Happy Christivus: A day for gifts and the airing of grievances in the sports world!

You might think of today as Christmas Eve, kids, but it’s also Christivus, a day-before-Christmas and a day-after-Festivus celebration of all that is good in the playground and, just as important, a time for the airing of grievances. Some athletes/sports figures discover lovely gifts under the Christivus treepole, while others find a big, ol’ lump o’ coal with their name on it…

GIFT: There’s just no beating the Gimli Girls at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts. Kerri Einarson, Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard and Briane Harris are three-peat belles of the ball, and you wouldn’t want to bet against them when they Go For Four two months hence at the national women’s curling championship in Kamloops. Only the Colleen Jones quartet from Nova Scotia has managed to put up a four-spot at the Scotties (2001-2004), so Kerri and her gal pals could be breathing rarified air in beautiful B.C. And, by the way, last time I checked, the Gimli Girls were ranked No. 1 among all the world’s female Pebble People, and I’d say that sounds about right.

GIFT: Juggernaut. That’s the word to describe Manitoba’s female curlers. You’ve got Einarson and her gal pals from Gimli, plus the Jennifer Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Abby Ackland and Cheleas Carey rinks ranked in the world top 22. All together now: Buffalo Girls rock!

GIFT: Let’s have a show of hands. Who among us believed that Mike O’Shea would one day become the winningest head coach in the lengthy and lore-filled history of the Winnipeg Football Club? Not me. Not you, either. I mean, Coach Grunge was greener than St. Paddy’s Day when they handed him the headset in 2014, and I doubt even Blue Bombers CEO Wade Miller and GM Kyle Walters figured they had an all-timer on their hands. It was as unlikely as prayer service in the Rum Hut. But now that O’Shea is locked in as sideline steward of the Bombers for another three Canadian Football League seasons, it’s a question of when, not if, he reaches the most hallowed of gridiron ground in Good Ol’ Hometown. Bud Grant, a legend in a trench coat, collected 102 regular-season Ws in his 10 crusades of mostly pushing the right buttons. O’Shea, a legend in the making in short pants, faded t-shirt/hoodie and ratty, ol’ ball cap, has 82 notches on his belt. Do the math. Sometime in the autumn of 2024, Coach Grunge should pull astride the Silver Fox, if not pass him. Who had that on their radar? Nobody.

GIFT: Zach Collaros became a two-timer, collecting the Most Outstanding Player Award in Rouge Football for the second successive season and, no, we aren’t going to talk about his dodgy performance in the Bombers 24-23 loss to the Toronto Argos in the grass-grabber for the Grey Grail in late November.

LUMP O’COAL: We will, however, discuss Marc Liegghio’s right leg. Two missed converts in the West Division final, one missed convert and a botched field goal attempt in the Grey Cup game doesn’t cut it. He has the worst limb since Long John Silver and everyone from Buzz and Boomer to Dancing Gabe knew all about it, but it somehow escaped the notice of Bombers brass and it cost them dearly. We can talk all we like about other foulups (there were plenty) in the bid for a Grey Grail three-peat, but a kicker has one job to do and Liegghio failed miserably.

LUMP O’ COAL: Yo! David Asper! I think maybe you’ve been spending too much time at the Journey to Churchill exhibit at Assiniboine Park Zoo. Either that or you’ve been having nightmares about polar bears lumbering through the pot-holed streets of Good Ol’ Hometown. I mean, the Winnipeg Sea Bears? And a polar bear logo? Seriously? That’s the best you could come up with for your newbie, summertime Canadian Elite Basketball League outfit? C’mon, man. Winnipeg is a seaside locale like a box of Crackerjack is fine dining, and there hasn’t been anything resembling a polar bear near Portage and Main since Chris Walby retired.

AN ENTIRE COAL MINE: Oh, woe is Hockey Canada, guardian of our national pastime and keeper of secrets, slush funds and trafficker of lies. We discovered that HC had stacks and stacks of coin to quietly pay off victims of sexual assault, and some board members summoned to Parliament Hill to explain themselves looked like so many Pinocchios after a big, fat fib. This was the biggest and, by far, the most disturbing sports story on Our Mostly Frozen Tundra in 2022. It rocked HC to the core.

AN ENTIRE COAL MINE: As Hockey Canada roiled in the guck and muck of egregious wrong-doing and a sex-assault scandal, since-defrocked CEO Scott Smith had the dreadful manners to surface in Denmark and strut on-ice to dispense gold medals to our Canadian women at the world championship. It was like the graduating class at a police academy receiving their badges from Tony Soprano. Smith’s appearance was callous, tacky and a rented-bowling-shoes level of odious.

GIFT: Rick Westhead of TSN was at the forefront of reporting on L’Affaire Hockey Canada and all other manner of misdeeds in the playground.

GIFT: Our national women’s team provided a ray of light in the Hockey Canada darkness, striking gold at the Winter Olympic Games and the world tournament. Brianne Jenner was our leading goal-scorer and MVP in Beijing, and Sarah Nurse set an Olympic record for most points, 18. Meantime, Jenner scored both goals in a 2-1 victory over the U.S. in the gold-medal match in Denmark, while Sarah Fillier was our leading scorer and a world tournament all-star.

LUMP O’ COAL: Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star decided that Beijing 2022 was an appropriate time to piddle on Ponytail Puck at the Olympics. “I’ll get crucified for saying so, but women’s hockey doesn’t belong in the Games,” Rosie informed her readers. “It’s a cheap medal, in no way comparable to the paramountcy that some nations historically enjoy in a specific sport—like the Norwegians and cross-country skiing or Jamaicans and sprinting. There is at least some semblance of competition—gobs of it actually—with scads of elite athletes to make a challenge.” She added: “It will doubtless come down, as ever before, to a U.S.-Canada final on Feb. 17, with the Canadians looking for revenge after their loss to the Americans in Pyeongchang. Honestly, I’m getting sick of this mythologized rivalry and everybody else an also-ran. It ain’t sportin’.” Whatever you say, Rosie. But, honestly, I’m getting sick of mainstream media pooh-poohing or ignoring females in the playground.

GIFT: Two of my favorite Dons—Baizley and Duguid—received overdue hosannas this year. Baiz, a lawyer and player agent to many of hockey’s glitterati, was inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame, while Dugie, a world curling champion and pioneer among Pebble People, became an official member of the Order of Canada. I just wish Baiz was still around to enjoy the honor, even if he was never comfortable with people fawning over him.

GIFT: There’s been a Rouge Football revival on the Wet Coast of the land thanks to B.C. Leos bankroll Amar Doman and his foot soldiers. The Leos attracted an average audience of 20,387 to B.C. Place Stadium during the past CFL season, which is a hefty bump of 7,879 customers from a year ago, and they had a league-high gathering of 34,082 for their home opener. (Does it matter now that half the audience was there for a OneRepublic concert?)

LUMP O’ COAL: They have a Grey Cup champion football team, yet the rabble in the Republic of Tranna avoid the Argos the way a letter carrier dodges a mutt baring fangs. The average head count at BMO Field was 11,875 with a low of 9,806, and it’s apparent that only a halftime show featuring Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner streaking au naturel will bring The ROT rabble out to Argos games.

LUMP O’ COAL: Good grief. Another year and still zero female news snoops in the media wing of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. By my count, the CFHF media wing has a roll call of 103 members, 100 per cent of them male, 99.9 per cent of them white, 0 per cent of them female or gay. News snoops are quick to call out sports organizations for a lack of diversity, but apparently the same rules don’t apply to their own houses. The Football Reporters of Canada need to recognize that any female news snoop who survived close encounters with Cal Murphy in the 1980s and ’90s belongs in the Hall of Fame.

LUMP O’ COAL: The staggering proliferation of betting banter on sports TV news/highlight programming is a distressing bit of business.

GIFT: There’s been considerable gum-flapping about a play-for-pay women’s futbol league on Our Mostly Frozen Tundra three years hence, and the people doing the yakkety-yakking seem to have a clue. Diana Matheson and her business partner, Thomas Gilbert, have yet to put all their ducks in a row, but they’ve got two franchises in place (Vancouver and Calgary), they’ve brought Christine Sinclair on board (it’s never a bad idea to link arms with the all-time international goal-scoring leader), and they’re playing with CIBC and Air Canada money. By the time they kick off in 2025, the League To Be Named Later will feature eight teams across the land (four west, four east), and players can expect salaries ranging from $35,000-$75,000. My question: Is there anyone in Good Ol’ Hometown anxious to pony up with a $1 million up-front fee and $8-$10 million in operating costs for women’s soccer?

LUMP O’ COAL: TSN natterbug Kara Wagland described the creation of a women’s pro futbol circuit in Canada as a “monumental development.” Ya, it’s so “monumental” that TSN slotted it as the final item on its hour-long, overnight SportsCentre news/highlights package. Cripes, man, Joey Chestnut eating perogies got more prominent play that night, and I think we can all agree that the sight of Chestnut stuffing food into his gob is right up there on the cringe-o-metre with Glen Suitor swooning over Keith Urban on TSN’s broadcast of the 2019 Grey Cup game. Beasts with cloven hooves have better table manners than Chestnut. Yet TSN determined that his stomach-turning pigout was more newsworthy than the “monumental” women’s fitba story. Sigh.

GIFT: Sue Bird retired after 19 seasons and four WNBA championships with Seattle Storm, also five hoops gold medals at the Olympic Games…Brooke Henderson won two LPGA tournaments, including a major…Hoopster Brittney Griner found her way home to the U.S. after spending too much time in a Russian gulag…Felix Auger-Aliassime won four events on the ATP Tour and anchored Canada’s successful run at the Davis Cup…Iga Swiatek won 37 tennis matches in a row from February to July and two Grand Slam titles, the French Open and U.S. Open. Overall, she was 67-9 with eight titles…Roger Federer retired and the tennis maestro went out the same way he came in—with class…Aaron Judge swatted 62 dingers, more than any non-steroid-era player in Major League Baseball history…Nathan Rourke dazzled Rouge Football audiences until a foot owie laid him low nine games into the B.C. Lions crusade…Phil Kessel became the NHL’s iron man with a Pilsbury Dough Boy body. Go figure…Ironically, the first World Series since 1950 with zero U.S.-born Black players on either roster was won by a U.S.-born Black man, manager Dusty Baker of the Houston Astros.

GIFT: The Premier Hockey Federation remains the sole women’s shinny league in North America that actually is a league and—get this—it pays its players in salary, benefits and marketing share. In other words, it walks the walk. Now in its eighth season, there’s a $750,000 per-team player payroll that doubles to $1.5 million a year from now. Notably, that’s a 10-fold increase since 2021.

LUMP O’ COAL: The Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association. Created in May 2019, there was no league then—just a hissy fit—and there’s no league today—just the same old, tiresome hissy fit. Rather than play in the Premier Hockey Federation or unite to form a Ponytail Puck super league that the rabble might want to watch, PWHPA members prefer to hold their breath, stamp their feet and assemble for a scattering of glorified scrimmages that are mostly ignored by fans and mainstream media each winter. In the meantime, they talk, talk, talk and hope someone is listening. Oddly enough, the talking stopped at the recent all-star gala in Ottawa—PWHPA officials refused to make players available for natters with news snoops after the event. Way to sell your game, ladies.

LUMP O’ COAL: Back on Nov. 3, the puppetmasters at Postmedia informed Winnipeg Sun readers that they would be spiking the weekly TV listings and bulking up the sports section, “so you can get more from our award-winning sports reporters.” To which I responded: “Let’s hope going forward they fill the additional space with local copy, or off-beat copy, not a bunch of dreary rot from the Republic of Tranna.” Well, as advertised, Postmedia has bulked up the sports section in the Winnipeg Sun on Sundays, averaging 12 pages. But, as feared, it’s being filled with rot originating from hither and yon, with only 1-to-3 pages devoted to local sports and the majority of bylines from Republic of Tranna scribes. Don’t believe me? Well, in the four Sunday sections since Nov. 27, this is the byline tally:
Toronto writers: 25
Winnipeg writers: 10
So, yes, it reads like the Torontopeg Sun. (Or should it be the Winnironto Sun?)

LUMP O’ COAL: Why does Postmedia insist on forcing Steve Simmons’ weekly alphabet fart on the Winnipeg market? His musings and cheap shots are almost totally Republic of Tranna-centric, and he mentions the goings-on in Good Ol’ Hometown about as often as a squandron of pink elephants perform a fly-by before a Bombers game. In his most-recent offering, for example, Simmons had 17 items on athletes/teams from the The ROT and the grand total of one (1) on the Jets/Bombers/anything Winnipeg. Do the suits at Postmedia truly believe that’s what the rabble in River City want to read?

LUMP O’ COAL: Management geniuses at the Drab Slab refuse to hire a sports columnist. The guy they bill as their sports columnist, Mad Mike McIntyre, has never written a piece on the fabulous female curlers in Manitoba, which is like scribbling for National Geographic and not writing a word about Mother Nature. I mean, the jock news pecking order in Good Ol’ Hometown is Jets, Bombers and curling. So how do you snub female Pebble People when all they’ve done is win four of the past five Scotties (it’s five-for-five if you want to include homegrown Chelsea Carey in 2019)? He also mostly ignores the Bombers, who’ve been in the past three Grey Cup games, winning twice. It’s lame, negligent and unacceptable, and I’ll never understand how a big-city daily allows its sports columnist to snub two of the three major beats.

GIFT: Between Ted Wyman at the Winnipeg Sun and Jeff Hamilton at the Drab Slab, Good Ol’ Hometown receives the best print coverage of Rouge Football on Our Mostly Frozen Tundra. Teddy and Jeff lap the field every year.

LUMP O’ COAL: Carey Price put up a pro-gun post four days prior to the 33rd anniversary of the Ecole Polytechnique massacre, in which 14 women were slaughtered. It’s okay for the Montreal Canadiens goaltender to be pro firearms, but the timing of his post was ghastly. Almost as bad was teammate Joel Edmundson, who said this about that: “None of us are really aware of what happened 30 years ago. The (Polytechnique) anniversary is fast approaching—it’s news to all of us, to be honest.” Good grief.

GIFT: To say Rick Bowness came in with a bang would be the biggest understatement since Noah said, “Geez, it smells like rain.” The Winnipeg Jets freshly minted head coach hadn’t been in town long enough to order a cup o’ java and cheese nip at the Sals when he instructed the seamstress to snip the ‘C’ off Blake Wheeler’s jersey, and I’d say it’s been win-win for both parties. Bones’ Jets are running with the National Hockey League’s big dogs, and Wheeler, until being felled by an owie, had been productive with less ice time and less face time with news snoops. That’s the bonus, of course: No more daily sourpuss sound bites from the former Captain Grumpy Pants.

GIFT: The Jets hit all the right notes when they unveiled a downtown pigeon perch to legend Dale Hawerchuk in October.

