Let’s talk about The Big Reveal on Matt Nichols in tweets…Kyle Walters’ ‘smart phone’…the over/under with Chris Streveler at QB…hey, Kyle, what about Aaron Rodgers?…CFL head counts…Puck Finn’s ‘hard feelings’…beef jerky and Mitch Marner…and Bianca’s coming out party

Tuesday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and any CFL team that hasn’t lost a starting quarterback isn’t trying hard enough…

This Matt Nichols thing has had chins wagging and thumbs jerking since last Thursday, and I really can’t recall there ever being so much ballyhoo about a right arm in River City.

The Golden Boy tosses a right haymaker at Sugar Ray.

At least not since Golden Boy Donny Lalonde sent a shiver into Sugar Ray Leonard and knocked him to the canvas in their 1988 title tiff.

At any rate, after keeping the severity of Nichols’ owie on the QT for three days, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers came clean with The Big Reveal on Monday, and I found it interesting how the boys on the beat in Good Ol’ Hometown spread the tidings via their twitchy Twitter thumbs.

10:19 a.m. (Jeff Hamilton): “Bridge, Willy could figure in Blue Bombers’ plans—update on Matt Nichols later today.”

11:48 (Ted Wyman): “He’s not in a practice jersey but Matt Nichols just walked into Bombers practice. No sling or anything like that on his throwing arm.”

11:53 (Bob Irving): “Matt Nichols is on the field watching practice. Arm hanging loose at his side. Which does not mean the injury is any less serious. O’Shea will share more after practice.”

Matt Nichols as observed by Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun.

11:55 (Ted Wyman): “Here is Bombers QB Matt Nichols walking to practice field. Was keeping his right arm at his side but have seen him moving it around a bit. Hands on hips etc.”

1:10 p.m. (Jeff Hamilton): “Matt Nichols is looking at weeks before he is back playing. Bombers are looking for various options for rehab, with hope of return asap. He’s played through serious injury before but with plenty of season left, and with/team 7-2, want to be sure he’ll be ready down the stretch.”

1:27: (Ted Wyman): “Matt Nichols will go on the 6-game injured list and be evaluated over that period. Mike O’Shea expects him to be ready to play in 4-6 weeks.”

1:28 (Jeff Hamilton): “Bombers HC Mike O’Shea says 4-6 weeks he hopes to see Nichols play.”

1:28 (Ted Wyman): “No surgery necessary for upper body injury for Nichols. Bombers will look to bring in another QB in next couple weeks. Chris Streveler will be starter in Edmonton on Friday and for the foreseeable future.”

1:30 (Jeff Hamilton): “Bombers HC Mike O’Shea says 4-6 weeks before Nichols is re-evaluated. So 6 weeks minimum before he plays.”

Chris Streveler at the controls.

So now that we know the arm “hanging loose at his side” limits Nichols to tasks no more strenuous than putting “hands on hips etc.” until at least the end of September, we direct our attention to Chris Streveler and wonder and speculate what might become of a 7-2 Winnipeg FC outfit that, at present, looks down on all it surveys in the West Division of the Canadian Football League.

Streveler is a blood-and-guts QB, built from the I-think-I’m-a-middle-linebacker, Matt Dunigan mold. Only he’s about a foot taller. Matty never saw a brick wall he didn’t want to take on, and I don’t imagine we’ll see Streveler performing with a safety net too often. Even if instructed to do so. He’s already had more head-on collisions than a crash-test dummy and actually seems to enjoy running into immovable objects with arms, legs and a bad attitude.

But, as Doug Brown outlines in an excellent piece in the Drab Slab, Streveler will require more than his hell-bent-for-leather tendencies to keep the Bombers in the first-place discussion. This is, after all, a passing league and he’ll be required to fling the football as often as not. Oh, and stay in one piece while doing it.

I don’t have to remind you that Nichols is the latest starting QB added to a body count that now numbers seven, and if Streveler gets too reckless the next option is greenhorn Sean McGuire.

Mind you, GM Kyle Walters has been working the phone in search of a QB with some savvy.

That’s good to know, but if old friend Drew Willy is the best he can dredge up we’ll know it isn’t a “smart” phone.

Drew Willy and Matt Nichols.

When last seen in River City, Willy had a tendency to bounce the ball to his receivers, which, as it happened, worked out well for Winnipeg FC because it forced head coach Mike O’Shea’s hand. He turned the ball over to Nichols, who went about the business of beating the Eskimos in E-Town in his first whirl behind centre. In a nifty bit of irony, that’s also Streveler’s starting point on Friday night.

So what’s the over/under on Ws with Streveler behind centre in the next 5/6 skirmishes? Three? Sounds about right. Play .500 football while Nichols is in the repair shop and it’s still game on. Anything less and a crossover playoff spot comes into play. I’m all about the glass half full right now, though. As Dunigan might say, I believe Streveler can “get ‘er done, young man.”

Aaron Rodgers: Put me in, coach, I’m ready to play.

Hey, come to think of it, there’ll be a fair country QB in town this week. Maybe GM Walters can convince Aaron Rodgers to stick around after the Green Bay Packers and Oakland Raiders have conducted business at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry. Now that would be a “smart” phone.

The Pack and Raiders go through the motions on Thursday night, and if the over/under on the head count for the NFL dress rehearsal is 20,000, I’ll take the under. At the prices they’re charging, I really don’t think there are more than 20,000 danged fools in Good Ol’ Hometown.

The boys and Kate Beirness on TSN did some tall talking about “close to a sellout” at BMO Field in the Republic of Tranna for last Thursday’s skirmish between the Argos and E-Town Eskimos. Official head count: 16,490. Number of empty seats: 8,510. Only in The ROT (and on TSN) would a nearly half-empty stadium be considered “close to a sellout.”

There is, mind you, glad tidings drifting out of The ROT. As unlikely as it might seem, the Argos are the only CFL outfit showing an increase in attendance over 2018. Go figure.

Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab just won’t let it go. He insists on beating the Winnipeg Jets’ “fractured changing room” drum, this time as it relates to Patrik Laine. The young winger and restricted free agent recently made some empty remarks about his National Hockey League future, saying, “You never know where you’re going to play next year. I’m just prepared for anything.” Puck Finn added that he’s “got nothing bad to say about Winnipeg” and offered a few more benign tidbits that didn’t total a mole hill of substance. Yet here’s Mad Mike on the matter: “No doubt there’s also some lingering hard feelings over how last season played out, both on the ice and within the dressing room.” My goodness. Instead of reading between the lines, fly to Finland like Chris Johnston of Sportsnet did. Or pick up a phone and dial Laine’s number. Ask him directly if he’s PO’d about anything that went on in the Winnipeg HC boudoir. Then report the facts. Otherwise, shut the hell up about it.

The overrated(?) Mitch Marner.

You’ll have to excuse Mitch Marner if he feels a sudden urge to piddle on Andrew Berkshire’s Corn Flakes. I mean, to hear the numbers nerd talk about the Tranna Maple Leafs winger on Sportsnet 590 The Fan, you’d swear that young Mitch is to hockey what beef jerky is to fine dining. Marner “might be the most overrated player in the NHL.” Marner is “not the guy driving the bus on that line. It’s John Tavares.” And “Is Mitch Marner better than Timo Meier? I think most people in Toronto would say yes but data says no. Meier’s actually significantly more productive.” Well, I haven’t held a slide rule in my hands since struggling mightily with high school math at Miles Macdonell Collegiate, but no amount of nerd-produced numbers from Pie Chart Boy will convince me that a 66-point man (Meier) is “significantly more productive” than a guy (Marner) whose 94 points were bettered by only 10 players last season. Marner had more assists than Meier had points, for cripes sake. Berkshire, whose fancy stats, graphs and pie charts also clutter up the Drab Slab sports pages, can cherry pick all he likes and put greater value on one number over another, but I’ll take 94 over 66 every time. At the rink or in math class at Miles Mac.

