Let’s talk about the NFL Hole of Fame Game…a fist-fighting farce…a snake-oil salesman…welcome to Alberta…Tebow of the North…QBs by the numbers…and Coach Grunge hits the century mark

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and now they know how many holes it takes to fix an NFL field…

Did it really happen? Were the Green Bay Packers and Oakland Raiders really in Good Ol’ Hometown for a National Football League dress rehearsal last Thursday?

Well, yes, they were.

Aaron Rodgers: Good day, eh.

We know this for certain because there were sightings and photographic evidence to confirm the existence and presence of Aaron Rodgers, who apparently was separated from Borat at birth and looked positively hoser-ish in his Canadian Tuxedo.

Coo-roo-coo-coo-coo-coo-coo-coo! Good day, eh.

Mind you, I thought Rodgers was a bit too much of a denim dude. The jeans and jacket were fine, and the bolo tie was a boffo accessory, but he should have gone with a lumberjack shirt to complete the ensemble. Take it from a fashionista, overdoing denim is never a good look. On the red carpet or strolling through Osborne Village.

Anyway, a garment glitch aside, Rodgers was meant to be the star attraction in an exhibition of faux football between two storied four-down franchises at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry, but I’m sure you know by now that the Pro Bowl quarterback was one of 33 Packers no-shows. That’s right, 33 scratches. Sounds like a bad case of hemorrhoids.

Perhaps that’s fitting, though, since River City has become the butt of jokes.

To wit: How could the NFL tell it was in Winnipeg? They found potholes.

In re-configuring a Canadian Football League playground (110 yards with 20-yard end zones) to meet NFL dimensions (100 yards with 10-yard end zones), removal of CFL goal posts was required and, apparently, no one with the NFL thought to toss a few shovelfuls of good, rich prairie dirt into the holes left behind. Instead, they plopped something that looked like a swath of Austin Powers’ discarded shag carpeting on top and expected the boys to “Play on!” The Packers would have none of that. “No way, baby,” they squawked. Thus the pothole patches were ruled hazardous to the wellness of millionaire footballers and shrinkage ensued. Rather than frolic on their regulation-size grid, the large lads had to make do on an 80-yard pitch with makeshift end zones.

I’m not sure if the shrinkage was a salute to our metric system or the U.S.-Canada currency exchange rate, but it made for the kind of farce you’d find on Fawlty Towers.

Difference is, Fawlty Towers is funny, this wasn’t.

But, hey, it will forever be known as the NFL Hole of Fame game, and I suppose that’s something to shout about. Or not.

Watching the events unfold on TSN, it reminded me of another time and another place and another show fraught with farce. It was the night of Dec. 11, 1981, and Muhammad Ali was to meet Trevor Berbick in the main event of a calamitous fight card on a parched patch of earth in Nassau, The Bahamas. Before the first punch was thrown, someone discovered there was no official timer, no ringside bell to signal the start and end of each round, and only two pairs of boxing mitts. For the entire card. Promoters dispatched a man to Miami with instructions to return with fresh gloves for the Ali-Berbick bout, a stopwatch was located, and a TV crew loaned organizers a cow bell. In-ring hostilities began more than two hours late and, eventually, Berbick earned a unanimous decision for thoroughly boxing Ali’s ears over 10 rounds. Ali never fought again and, even though the card commenced on Dec. 11, none of us filed our final copy until Dec. 12. One wise acre on press row awarded the event the No Bell Prize for boxing. We laughed and agreed.

John Graham holding court.

The villain in the Gaffe-O-Rama that was the NFL experience in River City appears to be John Graham, mouthpiece for On Ice Entertainment. He didn’t have a clue about his market, hence the $75-$340 (plus taxes/fees) sticker prices and the insulting PR prattle that implied Pegtowners are backwater bumpkins who don’t know moonshine from a Slurpee. “It’s a premier event,” Graham gushed the day before they discovered the potholes. “In musical terms, it’s like the Rolling Stones or U2 type of thing.” Ya, for sure, John. Take away Mick, Keith, Bono and The Edge and it was just like that.

They tell us that 21,992 bought the snake oil that Graham was selling, but I believe that like I believe the cow really did jump over the moon. Based on what I saw on TSN, Football Follies Field was a glass half empty. Naturally, Graham pointed an accusing finger at news snoops, because that’s what some PR flacks tend to do when their face hits the floor. He whinged to Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun about “very biased articles” and “things that aren’t accurate,” then attempted to have Freezer banned from the press perch. What a tool.

My favorite headline on the NFL Hole of Fame Game was delivered by the Washington Post: “Canadians are very politely not buying tickets to the Packers-Raiders game in Winnipeg.”

A.J. Cole

Much was made of Raiders punter A.J. Cole wearing a t-shirt with the words “Winnipeg, Alberta” pasted across the front. Alberta only wishes it was so.

