Let’s talk about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers D letting one get away…the Quiet Dickenson…Sportsnet snubbing the CFL…Carli Lloyd getting her kicks…Ponytail Puck vs. men?…ruffled feathers in E-Town…and poverty and the Pacific Ocean

A holiday Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and happy September, even if it means the frost soon shall be on your pumpkin

Never mind that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers had built-in excuses in advance of the muckabout at Mosaic Stadium on Sunday afternoon—no Matt Nichols, no Andrew Harris.

All that really matters is that the large lads in blue-gold-and-white linen returned home from Pile O’ Bones with tire marks on their chests—again—and I’d say losing 14 of the last 15 holiday weekend visits to the Flattest of Lands qualifies as road kill. So maybe it’s time people stopped calling this thing the Labor Day Classic and bill it as the Road Kill Classic. Or the annual Gang Green Gives Winnipeg FC A Wedgie And A Swirly Classic.

Oh, sure, it was close. They tipped a canoe. Burned a barn.

But don’t talk to me about the Bombers deserving a better fate, not when the guys on the D-side of the ball lost the plot when it mattered most.

Corn Dog Cody Fajardo

I mean, Richie Hall’s defensive dozen made greenhorn quarterback Cody Fajardo look like a greenhorn quarterback much of the afternoon, then watched as Corn Dog Cody directed his Saskatchewan Roughriders down the field like a puffed-up, strutting halftime marching band. He, along with running back William Powell, smoothly navigated the Gang Green offence across the Mosaic terrain, whereupon Brett Lauther delivered the final and decisive points in a smash-mouth skirmish that, until then, had mostly moved to the cadence of two gnarly defences.

I suppose that D-dominance was predictable, given that the two QBs had a combined total of 14 Canadian Football League starts going in.

Chris Streveler

Still, it appeared that Chris Streveler, subbing for Nichols, had squeezed enough juice out of Winnipeg FC’s anemic offence to get ‘er done. It should have been game, set and bring on the Banjo Bowl when the Riders offence assembled for their final thrust, trailing 17-16 with three minutes and 18 ticks on the clock and the ball on their five-yard stripe.

What ensued went entirely against the grain, with the stingy Winnipeg D suddenly becoming as submissive as a house pet. Eleven plays, 87 yards, one 26-yard Lauther field goal, and a 19-17 W for a home side that has strung together half a dozen victories.

There was nothing classic about that 3:18 of football, unless you wear a watermelon on your head.

Should we look for more of the same when the large lads gather for a redux next Saturday, this time at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry? Well, I don’t think we should expect the Winnipeg D to cough up a hairball the size of a small horse again, but Nichols will still be in the repair shop and Harris in detention, so I suggest it’ll be on the D to rule the day.

For 60 minutes, not just 56:42.

Craig Dickenson

Why don’t I hear the name Craig Dickenson included in chatter about the top sideline steward this season? Is it because, unlike his brother Dave, the Gang Green rookie head coach doesn’t have a non-stop, 24/7 squawk box? Seems to me that the Quiet Dickenson deserves to be in the discussion.

What’s the deal with the CFL giving three teams a bye on this Labor Day weekend? Shouldn’t the Montreal Larks and Bytown RedBlacks be included in the fun? As for the also-inactive B.C. Lions, they don’t have a natural rivalry and, frankly, the 12,000 people in Lotus Land who actually know the Leos exist probably prefer to sit on a patio sipping their latté or having a toke rather than watch Mike O’Reilly be roughed up like a Gitmo prisoner one more time.

Speaking of indifference, can anyone at Sportsnet explain why they basically ignore the CFL? I realize that Rouge Football is a TSN property, but sports news is sports news is sports news. Call up the CFL on the Sportsnet website and you’ll find three videos: One from July, one from February and one from December 2018. That’s disgraceful.

As a folo to an item in my Sunday smorgas-bored, in which I insisted Edmonton is a better CFL market than Winnipeg, I feel obliged to point out that not since 1973 have the Bombers out-performed the Eskimos at the box office, never mind on the field. This will make it 46 successive seasons with a higher head count in E-Town, and you simply can’t argue with that. Good Ol’ Hometown is a boffo market but, as much as it pains me to say it, both E-Town and Saskatchewan are better.

Carli Lloyd

So, Carli Lloyd hoofed a 55-yard field goal at a Philadelphia Eagles/Baltimore Ravens training exercise, and there’s been breathless natter about the U.S. women’s fitba star booting balls in the National Football League. Uh, not so fast says old friend Troy Westwood. “Carli Lloyd could not beat out the best competing for the job and kick in the #NFL. No chance,” he tweets. Is it because she’s a she? Or because she lacks the skill? Ol’ Lefty declined to explain why Carli would be in over her head, and I can see how someone would view his blunt analysis as sexist. Well, that ain’t Westwood. I submit that Ol’ Lefty was speaking purely from his vantage point as a former place-kicker with the Bombers, so you might want to holster any PC outrage.

Longtime NFL boot meister Adam Venatieri is among the many to weigh in on Carli’s right leg: “For you to go out and hit a ball without a rush and a snap and a hold and no get-off time and stuff, it’s different than doing live stuff. But I saw it, it was pretty impressive how far she kicked the ball.” I guess there’s only one way to know for sure: Give that girl a tryout.

Except there’s this: On the day in question, video evidence showed Lloyd whomping that 55-yarder, but we didn’t see two misses at shorter distances and at 57 yards. By her own accounting, Lloyd was 2-for-5 in pristine conditions. No pads, no defence, no urgency, and a five-yard runup to the ball. NFL kickers who go 2-for-5 also go to the unemployment queue.

Nancy Armour

Commentary on Lloyd’s kick ranged from enthusiastic to supportive to dismissive to absolute drivel. Not surprisingly, the latter was supplied by Nancy Armour of USA Today. Armour writes, “Lloyd absolutely deserves a chance with an NFL team.” Based on what? One kick? “There is little doubt Lloyd could be an NFL placekicker.” Well, actually, there’s considerable doubt. “The heckles and jeers of ignorant and misogynistic NFL fans aren’t going to faze Lloyd.” So, if Lloyd were to get booed off the field after going 2-for-5, it’s not because she’s lousy at her job, it’s because all those loutish, beer-swilling men are empty-headed oinkers? I see. Armour’s gob-smackingly uninformed piece suggests she landed her columnist gig as part of a PR stunt or she won it in a raffle. (Yes, it’s that bad, and so is she.)

Jayna Hefford

On the subject of female athletes, Ponytail Puck will be coming to a neighborhood rink near you this autumn if you live in the Republic of Tranna, Hudson, N.H., Chicago, Boston and San Jose, and the ForTheGame200 boycotting players also have barnstorming plans for other locales. They’re calling it the Dream Gap Tour, and I say good for them. Stay visible. Don’t let the rabble forget about you. But here’s what scares me: There’ll be regional training centres hither and yon, two of them in The ROT, and Jayna Hefford tells The Athletic “(They could play) against men’s teams…” Whoa. Stop it right there. Jayna, head of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, might want to rethink that part of the scheme. Our Olympic distaff team is tooth-and-toenail to beat Midget boys in exhibition skirmishes, and those results are usually kept on the QT. But skating against, and possibly losing to, a bunch of beer-leaguers is a marketing grenade waiting to go ka-boom. That wouldn’t be ignored and the argument that the women “deserve” a living wage would be totally lost, if it hasn’t been already.

