By now you’ve likely had it up to your eyeliner or chin whiskers with New Year’s predictions, but Nostradumbass has yet to weigh in on what shall transpire in the next 12 months. Here’s what the Nostradumbass Prophesies say about athletes and teams from Good Ol’ Hometown…
It’s a double whammy for Manitoba’s elite Pebble People, with the Kerri Einarson and Matt Dunstone rinks winning the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and the Brier.
“It’s about bloody time,” says Dunstone. “I know winning’s old hat for Kerri and the gals from Gimli. That’s their fourth Scotties title in a row. Damn well done, ladies. But it’s fresh territory for us Buffalo Boys. Let’s face it, Manitoba men have sucked at curling this entire century, except for 2011 when Jeff Stoughton won the Brier. One Brier win in all that time? Total BS. So I’m happy that we could end the drought. Does it make me want to move back to Manitoba permanently? Naw. My home’s in Kamloops. You can’t beat the B.C interior for beauty, especially in and around The Okanagan. We also get better WiFi there.”
Meanwhile, Dunstone accepts a challenge from Einarson, and the two championship teams meet in a mid-summer one-off. It’s a rout: Gimli Gals 9, Buffalo Boys 3.
“I feel a bit sorry for them,” Einarson admits. “I mean, all four of us girls are preggers, so maybe they were distracted by our baby bumps. It’s not like guys know what to do when a woman’s pregnancy hormones are raging, so between all the bathroom breaks, the food cravings and the totally bonkers mood swings, they didn’t know if they were in a curling game or a Hitchcock thriller.
“I’m sure when Val (Sweeting) ordered that bucket of KFC and got in a scrap with Briane (Harris) over the last drumstick during the fifth-end break, it threw them off their game. I’m guessing you lose something from your draw weight after watching two hormonal-crazed women go all Animal House and throw coleslaw at each other.”
Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and the 3rd Baron Thomson of Fleet, disheartened by a fairweather fan base and empty seats in the Little Hockey House On The Prairie, sell the Winnipeg Jets—lock, stock and Ducky Hawerchuk statue—to rock ‘n’ roll fossils Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman.
The first order of business for Cummings and Bachman is to rebrand the National Hockey League club.
“We’re now the Winnipeg Canned Wheat,” Cummings announces at a press conference that includes the 3rd Baron and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. “It’s a salute to the Guess Who’s fifth studio album.
“We always thought Jets was a dumb name. What do airplanes have to do with Winnipeg? There isn’t even an airport here. If Winnipeg’s known for anything other than winter and Slurpees, it’s the rock ‘n’ roll scene in the 1960s and ’70s. We had great bands…the Squires, the Deverons, the Crescendos, the Quid, the Orfans, the Shondels, the Pallbearers, the Syndicate, the Eternals, Chad Allan and the Expressions, The Gentlemen Royal, the Dawgs, the House Grannies, the Feminine Touch, the Fifth, Finders Keepers, the Jury. That’s what I’m talking about. And, of course, there was me, Randy, Jimmy Kale and Garry Peterson in the Guess Who. Some of the Guess Who’s best stuff is on our Canned Wheat album—Laughing, Undun, No Time. Those songs are classics, like me and Randy. I was brilliant on them, and Randy was pretty good, too.”
Asked about fan support, Cummings harrumphs and says: “Not to worry. We’ve still got a long wait list for season tickets, but let’s just say if support goes soft the whole thing will come Undun (see what I did there?). We’ll move the team to Moose Jaw, and Mr. Bettman will support us 100 per cent.”
“They can squeeze 4,700 into the Moose Jaw rink,” the NHL commish says with a nod. “And, hey, if that number works for the Coyotes in an Arizona desert, it can work for the Canned Wheat on the bald prairies. Besides, Moose Jaw has better WiFi than Winnipeg.”
Local legal beagle David Asper, following the lead of Cummings and Bachman, bows to pressure and renames his Canadian Elite Basketball League franchise.
“Ever since I announced we had the team, all I’ve heard is ‘Sea Bears is stupid, Sea Bears is stupid.’ It’s been non-stop,” Asper says to a smattering of news snoops who had nothing better to do that day. “I haven’t had this many people PO’d at me since the 2005 Banjo Bowl, when I stormed into the Blue Bombers locker room after a loss and told the head coach he didn’t know a quarterback from a Q-tip. Now that was stupid. But I didn’t think naming a summertime hoops team after an Arctic predator was stupid. What was I supposed to call it? The Winnipeg Skeeters? The Winnipeg Potholes?
“Anyway, I heard from a lot of people and I listened, which I don’t normally do. I usually just listen to the sound of my own voice. But I eventually came around to the notion that Sea Bears was kind of dopey. So, as of today, we are the Winnipeg Riverboat. I remember riding the Paddlewheel Queen and the Paddlewheel Princess on the Red River when I was a kid. Good times. Just like a night watching my basketball team.”
A numbers crunch hits the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, and CEO Wade Miller is forced to break up the Canadian Mafia by parting company with general manager Kyle Walters and replacing him with former news snoops Bob Irving and Ed Tait.
“Toughest decision I’ve had to make,” says Miller. “Kyle, coach Mike O’Shea and I are fast friends and we did great things together, winning two Grey Cups and playing in a third. But there’s an operations cap in the Canadian Football League, and we were banging our head on the ceiling. Kyle is the odd man out, and we wish him well when he replaces Pinball Clemons with the Argonauts.
“Some of you probably think I’m off my rocker, hiring two former media guys as co-GMs. Fine, but let me remind you that you thought I was a bit loopy when I hired Mike O’Shea to coach the team. How’s that worked out?
“Knuckles and Eddie have been part of the CFL for about as long as the rouge, and they’re what you call cheap dates…Knuckles is working pro bono, and Eddie’s already on staff for chump change. Hey, what can I say? It’s Winnipeg. We do things wholesale or on the real, real cheap. I would have hired Sarah Orlesky, too, because a pro sports franchise can never have enough burned-out news snoops on staff. But the Jets beat us to Sarah and she probably wouldn’t have worked for food stamps.”
Both Irving and Tait are unavailable for comment due to a previous commitment: Fixing the WiFi in Miller’s office.
The pride of Stony Mountain, Aaron Cockerill, takes the money and runs to the LIV Golf Series.
“All I have to do is show up with a bag of golf clubs and a caddy and play three rounds of stress-free golf. I don’t have to worry about making cuts and I’ll have more cashola than any player on the Jets roster,” Cockerill says. “I’m not going to say how much coin Greg Norman and the Saudis are giving me, but I can buy all of Stony Mountain and the rest of Rockwood if I want.”
“We think Aaron is a real up-and-comer, a rising star,” says Norman. “He’s ranked 346th in the world, so he’s no Rory or Scottie Scheffler, but he’s the kind of player we want in LIV Golf. He’s young, talented and eager. And don’t talk to me about blood money. His hands will be clean when he cashes his cheques. We’ve all got clean hands at LIV Golf. If anybody’s got dirty hands, it’s Rory and those dirty, rotten scoundrels who run the corrupt PGA Tour. They wouldn’t have a pot to pee in if it wasn’t for old golfers like me! If I sound bitter, it’s because I am bitter. I just don’t know why I’m so bitter.”
The Vancouver Canucks shed themselves of good guy Bruce Boudreau and introduce Barry Trotz as head coach.
“I know I said I wanted to coach an Original Six team,” says Trotz, “but I’m happy to be with an Original 14 team. Especially one in such a beautiful locale. I’m just a prairie boy, but I’ve been around some. I mean, I’ve seen the inside of the White House and the Grand Ole Opry, so you need to take the long way around the barn to impress me. And that’s what Vancouver does…it impresses me. Looking out my window and seeing mountain and ocean views every morning is a long hike from Dauphin, let me tell you.”
Asked to comment on the roster he’s inherited, Trotz says: “As Shania Twain sang, that don’t impress me much.”
There’s a huge shakeup on the local media landscape, with (a) the suits at Postmedia in the Republic of Tranna shutting down the Winnipeg Sun without notice, (b) the resurrection of the Winnipeg Tribune, and (c) the Winnipeg Free Press converting to a tabloid format.
The unexpected chain of events begins when the geniuses at Postmedia stop the presses at the Sun.
“What the hell, we haven’t shut down a newspaper or laid off hundreds of workers for at least six months, so we were overdue for some blood-letting,” says a company spokesperson. “And, let’s face it, the Winnipeg Sun had become the Toronto Sun, especially in the sports section. Think of it this way: We didn’t kill a newspaper, we saved a few forests.”
Out-of-work Sun employees aren’t out of work for long, thanks to a group of local business leaders fronted by Gail Asper, who’s named publisher of the new, employee-owned Winnipeg Tribune.
“My dad, Izzy, loved the old Trib,” she says. “He loved everything about it. Our plan is to bring it back to its original glory, and that might even include hiring some of the people who were on staff when the paper folded in 1980. I’m just not sure how many of them are still alive. But our new sports editor, Paul Friesen, has been tasked with tracking them down, and he’s been told to offer them their old jobs back.”
Friesen discovers a handful of ex-Tribbers scattered hither and yon in old-folks homes across the Frozen Tundra, but has no luck luring them back to Good Ol’ Hometown.
“Every time I thought I had one of them convinced to come back, my WiFi went on the fritz and I never heard from them again,” he explains. “Damn Winnipeg WiFi. No wonder the Jets can’t sign any decent free agents.”
Meantime, freshly minted publisher at the Winnipeg Free Press, David Asper, announces the switch from broadsheet to tabloid format, and it includes a daily Sunshine Girl.
“I know what you’re going to ask me. You’re going to ask why a tabloid after 150 years as a broadsheet,” Asper says at the launch of his newest toy. “Well, I like the size and feel of a tabloid. It isn’t as unwieldy as a broadsheet, especially when you’re reading the paper on a bus or at a snack bar. Nobody needs some stranger’s newspaper flapping in their face when they’re trying to eat a corned beef sandwich at Oscar’s.
“As for the Sunshine Girl, I plead innocence. That wasn’t my call. And don’t think my little sister Gail hasn’t filled me in on what a cad I am. She gave me an earful. In both ears. I realize a Sunshine Girl isn’t in step with the social climes of the 21st century, but it went to a vote of the Board and I don’t have a veto. We’re going to make it up to all the girls and women who read our sports section. I’ve directed sports editor Jason Bell to start covering female sports on a daily basis, and suggested in strong terms that he think about hiring a woman the next time there’s an opening in his toy department. That would be a refreshing change, wouldn’t it?”
The Freep asks Hockey Night In Canada commentator and Olympic champion Jennifer Botterill to appear as its first Sunshine Girl, and it’s a non-starter.
“Oh, yuck,” she says. “I have enough trouble dealing with the frat boys on Hockey Night without them having something like that to throw in my face every Saturday. Can you imagine what Kevin Bieksa would say? That guy creeps me out at the best of times.”
You might think of today as Christmas Eve, kids, but it’s also Christivus, a day-before-Christmas and a day-after-Festivus celebration of all that is good in the playground and, just as important, a time for the airing of grievances. Some athletes/sports figures discover lovely gifts under the Christivus treepole, while others find a big, ol’ lump o’ coal with their name on it…
GIFT: There’s just no beating the Gimli Girls at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts. Kerri Einarson, Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard and Briane Harris are three-peat belles of the ball, and you wouldn’t want to bet against them when they Go For Four two months hence at the national women’s curling championship in Kamloops. Only the Colleen Jones quartet from Nova Scotia has managed to put up a four-spot at the Scotties (2001-2004), so Kerri and her gal pals could be breathing rarified air in beautiful B.C. And, by the way, last time I checked, the Gimli Girls were ranked No. 1 among all the world’s female Pebble People, and I’d say that sounds about right.
GIFT: Juggernaut. That’s the word to describe Manitoba’s female curlers. You’ve got Einarson and her gal pals from Gimli, plus the Jennifer Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Abby Ackland and Cheleas Carey rinks ranked in the world top 22. All together now: Buffalo Girls rock!
GIFT: Let’s have a show of hands. Who among us believed that Mike O’Shea would one day become the winningest head coach in the lengthy and lore-filled history of the Winnipeg Football Club? Not me. Not you, either. I mean, Coach Grunge was greener than St. Paddy’s Day when they handed him the headset in 2014, and I doubt even Blue Bombers CEO Wade Miller and GM Kyle Walters figured they had an all-timer on their hands. It was as unlikely as prayer service in the Rum Hut. But now that O’Shea is locked in as sideline steward of the Bombers for another three Canadian Football League seasons, it’s a question of when, not if, he reaches the most hallowed of gridiron ground in Good Ol’ Hometown. Bud Grant, a legend in a trench coat, collected 102 regular-season Ws in his 10 crusades of mostly pushing the right buttons. O’Shea, a legend in the making in short pants, faded t-shirt/hoodie and ratty, ol’ ball cap, has 82 notches on his belt. Do the math. Sometime in the autumn of 2024, Coach Grunge should pull astride the Silver Fox, if not pass him. Who had that on their radar? Nobody.
GIFT: Zach Collaros became a two-timer, collecting the Most Outstanding Player Award in Rouge Football for the second successive season and, no, we aren’t going to talk about his dodgy performance in the Bombers 24-23 loss to the Toronto Argos in the grass-grabber for the Grey Grail in late November.
LUMP O’COAL: We will, however, discuss Marc Liegghio’s right leg. Two missed converts in the West Division final, one missed convert and a botched field goal attempt in the Grey Cup game doesn’t cut it. He has the worst limb since Long John Silver and everyone from Buzz and Boomer to Dancing Gabe knew all about it, but it somehow escaped the notice of Bombers brass and it cost them dearly. We can talk all we like about other foulups (there were plenty) in the bid for a Grey Grail three-peat, but a kicker has one job to do and Liegghio failed miserably.
LUMP O’COAL: Yo! David Asper! I think maybe you’ve been spending too much time at the Journey to Churchill exhibit at Assiniboine Park Zoo. Either that or you’ve been having nightmares about polar bears lumbering through the pot-holed streets of Good Ol’ Hometown. I mean, the Winnipeg Sea Bears? And a polar bear logo? Seriously? That’s the best you could come up with for your newbie, summertime Canadian Elite Basketball League outfit? C’mon, man. Winnipeg is a seaside locale like a box of Crackerjack is fine dining, and there hasn’t been anything resembling a polar bear near Portage and Main since Chris Walby retired.
AN ENTIRE COAL MINE: Oh, woe is Hockey Canada, guardian of our national pastime and keeper of secrets, slush funds and trafficker of lies. We discovered that HC had stacks and stacks of coin to quietly pay off victims of sexual assault, and some board members summoned to Parliament Hill to explain themselves looked like so many Pinocchios after a big, fat fib. This was the biggest and, by far, the most disturbing sports story on Our Mostly Frozen Tundra in 2022. It rocked HC to the core.
AN ENTIRE COAL MINE: As Hockey Canada roiled in the guck and muck of egregious wrong-doing and a sex-assault scandal, since-defrocked CEO Scott Smith had the dreadful manners to surface in Denmark and strut on-ice to dispense gold medals to our Canadian women at the world championship. It was like the graduating class at a police academy receiving their badges from Tony Soprano. Smith’s appearance was callous, tacky and a rented-bowling-shoes level of odious.
