The River City Renegade


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About the Winnipeg Blue Bombers aiming for first place…Johnny Football a perfect fit for Toronto…don’t call Shania a country crooner…a tennis rivalry is born…more hate for Caster Semenya…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…

Mike O’Shea

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers should finish their 2017 crusade at 14-4.

Note: I’m not saying they will be 14-4 at the close of regular-season business, I’m saying they should be.

The way I have it figured, there are six gimme games remaining on the Bombers schedule—Saskatchewan Roughriders (twice), Montreal Alouettes, Ottawa RedBlacks, Toronto Argonauts and Hamilton Tiger-Cats. They should also sweep their two remaining skirmishes with the B.C. Lions (both at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry). Finally, a split with the Edmonton Eskimos puts the Bombers at 14 Ws.

That ought to translate into home cooking for the Canadian Football League playoffs, perhaps even top seeding in the demanding West Division.

Alas, a different scenario is more likely to unfold, because head coach Mike O’Shea won’t be able to get out of his own way for 11 games, and Richie Hall’s defence is…well, it’s Richie Hall’s defence. But the Bombers have been gifted with an incredibly benign schedule and second place, if not first, is theirs for the taking.

So, Johnny Manziel tells us that the CFL is “definitely something I’ve looked into,” then he goes on to say he’d prefer to get into coaching, most likely at the collegiate level in the U.S. What, our women, bars and casinos aren’t good enough for Johnny Football?

The Tiger-Cats hold CFL negotiation rights to Manziel, a former Heisman Trophy winner as the top player in American college football, but a better fit would be the Republic of Tranna, where the Argonauts desperately need someone or something to generate interest in a franchise whose straits are as dire as the newspaper business. The Argos attracted 11,000 and change to their most recent assignment at BMO Field, and I’m thinking a novelty act like Manziel might bump the head count up to 20,000. Besides, the Boatmen need a quarterback. Ricky Ray is always in the repair shop and there’s no one of substance behind him. A nutbar like Manziel might be the ticket.

Shania Twain

I have no quarrel with the CFL hiring Shania Twain to lip-sync during the Grey Cup halftime hijinks in Ottawa, but I wish people would stop referring to her as a country crooner. She isn’t my kind of country. She’s pop. With that in mind, here’s this morning’s list: My top five favorite real female country singers…

1. Patsy Cline: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vwKPgqBC00o
2. Emmylou Harris:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JE_sUN_M7p0
3. Alison Krauss:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=To1_nOjlLBQ
4. Reba:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FUP9DnurODw
5. Dolly:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L0eeSoU35wM

Up-and-down week in Canadian tennis. Milos Ranoic and Genie Bouchard go out in a whimper at their respective Rogers Cup tournaments, but teenager Denis Shapovalov rocks Rafael Nadal’s world en route to an appearance in the semifinals in Montreal, whereupon he met his Waterloo in the form of Alexander Zverev on Saturday, 6-4, 7-5. The good news is that Shapovalov is only 18 years old. The bad news is that the Zverev is only 20. Actually, upon further review, that’s probably a double dose of good news, because it means Shapovalov and Zverev ought to be butting heads for the next decade.

Dumbest comment of the week was delivered by Mark Masters, who, after Shapovalov’s astonishing run in Montreal came to an end, told TSN viewers: “It wasn’t a completely unexpected run.” Oh, shut the front door, Mark! There was no hint that Shapovalov was about to wreak havoc on the game’s top players, including Nadal and former U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro. But, hey, maybe Masters is right. Let’s ask the kid himself. What say you, Denis Shapovalov? “Obviously, I didn’t expect it.”

Denis Shapovalov

Shapovalov, who, by the way, was born in Tel Aviv and whose parents, Tessa and Viktor, brought him to Canada before his first birthday, had been delivering good results on the Challenger Tour, which is the men’s B series. It is what the American Hockey League is to the National Hockey League. But, prior to the Rogers Cup, he had only beaten two top-100 players—Thomas Fabbiano, 86, and Kyle Edmund, 47.

