About the Three Lions…Winnipeg Blue Bombers taking a hit at the box office…that empty feeling at BMO Field…the Neymar dive-writhe-and-roll…Tiger vs. Lefty…Shapo vs. Milos…the Nayl Gun does Johnny Rotten…CFL power rankings…and other things on my mind

Bacon, eggs, toast, but no bangers or beans, and some leftover thoughts for a Monday morning breakfast

I have Irish blood pumping through my veins—or so I’ve been told—and I know the Irish and British have had their squabbles through the centuries, but I’ve got no quarrel with them, so I’m root, root, rooting for England in the World Cup? Go Harry Kane and all you Three Lions!

In the good news-bad news department, I present the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

First the glad tidings: The local lads delivered a proper paddywhacking to the B.C. Lions on Saturday evening, a result that leveled their performance sheet at 2-2 and puts them on equal footing with the Edmonton Eskimos and Saskatchewan Roughriders in the mosh pit that is the West Division of the Canadian Football League.

Now for the bad tidings: The head count at Football Follies Field was 26,567. Measured against any franchise in the eastern precinct of the land, that’s a boffo bit of business. Measured against their own bottom line, not so much.

Winnipeg FC has attracted 52,025 to its fancy digs in Fort Garry for the first two home skirmishes of this Grey Cup crusade, down 3,225 from Games 1-2 a year ago. That’s a minimum of $90,000 in lost ticket revenue (based on a $28 ticket), and only the club bean counters and Wade Miller know how much of a hit they’ve taken in concessions and merchandise. Do the math and the Bombers are staring at a dip of $405,000 (minimum) in ticket sales for their nine home dates unless there’s a sharp reversal. Ouch.

It could always be worse, of course. In the Republic of Tranna, home of the Grey Cup champion Argonauts, only 12,196 souls were coerced into spending Saturday afternoon at BMO Field, where quarterback James Franklin put up a surprising W in his first start in Ricky Ray’s stead. Total for two home dates in TROT: 28,656. Seriously, how long can the Argos stay in business? And should those of us in the colonies care?

It’s 11 a.m., does Senators Nation know where Erik Karlsson is?

Aside to any National Hockey League outfit that might be contemplating a contract offer for wife-beating, disgraced defenceman Slava Voynov: Just say “no” to Slava.

Why is it that when any of our baseball, football or hockey teams prevent a foe from scoring, we call it “a shutout” but soccer people call it “a clean sheet?”

Neymar

Does anybody miss the Neymar dive-writhe-and-roll at the World Cup? I do. The Brazilian’s antics were comedy gold, even if his thespian skills are suspect. Jim Calder, acting coach from the University of New York, provided the New York Times with this critique: “Neymar does what all beginning actors do. They oversell the event. All humans are acting. You learn when you’re a baby. If I cry, my mother will come over. If I cry, this guy will get a red card. It’s the same thing.”

I note that Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are talking about a mano-a-mano, winner-take-all $10-million challenge in Las Vegas. Apparently, both golf legends have agreed to a special concession that allows ol’ Lefty to hire English goalkeeper Jordan Pickford as his caddy. Pickford won’t be carrying Mickelson’s clubs, though. His sole duty will be to block any of Phil’s putts that roll past the hole and are in danger of skidding off the green.

What’s the over/under on how many restricted free agents Kevin Cheveldayoff will sign this week? Three? I have a hunch the Winnipeg Jets general manager will deal with most of his pertinent paper work swiftly, and that includes Jacob Trouba.

Milos Raonic

I’ve read and heard a lot about how Denis Shapovalov had usurped Milos Raonic as Canada’s top tennis player, an assessment based solely on one match between the two and the world tennis rankings. But look who’s still playing at Wimbledon. That’s right, Raonic, not Shapo, who can’t advance through the second round of any tournament that matters. I never bought into the Shapo over-hype. He’s a terrific, young talent (although far too geeked-up on court for my tastes). He might be the best tennis talent every produced in our country. But, for now, the kid’s still on training wheels. The gushing last year after wins over Rafa Nadal and Juan Martin del Potro should have been tempered.

TSN just won’t let the Johnny Manziel narrative go. In the wake of the CFL’s four Week 4 matches, there was plenty of fodder for interesting chatter, but not at TSN. Rather than talk about quarterbacks who actually played in the games, it always has been and, apparently, always will be about the Hamilton Tiger-Cats backup QB for TSN’s gab guys. Thus, Frick and Frack (more commonly know as Jay and Dan) invited football insider Dave Naylor to their show for something they call the Nayl Gun. Here’s how it went:

Dan: “At this pace, I don’t see Johnny Manziel hitting the field at all for the Ticats.”

