The River City Renegade


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Labor Day weekend a non-classic for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers

Random thoughts during the Winnipeg Blue Bombers annual visit to the Green House in Regina for the Labor Day weekend grab-grass-and-growl with the Saskatchewan Roughriders…

  • Where’s Schultzie?

    I miss Schultzie on the TSN panel. Where’d the big lug go?

  • TSN didn’t show the singing of O Canada, so I’ll have to assume that none of the combatants took a knee.
  • I swear, the Roughriders receivers have been offside on every play since Ray Elgaard was a rookie. And they never get flagged for it.
  • What’s the over/under on how often TSN blabber boy Glen Suitor mentions the silly sound meter they’re using to gauge crowd caterwauling at Mosaic Stadium?
  • I really don’t like the name Mosaic Stadium, so I’m going to call the Riders’ ritzy, new digs Taylor Field.
  • Oops. Nice pass by Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols. Too bad it went to one of the guys in green, Ed Gainey. Not sure what Nichols saw there, but he definitely didn’t see the guy in green.
  • Nic Demski is a University of Manitoba Bisons grad and would look better in blue-and-gold linen than green and white.
  • Geez, who’s the guy wearing Kevin Glenn’s uniform? The Saskatchewan QB is spot on. Normally, he makes the kind of passes that Nichols threw to Ed Gainey.
  • What’s with the candy stripes on the officials’ uniform tops? When did that happen? Did I miss a memo from the Canadian Football League head office? I might have to red flag them for a fashion faux pas.
  • Yikes—24-3 for Gang Green after 15 minutes. This is a serious paddywhacking. Not getting good vibes from the Bombers’ body language.
  • Timothy Flanders scores a TD and tosses the football to a Big Blue loyalist in the pews. Nice. Except one of the candy-stripers saw something no one else saw, so he flips a flag and the touchdown is voided. Not to worry. Nichols and Flanders collaborate again. This time the score stands. Flanders flips the football to another fan in blue-and-gold. Does he realize he has to pay for those things?
  • Hey, Sam Hurl actually makes a play, sacking Glenn. Guess that’s his quota for the month. Won’t hear from him again until Thanksgiving.
  • Weston Dressler

    I thought Weston Dressler was supposed to be back in the Bombers lineup for this game. Somebody should let Nichols in on the secret.

  • Riders have won two in a row and are up 34-16 at the half. Does that mean Chris Jones is a genius again?
  • TSN panel gab guy Jock Climie tells us that Chris Randle was the goat on Naaman Roosevelt’s 53-yard TD catch in the first quarter. Interesting. Suitor had told us that TJ Heath was the guilty party. I’ll take Climie’s word for it.
  • I’m still missing Schultzie.
  • That Trivago Guy has to be the worst dancer in the world. Does he realize how nerdy he looks?
  • Hey, look who’s in the Green House. It’s Jay and Dan. Well, it’s cardboard cutouts of Jay and Dan, who bring their goofy brand of broadcasting back to TSN this week. The buffoonery begins at midnight, which is too late for moi.
  • What’s this? The Roughriders have a punter? Who knew?
  • The great George Reed.

    Nice touch by the Riders to erect statues saluting legends Ronnie Lancaster and George Reed outside Taylor Field. Interesting that they do former players and the Bombers do former coaches. A bronze But Grant is already outside Formerly Football Follies Field in Fort Garry and a Cal Murphy statue will be unveiled later this month.

  • It’s 37-16 at three-quarter time. I don’t sense a comeback today.
  • Are the Riders faking injuries in a bid to stall the Bombers no-huddle offence? Naw. That would be cheating and we all know that Chris Jones would never cheat.
  • I’m not sure why, but I get the feeling that Saskatechewan wideout Duron Carter is about to go off his nut. You know, like he did last season when he bowled over Ottawa RedBlacks head coach Rick Campbell. He always seems to be one bad call away from a major meltdown.
  • Hey, there’s Weston Dressler. Nice to see Nichols finally invited him to the party. We’ll just call it his Labor Day weekend non-classic.
  • Nichols tosses another ball to Ed Gainey. Yo! Matt! That guy’s picked off six passes in two games. You might want to take on someone else in the future.
  • Suitor is still squawking about that stupid sound meter. Don’t know how often he went to that well, but it must have been a dozen.
  • Final score: Roughriders 38, Bombers 24. Guess Chris Jones really is a genius again.
  • Break out the banjos, boys! Let’s do it all over again in a week.

