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.

About the Winnipeg Jets being built on free agents…the ice fishing is great, right Big Buff?…Richie’s a Hall of a coach this week…pigging out in the (hot) dog days of summer…media friendly Vic Peters…Caroline Cameron gives Tim & Sid a fresh voice and look…those wacky Wimbledon women…don’t diss Ronaldo…and a sports scribe who preaches one thing but writes about another

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Welcome to Winnipeg, armpit of the National Hockey League.

Well, okay, that’s not exactly how shinny scribes Scott Burnside and Sean McIndoe worded it when Paul Stastny chose Glitter Gulch over Good Ol’ Hometown, but that was the sentiment of each pundit’s analysis—River City sucks. Still. Otherwise Stastny wouldn’t have vamoosed from the Winnipeg Jets to the Vegas Golden Knights scant seconds after the NHL opened its grab bag of free agents a week ago this very morning.

Here’s Burnside of The Athletic:

“While he did choose to waive his no-trade clause to go to the Jets at the trade deadline, Stastny’s departure as an unrestricted free agent merely reinforces the idea that, as good as the Jets are—and they are really good—they still aren’t at the stage where they are a destination for free agents. Not yet at least.”

Here’s McIndoe of Sportsnet:

“They were a darn good team before Stastny arrived, and they’ll be a good one with him gone. But seeing a top UFA walk away will reinforce the old idea that the Jets are at a disadvantage when it comes to attracting top players.”

Paul Stastny

Both scribes stopped short of stereotypical jabs about the dark, the cold, the crappy WiFi, the pothole-to-person ratio, and summer skeeters the size of a Zamboni in River City, but the gist of their analysis is unmistakable, and this Winnipeg-as-NHL armpit narrative is oh so dog-eared. Also wearisome.

I mean, I’d buy it if Stastny had gone on record saying he defected to Sin City because “Winnipeg is a garbage dump with a lousy zoo and an ugly museum.” But no.

“In the end,” the 32-year-old centre-ice man told the Las Vegas Sun, “sometimes you just have to go with your gut feeling. Sometimes it’s just one of those things that is the best fit, hockey-wise, family-wise and everything in between.”

Doesn’t sound damning to me.

Yet those of the Burnside/McIndoe ilk trot out the woe-is-Winnipeg refrain every time someone gives Good Ol’ Hometown the cold shoulder, mainly because it’s a convenient and lazy plot line that plays to the ill-informed among the rabble and, at the same time, ignores history. Yes, history.

Benny Hatskin and Bobby Hull on a happy day in Winnipeg.

Go ahead, kids. Name the most significant free-agent signing—ever—in professional hockey. That’s right, the name is Hull, Bobby Hull. And where did that game-shaping event take place? At the intersection of Portage Avenue and Main Street, where a flock of thousands gathered to witness Robert Marvin Hull, fresh off his fifth 50-goal season for the Chicago Blackhawks, scrawl his John Hancock on a Winnipeg Jets contract on June 27, 1972. This was the NHL’s glam guy, choosing Pegtown over Chitown. The sport and salaries were forever altered by one free-agent signing.

More to the point, the very foundation of the Winnipeg Jets was built exclusively on free agents, guys who willingly came to River City to form the World Hockey Association’s flagship franchise.

Ab Mcdonald, Joe Daley, Sudsy Sutherland, Ernie Wakely and others from the ‘hood came home from hither and yon to wear Jets linen. Anders Hedberg chose Winnipeg over Toronto. Kent Nilsson chose Winnipeg over Toronto and Atlanta. Willy Lindstrom could have played anywhere in North America. He chose Winnipeg. Ulf Nilsson and Lars-Erik Sjoberg chose Winnipeg. Peter Sullivan chose Winnipeg. Etcetera, etcetera and blah, blah, blah.

So enough of the tired, old refrain about Pegtown being a shinny leper colony.

Big Buff

Are there guys who’d rather not play in River City? Absolutely. We’re told Good Ol’ Hometown makes most no-trade lists. Just ask Ilya Bryzgalov. But, hey, John Tavares rejected 30 cities just last week, so it’s not like Winnipeg is unique. Look, players talk about three main things when wrestling with free-agency options: 1) Money; 2) the opportunity to win; 3) location. Well, Ben Hatskin wasn’t paying Hull $2.7 million in Monopoly or Canadian Tire money in 1972, and David Thomson and Mark Chipman aren’t paying Dustin Byfuglien $7.6 million per annum in food stamps with the present-day Jets. Competitively, les Jets were a final four team in this past spring’s Stanley Cup runoff. As for location, the ice fishing is boffo, thank you. Just ask Big Buff. So what’s not to like?

Just wondering: Are we still calling for Richie Hall’s head to roll? Probably not. Hall is the much-maligned man tasked with mapping out strategy for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive dozen, whose deficiencies were exposed like a porn star’s privates in two of their first three skirmishes this Canadian Football League crusade. Then along came the B.C. Lions with a benign offence designed to heal whatever ails a wonky defence. So I assume Winnipeg FC’s 41-19 victory over the Leos on Saturday evening at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry means it’s safe for Hall to go grocery shopping and pump his own gas this week. Just to be safe, though, he should have Adam Bighill tag along.

