About the Calgary Stampeders’ psyche…a Blue Bombers-RedBlacks Grey Cup game…brutal blunder by Postmedia…a tough crowd at the Little Hockey House Of Horrors…Puck Finn the underachiever?…a dingbat in the Tranna media…unbreakable records…and voting “no” in Cowtown

Another Sunday smorgas-bored and another couch potato day with pizza and three-down football on the menu…

No beating around the bush, kids. I’m going to come right out and say it: The Winnipeg Blue Bombers can make plans for an all-expenses-paid trip to E-Town. Call the travel agent. Now. No need to wait.

Yup, Winnipeg FC shall conquer the Calgary Stampeders.

It’s no small chore, of course, because the Stampeders are a more imposing outfit than the recently vanquished Saskatchewan Roughriders, who try to beat you with one arm tied behind their backs (read: no quarterback). Not so with the Cowtowners. They’ve got Bo Levi Mitchell and his gun-slinging right arm to fling the football.

This Bo knows winning. He does it more than any Canadian Football League QB between mid-June and the final Sunday in November. Ditto the chronically complaining sideline steward, Dave Dickenson.

From a distance, they come across as a rather snooty tandem. But, real or perceived, it is an earned arrogance.

Dave Dickenson

The firm of Mitchell & Dickenson arrived first at the West Division finish line in each of their past three regular-season crusades, stacking up 41 victories against just 11 stumbles and a pair of stalemates, and there were two successive trips to the title skirmish. It is only in the championship match that the Stamps have received a comeuppance, two years ago due to some truly dumb coaching and last year when the football literally took an Argo bounce.

So here they are in the West Division final again, rested from a bye week and only the pesky Bombers left to disturb their march to another Grey Cup game.

Adam Bighill

What makes me think Winnipeg FC is up to the task of toppling the Calgary juggernaut? Running back Andrew Harris for one. Linebacker Beastmo Bighill for another. And QB Joe Ordinary has kicked the giveaway habit that brought him to his knees in early September.

There’s also the Stampeders’ psyche. I’m thinking it’s as fragile as sports scribe’s ego.

Oh, sure, the large lads in red still have plenty of swagger, but what happens if their universe isn’t unfolding as it should on Crowchild Trail this afternoon? If the Bombers bully the bully, do insecure thoughts begin to prey on the Stamps? Do the mishaps of recent Novembers begin to haunt them? Rattle them? Could happen.

It’s different for Winnipeg FC. The Blue-and-Gold expect to win, but they aren’t supposed to win. No reason to be antsy.

So I’ve sifted through the tea leaves, and here’s how it’s going to shake down: This game will be decided on a failed two-point convert. Bombers win and advance to the Grey Cup frolic on Nov. 25 in Edmonton.

Just wondering: Do you think anyone in the Republic of Tranna knows there’ll be two CFL games played today?

Jeremiah Masoli

It’s about the East Division final between the Bytown RedBlacks and Hamilton Tiger-Cats: I really like the Tabbies, even without rassler Ric Flair stirring up the rabble. Mind you, I’d like them a lot more if Speedy B was available to play catch with Jeremiah Masoli. My initial instinct is to suggest it’ll be a good, old-fashioned shootout. But no. I’m afraid the RedBlacks possess too many offensive weapons. Bytown by two TDs. (Brief aside: One of my Gridiron Girls gazed into her crystal ball last June and saw a Grey Cup game featuring Hamilton and Winnipeg. I hate to go against her, but I must.)

The CFL will add an eighth on-field flag-thrower for each of today’s division skirmishes. It’s official then: CFL games now have more zebras than the Serengeti.

D’oh! D’oh! D’oh! Let’s just call the Winnipeg Sun sports front on Friday the greatest gaffe—ever.

If you missed it, some totally inept Postmedia editor has Andrew Harris and the Bombers playing the Tiger-Cats in the East Division final this afternoon. That isn’t just a minor typo. It’s Bill Buckner letting that ground ball dribble through his legs in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. It’s Jean van de Velde taking seven swings to score a triple bogey on the 72nd hole of the 1999 British Open and squander a three-shot lead.

We ought not be surprised, though. Colossal blunders like this occur when a newspaper’s page layout, design and editing is farmed out to someone in a distant locale. Someone who wouldn’t know Portage and Main from a port-o-potty. Someone who wouldn’t know Bud Grant from Bud Light.

But, hey, it’s not like quality matters to Postmedia. If it did, they wouldn’t have punted/bought out hundreds of quality journalists in the past few years.

I feel bad for the Sun’s three sports scribes—Paul Friesen, Ted Wyman, Ken Wiebe—because they’ll have to wear a stupid mistake made by someone sitting at a news desk in another part of the country.

