The River City Renegade


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About the Secretariat of clay court tennis…a delight named Jelena…time for Chevy to get to work…and angry, old Grandpa Simmons is shaking his fist at clouds again

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

Let’s make something perfectly clear: Stan Wawrinka is very, very good and what he does.

Unless your name is Roger Federer, Stan the Man is the best tennis talent ever produced in Switzerland. He is just one successful Wimbledon fortnight short of a career Grand Slam, having already claimed the singles titles at the Australian, French and U.S. Opens. He is ranked No. 3 among all racqueteers on the third rock from the sun.

Yet Rafael Nadal made No. 3 look like No. 303 in the men’s final at the French Open on Sunday in Paris.

It was like watching Secretariat win the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths. Seriously, 6-2, 6-3, 6-1? In the championship match of a Grand Slam tournament? We haven’t seen a rout like that since Custer threw down on Crazy Horse at the Little Bighorn. Or at least since Rafa paddywhacked Federer 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 in the 2008 championship match at Roland Garros.

But that’s what Rafa Nadal does. Put him on a tennis court made of clay and you have Secretariat.

Rafa Nadal

The wedgie Rafa delivered to Wawrinka on Sunday reminded me of something Yogi Berra mused about Sandy Koufax, scant seconds after the legendary Los Angeles Dodgers lefthander had whiffed 15 New York Yankees in Game 1 of the 1963 World Series:

I can see how he won 25 games,” said Yogi, the Yankees catcher. “What I don’t understand is how he lost five.”

It’s the same with Rafa Nadal. He’s won the title at Roland Garros 10 times, collecting 79 victories against two losses. How in the name of Philippe Chatrier did he lose twice?

Robin Soderling (2009) and Novak Djokovic (2015) are the only foes to vanquish Rafa on the red clay of Roland Garros, and I have to assume French Open officials demanded that both men pee in a bottle immediately after their matches. I mean, you don’t beat Nadal in Paris unless there’s something funny in your drinking water.

Most people go to Paris for the food, the wine, the art, the culture and the romance. Nadal goes to search and destroy. He’s relentless, ruthless and has the steely-eyed focus of an assassin.

Wawrinka mentioned something about playing Rafa on a clay court being the stiffest challenge in tennis, and evidence supports that notion. Nadal has lost only twice at Roland Garros. In 13 years. He’s 102-2 in best-of-five matches on clay.

But Wawrinka is also selling the Spaniard short. It isn’t just tennis. Playing Rafael Nadal on clay is the greatest challenge in the entirety of sports.

Jelena Ostapenko

There’s hope for the future of women’s tennis, and her name is Jelena Ostapenko, the Latvian lass whose dashing and daring ruled the day at Roland Garros. The winners and unforced errors come in equal number from Ostapenko, but once she brings her service game up to the level of her groundstrokes (she hits her forehead harder than world No. 1 Andy Murray) the 20-year-old will become the face of the ladies’ game the moment Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova take their permanent leave. It isn’t just her substantial game, though. It’s her winning personality. On court, Ostapenko bares her emotions, off court she is the very picture of wide-eyed innocence, often giggling like a schoolgirl and forever smiling. She’s an absolute delight.

While watching the French Open this past fortnight, I found myself wondering this: How did Steffi Graf, Chrissie Evert, Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King and other legendary ladies’ champions win all those Grand Slam titles without the orgasmic shrieking and grunting that we hear today?

I heard a rumor that the National Hockey League season is over. If that’s true, someone give Kevin Cheveldayoff a nudge and tell the Winnipeg Jets general manager to “wakey, wakey.” It’s time for him to go to work.

I note that Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press has been tabbed for induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Roll of Honour in October. Good choice. Wiecek is the best sports columnist the Drab Slab has featured since Hal Sigurdson signed off in 1996, even when he’s writing about rock climbing.

Steve Simmons has become the Jose Bautista of sports writing: Tedious, tiresome and time to move on. I mean, it’s one thing for a columnist to be opinionated and rub the rabble the wrong way. That’s a large part of the gig. And Simmons surely has mastered the art of getting up noses with his alphabet farts that appear on sports pages of Postmedia sheets from one flank of the True North to the other. But…the Toronto Sun scribe has grown increasingly nasty and mean-spirited, if not cruel, in his commentary. He is Grandpa Simmons, shaking his fists at clouds and screaming at kids to get the hell off his lawn. A case in point is Simmons’ take on mixed doubles competition in Grand Slam tennis. When our girl Gabriela Dabrowski advanced to the mixed doubles final of the French Open last week, Mark Masters of TSN delivered this tweet: “No Canadian woman has won a mixed doubles grand slam title. Ottawa’s @GabyDabrowski has a chance to change that on Thursday.” To which Simmons responded: “Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.” I’m not sure if that was supposed to be funny, witty or clever, but it was none of the above. It was classless, tacky and totally unnecessary, as were a series of insensitive follow-up tweets belittling Dabrowski’s and partner Rohan Bopanna’s achievement.

