I’ve told this tale before, but it bears repeating given the shaky status of the Canadian Football League.
In a distant time and place, my friend Chester and I would hop on our bikes and make the trek to St. Boniface, twice a day, to watch the Winnipeg Blue Bombers frolic on a parched patch of earth known as Packers Field, so-named because of the Canada Packers rendering plant across the road.
We were allowed to get up close and personal with Kenny Ploen and Leo Lewis and Ernie Pitts and Bud Grant, who actually acknowledged our existence and once presented us scamps with a watermelon to share at the conclusion of the two-a-day, preseason training exercises.
How many kids could say they sat and spat watermelon seeds among sporting deity? Just Chester and myself, and it was magical.
The Bombers, after all, were top dog. The Winnipeg Jets had yet to arrive to adjust the pecking order, and our football heroes brought glory to Good Ol’ Hometown, winning the Grey Cup with great frequency in the late 1950s and early ’60s.
I’m uncertain what became of Chester, but, for me, those morning/afternoon sessions at Packers Field served as the stirrings of a life-long fling with Rouge Football.
I was fortunate. Actually, blessed would be a better word. I grew up with the CFL, then got to cover it for 19 years in three locales—Winnipeg, Calgary and the Republic of Tranna—and that’s something you should understand about the boys and girls on the beat: They’re fans.
Those who chronicle the daily doings of the three-down game care. About the league, about the players, about management, about the quirky rules that differentiate us from the four-down colossus south of the 49th. We embrace the notion of humble community ownership, in the same way the citizenry of Green Bay embraces its Packers.
Thus, we tend to take it personal when we hear squawkings of a sellout to American interests, or when the feds decline to pony up with cash to see the CFL through the COVID pandemic. Who are these snake-oil salesmen from the U.S. planning to butcher our game, and how dare Trudeau the Younger and his pals on Parliament Hill give Air Canada, the film industry and the arts community money hand over fist while leaving the lords of Rouge Football to sit, hat in hand, on a cold, dark street corner?
The iffiness of the CFL’s very existence, let alone a 2021 crusade, rattles us to the core, and we nod in agreement when we hear Russ Jackson speaking our language.
“I think if there was an amalgamation of the American and Canadian side, it would lead towards playing the American game,” the great quarterback told 3DownNation. “I have no interest in that. I have four season tickets here in Hamilton. I’m not sure I would keep those season seats if we turned into an American-type football game.”
You tell ’em, Russ. Maybe they’ll listen to you.
I doubt it, though, because they’ve heard it all before. They know all about the 100-plus-year history of the game on this side of the great divide, they’re familiar with folklore about horses clomping into hotel lobbies during Grey Cup week, and about fog bowls, mud bowls and ice bowls, so nothing a legendary QB says will sway them. Heck, we could trot out a lineup of legends including Jackson, Dirty Thirty, Peanut Butter Joe and Big Angie to preach the gospel according to G. Sydney Halter, but the stewards of the game will do what they’re going to do.
Question is: How many among the rabble would be bent out of shape if the lords of Rouge Football sold out to Americans, or if the CFL disappeared like a slab of beef on Chris Walby’s dinner plate? I mean, I like to think that it isn’t just folks of my vintage who want to preserve our game.
Well, I remind you of an Angus Reid poll conducted last May. Slightly more than 1,500 sports fans across the tundra were contacted and asked if they would be “disappointed” should the 2020 CFL season be scuttled. Only in Manitoba and Saskatchewan did the majority respond with a “damn straight I would!” Elsewhere, there was a collective shrug of the shoulders.
Manitoba: 63 per cent Saskatchewan: 61 per cent Alberta: 45 per cent B.C.: 34 per cent Quebec: 31 per cent Ontario: 28 per cent Atlantic Canada: 17 per cent
Significantly, east of the Manitoba-Ontario border, a greater percentage of people indicated they would miss an NFL season more than a CFL crusade.
We don’t know if those numbers have changed, but something tells me the Lords of Rouge Football and commissioner Randy Ambrosie haven’t attracted any new friends, or brought back old friends, with their fumbled appeals for federal financing and their dithering in the past year.
We’re told the tall foreheads will gather on Tuesday to plot strategy, and I don’t know if I should fear the worst or expect to see Commish Randy pull something that resembles Bugs Bunny out of his hat.
I just know they’re messing with memories, and if they shut down again or sell out to Yankee Doodle dollars I’ll be mad enough to spit. Only this time it won’t be watermelon seeds at Packers Field.
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:
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and Happy Summer to you all…
Now that Hal Johnson has ‘outed’ TSN for racist hiring practices that included a limit on the number of Black reporters (one maximum) in 1988, here’s a question that needs to be answered:
What is the Black quota in 2020?
We know it’s more than one, because Farhan Lalji, Jermain Franklin and Kayla Grey are part of Team Yakety-Yak at TSN, but, in offering a lame mea culpa to Johnson the other day, the network’s spin doctors neglected to confirm or deny that a ceiling on the number of minority hires remains in place.
“There is still much work to do to improve our commitment to on-air and editorial diversity,” was part of a pre-fab statement on Twitter.
So, is what happened to fitness guru Johnson in 1988 still happening today?
If you missed it, here’s the Coles Notes version of Johnson’s TSN tale: Hired in the morning. Fired in the afternoon. By a suit in the ivory tower who believed adding a second Black news snoop was bad for business. So thanks for dropping in, Hal, and you can pick up your parting gifts on the way out. Oh, and by the way, we’d be happy to air your boffo Body Break fitness show with Joanne McLeod, but only if you hire a white actor to replace yourself because we can’t have an interracial couple exercising and having fun together on TV.
The spin doctors describe that as “a shameful part of our past,” (ya think?) but 32 years later TSN remains almost as white as a bowl of rice. It’s a sea of bleached faces, with a few former football players, Grey and John Lu in the mix.
All of which has provided pause for ponder.
The popular thing to do today is discuss diversity, also all the isms and phobias that are a pox on society. Suddenly, everyone has a tale to tell, and the great unwashed nod in enthusiastic agreement whenever it’s mentioned that discrimination, racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia and bullying are bad manners.
Many have been drawn into the conversation out of genuine concern, a yearning to understand and a will to effect change, while others have felt obliged to participate for fear of a tsk-tsking. Even though mistreatment of the marginalized is older than the ink on the Dead Sea Scrolls, only now are they gazing into the looking glass.
It will be interesting to learn what they discover and, more important, what they’ll do about it.
Be certain that TSN isn’t flying solo here. Denise Balkissoon has written an essay for Chatelaine on racism at the Globe and Mail, and Morgan Campbell hasn’t been shy about detailing his experience with racism at the Toronto Star.
Meanwhile, I’ve been squawking about the lack of diversity in jock journalism for much of this 21st century, and when I look at the sports landscape in the rag trade I see that it’s still whiter than a box of Titleist golf balls. Not only that, finding a female face among jock journos at our daily newspapers is like playing a game of Where’s Waldo’s Sister?
So what’s the scoop? Is there a restriction on hiring females? Or is it a hesitancy owing to the horse-and-buggy notion that women can’t possibly know sports?
The last time there was an opening in the toy department of the Winnipeg Sun, more than 30 wannabes applied. Four of them were women. Scott Billeck landed the gig. It’s proven to be a beneficial hire, even as he’s become the tabloid’s Virus Boy, but it’s worth noting that the Sun’s stable of sports scribes hasn’t included a female since the turn of the century, when Judy Owen discovered better things to occupy her time and left the building.
As for gay jock journos, I know of two in this country’s mainstream—the terrific curling writer Devin Heroux of CBC, and Scott MacArthur of Sportsnet 590 The Fan.
It terms of diversity, it’s a rather bleak scorecard.
Our guy Alphonso Davies set gums a-flapping with his eye-popping lickety-split in a recent Bundesliga soccer match, dashing up the pitch at a dazzling 36.5 km/h. Not sure what the big deal is, though. I mean, I know sports writers who run a lot faster than that every time the bar tab arrives.
Hey, I’m not saying jock journos are cheap, but there’s a reason why Canada took the penny out of circulation—sports scribes had them all squirreled away.
I must confess that I can do without all the fuzzballs that romp around sports facilities, but I’ve always liked Youppi!, one-time mascot of the Montreal Expos and now the official furball of les Canadiens. Youppi! has been inducted into the Mascot Hall of Fame (yes, there really is such a thing, in Whiting, Indiana), and I suppose that makes him this country’s best two-sport big-league star since Gerry James, aka Kid Dynamite. For those of you who haven’t been introduced, Kid Dynamite played for both the Tranna Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Blue Bombers, sometimes in the same year. He also won hockey’s Memorial Cup and football’s Grey Cup. Youppi! won neither, but kids really like him and that has to count for something.
I’ve been writing about the Canadian Football League since 1980—Toronto Sun, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and now as a blogger—so I must report that, yes, not having anything but Commish Randy Ambrosie’s awkward mutterings to opine about these days is a total bummer. Like all who follow the goings-on of Rouge Football, I would rather be discussing passers and pass rushers than Commish Randy’s panhandling on Parliament Hill, but it should be obvious to all that the large lads in pads will not be grabbing grass and growling this year. And that truly is a shame.
North American professional team sports in 2020: An unhealthy scratch.
Things that make me go Hmmm, Vol. 1: Donald Trump vows he won’t watch soccer or National Football League games if players are allowed to kneel during the U.S. national anthem. Hmmm. Something tells me they’ll all be watching when he takes a knee in November.
While in ponder of diversity, equality and inclusiveness, I found myself wondering if the Football Reporters of Canada will make this the year they finally vote a female into the media wing of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. At present, it’s the ultimate boys’ club, with 100 per cent male membership, and that’s something that needs correcting.
By golly, I do believe TSN nailed it with its all-time Blue Bombers team. As long as Bud Grant is the coach, Kenny Ploen is the quarterback, and Leo Lewis is one of the running backs, you can’t go wrong. If I have a slight quibble (of course I do), it’s the absence of Ernie (Zazu) Pitts among the receivers. Pitts is on my team before Rick House every time, but I’m not going to sue TSN for giving Houser the nod.
