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.

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About open season on NHL goaltenders…no news is still news for Johnny Manziel…the write stuff from Jeff Hamilton…Box Car Bill Belichick’s biceps…the return of Mr. Carrie Underwood…routs at the Scotties…the PC Police…Grandpa Simmons shaking his fist at clouds again…fresh Stanley Cup odds…and a whine and cheese party in South Korea

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

The scene of the crime.

It was Groundhog Day on Friday. I woke up, stared at my TV screen and saw 4 1/2 more months of bad goaltender interference calls ahead.

Seriously. There are three things in life that I do not understand: 1) goaltender interference in hockey; 2) goaltender interference in hockey; 3) goaltender interference in hockey.

Well, okay, there are more than three things I don’t understand. Pass interference in football is another. And exactly where do socks disappear to when you’re doing laundry? (The socks thing I’ve remedied. I no longer wear them. I don’t even own a pair. For the record, I wear tights in winter and go barefoot in summer.) But this goaltender interference thing is more baffling than the National Hockey League hiring Kid Rock to sing.

I mean, I swear I saw James Neal of the Vegas Golden Knights go all lumberjack the other night at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie in Winnipeg, breaking his twig in two with a Paul Bunyanesque wallop to the masked face of Jets ‘tender Connor Hellebuyck. It wasn’t ruled goaltender interference. Not even after a coach’s challenge and video review that, in the opinions of the two men wearing orange arm bands, validated a Vegas score.

Huh?

You whack a goaltender across the face with a two-hander and that isn’t interference? If not, it surely is a slashing penalty (like, five minutes and a game). Whistle blows. No goal. But not in today’s NHL, where reason has fled the building and logic is only a step behind.

The good news is, NHL deep-thinkers have time to put this part of their house in order before it corrupts the Stanley Cup tournament. The bad news is, they’re the same deep-thinkers who hired Kid Rock to sing.

Charlize Theron

Aside from Michael Sam, who became famous for being gay, has any football player generated more headlines by not playing football on this side of the north-south divide than Johnny Manziel?

The Canadian Football League remains a Manziel-free zone (for now), yet this frat boy who would play quarterback for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats very much remains a hot-button topic. According to TSN, Manziel and the Tabbies are further apart on money than Bill Gates and a panhandler. His reported sticker price is half a million bucks. The Tabbies are offering in the neighborhood of $150,000.

“Nahhh,” tweets Manziel. “We asked for a fair deal, that’s it.” But then he added: “Has there ever been a rookie that will sell more money in jersey sales and season tickets than his entire two-year contract would be worth? OK good talk…Humble as can be. Just stating FACTS sorry you don’t agree.”

Yo! Johnny! The Ticats played to 97 per cent capacity at Timbits Field in The Hammer last season. They need a woman-beater like you to sell tickets and garments like Charlize Theron needs a makeover.

Johnny Manziel and Colleen Crowley

Lengthy but excellent read from Jeff Hamilton of the Winnipeg Free Press on domestic violence as it relates to Manziel and the CFL. The most startling revelation in the article: In performing their “due diligence” on Manziel, no one from the CFL or the Tiger-Cats contacted Colleen Crowley. She’s the young woman the former Cleveland Browns QB beat up a couple of years ago, leading her to file for, and be granted, a restraining order against him. You’d think seeking a victim impact statement would be a no-brainer.

Some quality journalism last week about mental illness, and I never saw or read anything better than Darren Dreger’s TSN feature on Paul Ranger, whose battle with inner demons cost him his NHL career. It was a gripping, touching piece. Boffo work.

All power to Ricky Ray, who, at age 38, will give it another whirl as starting QB with the Tranna Argonauts. The worry, of course, is that he’ll end his Canadian Football Hall of Fame career on the back of a Gator cart, because he has all the mobility of an ATM and he’s as brittle as a piece of burnt toast. Fingers (and toes) crossed for him.

Howard Stern

You wonder why so many people believe journalists are lower than the bowels of hell? Alex Reimer is a reason. Howard Stern is a reason.

Reimer, a gab guy with WEEI in Boston, established new standards for tacky when, commenting on the Tom Brady Facebook feature Tom vs Time, he described the quarterback’s five-year-old daughter Vivian as “an annoying little pissant.” Hey, take shots and Brady and his New England Patriots if you like. That seems to be a national pastime on either side of the U.S.-Canada border. Just leave his kids alone, right?

But wait. Let’s let another juror weigh in.