LUMP O’ COAL: Let’s be clear, Greg Norman and Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson et al have a right to earn a living with the LIV Golf Series, even if it means they need to wash the Saudi blood off their hands every time they cash a paycheque. But does Norman have to be so bitter about it? My goodness, it’s as if every horse in the Kentucky Derby piddled on the Shark’s Corn Flakes one morning.

LUMP O’ COAL: Here’s all you need to know about the Saudi/Greg Norman LIV Golf Series: Pat Perez was handed a four-year, $10 million deal, just to stick a tee in the ground. “Look, I know I can’t beat those kids (on the PGA Tour) anymore. This was a great opportunity for me. I have nothing against the PGA Tour; they did a lot for me, but I had to earn everything I got out there.” Imagine that. Earning your wage. What a concept.

LUMP O’ COAL: TV talking heads made complete donkeys of themselves with their gushing over has-beens Tiger Woods and Serena Williams like they’re still at the top of their games. Hey, maybe Tiger will win another golf tournament (doubtful), and perhaps Williams hasn’t actually retired and she’ll return to win another tennis tourney. Until then, the boys and girls in the blurt box need to use their yakkety-yak time to talk about athletes winning today, not back in the day.

LUMP O’ COAL: Damien Cox and friends of the Toronto Star still believe they have the final say on Canada’s athlete-of-the-year. As if…Novak Djokovic is still wearing tin foil on his head…Bob Costas sat behind the play-by-play mic during MLB playoffs and he refused to shut the hell up. He talked about everything but baseball…The Arizona Coyotes play in a 4,800-seat rinky-dink rink…Danny Maciocia canned Khari Jones due to a lack of discipline and hired himself as head coach of the Montreal Larks. So what happened in the fourth quarter of their East Division final vs. the Toronto Argos? Maciocia’s Larks took four undisciplined penalties to seal their fate…TSN talking heads continually lied about head counts for CFL games. Yo! Boys! We aren’t stupid. We can see the empty seats. Glen Suitor was the worst, constantly blabbing about “packed” ballparks and telling us there was “close to 40,000” at B.C. Place Stadium for the West semifinal, even if attendance was scarcely more than 30,000. Meanwhile, Milt Stegall informed us the Bombers had “sellouts through the season.” There were, in fact, two sellouts, both in September…Kyrie Irving, just because he’s Kyrie Irving…The Boston Bruins signed bully Mitchell Miller and the Montreal Canadiens signed Logan Mailloux, a young man who likes to take pics of women engaged in sexual activity and, without their consent, share the photos with his frat boy buddies. Oinkers.

LUMP O’ COAL: Dumbest tweet of the year from Theoren Fleury, the former NHLer and current conspiracy theorist who, when last seen, was plummeting into a deep rabbit hole: “The biggest spreaders of misinformation are the ones who are spreading misinformation.”

And, finally…

Let’s talk about hockey and the Hollywood hunk…Toronto Sun still playing the NFL card while the Argos still playing football…fairy tales in the TSN booth…prose and panhandling at the Drab Slab…old man Bones getting the job done with Winnipeg Jets…P.K. takes his slew foots to ESPN…and other things on my mind…

Ryan Reynolds and Jimmy Fallon

Top o’ the morning to you, Ryan Reynolds.

I must say, you sure know how to make a splash without doing anything, other than flapping your gums. The rest of us flap our gums and…crickets. But, hey, you’re a big-time Hollywood star, and a sound bite from a big-time Hollywood star is all it takes to get other gums flapping, especially if you’re perched on a chair beside Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.

(Quick aside, Ryan: I’m not a Jimmy Fallon fan. I guess he’s a talented guy and people seem to like him, but not as many as in 2014 when he landed The Tonight Show gig and 11 million people tuned in. Today his audience is 2 million, or thereabouts, a dramatic dip that suggests it’s not just my own self who’s found him to be a fawning fool as a host on late-night gab TV.)

Anyway, Ryan, this isn’t about your buddy’s ratings. It’s about you telling Jimmy that you’re on the sniff for a “sugar mommy or sugar daddy,” a filthy rich someone willing to dip into her/his pockets and aid you in a bid to buy the Ottawa Senators.

Blake Lively

I caught your natter with Fallon and here’s what I thought, Ryan: It’s only fitting that an actor wants to purchase Ottawa HC. After all, the Senators have been play-acting as an National Hockey League team for the past five seasons.

Ya, I went for a cheap laugh, Ryan, (Ta-dum! We’re here all week, folks.) just like you did with your quip to Jimmy F. about buying U.S. senators on your Tonight Show bit.

Seriously, though, this is what I really thought of your notion: What does it say when a guy worth $150 million needs a “sugar mommy or sugar daddy” to help him get a shiny, new toy? I mean, folks worth $150M shouldn’t be looking for sugar mommies or daddies. People ought to be coming to you for handouts, Ryan.

But I get it.

Forbes, after all, put a sticker price of $525 million on the Senators a year ago, and Sportico pegged the franchise at $655 million just last month, so it’s not like you’re looking to buy a newly knitted ugly Christmas sweater or a dinky toy (do they still make those things?) to put under the tree next month. Even if you and your bride, Blake Lively, coupled your fortunes, $180 million will only get you a tank of gas for the Zamboni. And maybe a backup goaltender, although he’d have to moonlight and drive the Zamboni.

So, sure, bring on the sugar mommy and/or daddy if that’s what it takes, Ryan. We can’t have enough Hollywood celeb owners.

John Candy

I think John Candy was the last one we had up here on our Frozen Tundra, when he threw in with Wayne Gretzky and Bruce McNall to bankroll the Toronto Argos. That worked out okay. The Boatmen won the Grey Cup and Candy was a delightful diversion for all who follow Rouge Football. And I suppose Humpty Harold Ballard qualified as a celeb bankroll while paying the bills for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Hamilton Tabbies, but I don’t recall anyone ever calling him Hollywood Harold. More like Hoosegow Harold.

No doubt they’d love you as a front man in Bytown, Ryan, because you’re a nice blend of Tinsel Town star power and aw shucks, home boy charm, a guy who does right by others without being phony or loud about it.

I hope it works out for you, Ryan. And, hey, if you find your sugar mommy or daddy, don’t let them talk you into doing something totally daft. You know, like selling the next Daniel Alfredsson or Erik Karlsson for a bag of pucks. Don’t be like Eugene.

Borje Salming in better days.

That was quite an emotional pre-game scene on Friday night in the Republic of Tranna, where Toronto Maple Leafs great Borje Salming stepped front and centre (with assistance from Darryl Sittler) and received a warm greeting from the gathering at Scotiabank Arena. Salming is suffering from ALS, so send a kind thought his way.

I was a perfect 0-2 in forecasting the opening salvo of the Canadian Football League playoffs last weekend, and I blame it all on TSN natterbug Davis Sanchez, because he confuses me. Chezy aside, I like the Winnipeg Blue Bombers over the B.C. Leos in Good Ol’ Hometown this afternoon, and the Toronto Argos over the Montreal Larks at a half empty BMO Field. (I actually think the Larks will prevail, but I don’t fancy Danny Maciocia’s smugness, so I want him to lose.)

During the buildup to today’s Argos-Larks skirmish, the Toronto Sun devoted a full page to the pipe-dream prospect of the NFL chipping in to construct an NFL-worthy stadium in the Republic of Tranna. “CHEERING FOR T.O.” was the headline. Surely to gawd they could have chosen a better time to run that piece. Like, oh I don’t know, never! But I guess The ROT’s obsession with four-down football will never end, and the tabloid is happy to play along.

Interesting how newspapers with dogs in the fights played the Rouge Football division finals in their sports sections today:
Winnipeg Sun: Front page of paper, sports Pages 1-8.
Winnipeg Free Press: Sports P. 1-2.
Vancouver Province: Sports P. 6-8.
Toronto Sun: Sports P. 6-7.
Toronto Star: Sports P. 8.
Montreal Gazette: Sports P. 2.
In Good Ol’ Hometown, the tabloid Sun absolutely mauled the broadsheet Drab Slab with its coverage.

B.C. Place Stadium

Okay, once again, why do the squawk boxes on TSN insist on lying to us about head counts for Rouge Football games?

I mean, to listen to Glen Suitor last Sunday, half the people in Vancouver were crammed into B.C. Place Stadium to witness the Leos-Calgary Stampeders grass-grabber. More than once he mentioned the place was “packed” (there was repeated reference to an audience numbering “close” to 40,000) and that the Leos had created the “template” for turning around a sagging franchise.

As if.

The ballyard in Vancouver accommodates 54,500. Attendance: 30,114. That’s not “close” to 40,000 and, if my math is correct, it’s 24,386 empty chairs. Ergo, not “packed.”

So let’s deal in facts rather than the fiction Suits was spewing:

The Leos attracted 20,387 customers per game during the regular season, a notable hike of 7,879 from a year ago. That’s boffo stuff. They twice sold out the lower bowl at B.C. Place Stadium, first for the home-opener that featured a OneRepublic concert, and for last weekend’s West Division semifinal. Again, boffo stuff.

That tells us team bankroll Amar Doman and his worker bees have done a remarkable and praiseworthy job in their quest to make the Leos relevant on the Left Flank of the land again, so accentuate the positive but spare us the bedtime fairy tales.

What’s the over/under on how often Suitor mentions “three chords and the truth, baby” during today’s Blue Bombers-Leos skirmish for bragging rights in the West Division? Whatever it is, I’ll take the over.

As the Grey Cup game approaches, I find myself wondering if this is the year the Football Reporters of Canada finally vote a female scribe/talking head into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. I’ve been touting Robin Brown, Joanne Ireland, Judy Owen and Ashley Prest as hall-worthy for years, because they have the bona fides and it’s wrong that the media wing of the CFHF remains an all-boys club this deep into the 21st century. If the world’s oldest golf club, the Royal Burgess in Edinburgh, has finally opened its doors to women, surely the FRC can, too.

At a time when more and more toxicity in sports is being unearthed, Judy Owen’s piece on the Bombers culture is a refreshing read. Judy’s been churning out Rouge Football copy, on and off, for more than a quarter-century, and it’s nice to know she still has the touch.

On the subject of the write stuff, Jeff Hamilton of the Drab Slab delivers a major takeout on Winnipeg FC QB Zach Collaros. It’s an easy, informative read, so pour yourself a cup of java, settle in, and enjoy Jeff’s scribbling.

The Drab Slab has gone PBS on us, panhandling online by asking 1,500 readers and/or friends to pony up $150 apiece and join something called the Free Press Patron program. The annual $225,000 cash grab is (supposedly) required due to lost advertising revenue and no more feeding at the public trough, and it will (supposedly) “safeguard the future of the Free Press and journalism that matters.” Hmmm. If I’m going to donate $150 of my meager pension to a panhandling newspaper, I want them to hire a sports columnist who stays home to write about the Bombers instead of swanning off to Calgary and Seattle for ho-hum games No. 13 and 14 of the Winnipeg Jets 82-match marathon. That’s just wrong. Every local sports columnist from Rouge Football playoffs past must be spinning like a lathe in his grave, even those who aren’t yet in the grave.

Watched both TSN SportsCentre and Sportsnet Central in the small hours this morning, and couldn’t help but notice the avalanche of American college football highlights. Meantime, there was no mention of Canadian U Sports football playoffs on TSN, and Sportsnet showed highlights from two skirmishes in Eastern Canada and ignored the University of Saskatchewan Huskies 23-8 victory over the UBC Thunderbirds. Typical, also pathetic.

The removal of the ‘C’ from Blake Wheeler’s jersey was the most obvious indication that the Jets no longer have their wagon tied to the veteran winger, and additional evidence can be found on the freeze. He’s now a second-line performer whose ice-time allotment averaged 19:12 a year ago but has been slashed to 17:08 through 13 skirmishes this time around, with no negative impact on his production. Hmmm. Why didn’t Paul Maurice think of that? Whatever, the Wheeler Window has been closed, and it appears the Jets have a better chance of doing some damage in the Stanley Cup merry-go-round next spring with the former captain in a supporting role.

Rick Bowness

Just curious: If Dusty Baker can manage the Houston Astros—and win the World Series—at age 73, why did many among the rabble think Rick Bowness was too long-in-tooth for the Jets coaching gig at age 67? How do you like the old man so far, people?

Sideshow Gary Bettman was in Good Ol’ Hometown last week, and the NHL commish informed news snoops that empty seats in the Little Hockey House On The Prairie is no biggie. “I don’t think there’s an attendance issue,” he said. Hmmm. I suppose when you have another franchise that maxes out at 5,000 customers in the Arizona desert, 13,000+ doesn’t look so bad.

I’m guessing Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman, the 3rd Baron Thomson of Fleet and the bean counters at True North Sports + Entertainment don’t view 1,000+ unoccupied chairs in the Little Hockey House the same as Commish Gary. I’m guessing they think it’s “an issue” and it sucks. But, since the Puck Pontiff delivers fewer sound bites than a street mime, we really don’t know what he’s thinking.

What kind of scheduling is this? The Calgary Flames put the wrap on a three-games-in-four-nights road swing on the East Coast, then they were required to scurry across the continent from Boston to Calgary, where a Jets outfit that had played one game in six nights sat in wait. So how did Winnipeg HC conspire to lose 3-2 last night?

An aside to those among the rabble in E-Town who’ve soured on Jack Campbell’s goaltending and demand to see Mike Smith back in the blue paint for the Oilers: That’s like asking Bonnie and Clyde to guard your valuables.

Hey, former defenceman P.K. Subban has landed a job talking about all things NHL on ESPN. Apparently his contract includes a clause that allows him to step outside the studio and slew foot anyone on the street whenever he’s feeling frisky.

Did you know there’s a National Toy Hall of Fame in the U.S.? Yup, true story. It’s in Rochester, N.Y., and they just announced the newest inductees—the spinning top, Masters of the Universe and Lite Brite. I’d say the salute to the top is long overdue, because the twirling toy has been around for about 5,000 years, or the same amount of time it’ll take Pete Rose to get into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

There’s been a lot of yakkety-yak lately comparing Flightline to Secretariat. Well, let me say this about that: Whoa Nellie! I watched Flightline romp to the wire in the Breeders Cup Classic last weekend, and it was gobsmackingly brilliant, but my measuring stick for race horses is the giddyup they show in the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes. Until a pony comes along and betters Secretariat’s record in all three gallops, I’ll take Big Red every time.

Oh, dear, the universe is not unfolding as the U.S. women’s national soccer side would have it. Motormouth Megan Rapinoe and the Yankee Doodle Damsels were beaten 2-1 by Germany the other night in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., their third consecutive L in friendlies and first on their star-spangled homeland in more than five years. The team only an American can like had gone unbeaten in 71 successive matches inside U.S. borders. Longtime national team member Carli Lloyd suggests accountability has taken a hit in the U.S. side, saying it “has been slowly fizzling away. Wanting to win has taken on a different meaning.” Meantime, our Canadian women have won five friendlies in a row, the latest a 2-1 verdict over Brazil in Santos on Friday, so the stars and planets are aligning on our side of the great U.S.-Canada divide.

George Costanza and The Boss, George Steinbrenner.