Just curious: Is baseball still a thing? Seriously. By the time Major League Baseball’s millionaire players and billionaire owners have finished bickering over who deserves how many bucks for playing however many games, nobody will give a damn. Maybe they’ve already arrived at that point.
Things that make me go Hmmm, Vol. 2: In a chin wag last week with Ron MacLean of Sportsnet, sports sociologist Dr. Cheryl MacDonald claimed to have interviewed “openly gay men’s hockey players who’ve played at elite levels.” Hmmm. We shouldn’t be surprised that Doc MacDonald didn’t name names, but I found myself wondering if she meant National Hockey League players. That seemed the logical next query to me, but MacLean declined to pursue that line of questioning. Frankly, his natters have become long on fluff and short on substance.
The lady doctor also suggested that the lack of out gay men in major team sports “might be even a masculinity thing.” Might be? What was her first clue?
It’s incredible how many people are just now discovering that hockey is not for everyone. The latest example of this ‘awakening’ is an essay on the Colored Hockey League by Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star. “Canadians call hockey ‘our game.’ But history tells us it hasn’t been everybody’s,” he scribbles. It’s a well-written, informative piece, but we don’t have to go back 100 years to realize that men’s hockey isn’t an inclusive enterprise. Its lack of acceptance is right in front of us today.
I’m a doctor of absolutely nothing, so COVID-19 is a mystery. I do, however, know that I’d prefer NHL players to be as far removed from me as possible during this pandemic, which means Vancouver is too close for my comfort. We haven’t had an active case of COVID-19 on Vancouver Island in more than a month, so I’m fine with the NHL choosing Edmonton or the Republic of Tranna as hub bubbles for the Stanley Cup tournament, thank you very much.
I like Murat Ates. A lot. He does boffo work for The Athletic. I like Sara Orlesky. A lot. She does boffo work for TSN’s Winnipeg bureau. But I believe Murat’s recent Q&A with Sara is a sure signal that he’s struggling for story ideas this deep into the pandemic.
Ever wonder what it’s like to be a jock columnist? Well, let’s have Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna tell us: “Life as a columnist. On Thursday, I write about my dad and Father’s Day and everybody loves me and thinks I’m great. On Friday, I break the (Auston) Matthews (COVID-19) story and I get called every name in the book and some that haven’t gotten there yet. On Saturday, I’m putting this notes column together, which is next to impossible with no games going on. On Sunday, thankfully, I exhale. And now on to next week.” The poor dear. I wonder if he’d like some cheese with that whine.
True, the gig can be a grind, but it isn’t “next to impossible” to churn out a notes column “with no games going on.” I do it every Sunday. I just do it in a different format and, unlike Simmons, I don’t get paid for it.
Simmons also continues to present himself as a hockey historian, even though his lived experience with the game doesn’t predate the 1960s. Commenting on Herb Carnegie, he writes: “Carnegie was more than good enough to play in the National Hockey League in the late 1940s, early ’50s. The Maple Leafs and the rest of the NHL wouldn’t sign him. He never got the chance to play at the highest level because he was black.” Actually, Carnegie did have the chance, even though he was Black. According to Cecil Harris’ book, Breaking the Ice: The Black Experience in Professional Hockey, the New York Rangers invited him to their 1948 training camp, and he stayed for 11 days, during which time the club presented three contract bids that would have had him begin the season in the minor leagues— $2,700 to play in Tacoma, $3,700 to play in St. Paul, $4,700 to play with the Rangers’ American Hockey League affiliate in New Haven. In other words, Carnegie was offered the same path to the big leagues that Jackie Robinson took with baseball’s Brooklyn Dodgers. Start in the minors, graduate to the show. But Carnegie rejected each of the Rangers’ bids for his services, preferring to earn $5,100 with the Sherbrooke Saint-Francois of the Quebec Senior Hockey League. His choice.
And, finally, I note that Paul McCartney turned 78 last week. It seems like only Yesterday that I was watching him and the other three Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. They were fab…yeah, yeah, yeah.
How about 300 million of them? Do I hear 1,500,000,000?
Apparently Randy Ambrosie doesn’t think that’s too much of an ask, because he’s panhandling on Parliament Hill these days, hoping that Prime Minister Trudeau the Younger is a fan of three-downs football and has a spare $30 million to $150 million stashed in his couch at Rideau Cottage.
If not…well, that’s the part of the big beg that Ambrosie has yet to spell out, but it suggests the end could be nigh for the Canadian Football League. Final score: COVID-19, CFL-0.
And, no, now that you’ve asked, I don’t think that’s being alarmist or extremist.
Look, I realize the CFL already has had more sticks of Acme dynamite blow up in its face than Wile E. Coyote, but the COVID-19 pandemic is a different kind of beast. The sports world will be harder to put together than a broken egg, and our quirky game requires a special kind of fix.
Rouge Football, you see, isn’t doable without fannies in the pews, even if the Argonauts and the dismissive citizenry in the Republic of Tranna do their best to prove otherwise. It can’t work. Not in The ROT, not in Good Ol’ Hometown, not on the Left Flank, where the locals won’t even come in from the rain to watch the Lions.
Thus, if turnstiles aren’t turning, it’s folly to discuss a Coles Notes version of a 2020 CFL crusade commencing on the Labor Day weekend.
Which means, yes, short of Trudeau the Younger morphing into PM Pigskin and tossing $30M into Commish Randy’s begging cap immediately (and another $120M if this season is a no-go), the CFL as we know it is likely a done deal.
“What would happen if that $30 million assistance was denied?” TSN’s Dave Naylor asked Randy the Panhandler the other day.
“I’m not indulging in the question what happens if it doesn’t work because I believe we’re going to find a way to make it work,” came the answer.
No surprise that Commish Randy would decline to engage in doomsday talk. He’s one of those dudes who’ll tell you his watch can’t possibly be broken because it shows the correct time twice a day. He’s never seen a half-empty stadium. Not even BMO Field in The ROT. Always half full. He knows what an empty piggy bank looks like, though, and he recognizes that saving the CFL will take more than a GoFundMe page.
And that’s a very grim reckoning for many of my vintage.
I remember when the CFL was the big dog in town, because we didn’t have National Hockey League outfits to call our own out in the colonies. But we had Kenny Ploen, the Lincoln Locomotive, Bud Grant and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Saskatchewan had the Little General, George, Gluey Huey and the Roughriders. Calgary had Eagle Day, Earl the Earthquake, Ham Hands and the Stampeders. Edmonton had Spaghetti Legs, the China Clipper, Johnny Bright and the Eskimos. B.C. had Peanut Butter Joe, Willie the Wisp, Nub and the Lions.
So a Canada without Rouge Football? Sorry, that’s not my Canada.
It would be like a pub without pints. A church without prayer. The McKenzie Brothers without brown pops, toques, earmuffs and a “beauty day, eh.”
But that’s my take, owing to the fact I was weaned on the game when single-bar face masks were still in vogue, and east was east and west was west and never the twain did meet until the Grey Grail was up for grabs.
Others, however, won’t be swayed by notions of nostalgia and Canadiana culture. They don’t want their tax dollars used to pay Mike Reilly’s and Bo Levi Mitchells’ $700,000 salaries, and certainly not Commish Randy’s reported annual stipend of half a million loonies. That’s an impossible sell when many thousands among the rabble are forced to feed at the public trough due to COVID-19, and going-out-of-business signs are popping up like dandelions.
I’ve heard the CFL described as a mom-and-pop operation and, in the grand scheme of things, I suppose it is. It’s dwarfed by the goliath that is the National Football League, and robust broadcasting contracts allow the other main players (National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, National Hockey League, Major League Soccer) to re-enter the fray sans customers. At least temporarily.
Not so Rouge Football.
Pundits suggest Commish Randy’s beg is a Hail Mary pass, and I’m inclined to agree. But, hey, Trudeau the Younger is a good Catholic boy, so he probably owns a rosary and might have an “in” when it comes to answered prayers.
If not, I fear there’s a very real possibility the CFL will run out of downs.
I don’t want to pay Bo Levi Mitchell’s wage anymore than the next person but, for the record, I have no problem with the CFL panhandling on Parliament Hill. I’d do the same thing. That doesn’t make it the right thing, but it doesn’t make it wrong, either.
The hardest part of Commish Randy’s sales pitch? Convincing the feds that people hither and yon actually give a damn about Rouge Football. He can wax poetic about the beauty of the three-downs game, how it’s a significant and historic thread in the country’s fabric, but he can’t sugar coat the head counts in our three largest markets—the Republic of Tranna, Montreal, Vancouver. I’ve seen more people at a neighborhood flea market than the Argos attract to BMO Field. The Lions are a rumor in B.C. Montreal showed a pulse late last season, but it was faint. So never mind the odious notion of bailing out millionaire and billionaire owners, how does Commish Randy sell the feds on a product that most of the rabble is meh about?
No matter how this all shakes down, I’m convinced we’ll see someone ride a horse into a big-city hotel lobby on the final Sunday in November once again. But not this year. A post-pandemic CFL won’t look the same, at least not initially. I see reduced rosters, more Canadians and fewer imports on game-day rosters, wage shrinkage (on and off the field), and two leagues under the CFL banner: The Western Football League and the Eastern Football Union. No more interlocking play. Just West v. West/East v. East until the Grey Cup game. You know, like it was in the 1950s and into the ’60s. And road trips on the bus (except to B.C.) to lower costs. That’s what the tea leaves are telling me, so remember where you read it first. Or not.