Centre Court Wimbledon

Why are people calling Arthur Ashe Stadium in Gotham the “biggest court” in tennis when we all know it’s Centre Court Wimbledon? In literal terms, sure, Ashe can accommodate a flock of 23,771 observers and that dwarfs the main stage at SW19 (14,979), but in stature you’ll find the “biggest court” in tennis is a lawn and it’s at the All-England Club.

I don’t get it. Why is Denis Shapovalov losing at the U.S. Open a bigger story than Bianca Andreescu winning at the U.S. Open? It shouldn’t be, of course, but Shapo’s loss to Gael Monfils was the lead story on TSN at 3 in the a.m. on Sunday and that’s just wrong.

The Minnesota Twins swatted six home runs on Saturday and lost. How do you do that?

Jesse Puljujarvi

Definition of Ruffled Feathers: See Puljujarvi, Jesse. Many among the rabble in River City believe a “fractured” dressing room undid the Winnipeg Jets last spring, in part because head coach Paul Maurice mentioned something about “ruffled feathers” in his season-over natter with news snoops, but mainly due to the narrative the Drab Slab has been spreading for five months. Now along comes Puljujarvi in E-Town to show us what ruffled feathers actually look like. Not only has the Finnish forward bailed on the Oilers, choosing to stay home and play with Oulun Karpat of the Liiga, he’ll only return to the National Hockey League if given a new postal code. Those, kids, are ruffled feathers.

Murat Ates of The Athletic has taken a deep dive into the Jets (it’s an excellent late-summer perspective), and he briefly touches on the “ruffled feathers” issue. “Let me state this clearly: I have been asked about ‘the room’ all summer and my position is the same as it’s always been; if I ever learn anything that I can fairly and accurately attribute, I’ll write that,” he scribbles. “Until then, not only do I allow for discord as a healthy component of a team’s dynamics, I expect it—Winnipeg was a bottom-third NHL team in the second half of 2018-19. That should piss people off.” So, he hasn’t sniffed out a smoking gun. No one at the Winnipeg Sun has sniffed out a smoking gun. No one at the Drab Slab has sniffed out a smoking gun. No on-air pundits have produced a smoking gun. Ergo, there is no smoking gun.

Welcome to my backyard.

And, finally, it was 20 years tomorrow when I put Good Ol’ Hometown in the rear-view mirror and arrived in Victoria with little money, no job and no prospects for work. Since then, I’ve been an apartment block manager, a golf club maintenance/office/desktop publishing guru, an editor, a cleaner at a pub, a golf pro shop call centre/graphics guru, an antique/vintage furniture salesperson, a cleaner at a downtown eatery, a cleaner/cover girl/Jill of all trades at a gay nightclub, and I live in poverty. So why am I smiling? Because I can step outside today, take a 20-minute stroll and dip my toes into the Pacific Ocean while gazing at the Olympic Mountains and maybe observe some bald eagles or orcas. And I can do it 12 months of the year. Na, na, na, na, na.

Let’s talk about the CFL’s QB carnage…“remarkably ugly” football…Argos no laughing matter…Popp’s big hairy deal…news snoops in a snit…Miss Manners’ son Stevie…old broadcasters and friends…and green leaves and jujubes at Carnarvon Park…

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and if I want to eat plants I’ll have a salad, not a plant masquerading as a hamburger…

If that was a Grey Cup preview Friday night at Timbits Field in the Hammer, I might opt for a Steve McQueen or Duke Wayne marathon on the final Sunday in November.

Shabby? Like an old hobo’s hair.

Alas, that’s what we get when there’s a neophyte quarterback on one side and a veteran quarterback playing like the neophyte’s understudy on the other.

The Hamilton Tabbies certainly were the superior outfit in the short time Jeremiah Masoli was behind centre during their 23-15 W, but a wonky left knee forced the all-star QB to excuse himself and the Tiger-Cats spent the remainder of the evening in safety-first mode, with tenderfoot Dane Evans barking signals into one of TSN’s live mics. He was meh at best.

If only the game itself had reached that level.

This was (supposedly) the Canadian Football League marquee match, with a pair of first-place outfits grabbing artificial grass and growling. The visiting Winnipeg Blue Bombers arrived in the Hammer sans an L on their registry. A perfect 5-nada. The Tabbies had just one hiccup in five assignments. So, ya, it walked and talked like a Grey Cup dress rehearsal.

Then they kicked off and the large lads forgot how to play.

Matt Nichols

Correction: Matt Nichols forgot how to play.

I keep hearing that football is the ultimate team game, but the Bombers’ first stumble of this crusade is mostly down to QB Nichols, who kept throwing passes he had no business throwing, and three of them landed in the eager and welcoming arms of guys dressed in black and gold.

Had a quarterback more accomplished than Dane Evans been available to make Winnipeg FC pay for Nichols’ (also the kick returners) sins, we might be talking about a rout of biblical levels.

Sadly, Evans’ presence and Masoli’s absence is part of the CFL’s increasingly bleak big-picture story.

Bo Levi Mitchell

Forget that Masoli has the worst QB body since Danny McManus. (Seriously. He looks like Fred Flintstone in shoulder pads.) He gets the job done. He’s elite. But he’s the sixth starter to go down for the count this summer, joining Bo Levi Mitchell, Zach Collaros, Antonio Pipken, Dominique Davis and James Franklin in the repair shop. And it’s only due to extreme good fortune that someone hasn’t put a toe tag on Mike Reilly’s season.

Commissioner Randy Ambrosie spent much of the past winter and spring blah, blah, blahing about a new vision that he likes to call CFL 2.0. What I didn’t know is that CFL 2.0 meant every team would be starting its QB 2.0 before Labour Day.

I mean, by the time the playoffs commence, the body count will be so high that we might be watching Andrew Sheer and Justin Trudeau fling the football in the West Division final instead of Nichols and Trevor Harris.

Can anything be done to halt the QB carnage?

Simoni Lawrence took out Zach Collaros.

Well, quarterbacks are now treated like pricey porcelain figurines, with better protection than Queen Liz. Hostile defenders breath on them at their own peril, and Commish Randy underscored the CFL’s keep-QBs-vertical agenda by ordering Simoni Lawrence to take a two-game respite for the unlawful hit that sent Collaros to a dark room.

Unfortunately, threats of vacations without pay couldn’t have prevented the Masoli owie. It was the result of a freakish play, whereby his left knee caved in during his attempt to escape large, angry men with a different agenda.

So on came neophyte Evans and, with the inept Nichols far off his game, it made for rather dreary theatre with four picks, seven turnovers and not a single play from scrimmage exceeding 27 yards.

I hate to say this because the CFL is my favorite pro sports league, but it’s becoming almost unwatchable.

It doesn’t help, of course, that TSN insists on trying to doll up its broadcasts with that annoying split screen, the voices of natterbugs in the booth competing with live-mic’d players/officials, and cameras that appear to be located in a distant area code. Live mics are boffo for curling and golf, and even baseball, but not so much during a football telecast.

Here’s truth in broadcasting: During the first half of the Calgary Stampeders-Bytown RougeNoir frolic on Thursday night, TSN natterbug Duane Forde described it as “remarkably ugly.” That is remarkably honest. Also remarkably refreshing.