Strangest headline of the week was delivered by the Winnipeg Free Press: “Bombers staying disciplined.” You simply do not write that header the same week three Bombers—Jackson Jeffcoat, Sukh Chungh, Pat Neufeld—are slapped with fines for goon tactics.

I’ve been calling it the Little Hockey House On The Prairie ever since the Winnipeg Jets set up shop in their Portage Avenue ice palace in 2011, but it turns out that the local freeze is also a Little Hockey House of Horrors for National Hockey League foes.

“It seems like you’re skating up ice the whole time,” Gabriel Landeskog of the Colorado Avalanche says of the Jets home. “It just seems tilted in their favor, and obviously the fans are a big part of that and the way they play as a team.”

According to a poll of 61 players, only one NHL rink is more difficult to play in—the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, where visitors to the Twang Town barn can be expected to dodge catfish.

So the local rabble can take a bow. They don’t toss catfish on the ice, but they toss some serious shade on the enemy.

Auston Matthews and AWOL Willy

Question 1 for Tranna Maple Leafs loyalists: Les Leafs are 14-6-0 without William Nylander. They’re 7-3-0 sans Auston Matthews. If AWOL Willy’s bargaining leverage for a new contract is weakened because les Leafs continue to win while he’s home in Sweden counting missed paycheques, does the same theory apply to Matthews, who’s been in the repair shop due to a wonky shoulder since Oct. 27?

Question 2 for Tranna Maple Leafs loyalists: Matthews missed 20 games last season and he’s already been in the repair shop for nine this crusade. When his entry level contract expires next spring, do they pay him John Tavares coin if he continues to be damaged goods?

Puck Finn

When I examined the NHL scoring leaderboard this a.m., 41 players had more goals than Patrik Laine. That’s not how it’s supposed to work. Puck Finn is supposed to have more snipes than anyone not named Ovie. Yet there he sits, with just eight red lamps in 18 assignments. However, before anyone runs off with the notion that he’s underachieving, keep in mind les Jets have yet to arrive at the quarter-pole of their crusade. Another goal or two by the 20-game mark and we’re looking at a second successive 40-snipe season. Before he’s legal drinking age in the U.S. If that’s underachieving, I’m Melania Trump.

Edith and Archie

Speaking of the wives of loose cannons, what was it that Archie Bunker called his bride Edith? Oh, that’s right, Dingbat. Well, Edith was a regular Einstein compared to Damien Cox of the Toronto Star. In an exercise of blatant click baitism, Cox sent out this tweet about the Maple Leafs last week: “John Tavares is playing so well it makes you think; why not sign (Mitch) Marner and Nylander and trade Matthews for a whole pile of goodies? Not saying they would, but it’s not such a crazy idea anymore?” Not a crazy idea? The airplane wasn’t a crazy idea. The light bulb wasn’t a crazy idea. Eating what comes out of a chicken’s butt for breakfast wasn’t a crazy idea. But les Leafs trading Matthews for a “pile of goodies?” Totally crazy.

Mr. Goalie

Old friend Troy Westwood of TSN 1290 tweets this: “I double dog dare ya to present to me a sports record that is more unbreakable than Billy Mosienko’s 3 goals in 21 seconds.” I’ll accept that challenge, Troy. Try Glenn Hall’s consecutive-game streak. Mr. Goalie started, and finished, 502 consecutive matches from Day 1 of the 1955-56 NHL season through the first 12 games of 1962-63. And the Detroit Red Wings/Chicago Blackhawks keeper did it all with his bare face hanging out. Yup, no mask. In order to break that record, a goaltender today would be required to start and finish every game for six-plus seasons. Never going to happen, kids.

And, finally, in a 53-47 per cent vote, the good people of Calgary have said “no” to the 2026 Winter Olympic Games in their city. In a non-related vote, 100 per cent of Calgary Flames fans said “no” to Mike Smith playing another game in goal.

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About peace if the Red River Valley…Jekyll and Hyde in the CFL…the cost of beer and bowels…dance moves…Johnny Average…coach’s choice…oh, baby…TSN’s top 50…hanky-panky in women’s hockey…a Stanley Cup parade in The ROT?…and let the NHL games begin

Another Sunday smorg on another lovely, albeit damp, autumn morning…

It’s about that quarterback controversy—the sound you hear is silence. It’s not even crickets.

Matt Nichols completed just 16 passes for 179 yards on Saturday night at Commonwealth Stadium in E-Town. He failed to hurl the football for a touchdown. One of his 20 tosses landed in the wrong hands. Totally pedestrian numbers. The kind of numbers that had the rabble reaching for the torches and pitch forks two-three-four weeks ago.

