About three Sundays in November…the CFL playoff format…the Prairie Football League…news snoops snubbing Mike Reilly…the Gott Guzzle…the Golden Boy and Sugar Ray…the high price of Looch’s one goal…passing on $300 million…and bravo to Paul Edmonds

The usual Sunday smorgas-bored…with an extra-large helping of three-down football…

Okay, right off the top, let’s read the tea leaves and see how it’s all going to shake down when the large lads grab grass and growl in today’s two Canadian Football League playoff skirmishes.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Saskatchewan Roughriders: Gang Green will require at least two touchdowns from its defence and/or return teams, plus five field goals to have any hope of beating Winnipeg FC. That isn’t going to happen. The rout is on. Blue Bombers by 17 (or more).

B.C. Lions at Hamilton Tiger-Cats: The better quarterback wins, and that’s Jeremiah Masoli, even if he won’t be playing catch with Speedy B. Travis Lulay will start for the Leos, but he won’t finish. Tabbies by 14.

Is there anything more compelling in Canadian sports than three-down football’s fall frolic? I think not. Fifteen days, five sudden-death games. It doesn’t get any better than what the CFL delivers for three successive Sundays in November.

As if on cue, Messrs. Hue & Cry have been in full voice since the close of the CFL’s regular-season business, demanding a dismantling of the current playoff format in favor of something more equitable.

They note, correctly, that the 8-10 Tiger-Cats have been rewarded with a home game at Timbits Field in the Hammer, even though the Lions were 9-9. The Edmonton Eskimos, meanwhile, also finished the regular session with a 9-9 record, yet there they are with their noses pressed against the window, peeking in at all the fun that’s about to begin in the runoff to the Grey Cup.

They’re right. It doesn’t seem fair.

One of the pundits, Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun, suggests the CFL toss the West-East division structure onto the scrap heap. Lump all nine outfits into one group, top six advance to the playoffs. Well, okay, let’s do that. Here’s how it looked at the finish of the 2018 season:

Calgary 13-5
Saskatchewan 12-6
Ottawa 11-7
Winnipeg 10-8
B.C. 9-9
Edmonton 9-9

So, the Calgary Stampeders and Saskatchewan Roughriders would earn first-round byes, leaving these two games: Edmonton vs. Ottawa; B.C. vs. Winnipeg.

Let’s take it one step further and say the Eskimos were to eliminate the Bytown RedBlacks. That would leave Calgary, Saskatchewan, Winnipeg and Edmonton. Welcome to the Prairie Football League.

You think anyone in the Republic of Tranna would be watching? Anyone in Bytown or Steeltown? Anyone in Quebec? Anyone east of the Manitoba-Ontario boundary?

Alienation of Eastern Canada, most notably the large Southern Ontario TV market, is the risk the CFL takes if it eliminates its traditional geographic makeup. Two consecutive November Sundays of football played only on the frozen tundra of the Prairies would be a ratings doomsday.

If the game isn’t already dead in The ROT, that would surely kill it.

The CFL has featured two all-Prairie Grey Cup games in the past 17 years—Winnipeg and Calgary in 2001, Winnipeg and Saskatchewan in 2007. Where do those two matches rank for TV ratings this century? You guessed it—at the bottom of the heap. Here are the gory details.

2009 Montreal-Saskatchewan 6.1 million average (English and French TV)
2010 Montreal-Saskatchewan 6M
2012 Calgary-Toronto 5.8M
2002 Montreal-Edmonton 5.2M
2011 B.C.-Winnipeg 4.6M
2013 Hamilton-Saskatchewan 4.5M
2003 Edmonton-Montreal 4.4M
2015 Ottawa-Edmonton 4.3M
2017 Toronto-Calgary 4.3M
2014 Hamilton-Calgary 4.1M
2006 B.C.-Montreal 4M
2005 Edmonton-Montreal 4M
2004 Toronto-B.C. 4M
2016 Calgary-Ottawa 3.9M
2008 Calgary-Montreal 3.65M
2007 Winnipeg-Saskatchewan 3.5M
2018 Calgary-Ottawa 3.1M
2001 Calgary-Winnipeg 2.7M

(Note: The 2012 game had a 5.5 million average audience on TSN, making it the most-watched Grey Cup ever on English TV.)