Cole was thoughtful enough to offer a mea culpa for his geographical goof-up, so I say we cut the guy some slack. Come to think of it, Cole has a degree in Industrial Engineering from North Carolina State. What, no one thought to ask him to come up with a better solution to the goal post/pothole problem than an 80-yard football field?

By the way, those “Winnipeg, Alberta” t-shirts and hoodies are available from TeeChip on the Internet. They come in sizes S-XXXXXXL and nine colors. I’m not saying I endorse them, but they might make a good gag gift for family and friends unfortunate enough to live in Wild Rose Country.

When the Packers-Raiders skirmish was announced, Winnipeg Blue Bombers CEO Wade Miller described it as a “once in a lifetime experience.” After Thursday, I’d say that sounds about right.

Chris Streveler

Moving on to football with a rouge, if you’ve ever wondered what Tim Tebow might have looked like in the CFL, Chris Streveler provided a hint on Friday night in E-Town.

Pretty he ain’t, not at all like Trevor Harris, his counterpart with the Eskimos who usually looks like the ‘after’ part of a Tide commercial. You know, all spiffy, fresh and clean. Streveler, on the other hand, is kind of like Mike O’Shea, his head coach with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Grungy. With a game to match his scruffy chin whiskers.

Going by the QB numbers on Friday, Streveler had no business beating the Eskimos 34-28 in a West Division top-dog throw-down at Commonwealth Stadium. Harris flung the football for 430 yards and a touchdown, Streveler 89 on just seven completions and zero scores. But they don’t give the guy operating a wrecking ball marks for artistic impression, and that’s the way it is with some quarterbacks.

Tim Tebow

Guys like Harris are a candy store. Streveler is a hardware store, full of nuts and bolts and wrenches and all manner of heavy-metal gadgets. He’s Tebow of the North. Tebow with a toque. It’s all about the legs and smash-mouth with the neophyte QB, subbing for wounded starter Matt Nichols.

Streveler crash-banged his way to one Tebowesque TD and set up another with a 30-yard Tebowesque boogie, and small DBs and safeties across the CFL landscape better get used to the idea of being the bug rather than the windshield for the next month-plus while Nichols is in the repair shop.

You know what the narrative would be today had it been Nichols tossing the rock for just 89 yards, don’t you? That’s right, even in victory, the rabble would be breaking out the pitch forks and putting a match to torches.

Trevor Harris

That old bromide “statistics are for losers” certainly applies to the quarterbacks in the two Winnipeg-E-Town skirmishes this season. Here are the numbers:
Trevor Harris       61/94   775 yds.
Nichols/Streveler 20/38   289 yds.

Sean Whyte of the Eskimos hoofed 14 field goals v. Winnipeg FC, so why would I still rather have Justin Medlock doing my three-point kicking in a big game?

A quick thought on Willie Jefferson, the holy terror who most often lines up at defensive end for the Bombers: Exactly what part of Jefferson did the Saskatchewan Roughriders not like? Seriously. Gang Green let this guy get away? I’m pretty sure when Trevor Harris brushed his hair after Friday’s game, Jefferson fell out. 

I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking Glen Suitor would be a much better broadcaster if he actually knew what was in the CFL rule book. Just saying.

Speaking of Suitor and the squawk boxes on TSN, here are a couple of juicy snippets from Kirk Penton’s latest offering of sound bites from CFL GMs, coaches and suits in The Athletic:

* “They were down 10-0 in the first quarter, and Suitor said the Lions are improved. I’ve gained 20 pounds since training camp. Too many desserts and too many late-night chips. But if Suitor says the Lions are improved, guess I can tell my wife that the fatter me is improved too.”

* “We (coaches) respect Matt Nichols more than you media guys do. When the Bombers lose the next three without him, you’ll see why coaches are smarter than newspaper guys and talking heads.”

Mike O’Shea

And, finally, never thought I would mention Mike O’Shea, Bud Grant and Cal Murphy in the same sentence, but Coach Grunge has joined the Bombers coaching legends in a very exclusive club—the only Winnipeg FC sideline stewards to work 100 regular-season games. O’Shea hit the century mark on Friday night in the E-Town rain, and I thought someone would have made a big deal out of the milestone. Trouble is, a lot of folks still aren’t sold on Coach Grunge, and they won’t be until he brings the Grey Cup back to Good Ol’ Hometown, like Bud (four times) and Cal (once) did. Still, 100 games is a noteworthy achievement, and there’s a boatload of us who didn’t think O’Shea would last this long.

Let’s talk about the rise of the gay athlete (female division)…the lady ain’t no Ali…thou doth protest…Jackie Robinson and Old Glory…and raising a fist

A hump-day smorgas-bored for the working stiffs…and if you have a voice, use it, but don’t expect everyone to agree with it…

Some people don’t want to read or hear another word about gays. They’ve had their fill.

