Let’s talk about kids’ piggy banks, Peter Warren and empty seats…the Winnipeg Jets D…Tiger’s tell-all tome…a coverup in Tinseltown…dumb stuff at Sportsnet…St. Louis Blues visit the Trumps…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I understood some of what Don Cherry said on Saturday night, so I’ve made an appointment with my shrink…

Okay, kids, time to bust open the piggy banks and empty the coin jars.

And, hey, is it too soon to send an S.O.S. to Peter Warren, asking him to fire up the flatbed Ford and start tooting around town to prod senior citizens into turning over their pension cheques?

I know. Sounds crazy.

Bobby Hull and Peter Warren.

I mean, just because our hockey heroes recently performed in front of (unsold) empty seats for the first time (officially) since 2011, there’s no cause to declare a state of emergency. The Winnipeg Jets aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, so let’s have no talk of Houston or Cleveland or San Diego or Ville de Quebec.

Still, for those of us who recall dire times and more than one Save The Jets campaign that really did include kids and piggy banks—and Warren turning his CJOB Action Line into a Jerry Lewis-style telethon—it feels like deja vu all over again.

We remember Warren’s pleas from the lobby of the Marlborough Hotel in June 1974, and on downtown streets in May 1995. The legendary broadcaster who always got “right down to business” did more groveling than a dude whose wife found the wrong shade of lipstick on his collar.

It worked in ’74. Not so much 21 years later.

Benny Hatskin

Benny Hatskin, noticing too many empty seats in the Winnipeg Arena and weary of writing cheques in red ink in 1974, turned his then-World Hockey Association franchise over—lock, stock and Bobby Hull’s hairpiece—to civic leaders with all the right intentions, but only after the rabble had ponied up in excess of $600,000 in nickels, dimes and cashier’s cheques not made of rubber.

One of the many who helped save the Jets that year was Margaret-Ann Farr, a 76-year-old who had earmarked $500 in savings for a trip to her homeland in Scotland. Instead, she gave it to the Jets, even though she had never seen them play. No, I can’t tell you if Maggie eventually found her way home to the ol’ sod, but I can tell you that your favorite hockey team was once owned by a dog, because one guy donated $25 on behalf of his pooch, Lady Jet.

And so it went.

The old barn on Maroons Road.

It was much the same in 1995—not enough customers in the old barn on Maroons Road, amped-up salaries ($13 million player payroll), lousy Canadian dollar and, most important, no one with deep pockets interested in frittering away what remained in their deep pockets. Again, they went hat in hand to the people and raised more than $13 million in a bid to preserve their National Hockey League outfit. Trouble was, they needed $32 million, thus the Jets swanned off to Arizona.

And now we’re noticing reminders of the way it was.

The Jets were 561 people short of a sellout at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie last Tuesday with the Arizona Coyotes in town. Two nights later, they were 262 shy of a full barn for a visit from the New York Islanders. The Jets payroll is now $75 million, with gusts up to $83 million depending on Dustin Byfuglien’s mood du jour, the dollar is about as strong as the Jets penalty-kill, True North is charging more for a beer and a hot dog than what a ticket cost back in the day, and some folks are taking out second mortgages to pay for their season packages.

The difference, of course, is in ownership.

David Thomson

This time around, the dude with the deepest pockets in the country, David Thomson, is part of the package, and you’re never going to see him standing at the corner of Portage and Main asking little, old ladies to nix a trip to Scotland so he and Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman can keep Blake Wheeler and Rick Rat Scheifele in champagne and caviar.

A 4,000-person waiting list for season subscriptions suggests there’s plenty of shelf life left in these Winnipeg Jets, but I’m guessing some of you would probably feel a lot better if you were hearing that from Chipman instead of me.

Bottom line: You can tell your kids to keep what’s in their piggy banks. Once they’ve grown up, they can use it for college tuition or a mortgage on a nice house.

They just won’t be able to afford Jets season tickets.

Both main columnists with the daily rags weighed in on the head counts at last week’s Jets jousts, with Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab pointing to Good Ol’ Hometown’s “saturated” sports/shinny market as one possible reason for the non-sellouts. He added, “While there’s no sign a divorce is on the horizon, it seems the (fan/team) relationship is a lot more complicated than it used to be.” It isn’t complicated at all. As Paul Friesen pointed out in the Winnipeg Sun, it’s all about costs. The Jets, according to numerous folks who contacted Friesen, are pricing themselves out of their own market. As for a “saturated” market, what, they don’t have sports entertainment options in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver? As if.

If you’re wondering, the highest average head count for Jets 1.0 was 13,620 in 1985-96. That’s only 1,144 customers fewer than last week with the Coyotes in town, and they weren’t paying anyone $8.25 million per annum (hello, Blake Wheeler). In their final whirl at the old barn on Maroons Road, Jets 1.0 attracted an average of 11,316.

Tiger Woods has taken up the quill and will write a memoir to tell the “definitive story” of his life as a golf prodigy and icon. So we’ll finally get the answer to that burning question: “When Elin found out about all the blonde cocktail waitresses and escorts that Tiger was shagging, did she attack him with a nine-iron or a pitching wedge?”

HarperCollins Publishers considered several titles for Tiger’s tell-all tome before settling on Back, and it’s believed these were among the rejected suggestions:
1) Birdies, Bogeys, Bunkers & Bimbos.
2) That’s Not A Putter In My Pants…I’m Just Happy To See You.
3) T&A at the R&A (Tits & Ass at the Royal & Ancient).
4) Pin High & Horny.
5) Tiger Woods: My Pants Were Always Lower Than My Score.

News item: The NHL tells Valentin Zykov of the Vegas Golden Knights to get lost for 20 games because he either stuck a needle in his butt or swallowed a PED. Imagine that, a Russian using illegal drugs. Who would have thought?

I could be wrong, but it seems to me that young Ville Heinola has become the darling of the local media. The Finnish kid can do no wrong with news snoops, even when he’s doing something wrong on the Jets blueline. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Just saying.

The more I watch the NHL, with its limited fisticuffs and greatly reduced body belting, the more I think of former Jets centre Peter Sullivan. Today’s game was made for the man we called Silky.

Stupid headline of the week No. 1, from Sportsnet: “Why the Maple Leafs need a statement game against struggling Wild.” Oh, c’mon man. No one makes a statement game against the Minnesota Wild, the worst team in the NHL. Beating a team with a pulse, like the Boston Bruins, is a statement game.

Stupid headline of the week No. 2, from the Drab Slab: “Pionk steadies young D.” Good grief, Charlie Brown. Two days earlier, the Jets surrendered seven—count ’em seven!—goals v. Sid and his Pittsburgh pals. Then they gave up a four-spot v. Arizona. Then three v. the Islanders. Fourteen goals in three games. That’s steady like the back of a garbage truck is a salad bar. The accompanying Taylor Allen article was no better. It read like a puff piece hot off the True North propaganda printing press. Look, it’s time the Drab Slab told the truth, which is this: Neal Pionk is a top pairing defenceman for one reason—everyone who can skate and chew gum at the same time left Dodge long ago, Josh Morrissey being the exception.

