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.