Let’s talk about Mayor Brian Bowman bailing on the Blue Bombers…split screens and Benny on TSN…Sleepy Joe and Wile E. Coyote…CFL head counts…the Roger and Novak show…Simona Halep beating the bully…and fond memories of local tennis

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and you won’t find any aces in here but there are plenty of double faults…

So, Brian Bowman wants the City of Winnipeg to wash its hands of the Blue Bombers.

Mayor Brian Bowman

Was it something they said? Is it that 28-year, no Grey Cup parade thing? Someone at City Hall doesn’t like Mike O’Shea’s sideline look? Whatever the case, surely we can work this out, even if it means convincing Coach Mikey to shop at Mr. Big & Tall instead of finding his game-day attire on the racks at Sally Ann’s.

Personally, Coach Mikey’s t-shirt-and-shorts chic has never bothered me. I look at him as Coach Grunge. You know, the way Neil Young is the Godfather of Grunge.

Come to think of it, perhaps Neil Young will be Mayor Bowman’s next target. No more official bragging about the Sugar Mountain kid skipping school at Kelvin High to earn his musical chops hither and yon with the Squires, Buffalo Springfield, CSNY and Crazy Horse. Who wants to be bragging on a high school dropout as a homeboy? Let the Republic of Tranna claim him.

And, hey, while he’s at it, maybe Mayor BB can order favorite citizen Kenny Ploen deported back to Lost Nation, Iowa. After all, it’s been more than half a century since K.P. had a hand in bringing the Grey Cup to Good Ol’ Hometown.

Mind you, Mayor BB wouldn’t know much about that. He wasn’t around in the late-1950s and early-1960s, when Ploen, the Lincoln Locomotive, Choo Choo Shepard, Zazu, Kid Dynamite and the large lads in Blue and Gold won championships like kids collected bubble gum cards of their Canadian Football League heroes.

By the time Mayor BB squeezed out of the womb, those legends were long gone and so were the Bombers’ glory days.

Mayor Steve Juba: Friend of the Bombers.

But I’ll tell you who could have filled him in on those “best of times”—Steve Juba, one of his predecessors in the mayor’s office. Trouble is, Steve left us in 1993, so he isn’t available for a fireside chat with the present-day Hizzoner. If he were, no doubt Mayor Steve would regale Mayor BB in what it was like back in the day. You know, when the mayor of all the people actually embraced the connection between city and Winnipeg FC.

True story…

Once upon a time, the Bombers held a Blue and Gold intersquad game during training exercises. It was a huge deal. Anywhere from 17,000 to 19,500 locals would make their way to the real-grass football field on Maroons Road to take in the annual frolic, and I was among the east-side rabble on the night of July 21, 1960.

The opening kickoff tumbled near the Gold goalline, whereupon a return man scooped it up and began to skedaddle toward the right sideline. He had the awkward gait of peg-leg pirate and the giddyup of a sloth, but admirable escapeability. Would-be tacklers flung themselves at him in desperation without success, and he made it untouched to the far 35-yard stripe before an unknowing skunk shirt ruled him out of bounds.

I describe the game official as “unknowing” because the fix was in. The return man, you see, was Mayor Juba and the pre-arranged script had him lugging the kickoff back for a touchdown. Alas, someone forgot to clue in the sideline official. Didn’t really matter, though. Mayor Steve had punked the audience.

Three years later, a Blue and Gold game official ejected Kenny Ploen and receiver Farrell Funston when they connected for a TD. On the first play from scrimmage. The rabble howled in protest, demanding that Ploen and Funston be reinserted to the fray. They hadn’t paid $2 a pop to see some clown in a striped shirt turf two of their heroes. Upon closer inspection, however, it was discovered that the man in stripes was…you guessed it, Steve Juba. Yup, once again, Mayor Prankster had pulled one over on the Big Blue masses.

It was fun stuff. And a charming, folksy chapter in the historic bond between city and football club.