I think the most telling comment Pie Chart Boy made re Marner and other unsigned NHL restricted free agents was this: “I don’t know how NHL executives view these guys.” Exactly. He doesn’t know.

Bianca Andreescu at her Indian Wells coming out party.

And, finally, here’s something that’s just stone…cold…stupid: Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna writes about our girl Bianca Andreescu’s chances at next week’s U.S. Open in Gotham, suggesting, “This could well be the young Canadian’s coming out party as a professional.” Good grief. What was Indian Wells? What was the Rogers Cup? A couple of meh moments that no one noticed? Look, after you’ve won a tournament that includes the elite 75 female players on the planet (Indian Wells), then re-up with a win at the Rogers Cup in The ROT, there’s no longer any need for introductions. They know who you are. Our teen sensation won’t catch the field, the media, or the rowdies at Flushing Meadows by surprise. Bianca had her coming out party five months ago at Indian Wells, so either Simmons educates himself or he has to stop scribbling about women’s sports.

Let’s talk about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers QBs…counting heads…Corn Dog Cody Fajardo…awesome and ugly football…’minor’ concussions…tweet, tweet, tweet…ponytail puck…and a bounce-back season for Puck Finn?

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and if you’re reading this at the cottage on the last leg of a long weekend, I can only wonder what’s wrong with you…

So the stage is set. Two Goliaths. Temporary bragging rights at stake.

And, yes, I still consider the Blue Bombers a Goliath, because I firmly subscribe to that old chestnut ‘you are what your record says your are,’ and it doesn’t get any better than Winnipeg FC and the Calgary Stampeders, who’ll be the house guests at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry on Thursday night.

Matt Nichols

Although there are those among us who believe the Bombers’ W-L log is the product of smoke, mirrors and a steady diet of 98-pound weaklings, I’m not going to quibble about a 5-2 record.

The doubting Thomas argument gained strength, of course, when the local lads were bullied by Pee-wee Herman on the back half of Winnipeg FC’s recent 0-for-Southern Ontario misadventure, but I feel obligated to point out that the Bombers and Stamps have played the same sides, with one exception—the Saskatchewan Roughriders. As we all know, Canadian Football League schedule-makers tend to save the Blue-and-Gold/Gang Green tiffs for Labour Day weekend on the Flattest of Lands and a few days later in Good Ol’ Hometown, when they tune up the banjos for the follow-up dosey doe.

In the meantime, it seems to me that Thursday’s duel of 5-2 outfits should serve as a statement skirmish for Winnipeg FC. Win and they gain believers, lose and talk radio becomes a blood sport.

There’s already plenty of nattering that suggests head coach Mike O’Shea is actually Homer Simpson with a head set, and his refusal to insert Chris Streveler into the fray when starting quarterback Matt Nichols can’t pass wind, never mind a football, seems to be the main irritant. Some, in fact, would prefer to have the two QBs reverse roles, but I’m guessing those folks are also flat-earth fanatics who walk around with wide strips of tin foil on their heads.

Chris Streveler

Hey, I agree that Streveler is a good change of pace and we should see more of him behind centre, but make him the main man? Sorry, we’ve had enough backup QBs thrust into the starting role this season, thank you very much, and the product has suffered.

I suppose the good folks on the Flattest of Lands might pipe up and dispute that, because their No. 2 guy, Corn Dog Cody Fajardo, has done such boffo business that the Saskatchewan Roughriders decided they can get along just fine without Zach Collaros and shipped him—and the ever-present bats in his belfry—to the Republic of Tranna.

Much the same can be said in the Alberta Foothills, where Nick Arbuckle has kept things mostly neat and tidy during Bo Levi Mitchell’s time in the repair shop. He’s 4-1, that’s all, and if you expect more than that from a fill-in QB you’re more demanding than the nuns who taught me in Catholic school.

Anyway, it’s about Streveler and Nichols and the notion that they should swap snaps. Look, I don’t like what I saw of Nichols in the Golden Horseshoe any more than many of you, but if Coach O’Grunge has them trading places, he really would be a “D’oh!” boy.

Football Follies Field in Fort Garry

I’m curious to see what kind of a statement the football faithful in Good Ol’ Hometown will make on Thursday night. A grab-grass-and-growl argument to determine top dog in a West Division that has taken on the look of a mosh pit ought to be a best-seller, except the Bombers’ bumbling in the Hammer and The ROT likely cost them a customer or two. I hope I’m wrong, but a head count of just 20,433 for the Battle of Alberta in Cowtown on Saturday tells me that people are finding other things to do as we dig into the dog days of August.

Hey, check it out. We finally know how many people have been ignoring the Argonauts in The ROT. According to CFLdb.ca, they’ve topped out at 16,734 patrons and bottomed out at 11,428 in their three BMO Field assignments this crusade, but the Scullers are the only CFL outfit showing a year-over-year increase in attendance from 2018. Meanwhile, I don’t understand why we have to search CFLdb.ca to discover what the CFL should be telling us on its own website. That’s just wrong.

Corn Dog Cody

Not only has Fajardo got a nose for football, Corn Dog Cody’s sniffer also leads him to fun and games and growlies, like the kind you’ll find at the Queen City Ex in Regina. We know this because the Riders QB confessed to a special kind of motivation after his late-game TD put the seal on a 24-19 victory over the Hamilton Tabbies. “I’m really excited to get a corn dog to be honest,” he told news snoops, as the aroma of those carny treats wafted his way from the nearby Ex. “I’m a big carnival corn dog guy and I was like hopefully the game goes well so I can get a corn dog. So that’s probably what gave me the will to score that touchdown, a little inspiration of a corn dog at the carnival.” If that’s what corn dogs do for a QB, what say we make them Matt Nichols’ pre-game meal? (It’s also refreshing to hear an athlete deliver something other than cookie-cutter, club-approved, yawner quotes for news snoops. Atta boy, Corn Dog.) 

Duane Forde

So, how do you like what you’ve seen to date in our quirky three-down game? Opinions differ.

Veteran news snoop Frank Zicarelli of Postmedia Tranna wrote this last month: “There is no legitimate quarterback on the (Argos) roster in a league where the position is so thin that most games have become virtually unwatchable.” The granddaddy of E-Town jock journos, Terry Jones, agreed: “Too many CFL games are unwatchable this season.” And, of course, TSN talkers Duane Forde and Davis Sanchez both slapped an “ugly” label on different games in the past two weeks.

Then there’s Knuckles Irving, the Winnipeg FC play-by-play guy who, like Jonesy, has very long teeth. His take: “Awesome weekend for the CFL. 4 close, entertaining games, although as my pal Herb Zurkowsky already pointed out, it would be nice if they could speed them up a bit and keep them under 3 hours.”

Personally, I’ve seen too many clunkers. Too many nights only the lickety-split of the kick returners has prevented me from switching channels or nodding off.

