Let’s talk about the Untouchables and Winnipeg Jets…horse racing in a Bizarro World…Hee! Haw! It’s the Bradshaw Bunch…open season on anything wearing green-and-white…Steve Nash and Robin Hood…Strat-O-Matic Baseball…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and it’s another long weekend until the next long weekend…

Okay, let’s get this out of the way right off the hop:

Peter Puck and Wayne Gretzky

Babe Ruth was sold. Wayne Gretzky was traded. The New York Mets told Nolan Ryan to get lost. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wanted out of the U.S. Midwest and the Milwaukee Bucks obliged. Three husbands dumped Marilyn Monroe.

So don’t talk to me about untouchables with the Winnipeg Jets.

I mean, untouchables? You’re talking untouchables? Tell that to Peter Pocklington.

Peter Puck’s the dude who dispatched Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings, then sat in a flashy convertible during a Stanley Cup parade in downtown Edmonton less than two years later.

It doesn’t always work out that way, of course, and we need look no further than Fenway Park in Boston for evidence. The Red Sox peddled the Bambino to the dreaded Evil Empire in New York for the kingly sum of $100,000, the first of four $25,000 payments made on Dec. 19, 1919.

The Bambino

“I do not wish to detract one iota from Ruth’s ability as a ballplayer nor from his value as an attraction, but there is no getting away from the fact that despite his 29 home runs, the Red Sox finished sixth in the race last season,” Bosox bankroll Harry Frazee harrumphed. “What the Boston fans want, I take it, and what I want because they want it, is a winning team, rather than a one-man team which finishes in sixth place.”

Well, the Red Sox didn’t celebrate another World Series championship until 2004. Ruth and the Yankees, meanwhile, sprayed each other with bubbly after seven American League pennants and four WS victories by the time the Sultan of Swat bid adieu to the Bronx and Yankee Stadium in 1934.

So, ya, parting ways with a young blue-chipper can blow up in your face like a Wile E. Coyote scheme gone wrong, but the value is in the return. Always.

Frazee accepted paper money in barter for Babe Ruth. Poor return. Pocklington, on the other hand, insisted on live bodies (Jimmy Carson and Martin Gelinas) in exchange for Gretzky, plus first-round picks in 1989, ’91, ’93, plus $15 million of Bruce McNall’s bankroll. The Oilers won a title sans No. 99, the Kings had a sniff in 1993 but never won with him.

Which brings us back to the Jets and untouchables.

Chevy

Let’s suppose, for the sake of discussion, that general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff answers the phone one day and it’s Joe Sakic on the line. The Colorado Avalanche GM is offering Cale Makar. He wants Patrick Laine in return. Is Chevy supposed to say “Sorry Joe, but Patty’s an untouchable,” and hang up? Maybe Jim Benning will call and offer up Quinn Hughes, asking for Nikolaj Ehlers in barter. You don’t really believe Chevy would decline because “Nik is an untouchable” do you?

Sorry, kids, but there hasn’t been an Untouchable since Eliot Ness and accomplices went after Al Capone’s booze dens in Chicago.

Puck Finn

Certainly there are players you’d like to keep in Jets linen, but if the right offer falls onto Chevy’s lap, damn straight he has to pull the trigger. (Assuming, of course, that the Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, gives it the official okie-dokie from on high.)

This, remember, is an outfit that failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament. A side that hasn’t won a post-season skirmish since skating to the National Hockey League’s final four more than two years ago. So it doesn’t matter if we’re talking Rink Rat Scheifele, Twig Ehlers, Puck Finn, Josh Morrissey or Kyle Connor.

If the right deal comes along, you do it.

What about goalkeeper Connor Hellebuyck, you ask? Same thing. In case you haven’t noticed, with the exception of Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning, teams still alive in the current Stanley Cup runoff are doing it without Vezina Trophy-winning puck stoppers. The Colorado Avalanche were one Michael Hutchinson save away from advancing to the final four. Ditto the Vancouver Canucks and Thatcher Demko. The New York Islanders won Game 7 vs. the Philly Flyers with backup Thomas Greiss in the blue paint. And don’t get me started on Anton Khudobin. So repeat after me: There should be no untouchables with the Winnipeg Jets.

The Kentucky Derby: Big hats and mint juleps.

In this, the strangest of years, the first leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown, the Kentucky Derby, became the second leg, and the second leg, the Preakness Stakes, will be the third leg, and the third leg, the Belmont Stakes, became the first leg. I swear, there hasn’t been this much confusion about legs since Joe Namath did that pantyhose commercial in the 1970s.

No horse had better legs than Authentic on Saturday at Churchill Downs in Louisville. The Kentucky-bred bay colt showed 14 other ponies his heels in the Run for the Roses, which means his four legs now have one leg. And if that sounds like some kind of a Zen koan, blame it on the Dalai Jocklama.

Normally, of course, the Kentucky Derby goes to the post the first Saturday in May, and the pews at Churchill Downs are full of fashionable ladies trying not to spill their mint juleps while bumping into one another with their big hats. Not so on the first Saturday in September 2020. The grandstand was basically barren before and after Authentic stuck his nose under the wire, and it just didn’t feel right without the Derby day buzz. Then again, is there anything about 2-aught-20 that feels right?

Come to think of it, were I a horse breeder, I’d have named my first foal this year Bizarro World. You know, as a salute to a time in history when up is down, over is under, right is left, and Terry Bradshaw gets his own reality TV show.

For real. Bradshaw has a show on the telly to call his own. The concept for The Bradshaw Bunch on E! Channel seems simple enough: The former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback surrounds himself with a bevy of beauties (his wife and three daughters), and cameras follow them about the ranch in Oklahoma while they discuss such urgent family matters as one of the girls getting a boob job. In other words, it’s the Kardashians do Hee Haw.

Hey, it’s the Labor Day weekend. The Saskatchewan Roughriders and Winnipeg Blue Bombers should be grabbing grass and growling this very afternoon in the annual Labor Day Weekend Classic on the Flattest of Lands. Not happening, though, because Canadian Football League coffers are as empty as a politician’s promise and its line of credit is worse than the COVID curve stateside. But that doesn’t mean the true tradition need end—taking cheap shots at Flatlanders and their football team. Which brings to mind a Matty-ism from a Jack Matheson column in the Winnipeg Tribune after a trade sent Tom Clements from the Ottawa Rough Riders to Saskatchewan in 1979: “Mrs. Tom Clements is said to have been the push behind her QB husband’s recent move because she felt ‘Ottawa’s a hick town,’ so you have to wonder how Regina will grab her.”

A typical day in Regina.

Premier Scott Moe has declared this Saskatchewan Roughriders Day on the Flattest of Lands, and he’s encouraged the rabble to adorn themselves in green-and-white garb. To which every citizen in the province said: “Huh? Ya means to tell us they makes tank tops and ball caps in other colors?” Seriously, a melonhead needs urging to wear green and white like a priest needs a reminder to say prayers on Sunday.

I haven’t watched a great portion of the NHL’s made-for-TV frolic in the Edmonton and Republic of Tranna bubbles, but my sampling has been sufficient enough to know that Sportsnet’s Chris Cuthbert calls a terrific game. He’s going to be missed in the TSN blurt box once the CFL is back in business, whenever that is.

Steve Nash

I agree, the hiring of Steve Nash as head coach of the Brooklyn Nets is a peculiar bit of business. I mean, he’s a scrawny white guy in a league full of large Black men, he’s Canadian in a league of mostly Americans, and he has zero experience. We haven’t seen anyone that miscast since a movie mogul put Kevin Costner in a pair of tights and told him he was Robin Hood.

Speaking of media, cheering in the press box is supposed to be taboo, but news snoops in the Republic of Tranna must have missed the memo. Just watch the sports highlights shows on TSN and Sportsnet and you’ll hear them openly swooning and unabashedly root, root, rooting for the Toronto Jurassics in the National Basketball Association playoffs, and the same must be said of the boys on the beat at the daily newspapers. They don’t give the Maple Leafs, Blue Jays, Tranna FC or Argonauts a similar amount of sugar, which leaves me to wonder what it is about the Jurassics that has won over such a normally hard-scrabble lot.

Got a kick out of Gregg Drinnan’s piece on his time at the Winnipeg Tribune, a tour of duty that included a case of mistaken identity. No spoilers here, though. I’ll let Gregg tell the story. I’ll just say it involved the Greaser (that’s Gregg), Knuckles Irving, Cactus Jack, Kenny Ploen, Blue Bombers GM Earl Lunsford and a fancy, shmancy hotel suite in Calgary (don’t worry, it’s not X-rated). Gregg also confirms that some of the Trib tales I told last week might actually contain a morsel of truth.

One of the things I didn’t mention in my remembrances of the Trib folding 40 years ago was Strat-O-Matic Baseball, a board game based on the actual stats of Major League players. We’d play it during our down time, waiting for late copy or phone calls to come in, and the death of Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver last week reminded me of the year we held a Strat-O-Matic player draft. Seaver was among my starting hurlers, and one night he spun a no-hitter against the Ian (Caveman) Dutton Nine. A few years later while with the Calgary Sun, I had occasion to interview Tom Terrific and, as an ice-breaker, I mentioned the no-no he had hurled v. the Dutton Nine. He looked at me like I was speaking Casey Stengelese, but chuckled. “Don’t laugh,” I told him, “that board game no-hitter will probably be the deciding factor that gets you to Cooperstown some day. The Hall of Fame voters won’t be able to ignore it.” Sure enough, the great New York Mets righthander was elected in 1992, and you can only imagine my disappointment when he failed to mention that Strat-O-Matic perfect game in his acceptance speech.

