The River City Renegade


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About the first-place (for a few hours) Winnipeg Blue Bombers…near-perfection…laughing it up about naked women…new wrinkles in curling…best of the Blue Jays…good writing…a strange tweet…and other things on my mind

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

I looked at the Canadian Football League standings on Saturday morning and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers were atop the tables. I know, totally weird.

It was kind of like staring at a solar eclipse without eye protection.

Matt Nichols

I mean, these are the 0-for-a quarter-century Blue Bombers and, even though the Calgary Stampeders had slipped past them by the end of the day, I’m wondering if it’s now safe to say that general manager Kyle Walters and head coach Mike O’Shea actually know what they’re doing. Naw. Probably not.

As much as the Bombers are full marks for their 7-2 log at the midway point of their current crusade, we’ll reserve judgement until all the evidence is in. Six of their final nine skirmishes are against West Division foes, one of whom is a Saskatchewan Roughriders outfit that looked like two gimme wins three weeks ago but suddenly has a pulse.

I’m sticking with my suggestion that the Bombers should finish 14-4, though. Then I’ll agree that Walters and O’Shea know what they’re doing. At least until Coach Mikey asks kicker Justin Medlock to hoof a 61-yard field goal or play quarterback.

Just wondering: Is Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols now in the Most Outstanding Player discussion? Until the goings-on of this past week, I would have said no. Mike Reilly, the Edmonton Eskimos QB, was the man, but he imploded in a shocking loss to Gang Green. I think Nichols has to be considered.

Take that, Conor McGregor!

Nope. Didn’t watch the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Conor McGregor dust-up at T-Mobile Arena in Glitter Gulch on Saturday. I try not to spend my money in support of a man who spends his spare time beating up women.

I keep hearing how Mayweather broke some sort of a record with his 10-round TKO of McGregor. He’s had his hand raised in a boxing ring 50 times, and not once has he walked out a loser. Is 50-0 exceptional? You betcha. The best ever? Hardly. Julio Cesar Chavez was 87-0 before there was a blemish on his record (a controversial draw against Pernell Whitaker) and he wasn’t beaten until his 91st bout. Willie Pep went 62-0 before losing. Then he went 72-0-1 before his next defeat. That’s one loss in 136 bouts. When Ricardo Lopez hung ’em up, he was 51-0-1.

I don’t believe in perfection. A boxer can have a perfect record, but that doesn’t make him a perfect boxer. With that in mind, here’s today’s top-five list: Near-perfection…
1. Alison Krauss’s voice: Angelic.
2. Secretariat in the Belmont Stakes: The most breathtaking performance I’ve ever seen in sports.
3. Sandy Koufax: How did the great Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher ever lose?
4. Bobby Orr: He travelled a different orbit than any other hockey player.
5. Jimmy Stewart: Can’t think of a movie I didn’t like him in.

Will Mayweather now do us a favor and exit quietly? That would be nice, but, sadly, I suspect we’ll be hearing from him again, and we can only hope it isn’t because cops have been called to put the cuffs on him for beating up another woman.

Floyd Mayweather and Jimmy Kimmel sharing giggles about naked women.

Add Jimmy Kimmel to the list of Mayweather enablers. The late-night TV chin-wagger had the serial women-beater on his Jimmy Kimmel Live! gab-fest recently, and it was a shameful exercise in fan worship, fraught with weak humor and fawning. Not once during the schmooze did Kimmel mention domestic abuse. But, hey, we learned why Mayweather got into the business of having women remove their clothing at his Girl Collection strip club in Sin City: “Because I knew breasts, the vagina, music and alcohol would never go out of style,” he said. Jimmy Kimmel giggled. So did much of his audience. Sigh.

Steve Simmons of Postmedia, one of Mayweather’s hypocritical enablers on press row, wrote this in advance of Saturday night’s tiff against the excessively vulgar and obnoxious loudmouth McGregor: “Give Mayweather some credit on press conference Wednesday. He seems to want to say goodbye with some dignity.” Good grief. Dignity is a word that ought never be used when describing a man who beats up women.

Simmons, who fancies himself as a boxing expert because he’s covered more than a dozen prize fights, offered this prediction prior to Mayweather-McGregor: “It could end early. It could go eight or nine rounds. Or it could go the distance. That’s not being wishy-washy.” If that isn’t wishy-washy, then the Pope isn’t Catholic. Simmons then wrote, “Mayweather wins early, late or by decision.” What’s it going to be, Steve? “PREDICTION WITHOUT COMMITMENT: Mayweather in 9 rounds.” In other words, he didn’t have a clue.

