If you’ll permit me a personal note right off the top (and you must, because this is my blog), this morning marks the 49th anniversary of my start in the rag trade.
Yup, it all began in the mail room on the second floor of the Winnipeg Tribune building on Sept. 10, 1969, me an 18-year-old, know-nothing kid fresh out of Miles Madonell Collegiate working at what had always been my newspaper of choice.
After a brief time running incoming and outgoing mail to the various arms of the Trib operation at the corner of Smith and Graham, directly across the street from the main post office, I was shuffled up to the fifth floor, whereupon I became a midnight-to-8 a.m. copy runner and began scribbling non-byline Manitoba Junior Hockey League rewrites in 1970.
Legendary sports columnist and editor Jack Matheson was somehow struck with the notion that I might be a suitable replacement for a departing sports scribe, and my first byline appeared in print on Page 16 of the Trib on June 14, 1971.
It was back-of-the-section, bottom-of-the-page stuff—a short blurb about a Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association financial shortfall of $8,753—nestled between the Assiniboia Downs form chart and horse racing writer Harold Loster’s graded selections. Humble beginnings, indeed.
My first beat was local tennis, which I totally enjoyed. Then high school football, a good place to earn your chops. But Matty had me mostly on hockey, at all levels and all leagues, at home and riding the bus across the frozen tundra with Gerry Brisson, Muzz MacPherson and the Winnipeg Clubs in the Western Canada Hockey League.
There wasn’t a hockey league I didn’t cover and, in fact, my final writing assignment at the Trib was to pen a sports-front, up-close-and-personal piece on local lad Butch Goring, weaned on the frozen ponds of Windsor Park/St. Vital and a Stanley Cup champion with the New York Islanders. Photog Jon Thordarson and I had visited Butch at his home. Spent more than an hour with him. The article and pics were in the can and good to go as a late-summer feature. Alas, the mucky-mucks at Southam had the bad manners to shut down the joint on what we called Black Wednesday, Aug. 27, 1980, and the Tribune was no more.
But, hey, here I am 49 years later, and old bag of bones still scribbling about shinny, football, curling and athletes in Good Ol’ Hometown, albeit from a distance. Don’t know when or how to stop.
Which means you’re right—there’s definitely something wrong with me. Like, does the term ‘get a life’ mean anything to me?
Apparently not. I might actually make it to 50 years.
A tip of the bonnet to Ted Wyman, soon to be the latest inductee to the Manitoba Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour. Ted’s been cranking out the good stuff for 26 years, earning his chops at the Moose Jaw Times Herald and Brandon Sun before bringing his act to Good Ol’ Hometown in 2003. He’s been a steady hand on the wheel of the Winnipeg Sun sports department since 2006.
Really enjoyed Melissa Martin’s piece on Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler in the Winnipeg Free Press last week. Melissa doesn’t stray into the toy department too often, but I always enjoy her take on sports and athletes. She’s my favorite scribe at the Drab Slab.
So I’m sitting in my local watering hole, watching the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Saskatchewan Roughriders duke it out on Saturday afternoon. They were down to the short strokes, with about three minutes remaining and Gang Green clinging to an iffy lead. The end result was very much in the balance. And what does TSN do? It cuts away to the Calgary Stampeders-Edmonton Eskimos skirmish, which had yet to start. You talk about your WTFTSN moments.
Here are this week’s Canadian Football League power rankings…
1. Calgary (9-2): Bo Levi was brilliant; the defence not so much.
2. Saskatchewan (7-4): Four straight Ws.
3. Edmonton (7-5): Got it done vs. Calgary this time.
4. Hamilton (6-5): Wicked offence, wicked QB, wicked Speedy B.
5. Ottawa (6-5): Continue to be a puzzle.
6. Winnipeg (5-7): A bye week just what the doctor ordered.
7. B.C. (4-6): Still say they’re done like dinner.
8. Montreal (3-8): Took the week off.
9. Toronto (3-8): QB woes continue.
Last week in CFL quarterbacking…
It’s about Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers: Wow. Just wow.
Still baffled by Serena Williams bringing motherhood into the equation during her epic hissy fit in the women’s final at the U.S. Open tennis tournament. “I have a daughter and I stand what’s right for her!” she shrieked, in full bully mode, at chair umpire Carlos Ramos. That simply does not compute. It makes no sense at all. What did Ramos’s rulings—questionable or not—have to do with Williams’ little girl? Can you say completely unhinged, kids?
For those of you scoring at home, the last eight Grand Slam tennis tournaments have delivered eight different champions on the women’s side and only three on the men’s side. Meanwhile, the same three guys winning everything now—Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic—have been winning everything since Wimbledon 2003, when Federer claimed his first Slam title. The scoreboard reads: Big Three 51, Rest of Guys 11. And who are those Rest of Guys? Stan Wawrinka (3), Andy Murray (3), Andy Roddick, Marin Cilic, Juan Martin del Potro, Marat Safin and Gaston Gaudio. So, 10 champions total. In the same time frame, 24 different women have won Slam tournaments.
And, finally, this from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: “I really hope the Maple Leafs pick a captain soon—so everybody can just shut up about it. The captain stuff: Relatively meaningless.” Interesting. In July, Simmons went on Tranna 1050 TSN radio and flapped his gums about the “relatively meaningless” Leafs captaincy for more than seven minutes. But now that he’s had his say on the topic he wants the rest of us to “shut up.” As if.
I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
It’s Darian Durant’s fault. A pox on his house for taking the money and running to retirement!
It’s Joe Mack’s fault.
The statute of limitations hasn’t run out on Sleepy-Eye Joe’s stupidity, has it? Nope. So, whenever the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ universe isn’t unfolding as it should, the former general manager and everyone’s favorite whipping boy is still fair game for blame. He’s the reason the Big Blue will begin their 2018 Canadian Football League crusade with a starting quarterback on training wheels.
I mean, think about it.
Had Sleepy-Eye Joe reeled in Mike Reilly in 2013, we wouldn’t be talking about Matt Nichols’ wonky wheels and a QB pool that has all the depth of an Archie-Jughead plot line. Well, would we? Reilly, after all, is Marlboro Man rugged, even when he’s wearing one of his funny, little hats. He’s voted annually by his peers as the toughest hombre in the three-down game, and he hasn’t missed a beat due to an owie since the first week of September 2015.
The sad thing is, Mack could have had Reilly for a song.
The sticker price the B.C. Lions listed for Reilly was a swap of second-round picks in the 2013 CFL college draft, plus a second-rounder in ’14. The Edmonton Eskimos were willing to pay it. Mack didn’t even want to kick the tires. Sleepy-Eye Joe remained convinced and confident that Buck Pierce was the answer at quarterback, and his backup plan was putting the legendary Justin Goltz behind centre. Or Max Hall.
As history records, that worked out about as well as New Coke.
To say Pierce was injury prone is to say Bill Gates has a bit of money. When fit enough to actually start a game, they didn’t strap a play chart to Brittle Buck’s left wrist. It was an IV needle. He didn’t survive the first month of the ’13 season, leaving various body parts and what was left of his marbles strewn on the field.
