Let’s talk about the NFL Hole of Fame Game…a fist-fighting farce…a snake-oil salesman…welcome to Alberta…Tebow of the North…QBs by the numbers…and Coach Grunge hits the century mark

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and now they know how many holes it takes to fix an NFL field…

Did it really happen? Were the Green Bay Packers and Oakland Raiders really in Good Ol’ Hometown for a National Football League dress rehearsal last Thursday?

Well, yes, they were.

Aaron Rodgers: Good day, eh.

We know this for certain because there were sightings and photographic evidence to confirm the existence and presence of Aaron Rodgers, who apparently was separated from Borat at birth and looked positively hoser-ish in his Canadian Tuxedo.

Coo-roo-coo-coo-coo-coo-coo-coo! Good day, eh.

Mind you, I thought Rodgers was a bit too much of a denim dude. The jeans and jacket were fine, and the bolo tie was a boffo accessory, but he should have gone with a lumberjack shirt to complete the ensemble. Take it from a fashionista, overdoing denim is never a good look. On the red carpet or strolling through Osborne Village.

Anyway, a garment glitch aside, Rodgers was meant to be the star attraction in an exhibition of faux football between two storied four-down franchises at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry, but I’m sure you know by now that the Pro Bowl quarterback was one of 33 Packers no-shows. That’s right, 33 scratches. Sounds like a bad case of hemorrhoids.

Perhaps that’s fitting, though, since River City has become the butt of jokes.

To wit: How could the NFL tell it was in Winnipeg? They found potholes.

In re-configuring a Canadian Football League playground (110 yards with 20-yard end zones) to meet NFL dimensions (100 yards with 10-yard end zones), removal of CFL goal posts was required and, apparently, no one with the NFL thought to toss a few shovelfuls of good, rich prairie dirt into the holes left behind. Instead, they plopped something that looked like a swath of Austin Powers’ discarded shag carpeting on top and expected the boys to “Play on!” The Packers would have none of that. “No way, baby,” they squawked. Thus the pothole patches were ruled hazardous to the wellness of millionaire footballers and shrinkage ensued. Rather than frolic on their regulation-size grid, the large lads had to make do on an 80-yard pitch with makeshift end zones.

I’m not sure if the shrinkage was a salute to our metric system or the U.S.-Canada currency exchange rate, but it made for the kind of farce you’d find on Fawlty Towers.

Difference is, Fawlty Towers is funny, this wasn’t.

But, hey, it will forever be known as the NFL Hole of Fame game, and I suppose that’s something to shout about. Or not.

Watching the events unfold on TSN, it reminded me of another time and another place and another show fraught with farce. It was the night of Dec. 11, 1981, and Muhammad Ali was to meet Trevor Berbick in the main event of a calamitous fight card on a parched patch of earth in Nassau, The Bahamas. Before the first punch was thrown, someone discovered there was no official timer, no ringside bell to signal the start and end of each round, and only two pairs of boxing mitts. For the entire card. Promoters dispatched a man to Miami with instructions to return with fresh gloves for the Ali-Berbick bout, a stopwatch was located, and a TV crew loaned organizers a cow bell. In-ring hostilities began more than two hours late and, eventually, Berbick earned a unanimous decision for thoroughly boxing Ali’s ears over 10 rounds. Ali never fought again and, even though the card commenced on Dec. 11, none of us filed our final copy until Dec. 12. One wise acre on press row awarded the event the No Bell Prize for boxing. We laughed and agreed.

John Graham holding court.

The villain in the Gaffe-O-Rama that was the NFL experience in River City appears to be John Graham, mouthpiece for On Ice Entertainment. He didn’t have a clue about his market, hence the $75-$340 (plus taxes/fees) sticker prices and the insulting PR prattle that implied Pegtowners are backwater bumpkins who don’t know moonshine from a Slurpee. “It’s a premier event,” Graham gushed the day before they discovered the potholes. “In musical terms, it’s like the Rolling Stones or U2 type of thing.” Ya, for sure, John. Take away Mick, Keith, Bono and The Edge and it was just like that.

They tell us that 21,992 bought the snake oil that Graham was selling, but I believe that like I believe the cow really did jump over the moon. Based on what I saw on TSN, Football Follies Field was a glass half empty. Naturally, Graham pointed an accusing finger at news snoops, because that’s what some PR flacks tend to do when their face hits the floor. He whinged to Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun about “very biased articles” and “things that aren’t accurate,” then attempted to have Freezer banned from the press perch. What a tool.

My favorite headline on the NFL Hole of Fame Game was delivered by the Washington Post: “Canadians are very politely not buying tickets to the Packers-Raiders game in Winnipeg.”

A.J. Cole

Much was made of Raiders punter A.J. Cole wearing a t-shirt with the words “Winnipeg, Alberta” pasted across the front. Alberta only wishes it was so.

Cole was thoughtful enough to offer a mea culpa for his geographical goof-up, so I say we cut the guy some slack. Come to think of it, Cole has a degree in Industrial Engineering from North Carolina State. What, no one thought to ask him to come up with a better solution to the goal post/pothole problem than an 80-yard football field?

By the way, those “Winnipeg, Alberta” t-shirts and hoodies are available from TeeChip on the Internet. They come in sizes S-XXXXXXL and nine colors. I’m not saying I endorse them, but they might make a good gag gift for family and friends unfortunate enough to live in Wild Rose Country.

When the Packers-Raiders skirmish was announced, Winnipeg Blue Bombers CEO Wade Miller described it as a “once in a lifetime experience.” After Thursday, I’d say that sounds about right.

Chris Streveler

Moving on to football with a rouge, if you’ve ever wondered what Tim Tebow might have looked like in the CFL, Chris Streveler provided a hint on Friday night in E-Town.

Pretty he ain’t, not at all like Trevor Harris, his counterpart with the Eskimos who usually looks like the ‘after’ part of a Tide commercial. You know, all spiffy, fresh and clean. Streveler, on the other hand, is kind of like Mike O’Shea, his head coach with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Grungy. With a game to match his scruffy chin whiskers.

Going by the QB numbers on Friday, Streveler had no business beating the Eskimos 34-28 in a West Division top-dog throw-down at Commonwealth Stadium. Harris flung the football for 430 yards and a touchdown, Streveler 89 on just seven completions and zero scores. But they don’t give the guy operating a wrecking ball marks for artistic impression, and that’s the way it is with some quarterbacks.

Tim Tebow

Guys like Harris are a candy store. Streveler is a hardware store, full of nuts and bolts and wrenches and all manner of heavy-metal gadgets. He’s Tebow of the North. Tebow with a toque. It’s all about the legs and smash-mouth with the neophyte QB, subbing for wounded starter Matt Nichols.

Streveler crash-banged his way to one Tebowesque TD and set up another with a 30-yard Tebowesque boogie, and small DBs and safeties across the CFL landscape better get used to the idea of being the bug rather than the windshield for the next month-plus while Nichols is in the repair shop.

You know what the narrative would be today had it been Nichols tossing the rock for just 89 yards, don’t you? That’s right, even in victory, the rabble would be breaking out the pitch forks and putting a match to torches.

Trevor Harris

That old bromide “statistics are for losers” certainly applies to the quarterbacks in the two Winnipeg-E-Town skirmishes this season. Here are the numbers:
Trevor Harris       61/94   775 yds.
Nichols/Streveler 20/38   289 yds.

Sean Whyte of the Eskimos hoofed 14 field goals v. Winnipeg FC, so why would I still rather have Justin Medlock doing my three-point kicking in a big game?

A quick thought on Willie Jefferson, the holy terror who most often lines up at defensive end for the Bombers: Exactly what part of Jefferson did the Saskatchewan Roughriders not like? Seriously. Gang Green let this guy get away? I’m pretty sure when Trevor Harris brushed his hair after Friday’s game, Jefferson fell out. 

I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking Glen Suitor would be a much better broadcaster if he actually knew what was in the CFL rule book. Just saying.

Speaking of Suitor and the squawk boxes on TSN, here are a couple of juicy snippets from Kirk Penton’s latest offering of sound bites from CFL GMs, coaches and suits in The Athletic:

* “They were down 10-0 in the first quarter, and Suitor said the Lions are improved. I’ve gained 20 pounds since training camp. Too many desserts and too many late-night chips. But if Suitor says the Lions are improved, guess I can tell my wife that the fatter me is improved too.”