Some interesting comments from tennis notables: “I’m concentrating a lot on working hard, being very humble,” said former French Open and current Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza. “You have to like being the centre of attention. You have to think it’s not a bad thing to have people talking about you. You have to welcome being on centre court, to play against the best players and prove yourself. You can’t be scared of those moments,” said Roger Federer, winner of 19 Grand Slam titles. Hmmm. I wonder if Genie Bouchard was listening.

Marshawn Lynch

This is curious: Colin Kaepernick takes a knee or sits during the singing/playing of the Star-Spangled Banner before his National Football League games and he’s a pariah. He can’t get a job even as a third-string quarterback. Marshawn Lynch, meanwhile, sits on a cooler and eats a banana during the American National Anthem prior to his Oakland Raiders dress rehearsal with the Arizona Cardinals, and everything is cool. What part of that makes sense to anyone?

Speaking of making no sense, where does Major League Baseball get off telling longtime ump Joe West to get lost for three days? All he did was relay an anecdote about Adrian Beltre, for cripes sake. If you missed it, West was asked which player was the biggest pain in the keester in baseball. He named Beltre of the Texas Rangers. “Every pitch you call that’s a strike, he says, ‘Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!’ I had a game with him recently and the pitch was right down the middle. He tells me, ‘That ball is outside.’ I told him, ‘You may be a great ballplayer, but you’re the worst umpire in the league. You stink.’” West told USA Today. That’s worth a three-game suspension? I’m scratching my head.

Some kind of down and dirty delivered by Mail Online columnist Katie Hopkins, who won’t be exchanging warm-and-fuzzies with Caster Semenya any time soon. Hopkins wrote this after the South African runner easily won her 800-metre heat at the world track and field championships in London: “Caster Semenya was on hand to show the world how to be a true women’s champion. All it takes are levels of testosterone three times higher than is expected in women due to hyperandrogenism, no womb or ovaries, and internal testes because of a chromosomal abnormality. Back in January Caster even married her girlfriend in a traditional wedding ceremony, appearing in the guise of a man. Yet, curiously, enough, out here on the track, Semenya identifies as a woman.” Sorry, but I fail to see the connection between running an 800-metre race and who a woman marries or what she’s wearing when she says “I do.” I also know numerous women who dress in what is considered male clothing. Some writers are just bloody nasty.

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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The doctors are in and Genie Bouchard, Milos Raonic and Denis Shapovalov are on the couch

Twin sisters Dr. Patti Puck and Dr. Patti Pigskin are internationally renowned sports psychologists who specialize in what makes athletes/coaches/managers/owners/sports scribes/broadcasters tick.

Jocks the world over flock to their clinic, the River City Shrink Wrap, and Drs. Patti and Patti have a waiting list longer than a politician’s nose at election time. They don’t always have the right answer, but if loving athletes is wrong they don’t want to be right.

(Today’s emergency session is all about love, the kind of love you find on a tennis court. With us are Canadian tennis diva Genie Bouchard, hard-luck guy Milos Raonic and Rafa Nadal-beater Denis Shapovalov.)

DR. PUCK: “Welcome everyone. Would you like to get us started, Genie?”

BOUCHARD: “Why me? Why is the burden always on me? Let someone else carry the burden.”

DR. PUCK: “Well, Genie, of the three of you, you seem to be the most troubled and, dare I say, angry. You just don’t seem happy.”

BOUCHARD: “Would you be happy if the media never left you alone? Ever since Wimbledon in 2014, they’ve been putting pressure on me to perform at an elite level. Why can’t they see that me reaching the Wimbledon final was catching lightning in a bottle? I mean, what’s it now, 10 times that I’ve gone home after losing in the first round this year? How often do I have to lose in the first round of a tournament before those dweebs finally clue in that I’m not any good?”

DR. PIGSKIN: “You really think the media has been too hard on you?”

BOUCHARD: “Are you kidding me? One of them wrote the other day—right after I’d lost in the opening round again—that I was the second coming of Anna Kournikova! All gams and no game! As if. Talk to the hand, Mr. Writer.”

