Let’s talk about 50 years after starting in the rag trade…Daniel and Gabby are Slam champs, too…Bianca’s place in the pecking order…what about Marie-Philip?…stay in your lane, young people…a good read in The Athletic…the further Torontoization of the Winnipeg Sun…High Tide and Green Grass…and other things on my mind

A special anniversary smorgas-bored…and it’s my doctor’s fault that I’m still doing this after all these years…

I walked into a newsroom for the first time 50 years ago today, fresh out of high school, and I still remember the hum of activity.

It wasn’t loud, not at that time of the morning in those days of PM papers, but it was steady and easy and soothing and vibrant.

I liked it, the way I liked Sinatra and Streisand.

I listened to the constant clatter of the teletype machines and discovered there was a hypnotic rhythm to their tap-tap-ta-tap-tap. There were three of them, as I recall, one for national and Southam news, another for dispatches from across Western Canada, and the third for United Press International. Every so often, one of them would send out a ding-ding-ding chirp. Breaking news. A copy boy would scurry over, read the alert, then tear off the story and distribute the front sheet to the appropriate department head and the carbon copy to the news rim.

Peter Warren

City editor Peter Warren might have been on the Winnipeg Tribune news rim Sept. 10, 1969, or maybe it was Harry Mardon or Jim Shilliday, who later would become the first but not last editor to bark at me. (It was for messing up a coffee order, something about too much sugar or not enough cream. He was wrong, I was right, and desker Peter Salmon, noticing my body quiver like a kitten on a limb, told him so, for which I remain immensely grateful.)

I know Gene Telpner was on assignment in the Middle East that long-ago day, but I suspect Val Werier and Hugh Allan were on site. Jack Matheson, too. Matty would have been hunkered down and proofing sports pages in his bunker in the far left corner of the newsroom, opposite the artsy-fartsy department, a domain shared by Telpner, Frank Morriss and Joan Druxman, whose flair for fashion was extraordinary and resonates to this day.

As I soaked it all in, I decided then and there that the Trib newsroom was where I wanted to be. Where I belonged.

Matty

It took me 10 months to get up to the fifth floor from the business office, where I handled incoming and outgoing mail, but I made it as a copy runner and, not long after that, Matty had a notion to bring me into the toy department.

I wanted to stay at the Trib for 50 years, but the dark forces at Southam Inc. headquarters in the Republic of Tranna had other ideas and put more than 300 of us out of work, kicking if not screaming, in late-August 1980.

But here I am, half a century after my first day on the job in the rag trade, out of work again but still scribbling about Winnipeg sports, albeit from a distance. Go figure.

I sometimes wonder why I carry on with this carry-on. I mean, it’s not like someone is paying me to put this alphabet soup together, although I suspect some among the rabble might be willing to take up a collection to shut me the hell up, and I can’t say I blame them. The thing is, one of my medics tells me it’s best that I keep my mind busy, and I’m not about to go against someone who gets to stick a needle in me on a whim. So, on doctor’s orders, I look for ways to humor myself at 1:30 in the a.m., and poking fun at sacred cows and media mooks works for moi. I don’t know how long I’ll keep going, but I know the end is closer to 50 days away than another 50 years.

Daniel Nestor (left) the Wimbledon champion and partner Nenad Zimonjic.

Now that I’ve mentioned mooks, I’m surprised that so many in mainstream media have saluted Bianca Andreescu as the first Canadian to win a tennis Grand Slam tournament. It simply isn’t so. Daniel Nestor won 12 of them in doubles play, and Gabriel Dabrowski has two major titles on her resumé. Ya, ya, I know. Doubles sucks and nobody cares. But a Slam is a Slam is a Slam, and I’m not going to insult Daniel or Gabby by saying their achievements don’t matter.

