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.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and in honor of Groundhog Day, I’ll pop my head out of the ground on Tuesday and let you know if there’ll be six more weeks of bad blogging…
So let me see if I’ve got this straight:
National Hockey League players traipse willy-nilly across the COVID-infected tundra, and they’re granted a quarantine exemption from Manitoba’s top docs and politicos. Meanwhile, our curlers plan to shelter themselves in a Calgary bubble for the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, the Brier and the mixed nationals, yet they’re told they must go into isolation for the full 14 days once they return home from two weeks of hijinks in February/March. No quarantine exemption for you!
This is fair how?
Oh, wait. Silly me. I forgot that the millionaire hockey players provide an “essential” service (as if the Ottawa Senators are “essential” to anyone), while bunking down in five-star hotels and being whisked about in charter or private aircraft. The curlers? Apparently, hurrying hard is not an “essential” service. Pebble People are just everyday working stiffs blessed with good draw weight, so it doesn’t matter that they might have to carpool their way to and from Calgary. Or that they might be out of pocket if away from the salt mines for an additional 14 days. It only matters that the millionaire hockey players are happy.
That is so wrong.
Hey, I’ve never thought of hockey players as coddled and pampered. They have a special skill that means they take in rarified oxygen, but the same has to be said of our curlers, who are among the best on the planet. And Pebble People are the salt of the earth.
If hockey players deserve a quarantine concession, the curlers do too.
Quick thought on the Winnipeg Jets: Evander Kane has an oversized personality. Gone. Patrik Laine has an oversized personality. Gone. Dustin Byfuglien has an oversized personality. Gone. What are we to make of that?
We need to discuss the Edmonton Oilers, because they annoy me. The Oilers are Jesse James, Billy the Kid and 18 guys with water pistols. Seriously, they have more no-names than the Witness Protection Program. I watch the Oilers play and, 60 minutes later, it’s like Butch and Sundance: “Who are those guys?” They’re as memorable as the second man to leave a footprint on the moon. You know, Ol’ What’shisname.
That bothers me.
It shouldn’t, of course, because the Oilers became the Evil Empire in Good Ol’ Hometown during the 1980s, when they made paddywhacking the Jets a spring ritual during their Stanley Cup binge. It’s been a pox on the E-Town house ever since. But I can’t help it. I want Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl to succeed. So sue me.
I just don’t think the Oilers should stink. Just like the Montreal Canadiens, Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, New York Yankees and Green Bay Packers should never stink. It’s okay to root, root, root against any or all of those storied franchises, but you shouldn’t want them to stink.
Oh, I know, many among the rabble in Good Ol’ Hometown can’t get past that 1980s thing, and they’re probably still sticking pins in their old Slats Sather, Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier voodoo dolls.
Well, hocus-pocus rituals aren’t necessary these days. The Oilers stink on their own merit.
Yes, I realize they managed to muster up a victory on Saturday night, nudging the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3 in OT, but they’re 4-6 and that’s no way to behave when your lineup features McDavid and Draisaitl.
Fashion note: Those reverse retro unis that the Oilers wore on Saturday night looked like poorly designed Orange Crush bottles, and the Leafs’ threads were absolutely ghastly. Seriously. Dark blue numbers on dark blue sweaters? The ghost of Humpty Harold Ballard lives on.
Random observations two weeks into the 2021 NHL crusade: There’s a very good reason why so many players in the Hoser Division are at or near the top of the NHL scoring table: Nobody plays defence. There are no big, ugly, nasty teams that lean on you, just a bunch of fly boys. That works now, but not so much once they’re down to the final four in Beard Season and the Canadian survivor is required to deal with big bodies that try to slow them down…You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t join the chorus and rave about the entertainment level of COVID hockey. Much of the activity I’ve seen has been, to borrow a Danny Gallivanism, “as shabby as an old hobo’s coat.”…The Tkachuk brothers are soooo smarmy. Both Matthew and Brady are more irritating than a bad case of fanny fungus. They’re the dirty, rotten scoundrels who like to sit at the back of the class and fire spitballs at the nerds. They probably stole enough lunch money to prop up a third-world country. But, yes, I’d take either one of them on my team…The Ottawa Senators are an embarrassment best kept off prime time TV…It’s obvious the Hoser Division playoff positions will come down to this: The two teams that piddle away the most points v. the Senators will be on the outside looking in. That means the next week is pivotal to the Oilers’ post-season aspirations. They’ll be fed a steady diet of the Sens, meeting them four times…Yes, I still think a Hoser Division is a boffo idea, but I’m not sold on the baseball-style schedule. I understand the reasoning behind it, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it…Hands up anyone who knows what teams are leading the other three divisions. Actually, hands up anyone who can name the other three divisions…I was wrong about the Montreal Canadiens. They look legit. I was wrong about the Senators. I thought youthful enthusiasm would serve them well. I was right about the Calgary Flames. Their win over the Habs on Saturday notwithstanding, the Flames are a false bill of goods, and will continue to be as long as they have Milan Lucic dragging his knuckles up and down the freeze…Shouldn’t Sportsnet lift their regional blackouts and give us the full menu each night in this special season? If it’s all the same to them, I’d much rather watch the Jets-Habs than Canucks-Senators.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame will go 0-for-2021, with no players receiving the required 75 per cent of the vote for enshrinement to Cooperstown, and that means “integrity, sportsmanship, character” won out over stats. Noted steroids cheats Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens struck out in this year’s balloting, as did Curt Schilling, who collects Nazi SS memorabilia and isn’t fond of anyone unless they wear a MAGA hat and attend Toby Keith concerts. It’s the ninth time Schilling has been snubbed by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, and now he wants his name erased from the ballot. “I’ll defer to the veterans committee and men whose opinions actually matter and who are in a position to actually judge a player,” he wrote in a self-indulgent, 1,200-word whinge on Facebook. He also labeled Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy a “morally decrepit” man, and accused scribes of lining up to “destroy my character.” I don’t know about that. Seems to me Schilling has assassinated his own character on social media, with transphobic tweets, a posting that suggested lynching journalists is “so much awesome,” calling Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones a liar for accusing fans at Fenway Park in Boston of dropping N-bombs in his direction, and giving thumbs up to the recent riot at the U.S. Capitol. Bottom line on Schilling’s NBHOF candidacy: “I don’t think I’m a hall of famer,” he said. Fine. Case closed.
Most peculiar take on the latest NBHOF voting was delivered by TSN analyst Steve Phillips. The former Major League Baseball exec drew a parallel between segregation and ‘roid cheaters Bonds and Clemens sticking needles in their butts. “There’s been performance enhancement in every era of baseball,” Phillips said. “Babe Ruth didn’t play against some of the best Negro League players of the time, players went to war, players stayed home, the mound was lowered, the DH was entered, ballparks have changed. So it’s been in every era.” Hmmm. I thought the Babe hit all those home runs (714) because he was a rare breed, but now I find out it was only because he never saw the spin on a Satchel Paige slider. Who knew? Actually, I have a different theory, and it has nothing to do with Jim Crow-era baseball or the boys of summer marching off to kick Hitler’s ass. To wit: Had the Babe laid off the booze, the babes and the speakeasies, and had he not missed playing time due to STDs, he would have swatted 914 dingers.
In his first natter with news snoops after signing with Toronto, slugger George Springer compared the Blue Jays to his Houston Astros outfit that cheated its way to a World Series title. “This (Jays) lineup reminds me a lot of them,” he said. Great. Vlad the Gifted gets a trash can. Bo Bichette gets a trash can. Cavan Biggio gets a trash can. Everybody gets a trash can. Bang the can slowly, boys.
Nice to see Sportsnet and, on a more subdued level, TSN have discovered the National Women’s Hockey League. Until last week, any talk of Ponytail Puck at Sportsnet was reserved for the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, and it was mostly pathetic pandering from Tara Slone and Ron MacLean. Now Sportsnet Central is delivering nightly updates/highlights on the Isobel Cup season/tournament in Lake Placid, and there are numerous articles on the website. It’s fabulous.
An outfit from the Republic of Tranna is in Lake Placid. It’s called the Six. It has a 3-1-1 record, and stands atop the NWHL tables. Someone might want to clue in the geniuses at the Toronto Sun. I look daily but, unless I missed it, the tabloid has given its home team less ink than Bernie Sanders’ mittens. TorSun trumpets itself as the top sports sheet in the nation, but I call BS on that if they can’t squeeze in a few paragraphs about Ponytail Puck.
It’s puzzling that the aforementioned PWHPA has gone radio silent on its website since Dec. 21. Not a peep. The propaganda peddlers have stopped telling us that they “deserve” a living wage, that they “deserve” an affiliation with the NHL, that they “deserve” our undivided attention, and there have been no photo-ops with Billie Jean King. The Dream Gappers have $1 million of funding from Secret, and they’ve said they’ll stage a series of barnstorming showcase tournaments, but they still aren’t telling us where or when they’ll drop the puck. Silence is a peculiar way to sell your product.
Speaking of product, the Argos need all the help they can get to make the rabble in the Republic of Tranna sit up, take notice and find their way to BMO Field, so what do they do? That’s right, they sign a repeat offender of the National Football League drug policy. Martavis Bryant was first banished for four games in 2015, then sent to his room for the entire 2016 crusade, then punted indefinitely in 2018. The Canadian Football League needs guys like Bryant the way Bill Gates needs my spare change.
It was a double whammy of bad tidings for Rouge Football last week. Aside from the Bryant hiring, Scott Milanovich took his three Grey Cup rings and walked away from the E-Town E-Somethings before ever stepping onto the sideline at Commonwealth Stadium, and can anyone really blame him? Coaches gotta coach, and since we don’t know if there’ll be three-downs football this year, Milanovich opted for the sure thing as quarterbacks guru with the Indianapolis Colts. I just wonder if this means the second coming of Chris Jones to the E-Somethings.
So, TSN ran a feature discussing the greatest athlete of all time in North American “team sports.” Names tossed about were Tom Brady, LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky. SportsCentre co-anchor Kayla Grey immediately added this to the debate: “Ask Serena Williams about all that,” she said smugly. Just wondering: What part of “team sports” does Grey not understand? Last time I looked, Williams is a tennis player. Her specialty is singles play. If, however, we were to consider her form chart in doubles, which certainly is a team sport, Williams isn’t the GOAT in the women’s game. It’s Martina Navratilova, who once partnered with Pam Shriver to win 109 consecutive matches and went more than two years without a loss. Check it out:
Grand Slam Doubles Titles
Navratilova 41 Williams 16
Doubles Match Victories
Navratilova 747 Williams 190
Navratilova 187 Williams 25
There are at least 37 women and 55 men with more doubles titles than Williams, including our guy Daniel Nestor with 95. Do the math. Williams’ 25 doesn’t spell G-O-A-T in “team sports” to me.
Really, it’s time for Serena-ites like Grey to cease with the GOAT narrative. She isn’t the greatest tennis player of all time (hello Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic—take your pick), ergo she cannot possibly be the finest athlete in history. So do us all a favor and clam up.
The January numbers are in for coverage of female athletes in the two local rags (30 publishing days):
Winnipeg Free Press-4.
Total number of articles
Winnipeg Free Press-29 (plus 12 briefs).
Winnipeg Sun-3 (plus 4 briefs).
Number of days with female-centric copy
Winnipeg Free Press-21 of 30.
Winnipeg Sun-6 of 30.
And, finally, I think it’s great that so many people are willing to share their mental health challenges on Bell’s Let’s Talk day, but it would be even better if we did it more than once a year. I’ve always thought of mental health as an every-day thing.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and you’re advised to read this blog with an abundance of caution…
Kevin Cheveldayoff and Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman have one task. Just one: Put a happy face on Patrik Laine.
Do whatever it takes.
If that means putting Puck Finn first in the pay queue, back up the Brinks truck. If he wants to skate alongside Rink Rat Scheifele, tell Paul Maurice to join them at the hip. If he wants to challenge Twig Ehlers to a rousing game of Fortnite between shifts, set up a PlayStation gizmo at the end of the bench.
Just get it done.
Unless, of course, it’s irreparably undone
Maybe there’s no longer a way for Chevy and the Puck Pontiff to sell Laine on the merits of Winnipeg and the Jets. Maybe the Tour de Finn we witnessed last Thursday night at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie—two goals, OT winner, one assist, one scuffle in a 4-3 victory over the Calgary Flames—was a prelude to what the faithful will be missing once the big winger swans off down the road.
Whatever the case, this is a crossroads moment for the Winnipeg franchise.
Make no mistake, short of a Stanley Cup parade, how Chevy and team co-bankroll Chipman handle L’Affaire Laine will be the defining moment for the tallest thinkers in the National Hockey League’s smallest market, and time is already an adversary.
