matic Baseball…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and it’s another long weekend until the next long weekend…

Okay, let’s get this out of the way right off the hop:

Peter Puck and Wayne Gretzky

Babe Ruth was sold. Wayne Gretzky was traded. The New York Mets told Nolan Ryan to get lost. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wanted out of the U.S. Midwest and the Milwaukee Bucks obliged. Three husbands dumped Marilyn Monroe.

So don’t talk to me about untouchables with the Winnipeg Jets.

I mean, untouchables? You’re talking untouchables? Tell that to Peter Pocklington.

Peter Puck’s the dude who dispatched Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings, then sat in a flashy convertible during a Stanley Cup parade in downtown Edmonton less than two years later.

It doesn’t always work out that way, of course, and we need look no further than Fenway Park in Boston for evidence. The Red Sox peddled the Bambino to the dreaded Evil Empire in New York for the kingly sum of $100,000, the first of four $25,000 payments made on Dec. 19, 1919.

The Bambino

“I do not wish to detract one iota from Ruth’s ability as a ballplayer nor from his value as an attraction, but there is no getting away from the fact that despite his 29 home runs, the Red Sox finished sixth in the race last season,” Bosox bankroll Harry Frazee harrumphed. “What the Boston fans want, I take it, and what I want because they want it, is a winning team, rather than a one-man team which finishes in sixth place.”

Well, the Red Sox didn’t celebrate another World Series championship until 2004. Ruth and the Yankees, meanwhile, sprayed each other with bubbly after seven American League pennants and four WS victories by the time the Sultan of Swat bid adieu to the Bronx and Yankee Stadium in 1934.

So, ya, parting ways with a young blue-chipper can blow up in your face like a Wile E. Coyote scheme gone wrong, but the value is in the return. Always.

Frazee accepted paper money in barter for Babe Ruth. Poor return. Pocklington, on the other hand, insisted on live bodies (Jimmy Carson and Martin Gelinas) in exchange for Gretzky, plus first-round picks in 1989, ’91, ’93, plus $15 million of Bruce McNall’s bankroll. The Oilers won a title sans No. 99, the Kings had a sniff in 1993 but never won with him.

Which brings us back to the Jets and untouchables.

Chevy

Let’s suppose, for the sake of discussion, that general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff answers the phone one day and it’s Joe Sakic on the line. The Colorado Avalanche GM is offering Cale Makar. He wants Patrick Laine in return. Is Chevy supposed to say “Sorry Joe, but Patty’s an untouchable,” and hang up? Maybe Jim Benning will call and offer up Quinn Hughes, asking for Nikolaj Ehlers in barter. You don’t really believe Chevy would decline because “Nik is an untouchable” do you?

Sorry, kids, but there hasn’t been an Untouchable since Eliot Ness and accomplices went after Al Capone’s booze dens in Chicago.

Puck Finn

Certainly there are players you’d like to keep in Jets linen, but if the right offer falls onto Chevy’s lap, damn straight he has to pull the trigger. (Assuming, of course, that the Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, gives it the official okie-dokie from on high.)

This, remember, is an outfit that failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament. A side that hasn’t won a post-season skirmish since skating to the National Hockey League’s final four more than two years ago. So it doesn’t matter if we’re talking Rink Rat Scheifele, Twig Ehlers, Puck Finn, Josh Morrissey or Kyle Connor.

If the right deal comes along, you do it.

What about goalkeeper Connor Hellebuyck, you ask? Same thing. In case you haven’t noticed, with the exception of Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning, teams still alive in the current Stanley Cup runoff are doing it without Vezina Trophy-winning puck stoppers. The Colorado Avalanche were one Michael Hutchinson save away from advancing to the final four. Ditto the Vancouver Canucks and Thatcher Demko. The New York Islanders won Game 7 vs. the Philly Flyers with backup Thomas Greiss in the blue paint. And don’t get me started on Anton Khudobin. So repeat after me: There should be no untouchables with the Winnipeg Jets.

The Kentucky Derby: Big hats and mint juleps.

In this, the strangest of years, the first leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown, the Kentucky Derby, became the second leg, and the second leg, the Preakness Stakes, will be the third leg, and the third leg, the Belmont Stakes, became the first leg. I swear, there hasn’t been this much confusion about legs since Joe Namath did that pantyhose commercial in the 1970s.

No horse had better legs than Authentic on Saturday at Churchill Downs in Louisville. The Kentucky-bred bay colt showed 14 other ponies his heels in the Run for the Roses, which means his four legs now have one leg. And if that sounds like some kind of a Zen koan, blame it on the Dalai Jocklama.

Normally, of course, the Kentucky Derby goes to the post the first Saturday in May, and the pews at Churchill Downs are full of fashionable ladies trying not to spill their mint juleps while bumping into one another with their big hats. Not so on the first Saturday in September 2020. The grandstand was basically barren before and after Authentic stuck his nose under the wire, and it just didn’t feel right without the Derby day buzz. Then again, is there anything about 2-aught-20 that feels right?

Come to think of it, were I a horse breeder, I’d have named my first foal this year Bizarro World. You know, as a salute to a time in history when up is down, over is under, right is left, and Terry Bradshaw gets his own reality TV show.

For real. Bradshaw has a show on the telly to call his own. The concept for The Bradshaw Bunch on E! Channel seems simple enough: The former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback surrounds himself with a bevy of beauties (his wife and three daughters), and cameras follow them about the ranch in Oklahoma while they discuss such urgent family matters as one of the girls getting a boob job. In other words, it’s the Kardashians do Hee Haw.

