Let’s talk about female athletes quitting…will we miss them when they’re gone?…Dani Rylan aka Darth Damsel…LPGA visibility…no friends in the media…sexism, homophobia and Katie Sowers…and swinging cats at lesbians

A work week hump day smorgas-bored coming down in 3, 2, 1…and the back half of August feels an awful lot like the front half…

I thought Megan Rapinoe’s 15 minutes of fame was fini. Hadn’t heard from her for a few weeks.

Then her purple hair showed up on Good Morning America a few days ago and, along with Yankee Doodle Damsel teammate Christen Press, she talked about faith and hope and compromise and, most significant, bang for your buck.

“We won’t accept anything less than equal pay,” the U.S. women’s national soccer team co-captain declared.

Or what? They’ll quit?

Christen Press and Megan Rapinoe

Like approximately 200 elite female hockey players quit? Like members of the Swedish women’s national hockey team quit?

The Swedish women are supposed to be in Vierumaki, Finland, for the 5 Nations Tournament this week, but they’ve had it up to their blonde ponytails with being treated like second hand Roses and found something better to do. What that something is, we don’t know, but it isn’t wearing a yellow-and-blue hockey jersey with three crowns on the front.

There are 10 points of contention between the women and their governing body, the Swedish Ice Hockey Association (SIF), and they include everything from increased funding (top of the list) to wardrobe. Yes, clothing.

It seems that being forced to adorn themselves in male attire is a disagreeable bit of business to the Swedish women.

“For a five-year period, we have asked for clothes in a women’s model, clothes that must be sewn and adapted for women,” is Point 7 in their list of necessary upgrades. “In response, we are told that SIF provides equal clothing to all national teams, ie. men’s clothing. It should be in SIF’s interest that the Crowns represent SIF in a professional and respectful way. How does SIF want the Women’s Crowns to represent Sweden and the Swedish Ice Hockey Association?”

That might sound petty, but I’m reasonably certain that if members of the Swedish national men’s side were required to drape themselves in female finery, they’d sparka upp en stor stank (kick up a big stink). But, then, they’d never ask the fellas to do that, would they?

Anyway, as much as I enthusiastically applaud and endorse any female athlete’s fight for equal pay, equal benefits, equal opportunity, and the equal right to change tops courtside during a tennis tournament, it seems to me that quitting is an ill-conceived strategy when one of the main laments of all women’s sports is lack of exposure.

The women want to be seen and heard in print, on air and in the public conscience, yet they choose to disappear in a quest to achieve said goal.

Interesting gambit.

Let’s say the U.S. national side takes its lawsuit against U.S. Soccer to court and a jury decides the pay scale is not gender based? Hence, no additional coin. Does that mean Rapinoe and her world champion gal pals will be no-shows for next summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo? Certainly they’d be present by their absence, and whichever country were to emerge as champion would have an asterisk attached to its name, but I fail to see how that helps the cause of women’s fitba.

Dani Rylan

Are Sweden’s female hockey players getting a bum deal? Certainly sounds like it, yes. But there’s a danger in their ploy. That is, what if nobody gives a damn? It’s the same predicament players on this side of the big waters find themselves in. The Canadian Women’s Hockey League has already bolted the doors, and now approximately 200 elite players say they won’t lace ’em up again until Dani Rylan pulls the chute on her National Women’s Hockey League and a sugar daddy/mama (read: NHL) surfaces. Well, there are no signs of surrender in commish Rylan, so will anyone really care that the ForTheGame200 have gone AWOL?

The ForTheGame200 bully tactic doesn’t appear to be intimidating Rylan, because the latest roster update from The Ice Garden tells us that 66 players, including 13 Canadians, have signed on for the NWHL’s fifth season, set to face off on Oct. 5. That happens to be World Girl’s Hockey Weekend, and I’m thinking there’ll be about 200 elite women who’d like to be part of it.

Prediction: At some point, the 200 boycotters will turn on Rylan. They’ll accuse her of acting like she believes herself to be “bigger than the game,” and make her out to be Darth Damsel, an evil force standing between them and the “$50,000 to $100,000” salaries Cassie Campbell-Pascall thinks they deserve. Bet on it.

Michael Whan

How significant is exposure? Well, let’s consider what Ladies Professional Golf Association commissioner Michael Whan has to say on the matter.

The distaff swingers mostly fly under the radar unless you subscribe to the Golf Channel. Still, they’re playing for a total prize purse of $70.5 million in 2019. By way of comparison, the men appear on network TV every weekend 10 months of the year, and it doesn’t seem to matter if Tiger Woods shows up to hack his way to another over-par score or not. NBC, CBS or Fox Sports will be there on Sunday to tell us Tiger’s wearing a red shirt. Oh, and the boys divvy up a $300 million-plus pot of gold.

“If you give me 39 weeks on (national) TV, I’ll close the gap on viewership in a long way, and if I close the gap on viewership I’ll close the difference in purses and pay,” says Whan. “But you can’t do one without the other.”

So, what part of being seen do female hockey and soccer players not understand?

The 10 highest-paid female athletes in the world, according to Forbes, are tennis players. The women’s purse at all four Grand Slam tournaments is equal to the men’s. They didn’t get there by going into hiding. They got there by negotiating while still playing.

Media, of course, plays a significant role in exposing sports to the masses, and there’s definitely a substantial divide in coverage of women’s and men’s competition. For example, I’d wager that few, if any, of you are aware that Canada and the U.S. recently engaged in two hockey tournaments—three-game series between the women’s under-22 and under-18 sides. TSN ignored both events. Yet if I thought watching shinny in summer was a worthwhile activity (I don’t), I could have tuned in to the boys’ World Junior Summer Showcase and the Hlinka Gretzky Cup. Perhaps someone at TSN can explain why our future female Olympians aren’t as important as our future male Olympians. Meanwhile, at Troy Media, they have award-winning journalist/columnist Bruce Dowbiggin telling us that women’s sports is “second-class entertainment.” Steve Simmons of Postmedia once advocated for the elimination of women’s hockey from the Olympic Games. With friends like that, it’s a wonder female athletes even bother to leave the house.

Katie Sowers

So, you say you’d like to coach college hoops. Sorry, no can do. Not if you’re lesbian. What about pro football then? Sorry, no can do. Not if you’re female.

That, kids, is a double whammy of discrimination and Katie Sowers lived it.

Sowers now earns her daily bread as an assistant coach with the San Francisco 49ers, but she only landed the gig after another National Football League outfit told her it was “not ready” to have a women join their stable of on-field instructors.

Years earlier, she had offered her services as a volunteer basketball coach to alma mater Goshen College, a Mennonite school in Indiana.

“I had just finished up my basketball career,” Sowers told Kristine Leahy on the FS1 show Fair Game. “My four years of eligibility were done, so I was on my victory lap and I started playing track and field for fun, and I also was thinking ‘I really want to get my coaching career started.’ So I went to my basketball coach, who had given me…I was a team captain all the years I played, I was a leader on the team, and I knew that they were low on staff, they were low on practice players. I actually emailed him and I said ‘Would this be an opportunity where I could be a volunteer coach?’ I didn’t even think there was a chance for a no. But he responded saying just to come into his office to talk about it.

“And what he told me was that because of my lifestyle, he didn’t want me around the team. And when I was on his team, I was someone that he would protect, but now that I’m not, there’s not much he can do about it. And there were prospective students’ parents that were concerned that if there was a lesbian coach, their daughter might ‘catch the gay’ or whatever it might be, because people might think it’s contagious or whatever it was. But for some reason, they didn’t want me around.

“There was another school in the division that I played, I had a really good friend who played basketball, got kicked off the team at her school because they found out she was gay. She lost her whole scholarship. This was 2008, 2007.”

And people wonder why there are still Pride parades.

And, finally, this from the aforementioned Dowbiggin of Troy Media: “You can’t swing a cat without hitting a lesbian in a women’s sport.” Sigh…there just aren’t enough words.