I’ve got to stick up for radio guys, because number one, you’re on the air and it’s not like there’s a script,” Serius XM radio gasbag Howard Stern huffs and puffs. “But for godsakes—Tom Brady should know better. If you’re going to put your young child on a TV show, on the Internet, you’re putting her out there for comment.

It’s really Tom’s fault. And I don’t know Tom—I’m a great admirer of his physical prowess and his football ability—but don’t put your kid up on an Internet show and then get pissed when people comment on her behavior. You’re putting it out there for people to comment on. That’s what a TV show is.”

Instant analysis: Who knew Howard Stern was still a thing?

Box Car Bill Belichick

This week’s notable quotable is from Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail, on New England Patriots head coach Box Car Willie Belichick: “(He) has a thing for wearing sleeveless shirts, which is a serious problem that does not get enough attention.” Either Kelly’s tongue was in his cheek, or he’s totally lost the plot. I mean, I can think of a number of “serious problems” with the National Football League (like, when is a catch a catch; when is a concussion a concussion?), but Box Car Belichick’s bare arms are not among them. Would Kelly have him drag a brush through his hair as well? Maybe ask him to spray on some cologne? C’mon man.

Mr. Carrie Underwood and his bride, Carrie Underwood.

Interesting that Mike Fisher is ending his retirement to rejoin the Nashville Predators for their Stanley Cup push. Guess being Mr. Carrie Underwood and a stay-at-home papa isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Whatever, the well-seasoned centre’s return makes a hard-to-play-against Predators outfit harder to play against.

I agree with Michelle Englot, the Team Canada skip at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Penticton: People should “chill out” about the new format. True, no one wants to see the Canadian women’s curling championship reduced to an ant-squishing competition, but lopsided scores are commonplace at the Scotties. Consider these results:

2018: 12-2, 11-1, 12-5, 10-4, 14-1, 10-3, 11-5, 13-4, 10-4, 12-4.
2017: 11-6, 10-5, 10-5, 12-6, 11-5, 10-2, 11-5, 10-4, 10-4, 11-5.
2016: 12-5, 10-2, 10-4, 11-5, 10-3, 10-3, 11-4, 9-3, 9-4, 8-2.
2015: 10-5, 10-2, 10-5, 11-5, 10-4, 11-2, 9-1, 9-4, 9-3, 9-3, 8-1.
2014: 15-3, 12-2, 10-3, 10-3, 12-2, 10-5, 10-3, 10-4, 10-5.
2013: 11-5, 12-5, 10-5, 10-4, 12-2, 11-4, 10-3, 10-2, 9-1, 9-2.

Michelle Englot

In other words, it’s been same old, same old at this year’s Scotties and the new format isn’t the reason for blowouts in Penticton—it’s the have and have-not dynamic. You have Grand Slam curlers sharing the same pebble as club curlers. That usually won’t end well.

And don’t run off with the notion that routs are an element particular to curling. It happens in both women’s and men’s hockey as well.

2016/17 women’s world hockey championship: 7-0, 8-0, 11-0, 8-0, 8-1, 8-0, 9-0.
2016/17 men’s world hockey championship: 7-2, 10-1, 8-1, 7-2, 7-2, 6-0, 7-0, 10-1, 7-1, 8-0, 7-2, 6-0.

So there.

Pedro Martinez

This week’s nasty Stevie-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna is directed at Pedro Martinez, one of this year’s inductees to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. According to Grandpa Simmons, the Martinez appointment is “ridiculous” because he only spent four seasons with the Expos in Montreal. “Pedro Martinez does not belong here. Makes the Hall look cheap,” Simmons tweets angrily. “Do you honestly believe a player with four years service belongs in the Hall of Fame? Any Hall of Fame?” Well, let’s see: Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson spent only four winters in Winnipeg, yet they’re in both the Jets and Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame. Do they belong? Absolutely. Doug Flutie spent only two seasons quarterbacking the Toronto Argonauts, yet he’s in the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame. Does he belong? Two Grey Cup titles says yes. Gale Sayers played the equivalent of 4.25 seasons (just 68 games) for the Chicago Bears, yet he’s in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Does he belong? Ya think? I wish people would stop dropping Grandpa Simmons on his head.

Sifting through The River City Renegade archives, I note that on Sept. 14, 2017, I provided odds on each Canadian team ending the Great White North Stanley Cup drought. Here was my morning line:

Edmonton McDavids: 3/1
Winnipeg Jets: 5/1
Calgary Flames: 5/1
Tranna Maple Leafs: 10/1
Montreal Canadiens: 20/1
Ottawa Senators: Fuhgeddaboudit.
Vancouver Canucks: You’re kidding, right?

