Let’s talk about 50 years after starting in the rag trade…Daniel and Gabby are Slam champs, too…Bianca’s place in the pecking order…what about Marie-Philip?…stay in your lane, young people…a good read in The Athletic…the further Torontoization of the Winnipeg Sun…High Tide and Green Grass…and other things on my mind

A special anniversary smorgas-bored…and it’s my doctor’s fault that I’m still doing this after all these years…

I walked into a newsroom for the first time 50 years ago today, fresh out of high school, and I still remember the hum of activity.

It wasn’t loud, not at that time of the morning in those days of PM papers, but it was steady and easy and soothing and vibrant.

I liked it, the way I liked Sinatra and Streisand.

I listened to the constant clatter of the teletype machines and discovered there was a hypnotic rhythm to their tap-tap-ta-tap-tap. There were three of them, as I recall, one for national and Southam news, another for dispatches from across Western Canada, and the third for United Press International. Every so often, one of them would send out a ding-ding-ding chirp. Breaking news. A copy boy would scurry over, read the alert, then tear off the story and distribute the front sheet to the appropriate department head and the carbon copy to the news rim.

Peter Warren

City editor Peter Warren might have been on the Winnipeg Tribune news rim Sept. 10, 1969, or maybe it was Harry Mardon or Jim Shilliday, who later would become the first but not last editor to bark at me. (It was for messing up a coffee order, something about too much sugar or not enough cream. He was wrong, I was right, and desker Peter Salmon, noticing my body quiver like a kitten on a limb, told him so, for which I remain immensely grateful.)

I know Gene Telpner was on assignment in the Middle East that long-ago day, but I suspect Val Werier and Hugh Allan were on site. Jack Matheson, too. Matty would have been hunkered down and proofing sports pages in his bunker in the far left corner of the newsroom, opposite the artsy-fartsy department, a domain shared by Telpner, Frank Morriss and Joan Druxman, whose flair for fashion was extraordinary and resonates to this day.

As I soaked it all in, I decided then and there that the Trib newsroom was where I wanted to be. Where I belonged.

Matty

It took me 10 months to get up to the fifth floor from the business office, where I handled incoming and outgoing mail, but I made it as a copy runner and, not long after that, Matty had a notion to bring me into the toy department.

I wanted to stay at the Trib for 50 years, but the dark forces at Southam Inc. headquarters in the Republic of Tranna had other ideas and put more than 300 of us out of work, kicking if not screaming, in late-August 1980.

But here I am, half a century after my first day on the job in the rag trade, out of work again but still scribbling about Winnipeg sports, albeit from a distance. Go figure.

I sometimes wonder why I carry on with this carry-on. I mean, it’s not like someone is paying me to put this alphabet soup together, although I suspect some among the rabble might be willing to take up a collection to shut me the hell up, and I can’t say I blame them. The thing is, one of my medics tells me it’s best that I keep my mind busy, and I’m not about to go against someone who gets to stick a needle in me on a whim. So, on doctor’s orders, I look for ways to humor myself at 1:30 in the a.m., and poking fun at sacred cows and media mooks works for moi. I don’t know how long I’ll keep going, but I know the end is closer to 50 days away than another 50 years.

Daniel Nestor (left) the Wimbledon champion and partner Nenad Zimonjic.

Now that I’ve mentioned mooks, I’m surprised that so many in mainstream media have saluted Bianca Andreescu as the first Canadian to win a tennis Grand Slam tournament. It simply isn’t so. Daniel Nestor won 12 of them in doubles play, and Gabriel Dabrowski has two major titles on her resumé. Ya, ya, I know. Doubles sucks and nobody cares. But a Slam is a Slam is a Slam, and I’m not going to insult Daniel or Gabby by saying their achievements don’t matter.

