The River City Renegade


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About bad behaviour in sports…straight guys talking about gay things…sports scribes eating their own…the unlovable Blue Jays…clay-court tennis…and cole slaw on a hamburger?

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

It’s been an interesting and odd past couple of weeks in the sandbox. Let’s recap:

  • Kevin Pillar of the Toronto Blue Jays was shut down for two Major League Baseball games and instructed to do some serious soul searching after directing a homophobic nasty toward Atlanta Braves pitcher Jason Motte.
  • The National Hockey League lightened Ryan Getzlaf’s pay envelope to the tune of $10,000 after the Anaheim Ducks captain went all potty-mouth and homophobic in a playoff match.
  • Four heterosexual men who, to the best of my knowledge, have not spent a single day of their lives as gay men, gathered around a table in a TSN studio and discussed gay issues as if they harbored special insight into what words do and don’t offend gay people.
  • Tiger Woods

    Tiger Woods, much like his golf game, was discovered asleep at the wheel and hauled off to a Florida hoosegow on a DUI charge. Tiger’s mug shot was rather ghastly but, hey, who looks good in the small hours of the morning when they’re hopped up on every pill known to man?

  • Terry Frei, award-winning sports columnist with the Denver Post, was told to leave the building and not return after a tweet in which he expressed his discomfort with a Japanese man, Takuma Sato, winning the Indianapolis 500 on Memorial Day in the United States. Frei later said we’re free to call him an idiot for his idiotic and racist remark, but he asks that we don’t call him a racist for his idiotic and racist remark.
  • Tennis legend Margaret Court has gone completely off her nut. She described the women’s tour as a lesbian-infested enterprise in which senior players groom vulnerable youngsters to adopt a lesbian lifestyle; she bemoaned the birth of Casey Dellacqua’s second child because she’ll be raised by two mamas and no papas; she insisted that transgender kids are the work of the devil; she compared a phantom LGBT lobby to Adolph Hitler and communism; she accused that same phantom gay lobby as the force behind a move to have her name scrubbed from one of the venues used for the Australian Open. (What is it with old tennis farts? It wasn’t so long ago when Romanian pig Ilie Nastase went off his nut with racist remarks about Serena Williams’ unborn baby—“Let’s see what color it has. Chocolate with milk?” and he made sexist comments about Britain’s top female player Johanna Konta, calling her a “bitch” and asking for her hotel room number.)
  • French tennis player Maxime Hamou, perhaps in an attempt to disprove Court’s theory that everyone in tennis is gay, was kicked out of Roland Garros for forcibly and repeatedly kissing Eurosport reporter Maly Thomas during a live TV interview.

I think that pretty much sums up the seedy side of sports in recent days, and I think we can agree that there’s been a whole lot of ugly going on.

The worst optic for me was the TSN panel on The Reporters with Dave Hodge. I mean, when I think of poor casting, Johnny Depp as Tonto comes to mind. Kevin Costner as Robin Hood. John Wayne as Genghis Khan. Ashton Kutcher as anybody. All bad, bad, bad, bad. But four heterosexual sports guys talking about gay things? The worst.

Heterosexual male sports scribes should be discussing gay issues only if they are gay, if they have spent considerable time in the LGBT community, if they offer a named gay source as a point of reference, if they have felt the sting of a homophobic barb, or if they have had to fight society for the right to marry the partner of their choice.

I doubt Hodge, Michael Farber, Steve Simmons or Dave Feschuk qualify on any count.

Farber suggested the way the Blue Jays and MLB handled the Pillar situation was “admirable.” Well, I’m sure it was to him. But he isn’t gay. Perhaps a gay sports writer might think the punishment for calling an opponent a “faggot” was too namby-pamby.

Trouble is, there are no gay sports scribes in Canada. At least not in the mainstream. If you’re talking about a jock journo at big city daily rags in the True North, there’s a 99.9 per cent probability that he’s a he, he’s white and he’s a confirmed heterosexual. The other 0.1 per cent is female. And probably straight.

Mark Spector

Mark Spector of Sportsnet represents the 99.9 per cent, and he recently wondered why the NHL cannot hear a homophobic slur “the way a gay man would hear the word.” Well duh. It’s because the people who occupy the ivory tower in the NHL are not gay.

Spector’s piece is thoughtful (he actually solicited gay insight from Brock McGillis, a former Ontario Hockey League goaltender who came out post-career) and he asks this question: “Why have the other sports experienced players come out, but not the National Hockey League? Or Canadian Major Junior Hockey?” Spector might pose the same query about his own business. I started in the rag trade in 1969. I worked with gay entertainment writers, gays on news side, gay librarians, gay department heads, but never once a gay male jock journo. You’d think that in the ensuing 48 years there’d have been at least one gay guy scribbling about sports at one of the big-city, mainstream dailies. But no. There have been more sightings of Sasquatch. Why no openly gay sports scribes? Probably the same reason there are no openly gay hockey players—they fear ridicule and don’t want to be thought of as a weaker-than or a lesser-than.