Quick review on the Everest Curling Challenge in Fredericton: It was like eating a Sloppy Joe—really enjoyable but kind of messy. The concept is brilliant, with eight mixed all-star teams pieced together in a draft, then shooting for a $200,000 winner-take-all prize. And the bonus extra point for shot stone covering the pin hole is a terrific wrinkle. But the timing is off. Curling in August is like skinny dipping in January. The players, clearly not in fighting trim, were guessing on ice, guessing on weight, guessing in their decision-making. At one point, TSN talking head Russ Howard mentioned something about “amateur” mistakes. Find a better date and the event is a total winner.

Interesting that none of the four outfits skipped by women—Rachel Homan, Jennifer Jones, Val Sweeting and Chelsea Carey—advanced out of the first round in Fredericton. I’m not sure what to make of that. I mean, it’s not like male skips are better strategists.

I note that Sportsnet has declared second-sacker Roberto Alomar the greatest player to ever wear a Tranna Blue Jays uni. Can’t argue with that. When he wasn’t spitting on umpires, Alomar was wowing ’em in the field and at the dish.

Terrific piece on former Winnipeg Jets knuckle-dragger Jimmy Mann by Mike Sawatzky in the Winnipeg Free Press. Jimmy will always be remembered as GM John Ferguson’s most glaring d’oh moment at the National Hockey League draft, but he was a nice kid off the ice.

Bravo to Todd Fanning, winner of the Canadian Men’s Mid-Amateur golf championship last week in Regina. I remember covering Todd on the Canadian pro tour a number of years back. Good guy.

Interesting tweet from young Jeff Hamilton of the Freep: “Montreal update: guy that was using the urinal beside me was holding his toothbrush with his other hand.” Yo! Jeff! My gay friends want to know why you were peeking down there.

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

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About the Winnipeg Blue Bombers having ‘jump’…a theme song for bellies and butts…Grapes hitting a sour note in Chitown…mix-and-match curling…and an ‘ace’ reporter

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

The Green Bay Packers have their Lambeau Leap after touchdowns and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have their…well, I’m not quite sure what to call their post-TD ritual.

It certainly isn’t a leap, a hop, a jump or a skip.

I mean, watching Travis Bond or Jermarcus Hardrick try to launch themselves into the stands at Formerly Football Follies Field in Fort Garry is like watching an Orca try to climb a tree. An ATM machine has a better vertical. Calling what the Bombers’ O-linemen do a leap is like calling a manhole cover a frisbee.

If anything, it’s a splat. Those guys are all belly and butt. It’s 300-plus pounds of mom’s home cooking colliding with rubber padding and concrete.

And those fans who attempt to lift the large lads in pads off the ground and haul them into the pews? Good luck with that. You’ll see Hillary Clinton in the White House before you ever see daylight between the soles of Bond’s shoes and terra firma.

But the O-linemen TD hijinks is a hoot. It’s really big kids having little kids’ fun. It’s good energy. Even if they don’t have jump.

What the Bombers O-linemen need is an official TD celebration song. All those in favor of Jumpin’ Jack Flash by the Rolling Stones say “aye.” All those opposed, come up with a better jump song than these five and we’ll discuss it…
1. Jumpin’ Jack Flash—Rolling Stones:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eQSGw0hMd_I
2. Jump—Van Halen:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5EqWN4fT79s
3. Jump They Say—David Bowie:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=avJt0SQec0I
4. Devil’s Jump—John Lee Hooker:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R_d07EWNoAs
5. Leap of Faith—Bruce Springsteen:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ouWEZPkbznQ

The Big Splat Attack has become a fun part of the fabric of a crusade that likely has exceeded the expectations of most, if not all, in Bombers Nation. I certainly didn’t see 6-2 coming. Or a sniff of first place in the dog-eat-dog world that is the West Division of the Canadian Football League. Call me crazy (I’ve been called worse), but after the Bombers dismantled the Edmonton Eskimos, 33-26, I see just one outfit better than the Blue and Gold at this moment in history—the Calgary Stampeders. And the Albertans surely looked vulnerable during their 21-17 conquest of the B.C. Lions on Friday night, an intense skirmish that was more yawn-inducing than awe-inspiring.

Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea, who can safely get through another week without anyone with a poison pen writing about his short pants and smirk, wins this week’s prize for low-key after he described his club’s victory over the previously unbeaten Eskimos as “pretty pleasing all around.” Ya think? That’s the biggest understatement since Custer looked at the Indians and said, “Gee, there sure are a lot of them.”

Nice head count for the Eskimos’ visit to Formerly Football Follies Field in Fort Garry—a season-high 30,554. Guess we have to blame the empty 2,680 seats on O’Shea. If only the guy didn’t wear short pants and a smirk.

Sportsnet continues to treat the CFL as the red-headed, freckle-faced stepchild. They devoted two tiny lines on the front page of their website to the Bombers-Eskimos, while the main story was about the Toronto Blue Jays winning to remain on the “fringe” of the Major League Baseball playoff chase. There was also a riveting piece on “breaking down the best of NBA’s new Nike jerseys.” Stop the presses! Meanwhile, on the TSN website, Bombers-Esks was the main story and there were also three video features from the game. That’s how it should be done.

The difference between the Hamilton Tiger-Cats with and without Jeff Reinebold as defensive co-ordinator? A rouge. With Reinebold pulling the strings for the defensive dozen, the Tabbies were 0-6 and surrendered 39 points per game. Without him, they’re 0-2 while allowing 38 points per. But, hey, the guy had to go and head coach Kent Austin had to stay, right?

Grapes should feel the wrath of Cubs fans.

Two things we learned about Don Cherry this weekend: 1) He’s a horrible singer; 2) he’s a horrible house guest. If you missed it, the Chicago Cubs invited Cherry to warble Take Me Out to the Ball Game during the seventh-inning stretch of a Blue Jays-Cubbies game at Wrigley Field. Blowhard Grapes can be forgiven for being off-key with his singing, but changing the lyrics from “root, root, root for the Cubbies” to “root, root, root for the best team” is beyond lame. That’s like messing with the National Anthem, man. A pox on his suits and ban him from any karaoke night at any pub near you.

Dumb headline of the week comes from the Toronto Star: “Shapovalov down to earth with expectations sky high.” Exactly what are the Star’s “sky high” expectations for Canadian tennis teen Denis Shapovalov? Do they, or anyone, expect him to go to the U.S. Open and go on the kind of run he had at the Rogers Cup in Montreal? He’ll be doing great if he qualifies and wins a match or two.

World champ Rachel Homan.

Only in curling do we find the elite of the sport competing on equal footing, regardless of gender, which is why I’m really looking forward to the Everest Curling Challenge, Aug. 25-27 in Fredericton. Skips Rachel Homan, Kevin Koe, Brad Gushue, Jennifer Jones, Chelsea Carey, John Epping, Brad Jacobs and Victoria Moiseeva will be drafting two-men, two-women teams in quest of a $200,000 winner’s payout. Ah, but there’s a hitch: The skips cannot choose players from their regular outfits. Winnipeg’s Jones, for example, is obliged to draft someone other than Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer and Dawn McEwen. Should be fun and you’ll have to excuse me if I root, root, root for one of the lady skips to win.

Bravo to Ken Wiebe of the Winnipeg Sun, who scored two aces in one round of golf at Glendale last week. I do that all the time. In mini-golf and my dreams.

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


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About Genie Bouchard and the weight of the Maple Leaf…terrible tennis towels…the real CFL West Division standings…male golfers in short pants…and bad-ass athletes

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

Donna Vekic and Genie Bouchard

Genie Bouchard wants no part of the “burden of Canada.” Furthermore, she thinks it’d be real swell if “the media doesn’t put pressure on me, that would be nice.”

Good thing she isn’t a hockey player.

I mean, Bouchard wants to talk about the “burden of Canada?” Try trading places with Sidney Crosby or Jonathan Toews or Carey Price. Or Shannon Szabados and Marie Philip Poulan.

We’re Planet Puckhead, from the bottom of Sid the 30-year-old Kid’s skate blades to Don Cherry’s white chin whiskers. Our men (or teenage boys) lose a shinny competition and there’s blood in the streets. Heads roll. Parliament is recalled. There are demands for a Royal Commission. National angst isn’t quite as intense and irrational when our women stumble and fall, but expectations of success might actually be greater for the girls, given that they compete in a field consisting of two thoroughbreds and a collection of pasture ponies.