Hey, it’s the Labor Day weekend. The Saskatchewan Roughriders and Winnipeg Blue Bombers should be grabbing grass and growling this very afternoon in the annual Labor Day Weekend Classic on the Flattest of Lands. Not happening, though, because Canadian Football League coffers are as empty as a politician’s promise and its line of credit is worse than the COVID curve stateside. But that doesn’t mean the true tradition need end—taking cheap shots at Flatlanders and their football team. Which brings to mind a Matty-ism from a Jack Matheson column in the Winnipeg Tribune after a trade sent Tom Clements from the Ottawa Rough Riders to Saskatchewan in 1979: “Mrs. Tom Clements is said to have been the push behind her QB husband’s recent move because she felt ‘Ottawa’s a hick town,’ so you have to wonder how Regina will grab her.”

A typical day in Regina.

Premier Scott Moe has declared this Saskatchewan Roughriders Day on the Flattest of Lands, and he’s encouraged the rabble to adorn themselves in green-and-white garb. To which every citizen in the province said: “Huh? Ya means to tell us they makes tank tops and ball caps in other colors?” Seriously, a melonhead needs urging to wear green and white like a priest needs a reminder to say prayers on Sunday.

I haven’t watched a great portion of the NHL’s made-for-TV frolic in the Edmonton and Republic of Tranna bubbles, but my sampling has been sufficient enough to know that Sportsnet’s Chris Cuthbert calls a terrific game. He’s going to be missed in the TSN blurt box once the CFL is back in business, whenever that is.

Steve Nash

I agree, the hiring of Steve Nash as head coach of the Brooklyn Nets is a peculiar bit of business. I mean, he’s a scrawny white guy in a league full of large Black men, he’s Canadian in a league of mostly Americans, and he has zero experience. We haven’t seen anyone that miscast since a movie mogul put Kevin Costner in a pair of tights and told him he was Robin Hood.

Speaking of media, cheering in the press box is supposed to be taboo, but news snoops in the Republic of Tranna must have missed the memo. Just watch the sports highlights shows on TSN and Sportsnet and you’ll hear them openly swooning and unabashedly root, root, rooting for the Toronto Jurassics in the National Basketball Association playoffs, and the same must be said of the boys on the beat at the daily newspapers. They don’t give the Maple Leafs, Blue Jays, Tranna FC or Argonauts a similar amount of sugar, which leaves me to wonder what it is about the Jurassics that has won over such a normally hard-scrabble lot.

Got a kick out of Gregg Drinnan’s piece on his time at the Winnipeg Tribune, a tour of duty that included a case of mistaken identity. No spoilers here, though. I’ll let Gregg tell the story. I’ll just say it involved the Greaser (that’s Gregg), Knuckles Irving, Cactus Jack, Kenny Ploen, Blue Bombers GM Earl Lunsford and a fancy, shmancy hotel suite in Calgary (don’t worry, it’s not X-rated). Gregg also confirms that some of the Trib tales I told last week might actually contain a morsel of truth.

One of the things I didn’t mention in my remembrances of the Trib folding 40 years ago was Strat-O-Matic Baseball, a board game based on the actual stats of Major League players. We’d play it during our down time, waiting for late copy or phone calls to come in, and the death of Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver last week reminded me of the year we held a Strat-O-Matic player draft. Seaver was among my starting hurlers, and one night he spun a no-hitter against the Ian (Caveman) Dutton Nine. A few years later while with the Calgary Sun, I had occasion to interview Tom Terrific and, as an ice-breaker, I mentioned the no-no he had hurled v. the Dutton Nine. He looked at me like I was speaking Casey Stengelese, but chuckled. “Don’t laugh,” I told him, “that board game no-hitter will probably be the deciding factor that gets you to Cooperstown some day. The Hall of Fame voters won’t be able to ignore it.” Sure enough, the great New York Mets righthander was elected in 1992, and you can only imagine my disappointment when he failed to mention that Strat-O-Matic perfect game in his acceptance speech.

Ed Willes

I’m not sure if Ed Willes left the building by choice or if he’s the latest victim of Postmedia buffoonery, but he’s done after 38 years in the rag trade, the last 22 at the Vancouver Province. Some of you might remember Ed’s time with the Winnipeg Sun, where he detailed the daily goings-on of the Jets and wrote a column during the 1990s. It was always high-end stuff. The guy can flat-out scribble. Ed turns 65 in November, so perhaps this was the end game all along, but I’m always suspicious whenever quality writers walk away from Postmedia, which has destroyed newspaper competition everywhere west of Winnipeg. If it was his call, good on him. He’s earned his warm corner. If he was nudged by the suits in the Republic of Tranna, shame on Postmedia.

The Willes adios brings to mind a quote from Trent Frayne, the finest jock essayist in my lifetime: “It is an axiom of sports that the legs go first. For sportswriters, it’s the enthusiasm.”

Once upon a time, I officiated kids sports, so I speak from lived experience when I tell you it can be a thankless, often intimidating experience. Some coaches, parents and officials are at odds with acceptable behavior in mixed company, which is putting it politely. So what in the name of Pele was the Manitoba Soccer Association thinking when it instructed its game referees to play the role of rat fink and virtually red card fans who fail to observe physical distancing protocol at kids’ matches? Expecting whistle blowers to be, well, whistle blowers isn’t just unfair, it’s stupid.

