So here’s how I’m reading what went down in the Canadian Football League this week:
The iffiness of a 2021 crusade is no less iffy today than the last time commissioner Randy Ambrosie surfaced to inform us that a 2021 crusade was iffy.
That was back in early March, when Commish Randy was mostly “talking about talking” with Dwayne Johnson and his new toy, the XFL. On Wednesday, “talking about talking” with The Rock had become a secondary squawking point, because Amrosie had moved on to flapping his gums about “backup plans and backup plans to the backup plans and backup plans to back up those plans.”
Welcome to Bafflegab 101, kids.
Yogi Berra and Casey Stengel would be proud of Commish Randy’s word gymnastics, but it’s not like the front man for the Lords of Rouge Football had anything definitive to tell us.
To recap: The very deep-thinkers who chart course for the good ship CFL gathered on Tuesday and, after considerable natter, they instructed Commish Randy to inform the rabble of their findings. Among other things, it was determined that they’d prefer to kick off a 2021 crusade on Aug. 5, that each team would play a runted 14-game schedule, and that Ambrosie would present the Grey Cup to a bone-chilled champion on Dec. 12 at Timbits Field in Hamilton.
And, yes, now that you mention it, I can think of better places to be than sitting outdoors on a hard, cold bench in the Hammer just 13 days before carving the Christmas turkey, but iffy weather holds a special place in three-down football folklore so, sure, let’s pull on a pair of extra-thick longjohns and watch the large lads grab frozen grass.
Anyway, we all know the proposed start and finish points are target dates best peed into a snow bank than chiseled in stone.
Which is why Commish Randy couldn’t swear on a stack of pigskin-covered playbooks that Aug. 5-Dec. 12 Rouge Football is a done deal. Oh, sure, he informed us that “we’re gonna have a CFL season,” but you have to remember that he’s part politician and assumes we have short memories and won’t hold him to promises.
So he kind of talked in tangled tongues while assuring us that he is “supportive of vaccinations” (well, duh), that there are no guarantees in life except “death and taxes,” that “every kid” should play football because of the life lessons it teaches, and, perhaps my favorite, he and the Lords of Rouge Football have developed “a rather elaborate decision-making matrix.”
I’m not 100 per cent certain, but I believe that makes Ambrosie the first CFL commish to ever use the word “matrix,” although I suppose G. Sydney Halter might have gone there since he was a distinguished fellow and lawyer who knew and appreciated the value of a well-crafted sentence.
At any rate, Commish Randy has a matrix and he advised Dave Naylor of TSN that “the cells in that matrix will be populated with information.”
Until then, it’s all iffy. Just call it the Ifth Estate.
Meanwhile, go ahead and call me skeptical and cynical, but that’s the product of 30 years in jock journalism and listening to too many people with rose-tinted glasses propped on their nose. Believe me, I want to see a 2021 crusade and I’m glad Commish Randy stepped forward with a message that many among the rabble view with optimism.
It’s just that we know the CFL is at the whims of COVID-19 and a hit-and-miss vaccine rollout that differs from precinct to precinct, thus Commish Randy’s we-will-play promise is built of straw rather than brick and mortar.
“We know that we’re gonna have to be willing to be flexible in order to pull this off,” he conceded.
So let me just say this: If you plan to watch three-down football on Aug. 5, you’re free to circle that date on your calendar, but I suggest you have a backup plan and a backup plan for your backup plan and backup plan to back up that plan.
In other words, circle it in pencil rather than a Sharpie, and make sure there’s an eraser handy.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and still no word on the if and when of a CFL season, but here’s something else that’s real iffy…
Stop me if you’ve heard this before:
“I believe we’re close to having a team that has a chance to challenge for the Stanley Cup, and I’m really looking forward to that…we’re a lot closer than some people will give us credit for…I look forward to these next five years.”
Sound familiar? It should.
Blake Wheeler said much the same as Adam Lowry scant seconds after scratching his John Hancock on a six-year contract with the Winnipeg Jets.
“I believe in people like (owner) Mark Chipman and Chevy, what everyone stands for and especially in my teammates. I have believed since I got here that we have what it takes to get to the next level, so this is just a part of that process. I truly believe that great things are in store for this group,” the then-future captain told news snoops.
Wheels was 26 at the time. There will be 35 candles on his birthday cake in August.
Lend an ear to Rink Rat Scheifele who, upon agreeing to an eight-year contract in 2016, expressed a robust belief in “the organization, in the players on the team, in the future prospects.”
The Rink Rat was 23. He’s now 28.
Connor Hellebuyck, the Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender, locked in for six years and said, “The tools are in this locker room to be a championship team. I love it here and I want to be here and I really believe this team has what it takes.”
Hellebuyck was 25. He turns 28 next month.
And now we have another long-hauler, Lowry, parroting his teammates’ faith in a process that began in 2011 and has delivered the grand sum of two post-season series victories, both in the spring of 2018.
Lowry is 28. The freshly minted contract he signed on Friday will take him to 33.
So what’s my point? Just this: Unless your name is Evander Kane, Jacob Trouba, Dustin Byfuglien, Patrik Laine or Jack Roslovic, the Jets have all gulped down the Kool-Aid in a cultish-like obedience. They believe. And that’s the reason what went down at last week’s National Hockey League shop-and-swap deadline rankles.
We know Kevin Cheveldayoff kicked some tires on top-four defencemen, and we know the sticker price sent the Jets general manager running like a guy trying to stay two steps ahead of a loan shark.
We can assume his contemporaries were eager to fleece him and take Ville Heinola, Cole Perfetti and other shiny objects off his hands in exchange for their lame, halting and hard of seeing, but that was never going to happen because Chevy places premium value on his young studs. You might have a better chance of prying his bride, Janet, and their two kids away from him.
So it was no sale. Chevy allowed the NHL trade window to close with a whimper, and the Jets are no closer to the Stanley Cup today than a week ago, unless you consider a bottom-end, plug-in blueliner (hello, Jordie Benn) a shiny object.
Oddly enough, many among the rabble, also some news snoops, have given Chevy a tip of the chapeau and a slap on the back for his do-little day, because he “protected assets,” meaning he clung to young wannabes Heinola, Perfetti and others like gum to the bottom of a shoe.
Well let me tell you something about assets: They don’t stay forever young.
Chevy is protecting the future when most of the parts are in place for today’s Jets team. Add the right top-four defender and we might be talking about a parade route. But the Jets GM chose to stand still, even as time refuses to stand still for his significant core workers.
Wheeler’s prime years have been wasted. Scheifele and Hellebuyck are into prime time. Same with Lowry, Andrew Copp and Dylan DeMelo. And don’t look now, but Josh Morrissey is 26.
Which begs this question: If the Jets GM was unwilling to go all-in now, when?
This was the time for derring-do, an opportunity for Chevy to orchestrate what could have become his signature moment, lifting the Jets to that “next level” Wheeler spoke of all those years ago.
Well, here’s something else the captain said, when he re-upped in September 2018: “It kind of looks like that (Stanley Cup) window is opening up.”
Apparently Chevy missed the memo.
I don’t know if the GM will reflect on this crusade five years from now and view it as the one that got away, but Blake Wheeler might. Rink Rat Scheifele, Connor Hellebuyck and others like Lowry who’ve committed long term might, as well.
Chevy should be kicking himself. Right in the assets.
Something Bryan Little said when the Jets’ playoff aspirations had been dashed in March 2017 is haunting: “It’s another year of your career that you can’t get back. Some of the best players in this room are the youngest. There’s definitely a bright future, but some guys are older and want to do something right now. That’s the thinking going into next year.” Little was 29. He’s now 33, wounded beyond repair, and there is no next year. Not for him. But why must it always be “next year” for Scheifele, Hellebuyck, Lowry et al?
As I was saying last week, I don’t buy into the Jack Campbell hype that news snoops in the Republic of Tranna have been spreading like thick, gooey peanut butter. He’s been a career backup goaltender for a reason, and Maple Leafs loyalists are beginning to see why. For all their talent, the Leafs are vulnerable in the blue paint, whereas Hellebuyck gives the Jets the best puck stopping in the Hoser Division (yes, including Carey Price). And we all know what that means when the boys begin to play for keeps, which is the very reason Chevy shouldn’t have dithered last week.
I don’t know about you, but I’m digging the threads our Canadian athletes will be wearing for the closing ceremonies at the Tokyo Olympics this summer, if there is a Tokyo Olympics, that is. Ya, sure, you can say the denim jacket looks like a teenage graffiti artist had a moment of madness, but I look at it more as a stroke of genius. There’s a youth-cool vibe to the kit, something you might wear on a pub crawl, or wherever it is that our young people go these days. It’s totally boffo compared to the get-ups that noted needle-and-thread guy Ralph Lauren designed for our American friends. I can’t tell if he’s dressed the U.S. team for the next space shuttle mission or an expedition to the South Pole.
I’ll take nose-pickers for $2,000, Alex. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has completed his gig as guest host on Jeopardy!, and he let us in on a little secret about the sticky notes he used to aid his performance. One of them read: “Don’t pick your butt/nose.” Seriously. He needs a sticky note to remind himself not to pick his nose on camera? And the Packers trust Rodgers to call audibles in the red zone?
Apparently, producers of Fox NFL Sunday were so impressed with Rodgers’ work on Jeopardy! that they plan to equip Terry Bradshaw with sticky notes to improve his work: 1. “Remember, this ain’t Hee Haw.” 2. “Powder shiny head during every commercial break.” 3. “Do not mention gap in Michael’s teeth.” 4. “Do not laugh at Howie’s 1950s haircut because at least he has hair.” 5. “Resist all urges to muss up Jimmy’s hair.” 6. “Do not tell Rob Riggle he isn’t as funny as Frank Caliendo.” 7. “Remember, guy sitting beside you is Curt, not James.” 8. “Jay Glazer is human, he just looks like a garden gnome.” 9. “Mention four Super Bowl rings whenever Jimmy mentions two Super Bowl rings.” 10. “When in doubt, always refer to sticky note No. 1.”
Favorite headline of the weekwas delivered by the New York Post: “How Yankees can address their crappiness.” Anything that combines New York Yankees and “crappiness” is right by me, although I’m sure George Steinbrenner’s son Hal wouldn’t agree.
If your product needs to add some sizzle and pizzazz, who you gonna call? Well, Major League Baseball has called Brian Stedman, now responsible for strategy and development. That would be the same Brian Stedman who, for the past seven years, carried the sizzle-and-pizzazz portfolio for Vince McMahon’s cast of characters in World Wrestling Entertainment. That will be quite an adjustment for Stedman. I mean, the play actors in wrestling are allowed to hit each other with everything including the kitchen sink, but the Yankees can’t hit anything.
Old friend Big Jim Bender took a bit of a paddywhacking on Twitter last week, after he made a flippant remark about the Brendan Bottcher foursome failing to win a trinket at the world curling championship but securing an Olympic berth for Canada. “Was the very least they could do,” Big Jim wrote. The Pebble People pounced. Darren Moulding, third on the Bottcher team, called the former Winnipeg Sun scribe “a joke,” adding, “You’re a stain on our country, not me.” Harsh. Olympian and TSN talking head Cheryl Bernard weighed in, describing Bender’s comment as “crap.” Oh my. Who knew the delightful Cheryl could be so undelightful? Anyway, not that he plans to call me to the stand as a character witness, but let the record show that Big Jim is a friend of curler’s everywhere. He’s spent more time in chilly two-sheeters than most people I know, so, as Strother Martin told Cool Hand Luke, “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”
Speaking of Pebble People, Rachel Homan played in the Scotties Tournament of Hearts title match on the final day of February while eight months pregnant. She then went home to bring daughter Bowyn into the world, and now the former Canadian/world champ has returned to the fray, skipping her team in the Humpty’s Champions Cup just three weeks after giving birth. Meanwhile, Kawhi Leonard won’t be available to the L.A. Clippers today because he needs a rest—after sitting the last four games. I swear, if men could get pregnant and give birth, there would be no male sports.