That QB fiasco, among other things, cost Mack his job generally mismanaging the Bombers, and Pierce finished that season in B.C., from whence he came. He’s now an assistant coach in Pegtown. No word on the whereabouts of Goltz and Hall, but I suspect they’re asking customers if they’d like fries with their Big Macs and Quarter Pounders.
As for Reilly, well, I’m sure you’re familiar with his story after the Eskimos lured him away from the Lions: Grey Cup champion and Grey Cup game most valuable player in ’15; CFL’s most outstanding player in ’17; two-time West Division all-star; one-time league all-star. And, perhaps most significant, Reilly is still with the Eskimos. No drive-thru orders for him. He’ll be barking signals and gutting it out on Thursday night when the Green-and-Gold engage the Bombers in a season-opening frolic at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry.
Reilly remains the ‘what could have been’ and ‘what should have been’ for the Bombers. That’s Sleepy-Eye Joe’s legacy.
None of the above is meant to disparage Nichols. Hey, he’s a tough dude, too. And he’s a keeper. Trouble is, he’s developed a most curious habit of falling down without being touched. His left leg caved on him in a game last October, and his right leg collapsed in a training session last week. Officially, he’s run out of legs that work properly. This, of course, is where Durant was expected to fit in. The Bombers paid the veteran QB $70,000 up front to serve as a safety net, thus, with Nichols in the repair shop for as few as four weeks and as many as six, it would have been his show. Alas, instead of playing catch with an interesting array of receivers, Durant is at home changing his new-born daughter’s dirty diapers, and the Bombers are unlikely to grovel at the feet of man who jilted them on the eve of training camp and trolled them on Twitter. Would Durant be an upgrade on Alex Ross, Bryan Bennett or Chris Streveler, the three lads who auditioned for the starter’s role on Friday night against the Lions in Vancouver? Naw. When last seen, which is to say with the Montreal Alouettes in 2017, Durant seldom delivered a pass without the football bouncing once or twice before landing at a receiver’s feet. He’s spent.
Welcome to TJMN—The Johnny Manziel Network, formerly known as The Sports Network. Seriously. TSN has gone loopy over Manziel. Last week, following a CFL debut that consisted of nine completed passes and zero points, TSN featured nine—count ’em, nine!—Johnny Rotten videos. One video per completion. Sunday morning, after he was good on a dozen of 20 pass attempts (including a TD toss), there were five more Johnny Rotten videos on the main TSN web page. They also featured something called Johnny Football Watch. All that for a guy who won’t start a game for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats unless Jeremiah Masoli is wounded or implodes.
Can you say undécima, kids? Rafael Nadal can. His 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 paddywhacking of Dominic Thiem in the men’s singles final Sunday was his 11th French Open title, and I can’t think of an athlete—in any sport—who is more dominant than the muscular Rafa on the red clay of Roland Garros. What the Spanish maestro has accomplished in Paris is insane. He’s 86-2. Eighty-freaking-six and two! Nobody goes 86-2. Except the Harlem Globetrotters, and their games are as rigged as a Vegas slot machine. Nadal on clay is a one-off. Never seen anything like him. Never will. (By the way, here’s the answer to the trivia question: Robin Soderling and Novak Djokovic are the only two men to have beaten Nadal at Roland Garros.)
The Big Four in men’s tennis is no more, but the Big Two remains. While Andy Murray is MIA and Djokovic is trying to sort out things in his head, if not other parts of his body, the younger generation of hot-shot racqueteers can’t kick Nadal or Roger Federer to the curb. Each of the 30somethings has won three of the past six Grand Slam championships and, Federer’s allergy to red clay notwithstanding, there’s no sign of surrender in either man. One suspects Wimbledon will be another episode in the Rafa-and-Roger show. All of which means the distaff side of tennis is much more intriguing. Check it out: In the past six GS tournaments, there have been six different champions—Serena Williams, Jelena Ostapenko, Garbine Muguruza, Sloane Stephens, Caroline Wozniacki and Simona Halep. Wimbledon will be another complete crapshoot, even if a healthy Williams joins the field.
On the subject of great champions, 45 years to the day that Secretariat completed horse racing’s Triple Crown by winning the Belmont Stakes, Justify romped wire-to-wire at Belmont to become the 13th Triple Crown winner. But let’s provide some perspective. Justify ran the mile and a half in 2:28.18 on Saturday. Secretariat did it in 2:24.0 in 1973. In other words, Secretariat would have beaten Justify by more than 20 lengths. Big Red’s Belmont victory (he won by 31 lengths) remains the single greatest sporting achievement I have witnessed.
Starring in the role of grumpy grandpa this week is Toronto Star and Sportsnet gasbag Damien Cox. On the heels of the Washington Capitals’ Stanley Cup conquest of the Vegas Golden Knights, Alex Ovechkin and the boys have been tooting about in full celebratory mode, carousing and fussing and sharing the moment with the rabble on the streets of D.C. Oh, they’ve also been drinking. How positively scandalous. And that just won’t do in Damien’s delicate, little world. There’s no room for random, unharnessed merriment. Or booze. “Rafael Nadal won his ELEVENTH French Open today,” Cox tweeted in a pious, tsk-tsking tone Sunday morning. “No video yet of him drunkenly rolling around in a public fountain because apparently some believe that’s how champions should behave.” Well, excuuuuuse the Capitals for having fun. I wonder if Damien Cox awakens some mornings and regrets being Damien Cox.
Social Note: It must be spring because sports power couples keep popping up. Not so long ago, noted flinger of footballs Aaron Rodgers and fast-car driver Danica Patrick were observed canoodling in public, and now it’s hockey’s diving diva, P.K. Subban, and Lindsey Vonn, glam gal of the ski slopes and one-time main squeeze of golfer Tiger Woods. Don’t know if going from putters to pucks is a dating step up or a step down for Vonn, but she probably won’t get any late-night calls from P.K. asking for bail money. (For the record, my fave sports power couple is Sue Bird and Megan Rapinoe, with Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi a close second.)
I note that a Connor McDavid rookie card recently sold at auction for $55,655. That’s a lot of coin for a small hunk of cardboard. But it made me wonder if kids still stick trading cards in the spokes of their bike wheels. Better question: Do kids still ride bikes, or are they too busy texting each other?
Zero female athletes appeared on the Forbes list of the top 100 money-makers in sports for the first time, but we shouldn’t be surprised. The annual Forbes 100 is based on earnings from June to June, a period of almost total inactivity in 2017-18 for Serena Williams, who slotted in at No. 51 a year ago with total income of $27 million. Her haul this time around was $18M, all via endorsement deals. Maria Sharapova, meanwhile, once was a regular on the Forbes 100, but, after being caught with her hand in the illegal-drug jar, some sponsors abandoned her and she has yet to return to championship form. Sharapova is hardly a pauper, though. Her estimated worth is well in excess of $100 million.
And, finally, an interesting albeit indelicate quote from the elegant Garbine Muguruza, who, after routing the equally elegant Sharapova, 6-2, 6-1, in the French Open, described the five-time Grand Slam champion as “an old-time player.” Ouch. Sharapova just turned 31.
I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
It’s easy to get ahead of yourself today if you’re among the white-clad rabble of Giddy Town, heretofore known as Winnipeg, River City or the Peg (or the less-flattering Winterpeg, Win-a-Pig, Zamboniville, Tundra Town and the Town That Summer Forgot).