Let’s talk about The Big Reveal on Matt Nichols in tweets…Kyle Walters’ ‘smart phone’…the over/under with Chris Streveler at QB…hey, Kyle, what about Aaron Rodgers?…CFL head counts…Puck Finn’s ‘hard feelings’…beef jerky and Mitch Marner…and Bianca’s coming out party

Tuesday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and any CFL team that hasn’t lost a starting quarterback isn’t trying hard enough…

This Matt Nichols thing has had chins wagging and thumbs jerking since last Thursday, and I really can’t recall there ever being so much ballyhoo about a right arm in River City.

The Golden Boy tosses a right haymaker at Sugar Ray.

At least not since Golden Boy Donny Lalonde sent a shiver into Sugar Ray Leonard and knocked him to the canvas in their 1988 title tiff.

At any rate, after keeping the severity of Nichols’ owie on the QT for three days, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers came clean with The Big Reveal on Monday, and I found it interesting how the boys on the beat in Good Ol’ Hometown spread the tidings via their twitchy Twitter thumbs.

10:19 a.m. (Jeff Hamilton): “Bridge, Willy could figure in Blue Bombers’ plans—update on Matt Nichols later today.”

11:48 (Ted Wyman): “He’s not in a practice jersey but Matt Nichols just walked into Bombers practice. No sling or anything like that on his throwing arm.”

11:53 (Bob Irving): “Matt Nichols is on the field watching practice. Arm hanging loose at his side. Which does not mean the injury is any less serious. O’Shea will share more after practice.”

Matt Nichols as observed by Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun.

11:55 (Ted Wyman): “Here is Bombers QB Matt Nichols walking to practice field. Was keeping his right arm at his side but have seen him moving it around a bit. Hands on hips etc.”

1:10 p.m. (Jeff Hamilton): “Matt Nichols is looking at weeks before he is back playing. Bombers are looking for various options for rehab, with hope of return asap. He’s played through serious injury before but with plenty of season left, and with/team 7-2, want to be sure he’ll be ready down the stretch.”

1:27: (Ted Wyman): “Matt Nichols will go on the 6-game injured list and be evaluated over that period. Mike O’Shea expects him to be ready to play in 4-6 weeks.”

1:28 (Jeff Hamilton): “Bombers HC Mike O’Shea says 4-6 weeks he hopes to see Nichols play.”

1:28 (Ted Wyman): “No surgery necessary for upper body injury for Nichols. Bombers will look to bring in another QB in next couple weeks. Chris Streveler will be starter in Edmonton on Friday and for the foreseeable future.”

1:30 (Jeff Hamilton): “Bombers HC Mike O’Shea says 4-6 weeks before Nichols is re-evaluated. So 6 weeks minimum before he plays.”

Chris Streveler at the controls.

So now that we know the arm “hanging loose at his side” limits Nichols to tasks no more strenuous than putting “hands on hips etc.” until at least the end of September, we direct our attention to Chris Streveler and wonder and speculate what might become of a 7-2 Winnipeg FC outfit that, at present, looks down on all it surveys in the West Division of the Canadian Football League.

Streveler is a blood-and-guts QB, built from the I-think-I’m-a-middle-linebacker, Matt Dunigan mold. Only he’s about a foot taller. Matty never saw a brick wall he didn’t want to take on, and I don’t imagine we’ll see Streveler performing with a safety net too often. Even if instructed to do so. He’s already had more head-on collisions than a crash-test dummy and actually seems to enjoy running into immovable objects with arms, legs and a bad attitude.

But, as Doug Brown outlines in an excellent piece in the Drab Slab, Streveler will require more than his hell-bent-for-leather tendencies to keep the Bombers in the first-place discussion. This is, after all, a passing league and he’ll be required to fling the football as often as not. Oh, and stay in one piece while doing it.

I don’t have to remind you that Nichols is the latest starting QB added to a body count that now numbers seven, and if Streveler gets too reckless the next option is greenhorn Sean McGuire.

Mind you, GM Kyle Walters has been working the phone in search of a QB with some savvy.

That’s good to know, but if old friend Drew Willy is the best he can dredge up we’ll know it isn’t a “smart” phone.

Drew Willy and Matt Nichols.

When last seen in River City, Willy had a tendency to bounce the ball to his receivers, which, as it happened, worked out well for Winnipeg FC because it forced head coach Mike O’Shea’s hand. He turned the ball over to Nichols, who went about the business of beating the Eskimos in E-Town in his first whirl behind centre. In a nifty bit of irony, that’s also Streveler’s starting point on Friday night.

So what’s the over/under on Ws with Streveler behind centre in the next 5/6 skirmishes? Three? Sounds about right. Play .500 football while Nichols is in the repair shop and it’s still game on. Anything less and a crossover playoff spot comes into play. I’m all about the glass half full right now, though. As Dunigan might say, I believe Streveler can “get ‘er done, young man.”

Aaron Rodgers: Put me in, coach, I’m ready to play.

Hey, come to think of it, there’ll be a fair country QB in town this week. Maybe GM Walters can convince Aaron Rodgers to stick around after the Green Bay Packers and Oakland Raiders have conducted business at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry. Now that would be a “smart” phone.

The Pack and Raiders go through the motions on Thursday night, and if the over/under on the head count for the NFL dress rehearsal is 20,000, I’ll take the under. At the prices they’re charging, I really don’t think there are more than 20,000 danged fools in Good Ol’ Hometown.

The boys and Kate Beirness on TSN did some tall talking about “close to a sellout” at BMO Field in the Republic of Tranna for last Thursday’s skirmish between the Argos and E-Town Eskimos. Official head count: 16,490. Number of empty seats: 8,510. Only in The ROT (and on TSN) would a nearly half-empty stadium be considered “close to a sellout.”

There is, mind you, glad tidings drifting out of The ROT. As unlikely as it might seem, the Argos are the only CFL outfit showing an increase in attendance over 2018. Go figure.

Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab just won’t let it go. He insists on beating the Winnipeg Jets’ “fractured changing room” drum, this time as it relates to Patrik Laine. The young winger and restricted free agent recently made some empty remarks about his National Hockey League future, saying, “You never know where you’re going to play next year. I’m just prepared for anything.” Puck Finn added that he’s “got nothing bad to say about Winnipeg” and offered a few more benign tidbits that didn’t total a mole hill of substance. Yet here’s Mad Mike on the matter: “No doubt there’s also some lingering hard feelings over how last season played out, both on the ice and within the dressing room.” My goodness. Instead of reading between the lines, fly to Finland like Chris Johnston of Sportsnet did. Or pick up a phone and dial Laine’s number. Ask him directly if he’s PO’d about anything that went on in the Winnipeg HC boudoir. Then report the facts. Otherwise, shut the hell up about it.

The overrated(?) Mitch Marner.

You’ll have to excuse Mitch Marner if he feels a sudden urge to piddle on Andrew Berkshire’s Corn Flakes. I mean, to hear the numbers nerd talk about the Tranna Maple Leafs winger on Sportsnet 590 The Fan, you’d swear that young Mitch is to hockey what beef jerky is to fine dining. Marner “might be the most overrated player in the NHL.” Marner is “not the guy driving the bus on that line. It’s John Tavares.” And “Is Mitch Marner better than Timo Meier? I think most people in Toronto would say yes but data says no. Meier’s actually significantly more productive.” Well, I haven’t held a slide rule in my hands since struggling mightily with high school math at Miles Macdonell Collegiate, but no amount of nerd-produced numbers from Pie Chart Boy will convince me that a 66-point man (Meier) is “significantly more productive” than a guy (Marner) whose 94 points were bettered by only 10 players last season. Marner had more assists than Meier had points, for cripes sake. Berkshire, whose fancy stats, graphs and pie charts also clutter up the Drab Slab sports pages, can cherry pick all he likes and put greater value on one number over another, but I’ll take 94 over 66 every time. At the rink or in math class at Miles Mac.