Naylor: “I’ll tell ya, if you’d taken a hundred people who’ve studied the Ticats quarterback situation and said, ‘Do you think they’ll get to the bye week without Johnny Manziel taking a snap?’ a hundred people would have told you ‘No way’ and I’d have been to the front of the line. Look Jeremiah Masoli played really well, he’s had three 300-yard games, four 300-yard games, but the one issue that I think has been there, there’s been two games—Week 1 in Calgary and the other night in Saskatchewan—you know, he had the ball in his hands late in the game, down by less than a touchdown, and he couldn’t produce a win. Until he does that, I think there’s still gonna be a lot of scrutiny over his play. Will Johnny Manziel go through the year without getting on the field? No way. He’s gonna play at some point, and I think we’re getting close to that time. Is it possible he doesn’t start all season? I do think that’s possible because Jeremiah Masoli has earned the right to stay as the Ticats starter.”

Jay: “What do you think is more likely…gonna throw you a quick one here…more likely that he plays for the Tabbies this season or gets traded at some point this season?”

Jeremiah Masoli

Naylor: “I think it’s far more likely he plays. Look, if we get to the end of this year and Jeremiah Masoli puts up the kind of numbers he put through the first four weeks, I think we will see a trade in the off-season. And I think there’s an understanding, ‘Hey, Johnny Manziel committed for two years in the Canadian Football League,’ but after a year of backing up, the Ticats would owe it to him to either trade Jeremiah Masoli or to trade him to somewhere where he can get on the field. So, I think a trade this season, highly unlikely, a trade within the division ever is unlikely, but can I see him traded out west or Masoli traded out west after the year? Ya I could.”

Yo! Boys! It ain’t news until Johnny Rotten actually takes a snap. Until then, talk about the guys who are, as Matt Dunigan would say, gettin’ ‘er done.

And, finally, this week’s CFL power rankings:

1. Calgary (3-0): Only unbeaten outfit will be tested by the RedBlacks in Ottawa.
2. Winnipeg (2-2): Highest scoring outfit in the league, and defence stepped up vs. B.C.
3. Ottawa (2-1): We’ll know if RedBlacks are the real deal this week.
4. Hamilton (2-2): Seriously? A loss to the Roughriders?
5. Edmonton (2-2): Seriously? A loss to the Argonauts?
6. Saskatchewan: (2-2): I don’t care if they beat the Ticats; Chris Jones has created a mess.
7. B.C. (1-2): Quarterback issues aren’t going away.
8. Toronto (1-2): The win over the Eskimos is an anomoly.
9. Montreal (1-3): Really bad in either official language.

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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 P.K. Subban, boo birds and ‘laughably stupid’ tweets…the Boston Licker…an NHL rule book that ain’t worth a lick…when is a hot dog not a hot dog?…Burkie is boffo on Sportsnet…hi, ho silver—away with those Swedish ingrates!…a parting gift for the Sedin twins…soccer’s Stone Age, the Age of Enlightenment in the NBA…and jock journos in the Republic of Tranna making a big deal out of a drip named Drake.

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

Dr. Phillip McGraw, Host, Dr. Phil

I opened a newspaper the other day and a Dr. Phil show broke out.

Seriously. I went directly to Section D of the Winnipeg Free Press to read Paul Wiecek’s column, figuring the oft-snarky scribe might have something contentious to say about the Winnipeg Jets-Nashville Predators engagement in the National Hockey League playoffs, and instead I found 1,200 words devoted to the optics of a hostile, white-skinned, white-clad mob numbering 15,000-plus raining boos, obscenities and taunts upon a black man.

Apparently, that’s not a good look. Apparently, it conjures KKK imagery of torch-bearing men adorned in white bed sheets and pillow cases, and burning crosses in a remote setting. And the people on Twitter who actually believe this are “laughably stupid,” as Wiecek accurately describes them.

Well, let me say this about all that: There are times when I read or hear something that makes me say, “Stop the world, I want to get off!” Most Jimmy Fallon monologues do that to me. Most Donald Trump tweets do that to me. And so did that Wiecek column. Made me want to call up Oprah and ask her to haul her couch out of storage so we could have a sit-down.

P.K. Subban

I mean, really? Some among the Twitter rabble cringe at the thought of outriders viewing Good, Ol’ Hometown as racist should the faithful in The Little Hockey House On The Prairie boo P.K. Subban of the Predators? This is Mississippi Burning visits Manitoba?

Sorry, but that’s a bigger stretch than the waistband on a pair of Charles Barkley’s old pants.

Wiecek writes “in the normal course of events, stupid things get said on Twitter all the time.” He’s correct. He adds that he is “loathe to give any of it further oxygen.” Yet he gives this racist “optics” nonsense 1,200 words worth of oxygen in a post-game column.

I wouldn’t describe that as “laughably stupid,” but it is stupid.

We now know that Brad Marchand is a serial licker. He has the most famous tongue this side of a Rolling Stones album or a KISS concert. And I can’t stop laughing about it. Don’t get me wrong. Uninvited licking is icky. I wouldn’t want Marchand’s tongue anywhere near me. He creeps me out. Totally. I’d rather have Roseanne slip me the tongue (trust me, I’m cringing at that thought). It’s just that this entire Boston Licker thing is so gob-smackingly absurd that my warped sense of humor keeps kicking in. I mean, think about it. When Marchand’s kid says, “My dad can lick your dad!” to another kid in the playground, he really means it. Literally.