What a surprise—the CFL asks for money from the feds and we hear squawking from other athletes, notably Liz Knox, one of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association mouthpieces. “We’re asking for peanuts compared to a $150-million ask,” she bleated, recalling the collapse of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League last spring. “When the CWHL was folding, we were talking in the hundreds of thousands to get us in the clear so the league didn’t have to fold. We’re talking two or three CFL salaries. That would (have) made the difference of us literally surviving or not. Women’s sport is often seen as a charity, but that’s not the narrative that we’re hearing about the CFL and their situation right now.” Well, actually, that’s exactly what many among the rabble are calling the CFL these days—a charity case. Liz might want to try a different narrative.
Why is it that members of the PWHPA seem to be caught in a never-ending pity party, constantly griping about the sorry lot in life that they’ve created for themselves and demanding what they “deserve,” yet we never hear similar grumbling from the National Women’s Hockey League? NWHL leaders simply go about their business, adding an expansion franchise in the Republic of Tranna, conducting a player draft, and prepping for the 2020 crusade. At last report, 26 women are already on board for the NWHL’s sixth season, and none of them are bitching about “deserving” a living wage. That’s what they’re building toward—a better tomorrow for Ponytail Puck—and I’d say they’re going about it the right way.
In the winter of 2015, I was having a discussion with friend/former colleague Judy Owen about sports scribes at Winnipeg’s two dailies, and I directed her attention to a young writer still trying to find her way in the rag trade. “I really like Melissa Martin’s stuff,” I told Jude. “She doesn’t cover things the same old, same old way. She has a different style, and I like different. She’s the best pure writer they have at the Freep.” Jude didn’t disagree, but she seemed genuinely surprised, if not mildly amused, that I harbored such high regard for Melissa. Well, fast forward to spring 2020: Melissa won her second National Newspaper Award the other night, as top columnist in the country. Like I was saying five years ago, she’s the best they’ve got at the Drab Slab. Still. Too bad she only makes cameo appearances in the toy department.
The week in jock journalism…
Really nice read from Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab on Ralph Wild, a 101-year-old who’s been root, root, rooting for the Blue Bombers since Buddy Tinsley almost drowned during the Mud Bowl at Varsity Stadium in the Republic of Tranna. If you’re scoring at home, that was in 1950, so Ralph has seen some football…Shrinkage alert: The Winnipeg Sun sports section was reduced to just four pages three days last week. And, get this: They managed to fill those pages mostly with local copy. Imagine that. Running local copy by local scribes instead of all the usual flapdoodle from the Republic of Tranna. What a concept…Mind you, it was back to normal for today’s edition, with a Toronto-centric piece on the sports front and more on the inside…Made a point of watching the Her Mark show on TSN, but I’m afraid it totally missed the mark. The guest list included Christine Sinclair, Tessa Virtue, Marie-Philip Poulin, Kia Nurse, Natalie Spooner and Hayley Wickenheiser, and host Kate Beirness said, “I hope the stories they share will be as uplifting to viewers as they have been to me.” Excuse me? What stories? It was a series of public service announcements. So let’s just call it an opportunity lost for female athletes…Why does TSN, or anyone for that matter, think Will Ferrell is funny? He isn’t. Ferrell pranked the Seattle Seahawks on a Zoom gathering the other day, expressing his “love” for quarterback Russell Wilson and saying “let’s make a baby.” Beirness described the bit as “fantastic.” No. It was totally lame, just like Ferrell’s gig in the TSN curling booth…Sad news out of Calgary: Longtime broadcaster Russ Peake died at age 80. You’d have to look long and hard to find a nicer man than Russ.
If you have a spare 50 minutes in your day (and who doesn’t?), grab a beer or a glass of vino and check out Road to the Grey Cup, a documentary on the Bombers’ journey to their three-downs title last November. It’s the handiwork of Rheanne Marcoux (creative director), Riley Marra (producer, editor, videographer), Jeremy Derochers and Sam Calvert (videographers) and it’s boffo stuff.
There was considerable ballyhoo on Saturday when an extremely large Icelandic lad named Hafthor Bjornsson established a world record for dead-lifting 1,104 pounds. What’s the big deal? The Cleveland Browns have been carrying that much dead weight since the 1960s.
There’s also been much natter about the incomparable Secretariat winning NBC’s virtual running of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday. Big Red out-galloped a field that included 12 other Triple Crown champions, including 1919 winner Sir Barton, who finished last by about 15 lengths. Talk about flogging a dead horse.
The talented Murat Ates of The Athletic has scanned the Winnipeg Jets roster and determined that there are five untouchables: Connor Hellebuyck, Rink Rat Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Josh Morrissey and Neal Pionk. That’s right, he’ll trade away Twig Ehlers, Kyle Connor or Puck Finn, but not Neal Pionk, whose only a top-pairing defenceman by default. I admire Murat’s way with words, but I’m not hiring him as GM of my hockey team.
And, finally, if the last month and a half has seemed more like an entire year, and if you can’t tell one day from the next, you’ve got an idea what life is like for a lot of seniors. Isolation can be very numbing, physically and mentally.
Yes, it’s a return of the Sunday smorgas-bored, but with a slight twist: Sports Santa arrives on Wednesday and he’s given us a sneak peak at what he’s tucked inside his bag, so let’s see if it’s Goal or a Lump o’ Coal for the good and not-so-good girls and boys in the toy department of life…
GOAL: The Winnipeg Blue Bombers ended the longest dry spell since prohibition, so all hosannas to the Canadian Mafia—Wade Miller (CEO), Kyle Walters (GM) and Mike O’Shea (head coach)—who brought the Grey Cup home to River City and turned Chris Streveler into a flesh-flashing party animal. I don’t recall Kenny Ploen getting half naked and noodle-legged during Grey Grail celebrations back in the day, but good on Streveler for letting his wolf loose. After all, this sort of thing only happens every 29 years.
LUMP O’ COAL: Andrew Harris. Ya, I realize the local product was top dog in the Canadian Football League championship game, but he became a tainted tailback by failing a mid-season pee test. Harris claimed innocence, but don’t they all when caught using PEDs?
GOAL: Dayna Spiring became the first female board chair in the 89-years history of the local three-down football outfit, and the lady is a champ. You might have seen Dayna down on the field at McMahon Stadium in Calgary, hoisting the Grey Grail after the Bombers had waffled the Hamilton Tabbies on the final Sunday in November, and that’s girl power, baby.
LUMP O’ COAL: Actually, make it an entire coal bin for Glen Suitor, the TSN gasbag whose swooning over singer-of-songs Keith Urban during the Grey Cup telecast registered 10 on the creep-me-out meter. We haven’t seen or heard teenage-girly gushing like that since John, Paul, George and Ringo worked their first Ed Sullivan Show gig. I truly believe Suitor wet his pants.
GOAL: All aboard the Bianca Andreescu Tennis Express. First she won the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, then the Rogers Cup in the Republic of Tranna, then the U.S. Open in Gotham, where she slayed neighborhood bully Serena Williams in the final. Along the way, former world No. 1 Angelique Kerber called Bianca the “biggest drama queen ever,” and you know you’re doing something right when the claws come out.
LUMP O’ COAL: Apparently the ‘C’ on Blake Wheeler’s sweater stands for “cantankerous cuss,” because the Winnipeg Jets captain went full-on potty mouth at the close of business last April, telling Winnipeg Sun scribe Paul Friesen to “fuck off.” And don’t talk to me about a heat-of-the-moment comment after a tough loss. Fifteen teams were eliminated from the Stanley Cup runoff last spring, and only one captain told a news snoop to “fuck off.” Look, Wheeler doesn’t have to like the questions, he doesn’t even have to answer ever question, he doesn’t have to get warm and fuzzy with news snoops, but civility also starts with a ‘C’. Hopefully he’ll try it on for size when the Jets are ousted next spring.
GOAL: I’m not sure there’s anyone in sports more delightful than Brooke Henderson, our Lady of the Links who won two more tournaments to become the most successful hoser golfer on either the LPGA or PGA tours. That’s nine titles for Brooke now, and I hope we never take her for granted because there should be nothing ho hum about winning two events every year. Brooke is a bringer-of-joy and a national treasure.
LUMP O’ COAL: The U.S. women’s national soccer side established new, disturbing standards for rub-it-in-their-faces hoorawing during a 13-0 rout of lowly Thailand. The Yankee Doodle Damsels celebrated each of their scores as if they’d retaken France from Hitler’s Nazis, and their over-the-top, cringeworthy carry-on after goals eight through 13 was an ugly pock mark on an otherwise masterful World Cup performance in Paris and the surrounding French countryside.
GOAL: I have two words for the TSN World Cup panel of Clare Rustad, Kaylyn Kyle and Diana Matheson—c’est magnifique. Actually, I have more than two words for them: Brisk and blunt, feisty, fiery and unafraid to put noses out of joint, the trio provided commentary as insightful as it was entertaining, and it didn’t matter if they were talking about hand balls or Marta’s shade of lipstick. TSN gave three women a voice and they knew what to do with it. What a concept. Add Kyle’s killer hair to the mix and it all worked.
LUMP O’ COAL: Donald Trump picked a Twitter fight with America’s leading lady on the pitch, Megan Rapinoe. Seriously, what’s up with that? I mean, wasn’t Trump too busy separating Mexican mothers from their kids to worry about a fitba diva?
GOAL: Katherine Henderson, CEO of Curling Canada, wanted to bring equal pay to the pebble and she’s done it. Prize purses at both the 2020 Scotties Tournament of Hearts and the Brier will be $300,000, with each winning outfit collecting $105,000. Hurry hard to that pay window, girls. You’ve earned it.
LUMP O’ COAL: Auston Matthews of the Tranna Maple Leafs and some of his boozed-up buddies thought it would be a swell idea to act like damn fools and prank a female security guard at 2 o’lock in the morning last summer in Scottsdale, Ariz. They attempted to climb into her locked car, then got all leaky-mouthed when she turned them back. When last seen, Matthews had dropped his trousers and was mooning the guard. What a charmer.
LUMP O’ COAL: Many mainstream jock journos wrote off L’Affaire Matthews as nothing more than the yuk-it-up, boys-will-be-boys hijinks of youth, and that’s because too many mainstream jock journos are guys who relate to frat-boy hijinks. I imagine the narrative would have been different had it been their mother, sister, wife or daughter sitting alone in that car.
