The River City Renegade


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About clowns in mainstream media…depth in pro tennis…lady star power…budget cuts at TSN…too much Nadal-Federer…great rivalries…sports scribes defecting…and aiming for 50 years

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

Venus Williams

Steve Simmons has secured his position as the biggest assclown in Canadian sports media.

It’s one thing to have an ego higher than the CN Tower and deliver opinion, which the Postmedia columnist and TSN talking head offers in abundance, but Simmons totally lost the plot when he stooped to age shaming on the return of The Reporters with Dave Hodge to TSN’s air Sunday morning.

Discussing the U.S. Open, Simmons said:

Women’s tennis is in a bad way without Serena (Williams). There’s no real star. You’ve had four Grand Slams this year and four different winners. Venus Williams is in a final at Wimbledon and she’s what, 92 years old or something like that?”

Shameful. Also objectionable, rude and insulting in the extreme. It might even have an undercurrent of sexism.

I mean, Simmons had no quarrel with Roger Federer winning Wimbledon in July, scant days before he blew out 36 candles on his birthday cake. It was bravo Roger. Called him the “best ever” before the Swiss maestro rag-dolled Marin Cilic in the final. Thing is, Federer is just one year and two months younger than Venus Williams, who was beaten by Garbine Muguruza in the Wimbledon ladies’ final.

Serena Williams

It’s good for tennis that 37-year-old Venus Williams didn’t win,” he wrote. “To win now would speak badly for the state of women’s tennis.”

But it was okay for a 36-year-old man to win Wimbledon? Interesting logic.

Once he was done age bashing Williams, Simmons—he’s 60, by the way—attacked the depth of the women’s game, comparing it unfavorably to the men’s draw. “There isn’t the depth…you look at men’s tennis, there’s the core at the top and then there’s about 15 deep of really good players,” he stammered. “It doesn’t exist on the women’s side.” Really? Factual evidence supports the notion that Grandpa Simmons is full of the stuff that comes out of the south end of a bull. In the past 48 men’s Grand Slam finals, only three lads not named Nadal, Federer, Murray or Djokovic have won—Stan Wawrinka, Juan Martin Del Potro and Marin Cilic. They’ve combined for a grand sum of five titles. In 12 flipping years! Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic claimed the other 43. For those of you scoring at home, that’s Big Four 43, Rest of World 5. That’s deep like a thimble.

Grandpa Simmons pooh-poohs the women’s side for delivering four different Grand Slam champions this year, as if that’s a bad thing. Yet he says there’s no depth on tour. Total contradiction. Total clown. You want depth? Sixteen women not named Williams have combined for 30 titles in the past 48 majors. None of the four women who won a Grand Slam this year was a top seed. Serena Williams was the closest, seeded second at the Australian Open. The French and U.S. Open champions, Jelena Ostapenko and Sloane Stephens, were unseeded and ranked world Nos. 47 and 83, respectively. The Wimbledon winner, Muguruza, was seeded 14th and ranked world No. 15. The final four at the U.S. Open—Venus Williams, Madison Keys, CoCo Vandeweghe and Stephens—were world Nos. 9, 16, 22 and 83.

Maria Sharapova

As for “no real star” on the women’s side…excuse me? Apparently Grandpa Simmons missed the memo advising us that Maria Sharapova is back on tour. No female athlete on this planet has more star power than her Royal Blondeness. The bottom line on her bank statement is proof. Had there been a lack of oomph to the women’s tour? You bet. Then Ostapenko happened on the red clay of Roland Garros. She’s a spark plug. Muguruza has style and tremendous appeal. Stephens is a bundle of charisma. Now Sharapova is back, and new mama Serena Williams hopefully will resurface at the Australian Open in January, perhaps with her bambino in tow. I’d pay to watch any of them play. Venus Williams, too. She should be saluted, not scorned, for being so competitive at age 37.

Guess the weekly commute from Montreal to the Republic of Tranna is quite costly, because Michael Farber was cut from the starting lineup on The Reporters due to budget restrictions. I just wish they’d given us a vote on who got culled from the herd.