I think the most telling comment Pie Chart Boy made re Marner and other unsigned NHL restricted free agents was this: “I don’t know how NHL executives view these guys.” Exactly. He doesn’t know.

Bianca Andreescu at her Indian Wells coming out party.

And, finally, here’s something that’s just stone…cold…stupid: Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna writes about our girl Bianca Andreescu’s chances at next week’s U.S. Open in Gotham, suggesting, “This could well be the young Canadian’s coming out party as a professional.” Good grief. What was Indian Wells? What was the Rogers Cup? A couple of meh moments that no one noticed? Look, after you’ve won a tournament that includes the elite 75 female players on the planet (Indian Wells), then re-up with a win at the Rogers Cup in The ROT, there’s no longer any need for introductions. They know who you are. Our teen sensation won’t catch the field, the media, or the rowdies at Flushing Meadows by surprise. Bianca had her coming out party five months ago at Indian Wells, so either Simmons educates himself or he has to stop scribbling about women’s sports.

Let’s talk about skeptics and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers…the long and short of Check Down Charlie…get off my lawn!…that rainy day feeling in the CFL…no one like Gizmo…Smilin’ Hank, bad manners and cheese…Brooke and Bianca…just the facts, ma’am…and going to beat 100,000

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and hold all my phone calls today while I watch women’s tennis…

Skepticism abounds. And I get that.

I mean, when there’s been nothing but nothingness for going on 29 years, the tendency is to stick an italicized “ya but” at the end of every happy thought about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

They beat the Calgary Stampeders. “Ya but…they’ve gotta play ’em two more times.”

Janarion Grant

Janarion Grant is an electric kick returner. “Ya but…what about that lame offence?”

Crown Lands was a boffo halftime show. “Ya but…don’t they have any barber shops where those boys come from?”

And so it was for me while watching Winnipeg FC make fewer mistakes than the Stampeders on Thursday night at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry. It was like those commercials where there’s a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other, both of them yanking on some poor sap’s good-versus-evil chain?

Only instead of a devil and an angel, it was a Cynic and a Polyanna nattering in my ears and, after listening to them squawk for three hours and a day, I needed an aspirin. Or a pint.

Seriously, for every blah-blah-blah there was a yadda-yadda-yadda.

Coach LaPo

Pollyanna: “Isn’t that new guy Janarion Grant absolutely wonderful? Two touchdowns on punt returns! Over 300 yards bringing back kicks! Meet the new Gizmo! But let’s call him Quick Six!”

Cynic: “Good bloody thing he was there, because Paul LaPolice’s offence totally sucked. No imagination. No creativity. No freaking TDs.”

Pollyanna: “Matt Nichols silenced his critics. Great game management and zero picks.”

Cynic: “You mean Check Down Charlie? Hard for anyone to pick off one of his passes when he’s afraid to toss the football more than two yards at a time. The hair on those two dudes doing the halftime show is longer than any of Nichols’ passes. He does more dunking than a cop in a donut shop.”

Justin Medlock

Pollyanna: “Impressive. Justin Medlock kicked four field goals, including a 55-yarder.”

Cynic: Whatever. Early August. Perfect weather. No pressure. We’ll talk about Medlock if he does it in mid-November when the wind is howling like a couple of frat boys at closing time.”

Pollyanna: “Richie Hall’s defence came up big when it had to, with a key interception to close the first half and another one to seal the victory. Gotta love that!”

Cynic: “Let me know when they actually beat a certified starting quarterback. They haven’t had to deal with anything but clipboard jockeys since Mike Reilly and Trevor Harris in June.”

So, yes, I remain (mildly) conflicted about Winnipeg FC after pondering its 26-24 victory over the always difficult Stampeders. Oh, I’m convinced the Bombers’ 6-2 log is legit. They’ve earned their perch atop the tables and, one game shy of the midway mark of their Canadian Football League crusade, there’s ample cause to believe there’ll be a playoff skirmish at Football Follies Field come November, when it’s a reasonable assumption that the aforementioned Medlock and his left leg will, indeed, be battling winds howling like a couple of frat boys at closing time.

Mike Reilly, down again.

Further, the local lads ought to deliver the B.C. Lions a good paddywhacking later this week, because Mike Reilly can’t beat them while lying on his back. Reilly is the toughest dude QB in the CFL, but the Leos keep asking him to win a knife fight with a plastic straw, and that seldom leads to a happily ever after ending.

So I’m saying the Bombers will head into the back half of their crusade at 7-2, also with a leg up on finishing first in the bumper-to-bumper crawl that is the West Division.

Alas, the alpha-dog argument likely won’t be settled until the late-October, home-and-home dosey doe with the Stampeders, which means everything in between is filler guaranteed to fascinate, infuriate and, hopefully, entertain.

Maybe Check Down Charlie will even throw a pass that stretches farther than Pinocchio’s nose at some point. Wouldn’t that be something?.

check Down Charlie

Lest anyone run off with the wrong notion, I believe Nichols can take the Bombers where they need and want to be in November. No, he’s not the kind of QB to grab a game by the back collar and give it a good rag-dolling, but there’s enough there there to get the job done. I mean, if Sean Salisbury can win the Grey Cup, so can Check Down Charlie. It’s just that he’ll have to stop playing with one arm tied behind his back. Either he and Coach LaPo add variety to the offence (read: a few more long balls) or this crusade aborts earlier than planned and someone is looking for work.

Crown Lands

It’s about Crown Lands, the halftime entertainment last Thursday: Oh my. Don Cherry’s wardrobe isn’t that loud. I spent most of the next day playing my vinyl albums from the 1960s, just to remind myself what real rock ‘n’ roll is supposed to sound like. But, hey, the young people at Football Follies Field seemed to enjoy the show, so I’m not going to be an old frump and shake my fist and shout at clouds. I would, mind you, call the cops if Crown Lands showed up to play on my lawn.

Actually, I was shaking my fist and shouting at clouds on Friday night. I mean, handing a W to the Saskatchewan Roughriders after less than 45 minutes of football because of a cloud burst in Montreal? Wrong. Dumb rule. Should be revisited. What’s the hurry that they can’t wait out the lightning, thunder and wet stuff for more than an hour? The large lads that anxious to get to the bar?

Having said that, they could have called off the Edmonton Eskimos-Bytown RedBlacks skirmish any time after the first quarter and you wouldn’t have heard a peep out of me. Purely dreadful.

The hosannas, rightly so, are raining down on this year’s crop of lickety-split, whiz-bang kick returners, on pace to take a CFL record 42 boots back to the house. But don’t let me hear anyone put them in Gizmo Williams’ class. Giz was the best ever. And probably always.

Smilin’ Hank

If you see Henry Burris and the TSN squawkbox is thoughtful enough to open a door for you, for gawd’s sakes thank the man! I say that because Smilin’ Hank reckons us hosers are short on behavior and tall on rude. Asked by Sean Fitz-Gerald of The Athletic how he explains Americans to his Canadian friends, Hank replied: “I always tell people America is sectional. In the South, where I’m from, people are typically much nicer. They’re more accommodating. We cook our food differently than they do in the northeast. Even though people still barbeque and do those things, for us, BBQ and fry, that’s how we do it down south—we want it on the grill, or we want it in the fryer (smiles). The people are very respectful and their manners are excellent. I always tell Canadians—Canadians could learn something from Southerners. Canadians are nice people, but Canadians can be rude. There’s a lot of rude Canadians. I’ve held the door for a lot of Canadians, and they’ll walk in and not even say thank you.” Listen, Hank, that door swings both ways. Don’t let it hit you on the ass on your way out.

Just kidding, of course. Hank’s always struck me as a good guy, and he makes a point of informing his American pals that we don’t actually live in igloos and that the Republic of Tranna is “a bit like Chicago and has the mentality of New York, to a point.” He didn’t say what Winnipeg is “a bit like,” to a point, but I’m thinking Buffalo with the mentality of Green Bay. Sans the cheddar on our heads, of course.

