The River City Renegade


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About death by wedgie in the CFL…the Rodney Dangerfield Blue Bombers…diversity on the gridiron…nonsense on Sportsnet…boffo stuff from Ed Tait…dump the ump…hockey pride at Pride…and hot dogs for Phil Kessel

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

Randy Ambrosie wants to talk. That’s a good thing. I think.

Specifically, the Canadian Football League commissioner would welcome a fireside chat about division alignment and playoff structure, both of which are becoming hot-button issues due to a West-East competitive imbalance that borders on the sadistic.

I’m happy to have that conversation with everyone and I think we should have it,” the commish told Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun.

For those of you keeping score at home, West has met East 20 times during the current crusade. The tally is 17-2-1 in favor of the five outfits left of the Manitoba-Ontario boundary. One game finished 60-1.

That is not a typo. Do not adjust your monitors. It really was 60-1.

Seriously. This is death by wedgie.

Actually, West Division clubs aren’t simply giving their nerdy eastern foes a basic wedgie. They’re the high school senior pulling the freshman’s underpants up to his ears, sticking his head in a toilet bowl, flushing, then stuffing him into a locker. Oh, but first he steals his lunch money.

And yet, under the current structure, two of the eastern rag dolls will qualify for the playoffs in November. And be rewarded with home dates. Nice gig if you can get it.

Little wonder that Ambrosie says he’s “willing to have the conversation for sure.”

Wyman and others suggest the CFL scrap its antiquated West-East divisional arrangement. Lump all nine teams together, with the top six advancing to the Grey Cup tournament. Radical, yes. After all, geographic rivalry has been the heartbeat of the CFL since its inception, and getting some people to abandon tradition is like trying to pry Donald Trump’s thumbs off his Twitter account. You’ll need the jaws of life, baby.

I don’t think you have to sacrifice tradition, though. Just tweak the schedule. Reduce it to 16 games (18 is two too many) and either eliminate, or reduce by half, interlocking play. You know, just like in the good, ol’ days when West and East were separate entities. In other words, go back to the future.

Works for me. So, gentlemen, start your chins wagging.

I wondered when one of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers would play the Rodney Dangerfield no-respect card, and running back Andrew Harris delivered not long after he and his blue-and-gold clad pals had paddywhacked the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, 39-12, on Saturday at Timbits Field in Hamilton. “I always think someone is out there slouching us and not giving us any respect.” Here’s the deal, Andrew: Beat someone other than one of the lame and halting outfits from the east and more people will climb on board.

Chad Owens and CFL commish Randy Ambrosie

The CFL broke out its Diversity is Strength T-shirts last weekend, and it occurs to me that it’s more than just a fresh marketing slogan. Among other things, the CFL has included a female general manager, Jo-Anne Polak with the Ottawa Rough Riders; another female, Catherine Raiche, is an assistant GM with the Montreal Alouettes; the Larks once had an openly gay man, Michael Sam, in their lineup; Ambrosie’s predecessor in the commish’s office, Jeffrey Orridge, is African-American; and a black man, Bernie Custis, was playing quarterback for Hamilton as far back as 1951. That’s diversity.

Donnovan Bennett of Sportsnet writes this: “The MOP at the halfway point of the season is a kicker.” Say again? A punter/place kicker, Justin Medlock of the Bombers, is the most oustanding player in the CFL? Spare us the nonsense, Donnovan. Everyone knows that kickers aren’t football players (sorry Bob Cameron and Troy Westwood). Once upon a time kickers were, indeed, football players (hello Kid Dynamite James, Choo Choo Shepard, Spaghetti Legs Parker, Jack Abendschan, Don Jonas, etc.), but now they boot the football and go for a Slurpee. Your MOP right now is Mike Reilly.

Terrific read from Ed Tait on Winnipeg O-lineman Jermarcus (Yoshi) Hardrick, who look a long, hard road to the CFL. Tait’s piece is the type of feature you seldom read in either of River City’s two dailies, due largely to space and access restrictions, and it’s a reminder of what the Winnipeg Free Press sports pages lost when he defected to bluebombers.com. Anyone at the Drab Slab who thinks Tait is a hack (hello, Paul Wiecek) has totally lost the plot.