Oh, wait, now I’m really confused. Just four days after Allen’s puff piece on Pionk and the “steady” blueline, along comes Mad Mike McIntyre to tell us this about the Jets: “The needs are many, with two major areas of concern—the blue-line and the penalty kill.” I see. The steady defence actually sucks. Methinks the boys on the beat might want to exchange notes before hitting the send button.

Los Angeles Kings fans decided that Taylor Swift had a curse on their team, so a banner saluting the pop singer’s record number of sellouts at Staples Center is now blotted out by a large black cloth at each game. It’s the most talked-about coverup in Tinseltown since the O.J. Trial.

Stupid tweet of the week, from Kristina Rutherford of Sportsnet: “The NHL season is underway and MLB playoffs are happening and the #1 article on @sportsnet yesterday was about the @nwhl and pro women’s hockey. So I guess all y’all that say ‘nobody cares!’ about women’s hockey can go fly a kite.” That smacks of Grade 5 schoolyard na, na, na, na, na-ism. Yes, it’s juvenile. The placement of Rutherford’s article at the top of the main page on the Sportsnet website means just one thing—they did something dumb again. You know, like on Saturday morning after a Major League Baseball playoff game, numerous NHL games including the Edmonton McDavids, two CFL games, Brooke Henderson firing a hole-in-one and leading an LPGA tournament, Sportsnet’s main story was an exhibition basketball game. Like I said, dumb.

On the matter of Pontytail Puck, I wonder why it is that the National Women’s Hockey League refuses to include attendance figures in its game summaries. I asked but didn’t receive a reply. So I can only assume they’re embarrassed by the modest head counts.

I also find myself wondering why no one in mainstream media is challenging the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association on their true mission, which is to put the NWHL out of business. They can talk all they like about building a better future for little girls, but I’ll believe that fairy tale the day they actually sit down with NWHL commish Dani Rylan and look for ways to make the women’s game work. As it is, the PWHPA refuses to engage in meaningful dialogue, instead serving up a sham called the Dream Gap Tour.

Interesting take from Cathal Kelly on the St. Louis Blues’ visit to the Trump household last week. The Globe and Mail columnist had no problem with the Stanley Cup champions’ Tour de Oval Office, and he managed to squeeze in a swipe at National Basketball Association stars. “NBA players often make a bit of a deal announcing they will not set one foot in the White House while Trump remains in office, always to great cheers,” he wrote. “These are occasionally the same players who don’t know anything about China, won’t take questions about China and couldn’t find China on a map, all while they are in China.” Here’s my question: Why would NBA players need to find China on a map when they’re already in China?

Got a kick out of a couple tweets from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna. Apparently, he’s “still walking on air” after being elected to the media wing of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, and he’s “still walking on air” about the Tranna Jurassics hoops title. I know the air is thick in the Republic of Tranna, but unless Steve has dropped a few pounds since I last saw him, it ain’t that thick.

And, finally, the Drab Slab devoted an entire page to curling in its Saturday edition. Nice. The three-part package included a sidebar from Taylor Allen on new mom Rachel Homan’s balancing act of mother-curler. Good stuff.

Let’s talk about the challenges of the Bombers and Jets…Big Buff is done as a useful member of Winnipeg HC…Doug Brown wondering if the Canadian Mafia has tapped out…when in doubt call Pinball…is Coach Grunge destined for The ROT?…a Rhapsody in Ramble On…and Ponytail Puck

A hump day smorgas-bored…and let’s hope this is the only hump in your week…

These are fretsome times on the playgrounds of Good Ol’ Hometown.

I mean, there’s still plenty of grass to grab, but many among the rabble have already stuck a fork in the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, whose 29th annual rebuilding year is beginning to resemble the first 28.

Oh, sure, our football heroes have secured a ticket to next month’s post-season frolic, but recent developments (three-game skid, flat-lining offence) indicate they’ll earn nothing more than a participation badge and, soon enough, we’ll hear much talk of backing up the truck to load and haul away Kyle Walters’ belongings. And Mike O’Shea’s. And Richie Hall’s. And Paul LaPolice’s.

Wade Miller

That would make CEO Wade Miller the last man standing, and some of us had it figured to be that way all along.

But maybe we should let this thing play out before calling the moving company, no?

Like many of you, I don’t think Chris Streveler is a Grey Cup-quality quarterback, but I didn’t think Sean Salisbury was either, and he has a Grey Cup ring. The fact that the Bombers copped the 1988 Canadian Football League crown in spite of Salisbury, not because of him, might win you an argument in a pub, but it doesn’t mean he has to return the jewelry. A title is a title is a title.

So if Salisbury can win a Coupe de Grey, why not Tim Tebow In A Toque?

I know, I know. Streveler isn’t much for throwing the football. He tosses the rock like it’s…well, a rock. But, then, Salisbury wasn’t the second coming of Dieter Brock, either. More than half his passes landed on the ground or in the wrong hands (26 picks before being kicked off the team in 1989), but he benefited from a take-no-prisoners defensive dozen that arrived at the ball yard in a bad mood and stayed in snarl mode for three hours.

“We didn’t have what you would call a traditional quarterback in Sean Salisbury who might have looked like he couldn’t get it done, but we realized as long as he didn’t jack it up, we would still win,” rollicking linebacker James (Wild) West once told Ed Tait of bluebombers.com.

Chris Streveler

The same goes for Streveler. Just don’t “jack it up” like he did last Saturday v. the Saskatchewan Roughriders (two picks, one spilled ball) on the Flattest of Lands, and there’s hope, albeit faint.

Go ahead and accuse me of typing with rose-tainted glasses, and maybe I am, but I believe the CFL West Division remains a crap shoot and the Bombers aren’t completely out of the discussion.

All the same, it might be an idea to have the moving company keep the trucks on standby. Parked near the loading dock, of course.

Meantime, it’s about the Winnipeg Jets who, unlike the Bombers, can score, but perhaps not frequently enough once they get into the deep grind of the National Hockey League season.

The local shinny side, now 2-2 after a unexpected and admirable 4-1 victory over the Penguins on Tuesday night in Pittsburgh, features a blueline corps that has no business calling itself an NHL defence, and it doesn’t help that Dustin Byfuglien remains in limbo.

Or does Big Buff’s absence really matter, other than his wage impacting the salary cap?

Big Buff

Don’t run off with the notion that Byfuglien will provide a quick fix on the blueline if and when he returns from his personal Tour de Navel. Big Buff does his best work when the puck is on his stick, not when the guys on the other side have it and he’s scrambling to make up for his latest gaffe.

That’s not to say the second coming of Buff wouldn’t provide some benefit, but, given that he can’t possibly be in game trim (as if anything about Buff is ever trim), he might add nothing more than comic relief.