Rafa and Roger

Grandpa Simmons wasn’t the only scribe donning a clown costume last week. Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail tells us he’s had his fill of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. Doesn’t want to see them anymore. “For its own sake, men’s tennis needs to start moving on from its top-two fetish,” he scribbles in a rambling treatise. “And not just as far as Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, who are exactly like their better, older peers, only boring. Tennis needs to turn a page, rip the page out, then find a new book. We’ve been at this for a decade and it started to get old when Stephen Harper was still in charge. It’s time to move on from the greatest rivalry in the history of men’s tennis.” Oh, yes, by all means let’s do that. I mean, doesn’t everyone want to see Kevin Anderson in more Grand Slam finals? Good grief. Get a grip, man.

Here’s what Kelly wrote after Roger Federer had won the Australian Open last January: “We now have to confront the real possibility that Federer might never stop being great at tennis. Maybe he’ll just go on forever. Nobody would complain.” And now here he is, eight months later, complaining about Federer seemingly going on forever. Sigh.

Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe

My five favorite all-time rivalries…
1. Bjorn Borg-John McEnroe: Bjorn was my main man.
2. Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier: Brutal, especially the Thrilla in Manilla.
3. Jack and Arnie: I was a member of Arnie’s Army.
4. Secretariat-Sham: Never saw anything like Secretariat, before or since 1973.
5. Martina Navratilova-Chris Evert: Liked Chrissie until she got engaged to loathsome Jimmy Connors.

Longtime hockey scribe Eric Duhatschek has defected from the Globe and Mail to The Athletic Calgary, part of an expanding online sports venture that features some top-level writing talent. Pierre LeBrun, Michael Russo, James Mirtle and Craig Custance are among the ever-growing stable of scribes at The Athletic, which now has franchises in each of Canada’s National Hockey League cities. No word on who’s covering the Jets and Blue Bombers in Winnipeg, but Mirtle, the man putting it all together, says she or he is on the way.

I walked into a newsroom for the first time 48 years ago yesterday. My hope was to stay at the Winnipeg Tribune for 50 years. Neither of us made it. The Trib went toes up in my 11th year and I felt obliged to bail from the rag trade after 30 years. To the day. None of the people with whom I worked at the beginning—running mail and copy to the various departments inside the old building at the corner of Smith and Graham—remain in the newspaper business. Five of the sports guys—Jack Matheson, Uncle Vince Leah, Gus Collins and freelancers Harold Loster and Ron Meyers—are dead. The very nice man who took a chance and hired a scrawny, 18-year-old kid fresh out of Miles Macdonell Collegiate on Sept. 10, 1969, Don Delisle, left us 10 years ago this month. I’m not sure how and why I’m still here, but I believe I shall continue to crank out the crap for a bit longer. Might still make it to 50 years. Or maybe just five more days. We’ll see.

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 hockey ‘experts’…Team Tease…a positive message for Captain Surly…putting the right woman in goal…and Mitch the curmudgeon

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

Do the “experts” actually know what they’re talking about or is their know-how no better than a row of lumps on a row of stools in any bar in Canada? Well, some do, others don’t.

Paul Wiecek

Take Paul Wiecek, for an e.g. The Winnipeg Free Press columnist forecast this for the Winnipeg Jets in their 2016-17 National Hockey League crusade: “What you’re going to get this season is a lot of defensive lapses and odd-man rushes that are precisely the kinds of situations where you need great goaltending to keep you in the game. Is (Connor) Hellebuyck that guy? (Kevin) Cheveldayoff obviously seems to think so.”

I’d say that Wiecek was spot on.

Over at nhl.com, meanwhile, 15 of 20 geniuses predicted an unfavorable ending to the Jets’ season, with Kevin Weekes, Rob Vollman, Shawn Roarke, Adam Kimelman and Brian Lawton the only “experts” to forecast a spot in the Stanley Cup derby for the Jets. They had them earning a wild-card berth. And four of 16 “experts” at Sportsnet—Ryan Dixon, Chris Johnston, Eric Francis and Mark Spector—had the Jets leading all Canadian outfits in total points. D’oh!

