Let’s talk about Coach Grunge, a hammer and a chisel……newspaper wars…no sex, they’re coaches…a reigned-in Commish Randy…caution when kicking Bo’s tires…a Mud Bowl baby…football, food and freeloaders…and other things on my mind this Grey Cup day…

Mike O’Shea

Top o’ the morning to you, Mike O’Shea.

Well, Coach Grunge, you have a chance to boldly go where no Winnipeg Blue Bombers sideline steward has gone before in Rouge Football—three Grey Cup parades in three years.

I don’t know if that means we should alert the sculptor, but statues of legendary coaches Bud Grant and Cal Murphy stand outside the Ballyard In Fort Garry and they never brought the Grey Grail to Good Ol’ Hometown for a downtown celebration in back-to-back-to-back years, so maybe a hammer and chisel wouldn’t be such a bad idea.

I can see it now: A bronze likeness of you in your grunge look of faded hoodie (or t-shirt), battered ball cap, Papa Smurf chin whiskers and, of course, short pants, which were the object of much scorn before the rabble (and at least one news snoop) realized the length of a man’s pant legs has nothing to do with the execution of X’s and O’s.

But I don’t want to get ahead of myself, Coach Grunge.

Before anyone hails the sculptor, there’s the matter of your blue-and-gold-clad lads grabbing frozen grass with the Toronto Argos this afternoon at Mosaic Stadium on the Flattest of Lands. Get the job done to put a wrap on this Canadian Football League crusade and comparisons to Bud Grant will be unavoidable, since, as mentioned, the Silver Fox never managed a three-peat.

Oh, he came close, Coach Grunge. Relics like myself can recall four title shindigs in five years when trees seemed to stand taller (1958-59, 1961-62), and nice guy Mike Riley gave it a go during his brief whirl as head coach, winning in 1988 and 1990, but skipping a beat in ’89.

So you’d stand alone in Winnipeg FC annals, which date back to 1930, and it would put you in some interesting company in Rouge Football lore.

By my count, Coach Grunge, four men have pulled the strings for three-peat champions: Hugh Campbell, who was greedy and copped the Grey Grail five years in succession (Edmonton Elks, nee Eskimos, 1978-82), Pop Ivy (Edmonton, 1954-56), Teddy Morris shortly after the boys came marching home from WWII (Argos, 1945-47), and Billy Hughes (Queen’s University, 1922-24).

I’m sure you recognize the names Campbell and Ivy, and perhaps you’re familiar with Teddy Morris, too, since the Argos are part of your background story. But Billy Hughes? I hadn’t heard of him until his name popped up on a Google search.

Familiarity or not, Coach Grunge, a W today in Regina would lock you in with legends, and who would have thought that possible after the early returns on your Blue Bombers gig?

That was a scary bit of business. You broke from the gate 12-24. That’s when the rabble talked more about your short pants and grunge gear than your quarterbacks. And, I’ll admit, I figured you had a shorter shelf life than toilet paper during a pandemic. Then boom: 70-34, three division titles, two Grey Cup championships, with gusts up to three, and twice anointed coach-of-the-year.

I don’t know how often you think about the dark days, Coach Grunge, but I’m guessing you’re grateful that CEO Wade Miller and GM Kyle Walters didn’t jerk their knees and drop-kick you into the coaching recycle bin.

Question is: Where do you go from here?

You’re at the end of your tether contract-wise and, as much as I’d like to think the preference of Miller/Walters would be to keep the Canadian Mafia intact, you might have other ideas. Could be that you’ll eyeball opportunities in Ottawa or Montreal, which are closer to your roots. Maybe even another one of your old haunts, Hamilton, will come calling if Orlondo Steinauer decides his head set is no longer a good fit.

Oh, I know you showed Good Ol’ Hometown and Winnipeg FC loads of love during Grey Cup week, and Miller insists he’ll lock you in a room and toss away the key until next summer if that’s what it takes to prevent an escape, but let me say this about that: We all thought Bud Grant was a lifer, except it turned out he preferred the hunting and fishing back home in Minnesota, so he bolted in 1966 and transformed the Vikings into an NFL power. He also took his trusty sidekick, Johnny Michels, with him for good measure, leaving Winnipeg FC high and dry until the mid-1980s.

But, hey, your future is a natter for another day, Coach Grunge.

The Argos and history are right in front of you. Win today and you can show up on the sideline next year wearing a thong and tank top and nary a discouraging word shall be heard or written. It might throw the sculptor for a loop, but we can’t worry about artsy-fartsy types who tend to get into a tizzy over the simplest things. We’ll talk about a proper pose for the statue once the job’s done vs. the Boatmen.

Shakey Hunt

The nation’s football reporters had head coaches O’Shea and Ryan Dinwiddie of the Argos on the spit last Wednesday, and absent from the media/coaches to-and-fro was the traditional question about the sexual conduct of players in advance of the large game: Were bedroom romps permitted, or not? The cheap-yuks query stirred up great giggles when first launched by legendary scribe Jim Hunt back in the 20th century, in part because Shakey was a loud and funny guy, but, over time, it became more of a groan-worthy, eyeballs-a-rolling moment. That’s no knock against Terry Jones, who took the torch from Shakey. It’s just that the sideline stewards weren’t always eager to play along and their replies were flatter than Saskatchewan. There were, mind you, moments of rich levity when Shakey and Jonesy were rewarded with quality sound bites, but its expiry date had arrived.

The Rose-Colored Glasses Award goes to Dinwiddie, who believes a W today will force folks in the Republic of Tranna to sit up and take notice of the Boatmen. “I think there will be a buzz around the city. I think if we can win on Sunday, I think it’s going to open up some eyes that the Argos can bring something to the city,” he told news snoops. Ya, and maybe Pinocchio will turn into a real boy and join Rod Smith and Glen Suitor in the TSN broadcast booth today (I shudder to think how that interview would play out). Still, full marks to Dinwiddie for his fairy-tale optimism.

There was, as usual, much blah, blah, blah and yadda, yadda, yadda in advance of today’s grass-grabber in ol’ Pile o’ Bones, but the only storyline that truly mattered was QB Zach Collaros’ availability to the Bombers. The rest of it? Filler and free food for news snoops. Trust me, I know. You arrive on Monday, start cranking out the copy and/or sound bites in earnest on Tuesday, and, by Saturday morning, you’ve exhausted all worthy story-time narratives. And you’re screaming, “Just play the damn game, already!” It’s a 10-plus-hour-a-day grind, but a fun grind that makes the pints taste better once you slap a -30- on your last piece or file your final sound bite. The rush of Grey Cup Week remains one of the few things I miss about the rag trade. (Don’t ask me about the Grey Cup Week when Terry Jones, Al Ruckaber and myself shut down at 5 in the a.m. after wetting our whistles in an Edmonton cop shop.)

Staying on that theme, one aspect of Grey Cup Week that I enjoy is newspaper wars, which are amped up when the home team is part of the fray. The boys on the Bombers beat had at it the past six days, and the Winnipeg Sun whomped the Drab Slab in volume. The tabloid team of Paul Friesen and Teddy Wyman (with contributions from other Postmedia scribes) churned out 38 articles, compared to 22 from Jeff Hamilton and young Taylor Allen (contributions from Canadian Press, newsside, arts department) over at the broadsheet. Team Sun finished with a nine-page flourish today. In terms of quality copy, let’s call it a wash, because they all did boffo work. I’m a big fan of all four and, remember, Good Ol’ Hometown is the only locale west of the Manitoba-Ontario boundary that offers that level of competition.

Commish Randy

Wait. What’s this? CFL commish Randy Ambrosie wasn’t yakking about unicorns, the Tooth Fairy or sprinkling pixie dust during his annual chin-wag with news snoops? Well, actually he was…just not as much as is his custom. Normally, the commish comes across as giddy as a guy who just found a 50-dollar bill in his coat pocket, but this was a more reigned-in Randy. He gave his gums a rigorous, one-hour workout while saying a whole lot of nothing, but we did learn that next year’s playoff grass-grabbers shall be on Saturdays, although the skirmish for the Grey Grail remains a Sunday staple. Oh, he also informed the gathering that Rouge Football now has something called a “watchability index” and “touch points.” Meh.

Alphonso Davies’ readiness for futbol’s World Cup has been an iffy bit of business and, in a moment of galloping hyperbole, TSN’s Lindsay Hamilton told us “every single person in Canada is watching this storyline.” Nope. Not all 39 million of us. You’ll have to excuse me, but I’ve been more concerned about Collaros’ owie than Alphonso’s hamstring. (I wonder if talking heads watch the tape and ask themselves, “How could I have said something so stupid?” Lindsay’s normally spot on, so stooping to ridiculous exaggeration isn’t a good look.)

Quiz me this, kids: Who would you rather have on your team, Willie Jefferson or Shawn Lemon? I agree, it’s Willie J. So how can the Bombers DE not be a Rouge Football all-star? It’s like leaving the Pope off an all-Catholic team.

Speedy B.

Just wondering: What is it about Brandon Banks that makes him whine and squawk and stomp his little feet whenever he drops the football? He’s forever yelping at the zebras, demanding a pass interference flag and, no doubt, questioning their ancestry. Yo! Speedy B! Chill. Sometimes a play goes sideways because of good coverage, sometimes it’s the QB’s fault, and here’s something else to consider—sometimes it’s your own damn fault! Guaranteed the Argos pint-sized receiver is good for at least one XXXL-size hissy fit today.

Danny Maciocia cited a lack of discipline as one of the bugaboos behind his decision to sack Montreal Larks head coach Khari Jones four games into the 2022 Rouge Football crusade. So what happens in crunch time with the smug Maciocia wearing the head set? The Larks were penalized four times, twice to keep Argos drives alive, in the fourth quarter of their East Division final loss to the Boatmen.
9:11 (time remaining): Pass interference on 2nd and 14.
4:07: Offside on 1st and 10.
1:17: Face mask on 2nd and 11.
1:12: Offside on 1st and 10.
Atta boy, Danny. Way to keep your lads reigned in.