The NHL, of course, has been in full howl since Marchand used Ryan Callahan’s face for a lollipop on Friday night (that after laying a licking on Leo Komarov’s neck in an earlier playoff game), and it’s been an outrage normally reserved for truly heinous crimes. The Boston Licker has become Beantown’s most notorious no-goodnik since Albert DeSalvo copped to the Boston Strangler slayings. The thing is, licking is such an unspeakable atrocity that NHL mucky-mucks didn’t think to include it in the 218 pages of their rule book. Spitting is in there. Hair-pulling is. Biting is. Cussing is. But not licking. Which only confirms what many of us have been saying during the mayhem that is the current Stanley Cup tournament—the NHL rule book ain’t worth a lick.

Apparently, it’s unanimous: Marchand should stop licking people. Even that Boston Bruins-loving blowhard on Hockey Night in Canada, Don Cherry, agrees. “Kids, you never do this,” was his sermon from the bully pit on Saturday night. “Gotta stop that nonsense. A kiss is all right, but…” No, Grapes, a kiss is not “all right.” Marchand needs to keep his lips and tongue to himself.

The Big Buff dance.

So, let me see if I’ve got this straight: When P.K. Subban breaks into dance after scoring a goal in the Jets-Preds NHL playoff skirmish, he’s a self-serving showboat. A hot dog dripping with mustard. But when Dustin Byfuglien of Club de Hockey Winnipeg does a post-goal jig, it’s just so gosh-darned cute because, hey, that’s just big, warm-and-fuzzy Buff being big, warm-and-fuzzy Buff. Sorry, folks, you can’t have it both ways. Hey, I’m no fan of Subban’s theatrics. As a Shakesperean actor, he makes a fine hockey player. But I don’t see how anyone can condemn him for having fun.

Brian Burke

Hockey Central at Noon last Thursday was boffo. Best episode. Ever. Joining host Daren Millard on the panel were Brian Burke and Doug MacLean, two been-there, done-that former NHL general managers who engaged in banter that was humorous, insightful, revealing, raw and sincere. Basically, it was Millard lending an ear to two crusty, ol’ boys spinning yarns. Man, this was some kind of good chatter. So much more enjoyable than the pontifical natterings of Damien Cox and the gatling-gun prattling of Todd Hlushko (stop and take a breath once in a while, man). It reminded me of the old days, sitting in the bowels of the Winnipeg Arena and listening to local bird dogs like Bruce Cheatley, Billy Robinson, Dino Ball and Jimmy Walker talk hockey and swap lies. Good times.

Bringing “Burkie” on board as a talking head was a thumbs-up move by Sportsnet, and I have to believe it’s driving Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna bonkers. “I get disappointed when I see Bill Parcells or Jim Rice or John Tortorella or others who have treated the media with a certain disdain winding up in media positions on television or radio,” he wrote not so long ago when crapping on Marc Savard’s appearance as a gab guy on Sportsnet. “If you don’t care for media, I’ve always thought, don’t be part of it.” Well, okay. Except Simmons treats many of the athletes/coaches (e.g. Kevin Durant, John Farrell, Venus Williams) and sports (e.g. curling, figure skating, women’s hockey, 3-on-3 hoops) he writes about with complete disdain. If you don’t care about the athletes/coaches and sports you write about, Steve, don’t be part of it.

Lias Andersson: Take this silver medal and shove it.

So, the International Ice Hockey Federation has suspended five players and three coaches with Sweden’s national Junior side for the dastardly deed of displaying frustration. Oh, yes, the Swedes had the bad manners to remove silver trinkets from their necks at the most-recent world junior championships, and captain Lias Andersson, who hucked his medal into the stands in Buffalo, received the harshest slap on the wrist. The IIHF has grounded him for four games. “To be ‘frustrated’ by the loss of a game is not the right attitude,” some mucky-muck in a suit said in a statement. I suppose that’s tough love. But I can’t help but wonder what the punishment might have been had young Lias licked someone’s face.

I say the King Clancy Memorial Trophy would be a lovely, also fitting, parting gift for Henrik and Daniel Sedin, and I’d also say you can make book on the Swedish twins walking off stage with the bauble at the NHL awards shindig in Glitter Gulch next month. P.K. Subban and Jason Zucker are the other finalists for the Clancy trinket, which salutes leadership qualities on and off the ice and humanitarian contribution to community, but I have to think the Sedins’ retirement swayed voters.

Stephanie Labbé

Stephanie Labbé has been told by the Premier Development League to take her soccer ball and go home. The reason? She’s a she. One of our national women’s team keepers with 49 caps, the 31-year-old Labbé is good enough to earn a spot on the Calgary Foothills FC roster, but the PDL will have none of it. No penis, no play. So I ask: What year is this? 2018 or 1918?