Hey, I don’t mean to sound insulting. I like Green Bay. Had a wonderful time there in the late 1990s. But I’m still trying to get the cheese smell out of my hair.

Bianca Andreescu

Speaking of cheesy, I try my best to root, root, root for our young tennis guy Denis Shapovalov. Really, I do. It’s a struggle, though. The kid has too much of the P.K. Subban hot dog in him for my liking, and I don’t know how much of his playing to the crowd is an act and how much is sincere. Teen sensation Bianca Andreescu also plays to the crowd, but it never strikes me as cheesy.

Brooke Henderson

Our girl Bianca was across the net from the neighborhood bully, Serena Williams, in today’s Rogers Cup final in The ROT, and her victory gives the clowns who choose the Lou Marsh Trophy recipient something to chew on. It’s her second tournament W this year, the same as our Lady of the Links, Brooke Henderson. So what carries more value, tennis or golf? Last year, Brooke won twice, including the Canadian Open, but they gave her a pass and anointed a guy in a fringe sport (Mikael Kingsbury, moguls skiing) our country’s top jock. This year, Brooke’s second W was her historic ninth, making her the most successful Canadian on either the LPGA or PGA tour. That should be the determining factor. Unless, of course, another moguls skier catches the voters’ fancy.

Milos Raonic

Here’s someone way out of his lane—Steve Simmons (I know; what a shock). The Postmedia Tranna columnist graced the Rogers Cup in the Republic of Tranna with his presence last week, and all he did was double fault on his facts. First, he scribbled this of our Andreescu: “She’s never lost to anybody in the top 10 because she’s never played anybody in the top 10.” Incorrect. Bianca played four matches v. top-10 opponents prior to the Rogers Cup: World No. 3 Caroline Wozniacki in Auckland, world No. 6 Elina Svitolina and No. 8 Angelique Kerber at Indian Wells, and world No. 4 Kerber at Miami. Whupped ’em all. Next, Simmons advised us that Genie Bouchard was “the highest-rated Canadian player, man or woman in tennis history.” Again incorrect. Genie’s career best was world No. 5 in 2014. Milos Raonic reached world No. 3 in 2016 and ’17. This information is easily accessible. But apparently taking two minutes to visit the WTA and ATP websites is too much to ask of a national sports columnist. Why clutter an essay with correct information when misinformation will do, right? So I’m not sure what lane Simmons is supposed to be in, but it definitely isn’t women’s tennis. Or, really, anything to do with women’s sports..

And, finally, I noticed that this River City Renegade blog passed the 30,000 milestone for views this year and 100,000 overall for 3½ years. To those who have stopped by for a peek, I thank you, with a caution that if you make a return visit it won’t be any better. To those who haven’t visited, I can’t say I blame you.

Let’s talk about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers QBs…counting heads…Corn Dog Cody Fajardo…awesome and ugly football…’minor’ concussions…tweet, tweet, tweet…ponytail puck…and a bounce-back season for Puck Finn?

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and if you’re reading this at the cottage on the last leg of a long weekend, I can only wonder what’s wrong with you…

So the stage is set. Two Goliaths. Temporary bragging rights at stake.

And, yes, I still consider the Blue Bombers a Goliath, because I firmly subscribe to that old chestnut ‘you are what your record says your are,’ and it doesn’t get any better than Winnipeg FC and the Calgary Stampeders, who’ll be the house guests at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry on Thursday night.

Matt Nichols

Although there are those among us who believe the Bombers’ W-L log is the product of smoke, mirrors and a steady diet of 98-pound weaklings, I’m not going to quibble about a 5-2 record.

The doubting Thomas argument gained strength, of course, when the local lads were bullied by Pee-wee Herman on the back half of Winnipeg FC’s recent 0-for-Southern Ontario misadventure, but I feel obligated to point out that the Bombers and Stamps have played the same sides, with one exception—the Saskatchewan Roughriders. As we all know, Canadian Football League schedule-makers tend to save the Blue-and-Gold/Gang Green tiffs for Labour Day weekend on the Flattest of Lands and a few days later in Good Ol’ Hometown, when they tune up the banjos for the follow-up dosey doe.

In the meantime, it seems to me that Thursday’s duel of 5-2 outfits should serve as a statement skirmish for Winnipeg FC. Win and they gain believers, lose and talk radio becomes a blood sport.

There’s already plenty of nattering that suggests head coach Mike O’Shea is actually Homer Simpson with a head set, and his refusal to insert Chris Streveler into the fray when starting quarterback Matt Nichols can’t pass wind, never mind a football, seems to be the main irritant. Some, in fact, would prefer to have the two QBs reverse roles, but I’m guessing those folks are also flat-earth fanatics who walk around with wide strips of tin foil on their heads.

Chris Streveler

Hey, I agree that Streveler is a good change of pace and we should see more of him behind centre, but make him the main man? Sorry, we’ve had enough backup QBs thrust into the starting role this season, thank you very much, and the product has suffered.

I suppose the good folks on the Flattest of Lands might pipe up and dispute that, because their No. 2 guy, Corn Dog Cody Fajardo, has done such boffo business that the Saskatchewan Roughriders decided they can get along just fine without Zach Collaros and shipped him—and the ever-present bats in his belfry—to the Republic of Tranna.

Much the same can be said in the Alberta Foothills, where Nick Arbuckle has kept things mostly neat and tidy during Bo Levi Mitchell’s time in the repair shop. He’s 4-1, that’s all, and if you expect more than that from a fill-in QB you’re more demanding than the nuns who taught me in Catholic school.

Anyway, it’s about Streveler and Nichols and the notion that they should swap snaps. Look, I don’t like what I saw of Nichols in the Golden Horseshoe any more than many of you, but if Coach O’Grunge has them trading places, he really would be a “D’oh!” boy.

Football Follies Field in Fort Garry

I’m curious to see what kind of a statement the football faithful in Good Ol’ Hometown will make on Thursday night. A grab-grass-and-growl argument to determine top dog in a West Division that has taken on the look of a mosh pit ought to be a best-seller, except the Bombers’ bumbling in the Hammer and The ROT likely cost them a customer or two. I hope I’m wrong, but a head count of just 20,433 for the Battle of Alberta in Cowtown on Saturday tells me that people are finding other things to do as we dig into the dog days of August.

Hey, check it out. We finally know how many people have been ignoring the Argonauts in The ROT. According to CFLdb.ca, they’ve topped out at 16,734 patrons and bottomed out at 11,428 in their three BMO Field assignments this crusade, but the Scullers are the only CFL outfit showing a year-over-year increase in attendance from 2018. Meanwhile, I don’t understand why we have to search CFLdb.ca to discover what the CFL should be telling us on its own website. That’s just wrong.

Corn Dog Cody

Not only has Fajardo got a nose for football, Corn Dog Cody’s sniffer also leads him to fun and games and growlies, like the kind you’ll find at the Queen City Ex in Regina. We know this because the Riders QB confessed to a special kind of motivation after his late-game TD put the seal on a 24-19 victory over the Hamilton Tabbies. “I’m really excited to get a corn dog to be honest,” he told news snoops, as the aroma of those carny treats wafted his way from the nearby Ex. “I’m a big carnival corn dog guy and I was like hopefully the game goes well so I can get a corn dog. So that’s probably what gave me the will to score that touchdown, a little inspiration of a corn dog at the carnival.” If that’s what corn dogs do for a QB, what say we make them Matt Nichols’ pre-game meal? (It’s also refreshing to hear an athlete deliver something other than cookie-cutter, club-approved, yawner quotes for news snoops. Atta boy, Corn Dog.) 

Duane Forde

So, how do you like what you’ve seen to date in our quirky three-down game? Opinions differ.