Puck Finn is a restricted free agent this summer, and if he and Chevy/Puck Pontiff can’t find common financial ground, an arbitrator will do it for them and that’s an exercise that seldom lends itself to warm-and-fuzzy pillow talk. Laine will listen while someone in an expensive suit informs him of his many misgivings, at the same time emphasizing that his goal totals (36, 44, 30, 28) are already in decline. And whatever he delivers this season will be dismissed as the sketchy product of a runted crusade due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
If the kid wants out now, imagine how he’ll feel after hearing from a team rep that he’s barely a beer-leaguer, so I’m assuming that’s a path the Jets aren’t anxious to travel.
In the meantime, pundits hither and yon continue to laud Chevy for the deliberate, slow-moving manner in which he generally manages the Jets.
And it’s true. Chevy has the patience of a man who genuinely believes the cheque is in the mail.
Players march into his office and inform him they desire a new postal code, or an agent beaks off to news snoops about a client’s dissatisfaction and the need for a fresh start, but Chevy doesn’t flinch. His knees never jerk. Oh, they might twitch a mite, but not so you’d notice.
He waits and waits and waits, patiently, refusing to be bullied.
But then someone tosses a track suit into a tub of ice water and Chevy budges, recognizing he has no option but to tell a 30-goal scorer to leave the building. Evander Kane is then shuffled off to Buffalo. Similarly, Chevy took a measured tactic with Jacob Trouba, not moving his top-pair defender to Gotham until the free-agency clock was soon to strike midnight.
Now we have the only GM in Jets 2.0 history confronted with the stiffest challenge of his watch, and all I can see is Chevy standing in a corner with a can of paint and a brush, looking for a way out.
And that’s not to ignore Jack Roslovic’s pout.
Chevy’s allowing Roslovic to rot at home in Columbus, with no inclination toward granting his young forward’s wish for opportunity elsewhere. Chevy can move him on a whim, on his terms and on his timetable, and the longer the Roslovic Rot lasts the more likely it is that he becomes a forgotten man. Few among the faithful will be bent out of shape at the loss of a player who might fit in as a top-six forward in other colors, but not in Jets linen.
It’s different with Laine.
Puck Finn is their signature selection through a decade of draft-and-develop. He’s a star performer, a game-changer who, were he to commit long term, would become the face of the franchise.
Chevy and the Puck Pontiff are already 0-for-2 with young studs who’ve demanded a one-way ticket out of Dodge, and Laine’s performance v. the Flames was a not-so-subtle hint that they should move mountains to prevent it from being 0-for-3.
What will it take to put a happy face on Puck Finn? None of us knows. But, surely, Chevy and the Puck Pontiff have an idea, and that begs one question: Why aren’t they doing it?
Got a giggle out of pundits suggesting Laine’s show-stopper v. the Flames snuffed out swap talk. “Laine silences the trade rumors” and “Laine mutes trade talk for now” were the headlines in the Winnipeg Sun. Ya, good luck with that. If anything, it ramped up speculation. I mean, what was Eric Duhatschek scribbling about in The Athletic the following morning? That’s right, a potential Laine trade. What were Gino Reda and Craig Button nattering about on TSN two days later? That’s right, a potential Laine trade. What were David Amber and Brian Burke prattling on about on Hockey Night in Canada last night? That’s right, a potential Laine trade. Trust me, L’Affaire Laine will linger until one of two things happens: 1) Puck Finn commits to Good Ol’ Hometown for the long haul; 2) Chevy and the Puck Pontiff tell him to pack his bags. I’m still betting on the latter scenario—and we’ll know for certain if he signs another bridge deal this summer—so don’t expect the whispers to go away anytime soon.
So, you’re Paul Maurice, the Jets potty-mouth head coach. You have a 22-year-old right-winger, Laine, who shredded the Flames, and you have a 34-year-old right winger, Blake Wheeler, who’s doing his best to keep up with the pace of play. Who you gonna call on? I agree, it should be Laine. But Coach PottyMo still had Puck Finn playing second fiddle to the aging Wheeler, on the ice for a whopping 21:27, including 4:50 on the powerplay, in the opener. Laine was limited to 16:20 and 2:53. Any wonder why Puck Finn’s agents believe it would be “mutually beneficial” for him to move on? Curses to you, Coach Potty Mouth.
Took a dive into James Duthie’s book Beauties last week, and I was giggling four paragraphs into Roberto Luongo’s forward, whereby the former Vancouver Canucks goaltender describes an in-game bout of poopy pants. “I never get stomach aches during a game,” he writes. “Before the game is a different story. I go to the bathroom five times on game day. I’m talking number two here. I may have been a number one goalie most of my career, but I’m all about number two on game days. I go once in the morning when I get up, once at the morning skate, once after I wake up from my nap, once after the pre-game meeting, and once after warm-up, just in case. I don’t want any accidents during the game. It’s a skill. The guys on my team all know about it. They see my big-ass toes sticking out from under the stall door and say, ‘Lui’s goin’ again.’” That probably falls under the category ‘too much information,’ but Luongo goes on to explain missing the start of overtime in a playoff series v. Anaheim due to the runs, and it’s more than a one-yuk-per-page read. I’m 68 pages into the book and only the Paul Bissonnette yarn is a yawn. Overall, a highly recommended read.
The more things change, the more things stay the same. An example would be Anthony Stewart’s analysis of last week’s Montreal Canadiens-Toronto Maple Leafs skirmish on Sportsnet. Stewart, of course, is the least insightful among the natterbugs on Hockey Night In Canada and, like Brian Burke, he tends to glorify goon hockey. Thus it was no surprise to hear him cite Wayne Simmonds as the difference-maker in the Leafs’ 5-4 victory, simply because he exchanged bare knuckles with Ben Chiarot of the Habs. It was 3-1 Montreal when the lads dropped the mitts, and Stewart informed us that the Leafs scored “right after” the tiff. Wrong. The game turned when the Habs took three consecutive penalties and the Leafs scored twice with the man advantage—7½ minutes after the Simmonds scrap. But, hey, why let facts get in the way of a false narrative? Meanwhile, over at TSN, Craig Button was asked what shifted the game toward the Leafs. “Power play,” he said. Two nights later, he added, “the Leafs’ skill bailed them out.” Correct.
So now we know why Bryson DeChambeau was feeling woozy and bombed out at The Masters in November: Brain fart. “The frontal lobe in my brain was working really, really hard,” the bulked-up golfer explains, adding a combination of things “escalated my brain, overworking and just giving out.” And here I thought it was that lost ball and a triple-bogey seven on the third hole at Augusta that made him sick. Silly me.
Interesting that quarterback Aaron Rodgers is among the notables to land a gig as celeb host on Jeopardy! once the Green Bay Packers are finished playing football. Frankly, I’m surprised they didn’t hire ESPN squawker Stephen A. Smith. He believes he has all the answers.
Speaking of celebrities, the Pebble Beach Pro-Am golf tournament will have no pro-am component this year. Which makes it what? The Pebble Beach Bill Murray Has To Go Somewhere Else To Act Like A Complete Jackass Open?
Quitter James Harden of the Brooklyn Nets described himself as “an elite leader” at his introductory natter with New York news snoops the other day, just scant hours after mailing it in one more time and informing his former Houston Rockets teammates that they’re a bunch of scrubs. Ya, that’s an “elite leader” like Kareem Adbul Jabbar is a jockey.
Montreal Impact of Major League Soccer are now Club de Foot Montreal. Seriously? A soccer side with “club foot” in the name. They might want to send that one back to the marketing department. It’s like a brewery branding its newest product Flat Warm Beer.
On the subject of peddling product, if you’re scoring at home—and I’m sure you aren’t—a Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association team wrapped up a six-game series v. teenage boys in Florida the other day, and they left the Tampa hub with a 2-4 record. All but two games (5-0, 7-2 losses) were competitive, but I fail to see how losing to teenage boys advances the cause of Ponytail Puck.
Speaking of which, Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star found room for Ponytail Puck in his Pucks In Depth notebook on Friday, which is a good thing. If only he wasn’t so thin on facts and short on insight.
“Women’s professional hockey ramps up this month,” he wrote. “The NWHL, with its Toronto expansion team The Six (I like the nickname, but I have been programmed by our Olympians not to root for the NWHL) will play its entire season, playoffs and championship in a bubble in Lake Placid, N.Y., with some games televised (and most streamable if you know how to do that). There’s something coming out of the ashes of the CWHL, with the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (which I’m programmed to root for since it’s basically the national teams of Canada and the United States). The women now represent cities, and have big sponsors. So that sounds positive. I believe COVID is getting in the way of their plans, which leads to some confusion. Are they a league? Is it tournament-based? Weekend exhibitions with grassroots ourtreach?”
A few things to peel away here:
The National Women’s Hockey League’s Isobel Cup tournament runs from Jan. 23-Feb. 5 in Lake Placid, with the semifinals and final to be broadcast live on NBCSN. Why McGran chose not to share those pertinent details with readers is a mystery.
I don’t know if he was writing tongue-in-cheek when admitting he’s been “programmed by our Olympians not to root for the NWHL,” but, if true, shame on them and him. (Given that PWHPA membership spent its first year of existence trash talking the NWHL, I’m guessing it’s true.)
The PWHPA and its Dream Gappers emerged from the ashes of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League in 2019, so it’s not new. The makeup is different, in that there are now five hubs—Calgary, the Republic of Tranna, Montreal, New Hampshire, Minnesota—but there’s no “confusion.” It is not a league. The people at Secret Deodorant have diverted a portion of their attention and dollars from smelly armpits to Ponytail Puck, sponsoring a 2021 Dream Gap Tour to the merry tune of $1 million. The plan is a series of six weekend showcase tournaments (dates and sites to be determined), and the players will share prize money and award the Secret Cup to the top team at the conclusion of their barnstorming frolics.
All that information is readily available if you know where to look, or pick up a phone. Mind you, not a word has been posted to the PWHPA website since before Christmas, so a visit there is a waste of time. If you’re interested in all things Ponytail Puck, check out The Ice Garden, the Women’s Hockey Tribune or The Victory Press.
And, finally, nice off-the-beaten-path piece on Kerri Einarson from Jason Bell of the Drab Slab last week. Jason caught up with the reigning Canadian curling champion on the planet’s largest curling rink—Lake Winnipeg—where she and rinkmate Shannon Birchard have been working out the kinks in preparation for defence of their title, Feb. 19-28 in a Calgary bubble.
An early-week smorgas-bored…and happy hockeying everybody…
And so it begins Wednesday night, a modified National Hockey League crusade featuring fewer games, expanded rosters, a Hoser Division, and a killer pandemic.
Make no mistake, this NHL do-si-do shall boogie along to the whims and cadence of COVID-19, which has already put the Dallas Stars in drydock and isn’t likely to play favorites. We can expect more of same, and you can only hope the coronavirus doesn’t take its biggest bite out of your hockey heroes.
We’ve seen how it works, of course, thanks to other leagues.
Every quarterback with a pulse on the Denver Broncos roster was sacked. The Cleveland Browns lost three coaches and four players in advance of their National Football League playoff skirmish v. the Pittsburgh Steelers. It took Tony Romo out of the CBS Sports blurt box. Etcetera, etcetera.
In short, COVID-19 has taken down more NFL players than Michael Strahan, Mean Joe Greene, Reggie White and Dick Butkus in their best years. Combined.
Over in the National Basketball Association, the Boston Celtics-Miami Heat joust was called off Sunday when there weren’t enough healthy bodies to put a team on the hardwood. Two games were called off Monday. The Philly 76ers had the minimum of eight players available for their match v. the Denver Nuggets. The Dallas Mavericks closed their practice facility. Etcetera, etcetera.
So, really, all bets should be off before they drop the puck on the 2021 NHL season, even as Vegas bookies are offering odds on a Stanley Cup champion (the Winnipeg Jets, for those so inclined, were listed at 40/1 on Bodog last time I looked).
Similarly, it’s folly to engage in the reading of tea leaves and/or tarot cards.
I mean, go ahead and toss out pre-play predictions if you like, but if COVID-19 were to slay Connor Hellebuyck and Laurent Brossoit, I don’t like the Jets playoff chances with a Zamboni driver in the blue paint and Gordie Tumilson as backup.
That’s no rap against old friend and former teammate Gordie, by the way. He’s one of my favorite people, but I’m guessing the reflexes aren’t quite as rapier-like as when he stopped rubber for the West Kildonan North Stars in 1969-70 and the Jets a few years later.
Thus, there shall be no prognostications from moi, except to say I expect the Toronto Maple Leafs to top the Hoser Division. (Then, as is their custom, they’ll be excused in the opening round of Beard Season.) Otherwise, it’s a complete crap shoot that, again, shall follow the dictates of COVID, whether we like it or not.
Let’s just call it the COVID19-2021 season.