GIFT: Rick Westhead of TSN was at the forefront of reporting on L’Affaire Hockey Canada and all other manner of misdeeds in the playground.
GIFT: Our national women’s team provided a ray of light in the Hockey Canada darkness, striking gold at the Winter Olympic Games and the world tournament. Brianne Jenner was our leading goal-scorer and MVP in Beijing, and Sarah Nurse set an Olympic record for most points, 18. Meantime, Jenner scored both goals in a 2-1 victory over the U.S. in the gold-medal match in Denmark, while Sarah Fillier was our leading scorer and a world tournament all-star.
LUMP O’ COAL: Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star decided that Beijing 2022 was an appropriate time to piddle on Ponytail Puck at the Olympics. “I’ll get crucified for saying so, but women’s hockey doesn’t belong in the Games,” Rosie informed her readers. “It’s a cheap medal, in no way comparable to the paramountcy that some nations historically enjoy in a specific sport—like the Norwegians and cross-country skiing or Jamaicans and sprinting. There is at least some semblance of competition—gobs of it actually—with scads of elite athletes to make a challenge.” She added: “It will doubtless come down, as ever before, to a U.S.-Canada final on Feb. 17, with the Canadians looking for revenge after their loss to the Americans in Pyeongchang. Honestly, I’m getting sick of this mythologized rivalry and everybody else an also-ran. It ain’t sportin’.” Whatever you say, Rosie. But, honestly, I’m getting sick of mainstream media pooh-poohing or ignoring females in the playground.
GIFT: Two of my favorite Dons—Baizley and Duguid—received overdue hosannas this year. Baiz, a lawyer and player agent to many of hockey’s glitterati, was inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame, while Dugie, a world curling champion and pioneer among Pebble People, became an official member of the Order of Canada. I just wish Baiz was still around to enjoy the honor, even if he was never comfortable with people fawning over him.
GIFT: There’s been a Rouge Football revival on the Wet Coast of the land thanks to B.C. Leos bankroll Amar Doman and his foot soldiers. The Leos attracted an average audience of 20,387 to B.C. Place Stadium during the past CFL season, which is a hefty bump of 7,879 customers from a year ago, and they had a league-high gathering of 34,082 for their home opener. (Does it matter now that half the audience was there for a OneRepublic concert?)
LUMP O’ COAL: They have a Grey Cup champion football team, yet the rabble in the Republic of Tranna avoid the Argos the way a letter carrier dodges a mutt baring fangs. The average head count at BMO Field was 11,875 with a low of 9,806, and it’s apparent that only a halftime show featuring Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner streaking au naturel will bring The ROT rabble out to Argos games.
LUMP O’ COAL: Good grief. Another year and still zero female news snoops in the media wing of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. By my count, the CFHF media wing has a roll call of 103 members, 100 per cent of them male, 99.9 per cent of them white, 0 per cent of them female or gay. News snoops are quick to call out sports organizations for a lack of diversity, but apparently the same rules don’t apply to their own houses. The Football Reporters of Canada need to recognize that any female news snoop who survived close encounters with Cal Murphy in the 1980s and ’90s belongs in the Hall of Fame.
LUMP O’ COAL: The staggering proliferation of betting banter on sports TV news/highlight programming is a distressing bit of business.
GIFT: There’s been considerable gum-flapping about a play-for-pay women’s futbol league on Our Mostly Frozen Tundra three years hence, and the people doing the yakkety-yakking seem to have a clue. Diana Matheson and her business partner, Thomas Gilbert, have yet to put all their ducks in a row, but they’ve got two franchises in place (Vancouver and Calgary), they’ve brought Christine Sinclair on board (it’s never a bad idea to link arms with the all-time international goal-scoring leader), and they’re playing with CIBC and Air Canada money. By the time they kick off in 2025, the League To Be Named Later will feature eight teams across the land (four west, four east), and players can expect salaries ranging from $35,000-$75,000. My question: Is there anyone in Good Ol’ Hometown anxious to pony up with a $1 million up-front fee and $8-$10 million in operating costs for women’s soccer?
LUMP O’ COAL: TSN natterbug Kara Wagland described the creation of a women’s pro futbol circuit in Canada as a “monumental development.” Ya, it’s so “monumental” that TSN slotted it as the final item on its hour-long, overnight SportsCentre news/highlights package. Cripes, man, Joey Chestnut eating perogies got more prominent play that night, and I think we can all agree that the sight of Chestnut stuffing food into his gob is right up there on the cringe-o-metre with Glen Suitor swooning over Keith Urban on TSN’s broadcast of the 2019 Grey Cup game. Beasts with cloven hooves have better table manners than Chestnut. Yet TSN determined that his stomach-turning pigout was more newsworthy than the “monumental” women’s fitba story. Sigh.
GIFT: Sue Bird retired after 19 seasons and four WNBA championships with Seattle Storm, also five hoops gold medals at the Olympic Games…Brooke Henderson won two LPGA tournaments, including a major…Hoopster Brittney Griner found her way home to the U.S. after spending too much time in a Russian gulag…Felix Auger-Aliassime won four events on the ATP Tour and anchored Canada’s successful run at the Davis Cup…Iga Swiatek won 37 tennis matches in a row from February to July and two Grand Slam titles, the French Open and U.S. Open. Overall, she was 67-9 with eight titles…Roger Federer retired and the tennis maestro went out the same way he came in—with class…Aaron Judge swatted 62 dingers, more than any non-steroid-era player in Major League Baseball history…Nathan Rourke dazzled Rouge Football audiences until a foot owie laid him low nine games into the B.C. Lions crusade…Phil Kessel became the NHL’s iron man with a Pilsbury Dough Boy body. Go figure…Ironically, the first World Series since 1950 with zero U.S.-born Black players on either roster was won by a U.S.-born Black man, manager Dusty Baker of the Houston Astros.
GIFT: The Premier Hockey Federation remains the sole women’s shinny league in North America that actually is a league and—get this—it pays its players in salary, benefits and marketing share. In other words, it walks the walk. Now in its eighth season, there’s a $750,000 per-team player payroll that doubles to $1.5 million a year from now. Notably, that’s a 10-fold increase since 2021.
LUMP O’ COAL: The Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association. Created in May 2019, there was no league then—just a hissy fit—and there’s no league today—just the same old, tiresome hissy fit. Rather than play in the Premier Hockey Federation or unite to form a Ponytail Puck super league that the rabble might want to watch, PWHPA members prefer to hold their breath, stamp their feet and assemble for a scattering of glorified scrimmages that are mostly ignored by fans and mainstream media each winter. In the meantime, they talk, talk, talk and hope someone is listening. Oddly enough, the talking stopped at the recent all-star gala in Ottawa—PWHPA officials refused to make players available for natters with news snoops after the event. Way to sell your game, ladies.
LUMP O’ COAL: Back on Nov. 3, the puppetmasters at Postmedia informed Winnipeg Sun readers that they would be spiking the weekly TV listings and bulking up the sports section, “so you can get more from our award-winning sports reporters.” To which I responded: “Let’s hope going forward they fill the additional space with local copy, or off-beat copy, not a bunch of dreary rot from the Republic of Tranna.” Well, as advertised, Postmedia has bulked up the sports section in the Winnipeg Sun on Sundays, averaging 12 pages. But, as feared, it’s being filled with rot originating from hither and yon, with only 1-to-3 pages devoted to local sports and the majority of bylines from Republic of Tranna scribes. Don’t believe me? Well, in the four Sunday sections since Nov. 27, this is the byline tally: Toronto writers: 25 Winnipeg writers: 10 So, yes, it reads like the Torontopeg Sun. (Or should it be the Winnironto Sun?)
LUMP O’ COAL: Why does Postmedia insist on forcing Steve Simmons’ weekly alphabet fart on the Winnipeg market? His musings and cheap shots are almost totally Republic of Tranna-centric, and he mentions the goings-on in Good Ol’ Hometown about as often as a squandron of pink elephants perform a fly-by before a Bombers game. In his most-recent offering, for example, Simmons had 17 items on athletes/teams from the The ROT and the grand total of one (1) on the Jets/Bombers/anything Winnipeg. Do the suits at Postmedia truly believe that’s what the rabble in River City want to read?
LUMP O’ COAL: Management geniuses at the Drab Slab refuse to hire a sports columnist. The guy they bill as their sports columnist, Mad Mike McIntyre, has never written a piece on the fabulous female curlers in Manitoba, which is like scribbling for National Geographic and not writing a word about Mother Nature. I mean, the jock news pecking order in Good Ol’ Hometown is Jets, Bombers and curling. So how do you snub female Pebble People when all they’ve done is win four of the past five Scotties (it’s five-for-five if you want to include homegrown Chelsea Carey in 2019)? He also mostly ignores the Bombers, who’ve been in the past three Grey Cup games, winning twice. It’s lame, negligent and unacceptable, and I’ll never understand how a big-city daily allows its sports columnist to snub two of the three major beats.
GIFT: Between Ted Wyman at the Winnipeg Sun and Jeff Hamilton at the Drab Slab, Good Ol’ Hometown receives the best print coverage of Rouge Football on Our Mostly Frozen Tundra. Teddy and Jeff lap the field every year.
LUMP O’ COAL: Carey Price put up a pro-gun post four days prior to the 33rd anniversary of the Ecole Polytechnique massacre, in which 14 women were slaughtered. It’s okay for the Montreal Canadiens goaltender to be pro firearms, but the timing of his post was ghastly. Almost as bad was teammate Joel Edmundson, who said this about that: “None of us are really aware of what happened 30 years ago. The (Polytechnique) anniversary is fast approaching—it’s news to all of us, to be honest.” Good grief.
GIFT: To say Rick Bowness came in with a bang would be the biggest understatement since Noah said, “Geez, it smells like rain.” The Winnipeg Jets freshly minted head coach hadn’t been in town long enough to order a cup o’ java and cheese nip at the Sals when he instructed the seamstress to snip the ‘C’ off Blake Wheeler’s jersey, and I’d say it’s been win-win for both parties. Bones’ Jets are running with the National Hockey League’s big dogs, and Wheeler, until being felled by an owie, had been productive with less ice time and less face time with news snoops. That’s the bonus, of course: No more daily sourpuss sound bites from the former Captain Grumpy Pants.
GIFT: The Jets hit all the right notes when they unveiled a downtown pigeon perch to legend Dale Hawerchuk in October.
LUMP O’ COAL: Let’s be clear, Greg Norman and Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson et al have a right to earn a living with the LIV Golf Series, even if it means they need to wash the Saudi blood off their hands every time they cash a paycheque. But does Norman have to be so bitter about it? My goodness, it’s as if every horse in the Kentucky Derby piddled on the Shark’s Corn Flakes one morning.
LUMP O’ COAL: Here’s all you need to know aboutthe Saudi/Greg Norman LIV Golf Series: Pat Perez was handed a four-year, $10 million deal, just to stick a tee in the ground. “Look, I know I can’t beat those kids (on the PGA Tour) anymore. This was a great opportunity for me. I have nothing against the PGA Tour; they did a lot for me, but I had to earn everything I got out there.” Imagine that. Earning your wage. What a concept.
LUMP O’ COAL: TV talking heads made complete donkeys of themselves with their gushing over has-beens Tiger Woods and Serena Williams like they’re still at the top of their games. Hey, maybe Tiger will win another golf tournament (doubtful), and perhaps Williams hasn’t actually retired and she’ll return to win another tennis tourney. Until then, the boys and girls in the blurt box need to use their yakkety-yak time to talk about athletes winning today, not back in the day.
LUMP O’ COAL: Damien Cox and friends of the Toronto Star still believe they have the final say on Canada’s athlete-of-the-year. As if…Novak Djokovic is still wearing tin foil on his head…Bob Costas sat behind the play-by-play mic during MLB playoffs and he refused to shut the hell up. He talked about everything but baseball…The Arizona Coyotes play in a 4,800-seat rinky-dink rink…Danny Maciocia canned Khari Jones due to a lack of discipline and hired himself as head coach of the Montreal Larks. So what happened in the fourth quarter of their East Division final vs. the Toronto Argos? Maciocia’s Larks took four undisciplined penalties to seal their fate…TSN talking heads continually lied about head counts for CFL games. Yo! Boys! We aren’t stupid. We can see the empty seats. Glen Suitor was the worst, constantly blabbing about “packed” ballparks and telling us there was “close to 40,000” at B.C. Place Stadium for the West semifinal, even if attendance was scarcely more than 30,000. Meanwhile, Milt Stegall informed us the Bombers had “sellouts through the season.” There were, in fact, two sellouts, both in September…Kyrie Irving, just because he’s Kyrie Irving…The Boston Bruins signed bully Mitchell Miller and the Montreal Canadiens signed Logan Mailloux, a young man who likes to take pics of women engaged in sexual activity and, without their consent, share the photos with his frat boy buddies. Oinkers.
LUMP O’ COAL: Dumbest tweet of the year from Theoren Fleury, the former NHLer and current conspiracy theorist who, when last seen, was plummeting into a deep rabbit hole: “The biggest spreaders of misinformation are the ones who are spreading misinformation.”
Well, Coach Grunge, you have a chance to boldly go where no Winnipeg Blue Bombers sideline steward has gone before in Rouge Football—three Grey Cup parades in three years.
I don’t know if that means we should alert the sculptor, but statues of legendary coaches Bud Grant and Cal Murphy stand outside the Ballyard In Fort Garry and they never brought the Grey Grail to Good Ol’ Hometown for a downtown celebration in back-to-back-to-back years, so maybe a hammer and chisel wouldn’t be such a bad idea.
I can see it now: A bronze likeness of you in your grunge look of faded hoodie (or t-shirt), battered ball cap, Papa Smurf chin whiskers and, of course, short pants, which were the object of much scorn before the rabble (and at least one news snoop) realized the length of a man’s pant legs has nothing to do with the execution of X’s and O’s.
But I don’t want to get ahead of myself, Coach Grunge.
Before anyone hails the sculptor, there’s the matter of your blue-and-gold-clad lads grabbing frozen grass with the Toronto Argos this afternoon at Mosaic Stadium on the Flattest of Lands. Get the job done to put a wrap on this Canadian Football League crusade and comparisons to Bud Grant will be unavoidable, since, as mentioned, the Silver Fox never managed a three-peat.
Oh, he came close, Coach Grunge. Relics like myself can recall four title shindigs in five years when trees seemed to stand taller (1958-59, 1961-62), and nice guy Mike Riley gave it a go during his brief whirl as head coach, winning in 1988 and 1990, but skipping a beat in ’89.
So you’d stand alone in Winnipeg FC annals, which date back to 1930, and it would put you in some interesting company in Rouge Football lore.
By my count, Coach Grunge, four men have pulled the strings for three-peat champions: Hugh Campbell, who was greedy and copped the Grey Grail five years in succession (Edmonton Elks, nee Eskimos, 1978-82), Pop Ivy (Edmonton, 1954-56), Teddy Morris shortly after the boys came marching home from WWII (Argos, 1945-47), and Billy Hughes (Queen’s University, 1922-24).
I’m sure you recognize the names Campbell and Ivy, and perhaps you’re familiar with Teddy Morris, too, since the Argos are part of your background story. But Billy Hughes? I hadn’t heard of him until his name popped up on a Google search.
Familiarity or not, Coach Grunge, a W today in Regina would lock you in with legends, and who would have thought that possible after the early returns on your Blue Bombers gig?