Except this time Nichols’ work, however ordinary, was good enough and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers were on the favorable end of a 30-3 score vs. the Edmonton Eskimos.

Matt Nichols

Thus, we don’t hear anyone squawking about Chris Streveler getting the next start, which, of course, always was a fool’s argument that the Bombers oft-misguided head coach, Mike O’Shea, properly ignored. The payoff has been two efficient work days for Nichols and two successive wins—including the Bombers’ first W this season against an outfit that actually has a pulse—and Winnipeg FC now holds joint custody of third place in the Canadian Football League’s West Division to-and-fro.

So we have a different narrative.

Nichols is no longer a bum and the Winnipeg Free Press sports columnist might actually let a week go by without telling us that O’Shea and his sidekick, defensive co-ordinator Richie Hall, should be collecting pogey.

That all changes if the Bombers soil the sheets vs. the RedBlacks in Bytown next Friday, but for now there’s peace in the Red River Valley.

There’s certainly some Jekyll and Hyde in this Winnipeg FC outfit, although the same can be said about at least four other clubs—the Eskimos, B.C. Lions, Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Bytown RedBlacks. I’m guessing it will be the Leos with their noses pressed against the window and looking in when the post-season fun commences on the second Sunday in November, leaving the Bombers and Eskimos to settle the argument for third place on the final day of the crusade. The loser gets the crossover playoff berth, which is your basic CFL death sentence. History records that no western club has advanced to the Grey Cup game via the eastern route, and beating the RedBlacks and Tabbies back-to-back in enemy territory in November might be doable but it’s highly improbable.

Jason Maas

The cost of a beer at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday: $5. The cost of a hot dog: $2. Seeing Eskimos head coach Jason Maas look like he had blocked bowels: Priceless.

I note the Hamilton Tiger-Cat had themselves a bit of a hissy fit after the B.C. Lions held a dance party on their logo at Timbits field in the Hammer. Such scandal. You’d think Fred Astaire had stepped on Ginger Rogers’ toes. Get a grip, boys.

I think it’s great that Alessia Cara will perform the halftime show at the Grey Cup game. But remind me to Google her so I can find out who she is.

Johnny Rotten

Doug Brown has forgotten more about football than I’ll ever know, so it was with considerable interest that I read the former defensive lineman’s take on Montreal Alouettes quarterback Johnny Manziel. “I would dare say, especially after watching a full four quarters of his work in the 31-14 loss against the Bombers, that he is not a first-round quarterback talent,” he wrote in the Drab Slab. “He is pretty accurate with the football, and has a quick release; he has a pretty average arm, and doesn’t always throw a great football. When Manziel operates from the confines of the pocket, which is the most important measurable of any quarterback—scrambling or otherwise—he looks to be of the ilk of a very average quarterback in the CFL.” Brown will never get a job as a gab guy on TSN if he’s going to dis Johnny Average like that.

Brian Burke

Interesting comment from Brian Burke, former National Hockey League general manager and now a talking head on Sportsnet: “Well certainly from my perspective, you’re going to fire the coach if he doesn’t win enough games,” he told Sportsnet 650 in Vancouver, “so you better let him pick the roster.” Makes sense, but I doubt that’s how it works in Winnipeg. I’d wager the rent money that GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has a large say in who starts the season with les Jets.

Bob Cole

Apparently, Rogers believes there’s a sprinkling of “Oh, baby!” left in 85-year-old Bob Cole, so he’ll be at the play-by-play microphone for 10 games to be broadcast on Sportsnet this NHL season, his 50th on sid. But here’s my question: If Cole is still good enough to do 10 games, why not 15 or 20? We know he wanted to work the Stanley Cup tournament last spring, but Rogers shut him out. If there isn’t a health issue, Rogers is actually giving Cole the equivalent of a gold watch with his 10-game package. It’s a token gesture.

Having said that, Cole is definitely past his best-before date. He still has the great pipes, but he doesn’t recognize many players other than Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid.

Connor McDavid

So, TSN names its top 50 NHL performers, and here’s James Duthie to ask “the panel” how much of a talent gap exists between No. 1 Connor McDavid and everybody else, including runnerup Sidney Crosby.

“Substantial,” says Dave Poulin. “You put McDavid No. 1, then you start thinking about No. 2. There’s a gap after McDavid and there’s another gap after Crosby.”

Well, excuuuuuse me all to hell, but wasn’t it Poulin who left leading scorer McDavid off his all-star ballot last spring? Why, yes it was. He voted for Nathan MacKinnon, Anze Kopitar and Evgeni Malkin as the best centre-ice men in the game. Yet there he was last week, unflinching and insistent that McDo-it-all is not only superior to that troika—he’s two gaps greater.