Montreal Larks head coach Khari Jones tells us that his QB, Vernon Adams Jr., suffered a “minor concussion” when J.R. Tavai of the Bytown RedBlacks cracked him with a head-to-head cheap shot that went unpunished. Sorry, Khari, but I never considered any of my 10 concussions “minor.” They still put me in a dark room.

Knuckles Irving

Tweets that grabbed my attention in the past week…

* The aforementioned Knuckles Irving, after a follower called Mike O’Shea an “idiot”: “He hasn’t won the big one but Our idiot head coach is 38-23 since 2016. Bring me more idiots.” Just as long as they aren’t wearing tin foil on their heads, right Knuckles?

* Former all-star D-lineman, CJOB gab guy and freelance columnist Doug Brown, during the Argos 28-27 victory over the Bombers: “Imagine losing to Dane Evans, and McLeod Bethel-Thompson, back to back. That might be a bit of a buzz kill.” Exactly 17 minutes later: “My god.” Too funny.

* Old friend and all-round good guy Scott Campbell: “I’m expecting regression from #NHLJets and not mad about it. It would be worse had they given those contracts to Myers, Tanev and Chiarot. I’m more worried about the coaches optimizing the lineup. Hoping Maurice got back to summer work.” I guess two steps forward and one step back beats one step forward and two steps back every time.

* And, of course, Steve Simmons continued to be a total Twitter troll. The Postmedia Tranna columnist cited a handful of top-drawer quill jockeys as the reason he subscribes to The Athletic, then added: “I do wish they’d stop drooling over each other every time someone writes something good.” He posted that at 10:59 a.m. on July 31. At 1:13 p.m. that same day, look who was “drooling over” one of his own Postmedia colleagues, Rob Longley. Yup, Simmons. “Our guy, baseball’s most underrated writer, has broken the stories thus (sic) afternoon of Blue Jays trading Aaron Sanchez and Joe Biagini to Houston.” Two days later, he was “drooling over” Longley again. Pot, meet kettle. And I hope he was wearing a bib.

I didn’t think it possible, but the new teleprompter reader on TSN Sportscentre, Kayla Gray, is actually louder than Kate Beirness. Enthusiasm is a good thing. Making my ears bleed is not.

Dani Rylan

Officially, there will be a fifth National Women’s Hockey League season. Unofficially, there might not be a fifth NWHL crusade. Two months before they’re scheduled to drop the puck, commish Dani Rylan’s house league has scared up just 39 players willing to boycott the boycott of the ForTheGame200 gang, a group of elite performers who insist they will continue to stomp their feet, hold their breath and refuse to play hockey until a sugar daddy comes along and pays them a living wage. Unfortunately, only a few of us notice, or care, that they’re missing, so I hope they aren’t expecting an amber alert.

And, finally, interesting piece by Ian Tulloch of The Athletic Tranna. Ian goes about the business of listing 10 National Hockey League players likely to have a “bounce-back” season, and he has our own Patrik Laine at No. 6. Well, let me just say this about that: You know Puck Finn is some kind of special when he lights 30 lamps and pundits are talking about him in terms of rediscovering his scoring touch.

Let’s talk about the Irish and Guinness…money matters and the Winnipeg Jets…the Canadian Mafia and the Blue Bombers’ faithful…a gay voice in mainstream sports media…and other things on my mind

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and we’ve got nothing but short snappers today…

How many pints of Guinness do you suppose our Irish friends swilled in celebration of Shane Lowry’s victory in the Open Championship on Sunday? It must have been St. Patty’s Day in July. I’m thinking those Irish eyes are a bit blurry this morning.

Sometimes I wish we weren’t allowed to peek into a player’s pay envelope. That way, we wouldn’t know about Neal Pionk’s salary bump and that he and Josh Morrissey now live in the same financial neighborhood. And if I’m Morrissey I’m thinking “WTF is up with that?” I mean, Morrissey has been one-half of Winnipeg Jets top defensive pairing the past two National Hockey League crusades, and I suspect it will be status quo in October. For that he collects $3.15 million. Meanwhile, what Pionk brings to the party is a question mark as big as Dustin Byfuglien’s appetite. Could be he’s a steal at $3 million per year. Then, again, this could be the worst guess since Tiger Woods assumed his bride wouldn’t find out about all the cocktail waitresses and porn stars.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

It’s not like GM Kevin Cheveldayoff to be so frivolous with Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman’s money. He’s never spent foolishly. Unless, of course, you count Dmitry Kulikov and Steve Mason and Ondrej Pavelec and Connor Hellebuyck.

I should add the Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little contracts to Chevy’s foolish pile, although the major flaw in those two deals is term. If captain Wheeler delivers another 91-point season, then $8.25 million is fine. But we know that won’t be happening three, four, five years from now. As for Little, he’s already looking as worn out as a dance floor, but he’s just starting a fresh five-year hitch. Not good.

Here’s the irony of the Pionk deal: Many among the rabble and some news snoops hail Chevy for his refusal to go on a drunken-sailor spending spree, the most recent hosanna offered by Murat Ates of The Athletic. “Kevin Cheveldayoff has done well on that front simply by letting other teams give big money and term to Tyler Myers, Brandon Tanev and Ben Chiarot,” he writes. Yet Chevy’s first significant signing of this off-season is a gross overpay when measured against Morrissey’s wage. I say to hail that.

Fact is, Chevy couldn’t give “big money and term” to Myers, Tanev and Chiarot, because it’s already committed to 30somethings Wheeler, Little, Byfuglien and Mathieu Perreault. That greying quartet will take a $25,266,666 slice of the pie, and they’ll all be on board for another two crusades, minimum, with gusts up to five years.

If Chevy is convinced that Pionk is the man to replace Jacob Trouba, wouldn’t he go all-in rather than settle for a piddling two-year agreement?

The Canadian Mafia

Okay, the Canadian Mafia—CEO Wade Miller, GM Kyle Walters, Coach Mike O’Grunge—have done their part by putting a boffo, 5-nada outfit on the field. Alas, that doesn’t translate to boffo box office for our beloved Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The head count at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry is down more than 4,000 against the first three home assignments last year, so even if you build it (a winning team) there’s no guarantee they’ll come. I’m not sure why that is. I’ve read and heard theories, some of which centre on cash and others on cottage country, chronic failure and a mixed bag of entertainment options. But, hey, they’ve got an inferior product down the road on the Flattest of Lands, yet the Saskatchewan faithful flock to rally ’round their Roughriders in unmatched numbers. What, they have more disposal income once they climb down from their combines?

True, attendance on the Flattest of Lands is also in decline, but Gang Green attracts more than 30,000 per game, easily the best in the Canadian Football League and 5,000 better than the Bombers. You can make all the rude jokes you like about banjo plucking and inbreeding, but our Prairie neighbors are where it’s at when it comes to supporting the local football heroes.

Some make the argument that the dip in attendance at Football Follies Field is linked to the visiting team, meaning the weaklings from the East Division are a tough sell. Well, it’s a losing argument. Here are the figures for the Bombers’ home dates in 2018:
Saskatchewan:   33,134
Ottawa:              27,602
Toronto:             27,116
B.C.:                  26,567
Hamilton:          26,454
Saskatchewan:  26,070
Edmonton:        25,458
Calgary:            25,173
Montreal:          24,349

Khari Jones

The Montreal Alouettes three-game W streak is a good look on freshman head coach Khari Jones. I wasn’t around when Khari arrived in River City to play catch with Mitch Stegall, but I’m told he was a right-on dude.