DR. PIGSKIN: “Perhaps if you spent as much time working on your groundstrokes as you do on Instagram, selfies and posing for magazine covers they’d talk more about your game than your gams, which, by the way, are quite lovely.”

BOUCHARD: “Why you old cow! Are you hitting on me?”

DR. PIGSKIN: “Of course not, dear. You’re young enough to be my daughter. But, again, if you spent less time on looks…”

BOUCHARD: “Hey! You don’t know what my days are like! You don’t know what my life is like! Actually, I don’t even know why I’m talking to you two old cows. Do you even know a double fault from frozen yogurt?”

DR. PUCK: “Well, it’s true that we normally work with hockey and football players, but your camp called us, we didn’t call you. They said something about the Canadian flag weighing you down.”

BOUCHARD: “Tell me about it. Just ’cause I’m Canadian, I’m supposed to win in Canada. That’s what the fans expect. That’s what the media expects. Well, like duuuh. It doesn’t work that way. Being Canadian makes it harder to win in Canada, not easier. The expectations are like playing with a manhole cover strapped to your back. It’s not O Canada, it’s Woe Canada. Ask Milos.”

RAONIC: “Oh, cry me a river, girly. You want to talk problems? Try living in my skin.”

DR. PUCK: “What are your issues, Mr. Raonic?”

RAONIC: “Four words—Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Murray. Genie thinks the Maple Leaf is like a manhole cover on her back. Ha! I’ve got four manhole covers on my back. Just my rotten luck to be born into the greatest era of men’s tennis. Take away those four guys and I’ve probably got five or six Grand Slam titles on my resume.”

Denis Shapovalov

SHAPOVALOV: “What’s so hard about beating those dudes? Easy peasy. I just opened a big ol’ can of whup-ass on Nadal in the Rogers Cup. Took him out in a tiebreaker in the third.”

RAONIC: “You think I don’t know that? You think I don’t know that? Why do you think I had to come and see the two Docs this morning? It was either unload on Docs Patti and Patti or Dr. Phil. I mean, I’ve been busting my tennis balls trying to beat Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray this entire decade and you know how many times I’ve won? Eight. You know how many times they’ve beaten me? Thirty-four times. That’s right, I’m 8-34 against the Fab Four. And now here you come along, not even old enough to order a beer in most provinces, and you take out Rafa right from the get-go. You’re still on training wheels, for cripes sake!”

BOUCHARD: “Don’t worry, Milos. The media’s gonna latch onto Shappy like a pit bull on a pork chop. Beat Rafa once, he’ll have to beat him all the time now. By the time the media’s done with Shappy, he’ll wish he was born American or Russian or Croatian.”

SHAPOVALOV: “Never gonna happen. They can say what they want. I’m proud to be Canadian and I’m just trying to have some fun out there.”

DR. PUCK: “It sounds to me like young Mr. Shapovalov has really got it together.”

DR. PIGSKIN: “Unfortunately, our time is up. Would one of you like to add anything before you go? Or perhaps schedule another session?”

BOUCHARD: “Sorry. No can do. My calendar is full with photo shoots. But I think I’ve got time for a quick selfie with the whole group. Can’t wait to get it on Instagram.”

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 the greatest of them all Roger Federer…an emotional breakdown at Wimbledon…the still great Venus Williams…British knickers in a knot…a $1 million gaffe…and Sportsnet ignoring the CFL

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

I never thought I’d see a better running back than Jim Brown. I haven’t (although Gayle Sayers was absolutely breathtaking).

I never thought I’d see a better pitcher than Sandy Koufax. I haven’t.

I never thought I’d see a better baseball player than Willie Mays. I haven’t.

I never thought I’d see a better boxer than Muhammad Ali in his prime. I haven’t.

I never thought I’d see a better race horse than Secretariat. I haven’t.

I never thought I’d see a better hockey player than Bobby Orr. I haven’t.

I never thought I’d see a better tennis player than Bjorn Borg. I have. Roger Federer.

Roger Federer

Of all the athletes I have witnessed in my 66 1/2-year (so far) lifetime, Federer just might be the pinnacle. It’s a tough call, but he’s definitely in the discussion.