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.

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About the Winnipeg Blue Bombers aiming for first place…don’t call Shania a country crooner…a tennis rivalry is born…more hate for Caster Semenya…and other things on my mind

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

Mike O’Shea

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers should finish their 2017 crusade at 14-4.

Note: I’m not saying they will be 14-4 at the close of regular-season business, I’m saying they should be.

The way I have it figured, there are six gimme games remaining on the Bombers schedule—Saskatchewan Roughriders (twice), Montreal Alouettes, Ottawa RedBlacks, Toronto Argonauts and Hamilton Tiger-Cats. They should also sweep their two remaining skirmishes with the B.C. Lions (both at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry). Finally, a split with the Edmonton Eskimos puts the Bombers at 14 Ws.

That ought to translate into home cooking for the Canadian Football League playoffs, perhaps even top seeding in the demanding West Division.

Alas, a different scenario is more likely to unfold, because head coach Mike O’Shea won’t be able to get out of his own way for 11 games, and Richie Hall’s defence is…well, it’s Richie Hall’s defence. But the Bombers have been gifted with an incredibly benign schedule and second place, if not first, is theirs for the taking.

So, Johnny Manziel tells us that the CFL is “definitely something I’ve looked into,” then he goes on to say he’d prefer to get into coaching, most likely at the collegiate level in the U.S. Good. One less woman abuser on our streets.

Shania Twain

I have no quarrel with the CFL hiring Shania Twain to lip-sync during the Grey Cup halftime hijinks in Ottawa, but I wish people would stop referring to her as a country crooner. She isn’t my kind of country. She’s pop. With that in mind, here’s this morning’s list: My top five favorite real female country singers…

1. Patsy Cline: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vwKPgqBC00o
2. Emmylou Harris:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JE_sUN_M7p0
3. Alison Krauss:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=To1_nOjlLBQ
4. Reba:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FUP9DnurODw
5. Dolly:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L0eeSoU35wM

Up-and-down week in Canadian tennis. Milos Ranoic and Genie Bouchard go out in a whimper at their respective Rogers Cup tournaments, but teenager Denis Shapovalov rocks Rafael Nadal’s world en route to an appearance in the semifinals in Montreal, whereupon he met his Waterloo in the form of Alexander Zverev on Saturday, 6-4, 7-5. The good news is that Shapovalov is only 18 years old. The bad news is that the Zverev is only 20. Actually, upon further review, that’s probably a double dose of good news, because it means Shapovalov and Zverev ought to be butting heads for the next decade.

Dumbest comment of the week was delivered by Mark Masters, who, after Shapovalov’s astonishing run in Montreal came to an end, told TSN viewers: “It wasn’t a completely unexpected run.” Oh, shut the front door, Mark! There was no hint that Shapovalov was about to wreak havoc on the game’s top players, including Nadal and former U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro. But, hey, maybe Masters is right. Let’s ask the kid himself. What say you, Denis Shapovalov? “Obviously, I didn’t expect it.”

Denis Shapovalov

Shapovalov, who, by the way, was born in Tel Aviv and whose parents, Tessa and Viktor, brought him to Canada before his first birthday, had been delivering good results on the Challenger Tour, which is the men’s B series. It is what the American Hockey League is to the National Hockey League. But, prior to the Rogers Cup, he had only beaten two top-100 players—Thomas Fabbiano, 86, and Kyle Edmund, 47.

Some interesting comments from tennis notables: “I’m concentrating a lot on working hard, being very humble,” said former French Open and current Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza. “You have to like being the centre of attention. You have to think it’s not a bad thing to have people talking about you. You have to welcome being on centre court, to play against the best players and prove yourself. You can’t be scared of those moments,” said Roger Federer, winner of 19 Grand Slam titles. Hmmm. I wonder if Genie Bouchard was listening.

