About the Three Lions…Winnipeg Blue Bombers taking a hit at the box office…that empty feeling at BMO Field…the Neymar dive-writhe-and-roll…Tiger vs. Lefty…Shapo vs. Milos…the Nayl Gun does Johnny Rotten…CFL power rankings…and other things on my mind

Bacon, eggs, toast, but no bangers or beans, and some leftover thoughts for a Monday morning breakfast

I have Irish blood pumping through my veins—or so I’ve been told—and I know the Irish and British have had their squabbles through the centuries, but I’ve got no quarrel with them, so I’m root, root, rooting for England in the World Cup? Go Harry Kane and all you Three Lions!

In the good news-bad news department, I present the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

First the glad tidings: The local lads delivered a proper paddywhacking to the B.C. Lions on Saturday evening, a result that leveled their performance sheet at 2-2 and puts them on equal footing with the Edmonton Eskimos and Saskatchewan Roughriders in the mosh pit that is the West Division of the Canadian Football League.

Now for the bad tidings: The head count at Football Follies Field was 26,567. Measured against any franchise in the eastern precinct of the land, that’s a boffo bit of business. Measured against their own bottom line, not so much.

Winnipeg FC has attracted 52,025 to its fancy digs in Fort Garry for the first two home skirmishes of this Grey Cup crusade, down 3,225 from Games 1-2 a year ago. That’s a minimum of $90,000 in lost ticket revenue (based on a $28 ticket), and only the club bean counters and Wade Miller know how much of a hit they’ve taken in concessions and merchandise. Do the math and the Bombers are staring at a dip of $405,000 (minimum) in ticket sales for their nine home dates unless there’s a sharp reversal. Ouch.

It could always be worse, of course. In the Republic of Tranna, home of the Grey Cup champion Argonauts, only 12,196 souls were coerced into spending Saturday afternoon at BMO Field, where quarterback James Franklin put up a surprising W in his first start in Ricky Ray’s stead. Total for two home dates in TROT: 28,656. Seriously, how long can the Argos stay in business? And should those of us in the colonies care?

It’s 11 a.m., does Senators Nation know where Erik Karlsson is?

Aside to any National Hockey League outfit that might be contemplating a contract offer for wife-beating, disgraced defenceman Slava Voynov: Just say “no” to Slava.

Why is it that when any of our baseball, football or hockey teams prevent a foe from scoring, we call it “a shutout” but soccer people call it “a clean sheet?”

Neymar

Does anybody miss the Neymar dive-writhe-and-roll at the World Cup? I do. The Brazilian’s antics were comedy gold, even if his thespian skills are suspect. Jim Calder, acting coach from the University of New York, provided the New York Times with this critique: “Neymar does what all beginning actors do. They oversell the event. All humans are acting. You learn when you’re a baby. If I cry, my mother will come over. If I cry, this guy will get a red card. It’s the same thing.”

I note that Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are talking about a mano-a-mano, winner-take-all $10-million challenge in Las Vegas. Apparently, both golf legends have agreed to a special concession that allows ol’ Lefty to hire English goalkeeper Jordan Pickford as his caddy. Pickford won’t be carrying Mickelson’s clubs, though. His sole duty will be to block any of Phil’s putts that roll past the hole and are in danger of skidding off the green.

What’s the over/under on how many restricted free agents Kevin Cheveldayoff will sign this week? Three? I have a hunch the Winnipeg Jets general manager will deal with most of his pertinent paper work swiftly, and that includes Jacob Trouba.

Milos Raonic

I’ve read and heard a lot about how Denis Shapovalov had usurped Milos Raonic as Canada’s top tennis player, an assessment based solely on one match between the two and the world tennis rankings. But look who’s still playing at Wimbledon. That’s right, Raonic, not Shapo, who can’t advance through the second round of any tournament that matters. I never bought into the Shapo over-hype. He’s a terrific, young talent (although far too geeked-up on court for my tastes). He might be the best tennis talent every produced in our country. But, for now, the kid’s still on training wheels. The gushing last year after wins over Rafa Nadal and Juan Martin del Potro should have been tempered.

