About the Toronto Argonauts being no laughing matter…CFL shrinkage…a mad hatter at bluebombers.com…pigskin prayer power…when Michael Sam was the man…CFL power rankings…greybeard golf…and other things on my mind

One fried egg-and-cheese sandwich on whole wheat toast and some leftover thoughts for a Monday morning breakfast

It has occurred to me, and many others, that we might be witnessing the death throes of the Toronto Argonauts—the franchise, if not this year’s on-field product.

BMO Field when Toronto FC is playing.

I mean, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment’s motto is “Bringing The World To Its Feet,” but very few of those feet are parading to BMO Field. Unless, of course, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Sebastian Giovinco and friends are having a kick-about.

Oh, yes, they love their footy in the Republic of Tranna. Red-clad, scarf-wearing locals traipse to BMO Field whenever Toronto FC is in frolic, and it matters little that the level of play in Major League Soccer isn’t a match for the English Premier League, the Bundesliga in Germany, Serie A in Italy, or Spain’s La Liga. Fitba is a “happening” in the ROT, and the Reds are averaging 26,591 customers this year, marginally down from a 27,647 head count in 2017.

The Argos, on the other hand, they’re a “happening” like the Don River is the Pacific Ocean.

BMO Field when the Argos are playing.

How sparse are the audiences when the Boatmen are grabbing the real and fake grass at BMO Field? I’ve seen more circus clowns squeeze into a Volkswagen Beetle. The winner of the 50/50 draw at the last home game was later seen asking Yonge Street panhandlers for spare change.

We tend to joke about stuff like that because, let’s face it, cracking wise about The 6ix is what those of us who dwell in the colonies do. The ROT is always good for cheap laughs, whether it’s Drake making an ass clown of himself at a Raptors game, Premier Buck-a-Beer promising cheap suds, or the Maple Leafs’ 51st annual retooling season.

This Argos business, however, isn’t yuk-it-up material. Not if you’re a fan of the Canadian Football League.

I started following three-down football in the 1950s. Most of my heroes wore the blue-and-gold linen of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, but Dick Shatto, adorned in the double blue of the Boatmen, was among my favorite players. He was so smooth, and an impossibly handsome man. I remember reading about Tobin Rote, the gunslinger of a quarterback, and Cookie Gilchrist, the fierce and feared running back. I watched them intently, and with much admiration and awe, whenever the Argos appeared on the black-and-white screen of our rabbit-eared TV.

That’s why it pains me to see an ocean of unoccupied seats at BMO Field on Argos game nights/days.

In their 2017 crusade, the Boatmen attracted an average of 13,913 customers. This year the head count is worse—12,836 average, with a low-water mark of 10,844 for a visit from the Bombers. That’s cringeworthy, also alarming, and the hit to MLSE’s bottom line must be substantial.

I’ve never completely bought into the argument that the CFL absolutely needs the ROT to survive, and I’m confident that western football can exist without it. I will, however, submit that the three-down enterprise is much better with a robust Argos franchise in the mix. It would be a shame if MLSE chose to tap out.

After all, if not for the Argos, what would we have to laugh about in the summer and autumn? Oh, that’s right…there’s always the Blue Jays.

Damien Cox of the Toronto Star/Sportsnet posted this tweet last week after 35,623 folks showed up at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton for a showdown between the Eskimos and Saskatchewan Roughriders: “A crowd of less than 36,000 is the biggest in the CFL this season and is considered a big success. My goodness, this league has shrunk.” Well, yes and no. Toronto and Montreal certainly have shrunk significantly, both in attendance and size of facility. The rest of the CFL, not so much. High tide for CFL attendance arrived in 1978, when the league averaged 31,879. The Montreal Alouettes and Argos led the way with 54,471 and 46,545, respectively. This year, they’re down to 17,861 and 12,836. That’s 36,610 customers lost in Montreal and 33,709 in the ROT. That’s what you call shrinkage.

Matt Nichols and mad hatter Ed Tait.

Good bit on Bombers QB Matt Nichols by young Eddie Tait of bluebombers.com. I’m not sure if the highlight of the piece is the tale Nichols tells about almost being stuck with a huge restaurant tab while a member of the Dallas Cowboys, or young Eddie’s lid. He’s really rockin’ the funny hat. You might want to check it out.