Hey, look who’s back! It’s the two Grumpets, Steve Lyons and Paul Wiecek. They’ve reappeared on the Winnipeg Free Press sports pages, and they did the unthinkable with their return volley: They ate their own. Actually, it was Wiecek who called out Cathal Kelly in a discussion about Tiger Woods’ arrest on a DUI charge. “The normally staid Globe and Mail had a hyperventilating column by Cathal Kelly up on their site already by Monday afternoon, which made the paper and Kelly—who is usually excellent—looking very stupid.” Yowzers. I can’t recall the last time I read one sports scribe dissing one of the brethren like that, but I think JFK was still alive.

Got a kick out of good guy Doug Smith’s blog in the Toronto Star. “How can you not hope for the best for a team that’s lost so many vital components already and still manages to soldier on?” Smith asks of the beleaguered Blue Jays. Well, Doug, I’ll give you two names to explain why I cannot root, root, root for the Tranna Nine: Jose and Bautista. He is the most tedious, tiresome man in professional sports.

While watching a McDonald’s commercial during the terrific five-setter between our top tennis guy Milos Raonic and Pablo Carreno Busta at Roland Garros on Sunday morning, I couldn’t help but wonder: Who thought it would be a good idea to put coleslaw on a hamburger? I’m not lovin’ it.

I do love clay-court tennis and its long rallies, though, which might explain why the French Open is my preferred Grand Slam event and my two main men of all time are Bjorn Borg and Rafa Nadal. The Raonic-Carreno Busta match was terrific theatre, with the Spaniard enduring 4-6, 7-6, 6-7, 6-4, 8-6.

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.


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Say What?! Ed Tait is a ‘hack and flack’ and not a reporter?

There are times when I wonder if I’ve actually read what I’ve just read.

A case in point would be the most-recent installment of Say What?!, a rambling, all-directions grump-off featuring the two resident curmudgeons in the Winnipeg Free Press sports department, editor Steve Lyons and columnist Paul Wiecek.

Now, I realize that their frivolous to-and-fro (it appears seemingly at random) is not meant to be taken any more seriously than Beetle Bailey’s misadventures or whatever it is that’s getting Dagwood Bumstead’s goat these days, but when these Waldorf and Statler wannabes stoop to calling Ed Tait and George (Shakey) Johnson “hacks” it tends to grab my attention.

If you missed it (and it’s my guess that most of you did), this was part of their thrust-and-parry last week:

Lyons: “Merriam-Webster defines a reporter as a person employed by a newspaper, magazine, or television company to gather and report news. Listen, I bear no animosity or hard feelings towards the folks who have left the mainstream media to take jobs working for professional sports teams or leagues but I’m not sure those folks should be called reporters. You went to journalism school at Carleton University—what ya think?”

Wiecek: “I’m old school on this reporter thing: Those who can, do. The rest are hacks and flacks.”

I’m not certain what was more astonishing, a) Lyons’ reliance on a dog-eared definition that ignores the reality of websites, b) Wiecek’s galloping arrogance, or c) Wiecek branding highly skilled and respected reporters like Tait and Johnson, among others, as “hacks and flacks.”

Once upon a time, of course, Tait was to Canadian Football League newspaper coverage what Johnny Carson was to late-night TV. The best. Today, you will find the former Winnipeg Sun and Freep sports scribe’s fine prose on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers website, where he “reports” on the goings-on of the CFL outfit.

Johnson, meanwhile, was the finest wordsmith among sports columnists in Canada until the day some misguided suit at Postmedia experienced a moment of madness and told Shakey to leave the building. His delightful turn-of-phrase and dry wit moved from the Calgary Herald to the Calgary Flames website, where he “reports” on the goings-on of the National Hockey League club.

Does that make Tait and Johnson flacks? By definition, yes. They’re paid to spread the gospel according to their respective organizations. The same can be said for Tim Campbell and Dave Stubbs, two other veteran mainstream sports scribes who fled the near-death experience of the rag trade for nhl.com.

That, however, does not dismiss them as reporters. I’ve read Tait’s stuff on bluebombers.com and Johnson’s work at nhl.com/flames. To say they aren’t reporters is to say Don Cherry isn’t loud.

What part of that, I wonder, does Steve Lyons not understand?

More to the point, what part of the word “hack” does Paul Wiecek not understand? According to Lyons’ go-to dictionary, Merriam-Webster, a hack is: “A person who does work that is not good or original and especially a writer who is not very good.”

You want other definitions of “hack?” Try these…

Macmillan: “A journalist, artist or writer who does boring work or work that is not very good.”

Cambridge: “A journalist whose work is low in quality or does not have much imagination.”

I’m uncertain what world Wiecek lives in, but in no world that I know of does the word “hack” apply to either Tait or Johnson.

