About the rise and fall of Ponytail Puck…mainstream media no friend of CWHL…Puck Finn’s shot-blocking style…Ice’s man playing Peggers for rubes…spit happens in golf…tennis teens…banjo pickin’…and other things on my mind

April Fool’s Day coming down in 3, 2, 1…and I guess the joke’s on me because I’m still writing this crap when I could be doing diddly in my dotage…come to think of it, that would be a good title for a book: Doing Diddly In My Dotage…

Anybody remember the heady days of women’s hockey?

Of course you do.

Kendall Coyne Schofield

I mean, who can forget all those jaws dropping as Kendall Coyne Schofield raced the dudes around the freeze during the National Hockey League all-star hijinks, followed by her landing a gig on NBC as rinkside chin-wagger with Pierre McGuire? (Let’s forgive Pierre for talking to Kendall as if she’d just stepped off the boat from Bimbo Island and accept that her presence/voice was high exposure for the women’s game.)

Then there was this:

  • The three-game exhibition Rivalry Series between the national sides of Canada and the United States was contested in front of an SRO audience in London and crowds numbering approximately 9,000 in the Republic of Tranna and Detroit.

  • Minnesota Whitecaps of the National Women’s Hockey League sold out each of their home assignments at TRIA Rink in St. Paul, and turned a profit.

  • The Canadian Women’s Hockey League championship skirmish between the Calgary Inferno and Les Canadiennes de Montreal attracted a record 175,000 sets of eyeballs to flatscreens across the land.

Yup, those were the days.

And now, just eight sleeps after the Inferno had collected the Clarkson Cup at Coca Cola Coliseum in The ROT? Nothing but long faces. The CWHL has disappeared from Planet Puckhead.

But wait. Let’s not be so hasty in passing out the black arm bands scant hours after the CWHL’s deep thinkers announced they won’t be dropping the puck next autumn, after 12 years of trying to convince the rabble that their product is worth a looksee.

I simply don’t believe the collapse of the CWHL is the death knell for Ponytail Puck in this country.

Will it look the same when the leaves are on the ground again in October? Of course not. There won’t be six teams stretching from Boston to Montreal to The ROT to Calgary to China, but I struggle to accept that Montreal and the Republic of Tranna are about to fall off the women’s shinny map. Not going to happen. Perhaps Calgary still fits into the puzzle, as well, although geographic isolation makes that a challenge. Mind you, being in the middle of nowhere didn’t hurt the Whitecaps in Minny. Ten games, 10 sellouts.

So, ya, they’ll re-calibrate and we’ll have women’s pro hockey on Planet Puckhead again. That might mean NWHL expansion north, or it might mean a Women’s National Hockey League built from ground zero by Gary Bettman and the NHL. And it will definitely mean a league that’s two-thirds U.S.-based. But, hey, that’s always worked for the NHL, so why not the WNHL?

Sami Jo Small

Here’s the question I asked myself when word of the CWHL collapse began to spread on Sunday morning: How much blame do we assign to mainstream media?

Basically, MSM treated the CWHL like a leper league. Same can be said for women’s hockey in general. Unless it’s played under the Olympics banner or, to a lesser degree, at the world championship, Ponytail Puck gets less ink/air time than darts, poker and the Mitch Marner-Auston Matthews performance in The Nutcracker.

TSN broadcast all three of the Rivalry Series skirmishes, but it stuck them on the boondocks channels and not all of us subscribe to the complete TSN package. How many CWHL matches did Sportsnet televise? Two? Four? Our  national celebration of shinny—the marathon Hockey Day In Canada—shockingly did not include a women’s game, even though a Tranna Furies-Montreal joust was available.

It’s no different on the print side. Actually, it might be worse. If any of our flowers of jock journalism scribbles as many as two essays on women’s hockey in Olympic off-years, it’s considered an avalanche of copy. Indeed, Furies general manager Sami Jo Small lamented the lack of exposure in conversation with Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star not so long ago.

“People are supportive of women’s hockey,” she said. “They love to watch it, but they don’t know how to watch it. That’s one of my biggest battles, to get people to know where to watch these games, how to watch these games, where to buy the tickets, and get them into the venue. Not just watching the Olympics.”

Let’s be clear, MSM indifference wasn’t the official cause of death, but it helped nudge the CWHL toward the graveyard.

Here’s rich irony: Sports scribes and talking heads spend the time between Winter Olympics pretending women’s hockey doesn’t exist, but when the CWHL caved on Sunday they rapidly rallied to the cause. Pierre LeBrun, Elliotte Friedman, Jeff Marek, John Shannon, Gord Miller, Bob McKenzie and James Mirtle, among others, were found on Twitter, bemoaning the development. Guilty conscience, boys?

It’s shameful that Sportsnet basically ignored the demise of the CWHL on its Hometown Hockey broadcast Sunday night. They didn’t even attempt to pretend to be a news outlet. It was more important to air fluff— like a sappy interview with an actor I hadn’t heard of before the pre-game show—than dig into the top shinny news story of the day. A terrible blunder.

Puck Finn

I don’t know about the rest of the rabble, but I’m not prepared to rule out the possibility of another long spring run by the Winnipeg Jets. True, they’ve looked a lot like a fire drill gone bad lately and the advantage of home ice is in jeopardy, but I’m keeping the faith. As long as they don’t depend on Patrik Laine to block shots, there’s hope. I mean, what can I say about Puck Finn’s shot-blocking effort on Jeff Petry’s goal Saturday vs. Montreal Canadiens? He looked like some poor shmuck on a street corner, trying to dodge the spray from a huge puddle of water as a car speeds by. Easily the most comical shot-block attempt since Guy Lafleur did the flamingo vs. the Russians.

Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun did the Q&A thing with Matt Cockell and, among other things, the Winnipeg Ice (will never like that name) general manager had this to say: “At the end of the day, the passion for hockey is really what’s exciting about Winnipeg. When you look across Canada, there really isn’t another city that embraces hockey the way Winnipeg does. We really believe it’s the hockey capital of Canada.” Whoa boy. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that Good Ol’ Hometown has already let one NHL franchise get away (no, it wasn’t Gary Bettman’s fault) and two Western Hockey League outfits. Pegtown is the “hockey capital of Canada” like Pierre’s boy Justin is a man of all the people. And that’s coming from someone born and raised in River City, someone who recalls seeing a lot of empty seats in the old barn on Maroons Road. Yes, I realize that Cockell is going to say all the right things in order to sell his freshly minted WHL franchise to the rabble, but I’m not sure that faux flattery is the way to go about it. Peggers are hockey wise, they aren’t rubes.