GOAL: Greg Fettes and Matt Cockell brought the Western Hockey League back to Winnipeg, playing out of a cramped Wayne Fleming Arena at the U of M. Nice. Now, if only Greg and Matt would do something about ditching the Sasquatch logo and changing the team name to something more River City-centric.
GOAL: When Murat Ates joined The Athletic to work the Jets beat, I feared he’d be too heavy on numbers and too light on storytelling. Turns out he’s found an acceptable mix. I still won’t read him if I need an abacus, because that’s just typing, not writing, but I don’t turn away when he’s spinning a good yarn. Murat has a nice way with words. Boffo addition to the beat.
GOAL: Bob Cameron. Blue Bombers. Ring of Honour. Brilliant.
GOAL: Jennifer Jones became the most successful skip in Scotties history, nailing down win No. 141 last winter in Sydney, and I really wish everyone would get past that whole Cathy O thing. C’mon people, can’t we just talk about Jennifer as the greatest female curler ever?
GOAL: The Seattle To Be Named Laters have yet to play a game, but they’ve already scored big by bringing Cammi Granato on board as a fulltime pro scout, a first for the very male, very old boys club known as the National Hockey League.
LUMP O’ COAL: Hockey Day in Canada is a celebration of our great game, which is supposed to be for everyone, but the tall foreheads at CBC and Sportsnet couldn’t find a way to squeeze a women’s match into their 12-hours marathon last February. Oh, sure, the natterbugs mentioned Ponytail Puck, but the Tranna Furies-les Canadiennes joust should have been part of the package.
LUMP O’ COAL: Never mind that Ron MacLean enabled Don Cherry’s pulpit bullying for 33 years, the Hockey Night in Canada host confessed to not recognizing “the structural racism or sexism that’s going on” in hockey. I don’t believe for a nanosecond that MacLean is truly that naive. He saw it and heard it. He just ignored it.
GOAL: Richie Hall had been the most maligned man in Good Ol’ Hometown since taking command of the Bombers defensive dozen, but it was Richie’s D that ruled the day in each of Winnipeg FC’s playoff victories. Winning the Grey Cup looked good on him.
GOAL: Anyone who purchased and scarfed down a Walby Burger at a Bombers game deserves a lifetime supply of Tums or Pepto. And maybe a cardiologist to be named later. I mean, that sucker was a heart attack in the making—six meat patties, six chicken strips, six wieners, six hunks of bacon, cheese, French fries, pickles, lettuce, onions, tomatoes and special sauce stuffed between two buns the size of an umbrella.
LUMP O’ COAL: CFL commish Randy Ambrosie has been flitting about the globe, making nice with Mexicans, Europeans and Aussies, but it seems he’s forgotten about his own back yard. The CFL lost more than 76,000 customers between 2018 and ’19 and, notably, even the longtime flagship franchise in Edmonton took a huge hit at the box office (minus-15,898). Commish Randy doesn’t appear to have a plan to make Rouge Football a happening again in Vancouver or the Republic of Tranna, but, hey, I hear he’s big in Frankfurt and Vienna.
LUMP O’ COAL: The Green Bay Packers-Oakland Raiders adventure at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry was a gong show from the get-go, and we have some dude named John Graham to blame for that. Ticket prices were $75-$340 (plus tax/fees), which was never going to work in a burg that only buys wholesale; Oakland punter A. J. Cole arrived wearing a Winnipeg, Alberta, t-shirt; the Packers sat 33 starters; they found potholes in the end zones, thus the field for the faux football game was reduced to 80 yards in length. Oh, and did I mention there were fewer than 20,000 customers in the ball park? Graham blamed it all on the media, naturally, and he had the bad manners to attempt to boot Paul Friesen from the press box. Friesen stayed, the National Football League didn’t. And four-down football will never be back.
GOAL: Paul Friesen continues to crank out his Night Before Christmas sports poem, a tradition started by Uncle Vince Leah back in the day at the Winnipeg Tribune. I resurrected it for the Winnipeg Sun in the 1990s (or was it the ’80s?), so I’m delighted that Paul picked up that pen. I assume it’ll be featured in the tabloid’s Tuesday edition and, like most of his stuff, it’ll be boffo.
LUMP O’ COAL: Mad Mike McIntyre turned the Drab Slab into gossip central by telling us that the Jets changing room was “rotten to the core.” He mentioned something about “multiple sources,” but neglected to tell us what his “multiple sources” actually told him. Thus, galloping gossip among the rabble ensued. That was April 5. On April 17, he advised us that there was “unity among teammates, both in the room and on the ice,” but by April 20 the players apparently couldn’t stand the sight of each other again. In May, he informed us that any “ruffled feathers” in the room belonged to Rink Rat Scheifele, and in June he once again told us that the Jets were “a fractured bunch.” But wait. In August, he advised us that there was “nothing going on that winning couldn’t fix.” Confused yet? So was I. More latterly, which is to say last week, he insisted that AWOL defender Dustin Byfuglien was the root of all evil, because was was siphoning too much alpha oxygen out of the room. Meanwhile, his stooge-in-laws at the Freep, Steve Lyons and yesterday’s man Paul Wiecek, told us that captain Blake Wheeler was the rottenest of all apples in that barrel. All that and, nine months later, they’ve yet to provide a shred of evidence to support the “rotten to the core” narrative, other than one late-season, closed-door-meeting, which is commonplace in the NHL. Apparently, innuendo and back-fence gossip trump facts and anecdotal evidence at the Drab Slab.
And, finally, GOAL: To everyone who indulged an old lady by stopping by for a read of the River City Renegade. We hit 48,000 views this year, and that’s a high-water mark. So thanks. Happy Christmas, happy New Year, and happy trails to you.
A Monday smorgas-bored coming down in 3, 2, 1…and I’m thinking of Kenny Ploen today…
Those of my vintage remember the glory days, when our local football heroes would make a pilgrimage to the Republic of Tranna or Lotus Land every November.
Our Winnipeg Blue Bombers didn’t go for the weather, understand, because it was usually cold, wet, windy, foggy or flat-out gnarly at that time of the year, and it wasn’t the lure of big-city lights and big-city temptations either. It was business, and that business was to whup the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
We learned to dislike the Tabbies with unharnessed gusto, because they were always in the way. In 1957. In 1958. In ’59, ’61 and ’62.
They were big, menacing and vulgar men named Mosca and Barrow and Nagurski, all raised on sour milk and appropriately dressed in villain black. One of them, Ralph Goldston, was a thug of such ill temper that he once was ejected from a Canadian Football League championship match for punching Winnipeg Blue Bombers sublime running back, Leo Lewis, in the face. Their coach, Jungle Jim Trimble, was a trash-talking loudmouth from coal mining country in Pennsylvania and, in advance of the ’58 Grey Cup game, he considered the Bombers’ roster and declared, “The Winnipeg club didn’t show me anything to worry about.”
Jungle Jim also spewed this legendary line that November: “We’ll waffle ’em. We’ll leave ’em with lumps on the front and back.”
The nerve. The very notion that one of the Hamilton ruffians would have the bad manners to leave lumps on Kenny Ploen was a most disagreeable and distasteful notion. I mean, you didn’t mess with the Lone Ranger, you didn’t tug on Superman’s cape, and you didn’t put lumps on Kenny Ploen.
Ploen, the Bombers quarterback and sometimes ball-hawking defensive back, was a sweetheart. They all were, and I say that based on memories of an urchin who, along with my friend Chester, would ride a bike from Melbourne Avenue in East Kildonan out to a parched patch of hard, scuffed earth known as Canada Packers Field in St. Boniface twice a day during the Bombers preseason training exercises.
Before and after each workout, Chester and I would collect the signatures of our blue-and-gold heroes, asking them to scribble their names on paper scraps, magazines, newspaper articles and footballs.
“How many of these do you have?” Ploen asked one day as he signed my white football.
“I don’t know, Mr. Ploen,” I answered. “I hope we aren’t pestering you by asking for your autograph every day.”
“Not at all. I’m glad to do it.”
None of them complained. They simply signed, sometimes the perspiration from their foreheads dripping onto our paper scraps to make the blue ink smudge and run. Ernie (Zazu) Pitts one day greeted Chester and I with a smile, saying, “Good morning, people of the jury,” and, at the conclusion of the two-a-day sessions, god-like head coach Bud Grant trucked in watermelons for the large lads and handed us one as well.
To announce to neighborhood chums that Chester and I had shared a watermelon with Bud Grant, Kenny Ploen and Leo Lewis was a bragging point of considerable heft, believe me.
Like I said, sweethearts.
Ah, but once opposite the dreaded Tabbies, the measure of Blue Bombers’ snark and sass was sizable and more than a match for their black-clad foes. Herb Gray, Jack Delveaux, Dave Burkholder and Norm Rauhaus were no quarterback’s notion of a picnic, while the Lincoln Locomotive, Choo Choo Shepard, Carver Shannon and Zazu made things go bump in the night for Hamilton defenders.
Winnipeg FC waffled the Jungle Jim-coached Tabbies four times in their five Grey Cup skirmishes starting in 1957 and ending in ’62, with one game determined in overtime and another taking two days to finish.
Many years after the fact, I caught up with Winnipeg FC lineman Ed Kotowich during a Grey Cup week and asked him about the dislike between the Tabbies and Bombers back in the day.
“There was nothing made up about it,” he said with a growl and a tightening of his jaw muscles. “They didn’t like us and I guarantee we hated them and their big-mouth coach.”
So now the Bombers and Ticats are set to renew their classic CFL squabble, Nov. 24 at McMahon Stadium in the Alberta Foothills, and I was feeling that 1950s/60s vibe the moment Winnipeg FC took out the Saskatchewan Flatlanders, 20-13, in Sunday’s slob-knocker of a West Division final.