Ed Willes

I’m not sure if Ed Willes left the building by choice or if he’s the latest victim of Postmedia buffoonery, but he’s done after 38 years in the rag trade, the last 22 at the Vancouver Province. Some of you might remember Ed’s time with the Winnipeg Sun, where he detailed the daily goings-on of the Jets and wrote a column during the 1990s. It was always high-end stuff. The guy can flat-out scribble. Ed turns 65 in November, so perhaps this was the end game all along, but I’m always suspicious whenever quality writers walk away from Postmedia, which has destroyed newspaper competition everywhere west of Winnipeg. If it was his call, good on him. He’s earned his warm corner. If he was nudged by the suits in the Republic of Tranna, shame on Postmedia.

The Willes adios brings to mind a quote from Trent Frayne, the finest jock essayist in my lifetime: “It is an axiom of sports that the legs go first. For sportswriters, it’s the enthusiasm.”

Once upon a time, I officiated kids sports, so I speak from lived experience when I tell you it can be a thankless, often intimidating experience. Some coaches, parents and officials are at odds with acceptable behavior in mixed company, which is putting it politely. So what in the name of Pele was the Manitoba Soccer Association thinking when it instructed its game referees to play the role of rat fink and virtually red card fans who fail to observe physical distancing protocol at kids’ matches? Expecting whistle blowers to be, well, whistle blowers isn’t just unfair, it’s stupid.

Helene Britton and the boys club.

Last week we mentioned that Jennifer Lopez and her main squeeze, Alex Rodriguez, had failed in their bid to buy the New York Mets. If successful, JLo would have joined a short list of female owners in Major League Baseball. The first was Helene Britton, who inherited the St. Louis Cardinals from her uncle, Stanley Robison, in 1911, when women still hadn’t won the right to vote in the U.S. This is how the St. Louis Post-Dispatch described the Redbirds’ new lady owner: “She is small and round and trim, with decided chic. Her mourning costume (for her uncle) failed to subdue certain lively touches that indicate a love of life and gayety…her attitude is ever alert.” Other National League owners, all men, tried to bully the small, round and trim Helene into selling the Cardinals “for the good of the game,” but she held out until 1917, finally accepting $350,000 for the club and ballpark. Among other things while bankrolling the Redbirds, she introduced Ladies Day providing free attendance to women. But only if accompanied by a male escort.

Billie Jean King and Ilana Kloss.

And, finally, today marks the 20th anniversary of Major League Baseball’s first Pride-themed night. It took place at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, mainly because a lesbian couple had been escorted out of the ballpark a week earlier by eight heavy-handed security guards. The crime? The women shared a smooch in the bleachers. Who could imagine back then that two lesbians, Billie Jean King and partner Ilana Kloss, would be part-owners of the Dodgers today?

Let’s talk about the NHL lottery and Mickey Mouse…privacy vs. public figure…Edmonton’s Rocky Mountains…B.C.’s Rock Star Doc…Theo’s Hockey Hall of Fame snub…secret ballots…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and, like the National Hockey League draft lottery, a lot of this probably won’t make sense to anyone…

I once saw a monkey figure out a Rubik’s Cube, but I’ll wager that the same smart-ass monkey couldn’t figure out the NHL draft lottery process.

Ideally, the first shout-out at the annual auction of teen talent would go to the NHL’s Sad Sack outfit, the Detroit Red Wings, who gave new meaning to the term “bottom feeder” in a season never completed. But no. The ping-pong balls didn’t bounce the Winged Wheel’s way in Phase 1 of the lottery on Friday night, and a Team To Be Named Later will pluck can’t-miss-kid Alex Lafreniere from the pool of NHL wannabes. The TTBNL might actually be named Pittsburgh Penguins, who narrowly edged the Red Wings in the Eastern Conference standings by a mere 47 points, and, as Brian Burke emphasized on Sportsnet, that’s “nothing short of a disgrace.”

Brian Burke

Burkie was in full-throated rant mode post-lottery, and he went off on the NHL in a natter with David Amber. The former NHL general manager and league exec said: “I think it makes our league look really bad. I think it makes our league look Mickey Mouse, and we’re not Mickey Mouse.” Perhaps not, but Goofy and Dopey come to mind.

So, after Phase 1 of the lottery, the Edmonton Oilers have a chance to win the No. 1 pick and land Lafreniere. Of course they do.

Let me see if I’ve got this straight: In March, one basketball player tested positive for COVID-19, putting the brakes on the entire sports world and, at the same time, launching a stampede to the toilet paper aisles that resembled the California gold rush of the mid-1800s. Yet now, with many dozens of athletes in many sports testing positive, it’s go-time for the NHL, the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball? What part of “deadly virus” do they not understand?

Just between you and me, I’m more excited to see toilet paper back on the shelves than shinny on the ice, hoops on the hardwood, and rounders in the ballyard.

Auston Matthews

It’s an old debate: Public figure vs. private citizen. Does the rabble have the right to know that Auston Matthews has tested positive for COVID-19? Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna thinks so, thus he wrote the story even though Matthews and the Toronto Maple Leafs preferred to keep it on the QT. Others, like TSN and Sportsnet, ignored it. Why? Because they’re part of the Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment structure, and they don’t think an employee’s personal health information is any of our business. Seems to me it should be up to the athlete. If Matthews had chosen to disclose his “upper body injury,” fine. If not, you can’t convince me we’re better off knowing about it. Unless he’s going to be sitting next to me at the pub, it’s none of my bee’s wax.

Old friend Ed Willes of Postmedia Vancouver took a big-picture look at the Matthews situation, and he doesn’t like what he sees vis-a-vis the pro sports team-media dynamic, in terms of controlling the message. He laments “a landscape where every attempt is made to manage availability in order to create homogeneous storylines,” and adds this: “Maybe you don’t find this outrageous. But this comes at a time when both the business and the soul of traditional media is fighting to survive. We used to be an unbiased filter between the established order and the public. Sometimes we still are. But we’re losing our strong, independent voices. We’re losing our place and the public is losing something in the bargain. You can understand why teams and leagues, to say nothing of political parties and their leaders, like this arrangement. But you shouldn’t.” If he thinks sports teams are controlling the message now, he ain’t seen nothing yet. It’ll be worse on the other side of the pandemic. That genie is out of the bottle, and she’s not going back in.

Longtime Sports Illustrated scribe S.L. Price had this take on the Willes essay: “This is more important than it seems, a canary in the ever-darkening journalism coalmine.” A tad dramatic, perhaps, but likely true.

Edmonton or Vancouver?

That was quite a sales pitch Alberta Premier Jason Kenney delivered in attempting to convince NHL Commish Gary Bettman that he’d be wise to set up shop in Edmonton for the Stanley Cup runoff. I mean, mountain vistas. Mountain resorts. Mountain lakes. Mountain waterfalls. Mustangs roaming wild and free. Who knew? Last time I was in downtown Edmonton, it looked a lot like downtown Winnipeg, only without the inferiority complex. But, hey, that was a couple of decades ago. Perhaps climate change means the Rocky Mountains have crept closer to the Taj West Edmonton Mahal. Does Greta Thunberg know and does she approve?

The Kenney video tweet supposedly was aimed at families of NHL players. While hubby/dad is busy playing hockey and living in a downtown hub bubble, mom and the kids can scatter hither and yon for fun and frolic. In other words: Come to Edmonton, but you probably won’t want to stay.

Dr. Bonnie Henry

Vancouver, which actually features mountain vistas and oceanfront property for real rather than on propaganda material, is out as an NHL playoff hub bubble, and I’m not hearing a big squawk from anyone on the Left Flank of the land. That’s because B.C.’s top doc, Dr. Bonnie Henry, managed to get a handle on the COVID-19 count from the get-go, and no one’s in the mood for a backslide by bending quarantine rules for an NHL invasion. “We are doing very well, we have a good balance,” says the Rock Star Doc. “But under no circumstances was I going to compromise in any way the health of people here in British Columbia.” She’d have put a series on hold if players tested positive, and that wouldn’t work in Commish Gary’s world. Some suggest a hub bubble in Vancity would have meant $19 million in found money during a financially crippling pandemic, but what’s the cost of lives?

Loved Scott Campbell’s fun tweet about the Hockey Hall of Fame’s latest list of inductees, which includes former Oilers defender Kevin Lowe: “Another tough year for me not making HHOF, but nobody cares. How many Avco Cups did Lowe win, huh?!!” You tell ’em, Scotty. Your one World Hockey Association champion ring is worth all six of Lowe’s Stanley Cup rings. Or maybe not.

Quick now, name all eight female players elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame. Heck, name five of the eight. Betcha can’t do it. For answer, see below.

Theo Fleury

Now that you ask, yes, I believe Theo Fleury belongs in the HHOF based on the numbers he put up in the NHL and his success while wearing Team Canada linen. But, no, I’m not surprised that he’s been snubbed again. His on-ice bona fides are beyond challenge, but, as he wrote in his book Playing with Fire, “Hockey wants to be known as the school’s good-looking, clean-cut jock,” and that ain’t Theo Fleury. Confessions of off-ice antics that included excessive boozing, heavy drug abuse, womanizing, gambling and barroom brawling tend to be a turnoff to the purists.

Got a kick out of Mad Mike McIntyre’s take on the HHOF election process, which remains a deep, dark secret. “Because vote totals aren’t released, we have no idea how close Fleury came, who may have lobbied for his inclusion and who was against it,” he writes in the Drab Slab. “Compare that with how the NHL’s annual awards work, in which a couple hundred members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association reveal our ballots every year in the name of accountability and transparency, which is how it should be.” Every year? Spare us the back-patting, Mad Mike. The PHWA was a secret society for 49 years and didn’t play show-and-tell with its ballots until 2018, so pots shouldn’t be calling kettles black.

Lou Marsh Trophy

On the subject of pots and kettles, Damien Cox of the Toronto Star also took a run at the HHOF, asking this question: “Can anybody offer a plausible rationale for the secrecy?” Right. The guy who serves as executive director of the Lou Marsh Trophy voting committee is calling out the HHOF for a lack of transparency. That’s like Lance Armstrong trashing A-Rod for taking drugs. We’re never told exactly who and how many people are on Cox’s Lou Marsh selection panel, nor which jocks receive how many votes in Canada’s athlete-of-the-year balloting. We just know that a bunch of news snoops gather around a big boardroom table in the Republic of Tranna for snacks (presumably) and to bicker for a couple of hours. After that, they send up a puff of white smoke to alert the rabble that they’ve anointed the country’s top jock. That’s transparent like a jar of peanut butter.