No such emotional outlay and investment exists when One-and-Done Genie steps on court to lose yet again in the opening round of a tennis tournament, as she did on Tuesday at the Rogers Cup in the Republic of Tranna, this time qualifier Donna Vekic nudging her wayside, 6-3, 6-4.

Since no one has ever accused Canada of being a tennis nation, we don’t huddle around flatscreen TVs at home or in pubs and hold our collective breath on the Quebec belle’s every groundstroke or double fault. Large numbers hope she wins. Few expect her to win. Thus, whatever weight she feels from the Maple Leaf is self-inflicted, not fan or media imposed.

Unlike others, I won’t pretend to analyze the reasons behind Bouchard’s plummet from world No. 5 to No. 70 in the three years since she advanced to the Wimbledon final, whereupon she received a 6-3, 6-0 paddling at the racquet of Petra Kvitova in less than an hour. As she hastened to instruct news snoops and those who would draw a link between her increased social media/cover girl activity and her on-court faceplants, “You have no idea what my life is like and what my days are like.”

True that.

In terms of Genie’s game, though, it doesn’t take a Chrissie Evert or Billie Jean King to recognize distress. From 2-2 in the second set vs. Vekic, it was painfully evident that the Rogers Cup would be another one-and-done tournament for our tennis diva. Her body language was ghastly. It was defeatist.

Hard to believe that all those scattered shots had anything to do with the heft of the Maple Leaf. She’s just as lost in the Republic of Tranna as she is in Istanbul, Monterrey, Acapulco or Indian Wells.

Men just can’t do without their terrible tennis towels.

Just wondering: How is it that the elite of women’s tennis can start and finish a match without reaching for a towel every 10 seconds, whereas the men feel the need to wipe themselves down—from stem to stern—after every…single…point? It’s actually quite disgusting if you’re a ball girl or boy. Icky.

All best wishes to Eddie Olczyk, one of the good guys who wore Winnipeg Jets linen before the National Hockey League franchise fled to Arizona. Eddie O is battling colon cancer.

So, it turns out Jeff Reinebold was the problem in Hamilton. And here I thought the head coach, Kent Austin, was responsible for the Tiger-Cats’ 0-6 record. Silly me. Austin fired biker boy coach Reinebold as his defensive coordinator this week, just in time for a visit from Coach Harley’s former group, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. If the Tabbies fail to get off the schneid on Saturday, who does Austin next blame for his own misgivings?

Okay, here’s the deal: There are standings within standings in the Canadian Football League. You look at the Bombers as a 4-2 outfit, I see them as 0-2 because what they do against the big dogs in the West Division will determine their fate. They’ve already been beaten by the B.C. Lions and Calgary Stampeders, with the Edmonton Eskimos scheduled to pay a visit to Football Follies Field in Fort Garry on Aug. 17. If they harbor any hope of securing a home playoff date, it’ll take a 4-1 record, if not 5-0, the rest of the way to get the job done.

Here’s a look at the CFL West Division top four head-to-head:

Edmonton    2-0 (6 remaining: at Winnipeg, at Calgary, Calgary, Winnipeg, at B.C., Calgary)
Calgary        1-0 (6 remaining: at B.C., Edmonton, at Edmonton, B.C., at Edmonton, Winnipeg)
B.C.             1-2 (5 remaining: Calgary, at Calgary, at Winnipeg 2, Edmonton)
Winnipeg     0-2 (5 remaining: Edmonton, at Edmonton, B.C. 2, at Calgary)

What in the name of Chef Boyardee are they feeding the scribes at the Drab Slab? First it was Steve Lyons chirping about the Bombers doing themselves a favor by finishing fourth, and now young Jeff Hamilton and grizzled Paul Wiecek have joined in with the backup vocals. “It may just be the best-case scenario for the Bombers. That would mean a crossover to a weak East Division and a much easier road to a Grey Cup berth,” scribbles Hamilton. Apparently, this is now the weekly mantra of Winnipeg Free Press writers, despite undeniable historical evidence to the contrary. Do the math, boys.

British Open champion Jordan Spieth

Horrors! Male golfers were allowed to wear short pants during practice rounds for the PGA Championship tournament that commences on Thursday in Charlotte, N.C. Better not tell Paul Wiecek. The Freep scribe is having a tough enough time dealing with Mike O’Shea’s short pants.