All the old villains are long gone, of course, but it’s easy for me to picture Simoni Lawrence in the Angie Mosca or Ralph Goldston roles. Total cads, every one of them.
I don’t know if the Bombers will waffle ’em, and I doubt either head coach plans to take the Jungle Jim route and provide bulletin board reading, but somebody’s going home without any marbles and the loser of Coupe de Grey No. 107 will remain 0-for-the-century.
That, alone, is a good storyline, but I’m guessing we’ll be hearing more about Zach Collaros and Simoni Lawrence in the leadup to next Sunday’s large match. And why not? It’s good v. evil. The Sweetheart QB v. Darth Defender.
You know, just like the good, ol’ days.
It’s interesting to note that when the Bombers beat the Tabbies in the ’58 Grey Cup game, it ended a 17-year championship drought, and when the two franchises did it all again in 1984, Winnipeg FC ended a 22-year famine. Now they’re hoping to end 29 years of never failing to fail.
Random thoughts from lying on the loveseat and staring at the flatscreen for six hours on Sunday: No doubt the Bombers earned their victory over the Flatlanders on Sunday, but it must be said that they benefited from some incredibly dopey coaching by Craig Dickenson, horrid clock management by Dickenson/Corn Dog Cody Fajardo, and a serious brain cramp by Marcus Thigpen. Just saying…Interesting that the two semifinal skirmishes featured four of the five CFL markets that care the most about Rouge Football—Winnipeg, Saskatchewan, Edmonton and Hamilton. The fifth, Calgary, gets the consolation prize—the Grey Cup game…Not since Pinball Clemons and Gizmo Williams has there been a player more fun to watch than Speedy B of the Tabbies…The boys in the TSN booth(s) were all about nicknames on Sunday. They mentioned, Speedy B, Speedy A, Great Dane, Inspector Gadget, Magic and El Diablo, Shake and Bake, the Special Teams Vulture, and Timbits Field in the Hammer was the Cathouse. Hey, I like nicknames. Big fan. But that’s a bit much…Why do all the TSN talking heads call Mike Benevides “Coach?” He isn’t a coach. He’s an ex-coach. So is Matt Dunigan, but no one is calling him “Coach.”…This was weird: They trotted out former Ticat Rob Hitchcock to present the East Division championship trophy to the Tabbies, but he wouldn’t give it to them. He hoisted it instead…
Really annoying people: The 7-Eleven Guy and Matthew McConaughey. I think a perfect commercial would be the 7-Eleven Guy spilling a strawberry Slurpee on the posh seats of McConaughey’s fancy-schmancy Lincoln…Further evidence that Glen Suitor isn’t watching the same game as us: 1) At one point, he informed us that Saskatchewan was going into a “no-huddle” offence, even as the cameras showed QB Fajardo standing in the huddle, looking at his wrist play chart, and shouting out a play; 2) on the Flatlanders’ final gasp, he said, “The Bombers made the last play.” They did nothing of the sort. Fajardo’s final fling of the football went clunk against the crossbar and the Bombers didn’t have to do anything except celebrate…Hey, look who’ll be coaching in the Grey Cup game—old friend Jeff Reinebold, the Ticats special teams guru. Bravo to one of the game’s true survivors…What is it with TSN and the Reklaws? They keep promoting a new album featuring the tune Old Country Soul, which might be the worst country tune ever recorded. Enough already.
And, finally, it’s about my forecasts for the division finals:
Prediction: Winnipeg 29, Saskatchewan 12 (no touchdowns, only field goals).
Actual score: Winnipeg 20, Saskatchewan 13 (no TDs, only FGs and a rouge).
Prediction: Hamilton 36, Edmonton 34.
Actual score: Hamilton 36, Edmonton 16.
Feel free to discuss among yourselves. Or not.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and it’s out with summer and in with autumn colors…
Now playing for the Winnipeg Jets, Sideshow Bob and Bob and Bob and Bob.
Seriously, I was sooooo wrong about the Winnipeg HC training sessions.
I mean, this is what I scribbled last week: “There are a limited number of interesting storylines and, in the case of the Jets, they’ve already been exhausted. Big Buff’s taken leave. Blake Wheeler had his say. Paul Maurice went zen master about his ‘sparrows.’ Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor are in RFA limbo. What’s left to write and talk about?”
D’oh! Double d’oh! Triple d’oh!
But, hey, how was I to know Puck Finn would decide to skip stones across the Atlantic Ocean and one of them would whack Bryan Little in the privates? How was I to know Big Buff’s retreat might have reached the point of no return and the club would put him on the suspended list? How was I to know that Puck Finn and Little would kiss and make up via text/phone, even though there really wasn’t anything to kiss and make up about? How was I to know that Big Buff would search for the meaning of life in a pub?
Who’s the producer of this drama, Jerry Bruckheimer? And who’s writing Coach PoMo’s material? Matt Groening?
It’s become a cross between CSI: Jets and Big Buff Does Moe’s Tavern.
Here’s the deal, though: The Sideshow Bobs have turned this into the most interesting Jets camp. Ever. Tis a shame they have to interrupt all the shenanigans by playing meaningless games on the ice.
On the matter of Dustin Byfuglien and his navel gazing at the crossroads of life, we’ve had confirmed sightings of the will-he-or-won’t-he rearguard in watering holes/eateries about town, and he’s been hobnobbing and making nice with the rabble. One of the minions who observed Big Buff in his at-ease habitat swears on a stack of empties that No. 33 isn’t ready for last call on his National Hockey League career, and his 260 pounds of girth will return to the Jets blueline as soon as they start playing for keeps. I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of a more reliable source than someone who heard someone say something to someone in a gin joint.
The folks at Merriam-Webster added 533 words and meanings to their dictionary this month. One of them is “Buffpubry.” It means “to drink beer and schmooze during the deliberate avoidance of NHL training camp.”
What’s that you say? I shouldn’t make light of Big Buff’s play-or-quit quandary? I suppose you’re right. Retirement is a serious bit of business. Plenty to ponder for a 34-year-old man who’s already earned north of $50 million and has an additional $14 million on the table. If I was Buff, I know exactly what I’d do—go to a pub and drink about it.
You think I’m kidding? That’s exactly what I did when it came time to fish or cut bait in 1999. I found the answer I was looking for while sitting in solitude one afternoon in the Toad In The Hole Pub & Eatery in Osborne Village. Left the rag trade shortly thereafter and, just shy of age 49, moved to Victoria, as poor as Second Hand Rosie with holes in her pocketbook. If anyone noticed my adios, they didn’t give a damn. Big Buff won’t be able to sneak away to count his millions so quietly.
So, here’s what disturbed me after the Winnipeg Blue Bombers hacked up a hair ball the size of a mule’s arse on Saturday afternoon in Montreal: Head coach Mike O’Shea suggested his large lads “maybe underestimated” the Alouettes. Excuse me? The boys in blue-and-gold linen believe they’re so high and mighty that they looked at les Larks as pushovers? Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the dumbest of them all?
Coach Grunge was right about one thing, though: The Bombers gagging on a 24-point lead in a shocking 38-37 loss was “sickening.” And I’m not sure a visit by the Hamilton Tabbies on Friday is the cure they’re looking for.
Yes, now that you mention it, I detected an extra helping of oomph in Andrew Harris’ giddyup v. les Larks. He certainly seemed to have a serious grouch on.
“Pissed off” is how Coach Grunge described his tainted tailback in advance of the skirmish at Percival Molson Stadium, and I suppose you and I would be wearing our grumpy pants too if squints in lab coats called us cheaters and told us to get lost for a few weeks.
So Harris returned to the fray with a chip the size of a totem pole on his shoulder pads and toted the pointy ball for 188 combined yards in Winnipeg FC’s losing effort, and he did so, presumably, without the benefit of anything that will attract the attention of lab techs tasked with the chore of squinting into a microscope in search of squiggly, little nasties in his pee.
The thing is, we have yet to determine the full and final fallout from L’affaire Harris.
He committed the crime (a trace amount of an illegal somethingorother was discovered in his pee in July) and he’s done the time (a two-game suspension), but the matter of the Canadian Football League’s year-end trinkets and whether Harris is now considered a pigskin pariah is yet to be determined.
This is normally an interesting debate and, as the leading lugger of mail in Rouge Football, Harris certainly has the bona fides to warrant consideration for the Most Outstanding Player bauble. In fact, I’d say he was the leading candidate BBP (before bad pee) and was likely heading to a landslide victory at the polls.
That all changed when the lab rats confirmed the Bombers tailback was (officially) a drug cheat.
Sounds so cruddy, doesn’t it? Drug cheat. Puts Harris in the same sinister sphere as Big Ben, A-Roid, Lance Armstrong and all the other needle jockeys. Difference is, a lot of people like me want to believe Harris when he swears there was something fishy in the supplement he took. It wasn’t poison fruit; someone poisoned the fruit.
Alas, that’s what they all say when caught with their hand in the juice jar, and I can’t imagine all the boys and girls on the beat are buying his denial. Surely a number of them will consider his yardage total ill-gotten. Question is, how many?
News snoops in Good Ol’ Hometown will be the first to pass judgment on Harris and, although we won’t hear from them until late October, I’m guessing some have already discussed/debated the merits and optics of choosing a guy branded a drug cheat as the Bombers MOP and/or most outstanding Canadian.
I don’t think it’s a tough call, though.
Forget that it would be a horrible optic. Awarding the highest individual honor to a player forced to sit down midway through the season due to a drug rap is just wrong.
This isn’t a moral dilemma about the ayes and nays of performance-boosting drugs. I think most people are guided by the same compass in that area, and they’re straightforward against. Thus, it’s a matter of belief. Do news snoops believe Harris’ story about a contaminated supplement? If so, they can vote him MOP with a clear conscience. If not, to vote him MOP is to excuse, if not endorse, performance-enhancing drugs.
It’s my understanding that Harris is a media favorite because he’s accessible, obliging and delivers quality sound bites. But how much does likability come into play in MOP voting? And should favoritism forgive him his sin?