What I find most intriguing about Federer, who won his eighth Wimbledon singles title Sunday morning by dismantling a distraught Marin Cilic 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 on the lumpy lawn of the All England Club’s Centre Court, is his casual greatness. He plays tennis with a Zen-like calm that suggests the game is more of a stroll than a struggle. While his foes fret and fuss, it’s like Federer’s lounging in a recliner. He makes it look so…dang…easy. I mean, why does the Swiss maestro bother with a towel, on or off court? It can’t be to wipe away sweat. He sweats like the Pope swears.

Federer has been the dominant force in what must be cataloged as the platinum age of men’s tennis, with only health managing to slow him down. Temporarily.

He disappeared to the repair shop immediately after the 2016 Wimbledon fortnight and re-emerged six months later to earn the Australian Open title, with a five-set victory over nemesis Rafael Nadal, long Federer’s Kryptonite. He’s won five of the seven tournaments he’s entered this year, and he’s 2-for-2 in Grand Slam events.

Federer did, of course, skip the French Open in late May/early June, a decision he might regret should he carry on to triumph at the U.S. Open. That, mind you, is not to say Federer can’t get the job done on clay. He’s won on every surface but the moon. Still, success in Paris this year (or any year) was extremely unlikely, because Roland Garros is a Rafa Nadal thing. Ten times a Rafa Nadal thing. Jesus in sneakers couldn’t beat an on-form Nadal in Paris. Thus, Federer passed on Paris and prepped for Wimbledon. The results are in. Good call.

So, who or what can beat and stop Federer? Age. Eventually. There’ll be 36 candles on his birthday cake next month, and the aging process has to kick in one of these years.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to enjoy this seemingly ageless athlete who’s one for the ages.

Marin Cilic

How do you spell both the men’s and ladies’ singles championship matches at Wimbledon? D-U-D-S. After a final week of superb play—the Rafa Nadal-Gilles Muller fifth set was spellbinding—the lasting image of the ultimate matches is not one of terrific shot-making but that of Marin Cilic being reduced to an emotional train wreck during a side changeover vs. Federer. That was wince-inducing and very painful to watch. Been there, done that on the field of play, which is why I wanted to cry right along with him.

What’s that you say? Women’s tennis is lacking star power? Well, yes it is, with Serena Williams becoming a mama and Maria Sharapova trying to figure out how to play without the aid of banned substances. But there’s hope. The two most recent Grand Slam champions are French Open queen Jelena Ostapenko, just 21 and a powder keg of charisma and talent, and Garbine Muguruza, the 23-year-old Venezuelan-born Spaniard who paddywhacked five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams 7-5, 6-0 in the ladies’ final. Muguruza is the only woman to beat both of the Williams sisters in a Grand Slam final.

Steve Simmons of Postmedia just can’t seem to get out of his own way. After Muguruza had mopped Centre Court with Venus Williams on Saturday, he wrote: “Williams was a dominant player in 2000 and 2001 when she won the U.S. Open and Wimbledon. Since then, a good player, just not a great one.” Really. I’m uncertain how Simmons measures greatness in athletes, but Williams won Wimbledon in 2005, 2007 and 2008, and only four women—her sister Serena, Justine Henin, Sharapova and Kim Clijsters—have won more Grand Slams post-2001. Venus also has won 10 doubles Grand Slams post-2001. Venus Williams has been a great, not just good, player and champion for two decades.

Tsk, tsk. Venus Williams was in the pink at Wimbledon.

Nobody does pomp better than the British, but nobody gets bent out of shape like the British, either. I mean, tsk-tsking Venus Williams because she’s wearing a pink bra? Ordering players to the changing room to put on white skivvies? Talk about getting your knickers in a knot over nothing.

Okay, enough about Wimbledon. It’s about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. I’m sorry, but I simply didn’t understand all the teeth-gnashing and angst after the Bombers came out of the chute at 1-1. How bad was it? Bad enough that those two pesky Grumpets at the Winnipeg Free Press actually had a chin-wag during which sports editor Steve Lyons asked columnist Paul Wiecek if Thursday night’s assignment against the Toronto Argonauts was a “must win.” Are you kidding me? A “must win” three games into the Canadian Football League season? Come on, man. Don’t talk to us about must wins until the frost is on the pumpkin.