Their reasons vary, whether it be religious belief, pure bigotry, or some cockeyed notion of a global gay agenda that seeks to brainwash our children in the manner of Adolph Hitler and Soviet communism (hello, Maggie Court). They just want the LGBT(etc.) community to shut the hell up. (And, hey, while they’re shutting the hell up, they can also put the brakes on that once-a-year, half-naked Pride strut nonsense. “Why do gays need a parade? There isn’t a straight parade!”)

Well, it’s hard to shut the hell up when:

NYC subway workers had to scrub the offensive scrawl off Megan Rapinoe posters.

* The very week the U.S. National women’s soccer team wins the World Cup, a vandal defaces New York City subway posters of Megan Rapinoe, simply because she prefers the company of women, specifically Sue Bird.

Can any among us imagine someone desecrating a poster of, oh, let’s say fabulous fancy skater Tessa Virtue because she’s straight? As if.

Yet apparently Rapinoe is fair game for a shaming with scrawl. It would be one thing, I suppose, if she was a meek lesbian who just shut the hell up about it. But that’s not Rapinoe. The American co-captain has to be as loud as her purple hair. She screams at the world. Can’t win without gays, says she. So someone with an axe (to grind) in one hand and a Sharpie pen in the other comes along to scribble “shemale” and “screw this ho” on half a dozen of her posters.

It’s also hard to shut the hell up when:

* Homophobes bookend Pride month by burning rainbow flags outside a NYC gay club.
* Two lesbian actors are struck by stones for kissing on a street in Southampton, England.
* A lesbian couple is mugged by five teens on a North London bus.
* Two gay men are attacked by knife-wielding teens in Liverpool.
* Posters with anti-gay messaging are displayed in downtown Peterborough, Ont.
* A sheriff’s detective in Tennessee delivers a sermon at Scripture Baptist Church calling for the arrest and execution of gays.
* Findings in the Out On The Fields study show that 84 per cent of 9,500 people interviewed have witnessed or experienced homophobia in American sports; 83 per cent of gay males and 63 per cent of lesbians remain completely or partially in the closet in youth sports due to fear of discrimination and/or bullying.
* Every gay in the five major men’s team sports in North America is afraid to come out of the closet.

Dutee Chand

If none of that was happening—or, in the case of out gay male athletes, not happening—the LGBT(etc.) collective likely would shut the hell up about their sexuality.

As it is, damn straight we’re going to bang the drum about the U.S. women winning the World Cup, because five of the Yankee Doodle Damsels, plus coach Jill Ellis, are out lesbians. They’ve become “hometown” heroes who reach across borders.

Ditto Alison van Uytvanck and Greet Minnen, the first gay couple to compete together during any Wimbledon fortnight. It didn’t matter that the Belgian women failed to get past the second round in women’s doubles. There was a there there.

Ditto Dutee Chand, India’s fastest woman and an out lesbian who recently skedaddled to the 100-metre gold medal at the World University Games in Naples. Initially scorned by family and friends for her choice of partners, Chand is the first Indian to strike gold in the 100-metres at any global track event.

Marnie McBean

Ditto Marnie McBean, a lesbian installed as Chef de Mission for Canada’s entry at the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo.

“On the Canadian team the goal is to make sure everybody is competing in the event that they choose to compete in as their authentic selves,” the former rowing champion told Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star when introduced as the Chef de Mission.

Exactly.

For too long, gay athletes have been looked upon as lesser-thans. That, sadly, remains the default position in men’s team sports. So the boys hide and suffer. But that’s not how the women are wired. Gay female athletes aren’t viewed as a distraction or a drag on their straight teammates’ talents and efforts. They stand beside them, flexing their muscle and flourishing under the most intense spotlights. Right now, the U.S. women’s soccer side is Exhibit A, and the team they beat in the World Cup final, the Netherlands, would be Exhibit B with five open lesbians.

These gay women are being celebrated.

And somewhere there’s a gay kid—girl or boy—who’s reading the good news about these champions rather than dire news about gays being stoned or knifed.

That’s one of the reasons we continue to write and talk about the sexuality of these gay athletes. Even gay kids need role models and reachable skies. As McBean submits, everyone should feel comfortable competing as their authentic selves. Not just on our playing fields, but in life.

Once that day arrives, we’ll be happy to shut the hell up.