Harris tells Ed Tait of bluebombers.com to “look at the facts” in his illegal drug case. “It wasn’t like they found a massive amount. I got tested earlier in the season and there was nothing and then 10 days later there’s a small trace. I’ll be tested for the rest of the season and there’s not going to be anything. It was one game where I had this trace in my system and it was probably my worst game of the year, too.” Harris repeated his “look at the facts” mantra to news snoops in Montreal after Larks D-lineman John Bowman called him a “cheater,” but he seems to be missing the point, which is this: Lab squints found a no-no substance in his pee. That’s the fact. It doesn’t matter if it was a “small trace” or a “massive amount.” Metandieonone was in there. It’s a banned substance. He got caught. Henceforth, suspicion and doubt will dog Harris the remainder of his CFL days, and it won’t be just John Bowman who’s skeptical of his achievements. That, not the two-game suspension, is the real punishment.
How in the name of Jackie Parker and Kenny Ploen has Mike Reilly made it through this CFL crusade in once piece? Angry large lads with malice in mind have beaten the poor man like a rug during spring cleaning, but the B.C. signal-barker is the last of the original starting QBs still standing. He really is the toughest dude in Rouge Football.
That was quite the crowd the Argonauts attracted to BMO Field for their skirmish with the Calgary Stampeders on Friday night: 9,819. Apparently the guy who won the 50/50 draw doesn’t know what to do with his $8.40 windfall.
Just wondering: Why is Mad Mike McIntyre selling subscriptions to the Drab Slab on his Twitter feed? Things must be grim at the broadsheet if they’ve got the scribes peddling papers.
Here’s the kind of stuff I like to see in a newspaper: Justin Emerson of the Las Vegas Sun asked members of the Golden Knights if they believe the U.S. government is hiding E.T. and some of his little green friends at secretive Area 51 in Nevada. Some of the answers are classic.
Head coach Gerard Gallant: “Ya, for sure. I’ve seen a couple in the stands.”
Alex Tuch: “I think we should be more working side-by-side with them instead of keeping them captive.”
Nate Schmidt: “There’s no live ones. Ever see Independence Day? That’s a factual movie.”
According to scientists, there’s been a dramatic decline in the North American bird population in the past 50 years, with a loss of 2.9 billion of our feather friends. If only something could be done to get rid of the Baltimore Orioles.
Some women are playing exhibition shinny in the Republic of Tranna this weekend. Apparently all the major media outlets planned to be there, except Auston Matthews scored a goal on Friday night so they had to interview his mustache.
Actually, Dave Feschuk of Toronto Star scribbled a piece on the women’s Dream Gap Tour a couple of days ago, and he only managed to squeeze three Drake references into his article. I’m quite uncertain what the Tranna Jurassics groupie has to do with women’s shinny, but apparently it’s compulsory for scribes in The ROT to mention Drake in every essay.
And, finally, I don’t think any of us expected Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir to be pitching faux woo to one another at the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, but the finest of our fancy skaters made their retirement official last week, and that’s sad. What a trip, though. For us.
A special anniversary smorgas-bored…and it’s my doctor’s fault that I’m still doing this after all these years…
I walked into a newsroom for the first time 50 years ago today, fresh out of high school, and I still remember the hum of activity.
It wasn’t loud, not at that time of the morning in those days of PM papers, but it was steady and easy and soothing and vibrant.
I liked it, the way I liked Sinatra and Streisand.
I listened to the constant clatter of the teletype machines and discovered there was a hypnotic rhythm to their tap-tap-ta-tap-tap. There were three of them, as I recall, one for national and Southam news, another for dispatches from across Western Canada, and the third for United Press International. Every so often, one of them would send out a ding-ding-ding chirp. Breaking news. A copy boy would scurry over, read the alert, then tear off the story and distribute the front sheet to the appropriate department head and the carbon copy to the news rim.
City editor Peter Warren might have been on the Winnipeg Tribune news rim Sept. 10, 1969, or maybe it was Harry Mardon or Jim Shilliday, who later would become the first but not last editor to bark at me. (It was for messing up a coffee order, something about too much sugar or not enough cream. He was wrong, I was right, and desker Peter Salmon, noticing my body quiver like a kitten on a limb, told him so, for which I remain immensely grateful.)
I know Gene Telpner was on assignment in the Middle East that long-ago day, but I suspect Val Werier and Hugh Allan were on site. Jack Matheson, too. Matty would have been hunkered down and proofing sports pages in his bunker in the far left corner of the newsroom, opposite the artsy-fartsy department, a domain shared by Telpner, Frank Morriss and Joan Druxman, whose flair for fashion was extraordinary and resonates to this day.
As I soaked it all in, I decided then and there that the Trib newsroom was where I wanted to be. Where I belonged.
It took me 10 months to get up to the fifth floor from the business office, where I handled incoming and outgoing mail, but I made it as a copy runner and, not long after that, Matty had a notion to bring me into the toy department.
I wanted to stay at the Trib for 50 years, but the dark forces at Southam Inc. headquarters in the Republic of Tranna had other ideas and put more than 300 of us out of work, kicking if not screaming, in late-August 1980.
But here I am, half a century after my first day on the job in the rag trade, out of work again but still scribbling about Winnipeg sports, albeit from a distance. Go figure.
I sometimes wonder why I carry on with this carry-on. I mean, it’s not like someone is paying me to put this alphabet soup together, although I suspect some among the rabble might be willing to take up a collection to shut me the hell up, and I can’t say I blame them. The thing is, one of my medics tells me it’s best that I keep my mind busy, and I’m not about to go against someone who gets to stick a needle in me on a whim. So, on doctor’s orders, I look for ways to humor myself at 1:30 in the a.m., and poking fun at sacred cows and media mooks works for moi. I don’t know how long I’ll keep going, but I know the end is closer to 50 days away than another 50 years.
Now that I’ve mentioned mooks, I’m surprised that so many in mainstream media have saluted Bianca Andreescu as the first Canadian to win a tennis Grand Slam tournament. It simply isn’t so. Daniel Nestor won 12 of them in doubles play, and Gabriel Dabrowski has two major titles on her resumé. Ya, ya, I know. Doubles sucks and nobody cares. But a Slam is a Slam is a Slam, and I’m not going to insult Daniel or Gabby by saying their achievements don’t matter.
Here’s something else that gets up my nose: Our flowers of jock journalism wax on about the “greatest moments” in the history of game-playing by True North athletes, and they spew the same names and the same events. The Henderson goal. Sid’s golden goal. Donovan Bailey’s lickety-split at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. Mike Weir at the Masters. Joe Carter touching them all. The Tranna Jurassics. And now, of course, Bianca’s victory over the neighborhood bully, Serena Williams, in the U.S. Open. Which is fine and fitting, except for one glaring omission: None of them ever mention Marie-Philip Poulin’s golden goal. I don’t know about you, but nothing at the 2014 Sochi Olympics had my heart beating faster than Marie-Philip’s OT goal in Canada’s 3-2 victory over Uncle Sam’s Yankee Doodle Damsels. I still get chills watching the video. Alas, Marie-Philip’s goal fails to get the respect it deserves simply because it’s women’s hockey, which appears on the radar once every four years for most news snoops, and it’s quickly forgotten.
We all have our personal “Where were you when?” moments, and this is my top five in Canadian sports:
1. Paul Henderson’s goal in the 1972 Summit Series between the good guys and the Red Menace from Red Square Moscow.
2. Marie-Philip Poulin’s golden goal.
3. Kenny Ploen’s 18-yard skedadlde in OT to nail down a Grey Cup win for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 1961.
4. Jennifer Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer, Dawn McEwen winning curling gold at the Sochi Olympics.
5. Bianca Andreescu beating Williams in Queens, NYC, on Saturday.
Honorable mention: Brooke Henderson winning the Canadian Open golf tournament in 2018.
I try to stay in my lane when it comes to rating the events from a lifetime of watching sports, and that means 1957, or thereabouts, to the present. Anything that happened pre-1957, I don’t have a clue, other than what I’ve read about or watched on grainy, black-and-white film. I suggest young opinionists do the same. If you weren’t even on the breast when Paul Henderson slid a puck under Vladislav Tretiak in 1972, you have no business comparing Bianca’s achievement to that moment. Like, if you weren’t around when John, Paul, George and Ringo landed in Gotham, don’t tell me about Beatlemania. Stay in your lane.
Even veteran jock journos like Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna make that mistake. Simmons likes to present himself as a sports historian, and he’s fooled TSN into believing it, but his point of reference can’t start any earlier than 1965, if not later. He tweets, “I choose not to make assertions about athletes I’ve never seen unless they’re Ted Williams or Babe Ruth,” yet he was arrogant enough to compile a list of the National Hockey League’s greatest 100 players. Except he never saw 20 of them play. He added a list of 40 honorable mentions. He never saw 16 of them play. Ergo, the list was a sham.
Here’s what legendary sports scribe Grantland Rice had to say on drawing parallels to events and athletes from one era to another: “Probably the greatest waste of time known to man is the matter of comparing some star or champion with another who lived and played in a different decade.” It’s a trap we all fall into, of course, and I’m convinced that Steffi Graf would kick Serena Williams’ butt six out of every 10 matches. But Ol’ Grantland is likely correct. It’s just that the then-v.-now debate always makes for such good barroom banter.
Best read I’ve had this week is Eric Duhatschek’s piece in The Athletic on Winnipeg Jets young defender Josh Morrissey. Really, really good stuff. If you’re looking for a reason to subscribe to The Athletic, this is it.
On the subject of Josh, why all the fuss last week about him saying he wants to stay in Good Ol’ Hometown for the duration? “I want to be a Jet” screamed a Winnipeg Sun headline, in type size normally reserved for a declaration of war, moon landings or the assassination of JFK. People, people. I agree it’s swell that young Josh wants to stick around, because he does boffo work on the Jets blueline and he seems like the kind of lad you’d want your daughter bringing home for Sunday dinner. But it’s dog-bites-man stuff. It’s not news.