Just a thought: If George Steinbrenner was still picking up the tab for the New York Yankees would he have allowed home run king Aaron Judge to reach free agency? Over George Costanza’s dead body.

From the department of You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: The Houston Astros managed to win the World Series earlier this month without using garbage cans to cheat (we think), then, scant days later, they tied the can to GM James Click and assistant GM Scott Powers. What, they didn’t cheat enough?

There are loud rumblings that the most bitter of men, grumpy Greg Norman, soon will be out as mouthpiece for the Saudi-moneyed LIV Golf Series. The Saudis deny they plan to DQ the Shark. But, hey, they also deny killing people.

And, finally…

Let’s talk about the Toronto Maple Elites and the Art of Angst…oh no, no O Canada en francais in the Little Hockey House On The Prairie…the Puck Pontiff and the 3rd Baron have an $805 million toy…a Prairie town with Seabears…the CFL and the kind of voting Donald Trump would love…and other things on my mind…

No one does Chicken Little quite like the rabble and news snoops in the Republic of Tranna, which has a faster-falling sky than any other National Hockey League habitat.

I mean, the Toronto Maple Elites failed, once again, to win the Stanley Cup in October—just like 31 other outfits—and it was a dire bit of business that apparently demanded the dismissal of everyone from the hot dog vendors to the ivory tower, where Brendan Shanahan presides and sits in judgment of the serfs below.

Ten skirmishes into the current crusade, the Shanaleafs were 4-4-2, a tolerable account in most jurisdictions but totally objectionable in the Centre of the Hockey Universe, where the floor for acceptable conduct is first-round playoff success and the ceiling is a Stanley Cup parade. The reality that neither can be achieved in October seemingly escaped the comprehension of the faithful, many of whom recognized a month’s worth of .500 hockey as cause to flood the Twitterverse with 280 characters worth of angst and urgent urgings for the ouster of head coach Sheldon Keefe and/or general manager Kyle Dubas. (And, just for good measure, one or two want to show Mayor John Tory the door, as well.)

News snoops and opinionists, meanwhile, were less inclined to lean toward scorching the earth, with their analysis ranging from cheeky to pragmatic to harsh. Here’s a sampling of their scribblings:

James Mirtle, The Athletic: “They’re just really, to put it charitably, meh right now.”

Cathal Kelly, Globe and Mail: “The Toronto Maple Leafs just finished a western road swing that resembled a man falling down a flight of stairs in slow motion. The Leafs have a lot of problems. Their biggest is that they keep changing problems. Hanging above it all is their level of play: soft. Giggling Pillsbury Doughboy-level soft.”

Steve Simmons, Toronto Sun: “An underperforming mess.”

Marty Klinkenberg, Globe and Mail: “A hot mess. If this were Bugtussle it would be no big deal. But Toronto isn’t a hockey outpost. The faithful who have grown used to an annual collapse are already twitchy.”

Damien Cox, Toronto Star: “No, it’s not too early to ask hard questions about this squad after a lousy western road trip. But it’s definitely too early to reach any meaningful conclusions, particularly after Keefe’s team had a nearly identical start last season and ended up setting a franchise record with 115 points.”

That was before the Philly Flyers arrived in The ROT, and 4-4-2 became 5-4-2. Next up were the Boston Bruins, brandishing the league’s best record, and 5-4-2 became 6-4-2. And then they vanquished Carolina to make it 7-4-2. Yup, the Elites are 3-for-November. Better re-order all those snazzy convertibles for the Stanley Cup parade!

Or not.

As sure as Johnny Bower liked the poke check, another acorn shall fall on Chicken Little’s head soon enough, and great and mournful cries—“They sky is falling! The sky is falling!”—shall again rumble and echo throughout The ROT and, indeed, in all corners of our Frozen Tundra.

Like I said, no one does Chicken Little quite like the rabble/news snoops in the Republic of Tranna. But, hey, they’ve had since 1967 to perfect the Art of Angst.

The Little Hockey House On The Prairie, a no-French zone.

Stu Cowan of the Montreal Gazette has a beef with the Winnipeg Jets: “O Canada was sung in English and French for Habs in both St. Louis and Minnesota but only in English in Winnipeg. Not right,” he tweets. Stu is absolutely correct, of course. If sports teams on our vast Frozen Tundra insist on trotting out crooners for a pre-game anthem (it’s a dumb tradition), it should be in English et en francais. Especially when the Montreal Canadiens are in the Little Hockey House On The Prairie.

Cowan’s comment brings to mind an incident back in the day, when the rabble booed PA announcements en francais during a Jets exhibition game vs. the Finnish National B side. Once back in the Winnipeg Tribune newsroom, I was instructed to pen a front-page piece on the audience’s bad manners, and followed that up with a good and proper scolding of the anti-French boors. The next morning, I received a phone call from a man who threatened to bomb my house. Tough crowd.

The Puck Pontiff

So, Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and his co-bankroll, the 3rd Baron Thomson of Fleet, purchased the Atlanta Thrashers, lock, stock and jock, for US $170 million in 2011, and today Sportico has the Jets valued at $805 million. (And you thought the price of gas and groceries has taken a hike.)

The thing is, $805 million is just a number on a piece of paper unless the Puck Pontiff and the 3rd Baron are inclined to peddle the franchise, and that’s about as likely as palm trees and a nude beach sprouting up at the intersection of Portage and Main in January.

Still, the Sportico list makes for good bar banter and, if you missed it, here’s how the NHL’s seven Canadian franchises stack up in the grand scheme of things:

1. Maple Leafs: $2.12 billion
3. Canadiens: $1.7 billion
8. Oilers: $1.29 billion
11. Canucks: $1 billion
19. Flames: $870 million
22. Jets: $805 million
27. Senators: $655 M

Just wondering: What do you suppose Barry Shenkarow thinks when he looks at those numbers? I’m guessing he winces, gives his head a shake and mutters, “if only.” After all, Barry and the group that bankrolled Jets 1.0 sold the club for $65 million in 1995.

Nothing makes me switch off an NHL game faster than Ron MacLean throwing to a commercial on Hockey Night in Canada by saying, “Cabbie after the break.” Why is there a Cabbie?

You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t get excited about Alexander Ovechkin chasing down Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky as the NHL’s all-time leading goal-scorer. Tough to feel good about Vlad the Bad Putin’s pal when bombs are still raining on Ukraine.

I’m liking what the Drab Slab is doing with it’s Jets post-match coverage. Gone are the yawn-a-thon game stories that drone on in play-by-play style, with cookie-cutter clichés from players schooled in the art of cookie-cutter clichés. Sports editor Jason Bell now has Mad Mike McIntyre and the boys on the beat delivering dispatches in point form, which lends itself to variety of thought and analysis rather than dreary recitation of every pass, shot and save the night before. Give me opinion, anecdotes and harsh truths if required, not a running tally of plus/minus numbers.

According to Mike Sawatzky of the Drab Slab, the Canadian Elite Basketball League is primed to set up shop in Good Ol’ Hometown, with a team to be called the Seabears. I guess that’s because Winnipeg is a seaside town and there are so many bears roaming the streets. I mean, who came up with a name like Seabears for a sports franchise on the bald prairie?

It truly pains me to see the Winnipeg Sun putting out a three-page tabloid sports section. Damn. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be for a daily sheet in a market the size of Good Ol’ Hometown. How are the tabloid’s Toy Department 3—Paul Friesen, Teddy Wyman and Scott Billeck—expected to compete against the Drab Slab, which pumped out eight broadsheet pages on Saturday? It’s like bobbing for apples with your lips zipped shut. So a pox on the suits at Postmedia. Double damn them.

Here’s the page counts for sports sections in Postmedia tabloids across the country Saturday:
Vancouver Province: No paper (13 pages Friday)
Toronto Sun: 11
Ottawa Sun: 8
Calgary Sun: 8
Edmonton Sun: 8
Winnipeg Sun: 3

But, hey, check it out: The tabloid has trashed its TV listings in the Sunday sheet and expanded the sports section, with 12 pages today. Let’s hope going forward they fill the additional space with local copy, or off-beat musings, not a bunch of rot from the Republic of Tranna.

Boffo stuff from Paul Friesen on the 1990 Blue Bombers, many of whom found their way back to Good Ol’ Hometown last week for induction to the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame. Paul, as usual, captures the moment magnificently.

D’oh! The Canadian Football League announced its West and East Division all-star teams on Wednesday, then, scant hours later, sent out a missive saying they had it all wrong and provided revised results (with 19 corrections) after a recount. Now that’s the kind of election Donald Trump would like.

The Glieberguys, Bernie and Lonie.

A number of folks believe the Lords of Rouge Football ought to be red faced because of the voting snafu. Maybe. Maybe not. I mean, you want embarrassing? Try Dexter Manley and the Glieberguys and Mardi Gras beads and bare breasts in Bytown back in the day. How about Commish Randy Ambrosie panhandling on Parliament Hill in the thick of the pandemic? How about those many thousands of unoccupied seats at BMO Field for every Toronto Argos game? Let’s not forget dinosaurs Joe Kapp and Angelo Mosca brawling at a meet-and-greet Grey Cup function. Drafting dead guys in the 1990s? And, hey, have you heard Dennis Casey Park’s rendition of O Canada before the Las Vegas Posse home opener in 1994? The list of Rouge Football’s red-faced moments is longer than a Winnipeg winter, but our quirky, three-downs game has survived ’em all and shall continue to chug along, even if it’s with a red face.

Nathan Rourke

Quiz me this, kids: How many is enough? No, that isn’t a Zen koan. It’s the question I have for the Football Reporters of Canada. The girls and boys on the beat, you see, have decided that B.C. Leos QB Nathan Rourke was not the most dazzling performer in Rouge Football this year, presumably because he only played half a season, whereas Winnipeg Blue Bombers QB Zach Collaros was behind centre for 17 skirmishes. But wait. That same half-season was sufficient to earn Rourke the nomination as Most Outstanding Canadian.

Sorry, but that does not compute. I mean, he’s out as MOP but good to go as MOC? Is that some sort of Canadian exchange rate?

Well, here’s Teddy Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun to explain his thinking on CFL awards balloting: “There was talk among FRC colleagues about voting for Nathan Rourke over Collaros for MOP. Eventually I think right call was made. Rourke had amazing half season but no way of predicting how it would have gone after that. Collaros is deserving of the nomination.

“I voted for Rourke for most outstanding Canadian and majority of FRC voters did as well. The fact is, his half-season numbers were strong enough to outshine other Canadians. They weren’t strong enough to outshine Collaros for MOP.”

And now here’s Jeff Hamilton of the Drab Slab: “Collaros had another solid season and is deserving of the nomination. Nathan Rourke was on his way, and it’s a testament to how great he was when playing. But winning MOP after playing just half the season would have been embarrassing for the CFL.

“Rourke was incredible though. And my basis for voting—I had Collaros MOP; Rourke MOC—is that Rourke had a better season than all other Canadians but not as good as Collaros. Guy had 7 rushing TDs, to go with 25 passing. But, again, I agree with sked and the opposite opinion.”

So, what’s the minimum number of games required to qualify as MOP? Twelve? Fourteen?

Quick picks for today’s opening round in the quest for Rouge Football’s Grey Grail: Calgary Stampeders over B.C. Leos; Hamilton Tabbies over Montreal Larks; Matt Dunigan “gets ‘er done” on the TSN panel; and I foresee a pepperoni pizza-and-football day at Chez Swansson.

The Saskatchewan Flatlanders’ coughed up a hairball the size of a prairie canola field in the back half of the Rouge Football season, going 2-11 with seven successive Ls to close the crusade, and now we know who was most responsible for the fiasco: Offensive coordinator Jason Maas, O-line coach Stephen Sorrells and receivers coach Travis Moore are the official scapegoats. Oh, and let’s not forget starting QB Cody Fajardo, also fired. (His permanent dismissal has yet to be made official.) Meantime, sideline steward Craig Dickenson and GM Jeremy O’Day survive to clean up the mess left behind (apparently) by Messrs. Maas, Sorrells, Moore and Fajardo. My guess: The Flatlanders replace Fajardo with the ghost of Bo Levi Mitchell, which gives them a convenient scapegoat for next year.

Cliff Clavin in a classic episode of Cheers.

Tyler Hubbard, Jordan Davis and Josh Ross are the halftime performers for the Grey Cup game on the Flattest of Lands, Nov. 20. That sounds like an answer Cliff Clavin would give on Final Jeopardy!: “Who are three people who’ve never been in my kitchen?” In this case, it’s more like: Who are three people I’ve never heard of? Well, apparently, they’re country crooners, so do we see one, two or all three of them surface in the TSN booth for face time with Glen Suitor? Or does Groupie Glen limit his man crush gushing to Keith Urban? Better yet, will TSN let us watch the game or force us to endure Suits Goes Fan Boy, the sequel?

A young dude at a New York Knicks game sank a half-court shot to win a car on Saturday. More important, they also gave him $1,000. You know, so he could afford about half a tank of gas.

The Houston Astros have won the World Series. Which reminds me, I have a bag of garbage I need to take to the trash bin.

And, finally…

Let’s talk about nothing but glory in Good Ol’ Hometown for Zach Collaros…what Cody Fajardo did on his ‘vet’ day…the Winnipeg Jets, the Toronto Maple Elites and the skunk shirts…Blab Costas and the baseball playoffs…TorStar scribes and cement heads…Ponytail Puck…bikinis…and other things on my mind…

Top o’ the morning to you, Zach Collaros.

I’m not sure how you’d describe the past few years of your football life, but it’s surely been an interesting journey.

Zach Collaros

I mean, you were rejected on the Flattest of Lands and ushered out of the Republic of Tranna in the space of five months, but just look at you today: Grey Cup champion starting quarterback, x2; Most Outstanding Player Award in Rouge Football, soon-to-be x2; freshly minted three-year contract, at $600,000 per, tucked in your ditty bag.

Add to that your bride, Nicole, and two lovely daughters, Sierra and Capri, and, as the cool folk say, you’ve got it made in the shade, Zach. Talk about a wonderful life. Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey ain’t got nothing on you.

And, in a twisted sort of way, I suppose you can thank Simoni Lawrence for your favorable turn of fortune.

I don’t have to remind you that Simoni is the ruffian who knocked you loopy on the third play of the 2019 Canadian Foootball League season, Zach, setting in motion a sequence of events that brought you to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, with whom you’ve done nothing but put up Ws and earn the admiration of all who worship at the blue-and-gold shrine.

Yes, it’s been all glory in Good Ol’ Hometown, Zach, so much so that people are mentioning you and Kenny Ploen in the same breath, and the hosannas don’t get higher than a comparison to ol’ No. 11. Not if you’re talking football in Winnipeg, they don’t. K.P. was, is and always shall be football deity whenever and wherever devotees of the big, gold-and-white ‘W’ gather, and you’re making a compelling argument that you’ll soon be sitting beside him on legends row.

If only Jeremy O’Day, Pinball Clemons and John Murphy had known what was to become of you, Zach. So much would have changed.