That was quite a shift Mad Mike McIntyre put in for the Drab Slab on Saturday—a column on the Bombers, a feature on Winnipeg Goldeyes batsman Reggie Abercrombie, and an update on Andrew Copp’s contract impasse with the Jets. Very impressive. Truly.

Having said that, Mad Mike lost me with his tweet about what he called a “sports journalism hat trick.” He described it as “about 6,000 words covering all three pro teams in town.” I’m guessing it’s news to the Manitoba Moose and Valour FC that there are only “three pro teams in town.”

Brandon Wheat Kings have brought in Dave Lowry as bench boss. Good hire. Adam’s pop did a crackerjack job as head coach of the Victoria Royals (209-124-27) before a one-season whistlestop in Los Angeles with the Kings. And, yes, now that you mention it, it’ll be nice to have the Western Hockey League’s Brandon-Winnipeg rivalry renewed in autumn. It takes me back.

The women’s World Cup is over. Someone at TSN needs to tell Kate Beirness that she can stop yelling anytime now.

It’s about TSN’s split screen during CFL matches: Still very annoying.

Scott MacArthur

And, finally, I’ve never met Scott MacArthur, but I know his struggles. Scott is one of the natterbugs on Sportsnet 590 The FAN in the Republic of Tranna, and he’s gay. He came out on the weekend and, yes, that takes coLGBThones when you’re dealing with an oft-homophobic culture. Scott, I’m sure, won’t do anything different, but some folks will look at him and listen to him with a different set of eyes and ears. (“Can’t have no gay dude telling us about our macho sports, man! But it’s okay if the Nancy Boy covers figure skating and baton twirling!”) As far as I know, his is the only LGBT(etc.) voice in Canadian sports broadcasting, so go get ’em, Scotty.

Let’s talk about Megan Rapinoe and the gay Yankee Doodle Damsels…turn down the volume, Kate…a death watch in The ROT?…the rouge…Mike Reilly’s panic attacks…Kawhi and Shane, please don’t go…and les Habs by the numbers

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and the best female soccer player in the world is a lesbian…imagine that…

A lot of people don’t like Megan Rapinoe because she’s loud, proud and gay.

I like her because she’s loud proud and gay.

It isn’t easy being part of the LGBTQ(etc.) alphabet. Yes, even in 2019. Too many among the rabble still believe being gay is sinful and unnatural and as wholly contemptible as child porn, and it makes them blanch and climb atop soap boxes to hurl fire-and-brimstone condemnations and dire warnings of an eternal inferno.

Which means the spectacle that was Rapinoe in France likely had the homophobes choking on their Cheerios.

The purple-haired U.S.A. co-captain became the face of women’s soccer during the 31 days of the World Cup, in part because she kept hoofing balls into the back of the net (six of them), but also because she kept getting in everyone’s face. Sometimes intentionally, other times not so much.

Donald Trump, for example, tried to pick a fight with her on Twitter.

“Megan should never disrespect our Country, the White House, or our Flag,” the Bully-in-Chief harrumphed.

Megan Rapinoe

Piffle. As if a scornful tsk-tsking from the resident in the big, white house on Pennsylvania Avenue would convince her to sing along and place a hand over her heart during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner. In your face, el presidente. Megan remained mute, hands clasped behind her back, in silent/loud protest against social injustice in America. Besides, she had another use for her hands—to reach out and collect trinkets.

Give that girl the Golden Boot.

And the Golden Ball.

And the Women’s World Cup Trophy.

Rapinoe won them all in France. Top goal-scorer. Top player. Top of the world.

She scored five times in knockout tests, including the only goal the Yankee Doodle Damsels required in a 2-nil dispatching of a game-yet-overmatched Netherlands side in Sunday’s final, and along the way Piers Morgan made note of Megan’s “stupendous ego” and called her “smug, arrogant, entitled and annoying.” The British broadcasting blabbermouth and confirmed Trumpite was just warming up. “I don’t like footballers being extreme activists. Just play football. Seriously…nobody wants to hear it,” is how the second verse went.

Well, he certainly didn’t want to hear Megan say, “Go gays. You can’t win a championship without gays on your team. It’s never been done before.”

Yes you can,” Morgan begged to differ on Twitter. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here, Ms Rapinoe…football competence isn’t linked to sexuality.”

No, but that might have been the ultimate “in your face.”

Sue Bird and Megan Rapinoe.

Rapinoe, you see, isn’t the only out lesbian among these Yankee Doodle Damsels. Jill Ellis, the coach, is married to Betsy Stephenson and they have a daughter, Lily. Five other playersTierna Davidson, Adrianna Franch, Ashlyn Harris, Ali Krieger and Kelley O’Hara—are out gays. Harris and Krieger are engaged and will exchange vows later this year. After the final, O’Hara sought her girlfriend and they exchanged a kiss at the edge of the stands at Parc Olympique Lyonnais. Ditto Rapinoe and girlfriend Sue Bird.

Oh, and five of the conquered Dutch are lesbians.

So, ya, if Megan Rapinoe tells me no women’s side has ever won the World Cup without lesbians on the pitch, I’ll take her word for it and Piers Morgan can talk to the hand.

Kelley O’Hara and girlfriend.

Should any of that matter? No, it shouldn’t. But it does matter—and will continue to matter—as long as those under the LGBTQ(etc.) banner are discriminated against due only to their choice of romantic/sexual partners and are considered lesser-thans.

Megan Rapinoe is no lesser-than. She might not be your cup of tea. Too brash. Too cocky. Too arrogant. To full of herself. Too defiant. Too aggressive. Too political. Too gay.

Fine. But she’s also almost too good to be true for a community still struggling for acceptance. The most visible, most talked-about footballer on the planet today is an out lesbian. Imagine that.

As Megan said after a quarterfinal victory over the French: Go gays!

Best quote, by far, during the post-match revelry was delivered by play-by-play broadcaster Steve Wilson, who, upon seeing Rapinoe greeted warmly by French leader Emmanuel Macron, said: “There is a president she’s happy to meet.”

Kate Beirness, Clare Rustad, Kaylyn Kyle and Diana Matheson.

I didn’t think anyone on TV could talk louder than James Corden, the late-night gab guy who’s forever yelling, but Kate Beirness makes him sound like a street mime. Host of TSN’s excellent all-female soccer panel featuring Clare Rustad, Kaylyn Kyle and Diana Matheson, Kate’s high-volume delivery is an assault on the ear drums and the sole negative note struck during coverage. Tone it down, girl. We get it. It’s a big event.

BMO Field

So this is how bad it’s gotten for the Argonauts and the Canadian Football League in the Republic of Tranna: They refuse to reveal the head count at BMO Field. The best I could dig up for the Boatmen’s skirmish vs. B.C. Lions on Saturday night was “sparse.” That could mean 10,000 or fewer fans. It could mean between 10,000 and 12,000. Whatever, given the shockingly low quality of play it’s safe to assume that much of the “sparse” audience won’t be back for more on Aug. 1, when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers trot into town. If, that is, the Argos are still in business.

What does a sportswriter call it when he’s assigned to work an Argos home game? The graveyard shift. Seriously, that’s a death watch.

The Argos-Lions joust ended on a rouge. I love the rouge. It’s as Canadian as a Gordon Lightfoot concert, a Pierre Berton book, or the Littlest Hobo eating poutine. But I don’t like it on a wayward field goal attempt. Rewarding failure is just wrong.