Here’s Josh in May 2018: “I love playing here, I love being a Winnipeg Jet.”
Here’s Josh in August 2018: “I love being here. I love playing here. I love being a Winnipeg Jet.”
Here’s Josh in September 2018: “I love playing here and love being a Jet. I hope I can be here for a long time in the future.”
So he repeats what he said three times last year and it warrants a screaming headline? I shudder to think how large the type will be when he actually signs long term.
Speaking of the Winnipeg Sun and headlines, what’s up with that sports front this morning? There are pics of Bianca and hoops guy Kawhi Leonard towering over the CN tower and the Republic of Tranna skyline, with this captioning: “Bianca Andreescu and the Raptors got the country buzzing—and have changed sports forever in Toronto.” Excuse me, but we care about the sports landscape in The ROT why? The article was written by a ROT scribe, Steve Simmons, and aimed at a ROT audience. Neither the column or the cover belong in a River City rag. But it’s just the latest example of Postmedia’s pathetic Torontoization of its newspaper chain, and it sickens me.
I really hope boycotting women’s shinny players are getting on with their lives, because Dani Rylan isn’t in any hurry to shut down her National Women’s Hockey League to make way for an NHL takeover. “I see us as an international league spanning both the U.S. and Canada with a great broadcast deal, the best players in the world, and a fan base that is continuing to grow exponentially,” commish Dani told The Ice Garden. “So I think the options are endless. The future of women’s hockey is incredibly bright.” As for the recently formed Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, Dani reports that “unfortunately, they have refused to communicate with us.” The five teams have 83 players under contract for a fifth season.
Be advised that I scribbled a good portion of this post while groovin’ to the Rolling Stones album BIG HITS (High Tide and Green Grass), which might be the best 12-song, 36-minute set in the history of recorded rock ‘n’ roll. You’ve got Keith’s kick-ass guitar licks, the thumping beat of Charlie’s drum kit, Mick’s snarl and sass, and some of the best, straight-ahead rock songs ever written—Satisfaction, The Last Time, It’s All Over Now, Get Off My Cloud, 19th Nervous Breakdown. Brilliant.
And, finally, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of my entry into the rag trade, a quick tip of the bonnet to a few of my all-time faves, news snoops who made the journey more enjoyable and still inspire me: Dave Komosky, with whom I spent a sizable portion of 50 years in the trenches, young Eddie Tait, Knuckles Irving, Shakey Johnson and Ringo Mingo, Big Jim, Greaser, Uncle Tom, the Caveman, Homer, Ketch, Sinch, Swampdog, Scotty Morrison, Trent Frayne, Shaky Hunt, Willie Lever, Downsy, Jon Thordarson, Ronny (Les Lazaruk), Judy Owen, Paul Friesen, Marty Falcon, Buzz Currie, Doc Holliday, the Friar, Sod, Pick, Witt, Cactus, Matty, Peter Young, Blackie, Reyn, Joe Pascucci. And thanks to the late Don Delisle for hiring me right out of Miles Macdonell Collegiate.
I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
The boys are back in town, so let’s settle this Habs-Jets thing once and for all.
Let me begin by saying that I stand second to few people in admiration for the Winnipeg Jets, circa Hedberg-Nilsson-Sjoberg-Hull-et al. They played hybrid hockey. Canadian grit met Scandinavian swirl to form a swashbuckling brand of shinny not seen on this side of the great waters until the two cultures dovetailed in the mid-to-late 1970s.
If we are to believe Slats Sather, those Jets provided the blueprint for his rollicking Edmonton Oilers outfits that ruled the frozen ponds of the National Hockey League a decade later.
So, ya, the Jets were good. Good enough to give the mighty Soviet Union national side a 5-3 paddywhacking one January night in 1978.
But…were they Montreal Canadiens good? That is, how might the World Hockey Association’s signature team have measured up against the Habs juggernaut that featured a Hockey Hall of Fame head coach and nine HHOF players who produced Stanley Cup parades in four successive springs, 1976-79? Well, let’s ask three people who ought to know—Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson and Bobby Hull.
The three members of the legendary Hot Line were in Good, Ol’ Hometown this weekend for a gathering of the players who conspired to win the club’s second WHA title 40 years ago this month, and Kathy Kennedy summoned them to her CJOB studio for a gab session. Also sitting in for the 40-minute chin-wag were veteran broadcasters Peter Young and Sod Keilback, who steered the chatter in the direction of les Canadiens.
Keiback: “Would you have beaten the Montreal Canadiens?”
Hull: “No, but it would have been a great game.”
Keilback: “I want to ask this to Ulf, because Friar Nicolson told me the most honest man he ever met in his life—the guy couldn’t lie—was Ulf Nilsson. Ulf, would you have been able to win the Stanley Cup with the WHA Jets?”
Nilsson: “No, I don’t think so. I agree with both Bobby and Anders. We were short maybe a few defencemen. Goaltending was good, though, and I think we had enough good forwards, but defence, we could have used one or two more.”
Hedberg: “We could have reached the final, no question.”
So, there you have it. While hundreds (thousands?) of locals to this day remain convinced the Jets could have given the Habs a wedgie, three of the WHA club’s four most influential players (defenceman Lars-Erik Sjoberg was the fourth) insist it’s a notion built on fantasy.
It would have been a boffo series, though.
Former Jets general manager John Ferguson has been bones in the ground since 2007, but Hull won’t let his feud with Fergy go to the grave. Proudly talking about the open-door policy the Jets had with fans during the WHA days, Hull said this during the ‘OB gabfest: “They wanted me to take over the team, and they brought in a guy by the name of Ferguson and Tommy McVie, and that was all the goodwill we’d built up in all those years from 1972 to 1979 or ’80, or whenever it was that they joined with the NHL, went out the window. Doors were closed, there was rippin’ and cursin’ and kickin’ buckets and throwin’ oranges.” When host Kathy Kennedy relayed a story about an angry Fergy once kicking a hole through the Jets’ dressing room door, Hull said, “He not only had the foot in the door lots of times, he had that size 13 in his mouth.”
As the present-day Jets continue their Stanley Cup crusade vs. the Vegas Golden Knights, give a thought to the WHA Jets, because they’re the reason what’s happening today is happening today. Had original owner Ben Hatskin folded his tent, the NHL wouldn’t have given River City a second glance. Edmonton and Ottawa probably wouldn’t have franchises either.
Interesting take from Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun on the Jets-Golden Knights skirmish for bragging rights in the NHL Western Conference. “I get that Vegas being good is beneficial for the league, but it still doesn’t seem fair that an expansion team can come in and contend for a Stanley Cup right away.” Fair? You tell me what’s fair. I mean, the Golden Knights entered the fray last October with a roster of rejects. Nobody thought it was unfair back then. So now that same roster of rejects is eight wins from hoisting the holy grail in Glitter Gulch and it isn’t fair? As if.
It occurs to me that it isn’t just the clubscompeting in the NHL’s annual spring runoff. It’s also the daily rags. And, two series and one game deep into the playoffs, I’d say the Sun has opened a big, ol’ can of whupass on the Winnipeg Free Press. The tabloid troika of Wyman, Paul Friesen and Ken Wiebe have been cranking out the good stuff daily since the puck dropped on the Jets-Minnesota Wild series. Over at the Drab Slab, Mike McIntyre, Jason Bell and Mike Sawatzky are doing boffo business, but it doesn’t help that the Freep’s Sunday edition is an after-thought and the sports columnist seems to be MIA every second day.
I turned on the TV the other day to watch the coronation of Kyle Dubas as GM of the Tranna Maple Leafs and they introduced Harry Potter instead. Seriously. If Dubas isn’t Harry Potter, he’s Harry’s big brother. The question now is this: Can he do anything about the boggarts on the Leafs blueline?
Nick Kypreos has come clean about running off at the mouth. Sort of. If you’ll recall, our man Kipper implied that Leafs head coach Mike Babcock and his star player, Auston Matthews, have been giving each other the ol’ stink eye. “Babcock lost Matthews. There was no trust anymore. For whatever reason, Babcock lost Matthews,” he said after les Leafs had bowed out of the Stanley Cup tournament. Kipper offered zero evidence to support his suggestion of a spat. And now? “It is based purely on my instincts following a 12-year professional career,” the Sportsnet and Hockey Night in Canada gab guy tells us. “It is nothing more, nothing less. To my knowledge, there is no major rift between Babcock and Matthews. There is no conspiracy, but trust me, it isn’t fake news either. I have no idea how Matthews feels about his coach.” I think that last sentence sums it up: Kypreos has no idea.
Loved the chatter between Daren Millard and “smarmy” Damien Cox on Hockey Central at Noon last Wednesday, when they engaged in a to-and-fro about ice time for elite NHL performers.
Cox: “Good teams don’t give their best players 23 minutes. Or, if they do it’s very rare. Or they’re coached by John Tortorella.”
Millard: “Barkov plays…Sasha Barkov plays 23 minutes.”
Cox: “Oh, Connor McDavid plays more than 22 minutes and they’re horrible. So, that’s what you want? The idea is to have a well-balanced team. Now…”
Millard: “You’re so smarmy sometimes.”
Cox: “Why is that smarmy?”
Millard: “You just…you are. You’re just…”
Cox: “I was giving you an example.”
Millard: “It’s the way you say it. ‘No, they’re terrible. Is that what you want?‘”
Cox: “That is not smarmy. You can say it’s overcritical, but it’s not smarmy.”
Well, let’s see. Smarmy is defined by Merriam-Webster as: “Of low sleazy taste or quality; revealing or marked by a smug, ingratiating, or false earnestness.” The urban dictionary describes smarmy as: “A certain attitude often accompanied by a squinty look and a superior smile that makes you instantly hate a person.” It’s settled then: Millard is correct—Cox is smarmy.