Joey Chestnut

Here’s something to chew on: Joey Chestnut celebrated the dog days of summer by successfully defending his Nathan’s hot dog eating title, scarfing down 74 tube steaks in 10 minutes. It’s believed that no one has ever gone through that many dogs. Except the Edmonton Oilers, of course.

Richard Deitsch of The Athletic asked this question of jock journos on Twitter: “Who is the most media-friendly athlete you have dealt with?” For me, that’s a no-brainer: The late Vic Peters, with about 100 other curlers tied in second. Vic, in the grand scheme of jockdom, was a smooth-edged gem on a beach full of sharp stones. A most obliging, engaging man, he had time for us all. Always.

Sid Seixeiro and Caroline Cameron

Loved the new look and sound on the Tim & Sid show last week. Unfortunately, it’s only temporary. Caroline Cameron has been sitting in for the vacationing Sid Seixeiro on the Sportsnet gabfest, and they’re as different as a pit bull and a kitten. I mean, Sid’s shtick is to talk tough. He dresses the part, too. He looks like he belongs on the set of a gangster movie, skulking around with Luca Brasi and nervously glancing over his shoulder to see if Eliot Ness is on his tail. He wears his sneer on his sleeve. He’s prone to prop humor and theatrical orations that would earn him a failing grade in a high school drama class, and his rants are usually about as sincere as a Neymar dive-writhe-and-roll. Caroline, on the other hand…we’re talking Mary Richards from the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Polished, professional, knowledgeable, smiling, impeccable, pretty, a girl making her way and succeeding in a guy’s world. A lot of viewers (read: guys) pooh-pooh women on sports talk TV as empty heads. Well, Caroline Cameron is compelling evidence that there should be more female voices in the jock gab game. She’s very good.

Yes, now that you mention it, the goings-on in London are very strange, most notably on the women’s side of Wimbledon. They’re spitting out seeds like it’s a baseball dugout. Gone are nine of the top 10 seeds and 25 of 32 overall. Wimbledon has never seen such carnage. Serena Williams will have to break both legs and carry her baby on her back to lose this tournament. Even at that, she could probably win the thing and claim her 24th tennis Grand Slam title on crutches.

Ronaldo and Messi

A lot of British accents on our flatscreens during the World Cup, one of them belonging to Danny Dichio, former forward in the English Premier League. Sportsnet trotted him out as an analyst during the group stage of the event, and he had this exchange with Jesse Fuchs…

Fuchs: “People love to compare Lionel Messi and Christiano Ronaldo…Messi missed a penalty earlier in the tournament, now so has Ronaldo. And it ends up costly, as Portugal are held to a draw. Is it fair at all to criticize CR7?”

Dichio: “No. Not at all fair.”

So, let’s see if I’ve got this straight: The president of the United States, the Pope, Queen Liz, the Beatles, any journalist you care to name, and Jesus Christ himself are fair game for a roasting when they cough up a hairball, but Ronaldo, a guy who’s supposedly god’s gift to soccer, is untouchable when he gags on a shot from the 12-yard spot? As if. Dichio gets a red card for being a nincompoop.

Kaitlyn Lawes and Jennifer Jones

And, finally, based on his scribblings over the years, it’s apparent that Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press does not harbour a healthy fondness for professional athletes. He often writes of them with resentment, contempt and scorn, painting them with one broad brush stroke—they’re all money-grubbing elitists who look down on the rabble from their perch of privilege.

“A tiny cadre of coddled millionaires,” is how he described the Jets players in one of his tamer remarks.

Therefore it wasn’t out of character that he assailed play-for-pay jocks—defrocked Jets goaltender Steve Mason in particular—while making the case that the amateur athletes in our great nation are underfunded by the feds and underappreciated by the unwashed masses.

“Such is the deification that we accord professional hockey players in this country that we think nothing of paying the washouts millions not to play, while at the same time throwing chump change at our amateur athletes and then scolding them if they dare return home without Olympic medals every four years when we remember again that they exist,” he writes.

He calls financial support for our top amateurs “laughable” and “a complete joke.”

Mike O’Shea

Actually, the joke is a sports columnist prattling on about underfunding and underappreciation for amateurs when 95 per cent of his yearly material is devoted to his personal hot-button issues like Jacob Trouba’s attitude, Mike O’Shea’s “goofy” short pants, and Mark Chipman’s past life as a used-car salesman. His own newspaper treats amateur athletes like they have the cooties. Unless, of course, they’re holding a curling rock in one hand and a broom or sliding apparatus in the other. Kaitlyn Lawes, Jennifer Jones, Mike McEwen, Reid Carruthers and other pebble people get the jock star treatment from the Freep. The rest? Basically bupkus.

Here’s the professional/amateur story scorecard from the past seven editions of the Drab Slab: 140-13. Granted, seven days of sports sections is a small sample size, but just 8.5 per cent of all articles was devoted to amateurs.