I’m guessing you remember those guys, Zach. But, in case things are a bit blurry, let’s refresh:

O’Day had you on the Flattest of Lands in 2019 and, once you’d been rendered loopy by Lawrence, the Saskatchewan GM arrived at a dire diagnosis: You were done like a overcooked cob of corn at the Biggar county fair. Thus, he reasoned that upstart Cody Fajardo was a better bet than an oft-concussed QB, and he peddled your butt to the Republic of Tranna for a fourth-round shoutout (receiver Kian Schaffer-Baker) in the 2020 auction of CFL wannabes. It was “the best thing to do for the organization,” he explained.

Pinball Clemons and John Murphy, meanwhile, made the same (mis)diagnosis and figured the Toronto Argos were in better hands with Mcleod Bethel-Thompson and James Franklin. Thus, they dialed up Kyle Walters’ number on Oct. 9, 2019, and made the Bombers GM an offer he refused to refuse: It was you, Zach, and a future draft pick (kicker Marc Liegghio) in barter for two wannabes (O-linemen Theren Churchill, Dylan Giffen). Murphy, VP of player personnel with the Boatmen at the time, explained: “That was too much to pass up on.”

Larry, Curly and Moe…meet Jeremy, Pinball and Murph.

The Canadian Mafia: GM Kyle Walters, CEO Wade Miller, head coach Mike O’Shea.

Actually, Zach, they weren’t as dopey as the Three Stooges, because we have to remember you had a whack of cobwebs up in the attic at the time and all the medical experts, including those without medical degrees in the stands and on press row, had written you off. How were they to know Walters, Mike O’Shea and Wade Miller—the Bombers’ Canadian Mafia—had the magical healing powers of water at Lourdes?

It helps, of course, that they’ve blessed you with an O-line that provides better protection than the guys who keep the wackos away from Joe Biden, but I think we all know it’s mostly down to you, Zach.

The Argos-Bombers deal rates as one of Rouge Football’s all-time fleece jobs, and it might rank as the mother of all all-timers if you and the large lads in blue-and-gold livery conspire to bring home the Grey Grail for a third successive crusade.

So it’s grand to know you’ll be sticking around until 2025, Zach, and I don’t think anyone among the rabble gives a rat’s patootie that you, Nicole and the kiddies vamoose and spend your off-seasons in Aurora, Ont. Hey, I get it. I know all about Winnipeg winters. They’re like a stray dog with a bad attitude: Avoid whenever possible.

For now, though, Aurora can wait, Zach. You’ve got two more football games to win, and I’m guessing you won’t mind if your escape is delayed a day or two due to another championship parade.

Yes, sir, it’s a wonderful life, Zach.

Craig Dickenson and Cody Fajardo

So let me see if I’ve got this right: In a survival skirmish Saturday night, Saskatchewan Flatlanders head coach Craig Dickenson told the aforementioned Cody Fajardo to grab pine and, instead, pinned his club’s playoff aspirations on a QB, Mason Fine, who’d never started a game in the CFL and had flung the football a grand total of 42 times in his three-downs career. Ya, that makes sense. No surprise that Fine got the Flatlanders into the house just once. End result: Calgary Stampeders 32, Flatlanders 21. So Saskatchewan joins the ranks of the no-hopers, with their post-season quest expired, and Dickenson should be grateful he’s under contract for another year.

What’s up with Dickenson giving Fajardo a “vet” day off last week? What the hell is a “vet” day? Did Cody need to take the family pet in for shots and a deworming? Or is it something akin to “load management?” My take: It’s a load of what comes out of the south end of a bull. I don’t want to hear about “vet” day unless it’s Nov. 11.

Somebody at TSN needs to tell gab guy Milt Stegall that the Toronto Argos are not—repeat, not!— “Eastern conference champions” two years in a row. The Boatmen didn’t win the East Division title a year ago, and they haven’t won it this time around. They’ve locked down first place and a bye into the East Division final at BMO Field in the Republic of Tranna on Nov. 13. That’s when the East Division “champions” will be determined. Do better, Milt.

Mitch Marner

After Toronto Maple Leafs bench puppeteer Sheldon Keefe called out his “elite” workers for being notably unelite in a 4-2 misstep vs. the Sad Sack Arizona Coyotes last week, one of the elitists, Mitch Marner, insisted no players’ noses were out of joint because of the coach’s tsk-tsking. “We’re grown men,” he said. If it’s all the same to Mitch, I’ll reserve judgment on that until I see evidence that he’s old enough to shave.

Got a giggle out of dispatches from Saturday night’s skirmish between the Tranna Maple Elites and Winnipeg Jets at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie.

In the Drab Slab, the main headline blared, “BAD BLOOD AND BAD CALLS…Leafs escape Jetsville with 2 points and the zebras’ blessings.” Beat guy Mad Mike McIntyre told us Toronto’s 4-1 victory was “draped in controversy” and refs Graham Skilliter and Corey Syvret “completely lost the plot.” The skunk shirts were also “cowardly.” (But, hey, he doesn’t want to be viewed as a homer.) He described Josh Morrissey’s collision with Nick Robertson of the Leafs as “what looked to be a perfectly-timed hit,” while over at the Winnipeg Sun Scott Billeck saw it as “a clean hit.”

Meantime, there were no screaming headlines about shoddy officiating in either the Toronto Star or Toronto Sun, apparently because news snoops were watching a different game. Mark Zwolinski of the Star called the Winnipeg blueliner’s broadside of Robertson a “predatory hit” and Sun scribe Terry Koshan saw it as “a perceived” illegal blow.

Hmmm. If you were wearing Jets goggles, it was “clean” and “perfectly-timed,” but if you had on a pair of Leafs goggles, it was “predatory” and “perceived” as dirty. Go figure.

It’s a “happening” any time the Elites grace the freeze in Good Ol’ Hometown, and it’s especially exciting on a Saturday night, because those fancy schmancy Hockey Night in Canada towels are up for grabs. I just wonder what the players do with them. Take ’em home? Hang ’em on the towel rack in the biffy? Display ’em on a man cave wall? Wrap ’em up and gift them as Christmas stocking stuffers? Give ’em to the dog for a chew toy? Inquiring minds want to know.

Fashion note: Those Winnipeg Jets reverse retro uniforms look like some kid was a few crayons short of a full box. I mean, my favorite color is blue, but I like it most when it’s blended with other hues of the rainbow. You know, like red. But I guess adidas thinks a jersey that looks like it’s been through the wash/rinse cycle about 1,000 times too often is a thing.

The heritage unis the home side wore Saturday night vs. the Tranna Elites are still the best, and always will be.

Blab Costas

Is it safe to watch the Major League Baseball playoffs again, or is Bob Costas still yammering about everything but rounders? Seriously, I turned on my flatscreen to observe a New York Yankees-Cleveland Guardians game last week and a Costas filibuster broke out.

I don’t think there’s a squawk box in sports who loves the sound of his own voice more than this guy. He doesn’t call the game, he lectures in an arrogant “I’m the legendary Bob Costas and I know more important people than you” tone, at the same time taking more detours than a lost dog.

His starting point might be baseball, but he’s apt to wander off to the Civil War to 9/11 to JFK to the shootout at the OK Corral to Grantland Rice and the day the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame rode, before returning to the matter at hand and informing us that Aaron Judge had been scuffling at the plate: “I know Aaron has lost his groove, but I also know he likes his breakfast eggs sunny side up, and, coincidentally, so did General George Smith Patton Jr., who, by the way, was something of a student of fencing during his time at West Point, and Old Blood and Guts also competed in the modern pentathlon at the 1912 Summer Olympics in Sweden, where he became the only non-Swede to finish in the top five. He later became Master of the Sword…and there’s goes Aaron Judge, down on strikes again. But back to General Patton, did you know…blah, blah, blah.”

Basically, he’s under the misguided notion that a ball game ought to be a (bad) Ken Burns documentary, and he believes he’s doing our ears a favor with his non-stop natter. Well, I’m sorry, but my ears begin to bleed at the first sound of his ego.

What’s the worst fear while listening to Bob Costas broadcast a baseball game? Extra innings.

The New York Post reports that Charles Barkley has agreed to keep filling TNT air with his basketball bon mots, and the arrangement is expected to easily top the $100 million mark. Hmmm. If paid at a penny per word, Bob Costas would be a millionaire by the seventh-inning stretch.

My main issue with the current Major League Baseball playoffs is this: I don’t hear the sound of garbage cans clanking, so I can’t figure out how the Houston Astros are cheating.

Nick Kypreos

Good grief, Nick Kypreos has joined Dave Poulin as a contributing columnist for the Toronto Star, leaving me to wonder when he’ll use his new platform to promote goon tactics in the NHL. I mean, if we learned anything about Kypreos during his lengthy run with Sportsnet, it’s that he’s a horse-and-buggy thinker who truly believes you have to beat ’em in the alley before you can beat ’em on the ice. He was a cement head when he played, and he’s still a cement head. If it’s all the same to the deep-thinkers at the Star, I prefer to remember a time when their sports pages featured scribes like Jim Proudfoot and Milt Dunnell and Frank Orr, not broken-down jocks.

Speaking of the Star, the paper’s public editor, Donovan Vincent, has noted his sports section seldom covers female athletes and their teams. Well duh. What was his first clue? Turns out it was a missive from a female reader that alerted Vincent to the issue, and he ought to be embarrassed. I mean, this is nothing new, and Vincent long ago should have noticed the lack of words and scarcity of photographic evidence devoted to the distaff side of the playground. Not to mention the scads of studies that confirm mainstream print and electronic media ignore the games girls/women play. Now that he’s finally pulled his head out of the sand, perhaps other newspaper decision-makers across our Frozen Tundra will do the same and stop treating the females like second-hand Roses.

Hey, check it out. The Drab Slab delivered a significant takeout on Ponytail Puck the other day. Mike Sawatzky took a look at the Toronto Six, now in final prep for the Premier Hockey Federation’s eighth season, and he reminds us that one of our own, Sami Jo Small, is at the top of the food change with the Six. The roster also features three Manitoba-breds. Good stuff.

Did you know, and do you care, that the other half of the Ponytail Puck equation, the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, staged a set of its glorified scrimmages last weekend in Montreal? Well, if you went looking for game info on the PWHPA website, you won’t have a clue, because they apparently like to keep details of their on-ice activity hush-hush. Not a word about the four-team frolic featuring Team Sonnet, Team Scotiabank, Team adidas and Team Harvey’s. So, if they don’t care to fill you in, why should you care?

The PWHPA has been in existence since May 2019, after rising from the ashes of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, and I’m still trying to figure out what they’re trying to prove, except that they’re the most stubborn group of women ever assembled.

Dugie and GG Mary Simon
Photo: MCpl Anis Assari, Rideau Hall

A size XXXXXL shoutout to old friend Don Duguid, who had snacks and made small talk with Governor General Mary Simon on Thursday in Bytown. The GG invested Dugie as a member of the Order of Canada, and I’d say that sounds about right for a world curling champion, turned curling innovator, turned curling guru, turned curling gab guy. I don’t know if the The Digit gave Guv Mary an earful about the Monarchy, but I’m guessing he mentioned King Charlie a time or two. Dugie is one of my all-time favorite people.

Toronto FC pays Lorenzo Insigne $14 million guaranteed per year to play footy, which is better pay than anyone in the NHL. So perhaps someone in mainstream media can tell us again how Major League Soccer isn’t major league.

Bet you didn’t know that the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue has a Rookie of the Year Award. Yup, Christen Harper and Katie Austin are this year’s recipients of the frosh honor because, according to editor and chief MJ Day, “there’s never been two more worthy people.” And, hey, don’t run off with the notion that Christen and Katie put on their skimpy outfits for self-serving reasons. They do it “for random strangers.” Translation: Teenage boys who can’t get their hands on a Victoria’s Secret catalog.

Sometimes I don’t want to believe what I’m reading and hearing, and I don’t want to believe that tennis great Simona Halep is guilty of using performance-enhancing drugs.

And, finally, it’s about soft landings for delicate NFL QBs…

Let’s talk about everything’s Ducky and the Winnipeg Jets ‘hands-on’ owner…the Rink Rat takes a tumble…the price of a souvenir baseball…Little Tiger…drawing the line on the draw to the button…a $52.5 million part-time job…Henderson has scored for Canada…and other things on my mind…

Top o’ the morning to you, Mark Chipman, or as I prefer to call you, Puck Pontiff.

I don’t mean anything nasty by the nickname, Mark. It’s just that I harbor a long-held belief that you exercise papal power as it relates to the jewel in your True North Sports + Entertainment crown—the Winnipeg Jets.

You even confessed as much in a Hockey Night in Canada natter with then-host George Stroumboulopoulos a few years back, saying you’re in GM Kevin Cheveldayoff’s kitchen every day, and the larger the decision the louder your voice. It short, you’re a buttinski.

That, of course, is the privilege of rank and, as executive chairman of the True North fiefdom and governor of the National Hockey League franchise, it’s your prerogative to stick your nose where others think it doesn’t belong.

However, I’m not here this morning to rattle your cage or yank your chain, Mark. Instead I salute you for the salute to Dale Hawerchuk on Saturday. Nice. Very nice. Or should I say it was “just Ducky” of you? (Sorry, Chipper. I agree, that’s a Ron MacLean-level bad pun.)

Give or take Teemu Selanne, no player in Jets NHL history was more impactful than our Ducky. The difference between the two legends is this, Mark: Dale spent nine seasons wearing the linen (and the ‘C’ for six), and he butted heads every winter with Gretzky, Messier, Coffey, Fuhr and the rest of that dreaded Edmonton Oilers lot in the 1980s, a moment in time that defines Jets 1.0. Teemu’s time in Good Ol’ Hometown was, by comparison, a fly-by.

So, ya, a statue at True North Square to honor a shinny icon who left the building before any of us wanted is a beautiful thing, and I continue to curse the cancer that claimed Ducky at such a young age.

One final thing, Chipper: I’m especially pleased that you gave a shoutout to two people in particular: Former owner Barry Shenkarow, a major player in arranging the Jets entry into the NHL, and the late John Ferguson, the man responsible for bringing Ducky to Good Ol’ Hometown.

You did good, Puck Pontiff. Real good.

Chipman is, literally, a hands-on owner. The Puck Pontiff, you see, poured the metal for the right glove on the Ducky likeness unveiled yesterday, and it doesn’t get much more hands-on than that. Ben Waldman of the Drab Slab had a natter with sculptor Erik Blome, and he gives us the skinny on the making of Ducky in bronze.

Rink Rat Scheifele

Well, the “experts” at TSN put their little heads together to determine the top 50 players in the NHL, and Rink Rat Scheifele has taken the greatest fall since Humpty Dumpty. A year ago, the geniuses had the Jets centre rated 20th overall, but this time around they couldn’t find room for him in the top 50. Hey, I get it. He’s a pooch defensively and some of his shifts are longer than a Sunday sermon, but he’s been a point-a-game producer for the past six crusades and I can’t think of a guy not named Connor McDavid who can say that. So, I’m sorry, but they can’t sell me on the notion that Jack Hughes is a better player than the Rink Rat.