Yet, given his druthers, Mayor BB is inclined to bail on the burg’s beloved (well, aren’t they?) Blue Bombers. He’s not interested in the City of Winnipeg occupying a seat on the board.

Mayor Steve must be spinning like a lathe in his cold, Blue and Gold grave.

One thing to keep in mind about Winnipeg FC: It isn’t a community-owned operation. No one owns the football club. It’s community-run.

A couple of words on TSN’s innovative(?) split screen/live mic thingy during the Bytown RedBlacks-Montreal Alouettes skirmish on Saturday: The worst. We were forced to watch Antoine Pruneau and Henoc Muamba do absolutely nothing on the left side of our flatscreens for a dozen or more plays, while squinting at the right side of the screen to see what the other 22 players were doing. I’m all for new-fangled gadgetry, but this was a colossal failure. And, since I can’t afford a 70-inch TV, I hope this experiment goes the way of the Indian head test pattern (Google it, kids).

Mike Benevides

Kirk Penton, as always, delivered the good stuff in his CFL column for The Athletic last week, and it included this gem from a former coach: “It was great to see one of us (coaches) on TSN. Benny (Mike Benevides) sounded like what he is—a solid football guy. He understands our game. He picks up the keys to the game and explains them. Without him, the rest of that group is no different than watching Entertainment Tonight Canada. A lot of expensive clothes and a lot of talk about nothing.” Burn! Personally, I find Benevides uppity, if not flat-out arrogant. He doesn’t talk as much as he lectures, as if the former players on the TSN panel are still in film study. Benny could spend a bit more time in wardrobe, too. He’s not smoooooth like Milt Stegall. But, then, who is?

Anyone have a clue what’s going on in Montreal? Or maybe this is a better question: Does anyone in Montreal have a clue, period? I mean, the Alouettes are a welfare case (read: no owner); they play in a half-empty house; they fired head coach Mike Sherman on the eve of the CFL season; now they punt GM Kavis Reed after twin Ws leveled their record at 2-2. Strange bit of business. But here’s where it gets Rod Serling/Twilight Zone weird (cue the creepy music)—they’ve handed the keys to the shop to Joe Mack. That’s like giving Wile E. Coyote another stick of dynamite. Nothing good will come of it.

Sleepy Joe

Blue Bombers loyalists can tell the Larks all about Sleepy Joe and how he believed a brittle Buck Pierce was a better option at quarterback than Mike Reilly in 2013. It took present-day GM Kyle Walters more than three years to find his way out of the rubble that Sleepy Joe left behind, but we still feel an after-shock every now and then.

Sorry to report that attendance across the CFL is not on the rebound. The numbers continue to plummet everywhere but Calgary, and it’s gotten so bad in the Republic of Tranna that they don’t bother to take a head count. I agree. That’s unacceptable. After all, how long does it take to count to 100? Maybe they can bring in the Army to do it for them.

Novak Djokovic

Sports theatre doesn’t get much better than what played out on Centre Court Wimbledon on Sunday, with Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer knocking the fuzz off tennis balls at the All-England Club. Five sets, tiebreaker in the fifth, three ‘breakers total…bloody brilliant. And dare I say, the loser in this historic 7-6, 1-6, 7-6, 4-6, 13-12 tussle was the better player most of the afternoon. It’s just that Djokovic won the points that mattered most in claiming his 16th Grand Slam title, and that included fighting off two match points against Federer’s serve.

Simona Halep

I must confess, while watching the very likable Simona Halep give bully Serena Williams a good and proper rag-dolling in the women’s final on Saturday, I kept wondering if tournament officials would be required to dial 911 and call for a SWAT team to restore law and order. That is, I expected Williams to dig into her bag of angry theatrics and take the event hostage, much like she did in losing last year’s U.S. Open to Naomi Osaka. Thankfully, she brought her prim and proper manners to the English party. But she’s still a bully.

Halep worked a mere 56 minutes in winning her title. Djokovic needed four hours and 57 minutes to get the job done v. Federer. Each champion received a winner’s purse of $2.95 million. Any complaints about pay equity? I hope not.