Based on what? How many catfish and muskee McDavid caught during his summer vacation?

Seriously. The Edmonton Oilers captain played zero hockey between late May and early September, so how did he go from being no better than the fourth-best centre in the NHL to the absolute premier performer after three months of doing squat?

He didn’t. He was No. 1 then, and he’s No. 1 now. Poulin has some explaining to do, but I doubt we’ll hear it.

Gillian Apps and Meghan Duggan

It’s about hockey and hanky-panky. We know that the American and Canadian women knock the bejeebers out of each other once the puck is dropped. They maintain one of the most intense, heated rivalries in sports. But it’s the passion that goes on off the ice that’s interesting. One of our most-decorated shinny stars, Olympic gold medalist Gillian Apps, wed Meghan Duggan of Team USA last weekend in Maine, that less than a year after former Canadian captain Caroline Ouillette and former U.S. captain Julie Chu became moms by welcoming baby daughter Liv into the world. Puts a different twist on the old bromide about keeping your friends close and your enemies closer, doesn’t it? Beautiful stuff.

There are two thing I’m quite certain I’ll never see in my lifetime: 1) The captains of the Canadian and U.S. men’s Olympic hockey teams exchanging “I do’s” and raising a child together; 2) another Stanley Cup parade in the Republic of Tranna. And if I had to make a wager, I’d bet on the same-sex marriage happening first.

Speaking of Lord Stanley’s silver goblet, this from Stephen Whyno of the Associated Press: “Toronto appears to have the best chance to end Canada’s Stanley Cup drought that dates back a quarter century to 1993.” So, the addition of John Tavares to the Maple Leafs roster makes Jake Gardiner a better defenceman? Ron Hainsey a better defenceman? Frederik Andersen a better goaltender? Don’t think so. I still like les Jets to do it.

And, finally, 30 NHL teams begin their quest for the Stanley Cup this week. Meanwhile, in Ottawa, the Senators begin their quest for Jack Hughes.

I AM CANADIAN

I am Canadian. Let me count the ways on our 150th birthday…

I walked before I could skate, but only by about a day or two.

I believe that Lanny McDonald’s mustache is one of the seven wonders of the world.

I’m politely bitter that the Guess Who and BTO are not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I mean, Journey gets into the Hall and the Guess Who and BTO don’t? Who did Randy Bachman and Burton Cummings tick off?

Bob and Doug McKenzie: Coo-roo-coo-coo-coo-coo-coo-coo!

If I hear “Coo-roo-coo-coo-coo-coo-coo-coo” I know the McKenzie Brothers are on TV and I’m going to laugh myself silly.

Our pet was Juliette.

I still know the sweater numbers for all the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs from the 1960s.

I’m convinced that our real national anthem is the theme music for Hockey Night in Canada, not O Canada.

I feel embarrassed every time Justin Bieber does something stupid.

I cheer every time Perry Mason kicks Hamilton Burger’s butt in court, because Raymond Burr is one of us.

I know that former Prime Minister Lester Pearson’s middle name was Bowles and that people also called him Mike.

I remember Diefenbunkers, Cold War government hideouts so-named in reference to former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker.

I know the Neil Young tune Long May You Run is about his hearse, Mort.

I stuck my tongue on a metal pole in winter, scant seconds after my mom warned me never to stick my tongue on a metal pole in winter.

I wore two pair of socks and plastic bags over my feet so they wouldn’t freeze solid while skating on the outdoor rinks in Winnipeg.

I know what playing spongey is.

If you tell me you have a new pair of garbos, you’re good to go for a game of spongey.

The plaintive cry of “Car!” can only mean one thing—road hockey.

I know a road apple is something you don’t eat.

I know the difference between prairie oysters (bull’s balls) and Prairie Oyster, a terrific country band that doesn’t appear to be making music anymore.

I can’t parlez vous fluently in both of our official languages, but I can converse enough well en francais to order a beer and some poutine in Quebec.

I don’t really believe Toronto is the Centre of the Universe.

Yeehaw! I know the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth is all about horses, doggies, cowboys, cowgirls and Wrangler jeans, and everybody in Calgary dresses in character during the Stampede.

I know people who are being white-hatted in Cowtown are putting a Smithbilt on their heads, not a Stetson.

I remember corn brooms and the poetic sound they made on a sheet of pebbled ice.

I can tell you that the Trail Smoke Eaters were a world champion hockey team from beautiful British Columbia, not a bunch of cowboys choking on trail dust.