TSN had Craig Button do a bit on Canada’s projected roster for the 2018 World Junior Hockey Championships. Geez Louise. We’re only at the front end of August. Can we enjoy what’s left of summer without talking about lineups for a hockey tournament that begins on Boxing Day and wraps up in 2018?

This past Sunday I listed my five favorite all-time athletes (actually, I cheated because I had Arnold Palmer and Rafael Nadal sharing the fifth spot), so today I’m listing the five jocks I have most disliked. They are:

  • Mike Tyson: Convicted rapist. Cannibal.

  • Floyd Mayweather Jr.: Convicted woman beater and painfully boring boxer.

  • Angelo Mosca: Willie Fleming of the B.C. Lions was my favorite football player. Mosca, a Hamilton Tiger-Cats D-lineman, took Willie the Wisp out of the 1963 Grey Cup game with a dirty hit. I don’t promote violence, but I was most delighted when Joe Kapp laid out big Angie with a solid right-hand punch to the head at a Grey Cup function a few years ago.

  • Pete Rose: Long before we discovered he was having sex with teenage girls while in his 30s, married and the father of two children, the Major League Baseball hit leader creeped me out. From his stupid haircut to his galloping ego, I always believed there was a phoniness to Rose. He’s forever been fingernails on a chalk board.

  • Jose Bautista: So arrogant. He’s the reason I cannot watch the Toronto Blue Jays.

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


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About Paul Wiecek feeling the wrath of the rabble…the Toronto-ization of the Winnipeg Sun…missing Kirk Penton’s work…and talking heads dreaming of Genie

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

It occurs to me that a large portion of the rabble consider Paul Wiecek to be a complete doofus.

Matter of fact, Wiecek might have supplanted Paul Friesen as resident rabble-rouser among River City jock journalists, essentially because the Winnipeg Free Press columnist has the bad manners to critique the local sporting heroes.

It’s always about the dark clouds with Wiecek, isn’t it? Never the silver linings. He’s grand poobah of the Royal Order of Negative Nellies, right?

Except, here’s the deal: The greatest percentage of Wiecek’s scribblings focus on a hockey outfit that has failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup derby five of six springs and has won exactly zero playoff matches, and a football team that has never failed to fail for more than a quarter century. The shinny side is coached by a smooth-talking man destined next winter to become the losingest bench boss in National Hockey League history, and the gridiron gang is coached by a blood-and-guts guy who, four years in, has a 25-34 record and still makes the boneheaded decisions of a Canadian Football League fledgling on training wheels.

And what? You expect glad tidings from Wiecek?

Look, when Mike O’Shea continues to cough up hair balls and then tells you that the cow did, in fact, jump over the moon and the dish really did run away with the spoon, you don’t look the other way and pretend it’s like a tree that falls in the forest. You call him on it. Which is what Wiecek does. Repeatedly. Because the Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach repeatedly trips over his own feet and tells fairy tales.

The most recent example of Wiecek’s slicing and dicing was delivered in the wake of a ghastly blunder by O’Shea in the Bombers’ 45-42 loss to the B.C. Lions on Friday night in Vancouver. At the most inopportune time, Coach D’oh thought it a swell idea to give his kicker, Justin Medlock, the green light to hurl a pass instead of punting the football, a gob-smacking decision that Wiecek described as “a monumentally stupid play call.” I thought he was being kind.

Paul Wiecek

But what’s the first reader comment under the article?

Give it a rest Wiecek.”

Others showed Wiecek some love. This time. In general, the fangirlz and boyz who live in a rose-colored tea room usually skewer him when he pokes and prods their sacred cows in cleats or on skates. He’s “bitter” and “garbage” and “stupid” and “a pillar of negativity” and “anti-Jets” and “sour grapes” and “meaningless” and “Jekyll and Hyde” and he should “just go write for the National Enquirer.”

Look, I don’t always agree with what Wiecek writes. I thought he was terribly unfair in his commentary about Jacob Trouba when the young Winnipeg Jets defenceman went AWOL during the club’s training camp last autumn and bailed on the first month of the season. The criticism seemed creepily personal, which is never a good thing. He appears to harbour a peculiar mania for the matter of pro sports franchises limiting access to mainstream media and, instead, delivering their propaganda via in-house flacks, a number of whom have fled the falling house of cards that is the rag trade for the security of a gig with an NHL or CFL club (hello Ed Tait, Tim Campbell and Gary Lawless, all late of the Freep). And describing talented scribes like Tait and George Johnson as “hacks” because they went to the other side was hopelessly ignorant.