But, hey, “Those who can, do. The rest are hacks and flacks.”

Arrogance, thy name is Paul.

Wiecek, who, by the way, is one of my favorite scribes, prattled on about team/league websites producing nothing but pap that caters to the converted, and to a degree he’s correct. They’re devoid of harsh, critical analysis. But what, you expect the Bombers to pay Tait to cut head coach Mike O’Shea a new one because he has a brain fart and attempts an impossible 61-yard field goal? Not going to happen.

The thing is, pap isn’t strictly the province of team/league websites. You’ll find plenty of it in the Freep.

A headline last week referred to Tom Sestito as a “dirty Penguin” and a “Pittsburgh goon.” That’s the kind of blatant homerism you won’t even find on the Winnipeg Jets website. In the midst of the Jets’ current four-game skid, the Freep ran an article full of siss-boom-bah and advised us that the local hockey heroes “refuse to wave the white flag.” Bravo for them! And if it’s pure pablum you’re looking for, check out the front page of the sports section this past Thursday. You’ll be greeted by this headline: “Jets fans have reason to be happy.” Below it is a Paul Wiecek column that reads like something delivered directly from the True North Sports & Entertainment propaganda department.

Say what?! Yup, apparently those “who can” don’t just “do,” some days they also write just like hacks and flacks. Imagine that.

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.

 


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About Evander Kane…Winnipeg Jets coach Pa Ingalls…sugar-coating a loss…intimidating the media…Cubs win, Cubs win…and other things on my mind

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

Evander Kane fought the law and won.

Evander Kane fought the law and won.

Okay, what’s the over/under on Evander Kane? One month? Two months? Or can he go the distance and keep his nose clean for the next six months, thus escaping the long arm of the law?

I you missed it, old friend Evander fought the law and won this week in upstate New York, where it seems that men physically assailing women—i.e. grabbing a fistful of their hair, grabbing them by the throat, grabbing them by the wrist—is such a common occurrence on the Buffalo bar scene that prosecutors react with all the scorn of a parent scolding a child for failing to wash behind his ears.

This type of activity in bars occurs every weekend,” Erie county District Attorney Michael Flaherty said quite ho-humishly when explaining how it was that Kane walked on charges of misdemeanor trespass and non-criminal violations of harassment and disorderly conduct on Monday.

It didn’t matter that surveillance evidence from the Bottoms Up bar security cameras showed images of Kane “in contact with other patrons, grabbing a girl by her hair, grabbing another girl by her wrist and then scuffling with some bouncers as they try to escort him.” According to Flaherty (he apparently overlooked or ignored the part of the security film that showed Kane wrapping his hands around a woman’s throat), this behaviour “could be described as arrogant, surly and boorish, but at the end of the day what he did did not rise to the level of criminal offence.”

(Yes, I suppose that begs this question: What the hell does pass for a criminal offence in Buffalo?)

Whatever, Kane, the former oft-injured, underachieving, controversial Winnipeg Jets winger and now an oft-injured, underachieving, controversial Buffalo Sabres winger, received a get-out-of-jail-free card. There was, mind you, a caveat: He must straighten up and fly right between now and March 30, otherwise some big-bellied sheriff will stir from his boys-will-be-boys posture and revisit Kane’s improprieties on that late June night at Bottoms Up.

Assuming Kane keeps his hands to himself and eats all his vegetables for the next six months, Lady Justice will turn a blind eye to his misdeeds and pretend they never happened. You know, sort of like what the National Hockey League is already doing.

Well, good luck with that.

I mean, keeping one’s name off a police blotter for half a year wouldn’t be a burden for 99.99999 per cent of 25-year-old men in North America, but we’re talking Evander Kane here. Party boy. Loads of loot. Doesn’t much give a damn what you or I or someone wearing a tin badge think or say about him. If he wants to jaywalk, he’ll jaywalk. If he wants to spit on a city sidewalk, he’ll unload a loogie. And if he wants to grab a woman’s hair in a bar, he’ll have a mitt full of splint ends.

But, hey, he promises to eat all his veggies for the next six months, which apparently is good enough for the Buffalo legal system, the Sabres and the NHL.

Alexander Burmistrov, aka Paul Maurice's adopted son.

Alexander Burmistrov, aka Paul Maurice’s adopted son.

I have a few questions for Jets head coach Paul Maurice: It’s about Alexander Burmistrov…why, Paul? Why? Did you pull a Madonna and legally adopt the wandering waif when you were coaching in Russia? I mean, this isn’t Little House on the Prairie, where Ma and Pa Ingalls continually brought strays and orphans home to their wee shack on the flatland. The guy’s a bust. Let’s move on.