Nobody asked me, but I’d say the selection committee for the Canadian Football Hall of Fame got it right when they chose Marv Levy, Nik Lewis, Will Johnson, Mike Walker, Orlondo Steinauer, Don Wilson and Doug Mitchell as this year’s inductees. These things are always ripe for debate, of course, and we usually hear some squawking whenever a sports body salutes the best of the best, but I don’t hear any arguments about the class of 2021, nor should there be.
And that’s not to ignore broadcasters Bernie Pascall and Bob Hooper, who got the nod from the Football Reporters of Canada and will go into the CFHF media wing. Hooper was a long-time Hamilton Tabbies play-by-play voice, and Pascall’s career chatting about Rouge Football on radio and TV spans decades. Unfortunately, Bob’s not around to enjoy the honor, but Bernie’s still with us, so he has something fresh to talk about with the neighbors on beautiful Vancouver Island.
The CFHF media wing is the ultimate boys’ club. By my scorecard, there are now 101 members, all men. Yup, 101-0. I realize there haven’t been a lot of women on the beat, but in my 19 years covering the Canadian Football League in three cities (Winnipeg, Calgary, Republic of Tranna), I can recall sharing a press box at Grey Cup games with Ashley Prest of the Drab Slab and Joanne Ireland of the Edmonton Journal. Ashley also knew her way around the University of Manitoba campus to cover coach Brian Dobie’s Bisons, and there might be some high school grid in her resumé, too, because that’s what most of us did back in the day. We started at the bottom and worked our way up. So it seems to me that the boys on the beat should find room for trailblazers like Ashley or Joanne.
Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna has made his annual plea for Dick Thornton’s induction to the CFHF, and I can’t disagree with Sy. Tricky Dick certainly has the bona fides, including two Grey Cup victories with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and multiple all-star salutes, and he also happens to be one of the more colorful characters in CFL lore. Legendary Bombers coach Bud Grant once said this of his defensive back/wannabe quarterback/kick returner/kicker: “When most players arrive in a new town, the first thing they do is phone a girl. When Dick Thornton arrives, he phones a sports writer.”
Tricky Dick had an ego the size of a football field, and here’s how the great columnist Jack Matheson once described him in the Winnipeg Tribune: “The writers and broadcasters treat No. 14 with considerable respect because he’s hot copy, in or out of uniform. His eccentricities are always guaranteed to liven a dull scene and for conversation Thornton holds all records for Blue Bombers of the modern era. The conversation always seems to revolve around Dick Thornton, but he has a magnetism and I’ve never seen anybody walk away from Dick Thornton when his mouth was open.” Another time, Matty wrote this of Thornton: “An incurable extrovert who played harder with his larynx than his limbs.”
Final note on Dick Thornton: The Bombers traded him to the Toronto Argos the same day the Maple Leafs cleared the track and sent Eddie Shack to the Boston Bruins. I guess the Republic of Tranna just wasn’t big enough for two clown acts.
Still getting creepy vibes from those face mashups TSN featured on its NHL trade deadline coverage. It’s clever work by Matty Go Sens, but morphing the faces of Gino Reda and Craig Button into one is the kind of stuff that will keep kids awake at night. Ditto the James Duthie/Bob McKenzie blending. I haven’t been so frightened since Alfred Hitchcock had all those nasty birds attack Tippi Hedren.
This from Steve Simmons: “The top four goaltenders in all-time wins are Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy, Roberto Luongo and now Marc-Andre Fleury. All of them Quebecois. And there’s not a single Quebec goalie of consequence (apologies to Jonathan Bernier) playing in today’s NHL.” Hmmm. Last time I checked, Marc-Andre Fleury was still a Quebecois and leading the NHL in shutouts.
Patrick Marleau will lace ’em up for his 1,768th NHL skirmish on Monday night, moving past Gordie Howe for most games played. It’s a terrific achievement. Worth noting, however, are their birth certificates. Howe was 52 when he finally shut down, Marleau is 41. And, at 52, Howe was a significant contributor for the Hartford Whalers, scoring 15 goals and 41 points in 80 games, plus another two points in three playoff jousts. Marleau is 4-4-8 in what looks to be another lost season for the San Jose Sharks.
And, finally, on the subject of legendary performers, I discovered a DVD of Tony Bennett: An American Classic at a local video story the other day, and I snapped it up immediately. Fan-freaking-tastic. Tony’s duets with Barbra Streisand and our Canadian songbird k.d. lang brought on the water works (sheer brilliance renders me very emotional), and there was only one sour note struck—the November 2006 TV special was far too short, just 42 minutes. I wanted at least an hour more.
I must say, Chevy, when the clock struck midnight (figuratively speaking) on the National Hockey League annual shop-and-swap hijinks Monday, I couldn’t help but think of the Miss Peggy Lee song Is That All There Is?
Chances are you’re not familiar with the tune, Chevy, because Miss Lee hit the charts with it in August 1969, seven months before you came into the world, but trust me when I tell you it’s a classic. So fabulous, in fact, that the great Tony Bennett included it on an album later in ’69, and if it was good enough for Peggy and Tony it’s good enough for the rest of us.
Anyway, I thought of Is That All There Is? because now that the dust has settled on a less-than-frantic NHL trade deadline, Jordie Benn is all there is to show for your day’s work.
Color me, and many others, unimpressed, Chevy.
I’m sure Jordie is a fine young man who’s kind to little, old ladies like myself and I’m guessing he’d buy a boatload of cookies if some fresh-faced Girl Guides knocked on his door, but I don’t see how he gets your Winnipeg Jets any closer to a Stanley Cup parade.
Heck, Chevy, never mind a big, ol’ victory hooraw stretching from Memorial Boulevard to Portage and Main to the Forks later this summer, I’m not sure adding Benn to your blueline gets you much more than a one-and-done in the playoffs.
No doubt you noticed that your counterpart with the Toronto Maple Leafs, general manager Kyle Dubas, has been busier than a barman at last call, adding a defenceman or two here, a forward or two there, and grabbing some insurance for that tiny patch of ice painted blue. And I don’t have to tell you he was dealing with a first-place roster.
I’d say the boy wonder’s handiwork makes them a shoo-in to emerge from the Hoser Division, except they’re the Maple Leafs and we all know what happens to them when the games matter most. That’s right, they crumble like burnt toast.
But you shouldn’t have to rely on the Leafs’ old habits, Chevy.
All you had to do was add a top-four defenceman. That was your ticket to the final four of Beard Season. I knew it, you knew it, your barber knew it, and the squawk boxes on TSN certainly knew it.
I don’t know if you pay attention to anything those boys have to say, Chevy, because it’s usually a load of hollow blah, blah, blah to fill time during their marathon coverage of trade day goings-on, but they weren’t raining hosannas down on you. More to the point, they were underwhelmed.
“That defence corps is not going to lead you to a championship,” was Jeff O’Dog’s blunt analysis. “It falls short. I don’t think it’s enough. Not even close.”
Ray Ferraro and Noodles McLennan provided the backup vocals, saying, “What he said,” although Noodles was kind enough to add that Benn is “a decent find.”
Faint praise. But decent doesn’t get ‘er done, Chevy.
I mean, three Jacks, Ace high is a decent poker hand, but a full house beats it every time, and I think most among the rabble will agree you’re still one card shy of a full house.
Not that you didn’t try, Chevy. You informed news snoops that you took a couple of big swings at filling the gap on your blueline, and I believe you. No doubt the ask was too pricey, meaning would-be suitors were demanding a package that included Ville Heinola going the other way, and you weren’t having any of that.
As a quick aside, Chevy, TSN’s man about blue-chip prospects, Craig (Pickle Ball) Button, compares Heinola to Lars-Erik Sjoberg, and I can’t think of higher praise because The Shoe was the best defenceman to ever wear Jets linen, first or second edition. Craig’s not always right, of course, and my inclination was to suggest he doesn’t know sheep dip from Heinola, but I’ll take his word for it on young Ville. If he’s a reasonable facsimile of The Shoe, the kid’s a keeper.
Anyway, I don’t think your do-little day puts the kibosh on your team’s crusade, Chevy.
You’re still holding a decent hand. You’ve got serious strength down the middle with Rink Rat Scheifele, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Adam Lowry, and you’ve got a couple of fly-by wingers in Twig Ehlers and Kyle Connor. Most important, your guy in the blue paint provides the best goaltending in the Hoser Division, an iffy position in the Republic of Tranna and Edmonton (I don’t buy the Jack Campbell or Mike Smith hype).
Connor Hellebuyck is other-world scary good. Mind you, there are times when he’s just plain scary. Like when he wanders behind the net to handle the puck and looks like a guy trying to slice a tomato with a sledge hammer. On Monday night in Ottawa, for example, he was on his knees playing Whac-A-Mole on the Senators’ winning score, and he waved at another shot like someone trying to flag down a cab in the rain.
But we aren’t here to dwell on Bad Bucky, Chevy. He gives you hope nine nights out of 10.
It’s just too bad you couldn’t have provided him with the missing piece on Monday. But, what the heck, you’ve only had two years to find a top-four defender. Why did we expect anything different this time around?
Observations from a trade deadline couch potato: You know there’s heavy lifting to be done when Bob McKenzie hauls hide from the cottage to join the boys (and girls) in the TSN studio. The Bobfather didn’t have a whole lot to say during the trade-day marathon, but it was nice to see him just the same…Hey, we had an all-goalie panel of Kevin Weekes, Marty Biron and Noodles McLennan. Goalies make boffo analysts (yes, even Kelly Hrudey), because they see the game from a different angle…I might have missed one or two, but the male-female breakdown between TSN and Sportsnet commentators/analysts was 44-7 in favor of the guys. Jennifer Botterill was fabulous, as always, as was Tessa Bonhomme…I’m not sure about TSN mascot Tradey. Can’t tell if it’s a mare or a stallion, so I’ll write it down as gender fluid…There was an all-female segment on TSN, with Tessa, Cheryl Pounder and Renata Fast gabbing about next month’s women’s world championship in Nova Scotia. Mostly good stuff, except they kicked back to Kendall Coyne Schofield’s fast lap at the NHL all-star game. Let it go, ladies. That was two years ago. Stop leaning on those 14 seconds to pump up your own tires. Tell us what you plan to do going forward, not what’s in the rear view mirror…Craig Button’s face looks like he lost an argument to Ryan Reaves’ fists. Turns out he’s a pickle ball casualty. And who knew there was such a thing?…TSN’s take off on The Brady Bunch was silly, of course, but The Tradey Bunch did deliver some boffo trade stories from former players…Best line of the day was delivered by Bill Mikkelson, who has the worst plus-minus rating in NHL history and played for the worst team in NHL history, the Washington Capitals. “We had a good team,” he told TSN host James Duthie. “We were just in the wrong league.”…Best question of the day came from Sportsnet anchor Ken Reid, who appeared in studio to chin-wag with Gerry Dee. “Gerry,” Reid asked, “what are we doing here?” Exactly. Dee offered zip, even if host David Amber lied to us, saying, “Great stuff from Ken and Gerry.” It was empty blather, with the unfunny Dee trying to be funny…Nice touch by Duthie to salute the TSN production crew…Carlo Colaiacova delivered the dumbest comment: “(Marc-Andre) Fleury is the best goalie in the league.”…Best bit was the commentator face mashups on TSN, whereby the mugs of two talking heads were merged into one. Scary, kids. Ghastly stuff…Kevin Bieksa told us that Josh Morrissey of the Jets has had “a great season.” No, he hasn’t…I watched this stuff from 5 a.m. until 1 p.m. Does the term “get a life” not mean anything to me?