Here’s something else that gets up my nose: Our flowers of jock journalism wax on about the “greatest moments” in the history of game-playing by True North athletes, and they spew the same names and the same events. The Henderson goal. Sid’s golden goal. Donovan Bailey’s lickety-split at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. Mike Weir at the Masters. Joe Carter touching them all. The Tranna Jurassics. And now, of course, Bianca’s victory over the neighborhood bully, Serena Williams, in the U.S. Open. Which is fine and fitting, except for one glaring omission: None of them ever mention Marie-Philip Poulin’s golden goal. I don’t know about you, but nothing at the 2014 Sochi Olympics had my heart beating faster than Marie-Philip’s OT goal in Canada’s 3-2 victory over Uncle Sam’s Yankee Doodle Damsels. I still get chills watching the video. Alas, Marie-Philip’s goal fails to get the respect it deserves simply because it’s women’s hockey, which appears on the radar once every four years for most news snoops, and it’s quickly forgotten.

We all have our personal “Where were you when?” moments, and this is my top five in Canadian sports:
1. Paul Henderson’s goal in the 1972 Summit Series between the good guys and the Red Menace from Red Square Moscow.
2. Marie-Philip Poulin’s golden goal.
3. Kenny Ploen’s 18-yard skedadlde in OT to nail down a Grey Cup win for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 1961.
4. Jennifer Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer, Dawn McEwen winning curling gold at the Sochi Olympics.
5. Bianca Andreescu beating Williams in Queens, NYC, on Saturday.
Honorable mention: Brooke Henderson winning the Canadian Open golf tournament in 2018.

I try to stay in my lane when it comes to rating the events from a lifetime of watching sports, and that means 1957, or thereabouts, to the present. Anything that happened pre-1957, I don’t have a clue, other than what I’ve read about or watched on grainy, black-and-white film. I suggest young opinionists do the same. If you weren’t even on the breast when Paul Henderson slid a puck under Vladislav Tretiak in 1972, you have no business comparing Bianca’s achievement to that moment. Like, if you weren’t around when John, Paul, George and Ringo landed in Gotham, don’t tell me about Beatlemania. Stay in your lane.

Even veteran jock journos like Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna make that mistake. Simmons likes to present himself as a sports historian, and he’s fooled TSN into believing it, but his point of reference can’t start any earlier than 1965, if not later. He tweets, “I choose not to make assertions about athletes I’ve never seen unless they’re Ted Williams or Babe Ruth,” yet he was arrogant enough to compile a list of the National Hockey League’s greatest 100 players. Except he never saw 20 of them play. He added a list of 40 honorable mentions. He never saw 16 of them play. Ergo, the list was a sham.

Grantland Rice

Here’s what legendary sports scribe Grantland Rice had to say on drawing parallels to events and athletes from one era to another: “Probably the greatest waste of time known to man is the matter of comparing some star or champion with another who lived and played in a different decade.” It’s a trap we all fall into, of course, and I’m convinced that Steffi Graf would kick Serena Williams’ butt six out of every 10 matches. But Ol’ Grantland is likely correct. It’s just that the then-v.-now debate always makes for such good barroom banter.

Best read I’ve had this week is Eric Duhatschek’s piece in The Athletic on Winnipeg Jets young defender Josh Morrissey. Really, really good stuff. If you’re looking for a reason to subscribe to The Athletic, this is it.

Josh Morrissey

On the subject of Josh, why all the fuss last week about him saying he wants to stay in Good Ol’ Hometown for the duration? “I want to be a Jet” screamed a Winnipeg Sun headline, in type size normally reserved for a declaration of war, moon landings or the assassination of JFK. People, people. I agree it’s swell that young Josh wants to stick around, because he does boffo work on the Jets blueline and he seems like the kind of lad you’d want your daughter bringing home for Sunday dinner. But it’s dog-bites-man stuff. It’s not news.
Here’s Josh in May 2018: “I love playing here, I love being a Winnipeg Jet.”
Here’s Josh in August 2018: “I love being here. I love playing here. I love being a Winnipeg Jet.”
Here’s Josh in September 2018: “I love playing here and love being a Jet. I hope I can be here for a long time in the future.”
So he repeats what he said three times last year and it warrants a screaming headline? I shudder to think how large the type will be when he actually signs long term.