Speaking of coach Pa Ingalls, he delivered a rather harsh indictment of the linesman who ticketed the Jets for a too-many-men violation in the bonus period of their 4-3 overtime loss to Team Ovechkin in Washington on Thursday night. “Horse shit,” is how Maurice described the call. Well, I’ll see his “horse shit” and raise him a “horse’s ass” for his interpretation of the play and rule. Captain Blake Wheeler was in a different time zone when his replacement, Patrik Laine, hopped over the boards as the Capitals dashed forward on a two-on-one. Forty feet from the players’ bench is a penalty. At any time.

Dumbest headline of the week was delivered by the Winnipeg Sun after the local hockey heroes’ defeat in Donald Trump’s kind of town: “Jets winners even in loss.” The accompanying article by Ted Wyman was just as lame. I swear, there was more sugar coating on his game story than on a dozen glazed Timbits. I got a toothache just reading the thing. Spare us the pom-pom waving, boys. Moral victories are for the forlorn and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Coach Paul Maurice: Is this the look that intimidates the Winnipeg media?

Coach Paul Maurice: Is this the look that intimidates the Winnipeg media?

Here’s more on Maurice. Interesting chin-wag between the two Grumpets in the Winnipeg Free Press toy department, sports editor Steve Lyons and columnist Paul Wiecek, who discuss the likelihood that news snoops in River City walk on egg shells around the Jets bench boss. I cannot imagine that coach Pa Ingalls is a more intimidating man than John Bowie Ferguson back in the day. Seldom did we see Fergy when there wasn’t smoke seeping from his mouth, nose and ears. And that was before he lit his cigar. I don’t recall news scavengers running scared, though. Yo! Journos! Any man who harbors hope for Alexander Burmistrov and his rudderless game is never the smartest man in the room. Next time Maurice goes into intimidation mode, remind him of his NHL coaching record: 18 seasons, 11 seasons out of playoffs, two times fired mid-season, won-lost percentage .500, give or take a shootout.

I note that the Freep Grumpets allowed the induction of Doug Brown to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers Roll of Honour to pass without mention. I find that interesting because Lyons and Wiecek pooh-poohed a similar salute to quarterbacking legend Dieter Brock. “He never won anything,” is what Lyons said of Diet the Treat, twice anointed the Most Outstanding Player in the Canadian Football League. Well, okay, Brock failed to bring the Grey Cup to River City. And D-lineman Brown did it how many times? Once? Twice. Thrice? Nope. Try zero. Zilch. Zip. He never won anything. But hey. Brown delivers once-a-week alphabet soup to the Freep sports pages, and we can’t have the Grumpets eating their own, now can we.

I don’t want to be accused of ageism, but it’s about the B.C. Lions. Seriously? Paul McCallum? If you missed it, the Leos have hauled McCallum out of moth balls and he’ll be doing the short-range place-kicking in the Leos’ final regular-season game and the CFL playoffs. My initial thought: Can Joe Kapp be far behind? Upon further review, however, McCallum’s 46-year-old right leg can’t be any worse than Richie Leone’s 24-year-old right limb. Leone has been about as dependable as a leaky condom. He’s had more misses than Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton combined. So, based on coach/GM Wally Buono’s track record, this will probably work.

Legendary Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray.

Legendary Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray.

My takes on the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series: 1) Finally, Steve Bartman can leave his house; 2) Love the Budweiser commercial featuring a Harry Caray voiceover, it’s pure genius; 3) Game 7 of the Cubs-Cleveland Indians series was the reason I love baseball more than any other sport.

Steve Simmons, whose work often appears in the Winnipeg Sun, has been voted favorite sports writer by readers of the Toronto Sun. He calls it “humbling.” Not so humbling, apparently, that he couldn’t resist the urge to advise his Twitter followers that “it’s 21 times now” that he’s felt so humbled.

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.

 


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About sports scribes and math…to trade Jacob Trouba or not…fresh faces at the Freep, none at the Sun…homegrown star power for Jets…Grandpa Simmons…and other things on my mind

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

Today, kids, we’re going to do some math. Simple math.

You will learn that the number zero really is the number zero, except in the minds of sports scribes who would have us believe that the number zero is actually of greater value than the number 47.

Let’s begin…

Since the inception of the crossover playoff rule in the Canadian Football League, eight West Division teams have traveled that route in an effort to advance to the Grey Cup game. Each of those outfits arrived at a dead end. Two of the eight managed to survive the East Division semifinal, but both crashed and burned in the final. Thus, crossover sides are 0-for-8. They are 0-for-life.

A couple of Winnipeg scribes believe the Blue Bombers and quarterback Matt Nichols would be better off finishing fourth.

A couple of Winnipeg scribes believe the Blue Bombers and quarterback Matt Nichols would be better off finishing fourth.

Yet here we have two news snoops, Paul Wiecek and Ted Wyman, promoting the notion that the current edition of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers would better serve itself by securing a crossover post-season berth, rather than attempt to navigate its way through the rugged West terrain.