A lot of people believe Rapinoe has overstayed her 15 minutes of fame. They’d rather move on to the next flavor of the month. Can’t say that I agree or disagree, but when I read/hear pundits compare the American soccer star to legendary boxer and anti-war activist Muhammad Ali, that’s when I call a timeout. Franklin Foer of The Atlantic would be an e.g. He writes: “Megan Rapinoe is her generation’s Muhammad Ali.” Miguel Delaney of the Independent draws a similar parallel. Well, spare me. Had either man been alive in the 1960s to appreciate the political, cultural and racial climate, their words might carry some heft. But they weren’t so they don’t. A female athlete barking about pay equity and social/racial injustice is admirable, but not in the same ballpark as a man willing to go to jail rather than pick up a gun and kill Vietnamese. Ali was sentenced to prison, stripped of his heavyweight title, stripped of his livelihood for 3 1/2 years, and arguably became the most despised man in America. And Rapinoe? After the ticker-tape parade, she’s worked the TV talk-show circuit non-stop. It’s like comparing Secretariat to Mr. Ed.

Jackie Robinson, 1963.

I’ll say this in Rapinoe’s favor, all those upset by her silent/loud protest during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner at international soccer events might be interested in an excerpt from Jackie Robinson’s book, I Never Had It Made.

“There I was, the black grandson of a slave, the son of a black sharecropper, part of a historic occasion, a symbolic hero to my people. The air was sparkling. The sunlight was warm. The band struck up the national anthem. The flag billowed in the wind. It should have been a glorious moment for me as the stirring words of the national anthem poured from the stands. Perhaps, it was, but then again, perhaps, the anthem could be called the theme song for a drama called The Noble Experiment. Today, as I look back on that opening game of my first world series, I must tell you that it was Mr. Rickey’s drama and that I was only the principal actor. As I write this twenty years later, I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world. In 1972, in 1947, at my birth in 1919, I know that I never had it made.”

That is correct. The great Jackie Robinson, who knew a bit about racial and social injustice and death threats, and a man who served in the U.S. Military, could not bring himself to stand for and sing the Star-Spangled Banner. Couldn’t salute Old Glory, either.

So let’s have no more squawking about Rapinoe being disrespectful simply because she doesn’t place a hand on her chest and stands silent during a singalong.

And, finally, whenever the discussion turns to athletes and activism, I think first of Ali, then Tommie Smith and John Carlos, two medal-winning American sprinters known primarily for their protest against racial/social injustice in the U.S. Smith had just won the 200-metre sprint at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico, with Carlos finishing third, and they shocked us with their rigid, heads-bowed, black-fisted, shoeless podium postures. Initially, we didn’t know what to make of it. But the U.S. Olympic Committee did—it banished Smith and Carlos. And like Ali but unlike Rapinoe, there was an after-cost to pay. “I got home and I was hungry. I lost my food. I lost my house. The price was devastating,” Smith says in Tim Layden’s excellent retro look at the incident in Sports Illustrated.

About the Winnipeg Jets playing keep-away vs. the St. Loo Blues…what a ripoff in the women’s world hockey final…Tiger, Tiger burning bright, but not the greatest comeback…and what’s up with Tampa Bay?

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and I’d make a comeback just like Tiger Woods, except no one is dumb enough to hire me…

Two main takeaways from Game 3 of the Winnipeg Jets-St. Loo Blues skirmish on Sunday night in the Show Me State:

1) Now we know what happens when the puck stops hitting Jordan Binnington.

2) Les Jets discovered a rather unique, yet simple, tactic to remedy Connor Hellebuyck’s leaky goaltending—refuse to let the Blues have the puck.

Big Buff: Let me rag-doll you.

Oh, sure, there were other reasons why les Jets got off the schneid with a 6-3 W on a night when losing was not an option. Like, Kyle Connor and Kevin Hayes grew weary of being bystanders and decided it would be a swell idea to join the fray. And Dustin Byfuglien was in one of his I’m-gonna-rag-doll-someone moods.

But, let’s face it, it’s usually about the guys in the blue paint once the lads start sprouting chin whiskers.

Goaltending won Game 1 for St. Loo and lost Game 2 for Winnipeg HC, and les Jets were determined to reverse that before it became a disturbing trend that scuttled their Stanley Cup aspirations. They did so by playing keep-away with the puck, spending most of their time with it in the offensive zone at Enterprise Center, and it was a superb example of damage control. The less Hellebuyck saw of the little, round disc, the better their chances.

It also helped, of course, that Binnington was in an obliging mood at the opposite end of the freeze. Although magnificent in the initial 20 minutes, we now know the National Hockey League rookie with the Midas touch isn’t actually the reincarnation of Georges Vezina. Or the second coming of Mike Liut.

That’s not to say the kid’s a fraud, but les Jets made him look awful ordinary on Sunday night, and I didn’t see any of them shaking their heads in frustration and disbelief at the final bell.