Here’s something else that gets up my nose: Our flowers of jock journalism wax on about the “greatest moments” in the history of game-playing by True North athletes, and they spew the same names and the same events. The Henderson goal. Sid’s golden goal. Donovan Bailey’s lickety-split at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. Mike Weir at the Masters. Joe Carter touching them all. The Tranna Jurassics. And now, of course, Bianca’s victory over the neighborhood bully, Serena Williams, in the U.S. Open. Which is fine and fitting, except for one glaring omission: None of them ever mention Marie-Philip Poulin’s golden goal. I don’t know about you, but nothing at the 2014 Sochi Olympics had my heart beating faster than Marie-Philip’s OT goal in Canada’s 3-2 victory over Uncle Sam’s Yankee Doodle Damsels. I still get chills watching the video. Alas, Marie-Philip’s goal fails to get the respect it deserves simply because it’s women’s hockey, which appears on the radar once every four years for most news snoops, and it’s quickly forgotten.

We all have our personal “Where were you when?” moments, and this is my top five in Canadian sports:
1. Paul Henderson’s goal in the 1972 Summit Series between the good guys and the Red Menace from Red Square Moscow.
2. Marie-Philip Poulin’s golden goal.
3. Kenny Ploen’s 18-yard skedadlde in OT to nail down a Grey Cup win for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 1961.
4. Jennifer Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer, Dawn McEwen winning curling gold at the Sochi Olympics.
5. Bianca Andreescu beating Williams in Queens, NYC, on Saturday.
Honorable mention: Brooke Henderson winning the Canadian Open golf tournament in 2018.

I try to stay in my lane when it comes to rating the events from a lifetime of watching sports, and that means 1957, or thereabouts, to the present. Anything that happened pre-1957, I don’t have a clue, other than what I’ve read about or watched on grainy, black-and-white film. I suggest young opinionists do the same. If you weren’t even on the breast when Paul Henderson slid a puck under Vladislav Tretiak in 1972, you have no business comparing Bianca’s achievement to that moment. Like, if you weren’t around when John, Paul, George and Ringo landed in Gotham, don’t tell me about Beatlemania. Stay in your lane.

Even veteran jock journos like Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna make that mistake. Simmons likes to present himself as a sports historian, and he’s fooled TSN into believing it, but his point of reference can’t start any earlier than 1965, if not later. He tweets, “I choose not to make assertions about athletes I’ve never seen unless they’re Ted Williams or Babe Ruth,” yet he was arrogant enough to compile a list of the National Hockey League’s greatest 100 players. Except he never saw 20 of them play. He added a list of 40 honorable mentions. He never saw 16 of them play. Ergo, the list was a sham.

Grantland Rice

Here’s what legendary sports scribe Grantland Rice had to say on drawing parallels to events and athletes from one era to another: “Probably the greatest waste of time known to man is the matter of comparing some star or champion with another who lived and played in a different decade.” It’s a trap we all fall into, of course, and I’m convinced that Steffi Graf would kick Serena Williams’ butt six out of every 10 matches. But Ol’ Grantland is likely correct. It’s just that the then-v.-now debate always makes for such good barroom banter.

Best read I’ve had this week is Eric Duhatschek’s piece in The Athletic on Winnipeg Jets young defender Josh Morrissey. Really, really good stuff. If you’re looking for a reason to subscribe to The Athletic, this is it.

Josh Morrissey

On the subject of Josh, why all the fuss last week about him saying he wants to stay in Good Ol’ Hometown for the duration? “I want to be a Jet” screamed a Winnipeg Sun headline, in type size normally reserved for a declaration of war, moon landings or the assassination of JFK. People, people. I agree it’s swell that young Josh wants to stick around, because he does boffo work on the Jets blueline and he seems like the kind of lad you’d want your daughter bringing home for Sunday dinner. But it’s dog-bites-man stuff. It’s not news.
Here’s Josh in May 2018: “I love playing here, I love being a Winnipeg Jet.”
Here’s Josh in August 2018: “I love being here. I love playing here. I love being a Winnipeg Jet.”
Here’s Josh in September 2018: “I love playing here and love being a Jet. I hope I can be here for a long time in the future.”
So he repeats what he said three times last year and it warrants a screaming headline? I shudder to think how large the type will be when he actually signs long term.