Marshawn Lynch

This is curious: Colin Kaepernick takes a knee or sits during the singing/playing of the Star-Spangled Banner before his National Football League games and he’s a pariah. He can’t get a job even as a third-string quarterback. Marshawn Lynch, meanwhile, sits on a cooler and eats a banana during the American National Anthem prior to his Oakland Raiders dress rehearsal with the Arizona Cardinals, and everything is cool. What part of that makes sense to anyone?

Speaking of making no sense, where does Major League Baseball get off telling longtime ump Joe West to get lost for three days? All he did was relay an anecdote about Adrian Beltre, for cripes sake. If you missed it, West was asked which player was the biggest pain in the keester in baseball. He named Beltre of the Texas Rangers. “Every pitch you call that’s a strike, he says, ‘Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!’ I had a game with him recently and the pitch was right down the middle. He tells me, ‘That ball is outside.’ I told him, ‘You may be a great ballplayer, but you’re the worst umpire in the league. You stink.’” West told USA Today. That’s worth a three-game suspension? I’m scratching my head.

Some kind of down and dirty delivered by Mail Online columnist Katie Hopkins, who won’t be exchanging warm-and-fuzzies with Caster Semenya any time soon. Hopkins wrote this after the South African runner easily won her 800-metre heat at the world track and field championships in London: “Caster Semenya was on hand to show the world how to be a true women’s champion. All it takes are levels of testosterone three times higher than is expected in women due to hyperandrogenism, no womb or ovaries, and internal testes because of a chromosomal abnormality. Back in January Caster even married her girlfriend in a traditional wedding ceremony, appearing in the guise of a man. Yet, curiously, enough, out here on the track, Semenya identifies as a woman.” Sorry, but I fail to see the connection between running an 800-metre race and who a woman marries or what she’s wearing when she says “I do.” I also know numerous women who dress in what is considered male clothing. Some writers are just bloody nasty.

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.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CFL commish Randy Ambrosie

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

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

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

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

Scuzzball Pete Rose

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

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

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


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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.


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About Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice’s job status…No. 3 centre Mark Scheifele…too much ice for Big Buff…too much whinging about the schedule…and a Grey Cup for the Stampeders

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

What’s that chirping I hear? Crickets? Nope. It’s the natterbugs.

They’ve begun to make noise about Paul Maurice, who, should the Winnipeg Jets’ current funk stretch beyond five games, soon will be described as a much-maligned man. No surprise there, really. I mean, the Jets went 0-for-the road last week, so it must be the head coach’s fault. Surely, his best-before date is about to expire.

Paul Maurice

Paul Maurice

Well, you can put the pitch forks and torches away. Pa Ingalls isn’t going anywhere.

When Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and his College of Yes Men headed by general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff chose to go all-in on the greening of the Jets at the commencement of this National Hockey League crusade, they were telling us that their expectations vis-a-vis the playoffs were low and, short of mutiny, nothing was going to move Maurice from behind the bench. Ownership/management were giving him a Mulligan before he took his driver out of the bag.

Think about it. They saddled the guy with a gaggle of greenhorns. By my count, there were half a dozen rookies at the start of business. More youth joined the fray due to various owies. What did you expect would happen?

This is the nature of the youth beast: All-world one night, all-woe the next five.

The same scenario is unfolding in the Republic of Tranna, where the Maple Leafs tease then torment the rabble, and in Buffalo, where the Sabres show promise then perform a faceplant, all the while wondering if the other shoe will drop on Evander Kane. And, of course, we watched it in Edmonton, where the Oilers were a decade-long, class-action joke and remain erratic, even with Connor McDavid on board.

So get used to it, Jets Nation. This season will have more ups and downs than the Trans-Canada Highway through the Rocky Mountains.

I don’t want to sound like an apologist for Maurice. I’m not. It’s just that I believe he’s been set up to fail this season. The Puck Pontiff and his College of Yes Men went younger by design, and I don’t think they expect the Jets to qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament. Is the goaltending Maurice’s fault? I doubt Cheveldayoff would recognize elite puckstopping if Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur were playing pond hockey in his back yard. How, then, can ownership/management or anyone else lay the blame at the coach’s feet? They can’t. Thus, he stays.