* “We (coaches) respect Matt Nichols more than you media guys do. When the Bombers lose the next three without him, you’ll see why coaches are smarter than newspaper guys and talking heads.”

Mike O’Shea

And, finally, never thought I would mention Mike O’Shea, Bud Grant and Cal Murphy in the same sentence, but Coach Grunge has joined the Bombers coaching legends in a very exclusive club—the only Winnipeg FC sideline stewards to work 100 games. O’Shea hit the century mark on Friday night in the E-Town rain, and I thought someone would have made a big deal out of the milestone. Trouble is, a lot of folks still aren’t sold on Coach Grunge, and they won’t be until he brings the Grey Cup home to Good Ol’ Hometown, like Bud (four times) and Cal (once) did. Still, 100 games is a noteworthy achievement, and there’s a boatload of us who didn’t think O’Shea would last this long.

Let’s talk about Kyle Walters jerking his knee…the Chris Streveler show…no one shedding tears for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers…QB carnage survivors…Andrew Harris’ place in the pecking order…the Walby burger…the word on Puck Finn from Finland…Johnny Rotton peddling insurance…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I really wish that young woman on TSN Sportscentre would stop yelling at us…

The notion that Matt Nichols and his wonky throwing wing might be in the repair shop until there’s frost on the pumpkin isn’t what scares me.

Kevin Glenn scares me.

Brandon Bridge scares me.

Drew Willy (definitely) scares me.

Kevin Glenn

And Kyle Walters scares me, because he might be enough of a nitwit to recruit one of the above to play quarterback, just as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are set to embark on the nitty-gritty segment of a promising Canadian Football League crusade that now is in peril.

Actually, check that: Walters is daft enough.

The Winnipeg FC general manager jerked his knee and attempted to pry the 40-year-old Glenn off his comfy sofa in Detroit this weekend, but the former Bomber/Ticat/Eskimo/Rider/Stampeder/Lion/Lark/Argo/RedBlack had the good sense to decline the come-hither overture, and I believe the blue-and-gold rabble can be thankful for that.

I mean, Glenn manufactured an admirable career at mostly being second best, but a journey in the way-back machine isn’t what the Bombers need going forward.

Chris Streveler is, of course, the logical choice to sub for Nichols, laid low late in a 32-16 victory over the B.C. Leos on Thursday night at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry. Streveler has been a useful second-in-command for the past year and a half, although I must confess that even the high-octane sophomore scares me. To a point. He’s done some good things. He’s done some not so good things. But, sure, give him the ball and let’s all cross our fingers, our toes and any other crossable body parts while we ride out the storm.

How long will that be? We await word on Nichols’ wounded wing from Winnipeg FC medics, but anytime your starting QB walks off the field and he’s unable to lift his hand high enough to scratch behind his ear we’re probably talking long term before he’s flinging footballs again.

Kyle Walters

Which means Walters likely has developed blisters on his dialing thumb in the past few days, because we have to assume he has numbers other than Glenn’s on his contact list.

But I see this as a Streveler-or-bust situation, which means you can put Nichols’ owie in the ‘be careful what you wish for’ file.

I think most of us will agree that losing Nichols is a significant setback for Winnipeg FC.

I say “most of us” because I acknowledge there exists a constituency that has never been sold on the most-maligned 7-2 quarterback in the history of our quirky, three-down game.

Matt Nichols

The anti-Matt sector of the rabble is considerable and often loud. They figure Nichols for a false bill of goods, and they’re wholly convinced that a championship drought that began in another century cannot end with No. 15 behind centre.

While others certainly have absorbed their portion of tsk-tsking for almost 29 years of the Bombers never failing to fail, blame often comes down to the quarterback, and Nichols has the lash marks to prove it. He’s been damned if he did, damned if he didn’t in a ‘what have you done for us lately?’ world, and if there was a sudden outbreak of rump rot in River City, I’m sure he’d take the rap for that too.

It matters not to the naysayers that recent history confirms Nichols, not Streveler, to be Winnipeg FC’s best bet for a W. They want their young stud behind centre, damnit, and they’ve been panting in anticipation of this moment, almost to the point of hyperventilating.

The question is: Will Streveler take their breath away with his play?

I’ve liked Streveler ever since he subbed for Nichols during the first three skirmishes of the 2018 crusade, and I believe he can keep the boat afloat. But it’s worth noting that Winnipeg FC is 1-3 with him behind centre in the past season and a half. Nichols is 17-8 in the same time frame. Just saying.

Jeremiah Masoli

Here’s something we know for certain: No one in the Alberta Foothills or on the Flattest of Lands is spilling crocodile tears because the Bombers have hit a bump in the road. The Calgary Stampeders and Saskatchewan Roughriders have learned to live without their starting QBs for most of the season, so they’ll see the Nichols departure as a leveling of the playing field. Ditto the folks in the Hammer, where the TabbyCats lost Jeremiah Masoli for the duration. Can’t say I disagree with them.

You’ll have to excuse Trevor Harris and Mike Reilly if they’ve begun to glance nervously over their shoulders like two guys who just pulled a dine-and-dash. They’re the only original starting QBs yet to miss a beat in 2019, you see. No surprise with Harris, because the large lads on the E-Town Eskimos O-line don’t let angry defenders get close enough to their QB to know if he had garlic bread with lunch. But it’s incredible that Reilly is still standing. He’s been hit more often than Ringo Starr’s drum kit.

Andrew Harris

Big tip of the bonnet to Andrew Harris, a local guy who’s now covered more real estate than any CFL player carrying a Canadian passport. The Bombers tailback will, of course, add to his 13,377 yards running/pass catching total before he’s done lugging the football, and we might be talking all-time best homebrew if not for guys named Russ Jackson, Gerry James and Chris Walby. But wherever Harris falls on the final pecking order, he’s already had a hall of fame career.

Does Glen Suitor take us for a bunch of rubes who just woke up from a month-long nap? Seriously. The TSN natterbug became Nichols’ unofficial apologist during Thursday’s telecast, excusing Matt Meh’s inclination to dump off the football to Harris rather than feed his downfield guys in Winnipeg FC’s two most recent matches prior to the Leos visit. Nichols “doesn’t check down,” Suitor told us. I assume he said it with a straight face, but it might have registered a new high on the ignorant scale, which is really saying something when you consider the amount of tripe that has escaped his gob during the past two dozen years. Every QB from Pop Warner to pro checks down, and Suitor knows it. Really, really dumb. Him not us.

It’s about the Walby Burger, the 5½-pound Gastronomical Goliath selling at Football Follies Field: I’m not sure which would be harder to stomach, the six meat patties, six chicken strips, six hot dogs, six hunks of bacon, cheese, French fries, pickles, lettuce, onions, tomatoes and special secret sauce stuffed between two buns the size of circus tent, or the $45 price tag. Mind you, it supposedly feeds a family of four, so when you look at it that way it’s only $11.25 per heart attack.

Old friend Troy Westwood did a bit of myth-busting about Chris Walby, the inspiration behind the Gastronomical Goliath. “All this noise about the Walby Burger. Truth is, Walby doesn’t eat a whole bunch,” the former Bombers kicker and current TSN 1290 gab guy tweets. Ya, sure. What’s ol’ Lefty going to tell us next? That Trump doesn’t fib much. Sorry, Lefty, but you don’t grow to Walby’s proportions without strapping the feed bag on your head and refusing to come up for air until the last pork chop is gone. Bluto doesn’t just dine at all-you-can-eat buffets. He puts them out of business.

Some harsh stuff in Kirk Penton’s latest edition of natter from CFL coaches, managers and execs in The Athletic, with one taking aim at former QB and now TSN talking head Smilin’ Hank Burris. “I coached Henry Burris. Saw him choke in a bunch of big games. But they give him a microphone, and he has all the answers now. Calling out Paul LaPolice the week his mom died was classless. Henry should come by our place and let me put some old film on. Remind him how many times he fucked up and cost us games. Him. Henry. Not the offensive co-ordinator.” Ouch.

Puck Finn

In a far, faraway land, Patrik Laine spoke and the earth moved in Good Ol’ Hometown. “You never know where you’re going to play next year so I’m just prepared for anything,” Puck Finn told Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston, who tracked down the Winnipeg Jets winger in Lahti, Finland. Does “anything” include re-upping with les Jets? “Well, I’ve got nothing bad to say about Winnipeg, you know?” Puck Finn answered. “It’s been good so far, but you never know.” If I hadn’t seen Laine’s lips move, I’d have sworn it was Evander Kane talking.

