The River City Renegade


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About the Winnipeg Blue Bombers having ‘jump’…a theme song for bellies and butts…Grapes hitting a sour note in Chitown…mix-and-match curling…and an ‘ace’ reporter

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

The Green Bay Packers have their Lambeau Leap after touchdowns and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have their…well, I’m not quite sure what to call their post-TD ritual.

It certainly isn’t a leap, a hop, a jump or a skip.

I mean, watching Travis Bond or Jermarcus Hardrick try to launch themselves into the stands at Formerly Football Follies Field in Fort Garry is like watching an Orca try to climb a tree. An ATM machine has a better vertical. Calling what the Bombers’ O-linemen do a leap is like calling a manhole cover a frisbee.

If anything, it’s a splat. Those guys are all belly and butt. It’s 300-plus pounds of mom’s home cooking colliding with rubber padding and concrete.

And those fans who attempt to lift the large lads in pads off the ground and haul them into the pews? Good luck with that. You’ll see Hillary Clinton in the White House before you ever see daylight between the soles of Bond’s shoes and terra firma.

But the O-linemen TD hijinks is a hoot. It’s really big kids having little kids’ fun. It’s good energy. Even if they don’t have jump.

What the Bombers O-linemen need is an official TD celebration song. All those in favor of Jumpin’ Jack Flash by the Rolling Stones say “aye.” All those opposed, come up with a better jump song than these five and we’ll discuss it…
1. Jumpin’ Jack Flash—Rolling Stones:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eQSGw0hMd_I
2. Jump—Van Halen:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5EqWN4fT79s
3. Jump They Say—David Bowie:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=avJt0SQec0I
4. Devil’s Jump—John Lee Hooker:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R_d07EWNoAs
5. Leap of Faith—Bruce Springsteen:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ouWEZPkbznQ

The Big Splat Attack has become a fun part of the fabric of a crusade that likely has exceeded the expectations of most, if not all, in Bombers Nation. I certainly didn’t see 6-2 coming. Or a sniff of first place in the dog-eat-dog world that is the West Division of the Canadian Football League. Call me crazy (I’ve been called worse), but after the Bombers dismantled the Edmonton Eskimos, 33-26, I see just one outfit better than the Blue and Gold at this moment in history—the Calgary Stampeders. And the Albertans surely looked vulnerable during their 21-17 conquest of the B.C. Lions on Friday night, an intense skirmish that was more yawn-inducing than awe-inspiring.

Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea, who can safely get through another week without anyone with a poison pen writing about his short pants and smirk, wins this week’s prize for low-key after he described his club’s victory over the previously unbeaten Eskimos as “pretty pleasing all around.” Ya think? That’s the biggest understatement since Custer looked at the Indians and said, “Gee, there sure are a lot of them.”

Nice head count for the Eskimos’ visit to Formerly Football Follies Field in Fort Garry—a season-high 30,554. Guess we have to blame the empty 2,680 seats on O’Shea. If only the guy didn’t wear short pants and a smirk.

Sportsnet continues to treat the CFL as the red-headed, freckle-faced stepchild. They devoted two tiny lines on the front page of their website to the Bombers-Eskimos, while the main story was about the Toronto Blue Jays winning to remain on the “fringe” of the Major League Baseball playoff chase. There was also a riveting piece on “breaking down the best of NBA’s new Nike jerseys.” Stop the presses! Meanwhile, on the TSN website, Bombers-Esks was the main story and there were also three video features from the game. That’s how it should be done.

The difference between the Hamilton Tiger-Cats with and without Jeff Reinebold as defensive co-ordinator? A rouge. With Reinebold pulling the strings for the defensive dozen, the Tabbies were 0-6 and surrendered 39 points per game. Without him, they’re 0-2 while allowing 38 points per. But, hey, the guy had to go and head coach Kent Austin had to stay, right?

Grapes should feel the wrath of Cubs fans.

Two things we learned about Don Cherry this weekend: 1) He’s a horrible singer; 2) he’s a horrible house guest. If you missed it, the Chicago Cubs invited Cherry to warble Take Me Out to the Ball Game during the seventh-inning stretch of a Blue Jays-Cubbies game at Wrigley Field. Blowhard Grapes can be forgiven for being off-key with his singing, but changing the lyrics from “root, root, root for the Cubbies” to “root, root, root for the best team” is beyond lame. That’s like messing with the National Anthem, man. A pox on his suits and ban him from any karaoke night at any pub near you.

