Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and, no, I don’t have a St. Patty’s Day hangover because I was in bed before they started pouring the pints…
Canadian Football League commissioner Randy Ambrosie was already up my nose,but he’s digging in deeper and deeper.
I mean, the guy’s globetrotting and making nice with people who’ve never seen the pointy end of a three-down football was an annoying bit of business, but Commish Randy is playing a dangerous game of flag football when there’s talk of reducing the number of Canadian starters—seven down to five—for each game-day lineup and adding two “global” spots to each overall roster. That’s just wrong.
I’d like to think that Justin Dunk of 3DownNation received bad intel when sources advised him that our homebrews are under attack. But I fear he’s spot on about the Canadian-import roster ratio.
Homeys are at the very core of our game and ought not be used as bargaining chips in negotiations for a fresh Collective Bargaining Agreement between the league and the CFL Players Association. If Commish Randy and U.S. players want fewer Canadian starters, let’s get rid of the rouge, too. And while we’re at it, let’s shrink the field, adopt the fair catch and four downs, eliminate that pesky 12th man on defence so American QBs like Johnny Manziel aren’t confused, and replace the CFL on TSN panel with Curt, Terry, Howie, Michael and Jimmy. We can call it NFL Lite.
That might sell tickets in the Republic of Tranna, but I doubt it will wash on the Prairies, which is the heartland of the CFL.
So, how do we like our “effing crazy” tennis champion so far? I like her a lot.
It’s one thing to wow ’em with an assortment of shots and gritty stick-to-itness on court, but Bianca Andreescu also wowed ’em in the press chat room scant moments after she had toppled Angelique Kerber, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, in the championship match of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, Calif., on Sunday.
“A year ago I’d been struggling a lot with my tennis and with my body, so it’s crazy what a year can do,” the 18-year-old from Mississauga told news snoops. “I was playing $25Ks (tournaments) in Japan and now I’m the…can I say the F-word? No I can’t…I’m the effing champion of Indian Wells. Crazy. Crazy is the word of the tournament for me. Just crazy.”
For those of you who give tennis no more than a passing glance, this was no rinky-dinky tournament. Indian Wells is huge, one of the premier events on the calendar with most of the elite women and men on site. It’s a notch below the four Grand Slams. So where does Bianca’s achievement rank in Canadian tennis history? Numero uno in singles play. Milos Raonic has won eight titles on the men’s tour, Darling Carling Bassett and Hurricane Helen Kelesi had two each on the distaff side, and Genie Bouchard once racked up a W (that seems like a very long time ago). But what Bianca accomplished on Sunday—unparalleled.
I know what some of you might be thinking, or at least hoping—that Bianca doesn’t go all-Genie on us. Bouchard, of course, was the flavor of the month on the Women’s Tennis Association Tour in 2015, rising as high as world No. 5, but then she started taking her clothes off for Sports Illustrated and putting on the ritz. As a consequence, her game has gone kaflooey. I don’t see Andreescu falling down that same rabbit hole. No “effing” way.
For those of you keeping score at home, Bianca has now beaten four Grand Slam champions this year—Kerber, Garbine Muguruza, Venus Williams and Caroline Wozniacki. Heady stuff for a kid.
I realize most of our vast land still remains covered in white stuff, so is it too early to anoint Bianca Andreescu our top athlete for 2019? Seriously, who’s going to trump the tennis neophyte’s astonishing run at Indian Wells? I suppose golfer Brooke Henderson might have something to say about it, but it will take some doing.
Chelsea Carey has it all wrong and she’s selling herself and all elite female curlers in this country short.
Our Chelsea and her gal pals from the Glencoe Club in Calgary are over in Denmark right now, having swapped their Wild Rose of Alberta for the Maple Leaf to defend Canada’s rank as the global pebble power, but she left some interesting sound bites behind before crossing the big pond. Like her take on payouts at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and the Brier.
“I think,” she said, “from a financial standpoint, from a business standpoint, it’s hard to demand exactly equal money. That would be great, but it does need to get closer.”
No, Chelsea. It has to be equal, not just closer.
I mean, same number of teams. Same number of games. Same hard work to get there and stay there. Same TV appeal (the Brier in Brandon had more viewers than the Scotties in Sydney during round-robin play, but the women had better numbers for the playoffs and blitzed the Brier in final vs. final audience—762,000-659,000).
True, the boys at the Brier did better business at the box office, but Kevin Koe and his Glencoe team earned $70,000, so that’s what Carey and her Scotties champions should have collected, not $32,000.
If Curling Canada has to rob Peter to pay Paula, so be it.
Interesting comment from Reid Carruthers after he and his fellow Buffalo Boys—Mike McEwen, Derek Samagalski, Colin Hodgson—had crashed and burned at the Brier. “It’s hard to put a team together and all of a sudden win in its first year,” the Manitoba third said. I’d buy that except for one thing—Koe won the Brier with a first-year team, and Carey won the Scotties in her first year with new teammates.
Let me see if I’ve got this straight: Conor McGregor, the most vulgar and vile man in sports, was arrested in Miami Beach and charged with strong-arm robbery and criminal mischief after he stole and smashed a tourist’s cellphone. That was scant days after the former UFC champion and lousy boxer had completed community service obligations as punishment for hurling a dolly through a bus window in Brooklyn last year. (His lawyers arranged a plea deal on charges of assault, attempted assault and criminal mischief.) And that’s the guy the Boston Bruins trotted out—to considerable pomp and fanfare—for a ceremonial faceoff last week? They celebrated a criminal? What, O.J. Simpson and Mike Tyson weren’t available?
If you have a hockey-playing daughter who’s inclined to hang ’em up in her mid-teens because she doesn’t think there’s anywhere for her to go, you’ll want to give young Jeff Hamilton’s excellent piece on girls’ shinny a read in the Drab Slab. There’s such a thing as the Manitoba Women’s Junior Hockey League, and the championship was decided on Saturday night when Prairie Blaze beat the Silvertips in a shootout.
And, finally, on the matter of distaff shinny, it’s terrific that Sportsnet will air the Canadian Women’s Hockey League title skirmish featuring the Calgary Inferno and Les Canadiennes de Montreal on March 24, but what’s with the noon ET faceoff time? Does someone have a plane to catch? Like, they couldn’t drop the puck in mid-afternoon to give the Clarkson Cup reasonable air time across the country? That’s no way to sell the women’s game.
I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
I didn’t think anyone would buy the “everything goes under the radar when you play in Winnipeg,” bunk that Jets captain Blake Wheeler was selling last week. Other than the gullible, fawning faithful, that is.
But along comes Paul Wiecek and he’s actually swallowing that cup of Winnipeg Jets Kool-Aid.
Right to the very last drop.
Here’s what the Winnipeg Free Press columnist wrote about Wheeler’s “under the radar” malarkey: “That might have been true before this season. In fact, it almost certainly was true.”
In fact, it almost certainly was not true.
Which National Hockey League outfit, the Jets (versions 1.0 and 2.0) or the mega-market Tranna Maple Leafs, do you suppose has produced more individual regular-season award winners and more all-stars since River City was invited to join the fun for the 1979-80 season (excluding, of course, the years when Winnipeg was dark)? I’ll give you a hint: It isn’t the team that skates in the shadow of the CN Tower.