Yoko Ono

Neither of the two skirmishes on the Thursday menu will be included in CFL promo material. On the entertainment scale, they were somewhere between an Adam Sandler movie and the ear-blitzing screeching of a Yoko Ono concert. I mean, three teams—Tranna Argonauts, Calgary and Bytown—had a combined total of one touchdown. In 148 plays from scrimmage. The Argos couldn’t even scrounge up a measly rouge vs. the Eskimos in E-Town. You know how difficult it is to get blanked in the CFL? O.J. Simpson will have an easier time getting through the Pearly Gates. But the bottomless Boatmen managed it. Uh-glee. I suffered through both jousts and, yes, I’d like to have those six hours of my life back, if you don’t mind.

Many of us who dwell in the colonies aren’t opposed to crude jokes and rude laughter when outfits from the Republic of Tranna perform face plants, but there’s nothing funny about the oarless Scullers being oh-fer-2019. The Argos are the boil on the CFL’s butt. On and off the field. Their freshly completed (mis)adventure on the Prairies was a ghastly bit of business, and you know losing three games and being outscored 100-37 won’t win them new admirers. Mind you, they’re still mourning the loss of Kawhi Leonard in The ROT, so it’s unlikely that anyone there noticed. That, too, is sad.

Jim Popp

In the department of ‘what have you done for us lately,’ I present Jim Popp, GM of the Boatmen. Once considered a gridiron guru in three-down circles, it’s become apparent that Popp has a fabulous head of hair and not much else. He failed to find a replacement for Anthony Calvillo in Montreal (the Larks have been paying for it ever since) and he hasn’t found a replacement for Ricky Ray in The ROT. No QB, no hope, no job for Popp if he doesn’t do something about it.

Beastmo Bighill

Prior to the Bombers’ departure to our eastern precincts last week, it was noted that neither Beastmo Bighill or Chris Matthews was made available for chin-wags post-practice on Monday. Not surprisingly, there was harrumphing among news snoops. “This is the CFL,” Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna squawked on Twitter. “Every player should be available to media every day. Doing the opposite is small-time, small-town backwards thinking.” Hmmm. You mean like Kawhi Leonard and the Tranna Jurassics? He spoke less often than a street mime during his one-and-done pit stop in The ROT, yet somehow those pesky jock journos managed to get the job done without Kawhi’s daily pearls of wisdom. Is every player on every team in the National Hockey League available every day? Nope. Problem is, some news snoops have a misguided sense of entitlement and still believe athletes/coaches are at their every beck and call. Doesn’t work that way, kids. Not anymore. So boo freaking hoo. Find someone else to talk to.

The outrageously arrogant Simmons didn’t limit his pompous tsk-tsking to the CFL last week. No sir. He slid into full Grandpa Simpson, fist-shaking mode after Kawhi Leonard was introduced as a member of the L.A. Clippers. “Four people Kawhi had to thank and didn’t,” he tweeted from the fetal position. “1) Masai (Ujiri) 2) Larry Tanenbaum 3) Alex (load management) McKechnie 4) Nick Nurse. He did thank restaurants for giving him free food, though.” Why, shame on Kawhi. I mean, such nerve. How dare he wag his tongue without first conferring with Miss Manners’ son Stevie. I hope all the nominees for Emmy Awards in September realize they must clear their acceptance/thank you speeches through Stevie before approaching the microphone.

Others on the hoops beat in The ROT resisted any urge to play the jilted lover role, offering less of an emotional take on Leonard’s first utterings as a Clipper:
Bruce Arthur,
Toronto Star: “(Kawhi) did it right.”
Leo Rautins, TSN: “(Kawhi was) very thoughtful in his words.”
Tim Micallef, Sportsnet: “I don’t care about any of that stuff. I really don’t. I understand the fans do. I really don’t care about it.”

Brian Williams

So nice to see Brian Williams on TSN’s coverage of the Prince of Wales Stakes last Tuesday. Brian is a lovely man and an exceptional broadcaster. Not many talkers on TV are more polished and, hey, he’s one of us. Which is to say, he drew his first breath in Good Ol’ Hometown.

I hear they had a big adios bash last week for three Globe and Mail sports scribes, including Dave Shoalts. I worked with Shoaltsy in Calgary and I can report that he’s one of the truly good guys in a business full of good guys. He’s also a funny man. Enjoy the rocking chair, Shoaltsy.

A big hi-de-ho to old friend Peter Young. Pete’s ticker gave him a spot of grief not so long ago, but I see the old broadcaster is back on social media and taking aim at Bob Cameron.

Michelle Liu

And, finally, ever since I heard that 12-year-old Michelle Liu had qualified to play with the grown-ups at the CP Women’s Open golf tournament next month in Aurora, Ont., I’ve been trying to remember what I was doing in the summer of 1963, when I was her age. I believe I was building sand castles at Willows Beach in Oak Bay (Victoria). No. Wait. Now I remember. They wouldn’t allow me to play with the 14-year-olds in a baseball tourney at Carnarvon Park (arrived too late for registration), so I sold programs instead and made $5 one day and $3 the next. That bought a kid a lot of green leaves and jujubes back in the day.

About a Barracuda on the judge’s bench…those surprising Winnipeg Jets…same old, same old from Grapes…a pot calling a kettle white…kid stuff in Vegas…Box Car Willie Belichick…grappling with the idea of a new football league…women’s tennis…Roger Federer’s arms…and other things on my mind

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

I can’t help but weep when I hear the many victims/survivors of diabolical Larry Nassar tell their stories of sexual abuse at the hands of the predator doctor when they were sweet, innocent little girls with dreams of Olympic Games gymnastics glory.

Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, the Barracuda.

So it’s damn straight that I gave a fist pump and let loose a mighty “hell ya!” when Judge Rosemarie Aquilina booted Nassar’s sorry ass back to a jail cell on Wednesday, saying, “I just signed your death warrant” as she tacked 40-175 years onto the 60-year sentence the defrocked doctor is already serving on a child pornography conviction.

The lady judge rocks. Assistant Attorney General Angela Povilaitis rocks. Investigative journalists Marisa Kwiatowski, Tim Evans and Mark Alesia at the Indianapolis Star rock. The 156 women who appeared in a Michigan courtroom to confront Nassar with victim-impact statements rock.

And now Nassar can pound rocks. Or whatever it is that sexual predators pound behind bars.

Judge Lance Ito

Watching Judge Aquilina sentence former U.S. Olympic gymnastics/Michigan State University doctor Nassar, I couldn’t help but think the outcomes of the original O.J. Simpson (Judge Ito) and Oscar Pistorius (Judge Thokozile Masipa) murder trials would have been different had she been on the bench. It’s little wonder Judge Aquilina’s nickname while serving in the Michigan Army National Guard was Barricuda. She’s a nasty bit of business, in a good way.

Quick question for those who insist that we keep sports and the real world separate: How is that possible when the real world refuses to stay out of sports? Nassar was the top medic for USA Gymnastics and the MSU women’s gymnastics teams. He sexually abused the girls. Sports, meet real world.

I woke up to a tsunami warning (true story) in the small hours of Tuesday morning, after a 7.9 shaker rocked and rolled offshore of Alaska, and I had visions of my high-and-dry, eighth-floor home in downtown Victoria being swamped and swallowed by the Pacific Ocean. Turns out the ‘quake had all the bite of a Jimmy Fallon monologue. Yup, that tame. There’s more oomph in American beer. So, after review, the tsunami warning was overturned due to goaltender interference. Just like every goal scored in the National Hockey League this week.

