About Bo Levi up next for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers…no hocus-pocus from Coach Mikey…cheap shots to the head and apologies from the CFL commish…musings of a couch potato…Maple Leafs bias in the national media…the Winnipeg Sun ignoring local sports…getting squat for players who do squat…and bitching about the boss

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…

It took Mike O’Shea five years to win a playoff game. The question is: Can he do it three times in 15 days?

I don’t see why not, because there isn’t an outfit in the Canadian Football League that’s performing at a higher level than Coach Mikey’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who’ve now been on the correct end of the scoreboard in their past six skirmishes of consequence.

Oh, sure, the local lads should have had a less-difficult time of it with the Roughriders on Saskatchewan’s barren tundra on Sunday, because Gang Green entered the fray sans starting quarterback Zach Collaros. But who among the rabble is inclined to quibble when their football heroes will still be playing in the back half of November?

Bo Levi Mitchell

In dispatching the offensively challenged Riders, 23-18 at Mosaic Stadium, Winnipeg FC booked passage to the northwest quadrant of Calgary, where Bo Levi Mitchell and the Stampeders lie in wait in their barracks on Crowchild Trail. At stake is bragging rights in the West Division and, most significant, a date vs. the eastern rep in the final match of the year.

I don’t believe it’s going out on a limb to suggest the Bombers defensive dozen will face a much sterner test on Nov. 18, because Mitchell is no Brandon Bridge. He can actually fling the football more than five yards down the field. And watch it land in one of his receiver’s hands.

Let’s face it, the Riders offence is inept. They try to win a knife fight with a handful of confetti. A glass of tap water has a more powerful kick. And that’s with either Bridge or Collaros at the controls.

Mitchell, on the other hand…let’s just say Bo Levi is a been-there, done-that QB with a chip on his shoulder the size of Chris Walby’s dinner plate, and I’m sure he’d like a second Grey Cup ring before swanning off to a National Football League outfit. If, of course, that’s the career path he chooses once his obligation to the Stampeders has been fulfilled.

None of that is to say Winnipeg FC shouldn’t bother to show up at McMahon Stadium next Sunday. Mitchell doesn’t wear a big, red S on his chest and, as evidenced by faceplants in the past two CFL championship jousts, he’s certainly beatable in large games.

Do the Bombers have the right kind of kryptonite to neuter Mitchell? Well, as stated, I don’t see anyone better than the local lads right now.

More to the point, when the two sides last met, on Oct. 26, the Bombers delivered a 29-21 wedgie to the Stampeders, a rather arrogant, uppity group that’s accustomed to getting their own way at this time of the year (until the Grey Cup game, of course).

The thing is, Mitchell and pals lost their way just as the Bombers were finding theirs in late-season skirmishing, and that makes for an intriguing West Division final.

Mike O’Shea

So, when Winnipeg FC took hold of an 11-point lead on the Roughriders—less than five minutes from time—I confess that I found myself thinking, “What goofy thing will O’Shea do to screw this up?” Turns out Coach Mikey played it straight all day. He kicked the ball when he should have kicked the ball, he gambled when he should have gambled. No smoke and mirrors. No hocus-pocus. No sorcery. Just straight-ahead, snot-bubble playoff football in the wind, the snow and the bitter cold on the Prairies. What a concept. Hopefully, that doesn’t mean he’s saving the magic act for Calgary?

Does Jackson Jeffcoat take us for fools? I mean, the Bombers defensive end felled Bridge with a nasty headgear-to-headgear wallop at the end of proceedings Sunday, then he had this to say to news snoops: “I didn’t feel like there was any head contact. I came in with my shoulder. My job is to sack the quarterback and hit him.” What a total load of hooey. It’s the same load of BS that Odell Willis of the B.C. Lions delivered a couple weeks ago when he took out Collaros with an illegal hit to the melon. Willis wasn’t flagged by the zebras (it took a coach’s challenge and a verdict from the command centre) and Jeffcoat’s crime went unpunished. Unless, of course, you consider more apologies from CFL commish Randy Ambrosie for shoddy officiating to be suitable punishment. Well, sorry, but that isn’t good enough. Careers are at risk with these blatant fouls