Here are the facts, ma’am…just the facts (they aren’t hard to find):
Winnipeg Jets 1979-80 to 1995-96; 2011-12 to 2016-17
Calder Trophy: Dale Hawerchuk 1981-82, Teemu Selanne 1992-93 Jack Adams Trophy: Tom Watt 1981-82, Bob Murdoch 1989-90 King Clancy Memorial Trophy: Kris King 1995-96 All-star teams (1st or 2nd): Hawerchuk 1984-85, Selanne 1992-93, Keith Tkachuk 1994-95, Phil Housley 1991-92, Alexei Zhamnov 1994-95 Rookie all-star team: Selanne 1992-93, Bob Essensa 1989-90, Iain Duncan 1987-88, Boris Mironov 1993-94, Patrik Laine 2016-17 Total: 5 individual awards, 5 all-star teams, 5 rookie all-stars—15.
Tranna Maple Leafs 1979-80 to 1995-96; 2011-12 to 2016-17
Calder Trophy: Auston Matthews 2016-17 Frank Selke Trophy: Doug Gilmour 1992-93 Jack Adams Trophy: Pat Burns 1992-93 All-star teams: Borje Salming 1979-80 Rookie all-star team: Felix Potvin 1992-93, Wendel Clark 1985-86, Dan Daoust 1982-83, Kenny Jonsson 1994-95, Jake Gardiner 2011-12, Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews 2016-17 Total: 3 individual awards, 1 all-star team, 7 rookie all-stars—11.
We all know les Leafs fly “under the radar” like Donald Trump is subtle on Twitter, yet voters have ignored them season after season after season.
Consider the Calder Trophy as an e.g. Until Auston Matthews was anointed the NHL’s leading freshman last spring, do you know how long it had been since a member of les Leafs won the top frosh bauble? Fifty-one freaking years! Half a century! When Brit Selby accepted the trinket, Lester Pearson was Prime Minister of Canada. Neil Young had just joined Buffalo Springfield. Hockey Night in Canada was still televised in black and white.
But two Jets—Dale Hawerchuk and Teemu Selanne—copped the Calder after Selby and before Mathews. And a third, Patrik Laine, was runnerup last year.
This whole Winnipeg is “under the radar” thing is a total copout. It’s such a lame lament. It sounds like the theme of an “Oh, woe are we” pity party. I can hear Leslie Gore singing “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to” as I type. Rodney Dangerfield should be their poster boy. No respect, I’ll tell ya…no respect. Look, I get the drill. Winnipeg is mocked, maligned and ridiculed as a backwater burg. It’s so remote, you have to drive 500 miles just to get to the Middle of Nowhere, also known as Regina. But I invite anyone to provide evidence in support of the notion that a Jets player or coach has been cheated out of an award due to locale.
Wiecek didn’t stop at one swig of the Jets Kool-Aid. He doubled down on the conspiracy theory in a follow-up essay: “There has been some loose talk in recent weeks about Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler having an outside shot at taking down this season’s Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player,” he wrote. “That’s not going to happen for a lot of reasons, beginning with the fact the Hart Trophy is voted upon by the media and Wheeler plays in the smallest media market in the entire NHL.” He wants to talk about size? Like size matters? Okay, let’s talk size. If Winnipeg is the nail on your little toe, Edmonton is the nail on your pinky finger. Yet the Oilers won 30—count ’em, 30—individual awards that are voted on (mostly by the media), 10 of them going to players not named Wayne Gretzky (in the years Winnipeg wasn’t dark). There were also 32 first- or second-team all-star selections, including six chosen to the rookie team. In the National Football League, tinytown Green Bay can boast of eight Associated Press MVP awards from five players, dating back to the early 1960s. The Goliath known as New York City, with two teams since 1970, has had just two NFL MVPs. Size doesn’t matter, performance does.
So, the mighty Jets juggernaut couldn’t put a puck past a bean counter who plays goal in a beer league at Johnny’s Ice House West in Chicago. They tried for 14 minutes and one second. They tested him seven times. Nada. Scott Foster, the Blackhawks backup goaltender to the backup goaltender, was perfect on Thursday night at the United Center. His NHL career goals-against average is 0.00. I swear, there hasn’t been a better emergency replacement story in sports since Lou Gehrig took over at first base for Wally Pipp and the New York Yankees. Difference is, Gehrig hung in there for another 2,130 consecutive games. Bean Counter Foster didn’t quit his day job. He went back to his spreadsheets the following morning, knowing he’s the NHL’s feel-good story of the year. Brilliant stuff.
Speaking of Chitown goaltenders, does the name Al Rollins mean anything to you? Didn’t think so. Well, he tended goal for Chicago in 1953-54. The Blackhawks occupied the cellar in the NHL that season. They won just 12 of 70 assignments, missing the playoffs by a whopping 43 points. Rollins’ 3.23 goals-against average was worst in the league. Guess who was NHL MVP. Yup, Al Rollins. So don’t tell me Connor McDavid shouldn’t be considered for the Hart Trophy simply because his Oilers teammates suck and didn’t qualify for this spring’s Stanley Cup tournament. History records that numerous outriders have been MVP, in all leagues. Andre (Hawk) Dawson, for example, was MVP on a Major League Baseball bottom-feeder. Ditto Alex Rodriguez. Here’s a partial list of non-playoff MVPs: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Los Angeles Lakers,1975-76; Larry Walker, Colorado Rockies, 1997; Barry Bonds, San Francisco Giants, 2001, 2004; Alex Rodriguez, Texas Rangers, 2003; Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies, 2006; Albert Puhols, St. Louis Cardinals, 2008; O.J. Simpson, Buffalo Bills, 1973; Johnny Unitas, Baltimore Colts, 1967; Andre Dawson, Chicago Cubs, 1987; Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals, 2015; Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins, 2017; Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels, 2016; Robin Yount, Milwaukee Brewers, 1989; Cal Ripken, Baltimore Orioles, 1991; Ernie Banks, Chicago Cubs, 1958-59; Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh Penguins, 1987-88; Andy Bathgate, New York Rangers, 1958-59.
If I had a vote, I’d be inclined to give serious consideration to Brad Marchand as MVP in the NHL, because the Boston Bruins would be in Nowheresville without him. But I’d have to hold my nose if I included him on my ballot, because he’s a skunk. A total dweeb. People say Marchand plays “with an edge,” but I disagree. He plays dirty. He’s also a diver. Ultimately, I’d have his name on my ballot, but not at the top. I’d put Nathan MacKinnon and his 93 points/11 game-winning goals for the Colorado Avalanche first, followed by McDavid. Yup, possibly two non-playoff participants one-two. I’d have Blake Wheeler of les Jets third (he plays an honest game as opposed to Marchand’s shenanigans), then Sidney Crosby (Evgeni Malkin has marginally better numbers, but Sid the Kid still makes the Pittsburgh Penguins tick) and Marchand.
I’m not a hoops fan. Never have been. But it’s boffo that Victoria’s Steve Nash will be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, in part because he was a two-time National Basketball Association most valuable player. Mind you, his former sidekick with the Phoenix Suns, Shaquille O’Neal, figures Nash’s two MVP awards were a rob job. “(I should have won) three, easily. (I should have won) the two that Steve Nash got over me. It pisses me off. (Nash) knows,” Shaq once told SI.com. Get over it, Shaq.
How unusual, also refreshing, to hear an all-female broadcast team work a hockey game. Sportsnet pulled it off with Leah Hextall handling the play-by-play, Cassie Campbell-Pascall providing the backup vocals in the booth, and Nikki Reyes standing at rink-side for the Clarkson Cup, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League title match between the Markham Thunder and Kunlun Red Star. Wonder how long it will be before we hear three women working an NHL game? No doubt the very thought will make a lot of men cringe and feel like they’ve been gelded. Well, it’ll happen one day. Deal with it, boys.