The gang at NHL.com wasn’t shy about delivering predictions, and six of 15 observers believe the Jets have the right stuff to qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament. Adam Kimelman has the local lads finishing third, while Dave Stubbs, Shawn P. Roarke, Bill Price, Mike G. Morreale and Tracey Myers slot them in at fourth. USA Today, meanwhile, has the Jets penciled in for a sixth-place finish, ahead of only the Ottawa Senators.
Here’s what they’re saying about the Jets hither and yon…
Ray Ferraro, TSN: “Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver, I’ve got those three kind of together (after Toronto, Montreal and Calgary). I’m not blown away by Winnipeg’s defence. That’s the one thing that gives me pause. But maybe one of those young guys is more ready than you think. Maybe you can climb a spot. Maybe you can put yourself in a different place. I don’t know, is Hellebuyck gonna do that again this year, ’cause, man, he was the best goalie in the league last year. If he can, great. That erases a lot of the shortcomings perhaps of that defence.”
Sean McIndoe, The Athletic: “The optimist’s take on the Jets is that they were pretty good last year despite lots of doom and gloom about their thin blueline, then looked like a playoff team and only lost in the qualifying round because everyone got hurt. The pessimist would point out that ‘pretty good’ isn’t all that great when you have a Vezina winner in goal, and the blueline isn’t significantly better. If Connor Hellebuyck stands on his head again, cool. If he does like a lot of Vezina winners and regresses to the mean even a little, they might fall out of the playoff hunt. I realize ‘they need their goalie to play well’ is an insight that would apply to every team in the league, but it really applies to the Jets.”
Greg Wyshynski, ESPN: “The Winnipeg Jets will ice another competitive team, backstopped by one of the league’s elite netminders in Connor Hellebuyck. But as the team looks to push for another long playoff run, dark storm clouds are overhead, as trade rumors persist involving goal-scoring wizard Patrik Laine. (Paul) Stastny can’t recapture the magic. On a contending team, Stastny is a valuable asset. He does a lot of the little things right that can make the difference in a playoff series. But the last time he was in Winnipeg, he was 32 years old and had a 0.65 points-per-game average between the Jets and Blues. Last season, in 71 games, that average dipped down to 0.54, the lowest of his career. Not a liability as a player, but maybe no longer the guy you want as your No. 2 centre. Then again, he did have impressive chemistry with (Nikolaj) Ehlers and Laine, so we could be wrong.”
Random observations: I’m not convinced it’s a given that the Ottawa Senators are destined to be Hoser Division bottom-feeders. Is it likely? Sure. Especially if bankroll Eugene Melnyk sticks his nose where it doesn’t belong. Just don’t sleep on them…The Montreal Canadiens are overrated. Ditto the Calgary Flames…When I submit that I expect the Maple Leafs to top the Hoser Division, it’s based on a belief that aligning greybeard Joe Thornton with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner on the top line is a gimmick with a shelf life of about one week…How many people in the True North will pay attention to the standings south of the border? What the American teams do is irrelevant until the Stanley Cup tournament is down to the final four. So why tune in?…Just a reminder, the Jets were the last homebrew outfit to make it to the SC semifinals, in 2018. Seems like a decade ago, doesn’t it?
The What Was Your First Clue Sherlock Award goes to the Drab Slab for this headline on the Jets playing in an empty Little Hockey House On The Prairie this season: “Bell MTS Place won’t be same without fans.” Ya think?
So, the other shoe has finally dropped for Mike Milbury, the former player, coach and GM most noted for clubbing a New York Rangers fan on the head with his footwear. NBC Sports has decided it can get along without Milbury’s mumbled musings in the broadcast booth and/or studio this season, and they’ll hand his mic to another defrocked NHL coach, Mike Babcock. No word on what Milbury plans to do with his free time, but apparently he’ll begin a search for the real Space Needle. Hopefully, there’ll be no women on site to “disrupt” his concentration.
Remember that money phone pic Evander Kane posted from Las Vegas during the 2012-13 NHL lockout? You know, the one with the stacks of American 100 dollar bills? Well, today old friend Evander is $26.8 million in the glue, and hands up anyone who’s surprised to learn that he’s in trouble again? Didn’t think so. Kane, of course, isn’t the first high-salaried athlete to squander a fortune, and he won’t be the last. It’s just that it’s a particularly bad look for him, since a lot of the Jets faithful recall Kane flaunting his wealth with that money phone pic. Today he’d have to borrow a quarter to call someone who cares in Winnipeg, and that’s sad.
Say, here’s some good news: Add the name Hayley Moore to the growing list of women stepping into prominent positions in men’s professional sports. The American Hockey League has recruited Hayley as its Vice President of Hockey Operations, and she’ll be on the job early next month, once the National Women’s Hockey League Isobel Cup tournament wraps up in Lake Placid. At present, she’s president of the Boston Pride, after serving as team GM and deputy commissioner and director of player development for the NWHL.
There’s a very good reason why copy editors exist: They can save a writer’s bacon. Unfortunately, they were asleep on the rim when Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna filed this copy last weekend: “Yes, American hockey is pretty darn good,” he wrote. “And no, that’s not necessarily new. Twenty years ago, Sidney Crosby scored the Golden Goal in overtime. The opponent: Team USA, winner of the 1986 World Cup.” D’oh! Twenty years ago, Crosby was in Junior High and the World Cup of Hockey didn’t exist in 1986.
That reminds me of one of my worst gaffes, although not in a byline article. I referred to the Major League Baseball all-star game in July as the “annual Fall Classic.” Gus Collins was on the sports desk that night at the Winnipeg Tribune, and he didn’t catch the mistake. I noticed it at first light the following morning while eating breakfast. Scant seconds later, Gus was on the blower. “Did you see it?” he asked. To which I replied, “Sorry, Gus, I can’t talk right now. I just choked on my Cheerios.”
According to Maggie Haberman of the New York Times, Donald Trump is “gutted” over the PGA of America voting to remove its 2022 signature tournament from his Trump National golf course in Bedminster, N.J. Not to worry, Trumpsters. Apparently Rudy Giuliana is already on the case, arranging a press conference at a convenient Four Seasons Greenskeeper Shed, whereupon he will demand a mulligan for Trump and vow to challenge the vote in the highest Kangaroo Court he can find.
And, finally, golfers Gary Player and Annika Sorenstam accepted the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Donald Trump last week, but New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, a one-time Trumpite, wants no part of the trinket. To get even for the betrayal, it’s believed Trump stomped his feet, shook his tiny fists, and demanded his MAGA hat back.
A one and a two—the second Sunday morning smorgas-bored of 2021…and the year’s only going to get better, kids…
Oh, the humanity. CBS backup blurt box boy Boomer Esiason crapped on the Canadian Football League, and it was as if he’d peed on a Mountie’s horse. During the Musical Ride.
I swear, we haven’t heard this loud a hue and cry since Maggie Trudeau went clubbing with the Rolling Stones and hitched a late-night ride in Mick’s limo.
If you missed it, Boomer worked the L.A. Rams-Arizona Cardinals skirmish last Sunday, a National Football League growler featuring former Winnipeg Blue Bombers backup quarterback, Grey Cup champion and resident party boy Chris Streveler. As it happened, Streveler hurled an ill-advised, second-quarter pass that was taken the other way for a pick-six by Roy Hill of the Rams.
“What a horrific mistake by Reveler (sic), barked Boomer, who was keeping the broadcast booth seat warm for disabled talking head Tony Romo. “This isn’t the Grey Cup. This isn’t the CFL. You can’t just take chances and throw the ball down the middle of the field and expect somebody not to come down with it. There’s just no reason to throw the ball there.”
Cue the outrage.
Players and coaches with the lived experience of actually suiting up in 12-man football took to social media and pounced on Boomer, like a panhandler spotting loose change on a sidewalk.
Many among the rabble and media pundits across the tundra also weighed in with wagging tongues and fingers, defending Rouge Football with the same fervor that Rudy Giuliani has Donald Trump’s back (only without the black shoe polish dribbling down their faces and audible farting).
“That’s a silly comment,” one-time DB Davis Sanchez said of Boomer’s cheap shot, in a natter with TSN’s Kate Beirness that was meant to be a tsk-tsking of Esiason but instead detoured into a negative riff on the Arizona QB, leaving me to believe Streveler doesn’t know how to bend down and tie his own boot laces, let alone fling a football.
“I get joy in watching guys in the CFL get a shot down there and succeed,” Sanchez continued in his peculiar brand of English, “but when I’m looking at all the high-level quarterbacks we have in the CFL, Chris Streveler’s not the guy I’m gonna put out there on display to represent the great quarterbacks we have in the CFL. They said that Chris Streveler, on the broadcast, was a star in Canada. Well, a little research may be necessary, Boomer. He wasn’t a star. He’s a star personality and a great athlete, but he was actually a backup quarterback. Actually, he was really the third-string quarterback, because when the quarterback got injured, instead of playing Chris Streveler at quarterback at the end of the season, they brought in a third-string quarterback, so he’s a third-string quarterback.”
Way to keep it classy, Davis. Crap on one guy by taking an even bigger dump on the other guy.
Meantime, Sanchez’ loud-squawking colleague at TSN, Kayla Grey, tweeted, “the CFL slander has to stop.”
Or what? She’ll lecture Boomer with her phony southern “y’alls” and “thangs” at 150 decibels or higher?
Look, Rouge Football boosterism is great. Been there, been doing that since the 1950s. But let’s not get our knickers in a twist just because Boomer Esiason doesn’t know Flutie Flakes from Corn Flakes.
I mean, what do you expect? He’s an American, and most Americans couldn’t find Winnipeg if you plunked them down at Portage and Main. Think about it. Have you ever noticed the look on a Jeopardy! contestant’s face when the category is anything Canada? That’s right, it’s the same look a dog gets when it sees itself in the mirror for the first time. You know, head cocked to one side, blank stare, curious, no clue.
The difference, I suppose, is that it’s funny when a dog does it, not so much when it’s a high-salaried football analyst on national TV in the stooge role.
But, hey, we don’t kick the dog for being dumb. We laugh, call him over, rub his head and tell him he’s “such a good boy.”
Well, you’re such a good boy, Boomer. Now go play fetch and bring Tony Romo back.
Since I’ve mentioned Jeopardy!, if there’s any category that contestants know less about than Canada, it’s sports, a truism underscored on the game show last Thursday. The clue: “The announcers on NBC Sunday Night Football are Al Michaels and this former wide receiver.” None of the three contestants buzzed in to say, “Who is Cris Collinsworth?” even though the one-time Cincinnati Bengals pass-catcher has been providing the backup vocals for Michaels on the Peacock Network since 2009. A lot of women can relate. They talk and talk and talk, but their husbands/boyfriends don’t hear a word they say.
Now that you’ve asked, no, I don’t believe pasting corporate logos on players’ helmets or attaching corporate names to National Hockey League divisions is a sign that the apocalypse is nigh. Matter of fact, I fully expect to see brand names on jerseys before long, although it will be subtle as opposed to the vulgar, billboardish displays in European shinny or NASCAR. I actually think players ought to be allowed to sell themselves, like they do in tennis and golf. Phil Kessel could skate about the freeze with a Nathan’s Fabulous Franks patch on his Arizona Coyotes jersey. Auston Matthews, first at the NHL pay window, could be sponsored by Brinks. The possibilities are unlimited.
My first year in baseball, each of us kids on the Melrose Park Little League team had an individual sponsor, with the company name displayed on the back, directly above our uni number. Mine was Red Patch Taxi. By the end of the season, the C and H in Patch had disappeared, so I was Red Pat Taxi, something that did not escape the notice of my mom. “Why do you always come home with such a dirty and torn uniform when your brothers’ are clean?” she demanded to know one day. I had no answer. She washed my uniform, put it in my closet, and I got it dirty again.
As one who has bled Dodgers blue since their final days as “Dem Bums” in Brooklyn, Tommy Lasorda became one of my all-time favorite characters in baseball, and his passing the other day at age 93 brought two things to mind—sound bites and the denial of his son’s homosexuality.
First the sound bites. These are my two favorite quotes from the longtime Los Angeles manager:
“I walk into the clubhouse today and it’s like walking into the Mayo Clinic. We have four doctors, three therapists and five trainers. Back when I broke in, we had one trainer who carried a bottle of rubbing alcohol, and by the seventh inning he’d already drunk it.”
Prior to the 1988 World Series between L.A. and Oakland, Lasorda approached A’s slugger Jose Canseco and said: “Jose, I just want you to know, if we don’t win this thing I hope you guys do.”