Something only a news snoop from the Republic of Tranna would say, Vol. 3,692: “Everyone loves Vince Carter in Canada,” TSN gab guy Jay Onrait declared last week after the former Tranna Jurassics star retired. Well, speaking only for moi and not the entire nation, I’ve never understood the Vince Carter as God thing, and I think about him as often as I watch Friends reruns. Which is never. (Loved Phoebe Buffay, though.)

Megan Rapinoe

Kudos to Sportsnet, which has been featuring stories and video in support of gay athletes during Pride month, whereas TSN basically ignored the issue. “There’s a lot more out athletes who have made names of themselves in the media—people like Megan Rapinoe, Adam Rippon or Gus Kenworthy—so…the media are collectively much more aware of LGBTQ people in sports,” says Jim Buzinski, co-founder of the gay website Outsports. “But also, at some level, I think they get a little bit bored of it if there’s not a big name coming out.” So that explains it. TSN is bored. Or boring. (Seriously, have you been watching SportsCentre lately?)

According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, the Tranna Blue Jays have asked Trudeau The Younger for permission to play their MLB season at home. If that request is granted by the feds, perhaps they’ll also explain why the Winnipeg Goldeyes are calling Fargo, N.D., home this summer.

Funny how we develop a rooting interest for different sports outfits. My team in the English Premier League is freshly crowned champion Liverpool FC, and it has nothing to do with footy skill. I like them because of the Beatles and the team theme song, You’ll Never Walk Alone by another Liverpool band, Gerry and the Pacemakers. I couldn’t name three members of the LFC starting 11, but, hey, I know the names of all four lads in the Beatles’ starting lineup, and one who didn’t make the final cut (hello, Pete Best). You’re right, it’s probably a silly reason to root, root, root for LFC, so sue me.

And, finally, the eight female players in the Hockey Hall of Fame are Kim St-Pierre, Angela James, Cammi Granato, Hayley Wickenheiser, Geraldine Heaney, Angela Ruggiero, Danielle Goyette and Jayna Hefford. If you named them all without going to Google, I’m guessing you wear your hair in a ponytail.

Let’s talk about Kevin Sawyer, Jared Spurgeon and Saran Wrap…clashing opinions on the sports pages…newspaper competition…Coach PoMo sounding like Coach Claude…Mathieu Perreault’s retreat…Sheriff George’s gaffe…giving Trump the finger…remembering Al Davies and other terrific people at the Winnipeg Sun…and other things on my mind

A Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and I wish the Packers and 49ers were the early game today, because it’ll be past my bedtime by the time they finish…

So, now we’re told it was just a 16th birthday prank. You know, teenage hijinks 14 years ago.

And, according to Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab, “many laughs were had” and it was something that Jared Spurgeon “still chuckles about to this day.”

Except for this: There were adults in the room when Spurgeon’s teammates with the Spokane Chiefs thought it would be a hoot to strap the Western Hockey League rookie to a pillar, his tiny feet dangling high off the ground.

Kevin Sawyer

Kevin Sawyer, a 31-year-old assistant coach at the time, has admitted to being among those adults. He did nothing to stop it.

More to the point, Sawyer yukked it up with the teenage boys back then, and he still believed the incident to be a great source of humor two weeks ago when he spun this “favorite” Spurgeon story during the TSN broadcast of a Winnipeg Jets-Minnesota Wild skirmish.

“He was a 15-year-old, two months into the season we Saran wrapped him to a pillar in the arena, about six feet up in the air,” he told viewers. “He was tiny. He looked like he was 12.”

Yup, that’s some kind of fun.

The thing is, it isn’t such a knee-slapper anymore, because Sawyer has been ragdolled pillar to post (pun intended) in the past two weeks, first on social media and now by a mainstream media that has finally weighed in. The TSN gab guy, who hasn’t been heard from since, has some serious explaining to do, and apparently he’ll have his say during a Tuesday night broadcast from Carolina.

What will he tell the masses? Try this:

“I was wrong to make light of what many consider a hazing incident. In no way do I condone hazing in sports or anywhere else in society. That’s not who I am. Hazing was wrong then and it’s wrong now, and I regret what happened to Jared Spurgeon and I regret talking about it in a joking manner. I’ve already spoken to Jared, and I apologize to TSN, the Winnipeg Jets, and the National Hockey League for my inappropriate and misguided comments.”

Then it will be back to regularly scheduled sugar coating of Jets’ missteps for Sawyer.

Should that, however, be the end of it?

Jeremy Roenick

I mean, if NBC Sports pulls the plug on Jeremy Roenick because of glib remarks about his sexual fantasies on the Spittin’ Chiclets podcast, shouldn’t TSN discipline Sawyer for tee-heeing about a hazing incident dressed up as birthday buffoonery? Shouldn’t Bell Media at least say something?

After all, TSN had no hesitancy in trotting out its stable of squawk boxes to report on and gasbag about Bill Peters and Mike Babcock and Marc Crawford when those National Hockey League coaches were outed as racists and/or bullies. And, lord knows, they used up two weeks worth of oxygen dissecting Don Cherry’s very public views on poppies and immigrants.

Yet not a peep about one of their own boasting about hazing. Go figure.

Meanwhile, it’s about the Jets. Forget that Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman’s signature isn’t on Sawyer’s paycheque. He’s their guy. Their broadcaster. If they consider his remarks offensive and inappropriate (they should), why wouldn’t they lean into TSN and suggest they zip his lips?

But, again, not a peep.

Mind you, that’s nothing unusual for True North Sports & Entertainment, which makes Dustin Byfuglien seem like a big blabbermouth. If the Puck Pontiff and TNSE have something to say, you can be sure they won’t say it.

In this case, what they aren’t saying pretty much says it all: They and, by extension, the NHL are okay with a team broadcaster who jokes about the hazing of a 16-year-old boy.

Mad Mike

This is what I like about a two-newspaper town: Differing opinions. And both of the main sports columnists at the two River City rags delivered contrary views of the Sawyer incident.

Here’s Mad Mike McIntyre: “The only thing Sawyer appears guilty of here is butchering the way he told a story and causing a massive misunderstanding that has been allowed to rage out of control.”

The headline on the website said the incident was a “big deal that isn’t,” and Mad Mike basically wrote it off as a meh moment. He also informed us that no adults were involved, but then totally contradicted his own narrative by writing, “Everyone gathered around to sing Happy Birthday, including Sawyer and other team staff.” So, let’s see if I’ve got this straight: No adults were involved, but adults were involved. And he accuses everyone else of being misinformed? Good luck with that. Fact is, Sawyer admitted on air that he was present. Mad Mike also insists that Spurgeon “still chuckles about it to this day,” yet he provides no supporting quotes. We’re simply supposed to take his word for it, just like his “rotten to the core” narrative about the Jets last season.

Paul Friesen

Now here’s Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun: “It doesn’t matter if it was a birthday prank or a rookie prank. To say Spurgeon hadn’t complained about the incident and therefore it wasn’t serious is a moot point. A 15-year-old away from home for the first time being ridiculed by adults from a team that he needs to advance his career isn’t likely to speak out if he feels threatened or intimidated. Viewers of that Jets game were rightfully offended by the message Sawyer’s story sent to the kids watching. There was nothing funny about it. There never is when people are singled out to be mocked.”

Friesen is spot on.

I should point out that, according to Friesen, Sawyer called Spurgeon the night he made his regrettable remarks. If it was no big deal, as Mad Mike submits, why would Sawyer reach out?

Mad Mike totally lost the plot with this line: “Would such an incident be acceptable here in 2020? That’s debatable.” No. It isn’t. It’s debatable to say Nathan MacKinnon is a better hockey player than Connor McDavid, but there’s nothing debatable about the practice of hazing. It’s wrong. If Mad Mike thinks otherwise, I suggest he gather the boys in the Drab Slab newsroom and they Saran wrap a summer student intern to a convenient pole, six feet up in the air, outside the Winnipeg Free Press building. Then he can scribble a column telling us about all the yuks they had at the kid’s expense. Let’s see how well that plays in 2020.

Good Ol’ Hometown is fortunate to have competing dailies. The Sun-Drab Slab dynamic doesn’t exist anywhere else in the western colonies and, being a newspaper junkie, I feel cheated when I call up the rags in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Saskatchewan. Don’t get me wrong. There are quality scribes who crank out quality copy in those locales, but no contrasting viewpoints. The boys and girls on the beat don’t have to kick the other guy’s ass. Too often it’s one voice for two papers. I read Terry Jones in both the E-Town Sun and E-Town Journal. I read Ed Willes in both the Vancity Province and Vancity Sun. So, ya, as much as I rag on Mad Mike (he’s such an easy target), I’m glad he’s there to provide an opposing slant on issues.

So here’s something the rabble probably didn’t want to hear after their hockey heroes had been paddywhacked 7-1 by the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday night at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie: “I don’t have an explanation for you. We were, I think, moving right and then we got to 2-0 and now we’re waiting for the puck to come to us. That’s the best explanation I can give you. I don’t know,” confessed Paul Maurice, the Jets head coach who’s paid to know. The last guy to talk like that after ugly losses was Claude Noel, and we all know what happened to him. That’s not to suggest Coach Potty Mouth is on his way out of Dodge, but when I hear him say, “I don’t know,” it sure sounds like an echo of Coach Claude’s “I can’t give you the answers to why” we lose.

Mathieu Perreault

That was an impressive hissy fit Mathieu Perreault had after Jake Vertanen of the Vancouver Canucks fed the Jets forward a left elbow for a late-night snack last week, and I can’t say I blame the guy for being PO’d. Total cheap shot. “Player safety my ass,” he snorted. Equally impressive was Perreault’s retreat after threatening to use his stick for a pitch fork the next time some scoundrel decides to give him a noogie. “Obviously I wouldn’t slash anyone in the face. I’d like to take that back for sure,” he told news snoops. I haven’t heard anyone swallow words back that fast since Richard Nixon admitted he really was a crook.