Le Grand Orange has left the building. That would be Rusty Staub, who died Thursday, three days before his 74th birthday. I have one vivid memory of Staub—he stole a base in the first Major League Baseball game I witnessed live. An original member of the Montreal Expos, Staub was with the Detroit Tigers at the time and I was sitting in the first base bleachers at old Exhibition Stadium in the Republic of Tranna. Because he had the foot speed of an ATM, the Blue Jays thought it unlikely that Staub would bolt. Yet away he went. It was like watching a man pull a milk wagon. I could have poured back three pints by the time he arrived at second base. But he got there safely. Standing up, no less. Staub stood there, smiling, like a schoolboy who’d pulled the perfect prank. A nice memory.
And, finally, this week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: Not so long ago, he described the induction of Pedro Martinez to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame as a “ridiculous choice. He spent four seasons in Montreal. That’s all.” Apparently, that made the Hall “look cheap.” And “Do you honestly believe a player with four years service belongs in a Hall of Fame? Any Hall of Fame?” Ah, but now he writes glowingly of Staub as “the baseball player in Canada so many of us cared about. The first who mattered across the country.” Staub actually spent less time with the Expos than Martinez, just 3 ½ season with the Expos, but he was inducted into the CBHF in 2012 and I don’t hear Grandpa Simmons shouting that it was a “ridiculous choice.” Nor should he. So shut up about Pedro, Steve.
I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
I can’t help but weep when I hear the many victims/survivors of diabolical Larry Nassar tell their stories of sexual abuse at the hands of the predator doctor when they were sweet, innocent little girls with dreams of Olympic Games gymnastics glory.
So it’s damn straight that I gave a fist pump and let loose a mighty “hell ya!” when Judge Rosemarie Aquilina booted Nassar’s sorry ass back to a jail cell on Wednesday, saying, “I just signed your death warrant” as she tacked 40-175 years onto the 60-year sentence the defrocked doctor is already serving on a child pornography conviction.
The lady judge rocks. Assistant Attorney General Angela Povilaitis rocks. Investigative journalists Marisa Kwiatowski, Tim Evans and Mark Alesia at the Indianapolis Star rock. The 156 women who appeared in a Michigan courtroom to confront Nassar with victim-impact statements rock.
And now Nassar can pound rocks. Or whatever it is that sexual predators pound behind bars.
Watching Judge Aquilina sentence formerU.S. Olympic gymnastics/Michigan State University doctor Nassar, I couldn’t help but think the outcomes of the original O.J. Simpson (Judge Ito) and Oscar Pistorius (Judge Thokozile Masipa) murder trials would have been different had she been on the bench. It’s little wonder Judge Aquilina’s nickname while serving in the Michigan Army National Guard was Barricuda. She’s a nasty bit of business, in a good way.
Quick question for those who insist that we keep sports and the real world separate: How is that possible when the real world refuses to stay out of sports? Nassar was the top medic for USA Gymnastics and the MSU women’s gymnastics teams. He sexually abused the girls. Sports, meet real world.
I woke up to a tsunami warning(true story) in the small hours of Tuesday morning, after a 7.9 shaker rocked and rolled offshore of Alaska, and I had visions of my high-and-dry, eighth-floor home in downtown Victoria being swamped and swallowed by the Pacific Ocean. Turns out the ‘quake had all the bite of a Jimmy Fallon monologue. Yup, that tame. There’s more oomph in American beer. So, after review, the tsunami warning was overturned due to goaltender interference. Just like every goal scored in the National Hockey League this week.
Moving on to more pleasant matters, it seems that most times I look up the Winnipeg Jets are winning another game. Who saw that coming? I mean, okay, at the commencement of their current crusade I figured Team Draft & Develop for a wild-card playoff spot. At best. But first place? In the NHL’s toughest division? There was a better chance of the Paid Pinocchio in the White House, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, dissing her boss Donald Trump for his take on immigration.
Here’s what I wrote re the Jets on Sept. 14: “It appears that the Western Conference road to the Stanley Cup is likely to go through Northern Alberta. If not, it’ll be Southern Alberta, where the Calgary Flames are shaping up to be a force, even as ownership squabbles with politicos and beats the drums about relocation should the city refuse to pony up substantial coin for a new shinny palace. The trouble with the Jets—aside from the people behind the bench—is geography. Until they prove otherwise, they’re still the third best outfit on the Canadian prairies.” D’oh! D’oh! D’oh!
I note that two members of the San Jose Sharks—Tomas Hertl and Justin Braun—have issued an apology for calling Winnipeg a “dark and cold” locale with no smart phones, WiFi or any other 21st-century gadgetry. Apparently, the mea culpa should arrive by Pony Express, carrier pigeon or Western Union telegraph in time for the NHL playoffs.
This just in—Don Cherry doesn’t like Europeans. Who knew? In related news, dogs don’t like cats, Donald Trump doesn’t like the FBI, and Taylor Swift isn’t fond of Kim, Kanye or Katy. Seriously. Grapes needs a new script writer. Once again he’s dredged up his antiquated Cold War-era lament about Euros taking jobs away from homebrews, in this case on the rosters of Major Junior outfits across our vast land. “What happens is, if you look at it, there’s a Canadian kid not playing,” says the resident curmudgeon/blowhard on the Hockey Night in Canada intermission feature Coachless Corner. “You’re asking me, ‘Do I believe in Europeans playing in (the) Canadian Hockey League?’ No. I don’t.” Fine, Grapes, and while we’re at it let’s keep all those French kids in Quebec.
Paul Wiecek offers some interesting thoughts on the NHL misreading the climate of the day by hiring Kid Rock as the intermission act for its all-star frolic this afternoon in Tampa.
The way the Winnipeg Free Press sports columnist has it figured, the two of them deserve each other because the NHL is whiter than a virgin bride’s wedding gown and Kid Rock’s neck is redder than a rooster’s wattles.
“If the Confederacy had won the U.S. Civil War, America today would look a whole lot like an NHL hockey game,” Wiecek writes. “The NHL is not only the whitest professional sports league in North America—by a mile—it also has the whitest fans of any of this continent’s four major pro sports. Again, by a mile. If you’re anything other than white and heterosexual, you’re every bit as much of a minority sitting in the stands at an NHL game as Dustin Byfuglien is skating out on the ice. Hockey is played by white people, for white people.”
This is a classic case of the pot calling the kettle white. I mean, has Wiecek taken a look at press row in Canada (newspaper sports division)? Nothing but white, heterosexual, mostly male faces.
Full marks to the Freep scribe for calling out the NHL on the Kid Rock hire, because the guy has a fondness for the Confederate flag and a history of anti-gay/anti-transgender spewings. But Wiecek’s own business has all the diversity of…well, the white NHL.
Ask Wiecek to name all the black sports writers with whom he’s worked. Ask him to name all the openly gay sports scribes. None and none. Ask him to name all the women. Two. I worked at five different dailies. I recall one non-Caucasian colleague. Just one. In 30 years. I worked with only four females scribes. In 30 years. I worked with zero openly gay sports scribes. In 30 years.
At least the NHL has some African-American players. But blacks and gays can’t even be called a minority in Canadian newspaper sports writing, because they simply don’t exist.
So, signature scrawl is now restricted to kids in Sin City. That’s right, only kids 14 and under are allowed access to Vegas Golden Knights players for autographs at the NHL club’s practice facility, City National Arena. Adults need not apply. Seems it’s a safety measure, because grown-ups were “pushing kids out of the way” and kids were “running into the street.” My question: Why would a grown man want another grown man’s autograph? Except, of course, to profit. In which case, he should get a life.