Helene Britton and the boys club.

Last week we mentioned that Jennifer Lopez and her main squeeze, Alex Rodriguez, had failed in their bid to buy the New York Mets. If successful, JLo would have joined a short list of female owners in Major League Baseball. The first was Helene Britton, who inherited the St. Louis Cardinals from her uncle, Stanley Robison, in 1911, when women still hadn’t won the right to vote in the U.S. This is how the St. Louis Post-Dispatch described the Redbirds’ new lady owner: “She is small and round and trim, with decided chic. Her mourning costume (for her uncle) failed to subdue certain lively touches that indicate a love of life and gayety…her attitude is ever alert.” Other National League owners, all men, tried to bully the small, round and trim Helene into selling the Cardinals “for the good of the game,” but she held out until 1917, finally accepting $350,000 for the club and ballpark. Among other things while bankrolling the Redbirds, she introduced Ladies Day providing free attendance to women. But only if accompanied by a male escort.

Billie Jean King and Ilana Kloss.

And, finally, today marks the 20th anniversary of Major League Baseball’s first Pride-themed night. It took place at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, mainly because a lesbian couple had been escorted out of the ballpark a week earlier by eight heavy-handed security guards. The crime? The women shared a smooch in the bleachers. Who could imagine back then that two lesbians, Billie Jean King and partner Ilana Kloss, would be part-owners of the Dodgers today?

Let’s talk about Canadian jock journalism and its diversity deficiency

The soft, societal underbelly of Canadian jock journalism is being exposed.

Again.

It is ever thus when real-life concerns (racism, gender equality, sexism, homophobia, misogyny, domestic violence, etc.) invade the playground and relegate final scores, statistics and Tiger Woods’ pursuit of Grand Slam golf titles to a seat of secondary thought.

That, of course, is what’s unfolding now as we observe the horror that is Battleground America.

Unrest has given way to rioting and rubble, the bitter backwash from the death of George Floyd, a Black man whose name held no position in the public conscience until video evidence confirmed that a Minneapolis-St. Paul police officer had used a knee to squeeze the final breath out of him.

In itself, the death of Floyd is not a sports story. Rogue cop kills a Black man. They’ve seen this movie, too many times.

Kareem

Except Michael Jordan is talking about this one. Masai Ujiri is talking about it. LeBron James is talking about it. Evander Kane is talking about it. Blake Wheeler, Jonathan Toews and Logan Couture are talking about it. Kareem has weighed in. Numerous pro sports organizations have issued communiqués condemning racism and social injustice, and that includes the National Football League, which has managed to place itself in the awkward position of being full-score against Colin Kaepernick’s knee of peaceful protest and, at the same time, against a cop’s knee of death.

But here’s someone who can’t talk about it from a platform of lived experience—99 per cent of Canadian sports scribes.

Unless your name is Morgan Campbell or Donnovan Bennett, the best our flowers of jock journalism can do is provide sound bites from Ujiri, Jordan, LeBron, Kareem, Kane et al.

And, yes, it’s terrific when they spread the word. It’s important.

Yet they themselves cannot provide explanation, analysis or offer first-person anecdotal evidence in the arena of marginalization. They fall short, like a warning-track fly ball. They are incapable of commenting and opinionating from a foundation of been there, had that done to me. They don’t know Black. Just like they don’t know female. They don’t know fists of fury. I doubt many of them know or care that this is Pride Month.

Consider this passage from a Michael Grange essay for Sportsnet the other day:

Michael Grange

“It was also a reminder that I’ve never had a moment to be nervous about the police. That I’ve never sent my teenaged son into the world and worried that he could be a victim of a tragic misunderstanding, or worse. I’ve never had to wonder if my skin colour or ethnicity or gender was an obstacle to me reaching my potential. No one should have those fears and concerns. Not today, not ever. I believe we should all act, think, and vote in ways that reflect those fundamental values. I’ve never felt the need to write that before because it’s always seemed so self-evident. So clear. It’s not.”

After viewing the George Floyd death video, a white scribe like Grange might have cringed and muttered something like “That’s just horrible” and maybe even wept, but a Black writer would be more apt to gasp, “Good lord, that could be me or my child,” then lock his doors and keep his family behind cover.

When racism in hockey became the topic du jour late last year, Ron MacLean had a natter with his Hometown Hockey co-host Tara Slone and Black filmmaker Kwame Mason, and he delivered this confession: “It’s a real eye-opener that I don’t recognize the structural racism or sexism that’s going on.”

Ron MacLean

It was an astonishing admission, but MacLean found no requirement to give ponder to racism and sexism because it wasn’t, and isn’t, his ox being gored. He has the privilege of being white and male, which is totally in keeping with the makeup of jock journalism.

I presented these numbers from the most recent Associated Press Sports Editors Racial and Gender Report Card (2018, a study of 75 newspapers/websites in Canada and the U.S.) on Sunday, but they bear repeating:
90 per cent of sports editors were male;
85 per cent of sports editors were white;
88.5 per cent of reporters were male;
83.4 per cent of columnists were male;
82.1 per cent of reporters were white;
80.3 per cent of columnists were white;
44 women were columnists at ‘A’ level newspapers/websites, and 38 worked for ESPN. If the ESPN female columnist were removed, the percentage of female columnists would drop to 2.9 per cent.