Maybe it was a one-off and Binnington will return to form in Game 4 of this best-of-seven skirmish on Tuesday, but at least les Jets know the formula for success and a way out of their 1-2 deficit—keep the puck away from the Blues. And Connor Hellebuyck.

Even with limited work, Hellebuyck couldn’t get through the game without a colossal gaffe. He continues to handle the puck like he’s afraid of catching the cooties from the thing, and he almost coughed up the biggest hair ball of them all in the third period. Fortunately for les Jets, Patrick Maroon of St. Loo is lacking in the lickety-split department, so damage was avoided.

Ref signals it’s a goal for Finland in OT.

I began watching hockey in the mid-1950s. I haven’t seen everything, but I’ve seen a lot—brilliant stuff, lousy stuff, strange stuff, questionable stuff, stupid stuff, nasty stuff, idiotic stuff, zany stuff. But I don’t recall ever seeing anything so totally messed up as the call on what should have been Finland’s winning goal in the Women’s World Hockey Championship on Sunday.

To provide the Cole’s Notes version of events, Petra Nieminen scored in sudden-death overtime. The referee nearest the swirl of activity indicated it was a good goal. Game over. The Finnish players, coaches, support staff and fans in Espoo lost their minds, believing they had beaten the mighty United States, 2-1, for the first world title in the country’s history.

But wait…someone hiding in a video room wanted a second look at the winning tally. He or she determined that Jenni Hiirikoski of Finland had interfered with American goaltender Alex Rigsby. Thus, the goal was voided. Play on, girls. Except the U.S. was required to play on shorthanded because Rigsby was penalized for tripping Hiirikoski, who supposedly had interfered with the U.S. keeper as she scrambled to secure a loose puck outside the blue paint. Huh? Confused? Weren’t we all.

Bottom line: Finland was ripped off by a video judge who had no business over-ruling the on-ice officials, and a historic moment for women’s hockey was dashed.

While confusion reigned in Finland, I kept wondering why the two TSN voices on site, Rod Black and Cheryl Pounder, refused to tell the truth. Finland got royally screwed. Say it. In those words.

Tiger Woods and his fifth ugly green jacket.

Yes, now that you mention it, I was among the numerous naysayers who insisted that Tiger Woods would never win another golf major. Thanks for reminding me. But on the heels of Tiger’s fifth Masters title, I was hoping I wouldn’t hear too many over-the-top platitudes. Sigh. Too late.

The moment I clicked on the Internet in the small hours this morning, I was reading headlines about Tiger’s victory being the “greatest comeback in sports history.”

Look, I was caught up in the drama of Tiger’s victory at Augusta National on Sunday, and I admire his talent and stick-to-itness as it relates to golf. It’s just that I don’t think 30something-year-old sports scribes like Jon McCarthy of Postmedia are positioned to determine the best of anything, except perhaps Justin Bieber’s greatest hits.

You want to talk about comebacks? Okay.

  • Try golfer Ben Hogan, who lost an argument with a Greyhound bus in 1949 and suffered a double fracture to his pelvis, a fractured collar bone, a fractured left ankle, a chipped rib, near-fatal blood clots, lifelong circulation problems, and required blood transfusions. He won the U.S. Open the following year, and another five Grand Slam tournaments after that.
  • Try Muhammad Ali, banned from boxing for 3½ years due to the political climate of the day, then returning to win the heavyweight title.

  • Try Monica Seles, stabbed in the back with a nine-inch knife by a crazed Steffi Graf fan during a tennis match, disappearing for more than two years due to depression and the fear of another attack by a man who never spent a day in jail, then returning to win the Australian Open.

  • Try Mario Lemieux, who won a battle with cancer and returned to the NHL to win multiple scoring titles.

  • Try driver Niki Lauda, hauled out of a fire-engulfed car and his head and face burnt to a crisp, then returning to win the Formula 1 driving title one year later and again five years after his first retirement.

Woods battled back from self-inflicted public humiliation and numerous physical challenges that could have ended his career, but nothing life-threatening. His is a terrific story, to be sure. But the greatest comeback ever? Not even close.

And, finally, if the Tampa Bay Lightning don’t win a playoff game vs. the Columbus Blue Jackets, did their record-breaking season really happen?

The sports media dealing with social/political issues is nothing new

Stick to sports? Why?

Why should jock journalists and opinionists be limited to one-trick pony-ism, writing and gabbing about nothing other than wins and losses, home runs and touchdowns, free throws and three-pointers, and how much air there is in Tom Brady’s balls?

Sam Lacy, Dan Bankhead and Wendell Smith.

I mean, I’m guessing that if Twitter had been around in the 1930s and ’40s, Sam Lacy, Wendell Smith and other black sportswriters might have used their 140-character allotment to say something significant about segregation in baseball. Twitter didn’t exist back then, though. So they used newspapers like the Pittsburgh Courier, the Chicago Defender and the Baltimore Afro-American as pulpits from which to openly lobby for desegregation.