The most-compelling argument against a revision of the playoff format is, of course, the end result. Supposedly inferior outfits from the East Division have won the large game the past two Novembers, so let’s not talk about it until a western club actually proves it’s best when it really matters.

Mike Reilly

Question in Double Jeopardy: In whose universe does the guy with the best numbers not rate as the most outstanding player in the CFL? Answer: What is the Football Reporters of Canada, Alex?

Oh, yes, the boys and girls on the beat snubbed Mike Reilly, instead giving the West-East MOP nominations to quarterbacks Bo Levi Mitchell of the Stampeders and Jeremiah Masoli of the Ticats. That despite the fact the most basic of stats indicate the news snoops are misguided.

Head-to-head-to-head, here’s how the three QBs stack up:

If you were to base that on a 3-2-1 point system, the final scorecard would read: Reilly 16, Mitchell 11, Masoli 10.

I don’t know about you, but I’d say the news snoops have some explaining to do.

So, O-lineman Jon Gott of the Bytown RedBlacks turned a football game into a tailgate party by chug-a-lugging a tall can of beer after a touchdown, and now the CFL has banned booze from TD celebrations. The new get-tough, anti-debauchery policy also includes drugs. Players are not permitted to light up a joint and pass it around in the end zone. Apparently that would be one toke over the line.

Sugar Ray and the Golden Boy

Has it really been 30 years since Donny Lalonde and Sugar Ray Leonard exchanged haymakers at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas? Yup. Sugar Ray scored a ninth-round KO over Winnipeg’s Golden Boy on Nov. 7, 1988, but our guy got in some good licks before biting canvas. Lalonde floored Leonard in the fourth round and was actually ahead on one judge’s scorecard when they got off their stools to begin the ninth. I covered that tiff for the Winnipeg Sun alongside my favorite boxing scribe, Tom Brennan, and my most vivid recollection is of Sylvester Stallone’s annoying voice rising above 13,000 others. “First Vinnie! First Vinnie!” was his ringside plea/instruction to Vinny Pazienza every time Roger Mayweather boxed one of his ears in a bout on the undercard. Alas, Rocky Balboa’s pleas went unrewarded. His guy Vinny lost on a decision. Bob Dylan was also on site, but I never heard or saw him. I sometimes wonder if he saw me.

Just wondering: When are the New York Islanders supposed to start missing John Tavares? Do they even notice that he’s gone?

The Looch

Also wondering how that Milan Lucic thing is working out for the Edmonton McDavids. Isn’t $6 million a season supposed to buy you more than one goal and four points in 16 games? The lumbering Looch’s contract is by far the worst in the National Hockey League.

So this is the world we now live in: A guy who plays a kid’s game for a living feels comfortable turning down $300 million and no one bats an eyelash. I don’t know what’s worse, Bryce Harper snubbing his nose at the $300 million the Washington Nationals had put on the table, or the fact another Major League Baseball outfit will offer him more money.

Good guy Paul Edmonds

And, finally, a big tip of the bonnet to good guy Paul Edmonds, among the Manitoba Baseball Hall of Fame inductees for 2019. The radio play-by-play voice of the Winnipeg Jets on TSN 1290, Paul earned his chops by trudging across the tundra with baseball’s Winnipeg Goldeyes for 19 years. That’s a lot of lonely hours on the lonely road. Now he flies hither and yon with les Jets. So, yes, he’s definitely earned his wings.

Winnipeg Sports: Ondrej Pavelec’s new body and Dave Ritchie’s hall-of-fame induction are both mysteries

Cheat Shots from the Cheap Seats, Vol. 2…

If we are to believe the gospel according to Allan Walsh—and why wouldn’t we, since player agents never lie except when they move their lips?)—Ondrej Pavelec has “totally changed his body.”