Dumb headline of the week comes from the Toronto Star: “Shapovalov down to earth with expectations sky high.” Exactly what are the Star’s “sky high” expectations for Canadian tennis teen Denis Shapovalov? Do they, or anyone, expect him to go to the U.S. Open and go on the kind of run he had at the Rogers Cup in Montreal? He’ll be doing great if he qualifies and wins a match or two.

World champ Rachel Homan.

Only in curling do we find the elite of the sport competing on equal footing, regardless of gender, which is why I’m really looking forward to the Everest Curling Challenge, Aug. 25-27 in Fredericton. Skips Rachel Homan, Kevin Koe, Brad Gushue, Jennifer Jones, Chelsea Carey, John Epping, Brad Jacobs and Victoria Moiseeva will be drafting two-men, two-women teams in quest of a $200,000 winner’s payout. Ah, but there’s a hitch: The skips cannot choose players from their regular outfits. Winnipeg’s Jones, for example, is obliged to draft someone other than Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer and Dawn McEwen. Should be fun and you’ll have to excuse me if I root, root, root for one of the lady skips to win.

Bravo to Ken Wiebe of the Winnipeg Sun, who scored two aces in one round of golf at Glendale last week. I do that all the time. In mini-golf and my dreams.

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.

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About Genie Bouchard and the weight of the Maple Leaf…terrible tennis towels…the real CFL West Division standings…male golfers in short pants…and bad-ass athletes

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

Donna Vekic and Genie Bouchard

Genie Bouchard wants no part of the “burden of Canada.” Furthermore, she thinks it’d be real swell if “the media doesn’t put pressure on me, that would be nice.”

Good thing she isn’t a hockey player.

I mean, Bouchard wants to talk about the “burden of Canada?” Try trading places with Sidney Crosby or Jonathan Toews or Carey Price. Or Shannon Szabados and Marie Philip Poulan.

We’re Planet Puckhead, from the bottom of Sid the 30-year-old Kid’s skate blades to Don Cherry’s white chin whiskers. Our men (or teenage boys) lose a shinny competition and there’s blood in the streets. Heads roll. Parliament is recalled. There are demands for a Royal Commission. National angst isn’t quite as intense and irrational when our women stumble and fall, but expectations of success might actually be greater for the girls, given that they compete in a field consisting of two thoroughbreds and a collection of pasture ponies.

No such emotional outlay and investment exists when One-and-Done Genie steps on court to lose yet again in the opening round of a tennis tournament, as she did on Tuesday at the Rogers Cup in the Republic of Tranna, this time qualifier Donna Vekic nudging her wayside, 6-3, 6-4.

Since no one has ever accused Canada of being a tennis nation, we don’t huddle around flatscreen TVs at home or in pubs and hold our collective breath on the Quebec belle’s every groundstroke or double fault. Large numbers hope she wins. Few expect her to win. Thus, whatever weight she feels from the Maple Leaf is self-inflicted, not fan or media imposed.

Unlike others, I won’t pretend to analyze the reasons behind Bouchard’s plummet from world No. 5 to No. 70 in the three years since she advanced to the Wimbledon final, whereupon she received a 6-3, 6-0 paddling at the racquet of Petra Kvitova in less than an hour. As she hastened to instruct news snoops and those who would draw a link between her increased social media/cover girl activity and her on-court faceplants, “You have no idea what my life is like and what my days are like.”

True that.

In terms of Genie’s game, though, it doesn’t take a Chrissie Evert or Billie Jean King to recognize distress. From 2-2 in the second set vs. Vekic, it was painfully evident that the Rogers Cup would be another one-and-done tournament for our tennis diva. Her body language was ghastly. It was defeatist.

Hard to believe that all those scattered shots had anything to do with the heft of the Maple Leaf. She’s just as lost in the Republic of Tranna as she is in Istanbul, Monterrey, Acapulco or Indian Wells.

Men just can’t do without their terrible tennis towels.

Just wondering: How is it that the elite of women’s tennis can start and finish a match without reaching for a towel every 10 seconds, whereas the men feel the need to wipe themselves down—from stem to stern—after every…single…point? It’s actually quite disgusting if you’re a ball girl or boy. Icky.

All best wishes to Eddie Olczyk, one of the good guys who wore Winnipeg Jets linen before the National Hockey League franchise fled to Arizona. Eddie O is battling colon cancer.

So, it turns out Jeff Reinebold was the problem in Hamilton. And here I thought the head coach, Kent Austin, was responsible for the Tiger-Cats’ 0-6 record. Silly me. Austin fired biker boy coach Reinebold as his defensive coordinator this week, just in time for a visit from Coach Harley’s former group, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. If the Tabbies fail to get off the schneid on Saturday, who does Austin next blame for his own misgivings?