So, the Hamilton Tabbies have surrendered two draft picks and future goodies for the privilege of pitching woo to Bo Levi Mitchell, the Calgary Stampeders defrocked QB. But wait. Bo says he’ll lend an ear to all other suitors before agreeing to pitch his tent in The Hammer. Fine. But, wherever and whenever he lands, it’s a matter of Buyer Beware. This isn’t Cadillac Showroom Bo. It’s more like Used Car Lot Bo. Teams will have to be cautious when they kick the tires, because something might fall off.

While the Tabbies whisper sweet nothings into Mitchell’s ears, Nathan Rourke will be strutting his stuff stateside for NFL outfits. Such a shame if we lose the Victoria-born phenom after just half a season of sheer brilliance.

Egads! KUB Bakery is no more. Good Ol’ Hometown hasn’t taken this big a hit since the last bite of the last turkey clubhouse sandwich at the Wagon Wheel Restaurant. Winnipeg without KUB is like Sunday without prayer. I’ve been out here on the Left Flank for 23 years, and I’ve yet to find rye bread to match KUB rye. Can’t find corned beef to match Oscar’s, either. Oh, sure, mountain views and palm trees and benign temps in January are a nice tradeoff, but Oscar’s corned beef on KUB rye with mustard would be a boffo halftime snack today. I’ll have to settle for the Hawaiin pizza instead.

Just so you know, I’m a Grey Cup baby. Yup, I came into this world two days after the most-recent Bombers-Argos tussle for the Grey Grail, which wasn’t recent at all. It was the infamous Mud Bowl on Nov. 25, 1950, in the Republic of Tranna. Photographic evidence confirms the playing surface at Varsity Stadium was more pig pen than football field that day, with the large lads grabbing hands full of muck and guck where grass used to be. The Bombers lost 13-zip, so the doc didn’t have to smack my butt to get the squawking started after I’d poked my head out of the chute. I already had reason to bawl.

And, finally…

Let’s talk about the Toronto Maple Elites and the Art of Angst…oh no, no O Canada en francais in the Little Hockey House On The Prairie…the Puck Pontiff and the 3rd Baron have an $805 million toy…a Prairie town with Seabears…the CFL and the kind of voting Donald Trump would love…and other things on my mind…

No one does Chicken Little quite like the rabble and news snoops in the Republic of Tranna, which has a faster-falling sky than any other National Hockey League habitat.

I mean, the Toronto Maple Elites failed, once again, to win the Stanley Cup in October—just like 31 other outfits—and it was a dire bit of business that apparently demanded the dismissal of everyone from the hot dog vendors to the ivory tower, where Brendan Shanahan presides and sits in judgment of the serfs below.

Ten skirmishes into the current crusade, the Shanaleafs were 4-4-2, a tolerable account in most jurisdictions but totally objectionable in the Centre of the Hockey Universe, where the floor for acceptable conduct is first-round playoff success and the ceiling is a Stanley Cup parade. The reality that neither can be achieved in October seemingly escaped the comprehension of the faithful, many of whom recognized a month’s worth of .500 hockey as cause to flood the Twitterverse with 280 characters worth of angst and urgent urgings for the ouster of head coach Sheldon Keefe and/or general manager Kyle Dubas. (And, just for good measure, one or two want to show Mayor John Tory the door, as well.)

News snoops and opinionists, meanwhile, were less inclined to lean toward scorching the earth, with their analysis ranging from cheeky to pragmatic to harsh. Here’s a sampling of their scribblings:

James Mirtle, The Athletic: “They’re just really, to put it charitably, meh right now.”

Cathal Kelly, Globe and Mail: “The Toronto Maple Leafs just finished a western road swing that resembled a man falling down a flight of stairs in slow motion. The Leafs have a lot of problems. Their biggest is that they keep changing problems. Hanging above it all is their level of play: soft. Giggling Pillsbury Doughboy-level soft.”

Steve Simmons, Toronto Sun: “An underperforming mess.”

Marty Klinkenberg, Globe and Mail: “A hot mess. If this were Bugtussle it would be no big deal. But Toronto isn’t a hockey outpost. The faithful who have grown used to an annual collapse are already twitchy.”

Damien Cox, Toronto Star: “No, it’s not too early to ask hard questions about this squad after a lousy western road trip. But it’s definitely too early to reach any meaningful conclusions, particularly after Keefe’s team had a nearly identical start last season and ended up setting a franchise record with 115 points.”

That was before the Philly Flyers arrived in The ROT, and 4-4-2 became 5-4-2. Next up were the Boston Bruins, brandishing the league’s best record, and 5-4-2 became 6-4-2. And then they vanquished Carolina to make it 7-4-2. Yup, the Elites are 3-for-November. Better re-order all those snazzy convertibles for the Stanley Cup parade!

Or not.

As sure as Johnny Bower liked the poke check, another acorn shall fall on Chicken Little’s head soon enough, and great and mournful cries—“They sky is falling! The sky is falling!”—shall again rumble and echo throughout The ROT and, indeed, in all corners of our Frozen Tundra.

Like I said, no one does Chicken Little quite like the rabble/news snoops in the Republic of Tranna. But, hey, they’ve had since 1967 to perfect the Art of Angst.

The Little Hockey House On The Prairie, a no-French zone.

Stu Cowan of the Montreal Gazette has a beef with the Winnipeg Jets: “O Canada was sung in English and French for Habs in both St. Louis and Minnesota but only in English in Winnipeg. Not right,” he tweets. Stu is absolutely correct, of course. If sports teams on our vast Frozen Tundra insist on trotting out crooners for a pre-game anthem (it’s a dumb tradition), it should be in English et en francais. Especially when the Montreal Canadiens are in the Little Hockey House On The Prairie.

Cowan’s comment brings to mind an incident back in the day, when the rabble booed PA announcements en francais during a Jets exhibition game vs. the Finnish National B side. Once back in the Winnipeg Tribune newsroom, I was instructed to pen a front-page piece on the audience’s bad manners, and followed that up with a good and proper scolding of the anti-French boors. The next morning, I received a phone call from a man who threatened to bomb my house. Tough crowd.

The Puck Pontiff

So, Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and his co-bankroll, the 3rd Baron Thomson of Fleet, purchased the Atlanta Thrashers, lock, stock and jock, for US $170 million in 2011, and today Sportico has the Jets valued at $805 million. (And you thought the price of gas and groceries has taken a hike.)

The thing is, $805 million is just a number on a piece of paper unless the Puck Pontiff and the 3rd Baron are inclined to peddle the franchise, and that’s about as likely as palm trees and a nude beach sprouting up at the intersection of Portage and Main in January.

Still, the Sportico list makes for good bar banter and, if you missed it, here’s how the NHL’s seven Canadian franchises stack up in the grand scheme of things:

1. Maple Leafs: $2.12 billion
3. Canadiens: $1.7 billion
8. Oilers: $1.29 billion
11. Canucks: $1 billion
19. Flames: $870 million
22. Jets: $805 million
27. Senators: $655 M

Just wondering: What do you suppose Barry Shenkarow thinks when he looks at those numbers? I’m guessing he winces, gives his head a shake and mutters, “if only.” After all, Barry and the group that bankrolled Jets 1.0 sold the club for $65 million in 1995.

Nothing makes me switch off an NHL game faster than Ron MacLean throwing to a commercial on Hockey Night in Canada by saying, “Cabbie after the break.” Why is there a Cabbie?

You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t get excited about Alexander Ovechkin chasing down Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky as the NHL’s all-time leading goal-scorer. Tough to feel good about Vlad the Bad Putin’s pal when bombs are still raining on Ukraine.

I’m liking what the Drab Slab is doing with it’s Jets post-match coverage. Gone are the yawn-a-thon game stories that drone on in play-by-play style, with cookie-cutter clichés from players schooled in the art of cookie-cutter clichés. Sports editor Jason Bell now has Mad Mike McIntyre and the boys on the beat delivering dispatches in point form, which lends itself to variety of thought and analysis rather than dreary recitation of every pass, shot and save the night before. Give me opinion, anecdotes and harsh truths if required, not a running tally of plus/minus numbers.

According to Mike Sawatzky of the Drab Slab, the Canadian Elite Basketball League is primed to set up shop in Good Ol’ Hometown, with a team to be called the Seabears. I guess that’s because Winnipeg is a seaside town and there are so many bears roaming the streets. I mean, who came up with a name like Seabears for a sports franchise on the bald prairie?

It truly pains me to see the Winnipeg Sun putting out a three-page tabloid sports section. Damn. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be for a daily sheet in a market the size of Good Ol’ Hometown. How are the tabloid’s Toy Department 3—Paul Friesen, Teddy Wyman and Scott Billeck—expected to compete against the Drab Slab, which pumped out eight broadsheet pages on Saturday? It’s like bobbing for apples with your lips zipped shut. So a pox on the suits at Postmedia. Double damn them.

Here’s the page counts for sports sections in Postmedia tabloids across the country Saturday:
Vancouver Province: No paper (13 pages Friday)
Toronto Sun: 11
Ottawa Sun: 8
Calgary Sun: 8
Edmonton Sun: 8
Winnipeg Sun: 3

But, hey, check it out: The tabloid has trashed its TV listings in the Sunday sheet and expanded the sports section, with 12 pages today. Let’s hope going forward they fill the additional space with local copy, or off-beat musings, not a bunch of rot from the Republic of Tranna.

Boffo stuff from Paul Friesen on the 1990 Blue Bombers, many of whom found their way back to Good Ol’ Hometown last week for induction to the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame. Paul, as usual, captures the moment magnificently.

D’oh! The Canadian Football League announced its West and East Division all-star teams on Wednesday, then, scant hours later, sent out a missive saying they had it all wrong and provided revised results (with 19 corrections) after a recount. Now that’s the kind of election Donald Trump would like.

The Glieberguys, Bernie and Lonie.