If the 8-6 Bombers do slip to fourth place in the West,” Wyman writes in the Winnipeg Sun, “they still have the inside track on a crossover playoff spot and that would actually make their post-season road easier.”

The team that finishes fourth in the West Division this year will have a lot better chance of playing in the Grey Cup than the team that finishes third, or maybe even second, in the West,” Wiecek writes in the Winnipeg Free Press.

Really? Well, let’s do the math.

The crossover rule as we know it began in 1997. As mentioned, eight West Division outfits have been down that path. They are 0-for-8. That’s a success rate of 0 (zero) per cent. In that same time frame, nine second- or third-place clubs in the West have either played in, or won, the Grey Cup game. That’s a success rate of 47.3 per cent.

I’m uncertain where Wyman attended school, but I know Wiecek is a product of St. Paul’s High and I doubt the Jesuits taught him that a 0 (zero) per cent success rate is superior to 47.3 per cent.

The numbers don’t lie. They tell us it’s actually more difficult for a crossover West Division team to do its grunt work on the eastern side of the Manitoba-Ontario border. The moral of the story: The Bombers should be shooting for second place, not fourth.

But, hey, why would writers want to let facts get in the way of a flimsy premise?

For the record…

cfl-playoffs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just wondering: Given that Jacob Trouba is refusing to report for Winnipeg Jets training exercises, do we now describe him as a stay-at-home defenceman? It certainly gives literal meaning to the term.

There must be something foul in the drinking water at the Winnipeg Sun. I mean, Ted Wyman didn’t stop at telling us that the Bombers are better off heading east even though history confirms that it’s a fool’s play, he also goes to great lengths to tell us why the Jets absolutely cannot, at any cost, trade Jacob Trouba. Apparently, it would set some sort of nasty, dangerous precedent. Before signing off, however, Wyman submits that the National Hockey League club “shouldn’t trade him now. A least, until it’s on their own terms.” I see. You can’t trade him but you can trade him.

fish wrapThe loss of football scribe Ed Tait to the Bombers website was a large blow to the Freep toy department, but the work of young Jeff Hamilton has cushioned the blow considerably. He’s good. The loss of Gary Lawless to TSN might have been impactful if not for his replacement in the main columnist’s chair, Paul Wiecek, who is no less opinionated and a vastly superior writer. Many readers don’t embrace Wiecek’s sometimes grating style, but that’s only because they prefer that he wave pom-poms. Sports editor Steve Lyons, meanwhile, has also added cops-and-robbers guy Mike McIntyre, Jason Bell and Mike Sawatzky to his stable of scribes at the Drab Slab to more than offset the departure of veteran Tim Campbell, a solid reporter but a bland wordsmith.

I keep hoping for some fresh faces and voices to deliver some oomph to the tabloid in town. Ted Wyman, Kirk Penton, Ken Wiebe and Paul Friesen fight the good fight for the Sun, but the cast of thousands from hither and yawn in the sprawling Postmedia empire leaves me cold. It would help if Friesen’s column appeared more than twice a month. Opinion is supposed to be a major part of the Sun’s personality. So let’s have it. Get Friesen back up and running on a regular rotation, and get another local voice willing to rattle some cages.

ted-greenRead a piece by Damien Cox in the Toronto Star the other day. The article was a yawner, but he made at least one interesting point: “As both the original Jets and Jets 2.0, they’ve never really had a hometown star.” At first blush, I thought, “That can’t be true.” Then I did a roll call. Ted Green, Joe Daley, Ab McDonald, Perry Miller, Bob Woytowich, Jordy Douglas, Randy Gilhen…closest to a homebrew star would have been the Seed, Teddy Green, even thought he was at the tail end of his career when he arrived to help the Jets win two World Hockey Association titles.

I note that the Edmonton Oilers have a furball mascot named Hunter, a Canadian lynx. The Oilers tell us that Hunter is the first mascot in team history. And here I thought that Dave Semenko was their first mascot.

You cannot doll up the World Cup of Hockey. You can tweak it all you like for 2020, but it is what it is. And here’s what it is: They’re playing for bragging rights. Whoop-dee-do. Whereas the intrigue of the political arena (read: Cold War) spilled over into the hockey arena in best-on-best tournaments during the 1970s and 1980s, no such climate exists today. Intrigue fueled the passion. Now, we can’t even marshal up a genuine hate-on for the Americans, not even when Torts is going off his nut. We just feel sorry for the people who have to play for him.

Well, Steve Simmons is doing his Dear Ann and Dear Abby thing again. In August, you might recall, the Postmedia columnist was telling golfer Brooke Henderson she needed to “grow up” because she skipped out on an interview or two. Now, it’s Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman who “seems like an annoying kid who needs to grow up just a little.” Henderson is 19. Stroman is 25. We all had growing up to do at that age. Simmons has become that cranky, old neighbor who kicks the kids off his front lawn when they climb the fence to retrieve their baseball. Leave the young’uns alone, Grandpa Steve. The kids are alright.