Moving on to more pleasant matters, it seems that most times I look up the Winnipeg Jets are winning another game. Who saw that coming? I mean, okay, at the commencement of their current crusade I figured Team Draft & Develop for a wild-card playoff spot. At best. But first place? In the NHL’s toughest division? There was a better chance of the Paid Pinocchio in the White House, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, dissing her boss Donald Trump for his take on immigration.

Here’s what I wrote re the Jets on Sept. 14: “It appears that the Western Conference road to the Stanley Cup is likely to go through Northern Alberta. If not, it’ll be Southern Alberta, where the Calgary Flames are shaping up to be a force, even as ownership squabbles with politicos and beats the drums about relocation should the city refuse to pony up substantial coin for a new shinny palace. The trouble with the Jets—aside from the people behind the bench—is geography. Until they prove otherwise, they’re still the third best outfit on the Canadian prairies.” D’oh! D’oh! D’oh!

I note that two members of the San Jose Sharks—Tomas Hertl and Justin Braun—have issued an apology for calling Winnipeg a “dark and cold” locale with no smart phones, WiFi or any other 21st-century gadgetry. Apparently, the mea culpa should arrive by Pony Express, carrier pigeon or Western Union telegraph in time for the NHL playoffs.

Don Cherry

This just in—Don Cherry doesn’t like Europeans. Who knew? In related news, dogs don’t like cats, Donald Trump doesn’t like the FBI, and Taylor Swift isn’t fond of Kim, Kanye or Katy. Seriously. Grapes needs a new script writer. Once again he’s dredged up his antiquated Cold War-era lament about Euros taking jobs away from homebrews, in this case on the rosters of Major Junior outfits across our vast land. “What happens is, if you look at it, there’s a Canadian kid not playing,” says the resident curmudgeon/blowhard on the Hockey Night in Canada intermission feature Coachless Corner. “You’re asking me, ‘Do I believe in Europeans playing in (the) Canadian Hockey League?’ No. I don’t.” Fine, Grapes, and while we’re at it let’s keep all those French kids in Quebec.

Kid Rock

Paul Wiecek offers some interesting thoughts on the NHL misreading the climate of the day by hiring Kid Rock as the intermission act for its all-star frolic this afternoon in Tampa.

The way the Winnipeg Free Press sports columnist has it figured, the two of them deserve each other because the NHL is whiter than a virgin bride’s wedding gown and Kid Rock’s neck is redder than a rooster’s wattles.

If the Confederacy had won the U.S. Civil War, America today would look a whole lot like an NHL hockey game,” Wiecek writes. “The NHL is not only the whitest professional sports league in North America—by a mile—it also has the whitest fans of any of this continent’s four major pro sports. Again, by a mile. If you’re anything other than white and heterosexual, you’re every bit as much of a minority sitting in the stands at an NHL game as Dustin Byfuglien is skating out on the ice. Hockey is played by white people, for white people.”

Canada’s newspaper sports writers are white, white, white.

This is a classic case of the pot calling the kettle white. I mean, has Wiecek taken a look at press row in Canada (newspaper sports division)? Nothing but white, heterosexual, mostly male faces.

Full marks to the Freep scribe for calling out the NHL on the Kid Rock hire, because the guy has a fondness for the Confederate flag and a history of anti-gay/anti-transgender spewings. But Wiecek’s own business has all the diversity of…well, the white NHL.

Ask Wiecek to name all the black sports writers with whom he’s worked. Ask him to name all the openly gay sports scribes. None and none. Ask him to name all the women. Two. I worked at five different dailies. I recall one non-Caucasian colleague. Just one. In 30 years. I worked with only four females scribes. In 30 years. I worked with zero openly gay sports scribes. In 30 years.

At least the NHL has some African-American players. But blacks and gays can’t even be called a minority in Canadian newspaper sports writing, because they simply don’t exist.

So, signature scrawl is now restricted to kids in Sin City. That’s right, only kids 14 and under are allowed access to Vegas Golden Knights players for autographs at the NHL club’s practice facility, City National Arena. Adults need not apply. Seems it’s a safety measure, because grown-ups were “pushing kids out of the way” and kids were “running into the street.” My question: Why would a grown man want another grown man’s autograph? Except, of course, to profit. In which case, he should get a life.

Box Car Belichick

Yes, kids, you can grow up to look like Box Car Willie after spending a night sleeping on a slow-moving freight train and still become a five-time (do I hear six?) Super Bowl-winning head coach. Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots remains the ultimate example of a man not letting success go to his clothes, so the next time a cynic takes a cheap shot at Winnipeg Blue Bombers sideline steward Mike O’Shea for his “goofy shorts,” show him this pic of Belichick, taken scant seconds after his Patriots had won their eighth American Football Conference title on his watch.

Vince McMahon

Grappling guru Vince McMahon made it official last week, advising us that his aborted and gimmicky XFL from 2001 will reboot in 2020, sans the WWE-scripted shtick and the up-the-skirt cheerleader cams. Vince is going legit—from sleazy to squeaky clean—and he vows to hire only boy scouts (“Even if you have a DUI, you will not play in the XFL.”). He’ll order players to stand during the national anthem. He wants games to be completed in two hours or less. He wants us to “reimagine” football. Okay, I reimagine football in 2020 without Vince McMahon.

McMahon’s no-bad boys statute seemingly rules out Johnny Manziel, the former Cleveland Browns quarterback who likes to brawl in bars when he isn’t beating up women. So let’s see…the National Football League has washed its hands of Manziel and the not-ready-for-prime-time XFL wants no part of him, yet the Canadian Football League is eager to welcome him with open arms. What part of embarrassing does CFL commish Randy Ambrosie not understand? (For the record, if Manziel shows serious interest in the XFL, bet the mortgage money that McMahon will turn a blind eye to his rap sheet.)

Caroline Wozniacki

For those who insist that there’s no depth in women’s tennis, the past five Grand Slam events have produced five different champions—Serena Williams (Australian Open), Jelena Ostapenko (French Open), Garbine Muguruza (Wimbledon), Sloane Stephens (U.S. Open) and Caroline Wozniacki (Aussie Open). Five events, 13 months, five different champions. The men, meanwhile, have produced two different champions in that time frame—Roger Federer (three titles) and Rafael Nadal (two). I suppose an argument can be made that the universe would have unfolded differently for the women had mama Serena not been away having a baby, but that isn’t necessarily so. After all, she won just one Slam in 2016. Might have been the same last year. The point is, there’s intrigue on the women’s side.

Is there anything more cruel in sports than what Simona Halep and Marin Cilic were forced to endure after losing their respective Aussie Open singles championship matches this weekend? She battled Wozniacki for three hours less 11 minutes, he 20-time Grand Slam champion Federer for three hours and three minutes. Then, after being vanquished, they likely just wanted to crawl into a hole and cry. Alas, they were required to loiter on court for the parting-gifts ceremony and boring speeches that seemingly droned on longer than the matches…then make a speech and smile…then listen to the victor’s speech and smile…then pose for photos and smile. Half an hour later, they were permitted to depart and lick their wounds (which, in Halep’s case, meant a retreat to the hospital for IV treatment). Like I said, cruel.

Rafa Nadal

This week’s notable quotable: Before meeting his Waterloo vs. Marin Cilic, Rafael Nadal was rocking the sleeveless look at the Aussie Open. The guy’s got guns. Serious guns. Which did not escape the notice of commentator Jim Courier, who, during a courtside gab session about Rafa’s fashion statement, asked Swiss maestro Federer if he’d be following Nadal’s lead and show us his pipes. “That’s not gonna happen,” a laughing Federer said, glancing quickly at his chicken arms. “You know why? My arms are not like his arms. It’s pretty simple.”