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.
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:
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.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and the days are getting longer and so is this blog…
That’s the word Kendall Coyne Schofield used to describe the state of women’s hockey in 2019, and it was a harsh truth.
The mostly ignored Canadian Women’s Hockey League had shuttered its doors permanently, giving rise to a group of malcontents demanding, among other things, a living wage, preferably from billionaire owners in the National Hockey League. Rather than sign on with National Women’s Hockey League outfits and form one super league, 150-200 orphaned players chose to participate in mostly ignored pickup games hither and yon, pose for photos with Billie Jean King, and trash talk the NWHL, which was wrestling with its own credibility demons in its fifth season.
“The women’s professional game is in shambles,” Coyne Schofield, the brightest star in the female shinny galaxy, told the San Francisco Chronicle in December 2019. “I dream of the day a young girl can dream of one day being a professional hockey player, and we’re nowhere near that.”
So, fast forward 15 months, and it’s fair to wonder if that dream is any nearer. Is Ponytail Puck any less in shambles?
Well, let’s take inventory:
The NWHL emerged from its COVID cocoon in January and assembled in Lake Placid for a two-week frolic meant to determine an Isobel Cup winner. Alas, the pandemic put the kibosh on that. The semifinals and final were aborted, but the NWHL returned to the freeze to complete its unfinished business on Friday and Saturday in Boston, declaring the Boston Pride as champions, and all three skirmishes were broadcast live on NBCSN.
Coyne Schofield and friends in the PWHPA, meanwhile, cranked up their second Dream Gap Tour last month, first strutting their stuff in a true sporting cathedral, Madison Square Garden in Gotham, then shifting their barnstorming showcase to the United Center in Chicago. Both friendlies were broadcast live on NBCSN, a first in the United States.
Finally, there’s loud chatter about the NWHL adding a seventh franchise, in Montreal, for its seventh season, and the planet’s elite are scheduled to gather in Nova Scotia for the 20th Women’s World Championship, May 6-16, and TSN will be all-in for the global showcase.
Thus, it sounds like the women are gaining traction. Or not.
As much as the national TV exposure is boffo, certain among the Dream Gappers can’t resist the urge to slag the NWHL, indicating that Ponytail Puck is as much a house divided as in late December 2019, when Coyne Schofield talked about an enterprise “in shambles.”
“I don’t think you’ll get the PWHPA and the NWHL together,” Cassie Campbell-Pascall informed Tim Micallef early this month on Sportsnet’s Tim & Friends.
The former Canadian Olympian and current Sportsnet squawk box suggested it would be “awesome” if the NWHL survives, and that it might one day be “a great league,” or grow up and become “a feeder system” to a Women’s NHL featuring Dream Gappers. But it’s “not the future of women’s hockey,” she harrumphed. So there.
“I think the PWHPA is gonna go down as that moment in women’s hockey, that group in women’s hockey, that really, truly made a difference in providing a professional women’s hockey league,” Campbell-Pascall tooted. So there again.
It should be pointed out that Campbell-Pascall is not a member of the PWHPA board. Nor is she an official adviser. But she’s thrown in fully with the Dream Gappers, and Sportsnet continues to provide a pulpit for her unchallenged propaganda. She uses her position for divisive dialogue, sometimes spewing inaccuracies about the NWHL, other times accusing former NWHL commissioner and founder Dani Rylan Kearney of “ulterior motives” without naming her and without introducing evidence.
Others among the Dream Gappers have shown an inclination toward schoolyard banter. Hilary Knight branded the NWHL a “glorified beer league” and former board member Liz Knox tsk-tsked the NWHL for having the (apparent) bad manners to add an expansion team during a sports-wide pandemic shutdown, even as every other jock operation was plotting strategy for a return to the playing fields.
“There is a lot of history there that is uncomfortable,” Tyler Tumminia acknowledged in a natter with Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman on their 31 Thoughts podcast three weeks ago.
Tumminia became a fresh voice in the discussion after stepping forward as interim NWHL commissioner last October. She earned her executive chops in the boardrooms of baseball (she’s named after Ty Cobb), and she’s attempting to apply lessons learned to Ponytail Puck. Not just the NWHL, understand. The big picture. Which explains her sweet tweet saluting the PWHPA for its landmark appearance at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 28.
“To me, (the tweet) was saying, ‘I value and I see you and I applaud what you guys are doing for the women’s game, for women’s hockey in particular.’” she said. “I shouldn’t be commissioner of a women’s hockey league if I didn’t applaud that. I’m not dismissing the fact that there’s some raw emotions around it. What I’m saying, is that, you know, some of that narrative is actually outdated now, so let’s sit at the table and have a true sense of what is actually going on here and how we can get to where everybody wants to get to. We all want to get to the same spot. So how can we get together. But, ya, I think that there needs to be some therapeutic conversation, and I’m open to that of course. Now, I don’t have much history there, but I’m open to having those conversations of what had happened but, mostly, what can we do going forward.”
The difference in tone between Tumminia and Campbell-Pascall is startling. One is reaching out with an olive branch, the other is swinging a wrecking ball.
Their views on the direction of Ponytail Puck are just as conflicting.
Here’s Campbell-Pascall: “I think the next step is an announcement, the NHL to step up and make an announcement. ‘This is what we’re gonna do, here’s how we’re gonna do it, and this is when we’re gonna do it.’ That’s the only logical step and the only thing in my opinion that makes sense. Ya, I’m putting pressure on the NHL, because I’ve sat in meetings and worked with them for a long time and talked and discussed this for a long time, and it is time. They know it’s time. They have the infrastructure. Obviously COVID has hit the league hard and they’re losing money as well. Obviously timing is not ideal, but the time is now. The time is now for them to step up and make an announcement about how they want to support women’s hockey.”
And now Tumminia: “I think it’s kinda unfair on the NHL’s part for me to say, ‘Hey, they should take it on themselves and, you know, help this all out.’ Meaning, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, everybody’s hurting financially. For them to take on the entire business model, I don’t know. I think that would be a little unfair at this time to ask them to do that. That’s a little bit tough to ask at this point. Now, in a couple years that might be a little bit different. Right now what I think it should look like, is you get a business model that’s strong in a league that goes past a couple of years, in combination with other parties involved and kinda go in the direction where it’s sustainable on its own. And at the time there’s market share, there’s viewership and there’s tribal fandom in these markets, and the markets are actually showing there’s growth and it’s sustainable and it’s fueling and funding revenue streams that are consistent. Then I think at that time, you know, I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s something they take on.”
We can only speculate what’s ahead for Ponytail Puck, but I submit the cause can use a lot less of Campbell-Pascall’s militant mutterings and a lot more of Tumminia’s reasoned rhetoric.
Let’s put it another way: I know which of the two women I’d choose to represent me in a boardroom. (Hint: It isn’t the one making demands of NHL owners who aren’t fishing for fresh ways to squander money.)
Here’s a reason the NWHL and PWHPA need to get their crap together: The English Women’s Super League just hit the mother lode, signing a three-year TV deal with BBC and Sky Sports. Total value: 24 million English pounds, which translates into $33M in U.S. greenbacks. The BBC will show 22 matches and there’ll be as many as 44 more on Sky. Our practitioners of Ponytail Puck will drool at those numbers. That’s where they want to be, visible and with substantial TV revenue. And if it’s doable in English soccer it ought to be doable for shinny in North America, especially in Canada. How do they arrive at that point? Simple: Follow Tumminia’s lead. Sit down and talk. Hash out differences. Clear up misconceptions. Grab an oar and row in the same direction. Campbell-Pascall has said more than once that “this isn’t about one league versus the other league,” but that’s exactly what the Dream Gappers have done to Ponytail Puck. They’ve turned it into a family feud. Now they have a chance to grab an olive branch. We’ll see.
Every time I see and hear Jennifer Botterill talk hockey on Sportsnet, I’m reminded what a local treasure she is and how the decision-makers got it right in making her the first female player inducted to the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame. One of the all-timers in local shinny lore, Jennifer is an Olympic champion, world champion, two-time winner of the Patty Kazmaier Award as the top player in NCAA women’s hockey, team captain at Harvard, CWHL scoring champion, CWHL all-star, and now a respected voice on hockey TV. It’s just too bad Jennifer had to leave home to do all that heavy lifting. Wouldn’t it have been nice if the final notation on her career read: Played professional hockey in Winnipeg?
Having said that, I wonder if the Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, harbors an appetite for bringing a women’s team under the True North umbrella. Has anyone asked the Winnipeg Jets co-bankroll about it? If not, why not?
This is an example of what Ponytail Puck is up against in terms of coverage in mainstream media: The Toronto Six met the Boston Pride in an Isobel Cup semifinal skirmish on Friday. Number of column inches devoted to the match in the Toronto Sun pre- and post-game, zero. But, hey, they managed to squeeze in a full-page Sunshine Girl. Meanwhile, both TSN and Sportsnet used the Boston-Minnesota Whitecaps championship joust as bottom-feeder filler on their highlight shows Saturday night/Sunday morning. The Isobel Cup final was a 52nd-minute afterthought on SportsCentre and a 47th-minute snippet on Sports Central, scant seconds in front of two NASCAR mud-racing pickup trucks.
I note that cannibal boxer Mike Tyson, who once ate Evander Holyfield’s right ear for a late-night snack, won’t be fighting his former foe for a third time, thus losing out on a multi-million-dollar payday. Guess that means Iron Mike will have to find himself a new meal ticket.
Apparently negotiations between the greybeard boxers broke down when Tyson scared off Holyfield by arriving at one bargaining session with a knife and fork.
Here’s a transcript from the final Tyson-Holyfield verbal to-and-fro: Tyson: “We have an offer you can’t refuse, Evander.” Holyfield: “Talk to me, Mike…I’m all ears.” Tyson: “No you’re not.”
There was also a hangup over the marketing slogan for the proposed Tyson-Holyfield III at Hard Rock Stadium. The two sides agreed it should be something catchy like Rumble in the Jungle or Thrilla in Manila, but Holyfield balked when the Tyson camp insisted on Finger Lickin’ Fightin’ ‘n’ Late Night Munchies In Miami.
The Winnipeg Jets lost Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot from their blueline in June/July 2019. Dustin Byfuglien disappeared in September that year. So we started discussing the pressing need for a top-four defenceman 18½ months ago. Question is, why are we still talking about it a year and a half after Big Buff and the boys bailed? What, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff hasn’t noticed those four guys are missing? Of course he has. Yet we still await his next move. It’s official then: Chevy actually moves slower than the Arctic ice melt.
According to the 2021 World Happiness report, Finnish people are the happiest on the planet for the fourth straight year. Hmmm. Did anyone think to ask Patrik Laine about that?