That was a scary bit of business. You broke from the gate 12-24. That’s when the rabble talked more about your short pants and grunge gear than your quarterbacks. And, I’ll admit, I figured you had a shorter shelf life than toilet paper during a pandemic. Then boom: 70-34, three division titles, two Grey Cup championships, with gusts up to three, and twice anointed coach-of-the-year.
I don’t know how often you think about the dark days, Coach Grunge, but I’m guessing you’re grateful that CEO Wade Miller and GM Kyle Walters didn’t jerk their knees and drop-kick you into the coaching recycle bin.
Question is: Where do you go from here?
You’re at the end of your tether contract-wise and, as much as I’d like to think the preference of Miller/Walters would be to keep the Canadian Mafia intact, you might have other ideas. Could be that you’ll eyeball opportunities in Ottawa or Montreal, which are closer to your roots. Maybe even another one of your old haunts, Hamilton, will come calling if Orlondo Steinauer decides his head set is no longer a good fit.
Oh, I know you showed Good Ol’ Hometown and Winnipeg FC loads of love during Grey Cup week, and Miller insists he’ll lock you in a room and toss away the key until next summer if that’s what it takes to prevent an escape, but let me say this about that: We all thought Bud Grant was a lifer, except it turned out he preferred the hunting and fishing back home in Minnesota, so he bolted in 1966 and transformed the Vikings into an NFL power. He also took his trusty sidekick, Johnny Michels, with him for good measure, leaving Winnipeg FC high and dry until the mid-1980s.
But, hey, your future is a natter for another day, Coach Grunge.
The Argos and history are right in front of you. Win today and you can show up on the sideline next year wearing a thong and tank top and nary a discouraging word shall be heard or written. It might throw the sculptor for a loop, but we can’t worry about artsy-fartsy types who tend to get into a tizzy over the simplest things. We’ll talk about a proper pose for the statue once the job’s done vs. the Boatmen.
The nation’s football reporters had head coaches O’Shea and Ryan Dinwiddie of the Argos on the spit last Wednesday, and absent from the media/coaches to-and-fro was the traditional question about the sexual conduct of players in advance of the large game: Were bedroom romps permitted, or not? The cheap-yuks query stirred up great giggles when first launched by legendary scribe Jim Hunt back in the 20th century, in part because Shakey was a loud and funny guy, but, over time, it became more of a groan-worthy, eyeballs-a-rolling moment. That’s no knock against Terry Jones, who took the torch from Shakey. It’s just that the sideline stewards weren’t always eager to play along and their replies were flatter than Saskatchewan. There were, mind you, moments of rich levity when Shakey and Jonesy were rewarded with quality sound bites, but its expiry date had arrived.
The Rose-Colored Glasses Award goes to Dinwiddie, who believes a W today will force folks in the Republic of Tranna to sit up and take notice of the Boatmen. “I think there will be a buzz around the city. I think if we can win on Sunday, I think it’s going to open up some eyes that the Argos can bring something to the city,” he told news snoops. Ya, and maybe Pinocchio will turn into a real boy and join Rod Smith and Glen Suitor in the TSN broadcast booth today (I shudder to think how that interview would play out). Still, full marks to Dinwiddie for his fairy-tale optimism.
There was, as usual, much blah, blah, blah and yadda, yadda, yadda in advance of today’s grass-grabber in ol’ Pile o’ Bones, but the only storyline that truly mattered was QB Zach Collaros’ availability to the Bombers. The rest of it? Filler and free food for news snoops. Trust me, I know. You arrive on Monday, start cranking out the copy and/or sound bites in earnest on Tuesday, and, by Saturday morning, you’ve exhausted all worthy story-time narratives. And you’re screaming, “Just play the damn game, already!” It’s a 10-plus-hour-a-day grind, but a fun grind that makes the pints taste better once you slap a -30- on your last piece or file your final sound bite. The rush of Grey Cup Week remains one of the few things I miss about the rag trade. (Don’t ask me about the Grey Cup Week when Terry Jones, Al Ruckaber and myself shut down at 5 in the a.m. after wetting our whistles in an Edmonton cop shop.)
Staying on that theme, one aspect of Grey Cup Week that I enjoy is newspaper wars, which are amped up when the home team is part of the fray. The boys on the Bombers beat had at it the past six days, and the Winnipeg Sun whomped the Drab Slab in volume. The tabloid team of Paul Friesen and Teddy Wyman (with contributions from other Postmedia scribes) churned out 38 articles, compared to 22 from Jeff Hamilton and young Taylor Allen (contributions from Canadian Press, newsside, arts department) over at the broadsheet. Team Sun finished with a nine-page flourish today. In terms of quality copy, let’s call it a wash, because they all did boffo work. I’m a big fan of all four and, remember, Good Ol’ Hometown is the only locale west of the Manitoba-Ontario boundary that offers that level of competition.
Wait. What’s this? CFL commish Randy Ambrosie wasn’t yakking about unicorns, the Tooth Fairy or sprinkling pixie dust during his annual chin-wag with news snoops? Well, actually he was…just not as much as is his custom. Normally, the commish comes across as giddy as a guy who just found a 50-dollar bill in his coat pocket, but this was a more reigned-in Randy. He gave his gums a rigorous, one-hour workout while saying a whole lot of nothing, but we did learn that next year’s playoff grass-grabbers shall be on Saturdays, although the skirmish for the Grey Grail remains a Sunday staple. Oh, he also informed the gathering that Rouge Football now has something called a “watchability index” and “touch points.” Meh.
Alphonso Davies’ readiness for futbol’s World Cup has been an iffy bit of business and, in a moment of galloping hyperbole, TSN’s Lindsay Hamilton told us “every single person in Canada is watching this storyline.” Nope. Not all 39 million of us. You’ll have to excuse me, but I’ve been more concerned about Collaros’ owie than Alphonso’s hamstring. (I wonder if talking heads watch the tape and ask themselves, “How could I have said something so stupid?” Lindsay’s normally spot on, so stooping to ridiculous exaggeration isn’t a good look.)
Quiz me this, kids: Who would you rather have on your team, Willie Jefferson or Shawn Lemon? I agree, it’s Willie J. So how can the Bombers DE not be a Rouge Football all-star? It’s like leaving the Pope off an all-Catholic team.
Just wondering: What is it about Brandon Banks that makes him whine and squawk and stomp his little feet whenever he drops the football? He’s forever yelping at the zebras, demanding a pass interference flag and, no doubt, questioning their ancestry. Yo! Speedy B! Chill. Sometimes a play goes sideways because of good coverage, sometimes it’s the QB’s fault, and here’s something else to consider—sometimes it’s your own damn fault! Guaranteed the Argos pint-sized receiver is good for at least one XXXL-size hissy fit today.
Danny Maciocia cited a lack of discipline as one of the bugaboos behind his decision to sack Montreal Larks head coach Khari Jones four games into the 2022 Rouge Football crusade. So what happens in crunch time with the smug Maciocia wearing the head set? The Larks were penalized four times, twice to keep Argos drives alive, in the fourth quarter of their East Division final loss to the Boatmen. 9:11 (time remaining): Pass interference on 2nd and 14. 4:07: Offside on 1st and 10. 1:17: Face mask on 2nd and 11. 1:12: Offside on 1st and 10. Atta boy, Danny. Way to keep your lads reigned in.
So, the Hamilton Tabbies have surrendered two draft picks and future goodies for the privilege of pitching woo to Bo Levi Mitchell, the Calgary Stampeders defrocked QB. But wait. Bo says he’ll lend an ear to all other suitors before agreeing to pitch his tent in The Hammer. Fine. But, wherever and whenever he lands, it’s a matter of Buyer Beware. This isn’t Cadillac Showroom Bo. It’s more like Used Car Lot Bo. Teams will have to be cautious when they kick the tires, because something might fall off.
While the Tabbies whisper sweet nothings into Mitchell’s ears, Nathan Rourke will be strutting his stuff stateside for NFL outfits. Such a shame if we lose the Victoria-born phenom after just half a season of sheer brilliance.
Egads! KUB Bakery is no more. Good Ol’ Hometown hasn’t taken this big a hit since the last bite of the last turkey clubhouse sandwich at the Wagon Wheel Restaurant. Winnipeg without KUB is like Sunday without prayer. I’ve been out here on the Left Flank for 23 years, and I’ve yet to find rye bread to match KUB rye. Can’t find corned beef to match Oscar’s, either. Oh, sure, mountain views and palm trees and benign temps in January are a nice tradeoff, but Oscar’s corned beef on KUB rye with mustard would be a boffo halftime snack today. I’ll have to settle for the Hawaiin pizza instead.
Just so you know, I’m a Grey Cup baby. Yup, I came into this world two days after the most-recent Bombers-Argos tussle for the Grey Grail, which wasn’t recent at all. It was the infamous Mud Bowl on Nov. 25, 1950, in the Republic of Tranna. Photographic evidence confirms the playing surface at Varsity Stadium was more pig pen than football field that day, with the large lads grabbing hands full of muck and guck where grass used to be. The Bombers lost 13-zip, so the doc didn’t have to smack my butt to get the squawking started after I’d poked my head out of the chute. I already had reason to bawl.
I’m not sure how you’d describe the past few years of your football life, but it’s surely been an interesting journey.
I mean, you were rejected on the Flattest of Lands and ushered out of the Republic of Tranna in the space of five months, but just look at you today: Grey Cup champion starting quarterback, x2; Most Outstanding Player Award in Rouge Football, soon-to-be x2; freshly minted three-year contract, at $600,000 per, tucked in your ditty bag.
Add to that your bride, Nicole, and two lovely daughters, Sierra and Capri, and, as the cool folk say, you’ve got it made in the shade, Zach. Talk about a wonderful life. Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey ain’t got nothing on you.
And, in a twisted sort of way, I suppose you can thank Simoni Lawrence for your favorable turn of fortune.
I don’t have to remind you that Simoni is the ruffian who knocked you loopy on the third play of the 2019 Canadian Foootball League season, Zach, setting in motion a sequence of events that brought you to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, with whom you’ve done nothing but put up Ws and earn the admiration of all who worship at the blue-and-gold shrine.
Yes, it’s been all glory in Good Ol’ Hometown, Zach, so much so that people are mentioning you and Kenny Ploen in the same breath, and the hosannas don’t get higher than a comparison to ol’ No. 11. Not if you’re talking football in Winnipeg, they don’t. K.P. was, is and always shall be football deity whenever and wherever devotees of the big, gold-and-white ‘W’ gather, and you’re making a compelling argument that you’ll soon be sitting beside him on legends row.
If only Jeremy O’Day, Pinball Clemons and John Murphy had known what was to become of you, Zach. So much would have changed.
I’m guessing you remember those guys, Zach. But, in case things are a bit blurry, let’s refresh:
O’Day had you on the Flattest of Lands in 2019 and, once you’d been rendered loopy by Lawrence, the Saskatchewan GM arrived at a dire diagnosis: You were done like a overcooked cob of corn at the Biggar county fair. Thus, he reasoned that upstart Cody Fajardo was a better bet than an oft-concussed QB, and he peddled your butt to the Republic of Tranna for a fourth-round shoutout (receiver Kian Schaffer-Baker) in the 2020 auction of CFL wannabes. It was “the best thing to do for the organization,” he explained.
Pinball Clemons and John Murphy, meanwhile, made the same (mis)diagnosis and figured the Toronto Argos were in better hands with Mcleod Bethel-Thompson and James Franklin. Thus, they dialed up Kyle Walters’ number on Oct. 9, 2019, and made the Bombers GM an offer he refused to refuse: It was you, Zach, and a future draft pick (kicker Marc Liegghio) in barter for two wannabes (O-linemen Theren Churchill, Dylan Giffen). Murphy, VP of player personnel with the Boatmen at the time, explained: “That was too much to pass up on.”
Larry, Curly and Moe…meet Jeremy, Pinball and Murph.
Actually, Zach, they weren’t as dopey as the Three Stooges, because we have to remember you had a whack of cobwebs up in the attic at the time and all the medical experts, including those without medical degrees in the stands and on press row, had written you off. How were they to know Walters, Mike O’Shea and Wade Miller—the Bombers’ Canadian Mafia—had the magical healing powers of water at Lourdes?
It helps, of course, that they’ve blessed you with an O-line that provides better protection than the guys who keep the wackos away from Joe Biden, but I think we all know it’s mostly down to you, Zach.
The Argos-Bombers deal rates as one of Rouge Football’s all-time fleece jobs, and it might rank as the mother of all all-timers if you and the large lads in blue-and-gold livery conspire to bring home the Grey Grail for a third successive crusade.
So it’s grand to know you’ll be sticking around until 2025, Zach, and I don’t think anyone among the rabble gives a rat’s patootie that you, Nicole and the kiddies vamoose and spend your off-seasons in Aurora, Ont. Hey, I get it. I know all about Winnipeg winters. They’re like a stray dog with a bad attitude: Avoid whenever possible.
For now, though, Aurora can wait, Zach. You’ve got two more football games to win, and I’m guessing you won’t mind if your escape is delayed a day or two due to another championship parade.
Yes, sir, it’s a wonderful life, Zach.
So let me see if I’ve got this right: In a survival skirmish Saturday night, Saskatchewan Flatlanders head coach Craig Dickenson told the aforementioned Cody Fajardo to grab pine and, instead, pinned his club’s playoff aspirations on a QB, Mason Fine, who’d never started a game in the CFL and had flung the football a grand total of 42 times in his three-downs career. Ya, that makes sense. No surprise that Fine got the Flatlanders into the house just once. End result: Calgary Stampeders 32, Flatlanders 21. So Saskatchewan joins the ranks of the no-hopers, with their post-season quest expired, and Dickenson should be grateful he’s under contract for another year.
What’s up with Dickenson giving Fajardo a “vet” day off last week? What the hell is a “vet” day? Did Cody need to take the family pet in for shots and a deworming? Or is it something akin to “load management?” My take: It’s a load of what comes out of the south end of a bull. I don’t want to hear about “vet” day unless it’s Nov. 11.
Somebody at TSN needs to tell gab guy Milt Stegall that the Toronto Argos are not—repeat, not!— “Eastern conference champions” two years in a row. The Boatmen didn’t win the East Division title a year ago, and they haven’t won it this time around. They’ve locked down first place and a bye into the East Division final at BMO Field in the Republic of Tranna on Nov. 13. That’s when the East Division “champions” will be determined. Do better, Milt.
After Toronto Maple Leafs bench puppeteer Sheldon Keefecalled out his “elite” workers for being notably unelite in a 4-2 misstep vs. the Sad Sack Arizona Coyotes last week, one of the elitists, Mitch Marner, insisted no players’ noses were out of joint because of the coach’s tsk-tsking. “We’re grown men,” he said. If it’s all the same to Mitch, I’ll reserve judgment on that until I see evidence that he’s old enough to shave.
Got a giggle out of dispatches from Saturday night’s skirmish between the Tranna Maple Elites and Winnipeg Jets at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie.
In the Drab Slab, the main headline blared, “BAD BLOOD AND BAD CALLS…Leafs escape Jetsville with 2 points and the zebras’ blessings.” Beat guy Mad Mike McIntyre told us Toronto’s 4-1 victory was “draped in controversy” and refs Graham Skilliter and Corey Syvret “completely lost the plot.” The skunk shirts were also “cowardly.” (But, hey, he doesn’t want to be viewed as a homer.) He described Josh Morrissey’s collision with Nick Robertson of the Leafs as “what looked to be a perfectly-timed hit,” while over at the Winnipeg Sun Scott Billeck saw it as “a clean hit.”