None of this is to say Maurice is fault free. He juggles his forward lines like he’s a street busker. His unwavering faith in, and reliance on, Chris Thorburn remains as much a mystery as how they get the caramel inside a Caramilk chocolate bar. Mark Stuart belongs on an NHL roster like Don Cherry belongs on the cover of a Moscow tourism brochure. Then there’s coach Pa Ingalls’ adopted son, Alexander Burmistrov. Can we not send him back to the Russian orphanage?

Mark Scheifele

Mark Scheifele

I don’t know about you, but I often detect a whiff of haughtiness in many of Maurice’s chin-wags with news snoops. There’s just something about his way with words that suggests a self-declared upper-crustacy. But can he really be the smartest man in the room when he spouts the kind of nonsense he delivered on the heels of a recent loss to the Carolina Hurricanes? “Bryan (Little) played four shifts for us this year, so our No. 1 centreman is out,” he said. “Matty Perreault’s been gone for a while, that’s our No. 2 guy.” Either Maurice thinks we’re stupid, or he’s actually the dumbest man in the room. If he truly believes that Mark Scheifele, the NHL’s leading point collector at the time, is his third-line centre and will be slotted as such once Little and the do-nothing Perreault return from the repair shop, he should be fired immediately.

If Dustin Byfuglien is this bad in the first go-round of his five-year contract, how bad will he be in the 2020-21 season, at which time he’ll be 36 years old and likely weigh about 300 lb.? It’s clear that Byfuglien is getting far too much ice time from Maurice, who, much like his predecessor Claude Noel, treats Big Buff with kid gloves. Sit him down, for cripes sake. He’s not Bobby Orr. Give the top-pairing minutes to Jacob Trouba.

I’ve heard enough whinging from Maurice and the rabble about the Jets horrible, unfair, cruel, hardship, blah, blah, blah schedule. Yes, it’s a grind, but no more so than what the Calgary Flames or Edmonton McDavids are dealing with this month. The Flames will play 16 games in November, 11 on the road and four back-to-backs. The McDavids play 15 games, 10 away from home. The Jets will be 16 and 10. The Dallas Stars play 16 games. So, don’t talk to me about the schedule. It’s a copout.

Does Sportsnet know that the 104th Grey Cup game will be played this afternoon in the Republic of Tranna? There were exactly zero stories about the Canadian Football League title match on the front page of the Sportsnet website when I brought it up at 5 o’clock this morning. Zero. There were more than a dozen on the TSN front page.

I know it’s the easy pick, but I’ve got to go with the Calgary Stampeders in the large football match this afternoon. I’m thinking it’ll be a whupping, and only garbage points by the Ottawa RedBlacks in late-game skirmishing will make it seem closer than the reality of a rout. Calgary 32, Ottawa 19.

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.

 


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About the Winnipeg Jets and those pesky sun delays…the Puck Pontiff got the name right…good and bad at the Freep…go Cubbies go…and the Bombers are back in town

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

heritage-classic2Now that the big top has been torn down and cleanup on the sideshows is complete, we can return to regularly scheduled cynicism, skepticism, criticism, optimism and all the other “isms” that make scribbling about sports such a guilty pleasure.

I use the word “guilty” because there are times when I feel pangs of discomfort after skewering someone, but it’s usually a fleeting moment of emotion. I immediately remind myself that if anyone takes my barbs and bites seriously then they really need to get out of the house more often.

Anyway, the Heritage Classic has come and gone and I wish I had been there in good, ol’ Hometown for the five days of fun and frolic, but I vowed that I would only attend if Bobby Hull joined the hijinks. No Golden Jet, no golden-age girl. So I stayed home in Victoria where, unlike Winnipeg, no one has ever been heard to say, “there’s too much sun.”

Who’d have thought hockey and sunscreen went together? But I suppose sunshine was the great irony of the Heritage Classic. When the National Hockey League agreed to bring one of its outdoor gimmick games to River City, worst-case weather scenarios would have included frigid temperatures, white stuff falling, rainfall or roof-raising winds. But too much of ol’ Sol? That’s like Chris Walby saying there’s too much food and beer in the world.