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that Simmons is pooh-poohing yet another event in sports. It’s become his shtick. Last year he was “bothered” by the selection of Rosie MacLennan as Canada’s flag-bearer for the Olympic Games in Rio, because trampoline is “a marginal pursuit” that “seems more backyard and gimmicky that it does Olympian.” He’s also advocated the elimination of women’s hockey at the Olympics, writing: “Women’s hockey is the least competitive, least interesting, least Olympic of all sports in the Winter Games. There should be a cry to end this Olympic charade of imbalance.” And he once told the Ryerson Review of Journalism that “I don’t believe there’s a demand from the public for women’s sports.” I’ll remind you that he writes for a newspaper that’s best known for the tits and ass it displays on Page 3 and, to this day, continues to objectify women with its Sunshine Girl.

Thanks to a study by neuroscientist Tara Swart, we now know what we’ve suspected all along: Journalists’ brains function at a sub-par level. For evidence, see: Simmons, Steve. (See, I can stoop to gratuitous, mean-spirited and nasty comments, too. You know, just like a real sports columnist at a real big-city newspaper.)

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


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About Kyle Walters’ thin skin…a birthday bash for Ab McDonald…Sam Katz’s Fish…and dumbing down on The Reporters

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

Kyle Walters

Kyle Walters

I’ve never met Kyle Walters, but, based on his most recent thrust and parry with news scavengers, he strikes me as a man who hasn’t had a bowel movement in about a week.

I mean, that wasn’t a press conference the Winnipeg Blue Bombers general manager had after dispatching Drew Willy to the Toronto Argonauts. It was a root canal. Without anesthesia. At times, his facial expressions suggested someone was squeezing his left testicle.

Like when Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun tossed out this question:

What do you say to fans who wonder about your ability to produce, develop, find a long-term solution at quarterback?”

Walters closed his eyes. He licked his lips. He grimaced. He raised his eyebrows. He closed his eyes again. He pursed his lips. I think there might have been a wince in all those facial gymnastics as well.

You’re questioning my competence I guess is what you’re asking?” he then said.

Ouch. A wee bit touchy, are we Kyle?

I suppose that’s understandable, though. After all, shipping his high-salaried, backup QB to the Boatmen was a concession that Walters’ and head coach Mike O’Shea’s handling of Willy was a badly botched experiment. They treated him as a quarterbacking messiah, even though he was still as green as St. Patty’s Day when he arrived in River City, and they coddled and stood by Willy even as Matt Nichols outperformed him at training camp this summer.

That was the most shocking and disturbing sound bite that surfaced in Walters’ chin-wag with the Fourth Estate the other day. He, like so many others, recognized that Nichols was the superior quarterback, yet he and O’Shea went with the inferior guy. Their guy.

Matt Nichols

Matt Nichols

Certain guys click with coordinators better than others, and Matt just seemed to be a better fit for what Paul (offensive coordinator LaPolice) wanted to accomplish,” Walters confessed. “You saw that a little bit through training camp and certainly through the productivity that Matt’s had. It’s not uncommon where certain skill sets of players match up with certain coordinators a little bit better, and I think in this situation Matt’s aligns with Paul’s a little bit better. Matt’s a bit…quicker release, anticipates things a little bit better, gets rid of the ball a little bit quicker.”

So why the hell wasn’t Nichols starting from the get-go? Why did we have to wait until this Canadian Football League crusade was on amber alert before we saw Nichols behind centre?

Because the Bombers braintrust is quarterback blind, that’s why.

Based on evidence gathered to date, Walters and O’Shea wouldn’t know a quarterback if they saw Tom Brady and Peyton Manning playing catch in Matt Nichols’ back yard. Perhaps that explains why they don’t have a QB under contract beyond the end of November.

Go ahead and challenge Walters to name his starting quarterback for 2017. He can’t. But they can in Regina and Calgary and Edmonton and B.C. Among the CFL West Division outfits, only in Winnipeg do they not have a QB clue.

And yet Walters gets his back up when asked a fair question about a long-term quarterbacking solution for the Bombers. Good grief, man.