Meantime, there were no screaming headlines about shoddy officiating in either the Toronto Star or Toronto Sun, apparently because news snoops were watching a different game. Mark Zwolinski of the Star called the Winnipeg blueliner’s broadside of Robertson a “predatory hit” and Sun scribe Terry Koshan saw it as “a perceived” illegal blow.
Hmmm. If you were wearing Jets goggles, it was “clean” and “perfectly-timed,” but if you had on a pair of Leafs goggles, it was “predatory” and “perceived” as dirty. Go figure.
It’s a “happening” any time the Elites grace the freeze in Good Ol’ Hometown, and it’s especially exciting on a Saturday night, because those fancy schmancy Hockey Night in Canada towels are up for grabs. I just wonder what the players do with them. Take ’em home? Hang ’em on the towel rack in the biffy? Display ’em on a man cave wall? Wrap ’em up and gift them as Christmas stocking stuffers? Give ’em to the dog for a chew toy? Inquiring minds want to know.
Fashion note: Those Winnipeg Jets reverse retro uniforms look like some kid was a few crayons short of a full box. I mean, my favorite color is blue, but I like it most when it’s blended with other hues of the rainbow. You know, like red. But I guess adidas thinks a jersey that looks like it’s been through the wash/rinse cycle about 1,000 times too often is a thing.
The heritage unis the home side wore Saturday night vs. the Tranna Elites are still the best, and always will be.
Is it safe to watch the Major League Baseball playoffs again, or is Bob Costas still yammering about everything but rounders? Seriously, I turned on my flatscreen to observe a New York Yankees-Cleveland Guardians game last week and a Costas filibuster broke out.
I don’t think there’s a squawk box in sports who loves the sound of his own voice more than this guy. He doesn’t call the game, he lectures in an arrogant “I’m the legendary Bob Costas and I know more important people than you” tone, at the same time taking more detours than a lost dog.
His starting point might be baseball, but he’s apt to wander off to the Civil War to 9/11 to JFK to the shootout at the OK Corral to Grantland Rice and the day the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame rode, before returning to the matter at hand and informing us that Aaron Judge had been scuffling at the plate: “I know Aaron has lost his groove, but I also know he likes his breakfast eggs sunny side up, and, coincidentally, so did General George Smith Patton Jr., who, by the way, was something of a student of fencing during his time at West Point, and Old Blood and Guts also competed in the modern pentathlon at the 1912 Summer Olympics in Sweden, where he became the only non-Swede to finish in the top five. He later became Master of the Sword…and there’s goes Aaron Judge, down on strikes again. But back to General Patton, did you know…blah, blah, blah.”
Basically, he’s under the misguided notion that a ball game ought to be a (bad) Ken Burns documentary, and he believes he’s doing our ears a favor with his non-stop natter. Well, I’m sorry, but my ears begin to bleed at the first sound of his ego.
What’s the worst fear while listening to Bob Costas broadcast a baseball game? Extra innings.
The New York Post reports that Charles Barkley has agreed to keep filling TNT air with his basketball bon mots, and the arrangement is expected to easily top the $100 million mark. Hmmm. If paid at a penny per word, Bob Costas would be a millionaire by the seventh-inning stretch.
My main issue with the current Major League Baseball playoffs is this: I don’t hear the sound of garbage cans clanking, so I can’t figure out how the Houston Astros are cheating.
Good grief, Nick Kypreos has joined Dave Poulin as a contributing columnist for the Toronto Star, leaving me to wonder when he’ll use his new platform to promote goon tactics in the NHL. I mean, if we learned anything about Kypreos during his lengthy run with Sportsnet, it’s that he’s a horse-and-buggy thinker who truly believes you have to beat ’em in the alley before you can beat ’em on the ice. He was a cement head when he played, and he’s still a cement head. If it’s all the same to the deep-thinkers at the Star, I prefer to remember a time when their sports pages featured scribes like Jim Proudfoot and Milt Dunnell and Frank Orr, not broken-down jocks.
Speaking of the Star, the paper’s public editor, Donovan Vincent, has noted his sports section seldom covers female athletes and their teams. Well duh. What was his first clue? Turns out it was a missive from a female reader that alerted Vincent to the issue, and he ought to be embarrassed. I mean, this is nothing new, and Vincent long ago should have noticed the lack of words and scarcity of photographic evidence devoted to the distaff side of the playground. Not to mention the scads of studies that confirm mainstream print and electronic media ignore the games girls/women play. Now that he’s finally pulled his head out of the sand, perhaps other newspaper decision-makers across our Frozen Tundra will do the same and stop treating the females like second-hand Roses.
Hey, check it out. The Drab Slab delivered a significant takeout on Ponytail Puck the other day. Mike Sawatzky took a look at the Toronto Six, now in final prep for the Premier Hockey Federation’s eighth season, and he reminds us that one of our own, Sami Jo Small, is at the top of the food change with the Six. The roster also features three Manitoba-breds. Good stuff.
Did you know, and do you care, that the other half of the Ponytail Puck equation, the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, staged a set of its glorified scrimmages last weekend in Montreal? Well, if you went looking for game info on the PWHPA website, you won’t have a clue, because they apparently like to keep details of their on-ice activity hush-hush. Not a word about the four-team frolic featuring Team Sonnet, Team Scotiabank, Team adidas and Team Harvey’s. So, if they don’t care to fill you in, why should you care?
The PWHPA has been in existence since May 2019, after rising from the ashes of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, and I’m still trying to figure out what they’re trying to prove, except that they’re the most stubborn group of women ever assembled.
A size XXXXXL shoutout to old friend Don Duguid, who had snacks and made small talk with Governor General Mary Simon on Thursday in Bytown. The GG invested Dugie as a member of the Order of Canada, and I’d say that sounds about right for a world curling champion, turned curling innovator, turned curling guru, turned curling gab guy. I don’t know if the The Digit gave Guv Mary an earful about the Monarchy, but I’m guessing he mentioned King Charlie a time or two. Dugie is one of my all-time favorite people.
Toronto FC pays Lorenzo Insigne $14 million guaranteed per year to play footy, which is better pay than anyone in the NHL. So perhaps someone in mainstream media can tell us again how Major League Soccer isn’t major league.
Bet you didn’t know that the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue has a Rookie of the Year Award. Yup, Christen Harper and Katie Austin are this year’s recipients of the frosh honor because, according to editor and chief MJ Day, “there’s never been two more worthy people.” And, hey, don’t run off with the notion that Christen and Katie put on their skimpy outfits for self-serving reasons. They do it “for random strangers.” Translation: Teenage boys who can’t get their hands on a Victoria’s Secret catalog.
Sometimes I don’t want to believe what I’m reading and hearing, and I don’t want to believe that tennis great Simona Halep is guilty of using performance-enhancing drugs.
And, finally, it’s about soft landings for delicate NFL QBs…
Rather than the usual Sunday morning smorgas-bored, I give you the top 50-plus movers and shakers in Good Ol’ Hometown over the past half century.
This isn’t one of those hum-drum, greatest-athlete lists. We’re talking positive impact, what a sports figure did to enhance the local sporting landscape, whether that meant the wow factor of Teemu Selanne’s 76-goal rookie season or Harvey Warner keeping the ponies at a full gallop out at Assiniboia Downs.
And, while our play-for-pay jocks tend to gobble up the big headlines on a day-to-day basis, it’s often the owners and managers and coaches and administrators who make things happen when we aren’t staring at the scoreboard, and that also means our amateur playing fields, where we have a rich tradition of magnificence and the impact has been significant.
So here’s the list of the 50-plus most-impactful movers and shakers in Winnipeg sports dating back to 1970, and I should warn you that this list includes jock journos, because once upon a time before the Internet, 24-hour TV and social media, there was a gadget called the radio. Not every game was televised or live streamed. We needed our newspapers and radios to take us to the action.
One final note: Remember, this is only one person’s opinion, so don’t get your knickers in a twist if you don’t see the name of one of your faves.
1. Ben Hatskin: Well, this is the ultimate no-brainer. It’s like naming Pope Francis to an all-Catholic team. I mean, Benny didn’t just bring the Winnipeg Jets and the World Hockey Association to Good Ol’ Hometown in 1972, he hijacked Bobby Hull from the Chicago Blackhawks in a shocking coup that reshaped the shinny landscape. Without Benny’s derring-do, there would have been no National Hockey League Jets 1.0 and no Jets 2.0.
2. Mark Chipman: The Puck Pontiff filled the void left by the 1996 departure of the Jets to Arizona, but his Manitoba Moose of the International Hockey League and the American Hockey League were just the appetizer. Aided by billionaire David Thomson’s bulging bankroll, there was an NHL rebirth in River City in 2011, with the Atlanta Thrashers moving north. Oh, and did I mention that along the way Chipman and Thomson built a downtown arena?
3. Bobby Hull: The Golden Jet informed Hatskin and the other WHA renegade owners that it would take $1 million dollars for him to leave the Blackhawks and pull on a Jets jersey in ’72. Done deal. The Hull signing legitimized the WHA, and other top-level players soon followed. And, remember, Robert Marvin was also part of the ownership group that took the Jets into the NHL.
4. Michael Gobuty/Barry Shenkarow: I know, I know. Michael is the guy who let Wayne Gretzky get away. Mook. But don’t hold that against him. Michael and his ownership group kept the Jets afloat in the late 1970s, allowing for one final, rewarding whirl in the WHA by purchasing the contracts of a group of Houston Aeros, including Terry Ruskowski, Morris Lukowich, Rich Preston and Scott Campbell. He also recruited John Bowie Ferguson, and Michael offered a loud and influential voice in the NHL’s decision to absorb the Jets and three other WHA franchises in 1979. As for Barry, talk about shooting the messenger. By the time the whole thing went south for Jets 1.0, he was front man for the ownership group that sold the club to American buyers, who then loaded up the truck and bugged out to Arizona, lock, stock and jock. So Barry became the fall guy. But it’s a bad rap. No locals were willing to dig into their deep pockets to purchase the franchise and lose millions of dollars every year, so he/they really had no choice.
5. Cal Murphy: Cantankerous, curmudgeonly and very funny, Cal ruled the Winnipeg Blue Bombers roost with an iron fist from 1983-96, as either head coach or general manager. Along the way, there were three Grey Cup championships, one heart transplant, and one human rights kerfuffle over female news snoops in the locker room. He also brought the Grey Cup game to Good Ol’ Hometown for the first time, and became a vocal advocate for organ donations. Today there’s a pigeon perch of Kindly Cal outside Football Follies Field In Fort Garry.
6. Wade Miller: The leader of the Canadian Mafia inherited a Sad Sack, laughing stock-level Bombers team and the longest title drought in the Canadian Football League when he was anointed CEO in 2013. He was more like the CE-D’oh! in the early years, but Wade ignored the wolves howling at his door and stuck by his fellow hosers, GM Kyle Walters and sideline steward Mike O’Shea. Today the Bombers reign as Grey Cup champions, with money in the bank, and only the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed Miller down.
7. Dr. Gerry Wilson/Billy Robinson/Don Baizley: No North American shinny side tapped into the European hockey market as swiftly, deeply and as eagerly as the Jets, and it was this trio of forward-thinkers that brought the first wave of Scandinavians to Good Ol’ Hometown in the mid-1970s. Dr. Wilson caught the first glimpse of Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson and alerted Robinson, the Jets main bird dog. Robby scampered across the big pond to Sweden and liked what he saw, signing both players pronto. Lars-Erik Sjoberg and Curt Larsson came along for the ride, and player agent Baizley took them under his wing. Championship parades ensued.
8. Anders/Ulf/the Shoe: It’s no exaggeration to suggest Anders and Ulf revolutionized the game once in partnership with Hull. They made magic with their swashbuckling, freestyle frolicking on the local freeze, but it was Sjoberg—the Shoe—who stirred the drink from the back end. Together, they dominated the WHA and—damn them!—also provided Glen Sather with the blueprint for his Edmonton Oilers dynasty of the 1980s.
9. John Ferguson: So, here’s the irony—he was the cad who lured the ultra-popular Hedberg and Nilsson away from Portage and Main to make them stars on Broadway, then the Rangers fired Fergy and he joined the Jets to oversee their final WHA title and aid the entry into the NHL. Go figure. Full of bluster and occasional rage, Fergy made certain that life around the Jets camp was never boring, which sometimes meant kicking holes in walls and dumping buckets of ice on the opposing team’s bench. As Jets GM, he assembled a string of formidable NHL outfits during the 1980s, even if he couldn’t quite get them over the hump. Stars like Dale Hawerchuk, Teemu Selanne, David Babych, Thomas Steen and Dave Christian were drafted during his watch, and we won’t talk about Jimmy Mann.
10. Clara Hughes: When they name parks, playgrounds and schools in your honor, and when they put your pic on a postage stamp, you know you’ve done something right. Clara is a two-sport Olympian—speed skating and cycling—and the only athlete in history to win multiple medals in both the Summer and Winter Games. But it’s her advocacy on behalf of mental health and children’s sports/recreation that makes Clara truly impactful. She’s a leading voice in the Bell Let’s Talk campaign, and she’s donated/raised many thousands of dollars for various causes.
11. Cindy Klassen: She has as many shiny Olympic trinkets as Clara Hughes (six), including one gold medal, so Clara’s two-sport bona fides is all that separates the two world champion speed skaters.
12. Chris Walby: If ever there’s been a larger-than-life athlete, it was Bluto—all 6-feet, 7-inches and 300-plus pounds of him (give or take a Big Mac and a six pack). Bluto grabbed grass and growled for the Bombers from 1981-96, collecting three Grey Cup rings, nine CFL all-star nods, two top O-lineman awards, and a bust in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. But it wasn’t just what he did on the field and his size that made Bluto stand out. He was among the great characters in Rouge Football, a good-time Charlie and a deliverer of delicious quotes. No surprise he became a talking head on CBC’s football coverage, even if English sometimes seemed to be his second language.
13. Dale Hawerchuk: He came to the Jets as a freshly scrubbed 18-year-old from Cornwall, and much was expected of Ducky. He delivered. Winnipeg HC went from the free space on the NHL’s bingo card to the best shinny outfit this side of the Edmonton Gretzkys, and Ducky was the centrepiece.
14. Jennifer Jones: The only thing Jennifer hasn’t won is the Brier, and that’s only because the boys won’t let her play. There’s never been a finer female curler in our country, even if some in Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia might want to point to Sandra Schmirler and Colleen Jones and debate the issue. Well, let ’em hash it out. We know they’re wrong.
15. Jill Officer: It will be interesting to monitor how Jennifer gets along without Jill throwing second stones. They were together almost as long as Mick and Keith, but Officer retreated from competitive curling in 2018. Jill’s haul is the same as Jen’s: An Olympic gold, two world championships and six Scotties titles in her trophy case. Also one park named in her honor.
16. Teemu Selanne: Like Anders and Ulf, the Finnish Flash wasn’t in Good Ol’ Hometown for a long time, but it sure was a good time. Those 76 goals in his freshman NHL crusade had the burg in a buzz, and it’s a record that will stand as long as there are frozen ponds for kids to skate on. Teemu might have been the most popular Jet ever, give or take Ducky.