February update! February update! February update!

Winnipeg Jets: 1/1
Calgary Flames: 5/1
Tranna Maple Leafs: 10/1
Edmonton McDavids: 25/1
Montreal Canadiens: Not in my lifetime.
Ottawa Senators: Not in my grandchildren’s lifetime.
Vancouver Canucks: Not even when the Sedin twins are playing on a forward line with one of their grandchildren.

No more Walk-On Girls at darts events in the U.K.

Does anyone remember what sports was like before the Politically Correct Police mobilized? I mean, Chief Wahoo soon will be gone from the Cleveland Indians unis. Formula 1’s Grid Girls are gone. The U.K.’s professional darts Walk-On Girls are gone. Next thing you know, Postmedia’s tabloid newspapers across the land will be ordering their Sunshine Girls to cover up the cleavage.

Get ready, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, the bitch-a-thon is about to commence. That is to say, the flowers of Canadian sports journalism are on their way to South Korea for the Winter Olympic Games, and the moment they touch down in PyeongChang they shall commence to feeding us a steady diet of whine with their cheesey commentary about poor facilities, poor food, poor shuttle service, poor accommodations, poor travel connections, and poor port-o-potties. Trust me, they’ll deliver more complaints than a Republican watching CNN.

 

 

About death by wedgie in the CFL…the Rodney Dangerfield Blue Bombers…diversity on the gridiron…nonsense on Sportsnet…boffo stuff from Ed Tait…dump the ump…hockey pride at Pride…and hot dogs for Phil Kessel

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

Randy Ambrosie wants to talk. That’s a good thing. I think.

Specifically, the Canadian Football League commissioner would welcome a fireside chat about division alignment and playoff structure, both of which are becoming hot-button issues due to a West-East competitive imbalance that borders on the sadistic.

I’m happy to have that conversation with everyone and I think we should have it,” the commish told Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun.

For those of you keeping score at home, West has met East 20 times during the current crusade. The tally is 17-2-1 in favor of the five outfits left of the Manitoba-Ontario boundary. One game finished 60-1.

That is not a typo. Do not adjust your monitors. It really was 60-1.

Seriously. This is death by wedgie.

Actually, West Division clubs aren’t simply giving their nerdy eastern foes a basic wedgie. They’re the high school senior pulling the freshman’s underpants up to his ears, sticking his head in a toilet bowl, flushing, then stuffing him into a locker. Oh, but first he steals his lunch money.

And yet, under the current structure, two of the eastern rag dolls will qualify for the playoffs in November. And be rewarded with home dates. Nice gig if you can get it.

Little wonder that Ambrosie says he’s “willing to have the conversation for sure.”

Wyman and others suggest the CFL scrap its antiquated West-East divisional arrangement. Lump all nine teams together, with the top six advancing to the Grey Cup tournament. Radical, yes. After all, geographic rivalry has been the heartbeat of the CFL since its inception, and getting some people to abandon tradition is like trying to pry Donald Trump’s thumbs off his Twitter account. You’ll need the jaws of life, baby.

I don’t think you have to sacrifice tradition, though. Just tweak the schedule. Reduce it to 16 games (18 is two too many) and either eliminate, or reduce by half, interlocking play. You know, just like in the good, ol’ days when West and East were separate entities. In other words, go back to the future.

Works for me. So, gentlemen, start your chins wagging.

I wondered when one of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers would play the Rodney Dangerfield no-respect card, and running back Andrew Harris delivered not long after he and his blue-and-gold clad pals had paddywhacked the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, 39-12, on Saturday at Timbits Field in Hamilton. “I always think someone is out there slouching us and not giving us any respect.” Here’s the deal, Andrew: Beat someone other than one of the lame and halting outfits from the east and more people will climb on board.

Chad Owens and CFL commish Randy Ambrosie

The CFL broke out its Diversity is Strength T-shirts last weekend, and it occurs to me that it’s more than just a fresh marketing slogan. Among other things, the CFL has included a female general manager, Jo-Anne Polak with the Ottawa Rough Riders; another female, Catherine Raiche, is an assistant GM with the Montreal Alouettes; the Larks once had an openly gay man, Michael Sam, in their lineup; Ambrosie’s predecessor in the commish’s office, Jeffrey Orridge, is African-American; and a black man, Bernie Custis, was playing quarterback for Hamilton as far back as 1951. That’s diversity.

