About Matt Nichols still the man for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers…a battle for first place on Oct. 26?…adios Duran Carter…when is a concussion not a concussion?…CFL power rankings…headline hunting QBs…beer and Dodgers baseball…hockey in August…Tiger wows ’em…Daniel Nestor’s “window dressing”…and other things on my mind

Two soft-boiled eggs on whole wheat toast and some weekend leftovers for a Monday morning breakfast

Matt Nichols, still No. 1.

It has come to my attention that some among the rabble are less than enthusiastic about the work of Matt Nichols.

A pocket of people, in fact, were calling for Nichols’ removal on Friday night at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry, even though he had the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in front of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, 19-7, when the large lads retreated to their changing rooms for mid-match down time.

To which I can only say: Have you lost your flipping minds?

I mean, sure, Nichols was off his game when tossing the long ball. If misses were kisses he’d have been covered in hickies. But take him out? You don’t want to go there. All Nichols has done for Winnipeg FC is win (27-12). If not for the objectionable and curious decision-making of his head coach, Mike O’Shea, in the past two Novembers there’d likely be a playoff victory or two on his resume.

Ask yourself this: What Canadian Football League quarterback would you rather have ahead of Nichols? If you say Mike Reilly or Bo Levi Mitchell, I’ll agree. If you say anyone else, I’ll be inclined to give you an argument.

So, unless Nichols is hobbled and sent to the repair shop, let’s have no more talk of his ouster.

First the bad news: The head count at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry is down 6,140 through four home dates. Now the good news: Still on the Winnipeg FC calendar are visits from the Saskatchewan Roughriders (2) and Calgary Stampeders (1). In an ideal world, which is to say if the pointy ball bounces in the Bombers box-office favor, the Oct. 26 skirmish vs. the Stamps would be an argument over top spot in the West Division. Can you say sellout, kids?

The surprise is not that the Roughriders shed themselves of multi-purpose pain in the ass Duron Carter the other day, the surprise is that he lasted so long with Gang Green.

Apparently, CFL concussion protocol doesn’t apply to quarterbacks named Johnny Manziel. He was knocked loopy in Montreal Alouettes’ loss to the Ottawa RedBlacks, yet permitted to carry on without missing a beat. Scary stuff.

Here are this week’s CFL power rankings…

1. Calgary (7-0): Didn’t play last week. Didn’t matter.
2. Edmonton (5-3): Three wins vs. West outfits.
3. Winnipeg (5-3): Still feasting on the East.
4. Saskatchewan (3-4): What’s next from mad scientist Chris Jones?
5. Ottawa (5-3): They were tooth and toenail to beat a horrible Montreal team. Not impressed.
6. Hamilton (3-5): Hard team to figure out.
7. B.C. (3-4): Dudes are tough at home.
8. Toronto (2-5): Didn’t play. Nobody noticed.
9. Montreal (1-7): Getting worse in either official language.

Quick now! Name the only starting quarterback who failed to toss a touchdown pass in the CFL last week. I’ll give you a hint—he’s TSN’s favorite lousy QB. That’s right, Johnny Manziel.

Now, who among the six starters flung the football for the fewest number of yards? Right again, Johnny Rotten.

Finally, who among the starting six is 0-for-the-CFL? Yup, heeeere’s Johnny!

So why is it that his name still dominates headlines in mainstream media and on the Internet?

News snoops and talking heads continue to fawn over Manziel like Republicans and Donald Trump, regardless how dreadful or ordinary his work might be. Most notable among the groupies is, of course, the ever-drooling mob in the Cult of Johnny, otherwise known as TSN, but they aren’t alone. The morning after Manziel and the Alouettes were paddywhacked by the RedBlacks, it was Johnny this and Johnny that clear across the www universe.

I swear, the last Johnny to get this kind of attention was a guy called Appleseed. Difference is, he actually accomplished something worth writing about.

I should point out that a couple other QBs also saw their names in headlines. But, whereas Johnny Rotten was described as “better” and “improved” in defeat, Matt Nichols “struggled” in victory. Mike Reilly, meanwhile, was “crap,” and that will never be mistaken for a compliment.

Here’s what went down in CFL quarterbacking last week, including the newest advance stat, Name in Headlines…

Manziel delivered a most curious sound bite after his second loss in two starts as the Larks QB: “It’s not about wins and losses right now.” It isn’t? Since when? Vince Lombardi must be spinning like a lathe in his grave.

This just in: If a trip to Los Angeles to watch the Dodgers in on your agenda, you no longer will be required to trudge up and down the stairs to concession stands for your beer. That’s right, patrons at Dodger Stadium now can order their brown pop from the comfort of their seats behind home plate, down the lines or in the bleachers. And I think that’s only fair. After all, Dodger fans like myself have been crying in our beer for 30 years, so why should we have to get up to get it?

I’d have something to say about the Hlinka-Gretzky teenage tournament that just concluded in Edmonton, but—how do I put this without sounding unCanadian?—the hockey thing just doesn’t work for me in the dog days of August. I realize we live on Planet Puckhead and some folks need their shinny fix 12 months of the year, but shouldn’t we all just all go to the beach? Or, in my case, the ocean?

I have just one thing to say about Tiger Woods and the mob that followed him in the final round of the PGA Championship on Sunday: Wow. Just wow.

Question for anyone who follows men’s tennis: If Denis Shapovalov weren’t one of us, which is to say Canadian, would we like him or would we look at him as a cocky kid who needs to be brought down a peg or two?

Noted hockey scribe Eric Duhatschek was on the tennis beat for The Athletic during the Rogers Cup in the Republic of Tranna, and he wrote that Shapovalov and Greek teen Stefanos Tsitsipas are “currently taking men’s tennis by storm.” Really?

Career titles on ATP World Tour: Tsitsipas 0, Shapovalov 0.
Career finals on ATP World Tour: Tsitsipas 2, Shapovalov 0.
Won/lost 2018: Tsitsipas 30-19, Shapovalov 23-19.

If that’s a storm, I’m Serena Williams’ live-in nanny.

Daniel Nestor

Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star writes that tennis is “primarily a game of singles—the rest is window-dressing and filler.” That’s highly insulting if your name is Daniel Nestor, the most accomplished player ever produced in the True North. Nestor has made a career out of doubles tennis, on numerous occasions reaching world No. 1 status. His CV includes eight Grand Slam men’s titles, 91 tournaments titles, four Grand Slam mixed titles, one Olympic gold trinket, and career earnings of $12,821,626. If that’s window dressing, the window is the size of the Pacific Ocean.

I note that Donald Trump was back riding his hobby horse last week, hoo-rawing about National Football League players who take a knee or raise a fist during the national anthem. “Find another way to protest,” he tweeted. I say they should make a deal with the deal-maker: They’ll find another way to protest if he finds another way to pay for his wall.

