Let’s talk about Pebble People getting a raw deal…McDavid, Draisaitl and who are those other guys?…dirty rotten scoundrels…no room in Cooperstown for cheats and Schilling…the Babe, booze and babes…Ponytail Puck…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and in honor of Groundhog Day, I’ll pop my head out of the ground on Tuesday and let you know if there’ll be six more weeks of bad blogging…

Kerri Einarson, Val Sweeting, Briane Meilleur, Shannon Birchard (clockwise from top left) from Gimli are the defending Scotties Tournament of Hearts champions.

So let me see if I’ve got this straight:

National Hockey League players traipse willy-nilly across the COVID-infected tundra, and they’re granted a quarantine exemption from Manitoba’s top docs and politicos. Meanwhile, our curlers plan to shelter themselves in a Calgary bubble for the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, the Brier and the mixed nationals, yet they’re told they must go into isolation for the full 14 days once they return home from two weeks of hijinks in February/March. No quarantine exemption for you!

This is fair how?

Oh, wait. Silly me. I forgot that the millionaire hockey players provide an “essential” service (as if the Ottawa Senators are “essential” to anyone), while bunking down in five-star hotels and being whisked about in charter or private aircraft. The curlers? Apparently, hurrying hard is not an “essential” service. Pebble People are just everyday working stiffs blessed with good draw weight, so it doesn’t matter that they might have to carpool their way to and from Calgary. Or that they might be out of pocket if away from the salt mines for an additional 14 days. It only matters that the millionaire hockey players are happy.

That is so wrong.

Hey, I’ve never thought of hockey players as coddled and pampered. They have a special skill that means they take in rarified oxygen, but the same has to be said of our curlers, who are among the best on the planet. And Pebble People are the salt of the earth.

If hockey players deserve a quarantine concession, the curlers do too.

Quick thought on the Winnipeg Jets: Evander Kane has an oversized personality. Gone. Patrik Laine has an oversized personality. Gone. Dustin Byfuglien has an oversized personality. Gone. What are we to make of that?

We need to discuss the Edmonton Oilers, because they annoy me. The Oilers are Jesse James, Billy the Kid and 18 guys with water pistols. Seriously, they have more no-names than the Witness Protection Program. I watch the Oilers play and, 60 minutes later, it’s like Butch and Sundance: “Who are those guys?” They’re as memorable as the second man to leave a footprint on the moon. You know, Ol’ What’shisname.

That bothers me.

It shouldn’t, of course, because the Oilers became the Evil Empire in Good Ol’ Hometown during the 1980s, when they made paddywhacking the Jets a spring ritual during their Stanley Cup binge. It’s been a pox on the E-Town house ever since. But I can’t help it. I want Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl to succeed. So sue me.

I just don’t think the Oilers should stink. Just like the Montreal Canadiens, Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, New York Yankees and Green Bay Packers should never stink. It’s okay to root, root, root against any or all of those storied franchises, but you shouldn’t want them to stink.

Oh, I know, many among the rabble in Good Ol’ Hometown can’t get past that 1980s thing, and they’re probably still sticking pins in their old Slats Sather, Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier voodoo dolls.

Well, hocus-pocus rituals aren’t necessary these days. The Oilers stink on their own merit.

Yes, I realize they managed to muster up a victory on Saturday night, nudging the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3 in OT, but they’re 4-6 and that’s no way to behave when your lineup features McDavid and Draisaitl.

Fashion note: Those reverse retro unis that the Oilers wore on Saturday night looked like poorly designed Orange Crush bottles, and the Leafs’ threads were absolutely ghastly. Seriously. Dark blue numbers on dark blue sweaters? The ghost of Humpty Harold Ballard lives on.

The Tkachuk boys, Brady, top, and Matthew.

Random observations two weeks into the 2021 NHL crusade: There’s a very good reason why so many players in the Hoser Division are at or near the top of the NHL scoring table: Nobody plays defence. There are no big, ugly, nasty teams that lean on you, just a bunch of fly boys. That works now, but not so much once they’re down to the final four in Beard Season and the Canadian survivor is required to deal with big bodies that try to slow them down…You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t join the chorus and rave about the entertainment level of COVID hockey. Much of the activity I’ve seen has been, to borrow a Danny Gallivanism, “as shabby as an old hobo’s coat.”…The Tkachuk brothers are soooo smarmy. Both Matthew and Brady are more irritating than a bad case of fanny fungus. They’re the dirty, rotten scoundrels who like to sit at the back of the class and fire spitballs at the nerds. They probably stole enough lunch money to prop up a third-world country. But, yes, I’d take either one of them on my team…The Ottawa Senators are an embarrassment best kept off prime time TV…It’s obvious the Hoser Division playoff positions will come down to this: The two teams that piddle away the most points v. the Senators will be on the outside looking in. That means the next week is pivotal to the Oilers’ post-season aspirations. They’ll be fed a steady diet of the Sens, meeting them four times…Yes, I still think a Hoser Division is a boffo idea, but I’m not sold on the baseball-style schedule. I understand the reasoning behind it, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it…Hands up anyone who knows what teams are leading the other three divisions. Actually, hands up anyone who can name the other three divisions…I was wrong about the Montreal Canadiens. They look legit. I was wrong about the Senators. I thought youthful enthusiasm would serve them well. I was right about the Calgary Flames. Their win over the Habs on Saturday notwithstanding, the Flames are a false bill of goods, and will continue to be as long as they have Milan Lucic dragging his knuckles up and down the freeze…Shouldn’t Sportsnet lift their regional blackouts and give us the full menu each night in this special season? If it’s all the same to them, I’d much rather watch the Jets-Habs than Canucks-Senators.

Part of Curt Schilling’s Nazi memorabilia.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame will go 0-for-2021, with no players receiving the required 75 per cent of the vote for enshrinement to Cooperstown, and that means “integrity, sportsmanship, character” won out over stats. Noted steroids cheats Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens struck out in this year’s balloting, as did Curt Schilling, who collects Nazi SS memorabilia and isn’t fond of anyone unless they wear a MAGA hat and attend Toby Keith concerts. It’s the ninth time Schilling has been snubbed by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, and now he wants his name erased from the ballot. “I’ll defer to the veterans committee and men whose opinions actually matter and who are in a position to actually judge a player,” he wrote in a self-indulgent, 1,200-word whinge on Facebook. He also labeled Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy a “morally decrepit” man, and accused scribes of lining up to “destroy my character.” I don’t know about that. Seems to me Schilling has assassinated his own character on social media, with transphobic tweets, a posting that suggested lynching journalists is “so much awesome,” calling Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones a liar for accusing fans at Fenway Park in Boston of dropping N-bombs in his direction, and giving thumbs up to the recent riot at the U.S. Capitol. Bottom line on Schilling’s NBHOF candidacy: “I don’t think I’m a hall of famer,” he said. Fine. Case closed.

The Babe and the babes.

Most peculiar take on the latest NBHOF voting was delivered by TSN analyst Steve Phillips. The former Major League Baseball exec drew a parallel between segregation and ‘roid cheaters Bonds and Clemens sticking needles in their butts. “There’s been performance enhancement in every era of baseball,” Phillips said. “Babe Ruth didn’t play against some of the best Negro League players of the time, players went to war, players stayed home, the mound was lowered, the DH was entered, ballparks have changed. So it’s been in every era.” Hmmm. I thought the Babe hit all those home runs (714) because he was a rare breed, but now I find out it was only because he never saw the spin on a Satchel Paige slider. Who knew? Actually, I have a different theory, and it has nothing to do with Jim Crow-era baseball or the boys of summer marching off to kick Hitler’s ass. To wit: Had the Babe laid off the booze, the babes and the speakeasies, and had he not missed playing time due to STDs, he would have swatted 914 dingers.

In his first natter with news snoops after signing with Toronto, slugger George Springer compared the Blue Jays to his Houston Astros outfit that cheated its way to a World Series title. “This (Jays) lineup reminds me a lot of them,” he said. Great. Vlad the Gifted gets a trash can. Bo Bichette gets a trash can. Cavan Biggio gets a trash can. Everybody gets a trash can. Bang the can slowly, boys.

Nice to see Sportsnet and, on a more subdued level, TSN have discovered the National Women’s Hockey League. Until last week, any talk of Ponytail Puck at Sportsnet was reserved for the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, and it was mostly pathetic pandering from Tara Slone and Ron MacLean. Now Sportsnet Central is delivering nightly updates/highlights on the Isobel Cup season/tournament in Lake Placid, and there are numerous articles on the website. It’s fabulous.

An outfit from the Republic of Tranna is in Lake Placid. It’s called the Six. It has a 3-1-1 record, and stands atop the NWHL tables. Someone might want to clue in the geniuses at the Toronto Sun. I look daily but, unless I missed it, the tabloid has given its home team less ink than Bernie Sanders’ mittens. TorSun trumpets itself as the top sports sheet in the nation, but I call BS on that if they can’t squeeze in a few paragraphs about Ponytail Puck.

It’s puzzling that the aforementioned PWHPA has gone radio silent on its website since Dec. 21. Not a peep. The propaganda peddlers have stopped telling us that they “deserve” a living wage, that they “deserve” an affiliation with the NHL, that they “deserve” our undivided attention, and there have been no photo-ops with Billie Jean King. The Dream Gappers have $1 million of funding from Secret, and they’ve said they’ll stage a series of barnstorming showcase tournaments, but they still aren’t telling us where or when they’ll drop the puck. Silence is a peculiar way to sell your product.

Speaking of product, the Argos need all the help they can get to make the rabble in the Republic of Tranna sit up, take notice and find their way to BMO Field, so what do they do? That’s right, they sign a repeat offender of the National Football League drug policy. Martavis Bryant was first banished for four games in 2015, then sent to his room for the entire 2016 crusade, then punted indefinitely in 2018. The Canadian Football League needs guys like Bryant the way Bill Gates needs my spare change.

It was a double whammy of bad tidings for Rouge Football last week. Aside from the Bryant hiring, Scott Milanovich took his three Grey Cup rings and walked away from the E-Town E-Somethings before ever stepping onto the sideline at Commonwealth Stadium, and can anyone really blame him? Coaches gotta coach, and since we don’t know if there’ll be three-downs football this year, Milanovich opted for the sure thing as quarterbacks guru with the Indianapolis Colts. I just wonder if this means the second coming of Chris Jones to the E-Somethings.

Pam Shriver, left, and Martina Navratilova.

So, TSN ran a feature discussing the greatest athlete of all time in North American “team sports.” Names tossed about were Tom Brady, LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky. SportsCentre co-anchor Kayla Grey immediately added this to the debate: “Ask Serena Williams about all that,” she said smugly. Just wondering: What part of “team sports” does Grey not understand? Last time I looked, Williams is a tennis player. Her specialty is singles play. If, however, we were to consider her form chart in doubles, which certainly is a team sport, Williams isn’t the GOAT in the women’s game. It’s Martina Navratilova, who once partnered with Pam Shriver to win 109 consecutive matches and went more than two years without a loss. Check it out:

Grand Slam Doubles Titles
Navratilova 41 Williams 16

Doubles Match Victories
Navratilova 747 Williams 190

Doubles Titles
Navratilova 187 Williams 25

There are at least 37 women and 55 men with more doubles titles than Williams, including our guy Daniel Nestor with 95. Do the math. Williams’ 25 doesn’t spell G-O-A-T in “team sports” to me.

Really, it’s time for Serena-ites like Grey to cease with the GOAT narrative. She isn’t the greatest tennis player of all time (hello Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic—take your pick), ergo she cannot possibly be the finest athlete in history. So do us all a favor and clam up.

The January numbers are in for coverage of female athletes in the two local rags (30 publishing days):

Sports front
Winnipeg Free Press-4.
Winnipeg Sun-1.

Total number of articles
Winnipeg Free Press-29 (plus 12 briefs).
Winnipeg Sun-3 (plus 4 briefs).