There is, of course, a school of thought that Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff should declare a state of urgency and instruct Byfuglien to fish or cut bait. That is, if he’s going to retire, fine. Sign the papers and they can free up $7.6 million in cap space. If he’s going to return, get his big butt back on the blueline. Pronto.

What’s the point of that, though? You want a guy who’s not physically/mentally NHL-ready in your lineup? There are enough of them already.

Fact is, retire or return, Byfuglien has excused himself from the Jets’ future. I mean, if he lacks the jam to join them for this crusade, I can’t imagine he’ll feel any differently a year from now. Let’s face it, he’s done as a useful member of Winnipeg HC. Even if he chooses to return a week or a month from now, they should trade him at that point and get on with it. Look, the Jets would be iffy to qualify for Beard Season with Buff in harness, so it’s not like he’s the difference between a Stanley Cup parade or just another day in late June.

The Canadian Mafia: Mike O’Shea, Wade Miller, Kyle Walters.

Interesting take on the Bombers from Doug Brown in the Drab Slab. Noting management’s failure to land a seasoned QB to prop up Streveler for the final playoff push, the former D-lineman wondered if Miller, Walters and O’Shea had waved the surrender cloth. “So with Matt Nichols done for the year, and a guaranteed playoff game, has this management team that has always attacked issues and problems at a fever pitch, decided this is as good as it gets at the most critical position on the field?” he wrote earlier this week of Winnipeg FC going all-in with Streveler. He then suggested remaining status quo “makes you think the team is ok with using the Matt Nichols injury as the reason the season went off the rails.” As much as I applaud Doug’s calling out the Canadian Mafia, numerous reports indicated Winnipeg FC had, in fact, pitched woo only to find no takers in a QB hunt that didn’t end until they took brittle Zach Collaros hostage from the Tranna Argonauts, at the 11th hour on trade deadline Wednesday. But, trust me, even had they lured Kevin Glenn off his couch, he was never going to be the answer, and neither is Collaros and his squishy grey matter. The Bombers didn’t tap out, but they brought in an insurance policy that will last no longer than the first blindside hit. Sad to say, Collaros is Buck Pierce II.

Pinball Clemons

When there’s something strange in your neighborhood, who you gonna call? Pinball Clemons, naturally. That at least seems to be the reflex move in the Republic of Tranna whenever the Bottomless Boatmen go glub, glub, glub, which they’ve done this CFL season with a 2-12 record. Pinball (his mama named him Michael) has been a player, the head coach (twice), the team president, the CEO, the vice-chair and, as of Tuesday morning, the little man with the mega-watt smile and glistening teeth is occupant of the GM’s office vacated by Jim Popp. There’s no official record of it, but he’s probably washed socks and jocks and cooked some pre-game pasta, too. So I suppose if any GM hiring can put seats in the stands at BMO Field in The ROT, it would be the wildly popular Pinball, but I fail to see how his extreme likability will translate into Ws on the field when he has zero experience. It’ll help, of course, that the Pinster has longtime CFL skills sleuth John Murphy at his beck and call to turn over stones in search of talent, and I suspect Corey Chamblin is in his finals days as head coach of the Argos. Still, Pinball’s appointment comes across as a bowl of comfort food more than something that’ll stick to your ribs long term.

Here’s a thought: If the Bombers’ season continues to go south and they back up the trucks at Winnipeg FC headquarters in Fort Garry next month, the hiring of Clemons might provide O’Shea with a soft place to land. Coach Grunge played with and for Pinball in The ROT, and they won Grey Cups together, so I’d have to think he’d be a candidate for the head coaching gig once Chamblin is obliged to leave. But would he take LaPolice along as his O-coordinator?

Don Cherry

A couple of questions about Don Cherry and his rambling sermons on Hockey Night in Canada: 1) Does anybody really listen—I mean really listen—to what the fossil has to say? 2) Never mind that he treats the language like a pit bull on a pork chop, why hasn’t anyone in the ivory tower at Rogers noticed that he long ago became borderline incoherent? Here’s a sample of his Rhapsody in Ramble On from this past Saturday:

“Ya know, the Leafs, ya know, the Leafs…highly skilled team. I will say highly skilled team, but they’re regular-season game. You cannot win unless you’re tough in the, in the (closes eyes, shakes head)…the playoffs have proven by St. Louis. Sixteen Canadians, Canadian coach, Canadian GM, tough. Look what they did to San Jose, they put…now I know a lot of guys, we know a lot of guys that don’t like this…they put out Hertl, Pavelski and Karlsson. They put out…and, uh…I like what Berube said. Berube said, ‘Don’t worry about the penalties.’ SIXTEEN CANADIANS! You CANNOT WIN unless you’re tough.”

Translation: The Tranna Maple Leafs aren’t tough enough to win the Stanley Cup.

Dani Rylan

In case you didn’t notice (which probably means most of you), Dani Rylan’s National Women’s Hockey League dropped the puck on its fifth season last weekend, while boycotting members of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association took their hissy fit to New Hampshire and staged glorified scrimmages for the benefit of friends and family. None of which furthered the cause of Ponytail Puck. “When the boycott happened, it refragmented the market,” NWHL commissioner Rylan said recently. “I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to quantify the opportunity lost this offseason, and how maybe the game has slowed because of the boycott.” I agree with Rylan. The boycotters’ main goal is to put her NWHL out of business in the belief that Gary Bettman and the NHL will swoop in to pick up the pieces, forming a WNHL that offers $50,000 to $100,000 wages. Talk about unicorns and fairy dust.

Members of the boycotting PWHPA, by the way, played a young men’s team from André-Laurendeau College in Quebec last month and were beaten 4-3 in OT. Not sure how the best female players in the world losing to a band of fuzzy-cheeked lads advances their quest for the “living wage” salaries they believe they “deserve.”

Sandy Koufax

Every time I see Clayton Kershaw cough up a hairball in the Major League Playoffs or World Series, I can’t believe some people still compare him favorably to Los Angeles Dodgers legend Sandy Koufax. They’re both lefties and their last names begin with the letter K, but that’s where the comparisons end for me.

And, finally, I gave ponder to watching the federal leaders election debate the other night, but I heard enough lies and double talk during 30 years in jock journalism to last what’s left of my lifetime, thus I gave it a pass. I’m told, however, that Justin Trudeau showed up without shoe polish on his face, which was thoughtful of him, and Andrew Scheer is still an anti-abortion American who prefers to wade into the name-calling swamp rather than debate issues and platforms. Some choice.

Let’s talk about Connor Hellebuyck’s puck allergy…the Oilers and pond hockey…a good read from Teddy Football…drama queens at the Drab Slab…Burkie hops on his fighting soap box…old whisky and Grapes speaking in tongues…slobber-knocking football and Chris Streveler…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and here’s a turkey a week before Thanksgiving Day…

There aren’t a whole lot of goaltenders who’ll stand up and tell the world “my stuff don’t stink” after surrendering five goals.

