Let’s talk about the CFL’s QB carnage…“remarkably ugly” football…Argos no laughing matter…Popp’s big hairy deal…news snoops in a snit…Miss Manners’ son Stevie…old broadcasters and friends…and green leaves and jujubes at Carnarvon Park…

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and if I want to eat plants I’ll have a salad, not a plant masquerading as a hamburger…

If that was a Grey Cup preview Friday night at Timbits Field in the Hammer, I might opt for a Steve McQueen or Duke Wayne marathon on the final Sunday in November.

Shabby? Like an old hobo’s hair.

Alas, that’s what we get when there’s a neophyte quarterback on one side and a veteran quarterback playing like the neophyte’s understudy on the other.

The Hamilton Tabbies certainly were the superior outfit in the short time Jeremiah Masoli was behind centre during their 23-15 W, but a wonky left knee forced the all-star QB to excuse himself and the Tiger-Cats spent the remainder of the evening in safety-first mode, with tenderfoot Dane Evans barking signals into one of TSN’s live mics. He was meh at best.

If only the game itself had reached that level.

This was (supposedly) the Canadian Football League marquee match, with a pair of first-place outfits grabbing artificial grass and growling. The visiting Winnipeg Blue Bombers arrived in the Hammer sans an L on their registry. A perfect 5-nada. The Tabbies had just one hiccup in five assignments. So, ya, it walked and talked like a Grey Cup dress rehearsal.

Then they kicked off and the large lads forgot how to play.

Matt Nichols

Correction: Matt Nichols forgot how to play.

I keep hearing that football is the ultimate team game, but the Bombers’ first stumble of this crusade is mostly down to QB Nichols, who kept throwing passes he had no business throwing, and three of them landed in the eager and welcoming arms of guys dressed in black and gold.

Had a quarterback more accomplished than Dane Evans been available to make Winnipeg FC pay for Nichols’ (also the kick returners) sins, we might be talking about a rout of biblical levels.

Sadly, Evans’ presence and Masoli’s absence is part of the CFL’s increasingly bleak big-picture story.

Bo Levi Mitchell

Forget that Masoli has the worst QB body since Danny McManus. (Seriously. He looks like Fred Flintstone in shoulder pads.) He gets the job done. He’s elite. But he’s the sixth starter to go down for the count this summer, joining Bo Levi Mitchell, Zach Collaros, Antonio Pipken, Dominique Davis and James Franklin in the repair shop. And it’s only due to extreme good fortune that someone hasn’t put a toe tag on Mike Reilly’s season.

Commissioner Randy Ambrosie spent much of the past winter and spring blah, blah, blahing about a new vision that he likes to call CFL 2.0. What I didn’t know is that CFL 2.0 meant every team would be starting its QB 2.0 before Labour Day.

I mean, by the time the playoffs commence, the body count will be so high that we might be watching Andrew Sheer and Justin Trudeau fling the football in the West Division final instead of Nichols and Trevor Harris.

Can anything be done to halt the QB carnage?

Simoni Lawrence took out Zach Collaros.

Well, quarterbacks are now treated like pricey porcelain figurines, with better protection than Queen Liz. Hostile defenders breath on them at their own peril, and Commish Randy underscored the CFL’s keep-QBs-vertical agenda by ordering Simoni Lawrence to take a two-game respite for the unlawful hit that sent Collaros to a dark room.

Unfortunately, threats of vacations without pay couldn’t have prevented the Masoli owie. It was the result of a freakish play, whereby his left knee caved in during his attempt to escape large, angry men with a different agenda.

So on came neophyte Evans and, with the inept Nichols far off his game, it made for rather dreary theatre with four picks, seven turnovers and not a single play from scrimmage exceeding 27 yards.

I hate to say this because the CFL is my favorite pro sports league, but it’s becoming almost unwatchable.

It doesn’t help, of course, that TSN insists on trying to doll up its broadcasts with that annoying split screen, the voices of natterbugs in the booth competing with live-mic’d players/officials, and cameras that appear to be located in a distant area code. Live mics are boffo for curling and golf, and even baseball, but not so much during a football telecast.

Here’s truth in broadcasting: During the first half of the Calgary Stampeders-Bytown RougeNoir frolic on Thursday night, TSN natterbug Duane Forde described it as “remarkably ugly.” That is remarkably honest. Also remarkably refreshing.

Yoko Ono

Neither of the two skirmishes on the Thursday menu will be included in CFL promo material. On the entertainment scale, they were somewhere between an Adam Sandler movie and the ear-blitzing screeching of a Yoko Ono concert. I mean, three teams—Tranna Argonauts, Calgary and Bytown—had a combined total of one touchdown. In 148 plays from scrimmage. The Argos couldn’t even scrounge up a measly rouge vs. the Eskimos in E-Town. You know how difficult it is to get blanked in the CFL? O.J. Simpson will have an easier time getting through the Pearly Gates. But the bottomless Boatmen managed it. Uh-glee. I suffered through both jousts and, yes, I’d like to have those six hours of my life back, if you don’t mind.