Okay, here’s the deal: There are standings within standings in the Canadian Football League. You look at the Bombers as a 4-2 outfit, I see them as 0-2 because what they do against the big dogs in the West Division will determine their fate. They’ve already been beaten by the B.C. Lions and Calgary Stampeders, with the Edmonton Eskimos scheduled to pay a visit to Football Follies Field in Fort Garry on Aug. 17. If they harbor any hope of securing a home playoff date, it’ll take a 4-1 record, if not 5-0, the rest of the way to get the job done.

Here’s a look at the CFL West Division top four head-to-head:

Edmonton    2-0 (6 remaining: at Winnipeg, at Calgary, Calgary, Winnipeg, at B.C., Calgary)
Calgary        1-0 (6 remaining: at B.C., Edmonton, at Edmonton, B.C., at Edmonton, Winnipeg)
B.C.             1-2 (5 remaining: Calgary, at Calgary, at Winnipeg 2, Edmonton)
Winnipeg     0-2 (5 remaining: Edmonton, at Edmonton, B.C. 2, at Calgary)

What in the name of Chef Boyardee are they feeding the scribes at the Drab Slab? First it was Steve Lyons chirping about the Bombers doing themselves a favor by finishing fourth, and now young Jeff Hamilton and grizzled Paul Wiecek have joined in with the backup vocals. “It may just be the best-case scenario for the Bombers. That would mean a crossover to a weak East Division and a much easier road to a Grey Cup berth,” scribbles Hamilton. Apparently, this is now the weekly mantra of Winnipeg Free Press writers, despite undeniable historical evidence to the contrary. Do the math, boys.

British Open champion Jordan Spieth

Horrors! Male golfers were allowed to wear short pants during practice rounds for the PGA Championship tournament that commences on Thursday in Charlotte, N.C. Better not tell Paul Wiecek. The Freep scribe is having a tough enough time dealing with Mike O’Shea’s short pants.

TSN had Craig Button do a bit on Canada’s projected roster for the 2018 World Junior Hockey Championships. Geez Louise. We’re only at the front end of August. Can we enjoy what’s left of summer without talking about lineups for a hockey tournament that begins on Boxing Day and wraps up in 2018?

This past Sunday I listed my five favorite all-time athletes (actually, I cheated because I had Arnold Palmer and Rafael Nadal sharing the fifth spot), so today I’m listing the five jocks I have most disliked. They are:

  • Mike Tyson: Convicted rapist. Cannibal.

  • Floyd Mayweather Jr.: Convicted woman beater and painfully boring boxer.

  • Angelo Mosca: Willie Fleming of the B.C. Lions was my favorite football player. Mosca, a Hamilton Tiger-Cats D-lineman, took Willie the Wisp out of the 1963 Grey Cup game with a dirty hit. I don’t promote violence, but I was most delighted when Joe Kapp laid out big Angie with a solid right-hand punch to the head at a Grey Cup function a few years ago.

  • Pete Rose: Long before we discovered he was having sex with teenage girls while in his 30s, married and the father of two children, the Major League Baseball hit leader creeped me out. From his stupid haircut to his galloping ego, I always believed there was a phoniness to Rose. He’s forever been fingernails on a chalk board.

  • Jose Bautista: So arrogant. He’s the reason I cannot watch the Toronto Blue Jays.

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.


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About Mike O’Shea’s stubborn streak…clothes don’t make the coach…Kent Austin still has a job?…strange brew from a Postmedia scribe…and Genie’s charisma

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

Mike O’Shea and Bill Belichick: Clothes don’t make the coach.

For the record, I think Mike O’Shea is a seriously flawed head coach.

His most notable wart would be his mule-like refusal to acknowledge blatant blunders. I mean, when a man makes a mistake and then tells the rabble that, yes, given the opportunity for a do-over he would make the same stupid gaffe again, he’s not someone who should have the nuclear codes.

But that’s O’Shea.

Did he learn from an ill-advised 61-yard field goal attempt that fell seven yards short of the target and ended the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ season last November at B.C. Place Stadium? Nope. Three days after the fact, O’Shea advised news snoops that, “Yup, absolutely,” he’d ignore logic and again put his faith in Justin Medlock’s left leg.

Did he learn from an ill-advised faux punt that turned potential victory into defeat a little more than a week ago vs. the B.C. Lions? Nope. “We’d do it again,” he confirmed.