Wade Miller

Overall, though, Wiecek does solid work and, should the mood and need strike, he’s not shy about tossing scud missiles in the direction of movers and shakers in ivory towers, like Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and Bombers CEO Wade Miller, who seems to have built himself a nice, little fiefdom in the club’s bunker at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry.

More than once, Chipman and Miller have declined interview requests from Wiecek, which, of course, only makes them come across as petty little men and tells me he’s doing his job.

I like his work (mostly) and I doubt the slings and arrows from the rabble cause him a moment of shuteye at night, nor do I think they have any influence on the way he goes about his business. If the Jets and Bombers insist on stinking, he has no choice but to say they stink.

It’s a shame what the Postmedia chain has done to Winnipeg Sun sports. I swear there are days when I’m convinced I’m reading the Toronto Sun, because there’s more Republic of Tranna tripe than local content. This morning, for example, I called up the Sun and there were six articles on the Toronto Blue Jays, two on Toronto FC, and one on the Toronto Raptors on the sports front. Meanwhile, I thought Paul Friesen was the main sports columnist, but apparently he’s not. It seems to be the Tranna-centric, Argonauts tub-thumping Steve Simmons, whose shtick is crapping on everyone and everything including Winnipeg. It’s not just a shame, it’s a sham.

I used to enjoy the weekly CFL Blitz feature in the Sun. Kirk Penton did a boffo job. The article was full of anecdotal insight, insider tidbits and biting, caustic commentary from coaches and executives across the land. Alas, Kirk has decided to give another side of life a try and, since his departure, CFL Blitz has basically become a collection of items that induce yawns.

Much fawning on display in the Republic of Tranna on Tuesday, with struggling tennis player Genie Bouchard in the 416 for some face time with the talking heads on The Fan 590 and Sportsnet’s Tim and Sid. Genie, of course, has more glam than game, which no doubt explains why Elliotte Friedman was swooning. I thought he was actually going to ask her for a date. Tim and Sid were captivated by Her Long-Leggedness, as well, and spent precious little time talking about Genie’s tennis, which is not good. She’s been a first-round loser in eight of 11 events since leaving Australia, she’s beaten just two world top-20 players, and her season record is 11-14. But, hey, she has cover girl good looks, so why let the facts get in the way of all that long, blonde hair and those smoky eyes?

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

 


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About Steve Mason and platooning puck-stoppers…a coach’s wish list…the Maple Leafs and Oilers supposedly all-in…the Oilers and Connor McRichkid…hocus-pocus from the CFL commish…and a bummer for the Bombers

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

Steve Mason vows that he’ll play nice. It sounds like the Winnipeg Jets newly minted goaltender is a team-first dude who’s keen on sharing the blue ice with Connor Hellebuyck.

Well, maybe. Maybe not.

Steve Mason

In a conference chin-wag with newsies scant minutes after he had agreed to accept a two-year contract from the Jets, Mason talked a good game, suggesting he’ll happily work with incumbent Connor Hellebuyck and the two men would be “pushing one another” in the name of the greater good.

That, however, isn’t what he was saying in Philadelphia. In the world according to Steve Mason, there’s room for only one main man in the blue ice. Him. The other guy is his caddy.

Every single team needs a defined starter and backup goalie,” Mason told csnphilly.com in April, at which time he still harbored hope, albeit faint, for a contract offer from the Philadelphia Flyers. “It’s shown throughout the league, (job sharing) doesn’t work. Tampa got rid of their situation. St. Louis got rid of their situation. You can’t be in and out, in and out. You have to have the flow. I believe, given that flow, I’ve done well with it.”

So there.

Don’t run off with the notion that the Jets will enter the 2017-18 National Hockey League fray with a No. 1 and No. 1A puck-stopping platoon. The new kid on the block expects to play Batman to Hellebuyck’s Robin. He’s Johnny Carson. Hellebuyck is Ed McMahon.

If general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and head coach Paul Maurice try to sell it any other way, pay attention to their noses. They’ll be growing.

We never really talked about what the work load is going to be,” says Cheveldayoff.

Really? You make one of your rare expeditions into the NHL free-agent market to address your outfit’s most-glaring flaw and you forget to mention to Mason that he’ll be expected to handle the heavy lifting?

