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.

About a special Sunday for Tiger Woods and golf…superlatives rule the day on air and in print…Jeff Hamilton telling it like it is…fans stay away in droves for CFL games…and power rankings

Musings on a Monday morning with no frost on the pumpkin…

Yes, now that you mention it, Tiger Woods’ day at the East Lake Golf Club was a gripping, compelling bit of business.

The golf itself was substandard. After a birdie on No. 1 to basically seal the deal and deny the occasion of any leaderboard drama, Woods finished with a very pedestrian one-above par 71, good enough for a two-swing victory over an elite yet restricted Tour Championship field of 30 golfers, the majority of whom declined to provide any pushback and melted under his still-mighty sway.

You know, just like the old days, when Woods would show up wearing a red shirt on Sunday and everyone else played for second-place green.

This was different simply because we knew the back story and wondered if the old fella had another win in him.

Justin Rose

Woods already had been there and done that 79 times on the Professional Golf Association Tour by the time he and his raunchy, swarming mob arrived at the 18th green at East Lake GC, but not since 2013. His life had become a mish-mash of back surgeries, front-page scandal, and fodder for every late-night, talk-TV comic looking for a cheap laugh. His golf game was non-existent.

The doubters (guilty as charged) expected him to crumble on Sunday. Instead it was Rory McIlroy who buckled. And Justin Rose who flailed.

Woods was back in the victor’s circle, and the scene at the 18th was astonishing. It was a magical sporting moment.

Slammin’ Sammy

The talking heads on NBC tripped over each other searching for superlatives to define the moment. Historic was an oft-heard word, even though there was nothing historic about the occasion. An 80th PGA win is a milestone, to be sure, but Sam Snead had 82, so history is found on Slammin’ Sammy’s scorecard.

After the fact, wordsmith’s attempted to catalog Woods’ success, and it has been an exercise in excess for some. Examples:

Jay Busbee of Yahoo Sports: “So let’s go ahead and call this what it is: the greatest comeback in sports history.”

(I don’t know. Being stabbed between the shoulder blades with a nine-inch boning knife during a tennis match, disappearing for two years and living in absolute fear, then returning to win a Grand Slam title might trump it.)

Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail: “If he can close the circle and win a fifth Masters, it would be a bigger deal than the first time around. It might be the biggest thing ever.”

(Yes, that moon landing thing in 1969 can’t possibly compare to winning a golf tournament.)

John Ziegler of Mediaite: “This wasn’t just a win for golf, but for humanity, both of which are in dire need of victories. For if a person, fueled by nothing but pure pride and a desire to show his kids that their dad really was once something really special, can defeat all of his mental and physical demons to come all the way back from the depths from which Woods has emerged, there really might be hope of the rest of us dregs of humanity.”

(We’re dregs because we can’t win a golf tournament? Oh, the humanity!)

If I might be allowed to apply a coating of perspective to Woods winning the Tour Championship, it was one man’s triumph over health issues and personal demons. His stick-to-itness is admirable. Many of his wounds—the ones you cannot repair with a band-aid—were self-inflicted, and that’s what made his Sunday story so compelling. It grabbed us because we can relate to human frailties. We’ve all been there and done that. And it’s comforting to see someone come out the other side in one piece. It does not, however, change the world as we know it.

Chris Streveler

Okay, enough of Tiger Woods. Kudos to Jeff Hamilton of the Winnipeg Free Press for telling it like it is about Johnny Manziel. Hamilton writes this of the Montreal Alouettes quarterback:

“It doesn’t help that Manziel needs to resurrect his football career behind such a leaky offensive line, but it’s the same group that Antonio Pipken (sic) had when he combined for 545 passing yards in wins over Toronto and Ottawa. In fact, if Manziel was anybody else, there’s a good chance he’d be out of a job by now.”

Spot on. And the numbers support Hamilton’s analysis.

Four QBs thrust into the No. 1 role for the first time this Canadian Football League season have started three or more games—Manziel, Pipkin, Chris Streveler and McLeod Bethel-Thompson. Only one of them has yet to toss a touchdown pass. Manziel. Only one of them has yet to win a game. Manziel. Only one of them has yet to total 500 yards in passing. Manziel. Here are the comparison of the QBs after their first three starts:

Now, if only the gab guys in TSN’s Cult of Johnny would clue in and realize how shameful their doting on Johnny Rotten, a very ordinary QB, has been.