There’s a large cargo ship stuck in the Suez Canal and, after a week of failed attempts to free the vessel, the captain and crew are desperate to get out. You know, just like anyone who plays for the Buffalo Sabres.
Seems to me that the Ottawa Senators might become an NHL force once all their players are old enough to shave. Then, of course, Eugene Melnyk will sell them off like used tupperware containers at a yard sale.
Go figure the Canadian Football League. One week commissioner Randy Ambrosie is talking tall about a budding bromance with Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson and his XFL, and the next week he’s pleading poverty (yes, again) and asking players to take an across-the-board hit at the pay window (yes, again). So let’s no longer wonder why Commish Randy and the Lords of Rouge Football would consider an iffy alliance with a fly-by operation south of the 49th, let’s instead wonder why The Rock would consider a partnership with a bunch of guys whose sole game plan appears to be begging. I don’t know if Commish Randy and his bosses are embarrassed, but they should be.
The CFL has become an arms race, and it has nothing to do with quarterbacks. It’s all about how many needles medics can poke into fans’ arms. Rouge Football isn’t doable without patrons in the pews, so what’s the over/under on the number of COVID-19 vaccine shots required before the faithful can flock into ball yards hither and yon? Is it 20 million? Twenty-five mill? Is Vegas offering odds?
And, finally, the other day I watched a replay of Secretariat’s gallop in the 1973 Belmont Stakes, and I must report that it remains the most gob-smacking, astonishing individual athletic performance I’ve ever witnessed. And that’s taking in a lot of turf, because I started watching sports in the mid-1950s. I suppose some folks might get emotional gazing upon the Mona Lisa or the Shroud of Turin, but I get teary-eyed watching Big Red romp to the wire in the Belmont. It’s very spiritual.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and happy spring to you all…
I recognize that I’m likely in the minority, but I find the Canadian precinct of the National Hockey League a bit of a bore.
There, I said it. A bore.
Does that make me an un-hoser? Fine. Sue me. Sentence me to a lifetime of watching nothing but reruns of Don Messer’s Jubilee. Frankly, I’d just as soon see Don, Charlie Chamberlain and Marg Osburne pop up on my flatscreen on a Saturday night rather than endure another episode of Winnipeg Jets-Ottawa Senators/Vancouver Canucks/Calgary Flames.
The Jets and Sens have already met five times this year, with another five on the docket. Oh joy. That’s like looking forward to a root canal.
This week, we get a steady diet of the Canucks (two games) and Flames (three). That isn’t a treat. It’s cruel and unusual punishment, like listening to Nickelback music while trapped in an elevator.
Between March 31 and April 24, the Jets will face off vs. the Toronto Maple Leafs six times. But didn’t they just finish a three-game set? Yup, sure did. Hey, I enjoy watching Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews do their thing, but I’d rather have some Sidney Crosby or Nathan MacKinnon or Patrick Kane sprinkled into the mix.
An all-hoser division seemed like a good idea before they dropped the puck in January, and I realize gathering the seven Canadian outfits together in one playground was a necessary byproduct of COVID-19, but it’s become too much like turkey dinner at Christmas. You love it at the time, but you don’t want to still be noshing on cold gobbler sandwiches two weeks into the New Year.
So you can count me among those happy that the Canadian House League will be a one-off.
Say, look who’s talking. Why, it’s none other than the Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, who came out of hiding for a natter with Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic. Their topic? All-hoser hockey.
“I think that for us, and I assume that the other Canadian teams feel the same way, there’s something very compelling about playing iconic franchises, the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens, and there’s a lot of history here dating back to the Smythe Division days with a lot of people’s recollections drawn to those games against Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver,” the Winnipeg Jets co-bankroll said.
“So sure, I would love to play the Canadian teams more frequently. The challenge with that is, where do you find the games to do that? Because I would say we do enjoy and we’ve established some really good rivalries in the Central with Chicago, St. Louis, Minnesota, Nashville and Dallas. So on the one hand, I look forward to returning to that. On the other, I wish there was a way we can play Toronto and Montreal more.
“It’s not a perfect world, scheduling. So for now, I’m really enjoying the games as I think most fans in Canada are and we’ll enjoy it while it lasts. Maybe some day, there would be a way to play the Canadian teams more often. That would be my hope.”
My hope is that the Puck Pontiff doesn’t get his wish.
Given that Chipman delivers sound bites only slightly more often than a street mime, I find it interesting, also puzzling, that he would wag his chin with LeBrun rather than one of the boys on the Jets beat in Good Ol’ Hometown. Does he have something against Paul Friesen, Ted Wyman, Scott Billeck, Mad Mike McIntyre and Murat Ates? Do they refuse to genuflect and kiss his ring finger? I know that Mad Mike has requested an audience with the Puck Pontiff, but not once in his four-plus years on the beat at the Drab Slab has his ask been granted. “I don’t really care, nor am I losing any sleep over it,” he scribbled last July. I wouldn’t either, but that doesn’t make it right.
I agree, cheap-shot artist Zack Kassian got away with a flagrant foul on Twig Ehlers in the Jets 4-2 loss to the Edmonton McDavids on Saturday night. The guys wearing the orange arm bands blew it, but I find myself wondering if they turned a blind eye because Ehlers is recognized as one of those players who loses his feet too easily. Remember, he once was fined for diving, and faking it tends to stick.
Finnish publication Ilta-Sanomatran a lengthy takeout on John Tortorella the other day and, no shock, the Columbus Blue Jackets bench puppeteer had some interesting observations. Among other things, Torts believes, “The NHL is a league of young and stupid players.” Ya, that’s the kind of guy I’d want for a coach. “I miss the old type of player and old-fashioned hockey,” he added. “There were clashes on the ice and the players acted as cops. There are so many rules and different levels of discipline in the NHL today that this has become a ‘no-hitter’ league. I know people consider me Neanderthal, but I don’t care. I don’t want to lose the values of the old school. I think the game has lost some of its old values. I want to evolve and adapt to the new era, but I think today’s players need to learn some of those good, old values. Sometimes when I look at some payers on or off the ice, I wonder who the hell they think they are.” Which is precisely what many of us wonder about Torts.
Speaking of relics, why do so many hockey people continue to spew the “no one ever gets hurt in a hockey fight” refrain? It’s rubbish and the old-school thinkers who insist on repeating the illogical mantra know it’s rubbish. Ben Chiarot’s right hand is the latest piece of evidence. It’s broken and Chiarot is lost to the Montreal Canadiens for six-eight weeks. He isn’t the first player to go on the shelf after suffering an owie in a scrap, and he won’t be the last. So the horse-and-buggy crowd is advised to do what Archie Bunker often told Edith—stifle yourself.
On the subject of fisticuffs, as advertised following his thrown-downwith Roy Jones Jr. last November, former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson plans to return to the ring in May. No word on the identity of Iron Mike’s opponent, but promoters promise he’ll have a matching set of ears when he enters the ring.
Can someone—anyone—tell me why Tiger Woods returning to his home base in Florida to rehab from his most-recent car crash is newsworthy? Does anyone actually care where his broken bones mend? It’s time mainstream media stopped fawning over Woods and told it like it is—he’s a reckless and dangerous man who puts the health and lives of others at risk when he gets behind the wheel of an automobile.
It would be interesting to know the story behind the story of Dani Rylan Kearney’s exit from the National Women’s Hockey League. She stepped down as commissioner in October, then last week resigned as advisor/president of W Hockey Group, which owns four of the six NWHL franchises—Minnesota Whitecaps, Buffalo Beauts, Connecticut Whale and Metropolitan Riveters. That’s a fast fall for the NWHL founder and the timing is curious, given that the Isobel Cup will be awarded on Saturday in Beantown. I’m sure mainstream media will get right on top of the story…oh, wait, it’s women’s hockey. They’ll give it a hard pass.
When our latest tennis phenom, Leylah Annie Fernandez, reaches the final of the Monterrey Open, shouldn’t it be more than a brief toss-in item on the back half of TSN SportsCentre? Is it necessary for us to absorb highlights from 20 U.S. college hoops games before they show us a Canadian kid making good on the Women’s Tennis Association tour? If Leylah Annie wins in Monterrey, I trust TSN will move her to the top of the show.
Tip of the bonnet to my favorite scribe at the Winnipeg Free Press, Melissa Martin. Her piece on Hometown Hockey in Cree attracted the attention of National Newspaper Award judges, and she’s one of three finalists for top sports writing honors. This sort of thing has become old hat for Melissa, who’s won the NNA as top columnist twice, and I like her chances this year against Cathal Kelly and Michael Doyle, both of the Globe and Mail.
For the benefit of those who aren’t keeping score at home, this is the 50th consecutive year that I have not been nominated for a National Newspaper Award. Or almost the same amount of time as the Republic of Tranna has gone without a Stanley Cup parade.
Longtime Canadian Football League coach and executive Wally Buono has weighed in on a proposed alliance between the stewards of Rouge Football and Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson’s idle XFL. Surprisingly, he’s “all for it” if it’s a way to “preserve our game.” I say surprisingly, because no one has to tell Wally about the Yankee Doodle Disaster that U.S. expansion became during the 1990s. “I was pleased that the CFL is looking at other ways to grow the game,” the former Calgary Stampeders and B.C. Lions bossman told TSN 1200 in Ottawa. “We have a great game. Maybe we’ve kept it a secret too long. It’s time to showcase our league, showcase our game so we can grow revenues.” He also believes the American football fan will buy our quirky game, lock, stock and rouge. “There was places we went to (in the 1990s), Baltimore and San Antonio and Birmingham, where the people there loved the game,” Buono recalled. “It was an exciting night of football when we were there with Doug Flutie and Tracy Ham and Matt Dunigan. These guys put on a tremendous show, and it was a three-down game. So, you know, football is football. The fans enjoyed it, there was a lot of excitement in the stadium.” Ya, until they discovered you get a single point for missing a field goal.
As expected, ratings for the Brier final last Sunday on TSN took a dive, 33 per cent, compared to last year’s Canadian men’s curling championship. The all-Alberta skirmish featuring Brendan Bottcher and Kevin Koe attracted an average of 728,000 viewers compared to 1.09 million a year ago, when Bottcher and Brad Gushue met in the ultimate match. Overall, 5.2 million watched the Brier at some point. Comparatively, the women’s Scotties Tournament of Hearts had 4.7 million total viewers and an average of 682,000 for the Kerri Einarson-Rachel Homan final, down from 979,000 in 2020. Those dipping numbers follow a trend for all big-ticket events throughout sports, and we’re left to wonder if people will return to their flatscreens post-COVID. I’m not convinced they will.
Bravo to Beth Mowins, who on Saturday became the first woman to call play-by-play of a Chicago Cubs game, a Cactus League joust vs. Colorado Rockies. Beth will make her regular season debut on May 8 and—holy cow!—I’m wondering what Harry Caray would think of that.
Favorite quote of the week, from Robin Lehner of the Vegas Golden Knights: “The stigma around mental health is insane.” True words, those. And kudos to Lehner for talking about mental health.
And, finally, if the Conservative Party of Canada doesn’t have to officially believe in climate change, I don’t have to believe Connor McDavid really skates that fast.
A Monday morning smorgas-bored coming down in 3, 2, 1…and it’s the Ides of March, the day Julius Caesar was slain, so here’s something else that might slay you…
I had a wacko dream the other night. Seriously, it was total Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds stuff.