Couch Potato

Snippets from a day on the couch watching three-down football: Hamilton Tiger-Cats 48, B.C. Lions 8—will all those “experts” who’ve been squawking about the CFL’s “unfair” playoff system now put a sock in it? What we have now works just fine. And please don’t tell me it would have been different had the East Division semifinal fray been contested at B.C. Place. The Tabbies would have waffled ’em in a sandlot, a parking lot, or on any other patch of earth you’d like to choose…Why oh why were the blah, blah, blah boys on TSN so shocked that the Ticats trampled the Lions. “I don’t think anyone saw this coming,” said Jock Climie. Actually, some of us did. I was convinced the Tabbies would win this cat fight handily, and even wrote that B.C. QB Travis Lulay wouldn’t finish what he started. He didn’t. I realize the Lions went 6-3 in the second half of the season, but I thought it to be fraudulent…What a horrible way for Leos head coach Wally Buono to bow out. The hall-of-fame coach deserved much better from his players…Henry Burris’ Grey Cup ring is obscene. I’ll never understand why anyone would want to wear a doorknob on his hand…Is there some sort of fashion challenge among the boys on the TSN panel? If so, why don’t Matt Dunigan and Rod Smith join in? I mean, Burris and Stegall look mighty fine. The other two not so much…If we’re talking human mascots, I’ll take rassler Ric Flair of the Ticats over Drake of the Tranna Raptors any day. The Nature Boy is a goof-off, but his shtick is kind of comical in a WWE-scripted sort of way. Drake is just annoying. All together now—Woooooooooo!…I wonder if it’s possible for TSN sideline gab guy Matthew Scianitti to talk without waving his right hand in front of the camera. And is he actually as serious as he seems to be?

Blake Wheeler

Eastern media dweebs like Damien Cox of Sportsnet/Toronto Star argue that our national sports networks and national newspapers don’t show bias toward the Tranna Maple Leafs.

That, of course, is like saying Fox News doesn’t favor Donald Trump.

I mean, Blake Wheeler of the Winnipeg Jets had five points in a 5-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche at The Little Hockey House On The Prairie on Friday night. Five-point outings in the National Hockey League are as rare as Trump cozying up to a CNN reporter. Any CNN reporter.

But what was the main story on the TSN website the following morning? You guessed it—les Leafs getting goals from six different people in a win over New Jersey Devils. Ditto on the Sportsnet website. Top story on the National Post sports page was the Leafs’ win. Ditto the Globe and Mail.

Wheeler? His remarkable effort was relegated to “Oh, by the way…” coverage.

But, hey, there’s no Tranna bias.

As much as it pains me to say, I feel obliged to mention that the Winnipeg Sun is getting good and properly paddywhacked by the Winnipeg Free Press on coverage of local sports stories that don’t involve the Jets or Bombers. Using the respective Saturday editions as an example, the Drab Slab went all-in on the Winnipeg High School Football League Division I and II finals. It also had a piece on the possibility of a Western Hockey League franchise relocating in Good Ol’ Hometown, plus a byline article on the Canadian mixed curling championships at the Fort Rouge Club. And the tabloid? Nada. We could read an entire page on Tranna Maple Leafs broadcaster Joe Bowen (like, who in River City gives a damn?), and another full page on an Ottawa news snoop being shooed away at the boarding gate for the Senators’ charter flight to Tampa (again, who in Pegtown gives a damn?), but there was nary a word on any of the games on local playgrounds. Ignoring the two local high school grid skirmishes is not only shameful, it’s irresponsible.

Let’s be clear on something: The blame for the Sun ignoring local sports that operate on the periphery doesn’t fall at the feet of its three-man staff. The Torontofication of local rags is strictly a Postmedia call, and something I forewarned about 2 1/2 years ago when they merged eight newsrooms across the country and booted 90 journalists to the curb. “My concern is that they shall be lost in the shuffle,” I wrote of the little sports. “I fear the worst.” The worst has arrived and that, too, is a shame.

What was Mike McIntyre going on about in the Drab Slab the other day? “A franchise that prides itself on the draft-and-development model can’t keep cutting players such as (Marko) Dano loose with absolutely no return and expect not to feel it down the road,” he wrote. McIntyre prattled on about the grave danger of les Jets losing luminaries such as Dano, Alexander Burmistrov and Joel Armia for squat. Oh, puleeeeze. First of all, none of the three were drafted by les Jets. Dano was a Columbus Blue Jackets pick, Armia was plucked by the Buffalo Sabres, and Burmistrov was a holdover from the Atlanta Thrashers. Second, what did he expect any of that trio to fetch in barter? Burmistrov did nothing but skate in circles during his time in Pegtown. Dano wore street clothes, sat in the press box and ate popcorn. Armia, while a useful worker, proved to be the cost of business in the move to rid Winnipeg HC of Steve Mason’s burdensome contract. Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff couldn’t have gotten a bag of pucks for either Burmistrov of Dano. In no way is the departure of any of these players a game-changer. They weren’t worth squat, and neither is McIntyre’s argument. The column should have been spiked.

And, finally, it’s about that Uber thing whereby seven members of the Ottawa Senators trashed talked assistant coach Martin Raymond: What, none of us has ever bitched about our boss?