17. Don Duguid: The Digit toddled off to two world curling championships as a skip and never lost a game. Yup, 17-0. Dugie then thought it would be a swell idea to go on TV and tell the rest of us how to curl, which he did for 29 years until someone at the CBC had a brain fart and let him go. And just the other day he was made a member of the Order of Canada for his wonderful work as a curler and teacher of the game.
18. Ray Turnbull: His friends called him Moosie, and he had scads of friends in and beyond the curling community. A true visionary, Moosie’s impact began at the Mother Club on Granite Way, but his influence spread across the globe when he buddied up with Don Duguid for instructional clinics to curling curious nations beginning in the 1970s. So he’s largely to blame for the rest of the world catching up to us on pebbled ice. A broadcasting icon with TSN from 1984 to 2010, Moosie coached no fewer than 17 world champions.
19. Frank McKinnon: Those who knew him best would probably tell us that Frank never slept, because he didn’t have time for zzzzzzs. How busy was he? Let me count the ways: Five years president and 20 years on the executive board of Hockey Manitoba; 10 years commissioner of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League; founding father of the Centennial Cup tournament and the inaugural World Junior championship; first chairman of the board of Hockey Canada; two years director Sports Federation of Canada; four years vice-president Canadian Olympic Association; founding member of the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association. Frank was based in Carman, but he spent enough time in Good Ol’ Hometown to qualify for this list.
20. Donny Lalonde: The Golden Boy was in the ring with Sugar Ray. Yes, that Sugar Ray, as in Leonard. He even put the boxing legend on the canvas—one of only two men to do so—scoring a fourth-round knockdown in their 1988 bout at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Alas, Sugar Ray ruled the day, battering Lalonde about the ears in the ninth round and scoring a TKO. But it’s enough that the Golden Boy went from working out in the old firehall gym on Talbot Avenue in Elmwood to champion of the boxing world’s light heavyweights.
21.Jeff Stoughton: It’s easier to break out of jail than win the Manitoba men’s curling championship, but Jeff wore the Buffalo on his back 11 times. Crazy, man. A two-time world champion and three times the best at the Brier, Jeff also has two Canadian Mixed titles on his resume. Once he retired his tuck delivery and his spinorama showtime shtick, he took to coaching and administration, first helping Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris strike gold in Mixed Doubles at the Seoul Olympics, and he’s now coach and program manager for the national men’s team.
22. Coleen Dufresne: When you spend 17 years coaching and another 15 as athletic director at the University of Manitoba, you’ve had an impact on more young people than you can count. Coleen, who wore the Maple Leaf as a player at the 1976 Olympic Games, coached U of M Bisons women’s basketball teams to three national championships and five Great Plains Athletic Conference titles. She is a member of the Basketball Manitoba Hall of Fame in three categories—builder, coach and player—and the Canada West Hall of Fame.
23. Garth Pischke: Tom Hanks talked to a volleyball in the movies, but Garth made people talk volleyball in real life. Nobody put the W in the word “win” like Garth. He won a staggering 1,353 games in his 38 seasons as mastermind of the U of M Bisons men’s volleyball team, losing just 414 times. Chew on that and digest it—1,353-414. Who does that? Only Pischke, the winningest coach in collegiate V-ball history, on either side of the border. A two-time Olympian and six-time MVP at the Nationals as a player, Garth coached the Bisons to nine national titles and was named the Manitoba amateur athlete of the 20th century.
24. Brian Dobie: If this was just about being a nice guy, the U of M Bisons football coach would be at, or near, the top of the heap. Lovely man. He’s been sideline steward of the Herd since 1996, a gig that came on the heels of a 21-year watch with Churchill Bulldogs in high school grid. Do the math. Coach Dobie has been impacting the lives of teenagers and young men for close to half a century. Oh, and he’s also a five-time Canada West coach-of-the-year and a USports coach-of-the-year, plus he brought the Vanier Cup to the Fort Garry campus in 2007.
25. Vic Pruden: There was no women’s or men’s intercollegiate basketball program at the University of Winnipeg (nee United College) until Vic came along, so all the hoops glory stems from there. The annual Wesmen Classic was Vic’s brain child, ditto the Fort Garry Invitational. The Wesmen Classic became such a landmark event that it had to be shuffled from Riddell Hall to the Winnipeg Arena, and was televised nationally. Vic was also founder and first president of the Manitoba Basketball Coaches’ Association.
26. Coach Tom Kendall/University of Winnipeg Lady Wesmen: Few took notice of women’s hoops back in the day, but then along came coach Kendall and his fabulous University of Winnipeg Lady Wesmen who, from October 1992 to November 1994, never lost a game. Eighty-eight teams tried to topple them, and 88 teams failed. Even fabled UCLA coach John Wooden was talking about the Lady Wesmen. Under Kendall’s watch, the Lady Ws went 101-2, with three national titles.
27. Coach Mike Burchuk/U of W Lady Wesmen volleyball team: The U of W women’s hoopsters received the 250-point newspaper headlines for their 88-game winning streak, but the women on the volleyball court trumped them with 123 consecutive Ws from January 1987 to January 1989. That included a 58-0 record in 1987-88 and, along the way, the ladies won six consecutive national titles and beat the NCAA champion Texas Longhors and a pro team, the Minnesota Monarchs.
28. Jennifer Botterill: It should be enough to say that Jennifer is the only female player ever inducted into the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame, but we’ll also mention that she’s a three-time Olympic champion, five times a world champion, two times the Patty Kazmaier Award winner as the top player in U.S. women’s college hockey, twice the MVP at the world championship, and she once had an 80-game scoring streak (beat that, Connor McDavid!). If young girls are looking for a role model, Jen’s it.
29. Paul Robson: Can a sports list be complete without a guy named Mad Dog on it? We think not. So come on down, Mad Dog Robson, architect of the Winnipeg Football Club’s return to glory in the 1980s, a Lazarus-like rebirth that included the 1984 Grey Cup championship crusade, the first in 22 years. His handiwork as assistant GM/GM included going stealth to lure Chris Walby out of Montreal, hiring Cal Murphy as sideline steward, and engineering the Dieter Brock-for-Tom Clements trade. Paul was also once publisher of the Winnipeg Sun, but we won’t penalize him for that.
30. Harvey Warner: It’s probably safe to say the ponies wouldn’t be galloping at Assiniboia Downs if not for Harvey and his Manitoba Jockey Club. Harvey is a founding father and current president of the MJC, which took possession of the Downs in 1993. It’s never been an easy ride for Harvey and cohorts like Darren Dunn and Sharon Gulyas out at the racing oval on the western edge of Good Ol’ Hometown, but they’ve managed to keep the barns open and the horses fed and watered. So, yes, the reins have been in the right man’s hands for 27 years.
31. Mike Riley: When Leo Durocher coined the phrase “nice guys finish last,” he certainly wasn’t thinking of a guy like Mike Riley. Aside from bringing the Grey Cup home twice in his four years as sideline steward of the Bombers, Mike might be the most decent man to ever coach a pro team in Good Ol’ Hometown (John Paddock would be second in line), and that counts for something on my scorecard.
32. Milt Stegall: The Turtle Man would be higher on this list, except for one thing—every time I look at his hands, I don’t see any Grey Cup rings. For all his personal accomplishments—all-time TD leader in CFL history with 147 and a Most Outstanding Player award—the Bombers had just four winning seasons in his 14 crusades. No player ever looked better while mostly losing, though, and he’d be the first to tell you that. Milt continues to be a Bombers booster as one of the gab guys on TSN’s CFL coverage, and that’s always a good thing.
33. Sam Katz: Full disclosure—I’m not fond of Sammy. I think him to be a snake oil salesman. If he told me today is Sunday, I’d double check the calendar. But he brought professional baseball back to Good Ol’ Hometown, and the Winnipeg Goldeyes frolic in a beautiful, downtown ballyard thanks to Sammy.
34. Andy Van Hellemond: Whistleblowers don’t always get respect, but Andy Van did. The kid weaned on the frozen ponds of Isaac Brock was, arguably, the best man to ever pull on a striped shirt, and he was also a trend-setter, becoming the first on-ice official to wear a helmet, in 1984. The NHL made lids mandatory for the zebras four years later (a grandfather clause allowed some to officiate sans head protection until 2006-07). Andy Van refereed 1,475 regular season games, 227 in the playoffs and 19 Stanley Cup finals, all records. He was named Manitoba’s referee-of-the-century.
35. Sylvia Burka: Before Clara Hughes and Cindy Klassen and Susan Auch, there was Sylvia Burka, three times a world speed skating champion. She has held over 40 Canadian speedskating records, and once set a world indoor cycling mark at one kilometer. She won 12 national cycling titles. But her true legacy can be found in the skate marks she left for others to follow.
36. Dawn McEwen: I suppose you could say Dawn is to Team Jennifer Jones what Ringo Starr was to the Beatles. She seems content in the background while Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer and Cathy Overton-Clapham attracted most of the attention, but without her lead stones and robust sweeping they wouldn’t have become the finest female outfit in Canadian curling history. Dawn has an Olympic gold medal, two world titles and five Scotties crowns in her trophy case, so don’t even think of her as a spare part.
37. Kaitlyn Lawes: She branched out from throwing third stones for Jennifer Jones to strike Olympic gold with John Morris in the debut of mixed doubles at the Winter Olympic Games. So she has a nice collection of two gold trinkets, a world championship and a Scotties title.
38. Susan Auch: Although never making it to the top level of the Olympic podium, Susan made speed skating front page news in Good Ol’ Hometown with two silver medals and a bronze in the Winter Games, three gold in World Cup racing in 1995, three Manitoba athlete-of-the-year honors and a Canadian athlete-of-the-year salute. There’s a Susan Auch Oval out at the Cindy Klassen Recreation Complex and a Susan Auch Park in Transcona, and she’s now CEO of Speed Skating Canada.
39. Troy Westwood/David Asper: Board member Asper came up with the concept and gave the Banjo Bowl it’s name, but it was the spinoff of a quote from Ol’ Lefty, the former Bombers place-kicker who, in an interview prior to a 2003 playoff skirmish, called Saskatchewan Roughriders fans “a bunch of banjo-picking inbreds.” Much caterwauling from the Flattest of Lands ensued, and the Banjo Bowl was born in 2004. It’s the most-anticipated event on the local sports calendar every year, and it’s been strictly SRO since 2005. When he wasn’t trash talking Flatlanders, Ol’ Lefty was hoofing more field goals (617) and more points (2,745) than anyone in Bombers history.
40. Connie Laliberte: They called her the Ice Queen, but underneath that cucumber-cool exterior burned a competitive bonfire. Connie gave every female curler in Manitoba something to aim for when she became the first Buffalo Girl to win the world crown, in 1984. She also won three Scotties titles and today is the high performance director for Curl Manitoba.
41. Sandy Riley: The former sailor (1976 Olympic Games) and former president of the Manitoba Sports Federation served as chair of Winnipeg’s 1999 Pan American Games, an event that helped revive the sagging spirit of a city that had lost its NHL franchise only three years earlier. As a bonus, it attracted the attention of Ol’ Cigar Breath, Cuban strongman Fidel Castro, who used his Revolution Day address to go on a mini-rant about mysterious “traps and tricks and schemes and filth” that encouraged his athletes to clamber over the wall to freedom. Cuban defectors aside, the Pan Ams were an artistic and financial success. More latterly, the Riley family donated $500,000 toward construction of the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame.
42. Dayna Spiring: It doesn’t matter that Dayna wasn’t on the receiving end of any passes, nor did she hoof any field goals or tackle any running backs. The lady was a champ in her first year as Chair of the Blue Bombers board of directors, and she became the first woman to have her name engraved on the Grey Cup. For young girls and women, that makes her Dayna Inspiring.
43. Desiree Scott: A former star and coach with the U of M Bisons, the lady they call The Destroyer joined our national women’s soccer side in 2010, and she’s now just one of five to have earned 150 caps. Along the way, she’s collected two Olympic bronze medals and participated in three World Cup tournaments. Away from the competitive pitch, Desiree is heavily involved with soccer camps for KidSport and she’s an ambassador for the Homeless World Cup.
44. Bill Wedlake: A head coach for 32 years, first at St. John’s High where he won two provincial titles, then 16 years at the U of W, Bill was also athletic director at the downtown campus for eight years. A co-founder of the Winnipeg Invitational tournament, he’s written three books on coaching and is a former president of the National Association of Basketball Coaches.
45. Mo Glimcher: If you think it’s tough dealing with teenagers these days, consider Mo Glimcher’s gig—he had 30,000-40,000 kids under foot every year between 1975 and 2016. Mo retired after 41 years as Executive Director of the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association, and I’d say he’s earned a master’s degree in babysitting.
46. Bob Picken: There are three major sports operatives in Good Ol’ Hometown—the Jets, the Blue Bombers, and curling. Yes, curling. Our Pebble People don’t make the big bucks like the Jets and Bombers, but they don’t want for media exposure, due in large part to jock journos like Pick. Pebble People have never known a better media friend than Pick, whose magnificent pipes blessed the airwaves of CJOB, CKY and the CBC for half a century. He played the game, served as president of the Manitoba Curling Association, worked with both the Canadian Curling Association and the World Curling Federation, and there’s a bonspiel at the Thistle named in his honor. Pick made certain that curling was never back-page news or filler at the end of a sportscast.
47. Jack Matheson: Admittedly, there’s bias in this choice, because Matty gave me my start at the Winnipeg Tribune, but his sassy and brassy sports column was the only absolute must-read in town during the 1970s. And when Furnaceman fired him up for his daily rants on CJOB, it was must-listening. Matty set an incredibly high bar as a sports scribe, and no one has come close to reaching it since the Trib folded.
48. Friar Nicolson: There’s no way of knowing how many young men and women went into broadcasting because of the curmudgeonly Friar, but I’d suggest the number is closer to 50 than one. The longtime play-by-play voice of the Jets, Friar is the man who lured Knuckles Irving to CJOB in 1973, and he also gave one-time do-everything CKY/CTV voice Peter Young his start in the gab game. That’s serious impact.
49. Bob Irving: When Knuckles became the voice of the Blue Bombers, Don Jonas and Chuck Ealey were the starting QBs and Dieter Brock was a little-known rookie who answered to the name Ralph. Bud Riley was the head coach, and there have been 14 more since Knuckles moved in behind the mic. So he goes back some, and he’s still going. At least he was until COVID-19 interrupted regularly schedule play-by-play. We assume (hope) the well-liked and highly respected Knuckles will be back for a 46th season once the pandemic is in the rear-view mirror.
50. Don Wittman: How versatile was Witt? Well, we know he covered the CFL and the NHL and tennis and the Olympics and world-class track and top-flight curling during close to half a century with the CBC, but he also broadcast cricket. Ya, cricket. Witt traveled the globe and was on site to call the Ben Johnson race in Seoul and Donovan Bailey in Atlanta, but home base was always Winnipeg.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and a restful Louis Riel Long Weekend to you all…
So, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers re-up Mike O’Shea because he brought home the Grey Cup, and the Winnipeg Jets re-up Paul Maurice because…well, some of us are still trying to work our way through that.