Paul Friesen wasn’t questioning Walters’ competence, but someone should when it comes to QBs.

Friends, family and fans will gather to swap stories and tell lies about one of the truly good guys, Ab McDonald, on Thursday night at the Victoria Inn out by the airport in St. James. They’re calling it an 80th birthday bash, but it’s all in support of Special Olympics, an organization near and dear to McDonald’s heart. Ab was always one of my two go-to guys whenever I needed a comment about the Winnipeg Jets, the other being Joe Daley. The first Jets captain and the man who scored the first goal in franchise history, Ab is engaging and obliging and quick to deliver a thoughtful quote. I always considered him to be a gentleman of the Jean Beliveau ilk.

sammyI found Sam Katz to be somewhat less than sincere and a phony in his dealings with us at the Winnipeg Sun during my dozen or so years with the tabloid. So much so, that I once imposed a moratorium on all Sam Katz interviews because he wasn’t to be believed. That’s why I oft referred to Sammy in print as the Unmentionable Man. I will say this for him, though—he has delivered as owner of the Winnipeg Goldeyes. The Ballyard by the Forks is a beautiful facility and the Fish have established a tradition of baseball excellence. They’re in another final, this time against the Wichita Wingnuts in the American Association, and if Sammy’s boys pull it off it’ll be a third title for the franchise. So I have two words for you this morning, Sam (not the same two words I once used to describe you): Go Fish!

Dave Hodge must have passed out the stupid pills before the latest edition of The Reporters on TSN this week, because Michael Farber and Steve Simmons went deep into the dumb barrel.

First, Farber said, “Colin Kaepernick has essentially become Rosa Parks.” What the fudge? That just might be the stupidest comment I’ve ever heard from an intelligent man and an excellent writer. Rosa Parks was arrested, fingerprinted and spent a day in jail for refusing to surrender her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery, Ala., in 1955. On the police report, arresting officers listed her nationality as “Negro,” not American. The incident sparked a 13-month bus boycott, brought Martin Luther King Jr. on board and gave rise to the civil rights movement in the United States. Mrs. Parks also lost her job as a seamstress, she was arrested a second time for her role in organizing the boycott, and she felt obliged to leave town.

Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks

And what has Kaepernick been forced to endure for his refusal to stand for the Star-Spangled Banner before National Football League games? Scorn from divas like Kate Upton. That’s right, a supermodel has tsk-tsked him. Such a hardship for the San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback to bear. How will he survive?

Colin Kaerpernick is no Rosa Parks. Shame on Farber.

Not to be outdone, Postmedia’s Simmons doubled down on dumb with a nonsensical rant about the recent U.S. Open tennis championships saying, “I hate any tournament that Serena Williams doesn’t win and I hate any tournament when (Novak) Djokovic isn’t right in there and fighting for a championship. In this case, Serena wasn’t herself, he wasn’t himself, and we get a B winner so to speak.”

Angelique Kerber: A "B" winner?

Angelique Kerber: A “B” winner?

Well, let’s see. Angelique Kerber won two Grand Slam events this year (U.S., Australia) and was in a third final (Wimbledon). She’s ranked No. 1 in the world among female players. This is a “B” winner?

I now direct your attention to the men’s side, where Stan Wawrinka prevailed over Djokovic in the championship match. Wawrinka has won more Grand Slam tournaments since 2014 than Rafael Nadal (1), Andy Murray (1) and Roger Federer (0). Only Djokovic’s six GS titles is better than Wawrinka’s three in that time frame. In each of his Grand Slam victories, he has defeated the world No. 1-ranked player in the final. Only one player, Djokovic, has won more titles this year and over the past three years. Wawrinka is ranked No. 3 in the world. This is a “B” winner?

I was waiting for someone on the panel or host Hodge to challenge Farber and Simmons, but no. They were given a free pass. Wouldn’t want to ruffle any feathers, would we now?

Which has long been my one complaint about The Reporters: It has no bite, no edge. It’s just four buddies agreeing with each other, even when they say really, really dumb things.

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

 


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About Steve Simmons ‘outing’ two Raptors…apologies to Canada…cheering for Doug Wilson…and the best of tennis

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

bow wow bungalowSo, let me see if I’ve got this straight: DeMarre Carroll and Cory Joseph are observed strolling through Jack Casino in Cleveland at 2 o’clock in the a.m.; they are in breach of no laws of the land; they are in breach of no code of ethics; they are guilty of no trespasses against team-imposed guidelines. They are, quite simply, two adults talking and walking in retreat to their hotel rooms, in the company, it should be pointed out, of four other adults.

