Let’s talk about little green men in River City…greybeard boxing…baseball orphans shuffle off to Buffalo…Jeremy Roenick’s ungay legal gambit…a 1964 prophecy…jock journos whinge and whinge…the Big M was “unfit to practice”…and many other things on my mind

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and today’s post is dedicated to my lovely friend Beverley, who died earlier this month and always appreciated my quirky sense of humor…

According to those who like to track the whereabouts of little green men, UFO sightings were up in Manitoba last year, with folks in Winnipeg observing the third most in the entire country.

Says local Ufology researcher Chris Rutkowski: “People are seeing things for the first time that they may not have noticed before.”

Ya, it’s called the Grey Cup.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister dug into his slush fund and came up with $2.5 million in support of Good Ol’ Hometown as the Canadian Football League’s official hub city should there be a 2020 season. Hmmm. That ought to take care of Chris Walby’s bar tab, but it won’t leave much for COVID-19 testing.

Greybeard Mike Tyson

Greybeard boxers Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr. have signed to go dukes up sometime in September, and they’ve agreed to wear head protection. So let’s see if I’ve got this straight: Two fiftysomething guys with a combined 133 fights behind them think it’s a swell idea to exchange punches for another eight rounds. Seems to me it’s a little too late to be thinking about head protection.

So, the orphaned Tranna Blue Jays have finally found a home for their 2020 Major League Baseball crusade. They had hoped to play in the Republic of Tranna, of course, but when that notion was nixed by Trudeau the Younger, the Tranna Nine sought Pittsburgh as a playground, then Baltimore, before landing in Buffalo. That’s kind of like trying to book John Lennon or Paul McCartney or George Harrison to play your birthday gig, but settling for Ringo.

Big league ball players are kneeling during the Star Spangled Banner. Hoops stars are kneeling. Fitba’s best are kneeling. NFL players have vowed to kneel. I feel a Donald Trump Twitter rant coming down in 3, 2, 1.

Seriously. Why are they even playing the national anthem at fan-free sporting events? Come to think of it, why do they play it when patrons are in the pews?

Dr. Fauci—D’oh!

Nice ceremonial first pitch by America’s favorite doc, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the other night at the Washington Nationals-New York Yankees opener in DC. Flame-Thrower Fauci he ain’t. The ball never made it halfway to home plate and dribbled into foul territory on the first base side of the field. It was the worst. You know, like Donald Trump’s COVID strategy.

Former NBC gab guy Jeremy Roenick is suing the Peacock Network for wrongful dismissal, claiming his lewd comments about lusting after a co-worker’s “ass and boobs” and having sex with a male co-worker had nothing to do with his ouster. He was punted because he’s an ungay guy, don’t you know. It’s an interesting gambit. I don’t know if Roenick’s “I’m a straight man” case will ever get to court, but I have a pretty good idea what Judge Judy would tell him to do with it.

Roenick also claims his removal was due, in part, to his support of Donald Trump. Again, more about an ass and a boob.

Fanless, TV-only sports has arrived, which makes the following comment eerily prophetic: “I’m fully prepared to hear not more than 10 years from now that a hockey game, for instance, will be played behind the locked doors of an arena. The only people in the place will be the players, two cameramen, a floor director, a script assistant, a sound technician, a play-by-play man, a color man and two guards on the door. The guards will have a simple duty. They’ll intercept loiterers and old-fashioned hockey fans and put them to flight. The vagrants will be advised they have exactly 15 minutes to get to the nearest television set.” That, girls and boys, is a passage from a column written by the great Jack Matheson for the Winnipeg Tribune on Nov. 14, 1964. Today it’s so very real.

Gary Bettman

Kevin McGran has a gripe. The Toronto Star shinny scribe is miffed because Commish Gary Bettman has ruled mainstream news snoops persona non grata in the National Hockey League’s two playoff hub bubbles, Edmonton and the Republic of Tranna. Only in-house scribes need apply. In a lengthy grumble, McGran grouses that there will be “no colour from inside the room.” Right, we’re all going to miss those emotional renderings from players reminding each other to “keep our feet moving.” McGran closes with this: “Don’t get me wrong. This access isn’t about us. It’s about you. The reader. We do this for our readers. We want to do it the best we can, and now the NHL is not letting. They are shortchanging you, the fans.” If McGran listens closely enough, he’ll hear the sound of readers not giving a damn.