I mean, you just watched your hockey heroes open a big, ol’ can of whup-ass on the Minnesota Wild. The Jets were ruthless, like a kid pulling the wings off a housefly ruthless. They brought a bayonet to a knife fight. The Wild brought a handful of confetti. It was more one-sided than a father-son talk about the teenage boy’s pregnant girlfriend. So now that the Jets have disposed of Minny in five matches, you’re calling out the Nashville Predators. Bring ’em on, right? Then bring on the San Jose Sharks or Vegas Golden Knights, and whichever outfit has the misfortune of emerging from the east in the National Hockey League battle of attrition known as the Stanley Cup tournament.
It’s all good. Plan the parade route. Now. We’ll all meet at Portage and Main, right where Ben Hatskin started it all by signing Robert Marvin Hull 46 years ago come June.
Well, here’s what I have to say about that: You go, kids! Party hardy!
Yes, I realize the NHL Jets have been here before. Twice, in fact. But what did advancing to the second round get them? The Big Bad Wolf in the form of the Edmonton Gretzkys. Those parties were over faster than John Bowie Ferguson could finish one of his stinky stogies. But this one has a different feel to it, doesn’t it? There’s a sense of genuine optimism for a lengthy playoff run that didn’t exist in 1985 and ’87. Oh, sure, some among the rabble back then believed the impossible to be possible, but once they stepped outside the rose-colored tea room and removed their rose-tinted glasses, they saw stark reality in a blue-orange-and-white tidal wave of hall-of-fame talent. There is no Big Bad Wolf for these Jets, though. As they await their foe for Round 2 of the Stanley Cup tournament, I see no outfit they cannot conquer. That they should not conquer. This could last a while.
For those of you keeping score at home (and I really hope you aren’t), I was 36 years old when the Jets last won a playoff series. Do the math. On second thought, please don’t. Suffice to say, I was young and in my prime and, according to Howie Meeker, I didn’t know moonshine from racoon crap. Howie was correct, of course, but he could have been a tad more subtle in his criticism of my scribblings.
A chap named Simeon Rusnak put together a nice package on the Winnipeg Whiteout for Sportsnet last week. I just wish these interlopers would do some simple fact-checking before letting their fingers do the walking on a keyboard. “The Whiteout hit the Manitoba capital with the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the first-round matchup between the Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild,” Rusnak writes. “Bell MTS Place is the epicentre of the storm, with 15,321 fans at every home game draped in white—a tradition that began in 1987 in the old Winnipeg Arena when the original Jets went to their first post-season.” Sigh. The spring of 1987 was the Jets’ sixth NHL post-season crusade, not the first. They had qualified in ’82, ’83, ’84, ’85 and ’86. And, of course, the “original pro Jets” had six playoff runs and three titles in the World Hockey Association. People like Rusnak can take a crash course on the Jets’ beginnings by checking out Joe Pascucci’s excellent Legacy of Greatness feature on YouTube, or Curtis Walker’s Memorial Site.
Winnipeg Sun city side/political columnist Tom Brodbeck has also weighed in on the Jets, trumpeting the genius of ownership/management for turning a “battered and bruised” Atlanta franchise into a Stanley Cup contender “in just seven short years.” Say again? Seven short years? Cripes, man, George McPhee put together a Stanley Cup contender in Las Vegas in less than seven months. Brendan Shanahan, Lou Lamoriello and Mike Babcock did it in the Republic of Tranna in three years. Brodbeck also scribbles: “It’s very difficult to find fault with almost anything this franchise has done.” Really? I’ve got two names for you: Claude and Noel. That was the first “fault,” but certainly not their last (hello, Evander Kane). But, hey, revisionist history seems to be trendy during these heady days of the Whiteout.
Got a giggle out of Josh Morrissey’s take on the cross-check that took him out of les Jets lineup for Game 5 vs. Minny. “I watched the video afterward, and we’re battling in front of the net on the penalty kill, and I’m actually looking at the puck on the wall, trying to box him out,” he said. “I got my stick up too high on him. It was a complete accident. I would never try to do that.” If I’m ever on trial for a heinous crime, I won’t be calling young Josh as an eye witness for the defence. I mean, I watched the video, too. Morrissey and Eric Staal of the Wild were not “battling.” Staal laid neither a stick nor a gloved hand on Morrissey, who was not “looking at the puck along the wall.” He looked directly at Staal when he laid the lumber to the Wild centre’s neck. And to call it an “accident?” As if. Spilling a cup of java is an accident. What Morrissey did to Staal gets you locked up. But I admire the kid’s chutzpah.
Don Cherry isn’t fond of the NHL playoff format. It “sucks,” he said from his bully pulpit on Hockey Night in Canada during the Tranna Maple Leafs-Boston Bruins tiff on Thursday night. I won’t quarrel with Grapes. He’s absolutely correct about the NHL post-season setup. I just wish he’d have made his case in English. I mean, listen to him: “It sucks as far as I’m concerned…guess ya can’t say that. Anyhow, it’s not good an’ I’ll tell ya why. These, one of these two teams, they should not, one of them should not be out—gone!—one of them will be GONE. It’s too good a too good a teams to be gone. It should be one an’ eight—top team I think against New Jersey—that’s the way it should be. Some day when it is, when it ain’t, you cannot have one of these two good teams OUT.” Yikes! And he’s been getting paid to talk for almost 40 years? That’s as daft as paying Sarah Huckabee Sanders to tell jokes.
Grapes has been on something or a roll lately. After Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins gave the Philly Flyers a 7-0 wedgie in the opening salvo of their series, the Lord of Loud told “you kids out there” that it’s bad manners to run up the score like that. “He (Crosby) should not be on when it’s 6-0. I always kept the score down.” Out of curiosity, I went on a fact-finding mission to determine if coach Cherry had, indeed, called off the hounds once a game was well in hand during his watch (1974-79) as bench steward of the Boston Bruins. I can report that not only is his nose growing, his pants are also on fire. Yes, Grapes stands guilty of a blatant Trumpism (read: big, fat fib). His Bruins were cutthroat. Check out some of their scores:
1974-75: 8-2 playoff win vs. Chicago
(regular season wins: 10-1, 10-4, 8-1, 12-1, 11-3, 8-0, 9-4, 8-0, 7-2, 8-2). 1975-76: 7-1 playoff win vs. L.A.
(regular season wins: 7-0, 8-1, 6-0). 1976-77: 8-3 playoff win vs. L.A.
(regular season wins: 8-1, 7-3, 7-3, 10-3, 6-0, 7-4). 1977-78: 6-1 playoff win vs. Chicago
(regular season wins: 7-3, 6-0, 8-2, 7-0, 6-1, 6-1, 7-1, 8-2, 8-1, 7-3, 7-2, 9-3, 7-2, 7-0, 8-3) 1978-79: 6-2 playoff win vs. Pittsburgh
(regular season wins: 8-2, 7-2, 7-3, 7-3, 6-1, 6-1, 7-4)…
So here’s some unpaid advice for “you kids out there”: Go to the kitchen and make a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich as soon as Uncle Grapes opens his gob, because if you listen to him you’re apt to receive failing grades in both English and History.