Number of days with female-centric copy
Winnipeg Free Press-21 of 30.
Winnipeg Sun-6 of 30.

And, finally, I think it’s great that so many people are willing to share their mental health challenges on Bell’s Let’s Talk day, but it would be even better if we did it more than once a year. I’ve always thought of mental health as an every-day thing.

Let’s talk about goals and lumps of coal in the toy department

Sports Santa arrives on the morrow and he’s given us a sneak peak at what he has tucked inside his bag, so let’s see if it’s Goal or a Lump o’ Coal for the good and not-so-good girls and boys in the toy department of life…

GOAL: If at first you don’t succeed…get it right in an extra end. And that’s what Kerri Einarson and her Buffalo girls—Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard, Briane Mielleur, Jennifer Clark-Rouire, coach Patti Wuthrich—did to win the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Moose Jaw. Kerri had a chance to end it all in the 10th end of the title match vs. Rachel Homan and her Ontario group, but she was heavy with her last-rock draw to the four-foot. She got the job done in the 11th, though, sliding her final stone to the button for an 8-7 victory and the Canadian women’s curling championship.

LUMP O’ COAL: The year 2020. Seriously. Someone needs to give it a good, swift kick to the groin, and it’s not too late.

GOAL: Connor Hellebuyck won the Vezina Trophy as top goaltender in the National Hockey League, putting a bit of shine on an otherwise empty season for the Winnipeg Jets.

LUMP O’ COAL: Sportsnet was guilty of a blatant double standard when it allowed Elliotte Friedman to repeatedly appear on Hockey Night in Canada with a ghastly, unruly beard that made him look like he’d been sleeping under a bridge for three months. No chance a female broadcaster would be allowed on camera with a head of hair that looks like a cluster of dead animals.

GOAL: The Winnipeg Sun celebrated its 40th anniversary, not bad for a sheet that wasn’t supposed to last much longer than a pint of beer in front of Chris Walby.

LUMP O’ COAL: 50 Below Sports + Entertainment ignored provincial health rules and allowed Winnipeg Freeze and Winnipeg Blues of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League to practice outside the city. So make that two lumps o’ coal, one for 50 Below bossman Greg Fettes and the other for bossman Matt Cockell.

GOAL: The good ol’ boys in NASCAR banned the Confederate Flag from race sites. Full sets of teeth, corn squeezin’s and MAGA caps remained optional.

LUMP O’ COAL: Mike Milbury, Brendan Leipsic, Thom Brennaman, Cris Collinsworth, Brett Hull, Evander Kane spewed sexist, racist and/or homophobic slurs. Come on, guys. We’re 21 years into the 21st century, and that language just doesn’t cut it.

GOAL: Katie Sowers became the first female to coach in the Super Bowl, albeit in a losing role with the San Francisco 49ers, Kim Ng became the first female GM of a Major League Baseball team, Alyssa Nakken became the first uniformed female to coach on-field in MLB, Kathryn Nesbitt became the first female to referee in a Major League Soccer championship match, and Sarah Fuller became the first female to play in an NCAA Power 5 men’s football game.

LUMP O’ COAL: Canadian Football League commissioner Randy Ambrosie went panhandling on Parliament Hill, asking PM Trudeau the Younger for anywhere from $30 million to $150 million in welfare to get Rouge Football on the field during the COVID-19 pandemic. Trouble was, he failed to receive input from the Players Association, and the feds were not amused. Commish Cap-in-Hand was spurned repeatedly, and the CFL finally fell off the grid when Trudeau the Younger batted away his final Hail Mary beg in early August. Thus, there was no season, no Grey Cup week. Just a whole lot of radio silence from the commish.

GOAL: Kid curlers Jacques Gauthier and Mackenzie Zacharias joined Einarson in bringing more glory to Manitoba with their world junior championship wins in Russia.

LUMP O’ COAL: Damien Cox and the Exalted Guardians of the Lou Marsh Trophy at the Toronto Star. The Marsh trinket is supposed to honor Canada’s athlete-of-the-year, except Cox and Co. don’t invite jock journos west of the Republic of Tranna to the top-jock party. Well, okay, that’s not quite true. They granted a voice and a vote to four news snoops from the colonies. That would be four out of 37 voices and votes. How gracious of them.

GOAL: O-lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif walked away from the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs and millions of American dollars to fight the good fight against COVID in long-term care homes.

LUMP O’ COAL: TSN named its all-time Winnipeg Jets roster and didn’t include the great Lars-Erik Sjoberg among the top six defencemen. But wait. The geniuses declared The Shoe to be the franchise’s “foundational” player. Sigh. That’s like telling Jesus he has to sit at the kids’ table for the Last Supper. Neither the original Jets franchise nor the second coming knew a better blueliner than The Shoe.

GOAL: Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun and Jeff Hamilton of the Drab Slab showed us their fab journalistic chops with fab features. Freezer relived the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 2019 Grey Cup championship with a nine-part series, while young Jeff took a deep, deep dive into the dark and sordid world of disgraced sexual predator and former hockey coach Graham James.

LUMP O’ COAL: Mainstream jock journos, shinny division, held a group pity party when the NHL revealed it wouldn’t make public the various owies suffered by players during the summer made-for-TV playoff tournament. It was as if they’d been ordered to gather in a small room to watch an Adam Sandler movie marathon, or listen to Barry Manilow’s greatest hits 24/7.

GOAL: Various sports franchises played the name game, including the CFL team formerly known as the Edmonton Eskimos, the NFL team formerly known as the Washington Redskins, and the MLB team to be named something other than Cleveland Indians. We still don’t know what any of them will be called, but it’s believed the animal kingdom has the inside track and they can only hope the people at PETA don’t have a beef with any new names.

LUMP O’ COAL: Former NBC Sports hockey gab guy Jeremy Roenick went on a podcast to declare his admiration for a co-worker’s “ass and boobs” and mentioned something about three-way sex with his wife and the co-worker. He was promptly punted. But wait. There’s more. Rather than go quietly into the night, Roenick decided to kick up a legal fuss and sued NBC Sports for wrongful dismissal, claiming discrimination based on his sexual orientation. His argument: If he was a gay man and said the things he said, he’d still have a job. But because he’s a straight man, he’s out of work. Ya, good luck with that, hetero boy.

GOAL: Sue Bird of the Seattle Storm won her fourth WNBA title and became engaged to soccer diva Megan Rapinoe, while another gay woman, triple jumper Yulimar Rojas of Venezuela, was named female athlete-of-the-year by World Athletics.

LUMP O’ COAL: Bryson DeChambeau spouted off about Augusta National prior to the Masters in November, boasting that it would be a pitch-and-putt course for him while the mere mortals on the PGA Tour would be playing to par-72. “I’m looking at it as a par-67 for me,” he said. In that case, DeChambeau shot 18-over par with rounds of 70-74-69-73, which left him tied for 34th, 18 swings behind winner Dustin Johnson and one behind 63-year-old Bernhard Langer.

GOAL: It was girl power on Sportsnet in March, when an all-female broadcast crew worked a Calgary Flames-Vegas Golden Knights skirmish on Hockey Night in Canada. Leah Hextall handled the play-by-play call, Cassie Campbell-Pascall delivered color commentary and Christine Simpson was rinkside. Question is: Was it a one-off, or will they be back?

LUMP O’ COAL: Justin Turner of the Los Angeles Dodgers was yanked from the deciding game of the World Series due to a positive COVID test, but he returned to join his teammates in an on-field celebration and removed his mask. MLB chose not to punish Turner for allowing his bare face to hang out and expose L.A. players and hangers-on to the virus, so it gets a lump o’ coal, too.

GOAL: Zamboni driver David Ayres took over the blue paint for the Carolina Hurricanes one night in the Republic of Tranna, and the emergency goaltender beat the Maple Leafs. Not since Sid Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon pulled into the Tim Hortons drive-thru has a Zamboni driver received so much attention.

LUMP O’ COAL: Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz thought COVID-19 was a big joke, so he mocked news snoops about the virus at a press session. A couple days later, he tested positive and the kibitzing stopped. As did the NBA and the rest of the sports world.

GOAL: Our leading lady of soccer, Christine Sinclair, became the top goal-scorer of all time in international fitba. She finishes the year with 186, and there might be more to come if the women get back on the pitch in preparation for the Tokyo Olympics.

LUMP O’ COAL: Novak Djokovic, who wears a tin-foil hat and might lead the sports world in hissy fits, ignored scientific and medical advice and staged a mini-tennis tour when almost all sports had shut down due to the COVID pandemic. Social distancing was ignored by players and fans, and the Joker was one of four players to test positive. The final tourney was canceled. Later, he was ushered out of the U.S. Open tennis tournament for whacking a lines judge in the face with a ball. What a doofus.

GOAL: Rafael Nadal won his 13th French Open title and his 20th tennis Gran Slam, at the same time running his career record at Roland Garros to 100-2.

LUMP O’ COAL: Steve Simmons of Postmedia Toronto spent much of the year shaking his fists and shouting at clouds, as is his wont, and he reserved his most ignorant hit pieces for PM Trudeau the Younger and the National Women’s Hockey League expansion franchise in the Republic of Tranna. He claimed Trudeau had “let us down again” by permitting the Blue Jays “to play their home games this summer in Toronto. That is beyond stupid.” He later doubled down, calling the decision “beyond ridiculous.” Except Trudeau and the feds never gave the Jays the okie-dokie to play in the Republic of Tranna. In fact, he told them to pack their bats and balls and find a home in the U.S., which they did in Buffalo. Meantime, Simmons assailed the NWHL when it would add a team in The ROT. “You don’t gain credibility by announcing a team with no name, no place to play and no big-name players,” he harrumphed. He also noted there was no team logo. “When you have all that in place, then make the announcement. The press release referred to the expansion team as a ‘first-class team of professionals.’ Time will answer that, but the new Toronto Whatevers are not off to a great start.” Except he had no such harsh words for the NHL when it introduced expansion franchises in Las Vegas and Seattle. They were introduced without team names, without team logos, and without big-name players. They were the Vegas and Seattle Whatevers for two years. So let’s see if I’ve got this straight: If women do it, bad; if men do it, cool. I believe we can file that under subtle sexism.

And, finally, GOAL: To everyone who indulged an old lady by visiting the River City Renegade. We’ve topped 57,000 views this year, and that’s a new high-water mark for the third successive year. So thanks. Happy Christmas.

Let’s talk about the clock starting to tick on Mark Scheifele…grumbling in Chitown…Dubas and Burke saying the same thing…sports scribes put on their grumpy pants…and Rafa Nadal uses the Joker for a pinata

A special Turkey Day smorgas-bored…and if you can’t hop on the gravy train at least pass the gravy boat…

Okay, kids, let’s talk turkey about the Winnipeg Jets.

Rink Rat Scheifele on draft day 2011.

In case you hadn’t noticed, there were 27 candles on Mark Scheifele’s last birthday cake, and he’ll turn 28 early into the next National Hockey League crusade.

Doesn’t seem possible, does it?

I mean, was it really that long ago when the Rink Rat arrived in Good Ol’ Hometown, all spindly and Bambi-like in body and aw-shucks in personality? Yup. He’s grown up before our eyes and now he’s firmly into his prime performing years, with only a brief whiff of glory to show for his time in Jets linen.

Which leaves me to wonder this: While Kevin Cheveldayoff, the general manager, dithers and tinkers and moves bit pieces instead of making the big play necessary to upgrade a deficiency on defence, is Rink Rat Scheifele wasting away?

I had similar thoughts about Blake Wheeler in spring 2016, when he was 29.

The captain turns 35 next August and, like Scheifele, he’s had no more than a brief flirtation with success, when the Jets extended their crusade deep into May 2018 before bowing out in the Western Conference final of the Stanley Cup tournament.