Some of us saw this day coming quite some time ago, it’s just that the COVID-19 pandemic hastened its arrival. This is what I wrote in January 2017: “Pro sports franchises will find fresh ways to increase the disconnect between press row and their inner sanctums, thus making it more difficult for news scavengers to perform their duties. What must newspapers do to combat this? Well, bitching won’t help. They can caterwaul about lack of access as much as Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice whinges about the National Hockey League schedule, but that doesn’t solve anything. They have to be innovative. Newspapers must stop choking on their indignation and feeling sorry for themselves. It isn’t up to pro sports franchises to revert to the old ways of doing business, it’s up to the newspapers to discover new and better ways of doing business.” So there.

It’s rather ironic, don’t you think, that news snoops have their boxers in a bunch because the NHL will control the message during its Stanley Cup runoff when, in fact, no enterprise this side of Vlad (The Bad) Putin controls the message more than media?

The Big M

I am an unfamous person, therefore there is no interest in my health chart.

If I catch the sniffles or develop a mild case of fanny fungus, it’s my business. If my kidneys go kaput, you could squeeze the number of people who’d actually give a damn into a phone booth, and there’d still be enough room for a couple of circus clowns.

But pro athletes are not unfamous. Well, okay, some are. But, in general, the faithful like to know everything about their sports heroes, from their fave brand of toothpaste to whether or not they hoarded toilet paper at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The rabble is keen on knowing about owies, too, especially if it impacts their fantasy leagues or office pools. But usually they’re satisfied to learn how long Sidney Crosby or David Pastrnak will be on the shelf.

Jock journos, meanwhile, demand to know the details, as if it’s a birthright.

Crosby and Pastrnak are “unfit to practice?” Sports scribes demand to know if it’s cancer, a canker sore or COVID-19. Except the NHL is shy on health specifics these days, a policy that continues to put so many knickers into so many knots. Numerous news snoops like Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna and Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab have flailed at Commish Bettman for his don’t-ask, don’t-tell directive on absenteeism during the attempted reboot of the paused 2020 crusade. Basically, they’d like him to take his hush-hush dictate and shove it where you won’t find any daylight.

The thing is, the NHL and its member clubs are under no obligation to make jock journos, or the rabble, privy to the personal health information of workers. It’s no different today than in the 1960s, when Frank Mahovlich went from the hockey rink to the hospital.

The Big M

The Big M’s disappearance from the Toronto Maple Leafs’ lineup on Nov. 12, 1964, was sudden and mysterious. Officially, he was in sick bay for “constant fatigue,” which, in today’s parlance, translates to “unfit to practice.”

“If you want any information on my condition you will have to talk to Dr. Smythe,” he told news snoops.

So that’s what they did, only to discover that Dr. Hugh Smythe was no more forthcoming when prodded by the pen-and-paper pack.

“Without discussing the diagnosis, I can say there’ll be no embarrassment to Mr. Mahovlich or myself when the nature of it is known,” he explained.

The specifics of what ailed Mahovlich remained shrouded in secrecy by the time he returned to the fray on Dec. 9, yet somehow the media mob managed to file their daily copy. If privy to the particulars, they kept it on the QT.

Similarly, in the small hours of the morning on Nov. 2, 1967, the Big M walked off a sleeper car at Union Station in the Republic of Tranna and went directly to hospital, while his teammates departed for Detroit.

“I realize this is a difficult thing to request, but the less said by the press, radio and TV people about the reason he is in hospital, the better it would be for Frank,” Dr. Smythe informed news snoops.

Turns out Mahovlich had suffered a nervous breakdown, and the boys on the beat were informed that he might be hors de combat for two weeks, two months or for the duration of the season. He was “unfit to practice.” Case closed. Nothing more to see.

Fast forward to the present, and we have had many mysterious disappearances. Or mysterious no-shows. All explained as “unfit to practice.”

Well, that’s all anyone need know until such time as the athlete and/or team choose to come clean. What part of that do news snoops not understand?

Commish Randy

Simmons’ pout on the NHL’s posture re players deemed “unfit to practice” was truly silly, and I had to laugh at Mad Mike’s take. In a 1,000-word whinge, he suggests that the cone of silence is ill-conceived because it leads to “speculation.” Oh, the horror! Stop the presses! Sports scribes forced to speculate! That, my friends, is a wholly bogus take. What does Mad Mike think he and the rest of them have been doing for the past four months? They’ve speculated about hub cities. They’ve speculated about playoff formats. They’ve speculated about life in a bubble. They’ve speculated about a Canadian Football League season. They’ve speculated about Trudeau the Younger tossing CFL Commish Randy Ambrosie some spare change. They’ve speculated about a roost for the orphaned Blue Jays. They’ve speculated about Donald Trump’s head exploding if one more athlete takes a knee. Sports is, if nothing else, speculation, and so is sports scribbling. It’s a large, and fun, part of the gig. Get a grip, man.