In that same seven-paper time frame, Wiecek wrote three columns: his apples-to-oranges argument about amateur funding vs. greedy professional jocks getting too much coin for not enough work; the Blue Bombers lousy defence and firing lousy coaches O’Shea and Hall; and, once again, greedy pro athletes.

What’s that you say? Some sports scribes must be overpaid, underworked and coddled, too? Who knew?

About the Winnipeg Jets dominating the Edmonton Oilers…Wayne Gretzky stinking for not stinking…a lady in red…Queen Liz…Suitcase Smith…what big ears you have Kris King…and fine writing

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

shoe
Once upon a time, the Winnipeg Jets beat the Edmonton Oilers in the playoffs.

Okay, as Howie Meeker was given to squawk when he was a Hockey Night in Canada blabber mouth, “Stop it right there! Back it up!”

I’ve heard quite enough blah, blah, blah and yadda, yadda, yadda about how often the Edmonton Oilers repeatedly put a good and proper paddywhacking on the Winnipeg Jets back in the day. I mean, I get it already. The Copper and Blue beat the Jets like a rented mule. In the National Hockey League. In the 1980s.

But what? The World Hockey Association never happened? Whose mule was being mauled then?

Let the record show that the Jets made a habit of stealing the Oilers’ lunch money in the WHA, holding a substantial 41-31-3 advantage in regular-season skirmishing and twice ousting them en route to two of their three successful Avco World Trophy crusades. The Jets whupped the Oilers 4-zip in a 1976 quarterfinal argument, and 4-2 in the ’79 WHA championship series. Final WHA score: Jets 49, Oilers 33.

Oh, and let’s not forget the WHA title tally: Jets 3 (five finals), Oilers nil (one final).

So there.

A vintage Wayne Gretzky, with Andrew McBain in slow pursuit.
A vintage Wayne Gretzky, with Andrew McBain in slow pursuit.

Yo! Wayne Gretzky! You’re right. You stink, man. But you don’t stink because you went without a point in Saturday’s slo-mo Alumni Game between your vintage Oilers and the vintage Jets, who ruled the day, 6-5. You stink because you didn’t stink like that 30 years ago.

Someone who didn’t stink back in the day and still doesn’t stink is Jennifer Hanson, noted singer of O Canada and wearer of skimpy, red dresses. That was a nice touch to bring Jennifer in to deliver a rousing rendition of the national anthem for the 31,317 folks who attended the Geritol Generation Game.

Okay, the vintage game wasn’t a sellout. Big deal. I don’t want to hear anyone say approximately 1,700 unoccupied seats at the Facility Formerly Known As Football Follies Field in Fort Garry makes River City a second-rate hockey town. It’s a great hockey town. One of the best in Canada or anywhere else that people skate on frozen ponds.

queen-liz2Seeing that ginormous portrait of Queen Liz displayed on the outside wall of The Pint pub last week brought to mind a vintage quote from vintage Jet winger Morris Lukowich. “Terry Ruskowski was on our team,” Luke once told now-departed Ottawa Sun scribe Earl McRae. “He married a former Miss America. She and my wife were together in the stands for a game. She looked up at the big picture of the Queen and said to my wife, ‘That lady, does she own the Arena?’ ”

Lukowich and Ruskowski, of course, were significant contributors on my favorite Jets outfit, the 1979 champions who toppled Gretzky and the Oilers to claim the final WHA title. Also central to that success was nomadic netminder Gary (Suitcase) Smith, whose late-season arrival coincided with the return of captain Lars-Erik Sjoberg from the repair shop. “(Smith) came walking into the locker room,” Ruskowski recalled a few years back. “He was pretty much overweight. He sat down and he said, ‘Half you guys don’t know me, but my name is Gary The Ax Smith because I’ve been on around 15 teams in the past two years. My goals-against is about 5.33 and I won one game and lost 13. But don’t let that fool you…I’m not that good.”

What would Little Red Riding Hood say to vintage Jet Kris King? “My, what big ears you have.” Apparently, it isn’t just King’s ears that have grown. The former grinder also has developed a nose for the net, scoring twice in the Geritol Generation Game. Skating alongside Teemu Selanne and Dale Hawerchuk helps, of course. I do believe those two could turn Jimmy Mann into a goal scorer. On second thought, probably not.

Some good scribbling from local scribes in advance of the old coots game. Randy Turner of the Winnipeg Free Press served up two terrific pieces, one about Bobby Hull attempting to woo Gretzky to the Jets, and the other revisiting the night Dave Ellett’s double-OT goal slayed the Oilers in Game 4 of their 1990 Stanley Cup playoff series. The staying power of the Ellett goal mystifies me, though. I mean, in the grand scheme of things, it was meaningless. The Oilers won the ensuing three games, the series and the Stanley Cup.

Apparently, Bobby Hull missed quite a party by not attending this week’s Heritage Classic hijinx in good, ol’ Hometown. But did the party miss the Golden Jet? Apparently not. Too bad, so sad.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.