For example, when Major League Baseball commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis died in 1944, Lacy used his Afro-American platform to scribble this about the appointment of Happy Chandler as MLB commish: “It appears that his choice was the most logical one for the bigoted major league operators, of which there is a heavy majority on hand.”

Similarly, in the chaotic 1960s, when young heavyweight boxing champion Cassius Clay joined the Nation of Islam and became Cassius X then Muhammad Ali, (white) sports scribes refused to use his Muslim name in their copy (it wasn’t until October 1970, six years after the fact, that the New York Times issued a directive that sportswriters were to call him Muhammad Ali) and they weren’t shy about spicing their prose with biting social commentary re “Clay,” race and religion.

Here are two examples from New York columnist Jimmy Cannon:

The fight racket since its rotten beginnings has been the red light district of sports. But this is the first time it has been turned into an instrument of mass hate…Clay is using it as a weapon of wickedness.”

And…

Jimmy Cannon

I pity Clay and abhor what he represents. In the years of hunger during the Depression, the Communists used famous people the way the Black Muslims are exploiting Clay. This is a sect that deforms the beautiful purpose of religion.”

The noise became amplified, also more threatening and vicious, when the champ refused to step forward for induction into the United States military in 1967.

Red Smith, legendary New York columnist: “Squealing over the possibility that the military may call him up, Cassius makes as sorry a spectacle as those unwashed punks who picket and demonstrate against the war.”

Really? Those protesting the Vietnam War were “unwashed punks?”

Jim Murray, legendary Los Angeles Times columnist, who mocked Ali by calling him Abdul the Bull Bull Ameer: “Cassius Marcellus Clay, one of the greatest heroes in the history of his people, has decided to secede from the Union. He will not disgrace himself by wearing the uniform of the Army of the United States…From the safety of 103 years, he waves his fist at dead slave owners. Down to his last four Cadillacs, the thud of Communist jackboots holds no dread for him. He is in this country but not of it.”

Really? Dead slave owners and Communist jackboots in a sports column?

So, you see, when ESPN anchor Jemele Hill went off on Donald Trump on her personal Twitter account recently, calling the United States president a “white supremacist,” she wasn’t digging a shovel into fresh, unbroken ground. Social/political commentary in print and on air is older than the contract Jackie Robinson signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers to become the first black player in baseball’s major leagues. Do you think the names and words Jesse Owens, Adolph Hitler, Nazis and Aryan supremacy have never appeared in a sportswriter’s copy?

Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star is among the elite wordsmiths in Canadian jock journalism today, but social/political commentary on his Twitter account heavily outweighs the sports content. Why would anyone find that objectionable?

Red Smith

I think it should be a personal decision, based partly on who employs you,” he said as a member of a Sports Illustrated panel. “But if you’re informed—or even just feel strongly about something—and you’re comfortable making your voice heard, then you should be able to say what you think. Sports are great, but they’re not the world. It’s okay to live in the world a little, too.”

On the night of the 2016 American presidential election, with Donald Trump winning the White House, Steve Simmons of Postmedia tweeted: “The saddest night in American history.” That is, of course, a totally illogical comment, especially coming from a non-American, but is he not allowed his emotional, if uninformed, opinion? Does it reflect on Simmons or Postmedia? I would submit the former rather than the latter, and numerous followers suggested he “stick to sports.”

If I have an issue with sports opinionists and their social/political commentary, it’s when they say nothing at all. Or when they’re inconsistent.

Ray Rice is pilloried for beating up one woman. Floyd Mayweather Jr. is given a pass on his thick file of repeated domestic violence. (I suppose the arrival of Johnny Manziel to a Canadian Football League outfit will be greeted with literary high fives.) That isn’t merely inexcusable, it’s the abandonment of responsible reporting.

Sports and politics/social activism are bedfellows, and to think otherwise is to live in a Utopian world. Social media has upped the ante, to be sure, but jock journos have always been there to write and talk about it. Usually in more than 140 characters.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling mostly about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seriously. This is death by wedgie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chad Owens and CFL commish Randy Ambrosie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling mostly about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.

About my favorite athletes…Mike O’Shea and brown tap water…no more hanky-panky from CFL coaches…scuzzy Pete Rose…Usain Bolt losing to a drug cheat…and another gay slur

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

From the top: Wilma Rudolph, Sandy Koufax and Arnold Palmer, Martina Navratilova, Rafa Nadal and Bjorn Borg.