A number of folks believe the Lords of Rouge Football ought to be red faced because of the voting snafu. Maybe. Maybe not. I mean, you want embarrassing? Try Dexter Manley and the Glieberguys and Mardi Gras beads and bare breasts in Bytown back in the day. How about Commish Randy Ambrosie panhandling on Parliament Hill in the thick of the pandemic? How about those many thousands of unoccupied seats at BMO Field for every Toronto Argos game? Let’s not forget dinosaurs Joe Kapp and Angelo Mosca brawling at a meet-and-greet Grey Cup function. Drafting dead guys in the 1990s? And, hey, have you heard Dennis Casey Park’s rendition of O Canada before the Las Vegas Posse home opener in 1994? The list of Rouge Football’s red-faced moments is longer than a Winnipeg winter, but our quirky, three-downs game has survived ’em all and shall continue to chug along, even if it’s with a red face.

Nathan Rourke

Quiz me this, kids: How many is enough? No, that isn’t a Zen koan. It’s the question I have for the Football Reporters of Canada. The girls and boys on the beat, you see, have decided that B.C. Leos QB Nathan Rourke was not the most dazzling performer in Rouge Football this year, presumably because he only played half a season, whereas Winnipeg Blue Bombers QB Zach Collaros was behind centre for 17 skirmishes. But wait. That same half-season was sufficient to earn Rourke the nomination as Most Outstanding Canadian.

Sorry, but that does not compute. I mean, he’s out as MOP but good to go as MOC? Is that some sort of Canadian exchange rate?

Well, here’s Teddy Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun to explain his thinking on CFL awards balloting: “There was talk among FRC colleagues about voting for Nathan Rourke over Collaros for MOP. Eventually I think right call was made. Rourke had amazing half season but no way of predicting how it would have gone after that. Collaros is deserving of the nomination.

“I voted for Rourke for most outstanding Canadian and majority of FRC voters did as well. The fact is, his half-season numbers were strong enough to outshine other Canadians. They weren’t strong enough to outshine Collaros for MOP.”

And now here’s Jeff Hamilton of the Drab Slab: “Collaros had another solid season and is deserving of the nomination. Nathan Rourke was on his way, and it’s a testament to how great he was when playing. But winning MOP after playing just half the season would have been embarrassing for the CFL.

“Rourke was incredible though. And my basis for voting—I had Collaros MOP; Rourke MOC—is that Rourke had a better season than all other Canadians but not as good as Collaros. Guy had 7 rushing TDs, to go with 25 passing. But, again, I agree with sked and the opposite opinion.”

So, what’s the minimum number of games required to qualify as MOP? Twelve? Fourteen?

Quick picks for today’s opening round in the quest for Rouge Football’s Grey Grail: Calgary Stampeders over B.C. Leos; Hamilton Tabbies over Montreal Larks; Matt Dunigan “gets ‘er done” on the TSN panel; and I foresee a pepperoni pizza-and-football day at Chez Swansson.

The Saskatchewan Flatlanders’ coughed up a hairball the size of a prairie canola field in the back half of the Rouge Football season, going 2-11 with seven successive Ls to close the crusade, and now we know who was most responsible for the fiasco: Offensive coordinator Jason Maas, O-line coach Stephen Sorrells and receivers coach Travis Moore are the official scapegoats. Oh, and let’s not forget starting QB Cody Fajardo, also fired. (His permanent dismissal has yet to be made official.) Meantime, sideline steward Craig Dickenson and GM Jeremy O’Day survive to clean up the mess left behind (apparently) by Messrs. Maas, Sorrells, Moore and Fajardo. My guess: The Flatlanders replace Fajardo with the ghost of Bo Levi Mitchell, which gives them a convenient scapegoat for next year.

Cliff Clavin in a classic episode of Cheers.

Tyler Hubbard, Jordan Davis and Josh Ross are the halftime performers for the Grey Cup game on the Flattest of Lands, Nov. 20. That sounds like an answer Cliff Clavin would give on Final Jeopardy!: “Who are three people who’ve never been in my kitchen?” In this case, it’s more like: Who are three people I’ve never heard of? Well, apparently, they’re country crooners, so do we see one, two or all three of them surface in the TSN booth for face time with Glen Suitor? Or does Groupie Glen limit his man crush gushing to Keith Urban? Better yet, will TSN let us watch the game or force us to endure Suits Goes Fan Boy, the sequel?

A young dude at a New York Knicks game sank a half-court shot to win a car on Saturday. More important, they also gave him $1,000. You know, so he could afford about half a tank of gas.

The Houston Astros have won the World Series. Which reminds me, I have a bag of garbage I need to take to the trash bin.

And, finally…

Let’s talk about the ongoing iffiness of the Canadian Football League

So here’s how I’m reading what went down in the Canadian Football League this week:

The iffiness of a 2021 crusade is no less iffy today than the last time commissioner Randy Ambrosie surfaced to inform us that a 2021 crusade was iffy.

That was back in early March, when Commish Randy was mostly “talking about talking” with Dwayne Johnson and his new toy, the XFL. On Wednesday, “talking about talking” with The Rock had become a secondary squawking point, because Amrosie had moved on to flapping his gums about “backup plans and backup plans to the backup plans and backup plans to back up those plans.”

Welcome to Bafflegab 101, kids.

Yogi Berra and Casey Stengel would be proud of Commish Randy’s word gymnastics, but it’s not like the front man for the Lords of Rouge Football had anything definitive to tell us.

Commish Randy

To recap: The very deep-thinkers who chart course for the good ship CFL gathered on Tuesday and, after considerable natter, they instructed Commish Randy to inform the rabble of their findings. Among other things, it was determined that they’d prefer to kick off a 2021 crusade on Aug. 5, that each team would play a runted 14-game schedule, and that Ambrosie would present the Grey Cup to a bone-chilled champion on Dec. 12 at Timbits Field in Hamilton.

And, yes, now that you mention it, I can think of better places to be than sitting outdoors on a hard, cold bench in the Hammer just 13 days before carving the Christmas turkey, but iffy weather holds a special place in three-down football folklore so, sure, let’s pull on a pair of extra-thick longjohns and watch the large lads grab frozen grass.

Anyway, we all know the proposed start and finish points are target dates best peed into a snow bank than chiseled in stone.

Which is why Commish Randy couldn’t swear on a stack of pigskin-covered playbooks that Aug. 5-Dec. 12 Rouge Football is a done deal. Oh, sure, he informed us that “we’re gonna have a CFL season,” but you have to remember that he’s part politician and assumes we have short memories and won’t hold him to promises.

So he kind of talked in tangled tongues while assuring us that he is “supportive of vaccinations” (well, duh), that there are no guarantees in life except “death and taxes,” that “every kid” should play football because of the life lessons it teaches, and, perhaps my favorite, he and the Lords of Rouge Football have developed “a rather elaborate decision-making matrix.”

G. Sydney Halter

I’m not 100 per cent certain, but I believe that makes Ambrosie the first CFL commish to ever use the word “matrix,” although I suppose G. Sydney Halter might have gone there since he was a distinguished fellow and lawyer who knew and appreciated the value of a well-crafted sentence.

At any rate, Commish Randy has a matrix and he advised Dave Naylor of TSN that “the cells in that matrix will be populated with information.”

Until then, it’s all iffy. Just call it the Ifth Estate.

Meanwhile, go ahead and call me skeptical and cynical, but that’s the product of 30 years in jock journalism and listening to too many people with rose-tinted glasses propped on their nose. Believe me, I want to see a 2021 crusade and I’m glad Commish Randy stepped forward with a message that many among the rabble view with optimism.

It’s just that we know the CFL is at the whims of COVID-19 and a hit-and-miss vaccine rollout that differs from precinct to precinct, thus Commish Randy’s we-will-play promise is built of straw rather than brick and mortar.

“We know that we’re gonna have to be willing to be flexible in order to pull this off,” he conceded.

So let me just say this: If you plan to watch three-down football on Aug. 5, you’re free to circle that date on your calendar, but I suggest you have a backup plan and a backup plan for your backup plan and backup plan to back up that plan.

In other words, circle it in pencil rather than a Sharpie, and make sure there’s an eraser handy.

Let’s talk about spittin’ watermelon seeds with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers

I’ve told this tale before, but it bears repeating given the shaky status of the Canadian Football League.

In a distant time and place, my friend Chester and I would hop on our bikes and make the trek to St. Boniface, twice a day, to watch the Winnipeg Blue Bombers frolic on a parched patch of earth known as Packers Field, so-named because of the Canada Packers rendering plant across the road.

Leo Lewis

We were allowed to get up close and personal with Kenny Ploen and Leo Lewis and Ernie Pitts and Bud Grant, who actually acknowledged our existence and once presented us scamps with a watermelon to share at the conclusion of the two-a-day, preseason training exercises.

How many kids could say they sat and spat watermelon seeds among sporting deity? Just Chester and myself, and it was magical.

The Bombers, after all, were top dog. The Winnipeg Jets had yet to arrive to adjust the pecking order, and our football heroes brought glory to Good Ol’ Hometown, winning the Grey Cup with great frequency in the late 1950s and early ’60s.

I’m uncertain what became of Chester, but, for me, those morning/afternoon sessions at Packers Field served as the stirrings of a life-long fling with Rouge Football.

I was fortunate. Actually, blessed would be a better word. I grew up with the CFL, then got to cover it for 19 years in three locales—Winnipeg, Calgary and the Republic of Tranna—and that’s something you should understand about the boys and girls on the beat: They’re fans.

Those who chronicle the daily doings of the three-down game care. About the league, about the players, about management, about the quirky rules that differentiate us from the four-down colossus south of the 49th. We embrace the notion of humble community ownership, in the same way the citizenry of Green Bay embraces its Packers.

Thus, we tend to take it personal when we hear squawkings of a sellout to American interests, or when the feds decline to pony up with cash to see the CFL through the COVID pandemic. Who are these snake-oil salesmen from the U.S. planning to butcher our game, and how dare Trudeau the Younger and his pals on Parliament Hill give Air Canada, the film industry and the arts community money hand over fist while leaving the lords of Rouge Football to sit, hat in hand, on a cold, dark street corner?

The iffiness of the CFL’s very existence, let alone a 2021 crusade, rattles us to the core, and we nod in agreement when we hear Russ Jackson speaking our language.