But wait. It must be 2018, at least in basketball, because the Milwaukee Bucks plan to interview Becky Hammon for their vacant head coaching position. She, like Labbé, is a she. The Bucks apparently don’t care. They’re only interested in ability. Hammon has been apprenticing as an assistant coach with Gregg Popovich’s San Antonio Spurs since 2014, and that’s good enough for the Bucks to take a look-see at her resumé and have a chin-wag. Good on them.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

I’m not really into hoops and haven’t harbored a rooting interest since my main man Kareem dropped his final sky hook for the Los Angeles Lakers, so I truly don’t give a damn how much of an ass clown the hip-hop artist/rapper known as Drake makes of himself as the Tranna Raptors’ unofficial court jester.

I mean, to me, the high-profile groupie’s hissing contest with Kendrick Perkins during and after Game 1 of the Raptors-Cleveland LeBrons playoff joust was a meh moment. Nothing to see here, folks. Just another puffed-up, self-inflated celebrity who’s entranced by himself and believes it’s all about him. Ignore him.

Except that’s not how media in the Republic of Tranna play it with the National Basketball Association’s celeb buffoon. To them, Drake is very much a “thing.” They can’t ignore him. They are the flies to his cow paddy.

Drake

Like, never mind DeMar DeRozan, Serge Ibaka and the Raptors’ collective faceplant in Game 1, followed by their total surrender in Game 2. Drake was in the house, don’t you know? Got into a gob-knocker with Kendrick Perkins. Talked smack. Huffed and puffed. Nasty stuff. He then received a tsk-tsking from the NBA and was told to go to his room. By the time he slinked back into the Air Canada Centre for the second Raps-Cavaliers go-round, Drake was as quiet as a church mouse tippy-toeing on cotton. All of which inspired Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna, Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail, and Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star to make Drake the central point of their off-day analysis.

Drake

Here’s a portion of Simmons’ alphabet fart: “The Raptors’ global ambassador is becoming a global embarrassment. This isn’t Drake’s time or place to get in the way. He has become an annoyance, even by his own rather distinguished annoying standards, even if the Raptors don’t necessarily view it that way. This is his time to sit down, shut up, stop posing for the cameras and acting like you’re part of the show.”

Here’s Feschuk: “Beginning with Game 2, (the Raptors) need to play with a lot less ‘we’re-not-worthy’ self-doubt and a lot more Drake-esque ‘we-own-the-place’ swagger. They’re better off inhabiting the spirit of a hip-hop god than playing like they’re haunted by the ghosts of LeBron-induced failures past. This team doesn’t need to ban Drake. It needs to be a bit more like him.”

It’s all about Drake in the Republic of Tranna

And now Kelly (in mournful muse): “Among the many sad and disappointing things about Thursday’s basketball game in Toronto—basketball among them—Drake stood out. He arrived later than normal, flanked by bodyguards. He came out of the tunnel laughing a little too hard and slapped more hands than usual. Over on the Cavaliers bench, his recent sparring partner, Kendrick Perkins, pretended not to notice. Drake sat down and angled his body toward the Toronto Raptors bench. And that was it. Where he would normally have stood up and started shouting, getting in Dwane Casey’s way as the coach stalked the sideline, he just sat there. No jawing with the opponents, no encouragement, no nothing. This was Toronto’s first citizen tamed. As bad a week as the Raptors had, Drake’s was more terrible in factors. Seeing him brought low for the sin of caring too much, of embarrassing the rest of us by showing it, of being so damned Canadian pains me.”

Talk about people making ass clowns of themselves.

About racism, Winnipeg and Evander Kane…Puck Finn and the Great One…the Jets and the Nashville Model…the odds on Tiger…eyes on the Raptors…a girl in goal…Tebow time is over…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…

See? Evander Kane was right all along.

He wasn’t the problem.

Blame the Buffalo cops, who slapped the cuffs on Evander Kane.

It was all those ungrateful, green-with-envy restaurant workers and (especially) those nasty racists in Winnipeg. And it was those young, gold-digging women in Buffalo who kept calling the cops and accusing him of sexual assault. And it was those same cops who clapped the cuffs on him—in broad daylight on a downtown Buffalo street, no less—and hauled his sorry butt to the hoosegow. They were white, ergo racist.

That’s why Kane never blossomed into the National Hockey League mega-star that so many of the faithful expected (hoped?) him to become.

Well just look at our old friend now.

Kane has landed in a city, San Jose, where (apparently) there isn’t someone wearing a white bedsheet and a KKK hood hiding behind every lamp post. The citizenry is, according to Paul Gackle of the San Jose Mercury News, recognized for “ethnic diversity and lefty politics.” Also significant: “Less than 30 per cent of its population is white.”

And—as if on cue—presto! Kane has his first NHL hat trick. Four goals in one game, in fact. Five in nine.

It’s great that San Jose is so diverse,” the former Winnipeg Jets/Buffalo Sabres and freshly minted Sharks winger told Gackle just last week. “I’ve heard nothing but positive things.”

Donald Williams Jr. leaving the courthouse with his mother.

I guess Kane missed the memo about Donald Williams Jr.