Is that a recipe for racist, sexist coverage? Not necessarily. But it does explain why there are so few voices that speak to the very heart of those issues. Also why the message often gets misshapen.

For example, when Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs dropped his trousers to his ankles and mooned a female security guard at 2 o’clock in the morning last summer in Scottsdale, Ariz., male sports scribes turned the incident into a forum on his suitability to serve as team captain. They wrote it off as frat-boy frolic and gave scant consideration to his victim, Fayola Dozithee, and the every-day fears of females.

Auston Matthews

“We all do stupid things,” Cathal Kelly scribbled in the Globe and Mail. “We are all especially likely to do stupid things when it is late, when we are drunk and when we are 22.”

I submit that’s the language of a man who’s done a fair bit of stupid-thing, frat-boy frolicking himself, some of which might have victimized women.

On the domestic violence file, male scribes crucified NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for his botched handling of the Ray Rice case after viewing video evidence of the former running back dragging his unconscious girlfriend off an elevator, but then the boys celebrated the arrival of woman-beating Johnny Manziel to the Canadian Football League.

“Looking forward to seeing Johnny Manziel play in the CFL. Win-Win for the CFL,” rejoiced Chris Cuthbert of TSN.

Johnny Manziel

“It will be fun for everyone to watch,” agreed Dan Barnes of Postmedia.

“Welcome to Canada, Johnny Manziel. And where do I sign up,” chimed in Steve Simmons of Postmedia.

Again, no thought given to the big picture because they aren’t female and vulnerable.

Meantime, there are no figures for the percentage of gay editors/columnists/reporters at major newspapers/websites, but I doubt I’m far off the mark if I suggest it’s less than 1 per cent. Consequently, there’s no one with lived experience to speak to the issue when someone like Michael Sam, Jason Collins or Robbie Rogers are targeted with anti-gay language and deeds.

When Sam became the first openly gay man to participate in a professional football game, many in the LGBT(etc.) collective were delighted and proud. But one prominent jock journo, the aforementioned Simmons, denied that Sam had actually participated in a Canadian Football League game.

Michael Sam

“In reality, pro football still awaits its first openly gay player,” he wrote.

After Sam bugged out on the Montreal Alouettes due to mental health issues, an unidentified sports scribe accused him of “faking it.”

So we had one heterosexual man insisting that a gay man never existed, and another heterosexual man presuming to have first-hand knowledge of the demons that torture and haunt a gay man’s mind.

Jock journalism in our country has a serious diversity deficiency.

It could serve as a vehicle for societal change, but it isn’t constructed that way. Hiring practices make the business too white, too male and too hetero.

The women who appear on TSN, for example, are allowed to be pretty and read a teleprompter, but they aren’t allowed an opinion, the exception being women’s soccer. When skin hue is the topic du jour, Tim Micallef and Sid Seixeiro of Sportsnet can natter about it, but they are unable to reach the core of the issue until Donnovan Bennett is invited into the discussion. He might crack wise about “dial-a-Negro,” which he did, but there’s truth hidden in that joke.

Donnovan Bennett

Bennett authored a thought-provoking essay on the current racist unrest in the U.S., and he closed with this:

“I’m going to challenge my own industry. If you work in sports media and make a living off the talent and ingenuity of black athletes, the least you can do is use your journalistic skills and privilege to show that black lives have equal value to your own. The least you can do is allot more than 28 or 29 days in February to humanizing black people.”

My guess is they’ll have found a new chew toy by this time next week.

FOOTNOTE: Both Bennett’s essay and an article on former National Basketball Association player John Amaechi, who came out as gay after his playing career, are live on the Sportsnet website today. Yet the overlords at Sportsnet refuse to allow discussion on these race and LGBT(etc.) issues by disabling comments on both pieces. Go figure.

Let’s talk about the Zach Attack…a little r-e-s-p-e-c-t, please…a GoFundMe account to pay Mike Reilly…CFL head counts…the NB-Eh champions…TSN’s Drake state of mind…blame it on the Lakers…NHL vs. NBA trinkets…it’s your move, Chevy…and a day of rest for news snoops

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and I wonder if I’ll still be breathing when River City gets another championship parade…

The Zach Attack

Well, that didn’t take long.

Three snaps of the pointy ball into the Canadian Football League season and a starting quarterback was on his wonky way to the repair shop, not to return to the fray.

Sigh.

How silly of me to expect head shots on QBs to go the way of the rotary-dial telephone and hand-written letters.

Let’s face it, there are certain things we now check for at the end of each week’s skirmishing in the CFL: 1) who won; 2) who lost; 3) how horrible East Division outfits not named Hamilton Tiger-Cats are; and 4) the QB body count.

Zach Collaros was first on the quarterback casualty list in this freshly minted 2019 crusade, and the Saskatchewan Roughriders signal-caller has become three-down football’s latest hard-luck case. I’m not sure how many damaging blows to the belfry Zach’s taken, but when he, Matt Dunigan and Buck Pierce get together you’ll hear more bells ringing than on Sunday morning at the Vatican. They’ve taken to calling him QuasiQB on the flatlands (“The bells…the bells…”).

Simoni Lawrence

Naturally, the villain of the piece on Friday night in the Hammer, Ticats linebacker Simoni Lawrence, delivered a post-match mea culpa, insisting the collision between his shoulder and Collaros’ melon was unavoidable and he’s “super sorry.” And, hey, he’s really, really fond of the Riders QB, don’t you know.