I still get teary-eyed when I hear Foster Hewitt cry out “Henderson has scored for Canada!”

I remember when Americans would come to Canada to play in the Canadian Football League and stay for the rest of their lives (hello, Kenny Ploen and Jackie Parker).

I know Ol’ Spaghetti Legs and Twinkle Toes were CFL players, not contestants on Dancing with the Stars.

Robert Gordon Orr

I know Bobby Orr’s middle name. And Bobby Hull’s. And Guy Lafleur’s. And Wayne Gretzky’s. And Donald S. Cherry’s.

To me a flower isn’t something you grow in the garden…Flower wore No. 10 for les Canadiens.

I like my temperature in Fahrenheit and my distances in feet, yards and miles.

I always wish hockey players would put their teeth in before a TV interview.

To me, winter headwear is a toque, not a knitted cap.

I know Butch Goring’s hockey helmet was a SPAPS.

When I see someone with a watermelon on her or his head, I know their favorite football team is the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

I know who Youppi, Gainer the Gopher, Buzz and Boomer, Ralph the Dog, Harvey the Hound and Crazy George are.

I’m still politely bitter about the Montreal Expos leaving.

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

About the Great Beer Chuck…beer and baseball…racism at Rogers Centre…and the Rocket dodging a beer can

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

It has been a good week for sanctimony, theorists and figurative lynch mobs.

Really, all that was missing in the fallout from the Great Beer Chuck in the Republic of Tranna was a grassy knoll and a grainy Zapruder film that might or might not have been doctored. I swear, when cops identified the culprit who hurled a partially consumed can of beer at Baltimore Orioles outfielder Hyun Suh Kim at the Rogers Centre on Tuesday night, I was shocked his name wasn’t Lee Harvey Somethingorother.

No man from Hamilton would throw away a can with so much beer still in it.
Would any man from Hamilton toss away a can of beer with so much beer still in the can?

I don’t mean to make light of someone chucking a can of brown pop at an athlete on the playing field. I mean, with better accuracy, the hops-and-barley missile might have whomped Kim on the melon and Ken Pagan would be looking at a charge a tad higher up the criminal code than public mischief.

As it is, though, it has amounted to crying over spilt beer. And, my goodness, such crying.

The Toronto Star apologized to the city of Baltimore on behalf of the city of Toronto, describing the dastardly deed as “a misguided attempted to win what after all is just a game.” In case the good citizenry of Baltimore is too dense to follow the plot, the Great Beer Chuck was also “childish” and “totally unacceptable” according to the Star. So there.

Not to be outdone, the Toronto Sun, a Postmedia chattel known for operating on the chintz, somehow scraped together enough money to offer a $1,000 reward for the capture of the desperado, who fled the scene scant seconds after lobbing his aluminium grenade during the seventh inning of the Major League Baseball wild-card playoff joust between the Orioles and Tranna Blue Jays (their players, incidentally, were in no danger of a beer bombardment). Imagine the surprise when Postmedia checked its own payroll and discovered the name Ken Pagan, a chap who draws a stipend as a sports copy editor working out of Hamilton. Guess, he won’t be receiving a Christmas bonus this year. But, then, who at Postmedia does?

It wasn’t merely the media crying us a river, though. John Tory, the mayor of all the people, lent his voice, branding the beer-chucker a “loon-ball,” and isn’t that an interesting thing for a mayor from the Republic of Tranna to say, given that a loon-ball not so long ago sat in the big office at City Hall (hello, Rob Ford).

The deafening din will, of course, lessen in volume because media have a short attention span. The sanctimonious scribblings shall give way to a new chew toy for them to gnaw on, and the Great Beer Chuck will have been reduced to what it actually is—one person in a crowd of 50,000 tossing a can of beer on to a baseball field.

Again, there’s no attempt here to make light of an action that might have been injurious. But, come on. Reward money? Open letters to an entire city? Name-calling from elected government officials?

I think what everyone needs right now is a beer break. Just don’t toss the can away.

Ken Pagan has hired lawyers and his legal beagles believe proof of his innocence is in his postal code: “He’s from Hamilton, so he couldn’t possibly have done this,” they said in an official statement from the law offices of Mason, Matlock & McBeal. “Whoever heard of a man from Hamilton throwing away a beer can before the can was empty?”

Yes, baseball can be boring when Buck Martinez is behind the microphone.
Yes, baseball can be boring when Buck Martinez is behind the microphone.

