About Bo Levi up next for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers…no hocus-pocus from Coach Mikey…cheap shots to the head and apologies from the CFL commish…musings of a couch potato…Maple Leafs bias in the national media…the Winnipeg Sun ignoring local sports…getting squat for players who do squat…and bitching about the boss

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…

It took Mike O’Shea five years to win a playoff game. The question is: Can he do it three times in 15 days?

I don’t see why not, because there isn’t an outfit in the Canadian Football League that’s performing at a higher level than Coach Mikey’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who’ve now been on the correct end of the scoreboard in their past six skirmishes of consequence.

Oh, sure, the local lads should have had a less-difficult time of it with the Roughriders on Saskatchewan’s barren tundra on Sunday, because Gang Green entered the fray sans starting quarterback Zach Collaros. But who among the rabble is inclined to quibble when their football heroes will still be playing in the back half of November?

Bo Levi Mitchell

In dispatching the offensively challenged Riders, 23-18 at Mosaic Stadium, Winnipeg FC booked passage to the northwest quadrant of Calgary, where Bo Levi Mitchell and the Stampeders lie in wait in their barracks on Crowchild Trail. At stake is bragging rights in the West Division and, most significant, a date vs. the eastern rep in the final match of the year.

I don’t believe it’s going out on a limb to suggest the Bombers defensive dozen will face a much sterner test on Nov. 18, because Mitchell is no Brandon Bridge. He can actually fling the football more than five yards down the field. And watch it land in one of his receiver’s hands.

Let’s face it, the Riders offence is inept. They try to win a knife fight with a handful of confetti. A glass of tap water has a more powerful kick. And that’s with either Bridge or Collaros at the controls.

Mitchell, on the other hand…let’s just say Bo Levi is a been-there, done-that QB with a chip on his shoulder the size of Chris Walby’s dinner plate, and I’m sure he’d like a second Grey Cup ring before swanning off to a National Football League outfit. If, of course, that’s the career path he chooses once his obligation to the Stampeders has been fulfilled.

None of that is to say Winnipeg FC shouldn’t bother to show up at McMahon Stadium next Sunday. Mitchell doesn’t wear a big, red S on his chest and, as evidenced by faceplants in the past two CFL championship jousts, he’s certainly beatable in large games.

Do the Bombers have the right kind of kryptonite to neuter Mitchell? Well, as stated, I don’t see anyone better than the local lads right now.

More to the point, when the two sides last met, on Oct. 26, the Bombers delivered a 29-21 wedgie to the Stampeders, a rather arrogant, uppity group that’s accustomed to getting their own way at this time of the year (until the Grey Cup game, of course).

The thing is, Mitchell and pals lost their way just as the Bombers were finding theirs in late-season skirmishing, and that makes for an intriguing West Division final.

Mike O’Shea

So, when Winnipeg FC took hold of an 11-point lead on the Roughriders—less than five minutes from time—I confess that I found myself thinking, “What goofy thing will O’Shea do to screw this up?” Turns out Coach Mikey played it straight all day. He kicked the ball when he should have kicked the ball, he gambled when he should have gambled. No smoke and mirrors. No hocus-pocus. No sorcery. Just straight-ahead, snot-bubble playoff football in the wind, the snow and the bitter cold on the Prairies. What a concept. Hopefully, that doesn’t mean he’s saving the magic act for Calgary?

Does Jackson Jeffcoat take us for fools? I mean, the Bombers defensive end felled Bridge with a nasty headgear-to-headgear wallop at the end of proceedings Sunday, then he had this to say to news snoops: “I didn’t feel like there was any head contact. I came in with my shoulder. My job is to sack the quarterback and hit him.” What a total load of hooey. It’s the same load of BS that Odell Willis of the B.C. Lions delivered a couple weeks ago when he took out Collaros with an illegal hit to the melon. Willis wasn’t flagged by the zebras (it took a coach’s challenge and a verdict from the command centre) and Jeffcoat’s crime went unpunished. Unless, of course, you consider more apologies from CFL commish Randy Ambrosie for shoddy officiating to be suitable punishment. Well, sorry, but that isn’t good enough. Careers are at risk with these blatant fouls