Now the gay son part. Most tributes to Lasorda were glowing in praise and completely ignored, or merely glossed over, his relationship with Tommy Jr., who died of complications from AIDS at age 33. A year after Tommy Jr.’s death in 1991, Lasorda Sr. told Peter Richmond of GQ magazine that his son “wasn’t gay. No way. No way. I read that in a paper. I also read in that paper that a lady gave birth to a fuckin’ monkey, too. That’s not the fuckin’ truth. That’s not the truth.” He also denied that Tommy Jr. had died of AIDS. When Tommy Jr. began chumming around with the Dodgers Glenn Burke, known to his teammates and others in Major League Baseball as gay, the outfielder was promptly banished to Oakland. Those are the kind of words and actions that keep young gay people in the closet. Still.
Justin Thomas is another reason why gay youth remain hidden. The world No. 3 golfer coughed up a hairball on a five-foot par putt at the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii on Saturday, then expressed his annoyance by dropping the homophobic F-bomb. “It’s not who I am. It’s not the kind of person that I am,” he insisted while delivering a mea culpa. Except he went on to say it was only “when I was done with my round” that he realized he’d spewed the slur. That suggests this wasn’t a one-off. It’s just the first time he was caught on mic.
Tip of the bonnet No. 1: To Lance Hornby, who last week reached the 40-year signpost of scribbling boffo shinny stuff on the sports pages of the Toronto Sun. There are a lot of good people in jock journalism, and Lance certainly is one of them.
Tip of the bonnet No. 2: To Team USA’s Theresa Feaster, the first female to be part of a coaching staff to win the World Junior Hockey Championship. Asked by Fluto Shinzawa of The Athletic what message she has for mothers with young daughters, Feaster said: “Work hard and keep dreaming. Don’t let naysayers or obstacles get in your way. You can achieve great things. Put your head down and work hard. You can accomplish great things.” Exactly.
On the subject of ponytails and pucks, members of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association spent the past three days in Florida, playing teenage boys from the United States Premier Hockey League. The women opened with a 5-3 win v. Tampa Bay Juniors, then dropped a 4-2 verdict to the South Shore Kings and absorbed a 5-zip whupping from the Philadelphia Hockey Club. It pains me to say it, but losing to teenage boys won’t convince many people that Ponytail Puck is worth buying into.
MeTV is showing classic cartoons every morning, Monday-Saturday, with all the usual suspects—Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Popeye and Bluto, Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner, etc. What, there wasn’t enough violence on TV already?
After 15 years together, Mookie Betts of the L.A. Dodgers has finally asked his childhood sweetheart Brianna Hammonds for her hand in matrimony. Talk about a human rain delay.
No surprise that there was plenty of political/social commentary from jock journos in the wake of the siege on the Capitol in Washington, D.C., last week, and I’m not one of those people who expect them to “stick to sports.” I figure if they have a platform, use it. And did they ever. Examples:
Damien Cox of the Toronto Star called Rudy Giuliani a “moron” and Donald Trump “the Orange Clown,” then attacked Ontario health officials and the government for allowing the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators to set up shop for the NHL season.
“WHY CAN THE NHL PLAY IN ONTARIO WHEN NONE OF US CAN PLAY A SPORT—ANY SPORT—INDOORS???” went his Twitter rant.
“Share your pain Damo,” Pat Hickey of the Montreal Gazette moaned in concert. “Had to cancel my tennis after QC locked down this week and my gym has been closed since March.”
Jack Todd of the Gazette on Trump: “One of the worst human beings who ever lived. Any country, any era. Given enough time and power, he would have gone into the history books with Hitler, Stalin and Caligula.”
Bob Irving, CJOB: “As I anxiously await this weekend’s NFL wildcard games, I also anxiously await the day when we’re not hearing about or talking about the worst human being to ever lead the most powerful country in the free world.”
Ken Campbell,The Hockey News: “Hockey icon Bobby Orr endorsed Donald Trump two months ago. Now it’s time for him to repudiate the man who incited the violence and anarchy that was unleashed on the U.S. Capitol Wednesday.”
Mad Mike McIntyre, the Drab Slab: “This is the America Trump created. This is the America Trump wanted. History will never forget that U.S. President Donald Trump said “we love you” today to a group of armed domestic terrorists who dropped pipe bombs and stormed the U.S. Capitol in his name (leaving at least one woman dead) while also calling them “very special.”
Troy Westwood, 1290 TSN: “Donald Trump has been a horrible human being his entire adult life. His history is well documented. Yet tens of millions of people line up behind him as if he has the virtues of Jesus Christ. Please Trumpsters, Christians, Evangelicals, explain this to me.”
Terry Jones, Postmedia Edmonton, after the Americans won gold at the World Junior Hockey Championship: “At least the USA has a fine group of young men with gold medals around their necks to be proud of today. Hard to believe they’re from the same country as those that were part of the mob in Washington, D.C.”
And finally, Space X guy Elon Musk is now richest man on the planet, with a worth of $188.5 billion. Just wondering: Do you think he’d be interested in bankrolling a quirky, three-downs football league? I really don’t want to go another year without watching all those Rouge Football quarterbacks that Boomer Esiason thinks are lousy because they throw the ball down the middle of the field.
Sports Santa arrives on the morrow and he’s given us a sneak peak at what he has tucked inside his bag, so let’s see if it’s Goal or a Lump o’ Coal for the good and not-so-good girls and boys in the toy department of life…
GOAL: If at first you don’t succeed…get it right in an extra end. And that’s what Kerri Einarson and her Buffalo girls—Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard, Briane Mielleur, Jennifer Clark-Rouire, coach Patti Wuthrich—did to win the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Moose Jaw. Kerri had a chance to end it all in the 10th end of the title match vs. Rachel Homan and her Ontario group, but she was heavy with her last-rock draw to the four-foot. She got the job done in the 11th, though, sliding her final stone to the button for an 8-7 victory and the Canadian women’s curling championship.
LUMP O’ COAL: The year 2020. Seriously. Someone needs to give it a good, swift kick to the groin, and it’s not too late.
GOAL: Connor Hellebuyck won the Vezina Trophy as top goaltender in the National Hockey League, putting a bit of shine on an otherwise empty season for the Winnipeg Jets.
LUMP O’ COAL: Sportsnet was guilty of a blatant double standard when it allowed Elliotte Friedman to repeatedly appear on Hockey Night in Canada with a ghastly, unruly beard that made him look like he’d been sleeping under a bridge for three months. No chance a female broadcaster would be allowed on camera with a head of hair that looks like a cluster of dead animals.
GOAL: The Winnipeg Sun celebrated its 40th anniversary, not bad for a sheet that wasn’t supposed to last much longer than a pint of beer in front of Chris Walby.
LUMP O’ COAL: 50 Below Sports + Entertainment ignored provincial health rules and allowed Winnipeg Freeze and Winnipeg Blues of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League to practice outside the city. So make that two lumps o’ coal, one for 50 Below bossman Greg Fettes and the other for bossman Matt Cockell.
GOAL: The good ol’ boys in NASCAR banned the Confederate Flag from race sites. Full sets of teeth, corn squeezin’s and MAGA caps remained optional.
LUMP O’ COAL: Mike Milbury, Brendan Leipsic, Thom Brennaman, Cris Collinsworth, Brett Hull, Evander Kane spewed sexist, racist and/or homophobic slurs. Come on, guys. We’re 21 years into the 21st century, and that language just doesn’t cut it.
GOAL: Katie Sowers became the first female to coach in the Super Bowl, albeit in a losing role with the San Francisco 49ers, Kim Ng became the first female GM of a Major League Baseball team, Alyssa Nakken became the first uniformed female to coach on-field in MLB, Kathryn Nesbitt became the first female to referee in a Major League Soccer championship match, and Sarah Fuller became the first female to play in an NCAA Power 5 men’s football game.
LUMP O’ COAL: Canadian Football League commissioner Randy Ambrosie went panhandling on Parliament Hill, asking PM Trudeau the Younger for anywhere from $30 million to $150 million in welfare to get Rouge Football on the field during the COVID-19 pandemic. Trouble was, he failed to receive input from the Players Association, and the feds were not amused. Commish Cap-in-Hand was spurned repeatedly, and the CFL finally fell off the grid when Trudeau the Younger batted away his final Hail Mary beg in early August. Thus, there was no season, no Grey Cup week. Just a whole lot of radio silence from the commish.
GOAL: Kid curlers Jacques Gauthier and Mackenzie Zacharias joined Einarson in bringing more glory to Manitoba with their world junior championship wins in Russia.
LUMP O’ COAL: Damien Cox and the Exalted Guardians of the Lou Marsh Trophy at the Toronto Star. The Marsh trinket is supposed to honor Canada’s athlete-of-the-year, except Cox and Co. don’t invite jock journos west of the Republic of Tranna to the top-jock party. Well, okay, that’s not quite true. They granted a voice and a vote to four news snoops from the colonies. That would be four out of 37 voices and votes. How gracious of them.
GOAL: O-lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif walked away from the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs and millions of American dollars to fight the good fight against COVID in long-term care homes.
LUMP O’ COAL: TSN named its all-time Winnipeg Jets roster and didn’t include the great Lars-Erik Sjoberg among the top six defencemen. But wait. The geniuses declared The Shoe to be the franchise’s “foundational” player. Sigh. That’s like telling Jesus he has to sit at the kids’ table for the Last Supper. Neither the original Jets franchise nor the second coming knew a better blueliner than The Shoe.
GOAL: Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun and Jeff Hamilton of the Drab Slab showed us their fab journalistic chops with fab features. Freezer relived the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 2019 Grey Cup championship with a nine-part series, while young Jeff took a deep, deep dive into the dark and sordid world of disgraced sexual predator and former hockey coach Graham James.
LUMP O’ COAL: Mainstream jock journos, shinny division, held a group pity party when the NHL revealed it wouldn’t make public the various owies suffered by players during the summer made-for-TV playoff tournament. It was as if they’d been ordered to gather in a small room to watch an Adam Sandler movie marathon, or listen to Barry Manilow’s greatest hits 24/7.
GOAL: Various sports franchises played the name game, including the CFL team formerly known as the Edmonton Eskimos, the NFL team formerly known as the Washington Redskins, and the MLB team to be named something other than Cleveland Indians. We still don’t know what any of them will be called, but it’s believed the animal kingdom has the inside track and they can only hope the people at PETA don’t have a beef with any new names.
LUMP O’ COAL: Former NBC Sports hockey gab guy Jeremy Roenick went on a podcast to declare his admiration for a co-worker’s “ass and boobs” and mentioned something about three-way sex with his wife and the co-worker. He was promptly punted. But wait. There’s more. Rather than go quietly into the night, Roenick decided to kick up a legal fuss and sued NBC Sports for wrongful dismissal, claiming discrimination based on his sexual orientation. His argument: If he was a gay man and said the things he said, he’d still have a job. But because he’s a straight man, he’s out of work. Ya, good luck with that, hetero boy.
GOAL: Sue Bird of the Seattle Storm won her fourth WNBA title and became engaged to soccer diva Megan Rapinoe, while another gay woman, triple jumper Yulimar Rojas of Venezuela, was named female athlete-of-the-year by World Athletics.
LUMP O’ COAL: Bryson DeChambeau spouted off about Augusta National prior to the Masters in November, boasting that it would be a pitch-and-putt course for him while the mere mortals on the PGA Tour would be playing to par-72. “I’m looking at it as a par-67 for me,” he said. In that case, DeChambeau shot 18-over par with rounds of 70-74-69-73, which left him tied for 34th, 18 swings behind winner Dustin Johnson and one behind 63-year-old Bernhard Langer.
GOAL: It was girl power on Sportsnet in March, when an all-female broadcast crew worked a Calgary Flames-Vegas Golden Knights skirmish on Hockey Night in Canada. Leah Hextall handled the play-by-play call, Cassie Campbell-Pascall delivered color commentary and Christine Simpson was rinkside. Question is: Was it a one-off, or will they be back?
LUMP O’ COAL: Justin Turner of the Los Angeles Dodgers was yanked from the deciding game of the World Series due to a positive COVID test, but he returned to join his teammates in an on-field celebration and removed his mask. MLB chose not to punish Turner for allowing his bare face to hang out and expose L.A. players and hangers-on to the virus, so it gets a lump o’ coal, too.
GOAL: Zamboni driver David Ayres took over the blue paint for the Carolina Hurricanes one night in the Republic of Tranna, and the emergency goaltender beat the Maple Leafs. Not since Sid Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon pulled into the Tim Hortons drive-thru has a Zamboni driver received so much attention.
LUMP O’ COAL: Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz thought COVID-19 was a big joke, so he mocked news snoops about the virus at a press session. A couple days later, he tested positive and the kibitzing stopped. As did the NBA and the rest of the sports world.
GOAL: Our leading lady of soccer, Christine Sinclair, became the top goal-scorer of all time in international fitba. She finishes the year with 186, and there might be more to come if the women get back on the pitch in preparation for the Tokyo Olympics.