Here’s the latest from Roberto Osuna, the Houston Astros relief pitcher who awaits his day in court on a charge of beating up a woman: “It’s easy to forget about the stuff that’s going on off the field.” That is such a wince-inducing, insensitive comment. He says it’s easy for him to forget “stuff” like roughing up a woman, but I doubt his victim has forgotten. I also doubt I’m alone when I say I hope karma bites the Astros in the butt during the Major League Baseball post-season. Their blind eye toward domestic violence and disrespect for women is appalling.

So, I’m reading Willie Nelson’s biography, My Life It’s a Long Story, and he mentions guys like Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell among those who inspired him and belong on the Mount Rushmore of country music. That got me thinking about the jocks who grabbed my attention as a sprig in the 1950s and never let go; athletes who form the very bedrock of a lifetime watching sports and 48 years of writing about it. After about 30 seconds of deliberation, I got out the hammer and chisel and went to work on my personal Mount Jock—Sandy Koufax, Floyd Patterson, Wilma Rudolph and Arnold Palmer. If not for those four, I likely would have done something radical. Like pick up a guitar and write and sing hurtin’ songs that wouldn’t have been anywhere near as good as Willie’s.

Stan Mikita

And, finally, if I were to create my own Mount Rushmore of hockey, guaranteed Stan Mikita would be included. I was in my mid-to-late teens when Stosh was at his absolute best with the Chicago Blackhawks, and I marveled at the things he could do with the puck. I had a Stan Mikita helmet and, later, a Blackhawks jersey No. 21. The helmet and sweater are gone and, sadly, so is NHL legend Mikita, a victim of Lewy body dementia at age 78. I never met him, but often wished I had.

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About the Winnipeg Free Press not giving a damn and the Winnipeg Sun being overrun by Postmedia outriders…flag football…Jim Barker’s lid…tell us what you really think, Kate…CFL power rankings…Mario’s pricey biffies…peeing in a bottle…and a chill in Winnipeg’s hottest summer

Three soft-boiled eggs on whole wheat toast and some leftover thoughts for a Monday morning breakfast

I cut my teeth in the rag trade by standing on the lumpy, pock-marked sidelines of local football fields, covering the Sisler Spartans, Churchill Bulldogs, Elmwood Eskimos and other outfits in the Winnipeg High School Football League.

If not at high school grid, I was courtside watching the best local tennis players do their thing on the clay courts of the Winnipeg Canoe Club or Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club.

Major Junior/Junior/Senior hockey, kids curling, high school track and field, badminton, junior golf, bowling, figure skating, fastball, gymnastics, Junior baseball, hoops, amateur boxing…you name it, I was there to write about it. And if I wasn’t on site, I was on the Winnipeg Tribune sports desk, doing rewrites or laying out the pages that would prominently feature the games that local people played for no pay.

People continue to play those games today, but the sports sections of the two daily rags in River City have abandoned them. Almost entirely. And that is, indeed, sad and most unfortunate.

I mean, why am I reading about Miguel Angel Jiminez leading the Senior British Open golf tournament and a tie atop the ladies’ Scottish Open leaderboard in the Winnipeg Free Press instead of, say, the Manitoba Junior Baseball League playoffs, which are down to the short strokes and will feature two local outfits, the St. James A’s and Elmwood Giants, in the final?

Why does the Winnipeg Sun devote two full pages to a guy from Vancouver, Adam Zaruba, who’s in the training camp of the Philadelphia Eagles, two full pages to UFC blood-spilling in Calgary, and another two full pages to the Tranna-centric musings of Steve Simmons instead of the MJBL final four?

I know the reason behind the Sun’s dismissal of all local sports outfits that aren’t named Jets, Blue Bombers, Moose or Goldeyes, and I addressed it in January 2016, after parent company Postmedia adopted a centralized sports desk for its member papers:

“Some invisible head sitting behind some invisible desk in some remote outpost of the land now will decide what Winnipeg sports fans want to read. How this serves Pegtown provides serious pause for ponder. I mean, shouldn’t a sports editor be able to reach out and feel the pulse of the people? It’s easy enough to recognize that the Winnipeg Jets and Winnipeg Blue Bombers are the big dogs in town and, thus, generate the most talk. But what of lesser players such as the Manitoba Moose, the Winnipeg Goldeyes, the University of Manitoba Bisons, Junior hockey, local tennis, golf, curling, figure skating, etc.? My concern is that they shall be lost in the shuffle.”

The Moose and Goldeyes haven’t been ignored, but the others? Bupkus.

From July 15 until this very morning, the Sun printed 313 stories in 16 sports sections, and the professional-amateur split reads like a Harlem Globetrotters-Washington Generals scoreline—308-5. That’s a paltry 1.6 per cent of all copy devoted to amateur sports coverage, which has been sacrificed for Postmedia piffle from hither and yon, articles that have scant or zero significance to the River City rabble. Seriously. Steve Simmons taking issue with Kyle Lowry’s silence is something I want or need to read about in a Winnipeg newspaper?

It’s only marginally better at the Freep, where sports columnist Paul Wiecek wrote this at the start of the month: “A confluence of events over the Canada Day long weekend got me thinking about how we as Canadians so dramatically undervalue the contributions our amateur athletes make to this country, while simultaneously just as dramatically overvalue the contributions of our professional athletes.”

That particular column was more a gripe piece about greedy play-for-pay athletes, but the Drab Slab toy department and Wiecek then proved how little they value amateurs. From June 30 until this morning, they ran 614 articles and here’s the pro-amateur split: 558-56, or 9.1 per cent for amateurs. In that same time frame, Wiecek scribbled a dozen essays, 100 per cent aimed at pro athletes and pro sports (hmmm, 12 columns in 31 days…nice work if you can get it).

Like I said, I understand why the Sun has bottomed out on local amateur coverage. It’s marching to a national drummer. But the Freep has no excuse. It’s an independent paper with a sports section that doesn’t have any less space today than it did in the 1970s, and there’s no less staff. Which means there can only be one reason—they just don’t give a damn.

Speaking of pro sports, I must say, there was some gawdawful officiating on display during the Bombers-Tranna Argonauts skirmish on Friday night at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry, and it greatly benefited the home side. Winnipeg FC still would have beaten the Boatmen sans the generous flag-tossing, but, had the phantom infractions not been called, it might have made for a more compelling match.

The Bombers had a head count of 27,116 on Friday, their largest gathering of this Canadian Football League crusade, but Winnipeg FC is still 2,040 behind last-season’s three-game pace. That’s a dip of at least $57,000 in ticket revenue.

Rod Smith, Jim Barker, Matt Dunigan, Milt Stegall

I like Jim Barker’s input as one of the newbies among TSN’s cast of characters on CFL coverage, but he’s got to do something about his lid. If Barker’s grey-and-black locks aren’t flopping over his right eye, they’re sticking out at the back like he’s got bed head. Very distracting. As for that other newby, Davis Sanchez, if I want to listen to a man butcher the English language I’ll take Chris Walby any day. Bluto has better stories and he’s a lot funnier.