Couch Potato

Snippets from a day on the couch watching three-down football: Hamilton Tiger-Cats 48, B.C. Lions 8—will all those “experts” who’ve been squawking about the CFL’s “unfair” playoff system now put a sock in it? What we have now works just fine. And please don’t tell me it would have been different had the East Division semifinal fray been contested at B.C. Place. The Tabbies would have waffled ’em in a sandlot, a parking lot, or on any other patch of earth you’d like to choose…Why oh why were the blah, blah, blah boys on TSN so shocked that the Ticats trampled the Lions. “I don’t think anyone saw this coming,” said Jock Climie. Actually, some of us did. I was convinced the Tabbies would win this cat fight handily, and even wrote that B.C. QB Travis Lulay wouldn’t finish what he started. He didn’t. I realize the Lions went 6-3 in the second half of the season, but I thought it to be fraudulent…What a horrible way for Leos head coach Wally Buono to bow out. The hall-of-fame coach deserved much better from his players…Henry Burris’ Grey Cup ring is obscene. I’ll never understand why anyone would want to wear a doorknob on his hand…Is there some sort of fashion challenge among the boys on the TSN panel? If so, why don’t Matt Dunigan and Rod Smith join in? I mean, Burris and Stegall look mighty fine. The other two not so much…If we’re talking human mascots, I’ll take rassler Ric Flair of the Ticats over Drake of the Tranna Raptors any day. The Nature Boy is a goof-off, but his shtick is kind of comical in a WWE-scripted sort of way. Drake is just annoying. All together now—Woooooooooo!…I wonder if it’s possible for TSN sideline gab guy Matthew Scianitti to talk without waving his right hand in front of the camera. And is he actually as serious as he seems to be?

Blake Wheeler

Eastern media dweebs like Damien Cox of Sportsnet/Toronto Star argue that our national sports networks and national newspapers don’t show bias toward the Tranna Maple Leafs.

That, of course, is like saying Fox News doesn’t favor Donald Trump.

I mean, Blake Wheeler of the Winnipeg Jets had five points in a 5-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche at The Little Hockey House On The Prairie on Friday night. Five-point outings in the National Hockey League are as rare as Trump cozying up to a CNN reporter. Any CNN reporter.

But what was the main story on the TSN website the following morning? You guessed it—les Leafs getting goals from six different people in a win over New Jersey Devils. Ditto on the Sportsnet website. Top story on the National Post sports page was the Leafs’ win. Ditto the Globe and Mail.

Wheeler? His remarkable effort was relegated to “Oh, by the way…” coverage.

But, hey, there’s no Tranna bias.

As much as it pains me to say, I feel obliged to mention that the Winnipeg Sun is getting good and properly paddywhacked by the Winnipeg Free Press on coverage of local sports stories that don’t involve the Jets or Bombers. Using the respective Saturday editions as an example, the Drab Slab went all-in on the Winnipeg High School Football League Division I and II finals. It also had a piece on the possibility of a Western Hockey League franchise relocating in Good Ol’ Hometown, plus a byline article on the Canadian mixed curling championships at the Fort Rouge Club. And the tabloid? Nada. We could read an entire page on Tranna Maple Leafs broadcaster Joe Bowen (like, who in River City gives a damn?), and another full page on an Ottawa news snoop being shooed away at the boarding gate for the Senators’ charter flight to Tampa (again, who in Pegtown gives a damn?), but there was nary a word on any of the games on local playgrounds. Ignoring the two local high school grid skirmishes is not only shameful, it’s irresponsible.

Let’s be clear on something: The blame for the Sun ignoring local sports that operate on the periphery doesn’t fall at the feet of its three-man staff. The Torontofication of local rags is strictly a Postmedia call, and something I forewarned about 2 1/2 years ago when they merged eight newsrooms across the country and booted 90 journalists to the curb. “My concern is that they shall be lost in the shuffle,” I wrote of the little sports. “I fear the worst.” The worst has arrived and that, too, is a shame.