This week’s Stevie-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna, taking a cheap shot at the XFL: “Did anybody out there ask for another football league? Anyone?” I have a better question, Stevie: Does anybody in the Republic of Tranna know they have a professional football team? Anyone?

About a guard dog for Puck Finn…the goalie blind Winnipeg Jets…soccer stupidity in hockey…a classy King…classy curlers…and adios to a classy Ken Fidlin

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

puck-finn2As Dire Straits advised us in the early 1990s, sometimes you’re the windshield and sometimes you’re the bug. We know which one Patrik Laine was on Saturday afternoon, and let’s agree that the Winnipeg Jets rookie extraordinaire was the victim of a clean hit. Not clean-ish. Clean.

If you can’t agree, please proceed to another blog, because I’m not prepared to debate it.

I will, however, happily engage in a verbal to-and-fro re the suggestion that the Jets ought to send an SOS to former guard dog Anthony Peluso.

I mean, seriously? Anthony Peluso?

Yes, some among the rabble think it a swell idea to insert Peluso’s bare knuckles into the Jets’ lineup to discourage ruffians like Jake McCabe of the Sabres from taking liberties with the likes of Puck Finn, as he did in Buffalo. Well, sure. And some people also believe Donald Trump in the White House is a swell idea.

Look, it’s bad enough that a roster spot is occupied by Chris Thorburn, a loyal foot soldier whose sole purpose when not munching on popcorn appears to be dropping his hockey mitts and wrestling a foe of equally limited skills for 30 seconds or less. Unless this is 1975 and the Broad St. Bullies are pillaging the National Hockey League, adding another no-talent thug who would be tethered to the end of the bench or banished to the press box is not a wise use of personnel.

So no. Anthony Peluso is not the answer.

Puck Finn
Puck Finn

As one who has suffered multiple concussions (10 at last count), I know what a dark and nasty place La La Land can be. The nausea, the dizziness, the ringing in the ears, the headaches, the imbalance, the forgetfulness…horrible. I was first concussed at age 13. Got hit in the head by a baseball. When I awoke in St. Boniface Hospital, the kid in the bed next to me had control of the TV. I asked him to put on Hockey Night in Canada. It was mid-July. I thought it was winter. I hope Laine knows it’s winter and there’s plenty of hockey to be played. More to the point, I hope Puck Finn doesn’t miss too much of it.

Almost lost in the hue and cry that arose after McCabe sent Laine to La La Land was the numbing reality that the Jets coughed up a huge hair ball in losing 4-3 to Buffalo. Ahead 3-1 less than 20 minutes from time, they gagged and it didn’t help that they received more minor league-level goaltending from Connor Hellebuyck. I’m not prepared to close the book on Hellebuyck, but I do find it odd, also annoying, that general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and his bird dogs can recognize blue-chippers up front (the Lickety-Split Line of Puck Finn, Twig Ehlers and Rink Rat Scheifele, as an e.g.) and on the blueline (Jacob Trouba, Josh Morrissey) but they continue to be goalie blind. Should it really take six years to find a legitimate starting goaltender?

Interesting to note that Jets head coach Paul Maurice doesn’t discuss the NHL standings with his workers. “I don’t talk about the standings and I don’t talk about any of that in the room,” he says. “It’s on a board somewhere and they can look at it if they like.” Perhaps that explains their lack of urgency some nights.

Netherlands' Arjen Robben, right, reacts after being tackled by Brazil's Michel Bastos, left, during the World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between the Netherlands and Brazil at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, Friday, July 2, 2010. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
We can do without this and the shootout in hockey.

At the risk of sounding like Don Cherry, it occurs to me that Europeans have brought two things to hockey—soccer’s twin evils of diving and the shootout. Yes, of course, some hockey players (hello, Bill Barber) were acting like Italian footballers in their death throes before the great European wave arrived on our shores, but it got so bad that the NHL was motivated to pass anti-diving legislation in an effort to nip it in the bud. As for the shootout, I’m sure most of us would agree that it’s the devil’s handiwork. Under no circumstances should the gold-medal match at the World Junior Championship be determined by gimmickry. The Canadian and American kids put on a boffo show the other night, and they deserved better than soccer stupidity to decide the issue. I mean, it’s not like anyone was in a hurry to leave the rink.

So nice to see Dave King acting like a kid on Christmas morning after Canada’s success at the recent Spengler Cup tournament in Davos. King, who was Luke Richardson’s associate coach at the Swiss event, is among the finest men I met in 30 years of covering sports in mainstream media. He was always classy, always honest and always obliging. No doubt he still is.

Speaking of classy, former world champs Kerry Burtnyk and Jeff Ryan were two of the reasons I enjoyed working the curling beat back in the day, and now their names are in the news again. Only this time, it’s their kids chasing glory. Laura Burtnyk and Hailey Ryan teamed up to win the Manitoba Junior women’s title, while J.T. Ryan skipped his team to the men’s crown. The kids will be wearing the Buffalo on their backs at the Canadian championships later this month in Victoria, and it’s never wise to bet against a Manitoba outfit at a national curling event. Especially if their names are Burtnyk and Ryan. Go get ’em, kids.

Ken Fidlin
Ken Fidlin

Another good one has left the toy department. That would be the now-retired Ken Fidlin, longtime jock journalist with the Toronto Sun. Fids and I arrived at the Sun at the same time, in late 1980, after his Ottawa Journal and my Winnipeg Tribune both ceased operation in the same 24-hour period. I bailed after a year and a half in the Republic of Tranna, moving to Calgary and then back to Pegtown, but Fids never left and the Little Paper That Grew was always better for it. He’s a terrific writer and an even better person.

Postmedia truly has done a nasty number on sports writing in Canada. Fidlin joins a lengthy parade of quality writers and people who have been bought out, forced out or walked out on the newspaper chain in the past 12 months—George (Shakey) Johnson, Cam Cole, Bill Lankhof, Dave Stubbs, Randy Sportak, John MacKinnon, Joanne Ireland and Kirk Penton, among others. I suppose Terry Jones of the Edmonton Sun will be next on the chopping block. Sad.

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

 

Swimming in a sea of Canuckleheads; Winnipeg Jets over the Disney Ducks in 6 games; and who sprinkled Ondrej Pavelec with Dominik Hasek dust?

I am already seeing it. Canuckmania.

People are wearing the jerseys with the big C-shaped, angry Orca on the chest. Flags flutter from car windows. It is all the talk in my favorite watering hole and, no doubt, most pubs on the left flank of the land. I live a short hop across the water from the B.C. mainland, and make no mistake about one thing—Victoria is Vancouver Canucks country.

One might assume that the reality that I, a member of Jets Nation, am surrounded by Canuckleheads to be discormforting. Not at all. If anything, I am quietly humored by their zeal, particularly those among their number who seldom discourse on matters of athletics but now give voice to the goings-on of the National Hockey League and the commencement of the Stanley Cup tournament.

Why is the Canucks orca such an angry whale?
Why is the Canucks orca such an angry whale?

For example, just yesterday afternoon the boys on the bar stools in Bart’s Pub were prattling on, in not-so-hushed tones, about the Canucks’ upcoming engagement with the Calgary Flames, when one of them squeezed a mention of the Winnipeg Jets into the chin-wag.