A drophead in the Freep described the Bombers-Argos joust as an “epic battle.” Ya, 10 field goals, that’s epic. The Argos failed to score an offensive touchdown. That’s epic like I’m Shania Twain. Come on, man.

Only one thing about that game was epic—the officiating blunder that jobbed Karen Kuldys out of $1 million. For those who missed it, Karen was the Safeway/Sobeys Touchdown to Win contestant, meaning if two kickoff returns went the distance she’d win a million Canadian bucks. Well, Ryan Lankford of the Bombers takes the opening kickoff to the house, then Martese Jackson of the Boatmen skedaddles 109 yards for a TD. But wait. There’s a flag on the play. One of the zebras has observed Toronto’s Llevi Noel ambushing Mike Miller from behind, whereas in fact the Bombers special-teamer has tripped over his own shoelace. No touchdown. No million Canadian bucks for Karen. The good news is, all Touchdown to Win contestants are now allowed one challenge flag per half.

So which head coach gets punted first, Chris Jones of the Saskatchewan Roughriders or Kent Austin of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats? The smart money has to be on Austin, whose Tabbies are winless. Somehow I don’t think there’ll be a whole lot of tears shed when he’s shown the door.

Two games in the CFL on Friday night and not a mention of either on the front page of the Sportsnet website at 2 o’clock Saturday morning. And this is the gang that trumpets itself as Canada’s #1 Sports Network. They had headlines about Kevin Klein signing to play hockey in Switzerland, some guy named Nikita Gusev signing to play hockey in Russia, and a piece on a Honda Indy practice, but nary a whisper about the CFL. I returned for a looksee at 4:30 a.m. Still nada. There was no mention of Wimbledon either. That, like dissing Venus Williams, is totally lame.

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

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

Kyle Walters

Kyle Walters

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ouch. A wee bit touchy, are we Kyle?

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

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

Matt Nichols

Matt Nichols

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks

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

Colin Kaerpernick is no Rosa Parks. Shame on Farber.

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

Angelique Kerber: A "B" winner?

Angelique Kerber: A “B” winner?

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

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

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

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

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

 


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About the Winnipeg Jets spending more big bucks…the Blue Bombers’ winning formula…”gutless” comments…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…

Mark Scheifele: A $49 million smile.

Mark Scheifele: A $49 million smile.

It’s no surprise that the Winnipeg Jets have tossed top dollar at Mark Scheifele.

Yes, in the grand scheme of things, the Jets operate on the chintz. In any payroll search of National Hockey League clubs, you’ll always find the locals nearer the bottom of the heap than the top. This is a “budget” team.

Yet the Secret Society that is True North Sports & Entertainment contradicts itself. That is, it is not a big spender, yet it has never been shy about spending big.

I mean, any outfit willing to compensate a lowly foot soldier like Chris Thorburn to the tune of $1.2 million per annum isn’t afraid to chuck the change around. Co-bankroll David Thomson likely found enough to pay Thorbs’s salary hidden behind and beneath the cushions of his sofa.

The point is, stuffing $49 million (US) into Scheifele’s piggy bank doesn’t represent a seismic shift in how True North does business. The Jets have a history of showing a willingness to deliver term and top-market compensation to those they deem their most valued workers. Anyone who thinks otherwise hasn’t been paying attention.

Earlier this year, the Jets committed $38 million to defenceman Dustin Byfuglien. Two days ago, it was $16.5 million for Mathieu Perreault, a generous stipend for a guy who might be playing third-line minutes. None of this is chump change. Nor was the $93.1 million they doled out to three players—Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little and Zach Bogosian—three years ago this month. Thirteen months before that, they agreed to pay Ondrej Pavelec $19.5 million over five years (ignore the reality that it was money not wisely spent on their much-maligned goaltender).