TSN just won’t let the Johnny Manziel narrative go. In the wake of the CFL’s four Week 4 matches, there was plenty of fodder for interesting chatter, but not at TSN. Rather than talk about quarterbacks who actually played in the games, it always has been and, apparently, always will be about the Hamilton Tiger-Cats backup QB for TSN’s gab guys. Thus, Frick and Frack (more commonly know as Jay and Dan) invited football insider Dave Naylor to their show for something they call the Nayl Gun. Here’s how it went:

Dan: “At this pace, I don’t see Johnny Manziel hitting the field at all for the Ticats.”

Naylor: “I’ll tell ya, if you’d taken a hundred people who’ve studied the Ticats quarterback situation and said, ‘Do you think they’ll get to the bye week without Johnny Manziel taking a snap?’ a hundred people would have told you ‘No way’ and I’d have been to the front of the line. Look Jeremiah Masoli played really well, he’s had three 300-yard games, four 300-yard games, but the one issue that I think has been there, there’s been two games—Week 1 in Calgary and the other night in Saskatchewan—you know, he had the ball in his hands late in the game, down by less than a touchdown, and he couldn’t produce a win. Until he does that, I think there’s still gonna be a lot of scrutiny over his play. Will Johnny Manziel go through the year without getting on the field? No way. He’s gonna play at some point, and I think we’re getting close to that time. Is it possible he doesn’t start all season? I do think that’s possible because Jeremiah Masoli has earned the right to stay as the Ticats starter.”

Jay: “What do you think is more likely…gonna throw you a quick one here…more likely that he plays for the Tabbies this season or gets traded at some point this season?”

Jeremiah Masoli

Naylor: “I think it’s far more likely he plays. Look, if we get to the end of this year and Jeremiah Masoli puts up the kind of numbers he put through the first four weeks, I think we will see a trade in the off-season. And I think there’s an understanding, ‘Hey, Johnny Manziel committed for two years in the Canadian Football League,’ but after a year of backing up, the Ticats would owe it to him to either trade Jeremiah Masoli or to trade him to somewhere where he can get on the field. So, I think a trade this season, highly unlikely, a trade within the division ever is unlikely, but can I see him traded out west or Masoli traded out west after the year? Ya I could.”

Yo! Boys! It ain’t news until Johnny Rotten actually takes a snap. Until then, talk about the guys who are, as Matt Dunigan would say, gettin’ ‘er done.

And, finally, this week’s CFL power rankings:

1. Calgary (3-0): Only unbeaten outfit will be tested by the RedBlacks in Ottawa.
2. Winnipeg (2-2): Highest scoring outfit in the league, and defence stepped up vs. B.C.
3. Ottawa (2-1): We’ll know if RedBlacks are the real deal this week.
4. Hamilton (2-2): Seriously? A loss to the Roughriders?
5. Edmonton (2-2): Seriously? A loss to the Argonauts?
6. Saskatchewan: (2-2): I don’t care if they beat the Ticats; Chris Jones has created a mess.
7. B.C. (1-2): Quarterback issues aren’t going away.
8. Toronto (1-2): The win over the Eskimos is an anomoly.
9. Montreal (1-3): Really bad in either official language.

About the McKenzie Brothers (Bob, Doug and Scott)…shootouts bite…a session with a shrink…Uncle Sam’s beer league curlers…poking fun at Canada…Tessa, Tessa, Tessa…gold-medal writing from Bruce Arthur…and other Olympic stuff on my mind

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

Bob, Doug and long-lost brother Scott—the McKenzie Brothers.

Scott Moir—beauty, eh?

Who knew a fancy skater (and an ice dancer at that) could be such a party animal? Who knew there was a third McKenzie Brother?

Moir’s beer-fuelled antics during the women’s hockey gold-medal match between Canada and the United States at the Olympic Games of Snow and Ice Sports were straight out of the SCTV playbook. It was Bob and Doug McKenzie do PyeongChang. It couldn’t have been more Canadian if it was a Mountie eating back bacon while reading a Pierre Berton book and listening to a Gordon Lightfoot album.

Coo-roo-coo-coo-coo-coo-coo-coo!

Shootouts suck! Sound like a batch of sour grapes? Probably. But it isn’t. The Americans were worthy winners of the women’s gold hockey trinket in South Korea. They were the superior side through 80 minutes of actual hockey and, had the championship match continued to a second period of sudden-victory overtime rather than the shootout, surely Uncle Sam’s girls would have prevailed. It seemed to me that the Canadians had begun to run on fumes. Thus, the 3-2 U.S. victory was a just result. The Games methodology, however, is greatly flawed. The shootout never was, never will be a good idea. Next time, what do you say we ask the Canadian and U.S. women if they’d rather continue playing hockey until someone scores a goal? Let’s leave the shootouts to soccer.