Speaking of the Winnipeg Sun and headlines, what’s up with that sports front this morning? There are pics of Bianca and hoops guy Kawhi Leonard towering over the CN tower and the Republic of Tranna skyline, with this captioning: “Bianca Andreescu and the Raptors got the country buzzing—and have changed sports forever in Toronto.” Excuse me, but we care about the sports landscape in The ROT why? The article was written by a ROT scribe, Steve Simmons, and aimed at a ROT audience. Neither the column or the cover belong in a River City rag. But it’s just the latest example of Postmedia’s pathetic Torontoization of its newspaper chain, and it sickens me.

I really hope boycotting women’s shinny players are getting on with their lives, because Dani Rylan isn’t in any hurry to shut down her National Women’s Hockey League to make way for an NHL takeover. “I see us as an international league spanning both the U.S. and Canada with a great broadcast deal, the best players in the world, and a fan base that is continuing to grow exponentially,” commish Dani told The Ice Garden. “So I think the options are endless. The future of women’s hockey is incredibly bright.” As for the recently formed Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, Dani reports that “unfortunately, they have refused to communicate with us.” The five teams have 83 players under contract for a fifth season.

Be advised that I scribbled a good portion of this post while groovin’ to the Rolling Stones album BIG HITS (High Tide and Green Grass), which might be the best 12-song, 36-minute set in the history of recorded rock ‘n’ roll. You’ve got Keith’s kick-ass guitar licks, the thumping beat of Charlie’s drum kit, Mick’s snarl and sass, and some of the best, straight-ahead rock songs ever written—Satisfaction, The Last Time, It’s All Over Now, Get Off My Cloud, 19th Nervous Breakdown. Brilliant.

And, finally, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of my entry into the rag trade, a quick tip of the bonnet to a few of my all-time faves, news snoops who made the journey more enjoyable and still inspire me: Dave Komosky, with whom I spent a sizable portion of 50 years in the trenches, young Eddie Tait, Knuckles Irving, Shakey Johnson and Ringo Mingo, Big Jim, Greaser, Uncle Tom, the Caveman, Homer, Ketch, Sinch, Swampdog, Scotty Morrison, Trent Frayne, Shaky Hunt, Willie Lever, Downsy, Jon Thordarson, Ronny (Les Lazaruk), Judy Owen, Paul Friesen, Marty Falcon, Buzz Currie, Doc Holliday, the Friar, Sod, Pick, Witt, Cactus, Matty, Peter Young, Blackie, Reyn, Joe Pascucci. And thanks to the late Don Delisle for hiring me right out of Miles Macdonell Collegiate.

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

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

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

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

Neymar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Atlanta United fans

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

Atlanta packs ’em in.

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

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

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

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

Kaylyn Kyle

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

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

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

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

Secretariat at the Belmont Stakes.

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

Rafa Nadal

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

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

Kawhi Leonard

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

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

About Claude’s boy Brendan going off his nut…Beastmo Bighill for MOP…fifth Beatle Ty Long…Andrew Harris had to get the ball…a new headset for Coach LaPo?…Sportsnet drops the ball on U football…the Bosox beer toss…Clayton K is no Sandy K…a good read on No. 4 Bobby Orr…and just say no to Slava

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and keep in mind that no one has ever won a bar bet based on anything I write…

Top o’ the morning to you, Brendan Lemieux.

Well, I guess it’s true what they say—you’re a chip off the old blockhead. That’s right. Your old man, Claude, was a cheap-shot artist of the tallest order, and now here you are, just 18 games into your National Hockey League career, and already you’re facing a suspension for attempting to rearrange Vincent Trocheck’s facial features.