Sheriff George

Not surprisingly, NHL player safety dude George Parros has felt more heat than a donut in a deep fryer for refusing to punish Vertanen. Perreault and the Jets are PO’d, the rabble (at least in Good Ol’ Hometown) is PO’d, news snoops (at least in Good Ol’ Hometown) are PO’d, and Prince Harry and Meghan might even be PO’d. But let’s not lay it all on Sheriff George’s lap. NHL players have a dog in this fight, and if they showed a bit more respect for each other’s well-being, we wouldn’t see such a steady parade of ne’er-do-wells marching to the principal’s office.

The Canucks are in first place. Go figure. The Tranna Maple Leafs, who could feed five third world countries for the next 10 years with the signing bonuses they’re paying, are below the playoff line. Go figure.

Conor McVulgar

The most vulgar man in sports, Conor McGregor, won in his return to the UFC octagon on Saturday night, and those who follow the game say he’s a changed man. Apparently, he’s kinder, more gentle, more soft spoken. I’m not convinced. I mean, immediately after the bout, McGregor demanded a rematch with that old man he thumped out in an Irish pub last year.

This is rich (but not at all surprising): When the Florida Panthers deep-sixed head coach Gerard Gallant, Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna described them as the “most clueless front office in the NHL.” When the Vegas Golden Knights gave Gallant his walking papers last week, he tweeted, “If they believe a coaching change was necessary, then I will give them the benefit of the doubt.”

The International Olympic Committee has officially warned athletes that any form of political protest will be a strict no-no at this year’s Summer Games in Tokyo. Rule 50 outlaws messaging on signage and/or armbands, and there’ll be no hand gestures, kneeling or refusal to follow the IOC’s uptight protocol at venues or in the Olympic Village. But apparently American soccer star Megan Rapinoe is still allowed to flip Donald Trump the bird if he shows up.

Al Davies

And, finally, one of the Winnipeg Sun’s founding fathers, Al Davies, died recently, and a lot of us should be thankful for what Al, Tom Denton, Frank Goldberg and Bill Everitt started on Nov. 5, 1980. The tabloid isn’t everyone’s rag du jour and has long been mocked and ridiculed as a poor man’s version of the National Enquirer, but it offers another voice and that’s important. I enjoyed most of my time there, working with terrific people like Dave Komosky, young Eddie Tait, Tom Brennan, Ketch, John Kendle, Homer Connors, Judy Owen, Paul Friesen, Jon Thordarson, Pat Stevens, Rhonda Brown, Rhonda Hart, Paul Robson, Big Jim Bender and so many others. Fabulous group.

Let’s talk about the Paper Bag Bowl…the Winnipeg Blue Bombers winning by a rouge…Kate’s down on sex…Andrew Harris still paying the price for his PED bust…E-Town is the best Grey Cup town…Commish Randy blowing smoke…Kid Dynamite trashing football deity…the Drab Slab beefs up in newspaper wars…Babs overkill on Sportsnet…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I’m in a Grey Cup state of mind…

Welcome to the O-For-The-Century Bowl, featuring the two biggest losers since Decca took a pass on The Beatles and Ford went all-in on the Edsel.

I mean, we’re talking Wile E. Coyote v. his own twin brother here, without the ACME explosives or falling anvils, although I wouldn’t put anything past Simoni Lawrence, the Darth Defender of Rouge Football.

Simoni figures to be one of the central participants in today’s Grey Cup skirmish between the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Hamilton Tabbies, and if he hasn’t dropped a boulder on Zach Collaros’ head by the end of the day, chances are the guys in blue-and-gold togs will claim bragging rights in the Canadian Football League for the first time in almost three decades.

Pundits across the landscape have dubbed this 107th edition of the three-down championship the Drought Bowl, and it’s a nice, catchy title, even if the Paper Bag Bowl would be just as apt.

It’ll be exactly 29 years tomorrow when the Bombers last grabbed the Grey Grail, while the Tabbies haven’t taken a swig from the goblet since Nov. 28, 1999, so one of these storied franchises will finally join the rest of us in the 21st century.

And, yes, I would prefer Winnipeg FC to be on the high side of the tote board.

What can I say? I’m a lowly blogger, not one of the ink-stained wretches who pretend they don’t have any rooting interest in the joust, thus I’m allowed to wave pom-poms, and mine just happen to be blue and gold.

So make the final: Winnipeg 28, Hamilton 27.

More predictions: Most valuable player, Bombers’ quarterback Collaros; most outstanding Canadian, Andrew Harris; most annoying natterbug, Glen Suitor; smarmiest smile, Mike Benevides.

Kate Beirness

Things I learned while watching too much blah, blah, blah on TSN’s pre-game coverage Saturday: Kate Beirness doesn’t like to talk about sex, and Davis Sanchez shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a microphone. Not sure why blushing Kate is so skittish about discussing the annual Jim Hunt Memorial Question re the large lads engaging in pre-match nookie, but she came across as Queen of the Prudes while hiding her head and moaning, “I hate it.” As for Sanchez, I’ll be kind and just say that he and microphones are meant for each other like a cow is meant to sing opera.

Brief fashion observation I: Kate might want to tone down on the eye makeup. Ru Paul uses less.

Brief fashion observation II: Benevides and Sanchez don’t know how to wear a cowboy hat. Milt Stegall does.

Someone at TSN needs to tell Matthew Scianitti that he’s reporting on a game, not the JFK assassination or the Hindenburg disaster. The dude smiles less often than a hangman, and his walky-talky interviews are about as light and breezy as closing arguments at a murder trial.

Andrew Harris

I don’t know about you, but I found it interesting that members of the CFL Players Association voted William Stanback, not Andrew Harris, the all-star running back this season. The Bombers’ PED-tainted tailback outnumbered Stanback by a considerable margin—1,909 rushing/passing yards to 1,377—so I have to believe the players’ vote was the ultimate and definitive judgement on Harris getting caught with his hand in the juice jar. Except there’s this: They voted Louis-Philippe Bourassa as the all-star long snapper, even though he failed a pee test and, like Harris, was told to get lost for two games. Why did Harris’ drug rap disqualify him from all-star consideration, but not Bourassa’s?

Better question: Why is there such a thing as an all-star long snapper?

Speedy B

On the subject of honors and trinkets, it was between Brandon Banks of the Tabbies and Corn Dog Cody Fajardo of the Saskatchewan Flatlanders as the grandest of all performers in Rouge Football, and Speedy B received 41 of a possible 50 first-place votes from the nation’s grid reporters. Which begs this question: Why were Saskatchewan news snoops allowed nine votes?

Since taking my leave from the rag trade in 1999, there are only two events I’ve missed covering: The Brier and Grey Cup, even if the work became a total grind as the week progressed. I’ve never been a party animal, but I enjoyed watching everyone else whoop it up during the Grand National Drunk, and I can tell you that nobody threw a better bash than the folks from E-Town. The Spirit of Edmonton was a must-visit venue during any Grey Cup hooraw I attended.

Actually, Edmonton was my favorite Grey Cup city. I have fond memories of bending elbows with Terry Jones of the E-Town Sun and Al Ruckaber of the C-Town Sun—in a cop shop well after last call. True story. Ruckaber and I were also politely asked to leave the piano lounge at the Chateau Lacombe that week, because we kept winning Name That Tune and getting our tab picked up by the house. On the third night, the host saw us walk in, bought us both a beer and quietly told us to hit the pavement so someone else could win.

Worst Grey Cup cities were the Republic of Tranna and Vancouver. I recall being on the Left Flank one November with Ed Tait when he was still Young Eddie and working in the rag trade. We were leaving a busy-as-bees lobby of the Bayshore Inn the day of the game when an elderly chap stopped us at the exit.
“Is there something special happening here this week?” he asked.
“Ya,” Young Eddie confirmed, “it’s the Grey Cup.”
“The Greek what?”

Randy Ambrosie, the commish of Rouge Football, was in total blow-smoke-up-their-butts mode during Grey Cup week, calling the CFL “the world’s largest global football league” and telling interrogators that he’s “super optimistic” about the markets in the Republic of Tranna and Vancouver. Here are some numbers that he’s “super optimistic” about:

I cringe every time I hear Commish Randy talk about the CFL’s stance on domestic violence, because it’s such hollow prattle. He’s the guy who welcomed woman-beating Johnny Manziel north of the border.

Paul Friesen

Plenty of quality copy came out of Cowtown in the past week, and my favorite reads were Paul Friesen’s insight on Bombers QB Zach Collaros in the Winnipeg Sun, and Chris O’Leary’s take on Winnipeg FC head coach Mike O’Shea at CFL.ca. As my first sports editor Jack Matheson would say, “damn good stuff.”

Also found a piece by the aforementioned T. Jones notable and interesting due to some ghastly blasphemy from Gerry James, a celebrated running back and kicker with the Blue-and-Gold in the glory years. According to Kid Dynamite, legendary sideline steward Bud Grant “was a miserable bastard. Bud was very stoic. You could have a helluva game and he didn’t give anybody any credit. I don’t think anybody liked him.” Apparently, Gerry also believes the Buddha was a fat tub of goo who needed to get more exercise, and Jesus was a layabout who bounded about the countryside because he couldn’t hold down a steady job.

By the way, shouldn’t our so-called national newspaper have dispatched its sports columnist to Cowtown for Grey Cup week? You bet. Alas, the deep thinkers at the Globe and Mail thought it would be wiser to keep Cathal Kelly close to home in The ROT, I suppose just in case Mike Babcock stubbed his toe on the way back from his retirement party.