LUMP O’ COAL: Novak Djokovic, who wears a tin-foil hat and might lead the sports world in hissy fits, ignored scientific and medical advice and staged a mini-tennis tour when almost all sports had shut down due to the COVID pandemic. Social distancing was ignored by players and fans, and the Joker was one of four players to test positive. The final tourney was canceled. Later, he was ushered out of the U.S. Open tennis tournament for whacking a lines judge in the face with a ball. What a doofus.
GOAL: Rafael Nadal won his 13th French Open title and his 20th tennis Gran Slam, at the same time running his career record at Roland Garros to 100-2.
LUMP O’ COAL: Steve Simmons of Postmedia Toronto spent much of the year shaking his fists and shouting at clouds, as is his wont, and he reserved his most ignorant hit pieces for PM Trudeau the Younger and the National Women’s Hockey League expansion franchise in the Republic of Tranna. He claimed Trudeau had “let us down again” by permitting the Blue Jays “to play their home games this summer in Toronto. That is beyond stupid.” He later doubled down, calling the decision “beyond ridiculous.” Except Trudeau and the feds never gave the Jays the okie-dokie to play in the Republic of Tranna. In fact, he told them to pack their bats and balls and find a home in the U.S., which they did in Buffalo. Meantime, Simmons assailed the NWHL when it would add a team in The ROT. “You don’t gain credibility by announcing a team with no name, no place to play and no big-name players,” he harrumphed. He also noted there was no team logo. “When you have all that in place, then make the announcement. The press release referred to the expansion team as a ‘first-class team of professionals.’ Time will answer that, but the new Toronto Whatevers are not off to a great start.” Except he had no such harsh words for the NHL when it introduced expansion franchises in Las Vegas and Seattle. They were introduced without team names, without team logos, and without big-name players. They were the Vegas and Seattle Whatevers for two years. So let’s see if I’ve got this straight: If women do it, bad; if men do it, cool. I believe we can file that under subtle sexism.
And, finally, GOAL: To everyone who indulged an old lady by visiting the River City Renegade. We’ve topped 57,000 views this year, and that’s a new high-water mark for the third successive year. So thanks. Happy Christmas.
Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and, yes, I realize I said I’d be going into hiding for a month—unless stupid happens. Well, stupid happened…
So, Evander Kane and the Reaves brothers, Ryan and Jordan, engaged in a bit of name-calling on social media last week, the kind of empty-headed “my pop can beat up your pop” banter normally reserved for children in the schoolyard.
Ordinarily, this sort of exercise in manhood-measuring would be ignored.
I mean, if three grown men choose to sound and act like total nincompoops, have at it, boys. It isn’t the first time, nor will it be the last, especially in Kane’s case.
Except in his zest to discredit Reaves and Reaves as too frail or frightened to engage in fisticuffs, old friend Evander referred to his foil as “sisters,” and we all know that’s steering smack talk in the wrong direction. One guy labeling another guy a girl is a sexist trope that belongs in the same dust bin as anti-gay slurs, and it only serves to confirm that dinosaurs still walk among us.
Kane, of course, ought to know better.
The San Jose Sharks forward is co-founder of the Hockey Diversity Alliance, a group that, according to its website, aims to “inspire a new and diverse generation of hockey players and fans.” It also boasts of making the game “accessible and safe for everyone.”
One assumes that would include the 50 per cent of the population identifying as female, yet here we are, HDA co-founder Kane dipping into his trash talking tool box and using girls/women as an instrument to sissify Ryan Reaves, an on-ice foe with the Vegas Golden Knights, and Jordan Reaves, a D-Lineman with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
That is so 20th century.
No surprise that Kane was quick to delete his offensive tweet and deliver this mea culpa: “My intention wasn’t for it to come across that way at all. I would like to apologize for using that term and to anyone who was offended by it. But remember no ones (sic) perfect, especially if your (sic) on Twitter.”
Here’s the deal with Kane, though: This wasn’t the first time he’s popped a stupid pill and let his thumbs do his talking.
I direct your attention to June 2013 when, observing a National Basketball Association playoff game, Kane suggested Chris Bosh “looked like a fairy going to the rim.” Much tsk-tsking about his homophobic comment ensued, but Kane would have none of it.
“Man there’s a lot of overly sensitive people on here,” he tweeted in defiance. “It’s unreal how some of you on here turn nothing into something so wrong. As I have said before and I’ll say it again if you can’t handle real talk #clickunfollow if you can’t handle it.”
Not until he engaged in a “real talk” parlez-vous with Patrick Burke of the You Can Play Project, also his employers with the Winnipeg Jets, did Kane retreat into recovery mode, apologizing and vowing “this will not happen again.”
Well, it has happened. Again. Only this time the National Hockey League veteran is slagging women instead of gays.
Kane and those of his ilk remain hard-wired to the notion that being female equals lesser-than. It’s been drilled into them, and they’ve heard the echoes of sexist language for so long that using it as weaponry in a volley of smack talk is as routine as ordering a cup of java at Tim’s. No matter how lame and antiquated it might be, it’s one of the two main go-to insults in men’s sports. Still.
But it’s particularly objectionable when the dreck is coming from Kane’s cake hole. He’s a Black man who props himself up as a holier-than-thou champion of diversity, yet he’s once again exposed himself as a chump in that arena, if not a fraud.
I’m thinking women, lesbian or straight, are tired of hearing the same dog-eared tropes from male athletes. I know I am.
Get some fresh material, boys.
Stupid Pill No. 2: Some among the rabble, and at least one news snoop, thought the Kane-Reaves dumb-and-dumber routine was boffo banter. You know, good for some boys-will-be-boys, knee-slapping yuks. Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab described it as “a refreshing change of pace,” and “a breath of fresh air.” No. Any discourse that includes the demeaning of women is just plain wrong. But whatever floats his boat, I guess.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for trash talking—if it’s witty, clever and humorous. What Kane and the Reaves bros delivered was funny like a dog bite.
Stupid Pill No. 3: Cris Collinsworth, one of my favorite TV gab guys, was gobsmacked and “wow, just blown away” to discover that “ladies” in Pittsburgh are football savvy. “They had really specific questions about the game,” he gushed during NBC’s coverage of last Wednesday’s Steelers-Baltimore Ravens skirmish. Imagine that. Some women actually know a pigskin from a pedicure. Why, I’ll just bet that the really, really smart ones don’t even need their hubbies, beaus or Collinsworth to mansplain the difference between a false start and false labor. I declare, if this keeps up, we’ll see women officiating and coaching in the National Football League any day now. Oh wait. Been there, doing that.
I’ve got a “specific question” for Collinsworth: Does he know what century this is?
Stupid Pill No. 4: I don’t know who writes Jermain Franklin’s copy at TSN, but the SportsCentre anchor might want to call someone in rewrite. Talking about Forge FC’s footy skirmish v. Haitian side Arcahaie last week, Franklin suggested a win by the Hamilton 11 “would officially put Canadian soccer on the map.” Excuse me? Jermain Franklin, meet Christine Sinclair and our national women’s soccer side, winner of two Olympic bronze medals and a Pan Am Games gold. I dare say, before Alphonso Davies came along, if you were to ask anyone in our vast land to name a Canadian soccer player, the most likely answer would have been Christine Sinclair. So I don’t know what map Franklin is looking at, but mine has had Canadian soccer on it for many years, and it wears a ponytail.
I tested my theory on Saturday, asking my friend Cullen to name a Canadian soccer player. He is not a sports fan. I doubt he’s ever watched a full game of soccer in his life, even if he wears a Pacific FC mask. He pondered for about 15 seconds, then said, “Christine.” Point made.
Stupid Pill No. 5: Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna has called out the Tranna Jurassics for “hypocrisy” in their kid-glove treatment of Terence Davis, a young player charged with assault after allegedly smacking his girlfriend in a New York City hotel.
Rather than put distance between themselves and Davis, Jurassics ownership/management is allowing the National Basketball Association to handle the investigation, thus he’s in attendance for training exercises in Tampa until a court appearance on Dec. 11.
“It is his presence alone that sends the worst of all possible messages to those who care about the Raptors,” Simmons harrumphed. “It says the Raptors will stand up for what’s right, just not necessarily when it affects them. It says the Raptors will proudly wave flags for all the issues that matter, but when it involves one of their own, a young, promising, second year player of some magnitude, who was arrested in late October and charged with several counts of assault—essentially charged with domestic violence—they either say nothing, trip over their own words, or try to say they are respecting the process here.”
That would be fine, except…this:
Here’s Simmons on woman-beater Johnny Manziel in September 2017: “Personally, I think the CFL is stronger, maybe more fun, possibly more fan-appealing, with Manziel playing or trying to play the Canadian game.”
And here he is when the woman-beating Manziel joined Hamilton Tabbies in May 2018: “Where do I sign up?”
And here he is on Euclid Cummings in March 2018, after the former B.C. Lions lineman was charged with sexual assault, assault and uttering threats to cause death: “Don’t like the fact the CFL voids contracts after players are charged with a crime. Being charged is one thing. Being convicted is another. CFL shouldn’t play judge and jury here with people’s lives.”
So, if you’re keeping score at home, Simmons gets all giddy about the arrival of a woman-beating quarterback to the Canadian Football League, he believes the leaders of Rouge Football had no business punting a guy who beat and threatened to kill women, yet the Jurassics are bad guys for refusing to have one of their players drawn and quartered before his day in court.
That level of hypocrisy is a special kind of stupid.
I don’t know if this will pass the sniff test, but noted Tranna Jurassics groupie Drake is marketing scented candles, one of which supposedly smells just like the rap star himself. Hmmm. Can’t help but wonder if the candle smells like Drake before or after he’s been chasing his hoops heroes around a basketball court for two hours.
Speaking of rappers, on the heels of his acclaimed gig as boxing commentator at the Mike Tyson-Roy Jones Jr. fossil fight last weekend, Snoop Dogghas created what he’s calling The Fight Club, a series of boxing cards featuring knuckle-chucking between pro athletes, actors, musicians and social media celebs, but no boxers of note. Which, I suppose, makes it a real Dogg-and-Phony show.
Quick questions: If Snoop pulls off his quirky boxing cards, does that make it a legal Dogg fighting ring? If so, does Michael Vick land the commissioner’s gig?
According to TMZ, some crackpot took a swing at Tyson while the former heavyweight boxing champion was signing autographs following his dust-up with Jones Jr. in L.A. No arrests have been made, but police are searching for a man who’s lost his mind.
Rare job posting: Queen Liz II is looking for a personal assistant. If interested, apply to The Royal Household. So that’s what we’re calling Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle these days? A household?
Saw this headline on the CBS website the other day: “How to watch Jaguars at Vikings.” Hey, it’s the Jaguars. There’s only one way to watch them—with your eyes closed.
If dispatches drifting from the Republic of Tranna are accurate, the Blue Jays are poised to sign every free agent who stepped onto a Major League Baseball diamond this past season. Except Dr. Anthony Fauci. The good doctor will require an emergency Trumpectomy on Jan. 20 and he isn’t expected to fully recover in time for training camp.
A tip of the bonnet to Jason Bell of the Drab Slab for his fantastic feature spread on the Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League. It’s the kind of copy a local newspaper is supposed to deliver.
Also kudos to Mad Mike McIntyre for his piece on Allan Walsh, the sometimes-too-vocal player agent who gets up so many NHL manager noses. More of same please, Mad Mike.
Nice to see Murat Ates has returned to the fray, which is to say the Winnipeg Jets beat for The Athletic. If you count yourself among the hard-core Jets mob, you’ll want to dive into his deep dive on the local hockey heroes, but be warned: You might want to brew a pot of java and settle in, because his state-of-union is longer than a Winnipeg winter.
The Jets aren’t feeling the love according to Pierre LeBrun of the Athletic. He quizzed 15 NHL coaches/execs/scouts on an all-Canadian division in the NHL, and nine of 15 peered into their tea leaves and had the Jets on the outside looking in, which is to say a fifth-place finish or worse, assuming there’s a 2021 crusade. That isn’t unexpected, I suppose, given that GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has basically ignored his most-pressing need—defence. Still, I don’t see the Jets worse than any outfit other than the Tranna Maple Leafs, so I say they finish as high as second and as low as fifth.
Let’s see if I’ve got this straight: The cash-strapped CFL has declared itself open for business at noon tomorrow, meaning the nine Rouge Football outfits can commence getting signatures on player contracts. Yet this is the same bunch that went panhandling on Parliament Hill last spring/summer, looking for anywhere from $30 million to $150 million to put an abbreviated season in motion. So, with zero revenue coming in, they’ll pay these players how?
The Vancouver Canucks have kicked anthem singer Mark Donnelly to the curb because he’s an anti-masker. Guess that rules out an appearance on The Masked Singer.