“I think if there was an amalgamation of the American and Canadian side, it would lead towards playing the American game,” the great quarterback told 3DownNation. “I have no interest in that. I have four season tickets here in Hamilton. I’m not sure I would keep those season seats if we turned into an American-type football game.”

You tell ’em, Russ. Maybe they’ll listen to you.

I doubt it, though, because they’ve heard it all before. They know all about the 100-plus-year history of the game on this side of the great divide, they’re familiar with folklore about horses clomping into hotel lobbies during Grey Cup week, and about fog bowls, mud bowls and ice bowls, so nothing a legendary QB says will sway them. Heck, we could trot out a lineup of legends including Jackson, Dirty Thirty, Peanut Butter Joe and Big Angie to preach the gospel according to G. Sydney Halter, but the stewards of the game will do what they’re going to do.

Question is: How many among the rabble would be bent out of shape if the lords of Rouge Football sold out to Americans, or if the CFL disappeared like a slab of beef on Chris Walby’s dinner plate? I mean, I like to think that it isn’t just folks of my vintage who want to preserve our game.

Well, I remind you of an Angus Reid poll conducted last May. Slightly more than 1,500 sports fans across the tundra were contacted and asked if they would be “disappointed” should the 2020 CFL season be scuttled. Only in Manitoba and Saskatchewan did the majority respond with a “damn straight I would!” Elsewhere, there was a collective shrug of the shoulders.

Manitoba: 63 per cent
Saskatchewan: 61 per cent
Alberta: 45 per cent
B.C.: 34 per cent
Quebec: 31 per cent
Ontario:  28 per cent
Atlantic Canada: 17 per cent

Significantly, east of the Manitoba-Ontario border, a greater percentage of people indicated they would miss an NFL season more than a CFL crusade.

Commish Randy

We don’t know if those numbers have changed, but something tells me the Lords of Rouge Football and commissioner Randy Ambrosie haven’t attracted any new friends, or brought back old friends, with their fumbled appeals for federal financing and their dithering in the past year.

We’re told the tall foreheads will gather on Tuesday to plot strategy, and I don’t know if I should fear the worst or expect to see Commish Randy pull something that resembles Bugs Bunny out of his hat.

I just know they’re messing with memories, and if they shut down again or sell out to Yankee Doodle dollars I’ll be mad enough to spit. Only this time it won’t be watermelon seeds at Packers Field.

Let’s talk about the yin and yang of Ponytail Puck…English soccer women hit the mother lode…local treasure Jennifer Botterill…Mike Tyson’s meal ticket…the CFL arms race…Chevy and the Arctic ice melt…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and the days are getting longer and so is this blog…

A “shambles.”

That’s the word Kendall Coyne Schofield used to describe the state of women’s hockey in 2019, and it was a harsh truth.

Kendall Coyne Schofield

The mostly ignored Canadian Women’s Hockey League had shuttered its doors permanently, giving rise to a group of malcontents demanding, among other things, a living wage, preferably from billionaire owners in the National Hockey League. Rather than sign on with National Women’s Hockey League outfits and form one super league, 150-200 orphaned players chose to participate in mostly ignored pickup games hither and yon, pose for photos with Billie Jean King, and trash talk the NWHL, which was wrestling with its own credibility demons in its fifth season.

“The women’s professional game is in shambles,” Coyne Schofield, the brightest star in the female shinny galaxy, told the San Francisco Chronicle in December 2019. “I dream of the day a young girl can dream of one day being a professional hockey player, and we’re nowhere near that.”

So, fast forward 15 months, and it’s fair to wonder if that dream is any nearer. Is Ponytail Puck any less in shambles?

Well, let’s take inventory:

The Isobell Cup champion Boston Pride.

The NWHL emerged from its COVID cocoon in January and assembled in Lake Placid for a two-week frolic meant to determine an Isobel Cup winner. Alas, the pandemic put the kibosh on that. The semifinals and final were aborted, but the NWHL returned to the freeze to complete its unfinished business on Friday and Saturday in Boston, declaring the Boston Pride as champions, and all three skirmishes were broadcast live on NBCSN.

Coyne Schofield and friends in the PWHPA, meanwhile, cranked up their second Dream Gap Tour last month, first strutting their stuff in a true sporting cathedral, Madison Square Garden in Gotham, then shifting their barnstorming showcase to the United Center in Chicago. Both friendlies were broadcast live on NBCSN, a first in the United States.

Finally, there’s loud chatter about the NWHL adding a seventh franchise, in Montreal, for its seventh season, and the planet’s elite are scheduled to gather in Nova Scotia for the 20th Women’s World Championship, May 6-16, and TSN will be all-in for the global showcase.

Thus, it sounds like the women are gaining traction. Or not.

As much as the national TV exposure is boffo, certain among the Dream Gappers can’t resist the urge to slag the NWHL, indicating that Ponytail Puck is as much a house divided as in late December 2019, when Coyne Schofield talked about an enterprise “in shambles.”

Cassie Campbell-Pascall

“I don’t think you’ll get the PWHPA and the NWHL together,” Cassie Campbell-Pascall informed Tim Micallef early this month on Sportsnet’s Tim & Friends.

The former Canadian Olympian and current Sportsnet squawk box suggested it would be “awesome” if the NWHL survives, and that it might one day be “a great league,” or grow up and become “a feeder system” to a Women’s NHL featuring Dream Gappers. But it’s “not the future of women’s hockey,” she harrumphed. So there.

“I think the PWHPA is gonna go down as that moment in women’s hockey, that group in women’s hockey, that really, truly made a difference in providing a professional women’s hockey league,” Campbell-Pascall tooted. So there again.

Dani Rylan Kearney

It should be pointed out that Campbell-Pascall is not a member of the PWHPA board. Nor is she an official adviser. But she’s thrown in fully with the Dream Gappers, and Sportsnet continues to provide a pulpit for her unchallenged propaganda. She uses her position for divisive dialogue, sometimes spewing inaccuracies about the NWHL, other times accusing former NWHL commissioner and founder Dani Rylan Kearney of “ulterior motives” without naming her and without introducing evidence.

Others among the Dream Gappers have shown an inclination toward schoolyard banter. Hilary Knight branded the NWHL a “glorified beer league” and former board member Liz Knox tsk-tsked the NWHL for having the (apparent) bad manners to add an expansion team during a sports-wide pandemic shutdown, even as every other jock operation was plotting strategy for a return to the playing fields.

“There is a lot of history there that is uncomfortable,” Tyler Tumminia acknowledged in a natter with Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman on their 31 Thoughts podcast three weeks ago.

Tyler Tumminia

Tumminia became a fresh voice in the discussion after stepping forward as interim NWHL commissioner last October. She earned her executive chops in the boardrooms of baseball (she’s named after Ty Cobb), and she’s attempting to apply lessons learned to Ponytail Puck. Not just the NWHL, understand. The big picture. Which explains her sweet tweet saluting the PWHPA for its landmark appearance at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 28.

“To me, (the tweet) was saying, ‘I value and I see you and I applaud what you guys are doing for the women’s game, for women’s hockey in particular.’” she said. “I shouldn’t be commissioner of a women’s hockey league if I didn’t applaud that. I’m not dismissing the fact that there’s some raw emotions around it. What I’m saying, is that, you know, some of that narrative is actually outdated now, so let’s sit at the table and have a true sense of what is actually going on here and how we can get to where everybody wants to get to. We all want to get to the same spot. So how can we get together. But, ya, I think that there needs to be some therapeutic conversation, and I’m open to that of course. Now, I don’t have much history there, but I’m open to having those conversations of what had happened but, mostly, what can we do going forward.”

The difference in tone between Tumminia and Campbell-Pascall is startling. One is reaching out with an olive branch, the other is swinging a wrecking ball.

Their views on the direction of Ponytail Puck are just as conflicting.

Here’s Campbell-Pascall: “I think the next step is an announcement, the NHL to step up and make an announcement. ‘This is what we’re gonna do, here’s how we’re gonna do it, and this is when we’re gonna do it.’ That’s the only logical step and the only thing in my opinion that makes sense. Ya, I’m putting pressure on the NHL, because I’ve sat in meetings and worked with them for a long time and talked and discussed this for a long time, and it is time. They know it’s time. They have the infrastructure. Obviously COVID has hit the league hard and they’re losing money as well. Obviously timing is not ideal, but the time is now. The time is now for them to step up and make an announcement about how they want to support women’s hockey.”

And now Tumminia: “I think it’s kinda unfair on the NHL’s part for me to say, ‘Hey, they should take it on themselves and, you know, help this all out.’ Meaning, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, everybody’s hurting financially. For them to take on the entire business model, I don’t know. I think that would be a little unfair at this time to ask them to do that. That’s a little bit tough to ask at this point. Now, in a couple years that might be a little bit different. Right now what I think it should look like, is you get a business model that’s strong in a league that goes past a couple of years, in combination with other parties involved and kinda go in the direction where it’s sustainable on its own. And at the time there’s market share, there’s viewership and there’s tribal fandom in these markets, and the markets are actually showing there’s growth and it’s sustainable and it’s fueling and funding revenue streams that are consistent. Then I think at that time, you know, I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s something they take on.”

We can only speculate what’s ahead for Ponytail Puck, but I submit the cause can use a lot less of Campbell-Pascall’s militant mutterings and a lot more of Tumminia’s reasoned rhetoric.

Let’s put it another way: I know which of the two women I’d choose to represent me in a boardroom. (Hint: It isn’t the one making demands of NHL owners who aren’t fishing for fresh ways to squander money.)

Here’s a reason the NWHL and PWHPA need to get their crap together: The English Women’s Super League just hit the mother lode, signing a three-year TV deal with BBC and Sky Sports. Total value: 24 million English pounds, which translates into $33M in U.S. greenbacks. The BBC will show 22 matches and there’ll be as many as 44 more on Sky. Our practitioners of Ponytail Puck will drool at those numbers. That’s where they want to be, visible and with substantial TV revenue. And if it’s doable in English soccer it ought to be doable for shinny in North America, especially in Canada. How do they arrive at that point? Simple: Follow Tumminia’s lead. Sit down and talk. Hash out differences. Clear up misconceptions. Grab an oar and row in the same direction. Campbell-Pascall has said more than once that “this isn’t about one league versus the other league,” but that’s exactly what the Dream Gappers have done to Ponytail Puck. They’ve turned it into a family feud. Now they have a chance to grab an olive branch. We’ll see.