Wheeler was part of the core that rolled into River City with the Atlanta caravan in 2011. He’s the last man standing, the sole survivor of that group. The underappreciated Bryan Little is finished through no fault of his own. Dustin Byfuglien lost his lust for the game and quit. Others like Andrew Ladd and Ondrej Pavelec and Evander Kane and Toby Enstrom left the building long ago, for a variety of reasons.

Blake Wheeler

The current core, which still includes Wheeler dressed up as a first-line player in spite of his second-line talent, is headed by Scheifele and goaler Connor Hellebuyck, also 27 and soon to be 28. They have officially entered their window of opportunity.

Josh Morrissey, Patrik Laine, Twig Ehlers, Kyle Connor, Dylan DeMelo, Andrew Copp and Adam Lowry provide a strong supporting cast today and, all things equal, tomorrow.

Yet we know this team isn’t good enough to genuinely contest for the Stanley Cup, let alone bring it to the Little Hockey House On The Prairie, mainly because Chevy has yet to suitably revamp a blueline that was dismantled in one foul swoop last off-season.

The GM has replaced Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba, Ben Chiarot and Tyler Myers with Neal Pionk, Dylan DeMelo and a handful of doodads on defence. He continues to fiddle-fart in that area, rather than make the right and necessary move, which would be a meaningful trade involving one or more of his young assets to enhance the back end with a top-four, preferably top-two defender.

This isn’t an easy fix, but it isn’t rocket science either. Anyone who knows a hockey puck from a urinal puck recognizes the Jets’ greatest shortcoming, and I don’t think anyone expects Chevy to land a stud rearguard of the Victor Hedman or Roman Josi or Alex Pietrangelo level. But he has to do better than Neal Pionk, who received top-pairing minutes by default last season.

Bryan Little

If Chevy is unwilling or incapable of providing a remedy, then he needs to be replaced.

In the meantime, the clock has begun to tick on Rink Rat Scheifele, just as it did on Wheeler, Little and Byfuglien.

I’ll close by reminding you of something Little said: “It’s another year of your career that you can’t get back. Some of the best players in this room are the youngest. There’s definitely a bright future, but some guys are older and want to do something right now.”

That was in March 2017, after the Jets had been eliminated from playoff contention. Little was 29. His “right now” has passed him by. His window has already been closed.

It would be a shame if the same thing happened to Scheifele simply because Chevy doesn’t have the brass to do the right thing.

According to Mark Lazerus of The Athletic, there’s grumbling and unrest in Chitown, where the Blackhawks have shifted into rebuild mode. The veteran core of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, each in his 30s, are unamused because they see the opportunity for another Stanley Cup title disappearing.

When GM Kyle Dubas says he wants to make the Tranna Maple Leafs “harder to play against,” isn’t he simply parroting former GM and current Sportsnet gasbag Brian Burke, who prattled on endlessly about more “truculence” from les Leafs under his watch? Seems to me they’re both speaking out of the same side of their mouths. So why was Burke’s message often met with mocking and ridicule from fans and news snoops, but not so much with Dubas?

Les Lazaruk

I don’t expect a call from Kelly Moore or Knuckles Irving asking me for input on their hiring of a play-by-play voice for Jets radio broadcasts on 680 CJOB, but I hope they consider old friend Lester Lazaruk, one of my all-time favorite people. I’m not sure what it would take to pry Ronnie out of Saskatoon, where he has a great gig as squawkbox of the Blades and other responsibilities, but I think it would be worth a phone call. And if it were to work out, they could all thank me later.

I must say, the boys on the beat had their grumpy pants on last week, and it made for some interesting to-and-fro on Twitter.

Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna, for example, was positively mortified that one follower had the bad manners to suggest he’s “always playing the heal (sic).”

“Not playing anything,” Simmons responded. “I write my opinions. Most people don’t. I haven’t changed in 40 years doing this.”

Simmons is right. He played the heel in the early 1980s and he’s still embracing the role today. He’s every bad-guy wrestler you can think of, only he whacks people with a keyboard instead of a folding chair or some other “foreign object.”

Next up was Damien Cox of the Toronto Star, asked this by a follower: “Does someone piss in your cereal every morning? What’s gone so wrong in your life that you’re this negative so many times a day?”

“Having people like you follow me is no picnic,” was Cox’s juvenile return volley. He also mocked another follower for having just 25 followers, as if that’s a measure of talent or importance.

Finally, there was Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab. He engaged in an exchange with a couple among the rabble who had the nerve to suggest Winnipeg news snoops, including Mad Mike, are less than eager to take a heavy hand with Jets management/coaching for their failings.

“And yet you follow me,” Mad Mike barked. “And read my work. And Tweet at me (and others you seemingly hate) constantly, ranting and raving. About a silly game. Why? I’d never block you. Haven’t done to anyone ever. But for your own sanity, maybe unfollow me then? I suspect you’ll be happier.”

My oh my. Someone certainly was ranting and raving.

Mad Mike ended the hissing contest with this: “I’m done with this silly shit. Enjoy the weekend and Happy Thanksgiving. Wear a damn mask!”

Rafa Nadal, the King of Clay

What Rafa Nadal did to Novak Djokovic on Sunday should be illegal. I mean, you aren’t supposed to beat the world No. 1 6-0, 6-2, 7-5. Not in the championship match of the French Open. That’s like taking a chain saw to a pinata. And, surely, there were bits of Djokovic strewn all over the red clay of Court Philippe Chatrier when it was over. More astonishing, though, is Rafa’s record at Roland Garros—100-2. That’s insane. That’s Secretariat winning the Belmont Stakes by 51 lengths, not 31. It’s Tiger Woods winning the U.S. Open by 35 strokes, not 15. Rafa now has 13 French Open and 20 Grand Slam tennis titles, and if there are signs of decline in his game, they weren’t noticeable in the past two weeks. Which means Generation Next remains on hold in the men’s draw.

There were 35 fines issued at the French Open, with a breakdown of 20 to men and 15 to women. The lads were ticketed mainly for equipment abuse and their potty mouths, while the women had their pay docked mostly for coaching violations.

It occurred to me yesterday that The Athletic hasn’t posted an article on women’s hockey since July 29. I realize the women have been idle, but does that mean there aren’t any stories to tell?

And, finally, I didn’t think it possible to dislike a baseball team more than the New York Yankees, but I’ve developed a special level of contempt for the Houston Astros. Go Tampa Bay Rays!

Let’s talk about Bill Belichick and his Patriots games…fan girls and fan boys on TV…a clueless Bayless…long live Emma Peel…the mother of all tennis tournaments…Danny Gallivan and the Kit Kat Chunk-O-Rama…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored..and apparently the border closing doesn’t apply to wild fires because I’ve spent the past three days sucking in smoke from Washington state. Most unpleasant…

Bill Belichick

The National Football League season has kicked off, and the New England Patriots will try to win the Super Bowl with Cam Newton at quarterback instead of future Hall of Famer Tom Brady.

Patriots fans need not worry, though.

Head coach Bill Belichick assures them that Newton can throw a deflated football as far and as accurately as Brady, and the rest of the cheating will take care of itself.

Zack Wheeler was unable to make his scheduled start on the mound for the Philly Phillies on Saturday, because he tore the nail on his middle right finger while putting on his pants. Serves him right for breaking one of those “unwritten rules” of baseball and trying to put his pants on two legs at a time.

Just a thought: In this truly bizarro, upside-down/inside-out 2020, I wonder if the real killers are searching for O.J.?

Okay, let me get this straight: Last year, Kawhi Leonard was God of Hardwood and a legend. There was talk of a statue. This year, Kyle Lowry is God of Hardwood and a legend. There is talk of a statue. If this keeps up, the Tranna Jurassics will have as many statues as the Maple Leafs blueline.

Kara Wagland

The shameless cheerleading for the Jurassics on TSN reached epic levels following their win in Game 6 of the now-concluded National Basketball Association playoff skirmish v. Boston Celtics. Fan girls Kara Wagland and Lindsay Hamilton were borderline orgasmic, with a breathless and swooning Wagland clutching her prayer beads and gasping, “Hopefully, the Raptors will find a way to keep it going in Game 7.” I swear, I haven’t seen anyone at TSN so smitten since Glen Suitor leaned in and gave Keith Urban a hickey during last year’s Grey Cup game. Meantime, after the Jurassics had been ushered out of the NBA bubble, Hamilton began SportsCentre by saying, “This one stings.” Geez, I hope her dog doesn’t dies.

Similarly, Michael Grange of Sportsnet went all fan boy scant seconds after the Jurassics’ Game 7 ouster in Florida on Friday, saying: “As Raptors fans we…” As Raptors fans? We? C’mon, man. You’re supposed to be covering the team, not waving pom-poms.

Did anyone miss Drake jumping to his feet and doing the court jester thing during the Jurassics’ aborted playoff push? Didn’t think so.

Skip Bayless and Dak Prescott

I don’t know Skip Bayless, but I’m pretty sure he’s a complete ass. If you haven’t been introduced, Bayless is one of those TV gum-flappers who long ago fell in love with the sound of his own squawk box, and that somehow led him to a gig as blowhard-in-residence on the Fox Sports rant-and-rave show Undisputed. And that’s where he decided that World Suicide Prevention Day was the ideal time to trash Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, who had appeared on In Depth with Graham Bensinger and spoke candidly of battling depression. “I don’t have sympathy for him going public with ‘I got depressed, I suffered depression early in COVID, to the point that I couldn’t even work out,” Bayless barked in a chin-wag with Shannon Sharpe. “Look, he’s the quarterback of America’s Team, and you know and I know, this sport that you play, it is dog-eat-dog. It is no compassion, no quarter given on the football field. If you reveal publicly any little weakness, it can affect your team’s ability to believe in you in the toughest spots, and it definitely can encourage others on the other side to come after you. You just can’t go public with it, in my humble opinion.” Well, first of all, if you’ve seen and heard Bayless, you’ll know that he’s humble like a bowl of Corn Flakes is a cure for COVID. Second, what he said was disgraceful. Depression should be discussed. Out loud. And it’s beneficial when someone in Prescott’s position isn’t shy about sharing his experience and vulnerability.

Dame Diana/Emma Peel

Dame Diana Rigg is dead. Long live Emma Peel, probably the sexiest, most kick-ass woman in the history of television. Dame Diana as Mrs. Peel on The Avengers was Audrey Hepburn with a fencing sword, guns and serious smarts. Adorned in black leather cat suits, 1960s-chic jump suits, mini-skirts and heels, she whomped more bad guys than John Wayne, and a swift kick to the groin never looked so elegant and graceful. “Give a man a pudding and Diana Rigg during the lunch hour and experience shows he will be a thing of slobbering contentment from start to finish,” New York Newsday declared in 1994. Men who remember The Avengers will nod in agreement. Ditto some women I know.

Olympic champ Mo Farrah of Britain ran 13¼ miles in one hour recently. No man has run that far, that fast since Saddam Hussein heard there were U.S. boots on the ground in Iraq.

Serena Williams

Why is it that when someone whispers a discouraging word about Serena Williams her apologists go into attack mode like junkyard dogs and make it about race and gender? I don’t like her because she’s been the neighborhood bully for years, also a total drama queen. Those are the same reasons I detested tennis brats John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors when they’d go off their nut during the 1970s and ’80s. It isn’t always about race and gender. Sometimes it’s about being a poor sport and ugly loser.

Apparently, the U.S. Open was the mother of all tennis tournaments because there were nine moms in the draw, and the squawk boxes on ESPN took the motherhood theme and milked it as though they were the first female athletes to give birth. As if. The talking heads might want to check out the Scotties Tournament of Hearts some time. It’s not official unless at least a dozen players are pregnant or breast feeding.

Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams after the 2018 U.S. Open final.