Play-by-play call of the week, if not forever, was delivered by Colorado radio guy Marc Moser on Friday night after Sven Andrighetto scored to keep the Avalanche alive with a 2-1 win over Nashville: “I can’t believe it! This has gotta be one of the gutsiest clubs in the National Hockey League! Pure guts! They got nothing but guts! Every guy with three big, ol’ cow hearts, two pancreases and five stomachs! Guts all over the place!” There’s nothing to say after that, except someone please call maintenance for a cleanup on Aisle 5—there’s guts all over the place!
This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna (after the Maple Leafs had been beaten 3-1 by the Bruins in Game 4 of their playoff series): “This was the night when the future of the Leafs—building around Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander—didn’t seem to be a very sound approach.” Good grief. Who would Grandpa Simmons prefer they build around? Borje Salming, Darryl Sittler and Rocky Saganiuk?
I note that Auston Matthews’ jersey was the top-seller in the NHL this season. Simmons demands to know the name of the imposter wearing Matthews’ No. 34 in Game 4. (Just so you know, after the Leafs centre on the top-seller top five were Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, Marc-Andre Fleury and King Henrik Lundqvist.)
No doubt Roger Federer has earned the right to pick and choose when and where he plays his tennis, but still…skipping the entire clay courts season? Again? How much of Federer’s allergy to red clay is about preserving his 36-year-old body for Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, and how much of it is about his competitive juices? It seems to me that the 20-time Grand Slam champion has conceded he’ll never win at Roland Garros again—not with nemesis Rafa Nadal in the French Open field and healthy—so why waste time and energy on preliminary events on the red clay of Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid and Rome? Can’t win, won’t play. I’m sorry, but it’s not a good look for the “greatest of all time.” Again, Federer gets the benefit of the doubt, but it still smacks of surrender. He prefers not to be Rafa’s clay pigeon.
Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Genie Bouchard is taking time out from her many photo shoots to help Canada in its Federation Cup tie vs. Ukraine this weekend in Montreal, and it seems our tennis diva hasn’t let her world 117 ranking bring her down a peg or two. In a presser prior to the event, a foreign reporter led into his question by telling Genie it was “a privilege” to share the same oxygen as the one-time Grand Slam finalist. To which she replied: “It’s nice of you to say that. It would be nice if our local press said that to me as well.” Someone needs to put that Genie back in the bottle.
So, there was a hole in roof at Rogers Centre, home of the surprisingly adept Blue Jays in the Republic of Tranna. Hearing that, I immediately thought of the Beatles tune Fixing a Hole, which is one of the tracks on their second-best album, Sgt. Peppers. Then I learned there were between 200 and 300 holes in the roof, which brought to mind a lyric from A Day In the Life: “Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall.” It’s also from Sgt. Peppers, the Fab Four’s best work next to the incomparable Revolver.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers showed an operating profit of $5.1 million last year. There’s no truth to the rumor that Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press is insisting that the Canadian Football League club use a chunk of the surplus to purchase head coach Mike O’Shea a pair of long pants.
So, after attracting less than 14,000 people per game during the 2017 CFL season, the Tranna Argonauts are convinced they now know the secret to getting more fannies in the pews at BMO Field—a hate Tranna campaign. “We want to create a sense of rivalry,” says Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment guru Jerry Ferguson. “If you’re from here, you love us and if you’re not from here, you hate us.” That’s it? That’s all you’ve got? Yo! Jerry! You’ve got it butt backwards, man. The rest of the country has had a hate-on for the Republic of Tranna since the beginning of time. How do you think we market our games?
I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
Meet Willie Desjardins, convenient scapegoat.
Yup, there’s a bucket of tar and a bagful of feathers with poor Willie’s name on it should our patchwork men’s shinny side stumble and fall at the Olympic Winter Games in South Korea. As sure as good Canadian boys pour maple syrup on their flapjacks, the head coach will be the fall guy. You can make book on it.
I mean, our not-so-jolly hockey heroes were a mere two games into their crusade—handily beating Switzerland before falling a score short in a shootout vs. the Czech Republic—and already the knives had been drawn from their sheaths. And for what? Because they failed in one of those objectionable shootouts that belong in a trash bin?
Willie Boy, it seems, is guilty of two things: 1) he has the bad manners to not be Mike Babcock; 2) he delivers lousy sound bites.
“If Canada’s players have looked nervous, Desjardins, at times, has appeared like a man overwhelmed by the strain. Maybe you caught the same pre-game close-up of Desjardins they showed in the arena here Saturday. Standing on the bench in the moments before the opening faceoff, Desjardins swayed from side to side, teetering from foot to foot like a self-conscious fourth-grader singled out in front of his classmates. His mouth twitched. His eyes gazed blankly into the distance. And he clutched his trademark whiteboard as though it was his dry-erase answer to a security blanket.
“It was dumbfounding how, in the wake of Saturday’s loss, Desjardins offered answers that were Belichick-ian in their curtness when he doesn’t own anything approaching a record that’s Belichick-ian in its peerlessness.
“Watching Desjardins so far, only the sleepiest observer wouldn’t raise questions about whether or not he’s up to this challenge.”
Whew…tells us what you really think, Mr. Feschuk. On second thought, don’t bother. You’ve already said quite enough.
Next up is Postmedia gasbag Steve Simmons, who’s forever chasing kids off his lawn:
“There is little about Willie Desjardins that is reminiscent of Mike Babcock…Desjardins comes across just a little bit nervous, a little unsure, not necessarily confident, not calming in the usual arrogant coaching I-have-this-under-control way, but instead there is just a little reason to wonder about the Team Canada head hockey coach. Desjardins doesn’t seem to take ownership of the environment the way Babcock has done in the past.”
Geez, you don’t suppose that might have something to do with talent, do you Stevie? Babcock was sending Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews over the boards when Canada was winning gold medals in 2010 and ’14. Willie Boy is sending out Derek Roy and Wojtek Wolski. Do the freaking math, man.
But Simmons wasn’t done. He added:
“He showed up in the mixed zone Saturday afternoon—the Olympic area in which press, athletes and coaches meet—and looked like he would rather be anywhere else in the world. He barely said anything that mattered. His interview lasted 93 seconds. For most of the time his body language screamed: Get me out of here. Bill Belichick can get away with that. Willie Desjardins is no Bill Belichick.
“The Canadian coach needs to be better, stronger, more confident, more urgent, more definitive, appearing more in control and maybe a touch more defiant.
Good grief. Get a grip, boys. Our hockey heroes were two games in. They’re now three deep, having beaten South Korea 4-zip on Sunday, and they’ve earned a free pass into the quarterfinal round. What part of that do you not understand?
Scribes and/or broadcasters crapping on our Olympians is lame. Unless you’re a stooge like Ben Johnson and the mooks who used him for a patsy, the people wearing the Maple Leaf—and their handlers—ought to be totally off limits. I hope that’s something jock journalists keep in mind if the hockey crusade turns sour for coach Willie and the boys in the elimination rounds.
Olympic Games good reads: Like the athletes they write about, sports scribes are expected to “up” their game at the Winter Olympics. No mailing it in. And there’s been some terrific stuff coming out of South Korea. For example…
Gold medal: Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star, for his heart-tugging piece on Canadian speed skater Ted-Jan Bloemen’s bride, Marlinde, and her childhood friend who lost a baby.