What was Mike McIntyre going on about in the Drab Slab the other day? “A franchise that prides itself on the draft-and-development model can’t keep cutting players such as (Marko) Dano loose with absolutely no return and expect not to feel it down the road,” he wrote. McIntyre prattled on about the grave danger of les Jets losing luminaries such as Dano, Alexander Burmistrov and Joel Armia for squat. Oh, puleeeeze. First of all, none of the three were drafted by les Jets. Dano was a Columbus Blue Jackets pick, Armia was plucked by the Buffalo Sabres, and Burmistrov was a holdover from the Atlanta Thrashers. Second, what did he expect any of that trio to fetch in barter? Burmistrov did nothing but skate in circles during his time in Pegtown. Dano wore street clothes, sat in the press box and ate popcorn. Armia, while a useful worker, proved to be the cost of business in the move to rid Winnipeg HC of Steve Mason’s burdensome contract. Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff couldn’t have gotten a bag of pucks for either Burmistrov of Dano. In no way is the departure of any of these players a game-changer. They weren’t worth squat, and neither is McIntyre’s argument. The column should have been spiked.

And, finally, it’s about that Uber thing whereby seven members of the Ottawa Senators trashed talked assistant coach Martin Raymond: What, none of us has ever bitched about our boss?

About scary, creepy things in sports that make me want to scream…bravo to Joe Daley, Jeff Stoughton and Jim Kyte…second-guessing in the Drab Slab…CFL power rankings…and a WHL franchise for River City?

In a salute to the spookiest day of the year, I present a dozen things/people in sports that I find scary, creepy or make me want to scream…

1. Connor McDavid: He’s scary good.

2. Mike O’Shea: Be afraid, kids. Be very afraid. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers enter the Canadian Football League playoffs in another 11 days, so you just know that Mad Scientist Mike is already concocting potions and notions that include smoke, mirrors and much hocus-pocus, all designed to disable his foes. Trouble is, Coach Mikey’s sorcery has turned his own team into a toad the past two Grey Cup runoffs.

3. Don Cherry on Coachless Corner: Still? Really?

4. TSN’s Cult of Johnny: On the creepy scale, TSN’s infatuation with Johnny Manziel is right up there with your grandmother French kissing you. The gushing groupies in the TSN Tower of Babble On make any Montreal Alouettes game either must-mute or must-avoid TV.

5. The Republic of Tranna media infatuation with Drake: He’s cast a spell on them. They become blithering idiots the moment he arrives at a Raptors game. He gets more ink than Dennis Rodman’s upper body. And for what? Acting like an ass-clown at a basketball game?

6. Conor McGregor: I feel an urgent need for someone to hose me down every time he opens the sewer that passes for his mouth. Easily the creepiest, most repugnant man in sports.

7. Serena Williams: When Mommy Fiercest became unhinged during the U.S. Open women’s singles final, I ran for cover. I feared she was about to crash through my flatscreen and shove an effing tennis ball down my effing throat.

8. Tiger worship: Similar to TSN and its Cult of Johnny, American TV networks fawn over Tiger Woods like he’s Gandhi in Nikes. The difference, of course, is that Tiger has actually accomplished something on the golf course, whereas Johnny Rotten has done squat in the CFL. Still, when Woods is 15 swings off the lead, you’d think gab guys like the totally insufferable, swooning Gary McCord would find something better to talk about than Woods’ latest gaffe.

9. The rabble shouting “True North!” during the singing of O Canada at Winnipeg Jets games: This is also must-mute TV. I mean, I get it. The locals are grateful that the National Hockey League returned to Good Ol’ Hometown. But turning part of O Canada into a corporate rallying cry is totally creepy.

10. Damien Cox on Hockey Central at Noon on Sportsnet: You know that wet-dog smell? Ya, Cox is that pungent. He is fingernails on the chalk board. He is smarmy. And those eyebrows…positively ghoulish.

11. Jock journos in mainstream media who look down their snobbish noses at bloggers and podcasters: Hey, we have something to say and we have the right to say it. Some of the most honest, critical commentary I read or hear is on blogs and podcasts. Some of the worst and weakest is in MSM.

12. Fancy stats geeks who think the numbers tell the entire story: Sure there’s value in the number-crunchers. No argument there. But I still trust my eyes more than their charts and graphs. They make my eyes bleed.