Veteran news snoop Frank Zicarelli of Postmedia Tranna wrote this last month: “There is no legitimate quarterback on the (Argos) roster in a league where the position is so thin that most games have become virtually unwatchable.” The granddaddy of E-Town jock journos, Terry Jones, agreed: “Too many CFL games are unwatchable this season.” And, of course, TSN talkers Duane Forde and Davis Sanchez both slapped an “ugly” label on different games in the past two weeks.

Then there’s Knuckles Irving, the Winnipeg FC play-by-play guy who, like Jonesy, has very long teeth. His take: “Awesome weekend for the CFL. 4 close, entertaining games, although as my pal Herb Zurkowsky already pointed out, it would be nice if they could speed them up a bit and keep them under 3 hours.”

Personally, I’ve seen too many clunkers. Too many nights only the lickety-split of the kick returners has prevented me from switching channels or nodding off.

Montreal Larks head coach Khari Jones tells us that his QB, Vernon Adams Jr., suffered a “minor concussion” when J.R. Tavai of the Bytown RedBlacks cracked him with a head-to-head cheap shot that went unpunished. Sorry, Khari, but I never considered any of my 10 concussions “minor.” They still put me in a dark room.

Knuckles Irving

Tweets that grabbed my attention in the past week…

* The aforementioned Knuckles Irving, after a follower called Mike O’Shea an “idiot”: “He hasn’t won the big one but Our idiot head coach is 38-23 since 2016. Bring me more idiots.” Just as long as they aren’t wearing tin foil on their heads, right Knuckles?

* Former all-star D-lineman, CJOB gab guy and freelance columnist Doug Brown, during the Argos 28-27 victory over the Bombers: “Imagine losing to Dane Evans, and McLeod Bethel-Thompson, back to back. That might be a bit of a buzz kill.” Exactly 17 minutes later: “My god.” Too funny.

* Old friend and all-round good guy Scott Campbell: “I’m expecting regression from #NHLJets and not mad about it. It would be worse had they given those contracts to Myers, Tanev and Chiarot. I’m more worried about the coaches optimizing the lineup. Hoping Maurice got back to summer work.” I guess two steps forward and one step back beats one step forward and two steps back every time.

* And, of course, Steve Simmons continued to be a total Twitter troll. The Postmedia Tranna columnist cited a handful of top-drawer quill jockeys as the reason he subscribes to The Athletic, then added: “I do wish they’d stop drooling over each other every time someone writes something good.” He posted that at 10:59 a.m. on July 31. At 1:13 p.m. that same day, look who was “drooling over” one of his own Postmedia colleagues, Rob Longley. Yup, Simmons. “Our guy, baseball’s most underrated writer, has broken the stories thus (sic) afternoon of Blue Jays trading Aaron Sanchez and Joe Biagini to Houston.” Two days later, he was “drooling over” Longley again. Pot, meet kettle. And I hope he was wearing a bib.

I didn’t think it possible, but the new teleprompter reader on TSN Sportscentre, Kayla Gray, is actually louder than Kate Beirness. Enthusiasm is a good thing. Making my ears bleed is not.

Dani Rylan

Officially, there will be a fifth National Women’s Hockey League season. Unofficially, there might not be a fifth NWHL crusade. Two months before they’re scheduled to drop the puck, commish Dani Rylan’s house league has scared up just 39 players willing to boycott the boycott of the ForTheGame200 gang, a group of elite performers who insist they will continue to stomp their feet, hold their breath and refuse to play hockey until a sugar daddy comes along and pays them a living wage. Unfortunately, only a few of us notice, or care, that they’re missing, so I hope they aren’t expecting an amber alert.

And, finally, interesting piece by Ian Tulloch of The Athletic Tranna. Ian goes about the business of listing 10 National Hockey League players likely to have a “bounce-back” season, and he has our own Patrik Laine at No. 6. Well, let me just say this about that: You know Puck Finn is some kind of special when he lights 30 lamps and pundits are talking about him in terms of rediscovering his scoring touch.

Let’s talk about the CFL’s QB carnage…“remarkably ugly” football…Argos no laughing matter…Popp’s big hairy deal…news snoops in a snit…Miss Manners’ son Stevie…old broadcasters and friends…and green leaves and jujubes at Carnarvon Park…

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and if I want to eat plants I’ll have a salad, not a plant masquerading as a hamburger…

If that was a Grey Cup preview Friday night at Timbits Field in the Hammer, I might opt for a Steve McQueen or Duke Wayne marathon on the final Sunday in November.

Shabby? Like an old hobo’s hair.

Alas, that’s what we get when there’s a neophyte quarterback on one side and a veteran quarterback playing like the neophyte’s understudy on the other.

The Hamilton Tabbies certainly were the superior outfit in the short time Jeremiah Masoli was behind centre during their 23-15 W, but a wonky left knee forced the all-star QB to excuse himself and the Tiger-Cats spent the remainder of the evening in safety-first mode, with tenderfoot Dane Evans barking signals into one of TSN’s live mics. He was meh at best.

If only the game itself had reached that level.

This was (supposedly) the Canadian Football League marquee match, with a pair of first-place outfits grabbing artificial grass and growling. The visiting Winnipeg Blue Bombers arrived in the Hammer sans an L on their registry. A perfect 5-nada. The Tabbies had just one hiccup in five assignments. So, ya, it walked and talked like a Grey Cup dress rehearsal.

Then they kicked off and the large lads forgot how to play.

Matt Nichols

Correction: Matt Nichols forgot how to play.

I keep hearing that football is the ultimate team game, but the Bombers’ first stumble of this crusade is mostly down to QB Nichols, who kept throwing passes he had no business throwing, and three of them landed in the eager and welcoming arms of guys dressed in black and gold.

Had a quarterback more accomplished than Dane Evans been available to make Winnipeg FC pay for Nichols’ (also the kick returners) sins, we might be talking about a rout of biblical levels.

Sadly, Evans’ presence and Masoli’s absence is part of the CFL’s increasingly bleak big-picture story.

Bo Levi Mitchell

Forget that Masoli has the worst QB body since Danny McManus. (Seriously. He looks like Fred Flintstone in shoulder pads.) He gets the job done. He’s elite. But he’s the sixth starter to go down for the count this summer, joining Bo Levi Mitchell, Zach Collaros, Antonio Pipken, Dominique Davis and James Franklin in the repair shop. And it’s only due to extreme good fortune that someone hasn’t put a toe tag on Mike Reilly’s season.

Commissioner Randy Ambrosie spent much of the past winter and spring blah, blah, blahing about a new vision that he likes to call CFL 2.0. What I didn’t know is that CFL 2.0 meant every team would be starting its QB 2.0 before Labour Day.

I mean, by the time the playoffs commence, the body count will be so high that we might be watching Andrew Sheer and Justin Trudeau fling the football in the West Division final instead of Nichols and Trevor Harris.

Can anything be done to halt the QB carnage?

Simoni Lawrence took out Zach Collaros.

Well, quarterbacks are now treated like pricey porcelain figurines, with better protection than Queen Liz. Hostile defenders breath on them at their own peril, and Commish Randy underscored the CFL’s keep-QBs-vertical agenda by ordering Simoni Lawrence to take a two-game respite for the unlawful hit that sent Collaros to a dark room.

Unfortunately, threats of vacations without pay couldn’t have prevented the Masoli owie. It was the result of a freakish play, whereby his left knee caved in during his attempt to escape large, angry men with a different agenda.

So on came neophyte Evans and, with the inept Nichols far off his game, it made for rather dreary theatre with four picks, seven turnovers and not a single play from scrimmage exceeding 27 yards.

I hate to say this because the CFL is my favorite pro sports league, but it’s becoming almost unwatchable.

It doesn’t help, of course, that TSN insists on trying to doll up its broadcasts with that annoying split screen, the voices of natterbugs in the booth competing with live-mic’d players/officials, and cameras that appear to be located in a distant area code. Live mics are boffo for curling and golf, and even baseball, but not so much during a football telecast.