Geez, that last item included my third mention of Donald Trump this morning. This makes it four. I promise that the remainder of this post will be a Trump-free (five) zone.

To all the sports scribes who insist there’s no stigma attached to a positive COVID-19 test, tell that to Hutterites in Manitoba.

Say, those Seattle Kraken unis are spiffy. Love the logo, love the design, love the colors, love the name. Now we wait for some self-interest group like PETA to bellyache about cruelty to sea monsters and demand a name change.

On the subject of fashion, who’s responsible for dressing the women on Sportsnet Central, which returned to air last week? I swear, Carly Agro looked like a giant, upholstered chocolate bar, while Martine Gaillard and Danielle Michaud wore outfits that someone must have dug out of the freebe box at a thrift store. Either that or they’ve hired Don Cherry’s former tailor.

Doc Holliday

A tip of the bonnet to Scott Oake of Hockey Night in Canada and old friend and colleague Bob (Doc) Holliday. Scotty’s one of the truly good guys among jock journos, so it’s no surprise that he’s included in this year’s inductees to the Order of Manitoba, while Doc, one of my all-time favorite people, has had a street in St. Vital named in his honor—Bob Holliday Way. I’m not sure where you’d find Bob Holliday Way in St. Vital, but it’s probably the first stop on a Streetcar Named Retire, just past the Red Top Drive-In.

Both Bob and Scotty, by the way, are also members of the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame, so their trophy rooms are getting cluttered.

I once dreamed of being in the MHHofF, but my dad ran off with my hockey equipment one day and I never played another game.

Nice to see the Winnipeg Sun back to publishing on Mondays, and I must say that the Winnipeg Free Press package on Saturdays is first rate. I’m not just talking about sports in the Drab Slab. It’s the entire Saturday sheet, from front to back. Terrific stuff.

Alyssa Nakken

Kudos to Alyssa Nakken, who became the first female to coach on-field in a Major League Baseball game. Alyssa worked first base for the San Francisco Giants v. the Oakland A’s last week, and I think that’s fantastic.

Scott Billeck of the Winnipeg Sun is convinced that Connor Hellebuyck was snubbed in Hart Trophy balloting for the NHL’s most valuable performer. Scotty submits that being a goaltender worked against the Winnipeg Jets keeper, opining, “if your name isn’t Dominik Hasek, it’s not an easy code to crack.” Wrong. Carey Price cracked the code in 2015.

And, finally, as we approach the back end of July and I look out my window to gaze upon the Olympic Mountains in the United States, I note that there’s still snow on the peaks. What’s up with that? Is it something I should be telling Greta Thunberg about?

Let’s talk about crossing the uncrossable border…Zip-Lock shinny…a COVID Carnival with car hops and the Fonz in E-Town…Winnipeg the grid Hub Bubble…what’s in a name?…Vlad the Bad’s lifetime contract…Citizen Kane’s fantasy world…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and, speaking of flattening the curve, here’s something else that’ll probably fall flat…

Did I miss a memo?

I mean, all I heard three months ago was this mantra: COVID-19 is “bigger than sports.” Athletes said it, league leaders said it, owners said it, medics said it, the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker and your neighborhood bookie said it.

It became the most-repeated creed since the Sermon on the Mount. Or at least since Richard M. Nixon tried to convince us that he was “not a crook.”

Thus, power brokers pulled the plug on every athletic event known to the human species—including the Olympic Games—and, hey, while we’re at it, let’s shutter the Canada-U.S. border for the first time since the British put a torch to the White House. We’ll open it again once squints in lab coats have a handle on this pesky coronavirus thing, because it’s “bigger than sports.”

News snoops and opinionists brayed in concert, even though jock journos recognized that there would be a scramble to fill sports pages and air time with quality content while every league remained in lockdown.

No doubt about it. This was a three-alarm pandemic. Much “bigger than sports.” Still is, actually.

Except here we are today and apparently COVID-19 has become an inconvenience no worse than a bad case of zits or rump rot.

Donald Trump

Seriously. The squints have yet to discover a vaccine. Medics don’t have a handle on long-term effects of the coronavirus. There is no herd immunity. To mask or not to mask remains a debate. People are still dying. All hell is breaking loose in the United States. But, hey, the girls and boys have been without their play things long enough, so let’s allow the athletes back into the playground. After all, “sports is bigger than COVID-19.”

Now, I haven’t heard any among the decision-makers actually say that aloud, but that’s only because words tend to get muffled behind those pesky coronavirus face masks.