Joceleyne Larocque, third from left.

If I’m Jocelyne Larocque, I’m not apologizing for a damn thing. I mean, it’s not like she did something stupid. You know, like get drunk, steal a Hummer, race around PyeongChang like Danica Patrick on uppers, then spend some quality time at a cop shop. Do something stupid like that (hello Willie Raine, Dave and Maja Duncan), you apologize and hope you get a judge who goes easy on drunk drivers. But do what Larocque did and…meh. So she removed a silver trinket that had been wrapped around her neck by some Olympic Games mucky-muck at a most awkward moment—during the lengthy parting-gifts ceremony post-match. Big flipping deal. Larocque was PO’d. The loss to the Americans was a fresh, open wound, and silver wasn’t a suitable salve. So she held it in her left hand. And for that the Canadian rearguard receives an online scolding from Miss Manners wannabes on both sides of the great divide? That’s why she offered a mea culpa? As if. Raw emotion is the very reason I buy into the Olympic Games. Sometimes that means tears of joy. Sometimes it’s tears of sorrow. In Larocque’s case, it meant an angst-of-the-moment act of defiance. I don’t see the problem. Stop piling on.

Lucy Van Pelt

Should we book a session with Dr. Phil? Or maybe Charlie Brown’s shrink, Lucy Van Pelt. Either way, I’m thinking some of us might need to vent. I mean, our hockey women had to settle for silver. Our hockey men had the gall to lose to Germany at a most inopportune time. Our women’s and men’s curling teams? Bupkus.

I swear, this is the biggest downer since Nickelback landed the halftime gig at the 99th Grey Cup game.

But let’s save the shrink fees and accept that hockey and curling haven’t been Canada’s personal play things for much of the 21st century? Consider what has transpired since 2000:

Hockey

World championship titles—Canada 10, Rest of World 21
Olympic titles—Canada 7, Rest of World 3
Total—Canada 17, Rest of World 24.

Curling World championship titles—Canada 17, Rest of World 19
Olympic titles—Canada 5, Rest of World 6
Total—Canada 22, Rest of World 25.

British coach Glenn Howard.

Ya, sure, this is still Planet Puckhead. We’re very good at hockey. The best. Our women and men aren’t supposed to lose. When they do, we lower our psyche to half staff and share a group hug that stretches from Tofino to St. John’s. We don’t commit to as much navel gazing when our curlers slip on a banana peel, yet we do give some pause whenever our Pebble People don’t occupy the top step of the podium.

But let’s spare ourselves a National Day of Teeth Gnashing.

I’m singing the backup vocals for Glenn Howard when he suggests we all just chill after what transpired in South Korea.

Settle down folks,” said Howard, a Canadian and world champion curler who coached Eve Muirhead’s Great Britain team that ushered our Rachel Homan outfit out of playoff contention. “Canadians have to understand that these teams outside of Canada are really good.”

Been that way for a long time.

Rachel Homan

Most stinging (and over the top) criticism of our women curlers came from Paul Wiecek. The Winnipeg Free Press sports columnist aimed his poison arrows not only at Homan and her gal pals from Ottawa, but also at “that most worthless species in all of sports, the curling coach.” He explained: “As far as I’m concerned, the Homan team’s problems here begin with their coach, Adam Kingsbury, an academic with zero curling background who the Homan team has nonetheless ascribed a Koreshian-like influence in recent years. Homan has been putting the ‘less’ in ‘joyless’ since she was curling juniors and Kingsbury has just made that worse from my vantage point, turning these women into walking robots. If they were having any fun competing at an event they had devoted their lives towards, I saw no evidence of it. And if you’re not having fun playing a sport for which the monetary reward is somewhere between nothing and next to nothing, then what’s the point?” That’s cruel and mean in spirit.

America’s gold-medal curlers: Tyler George, John Landsteiner, John Shuster and Matt Hamilton.

Nothing says Monday night beer league curling like the four men who struck gold for Uncle Sam in South Korea.