Speaking of the Winnipeg Sun and headlines, what’s up with that sports front this morning? There are pics of Bianca and hoops guy Kawhi Leonard towering over the CN tower and the Republic of Tranna skyline, with this captioning: “Bianca Andreescu and the Raptors got the country buzzing—and have changed sports forever in Toronto.” Excuse me, but we care about the sports landscape in The ROT why? The article was written by a ROT scribe, Steve Simmons, and aimed at a ROT audience. Neither the column or the cover belong in a River City rag. But it’s just the latest example of Postmedia’s pathetic Torontoization of its newspaper chain, and it sickens me.

I really hope boycotting women’s shinny players are getting on with their lives, because Dani Rylan isn’t in any hurry to shut down her National Women’s Hockey League to make way for an NHL takeover. “I see us as an international league spanning both the U.S. and Canada with a great broadcast deal, the best players in the world, and a fan base that is continuing to grow exponentially,” commish Dani told The Ice Garden. “So I think the options are endless. The future of women’s hockey is incredibly bright.” As for the recently formed Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, Dani reports that “unfortunately, they have refused to communicate with us.” The five teams have 83 players under contract for a fifth season.

Be advised that I scribbled a good portion of this post while groovin’ to the Rolling Stones album BIG HITS (High Tide and Green Grass), which might be the best 12-song, 36-minute set in the history of recorded rock ‘n’ roll. You’ve got Keith’s kick-ass guitar licks, the thumping beat of Charlie’s drum kit, Mick’s snarl and sass, and some of the best, straight-ahead rock songs ever written—Satisfaction, The Last Time, It’s All Over Now, Get Off My Cloud, 19th Nervous Breakdown. Brilliant.

And, finally, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of my entry into the rag trade, a quick tip of the bonnet to a few of my all-time faves, news snoops who made the journey more enjoyable and still inspire me: Dave Komosky, with whom I spent a sizable portion of 50 years in the trenches, young Eddie Tait, Knuckles Irving, Shakey Johnson and Ringo Mingo, Big Jim, Greaser, Uncle Tom, the Caveman, Homer, Ketch, Sinch, Swampdog, Scotty Morrison, Trent Frayne, Shaky Hunt, Willie Lever, Downsy, Jon Thordarson, Ronny (Les Lazaruk), Judy Owen, Paul Friesen, Marty Falcon, Buzz Currie, Doc Holliday, the Friar, Sod, Pick, Witt, Cactus, Matty, Peter Young, Blackie, Reyn, Joe Pascucci. And thanks to the late Don Delisle for hiring me right out of Miles Macdonell Collegiate.

About the rise and fall of Ponytail Puck…mainstream media no friend of CWHL…Puck Finn’s shot-blocking style…Ice’s man playing Peggers for rubes…spit happens in golf…tennis teens…banjo pickin’…and other things on my mind

April Fool’s Day coming down in 3, 2, 1…and I guess the joke’s on me because I’m still writing this crap when I could be doing diddly in my dotage…come to think of it, that would be a good title for a book: Doing Diddly In My Dotage…

Anybody remember the heady days of women’s hockey?

Of course you do.

Kendall Coyne Schofield

I mean, who can forget all those jaws dropping as Kendall Coyne Schofield raced the dudes around the freeze during the National Hockey League all-star hijinks, followed by her landing a gig on NBC as rinkside chin-wagger with Pierre McGuire? (Let’s forgive Pierre for talking to Kendall as if she’d just stepped off the boat from Bimbo Island and accept that her presence/voice was high exposure for the women’s game.)

Then there was this:

  • The three-game exhibition Rivalry Series between the national sides of Canada and the United States was contested in front of an SRO audience in London and crowds numbering approximately 9,000 in the Republic of Tranna and Detroit.