B.C. Place Stadium

Three terrifically entertaining skirmishes in the CFL on Saturday, and the head counts at two of them were dreadful—14,479 for the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Argonauts in the Republic of Tranna, and 18,794 for double-OT doozy between the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and B.C. Lions in Lotus Land. I live on the West Coast. I hear very little chatter about the Leos or the CFL, but plenty about the National Football League. And I don’t get it. Give me a three-down game over four-down football any day.

Did head coach June Jones cost the Tiger-Cats a win in B.C. when he chose to punt the football rather than attempt a 45-yard field goal in the final minute? Absolutely.

The CFL West Division team that earns the crossover playoff spot will have to beat both the Ticats and Bytown RedBlacks on the road in eight days. Good luck with that. Ain’t going to happen.

Here are this week’s CFL power rankings…

1. Calgary (10-2): Bye week, no harm done.
2. Saskatchewan (8-5): Offence showed some signs of life.
3. Ottawa (8-5): Jekyll and Hyde of the CFL.
4. Edmonton (7-6): Oh woe is the D.
5. Hamilton (6-7): Dumb coaching did them in.
6. B.C. (6-6): Thought they were done a month ago.
7. Winnipeg (6-7): Awaiting word on key injuries.
8. Toronto (3-9): No one cares in TO, so why should we?
9. Montreal (3-10): Awful in both official languages.

And, finally, if you’re looking for a good yarn, check out Dave Feschuk’s piece on former National Hockey League/World Hockey Association goaltender Al Smith in the Toronto Star. It’s excellent.

About 49 years from Day One at the Trib…good for Ted Wyman…good reads in the Drab Slab…a TSN WTF moment…CFL power rankings…Serena unhinged…and other things on my mind

It occurs to me

If you’ll permit me a personal note right off the top (and you must, because this is my blog), this morning marks the 49th anniversary of my start in the rag trade.

Yup, it all began in the mail room on the second floor of the Winnipeg Tribune building on Sept. 10, 1969, me an 18-year-old, know-nothing kid fresh out of Miles Madonell Collegiate working at what had always been my newspaper of choice.

After a brief time running incoming and outgoing mail to the various arms of the Trib operation at the corner of Smith and Graham, directly across the street from the main post office, I was shuffled up to the fifth floor, whereupon I became a midnight-to-8 a.m. copy runner and began scribbling non-byline Manitoba Junior Hockey League rewrites in 1970.

Legendary sports columnist and editor Jack Matheson was somehow struck with the notion that I might be a suitable replacement for a departing sports scribe, and my first byline appeared in print on Page 16 of the Trib on June 14, 1971.

It was back-of-the-section, bottom-of-the-page stuff—a short blurb about a Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association financial shortfall of $8,753—nestled between the Assiniboia Downs form chart and horse racing writer Harold Loster’s graded selections. Humble beginnings, indeed.

My first beat was local tennis, which I totally enjoyed. Then high school football, a good place to earn your chops. But Matty had me mostly on hockey, at all levels and all leagues, at home and riding the bus across the frozen tundra with Gerry Brisson, Muzz MacPherson and the Winnipeg Clubs in the Western Canada Hockey League.

Butch Goring

There wasn’t a hockey league I didn’t cover and, in fact, my final writing assignment at the Trib was to pen a sports-front, up-close-and-personal piece on local lad Butch Goring, weaned on the frozen ponds of Windsor Park/St. Vital and a Stanley Cup champion with the New York Islanders. Photog Jon Thordarson and I had visited Butch at his home. Spent more than an hour with him. The article and pics were in the can and good to go as a late-summer feature. Alas, the mucky-mucks at Southam had the bad manners to shut down the joint on what we called Black Wednesday, Aug. 27, 1980, and the Tribune was no more.

But, hey, here I am 49 years later, and old bag of bones still scribbling about shinny, football, curling and athletes in Good Ol’ Hometown, albeit from a distance. Don’t know when or how to stop.

Which means you’re right—there’s definitely something wrong with me. Like, does the term ‘get a life’ mean anything to me?

Apparently not. I might actually make it to 50 years.