Donnovan Bennett of Sportsnet writes this: “The MOP at the halfway point of the season is a kicker.” Say again? A punter/place kicker, Justin Medlock of the Bombers, is the most oustanding player in the CFL? Spare us the nonsense, Donnovan. Everyone knows that kickers aren’t football players (sorry Bob Cameron and Troy Westwood). Once upon a time kickers were, indeed, football players (hello Kid Dynamite James, Choo Choo Shepard, Spaghetti Legs Parker, Jack Abendschan, Don Jonas, etc.), but now they boot the football and go for a Slurpee. Your MOP right now is Mike Reilly.

Terrific read from Ed Tait on Winnipeg O-lineman Jermarcus (Yoshi) Hardrick, who look a long, hard road to the CFL. Tait’s piece is the type of feature you seldom read in either of River City’s two dailies, due largely to space and access restrictions, and it’s a reminder of what the Winnipeg Free Press sports pages lost when he defected to bluebombers.com. Anyone at the Drab Slab who thinks Tait is a hack (hello, Paul Wiecek) has totally lost the plot.

Let’s see now, umpire Joe West provides a harmless, fun anecdote about Adrian Beltre and he’s suspended for three days. So what will Major League Baseball do with Detroit Tigers second sacker Ian Kinsler? He dumped all over ump Angel Hernandez, telling the Detroit Free Press, “He needs to find another job, he really does. He’s messing with baseball games, blatantly. I’m just saying it’s pretty obvious that he has to stop ruining baseball games. Candidly, leave the game. No one wants you behind the plate anymore.” I’m guessing MLB will be making an ATM withdrawal from Kinsler’s account, at the least.

Nice to see Erik Gudbranson, Troy Stecher and Jake Virtanen of the Canucks get into the spirit at Vancouver’s Pride parade and hijinks. It takes some special kind of gonads for macho hockey players to put on a rainbow-colored skirt and lei.

Bravo to Phil Kessel. The Pittsburgh Penguins forward has posted a pic of himself and the Stanley Cup stuffed with BBQ’d hot dogs, in what was a direct shot at Postmedia columnist Steve Simmons, who’d written a blistering piece about Kessel after he’d been dealt away by the Toronto Maple Leafs two years ago. Among other things, Simmons called Kessel “poison” and he claimed that the winger pigged out daily at a certain downtown hot dog stand in the Republic of Tranna (proven to be false). So what did Simmons think of the Kessel burn? “One, I thought ‘Phil’s pretty funny. Good for Phil for making a joke about it.’” he said on TSN 1050’s Breakfast Club. “Two, ‘This is your day with the Cup. This is your day…you’ve worked this hard, you get this thing, you’re having a party, why be so small to reference something that really isn’t important in your life?’” Yo! Steve! “Small” is writing about a guy’s rumored eating habits and getting the rumored facts wrong. What Kessel did to you, meanwhile, is a classic burn. Try lightening up.

Which brings me to today’s list: Biggest hot dogs in sports…

1. Muhammad Ali: The former heavyweight boxing champion was many things, but he most definitely was a hot dog (in a fun way).
2. Reggie Jackson: Mr. October was also Mr. Swagger.
3. Terrell Owens: Popcorn anyone?
4. Deion Sanders: He once said, “They don’t pay nobody to be humble.” He’s living proof.
5. Johnny Manziel: There isn’t enough mustard in the world to cover this do-nothing hot dog.

Further evidence of the Torontofication of the Winnipeg Sun sports section: In Steve Simmons’ past two odds-and-ends, three-dot columns that appear weekly, he devoted 21 items to sports franchises or figures in the Republic of Tranna. That’s compared to zero (0) Winnipeg references. To repeat: Toronto 21, Winnipeg 0. So, again, I ask why is a Toronto-centric column appearing weekly in a River City sheet? Aren’t any of the local writers capable of stringing together a series of wide-ranging quotes, notes and anecdotes that include opinion snippets about Winnipeg’s sports scene? I mean, if I can do it from Victoria, surely someone with their feet on the ground in good Ol’ Hometown can do it.

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.

Goal or coal: Sports Santa has stocking stuffers for jocks and Jills

Okay, Sports Santa, time to do your thing. You know the drill. Make your list, check it twice, tell us who’s been nice, naughty and flat-out nasty this year.