Let’s see now, umpire Joe West provides a harmless, fun anecdote about Adrian Beltre and he’s suspended for three days. So what will Major League Baseball do with Detroit Tigers second sacker Ian Kinsler? He dumped all over ump Angel Hernandez, telling the Detroit Free Press, “He needs to find another job, he really does. He’s messing with baseball games, blatantly. I’m just saying it’s pretty obvious that he has to stop ruining baseball games. Candidly, leave the game. No one wants you behind the plate anymore.” I’m guessing MLB will be making an ATM withdrawal from Kinsler’s account, at the least.

Nice to see Erik Gudbranson, Troy Stecher and Jake Virtanen of the Canucks get into the spirit at Vancouver’s Pride parade and hijinks. It takes some special kind of gonads for macho hockey players to put on a rainbow-colored skirt and lei.

Bravo to Phil Kessel. The Pittsburgh Penguins forward has posted a pic of himself and the Stanley Cup stuffed with BBQ’d hot dogs, in what was a direct shot at Postmedia columnist Steve Simmons, who’d written a blistering piece about Kessel after he’d been dealt away by the Toronto Maple Leafs two years ago. Among other things, Simmons called Kessel “poison” and he claimed that the winger pigged out daily at a certain downtown hot dog stand in the Republic of Tranna (proven to be false). So what did Simmons think of the Kessel burn? “One, I thought ‘Phil’s pretty funny. Good for Phil for making a joke about it.’” he said on TSN 1050’s Breakfast Club. “Two, ‘This is your day with the Cup. This is your day…you’ve worked this hard, you get this thing, you’re having a party, why be so small to reference something that really isn’t important in your life?’” Yo! Steve! “Small” is writing about a guy’s rumored eating habits and getting the rumored facts wrong. What Kessel did to you, meanwhile, is a classic burn. Try lightening up.

Which brings me to today’s list: Biggest hot dogs in sports…

1. Muhammad Ali: The former heavyweight boxing champion was many things, but he most definitely was a hot dog (in a fun way).
2. Reggie Jackson: Mr. October was also Mr. Swagger.
3. Terrell Owens: Popcorn anyone?
4. Deion Sanders: He once said, “They don’t pay nobody to be humble.” He’s living proof.
5. Johnny Manziel: There isn’t enough mustard in the world to cover this do-nothing hot dog.

Further evidence of the Torontofication of the Winnipeg Sun sports section: In Steve Simmons’ past two odds-and-ends, three-dot columns that appear weekly, he devoted 21 items to sports franchises or figures in the Republic of Tranna. That’s compared to zero (0) Winnipeg references. To repeat: Toronto 21, Winnipeg 0. So, again, I ask why is a Toronto-centric column appearing weekly in a River City sheet? Aren’t any of the local writers capable of stringing together a series of wide-ranging quotes, notes and anecdotes that include opinion snippets about Winnipeg’s sports scene? I mean, if I can do it from Victoria, surely someone with their feet on the ground in good Ol’ Hometown can do it.

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


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About my favorite athletes…Mike O’Shea and brown tap water…no more hanky-panky from CFL coaches…scuzzy Pete Rose…Usain Bolt losing to a drug cheat…and another gay slur

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

From the top: Wilma Rudolph, Sandy Koufax and Arnold Palmer, Martina Navratilova, Rafa Nadal and Bjorn Borg.

Came across an interesting item on social media the other day, whereby folks were listing their all-time favorite athletes. Not a greatest athlete list, understand. A fave list. Here’s mine:

Wilma Rudolph: So sleek, so elegant. Such regal bearing. The Italians called her La Gazzella Negra and, to the French, she was La Perle Noir. I adored the American sprinter who blossomed from sickly child (polio, double pneumonia, scarlet fever) into an Olympic champion sprinter. She wowed the world at the 1960 Games in Rome, skedaddling to three gold medals. Once back home in Clarksville, Tenn., she insisted that a parade/gala in her honor include all townsfolk, and history records it as the first fully integrated municipal event in town history.