  • Minnesota Whitecaps of the National Women’s Hockey League sold out each of their home assignments at TRIA Rink in St. Paul, and turned a profit.

  • The Canadian Women’s Hockey League championship skirmish between the Calgary Inferno and Les Canadiennes de Montreal attracted a record 175,000 sets of eyeballs to flatscreens across the land.

Yup, those were the days.

And now, just eight sleeps after the Inferno had collected the Clarkson Cup at Coca Cola Coliseum in The ROT? Nothing but long faces. The CWHL has disappeared from Planet Puckhead.

But wait. Let’s not be so hasty in passing out the black arm bands scant hours after the CWHL’s deep thinkers announced they won’t be dropping the puck next autumn, after 12 years of trying to convince the rabble that their product is worth a looksee.

I simply don’t believe the collapse of the CWHL is the death knell for Ponytail Puck in this country.

Will it look the same when the leaves are on the ground again in October? Of course not. There won’t be six teams stretching from Boston to Montreal to The ROT to Calgary to China, but I struggle to accept that Montreal and the Republic of Tranna are about to fall off the women’s shinny map. Not going to happen. Perhaps Calgary still fits into the puzzle, as well, although geographic isolation makes that a challenge. Mind you, being in the middle of nowhere didn’t hurt the Whitecaps in Minny. Ten games, 10 sellouts.

So, ya, they’ll re-calibrate and we’ll have women’s pro hockey on Planet Puckhead again. That might mean NWHL expansion north, or it might mean a Women’s National Hockey League built from ground zero by Gary Bettman and the NHL. And it will definitely mean a league that’s two-thirds U.S.-based. But, hey, that’s always worked for the NHL, so why not the WNHL?

Sami Jo Small

Here’s the question I asked myself when word of the CWHL collapse began to spread on Sunday morning: How much blame do we assign to mainstream media?

Basically, MSM treated the CWHL like a leper league. Same can be said for women’s hockey in general. Unless it’s played under the Olympics banner or, to a lesser degree, at the world championship, Ponytail Puck gets less ink/air time than darts, poker and the Mitch Marner-Auston Matthews performance in The Nutcracker.

TSN broadcast all three of the Rivalry Series skirmishes, but it stuck them on the boondocks channels and not all of us subscribe to the complete TSN package. How many CWHL matches did Sportsnet televise? Two? Four? Our  national celebration of shinny—the marathon Hockey Day In Canada—shockingly did not include a women’s game, even though a Tranna Furies-Montreal joust was available.

It’s no different on the print side. Actually, it might be worse. If any of our flowers of jock journalism scribbles as many as two essays on women’s hockey in Olympic off-years, it’s considered an avalanche of copy. Indeed, Furies general manager Sami Jo Small lamented the lack of exposure in conversation with Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star not so long ago.

“People are supportive of women’s hockey,” she said. “They love to watch it, but they don’t know how to watch it. That’s one of my biggest battles, to get people to know where to watch these games, how to watch these games, where to buy the tickets, and get them into the venue. Not just watching the Olympics.”

Let’s be clear, MSM indifference wasn’t the official cause of death, but it helped nudge the CWHL toward the graveyard.

Here’s rich irony: Sports scribes and talking heads spend the time between Winter Olympics pretending women’s hockey doesn’t exist, but when the CWHL caved on Sunday they rapidly rallied to the cause. Pierre LeBrun, Elliotte Friedman, Jeff Marek, John Shannon, Gord Miller, Bob McKenzie and James Mirtle, among others, were found on Twitter, bemoaning the development. Guilty conscience, boys?

It’s shameful that Sportsnet basically ignored the demise of the CWHL on its Hometown Hockey broadcast Sunday night. They didn’t even attempt to pretend to be a news outlet. It was more important to air fluff— like a sappy interview with an actor I hadn’t heard of before the pre-game show—than dig into the top shinny news story of the day. A terrible blunder.