Silver medal: Arthur again, this time for his piece on the difficult road travelled by Canadian fancy skater Eric Radford, the first openly gay man to strike gold at a Winter Games.
Bronze medal: Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press, for his piece on delightful curler Kaitlyn Lawes and her relationship with her late father, Keith.
It’s wonderful stuff, because Arthur and Wiecek are writing about people who happen to be champion athletes, not champion athletes who happen to be people. There should be more human interest tales in sports writing and less Xs, Os and naked animosity.
Is there anything more beautiful in athletics than fancy skating at the Olympic level? I think not. From the music to the women’s costumes to the sex appeal to the sensual/sultry-yet-robust athleticism, it’s breathtaking, especially the dance program. And if I was a little girl instead of an old lady, I’d want to grow up to be Tessa Virtue, the delicate half of Canada’s leading dance partnership. If I couldn’t be Tessa, I’d want to be Kaitlyn Lawes.
Here’s what happens when non-curling people are required to cover curling: Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail waded into the Olympics burned-rock controversy involving Canadian skip Rachel Homan and Julie Heogh, second on the Danish team. Kelly writes about “Homan’s decision to burn a Danish rock—take it out of play after being touched by an opponent.” Wrong. Homan didn’t “burn” the stone, she removed it. Heogh “burned” the stone while sweeping it in the rings. Kelly also notes that Canada no longer wins by divine right on the global curling stage, as if that’s something new. Earth to Cathal! Earth to Cathal! That’s not exactly man-bites-dog material. It’s been that way for quite some time. Our curlers have ruled the world of women’s curling just twice in the past 10 years. Yup, 2-8. The men, meanwhile, are barely above the break-even point, at 6-4. You might want to familiarize yourself with something called research.
This week’s notable quotable comes from skier Kjetil Jansrud of Norway: “We believe there is no good explanation or justification for why you have to be a jerk to be a good athlete. So we just won’t have that kind of thing on our team. You have to get along with everyone.”
Saw an interesting question the other day: “Should the Montreal Canadiens do something at the National Hockey League trade deadline?” Yes, they should. General manager Marc Bergevin should tie a white flag to the end of a stick and wave it.
Jennifer Jones is probably jumping for joy right now, knowing she and her rinkmates have a free pass into next year’s Scotties Tournament of Hearts as Team Canada. Otherwise, they’d be required to get out of Manitoba, which just became more difficult. Joining forces, with an eye on a berth in the 2022 Winter Olympics curling tournament, are skips Kerri Einarson, Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard and Briane Meilleur. Einarson is a former ‘Toba champion. Sweeting is a former Alberta champion. Birchard just helped the Jones rink win the recent Scotties title. Meilleur has skipped her own team in the ‘Toba Scotties. Can you say juggernaut, kids? But wait. That’s four cooks at the same stove, maybe two cooks too many. Meanwhile, Tracy Fleury is assuming command of Einarson’s old team, which was beaten by Jones, Birchard, Dawn McEwen and Jill Officer in the Scotties final. Can we fast forward to next January? I’d like to know how this turns out.
The great Roger Federer is back atop the world tennis rankings, moving ahead of a temporarily inactive Rafael Nadal into the No. 1 slot last week. His ascent is notable due to his age, 36, which makes him the oldest world No. 1 in history. Meanwhile, in other tennis news, Genie Bouchard took her clothes off and said, “Wow, this is harder than playing tennis. It is very hard work.” Apparently, the Sports Illustrated photo shoot was done in one day—just like most of her tennis tournaments.
After the first round of the Genesis Open at Riviera, I watched a highlights package and didn’t see anyone other than Tiger Woods swing a golf club. There was no mention of the leader. There was no mention of the golfers nipping at the leader’s Foot Joys. Just video evidence of Woods missing another fairway en route to a 1-over-par 72. What’ll the coverage be like if he actually breaks par one of these weeks?
The San Francisco 49ers have made Jimmy Garoppolo the richest player in National Football League history, with a $137.5-million contract.at $27.5M per season, and I’m asking myself this: What am I missing? I mean, that’s more coin that Tom Brady takes home. More than Aaron Rodgers. More than Drew Brees. Those three are Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks. Garappolo has won…oh, that’s right, he earned two Super Bowl rings for holding a clipboard for Brady. Go figure.
Oh joy. Baseball is back. And it’ll be on TV at the end of the week, which means it’ll be beer and baseball at Bart’s Pub on Saturday afternoons from now until October. There’s just something about baseball that makes the beer taste better.
I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
Kid Rock isn’t feeling the love.
Except, of course, from Jeremy Roenick, whose unfiltered voice and scatter-gun twaddle have increased in volume and mockability, if not temperament, since the end of his days as a National Hockey League worker who once informed disgruntled fans that they can “kiss my ass.”
“Kid Rock,” says Roenick, “is the most talented musician, I think ever, on the planet.”
He didn’t say which planet, but one could posit that, as a music critic, Roenick makes a swell hockey analyst, although the latter would be a matter of viewer appetite.
The point is, amidst the hurried and harsh pooh-poohing of the NHL for its hiring of rapper/rocker/rockabilly/country guy Kid Rock for the intermission gig at the Jan. 28 all-star frolic in Tampa, Roenick’s is the voice of a lone wolf howling amidst the din of dissent.
“I’m a huge Kid Rock fan. I love his music,” confessed the NBC gab guy. “It’s a great get.”
Perhaps not such a “great get” if it’s about more than the music, which, based on the intense social and mainstream media screeching that his appointment has inspired, it seems to be with Robert/Bob/Bobby Ritchie.
Here’s what I know about Kid Rock:
He’s filthy rich (about $80 million worth); he fancies himself as a beer-swilling, crap-kicking, womanizing American badass who’s been known to wrap himself in a Confederate flag; he likes to play with guns; he tosses out F-bombs like confetti at a wedding; he wears hats and sunglasses and is street chic scruffy; if there existed a period when he held relevance as a musician it surely ended about 10 years ago, basically the same time he and his ex-bride, Pamela Anderson, established some sort of record by exchanging wedding vows three times in one summer and filing for divorce 122 days later; he professes to have no problem with same-sex marriage but there’s a history of anti-gay/transgender diatribe that includes this nugget he once delivered to The New Yorker: “I don’t love anybody who acts like a fuckin’ faggot.” (The New York Times is “a little bit gay,” Twitter is “gay” and rap-rock is “pretty gay.”)
Much of which flies in the face of the NHL’s alliance with the You Can Play Project and the league’s Declaration of Principles, baring them both as so much window dressing.
“Most of the time, our acts are passionate hockey fans,” says Steve Mayer, an NHL suit who must carry considerable corporate heft since he has an 11-word job title. “It’s all about the entertainment at the end of the day for us, and this selection was purely based on that, and the fact that Kid Rock is a hockey lover.”
That is, as many have submitted, so very tone deaf on the NHL’s part. But, hey, isn’t that what you have to be to enjoy Kid Rock’s music? Tone deaf?