Paul Azinger

Turned on the PGA Tour match play final on Sunday, just in time to hear NBC lead analyst Paul Azinger say this about eventual champion Kevin Kisner: “He spits like a baseball player. Impressive.” And to think, a lot of folks figured Zinger wouldn’t be worth spit as a replacement for Johnny Miller.

If you’re looking for an excellent read, check out Stephen Brunt’s ode to Charlie Montoyo on the Sportsnet website. Like most everything Stephen scribbles, his yarn on the Tranna Blue Jays first-year skipper is boffo.

A tip of the bonnet to our own Leah Hextall, who became the first woman to call play-by-play for a men’s NCAA playoff hockey game on ESPN. Leah worked the East Regional semifinals and final on the weekend in Providence, R.I.

Felix Auger-Aliassime

Some classic stuff from Steve Simmons, the Postmedia Tranna columnist who offered this on Twitter after our teen sensation, Felix Auger-Aliassime, spoon fed the boring John Isner a victory with a series of ill-timed double faults in their semifinal match at the Miami Open tennis tournament: “Felix served for both the first and second sets in Miami and couldn’t pull it off in either set against John Isner. That’s what happens when you’re 18.”

Really? It didn’t happen to 18-year-old Bianca Andreescu in the semifinal or final at Indian Wells two weeks ago. It didn’t happen to Denis Shapovalov a couple of years ago when he beat Rafa Nadal. It didn’t happen to Bjorn Borg, who won 10 ATP events, including the French Open, at age 18. Mats Wilander, Boris Becker, Michael Chang, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Maria Sharapova, Tracy Austin, Monica Seles, Martina Hingis, Steffi Graf and Serena Williams all won Grand Slams before turning 19.

So, no, our Felix didn’t lose because he’s 18. He lost because of a seriously flawed service game.

Kenta Nilsson

Sigh. The young talking heads on TV continue to refer to a sleight-of-hand goal as “the Forsberg,” as if Peter Forsberg created the move. As I have written, old friend Kent Nilsson is the first person I ever saw perform that particular bit of hockey hocus-pocus, and there’s video evidence to prove he did it before Forsberg arrived in the NHL. Ditto another old friend, Alexei Zhamnov, who showed us his wizardry more than once while in Winnipeg Jets linen. So knock it off, girls and boys. It’s the Nilsson, not the Forsberg.

And, finally, numbers cruncher Derek Taylor is leaving TSN to become the play-by-play voice of the Saskatchewan Roughriders on CKRM in Regina. Who knew Taylor played the banjo?

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About TSN’s CFL gab guy Milt Stegall getting it wrong…the Winnipeg Boo Bombers…O Canada, Brooke’s the champion…Maple Leafs like the ladies…the Paris fashion police…where’s Josh?…and other things on my mind

Cold pizza and some weekend leftovers for a Monday morning breakfast

These are the worst of times for Matt Nichols. First, his elbow was bruised. Then his ego. And now his eyesight has betrayed him.

Milt Stegall

I mean, how else do you explain the pass he tossed to Ja’Gared Davis late in the fray Saturday afternoon at McMahon Stadium in Cowtown? Davis is as large as a prairie silo, for cripes sake. He’s visible from outer space. Yet Nichols didn’t see him when he flipped the football in the direction of Nic Demski. End result: Pick six.

This, of course, was salt-to-the-wound stuff, because the Calgary Stampeders had matters well in hand before Davis arrived in the end zone, but that play served as a snap shot of Nichols’ life on and off the field for the past 10 days.

To recap, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers starting quarterback was booed by some of the faithful in a sub-standard performance in a losing cause vs. the Ottawa RedBlacks. He allowed that to get under his thinning skin and felt obliged to expose his frayed feelings to news snoops. Discussion ensued for much of the week in advance of the skirmish with the Stampeders, prompting Nichols to suggest his gripe with Winnipeg FC loyalists was “way blown out of proportion.” Then came Calgary and a 39-26 paddywacking, followed by a tsk-tsking from two of three talking heads on TSN’s panel of retired grid guys. They accused him of hurling his teammates under the bus because he mentioned something about “finding no one open.”

Matt Dunigan

“I just think that he’s gotta check himself, get his emotions under control because the pressure’s only gonna get hotter. Get used to it,” said Matt Dunigan, the old QB.

“He needs to come out there and play and keep his mouth shut,” added Milt Stegall, the old receiver who, it should be pointed out, does not own a Grey Cup ring.

Dunigan is right about the pressure. Stegall is full of horse hooey.

Nothing Nichols said in his post-joust discussion with Knuckles Irving on CJOB, or during his scrum with news snoops, was a hatchet job on his pass-catchers or his running backs. If anything, he acknowledged the skill of Calgary’s defensive dozen, which takes no prisoners and is, by the numbers, the stingiest group in the Canadian Football League.

But Nichols is under siege. He might want to consider a witness protection program this week.

Here’s the deal, though: He still provides the Bombers with their best opportunity to win. His understudy, neophyte Chris Streveler, is more popular than Christ in a cathedral, but he’s still as raw as garden vegetables.

Chris Streveler

Could and should head coach Mike O’Shea utilize Streveler more often? Totally. It’s not like Nichols has been lighting it up lately. Streveler can fling the football and he’s definitely got better wheels than Nichols (so does a sloth), so allowing him rot on the sideline is non-productive. Also dopey. But that’s O’Shea—a sometimes very dopey coach.

O’Shea says the whole Boo Bombers thing re his QB was “driven by the media,” as if that’s a bad thing. “There’s comments made and it’s probably easy to make news out of that,” he says. Ya think, Mikey? That’s kind of how the news thing works. People in prominent positions, like Nichols, do and say things. News snoops record and report it. The rabble talks about it. And they’ll continue to talk about Winnipeg FC quarterbacking in the leadup to the Labor Day weekend joust vs. the Saskatchewan Roughriders. That’s the main narrative.