Ted Wyman

A tip of the bonnet to Ted Wyman, soon to be the latest inductee to the Manitoba Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour. Ted’s been cranking out the good stuff for 26 years, earning his chops at the Moose Jaw Times Herald and Brandon Sun before bringing his act to Good Ol’ Hometown in 2003. He’s been a steady hand on the wheel of the Winnipeg Sun sports department since 2006.

Really enjoyed Melissa Martin’s piece on Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler in the Winnipeg Free Press last week. Melissa doesn’t stray into the toy department too often, but I always enjoy her take on sports and athletes. She’s my favorite scribe at the Drab Slab.

So I’m sitting in my local watering hole, watching the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Saskatchewan Roughriders duke it out on Saturday afternoon. They were down to the short strokes, with about three minutes remaining and Gang Green clinging to an iffy lead. The end result was very much in the balance. And what does TSN do? It cuts away to the Calgary Stampeders-Edmonton Eskimos skirmish, which had yet to start. You talk about your WTFTSN moments.

Here are this week’s Canadian Football League power rankings…

1. Calgary (9-2): Bo Levi was brilliant; the defence not so much.
2. Saskatchewan (7-4): Four straight Ws.
3. Edmonton (7-5): Got it done vs. Calgary this time.
4. Hamilton (6-5): Wicked offence, wicked QB, wicked Speedy B.
5. Ottawa (6-5): Continue to be a puzzle.
6. Winnipeg (5-7): A bye week just what the doctor ordered.
7. B.C. (4-6): Still say they’re done like dinner.
8. Montreal (3-8): Took the week off.
9. Toronto (3-8): QB woes continue.

Last week in CFL quarterbacking…

It’s about Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers: Wow. Just wow.

Still baffled by Serena Williams bringing motherhood into the equation during her epic hissy fit in the women’s final at the U.S. Open tennis tournament. “I have a daughter and I stand what’s right for her!” she shrieked, in full bully mode, at chair umpire Carlos Ramos. That simply does not compute. It makes no sense at all. What did Ramos’s rulings—questionable or not—have to do with Williams’ little girl? Can you say completely unhinged, kids?

Novak Djokovic

For those of you scoring at home, the last eight Grand Slam tennis tournaments have delivered eight different champions on the women’s side and only three on the men’s side. Meanwhile, the same three guys winning everything now—Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic—have been winning everything since Wimbledon 2003, when Federer claimed his first Slam title. The scoreboard reads: Big Three 51, Rest of Guys 11. And who are those Rest of Guys? Stan Wawrinka (3), Andy Murray (3), Andy Roddick, Marin Cilic, Juan Martin del Potro, Marat Safin and Gaston Gaudio. So, 10 champions total. In the same time frame, 24 different women have won Slam tournaments.

And, finally, this from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: “I really hope the Maple Leafs pick a captain soon—so everybody can just shut up about it. The captain stuff: Relatively meaningless.” Interesting. In July, Simmons went on Tranna 1050 TSN radio and flapped his gums about the “relatively meaningless” Leafs captaincy for more than seven minutes. But now that he’s had his say on the topic he wants the rest of us to “shut up.” As if.

About Mike O’ Shea throwing TSN’s CFL journalists (not!) under the bus…Brooke Henderson’s smile…a tiger in our tanks at the “filling station”…and other CFL stuff

Two soft-boiled eggs and more weekend leftovers for a Tuesday morning breakfast

Mike O’Shea has totally lost the plot.

Never mind the botched fake punts, phantom 63-yard field goals, ill-conceived gambles, curious quarterback deployment, or any of the goofball decisions he’s made as sideline jockey with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Those were merely “d’oh” moments. Brain farts, if you will.

Mike O’Shea

But get this: O’Shea actually thinks Milt Stegall is a journalist. Ditto Matt Dunigan. And—good grief—Davis Sanchez.

That’s cow-jumped-over-the-moon stuff.

I mean, Stegall is a hall of fame receiver with a hall of fame mouth that landed him a gig as a gum-flapper on TSN’s Canadian Football League coverage. He knows a fake punt from a fair catch. But he’s a journalist like Sarah Huckabee Sanders is Honest Abe Lincoln.