What will it be, goodies or a lump of coal or two in those Christmas stockings?

naughty santaCOAL: Kyle Walters, because he lied. The man who generally mismanages the Winnipeg Blue Bombers insisted that the signing of University of Manitoba Bisons grad Jordan Yantz to a tryout contract was not—repeat, NOT— a publicity stunt.

“He’s a legitimate quarterback prospect,” Walters told news scavengers. “Jordan is going to come in and compete for a spot on our roster at quarterback. We feel he has shown all the tools needed to play this position at the professional level, and we look forward to watching him compete in camp. This isn’t a charity case.”

Liar, liar. His pants were a three-alarm fire.

Yantz had about as much chance of earning employment with the Canadian Football League club as Walters has of being appointed GM of the Dallas Cowboys. He was given less than a handful of reps at practice and, although dressing for one preseason exercise, head coach Mike O’Shea refused to send him into the fray to take a snap.

COAL: That’ll be three lumps of the black stuff for O’Shea. Actually, make it an entire coal bin. First for gagging his assistant coaches, who are not allowed to speak to news scavengers; second for refusing to deliver an honest evaluation of his players and/or their performance without first having an opportunity to “watch the film;” and third for his role in the Jordan Yantz sham.

Jennifer Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer and Dawn McEwen.
Jennifer Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer and Dawn McEwen.

GOAL: Jennifer Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer and Dawn McEwen, champions of all the land’s lady curlers. The Buffalo Girls won the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, no small feat, and how they were overlooked as a team-of-the-year finalist in balloting by the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association is a mystery. Apparently, their continued success in Canadian and Olympic curling has become ho-hum. Shame, that.

GOAL: The Montreal Alouettes, for having the junk to sign Michael Sam, who became the first openly gay man to perform in the CFL.

COAL: Michael Sam. What a wasted opportunity. Rather than make a strong statement for LGBT athletes, he bugged out on the Alouettes not once, but twice. He played one game at rush end, recorded zero sacks and zero tackles, was made to look the fool on one play, then skipped town and, once back in the U.S., he prattled on about the CFL being beneath his talent level.

COAL: Steve Simmons, scant days after the debut of Sam, an openly gay man playing for the Alouettes, the Toronto Sun scribe, whose work oft appears in the Winnipeg Sun, wrote: “In reality, pro football still awaits its first openly gay player.” Apparently, Little Stevie Blunder is much like that tree falling in the forest…it doesn’t happen unless he’s there to see and hear it.

GOAL: Kevin Cheveldayoff, the Winnipeg Jets general manager who proved he actually has a pulse by arranging for Evander Kane’s ticket out of River City. Unloading the underachieving, injury-prone problem child was a master stroke, especially given that Kane was done for the season. We don’t see a whole lot of big trades in the National Hockey League, and many of us didn’t think Chevy had it in him. We were wrong. Unfortunately, he went back into hibernation and hasn’t been seen nor heard from since. Sort of like that tree falling in the forest.

COAL: Cheveldayoff for allowing the very useful Michael Frolik to skate off to Calgary. For zip. Nada. If he does the same with Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien, say goodnight, Chevy.

COAL: To every professional athlete who hit a woman this year.

Chris Thorburn
Chris Thorburn

GOAL: Chris Thorburn, the much-maligned man who continues to do everything asked of him by the Jets and is now the franchise leader in games played. Too often he is a fourth-liner dressed up as a third-line forward (with gusts up to the first line when head coach Paul Maurice loses his mind) and his very existence on the roster speaks to a disturbing lack of depth, but I admire his stick-to-itness.

GOAL: Bryan Little of the Jets for his understated excellence. No, he wouldn’t be the No. 1 centre on every NHL outfit, but he can play on my team anytime.

COAL: Gary (La La) Lawless, late of the Winnipeg Free Press and now a talking head with TSN. Give him the entire coal bin. While still the loudest voice at the Freep, he sucked up to Blue Bombers management by repeatedly telling readers that it takes more than 1 1/2 or two years to rebuild a broken-down CFL franchise. Hello? Can you say Edmonton Eskimos and Ottawa RedBlacks, Gary? La La also asked the dumbest question of the year, when he wondered aloud if Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea was going to “give up,” even though his club was a mere two points removed from a playoff spot with six games yet to be played.

GOAL: Jonathan Toews, a Winnipeg product and class act who captained the Chicago Blackhawks to another Stanley Cup championship.