Martina Navratilova: When the tennis legend defected from the former Czechoslovakia in 1975, she was a high school kid with everything going against her. English was not her first language. Family and friends were on the other side of the world. Fear of being seized and hauled back to her homeland by thugs in trench coats was ever-present. She had a fondness for Big Macs and large fries. And, as we discovered a few years later, she was a lesbian, which was a lot less cool then than it is now. But, as she was to tell news snoops in early September of ’75, “I wanted my freedom.” Once untethered from the leash of communist state suppression, Navratilova became the greatest player of her generation. To some, the greatest ever. And she’s long been a leading voice in the LGBT community.

Sandy Koufax: I should have been mad at Koufax on Oct. 6, 1965. The Los Angeles Dodgers—my team—were in Minneapolis to engage a hefty-hitting Minnesota Twins batting lineup in Game 1 of the World Series. Koufax, the premier pitcher in Major League Baseball, should have been on the mound. Instead, it was Don Drysdale, who, although no slouch on the hill, was no Koufax. But I couldn’t get mad at the great lefthander because his reason for taking the day off was unassailable—it was Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. Sandy Koufax was my favorite player long before he deferred to his faith by declining to start Game 1, but his decision still resonates with me, much more than any of the other-wordly numbers that he posted during the 1960s. It was a shining life lesson, even for a Roman Catholic kid. (p.s. The Dodgers won the Series, with Koufax pitching successive shutouts in Games 5 and 7, the latter on only two days rest.)

Bjorn Borg: He was the anti-Johnny Mac. While John McEnroe would disrupt matches with volcanic eruptions of petulance, Borg played tennis with a Zen-like calm, utilizing an assortment of two-fisted, cross-court backhands and top-spinning forehands to disassemble foes en route to 11 Grand Slam championships, including five successive Wimbledon titles. I admired the Swede’s calm amidst chaos, his unflappable resolve, and his quiet intensity—all wrapped in a cloak of mystery—as much as I did his groundstrokes. To this day, I wonder what made Borg tick.

Arnold Palmer/Rafael Nadal: Okay, this is cheating. But I couldn’t decide between Rafa, the king of clay court tennis, and Arnie, the king of golf. Arnie and Sandy Koufax were my go-to guys as a kid, Rafa is my go-to guy in my dotage. Arnie was a swashbuckler, daring and charismatic, and universally respected and admired as a sportsman and, more important, as a person. Rafa arrived on the tennis scene with bulging biceps, sleeveless tops and pirate pants. “Different,” I thought upon seeing him for the first time. Well, vive la difference! Rafa adorns himself in regular tennis togs now, but there’s never been anything regular about his game. Especially on clay. And the Spaniard seems like such a nice, young man.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers offed the RedBlacks, 33-30, in Ottawa on Friday night, in large part because Mike O’Shea managed to stay out of his own way. I guess that means the natterbugs will have to squawk about something other than the head coach’s short pants this week. Maybe they can blame him for that scuzzy brown tap water in River City.

CFL commish Randy Ambrosie

Upon further review, further review was ruining the game, so bravo to commish Randy Ambrosie and Canadian Football League team poobahs for taking away every head coach’s favorite toy—the challenge flag. Well, okay, the sideline stewards aren’t exactly hanky-free. Each coach is still allowed to toss one yellow hanky each game, but that beats a total of six potential challenges per match.

In the world according to Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press, changing the coach’s challenge rule this deep into the season makes the CFL head office a “clown show.” It’s “amateur hour.” Actually, it’s quite the opposite. The real “clown show” was coaches using frivolous challenges to challenge nothing but the integrity of the game and spirit of the rule, which is to “get it right.” I watched all four games last week and that “clown show” is definitely over. No more hanky-panky from the coaches.