In Winnipeg, a game between the Roughriders and Bombers is called the Banjo Bowl. In Saskatchewan, a game between the Riders and Bombers is called “another win.”

Coordinator Richie Hall’s defence has surrendered 1,016 yards of real estate in the past two games. That’s the equivalent of nine football fields. It’s a $25 cab ride. Just spitballing here, but Richie might want to try something different when the Bombers arrive in Regina.

Interesting that no one at TSN has noticed how truly unremarkable Davis Sanchez is as a gab guy on the CFL panel. The former defensive back offers nothing but poorly delivered, fractured thoughts, and he allowed Stegall to bully him into silence on Saturday.

Brooke Henderson

Meet Brooke Henderson, my new favorite athlete. It’s still August, but with her victory in the Canadian Open golf tournament, distaff division, the delightful young woman from Smiths Falls, Ont., has ended any discussion about this country’s athlete of the year. No one can touch her. And I find myself wondering how many little girls will want to pick up a golf club now that Brooke has won our national championship. What she did Sunday was beautiful and inspiring.

Speaking of inspirational women, there’s something special going on in the Republic of Tranna, where the Maple Leafs added three females to their payroll—Haley Wickenheiser, assistant director of player development; Noelle Needham, amateur scout; and Dr. Meg Popovic, director of athlete well-being and performance. I don’t know if that gets them any closer to a Stanley Cup parade, but you have to know that Humpty Harold Ballard is spinning like a lathe in his grave.

Serena Williams

I note that the Paris fashion police have outlawed Serena Williams’ black catsuit at the French Open. So here’s my question: Would French Tennis Federation president Bernard Giudicelli and cronies have banned the form-fitting catsuit if glam gal Maria Sharapova had arrived at Roland Garros wearing one? Of course not. It would have taken the grounds crew the entire French fortnight to mop up their drool.

If pro golfers had to tote their own bags, I think Brooks Koepka would win every tournament. The guy is a beast.

Josh Morrissey

It’s Aug. 27, Jets Nation: Do you know where Josh Morrissey is?

I suppose he might be in a gym, refining his fettle for the rigors of an advancing hockey crusade. Or he might be on the first tee somewhere in the urban forestry of Winnipeg. Or he might be at his favorite fishing hole on one of Manitoba’s 100,000-plus large puddles, impaling a big, fat, juicy, wiggly worm on a hook.

Bait? Did I mention bait? Well, yes I did, and Morrissey has yet to take it.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

Whatever temptation Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and his main point man, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, have dangled in front of their young defender has been ineffective. They’d have more success getting a rainbow trout to swallow a football. Thus Morrissey remains an unsigned chattel of les Jets, less than a month in advance of their annual gathering of National Hockey League incumbents and wannabes.

And speculators speculate.

Oh, yes, the blah, blah, blah machine has been operating at full throttle—must be contentious negotiations; Morrissey must be demanding too much term and money; les Jets must be offering too little, in both term and compensation; Morrissey’s another Jacob Trouba and won’t report to training camp; could be that some prickliness has developed between the two sides.

“No, not at all. None whatsoever,” Morrissey informed Jason Bell of the Winnipeg Free Press last week. “At the end of the day, everything’s been going great.

“Everyone’s confident (a fresh contract) will be handled and done, definitely in time for the season. I think things have really started to progress. For me, I love being here, I love playing here. You look at the playoff run last year that we had and just the support from the fans, I love being a Winnipeg Jet.”

Jacob Trouba

I’ve never met Josh Morrissey. Probably never will. So I have no cause to doubt him. When he says he’ll be part of the group that commences another Stanley Cup crusade next month, I don’t think his pants are on fire or his nose is longer than a Winnipeg winter. I expect it’ll be business as usual, with Morrissey working in tandem with Trouba on les Jets back line.

Then we all can move on to a fresh narrative. Like what kind of coin it will take to keep captain Blake Wheeler on board. That ought to hold our attention for the next 10 months.

Morrissey’s hyper-positive comments to Bell stand in stark contrast to the scribblings of Freep sports columnist Paul Wiecek. Exactly two weeks earlier, the Drab Slab’s resident ray of sunshine (not!) suggested there was something foul afoot, advising us that the young defenceman’s “darker side is on display this summer” and “it’s no accident we’ve reached this point.” It was, of course, a sourceless serving of codswallop that placed responsibility for any contract obstruction on Morrissey’s doorstep. Like, Chipman and/or Cheveldayoff could never be the hangup. It has to be the worker. As if. Again, that essay is yet another example of why jocks don’t trust jock journos.

A social gathering at The Little Hockey House On The Prairie in Winnipeg.

And, finally, Wiecek also took out another of his favorite chew toys last week—rich people. Apparently, there’s a gap between the wealthy and poor among us. Who knew? That’s like telling me there’s some empty space between Donald Trump’s ears. But here’s where Wiecek lost me: He dismissed the social worth of athletes and sports, like a horse’s tail swishing away a barn fly.

“Look, rich people are allowed to spend their money any way they want,” he writes. “If you can find someone dumb enough to give you millions of dollars a year just because you can shoot a frozen disc into a six-by-four foot net, that buys a lot of freedom. I wish I had a skill that was in high demand despite serving no useful social purpose.”

Say what? No useful social purpose? I suppose that’s why city, provincial, state and national governments devote so much money to the construction and upkeep of sports facilities. Because they serve “no social purpose.”

Sorry, but nowhere in our society does the rabble assemble in greater numbers and on a more frequent basis than at sporting events. They are the ultimate social gatherings, the notable exceptions being rock concerts and religious revivals when Billy Graham was still alive to preach the word.

The notion that skilled athletes serve “no useful social purpose” is totally daft.

About Sleepy-Eye Joe Mack passing on Mike Reilly…TSN’s continuing love affair with Johnny Rotten…the King of Clay…intrigue in women’s tennis…Secretariat still the greatest…a Capital way to party…the skier and the hockey player…expensive cardboard…and other things on my mind

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

It’s Darian Durant’s fault. A pox on his house for taking the money and running to retirement!

No. Wait.

It’s Joe Mack’s fault.