Big tips of the bonnet to Joe Daley and Jeff Stoughton, both among the class of 2018 to be inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame this weekend. Joe, the one time Holy Goalie, is a Jets original, and if you want to know anything about the three World Hockey Association titles the local lads brought home to River City, he’s the guy to ask. Joe was there for all three of them, and he has the championship rings to prove it. Stoughton, meanwhile, is only the best curler ever produced on the pebbled ice in the Keystone province, and that’s saying something. Like Daley, Jeff was a quote fountain for news snoops. I know he filled my notebook more than once. Both terrific guys, both well-deserved honors.

And, hey, let’s hear it for old friend Jim Kyte, recently inducted into the Canadian Disability Hall of Fame. The former Jets defenceman is the only legally deaf person to play in the NHL, and he entered the CDHF with former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

Jeff Hamilton

Found this interesting in the aftermath of the Blue Bombers’ recent victory over the Calgary Stampeders.

In an objective analysis of the skirmish, young Jeff Hamilton of the Winnipeg Free Press wrote that Mike O’Shea was a goof (my word, not his) for gambling on third down deep in his own section of the football field, the Bombers in front by 11 with 4:36 remaining. For that, Jeff gets BBQ’d by readers.

“Man do I hate the second guessing of this column,” wrote one. “Come on…the Bombers should always get a yard on any down. If it had worked Jeff, you wouldn’t say a thing. Easy to criticize after it fails and, hey lets (sic) trot out every gamble that hasn’t worked in O’Shea’s tenure. Disgusting Jeff and I expect better than that from you.”

Another reader gave that comment “1,000 thumbs up!!!!”

Yet when former Bombers D-lineman Doug Brown writes basically the same thing as Hamilton, scolding O’Shea for his ill-advised risk, it’s “Well said Doug” and “I can’t really disagree with either the decision or your argument.”

Here’s the deal: Unlike Brown, Hamilton never played three-down football at the highest level. I don’t know if the Drab Slab scribe even collected football cards. But that doesn’t disqualify him from second-guessing the Bombers head coach. More to the point, it’s part of his job. His takeaway of O’Shea’s unharnessed impulse for reckless, risky business was not only appropriate but spot on.

Randy Ambrosie

Why were so many pundits and fans outraged that CFL game officials and concussion spotters were out to lunch when Odell Willis of the B.C. Lions rocked Zach Collaros’ world with a violent, illegal wallop to the head last weekend? This, after all, is the same league that trumpets its policy on domestic violence yet welcomes the woman-beating quarterback Johnny Manziel with open arms. Commissioner Randy Ambrosie’s apology after the Willis-Collaros hit was nothing more than weak PR posturing.

This week’s CFL power rankings…

Winnipeg (10-7): On a roll, baby.
Saskatchewan (12-6): QB health the big question.
Calgary (12-5): Stumble, stumble, stumble.
B.C. (9-8): Go east, young men.
Ottawa (10-7): On cruise control.
Hamilton (8-9): No Speedy B, no hope?
Edmonton (8-9): Disastrous season.
Toronto (4-13): Whatever.
Montreal (4-13): Ditto.

And, finally, I have fond memories of riding the iron lung with Gerry Brisson, Muzz MacPherson and the Winnipeg Clubs/Monarchs in the 1970s, so the prospect of the Western Hockey League returning to Good Ol’ Hometown is intriguing.

I’m skeptical about it working, though.

If you missed it, Mike Sawatzky reported in the Winnipeg Free Press that the Kootenay Ice are having a rough go of it in Cranbrook, B.C. Average attendance is 2,307, lowest in the WHL, and the town’s mayor, Lee Pratt, told the Cranbrook Daily Townsman this: “With the fan support they are getting right now it’s not a viable operation.”

The Green Bay Committee held a town hall meeting in support of the Ice last Thursday, and they’ll gather again tomorrow night in the hope they can corral 500-600 new season-ticket subscribers to save the franchise. Failing that, team owners Greg Fettes and Matt Cockell might be inclined to pull up stakes and head east.

That begs questions, though. To wit:

Would they be better off in River City?
Would a WHL franchise operating out of the University of Manitoba attract 2,000 or more customers?
If an average head count of 2,307 can’t work in Cranbrook, how can it possibly work in Winnipeg?
Would the arrival of a WHL outfit strike the death knell for Winnipeg Blues of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League?

Remove the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League and I’d say Fettes and Cockell might have a chance in Good Ol’ Hometown. As it is, I don’t see it happening. But I hope I’m wrong.