And this is news?

It is if you’re Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun and you are the self-appointed hall monitor of the Toronto Raptors and you believe Carroll and Joseph should be tucked in bed by 2 ayem, not “wandering around in the middle of the night.” After all, Carroll and Joseph were expected to participate in a significant National Basketball Association playoff skirmish in another 18 1/2 hours, which, on the Steve-o-Metre, apparently is not sufficient kip time to be up to the task of subduing the Cleveland LeBrons.

If only they had been in bed by, oh, let’s say 10 p.m., surely the Raptors would have delivered greater resistance against the Cleveland assault. No doubt they’d have fallen by a mere 28 points, rather than 38, on Wednesday night in Game 5 of the final dispute on the Eastern Conference side of the NBA divide.

But wait. In Simmons’ own words, the Carroll-Joseph late-nighter “may have had nothing to do with how or why the Raptors were decimated and embarrassed 116-78.”

I see how it works. The two Raptors weren’t intoxicated, they weren’t raising a ruckus, they didn’t have a woman hanging on each arm, they weren’t playing with guns, and their influence—positive or negative—on what transpired on the hardwood floor of the Quicken Loans Arena could not be measured vis-a-vis their slumber habits. Yet let’s ‘out’ them anyway, thus giving rise to suspicion and perception that Carroll and Joseph are a couple of good-time Charlies or, even worse, a pair of no-goodnicks.

It is, frankly, laughable that a member of mainstream sports media would bring into question, or tsk-tsk, the nocturnal wanderings of professional athletes, given that there isn’t a jock sniffer alive who, after filing copy on game nights, is in the sack with lights out by the stroke of 12. The nature of their beast is very similar to that of the athletes they write and talk about. They just earn considerably less coin, is all.

So, I’m sorry, but the issue here is not about the sleeping patterns of Carroll and Joseph. The issue is one that mainstream media won’t address, because they tend not to eat their own. To wit: Should Steve Simmons have ‘outed’ the two Raptors?

Well, to use a hoops term, since there was no harm, no foul, the answer is “no.”

Thus, you can mark down Simmons’ column as reason No. 546,592 why professional athletes consider jock journalists lower than Homer Simpson’s IQ.

We won't apologize for the Biebs.

We won’t apologize for the Biebs.

I see where ESPN blowhard Stephen A. Smith has delivered a mea culpa for dissing the Raptors two games into their best-of-seven skirmish with the LeBrons. “I gotta be a man of my word,” he said after Toronto had leveled the series at 2-2, “and just apologize to Canada, all Canadians everywhere.” That’s all well and fine, Stephen. Just don’t expect us to apologize for Celine Dion, Nickelback or Justin Bieber. (As an aside, Stephen: No need to apologize to “all” of us hosers, because, beyond the borders of the Republic of Tranna, few care about the Raptors.)

I’ve always cheered silently for Doug Wilson to succeed as general manager of the San Jose Sharks, because he played for the Winnipeg Clubs in 1973-74 when I worked the Western Canada Hockey League beat for the Winnipeg Tribune. I remember Wilson as a soft-spoken, shy, polite kid. So good on him now that his National Hockey League outfit has advanced to meet the Pittsburgh Penguins in the final of the Stanley Cup tournament.

The most-ballyhooed hockey players outside the NHL have to be teenagers Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine and Mitch Marner. Matthews and Laine did boffo work at the just-concluded World Hockey Championships in the Republic of Putin, while Marner is killing it with his London Knights at the Memorial Cup tournament in Saudi Alberta. All are worthy of the hosannas, but one thing separates Matthews and Laine from Marner: They were playing against men (mostly), Marner is playing against boys.

Bjorn Borg

Bjorn Borg

Bjorn Borg will always be my favorite tennis player, but Rafael Nadal, searching for his 15th Grand Slam title until a wrist injury shelved him at the French Open, is the best I’ve ever seen. My all-time dream match would be Borg in his prime vs. Nadal in his prime at Roland Garros in Paris. Nadal would win in five sets. I think. Maybe. Dream match No. 2 would be Steffi Graf vs. Serena Williams at Roland Garros. Graf would win in three. Definitely.

I have trouble watching Andy Murray play tennis. I mean, it’s painful. Whether ahead or chasing the match, the Scotsman always looks like a tormented soul straight out of a Shakespearean tragedy. Every time he turns to grab a towel, I expect to see a shiv or arrows in his back.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.