And, finally, I tuned in to The Voice this season, and I’m really not sure why. Perhaps it was boredom, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that not one of the coaches’ chairs is occupied by the insufferable Miley Cyrus, and that the Blake Shelton/Adam Levine bromance is no longer a thing. Having said that, the current coaches—Kelly Clarkson, John Legend, Gwen Stefani and her squeeze, cowboy Shelton—might be the the most dishonest group of people not working in the White House. I mean, they tell us every singer is fantastic, every performance is better than fantastic, no one is ever off-key, they’re already superstars, every performance is better than the previous warble, and they could listen to every singer all day every day. I swear, they’re feeding us so much sugar, I have to book a dentist appointment after every show.
Rather than the usual Sunday morning smorgas-bored, I give you the top 50-plus movers and shakers in Good Ol’ Hometown over the past half century.
This isn’t one of those hum-drum, greatest-athlete lists. We’re talking positive impact, what a sports figure did to enhance the local sporting landscape, whether that meant the wow factor of Teemu Selanne’s 76-goal rookie season or Harvey Warner keeping the ponies at a full gallop out at Assiniboia Downs.
And, while our play-for-pay jocks tend to gobble up the big headlines on a day-to-day basis, it’s often the owners and managers and coaches and administrators who make things happen when we aren’t staring at the scoreboard, and that also means our amateur playing fields, where we have a rich tradition of magnificence and the impact has been significant.
So here’s the list of the 50-plus most-impactful movers and shakers in Winnipeg sports dating back to 1970, and I should warn you that this list includes jock journos, because once upon a time before the Internet, 24-hour TV and social media, there was a gadget called the radio. Not every game was televised or live streamed. We needed our newspapers and radios to take us to the action.
One final note: Remember, this is only one person’s opinion, so don’t get your knickers in a twist if you don’t see the name of one of your faves.
1. Ben Hatskin: Well, this is the ultimate no-brainer. It’s like naming Pope Francis to an all-Catholic team. I mean, Benny didn’t just bring the Winnipeg Jets and the World Hockey Association to Good Ol’ Hometown in 1972, he hijacked Bobby Hull from the Chicago Blackhawks in a shocking coup that reshaped the shinny landscape. Without Benny’s derring-do, there would have been no National Hockey League Jets 1.0 and no Jets 2.0.
2. Mark Chipman: The Puck Pontiff filled the void left by the 1996 departure of the Jets to Arizona, but his Manitoba Moose of the International Hockey League and the American Hockey League were just the appetizer. Aided by billionaire David Thomson’s bulging bankroll, there was an NHL rebirth in River City in 2011, with the Atlanta Thrashers moving north. Oh, and did I mention that along the way Chipman and Thomson built a downtown arena?
3. Bobby Hull: The Golden Jet informed Hatskin and the other WHA renegade owners that it would take $1 million dollars for him to leave the Blackhawks and pull on a Jets jersey in ’72. Done deal. The Hull signing legitimized the WHA, and other top-level players soon followed. And, remember, Robert Marvin was also part of the ownership group that took the Jets into the NHL.
4. Michael Gobuty/Barry Shenkarow: I know, I know. Michael is the guy who let Wayne Gretzky get away. Mook. But don’t hold that against him. Michael and his ownership group kept the Jets afloat in the late 1970s, allowing for one final, rewarding whirl in the WHA by purchasing the contracts of a group of Houston Aeros, including Terry Ruskowski, Morris Lukowich, Rich Preston and Scott Campbell. He also recruited John Bowie Ferguson, and Michael offered a loud and influential voice in the NHL’s decision to absorb the Jets and three other WHA franchises in 1979. As for Barry, talk about shooting the messenger. By the time the whole thing went south for Jets 1.0, he was front man for the ownership group that sold the club to American buyers, who then loaded up the truck and bugged out to Arizona, lock, stock and jock. So Barry became the fall guy. But it’s a bad rap. No locals were willing to dig into their deep pockets to purchase the franchise and lose millions of dollars every year, so he/they really had no choice.
5. Cal Murphy: Cantankerous, curmudgeonly and very funny, Cal ruled the Winnipeg Blue Bombers roost with an iron fist from 1983-96, as either head coach or general manager. Along the way, there were three Grey Cup championships, one heart transplant, and one human rights kerfuffle over female news snoops in the locker room. He also brought the Grey Cup game to Good Ol’ Hometown for the first time, and became a vocal advocate for organ donations. Today there’s a pigeon perch of Kindly Cal outside Football Follies Field In Fort Garry.
6. Wade Miller: The leader of the Canadian Mafia inherited a Sad Sack, laughing stock-level Bombers team and the longest title drought in the Canadian Football League when he was anointed CEO in 2013. He was more like the CE-D’oh! in the early years, but Wade ignored the wolves howling at his door and stuck by his fellow hosers, GM Kyle Walters and sideline steward Mike O’Shea. Today the Bombers reign as Grey Cup champions, with money in the bank, and only the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed Miller down.
7. Dr. Gerry Wilson/Billy Robinson/Don Baizley: No North American shinny side tapped into the European hockey market as swiftly, deeply and as eagerly as the Jets, and it was this trio of forward-thinkers that brought the first wave of Scandinavians to Good Ol’ Hometown in the mid-1970s. Dr. Wilson caught the first glimpse of Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson and alerted Robinson, the Jets main bird dog. Robby scampered across the big pond to Sweden and liked what he saw, signing both players pronto. Lars-Erik Sjoberg and Curt Larsson came along for the ride, and player agent Baizley took them under his wing. Championship parades ensued.
8. Anders/Ulf/the Shoe: It’s no exaggeration to suggest Anders and Ulf revolutionized the game once in partnership with Hull. They made magic with their swashbuckling, freestyle frolicking on the local freeze, but it was Sjoberg—the Shoe—who stirred the drink from the back end. Together, they dominated the WHA and—damn them!—also provided Glen Sather with the blueprint for his Edmonton Oilers dynasty of the 1980s.
9. John Ferguson: So, here’s the irony—he was the cad who lured the ultra-popular Hedberg and Nilsson away from Portage and Main to make them stars on Broadway, then the Rangers fired Fergy and he joined the Jets to oversee their final WHA title and aid the entry into the NHL. Go figure. Full of bluster and occasional rage, Fergy made certain that life around the Jets camp was never boring, which sometimes meant kicking holes in walls and dumping buckets of ice on the opposing team’s bench. As Jets GM, he assembled a string of formidable NHL outfits during the 1980s, even if he couldn’t quite get them over the hump. Stars like Dale Hawerchuk, Teemu Selanne, David Babych, Thomas Steen and Dave Christian were drafted during his watch, and we won’t talk about Jimmy Mann.
10. Clara Hughes: When they name parks, playgrounds and schools in your honor, and when they put your pic on a postage stamp, you know you’ve done something right. Clara is a two-sport Olympian—speed skating and cycling—and the only athlete in history to win multiple medals in both the Summer and Winter Games. But it’s her advocacy on behalf of mental health and children’s sports/recreation that makes Clara truly impactful. She’s a leading voice in the Bell Let’s Talk campaign, and she’s donated/raised many thousands of dollars for various causes.
11. Cindy Klassen: She has as many shiny Olympic trinkets as Clara Hughes (six), including one gold medal, so Clara’s two-sport bona fides is all that separates the two world champion speed skaters.
12. Chris Walby: If ever there’s been a larger-than-life athlete, it was Bluto—all 6-feet, 7-inches and 300-plus pounds of him (give or take a Big Mac and a six pack). Bluto grabbed grass and growled for the Bombers from 1981-96, collecting three Grey Cup rings, nine CFL all-star nods, two top O-lineman awards, and a bust in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. But it wasn’t just what he did on the field and his size that made Bluto stand out. He was among the great characters in Rouge Football, a good-time Charlie and a deliverer of delicious quotes. No surprise he became a talking head on CBC’s football coverage, even if English sometimes seemed to be his second language.
13. Dale Hawerchuk: He came to the Jets as a freshly scrubbed 18-year-old from Cornwall, and much was expected of Ducky. He delivered. Winnipeg HC went from the free space on the NHL’s bingo card to the best shinny outfit this side of the Edmonton Gretzkys, and Ducky was the centrepiece.
14. Jennifer Jones: The only thing Jennifer hasn’t won is the Brier, and that’s only because the boys won’t let her play. There’s never been a finer female curler in our country, even if some in Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia might want to point to Sandra Schmirler and Colleen Jones and debate the issue. Well, let ’em hash it out. We know they’re wrong.
15. Jill Officer: It will be interesting to monitor how Jennifer gets along without Jill throwing second stones. They were together almost as long as Mick and Keith, but Officer retreated from competitive curling in 2018. Jill’s haul is the same as Jen’s: An Olympic gold, two world championships and six Scotties titles in her trophy case. Also one park named in her honor.
16. Teemu Selanne: Like Anders and Ulf, the Finnish Flash wasn’t in Good Ol’ Hometown for a long time, but it sure was a good time. Those 76 goals in his freshman NHL crusade had the burg in a buzz, and it’s a record that will stand as long as there are frozen ponds for kids to skate on. Teemu might have been the most popular Jet ever, give or take Ducky.
17. Don Duguid: The Digit toddled off to two world curling championships as a skip and never lost a game. Yup, 17-0. Dugie then thought it would be a swell idea to go on TV and tell the rest of us how to curl, which he did for 29 years until someone at the CBC had a brain fart and let him go. And just the other day he was made a member of the Order of Canada for his wonderful work as a curler and teacher of the game.
18. Ray Turnbull: His friends called him Moosie, and he had scads of friends in and beyond the curling community. A true visionary, Moosie’s impact began at the Mother Club on Granite Way, but his influence spread across the globe when he buddied up with Don Duguid for instructional clinics to curling curious nations beginning in the 1970s. So he’s largely to blame for the rest of the world catching up to us on pebbled ice. A broadcasting icon with TSN from 1984 to 2010, Moosie coached no fewer than 17 world champions.
19. Frank McKinnon: Those who knew him best would probably tell us that Frank never slept, because he didn’t have time for zzzzzzs. How busy was he? Let me count the ways: Five years president and 20 years on the executive board of Hockey Manitoba; 10 years commissioner of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League; founding father of the Centennial Cup tournament and the inaugural World Junior championship; first chairman of the board of Hockey Canada; two years director Sports Federation of Canada; four years vice-president Canadian Olympic Association; founding member of the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association. Frank was based in Carman, but he spent enough time in Good Ol’ Hometown to qualify for this list.
20. Donny Lalonde: The Golden Boy was in the ring with Sugar Ray. Yes, that Sugar Ray, as in Leonard. He even put the boxing legend on the canvas—one of only two men to do so—scoring a fourth-round knockdown in their 1988 bout at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Alas, Sugar Ray ruled the day, battering Lalonde about the ears in the ninth round and scoring a TKO. But it’s enough that the Golden Boy went from working out in the old firehall gym on Talbot Avenue in Elmwood to champion of the boxing world’s light heavyweights.
21.Jeff Stoughton: It’s easier to break out of jail than win the Manitoba men’s curling championship, but Jeff wore the Buffalo on his back 11 times. Crazy, man. A two-time world champion and three times the best at the Brier, Jeff also has two Canadian Mixed titles on his resume. Once he retired his tuck delivery and his spinorama showtime shtick, he took to coaching and administration, first helping Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris strike gold in Mixed Doubles at the Seoul Olympics, and he’s now coach and program manager for the national men’s team.
22. Coleen Dufresne: When you spend 17 years coaching and another 15 as athletic director at the University of Manitoba, you’ve had an impact on more young people than you can count. Coleen, who wore the Maple Leaf as a player at the 1976 Olympic Games, coached U of M Bisons women’s basketball teams to three national championships and five Great Plains Athletic Conference titles. She is a member of the Basketball Manitoba Hall of Fame in three categories—builder, coach and player—and the Canada West Hall of Fame.
23. Garth Pischke: Tom Hanks talked to a volleyball in the movies, but Garth made people talk volleyball in real life. Nobody put the W in the word “win” like Garth. He won a staggering 1,353 games in his 38 seasons as mastermind of the U of M Bisons men’s volleyball team, losing just 414 times. Chew on that and digest it—1,353-414. Who does that? Only Pischke, the winningest coach in collegiate V-ball history, on either side of the border. A two-time Olympian and six-time MVP at the Nationals as a player, Garth coached the Bisons to nine national titles and was named the Manitoba amateur athlete of the 20th century.