Since Federer claimed his first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon in 2003, it’s been same old, same old on the men’s tour. Only 10 men have won a major. That’s it, just 10 in 17 years. Between Swiss maestro Federer, Djokovic and Rafa Nadal, they’ve collected 54 of the 65 majors, which is insane. Meanwhile, on the women’s side, there have been 24 Grand Slam champions in the same time frame.

Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club

I’m partial to tennis because it was my favorite beat at the Winnipeg Tribune. I spent countless enjoyable hours courtside at both the Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club and the Canoe Club through most of the 1970s, and I have fond memories of people like Rick Borland, Judy Peake, Jo and Jack Brown, Eleanor O’Gorman, the Campbell sisters, Glen Booth, Jim Matthews, Al Skaletar, George Kylar, and so many others. So it pains me that the Winnipeg Sun would choose to ignore the National Bank Challenger tournament, which wrapped up at the WLTC on Sunday. The Drab Slab, meanwhile, did it right with young Taylor Allen’s feet on the ground through the entirety of the event.

And, finally, here’s something for the Winnipeg Jets rabble to chew on, and I’m guessing some might not like the taste:
Jordan Binnington salary: $4.4 million.
Connor Hellebuyck salary: $6.166,666 million.
Stanley Cup rings: Binnington 1; Hellebuyck 0.
Feel free to discuss among yourselves.

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 a Barracuda on the judge’s bench…those surprising Winnipeg Jets…same old, same old from Grapes…a pot calling a kettle white…kid stuff in Vegas…Box Car Willie Belichick…grappling with the idea of a new football league…women’s tennis…Roger Federer’s arms…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…

I can’t help but weep when I hear the many victims/survivors of diabolical Larry Nassar tell their stories of sexual abuse at the hands of the predator doctor when they were sweet, innocent little girls with dreams of Olympic Games gymnastics glory.

Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, the Barracuda.

So it’s damn straight that I gave a fist pump and let loose a mighty “hell ya!” when Judge Rosemarie Aquilina booted Nassar’s sorry ass back to a jail cell on Wednesday, saying, “I just signed your death warrant” as she tacked 40-175 years onto the 60-year sentence the defrocked doctor is already serving on a child pornography conviction.

The lady judge rocks. Assistant Attorney General Angela Povilaitis rocks. Investigative journalists Marisa Kwiatowski, Tim Evans and Mark Alesia at the Indianapolis Star rock. The 156 women who appeared in a Michigan courtroom to confront Nassar with victim-impact statements rock.

And now Nassar can pound rocks. Or whatever it is that sexual predators pound behind bars.

Judge Lance Ito

Watching Judge Aquilina sentence former U.S. Olympic gymnastics/Michigan State University doctor Nassar, I couldn’t help but think the outcomes of the original O.J. Simpson (Judge Ito) and Oscar Pistorius (Judge Thokozile Masipa) murder trials would have been different had she been on the bench. It’s little wonder Judge Aquilina’s nickname while serving in the Michigan Army National Guard was Barricuda. She’s a nasty bit of business, in a good way.

Quick question for those who insist that we keep sports and the real world separate: How is that possible when the real world refuses to stay out of sports? Nassar was the top medic for USA Gymnastics and the MSU women’s gymnastics teams. He sexually abused the girls. Sports, meet real world.

I woke up to a tsunami warning (true story) in the small hours of Tuesday morning, after a 7.9 shaker rocked and rolled offshore of Alaska, and I had visions of my high-and-dry, eighth-floor home in downtown Victoria being swamped and swallowed by the Pacific Ocean. Turns out the ‘quake had all the bite of a Jimmy Fallon monologue. Yup, that tame. There’s more oomph in American beer. So, after review, the tsunami warning was overturned due to goaltender interference. Just like every goal scored in the National Hockey League this week.