Came across an interesting item on social media the other day, whereby folks were listing their all-time favorite athletes. Not a greatest athlete list, understand. A fave list. Here’s mine:

Wilma Rudolph: So sleek, so elegant. Such regal bearing. The Italians called her La Gazzella Negra and, to the French, she was La Perle Noir. I adored the American sprinter who blossomed from sickly child (polio, double pneumonia, scarlet fever) into an Olympic champion sprinter. She wowed the world at the 1960 Games in Rome, skedaddling to three gold medals. Once back home in Clarksville, Tenn., she insisted that a parade/gala in her honor include all townsfolk, and history records it as the first fully integrated municipal event in town history.

Martina Navratilova: When the tennis legend defected from the former Czechoslovakia in 1975, she was a high school kid with everything going against her. English was not her first language. Family and friends were on the other side of the world. Fear of being seized and hauled back to her homeland by thugs in trench coats was ever-present. She had a fondness for Big Macs and large fries. And, as we discovered a few years later, she was a lesbian, which was a lot less cool then than it is now. But, as she was to tell news snoops in early September of ’75, “I wanted my freedom.” Once untethered from the leash of communist state suppression, Navratilova became the greatest player of her generation. To some, the greatest ever. And she’s long been a leading voice in the LGBT community.

Sandy Koufax: I should have been mad at Koufax on Oct. 6, 1965. The Los Angeles Dodgers—my team—were in Minneapolis to engage a hefty-hitting Minnesota Twins batting lineup in Game 1 of the World Series. Koufax, the premier pitcher in Major League Baseball, should have been on the mound. Instead, it was Don Drysdale, who, although no slouch on the hill, was no Koufax. But I couldn’t get mad at the great lefthander because his reason for taking the day off was unassailable—it was Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. Sandy Koufax was my favorite player long before he deferred to his faith by declining to start Game 1, but his decision still resonates with me, much more than any of the other-wordly numbers that he posted during the 1960s. It was a shining life lesson, even for a Roman Catholic kid. (p.s. The Dodgers won the Series, with Koufax pitching successive shutouts in Games 5 and 7, the latter on only two days rest.)

Bjorn Borg: He was the anti-Johnny Mac. While John McEnroe would disrupt matches with volcanic eruptions of petulance, Borg played tennis with a Zen-like calm, utilizing an assortment of two-fisted, cross-court backhands and top-spinning forehands to disassemble foes en route to 11 Grand Slam championships, including five successive Wimbledon titles. I admired the Swede’s calm amidst chaos, his unflappable resolve, and his quiet intensity—all wrapped in a cloak of mystery—as much as I did his groundstrokes. To this day, I wonder what made Borg tick.

Arnold Palmer/Rafael Nadal: Okay, this is cheating. But I couldn’t decide between Rafa, the king of clay court tennis, and Arnie, the king of golf. Arnie and Sandy Koufax were my go-to guys as a kid, Rafa is my go-to guy in my dotage. Arnie was a swashbuckler, daring and charismatic, and universally respected and admired as a sportsman and, more important, as a person. Rafa arrived on the tennis scene with bulging biceps, sleeveless tops and pirate pants. “Different,” I thought upon seeing him for the first time. Well, vive la difference! Rafa adorns himself in regular tennis togs now, but there’s never been anything regular about his game. Especially on clay. And the Spaniard seems like such a nice, young man.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers offed the RedBlacks, 33-30, in Ottawa on Friday night, in large part because Mike O’Shea managed to stay out of his own way. I guess that means the natterbugs will have to squawk about something other than the head coach’s short pants this week. Maybe they can blame him for that scuzzy brown tap water in River City.

CFL commish Randy Ambrosie

Upon further review, further review was ruining the game, so bravo to commish Randy Ambrosie and Canadian Football League team poobahs for taking away every head coach’s favorite toy—the challenge flag. Well, okay, the sideline stewards aren’t exactly hanky-free. Each coach is still allowed to toss one yellow hanky each game, but that beats a total of six potential challenges per match.

In the world according to Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press, changing the coach’s challenge rule this deep into the season makes the CFL head office a “clown show.” It’s “amateur hour.” Actually, it’s quite the opposite. The real “clown show” was coaches using frivolous challenges to challenge nothing but the integrity of the game and spirit of the rule, which is to “get it right.” I watched all four games last week and that “clown show” is definitely over. No more hanky-panky from the coaches.

Oh boy. Some people just don’t pay attention. We’re only at the front end of August and already Freep sports editor and Wiecek’s Grumpet twin, Steve Lyons, is promoting folly. “Best place to finish might be fourth in the West” for the Bombers, he advises us. That way, they’d earn a crossover post-season berth and play the patsies in Eastern Canada. Repeat after me, Mr. Lyons: No, no, no, no, no…nine times no. No West outfit has successfully navigated the eastern route to the Grey Cup game. Never. Ever. In nine tries. And you think it’ll work for the Bombers? Ya, just like attempting a 61-yard field goal worked at B.C. Place last November.