The statute of limitations hasn’t run out on Sleepy-Eye Joe’s stupidity, has it? Nope. So, whenever the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ universe isn’t unfolding as it should, the former general manager and everyone’s favorite whipping boy is still fair game for blame. He’s the reason the Big Blue will begin their 2018 Canadian Football League crusade with a starting quarterback on training wheels.

I mean, think about it.

Mike Reilly

Had Sleepy-Eye Joe reeled in Mike Reilly in 2013, we wouldn’t be talking about Matt Nichols’ wonky wheels and a QB pool that has all the depth of an Archie-Jughead plot line. Well, would we? Reilly, after all, is Marlboro Man rugged, even when he’s wearing one of his funny, little hats. He’s voted annually by his peers as the toughest hombre in the three-down game, and he hasn’t missed a beat due to an owie since the first week of September 2015.

The sad thing is, Mack could have had Reilly for a song.

The sticker price the B.C. Lions listed for Reilly was a swap of second-round picks in the 2013 CFL college draft, plus a second-rounder in ’14. The Edmonton Eskimos were willing to pay it. Mack didn’t even want to kick the tires. Sleepy-Eye Joe remained convinced and confident that Buck Pierce was the answer at quarterback, and his backup plan was putting the legendary Justin Goltz behind centre. Or Max Hall.

As history records, that worked out about as well as New Coke.

To say Pierce was injury prone is to say Bill Gates has a bit of money. When fit enough to actually start a game, they didn’t strap a play chart to Brittle Buck’s left wrist. It was an IV needle. He didn’t survive the first month of the ’13 season, leaving various body parts and what was left of his marbles strewn on the field.

Sleepy-Eye Joe

That QB fiasco, among other things, cost Mack his job generally mismanaging the Bombers, and Pierce finished that season in B.C., from whence he came. He’s now an assistant coach in Pegtown. No word on the whereabouts of Goltz and Hall, but I suspect they’re asking customers if they’d like fries with their Big Macs and Quarter Pounders.

As for Reilly, well, I’m sure you’re familiar with his story after the Eskimos lured him away from the Lions: Grey Cup champion and Grey Cup game most valuable player in ’15; CFL’s most outstanding player in ’17; two-time West Division all-star; one-time league all-star. And, perhaps most significant, Reilly is still with the Eskimos. No drive-thru orders for him. He’ll be barking signals and gutting it out on Thursday night when the Green-and-Gold engage the Bombers in a season-opening frolic at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry.

Reilly remains the ‘what could have been’ and ‘what should have been’ for the Bombers. That’s Sleepy-Eye Joe’s legacy.

Matt Nichols and Mike Reilly

None of the above is meant to disparage Nichols. Hey, he’s a tough dude, too. And he’s a keeper. Trouble is, he’s developed a most curious habit of falling down without being touched. His left leg caved on him in a game last October, and his right leg collapsed in a training session last week. Officially, he’s run out of legs that work properly. This, of course, is where Durant was expected to fit in. The Bombers paid the veteran QB $70,000 up front to serve as a safety net, thus, with Nichols in the repair shop for as few as four weeks and as many as six, it would have been his show. Alas, instead of playing catch with an interesting array of receivers, Durant is at home changing his new-born daughter’s dirty diapers, and the Bombers are unlikely to grovel at the feet of man who jilted them on the eve of training camp and trolled them on Twitter. Would Durant be an upgrade on Alex Ross, Bryan Bennett or Chris Streveler, the three lads who auditioned for the starter’s role on Friday night against the Lions in Vancouver? Naw. When last seen, which is to say with the Montreal Alouettes in 2017, Durant seldom delivered a pass without the football bouncing once or twice before landing at a receiver’s feet. He’s spent.

Welcome to TJMN—The Johnny Manziel Network, formerly known as The Sports Network. Seriously. TSN has gone loopy over Manziel. Last week, following a CFL debut that consisted of nine completed passes and zero points, TSN featured nine—count ’em, nine!—Johnny Rotten videos. One video per completion. Sunday morning, after he was good on a dozen of 20 pass attempts (including a TD toss), there were five more Johnny Rotten videos on the main TSN web page. They also featured something called Johnny Football Watch. All that for a guy who won’t start a game for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats unless Jeremiah Masoli is wounded or implodes.

Winner and still champion on clay, Rafa Nadal.

Can you say undécima, kids? Rafael Nadal can. His 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 paddywhacking of Dominic Thiem in the men’s singles final Sunday was his 11th French Open title, and I can’t think of an athlete—in any sport—who is more dominant than the muscular Rafa on the red clay of Roland Garros. What the Spanish maestro has accomplished in Paris is insane. He’s 86-2. Eighty-freaking-six and two! Nobody goes 86-2. Except the Harlem Globetrotters, and their games are as rigged as a Vegas slot machine. Nadal on clay is a one-off. Never seen anything like him. Never will. (By the way, here’s the answer to the trivia question: Robin Soderling and Novak Djokovic are the only two men to have beaten Nadal at Roland Garros.)

Simona Halep

The Big Four in men’s tennis is no more, but the Big Two remains. While Andy Murray is MIA and Djokovic is trying to sort out things in his head, if not other parts of his body, the younger generation of hot-shot racqueteers can’t kick Nadal or Roger Federer to the curb. Each of the 30somethings has won three of the past six Grand Slam championships and, Federer’s allergy to red clay notwithstanding, there’s no sign of surrender in either man. One suspects Wimbledon will be another episode in the Rafa-and-Roger show. All of which means the distaff side of tennis is much more intriguing. Check it out: In the past six GS tournaments, there have been six different champions—Serena Williams, Jelena Ostapenko, Garbine Muguruza, Sloane Stephens, Caroline Wozniacki and Simona Halep. Wimbledon will be another complete crapshoot, even if a healthy Williams joins the field.

Secretariat romping to the wire in the 1973 Belmont Stakes.

On the subject of great champions, 45 years to the day that Secretariat completed horse racing’s Triple Crown by winning the Belmont Stakes, Justify romped wire-to-wire at Belmont to become the 13th Triple Crown winner. But let’s provide some perspective. Justify ran the mile and a half in 2:28.18 on Saturday. Secretariat did it in 2:24.0 in 1973. In other words, Secretariat would have beaten Justify by more than 20 lengths. Big Red’s Belmont victory (he won by 31 lengths) remains the single greatest sporting achievement I have witnessed.