Moving on to more pleasant matters, it seems that most times I look up the Winnipeg Jets are winning another game. Who saw that coming? I mean, okay, at the commencement of their current crusade I figured Team Draft & Develop for a wild-card playoff spot. At best. But first place? In the NHL’s toughest division? There was a better chance of the Paid Pinocchio in the White House, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, dissing her boss Donald Trump for his take on immigration.

Here’s what I wrote re the Jets on Sept. 14: “It appears that the Western Conference road to the Stanley Cup is likely to go through Northern Alberta. If not, it’ll be Southern Alberta, where the Calgary Flames are shaping up to be a force, even as ownership squabbles with politicos and beats the drums about relocation should the city refuse to pony up substantial coin for a new shinny palace. The trouble with the Jets—aside from the people behind the bench—is geography. Until they prove otherwise, they’re still the third best outfit on the Canadian prairies.” D’oh! D’oh! D’oh!

I note that two members of the San Jose Sharks—Tomas Hertl and Justin Braun—have issued an apology for calling Winnipeg a “dark and cold” locale with no smart phones, WiFi or any other 21st-century gadgetry. Apparently, the mea culpa should arrive by Pony Express, carrier pigeon or Western Union telegraph in time for the NHL playoffs.

Don Cherry

This just in—Don Cherry doesn’t like Europeans. Who knew? In related news, dogs don’t like cats, Donald Trump doesn’t like the FBI, and Taylor Swift isn’t fond of Kim, Kanye or Katy. Seriously. Grapes needs a new script writer. Once again he’s dredged up his antiquated Cold War-era lament about Euros taking jobs away from homebrews, in this case on the rosters of Major Junior outfits across our vast land. “What happens is, if you look at it, there’s a Canadian kid not playing,” says the resident curmudgeon/blowhard on the Hockey Night in Canada intermission feature Coachless Corner. “You’re asking me, ‘Do I believe in Europeans playing in (the) Canadian Hockey League?’ No. I don’t.” Fine, Grapes, and while we’re at it let’s keep all those French kids in Quebec.

Kid Rock

Paul Wiecek offers some interesting thoughts on the NHL misreading the climate of the day by hiring Kid Rock as the intermission act for its all-star frolic this afternoon in Tampa.

The way the Winnipeg Free Press sports columnist has it figured, the two of them deserve each other because the NHL is whiter than a virgin bride’s wedding gown and Kid Rock’s neck is redder than a rooster’s wattles.

If the Confederacy had won the U.S. Civil War, America today would look a whole lot like an NHL hockey game,” Wiecek writes. “The NHL is not only the whitest professional sports league in North America—by a mile—it also has the whitest fans of any of this continent’s four major pro sports. Again, by a mile. If you’re anything other than white and heterosexual, you’re every bit as much of a minority sitting in the stands at an NHL game as Dustin Byfuglien is skating out on the ice. Hockey is played by white people, for white people.”

Canada’s newspaper sports writers are white, white, white.

This is a classic case of the pot calling the kettle white. I mean, has Wiecek taken a look at press row in Canada (newspaper sports division)? Nothing but white, heterosexual, mostly male faces.

Full marks to the Freep scribe for calling out the NHL on the Kid Rock hire, because the guy has a fondness for the Confederate flag and a history of anti-gay/anti-transgender spewings. But Wiecek’s own business has all the diversity of…well, the white NHL.

Ask Wiecek to name all the black sports writers with whom he’s worked. Ask him to name all the openly gay sports scribes. None and none. Ask him to name all the women. Two. I worked at five different dailies. I recall one non-Caucasian colleague. Just one. In 30 years. I worked with only four females scribes. In 30 years. I worked with zero openly gay sports scribes. In 30 years.

At least the NHL has some African-American players. But blacks and gays can’t even be called a minority in Canadian newspaper sports writing, because they simply don’t exist.

So, signature scrawl is now restricted to kids in Sin City. That’s right, only kids 14 and under are allowed access to Vegas Golden Knights players for autographs at the NHL club’s practice facility, City National Arena. Adults need not apply. Seems it’s a safety measure, because grown-ups were “pushing kids out of the way” and kids were “running into the street.” My question: Why would a grown man want another grown man’s autograph? Except, of course, to profit. In which case, he should get a life.