Brendan Lemieux

Mind you, what you did to Trocheck of the Florida Panthers on Friday in Finland was the equivalent of a paper cut compared to the bludgeoning Papa Claude laid on Kris Draper in 1996.

I’m sure you know all about that, Brendan. Probably seen the video. Heck, you and the old man might have had a giggle or two watching it on YouTube. Just to refresh, though, Papa Claude drove Draper into the boards—from behind—and broke his face. That’s not an exaggeration. The force of the blow shattered an orbital bone, a cheekbone, Draper’s nose and his jaw.

That’s the signature moment of your old man’s career, Brendan. A goon act.

Oh, sure, some folks talk about his Stanley Cup victories, the Conn Smythe Trophy, the 19 game-winning goals in the postseason. But the conversation always comes back to Kris Draper and the night Papa Claude went all Pearl Harbor on the Detroit Red Wings forward.

You once told a reporter that you want to be seen as a “young Claude Lemieux,” and “every time I’m compared to my dad, it’s a compliment.”

The Claude Lemieux goon show.

Sorry, Brendan, but you don’t want to run off with the notion that folks are speaking favorably when they draw parallels between you and Papa Claude. More than likely they’re calling you a couple of dipsticks. Sure there are positive similarities. There’s tree bark to your game, just as there was to his. You can be a useful, disruptive irritant. But I’m certain fly-by muggings are not what the Winnipeg Jets had in mind when they brought you on board.

Your attack on Trocheck wasn’t just wanton and lawless, it was selfish. It was game-changing in a destructive way.

So here’s the bottom line, Brendan: I think it’s great that you’re proud of your old man, but just because Papa Claude had a tendency to go off his nut, it doesn’t mean you have to.

Straighten up and fly right, kid.

I’ve long held that a player like young Lemieux was a missing element to les Jets makeup. I reckoned they needed someone of the Nazem Kadri ilk. You know, a guy with serious skill but also a royal pain in the ass. Sadly, Lemieux isn’t even a reasonable facsimile. Although only 22, he might already be an NHL writeoff.

Puck Finn

Nice to see Patrik Laine rediscover his scoring touch during Winnipg HC’s two-game tour of duty in Finland, but let’s make something perfectly clear: Criticizing Puck Finn’s play early in this crusade does not make anyone a “Patrik Laine hater” or a “Patrik Laine naysayer.” It’s fair comment. The guy’s been gawdawful most nights, something he copped to post-hat trick in Winnipeg HC’s 4-2 victory over the Panthers on Thursday. “I’ve been a pretty bad player,” he admitted. So let’s keep this in mind: Laine still has yet to score at even strength with a goaltender in the net. That’s not hating on Puck Finn. It’s reporting the facts.

Fashion note: Saw one of those horrid Jets aviator alternate jerseys in a sports merchandise shop last week. The thing is selling for $134. That’s a lot of coin to spend on ugly. Sales dude told me nobody’s buying them out here on the west flank of the land. “People prefer the Jets heritage sweaters,” he said. Ya think?

Adam Bighill

I’ve studied the list of nominees for most outstanding player in the Canadian Football League and I don’t see anyone whose work has been more boffo than Beastmo Bighill, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers ransackish, plundering linebacker. Beastmo won’t win the vote, though, because the Football Reporters of Canada have a thing for guys who play the glam or diva positions. You know, the quarterbacks, receivers and running backs. Only once since they began doling out the MOP trinket in 1953 have news snoops broken ranks and saluted a pure defender. That was Solomon Elimimian of the B.C. Lions in 2014. So, if my math is correct, another defensive player isn’t due to win the MOP award until 2076, by which time we hope Winnipeg FC head coach Mike O’Shea finally has figured out when—and when not—to gamble on third down.