I’m not convinced the Jets will be the stumble bums that many of the pundits are suggesting in advance of the 2022-23 crusade. Oh, I realize the Rolling Stones make more lineup changes than Winnipeg HC, but I believe success/failure depends on the amount of ice time Blake Wheeler and Logan Stanley don’t get. The less time on the freeze for those two, the better the chances of proving the naysayers wrong.

It’s about the Aaron Judge home run chase: Many of my vintage consider Roger Maris’ 61 dingers in 1961 the true single-season record, because those who’ve gone yard more often—Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa—wear the stink of steroids. A younger generation, however, might be more inclined to accept Bonds as Major League Baseball’s king of clout for his 73 four-baggers in 2001. Whatever the case, the debate brings to mind a lyric from the Buffalo Springfield protest classic For What It’s Worth: “Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong.”

I don’t know about you, but I was delighted to see Judge swat HR No. 61 in the Republic of Tranna last week, and it’s just as well that the souvenir ball landed in the Blue Jays bullpen and wasn’t caught by a fan at Rogers Centre. I mean, it’s estimated that the thing is worth upwards of $250,000 US, but only about $1.50 on the Canadian exchange rate.

Charlie Woods and pop Tiger.

Thirteen-year-old Charlie Woods fired a 4-under 68 last weekend in the Notah Begay III Junior National Golf Championship, and a lot of people are saying the kid’s just like dad Tiger. I don’t know about that. I mean, he’s barely old enough to give a waitress a food order, let alone have an illicit affair with her.

Dumb headline of the week, from Golf Week: “Charlie Woods shoots career-low round with dad Tiger on the bag.” A “career” low? Good gawd, when did puberty become a career? I guess it’s another example of how life happens at a lickety-split cadence in this 21st century, and I suppose we can expect young Charlie’s autobiography to land on bookstore shelves any day now.

Scofflaw O.J. Simpson decided to play Couch Coach and used Twitter to advise Pittsburgh Steelers head man Mike Tomlin it would be in his best interest to plunk starting QB Mitch Trubisky on the pine and anoint Kenny Pickett starting QB. Oh, put a sock in it, Juice. Don’t you have some “real killers” to catch?

Simpson has 888.2K followers on his Twitter account. My question is this: “Why?” Are those people expecting him to cop to the murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown, and her friend Ron Goldman?

A couple of our most-decorated Pebble People, Jennifer Jones and Marc Kennedy, tell Teddy Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun that they aren’t fond of the experimental draw-to-the-button method of breaking ties in elite curling events. “I don’t like it,” said Jones, whose freshly minted team cashed in to the tune of $50,000 in the freshly minted PointsBet Invitational last weekend. Kennedy, meanwhile, provided the backup vocals, saying, Personally I wish they wouldn’t touch extra ends.” Hear, hear! I mean, I’m all for gimmickry…if it’s at the carnival or some kind of parlor trick when friends are over for din-din. But I don’t want to see the Scotties or Brier champion determined by silly shenanigans. Let soccer and hockey have the stupid stuff.

One of our very own, Cathy Gauthier, has moved into the chair vacated by Cheryl Bernard—smack dab between Vic Rauter and Russ Howard—on TSN’s Season of Champions curling coverage, and that has to be about the best call since John, Paul and George asked Ringo to grab his Ludwig drum kit and tag along with them. Like Cheryl, Cathy’s always been able to go jab-for-jab with Vic and ol’ Hurry Hard Howard in the verbal thrust-and-parry, and her appointment means another winter of good banter from the booth.

Another of our very own, Sami Jo Small, has been anointed el presidente of the Toronto Six, where she joins Hockey Hall of Famers and world champions Angela James (GM) and Geraldine Heaney (head coach) in leading the Premier Hockey Federation franchise. If sports editors at the Toronto Sun and Toronto Star noticed, they failed to find room for the news on their sports pages. Kind of tough for Ponytail Puck to gain traction in the Republic of Tranna when the local rags put the home side on ignore.

Strange tweet of the week comes from former NHLer and present-day conspiracy theorist Theoren Fleury: “The biggest spreaders of misinformation are the ones who are spreading misinformation.” Thanks Theo. And the leading cause of death is life.

I really don’t think anyone should be surprised the Calgary Stampeders have moved on from QB Bo Levi Mitchell and handed the football, plus gobs of coin on a two-year contract, to Jake Maier. Bo’s been off his feed the past couple of years, and when head coach Dave Dickenson and GM John Hufnael say it’s time, it’s time. I mean, if there’s one thing those two know above all else, it’s Rouge Football QBs.

After watching the Toronto Argos score just two points in a loss to the Stampeders last night, it’s hard to believe they entered the fray on a four-game winning run. Who’d they beat? A dozen kids from my neighborhood?

When the time arrives, Novak Djokovic wants a warm-and-fuzzy farewell, just like Roger Federer, and he’d especially like rival Rafael Nadal to be present. “We played the most matches against each other of any other rivalry in the history of tennis,” he says. Yo! Novak! Women play tennis, too. Martina Navratilova and Chrissie Evert met 80 times in singles play. You and Rafa have been on opposite sides of the net 59 times. Do the math.

Tyreek Hill has already collected more than $25 million to catch passes and run the ball for Miami Dolphins this NFL season, and he’s guaranteed $52.5M on his current deal. Yet he says football is “just our part-time job.” Earth to Tyreek. Tell that to the kid making $10 an hour to bag groceries at the local market on weekends, or a student scrubbing pots and pans in the back of a greasy spoon three days a week to pay tuition.

Things I discovered in the past week: 1) There is a Professional Disc Golf Association, complete with a tour; 2) there is a Professional Pickleball Association, also with a tour. I’m particularly curious about disc golf: How do they fit a frisbee into that wee, little hole?

Still can’t believe how weak some of the acting is on the new Law & Order. Angry cop Cosgrove and ADA Price are truly lame. I keep watching in the hope they’ll improve, but no.

Only once during my 30 years in jock journalism did I ask an athlete I covered for an autograph: Paul Henderson. And, you’re right, that put me in breach of one of the unwritten commandments in the sports scribe’s code of conduct. I’m not sure which commandment it is, but it clearly states: Thou shalt not collect autographs. It’s totally taboo. At least it was back in the day (I can’t speak for today’s news snoops). At any rate, I sought Henderson’s signature after he and his Birmingham Bulls associates had concluded a morning, game-day skate. Knowing I was in breach, I made my request on the QT, asking him to sign a Prudential Insurance print depicting the moment that had earned him a prominent and permanent place in Canadian hockey folklore—the winning goal in Game 8 of the 1972 Summit Series between our good guys and the Soviet Union comrades. No one heard my request, and no prying eyes were nearby, but a wave of guilt washed over me. Didn’t matter. He happily scrawled his signature on the bottom right-hand corner of the print, and we made small talk. Years later, I had Soviet goaltender Vladislav Tretiak sign that same print. What a keepsake. Alas, a person to whom I’m no longer wed sold it on the QT at a yard sale for 50 cents.

Henderson scored the most iconic goal in Canadian hockey history, and he had the winning tallies in Games 6 and 7 of the Summit Series, as well. Question is, why, 50 years later, does he still have to pay his way into the Hockey Hall of Fame in the Republic of Tranna? Okay, sure, most would rate his NHL/World Hockey Association career a notch above garden variety, but, give or take Tretiak, Henderson was the most significant performer in the most significant shinny series ever played—Canada vs. U.S.S.R. 1972. What he did was lightning-in-a-bottle stuff, and it seems to me it’s HHOF worthy. I mean, Harper Lee wrote just one book (some say two tomes) and she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her contribution to literature.

And, finally, this week’s vanity license plate:

Let’s talk about Chevy’s fishing…wedding bells and mountains…the Babe, Roger and here comes da Judge…David Letterman’s ‘tub of goo’…good reads in the Drab Slab…Joe Pop…Jumbo Joe’s beard…and other things on my mind…

Chevy

Top o’ the morning to you, Kevin Cheveldayoff. Have a nice summer? Hope the fish were biting more than the black flies out there at your Lake of the Woods hideaway.

I know you fish, Chevy, but you sure don’t do much of it on land. I mean, the lads have hit the ice for another crusade—your 12th general managing the Winnipeg Jets—and your group looks strikingly similar to the Sad Sack side that stumbled and (mostly) grumbled its way through the 2021-22 National Hockey League frolic.

I don’t need to remind you that those Jets missed the boat (pun intended), and you shored up your non-playoff roster by landing a goaltender nobody wanted and an aging forward nobody wanted. Oh joy. What were you using for bait that so many others passed on? The iffy wifi or even worse weather?

I suppose it’s only fair that I point out you did manage to land yourself one big, off-ice catch, Chevy. That would be Rick Bowness, a wrinkled, good-guy coach who might have been No. 2, 3, 4 or 5 on your wish list of head knocks not named Barry Trotz. Bones’ mission is simple: Turn leftovers into a scrumptious, full-course meal that includes dessert with a cherry on top, which is to say a seat on the Stanley Cup merry-go-round and a deep run next spring.

Bones aside, Chevy, call it a Summer of Nothing, and it wasn’t your first. Is it your last, though?

Some of us think your seat should be hotter than a ticket to an Adele gig in Vegas, but the guy whose opinion matters most, Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman, has your back, and the three-year contract extension he handed you for never failing to fail is the evidence.

Justified or not, Chevy, it’s bonus time for you to finish what you and the Puck Pontiff started in 2011. Otherwise, the Gone Fishin’ sign needs to go up permanently.

Rink Rat Scheifele had a natter with Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek on their 32 Thoughts podcast the other day, and the Jets centre insists there’s a “tight knit” team sitting in the changing room. Ya, we saw that at the end of last season when they all got together, linked arms and held a group gripe about too many guys more interested in padding their stats than playing the right way. Oh, but wait. Apparently, a culture shift is afoot. We’re told a bunch of the boys gathered to witness Josh Morrissey take a bride during the summer, and the lads shall assemble in the Rocky Mountains next month for a 1960s-style love-in, where it’s assumed Rick Bowness will read bedtime stories and tuck them in each night. Hmmm. Wedding bells? A mountain retreat? Are they building a hockey team or making one of those hokey Hallmark movies?

Sydney Daniels

I suppose some will view the addition of Sydney Daniels to the Jets’ stable of bird dogs as a “woke” hire or “virtue signaling,” but I’ll take their word that she’s got the chops to handle the college scouting portfolio. Sydney’s from the Flattest of Lands, which is a good place to start any hockey resumé, and she’s familiar with the U.S. college scene, having played and coached at Harvard. She’s also Indigenous, which makes her a double-barreled role model for girls and women. Good for Sydney and good for Winnipeg HC.

This from hockey scribe Kevin McGran in his 13 Musings column for the Toronto Star: “The Winnipeg Jets are going to be a train wreck, right?” Ouch. And Michael Traikos of Postmedia Toronto describes Winnipeg HC as “a rudderless ship.” Ouch again. Actually, I’m not surprised that they would take a dim view of the Jets. I’m only surprised that shinny scribes in the Republic of Tranna acknowledge there are NHL teams out here in the colonies.

This also from McGran: “Gotta believe the Leafs will go slowly before putting a sponsor’s logo on the front of their game sweater.” D’oh! He wrote that Tuesday. Scant seconds later, the Toronto Maple Leafs introduced their 2022-23 jerseys with—you guessed it—an advertising patch (Farmers of Ontario “Milk”) on the right chest.

No surprise that Patrik Laine and Johnny Gaudreau will be together on the left and right flanks once the puck is dropped on Columbus Blue Jackets dress rehearsals. Evidently the lineup for auditions to play centre with Puck Finn and Johnny Hockey is longer than the queue for Queen Liz’s funeral.

Always worth noting that Laine is all-in with the Blue Jackets, having signed for the next four seasons, and that’s something Puck Finn refused to do with the Jets. So it’s fair to wonder what Columbus, Ohio, (of all places) has that Good Ol’ Hometown is missing. Oh, well, his loss I guess. I mean, he’ll miss all that warm-and-fuzzy bonding next month in the Rockies.

When I was a sprig, Babe Ruth was more myth than man, someone who seemingly had sprung from the pages of a dime novel.

Elders would regale us with tales taller than a New York skyscraper about the Babe, claiming one swing of the Bambino’s bat would send a baseball hurtling from the Bronx to Baton Rouge. The Babe was Bunyanesque. His 60-home run season in 1927? Also mythical. I mean, who did that? Not Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle or Henry Aaron or Ted Williams. Only the Babe. The Sultan of Swat.

Then Roger Maris came along and we saw it actually happen.

I was 10 when Maris whacked a Tracy Stallard pitch into the right field porch at Yankee Stadium, then made his 61st home run trot of the 1961 Major League Baseball season. No, I didn’t see it live on TV. We were limited to televised games on Saturday afternoons back then, and Roger passed the Babe on a Sunday. But I read all about it in the next morning’s Winnipeg Tribune, so it had to be true.

And now we have another damn Yankee, Aaron Judge, doing Ruthian and Marisian-type things. He has 60 dingers, and there’s counting yet to be done.

Will kids 60 years from now listen to grandpa spin yarns about a larger-than-life, mythical man who didn’t have a catchy nickname? Somehow I doubt it. Aaron Judge is too real to be a myth. He doesn’t stick needles in his butt. He doesn’t call his shots. He doesn’t booze it up and consort with fancy females on the road. He isn’t into dramatic, diva-like bat flips. He just plays baseball. Hey, maybe that’s become the myth…a guy who just plays baseball.

What’s the going rate for a souvenir baseball? Well Sal Durante, a Brooklyn truck driver, caught Maris’ 61st HR ball and eventually peddled it for $5,000 to restaurant owner Sam Gordon, who promptly handed it to Maris. Durante gifted half his poke to his parents, then spent the remainder on furnishing a house with soon-to-be bride Rosemarie. They said their I do’s three weeks after Sal snatched the Maris HR ball, and they honeymooned in San Francisco, Las Vegas, Reno, Palm Springs and Sacramento, all on Gordon’s dime. Durante, now hospitalized with dementia at age 80, also received a Zippo cigarette lighter with a Yankees logo on the front and Roger’s name on the back from the Yankees slugger. The guy who hauls in Judge’s 62nd HR ball (assuming he hits it) could easily afford a three-bedroom home a block away from Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, and have enough coin left over for yearly around-the-world honeymoons and a solid gold Zippo.

The cost of making a baseball is about $7, but you can buy one designed to exact MLB specifications on Amazon for $33.16 (goop and nasty toxins that Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole applies not included).