Perhaps Damien Cox would prefer it if the Washington Capitals partied like Canadian women.

Starring in the role of grumpy grandpa this week is Toronto Star and Sportsnet gasbag Damien Cox. On the heels of the Washington Capitals’ Stanley Cup conquest of the Vegas Golden Knights, Alex Ovechkin and the boys have been tooting about in full celebratory mode, carousing and fussing and sharing the moment with the rabble on the streets of D.C. Oh, they’ve also been drinking. How positively scandalous. And that just won’t do in Damien’s delicate, little world. There’s no room for random, unharnessed merriment. Or booze. “Rafael Nadal won his ELEVENTH French Open today,” Cox tweeted in a pious, tsk-tsking tone Sunday morning. “No video yet of him drunkenly rolling around in a public fountain because apparently some believe that’s how champions should behave.” Well, excuuuuuse the Capitals for having fun. I wonder if Damien Cox awakens some mornings and regrets being Damien Cox.

P.K. Subban and Lindsey Vonn

Social Note: It must be spring because sports power couples keep popping up. Not so long ago, noted flinger of footballs Aaron Rodgers and fast-car driver Danica Patrick were observed canoodling in public, and now it’s hockey’s diving diva, P.K. Subban, and Lindsey Vonn, glam gal of the ski slopes and one-time main squeeze of golfer Tiger Woods. Don’t know if going from putters to pucks is a dating step up or a step down for Vonn, but she probably won’t get any late-night calls from P.K. asking for bail money. (For the record, my fave sports power couple is Sue Bird and Megan Rapinoe, with Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi a close second.)

I note that a Connor McDavid rookie card recently sold at auction for $55,655. That’s a lot of coin for a small hunk of cardboard. But it made me wonder if kids still stick trading cards in the spokes of their bike wheels. Better question: Do kids still ride bikes, or are they too busy texting each other?

Serena Williams

Zero female athletes appeared on the Forbes list of the top 100 money-makers in sports for the first time, but we shouldn’t be surprised. The annual Forbes 100 is based on earnings from June to June, a period of almost total inactivity in 2017-18 for Serena Williams, who slotted in at No. 51 a year ago with total income of $27 million. Her haul this time around was $18M, all via endorsement deals. Maria Sharapova, meanwhile, once was a regular on the Forbes 100, but, after being caught with her hand in the illegal-drug jar, some sponsors abandoned her and she has yet to return to championship form. Sharapova is hardly a pauper, though. Her estimated worth is well in excess of $100 million.

And, finally, an interesting albeit indelicate quote from the elegant Garbine Muguruza, who, after routing the equally elegant Sharapova, 6-2, 6-1, in the French Open, described the five-time Grand Slam champion as “an old-time player.” Ouch. Sharapova just turned 31.

About Johnny Rotten in the Hammer…media giving Manziel a pass on domestic violence…a rat’s ass on the diamond…Chevy getting his due…a fall guy in goal for the Winnipeg Jets…quick fixes in the NHL…playing the race card and pretty white girls in sports…and some fresh Steve-isms

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Colleen Crowley

Her name is Colleen Crowley. Johnny Manziel dragged her by the hair. Rag-dolled her. He beat her up. He threatened to kill her. She felt obliged to file a restraining order against him. It was granted. Charges were filed, then disappeared when Manziel (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) promised to be a good boy.

I was lucky to have survived. I fought for my life,” Crowley has said of her relationship with Manziel.

And that’s the man who would be starting quarterback for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

The Ticats added Johnny Rotten to their stable of bad-boy QBs on Saturday, and they did so with the blessing of the Canadian Football League, an organization that likes to include itself among the angels in the fight against domestic violence but, in reality, is more aligned with the dark forces if it means getting a former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback on its wider and longer fields.

The Tabbies and CFL don’t want to hear chatter about Manziel beating up women when there are games to win and over-priced merchandise to peddle.

Johnny Manziel and his guard dog June Jones.

Indeed, Drew Edwards of the Hamilton Spectator attempted to discuss the elephant in the room during Manziel’s meet-and-greet on Saturday, but the Ticats head coach, June Jones, sitting beside his freshly minted QB like a big, scary guard dog, would have none of it.

There’s a time for that,” he harrumphed, intercepting the question like a cornerback jumping on a Jeremiah Masoli wobbler. “We’re talking football right now. Ask us about football stuff. That other stuff, we’ve done everything we can to appease the protocol.”

Well, actually you haven’t done “everything” about that “other stuff,” June.

According to an excellent article written by Jeff Hamilton of the Winnipeg Free Press, at no time in the vetting of Manziel did anyone with the Tiger-Cats or the CFL seek an impact statement from the woman who was on the receiving end of his anger and the back of his hand—Colleen Crowley. Apparently, a woman being beaten up and fearing for her life isn’t worth a visit or a phone call from anyone in the CFL’s ivory tower.

So, if they’re unwilling to discuss Manziel’s history of thumping women with his victim, why would they have any desire to wash his dirty laundry in public?

The CFL and Ticats are turning the calendar back to the 20th century, when pro sports leagues pretended “that stuff” never happened. So trust them, kids. Johnny Football is a really, really, really good guy. A humble guy (just ask him). All that Colleen Crowley “stuff?” Not to worry. She’s moved on with her life. She has a boyfriend who doesn’t beat her up. Nothing to see here, kids. So just get out there and buy all those Johnny Manziel jerseys and everyone will live happily ever after.

Well, it’s sad and the CFL looks pathetic.

Chris Cuthbert

Kudos to the Spec’s Edwards for attempting to address the domestic violence issue, but it appears his brethren in mainstream media, like the Ticats and CFL, are prepared to give Manziel a free pass. No surprise, really, since none of the news snoops are women who’ve been rag-dolled by men. Some samples from the welcoming committee:

Stephen Brunt, Sportsnet: “There is no down-side here.”

Chris Cuthbert, CFL play-by-play voice on TSN: “Looking forward to seeing Johnny Manziel play in the CFL. Win-Win for the CFL.”

Matthew Scianitti, TSN: “Whatever you think of Johnny Manziel, the attention he’ll bring to the CFL won’t hurt.”

Dan Barnes, Postmedia Edmonton: “It will be fun for everyone to watch.”