The Beatles

The Lions’ MOP candidate this year is Ty Long. He’s a punter/placekicker. No knock against Long, but that’s kind of like nominating Ringo Starr as the most outstanding Beatle. (For you kids in the audience, the Beatles were a rock band in the 1960s and Ringo was the drummer. The other band members were John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison. Two of them are in the grave, and Ringo still isn’t the most outstanding Beatle.)

O’Shea did the right thing by starting Andrew Harris in the Bombers’ meaningless matinee vs. the Eskimos at Commonwealth Stadium in E-Town on Saturday. Sure there was a risk he’d suffer an owie that would put him on the shelf for the Grey Cup runoff, but you’ve gotta give the ball to a guy who’s eight yards shy of another rushing title. It’s said that Coach Mikey is a player’s coach, and that’s what a player’s coach does.

Paul LaPolice

So what are the odds of Paul LaPolice landing a CFL head coaching gig? There’s a vacancy in the Republic of Tranna, where the Argonauts kicked Marc Trestman to the curb (apparently for his failure to keep Ricky Ray vertical), and Wally Buono has had his fill of football in B.C. and anywhere else people grab grass and growl. Jason Maas’ status in E-Town is still iffy, and perhaps the same can be said for Mike Sherman in Montreal. If the Bombers inflict serious damage during this month’s sprint to the Grey Cup, guaranteed the Winnipeg FC offensive-coordinator will be on someone’s short list. More to the point, I’d expect to see him wearing a head set on the sidelines next year. If so, good on him because I still believe Coach LaPo got a raw deal from inadequate, trigger-happy GM Sleepy Joe Mack with the Bombers in 2012.

Marc Trestman

Here’s my take on the Trestman dismissal by the Argos: A lot of folks who follow three-down football outside the Republic of Tranna will give a damn; few in The ROT will even notice he’s gone. Such a shame.

Also a shame that Sportsnet totally ignored the Canadian university football playoffs, which commenced on Saturday. What kind of a national sports network doesn’t cover the postseason from start to finish? They won’t have their cameras and talking heads on site next weekend either. Pathetic.

The Bosox Beer Toss

Interesting tradition Boston sports fans have during title parades—the beer toss. Yup, the rabble gathered last Wednesday in downtown Beantown to greet their most recent conquering heroes, the World Series champion Red Sox, and Bud Light bombs were bursting in air. It was a 21-can salute from the fawning faithful to their baseball icons. At first blush, I thought it a horrible waste of beer, but then I realized it was American beer. I’d toss it away, too.

Clayton Kershaw, Sandy Koufax

Now that the Los Angeles Dodgers have been ushered out of the World Series for the second straight autumn, can the ill-informed cease with the Clayton Kershaw-Sandy Koufax comparisons? The great Sandy K. got the job done when it mattered most. Kershaw not so much. Koufax pitched in four World Series, going 4-3 with a 0.95 ERA and a 0.825 WHIP. The Dodgers won three of those series and Koufax twice was chosen WS MVP. Kershaw, meanwhile, has a losing record in money games (9-10 overall; 1-2 in the World Series), his ERA is a plumpish 5.40 and his WHIP is 1.163. Case closed.

Two questions: The Professional Golf Association Tour has begun its 2018-19 season. Will anyone notice before Tiger tees it up? And does the professional tennis season ever end, or do they just keep playing until everyone is injured and sent to the repair shop?

If you’re looking for some good reading (the kind you won’t find here), check out Bruce Arthur’s piece on Bobby Orr in the Toronto Star. It’s boffo stuff on the boffoest of all hockey players.

And, finally, disgraced defenceman Slava Voynov has applied to the NHL for reinstatement. How fast can 31 teams say “no” to the wife-beater? Any outfit interested in recruiting Voynov is soulless.

About a “hockey play”…NHL conspiracy theories…good Canadian boys aren’t fakers…hosing the hosers…and long pee breaks for the ladies in Edmonton

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

The National Hockey League doesn’t need a Player Safety Committee. It needs a parole board.