Listening to Kate Beirness of TSN glorify Johnny Manziel before and after the Edmonton Eskimos-Montreal Alouettes grass-grabber on Thursday night, I couldn’t help but wonder this: What does she really think about a guy who beat up his (former) girlfriend? What does she say about the Als quarterback once the camera is turned off? Is she being forced to promote him as the CFL’s shiny, new object?

I’ll say this for Paul Wiecek, he’s the only columnist in Canada who’s had the junk to write that Johnny Manziel’s doesn’t belong in the CFL due to his domestic violence history. If another scribe has spoken out, I missed it. So good on him.

Here are this week’s CFL power rankings…

1. Calgary (6-0): Who’ll stop these guys?
2. Winnipeg (4-3): Feasting on Tranna.
3. Edmonton (4-2): All those penalties (17) won’t cut it against a top-level foe.
4. Saskatchewan (3-3): Has anyone figured out what Chris Jones is trying to do?
5. Ottawa (4-2): Not going to win many games kicking seven field goals.
6. B.C. (2-3): Not convinced Travis Lulay is the answer at QB.
7. Hamilton (2-4): Going…going…gone?
8. Toronto (1-5): Time to try another quarterback.
9. Montreal (1-5): Still awful in either official language.

I note that hockey legend Mario Lemieux is selling his shack in Mont-Tremblant, Que., for a mere $21,999,066 million. It has eight bedrooms and nine washrooms. That’s $2,444,340.66 per biffy, for those of you keeping score at home.

On the subject of bathrooms, tennis great Serena Williams is whinging about men in lab coats continually knocking on her door and demanding that she pee in a bottle. Apparently, the doping sleuths have visited her five times this year. So what’s the big deal? I’ve had to pee in a bottle six times in the past 10 months, and I’m not even a world-ranked tennis player.

Shouldn’t the promotion of Gina Kingsbury to general manager of Canada’s national women’s hockey team warrant more than an ‘oh, by the way’ blurb in the media? It was bottom-of-the back-pages news in the Free Press, and 10 pages deep into the Sun sports section.

And, finally, the silence since a National Hockey League arbitrator awarded Jacob Trouba a $5.5 million contract has been deafening. Nothing from Winnipeg Jets ownership/management. Nothing from the Trouba camp. Kind of puts a chill into Winnipeg’s hottest summer in 30 years.

About a billy goat named Richie…rookie mistakes by veterans…the inside word on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers…CFL power rankings…footy fans have left the pub…British broadcasters…Wimbledon talking points…and other things on my mind

Scrambled eggs, toast and some leftover thoughts for breakfast

An argument can be made, I suppose, that Richie Hall’s defensive dozen let the side down on the shores of the Pacific Ocean on Saturday night.

Not only were they an obliging bunch when they needed to be unyielding in the game’s final throes, they were also incredibly dense. (Memo to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defence: Do not touch the quarterback after he flings the football. Do not even breathe on him. Do not say anything about his mother. Run from him like ABC ran from Roseanne Barr.)

The thing is, you don’t really want to hang Winnipeg FC’s shameful 20-17 paddywhacking at the hands of the previously inept B.C. Lions on D-coordinator Hall, who’s been wearing a pair of goat’s horns for so long he belongs in a petting zoo. His friends have taken to calling him Billy.

It seems to me, however, that this one’s on coaches not named Richie Hall. And the offence.

Seriously. Seventeen points. That’s the best you can do? You know how often an outfit scoring 17 or fewer points wins in the Canadian Football League? Only slightly more often than Banksy is seen in public. It’s happened once (in a rain storm) in 19 games this crusade. It happened twice in 86 games last season. It happened three times in 86 games in 2016. That’s 3.1 per cent, or about the same as Donald Trump’s approval rating in the U.K.

So, it was the offence that came undone on the Left Flank of the land, not the D.

If, during his three starts as the Winnipeg FC fill-in QB, Chris Streveler had performed as poorly as his head coach, his offensive coordinator and the starting quarterback on Saturday night, we’d be writing and talking about rookie mistakes and inexperience this morning. So what’s the excuse for Mike O’Shea, Paul LaPolice and Matt Nichols?

Richie Hall

Kirk Penton of The Athletic delivered some interesting insider comments (from unidentified CFL coachs/general managers) about the Bombers prior to the weekend farce at B.C. Place Stadium.

Example 1: “Bombers-Lions last week was a typical CFL game. It gets out of hand early and usually stays that way. The real answer about each team will be defined by how their game goes this week. A major difference is the best non-head coach in the game right now is (Paul LaPolice). He’s running laps around these other guys.”

Example 2: “I think Hall is a symptom of the Bombers defensive problems, not the cause of it. The cause is deeper than him and his defence. From what I know, coach Hall has two Grey Cup victories as a defensive coordinator. Obviously, he can coach, or O’Shea would have made a change, because there were options open to him. Supposedly coach O’Shea has great input this year, so why hasn’t anything changed with all the talent they have? Their best corner (Chris Randle) gave up a 101-yard touchdown in Game 1 in man-to-man coverage, and people blame the DC. Maybe he is the easy scapegoat for enabled, undisciplined defensive players.”

If it’s true that the CFL season doesn’t really kick in until the Labor Day weekend, this is what the Bombers are looking at down the stretch: vs. Saskatchewan (three games), vs. Edmonton Eskimos (two), vs. Calgary Stampeders, Montreal Alouettes and Ottawa RedBlacks (one each). Winnipeg FC might want to go into squirrel mode immediately, which is to say they’d be wise to start collecting Ws before the weather turns.

Bo Levi Mitchell

Here are this week’s CFL power rankings…

1. Calgary (4-0): As Bo Levi Mitchell goes, so go the Stampeders, but even if Bo’s a no-show this week they ought to be able to handle the Alouettes.
2. Hamilton (2-2): Didn’t play last week and gained ground.
3. Edmonton (3-2): Not impressed with their win over the Argonauts, but Mike Reilly is still a beast.
4. Ottawa (2-2): Only offence worse than Winnipeg’s last week.
5. Saskatchewan (2-2): A week off gave Chris Jones extra time to mess things up with his QBs.
6. Winnipeg (2-3): Still better than the Leos after a home-and-home split, but a lot dumber, especially the coaching.
7. B.C. (2-2): The win over the Bombers was a gift.
8. Toronto (1-3): Played Eskimos tough.
9. Montreal (1-3): Still awful in either official language.

Neymar

The World Cup of diving and fake injuries is over, so can I have my pub back? It’s not like I spend a lot of time in my local watering hole (just two sessions per week), but I do believe I’ve had my fill of the footy fans who invaded Bart’s Pub and vented, quite loudly and passionately, every time Neymar performed his signature dive-writhe-and-roll. If it’s all the same to them, I shall return to regularly scheduled reading, writing and listening to enjoyable music while nursing a pint of lager.