They say hindsight is 20/20 vision. I suppose it is. Unless your name is Mike O’Shea.

I swear, if it were up to O’Shea he’d have the Edsel back on the road. He’d say the guy at Decca records who rejected the Beatles made the right call. He’d let Custer have another go at all those Indians at the Little Big Horn.

So, ya, he’s stubborn like a Winnipeg winter is cold. It’s a flaw that, at some point, will likely cost him his job.

Until then, he’ll continue to keep us scratching our heads, and I’m guessing that he’ll keep doing it in a pair of short pants that somehow keep popping up as a talking point.

I’m sorry, but the significance of O’Shea’s pant legs escapes me. So the guy dresses like some shlub squatting on a street corner in Osborne Village, begging for nickels and dimes. Bill Belichick does, too. Even worse. He’s a hobo in a hoodie. But he’s also the best head coach in professional football. He’s just never let success go to his clothes, is all.

Jeff Reinebold: What a goof.

I can think of just one example of a coach’s wardrobe possibly impacting on team performance—Jeff Reinebold. He looked like a guy who got lost on his way to a beach volleyball game. He was a total goof-off. So were the Bombers under his watch. It was party time in flip-flops with Bob Marley until someone finally shot the sheriff, 32 games and 26 losses too late.

Calgary Stampeders 60, Hamilton Tiger-Cats 1. Hamilton Tiger-Cats 0-5. Only win-free outfit in the Canadian Football League. Fewest points scored, most points allowed. And head coach Kent Austin still has a job? How is this possible?

Pet peeve: Broadcasters and reporters who describe a short kickoff as an “onside kick.” All kickoffs are onside. They have to be, otherwise there’d be a five-yard penalty. Is that picky of me? Ya, about as picky as people who talk about O’Shea’s short pants.

So, here are the head counts at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry for the Bombers this crusade: 30,165 (Calgary), 25,085 (Toronto Argonauts), 25,931 (Montreal Alouettes). Average attendance: 27,060. Only the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Edmonton Eskimos play to larger audiences. This is a problem how?

In the D’oh! Department: Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press refers to John Hufnagel and Wally Buono as “former coaches.” When last seen, Buono was standing on the B.C. Lions sideline and he wasn’t there as window dressing. He’s the Leos’ current, not former, head coach.

Some strange brew from Steve Simmons in his weekly three-dot column for Postmedia. Let me count the ways:

  1. He describes Ted Williams as baseball’s “greatest hitter ever.” Well, let’s see. The Postmedia columnist was born in 1957. He was barely out of the cradle the day Williams last swatted a baseball in 1960, hitting a dinger in his final Major League at-bat. I hardly think someone who was a three-year-old boy at the time and never once watched Williams play with the Boston Red Sox is qualified to determine anything about the Splendid Splinter.
  2. He writes this of three-down football: “I really wish the CFL faithful would stop telling people how many great games there are” Huh? You have a boffo product and you shouldn’t—repeat, should not—brag about it? And I thought Mike O’Shea said strange things.
  3. He writes this of women’s tennis: “The top tennis player in the world, according to the WTA, is Karolina Pliskova. The No. 5 player is Elina Svitolina. If either of those women knocked on your door and said hello, would have any idea who they were?” Well, Stevie, you’re supposedly the most-read sports columnist in Canada. If you knocked on my neighbor’s door and said hello, would she have any idea who you are?

Genie Bouchard

In the world according to Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail, tennis player Genie Bouchard is “this country’s most charismatic athlete.” Well, I’ve never met our girl Genie. Probably never will. So I can only go by what I’ve seen/heard/read on TV and the Internet, and she strikes me as sullen, guarded and totally lacking in charm. I can’t help but cheer for terrific young Canadian athletes like golfer Brooke Henderson and swimmer Penny Oleksiak, but I struggle mightily to root, root, root for our Genie. Henderson and Oleksiak are far more charismatic. So, too, is P.K. Subban. Henry Burris was charismatic. Pinball Clemons was the very definition of charismatic. Still is. Hey, I don’t want to sound like a Debbie Downer, because I’m sure little girls flock to Genie. Just like they flock to Justin Bieber. It’s just that I find both her and him disagreeable.

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.


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About the greatest of them all Roger Federer…an emotional breakdown at Wimbledon…the still great Venus Williams…British knickers in a knot…a $1 million gaffe…and Sportsnet ignoring the CFL

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

I never thought I’d see a better running back than Jim Brown. I haven’t (although Gayle Sayers was absolutely breathtaking).