So no one should be surprised that the Jets went all-in with an eight-year, $49 million contract for Scheifele. It wasn’t a debunking of a “cheapskate tag,” as the Winnipeg Free Press suggests. It’s what they’ve done and will continue to do. Nothing has changed.

Blake Wheeler

Blake Wheeler

I have one question about the Jets signing of Scheifele: Why didn’t they name the 23-year-old centre team captain at the same time? While prevailing sentiment suggests Wheeler ought to wear the C, Scheifele will be doing his thing at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie for the next eight winters. Wheeler, whose birthday cake next month will feature 30 candles, won’t be.

In Florida, owners of the Panthers talk about winning the Stanley Cup. “They expect a Stanley Cup and we have a duty to bring the best team possible to our fans,” general manager Tom Rowe says of owner Vincent Viola and vice-chairman Doug Cifu. In Winnipeg, meanwhile, His Holy Hockeyness, Mark Chipman, and his valet, Kevin Cheveldayoff, talk about a “process.”

Nice to see the Winnipeg Blue Bombers finally found a winning formula—play a team that will commit six turnovers. That’s what went down when the Bombers bettered the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, 28-24, Thursday night at Timbits Field in the Hammer. The trick now, of course, is to find a few more teams as inept as the Tabbies.

On that note, who stole the real Hamilton Tiger-Cats and what have you done with them? Not to discredit the Bombers, who’ll take Ws in any shape or size, but the Tabbies were gawd awful and aren’t even a reasonable facsimile of the outfit that has been a Canadian Football League force since Kent Austin put his hands on the till. Yes, I realize the starting quarterback, Zach Collaros, is in sick bay, but that’s no excuse for the Keystone Kops routine.

Just wondering: Did South African High Court Judge Thokozile Masipa give her “fallen hero” Oscar Pistorius a hug and a kiss before shipping her “broken man” off to jail for the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, or did she settle for an autograph?

fish wrapCathal Kelly is among the finer wordsmiths in Canadian jock journalism, but I fear he’s lost the plot when it comes to tennis. Scribbling in the Globe and Mail, he mentions “the golden era of Canadian tennis” and cites Genie Bouchard’s march to the 2014 ladies’ final at Wimbledon and Milos Raonic advancing to the gentlemen’s semi-final round before bowing to Roger Federer that same summer. That’s Kelly’s idea of a golden era? One fortnight on the lumpy lawns of the All England Club? I’m sorry, but there’s nothing “golden” about one exceptional-yet-unsuccessful run at a tennis Grand Slam, then operating on the periphery of the sport’s elite. I would suggest that if Raonic topples Andy Murray in the Wimbledon final on Sunday morning, we can begin talking about a “golden” era of Canadian tennis. But not before he’s actually won something of note.

Shame on Steve Simmons, Postmedia sports columnist and TSN gab guy who this week on The Reporters with Dave Hodge advised us that Kevin Durant has “no spine” and his signing with a stacked Golden State Warriors outfit was “gutless.” In case we didn’t hear him the first time, he repeated his reckless “no spine” insult in his weekly three-dot column. Yo! Stevie! I’ll tell you what takes “no spine” and is “gutless.” Sitting in the shelter of a faraway TV studio or in your home office and slandering one of the top five performers in the National Basketball Association. Stand on a chair, look Durant in the eyes and then say he’s spineless and gutless or don’t say it at all.

I’m liking two new features in the Winnipeg Free Press toy department: 1) Paul Wiecek’s Sticks and Stones column (a string of brief opinion blurbs can make for a bright and breezy read; 2) TV columnist Brad Oswald’s take on the sports shows we watch. I’m anxious to see if Oswald will critique sports scribes freelancing as broadcasters or treat them like sacred cows. I’m betting it’s the latter, because people in the toy department don’t tend to eat their own.

It’s about that Trivago guy who shows up in all those commercials during sports programs: Someone has to tell him to stop dancing. He’s smooth like JLo is ugly.

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.

 


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About Kevin Cheveldayoff’s panic pick…the Andrew Ladd trade…this Finn’s not the Flash…and the building of a Stanley Cup champion

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

Logan Stanley

Logan Stanley

I’m not sure what we are to make of Kevin Cheveldayoff this morning.