Not only is Cheveldayoff’s nose longer than a telephone wire, his pants are on fire.

It’s a load of rubbish because Mason wasn’t lured to River City with the promise of playing wet nurse to Hellebuyck. Barring something freakish this summer—or a massive brain fart from Coach Potty-Mouth—Mason will be in the blue ice Oct. 4 when Auston Matthews and his supporting cast with the Toronto Maple Leafs come calling at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie. He’ll start 60 games. Minimum.

There can be no other way.

Last week I mentioned that Maurice was sitting on the hottest seat in Jets Nation. Either the local lads qualify for the Stanley Cup derby next spring or he’s looking for work. In case there’s any doubt, consider this comment about the Jets defence from Cheveldayoff: “All the things on a coach’s wish list are there.” Well, Erik Karlsson or Drew Doughty would be on my wish list, but I hear what Chevy is saying. Translation: Coach Potty-Mo has run out of wiggle room.

Connor McDavid

Interesting take from Paul Wiecek on the Jets, Maple Leafs and the Edmonton McDavids. The Winnipeg Free Press scribe laments Chevy’s roster tinkering, describing the acquisitions of Mason and blueliner Dmitry Kulikov as “modest moves” compared to the bold strokes of his counterparts in the Republic of Tranna and the Chuck. “To use a baseball analogy,” he writes, “the Oilers and Leafs have decided to swing for the fences in 2017-18, while Cheveldayoff is squaring up to bunt.” Well, I’m not a Chevy apologist. I find his methods—mostly management by paralysis—irritating and frustrating in the extreme. I’d much rather he be more Jim Nill and less Kevin Cheveldayoff. But, hey, he needed a starting goaltender. He got one. He needed a defenceman who shoots from the left side. He got one. He needed to unload a truckload of deadwood. He did it. Aside from botching the entry draft, he’s done what was required this off-season to get the Jets back into the playoff discussion.

I’m not convinced that Chevy is afraid to use bold strokes. I submit that when it comes to lavish spending and derring-do on the trade market, the GM doesn’t make the call. The Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, does.

So here’s what I find myself wondering in the wake of that $100 million McWhopper contract the Oilers gave Connor McDavid: Will the Puck Pontiff and his deep-, deep-, deep-pocketed partner, David Thomson, be willing to part with that kind of coin were they to land a generational player of the McDavid or Sidney Crosby ilk?

Sorry, but I don’t see how Edmonton signing Connor McRichkid to an eight-year contract is a special stroke of genius. It’s more like, well duuuh. I mean, the Jets did the same thing last summer with their franchise centre, Rink Rat Scheifele, securing him for eight years at the bargain-bin price of $49 million. And, given that McDavid will still be working at his original rate of pay come October, I fail to see how a contract that doesn’t kick in until the autumn of 2018 means they’re all-in for 2017-18.

Nice to see someone from Good Ol’ Hometown get the top job in the Canadian Football League, but, unless Randy Ambrosie is holding back on administrative skills that include hocus-pocus, I don’t see how anything short of hypnosis can convince folks in the Republic of Tranna that the Argonauts are a good buy. Right now, the Boatmen are No. 6 on the pecking order in the Centre of the Universe, behind the Maple Leafs, Blue Jays, Raptors, Toronto FC and Drake, and it shows in the pews. When the soccer side plays, BMO Field is alive and full. When the Argos are the main event, it becomes Empty Seats Stadium.

Matt Nichols

Quick thoughts on the heels of the 29-10 paddywhacking the Calgary Stampeders delivered to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Friday night at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry: Bombers running back Andrew Harris insisted that he and his mates in blue-and-gold “are better than this.” Okay. Prove it…Winnipeg head coach Mike O’Shea is “not interested in historical data of whatever number in a row.” We are, Mike. Like, Winnipeg has been a Grey Cup-free zone for 26 years in a row. Do something about that and the rest of us will ignore historical data, too…Oh no. Is Matt Nichols becoming the new Henry Burris without the Grey Cup rings? You know, Good Hank, Bad Hank? I mean, what we saw Friday night definitely was Bad Matt. Really Bad Matt. End zone interception and pick-six Bad Matt. You aren’t going to beat anyone, let alone the Stampeders, with that level of quarterbacking.

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


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Jimmy Piersall was a funny guy, but there is nothing funny about mental illness

It was in the autumn of 1964 and, as we gathered around our TV set with the black-and-white screen and rabbit ears to watch Hockey Night in Canada, we were puzzled.