Interesting take on the great game of rounders in a Globe and Mail editorial: “Baseball is generally a slow-paced, cerebral and potentially boring sport,” writes an unidentified scribe. “Alcohol makes the game more engaging for some fans…” While it’s true that baseball and beer go together like Trump and brain farts, I’ve never found the game so boring that it’s driven me to drink. Except, of course, when Buck Martinez is doing the play-by-play. Then there’s never enough beer in the fridge.

If I’m Blue Jays officials—and, by extension, Major League Baseball mucky-mucks—I’m more concerned about the racial taunting that took place the other night at the Rogers Centre. In its silly open letter to Baltimore, Toronto Star suggests, “racism? That just isn’t us.” Apparently it is and has been for some time.

If anyone in Winnipeg is feeling smug and tsk-tsking Toronto due to the events of Tuesday night, I remind them of the 1991 Grey Cup at Winnipeg Stadium, whereby some lout had the bad manners to hurl a can of beer at Toronto Argonauts Rocket Ismail at the tail end of his 87-yard kickoff scamper. Like Calgary Stampeders defenders, the beer can missed and Rocket arrived safely in the end zone. There was no great hue and cry, though (most likely because both Hue and Cry were frozen in place on that sub-zero afternoon). We just blamed it on Roughriders fans because, unlike men from Hamilton, they’re not bright enough to finish their beer before tossing away the can.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

 

About cantankerous columnists…best burgers ever…lumberjacks…Eskimos…and a commish with his head up his something or other

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

waldorf and statler
Waldorf and Statler or Terry Jones and Steve Simmons?

The boys on the beat are not impressed with Pegtown’s pigskin party. Not by a long shot.

“My report card of Grey Cup Week in Winnipeg: Just so-so,” is how Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun describes the hijinks in River City leading up to Sunday’s argument over Canadian Football League bragging rights. “Not as much fun as Winnipeg usually is at Grey Cup time. A touch disappointing.”

Sounds like Little Stevie Blunder is as bored as some of his readers.

But, hey, perhaps the Edmonton Sun‘s been-there, done-everything wordsmith Terry Jones has a different, more favorable take on the preamble to the CFL championship skirmish between the Edmonton Don’t Call Them Eskimos and the Ottawa RougeNoir.

Nope.

“It was a Grey Cup Week that didn’t quite make it,” he harrumphs. “Maybe it was just because this is Winterpeg and folks are still thawing out from the Grey Cup here in 1991, the all-time record for ridiculous, the coldest Grey Cup ever played with a minus 16 degree game time temperature.”

And here I thought Statler and Waldorf were a couple of cantankerous, grumpy Muppet characters, not two flowers of Canadian sports prose.

vj'sActually, I hasten to point out that Grey Cup week was not a colossal waste of time for old friend Steve Simmons. During his stay, he stumbled upon a River City treasure—V.J.’s Drive Inn, a greasy spoon on south Main Street that serves up “great, I mean great, cheap lunches,” he tweets. Oh, yes, the way to a sports scribe’s heart is through his wallet (even when he has an expense account), and how convenient that V.J.’s is located no more than a Henry Burris Hail Mary pass from the Fort Garry Hotel, where you’ll find the official CFL media hospitality suite. What better way to wash down those greasy double cheeseburgers and fatty fries than with an endless supply of free booze? Party on, boys.

I worked Grey Cup games in every CFL city and, in terms of hoopla, the worst host towns were, by far, Toronto and Vancouver. In 1994, when American interlopers from Baltimore arrived on the West Coast with the single-minded purpose of taking the three-down game’s holy grail south of the border, colleague Ed Tait and myself were caught off guard by the indifference of locals, especially given the fact their B.C. Lions were to meet the Stallions from Maryland. One morning as we stepped outside the Westin Bayshore, an elderly gent noticed a gathering of out-of-towners in the lobby and asked, “Is there something important going on this week?” To which Tait replied, “Yes, the Grey Cup.” The old fellow then asked, “The Greek what?”

loggersportsSo, Football Follies Field in Fort Garry has been declared a chainsaw-free zone when the Don’t Call Them Eskimos and les RougeNoir grab grass and growl in the 103rd Grey Cup game. That is to say, the Ottawa tradition of punctuating a touchdown by lumberjacks/jills sawing a log has been forbidden by the CFL. Loyalists of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers simply cannot understand this directive. I mean, Big Blue fans are usually seen sawing logs by halftime at every home game.

If the deep-thinkers in Edmonton wanted to do something positive, they would worry a lot less about lumberjacks and listen a lot more to Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami. Obed is the mouthpiece for Canada’s 60,000 Inuit, and he’s of the opinion that the name Eskimos is both outdated and offensive. What would a renamed Edmonton CFL outfit be called? Well, I suppose we can rule out Lumberjacks. So, what is Edmonton best known for, other than trading away the greatest scoring machine in National Hockey League history? A big mall and not much else, really. Tough call when the best the locals can say about their own burg is “at least it isn’t Winnipeg.”