“I love Zach to death,” he told TSN’s Matthew Scianitti.

He just doesn’t love him enough to ignore an opportunity to take Collaros out of a game with the kind of dirty, cheap shot that the CFL is supposedly trying to eliminate.

Commish Randy

I trust commissioner Randy Ambrosie wasn’t moved to tears by Lawrence’s warm-and-fuzzy sentiments, and he has no choice but to instruct Lawrence to take a seat in the timeout corner. I’d say anything less than a two-game suspension will confirm that Commish Randy has lost the plot in the quest to keep QBs upright and out of dark rooms.

The punishment for head shots like that which Lawrence laid on Collaros should be chiseled in stone: 25-yard penalty, ejection, suspension. Every time.

Reducing or ridding the CFL of head-hunting isn’t strictly down to Commish Randy. This is very much on the players, too. It’s supposed to be a brotherhood, yet they insist on doing 100 km/h in a 15-km/h school zone, even though their reckless and callous indifference is apt to end a career. The CFL Players Association, it seems, is a brotherhood with very little r-e-s-p-e-c-t between the lines and even less going on between the ears.

Mike Reilly and Leos GM Ed Hervey.

The good news is, the attendance-challenged B.C. Lions hijacked QB Mike Reilly from Edmonton. The bad news is, nobody in Lotus Land gives a damn. Just 18,058 folks found their way to B.C. Place Stadium on Saturday night for a marquee matchup between the Leos and Winnipeg Blue Bombers, and that head count is down from their home opener a year ago (-2,124) and down on their 2018 average (-1,917). A 33-23 loss to the Bombers in the lid-lifter certainly won’t do anything to attract new customers. The Lions are paying Reilly $2.9 million over the next four years, but owner David Braley might have to start a GoFundMe account to cover his QB’s salary.

Attendance took a dive across the board in Week 1 of the CFL season. Here are the numbers compared to 2018 averages:
Calgary:         26,301    (26,339)
B.C.:              18,058    (19,975)
Edmonton:     25,263    (31,107)
Hamilton:      22,287    (23,523)

Just what I had hoped forthe return of the CFL season means the return of Kirk Penton’s scribblings in The Athletic. All is right with the world again.

John Naismith

In view of recent developments, many young people have discovered that a Canadian, John Naismith, was the dude who thought tossing a round ball into a peach basket would be a swell way to kill time. So welcome to Canada—home of the NB-Eh champion Tranna Jurassics.

So, this is how I learned that the Jurassics had captured the National Basketball Eh-ssociation title: I awoke at 1:22 Friday morning after six hours of sleep, turned on my flatscreen, and there was the Insufferable Courtside Clown, Drake, wearing a champions cap and flapping his gums in front of a TSN microphone and camera. Since I didn’t have my ear buds in, I have no idea what blah, blah, blah the Jurassics’ resident groupie was spewing, but I’m sure it was as idiotic as it was irrelevant. The Sportsnet/TSN/Republic of Tranna media infatuation with the rapper is as much a mystery as the Cadbury candy bar.

That was some wild celebration following the Jurassics’ Game 6 win over the Golden State Juggernaut on Thursday. The way people were carrying on, I thought something historic had happened. You know, like maybe the American women’s soccer team had scored another goal to make it 14-0.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Some folks are puzzled by my indifference toward the Jurassics. Allow me to explain. As a sprig, we sometimes played hoops at school, but never on the playground (we’d arrange a rousing game of tin-can cricket before considering basketball). And, being a squirt, I quickly discovered that the requirements to arrive at an acceptable level of on-court competency escaped me. So hoops wasn’t my thing. Still, I developed a great fondness for the Los Angeles Lakers and their marquee performer in the 1960s, NB-Eh logo-boy Jerry West, and my appreciation and admiration for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar dates

Jerry West

back to his days at UCLA, when we knew him as Lew Alcindor and his Bruins seldom lost. I believe it was after Kareem left the Lakers that my interest in hoops began to dwindle, and it didn’t help that HIV took Magic out of the game. By the time guys like Shaq and Kobe stopped bickering long enough to divorce each other, it was strictly meh. So blame it on the Lakers. Anyway, you’ll have to forgive me my failure to embrace the Jurassics. Try as I might, their climb to the top of the hoops heap was not exactly a Beatles-arrive-in-North America occasion for me. But if you’re on the bandwagon, I’m happy for you. Enjoy the parade.

The Jurassics with the Larry O’Brien Trophy

Quiz me this, kids: Which is the most-difficult chore, winning the Stanley Cup or the Larry O’Brien Trophy? By the numbers, both are daunting tasks. Consider:

The National Hockey League playoffs faced off on April 10 and ended on June 12. The St. Loo Blues played 26 games (16-10), two below maximum, in that 64-day time frame. The NHL plays 60-minute matches.

The NB-Eh playoffs tipped off on April 13 and ended on June 13. The Tranna Jurassic played 24 games (16-8), four below maximum, in that 62-day time frame. The NBA plays 48-minute matches.