I never thought I’d see a better pitcher than Sandy Koufax. I haven’t.

I never thought I’d see a better baseball player than Willie Mays. I haven’t.

I never thought I’d see a better boxer than Muhammad Ali in his prime. I haven’t.

I never thought I’d see a better race horse than Secretariat. I haven’t.

I never thought I’d see a better hockey player than Bobby Orr. I haven’t.

I never thought I’d see a better tennis player than Bjorn Borg. I have. Roger Federer.

Roger Federer

Of all the athletes I have witnessed in my 66 1/2-year (so far) lifetime, Federer just might be the pinnacle. It’s a tough call, but he’s definitely in the discussion.

What I find most intriguing about Federer, who won his eighth Wimbledon singles title Sunday morning by dismantling a distraught Marin Cilic 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 on the lumpy lawn of the All England Club’s Centre Court, is his casual greatness. He plays tennis with a Zen-like calm that suggests the game is more of a stroll than a struggle. While his foes fret and fuss, it’s like Federer’s lounging in a recliner. He makes it look so…dang…easy. I mean, why does the Swiss maestro bother with a towel, on or off court? It can’t be to wipe away sweat. He sweats like the Pope swears.

Federer has been the dominant force in what must be cataloged as the platinum age of men’s tennis, with only health managing to slow him down. Temporarily.

He disappeared to the repair shop immediately after the 2016 Wimbledon fortnight and re-emerged six months later to earn the Australian Open title, with a five-set victory over nemesis Rafael Nadal, long Federer’s Kryptonite. He’s won five of the seven tournaments he’s entered this year, and he’s 2-for-2 in Grand Slam events.

Federer did, of course, skip the French Open in late May/early June, a decision he might regret should he carry on to triumph at the U.S. Open. That, mind you, is not to say Federer can’t get the job done on clay. He’s won on every surface but the moon. Still, success in Paris this year (or any year) was extremely unlikely, because Roland Garros is a Rafa Nadal thing. Ten times a Rafa Nadal thing. Jesus in sneakers couldn’t beat an on-form Nadal in Paris. Thus, Federer passed on Paris and prepped for Wimbledon. The results are in. Good call.

So, who or what can beat and stop Federer? Age. Eventually. There’ll be 36 candles on his birthday cake next month, and the aging process has to kick in one of these years.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to enjoy this seemingly ageless athlete who’s one for the ages.

Marin Cilic

How do you spell both the men’s and ladies’ singles championship matches at Wimbledon? D-U-D-S. After a final week of superb play—the Rafa Nadal-Gilles Muller fifth set was spellbinding—the lasting image of the ultimate matches is not one of terrific shot-making but that of Marin Cilic being reduced to an emotional train wreck during a side changeover vs. Federer. That was wince-inducing and very painful to watch. Been there, done that on the field of play, which is why I wanted to cry right along with him.

What’s that you say? Women’s tennis is lacking star power? Well, yes it is, with Serena Williams becoming a mama and Maria Sharapova trying to figure out how to play without the aid of banned substances. But there’s hope. The two most recent Grand Slam champions are French Open queen Jelena Ostapenko, just 21 and a powder keg of charisma and talent, and Garbine Muguruza, the 23-year-old Venezuelan-born Spaniard who paddywhacked five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams 7-5, 6-0 in the ladies’ final. Muguruza is the only woman to beat both of the Williams sisters in a Grand Slam final.

Steve Simmons of Postmedia just can’t seem to get out of his own way. After Muguruza had mopped Centre Court with Venus Williams on Saturday, he wrote: “Williams was a dominant player in 2000 and 2001 when she won the U.S. Open and Wimbledon. Since then, a good player, just not a great one.” Really. I’m uncertain how Simmons measures greatness in athletes, but Williams won Wimbledon in 2005, 2007 and 2008, and only four women—her sister Serena, Justine Henin, Sharapova and Kim Clijsters—have won more Grand Slams post-2001. Venus also has won 10 doubles Grand Slams post-2001. Venus Williams has been a great, not just good, player and champion for two decades.

Tsk, tsk. Venus Williams was in the pink at Wimbledon.

Nobody does pomp better than the British, but nobody gets bent out of shape like the British, either. I mean, tsk-tsking Venus Williams because she’s wearing a pink bra? Ordering players to the changing room to put on white skivvies? Talk about getting your knickers in a knot over nothing.