He was a 17-year-old black freshman and the victim of a chilling campaign of racism at San Jose State University. Three white dorm roommates terrorized Williams Jr., dropping N-bombs, calling him “fraction,” posting pictures of Adolph Hitler, flaunting the Confederate flag and, most alarming, they clamped a U-shaped bicycle lock around his neck and told him they lost the key. That went on for three months. The white boys insisted it was a college prank and, alarmingly, a jury agreed, finding the roommates guilty of misdemeanor battery but clearing one on a hate-crime charge and failing to reach a verdict on the other two. Oh, did I fail to mention that it was an all-white jury?

I don’t recall anything like that happening at the University of Winnipeg or University of Manitoba.

Ironically, the Williams Jr. torment occurred in 2013, about the same time Kane was telling The Hockey News that much of the criticism directed his way in Winnipeg was “because I’m black, and I’m not afraid to say that. I do think that’s true. Absolutely.”

Indeed, Gackle writes about “the racial issues that Kane confronted with the Jets,” but he leans heavily on race and goes light on substance. That is to say, not once does he provide anecdotal evidence in his Mercury News article to support his supposition. Furthermore, to the best of my knowledge, Kane has never supplied one morsel of detailed testimony to confirm that racism was at the root of his trouble in River City. At best, he’s muttered about the horrors of “social media and that sort of stuff.”

That from a guy who once tweeted that Chris Bosh “looked like a fairy” during a National Basketball Association playoff game. Before delivering a mea culpa for that anti-gay slur, Kane scoffed at anyone who took offence, advising them that his comment was “real talk.” So, ya, he knows all about the sewage that pours out of people hiding behind a computer keyboard. He’s contributed to it.

Look, I don’t doubt Kane has experienced racism and/or bigotry on social media. What minority hasn’t? Try being a female jock journalist. Or gay? Or transgender.

None of this is to suggest racism doesn’t exist in Winnipeg. We all know it does. Bigotry too. I just think it’s time that Evander Kane stopped playing the race card and just played hockey.

San Jose State University students protest ruling in Donald Williams Jr. case.

The headline on Gackle’s article in the Mercury News was pure click bait: “Racism, Winnipeg and why the Sharks are a good fit for Evander Kane.” But, then, that’s what a headline is supposed to do. As for the writer, Gackle pointed out that racism isn’t “just a Winnipeg thing,” but he still wasn’t about to let the facts get in the way of his slanted story. He eagerly painted River City as a bedrock of racism and, at the same time, presented San Jose as lily white in soul, if not skin color, yet he not only ignored the aforementioned Donald Williams Jr. case, he also made no mention of a September 2016 circumstance, whereby swastikas and anti-semitic language were discovered in two resident halls at San Jose State University. That led to another investigation of a hate crime. Had Gackle included those two incidents, he had no story.

Wayne Gretzky

Speaking of scribes and facts, Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press is dealing in inaccuracies when he writes this about Jets sophomore sensation Patrik Laine: “So what does (a contract) extension look like for a 19-year-old who has 41 goals in his second season in the NHL and has already scored more often at this point in his career than Wayne Gretzky?” Fact check: To date, Puck Finn has lit the lamp 79 times. He has 132 points. Gretzky, meanwhile, had 106 (51, 55) goals and 301 (137, 164) points in his first two NHL crusades. Thus, Laine needs 27 goals and 169 points in the Jets final 10 games to equal Gretzky’s totals. Just the facts, ma’am…just the facts. It’s not hard to look ’em up.

Mark Chipman: Following the Nashville blueprint.

Wiecek also makes the strong case that the Jets are modeled after the Chicago Blackhawks, but didn’t Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman make it clear from the outset that his franchise was using the Nashville Predators’ blueprint? Well, yes…yes he did. “That may sound strange to people in Winnipeg, that Nashville’s a team we’ve looked carefully at,” the Jets co-bankroll told news snoops in the spring of 2012. “They’ve done it methodically, 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.” As it turns out, Nashville South and Nashville North (in the hockey sense) soon might be arguing over Central Division bragging rights in the second round of the Stanley Cup tournament.

Tiger Woods

So, people are watching golf again now that Tiger Woods can get out of bed without taking a mulligan, and Las Vegas bookies are mightily impressed. So much so that LV SuperBook had Tiger listed last Wednesday as the 8-1 favorite to win next month’s Masters tournament. It’s a fool’s bet. As well as Woods performed in the recent Valspar Championship and in the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Sunday, he won’t win an event that includes Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Jon Rahm, Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson. That’s where my money would go.

Bond…James Bond

I’m advised that last Friday’s joust between National Basketball Association titans, the Tranna Raptors and Houston Rockets, was watched, in whole or in part, by 1.7 million Canadians. Never before have that many eyeballs been glued to Tranna’s hoopsters for a regular-season game. “The excitement for the Raptors is clearly building right across the country,” gushed Scott Moore, president of Sportsnet. I suppose we’ll have to take his word for it, but I’d like to see a regional breakdown of viewer numbers before I’m convinced that anyone west of Mississauga and east of the Ontario-Quebec boundary is watching the Raptors. Personally, I’ve never seen five minutes of a Raptors game. Mind you, I’ve never seen an episode of Star Trek or a James Bond movie, either, so perhaps I’ll add all three to my bucket list. If I had a bucket list, that is.