Yes, kids, you can grow up to look like Box Car Willie after spending a night sleeping on a slow-moving freight train and still become a five-time (do I hear six?) Super Bowl-winning head coach. Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots remains the ultimate example of a man not letting success go to his clothes, so the next time a cynic takes a cheap shot at Winnipeg Blue Bombers sideline steward Mike O’Shea for his “goofy shorts,” show him this pic of Belichick, taken scant seconds after his Patriots had won their eighth American Football Conference title on his watch.
Grappling guru Vince McMahon made it official last week, advising us that his aborted and gimmicky XFL from 2001 will reboot in 2020, sans the WWE-scripted shtick and the up-the-skirt cheerleader cams. Vince is going legit—from sleazy to squeaky clean—and he vows to hire only boy scouts (“Even if you have a DUI, you will not play in the XFL.”). He’ll order players to stand during the national anthem. He wants games to be completed in two hours or less. He wants us to “reimagine” football. Okay, I reimagine football in 2020 without Vince McMahon.
McMahon’s no-bad boys statute seemingly rules out Johnny Manziel, the former Cleveland Browns quarterback who likes to brawl in bars when he isn’t beating up women. So let’s see…the National Football League has washed its hands of Manziel and the not-ready-for-prime-time XFL wants no part of him, yet the Canadian Football League is eager to welcome him with open arms. What part of embarrassing does CFL commish Randy Ambrosie not understand? (For the record, if Manziel shows serious interest in the XFL, bet the mortgage money that McMahon will turn a blind eye to his rap sheet.)
For those who insist that there’s no depth in women’s tennis, the past five Grand Slam events have produced five different champions—Serena Williams (Australian Open), Jelena Ostapenko (French Open), Garbine Muguruza (Wimbledon), Sloane Stephens (U.S. Open) and Caroline Wozniacki (Aussie Open). Five events, 13 months, five different champions. The men, meanwhile, have produced two different champions in that time frame—Roger Federer (three titles) and Rafael Nadal (two). I suppose an argument can be made that the universe would have unfolded differently for the women had mama Serena not been away having a baby, but that isn’t necessarily so. After all, she won just one Slam in 2016. Might have been the same last year. The point is, there’s intrigue on the women’s side.
Is there anything more cruel in sports than what Simona Halep and Marin Cilic were forced to endure after losing their respective Aussie Open singles championship matches this weekend? She battled Wozniacki for three hours less 11 minutes, he 20-time Grand Slam champion Federer for three hours and three minutes. Then, after being vanquished, they likely just wanted to crawl into a hole and cry. Alas, they were required to loiter on court for the parting-gifts ceremony and boring speeches that seemingly droned on longer than the matches…then make a speech and smile…then listen to the victor’s speech and smile…then pose for photos and smile. Half an hour later, they were permitted to depart and lick their wounds (which, in Halep’s case, meant a retreat to the hospital for IV treatment). Like I said, cruel.
This week’s notable quotable: Before meeting his Waterloo vs. Marin Cilic, Rafael Nadal was rocking the sleeveless look at the Aussie Open. The guy’s got guns. Serious guns. Which did not escape the notice of commentator Jim Courier, who, during a courtside gab session about Rafa’s fashion statement, asked Swiss maestro Federer if he’d be following Nadal’s lead and show us his pipes. “That’s not gonna happen,” a laughing Federer said, glancing quickly at his chicken arms. “You know why? My arms are not like his arms. It’s pretty simple.”
This week’s Stevie-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna, taking a cheap shot at the XFL: “Did anybody out there ask for another football league? Anyone?” I have a better question, Stevie: Does anybody in the Republic of Tranna know they have a professional football team? Anyone?
I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
I’m not sure what happens to Mike O’Shea when he gets to B.C. Place Stadium.
Maybe it’s the drinking water. Ya, that’s it. Someone is spiking his H2O with mind-altering drugs, because it’s become evident that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach is seeing things that aren’t there. I mean, the rest of us see an impossible 61-yard field goal attempt, but O’Shea sees a ho-hum chip shot. We see Justin Medlock as a punter/place-kicker, but O’Shea sees him as Dieter Brock or Kenny Ploen.
He’s delusional like the Nevada Parole Board.
Mind you, nobody can accuse the Bombers sideline steward of being a one-trick pony.
He did, after all, give us two displays of hocus-pocus for the price of one on Friday night in Vancouver. Trouble is, an argument can be made that O’Shea’s smoke and mirrors is the main reason the Bombers were found wanting in their Canadian Football League skirmish with the B.C. Lions.
Yes, I’m aware that a fake field goal was executed to perfection and resulted in seven points. Kudos for venturesome and creative football. Alas, we were also reminded that there’s a time and place for sleight of hand, and midway through the fourth quarter—on third-and-15 with the ball nestled on your own 26-yard stripe!—is neither the time nor the place for Justin Medlock to be passing instead of punting.
Unless, of course, you’re Coach D’oh and you’re hallucinating.
O’Shea’s fourth-quarter brain cramp also resulted in points. Eight of them. For the Lions, who were less into gimmickry and more into gutting it out while turning a 15-point deficit into a 45-42 success.
Go ahead and give O’Shea full marks for his daring if you like. It can be get-out-of-your-seat exciting. But it’s folly for a head coach to double dog dare himself into making dumb decisions, which seems to now be the rule rather than the exception for the Bombers puppet master on the Wet Coast.
It’s all about picking your spots, and when O’Shea allowed Medlock to pass rather than punt while nursing an eight-point lead on Friday he picked the wrong spot.
“We don’t think of them as trick plays,” he advised news snoops after the fact. “They’re well designed and well thought out and well executed by the players that buy into that.”
Well, okay. Except receiver Derek Jones must have missed the memo, because he had his back turned to Medlock’s wonky pass on the “called play.”
It was just dumb, dumb, dumb.
So, was the faux punt really a “called play” as O’Shea insists or was it a Medlock ad lib? “I’ll take the blame for it,” Medlock said post-gaffe. “Whatever comes if it, I’m not going to sit here and point fingers.” And I’ll take that to mean someone else screwed up. In either case, it still comes down to coaching. Football is very much a situational game, and an alert coach doesn’t permit his punter to fiddle fart around when it’s third-and-15 at the 26-yard stripe while nursing an eight-point lead with slightly more than eight minutes to play.
A few words about the final round of the Open golf championship Sunday at the Royal Birkdale in Southport, England: Brutal and brilliant. Ragged and remarkable. Seriously. Champion golfer of the year Jordan Spieth was all over the British Isles through the first four holes, carding three bogeys, and his tee shot on 13 hole was so far off the mark that the ball almost landed in Ireland. It took him half an hour to complete the hole. Then he goes birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie in less time than it takes to whip up a full English breakfast. Incredible. What I like most about Spieth, who now has a collection of three Grand Slam titles, is his manner: He seems like a lovely, young man.
Attention Politically Correct Police: If sports scribes choose to describe ascending tennis star Garbine Muguruza as pretty or sexy, spare us your squawking because they have her blessing. “I see a lot of criticism sometimes when a sportswoman wants to feel pretty on the court,” the reigning Wimbledon and 2016 French Open ladies’ champion says. “I want to feel pretty out there, I’m going to feel more comfortable and confident if I have a beautiful dress on. It doesn’t go against being an athlete.” So there. Don’t scream sexism when a jock journo writes about her appearance.
Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird, at 36 the oldest player in the Women’s National Basketball Association, tells ESPNW magazine that she’s a lesbian and, except for the fact she’s dating American soccer star Megan Rapinoe, it’s a ho-hum revelation. There’s a reason for that: Gay female athletes at the highest echelons are commonplace, whereas their male counterparts are about half a century behind when it comes to acceptance and inclusiveness. Both Bird and Rapinoe, by the way, are Olympic gold medallists, further evidence that having gays on a team roster is not an impediment to success.
The quote machine has gone into overdrive the past couple of weeks, and much of it has been painful to hear and read. For example…
Boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. said this about Conor McGregor, his opponent in an Aug. 26 bout: “He totally disrespected black women. He called black people monkeys. Then he spoke disrespectfully to my daughter’s mother and he spoke disrespectfully to my daughter.” Yo! Floyd! You’re a serial woman-beater. You’ve gone to jail for beating up women. Don’t talk to us about disrespecting women.
Former National Football League quarterback Michael Vick had these words of advice for blackballed QB Colin Kaepernick: “(The) first thing we got to get Colin to do is cut his hair. I’m not here trying to be politcially correct, but, even if he puts cornrows in there, I don’t think he should represent himself in that way. The most important thing he needs to do is just try and be presentable. He may need a life coach.” Yo! Mikey! You used to torture and kill dogs in a dog-fighting operation. You went to jail for torturing and killing dogs. Don’t talk to us about life coaches.
Unconvicted killer and convicted armed robber O.J. Simpson said this while sweet-talking four members of the Nevada Parole Board into granting him his freedom after almost nine years behind bars: “I basically spent a conflict-free life,” and “No one ever accused me of pulling a weapon on them.” Yo! Juice! You beat your ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson so severely one night that she was taken to hospital, you hacked her and friend Ron Goldman to death, you robbed people at gunpoint. Don’t talk to us about non-conflict and deadly weapons.
Frankly, while wooing the Nevada parole commissioners, I’m surprised the dreadful Simpson didn’t tell them that he absolutely had to get out of jail to resume his bogus search “for the real killers” of his ex-wife and friend. No doubt he’ll resume his search on the first tee of some swanky golf course in Florida. What a disingenuous, deplorable cad.
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.
I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
Well, who saw this coming? Mike O’Shea suddenly looking like the second coming of Mike Riley.
Well, okay, we don’t want to get carried away. Riley coached the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to a pair of Canadian Football League championships. I assume he still has the Grey Cup rings to prove it. O’Shea, on the other hand, has accomplished squat. But, hey, when the good times roll so does hyperbole.
What kind of a roll are the local football heroes on? Let’s just say the fact we’re mentioning O’Shea and Riley in the same sentence—rather than O’Shea and Jeff Reinebold—ought to be your first clue.
Your second clue would be that no one is talking or writing about O’Shea’s short pants anymore.
It wasn’t so long ago, remember, that the Bombers were a Sad Sackian 1-4 outfit and O’Shea was being fitted for a neck-tie party. A funny thing happened on the way to the gallows, though. He changed quarterbacks (or someone did it for him), a whack of starters sustained owies that put them on the shelf, and the guys filling in have done something the prime-timers couldn’t do—win.
So what am I saying? That it’s necessity, not design, that is at the root of the Bombers’ rise to respectability? Yes. And no.
Only those who share the inner sanctum—and, perhaps, a few flies on the wall at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry—know the true story behind the QB switch. To that point, the head coach had displayed either a shocking quarterback blindness or a peculiar infatuation with his do-nothing starter, Drew Willy. Thus it’s my guess that O’Shea was prodded, if not instructed, to take the ball from Willy and hand it to Matt Nichols. His hand was further forced due to the injuries on the offensive line, at receiver and among the defensive dozen.
But here’s where O’Shea got it right: He’s plugged the proper people into the appropriate places (hello, Taylor Loffler). The result: four games, four Ws and a 5-4 record at the halfway juncture of their 2016 crusade.
Now let’s see if he has the smarts to get it right once the original starters are back from sick bay.
I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that the Bombers are playing the Rodney Dangerfield card. “We feel like we’re not respected,” linebacker Mo Leggett said scant seconds after Friday night’s brawl in Montreal, with the Winnipegs on the favorable end of a 32-18 score against the Alouettes. “We feel like we’re still underrated by everyone, so we’re just going to keep going making plays and we’re going to stay hungry.” This, of course, is a common rallying cry from players on outfits that go from punching bag to pick-of-the-litter seemingly overnight. But whatever works, right?
It occurred to me while watching the Bombers and Alouettes grab grass and growl that the jury remains out on Duron Carter, who received a one-game sentence for bowling over Ottawa RedBlacks head coach Rick Campbell yet has not missed a beat. We still await an arbitrator’s ruling. Good grief. The O.J. Trial didn’t take this long.
John Bowman of the Larks had a legit gripe with officiating when one of the zebras flagged him for roughing late in the fourth quarter and the result very much in the balance. Bombers O-lineman Travis Bond shoved Bowman post-whistle. Bowman shoved back. Bond, a 6-feet-6, 329-lb. behemoth, went all soccer player, abruptly leaning back and his arms flailing as if the victim of a terrorist attack. Out came the hanky. That cost the Als 15 yards. Lip service from Bowman cost him another 10 yards. Brutal. If Bowman’s shove was worth 15 yards, Bond’s embellishment should have been worth 15 yards.
Speaking of embellishment, I’m sorry but Kevin Pillar of the Toronto Blue Jays doesn’t have to leave his feet to catch a ball quite as often as he does. No doubt he’s among the premier glovesmiths in Major League baseball, but the Jays centrefielder made a play on an Albert Pujols drive the other night that had mustard dripping all over it. Yes, he ran a long way to make the catch, but, no, he didn’t have to launch himself into the Superman routine. It was pure hot-dogging.
The arrival of Dawn Braid as full-time skating coach with the Arizona Coyotes was met with much ballyhoo, because she’s a she. Except neither Braid nor the Desert Dogs is breaking new ground here. The Toronto Maple Leafs have had former figure skating champion Barbara Underhill on payroll as skating coach since 2012. Previously, she had worked for the Disney Ducks, New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lighting. The Hockey News once named her among the 100 most influential people in the game. Figure skating females have, in fact, been coaching in the National Hockey League since the 1970s, when Laura Stamm worked with Bob Nystrom of the New York Islanders. Underhill, Cathy Andrade, Barb Aidelbaum and Braid have followed her lead. Girl power has long been in the NHL…it’s just that a lot of people never noticed until the Braid hire.
Is it too late for Donald Trump to recruit either Hope Solo or Ryan Lochte as a running mate in the U.S. presidential election race? Nobody, other than the Donald, has offended more Americans than the soccer goalie and the swimmer, so I figure one of them is a perfect fit.
Bill Watters, former player agent,former NHL executive, current radio gab-and-gossip guy, says Jacob Trouba wants out of Winnipeg. He offers no insider info to support his theory that the Jets’ young defenceman wishes to fly the coop. He uses only the deductive reasoning of a man who has spent a lifetime in the game at many different levels. You know something? I’m inclined to believe Watters.
My three stars at the Rio Olympics, print division, were Bruce Arthur (Toronto Star), Cam Cole and Ed Willes (Team Postmedia), with an honorable mention to Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail for his wrapup piece. Each wrote a column that has stayed with me. More than one, actually. Some other scribes’ work stayed with me as well. Like a batch of bad chili. But we don’t want to go there.
If there’s a top-drawer sports columnist in the True North with better social awareness than Arthur, I haven’t read him or her. His piece from the Olympics on American skeet shooter Kim Rhode and fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, who, like Rhode, contributed a bronze medal to the U.S. collection, is a prime example. It’s about hijabs, blue hair, the Second Amendment and the beauty of social acceptance. It’s worth a read.
Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 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.
So, let’s see if I’ve got this straight: When the Winnipeg Blue Bombers lose a football game, Mike O’Shea cannot supply news scavengers with a definitive answer without first having to “see the film.” He’s Coach Copout. You get more insight from Mount Rushmore.
Yet, when the Bombers rack up a W, as was the case against the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Saturday night in the Banjo Bowl, the head coach flaps his gums for six minutes and 40 seconds without once insisting he must “see the film” before delivering the goods. That despite the fact many bad things happened in the Bombers’ 22-7 victory, developments that surely would have had him defaulting to film-speak had they led to a loss.
O’Shea is a reminder of what I disliked most about being in the sports media—dealing with jerks.
Why are so many people hung up on O’Shea’s shoddy taste in fashion? So he’s into T-shirts and hoodies and won’t make the cover of GQ. Big deal. Bill Belichick dresses like some guy who sleeps beside a dumpster, and all he does is take his New England Patriots to the playoffs every year and win more Super Bowl games than any living National Football League coach.
Woman beater and professional fist-fighter Floyd Mayweather roughed up some tomato can on Saturday night to run his career ring record to 49-0, and now he’s leaving boxing. Yup, he insists this was the last time he’ll use his fists to give someone a fat lip. Unless, of course, he decides to punch out a few more women. My guess is that with all the extra time on his hands, Floyd will be heading to a jail to be named later.
Speaking of jocks in jail, I see where O.J. Simpson lost an appeal for a new trial on the kidnapping and armed robbery raps that earned him nine to 33 years behind bars, so he’ll remain in a Nevada lockup until 2017, at the earliest. No word on whether or not the Juice will resume his search for the real killers if paroled at age 70.
Prior to her ouster at the U.S. Open, a number of pundits were touting Serena Williams as the best athlete on the third rock from the sun. Not just the best tennis player, understand. The best athlete. Man or woman. That is, of course, utter nonsense. How can she be the top jock when she isn’t even the top tennis player? And in the ongoing discussion about Williams’ place in tennis history, distaff division, I’ll still take Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova every time.
That Peter Chiarelli is some kind of kidder.The Edmonton McDavids general manager sat down for a gum-flap with TSN’s Bob McKenzie and suggested fab frosh Connor McDavid will top out at 20 goals and 40 points as a National Hockey League rookie. Ya, and it will only snow once in Edmonton this winter. If McDavid isn’t at least a 60-point guy in his first go-round, we’ll need a federal inquiry.
Apparently, the PGA Tour playoffs are underway. Is anyone aware of this? Is anyone watching? Does anyone actually understand the format? And does it really happen if Tiger Woods isn’t there?
I really wish Steve Yzerman would hurry up and sign Steven Stamkos to a contract extension so scribes in the Republic of Tranna (hello, Damien Cox) could stop writing speculative pieces about the star centre/winger bolting the Tampa Bay Lightning to join the Maple Leafs and achieving “hockey immortality” with a place on Legends Row.
The track shoes worn by Roger Bannister in May of 1954 when he became the first man to run a sub-four-minute mile have been sold at a Christie’s auction for $412,062.30. It’s believe they are the most expensive pair of shoes not in Caitlyn Jenner’s closet.
It occurs to me that The Reporters on TSN would be a much more entertaining chin-wag if the gab guys weren’t given a heads up on subject matter. Too much of what Bruce Arthur, Michael Farber and Steve Simmons have to say seems scripted. There’s seldom an invigorating thrust-and-parry. Sparks never fly. They’re afraid to offend one another. Hey, I’m not looking for a verbal donnybrook, but some sizzle would be boffo. As it is, they have time to research the topics on host Dave Hodge’s menu, which makes for rather bland banter. Make ’em do it off-the-cuff. Simmons, by the way, has sprounted scruffy chin and upper-lip whiskers, so he no longer looks like a hamster with nerdy glasses. He now looks like a hamster with nerdy glasses and scruffy chin whiskers.
Patti 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.
Keep in mind that many of our adopted jocks are not in Winnipeg by choice. The sports system forced them to drop anchor in Pegtown, so it could be that they feel the system is holding them hostage, which could lend itself to no small level of bitterness about a burg.
Does Winnipeg get a bad rap, or are the good citizens of River City a tad too touchy? Lord knows we have a fragile psyche, because we get our knickers in a knot at the mere suggestion that our burg is not fit for man, beast nor professional athlete. Well, here’s one person’s four-part take on what makes Pegtown tick.
PART ONE: It’s okay if you don’t like us (but we aren’t anybody’s arm pit)
PART TWO: Snub us and we won’t drink your beer (and it’s all Harold Ballard’s fault)
PART THREE: Some athletes we love, some athletes we loath (but we’ll love you more and loath you less if you win)
PART FOUR: Everybody knows this is nowhere (you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave)
PART ONE: It’s okay if you don’t like us (but we aren’t anybody’s arm pit)
It was the winter of 1998 and I was standing beside Ross McLennan in the Winnipeg Sun newsroom.
We peered out the window as an angry winter storm began to bare its fangs and growl, and we both knew that if we didn’t leave the building in the next half hour, or so, there existed a very real probability that we were hunkered in for the night.
“Ross,” I said to him as I stared at the white stuff swirling about outside, “why do we live here?”
“I don’t know,” he answered.
There was a pause for silence. We just stared at the snow.
“You know something,” I finally said, turning to my right and looking up at Ross. “We don’t have to live here. No. We don’t have to live here.”
So I don’t. Live there. But I do. Live there.
I have come to realize, you see, that I don’t live where I live. I live where I used to live. Where I’ve always lived. Where I always will live.
It’s just that I’m now approximately 2,300 kilometres to the left of Portage and Main. I have an ocean view. And a mountain view. There are palm trees, 365 days of golf, a wet rather than a white winter, nobody plugs in their car, and I’ve discovered uses for my arms other than swatting at mosquitos 24/7.
I hang my bonnet in Victoria, but, trust me, I live in Winnipeg.
I mean, I’m ashamed to admit this (and probably shouldn’t admit it), but I can’t tell you the name of Victoria’s mayor. I believe it’s Dean Fortin, but I’m not positive. Yes, I agree, shame on me.
The thing is, I not only can name the (soon-to-be former) mayor of Winnipeg, I know him. Personally. Mind you, I never was particularly fond of Sammy Katz, nor his smarmy smile. Always thought he was a bit like a soccer injury. You know, phony.
I figure Sammy for one of those soccer players who has been mortally wounded by a kick to the left shin bone, yet, as play continues to swirl about him as he lay clutching at his face, he’s peeking through his fingers to determine if the referee will go to his pocket and produce a red card.
The red card is, of course, the miracle cure of futbol. It has the healing powers of Jesus’s hands. The moment a mortally wounded lad is secure in the knowledge that his assailant has been shown a red card—and thereby banished from proceedings—he makes a Lourdes-like recovery and springs back into the fray with renewed vigor and an exaggerated limp that vanishes the very second play is whistled in. To me, that’s Sammy.
But I digress…
My point was/is, I know Sammy Katz is mayor in River City and I even know the names of some of those who would be mayor come October. Like Gord Steeves, who claims to know how many pot holes it takes to fill the streets of Winnipeg, because, by gosh, he’s going to fill ’em all.
I know these things because I left good, ol’ Hometown 15 years ago, but I never left.