Puck Finn

I don’t know about the rest of the rabble, but I’m not prepared to rule out the possibility of another long spring run by the Winnipeg Jets. True, they’ve looked a lot like a fire drill gone bad lately and the advantage of home ice is in jeopardy, but I’m keeping the faith. As long as they don’t depend on Patrik Laine to block shots, there’s hope. I mean, what can I say about Puck Finn’s shot-blocking effort on Jeff Petry’s goal Saturday vs. Montreal Canadiens? He looked like some poor shmuck on a street corner, trying to dodge the spray from a huge puddle of water as a car speeds by. Easily the most comical shot-block attempt since Guy Lafleur did the flamingo vs. the Russians.

Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun did the Q&A thing with Matt Cockell and, among other things, the Winnipeg Ice (will never like that name) general manager had this to say: “At the end of the day, the passion for hockey is really what’s exciting about Winnipeg. When you look across Canada, there really isn’t another city that embraces hockey the way Winnipeg does. We really believe it’s the hockey capital of Canada.” Whoa boy. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that Good Ol’ Hometown has already let one NHL franchise get away (no, it wasn’t Gary Bettman’s fault) and two Western Hockey League outfits. Pegtown is the “hockey capital of Canada” like Pierre’s boy Justin is a man of all the people. And that’s coming from someone born and raised in River City, someone who recalls seeing a lot of empty seats in the old barn on Maroons Road. Yes, I realize that Cockell is going to say all the right things in order to sell his freshly minted WHL franchise to the rabble, but I’m not sure that faux flattery is the way to go about it. Peggers are hockey wise, they aren’t rubes.

Paul Azinger

Turned on the PGA Tour match play final on Sunday, just in time to hear NBC lead analyst Paul Azinger say this about eventual champion Kevin Kisner: “He spits like a baseball player. Impressive.” And to think, a lot of folks figured Zinger wouldn’t be worth spit as a replacement for Johnny Miller.

If you’re looking for an excellent read, check out Stephen Brunt’s ode to Charlie Montoyo on the Sportsnet website. Like most everything Stephen scribbles, his yarn on the Tranna Blue Jays first-year skipper is boffo.

A tip of the bonnet to our own Leah Hextall, who became the first woman to call play-by-play for a men’s NCAA playoff hockey game on ESPN. Leah worked the East Regional semifinals and final on the weekend in Providence, R.I.

Felix Auger-Aliassime

Some classic stuff from Steve Simmons, the Postmedia Tranna columnist who offered this on Twitter after our teen sensation, Felix Auger-Aliassime, spoon fed the boring John Isner a victory with a series of ill-timed double faults in their semifinal match at the Miami Open tennis tournament: “Felix served for both the first and second sets in Miami and couldn’t pull it off in either set against John Isner. That’s what happens when you’re 18.”

Really? It didn’t happen to 18-year-old Bianca Andreescu in the semifinal or final at Indian Wells two weeks ago. It didn’t happen to Denis Shapovalov a couple of years ago when he beat Rafa Nadal. It didn’t happen to Bjorn Borg, who won 10 ATP events, including the French Open, at age 18. Mats Wilander, Boris Becker, Michael Chang, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Maria Sharapova, Tracy Austin, Monica Seles, Martina Hingis, Steffi Graf and Serena Williams all won Grand Slams before turning 19.

So, no, our Felix didn’t lose because he’s 18. He lost because of a seriously flawed service game.

Kenta Nilsson

Sigh. The young talking heads on TV continue to refer to a sleight-of-hand goal as “the Forsberg,” as if Peter Forsberg created the move. As I have written, old friend Kent Nilsson is the first person I ever saw perform that particular bit of hockey hocus-pocus, and there’s video evidence to prove he did it before Forsberg arrived in the NHL. Ditto another old friend, Alexei Zhamnov, who showed us his wizardry more than once while in Winnipeg Jets linen. So knock it off, girls and boys. It’s the Nilsson, not the Forsberg.