Alejandro Kirk

Okay, Alejandro Kirk doesn’t have the body perfect (nor did the Babe, for that matter). He’s squat, with an ample girth. Stand him next to Aaron Judge and you’re looking at an igloo beside the Empire State Building. But is the sight of the rotund Toronto Blue Jays catcher rumbling around the base paths “embarrassing for the sport” of baseball? TSN radio guy Matthew Ross thought so, and said so, on Twitter, prompting keyboard warriors to pounce with loud squawks and accusations of body shaming. No surprise that Ross delivered a mea culpa, saying in part, “defaming people for the way they look is not where my heart or intent was in this moment—or ever!” Sigh. Why do these guys always use the “that’s not who I am” copout? As the Wise Woman of the Village once said: “No matter who and what we claim to be, what we say and do is who and what we are.” So just own it, for gawd’s sake, then vow to do and be better.

The Kirk clatter brought to mind the time late-night gab guy David Letterman went off on Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Terry Forster. Among others things, Letterman called Forster “the fattest man in all of professional sports. The guy is a balloon. He must weigh 300 pounds. He is a looaad.” Just so his national TV audience didn’t miss his meaning, Letterman closed his body-shaming bit by labeling Forster “a fat tub of goo.” That’s the way it was in 1985. People yukked it up over stuff that brings out the tar and feathers today.

Some good copy in the Drab Slab lately, starting with Jeff Hamilton’s deep dive into the matter of disgraced high school football coach Kelsey McKay. It isn’t the first time Jeff has gone into the dirty areas of sports, and he always delivers the goods. Meantime, Mike Sawatzky has a nice piece on the 1962 U of M Bisons football team, which had old friends George Depres and Jeep Woolley on the coaching staff. Jeff and Mike are the best weapons in the Freep’s toy department.

On the subject of the write stuff, you might want to check out Eddie Tait’s piece on Joe Poplawski over at the Winnipeg Blue Bombers website. Joe Pop is this year’s inductee to the Winnipeg FC Ring of Honour, and young Eddie has the background poop on a guy recognized hither and yon as one of the finest people in sports. Any sport. Any era.

Danny Maciocia

Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed that Montreal Larks head coach Danny Maciocia always looks as confused as a guy who’s forgotten where he parked the car?

The Larks got the better of the Hamilton Tabbies on Friday night, 23-16, and Montreal QB Trevor Harris mentioned Jesus three times during a brief post-victory natter with John Lu on TSN. Hmmm. I realize Larks legendary QB and current O-Coordinator Anthony Calvillo is revered in Montreal, but when did they start calling him Jesus?

So, who becomes the fall guy in Bytown, where the 3-10 RedBlacks looked shockingly inept in a 45-15 paddywhacking from the Toronto Argos last night? Well, it’ll be Paul LaPolice, of course. It isn’t Coach LaPo’s fault that he lost his starting QB, Jeremiah Masoli, to a dirty bit of business by the felonious Flatlander Garrett Marino, but consecutive three-win crusades doesn’t cut it. This is his second head-coaching gig in Rouge Football, and at 22-49 I believe there’s a warm seat waiting for Coach LaPo beside Kate Beirness on the TSN panel.

Nice to see Darren Dutchyshen back on SportsCentre with Jennifer Hedger while he fights the good fight against cancer. Dutchy has been a mainstay at TSN since 1995, which seems so darn long ago, .

Apparently ’tis the season to retire. Zdeno Chara, P.K. Subban and Keith Yandle all said toodle-oo on the same day last week, and one of them is destined for the Hockey Hall of Fame, another probably has a future in the gab game if he chooses, while Yandle packs it in as the NHL’s iron man, having clocked in for work in 989 consecutive games from March 26, 2009, to March 29 this year. Meanwhile, no word on Jumbo Joe Thornton’s NHL future until scientists complete carbon dating analysis of his beard.

I don’t like the term “GOAT.” It’s overused to the point of being nails-on-a-chalkboard icky, and when an unGOAT like Blake Shelton tries to use an actual goat as a prop on The Voice, you know it’s also become cheesy and Oklahoma cornball. I think “GOAT” should be banned as it relates to sports, and I certainly won’t use it, except to tell you I won’t use it. I mean, Secretariat was the greatest race horse I’ve ever seen, but do we really want to call Secretariat a GOAT? Not gonna happen.

So, does Becky Hammon’s success leading the Las Vegas Aces to the WNBA title move the needle closer to her becoming the first female head coach in the NBA, or is she now pigeon holed into women’s hoops?

The WNBA final, by the way, featured two openly gay head coaches—Hammon, who’s married to Brenda Milano and the mother of two young kids, and Curt Miller of the Connecticut Sun. More role models for LGBT(etc.) youth.

Dumb Headline of the Week, from the Sportsnet website: “Exciting developments from PWHPA won’t include new league in January.” Good grief. There can be just one “exciting” development with the Dream Gappers—a league. Everything else is last week’s baked goods. I mean, there’s nothing fresh and “exciting” about playing glorified scrimmages for a fourth successive winter. Jayna Hefford and her Dream Gappers can dress up their “friendlies” six ways to Sunday, but Team Harvey’s vs. Team Sonnet will never get the pulse racing. The PWHPA needs to be something more than photo ops with Billie Jean King and hit-and-miss weekend scrimmages if they expect the masses to take Ponytail Puck seriously.

And, finally, this week’s vanity license plate:

Let’s talk about our Leading Lady of the Links…Rink Rat Scheifele in the Bow Wow Bungalow for dogging it…the Toronto Maple Blue Meanies…Ponytail Puck and gender bias…CFL is showing some leg…Hockey Night in Canada in tongues…Chucklehead Barkley…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and the Oscar for excellence in (computer) screen writing certainly doesn’t go to this blog…

We can all use a little good news these days and, thankfully, we have Brooke Henderson for that.

Brooke is the 20-dollar bill you find in the pocket of an old coat you haven’t worn for a year. She’s that unexpected job promotion that includes a corner office. She’s waking up early in the morning and realizing you can sleep in for another hour or two. Nothing but nice surprises.

Brooke Henderson and her new trinket.

The 23-year-old is also one of those special athletes who make you feel like you’re right there beside her as she puts the finishing brush strokes on another work of art and flashes that winning smile, which the 5-feet-4 mighty mite did in the final round of the LA Open at Wilshire Country Club in Los Angeles on Saturday.

Our Leading Lady of the Links took 67 swings to get the job done and nail down her 10th victory on the LPGA Tour, ending a win-free stretch dating back to June 2019.

The irony, of course, is that while the delightful native of Smiths Falls brought greater golf glory to a province ravaged by COVID-19, no one in Ontario is allowed to tee it up, meaning the next Brooke Henderson out there is on hold.

“I think golf is a great way to be outdoors and get some exercise, and it’s really unfortunate that they’re shut down right now,” Brooke told the Toronto Star. “Hopefully they’ll open up sooner than later. It’s a great way to, like I said, get exercise, fresh air and also have a little bit of social (interaction) by doing it pretty safely.”

That’s Brooke Henderson: A ray of sunshine in the gloom.

Rink Rat in the pooch palace.

Do I smell a scandal brewing in Good Ol’ Hometown? Have feathers been ruffled? I mean, Rink Rat Scheifele spent some time in coach Paul Maurice’s pooch palace on Saturday night for, appropriately enough, dogging it. Coach PottyMo plunked Scheifele on the pine and kept the Winnipeg Jets’ leading point-collector in the Bow Wow Bungalow for 12 minutes and 53 seconds during the second period of the home side’s 4-1 smackdown by the Toronto Maple Leafs, and there’s no way to put a happy face on that. We await the fallout in these Doghouse Days of April.

Zach Hyman was so mean to Neal Pionk.

Can anyone tell me exactly when those big, bad, blue meanies from the Republic of Tranna supposedly became a bunch of dirty, rotten no-goodniks who steal lunch money? I’ve never once thought of Zach Hyman as a dirty hockey player, even if he mistook Neal Pionk’s coconut for a pinata. Jumbo Joe Thornton and Nick Foligno? Sure, they’ve been known to play with an edge and take no prisoners. But Alex Galchenyuk? Come on, man. He’s as menacing as a kid with a pea shooter. But to hear it, the Leafs are Hells Angels on skates. There hasn’t been this much talk about T.O. toughness since Conn Smythe muttered something about beating ’em in the alley. But the Toronto Maple Blue Meanies they ain’t. The Jets and their faithful have to get over it and get on with it, even if it might mean elbows high.

When a sports scribe feels obliged to inform his readers that he isn’t a “homer” for fear they might view his essay on the home team getting beat up as homerism, chances are he’s a homer. Just saying.

Sarah Nurse

Apparently, the best female hockey players on the Big Blue Orb aren’t allowed to have nice things anymore, like their best-on-best world tournament, scuttled (for now) by politicians unwilling to open the Nova Scotia border to visitors from hither and yon for fear they might have the deadly COVID-19 virus as a travelling companion.

So it’s deja vu all over again for the women, whose world showcase is now a once-cancelled (2020), twice-postponed (2021) event due to the killer pandemic.

Except, while they’re left holding the bag (or, in this case, unpacking their travel bags) and await word on new dates and/or locale, it’s business as usual for the boys/men operating under the International Ice Hockey Federation banner.

  • World Junior championship: Been there, done that in Edmonton.
  • U18 championship: Drop the puck in Frisco and Plano, Texas, on Monday.
  • World championship: Still good to go, May 21-June 6, in Riga, Latvia.

Looks like, walks like, talks like, smells like gender bias, no?

It’s understandable, therefore, that practitioners of Ponytail Puck are feeling like red-haired, freckle-faced stepchildren these days.

“Without pointing a finger and placing blame, because we can’t really compare our tournament location to any other tournament, every government has their own guidelines so I definitely want to make that clear, but I just feel like it’s very hard not to look at it from a gender standpoint because it seems like a little bit of a trend,” Team Canada forward Sarah Nurse told Donna Spencer of the Canadian Press.

“It’s hard not to look at it through that lens for sure.”

Well, Sarah might want to take another peek through “that lens,” or at least get out the Windex and give it a thorough cleaning.

First of all, Premier Iain Rankin is the scoundrel who pulled the plug on the world tournament, initially scheduled for April 7-17 then reworked for May 6-16 in Halifax and Truro, N.S., and there’s nothing to indicate he performed the dirty deed because most of the players tie their hair in ponytails.

Second, at last count the IIHF had cancelled 18 men’s events this year, that after scuttling the world championship and 14 other tournaments in 2020. Do the math: 33 men’s events chopped.

Kendall Coyne Schofield

Thus, unless Sarah Nurse or anyone in Ponytail Puck can produce compelling and unassailable evidence to the contrary, this wasn’t a decision based on gender, even if some, like Kendall Coyne Scofield, choose to take that narrative and shout it from rooftops or bark about it on Twitter.

“Like so many of us, I’m tired of saying this…but even more exhausted from feeling it: Women’s hockey, once again, deserves more and better,” the U.S. national team captain huffed and puffed. “We deserve a World Championship before the end of this hockey season—it has been 739 days since the last.”

True.

And it’s been 700 days since the last men’s world, with no guarantee they’ll actually get on the ice in Latvia next month.

Coyne Schofield went on to scold the IIHF for not having a Plan B and immediately shuffle the women’s world to an alternate site, adding, “This response shows the lack of care that the IIHF had when it came to making sure the Women’s Worlds was successful like the other international hockey events we have so joyfully watched over the last year and will be watching very soon.”

Hilary Knight

One of Coyne Schofield’s American accomplices, Hilary Knight, provided the backup vocals, saying the postponement is “just another reminder that women’s hockey continues to be treated as an afterthought. Why is women’s hockey not afforded the same opportunity to compete within a bubble environment as the men? Why is our tournament expendable when others are not?”

Again, the biting disappointment is understandable, but making it a goose-and-gander squawk misses the mark.

So, repeat after me, kids: This women’s tournament was postponed not because it’s a women’s tournament, it was scuttled (for now) because Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin (right or wrong) believed it to be a grave health risk to his constituents.

It’s a COVID thing, not a she thing.

The Coyne Schofield harrumph brought Hailey Salvian of The Athletic into the fray with this take: “Kendall Coyne Schofield is the captain of Team USA and one of the best players in the women’s game, so her statement carries a ton of weight here. And it’s more than just the women’s worlds she is speaking about. It’s women’s hockey as a whole, which most players will tell you is consistently an afterthought. Look no further than the fact that the women’s hockey calendar since 2019 has almost entirely been wiped out at the professional and international level. And while the women sit at home, the men (for the most part) continue to play.” Hailey, who’s done some fabulous work on the Ponytail Puck file, ought to know better than to play the gender card. As for the women’s game being “almost entirely wiped out” since 2019, much of that is of their own authorship. The Canadian Women’s Hockey League shuttered its doors in spring of that year and, rather than link up with the National Women’s Hockey League and create a super league, the survivors went rogue to form the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, choosing to participate in a series of hit-and-miss friendly matches (Dream Gap Tour) that are glorified scrimmages and largely ignored. Seldom on the ice, the non-professional PWHPA has expended much energy sniping at the NWHL because it won’t get out of the way. So, yes, it’s an absolute shame that the women’s world event has been put on hold, but it’s also a shame Ponytail Puck can’t get its house in order.

So, let me see if I’ve got this straight: Premier Rankin of Nova Scotia pulls the plug on the women’s world showcase at the 11th hour because of COVID-19, a decision that led the rank-and-file of the PWHPA, also their friends in the media, to raise a skunk-level stink with direct accusations of gender bias against the IIHF. But wait. Correct me if I’m wrong (I’m not), but didn’t the PWHPA postpone its very own scheduled showcase in St. Louis earlier this month? At the 11th hour? By gosh, they sure did. Why? COVID-19. What, no Plan B? They couldn’t move it to another locale on a moment’s notice? No and no. But they say they’ll reschedule the event. You know, just like the IIHF. Funny how that works.

This from Tara Slone of Sportsnet in a natter with Canadian national team forward Natalie Spooner: “We have to talk about the PWHPA. The Dream Gap Tour has been, you know, pretty full swing south of the border…” Okay, I get it. Slone is a PWHPA groupie. She’ll never toss a tough question at Spooner or any of the Dream Gappers. It’s forever fluff. But does she have to lie to us? I mean, to say the Dream Gap Tour is in “full swing” is to say six Hearts and five Clubs is a full deck of cards. They’ve completed two stops this year, in Gotham and Chicago, and a third stop in St. Louis was postponed with no makeup date set. Total friendlies played 115 days into 2021: 4. I’m reasonably certain that Slone knows four skirmishes in 115 days is not “full swing.” For all the good work Sportsnet does on the female athletes file, it’s puzzling why they allow Slone and others to pander to the PWHPA rather than engage in meaningful and truthful dialogue about big-picture Ponytail Puck.

Betty Grable

At the recent Canadian Football League global draft, 11 kickers/punters were selected by the nine teams, including four in the first round. There hasn’t been that much interest in legs since Betty Grable became every American GI’s favorite pinup girl during WWII.

For the youngsters in the audience, Betty Grable was an actor, singer, dancer and model, and the Gable gams once were insured for $1 million, which translates into $14.6 million today.