The Drab Slab, perhaps recognizing that the Winnipeg Sun has given it a serious paddywhacking, a wedgie and a swirly in playoff coverage, finally noticed that the Bombers are still playing football. So the cavalry arrived in the form of Jen Zoratti, Kevin Rollason, Doug Speirs, Ben Waldman and yesterday’s man, Paul Wiecek. Waldman is the only one of that bunch to join Jeff Hamilton and Mad Mike McIntyre with feet on the ground in Calgary, and he used them to track down Gabe Langlois, better known as Dancing Gabe. Ya, that’s what every Coupe Grey package needs, a feature on Dancing Gabe. Not! Much of the additional copy made it to the website, but not the print editions, and I’m pleased to report that yesterday’s man Wiecek shook off the moth balls and managed to scribble an entire column without mentioning Mike O’Shea’s smirk or short pants. Apparently retirement has mellowed him.

I enjoy newspaper wars and, even though the Drab Slab came at the Sun with a flury of copy on Saturday, they were trounced on the weekend. Here are the numbers for Bombers coverage:
Friday:     Drab Slab   3 pages,   5 articles;     Sun 14 pages, 17 articles.
Saturday: Drab Slab   6 pages, 12 articles;     Sun 17 pages, 14 articles.
Sunday:   Drab Slab   5 pages,   8 articles;     Sun 19 pages, 15 articles.
Totals:     Drab Slab 14 pages,  25 articles;    Sun 50 pages, 46 articles.

Mike Babcock

Can you say overkill, kids? Sportsnet certainly can. I mean, I tuned into Sportsnet Central at 2 o’clock in the a.m. on Thursday and, 20 minutes later, the talking heads were still gasbagging about Mike Babcock’s ouster as bench puppeteer of the underachieving Tranna Maple Leafs. I’d like to tell you how many pundits Sportsnet trotted out to wax poetically about Babs, either on air or the website, but I ran out of fingers, thumbs and toes to count on. Let’s just say everyone from the Dalai Lama to Doug Ford had their say, and you know Sportsnet has jumped the shark when it posts 11 minutes of in-your-face rambling from novelty act Steve Dangle. It wasn’t any different on Friday morning, when the main page on the Sportsnet website featured a staggering 27 articles/videos devoted to Babcock and his successor, Sheldon Keefe, and that included an open letter from Dangle to the new head coach. Good grief. This wasn’t Neil Armstrong leaving footprints on the moon. It was a hockey coach being told to clear out his desk. Happens all the time.

Earth to Sportsnet/TSN! Earth to Sportsnet/TSN! Most of us who live in the colonies don’t enjoy you force-feeding us 20 minutes of news on Auston Matthews’ grooming habits every night before acknowledging that life exists beyond The ROT. We have our own preferences. Like, here’s where the major dailies on the western frontier played the Babs’ adios on their sports pages:
Winnipeg Sun: Page 17.
Calgary Sun: Page 16.
Edmonton Sun: Page 6.
Winnipeg Free Press: Page 5.
Vancouver Province: Page 5.
Regina Leader-Post: Page 2.
That’s right, Babs being kicked to the curb wasn’t page 1 sports news
anywhere in the colonies. And no sheet was printing open letters from Steve Dangle to anyone.

Just wondering: Why is there a Steve Dangle? His gig isn’t clever, it isn’t funny, it isn’t witty, it isn’t informative, it isn’t entertaining. It’s just some wannabe somethingorother sitting in his man cave and close-talking to a camera. I can’t imagine anyone with an IQ higher than Auston Matthews’ sweater number actually enjoys it.

Really enjoyed GM Brad Treliving’s take on the recent struggles of his Calgary Flames. “The manager’s been horse shit,” he confessed. At last, some truth about the Milan Lucic trade.

And, finally, I don’t know about you, but I’ve reached the stage in my life where I’d rather sit in a bar than raise the bar.

Let’s talk about Randy Carlyle and Body by Pillsbury…liars, liars pants on fire…what say you, Jeff Hecht?…E-Town trumps Pegtown…the CFL’s best newspaper market…men overboard at Sportsnet…and the WJM newsroom

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and this post was written without the benefit of performance-enhancing nouns, verbs, adjectives or metaphors, but there are trace amounts of sarcasm, irreverence and flippancy…

Back in April 1989, when drug cheat Ben Johnson still had our attention after his fall from grace at the Seoul Olympics, word drifted out of Stockholm that Randy Carlyle had failed a drug test.

I laughed.

Anyone who’d ever met or seen Randy Carlyle probably laughed.

Randy Carlyle

I mean, you didn’t get Carlyle’s body with daily visits to the gym, augmented by human growth hormone milk shakes. We’re talking Body by Pillsbury. Whatever muscle the Winnipeg Jets defender had was well concealed by a pleasantly soft exterior, most likely the product of jam-filled pop tarts or crescent rolls stuffed with cheese and bacon. His soft under belly really was his soft underbelly.

Thus, after Carlyle had piddled in a bottle at the World Hockey Championship and women/men wearing lab coats didn’t like the color of his pee—they discovered traces of the banned substance mesterolone—there were many giggles, even though he had officially joined Johnson on the Drug Cheat Hall of Shame roll call.

“When we first heard the words ‘steroids’ and ‘Randy’ in the same sentence, everyone in the room laughed,” Dave Ellett, a teammate of Carlyle’s in Sweden and with the Jets, once recalled in a natter with Lance Hornby of the Toronto Sun. “John Ferguson Sr. had the best line: ‘If that’s what steroids does for your body, a lot of people will want their money back.’ Then we realized how serious it was.”

As it happened, Carlyle’s ‘B’ sample came back cleaner than a saint’s soul, so neither he nor Team Canada was disqualified from the tournament.

“I’ve been through hell,” the Pillsbury D-Boy told news snoops at the scene of the non-crime. “I was in total shock. How do you live with yourself when they say you’ve taken this and you know you haven’t? I lost a few pounds with sweaty palms.”

Andrew Harris

So, sure, squints make mistakes, and many among the rabble believe the lab rats did a dirty to Andrew Harris, who won’t join his Winnipeg Blue Bombers teammates in their annual Labor Day Weekend frolic v. the Saskatchewan Roughriders today on the Flattest of Lands. He’s also been told to find something else to do when the large lads assemble for the rematch in Good Ol’ Hometown on Sept. 7.

The Canadian Football League’s now-suspended leading rusher vows he didn’t knowingly take the illegal drug they say he took, but, for every local who believes Harris got a raw deal and shouldn’t be twiddling his thumbs this afternoon, there are probably 10 beyond the boundaries of Manitoba who’ll tell us that his pants are on fire. You’d have better luck convincing them that O.J. is honest-to-gosh looking for the real killers.

And that’s for good reason: When caught with their hands in the juice jar—or, in the case of Pete Rose, cozying up to friendly neighborhood bookie—most high-profile cheats in sports immediately take a trip to Planet Pinocchio. Examples…

Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong: “If you consider my situation, a guy who comes back from arguably, you know, a death sentence (cancer), why would I then enter in a sport and dope myself up and risk my life again? That’s crazy. I would never do that. No. No way.”

Mark McGwire (appearing before U.S. Congress): “I’m not here to talk about the past.”

Rafael Palmeiro: “I have never used steroids. Period.”

Sammy Sosa: Pretended he couldn’t understand English when asked about his steroid use.

Roger Clemens: “I’ve been accused of something I’m not guilty of…I’ve never taken steroids or HGH.”

Justin Gatlin: “I am not using and have not used PEDs.”

Marion Jones: “I am against performance enhancing drugs. I have never taken them and I never will take them.”

Ben Johnson: “When I was a kid, I never took drugs. People who know me in Jamaica and people who know me here know I would never take drugs. I have never, ever knowingly taken illegal drugs, and I would never embarrass my family, my friends, and my country, and the kids who love me. For now, there’s nothing more I can tell you, because I just don’t know.”

Floyd Landis: “I declare convincingly and categorically that my winning the Tour de France has been exclusively due to many years of training and my complete devotion to cycling, to the sacrifice of an entire life to carry out my dream, a dream of thousands of kilometres that I have completed through an absolute respect to the cleanness of the sport.”

Alex Rodriguez: “I have been clear that I did not use performance enhancing substances as alleged.”

Pete Rose (gambling): “I’m not going to admit to something that didn’t happen. Never bet as a player. That’s a fact.”

Martina Hingis (cocaine 2007 Wimbledon): “I am frustrated and angry. I believe that I am absolutely 100 per cent innocent.” Notably, she promptly retired rather than fight lab findings and a two-year ban.

Manny Ramirez: “Recently I saw a physician for a personal health issue. He gave me a medication, not a steroid.” After taking another medication that wasn’t a steroid, Ramirez failed another drug test and retired rather than be banished for 100 games.

Ryan Braun: “I truly believe in my heart, and would bet my life that this substance never entered my body at any point. I am the victim of a process that completely broke down and failed the way it was applied to me in this case.”

Vladimir Putin: “State-sponsored doping system has never been created in Russia, it is simply not possible, and we will do everything we can to make sure such state-sponsored system of doping support never exists.”

That, kids, is the reason people are hesitant, or flat-out refuse, to believe Harris. They’ve heard all the nose-growing excuses before.

And, unlike Randy Carlyle, his isn’t Body by Pillsbury.

Jeff Hecht

So, when Louis-Phillipe Bourassa was banished for being a drug cheat, Bombers safety Jeff Hecht pounced, calling out the Bytown RedBlacks long snapper on Twitter with this post: “Sometimes you just have to work hard instead of being lazy and buying an edge.” It followed, therefore, that he’d deliver the same public tsk-tsking to Harris. But no. “To think that I would treat my teammate the same as I would somebody else, I think, is kind of naive from some people, because I’m a team-first guy,” he said in a chin-wag with Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun. He then told Teddy Football that “I think lying is the tool of the coward, so I’m not going to hide my stance on anything.” Except, of course, he’ll hide his stance on Andrew Harris, thank you very much. Hypocrisy, thy name is Jeff Hecht.