Apparently, CFL commissioner Jeffrey Orridge has been doing his grand poobahing with his head up the part of his anatomy that he sits on. Not until his inaugural Grey Cup chin-wag with the country’s football media the other day did the commish realize that there exists a barrier between the wants and needs of news scavengers and the control-freak messaging of the league’s nine member outfits. He vowed to address the matter of limited media access “if that’s an issue.” If? If? If? Yo! Commish! You have a head coach in Winnipeg, Mike O’Shea, who cannot answer a question without first watching the film, and he duct tapes his assistant coaches like they’re part of a Flashpoint hostage-taking. What part of that do you not understand?

No surprise that old friend Ed Tait would serve up the best read during Grey Cup week in Pegtown. His piece on the Blue Bombers circa 1980s-early1990s in the Winnipeg Free Press is boffo stuff. It is to Grey Cup coverage what V.J.’s is to the double cheeseburgers and fries. Worth every cent.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll.

 

Toronto doesn’t stink when the Blue Jays are beating Uncle Sam at his own game

I’m a Prairie girl, born and raised, and I don’t hate Toronto.

There. I said it. I don’t hate Toronto.

I know, that’s positively blasphemous. I mean, it’s the sworn duty of every plow jockey’s daughter and/or son to look upon the Republic of Tranna with absolute disdain and associate the big city on the shores of Lake Ontario with all that is pungent. Indeed, we are taught this while barely off our mother’s breast. Mom, upon wiping our butt after the little jar of Gerber’s prune goop had kicked in and soiled our diaper, would recoil and gasp, “Oh, my, this smells just like Toronto.”

So, just like Prairie people long have known that New York is big but Saskatchewan has a burg that is Biggar, we’ve always known that Toronto stinks.

What I’ve never been able to figure out is this: Why is Toronto the subject of such scorn from the rest of Canada?

Oh, I know. It’s big. So what? Something or someone always has to be the biggest. Why not Toronto? Then there’s that whole Centre of the Universe thing, whereby those of us who reside in the colonies are made to feel inferior. Sorry, but that’s not of Toronto’s doing. That’s of our doing. It’s not like Toronto is going, “Na, na, na, na, na…I’m big and you’re not.” It is my experience, having worked and lived there on three different occasions and having visited numerous times, that very few Torontonians actually think that way. Apparently, the fact that we think they think that way is enough for us to dislike and distrust them.

If anything, we should be grateful to Toronto for providing us with wonderful sources of humor. The Maple Leafs. Rob Ford. Calling in the army to shovel snow. It’s all guffaw-worthy. And who doesn’t like a good giggle? So what’s not to like, right?

And now Toronto has been kind enough to share with us its Blue Jays.

The Great White North is in a state of baseball enthrall, and we seem to have decided that Muddy York doesn’t stink as much as our mothers led us to believe. We are root, root, rooting for the Toronto Nine in the Major League Baseball playoff tournament. We do so because they have become the home side and, for this, we need not place a clothes pin on the end of our nose.

What is it about this swaggering, bat-flipping Blue Jays outfit that makes you forget that you don’t like Toronto?

Well, for one thing, they aren’t the Maple Leafs. They aren’t the Toronto Argonauts, either. The Argos, of course, are the one sporting operative in the Big Smoke that has actually experienced success this century, most recently in 2012 when the Boatmen won the Grey Cup. Thing is, we only greet their achievements with mild annoyance because nobody in Toronto cares about the Argos, so why should we?

Apparently, Toronto also houses a National Basketball Association team, as well as an entry in Major League Soccer. But it’s like, who knew? There have been laughable efforts by marketing misfits and some dude named Drake to create a national identity for the Raptors. As if. That might have worked had they signed Steve Nash back in the day, but, as it is, their fandom is mostly parochial. The rest of the country doesn’t seem hip to the hoopsters.

stanley and world seriesThe Blue Jays, though…they’re a different head of lettuce and I believe I know why they make those among us who hate Toronto forget why they hate Toronto: Since we can’t win the Stanley Cup any more, we’ll happily settle for the consolation prize—the World Series Trophy.

Nothing could possibly climb up American noses more than a Canadian-based outfit besting Uncle Sam at his national pastime, especially if the Toronto Nine were to vanquish, say, those loveable losers from Wrigley Field in the Fall Classic. Everybody loves the Chicago Cubs, right? How can you not embrace a club that has stepped aside to allow other teams to win every World Series title since 1908 (hey, anybody can have a bad century)? Thus, beating the Cubbies in the rounders final would be akin to piddling on the White House lawn while the Obama kids are in frolic.