One final thing about footy fans: Why is it that they must have the volume up while watching a soccer game in a pub? I mean, we watch hockey, football, baseball, basketball, tennis, horse racing, etc. without sound, so why not soccer? Are the British broadcasters who talk about “cheeky goals” that much better than the boys who occupy our towers of babble on? Come to think of it, they are.

Serena Williams

Very strange headline in the National Post: “If Serena wins Wimbledon less than a year after giving birth, she really won’t have anything left to prove.” Excuse me, but the notion that Serena Williams has anything to prove on a tennis court is absurd.

In reaching the Wimbledon ladies’ singles final, where she lost to Angelique Kerber, 6-3, 6-3, Williams climbed 153 spots in the rankings and is now world No. 28 among women. As if. There are 27 female tennis players better than Serena Williams like there’s 27 rock bands better than The Beatles.

I don’t know about you, but the fifth-set marathons in the men’s draw at Wimbledon left me cold. I mean, Kevin Anderson and John Isner whacking big, booming first serves at one another for six hours is about as entertaining as watching snow melt. I tuned out long before Anderson prevailed, 26-24. Same with Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal in their semifinal match, which ended 10-8 in the fifth. It should have been compelling sports theatre, with two of the top three players in the world having at it, but it became tedious. Play a tiebreaker already.

John Daly

I note that John Daly has withdrawn from the Open Championship at Carnoustie, Scotland. Who knew John Daly was still a thing in golf?

I’m old enough to remember when there were two Major League Baseball all-star games each summer, and I watched them faithfully. Now, not so much. I think it was the introduction of the dog-and-pony show (read: home run derby) that turned me off.

And, finally, just wondering: What treats does Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff have in store for the rabble this week? Do I hear a Josh Morrissey signing? Jacob Trouba?

About the Blue Bombers coughing up a hairball…Jacob Trouba’s shelf life with the Winnipeg Jets…shoddy journalism…liars, liars in sports…happy 25th to the Goldeyes…a female voice on jock talk TV…a really dumb question about Serena Williams’ pregnant pause…who’s the duchess of what?…Joey Votto and a rat’s ass…numbers crunching in The Athletic Winnipeg…and other things on my mind

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

Loved the headline in the Winnipeg Free Press after the Winnipeg Blue Bombers coughed up a 17-point hairball and lost 20-17 to the Lions at B.C. Place Stadium on Saturday night: GOOD GRIEF!

Good grief, indeed, Charlie Brown.

Winnipeg FC had no business losing to the inferior Leos, but that’s what happens when you play and coach stupid football. Seriously. Three roughing-the-passer violations? Twice ignoring a gimme three points? That’s dumb, dumber and dumbest.

Asked post-game why he twice gambled on third-and-short rather than kick field goals, head coach Mike O’Shea said: “To me it’s a no-brainer.”

Exactly. No brains.

Connor Hellebuyck

I don’t know about you, but I look at the signing of Connor Hellebuyck as an appetizer, something for the rabble to nibble and nosh on until the main course arrives, hopefully later this week.

I mean, yes, the freshly minted agreement between the Winnipeg Jets and their all-star goaltender takes care of the blue paint for the next six National Hockey League crusades. It’s a favorable development. But the real intrigue in Jets Nation is on the blueline, in the form of Jacob Trouba and, to a much lesser degree, his running mate, Josh Morrissey.

Trouba is the X factor.

Given his history that includes a training-camp/early-season work stoppage and a trade request, skeptics abound when it comes to the 24-year-old defender. They won’t be convinced that Trouba is, as they say at the Vegas poker tables, “all-in” with Winnipeg and les Jets until they know his signature is at the bottom of a contract. Long term. As in six or eight years.

Trouba has an audience with an arbitrator scheduled for the morning of July 20, a bargained-for option exercised by 43 other NHL players this summer. If dealings with les Jets stall this week and he meets with the arbitrator, all bets are off on his shelf life in Good Ol’ Hometown.

My guess? Trouba stays. Six years. Then he leaves.

Jacob Trouba

Apparently, Paul Wiecek has insider intel on Trouba. If only he’d be kind enough to let the rest of us in on the scoop. But no. When Wiecek writes that “Trouba is a problem. Again.” it’s his little secret. He isn’t prepared to share the gory details. We have to guess what it is that makes No. 8 “a problem. Again.”

Well, here’s the actual problem: Wiecek harbors a stalker-like obsession with Trouba, one that began in September 2016 and has become an obscenity.

Twice in the past 10 days, Wiecek has launched gratuitous, factless attacks on the Jets young defender. First the Winnipeg Free Press sports columnist informed us that “Trouba, for one, has a long track record of doing what’s right for Trouba, even when it’s been what’s wrong for Trouba.” (It’s uncertain exactly how Wiecek could possibly know what’s right and what’s wrong for Trouba, but, hey, perhaps the guy’s got a life-coaching gig on the side.) He then doubled down with his cryptic “Trouba is a problem. Again.” Ah, but Wiecek provided not a sliver of evidence to prop of his allegation.

Why is Trouba so far up Wiecek’s nose?

Is it the arbitration thing? Naw. Can’t be. Forty-three other NHL players filed for arbitration, including four of Trouba’s teammates. I hardly think that qualifies any of them as a problem child.

Dale Hawerchuk

Maybe it was the trade demand two years ago. Naw. Can’t be that either. Plenty of people have wanted out of Winnipeg, the great Dale Hawerchuk among them. No one thought of Ducky as a problem child.

So what is it? Simple. During the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, Trouba told Wiecek a mistruth. Said he was happier than a pig in slop to be playing in River City, and he hoped to be on board for the long haul. Shortly thereafter, Trouba was a no-show at training camp and he was AWOL through the first month of the season. So he had lied (just like everyone else in hockey, including writers). Wiecek took it as a personal affront and he’s waged a one-man, two-year vendetta to discredit Trouba, branding him a liar, petulant, a malcontent, impetuous, the biggest loser, reckless, greedy, phony and, most recently, selfish and a problem.

It’s irresponsible, tawdry journalism, and someone high on the food chain at the Freep ought to step up and nip it in the bud.

John Ferguson

I had issues with fibbers during my time in sports. Jets GM John Ferguson once told myself and Friar Nicolson a flat-out lie about Bobby Hull. It was a whopper. So I called him out, in print. Fergy was steamed. I was, too. We didn’t talk to each other for two weeks. Not at the rink. Not on the team bus. Not at the airport. Not on the phone. He would just glare down the gun barrel that passed for his nose, and I would ignore him. I don’t recall how we arrived at détente, but Fergy and I eventually got along just fine. Whatever fibs he told me thereafter were little and white. The worst was Sam Katz, owner of the Winnipeg Goldeyes. Sammy was a carnival barker. He would tell the boys at the Free Press that a baseball was round, then he would tell us at the Winnipeg Sun that a baseball was a hockey puck. I couldn’t believe anything that fell from that man’s mouth, so I simply stopped interviewing him and took to calling him The Unmentionable Man in print. Sammy and I were cordial when our paths crossed, but we never warmed to each other. No big deal. I didn’t need him to do my job and he didn’t need me to fill seats in the Ballyard At The Forks.

