About the Toronto Argonauts being no laughing matter…CFL shrinkage…a mad hatter at bluebombers.com…pigskin prayer power…when Michael Sam was the man…CFL power rankings…greybeard golf…and other things on my mind

One fried egg-and-cheese sandwich on whole wheat toast and some leftover thoughts for a Monday morning breakfast

It has occurred to me, and many others, that we might be witnessing the death throes of the Toronto Argonauts—the franchise, if not this year’s on-field product.

BMO Field when Toronto FC is playing.

I mean, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment’s motto is “Bringing The World To Its Feet,” but very few of those feet are parading to BMO Field. Unless, of course, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Sebastian Giovinco and friends are having a kick-about.

Oh, yes, they love their footy in the Republic of Tranna. Red-clad, scarf-wearing locals traipse to BMO Field whenever Toronto FC is in frolic, and it matters little that the level of play in Major League Soccer isn’t a match for the English Premier League, the Bundesliga in Germany, Serie A in Italy, or Spain’s La Liga. Fitba is a “happening” in the ROT, and the Reds are averaging 26,591 customers this year, marginally down from a 27,647 head count in 2017.

The Argos, on the other hand, they’re a “happening” like the Don River is the Pacific Ocean.

BMO Field when the Argos are playing.

How sparse are the audiences when the Boatmen are grabbing the real and fake grass at BMO Field? I’ve seen more circus clowns squeeze into a Volkswagen Beetle. The winner of the 50/50 draw at the last home game was later seen asking Yonge Street panhandlers for spare change.

We tend to joke about stuff like that because, let’s face it, cracking wise about The 6ix is what those of us who dwell in the colonies do. The ROT is always good for cheap laughs, whether it’s Drake making an ass clown of himself at a Raptors game, Premier Buck-a-Beer promising cheap suds, or the Maple Leafs’ 51st annual retooling season.

This Argos business, however, isn’t yuk-it-up material. Not if you’re a fan of the Canadian Football League.

I started following three-down football in the 1950s. Most of my heroes wore the blue-and-gold linen of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, but Dick Shatto, adorned in the double blue of the Boatmen, was among my favorite players. He was so smooth, and an impossibly handsome man. I remember reading about Tobin Rote, the gunslinger of a quarterback, and Cookie Gilchrist, the fierce and feared running back. I watched them intently, and with much admiration and awe, whenever the Argos appeared on the black-and-white screen of our rabbit-eared TV.

That’s why it pains me to see an ocean of unoccupied seats at BMO Field on Argos game nights/days.

In their 2017 crusade, the Boatmen attracted an average of 13,913 customers. This year the head count is worse—12,836 average, with a low-water mark of 10,844 for a visit from the Bombers. That’s cringeworthy, also alarming, and the hit to MLSE’s bottom line must be substantial.

I’ve never completely bought into the argument that the CFL absolutely needs the ROT to survive, and I’m confident that western football can exist without it. I will, however, submit that the three-down enterprise is much better with a robust Argos franchise in the mix. It would be a shame if MLSE chose to tap out.

After all, if not for the Argos, what would we have to laugh about in the summer and autumn? Oh, that’s right…there’s always the Blue Jays.

Damien Cox of the Toronto Star/Sportsnet posted this tweet last week after 35,623 folks showed up at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton for a showdown between the Eskimos and Saskatchewan Roughriders: “A crowd of less than 36,000 is the biggest in the CFL this season and is considered a big success. My goodness, this league has shrunk.” Well, yes and no. Toronto and Montreal certainly have shrunk significantly, both in attendance and size of facility. The rest of the CFL, not so much. High tide for CFL attendance arrived in 1978, when the league averaged 31,879. The Montreal Alouettes and Argos led the way with 54,471 and 46,545, respectively. This year, they’re down to 17,861 and 12,836. That’s 36,610 customers lost in Montreal and 33,709 in the ROT. That’s what you call shrinkage.

Matt Nichols and mad hatter Ed Tait.

Good bit on Bombers QB Matt Nichols by young Eddie Tait of bluebombers.com. I’m not sure if the highlight of the piece is the tale Nichols tells about almost being stuck with a huge restaurant tab while a member of the Dallas Cowboys, or young Eddie’s lid. He’s really rockin’ the funny hat. You might want to check it out.