I mean, Coach Potty Mouth hasn’t brought anything home, except the bacon, and at a reported $3 million per year that’s a whole lot of pork rinds and BLTs. I’m sure his bride and kids appreciate it, even if many among the rabble don’t like what he brings to the table, and O’Shea can only wish his championship-calibre coaching paid as handsomely as Coach PoMo’s six years of mostly mediocrity.
But, hey, this isn’t meant to be a hit piece on Maurice.
Everybody loves Coach PoMo. Well, okay, not everybody. But the people who matter the most do—Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, the lads in the changing room. Why, listening to them gush about their bench puppeteer after locking him down for the next three winters, I was convinced he’d discovered a cure for the Coronavirus while helping little old ladies cross busy streets. Who knew winning just two playoff rounds in half a dozen crusades was such a laudable achievement?
But, again, this isn’t meant to be a hit piece on Coach PoMo.
The moral of today’s story, kids, is this: Stand By Your Man (and I make no apologies for riffing on the title of a country classic by the legendary Tammy Wynette).
The Jets and Bombers, you see, stand by their men like no other National Hockey League/Canadian Football League combo in Canada, although it hasn’t always been that way for our gridiron Goliaths.
Once upon a time not so long ago, Winnipeg FC went through head coaches like Kleenex during a chick flick, but the revolving-door strategy ended on Dec. 4, 2013, when CEO Wade Miller brought in O’Shea as sideline steward. It took Coach Grunge six seasons to get the job done, but nobody’s complaining today, except perhaps city workers still burdened with the task of cleaning up the mess Chris Streveler left behind at the Grey Cup parade.
The point is, the Grey Grail is back in Good Ol’ Hometown due to the stick-to-itness of the Canadian Mafia, which includes GM Kyle Walters, and O’Shea has been rewarded with a fresh set of downs (three-year contract).
There’s been no such success for the Jets, of course, just some warm-and-fuzzies from a series of downtown whiteout parties during a deep Beard Season run two springs back. Still, the Puck Pontiff has chosen to stay the course with the man he recruited a month after O’Shea arrived in town, extending Maurice’s gig for another three winters, whether we think he’s earned it or not.
So, since December 2013, the Bombers have known one head coach. Ditto the Jets since January 2014.
Now gaze upon the Canadian pro sports landscape (read: CFL, NHL). What do you see? That’s right, coaching chaos. There’ve been eight head knocks in the Republic of Tranna. Same in Montreal, E-Town and Lotus Land. Bytown has had seven. Calgary six. All since both Coach Grunge and Coach PoMo took root in River City.
What does it all mean?
Well, I don’t know about you, but I’ll take a steady hand over a knee-jerking gong show anytime, so long as it delivers favorable results in a results-driven business, and stability got the Bombers a CFL title, to be sure. It’s done squat for the Jets, though. Other than stir up the anti-PoMo mob, that is.
It really doesn’t matter that I think Maurice is something of a snake charmer the way he hypnotizes news snoops and fans with his smooth sound bites. As mentioned, it’s about results, and his numbers just don’t add up to the unflinching faith the Puck Pontiff has in PoMo’s coaching ability. Let’s, for example, stack his numbers against those of Bruce Boudreau, the recently defrocked head coach of the Minnesota Wild.
Since the 2014-15 season: Maurice: 246-175-48 (11-16 in playoffs), one conference final, missed playoffs twice.
Boudreau: 255-159-53 (16-17 in playoffs), one conference final, missed playoffs once.
For that, Boudreau received a pink slip. Twice (in Anaheim and Minny). Yet, for doing less with more, Maurice received a three-year reward and a $9 million windfall. Go figure.
More than once, Jets capitano Blake Wheeler has said he’d “go through a brick wall” for Maurice. At least now Coach PoMo can afford to fix the wall.
Remember those Maurice-to-Seattle whispers? Well, actually they weren’t just whispers. Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet first mentioned it on his 31 Thoughts podcast with Jeff Marek in early December. When asked who might be the first head coach of Seattle’s NHL Team To Be Named Later, Friedge said, “I’ll tell you this, I’ve got some guys who think it’s going to be Paul Maurice.” Well, don’t you just know that Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab, although “loathe to play the role of gossip monger,” took that sound bite the very next day and gossip-mongered it into a froth. “Could the delay in getting Maurice extended be less about Winnipeg’s desire to take a wait-and-see approach—which, at this point, wouldn’t make much sense—and more about the 52-year-old wanting to hold off and perhaps eventually test the waters?” he asked in a bout of reckless speculation that was cloak-and-dagger in tone and offered zero substance. He also informed readers that Maurice and Seattle GM Ron Francis have a bit of a bromance, as if to thicken the plot. I don’t know if Friedman and Mad Mike feel like damn fools today, but I doubt it.
Some of us, of course, knew from the get-go that Coach PoMo was in Good Ol’ Hometown to stay, and modesty doesn’t prevent me from reminding you of that fact. Here’s what I wrote on Sept. 16: “Maurice ain’t going anywhere. You don’t fire the coach when the two main puppeteers, Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, hurl half of his blueline into the dumpster.” And this is what my Two Hens In The Hockey House added on Oct. 3: “Mark Chipman and Chevy will part ways with Maurice when the Dalai Lama punches out the Pope.” But, hey, what do we know? We don’t have our feet on the ground like the all-knowing (not!) boys on the beat.
Yes, now that Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun has mentioned it, I thought it was rather cringeworthy that the Jets would salute Bobby Hull the same night they celebrated Thomas Steen as one of the two latest inductees to the club’s Hall of Fame. Hull has a well-documented history of domestic abuse/violence. Ditto Steen.
If nothing else, the Jets lead the league in Hall of Fame scofflaws, and this was part of Friesen’s take:
“Given how far we’ve come as a society in recognizing the horrors of abuse of women, the shadow victims are forced to live in because they’re afraid to come forward, the price the victim often pays, particularly with a popular or powerful public figure—given all that, how can organizations still celebrate a man with such a history? Hockey’s culture is supposed to be changing. Physical abuse and racially or gender-motivated verbal abuse is no longer tolerated, but rather vigorously investigated, with perpetrators held accountable. It’s supposed to be an inclusive, respectful environment, for all races, genders and sexual orientations. So what message does it send when a team trots out Hull for a special occasion, asking its fans to applaud him?”
Seriously. What part of domestic violence do the Jets not understand?
No surprise there was a bit of pushback to my recent post about the 1977-78 Jets holding the record for most consecutive wins by a Canadian pro sports franchise. Some have pooh-poohed the Jets’ 15 straight Ws as the product of a watered-down, tier-II World Hockey Association. Well, let me just say this about that: WHA outfits faced off against NHL sides 63 times and the final tally was 34-22-7 in favor of the WHA. The Jets were 7-5-2. Meantime, two of the top five scorers (Wayne Gretzky, Mike Rogers) and four of the top 10 (Blaine Stoughton, Blair MacDonald) in the first season after the merger were WHA grads. And Mark Howe, also a WHA product, was the top scoring defenceman. So there.
Some truly terrific scribbling in the Drab Slab last week, first from Mike Sawatzky and then Melissa Martin. Mike filled us in on the back-from-the-dead experience of Rick St. Croix, goaltending guru of the Manitoba Moose. Rick, one of the nicest, most-decent men you’ll ever meet, almost left us when his ticker kicked up a fuss at the airport in December, but he’s now in full recovery and back at work. Melissa, meanwhile, took a road trip to Drumheller, Alta., where she had a natter with Steve Vogelsang, the sportscaster-turned teacher-turned back robber-turned jail bird. It’s gripping stuff for those of us who remember Steve as the glib guy on the CKY sports desk.
I stayed up past my normal bedtime to watch the Oscars last Sunday. Just wondering: Have Renée Zellweger and Joaquin Phoenix finished their speeches yet?
I find myself wondering this, too: Between Skip The Dishes, UberEats and DoorDash, does anyone still actually cook dinner at home?
Major League Baseball is talking about expanding its playoffs and, the way I hear it, the post-season soon shall include everyone but the Little League World Series champions. Oh for the days when only two teams qualified for the rounders championship and they settled the debate when the sun was high and kids could listen to the weekday games in school. And, no, that doesn’t mean I’m living in the past. It means the MLB post-season shouldn’t be like a day at the beach. You know, “Everybody in!”
Some very strange blah, blah, blah in the playground last week. Start with Jim Crane, dismissive owner of the Houston Astros, who cheated their way to a MLB title with an elorate sign-stealing scheme. Asked if his club’s chicanery was the difference in its 2017 World Series win, Crane said, “this didn’t impact the game.” When challenged by a news snoop to explain how blatant cheating didn’t influence the outcome, he said, “I didn’t say it didn’t impact the game.”
I believe Crane’s pants are still on fire.
Meanwhile, Mark Spector of Sportsnet delivered a head-scratching analysis of the Zack Kassian kicking incident, whereby the Edmonton Oilers forward put the bladed boots to Erik Cernak of the Tampa Bay Lightning while they were tangled in an on-ice heap. Spector said Cernak took “what appeared to be a skate sort of across the chest, got up, skated away like it was nothing. Didn’t even give a second look to Kassian. So, yes, it looked like it happened.”
There are no words to describe how dumb that sounds.
The Boston Red Sox might have cheated their way to the 2018 World Series title, and the New England Patriots apparently cheated their way to a couple of Super Bowl championships. Thus I asked Beantown booster Jack the Bartender how the Boston Bruins are cheating in their latest quest for a Stanley Cup. “Zdeno Chara is a robot,” he answered. “He actually died four years ago.”
And, finally, I wouldn’t still be scribbling these musings if not for my doctor and Brian Adam, a former radio guy who insists I keep cranking it out. Brian is a Montreal Canadiens booster, although I don’t hold that against him, and he has a radio voice that makes him sound like one of the Bee Gees, and I definitely take issue with that. At any rate, if you don’t like what you’re reading, direct all complaints to Bee Gee Brian, not moi. You’ll find him in Bart’s Pub.
Yes, it’s a return of the Sunday smorgas-bored, but with a slight twist: Sports Santa arrives on Wednesday and he’s given us a sneak peak at what he’s tucked inside his bag, so let’s see if it’s Goal or a Lump o’ Coal for the good and not-so-good girls and boys in the toy department of life…
GOAL: The Winnipeg Blue Bombers ended the longest dry spell since prohibition, so all hosannas to the Canadian Mafia—Wade Miller (CEO), Kyle Walters (GM) and Mike O’Shea (head coach)—who brought the Grey Cup home to River City and turned Chris Streveler into a flesh-flashing party animal. I don’t recall Kenny Ploen getting half naked and noodle-legged during Grey Grail celebrations back in the day, but good on Streveler for letting his wolf loose. After all, this sort of thing only happens every 29 years.
LUMP O’ COAL: Andrew Harris. Ya, I realize the local product was top dog in the Canadian Football League championship game, but he became a tainted tailback by failing a mid-season pee test. Harris claimed innocence, but don’t they all when caught using PEDs?
GOAL: Dayna Spiring became the first female board chair in the 89-years history of the local three-down football outfit, and the lady is a champ. You might have seen Dayna down on the field at McMahon Stadium in Calgary, hoisting the Grey Grail after the Bombers had waffled the Hamilton Tabbies on the final Sunday in November, and that’s girl power, baby.
LUMP O’ COAL: Actually, make it an entire coal bin for Glen Suitor, the TSN gasbag whose swooning over singer-of-songs Keith Urban during the Grey Cup telecast registered 10 on the creep-me-out meter. We haven’t seen or heard teenage-girly gushing like that since John, Paul, George and Ringo worked their first Ed Sullivan Show gig. I truly believe Suitor wet his pants.
GOAL: All aboard the Bianca Andreescu Tennis Express. First she won the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, then the Rogers Cup in the Republic of Tranna, then the U.S. Open in Gotham, where she slayed neighborhood bully Serena Williams in the final. Along the way, former world No. 1 Angelique Kerber called Bianca the “biggest drama queen ever,” and you know you’re doing something right when the claws come out.
LUMP O’ COAL: Apparently the ‘C’ on Blake Wheeler’s sweater stands for “cantankerous cuss,” because the Winnipeg Jets captain went full-on potty mouth at the close of business last April, telling Winnipeg Sun scribe Paul Friesen to “fuck off.” And don’t talk to me about a heat-of-the-moment comment after a tough loss. Fifteen teams were eliminated from the Stanley Cup runoff last spring, and only one captain told a news snoop to “fuck off.” Look, Wheeler doesn’t have to like the questions, he doesn’t even have to answer ever question, he doesn’t have to get warm and fuzzy with news snoops, but civility also starts with a ‘C’. Hopefully he’ll try it on for size when the Jets are ousted next spring.
GOAL: I’m not sure there’s anyone in sports more delightful than Brooke Henderson, our Lady of the Links who won two more tournaments to become the most successful hoser golfer on either the LPGA or PGA tours. That’s nine titles for Brooke now, and I hope we never take her for granted because there should be nothing ho hum about winning two events every year. Brooke is a bringer-of-joy and a national treasure.
LUMP O’ COAL: The U.S. women’s national soccer side established new, disturbing standards for rub-it-in-their-faces hoorawing during a 13-0 rout of lowly Thailand. The Yankee Doodle Damsels celebrated each of their scores as if they’d retaken France from Hitler’s Nazis, and their over-the-top, cringeworthy carry-on after goals eight through 13 was an ugly pock mark on an otherwise masterful World Cup performance in Paris and the surrounding French countryside.
GOAL: I have two words for the TSN World Cup panel of Clare Rustad, Kaylyn Kyle and Diana Matheson—c’est magnifique. Actually, I have more than two words for them: Brisk and blunt, feisty, fiery and unafraid to put noses out of joint, the trio provided commentary as insightful as it was entertaining, and it didn’t matter if they were talking about hand balls or Marta’s shade of lipstick. TSN gave three women a voice and they knew what to do with it. What a concept. Add Kyle’s killer hair to the mix and it all worked.
LUMP O’ COAL: Donald Trump picked a Twitter fight with America’s leading lady on the pitch, Megan Rapinoe. Seriously, what’s up with that? I mean, wasn’t Trump too busy separating Mexican mothers from their kids to worry about a fitba diva?
GOAL: Katherine Henderson, CEO of Curling Canada, wanted to bring equal pay to the pebble and she’s done it. Prize purses at both the 2020 Scotties Tournament of Hearts and the Brier will be $300,000, with each winning outfit collecting $105,000. Hurry hard to that pay window, girls. You’ve earned it.
LUMP O’ COAL: Auston Matthews of the Tranna Maple Leafs and some of his boozed-up buddies thought it would be a swell idea to act like damn fools and prank a female security guard at 2 o’lock in the morning last summer in Scottsdale, Ariz. They attempted to climb into her locked car, then got all leaky-mouthed when she turned them back. When last seen, Matthews had dropped his trousers and was mooning the guard. What a charmer.
LUMP O’ COAL: Many mainstream jock journos wrote off L’Affaire Matthews as nothing more than the yuk-it-up, boys-will-be-boys hijinks of youth, and that’s because too many mainstream jock journos are guys who relate to frat-boy hijinks. I imagine the narrative would have been different had it been their mother, sister, wife or daughter sitting alone in that car.
GOAL: Greg Fettes and Matt Cockell brought the Western Hockey League back to Winnipeg, playing out of a cramped Wayne Fleming Arena at the U of M. Nice. Now, if only Greg and Matt would do something about ditching the Sasquatch logo and changing the team name to something more River City-centric.