Many of us who dwell in the colonies aren’t opposed to crude jokes and rude laughter when outfits from the Republic of Tranna perform face plants, but there’s nothing funny about the oarless Scullers being oh-fer-2019. The Argos are the boil on the CFL’s butt. On and off the field. Their freshly completed (mis)adventure on the Prairies was a ghastly bit of business, and you know losing three games and being outscored 100-37 won’t win them new admirers. Mind you, they’re still mourning the loss of Kawhi Leonard in The ROT, so it’s unlikely that anyone there noticed. That, too, is sad.

Jim Popp

In the department of ‘what have you done for us lately,’ I present Jim Popp, GM of the Boatmen. Once considered a gridiron guru in three-down circles, it’s become apparent that Popp has a fabulous head of hair and not much else. He failed to find a replacement for Anthony Calvillo in Montreal (the Larks have been paying for it ever since) and he hasn’t found a replacement for Ricky Ray in The ROT. No QB, no hope, no job for Popp if he doesn’t do something about it.

Beastmo Bighill

Prior to the Bombers’ departure to our eastern precincts last week, it was noted that neither Beastmo Bighill or Chris Matthews was made available for chin-wags post-practice on Monday. Not surprisingly, there was harrumphing among news snoops. “This is the CFL,” Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna squawked on Twitter. “Every player should be available to media every day. Doing the opposite is small-time, small-town backwards thinking.” Hmmm. You mean like Kawhi Leonard and the Tranna Jurassics? He spoke less often than a street mime during his one-and-done pit stop in The ROT, yet somehow those pesky jock journos managed to get the job done without Kawhi’s daily pearls of wisdom. Is every player on every team in the National Hockey League available every day? Nope. Problem is, some news snoops have a misguided sense of entitlement and still believe athletes/coaches are at their every beck and call. Doesn’t work that way, kids. Not anymore. So boo freaking hoo. Find someone else to talk to.

The outrageously arrogant Simmons didn’t limit his pompous tsk-tsking to the CFL last week. No sir. He slid into full Grandpa Simpson, fist-shaking mode after Kawhi Leonard was introduced as a member of the L.A. Clippers. “Four people Kawhi had to thank and didn’t,” he tweeted from the fetal position. “1) Masai (Ujiri) 2) Larry Tanenbaum 3) Alex (load management) McKechnie 4) Nick Nurse. He did thank restaurants for giving him free food, though.” Why, shame on Kawhi. I mean, such nerve. How dare he wag his tongue without first conferring with Miss Manners’ son Stevie. I hope all the nominees for Emmy Awards in September realize they must clear their acceptance/thank you speeches through Stevie before approaching the microphone.

Others on the hoops beat in The ROT resisted any urge to play the jilted lover role, offering less of an emotional take on Leonard’s first utterings as a Clipper:
Bruce Arthur,
Toronto Star: “(Kawhi) did it right.”
Leo Rautins, TSN: “(Kawhi was) very thoughtful in his words.”
Tim Micallef, Sportsnet: “I don’t care about any of that stuff. I really don’t. I understand the fans do. I really don’t care about it.”

Brian Williams

So nice to see Brian Williams on TSN’s coverage of the Prince of Wales Stakes last Tuesday. Brian is a lovely man and an exceptional broadcaster. Not many talkers on TV are more polished and, hey, he’s one of us. Which is to say, he drew his first breath in Good Ol’ Hometown.

I hear they had a big adios bash last week for three Globe and Mail sports scribes, including Dave Shoalts. I worked with Shoaltsy in Calgary and I can report that he’s one of the truly good guys in a business full of good guys. He’s also a funny man. Enjoy the rocking chair, Shoaltsy.

A big hi-de-ho to old friend Peter Young. Pete’s ticker gave him a spot of grief not so long ago, but I see the old broadcaster is back on social media and taking aim at Bob Cameron.

Michelle Liu

And, finally, ever since I heard that 12-year-old Michelle Liu had qualified to play with the grown-ups at the CP Women’s Open golf tournament next month in Aurora, Ont., I’ve been trying to remember what I was doing in the summer of 1963, when I was her age. I believe I was building sand castles at Willows Beach in Oak Bay (Victoria). No. Wait. Now I remember. They wouldn’t allow me to play with the 14-year-olds in a baseball tourney at Carnarvon Park (arrived too late for registration), so I sold programs instead and made $5 one day and $3 the next. That bought a kid a lot of green leaves and jujubes back in the day.