This is why us hosers have hopped on the Blue Jays bandwagon, like so many circus clowns cramming into a Volkswagen Beetle. The Americans think they’re so smug hijacking our hockey? We’ll take their baseball hostage. And if it’s a Toronto team doing our dirty work, we’re all on point.

Once the dirty deed is done, of course, you can resume regularly scheduled dislike for all things T.O.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.

The boys on the football beat in Winnipeg are second to none

It occurs to me that…

There is no city in the Great White North with as superb a stable of scribes detailing all things three-down football than River City.

Start with Ed Tait of the Winnipeg Free Press. Best beat writer in the whole land. His accomplice at the Freep, Paul Wiecek, and Kirk Penton over at the Winnipeg Sun complete a menage-a-terrific that keeps readers fully informed of the goings-on of not only the Winnipeg Blue Bombers but the entirety of the Canadian Football League.

I also like Herb Zurkowsky in Montreal and the tandem of Rob Vanstone and Murray McCormick in Regina, but the quality and quantity that Messrs. Tait, Wiecek and Penton churn out is unmatched.

* There were fewer, if any, finer people on the Winnipeg/Manitoba sports scene than Frank McKinnon.

Frank McKinnon
Frank McKinnon

Frank, who passed away at age 80 last week, was the first person I interviewed and quoted in a byline story as a rookie reporter for the Winnipeg Tribune. It was at a Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association annual meeting, and he was gracious, obliging and generous with his time. We spoke often over the ensuing 30 years and the former head of hockey in the province never changed. He always was a delight.

When I reflect on all the truly wonderful people I met during my time in mainstream jock journalism, Frank’s name is at the top of the good-guy list, alongside former player agent Don Baizley and University of Manitoba Bisons football coach Brian Dobie.

* I’m wounded. Crestfallen. And it’s all Gary (La La) Lawless’s doing.

La La, you see, has made an attempt to find a proper place in the pecking order of hockey homebrews for Jonathan Toews, the Chicago Blackhawks centre who’s three wins away from adding to his collection of Stanley Cup rings. The main mouthpiece in the Freep sports section reckons that legendary goaltender Terry Sawchuk is the pre-eminent Manitoba born-and-bred shinny star. How did he arrive at this conclusion? Well, he claims to have talked to a number of writers and former scribes who cover(ed) the local shinny scene.

Well, I’ve been following hockey in Winnipeg since the 1950s. I’ve been scribbling about it for the past 44 years. Nobody’s been at it longer. Alas, my phone still isn’t ringing, so I assume it still ain’t La La calling. Perhaps I was out or in the shower when his call came. Or maybe he just didn’t call.

This hurts, Gary. You never write or phone anymore. Is it something I wrote?

* If you’re looking for an example of what some sports scribes do when they’re bored with themselves, take a looksee at this Cathal Kelly offering in the Globe and Mail last week.

Cathal Kelly
Cathal Kelly

Kelly piddles on our prairie cousins in Edmonton because…well, because, in the world according to Cathal, Edmonton has the bad manners to not be the Republic of Toronto. Apparently, Edmonton is supposed to behave like the backwater burg Kelly believes it to be and excuse itself from hosting elite sporting events. You know, like the FIFA Women’s World Cup that commenced with Canada’s 1-nil verdict over China on Saturday afternoon at Commonwealth Stadium in The Chuck.

He cites the 2011 WWC as an example of how things ought to be done. That footy extravaganza was showcased in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium, a stately, magnificent structure that, again, in the world according to Cathal, makes Commonwealth seem like a shelter for the homeless.

“It’s actively ugly,” crows Cathol, a bald, bespectacled man of horn-rims that some might describe as, well, actively ugly. “The field is circled by a track—the perfect bush-league touch that says ‘high school.’ “

Berlin Olympic Stadium, complete with track around soccer pitch.
Berlin Olympic Stadium, complete with track around soccer pitch.

Ah, yes. Nothing says high school like a running track around a football pitch. You know, just like the running track that encircles the football pitch in the BERLIN OLYMPIC STADIUM!

We wouldn’t want the facts to get in the way of a good hissy fit, though, would we, Cathal? You just go right ahead and rant. Stomp your little feet and hold your breath. Perhaps one day your beloved Republic of Toronto will grow up to become a city big enough to host a prestigious event like the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

For now, though, it’s shut out of the soccer circus and I’m afraid you’ll have to settle for the Pan American Games in July. Those would be the same Games that Winnipeg has already hosted. Twice.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.