Personally, I think the Stanley Cup is the harder trinket to win, if for no reason other than the fact hockey players are walloping each other with clubs almost every second night for two months.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

If Kevin Cheveldayoff does nothing more than twiddle his thumbs this week, the NHL’s annual garage sale of freshly scrubbed teenage boys will be a bummer for the rabble in River City. I mean, watching the entry draft when Chevy doesn’t have a first-round shout-out is like going into a pub that doesn’t sell beer. Like, what’s the point? But that’s where the Winnipeg Jets general manager sits today. C’mon, Chevy, do something other than sign European no-names to fill Manitoba Moose jerseys next winter. We need a reason to tune in to the cattle call next Friday night in Vancity.

And, finally, to all the news snoops who’ve been covering the NHL or NBA playoffs for the past two months, take a deep breath, pour yourselves a cocktail or pop a top off a brown bottle, then relaaaaaaax. You’ve earned your day(s) of rest.

About drinking the Winnipeg Jets Kool-Aid…a pity party…size doesn’t really matter…beer-league hockey and a bean counter…a losing MVP…Nathan MacKinnon for MVP…Shaq’s still PO’d about Steve Nash…women in the broadcast booth…and Le Grand Orange bids adieu

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

I didn’t think anyone would buy the “everything goes under the radar when you play in Winnipeg,” bunk that Jets captain Blake Wheeler was selling last week. Other than the gullible, fawning faithful, that is.

But along comes Paul Wiecek and he’s actually swallowing that cup of Winnipeg Jets Kool-Aid.

Right to the very last drop.

Here’s what the Winnipeg Free Press columnist wrote about Wheeler’s “under the radar” malarkey: “That might have been true before this season. In fact, it almost certainly was true.”

In fact, it almost certainly was not true.

Which National Hockey League outfit, the Jets (versions 1.0 and 2.0) or the mega-market Tranna Maple Leafs, do you suppose has produced more individual regular-season award winners and more all-stars since River City was invited to join the fun for the 1979-80 season (excluding, of course, the years when Winnipeg was dark)? I’ll give you a hint: It isn’t the team that skates in the shadow of the CN Tower.

Here are the facts, ma’am…just the facts (they aren’t hard to find):

Winnipeg Jets 1979-80 to 1995-96; 2011-12 to 2016-17

Calder Trophy: Dale Hawerchuk 1981-82, Teemu Selanne 1992-93
Jack Adams Trophy: Tom Watt 1981-82, Bob Murdoch 1989-90
King Clancy Memorial Trophy: Kris King 1995-96
All-star teams (1st or 2nd): Hawerchuk 1984-85, Selanne 1992-93, Keith Tkachuk 1994-95, Phil Housley 1991-92, Alexei Zhamnov 1994-95
Rookie all-star team: Selanne 1992-93, Bob Essensa 1989-90, Iain Duncan 1987-88, Boris Mironov 1993-94, Patrik Laine 2016-17
Total: 5 individual awards, 5 all-star teams, 5 rookie all-stars15.

Tranna Maple Leafs 1979-80 to 1995-96; 2011-12 to 2016-17

Calder Trophy: Auston Matthews 2016-17
Frank Selke Trophy: Doug Gilmour 1992-93
Jack Adams Trophy: Pat Burns 1992-93
All-star teams: Borje Salming 1979-80
Rookie all-star team: Felix Potvin 1992-93, Wendel Clark 1985-86, Dan Daoust 1982-83, Kenny Jonsson 1994-95, Jake Gardiner 2011-12, Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews 2016-17
Total: 3 individual awards, 1 all-star team, 7 rookie all-stars—11.

We all know les Leafs fly “under the radar” like Donald Trump is subtle on Twitter, yet voters have ignored them season after season after season.

Teemu Selanne and the Calder Trophy

Consider the Calder Trophy as an e.g. Until Auston Matthews was anointed the NHL’s leading freshman last spring, do you know how long it had been since a member of les Leafs won the top frosh bauble? Fifty-one freaking years! Half a century! When Brit Selby accepted the trinket, Lester Pearson was Prime Minister of Canada. Neil Young had just joined Buffalo Springfield. Hockey Night in Canada was still televised in black and white.

But two Jets—Dale Hawerchuk and Teemu Selanne—copped the Calder after Selby and before Mathews. And a third, Patrik Laine, was runnerup last year.

Go figure.

This whole Winnipeg is “under the radar” thing is a total copout. It’s such a lame lament. It sounds like the theme of an “Oh, woe are we” pity party. I can hear Leslie Gore singing “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to” as I type. Rodney Dangerfield should be their poster boy. No respect, I’ll tell ya…no respect. Look, I get the drill. Winnipeg is mocked, maligned and ridiculed as a backwater burg. It’s so remote, you have to drive 500 miles just to get to the Middle of Nowhere, also known as Regina. But I invite anyone to provide evidence in support of the notion that a Jets player or coach has been cheated out of an award due to locale.

Blake Wheeler

Wiecek didn’t stop at one swig of the Jets Kool-Aid. He doubled down on the conspiracy theory in a follow-up essay: “There has been some loose talk in recent weeks about Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler having an outside shot at taking down this season’s Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player,” he wrote. “That’s not going to happen for a lot of reasons, beginning with the fact the Hart Trophy is voted upon by the media and Wheeler plays in the smallest media market in the entire NHL.” He wants to talk about size? Like size matters? Okay, let’s talk size. If Winnipeg is the nail on your little toe, Edmonton is the nail on your pinky finger. Yet the Oilers won 30—count ’em, 30—individual awards that are voted on (mostly by the media), 10 of them going to players not named Wayne Gretzky (in the years Winnipeg wasn’t dark). There were also 32 first- or second-team all-star selections, including six chosen to the rookie team. In the National Football League, tinytown Green Bay can boast of eight Associated Press MVP awards from five players, dating back to the early 1960s. The Goliath known as New York City, with two teams since 1970, has had just two NFL MVPs. Size doesn’t matter, performance does.