On the subject of body parts, Hockey Night in Canada was broadcast/streamed in 10 different tongues on Saturday night. It would have been 11 different languages, except Don Cherry was fired a year and a half ago.

The owner of Linnie’s Pub in Cincinnati is refusing to show National Basketball Association games until LeBron James is “expelled” from the league. “They just need to play the game and that’s it,” Jay Linneman says. “Their opinion doesn’t really matter. They’re using their position to push their opinion, and that’s just not right.” Number of night’s sleep King James has lost because of Linneman’s protest: Zero.

Uga X

Sometimes Charles Barkley makes me laugh. Other times he makes me cringe. Last week, for example, he used his Inside the NBA on TNT pulpit for misogyny disguised as frat boy humor. “Georgia the only school in the world they named their mascot after the women down there,” Barkley said. The University of Georgia mascot, if you didn’t know, is a bulldog, and Uga X is no one’s notion of pretty. Sadly, it wasn’t the first time Sir Chucklehead has used women as fodder to feed his funny bone. Like his take on the female citizenry of San Antonio. “Some big ol’ women down there … that’s a gold mine for Weight Watchers,” he said. “Victoria is definitely a secret (in San Antonio)…they can’t wear no Victoria’s Secret down there. They wear big, ol’ bloomers down there. They ain’t wearin’ no…ain’t nothin’ skimpy down in San Antonio.” Yo, Chuck. It’s the 21st century calling.

It’s about that now-you-see-us, now-you-don’t bully gambit by European soccer power brokers hoping to form a breakaway Super League: I’m not saying the venture was short-lived, but I’ve taken pee breaks that lasted longer.

Loud shoutout to Pat O’Neill, equipment manager of the Vancouver Canucks who reached the 3,000-game milestone last week. You might not know this, but Patty got his start sharpening skates, washing jocks and serving as a sounding board for the quirky, the demanding and the pampered of the NHL in Good Ol’ Hometown with the Jets in the 1980s. As I recall, he usually had a friendly greeting for us pesky scribes when we would invade the inner sanctum, which automatically qualifies him one of the good guys.

Another loud shoutout to Jeff Hamilton of the Drab Slab. His six-part series about the shattered lives left behind by sexual predator Graham James has been shortlisted for two national journalism awards. A Stain On Our Game was fabulous work, even if much of the content was grim reading.

The Winnipeg Sun last Wednesday: 2 sports pages, 2 sports stories, both on the Jets. That’s rock bottom and, as a Sun sports alum, it truly saddens me.

On the same day, this was the page count for Postmedia sports sections (tabloid) across the tundra:

Vancouver Province 15
Toronto Sun 12
Ottawa Sun 8
Edmonton Sun 8
Calgary Sun 7
Winnipeg Sun 2

Talk about your red-headed, freckle-faced stepchild. Five papers get to sit at the big table with the grownups while the Winnipeg Sun is stuck in another room at the kiddies’ table with the nieces, nephews and cousins they scarcely know.

And, finally, Conservative MP Tamara Jansen of Cloverdale-Langley City in B.C. believes “lesbian activity” can be cured with conversion therapy. Well, I plan a full schedule of “lesbian activity” today. You know, make breakfast, watch a movie or two, check/send some emails, maybe step outside for a walk around the block or go for a pint at my local watering hole, make dinner, watch a bit of the Oscars, go to bed. I wonder if all the straight people know there’s a cure for all the “lesbian activity” they engage in during the day.

Let’s talk about the bearded ladies of Winnipeg…cheering in the press box and on the anchor desk…Box Car Willie on Sportsnet…trading Auston Matthews…Tiger’s still a saint on CBS/ESPN…garbage in the outfield…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and a heaping, helping of media stuff right off the hop, because someone should keep their tootsies to the toaster oven…

Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab has done the math, and he tells us that the Winnipeg Jets have more wins and points than all Western Conference outfits since the puck was dropped to start the 2017-18 National Hockey League season.

“Remind me why we seemingly can’t go a week or two around here without hearing calls from some quarters to fire the coach, axe the general manager, bench this lousy player and trade that bum,” he writes.

Geez, I don’t know Mad Mike, ya think it might have something to do with the Jets’ first-round ouster in 2019 and their failure to qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament last summer? I mean, you can lead the first 199 laps at the Indy 500, but the driver leading lap 200 gets the checkered flag, the bottle of milk and a kiss from a pretty girl.

Truly bizarre headline on that Mad Mike column: “Ladies and gentlemen…Start your playoff beards.” Seriously? Bearded ladies? Little wonder Good Ol’ Hometown is at the top of most no-trade lists for young NHL players.

Ken Reid

Did anchor Ken Reid actually say he and his fellow talking heads at Sportsnet don’t cheer for any specific team? Yup, sure did. That is to laugh. The company that signs his paycheque, Rogers Communications, owns the Toronto Blue Jays and, in partnership with Bell Canada, holds a 75 per cent stake in Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, which bankrolls the Maple Leafs, Raptors, Toronto FC and Argos. So, make no mistake, the squawk boxes on both Sportsnet Central and TSN ‘s signature SportsCentre are full of sis-boom-bah and rah, rah, rah for Team(s) Tranna. I mean, they couldn’t contain their glee during the Tranna Jurassics run to the NBA title a couple of years back, and they positively choked on their pom-poms when their hoops heroes were ushered from the playoffs last year. A funereal, long-faced Lindsay Hamilton began SportsCentre by saying, “This one stings,” and, over at Sports Central, reporter Michael Grange blew his cover when he said, “As Raptors fans, we…” That’s right, he confessed to being one of the fawning flock. That’s never a good look.

Box Car Elliotte

Can someone, anyone, at Sportsnet explain why they continue to permit Elliotte Friedman to appear on camera looking like the back end of a nasty all-nighter? His Box Car Willie shtick is disgraceful and, again, it’s a blatant double standard because none of the female talking heads would be allowed on air looking like a bridge troll.

Damien Cox continues to astound and amaze on Twitter. Last Thursday, the Toronto Star columnist took a moment to give himself an enthusiastic on the back by tweeting, “From the beginning said Matthews would be the best player the Leafs ever drafted.” That doesn’t exactly make him Nostradamus, and it’s positively belly-laughingly hilarious when you consider this tweet he sent out in November 2018: “John Tavares is playing so well it makes you think; why not sign (Mitch) Marner and (William) Nylander and trade Matthews for a whole pile of goodies? Not saying they would, but it’s not such a crazy idea anymore.” There are no words.

Cox didn’t stop there. In his latest alphabet phart in the Star, he wrote this: “More than 95 per cent of senior positions in the NHL remain reserved for white men. In sports, only golf is more dominated by white culture than hockey.” Apparently he’s never seen a NASCAR race.

So tell us, Phil Mushnick, what say you about the talking heads on CBS/ESPN for their continued hero worship of Tiger Woods, absent from The Masters golf tournament after driving into a ditch and almost killing himself in February? “Even those who wouldn’t recognize a con if it were sold with multiple, fill-in-the-blanks certificates of authenticity, now know that this 25-year anointment of Tiger Woods as a saint on earth was a media con,” the New York Post columnist writes. “Again, it wasn’t enough that he was the world’s best golfer, he additionally had to be the best son, best husband, best father and finest human being. But if that had been you instead of Woods, the one who, unimpeded at almost double the speed limit, rolled his SUV off the road, you’d have been charged with a pile of negligent driving charges—even while hospitalized and before your blood results returned. For him to still be sainted on the national telecast of a major as a gift from above was designed to be swallowed by the tiny fraction of fools still available to be fooled. That’s supposed to be all of us. Again. And it’s nauseating. Again.” Harsh. But I don’t disagree.

Bryson DeChambeau

I kept waiting for one of the CBS gab guys, or Dottie Pepper, to call out Bryson DeChambeau on Saturday, not for his wonky game but for his arrogance. You might recall that golf’s incredible bulk basically pooh-poohed Augusta National as nothing more than a pitch-and-putt course prior to the 2020 Masters last November, boasting, “I’m looking at it as par-67 for me.” So, here’s his scorecard at the par-72 course since then: 70, 74, 69, 73, 76, 67, 75. He goes into today’s final round sitting 38th among the 54 guys who teed it up on the weekend. Yet there wasn’t so much as a peep about DeChambeau’s disrespect for one of the most challenging and treasured golf courses on the planet, because that’s not how it’s done during coverage of The Masters. You don’t dare ruffle the azaleas or disturb the piped-in bird chirping and the soothing piano music. So they gave him a pass. Sigh. If only Johnny Miller was still sitting behind a mic.

Best line I read or heard about The Masters was delivered by longtime, now-retired sports scribe Cam Cole. After noted cheater Patrick Reed had swatted a ball into the azaleas, Cam tweeted: “Breaking: Patrick Reed has hit into the flowers behind 13 green. Rules officials are racing to the spot.” That’s funny.

Todd Kabel

Talk about a day late and a dollar short. It took the Drab Slab two weeks to acknowledge the death of Todd Kabel, a kid from McCreary who got his break riding the ponies at Assiniboia Downs for five seasons then made it big at Woodbine in the Republic of Tranna. Todd’s death on March 27 had been reported hither and yon, but somehow escaped the notice of the Winnipeg Free Press sports desk. Not good. That’s a major whiff. George Williams has a real nice piece on the seven-time Sovereign Award-winning jockey that you might want to check out in the Saturday’s edition, not that it excuses the negligence.

I’d say the Winnipeg Sun missed the boat on Kabel, too, except the suits at Postmedia in The ROT don’t allow Paul Friesen, Ted Wyman and Scott Billeck to fill their two or three pages with anything other than the Jets, Blue Bombers and curling.

One more note on the Drab Slab: They often run a full-page, poster pic on the Sunday sports front, and that seems like a colossal waste of space to me. Why not a quality feature or something light and bright? Plopping a large pic in that premium space shows zero initiative or imagination. It’s just lazy.

The Beatles and Yoko

Three months in, I still really don’t know what to make of this NHL season, except to submit that it’s kind of like the breakup of the Beatles. Instead of one genius rock band, we were left with three solid solo artists and Ringo Starr. That’s what the NHL is today, a quartet of separate house leagues, although I haven’t decided which of the four is Ringo. I am, mind you, leaning toward the Central Division because, once you get past Tampa, Carolina and Florida, you’re left with nothing but a band of bland clubs and a guy named Torts who, come to think of it, is a lot like Yoko Ono. You know, a dark, foreboding presence determined to ruin a good thing (for evidence see: Laine, Patrik).

Torts

If nothing else, this NHL crusade is a study in the distortion of facts. Media pundits insist on taking numbers and pro-rating them over an 82-game crusade, as if delivering a weighty message, but in truth it’s delusional, like imagining Patrik Laine and John Tortorella sitting by the campfire and singing Kumbaya. Consider the Jets. They’d be on pace for a 106-point season, which would be their second best since the Atlanta caravan rolled into River City in 2011, but it’s false currency. We wouldn’t be looking at similar numbers if they were required to play the Vegas Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche 9/10 times each instead of the Ottawa Senators and Vancouver Canucks. But, hey, I’m not here to piddle on your Corn Flakes. Enjoy it, Jets fans. Much like the Edsel, this kind of season won’t happen again.

All power to the Edmonton Oilers for getting the brooms out and sweeping the Senators, 9-nada, on the season, but, I’m sorry, that should never happen in any big-league sport.

Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl ate the Senators’ lunch to the tune of 21 points each in those nine games, so if they got to play Ottawa 82 times they’d finish with 191 points. That would still leave them 24 shy of Wayne Gretzky’s best year.

Hey, check out the Los Angeles Dodgers 2020 World Series championship rings. They’re as big as a Volkswagen Beetle. I swear, they won’t be able to take those things to a jeweler for cleaning. They’ll need a car wash. But they’re 11-karat, 232-diamond, 53-sapphire beauties. Much nicer than the Houston Astros 2017 WS rings, which featured diamonds set into a replica trash can lid.

Speaking of garbage, Anaheim fans tossed trash cans onto the field when the Astros were in town last week. We haven’t seen that much garbage in the outfield since the 1962 Mets.

By the way, if you’re looking for something special for that special Dodgers fan in your life, limited-edition replica World Series rings are available to the faithful. Cost: $35,000US. Let me just say this about that, though: If you have a spare $35K kicking around to spend on finger decoration, I have the number of a food bank that would love to hear from you.

Bo (Oops) Bichette

The Chicago Cubs plan to erect a statue of Baseball Hall of Fame hurler Ferguson Jenkins outside Wrigley Field, and the New York Mets will unveil a pigeon perch of pitching legend Tom Seaver outside Citi Field in July. Meanwhile, the Toronto Blue Jays are starting to wonder if they’d be better off with a statue at shortstop rather than Bo (Oops) Bichette.

Brendan Bottcher and his group from Wild Rose Country came up empty at the men’s world curling championship in Calgary. Someone please alert the six people outside the Prairie provinces who actually give a damn.

And, finally, I have never engaged in a chin-wag about “TV’s most-talked-about show,” mainly because I’ve never watched “TV’s most-talked-about show.” I have never overheard a conversation about “TV’s most-talked-about show.” What show am I not talking about? Well, if you don’t know, then perhaps it isn’t “TV’s most-talked-about show” after all.

Let’s talk about the chicken, the egg, the Argos, the CFL and the media

I stumbled upon an interesting Twitter to-and-fro last week involving three of the nation’s notable jock journos, two of whom are widely respected and the third not so much.

BMO Field

The exchange—between Winnipeg Blue Bombers longtime voice Bob (Knuckles) Irving, veteran observer of three-downs football Dave Naylor of TSN, and Damien Cox of the Toronto Star—centred on the Toronto Argos and the reason(s) behind woeful head counts whenever the Boatmen come up for air at BMO Field in the Republic of Tranna.

The Argos, be advised, don’t attract crowds to BMO. It’s more like pockets of stragglers. You know, folks who get lost while looking for something better to do.

Officially, average attendance in 2019 was 12,493, although we know better. That might have been tickets sold, but it wasn’t bums on benches. My guess is that the audience numbered sub-10,000 more than one day/night, meaning the Canadian Football League’s largest market has the smallest following, a level of neglect challenged only by indifference on the Left Flank of the land, where people won’t even come in out of the rain to watch the B.C. Lions.

One reason advanced for Argos apathy is a generation thing. That is, Rouge Football doesn’t appeal to anyone without age in their eyes and grey in their temples, which set off this Irving-Naylor-Cox exchange:

Knuckles Irving

Irving: “Part of the reason for that is the Toronto media basically ignores the CFL—not good enough for most of them.”

Naylor: “Come on Bob, it’s the media’s fault? The Winnipeg media reports aggressively on the Bombers because there is a demand for information. If that existed in Toronto, the media would respond accordingly.”

Cox: “Individual media people don’t make these decisions. Sports departments do. In Toronto, sports staffs are stretched to the limit, fewer ppl doing more. There’s a lot more sporting events to cover in Toronto than Winnipeg.”

Okay, let’s unwrap that.