Stephanie Labbe

Canadian women’s national team keeper Stephanie Labbe is attempting to crack the roster of the Calgary Foothills, a men’s under-23 outfit in soccer’s Premier Development League. “I’m not a female soccer player, I’m just a soccer player,” she says. Unfortunately, even in 2018, that’s not how others will look at it. I mean, a rainbow trout can shout “I’m not a rainbow trout, I’m just a trout,” but fishers are still going to see a rainbow trout. The important thing—and all that really matters—is that management and Labbe’s fellow players treat her as “just a soccer player.” Bonne chance to her.

Tim Tebow

Is the Tim Tebow carnival sideshow on or off? “I think one day he will play in the major leagues. That’s my guess,” New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said of the football-to-baseball experiment. He added that Tebow graduating to his club’s Major League Baseball roster has become a “modest expectation.” Tebow then went 1-for-18 (.056) with 11 whiffs during seven Grapefruit League games with the Amazins. No word on whether the expectation has been downgraded from “modest” to “it ain’t never gonna happen,” but I saw the former Heisman Trophy winner twice this spring and it seems to me he’s a guy with a future as a college football broadcaster, not in Mets outfield.

Jill Officer and Jennifer Jones

Canada’s reps at the world women’s curling championship are Jennifer Jones and her gal pals from the St. Vital Club in River City, and neither local newspaper has feet on the ground in North Bay. I’ve come to expect that from the Winnipeg Sun, which was truant at this year’s Brier and Scotties Tournament of Hearts, but I’m surprised that the Freep would give the worlds a pass. Especially since this is last call for the legendary hall of fame tandem of Jones and longtime second Jill Officer, who steps away from the team as a full-time curler at season’s end.

Euclid Cummings

And, finally, this week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: “Don’t like the fact the CFL voids contracts after players are charged with a crime. Being charged is one thing. Being convicted is another. CFL shouldn’t play judge and jury here with people’s lives.” So, Euclid Cummings is facing two counts of sexual assault, one count of assault and one count of uttering a threat to cause death or bodily harm, and Simmons believes the Canadian Football League is wrong for telling the B.C. Lions that the defensive lineman is persona non grata. I suppose we ought not be surprised. Simmons, after all, also believes Johnny Manziel, who beat up his former girl friend more than once, would be a swell addition to the CFL. Perhaps he’d like the three-down league to make room for Ray Rice as well.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers-Saskatchewan Roughriders: Hey, spit happens, so let’s not lose our heads here (except maybe Gainer)

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

Duron Carter: Spit happens.

Duron Carter is spittin’ mad. Gainer the Gopher is losing his head. Rod Pedersen wants to call the cops. And Doug Brown is so PO’d that he almost forgot his thesaurus at home.

Where to begin?

Well, let’s start with Carter, a Canadian Football League pass-catching marvel whose strings are sometimes pulled a tad too tight and apt to snap at any second. Seems Chris Carter’s lad was engaged in some post-joust schmoozing with the Saskatchewan Roughriders faithful on Saturday afternoon at Taylor Field in Regina, scant seconds after Gang Green had rag-dolled the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, 38-24, when out of the blue (and gold) someone launched a loogie.

Splat!

A trash ass Bombers fan spit on me…worst fans in the league…can’t wait to kick y’all ass again!” griped Carter, who describes himself on his Twitter account as an “expert level troll.”

Thus, he continued trolling.

Gainer: Going out of his head.

The worst part about it, he definitely didn’t brush his teeth in about 20 years!!!” Carter ranted. “Who knows what creepy crawlers were hiding in there!!! The old me would have dragged him to the 50 yard line and gave him a beating like his parents failed to do in 1955.”

Whew. That’s a lot to absorb.

First of all, we know Carter must be some kind of ticked off because he used seven exclamation points!!!!!!! That’s a serious mad-on!!!!!!! Second, while some accuse the Riders wideout of fabricating the spitting story, I believe him. Yup, I’m convinced that a Bombers loyalist did, indeed, unload a loogie on Carter because he said the guy hadn’t brushed his “teeth” in 20 years. Had it been a Riders fan, he would have said the guy hadn’t brushed his “tooth” in 20 years.

Meanwhile, Gang Green play-by-play squawker Rod Pedersen, in a classic case of over-the-top hyperbole, went all drama queen in rallying to Carter’s side in Gobgate.

I think spitting on anyone is the most heinous act that anybody can commit, in sports or in society,” Pedersen spat.

Well, yes. There’s something sinful in saliva if used as a weapon. Still, it’s a most curious bit of logic from Pedersen. I mean, most of us in the rest of the country would place crimes like rape, murder, pedophilia and human trafficking higher on the heinous metre than unleashing a loogie. Must be a Saskatchewan thing.