GOAL: When Murat Ates joined The Athletic to work the Jets beat, I feared he’d be too heavy on numbers and too light on storytelling. Turns out he’s found an acceptable mix. I still won’t read him if I need an abacus, because that’s just typing, not writing, but I don’t turn away when he’s spinning a good yarn. Murat has a nice way with words. Boffo addition to the beat.
GOAL: Bob Cameron. Blue Bombers. Ring of Honour. Brilliant.
GOAL: Jennifer Jones became the most successful skip in Scotties history, nailing down win No. 141 last winter in Sydney, and I really wish everyone would get past that whole Cathy O thing. C’mon people, can’t we just talk about Jennifer as the greatest female curler ever?
GOAL: The Seattle To Be Named Laters have yet to play a game, but they’ve already scored big by bringing Cammi Granato on board as a fulltime pro scout, a first for the very male, very old boys club known as the National Hockey League.
LUMP O’ COAL: Hockey Day in Canada is a celebration of our great game, which is supposed to be for everyone, but the tall foreheads at CBC and Sportsnet couldn’t find a way to squeeze a women’s match into their 12-hours marathon last February. Oh, sure, the natterbugs mentioned Ponytail Puck, but the Tranna Furies-les Canadiennes joust should have been part of the package.
LUMP O’ COAL: Never mind that Ron MacLean enabled Don Cherry’s pulpit bullying for 33 years, the Hockey Night in Canada host confessed to not recognizing “the structural racism or sexism that’s going on” in hockey. I don’t believe for a nanosecond that MacLean is truly that naive. He saw it and heard it. He just ignored it.
GOAL: Richie Hall had been the most maligned man in Good Ol’ Hometown since taking command of the Bombers defensive dozen, but it was Richie’s D that ruled the day in each of Winnipeg FC’s playoff victories. Winning the Grey Cup looked good on him.
GOAL: Anyone who purchased and scarfed down a Walby Burger at a Bombers game deserves a lifetime supply of Tums or Pepto. And maybe a cardiologist to be named later. I mean, that sucker was a heart attack in the making—six meat patties, six chicken strips, six wieners, six hunks of bacon, cheese, French fries, pickles, lettuce, onions, tomatoes and special sauce stuffed between two buns the size of an umbrella.
LUMP O’ COAL: CFL commish Randy Ambrosie has been flitting about the globe, making nice with Mexicans, Europeans and Aussies, but it seems he’s forgotten about his own back yard. The CFL lost more than 76,000 customers between 2018 and ’19 and, notably, even the longtime flagship franchise in Edmonton took a huge hit at the box office (minus-15,898). Commish Randy doesn’t appear to have a plan to make Rouge Football a happening again in Vancouver or the Republic of Tranna, but, hey, I hear he’s big in Frankfurt and Vienna.
LUMP O’ COAL: The Green Bay Packers-Oakland Raiders adventure at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry was a gong show from the get-go, and we have some dude named John Graham to blame for that. Ticket prices were $75-$340 (plus tax/fees), which was never going to work in a burg that only buys wholesale; Oakland punter A. J. Cole arrived wearing a Winnipeg, Alberta, t-shirt; the Packers sat 33 starters; they found potholes in the end zones, thus the field for the faux football game was reduced to 80 yards in length. Oh, and did I mention there were fewer than 20,000 customers in the ball park? Graham blamed it all on the media, naturally, and he had the bad manners to attempt to boot Paul Friesen from the press box. Friesen stayed, the National Football League didn’t. And four-down football will never be back.
GOAL: Paul Friesen continues to crank out his Night Before Christmas sports poem, a tradition started by Uncle Vince Leah back in the day at the Winnipeg Tribune. I resurrected it for the Winnipeg Sun in the 1990s (or was it the ’80s?), so I’m delighted that Paul picked up that pen. I assume it’ll be featured in the tabloid’s Tuesday edition and, like most of his stuff, it’ll be boffo.
LUMP O’ COAL: Mad Mike McIntyre turned the Drab Slab into gossip central by telling us that the Jets changing room was “rotten to the core.” He mentioned something about “multiple sources,” but neglected to tell us what his “multiple sources” actually told him. Thus, galloping gossip among the rabble ensued. That was April 5. On April 17, he advised us that there was “unity among teammates, both in the room and on the ice,” but by April 20 the players apparently couldn’t stand the sight of each other again. In May, he informed us that any “ruffled feathers” in the room belonged to Rink Rat Scheifele, and in June he once again told us that the Jets were “a fractured bunch.” But wait. In August, he advised us that there was “nothing going on that winning couldn’t fix.” Confused yet? So was I. More latterly, which is to say last week, he insisted that AWOL defender Dustin Byfuglien was the root of all evil, because was was siphoning too much alpha oxygen out of the room. Meanwhile, his stooge-in-laws at the Freep, Steve Lyons and yesterday’s man Paul Wiecek, told us that captain Blake Wheeler was the rottenest of all apples in that barrel. All that and, nine months later, they’ve yet to provide a shred of evidence to support the “rotten to the core” narrative, other than one late-season, closed-door-meeting, which is commonplace in the NHL. Apparently, innuendo and back-fence gossip trump facts and anecdotal evidence at the Drab Slab.
And, finally, GOAL: To everyone who indulged an old lady by stopping by for a read of the River City Renegade. We hit 48,000 views this year, and that’s a high-water mark. So thanks. Happy Christmas, happy New Year, and happy trails to you.
Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and, say, it turned out nice again…
Well I’ll be damned. The Canadian Mafia got it done.
And, yes, I’ll confess there were times when I harbored serious doubt that the True North Trinity had what it takes to build a championship cocktail, and I figured one of Mike O’Shea, Kyle Walters or Wade Miller would have been out the door by now.
My money was always on O’Shea to be kicked to the curb first, because head coaches tend to get a lot less leash than general managers or CEOs. Some of them, in fact, don’t last much longer than a pint of beer in front of Chris Walby.
In Coach Grunge’s case, though, at some point in the past six years O’Shea learned to get out of his own way, leaving the gadgetry and gimmickry (read: fake punts, phantom field goals and truly dopey coaching) to others, and the rabble was partying at Portage and Main for the first time in 29 years on Sunday night because of it.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are rulers of all they survey in Rouge Football, and Coach Grunge’s lads didn’t just take down the dreaded Hamilton Tabbies in the 107th edition of Grey Cup skirmishing. They turned McMahon Stadium in the Alberta Foothills into a woodshed. They delivered a man-to-boys paddywhacking to an outfit that had better credentials entering the fray, but the Tabbies’ 16-3 record and a couple of bucks wouldn’t have bought them a cup of coffee at Tim’s.
Even if it did, they wouldn’t have been able to sit and enjoy it, because their lips were too swollen and bruised.
Did someone say smash mouth? It was Winnipeg FC 33, Hamilton 12 when the tears of joy began rolling down cheeks, including Richie Hall’s, but that 33-12 scoreline looked a lot more like 50-12, and it truly was a made-in-Canada production.
Look at the main players. O’Shea…hoser. GM Walters…hoser. CEO Miller…hoser. Then, of course, there was Andrew Harris, the day’s most outstanding player…hoser.
Good day, eh? Yes, it was. It was a very good day.
Random thoughts and observations while watching the Bombers ragdoll the Tabbies to become Canadian Football League titleholders:
Pre-Game: Nice to see truly good guy Brian Williams on the TSN set, and the veteran broadcaster doesn’t go all wishy-washy in his chin-wag with CFL grand poobah Randy Ambrosie. When Commish Randy puts on his happy face and describes the lame market in the Republic of Tranna as “an opportunity,” Williams scoffs and calls it “a disaster.” Atta boy, Brian…Mike Benevides drops by to explain how the Bombers might stop Brandon Banks, and he mentions something about a “kill Speedy B” strategy. “He goes to the bathroom for popcorn (follow him),” he said. Excuse me, but who gets their popcorn in a bathroom?…Fun chin-wag between the TSN panel and Winnipeg FC assistant GM and hall-of-fame quarterback Danny McManus. Milt Stegall notes that Danny Mac always seemed to be in good humor during his playing days, even when tossing four picks in a game. “If someone caught it,” Danny Mac jokes, “I just counted it as a completion.”…I don’t know about you, but I’m liking The Beaches. Three guitars, a drum kit, and keyboards. Yup, looks and sounds like a rock band to me. Hope Nicole Kidman’s husband, Keith Urban, is as good during the halftime show…Tabbies lose the coin toss. Might be a harbinger.
First Quarter: Brandon Alexander picks Hamilton QB Dane Evans’ first pass, and the Bombers are geeked up…Andrew Harris head butts Darth Defender, Simoni Lawrence, after a whistle and directly in front of an official, but the zebra keeps his hanky in his pocket. Go figure…Willie Jefferson forces Evans to spill the football and Beastmo Bighill gobbles it up. One play later, Harris skedaddles 15 yards to the house. Bombers 7, Tabbies nada…What’s this? Does Speedy B have an owie? Looks like it. Need to keep an eye on that…Lirim Hajrullahu’s right leg puts the Tabbies on the board with a three-pointer. Bombers 7, Tabbies 3…Old reliable Justin Medlock’s left leg isn’t so reliable, and he’s wayward on a field goal attempt, but Speedy B doesn’t bring it out of the end zone. Strange. Bombers 8, Tabbies 3…Bombers D-line stuffs the Tabbies on a third-and-one…Total dominance by the Bombers on both sides of the line, so why is it only 8-3 for the good guys?
Second Quarter: Hajrullahu and Medlock exchange FGs. Bombers 11, Tabbies 6…The Bombers defensive dozen, especially the front four, is mauling the Tabbies O-line. This thing should already be a route…Check it out. Chris Streveler is in at QB for Winnipeg FC and he’s throwing the ball. Complete to Andrew Harris. Touchdown. Bombers 18, Tabbies 6…I know there’s plenty of football left to play, but I’m already declaring a winner. This game is over. The Bombers have everything, the Tabbies nothing. Trust me, it’s in the bag…Hey, there’s Nicole Kidman’s hubby Keith heading inside to warm his hands…Oh dear. One look at Keith Urban and Glen Suitor is swooning in the TSN broadcast booth, comparing country music to football. He tells us there are “twelve chords” in a country music song and 12 players on the Bombers offence. Fabulous insight, Suits…Zach Collaros connects with Rasheed Bailey for an 11-yard gain. “Another hit song for (offensive co-ordinator) Paul LaPolice,” says Suitor. Good grief…Another FG from Medlock. Bombers 21, Tabbies 6…Like I said, it’s a done deal…There’s Bob Young, the Tabbies bankroll. But don’t call him the team owner, he insists he’s the team caretaker. In that case, he should grab a broom and sweep up the gawdawful mess his club is leaving on the McMahon Stadium carpet.
Halftime: It’s Keith Urban time…My young daughter in the B.C. interior tells me he’s a country music superstar, but without a steel guitar or a fiddle, his isn’t my kind of country…He does three tunes, none of which sound country. In fact, Nicole’s hubby sounds a lot like Barry Gibb and the Bee Gees on his third number…The kids seem to like it, though, and that’s all that matters.
Third Quarter: Receiver Darvin Adams takes a direct snap and completes a pass to QB Streveler. The Bombers are rubbing their noses in it now…Another Medlock FG. Bombers 24, Tabbies 6…Bombers stuff the Tabbies on another third-and-one. Someone call a priest and have him go to the Hamilton sideline, STAT!…Hey, look who’s joined Suits and Chris Cuthbert in the TSN booth. Why, it’s Nicole Kidman’s hubby, and Suitor immediate goes into teenybopper/groupie mode. “What’s your favorite song?” he gushes. “You set a new standard (in the halftime show), Keith. I am a huge, huge fan.”…Jaelon Acklin hauls in an Evans pass near the sideline, and Suitor instructs the boys in the truck to run a replay. “Take a look at the replay, ’cause Keith Urban wants to know,” he says…It’s time for Urban to go home to Australia or Nashville, so Suitor, celebrating his 57th birthday, wraps his left arm around him and says, “I can tell all my buddies Keith Urban sang happy birthday,” he squeals…Hey, it’s my 69th birthday on Wednesday. Wonder if Keith will stop by to serenade me. Probably not…I don’t know if Suitor asked for an autograph, but I’m pretty sure he had to wipe himself dry after Urban left.
Fourth Quarter: The rest, as they say, is history. The Bombers continue to maul the Tabbies and send Speedy B to the infirmary. He’s done for the night. Make the final: Bombers 33, Tabbies 12.
Postgame: Richie Hall is wiping tears from his eyes, and I can’t say I blame the much maligned man in charge of the Bombers defensive dozen. He lost a brother not so long ago, so emotions are pouring out…Andrew Harris, banished for two regular-season games after lab squints found a PED in his pee, is a bit of an ugly winner. “All the haters out there who talk shit, this is for you,” he snarls at Sara Orlesky of TSN. He says something similar after accepting his most outstanding player/Canadian awards, suggesting “haters” can take his trinkets and shove ’em where there’s only darkness. Understandable, I suppose, given what he went through, but ugly nonetheless…O’Shea stands back and allows the longest-serving member of the Bombers, Jake Thomas, to get his paws on the Grey Cup first. And that would explain why Coach Grunge is so popular with his troops….Smilin’ Hank Burris informs us that “We didn’t see one Bomber player limp off that field.” Tell that to Streveler who, at times, could scarcely walk…The boys in the booth and on the TSN panel repeatedly made reference to Harris’ two-game suspension, but I don’t recall any of them mentioning it was for a drug bust. Odd…It’s all over but the hangovers and the parade…Cuthbert and Suitor sign off, but not before Suits thanks his new heartthrob Keith Urban.
And, finally, I’ve now witnessed eight Blue Bombers Grey Cup victories, dating back to QB Jim Van Pelt’s 22-point game in 1958, and I covered three of them. This one feels special, and it’s a good way to bow out. I’m taking a break from the River City Renegade blog, and it might turn out to be permanent. We’ll see. In the meantime, thanks to the 116,000-plus who stopped by for a read, and enjoy the parade.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I’m in a Grey Cup state of mind…
Welcome to the O-For-The-Century Bowl, featuring the two biggest losers since Decca took a pass on The Beatles and Ford went all-in on the Edsel.
I mean, we’re talking Wile E. Coyote v. his own twin brother here, without the ACME explosives or falling anvils, although I wouldn’t put anything past Simoni Lawrence, the Darth Defender of Rouge Football.
Simoni figures to be one of the central participants in today’s Grey Cup skirmish between the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Hamilton Tabbies, and if he hasn’t dropped a boulder on Zach Collaros’ head by the end of the day, chances are the guys in blue-and-gold togs will claim bragging rights in the Canadian Football League for the first time in almost three decades.
Pundits across the landscape have dubbed this 107th edition of the three-down championship the Drought Bowl, and it’s a nice, catchy title, even if the Paper Bag Bowl would be just as apt.
It’ll be exactly 29 years tomorrow when the Bombers last grabbed the Grey Grail, while the Tabbies haven’t taken a swig from the goblet since Nov. 28, 1999, so one of these storied franchises will finally join the rest of us in the 21st century.
And, yes, I would prefer Winnipeg FC to be on the high side of the tote board.