Scott Foster shuts the door on Paul Stastny.

So, the mighty Jets juggernaut couldn’t put a puck past a bean counter who plays goal in a beer league at Johnny’s Ice House West in Chicago. They tried for 14 minutes and one second. They tested him seven times. Nada. Scott Foster, the Blackhawks backup goaltender to the backup goaltender, was perfect on Thursday night at the United Center. His NHL career goals-against average is 0.00. I swear, there hasn’t been a better emergency replacement story in sports since Lou Gehrig took over at first base for Wally Pipp and the New York Yankees. Difference is, Gehrig hung in there for another 2,130 consecutive games. Bean Counter Foster didn’t quit his day job. He went back to his spreadsheets the following morning, knowing he’s the NHL’s feel-good story of the year. Brilliant stuff.

Al Rollins

Speaking of Chitown goaltenders, does the name Al Rollins mean anything to you? Didn’t think so. Well, he tended goal for Chicago in 1953-54. The Blackhawks occupied the cellar in the NHL that season. They won just 12 of 70 assignments, missing the playoffs by a whopping 43 points. Rollins’ 3.23 goals-against average was worst in the league. Guess who was NHL MVP. Yup, Al Rollins. So don’t tell me Connor McDavid shouldn’t be considered for the Hart Trophy simply because his Oilers teammates suck and didn’t qualify for this spring’s Stanley Cup tournament. History records that numerous outriders have been MVP, in all leagues. Andre (Hawk) Dawson, for example, was MVP on a Major League Baseball bottom-feeder. Ditto Alex Rodriguez. Here’s a partial list of non-playoff MVPs: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Los Angeles Lakers,1975-76; Larry Walker, Colorado Rockies, 1997; Barry Bonds, San Francisco Giants, 2001, 2004; Alex Rodriguez, Texas Rangers, 2003; Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies, 2006; Albert Puhols, St. Louis Cardinals, 2008; O.J. Simpson, Buffalo Bills, 1973; Johnny Unitas, Baltimore Colts, 1967; Andre Dawson, Chicago Cubs, 1987; Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals, 2015; Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins, 2017; Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels, 2016; Robin Yount, Milwaukee Brewers, 1989; Cal Ripken, Baltimore Orioles, 1991; Ernie Banks, Chicago Cubs, 1958-59; Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh Penguins, 1987-88; Andy Bathgate, New York Rangers, 1958-59.

If I had a vote, I’d be inclined to give serious consideration to Brad Marchand as MVP in the NHL, because the Boston Bruins would be in Nowheresville without him. But I’d have to hold my nose if I included him on my ballot, because he’s a skunk. A total dweeb. People say Marchand plays “with an edge,” but I disagree. He plays dirty. He’s also a diver. Ultimately, I’d have his name on my ballot, but not at the top. I’d put Nathan MacKinnon and his 93 points/11 game-winning goals for the Colorado Avalanche first, followed by McDavid. Yup, possibly two non-playoff participants one-two. I’d have Blake Wheeler of les Jets third (he plays an honest game as opposed to Marchand’s shenanigans), then Sidney Crosby (Evgeni Malkin has marginally better numbers, but Sid the Kid still makes the Pittsburgh Penguins tick) and Marchand.

I’m not a hoops fan. Never have been. But it’s boffo that Victoria’s Steve Nash will be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, in part because he was a two-time National Basketball Association most valuable player. Mind you, his former sidekick with the Phoenix Suns, Shaquille O’Neal, figures Nash’s two MVP awards were a rob job. “(I should have won) three, easily. (I should have won) the two that Steve Nash got over me. It pisses me off. (Nash) knows,” Shaq once told SI.com. Get over it, Shaq.

How unusual, also refreshing, to hear an all-female broadcast team work a hockey game. Sportsnet pulled it off with Leah Hextall handling the play-by-play, Cassie Campbell-Pascall providing the backup vocals in the booth, and Nikki Reyes standing at rink-side for the Clarkson Cup, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League title match between the Markham Thunder and Kunlun Red Star. Wonder how long it will be before we hear three women working an NHL game? No doubt the very thought will make a lot of men cringe and feel like they’ve been gelded. Well, it’ll happen one day. Deal with it, boys.

Le Grand Orange

Le Grand Orange has left the building. That would be Rusty Staub, who died Thursday, three days before his 74th birthday. I have one vivid memory of Staub—he stole a base in the first Major League Baseball game I witnessed live. An original member of the Montreal Expos, Staub was with the Detroit Tigers at the time and I was sitting in the first base bleachers at old Exhibition Stadium in the Republic of Tranna. Because he had the foot speed of an ATM, the Blue Jays thought it unlikely that Staub would bolt. Yet away he went. It was like watching a man pull a milk wagon. I could have poured back three pints by the time he arrived at second base. But he got there safely. Standing up, no less. Staub stood there, smiling, like a schoolboy who’d pulled the perfect prank. A nice memory.