Pederson also lashed out at a Bomber-ite who, in a shocking display of bad manners from a house guest, attempted to yank the head off the Riders prairie dog mascot, Gainer the Gopher. Gab guy Rod described the incident as a “disturbing act of violence” and, when asked if the long arm of the law ought to reach out and charge the cad with assault, he replied, “absolutely.”

Which brings us to Doug Brown, a former Bombers defensive lineman who sits in the CJOB booth during broadcasts and also scribbles a weekly column for the Winnipeg Free Press.

Chris Jones: A cheater, cheater pumpkin eater?

Brown wants you all to know that Chris Jones is a dirty, rotten scoundrel. A cheater, cheater pumpkin-eater. How so? Well, the Riders head coach apparently has a defensive front four that includes Ronaldo, Neymar, Arjen Robben and Luis Suarez, lads notorious for pulling up lame or slipping into their death throes whenever inconvenienced on the soccer pitch. Same thing with the Riders. The moment the Bombers choose to shift into their no-huddle offence, down goes a Gang Green D-man. Gut shot. And laughing.

These clearly are faux fallen foes and Brown describes the tactic as “a B.S. manoeuvre.” Jones has arrived at an “all-time low in coaching malfeasance.” Yes, he actually used the word malfeasance. No sports scribe I know uses the word malfeasance. Ever. Most would write about wrong-doing or hanky-panky or coaching chicanery, but not our Doug. He has a thesaurus.

What does it all add up to? Hey, spit happens. Which ought to make for an interesting week in advance of the Banjo Bowl on Saturday afternoon at Formerly Football Follies Field in Fort Garry, where the Bombers and Riders will do it all over again.

I thought it was awful sporting of game officials and the CFL command centre to basically hand the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, now 1-8, their first win of the season on Monday at Timbits Field. Three absolutely atrocious calls late in the fourth quarter—a fumble that was ruled an incomplete pass; a 15-yard no-yards penalty that never should have drawn a flag; and a pass ruled complete when the ball obviously bounced to Luke Tasker—all went in favor of the Tabbies, who topped the Toronto Argonauts, 24-22, in a dreadful match delayed two hours and eight minutes due to a thunder-and-lightning storm. And we won’t even mention the fact that timekeepers twice were instructed to add time on the clock because they allowed it to run after play had stopped. This was one for the conspiracy theorists.

Say, who was that guy delivering pizza to the press box during the storm stoppage at Timbits? Why, it was CFL commish Randy Ambrosie. Nice touch. Not that sports scribes need an extra injection of pasta and carbs, but still a nice touch.

Well, Jay and Dan made their much-anticipated return to late-night Sports Centre on TSN shortly after the football game. My take: New set, same old silliness. But it works for them and their faithful. Meanwhile, The Reporters with Dave Hodge returns to TSN’s air on Sunday, and I’m assuming the usual suspects—Bruce Arthur, Michael Farber and Steve Simmons—will join Hodge to sit at a table and agree with each other. Just wondering: If those four guys were The Beatles, which one would be Ringo? I’d have to say Simmons.

The Beatles

Which brings me to today’s top five—my five favorite Beatles tunes…
1. A Day In the Life: Totally brilliant.
2. I Am the Walrus: An astonishing psychedelic journey of incredible lyrical imagery. There’s “yellow matter custard dripping from a dead dog’s eye” and a naughty girl who “let her knickers down” and “man you should have seen them kicking Edgar Allan Poe.”
3. Hey Bulldog: George and Paul get after it on the guitar.
4. Rocky Raccoon: Her name was Magill and she called herself Lil, but everyone knew her as Nancy.
5. You Know My Name (Look Up the Number): Way, way out there. The lads are having us on.

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 Winnipeg Blue Bombers Coach D’oh!…an odd final round at Royal Birkdale…gay female athletes dating…pretty on the tennis court…and why don’t some guys just shut up?

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

I’m not sure what happens to Mike O’Shea when he gets to B.C. Place Stadium.

Coach D’oh

Maybe it’s the drinking water. Ya, that’s it. Someone is spiking his H2O with mind-altering drugs, because it’s become evident that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach is seeing things that aren’t there. I mean, the rest of us see an impossible 61-yard field goal attempt, but O’Shea sees a ho-hum chip shot. We see Justin Medlock as a punter/place-kicker, but O’Shea sees him as Dieter Brock or Kenny Ploen.

He’s delusional like the Nevada Parole Board.

Mind you, nobody can accuse the Bombers sideline steward of being a one-trick pony.

He did, after all, give us two displays of hocus-pocus for the price of one on Friday night in Vancouver. Trouble is, an argument can be made that O’Shea’s smoke and mirrors is the main reason the Bombers were found wanting in their Canadian Football League skirmish with the B.C. Lions.

Yes, I’m aware that a fake field goal was executed to perfection and resulted in seven points. Kudos for venturesome and creative football. Alas, we were also reminded that there’s a time and place for sleight of hand, and midway through the fourth quarter—on third-and-15 with the ball nestled on your own 26-yard stripe!—is neither the time nor the place for Justin Medlock to be passing instead of punting.