Okay, enough about Wimbledon. It’s about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. I’m sorry, but I simply didn’t understand all the teeth-gnashing and angst after the Bombers came out of the chute at 1-1. How bad was it? Bad enough that those two pesky Grumpets at the Winnipeg Free Press actually had a chin-wag during which sports editor Steve Lyons asked columnist Paul Wiecek if Thursday night’s assignment against the Toronto Argonauts was a “must win.” Are you kidding me? A “must win” three games into the Canadian Football League season? Come on, man. Don’t talk to us about must wins until the frost is on the pumpkin.

A drophead in the Freep described the Bombers-Argos joust as an “epic battle.” Ya, 10 field goals, that’s epic. The Argos failed to score an offensive touchdown. That’s epic like I’m Shania Twain. Come on, man.

Only one thing about that game was epic—the officiating blunder that jobbed Karen Kuldys out of $1 million. For those who missed it, Karen was the Safeway/Sobeys Touchdown to Win contestant, meaning if two kickoff returns went the distance she’d win a million Canadian bucks. Well, Ryan Lankford of the Bombers takes the opening kickoff to the house, then Martese Jackson of the Boatmen skedaddles 109 yards for a TD. But wait. There’s a flag on the play. One of the zebras has observed Toronto’s Llevi Noel ambushing Mike Miller from behind, whereas in fact the Bombers special-teamer has tripped over his own shoelace. No touchdown. No million Canadian bucks for Karen. The good news is, all Touchdown to Win contestants are now allowed one challenge flag per half.

So which head coach gets punted first, Chris Jones of the Saskatchewan Roughriders or Kent Austin of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats? The smart money has to be on Austin, whose Tabbies are winless. Somehow I don’t think there’ll be a whole lot of tears shed when he’s shown the door.

Two games in the CFL on Friday night and not a mention of either on the front page of the Sportsnet website at 2 o’clock Saturday morning. And this is the gang that trumpets itself as Canada’s #1 Sports Network. They had headlines about Kevin Klein signing to play hockey in Switzerland, some guy named Nikita Gusev signing to play hockey in Russia, and a piece on a Honda Indy practice, but nary a whisper about the CFL. I returned for a looksee at 4:30 a.m. Still nada. There was no mention of Wimbledon either. That, like dissing Venus Williams, is totally lame.

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.

 


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About the Winnipeg Jets spending more big bucks…the Blue Bombers’ winning formula…”gutless” comments…and other things on my mind

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

Mark Scheifele: A $49 million smile.

Mark Scheifele: A $49 million smile.

It’s no surprise that the Winnipeg Jets have tossed top dollar at Mark Scheifele.

Yes, in the grand scheme of things, the Jets operate on the chintz. In any payroll search of National Hockey League clubs, you’ll always find the locals nearer the bottom of the heap than the top. This is a “budget” team.

Yet the Secret Society that is True North Sports & Entertainment contradicts itself. That is, it is not a big spender, yet it has never been shy about spending big.

I mean, any outfit willing to compensate a lowly foot soldier like Chris Thorburn to the tune of $1.2 million per annum isn’t afraid to chuck the change around. Co-bankroll David Thomson likely found enough to pay Thorbs’s salary hidden behind and beneath the cushions of his sofa.

The point is, stuffing $49 million (US) into Scheifele’s piggy bank doesn’t represent a seismic shift in how True North does business. The Jets have a history of showing a willingness to deliver term and top-market compensation to those they deem their most valued workers. Anyone who thinks otherwise hasn’t been paying attention.

Earlier this year, the Jets committed $38 million to defenceman Dustin Byfuglien. Two days ago, it was $16.5 million for Mathieu Perreault, a generous stipend for a guy who might be playing third-line minutes. None of this is chump change. Nor was the $93.1 million they doled out to three players—Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little and Zach Bogosian—three years ago this month. Thirteen months before that, they agreed to pay Ondrej Pavelec $19.5 million over five years (ignore the reality that it was money not wisely spent on their much-maligned goaltender).

So no one should be surprised that the Jets went all-in with an eight-year, $49 million contract for Scheifele. It wasn’t a debunking of a “cheapskate tag,” as the Winnipeg Free Press suggests. It’s what they’ve done and will continue to do. Nothing has changed.

Blake Wheeler

Blake Wheeler

I have one question about the Jets signing of Scheifele: Why didn’t they name the 23-year-old centre team captain at the same time? While prevailing sentiment suggests Wheeler ought to wear the C, Scheifele will be doing his thing at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie for the next eight winters. Wheeler, whose birthday cake next month will feature 30 candles, won’t be.