The Bombers are without Matt Nichols, Andrew Harris and Chris Matthews today on the Flattest of Lands, so why do I think they have a snowball’s chance of beating Gang Green? Because they aren’t without Willie Jefferson and the D.

I like most of what young Jeff Hamilton does in the Drab Slab. Grade A reporter. Good writer. On top of the beat. Alas, young Jeff is off the mark when he suggests Saskatchewan and River City are the “two best markets in the CFL.” That’s only half accurate. The main measuring stick for any CFL market is the box office and, yes, Gang Green has developed a most rabid fan base. But Winnipeg? Not so much. Edmonton has been, and is, a better market. Even with this year’s sharp downturn in bodies at Commonwealth Stadium, the Eskimos are attracting 3,335 more than the Bombers per game. More to the point, if the Eskimos don’t nudge their head count up a couple thousand, this will be the first time—the only time!—this century that their average attendance falls below 30,000. Winnipeg FC has averaged 30,000 once. Repeat: Once. That was in 2013, the year Football Follies Field in Fort Garry opened for business and became a destination for curiosity seekers. So, sorry to say, Jeff, Good Ol’ Hometown is a better market than E-Town like Bob Dylan is a better singer than Sinatra.

There are, of course, other methods of measuring a CFL market, one of them being media coverage. That, of course, is subjective. But I submit that no one in our vast land does it better than the girls and boys on the Bombers beat in Pegtown, and I can already hear the squawks of protest from news snoops in E-Town and on the Flattest of Lands. Well, let ’em squawk. They’re wrong.

River City is the only true two-newspaper town in Western Canada, thus Winnipeg FC gets double the print coverage from competing rags. The operative word is “competing.” Standard cookie-cutter, scrum-collected quotes aside, what you read in the Drab Slab won’t be what you read in the Sun, and the Andrew Harris situation is an excellent example of the difference. Paul Friesen’s take in the Sun had a harsh, but fair, tone, while Hamilton delivered a more personal, reined-in essay. Both pieces worked for me in their own way. And that’s something you don’t get in points west, because Postmedia eliminated newspaper competition in other Prairie provinces. In terms of CFL coverage, the E-Town Sun is the E-Town Journal; the Calgary Sun is the Calgary Herald; the Vancity Sun is the Vancity Province; and you’ll read the same Riders copy in both the Regina Leader-Post and the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. They’re kin. Kissing cousins, if you will. That’s not the way it should be, but that’s what you get when Postmedia is still pinching pennies long after our copper coin went out of circulation.

Nick Kypreos

So, Sportsnet (thankfully) has pulled the plug on resident meathead Nick Kypreos, and we can only hope he’s replaced by someone who isn’t stuck in the 1970s, when clubbing an opponent over the head with a piece of lumber was an oft-used gambit in winning hockey games. Kypreos spent two decades using his Sportsnet pulpit to deliver a “to hell with turning the other cheek” sermon, promoting back-alley bullying to the point of advising skilled players like Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews to adopt rat-like stickwork and fisticuffs as tactics in dealing with the National Hockey League weasel element. That dinosaur logic is now left to blowhard Donald S. Cherry and the bellicose Brian Burke, although Burkie often delivers juicy insight when he isn’t talking about truculence.

John Shannon

I hope the last person to leave Sportsnet’s stable of shinny voices remembers to turn out the lights. Gone are Kypreos, Doug MacLean and John Shannon, which leaves who to natter with Jeff Marek on Hockey Central At Noon? Muppet head Colby Armstrong and Gord Stellick (meh)? Anthony Stewart and Mike Zigomanis (spare us)? The return of Damien Cox (shudder)? I’m not a Shannon fan, because there’s more than a whiff of arrogance to his delivery and he can be annoyingly interruptive, but he certainly knows where a lot of bodies are buried. I suspect he won’t be in the unemployment queue for long.

Murray, Lou, Mary, Ted, Sue Ann, Georgette, Rhoda and Phyllis in the WJM newsroom.

And, finally, Mary is gone, Ted is gone, Georgette is gone, and now Rhoda is gone. Thank goodness for reruns so I can still watch The Mary Tyler Moore show every afternoon and keep them and the WJM newsroom in my life. Love that show. Love the characters. I actually have a framed pic of Mary Tyler Moore beside my flatscreen TV, a gift from dear friends Jeff and Paul, who know I still want to be Mary Richards when I grow up and have a friend like Rhoda Morgenstern.

About the great escape of CFL stars to the NFL…Mexico, Commish Randy and Martha Stewart…chasing Mr. Reilly…lady power in the NFL playoffs…backup goalies and backup QBs…and so long to Jim Taylor

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and I wonder how many Corona CFL execs sucked back during their dog-and-pony show in Mexico…

Will the last all-star to leave the Canadian Football League please turn out the lights.

Already among the dearly departed are Alex Singleton, Bryant Mitchell, Duke Williams, Marken Michel, Diontae Spencer, Jameer Thurman, James Vaughters and Samuel Eguavoen. Most oustanding player Bo Levi Mitchell soon may follow.

I swear, we haven’t seen this many good men flee since the disciples abandoned Christ.

At least those guys had a legit excuse. It was either leave Christ to fend for himself or become a starving lion’s lunch. That’s kind of a no-brainer.

This southbound exodus of quality CFL talent is another matter. The large lads are skipping town because they want to compete with the best of the best, plus they’re tired of bashing their brains for chump change. And collecting it in Canadian coin. Up here, signing bonuses are paid in Canuck Tire money and wages in Monopoly money. At least that’s how the American import might see it.

Randy Ambrosie

But, hey, make a National Football League roster and he collects Dead Presidents and Founding Fathers. Scads of them.

A practice squad shlep, for example, earns $7,600 per week in four-down football. That’s $129,200 per season. For doing squat. Minimum wage for an NFL freshman in 2019 will be $495,000. A two-year guy can’t earn less than $645,000, even if he does nothing more than spend an entire Sunday afternoon standing on the sideline staring at a Microsoft tablet.

In comparison, the CFL minimum last season was $54,000. That isn’t a typo. Do not add a zero. And it’s only $40,559.40 on the U.S. exchange. That makes staying home in Alabama to offer Big Macs and large fries to drive-thru customers a viable option. Especially if it means you don’t have to leave a bride and kids behind.

Bo Levi Mitchell, MOP.

We won’t know the 2019 CFL salary structure until the league and the Players Association agree on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, but we do know the bottom feeders won’t see more than five figures on their pay stubs.

So, ya, head south young man.

What puzzles me is that CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie is cool with the high volume of defectors.

“The NFL thing is just evidence of how fundamentally close the talent level in our league is to the talent level in the NFL,” he told news snoops last week at the winter meetings in Mont-Tremblant, Que. “That’s been a long and important story as it relates to our football. Our guys are world-class athletes and I’m always happy for them when they get a chance to take a shot at the NFL.”

Dave Dickenson

Oh, sure, let’s all paste on our happy faces like Commish Randy. Losing quality people to the NFL is a meh issue. Why, we can replace all those lost all-stars with any scrawny Mexican who can crawl under, climb over, or run around Donald Trump’s wall and make his way to Canada. So not to worry.

“Wonderful, young players,” Commish Randy said of Mexican talent while laying out his global scheme during a fireside chat with Dave Naylor of TSN. “It’s a brand new world, a brave new world out there.”

Sure is. But if Bo Levi Mitchell bolts to the NFL, I doubt John Hufnagel and Dave Dickenson of the Calgary Stampeders will be “brave” enough to replace their starting quarterback with Juan Valdez.

Sorry, but the CFL climbing into bed with Liga de Futbol Ay Chihuahua isn’t the feel-good story Commish Randy makes it out to be. Not when we’re witnessing the football equivalent of a jail break by our premier performers.

Seems to me his time would be better spent working on a CBA that doesn’t pay in Canuck Tire money.

Martha Stewart

In another fireside chat at the CFL winter meetings, Commish Randy channeled his inner Betty Crocker and advised Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun that he wants to “build the mother of all pies. We want to build a big pie.” Terrific. Martha Stewart can succeed him as commissioner when his world vision falls flatter than a sad soufflé.

Commish Randy began building his pie at Estadio Azul in Mexico City on Sunday, with cooks and bottle washers from the nine CFL teams assembling for the inaugural Look Under Every Rock Talent Tour. After observing 50 aspirants run, jump, pass, catch and kick, the consensus seemed to be there were a “couple of guys” who “wouldn’t embarrass themselves” at a training camp. I say we let the Tranna Argonauts have all 50 players. If they fail to make the team, maybe they’ll stay and buy season tickets. That would double attendance at BMO Field from last season.

According to Commish Randy and others, this Mexico’s Got Talent dog-and-pony show is all about growing the game globally. How about growing the game in the Republic of Tranna, Montreal and B.C. first.

Sarah Thomas

The CFL prides itself on diversity, but the NFL one-upped our league this weekend when Sarah Thomas and Terri Valenti worked playoff matches. Thomas became the first woman to officiate a post-season game, serving as the down judge in the American Football Conference division skirmish between the Los Angeles Chargers and New England Brady-Belichicks, while Valenti was the replay official for the Kansas City Chiefs-Indianapolis Colts joust. Awesome.

Moving to a more seasonal topic, I don’t understand why so many people are saying and writing that Rink Rat Scheifele is the engine that drives the Winnipeg Jets. Seems to me that it’s captain Blake Wheeler. Still.

In my next life I want to be a backup goalie or a backup quarterback. They’re always the most popular player with the rabble. A case in point would be Laurent Brossoit, currently Connor Hellebuyck’s caddie with les Jets. Listening to the faithful, Brossoit is boffo and Hellebuyck sucks. And the numbers suggest that. But, no, you don’t want to turn the blue paint over to Brossoit. It’s that old nugget about not fixing what ain’t broke. The Jets sit atop the National Hockey League Central Division leaderboard. They ain’t broke.