Oh, wait. In their rush to return to the playgrounds at the elite level of professional jockdom, the power brokers forgot to put on their face masks. Either that or, like Donald Trump, they don’t believe they’re necessary, even as the pandemic eats away at the United States like termites on a two-by-four.

Whatever the circumstance, the Toronto Blue Jays requested permission to flee a COVID-19 hot zone, Florida, and transport their bats, their balls and, perhaps, a fresh wave of COVID-19 to the Republic of Tranna. And, sure enough, Trudeau the Younger has given them the okie-dokie to commence training exercises in The ROT.

Moreover, Trudeau the Younger shall give ponder to the Tranna Nine’s wish to contest the home portion of their 60-game Major League Baseball crusade at home, allowing outfits from the COVID-ravaged U.S. to cross the uncrossable border and wander among the rabble willy-nilly. Even as 38 MLB players/employees have already tested positive for COVID-19.

Mike Tyson

I’m no epidemiologist, but I’d feel safer telling Mike Tyson his face tattoo looks stupid.

Meantime, the National Hockey League plans to establish hub bubbles in the Republic of Tranna and Edmonton, allowing players/attendants from two dozen American-based clubs to cross the uncrossable border and put locals at risk.

Oh, sure, they’re telling us the shinny elite will be going about their daily business in a safety zone sealed tighter than the tombs housing little green people at Area 51, but that isn’t as simple as stuffing last night’s leftovers into a Ziploc bag. Anyone who’s spent time observing young, testosterone-fueled athletes can tell you they don’t tuck themselves in when the street lights go on. To some, curfew and a wake-up call arrive at the same hour in the a.m.

Trust me, after a month in lockup, even downtown Edmonton will begin to look like Shangri-La, and a few of the boys (probably the St. Louis Blues led by Brett Hull) will make a jail break in search of peeler bars and those mountain ranges and streams Alberta Premier Jason Kenney promised them.

I suppose I shouldn’t care, because I’m safely removed from the fray, and if the deep thinkers in E-Town and the Republic of Tranna want to expose their rabble to a hike in COVID cases, who am I to squawk?

But I’d really like to know how and when the pandemic being “bigger than sports” became a case of sports being “bigger than COVID-19.”

I realize I can be a total ditz at times, a circumstance that plagues me with increasing regularity as I slide deeper into my dotage, but it confounds me how fan-free NHL games would make anyone in E-Town or The ROT giddy. I mean, oh joy, they get to watch the Oilers and Leafs on TV. You know, just like the rest of us.

Potsie, Ralph, the Fonz and Richie.

Count veteran essayist Terry Jones of Postmedia E-town among the giddy. Once the Alberta capital had been confirmed as one of the two zip-lock shinny sites, he could scarcely contain his glee. “Edmonton in the summer is a festival city and this year all those festivals have been cancelled,” the dean of Canadian jock journos wrote. “But with proper social distancing, you can have a hockey festival. It’s going to be fun to see what Edmonton can create. Imagine big screen video boards erected around town and fans watching games in their cars Drive-In Movie style with Dog & Suds style car hops delivering food and beverages.” Ya, sure, and maybe the Fonz, Richie, Potsie and Ralph can drop by for the ceremonial faceoff.

I’m not saying the E-Town-proud Jonesy is wrong to wave pom-poms for his burg. Hometown boosterism is one of his admirable qualities, and I get a kick out of it, no matter how delusional it might be (especially when the topic is curling). But a roller-blading car hop asking, “Would you like fries with your order of COVID-19?” wouldn’t be my idea of a good time. I’d be surprised if the majority in northern Wild Rose Country share Jonesy’s enthusiasm for a COVID Carnival.

Similarly, why would any among the rabble in Good Ol’ Hometown want to welcome nine Canadian Football League outfits for a Coles Notes version of a no-fans, three-downs season? What, mosquitoes the size of St. Bernards and potholes the size of the Bermuda Triangle aren’t enough to deal with without adding an invasion of Yankee Doodle Dandies into the mix? If anyone can tell me what’s to be gained by trucking hundreds of Americans across the uncrossable border into Winnipeg, I’m prepared to listen.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers voice Knuckles Irving is fully onside with the large lads in pads assembling in River City to grab grass and growl at Football Follies Field In Fort Garry. “We’ve been saying for weeks on the CJOB sports show that Wpg is the obvious choice as a CFL hub city, IF it comes to that,” he tweeted. “And it might come to that, but it hasn’t yet. NOTHING has been finalized. When it is and the CFL decides ‘hubbing it” is the way to go, hello Winnipeg!!”