I mean, he who sits at the right hand of Grand Master Chipper got his man at the top of the National Hockey League entry draft on Friday night, selecting Finnish phenom Patrik Laine with his first shout, but that was a gimme. A blind squirrel could have dug up that acorn.

It’s what Chevy did for his second act that lends itself to head scratching.

Going in, Cheveldayoff owned three of the first 36 picks (Nos. 2, 22, 36) in the NHL’s annual auction of freshly scrubbed teenage talent. By the end of Day One, he owned only two of the first 78 (Nos. 2, 18). Say again? Chevy went from three of the first 36 picks to two of the first 78, not getting his third call until No. 79.

I’m no Einstein, but it occurs to me that this is a peculiar bit of mathematical gymnastics. Perhaps it’s the Jets’ version of new hockey analytics—four steps forward and 43 steps back.

Whatever, in trading up four spots to secure a long, tall drink of water named Logan Stanley, Chevy either performed some serious sleight-of-hand that no one saw coming (save for the pack of bird dogs he hires to ferret out le creme de la frozen pond) or he is guilty of a Sergei Bautin-type miscalculation.

Puck pundits who are paid to know such things had Stanley ranked anywhere from 22nd to 42nd, which means there can be just one logical explanation for Cheveldayoff flip-flopping first-round picks with the Philadelphia Flyers and, at the same time, frittering away the Jets’ second-round selection—his knee jerked. Badly.

Yes, the Jets need left-handed-shooting defencemen like Don Cherry needs a fashion consultant, but is the Windsor Spitfires rearguard a prospect of such loft that you surrender the No. 36 pick?

In time, of course, we will discover if the 6-feet-7 Stanley becomes a bookend for the 6-feet-7 Tyler Myers—stand those two side-by-side and stretch out their arms and they’ll reach from Portage and Main to Portage la Prairie—or a bust.

For now, though, it smells like a panic pick.

Patrik Laine

Patrik Laine

We can close the book on the Andrew Ladd trade. For those of you keeping score at home, the Jets packaged their former captain along with Matt Fraser and Jay Harrison to Chicago in barter for Marko Dano and the Blackhawks’ first-round draft pick. So, officially, it’s Ladd, Fraser and Harrison for Dano and Logan Stanley, but realistically it’s Ladd for Dano and Stanley.

Little-known facts about some of the Jets’ draft picks: If he could be another person for one day, Patrik Laine would be Roger Federer; Logan Stanley is afraid of snakes; Luke Green once raced motocross; Jacob Cederholm is afraid of spiders and the coolest person he’s ever met is Tie Domi (which would indicate the young Swede needs to get out more often and meet more people).

As Howie (Squeaker) Meeker was wont to say, “Stop it there! Stop it right there!” No more calling Patrik Laine the Finnish Flash, the Finnish Flash 2.0 or anything else that includes the word Flash. There’s only one Finnish Flash. You can see him in the Heritage Classic oldtimers game in October.

Speaking of Teemu Selanne, I’m not sure why so many knickers are in a knot because Artemi Panarin of the Chicago Blackhawks was named the NHL’s top freshman at age 24. I don’t recall any such gnashing of the teeth when Selanne took home the Calder Trophy at age 22.

Jesse Puljujarvi

Jesse Puljujarvi

Hard to figure the Edmonton Oilers. No NHL outfit is in greater need of an upgrade on the blueline, but what does GM Peter Chiarelli do at the entry draft? He uses his first two shouts to take forwards, Jesse Puljujarvi and Tyler Benson. Will they ever learn?

In the final reckoning, the Oilers might have plucked the better of the two fab Finns at the top of the entry draft, but I’m glad the Jets landed Laine. Why? His name is easier to spell. I mean, it took me a year to get Byfuglien and Scheifele right, and Hellebuyck is still giving me fits. So I didn’t want to deal with Puljujarvi.