Oh boy. Some people just don’t pay attention. We’re only at the front end of August and already Freep sports editor and Wiecek’s Grumpet twin, Steve Lyons, is promoting folly. “Best place to finish might be fourth in the West” for the Bombers, he advises us. That way, they’d earn a crossover post-season berth and play the patsies in Eastern Canada. Repeat after me, Mr. Lyons: No, no, no, no, no…nine times no. No West outfit has successfully navigated the eastern route to the Grey Cup game. Never. Ever. In nine tries. And you think it’ll work for the Bombers? Ya, just like attempting a 61-yard field goal worked at B.C. Place last November.

So, champion sprinter Usain Bolt lost some of the lickety-split in his long legs and was beaten to the finish line in his final individual race at the world track and field championships in London. No big deal. Sandy Koufax lost the final game he ever pitched for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Muhammad Ali lost his final fight (badly). Babe Ruth grounded out in his final at-bat. Hey, stuff happens. I just wish Bolt hadn’t lost to a guy, Justin Gatlin, who’s twice been told to go away for failed drug tests.

Scuzzball Pete Rose

Pete Rose, Major League Baseball’s all-time hit leader, has been holding his own poor Petey pity party since being banned for betting on games while managing the Cincinnati Reds, and the one-time jailbird has actually found sympathetic ears. In an ESPN sports poll conducted by Luker on Trends between November 2016 and last February, Rose was No. 50 on a list of most popular athletes in the U.S., active or retired. Only two ballplayers—Derek Jeter at No. 13 and Babe Ruth, No. 30—finished ahead of him in voting by 6,000 people 12 and over. I wonder what the Rose-ites have to say now that their hero has confessed to having had sex with a 16-year-old girl while he was in his 30s, married and a father of two. The man is a scuzzy as the brown tap water in Winnipeg.

Outfielder Matt Joyce of the Oakland Athletics is “beyond sorry” for using a gay slur during a hissing contest with a fan in Anaheim on Friday night. I’m sorry, but it’s “beyond sorry” that male pro athletes are still using homophobic language as their go-to slurs in 2017.

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


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About Steve Mason and platooning puck-stoppers…a coach’s wish list…the Maple Leafs and Oilers supposedly all-in…the Oilers and Connor McRichkid…hocus-pocus from the CFL commish…and a bummer for the Bombers

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

Steve Mason vows that he’ll play nice. It sounds like the Winnipeg Jets newly minted goaltender is a team-first dude who’s keen on sharing the blue ice with Connor Hellebuyck.

Well, maybe. Maybe not.

Steve Mason

In a conference chin-wag with newsies scant minutes after he had agreed to accept a two-year contract from the Jets, Mason talked a good game, suggesting he’ll happily work with incumbent Connor Hellebuyck and the two men would be “pushing one another” in the name of the greater good.

That, however, isn’t what he was saying in Philadelphia. In the world according to Steve Mason, there’s room for only one main man in the blue ice. Him. The other guy is his caddy.

Every single team needs a defined starter and backup goalie,” Mason told csnphilly.com in April, at which time he still harbored hope, albeit faint, for a contract offer from the Philadelphia Flyers. “It’s shown throughout the league, (job sharing) doesn’t work. Tampa got rid of their situation. St. Louis got rid of their situation. You can’t be in and out, in and out. You have to have the flow. I believe, given that flow, I’ve done well with it.”

So there.

Don’t run off with the notion that the Jets will enter the 2017-18 National Hockey League fray with a No. 1 and No. 1A puck-stopping platoon. The new kid on the block expects to play Batman to Hellebuyck’s Robin. He’s Johnny Carson. Hellebuyck is Ed McMahon.

If general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and head coach Paul Maurice try to sell it any other way, pay attention to their noses. They’ll be growing.

We never really talked about what the work load is going to be,” says Cheveldayoff.

Really? You make one of your rare expeditions into the NHL free-agent market to address your outfit’s most-glaring flaw and you forget to mention to Mason that he’ll be expected to handle the heavy lifting?

Not only is Cheveldayoff’s nose longer than a telephone wire, his pants are on fire.