If you missed it, Stegall went off on Matt Nichols on Saturday afternoon, accusing the Winnipeg FC quarterback of hurling his receivers under the bus scant seconds after the Bombers had limped off the McMahon Stadium gridiron in Calgary, losers for the second successive week, this time a 39-26 face plant vs. the Stampeders.

Matt Nichols, still No. 1.

“They just do their jobs very well,” Nichols said of the Stamps defensive dozen while he and CJOB’s Bob (Knuckles) Irving sifted through the rubble of the Bombers’ fifth L against five Ws this crusade. “When they’re in zone I’m going through four and five reads and finding no one open…they’re doing a good job.”

Nichols had other things to say, including some self-indictment, but all Stegall heard was “finding no one open.”

“Just throw me under the bus,” the old receiver griped angrily, his forehead in full frown and his eyebrows knitted together. “I’m gonna roll up on Matt Nichols if I’m Darvin Adams or one of those receivers and say, ‘Did you really say that? Is this what you feel about us? Are we calling each other out? So if I’m wide open and you miss me should I go to the media and say we need a quarterback who’s gonna throw it to me when I’m open?’ What is this? He needs to come out there and play and keep his mouth shut.”

So now we have O’Shea entering the verbal fray during a chin-wag with Knuckles Irving, play-by-play voice of Winnipeg FC on ‘OB since Dieter Brock was as wet behind the ears as Michael Phelps.

“Completely irresponsible,” is the damning term the Bombers head coach used Monday night to catalog the bleatings of Stegall. “The journalism was irresponsible. You know, Bob, you asked the question about Calgary’s defence and it was nothing about our receiving corps and their ability. They took a small snippet of Matt’s answer and tried to run with it. Frankly, it’s a little embarrassing for them, I’m sure. How Matt answered the question I thought was a perfectly good answer.

“One of the things is these guys have to create news obviously and create a story and create excitement on the panel…I don’t know. It doesn’t sit well with us because it’s so far from what was said, it’s so taken out of context it’s just not fair really. They need to make a show, and it’s too bad. I believe they made a mistake and I do think it’s irresponsible, you know, they sort of ran with it. I guess that’s…like I said they need to make a show.”

Milt Stegall: He’s no journo.

O’Shea later added this: “When you take a fragment of a quote, or a fragment of an interview and use it as you will, haphazardly, it’s a dangerous business. It’s not fair. It’s not good journalism.”

That’s because Stegall isn’t a journalist.

He’s a retired receiver who’s afraid of thunder and lightning and often finds axes to grind as the angriest member of the TSN panel. He shows up on our flatscreens wearing fancy threads twice a week, and he provides Xs-and-Os insight and bitches about whatever’s up his nose that day/night. Which is great. As misguided as he sometimes is, I don’t want Stegall to zip his lips.

Just don’t confuse what he does with journalism, Mikey.

A smiling Brittany Henderson and a grinning Brooke Henderson on the 18th fairway.

Moving on to actual journalists, apparently Bob Weeks of TSN and Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail watched a different Brooke Henderson during her victory march at the CP Canadian Open women’s golf championship on Sunday.

Here’s Kelly on Henderson: “It’s hard to think of any golf pro who looks like they’re having less fun out there. Ms. Henderson lives so deeply in the moment that she is functionally underground. On the walk up the 18th fairway on Sunday—victory assured, the crowd hooting her name—she still did not allow herself the freedom of a grin.”

Here’s Weeks on Henderson: “She normally will smile a little bit, she’ll kind of interact with the fans. There was none of that today. The first time I saw her smile was after she was walking up to the 18th green.”

I’m uncertain where Kelly had plunked himself to observe Henderson’s final round of the Open (or if he even watched it), but I know Weeks’s feet were on the ground at the Wascana Country Club in Regina. He saw Henderson smile on the 18th fairway. So did I. And most other reports indicated that Henderson did, indeed, interact with patrons during the first three rounds of her successful crusade. She was not “functionally underground.”

Kelly went on to write of Henderson: “She is already pulling away from Masters champion Mike Weir as Canada’s greatest golfer of modern times.”

Wrong. Henderson, with seven titles on the Ladies Professional Golf Association Tour, has yet to catch Weir, let alone pull away from him. Weir won eight times on the Professional Golf Association circuit.