When is a tennis Grand Slam not a Grand Slam? When six of the top eight women in the world, and 15 of the top 50, take a pass. Which means, yes, Naomi Osaka’s victory in the women’s singles final at Flushing Meadows in Queens, NYC, warrants an asterisk. I can’t recall a weaker women’s draw, and I’ve been following tennis since I was knee high to Billie Jean King. No Ash Barty (No. 1), no Simona Halep (No. 2), no Elina Svitolina (No. 5), no Bianca Andreescu (No. 6), no Kiki Bertens (No. 7), no Belinda Bencic (No. 8). Having said that, it was nice to see young Naomi enjoy a U.S. Open title without Serena Williams taking the moment hostage with her boorish bullying.

The same has to be said about the men’s draw, which began sans Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer and lost Novak Djokovic due to a hissy fit, whereby the world No. 1 launched a tennis ball into the throat of a line judge and was told to leave the building. You have to beat the best to be the best, and neither Dominic Thiem or Alexander Zverev have done that in Gotham.

Gasbag Stephen A. Smith of ESPN says U.S. Open officials were too harsh and hasty in defaulting Djokovic. “You’ve gotta be kidding me. I’m like, you’ve got to be kidding me,” he squawked. The way Stephen A. has it figured, a whispered tsk-tsk and slap on the wrist would have been sufficient punishment because the Joker “showed up to play during a pandemic when he didn’t have to.” Ya, that makes him a real hero. Look, Djokivic only showed up because he wears tin foil on his head and thinks COVID is a rumor. And, of course, he saw a U.S. Open title that should have been easy pickings.

Milos Raonic

Got a kick out of a Cathal Kelly column in the Globe and Mail last week. “That golden age of Canadian tennis everyone started talking about 10 years ago? It’s no longer coming. We’re in the middle of it,” he declared. Sounds reasonable, except Kelly informed us that Canadian tennis was already “in the midst of its golden age” back in 2016. Hmmm. Milos Roanic won the grand total of one tournament that year, although he flirted with history at Wimbledon, and Genie Bouchard was already into her plummet from world No. 6 to bikini model (she was ranked No. 272 this morning). In 2016, it was more like the Golden Age of Coming Close and a Dizzying Freefall.

Genie Bouchard

Kelly also noted that three homebrews—Felix Auger-Aliassime, Vasek Pospisil, Denis Shapovalov—advanced to the round of 16 at the current U.S. Open, making it “already the greatest tournament in Canadian history.” Good grief. Two guys getting properly paddywhacked in the fourth round and a third bowing out in the quarters of a watered-down tournament is “the greatest?” That’s like sitting in a five-star restaurant and saying the scraps under the table next to you are better than anything you see on the menu. I mean, at Wimbledon 2014 we had one finalist, Genie Bouchard, one semifinalist, Milos Raonic, and one doubles champion, Pospisil. And oh, by the way, I seem to recall a young lass named Bianca Andreescu collecting all the marbles just a year ago at Flushing Meadows. Yup. Whupped Serena Williams in the 2019 U.S. Open final. But, hey, perhaps Kelly was napping that day. Ya, that must be why he’s telling us that winning in the third and fourth rounds trumps Wimbledon 2014 and Bianca’s Grand Slam singles title. Also her win at Indian Wells. And the Rogers Cup. Kelly needs a Tennis 101 primer.

Depending on one’s definition of “Golden Age,” here’s what our net set has delivered in singles play on the main WTA and ATP tours in the past decade:
Whenever I see the name Dayana Yastremska in a tennis draw, I always think someone has misspelled Yastrzemski.

Hey now, here’s some dandy news: Squints at the University of Helsinki and the University of Eastern Finland claim to have discovered a cure for the hangover. It’s something called L-cysteine supplements and it also reduces “the need of drinking the next day.” If true, it’ll be the greatest discovery since Sandy Koufax found the strike zone in the 1960s.

Dave Hodge

Great tweet from long time broadcaster and former Hockey Night in Canada host Dave Hodge: “The ultimate definition of ‘priceless’ would have been the look on Danny Gallivan’s face if they told him to identify power plays as brought to you by ‘Kit Kat Chunky, now 20% chunkier.’” I can hear the great Gallivan doing the play-by-play now: “There’s the Savardian spinorama and now a cannonading blast by Lafleur, who couldn’t beat Gerry Cheevers’ rapier-like right hand as the 20 per cent chunkier Kit Kat Chunky power play comes to an end and Cheevers adjusts his paraphernalia.”

How does this figure? Marc-Andre Fleury, a goaltender, finished 19th in Lady Byng voting as the National Hockey League’s most gentlemanly player, and another goaltender, Connor Hellebuyck, finished 21st. Either some members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association don’t take their voting privilege seriously, or they shouldn’t be casting ballots.

Steve Nash

This made me laugh…
Steve Simmons, Postmedia Tranna, on Sept. 6: “Two words that never, ever, should be attached to Steve Nash: White privilege.”
Steve Nash, head coach Brooklyn Nets, on Sept. 9: “I have benefited from white privilege.”
D’oh!

More stupidity from Simmons: “Suddenly, the Vancouver Canucks matter. They haven’t mattered much since the years of the Sedin brothers, Roberto Luongo and the Stanley Cup that should have been. They didn’t matter much before that.” Sigh. Only someone in the Republic of Tranna would write something so foolish. For the record, the Canucks have mattered since 1970 on the West Coast, long before they didn’t win “a Stanley Cup that should have been.”

Simmons scribbles his slop about the Canucks, then has the gonads to call out “writers and broadcasters spreading falsehoods.” I have four words for him: Phil Kessel, hot dogs.

And, finally, how can the 2020-21 PGA season already be underway when they haven’t played the 2020 U.S. Open yet? Or is next weekend’s golf tournament the 2021 U.S. Open? I’m so confused.

Let’s talk about female and gay power at the Super Bowl…sexism in the NBA and Russia…Matt Nichols’ next move…Kobe’s halo…news snoops in a snit…Looch a lamb in the slaughter…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and it’s Super Sunday, but you won’t find anything super here…

At some point today, we’ll see Katie Sowers on our flatscreens and another brick in the wall will come tumbling down.

Katie Sowers

Katie, you see, is female and gay, and females and gays aren’t supposed to be central players in the Super Bowl game, North America’s greatest gulp of sporting over-indulgence. Females, after all, know nothing about football (just ask any male lump sitting on a nearby bar stool or in a man cave) and gays are a distraction (ask Tony Dungy about that).

Except many of us know that simply isn’t true.

If Katie’s been a distraction down there in Miami, it’s only because she’s a she who does know football, and news snoops have sought her out for sound bites and anecdotal tidbits about the challenges of a societal double whammy—being female and a lesbian in an environment that registers 10.0 on the testosterone meter.

Never before has a woman attracted so much attention at the National Football League’s showcase event, at least not since Janet Jackson allowed Justin Timberlake to play peek-a-boo with her right breast. And, on that matter, many lumps on many bar stools no doubt will fix their eyeballs on today’s halftime proceedings, hoping for a re-enactment of Janet J’s wardrobe malfunction, only this time it would be pieces of either JLo’s or Shakira’s skimpy outfits falling off.

But I digress.

Sowers is in Miami this very day as one of the San Francisco 49ers’ offensive strategists attempting to plot ways of confounding and confusing the Kansas City Chiefs’ defensive 11 in Super Bowl LIV, and if you don’t care that she’s the first woman and lesbian to coach in the gridiron colossus, I suggest you’re among the 50 per cent of the population that isn’t female and 95 per cent of the population that isn’t gay.

This is huge. For women. For the LGBT collective. And it should be for society.

But we hear the same questions every time a gay athlete wiggles her or his way into the spotlight, don’t we? Like: Does anybody really need to know who’s lying beside them when the lights go out at night? If they want to be treated equal, why do they insist on making themselves out to be special just because they’re gay? Why can’t the gays just shut up about it already?

Well, it’s a big deal because too large a segment of society still makes the choice of bedmates and romantic partners a big deal. Gays can lose jobs because of it. They can be denied jobs because of it. They can be denied service because of it. They can be denied housing because of it. They are bullied and beaten up because of it.

Sowers knows all about that, because her alma mater, Goshen College in Indiana, once rejected her as a volunteer hoops coach simply because she prefers the company of women.

“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,” is how she remembers it.

What’s that you say? That was more than 10 years ago? Well, lend an ear to Steve Sanders, an associate professor at Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law.

“What happened to Sowers could still happen, depending on the place and jurisdiction,” Sanders told the Indianapolis Star. “Many people are surprised that the legal protections from anti-gay and lesbian discrimination remain so spotty. If you’re gay or lesbian, you can get married one day and, at least in some jurisdictions, be fired from your job the next day.”

Goshen, a Christian school, recently delivered a mea culpa for its shoddy and shameful treatment of Sowers, but that doesn’t excuse the reality that gays continue to be marginalized today.

As do women in sports.

Marcus Morris

Or perhaps you didn’t catch Marcus Morris’ sexist spewings the other night after his New York Knicks had absorbed a good and proper paddywhacking from the Memphis Grizzlies. Morris didn’t appreciate Jae Crowder’s (perceived) theatrics on the Madison Square Garden hardwood, thus he told news snoops that the Memphis forward has “a lot of female tendencies” like “flopping and throwing his head back.”

Oh, yes, females be flopping and head tossing, Marcus.

Lest anyone misinterpret his remarks, Morris then described Crowder as “soft, very woman-like.” None of that was meant to be complimentary. It was meant to shame a foe as a lesser-than. A woman.

So, yes, Katie Sowers’ emergence as a Super Bowl coach is a “big deal.”

No doubt girls and women will see, or hear about, Sowers and ask themselves, “Why not me?” Ditto LGBT youth. It builds belief in self. Isn’t that something we should want for everyone?

It’s not just about generating dreams, though.

Sowers is breaking a barrier, but knocking down a door only matters if it opens up a mind. Maybe, just maybe, her presence will convince the anti-gay constituency and misogynistic lumps on bar stools, in man caves and in men’s pro sports that women and gays aren’t lesser-thans.

I doubt it, but we can always hope.

Adam Silver

It’s never a surprise to hear sexist squawkings from male athletes, but it seems shamefully out of place in the National Basketball Association, which features 11 female assistant coaches, a female assistant general manager, and four female referees. Moreover, 13 Women’s NBA whistleblowers are female, and there are another 25 in the NBA G League. So Morris’ bleatings fly in the face of the NBA’s admirable and industry-leading diversity practices, and I’m sure commish Adam Silver was not amused.

At some point, it must have occurred to Morris that he has a mother, thus he offered a mea culpa which was as laughable as his comments were ill-advised. He claims to have spoken in “the heat of the moment,” except he went off on Crowder a full 15 minutes after the Knicks and Grizzlies had engaged in a game-ending rutting session. “I have the utmost respect for women and everything they mean to us,” he insisted in his apology. “I never intended for any women to feel as though in anyway I’m disrespecting them.” Right. And every time a jock coughs up a gay slur, he claims: “That isn’t who I am. I have gay friends.”

Stephanie Ready of The Bounce had perhaps the most interesting take on the Morris sound bites: “I personally take offence to that,” she told panelists Quentin Richardson and Caron Butler. “I personally am offended by the statement. I also happen to know that women are just inherently tougher than men, that’s the reason why we give birth and you guys don’t.” The boys squirmed and fought off any urge to debate the point.

Rachel Llanes

Sexism is alive and well in Mother Russia, and Emily Kaplan of ESPN provides the evidence in an excellent article on the Kontinental Hockey Leauge-sponsored Women’s Hockey League. “(Rachel) Llanes was one of several women to demonstrate skills at the KHL All Star Game,” she writes, “but she was told she had to get her hair and makeup done before going on the ice. The KHL put out a promotional calendar for the WHL—which featured players posing naked, covered only by plants.” Sounds like a cosmetics marketing campaign for Cover Girl: Faceoffs and Fig Leaves.