Mark Chipman, the Puck Pontiff.

Mark Chipman, the Puck Pontiff.

I didn’t like it when Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and his megabucks co-bankroll, David Thomson, named their NHL franchise Jets in 2011. I leaned toward a new beginning rather than a link to the past, both gloried (World Hockey Association) and inglorious (NHL 1.0). My preference was to call the club Falcons. Don’t ask me why. I just liked the name. If not Jets, though, the Heritage Classic and all its trappings couldn’t have happened. There would have been no gathering of the throw-back clan at The Pint, no Anders and Ulf induction to the Winnipeg Jets Hall of Fame, and no Geritol Generation Game featuring Team Ducky and the Edmonton Gretzkys. I mean, how do you sell nostalgia in the form of a Falcons-Oilers game? So I’m okay with Jets now. The Puck Pontiff and his billionaire buddy made the right call.

For those of us who were on the outside looking in Sunday when the Jets and Oilers faced off in the Heritage Classic, Melissa Martin offers a fabulous insider’s take of the goings-on. Her article in the Winnipeg Free Press describes many of the nuances of the day and puts you right among the rabble in and around the Facility Formerly Known As Football Follies Field in Fort Garry. Someone might want to send a copy to Bobby Hull. Not that he’d care, but just because.

Not so terrific was Paul Wiecek’s most recent broadside of Jacob Trouba on the Freep sports pages. It’s starting to sound personal, which is never a good thing for a sports columnist. Following the Jets’ season-opening victory, Wiecek used just under 1,000 words to tell us what a dolt Trouba is for sitting at home in Michigan rather than join his Jets mates in their 2016-17 NHL crusade. The young defenceman is not just a loser, he is “the biggest loser.” His reasons for refusing to sign with the Jets are “hard to believe.” He mentions Trouba’s “petulance.” His trade demand is “reckless.” Yet he also writes this: “(Josh) Morrissey wants to play and do it wherever he is asked. Trouba doesn’t. I’m OK with that.” If Wiecek is “OK” with it, why belabor the point with insults and an attack that’s based on the result of one game? It might not be personal, but it sure reads that way to me.

wrigley-fieldI wasn’t born when the Chicago Cubs were last in the World Series (1945) and I wasn’t born when the Cleveland Indians last won it (1948), but unless you are a lifelong Cleveland fan how can anyone not root, root, root for the Cubbies in the Major League Baseball championship series? I’ve long had a soft spot for the Cubbies because of Wrigley Field and its ivy-covered outfield fence, daytime baseball, Ernie Banks and Harry Caray, but a Cubs win would also let poor Steve Bartman off the hook. A Cleveland win wouldn’t disappoint me, though. I have a special fondness for that franchise, as well, because it was the first American League outfit to field a black ballplayer, Larry Doby. Both he and Satchel Paige, the legendary pitcher from the Negro League, became the first black players to win the World Series with the ’48 Indians.

Say, whatever happened to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers? Oh, that’s right. They were kicked out of their home so the Jets and Oilers—old and new—could play a little pond hockey. The Bombers are back in business this weekend, though, with the Ottawa RedBlacks in town for a Canadian Football League skirmish of no small measure. Second place is there for the Bombers’ taking. It’s an afternoon kickoff—let’s just hope it isn’t too sunny. I hate those pesky sun delays.

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.

 


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About Mike O’Shea still wearing short pants and getting the job done…Rodney Dangerfield…girl power in the NHL…running mates for Donald Trump…Jacob Trouba wanting out…and top-drawer sports writing

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

Mike O'Shea: He's no Jeff Reinebold anymore.

Mike O’Shea: He’s no Jeff Reinebold anymore.

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.

Rodney Dangerfield doesn't get any respect, and neither do the Blue Bombers.

Rodney Dangerfield doesn’t get any respect, and neither do the Blue Bombers.

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.

Barbara Underhill has provided the NHL with girl power for years.

Barbara Underhill has provided the NHL with girl power for years.

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.