And, finally, numbers cruncher Derek Taylor is leaving TSN to become the play-by-play voice of the Saskatchewan Roughriders on CKRM in Regina. Who knew Taylor played the banjo?

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 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.

2016: It was very good year in the toy department

Top o’ the morning to you, 2016.

Talk about playing to a tough crowd. I mean, a lot of people are saying you’re the worst year. Ever. Ever. Ever. Yes, even worse than 1968, when a presidential candidate (see: Kennedy, Robert F.) and a civil rights giant (see: King Jr., Martin Luther) were gunned down in cold blood.

Chicago riots, 1968
Chicago riots, 1968

The King Jr. assassination in April 1968 ignited race riots in 130 cities and there were 46 riot-related deaths. Riot troops were positioned on the White House lawn and machine gun nests were established at the Capital. At the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August ’68, 10,000 anti-Vietnam War protesters clashed with 26,000 cops, national guardsmen and soldiers, who beat and wounded at least 1,000 civilians. Just under 200 cops also required medical attention. There were close to 600 arrests.

The black cloud that was 1968 also included…

  • North Korean patrol boats seized the USS Pueblo, an intelligence ship. The North Koreans accused the 82-man crew of spying, then imprisoned, beat and tortured them for 11 months.
  • The Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia.
  • Sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos were kicked off the American Olympic team in Mexico after their silent demonstration against racial discrimination in the U.S.
  • Richard Nixon was elected president of the United States.
  • American troops slaughtered 347 civilians in the My Lai massacre in Vietnam.
  • Richard Harris recorded the regrettable MacArthur Park, where someone left a cake out in the rain and they’ll never have that recipe again.

All that gloom and doom is a tough act to top, 2016. But apparently you trumped it, right down to the last drop of protesters’ blood. Pollster Angus Reid, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times all say it’s so, so I guess that’s what you are, 2016—the…worst…ever.

Tommie Smith, centre, and John Carlos at the Summer Olympics in Mexico.
Tommie Smith, centre, and John Carlos at the Summer Olympics in Mexico.

But, hey, that’s why we have sports. To escape things like terrorism and an apparent racist, bigot and misogynist moving into the White House. And you didn’t let us down in the toy department, 2016. You were on your game, so to speak.

I mean, any time you can say “Cubs win! Cubs win! Cubs win!” the World Series, it has to be a very good year. The best year since 1908, the last time the Cubbies won the annual Fall Classic. That’s why more than 5 million people gathered for the championship parade in the Toddlin’ Town. And Chicago cops didn’t beat up anyone. You delivered a classic Game 7, 2016. Brilliant stuff. It’s just too bad the Cubbies had to beat the Cleveland Indians, who continue to look for their first WS title since 1948.

I guess you just didn’t want Cleveland to get greedy, though, 2016. After all, King LeBron James and his Cavaliers claimed the National Basketball Association crown, toppling the mighty Golden State Warriors in seven games after trailing 3-1. More brilliant stuff.

And what a gift you gave us in the Ottawa RedBlacks. They didn’t even exist four years ago, and already they’re champions of all they survey in the Canadian Football League. Their overtime victory against the star-studded Calgary Stampeders was even more brilliant stuff from you, 2016.

Naturally, a whole lot of folks in River City had been hoping that their beloved Winnipeg Blue Bombers would have been in that 104th Grey Cup game, but at least you let them participate in the playoffs, 2016. It’s just a shame that you also chose the final seconds of that one-and-done post-season game to deliver head coach Mike O’Shea his signature moment of madness, when he had place-kicker Justin Medlock attempt an unmakeable 61-yard field goal.