Kirk Penton continues to crank out the good CFL stuff for The Athletic, and last week one of his insiders (a coach or GM) had this to say about the Argos switching from James Franklin to McLeod Bethel-Thompson at starting quarterback: “I have no idea if this played a role in it or not, but Franklin has a different personality. He’s not your average guy. It makes me wonder if the players have adopted him or not. He’s hugely religious.” Why would religion be part of the equation? The great Pinball Clemons is a man of deep faith, and I don’t ever recall it being a problem in his time as a player or coach with the Boatmen.

Michael Sam

It’s three years ago tomorrow that Michael Sam became the only openly gay man to perform in a CFL game. Playing rush end for the Montreal Alouettes against the Ottawa RedBlacks, he was on the field for just 12 plays, making no tackles and, quite frankly, looking as out of place as the Pope in a pub. One week later, the former St. Louis Rams draft pick walked out on the Als, citing mental health issues, and never played another down on either side of the border.

The morning after Johnny Manziel made his disastrous CFL debut, TSN had nine videos of the Alouettes QB on its main web page. Sportsnet had one. But, hey, who’s counting?

Here are this week’s CFL power rankings…

1. Calgary (7-0): The beat goes on.
2. Edmonton (5-2): Three wins vs. West outfits.
3. Winnipeg (4-3): Three wins vs. East outfits.
4. Saskatchewan (3-4): Terrell Owens anyone?
5. Hamilton (3-4): Alouettes were just what the doctor ordered.
6. Ottawa (4-3): Talk about coughing up an ugly hairball.
7. B.C. (2-4): Got screwed by a zebra, but still not good enough.
8. Toronto (2-5): What a comeback. Too bad no one cares in the Republic of Tranna.
9. Montreal (1-6): Getting worse in either official language.

Phil and Tiger

Apparently, the hokey Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson mano-a-mano, greybeard golf challenge will take place on American Thanksgiving weekend. Just what everyone will need. Another turkey.

Max Domi says the Montreal Canadiens have the “pieces it takes to win,” in the upcoming National Hockey League crusade. And he would know this how? He spent the past three seasons playing in the Arizona desert, where the Coyotes did nothing but lose.

Mark Stone

In the WTF department, the Ottawa Senators have agreed to pay Mark Stone $7.35 million to play right wing in 2018-19. That’s $1.75 million more than captain Blake Wheeler earns with the Winnipeg Jets. It’s $1.225 million more than les Jets pay Rink Rat Scheifele. How does Winnipeg general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff convince his players to sign on the cheap? Is he Reveen, the great hypnotist? Does he have damning photos? To date, only one player, Jacob Trouba, has had the strength to ward off Chevy’s mystic powers. Hard to figure.

Just wondering: Is it possible for Murat Ates of The Athletic Winnipeg to write an article on the Jets without mentioning salaries and advanced stats?

And, finally, I notice I have 312 followers on Twitter, a revelation that begat this simple question: Why? I mean, I wouldn’t follow me. But if you’re one of the 312, merci beaucoup. If you aren’t one of the 312, I don’t blame you.

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About the Secretariat of clay court tennis…a delight named Jelena…time for Chevy to get to work…and angry, old Grandpa Simmons is shaking his fist at clouds again

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

Let’s make something perfectly clear: Stan Wawrinka is very, very good and what he does.

Unless your name is Roger Federer, Stan the Man is the best tennis talent ever produced in Switzerland. He is just one successful Wimbledon fortnight short of a career Grand Slam, having already claimed the singles titles at the Australian, French and U.S. Opens. He is ranked No. 3 among all racqueteers on the third rock from the sun.

Yet Rafael Nadal made No. 3 look like No. 303 in the men’s final at the French Open on Sunday in Paris.

It was like watching Secretariat win the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths. Seriously, 6-2, 6-3, 6-1? In the championship match of a Grand Slam tournament? We haven’t seen a rout like that since Custer threw down on Crazy Horse at the Little Bighorn. Or at least since Rafa paddywhacked Federer 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 in the 2008 championship match at Roland Garros.

But that’s what Rafa Nadal does. Put him on a tennis court made of clay and you have Secretariat.

Rafa Nadal

The wedgie Rafa delivered to Wawrinka on Sunday reminded me of something Yogi Berra mused about Sandy Koufax, scant seconds after the legendary Los Angeles Dodgers lefthander had whiffed 15 New York Yankees in Game 1 of the 1963 World Series:

I can see how he won 25 games,” said Yogi, the Yankees catcher. “What I don’t understand is how he lost five.”

It’s the same with Rafa Nadal. He’s won the title at Roland Garros 10 times, collecting 79 victories against two losses. How in the name of Philippe Chatrier did he lose twice?