And, finally, this week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: Not so long ago, he described the induction of Pedro Martinez to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame as a “ridiculous choice. He spent four seasons in Montreal. That’s all.” Apparently, that made the Hall “look cheap.” And “Do you honestly believe a player with four years service belongs in a Hall of Fame? Any Hall of Fame?” Ah, but now he writes glowingly of Staub as “the baseball player in Canada so many of us cared about. The first who mattered across the country.” Staub actually spent less time with the Expos than Martinez, just 3 ½ season with the Expos, but he was inducted into the CBHF in 2012 and I don’t hear Grandpa Simmons shouting that it was a “ridiculous choice.” Nor should he. So shut up about Pedro, Steve.

About Jim Kernaghan…the Grim Reaper…charismatic jocks…and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers Wall of Honor

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

Jim Kernaghan
Jim Kernaghan

The trouble with aging isn’t in the living, it’s in the dying.

Not in our dying, understand, but in the passing of so many of our contemporaries, the people we grew up with, worked with, learned with, played with, laughed with, cried with. The people we watched and admired. The people who inspired and delighted.

No one here gets out alive. We know that (although Keith Richards appears to be pushing the envelop). But the reminders come too rapidly once we have arrived at a certain vintage.

On Friday, Muhammad Ali leaves us. Two days later, Jim Kernaghan is gone.

Those who knew him best might suggest that it’s just like Kernaghan to check out so soon after the former heavyweight boxing champion died. That would be ‘Kerny’. Chasing the story. Still. Always.

Kernaghan, one of the flowers of Canadian jock journalism during a 42-year print run that stretched from 1964 to 2006, was someone to be admired and respected as a person and writer. He spent a considerable amount of time chronicling the fascinating deeds and derring-do of Ali, initially for the Toronto Star then the London Free Press. He was on site to deliver daily dispatches to readers for more than two dozen of the champ’s 61 fist fights, including the night he bade farewell in a cringe-inducing tiff with Trevor Berbick.

That was in Nassau, Bahamas, early in December 1981. I remember spending time with Kerhaghan in a Paradise Island bar, talking Ali, trying to soak up his knowledge and listening to tinny Christmas carols being played by a steel drums band.

I never thought I’d ever be sitting in a bar in the Bahamas, a couple of weeks before Christmas, listening to Jingle Bells and Silent Night being played on steel drums,” I said to him. “It’s real strange and different.”

You can’t have a big fight without strange and different,” he said. “Especially if Ali and his people are involved. They’re always strange and different.”

I never saw much of Kernaghan after the Ali-Berbick bout, because I soon was off on other adventures that landed me at the Calgary Sun and Winnipeg Sun. But I never forgot his kindness and I never stopped reading him. He was terrific.

Muhammad Ali
Muhammad Ali

I know Kernaghan was there. I know legendary Toronto Star columnist Milt Dunnell was there. And I know I was there. If there were other Canadian jock journalists at the final Ali fist fight in Nassau, I don’t recall. Two of our unholy trinity are dead. As are five of the boxers on the Drama in Bahama card: Ali, Berbick, Greg Page, Scott Ledoux and Jeff Sims. Makes me wonder why the Grim Reaper has spared me.

Just wondering: Would there be a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or an Ahmad Rashad if Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. hadn’t become Muhammad Ali in 1964? Somehow I doubt it. There’d most likely still be a Lew Alcindor and a Bobby Moore.

Ali’s passing put me in ponder of the charismatic jocks and/or sportsmen I was fortunate enough to meet and write about during my 30 years in mainstream media. They are:

  1. Muhammad Ali: One of a kind.
  2. Pinball Clemons: A pure joy to be around.
  3. John Ferguson: The former Winnipeg Jets general manager was a keg of dynamite, but he had a compelling, powerful personality. Everyone knew when Fergy was in the room.
  4. Cal Murphy: Yes, the former Winnipeg Blue Bombers coach and GM was curmudgeonly and oft-cranky, but he was also a sackful of howls. Oh, how he would make us laugh. And he filled notebooks.
  5. Vic Peters: The curling legend had an every-man air that was very inviting and appealing.
  6. Chris Walby: The big man on the Bombers’ O-line seemed ever-present. Even when he wasn’t in the room, he was in the room. If you catch my drift.
  7. Pierre Lamarche: Most of you probably don’t recognize the name, but Pierre is a long-time big shot in Canadian tennis. I covered him at the Canadian National Tennis Tournament in the early to mid-1970s, when the event was staged at the Winnipeg Canoe Club. He was a big, happy-go-lucky French-Canadian who delivered great quotes and brightened your day.
  8. I’d say Bobby Hull, but I can’t get past the domestic violence stuff.

Indian Jack Jacobs
Indian Jack Jacobs

So, the debate is on: Which names belong on the Wall of Honor at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry? And in what order? Well, much respect to Chris Walby, one of my top-five fave Winnipeg Blue Bombers, but no, he ought not be the starting point when the Canadian Football League club begins to salute its legendary workers. You begin with Indian Jack Jacobs and the Galloping Ghost, Fritz Hanson. I never saw either of them play, but I know what they did, and anytime you need to build a new stadium basically because of one man (see: Jacobs, Jack) he has to be first in the roll call. Next up would be Bud Tinsley, then Ken Ploen, Leo Lewis, Herb Gray, Gerry James, Frank Rigney and Walby. That’s your starting nine. Old friend Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun has other ideas, but it’s apparent that he’s unaware they played football in River City prior to the Bud Grant era.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.