Puck Finn
Puck Finn

You weren’t terribly kind to the Winnipeg Jets on the ice, 2016, but you blessed them with lucky bouncing ping-pong balls at the National Hockey League draft lottery, giving the locals the No. 2 shout overall in June. The harvest from that stroke of good fortune was Patrik Laine. Puck Finn has been dazzling ’em this season. I doubt that your heir, 2017, will give him the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top freshman, because the guy chosen ahead of him by the Toronto Maple Leafs at the annual garage sale of freshly scrubbed teenagers, Auston Matthews, isn’t exactly chopped liver. And, of course, he’s sure to earn the eastern bloc vote. That’s okay, though. Puck Finn will be your gift that keeps giving long after your shelf life has expired, 2016.

What other delights did you deliver, 2016? Well, speaking of teenagers, there was Penny Oleksiak, the Toronto high school student who struck for swimming gold and collected three other medals at the Summer Olympic Games in Rio. She’s a real sweetie.

So, too, is Brooke Henderson, who won her first Ladies Professional Golf Association major and one other tournament. A few of the boys on the beat weren’t kind to Brooke, but some jock journalists are always looking for dark clouds in silver linings.

kaepernickOne of the things I liked about you, 2016, is that you had a social conscious. You had San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick take a knee during the Star-Spangled Banner, which inspired a discussion about racial discrimination in the United States. Unlike Tommie Smith and John Carlos in 1968, Kaepernick wasn’t kicked off his team.

You also had 56 openly gay athletes competing in the Rio Olympics and winning 25 medals—11 gold, 10 silver and four bronze—and lesbian Amanda Nunes is an Ultimate Fighting Championship titleholder who walloped Ronda Rousey in just 48 seconds on Friday night in Las Vegas. You told North Carolina you wouldn’t tolerate its anti-LGBT legislation and announced that the 2017 National Basketball Association all-star game would be moved out of Charlotte.

You let us watch Peyton Manning, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Big Papi ride off into the sunset. A-Rod did, too, although I suppose not a whole lot of folks care that he’s bid adieu.

You allowed us to say farewell to The Greatest, the King and Mr. Hockey—Muhammad Ali, Arnold Palmer and Gordie Howe. We didn’t mourn their deaths so much as we celebrated their athletic accomplishments, their lives and their legacies.

Sour Hope Solo
Sour Hope Solo

All of this is not to say you were without your rough edges, 2016. You did, after all, give us two ugly Americans in Rio. The disgraced duo would be soupuss soccer goalkeeper Hope Solo and swimmer Ryan Lochte. Solo branded the Swedish women’s side a bunch of “cowards” because they refused to play a run-and-gun game with the U.S., while Lochte claimed to have been robbed with a cocked gun pointed at his head. In reality, he was taking a pee on the wall outside a Rio gas station.

Those were mere blips, though, 2016. And they were easily offset by Jimmie Johnson claiming his record-tying seventh NASCAR driving title, Leicester City, a 5,000-1 longshot, winning the English Premier League soccer title, and the great Serena Williams earning her 22nd Grand Slam tennis championship to equal the equally great Steffi Graf.

You were a wonderful year, 2016, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit. She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

About Steve Simmons ‘outing’ two Raptors…apologies to Canada…cheering for Doug Wilson…and the best of tennis

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

bow wow bungalowSo, let me see if I’ve got this straight: DeMarre Carroll and Cory Joseph are observed strolling through Jack Casino in Cleveland at 2 o’clock in the a.m.; they are in breach of no laws of the land; they are in breach of no code of ethics; they are guilty of no trespasses against team-imposed guidelines. They are, quite simply, two adults talking and walking in retreat to their hotel rooms, in the company, it should be pointed out, of four other adults.

And this is news?

It is if you’re Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun and you are the self-appointed hall monitor of the Toronto Raptors and you believe Carroll and Joseph should be tucked in bed by 2 ayem, not “wandering around in the middle of the night.” After all, Carroll and Joseph were expected to participate in a significant National Basketball Association playoff skirmish in another 18 1/2 hours, which, on the Steve-o-Metre, apparently is not sufficient kip time to be up to the task of subduing the Cleveland LeBrons.