In Florida, owners of the Panthers talk about winning the Stanley Cup. “They expect a Stanley Cup and we have a duty to bring the best team possible to our fans,” general manager Tom Rowe says of owner Vincent Viola and vice-chairman Doug Cifu. In Winnipeg, meanwhile, His Holy Hockeyness, Mark Chipman, and his valet, Kevin Cheveldayoff, talk about a “process.”

Nice to see the Winnipeg Blue Bombers finally found a winning formula—play a team that will commit six turnovers. That’s what went down when the Bombers bettered the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, 28-24, Thursday night at Timbits Field in the Hammer. The trick now, of course, is to find a few more teams as inept as the Tabbies.

On that note, who stole the real Hamilton Tiger-Cats and what have you done with them? Not to discredit the Bombers, who’ll take Ws in any shape or size, but the Tabbies were gawd awful and aren’t even a reasonable facsimile of the outfit that has been a Canadian Football League force since Kent Austin put his hands on the till. Yes, I realize the starting quarterback, Zach Collaros, is in sick bay, but that’s no excuse for the Keystone Kops routine.

Just wondering: Did South African High Court Judge Thokozile Masipa give her “fallen hero” Oscar Pistorius a hug and a kiss before shipping her “broken man” off to jail for the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, or did she settle for an autograph?

fish wrapCathal Kelly is among the finer wordsmiths in Canadian jock journalism, but I fear he’s lost the plot when it comes to tennis. Scribbling in the Globe and Mail, he mentions “the golden era of Canadian tennis” and cites Genie Bouchard’s march to the 2014 ladies’ final at Wimbledon and Milos Raonic advancing to the gentlemen’s semi-final round before bowing to Roger Federer that same summer. That’s Kelly’s idea of a golden era? One fortnight on the lumpy lawns of the All England Club? I’m sorry, but there’s nothing “golden” about one exceptional-yet-unsuccessful run at a tennis Grand Slam, then operating on the periphery of the sport’s elite. I would suggest that if Raonic topples Andy Murray in the Wimbledon final on Sunday morning, we can begin talking about a “golden” era of Canadian tennis. But not before he’s actually won something of note.

Shame on Steve Simmons, Postmedia sports columnist and TSN gab guy who this week on The Reporters with Dave Hodge advised us that Kevin Durant has “no spine” and his signing with a stacked Golden State Warriors outfit was “gutless.” In case we didn’t hear him the first time, he repeated his reckless “no spine” insult in his weekly three-dot column. Yo! Stevie! I’ll tell you what takes “no spine” and is “gutless.” Sitting in the shelter of a faraway TV studio or in your home office and slandering one of the top five performers in the National Basketball Association. Stand on a chair, look Durant in the eyes and then say he’s spineless and gutless or don’t say it at all.

I’m liking two new features in the Winnipeg Free Press toy department: 1) Paul Wiecek’s Sticks and Stones column (a string of brief opinion blurbs can make for a bright and breezy read; 2) TV columnist Brad Oswald’s take on the sports shows we watch. I’m anxious to see if Oswald will critique sports scribes freelancing as broadcasters or treat them like sacred cows. I’m betting it’s the latter, because people in the toy department don’t tend to eat their own.

It’s about that Trivago guy who shows up in all those commercials during sports programs: Someone has to tell him to stop dancing. He’s smooth like JLo is ugly.

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

 


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Winnipeg Jets never had a five-year plan…smoking weed…rewarding failure…and a lame-duck coach

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

When, oh when, will people stop prattling on about the Winnipeg Jets’ five-year plan?

The latest to trot out this mouthful of mystical misinformation is Winnipeg Free Press sports columnist Paul Wiecek, who writes: “What was originally a five-year plan now looks more like a 10-year plan…”

fish wrapI challenge Wiecek, or anyone for that matter, to produce a documented sound bite from either Jets co-bankroll Mark Chipman or his right-hand man, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, that confirms they had a self-imposed mandate of five years to develop a roster that would qualify for the Stanley Cup derby on an annual basis.

Sorry, but said sound bite does not exist. It is as fictional as Peter Pan, Harry Potter and Ondrej Pavelec’s Vezina Trophy-winning season (bet you never thought you’d see the names Ondrej Pavelec and Vezina Trophy in the same sentence).

Here’s what Chipman told Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun in September 2013, scant seconds after he had bestowed a two-year contract extension on his GM, one year for each of Chevy’s first two failed seasons as steward of the National Hockey League club:

We will have success. I’m convinced of that. I wish I could give you a date and a definition of what that is exactly, but we’re moving in the right direction.”