I mean, when I make reference to the “local” paper, I’m talking about the Winnipeg Sun or Winnipeg Free Press, not the Victoria Times Colonist or Victoria News. My first order of business each morning is to call up both the Sun and Freep. I need to know what’s happening. Where it’s happening. When it’s happening. Why it’s happening. I need to know who’s happening and who isn’t happening.
I read it all. News, entertainment, sports, arts, Miss Lonelyhearts. Everything. I even stop by Mr. Sinclair Jr.’s neighborhood in the Freep on occasion, just to check out Gordo’s most recent exercise in name-dropping self-indulgence. (Quick question: Does Gordo ever eat at home with his bride, or does he always eat out with somebody who’s a somebody?)
At any rate, I care about Winnipeg. I care about its people. I am, after all, of them. Born and raised. Spent the largest segment of a 30-year career in jock journalism there.
That, however, doesn’t mean I’m under obligation to do the rah-rah, siss-boom-bah thing about all that is River City, and neither are the professional athletes we adopt.
Keep in mind that many of our adopted jocks are not in Winnipeg by choice. The sports system forced them to drop anchor in Pegtown, so it could be that they feel the system is holding them hostage, which could lend itself to no small level of bitterness about a burg.
None of us wishes to be where we don’t want to be, and there are hundreds—correction: thousands—of people living and working in Pegtown who don’t wish to live and work in Pegtown. Some of those people edit copy at a newspaper. Some flip cheese nips at The Sals. Some serve tables in pubs. Some are university profs. Some collect your garbage. And, yes, some are in the employ of the Winnipeg Jets and Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
There is mounting suspicion that Evander Kane is among those people. That he wants to hop on the next stagecoach out of Dodge. Well, the Jets left winger should know that it’s okay if he doesn’t like us. It’s okay if he wants out of Winnipeg. That doesn’t make him O.J. or Willie Pickton or Paul Bernardo any more than it makes me Karla Homolka because I dialed up a new area code in 1999.
And it doesn’t make our burg Toronto’s, Montreal’s, Calgary’s or Vancouver’s arm pit, either. So who gives two dumps if an athlete doesn’t like us?
PART TWO:Snub us and we won’t drink your beer (and it’s all Harold Ballard’s fault)
Winnipeg has many favorable qualities to offer. A self-deprecating sense of humor is not one of them.
Winnipeg is…it’s…well, it has Napolean Complex. Small man syndrome, if you will. Its skin is thinner than the margin of error on an Angus Reid poll.
A space cadet like Ilya Bryzgalov makes a flippant statement about our burg’s parks, the frigid climes and no Russian playmates for his kids and it’s as if he’s climbed atop the Legislature building and gelded the Golden Boy. Or replaced it with a bronze statue of Joseph Stalin.
Shane Doan is tarred and feathered (figuratively) for saying he doesn’t wish to uproot his family from Phoenix when the possibility exists that the Coyotes are about to become buzzard bait in the Arizona desert. Not once does Doan utter a disparaging remark about Winnipeg, though. Nary a discouraging word. He says he doesn’t wish to move his family anywhere. Not to Vancouver. Not to Calgary or Edmonton. Not to New York or Chicago. Yet many in Thin Skin City get their knickers in a knot, in part because of a jingoistic media that includes at least one prominent True North Toady who misrepresents Doan’s feelings in a column that falsely accuses the Coyotes captain of slander.
Dieter Brock cracks wise about the Assiniboine Park Zoo three decades ago and, to this day, there are many among the rabble who would lock him in a cage with the rest of the skunks.
We get our frozen noses out of joint at the slightest suggestion we aren’t where it’s at, don’t we? How dare these filthy rich, pampered ingrates not like us. The nerve. Don’t they know we have The Forks, Folklorama, the French Quarter, Festival du Voyageur, a thriving arts and entertainment community that includes a world-renowned ballet and symphony orchestra, the Museum of Asper, affordable real estate, blah, blah, blah, yadda, yadda, yadda?
And, hey, it’s the Slurpee capital of the planet. No place sucks like Winnipeg. Literally. So if you slag our city, no Slurpees for you!
I can’t say with absolute certainty when we developed our Napolean Complex, but I do believe we should point an accusing finger at Humpty Harold Ballard. And the Molson family.
When I was a kid, you see, Winnipeg didn’t have an inferiority complex, even though we didn’t have a National Hockey League team to call our own. Only Toronto and Montreal did. No big deal. Besides, there was no need to feel like the ginger-haired stepchild because we had a football club that could kick big-city butt. And that’s what the Blue Bombers did. Every year.
So everything was cool.
It even got better when Ben Hatskin hijacked Robert Marvin Hull. We still didn’t have an NHL franchise, but we had the Jets and the World Hockey Association. More significant, we had Bobby Hull. The Golden Jet. The most dynamic player north, south, east and west of Boston was ours. We could turn in any direction and go “nah, nah, nah, nah, nah.”
Our smugness rapidly turned to anger, though, because the hockey establishment refused to play nice. First, they went to court to prevent our Bobby from joining the Jets. Next, they refused to include our Bobby on the Team Canada side that faced off against the Soviet Union in the 1972 Summit Series. They spent the next seven years pooh-poohing our product as paperweight, even as the Jets iced an outfit that could lay a licking on 90 per cent of teams in the NHL. Eventually, most parties realized there had to be a ceasefire between the NHL and WHA, for financial sanity. There were merger talks. And a show of hands on the NHL inviting Winnipeg, Quebec City, Edmonton and New England to the party. The tally was 12-5 in favor, with Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, which landed an NHL franchise in 1970, Boston and Los Angeles on the nay side of the vote. That was enough to defeat the merger.
The loudest anti-acceptance voice, that with the most huff, puff and bluster, belonged to Humpty Harold Ballard, resident felon and bankroll of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“I feel so elated,” Ballard brayed in celebration. “It’s like the North beating the South in the Civil War.”
“As far as Harold was concerned, Winnipeg didn’t exist,” Jets part-owner and governor Barry Shenkarow recalls in the Ed Willes book, The Rebel League: The Short and Unruly Life of the World Hockey Association.
So, Ballard and his buddies in Montreal and Vancouver were telling us we weren’t big enough. We weren’t classy enough. We weren’t sexy enough. We weren’t sophisticated enough for the NHL.
Well, we were big enough and old enough to drink beer.
The WHA teams needed one NHL outfit to change its vote. Just one. Ballard, ever the curmudgeon, never would be swayed from his position, not as long as it meant receiving a smaller slice of the Hockey Night in Canada pie. So the Molson family, owner of Club du Hockey Canadien, became the target. We stopped swilling their beer. Not just in River City. In Edmonton. In Quebec City. In Calgary. In Vancouver.
The power of the pint won the day and Humpty Harold’s happiness was replaced with a harrumph when Winnipeg, Edmonton, Quebec City and New England were absorbed by the NHL.
I’m convinced, however, that residue remains from that 1970s scenario. It’s why we get our backs up and go all bantam rooster at the mere hint that we can’t run with the big dogs. And, of course, our fragile psyche took a massive wallop when the original Jets loaded up the truck, lock stock and jock strap, and departed hockey’s high country for the Arizona desert in 1996.
But Winnipeg shouldn’t give a damn what anyone thinks or says of us. We can, and should, feel good about what we see when we look in the mirror.
We shouldn’t be afraid to laugh at ourselves, either. We’ve got our quirks. I mean, we want people to love us. To experience us. Yet we build a perimeter highway around our city just so people can avoid us as they make their way across the country. Go figure.