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.

 


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About more flag football…beers and boozing with Matt Dunigan…the two Freep Grumpets dissing Dieter Brock…and Shaq’s laugh track

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

homer-melon-headQuiz me this, kids: What’s the most common comment heard around the Canadian Football League these days? Nope. You’re wrong. It isn’t “When did Chris Jones morph into Homer Simpson?”

That’s running a close second, although it might be No. 1 with a bullet among plow jockeys and people who wear water melons on their heads. I mean, if you park your pickup truck anywhere between Fertile and Lloydminster, chances are you’re convinced the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ chief cook and bottle washer is to coaching what Homer is to good parenting.

For evidence, they will point to Jones’s curious call on third down late in Gang Green’s skirmish with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Saturday afternoon at the Facility Formerly Known as Football Follies Field in Fort Garry. Without going into the gory details, suffice to say Rider loyalists will suggest that the play was brought to you by the letters WTF.

Still, while Jones becoming a d’oh boy might be the topic du jour among Green People, the main CFL catch-phrase right about now is: “…there’s a flag on the play…”

There’s always a flag on the play in the CFL. Red flags. Yellow flags. Flags for bumping, grinding, grabbing grass, growling, bad breath, bad hair, bad attitude and, as excitable TSN gab guy Matt Dunigan put it at one point, “checking naughty parts.”

I swear, if the two play-by-play voices, Chris Cuthbert and Rod (Friggin’) Black, said “there’s a flag on the play” once, they said it 52 times during Saturday’s doubleheader on TSN. And that was just for the penalties, phantom or legitimate. The coaches can’t resist the urge to get in on the act and hurl their yellow hankies, too. Trouble is, I’m convinced they now sometimes do it because they can, not because they should.

Matt Dunigan...let's have some beer and go to Hooters.

Matt Dunigan…let’s have some beer and go to Hooters.

Actually, I don’t know what’s worse, the coach’s challenge or pass interference/contact.

Hands up anybody who can explain pass interference. How about illegal contact? Didn’t think so. The insufferable TSN talking head Glen Suitor is forever prattling on about PI/contact, attempting to educate us mere mortals, but he should save his breath. He doesn’t have any more of a clue than we do. Or the game officials.

Seriously. A receiver deliberately runs into a defender, yet the defender is flagged?

I say we ditch the coach’s challenge, ditch the five-yard contact rule and get back to playing football.

I am perhaps in the minority, but I get a kick out of Matt Dunigan’s color commentary. The guy is as geeked up as the players, and it’s always interesting and entertaining when there’s no filter between the brain and the lips. Everything Get ‘er Done Dunigan does is wrong. Like, he talks about beer and boozing (not to forget Hooters) as much he does football. And he talks over Rod Black too often (which is probably a good thing even if it’s wrong). But he works for me, as long as I get him in small doses.

say what banner4In the weekly segment of Say What?, an in-print gab session between the two resident Grumpets in the Winnipeg Free Press toy department, editor Steve Lyons (Viscount) and columnist Paul Wiecek (Gort) pooh-pooh the induction of quarterbacking legend Dieter Brock to the Blue Bombers Roll of Honour because “he never won anything.” Interesting. Neither did Milt Stegall. Why no whinging from the Grumpets when loser Milty got the call? Viscount and Gort also had to mention Brock and the zoo. Let it go, boys.

If you want to read a terrific piece on Brock, check out Ed Tait’s article on the Birmingham Rifle at bluebombers.com. It offers wonderful anecdotal insight, including a tale about the day he tossed a football 93 yards. Or, as Rod Black put it while chin-wagging with Brock in the booth during the Blue Bombers-Riders joust, “93 friggin yards.”

At the back end of May this year, when the natterbugs were already wagging their chins about the World Cup of Cash Grabs, I wrote: “Is it unCanadian of me if I really don’t care to talk about the World Cup of Hockey again until September? I don’t believe so. If, on the other hand, I still don’t wish to talk about it once the frost is on the pumpkin, feel free to take away my maple syrup, my back bacon and my Don Cherry voodoo doll.” Well, it’s September and I still can’t arouse any passion for the gimmicky WCOH.

Shaq...a funny man.

Shaq…a funny man.

Watched Shaquille O’Neal’s Basketball Hall of Fame induction speech. Too funny. And Shaq hasn’t missed many meals in retirement. He’s bigger than some third-world countries, at least five of the United States and one Canadian province. He’s also one of the funniest and most engaging, charismatic athletes ever.

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.

 


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About pig-headed coaching…Matt Nichols to the rescue…the Freep’s two muppets…slow white guys…beers and puns…and other things on my mind

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

So, by proving himself to be right, Mike O’Shea has proven himself to be horribly wrong.

Say what?