Hey, come to think of it, if we ever get a Women’s National Hockey League franchise in the Republic of Tranna, we have the perfect team name—the Toronto Maple Fig Leafs.

Llanes, who plays for the sole Chinese-based outfit in Russia’s WHL, decided that fig leaves aren’t one size fits all and took a pass on becoming a calendar girl. “Part of being over here, you have to accept culture, even though there are some things you don’t agree with,” she told Kaplan. “The calendar, for example, I definitely don’t want to be in that. But it’s just the culture. Some things you can fight, some things you just go with. I’m playing hockey for a living. I don’t need to complain.”

Matt Nichols

You know that old bromide about an athlete can’t lose a job due to injury? Well, fuggedaboutit. Matt Nichols was laid low by a shoulder owie last August, and he’ll never take another snap for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Not ever. I’m not saying the Grey Cup champions were wrong to discard their now-former starting quarterback like a banana peel, but I feel bad for the guy. I mean, no one in the western precinct of the Canadian Football League is looking for an aging, brittle QB. Ditto Montreal, Ottawa and the Hammer in the east. Which leaves only the Tranna Argos. Hmmm. Bombers to the Boatmen. That’s like telling a kid who just won a trip to Disneyland that he’ll be going to the dentist instead.

Kobe Bryant is dead and grown men and women weep while the hosannas continue to pour down on the former Los Angeles Lakers great like wet stuff in a Brazilian rainforest. Fine. But here’s what I don’t get: Why is it considered bad manners for scribes and talking heads to tilt Kobe’s halo by mentioning his rape case in 2003? It happened, it was a huge story, and no retro look at the life and times of Bryant is complete without it. So spare me the gnarly discord.

Gianna and Kobe

Thoughtful piece by Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab on media reaction to the helicopter crash that killed Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and “seven others” last Sunday. Like Mad Mike, I find it curious that so little attention has been paid to victims three-through-nine—John, Keri and Alyssa Altobelli, Sarah and Payton Chester, Christina Mauser and Ara Zobayan. It’s as if their lives didn’t matter.

Having said that, I don’t need Mad Mike telling me that I should “learn all I can” about the “seven others.” It’s enough that I’m saddened that they’re gone, especially the children. I’m not sure what it is about news snoops who feel the need to tell us what we should be thinking and how we should be reacting. I mean, Mad Mike wants us to study up on seven dead people, and a week ago Cassie Campbell-Pascall informed us we “better start” watching women’s hockey. Or what? She’ll show up on our doorstep carrying a court summons? If it’s all the same to them, I’ll choose my own reading material and my own entertainment.

High-Class Snit of the Week: “Alex Steen blew off media post-game, and the team’s PR staff—who said earlier in the day he would for sure speak—wouldn’t make him available, after playing his 1,000th game in his hometown and with all kinds of interview requests. Absolute joke,” Mad Mike tweeted after Saturday night’s skirmish between the St. Loo Blues and Winnipeg Jets at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie. Not to be outdone, Scott Billeck of the Winnipeg Sun chimed in with this: “Alex Steen, given a nice tribute by the Jets and a nicer one from the fans who stood to recognize his 1000th NHL game tonight, refused to talk to the media after the game. Classless.” I have just three words for that level of media whinging: Boo freaking hoo.

Looch

Watched the Edmonton Oilers take Calgary to the slaughter house on Saturday night, so remind me again why the Flames recruited Milan Lucic. Oh, that’s right. To be the team guard dog. To provide some spine. Yet when all hell broke loose between the bitter rivals twice in four nights, where was the Looch? Playing innocent bystander. Looch spent 27 minutes, 34 seconds on the ice during the latest home-and-home installment in the Battle of Alberta, and here’s what he had to show for it: 0 goals, 1 assist, 0 time in the brig. Cripes, man, Calgary keeper Cam Talbot had a fight and two roughing penalties. Turtle Man Tkachuk chucked knuckles twice. Sean Monahan and Buddy Robinson dropped the mitts. Yet the supposed meanest dude on either side of the fray went all Switzerland. And they’re paying him $5.25 million for that?

Just a thought: It must really rot Don Cherry’s socks that he no longer has his Hockey Night In Canada pulpit to squawk about the kind of hoorawing that we saw from the Oilers and Flames. And, to think, he was silenced because of poppies.

Kasperi Kapanen of the Maple Leafs was scratched from the lineup Saturday night for what was described as “internal accountability.” Just wondering: Is that an upper or lower body injury?

Rafa Nadal

Since the start of the 2017 tennis season, here’s the scoreboard for men’s Grand Slam titles: Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic 13, Rest of World 0. The last player not named Nadal, Federer or Djokovic to win one of the four majors? Stan Wawrinka, at the 2016 U.S. Open. (Footnote: In the same time frame on the women’s side, there have been 11 different champions, with only Simona Halep and Naomi Osaka winning twice.)

And, finally, I’d really like San Fran to win today’s Super Bowl skirmish because of Katie Sowers. I just don’t think they will.

Let’s talk about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and a rout…the Sun ragdolls the Drab Slab…helmet to helmet…Kap’s dog-and-pony and clown show…Grapes really has left the building…Alpo barks back…Planet Puckhead has non-hockey regions?…Ponytail Puck…ugly Americans…and Rafa calls a news snoop on his B.S

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and it’s grey, cloudy and wet where I live, a good day to stay inside and watch three-down football…

Bombers by 17.

There. I said it. Not going to change it.

A few hours from now, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers will have booked themselves a trip to Calgary for the Grey Cup skirmish on Nov. 24, and it won’t be close, not even if Corn Dog Cody Fajardo makes a side trip to Lourdes between now and this afternoon’s kickoff at Mosaic Stadium on the Flattest of Lands.

And, no, this isn’t the rambling of a Jenny-come-lately swayed by the Bombers paddywhacking of the Calgary Stampeders a week ago

Zach Collaros

I’ll remind you that I’ve been telling anyone willing to listen for more than a month that Winnipeg FC wasn’t a fool’s bet to be grabbing grass at McMahon Stadium in the final frolic of Rouge Football 2019. Just to refresh:

Oct. 9 (before the Bombers brought Zach Collaros on board): “Go ahead and accuse me of typing with rose-tinted glasses, and maybe I am, but I believe the CFL West Division remains a crap shoot and the Bombers aren’t completely out of the discussion.”

Oct. 27: “Playing on the final Sunday in November is doable.”

Nov. 3: “After watching the Calgary Stampeders and Saskatchewan Flatlanders struggle mightily against inferior foes in the final thrusts of the Canadian Football League regular season on Saturday, who’s prepared to write off the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the chase for the Grey Cup? I’m not. Ya, sure, they’ll have to win twice on foreign soil to get the job done, but there isn’t anything about either team that should keep the Bombers awake at night. My pre-season prediction was a Winnipeg-Hamilton Tabbies Grey Cup game, and I’m sticking with that.”

So now here we are, Winnipeg v. Saskatchewan Roughriders for bragging rights of the West Division and Prairie pigskin, and when I hear Gang Green plans to use everyone from Corn Dog Cody to Premier Scott Moe at quarterback this afternoon, well, that seals the deal for me.

Corn Dog Cody

They tell us that Fajardo is good to go, but the guy’s nursing an upper-body owie that prevents him from airing it out, which means sideline steward Craig Dickenson will also trot out wet-eared Isaac Harker and Winnipeg FC washout Bryan Bennett, and maybe Scott Moe in a pinch. Well, QB by committee seldom works, and it certainly won’t get the job done against that nasty Bombers defensive dozen.

Add to that the iffy fettle of praise-worthy pass-catcher Shaq Evans, and the Flatlanders enter the fray with one hand tied behind their back and one foot in the gridiron grave.

I could be wrong, of course. Been there, done that. But I just don’t see the Bombers D surrendering anything but three-point scores, and it will take at least seven of them to make this an interesting disagreement. That ain’t going to happen.

So, make the final: Winnipeg 29, Saskatchewan 12.

Speaking of routs, the boys at the Winnipeg Sun—Paul Friesen, Teddy Football and friends in the Postmedia chain—gave the Drab Slab a thorough and proper ragdolling in local newspaper wars the past two playoff Sundays. Today, the Sun delivered an 8 1/2-page package on the Bombers-Riders, with 11 articles and stats. A week ago it was eight pages, eight stories and stats for Bombers-Stamps. The Drab Slab, meanwhile, gave us one Jeff Hamilton story and one Mad Mike McIntyre column today, and that’s actually a step up compared to a week ago when the broadsheet didn’t consider the West Division semifinal significant enough to dispatch Mad Mike to Cowtown. Hamilton wrote one piece on the weather, and they also ran wire copy (also on the weather). So, if you’re keeping score at home (and I know you aren’t), the final tally is: Sun, 16½ pages, 19 articles; Drab Slab, 4 pages, 4 articles. We haven’t seen that big a rout since Tiger Woods’ divorce settlement.

I don’t know if anyone at the Drab Slab is embarrassed by the paddywhacking they’ve taken on Bombers coverage, but the tall foreheads there have always been an arrogant, smug bunch, so I doubt it.

Moving back to reading tea leaves, the Hamilton Tabbies aren’t about to waste the best season in franchise history by coughing up a hairball v. the Edmonton Eskimos in the East Division final at Timbits Field in the Hammer today. They’ll tip a canoe, though, with five lead changes. Tabbies 36, Eskimos 34.

Does this make sense to anyone? Rip the helmet off a foe’s head and cocabonk him with it in the National Football League and you’re slapped with an indefinite suspension, minimum six games. Do the same thing in the CFL (hello, Vernon Adams Jr.) and it earns you a one-game slap on the wrist. Is there some sort of U.S.-Canada exchange rate on criminal activity that I’m unaware of? Or is Commish Randy Ambrosie too busy making nice with Mexico and Europe to give a damn about CFL player safety.

What do you get when a dog-and-pony show is missing the dog and pony? Just the clown (hello, Colin Kaepernick). Seriously. What was that Kaepernick-NFL showcase all about on Saturday? His 1970s hair style?

Ron MacLean

Is it true? Has Don Cherry really left the building? Of course he has. Coach’s Corner is Coachless Corner after close to four decades on Hockey Night in Canada. But, hey, not to worry. Grapes’ former straight man, Ron MacLean, still managed to work in two token Bobby Orr references during four minutes, 44 seconds worth of groveling on Saturday night. He just did it without insulting Francophones, Russians, Europeans, pinkos, women, immigrants and men who prefer to play hockey rather than fight.

I keep hearing that Brian Burke is the curmudgeon-in-waiting at HNIC, but that’s too same old, same old for me. I like much of Burke’s work since he joined Sportsnet, but, even though 21 years younger than the 85-year-old Cherry, he preaches from the same horse-and-buggy hockey bible. That is, he’s still a fists first, finesse second advocate, and that’s not the way the game is played today. For evidence, see Milan Lucic and his three points in 20 games.

Alpo Suhonen

The most biting snarl directed toward the now-defrocked Grapes came from Alpo Suhonen, long-time Finnish coach and a former Winnipeg Jets assistant once mocked by Cherry for having a name that sounded like “some kind of dog food.” Following Cherry’s ouster from HNIC, Suhonen launched this missile in an interview with Postmedia: “I found him to be a nationalistic, chauvinistic, narcissistic, toxic man…I know a lot of Canadians love his style, but his opinions about Europeans and their hockey, and the style he’s speaking, I find it very narrow-minded.” Ouch..

Jacques Cartier

In the fallout since the Don Cherry dismissal on Remembrance Day, the most curious comment was delivered by Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail. “If America has blue states and red states, Canada has hockey regions and non-hockey regions,” he wrote. Say what? I’ve been drawing breath for 69 years (99.9 per cent of it “good Canadian” oxygen), I’ve spent time in burgs coast to coast, and I’ve yet to discover any of these “non-hockey regions” that Kelly scribbles about. Where are these mysterious locales? Are they lost civilizations? If not hockey, what goes on there? And how did John Cabot, Samuel de Champlain, Jacques Cartier, James Cook and George Vancouver all miss these “non-hockey regions?” Inquiring minds need to know.