Mike Reilly

Bravo to Mike Reilly, the Lions quarterback who’s stepped forward to discuss his battle with mental health issues. It’s a powerful, enlightening story that, hopefully, will help others gripped by anxiety and panic attacks, and Reilly isn’t shy about sharing the gory details.

“It hit me as soon as my head hit the pillow,” he tells Chris O’Leary of his first panic attack. “The only way I can describe it is a full-blown panic attack.

“I can’t even say that my heart was racing. It was like it was trying to beat its way out of my chest. It was racing faster than I’d ever felt before. It felt like everything was kind of closing in around me. I couldn’t breathe. I honestly in that moment thought I was going to die. It was the scariest thing I’ve ever felt in my entire life.

“I felt frozen, like I was stuck in my bed. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t do anything and I thought that was going to be it. I thought I was going to die.

“Emily (his wife) came in from the bathroom and I remember thinking, ‘I don’t know what caused that, I’m still feeling the effects of it and I don’t want to close my eyes. If it happens again I’m going to die.’ I remember telling her, ‘Let’s turn the TV on and let’s pick a show and just watch it.’ I remember thinking, ‘I just don’t want to lay back down. If I lay back down and close my eyes, I will die right there.’”

Been there, felt that and I don’t wish it on anyone.

So, Kawhi Leonard is taking his ball and going home, and the mourning continues in The ROT, where no one—not even the impossible groupie Drake—is feeling it more than Steve Simmons, the Postmedia columnist who long ago showed signs of a serious man-crush on the hoopster.

It began with an open love letter: “I’m writing this with the hope you’ll consider remaining with the Raptors after this season, making Toronto your basketball home, because in many ways, it makes sense—for you, for the city, for the basketball team, for Canada.”

Shane, come back…and bring Kawhi with you.

Later, there was this: “If this is it for Kawhi Leonard, one season of mystery, magic and memories in Toronto, one year and one unexpected and exhilarating NBA championship, then, really, all you can say is thanks. Thanks and you’ll never be forgotten.”

And the latest: “You can’t dislike anything about what Leonard brought in one calendar year to the Raptors and to basketball across this country. We will be walking on air, living with this, celebrating the championship, for years. Maybe out whole lives.”

Oh, my. Walking on air our whole lives. We haven’t read or heard that much melodrama since teary-eyed little Joey Starrett begged his hero not to go in the final scene of the western classic Shane. “We want you Shane, Shaaaaane!…Come back! And bring Kawhi with you!”

Minnesota Whitecaps have signed just seven players for the 2019-20 National Women’s Hockey League crusade, but season tickets are already available for, get this, $420 (between the bluelines), $315 (inside the bluelines) and $210 (standing room). That’s for 12 games and it breaks down to $35, $26.25 and $17.50 per. I’m a fan of female shinny, but 35 bucks a pop is excessive. Actually, it’s crazy. Or maybe not. The Whitecaps sold out every date at the 1,200-seat TRIA Rink last season and, with those non-refundable sticker prices, it’s little wonder they were the first NWHL outfit to show a profit.

And, finally, terrific Montreal Canadiens story from longtime shinny scribe Dave Stubbs: “Roman Hamrlik asked for No. 4, his Calgary number, when he signed in 2007,” Stubbs tweeted. “Equipment mgr Pierre Gervais: ‘I’ll give you Mr. Béliveau’s phone number. If he agrees, I’ll give you a long ladder and you can take down his banner.’ Hamrlik opted for 44.”

Let’s talk about The Lady & The Trump…unplugging the TSN live mic…bye-bye Bobby Loooo…the Toronto Star and BS…give that Muppet a Cookie…the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ Lucky strike…CFL boos and booze…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and, in a salute to the women’s World Cup, it’s a red card for you and a yellow card for you and a goooooal for all the straight shooters in the past week…

Goooooal! Somehow, the women’s World Cup became a story of The Lady & The Trump last week, and it provided a delightful bit of symbolism, in that Megan Rapinoe has done to Donald Trump what she hopes American voters will do next year—give him the boot.

After being called out by the U.S. president for (apparently) dissing Betsy Ross’ stars-n-stripes needlework, the Team USA co-captain hoofed the only two balls that found the back of the net for the Yankee Doodle Damsels in a 2-1 victory over France on Friday in Paris, sending them forward to a semifinal date with the Lionesses of England.

So there’s your basic difference between Trump and Rapinoe: He puts his foot in his mouth, she let’s her feet do the talking.

Red Card: Donald freaking Trump. What a cad. You’d think that a dustup with Iran, a trade squabble with China, border wall bickering, and a trip to Asia would be enough to occupy the American president’s time, but no. He had to pick a fight with Rapinoe two days before she led her side onto the pitch for the quarterfinal skirmish v. the French. His timing was most peculiar. But, then, Trump is a most peculiar fellow. His Twitter hissy fit stemmed from a months-old clip of Rapinoe saying “I’m not going to the fucking White House” should the Americans win the soccer tournament. Well, why would she want to go? I mean, she has two strikes against her in the Trumpiverse: She’s a she and she’s lesbian. Those aren’t bad things in the real word, but that isn’t where Trump resides.

Goooooal! Rapinoe wasn’t the only U.S. player who refused to back down from the Bully-in-Chief. Ali Krieger, also a lesbian, stood shoulder-to-shoulder with her teammate in this tweet: “In regards to the ‘President’s’ tweet today, I know women who you cannot control or grope anger you, but I stand by @mPinoe & will sit this one out as well. I don’t support this administration nor their fight against LGBTQ+ citizens, immigrants & our most vulnerable.” Love it.

Yellow Card: TSN has announced plans for 18 live mic games during the Canadian Football League season. This was a good gimmick. Once. It soon became extremely irritating, with gusts up to unlistenable last year. Honestly, I’d rather lend an ear to the squawking of Rod Black, Duane Forde and Glen Suitor. Yup, that’s how bad a live mic game is.

Goooooal! Hayley Wickenheiser and Roberto Luongo. Hayley becomes the seventh female player to enter the Hockey Hall of Fame, and I should say so. She wore the Maple Leaf for 23 years, helping Canada collect four Olympic Games gold medals and seven world titles along the way. Bobby Loooooo, meanwhile, also has world and Olympic championships on his resumé, so he’s earned his day of rest after 20 winters of getting in the way of 95-100 m.p.h. pucks for the New York Islanders, Florida Panthers, Vancouver Canucks and, of course, his home and native land. He also does boffo work on Twitter.

Red Card: The Toronto Star continues to provide Damien Cox with a soap box for his misguided and illogical spewings. In his latest alphabet fart, served up on Twitter, Cox pooh-poohed two National Hockey League trinkets: “Selkes and Lady Byngs are the biggest bullshit consolation prize awards. They mean squat when it comes to who are the true stars.” Let’s see, the following have won the Selke and/or Lady Byng trophies: Pavel Datsyuk, Anze Kopitar, Patrice Bergeron, Steve Yzerman, Sergei Federov, Ron Francis, Doug Gilmour, Bobby Clarke, Bob Gainey, Johnny Gaudreau, Martin St. Louis, Alexander Mogilny, Joe Sakic, Wayne Gretzky, Paul Kariya, Brett Hull, Mike Bossy, Jari Kurri, Rick Middleton, Butch Goring, Marcel Dionne, Jean Ratelle, Gilbert Perreault, Johnny Bucyk, Alex Delvecchio, Stan Mikita, Bobby Hull, Dave Keon, Red Kelly. To the best of my knowledge, not one of those “true stars” declined his “bullshit consolation prize.” So someone is definitely full of BS, and in this case it isn’t the NHL.