Exactly what are we to make of Puck Finn’s remarks? Does he want out of Pegtown? Was it his way of getting his agent, Mike Liut, and Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff in the same room to nail down a new contract? Or was the restricted free agent merely yanking Johnston’s chain? I really don’t think there’s anything to see here. If Puck Finn is still home in Finland when the lads assemble for training exercises next month, then we’ll talk.

I don’t get it. Why is Kyle Connor competing in the Players Cup a front-page sports story? That’s what hockey players do during the summer. They golf. Poorly. Connor’s gimmicky presence in the field at Southwood wasn’t newsworthy, and he proved it by taking 94 swings his first day and another 90 before leaving the southside course to the real golfers.

I’m uncertain what kind of cred Corey Pronman of The Athletic has, but he ranks the Jets farm system at No. 27 among the 31 National Hockey League teams, better than only Pittsburgh, Boston, Washington and Calgary. The good news, I suppose, is that’s one spot better than in 2018.

Johnny Rotton

Hey, look who’s a pitchman for Direct Auto Insurance. Why, it’s TSN’s favorite lousy former quarterback Johnny Manziel and equally disgraced former fancy skater Tonya Harding. I assume they both work in the Train Wreck division.

Speaking of train wrecks, maybe Johnny Rotten and Terrible Tonya can help ESPN baseball analyst and former Major League Baseball drug cheat Alex Rodriguez, a recent victim of auto theft in San Francisco. The bad guys broke into A-Rod’s parked rental and made off with a reported $500,000 in plunder, which apparently included items of a personal, sentimental nature. So far cops haven’t recovered any of the drug cheat’s belongings, but they say it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Diva receiver Antonio Brown had a hissy fit and stayed away from Oakland Raiders training camp because the NFL wouldn’t allow him to wear his old helmet, which does not meet current safety standards. Similarly, the NHL has informed Boston Bruins ancient defenceman Zdeno Chara that he no longer can wear his old Eatons catalogs for shin pads.

And, finally, the Winnipeg Sun will be bringing Scott Billeck on board next month to write the good stuff about the Jets and Bombers. I’m told there were more than 30 applicants for the position, four of them women, and it’s nice to see some young people still believe scribbling sports for a newspaper remains a worthy pursuit.

Let’s talk about the impeachment of Blake Wheeler…Rink Rat Scheifele and the ‘ruffled feathers’ file…the champion Winnipeg Jets…reduced pricing for Head Cheese football…the CFL head count…Bianca’s biggest win…and other things on my mind

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and the dog days of August really are the cat’s meow…

This is interesting. After now-former Valour FC captain Jordan Murrell pitched a fit in Halifax, putting hands on a game official and kicking over a scorer’s table, Mad Mike McIntyre hopped on his Drab Slab soap box and demanded a defrocking.

“Being a captain of a sports team is about a lot more than slapping a letter on your jersey and proudly puffing out your chest,” he pontificated in a 1,200-word scolding last week. “You are expected to lead. To inspire. To motivate. To be a brand ambassador for the franchise. To set a positive example for your peers. To remain calm, cool and collected in the face of adversity. To be a role model in the heat of battle, in the locker, and in the community. To face the music when required.”

Mad Mike went on to say Murrell “failed miserably in every aspect” and “must be stripped” of the captain’s armband by the Canadian Premier League soccer club.

Harsh. But I don’t disagree with any of it.

So surely Mad Mike will demand the same of Winnipeg Jets ownership/management.

I mean, unless I missed a memo, when the National Hockey League club commences training exercises next month, belligerent Blake Wheeler will be wearing the ‘C’ on his jersey. But shouldn’t we be talking about an impeachment before the lads assemble?

Wheeler, you’ll recall, didn’t appreciate the tone of Paul Friesen’s voice when the Winnipeg Sun opinionist posed a question after Winnipeg HC’s ouster from the Stanley Cup runoff last April, so the chronically grumpy man who’s expected to be a “role model” and “brand ambassador” stood behind his ‘C’ and told the longtime jock journo to “fuck off.”

Blake Wheeler aka Captain F-Bomb

This is setting a “positive example” for his peers? Great. Now those peers can tell Friesen, or any news snoop for that matter, to “fuck off” if the questions are too touchy for their delicate sensitivities. Just as long as they’re “calm, cool and collected” while doing it, of course.

Again, I’m totally on board with the call to action in the Murrell case, and Valour FC agreed when it reduced the former captain to the rank of regular foot soldier, but Mad Mike’s silence on Wheeler is a curious bit of business.

And don’t tell me this is an apples-and-oranges comparison.

Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman

What Murrell did was disgraceful. What Wheeler said was disgraceful. And, frankly, it wasn’t the first time that he’s engaged in a pissing contest with news snoops. It’s become abundantly evident that the surly Wheeler puts the quill-and-microphone crowd on the same evolutionary scale as pond scum, and I really don’t know why they put up with his BS.

There’s been post-season chatter of changes to the Jets leadership group, and that’s where I’d begin—stripping the ‘C’ from Wheeler’s jersey before the lads gather for their next crusade.

I like that Wheeler is a sourpuss on the ice, but propping up a grumpy pants, F-bombing captain in front of the rabble isn’t a good look, especially for Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman’s True North fiefdom, which fancies itself as a goody-two-shoes operation.

Should True North not be held to the same high standard as Valour FC?

I think they should.

Rink Rat Scheifele

I wouldn’t expect Rink Rat Scheifele to do anything other than preach the party line whenever news snoops ask about a “fractured” Jets changing room. He’s an loyal, obedient worker who wouldn’t say crap if his mouth was full of a Mad Mike gossip column. So when Mike Zeisberger of nhl.com caught up with the Rink Rat at a ping pong tournament in the Republic of Tranna recently, the answer was predictable: “People can claim whatever, but I know we have a tight-knit team. We have great guys in our room. And there’s no question in my mind about the character we have in our room, the unity that we have. That other stuff, that’s the stuff as a team you block out. You know what’s going on in the room. Anything extra is a bunch of baloney.” You don’t have to believe the Rink Rat, but I’ve yet to hear or read a shred of evidence to support the notion that Winnipeg HC was a house divided. Mad Mike, who ignited that particular brush fire, hasn’t done it, nor has Elliotte Friedman, who fanned the flames.

Here’s Murat Ates’ latest take on the “ruffled feathers” file in The Athletic: “It’s my opinion that losing hockey teams *should be* pissed off and that the amount of airspace ‘the room’ has gotten is out of proportion. If I ever learn something I can cite and source which says otherwise, I’ll write that.” Hmmm. I believe that’s how it’s supposed to work.

Murat, by the way, has posted the second segment of his two-parter on the 1978-79 Jets, who won the final World Hockey Association championship. It’s good stuff and no doubt enlightening for those of you who weren’t along for the ride. I just wonder why we had to wait until the dog days of August for it to appear. I mean, the 40th anniversary celebration was June 1. Still, it’s worth the read and Murat has the good sense to stand back to let member of the Jets’ Houston Mafia—Scotty Campbell, Terry Ruskowski, Morris Lukowich and Rich Preston—and Peter Sullivan tell the story.

Just wondering: I suppose it’s cool that Patrik Laine will appear on the cover of a video game in Finland, but why is that newsworthy there or here?

No surprise that the sticker price to watch the Green Bay Packers and Oakland Raider later this month at Football Follies Field In Fort Garry has been slashed, from $164 plus taxes and fees to $92 all-in. So now instead of costing you and arm and a leg, you’ll only have to pay through the nose.

Folks who fork out for the discounted tickets for the faux four-down football will be sitting in what they’re calling the Miller Lite End Zone, as opposed to those who paid top dollar for the best seats in the house—the Miller Lite In The Wallet Section.

No danger of a sellout for the National Football League exhibition, but it will be embarrassing if the Packers-Raiders’ dress rehearsal lures more of the rabble to Football Follies Field than the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have managed this summer. Winnipeg FC performed in front of 25,354 for last week’s first-place showdown with the Calgary Stampeders, and that’s the best head count of the Canadian Football League season at FFFIFG. The local lads in pads are averaging 25,057 customers through four home assignments, and I cringe at the thought of the Packers-Raiders topping that number.