I don’t care what level of shinny you’re talking about. Beer league, big league…doesn’t matter. A keeper whose net looks like a coal bin at the end of the night generally accepts and acknowledges that he wasn’t quite up to snuff, and maybe the team’s loss is on him.

“My bad. I owe the boys one,” he might say.

Connor Hellebuyck

Not Connor Hellebuyck, though. No sir. The Winnipeg Jets ‘tender falls in a manure pile and he believes he smells like a rose garden.

“I liked a lot of my game,” he says.

“I felt like I earned better,” he says.

“I felt like I played a lot better than five goals against,” he says.

“I don’t know, it just seemed like the puck was always in the wrong spot for me,” he says.

Ya, you could say the biscuit was in the wrong spot—the back of the freaking net.

I don’t know if Hellebuyck is ballsy, arrogant or just flat-out ignorant, but he’s definitely delusional if he believes the puck-stopping he delivered in a 6-4 loss the other night in Gotham will serve the Jets well in the grand scheme of things. Thirty-one shots, five goals.

You know how often Winnipeg HC won last season when surrendering a five-spot? Once. Doesn’t sound like a recipe for success to me.

Paul Maurice

But, sure, let’s play some good, old-fashioned pond hockey. I’m all for it. It’s a hoot, and I don’t really care if it turns Paul Maurice into a doddering old man before his time. It certainly worked for the Edmonton Oilers circa 1980s, didn’t it? Unfortunately, Blake Wheeler, Rink Rat Scheifele, Twig Ehlers, Puck Finn Laine and Josh Morrissey ain’t Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson and Paul Coffey. And Hellebuyck definitely is no Grant Fuhr.

As boffo as these Jets are on the attack, I think it’s asking too much of them to score five times every night to negate Hellebuyck’s marginal to stink-out-the-joint goaltending. You know, the kind that he “liked” v. the New York Rangers.

“Five is unacceptable,” Hellebuyck conceded after losing to the Blueshirts at Madison Square Garden.

Terrific. He’s nailed down that part of the plot. Alas, upon further review, he submitted, “I probably won’t do a whole lot different” in his next start.

Oh joy. We can expect more of the same.

The guy not only needs to up his game, he needs a mental reboot. Calling Dr. Phil! Calling Dr. Phil!

Marc-Andre Fleury, Connor Hellebuyck

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised, though, because Hellebuyck showed us this particular strain of arrogance and delusion when the Jets reached the high-water mark of their National Hockey League existence, advancing to the Western Conference final in spring 2018. Although outperformed by a considerable margin by the remarkable Marc-Andre Fleury of the Vegas Golden Knights, he was having none of it. Hellebuyck wrote it off as the product of four-leaf clovers and horse shoes, saying things like “I like my game. I like it a lot more (than Fleury’s).”And: “I think it’s bad luck. The stars are aligning for them.” And: “Maybe it was just the luck. They got some lucky bounces on me. And that’s the truth.”

He was wrong then, he’s wrong now.

Apparently it hasn’t registered with Hellebuyck that he’s playing behind a patchwork defence cobbled together out of necessity, not by design, and it figures that he’ll be caught in the middle of a fire drill a lot of nights. Thus, Vezina Trophy-calibre goaltending is necessary to keep this boat afloat over the long haul, not some guy who has an apparent allergy to frozen rubber.

Unless, of course, these Jets really are the second coming of the 1980s Oilers. In that case, next goal wins.

To remind you of the Oilers pond hockey style, consider the 1983-84 crusade: The Gretzkys finished with a goal differential of +132. That is not a typo. Do not adjust your computer screen. They had five or more snipes in 53 of their 80 skirmishes, and surrendered five or more in 23 games (13-8-2). Their 446 total still stands as an NHL record. They won games by ridiculous scores like 12-8, 10-5, 10-7, 8-6, 7-5, etc., and the average score was 5.5-3.9. Oh, one more thing: They won the Stanley Cup. If the Jets can duplicate that, there’ll be no more bitching about Hellebuyck’s allergy to pucks.

Ted Wyman, the guy I like to call Teddy Football, left the Winnipeg Blue Bombers beat to dog the Jets on their lid-lifting eastern swing, and I’m glad he did because his piece on best buds and now on-ice foes Josh Morrissey and Jacob Trouba is boffo. Or, as they say in his trade, it’s damn good stuff.

Big Buff

I seem to recall Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff saying something last spring about giving the Winnipeg HC leadership group a makeover, which led the fiction writers at the Drab Slab to read between all sorts of lines and see all sorts of boogeymen in the dressing room. So here’s your makeover: Wheeler still has the ‘C’, Rink Rat Scheifele still has his ‘A’, and Josh Morrissey has the ‘A’ Dustin Byfuglien left behind when he departed to stare at his belly button. Clearly, then, Wheeler and Rink Rat weren’t the “problem,” which means…yup, Big Buff must have been the rotten apple in that barrel. I’m sure the fiction writers will eventually tell us all about it. As if.

The Drab Slab’s other resident drama queens, sports editor Steve Lyons and once-upon-a-time columnist Paul Wiecek, are aghast—aghast, I say!—that Big Buff removed himself from the fray without their okie-dokie. Why, they’re taking his retreat as if he kicked one of their dogs. “To walk away and sell out his team at this point demands some kind of explanation from either the man or the team.” harrumphed Wiecek. He also described True North’s tight-lips posture as “a joke” and the way the Jets treat the rabble is “disgraceful. If I was a season-ticket holder right now, I’d be on the phone to the Jets offices every day, demanding either an explanation of my money back.” Well, isn’t that a special little hissy fit. I hope he didn’t hurt himself while stamping his feet and holding his breath. Look, Big Buff’s leave of absence is a curious bit of business, to be sure. And, yes, the timing sucks. But he’s under no obligation to give us the skinny. If Buff retires, I’m guessing he’ll have something to say, but we shouldn’t expect the Gettysburg Address, which was only 272 words. If he returns to the Jets blueline, he’ll probably have even less to say. Meantime, the Jets are keeping it on the QT because there’s nothing to say, other than they’ll respect Buff’s privacy. I’m good with that.

Brian Burke

Speaking of boys in grumpy pants, nice to see Brian Burke is already in mid-season form. Not! They hadn’t even begun to play for keeps in this new NHL crusade when Burkie went into dinosaur mode on Sportsnet, scolding linesman Kiel Murchison for having the bad manners to prevent an exchange of bare knuckles between Evander Kane and Derek Engelland. “Where in the rule book does it say fighting is prohibited?” he belched. “What it says is fighting is assessed a five-minute penalty. So let them fight.” Yes, by all means, let the boys throw down. And, while we’re at it, perhaps we can go back to using Eaton’s catalogs for shin pads.