Goooooal! The New York Yankees paid tribute to the LGBTQ community with a plaque acknowledging the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Inn uprising. It was placed in Monument Park next to markers honoring Jackie Robinson and Nelson Mandela. The baseball club, along with Stonewall Inn co-owners Stacy Lentz and Kurt Kelly, also awarded five $10,000 college scholarships to graduating high school kids, one from each of New York City’s boroughs. Nice.

Goooooal! The Chicago Cubs recruited good, ol’ Cookie Monster from Sesame Street to warble Take Me Out to the Ball Game during the seventh-inning stretch at Wrigley Field on Thursday. It’s believed that Cookie is the first Muppet to perform the ritual since Don Cherry.

Goooooal! and a Yellow Card: TSN and Sportsnet will combine to broadcast 19 WNBA games this season (that’s the goooooal!), but where were the two networks when the Canadian Women’s Hockey League was starving for attention (that’s the yellow card)? Televising a game a week might not have saved the CWHL from the dumpster, but I guess we’ll never know, will we.

Red Card: Sportsnet has punted Doug MacLean from its roster of hockey natterbugs. It doesn’t matter that Mac’s one great flaw was describing everything and everyone in the NHL as “unbelievable!” He and Brian Burke were terrific together on Hockey Central at Noon, especially during the Ask the GM segment on Fridays, and I suppose his dismissal means extra servings of the resident meathead, Nick Kypreos, as well as spare parts like Anthony Stewart and Mike Zigomanus. Ugh.

Goooooal! Gotta close this segment on a positive note and, once again, I salute TSN’s soccer panel of Clare Rustad, Kaylyn Kyle and Diana Matheson. Those girls are insightful, instructive, knowledgeable, blunt and playful, and it doesn’t bother me that they discuss cosmetics or hair styles or losing an earring on occasion. Why would that bother anyone? (Having said that, host Kate Beirness needs to turn down the volume. Not everything is worth shouting about.)

Connie Laliberte, Janet Arnott, Cathy Gauthier and Cathy O back in the day.

Such sad news that Janet Arnott has passed away. We’re talking curling royalty, kids. Janet was a seven-time provincial champion (five as lead for her sister, Connie Laliberte, and one each with Jennifer Jones and Cathy O), a world champion, and she coached the Jones team during its gold-medal journey at the Sochi Olympics in 2014. Whenever there’s a discussion about legendary Pebble People from Manitoba, the name Janet Arnott has to be part of the conversation. More important, by all accounts she was a lovely person.

Speaking of legends, and lovely people, a word to the wise: Do not, under any circumstances, ask Winnipeg Blue Bombers play-by-play dude Knuckles Irving about provincial health care. Just don’t.

Lucky Whitehead

Lucky Whitehead showed some serious lickety-split and catch-me-if-you-can escapability in the Bombers 28-21 W over the E-Town Eskimos on Thursday night at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry, and I think we can all agree that Winnipeg FC might have found the big-play dude it lacked in recent seasons. I’m not sure what impressed me the most, though. His two touchdowns or Lucky’s long red locks. The guy has to have the best hair in the CFL. Or any league for that matter.

Richie Hall

The Bombers were out-numbered by a wide margin v. the Eskimos. They were out-run, out-passed, out-kicked, out-possessioned, out-turnovered and out-sacked. But not outscored. And that’s the question I asked back in February, right after GM Kyle Walters convinced Willie Jefferson that he’d look better in blue-and-gold than green-and-white: Who’s going to score on the Bombers? Ya, I realize they allowed E-Town quarterback Trevor Harris to move the Eskimos up and down the field like a halftime marching band, but guess what? The band didn’t score any touchdowns and neither did Harris and Co. You won’t be beaten too often when limiting the opposition to three-pointers, and Richie Hall’s defensive dozen has surrendered 10 field goals against just one touchdown in two matches. Works for me.

Matt Nichols

The Bombers are 2-nada on the season, one of three unbeaten sides, yet the wolves are at the door. QB Matt Nichols? Meh. The defence? Flimsy. The coaching? A notch below meh. Tough crowd. My favorite commentary is this: There’s “room for improvement.” Well, duh. That isn’t exactly penetrating analysis. It’s like telling a bald man there’s room for hair on his head. He knows already.

CFL outfits are struggling to find new customers, and it appears they’re trying to ply them with liquor. To date, the Tranna Argonauts and Bombers have sold suds on the cheap in a bid to put people in the pews, and the Eskimos plan to do the same next month. So those won’t be boos you hear, it’ll be booze. (I’m giving myself a red card for that groaner.)

Did Rod Black really call Hamilton Tabbies quarterback Jeremiah Masoli “the Great 8” on Friday night? Yes. He did. C’mon, Blackie. There’s only one Great 8 and he doesn’t throw footballs in the Hammer. A yellow card for you!

Kirk Penton

Really enjoying Kirk Penton’s scribblings in The Athletic, notably the raw content provided by anonymous CFL coaches and managers. Two samples from Kirk’s most recent offering:

* “When Saskatchewan signed Solomon Elimimian, that GM in BC (Ed Hervey) threw him under the bus. No need to disrespect a player who’s been wearing your colours. Maybe he’s done. Maybe he isn’t. He isn’t playing yet for the Riders, so it’s hard to say. But the tape tells us B.C. doesn’t have a middle linebacker to replace him. They’re not very good on defence as a football team. Not close to what (DeVone) Claybrooks had in Calgary. As coaches, you can’t ask us to make chicken salad out of chicken shit.”

* “I didn’t like how Montreal handled their business, firing (Mike) Sherman before he coached a game. Nothing against Khari (Jones), but I hope Hamilton sticks a boot so far up their asses that a mickey won’t ease their pain.”

Tip of the bonnet to good Canadian boy Russell Martin. The former Tranna Blue Jays catcher took the mound the other night for the Los Angeles Dodgers and retired the Arizona Diamondbacks in order. It’s the second 1-2-3 inning of his career, which is no doubt a record for a position pitcher.

And, finally, oddest headline of the week was served up by Global News, and it had nothing to do with sports: “Cities get hotter during heat waves.” Who knew?

Let’s talk about Janine Beckie and Christine Sinclair kicking it…a soccer swan song?…girl talk on TSN…all hail Hayley…CFL turnstile troubles…the sports menu in River City…the cost of hockey dreams…and Mike Reilly’s chin whiskers

A mid-week smorgas-bored…and I’ve only been red-carded twice this week…

Right off the hop, a few words about Janine Beckie: Classy, classy, classy.

Janine, of course, lost a 1-v-1 showdown with Swedish keeper Hedvig Lindahl on Monday in France, and that squandered opportunity was the centrepiece of a 1-0 loss that ushered Canada out of the women’s World Cup. Crushing. Yet there she was scant seconds later, explaining her failed penalty kick to a nation that had hoped for so much more.

“I thought I hit it well, I thought she made a really good save,” Beckie told Laura Daikun of TSN.

Her eyes were red and damp, her wound and emotions naked and raw. She fought off tears, the way the Swedish side held off the wave of Canadians who forged forward in search of an equalizing score in the frantic final thrusts of the skirmish.