Steve Simmons, Postmedia Tranna: “Welcome to Canada, Johnny Football. Johnny Football is coming to Canada. And where do I sign up?”

I don’t know about you, but when I hear someone describe themselves as “humble,” which Manziel did on Saturday, I’m convinced he’s humble like a football has four corners and a handle. Humble people don’t brag about being humble. They allow others to make that call. Manziel, to be sure, struck all the right notes during his meet-and-greet with news snoops, but beneath all the puffery you know he believes a move to the CFL is slumming.

Joey Votto

Some rat’s ass took a terrible beating last week. I mean, first Joey Votto said he doesn’t give a “rat’s ass” about baseball in Canada. Then, upon further review, he said he does, indeed, give a rat’s ass about baseball in Canada, and the Cincinnati Reds first sacker delivered a mea culpa that, to me, sounded sincere. Others bought in, too. Richard Giffin, baseball columnist at Toronto Star, described Votto’s apology as “thorough and heartfelt.” Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail wrote, “Votto’s apology was that true rarity—one that not only showed contrition, but also made sense.” Then there was our favorite glass-is-half-empty scribe Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna, who cannot resist finding dark clouds in silver linings. The apology “rings hollow for me,” he tweeted. Something tells me that Votto doesn’t give a rat’s ass what Simmons thinks of his mea culpa.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

Tip of the bonnet to Kevin Cheveldayoff, one of the finalists in voting for the National Hockey League’s top general manager. By my count, Chevy makes it three members of the Winnipeg Jets who’ve been nominated to collect a trinket at the NHL awards soiree next month in Vegas—captain Blake Wheeler is up for Mark Messier Leadership Award and goaltender Connor Hellebuyck is up for Vezina. Perhaps the scribes at the Winnipeg Free Press can tell us once again how everything flies “under the radar” in Pegtown.

Connor Hellebuyck

Interesting that many among the rabble in Jets Nation had their fall guy even before the local hockey heroes came up short in their Stanley Cup crusade—the aforementioned Hellebuyck. Is that fair? Perhaps not. Is it an accurate analysis? Absolutely. Goaltending was the critical difference between the Jets and Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL Western Conference final, which wrapped up Sunday afternoon at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie. Hellebuyck wasn’t horrible, but a couple of iffy moments (some would call them total blunders) vs. Vegas represented the fine line between success and failure. At the other end of the rink, Marc-André Fleury was, as they say, lights out in four of the five games it took Vegas to oust les Jets in the best-of-seven series. He was one save from perfect in the clincher on Sunday, a 2-1 Vegas win, and you wouldn’t want to bet against him in the Stanley Cup final vs. either Tampa Bay Lightning or Washington Capitals. 

Chris Johnston of Sportsnet writes this of the NHL: “There are simply no quick fixes in this league anymore.” Really? Tell that to the Golden Knights, who went from non-existent to a 109-point season and the Western Conference final in less than 12 months. Tell it to the Tranna Maple Leafs, who went from a 69-point outfit to a 105-point club in the three seasons since Brendan Shanahan, Lou Lamoriello and Mike Babcock set up shop. Tell that to the Colorado Avalanche, who went from 48 to 95 points in one season. Quick fixes are doable. You just need the right people working the wheel.

Francoise Abanda

Francoise Abanda is probably correct—she’ll never receive the exposure provided Canadian tennis diva Genie Bouchard. But she loses the plot in her reasoning.

(It’s) because I am black. It’s the truth,” she says, which is her way of calling Tennis Canada and/or the media racist.

Here’s some truth for young Francoise: The top money-earner among all female athletes on this planet is Serena Williams, a black woman. According to Forbes, she collected $27 million between June 2016 and June 2017, $19 million of her haul accumulated off-court. Her sister Venus, also unmistakably a black woman, was No. 5 on the Forbes list in overall earnings ($10.5 million) and No. 2 in off-court income ($7 million).

Anna Kournikova: The look of marketability.

Now, it’s also a truth that news snoops and advertising agencies are, of course, fools for pretty, blonde, white female athletes with cover girl looks, whether they’re successful or not (see: Bouchard, Genie; Kournikova, Anna), and the media remain guilty of fawning over Bouchard even as she’s in free fall in the Women’s Tennis Association rankings and has accomplished little of note in the past two years, other than to remove most of her clothing for Sports Illustrated. So, yes, being a pretty, white girl comes with benefits. Maria Sharapova, for example, wasn’t the top-earning female athlete 11 years running because she was superior to Serena Williams on the tennis court. Although a multiple Grand Slam champion, her income was mostly about blonde hair, long legs and marketability.

Abanda can’t count on that for greater exposure. She’ll first need a signature moment. Like what Denis Shapovalov delivered at the Rogers Cup last summer. People didn’t notice Shapo because he’s white. It’s because he beat Rafael Nadal.

At present, Abanda is the world No. 128, top-ranked among Canadian women, and other than giving Jelena Ostapenko a bit of a scare last summer at Wimbledon, her body of work on the WTA main circuit is non-descript. Nothing she’s done screams 150-point headline. It’s that black and white.

Genie Bouchard: The look of marketability.

If you’re curious, behind the Williams sisters at the 2016-17 endorsement/special fees pay window were all the pretty white girls (Forbes 2017 list).

Genie Bouchard (tennis): $6.5 million.
Danica Patrick (auto racing): $5 million.
Angelique Kerber (tennis): $5 million.
Caroline Wozniakcki (tennis): $5 million.
Garbine Muguruza (tennis): $3.5 million.
Ronda Rousey (UFC): $3 million.

This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna (Volume 1): “Don’t know what’s more disappointing—the Jets losing tonight or the Jets not selling out in the smallest arena in the NHL.” That from a guy who lives in the Republic of Tranna—population 6.4 million—where they can’t scrounge up more than 14,000 to watch the Tranna Argonauts play football. Where they had to give away 2016 Grey Cup game tickets with pizza to fill the pews at BMO Field. Where employees at TSN and Bell were offered free tickets. Where they had to slash ticket prices. And where they still couldn’t fill the joint, with the lowest head count for the CFL title match in 41 years.