Let’s be clear about something: I have no problem with the CFL awarding the Saskatchewan Roughriders a victory over the Montreal Alouettes, even though they played less than 45 minutes of football on Friday. My issue is with the wait time. Why allow just an hour for the lightning and thunder to pass? What’s the rush? And what does it matter how many fans decide to trot off home rather than wait out the storm? I don’t know what the magic number is, but for a day game they should wait as long as necessary. At night, I’d say the wait should be two hours, at least.

What are we to make of these numbers from golf’s two major circuits?
PGA Tour wins by Americans 32, Rest of World 13.
LPGA Tour wins by Americans 3, Rest of World 21.

Lou Marsh Trophy

Yesterday I touched on the sometimes touchy subject of the Lou Marsh Trophy, which is awarded annually to our vast land’s top jock by a cartel of news snoops who mostly operate out of The ROT and mostly prefer to keep their identities secret. Right now, it appears to be a two-horse race, in this case a pair of talented fillies—golfer Brooke Henderson and tennis player Bianca Andreescu, both of whom have a pair of Ws on their scorecard. The last female golfer to be anointed athlete-of-the-year? Sandra Post, 1979. The last tennis player, woman or man? It’s never happened. Since this isn’t an Olympic year and our soccer women fell flat in France’s World Cup, it’s doubtful that an outrider will sneak in and steal the Marsh trinket from Brooke or Bianca. All bets are off, though. I mean, the news snoops certainly got it wrong last year when they snubbed Henderson for a moguls skier, and they got it wrong two years ago when they bypassed Rachel Homan for a baseball player. Homan’s 2017 was arguably the greatest year in curling history; Joey Votto’s 2017 was definitely not the greatest in baseball history. So, no, I don’t have confidence in the news snoops doing the right thing.

Bianca Andreescu

The likable Bianca Andreescu’s rise in women’s tennis has been mercurial, astonishing and uplifting. Her win on home soil in the Rogers Cup final on Sunday was full of the warm-and-fuzzies, even if her vanquished and wounded foe, Serena Williams, was brought to tears. But Bianca delivered her biggest win earlier in the year, at Indian Wells, a Premier Mandatory event on the WTA calendar. That is to say, it’s as close to a Grand Slam tournament as damn is to swearing. The Rogers Cup is a level lower. It just feels better when it’s on national TV and the champion wraps herself in the Maple Leaf at the end.

Fancy skater Scott Moir is engaged to be married to a woman not named Tessa Virtue. Who saw that coming? I suppose Jackie Mascarin did, because she’s the woman not named Tessa Virtue who’ll be walking down the aisle and become Moir’s bride.

And, finally, I’ll say this for the Winnipeg Sun, there’s very little local content in the sports section (aside from the pro teams), but they sure do put all that Republic of Tranna, Montreal and United States news in a pretty package. I just wish some of it told me what was happening in Good Ol’ Hometown.

Let’s talk about skeptics and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers…the long and short of Check Down Charlie…get off my lawn!…that rainy day feeling in the CFL…no one like Gizmo…Smilin’ Hank, bad manners and cheese…Brooke and Bianca…just the facts, ma’am…and going to beat 100,000

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and hold all my phone calls today while I watch women’s tennis…

Skepticism abounds. And I get that.

I mean, when there’s been nothing but nothingness for going on 29 years, the tendency is to stick an italicized “ya but” at the end of every happy thought about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

They beat the Calgary Stampeders. “Ya but…they’ve gotta play ’em two more times.”

Janarion Grant

Janarion Grant is an electric kick returner. “Ya but…what about that lame offence?”

Crown Lands was a boffo halftime show. “Ya but…don’t they have any barber shops where those boys come from?”

And so it was for me while watching Winnipeg FC make fewer mistakes than the Stampeders on Thursday night at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry. It was like those commercials where there’s a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other, both of them yanking on some poor sap’s good-versus-evil chain?

Only instead of a devil and an angel, it was a Cynic and a Polyanna nattering in my ears and, after listening to them squawk for three hours and a day, I needed an aspirin. Or a pint.

Seriously, for every blah-blah-blah there was a yadda-yadda-yadda.

Coach LaPo

Pollyanna: “Isn’t that new guy Janarion Grant absolutely wonderful? Two touchdowns on punt returns! Over 300 yards bringing back kicks! Meet the new Gizmo! But let’s call him Quick Six!”

Cynic: “Good bloody thing he was there, because Paul LaPolice’s offence totally sucked. No imagination. No creativity. No freaking TDs.”

Pollyanna: “Matt Nichols silenced his critics. Great game management and zero picks.”

Cynic: “You mean Check Down Charlie? Hard for anyone to pick off one of his passes when he’s afraid to toss the football more than two yards at a time. The hair on those two dudes doing the halftime show is longer than any of Nichols’ passes. He does more dunking than a cop in a donut shop.”

Justin Medlock

Pollyanna: “Impressive. Justin Medlock kicked four field goals, including a 55-yarder.”

Cynic: Whatever. Early August. Perfect weather. No pressure. We’ll talk about Medlock if he does it in mid-November when the wind is howling like a couple of frat boys at closing time.”

Pollyanna: “Richie Hall’s defence came up big when it had to, with a key interception to close the first half and another one to seal the victory. Gotta love that!”

Cynic: “Let me know when they actually beat a certified starting quarterback. They haven’t had to deal with anything but clipboard jockeys since Mike Reilly and Trevor Harris in June.”

So, yes, I remain (mildly) conflicted about Winnipeg FC after pondering its 26-24 victory over the always difficult Stampeders. Oh, I’m convinced the Bombers’ 6-2 log is legit. They’ve earned their perch atop the tables and, one game shy of the midway mark of their Canadian Football League crusade, there’s ample cause to believe there’ll be a playoff skirmish at Football Follies Field come November, when it’s a reasonable assumption that the aforementioned Medlock and his left leg will, indeed, be battling winds howling like a couple of frat boys at closing time.

Mike Reilly, down again.

Further, the local lads ought to deliver the B.C. Lions a good paddywhacking later this week, because Mike Reilly can’t beat them while lying on his back. Reilly is the toughest dude QB in the CFL, but the Leos keep asking him to win a knife fight with a plastic straw, and that seldom leads to a happily ever after ending.

So I’m saying the Bombers will head into the back half of their crusade at 7-2, also with a leg up on finishing first in the bumper-to-bumper crawl that is the West Division.

Alas, the alpha-dog argument likely won’t be settled until the late-October, home-and-home dosey doe with the Stampeders, which means everything in between is filler guaranteed to fascinate, infuriate and, hopefully, entertain.

Maybe Check Down Charlie will even throw a pass that stretches farther than Pinocchio’s nose at some point. Wouldn’t that be something?.

check Down Charlie

Lest anyone run off with the wrong notion, I believe Nichols can take the Bombers where they need and want to be in November. No, he’s not the kind of QB to grab a game by the back collar and give it a good rag-dolling, but there’s enough there there to get the job done. I mean, if Sean Salisbury can win the Grey Cup, so can Check Down Charlie. It’s just that he’ll have to stop playing with one arm tied behind his back. Either he and Coach LaPo add variety to the offence (read: a few more long balls) or this crusade aborts earlier than planned and someone is looking for work.

Crown Lands

It’s about Crown Lands, the halftime entertainment last Thursday: Oh my. Don Cherry’s wardrobe isn’t that loud. I spent most of the next day playing my vinyl albums from the 1960s, just to remind myself what real rock ‘n’ roll is supposed to sound like. But, hey, the young people at Football Follies Field seemed to enjoy the show, so I’m not going to be an old frump and shake my fist and shout at clouds. I would, mind you, call the cops if Crown Lands showed up to play on my lawn.

Actually, I was shaking my fist and shouting at clouds on Friday night. I mean, handing a W to the Saskatchewan Roughriders after less than 45 minutes of football because of a cloud burst in Montreal? Wrong. Dumb rule. Should be revisited. What’s the hurry that they can’t wait out the lightning, thunder and wet stuff for more than an hour? The large lads that anxious to get to the bar?

Having said that, they could have called off the Edmonton Eskimos-Bytown RedBlacks skirmish any time after the first quarter and you wouldn’t have heard a peep out of me. Purely dreadful.

The hosannas, rightly so, are raining down on this year’s crop of lickety-split, whiz-bang kick returners, on pace to take a CFL record 42 boots back to the house. But don’t let me hear anyone put them in Gizmo Williams’ class. Giz was the best ever. And probably always.