Here’s truth in broadcasting: During the first half of the Calgary Stampeders-Bytown RougeNoir frolic on Thursday night, TSN natterbug Duane Forde described it as “remarkably ugly.” That is remarkably honest. Also remarkably refreshing.

Yoko Ono

Neither of the two skirmishes on the Thursday menu will be included in CFL promo material. On the entertainment scale, they were somewhere between an Adam Sandler movie and the ear-blitzing screeching of a Yoko Ono concert. I mean, three teams—Tranna Argonauts, Calgary and Bytown—had a combined total of one touchdown. In 148 plays from scrimmage. The Argos couldn’t even scrounge up a measly rouge vs. the Eskimos in E-Town. You know how difficult it is to get blanked in the CFL? O.J. Simpson will have an easier time getting through the Pearly Gates. But the bottomless Boatmen managed it. Uh-glee. I suffered through both jousts and, yes, I’d like to have those six hours of my life back, if you don’t mind.

Many of us who dwell in the colonies aren’t opposed to crude jokes and rude laughter when outfits from the Republic of Tranna perform face plants, but there’s nothing funny about the oarless Scullers being oh-fer-2019. The Argos are the boil on the CFL’s butt. On and off the field. Their freshly completed (mis)adventure on the Prairies was a ghastly bit of business, and you know losing three games and being outscored 100-37 won’t win them new admirers. Mind you, they’re still mourning the loss of Kawhi Leonard in The ROT, so it’s unlikely that anyone there noticed. That, too, is sad.

Jim Popp

In the department of ‘what have you done for us lately,’ I present Jim Popp, GM of the Boatmen. Once considered a gridiron guru in three-down circles, it’s become apparent that Popp has a fabulous head of hair and not much else. He failed to find a replacement for Anthony Calvillo in Montreal (the Larks have been paying for it ever since) and he hasn’t found a replacement for Ricky Ray in The ROT. No QB, no hope, no job for Popp if he doesn’t do something about it.

Beastmo Bighill

Prior to the Bombers’ departure to our eastern precincts last week, it was noted that neither Beastmo Bighill or Chris Matthews was made available for chin-wags post-practice on Monday. Not surprisingly, there was harrumphing among news snoops. “This is the CFL,” Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna squawked on Twitter. “Every player should be available to media every day. Doing the opposite is small-time, small-town backwards thinking.” Hmmm. You mean like Kawhi Leonard and the Tranna Jurassics? He spoke less often than a street mime during his one-and-done pit stop in The ROT, yet somehow those pesky jock journos managed to get the job done without Kawhi’s daily pearls of wisdom. Is every player on every team in the National Hockey League available every day? Nope. Problem is, some news snoops have a misguided sense of entitlement and still believe athletes/coaches are at their every beck and call. Doesn’t work that way, kids. Not anymore. So boo freaking hoo. Find someone else to talk to.

The outrageously arrogant Simmons didn’t limit his pompous tsk-tsking to the CFL last week. No sir. He slid into full Grandpa Simpson, fist-shaking mode after Kawhi Leonard was introduced as a member of the L.A. Clippers. “Four people Kawhi had to thank and didn’t,” he tweeted from the fetal position. “1) Masai (Ujiri) 2) Larry Tanenbaum 3) Alex (load management) McKechnie 4) Nick Nurse. He did thank restaurants for giving him free food, though.” Why, shame on Kawhi. I mean, such nerve. How dare he wag his tongue without first conferring with Miss Manners’ son Stevie. I hope all the nominees for Emmy Awards in September realize they must clear their acceptance/thank you speeches through Stevie before approaching the microphone.

Others on the hoops beat in The ROT resisted any urge to play the jilted lover role, offering less of an emotional take on Leonard’s first utterings as a Clipper:
Bruce Arthur,
Toronto Star: “(Kawhi) did it right.”
Leo Rautins, TSN: “(Kawhi was) very thoughtful in his words.”
Tim Micallef, Sportsnet: “I don’t care about any of that stuff. I really don’t. I understand the fans do. I really don’t care about it.”

Brian Williams

So nice to see Brian Williams on TSN’s coverage of the Prince of Wales Stakes last Tuesday. Brian is a lovely man and an exceptional broadcaster. Not many talkers on TV are more polished and, hey, he’s one of us. Which is to say, he drew his first breath in Good Ol’ Hometown.

I hear they had a big adios bash last week for three Globe and Mail sports scribes, including Dave Shoalts. I worked with Shoaltsy in Calgary and I can report that he’s one of the truly good guys in a business full of good guys. He’s also a funny man. Enjoy the rocking chair, Shoaltsy.

A big hi-de-ho to old friend Peter Young. Pete’s ticker gave him a spot of grief not so long ago, but I see the old broadcaster is back on social media and taking aim at Bob Cameron.

Michelle Liu

And, finally, ever since I heard that 12-year-old Michelle Liu had qualified to play with the grown-ups at the CP Women’s Open golf tournament next month in Aurora, Ont., I’ve been trying to remember what I was doing in the summer of 1963, when I was her age. I believe I was building sand castles at Willows Beach in Oak Bay (Victoria). No. Wait. Now I remember. They wouldn’t allow me to play with the 14-year-olds in a baseball tourney at Carnarvon Park (arrived too late for registration), so I sold programs instead and made $5 one day and $3 the next. That bought a kid a lot of green leaves and jujubes back in the day.

Let’s talk about Puck Finn and the Gospel According to Friedge…still no smoking gun…putting a happy face on Neal Pionk…the Blue Bombers Boogie…Speedy B and Lucky…a ring for Punter Bob…on the book shelf…soccer’s diving diva and the Tooth Fairy…Grapes venting his wrath…and bailing out in B.C.

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I prefer mustard and relish with my dog days of summer, thank you…

Oh, boy. Here we go again.

Someone said something about Patrik Laine, someone else tossed that grist into the gossip mill known as Twitter, someone else took it as gospel, and now much of the rabble is convinced that Blake Wheeler, Dustin Byfuglien and Rink Rat Scheifele spent last winter giving Puck Finn wedgies and swirlies.

Where to begin? Well, let’s start with Elliotte Friedman.

Why is everyone smiling except Puck Finn?

The Hockey Night in Canada gab guy got together for a natter with Jeff Marek on Sportsnet’s 31 Thoughts podcast last week and, while gnawing on numerous National Hockey League topics including restricted free agents, Friedman placed his focus on Laine.

Here’s his hot take (it’s 37 minutes into the chin-wag):

“Laine is a whole big discussion, because he’s the one guy who seems to want a short bridge of all these guys,” he said. “And he didn’t leave happy last year. Some of that was his own fault. He wasn’t as good as he could be, and I think he chafed under some of the leadership there. Like, the guys at the top of that food chain are hard-driving guys. They expect you to buy into the program, and I think that they felt he didn’t buy in enough, and I think he felt that some of the things they wanted were ridiculous. So you gotta bridge that, too.”

Friedman, of course, is what’s known in his trade as an “insider.” You know, someone who delivers the skinny to those of us who don’t have Gary Bettman’s private number on speed dial. Many among the rabble buy into that “insider” business and swallow the Gospel According to Friedge, hook, line and innuendo. Thus he has rink cred.

Well, let me say this about that: There’s a whole lot of “I think” in what Friedge said re Laine.

Friedman thinks the Winnipeg Jets winger wants a bridge deal.

Friedman thinks the big dogs in the changing room used poor Patty for a chew toy.

Friedman thinks the bullying ruffled Puck Finn’s feathers.

Puck Finn and Blake Wheeler.

In other words, Friedman is spitballing. Guessing, if you will. He quotes no source. He doesn’t even mention an anonymous source. He doesn’t say he talked to someone who talked to someone who talked to the cleaning staff in the Jets’ inner sanctum. No credible source told Friedman that Puck Finn left in a huff after les Jets’ premature ouster from the spring Stanley Cup runoff.