This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna (Volume 2): “Been a Winnipeg supporter going back to 99 Pan Am Games. Enjoyed Grey Cups there.” Really? Here’s what Simmons wrote in November 2015: “My report card of Grey Cup Week in Winnipeg: Just so-so. Not as much fun as Winnipeg usually is at Grey Cup time. A touch disappointing.”

This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna (Volume 3): “Forgot how much fun it is to cover boxing. Have really enjoyed the past few days.” Ya, wouldn’t we all just love to hang out with that fun bunch at the light-heavyweight title fight on Saturday in The ROT? The champion, Adonis Stevenson, once was jailed for pimping out women; the challenger’s promoter, Floyd Mayweather Jr., is a convicted wife beater who beat up the mother of his children before their very eyes. Fun for the entire family.

 

About clowns in mainstream media…depth in pro tennis…lady star power…budget cuts at TSN…too much Nadal-Federer…great rivalries…sports scribes defecting…and aiming for 50 years

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

Venus Williams

Steve Simmons has secured his position as the biggest assclown in Canadian sports media.

It’s one thing to have an ego higher than the CN Tower and deliver opinion, which the Postmedia columnist and TSN talking head offers in abundance, but Simmons totally lost the plot when he stooped to age shaming on the return of The Reporters with Dave Hodge to TSN’s air Sunday morning.

Discussing the U.S. Open, Simmons said:

Women’s tennis is in a bad way without Serena (Williams). There’s no real star. You’ve had four Grand Slams this year and four different winners. Venus Williams is in a final at Wimbledon and she’s what, 92 years old or something like that?”

Shameful. Also objectionable, rude and insulting in the extreme. It might even have an undercurrent of sexism.

I mean, Simmons had no quarrel with Roger Federer winning Wimbledon in July, scant days before he blew out 36 candles on his birthday cake. It was bravo Roger. Called him the “best ever” before the Swiss maestro rag-dolled Marin Cilic in the final. Thing is, Federer is just one year and two months younger than Venus Williams, who was beaten by Garbine Muguruza in the Wimbledon ladies’ final.

Serena Williams

It’s good for tennis that 37-year-old Venus Williams didn’t win,” he wrote. “To win now would speak badly for the state of women’s tennis.”

But it was okay for a 36-year-old man to win Wimbledon? Interesting logic.

Once he was done age bashing Williams, Simmons—he’s 60, by the way—attacked the depth of the women’s game, comparing it unfavorably to the men’s draw. “There isn’t the depth…you look at men’s tennis, there’s the core at the top and then there’s about 15 deep of really good players,” he stammered. “It doesn’t exist on the women’s side.” Really? Factual evidence supports the notion that Grandpa Simmons is full of the stuff that comes out of the south end of a bull. In the past 48 men’s Grand Slam finals, only three lads not named Nadal, Federer, Murray or Djokovic have won—Stan Wawrinka, Juan Martin Del Potro and Marin Cilic. They’ve combined for a grand sum of five titles. In 12 flipping years! Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic claimed the other 43. For those of you scoring at home, that’s Big Four 43, Rest of World 5. That’s deep like a thimble.

Grandpa Simmons pooh-poohs the women’s side for delivering four different Grand Slam champions this year, as if that’s a bad thing. Yet he says there’s no depth on tour. Total contradiction. Total clown. You want depth? Sixteen women not named Williams have combined for 30 titles in the past 48 majors. None of the four women who won a Grand Slam this year was a top seed. Serena Williams was the closest, seeded second at the Australian Open. The French and U.S. Open champions, Jelena Ostapenko and Sloane Stephens, were unseeded and ranked world Nos. 47 and 83, respectively. The Wimbledon winner, Muguruza, was seeded 14th and ranked world No. 15. The final four at the U.S. Open—Venus Williams, Madison Keys, CoCo Vandeweghe and Stephens—were world Nos. 9, 16, 22 and 83.

Maria Sharapova

As for “no real star” on the women’s side…excuse me? Apparently Grandpa Simmons missed the memo advising us that Maria Sharapova is back on tour. No female athlete on this planet has more star power than her Royal Blondeness. The bottom line on her bank statement is proof. Had there been a lack of oomph to the women’s tour? You bet. Then Ostapenko happened on the red clay of Roland Garros. She’s a spark plug. Muguruza has style and tremendous appeal. Stephens is a bundle of charisma. Now Sharapova is back, and new mama Serena Williams hopefully will resurface at the Australian Open in January, perhaps with her bambino in tow. I’d pay to watch any of them play. Venus Williams, too. She should be saluted, not scorned, for being so competitive at age 37.

Guess the weekly commute from Montreal to the Republic of Tranna is quite costly, because Michael Farber was cut from the starting lineup on The Reporters due to budget restrictions. I just wish they’d given us a vote on who got culled from the herd.

Rafa and Roger

Grandpa Simmons wasn’t the only scribe donning a clown costume last week. Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail tells us he’s had his fill of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. Doesn’t want to see them anymore. “For its own sake, men’s tennis needs to start moving on from its top-two fetish,” he scribbles in a rambling treatise. “And not just as far as Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, who are exactly like their better, older peers, only boring. Tennis needs to turn a page, rip the page out, then find a new book. We’ve been at this for a decade and it started to get old when Stephen Harper was still in charge. It’s time to move on from the greatest rivalry in the history of men’s tennis.” Oh, yes, by all means let’s do that. I mean, doesn’t everyone want to see Kevin Anderson in more Grand Slam finals? Good grief. Get a grip, man.

Here’s what Kelly wrote after Roger Federer had won the Australian Open last January: “We now have to confront the real possibility that Federer might never stop being great at tennis. Maybe he’ll just go on forever. Nobody would complain.” And now here he is, eight months later, complaining about Federer seemingly going on forever. Sigh.

Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe

My five favorite all-time rivalries…
1. Bjorn Borg-John McEnroe: Bjorn was my main man.
2. Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier: Brutal, especially the Thrilla in Manilla.
3. Jack and Arnie: I was a member of Arnie’s Army.
4. Secretariat-Sham: Never saw anything like Secretariat, before or since 1973.
5. Martina Navratilova-Chris Evert: Liked Chrissie until she got engaged to loathsome Jimmy Connors.