I mentioned this a week ago, but it bears repeating now that the feds have allowed the Blue Jays to nestle in The ROT: Perhaps they’ll explain why the Winnipeg Goldeyes are forced to call Fargo, N.D., home this summer. Oh, that’s right, Trudeau the Younger and cronies don’t want non-essential workers crossing the uncrossable border. Apparently Charlie Montoyo is essential but Rick Forney isn’t.

James Dolan

The Washington Redskins will likely change their team name (money talks). The Cleveland Indians will think about changing their team name. The Seattle NHL expansion franchise remains a Team To Be Named Later. Meanwhile, New York Knicks fans are hoping James Dolan changes his name to the Billionaire Formerly Known As Owner.

I note that Vlad (The Bad) Putin has signed a one-way deal to rule Russia until at least 2036, about the same time Tom Brady is expected to show signs of slowing down.

Speaking of lifetime contracts, the New York Mets continue to pay Bobby Bonilla to not play baseball. The Amazin’s top up Bonilla’s bank account by a whopping $1,193,248.20 each July 1 and will do so until 2035, even though he last wore their double-knits in 1999. If nothing else, the Bonilla deal gives new meaning to Casey Stengel’s lament about his 1962 Mets: “Can’t anybody here play this game?” Bonilla doesn’t have to.

Imagine getting paid all that money to do absolutely squat. You know, like the Kardashians.

So David Price of the Los Angeles Dodgers has decided to skip the 2020 MLB season. That’s different. He doesn’t normally disappear until the playoffs.

What’s this? The Drab Slab plans to eliminate reader comments on July 14? Shame that. There’ve been days when the readers’ thread was more interesting and entertaining than the articles.

Evander Kane

It’s fair to wonder what fantasy world Evander Kane exists in. I mean, the co-creator of the Hockey Diversity Alliance did the Zoom thing recently and claimed that the misdeeds of white athletes, such as Brendan Leipsic, are nothing more than “a footnote” on sports pages and TV.

“This guy does what he does, has a group message where he’s saying some not so good comments, to put it lightly,” Kane began. “I go on TSN and I’m trying to look for the article. I’m thinking, ‘Big story, career over, it’ll be at the top of the page’ because every time something happened to me or another Black player, top of the page, blowing up, front-line news. They want to make sure everybody can see it.

“I’ve got to scroll all the way down and there’s a little blurb. It’s not ‘Brendan Leipsic makes horrific comments about player’s girlfriend’ or ‘Makes misogynist comment or fat shames,’ it’s ‘Brendan Leipsic apologizes for comments.’ How generic and undetailed is that for a headline?’

Brendan Leipsic

“From my own personal experience, they want to make it as detailed as possible. They want to overstate it, blow it up. They want to portray you in such a negative light that it gathers so much attention. When it comes to white players, it’s a footnote.”

What a load of complete crap.

Leipsic’s conversation about women was front-page news, not a footnote, in the Winnipeg Free Press, the Winnipeg Sun, the Washington Post, the Globe and Mail, the National Post and numerous other dailies and websites. Headlines included descriptives like “Misogynistic and reprehensible,” and “vulgar” and “offensive.” He’s been drummed out of the NHL. And he’s a white guy.

Drew Brees is also a white guy. He took a royal beating for a regrettable (stupid) comment about not respecting athletes who kneel during the American national anthem.

Johnny Manziel is a white guy. He’s been battered fore and aft for a string of ugly trespasses.

John Rocker

Josh Hader, Kevin Pillar, Ryan Getzlaf, John Rocker, Curt Schilling, Andrew Shaw, Brock Lesnar, Tyson Fury are among numerous white guys who’ve been called out in print and on air for homophobic/racist/sexist natter.

Just like Kane himself.

You might recall a tweet the then-Winnipeg Jets forward posted during an NBA playoff game in 2013: Chris Bosh of the Miami Heat “looked like a fairy going to the rim.” When challenged on the homophobic tone of the tweet, he stood firm, responding, “Man, there’s a lot of overly sensitive people on here. It’s unreal how some of you on here turn absolutely nothing into something so wrong. As I have said before and I’ll say it again if you can’t handle real talk unfollow.”

Ya, that’s the guy I want heading up a Diversity Alliance.

And, finally, my favorite tweet last week was delivered by old friend/broadcaster Peter Young: “In early 70s while teaching grade 9 Phys Ed one class was devoted to mild version on Sex Ed. One 14 year old female on fill in the blank question. ‘Most sexual diseases are transmitted in the area of the REGINA.’” So I guess former Blue Bombers head coach Mike Kelly was right when he called the Saskatchewan capital the “crotch of Canada.”