Every time I see and hear Jennifer Botterill talk hockey on Sportsnet, I’m reminded what a local treasure she is and how the decision-makers got it right in making her the first female player inducted to the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame. One of the all-timers in local shinny lore, Jennifer is an Olympic champion, world champion, two-time winner of the Patty Kazmaier Award as the top player in NCAA women’s hockey, team captain at Harvard, CWHL scoring champion, CWHL all-star, and now a respected voice on hockey TV. It’s just too bad Jennifer had to leave home to do all that heavy lifting. Wouldn’t it have been nice if the final notation on her career read: Played professional hockey in Winnipeg?

Having said that, I wonder if the Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, harbors an appetite for bringing a women’s team under the True North umbrella. Has anyone asked the Winnipeg Jets co-bankroll about it? If not, why not?

This is an example of what Ponytail Puck is up against in terms of coverage in mainstream media: The Toronto Six met the Boston Pride in an Isobel Cup semifinal skirmish on Friday. Number of column inches devoted to the match in the Toronto Sun pre- and post-game, zero. But, hey, they managed to squeeze in a full-page Sunshine Girl. Meanwhile, both TSN and Sportsnet used the Boston-Minnesota Whitecaps championship joust as bottom-feeder filler on their highlight shows Saturday night/Sunday morning. The Isobel Cup final was a 52nd-minute afterthought on SportsCentre and a 47th-minute snippet on Sports Central, scant seconds in front of two NASCAR mud-racing pickup trucks.

Mike Tyson takes a chomp out of the champ’s right ear.

I note that cannibal boxer Mike Tyson, who once ate Evander Holyfield’s right ear for a late-night snack, won’t be fighting his former foe for a third time, thus losing out on a multi-million-dollar payday. Guess that means Iron Mike will have to find himself a new meal ticket.

Apparently negotiations between the greybeard boxers broke down when Tyson scared off Holyfield by arriving at one bargaining session with a knife and fork.

Here’s a transcript from the final Tyson-Holyfield verbal to-and-fro:
Tyson: “We have an offer you can’t refuse, Evander.”
Holyfield: “Talk to me, Mike…I’m all ears.”
Tyson: “No you’re not.”

There was also a hangup over the marketing slogan for the proposed Tyson-Holyfield III at Hard Rock Stadium. The two sides agreed it should be something catchy like Rumble in the Jungle or Thrilla in Manila, but Holyfield balked when the Tyson camp insisted on Finger Lickin’ Fightin’ ‘n’ Late Night Munchies In Miami.

Chevy

The Winnipeg Jets lost Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot from their blueline in June/July 2019. Dustin Byfuglien disappeared in September that year. So we started discussing the pressing need for a top-four defenceman 18½ months ago. Question is, why are we still talking about it a year and a half after Big Buff and the boys bailed? What, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff hasn’t noticed those four guys are missing? Of course he has. Yet we still await his next move. It’s official then: Chevy actually moves slower than the Arctic ice melt.

According to the 2021 World Happiness report, Finnish people are the happiest on the planet for the fourth straight year. Hmmm. Did anyone think to ask Patrik Laine about that?

There’s a large cargo ship stuck in the Suez Canal and, after a week of failed attempts to free the vessel, the captain and crew are desperate to get out. You know, just like anyone who plays for the Buffalo Sabres.

Seems to me that the Ottawa Senators might become an NHL force once all their players are old enough to shave. Then, of course, Eugene Melnyk will sell them off like used tupperware containers at a yard sale.

Commish Randy

Go figure the Canadian Football League. One week commissioner Randy Ambrosie is talking tall about a budding bromance with Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson and his XFL, and the next week he’s pleading poverty (yes, again) and asking players to take an across-the-board hit at the pay window (yes, again). So let’s no longer wonder why Commish Randy and the Lords of Rouge Football would consider an iffy alliance with a fly-by operation south of the 49th, let’s instead wonder why The Rock would consider a partnership with a bunch of guys whose sole game plan appears to be begging. I don’t know if Commish Randy and his bosses are embarrassed, but they should be.

The CFL has become an arms race, and it has nothing to do with quarterbacks. It’s all about how many needles medics can poke into fans’ arms. Rouge Football isn’t doable without patrons in the pews, so what’s the over/under on the number of COVID-19 vaccine shots required before the faithful can flock into ball yards hither and yon? Is it 20 million? Twenty-five mill? Is Vegas offering odds?

And, finally, the other day I watched a replay of Secretariat’s gallop in the 1973 Belmont Stakes, and I must report that it remains the most gob-smacking, astonishing individual athletic performance I’ve ever witnessed. And that’s taking in a lot of turf, because I started watching sports in the mid-1950s. I suppose some folks might get emotional gazing upon the Mona Lisa or the Shroud of Turin, but I get teary-eyed watching Big Red romp to the wire in the Belmont. It’s very spiritual.

Let’s talk about a Yankee Doodle Disaster…the Winnipeg Jets climb toward the top…short skirts on SportsCentre…another bad Brier for the Buffalo Boys…a free ride for Patrick Mahomes’ daughter…owning our words…and other things on my mind

A Monday morning smorgas-bored coming down in 3, 2, 1…and it’s the Ides of March, the day Julius Caesar was slain, so here’s something else that might slay you…

I had a wacko dream the other night. Seriously, it was total Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds stuff.

Except instead of newspaper taxis, cellophane flowers, marmalade skies, and rocking horse people eating marshmallow pies, I saw Mad Dogs and Pirates and Gold Miners and Glieberguys and football players bunked down in a barn and a Vegas lounge lizard.

Oh, and a Rock. There was a Rock with arms thicker than Louisiana gumbo and a bankroll that could choke a Budweiser Clydesdale.

Canadian Football League commissioner Randy Ambrosie was also in the dream. He was talking about talking, and he was excited to be talking about talking. That’s the only part that seemed real, because Commish Randy always seems geeked up about something or other, even when the feds are telling him to take his begging cap and stick it where the sun don’t shine. He’s more upbeat than a 1960s Who concert.

Anyway, Commish Randy wasn’t just talking about talking. He was also talking about crawling into bed with the Rock, and that’s when I stirred from slumber.

“Whoa,” I said to myself, clearing my eyes and wondering if someone had spiked my fish sticks and fries the night before. “That’s some serious whack-a-do dreaming. No way Rouge Football is going down that road again.”

Commish Randy

As we now know, that’s exactly where Commish Randy plans to take the CFL. To the United States of Four Down Football, lock, stock and to hell with the import ratio and rouge.

Naturally, since whispers of an alliance between Rouge Football and The Rock’s XFL became a roar last week, considerable hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing has ensued, much of it because there’s a belief Commish Randy and his CFL overlords are about to sell the very soul of our quirky three-downs game.

You know, just like during the 1990s.

Well, okay, they didn’t completely sell their soul to accommodate a handful of American expansion franchises in the ’90s, but they peddled enough of it to make some of us who were there antsy. We hear that Dwayne Johnson (aka The Rock) and Commish Randy have engaged in something more significant than pillow talk, and we squirm like a fresh batch of hemorrhoids has kicked in.

We remember how the U.S. expansion experiment became a Yankee Doodle Disaster. The CFL was as much a sitcom as it was a sports operation.

Among other things, the end zone at Liberty Bowl Stadium in Memphis was about the size of a cocktail napkin. Bernie and Lonie Glieberman skipped town in Ottawa to set up shop in Shreveport, La., where players were bedded down on the second floor of a milking barn during training camp. The Glieberguys fired their head coach, John Huard, before the opening kickoff. Pepper Rodgers, chief cook and bottle washer of the Memphis Mad Dogs, liked everything about the CFL except the rules, and he was never shy about critiquing the quirkiness of our game.

“You Canadians can sit around and do what you want up there in Canada,” he said, “but no one understands the rules here because we have some really weird stuff in this league.”

Dennis K.C. Parks

In Glitter Gulch, meanwhile, the Las Vegas Posse sometimes practiced in the parking lot of the Riviera Hotel, and they once attracted 2,350 customers to a game at Sam Boyd Stadium. That is not a typo. Do not adjust your screen. Just 2,350 fans. They played their final home game in Edmonton. The Posse also trotted out a lounge singer named Dennis K.C. Parks, who mangled O Canada so badly that it became the biggest strain on 49th parallel relations since the torching of the White House.

So, ya, any hint of Rouge Football mixing with the twice-failed XFL sets off alarm bells.

But, as was the case in the 1990s, the CFL needs money like a vagabond needs a hot meal and a bath, and I can think of worse people for them to hook up with than the Rock and his ex-bride, Dany Garcia.

Vince McMahon

After washing out as a player with the Calgary Stampeders, Johnson found fame as a faux fighter with Vince McMahon’s WWE wrestling troupe, then became boffo box office by conquering Hollywood. Along the way, he grew very deep pockets and, according to Celebrity Net Worth, the mega-movie star is valued at $400 million. Garcia comes in at $20M, thus the $15M they forked over to purchase McMahon’s XFL table scraps last summer is chump change.

Money can’t buy credibility, though, so you can color me skeptical.

I don’t see a second venture into the land of stars, stripes and the maskless happening. It would be as calamitous as a Trump presidency. But, hey, I’ve misread the tea leaves before. I mean, I never imagined Rosie O’Donnell would make me laugh, but she was funny in A League of Their Own. So maybe a CFL-XFL will happen. Maybe they’ll make a go of it this time around. And maybe Johnny Manziel will collect as many Super Bowl rings as Tom Brady.

Let me just say this about all that: If there is a CFL-XFL and they take away the rouge, add a down, take away a player, shrink the field, or if I hear the regrettable Dennis K.C. Parks clearing his throat, they’ll lose me.

So, the Winnipeg Jets made a pilgrimage to the Republic of Tranna and took five of a possible six points from the Maple Leafs. Is there any doubt which is the best National Hockey League outfit on the northern tundra? Didn’t think so.