No surprise, therefore, that Burke would applaud Sidney Crosby for getting into a scuffle on Saturday night. “I thought it was great,” he said on Hockey Night in Canada. “I thought it was great, and they got a lift out of it. They scored a couple goals right after the fight.” I don’t know about you, but I’d rather watch Crosby play hockey than sit in the penalty box icing his bruised knuckles.

Bob McKenzie

Bob McKenzie has signed a five-year extension to be TSN’s main blah, blah, blah guy on Planet Puckhead, and I’m sure that suits his 1.6 million Twitter followers just fine. Details of the contract were not released, but it’s believed it does not include an eight-figure signing bonus, prompting Tranna Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas to gasp, “Huh? You mean you don’t have to pay everybody $15 million up front?”

J.P. Wiser’s is producing an Alumni Whisky Series that features former NHL notables like Mark Messier (“Bold & tenacious. Aged for 11 years.”), Dave Keon (“Well-rounded. Aged for 14 years.”), and Yvan Cournoyer “Smooth & complex. Aged for 12 years.”). Apparently, the people at Wiser’s also had plans for a Don Cherry whisky (“Loud, curmudgeonly & obnoxious.”), but they discovered his best-before date expired sometime last century.

Andrew Ference and his finger.

Cherry, of course, was back in his HNIC bully pulpit on Saturday night, doing his usual shtick that’s part fashion show, part fight promoter, and a complete butchering of the language. My favorite segment arrived at the end, when Grapes went off topic and chastised Orlando Arcia of the Milwaukee Brewers for sticking his tongue out at Washington Nationals fans during a Major League Baseball playoff skirmish.

“Other sports, they might do stuff like that,” he growled in a sermon for the benefit of the kids. “In football, hockey, you can go on, the whole thing…in hockey we do not do that.”

Cherry’s right. Hockey players don’t stick their tongues out at the customers—they scale the glass and beat the hell out of them in the stands (hello, Boston Bruins, circa 1979). Or they punch them out at the bench (hello, Rob Ray). Or they fight them in the penalty box (hello, Tie Domi). Or they give them the finger (hello, Andrew Ference). But, ya, they keep their tongues to themselves. Except Brad Marchand, of course. He uses his to lick other players.

In the case of the 1979 Bruins, 18 of them piled into the stands at Madison Square Garden one December night, with tough guy Terry O’Reilly leading the charge. Even the normally docile Peter McNab waded into the fracas and roughed up a patron (“I was quite proud of him,” said Cherry), but the highlight was defenceman Mike Milbury yanking a shoe off one fan, then whacking him with it. All 18 Bruins were fined and three received suspensions. But, hey, not one of them stuck out his tongue, so everything was cool. (For the record, goaltender Gerry Cheevers was the only Boston player not involved. He was in the dressing room drinking post-game beer.)

I note with interest that the St. Louis Blues have locked down Brayden Schenn for the next eight years. Hmmm. That’s three max-length contracts signed in the past month. Perhaps Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab and Dave Poulin of TSN can tell us one more time how we won’t see NHL players signing for eight years anymore.

Chris Streveler

My oh my. That was some kind of slobber-knocking football the large lads in pads showed us Saturday on the Flattest of Lands. Nasty, nasty. There was much to like about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, even if they were on the short end of a 21-6 score, but the work of neophyte quarterback Chris Streveler wasn’t included in the good-vibe mix. He tossed one pass to the wrong guys in the end zone. He tossed another pass to the wrong guys at the goal line. He spilled and lost the ball in the score zone. And his offence put just half a dozen points on the board against a very stingy Saskatchewan Roughriders defensive dozen. What if it had been much-maligned QB Matt Nichols screwing up like that? What would the reaction be? That’s right. Pitchforks and torches. So hands up anyone who still believes the Bombers have a better chance of winning with Streveler at QB. Hmmm. I don’t see any hands.

Streveler after soiling the sheets: “I’ve got to be better.” Connor Hellebuyck after soiling the sheets: “I liked a lot of my game.” Discuss among yourselves.

Corn Dog Cody Fajardo

This has been the year of the backup QB in the Canadian Football League, with all but the B.C. Lions being forced to turn to their No. 2 gunslinger. So where does Streveler fit into the mix? Here’s how I would rank the backups-turned-starters:
1) Corn Dog Cody Fajardo
2) Dane Evans
3) Vernon Adams Jr.
4) Nick Arbuckle
5) McLeod Bethel-Thompson
6) Chris Streveler
7/8) Logan Kilgore/Jonathon Jennings.

And, finally, that was a serious paddywhacking the New Zealand All Blacks delivered to our gnarly Canadian lads at the Rugby World Cup. I mean, 63-0. Winnipeg Jets fans have decided that it’s Connor Hellebuyck’s fault.

Let’s talk about the Winnipeg Jets keeping the boys at home…a 1960s-style love-in…Evander’s being Evander again…Ponytail Puck…champagne and caviar in baseball…those Yankee Doodle Damsels…and old fried Dugie is a street person

A Monday smorgas-bored…and farewell to September; we hardly knew ye…

There’s a ring of truth to the insulting mantra “no one wants to go to Winnipeg,” although it has nothing to do with wonky wifi and it doesn’t exactly make Good Ol’ Hometown unique.

I mean, I haven’t noticed a squadron of high-profile free agent jocks galloping to Edmonton or Ottawa, and the mighty Republic of Tranna is such a desired destination that Kawhi Leonard hopped on the first stagecoach out of Dodge, despite the deity status bestowed upon him by the rabble and his rapper groupie.

Blanket Boy John Tavares

Oh, sure, the Tranna Maple Leafs landed John Tavares last year, and that was a good get. But it was more about pajamas and bed linen than The ROT being hockey heaven, and I’m guessing that if little Johnny had tucked himself under a San Jose blankie as a sprig he’d be a Shark today.

So, there are a myriad of reasons why jocks do and don’t want to work in specific locales and, as much as River City is often cited as a no-play zone, it’s important to remember that the most significant free-agent signing in hockey history occurred at the intersection of Portage Avenue and Main Street. That’s where Robert Marvin Hull became Clarence Campbell’s worst nightmare, by fleeing the Chicago Blackhawks and the National Hockey League for an upstart operation flying by the seat of its pants and propped up by overextended credit cards.

I’ve often wondered what Hull truly felt about Good Ol’ Hometown, because he was slick in front of microphones and notepads and always gave the rabble what they wanted to hear. Fact is, though, the Winnipeg Jets lured the NHL’s main glam guy (give or take Bobby Orr) to the World Hockey Association in 1972, and he stuck around for six of our cold, harsh winters, only leaving because he had heavy off-ice issues and he didn’t appreciate John Ferguson’s bedside manner.

It’s dreaming in technicolor to think that the present-day Jets would ever land a fish the size of Hull (fresh from his fifth 50-goal season when he arrived at Portage and Main) because an armpit-of-the-NHL stigma exists.

But is Good Ol’ Hometown really an armpit?