Well, O’Shea was right to fire starting quarterback Drew (One Hop) Willy, but when Matt Nichols went behind centre and rag-dolled an Edmonton Eskimos’ defensive dozen to the tune of 30 points before and after the flashing of lightning and the rumbling of thunder on Thursday night at Commonwealth Stadium, it underscored how wrong/stubborn/pig headed the Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach had been before his employment and his club’s season was put on amber alert.

Let’s excuse the fact that the Eskimos can’t stop a runny nose right now. Nichols was superb in the Bombers’ 30-23 beatdown of the defending Canadian Football League champions, orchestrating two touchdown drives and directing another five excursions into enemy territory that produced Justin Medlock three-point hoofs.

You are, therefore, allowed to ask why it took O’Shea so long to turn away from Willy and hand the ball to Nichols. The short answer: He’s stubborn. The long answer: He’s really stubborn.

Had O’Shea stuck a fork in ol’ One Hop a game or two sooner, the local football heroes might be 3-3 today, rather than 2-4. Like I said, the much-maligned man was right to make the QB change, but he was extremely misguided in confining Nichols to the sideline and clipboard duty five skirmishes into this crusade.

There’s no suggestion here that we ought to reserve a spot for the name Matt Nichols on the Bombers’ Roll of Honour. It’s one game, one win. Still, the Eastern Washington alumni took what had been a comatose offence under the direction of the woeful Willy and delivered a kiss of life that, while not Biblical in loft, surely has saved the coach’s job. For now.

It’s still about the big picture.

Mike O’Shea is a better coach this morning by one win, his 14th W against 28 Ls. That said, I maintain the over/under on his long-term employment is early September.

If O’Shea is still wearing the head set by the time we break out the banjos for the Bombers’ annual frolic with the Saskatchewan Roughriders at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry on Sept. 10, he’s probably good to go for the remainder of the season.

If not, that can mean just one of two things has transpired: 1) Nichols is wounded; 2) O’Shea has a moment of madness and sends Willy, his $411,000 quarterback, back into the fray.

O’Shea insists that Bombers Nation hasn’t seen or heard the last of Willy. That’s what scares me.

say what banner4I don’t know what to make of the newest wrinkle on the sports pages of the Winnipeg Free Press, a little something headlined Say What?! Basically, it’s a print version of a chin-wag between sports editor Steve Lyons and columnist Paul Wiecek. Think Waldorf and Statler, the two grumpy, old muppets who sit in a balcony and bitch about the world. Now you’ve got a good read on what Say What?! is all about. After two offerings of Wiecek and Lyons (oh, what the hey, let’s call them Viscount and Gort), I still don’t know if it works for me. It might be too vaudevillian. Then again, maybe it isn’t. I love off-the-wall stuff and I’m thinking Say What?! will grow on me. Either way, it’s interesting that the Freep is doing more tabloid-style stuff than the tabloid in town.

Who says you can’t give the Bombers any props? We have proof to the contrary, thanks to noted white-knuckle fly boy Bob Irving. Play-by-play voice Knuckles delivered this terrific tweet prior to the club’s takeoff for its assignment with the Eskimos: “Getting set to fly to Edmonton on a plane with propellers? What year is this and whose idea was this?” Props to you, Knuckles.

Did I actually hear Jock Climie refer to former Montreal Alouettes receiver Ben Cahoon as a “slow white guy” when the Bombers and Eskimos took a lightning break and the TSN studio gab guys were required to fill air? I sure did. Jock called Cahoon a “slow white guy.” Now, what do you suppose the reaction would have been had Jock’s sidekick on the night, Matt Dunigan, referred to, say, Nik Lewis as a “slow black guy?” You bet. The stuff would have hit the fan.

If men’s golf majors were the Beatles, The Masters and the Open Championship would be Lennon and McCartney, the U.S. Open would be George Harrison, and the PGA would be Ringo. The Players Championship would be Pete Best—close but failed to make the cut.

Don Cherry and Ron MacLean

Don Cherry and Ron MacLean

Nice to see two good Canadian boys, Donald S. Cherry and Ron MacLean, honored with a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame. Well deserved. Apparently, Grapes celebrated by tossing back a six pack of Molson Canadian while MacLean delivered a six pack of really bad puns.

Yo! Duane Forde and Rod Black! Zip your lips when the head skunk shirt is announcing penalties to the audience during CFL jousts. Nothing you two gas bags have to say is so important that it can’t wait five seconds.

It’s late July, the warmest day of the year where I hang my bonnet, I call up the Winnipeg Sun sports section and see a lengthy dissertation by Ken Wiebe on—wait for it—projected line combinations for the Winnipeg Jets? This is something I want to read during the dog days of summer? Whether Mark Scheifele is going to have Nikolaj Ehlers for a linemate or Patrick Laine once the National Hockey League season commences in mid-October? Cripes, man, that makes Say What?! in the Freep come across as Pulitzer Prize-worthy.