Except instead of newspaper taxis, cellophane flowers, marmalade skies, and rocking horse people eating marshmallow pies, I saw Mad Dogs and Pirates and Gold Miners and Glieberguys and football players bunked down in a barn and a Vegas lounge lizard.
Oh, and a Rock. There was a Rock with arms thicker than Louisiana gumbo and a bankroll that could choke a Budweiser Clydesdale.
Canadian Football League commissioner Randy Ambrosie was also in the dream. He was talking about talking, and he was excited to be talking about talking. That’s the only part that seemed real, because Commish Randy always seems geeked up about something or other, even when the feds are telling him to take his begging cap and stick it where the sun don’t shine. He’s more upbeat than a 1960s Who concert.
Anyway, Commish Randy wasn’t just talking about talking. He was also talking about crawling into bed with the Rock, and that’s when I stirred from slumber.
“Whoa,” I said to myself, clearing my eyes and wondering if someone had spiked my fish sticks and fries the night before. “That’s some serious whack-a-do dreaming. No way Rouge Football is going down that road again.”
As we now know, that’s exactly where Commish Randy plans to take the CFL. To the United States of Four Down Football, lock, stock and to hell with the import ratio and rouge.
Naturally, since whispers of an alliance between Rouge Football and The Rock’s XFL became a roar last week, considerable hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing has ensued, much of it because there’s a belief Commish Randy and his CFL overlords are about to sell the very soul of our quirky three-downs game.
You know, just like during the 1990s.
Well, okay, they didn’t completely sell their soul to accommodate a handful of American expansion franchises in the ’90s, but they peddled enough of it to make some of us who were there antsy. We hear that Dwayne Johnson (aka The Rock) and Commish Randy have engaged in something more significant than pillow talk, and we squirm like a fresh batch of hemorrhoids has kicked in.
We remember how the U.S. expansion experiment became a Yankee Doodle Disaster. The CFL was as much a sitcom as it was a sports operation.
Among other things, the end zone at Liberty Bowl Stadium in Memphis was about the size of a cocktail napkin. Bernie and Lonie Glieberman skipped town in Ottawa to set up shop in Shreveport, La., where players were bedded down on the second floor of a milking barn during training camp. The Glieberguys fired their head coach, John Huard, before the opening kickoff. Pepper Rodgers, chief cook and bottle washer of the Memphis Mad Dogs, liked everything about the CFL except the rules, and he was never shy about critiquing the quirkiness of our game.
“You Canadians can sit around and do what you want up there in Canada,” he said, “but no one understands the rules here because we have some really weird stuff in this league.”
In Glitter Gulch, meanwhile, the Las Vegas Posse sometimes practiced in the parking lot of the Riviera Hotel, and they once attracted 2,350 customers to a game at Sam Boyd Stadium. That is not a typo. Do not adjust your screen. Just 2,350 fans. They played their final home game in Edmonton. The Posse also trotted out a lounge singer named Dennis K.C. Parks, who mangled O Canada so badly that it became the biggest strain on 49th parallel relations since the torching of the White House.
So, ya, any hint of Rouge Football mixing with the twice-failed XFL sets off alarm bells.
But, as was the case in the 1990s, the CFL needs money like a vagabond needs a hot meal and a bath, and I can think of worse people for them to hook up with than the Rock and his ex-bride, Dany Garcia.
After washing out as a player with the Calgary Stampeders, Johnson found fame as a faux fighter with Vince McMahon’s WWE wrestling troupe, then became boffo box office by conquering Hollywood. Along the way, he grew very deep pockets and, according to Celebrity Net Worth, the mega-movie star is valued at $400 million. Garcia comes in at $20M, thus the $15M they forked over to purchase McMahon’s XFL table scraps last summer is chump change.
Money can’t buy credibility, though, so you can color me skeptical.
I don’t see a second venture into the land of stars, stripes and the maskless happening. It would be as calamitous as a Trump presidency. But, hey, I’ve misread the tea leaves before. I mean, I never imagined Rosie O’Donnell would make me laugh, but she was funny in A League of Their Own. So maybe a CFL-XFL will happen. Maybe they’ll make a go of it this time around. And maybe Johnny Manziel will collect as many Super Bowl rings as Tom Brady.
Let me just say this about all that: If there is a CFL-XFL and they take away the rouge, add a down, take away a player, shrink the field, or if I hear the regrettable Dennis K.C. Parks clearing his throat, they’ll lose me.
So, the Winnipeg Jets made a pilgrimage to the Republic of Tranna and took five of a possible six points from the Maple Leafs. Is there any doubt which is the best National Hockey League outfit on the northern tundra? Didn’t think so.
I still don’t like the Jets blueline, but no team in the Hoser Division knows how to play defence, so it’s a moot point.
I might be in the minority, but I won’t miss the all-Canadian house league next season. It’s too much same old, same old for my taste.
Yes, I realize Patrik Laine wanted out of Good Ol’ Hometown and the Jets obliged, but that doesn’t mean we should take glee in his struggles with the Columbus Blue Jackets. I don’t like bullies and his coach, John Tortorella, is a bully, so I feel sorry for the kid.
Just wondering, is it my imagination, or are the hemlines on TSN SportsCentre getting higher? And, if so, are the lady anchors being instructed to wear their skirts/dresses that short, or is it by choice?
Oh, woe are our male Pebble People. The Mike McEwen and Jason Gunnlaughson teams left the Brier bubble in Calgary battered and bruised, which means our Buffalo Boys remain stalled at 1-for-the-2000s. It’s one thing to have a bad year, but a bad century? Only Jeff Stoughton and pals have managed to get the job done, winning back in 2011, so these are very lean times. Meanwhile, Alberta outfits have lapped the field at the Canadian men’s curling championship, with Brendan Bottcher’s success on Sunday the 12th title this century for the boys from Wild Rose Country. Along with the dozen Brier wins, there have been three Scotties Tournament of Hearts titles from Alberta women in the 2000s. Manitoba’s Pebble People have combined for nine. So perhaps it’s time I conceded that Wild Rose Country, not our Keystone Province, is the Curling Capital Of The World. Naw. Not going there. Can’t go there.
I had the over/under at five draws for the first F-bomb at the Brier. Turns out the cuss word landed during the third match I watched. Never heard one F-bomb during the Scotties, and I still don’t understand why the boys get all potty-mouthed while the women can keep it clean.
One place you will never find my name: The list of Relevant People on Twitter.
I don’t like to cheer against athletes, but I’d rather not see Bryson DeChambeau win another tournament. Golf’s incredible bulk is an irksome fellow, especially when he says things like, “I don’t think you can Bryson-proof a golf course.” Is that confidence or arrogance? I tend to think it’s the latter. So you’ll have to excuse me for rooting for the field against him at the Players Championship on Sunday.
Here’s something you don’t hear too often: An athlete misses the media. It’s true. Belarusian tennis player Aryna Sabalenka had a natter with news snoops recently, and she got all warm-and-fuzzy, if not touchy-feely. “I prefer to see you guys in person actually,” she said. “I prefer that everything gets back to normal life. I feel okay with this kind of Zoom press conference, but I feel better emotionally to see each other and to have this eye contact when you guys ask me some questions.” Aw shucks.
Talk about robbing the cradle. Texas Tech has offered Sterling Skye Mahomes a full soccer scholarship, which wouldn’t be notable except Sterling Skye isn’t even a month old. Her parents, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Brittany Matthews, received the scholarship offer two days after the baby was born. So let me get this straight: Mahomes recently signed a contract that will pay him $450 million over the next 10 years, and his kid needs a free ride?
So what’s the new term for when a spoiled six-year-old kid in the playground takes his ball and goes home because he thinks the other kids are being mean? Pulling a Piers Morgan.
I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of sports figures spewing racist, homophobic or bigoted bile, then expecting us to believe that they aren’t actually racist, homophobic or bigoted.
The latest to join that list is Meyers Leonard, a Miami Heat centre caught uttering an anti-Jewish slur while live-streaming video game play.
“This is not a proper representation of who I am,” he insisted in his mea culpa.
The National Basketball Association believed Leonard, but still fined him $50,000 and the Heat ordered him to go stand in a corner and also seek guidance.
But Leonard’s “that isn’t who I am” defence is far too commonplace. Some examples:
Golfer Justin Thomas, after dropping a gay F-bomb during a recent tournament: “It’s not a word I use. It’s not who I am. It’s not the kind of person that I am.”
Baseball broadcaster Thom Brennaman, who dropped an anti-gay F-bomb during a broadcast: “That is not who I am and never has been.”
Heavyweight boxer Tyson Fury, who said being gay is one of three things that will lead to the apocalypse and homosexuality equals pedophilia: “I’m not homophobic, I’m not racist.”
Baseball player Kevin Pillar, after dropping an anti-gay F-bomb: “This is not who I am.”
Chris Culliver of the San Francisco 49ers, who said he doesn’t want gay teammates: “Those discriminating feelings are truly not in my heart. It’s not what I feel in my heart.”
James Harrison of Pittsburgh Steelers, dropping the anti-gay F-bomb on NFL commish Roger Goodell: “I am not a homophobic bigot.”
Joakim Noah of the Chicago Bulls, dumping the gay F-bomb on a fan: “Anybody who knows me knows that I’m not like that.”
Josh Hader of the Milwaukee Brewers, who issued a series of anti-gay remarks on social media: “That doesn’t resemble the person I am now. Those are not my beliefs at all. They never were my beliefs.”
The late Kobe Bryant, who lashed out at a referee with the anti-gay F-bomb: “The words expressed do NOT express my feelings towards the gay and lesbian communities and were NOT meant to offend anyone.”
Words matter. If you say it, own it. Then try to get better.
And, finally, my idea of March Madness has nothing to do with American college hoops and everything to do with reading dispatches from the Republic of Tranna when the Maple Leafs take their predictable nose dive.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and let’s salute the girls and ladies of sports on the eve of International Women’s Day…
I spent 30 years in the rag trade and worked alongside four women—Peggy Stewart and Rita Mingo at the Winnipeg Tribune, Mary Ormsby at the Toronto Sun, and Judy Owen at the Winnipeg Sun.
Oh, wait. There was a fifth.
We had a summer intern at the Calgary Sun, although her name escapes me. I recall that she failed to surface for her first day of work (something about her car breaking down in Banff on a long weekend—nudge-nudge, wink-wink), and that was our initial clue that she might have made a wrong turn on her career path.
Hey, I get it. Cars break down all the time. Been there, done that and had the hefty repair bills to prove it. Happens to us all. But in Banff? On a long weekend? How positively convenient.
I jokingly informed sports editor John Down that I would have crawled from Banff to Calgary if it meant arriving to my first assignment at the designated hour, but Downsy was as laid back as a Sunday afternoon on the porch, and he let it slide. Alas, that young lady with the pleasant personality one day showed up to cover a golf tournament a bit too uncovered. She was wearing hot pants and stilettos, and she sashayed onto the practice green in her spiked heels, puncturing the immaculately groomed lawn.
Her internship was aborted shortly thereafter.
Not because of her wardrobe malfunction, understand. That would have been an unacceptable double standard, even in the early 1980s.
I mean, none of my male colleagues back in the day were GQ cover material, the exception being Shakey Johnson, who knew how to hang a three-piece suit. The rest of the lot were borderline slobs. Some looked like they’d spent the night sleeping with a raccoon family under a bridge. Their idea of evening wear was a white shirt with anything less than three ketchup or mustard stains. But sartorial slobbery was a non-issue.