Murray Westgate

Those of us of a certain vintage will be saddened by the passing of Murray Westgate at the age of 100 on Monday. Westgate was the Esso pitchman who put a tiger in our tanks during Hockey Night in Canada broadcasts during the 1950s and ’60s, and most of us kids actually believed he pumped gas, checked the oil and wiped windshields for a living. I always hoped we’d pull into a “filling station” one day and see his smiling face approach our car. But no. He was an actor who made $75 a gig in the beginning at a couple grand per night by the time Esso pulled the plug on its sponsorship.

Here are this week’s CFL power rankings…

1. Calgary (8-1): Back on track after a slight misstep.
2. Edmonton (6-4): Stumbled in Hamilton.
3. Saskatchewan (5-4): Tough to win in B.C. but they got the job done.
4. Ottawa (6-3): Status quo.
5. Winnipeg (5-5): That was ugly in Cowtown.
6. Hamilton (4-5): Might have turned it around.
7. B.C. (3-6): Done like dinner.
8. Toronto (3-6): Duron Carter can’t help them yet.
9. Montreal (2-8): What’s not to like about Antonio Pipkin.

Last week in CFL quarterbacking (starters only)…

About the Toronto Argonauts being no laughing matter…CFL shrinkage…a mad hatter at bluebombers.com…pigskin prayer power…when Michael Sam was the man…CFL power rankings…greybeard golf…and other things on my mind

One fried egg-and-cheese sandwich on whole wheat toast and some leftover thoughts for a Monday morning breakfast

It has occurred to me, and many others, that we might be witnessing the death throes of the Toronto Argonauts—the franchise, if not this year’s on-field product.

BMO Field when Toronto FC is playing.

I mean, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment’s motto is “Bringing The World To Its Feet,” but very few of those feet are parading to BMO Field. Unless, of course, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Sebastian Giovinco and friends are having a kick-about.

Oh, yes, they love their footy in the Republic of Tranna. Red-clad, scarf-wearing locals traipse to BMO Field whenever Toronto FC is in frolic, and it matters little that the level of play in Major League Soccer isn’t a match for the English Premier League, the Bundesliga in Germany, Serie A in Italy, or Spain’s La Liga. Fitba is a “happening” in the ROT, and the Reds are averaging 26,591 customers this year, marginally down from a 27,647 head count in 2017.

The Argos, on the other hand, they’re a “happening” like the Don River is the Pacific Ocean.

BMO Field when the Argos are playing.

How sparse are the audiences when the Boatmen are grabbing the real and fake grass at BMO Field? I’ve seen more circus clowns squeeze into a Volkswagen Beetle. The winner of the 50/50 draw at the last home game was later seen asking Yonge Street panhandlers for spare change.

We tend to joke about stuff like that because, let’s face it, cracking wise about The 6ix is what those of us who dwell in the colonies do. The ROT is always good for cheap laughs, whether it’s Drake making an ass clown of himself at a Raptors game, Premier Buck-a-Beer promising cheap suds, or the Maple Leafs’ 51st annual retooling season.

This Argos business, however, isn’t yuk-it-up material. Not if you’re a fan of the Canadian Football League.

I started following three-down football in the 1950s. Most of my heroes wore the blue-and-gold linen of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, but Dick Shatto, adorned in the double blue of the Boatmen, was among my favorite players. He was so smooth, and an impossibly handsome man. I remember reading about Tobin Rote, the gunslinger of a quarterback, and Cookie Gilchrist, the fierce and feared running back. I watched them intently, and with much admiration and awe, whenever the Argos appeared on the black-and-white screen of our rabbit-eared TV.

That’s why it pains me to see an ocean of unoccupied seats at BMO Field on Argos game nights/days.

In their 2017 crusade, the Boatmen attracted an average of 13,913 customers. This year the head count is worse—12,836 average, with a low-water mark of 10,844 for a visit from the Bombers. That’s cringeworthy, also alarming, and the hit to MLSE’s bottom line must be substantial.

I’ve never completely bought into the argument that the CFL absolutely needs the ROT to survive, and I’m confident that western football can exist without it. I will, however, submit that the three-down enterprise is much better with a robust Argos franchise in the mix. It would be a shame if MLSE chose to tap out.