Speaking of Sammy, his Goldeyes celebrate their 25th anniversary this season. There were ample doubters at the beginning for the independent ball club—and I still wish he’d named his rounders side something other than Goldeyes—but Sammy pulled it off and the Fish have been a rousing success at the box office and between the foul lines with four titles. So good on him and them.

More kudos to Sportsnet for putting Caroline Cameron on the Tim & Sid show while Tim and Sid are goofing around off-set. She was co-hosting with Donnovan Bennett last week and, among many issues, they discussed the eventual return of Roberta Osuna, the Tranna Blue Jays relief pitcher who faces a court hearing on a domestic violence charge and is under suspension by Major League Baseball.

Bennett: “Are you okay with him being back with the Jays before the actual court case is resolved?”

Caroline Cameron

Cameron: “No I’m not, and for a few reasons. If the Blue Jays see this as a baseball decision, it’s not simply that. A situation like this never is. And in sports at lot of time we see that it mirrors what’s happening in society, and that includes the things that are going wrong with society. And the nice thing about sports—and excuse my use of the cliché—is sports you can play by your own rules, right? You can make your own decisions and figure out how you want to deal with these societal, moral issues. If the Jays bring Osuna back because they think they need his arm in a season that’s already lost, what message are you sending to the fans? And even on the flip side, innocent until proven guilty, do you want to have Roberto Osuna out there, out on the field, out in the bullpen when this is not resolved? What kind of reaction do you think he’s going to get? I just think you have an opportunity—and I’m not saying the Blue Jays have to set a precedent—but someone at some point has to set a precedent or else change will not happen and this will continue to be just a ‘baseball move’ as opposed to what it actually is.”

Imagine that. A woman, rather than a man, giving voice to a topic so significant to so many women. On a Canadian TV sports gab show. That’s as rare as a Serena Williams loss on Centre Court Wimbledon. Most of the women on Canadian jock talk TV get to read a teleprompter, nothing more. This is refreshing.

Mark Masters

Did one man, Mark Masters of TSN, really ask another man, ESPN tennis analyst Darren Cahill, to put the past year of Serena Williams’ life into “context?” Yes. Yes he did. Which means Masters wins the award for the dumbest question ever, ever, ever. I mean, how in the name of Mama Liv Walton can a man possibly give context to carrying a fetus for nine months, giving birth to a six-pound, 13-ounce girl, breast feeding, then returning to play in the ladies’ championship match of a tennis Grand Slam tournament? Only three people—Margaret Court, Evonne Goolagong Cawley, Kim Clijsters—can answer that question, and none of them are men. What will Masters do next? Ask John McEnroe what it’s like to be a lesbian on the tennis tour? To his credit, Cahill politely answered the questionable question about Williams’ pregnant pause, saying, “You can’t put that into context” before mentioning that Clijsters and other women have put their careers on hold to start a family and returned to win Slam titles.

Serena Williams and Angelique Kerber

I suppose with a soon-to-be 37-year-old mom navigating her way to the Wimbledon final in just her fourth post-childbirth tournament, pundits will be slagging the quality and depth of women’s tennis. But in besting Williams on Saturday, 6-3, 6-3, Angelique Kerber became the seventh different champion in the past seven majors. So, I’d say the distaff side of the sport is just fine, thank you. The real issue is on the men’s side, where all four semifinalist at the All England Club are 30somethings. Generation Next simply cannot break through.

The Duchesses of Something

I don’t know about you, but I can’t tell my British duchesses without a program. Is Kate the Duchess of Cambridge and Meghan the Duchess of Sussex, or is Kate the Duchess of Sussex and Meghan the Duchess of Cambridge. If they’re going to sit in the Royal Box at Wimbledon, I think they should be obligated to wear duchess name tags.

Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds swatted his 266th home run last Monday to climb above Matt Stairs on the all-time dinger list for Canadians in Major League Baseball. He now stands second to Larry Walker. Well, to borrow Votto’s words when he piddled on our Corn Flakes earlier this year, “I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about that,” and I won’t give “a rat’s ass” if he goes on to surpass Walker’s record of 383 HRs.

Dave Poulin

I heard Dave Poulin gabbing about the Connor Hellebuyck contract on TSN the other day, and I had to tune out because the guy no longer has street cred. Not after he was one of seven voters to leave Connor McDavid off their all-star ballot. I mean, McDavid was the scoring champion, for cripes sake. And Poulin is telling us he wasn’t among the top three centre-ice men last season? What would he have us believe next? That Bobby Orr was a slowpoke? Sidney Crosby needs to work on his hand-eye coordination? Bobby Hull never wore a rug? It’s one thing for shinny scribes/broadcasters to dumb down, but there’s no excuse for a former NHL player to be such a d’oh boy. If you’re wondering, the other geniuses who made their ballots a no-McDavid zone were Dave Shoalts (Globe and Mail), Mike Colageo (New Bedford Standard Times), Stephen Conroy (Boston Herald), Emily Kaplan (ESPN), Gann Matsuda (Frozen Royalty), and Arthur Staple (The Athletic New York). Off with their press passes!

There’s a lot of good reading in The Athletic, but I’m deeply disappointed in the Winnipeg content. A chap named Murat Ates is the man about the Jets, and he’s advertised as someone who delivers a blend of “modern hockey analysis with engaging storytelling.” Sorry, but what I’ve seen to date is nothing but number crunching. All the “engaging storytelling” must be hidden in the math and, since I’m not a numbers geek, his copy is a total, also lengthy, yawn. Reading all those numbers makes my eyes glaze over. I don’t say that to be mean, but math and I have been at odds since Grade 1 at St. Alphonsus, and I believe sports is more about people than salary dumps and contract term. Meanwhile, if The Athletic Winnipeg has someone on the Bombers beat, he or she must be in a witness protection program. I realize the online newspaper is still looking for good people, but giving the Canadian Football League short shrift when Winnipeg FC is the only game in town until September is bad form. The Athletic Winnipeg needs a jolt of creative juice. Pronto.

And, finally, I note that 680 CJOB in Good Ol’ Hometown is getting back into the jock talk business. All sports director Kelly Moore needs now is a host, and I find myself wondering if he’d be brave enough to do something radical. You know, like hire a female as the lead voice on the gabfest. Actually, I wonder if any women will bother to apply. As mentioned earlier, jock talk in Canada is very much an old boys club.

About the Winnipeg Jets being built on free agents…the ice fishing is great, right Big Buff?…Richie’s a Hall of a coach this week…pigging out in the (hot) dog days of summer…media friendly Vic Peters…Caroline Cameron gives Tim & Sid a fresh voice and look…those wacky Wimbledon women…don’t diss Ronaldo…and a sports scribe who preaches one thing but writes about another

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

Welcome to Winnipeg, armpit of the National Hockey League.