Robin Soderling (2009) and Novak Djokovic (2015) are the only foes to vanquish Rafa on the red clay of Roland Garros, and I have to assume French Open officials demanded that both men pee in a bottle immediately after their matches. I mean, you don’t beat Nadal in Paris unless there’s something funny in your drinking water.

Most people go to Paris for the food, the wine, the art, the culture and the romance. Nadal goes to search and destroy. He’s relentless, ruthless and has the steely-eyed focus of an assassin.

Wawrinka mentioned something about playing Rafa on a clay court being the stiffest challenge in tennis, and evidence supports that notion. Nadal has lost only twice at Roland Garros. In 13 years. He’s 102-2 in best-of-five matches on clay.

But Wawrinka is also selling the Spaniard short. It isn’t just tennis. Playing Rafael Nadal on clay is the greatest challenge in the entirety of sports.

Jelena Ostapenko

There’s hope for the future of women’s tennis, and her name is Jelena Ostapenko, the Latvian lass whose dashing and daring ruled the day at Roland Garros. The winners and unforced errors come in equal number from Ostapenko, but once she brings her service game up to the level of her groundstrokes (she hits her forehead harder than world No. 1 Andy Murray) the 20-year-old will become the face of the ladies’ game the moment Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova take their permanent leave. It isn’t just her substantial game, though. It’s her winning personality. On court, Ostapenko bares her emotions, off court she is the very picture of wide-eyed innocence, often giggling like a schoolgirl and forever smiling. She’s an absolute delight.

While watching the French Open this past fortnight, I found myself wondering this: How did Steffi Graf, Chrissie Evert, Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King and other legendary ladies’ champions win all those Grand Slam titles without the orgasmic shrieking and grunting that we hear today?

I heard a rumor that the National Hockey League season is over. If that’s true, someone give Kevin Cheveldayoff a nudge and tell the Winnipeg Jets general manager to “wakey, wakey.” It’s time for him to go to work.

I note that Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press has been tabbed for induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Roll of Honour in October. Good choice. Wiecek is the best sports columnist the Drab Slab has featured since Hal Sigurdson signed off in 1996, even when he’s writing about rock climbing.

Steve Simmons has become the Jose Bautista of sports writing: Tedious, tiresome and time to move on. I mean, it’s one thing for a columnist to be opinionated and rub the rabble the wrong way. That’s a large part of the gig. And Simmons surely has mastered the art of getting up noses with his alphabet farts that appear on sports pages of Postmedia sheets from one flank of the True North to the other. But…the Toronto Sun scribe has grown increasingly nasty and mean-spirited, if not cruel, in his commentary. He is Grandpa Simmons, shaking his fists at clouds and screaming at kids to get the hell off his lawn. A case in point is Simmons’ take on mixed doubles competition in Grand Slam tennis. When our girl Gabriela Dabrowski advanced to the mixed doubles final of the French Open last week, Mark Masters of TSN delivered this tweet: “No Canadian woman has won a mixed doubles grand slam title. Ottawa’s @GabyDabrowski has a chance to change that on Thursday.” To which Simmons responded: “Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.” I’m not sure if that was supposed to be funny, witty or clever, but it was none of the above. It was classless, tacky and totally unnecessary, as were a series of insensitive follow-up tweets belittling Dabrowski’s and partner Rohan Bopanna’s achievement.

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that Simmons is pooh-poohing yet another event in sports. It’s become his shtick. Last year he was “bothered” by the selection of Rosie MacLennan as Canada’s flag-bearer for the Olympic Games in Rio, because trampoline is “a marginal pursuit” that “seems more backyard and gimmicky that it does Olympian.” He’s also advocated the elimination of women’s hockey at the Olympics, writing: “Women’s hockey is the least competitive, least interesting, least Olympic of all sports in the Winter Games. There should be a cry to end this Olympic charade of imbalance.” And he once told the Ryerson Review of Journalism that “I don’t believe there’s a demand from the public for women’s sports.” I’ll remind you that he writes for a newspaper that’s best known for the tits and ass it displays on Page 3 and, to this day, continues to objectify women with its Sunshine Girl.

Thanks to a study by neuroscientist Tara Swart, we now know what we’ve suspected all along: Journalists’ brains function at a sub-par level. For evidence, see: Simmons, Steve. (See, I can stoop to gratuitous, mean-spirited and nasty comments, too. You know, just like a real sports columnist at a real big-city newspaper.)

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