I still don’t like the Jets blueline, but no team in the Hoser Division knows how to play defence, so it’s a moot point.

I might be in the minority, but I won’t miss the all-Canadian house league next season. It’s too much same old, same old for my taste.

Yes, I realize Patrik Laine wanted out of Good Ol’ Hometown and the Jets obliged, but that doesn’t mean we should take glee in his struggles with the Columbus Blue Jackets. I don’t like bullies and his coach, John Tortorella, is a bully, so I feel sorry for the kid.

Just wondering, is it my imagination, or are the hemlines on TSN SportsCentre getting higher? And, if so, are the lady anchors being instructed to wear their skirts/dresses that short, or is it by choice?

Brendan Bottcher, Darren Moulding, Brad Thiessen and Karrick Martin.

Oh, woe are our male Pebble People. The Mike McEwen and Jason Gunnlaughson teams left the Brier bubble in Calgary battered and bruised, which means our Buffalo Boys remain stalled at 1-for-the-2000s. It’s one thing to have a bad year, but a bad century? Only Jeff Stoughton and pals have managed to get the job done, winning back in 2011, so these are very lean times. Meanwhile, Alberta outfits have lapped the field at the Canadian men’s curling championship, with Brendan Bottcher’s success on Sunday the 12th title this century for the boys from Wild Rose Country. Along with the dozen Brier wins, there have been three Scotties Tournament of Hearts titles from Alberta women in the 2000s. Manitoba’s Pebble People have combined for nine. So perhaps it’s time I conceded that Wild Rose Country, not our Keystone Province, is the Curling Capital Of The World. Naw. Not going there. Can’t go there.

I had the over/under at five draws for the first F-bomb at the Brier. Turns out the cuss word landed during the third match I watched. Never heard one F-bomb during the Scotties, and I still don’t understand why the boys get all potty-mouthed while the women can keep it clean.

One place you will never find my name: The list of Relevant People on Twitter.

Golf’s Incredible Bulk, Bryson DeChambeau

I don’t like to cheer against athletes, but I’d rather not see Bryson DeChambeau win another tournament. Golf’s incredible bulk is an irksome fellow, especially when he says things like, “I don’t think you can Bryson-proof a golf course.” Is that confidence or arrogance? I tend to think it’s the latter. So you’ll have to excuse me for rooting for the field against him at the Players Championship on Sunday.

Here’s something you don’t hear too often: An athlete misses the media. It’s true. Belarusian tennis player Aryna Sabalenka had a natter with news snoops recently, and she got all warm-and-fuzzy, if not touchy-feely. “I prefer to see you guys in person actually,” she said. “I prefer that everything gets back to normal life. I feel okay with this kind of Zoom press conference, but I feel better emotionally to see each other and to have this eye contact when you guys ask me some questions.” Aw shucks.

Talk about robbing the cradle. Texas Tech has offered Sterling Skye Mahomes a full soccer scholarship, which wouldn’t be notable except Sterling Skye isn’t even a month old. Her parents, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Brittany Matthews, received the scholarship offer two days after the baby was born. So let me get this straight: Mahomes recently signed a contract that will pay him $450 million over the next 10 years, and his kid needs a free ride?

So what’s the new term for when a spoiled six-year-old kid in the playground takes his ball and goes home because he thinks the other kids are being mean? Pulling a Piers Morgan.

Meyers Leondard

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of sports figures spewing racist, homophobic or bigoted bile, then expecting us to believe that they aren’t actually racist, homophobic or bigoted.

The latest to join that list is Meyers Leonard, a Miami Heat centre caught uttering an anti-Jewish slur while live-streaming video game play.

“This is not a proper representation of who I am,” he insisted in his mea culpa.

The National Basketball Association believed Leonard, but still fined him $50,000 and the Heat ordered him to go stand in a corner and also seek guidance.

But Leonard’s “that isn’t who I am” defence is far too commonplace. Some examples:

  • Justin Thomas

    Golfer Justin Thomas, after dropping a gay F-bomb during a recent tournament: “It’s not a word I use. It’s not who I am. It’s not the kind of person that I am.”

  • Baseball broadcaster Thom Brennaman, who dropped an anti-gay F-bomb during a broadcast: “That is not who I am and never has been.”

  • Heavyweight boxer Tyson Fury, who said being gay is one of three things that will lead to the apocalypse and homosexuality equals pedophilia: “I’m not homophobic, I’m not racist.”

  • Baseball player Kevin Pillar, after dropping an anti-gay F-bomb: “This is not who I am.”

  • Chris Culliver of the San Francisco 49ers, who said he doesn’t want gay teammates: “Those discriminating feelings are truly not in my heart. It’s not what I feel in my heart.”

  • James Harrison of Pittsburgh Steelers, dropping the anti-gay F-bomb on NFL commish Roger Goodell: “I am not a homophobic bigot.”

  • Joakim Noah of the Chicago Bulls, dumping the gay F-bomb on a fan: “Anybody who knows me knows that I’m not like that.”

  • Josh Hader of the Milwaukee Brewers, who issued a series of anti-gay remarks on social media: “That doesn’t resemble the person I am now. Those are not my beliefs at all. They never were my beliefs.”

  • The late Kobe Bryant, who lashed out at a referee with the anti-gay F-bomb: “The words expressed do NOT express my feelings towards the gay and lesbian communities and were NOT meant to offend anyone.”

Words matter. If you say it, own it. Then try to get better.

And, finally, my idea of March Madness has nothing to do with American college hoops and everything to do with reading dispatches from the Republic of Tranna when the Maple Leafs take their predictable nose dive.

Let’s talk about chess with Swamp Dog…bravo Jennifer Jones…flush go the Habs…TSN’s flawed ‘Toba Top 10…Shaq’s name game…Ali vs. Tiger…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and, sadly, one of the old gang from the Trib, Swamp Dog Rauw, has left us…

The thing I remember most fondly about Murray Rauw is playing chess in the small hours of the morning, after we’d put the sports section to bed at the Winnipeg Tribune.

Swamp Dog and I would unwind from the grind by retreating to my modest dwelling on Leighton Avenue in East Kildonan, whereupon I would crack open the brown pops while he cracked open one of my many chess sets.

There’d be Beatles music playing in the background—on the down low since all others in the house were in slumber—and I would quietly sing along with the Fab Four while Swamp Dog contemplated a next misguided move that surely would lead to checkmate or stalemate. I sometimes wondered if my singing disturbed his thought process, but he never offered so much as a mumble in protest.

Swamp Dog

Swamp Dog seldom complained, although a small flap of fuss is how he earned his delightful nickname.

I was in the cockpit one night, laying out the Trib sports pages, while others wrote their stories, edited copy, wrote headlines, handled the phones and did rewrites. Swamp Dog, still reasonably new to staff, had two or three things on the go.

“Murray,” I said at one point, interrupting his work, “I need you to do something.”

“Me?” he yelped. “Me? I’m swamped!”

“You’re swamped?” I responded, snickering. “Let me tell you something about being swamped.”

I informed him how it worked in the Trib sports department. We were all multi-taskers, often expected to handle more than one beat on the same day. It was not uncommon for a select few of us to cover an event in the morning or afternoon, write our article, then design a six- or seven-page sports section that night. It made for long shifts, but it was an accepted part of the gig. Besides, most of us were young, full of P and V and eager to earn a “damn good stuff” from our sports editor, Jack Matheson.

“That’s okay,” I told Swamp Dog. “You just do what you’re doing. I’ll take care of the rest, because you’re swamped! You’re our Swamp Dog.”

Swamp Dog became a fabulous multi-tasker, skillfully covering everything from badminton to boxing to backing up Matty on the Blue Bombers beat, until Southam had the bad manners to stop the Trib presses for the final time in August 1980.

And now Swamp’s ticker has stopped.

Swamp Dog died last Sunday in Calgary, after a lengthy illness, and I spent much of the past week sifting through recollections of him and our cast of kooky characters at the Trib. (We would have made for a boffo sitcom.)

An unpretentious, fun guy, I can’t think of a former colleague who harbored a greater, more genuine appreciation for landing a sports writing gig than Swamp Dog. He was like a kid who sneaked in and out of the ice cream parlor every night without getting caught, and he never tried to hide his appreciation for his good fortune.

Swamp Dog made me laugh without trying. His eyeglasses, for example, were a trip. Back in the 1970s, they would sit at a 45-degree angle on the bridge of his nose, the large lenses plastered with very visible fingerprints from his constant but failed attempts to make the specs fit his face. His mustache drooped and would go months without a much-needed pruning. Then there was the day I learned he had tagged the lovely lady who would become his bride, Maureen, with the most unflattering of nicknames: Mush.

“Geez, Swamp, I don’t know many women who’d fancy being called Mush,” I said. “Doesn’t it bother Maureen?”

“Why would it?” he answered as if I had asked a very dumb question. “She’s my Mush.”

Once the Trib folded, both Swamp Dog and I found our way to Calgary, first him at the Herald and then myself at the Sun a couple years later. I didn’t know a soul, other than Swamp Dog, Maureen and the two people who had hired me. Swamp Dog promptly set me up to play slo-pitch on one of the city’s elite outfits, and he dragged me to his raquetball club. After our always-enjoyable matches, we’d sometimes retire to his home and Maureen would be kind enough to feed us.

Oddly enough, Swamp Dog and I never played another game of chess. I guess that was our Winnipeg thing. But we’d get together for some giggles, or he’d get serious on occasion and discuss his MS. He’d unfailingly inquire about my Uncle Dennis, who’d been confined to a wheelchair due to MS since I was a sprig.

After I left Calgary and returned to Good Ol’ Hometown, we seldom saw each other, basically when road assignments would take us to the Grey Cup, the Brier or Stanley Cup playoffs. The Canadian Football League and curling were his main beats, and he was among the best at both.

Foremost for me, though, are the personal recollections, and I smile at the memory of us shifting chess pieces across the board, his knight taking my rook or my bishop taking his queen. Eventually, one of us would notice the morning sun peeking through my living room drapes, and he’d take his leave.