Smilin’ Hank

If you see Henry Burris and the TSN squawkbox is thoughtful enough to open a door for you, for gawd’s sakes thank the man! I say that because Smilin’ Hank reckons us hosers are short on behavior and tall on rude. Asked by Sean Fitz-Gerald of The Athletic how he explains Americans to his Canadian friends, Hank replied: “I always tell people America is sectional. In the South, where I’m from, people are typically much nicer. They’re more accommodating. We cook our food differently than they do in the northeast. Even though people still barbeque and do those things, for us, BBQ and fry, that’s how we do it down south—we want it on the grill, or we want it in the fryer (smiles). The people are very respectful and their manners are excellent. I always tell Canadians—Canadians could learn something from Southerners. Canadians are nice people, but Canadians can be rude. There’s a lot of rude Canadians. I’ve held the door for a lot of Canadians, and they’ll walk in and not even say thank you.” Listen, Hank, that door swings both ways. Don’t let it hit you on the ass on your way out.

Just kidding, of course. Hank’s always struck me as a good guy, and he makes a point of informing his American pals that we don’t actually live in igloos and that the Republic of Tranna is “a bit like Chicago and has the mentality of New York, to a point.” He didn’t say what Winnipeg is “a bit like,” to a point, but I’m thinking Buffalo with the mentality of Green Bay. Sans the cheddar on our heads, of course.

Hey, I don’t mean to sound insulting. I like Green Bay. Had a wonderful time there in the late 1990s. But I’m still trying to get the cheese smell out of my hair.

Bianca Andreescu

Speaking of cheesy, I try my best to root, root, root for our young tennis guy Denis Shapovalov. Really, I do. It’s a struggle, though. The kid has too much of the P.K. Subban hot dog in him for my liking, and I don’t know how much of his playing to the crowd is an act and how much is sincere. Teen sensation Bianca Andreescu also plays to the crowd, but it never strikes me as cheesy.

Brooke Henderson

Our girl Bianca was across the net from the neighborhood bully, Serena Williams, in today’s Rogers Cup final in The ROT, and her victory gives the clowns who choose the Lou Marsh Trophy recipient something to chew on. It’s her second tournament W this year, the same as our Lady of the Links, Brooke Henderson. So what carries more value, tennis or golf? Last year, Brooke won twice, including the Canadian Open, but they gave her a pass and anointed a guy in a fringe sport (Mikael Kingsbury, moguls skiing) our country’s top jock. This year, Brooke’s second W was her historic ninth, making her the most successful Canadian on either the LPGA or PGA tour. That should be the determining factor. Unless, of course, another moguls skier catches the voters’ fancy.

Milos Raonic

Here’s someone way out of his lane—Steve Simmons (I know; what a shock). The Postmedia Tranna columnist graced the Rogers Cup in the Republic of Tranna with his presence last week, and all he did was double fault on his facts. First, he scribbled this of our Andreescu: “She’s never lost to anybody in the top 10 because she’s never played anybody in the top 10.” Incorrect. Bianca played four matches v. top-10 opponents prior to the Rogers Cup: World No. 3 Caroline Wozniacki in Auckland, world No. 6 Elina Svitolina and No. 8 Angelique Kerber at Indian Wells, and world No. 4 Kerber at Miami. Whupped ’em all. Next, Simmons advised us that Genie Bouchard was “the highest-rated Canadian player, man or woman in tennis history.” Again incorrect. Genie’s career best was world No. 5 in 2014. Milos Raonic reached world No. 3 in 2016 and ’17. This information is easily accessible. But apparently taking two minutes to visit the WTA and ATP websites is too much to ask of a national sports columnist. Why clutter an essay with correct information when misinformation will do, right? So I’m not sure what lane Simmons is supposed to be in, but it definitely isn’t women’s tennis. Or, really, anything to do with women’s sports..

And, finally, I noticed that this River City Renegade blog passed the 30,000 milestone for views this year and 100,000 overall for 3½ years. To those who have stopped by for a peek, I thank you, with a caution that if you make a return visit it won’t be any better. To those who haven’t visited, I can’t say I blame you.

Let’s talk about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers QBs…counting heads…Corn Dog Cody Fajardo…awesome and ugly football…’minor’ concussions…tweet, tweet, tweet…ponytail puck…and a bounce-back season for Puck Finn?

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and if you’re reading this at the cottage on the last leg of a long weekend, I can only wonder what’s wrong with you…

So the stage is set. Two Goliaths. Temporary bragging rights at stake.

And, yes, I still consider the Blue Bombers a Goliath, because I firmly subscribe to that old chestnut ‘you are what your record says your are,’ and it doesn’t get any better than Winnipeg FC and the Calgary Stampeders, who’ll be the house guests at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry on Thursday night.

Matt Nichols

Although there are those among us who believe the Bombers’ W-L log is the product of smoke, mirrors and a steady diet of 98-pound weaklings, I’m not going to quibble about a 5-2 record.

The doubting Thomas argument gained strength, of course, when the local lads were bullied by Pee-wee Herman on the back half of Winnipeg FC’s recent 0-for-Southern Ontario misadventure, but I feel obligated to point out that the Bombers and Stamps have played the same sides, with one exception—the Saskatchewan Roughriders. As we all know, Canadian Football League schedule-makers tend to save the Blue-and-Gold/Gang Green tiffs for Labour Day weekend on the Flattest of Lands and a few days later in Good Ol’ Hometown, when they tune up the banjos for the follow-up dosey doe.

In the meantime, it seems to me that Thursday’s duel of 5-2 outfits should serve as a statement skirmish for Winnipeg FC. Win and they gain believers, lose and talk radio becomes a blood sport.

There’s already plenty of nattering that suggests head coach Mike O’Shea is actually Homer Simpson with a head set, and his refusal to insert Chris Streveler into the fray when starting quarterback Matt Nichols can’t pass wind, never mind a football, seems to be the main irritant. Some, in fact, would prefer to have the two QBs reverse roles, but I’m guessing those folks are also flat-earth fanatics who walk around with wide strips of tin foil on their heads.

Chris Streveler

Hey, I agree that Streveler is a good change of pace and we should see more of him behind centre, but make him the main man? Sorry, we’ve had enough backup QBs thrust into the starting role this season, thank you very much, and the product has suffered.

I suppose the good folks on the Flattest of Lands might pipe up and dispute that, because their No. 2 guy, Corn Dog Cody Fajardo, has done such boffo business that the Saskatchewan Roughriders decided they can get along just fine without Zach Collaros and shipped him—and the ever-present bats in his belfry—to the Republic of Tranna.

Much the same can be said in the Alberta Foothills, where Nick Arbuckle has kept things mostly neat and tidy during Bo Levi Mitchell’s time in the repair shop. He’s 4-1, that’s all, and if you expect more than that from a fill-in QB you’re more demanding than the nuns who taught me in Catholic school.

Anyway, it’s about Streveler and Nichols and the notion that they should swap snaps. Look, I don’t like what I saw of Nichols in the Golden Horseshoe any more than many of you, but if Coach O’Grunge has them trading places, he really would be a “D’oh!” boy.

Football Follies Field in Fort Garry

I’m curious to see what kind of a statement the football faithful in Good Ol’ Hometown will make on Thursday night. A grab-grass-and-growl argument to determine top dog in a West Division that has taken on the look of a mosh pit ought to be a best-seller, except the Bombers’ bumbling in the Hammer and The ROT likely cost them a customer or two. I hope I’m wrong, but a head count of just 20,433 for the Battle of Alberta in Cowtown on Saturday tells me that people are finding other things to do as we dig into the dog days of August.

Hey, check it out. We finally know how many people have been ignoring the Argonauts in The ROT. According to CFLdb.ca, they’ve topped out at 16,734 patrons and bottomed out at 11,428 in their three BMO Field assignments this crusade, but the Scullers are the only CFL outfit showing a year-over-year increase in attendance from 2018. Meanwhile, I don’t understand why we have to search CFLdb.ca to discover what the CFL should be telling us on its own website. That’s just wrong.