Old friend Evander Kane, soon eligible for free agency, has revealed his needs-and-wants list for re-signing with the San Jose Sharks or moving to another NHL club: “Common sense tells you there are three priorities that you look for as a player: money, chance to win and lifestyle. Those are the three priorities and it just depends on how you rank them.” In Kane’s case, considerations of lifestyle would have to include proximity to Las Vegas, a private jet and, of course, comfy jail cells. Okay, okay. That was a cheap shop. I mean, it’s been at least a year since cops have had to slap the handcuffs on Kane in public. Shame on me.
Quote of the week comes from the Boston Licker, Brad Marchand, whose filthy habit of licking opposition players commandeered much of the chatter during Round 2 of Stanley Cup skirmishing:“I have to cut that shit out,” he said. Ya think? What was your first clue, Inspector Clouseau?
I’d like to feel sorry for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers today. I really would. I mean, they got stiffed. That dirty, no-good, rotten scoundrel and noted green guy Darian Durant took their money and ran. Paid him $70,000 and he flat out quit. Didn’t even have the good manners to bid a polite adieu. And now the Canadian Football League club is left without its security blanket for starting quarterback Matt Nichols, a week before the large lads in pads gather to grab grass and growl at their 2018 training sessions. Well, here’s a thought: Stop relying on other outfits to do your dirty work. That is, find and develop your own damn QBs instead of this decades-long dependency on others’ retreads. I think Dieter Brock was the last in-house starter of note, and the Bombers haven’t groomed a backup who could toss a spiral since Hal Ledyard rode shotgun for Kenny Ploen.
Having said that, Durant’s departure was totally lame. Really bad form. You want to quit, fine, quit. That’s cool. Get on with your life. But, good gawd, have the gonads to tell the people who invested $70,000 in you. Pick up a phone and call them. Don’t let them find out on social media.
Meet Phil Mickelson, fashionista. Who knew? If you missed it, the normally frumpy and flabby Phil has taken to wearing button-up dress shirts on the golf course, complete with starched collars and cuffs. What, no cufflinks, Lefty? No ascot? Not sure if Lefty is caught in a middle-age crisis, but this is a good look like Hair In A Can was a good idea. It’s Giorgio Armani bogies the back nine.
The good news is, Drake has been eliminated from the National Basketball Association playoffs. The bad news is, jock journos in the Republic of Tranna will have to scramble to find another groupie to fawn over. Are there any rapper/hip-hop stars who like the Blue Jays? If not, I’m sure they’ll settle for a B-list celeb like Dave Foley or Steven Page.
Boxing is on the menu in The ROT next Saturday, with champion Adonis Stevenson defending his WBC light-heavyweight title against Badou Jack. It’s quite the seedy main event: Stevenson has spent time behind bars for pimping out women; Jack is known as The Ripper, an obvious reference to Jack the Ripper, serial killer of prostitutes; and the challenger is among the stable of boxers promoted by Floyd Mayweather Jr., himself a convicted woman-beater. That’s not a sports event, it’s a jail break. And yet people will part with their money to watch. Go figure.
This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna (Volume 1): “The greatest Toronto athletes in my time: Donovan Bailey, Ben Johnson. @De6rasse has a chance to surpass both.” Can you say hypocrite, kids? I mean, Simmons sits on a horse named Morality and refuses to vote for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens in Baseball Hall of Fame balloting because they flunked his smell test. That is, they stuck needles in their butts. They cheated. Yet he lists this country’s most-disgraced cheater, druggie Ben Johnson, as one of the two greatest Tranna athletes during his 61 years drawing oxygen. A freaking cheat! Can you say zero credibility, kids? Zero!
This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna (Volume 2): “The Leafs can’t beat Boston three straight. Probably no team in hockey can.” Tell that to the Tampa Bay Lightning, who just beat the Bruins four straight.
This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna (Volume 3): “It’s entirely possible that all four conference finalists in the NHL will be teams that have never won the Stanley Cup before.” No, it was not possible. Tampa and Boston, who met in the eastern semifinal, have both won the Stanley Cup. Simmons explained his gaffe by saying he was soooooo “tired,” then deleted the tweet.
I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
I’m not sure what happens to Mike O’Shea when he gets to B.C. Place Stadium.
Maybe it’s the drinking water. Ya, that’s it. Someone is spiking his H2O with mind-altering drugs, because it’s become evident that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach is seeing things that aren’t there. I mean, the rest of us see an impossible 61-yard field goal attempt, but O’Shea sees a ho-hum chip shot. We see Justin Medlock as a punter/place-kicker, but O’Shea sees him as Dieter Brock or Kenny Ploen.
He’s delusional like the Nevada Parole Board.
Mind you, nobody can accuse the Bombers sideline steward of being a one-trick pony.
He did, after all, give us two displays of hocus-pocus for the price of one on Friday night in Vancouver. Trouble is, an argument can be made that O’Shea’s smoke and mirrors is the main reason the Bombers were found wanting in their Canadian Football League skirmish with the B.C. Lions.
Yes, I’m aware that a fake field goal was executed to perfection and resulted in seven points. Kudos for venturesome and creative football. Alas, we were also reminded that there’s a time and place for sleight of hand, and midway through the fourth quarter—on third-and-15 with the ball nestled on your own 26-yard stripe!—is neither the time nor the place for Justin Medlock to be passing instead of punting.
Unless, of course, you’re Coach D’oh and you’re hallucinating.
O’Shea’s fourth-quarter brain cramp also resulted in points. Eight of them. For the Lions, who were less into gimmickry and more into gutting it out while turning a 15-point deficit into a 45-42 success.
Go ahead and give O’Shea full marks for his daring if you like. It can be get-out-of-your-seat exciting. But it’s folly for a head coach to double dog dare himself into making dumb decisions, which seems to now be the rule rather than the exception for the Bombers puppet master on the Wet Coast.
It’s all about picking your spots, and when O’Shea allowed Medlock to pass rather than punt while nursing an eight-point lead on Friday he picked the wrong spot.
“We don’t think of them as trick plays,” he advised news snoops after the fact. “They’re well designed and well thought out and well executed by the players that buy into that.”
Well, okay. Except receiver Derek Jones must have missed the memo, because he had his back turned to Medlock’s wonky pass on the “called play.”
It was just dumb, dumb, dumb.
So, was the faux punt really a “called play” as O’Shea insists or was it a Medlock ad lib? “I’ll take the blame for it,” Medlock said post-gaffe. “Whatever comes if it, I’m not going to sit here and point fingers.” And I’ll take that to mean someone else screwed up. In either case, it still comes down to coaching. Football is very much a situational game, and an alert coach doesn’t permit his punter to fiddle fart around when it’s third-and-15 at the 26-yard stripe while nursing an eight-point lead with slightly more than eight minutes to play.
A few words about the final round of the Open golf championship Sunday at the Royal Birkdale in Southport, England: Brutal and brilliant. Ragged and remarkable. Seriously. Champion golfer of the year Jordan Spieth was all over the British Isles through the first four holes, carding three bogeys, and his tee shot on 13 hole was so far off the mark that the ball almost landed in Ireland. It took him half an hour to complete the hole. Then he goes birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie in less time than it takes to whip up a full English breakfast. Incredible. What I like most about Spieth, who now has a collection of three Grand Slam titles, is his manner: He seems like a lovely, young man.
Attention Politically Correct Police: If sports scribes choose to describe ascending tennis star Garbine Muguruza as pretty or sexy, spare us your squawking because they have her blessing. “I see a lot of criticism sometimes when a sportswoman wants to feel pretty on the court,” the reigning Wimbledon and 2016 French Open ladies’ champion says. “I want to feel pretty out there, I’m going to feel more comfortable and confident if I have a beautiful dress on. It doesn’t go against being an athlete.” So there. Don’t scream sexism when a jock journo writes about her appearance.
Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird, at 36 the oldest player in the Women’s National Basketball Association, tells ESPNW magazine that she’s a lesbian and, except for the fact she’s dating American soccer star Megan Rapinoe, it’s a ho-hum revelation. There’s a reason for that: Gay female athletes at the highest echelons are commonplace, whereas their male counterparts are about half a century behind when it comes to acceptance and inclusiveness. Both Bird and Rapinoe, by the way, are Olympic gold medallists, further evidence that having gays on a team roster is not an impediment to success.
The quote machine has gone into overdrive the past couple of weeks, and much of it has been painful to hear and read. For example…
Boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. said this about Conor McGregor, his opponent in an Aug. 26 bout: “He totally disrespected black women. He called black people monkeys. Then he spoke disrespectfully to my daughter’s mother and he spoke disrespectfully to my daughter.” Yo! Floyd! You’re a serial woman-beater. You’ve gone to jail for beating up women. Don’t talk to us about disrespecting women.
Former National Football League quarterback Michael Vick had these words of advice for blackballed QB Colin Kaepernick: “(The) first thing we got to get Colin to do is cut his hair. I’m not here trying to be politcially correct, but, even if he puts cornrows in there, I don’t think he should represent himself in that way. The most important thing he needs to do is just try and be presentable. He may need a life coach.” Yo! Mikey! You used to torture and kill dogs in a dog-fighting operation. You went to jail for torturing and killing dogs. Don’t talk to us about life coaches.
Unconvicted killer and convicted armed robber O.J. Simpson said this while sweet-talking four members of the Nevada Parole Board into granting him his freedom after almost nine years behind bars: “I basically spent a conflict-free life,” and “No one ever accused me of pulling a weapon on them.” Yo! Juice! You beat your ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson so severely one night that she was taken to hospital, you hacked her and friend Ron Goldman to death, you robbed people at gunpoint. Don’t talk to us about non-conflict and deadly weapons.
Frankly, while wooing the Nevada parole commissioners, I’m surprised the dreadful Simpson didn’t tell them that he absolutely had to get out of jail to resume his bogus search “for the real killers” of his ex-wife and friend. No doubt he’ll resume his search on the first tee of some swanky golf course in Florida. What a disingenuous, deplorable cad.
Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling mostly about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.