Seriously. How much did they spend on their outfits? A buck fifty at a thrift shop? Third Tyler George wears eight-year-old sneakers. They’re full of holes. And U.S. second Matt Hamilton doesn’t use a belt to hold up his trousers. That’s Secretariat’s old girth strap. But, hey, if a guy of Hamilton’s dimensions can win an Olympic Games gold medal I wouldn’t rule out an Ed Werenich comeback.

All of which made them easy to like.

These Yankee doodle dandies are a throwback to the 1970s. I kept waiting for one of ’em to break out a pack of smokes and light up. On the ice.

Their back story is brilliant. A few years ago, USA Curling wanted them in their program like Donald Trump wants to tick off the NRA. But now John Shuster, George, Hamilton and lead John Landsteiner are Olympic champions. We’re apt to see them chatting with one of the gab guys on late-night TV, and there’s probably marketing possibilities. Who knows, they might make enough cash on the side to get rid of their slo-pitch uniforms and purchase actual curling duds.

Headline writers south of the 49th parallel are having great sport at our expense. A New York Times headline reads: “Canada’s Curling Is Crumbling! Or Something Like That.” The accompanying article suggests our double donut on PyeongChang pebble “would be comparable to the United States men’s and women’s basketball teams failing to win a medal at the Summer Olympics.”

Other samples of American cheek:

Washington Post (after the U.S. beat us in both men’s curling and women’s hockey on the same day): “For six glorious hours, the United States owned Canada like a Tim Hortons franchisee.”

Wall Street Journal: “Canadian Grief: Curling and Hockey Losses are ‘Terrible, Terrible, Terrible’.”

MarketWatch: “Hug a Canadian, urges German Foreign Office after dramatic ice-hockey upset.”

Quick! Someone get a match! Let’s burn down the White House again!

Whiteboard Willie Desjardins

As predicted, jock journalists were quick to apply a coat of tar and feathers to head coach Whiteboard Willie Desjardins in the wake of Canada’s mournful, 4-3 semifinal shinny loss to Germany.

Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star opined the “coaching was a mess.”

Dave Feschuk, also a Star scribe, wrote: “What went wrong? Maybe it was Desjardins’ infectious nervousness, or his odd overreliance on his bottom-six grinders, playing the old-time Saskatchewan stereotype to a tee. Even in a 4-on-4 situation needing desperately to score, Desjardins tossed out (Eric) O’Dell and Maxim Lapierre, his skill-challenged energy guys.”

Not to be out-nastied, Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna added: “Desjardins had much to answer for. He didn’t change lines. He didn’t change styles. He didn’t adjust to the Germans’ trapping ways. He didn’t shorten his bench when he needed to. He continued to use ineffective players. The coach, Willie Desjardins, froze.”

And what did the natterbugs of negativity have to say about Desjardins after Canada’s bounce-back, 6-4 win over the Czech Republic in the bronze-medal match? Crickets. Nothing but the sound of crickets. Mooks.

(That unfortunate loss to the Germans doesn’t seem like such a stunner today does it? Not after they took Russia to OT in the title match.)

Tessa Virtue

I’m not sure what it is about Tessa Virtue, but I cannot turn my eyes away from her when she’s on TV. It doesn’t matter if she’s skating, marching into the stadium or standing on the podium, holding a stuffed toy in one of her dainty hands. I am hypnotized. And it’s been that way for years.

She is a spellbinding temptress, sexy, sensual and seductive. As playful as a kitten and as smoky as a femme fatale, she is Snow White with come-hither tease and erotic athleticism. As she floats about the ice, her lissome body bending, twisting and twirling to the whims of her dance partner, Scott Moir, I wonder what world she has disappeared into. Her smile tells us it must be a pleasing place, full of passion and Zen-like serenity.

Others skate as well as Virtue. Perhaps better. But no one else has her ‘it’ factor.

She and Moir will leave South Korea with two gold medals, adding to a collection of Winter Games trinkets that now numbers five, more than any other fancy skaters in history. Alas, we might never see the Canadian couple skate together again, after 20 years. But what a beautiful trip they took us on.

Matthew Scianitti of TSN shares a lovely to-and-fro he enjoyed with Virtue, scant seconds after she had arrived in the mixed area following her gold-medal skate with Scott Moir in the ice dance last Wednesday.

Virtue (to assembled news scavengers): “How are you guys?”

Scianitti: “You mean us?”

Virtue: “Ya.”

Scianitti: “Dude, you just skated in front of the world and won a gold medal. Doesn’t matter how we are.”