“You know, it’s the big moments, it’s the moments that you live for and you get all the glory if it goes in and you take the blame, it feels like, when you miss, so that’ll stay with me for a long time,” she continued. “Christine asked me if I wanted to take it, and that’s a big moment for me and, ya, it’s gonna be hard for a while.”

I wanted to reach into my flatscreen and give her a big hug.

Janine Beckie didn’t have to agree to that interrogation while still munching on such a bitter pill. She could have acted like some of our millionaire athletes and taken refuge in the showers, or, at the least, begged off for an appropriate cool-down to arrest her emotions before facing the music. So, yes…classy, classy, classy.

Should captain Christine Sinclair have ceded the critical spot kick to Beckie? Well, she either had supreme confidence in Beckie or not enough in herself, otherwise Sinclair wouldn’t have thought to yield. So, yes, if the second most-prolific goal-scorer in women’s soccer had a twinge of self-doubt, she did the right thing in bowing to Beckie’s boot.

Christine Sinclair

The haunting for Beckie and our women’s soccer side will continue until next summer, when redemption is available at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, but it remains uncertain if the journey will include Sinclair, the grand dame of Canadian soccer. At age 36, she certainly wasn’t a dominant force in France, and it seemed to me that Father Time was calling for a substitute, even as coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller didn’t. But if this was her swan song on the world stage, what a wonderful career. She’s a national treasure and we won’t see another like her for many years.

Things you won’t hear discussed by a male broadcast panel during the next men’s World Cup (or any major men’s event): Broken nails, hot-pink nail polish, lipstick shades and braided hair. That’s what Kaylyn Kyle, Diana Matheson, Clare Rustad and host Kate Beirness brought to the TSN talk table the other day. Inappropriate? Not at all. It was a fun exchange. But if they’re going to talk about their appearance, they become fair game for others to do the same. I’m not sure that’s what female talking heads want.

Hayley Wickenheiser

So nice to see Hayley Wickenheiser take her rightful place in the Hockey Hall of Fame, and I find it interesting that so many male essayists are tripping over their run-on sentences to praise the former captain of Canada’s national shinny side. As if they actually give a damn. Many of the boys wouldn’t walk across the street to watch women’s hockey. It’s their version of slumming it. Unless, of course, an Olympic gold medal is part of the package. Then they’ll hold their noses and do it. But if they believe Hayley Wickenheiser, Jayna Hefford, Angela James, Danielle Goyette, Geraldine Heany, Cammi Granato and Angela Ruggiero are Hall of Fame worthy, isn’t the girls’ game worth covering? Just asking.

On that subject, The Ice Garden reports that 30 women plan to buck the boycott and are on board for the 2019-20 National Women’s Hockey League crusade. Here’s the up-to-date scorecard: Boston Pride 11, Minnesota Whitecaps 6, Metropolitan Riveters 4, Connecticut Whale 6, Buffalo Beauts 3. That tally includes seven Canadians and the highest disclosed salary is Lexi Bender’s $13,000 with the Pride.

As the large lads in pads prep for their third week of three-down slobber-knocking, I am reminded of a Yogi-ism:

“If the people don’t want to come out to the ball park, nobody’s going to make them.”

Yogi Berra wasn’t talking about the Canadian Football League, but head counts soon could become a major talking point among those who, like myself, prefer three downs and the rouge over four downs and the fair catch.

I wouldn’t label early numbers from turnstile counts across the land in this freshly minted season alarming, but they are concerning, most notably in Edmonton where, compared to last season, the faithful are staying away in droves. Year v. year, the Eskimos have performed in front of 11,995 fewer fans through their first two assignments at Commonwealth Stadium, and that included a marketing department’s dream game last week featuring the return of the prodigal quarterback, Mike Reilly. Just 24,016 checked in to watch the $2.9-million QB receive a serious rag-dolling.

League-wide, the head count is down 13,461, although we’ve yet to hear from the two outfits that occupy the flattest of lands—Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Oddly enough, the Tranna Argonauts are one of two clubs to show an increase in attendance from their 2018 home opener. The Boatmen really put on the ritz in an attempt to woo customers, with an adios salute to retired QB Ricky Ray, a Derel Walker bobblehead doll giveaway, $5 beer and $3 hot dogs. That brought a whopping increase of 284 customers to BMO Field. It won’t help, however, that the Argos were whupped, 64-14, by the dreaded Hamilton Tabbies. But, hey, I’m thinking if they reduce the price of beer to $2 and hot dogs to .50 cents and wear Raptors jerseys, the Argos might crack that coveted 17,000 head count.

Old friend Peter Young offers this tweet in explaining any decline in attendance: “Sadly we’ve entered an era where 25,000 at CFL game is a luxury (except Tranna where 15,000 will have to do). Too much else to do. See it better on TV (see NASCAR down 50%). Oh, and even adults have discovered Netflix and HBO.” I could be cheeky and ask: What else is there to do in Winnipeg? But that would be rude and I don’t need the rabble in River City to red card me. Fact is, Peter is right, there’s plenty on the sports entertainment menu in Good Ol’ Hometown, and they don’t normally need $3 beer and .50 cent hot dogs to sell it.

Individual ticket prices in Winnipeg (taken from team websites):

Jets:              $68-$301
Bombers:     $18-$175
Moose:         $22-$32 (plus fees)
Valour FC:  $16.27-$57.57
Ice:               $16.15-$19.97 (based on $549-$679 season ticket pricing/34 home games)
Goldeyes:     $14-$26
Ass. Downs: Free admission

Your best buy might be a day watching the ponies run at Assiniboia Downs, because you can walk out with more jingle in your jeans than when you walked in. Then, again, you can leave without your shirt. That iffyness is part of the attraction, though, and I can say that I’ve never spent an afternoon or evening at the Downs that I didn’t enjoy.

Speaking of costs, can it really be true that parents are required to pony up $12,000 for their 17- and 18-year-old kids to skate with Winnipeg Blues in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League? That, according to an article by Taylor Allen in the Drab Slab, is up from $3,000 last season. I don’t make a habit of telling folks how to spend their money, but in this case I will: Are you people nuts? That’s a lot of coin for a handful of hope. I mean, if the goal for your boy is the National Hockey League, you might be better off buying $12,000 worth of lottery tickets. I don’t blame parents for dreaming, though. The bad guys here are the mucky-mucks at 50 Below Sports + Entertainment. That $12,000 price tag is just wrong.

Mike Reilly

And, finally, B.C. Lions quarterback Mike Reilly has shaved off his heavy growth of facial hair. Two things about that: 1) There was a handsome man hidden under all that thick scruff; 2) if the Lions offence goes into the tank, is Reilly guilty of a points-shaving scandal? (I agree, that’s a real groaner.)

Let’s talk about no respect for fitba…girl power on TSN’s World Cup coverage…Kaylyn Kyle blowing the whistle on refs…hair of the dog…Rafa and Big Red…and go Raptors

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and if you don’t like reading about soccer, you’d be wise to move to another blog right about now…

The women’s World Cup is comfortably underway in France, and I sometimes wonder why we in North America have been so slow on the uptake in embracing the beautiful game known around the globe as football but soccer here at home.

True, fitba can be slow, tedious and boring. And, of course, there are the play-actors and their near-death experiences, a dodgy bit of business that is shame-worthy but never Oscar-worthy.