Well, okay, that’s not exactly how shinny scribes Scott Burnside and Sean McIndoe worded it when Paul Stastny chose Glitter Gulch over Good Ol’ Hometown, but that was the sentiment of each pundit’s analysis—River City sucks. Still. Otherwise Stastny wouldn’t have vamoosed from the Winnipeg Jets to the Vegas Golden Knights scant seconds after the NHL opened its grab bag of free agents a week ago this very morning.

Here’s Burnside of The Athletic:

While he did choose to waive his no-trade clause to go to the Jets at the trade deadline, Stastny’s departure as an unrestricted free agent merely reinforces the idea that, as good as the Jets are—and they are really good—they still aren’t at the stage where they are a destination for free agents. Not yet at least.”

Here’s McIndoe of Sportsnet:

They were a darn good team before Stastny arrived, and they’ll be a good one with him gone. But seeing a top UFA walk away will reinforce the old idea that the Jets are at a disadvantage when it comes to attracting top players.”

Paul Stastny

Both scribes stopped short of stereotypical jabs about the dark, the cold, the crappy WiFi, the pothole-to-person ratio, and summer skeeters the size of a Zamboni in River City, but the gist of their analysis is unmistakable, and this Winnipeg-as-NHL armpit narrative is oh so dog-eared. Also wearisome.

I mean, I’d buy it if Stastny had gone on record saying he defected to Sin City because “Winnipeg is a garbage dump with a lousy zoo and an ugly museum.” But no.

In the end,” the 32-year-old centre-ice man told the Las Vegas Sun, “sometimes you just have to go with your gut feeling. Sometimes it’s just one of those things that is the best fit, hockey-wise, family-wise and everything in between.”

Doesn’t sound damning to me.

Yet those of the Burnside/McIndoe ilk trot out the woe-is-Winnipeg refrain every time someone gives Good Ol’ Hometown the cold shoulder, mainly because it’s a convenient and lazy plot line that plays to the ill-informed among the rabble and, at the same time, ignores history. Yes, history.

Benny Hatskin and Bobby Hull on a happy day in Winnipeg.

Go ahead, kids. Name the most significant free-agent signing—ever—in professional hockey. That’s right, the name is Hull, Bobby Hull. And where did that game-shaping event take place? At the intersection of Portage Avenue and Main Street, where a flock of thousands gathered to witness Robert Marvin Hull, fresh off his fifth 50-goal season for the Chicago Blackhawks, scrawl his John Hancock on a Winnipeg Jets contract on June 27, 1972. This was the NHL’s glam guy, choosing Pegtown over Chitown. The sport and salaries were forever altered by one free-agent signing.

More to the point, the very foundation of the Winnipeg Jets was built exclusively on free agents, guys who willingly came to River City to form the World Hockey Association’s flagship franchise.

Ab Mcdonald, Joe Daley, Sudsy Sutherland, Ernie Wakely and others from the ‘hood came home from hither and yon to wear Jets linen. Anders Hedberg chose Winnipeg over Toronto. Kent Nilsson chose Winnipeg over Toronto and Atlanta. Willy Lindstrom could have played anywhere in North America. He chose Winnipeg. Ulf Nilsson and Lars-Erik Sjoberg chose Winnipeg. Peter Sullivan chose Winnipeg. Etcetera, etcetera and blah, blah, blah.

So enough of the tired, old refrain about Pegtown being a shinny leper colony.

Big Buff

Are there guys who’d rather not play in River City? Absolutely. We’re told Good Ol’ Hometown makes most no-trade lists. Just ask Ilya Bryzgalov. But, hey, John Tavares rejected 30 cities just last week, so it’s not like Winnipeg is unique. Look, players talk about three main things when wrestling with free-agency options: 1) Money; 2) the opportunity to win; 3) location. Well, Ben Hatskin wasn’t paying Hull $2.7 million in Monopoly or Canadian Tire money in 1972, and David Thomson and Mark Chipman aren’t paying Dustin Byfuglien $7.6 million per annum in food stamps with the present-day Jets. Competitively, les Jets were a final four team in this past spring’s Stanley Cup runoff. As for location, the ice fishing is boffo, thank you. Just ask Big Buff. So what’s not to like?

Just wondering: Are we still calling for Richie Hall’s head to roll? Probably not. Hall is the much-maligned man tasked with mapping out strategy for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive dozen, whose deficiencies were exposed like a porn star’s privates in two of their first three skirmishes this Canadian Football League crusade. Then along came the B.C. Lions with a benign offence designed to heal whatever ails a wonky defence. So I assume Winnipeg FC’s 41-19 victory over the Leos on Saturday evening at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry means it’s safe for Hall to go grocery shopping and pump his own gas this week. Just to be safe, though, he should have Adam Bighill tag along.

Joey Chestnut

Here’s something to chew on: Joey Chestnut celebrated the dog days of summer by successfully defending his Nathan’s hot dog eating title, scarfing down 74 tube steaks in 10 minutes. It’s believed that no one has ever gone through that many dogs. Except the Edmonton Oilers, of course.

Richard Deitsch of The Athletic asked this question of jock journos on Twitter: “Who is the most media-friendly athlete you have dealt with?” For me, that’s a no-brainer: The late Vic Peters, with about 100 other curlers tied in second. Vic, in the grand scheme of jockdom, was a smooth-edged gem on a beach full of sharp stones. A most obliging, engaging man, he had time for us all. Always.

Sid Seixeiro and Caroline Cameron

Loved the new look and sound on the Tim & Sid show last week. Unfortunately, it’s only temporary. Caroline Cameron has been sitting in for the vacationing Sid Seixeiro on the Sportsnet gabfest, and they’re as different as a pit bull and a kitten. I mean, Sid’s shtick is to talk tough. He dresses the part, too. He looks like he belongs on the set of a gangster movie, skulking around with Luca Brasi and nervously glancing over his shoulder to see if Eliot Ness is on his tail. He wears his sneer on his sleeve. He’s prone to prop humor and theatrical orations that would earn him a failing grade in a high school drama class, and his rants are usually about as sincere as a Neymar dive-writhe-and-roll. Caroline, on the other hand…we’re talking Mary Richards from the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Polished, professional, knowledgeable, smiling, impeccable, pretty, a girl making her way and succeeding in a guy’s world. A lot of viewers (read: guys) pooh-pooh women on sports talk TV as empty heads. Well, Caroline Cameron is compelling evidence that there should be more female voices in the jock gab game. She’s very good.

Yes, now that you mention it, the goings-on in London are very strange, most notably on the women’s side of Wimbledon. They’re spitting out seeds like it’s a baseball dugout. Gone are nine of the top 10 seeds and 25 of 32 overall. Wimbledon has never seen such carnage. Serena Williams will have to break both legs and carry her baby on her back to lose this tournament. Even at that, she could probably win the thing and claim her 24th tennis Grand Slam title on crutches.