PART THREE:Some athletes we love, some athletes we loath (but we’ll love you more and loath you less if you win)
Carbon dating confirms that I am a relic. A fossil. I am a drawing on a cave-dweller’s wall. The amateurish sketch depicts me sitting in the old barn on Maroons Road in the 1950s, watching Billy Mosienko and the Winnipeg Warriors.
We all loved Mosie. He authored an admirable career in Chicago, where he played on the Blackhawks’ famed Pony Line with the Bentley brothers, Doug and Max, and the highlight for Mosie arrived on the final night of the 1951-52 NHL season when he tallied three goals in the lickety-split time of 21 seconds. It remains an unassailable feat of scoring fury.
It wasn’t just his time in the NHL, nor his name in the record book, that endeared us to Mosie, though. He was a local boy who made good, then came home to us in 1955 to lead the Warriors to a Western Hockey League title. And he never left.
There’s now a hockey rink that bears his name. Also a tournament. And, of course, Mosienko Lanes continues to thrive at the corner of Redwood and Main in the gritty North End.
Ken Ploen is another former athlete we love. Unlike Mosie, he’s an adopted son, coming to us from tiny Lost Nation, Iowa, in the late 1950s to play an unparalled role in the golden years of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Grey Cup parades became commonplace once Ploen arrived to play defensive back and quarterback, and there isn’t a River City athlete, past or present, more revered than No. 11. He is our humble hero. He is to Winnipeg football what Jean Beliveau is to Montreal hockey. His affection for us is genuine. Real. It is not pasted on to gain sway. Once here, he, like Mosie, never left.
“I think when you look back at things, you say do you second guess yourself. I think it was a great decision I made back then and I certainly don’t ever regret that,” is what he said when inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame. “It’s been a great place to live. One of the reasons I stayed in Winnipeg was warm people.”
“I thought about it a lot today and I said how fortunate we were to play in a city like Winnipeg, with the fans that we had. It was always a great feeling to represent the province of Manitoba and the city of Winnipeg. I think a number of times because of that support we were able to pull off victories that maybe we wouldn’t have pulled off in another circumstance. It was a thrill representing the Blue and Gold, it was an honor wearing their uniforms and we look back at it with nothing but fond memories.”
Young people unfamiliar with Ploen would be shocked to learn that the great QB actually snubbed the National Football League to ply his trade on the lonesome prairie, in part because the Bombers offered him more money than the Cleveland Browns. I know, that’s hard to imagine, but it’s true. The Browns were willing to give Ploen a $500 signing bonus and a $5,000 yearly stipend to play DB. The Bombers went all-in with $3,000 and $9,000 as a DB/QB.
As an added bonus, Ploen heard that the “hunting and fishing was pretty good up here.”
Winnipeg prefers its sporting heroes to be a product of the Mosienko or Ploen template. Feet firmly on the ground. Genuine. Blue collar work ethic. Confident, not cocky. Community awareness. Little, if any, bling.
And we don’t care about their roots.
For example, Winnipeg probably holds European hockey players closer to the heart than any market in North America, although Mikhail Smith soured us ever so slightly on Soviets/Russians with his ill-concieved and failed attempt to transform Portage and Main into Red Square. We love Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson, two of the many Scandinavians who brought titles to River City before departing for Gotham. The super Swedes have not forgotten us, nor we them. Ditto Teemu Selanne, the fab Finn who took us on a magic carpet ride in his NHL rookie season.
It helps to win, of course. Mosie won. Ploen won. Chris Walby won. Bob Cameron won. Hedberg and Nilsson won. Had Dieter Brock brought the Grey Cup home, we’d talk more about what he did on the football field than what he said about the zoo. Hell, we’d let him pull a Kramer and hurl banana peels at the zoo monkeys.
Win and there’s a chance that some will forgive, or look beyond, your trespasses.
Bobby Hull’s name has been, and still is, linked to spousal abuse, which is a most loathsome bit of business. His ex-wife, Joanne, was granted a divorce on grounds of physical cruelty, mental cruelty and adultery. She has spoken of him beating and bloodying her head with the steel heel of her shoe. He has been convicted of assaulting a Chicago police officer. He had a DUI arrest. He drank excessively. But, hey, Robert Marvin Hull put Winnipeg on the pro hockey map. There would be no NHL franchise if not for the him. Thus, many eyes look beyond, or are blind to, his violent, off-ice nastiness.
Personally, I acknowledge what the Golden Jet did for good, ol’ Hometown as a hockey player. Only Ben Hatskin has done more. But Hull the man was a cad.
I don’t harbor any warm and fuzzies for him, but a great many in River City do. And always will.
PART FOUR:Everybody knows this is nowhere (you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave)
This isn’t a news bulletin to anyone who’s spent more than a month in the Manitoba capital, but it must be mentioned: Winnipeg is not Shangri-La.
Let’s ignore the usual suspects of winter, mosquitos, crime, spring flooding, middle-of-nowhere location, etc., because every city has acne (have you ever been to Buffalo?). Let us, instead, focus on sports. Explain to me, in 25 words or less, why a free agent hockey or football player would want to pitch his tent in Pegtown, or why those currently under contract would wish to stay? And, no, a lifetime supply of Slurpees is not enticement enough to lure prime jock stock to the Little Hockey House on the Prairie or Football Follies Field in Fort Garry.
Above all, athletes want to win. Well, a championship parade in River City is as rare as a green winter. Our burg has been a Grey Cup-free zone since Wade Miller was knee high to Buzz and Boomer (come to think of it, Wade’s still only knee high to Buzz and Boomer). Meanwhile, the management-by-paralysis stylings of Jets GM Kevin The Possum means our hockey heroes are always first to the tee box each April.
When a number of the Jets core players (Bryan Little, Zach Bogosian, Blake Wheeler, Ondrej Pavelec, Evander Kane) inked long-term deals, they expressed a fondness for the city, the True North organization and confidence that the club was headed in the right direction.
I do not, however, think they anticipated the general manager going completely comatose.
Winning is not part of the hockey equation in Winnipeg. That, alone, makes the acquisition of Grade A free agents remote, if not impossible. At best, our city and the Jets will land a Grade B player, but the likelihood is that River City is the preferred destination of Grade C and D players. Like Mathieu Perreault, who stands as The Possum’s sole free-agent signing to date this off-season.
Many are geeked up about the arrival of Perreault, who replaces Olli Jokinen. But ask yourself this: Why would Perreault rather be the No. 3 centre on a non-playoff team than the No. 3 centre on a Stanley Cup contender?
Whatever, I don’t think Perreault makes the Jets better. Just younger.
So, again, why would someone like Kane wish to remain in Winnipeg? If he’s going to be a much-maligned man, why not go where he’ll cash a playoff cheque for his trouble?
At any rate, the fact that top-quality players steer clear of Pegtown does not make our city unique. John Elway wanted no part of Baltimore. Eli Manning didn’t dig San Diego. Eric Lindros snubbed Quebec City, which, in my experience, is the most beautiful burg in North America. Ryan Kesler and Roberto Luongo wanted out of Vancouver. Josh Gorges turned his nose up at Toronto. James Reimer wants out of Toronto. Ryan Suter left Nashville. Patrick Roy forced his way out of Montreal. Jason Spezza spurned an entire country.
The reasons, of course, vary, but the sentiment is the same: Nobody wants to be where they don’t want to be.
This all reminds me of the title of a song written by one of our favorite sons, Neil Young: Everybody Knows This is Nowhere. That’s what the outside world thinks of River City. But we know better, don’t we? River City is more like the Hotel California: You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.
I wonder if Evander Kane knows that.
Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg hockey and the Jets for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of hockey knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old, comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she doesn’t know when to quit. She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for literary contributions to the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C.