Before the puck was dropped in October, I had the Winnipeg Jets pegged for a bubble team, with a wild card playoff spot their best-case scenario. But here they are today, running with the big dogs in the National Hockey League Central Division, just four points out of top spot. Trouble is, they’re also only three points away from falling out of the post-season picture. Yup, sounds like a bubble team to me. But they’re a good-news story one-quarter of the way through this crusade, and I’d say both Connor Hellebuyck and Laurent Brossoit are making Paul Maurice look like a darned good coach.

Frank Seravalli

TSN squawk box/scribe Frank Seravalli is cruising out of his lane again. It wasn’t enough that he once made the laughable and totally fraudulent suggestion that Daniel and Henrik Sedin were “the faces of hockey in Western Canada for much of the 21st century,” this American born, American raised, American schooled, American resident is now sticking his star-spangled snoot into our global puck affairs. “Hayley Wickenheiser has been called the Wayne Gretzky of women’s hockey,” he writes. “It would be fitting then to bestow an honour on her that has only been given to Gretzky at the NHL level: Wickenheiser’s No. 22 should never be worn again by a Canadian woman on the international stage. It’s time for Hockey Canada to officially make that the case.” Well, excuse us all to hell, Frankie boy, but if you promise not to tell us how to dress our female hockey players, we’ll promise not to tell your female soccer players how to behave in a 13-0 rout.

Megan Rapinoe

On second thought, forget that. We’ll mention ugly Americans and Megan Rapinoe’s big mouth every chance we get. But Seravalli still has no business telling us how to dress our Ponytail Pucksters.

I note that the National Women’s Hockey League has had an infusion of funding and there’s talk of expansion to the Republic of Tranna next autumn, which means the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association crusade to put Commish Dani Rylan and her operation out of business is failing. The PWHPA boycotters can continue to stage glorified scrimmages and photo-ops with Billie Jean King, but Ponytail Puck won’t move forward until they sit down and have a chat with Rylan. I’m not sure what part of that they don’t understand.

Rafael Nadal and his bride, Xisca.

Got a kick out of Rafael Nadal’s reaction to the dumbest of dumb comments the other day at the ATP tennis event in London. The world No. 1 had just been beaten by Alexander Zverev, and Italian news snoop Ubaldo Scanagatta wondered aloud if Rafa’s stumble was due, in part, to his recent exchange of “I do’s” with longtime squeeze Xisca Perello.

“I’d like to know, for many people to get married is a very important distracted thing,” said Scanagatta. “Before the marriage, during the marriage, after the marriage. Your concentration on tennis life has been bit different even if you were going out with the same girl for many, many years.”

“Honestly, are you asking me this?” Rafa responded. “Is this a serious question or a joke? Is it serious? Ya?”

Nadal then engaged in a bit of a to-and-fro before finally saying, “Okay, we move to Spanish, because that’s bull shit.”

And, finally, on the matter of bull leavings, it has come to my attention that this is post No. 500 for the River City Renegade blog. All I can say is that’s a whole lot of BS. Probably way too much, in fact.

Let’s talk about Mayor Brian Bowman bailing on the Blue Bombers…split screens and Benny on TSN…Sleepy Joe and Wile E. Coyote…CFL head counts…the Roger and Novak show…Simona Halep beating the bully…and fond memories of local tennis

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and you won’t find any aces in here but there are plenty of double faults…

So, Brian Bowman wants the City of Winnipeg to wash its hands of the Blue Bombers.

Mayor Brian Bowman

Was it something they said? Is it that 28-year, no Grey Cup parade thing? Someone at City Hall doesn’t like Mike O’Shea’s sideline look? Whatever the case, surely we can work this out, even if it means convincing Coach Mikey to shop at Mr. Big & Tall instead of finding his game-day attire on the racks at Sally Ann’s.

Personally, Coach Mikey’s t-shirt-and-shorts chic has never bothered me. I look at him as Coach Grunge. You know, the way Neil Young is the Godfather of Grunge.

Come to think of it, perhaps Neil Young will be Mayor Bowman’s next target. No more official bragging about the Sugar Mountain kid skipping school at Kelvin High to earn his musical chops hither and yon with the Squires, Buffalo Springfield, CSNY and Crazy Horse. Who wants to be bragging on a high school dropout as a homeboy? Let the Republic of Tranna claim him.

And, hey, while he’s at it, maybe Mayor BB can order favorite citizen Kenny Ploen deported back to Lost Nation, Iowa. After all, it’s been more than half a century since K.P. had a hand in bringing the Grey Cup to Good Ol’ Hometown.

Mind you, Mayor BB wouldn’t know much about that. He wasn’t around in the late-1950s and early-1960s, when Ploen, the Lincoln Locomotive, Choo Choo Shepard, Zazu, Kid Dynamite and the large lads in Blue and Gold won championships like kids collected bubble gum cards of their Canadian Football League heroes.

By the time Mayor BB squeezed out of the womb, those legends were long gone and so were the Bombers’ glory days.

Mayor Steve Juba: Friend of the Bombers.

But I’ll tell you who could have filled him in on those “best of times”—Steve Juba, one of his predecessors in the mayor’s office. Trouble is, Steve left us in 1993, so he isn’t available for a fireside chat with the present-day Hizzoner. If he were, no doubt Mayor Steve would regale Mayor BB in what it was like back in the day. You know, when the mayor of all the people actually embraced the connection between city and Winnipeg FC.

True story…

Once upon a time, the Bombers held a Blue and Gold intersquad game during training exercises. It was a huge deal. Anywhere from 17,000 to 19,500 locals would make their way to the real-grass football field on Maroons Road to take in the annual frolic, and I was among the east-side rabble on the night of July 21, 1960.

The opening kickoff tumbled near the Gold goalline, whereupon a return man scooped it up and began to skedaddle toward the right sideline. He had the awkward gait of peg-leg pirate and the giddyup of a sloth, but admirable escapeability. Would-be tacklers flung themselves at him in desperation without success, and he made it untouched to the far 35-yard stripe before an unknowing skunk shirt ruled him out of bounds.

I describe the game official as “unknowing” because the fix was in. The return man, you see, was Mayor Juba and the pre-arranged script had him lugging the kickoff back for a touchdown. Alas, someone forgot to clue in the sideline official. Didn’t really matter, though. Mayor Steve had punked the audience.

Three years later, a Blue and Gold game official ejected Kenny Ploen and receiver Farrell Funston when they connected for a TD. On the first play from scrimmage. The rabble howled in protest, demanding that Ploen and Funston be reinserted to the fray. They hadn’t paid $2 a pop to see some clown in a striped shirt turf two of their heroes. Upon closer inspection, however, it was discovered that the man in stripes was…you guessed it, Steve Juba. Yup, once again, Mayor Prankster had pulled one over on the Big Blue masses.

It was fun stuff. And a charming, folksy chapter in the historic bond between city and football club.

Yet, given his druthers, Mayor BB is inclined to bail on the burg’s beloved (well, aren’t they?) Blue Bombers. He’s not interested in the City of Winnipeg occupying a seat on the board.

Mayor Steve must be spinning like a lathe in his cold, Blue and Gold grave.

One thing to keep in mind about Winnipeg FC: It isn’t a community-owned operation. No one owns the football club. It’s community-run.

A couple of words on TSN’s innovative(?) split screen/live mic thingy during the Bytown RedBlacks-Montreal Alouettes skirmish on Saturday: The worst. We were forced to watch Antoine Pruneau and Henoc Muamba do absolutely nothing on the left side of our flatscreens for a dozen or more plays, while squinting at the right side of the screen to see what the other 22 players were doing. I’m all for new-fangled gadgetry, but this was a colossal failure. And, since I can’t afford a 70-inch TV, I hope this experiment goes the way of the Indian head test pattern (Google it, kids).

Mike Benevides

Kirk Penton, as always, delivered the good stuff in his CFL column for The Athletic last week, and it included this gem from a former coach: “It was great to see one of us (coaches) on TSN. Benny (Mike Benevides) sounded like what he is—a solid football guy. He understands our game. He picks up the keys to the game and explains them. Without him, the rest of that group is no different than watching Entertainment Tonight Canada. A lot of expensive clothes and a lot of talk about nothing.” Burn! Personally, I find Benevides uppity, if not flat-out arrogant. He doesn’t talk as much as he lectures, as if the former players on the TSN panel are still in film study. Benny could spend a bit more time in wardrobe, too. He’s not smoooooth like Milt Stegall. But, then, who is?

Anyone have a clue what’s going on in Montreal? Or maybe this is a better question: Does anyone in Montreal have a clue, period? I mean, the Alouettes are a welfare case (read: no owner); they play in a half-empty house; they fired head coach Mike Sherman on the eve of the CFL season; now they punt GM Kavis Reed after twin Ws leveled their record at 2-2. Strange bit of business. But here’s where it gets Rod Serling/Twilight Zone weird (cue the creepy music)—they’ve handed the keys to the shop to Joe Mack. That’s like giving Wile E. Coyote another stick of dynamite. Nothing good will come of it.

Sleepy Joe

Blue Bombers loyalists can tell the Larks all about Sleepy Joe and how he believed a brittle Buck Pierce was a better option at quarterback than Mike Reilly in 2013. It took present-day GM Kyle Walters more than three years to find his way out of the rubble that Sleepy Joe left behind, but we still feel an after-shock every now and then.

Sorry to report that attendance across the CFL is not on the rebound. The numbers continue to plummet everywhere but Calgary, and it’s gotten so bad in the Republic of Tranna that they don’t bother to take a head count. I agree. That’s unacceptable. After all, how long does it take to count to 100? Maybe they can bring in the Army to do it for them.

Novak Djokovic

Sports theatre doesn’t get much better than what played out on Centre Court Wimbledon on Sunday, with Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer knocking the fuzz off tennis balls at the All-England Club. Five sets, tiebreaker in the fifth, three ‘breakers total…bloody brilliant. And dare I say, the loser in this historic 7-6, 1-6, 7-6, 4-6, 13-12 tussle was the better player most of the afternoon. It’s just that Djokovic won the points that mattered most in claiming his 16th Grand Slam title, and that included fighting off two match points against Federer’s serve.

Simona Halep

I must confess, while watching the very likable Simona Halep give bully Serena Williams a good and proper rag-dolling in the women’s final on Saturday, I kept wondering if tournament officials would be required to dial 911 and call for a SWAT team to restore law and order. That is, I expected Williams to dig into her bag of angry theatrics and take the event hostage, much like she did in losing last year’s U.S. Open to Naomi Osaka. Thankfully, she brought her prim and proper manners to the English party. But she’s still a bully.

Halep worked a mere 56 minutes in winning her title. Djokovic needed four hours and 57 minutes to get the job done v. Federer. Each champion received a winner’s purse of $2.95 million. Any complaints about pay equity? I hope not.

Since Federer claimed his first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon in 2003, it’s been same old, same old on the men’s tour. Only 10 men have won a major. That’s it, just 10 in 17 years. Between Swiss maestro Federer, Djokovic and Rafa Nadal, they’ve collected 54 of the 65 majors, which is insane. Meanwhile, on the women’s side, there have been 24 Grand Slam champions in the same time frame.

Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club

I’m partial to tennis because it was my favorite beat at the Winnipeg Tribune. I spent countless enjoyable hours courtside at both the Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club and the Canoe Club through most of the 1970s, and I have fond memories of people like Rick Borland, Judy Peake, Jo and Jack Brown, Eleanor O’Gorman, the Campbell sisters, Glen Booth, Jim Matthews, Al Skaletar, George Kylar, and so many others. So it pains me that the Winnipeg Sun would choose to ignore the National Bank Challenger tournament, which wrapped up at the WLTC on Sunday. The Drab Slab, meanwhile, did it right with young Taylor Allen’s feet on the ground through the entirety of the event.