“Did you see how the Jets got in?” he asked without expecting a reply. “They lost their last game. Got shut out. And they make the playoffs!”

The inference, of course, was that the Winnipegs had exercised the very bad manners of using a back door to gain entrance to the tournament. That they had not won their way in. This while the Jets were, at that very moment, featured on a corner TV, laying a 5-1 licking on the Flames to earn their 99th point of the regular season, just two fewer than the Canucks.

My instinct was to correct this fellow. I mean, if blanking the Wild in Minny, the Blues in St. Loo and the Avalanche in mile-high Denver—three shutouts in succession, on the road, in the final week of a 6 1/2-month campaign—is his idea of backing into the playoffs, well…whatever.

I chose to sit in silence, listening as they shifted their deliberations to the Canucks’ goal crease, an area of considerable concern given that the starting goaltender, Ryan Miller, had, until Saturday night, spent seven weeks on the shelf due to a wonky right knee. The consensus: Understudy Eddie Lack should start when Team Orca opens playoff hostilities vs. the Flames on Wednesday night in Van City.

That, of course, bears no importance for me. My area of interest would be the blue paint at the Jets’ end of the rink once they face off against the Disney Ducks in the Magic Kingdom on Thursday. But no one out here wishes to discuss Ondrej Pavelec, the Jets goaler who apparently has been sprinkled with Dominic Hasek dust and whose net has been a puck-free zone for a few ticks less than 187 minutes. Do the math. That’s three-plus games.

Pavelec’s play is among the reasons why the Jets qualified for their first post-season crusade since arriving in River City in 2011, and he shall be among the reasons the Winnipegs upstage the Ducks in their opening-round skirmish.

Oh, yes. That is an early prediction. Jets over Ducks. In six games.

I say that not only because Pavelec has become inpenetrable, but because Bruce Boudreau is head coach of the Disney Ducks. Bruce Boudreau-coached teams and playoff hockey are not a favorable combination. They do not win. Ever. They implode.

Which means…the Jets shall advance to Round Two of the tournament, whereupon they shall rattle sabres with none other than the Vancouver Canucks, who shall vanquish the Flames.

80s-logo-homeThis puts me in a bit of a pickle. As mentioned, I am surrounded by Canuckleheads, a tribe of very sore losers prone to rioting whenever their universe does not unfold as it should. I have made no secret of my affections for the Jets, which positions me as the enemy in these here parts. I fear the worst. I shall not, however, be intimidated should the Jets meet the Canucks. That’s not the Paul Maurice way. I shall proudly display the Jets logo.

That, I hasten to point out, would be the Jets logo circa 1970s-80s. I still cannot embrace the current logo, which is…well, as one Canucklehead asked yesterday, “What exactly is that Jets logo supposed to be?”

“I don’t know,” I answered. “Just like I don’t know why that Orca whale on the Canucks logo is so angry. I guess it’s because the Canucks have been in the NHL for almost half a century and they still haven’t won the Stanley Cup. You know, just like the Maple Leafs.”

Logo wars aside, I hope the Jets and Canucks do meet in the second round of the Stanley Cup tournament for a couple of reasons: 1) It would be a one-anthem series; 2) it would guarantee one Canadian outfit a berth in the Western Conference final.

So bring it on, Canuckleheads.

 

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.

MY WINNIPEG: You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave

Keep in mind that many of our adopted jocks are not in Winnipeg by choice. The sports system forced them to drop anchor in Pegtown, so it could be that they feel the system is holding them hostage, which could lend itself to no small level of bitterness about a burg.

Does Winnipeg get a bad rap, or are the good citizens of River City a tad too touchy? Lord knows we have a fragile psyche, because we get our knickers in a knot at the mere suggestion that our burg is not fit for man, beast nor professional athlete. Well, here’s one person’s four-part take on what makes Pegtown tick.

PART ONE: It’s okay if you don’t like us (but we aren’t anybody’s arm pit)

PART TWO: Snub us and we won’t drink your beer (and it’s all Harold Ballard’s fault)

PART THREE: Some athletes we love, some athletes we loath (but we’ll love you more and loath you less if you win)

PART FOUR: Everybody knows this is nowhere (you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave)

 

PART ONE: It’s okay if you don’t like us (but we aren’t anybody’s arm pit)

It was the winter of 1998 and I was standing beside Ross McLennan in the Winnipeg Sun newsroom.

We peered out the window as an angry winter storm began to bare its fangs and growl, and we both knew that if we didn’t leave the building in the next half hour, or so, there existed a very real probability that we were hunkered in for the night.

“Ross,” I said to him as I stared at the white stuff swirling about outside, “why do we live here?”

“I don’t know,” he answered.

There was a pause for silence. We just stared at the snow.

“You know something,” I finally said, turning to my right and looking up at Ross. “We don’t have to live here. No. We don’t have to live here.”

So I don’t. Live there. But I do. Live there.

I have come to realize, you see, that I don’t live where I live. I live where I used to live. Where I’ve always lived. Where I always will live.

It’s just that I’m now approximately 2,300 kilometres to the left of Portage and Main. I have an ocean view. And a mountain view. There are palm trees, 365 days of golf, a wet rather than a white winter, nobody plugs in their car, and I’ve discovered uses for my arms other than swatting at mosquitos 24/7.

I hang my bonnet in Victoria, but, trust me, I live in Winnipeg.

I mean, I’m ashamed to admit this (and probably shouldn’t admit it), but I can’t tell you the name of Victoria’s mayor. I believe it’s Dean Fortin, but I’m not positive. Yes, I agree, shame on me.

The thing is, I not only can name the (soon-to-be former) mayor of Winnipeg, I know him. Personally. Mind you, I never was particularly fond of Sammy Katz, nor his smarmy smile. Always thought he was a bit like a soccer injury. You know, phony.

I figure Sammy for one of those soccer players who has been mortally wounded by a kick to the left shin bone, yet, as play continues to swirl about him as he lay clutching at his face, he’s peeking through his fingers to determine if the referee will go to his pocket and produce a red card.

The red card is, of course, the miracle cure of futbol. It has the healing powers of Jesus’s hands. The moment a mortally wounded lad is secure in the knowledge that his assailant has been shown a red card—and thereby banished from proceedings—he makes a Lourdes-like recovery and springs back into the fray with renewed vigor and an exaggerated limp that vanishes the very second play is whistled in. To me, that’s Sammy.

But I digress…

My point was/is, I know Sammy Katz is mayor in River City and I even know the names of some of those who would be mayor come October. Like Gord Steeves, who claims to know how many pot holes it takes to fill the streets of Winnipeg, because, by gosh, he’s going to fill ’em all.

I know these things because I left good, ol’ Hometown 15 years ago, but I never left.

I mean, when I make reference to the “local” paper, I’m talking about the Winnipeg Sun or Winnipeg Free Press, not the Victoria Times Colonist or Victoria News. My first order of business each morning is to call up both the Sun and Freep. I need to know what’s happening. Where it’s happening. When it’s happening. Why it’s happening. I need to know who’s happening and who isn’t happening.

I read it all. News, entertainment, sports, arts, Miss Lonelyhearts. Everything. I even stop by Mr. Sinclair Jr.’s neighborhood in the Freep on occasion, just to check out Gordo’s most recent exercise in name-dropping self-indulgence. (Quick question: Does Gordo ever eat at home with his bride, or does he always eat out with somebody who’s a somebody?)