Box Car Belichick

Yes, kids, you can grow up to look like Box Car Willie after spending a night sleeping on a slow-moving freight train and still become a five-time (do I hear six?) Super Bowl-winning head coach. Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots remains the ultimate example of a man not letting success go to his clothes, so the next time a cynic takes a cheap shot at Winnipeg Blue Bombers sideline steward Mike O’Shea for his “goofy shorts,” show him this pic of Belichick, taken scant seconds after his Patriots had won their eighth American Football Conference title on his watch.

Vince McMahon

Grappling guru Vince McMahon made it official last week, advising us that his aborted and gimmicky XFL from 2001 will reboot in 2020, sans the WWE-scripted shtick and the up-the-skirt cheerleader cams. Vince is going legit—from sleazy to squeaky clean—and he vows to hire only boy scouts (“Even if you have a DUI, you will not play in the XFL.”). He’ll order players to stand during the national anthem. He wants games to be completed in two hours or less. He wants us to “reimagine” football. Okay, I reimagine football in 2020 without Vince McMahon.

McMahon’s no-bad boys statute seemingly rules out Johnny Manziel, the former Cleveland Browns quarterback who likes to brawl in bars when he isn’t beating up women. So let’s see…the National Football League has washed its hands of Manziel and the not-ready-for-prime-time XFL wants no part of him, yet the Canadian Football League is eager to welcome him with open arms. What part of embarrassing does CFL commish Randy Ambrosie not understand? (For the record, if Manziel shows serious interest in the XFL, bet the mortgage money that McMahon will turn a blind eye to his rap sheet.)

Caroline Wozniacki

For those who insist that there’s no depth in women’s tennis, the past five Grand Slam events have produced five different champions—Serena Williams (Australian Open), Jelena Ostapenko (French Open), Garbine Muguruza (Wimbledon), Sloane Stephens (U.S. Open) and Caroline Wozniacki (Aussie Open). Five events, 13 months, five different champions. The men, meanwhile, have produced two different champions in that time frame—Roger Federer (three titles) and Rafael Nadal (two). I suppose an argument can be made that the universe would have unfolded differently for the women had mama Serena not been away having a baby, but that isn’t necessarily so. After all, she won just one Slam in 2016. Might have been the same last year. The point is, there’s intrigue on the women’s side.

Is there anything more cruel in sports than what Simona Halep and Marin Cilic were forced to endure after losing their respective Aussie Open singles championship matches this weekend? She battled Wozniacki for three hours less 11 minutes, he 20-time Grand Slam champion Federer for three hours and three minutes. Then, after being vanquished, they likely just wanted to crawl into a hole and cry. Alas, they were required to loiter on court for the parting-gifts ceremony and boring speeches that seemingly droned on longer than the matches…then make a speech and smile…then listen to the victor’s speech and smile…then pose for photos and smile. Half an hour later, they were permitted to depart and lick their wounds (which, in Halep’s case, meant a retreat to the hospital for IV treatment). Like I said, cruel.

Rafa Nadal

This week’s notable quotable: Before meeting his Waterloo vs. Marin Cilic, Rafael Nadal was rocking the sleeveless look at the Aussie Open. The guy’s got guns. Serious guns. Which did not escape the notice of commentator Jim Courier, who, during a courtside gab session about Rafa’s fashion statement, asked Swiss maestro Federer if he’d be following Nadal’s lead and show us his pipes. “That’s not gonna happen,” a laughing Federer said, glancing quickly at his chicken arms. “You know why? My arms are not like his arms. It’s pretty simple.”

This week’s Stevie-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna, taking a cheap shot at the XFL: “Did anybody out there ask for another football league? Anyone?” I have a better question, Stevie: Does anybody in the Republic of Tranna know they have a professional football team? Anyone?