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.

Let’s talk about Carolina Cornball…Grandpa Grapes…snack time for the Winnipeg Jets…clock ticking on CFL-CFLPA talking…no living wage overseas…Trump trumps Vlad the Bad’s eight goals…the Big One in tennis…baseball a yawn-a-thon?…and other things on my mind

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and we’ll have fun, fun, fun until daddy takes the T-Bird away…

Contrary to popular belief, if you look up the word ‘fun’ in the dictionary, you won’t find a team photo of the Carolina Hurricanes.

No, the Bunch of Jerks and their “front-running fans” didn’t invent merriment and crazy hijinks, but we’re led to believe that they’ve cornered the market on mirth, what with their Storm Surge and their admirable, albeit stalled, push in the current Stanley Cup tournament.

I mean, consider these headlines I stumbled upon during a Google surf on the weekend:

  • The Guardian: “How the Carolina Hurricanes hit back on the NHL’s war on fun.”

  • YouTube: “Carolina Hurricanes/The Importance of Fun.”

  • For the Win/USAToday: “Rooting for the Carolina Hurricanes is rooting for fun.”

  • NHL.com: “Hurricanes embrace fun, victory celebrations.”

  • Boston Globe: “Are Carolina Hurricanes jerks or just having fun?”

I imagine the Boston Bruins (especially), the St. Louis Blues and the San Jose Sharks are also having themselves a royal hoot since they, along with the Hurricanes, remain standing in the National Hockey League spring runoff. It’s just that, unlike the Bunch of Jerks, none of those outfits spent the entire winter playing post-match parlor games like Duck, Duck Goose, so we don’t really know for certain that they’re having fun.

More to the point, would they even know how to be good time Charlies?

Fun, after all, is not historically an NHL thing. Except, of course, when the Washington Capitals win the Stanley Cup and Alexander Ovechkin goes swimming in a public fountain. But even Ovie and the Caps stopped short of playing Duck, Duck Goose in the fountain, perhaps owing to the fact they were too tipsy with gusts up to flat-out legless

At any rate, the NHL has never been known as a knee-slapping, belly-laughs enterprise, something an opinionist at The Guardian felt obliged to emphasize in an ode to Carolina Cornball:

“The NHL can’t really take a joke. Which is maybe all the more reason to laugh at it sometimes, like a bunch of jerks.”

Certainly the Hurricanes’ marketing department is having fun, also generating scads of American greenbacks with its Bunch of Jerks and Bunch of Front Running Jerks t-shirts. It’s a merchandising windfall and, yes, now that you mention it, Donald S. Cherry likely deserves royalties on sales, since it was the Hockey Night in Canada curmudgeon who inserted the phrase(s) into the hockey lexicon.

Here’s the thing, though: Sixteen outfits qualified for the Stanley Cup tournament. Fifteen of them did not play post-match parlor games during the regular season. We are now down to the NHL final four, and even the Hurricanes long ago abandoned the Storm Surge and its accompanying shenanigans.

So are we still having fun?

Perhaps the Canes will re-introduce Carolina Cornball now that they’re down 2-nada and heading home for the next two skirmishes in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference final vs. the Bruins. Whatever works, right?

I doubt they’ll resort to parlor games, though, because there’s a time and place for everything and Ring Around the Rosie won’t help them out of their hole. Mind you, they could try Pin the Tail On the Donkey—seeing someone stick it to Brad Marchand is always fun.

This whole Hurricanes-and-fun thing has inspired considerable pro-and-con dialogue, and my favorite line was delivered by the Charlotte Observer editorial board. Noting that it was Cherry who fanned the flames by describing the Canes as a “bunch of jerks” and Carolina fans as “front runners,” the Observer wrote: “Front-runners, if you haven’t figured it out, is Canadian for bandwagon fans. Don Cherry is Canadian for ‘get off my lawn.’” That, kids, is a classic burn. Also true.

Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab dipped his pen into the Carolina Cornball discussion, offering this: “At their practice Monday in Raleigh, players gathered at centre ice in a big circle and took turns sharing their weekend activities, which included a couple of well-deserved days away from the rink. From Storm Surges, the team’s cheeky Twitter account and merchandise, it’s obvious they’ve got a good thing going on, which is translating to their spirited play on the ice, and in a copycat league, perhaps the (Winnipeg) Jets might want to try and emulate some of the good vibes going forward. Maybe they can start by sitting everyone in the circle at the start of training camp and talking about how they spent their off-season.” Oh, for sure. And maybe they can bring snacks, too. Blake Wheeler is in charge of the crab cakes, Rink Rat Scheifele the nutribars, Jacob Trouba the beef stew, Big Buff the catfish, and Twig Ehlers the Danish for dessert. Sorry, but if there was anything to Carolina Cornball, all 31 NHL clubs would be playing Pictionary and Parcheesi between periods.