And, finally, here’s something for the Winnipeg Jets rabble to chew on, and I’m guessing some might not like the taste:
Jordan Binnington salary: $4.4 million.
Connor Hellebuyck salary: $6.166,666 million.
Stanley Cup rings: Binnington 1; Hellebuyck 0.
Feel free to discuss among yourselves.

Let’s talk about no respect for fitba…girl power on TSN’s World Cup coverage…Kaylyn Kyle blowing the whistle on refs…hair of the dog…Rafa and Big Red…and go Raptors

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and if you don’t like reading about soccer, you’d be wise to move to another blog right about now…

The women’s World Cup is comfortably underway in France, and I sometimes wonder why we in North America have been so slow on the uptake in embracing the beautiful game known around the globe as football but soccer here at home.

True, fitba can be slow, tedious and boring. And, of course, there are the play-actors and their near-death experiences, a dodgy bit of business that is shame-worthy but never Oscar-worthy.

Neymar

Perhaps it’s the theatrics of the soccer elite—almost exclusive to the men’s side of the pitch—that keeps us at arm’s length. I mean, watching Neymar and other faux thespians flopping and twitching and gasping for their last breath, like so many trout out of water, provides comic relief but it’s also a total turnoff. If I want to see bad acting, I can turn on Mama’s Family any night on MeTV.

But, hey, even with fake injury time added to each half of a soccer match, it’s over in less than two hours.

Cripes, man, the halftime show at the Super Bowl lasts longer than that, especially if Janet Jackson has to put her clothes back on. And yet the National Football League and its Super Bowl is a colossus, even when halftime entertainers aren’t flashing flesh.

The NFL, National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball and National Hockey League are John, Paul, George and Ringo. Major League Soccer is George Martin or Brian Epstein or Billy Preston. You know, the so-called Fifth Beatle. Or worse—Yoko Ono.

Many myopic mainstream jock journalists are reluctant, or refuse, to acknowledge MLS as a major-league sport.

Steve Simmons in the Republic of Tranna, for example, recently posted this item to his Twitter feed:

Toronto big league championships in my lifetime (with apologies to Argos, Rock and TFC)
62 Leafs
63 Leafs
64 Leafs (have no memory of 62-63-64)
67 Leafs
92 Blue Jays
93 Blue Jays.

Toronto FC’s 2017 MLS title fails to register on the Steve-O-Meter.

Yet MLS qualifies on most measuring sticks as “big league.” Million-dollar player salaries? Check. Global reach? Check. Multi-million-dollar national TV contract? Check. Franchises worth mega-millions? Check. Healthy attendance? Check.

Atlanta United, in fact, has a better average head count (52,000-plus) than every team in Major League Baseball. Toronto FC outdraws the Blue Jays. Seattle Sounders outdraw the Mariners. Cripes, man, as of June 2, Portland Thorns FC of the National Women’s Soccer League had better attendance than nine MLB outfits. See for yourself:

I see a lot of “big league” head counts in there.

Meanwhile, here are a few other points of interest about MLS:

Atlanta United fans

* Forbes valued four franchises at more than $300 million last year (Atlanta United $330M, L.A. Galaxy $320M; Seattle Sounders $310M; LAFC $305M) and Toronto FC at $290M. Again, that spells “big league” to me.
* In 2018, 53 MLS players collected $1,000,000 or more at the pay window, while both Zoltan Stieber of DC United and Andreu Fontas of Sporting Kansas City came in at one dollar less. If those aren’t “big league” wages, Pele was a punk rocker.
* Among all global leagues, only Poland’s First Division has had a faster growth spurt in the past five years, and MLS average attendance between 2013 and 2018 was eighth in the world.

Atlanta packs ’em in.

* Atlanta United puts more people in the pews than Manchester United, Newcastle United, Liverpool, Benfica and Atletico Madrid, among many others, while Seattle Sounders have a larger per-game following than outfits like Chelsea and AC Milan.

Is MLS the premier fitba operation on the planet? Of course not. But it doesn’t have to be on par with the English Premier League, Serie A Italy, La Liga or the Bundesliga to make it a member in good standing of the Big Five—and not the Fifth Beatle—in North America.

No surprise, really, that Simmons would pooh-pooh the MLS as a hamlet-sized dot on our sports landscape. Here’s what he had to say about fitba on the Toronto Mike’d podcast during Toronto FC’s championship run: “I’m almost embarrassed to be at the soccer games, because my knowledge of the game and my interest in the game is so limited. I don’t know the ABCs. Honestly, I couldn’t tell you all the positions. I don’t know how many players are on the field. Honestly, I have no connection to this game at all. I didn’t grow up with it, I didn’t play it, I never watched it, I didn’t care about it.” That’s an astonishing confession from a sports columnist with a nation-wide platform. Let’s hope it means he’ll leave the writing on the women’s World Cup to scribes who actually know how many players are on the pitch.

If you tune in to World Cup coverage on TSN, you’ll see something as rare as a Monday morning without a Donald Trump tweet—an all-female natterbug panel. Instead of simply looking all gussied up and pretty, they’re letting Clare Rustad, Kaylyn Kyle and Diana Matheson analyze teams, break down plays and—oh…my…gawd—deliver opinion. You know, like they actually know what they’re talking about. Imagine that. Women with functioning brains on sports TV. What a concept.

Kaylyn Kyle

I really enjoyed the lively and spirited banter between Rustad, Kyle and Matheson at halftime of the England-Scotland skirmish. Kyle and Rustad disagreed sharply on what should and shouldn’t be a hand ball penalty, and host Kate Beirness knew enough to zip her lips and let the two former Canadian national team members have at it. Kyle was, to say the least, animated and agitated after the Video Assistant Referee awarded England a penalty kick due to an unintentional hand ball by the Scots. Kyle was emphatic: The game referee and VAR room should ignore one of the most fundamental rules of the game and let the women play on. Which, of course, is total nonsense. Do you know what we’d have if officials stopped calling games by the rule book? The Stanley Cup playoffs.

Fashion note: The aforementioned Kyle has the most magnificent head of hair on TV. I know several drag queens who would give their first-born to have that mane.

Speaking of hair, what are the chances that Brett Hull is looking for some hair of the dog this morning? If Hull wasn’t five sheets to the wind on Sunday night in St. Loo, he was off his meds because he looked and sounded totally wasted prior to puck drop for Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final between the St. Loo Blues and Boston Bruins. I’m guessing his head is exploding right about now.

Someone hurled a can of beer onto the ice surface late in the Game 6 skirmish. I’d point to Hull as the most likely suspect, except he didn’t appear to be in the mood to let a good can of beer go to waste.

Secretariat at the Belmont Stakes.

I never thought I’d see dominance in sports like Secretariat at the 1973 Belmont Stakes. Big Red romped to horse racing’s Triple Crown with a 31-length victory in a world-record time that stands unchallenged to this day, and watching film of that gallop still gives me a shiver and has me reaching for the Kleenex.

Rafa Nadal

Even after the passage of so much time, it seems so unreal. Like a fairytale about a wonder horse that us old folks like to tell our grandkids. But it happened, and so did a different kind of thoroughbred—Rafael Nadal. If anything comes close to Secretariat at the Belmont, it’s Rafa on the red clay of Roland Garros in Paris. In winning his 12th French Open title and 18th tennis Grand Slam on Sunday, Rafa is running neck-and-neck with Big Red on my personal scorecard of belief-challenging accomplishments. He’s 93-2 in France. That is not a typo. Do not adjust your screen. The King of Clay has lost twice—in 15 years! Against the absolute best players on the planet. That’s insane.

Number of different women winning the past 10 tennis Grand Slam tournaments: 9. Naomi Osaka has been the only repeat champion. Number of men not named Nadal, Federer or Djokovic winning the past 10 tennis Grand Slam tournaments: 0.

Kawhi Leonard

Fun tweet from Gord Stellick of Sportsnet: “Taking attendance first day of JK at Toronto schools in 2024: Kawhi Smith, Kawhi Jones, Kawhi Murphy, Kawhi Watson…”

And, finally, it’s my understanding that they’ll be playing a rather significant basketball game tonight in the Republic of Tranna. Like the majority of Canadians, I won’t be watching, but I hope Kawhi Leonard and the Jurassics get the job done against the Golden State Juggernaut. I love it whenever we beat the Americans at our own game.

Let’s talk about Carolina Cornball…Grandpa Grapes…snack time for the Winnipeg Jets…clock ticking on CFL-CFLPA talking…no living wage overseas…Trump trumps Vlad the Bad’s eight goals…the Big One in tennis…baseball a yawn-a-thon?…and other things on my mind

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and we’ll have fun, fun, fun until daddy takes the T-Bird away…

Contrary to popular belief, if you look up the word ‘fun’ in the dictionary, you won’t find a team photo of the Carolina Hurricanes.

No, the Bunch of Jerks and their “front-running fans” didn’t invent merriment and crazy hijinks, but we’re led to believe that they’ve cornered the market on mirth, what with their Storm Surge and their admirable, albeit stalled, push in the current Stanley Cup tournament.

I mean, consider these headlines I stumbled upon during a Google surf on the weekend:

  • The Guardian: “How the Carolina Hurricanes hit back on the NHL’s war on fun.”

  • YouTube: “Carolina Hurricanes/The Importance of Fun.”

  • For the Win/USAToday: “Rooting for the Carolina Hurricanes is rooting for fun.”

  • NHL.com: “Hurricanes embrace fun, victory celebrations.”

  • Boston Globe: “Are Carolina Hurricanes jerks or just having fun?”

I imagine the Boston Bruins (especially), the St. Louis Blues and the San Jose Sharks are also having themselves a royal hoot since they, along with the Hurricanes, remain standing in the National Hockey League spring runoff. It’s just that, unlike the Bunch of Jerks, none of those outfits spent the entire winter playing post-match parlor games like Duck, Duck Goose, so we don’t really know for certain that they’re having fun.

More to the point, would they even know how to be good time Charlies?

Fun, after all, is not historically an NHL thing. Except, of course, when the Washington Capitals win the Stanley Cup and Alexander Ovechkin goes swimming in a public fountain. But even Ovie and the Caps stopped short of playing Duck, Duck Goose in the fountain, perhaps owing to the fact they were too tipsy with gusts up to flat-out legless

At any rate, the NHL has never been known as a knee-slapping, belly-laughs enterprise, something an opinionist at The Guardian felt obliged to emphasize in an ode to Carolina Cornball:

“The NHL can’t really take a joke. Which is maybe all the more reason to laugh at it sometimes, like a bunch of jerks.”

Certainly the Hurricanes’ marketing department is having fun, also generating scads of American greenbacks with its Bunch of Jerks and Bunch of Front Running Jerks t-shirts. It’s a merchandising windfall and, yes, now that you mention it, Donald S. Cherry likely deserves royalties on sales, since it was the Hockey Night in Canada curmudgeon who inserted the phrase(s) into the hockey lexicon.

Here’s the thing, though: Sixteen outfits qualified for the Stanley Cup tournament. Fifteen of them did not play post-match parlor games during the regular season. We are now down to the NHL final four, and even the Hurricanes long ago abandoned the Storm Surge and its accompanying shenanigans.

So are we still having fun?

Perhaps the Canes will re-introduce Carolina Cornball now that they’re down 2-nada and heading home for the next two skirmishes in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference final vs. the Bruins. Whatever works, right?

I doubt they’ll resort to parlor games, though, because there’s a time and place for everything and Ring Around the Rosie won’t help them out of their hole. Mind you, they could try Pin the Tail On the Donkey—seeing someone stick it to Brad Marchand is always fun.