About Winnipeg Blue Bombers coaches Tar & Feather…Matt Nichols, game manager…counting heads in the CFL…Johnny Rotten, American beer and more TSN gushing…the morphing of Josh Morrissey…a nightmare on Donald Street…homeless in Detroit…the great Gretzky getaway to La La Land…dial Mark Stone for “exhausted”…and a Christmas Day “snub”

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

I think I know what some of you were thinking.

You were thinking that Richie Hall’s defence would become Richie Hall’s defence. Oh yes you were.

Richie Hall

As the Hamilton Tiger-Cats gnawed away at a substantial deficit Friday, you were convinced that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive dozen was about to fall back on bad habits and, thus, a hot, steamy evening at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry would conclude with the local lads squandering 19-7 and 26-10 leads like a teenage kid with his first summer wages. I was thinking the same thing.

Not this time, though.

On a night when quarterback Matt Nichols kept flinging the football to empty spaces instead of willing hands, the oft-crucified Hall and his oft-crucified group secured the Bombers’ fifth W in their eight skirmishes this Canadian Football League crusade, and their 29-23 success means the defensive coordinator is good to flit about town this week sans disguise.

Same goes for the head coach, Mike O’Shea, who today is a .500 head coach.

Mike O’Shea

How long has it been since the oft-skewered O’Shea last saw anything other than the dark side of the moon? Well, Sam Katz was still the mayor. Jeff Stoughton was still king of Manitoba’s curlers. Evander Kane was still dining and dashing. It was Sept. 13, 2014. The Bombers were 6-6 and soon to be 6-7. That pit eventually grew so deep that O’Shea had to carry a canary to work. He’s finally come up for air. His record, once 13-28, now stands at 40-40. The canary’s work is done.

Yup, life is good for coaches Tar & Feather. For now. There’s another game in five days. The jackals are forever crouching at their door.

Make no mistake, much of the criticism heaped on whipping boys O’Shea and Hall has been warranted, most notably on those occasions when the head man was guilty of mind-numbing buffoonery. Like attempting a season-halting, no-chance-in-hell, 61-yard field goal in the dead air of B.C. Place Stadium. Coach Mikey will wear that particular moment of madness until he actually wins a playoff game, but, in the meantime, shouldn’t the rabble—and all knights of the keyboard—acknowledge that he and Hall are getting the job done?

Matt Nichols

What’s up with Matt Nichols? I mean, the guy missed more long-range targets on Friday night than an Iraqi scud missile. His receivers would have required arms longer than Pinocchio’s nose to latch onto some of his passes. It brought to mind something a CFL coach or GM told Kirk Penton of The Athletic when discussing the league’s premier QBs: “Nichols is just a game manager.” And that’s the best you can say about his work against the Tabbies—he managed to win the game. But isn’t that the bottom line for quarterbacks?

Commonwealth Stadium

This from Damien Cox of the Toronto Star/Sportsnet: “There was a great deal of chest-thumping last week when Edmonton announced a crowd of 35,623 for a game against Saskatchewan, the CFL’s biggest live audience of the season. Given that Commonwealth Stadium was still 40 per cent empty, you might wonder what all the celebrating was about. Twenty years ago, nobody would have got excited about that kind of crowd.”

A couple layers to peel here: First, I didn’t read or hear about anyone dancing in the streets of The Chuck because of that head count. If there was a celebration, I missed it. Second, what a mook. I mean, had Cox taken five minutes for research, he’d know that seven of the eight CFL franchises averaged less than 30,000 customers per home date “20 years ago.” Half the league (Hamilton, Toronto, Montreal and B.C.) averaged less than 20,000. Thus, I submit that every club, save possibly for the Eskimos, would have been very “excited” about an audience of 35,623 “20 years ago.” More to the point, they’d have been shouting about it from the rooftops if it happened the first week of August, which is not exactly prime time for spending an evening sitting at the 55-yard line.

Just the facts, ma’am. They aren’t hard to find.

I note that a record number of our friends south of the great U.S.-Canada divide tuned in to witness TSN’s favorite lousy quarterback, Johnny Manziel, make his CFL debut on Aug. 3. Yup, 406,000 sets of peepers watched in wonder as Johnny Rotten fell flat on his face in his three-down baptism. Best ever ESPN2 audience for a CFL skirmish. Confirming, of course, that American football fans’ taste in quarterbacks is much like their taste in beer—watered down.

Trevor Harris

Let’s see if I’ve got this straight: Trevor Harris of the Ottawa RedBlacks flung the football 54 times on Saturday night. Forty-four of those passes—44!—landed in the right hands. That’s the second highest, single-game completion total in CFL history. Those passes/catches covered 487 of terrain, and one went for a touchdown in Ottawa’s 24-17 victory over the Montreal Alouettes. And yet, once the dust had settled, we had Rod Smith and Davis Sanchez of TSN flapping their gums about Johnny freaking Manziel, the losing quarterback whose performance was noteworthy only for the fact he didn’t toss four interceptions? “On a night where Trevor Harris throws for nearly 500 yards, it seems kind of crazy to be talking about the other quarterback, but that’s the Manziel world now in the CFL,” said Smith. No, Rod, it isn’t “kind of crazy.” It’s stupid and insulting, and TSN’s credibility is taking a big hit with its relentless and shameful gushing over a National Football League washout.