Let’s face it, playoff hockey is street crime moved indoors. Muggings are as commonplace in springtime shinny as unruly chin whiskers. If there’s a rule book, it has all the bite of a butterfly. I mean, using Sidney Crosby’s head for a butcher’s block is a “hockey play” like a home invasion is a pajama party.

Barry Trotz knows that. Ditto Brian Burke.

Paul Bunyan

But because Crosby wasn’t their ox being gored when Alexander Ovechkin and Matt Niskanen went all Paul Bunyan on the Pittsburgh Penguins captain last Monday night, both Trotz and Burke quoted chapter and verse from every good, ol’ boy’s favorite reading material—the Conn Smythe Beat ‘Em In The Alley Hockey Bible.

I thought it was really a hockey play,” observed Trotz, head coach of the Washington Capitals.

I think it was a hockey play. This is what happens in our game,” echoed Burke, president in charge of truculence for the Calgary Flames.

Burke is correct. Stick happens. Ovechkin and Niskanen aren’t the first players in NHL history to use their shillelaghs to deliver violent blows to the head of a foe, nor will they be the last. It’s just that you’re supposed to be punished for such distasteful trespasses.

In this case, Ovechkin didn’t receive so much as a tsk-tsking for his Bunyanesque-like assault on Crosby in Game 3 of the Washington-Pitt playoff series. A two-hander to the arm, followed by a not-so-gentle whack to the back of the head? Nothing to see here, folks. Stick happens. Let’s move along. Except Ovechkin’s lumberjacking led directly to his accomplice moving in for sloppy seconds and cross-checking Crosby to the face.

Yes, I realize Niskanen was flagged and banished from the fray, but were additional punitive measures applied? Like a suspension? Hell no. This is the NHL postseason, don’t you know. Once the Stanley Cup tournament commences, the safety police hand out Get Out of Jail Free cards like condoms at a safe-sex convention. And it doesn’t matter if the unlawful battering renders a player like Crosby concussed and sends him to the repair shop. It’s a “hockey play.”

Well it isn’t. It’s a mugging. And the real crime is the NHL ignoring it.

I didn’t realize so many neurologists followed hockey. I mean, Crosby is concussed and suddenly everybody is an expert on brain trauma. Crosby should retire. No he shouldn’t. Yes he should. No he shouldn’t. Oh, just zip it. It’s his head, his career, his life. And for those who are astonished that he returned to the fray just four days after his mugging, be advised that concussions are like snowflakes—no two are the same. I ought to know: I’ve had my bell rung more often than Quasimodo.

Ryan Kesler

As a rule, I don’t subscribe to conspiracy theories, the exceptions being the JFK assassination and anything involving Ryan Kesler, who is the NHL’s version of a human rights violation. But after witnessing the unraveling of the Edmonton McDavids against Kesler and the Disney Ducks on Friday night, I’m thinking there might be something to this ‘Gary Bettman/anti-Canada’ notion. Maybe it’s true what the conspiracists say about the NHL’s pointy-nosed, bobble-headed commissioner: He’ll go to extreme lengths to prevent the Stanley Cup from returning to the True North. Seriously. If what Kesler did to Edmonton’s Cam Talbot wasn’t goaltender interference, then I’m Patsy Cline and Bettman is Johnny Cash. Sure, the Ducks’ resident villain was shoved, rudely, onto the blue ice, but he wasn’t obliged to stay there and make like an octopus, wrapping his left tentacle around Talbot’s right pad. Not surprisingly, officials ignored damning video evidence that supported Kesler’s guilt and they allowed a Rickard Rakell goal to stand, thus sending Game 5 into extra time. If the Ducks’ 4-3 OT victory wasn’t part of a grand, anti-hoser conspiracy, it was enough to make me go “hmmmmmmm.”