Here’s what some of the other shinny swamis had to say before the puck was dropped in October…

Pierre LeBrun, ESPN: “The Nashville Predators, Dallas Stars, Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues are the class of the Central, leaving the Minnesota Wild and Jets to battle it out for fifth place in the division and potentially the last wild-card spot in the Western Conference. I’m giving the nod to the Jets. Fifth in the Central.

Jen Neale, Yahoo! Sports: “The Jets have another year of pain ahead of them before getting back to the playoffs. The younger players need a little more experience before this group can come together and ice a consistently competitive team. Unfortunately for Paul Maurice, these growing pains could cost him his job.”

Jeremy Fuchs, si.com: Breakthrough team—It’s tough to say this because they don’t have a goalie, but the Winnipeg Jets’ offence could be dangerous. A first line of (Patrik) Laine-(Mark) Scheifele-(Blake) Wheeler might be one of the best. And a powerplay of that line alongside (Nikolaj) Ehlers and Dustin Byfuglien. Oh boy. Get ready for a lot of goals in the Peg.”

As for moi, well, I wrote: “They have as much chance of advancing to the Stanley Cup tournament as I have of filling in for Frida or Agnetha at an ABBA reunion concert.” Since my phone still ain’t ringing, I assume it still isn’t Benny or Bjorn calling. I also mentioned something about defence being the Jets’ Waterloo, but, hey, I’m just a once-a-week little lump on a bar stool. What do I know?

Paul Maurice

Just call them Team Tease. For all of you in Jets Nation getting giddy because the locals have strung together four successive Ws, you are reminded that they did the same thing a year ago in garbage time—they won their final four skirmishes, including a California sweep over the playoff-bound Disney Ducks, San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings. Here’s what head coach Paul Maurice said following the W in San Jose: “I’m not going to get excited about winning three in a row. These games don’t tell you anything about how we’re doing.” So relax. The Jets outfit that has won four straight assignments won’t be the Jets outfit you watch next October. Or will it, Kevin Cheveldayoff?

At least one member of Team News Snoop has surely earned considerable brownie points from Captain Surly, Blake Wheeler. If you missed it, Wheeler had himself a proper hissy fit on Thursday night, whereby he demanded that any message dispatched about the Jets must “be positive” because, gosh darn it, he and the boys are trying really, really hard in their annual two-plus weeks of garbage time. As if on cue, it’s been mostly rah, rah, rah and siss, boom, bah from Ken Wiebe, who’s positively aglow in his praise of the local hockey heroes, most notably Captain Surly, Rink Rat Scheifele and Twig Ehlers. And, lest there be any doubt, the Winnipeg Sun scribe assures us that our also-ran hockey heroes are so gosh, darned determined to go out raising hell that they would never—ever, ever—think of “tanking.” There is, of course, nothing wrong in acknowledging praiseworthy work, but correct me if I’m wrong here…the Jets did miss the playoffs, did they not? Someone messed up along the way.

While bearing witness to the 2-0 paddywhacking the U.S. laid on Canada in their opener of the women’s world hockey championship in Plymouth, Mich., I couldn’t help but wonder if it was too late for the Americans to reconsider their boycott threat. Come to think of it, maybe the Finns could boycott as well.

Shannon Szabados

I don’t know about you, but if I’m Laura Schuler, head coach of Team Canada, my starter in the blue ice is Shannon Szabados. Every game. The Americans easily could have rung up a six-pack against our girls if not for Szabados, and the goaltending against Finland was suspect.

I was disappointed to learn that Mitch Kasprick had shut down his Winnipeg Hockey Talk website in late January. No word on whether or not Mitch plans to crank it up again, but I miss his curmudgeonly take on all things Jets. WHT, by the way, is where Scott Campbell got his start as a scribe before being poached by the Drab Slab otherwise known as the Winnipeg Free Press.

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