24. Brian Dobie: If this was just about being a nice guy, the U of M Bisons football coach would be at, or near, the top of the heap. Lovely man. He’s been sideline steward of the Herd since 1996, a gig that came on the heels of a 21-year watch with Churchill Bulldogs in high school grid. Do the math. Coach Dobie has been impacting the lives of teenagers and young men for close to half a century. Oh, and he’s also a five-time Canada West coach-of-the-year and a USports coach-of-the-year, plus he brought the Vanier Cup to the Fort Garry campus in 2007.
25. Vic Pruden: There was no women’s or men’s intercollegiate basketball program at the University of Winnipeg (nee United College) until Vic came along, so all the hoops glory stems from there. The annual Wesmen Classic was Vic’s brain child, ditto the Fort Garry Invitational. The Wesmen Classic became such a landmark event that it had to be shuffled from Riddell Hall to the Winnipeg Arena, and was televised nationally. Vic was also founder and first president of the Manitoba Basketball Coaches’ Association.
26. Coach Tom Kendall/University of Winnipeg Lady Wesmen: Few took notice of women’s hoops back in the day, but then along came coach Kendall and his fabulous University of Winnipeg Lady Wesmen who, from October 1992 to November 1994, never lost a game. Eighty-eight teams tried to topple them, and 88 teams failed. Even fabled UCLA coach John Wooden was talking about the Lady Wesmen. Under Kendall’s watch, the Lady Ws went 101-2, with three national titles.
27. Coach Mike Burchuk/U of W Lady Wesmen volleyball team: The U of W women’s hoopsters received the 250-point newspaper headlines for their 88-game winning streak, but the women on the volleyball court trumped them with 123 consecutive Ws from January 1987 to January 1989. That included a 58-0 record in 1987-88 and, along the way, the ladies won six consecutive national titles and beat the NCAA champion Texas Longhors and a pro team, the Minnesota Monarchs.
28. Jennifer Botterill: It should be enough to say that Jennifer is the only female player ever inducted into the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame, but we’ll also mention that she’s a three-time Olympic champion, five times a world champion, two times the Patty Kazmaier Award winner as the top player in U.S. women’s college hockey, twice the MVP at the world championship, and she once had an 80-game scoring streak (beat that, Connor McDavid!). If young girls are looking for a role model, Jen’s it.
29. Paul Robson: Can a sports list be complete without a guy named Mad Dog on it? We think not. So come on down, Mad Dog Robson, architect of the Winnipeg Football Club’s return to glory in the 1980s, a Lazarus-like rebirth that included the 1984 Grey Cup championship crusade, the first in 22 years. His handiwork as assistant GM/GM included going stealth to lure Chris Walby out of Montreal, hiring Cal Murphy as sideline steward, and engineering the Dieter Brock-for-Tom Clements trade. Paul was also once publisher of the Winnipeg Sun, but we won’t penalize him for that.
30. Harvey Warner: It’s probably safe to say the ponies wouldn’t be galloping at Assiniboia Downs if not for Harvey and his Manitoba Jockey Club. Harvey is a founding father and current president of the MJC, which took possession of the Downs in 1993. It’s never been an easy ride for Harvey and cohorts like Darren Dunn and Sharon Gulyas out at the racing oval on the western edge of Good Ol’ Hometown, but they’ve managed to keep the barns open and the horses fed and watered. So, yes, the reins have been in the right man’s hands for 27 years.
31. Mike Riley: When Leo Durocher coined the phrase “nice guys finish last,” he certainly wasn’t thinking of a guy like Mike Riley. Aside from bringing the Grey Cup home twice in his four years as sideline steward of the Bombers, Mike might be the most decent man to ever coach a pro team in Good Ol’ Hometown (John Paddock would be second in line), and that counts for something on my scorecard.
32. Milt Stegall: The Turtle Man would be higher on this list, except for one thing—every time I look at his hands, I don’t see any Grey Cup rings. For all his personal accomplishments—all-time TD leader in CFL history with 147 and a Most Outstanding Player award—the Bombers had just four winning seasons in his 14 crusades. No player ever looked better while mostly losing, though, and he’d be the first to tell you that. Milt continues to be a Bombers booster as one of the gab guys on TSN’s CFL coverage, and that’s always a good thing.
33. Sam Katz: Full disclosure—I’m not fond of Sammy. I think him to be a snake oil salesman. If he told me today is Sunday, I’d double check the calendar. But he brought professional baseball back to Good Ol’ Hometown, and the Winnipeg Goldeyes frolic in a beautiful, downtown ballyard thanks to Sammy.
34. Andy Van Hellemond: Whistleblowers don’t always get respect, but Andy Van did. The kid weaned on the frozen ponds of Isaac Brock was, arguably, the best man to ever pull on a striped shirt, and he was also a trend-setter, becoming the first on-ice official to wear a helmet, in 1984. The NHL made lids mandatory for the zebras four years later (a grandfather clause allowed some to officiate sans head protection until 2006-07). Andy Van refereed 1,475 regular season games, 227 in the playoffs and 19 Stanley Cup finals, all records. He was named Manitoba’s referee-of-the-century.
35. Sylvia Burka: Before Clara Hughes and Cindy Klassen and Susan Auch, there was Sylvia Burka, three times a world speed skating champion. She has held over 40 Canadian speedskating records, and once set a world indoor cycling mark at one kilometer. She won 12 national cycling titles. But her true legacy can be found in the skate marks she left for others to follow.
36. Dawn McEwen: I suppose you could say Dawn is to Team Jennifer Jones what Ringo Starr was to the Beatles. She seems content in the background while Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer and Cathy Overton-Clapham attracted most of the attention, but without her lead stones and robust sweeping they wouldn’t have become the finest female outfit in Canadian curling history. Dawn has an Olympic gold medal, two world titles and five Scotties crowns in her trophy case, so don’t even think of her as a spare part.
37. Kaitlyn Lawes: She branched out from throwing third stones for Jennifer Jones to strike Olympic gold with John Morris in the debut of mixed doubles at the Winter Olympic Games. So she has a nice collection of two gold trinkets, a world championship and a Scotties title.
38. Susan Auch: Although never making it to the top level of the Olympic podium, Susan made speed skating front page news in Good Ol’ Hometown with two silver medals and a bronze in the Winter Games, three gold in World Cup racing in 1995, three Manitoba athlete-of-the-year honors and a Canadian athlete-of-the-year salute. There’s a Susan Auch Oval out at the Cindy Klassen Recreation Complex and a Susan Auch Park in Transcona, and she’s now CEO of Speed Skating Canada.
39. Troy Westwood/David Asper: Board member Asper came up with the concept and gave the Banjo Bowl it’s name, but it was the spinoff of a quote from Ol’ Lefty, the former Bombers place-kicker who, in an interview prior to a 2003 playoff skirmish, called Saskatchewan Roughriders fans “a bunch of banjo-picking inbreds.” Much caterwauling from the Flattest of Lands ensued, and the Banjo Bowl was born in 2004. It’s the most-anticipated event on the local sports calendar every year, and it’s been strictly SRO since 2005. When he wasn’t trash talking Flatlanders, Ol’ Lefty was hoofing more field goals (617) and more points (2,745) than anyone in Bombers history.
40. Connie Laliberte: They called her the Ice Queen, but underneath that cucumber-cool exterior burned a competitive bonfire. Connie gave every female curler in Manitoba something to aim for when she became the first Buffalo Girl to win the world crown, in 1984. She also won three Scotties titles and today is the high performance director for Curl Manitoba.
41. Sandy Riley: The former sailor (1976 Olympic Games) and former president of the Manitoba Sports Federation served as chair of Winnipeg’s 1999 Pan American Games, an event that helped revive the sagging spirit of a city that had lost its NHL franchise only three years earlier. As a bonus, it attracted the attention of Ol’ Cigar Breath, Cuban strongman Fidel Castro, who used his Revolution Day address to go on a mini-rant about mysterious “traps and tricks and schemes and filth” that encouraged his athletes to clamber over the wall to freedom. Cuban defectors aside, the Pan Ams were an artistic and financial success. More latterly, the Riley family donated $500,000 toward construction of the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame.
42. Dayna Spiring: It doesn’t matter that Dayna wasn’t on the receiving end of any passes, nor did she hoof any field goals or tackle any running backs. The lady was a champ in her first year as Chair of the Blue Bombers board of directors, and she became the first woman to have her name engraved on the Grey Cup. For young girls and women, that makes her Dayna Inspiring.
43. Desiree Scott: A former star and coach with the U of M Bisons, the lady they call The Destroyer joined our national women’s soccer side in 2010, and she’s now just one of five to have earned 150 caps. Along the way, she’s collected two Olympic bronze medals and participated in three World Cup tournaments. Away from the competitive pitch, Desiree is heavily involved with soccer camps for KidSport and she’s an ambassador for the Homeless World Cup.
44. Bill Wedlake: A head coach for 32 years, first at St. John’s High where he won two provincial titles, then 16 years at the U of W, Bill was also athletic director at the downtown campus for eight years. A co-founder of the Winnipeg Invitational tournament, he’s written three books on coaching and is a former president of the National Association of Basketball Coaches.
45. Mo Glimcher: If you think it’s tough dealing with teenagers these days, consider Mo Glimcher’s gig—he had 30,000-40,000 kids under foot every year between 1975 and 2016. Mo retired after 41 years as Executive Director of the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association, and I’d say he’s earned a master’s degree in babysitting.
46. Bob Picken: There are three major sports operatives in Good Ol’ Hometown—the Jets, the Blue Bombers, and curling. Yes, curling. Our Pebble People don’t make the big bucks like the Jets and Bombers, but they don’t want for media exposure, due in large part to jock journos like Pick. Pebble People have never known a better media friend than Pick, whose magnificent pipes blessed the airwaves of CJOB, CKY and the CBC for half a century. He played the game, served as president of the Manitoba Curling Association, worked with both the Canadian Curling Association and the World Curling Federation, and there’s a bonspiel at the Thistle named in his honor. Pick made certain that curling was never back-page news or filler at the end of a sportscast.
47. Jack Matheson: Admittedly, there’s bias in this choice, because Matty gave me my start at the Winnipeg Tribune, but his sassy and brassy sports column was the only absolute must-read in town during the 1970s. And when Furnaceman fired him up for his daily rants on CJOB, it was must-listening. Matty set an incredibly high bar as a sports scribe, and no one has come close to reaching it since the Trib folded.
48. Friar Nicolson: There’s no way of knowing how many young men and women went into broadcasting because of the curmudgeonly Friar, but I’d suggest the number is closer to 50 than one. The longtime play-by-play voice of the Jets, Friar is the man who lured Knuckles Irving to CJOB in 1973, and he also gave one-time do-everything CKY/CTV voice Peter Young his start in the gab game. That’s serious impact.
49. Bob Irving: When Knuckles became the voice of the Blue Bombers, Don Jonas and Chuck Ealey were the starting QBs and Dieter Brock was a little-known rookie who answered to the name Ralph. Bud Riley was the head coach, and there have been 14 more since Knuckles moved in behind the mic. So he goes back some, and he’s still going. At least he was until COVID-19 interrupted regularly schedule play-by-play. We assume (hope) the well-liked and highly respected Knuckles will be back for a 46th season once the pandemic is in the rear-view mirror.
50. Don Wittman: How versatile was Witt? Well, we know he covered the CFL and the NHL and tennis and the Olympics and world-class track and top-flight curling during close to half a century with the CBC, but he also broadcast cricket. Ya, cricket. Witt traveled the globe and was on site to call the Ben Johnson race in Seoul and Donovan Bailey in Atlanta, but home base was always Winnipeg.
Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and you are not required to wear a mask to read this blog…
Is it just me, or does anyone else wonder what’s rattling around in the grey matter between Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman’s ears these days?
I mean, with the National Hockey League ensnared in a state of iffiness re a 2021 crusade, and the players royally PO’d due to a proposed wave of wage rollbacks (again), wouldn’t you like to know what the Winnipeg Jets co-bankroll thinks about the current state of affairs?
Wouldn’t you like to hear his thoughts on the local shinny side playing in an empty Little Hockey House On The Prairie this winter?
Wouldn’t you like to know if he’d prefer to scrap a 2021 season rather than lose a small fortune paying six- and seven-figure salaries with no game-day revenue?
Wouldn’t you like to hear the Puck Pontiff’s take on the NHL owners’ ploy to renege on the agreement they willingly signed with the work force just this past summer?
Wouldn’t you like to know how he feels about the Jets frolicking in an all-Canadian division?
Wouldn’t you like to hear some assurance that, COVID-19 be damned, the Jets are here for the long haul, even as the pandemic gnaws away at his bottom line like termites on a two-by-four?
I know I would.
I won’t hold my breath, though, because the Puck Pontiff is not a man given to disclosure. He’s more guarded with his thoughts than a Rottweiler growling at the gates of a junkyard. The Kremlin was less secretive during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
But that’s his right, of course.