It’s a load of rubbish because Mason wasn’t lured to River City with the promise of playing wet nurse to Hellebuyck. Barring something freakish this summer—or a massive brain fart from Coach Potty-Mouth—Mason will be in the blue ice Oct. 4 when Auston Matthews and his supporting cast with the Toronto Maple Leafs come calling at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie. He’ll start 60 games. Minimum.

There can be no other way.

Last week I mentioned that Maurice was sitting on the hottest seat in Jets Nation. Either the local lads qualify for the Stanley Cup derby next spring or he’s looking for work. In case there’s any doubt, consider this comment about the Jets defence from Cheveldayoff: “All the things on a coach’s wish list are there.” Well, Erik Karlsson or Drew Doughty would be on my wish list, but I hear what Chevy is saying. Translation: Coach Potty-Mo has run out of wiggle room.

Connor McDavid

Interesting take from Paul Wiecek on the Jets, Maple Leafs and the Edmonton McDavids. The Winnipeg Free Press scribe laments Chevy’s roster tinkering, describing the acquisitions of Mason and blueliner Dmitry Kulikov as “modest moves” compared to the bold strokes of his counterparts in the Republic of Tranna and the Chuck. “To use a baseball analogy,” he writes, “the Oilers and Leafs have decided to swing for the fences in 2017-18, while Cheveldayoff is squaring up to bunt.” Well, I’m not a Chevy apologist. I find his methods—mostly management by paralysis—irritating and frustrating in the extreme. I’d much rather he be more Jim Nill and less Kevin Cheveldayoff. But, hey, he needed a starting goaltender. He got one. He needed a defenceman who shoots from the left side. He got one. He needed to unload a truckload of deadwood. He did it. Aside from botching the entry draft, he’s done what was required this off-season to get the Jets back into the playoff discussion.

I’m not convinced that Chevy is afraid to use bold strokes. I submit that when it comes to lavish spending and derring-do on the trade market, the GM doesn’t make the call. The Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, does.

So here’s what I find myself wondering in the wake of that $100 million McWhopper contract the Oilers gave Connor McDavid: Will the Puck Pontiff and his deep-, deep-, deep-pocketed partner, David Thomson, be willing to part with that kind of coin were they to land a generational player of the McDavid or Sidney Crosby ilk?

Sorry, but I don’t see how Edmonton signing Connor McRichkid to an eight-year contract is a special stroke of genius. It’s more like, well duuuh. I mean, the Jets did the same thing last summer with their franchise centre, Rink Rat Scheifele, securing him for eight years at the bargain-bin price of $49 million. And, given that McDavid will still be working at his original rate of pay come October, I fail to see how a contract that doesn’t kick in until the autumn of 2018 means they’re all-in for 2017-18.

Nice to see someone from Good Ol’ Hometown get the top job in the Canadian Football League, but, unless Randy Ambrosie is holding back on administrative skills that include hocus-pocus, I don’t see how anything short of hypnosis can convince folks in the Republic of Tranna that the Argonauts are a good buy. Right now, the Boatmen are No. 6 on the pecking order in the Centre of the Universe, behind the Maple Leafs, Blue Jays, Raptors, Toronto FC and Drake, and it shows in the pews. When the soccer side plays, BMO Field is alive and full. When the Argos are the main event, it becomes Empty Seats Stadium.

Matt Nichols

Quick thoughts on the heels of the 29-10 paddywhacking the Calgary Stampeders delivered to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Friday night at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry: Bombers running back Andrew Harris insisted that he and his mates in blue-and-gold “are better than this.” Okay. Prove it…Winnipeg head coach Mike O’Shea is “not interested in historical data of whatever number in a row.” We are, Mike. Like, Winnipeg has been a Grey Cup-free zone for 26 years in a row. Do something about that and the rest of us will ignore historical data, too…Oh no. Is Matt Nichols becoming the new Henry Burris without the Grey Cup rings? You know, Good Hank, Bad Hank? I mean, what we saw Friday night definitely was Bad Matt. Really Bad Matt. End zone interception and pick-six Bad Matt. You aren’t going to beat anyone, let alone the Stampeders, with that level of quarterbacking.

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