What can I say? I’m a lowly blogger, not one of the ink-stained wretches who pretend they don’t have any rooting interest in the joust, thus I’m allowed to wave pom-poms, and mine just happen to be blue and gold.
So make the final: Winnipeg 28, Hamilton 27.
More predictions: Most valuable player, Bombers’ quarterback Collaros; most outstanding Canadian, Andrew Harris; most annoying natterbug, Glen Suitor; smarmiest smile, Mike Benevides.
Things I learned while watching too much blah, blah, blah on TSN’s pre-game coverage Saturday: Kate Beirness doesn’t like to talk about sex, and Davis Sanchez shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a microphone. Not sure why blushing Kate is so skittish about discussing the annual Jim Hunt Memorial Question re the large lads engaging in pre-match nookie, but she came across as Queen of the Prudes while hiding her head and moaning, “I hate it.” As for Sanchez, I’ll be kind and just say that he and microphones are meant for each other like a cow is meant to sing opera.
Brief fashion observation I: Kate might want to tone down on the eye makeup. Ru Paul uses less.
Brief fashion observation II: Benevides and Sanchez don’t know how to wear a cowboy hat. Milt Stegall does.
Someone at TSN needs to tell Matthew Scianitti that he’s reporting on a game, not the JFK assassination or the Hindenburg disaster. The dude smiles less often than a hangman, and his walky-talky interviews are about as light and breezy as closing arguments at a murder trial.
I don’t know about you, but I found it interesting that members of the CFL Players Association voted William Stanback, not Andrew Harris, the all-star running back this season. The Bombers’ PED-tainted tailback outnumbered Stanback by a considerable margin—1,909 rushing/passing yards to 1,377—so I have to believe the players’ vote was the ultimate and definitive judgement on Harris getting caught with his hand in the juice jar. Except there’s this: They voted Louis-Philippe Bourassa as the all-star long snapper, even though he failed a pee test and, like Harris, was told to get lost for two games. Why did Harris’ drug rap disqualify him from all-star consideration, but not Bourassa’s?
Better question: Why is there such a thing as an all-star long snapper?
On the subject of honors and trinkets, it was between Brandon Banks of the Tabbies and Corn Dog Cody Fajardo of the Saskatchewan Flatlanders as the grandest of all performers in Rouge Football, and Speedy B received 41 of a possible 50 first-place votes from the nation’s grid reporters. Which begs this question: Why were Saskatchewan news snoops allowed nine votes?
Since taking my leave from the rag trade in 1999, there are only two events I’ve missed covering: The Brier and Grey Cup, even if the work became a total grind as the week progressed. I’ve never been a party animal, but I enjoyed watching everyone else whoop it up during the Grand National Drunk, and I can tell you that nobody threw a better bash than the folks from E-Town. The Spirit of Edmonton was a must-visit venue during any Grey Cup hooraw I attended.
Actually, Edmonton was my favorite Grey Cup city. I have fond memories of bending elbows with Terry Jones of the E-Town Sun and Al Ruckaber of the C-Town Sun—in a cop shop well after last call. True story. Ruckaber and I were also politely asked to leave the piano lounge at the Chateau Lacombe that week, because we kept winning Name That Tune and getting our tab picked up by the house. On the third night, the host saw us walk in, bought us both a beer and quietly told us to hit the pavement so someone else could win.
Worst Grey Cup cities were the Republic of Tranna and Vancouver. I recall being on the Left Flank one November with Ed Tait when he was still Young Eddie and working in the rag trade. We were leaving a busy-as-bees lobby of the Bayshore Inn the day of the game when an elderly chap stopped us at the exit.
“Is there something special happening here this week?” he asked.
“Ya,” Young Eddie confirmed, “it’s the Grey Cup.”
“The Greek what?”
Randy Ambrosie, the commish of Rouge Football, was in total blow-smoke-up-their-butts mode during Grey Cup week, calling the CFL “the world’s largest global football league” and telling interrogators that he’s “super optimistic” about the markets in the Republic of Tranna and Vancouver. Here are some numbers that he’s “super optimistic” about:
I cringe every time I hear Commish Randy talk about the CFL’s stance on domestic violence, because it’s such hollow prattle. He’s the guy who welcomed woman-beating Johnny Manziel north of the border.
Plenty of quality copy came out of Cowtown in the past week, and my favorite reads were Paul Friesen’s insight on Bombers QB Zach Collaros in the Winnipeg Sun, and Chris O’Leary’s take on Winnipeg FC head coach Mike O’Shea at CFL.ca. As my first sports editor Jack Matheson would say, “damn good stuff.”
Also found a piece by the aforementioned T. Jones notable and interesting due to some ghastly blasphemy from Gerry James, a celebrated running back and kicker with the Blue-and-Gold in the glory years. According to Kid Dynamite, legendary sideline steward Bud Grant “was a miserable bastard. Bud was very stoic. You could have a helluva game and he didn’t give anybody any credit. I don’t think anybody liked him.” Apparently, Gerry also believes the Buddha was a fat tub of goo who needed to get more exercise, and Jesus was a layabout who bounded about the countryside because he couldn’t hold down a steady job.
By the way, shouldn’t our so-called national newspaper have dispatched its sports columnist to Cowtown for Grey Cup week? You bet. Alas, the deep thinkers at the Globe and Mail thought it would be wiser to keep Cathal Kelly close to home in The ROT, I suppose just in case Mike Babcock stubbed his toe on the way back from his retirement party.
The Drab Slab, perhaps recognizing that the Winnipeg Sun has given it a serious paddywhacking, a wedgie and a swirly in playoff coverage, finally noticed that the Bombers are still playing football. So the cavalry arrived in the form of Jen Zoratti, Kevin Rollason, Doug Speirs, Ben Waldman and yesterday’s man, Paul Wiecek. Waldman is the only one of that bunch to join Jeff Hamilton and Mad Mike McIntyre with feet on the ground in Calgary, and he used them to track down Gabe Langlois, better known as Dancing Gabe. Ya, that’s what every Coupe Grey package needs, a feature on Dancing Gabe. Not! Much of the additional copy made it to the website, but not the print editions, and I’m pleased to report that yesterday’s man Wiecek shook off the moth balls and managed to scribble an entire column without mentioning Mike O’Shea’s smirk or short pants. Apparently retirement has mellowed him.
I enjoy newspaper wars and, even though the Drab Slab came at the Sun with a flury of copy on Saturday, they were trounced on the weekend. Here are the numbers for Bombers coverage:
Friday: Drab Slab 3 pages, 5 articles; Sun 14 pages, 17 articles.
Saturday: Drab Slab 6 pages, 12 articles; Sun 17 pages, 14 articles.
Sunday: Drab Slab 5 pages, 8 articles; Sun 19 pages, 15 articles.
Totals: Drab Slab 14 pages, 25 articles; Sun 50 pages, 46 articles.
Can you say overkill, kids? Sportsnet certainly can. I mean, I tuned into Sportsnet Central at 2 o’clock in the a.m. on Thursday and, 20 minutes later, the talking heads were still gasbagging about Mike Babcock’s ouster as bench puppeteer of the underachieving Tranna Maple Leafs. I’d like to tell you how many pundits Sportsnet trotted out to wax poetically about Babs, either on air or the website, but I ran out of fingers, thumbs and toes to count on. Let’s just say everyone from the Dalai Lama to Doug Ford had their say, and you know Sportsnet has jumped the shark when it posts 11 minutes of in-your-face rambling from novelty act Steve Dangle. It wasn’t any different on Friday morning, when the main page on the Sportsnet website featured a staggering 27 articles/videos devoted to Babcock and his successor, Sheldon Keefe, and that included an open letter from Dangle to the new head coach. Good grief. This wasn’t Neil Armstrong leaving footprints on the moon. It was a hockey coach being told to clear out his desk. Happens all the time.
Earth to Sportsnet/TSN! Earth to Sportsnet/TSN! Most of us who live in the colonies don’t enjoy you force-feeding us 20 minutes of news on Auston Matthews’ grooming habits every night before acknowledging that life exists beyond The ROT. We have our own preferences. Like, here’s where the major dailies on the western frontier played the Babs’ adios on their sports pages: Winnipeg Sun: Page 17. Calgary Sun: Page 16. Edmonton Sun: Page 6. Winnipeg Free Press: Page 5. Vancouver Province: Page 5. Regina Leader-Post: Page 2.
That’s right, Babs being kicked to the curb wasn’t page 1 sports news anywhere in the colonies. And no sheet was printing open letters from Steve Dangle to anyone.
Just wondering: Why is there a Steve Dangle? His gig isn’t clever, it isn’t funny, it isn’t witty, it isn’t informative, it isn’t entertaining. It’s just some wannabe somethingorother sitting in his man cave and close-talking to a camera. I can’t imagine anyone with an IQ higher than Auston Matthews’ sweater number actually enjoys it.
Really enjoyed GM Brad Treliving’s take on the recent struggles of his Calgary Flames. “The manager’s been horse shit,” he confessed. At last, some truth about the Milan Lucic trade.
And, finally, I don’t know about you, but I’ve reached the stage in my life where I’d rather sit in a bar than raise the bar.
A farewell to October smorgas-bored…and be kind to the little kiddies tonight…
I agree, news snoops shouldn’t be part of the story.
It’s just that sometimes it’s unavoidable.
It happens, for example, every time Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens or Mark McGwire fail to win a ticket to a tiny burg in central New York State. By the numbers, all three certainly belong in Cooperstown, but they’re known needle-pushers and the jock journos who hold sway in these matters tend to frown on drug cheats.
They have decided that sticking needles in your butt and fixing games are the most egregious crimes in the rounders game. You can choke a woman or thump out a disabled fan, as Ty Cobb did; you can start a barroom brawl, as Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle and other 1957 New York Yankees did; you can spit at the paying customers and call them “buffoons,” as Ted Williams did; and they’ll make room for you in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. But any player guilty of using performance-enhancing drugs or betting on ball games need not apply for residency.
Perhaps one day, but not now.
Which makes news snoops part of the story each year they take a pass on Messrs. Bonds, Clemens, McGwire and others from baseball’s steroid era.
And so it is with Andrew Harris and the Football Reporters of Canada.
When it came time to vote for regional Canadian Football League year-end trinket nominees, the boys on the beat—Ted Wyman, Jeff Hamilton, Darrin Bauming and Knuckles Irving—had their say and the ayes outnumbered the nays in judgement of Harris, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ tainted tailback exiled for two games mid-season on a drug rap.
It doesn’t matter that Harris has lugged the rock farther than any other ball carrier in Rouge Football this season. Squints in white lab coats discovered something iffy in his pee, and that was enough for Wyman, Hamilton and Bauming to bypass No. 33 in the most outstanding player and most outstanding Canadian categories.
Here it is in their own words:
Bauming, TSN 1290: “I thought long and hard on this. It weighed on my conscious quite heavily and, at the end of the day, I have to be comfortable with myself to make a decision I feel is best and just. I’m not comfortable with the precedent that it would set.”
Wyman, Winnipeg Sun: “As a voter for the local nominations, I chose not to vote for Harris because of his positive drug test. How would it be fair to all the other players in the CFL who did not test positive if I cast a vote for Harris? What would it say to athletes around the country if a player who is known to have tested positive for a performance enhancer during the season wins one or two major awards? I’m certainly not trying to be high and mighty here and I did not take this decision at all lightly. It comes after months of thought, discussion, and research and in the end, I simply could not see casting my vote in any other way.”
Hamilton, Winnipeg Free Press: “Though I’ve spent more time than I’d like to admit agonizing over this decision, the truth is, the choice was an easy one. Simply put, my personal feelings towards Harris, someone who I have great respect for and have enjoyed my professional relationship with, doesn’t outweigh my journalistic integrity. Voting for him would be sending the wrong message, while also setting a new precedent in professional sports: it doesn’t matter if you test positive for a performance-enhancing drug, so long as your stats are good enough.”
Harris, of course, has repeatedly denied using PEDs, but don’t all the culprits once caught? Yes, they do. Still, Knuckles Irving of CJOB and the longtime play-by-play voice of Winnipeg FC is of a mind that Harris has already paid the piper.
“To set the record straight, SOME Winnipeg voters, not all, decided that Andrew Harris should be further punished for his positive drug test,” he tweeted. “I believe that a 2-game suspension, 2 missed game cheques and public embarrassment in July was punishment enough—I proudly voted for him.”
It must be pointed out that a fifth vote was cast, and we can assume that Mike O’Shea wrote the name Andrew Harris on his ballot, since the Bombers head coach declared his tainted tailback “absolutely innocent” when the dude’s world began to fall apart in July and August.
So Willie Jefferson and Mike Miller are the Winnipeg FC nominees in the MOP and MOC categories, and the snub of Harris makes news snoops a large part of the story.
That isn’t the way it’s supposed to be, but that’s the way it is.
Not surprisingly, many among the rabble consider Wyman, Hamilton and Bauming an Unholy Trinity for a couple of reasons: 1) The fawning faithful believe Harris to be innocent; 2) they believe news snoops to be a bunch of wonks. Well, Harris isn’t innocent. Squints found an illegal somethingorother in his piddle, both the A and B samples. As for jock journos, some of them are wonks, but I don’t think these three guys got it wrong. You can’t have a player who’s been banished on a drug rap propped up as the grandest performer in three-down football.
Why does Irving have to keep reminding people that he works for CJOB, not the Bombers? He voted for Harris because he believes the guy’s been punished enough and he’s been Winnipeg FC’s best performer. That doesn’t make Knuckles a PR flack for the team. Got it?
You know who’s delighted that the Unholy Trinity snubbed Harris? Football reporters across the land. Had Harris made it through the initial stage of the voting process, he’d have fallen into their laps, and I’m not sure many of them would have had the stomach for it. The dean of football scribes, Terry Jones of Postmedia E-Town, probably put it best with this tweet: “Whoa. There you have it. Winnipeg media saves national voters a headache by not nominating Andrew Harris for CFL Awards after his failed drug test.”
Gotta agree with Ol’ Lefty, Troy Westwood of TSN 1290, when he and others suggest Harris’ suspension should have rendered him ineligible for any individual trinket. “The CFL shouldn’t leave it in the hands of the media to decide if someone qualifies for the player awards,” Westwood tweeted. “The league would do itself a favor to attach to a positive PED test that you no longer qualify for the CFL player awards. End the debate and project best to the public.” Your move, commish Randy Ambrosie.
So here are my two takeaways from this year’s World Series: 1) There’s no crying in baseball and, even if there was, I can’t imagine anyone outside of Houston is weeping over the Astros Game 7 loss. The Astros, from the head down, are cads. 2) Will the champion Washington Nationals go to Washington to visit the Trumps at the White House?
And, finally, the curious case of Dustin Byfuglien just gets curiouser and curiouser, doesn’t it? I mean, Big Buff arrives in Good Ol’ Hometown but doesn’t show up for Winnipeg Jets training exercises. Then we’re told he’s gone away for some navel gazing, to determine his future in life and the National Hockey League. Now we find out that he’s had ankle surgery, without input from the club, and he won’t be available until early 2020. Unless, of course, he retires, which remains a possibility. I recall head coach Paul Maurice saying “there’s nothing sinister to this” when Buff took a powder, but I’d say it’s become totally messed up. I’m inclined to suggest Byfuglien is playing the Jets for a bunch of mooks.