Ronaldo and Messi

A lot of British accents on our flatscreens during the World Cup, one of them belonging to Danny Dichio, former forward in the English Premier League. Sportsnet trotted him out as an analyst during the group stage of the event, and he had this exchange with Jesse Fuchs…

Fuchs: “People love to compare Lionel Messi and Christiano Ronaldo…Messi missed a penalty earlier in the tournament, now so has Ronaldo. And it ends up costly, as Portugal are held to a draw. Is it fair at all to criticize CR7?”

Dichio: “No. Not at all fair.”

So, let’s see if I’ve got this straight: The president of the United States, the Pope, Queen Liz, the Beatles, any journalist you care to name, and Jesus Christ himself are fair game for a roasting when they cough up a hairball, but Ronaldo, a guy who’s supposedly god’s gift to soccer, is untouchable when he gags on a shot from the 12-yard spot? As if. Dichio gets a red card for being a nincompoop.

Kaitlyn Lawes and Jennifer Jones

And, finally, based on his scribblings over the years, it’s apparent that Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press does not harbour a healthy fondness for professional athletes. He often writes of them with resentment, contempt and scorn, painting them with one broad brush stroke—they’re all money-grubbing elitists who look down on the rabble from their perch of privilege.

A tiny cadre of coddled millionaires,” is how he described the Jets players in one of his tamer remarks.

Therefore it wasn’t out of character that he assailed play-for-pay jocks—defrocked Jets goaltender Steve Mason in particular—while making the case that the amateur athletes in our great nation are underfunded by the feds and underappreciated by the unwashed masses.

Such is the deification that we accord professional hockey players in this country that we think nothing of paying the washouts millions not to play, while at the same time throwing chump change at our amateur athletes and then scolding them if they dare return home without Olympic medals every four years when we remember again that they exist,” he writes.

He calls financial support for our top amateurs “laughable” and “a complete joke.”

Mike O’Shea

Actually, the joke is a sports columnist prattling on about underfunding and underappreciation for amateurs when 95 per cent of his yearly material is devoted to his personal hot-button issues like Jacob Trouba’s attitude, Mike O’Shea’s “goofy” short pants, and Mark Chipman’s past life as a used-car salesman. His own newspaper treats amateur athletes like they have the cooties. Unless, of course, they’re holding a curling rock in one hand and a broom or sliding apparatus in the other. Kaitlyn Lawes, Jennifer Jones, Mike McEwen, Reid Carruthers and other pebble people get the jock star treatment from the Freep. The rest? Basically bupkus.

Here’s the professional/amateur story scorecard from the past seven editions of the Drab Slab: 140-13. Granted, seven days of sports sections is a small sample size, but just 8.5 per cent of all articles was devoted to amateurs.

In that same seven-paper time frame, Wiecek wrote three columns: his apples-to-oranges argument about amateur funding vs. greedy professional jocks getting too much coin for not enough work; the Blue Bombers lousy defence and firing lousy coaches O’Shea and Hall; and, once again, greedy pro athletes.

What’s that you say? Some sports scribes must be overpaid, underworked and coddled, too? Who knew?

About Sleepy-Eye Joe Mack passing on Mike Reilly…TSN’s continuing love affair with Johnny Rotten…the King of Clay…intrigue in women’s tennis…Secretariat still the greatest…a Capital way to party…the skier and the hockey player…expensive cardboard…and other things on my mind

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!

No. Wait.

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.

Mike Reilly

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.

Sleepy-Eye Joe

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.

Matt Nichols and Mike Reilly

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.

Winner and still champion on clay, Rafa Nadal.

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.)

Simona Halep

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.

Secretariat romping to the wire in the 1973 Belmont Stakes.

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.

Perhaps Damien Cox would prefer it if the Washington Capitals partied like Canadian women.

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.

P.K. Subban and Lindsey Vonn

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?

Serena Williams

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.

About Johnny TMZ and jock journos going ga-ga over a backup QB…Matty gushing on TSN…the Anna Kournikova of car racing departs…mom’s the word for Serena in France…ultra-hyper Shapo…put some clothes on, Celine…Chevy and Coach Potty-Mouth don’t have much to say…Jacob Trouba’s pants are on fire…the “second-rate” Jets…a novelty act in Tranna…and standing for the anthem in pubs

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

Johnny Manziel. Johnny Football. Johnny Magic. Johnny Be Good. Johnny Rotten. Johnny Backup. Johnny TMZ.

By any name, it’s all Johnny all of the time, and even media giants in the Republic of Trump are taking notice of our quirky brand of football now that Johnny Manziel is using his hands for something other than providing fingerprints for police, hoisting shot glasses and hitting women.

Indeed, ESPN and USA Today dispatched news snoops to Timbits Field for Manziel’s debut with the home-standing Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Friday night, while other outlets—Dallas Morning News, NBC Sports, New York Daily News, New York Post, etc.—have been dutifully recording his every move since he became the Canadian Football League’s latest American reclamation project.

Johnny TMZ

Manziel, of course, was a total washout with the Cleveland Browns in the National Football League. He was even more of a washout as a human being. Drugs. Booze. Bar brawls. Beating up women. Arrests. A grand jury. Court appearances. We need not go into the gory details. Suffice to say, he was Prince Charming like Roseanne Barr is Miss Manners. He was, by numerous accounts, a snot-nose rich kid.

So now that someone has tidied him up, Manziel is on our side of the great U.S.-Canadian divide, at his Last Chance Saloon, and the media are on a feeding frenzy.

Manziel did nothing extraordinary as a backup quarterback in the Tiger-Cats loss to the Toronto Argonauts on Friday night. He flung the football 11 times, with nine completions for 80 yards and zero points on the board, but Johnny Ordinary still appeared at the top of the page on the TSN website—with nine freaking videos! Sportsnet had him at the top as well, with two videos. He made the ESPN front page. Ditto USA Today. Also the Dallas Morning News. He was the lead football story on the New York Post website. Etcetera.

And let’s be clear here: This was a flipping exhibition football game, the most mind-numbing, sleep-inducing exercise in sports! Manziel was the backup QB! In a flipping exhibition game!

The sports media has lost whatever was left of its mind.

I don’t think Manziel should be in the CFL. You beat up a woman, you don’t qualify. But, hey, I didn’t get a vote. Just like I didn’t get a vote when they allowed bad actors Dexter Manley, Lawrence Phillips and Ricky Williams to cross the border back in the day. Is the CFL really so desperate that any player with a salable name is welcome, regardless what it says on his rap sheet? And are jock journos so desperate for a story that they gleefully play along with the CFL’s folly?