Chipman heads up a private company, True North Sports + Entertainment, so he isn’t obliged to make us privy to any secrets, dirty or otherwise. Except for one thing: There’s ample and rabid outside interest in the centrepiece of his fiefdom, that being an NHL franchise that pigs out at the public trough. The faithful flock to his Little Hockey House On The Prairie a minimum of 41 nights every year, give or take a pandemic, and many thousands of them also spend many thousands of dollars on Jets merchandise. Others purchase TV cable and/or Internet streaming packages to watch their hockey heroes as they fight the good fight hither and yon.
I’d say that warrants a word or two from the guy who signs the cheques, wouldn’t you?
Geoff Molson, the beer baron bankroll of the storied Montreal Canadiens, thought so, which is why he sat down for a natter with Herb Zurkowsky of the Montreal Gazette recently.
Among other things, Molson pooh-poohed any notion of a lost season, no matter how harsh the financial wallop, and he expressed a hope that there would be patrons in the pews before the close of business on a runted season.
“I really do think it’s the right thing to play,” he said. “I think we can get there. The thought of making a profit this year isn’t even in my mindset. It’s more about returning to play.”
Why can’t the Puck Pontiff poke his head out of the ivory tower and do the same?
Again, he’s under no obligation to address the faithful, but the right to remain silent is a good policy if you’re sitting in the back seat of a police cruiser, not when you’re at the wheel of an NHL franchise in the heartland of Canada.
I’d like to think that one or more of the girls and boys on the beat have requested an audience with His Royal Hockeyness during these most uncertain of times. If not, shame on them. If so (and I suspect that’s the case), shame on him and his hangups. Not so long ago, Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab confessed that he’s never engaged in a verbal parry-and-thrust with the Puck Pontiff. Not in four years on the beat, but not for lack of effort. Mad Mike assured us he has put in a bid to tap the Puck Pontiff’s brain pan more than once, only to be rejected each time. And that’s just wrong.
Back in the day, Benny Hatskin or Michael Gobuty or Barry Shenkarow were usually just a phone call away, and we were never required to genuflect and kiss their ring fingers before they agreed to talk to us. We had their home phone numbers, for cripes sake, and they knew where to find us. Did Shenkarow enjoy standing or sitting in front of the media mob, painting a gloom-and-doom scenario for the Jets 1.0 franchise? No. He didn’t. I can tell you there was always pain in his voice, sadness in his eyes and a great burden on his slender shoulders whenever he spoke. At times there was also anger. And extreme frustration. But he became the front man for the ownership group and accepted that his voice needed to be heard, even when there was nothing but sad tidings to deliver. Many among the rabble made Barry out to be the bad guy when it became apparent that the NHL couldn’t work in Good Ol’ Hometown in the 1990s, but no one could accuse him of hiding.
It occurs to me that if there’s one thing the rabble dislikes more than jock journos complaining about lousy press box food, tight deadlines and uppity athletes, it’s millionaire jocks and billionaire owners bickering over big bucks. That doesn’t play well at the best of times, so it’s particularly irksome during a global pandemic that’s forcing people out of work, out of homes and sending them to food banks. I mean, if NHL bankrolls get their way in the latest squabble with the NHL Players Association, Kyle Connor of the Jets won’t collect his $8 million salary for a 2021 crusade. He’ll have to get by on $4.4 million in U.S. coin. At the lower end of the pay scale, Jansen Harkins will have to make due on $385,000 instead of $700,000. I agree, boo-freaking-hoo. Hey, I’m all for the workers squeezing every copper they can out of owners trying to weasel their way out of an agreement they signed four months ago, but a money spat is a tough sell when the world is upside down.
On the subject of high finance, the most noted voice in the CBS sports blurt box, Jim Nantz, is looking for a hefty raise in pay from the $6.5 million he now collects for flapping his gums on the network’s NFL, college hoops, and PGA coverage. Nantz’ contract expires next summer and it’s a good bet that he’s aware his sidekick in the CBS football booth, Tony Romo, draws an annual stipend of $17.5 million. I’m sure he also knows that Fox Sports pays its do-everything squawk box Joe Buck $10.5 million per annum. I don’t know what the bookies in Vegas are thinking, but I’d say the over/under on Nantz’ next deal is $12 million.
If that isn’t obscene enough for you, consider this: England footy legend David Beckham will be paid $53 million over the next three years to do nothing. Becks has signed on as an ‘icon’ player in the EA Sports video game FIFA 21, and he’ll be making more money in fake footy than he did while kicking real balls for sides like Man U, Real Madrid and LA Galaxy. Makes for a nifty marketing promo, don’t you think—Fake It Like Beckham!
New Kim, a two-year-old female Belgian racing pigeon, recently sold for $1.9 million at auction. No bird has ever landed that large a windfall. At least not since Elin Nordegren flew the coop on Tiger.
If I owned a pigeon, I believe I would name it Clay.
The most vulgar man in sports, Conor McGregor, has signed to fight someone I’ve never heard of in the UFC octagon next month. I’m pretty sure I’ll be too busy to give a damn that night. Or any other night, for that matter.
Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News calls Derek Jeter “the most famous Yankee since Mickey Mantle.” Apparently Mike nodded off when Reggie Jackson arrived in Gotham and became Mr. October.
TSN has decided that the 1981 Edmonton E-Somethings are the greatest of all Canadian Football League championship sides. No argument here.
Some folks are quite giddy that the CFL has released a 2021 schedule, with a full 18-game crusade for each of the nine sides. Rick LeLacheur is, in fact, “beyond excited” at the prospect of his B.C. Lions performing in front of fewer than the 12,000 bodies that normally gather under the B.C. Place Stadium bubble top in downtown Vancity. What the Leos president and no one else in Rouge Football can tell us, though, is who’s footing the bill. I mean, if they couldn’t afford a mini-season in 2020, what makes anyone believe the three-downs game is good to go next summer/autumn? The schedule is nothing more than a goodwill gesture and, as I scribbled last week, it isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on unless the large lads are grabbing grass in June. Sorry to be a Debbie Downer about my favorite league, but it’s true.
The Edmonton Oilers owe a Dallas hotel $55,000 for two stays last season. And here I thought the World Hockey Association was dead.
A most foul wind blew during a recent match between world No. 2 Ronnie O’Sullivan and Matthew Stevens at the Northern Ireland Open snooker tournament. One of the participants farted, you see, and it was no silent bomb. “That was a very unfortunate noise there,” one of the commentators observed while the players and match referee glanced mischievously at one another. “I don’t know who it was from…I’ve got my suspicions.” Eventually, O’Sullivan won the match, 4-2, then copped a guilty plea, saying, “I’m taking full ownership of that one.”
The Florida Panthers have hired Brett Peterson, a Black man, as assistant general manager, which prompted this reaction from Akim Aliu of the Hockey Diversity Alliance: “It’s long overdue. We feel there’s a lot of people of color that are deserving of jobs and also people from different genders. Obviously women I think are very adapt at doing a good job in the game of hockey.” Ya, Aliu and his HDA think so highly of women in hockey that there isn’t a Mrs., Miss, Ms or Ma’am in the group. Go ahead. Call up the HDA website and you’ll see nothing but the faces and names of men. I contacted the HDA to inquire about its lack of diversity, but received no reply. Aliu and his boys-only club might want to practise diversity before squawking about diversity.
I get a laugh out of bandwagon jumpers in jock journalism, guys like Jack Todd, whose column has returned to the sports pages of the Montreal Gazette, and Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna. Todd called the Miami Marlins’ hiring of Kim Ng as general manager “the best thing that has happened to Major League Baseball since the Red Sox shook the curse. The time is now and Ng is the woman.” Simmons, meanwhile, wrote: “I wish I had a daughter to share this with.” I call BS on that. When was the last time either of them wrote about women’s sports, other than the Olympics when there’s no choice? Where were they when the Canadian Women’s Hockey League was still in operation and hungering for coverage? They didn’t notice the CWHL until the doors were shuttered. So they can spare us the faux concern.
Simmons, of course, has a long history of pooh-poohing female athletes and the games they play, and his recent list of the 50 most influential sports figures in the Republic of Tranna over the past 50 years tells us all we need to know about his thoughts on the distaff portion of the playground. His top-50 actually includes 59 people, all but one of them men. That’s right, in half a century, only one woman, tennis player Bianca Andreescu, made the cut. No Fran Rider and no Angela James, each hugely influential in Ponytail Puck and based in The ROT. One of them, James, is in the Hockey Hall of Fame and Rider should be.
I don’t know if anyone at the Winnipeg Sun has plans to compile a similar top-50 for the most influential sports figures in Good Ol’ Hometown during past half century, but I guarantee there’d be more than one woman included in the group. Benny Hatskin would top the list, of course, but you can be damn certain there’d be room for Clara Hughes, Jennifer Jones, Cindy Klassen, Connie Laliberte and Susan Auch, among other women.
And, finally, there’s only one thing worse than wearing a mask—not wearing a mask.
Nice of you to come out of hibernation. How long had it been since we last saw and heard from you? At least three months, I’d say.
Some of us were beginning to worry about you, Commish. I mean, every pro sports operation known to woman and man has rebooted during the COVID-19 pandemic, yet your Canadian Football League turned out the lights. And you went radio silent.
So I figured flicking on the flatscreen and watching all those athletes in other leagues frolic might have driven you a bit batty. If not full-on bonkers.
I feared you might have done the Howard Hughes thing, Commish. You know, become a recluse.
I had visions of you holed up in a windowless bunker left over from the Cold War, cut off from civilization and peeing into pop bottles and eating nothing but nachos and chocolate bars. I imagined you pacing back and fourth…back and forth…back and forth, all the while muttering, “It’s Trudeau’s fault…it’s Trudeau’s fault…it’s Trudeau’s fault.” After all, Prime Minister Trudeau the Younger and his skinflint pals wouldn’t cough up $30 million when you went panhandling on Parliament Hill last spring.
You’re right, Commish, they seemed to have ample coin for everyone and everything—except three-downs football. So it’s understandable if you were gripped with paranoia, kind of like Captain Queeg and the strawberries.
I don’t know if you’ll face a mutiny like Captain Queeg once the COVID storm is behind us, Commish, but for now your hand is still on the wheel of the good ship CFL, and the rabble is looking to you for answers and signs that indicate a 2021 season is not only possible, but good to go.
I know that’s what I was hoping to hear on Monday when you made like Shubenacadie Sam or Fred de la Marmotte on Groundhog Day, finally popping your head out of a hole to study the landscape.
You had yourself a half-hour natter with Sara Orlesky of TSN, and who wouldn’t want to join Sara for a chat? She seems like such a lovely, young lass and, like yourself, I miss seeing her the sidelines, toque or not.
The thing is, I’d like to see Zach Collaros and Mike Reilly and Speedy B and Willie Jefferson between the lines a whole lot more, even if it means another summer and autumn listening to Glen Suitor, assuming TSN can pry him away from Keith Urban.
But you didn’t tell us when Rouge Football will return, Commish. Or if it will return.
You told us that Canada “is the greatest country on earth,” and you talked about putting “bums in seats,” and revenue streams, and CFL 2.0, and front-line health workers, and Rouge Football on the East Coast. It was all rah, rah, rah and siss-boom-bah boosterism.
You also confirmed there’ll soon be a 2021 schedule, but that isn’t worth the paper it will be printed on if the large lads in pads aren’t grabbing grass in June.
Near as I can tell, Commish, nothing has changed. Nada.
It would have taken $30 million from the feds to get you on the field for a runted season of six games per team this year—in a Winnipeg hub/bubble—and the CFL still doesn’t have any money, unless there’s a sugar daddy you aren’t telling us about.
Thus, unlike all other pro sports leagues in our part of the world, you stand alone as completely dependent upon squints in lab coats peering into microscopes.
The renewal of Rouge Football is only doable with the “bums in seats” that you talked about on Monday, Commish, and there has to be plenty of them. I don’t have to remind you that social distancing in the stands was the pre-pandemic norm in CFL danger locales of Vancouver, Montreal and the Republic of Tranna, but that’ll never do on the Prairies, Hamilton or Ottawa.
We both know the only avenue forward is a COVID-19 vaccine, Commish, and even at that we’re left to wonder how long it will take for the rabble to once again feel comfy enough to gather in large numbers.
I’m a Rouge Football lifer, Commish. Been following the three-downs game since I was knee high to Kenny Ploen and Leo Lewis, and I’ve been scribbling about it since 1980. That’s taking in a lot of territory. So I feel your pain. You should be on the Flattest of Lands this week to hand the Grey Grail to the winning side of the championship skirmish, and I’d like to be watching it on TSN.
I guess we can only hope for next year, Commish. In the meantime, do us CFL lifers a favor and don’t go back into hibernation. Keep us informed. Don’t let out of sight become out of mind.