Longtime hockey scribe Eric Duhatschek has defected from the Globe and Mail to The Athletic Calgary, part of an expanding online sports venture that features some top-level writing talent. Pierre LeBrun, Michael Russo, James Mirtle and Craig Custance are among the ever-growing stable of scribes at The Athletic, which now has franchises in each of Canada’s National Hockey League cities. No word on who’s covering the Jets and Blue Bombers in Winnipeg, but Mirtle, the man putting it all together, says she or he is on the way.

I walked into a newsroom for the first time 48 years ago yesterday. My hope was to stay at the Winnipeg Tribune for 50 years. Neither of us made it. The Trib went toes up in my 11th year and I felt obliged to bail from the rag trade after 30 years. To the day. None of the people with whom I worked at the beginning—running mail and copy to the various departments inside the old building at the corner of Smith and Graham—remain in the newspaper business. Five of the sports guys—Jack Matheson, Uncle Vince Leah, Gus Collins and freelancers Harold Loster and Ron Meyers—are dead. The very nice man who took a chance and hired a scrawny, 18-year-old kid fresh out of Miles Macdonell Collegiate on Sept. 10, 1969, Don Delisle, left us 10 years ago this month. I’m not sure how and why I’m still here, but I believe I shall continue to crank out the crap for a bit longer. Might still make it to 50 years. Or maybe just five more days. We’ll see.

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.

About mob justice and the Canadian Football League…the hypocritical media…”Oskee wee wee! Oskee wa wa! Holy WTF Hamilton!”…and the Sharapova Shriek returns to the U.S. Open

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

Now that sober second thought has won the day and it’s no longer necessary to lock up every mother’s daughter in Hamilton, I must say that the rush by fans and media to tar and feather Art Briles and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats was shocking in its swiftness and ferocity. Also its effectiveness.

Art Briles

I mean, Briles and his off-the-charts creep quotient won’t be coming across the border into Canada. That’s a good thing. A very good thing.

But all the righteous indignation and condemnation that rained down on Briles and the Tabbies on Monday, where was it during the past two months when a chronic and convicted beater of women, Floyd Mayweather Jr., was preparing to collect upwards of $350 million for a fist fight? Mayweather was allowed to go about his business, pre- and post-beatdown of Conor McGregor, sans universal censure. Indeed, the boxing champion is today lauded for running his ring record to 50-0.

Atta boy, Floyd,” goes the verbal back-patting of enablers and hangers-on. “You beat Rocky’s record. You’re the greatest, champ.”

Evidence indicates that fight fans and media cannot get their fill of Mayweather. Morals be damned. They continue to feed at his trough of dismissive arrogance, blatant misogyny and utter indecency, and it doesn’t matter how many women he sends to the hospital.

Is it because boxing is the seediest of all sports, with its assortment of sinister characters forever lurking on the periphery, that the rabble and (especially) opinionists on air and in print look the other way?

Perhaps, but isn’t looking the other way the very reason Briles is a pariah? Well, yes it is. We didn’t want him anywhere near our vulnerable young people because, while head football coach at Baylor University in Texas, he turned a blind eye to the systemic sexual assault of college women and other wrong-doing by his players, criminal activity that reportedly included gang rape. For that, Briles was dismissed and, little wonder, he’d been unable to secure employment until the Tiger-Cats came calling with an offer to serve the sorriest outfit in the Canadian Football League as an assistant coach.

The Briles hire was, of course, an affront to anyone with a moral compass, and it’s absolutely appalling to consider that he would be working with randy young men today had CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie not felt obliged to step in and force the Tabbies’ misguided management/ownership into giving their heads a good and proper shaking until all the stupid had fallen out.

CFL commish Randy Ambrosie

In this case, there’s something to be said for mob justice, because the Ticats recruiting Briles was as wrong as rain is wet and the social media warriors, team sponsors, bloggers and mainstream media were having none of it.

But, again, I challenge the media’s role in this shameful episode that might have been the total undoing of the Hamilton franchise had it moved forward with the contaminated coach, who was dismissed less than 24 hours after being hired.

Why are jock journalists picking and choosing the bad guys, like they’re at the market shopping for vegetables and fruit? Why is Floyd Mayweather Jr. a rotten apple and Art Briles a rancid orange? This isn’t apples and oranges. It’s rotten apples and rotten apples. How is it that the guy who went to jail for beating up women is less of a cad than the guy who ignored frat boys on a gang-banging binge?

I simply cannot wrap my head around that.

The media, across the land and on both sides of the border, were absolutely correct in condemning the Briles hire, just as they were on the side of angels when they railed against National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell for his clumsy work on the Ray Rice domestic violence file. But they are the very picture of hypocrisy in looking the other way whenever Floyd Mayweather Jr. is in the room.

Yes, you have every right to wonder what the hell is going on in Hamilton. Never mind between the sidelines, where the Tabbies are 0-8. Are they operating a professional football organization or a halfway house? The general manager, Eric Tillman, couldn’t keep his hands off the family’s teenage babysitter in 2010 and entered a guilty plea on a sexual assault charge; they displayed ghastly judgement in attempting to bring Briles on board; and rumors persist that they’ll make a strong pitch for bad boy quarterback Johnny Manziel, who only last December had his day in court on sexual assault charges. All together now: “Oskee wee wee! Oskee wa wa! Holy WTF Hamilton!”

Maria Sharapova

Really got into the Maria Sharapova-Simona Halep first-round match at the U.S. Open on Monday night at the Arthur Ashe Stadium in Gotham. It was electric. I can do without the Sharapova Shriek (couldn’t we all?), but Her Royal Blondeness’s 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 victory over the world No. 2 was high drama for an opening act at the tennis season’s final Grand Slam tournament. Even though she was dressed in all black for the occasion, I don’t see Sharapova as a villain. Call me gullible, but I’m not convinced she’s a cheater in the sense that Ben Johnson was a cheater. I’m inclined to sing in concert with commentator Chrissie Evert, who, during the broadcast, suggested someone made a dumb mistake that resulted in a 15-month ban for using the drug meldonium. Sharapova is a longshot to win the tournament, but her presence provides considerable oomph to the women’s draw.

Interesting that U.S. Open organizers would choose a Canadian crooner, Shania Twain, as the feature performer for the opening ceremonies at Arthur Ashe Stadium. Guess Americans don’t get as bummed out about that sort of thing as we do.

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.

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.