Frank Mahovlich, the Big M of the Toronto Maple Leafs, wouldn’t be playing that night.

The Big M, Frank Mahovlich

None of the talking heads (I can’t recollect if it was Foster or Bill Hewitt calling the game, or if it was Ward Cornell or Ed Fitkin as the studio host) provided us with the definitive why and wherefore of the Big M’s absence from the Leafs lineup, except to say something about fatigue. Mahovlich was plum tuckered out. The remainder of the story was a mystery.

How can Mahovlich be tired?” the 13-year-old version of my former self wondered. “The season has just started.”

As history records, the Big M was bedded down in a Toronto hospital that night, a victim of depression. Acute depression. The Leafs and their tyrannical head coach Punch Imlach, later identified as the main source of Mahovlich’s emotional undoing, had to get along without him for a month. And there was always a hush-hushness about his absence. Mental illness, you see, was among the taboo topics of the day. Most folks didn’t talk about their “crazy uncle in the attic.” It was looked upon not as an illness, but a weakness, if not an embarrassment. And, in the case of a National Hockey League star like Mahovlich, any whisper of mental frailty implied a softness, which seldom found favor with fans or media and certainly not Imlach.

The abrupt, abrasive Leafs’ dictator once said this of Mahovlich: “Hockey is a streetcar named desire and too many days Ma-hal-o-vich doesn’t catch the train.”

The Big M, whose life under Imlach seemed so much like a Shakespearean tragedy, managed to flee the tyrant and the Leafs, but not before surviving a second major bout of depression, exactly three years after the first. His escape led him to Detroit, then Montreal, where he played a significant role in two Stanley Cup-winning crusades, then the Hockey Hall of Fame, the Canadian Senate and, by most accounts, a happily-ever-after life.

I thought of Mahovlich when I heard about Roberto Osuna, the Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher who booked off work the other night because he’s been feeling “a little bit anxious, a little bit weird, a little bit lost” and doesn’t know why (been there, felt that). I also thought of the late Jimmy Piersall, the original poster boy for athletes dealing with mental illness.

Piersall was 22 years old and 56 games into his rookie Major League Baseball season when the Boston Red Sox thought it wise to have his head examined, thus they sent him to a mental hospital, whereupon medics probed the young centre fielder’s mind and determined what to do about his bipolar disorder.

Jimmy Piersall ran the bases backwards after hitting his 100th home run in 1963.

Unlike the Mahovlich situation, there was nothing hush-hush about Piersall’s descent into depression. He wrote a book with Al Hirshberg, Fear Strikes Out, which became a TV movie then a feature film, and he followed with his 1985 memoir, The Truth Hurts. People called him an oddball, a kook and a basket case because of his antics and fits of rage that would sometimes lead to fisticuffs. He labeled himself “crazy” and a “gooney bird” and confirmed it by running the bases backwards after hitting his 100th career home run, shimmying up a flag pole during a game and wearing a Beatles wig to home plate.

I remember reading Fear Strikes Out as a teenager and thinking, “Wow, this guy has some serious issues. But he’s funny.”

When his issues struck close to home—visiting a family member in a psych ward and hearing a heavy, metal door clank shut and locked tight—Jimmy Piersall didn’t seem so funny anymore. When I was confronted by my own mental challenges—blackouts from anxiety attacks, suicidal ideation, uncontrollable crying, elaborate mood swings, panic attacks—it wasn’t funny at all.

To this day, I sometimes feel like a recluse because the thought of stepping out of doors can be a serious challenge. Like Roberto Osuna, I feel anxious, weird and lost. Also afraid. And that depresses me.

Osuna is 22. So young, so vulnerable, such a shame. But not helpless or hopeless.

Here’s what Piersall wrote in Fear Strikes Out in 1955: “I want the world to know that people like me who have returned from the half-world of mental oblivion are not forever contaminated. We have been sick. The best way to help us get well and stay well is to treat us like human beings—as I’ve been treated. We don’t have to talk about our sickness in whispers or prowl about on the edge of society with our hands to our ears to block out the whispers of others. We have nothing to be ashamed of. All we want is to be understood by those who have never been where we have. There is no better therapy than understanding.”

I’d like to think people will try to understand about Roberto Osuna, even if they’ve never been where he’s at.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark Spector

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

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

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

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

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

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

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