COAL: Wade Miller, CEO of the Blue Bombers. Because he’s Wade Miller, CEO of the Blue Bombers.

GOAL: Mo Glimcher, grand poobah of the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association. Mo, one of the truly good guys, will be sacking his bats after 40 years with the MHSAA, giving giving the executive director plenty of spare time to attend Bandy tournaments across the globe.

GOAL: Dan Halldorson passed away in November and the Brandon/Shilo golfer was remembered for his vital role in keeping the pro tour in Canada alive and well.

GOAL: Take a bow Joe Pascucci of Global and Knuckles Irving of CJOB. Joe was inducted into the media wing of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, while Knuckles was awarded the CFL’s Hugh Campbell Distinguished Leadership Award.

Big Buff is no fan of three-on-three shinny.
Big Buff is no fan of three-on-three shinny.

COAL: Dustin Byfuglien dissed the NHL’s 3-on-3 overtime format, saying, “It ain’t hockey. It’s stupid.” Yo! Buff! If you weren’t huffing and puffing so badly after three periods, you’d probably enjoy a little pond hockey.

COAL: The Reporters with Dave Hodge on TSN moved from Sunday mornings to Monday afternoon. I can do Sunday mornings, but I don’t do Monday afternoons. Move it back.

GOAL: Old friend Teemu Selanne had his Disney Ducks jersey No. 8 raised to the rafters at the Honda Center in Anaheim early in the year and, during a lengthy speech, the Finnish Flash actually thanked the small people—the cleaning lady and the Zamboni driver. Class act to the end.

COAL: Paul Maurice, head coach of the Jets. See Peluso, Anthony. That’s why.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.

So, who gets the sports columnist gig at the Winnipeg Free Press?

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

Okay, who’s next at the Freep? Paul Wiecek? Ed Tait? Paul Friesen? Some new kid on the block? Some recycled old coot on the block?

If it were up to me, I’d anoint Wiecek to replace the departing Gary Lawless as sports columnist at the Winnipeg Free Press. He’s got the stones for the job. He’s cheeky, irreverent, a top-drawer scribe and not afraid to get in your face. Question is: Is he content where he is, covering curling, horse racing and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers?

Ed Tait
Ed Tait

The Freep wouldn’t go wrong with Tait. I’m a huge fan. Terrific reporter, solid writer. I’m not convinced he has the right temperment for that full-time gig, though. Eddie is such a nice guy. He’s Mike Riley and Brian Dobie nice. A columnist has to have a bit of bad-ass in him, and that ain’t my boy Eddie. But he’d still do a boffo job.

Poaching Paul Friesen from the Winnipeg Sun would be an interesting gambit. He’s got some bad-ass. Trouble is, given that the Freep is in bed with the Winnipeg Jets, it wouldn’t be a good fit. Paul is no True North toady.

Another option would be to bring in a fresh face. Seems to me the Freep—and the Sun, for that matter—could use some new blood. It’s been too much same old, same old for too long.

Whomever, I just hope the newbe spends more time writing than talking on TV/radio.

As much as I used him as a whipping boy, I hope the TSN gig works out for Gary Lawless. He joins a long list of newspaper jock sniffers—Dave Naylor, Stephen Brunt, Damien Cox, Jeff Blair, etc.—who’ve gone over the wall to the other side, and it brings to mind something that longtime jock columnist Tony Kornheiser once wrote about sports scribes appearing on TV: “There’s a reason print journalists work in print. It’s because they look like bridge trolls. They have bags under their eyes the size of hero sandwiches. They wear lounge-lizard suits and shiny ties spotted with marinara stains. They have $8 haircuts and foam flecks form at the corners of their mouths as they stare creepily into the camera. Their pallor suggests they’ve just climbed out of a sarcophagus. And these are the women! The men are unspeakable.”

That’s big of the Canadian Football League to admit one of its skunk shirts screwed up royally on Friday night, perhaps costing the Winnipeg Blue Bombers a victory over the Calgary Stampeders. In offering a mea culpa, the league assures us that the official in question will be “disciplined in accordance with the gravity of the situation.” Given that the guy’s basically a volunteer, that likely means he’ll be sent to his room without dinner.

Pete Rose
Pete Rose

I see where the disgraced Pete Rose got together with Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred for a chin-wag last week. Rose, the all-time hits leader, met with the commish to plead his case for the lifting of his lifetime ban for gambling while skipper of the Cincinnati Reds. Apparently, Manfred will make a decision before the year’s out. Good grief, why does it take four months to say no?