So, no, the young lady intern’s dismissal wasn’t about one ghastly fashion foible. It was her lack of zest for the job, the absence of an all-in mindset, and iffy subject knowledge. Let’s just say it became readily apparent that writing sports at the Sun wasn’t meant to be her calling.
Anyway, there were four full-time female sports scribes during my tour of duty, and I can’t imagine any of them considered wearing a pair of Daisy Dukes to the golf course, rink, ball park or stadium.
Rita, Judy and Mary all enjoyed lengthy, admirable careers in journalism, but I don’t know what became of the ever-smiling Peggy Stewart, hired by Jack Matheson as the first female to write sports full time at a major daily newspaper in Western Canada.
Today, the landscape in Good Ol’ Hometown is barren, with zero females in the toy departments at either of the daily newspapers.
Why is that? I’m uncertain. It could be that the rag trade has become too much of a bad bet. Maybe it’s still too much of a boys club. Perhaps it’s a reluctance to enter man caves and deal with brooding, boorish male athletes and/or coaches
“You know, it may just be a lack of interest in writing sports, rather than doors being closed for them,” Judy Owen suggests in an email. “After all, sports hours—when the world is normal—are kind of crappy and the sometimes-crazy deadline writing isn’t very appealing to a lot of journalists.”
Good point. The hours really do suck and often mean you’re not hopping into the kip until well after the pumpkin hour on game nights.
Whatever the case, the female sports scribe is extinct in Winnipeg, so here’s to those who were once there—Judy, Rita, Ashley Prest, Barb Huck and Melissa Martin.
How are we doing with coverage of women’s sports? Not so good. A 2019 U.S. study tells us that 40 per cent of athletes are female, yet the distaff side of the playground receives just 4 per cent of ink and air time. What about in Good Ol’ Hometown, though? Are the Winnipeg Sun and Drab Slab giving the ladies a fair shake? Well, I monitored both sheets for three months—November, December, January—and the findings aren’t favorable. The evidence:
Women on the sports front
Free Press 16 of 90 editions.
Sun 3 of 89 editions.
Copy on female sports
Free Press 74 articles, 30 briefs.
Sun 20 articles, 7 briefs.
Editions with coverage of female sports
Free Press 63 of 90.
Sun 24 of 89.
Naturally, the numbers were jacked up in February during the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, but I suspect coverage will revert to same old, same old moving forward.
TSN’s ratings for the Scotties final last Sunday took a face plant from a year ago, with an average of 682,000 sets of eyeballs checking out Kerri Einarson-Rachel Homan II, a sequel to the 2020 championship match that attracted 979,000 viewers. I trust no one is surprised, because it’s an industry-wide reality for major events during the COVID pandemic. Here are the facts, ma’am:
Stanley Cup final: -61%
U.S. Open golf: -56%
NBA final: -49%
Kentucky Derby: -49%
U.S. Open tennis: -45%
World Series: -31%
Super Bowl: -15%
I didn’t tune in to every draw of the Scotties, but I can report that I never heard one F-bomb, or any other salty language, from the lady curlers in the draws I watched. Somehow I doubt I’ll be able to say the same of the men at the close of business at this week’s Brier. They can be quite potty-mouthed Pebble People.
Gather ’round the campfire, kids, old friend Peter Young has a curling tale to tell. It’s all about a Snake and the longtime broadcaster faking it, which is to say Pete covered a Brier in Ottawa from the Forum in Montreal. True story. I don’t know if that makes him the Father of Zoom, but he surely was ahead of his time.
If the Columbus Blue Jackets send head coach John Tortorella packing, please don’t tell me there’s a job waiting for him on Sportsnet or TSN.
Jennifer Botterill is fantastic on Sportsnet’s hockey coverage. Just saying.
Muhammad Yaseen of Alberta’s provincial Hee-Haw Party has introduced a bill in the Legislature proposing that rodeo become the official sport of Wild Rose Country. He sees it as a “beacon of hope.” Animal rights activists, meanwhile, see it as a steaming pile of BS. They figure if you’re going to pay homage to a bunch of big, dumb animals that work for no more than eight seconds a day, why not the Calgary Flames?
When you think about it, Yaseen’s pitch makes sense for Alberta, where Wrangler jeans and straw hats are considered formal attire. Each year the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association sanctions approximately 50 events in Wild Rose Country, and there are probably just as many rodeos that fly under the radar. Hmmm. That’s a lot of road apples to clean up. About the biggest mess since Flames GM Brad Treliving took on Milan Lucic’s contract.
Actually, the Looch is having a decent year. He has more goals (six) than National Hockey League luminaries Nathan MacKinnon, Evgeni Malkin, Jack Eichel, Claude Giroux and Taylor Hall, so maybe I should stop picking on him. On second thought, naw.
Cleveland Browns QB Baker Mayfield claims he observed a UFO while driving home from dinner in Austin, Texas, last week. He described the object as a “very bright ball of light.” UFO experts immediately pooh-poohed the sighting, claiming Mayfield had actually just seen the top of Terry Bradshaw’s head.
Archaeologists continue to make amazing discoveries in the ruins of Pompeii, the ancient Roman city buried by volcanic spewings in 79 AD. The latest finding has them really excited. It’s a ceremonial chariot that features ornate decorations of bronze and tin medallions, although they don’t know what to make of the Tom Brady rookie card stuck in the spokes of one of the wheels.
Speaking of Brady, his National Football League rookie card sold for $1.32 million at auction last week. Remind me once again how money is tight during this pandemic.
On the subject of high finance, some people think Fox Sports is nuts for agreeing to pay annoying squawkbox Skip Bayless $32 million over the next four years. I don’t know about that. When you break it down, it’ll work out to only 50 cents an insult.
Baseball is peanuts, Crackjack and hot dogs. And beer, of course. But how much booze? Well, the folks at njonlinegambling.com talked to 2,631 Major League Baseball fans to determine which team’s following is the booziest of the bunch, and nowhere do they swill more suds than on the south side of Chicago. White Sox loyalists chug down 4.2 drinks per nine innings, spending $46 on their libations, so you know they’re well-juiced by the seventh-inning stretch. Blue Jays fans, meanwhile, are middle of the pack when it comes to drinking (3 per game, $25), but they top one category: 70 per cent of them get into the grog before the opening pitch. Yup, they feel the need brace themselves for what’s to come.
TSN’s favorite washed-up quarterback, Johnny Manziel, apparently has used up all his Mulligans in football, so he plans to devote the next 12 years of his troubled life to earning his way onto the PGA Tour. As what? Tiger Woods’ chauffeur?
While saluting friend and former teammate Chris Schultz, who died of a heart attack on Friday, did Pinball Clemons really refer to the Toronto Argonauts as Canada’s Team? Sure enough, he did. Someone ought to share that little secret with the citizenry in the Republic of Tranna. That way the Boatmen might attract more than friends and family to BMO Field next time they grab grass, whenever that might be.
Watched the movie Creed a few days ago. I won’t make that mistake again. Total rubbish. Yo! Adrian! Tell Rocky to do us all a favor and find another hobby.
If you’re a fan of Ponytail Puck (guilty, yer honor), there’s good and not-so-good tidings.
First, select members of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association have assembled in Chicago to continue the renewal of their Dream Gap Tour and pose for the mandatory photo-ops with Billie Jean King.
It’s the sequel to last weekend’s engagement at historic Madison Square Garden in Gotham.
That the Dream Gappers have returned to the freeze is a favorable development, to be sure, even if they can’t seem to blow their noses without borrowing a Kleenex from BJK.
Not so good, on the other hand, is the setup.
These are glorified scrimmages, featuring many of the top female players on the planet. There is no league. Nothing is at stake, save for bragging rights, some post-match bottles of bubbly, and a share of the $1 million pot Secret Deodorant has donated.
There is no rooting interest, either. Unless, of course, Team adidas throwing down on Team Women’s Sports Foundation gives you the urge to break out the pom-poms.
I think we can agree that identity is vital in sports. We (mostly) pledge allegiance to our local sides/athletes, whether on a community, national or international level. We like to have a dog in the fight because it gives us a sense of ownership and allows us to get sucked up in rivalries (Red Sox-Yankees, Canada-Russia, Ali-Frazier, Chrissie-Martina, Arnie-Jack, Canada-U.S. in women’s hockey, Habs-Leafs, Tiger-Phil, Rafa-Roger, Serena-nobody, etc.).
Alas, there’s nothing compelling about the Dream Gap Tour structure. They play their friendlies, they pat themselves on the back for existing, then they sit back and listen to their pals in the media heap praise on the product but ignore the problem.
Those of us who want Ponytail Puck to work (one viable league) have yet to see or hear a doable business plan from the Dream Gappers. The mission remains as it was at the PWHPA start-up in May 2019: Bury the National Women’s Hockey League and wish, hope and cross fingers that the NHL is prepared to adopt approximately 125 orphans.
Trouble is, unless there’s something developing behind closed doors that we aren’t privy to, that isn’t about to happen anytime soon. The NWHL has shown no inclination to cede the territory it’s staked out in the past six years, and NHL commish Gary Bettman has made it abundantly clear that he harbors no eagerness to further muddy the waters of a divided women’s game.
Which brings us back to the matter of identity sports.
Who are the Dream Gappers? Well, they’re barnstormers. A curiosity piece. A novelty act, if you will, much like the Harlem Globetrotters or Stars On Ice. But that isn’t who they want to be. It isn’t what fans of Ponytail Puck want them to be.
Unfortunately, they’ve trapped themselves in a contradiction of their own creation. That is, they want to play hockey in a professional league, but they refuse to play in the only professional league available to them.
Thus, without an attitude adjustment, they’re destined to be nothing more than a sideshow.
And that’s a shame.
And, finally, can we call for a moratorium on broadcasters using the word “unbelievable” to describe everything from Auston Matthews’ mustache to a five-point game from Connor McDavid? I mean, Darryl Sittler once scored 10 points in a match, so why is five points unbelievable? Nothing in sports is unbelievable if it’s already happened, and when something happens for the first time it has to be believable because it’s happened. So knock it off.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and, sadly, one of the old gang from the Trib, Swamp Dog Rauw, has left us…
The thing I remember most fondly about Murray Rauw is playing chess in the small hours of the morning, after we’d put the sports section to bed at the Winnipeg Tribune.
Swamp Dog and I would unwind from the grind by retreating to my modest dwelling on Leighton Avenue in East Kildonan, whereupon I would crack open the brown pops while he cracked open one of my many chess sets.
There’d be Beatles music playing in the background—on the down low since all others in the house were in slumber—and I would quietly sing along with the Fab Four while Swamp Dog contemplated a next misguided move that surely would lead to checkmate or stalemate. I sometimes wondered if my singing disturbed his thought process, but he never offered so much as a mumble in protest.
Swamp Dog seldom complained, although a small flap of fuss is how he earned his delightful nickname.
I was in the cockpit one night, laying out the Trib sports pages, while others wrote their stories, edited copy, wrote headlines, handled the phones and did rewrites. Swamp Dog, still reasonably new to staff, had two or three things on the go.
“Murray,” I said at one point, interrupting his work, “I need you to do something.”
“Me?” he yelped. “Me? I’m swamped!”
“You’re swamped?” I responded, snickering. “Let me tell you something about being swamped.”