Virtue: “Yes it does. The Olympics are tough on everyone.”

Can you say classy, kids? Totally.

Going from a beauty to a beast, it’s about Mike Milbury. The NBC gab guy’s filter between his grey matter and tongue was on the fritz during a Russia-U.S. men’s hockey game. Discussing Russkie rearguard Slava Voynov, he said: “This guy was a special player, and an unfortunate incident left the Los Angeles Kings without a great defenceman.” So, that’s what we’re calling wife-beating these days? An “unfortunate incident.” Voynov was sentenced to nine months in the brig for beating the hell out of his wife, and he served two months before slithering back to his hole in Russia. He shouldn’t have been allowed to participate in South Korea any more than Milbury should be allowed near a microphone.

Kirstie Alley

Actor Kirstie Alley took a bit of a pummelling on social media after she tweeted that curling is “boring.” I don’t understand the great hue and cry. Fact is, she’s right. I love curling, but I acknowledge that it sometimes can push the needle high on the bore-o-metre. Then, again, so can baseball, football, hockey and hoops. Oh, and most any movie/TV show that Kirstie Alley has ever appeared in.

I never covered an Olympics. Had no desire to. So I have to wonder: When did news scavengers in South Korea find time to sleep? Did they sleep? I mean, new stuff seemed to pop up on the Internet every half hour. It was non-stop scribbling. Thus, I harbor considerable admiration for everyone who went through that grind. Tough gig. And they’re still cranking out the good stuff. Best of last week was delivered by…

Gold medal: Bruce Arthur for the truly Canadian story that is Brigette Lacquette, the first Indigenous player on the Canadian women’s hockey team.

Silver medal: Arthur again, for his piece defending Jocelyne Larocque’s behaviour during the women’s hockey medal ceremony.

Bronze medal: Arthur one more time, for his piece on Canada’s Pride House and the LGBT scene at the Winter Games.

Had there been any doubt, Arthur’s work in South Korea confirms his position as this country’s top sports columnist. Nobody’s close to him.

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.

2016: It was very good year in the toy department

Top o’ the morning to you, 2016.

Talk about playing to a tough crowd. I mean, a lot of people are saying you’re the worst year. Ever. Ever. Ever. Yes, even worse than 1968, when a presidential candidate (see: Kennedy, Robert F.) and a civil rights giant (see: King Jr., Martin Luther) were gunned down in cold blood.

Chicago riots, 1968
Chicago riots, 1968

The King Jr. assassination in April 1968 ignited race riots in 130 cities and there were 46 riot-related deaths. Riot troops were positioned on the White House lawn and machine gun nests were established at the Capital. At the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August ’68, 10,000 anti-Vietnam War protesters clashed with 26,000 cops, national guardsmen and soldiers, who beat and wounded at least 1,000 civilians. Just under 200 cops also required medical attention. There were close to 600 arrests.

The black cloud that was 1968 also included…

  • North Korean patrol boats seized the USS Pueblo, an intelligence ship. The North Koreans accused the 82-man crew of spying, then imprisoned, beat and tortured them for 11 months.
  • The Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia.
  • Sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos were kicked off the American Olympic team in Mexico after their silent demonstration against racial discrimination in the U.S.
  • Richard Nixon was elected president of the United States.
  • American troops slaughtered 347 civilians in the My Lai massacre in Vietnam.
  • Richard Harris recorded the regrettable MacArthur Park, where someone left a cake out in the rain and they’ll never have that recipe again.

All that gloom and doom is a tough act to top, 2016. But apparently you trumped it, right down to the last drop of protesters’ blood. Pollster Angus Reid, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times all say it’s so, so I guess that’s what you are, 2016—the…worst…ever.

Tommie Smith, centre, and John Carlos at the Summer Olympics in Mexico.
Tommie Smith, centre, and John Carlos at the Summer Olympics in Mexico.

But, hey, that’s why we have sports. To escape things like terrorism and an apparent racist, bigot and misogynist moving into the White House. And you didn’t let us down in the toy department, 2016. You were on your game, so to speak.

I mean, any time you can say “Cubs win! Cubs win! Cubs win!” the World Series, it has to be a very good year. The best year since 1908, the last time the Cubbies won the annual Fall Classic. That’s why more than 5 million people gathered for the championship parade in the Toddlin’ Town. And Chicago cops didn’t beat up anyone. You delivered a classic Game 7, 2016. Brilliant stuff. It’s just too bad the Cubbies had to beat the Cleveland Indians, who continue to look for their first WS title since 1948.