That was then. This is what he told Tim Campbell of the Freep on Friday:

I believe the path we’re on is the correct one. It’s difficult but I’m more than happy to be patient.”

So there. Don’t hold your breath, because Chipman isn’t.

As for Cheveldayoff, the best anyone has gotten out of him is, “We have a plan. It’s a process. We’re on the right path.”

So here’s the Jets’ plan in its simplest form: They will draft and develop, all the while hoping they draft and develop better than 29 other NHL outfits. They will arrive as a bonifide contender when they arrive, not a moment sooner.

It would, of course, be folly for Cheveldayoff to start his own clock, because he would be setting himself up for failure. That aside, though, this ongoing belief that there was a five-year plan is nothing but pink ponies and flying pigs, and a quality jock journalist like Wiecek ought to know better than to perpetuate the myth.

A fixation for Chris Thorburn.

A fixation for Chris Thorburn.

I suppose some found the chin-wag between the Official Paper of the Winnipeg Jets and Chipman interesting, but I thought it to be an exercise in blah, blah, blah and yadda, yadda, yadda. That’s because Tim Campbell of the Freep was playing lob ball instead of hard ball. Why he didn’t ask His Holy Hockeyness to articulate the depth of his involvement in roster decisions (trades, contract negotiations, team captaincy, etc.) is as much a mystery as Paul Maurice’s fixation for Chris Thorburn. Campbell didn’t have to go all Mike Wallace on Chipman, because they were, after all, talking hockey not ISIS, but it isn’t a provocative question. It’s a fair question. So ask it already.

I’ll say this for Paul Wiecek: He doesn’t shy from adopting an unpopular posture. It’s one of the reasons he’s among my favorite sports scribes. But to submit that Kyle Walters and Mike O’Shea warrant rewards as GM and head coach, respectively, of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers is, shall I say, ballsy in the extreme. As a tandem, they are 12-24 over two Canadian Football League seasons. It is a results-driven business, the sole measuring stick being wins-losses. You win, you stay. You lose, you get a new postal code. Yet here’s Wiecek on the not-so-dynamic duo: “The Bombers should also extend the contracts of general manager Kyle Walters and head coach Mike O’Shea—and they should do it before the new season begins. (You read that right: a duo who missed the playoffs in their first two seasons should get contract extensions before we even get to see what they’ve put together for 2016. Yes, marijuana is basically legal at this point. No, I’m not smoking it by the bale.)” He might not be smoking weed by the bale, but Wiecek’s advocating that the Bombers reward colossal failure suggests he is, at the very least, sprinkling something more mind adjusting than sugar on his Corn Flakes.

Cal Murphy

Cal Murphy

In supporting his argument, Wiecek directs our attention to “long-term academic studies of college football, the NHL, and Italian soccer” that conclude switching coaches “does not measurably improve a team’s performance, it frequently makes it worse.” Really? Well, let’s see:

  • In 1957, the Bombers changed coaches (Bud Grant) and went to the Grey Cup game that year, then won the CFL title four of the next five seasons.
  • In 1983, the Bombers changed coaches (Cal Murphy) and won the Grey Cup in ’84.
  • In 1987, the Bombers changed coaches (Mike Riley) and won the Grey Cup in ’88 and ’90.
  • In 2007, the Saskatchewan Roughriders changed coaches (Kent Austin) and won the Grey Cup.
  • In 2008, the Calgary Stampeders changed coaches (John Hufnagel) and won the Grey Cup.
  • In 2008, the Montreal Alouettes changed coaches (Marc Trestman) and went to the Grey Cup game, then won the title in ’09 and ’10.
  • In 2012, the Toronto Argonauts changed coaches (Scott Milanovich) and won the Grey Cup.
  • In 2012, the Roughriders changed coaches (Corey Chamblin) and won the Grey Cup in 2013.
  • In 2013, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats changed coaches (Kent Austin) and advanced to the Grey Cup game that season and the next two.
  • In 2014, the Edmonton Eskimos changed coaches (Chris Jones) and reached the West Division final that year, then won the Grey Cup in 2015.

What does it all mean? Constantly changing coaches isn’t the reason the Bombers haven’t held a Grey Cup parade since 1990. It’s due to the fact they’re constantly hiring the wrong person.

Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun did the chin-wag thing with Kyle Walters, who, among other things, said: “I believe in Mike (O’Shea) wholeheartedly.” Apparently, wholeheartedly means letting O’Shea walk into the 2016 CFL season as a lame-duck coach.

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