About mob justice and the Canadian Football League…the hypocritical media…”Oskee wee wee! Oskee wa wa! Holy WTF Hamilton!”…and the Sharapova Shriek returns to the U.S. Open

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

Now that sober second thought has won the day and it’s no longer necessary to lock up every mother’s daughter in Hamilton, I must say that the rush by fans and media to tar and feather Art Briles and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats was shocking in its swiftness and ferocity. Also its effectiveness.

Art Briles

I mean, Briles and his off-the-charts creep quotient won’t be coming across the border into Canada. That’s a good thing. A very good thing.

But all the righteous indignation and condemnation that rained down on Briles and the Tabbies on Monday, where was it during the past two months when a chronic and convicted beater of women, Floyd Mayweather Jr., was preparing to collect upwards of $350 million for a fist fight? Mayweather was allowed to go about his business, pre- and post-beatdown of Conor McGregor, sans universal censure. Indeed, the boxing champion is today lauded for running his ring record to 50-0.

Atta boy, Floyd,” goes the verbal back-patting of enablers and hangers-on. “You beat Rocky’s record. You’re the greatest, champ.”

Evidence indicates that fight fans and media cannot get their fill of Mayweather. Morals be damned. They continue to feed at his trough of dismissive arrogance, blatant misogyny and utter indecency, and it doesn’t matter how many women he sends to the hospital.

Is it because boxing is the seediest of all sports, with its assortment of sinister characters forever lurking on the periphery, that the rabble and (especially) opinionists on air and in print look the other way?

Perhaps, but isn’t looking the other way the very reason Briles is a pariah? Well, yes it is. We didn’t want him anywhere near our vulnerable young people because, while head football coach at Baylor University in Texas, he turned a blind eye to the systemic sexual assault of college women and other wrong-doing by his players, criminal activity that reportedly included gang rape. For that, Briles was dismissed and, little wonder, he’d been unable to secure employment until the Tiger-Cats came calling with an offer to serve the sorriest outfit in the Canadian Football League as an assistant coach.

The Briles hire was, of course, an affront to anyone with a moral compass, and it’s absolutely appalling to consider that he would be working with randy young men today had CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie not felt obliged to step in and force the Tabbies’ misguided management/ownership into giving their heads a good and proper shaking until all the stupid had fallen out.

CFL commish Randy Ambrosie

In this case, there’s something to be said for mob justice, because the Ticats recruiting Briles was as wrong as rain is wet and the social media warriors, team sponsors, bloggers and mainstream media were having none of it.

But, again, I challenge the media’s role in this shameful episode that might have been the total undoing of the Hamilton franchise had it moved forward with the contaminated coach, who was dismissed less than 24 hours after being hired.

Why are jock journalists picking and choosing the bad guys, like they’re at the market shopping for vegetables and fruit? Why is Floyd Mayweather Jr. a rotten apple and Art Briles a rancid orange? This isn’t apples and oranges. It’s rotten apples and rotten apples. How is it that the guy who went to jail for beating up women is less of a cad than the guy who ignored frat boys on a gang-banging binge?

I simply cannot wrap my head around that.

The media, across the land and on both sides of the border, were absolutely correct in condemning the Briles hire, just as they were on the side of angels when they railed against National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell for his clumsy work on the Ray Rice domestic violence file. But they are the very picture of hypocrisy in looking the other way whenever Floyd Mayweather Jr. is in the room.

Yes, you have every right to wonder what the hell is going on in Hamilton. Never mind between the sidelines, where the Tabbies are 0-8. Are they operating a professional football organization or a halfway house? The general manager, Eric Tillman, couldn’t keep his hands off the family’s teenage babysitter in 2010 and entered a guilty plea on a sexual assault charge; they displayed ghastly judgement in attempting to bring Briles on board; and rumors persist that they’ll make a strong pitch for bad boy quarterback Johnny Manziel, who only last December had his day in court on sexual assault charges. All together now: “Oskee wee wee! Oskee wa wa! Holy WTF Hamilton!”