Corn Dog Cody

Not only has Fajardo got a nose for football, Corn Dog Cody’s sniffer also leads him to fun and games and growlies, like the kind you’ll find at the Queen City Ex in Regina. We know this because the Riders QB confessed to a special kind of motivation after his late-game TD put the seal on a 24-19 victory over the Hamilton Tabbies. “I’m really excited to get a corn dog to be honest,” he told news snoops, as the aroma of those carny treats wafted his way from the nearby Ex. “I’m a big carnival corn dog guy and I was like hopefully the game goes well so I can get a corn dog. So that’s probably what gave me the will to score that touchdown, a little inspiration of a corn dog at the carnival.” If that’s what corn dogs do for a QB, what say we make them Matt Nichols’ pre-game meal? (It’s also refreshing to hear an athlete deliver something other than cookie-cutter, club-approved, yawner quotes for news snoops. Atta boy, Corn Dog.) 

Duane Forde

So, how do you like what you’ve seen to date in our quirky three-down game? Opinions differ.

Veteran news snoop Frank Zicarelli of Postmedia Tranna wrote this last month: “There is no legitimate quarterback on the (Argos) roster in a league where the position is so thin that most games have become virtually unwatchable.” The granddaddy of E-Town jock journos, Terry Jones, agreed: “Too many CFL games are unwatchable this season.” And, of course, TSN talkers Duane Forde and Davis Sanchez both slapped an “ugly” label on different games in the past two weeks.

Then there’s Knuckles Irving, the Winnipeg FC play-by-play guy who, like Jonesy, has very long teeth. His take: “Awesome weekend for the CFL. 4 close, entertaining games, although as my pal Herb Zurkowsky already pointed out, it would be nice if they could speed them up a bit and keep them under 3 hours.”

Personally, I’ve seen too many clunkers. Too many nights only the lickety-split of the kick returners has prevented me from switching channels or nodding off.

Montreal Larks head coach Khari Jones tells us that his QB, Vernon Adams Jr., suffered a “minor concussion” when J.R. Tavai of the Bytown RedBlacks cracked him with a head-to-head cheap shot that went unpunished. Sorry, Khari, but I never considered any of my 10 concussions “minor.” They still put me in a dark room.

Knuckles Irving

Tweets that grabbed my attention in the past week…

* The aforementioned Knuckles Irving, after a follower called Mike O’Shea an “idiot”: “He hasn’t won the big one but Our idiot head coach is 38-23 since 2016. Bring me more idiots.” Just as long as they aren’t wearing tin foil on their heads, right Knuckles?

* Former all-star D-lineman, CJOB gab guy and freelance columnist Doug Brown, during the Argos 28-27 victory over the Bombers: “Imagine losing to Dane Evans, and McLeod Bethel-Thompson, back to back. That might be a bit of a buzz kill.” Exactly 17 minutes later: “My god.” Too funny.

* Old friend and all-round good guy Scott Campbell: “I’m expecting regression from #NHLJets and not mad about it. It would be worse had they given those contracts to Myers, Tanev and Chiarot. I’m more worried about the coaches optimizing the lineup. Hoping Maurice got back to summer work.” I guess two steps forward and one step back beats one step forward and two steps back every time.

* And, of course, Steve Simmons continued to be a total Twitter troll. The Postmedia Tranna columnist cited a handful of top-drawer quill jockeys as the reason he subscribes to The Athletic, then added: “I do wish they’d stop drooling over each other every time someone writes something good.” He posted that at 10:59 a.m. on July 31. At 1:13 p.m. that same day, look who was “drooling over” one of his own Postmedia colleagues, Rob Longley. Yup, Simmons. “Our guy, baseball’s most underrated writer, has broken the stories thus (sic) afternoon of Blue Jays trading Aaron Sanchez and Joe Biagini to Houston.” Two days later, he was “drooling over” Longley again. Pot, meet kettle. And I hope he was wearing a bib.

I didn’t think it possible, but the new teleprompter reader on TSN Sportscentre, Kayla Gray, is actually louder than Kate Beirness. Enthusiasm is a good thing. Making my ears bleed is not.

Dani Rylan

Officially, there will be a fifth National Women’s Hockey League season. Unofficially, there might not be a fifth NWHL crusade. Two months before they’re scheduled to drop the puck, commish Dani Rylan’s house league has scared up just 39 players willing to boycott the boycott of the ForTheGame200 gang, a group of elite performers who insist they will continue to stomp their feet, hold their breath and refuse to play hockey until a sugar daddy comes along and pays them a living wage. Unfortunately, only a few of us notice, or care, that they’re missing, so I hope they aren’t expecting an amber alert.

And, finally, interesting piece by Ian Tulloch of The Athletic Tranna. Ian goes about the business of listing 10 National Hockey League players likely to have a “bounce-back” season, and he has our own Patrik Laine at No. 6. Well, let me just say this about that: You know Puck Finn is some kind of special when he lights 30 lamps and pundits are talking about him in terms of rediscovering his scoring touch.

Let’s talk about ending the CFL’s interlocking schedule…Winnipeg Blue Bombers were first to head East…golfing with Bluto…sticking to sports…tweet-tweet…gift of the gab in the NHL…Andrew Copp’s shelf life…and a self-proclaimed Stevie Nicks groupie

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and it’s pay day for us seniors, so get out of our way…

Where I live, on the shores of the Pacific Ocean and across a small puddle from Vancouver, it’s almost as if the B.C. Lions don’t exist.

The Canucks are huge, of course. Ditto European soccer and the English Premier League. The Blue Jays receive plenty of noise, especially when they’re in nearby Seattle to duel the Mariners. Golf, notably the Grand Slam tournaments, gets a sizable chunk of the sports discussion, in part because we can tee it up 365 days of the year.

But the Lions…I hear more chatter about rugby and the Shamrocks, a highly decorated lacrosse outfit.

Unless a lass named Jody and a gent named Doug are in my downtown Victoria watering hole, any mention of the Canadian Football League and its member clubs is as rare as a winter without rain. And, just for the record, the wet stuff doesn’t fall in the quantities you’re led to believe. That’s propaganda. We just let the myth persist, otherwise there’d be tourists getting in our way 24/7/12 and we like to reserve our little island for ourselves a few months each year.

Lancaster and Reed

At any rate, Jody and Doug are Green People, which is to say they pledge allegiance to the Saskatchewan Roughriders and can probably tell you the name of the goomer inside the Gainer the Gopher costume. Whether or not they pluck the banjo, I can’t say, but it goes without saying they’re good people and good for a gab about the CFL, even if it’s unavoidably Riders-centric and always references Ron Lancaster and George Reed.

Otherwise, the CFL and Leos are non-starters in these parts and I’m quite uncertain why that is, except to say that after close to two decades here (20 years on Sept. 3) it’s my experience that the citizenry of the Garden City are indifferent to most things east of the Strait of Georgia.

We tend to focus on bike lanes, Orca pods and green spaces, rather than Green People with watermelons on their heads.

Green People in B.C. Place.

What I’d really like to know, however, is why the rest of our vast land seems to be tuning out our delightfully quirky three-down game.

Again, I’ve heard all the theories and, as I suggested on Sunday, the skirmishing has become borderline unwatchable, due in large part to starting quarterbacks dropping like ducks in a carnival shooting gallery, but also because TSN refuses to pull the plug on insufferable gimmickry that makes our eyes and ears bleed.

The Prairies, of course, remains the CFL fortress, with the Flattest of Lands boasting the most rabid and portable of fan bases, and they were out in all their melon-headed, green glory to watch the Riders ragdoll Mike Reilly and the Lions on Saturday night. It’s not by coincidence that the 20,950 head count was tops this season at B.C. Place Stadium. By 2,892 noggins. I’m not sure if that’s enough to make Leos bankroll David Braley smile, because there’s the matter of just one W in seven tries for the B.C. 24, but I’m guessing what didn’t get done on the field was done in suds sales.

There are two things I know about Green People, your see: They love their football and they love their Pilsner, and not necessarily in that order. Mind you, they might have been forced to chug some kind of Lotus Land hippie swill rather than Pil at B.C. Place, because it’s a different world out here. Still, a pint is a pint is a pint when your side is on the laughing end of a 48-15 score.

Whatever the case, here’s what I’m thinking: Let’s go back to the future. That is, no more interloping. Let west be west and east be east, and never the twain shall meet until the Grey Cup game. (Apologies to Rudyard Kipling for butchering his poem.)

That’s how the CFL rolled when I was knee high to Willie Fleming and Peanut Butter Joe Kapp. We never saw the whites of an eastern invader’s eyes until the final weekend in November, or the first weekend in December. Then some wise acres decided it would be a swell idea to have clubs flit to and fro across four time zones, and eastern outfits have been stumbling across the Manitoba border ever since.