Talk about winning the lottery. Shannon Birchard didn’t even have to buy a ticket and she hit the jackpot when Jennifer Jones and her Manitoba champions sent out an SOS asking the young curler to sub for third Kaitlyn Lawes at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, which slides from the hack next weekend in Penticton. We’re talking curling royalty here. Jones, Jill Officer and Dawn McEwen are Canadian, world and Olympic champions. It’s like being asked to sing with Adele, Pink and Lady Gaga. Tough gig. Nerve-inducing gig. May Shannon’s butterflies flutter in perfect formation.
I note that the Canadian Football League quarterbacks carousel is in full spin. For those of you keeping score at home, James Franklin has gone from Edmonton to Toronto; Zach Collaros wore out his welcome in Hamilton and made tracks for Regina; Kevin Glenn loaded up the U-haul in Regina and pointed it in the direction of Edmonton, his ninth CFL outfit; Josh Freeman, who hasn’t taken a snap since January 2016, hauled his hide off the unemployment line and skedaddled to Montreal; Darian Durant replaced Freeman on the unemployment line, then found his way to Winnipeg; and, of course, Johnny Manziel will be heading to a courtroom or rehab facility to be named later.
Let’s face it, no Winnipeg Blue Bombers loyalist wants to see Durant behind centre, because that means starter Matt Nichols is in the repair shop. Alas, few QBs get through a complete season in one piece, thus Nichols will be felled by an owie and we’ll be seeing Durant. If he can actually throw a pass to his receivers without the football bouncing two or three times, it’ll be a useful signing. Just don’t count on it.
On the subject of quarterbacks, an interesting social note: Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers is no longer dating actor Olivia Munn. His main squeeze now is GoDaddy’s in-your-face girl Danica Patrick, NASCAR’s departing, hot-headed diva who never knew a fender-bender that she couldn’t blame on someone else. Patrick never came close to taking a checkered flag in NASCAR, but she got into more scrapes than any of her fenders. Heaven help Rodgers if he accidentally puts a ding in the family SUV.
So, there are whispers that grappling guru Vince McMahon is toying with the idea of an XFL redux. How much fun would that be? Not much, if it’s as woeful and as blatantly sexist as the original go-round. Among other things, XFL Uno featured:
All eight teams were co-owned by McMahon of World Wrestling Entertainment (nee Federation) fame and NBC.
They each dropped $35 million in the first and only season.
Former WWF fake fighter Jesse (The Body) Ventura was part of the broadcast crew. He also had a day job at the time—governor of Minnesota.
Play-by-play dude Matt Vasgersian was demoted from the main crew (after the first game) by McMahon for his reluctance to say something suggestive and sexist about cheerleaders’ outfits.
Another broadcast team consisted of WWF announcers Jim Ross and Jerry (The King) Lawler, who advised his partner during one game that “You’re here for the football, J.R., I’m here for the cheerleaders. Whoa! Check ’em out!”
McMahon once ordered a camerman to invade the Orlando Rage cheerleaders dressing room at halftime to “capture the essence of whatever it is they do” in there.
There was no coin toss to determine the opening kickoff. Instead, two players scrambled for the football.
TV Guide listed the XFL as the third worst television show in history, behind only The Jerry Springer Show and My Mother the Car.
Speaking of lame humor, actor Will Ferrell continues to be hopelessly unfunny. He hijacked a John McEnroe-Roger Federer courtside interview at the Australian Open tennis tournament last week, asking the following questions of the great Swiss champion:
“Would you describe your game as a silky gazelle?”
“Are you a witch or a vampire?”
“There’s a rumor in the men’s locker room that you love coming to play in Melbourne and your secret to fitness is that you only eat wombat meat. Is that true?”
“I know how much this crowd means to you, they’re an amazing crowd, but does it get annoying when they just scream ‘C’mon Roger’ over and over again?”
For his part, Federer played along and provided some witty answers, but it was embarrassing.
There was mixed reaction when Tranna Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen called out some of his mates last week, saying, “We’ve got to figure out who wants to commit to playing for the team.”
Among those tsk-tsking the under-siege goaltender was the O Dog, Jeff O’Neill of TSN.
“I wouldn’t be happy with it,” he said. “We all know who he’s talking about…he’s talking about Jake Gardiner, William Nylander or Mitch Marner because he screwed up two games in a row. So if you have a problem with one of those two (sic) guys, clear it, clear the air in the dressing room after the game instead of going to the media when nobody’s around. If you remember, when Frederik Andersen got here last year, he stunk the joint out in October. This year he was terrible in October and not one person, not Mike Babcock said, ‘You know, it’d be nice if our goaltender gave us a save once in a while.’ They always said the same thing. They protected him. They said, ‘Frederik Anderson is our guy, we believe in him.’ And now there’s a target.”
But wait. Here’s Don Cherry:
“He said what had to be said,” maintainedHockey Night in Canada’s resident blowhard. “If nobody else was saying it, he said it and I don’t blame him. I’ve been waiting for somebody to say something like that. Call them out, get the guys out there. I don’t blame Andersen at all.”
I’m on Cherry’s side of the discussion. This world needs more athletes delivering juicy lip service.
Does Leafs bench maestro Mike Babcock appreciate all the coaching help he’s been getting from media in the Republic of Tranna? I swear, reading and hearing all the coaching expertise in print and on air makes me wonder how Babs ever won the Stanley Cup, two Olympic gold medals, a world title, a world Junior title, a World Cup title and a college title without tapping into all that shinny brain power sitting in the press box at the Air Canada Centre.
Does anybody really believe the Ottawa Senators will move out Erik Karlsson? The Swede was the best hockey player in the world during last spring’s Stanley Cup tournament, but I wouldn’t rule out a trade, not with Scrooge McDuck (owner Eugene Melnyk) in charge of the purse strings. If Melnyk does deal Karlsson, he can fold the franchise and ship it to Quebec City.
Apparently, there are 13 possible names for a Seattle NHL franchise: Totems, Seals, Cougars, Evergreens, Emeralds, Rainiers, Kraken, Sea Lions, Sockeyes, Whales, Eagles, Firebirds and Renegades. (I Googled Kraken and discovered it’s a giant, multi-armed sea monster.) I like Sockeye, as in salmon, even though it isn’t among the registered trademark names.
Openly gay figure skater Adam Rippon is off to South Korea with the U.S. Olympic team next month, which inspired this headline on the Kaplan Herald website: “Adam Rippon is U.S.’s first brazenly homosexual man to qualify for Winter Olympics.”Hmmm. One of Canada’s pairs skater, Eric Radford, is openly gay and he’ll also be in PyeongChang. No word on whether he plans to be “brazenly” gay while there or just gay.
I’ve admired a number of scribes from what I like to call the golden group of Canadian sports writers, foremost among them being the great wordsmith Trent Frayne, with whom I had the privilege of working in 1980-81. Jim Coleman, Milt Dunnell, Dick Beddoes, Jack Matheson, Scott Young and John Robertson were other giants when the NHL was still a six-team outfit. As was Red Fisher, longtime detailer of all things les Canadiens for the Montreal Star and Gazette. Red was a bit quirky (he refused to interview rookies) and a grump, but no scribe did hockey so well for so long as Fisher, who began working the Habs beat in 1955 and didn’t leave the building until 2012. He died at age 91 on Friday and Michael Farber delivered a terrific tribute to him in the Gazette.