I guess you just didn’t want Cleveland to get greedy, though, 2016. After all, King LeBron James and his Cavaliers claimed the National Basketball Association crown, toppling the mighty Golden State Warriors in seven games after trailing 3-1. More brilliant stuff.

And what a gift you gave us in the Ottawa RedBlacks. They didn’t even exist four years ago, and already they’re champions of all they survey in the Canadian Football League. Their overtime victory against the star-studded Calgary Stampeders was even more brilliant stuff from you, 2016.

Naturally, a whole lot of folks in River City had been hoping that their beloved Winnipeg Blue Bombers would have been in that 104th Grey Cup game, but at least you let them participate in the playoffs, 2016. It’s just a shame that you also chose the final seconds of that one-and-done post-season game to deliver head coach Mike O’Shea his signature moment of madness, when he had place-kicker Justin Medlock attempt an unmakeable 61-yard field goal.

Puck Finn
Puck Finn

You weren’t terribly kind to the Winnipeg Jets on the ice, 2016, but you blessed them with lucky bouncing ping-pong balls at the National Hockey League draft lottery, giving the locals the No. 2 shout overall in June. The harvest from that stroke of good fortune was Patrik Laine. Puck Finn has been dazzling ’em this season. I doubt that your heir, 2017, will give him the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top freshman, because the guy chosen ahead of him by the Toronto Maple Leafs at the annual garage sale of freshly scrubbed teenagers, Auston Matthews, isn’t exactly chopped liver. And, of course, he’s sure to earn the eastern bloc vote. That’s okay, though. Puck Finn will be your gift that keeps giving long after your shelf life has expired, 2016.

What other delights did you deliver, 2016? Well, speaking of teenagers, there was Penny Oleksiak, the Toronto high school student who struck for swimming gold and collected three other medals at the Summer Olympic Games in Rio. She’s a real sweetie.

So, too, is Brooke Henderson, who won her first Ladies Professional Golf Association major and one other tournament. A few of the boys on the beat weren’t kind to Brooke, but some jock journalists are always looking for dark clouds in silver linings.

kaepernickOne of the things I liked about you, 2016, is that you had a social conscious. You had San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick take a knee during the Star-Spangled Banner, which inspired a discussion about racial discrimination in the United States. Unlike Tommie Smith and John Carlos in 1968, Kaepernick wasn’t kicked off his team.

You also had 56 openly gay athletes competing in the Rio Olympics and winning 25 medals—11 gold, 10 silver and four bronze—and lesbian Amanda Nunes is an Ultimate Fighting Championship titleholder who walloped Ronda Rousey in just 48 seconds on Friday night in Las Vegas. You told North Carolina you wouldn’t tolerate its anti-LGBT legislation and announced that the 2017 National Basketball Association all-star game would be moved out of Charlotte.

You let us watch Peyton Manning, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Big Papi ride off into the sunset. A-Rod did, too, although I suppose not a whole lot of folks care that he’s bid adieu.

You allowed us to say farewell to The Greatest, the King and Mr. Hockey—Muhammad Ali, Arnold Palmer and Gordie Howe. We didn’t mourn their deaths so much as we celebrated their athletic accomplishments, their lives and their legacies.

Sour Hope Solo
Sour Hope Solo

All of this is not to say you were without your rough edges, 2016. You did, after all, give us two ugly Americans in Rio. The disgraced duo would be soupuss soccer goalkeeper Hope Solo and swimmer Ryan Lochte. Solo branded the Swedish women’s side a bunch of “cowards” because they refused to play a run-and-gun game with the U.S., while Lochte claimed to have been robbed with a cocked gun pointed at his head. In reality, he was taking a pee on the wall outside a Rio gas station.

Those were mere blips, though, 2016. And they were easily offset by Jimmie Johnson claiming his record-tying seventh NASCAR driving title, Leicester City, a 5,000-1 longshot, winning the English Premier League soccer title, and the great Serena Williams earning her 22nd Grand Slam tennis championship to equal the equally great Steffi Graf.

You were a wonderful year, 2016, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit. She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

Alexander Burmistrov: Is born-again Burmi the Winnipeg Jets new Fro Lite or Kane Lite?