So, champion sprinter Usain Bolt lost some of the lickety-split in his long legs and was beaten to the finish line in his final individual race at the world track and field championships in London. No big deal. Sandy Koufax lost the final game he ever pitched for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Muhammad Ali lost his final fight (badly). Babe Ruth grounded out in his final at-bat. Hey, stuff happens. I just wish Bolt hadn’t lost to a guy, Justin Gatlin, who’s twice been told to go away for failed drug tests.

Scuzzball Pete Rose

Pete Rose, Major League Baseball’s all-time hit leader, has been holding his own poor Petey pity party since being banned for betting on games while managing the Cincinnati Reds, and the one-time jailbird has actually found sympathetic ears. In an ESPN sports poll conducted by Luker on Trends between November 2016 and last February, Rose was No. 50 on a list of most popular athletes in the U.S., active or retired. Only two ballplayers—Derek Jeter at No. 13 and Babe Ruth, No. 30—finished ahead of him in voting by 6,000 people 12 and over. I wonder what the Rose-ites have to say now that their hero has confessed to having had sex with a 16-year-old girl while he was in his 30s, married and a father of two. The man is a scuzzy as the brown tap water in Winnipeg.

Outfielder Matt Joyce of the Oakland Athletics is “beyond sorry” for using a gay slur during a hissing contest with a fan in Anaheim on Friday night. I’m sorry, but it’s “beyond sorry” that male pro athletes are still using homophobic language as their go-to slurs in 2017.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling mostly about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.

Bob Irving: As great as the voice of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers is as a play-by-play man, he’s even a better person

Knuckles Irving

I’ve often wondered how, and why, Bob Irving has kept trucking along.

I mean, the man we know affectionately as Knuckles has been the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ main storyteller since 1974. It’s easy to do the math. That’s 43 years ago. Numbers, however, don’t provide perspective on his time describing the goings-on of the Canadian Football League outfit.

For perspective, try this: The year Knuckles began blah, blah, blahing about the Bombers on CJOB…

  • Mike Riley’s pop, Bud, was head coach and Dieter Brock was a rookie backup quarterback we knew as Ralph.
  • The Winnipeg Tribune was a vibrant alternative to the Winnipeg Free Press.
  • Richard Milhouse Nixon was still in the White House, although RMH left the building in August and our American friends said hello to President Gerald Ford.
  • Trudeau the 1st was Prime Minister of Canada, Ed Schreyer was Premier of Manitoba, and Steve Juba was Mayor of all the people in Winnipeg.
  • One-time teenage heartthrob Paul Anka released the regrettable (You’re) Having My Baby, but the top song in Canada was Seasons in the Sun by Terry Jacks.
  • The top-selling album worldwide was Band on the Run by breakaway Beatle Paul McCartney and Wings.
  • Archie Bunker was the No. 1 bigot on TV, with he, Edith, Gloria and Meathead ruling the ratings on All in the Family.
  • Mikhail Baryshnikov defected from the Soviet Union.
  • Muhammad Ali played Rope-a-Dope, then KO’d George Foreman to reclaim the heavyweight boxing championship in the Rumble In The Jungle.
  • The RCMP swore in its first female police officers.
  • A Big Mac cost .65, a loaf of bread .28, a car $3,500, and minimum wage in Manitoba was $2.15.

So, ya, Knuckles has been around some. Squints use carbon dating to determine his age. But that doesn’t mean he’s passed his best-before date. His voice is still as smooth as Tennessee whiskey, his delivery as descriptive as a Steinbeck novel, his integrity unassailable.

That will be absent from the ‘OB broadcast on Friday night in Vancouver, when the Bombers pay a visit to B.C. Place for a skirmish with the Lions. Knuckles has retreated to the repair shop to permit medics to tinker with his ticker and, while there’s little doubt the capable Kelly Moore will perform admirably in his stead, Knuckles is one of those guys you fill in for but cannot replace.

If there is a Vin Scully of the CFL, it’s Knuckles Irving, who’s actually a nicer guy than he is a play-by-play broadcaster.

The sports media, on both the print and electronic side, can be an open range for galloping egos and a misguided sense of significance, but it is largely the province of genuinely good, honest women and men who recognize they’re working in the toy department and, thus, acknowledge that they’ve got a great gig.

I don’t think Knuckles has ever lost sight of that. He’s a humble, earthy man with a killer wit that often keeps the sidelines at Bombers practices at full guffaw. He takes his job seriously but not himself. His passion for his work, the Bombers and the CFL is unparalleled, and I suppose that’s what keeps him trucking after all these years.

No telling how long Knuckles will continue to blah, blah, blah about the Bombers, but his career is kind of like his forehead—it never seems to end.

And that’s a beautiful thing.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling mostly about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.