Now Swamp Dog is gone permanently, but I’d say his sun is still shining—through Maureen and the kids, Josh and Cayley, and granddaughter Charlotte.

Rest easy, old friend.

The Grim Reaper has now fetched Matty, Swamp Dog, Gus Collins Uncle Vince Leah, and freelancers Harold Loster and Ronnie Meyers from our 1970s toy department at the Trib. And that’s not to forget photog Jon Thordarson, whom I always considered one of us. Those of us still drawing oxygen are in our 60s and 70s, or older, so Dave Komosky and I often wonder who’ll be next. My kidneys are suggesting it might be moi. If that’s how it shakes down, in lieu of flowers send laughter.

Jennifer Jones

Big tip of the bonnet to Jennifer Jones, who’s now won more games at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts (159) than any curler. Ever. By the time she’s finished, Jen’s collection of Ws might be unbeatable, although I suppose Rachel Homan will have something to say about that. For now, though, Jen is the standard, and I say it’s only fitting and proper that someone from Winnipeg stands atop the heap. After all, Good Ol’ Hometown is the curling capital of the world, no matter what some folks in Alberta might want you to believe.

Is it just me, or does anyone else get the impression that the women at the Scotties have a whole lot more fun than the men at the Brier? Just saying.

Some people haven’t been impressed with the quality of play at the Scotties in Calgary. Too many flubbed shots. Iffy strategy. Well, what did you expect? I mean, they’d been away from the pebble for a year, and I’m guessing we’ll see a similar number of hairballs coughed up when the boys gather for the Brier at the end of this week.

Apparently it’s been so quiet at the fan-free Scotties that Saskatchewan skip Sherry Anderson says she “heard the toilet flush” while on the pebble the other day. But, hey, let’s not talk about the Montreal Canadiens.

I’m not saying the Habs’ hope for a successful crusade is down the toilet. If they can get rid of the imposter wearing Carey Price’s jersey, they might yet qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament. Then again, maybe O.J. will find the real killers.

Paul Stastny poached a goal from Twig Ehlers to give the Winnipeg Jets their 2-1 OT win over the Habs on Saturday night. You just don’t do that. It’s chintzy.

Patrik Laine

Let’s see if I’ve got this straight: Patrik Laine wanted first-line minutes skating alongside Rink Rat Scheifele, but Jets head coach Paul Maurice would have none of it. So they shipped him to Columbus. Now Pierre-Luc Dubois, the guy the Jets received in barter for Puck Finn, is getting first-line minutes skating alongside Scheifele. What am I missing here?

Dumb headline in the Winnipeg Sun: “Coach, teammates like new Jet Dubois.” Well, duh. What does anyone expect them to say? That he’s a sloth? Bring Patty back? Now that would be a story. The fact the Jets have warm-and-fuzzy feelings for the new kid in town isn’t newsworthy.

Good stuff from Mad Mike McIntyre in the Drab Slab on local Black shinny players who found their way to the upper levels of professional hockey. Among those he chatted with are Bill Riley and Ray Neufeld, one of the nicest men to wear Jets linen. It’s worth a look.

So why is it that I don’t believe Canadian Football League commish Randy Ambrosie when he tells us there’ll be Rouge Football this year, but I believe Winnipeg Blue Bombers CEO Wade Miller when he says the same thing? Maybe it’s because Wade transformed Winnipeg FC from a laughing stock into a Grey Cup champion, whereas Commish Randy couldn’t sell a spare tire to a guy with a flat.

Bernie Parent and Bobby Clarke (right)

Nice touch by TSN to serve up a Top 10 moments for Manitoba athletes last week. Except they should have consulted someone from the Keystone Province before revealing the list. There was no Clara Hughes collecting medals at both the Summer and Winter Olympics. There was no Donny Lalonde knocking Sugar Ray Leonard to the canvas. There was no George Knudson winning on the PGA Tour. There was no Bobby Clarke, the first captain of a National Hockey League expansion outfit to hoist the Stanley Cup. There was no Reggie Leach, scorer of 80 goals in the 1975-76 NHL season/playoffs. There was no Don Duguid going unbeaten to win consecutive world curling titles. No Jeff Stoughton. No University of Winnipeg Lady Wesmen hoops team winning 88 consecutive matches. But Anthony Coombs made the grade with a catch in a meaningless game for the Toronto Argos. Skeleton guy Jon Montgomery was featured drinking beer and pretending to be an auctioneer. Corey Koskie cracked the list for catching a foul ball in a game no one remembers. And Andrew Harris was featured running the ball for the B.C. Lions in a game no one remembers. Totally lame.

Shaq

Shaquille O’Neal has taken some heat for his work as a TV analyst. It seems Shaq is unfamiliar with the first names of numerous National Basketball Association players, including Pascal Siakam of the Tranna Jurassics. “Oh, I never knew his first name,” Shaq confessed in a panel natter with Ernie Johnson in a recent NBA on TNT broadcast. I guess that makes Siakam the ultimate player to be named later.

Tim and Sid are no more. Well, okay Tim is still Micaleff and Sid is still Seixeiro, but they’re no longer Tim & Sid, after 17 years together on Sportsnet. Sid’s next gig is Breakfast Television in the Republic of Tranna and, given his penchant for goofing around, the show might become known as Dog’s Breakfast Television. Tim & Sid was sometimes-see TV for me, never must-see TV, but you don’t last that long without doing something right. Having said that, Tim drew a parallel between he and Sid breaking up and Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David parting ways. Uh, no. You don’t want to go there, man.

James Duthie

I’ve long admired James Duthie’s work on TSN. Who hasn’t? He’s witty, clever, knowledgeable and doesn’t take himself seriously. And he’s done it all without perfect hair and perfect teeth.

But when he waxed on about Tiger Woods last week…well, let’s just say he was showing his age.

“There’s not another…he’s the most famous athlete of our lives,” Duthie said of Woods in a squawk with Rod Smith. “Maybe you can make an argument Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, but there has been no more fascinating, complex character in sport in our lives.”

Good grief. Tom Brady is about as complex as Grade 1 arithmetic. He throws a football, wins the Super Bowl, then paints the town bland. The most fascinating thing he’s ever done is get drunk and hurl the Lombardi Trophy from one boat to another. Jordan? Best hoops player ever. Full stop.

Duthie wants fascinating and complex? Let me introduce him to Muhammad Ali, the boxer once known as Cassius Clay.

There were more layers to Ali than an onion. Let’s start with the name change, the Nation of Islam and the shift to Sunni Islam. Let’s talk about political activism and civil rights. Let’s talk about the U.S. government taking away his livelihood and untold millions of dollars for 3½ years because he refused to travel across the world to kill people in Vietnam. Let’s talk about his willingness to go behind bars rather than spray bullets. Let’s talk about the anger and hostility, then the warm admiration, of a nation. Let’s talk about a unanimous victory in the Supreme Court. Let’s talk about the Grammy nominations. Let’s talk about the movies and the Broadway musical. Let’s talk about whimsy, doggerel and rapping before rap was a thing. Let’s talk about the campus speaking tours. Let’s talk about the battle with Parkinson’s. Let’s talk about winning the world heavyweight title three times when it actually meant something. Let’s talk about the Rumble in the Jungle and the Thrilla in Manila. Let’s talk about media savvy. Let’s talk about showmanship and the oversized personality. Let’s talk about the multiple marriages and infidelities. Let’s talk about the irony of being meaner and more cruel to Black boxers than white fist-fighters.

Duthie is 54, which means he missed the opening act of the theatre that was Ali. He can’t relate to the Vietnam War or the civil rights movement of the 1960s, just as those who weren’t there when John Paul, George and Ringo invaded America can’t truly understand and appreciate Beatlemania.

But when he speaks of “our lives,” I have to assume that includes myself and those of my vintage.

Tiger Woods is arguably the finest to ever strike a dimpled ball. We marveled at his wizardry, how he would make the best in the game wither before they even teed it up on a Thursday. He was fascinating to watch. Gobsmackingly so. But whereas Ali allowed us inside his world, Woods tried to keep most everyone out. Except his many mistresses.

Other than his genius at golf, we knew nothing of Woods the person until caught with his trousers down and the tabloids exposed him as a raging philanderer. And, of course, he’s made headlines for getting behind the wheel of a luxury vehicle when it wasn’t wise. But cheating on your spouse and reckless driving hardly makes one fascinating or complex. It makes him one of a million guys.

So let’s put it this way: Given one word to describe Tiger Woods, it would be “golf.” Given one word to describe Muhammad Ali, it would be…sorry, can’t do it in one word. He was too fascinating and complex.

And, finally, looks like this will be a pizza-and-pebble day, because I’m hitting the couch and won’t budge until either Jen Jones or Kerri Einarson has (hopefully) won the Scotties Tournament of Hearts this evening.

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.

CFL Commish Randy comes out of hibernation to deliver some rah, rah, rah and siss-boom-bah

Top o’ the morning to you, Commish Randy Ambrosie

Nice of you to come out of hibernation. How long had it been since we last saw and heard from you? At least three months, I’d say.

Commish Randy

Some of us were beginning to worry about you, Commish. I mean, every pro sports operation known to woman and man has rebooted during the COVID-19 pandemic, yet your Canadian Football League turned out the lights. And you went radio silent.

So I figured flicking on the flatscreen and watching all those athletes in other leagues frolic might have driven you a bit batty. If not full-on bonkers.

I feared you might have done the Howard Hughes thing, Commish. You know, become a recluse.

PM Trudeau the Younger

I had visions of you holed up in a windowless bunker left over from the Cold War, cut off from civilization and peeing into pop bottles and eating nothing but nachos and chocolate bars. I imagined you pacing back and fourth…back and forth…back and forth, all the while muttering, “It’s Trudeau’s fault…it’s Trudeau’s fault…it’s Trudeau’s fault.” After all, Prime Minister Trudeau the Younger and his skinflint pals wouldn’t cough up $30 million when you went panhandling on Parliament Hill last spring.

You’re right, Commish, they seemed to have ample coin for everyone and everything—except three-downs football. So it’s understandable if you were gripped with paranoia, kind of like Captain Queeg and the strawberries.