What can I say? I just hope he doesn’t have Gump Worsley’s body now.

Actually, when word arrived from Walsh that his client, the worst starting goaltender in the National Hockey League, had “totally changed his body,” I couldn’t shake this image of lipstick on pigs.

I suppose that’s kind of harsh, but I think it’s safe to say that I know more about changing bodies than most. I changed mine “totally” five years ago. Sorry to report that it didn’t transform me into an elite NHL goalie. So unless Pavelec has become Dominik Hasek’s body double, the Winnipeg Jets’ most significant weakness remains their most significant weakness.

SUB-STANDARD STANDARDS: Dave Ritchie in the Winnipeg Football Club Hall of Fame? You’re kidding me, right?

Ritchie wore the headset for five-plus seasons with the Blue Bombers. His clubs had one first-place finish, one appearance in the Grey Cup game (a loss to a vastly inferior Calgary Stampeders outfit) and they were sub-.500 three times. He had a losing record in the playoffs.

If this is what qualifies as a hall-of-fame career, then Doug Berry and Paul LaPolice best prepare their acceptance speeches for next year. I mean, Berry got the Bombers into a Grey Cup game. Ditto LaPolice. They both lost, too.

Ritchie’s inclusion in the Hall class of 2014 is wrong. Period.

THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE LA LA: You’re not likely to find critics of the Dave Ritchie honor among the local media. He made their jobs easier with quotes that could be one part acidic, one part home-spun blarney and two parts Yogi Berra. His gift was gab. News scavengers were smitten by Ritchie’s folksy charm. They giggled about his grumpy, old man persona. They were John Boy or Mary Ellen to his Grandpa Walton. So, it’s agreed, he was a hall-of-fame interview. He was not a hall-of-fame coach…So, I’m listening to Craig Button on TSN 1290 and he advises host Rick Ralph that the Jets are “two years behind Anaheim.” Since it was radio, I don’t know if Button said it with a straight face, but, if so, the TSN hockey analyst’s credibility took a serious whack. I mean, the Ducks finished first (116 points) in the Western Conference last season and were a sniff away from ousting the L.A. Kings in the Conference semifinal. They had two of the top five scorers in the NHL, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Does that sound like the Jets to you in two years? Didn’t think so…Belated bravo to Paul Edmonds, freshly minted radio play-by-play voice of the Jets. In the discussion about his appointment, someone actually compared Jets TV voice, Dennis Beyak, to Danny Gallivan. Ya, and I’m Doris Day…I get a kick out of analysis of the Jets. A summer of management by paralysis renders any attempt at analysis an exercise in nothingness. Unless there’s a major surprise at Camp PoMo next month, the Jets are no better or no worse than last season…It’s about those Bombers “signature” uniforms: It’s no longer the Blue and Gold; it’s the Blue and Bird Droppings…I haven’t taken the Ice Bucket Challenge yet. But my building was out of hot water the other day, so does a cold shower count?…I see it’s still the season of silly superlatives with River City scribes. First we had Gary (La La) Lawless of the Winnipeg Free Press describing Bombers quarterback Drew Willy as “part Joe Montana, part Johnny Unitas, part John Elway.” Now we have Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun labeling the rookie starter as a “growing legend.” I think the Bombers would settle for Willy being part Ken Ploen. You know, the part of him that won Grey Cups. Until then, there are no comparisons to be made to anyone and there is no growing legend…We can stop wondering if GM Kyle Walters made a wise choice when he anointed Mike O’Shea head coach of the Bombers, because La La Lawless assures us that he is the “supreme leader. He’s the right man for this team. And this town. He’s the right coach for this franchise.” If that sounds familiar, it ought to. Gary La La said the very same thing about Jets GM Kevin (The Possum) Cheveldayoff: “We all have our views and opinions on the Jets in this city. Here’s mine: Kevin Cheveldayoff is the right guy for this job, this market and this set of circumstances.”…Love Bomber linebacker Derek Jones’s description of O’Shea: “He’s a big, scary dude.”

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old, 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 her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C.