Josh Morrissey

For two years, Jacob Trouba has been so far up Paul Wiecek’s nose that a team of U.S. Navy SEALs wouldn’t be able to rescue him. Now we find Josh Morrissey up the other nostril.

Oh, yes, if Trouba is Darth Defenceman, Morrissey is Darth Lite.

And what heinous trespass has the young defender committed? Well, in a plot-thickening essay seemingly plucked out of River City’s hazy, sticky summer air and primarily designed to get tongues wagging, Wiecek informs us that Morrissey, like Trouba before him, is playing by the rules. The nerve.

Morrissey, to date, has declined to accept whatever hometown discount the Winnipeg Jets have asked him to accept in contract discussions, and thus he remains listed among the National Hockey League’s unsigned restricted free agents. That simply won’t do. Never mind that he’s merely exercising his bargained-for rights. Playing by the rules, in the world according to Wiecek, is bad manners, especially if it means you might upend a cart of apples.

Moreover, the Winnipeg Free Press scribe tells us that Morrissey is displaying a “darker side.” He’s morphed from Ned Flanders into Mr. Burns. Surely, Wiecek hints, there’s something foul afoot. “It’s no accident we’ve reached this point,” is his cryptic conclusion.

Good grief. The heat certainly affects people in peculiar ways, doesn’t it?

Look, there’s no story here. Not unless Wiecek has inside intel that he isn’t sharing, which I doubt. If Morrissey remains unsigned by the time the local lads assemble next month for their training sessions, then sure, let’s talk. Until then, let’s dispense with the flights of fantasy (read: fake news) and try to keep it real.

Jacob Trouba

Naturally, Wiecek couldn’t pen a piece about the Jets without skewering Trouba. Referencing the 24-year-old defenceman’s recent contract negotiations, which resulted in an arbitrator-awarded salary of $5.5 million, he wrote: “You knew that was going to be a nightmare.” So let’s recap. Trouba became a restricted free agent. He filed for arbitration, as is his right under the terms of the NHL-NHL Players Association contract. When his agent, Kurt Overhardt, and Jets ownership/management agreed to disagree on wage/term, it went to an arbitrator. Both parties signed the awarded one-year deal. Trouba will report to training camp and be a significant contributor to the group on its next Stanley Cup crusade. Exactly what part of that is a “nightmare?”

Hey, check out what Craig Custance of The Athletic Detroit has to say about our local hockey heroes. “If I had to bet the mortgage on a team right now to win the Stanley Cup, it’d be Winnipeg,” he writes. I’d take that bet in a heart beat, except I don’t want to live in Detroit and I’d hate to see Custance out on the street.

Weeping Wayne

Geez, it’s been 30 years since the Los Angeles Kings landed the biggest fish of them all, reeling in Wayne Gretzky from the Edmonton Oilers. Where were you the day No. 99 broke down and wept when informed he’d be neighbors in La La Land with Tom Hanks, Michael Douglas and Jodie Foster? I was in my late 30s and vacationing at a cottage somewhere in the wilds of the Whiteshell, but I interrupted my hiatus long enough to take my toes out of the water and scribble a column for the Winnipeg Sun. It was probably a lousy essay that offered little insight, but, hey, I had other fish to fry that day. Literally.

Mark Stone

Some interesting thoughts on contract negotiations from homeboy Mark Stone, who recently settled on a one-year, $7.35 million pact with the Ottawa Senators to avoid arbitration at the 11th hour. “It’s lots of hours, you’re spending a lot of time on the phone and you’re thinking about what you should do and how you should approach things. It’s actually mentally exhausting,” said Stone. Ya, such a hardship. I once worked the phones for 7 1/2 hours a day, five days a week for a year and a half in the Cordova Bay Golf Course pro shop. I think they paid me 12 bucks an hour. Stone spent a few days on the phone and his NHL club will pay him about $30,000 an hour. And he’s exhausted?

And, finally, I don’t get it. Why are some people on our side of the border bent out of shape, saying and writing that the NBA has “snubbed” the Tranna Raptors by not including them on the Christmas Day TV menu? Seriously. That’s what people do on Christmas now? They watch a bunch of multi-millionaire stringbeans play bouncy-bouncy on the hardwood when there’s probably a feel-good Jimmy Stewart or Bing Crosby movie on TV? I shudder. And if that makes me sound old, it’s because I am old.