Evander Kane

Well, Evander Kane certainly thought so. He began looking for an escape route the moment he arrived with the Atlanta caravan in 2011 and, over time, he decided that any hostility he felt from the rabble was all about the color of his skin and not his inability to produce 30-goal seasons.

We all know Jacob Trouba wanted out, and it doesn’t matter if you buy his reasons or not. He’s gone.

Even the great Dale Hawerchuk got itchy feet, although it had nothing to do with locale. He simply grew weary of GM Mikhail Smith’s hair-brained, make-work-for-Russians scheme, also the naysaying of news snoops, so Ducky begged for a new postal/zip code.

Jacob Trouba

Basically, though, once the lads spend a proper amount of time in the city, Good Ol’ Hometown becomes much like Sally Field at the Oscars: “You like me. Right now, you like me.”

Evidence of that can be found in the recent signings of Josh Morrissey and Kyle Connor. If Winnipeg is such a hellhole, why would they choose to lock in for eight and seven years, respectively, rather than vamoose at the earliest opportunity?

Why would any of the Jets? But they do. Here’s what they’ve reupped for:

Josh Morrissey:              8 years.
Rink Rat Scheifele:        8 years.
Kyle Connor:                 7 years.
Twig Ehlers:                  7 years.
Connor Hellebuyck:      6 years.
Blake Wheeler:              5 years.
Bryan Little:                  5 years.
Dustin Byfuglien:          5 years.

Really, the only core players Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff haven’t locked down for the long haul are Patrik Laine, Adam Lowry and Andrew Copp, but that appears to be more about salary cap restraints than River City.

So, like I said, there’s a ring of truth to the “no one wants to go to Winnipeg” mantra, but it’s also true that those who land on the frozen tundra tend to like the lay of the land.

Kyle Connor

Now that all the boys are back on board, perhaps someone at the Drab Slab can tell us once again how the Jets dressing room was/is “rotten to the core.” As if. Chevy, Connor and Puck Finn had gab sessions with news snoops Monday morning, and it was a 1960s love-in:

Chevy: “Signing (Connor, Laine) is a high point, and signing Josh to the contract he did really shows the commitments that these players have and the belief that they have in this room.”

Connor: “I couldn’t be more excited to join this team. Long term was definitely my preference, wanted to be here, love this team.”

Laine: “Super excited and happy to be here. My summer’s way too long.”

Patrik Laine

Asked if someone had to squirt a bit of air freshener in the dressing room, Laine added, “I don’t think so. I’m happy to be here and I think everybody seems to be happy that I’m here, so that’s it. New season…it’s awesome to be here, see my teammates, coaches, staff, everybody, you guys…ya, right.”

And this is what Morrissey had to say after agreeing to his new contract at the start of training sessions: “I love playing here. The term excited me. To be here and playing in Winnipeg from day one is kinda what I’ve always said I wanted to do.”

Ya, that’s a team in turmoil, and I pranced down the Yellow Brick Road with Judy Garland.

Speaking of the Drab Slab and its fiction writers, here’s a Sunday tweet from Mad Mike McIntyre: “Question for #NHLJets fans: Does the Jacob Trouba trade, which seemed to be instantly panned by many as terrible for Winnipeg, look different now that you’ve seen Neal Pionk and Ville Heinola (the return) play and what Trouba ultimately signed for (7 years, $56-million)? He cannot be serious. He’s asking that based on a handful of dress rehearsals against AHL-quality foes? The mind boggles.

Good grief. Will the Maple Leafs put a ‘C’ on someone’s sweater already? Not since E.J. Smith rammed his big boat into an iceberg has so much been said and written about a captaincy.

I see old friend Evander Kane is acting out again, shoving a linesman and getting punted from a San Jose-Vegas Golden Knights skirmish. Anyone in River City miss him at all? Didn’t think so.

This isn’t good: In a recent match, the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers paddywhacked Minnesota Whitecaps of the National Women’s Hockey League 5-1, and they outshot the pros—wait for it—57-12. Allegedly, that is not a typo. As much as I hesitate to put a negative spin on women’s shinny, it isn’t exactly a selling point for Ponytail Puck when the defending NWHL champions are rag-dolled by a bunch of college kids. It doesn’t do much, if anything, to attract fans or sponsors in their quest to earn a “living wage.”

Remember how a lot of us tsk-tsked the Yankee Doodle Damsels for their excessive celebrating in a 13-0 romp over Thailand at the women’s World Cup in June? Well, that wasn’t nearly as odious as Major League Baseball outfits busting out the bubbly to celebrate a wild-card playoff berth. Seriously, champagne and caviar because you’re the fourth or fifth qualifier in a bloated post-season structure? Will the survivors of the wild-card games have another champagne shower? Honestly, I can’t think of anything dumber in sports. Well, okay, most everything that falls out of Don Cherry’s gob is dumber, but that’s about it. Put a cork in it, boys. Literally.

Now that I’ve mentioned the Yankee Doodle Damsels, if you’re wondering what they’re up to, they’re still scoring goals, celebrating and doing boffo business at the box office. Not that anyone would notice. Like most female sports, they’re out of sight, out of mind for mainstream media, but the American women have been attracting large numbers for their Victory Tour kick-abouts. Here are the head counts:
37,040 v. Ireland at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena (3-0 win);
49,504 v. Portugal at Lincoln Field in Philly (4-0 win);
19,600 (sellout) v. Portugal at Allianz Field in St. Paul (3-0 win).

Dugie, the legend.

And, finally, look who’s become a street person—the Digit, Don Duguid. Dugie’s always been one of my favorite people, and it’s nice to know that folks in high places haven’t forgotten the guy who brought two world curling championships home to roost at the Mother Club at One Granite Way. A portion of the road will be known as Honorary Don Duguid Way for the next five years, and I only hope city workers in Good Ol’ Hometown fill all and any potholes before the official unveiling. I’d hate like heck for the little guy to get lost in one of them.

Let’s talk about Puck Finn and the Gospel According to Friedge…still no smoking gun…putting a happy face on Neal Pionk…the Blue Bombers Boogie…Speedy B and Lucky…a ring for Punter Bob…on the book shelf…soccer’s diving diva and the Tooth Fairy…Grapes venting his wrath…and bailing out in B.C.

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I prefer mustard and relish with my dog days of summer, thank you…

Oh, boy. Here we go again.

Someone said something about Patrik Laine, someone else tossed that grist into the gossip mill known as Twitter, someone else took it as gospel, and now much of the rabble is convinced that Blake Wheeler, Dustin Byfuglien and Rink Rat Scheifele spent last winter giving Puck Finn wedgies and swirlies.

Where to begin? Well, let’s start with Elliotte Friedman.

Why is everyone smiling except Puck Finn?

The Hockey Night in Canada gab guy got together for a natter with Jeff Marek on Sportsnet’s 31 Thoughts podcast last week and, while gnawing on numerous National Hockey League topics including restricted free agents, Friedman placed his focus on Laine.