Nice to see Paul Friesen and Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun do some day tripping down memory lane, revisiting the last of les Jets World Hockey Association glory days. Paul had a chin-wag with funnyman coach Tom McVie, while Ted checked in with lickety-split left winger Morris Lukowich, and it’s all good stuff. Next Monday marks the 40th anniversary of Winnipeg HC’s third and final WHA championship run, and I’m glad the two Sun boys are reminding youngsters in the audience that there was a time when victory parades were routine in Good Ol’ Hometown.

Yes, now that you ask, I think it’s boffo that Chris Matthews is back where it all started for him in the Canadian Football League, which is to say as part of the pass-catching ensemble with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. I just wish I could be confident he’ll have a league to play in for his second go-round in blue-and-gold.

Apparently, negotiations between the CFL and the CFL Players Association has been reduced to an exchange of notes on cocktail napkins. That’s not to say the two sides aren’t working in good faith on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, but with training exercises due to begin in less than a week it’s awful close to last call. And I’m getting a tad antsy.

Dani Rylan

On the subject of work stoppages, next time you hear someone say women who play pro shinny “deserve” a living wage, remind them that the average head count across the National Women’s Hockey League last season was 954. Sorry, but no one— expect perhaps founder/commish Dani Rylan and her second in command, Hayley Moore—makes a living wage based on those numbers.

It’s important to note that the 200 women who say they won’t be playing hockey next winter have limited their boycott to North America. There’s nothing to stop some of them from suiting up with an outfit in either Finland’s Naisten Liiga or the SDHL in Sweden. Trouble is, no one watches distaff shinny on that side of the pond, either, so they still wouldn’t be earning a living wage.

So, John Daly has been given the okie-dokie to ride a cart in the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black Course on Long Island this week. Hmmm. I thought every golf course in America already had a beer cart.

Vlad the Bad

Russian dictator Vlad the Bad Putin scored eight goals in an exhibition hockey match last week. Not to be outdone, Donald Trump claims to have scored eight holes-in-one on the weekend and has already declared himself winner of the PGA Championship. A victory lap in John Daly’s beer cart is scheduled for the White House rose garden next week.

Trump’s paid Pinocchio, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, hopes to be remembered as “transparent and honest” once she’s no longer telling lies for the president. Ya, and I hope to be remembered as a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist.

Is it game, set and match for the Big Three in men’s tennis? Might be that it’s been reduced to the Big One, Novak Djokovic. The Joker laid claim to the year’s first Grand Slam, the Australian Open, and he won the Madrid Open on Sunday, beating upstart Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final. But the King of Clay, Rafa Nadal, hasn’t won on his favorite surface this year and Roger Federer couldn’t get past the quarterfinals in Madrid. Still, I’ll reserve judgment until Rafa is beaten at Roland Garros and Roger falls on Centre Court Wimbledon.

Interesting take on baseball by Mad Mike McIntyre. He reckons the rounders game is losing traction among the rabble because sitting through three hours of sputtering action is “asking a lot of spectators to endure, especially when you factor in time to travel to and from the stadium.” (I’m not convinced travel time to the ball park is greater than to any other sports venue, so that’s a silly comment.) Mad Mike cites statistics from the Wall Street Journal to support his theory, but does a ball game actually take longer to complete than other sports? Nope. It’s middle of the pack. Here are some event times:

And, finally, the dreaded Grip Reaper has come to collect another old friend and colleague, Marten Falcon. A good man, Marten and I started in the rag trade together, working as copy runners at the Winnipeg Tribune, and he spent his newspaper career as one of those necessary behind-the-scenes people who put the sheet together at both the Trib and Sun. Lost contact with Marten after I left the tabloid, and that’s going on 20 years, but I won’t forget him.

Say what? Here’s what the jocks were saying and what they should have been saying

This is a little segment I like to call: What they said/what they should have said.

In it, we consider the breathless sound bites delivered by sportsmen/women hither and yon and ponder what they should have said, or, in some instances, what I wish they had said.

Let’s begin…

Patrick Roy losing it.
Patrick Roy losing it, as usual.