For the record, I don’t have a dog in the Edmonton-Anaheim fight. I like Ducks coach Randy Carlyle because he’s one of the old Winnipeg Jets, and Connor McDavid is a joy to watch. Basically, I’m Switzerland on this one. Having said that, I think the McDavids have been hosed by the officials in the past two games.

I’ve been watching hockey since the 1950s and, until this particular version of springtime shinny, I thought I had a good handle on things like icing and offside and goaltender interference and stick infractions. Now, all bets are off. I confess that I don’t know a foul from a fool. Well, okay, Don Cherry still plays the fool, but all the phantom fouls, faux fouls and no fouls leave me scratching my noggin. The officiating is tragically poor.

Don Cherry: We’re Canadian and this is how we dress.

Speaking of Grapes (sour or otherwise), Cherry was in ripe form after Nick Bonino of the Penguins hoodwinked a visually challenged referee into believing he had been clipped in the face by a careless T.J. Oshie, whose stick had actually glanced off Bonino’s left shoulder. “Kids, never, ever…we’re Canadians…we don’t do that, we don’t fake injuries,” the Lord of Loud barked from his Bully Pit on Coachless Corner. “We’re Canadians, we don’t do it. We wear shirts and ties.” So let that be your lesson, kids: Don’t be a Bonino, but if you have to fake an injury make sure you’re wearing a shirt and tie. Clean underwear is optional.

Bob Cole still has the great pipes, but, my goodness, the man has lost it when it comes to identifying players. His play-by-play on Hockey Night in Canada is now done in general terms, and it’s kind of sad. His work reminds me of the great Willie Mays stumbling around the outfield in his final days with the New York Mets.

Well, hello Dolly Parton.

Big beef about biffies at Rogers Place in Edmonton, where the gender bending of the loo is a common practice and a ladies’ lament at Oilers matches. It seems that the ladies have been forced to surrender two of their washrooms to men during the Edmonton-Anaheim series, an inconvenience that has resulted in 30-minute waits for the girls. Geez, Louise, there are 320 public toilets and/or urinals on the main and upper concourses at Rogers Place. And the men need two of the women’s washrooms? How much beer are those boys drinking? Just remember to put the seats back down, boys. The girls will need them when Dolly Parton and the Dixie Chicks come to town.

Dumb headline of the week was delivered by the Globe and Mail: “The Toronto Raptors are losing and we’re all sad.” We are? Interesting. Where I live, I’m not sure anyone actually knows the Raptors exist.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, which means she is old and probably should think about getting a life.

 

About pig-headed coaching…Matt Nichols to the rescue…the Freep’s two muppets…slow white guys…beers and puns…and other things on my mind

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

So, by proving himself to be right, Mike O’Shea has proven himself to be horribly wrong.

Say what?

Well, O’Shea was right to fire starting quarterback Drew (One Hop) Willy, but when Matt Nichols went behind centre and rag-dolled an Edmonton Eskimos’ defensive dozen to the tune of 30 points before and after the flashing of lightning and the rumbling of thunder on Thursday night at Commonwealth Stadium, it underscored how wrong/stubborn/pig headed the Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach had been before his employment and his club’s season was put on amber alert.

Let’s excuse the fact that the Eskimos can’t stop a runny nose right now. Nichols was superb in the Bombers’ 30-23 beatdown of the defending Canadian Football League champions, orchestrating two touchdown drives and directing another five excursions into enemy territory that produced Justin Medlock three-point hoofs.

You are, therefore, allowed to ask why it took O’Shea so long to turn away from Willy and hand the ball to Nichols. The short answer: He’s stubborn. The long answer: He’s really stubborn.

Had O’Shea stuck a fork in ol’ One Hop a game or two sooner, the local football heroes might be 3-3 today, rather than 2-4. Like I said, the much-maligned man was right to make the QB change, but he was extremely misguided in confining Nichols to the sideline and clipboard duty five skirmishes into this crusade.