I informed him how it worked in the Trib sports department. We were all multi-taskers, often expected to handle more than one beat on the same day. It was not uncommon for a select few of us to cover an event in the morning or afternoon, write our article, then design a six- or seven-page sports section that night. It made for long shifts, but it was an accepted part of the gig. Besides, most of us were young, full of P and V and eager to earn a “damn good stuff” from our sports editor, Jack Matheson.
“That’s okay,” I told Swamp Dog. “You just do what you’re doing. I’ll take care of the rest, because you’re swamped! You’re our Swamp Dog.”
Swamp Dog became a fabulous multi-tasker, skillfully covering everything from badminton to boxing to backing up Matty on the Blue Bombers beat, until Southam had the bad manners to stop the Trib presses for the final time in August 1980.
And now Swamp’s ticker has stopped.
Swamp Dog died last Sunday in Calgary, after a lengthy illness, and I spent much of the past week sifting through recollections of him and our cast of kooky characters at the Trib. (We would have made for a boffo sitcom.)
An unpretentious, fun guy, I can’t think of a former colleague who harbored a greater, more genuine appreciation for landing a sports writing gig than Swamp Dog. He was like a kid who sneaked in and out of the ice cream parlor every night without getting caught, and he never tried to hide his appreciation for his good fortune.
Swamp Dog made me laugh without trying. His eyeglasses, for example, were a trip. Back in the 1970s, they would sit at a 45-degree angle on the bridge of his nose, the large lenses plastered with very visible fingerprints from his constant but failed attempts to make the specs fit his face. His mustache drooped and would go months without a much-needed pruning. Then there was the day I learned he had tagged the lovely lady who would become his bride, Maureen, with the most unflattering of nicknames: Mush.
“Geez, Swamp, I don’t know many women who’d fancy being called Mush,” I said. “Doesn’t it bother Maureen?”
“Why would it?” he answered as if I had asked a very dumb question. “She’s my Mush.”
Once the Trib folded, both Swamp Dog and I found our way to Calgary, first him at the Herald and then myself at the Sun a couple years later. I didn’t know a soul, other than Swamp Dog, Maureen and the two people who had hired me. Swamp Dog promptly set me up to play slo-pitch on one of the city’s elite outfits, and he dragged me to his raquetball club. After our always-enjoyable matches, we’d sometimes retire to his home and Maureen would be kind enough to feed us.
Oddly enough, Swamp Dog and I never played another game of chess. I guess that was our Winnipeg thing. But we’d get together for some giggles, or he’d get serious on occasion and discuss his MS. He’d unfailingly inquire about my Uncle Dennis, who’d been confined to a wheelchair due to MS since I was a sprig.
After I left Calgary and returned to Good Ol’ Hometown, we seldom saw each other, basically when road assignments would take us to the Grey Cup, the Brier or Stanley Cup playoffs. The Canadian Football League and curling were his main beats, and he was among the best at both.
Foremost for me, though, are the personal recollections, and I smile at the memory of us shifting chess pieces across the board, his knight taking my rook or my bishop taking his queen. Eventually, one of us would notice the morning sun peeking through my living room drapes, and he’d take his leave.
Now Swamp Dog is gone permanently, but I’d say his sun is still shining—through Maureen and the kids, Josh and Cayley, and granddaughter Charlotte.
Rest easy, old friend.
The Grim Reaper has now fetched Matty, Swamp Dog, Gus Collins Uncle Vince Leah, and freelancers Harold Loster and Ronnie Meyers from our 1970s toy department at the Trib. And that’s not to forget photog Jon Thordarson, whom I always considered one of us. Those of us still drawing oxygen are in our 60s and 70s, or older, so Dave Komosky and I often wonder who’ll be next. My kidneys are suggesting it might be moi. If that’s how it shakes down, in lieu of flowers send laughter.
Big tip of the bonnet to Jennifer Jones, who’s now won more games at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts (159) than any curler. Ever. By the time she’s finished, Jen’s collection of Ws might be unbeatable, although I suppose Rachel Homan will have something to say about that. For now, though, Jen is the standard, and I say it’s only fitting and proper that someone from Winnipeg stands atop the heap. After all, Good Ol’ Hometown is the curling capital of the world, no matter what some folks in Alberta might want you to believe.
Is it just me, or does anyone else get the impression that the women at the Scotties have a whole lot more fun than the men at the Brier? Just saying.
Some people haven’t been impressed with the quality of play at the Scotties in Calgary. Too many flubbed shots. Iffy strategy. Well, what did you expect? I mean, they’d been away from the pebble for a year, and I’m guessing we’ll see a similar number of hairballs coughed up when the boys gather for the Brier at the end of this week.
Apparently it’s been so quiet at the fan-free Scotties that Saskatchewan skip Sherry Anderson says she “heard the toilet flush” while on the pebble the other day. But, hey, let’s not talk about the Montreal Canadiens.
I’m not saying the Habs’ hope for a successful crusade is down the toilet. If they can get rid of the imposter wearing Carey Price’s jersey, they might yet qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament. Then again, maybe O.J. will find the real killers.
Paul Stastny poached a goal from Twig Ehlers to give the Winnipeg Jets their 2-1 OT win over the Habs on Saturday night. You just don’t do that. It’s chintzy.
Let’s see if I’ve got this straight: Patrik Laine wanted first-line minutes skating alongside Rink Rat Scheifele, but Jets head coach Paul Maurice would have none of it. So they shipped him to Columbus. Now Pierre-Luc Dubois, the guy the Jets received in barter for Puck Finn, is getting first-line minutes skating alongside Scheifele. What am I missing here?
Dumb headline in the Winnipeg Sun: “Coach, teammates like new Jet Dubois.” Well, duh. What does anyone expect them to say? That he’s a sloth? Bring Patty back? Now that would be a story. The fact the Jets have warm-and-fuzzy feelings for the new kid in town isn’t newsworthy.
Good stuff from Mad Mike McIntyre in the Drab Slab on local Black shinny players who found their way to the upper levels of professional hockey. Among those he chatted with are Bill Riley and Ray Neufeld, one of the nicest men to wear Jets linen. It’s worth a look.
So why is it that I don’t believe Canadian Football League commish Randy Ambrosie when he tells us there’ll be Rouge Football this year, but I believe Winnipeg Blue Bombers CEO Wade Miller when he says the same thing? Maybe it’s because Wade transformed Winnipeg FC from a laughing stock into a Grey Cup champion, whereas Commish Randy couldn’t sell a spare tire to a guy with a flat.
Nice touch by TSN to serve up a Top 10 moments for Manitoba athletes last week. Except they should have consulted someone from the Keystone Province before revealing the list. There was no Clara Hughes collecting medals at both the Summer and Winter Olympics. There was no Donny Lalonde knocking Sugar Ray Leonard to the canvas. There was no George Knudson winning on the PGA Tour. There was no Bobby Clarke, the first captain of a National Hockey League expansion outfit to hoist the Stanley Cup. There was no Reggie Leach, scorer of 80 goals in the 1975-76 NHL season/playoffs. There was no Don Duguid going unbeaten to win consecutive world curling titles. No Jeff Stoughton. No University of Winnipeg Lady Wesmen hoops team winning 88 consecutive matches. But Anthony Coombs made the grade with a catch in a meaningless game for the Toronto Argos. Skeleton guy Jon Montgomery was featured drinking beer and pretending to be an auctioneer. Corey Koskie cracked the list for catching a foul ball in a game no one remembers. And Andrew Harris was featured running the ball for the B.C. Lions in a game no one remembers. Totally lame.
Shaquille O’Neal has taken some heat for his work as a TV analyst. It seems Shaq is unfamiliar with the first names of numerous National Basketball Association players, including Pascal Siakam of the Tranna Jurassics. “Oh, I never knew his first name,” Shaq confessed in a panel natter with Ernie Johnson in a recent NBA on TNT broadcast. I guess that makes Siakam the ultimate player to be named later.
Tim and Sid are no more. Well, okay Tim is still Micaleff and Sid is still Seixeiro, but they’re no longer Tim & Sid, after 17 years together on Sportsnet. Sid’s next gig is Breakfast Television in the Republic of Tranna and, given his penchant for goofing around, the show might become known as Dog’s Breakfast Television. Tim & Sid was sometimes-see TV for me, never must-see TV, but you don’t last that long without doing something right. Having said that, Tim drew a parallel between he and Sid breaking up and Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David parting ways. Uh, no. You don’t want to go there, man.
I’ve long admired James Duthie’s work on TSN. Who hasn’t? He’s witty, clever, knowledgeable and doesn’t take himself seriously. And he’s done it all without perfect hair and perfect teeth.
But when he waxed on about Tiger Woods last week…well, let’s just say he was showing his age.
“There’s not another…he’s the most famous athlete of our lives,” Duthie said of Woods in a squawk with Rod Smith. “Maybe you can make an argument Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, but there has been no more fascinating, complex character in sport in our lives.”
Good grief. Tom Brady is about as complex as Grade 1 arithmetic. He throws a football, wins the Super Bowl, then paints the town bland. The most fascinating thing he’s ever done is get drunk and hurl the Lombardi Trophy from one boat to another. Jordan? Best hoops player ever. Full stop.
Duthie wants fascinating and complex? Let me introduce him to Muhammad Ali, the boxer once known as Cassius Clay.
There were more layers to Ali than an onion. Let’s start with the name change, the Nation of Islam and the shift to Sunni Islam. Let’s talk about political activism and civil rights. Let’s talk about the U.S. government taking away his livelihood and untold millions of dollars for 3½ years because he refused to travel across the world to kill people in Vietnam. Let’s talk about his willingness to go behind bars rather than spray bullets. Let’s talk about the anger and hostility, then the warm admiration, of a nation. Let’s talk about a unanimous victory in the Supreme Court. Let’s talk about the Grammy nominations. Let’s talk about the movies and the Broadway musical. Let’s talk about whimsy, doggerel and rapping before rap was a thing. Let’s talk about the campus speaking tours. Let’s talk about the battle with Parkinson’s. Let’s talk about winning the world heavyweight title three times when it actually meant something. Let’s talk about the Rumble in the Jungle and the Thrilla in Manila. Let’s talk about media savvy. Let’s talk about showmanship and the oversized personality. Let’s talk about the multiple marriages and infidelities. Let’s talk about the irony of being meaner and more cruel to Black boxers than white fist-fighters.
Duthie is 54, which means he missed the opening act of the theatre that was Ali. He can’t relate to the Vietnam War or the civil rights movement of the 1960s, just as those who weren’t there when John Paul, George and Ringo invaded America can’t truly understand and appreciate Beatlemania.
But when he speaks of “our lives,” I have to assume that includes myself and those of my vintage.
Tiger Woods is arguably the finest to ever strike a dimpled ball. We marveled at his wizardry, how he would make the best in the game wither before they even teed it up on a Thursday. He was fascinating to watch. Gobsmackingly so. But whereas Ali allowed us inside his world, Woods tried to keep most everyone out. Except his many mistresses.
Other than his genius at golf, we knew nothing of Woods the person until caught with his trousers down and the tabloids exposed him as a raging philanderer. And, of course, he’s made headlines for getting behind the wheel of a luxury vehicle when it wasn’t wise. But cheating on your spouse and reckless driving hardly makes one fascinating or complex. It makes him one of a million guys.
So let’s put it this way: Given one word to describe Tiger Woods, it would be “golf.” Given one word to describe Muhammad Ali, it would be…sorry, can’t do it in one word. He was too fascinating and complex.