I don’t know if you’ll face a mutiny like Captain Queeg once the COVID storm is behind us, Commish, but for now your hand is still on the wheel of the good ship CFL, and the rabble is looking to you for answers and signs that indicate a 2021 season is not only possible, but good to go.

I know that’s what I was hoping to hear on Monday when you made like Shubenacadie Sam or Fred de la Marmotte on Groundhog Day, finally popping your head out of a hole to study the landscape.

Sidelines Sara

You had yourself a half-hour natter with Sara Orlesky of TSN, and who wouldn’t want to join Sara for a chat? She seems like such a lovely, young lass and, like yourself, I miss seeing her the sidelines, toque or not.

The thing is, I’d like to see Zach Collaros and Mike Reilly and Speedy B and Willie Jefferson between the lines a whole lot more, even if it means another summer and autumn listening to Glen Suitor, assuming TSN can pry him away from Keith Urban.

But you didn’t tell us when Rouge Football will return, Commish. Or if it will return.

You told us that Canada “is the greatest country on earth,” and you talked about putting “bums in seats,” and revenue streams, and CFL 2.0, and front-line health workers, and Rouge Football on the East Coast. It was all rah, rah, rah and siss-boom-bah boosterism.

You also confirmed there’ll soon be a 2021 schedule, but that isn’t worth the paper it will be printed on if the large lads in pads aren’t grabbing grass in June.

Near as I can tell, Commish, nothing has changed. Nada.

It would have taken $30 million from the feds to get you on the field for a runted season of six games per team this year—in a Winnipeg hub/bubble—and the CFL still doesn’t have any money, unless there’s a sugar daddy you aren’t telling us about.

Thus, unlike all other pro sports leagues in our part of the world, you stand alone as completely dependent upon squints in lab coats peering into microscopes.

The renewal of Rouge Football is only doable with the “bums in seats” that you talked about on Monday, Commish, and there has to be plenty of them. I don’t have to remind you that social distancing in the stands was the pre-pandemic norm in CFL danger locales of Vancouver, Montreal and the Republic of Tranna, but that’ll never do on the Prairies, Hamilton or Ottawa.

We both know the only avenue forward is a COVID-19 vaccine, Commish, and even at that we’re left to wonder how long it will take for the rabble to once again feel comfy enough to gather in large numbers.

I’m a Rouge Football lifer, Commish. Been following the three-downs game since I was knee high to Kenny Ploen and Leo Lewis, and I’ve been scribbling about it since 1980. That’s taking in a lot of territory. So I feel your pain. You should be on the Flattest of Lands this week to hand the Grey Grail to the winning side of the championship skirmish, and I’d like to be watching it on TSN.

I guess we can only hope for next year, Commish. In the meantime, do us CFL lifers a favor and don’t go back into hibernation. Keep us informed. Don’t let out of sight become out of mind.

Let’s talk about Bobby Orr’s boot-licking…a rout for the Drab Slab…ignoring female sports…and other things on my mind…

A Monday morning smorgas-bored…and welcome to the 71st November of my lifetime…

So, I’m doing some research the other day and I stumble upon this May 9 headline from the Boston Globe:

“50 years later, Bobby Orr remains gracious, humble, and incomparable.”

Oops.

Robert Gordon Orr

Few have been describing Robert Gordon Orr as gracious, humble and incomparable in the past few days. More like dumb, ignorant and fallen idol.

All that because the great No. 4 has outed himself as a hard-core Trumpite who plans to scratch an X next to the name Donald Trump on his ballot for tomorrow’s U.S. presidential election.

Lest there be any doubt about his political posturing, Orr took out a full-page ad in the New Hampshire Union Leader last week to confirm his unwavering devotion to the current resident at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW in Washington, D.C., trumpeting Trump as “the kind of teammate I want.”

I’m not sure what Derek Sanderson or Eddie Westfall or Wayne Cashman or Pie McKenzie have to say about that, but I suspect one or two of Bobby’s former big, bad Bruins teammates might be cringing.

Many among the rabble and numerous pundits certainly are.

I mean, this is Bobby Orr. Canadian icon. Squeaky-clean boy next door. The greatest player in National Hockey League history on many scorecards, including mine. And he’s marching in lockstep with a man known to put children in cages, who believes groping women is harmless horseplay, who wouldn’t know the truth if it slapped him on his orange face? That’s who Bobby Orr has cozied up to?

What, he couldn’t find a better pair of boots to lick?

Donald Trump

The same could be said, of course, for golf great Jack Nicklaus and Brett Favre, one-time flinger of footballs and renowned flip-flopper. They, too, are confirmed Trumpites. But we don’t care about them so much on this side of the great U.S.-Canada divide.

It’s Orr who has taken a paddywhacking in print and on social media, as if he’s the product of Satan’s loins.

Some examples:

Stu Cowan, Montreal Gazette: “It’s always a sad day when your childhood sports heroes let you down. I’ll never again look at Orr with the same boyhood wonder. (The endorsement of Trump) hit me like an open-ice bodycheck. It shouldn’t have because I’ve been around pro sports as a journalist long enough to know that sometimes the less fans know about their heroes away from the field or arena, the better off they are. But this one did hurt. I’ll sadly scratch him off my hero list. The stain of Trump just won’t wash away.”

Damien Cox, Toronto Star: “Sadly, Orr’s comments reek of appalling ignorance, of a man who has watched too much Fox News. He says he just wants ‘my grandchildren to know the America that I know’ and then chooses to cast Trump as some sort of victim.”

Jack Nicklaus and Donald Trump

Ted Wyman, Winnipeg Sun: “It’s not easy for many sports fans to hear that men they have held as idols for the last half century would endorse a political candidate known for his racism, his sowing of divisiveness in his country and his thorough disregard of the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic. Like most golf fans, I’ve always revered Nicklaus. Like most Canadians, I’ve always idolized Orr. Like many, I’m bitterly disappointed in them.”

Bruce Arthur, the Toronto Star/TSN: “These guys are wealthy. They’re really rich and Donald Trump wants to airlift money from the poor to the rich, and that helps them. This tells you a lot about Bobby Orr and Jack Nicklaus, what they value in life and what they don’t have to worry about.”

Cathal Kelly, Globe and Mail: “On one level, Orr’s and Nicklaus’s statements took some stones. Neither of them needs the hassle. This opens them up to all sorts of nastiness from the other faction. On the other level, it is dumb beyond measure. Not because of their choice (though that is also dumb), but because two giants of their respective games felt the need to announce it. The United States is tilting sideways for a bunch of reasons. This is one of them.”

Well, let me say this about that: Must be nice to be so filthy rich that you can afford to take out a full-page ad in a newspaper. But I’ll robustly defend Bobby Orr’s right to be as horribly wrong about Donald Trump as any of the other lemmings wearing a MAGA cap. His choice. And if you don’t like it, don’t put halos on athletes.

Sue Bird and Megan Rapinoe

Last week in America: The sports power couple of hoops great Sue Bird and soccer star Megan Rapinoe announced their wedding engagement and, one day later, U.S. senator and Trumpite bootlicker Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told “every young woman” that “there’s a place for you in America if you are pro-life, if you embrace your religion, and you follow traditional family structure.” Which means there’s no “place” in Graham’s America for a woman who’s won Olympic gold for Uncle Sam in basketball and another women who’s won Olympic gold for Uncle Sam in soccer, because they’re lesbians. Lindsey Graham is a special kind of messed up.

Why is it that whenever I watch men’s tennis highlights, there’s a trainer rubbing down one of Milos Raonic’s broken-down body parts, or either Denis Shapovalov or Felix Auger-Alliassime are tossing racquets?

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: The Drab Slab is kicking butt when it comes to coverage of lower-tiered sports in Good Ol’ Hometown. I know this because I monitored both the Freep and Winnipeg Sun sections during the past three months, and both rags do boffo work on the big-ticket beats—Blue Bombers, Jets, Moose, Goldeyes and Valour FC. But it’s a rout otherwise. Here’s the tally on coverage of local/amateur sports (excluding pro teams):

Free Press
August ……..32 articles, 6 briefs
September….39 articles, 6 briefs
October……..49 articles, 3 briefs
Totals……..122 articles, 15 briefs

Sun
August ……..1 article
September….7 articles, 3 briefs
October…….10 articles
Totals………18 articles, 3 briefs

Seriously, 122-18. That reads like a Harlem Globetrotters scoreline.

Do readers want more local coverage? My experience tells me they do, but the suits at Postmedia in the Republic of Tranna won’t let them have it in the Sun. And that’s wrong. So don’t point accusing fingers at the Sun’s Scribblers Three—Paul Friesen, Ted Wyman, Scott Billeck. It isn’t their fault. It’s a corporate call.

Steve Lyons

Here’s something I found interesting: In a recent edition of his morning Playbook feature on the Drab Slab website, sports editor Steve Lyons took issue with commissioner Randy Ambrosie and the aborted Canadian Football League crusade. “It’s been a little over two months since the CFL cancelled its 2020 season,” he wrote. “Since then, a Stanley Cup has been awarded; Game 1 of the World Series was last night; the NFL is into Week 7; LeBron James won another NBA title; heck, even the upstart CPL had a championship. The CFL? Silence.” Notice something missing there? That’s right, no mention of the Women’s National Basketball Association starting and completing a season, nor the National Women’s Soccer League commencing its Fall Series. Unfortunately, that’s the default position for too many upper-management people in sports media—female sports is an after-thought. Or no thought at all.

I’m still reading and hearing that the signing of Dylan DeMelo improves the Winnipeg Jets defence. That simply is not true. Repeat after me: DeMelo was with the Jets last season. That’s not an improvement. It’s status quo. So the glass-is-half-full pundits can cease with their false narrative any time now.

There’s talk of the Ontario Hockey League going to pure pond hockey this winter, which is to say no bodychecking. Hmmm. If they had that rule when I was a kid, I might still be playing.

And, finally, Agent 007, Sean Connery, is dead and I still don’t know what I’m missing, because I’ve never watched a James Bond movie. Loved Sir Sean in Finding Forrester and The Untouchables, though.