Quiz yourself this, kids: Would you trade Michael Frolik for Alexander Burmistrov? Even up?

Didn’t think so.

That, however, is essentially what Grand Master Kevin Cheveldayoff did last week. For reasons yet to be clearly defined, the man who generally manages the Winnipeg Jets was unable to convince his most useful forward to remain in River City, thus Frolik shall continue his Jack-of-all-trades career while wearing Calgary Flames adornments.

To compensate for the Fro defection, the Grand Master prepared the fatted calf and welcomed home the prodigal player, Burmistrov, who, when last seen prior to resurfacing at the National Hockey League club’s development camp this past weekend, was acting every bit the petulant, pouting punk and skulking off to Mother Russia.

So that’s your exchange: Frolik out, Burmistrov in.

I have heard it suggested that Burmistrov is Frolik Lite, in that he delivers all those special niceties that the Czech forward provided. He just doesn’t do them as well. I believe that to be an accurate assessment.

But, is Burmistrov actually Fro Lite or is he Kane Lite?

The dearly departed Evander Kane was, of course, a skilled (much of it wasted) player with attitude issues. He played cat-and-mouse with defrocked head coach Claude Noel, challenging his authority on more than one occasion. Although never putting it on public record that he wanted out of Winnipeg, we know he liked Pegtown about as much as Phil Kessel likes media scrums. Eventually, he was shuffled off to Buffalo.

Similarly, Burmistrov and Noel were singing from different sheets in the songbook, thus he skedaddled home for a two-season gig with Ak-Bars of the Kontinental Hockey League.

Now he’s back and what the born-again Burmi brings to the party come October will be among the main storylines as the Winnipegs commence their 2015-16 crusade. If he’s Frolik Lite, it’s all good. If he’s Kane Lite, not so much.

As it is, the former teenage prospect is now a 23-year-old prospect with plenty of upside but a past that fuels skepticism, and the Jets surely harbor a morsel of uncertainty about this migrant young man, otherwise they would have welcomed Burmistrov back to the flock with something more than a two-year contract.

The hope, of course, is that he’s finally got his shite together, meaning he knows head coach Paul Maurice is the boss.

Desperate Hockey Wives: Okay, money aside, we still don’t know the intimate details of Michael Frolik’s defection to the Calgary Flames, thus rumors abound.

One such trickle of gossip suggests his girlfriend, Diana, pulled a Lauren Pronger and forced Frolik to sign anywhere but Winnipeg. The way it is whispered, she developed a considerable distaste for all things River City and, much like Lauren Pronger with hubby Chris and the Edmonton Oilers, she held veto power on where they set up house with daughter Ella.

I have neither heard nor read anything to lend credence to that rumor but, if true, I ask this: So what? Should a wife/girlfriend not have a voice in where she lives?

It seems to me she should have a loud voice.

Sam’s Story a Non-Story? Once upon a time, a lot of football people were strictly Xs, Os and bite-the-head-off-a-live-chicken kind of guys. It would seem that at least one of those dinosaurs still walks among us.

I say that because of a snippet in a Kirk Penton piece last week.

It seems an unidentified Canadian Football League coach or manager pooh-poohs the considerable copy and air time devoted to Michael Sam, whose on-again, off-again career appears to be on again, although it’s expected that the Montreal Alouettes will arrrive in River City for their date with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers this Friday sans the only openly gay man to sign a CFL contract.

Michael Sam hasn’t played a down of football north of the border and he has gotten a thousand times more recognition than Randy Chevrier, who won the Tom Pate Award (for oustanding sportsmanship and someone who has made a significant contribution to his team, his community and the CFLPA),” Coach/Manager No Name said. “That’s pathetic. You guys (in the media) should be embarrassed.”

Well, no. Here’s what’s pathetic and here’s who should be embarrassed: A football lifer who doesn’t recognize or appreciate the social significance of Sam’s story.

It should never be just about Xs, Os and quarterback sacks. Sam is man-bites-dog copy. Can an openly gay man not only survive but, indeed, succeed in the macho world that is professional football? Is major professional sports in North America still a homophobic hinterland in a day and age when same-sex marriage is legal in Canada and the U.S.? Will Sam pave the way for more gay athletes to come out? That’s why noted sheets like the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Daily Mail in the U.K. and so many others track the trials and tribulations of the Alouettes would-be rush end.

But what do those papers know about news? They’re pathetic, right coach?

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