Matt Dunigan

Totally dumbest comment about Manziel was delivered by Matt Dunigan, the CFL on TSN gab guy who talks like he’s still in a locker room. After Manziel’s do-nothing performance, Dunigan absolutely gushed, saying, “On the off-script plays, boy, it’s magic, it’s Flutie-esque.” Oh FFS. He actually compared a backup QB to Doug Flutie, arguably the best player in CFL history. Shut the hell up, Matty. At least Milt Stegall was honest in his assessment of Manziel. “Not bad,” the Hall of Fame receiver said.

The absurdity of the Manziel fixation reached its peak when Matthew Scianitti of TSN took to Twitter last week and posted a play-by-play account of the backup QB’s performance—complete with passing statistics—in practice. Seriously? Play-by-play and passing stats from a training exercise with the Ticats second team offence and defence? You might want to think about getting a life, Matthew.

Danica Patrick

Speaking of overhyped athletes, Danica Patrick has taken her leave from the world of fast car racing, and she did so, perhaps appropriately, in a mangled wreck on the 68th lap of the Indianapolis 500. The bottom line on her exaggerated, 13-year career behind the wheel: 307 starts, one victory (1-for-116 in IndyCar, her sole victory coming in a skeletal, 18-car field in 2008; 0-for 191 in NASCAR with zero top-five finishes and only seven top-10s). If she led either series in anything, it was self-indulgence and hissy fits. She was never involved in an accident that she couldn’t blame on another driver. “More than anything I just hope they remember me as a great driver,” Patrick said prior to the Indy 500. Nope. Doesn’t work that way. Many framed the GoDaddy girl as a pioneer who would lead other women to the race track, but it simply hasn’t happened. Unfortunately, she was Anna Kournikova with Quaker State motor oil under her fingernails.

Evonne Goolagong Cawley

Had Serena Williams won the French Open, she wouldn’t have broken new ground as a Grand Slam-winning mama, but she would have been in select company. Margaret Court became the first mother to win a Grand Slam tennis tournament in the open era, claiming the Australian, French and U.S. Opens in 1973, a year after giving birth to her first child. Another Aussie, the graceful and delightful Evonne Goolagong Cawley, won the Aussie Open the same year (1977) she gave birth to her first child. And Kim Clijsters gave birth to the first of her three children in 2008 and won the U.S. Open the following two years and the Australia Open in 2011.

I suppose this is treasonous to say, but I have great difficulty watching our guy Denis Shapovalov play tennis. Bouncing the ball between his legs and bouncing on the balls of his feet before every serve is mildly annoying, but his fist-pumping after every winning point is too much. I swear, that boy is going to suffer a nervous breakdown right on court.

Celine Dion

Canada’s gift to Glitter Gulch, songstress Celine Dion, is so excited about the Vegas Golden Knights being in the Stanley Cup final that she wore a team jersey during a recent performance. Trouble is, she forgot to put on the rest of her clothes. Nice legs, though.

Is anyone actually watching the National Hockey League championship series between the Golden Knights and the Washington Ovies? I must confess that I tuned out the moment les Jets de Winnipeg were ushered out of the Stanley Cup runoff. Haven’t watched a minute of the final. If I had any rooting interest, it would be behind the Washington bench, where Barry Trotz paces. He’s a homebrew who cut his coaching teeth at the University of Manitoba and with Dauphin Kings in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

How do we know the Jets had a successful season? Kevin Cheveldayoff and Paul Maurice had less to say at their exit chin-wags with news snoops. Last year, general manager Chevy and Coach Potty-Mouth held separate gab sessions and flapped their gums for a total of one hour, 14 minutes and 22 seconds. This year, they sat side-by-each. Total chin-wag time: 0:32:20.

Jacob Trouba

Jets very capable defenceman Jacob Trouba tells the rabble that his desire is to remain in Good Ol’ Hometown for the long haul. “The quicker the better,” he told news snoops when asked about signing a long-term deal before they drop the puck next autumn. Paul Wiecek says he’s a liar. Yup. Says Trouba’s pants are on fire. Says he’s a regular Pinocchio. “I was struck how excited everyone was that Trouba told reporters he really wants to stay in Winnipeg and play for the Jets,” Wiecek wrote in the Winnipeg Free Press. “For the record, that is the exact same thing Trouba told me at the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto in 2016—a week before his agent announced he wanted out and Trouba proceeded to hold out for four weeks of the 2016-17 season. Trouba told reporters what they wanted to hear this week—his agent will be telling Chevy something very different, which is that if the Jets want to lock down Trouba for years to come it is going to cost them, big time.” Little wonder the relationship between athletes and scribes is often adversarial.

Worth repeating: “We have some good young players,” Chevy said in April 2017. “We will make the necessary steps and necessary decisions to keep those good young players. That’s been our promise, that’s been our mandate, that’s been something we’ve said since day one. And that day is coming.” That day is here, Chevy.

There was nothing “second rate” about the WHA Jets.

Someone might want to give Dan Lett a lesson in local hockey lore. The political scribe at the Freep, Lett had this to say in a recent siss-boom-bah, rah-rah-rah piece about the Jets and Winnipeg “Before they bolted for Arizona, the previous incarnation of the Jets was a source of frustration and, at times, embarrassment. There were some good teams, but they always fell to teams from cities that seemed larger, more successful, more complete. Our second-rate team seemed to reinforce the idea that Winnipeg was a second-rate community.” Yo! Danny boy! That “second-rate team” won three World Hockey Association titles. I suppose Lett can be forgiven, though. He’s from the Republic of Tranna. What could he possibly know about championship hockey?

Evander Kane

Seriously? Evander Kane signs with the San Jose Sharks for $49 million over seven seasons? For real? He’s never had a 60-point season. He’s scored 30 goals once. He’s.never played an entire 82-game schedule. Kane, now 27, just completed his most productive season, with 57 points. By way of comparison, Kyle Connor of the Jets ( 31-26-57) did that as a 20-year-old rookie. Twig Ehlers, 22, already has two 60-point seasons and two 82-game seasons. Puck Finn has had 64- (36 goals) and 70-point (44 goals) seasons as a teenager. Rink Rat Scheifele, 25, has had three 60-point seasons and a 32-goal season. They all collect less coin than Kane. Either Chevy is a genius or Sharks GM Doug Wilson is a fool.

Okay, officially the Tranna Blue Jays are no longer a baseball team. They’re a novelty act. I mean, Russell Martin playing shortstop? Kendrys Morales pitching? “We really don’t have a true shortstop on the team,” says beleaguered manager John Gibbons. That’s a fine job Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins have done since since defecting from Cleveland to take the wheel of our country’s Major League Baseball outfit. They’ve turned an American League East Division champion into a clunker in less than three seasons.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump tells National Football League players who kneel during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner that “You have to stand proudly for the national anthem. Or you shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there. Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.” I’ll agree that kneeling during the anthem is disrespectful only when I see people in pubs put down their pint mugs and stand when they’re watching a game on TV. And how many guys haul their big butts off the sofa to stand for the anthem at home? None that I know.