Colorado Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic had been hesitant to confirm the return of head coach Patrick Roy, but he made it official on this National Hockey League season’s final weekend that the ever-combustible St. Patrick will, indeed, be stamping his feet and blowing gaskets behind the bench as he guides the Avalanche through another non-playoff journey next year.

What Sakic said: “Yes, he will (be back). We’re in this thing together.”

What he should have said: “Are you kidding me? Have you seen what this guy’s like when he doesn’t get his way? He’s as loonie as a Canadian dollar. I had no choice but to bring him back as coach. You think I want to wake up and find a horse’s head at the foot of my bed one morning?”

  • Mark Scheifele, sitting on a career high 27 goals with just three matches remaining in a long lost NHL crusade, was doing the chin-wag thing with news scavengers when someone mentioned the possibility of a 30-goal season for the Winnipeg Jets centre, who no longer resembles Bambi on ice.

What Scheifele said: “It would definitely be huge. I’m definitely trying to push for it, but the most important part is to continue to play the right way and if they go in, they go in. And if not, I want to be happy with the effort I give each and every night and with a full 200-foot game. I’m definitely going to be going for it. But I’ve got to play the right way first.”

What I wish he had said: “Dude, you must be mistaking me for Evander Kane. I don’t give a shit about personal numbers. Don’t talk to me about 30 goals when we’re not going to the playoffs.”

  • Kevin Lowe, the former Edmonton Oilers defenceman, assistant coach, head coach, general manager, vice-president and president, is generally viewed as the guy wearing the black hat in The Chuck, because the once-mighty NHL franchise became a running joke under his watch. But that didn’t stop him from standing before a full house and pandering to the faithful post-game when the Edmonton Oilers bid farewell to their old barn, Rexall Place, last week.

What Lowe said: “(Edmonton has) the greatest fans in all of hockey.”

What he should have said: “It was nice of you dipsticks to actually get through another entire season of losing without tossing your Oilers’ jersey on the ice.”

Vladislav Tretiak
Vladislav Tretiak telling lies.
  • Mother Russia backed up the truck and loaded on the entire roster for the world Under-18 hockey championship in North Dakota, replacing it at the 11th hour with the entire Under-17 squad. Speculation, not surprisingly, ran at a full gallop, with most observers believing the Russkies pulled the switcheroo because all of the Under-18s have been on the now-banned drug meldonium, thus they would not have passed drug testing. This left legendary goaltender and Russian Hockey Federation president Vladislav Tretiak with some ‘splaining to do.

What Vlad said: “(This was) a tactical decision by the coaching staff. I ask you not to give in to rumor and to speculate about what has happened.”

What he should have said: “Hands up anyone who believes there are still some clean athletes in the Motherland! But seriously, after Maria Sharipova got caught using meldonium, we knew the jig was up with these kids. It’s not like 1972 when we used all the illegal drugs we could get our commie hands on before we played Team Canada. They would have blown us out if we weren’t on the juice. Now if you’ll excuse me, my presence is requested in President Putin’s chamber and I understand he isn’t very pleased with me.”

  • Major League Baseball players and managers are struggling with the enforcement of a rule that prohibits a base runner from sliding hard into second base with the express purpose of breaking up a double play. Toronto Blue Jays skipper John Gibbons believes it cost his club a win and he used a sexist comment to express his distaste for the ruling.

What Gibby said: “It’s a joke. Maybe we’ll come out wearing dresses tomorrow. Maybe that’s what everybody’s looking for.”

What he should have said: “Ty Cobb will be spinning like a lathe in his grave. The game’s become a joke. I guess we’ll just have to take off our big-boy pants and play with our little-boy pants from now on.”

Ernie Els
Ernie Els just puttering along.
  • Golf great Ernie Els lived the worst possible nightmare on the first hole in the opening round of The Masters, taking six putts from inside three feet before his ball found the bottom of the hole. Upon arrival at the practice tee the next morning, Els was met with stony silence.

What Els said: “The players and caddies looked at me like I didn’t have any pants on.”

What I wish he had said: “My golf game sounds just like that broken-down jalopy my dad bought me when I turned 16—putt, putt, putt, putt, putt, putt.

  • The Winnipeg Jets finished the season on an impressive run, winning their final four matches, including a California sweep of the playoff-bound Disney Ducks, San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings. Still, it left the Jets in the Central Division cellar at close of business and swimming with all the other bottom feeders in advance of the NHL draft lottery. So what say you, goaltender Ondrej Pavelec?

What Pavelec said: “I don’t think you can be too excited about it because we are where we are.”

What he should have said and what I wish he had said: “I don’t think you can be too excited about it because we are where we are.”

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.