Jim Taylor

The West Coast said goodbye to one of Canada’s jock journo legends when Jim Taylor cashed out at age 82 last week on Vancouver Island. There was much to admire about Skull’s scribblings, but what I liked most was his approach to writing sports: Taylor recognized that the games people play aren’t really all that important in the grand scheme of things—hence the term ‘toy department’—so he went about it with a wink and a nod. Taylor used wit and sarcasm, irreverence and cheek to deliver his message of the day to Vancouver Sun and Province readers for 30 years. Sometimes he did it with the bite of a bulldog, other times the purr of a kitten. The main ingredient, however, was humor. He was a funny guy who poked fun and had fun. If there were any sacred cows in his world, no one noticed it in his writing. That’s why he was among my favorites.

Taylor had a quirk: He would run his one-liners by you before he’d ship his copy off to his editors. It was his idea of a test drive. He didn’t have to do that, though. They were all funny and made you laugh. Out loud. And you’d laugh again the next morning when you saw the same line in print.

Taylor’s passing provided pause for ponder on the state of sports writing in our vast nation. There are some fine wordsmiths, people who can spin a yarn and turn a phrase, but I don’t find much cheekiness and humor in most scribblings. The scribes all seem to take themselves so bloody seriously, and I often wonder what some of them are so angry about. It’s probably why I rag on guys like Steve Simmons and Damien Cox so much. They just don’t appear to be having any fun with the gig.

And, finally, is the Drab Slab known as the Winnipeg Free Press ever going to hire a sports columnist? It’s been more than three months since the last guy left the building. Get on with it already.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers: Yup, absolutely Mike O’Shea would make the same mistake again…and they’re going to give him a new contract?

I’ll say this for Mike O’Shea—he’s lost his mind but not his sense of humor.

The much-maligned man, whose moment of madness denied the Winnipeg Blue Bombers an opportunity to keep on trucking in this month’s Grey Cup tournament, took time out from player exit interviews on Wednesday to get up close but not personal with the very news snoops who had spent much of the preceding 48-hour period reminding the head coach that he is a complete bonehead.

That, mind you, is a reciprocal sentiment in the jock/media dynamic.

Mike O'Shea: A do-over? I don't need no do-over.
Mike O’Shea: A do-over? I don’t need no do-over.

Most, if not all, football coaches believe people with pens, notebooks and microphones to be complete boneheads who don’t know an X from an O or a corner route from a paper route. For evidence, look no further than Wally Buono’s chin-wag with the boys and girls on the beat after his B.C. Lions had taken their measure of the Bombers in their Sunday skirmish in Lotus Land. When old friend Ed Willes of the Vancouver Province apparently showed bad manners in suggesting that Leos quarterback Jonathon Jennings took a couple of missteps in the early going of their rousing, 32-31 victory, B.C. boss Buono bit back and launched into a good and proper rant.

Why do you always wanna find fault? I’m tired of you guys always looking for the negatives,” he snapped, at the same time positing that Willes’s comment very much reminded him of what comes out of the south end of a male bovine.

Bull shit,” Buono spat.

Fortunately, the to-and-fro between O’Shea and news snoops on Wednesday didn’t similarly slide off the rails. Although the coach made no attempt to disguise his distaste for the discussion, civility ruled the day and, indeed, there was a fleeting moment of jocularity during the 16-minute tete-a-tete.

When asked by Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun to place a priority on the re-signing of starting quarterback Matt Nichols, O’Shea quipped “higher than mine,” to the accompaniment of much tittering.

Well, yes, the Bombers would do well to get Nichols’ signature on a new contract, preferably prior to the opening bell on the Canadian Football League’s free-agent blitz, which was both frenzied and fruit-bearing for the locals last February.

It’s my guess, however, that the Winnipeg Football Club’s chief bottle washer and cook, Smilin’ Wade Miller, will deal with off-field matters first, meaning job-well-done pats on the back and a contract extension for his general manager, Kyle Walters, and a fresh set of downs for his beleaguered head coach, whose original three-year deal expires at the close of business this CFL season.

Smilin' Wade Miller
Smilin’ Wade Miller

Oddly enough—but perhaps not at all surprising—the stubborn O’Shea actually presented a strong case against himself on Wednesday.

Those assembled wanted to know if the coach would welcome a do-over. That is, if placed in the same predicament as Sunday afternoon in the dead air of B.C. Place Stadium, whereby his Bombers trailed by one point with just 36 ticks remaining on the clock in the West Division semifinal, would he gamble on third-and-four or would he turn to Justin Medlock and ask him to kick the most improbable field goal in more than 100 years of Canadian football?

You check your process to see how valid that was,” O’Shea said, as if reading from a prepared statement. “Is the process right, did I do the right things to arrive at that decision? As long as you’re doing that, hopefully you’re comfortable with the decision, which I am. Does that lead me to arrive at the same decision again. Yup, absolutely it does.”

So there you have it, kids. Mike O’Shea admits he will make the same mistake this time next year that he made this past weekend. He again would put his faith in Medlock’s inability to hoof a 61-yard field goal. Cripes, man, he might as well ask the guy to boot the ball clear across the Strait of Georgia, the body of water that separates Vancouver from Vancouver Island. The result would be the same.

And this is how O’Shea makes his case for a new contract? Smilin’ Wade might want a rethink on that.

That decision is not based on hope,” O’Shea went on to explain. “It’s based on the history we have with Justin, which says he makes those kicks in practice every single week.”

Chris Walby used to catch patches with one hand in practice.
Chris Walby used to catch patches with one hand in practice.

Yo! Mikey! I remember watching Chris Walby make a series of catches with just one of his gnarled hands in practice back in the day. That’s right. Chris Walby. Big-bellied O-lineman. Making one-handed catches. In practice. Somehow Cal Murphy always fought off the temptation to let Bluto play wide receiver, though.

Practice is like Las Vegas, Mikey…what happens in practice stays in practice. Tell us what a guy does in games.

I don’t know what’s become of O’Shea’s mind. Maybe it’s buried beneath that thatch of Papa Smurf chin whiskers he sprouted during the back half of the CFL season. Whatever and wherever, it’s on the lam.

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

 

Winnipeg, the last two-paper town in the West…how Shakey Johnson got his name…promotion for Kirk Penton…and a long overdue induction for Dave Komosky

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

Once we get past the handwringing, the gnashing of the teeth and the anger/bitterness of journos across the land in the aftermath this week’s Postmedia print purge, what are readers of newspapers left with? This: Winnipeg is the sole two-paper town west of the Republic of Tranna.

Oh, sure, Postmedia continues to print both a broadsheet and a tabloid in Vancouver (Sun and Province), Edmonton (Sun and Journal) and Calgary (Sun and Herald), but this is a classic case of a one being dressed up as a two. If the deep-thinkers in one newsroom determine what is to occupy the space between the display ads of both dailies in those three bergs, it is one newspaper, no matter how it is packaged.

peg papersThink of this as beer. If you pour half a bottle of Molson Canadian into a mug and the other half into a tall, thin glass, you’re still drinking the same beer. Tastes the same, just looks different.

So it shall be in Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary. Rather than two competing journalists chasing the same story and, hopefully, delivering different slants, you now shall have one reporter with no urgency to get the scoop and no fear of being beaten by the opposition. There is no opposition. No alternative voice.

Which makes Pegtown a unique market in the western flank of the nation.

The puppeteers at Postmedia pull the strings for the Winnipeg Sun, while FP Canadian Newspapers Limited Partnership bows to its own master in publishing the Winnipeg Free Press. Unlike others in the Postmedia collective, the two Pegtown sheets are not Siamese twins, joined at the head. They are in competition, which serves the greater need, even though the end result each day might not always satiate the appetite of readers.

What I am left to wonder is how much Winnipeg will remain in the Sun.

Although not included in this week’s carnage, which involved the merging of newsrooms at eight dailies (the Ottawa Sun and Citizen being the others) and the kicking to the curb of 90 journalists, the after shocks were felt in River City.

Ted Wyman remains sports editor at the Sun. Sort of. He keeps the job title, but some invisible head sitting behind some invisible desk in some remote outpost of the land now will decide what Winnipeg sports fans want to read. How this serves Pegtown provides serious pause for ponder. I mean, shouldn’t a sports editor be able to reach out and feel the pulse of the people? It’s easy enough to recognize that the Winnipeg Jets and Winnipeg Blue Bombers are the big dogs in town and, thus, generate the most talk. But what of lesser players such as the Manitoba Moose, the Winnipeg Goldeyes, the University of Manitoba Bisons, junior hockey, local tennis, golf, curling, figure skating, etc.?

My concern is that they shall be lost in the shuffle.

Take curling as an e.g. It is the third biggest beat at the two River City dailies, behind only the Jets and Bombers. But will there be a Winnipeg Sun presence at next month’s Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Grande Prairie, Alta.? Not likely. Thus, no local angle, even though there shall be two Toba teams in the event. The Brier, meanwhile, is in Ottawa. Will we be reading Manitoba-centric dispatches from Paul Friesen, Ken Wiebe or the aforementioned Wyman, or generic puff from a Bytown scribe?

I fear the worst, and all this because Postmedia bit off more than it could chew when it purchased Sun Media’s English-language properties last spring.

As mentioned, Wyman is not out of work. He becomes part of the Sun’s bare-bones stable of scribes, replacing Kirk Penton, an elite reporter who has been anointed the Postmedia chain’s national writer for all things Canadian Football League. Coverage of the Bombers shouldn’t suffer in terms of quantity, but quality will take a hit because Penton is the best in the business.

After scribbling a piece about George (Shakey) Johnson the other day, it occurred to me that most folks don’t know the story behind the deposed Calgary Herald sports columnist’s nickname. We don’t call him Shakey because he’s a nervous Nellie with constant jitters. It’s due to his golf game. Back in the 1970s, you see, a few of us from the Winnipeg Tribune sports department would gather for a round of golf on occasion. The cast would rotate, but it generally involved Caveman Dutton, Greaser Drinnan, Swampdog Rauw, Davey Boy Komosky, Shakey and myself. Shakey played a neat-and-tidy game of golf. He struck the ball straight and true, although not far, and we actually witnessed a hole-in-one from him one day at Tuxedo. But he could not sink a putt inside three feet to save his life. He had the yips on the green. After one astonishing display of unparalleled hopelessness with the blade, we retreated to the pub, whereby Caveman Dutton and I commenced to calling him Shakey. The name stuck.