If Friedman had concrete insider intel on Puck Finn and les Jets, he would have prefaced his comments with “a source told me” or “I talked to so-and-so” and “this is what happened.” He would have provided anecdotal evidence, while protecting his source(s).

Instead, it was “I think, I think, I think” and “it seems.”

Well, here’s what I “think:” It seems that Friedman should know better than to spew groundless gossip that leads to galloping speculation.

If you’ve got the goods, Friedge, by all means let ‘er rip. If not, clam up until you do.

Ben Chiarot

Let’s suppose, for the sake of discussion, what Friedman said is true. He does, after all, have “insider” chops. But ask yourself this: Why hasn’t he, or anyone else (hello, Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab) produced a smoking gun? You’d think someone would have let the kitty out of the burlap by now? Like one of the players who’ve skated out of Dodge. Nope. Jacob Trouba left les Jets with nary a discouraging word. Ditto Tyler Myers, Brandon Tanev and Ben Chiarot. Matt Hendricks, reclaimed to join the leadership group at the shop-and-swap deadline in February and now retired, had this to say at trail’s end: “The room was as strong as when I left (in 2018), without a doubt.” Did they all sign a non-disclosure agreement before parting? Or is there nothing to talk about?

Neal Pionk

Got a kick out of Mad Mike’s attempt to put a fancy face on the trade that sent Jets top-pair defender Trouba to Gotham in barter for Neal Pionk. The Drab Slab scribe tells us that Pionk’s “got size.” As in big. As if. Big Buff has larger late-night snacks. Only scrawny Sami Niku is smaller among les Jets blueliners. Meanwhile, Mad Mike adds this: “Trouba and his agent Kurt Overhardt are said to have given the Jets an extremely small list of teams he’d be willing to sign a long-term extension with, the Rangers being one of them. That means very limited options.” That’s totally bogus. According to CapFriendly, there’s never been a no-movement or no-trade clause in a Trouba contract. GM Kevin Cheveldayoff’s hands were not tied. He could have shipped Trouba anywhere at any time. Chevy made a lousy trade. Period.

Milt Stegall

Yes, now that you mention it, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers did boffo business in their 48-21 paddywhacking of the Tranna Argos on Friday night at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry, and only a Debbie Downer would pounce on the notion that “it was only the bottomless Boatmen” that they whupped. Sure the Argos are the free space on the Canadian Football League bingo card (one corny cliché allowed per essay, kids), and sure the Argos bring a handful of confetti to a knife fight (okay, make that two horrid clichés per essay), and sure the large lads in blue and gold seemed to lose interest in the second half, but let there be no picking of nits. Winnipeg FC is doing the Blue Bombers Boogie. They’re 4-nada. Best start since Milt Stegall was playing catch with Khari Jones. That is all. For now.

After observing Lucky Whitehead skedaddle 104 yards for a touchdown on the opening kickoff v. Tranna, the aforementioned Mad Mike McIntyre described the Bombers giddyup-and-go guy as “the most exciting player in the league.” I’d be inclined to agree with Mad Mike, except there’s that Speedy B guy in the Hammer who always seems to have something to say about it. Like on Saturday night, when he scored three TDs, including a 115-yard scamper on a wayward field goal attempt. On the Excite-O-Metre, I still like Speedy B.

Readers have told Pencil Neck Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun that Bob Cameron, a punter, should be the next player added to the Winnipeg FC Ring of Honour. All those in favor, say aye. “Aye!”

Punter Bob was a beauty. Always enjoyed talking to him. His longtime kicking partner, Troy Westwood, once told me a story about the Bombers’ two boot boys driving to practice one day in the mid-1990s. They had stopped for a red light, with Cameron behind the wheel and covered in drywall dust from his latest home reno project. He suddenly became very pensive and silent, slipping into a trance-like state as if searching for the meaning of life.

“Man,” he finally said, “I can’t believe the 1970s are over.”

Like I said, the guy’s a beauty.

Former Major League Baseball hurler and author Jim Bouton died last week, and it brought to mind his terrific book, Ball Four. Bouton’s tell-all tale tore the cover off America’s national pastime, with yarns of womanizing and boozing and drug abuse and naming names (hello, Mickey Mantle). It isn’t my favorite sports book, though. The Dodgers were still in Brooklyn when I first took a notion that baseball was the most beautiful of all games, so nothing can top The Boys of Summer for moi. These are my Fab Five sports books:
1. The Boys of Summer—Roger Kahn
2. I Am Third—Gale Sayers
3. Instant Replay—Jerry Kramer
4. Ball Four—Jim Bouton
5. The Bronx Zoo—Sparky Lyle

No surprise that the U.S. National women’s soccer side was anointed team of the year at the ESPY Awards gala the other night. The Yankee Doodle Damsels’ triumphant crusade at the World Cup in France was still fresh in most minds and, really, everyone not named Donald Trump probably agreed with the choice. And, sure, give American striker Alex Morgan the nod as Best Female Athlete while you’re at it. I was only surprised that Morgan made it from her seat to the stage—twice!—without taking a dive.

Ryan O’Reilly

Best performance in delivering an ESPY acceptance speech had to be Ryan O’Reilly. The good Canadian boy yanked out one of his front teeth before thanking an assortment of folks for the St. Louis Blues’ nod as Best Comeback story. The Tooth Fairy was so impressed, she awarded O’Reilly a pack of Polygrip and a dentist to be named later.

Still mourning the adios of Kawhi Leonard from the Tranna Jurassics to the L.A. Clippers? No need for long faces according to team mucky-muck Masai Ujiri. “Don’t lose one day of sleep, one second of sleep,” he says. I hope Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna got the memo. He’s been typing from the fetal position ever since news of Kawhi’s departure dropped.

Don Cherry

Speaking of Simmons, he rattled Don Cherry’s cage with a throw-away comment in his Sunday collection of odds and sods (read: hot takes). “One thing that hasn’t been confirmed for the next season of Hockey Night in Canada: the return of Don Cherry and Coach’s Corner,” he wrote. “Rogers is cutting all over the place, which included the removal of Bob McCown on radio and television and Doug MacLean doing the same. Cherry is handsomely compensated for his work. Not sure if this is a place they want to go with the 85-year-old.” To which Grapes responded: “I was told a week after the playoffs I would be back. The question I ask is this…why didn’t my friend Steve phone me and ask.” Curiously, Simmons’ weekly hot-takes column has been put on hold. Hmmm. Coincidence? Punishment? The plot thickens. But, hey, I don’t want to be starting any rumors. I’ll leave that up to “insiders” like Friedge.

And, finally, you’re David Braley, bankroll of the B.C. Lions. You’ve committed $2.9 million dollars to a quarterback who’s 1-4 this CFL crusade. Your head count at B.C. Place Stadium is down 4,639 from a year ago. What’s your next move? I imagine crying “Uncle!” seems like a reasonable option right about now.

Let’s talk about Megan Rapinoe and the gay Yankee Doodle Damsels…turn down the volume, Kate…a death watch in The ROT?…the rouge…Mike Reilly’s panic attacks…Kawhi and Shane, please don’t go…and les Habs by the numbers

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and the best female soccer player in the world is a lesbian…imagine that…

A lot of people don’t like Megan Rapinoe because she’s loud, proud and gay.

I like her because she’s loud proud and gay.

It isn’t easy being part of the LGBTQ(etc.) alphabet. Yes, even in 2019. Too many among the rabble still believe being gay is sinful and unnatural and as wholly contemptible as child porn, and it makes them blanch and climb atop soap boxes to hurl fire-and-brimstone condemnations and dire warnings of an eternal inferno.

Which means the spectacle that was Rapinoe in France likely had the homophobes choking on their Cheerios.

The purple-haired U.S.A. co-captain became the face of women’s soccer during the 31 days of the World Cup, in part because she kept hoofing balls into the back of the net (six of them), but also because she kept getting in everyone’s face. Sometimes intentionally, other times not so much.

Donald Trump, for example, tried to pick a fight with her on Twitter.