Here’s his hot take (it’s 37 minutes into the chin-wag):

“Laine is a whole big discussion, because he’s the one guy who seems to want a short bridge of all these guys,” he said. “And he didn’t leave happy last year. Some of that was his own fault. He wasn’t as good as he could be, and I think he chafed under some of the leadership there. Like, the guys at the top of that food chain are hard-driving guys. They expect you to buy into the program, and I think that they felt he didn’t buy in enough, and I think he felt that some of the things they wanted were ridiculous. So you gotta bridge that, too.”

Friedman, of course, is what’s known in his trade as an “insider.” You know, someone who delivers the skinny to those of us who don’t have Gary Bettman’s private number on speed dial. Many among the rabble buy into that “insider” business and swallow the Gospel According to Friedge, hook, line and innuendo. Thus he has rink cred.

Well, let me say this about that: There’s a whole lot of “I think” in what Friedge said re Laine.

Friedman thinks the Winnipeg Jets winger wants a bridge deal.

Friedman thinks the big dogs in the changing room used poor Patty for a chew toy.

Friedman thinks the bullying ruffled Puck Finn’s feathers.

Puck Finn and Blake Wheeler.

In other words, Friedman is spitballing. Guessing, if you will. He quotes no source. He doesn’t even mention an anonymous source. He doesn’t say he talked to someone who talked to someone who talked to the cleaning staff in the Jets’ inner sanctum. No credible source told Friedman that Puck Finn left in a huff after les Jets’ premature ouster from the spring Stanley Cup runoff.

If Friedman had concrete insider intel on Puck Finn and les Jets, he would have prefaced his comments with “a source told me” or “I talked to so-and-so” and “this is what happened.” He would have provided anecdotal evidence, while protecting his source(s).

Instead, it was “I think, I think, I think” and “it seems.”

Well, here’s what I “think:” It seems that Friedman should know better than to spew groundless gossip that leads to galloping speculation.

If you’ve got the goods, Friedge, by all means let ‘er rip. If not, clam up until you do.

Ben Chiarot

Let’s suppose, for the sake of discussion, what Friedman said is true. He does, after all, have “insider” chops. But ask yourself this: Why hasn’t he, or anyone else (hello, Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab) produced a smoking gun? You’d think someone would have let the kitty out of the burlap by now? Like one of the players who’ve skated out of Dodge. Nope. Jacob Trouba left les Jets with nary a discouraging word. Ditto Tyler Myers, Brandon Tanev and Ben Chiarot. Matt Hendricks, reclaimed to join the leadership group at the shop-and-swap deadline in February and now retired, had this to say at trail’s end: “The room was as strong as when I left (in 2018), without a doubt.” Did they all sign a non-disclosure agreement before parting? Or is there nothing to talk about?

Neal Pionk

Got a kick out of Mad Mike’s attempt to put a fancy face on the trade that sent Jets top-pair defender Trouba to Gotham in barter for Neal Pionk. The Drab Slab scribe tells us that Pionk’s “got size.” As in big. As if. Big Buff has larger late-night snacks. Only scrawny Sami Niku is smaller among les Jets blueliners. Meanwhile, Mad Mike adds this: “Trouba and his agent Kurt Overhardt are said to have given the Jets an extremely small list of teams he’d be willing to sign a long-term extension with, the Rangers being one of them. That means very limited options.” That’s totally bogus. According to CapFriendly, there’s never been a no-movement or no-trade clause in a Trouba contract. GM Kevin Cheveldayoff’s hands were not tied. He could have shipped Trouba anywhere at any time. Chevy made a lousy trade. Period.

Milt Stegall

Yes, now that you mention it, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers did boffo business in their 48-21 paddywhacking of the Tranna Argos on Friday night at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry, and only a Debbie Downer would pounce on the notion that “it was only the bottomless Boatmen” that they whupped. Sure the Argos are the free space on the Canadian Football League bingo card (one corny cliché allowed per essay, kids), and sure the Argos bring a handful of confetti to a knife fight (okay, make that two horrid clichés per essay), and sure the large lads in blue and gold seemed to lose interest in the second half, but let there be no picking of nits. Winnipeg FC is doing the Blue Bombers Boogie. They’re 4-nada. Best start since Milt Stegall was playing catch with Khari Jones. That is all. For now.

After observing Lucky Whitehead skedaddle 104 yards for a touchdown on the opening kickoff v. Tranna, the aforementioned Mad Mike McIntyre described the Bombers giddyup-and-go guy as “the most exciting player in the league.” I’d be inclined to agree with Mad Mike, except there’s that Speedy B guy in the Hammer who always seems to have something to say about it. Like on Saturday night, when he scored three TDs, including a 115-yard scamper on a wayward field goal attempt. On the Excite-O-Metre, I still like Speedy B.

Readers have told Pencil Neck Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun that Bob Cameron, a punter, should be the next player added to the Winnipeg FC Ring of Honour. All those in favor, say aye. “Aye!”

Punter Bob was a beauty. Always enjoyed talking to him. His longtime kicking partner, Troy Westwood, once told me a story about the Bombers’ two boot boys driving to practice one day in the mid-1990s. They had stopped for a red light, with Cameron behind the wheel and covered in drywall dust from his latest home reno project. He suddenly became very pensive and silent, slipping into a trance-like state as if searching for the meaning of life.

“Man,” he finally said, “I can’t believe the 1970s are over.”

Like I said, the guy’s a beauty.

Former Major League Baseball hurler and author Jim Bouton died last week, and it brought to mind his terrific book, Ball Four. Bouton’s tell-all tale tore the cover off America’s national pastime, with yarns of womanizing and boozing and drug abuse and naming names (hello, Mickey Mantle). It isn’t my favorite sports book, though. The Dodgers were still in Brooklyn when I first took a notion that baseball was the most beautiful of all games, so nothing can top The Boys of Summer for moi. These are my Fab Five sports books:
1. The Boys of Summer—Roger Kahn
2. I Am Third—Gale Sayers
3. Instant Replay—Jerry Kramer
4. Ball Four—Jim Bouton
5. The Bronx Zoo—Sparky Lyle

No surprise that the U.S. National women’s soccer side was anointed team of the year at the ESPY Awards gala the other night. The Yankee Doodle Damsels’ triumphant crusade at the World Cup in France was still fresh in most minds and, really, everyone not named Donald Trump probably agreed with the choice. And, sure, give American striker Alex Morgan the nod as Best Female Athlete while you’re at it. I was only surprised that Morgan made it from her seat to the stage—twice!—without taking a dive.

Ryan O’Reilly

Best performance in delivering an ESPY acceptance speech had to be Ryan O’Reilly. The good Canadian boy yanked out one of his front teeth before thanking an assortment of folks for the St. Louis Blues’ nod as Best Comeback story. The Tooth Fairy was so impressed, she awarded O’Reilly a pack of Polygrip and a dentist to be named later.