Let’s talk about cheering in the press box…negative bias…Red Smith getting the heave-ho…Brown Bagging It in the Drab Slab…Tim & Sid & Puck Finn…rooting for les Leafs…TV ratings…and sports IQ

A mid-week, media-centric smorgas-bored coming down in 3, 2, 1…and a happy hump day to all you working stiffs…

A couple of weekends back, I mentioned something about cheering in the press box and entered a guilty plea on the charge of silently root, root, rooting for the 1978-79 Winnipeg Jets in the final waltz of the final World Hockey Association playoff gala.

The key word is “silently.”

I totally understood the ‘no cheering in the press box’ mantra and I subscribed to it without reservation during my 30 years in the rag trade. More to the point, I was inclined to cast the stink eye at anyone who betrayed the precious, unwritten code that dates back to the first chisel striking a stone tablet following David’s epic upset win over Goliath.

Thus it was with interest that I read Mad Mike McIntyre’s thoughts on the matter at the conclusion of his recent hoops safari to the Republic of Tranna at the behest of the Drab Slab.

While the Jurassics and the Golden State Juggernaut had at it on the hardwood, Mad Mike found himself somewhat discomforted by the presence of the most scorned and tut-tutted of press box inhabitants—he/she who waves pom-poms.

“That’s just gross,” he opined. “To be clear, I didn’t witness this from any of the mainstream press—who I expect would know better—but from a handful of fringe online writers who managed to score access. A big no-no, but the kind of thing that is happening in this rapidly growing media world where ‘fan-friendly’ copy can score you easy clicks and likes.

“Let me say this as loudly as I can: I don’t cheer for any team I cover. And I would hope my copy, not to mention 24-year journalism career in this city, would reflect that. The only things I root for are good storylines and quick-moving games that leave plenty of time for deadline to file. And Diet Pepsi in the press box, instead of Diet Coke.”

Well, let me say this about that (without being too loud) once again: Any news snoop who tells you that he/she doesn’t have favorites, trust me, he/she is lying. And because they have favorites, they want those people and/or teams to succeed. That isn’t wrong, nor does it make them sellouts to a sacred trust. It makes them human.

Imagine that. Sports scribes as humans. What a concept. It’s true, though. Especially among the women. I’ve yet to meet a female jock journo who isn’t human. The men, not so much.

But even the men are suckers for a good story from good people.

You think there wasn’t silent cheering in the press box at the old barn on Maroons Road when Teemu Selanne was about to shatter Mike Bossy’s rookie record for goal scoring in 1993? Teemu wasn’t just a fan favorite in Good Ol’ Hometown. He was a media darling. Scribes and talking heads loved the obliging, aw-shucks kid with the flashy nickname from Finland. They couldn’t get enough of him. So when Selanne passed Bossy, you wanted to stand up and damn well cheer.

Other things made you want to break down and bloody well cry, like a spring afternoon in 1996 when the Winnipeg Jets bid farewell to the faithful and bolted for the Arizona desert. (I know, for certain, there were news snoops with tears in their eyes that day.)

The trick, of course, is to keep any bias on the down low while perched in the press box and, most imperative, prevent it from creeping into your copy.

To date, Mad Mike has managed to do that while sucking back his Diet Pepsi. But Big Sister is watching and reading.

Prejudice, you realize, can cut both ways. The most recent example of negative bias I can think of was the extreme and shameful hate-on former Drab Slab columnist Paul Wiecek had for Jacob Trouba. The young Jets defender (allegedly) lied to Wiecek about a desire to play in Winnipeg, and the Freep scribe went into attack mode, never squandering an opportunity to discredit Trouba’s character, if not his play. It became an obsession, very personal, nasty and uncomfortable. That is as much a betrayal to the trade as standing up and cheering in the press box.

Red Smith

Here’s how legendary American columnist Red Smith handled a run-in with an athlete back in the day (from the book No Cheering in the Press Box by Jerome Holtzman):

“Over the years, of course, all sports writers, especially those assigned to and traveling with ball clubs, have difficulty with a ball player, or ball players. I never had anything as crucial as an actual fist fight, but I did have some differences with Bill Werber. This was when I was in Philadelphia and he was traded or sold. The A’s sent him to the Cincinnati Reds, and when the deal was announced I probably wrote something to the general effect of ‘Good riddance.’ I’m not sure. I didn’t care deeply for Bill. I thought he paraded his formal education. He was out of Duke, you know, and he used to correct the grammar of other ball players. There were things about Bill that didn’t enchant me.

“In 1939 the Reds were in the World Series. When we got to Cincinnati for the third game I went down to the bench before the game, and my old friend Paul Derringer said, ‘Hello, Red, you know Bill Werber don’t you?’ And Werber said, ‘Yes, I know the sonofabitch.’

“It went on, a tiny few exchanges like that, and then he said, ‘Get off this bench! Get out of the dugout!’

“I said, ‘No, I’m a guest here.’