If only they had been in bed by, oh, let’s say 10 p.m., surely the Raptors would have delivered greater resistance against the Cleveland assault. No doubt they’d have fallen by a mere 28 points, rather than 38, on Wednesday night in Game 5 of the final dispute on the Eastern Conference side of the NBA divide.

But wait. In Simmons’ own words, the Carroll-Joseph late-nighter “may have had nothing to do with how or why the Raptors were decimated and embarrassed 116-78.”

I see how it works. The two Raptors weren’t intoxicated, they weren’t raising a ruckus, they didn’t have a woman hanging on each arm, they weren’t playing with guns, and their influence—positive or negative—on what transpired on the hardwood floor of the Quicken Loans Arena could not be measured vis-a-vis their slumber habits. Yet let’s ‘out’ them anyway, thus giving rise to suspicion and perception that Carroll and Joseph are a couple of good-time Charlies or, even worse, a pair of no-goodnicks.

It is, frankly, laughable that a member of mainstream sports media would bring into question, or tsk-tsk, the nocturnal wanderings of professional athletes, given that there isn’t a jock sniffer alive who, after filing copy on game nights, is in the sack with lights out by the stroke of 12. The nature of their beast is very similar to that of the athletes they write and talk about. They just earn considerably less coin, is all.

So, I’m sorry, but the issue here is not about the sleeping patterns of Carroll and Joseph. The issue is one that mainstream media won’t address, because they tend not to eat their own. To wit: Should Steve Simmons have ‘outed’ the two Raptors?

Well, to use a hoops term, since there was no harm, no foul, the answer is “no.”

Thus, you can mark down Simmons’ column as reason No. 546,592 why professional athletes consider jock journalists lower than Homer Simpson’s IQ.

We won't apologize for the Biebs.
We won’t apologize for the Biebs.

I see where ESPN blowhard Stephen A. Smith has delivered a mea culpa for dissing the Raptors two games into their best-of-seven skirmish with the LeBrons. “I gotta be a man of my word,” he said after Toronto had leveled the series at 2-2, “and just apologize to Canada, all Canadians everywhere.” That’s all well and fine, Stephen. Just don’t expect us to apologize for Celine Dion, Nickelback or Justin Bieber. (As an aside, Stephen: No need to apologize to “all” of us hosers, because, beyond the borders of the Republic of Tranna, few care about the Raptors.)

I’ve always cheered silently for Doug Wilson to succeed as general manager of the San Jose Sharks, because he played for the Winnipeg Clubs in 1973-74 when I worked the Western Canada Hockey League beat for the Winnipeg Tribune. I remember Wilson as a soft-spoken, shy, polite kid. So good on him now that his National Hockey League outfit has advanced to meet the Pittsburgh Penguins in the final of the Stanley Cup tournament.

The most-ballyhooed hockey players outside the NHL have to be teenagers Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine and Mitch Marner. Matthews and Laine did boffo work at the just-concluded World Hockey Championships in the Republic of Putin, while Marner is killing it with his London Knights at the Memorial Cup tournament in Saudi Alberta. All are worthy of the hosannas, but one thing separates Matthews and Laine from Marner: They were playing against men (mostly), Marner is playing against boys.

Bjorn Borg
Bjorn Borg

Bjorn Borg will always be my favorite tennis player, but Rafael Nadal, searching for his 15th Grand Slam title until a wrist injury shelved him at the French Open, is the best I’ve ever seen. My all-time dream match would be Borg in his prime vs. Nadal in his prime at Roland Garros in Paris. Nadal would win in five sets. I think. Maybe. Dream match No. 2 would be Steffi Graf vs. Serena Williams at Roland Garros. Graf would win in three. Definitely.

I have trouble watching Andy Murray play tennis. I mean, it’s painful. Whether ahead or chasing the match, the Scotsman always looks like a tormented soul straight out of a Shakespearean tragedy. Every time he turns to grab a towel, I expect to see a shiv or arrows in his back.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.