Food for thought: As much as Cheveldayoff likes to chirp about his draft-and-develop strategy, someone ought to tell Mark Chipman’s right-hand man that there’s more to building a champion than calling out names on the draft floor every June. For evidence, look no further than the Pittsburgh Penguins. The outfit that won the Stanley Cup tournament earlier this month was equal parts draftee (12) and castoff (13). You don’t get the job done on home-grown talent alone.

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.

 


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Sports Illustrated editors are horses’ asses for naming Serena Williams Sportsperson of the Year

Okay, who’s the horse’s ass? Or horses’ asses?

I mean, the deep thinkers at Sports Illustrated have anointed Serena Williams as their Sportsperson of the Year for 2015, and I want names. I want rank. I want serial numbers. I want to feret out the scoundrels who delivered this decree, a decision that has spurred debate to a gallop and sired a level of rancor not seen since…well, not since the needle on Donald Trump’s hate-seeking compass moved his attention and direction from Mexicans to Muslims.

SOTYCOV1221.lo.inddIt’s positively scandalous, this coronation of Williams, who, as one side of the argument hastens to emphasize, did not win the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness or the Belmont Stakes this year. That, of course, was the province of American Pharoah, who spent the past spring, summer and autumn showing all other race horses his ass, becoming the first thoroughbred in 37 years to lickety-split his way to victory in all three Triple Crown romps and first ever to add the Breeder’s Cup Classic to that collection.

Surely, that trumps anything Williams accomplished on the tennis court.

And, no, it matters not to the pro-equine lot that Williams uses a knife and fork while dining and Pharoah eats from a bucket in a barn. American Pharoah is a person if SI says he is a person, and the mag said as much by including him in a poll asking readers their choice for Sportsperson of the Year. Apparently, his two extra legs did not disqualify him from being short-listed. Table manners and leg count be damned.

We ought not be surprised that Pharoah fell short of the wire in this sprint, though, because the SI salute has never been bestowed on any creature with a lip tattoo, although we still aren’t sure about Terry Bradshaw. And let’s face it, if Secretariat doesn’t qualify as Sportsperson of the Year (he lost to race car driver Jackie Stewart in 1973), neither does Pharoah.

Still, the giddyup community and the faithful who fawn over Pharoah went into a tizzy and the language became racist and rather unseemly, with gusts up to deplorable, on Twitter.

Well, truth is, the pony people were right about one thing: The tall foreheads at SI got it wrong. But they didn’t get it wrong because they chose Serena Williams over a race horse. They didn’t get it wrong because they featured Williams splay-legged and in black stilletos for a cover shot that the prudish might tsk-tsk as a tad tawdry (you’d never catch Pharoah in such a provocative pose). No, they got it wrong because they chose the wrong tennis player.

Serena Williams wasn’t the best tennis player on the planet this year, let alone the top sportsperson. That would be Novak Djokovic, the sometimes sombre Serb who likely would have gotten the nod had he been born in Bakersfield, Calif., rather than Belgrade, Yugoslavia.

Why Djokovic over Williams? Let me count the ways…

  • Djokovic: Three Grand Slam titles, four finals. Williams: Three Grand Slam titles, one semifinal.
  • Djokovic: Won 11 tournaments. Williams: Won five tournaments.
  • Djokovic: 82-6 overall. Williams: 53-3 overall.

You want more? Well, Djokovic was beaten in his first tournament of the year, a tuneup for the Australian Open, then reached the final in his ensuing 15 events. In the open era of tennis, only Roger Federer (92-5 in 2006), John McEnroe (82-3 in 1984) and Jimmy Connors (93-4 in ’74) have carved out a better winning percentage than Djokovic. Finally, while Williams shut down her season after stumbling against a spare part named Roberta Vinci in the U.S. Open, Djokovic soldiered on, leaving the Arthur Ashe Stadium in Queens, N.Y., to play another 20 matches, winning 19 and the Association of Tennis Professionals title.

But, like I said, Djokovic had the bad manners to be born in Belgrade, not Bakersfield or Bemidji, so he was snubbed.

And that’s why the editors at Sports Illustrated are horses’ asses.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 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 to her 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.