I enjoy watching the Toronto Blue Jays. Exciting team. High likeability quotient. But if I don’t root, root, root for the home team once the Major League Baseball post-season commences, that doesn’t make me unCanadian. I’m a St. Louis Cardinals fan. If my Redbirds were to meet the Toronto Nine in the World Series, color me Cardinals red.

Anyone looking for proof that Michael Sam is all messed up between the ears? Give a listen to his recent gum-flap with host Dan Patrick on the aptly named Dan Patrick Show. Among other things, the first openly gay man to play professional football tells Patrick that he “never really wanted to go to the CFL” and that those inconsiderate Montreal Alouettes had the bad manners to employ a defensive system unlike anything he’d seen. The Als didn’t do it the St. Louis Rams way, don’t you know. Or the Dallas Cowboys way. Yo, Mikey! That might have something to do with the fact there are 12 men on the field, not 11. Whatever, rather than learn and adapt, Sam quit the Als. Not once, but twice. And now he’s delusional enough to believe an NFL outfit will make room for him on its roster next year. Ya, and I’ll be the Dallas Cowboys head cheerleader. Time to go, Mikey. Your 15 minutes have expired.

Michael Sam
Michael Sam

Actually, I’m not sure which is stronger evidence that Michael Sam is living in a fantasy world, the fact he’s convinced he can still play in the National Football League or his stated goal of getting into broadcasting. A times during his tete-a-tete with Dan Patrick, I wasn’t convinced that English is his first language.

Have they already presented the Calder Trophy to Connor McDavid, or will they actually make him play some games before handing him the silverware as top freshman in the National Hockey League? I can’t recall the hype being this frenzied for Sidney Crosby, perhaps because Sid the Kid went to Pittsburgh whereas McDavid is in hockey’s heartland, Canada.

I’m old enough to remember Yogi Berra, the Hall of Fame baseball player who died last week. Yogi, of course, is known as much, if not more, for what he said as for what he did on the ball field with the New York Yankees. Among the many classic Yogi quotes, my favorite is this gem: “Home openers are always exciting, whether they’re at home or on the road.”

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.

To the Canadian sports writer who thinks Michael Sam is “faking it,” come out, come out whoever you are!

I have known, and I know, a lot of sports writers.

Some of them have galloping egos and, in general terms, their skin is thinner than the margin for error in a Gallup poll. But that’s really the worst I can say about them. In the grand scheme of things, they’re good people. Fun people. Good-time Charlies and Charlenes with quick wits and wry, also self-deprecating, senses of humor that sometimes serve to camouflage the stresses borne of the high demands of their craft.

That’s why it pains me to discover that one among them has completely lost the plot vis-a-vis Michael Sam, the first openly gay man to participate in a Canadian Football League match.

According to a weekend tweet from Patrick Burke, co-founder of the You Can Play Project that advocates inclusiveness in sports, he received an email from one of the “prominent” flowers of sports journalism in the True North suggesting Sam’s stated claim of walking out on the Montreal Alouettes due to mental health issues is a bogus bit of business.

“Media coverage of Michael Sam shows just how far society havs (sic) to go not only on LGBT issues but on mental health issues,” Burke tweeted.

“Received one email from a prominent Canadian sports reporter who accused Mike of faking it. Despicable. Pathetic. Revolting.”

Amen to that, brother.

And let’s add arrogant, ignorant, callous, contemptible and extremely mean-spirited to the roll call. It doesn’t even come close to passing the smell test of acceptability.

Unless the reporter in question is gay, he (I assume it’s a he since there are so few prominent sports scribes on the distaff side of press row) cannot even begin to know what manner of monsters prey on Sam’s mind. And if he is gay, he’s closeted, because I know of zero openly homosexual men writing sports in Canada.

To the best of my knowledge, there are no lesbians in significant roles at any of the major daily sports sheets in the country, either. Mainstream jock journalism, as I have written on more than one occasion, is white, straight and largely male. An old boys’ club, if you will.

I’m not certain of the blogosphere. I might be it. I know I’m the sole transgender girl scribbling sports in the Great White North and it’s possible that I’m flying solo as a lesbian, as well.

That, however, doesn’t unlock the door to Sam’s mind for me. Do I have an idea what he’s gone through and what he’s going through? You bet. I’ve been there and done that, not on as grand a scale as the now-departed Alouettes rush end, but for the longest time I was bleeding badly.