Well, who needs them in 2019?

Let them keep to their own, with their four-team house league (five when Halifax joins the party; back to four when the Tranna Argos turn out the lights). I believe the five West Division outfits would get along quite nicely without the misfits and stumblebums from o’er there, thank you. Especially if it meant an extra visit from the melon heads.

Now, if the bottomless Boatmen beat the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Thursday night, I take it all back.

Matty

The local football heroes, be advised, were guilty of playing along with the interlocking schedule nonsense when it was introduced in 1961, although they really had no choice. So head coach Bud Grant and his troops trudged to Montreal for an Aug. 11 assignment, beating the Larks 21-15 in the CFL’s first West-East regular-season skirmish. Here’s how legendary football scribe and columnist Jack Matheson described the occasion for Winnipeg Tribune readers: “There were no special ceremonies to welcome a new era in Canadian football. There was, however, terrific humidity that was eventually chased by incessant drizzles, and through it all the Winnipeg team played their best football of the season. Their efforts weren’t particularly appreciated by 18,059 fans.” Apparently those 18,059 customers never left, because that’s still what the Alouettes draw today.

Incidentally, Winnipeg FC began its ’61 crusade with four games in 10 days. That is not a typo. Ten days, four games. So let’s not hear any whinging about a demanding sked today.

Big Bluto: Stories, stories, stories.

Big doings on the south side of River City this very afternoon and evening, with the boys and girls teeing it up in the Dreams Take Flight Tournament at Southwood Golf & Country Club. Bombers legend Chris Walby is among the celebs swinging the sticks, and we all know the large man will also give his jaw a workout. Peter Young has a boffo take on Big Bluto’s modus operandi when he attends one of these functions: “Opens car door in parking lot…starts telling stories…10 hours later gets back in car…stops telling stories…drives home…practices stories for next event.” They’ll fire a shotgun at 1 p.m. to get it all started, and some lucky kid will be going to Disney World in Orlando thanks to the money raised. Good stuff.

Mariano Rivera

I don’t agree that jock journos should stick to sports, but there are times when it’s the preferred option. A case in point would be Damien Cox of the Toronto Star. Noting that Baseball Hall of Fame hurler Mariano Rivera expressed support for Donald Trump, Cox tweeted: “Sad to hear such a great athlete is a nut. Real shame. But that’s life.” So, if your political leanings don’t dovetail with Cox’s, you’re a nut. Hmmm. Sad to hear. Real shame. Cox, unfortunately, couldn’t resist the urge to also weigh in on the Calgary arena agreement, whereby the City foots half the bill for a new shinny palace: “Why in the world don’t the Flames just pay for their own bloody arena?” Here’s a better question: Why in the world would a dude who writes for a rag in the Republic of Tranna care how taxpayer coin is spent in a burg 2,700 km away?

Marcus Stroman

Tweets that struck my fancy in recent days:

Bruce Arthur, Toronto Star: “Marcus Stroman always looked forward to pitching in big competitive moments, to playing for a great organization, and the Jays traded him to the Mets. That’s like breaking up with someone by burning down their house and stealing their credit cards and taking their dog.” (I swear I heard Willie Nelson sing those very lyrics at a concert a few years back.)

Farhan Lalji, TSN reporter during the Lions 45-18 wedgie v. the Roughriders: “Not sure it was the right time for the #BCLions to run an inhouse promo on the jumbotron called “Bad Jokes.” (I suppose the joke is on Mike Reilly.)

Doug Brown, former Bombers D-lineman, gab guy on CJOB, freelance scribe for the Drab Slab, on Winnipeg FC’s stumble in the Hammer: “You just don’t expect this team to lose their first game to a QB named Dane Evans.” (I agree with Doug. If the Bombers are going to lose to Hamilton, the quarterback should be named Bernie Faloney, Frank Cosentino or Joe Zuger.)

Chris Walby, Junior hockey legend and celebrity golfer: “I’ve been fortunate to be on a lot of great Bomber teams in my 16 year career, but this Bombers team is as dominant a team in all phases that I can remember. Keep it up my Bomber brothers. The drought ends in 2019!!” (Oops.)

It came to my attention the other day that Zach Parise of the Minnesota Wild is 35 years old. Can that be so? Seems like Zach just got started.

Coach Potty Mouth

Interesting read by Craig Custance in The Athletic. Craig polled 36 boys and girls on the National Hockey League beat to determine which players/coaches have the gift of the gab, and look who topped out as the best natterbug among bench bosses—that’s right, our guy Paul Maurice. The Winnipeg Jets puppeteer received nine votes, three more than John Tortorella, and it’s really saying something (literally) when what comes out of Coach Potty Mouth’s squawk box is more interesting than Torts’ spewings. Who knew snake oil was in such demand? As for the players, apparently lip service isn’t a Jets thing. None among the locals made the all-talk team. No surprise, really. I mean, when the team captain tells news snoops to “eff off” there’s not much left to say.

Andrew Copp

So, what’s Andrew Copp’s shelf life in River City? One year? Two? Guaranteed the Jets utility forward is as good as gone, because an arbitration hearing is a one-way ticket out of Dodge. We know this to be so thanks to Custance. Citing NHL Players Association numbers, Custance tells us that 27 player/team salary stalemates between 2009 and this summer landed on an arbitrator’s desk. Twenty-one of the 27 skaters had a new mailing address inside three years; 14 said adios inside two years; 14 didn’t survive a year. The latter group would include Jacob Trouba, the only guy nervy enough to play chicken with les Jets until Copp came long with his beef. An arbitrator awarded Trouba a $5.5 million, one-year wage in July 2018, and the top-pair defender was dispatched to Gotham last month. So I give Copp two years tops, but I wouldn’t bet against him being gone as early as autumn. He’s an easily replaced part.

Just wondering: Why was Trouba the target of intense hostility for hopping on the Arbitration Train, yet Copp hasn’t heard similar name-calling?

Stevie Nicks

And, finally, this has nothing to do with sports, but I watched a 1997 Fleetwood Mac concert on PBS Sunday evening and was reminded of the band’s brilliance. Fan-flipping-tastic! Love Stevie Nicks…her growly, entrancing voice, her mystical, occultish vibe, her fabulous fashion sense. I’ll be 69 this year and I don’t mind admitting that I’m still a Steve Nicks groupie. That girl’s got the sexy going on.

Let’s talk about Jacob Trouba and Kurt Overhardt…playing a game of chicken with Chevy and the Winnipeg Jets…the sticker price for a bottom-six forward…Mum’s the word for Mitch…swapping clunkers in Alberta…faux football a tough sell…going to beat ’60…working the CFL beat…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and while munching on cold pizza and watching the Open Championship, I wondered if I could break 200 playing Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland…

To all those among the rabble who told us that Jacob Trouba was the class dunce for listening to the wrong people (read: Kurt Overhardt), what say you now?

Still think he’s stupid? Misguided? Gullible? Easily duped?

Jacob Trouba

You’ll recall, I’m sure, that those were among the words used to describe the young Winnipeg Jets defender when he a) asked for a ticket on the first stage out of Dodge, b) refused to report to training camp, c) stayed home the first two months of one season, d) signed a bridge deal instead of a long-term contract, e) took the club to arbitration.

Here are more less-than-flattering insults hurled Trouba’s way: Immature. Greedy. Big loser. Idiot. Petulant. Fool. Malcontent. Problem child. Liar.

One of his teammates, Mathieu Perreault, joined the braying chorus and called Trouba “selfish.”

And, of course, there were those with quill-and-notebook and/or microphone, their critical essays and rants ranging from a benign tsk-tsking to thunderous accusations, with gusts up to poisonous. Former Drab Slab columnist Paul Wiecek, in particular, conducted a shameful, bitter crusade to discredit the top-pairing rearguard.

“Trouba, for one, has a long track record of doing what’s right for Trouba, even when it’s been what’s wrong for Trouba,” Wiecek wrote, apparently mistaking himself for Dr. Phil. “Trouba is a problem again.”

Kurt Overhardt

So, basically, it was the opinion of the masses that Trouba and Homer Simpson shared a brain, because he blindly allowed his greedy, no-goodnik agent Overhardt to lead him down the garden path (“Look at all the money that douchebag is costing the kid! Oh, the humanity!”)

Well, agent Overhardt led Trouba down the garden path, all right—to Madison Square Garden in Gotham and a $56 million windfall.