There’s no suggestion here that we ought to reserve a spot for the name Matt Nichols on the Bombers’ Roll of Honour. It’s one game, one win. Still, the Eastern Washington alumni took what had been a comatose offence under the direction of the woeful Willy and delivered a kiss of life that, while not Biblical in loft, surely has saved the coach’s job. For now.

It’s still about the big picture.

Mike O’Shea is a better coach this morning by one win, his 14th W against 28 Ls. That said, I maintain the over/under on his long-term employment is early September.

If O’Shea is still wearing the head set by the time we break out the banjos for the Bombers’ annual frolic with the Saskatchewan Roughriders at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry on Sept. 10, he’s probably good to go for the remainder of the season.

If not, that can mean just one of two things has transpired: 1) Nichols is wounded; 2) O’Shea has a moment of madness and sends Willy, his $411,000 quarterback, back into the fray.

O’Shea insists that Bombers Nation hasn’t seen or heard the last of Willy. That’s what scares me.

say what banner4I don’t know what to make of the newest wrinkle on the sports pages of the Winnipeg Free Press, a little something headlined Say What?! Basically, it’s a print version of a chin-wag between sports editor Steve Lyons and columnist Paul Wiecek. Think Waldorf and Statler, the two grumpy, old muppets who sit in a balcony and bitch about the world. Now you’ve got a good read on what Say What?! is all about. After two offerings of Wiecek and Lyons (oh, what the hey, let’s call them Viscount and Gort), I still don’t know if it works for me. It might be too vaudevillian. Then again, maybe it isn’t. I love off-the-wall stuff and I’m thinking Say What?! will grow on me. Either way, it’s interesting that the Freep is doing more tabloid-style stuff than the tabloid in town.

Who says you can’t give the Bombers any props? We have proof to the contrary, thanks to noted white-knuckle fly boy Bob Irving. Play-by-play voice Knuckles delivered this terrific tweet prior to the club’s takeoff for its assignment with the Eskimos: “Getting set to fly to Edmonton on a plane with propellers? What year is this and whose idea was this?” Props to you, Knuckles.

Did I actually hear Jock Climie refer to former Montreal Alouettes receiver Ben Cahoon as a “slow white guy” when the Bombers and Eskimos took a lightning break and the TSN studio gab guys were required to fill air? I sure did. Jock called Cahoon a “slow white guy.” Now, what do you suppose the reaction would have been had Jock’s sidekick on the night, Matt Dunigan, referred to, say, Nik Lewis as a “slow black guy?” You bet. The stuff would have hit the fan.

If men’s golf majors were the Beatles, The Masters and the Open Championship would be Lennon and McCartney, the U.S. Open would be George Harrison, and the PGA would be Ringo. The Players Championship would be Pete Best—close but failed to make the cut.

Don Cherry and Ron MacLean
Don Cherry and Ron MacLean

Nice to see two good Canadian boys, Donald S. Cherry and Ron MacLean, honored with a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame. Well deserved. Apparently, Grapes celebrated by tossing back a six pack of Molson Canadian while MacLean delivered a six pack of really bad puns.

Yo! Duane Forde and Rod Black! Zip your lips when the head skunk shirt is announcing penalties to the audience during CFL jousts. Nothing you two gas bags have to say is so important that it can’t wait five seconds.

It’s late July, the warmest day of the year where I hang my bonnet, I call up the Winnipeg Sun sports section and see a lengthy dissertation by Ken Wiebe on—wait for it—projected line combinations for the Winnipeg Jets? This is something I want to read during the dog days of summer? Whether Mark Scheifele is going to have Nikolaj Ehlers for a linemate or Patrick Laine once the National Hockey League season commences in mid-October? Cripes, man, that makes Say What?! in the Freep come across as Pulitzer Prize-worthy.

Speaking of things that don’t make sense, Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons continues to hand the ball to R.A. Dickey. Why? Dickey is to the Jays’ starting pitching what Drew Willy is to the Blue Bombers’ quarterbacking.

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