Unless, of course, you’re Coach D’oh and you’re hallucinating.

O’Shea’s fourth-quarter brain cramp also resulted in points. Eight of them. For the Lions, who were less into gimmickry and more into gutting it out while turning a 15-point deficit into a 45-42 success.

Go ahead and give O’Shea full marks for his daring if you like. It can be get-out-of-your-seat exciting. But it’s folly for a head coach to double dog dare himself into making dumb decisions, which seems to now be the rule rather than the exception for the Bombers puppet master on the Wet Coast.

Justin Medlock

It’s all about picking your spots, and when O’Shea allowed Medlock to pass rather than punt while nursing an eight-point lead on Friday he picked the wrong spot.

We don’t think of them as trick plays,” he advised news snoops after the fact. “They’re well designed and well thought out and well executed by the players that buy into that.”

Well, okay. Except receiver Derek Jones must have missed the memo, because he had his back turned to Medlock’s wonky pass on the “called play.”

It was just dumb, dumb, dumb.

So, was the faux punt really a “called play” as O’Shea insists or was it a Medlock ad lib? “I’ll take the blame for it,” Medlock said post-gaffe. “Whatever comes if it, I’m not going to sit here and point fingers.” And I’ll take that to mean someone else screwed up. In either case, it still comes down to coaching. Football is very much a situational game, and an alert coach doesn’t permit his punter to fiddle fart around when it’s third-and-15 at the 26-yard stripe while nursing an eight-point lead with slightly more than eight minutes to play.

A few words about the final round of the Open golf championship Sunday at the Royal Birkdale in Southport, England: Brutal and brilliant. Ragged and remarkable. Seriously. Champion golfer of the year Jordan Spieth was all over the British Isles through the first four holes, carding three bogeys, and his tee shot on 13 hole was so far off the mark that the ball almost landed in Ireland. It took him half an hour to complete the hole. Then he goes birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie in less time than it takes to whip up a full English breakfast. Incredible. What I like most about Spieth, who now has a collection of three Grand Slam titles, is his manner: He seems like a lovely, young man.

Garbine Muguruza

Attention Politically Correct Police: If sports scribes choose to describe ascending tennis star Garbine Muguruza as pretty or sexy, spare us your squawking because they have her blessing. “I see a lot of criticism sometimes when a sportswoman wants to feel pretty on the court,” the reigning Wimbledon and 2016 French Open ladies’ champion says. “I want to feel pretty out there, I’m going to feel more comfortable and confident if I have a beautiful dress on. It doesn’t go against being an athlete.” So there. Don’t scream sexism when a jock journo writes about her appearance.

Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird, at 36 the oldest player in the Women’s National Basketball Association, tells ESPNW magazine that she’s a lesbian and, except for the fact she’s dating American soccer star Megan Rapinoe, it’s a ho-hum revelation. There’s a reason for that: Gay female athletes at the highest echelons are commonplace, whereas their male counterparts are about half a century behind when it comes to acceptance and inclusiveness. Both Bird and Rapinoe, by the way, are Olympic gold medallists, further evidence that having gays on a team roster is not an impediment to success.

The quote machine has gone into overdrive the past couple of weeks, and much of it has been painful to hear and read. For example…

  • Boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. said this about Conor McGregor, his opponent in an Aug. 26 bout: “He totally disrespected black women. He called black people monkeys. Then he spoke disrespectfully to my daughter’s mother and he spoke disrespectfully to my daughter.” Yo! Floyd! You’re a serial woman-beater. You’ve gone to jail for beating up women. Don’t talk to us about disrespecting women.

  • Former National Football League quarterback Michael Vick had these words of advice for blackballed QB Colin Kaepernick: “(The) first thing we got to get Colin to do is cut his hair. I’m not here trying to be politcially correct, but, even if he puts cornrows in there, I don’t think he should represent himself in that way. The most important thing he needs to do is just try and be presentable. He may need a life coach.” Yo! Mikey! You used to torture and kill dogs in a dog-fighting operation. You went to jail for torturing and killing dogs. Don’t talk to us about life coaches.

  • Unconvicted killer and convicted armed robber O.J. Simpson said this while sweet-talking four members of the Nevada Parole Board into granting him his freedom after almost nine years behind bars: “I basically spent a conflict-free life,” and “No one ever accused me of pulling a weapon on them.” Yo! Juice! You beat your ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson so severely one night that she was taken to hospital, you hacked her and friend Ron Goldman to death, you robbed people at gunpoint. Don’t talk to us about non-conflict and deadly weapons.

Frankly, while wooing the Nevada parole commissioners, I’m surprised the dreadful Simpson didn’t tell them that he absolutely had to get out of jail to resume his bogus search “for the real killers” of his ex-wife and friend. No doubt he’ll resume his search on the first tee of some swanky golf course in Florida. What a disingenuous, deplorable cad.

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.