Still mourning the adios of Kawhi Leonard from the Tranna Jurassics to the L.A. Clippers? No need for long faces according to team mucky-muck Masai Ujiri. “Don’t lose one day of sleep, one second of sleep,” he says. I hope Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna got the memo. He’s been typing from the fetal position ever since news of Kawhi’s departure dropped.

Don Cherry

Speaking of Simmons, he rattled Don Cherry’s cage with a throw-away comment in his Sunday collection of odds and sods (read: hot takes). “One thing that hasn’t been confirmed for the next season of Hockey Night in Canada: the return of Don Cherry and Coach’s Corner,” he wrote. “Rogers is cutting all over the place, which included the removal of Bob McCown on radio and television and Doug MacLean doing the same. Cherry is handsomely compensated for his work. Not sure if this is a place they want to go with the 85-year-old.” To which Grapes responded: “I was told a week after the playoffs I would be back. The question I ask is this…why didn’t my friend Steve phone me and ask.” Curiously, Simmons’ weekly hot-takes column has been put on hold. Hmmm. Coincidence? Punishment? The plot thickens. But, hey, I don’t want to be starting any rumors. I’ll leave that up to “insiders” like Friedge.

And, finally, you’re David Braley, bankroll of the B.C. Lions. You’ve committed $2.9 million dollars to a quarterback who’s 1-4 this CFL crusade. Your head count at B.C. Place Stadium is down 4,639 from a year ago. What’s your next move? I imagine crying “Uncle!” seems like a reasonable option right about now.

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

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

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

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

Neymar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Atlanta United fans

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

Atlanta packs ’em in.

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

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

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

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

Kaylyn Kyle

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

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

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

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

Secretariat at the Belmont Stakes.

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

Rafa Nadal

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

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

Kawhi Leonard

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

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

50 years after Stonewall, lesbian athletes make strides while gay men remain stuck at ground zero

The past does not tell us where we have been, it tells us where we are.

So where are LGBT athletes today as Pride Month 2019 kicks off, half a century after the Stonewall Riots in Gotham’s Greenwich Village?

The answer, I suppose, depends on which scorecard you use.

Certainly there has been considerable advancement in the inclusion file, both on and off the playing fields of North America and, indeed, in global frolics like the Olympic Games.

Here are some of the notations you’ll find on that particular scorecard:

Billie Jean King and Ilana Kloss.

* Lesbian tennis legend Billie Jean King and longtime partner Ilana Kloss are part of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ ownership group.
* Out lesbian Laura Ricketts is co-owner of the Chicago Cubs.
* Golden State Warriors out gay president and chief operating officer Rick Welts was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame last year.
* Out lesbian Caroline Ouillette is assistant coach with Canada’s national women’s hockey team (she’s married to former Team U.S.A. captain Julie Chu and they have a daughter together).
* Out lesbians Jayna Hefford and Angela James have been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
* 56 LGBT athletes competed in the 2016 Summer Olympics.
* 15 LGBT athletes competed in the 2018 Winter Olympics.
* 16 out lesbians were on rosters at the 2015 women’s World Cup of soccer.

Abby Wambach

* The leading goal-scorer in the history of women’s international soccer, Abby Wambach, is an out lesbian.
* 7 players in the 2018 Women’s National Basketball Association all-star game were out lesbians.
* Both the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and National Women’s Hockey League have featured transgender players—Harrison Browne and Jessica Platt—and numerous out lesbians.
* U.S. soccer star Megan Rapinoe became the first out lesbian to be featured in the
Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition.
* Rapinoe and hoops star Sue Bird became the first LGBT couple to be featured in
ESPN The Magazine body issue.

Katie Sowers

* Out lesbian Katie Sowers is an assistant coach with the San Francisco 49ers of the National Football League.

That acceptance is terrific, for the LGBT collective and society as a whole.

Unfortunately, there’s a second scorecard:

* Number of out gay men in the National Hockey League:             0
* Number of out gay men in the National Football League:            0
* Number of out gay men in the National Basketball Association: 0
* Number of out gay men in Major League Baseball:                     0
* Number of out gay men in Major League Soccer:                        0

Cite another segment of society in which the bottom-line number in 2019 is the same as the bottom-line number in 1969. I can’t think of one.

Thus, the motion of life moves everything forward with the exception of the cultural phenomenon that is professional male team sports, an unbudging, frat-boy enterprise still stuck in the mud fifty years after all hell broke loose in and outside the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan.

Are there gay men among the approximately 4,300 players on current NFL, NHL, NBA, MLB and MLS rosters? Here’s an easier question: Does Donald Trump tell fibs?

Gay male athletes have always existed. It’s just that 99.999999 per cent of them remained hidden in a closet, earnestly avoiding the most taboo of talking points until the final whistle had sounded on careers spent in fear of being outed as lesser-thans.

Gillian Apps and Meghan Duggan.

Women and men with framed diplomas that indicate intellectual loft have given ponder to the curious case of the closeted male jock, and the eggheads advance numerous theories in an effort to explain the refusal to identify as gay. But, really, it isn’t a Cadbury chocolate bar mystery. It can be cataloged under the ‘fear’ file. It’s the fear of loss—loss of family/friends; loss of career; loss of income; loss of credibility; loss of status.

No male athlete wishes to be known by friend, foe or fan as a lesser-than. A Nancy boy, if you will. So he plays on, keeping his choice of romantic interests on the hush-hush.

Lesbian athletes, on the other hand, are far ahead on the social curve. They are less inclined to hide from themselves or anyone else. Elena Delle Donne and Sue Bird are not thought of as lesser-thans. Ditto Abby Wambach or Megan Rapinoe. Billie Jean King is greatly admired. The same could be said for Martina Navratilova until she recently went off on transgender athletes. Caroline Ouillette and Julie Chu proudly post pics of their daughter on Instagram. Former hockey stars Gillian Apps and Meghan Duggan do the same with their wedding photos.

When Canada’s gold medal-winning goaltender Charline Labonté came out in 2014, she provided insight to the culture of the national women’s hockey club.

“Just like everywhere else our team had gays and straights, just like we had brunettes and redheads,” she wrote in an article for the LGBT website Outsports. “Everyone on my team has known I’m gay since I can remember and I never felt degraded for it. On the contrary, my sport and my team are the two environments where I feel most comfortable. The subject of homosexuality was never taboo with us. We talk and laugh about it like everything else. I feel privileged to live and be myself in an environment like this because I know that just a few years ago this topic was never part of the conversations in the locker room.”

Lesbians in sports has become a meh issue, and it’s only when a zealot like tennis legend Margaret Court turns the air toxic with illogical, wingnut rantings about same-sex marriage destroying Easter and Christmas that people give it any consideration.

Will men ever catch up to the women? Certainly not in my lifetime.

It is a peculiar business, indeed, when the San Francisco 49ers will happily hire a lesbian to tutor pass-catchers, yet there are no gay men in the NFL to catch passes.