This week’s Stevie-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: “Milos Raonic out in first round of Aussie Open. Lost in four sets to somebody named Lukas Lacko.” Sigh. Instead of looking up Lack’s form chart on the Association of Tennis Professionals website and advise readers that Raonic was beaten by a Slovak ranked 86th in the world, Simmons chooses to insult him. I swear, the more I read Grandpa Simmons the more I’m convinced that someone dropped him on his head when he was a kid.
I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
Steve Simmons has secured his position as the biggest assclown in Canadian sports media.
It’s one thing to have an ego higher than the CN Tower and deliver opinion, which the Postmedia columnist and TSN talking head offers in abundance, but Simmons totally lost the plot when he stooped to age shaming on the return of The Reporters with Dave Hodge to TSN’s air Sunday morning.
“Women’s tennis is in a bad way without Serena (Williams). There’s no real star. You’ve had four Grand Slams this year and four different winners. Venus Williams is in a final at Wimbledon and she’s what, 92 years old or something like that?”
Shameful. Also objectionable, rude and insulting in the extreme. It might even have an undercurrent of sexism.
I mean, Simmons had no quarrel with Roger Federer winning Wimbledon in July, scant days before he blew out 36 candles on his birthday cake. It was bravo Roger. Called him the “best ever” before the Swiss maestro rag-dolled Marin Cilic in the final. Thing is, Federer is just one year and two months younger than Venus Williams, who was beaten by Garbine Muguruza in the Wimbledon ladies’ final.
“It’s good for tennis that 37-year-old Venus Williams didn’t win,” he wrote. “To win now would speak badly for the state of women’s tennis.”
But it was okay for a 36-year-old man to win Wimbledon? Interesting logic.
Once he was done age bashing Williams, Simmons—he’s 60, by the way—attacked the depth of the women’s game, comparing it unfavorably to the men’s draw. “There isn’t the depth…you look at men’s tennis, there’s the core at the top and then there’s about 15 deep of really good players,” he stammered. “It doesn’t exist on the women’s side.” Really? Factual evidence supports the notion that Grandpa Simmons is full of the stuff that comes out of the south end of a bull. In the past 48 men’s Grand Slam finals, only three lads not named Nadal, Federer, Murray or Djokovic have won—Stan Wawrinka, Juan Martin Del Potro and Marin Cilic. They’ve combined for a grand sum of five titles. In 12 flipping years! Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic claimed the other 43. For those of you scoring at home, that’s Big Four 43, Rest of World 5. That’s deep like a thimble.
Grandpa Simmons pooh-poohs the women’s side for delivering four different Grand Slam champions this year, as if that’s a bad thing. Yet he says there’s no depth on tour. Total contradiction. Total clown. You want depth? Sixteen women not named Williams have combined for 30 titles in the past 48 majors. None of the four women who won a Grand Slam this year was a top seed. Serena Williams was the closest, seeded second at the Australian Open. The French and U.S. Open champions, Jelena Ostapenko and Sloane Stephens, were unseeded and ranked world Nos. 47 and 83, respectively. The Wimbledon winner, Muguruza, was seeded 14th and ranked world No. 15. The final four at the U.S. Open—Venus Williams, Madison Keys, CoCo Vandeweghe and Stephens—were world Nos. 9, 16, 22 and 83.
As for “no real star” on the women’s side…excuse me? Apparently Grandpa Simmons missed the memo advising us that Maria Sharapova is back on tour. No female athlete on this planet has more star power than her Royal Blondeness. The bottom line on her bank statement is proof. Had there been a lack of oomph to the women’s tour? You bet. Then Ostapenko happened on the red clay of Roland Garros. She’s a spark plug. Muguruza has style and tremendous appeal. Stephens is a bundle of charisma. Now Sharapova is back, and new mama Serena Williams hopefully will resurface at the Australian Open in January, perhaps with her bambino in tow. I’d pay to watch any of them play. Venus Williams, too. She should be saluted, not scorned, for being so competitive at age 37.
Guess the weekly commute from Montreal to the Republic of Tranna is quite costly, because Michael Farber was cut from the starting lineup on The Reporters due to budget restrictions. I just wish they’d given us a vote on who got culled from the herd.
Grandpa Simmons wasn’t the only scribe donning a clown costume last week. Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail tells us he’s had his fill of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. Doesn’t want to see them anymore. “For its own sake, men’s tennis needs to start moving on from its top-two fetish,” he scribbles in a rambling treatise. “And not just as far as Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, who are exactly like their better, older peers, only boring. Tennis needs to turn a page, rip the page out, then find a new book. We’ve been at this for a decade and it started to get old when Stephen Harper was still in charge. It’s time to move on from the greatest rivalry in the history of men’s tennis.” Oh, yes, by all means let’s do that. I mean, doesn’t everyone want to see Kevin Anderson in more Grand Slam finals? Good grief. Get a grip, man.
Here’s what Kelly wrote after Roger Federer had won the Australian Open last January: “We now have to confront the real possibility that Federer might never stop being great at tennis. Maybe he’ll just go on forever. Nobody would complain.” And now here he is, eight months later, complaining about Federer seemingly going on forever. Sigh.
My five favorite all-time rivalries… 1. Bjorn Borg-John McEnroe: Bjorn was my main man. 2. Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier: Brutal, especially the Thrilla in Manilla. 3. Jack and Arnie: I was a member of Arnie’s Army. 4. Secretariat-Sham: Never saw anything like Secretariat, before or since 1973. 5. Martina Navratilova-Chris Evert: Liked Chrissie until she got engaged to loathsome Jimmy Connors.
Longtime hockey scribe Eric Duhatschek has defected from the Globe and Mail to The Athletic Calgary, part of an expanding online sports venture that features some top-level writing talent. Pierre LeBrun, Michael Russo, James Mirtle and Craig Custance are among the ever-growing stable of scribes at The Athletic, which now has franchises in each of Canada’s National Hockey League cities. No word on who’s covering the Jets and Blue Bombers in Winnipeg, but Mirtle, the man putting it all together, says she or he is on the way.
I walked into a newsroom for the first time 48 years ago yesterday. My hope was to stay at the Winnipeg Tribune for 50 years. Neither of us made it. The Trib went toes up in my 11th year and I felt obliged to bail from the rag trade after 30 years. To the day. None of the people with whom I worked at the beginning—running mail and copy to the various departments inside the old building at the corner of Smith and Graham—remain in the newspaper business. Five of the sports guys—Jack Matheson, Uncle Vince Leah, Gus Collins and freelancers Harold Loster and Ron Meyers—are dead. The very nice man who took a chance and hired a scrawny, 18-year-old kid fresh out of Miles Macdonell Collegiate on Sept. 10, 1969, Don Delisle, left us 10 years ago this month. I’m not sure how and why I’m still here, but I believe I shall continue to crank out the crap for a bit longer. Might still make it to 50 years. Or maybe just five more days. We’ll see.
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.
I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
Well, Darren Dreger and Elliotte Friedman were correct and both Kevin Cheveldayoff and Paul Maurice have been rewarded for chronic nonachievement, which begs this question: Why the secrecy?