First, Knuckles Irving is correct when he submits that mainstream media in the Republic of Tranna treats the Argos and Rouge Football as an afterthought.

For example, the Toronto Star no longer cares enough about the CFL to dispatch a scribe to the Grey Cup game unless it’s played in The ROT, and Tranna-based Sportsnet pays only token attention to the CFL simply because its competition, TSN, holds the broadcast rights. (No one expects Sportsnet to promote the other guy’s property, but it is a news gathering and distributing outlet and, as such, has a responsibility to inform viewers of CFL games/stories on air and on the website with an expected level of substance.)

Meanwhile, when Rouge Football went dark last August, the cancellation of the season was front page of every sports section of every daily on The Prairies, but the story served as inside filler (pages 8 and 9) in the Toronto Sun. (I don’t recall what made the Sun front that day, but I suppose Auston Matthews might have been trimming his mustache, which would have warranted a lede, sidebar and a 150-point headline.)

In terms of the Argos-media, it really is a chicken-and-egg riddle. Is the media indifferent because the rabble steers clear of BMO on Argos game days, or does the rabble steer clear of BMO on Argos game days because the media is indifferent?

It certainly isn’t the responsibility of news snoops to do the bidding of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, which bankrolls the Boatmen and BMO’s more popular tenant, Toronto FC. But, although historically the most successful of The ROT’s pro sports franchises (17 Grey Cup championships, including three this century), the Boatmen have fallen to fifth on the pecking order, behind the Maple Leafs, Raptors, Blue Jays and Toronto FC. That isn’t about to change anytime soon, no matter what the local rags put on their sports pages or radio/TV puts on their air.

Which brings us to Cox’s point that “there’s a lot more sporting events to cover in Toronto than Winnipeg.”

What a load of hooey.

Had Cox said there were more “pro sporting events,” I’d agree. But overall sports? No.

It’s all about priorities, and they differ from town to town. In the Republic of Tranna, the major beats are the Leafs, Raptors, Blue Jays and Toronto FC, with the Argos the runt of the litter. In Winnipeg, it’s the Jets, Blue Bombers and…curling.

Pebble People have made the front page of the Winnipeg Free Press sports section 23 times this year. That’s right, 23. I doubt curling has been on the sports front of either the Toronto Star or Toronto Sun once this century, let alone 23 times in a three-month, one week time frame.

Also making the front page of the Freep sports section were two levels of junior hockey, high school hockey, women’s amateur hockey, volleyball, university sports, auto racing, etc. At different points in the year, they make room for local golf, tennis, high school football/hoops, Usports, and more of what you’ll never find in the Toronto rags.

The Sun and the Star have become pro sports sheets, whereas the Free Press continues to cover the peripheral sports, during a pandemic with a stable of scribes that has shrunk to four.

Dating back to my start in the rag trade in 1969 when the Bombers were top dog, it’s always been that way in Good Ol’ Hometown. Lower-level sports were never given short shrift, even after the Jets arrived to nudge the Bombers down a notch, and I suspect the Freep will carry on that way.

I just wish I could say the same for the Winnipeg Sun. Unfortunately, the suits at Postmedia in the Republic of Tranna ruined a good thing.

Let’s talk about the NFNFL (No Fans, No Football League)…COVID on the West Coast…The Rock and the Sugar Daddies ‘R’ Us shop…an all-Easter sports lineup…Tiger’s tight lips…Men In Green Jackets chow down…a “huggable” Blue Jay…the Boston D’oh Boys…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and Happy Easter; may you find all those hidden eggs while I lay another one…

Okay, we knew there would be at least six zeroes on the bottom line of the Winnipeg Football Club’s 2020 operation, and we knew all those zeroes would be written in red ink, if not blood.

So the $7,000,000 bath the Blue Bombers took shouldn’t surprise any among us, except perhaps those who believe in the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny and The Rock as a turn-red-ink-into-black-ink Messiah of the Canadian Football League.

Some might even put on a pair of rose-tinted glasses and look at the financial wallop WFC took as favorable tidings because, even with a lost crusade due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a $7 million shortfall, the doors remain open out there at postal code R3T 1Z2 on Chancellor Matheson Road in Fort Garry. That the community-operated Bombers remain in business is a testament to the dollars-and-cents gymnastics of once-maligned CEO Wade Miller and the board.

Mind you, it’s good news like a guy who had his arms and legs shattered in a car accident, but he’s happy he didn’t break his nose, even if he can’t blow it without someone holding the hanky.

Wade Miller

And, really, that’s what the Bombers and their eight partners in Rouge Football require today—help.

As mentioned last week, the CFL is in an arms race, as in vaccines in arms. It’s become the NFNFL—No Fans, No Football League—so the immediate future of our quirky game rests in the hands of needle-pushers hither and yon.

Trouble is, the number of COVID vaccinations required to make football fields across the tundra fan friendly is a mystery.

When I last looked, 13.4 per cent of the citizenry in Manitoba had been vaccinated, so let’s say 80 per cent in Good Ol’ Hometown have been jabbed by June. Is that ample enough to get the turnstiles spinning at Football Follies Field In Fort Garry? If so, how many would be cleared to visit the Rum Hut and watch the large lads grab grass? Will they require a proof-of-vaccine badge? Also, keep in mind there’s no guarantee the faithful will rush back to the ball yard. After all, the thought of joining a large gathering likely will make some among the rabble quite antsy, like a Hertz rent-a-car clerk seeing Tiger Woods approach the counter.

Miller, of course, was talking a good game the other day, assuring Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun that “we’re going to get on the field,” and telling Taylor Allen of the Drab Slab “we’re getting ready to play with fans in the stands.”

I want to believe him. I really do. But we all know the harsh reality: The Bombers CEO doesn’t control the vaccine rollout in Manitoba, let alone across the dominion.

What’s happening in Winnipeg isn’t necessarily what’s happening in Vancouver or the Republic of Tranna, not that anyone other than friends and family in those latter two ports-o-call gives a damn about Rouge Football. Point is, we have six different provincial health authorities receiving an unequal number of vaccine shipments and poking needles into arms in accordance to their parochial priorities.

Furthermore, there seems to exist a bit of a helter-skelter vibe to the vaccine rollout nation-wide, and that certainly doesn’t help the CFL put its house in order or butts on benches.

Cardboard cutouts don’t cut it. They don’t drink beer, they don’t eat hot dogs or popcorn, and they don’t buy $250 jerseys. They just mean no long lineups at the washrooms.

So, really, it’s vaccines or bust on a 2021 CFL crusade. In other words: Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls…present arms!

So here’s another question: Can Rouge Football kick off a 2021 crusade if the Bombers were allowed to welcome, say, 8,250 patrons (25 per cent capacity) to Football Follies Field while the B.C. Leos, Tranna Argos and Montreal Larks grab grass in empty buildings? I know, I know. The Leos and Argos are accustomed to crowds the size of a yard sale, and the folks in Montreal only pay attention when the Larks are winning, so an imbalance at the box office already exists. But can the CFL allow some teams to collect game-day revenue while others must keep their tills closed? I think not.

Frankly, I’m most concerned about B.C. If the Leos fail to get the okie-dokie for patrons in B.C. Place Stadium, do they take a leave of absence rather than pay 50-plus players’ wages with zero game-day revenue? Does the CFL shrink to an eight-team operation for a year? I wouldn’t be too quick to dismiss that possibility. Keep in mind that B.C.’s top docs wanted no part of an NHL bubble last summer, and they’ll be less inclined to green light a Rouge Football season now that the coronavirus and its variants have ransacked the Vancouver Canucks roster. I mean, if the bug(s) can’t be kept at bay in the Canucks’ rigidly controlled environment, what chance would the Leos have with twice as many players wandering about the burg? B.C. health officials talk about the vaccine rollout being completed by the end of June, but what they really mean is sometime in July. The Leos allegedly gather for training sessions next month, they allegedly have a dress rehearsal at an empty facility on June 4, and they allegedly begin playing for full wages (three times) later that month. Do the math. I’m sure the guardians of the late David Braley’s estate have done that very thing and don’t like the numbers.

We have yet to hear 2020 bottom-line numbers from our prairie friends in Edmonton and on the Flattest of Lands, but we can assume they’ll be dripping in as much red ink as WFC. We already know that most, if not all, of the E-Town E-Somethings’ $12.9 million rainy day fund has vanished like summer wages, and the Saskatchewan Roughriders face their “biggest financial crisis in 110 years,” according to team president Craig Reynolds. Sigh. If only there was a Sugar Daddies ‘R’ Us shop available to the three community-operated clubs. Oh wait. Isn’t that where The Rock is supposed to come in?

Apparently The Rock and his accomplices, Dany Garcia/RedBird Capital, continue to make nice with CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie and the Lords of Rouge Football, working toward a CFL-XFL alliance. But what do they actually bring to the table? Well, yes, their pockets are coal-miner deep, but they offer a twice-failed brand name, zero franchises, zero players, and the hope of springtime football, which has always landed in the gridiron graveyard. Sorry, but short of them underwriting all CFL-XFL losses, I fail to see the upside.

Moving on from the CFL, here’s my all-time, all-Easter-themed lineup:
10. Bunny Ahearne, longtime IIHF executive
9. Rabbit Maranville, baseball player
8. Bugsy Watson, hockey player
7. Luke Easter, baseball player
6. The Eggman, golfer Dan Halldorson
5. Christian Laettner, hoops player
4. Roman Gabriel, football player
3. Jesus Alou, baseball player
2. God Shammgod, hoops player
1. Connor McJesus, Edmonton Oilers messiah.

Officials have determined the cause of Tiger Woods’ car crash in February, but they’ll keep it on the QT until the golf great gives them the okie-dokie to release the information. Hmmm. I wonder which will arrive first, details of Tiger driving his SUV into a ditch or Haley’s Comet, due on July 28, 2061. My money’s on the comet.

Hey, I’m not saying Tiger is tight-lipped, but a bag of airline peanuts is easier to pry apart than his lips.

Just wondering: Do you think Woods will have hired a chauffeur by July 28, 2061?

So here’s some real dirt on Jack Nicklaus, told by the man himself on Twitter: “I was a switch-hitting catcher growing up & and if I hadn’t chosen golf baseball might’ve been my future. But I never liked standing around on a dusty field waiting for 10 kids to show up. With golf, it was me against myself, my own abilities & the course. But I still loved baseball!” Ya, almost as much as he loves Donald Trump.

I assume the Golden Bear will be at Augusta National this week to put on the feedbag at the Men In Green Jackets chow-down in advance of The Masters. It’s officially known as the Masters Club Dinner, but you don’t get a seat at the table unless you’re wearing one of those ugly green jackets that champions are allowed to wear only at Augusta (tie optional). The Men In Green Jackets menu was chosen this year by the reigning Man In Green, Dustin Johnson. What, no greens?

What’s this? Connor McDavid went McSquirrely the other night? Sure did. The Oilers captain shoved his right elbow into Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s chops, and I couldn’t have been more surprised had I found a copy of Sinatra: The Rapper Years at my local vinyl store. The reaction, on the other hand, was not unexpected. Some among the rabble were calling for the hangman, and to them I say, “Come on, people.” I mean, Gordie Howe is glorified to this day for using his elbows to perform unlicensed dental surgery on foes. Rumor has it that Mr. Hockey nailed two pallbearers and the grave digger as they lowered his casket. And now you want to crucify McDavid for one errant elbow? Hey, I’m no fan of goon hockey, but he isn’t Charlie Manson. He did it, he’s paid his $5,000 fine, so let’s move on.

The “huggable” Alejandro Kirk.

Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star wrote this about Toronto Blue Jays pudgy catcher Alejandro Kirk last week: “Kirk is immensely huggable.” Nothing offensive, right? But let me ask this: If a male jock journo used the same adjective to describe our leading lady of the links, Brooke Henderson, would he be branded a sexist oinker? Damn straight, he would. And that would be unfortunate. Descriptive scribbling in sports has become passé, if not a lost art, in our daily newspapers. The boys on the beat don’t dare write that our Brooke is “huggable,” for fear of a robust and thorough tarring-and-feathering on social media. So they simply write about birdies, bogeys and unplayable lies. But wait. Brooke Henderson is a delight. She seems very approachable. She smiles a lot. She has that squeaky clean, girl-next-door quality. Every time I see her, I want to pinch her chipmunk cheeks. She strikes me as teddy bear “huggable.” Why shouldn’t the boys on the beat feel comfortable writing that about Brooke the person? It’s no more sexist than Rosie DiManno telling us that Alejandro Kirk is “huggable.”

Mathew Barzal

So I’m watching Mathew Barzal rack up the points (three goals, two helpers) in the New York Islanders 8-3 rout of the Washington Capitals the other night, and I couldn’t help but flash back to the 2015 National Hockey League entry draft. The Boston Bruins had three successive shoutouts that day, Nos. 13, 14 and 15. They chose Jakob Zboril, Jake DeBrusk and Zachary Senyshyn, otherwise known as the Boston D’oh! Boys. DeBruck is the only one of the three who’s been worth half a lick. Meanwhile, plucked immediately after were Barzal, Kyle Connor and Thomas Chabot. Here’s what the scorecard looks like today:

Barzal: 272 games, 241 points.
Conner: 287 games, 237 points.
Chabot: 240 games, 142 points.
Totals: 799 games, 620 points.

DeBrusk: 224 games, 127 points.
Zboril: 34 games, 7 points.
Senyshyn: 12 games, 3 points.
Totals: 270 games, 137 points.

Damien Cox of the Toronto Star might have established a new standard for poor taste in tweets when discussing the Vancouver Canucks and their raging COVID crisis, which has shelved the entire operation and puts the club’s season in jeopardy. Noting that Iain MacIntyre of Sportsnet suggested the Canucks schedule could be tweaked by eliminating four games vs. the Ottawa Senators late this month and replacing them with skirmishes vs. playoff-bound outfits, Cox had this horrible hot take: “The question then becomes are you handicapping those playoff bound teams by forcing them to play against a VAN team that’s more rested than it otherwise would be?” Seriously? Lying in a sick bed with an IV needle stuck in your arm or hand becomes a competitive advantage? It makes you more rested? My goodness. When someone is that tuned out, there are no words.

Here are the numbers for coverage devoted exclusively to female athletes/teams in the Winnipeg Sun and Drab Slab for March:

Front Page
Free Press: 4
Sun: 1

Articles
Free Press: 35 stories, 20 briefs.
Sun: 4 stories, three briefs.

Number of issues with female coverage
Free Press: 27 of 31 days.
Sun: 6 of 31 days.

And, finally, I give up. Why was there a promo for Steve Simmons on the front page of the Winnipeg Sun last Tuesday? He is a Tranna-based scribe, he writes a Tranna-centric column, he mentions athletes/teams from Good Ol’ Hometown in his alphabet pharts perhaps half a dozen times a year, and the local tabloid seldom runs his copy. Yet there was his scruffy mug on the front page of the Winnipeg Sun. This makes sense to whom, other than the misguided suits at Postmedia HQ on Bloor Street East in the Republic of Tranna?