This whole Hurricanes-and-fun thing has inspired considerable pro-and-con dialogue, and my favorite line was delivered by the Charlotte Observer editorial board. Noting that it was Cherry who fanned the flames by describing the Canes as a “bunch of jerks” and Carolina fans as “front runners,” the Observer wrote: “Front-runners, if you haven’t figured it out, is Canadian for bandwagon fans. Don Cherry is Canadian for ‘get off my lawn.’” That, kids, is a classic burn. Also true.

Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab dipped his pen into the Carolina Cornball discussion, offering this: “At their practice Monday in Raleigh, players gathered at centre ice in a big circle and took turns sharing their weekend activities, which included a couple of well-deserved days away from the rink. From Storm Surges, the team’s cheeky Twitter account and merchandise, it’s obvious they’ve got a good thing going on, which is translating to their spirited play on the ice, and in a copycat league, perhaps the (Winnipeg) Jets might want to try and emulate some of the good vibes going forward. Maybe they can start by sitting everyone in the circle at the start of training camp and talking about how they spent their off-season.” Oh, for sure. And maybe they can bring snacks, too. Blake Wheeler is in charge of the crab cakes, Rink Rat Scheifele the nutribars, Jacob Trouba the beef stew, Big Buff the catfish, and Twig Ehlers the Danish for dessert. Sorry, but if there was anything to Carolina Cornball, all 31 NHL clubs would be playing Pictionary and Parcheesi between periods.

Nice to see Paul Friesen and Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun do some day tripping down memory lane, revisiting the last of les Jets World Hockey Association glory days. Paul had a chin-wag with funnyman coach Tom McVie, while Ted checked in with lickety-split left winger Morris Lukowich, and it’s all good stuff. Next Monday marks the 40th anniversary of Winnipeg HC’s third and final WHA championship run, and I’m glad the two Sun boys are reminding youngsters in the audience that there was a time when victory parades were routine in Good Ol’ Hometown.

Yes, now that you ask, I think it’s boffo that Chris Matthews is back where it all started for him in the Canadian Football League, which is to say as part of the pass-catching ensemble with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. I just wish I could be confident he’ll have a league to play in for his second go-round in blue-and-gold.

Apparently, negotiations between the CFL and the CFL Players Association has been reduced to an exchange of notes on cocktail napkins. That’s not to say the two sides aren’t working in good faith on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, but with training exercises due to begin in less than a week it’s awful close to last call. And I’m getting a tad antsy.

Dani Rylan

On the subject of work stoppages, next time you hear someone say women who play pro shinny “deserve” a living wage, remind them that the average head count across the National Women’s Hockey League last season was 954. Sorry, but no one— expect perhaps founder/commish Dani Rylan and her second in command, Hayley Moore—makes a living wage based on those numbers.

It’s important to note that the 200 women who say they won’t be playing hockey next winter have limited their boycott to North America. There’s nothing to stop some of them from suiting up with an outfit in either Finland’s Naisten Liiga or the SDHL in Sweden. Trouble is, no one watches distaff shinny on that side of the pond, either, so they still wouldn’t be earning a living wage.

So, John Daly has been given the okie-dokie to ride a cart in the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black Course on Long Island this week. Hmmm. I thought every golf course in America already had a beer cart.

Vlad the Bad

Russian dictator Vlad the Bad Putin scored eight goals in an exhibition hockey match last week. Not to be outdone, Donald Trump claims to have scored eight holes-in-one on the weekend and has already declared himself winner of the PGA Championship. A victory lap in John Daly’s beer cart is scheduled for the White House rose garden next week.

Trump’s paid Pinocchio, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, hopes to be remembered as “transparent and honest” once she’s no longer telling lies for the president. Ya, and I hope to be remembered as a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist.

Is it game, set and match for the Big Three in men’s tennis? Might be that it’s been reduced to the Big One, Novak Djokovic. The Joker laid claim to the year’s first Grand Slam, the Australian Open, and he won the Madrid Open on Sunday, beating upstart Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final. But the King of Clay, Rafa Nadal, hasn’t won on his favorite surface this year and Roger Federer couldn’t get past the quarterfinals in Madrid. Still, I’ll reserve judgment until Rafa is beaten at Roland Garros and Roger falls on Centre Court Wimbledon.

Interesting take on baseball by Mad Mike McIntyre. He reckons the rounders game is losing traction among the rabble because sitting through three hours of sputtering action is “asking a lot of spectators to endure, especially when you factor in time to travel to and from the stadium.” (I’m not convinced travel time to the ball park is greater than to any other sports venue, so that’s a silly comment.) Mad Mike cites statistics from the Wall Street Journal to support his theory, but does a ball game actually take longer to complete than other sports? Nope. It’s middle of the pack. Here are some event times:

And, finally, the dreaded Grip Reaper has come to collect another old friend and colleague, Marten Falcon. A good man, Marten and I started in the rag trade together, working as copy runners at the Winnipeg Tribune, and he spent his newspaper career as one of those necessary behind-the-scenes people who put the sheet together at both the Trib and Sun. Lost contact with Marten after I left the tabloid, and that’s going on 20 years, but I won’t forget him.

Let’s talk about Josh Morrissey and Winnipeg Jets goats…the Toronto Star spending NHL money…second jobs…Red Sox air traffic control…the Kentuky (sic) Derby in Kentucky…Stamps or Raps?…and Felix gets the King of Clay in Madrid

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and, yes, it’s still morning where I live…

Okay, here’s what I want to know: What did Josh Morrissey do to tick off anyone? Hike gas prices? Steal nickels and dimes from panhandlers in Osborne Village? Say women’s hockey sucks?

Whatever the misdeed, there are folks who want young Josh on the next stagecoach out of Dodge.

Josh Morrissey

And, for me, that’s what jumped out as I scanned the results of the Winnipeg Sun You Be the Boss survey, in which the rabble were invited to play Puck Pontiff and suggest who among the Winnipeg Jets should stay or go.

The rest of it, I get.

The faithful, for example, have seen and heard enough of Jacob Trouba. Ditto Charlie Huddy. Well duh. Those two are to Jets loyalists what Trudeau II is to Saudi Alberta, and it doesn’t matter that Trouba just completed the most-productive crusade of his National Hockey League career.

Fact is, the young defender once requested a one-way ticket out of town and, when asked, Trouba refuses to express warm and fuzzy feelings for River City, a dismissive attitude that never plays well in a burg that leads the league in inferiority complex (ask old friend Evander Kane about that).

Paul Maurice and Charlie Huddy.

Huddy, meanwhile, holds the defence coaching portfolio and, since les Jets so often come across as Keystone Kopish behind the blueline, he takes the rap. Mind you, some longtime devotees never have warmed to Huddy simply because they can’t get past his alliance with the 1980s Edmonton Gretzkys. If you’re too young to recall those dark days, be advised that the Gretzkys made annual spring sport of les Jets, bullying them as if part of a college hazing ritual.

No surprise, therefore, that 78 per cent of 4,598 respondents want Trouba kicked to the curb, while 51 per cent would prefer that Huddy clear out his desk. (Note: He’s the only member of head coach Paul Maurice’s staff they want removed.)

Jacob Trouba: No warm and fuzzies.

But this Morrissey thing baffles me. The guy is boy-next-door likable. I bet he shoveled the neighbor’s sidewalk as a kid. Gratis. Likely mowed the lawn, too. You could create a sitcom based on him: Everybody Loves Josh. Except everyone doesn’t.

The question was simple: Should he stay or should he go? A whopping 98 per cent say Trouba’s top-pair defence partner is a keeper. Works for me. So who is the 2 per cent? And how did Morrissey possibly rub those 92 people the wrong way?

The survey results don’t provide those kind of answers, but I suppose it doesn’t matter. I mean, as long as Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff aren’t among the 92, Morrissey isn’t going anywhere.

Kyle Connor

Noteworthy was the Kyle Connor-Patrik Laine finding. That is, given a choice of one or the other restricted free agent, the rabble would prefer to keep Connor by a 61-31 percentage. That’s not surprising. It’s all about expectations, of course, and Puck Finn’s are sky high. Connor’s not so much. He scores 34 goals and the hosannahs ring out from hither and yon. Puck Finn, meanwhile, scores 30 and the sky is falling. It doesn’t help, mind you, that Laine basically dogged it for 2-3 months during the recently concluded crusade.

Also noteworthy is the number of respondents to the Sun survey. The 4,598 is dwarfed by a similar You Be the Boss study undertaken by its sister paper in Edmonton, where 9,250 angry Oilers fans had their say. That could mean a few things: a) the folks in E-Town are more PO’d that the rabble in River City; b) the E-Sun circulation is considerably larger than the W-Sun; c) they care more in E-Town; d) Winnipeggers have better things to do than fill out survey forms once the grass is riz.

Well, another newspaper editorial board is telling the 32 NHL owners how to spend their money. This time it’s the Toronto Star, where the Lords and Ladies of One Yonge Street have weighed in on the demise of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and a player boycott: “The players who built the league—and kept it afloat with plenty of their own money, earned through the second jobs they all had to have, just to play professional women’s hockey in this country—deserve so much better than this. A partnership with the NHL, which has the brand power and all the resources, is the best way to put women’s hockey on a sustainable path. It really is time for a $5-billion enterprise that claims “Hockey is for Everyone” to do something to make that sound a little less hollow for half the population.” Hmmm. I hardly think a private business that laid off 52 employees in summer 2018 and another 21 in June of last year is positioned to lecture another private business. And if the Star is so keen on resurrecting the CWHL, perhaps it can pony up $100,000 to put the Tranna Furies back in business.

Ken Ploen

Too much is being made of women’s hockey players needing to hold down second jobs to pay the bills. That’s as old as Gordie Howe’s first jock strap, and it’s never been limited to shinny. Ken Ploen had a day job throughout his entire career with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Ditto teammate Cec Luining, known as the Selkirk Milkman because he really was a milkman with the family dairy operation in Selkirk. New York Giants linebacker great Sam Huff bagged groceries. Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan worked at a gas station and installed air conditioning. Another hurler, Harvey Haddix, delivered heating oil. Jon Cornish, while leading the Canadian Football League in rushing, worked two six-hour shifts per week as a bank teller. Many CFL players still have second jobs. So it shouldn’t be included in the women’s hat-in-hand argument.

The Boston Red Sox wrap up a road trip on Wednesday in Baltimore, then break ranks to board two charter flights—one taking manager Alex Cora and seven players home to Beantown, the other carrying the remaining World Series champions to the capital for a visit with Mr. and Mrs. Trump at the White House. Final score at the D.C. airport: Red Sox 18, Air Force One.

Donald Trump

Got a kick out of the Trumpster tweeting about Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, which he pooh-poohed for its controversial ending. He spelled the state “Kentuky” and “Kentucky” in his original tweet, then someone made a correction on the first “Kentuky.” But, hey, don’t call it a spelling mistake. Trump aide Kellyanne Conway insists the Command-in-Chief was simply providing “alternative facts.”

What would a week be without some asinine scribblings from the Republic of Tranna? Here’s Michael Grange of Sportsnet on the Toronto Raptors: “You can make the case that they’ve been the most successful Canadian sports franchise for the last several seasons.”

Deep sigh.

Here’s what the Raptors have won in the past five seasons:
National Basketball Association titles: 0.
NBA final appearances: 0.
NBA Eastern Conference titles: 0.
Atlantic Division titles: 4.
First-place finishes: 4.

Here’s what the Calgary Stampeders have won in the past five seasons:
Canadian Football League titles: 2.
Grey Cup game appearances: 4.
West Division titles: 4.
First-place finishes: 4.

I’d say two league titles and four championship game appearances trumps zero every time. But, then, the CFL is like curling to news snoops in The ROT—it doesn’t exist.

And, finally, the good news is that our terrific tennis teen Felix Auger-Aliassime has advanced to the round of 32 at the Madrid Open. The bad news is he has a date with the King of Clay, Rafa Nadal, on Wednesday.