At any rate, I care about Winnipeg. I care about its people. I am, after all, of them. Born and raised. Spent the largest segment of a 30-year career in jock journalism there.

That, however, doesn’t mean I’m under obligation to do the rah-rah, siss-boom-bah thing about all that is River City, and neither are the professional athletes we adopt.

Keep in mind that many of our adopted jocks are not in Winnipeg by choice. The sports system forced them to drop anchor in Pegtown, so it could be that they feel the system is holding them hostage, which could lend itself to no small level of bitterness about a burg.

None of us wishes to be where we don’t want to be, and there are hundreds—correction: thousands—of people living and working in Pegtown who don’t wish to live and work in Pegtown. Some of those people edit copy at a newspaper. Some flip cheese nips at The Sals. Some serve tables in pubs. Some are university profs. Some collect your garbage. And, yes, some are in the employ of the Winnipeg Jets and Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

There is mounting suspicion that Evander Kane is among those people. That he wants to hop on the next stagecoach out of Dodge. Well, the Jets left winger should know that it’s okay if he doesn’t like us. It’s okay if he wants out of Winnipeg. That doesn’t make him O.J. or Willie Pickton or Paul Bernardo any more than it makes me Karla Homolka because I dialed up a new area code in 1999.

And it doesn’t make our burg Toronto’s, Montreal’s, Calgary’s or Vancouver’s arm pit, either. So who gives two dumps if an athlete doesn’t like us?

 

PART TWO: Snub us and we won’t drink your beer (and it’s all Harold Ballard’s fault)

Winnipeg has many favorable qualities to offer. A self-deprecating sense of humor is not one of them.

Winnipeg is…it’s…well, it has Napolean Complex. Small man syndrome, if you will. Its skin is thinner than the margin of error on an Angus Reid poll.

A space cadet like Ilya Bryzgalov makes a flippant statement about our burg’s parks, the frigid climes and no Russian playmates for his kids and it’s as if he’s climbed atop the Legislature building and gelded the Golden Boy. Or replaced it with a bronze statue of Joseph Stalin.

Ben Hatskin and Bobby Hull
Ben Hatskin and Bobby Hull

Shane Doan is tarred and feathered (figuratively) for saying he doesn’t wish to uproot his family from Phoenix when the possibility exists that the Coyotes are about to become buzzard bait in the Arizona desert. Not once does Doan utter a disparaging remark about Winnipeg, though. Nary a discouraging word. He says he doesn’t wish to move his family anywhere. Not to Vancouver. Not to Calgary or Edmonton. Not to New York or Chicago. Yet many in Thin Skin City get their knickers in a knot, in part because of a jingoistic media that includes at least one prominent True North Toady who misrepresents Doan’s feelings in a column that falsely accuses the Coyotes captain of slander.

Dieter Brock cracks wise about the Assiniboine Park Zoo three decades ago and, to this day, there are many among the rabble who would lock him in a cage with the rest of the skunks.

We get our frozen noses out of joint at the slightest suggestion we aren’t where it’s at, don’t we? How dare these filthy rich, pampered ingrates not like us. The nerve. Don’t they know we have The Forks, Folklorama, the French Quarter, Festival du Voyageur, a thriving arts and entertainment community that includes a world-renowned ballet and symphony orchestra, the Museum of Asper, affordable real estate, blah, blah, blah, yadda, yadda, yadda?

And, hey, it’s the Slurpee capital of the planet. No place sucks like Winnipeg. Literally. So if you slag our city, no Slurpees for you!

I can’t say with absolute certainty when we developed our Napolean Complex, but I do believe we should point an accusing finger at Humpty Harold Ballard. And the Molson family.

When I was a kid, you see, Winnipeg didn’t have an inferiority complex, even though we didn’t have a National Hockey League team to call our own. Only Toronto and Montreal did. No big deal. Besides, there was no need to feel like the ginger-haired stepchild because we had a football club that could kick big-city butt. And that’s what the Blue Bombers did. Every year.

So everything was cool.

It even got better when Ben Hatskin hijacked Robert Marvin Hull. We still didn’t have an NHL franchise, but we had the Jets and the World Hockey Association. More significant, we had Bobby Hull. The Golden Jet. The most dynamic player north, south, east and west of Boston was ours. We could turn in any direction and go “nah, nah, nah, nah, nah.”

Our smugness rapidly turned to anger, though, because the hockey establishment refused to play nice. First, they went to court to prevent our Bobby from joining the Jets. Next, they refused to include our Bobby on the Team Canada side that faced off against the Soviet Union in the 1972 Summit Series. They spent the next seven years pooh-poohing our product as paperweight, even as the Jets iced an outfit that could lay a licking on 90 per cent of teams in the NHL. Eventually, most parties realized there had to be a ceasefire between the NHL and WHA, for financial sanity. There were merger talks. And a show of hands on the NHL inviting Winnipeg, Quebec City, Edmonton and New England to the party. The tally was 12-5 in favor, with Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, which landed an NHL franchise in 1970, Boston and Los Angeles on the nay side of the vote. That was enough to defeat the merger.

8-harold-ballard-worst-moments-in-maple-leafs-history
Humpty Harold Ballard

The loudest anti-acceptance voice, that with the most huff, puff and bluster, belonged to Humpty Harold Ballard, resident felon and bankroll of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“I feel so elated,” Ballard brayed in celebration. “It’s like the North beating the South in the Civil War.”

“As far as Harold was concerned, Winnipeg didn’t exist,” Jets part-owner and governor Barry Shenkarow recalls in the Ed Willes book, The Rebel League: The Short and Unruly Life of the World Hockey Association.

So, Ballard and his buddies in Montreal and Vancouver were telling us we weren’t big enough. We weren’t classy enough. We weren’t sexy enough. We weren’t sophisticated enough for the NHL.

Well, we were big enough and old enough to drink beer.

The WHA teams needed one NHL outfit to change its vote. Just one. Ballard, ever the curmudgeon, never would be swayed from his position, not as long as it meant receiving a smaller slice of the Hockey Night in Canada pie. So the Molson family, owner of Club du Hockey Canadien, became the target. We stopped swilling their beer. Not just in River City. In Edmonton. In Quebec City. In Calgary. In Vancouver.

The power of the pint won the day and Humpty Harold’s happiness was replaced with a harrumph when Winnipeg, Edmonton, Quebec City and New England were absorbed by the NHL.

I’m convinced, however, that residue remains from that 1970s scenario. It’s why we get our backs up and go all bantam rooster at the mere hint that we can’t run with the big dogs. And, of course, our fragile psyche took a massive wallop when the original Jets loaded up the truck, lock stock and jock strap, and departed hockey’s high country for the Arizona desert in 1996.

But Winnipeg shouldn’t give a damn what anyone thinks or says of us. We can, and should, feel good about what we see when we look in the mirror.

We shouldn’t be afraid to laugh at ourselves, either. We’ve got our quirks. I mean, we want people to love us. To experience us. Yet we build a perimeter highway around our city just so people can avoid us as they make their way across the country. Go figure.

 

PART THREE: Some athletes we love, some athletes we loath (but we’ll love you more and loath you less if you win)

Carbon dating confirms that I am a relic. A fossil. I am a drawing on a cave-dweller’s wall. The amateurish sketch depicts me sitting in the old barn on Maroons Road in the 1950s, watching Billy Mosienko and the Winnipeg Warriors.

bowlingWe all loved Mosie. He authored an admirable career in Chicago, where he played on the Blackhawks’ famed Pony Line with the Bentley brothers, Doug and Max, and the highlight for Mosie arrived on the final night of the 1951-52 NHL season when he tallied three goals in the lickety-split time of 21 seconds. It remains an unassailable feat of scoring fury.