The New York Rangers have agreed to compensate Trouba to the merry tune of $8M (average) for the next seven National Hockey League seasons, and $22M of that comes in signing bonuses to be collected in the first three years. So, if there’s a soundtrack to Trouba’s life, it goes something like this: Ka-ching! Ka-ching! Ka-ching!

We should all be so stupid, misguided, gullible and easily duped.

Go ahead and pooh-pooh the Rangers for an overpay the size of Manhattan if you like, but the fact is Overhardt/Trouba played chicken with Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff for three years, and they won. Trouba wanted a zip code instead of a postal code. He got it. He wanted more coin than the $4 million the Jets offered in arbitration a year ago. He’ll get double that on Broadway. And what did the Jets get? Neal Pionk.

Andrew Copp

You think Patrik Laine’s agent hasn’t noticed how the Trouba saga played out? If it’s true that Puck Finn’s nose is out of joint, all he has to do is sign a two-year bridge deal, take les Jets to arbitration down the road, then force a trade. Josh Morrissey, about to enter the second year of his bridge deal, might be doing that very thing. Kyle Connor could do the same. Ditto Andrew Copp, who has the aforementioned Kurt Overhardt whispering sweet nothings in his ear as they begin a stroll down the garden path. Overhardt/Copp say they’ll be happy with $2.9 million per season. Chipman/Chevy have countered with $1.5M per for two years. Barring an 11th-hour agreement, an arbitrator will decide. Do the Jets really want or need to engage in another game of chicken they can’t win?

Bobby Hull and clan.

The first guy to wear sweater No. 9 with les Jets, Robert Marvin Hull, came at a cost of $1.75 million spread over 10 years, plus a $1 million signing bonus. Total sticker price for the Golden Jet: $2.75 million. The guy now wearing sweater No. 9, Copp, reckons he’s worth $2.9 million. Or at least his agent believes that’s the going rate for a bottom-six forward. I agree, it’s absurd, if not flat-out insane. But what if we convert the dollars? Hull’s $2.75M in 1972 is worth $16,851,513.16 in today’s U.S. coin, which would make him the most handsomely compensated player on Planet Puckhead, just as he was when Benny Hatskin and his renegade pals in the World Hockey Association lured the Golden Jet away from the Chicago Blackhawks. Meanwhile, Copp’s $2.9M today would be $473,420.16 in 1972 pay. Guaranteed no bottom-sixer with les Jets was pulling down more than $400K in ’72. So, in either era, that’s an overpay.

Worst new cliché: “He’s betting on himself.” That’s quickly become most tiresome and scribes and natterbugs should lose it faster than their per diem on a road trip to Las Vegas. Look, pro athletes bet on themselves every time they step into the arena. Cripes, man, we all bet on ourselves every morning when we decide to crawl out of the sack. Like, I’m betting I’ll annoy someone with this essay, if I haven’t already.

Mitch Marner

Got a kick out of the Sportsnet website front page in the small hours of Friday morning, after various news snoops had attempted to pry nuggets of insight from Tranna Maple Leafs restricted free agent Mitch Marner:

“Marner mum on contract talks with Maple Leafs at charity event.”
“Marner’s contract talks with Leafs a roller-coaster of anticipation.”
“Maple Leafs’ Marner talks contract, charity on Tim and Sid.”
“Marner wants to be in Maple Leafs uniform at camp, won’t go without deal.”

Hmmm. Four stories. Apparently, Marner had a helluva lot to say for a guy who was “mum.”

The Edsel

Interesting goings-on in Wild Rose Country, where the Oilers and Flames swapped an Edsel for a Gremlin. And it spawned more silliness on Sportsnet, this time from Eric Francis, who delivered this analysis of the transaction that sent seven-goal scorer James Neal wheeling up Highway 402 from Calgary to Edmonton and six-goal scorer Milan Lucic boogying south from Edmonton to Calgary:

“Few would disagree that Lucic is the toughest guy in the NHL.”
“Lucic’s speed is still much better than many would think and his fitness levels are beyond repute.”
“Lucic provides something few players left in the league can. In fact, he may still be the very best at what he’s being brought in to do.”
“Although Lucic has fought very little in the last couple, few players dared to mess with Connor McDavid during Lucic’s watch.”

Good grief. Is it too late to reopen the legalize marijuana debate? Seriously, Eric, take another toke. Looch has the urgency of a filibuster. Only an income tax return moves slower. As for his work as a guard dog, if Looch did such a boffo job why did McDavid become Connor McMugged last season?

Dear friend Judy Owen of The Canadian Press reports that ticket sales to the Green Bay Packers-Oakland Raiders dress rehearsal at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry next month aren’t exactly brisk. Matter of fact, they’re slower than a sports writer reaching for a bar tab. Should we be surprised? Not really. Asking a Winnipegger to pay upwards of $400 to watch faux football is like asking Chris Walby to pass on second helpings.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying Pegtowners are penny-pinchers. After all, I’m one of them and it’s not by coincidence that I do all my shopping at thrift stores. But I believe the Ojibway words for Portage and Main are “Cheap and Chintzy.” We only pay asking price if you toss in a free Slurpee.

Come to think of it, maybe that’s Chevy’s problem. He keeps trying to buy his hockey players wholesale.

So, after their 31-1 curb-stomping of the Bytown RedBlacks on Friday night, our Winnipeg Blue Bombers are 5-nada. First time since 1960. Would you call me a Debbie Downer if I pointed out that the 5-0 outfit in ’60 did a playoff faceplant? Yup. Didn’t even get to the big dance. Lost to the E-Town Eskimos in a best-of-three Western final, dropping the deciding game 4-2. It was the only season from 1958 to 1962 that our football heroes failed to bring the Grey Cup home to River City. Thus, the less we talk about 1960 the better.

Some folks aren’t convinced that the Bombers are the real deal and point to namby-pamby foes—E-Town, Bytown, Tranna Argos, B.C. Lions—and their combined record of 6-15 as evidence of phony superiority. Sorry, but I’m not buying what those people are selling. Who is Winnipeg FC supposed to play? The New England Patriots? The Bombers can only follow the dictates of the Canadian Football League schedule-maker, and if that means whacking 98-pound weaklings, so be it.

Kirk Penton

More good CFL stuff from Kirk Penton in The Athletic, including these nuggets in his insiders segment that features unvarnished comments from team management, coaches and executives:

“The Simoni (Lawrence) decision was more than fair. Probably one of the dirtiest plays I’ve seen in the CFL. The fact he lies about not doing it deliberately makes it worse. At least Kyries Hebert took his medicine for his dirty plays and didn’t bullshit saying it was accidental.”

“When Joe Mack was our GM we could have traded for Ricky Ray. He said we didn’t need him. Same year we drafted Tyson Pencer in the first round. But when (the team was) struggling, he fired (Paul LaPolice) in August. Look, I’ve heard both sides of the Ray debate. Great player who couldn’t stay healthy, but at that point, Buck’s (Pierce) injury history was worse.”

What are the odds of Mike Reilly finishing this CFL season in one piece? He’s not a quarterback, he’s a pinata. Reilly was basically wearing D-lineman Charleston Hughes on Saturday night in Regina, and that’s never anyone’s idea of a good time. If Leos GM Ed Hervey doesn’t get Reilly some protection, it isn’t going to end well for the CFL’s best QB.

Matty

And, finally, when I started in the rag trade, the Bombers were the big dog in Good Ol’ Hometown.

The Jets and the World Hockey Association weren’t even a talking point at that time, so great swaths of forest were felled to provide enough newsprint for coverage of our CFL outfit in both the Winnipeg Tribune and Drab Slab

The boys on the beat were the great Jack Matheson and Don Blanchard, and they worked the Bombers every which way but loose, establishing what I considered the standard to which other football scribes should strive. The measuring stick, if you will.

So how are the boys on the beat doing today? I’d say the torch is in reliable hands with Jeff Hamilton and Ted Wyman.

Ted Wyman

It’s been that way for quite some time, actually, and I could make an argument that no sheet in the country has done a better job at chronicling a CFL outfit than the two River City rags. Young Eddie Tait was the best in the biz before going over the wall, and I’d say the aforementioned Kirk Penton was right there with him, scoop for scoop and feature for feature. Ashley Prest, Judy Owen, Big Jim Bender, Dave Supleve, Granny Granger and others did wonderful work, and it helped that they truly cared about the football club.

Matty and Blanch would be pleased.