“Megan should never disrespect our Country, the White House, or our Flag,” the Bully-in-Chief harrumphed.

Megan Rapinoe

Piffle. As if a scornful tsk-tsking from the resident in the big, white house on Pennsylvania Avenue would convince her to sing along and place a hand over her heart during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner. In your face, el presidente. Megan remained mute, hands clasped behind her back, in silent/loud protest against social injustice in America. Besides, she had another use for her hands—to reach out and collect trinkets.

Give that girl the Golden Boot.

And the Golden Ball.

And the Women’s World Cup Trophy.

Rapinoe won them all in France. Top goal-scorer. Top player. Top of the world.

She scored five times in knockout tests, including the only goal the Yankee Doodle Damsels required in a 2-nil dispatching of a game-yet-overmatched Netherlands side in Sunday’s final, and along the way Piers Morgan made note of Megan’s “stupendous ego” and called her “smug, arrogant, entitled and annoying.” The British broadcasting blabbermouth and confirmed Trumpite was just warming up. “I don’t like footballers being extreme activists. Just play football. Seriously…nobody wants to hear it,” is how the second verse went.

Well, he certainly didn’t want to hear Megan say, “Go gays. You can’t win a championship without gays on your team. It’s never been done before.”

Yes you can,” Morgan begged to differ on Twitter. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here, Ms Rapinoe…football competence isn’t linked to sexuality.”

No, but that might have been the ultimate “in your face.”

Sue Bird and Megan Rapinoe.

Rapinoe, you see, isn’t the only out lesbian among these Yankee Doodle Damsels. Jill Ellis, the coach, is married to Betsy Stephenson and they have a daughter, Lily. Five other playersTierna Davidson, Adrianna Franch, Ashlyn Harris, Ali Krieger and Kelley O’Hara—are out gays. Harris and Krieger are engaged and will exchange vows later this year. After the final, O’Hara sought her girlfriend and they exchanged a kiss at the edge of the stands at Parc Olympique Lyonnais. Ditto Rapinoe and girlfriend Sue Bird.

Oh, and five of the conquered Dutch are lesbians.

So, ya, if Megan Rapinoe tells me no women’s side has ever won the World Cup without lesbians on the pitch, I’ll take her word for it and Piers Morgan can talk to the hand.

Kelley O’Hara and girlfriend.

Should any of that matter? No, it shouldn’t. But it does matter—and will continue to matter—as long as those under the LGBTQ(etc.) banner are discriminated against due only to their choice of romantic/sexual partners and are considered lesser-thans.

Megan Rapinoe is no lesser-than. She might not be your cup of tea. Too brash. Too cocky. Too arrogant. To full of herself. Too defiant. Too aggressive. Too political. Too gay.

Fine. But she’s also almost too good to be true for a community still struggling for acceptance. The most visible, most talked-about footballer on the planet today is an out lesbian. Imagine that.

As Megan said after a quarterfinal victory over the French: Go gays!

Best quote, by far, during the post-match revelry was delivered by play-by-play broadcaster Steve Wilson, who, upon seeing Rapinoe greeted warmly by French leader Emmanuel Macron, said: “There is a president she’s happy to meet.”

Kate Beirness, Clare Rustad, Kaylyn Kyle and Diana Matheson.

I didn’t think anyone on TV could talk louder than James Corden, the late-night gab guy who’s forever yelling, but Kate Beirness makes him sound like a street mime. Host of TSN’s excellent all-female soccer panel featuring Clare Rustad, Kaylyn Kyle and Diana Matheson, Kate’s high-volume delivery is an assault on the ear drums and the sole negative note struck during coverage. Tone it down, girl. We get it. It’s a big event.

BMO Field

So this is how bad it’s gotten for the Argonauts and the Canadian Football League in the Republic of Tranna: They refuse to reveal the head count at BMO Field. The best I could dig up for the Boatmen’s skirmish vs. B.C. Lions on Saturday night was “sparse.” That could mean 10,000 or fewer fans. It could mean between 10,000 and 12,000. Whatever, given the shockingly low quality of play it’s safe to assume that much of the “sparse” audience won’t be back for more on Aug. 1, when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers trot into town. If, that is, the Argos are still in business.

What does a sportswriter call it when he’s assigned to work an Argos home game? The graveyard shift. Seriously, that’s a death watch.

The Argos-Lions joust ended on a rouge. I love the rouge. It’s as Canadian as a Gordon Lightfoot concert, a Pierre Berton book, or the Littlest Hobo eating poutine. But I don’t like it on a wayward field goal attempt. Rewarding failure is just wrong.

Mike Reilly

Bravo to Mike Reilly, the Lions quarterback who’s stepped forward to discuss his battle with mental health issues. It’s a powerful, enlightening story that, hopefully, will help others gripped by anxiety and panic attacks, and Reilly isn’t shy about sharing the gory details.

“It hit me as soon as my head hit the pillow,” he tells Chris O’Leary of his first panic attack. “The only way I can describe it is a full-blown panic attack.

“I can’t even say that my heart was racing. It was like it was trying to beat its way out of my chest. It was racing faster than I’d ever felt before. It felt like everything was kind of closing in around me. I couldn’t breathe. I honestly in that moment thought I was going to die. It was the scariest thing I’ve ever felt in my entire life.

“I felt frozen, like I was stuck in my bed. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t do anything and I thought that was going to be it. I thought I was going to die.

“Emily (his wife) came in from the bathroom and I remember thinking, ‘I don’t know what caused that, I’m still feeling the effects of it and I don’t want to close my eyes. If it happens again I’m going to die.’ I remember telling her, ‘Let’s turn the TV on and let’s pick a show and just watch it.’ I remember thinking, ‘I just don’t want to lay back down. If I lay back down and close my eyes, I will die right there.’”

Been there, felt that and I don’t wish it on anyone.

So, Kawhi Leonard is taking his ball and going home, and the mourning continues in The ROT, where no one—not even the impossible groupie Drake—is feeling it more than Steve Simmons, the Postmedia columnist who long ago showed signs of a serious man-crush on the hoopster.

It began with an open love letter: “I’m writing this with the hope you’ll consider remaining with the Raptors after this season, making Toronto your basketball home, because in many ways, it makes sense—for you, for the city, for the basketball team, for Canada.”

Shane, come back…and bring Kawhi with you.

Later, there was this: “If this is it for Kawhi Leonard, one season of mystery, magic and memories in Toronto, one year and one unexpected and exhilarating NBA championship, then, really, all you can say is thanks. Thanks and you’ll never be forgotten.”

And the latest: “You can’t dislike anything about what Leonard brought in one calendar year to the Raptors and to basketball across this country. We will be walking on air, living with this, celebrating the championship, for years. Maybe out whole lives.”

Oh, my. Walking on air our whole lives. We haven’t read or heard that much melodrama since teary-eyed little Joey Starrett begged his hero not to go in the final scene of the western classic Shane. “We want you Shane, Shaaaaane!…Come back! And bring Kawhi with you!”

Minnesota Whitecaps have signed just seven players for the 2019-20 National Women’s Hockey League crusade, but season tickets are already available for, get this, $420 (between the bluelines), $315 (inside the bluelines) and $210 (standing room). That’s for 12 games and it breaks down to $35, $26.25 and $17.50 per. I’m a fan of female shinny, but 35 bucks a pop is excessive. Actually, it’s crazy. Or maybe not. The Whitecaps sold out every date at the 1,200-seat TRIA Rink last season and, with those non-refundable sticker prices, it’s little wonder they were the first NWHL outfit to show a profit.

And, finally, terrific Montreal Canadiens story from longtime shinny scribe Dave Stubbs: “Roman Hamrlik asked for No. 4, his Calgary number, when he signed in 2007,” Stubbs tweeted. “Equipment mgr Pierre Gervais: ‘I’ll give you Mr. Béliveau’s phone number. If he agrees, I’ll give you a long ladder and you can take down his banner.’ Hamrlik opted for 44.”