Maria Sharapova

Really got into the Maria Sharapova-Simona Halep first-round match at the U.S. Open on Monday night at the Arthur Ashe Stadium in Gotham. It was electric. I can do without the Sharapova Shriek (couldn’t we all?), but Her Royal Blondeness’s 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 victory over the world No. 2 was high drama for an opening act at the tennis season’s final Grand Slam tournament. Even though she was dressed in all black for the occasion, I don’t see Sharapova as a villain. Call me gullible, but I’m not convinced she’s a cheater in the sense that Ben Johnson was a cheater. I’m inclined to sing in concert with commentator Chrissie Evert, who, during the broadcast, suggested someone made a dumb mistake that resulted in a 15-month ban for using the drug meldonium. Sharapova is a longshot to win the tournament, but her presence provides considerable oomph to the women’s draw.

Interesting that U.S. Open organizers would choose a Canadian crooner, Shania Twain, as the feature performer for the opening ceremonies at Arthur Ashe Stadium. Guess Americans don’t get as bummed out about that sort of thing as we do.

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.

About the Winnipeg Jets and the Nashville Model…the Blue Bombers and soccer…the Puck Pontiff going into hiding…and what the women on the tennis tour think of our Genie

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

Mark Chipman, the Puck Pontiff.

When the Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, purchased his new play thing in 2011, he turned his eyes due south, directly toward Twang Town U.S.A., and found himself a role model for his team to be named later.

The Nashville Predators,” he mused. “I wanna be just like those pesky Predators.”

Now, it’s quite unlikely that the Puck Pontiff spilled those exact words, but he did confirm that the plan for the outfit he later named Winnipeg Jets was (still is?) to follow the blueprint laid out by Nashville, now in its 18th National Hockey League season and still winners of exactly nothing.

That may sound strange to people in Winnipeg,” he supposed.

Yup. Strange like hiring Justin Bieber as a life coach strange. Strange like wanting to dress like Don Cherry strange. I mean, Nashville is like that Dwight Yoakam song—guitars, Cadillacs and hillbilly music. With a whole lot of Hee Haw and the Grand Ole Opry tossed into the mix. But hockey? Come on, man.

They’ve done it methodically,” the Puck Pontiff advised news snoops in springtime 2012, “they’ve done it by developing their players and they’ve done it with a consistency in management and philosophy…I think but for a couple of bounces that team could have a Stanley Cup banner hanging under their rafters.”

That team” he spoke of so fondly failed to qualify for the next two Stanley Cup tournaments, but let’s not let facts get in the way of a misguided notion.

The point is, the Puck Pontiff likes to think of his fiefdom as Nashville North sans Dolly, Carrie and Little Big Town, so, with the Predators awaiting a dance partner in the Western Conference final for the first time in club history, let’s take a look at them to see if they tell us anything about the Jets.

  • The Predators were built from scratch, as a 1998 expansion team. They missed the playoffs their first five crusades.
  • The Jets were a pre-fab outfit built in Atlanta, but the Puck Pontiff operated it like an expansion franchise, gutting the management side down to the studs. They’ve missed the playoffs in five of their six seasons.
  • The Predators have known just one general manager, David Poile, who learned at the knee of Cliff Fletcher in Calgary then earned his chops as GM of the Washington Capitals for 15 years.
  • The Jets have known just one (official) general manager, Kevin Cheveldayoff, who apprenticed under Stan Bowman in Chicago and has done the Puck Pontiff’s bidding for six years.
  • The Predators have had two head coaches, Barry Trotz and Peter Laviolette. Poile didn’t ask Trotz to leave the building until 15 years had passed.
  • The Jets have had two head coaches, Claude Noel and Paul Maurice. It only took about 15 months before Noel was asked to leave the building, but it’s apparent that the Puck Pontiff is prepared to stay the course with Coach Potty-Mouth for 15 years.
  • The Predators, under Poile’s direction, preached the draft-and-develop mantra from the outset.
  • The Jets talk about nothing but draft-and-develop.
  • The Predators can be found in the lower third of the pay scale.
  • The Jets can be found in the lower third of the pay scale (if not at the bottom).