Neymar

Perhaps it’s the theatrics of the soccer elite—almost exclusive to the men’s side of the pitch—that keeps us at arm’s length. I mean, watching Neymar and other faux thespians flopping and twitching and gasping for their last breath, like so many trout out of water, provides comic relief but it’s also a total turnoff. If I want to see bad acting, I can turn on Mama’s Family any night on MeTV.

But, hey, even with fake injury time added to each half of a soccer match, it’s over in less than two hours.

Cripes, man, the halftime show at the Super Bowl lasts longer than that, especially if Janet Jackson has to put her clothes back on. And yet the National Football League and its Super Bowl is a colossus, even when halftime entertainers aren’t flashing flesh.

The NFL, National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball and National Hockey League are John, Paul, George and Ringo. Major League Soccer is George Martin or Brian Epstein or Billy Preston. You know, the so-called Fifth Beatle. Or worse—Yoko Ono.

Many myopic mainstream jock journalists are reluctant, or refuse, to acknowledge MLS as a major-league sport.

Steve Simmons in the Republic of Tranna, for example, recently posted this item to his Twitter feed:

Toronto big league championships in my lifetime (with apologies to Argos, Rock and TFC)
62 Leafs
63 Leafs
64 Leafs (have no memory of 62-63-64)
67 Leafs
92 Blue Jays
93 Blue Jays.

Toronto FC’s 2017 MLS title fails to register on the Steve-O-Meter.

Yet MLS qualifies on most measuring sticks as “big league.” Million-dollar player salaries? Check. Global reach? Check. Multi-million-dollar national TV contract? Check. Franchises worth mega-millions? Check. Healthy attendance? Check.

Atlanta United, in fact, has a better average head count (52,000-plus) than every team in Major League Baseball. Toronto FC outdraws the Blue Jays. Seattle Sounders outdraw the Mariners. Cripes, man, as of June 2, Portland Thorns FC of the National Women’s Soccer League had better attendance than nine MLB outfits. See for yourself:

I see a lot of “big league” head counts in there.

Meanwhile, here are a few other points of interest about MLS:

Atlanta United fans

* Forbes valued four franchises at more than $300 million last year (Atlanta United $330M, L.A. Galaxy $320M; Seattle Sounders $310M; LAFC $305M) and Toronto FC at $290M. Again, that spells “big league” to me.
* In 2018, 53 MLS players collected $1,000,000 or more at the pay window, while both Zoltan Stieber of DC United and Andreu Fontas of Sporting Kansas City came in at one dollar less. If those aren’t “big league” wages, Pele was a punk rocker.
* Among all global leagues, only Poland’s First Division has had a faster growth spurt in the past five years, and MLS average attendance between 2013 and 2018 was eighth in the world.

Atlanta packs ’em in.

* Atlanta United puts more people in the pews than Manchester United, Newcastle United, Liverpool, Benfica and Atletico Madrid, among many others, while Seattle Sounders have a larger per-game following than outfits like Chelsea and AC Milan.

Is MLS the premier fitba operation on the planet? Of course not. But it doesn’t have to be on par with the English Premier League, Serie A Italy, La Liga or the Bundesliga to make it a member in good standing of the Big Five—and not the Fifth Beatle—in North America.

No surprise, really, that Simmons would pooh-pooh the MLS as a hamlet-sized dot on our sports landscape. Here’s what he had to say about fitba on the Toronto Mike’d podcast during Toronto FC’s championship run: “I’m almost embarrassed to be at the soccer games, because my knowledge of the game and my interest in the game is so limited. I don’t know the ABCs. Honestly, I couldn’t tell you all the positions. I don’t know how many players are on the field. Honestly, I have no connection to this game at all. I didn’t grow up with it, I didn’t play it, I never watched it, I didn’t care about it.” That’s an astonishing confession from a sports columnist with a nation-wide platform. Let’s hope it means he’ll leave the writing on the women’s World Cup to scribes who actually know how many players are on the pitch.

If you tune in to World Cup coverage on TSN, you’ll see something as rare as a Monday morning without a Donald Trump tweet—an all-female natterbug panel. Instead of simply looking all gussied up and pretty, they’re letting Clare Rustad, Kaylyn Kyle and Diana Matheson analyze teams, break down plays and—oh…my…gawd—deliver opinion. You know, like they actually know what they’re talking about. Imagine that. Women with functioning brains on sports TV. What a concept.

Kaylyn Kyle

I really enjoyed the lively and spirited banter between Rustad, Kyle and Matheson at halftime of the England-Scotland skirmish. Kyle and Rustad disagreed sharply on what should and shouldn’t be a hand ball penalty, and host Kate Beirness knew enough to zip her lips and let the two former Canadian national team members have at it. Kyle was, to say the least, animated and agitated after the Video Assistant Referee awarded England a penalty kick due to an unintentional hand ball by the Scots. Kyle was emphatic: The game referee and VAR room should ignore one of the most fundamental rules of the game and let the women play on. Which, of course, is total nonsense. Do you know what we’d have if officials stopped calling games by the rule book? The Stanley Cup playoffs.

Fashion note: The aforementioned Kyle has the most magnificent head of hair on TV. I know several drag queens who would give their first-born to have that mane.

Speaking of hair, what are the chances that Brett Hull is looking for some hair of the dog this morning? If Hull wasn’t five sheets to the wind on Sunday night in St. Loo, he was off his meds because he looked and sounded totally wasted prior to puck drop for Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final between the St. Loo Blues and Boston Bruins. I’m guessing his head is exploding right about now.

Someone hurled a can of beer onto the ice surface late in the Game 6 skirmish. I’d point to Hull as the most likely suspect, except he didn’t appear to be in the mood to let a good can of beer go to waste.

Secretariat at the Belmont Stakes.

I never thought I’d see dominance in sports like Secretariat at the 1973 Belmont Stakes. Big Red romped to horse racing’s Triple Crown with a 31-length victory in a world-record time that stands unchallenged to this day, and watching film of that gallop still gives me a shiver and has me reaching for the Kleenex.

Rafa Nadal

Even after the passage of so much time, it seems so unreal. Like a fairytale about a wonder horse that us old folks like to tell our grandkids. But it happened, and so did a different kind of thoroughbred—Rafael Nadal. If anything comes close to Secretariat at the Belmont, it’s Rafa on the red clay of Roland Garros in Paris. In winning his 12th French Open title and 18th tennis Grand Slam on Sunday, Rafa is running neck-and-neck with Big Red on my personal scorecard of belief-challenging accomplishments. He’s 93-2 in France. That is not a typo. Do not adjust your screen. The King of Clay has lost twice—in 15 years! Against the absolute best players on the planet. That’s insane.

Number of different women winning the past 10 tennis Grand Slam tournaments: 9. Naomi Osaka has been the only repeat champion. Number of men not named Nadal, Federer or Djokovic winning the past 10 tennis Grand Slam tournaments: 0.

Kawhi Leonard

Fun tweet from Gord Stellick of Sportsnet: “Taking attendance first day of JK at Toronto schools in 2024: Kawhi Smith, Kawhi Jones, Kawhi Murphy, Kawhi Watson…”

And, finally, it’s my understanding that they’ll be playing a rather significant basketball game tonight in the Republic of Tranna. Like the majority of Canadians, I won’t be watching, but I hope Kawhi Leonard and the Jurassics get the job done against the Golden State Juggernaut. I love it whenever we beat the Americans at our own game.