Big night for my longtime friend and colleague Dave Komosky, who joins the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Media Roll of Honour at their 60th annual awards dinner at the Delta Hotel. As I scribbled a few weeks ago, it’s a long overdue honor. I only wish I could be there to hear his acceptance speech. I have a feeling Davey Boy is going to put some people on the BBQ.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

It’s -30- on Shakey Johnson’s sports writing career…say it ain’t so, Postmedia

Scant years after the 20th century had arrived at its midway mark, author Truman Capote appeared on the television show Open End, whereupon he lashed out at the Beat Generation of American writers who delivered notable works in the 1950s.

“None of these people have anything interesting to say and none of them can write, not even Jack Kerouac,” he told host David Susskind. “It isn’t writing at all. It’s typing.”

Whether his was an accurate appraisal of the scribblings of Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Herbert Huncke and others among the Beat wordsmiths is, of course, open to interpretation, but the core of Capote’s critique is unassailable: Some people write, others just type.

I am reminded of the In Cold Blood author’s quote due to the blood-letting that has taken place this week on the sinking ships we know as daily newspapers in Canada.

georgejohnson
George (Shakey) Johnson

Included in the Postmedia carnage that killed competition in four major cities and left approximately 90 people out of work was George (Shakey) Johnson, whose poetic way with words has graced sports sheets across the nation ever since he walked out of a Red River Community College classroom and into the Winnipeg Tribune newsroom in the 1970s.

Shakey Johnson doesn’t type. He writes.

Which makes the Postmedia resolve to deep-six him not simply callous and cold-hearted but mystifying in the extreme.

I mean, it’s one thing to merge the two newsrooms of supposedly competing papers in each of four bergs in the True North, which Postmedia has done in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Ottawa, but surely the fallout from fiscal folly ought not to include your best and brightest people.

Shakey Johnson is among the best. And brightest. Still.

Shakey is unlike any sports scribe I have known, something I recognized early, when we were both novices learning our trade at the knee of Jack Matheson at the Trib. He would prattle on about his fave jocks like Ali and Jack Nicklaus, with the odd genuflection toward Davey Keon and Italian fitba, but he really got off on the theatre and movies. He was as apt to work Sir Laurence Olivier, Richard Burton or Judy Garland and Streisand into a lede as Wayne Gretzky or Lanny McDonald. And don’t even think about getting him started on Sinatra. Ol’ Blue Eyes was, is and always will be his main man.

That’s what makes Shakey special, at least to my way of thinking. It isn’t all about pucks and pigskins and point guards. He comes at sports writing from a different angle. He’s both high-end and high-brow. And he does it with such elequence and knock-’em-dead dry wit.

It’s why, as sports editor at the Calgary Sun in the early 1980s, I lured him away from our sister paper in Edmonton and installed him as our National Hockey League beat writer, his main focus being the Flames. I knew Shakey would deliver the same sterling stuff I’d read in the Trib and Winnipeg Sun, where he was among the plucky rogues and rebels who brought a newspaper to life out of the Tribune ashes.

That Postmedia cannot see this same talent is mind-boggling.

Sure, go ahead and merge the Calgary Herald and Sun newsrooms. Kill the competition. But do not kill the quality.

Shakey Johnson has been a chronicler of Calgary sports for more than three decades, first at the Sun then the Herald, and he’s done it with unparalleled polish. His choice of wording is as his choice of wardrobe—impeccable. Thus, it is most discouraging and disheartening to think he’s arrived at the end of the ride because some suit doesn’t know a noun from a nincompoop. Shakey still has so much more to share. Surely we haven’t seen the last of Sinatra, Streisand or Sir Laurence in the lede of a sports story.

If it is over for Shakey, I offer another Truman Capote quote: “To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music that words make.”

I don’t know what inner music Shakey hears when he writes, but what I’ve always heard in reading his words is a beautiful symphony.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

Winnipeg Jets: A tough-talking coach and a tough team to play

If it’s true that a team assumes the personality of its coach, then it’s easy to see why the Winnipeg Jets play hockey the way they do and why they have fooled so many people.

I mean, you look at their puppet master, Paul Maurice, and the first two words that come to mind are not “tough guy.” More like “book worm” or “bean counter.” Coach PoMo looks tough like Clark Kent or Buddy Holly look tough. Start with the eye glasses. Black, horned rimmed and science-project nerdy, if he were in junior high school he’d be a wedgy waiting to happen.

Coach PoMo’s hair doesn’t help, either. It’s thinning and in rapid, middle-age retreat, like a neglected lawn. Another few years and he’ll have enough forehead to start a second face.

Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice
Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice

It’s only when Maurice opens his mouth that you realize what you see isn’t what you get.

The Jets’ bench jockey talks like a tough guy. His voice is bottom-of-the-barrel deep. Commanding and no-nonsense. He often speaks with a clenched jaw, as if he is clamping down—hard—on an irksome thought that requires his immediate attention and deserves the back of his hand. He sniffs a lot, like a pug at the end of 10 rounds. It is clear he does not suffer fools well. There is a street fighter in Maurice, someone with a hidden fury who’s prepared to throw down on you at the very hint of defiance.

And so it is with his Jets.

You look at the Winnipegs’ roster and it is found wanting when measured against those of the Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings. Yet there they are, in lockstep with the Blackhawks, two points in arrears of the Blues and distancing themselves from the Kings, who entered this 2014-15 National Hockey League fray as defenders of hockey’s holy grail, the Stanley Cup.

The inclination, even this deep into a crusade that began with scant hope of achievement and even less promise, is to suggest the other shoe has yet to drop. That the Jets shall awaken one morning, perhaps not long after this weekend’s all-star recess, and collectively say, “Who are we trying to kid? We aren’t this good.”

Just don’t count on it.

The Jets, you see, have assumed the Maurice mentality. They are street fighters. They are—dare I say it?—truculent. Which is why they win games they have no business winning. It explains how they can skate into the United Center in Chicago and, challenged by the Blackhawks to a bash-and-bang bit of roller derby on ice, they give as good as they get. And win.

In short, the Jets don’t take any crap.

Maurice calls it “teamness” where “everybody takes care of everybody else.”

One, of course, could point to the Daniel Carcillo-Mathieu Perreault crosscheck episode in the Toddlin’ Town on Friday night and suggest it didn’t look that way. That the Jets’ reponse to their hottest hand being harpooned and rendered unavailable by the Chicago pest was less than adequate. That they had lost the plot. This repeat offender should have been drawn and quartered, right? Well, a case could be made that the time wasn’t right to deploy the assault squad. There was a hockey game to be won. The bill collector could perhaps visit Carcillo another time, another place.

The Jets might choose to not seek retribution for Carcillo’s callous act, but on no level would that be in disagreement with the reality that they can be a rather beligerent bunch with gusts up to ornery. We shouldn’t expect that to change as long as Maurice is riding herd.

You are who you are as a team,” says Maurice, his jaw clenched, “and you have to be true to that.”

That’s a tough guy talking…even if he doesn’t look the part.

HITHER & YAWN: I realize he’s a broadcasting legend, a wonderful man and he still has the great chops, but listening to Bob Cole describe a hockey game is painful. It’s anybody’s guess who has the puck. It’s like trying to guess the number of jelly beans in the jar…So, what was this week’s lesson for “all you kids out there” from the resident curmudgeon on Coachless Corner on Saturday night? Just this: Be like Phil Kessel—if you score the most goals, kids, don’t sweat the little details like backchecking. “Kessel…forget it comin’ back,” Don Cherry bleated. “Just score goals. He’s your magic guy with the hands. Forget backchecking. Let him go.”…Is it just me, or does anyone else sometimes forget that Ottawa actually has a team in the NHL?…Mark Hunter, director of player personnel for the Toronto Maple Leafs, on junior phenom Connor McDavid: “He could play in the National Hockey League right now and get 50, 60 points, I think. That’s how good I think he is.” Not if McDavid played for the Leafs. They only score one goal every four games...So, the Disney Ducks retire Teemu Selanne’s jersey No. 8 in an elaborate ceremony that takes a little more than 90 minutes. The L.A. Kings retire Rob Blake’s No. 4 in a ceremony that takes 35 minutes. The Buffalo Sabres raise Dominik Hasek’s No. 39 to the rafters in a ceremony that takes less than 20 minutes. At this rate, jersey-retirement ceremonies soon will last about as long as a Hollywood marriage…This from Roberto Luongo, courtesy Ed Willes of the Vancouver Province: “People don’t understand how hard it is to be a goalie in a Canadian market. You have to wear the pressure during the game; then, after the game, you have to answer every question about every goal. ‘How did that one go in? Why did that one goal in?’ And it’s after every game. You can’t escape it.” Somewhere, Ondrej Pavelec of the Jets is nodding in agreement.

THE FAB WHO? Blake Wheeler is my new fave Jet. I like the way he plays, first of all, but when I discovered he can name the Beatles—all four of them—I was sold on the Jets big winger.

The folks at NHL.com have this fun feature called Puck Personalities, you see, and Wheeler was one of 14 players asked to provide the names of the most famous rock band in history. How did they score? Let’s just say this: If they were this bad at hockey, they’d all be playing in beer leagues.

Except Wheeler, who was the sole player of the 14 who rattled off John, Paul, Ringo and George—in that order—while the others…so sad.

Erik Karlsson wondered if “John Something?” was a member of the Beatles. Claude Giroux asked about “McArthur?” and Kyle Okposo figured a lad named “Paul Ringo” was one of the Fab Four. It was left for Henrik Lundqvist to sum up the exercise by saying, “This is awful, by the way.”

Yup, it was.

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