So there are your commonalities: Methodical, consistent, patient, steady-as-she-goes, loyal (to a fault for the Jets) and frugal.

Where do the Predators and Jets part company? In the GM’s office.

David Poile

Poile is unafraid to deliver bold strokes. He dared to send a first-round draft pick, defenceman Seth Jones, packing in barter for Ryan Johansen, the top-level centre he required. He shipped his captain, Shea Weber, to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for flamboyant P.K. Subban. He somehow pried Filip Forsberg out of Washington in exchange for Martin Erat and Michael Latta. His captain, Mr. Carrie Underwood, and James Neal came via trade. Yannick Weber is a free-agent signing.

By contrast, Cheveldayoff is only allowed to make significant troop movements when backed into a corner (see: Kane, Evander; Ladd, Andrew).

So what do the Predators teach us about the Jets? Well, if the locals follow the Nashville Model to the letter, we can expect to see meaningful springtime shinny at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie as early as next season. As for arriving in the Western Conference final, put in a wakeup call for 2030.

In rooting through archives, I stumbled upon a most interesting discovery: Once upon a time, the Puck Pontiff spoke to his loyal subjects. Honest. Chipman actually stood at a podium and did the season-over, chin-wag thing with news snoops in April 2012, at which time the city was still in swoon and the rabble didn’t much care that there’d be no playoffs. He has since become Howard Hughes, hiding himself in a room somewhere, no doubt eating nothing but chocolate bars and drinking milk. I found one remark he made at the 2012 presser to be rather troubling: “I don’t want to give the impression that I’m managing our hockey team, ’cause I’m not. That’s what our professionals do.” I wish I could believe that he allows the hockey people to make the important hockey decisions, but I can’t.

I note the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are looking to branch out into another sport and secure a franchise in a proposed Canadian pro soccer league. Ya, that’s just what Winnipeg needs—more dives.

Carolina Hurricanes have had goaltending issues. Ditto the Dallas Stars. Double ditto the Jets. So ‘Canes GM Ron Francis uses a third-round draft choice to acquire the rights to Scott Darling, then signs him to a four-year contract. Stars GM Jim Nill uses a fourth-round pick to secure the rights to Ben Bishop, then lock him in for six years. The Puck Pontiff and Cheveldayoff, meanwhile, do nothing. Don’t you just hate the sound of crickets?

I look at the Ottawa Senators, who ousted the New York Rangers from the Stanley Cup derby on Tuesday night, and I mostly see smoke and mirrors. Yes, they have Erik Karlsson, the premier player on the planet at the moment, and Craig Anderson often provides the Sens with stud goaltending. But beyond that, it’s largely a ho-hum roster. Where is the stud centre? You don’t win championships without a stud centre. At least not since the New Jersey Devils. My guess is that the Senators’ fun is soon to end.

Here’s one way of looking at this year’s Stanley Cup tournament:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Genie Bouchard proved nothing with her win over Maria Sharapova at the Madrid Open this week, except that she can beat a player who had been away from elite tennis for almost a year and a half. And that she can’t win gracefully. I don’t like rooting against Canadian athletes, but our Genie has become increasingly difficult to embrace. Branding Sharapova a “cheater” and suggesting she ought to be banned for life due to a drug violation is good copy, but surviving a second-round match and acting like you’ve just won Wimbledon because you have a hate-on for your opponent is bad form.

Bouchard claims that a number of players on the Women’s Tennis Association tour approached her on the QT prior to her match with Sharapova, wishing her bonne chance. Simona Halep of Romania was not among those women. “I didn’t wish good luck to Bouchard because we don’t speak, actually,” Halep advised news snoops. “She’s different, I can say. I cannot judge her for being this. I cannot admire her for being this. I have nothing to say about her person.” Ouch.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she is old and probably should think about getting a life.