Speaking of things that don’t make sense, Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons continues to hand the ball to R.A. Dickey. Why? Dickey is to the Jays’ starting pitching what Drew Willy is to the Blue Bombers’ quarterbacking.

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.

 


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About Ed Tait’s defection…poaching Kirk Penton…abuse of female sports scribes…anonymous comments…and the Winnipeg Sun developing CFL executives

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

Ladies and gentleman, from the department of “Things You Thought You’d Never See,” I give you Ed Tait, once believed to be a newspaper lifer and now the official deliverer of glad tidings for those whacky practitioners of pigskin pratfalls—the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Oh, yes, my main man Eddie has gone over to the dark side of the moon. He is now one of them.

Ed Tait

Ed Tait

No more will readers of the Winnipeg Free Press sports section delight in Tait’s superb-yet-quirky brand of reportage, whereby his detailing of the daily tribulations of the Bombers and Winnipeg Jets was thorough, thoughtful and measured, and also often would include colorful descriptives that made reference to male body parts (read: gonads, cojones), passing gas, cans of whup-ass and bubbles of snot.

Tait has departed the rag trade and now is the exalted Director of Content for all things Blue Bombers on the Canadian Football League club’s website, which means, one supposes, that we’ll be reading not so much about cojones, farting, whup-ass and snot bubbles anymore.

It also means the newspaper business has lost a good one. Check that: It has lost one of the best.

I was privileged to have had a front row seat in Eddie’s evolution from pup reporter with hair to the big dog with a chrome dome. And make no mistake, he was the big dog on the Bombers beat, for both the Freep and the Winnipeg Sun, where he got his start just in time to witness the rarest of the rare—a Grey Cup celebration painted in Blue and Gold. That was more than a quarter century, about three dozen starting quarterbacks, one heart transplant (Cal Murphy), one biker head coach (Jeff Reinebold) and a whole lot of Bob Marley tunes ago.

Other than play-by-play voice Bob (Knuckles) Irving, I don’t suppose anyone has been as tuned in to the Bombers as Tait since that last Grey Cup crusade in 1990, so it makes sense that the deep-thinkers in the ivory tower at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry would want him on board to trumpet their message. It can’t hurt to have the city’s top sports scribe/reporter preaching your version of the gridiron gospel, right?

Does this mean that Tait has sold out? Piffle. You will hear not but favorable natterings about Eddie taking his bon mots to the Big Blue side of town.

I’m convinced he’ll still be delivering the good stuff and, quite frankly, with his hands on the wheel, bluebombers.com quickly will become the go-to destination for the inside word on all issues Blue Bombers. For one thing, he’ll have something that none among the mainstream news scavengers has—uninhibited access to coaches and players. And he’ll know what to do with it. Eddie is in a position to unzip some lips, so perhaps now we’ll actually get to know the athletes on a more personal level, rather than be fed nothing but bland, stock-in-trade sound bites.

This is a huge (Eddie would call it ginormous) win for the Bombers and a huge (ginormous) loss for the Freep and newspapers.

Good on you, Eddie.

fish wrapTait’s is the second significant defection from the Free Press toy department in the past seven months. Earlier, of course, columnist Gary Lawless flew the coop for the bright lights of TSN, although his departure left a void that has been filled seamlessly, comfortably and competently mainly by Paul Wiecek, who, by any measurement, is a much better writer and columnist. The loss of Tait is a different head of lettuce, though. Freep sports boss Steve Lyons can put somebody in his place, but nobody can replace Tait. Unless, that is, Lyons were to poach Kirk Penton from the Sun/Postmedia. That’s what I’d be attempting to do. My guess, however, is that the Freep will operate on the cheap and promote from within.

Interesting piece this week by Wiecek about the abuse heaped upon female sports reporters via social media channels like Twitter. It’s disgraceful. It’s also one of the main reasons I now confine my scribbling to my own blog rather than write for other websites. I control the comments on my blog. If someone wishes to challenge my position on an issue, go for it. We’ll have a discussion. But if he (it’s always a he) can’t do it without making crude references to my body parts that rhyme with the words “bits” and “runt” his voice shall not be heard. It should be about what is written, not whether the writer has a penis or vagina.

Got a kick out of one of the comments that accompanied the Wiecek piece on sexual harassment on social media. A reader wrote: “Anonymous soapboxes are the death of civilized society. I would gladly pay double for my FP subscription if the paper did away with anonymous comments. Remove them altogether, or use real names.” And, naturally, he didn’t use his real name. Unless Graymalkin is his real name.

Say what you will about the Winnipeg Sun, it doesn’t win any National Newspaper Awards but it sure develops top-drawer talent for the CFL. Not only is Ed Tait now the exalted Director of Content for bluebombers.com, but Mike Petrie is entering his fifth season as assistant general manager with the Calgary Stampeders. Both are former Sun sports scribes.

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.