I mean, Dreger tells us that Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman gave the only general manager the Winnipeg Jets have known a hearty pat on the back in the form of a contract extension “months ago.” Perhaps the deal was done scant days after the locals failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup derby for the fifth time in six whirls under Chevy’s watch. Or maybe it was in May, June or July.
Whatever the case, the Secret Society known as True North Sports & Entertainment chose to keep that morsel of information on the QT until this very morning.
Same with Maurice, the potty-mouthed head coach destined to become the losingest bench boss in National Hockey League history sometime during the 2017-18 crusade. Apparently, his endorsement of a job not well done arrived more recently, which could mean June, July or August, but, again, the Secret Society chose not to share that tidbit with the very people who fill the Little Hockey House On The Prairie 41 days/nights each year and purchase all that merchandise with the Royal Canadian Air Force logo.
In other words, screw the rabble.
Try as I might, I cannot scare up a single reason why the Secret Society adopted a mum’s-the-word posture vis-a-vis extensions for the GM and head coach, except that the Puck Pontiff likely didn’t fancy the bother of detailing the rationale behind re-upping two men accustomed to standing on the outside with their noses pressed to the window when the real fun begins in April. They’re a pair of oh-fers: 0-for-the playoffs. Zero wins. In six seasons for Chevy and 3.5 for Coach Potty-Mo. Tough to justify a reward for never failing to fail.
But, hey, maybe this is a Winnipeg thing. After all, the Blue Bombers handed their GM, Kyle Walters, and sideline steward, Mike O’Shea, a fresh set of downs even though they’d never won a Canadian Football League post-season match. Received three-year add-ons, they did.
Which leads me to believe that contract extensions are like skeeters in Pegtown: You’re gonna get ’em whether you deserve ’em or not.
Did the work of either Chevy or Maurice warrant renewals? Well, it’s a results-driven business, and booking tee times at St. Charles or Glendale while those about you are still playing hockey isn’t anyone’s idea of getting the job done.
Clearly, something is broken.
If, as has been suggested by numerous pundits, Cheveldayoff and his bird dogs have assembled an array of blue-chip talent, why no playoffs? Must be the coach. If it’s the coach, why the extension? And if not the coach, who? The players? Can’t be, because we’re told they’re blue-chippers. Unless they aren’t blue-chippers, in which case Chevy’s at fault.
Would I have gone all-in on either Chevy or Maurice? Or both? I’m iffy on the former, because it’s uncertain how much interference he receives from on high, but I’m definitely not sold on the latter.
I’d have allowed Coach Potty-Mo to enter the 2017-18 fray on his existing deal, which had a shelf life of 82 more games. This is a show-me season for Maurice. Show us you can coach without Chris Thorburn and Mark Stuart getting in the way. Qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament and you won’t have to change your postal code. Miss and we have some swell parting gifts for you.
Aha, you say. That would make him a lame-duck coach. Well, yes, it would. And your point is?
Delivering a contract extension to Maurice doesn’t make him a better coach. It doesn’t turn Steve Mason and Connor Hellebuyck into Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur. It doesn’t improve the penalty kill. It doesn’t even buy Coach Potty-Mo more time. It’s on him either way. If the Jets aren’t part of the post-season fun next April, the Puck Pontiff will be paying Maurice not to coach.
I just hope they don’t keep it a secret when and if they let the guy go.
It’s about the Declaration of Principles that several hockey organizations, including the NHL, signed off on this week, with the endorsement of the real Puck Pontiff, Pope Francis of Vatican fame: I’ll believe in the vow of inclusiveness when NHL players (hello, Andrew Shaw and Ryan Getzlaf) cease using gay slurs as their go-to insults, and when I see women on NHL coaching, management and scouting staffs and openly gay men on NHL rosters. Women’s hockey at the highest level is inclusive, men’s hockey at the highest level not so much.
You want inclusiveness? Try big-time tennis. At the U.S. Open in Gotham, we’ve seen women sitting in the umpire’s chair during men’s matches. Sadly, one of those women, Louise Engzell of Switzerland, was called a “whore” and a “cocksucker” by Italian No. 1 Fabio Fognini. Although slow to respond to the verbal assault, tennis officialdom slapped Fognini with $24,000 in fines and instructed him to vacate the premises, even though he had advanced to the third round of doubles play. Soon, the other shoe shall drop. It’s possible that Fognini will be banned from future Grand Slam tournaments and fined upwards of $250,000. By way of comparison, when Disney Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf barked out the same C-slur during an NHL playoff game last spring, he was docked pocket change of $10,000 and permitted to play on.
Fognini’s mea culpa was priceless. “I have nothing against women,” he insisted. “I have been called sexist, which I am not. I am a family man, I have a wife, a mother, a sister. I have always loved women, I have always respected them.” Reminds me of the homophobes who defend their actions and use of anti-gay slurs by saying, “I have gay friends.”
Three thoughts on the U.S. Open this morning: 1) The women’s draw has been much more compelling than the men’s, especially with the prospects and hopes of a Rafa Nadal-Roger Federer skirmish dashed by Juan Martin Del Petro. 2) I think it’s terrific that four American women have advanced to the semifinals of their national tournament. 3) Some of the women can really whack a tennis ball and get around the court (love Sloane Stephens), but how does Serena Williams ever lose?
This would be laughable if it weren’t so sad: Vancouver Canucks president Trevor Linden says his club’s “focus is on youth.” Right. Two-thirds of the Canucks’ No. 1 forward unit, the Sedin twins, are 37 years old. They just reeled in Thomas Vanek. He’s 33. The other two featured off-season recruits, Sam Gagner and Michael Del Zotto, are 28 and 27, respectively. Their big catch a year ago was Loui Eriksson, 32. If that’s putting the focus on youth, then Don Cherry is a spring chicken.
The question must be asked: Does Donovan Bennett of Sportsnet actually watch Canadian Football League games? I mean, the guy does weekly power rankings and he’s somehow determined that the Edmonton Eskimos are the No. 2 outfit. That would be the same Edmonton group that has been totally dismantled by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Saskatchewan Roughriders and Calgary Stampeders in consecutive weeks. Bennett had the Eskimos ranked No. 3 a week ago, then they were blitzed by the Stampeders and he moved them into the No. 2 slot. I don’t know if Bennett is embarrassed, but he ought to be.
Speaking of totally losing the plot, Sportsnet 650 in Vancouver announced it will feature Todd Bertuzzi, he of Steve Moore infamy, on its air every Tuesday on The Starting Lineup, and Steve Simmons of Postmedia used the occasion to totally trash West Coast media with a completely unfounded statement of non-fact. You know, much like his piece about Phil Kessel and hot dogs. “One of the truly dumb things about Vancouver,” he tweeted. “It never took the Steve Moore incident seriously. Never covered it. Never shouted about it.” He later referenced “Vancouver Twitter idiots.” Apparently ignoring facts and name-calling is what passes for a national sports columnist these days. The great Trent Frayne and Jim Coleman must be spinning in their graves.
Can’t even guess the number of hours I’ve spent listening to Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, aka Steely Dan. Brilliant stuff. Becker died last weekend and we’re left with the music. These are my five favorite Steely Dan tunes… 1.Bodhisattva 2.Deacon Blues 3.Peg 4.Hey Nineteen 5.Do It Again
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.