People have often asked me why I walked away from mainstream sports media after 30 years, at just 48 years of age. Simple. Same as Sam—mental health issues that I wasn’t prepared to share with anyone, not even my closest friends.

There were reasons why I seldom ran with the pack during road trips. The boys and (very few) girls would gather and have a howling good time at one watering hole or another (usually more than one, actually), but I really couldn’t handle the egos. I didn’t want to listen to more of their self-indulgent war stories and conquests, as humorous as many of them were. I didn’t feel as if I was part of the tribe. I was different. Thus, I would seek a quiet blues or jazz joint and deal with my demons in solitude.

It was such a lonely, confining place to be. At one point toward the end of my career, I experienced a massive meltdown in the Winnipeg Sun newsroom and departed in a flood of tears. I wasn’t seen, nor scarcely heard from, for three weeks. When I returned, I knew it was over. It was when, not if, I made my escape from the business.

And not a single person had a clue that I was crippled by gender identity conflict. Nobody.

So shame on the writer who says Michael Sam is faking it. He doesn’t know squat. He should out himself, but I doubt he has that kind of courage.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.

When is a gay football player not a gay football player? When Steve Simmons says so

This just in: Michael Sam isn’t gay. He never happened.

No, really. That guy who played rush end for the Montreal Alouettes on Aug. 7? The guy with the name Sam stitched on the back of his No. 94 jersey? Not gay. Not real.

As much as we believed we were eye witnesses to an historic moment that hot August night in Ottawa, there’s never been an openly gay performer in the Canadian Football League. We know this because Little Stevie Blunder says so.

“In reality,” Steve Simmons scribbles in his weekly serving of three-dot alphabet soup for the Toronto Sun and its sister sheets in Sun Media, “pro football still awaits its first openly gay player.”

I see. We are to ignore the reality that Sam actually joined the fray for 12 plays against the homestanding RedBlacks this month. Expunge it from the official record, kids. According to the Steve-O-Meter, apparently it takes more than one game and one dozen snaps of a football to qualify you as a gay man playing professional football.

As for the reality that Sam was a seventh-round draft pick of the St. Louis Rams and participated in preseason play? Not gay, didn’t happen. And the reality that he was on the Dallas Cowboys practice roster? Not gay, didn’t happen. And the reality that an ESPN reporter, Josina Anderson, filed a live report about Sam’s showering habits while with the Rams? Not gay, didn’t happen. And the reality that he was engaged to be married to another man? Not gay, didn’t happen.

But wait.

In one sentence, Little Stevie tells us that “pro football still awaits its first openly gay player,” but in another he tells us “Michael Sam was openly gay.”

Now I’m confused.

How can a man be openly gay at home, at church, at the market, at the theatre, on Dancing With The Stars, in the locker room…but not when he’s in full (albeit futile) frolic on a football field?

I think this is what Little Stevie is actually trying to tell us in his awkward way: Your gayness only counts if you’re a good football player. If you show some staying power. If, on the other hand, you are some shmuck who plays a mere 12 downs and records zero quarterback sacks and zero tackles, your gayness scores a big, fat zero on the Steve-O-Meter. You don’t exist and neither does your gayness.

What a wheeze bag.

In reality, Michael Sam is the first, and only, openly gay man to compete in a CFL game. That’s how he shall be remembered, even if only as a footnote, although Little Stevie Blunder is having none of that, either.

Asked by Bryan Hayes on TSN’s The Reporters on Sunday morning how people will reflect upon the Sam saga now that he has walked out on the Alouettes, thus likely signaling the end to his football journey, Little Stevie had this to say:

“I don’t think it will be remembered.”

I think it might be wise of Simmons if he were to steer his scribblings and comments clear of social issues.

I mean, this is a man who staked claim to the moral high ground when he pooh-poohed Roger Goodell for the NFL commish’s horrid handling of the Ray Rice domestic violence case, yet his credibility in that area took a serious drubbing when he posted a happy birthday tweet to Floyd Mayweather, a convicted and serial hitter of women. Simmons repeatedly has referred to John Farrell as “Benedict” Farrell because the Red Sox skipper bolted the Toronto Blue Jays for Boston. Yet, in the 1980s, Little Stevie signed on with the Calgary Herald while still drawing pay from the Calgary Sun. Pot, meet kettle.

Now he’s reduced the arrival of Michael Sam, the first openly gay man to play professional football, to nothingness.

Stick to what you know best, Little Stevie—stalking Phil Kessel and his hot dog stands.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.