And, finally, looks like this will be a pizza-and-pebble day, because I’m hitting the couch and won’t budge until either Jen Jones or Kerri Einarson has (hopefully) won the Scotties Tournament of Hearts this evening.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and the ground where I live is covered in a foreign fluffy, white substance. It bears a remarkable resemblance to snow, which I didn’t sign up for when I relocated to Victoria 21 years ago…
I know what it’s like to stir from slumber and discover you don’t have a job. Without warning. Not even a hint.
One night you’re helping put together the Winnipeg Tribune sports section, editing copy and writing headlines, and the next morning you’re informed that some suits in the Republic of Tranna have stopped the presses. Permanently.
Initially, you’re in denial. Naw. Can’t be. Surely the news reader on the radio got it wrong. It was the Ottawa Journal that went belly up, not the Trib.
So you dash downtown, expecting it to be business as usual once you step off an elevator and stroll into the fifth-floor newsroom. Then you gaze upon a collection of long faces and you see the front page headline—“Tribune ceases publication.” It’s true. After 11 years working your way from the business office to editorial copy runner to the Winnipeg Jets beat, you realize there’s no tomorrow. At least not the tomorrow you had mapped out.
Suddenly you’re searching for another job, at another newspaper, in another town. That wasn’t part of the plan. Resumé? Who needed a resumé? You were meant to retire at the Trib.
Friends and colleagues assure you that “a door shall swing open,” yet you can only think of the one that closed.
You’re still young, just 29, but you don’t share the level of confidence that others have in your ability. There’s a family to feed, a mortgage and bills to pay. The severance package is generous, but not sustaining over the long haul. The uncertainty and anxiety are gripping, if not crippling.
More than 200 people are out of work, wondering what comes next after the “let’s talk” communications giant ransacked its radio and TV newsrooms hither and yon, a plundering that included pulling the plug on all-gab sports radio TSN 1290 in Good Ol’ Hometown and jock-speak stations in Vancouver and Hamilton.
Similar to us at the Trib on Aug. 27, 1980, the fatal blow was as ruthless as Charles Barkley barging his way to the front of the line at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Other than Troy Westwood, I don’t know any of the victims at TSN 1290, which is now CFRW and has gone to standup-comedy programming. (Quick question: How can we be sure that a comedian is standing up when it’s on radio?) No doubt some of the natterbugs will land another broadcasting gig. Others won’t be so fortunate, because it’s not as if radio stations are popping up like daisies in May.
Here’s the irony, though: What’s happened to them is among the very reasons they had a job squawking about sports.
Athletes, coaches and managers get fired. They go to the gallows every week, and their misfortune becomes fodder for the yackety-yack-yackers with 24 hours of air to fill.
Some see it coming, because they know the numbers or they know how to read a room.
Jeff Reinebold, for example, would have been a total doofus to believe a 6-26 record as head coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers was sufficient to keep him employed and playing Bob Marley tunes at practice.
Some dismissals come out of left field.
Dwane Casey was coach-of-the-year and the Tranna Jurassics set records for wins and points in 2018, but he was kicked to the curb because he had the bad manners to lose to LeBron James in the NBA playoff tournament.
And it works both ways. Dustin Byfuglien quit the Jets. Jim Rutherford quit the Pittsburgh Penguins. Jim Brown quit the Cleveland Browns to make movies. Barry Sanders quit the Detroit Lions. Andrew Luck quit the Indianapolis Colts. Ken Dryden quit the Montreal Canadiens. Bjorn Borg quit tennis. Annika Sorenstam quit golf. Rocky Marciano quit boxing.
Professional sports is a cold, harsh business, and that’s the operative word: Business.
Sports media is a large part of that business, and the talking heads and scribes aren’t exempt from the same fates as the men and women they talk and write about.
We don’t like to see good people out of work, of course, and I agree that gab guys Westwood, Jim Toth, Rick Ralph, Darrin Bauming, Brandon Rewucki, Brian Munz, Kevin Olszewski and the Hustler, Andrew Paterson at TSN 1290, got a raw deal. As did the others.
Sadly, it’s the way of the jock journo jungle. They’re all just one Bay Street suit’s whim away from the unemployment line.
But, at the very least, the dearly departed deserved a heads-up. Good luck to them all.
Insightful take on the Bell bloodletting from the talented Natasha Staniszewski, a casualty after close to 10 years of gracing our flatscreens: “When you get into this industry, you know you’re not getting into it for the job security,” the now-former TSN co-anchor told Sean Fitz-Gerald of The Athletic. “Media has never been safe. And throughout my whole career, there’s always been rumors of cuts here, or cuts there. You think that you should be prepared for it at all times. I will say last year, especially with COVID—when sports disappeared and there was no SportsCentre for a while—I felt that whole year was a little bit precarious. I kept telling myself, ‘Be ready: It could happen at any moment.’”
Here’s what I found myself wondering after the purge at TSN, TV division: How did the suits go about the business of picking and choosing those who stayed and those told to leave the building? I mean, I’m not sure I want to watch men’s soccer unless Kristian Jack is explaining the ins-and-outs to me, and why pull the plug on Staniszewski while Kayla Grey gets to squawk on?
Staying on the subject of blah, blah, blah, Yoshiro Mori is now former head of the Tokyo Olympic Games organizing group, because he couldn’t keep his lips zipped. Speaking at a recent gathering of the Japanese Olympic Committee, Mori suggested women talk too much: “On boards with a lot of women, the board meetings take so much time. Women have a strong sense of competition. If one person raises their hand, others probably think, I need to say something too. That’s why everyone speaks. You have to regulate speaking time to some extent. Or else we’ll never be able to finish.” He added that a woman’s perceived need to prattle on endlessly is “annoying.” Apparently Mori has never watched Terry Bradshaw on Fox NFL Sunday.
What was that sound we all heard during the fourth quarter of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 31-9 victory over Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV last Sunday? Oh, that’s right. Click! The couch potato countfor the grass-grabber took a dip from a year ago, with 91.6 million watching on regular TV and 96.4 million when you include CBS’ other platforms. The 2020 number was 101.3 million. It’s not that 5 million folks found something better to do. It’s just that what a lot of people were saying in advance of the skirmish was true: Watching Tom Brady in another Super Bowl game was a real turnoff. Literally.
The only thing that surprised me about the Buccaneers championship boat parade was seeing Brady on one of the boats. I thought for sure he’d be walking on the water.
Hard to believe some are still debating Brady’s place among the greatest in history. I mean, the guy’s won the Super Bowl seven times. Jesus only walked on water once, and we still haven’t seen game film to confirm it actually happened.
Don’t count Lorraine Grohs among Brady’s legion of fans. She’s the daughter of Greg Grohs, the man who created and crafted the Lombardi Trophy, which the Bucs QB tossed from one boat to another during the parade. Lorraine says Brady “disgraced and disrespected” her pop’s handiwork, and she’s demanding a mea culpa. I’m thinking Brady will do what he does best—he’ll pass.
The NFL issued 4,000 fewer Super Bowl media credentials compared to last year. Breaking it down, that’s approximately 40,000 fewer dumb questions, 8,000 fewer free meals, 20,000 fewer free drinks, and 3,700 fewer poorly dressed men with ketchup stains on their shirts per day.
Not all numbers were down. The NFL set a Super Bowl record for most cardboard cutouts, with 30,000 faux fans propped up at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. They went for $100 a pop, and now I hear the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has inquired about obtaining some for display. I call BS on that. I mean, I don’t know about you, but I say The Guess Who belong in the Rock Hall before a cardboard cutout of Ozzy Osbourne.
I understand why the NFL used faux fans, but Patrick Mahomes is demanding to know why Kansas City coach Andy Reid used cardboard cutouts instead of his regular offensive linemen.
I’m not saying Mahomes spent most of the game running for his life, but the Chiefs quarterback had more people chasing him than Dr. Richard Kimble.
Speaking of harassed quarterbacks, NFL/CFL/AAF washout Johnny Manziel says he has “zero interest, zero desire” to return to “serious” football. Great. Finally something we can agree on.
Johnny Rotten is doing his thing down in Georgia these days, playing with something called the Zappers in something called the Fan Controlled Football League, and he basically summed up his pro career after a season-opening loss: “Win or lose, we booze.”
There’s a chain of eateries and watering holes in Pittsburgh called Primanti Bros. They specialize in sandwiches. The owners say if the Steelers sign J.J. Watt to join brothers Derek and T.J., they’ll change the sandwich shop name to Watt Bros. And Steelers fans will say it’s the best thing since sliced bread.
For those of you scoring at home, I have Winnipeg Jets bench puppeteer Paul Maurice leading the field in salty talk this month, with one F-bomb, three horse shits and two pisses you offs in his natters with news snoops. That will never land Coach Potty Mouth a guest gig on Sesame Street, but it sure plays well when the audience is a gathering of (perceived) negative nabobs wielding notebooks and recording gadgets and panting for spicy sound bites.
On another scorecard, the name Paul Stastny has appeared on the tally sheet in just four of the Jets 14 skirmishes this National Hockey League crusade. He’s collected five of his eight points vs. the Ottawa Senators, a determined but over-matched outfit that’s managed three Ws in 16 assignments. That’s what $6.5 million buys the Jets? A guy who steals the 98-pound weakling’s lunch money then vanishes? Oh wait. I forgot. They brought Stastny back to keep Patrik Laine happy and for his post-season savvy. Well, Puck Finn now plays in a different country and time zone, and the jury’s still out on the Jets qualifying for Beard Season. Feel free to discuss among yourselves.
Vancouver Canucks bankroll Francesco Aquilini went on a Trump-like Twitter binge Saturday, ragging on those pesky West Coast news snoops and assuring the rabble that he has no intention of giving general manager Jim Benning and/or head coach Travis Green their walking papers. “When the media starts pouring gas on the fire, dealing in rumours and misinformation as if it’s fact, it’s time for me to speak up,” he harrumphed. He added that he’s “sticking to the path we’re on,” and he has “full confidence” in his braintrust. “I have no plans to make changes.” Which means changes are coming down in 3-2-1.
One final scorecard to contemplate: The Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association has dispatched a collection of its elite torch carriers to Florida for a second series of skirmishes vs. teenage boys from the United States Premier Hockey League. To date, it’s USPHL 6, PWHPA 3, with two games remaining.
Jock journos hither and yon have spent the past few hours paying tribute to Frank Orr, who went to the great misty on Saturday at age 84. Frank was the second best Orr in the NHL during the 1960s and ’70s. He became the best Orr after Bobby retired. A legend among shinny scribes and a very funny man, five minutes spent in Frank’s company would leave you with a face aching from laughter. I seldom ran with the pack, preferring to plunk myself down in a blues or jazz joint and eat at greasy spoons, but I had occasion to break bread with Frank a few times. Without fail, his one-liners would have beer spewing from my nostrils. I’d like to tell you my favorite Frank Orr story, but I don’t use the same language as Paul Maurice, so I can’t. Notably, most of the hosannas he’s now receiving mention his mentorship and his fondness for fine dining, fine drink and the theatre as much as his scribblings in the Toronto Star. Frank was one of the good ones.
I note the New York Mets have invited former football guy Tim Tebow to spring training. Which means Tebow and I have something in common: Neither of us will be in the Amazins lineup this Major League Baseball season.
And, finally, it’s Valentine’s Day. Don’t let it be the only day of the year that you give your main squeeze a squeeze.