After all, if not for the Argos, what would we have to laugh about in the summer and autumn? Oh, that’s right…there’s always the Blue Jays.

Damien Cox of the Toronto Star/Sportsnet posted this tweet last week after 35,623 folks showed up at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton for a showdown between the Eskimos and Saskatchewan Roughriders: “A crowd of less than 36,000 is the biggest in the CFL this season and is considered a big success. My goodness, this league has shrunk.” Well, yes and no. Toronto and Montreal certainly have shrunk significantly, both in attendance and size of facility. The rest of the CFL, not so much. High tide for CFL attendance arrived in 1978, when the league averaged 31,879. The Montreal Alouettes and Argos led the way with 54,471 and 46,545, respectively. This year, they’re down to 17,861 and 12,836. That’s 36,610 customers lost in Montreal and 33,709 in the ROT. That’s what you call shrinkage.

Matt Nichols and mad hatter Ed Tait.

Good bit on Bombers QB Matt Nichols by young Eddie Tait of bluebombers.com. I’m not sure if the highlight of the piece is the tale Nichols tells about almost being stuck with a huge restaurant tab while a member of the Dallas Cowboys, or young Eddie’s lid. He’s really rockin’ the funny hat. You might want to check it out.

Kirk Penton continues to crank out the good CFL stuff for The Athletic, and last week one of his insiders (a coach or GM) had this to say about the Argos switching from James Franklin to McLeod Bethel-Thompson at starting quarterback: “I have no idea if this played a role in it or not, but Franklin has a different personality. He’s not your average guy. It makes me wonder if the players have adopted him or not. He’s hugely religious.” Why would religion be part of the equation? The great Pinball Clemons is a man of deep faith, and I don’t ever recall it being a problem in his time as a player or coach with the Boatmen.

Michael Sam

It’s three years ago tomorrow that Michael Sam became the only openly gay man to perform in a CFL game. Playing rush end for the Montreal Alouettes against the Ottawa RedBlacks, he was on the field for just 12 plays, making no tackles and, quite frankly, looking as out of place as the Pope in a pub. One week later, the former St. Louis Rams draft pick walked out on the Als, citing mental health issues, and never played another down on either side of the border.

The morning after Johnny Manziel made his disastrous CFL debut, TSN had nine videos of the Alouettes QB on its main web page. Sportsnet had one. But, hey, who’s counting?

Here are this week’s CFL power rankings…

1. Calgary (7-0): The beat goes on.
2. Edmonton (5-2): Three wins vs. West outfits.
3. Winnipeg (4-3): Three wins vs. East outfits.
4. Saskatchewan (3-4): Terrell Owens anyone?
5. Hamilton (3-4): Alouettes were just what the doctor ordered.
6. Ottawa (4-3): Talk about coughing up an ugly hairball.
7. B.C. (2-4): Got screwed by a zebra, but still not good enough.
8. Toronto (2-5): What a comeback. Too bad no one cares in the Republic of Tranna.
9. Montreal (1-6): Getting worse in either official language.

Phil and Tiger

Apparently, the hokey Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson mano-a-mano, greybeard golf challenge will take place on American Thanksgiving weekend. Just what everyone will need. Another turkey.

Max Domi says the Montreal Canadiens have the “pieces it takes to win,” in the upcoming National Hockey League crusade. And he would know this how? He spent the past three seasons playing in the Arizona desert, where the Coyotes did nothing but lose.

Mark Stone

In the WTF department, the Ottawa Senators have agreed to pay Mark Stone $7.35 million to play right wing in 2018-19. That’s $1.75 million more than captain Blake Wheeler earns with the Winnipeg Jets. It’s $1.225 million more than les Jets pay Rink Rat Scheifele. How does Winnipeg general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff convince his players to sign on the cheap? Is he Reveen, the great hypnotist? Does he have damning photos? To date, only one player, Jacob Trouba, has had the strength to ward off Chevy’s mystic powers. Hard to figure.

Just wondering: Is it possible for Murat Ates of The Athletic Winnipeg to write an article on the Jets without mentioning salaries and advanced stats?

And, finally, I notice I have 312 followers on Twitter, a revelation that begat this simple question: Why? I mean, I wouldn’t follow me. But if you’re one of the 312, merci beaucoup. If you aren’t one of the 312, I don’t blame you.