“And he got up and shouldered me out of the dugout, just kind of strongarmed me out. I had my portable and I was strongly tempted to let him have it—with the typewriter. But I somehow didn’t feel like doing that on the field before the first World Series game in Cincinnati and so I left.

“I remember Charlie Dexter coming along behind me and he said, ‘What are you going to do? Are you going to protest to the Baseball Writers Association?’

“I said, ‘No, Charlie, the player doesn’t like me.’

“I didn’t speak to him again.”

Doug Brown

Another interesting entry from Doug Brown on the pages of the Drab Slab. Despite evidence to the contrary in the 2018 Canadian Football League crusade, Doug’s not convinced that Chris Streveler is a suitable backup quarterback for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. “It can take a lot more time to develop a pocket-passing acumen than a couple of starts, a year of practice and some preseason games. Call it a hunch, a best guess, but I’m not sure he eventually will.” Brown adds that Streveler’s “habits, and affinity for contact, aren’t sustainable for the long-term in the CFL.” Like I said, interesting. Brown, of course, saw some QBs during his time on D-lines in both the CFL and National Football League, but I’m saying he misses his “guess” on Streveler.

So, some dude named David Pagnotta from a blog called The Fourth Period cites “multiple sources close to the situation” and tells us that restricted free agent Patrik Laine plans to “explore” all his options. That, in turn, leads to rampant rumor that Puck Finn wants out of River City if les Jets don’t pony up to the tune of $10 million per season on a new contract. That’s where Tim & Sid weighed in on Sportsnet.

Tim Micallef: “Laine is an elite goal scorer.”
Sid Seixeiro: “But here’s the thing. Laine…there are some red flags on Laine a little bit. Would you not acknowledge? He’s extremely hard on himself, he’ll go in that slump…there are parts of Laine, when he’s scoring 45-plus you kind of ignore, but when he had a year like he had last year…look, they’re gonna pay him, they’re gonna keep him, I’m not saying they’re not. But his rep isn’t what it was 18 months ago.”

Tim & Sid

Tim: “But even then, so what do you drop to, a Phil Kessel? Like, honestly, the guy can score in his sleep, right?”
Sid: “When he’s scoring.”
Tim: “But when he’s scoring he ends up with 40, in and around. Right? Like, even with the slumps, he ends up with in and around 40, which, I don’t know if you checked, gets a lot of money in the NHL these days.”
Sid: “Oh, it does. Look, the Cheveldayoff thing and Laine, we’re gonna hear a lot of the breaking rumors, he is not leaving Winnipeg, he is signing long term in Winnipeg, he is not being traded, he is not exploring those options. Of all the restricteds, that one is gonna get locked down guaranteed.”

I’m with Sid, even though his numbers are a bit wonky (Laine has yet to score “45-plus” in a season). Puck Finn isn’t going anywhere.

Strange tweet from Scott Stinson of the National Post: “No one from outside Ontario would dare cheer for the Maple Leafs. The Raptors, though…” What rock has that dude been hiding under? When les Leafs make their annual pilgrimage to Western Canada, it’s like they’re the home team. Stinson might want to get out of the house more often. Or at least stay up late enough to turn on his TV and watch les Leafs when they’re playing in the colonies.

D’oh boy tweet from Damien Cox of the Toronto Star: “More people watching these Raptor games in the NBA Finals than watch Grey Cups these days. That’s exceeding an annual piece of Canadiana. Think about that for a moment.” I don’t have to think about it. Although Cox doesn’t spell out what “these days” are, here are Canadian TV ratings from Grey Cup matches this century vs. the NBA final:

2009 Montreal-Saskatchewan 6.1 million average
2010 Montreal-Saskatchewan 6M
2012 Calgary-Toronto 5.8M
2002 Montreal-Edmonton 5.2M
2011 B.C.-Winnipeg 4.6M
2013 Hamilton-Saskatchewan 4.5M
2003 Edmonton-Montreal 4.4M
2015 Ottawa-Edmonton 4.3M
2017 Toronto-Calgary 4.3M
2019 Game 2 NBA final 4.3M
2014 Hamilton-Calgary 4.1M
2006 B.C.-Montreal 4M
2005 Edmonton-Montreal 4M
2004 Toronto-B.C. 4M
2016 Calgary-Ottawa 3.9M
2008 Calgary-Montreal 3.65M
2007 Winnipeg-Saskatchewan 3.5M
2019 Game 1 NBA final 3.3M
2018 Calgary-Ottawa 3.1M
2001 Calgary-Winnipeg 2.7M

And, finally, I keep hearing pundits talk about hockey IQ and basketball IQ and football IQ, but I never hear anyone mention baseball IQ. I guess after listening to Yogi Berra and Casey Stengel, the notion of intelligent life on Planet Baseball was ruled out years ago.