It wasn’t just his time in the NHL, nor his name in the record book, that endeared us to Mosie, though. He was a local boy who made good, then came home to us in 1955 to lead the Warriors to a Western Hockey League title. And he never left.

There’s now a hockey rink that bears his name. Also a tournament. And, of course, Mosienko Lanes continues to thrive at the corner of Redwood and Main in the gritty North End.

Ken Ploen is another former athlete we love. Unlike Mosie, he’s an adopted son, coming to us from tiny Lost Nation, Iowa, in the late 1950s to play an unparalled role in the golden years of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Grey Cup parades became commonplace once Ploen arrived to play defensive back and quarterback, and there isn’t a River City athlete, past or present, more revered than No. 11. He is our humble hero. He is to Winnipeg football what Jean Beliveau is to Montreal hockey. His affection for us is genuine. Real. It is not pasted on to gain sway. Once here, he, like Mosie, never left.

“I think when you look back at things, you say do you second guess yourself. I think it was a great decision I made back then and I certainly don’t ever regret that,” is what he said when inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame. “It’s been a great place to live. One of the reasons I stayed in Winnipeg was warm people.”

He echoed those sentiments when the great Bombers squads of 1959 and ’62 were celebrated by the MSHOF.

“I thought about it a lot today and I said how fortunate we were to play in a city like Winnipeg, with the fans that we had. It was always a great feeling to represent the province of Manitoba and the city of Winnipeg. I think a number of times because of that support we were able to pull off victories that maybe we wouldn’t have pulled off in another circumstance. It was a thrill representing the Blue and Gold, it was an honor wearing their uniforms and we look back at it with nothing but fond memories.”

Young people unfamiliar with Ploen would be shocked to learn that the great QB actually snubbed the National Football League to ply his trade on the lonesome prairie, in part because the Bombers offered him more money than the Cleveland Browns. I know, that’s hard to imagine, but it’s true. The Browns were willing to give Ploen a $500 signing bonus and a $5,000 yearly stipend to play DB. The Bombers went all-in with $3,000 and $9,000 as a DB/QB.

Ken_PloenAs an added bonus, Ploen heard that the “hunting and fishing was pretty good up here.”

Winnipeg prefers its sporting heroes to be a product of the Mosienko or Ploen template. Feet firmly on the ground. Genuine. Blue collar work ethic. Confident, not cocky. Community awareness. Little, if any, bling.

And we don’t care about their roots.

For example, Winnipeg probably holds European hockey players closer to the heart than any market in North America, although Mikhail Smith soured us ever so slightly on Soviets/Russians with his ill-concieved and failed attempt to transform Portage and Main into Red Square. We love Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson, two of the many Scandinavians who brought titles to River City before departing for Gotham. The super Swedes have not forgotten us, nor we them. Ditto Teemu Selanne, the fab Finn who took us on a magic carpet ride in his NHL rookie season.

It helps to win, of course. Mosie won. Ploen won. Chris Walby won. Bob Cameron won. Hedberg and Nilsson won. Had Dieter Brock brought the Grey Cup home, we’d talk more about what he did on the football field than what he said about the zoo. Hell, we’d let him pull a Kramer and hurl banana peels at the zoo monkeys.

Win and there’s a chance that some will forgive, or look beyond, your trespasses.

Bobby Hull’s name has been, and still is, linked to spousal abuse, which is a most loathsome bit of business. His ex-wife, Joanne, was granted a divorce on grounds of physical cruelty, mental cruelty and adultery. She has spoken of him beating and bloodying her head with the steel heel of her shoe. He has been convicted of assaulting a Chicago police officer. He had a DUI arrest. He drank excessively. But, hey, Robert Marvin Hull put Winnipeg on the pro hockey map. There would be no NHL franchise if not for the him. Thus, many eyes look beyond, or are blind to, his violent, off-ice nastiness.

Personally, I acknowledge what the Golden Jet did for good, ol’ Hometown as a hockey player. Only Ben Hatskin has done more. But Hull the man was a cad.

I don’t harbor any warm and fuzzies for him, but a great many in River City do. And always will.

 

PART FOUR: Everybody knows this is nowhere (you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave)

This isn’t a news bulletin to anyone who’s spent more than a month in the Manitoba capital, but it must be mentioned: Winnipeg is not Shangri-La.

Let’s ignore the usual suspects of winter, mosquitos, crime, spring flooding, middle-of-nowhere location, etc., because every city has acne (have you ever been to Buffalo?). Let us, instead, focus on sports. Explain to me, in 25 words or less, why a free agent hockey or football player would want to pitch his tent in Pegtown, or why those currently under contract would wish to stay? And, no, a lifetime supply of Slurpees is not enticement enough to lure prime jock stock to the Little Hockey House on the Prairie or Football Follies Field in Fort Garry.

Above all, athletes want to win. Well, a championship parade in River City is as rare as a green winter. Our burg has been a Grey Cup-free zone since Wade Miller was knee high to Buzz and Boomer (come to think of it, Wade’s still only knee high to Buzz and Boomer). Meanwhile, the management-by-paralysis stylings of Jets GM Kevin The Possum means our hockey heroes are always first to the tee box each April.

When a number of the Jets core players (Bryan Little, Zach Bogosian, Blake Wheeler, Ondrej Pavelec, Evander Kane) inked long-term deals, they expressed a fondness for the city, the True North organization and confidence that the club was headed in the right direction.

I do not, however, think they anticipated the general manager going completely comatose.

Winning is not part of the hockey equation in Winnipeg. That, alone, makes the acquisition of Grade A free agents remote, if not impossible. At best, our city and the Jets will land a Grade B player, but the likelihood is that River City is the preferred destination of Grade C and D players. Like Mathieu Perreault, who stands as The Possum’s sole free-agent signing to date this off-season.

Many are geeked up about the arrival of Perreault, who replaces Olli Jokinen. But ask yourself this: Why would Perreault rather be the No. 3 centre on a non-playoff team than the No. 3 centre on a Stanley Cup contender?

Whatever, I don’t think Perreault makes the Jets better. Just younger.

So, again, why would someone like Kane wish to remain in Winnipeg? If he’s going to be a much-maligned man, why not go where he’ll cash a playoff cheque for his trouble?

At any rate, the fact that top-quality players steer clear of Pegtown does not make our city unique. John Elway wanted no part of Baltimore. Eli Manning didn’t dig San Diego. Eric Lindros snubbed Quebec City, which, in my experience, is the most beautiful burg in North America. Ryan Kesler and Roberto Luongo wanted out of Vancouver. Josh Gorges turned his nose up at Toronto. James Reimer wants out of Toronto. Ryan Suter left Nashville. Patrick Roy forced his way out of Montreal. Jason Spezza spurned an entire country.

The reasons, of course, vary, but the sentiment is the same: Nobody wants to be where they don’t want to be.

This all reminds me of the title of a song written by one of our favorite sons, Neil Young: Everybody Knows This is Nowhere. That’s what the outside world thinks of River City. But we know better, don’t we? River City is more like the Hotel California: You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.

I wonder if Evander Kane knows that.

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