Kirk Penton continues to crank out the good CFL stuff for The Athletic, and last week one of his insiders (a coach or GM) had this to say about the Argos switching from James Franklin to McLeod Bethel-Thompson at starting quarterback: “I have no idea if this played a role in it or not, but Franklin has a different personality. He’s not your average guy. It makes me wonder if the players have adopted him or not. He’s hugely religious.” Why would religion be part of the equation? The great Pinball Clemons is a man of deep faith, and I don’t ever recall it being a problem in his time as a player or coach with the Boatmen.

Michael Sam

It’s three years ago tomorrow that Michael Sam became the only openly gay man to perform in a CFL game. Playing rush end for the Montreal Alouettes against the Ottawa RedBlacks, he was on the field for just 12 plays, making no tackles and, quite frankly, looking as out of place as the Pope in a pub. One week later, the former St. Louis Rams draft pick walked out on the Als, citing mental health issues, and never played another down on either side of the border.

The morning after Johnny Manziel made his disastrous CFL debut, TSN had nine videos of the Alouettes QB on its main web page. Sportsnet had one. But, hey, who’s counting?

Here are this week’s CFL power rankings…

1. Calgary (7-0): The beat goes on.
2. Edmonton (5-2): Three wins vs. West outfits.
3. Winnipeg (4-3): Three wins vs. East outfits.
4. Saskatchewan (3-4): Terrell Owens anyone?
5. Hamilton (3-4): Alouettes were just what the doctor ordered.
6. Ottawa (4-3): Talk about coughing up an ugly hairball.
7. B.C. (2-4): Got screwed by a zebra, but still not good enough.
8. Toronto (2-5): What a comeback. Too bad no one cares in the Republic of Tranna.
9. Montreal (1-6): Getting worse in either official language.

Phil and Tiger

Apparently, the hokey Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson mano-a-mano, greybeard golf challenge will take place on American Thanksgiving weekend. Just what everyone will need. Another turkey.

Max Domi says the Montreal Canadiens have the “pieces it takes to win,” in the upcoming National Hockey League crusade. And he would know this how? He spent the past three seasons playing in the Arizona desert, where the Coyotes did nothing but lose.

Mark Stone

In the WTF department, the Ottawa Senators have agreed to pay Mark Stone $7.35 million to play right wing in 2018-19. That’s $1.75 million more than captain Blake Wheeler earns with the Winnipeg Jets. It’s $1.225 million more than les Jets pay Rink Rat Scheifele. How does Winnipeg general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff convince his players to sign on the cheap? Is he Reveen, the great hypnotist? Does he have damning photos? To date, only one player, Jacob Trouba, has had the strength to ward off Chevy’s mystic powers. Hard to figure.

Just wondering: Is it possible for Murat Ates of The Athletic Winnipeg to write an article on the Jets without mentioning salaries and advanced stats?

And, finally, I notice I have 312 followers on Twitter, a revelation that begat this simple question: Why? I mean, I wouldn’t follow me. But if you’re one of the 312, merci beaucoup. If you aren’t one of the 312, I don’t blame you.

Toronto doesn’t stink when the Blue Jays are beating Uncle Sam at his own game

I’m a Prairie girl, born and raised, and I don’t hate Toronto.

There. I said it. I don’t hate Toronto.

I know, that’s positively blasphemous. I mean, it’s the sworn duty of every plow jockey’s daughter and/or son to look upon the Republic of Tranna with absolute disdain and associate the big city on the shores of Lake Ontario with all that is pungent. Indeed, we are taught this while barely off our mother’s breast. Mom, upon wiping our butt after the little jar of Gerber’s prune goop had kicked in and soiled our diaper, would recoil and gasp, “Oh, my, this smells just like Toronto.”

So, just like Prairie people long have known that New York is big but Saskatchewan has a burg that is Biggar, we’ve always known that Toronto stinks.

What I’ve never been able to figure out is this: Why is Toronto the subject of such scorn from the rest of Canada?

Oh, I know. It’s big. So what? Something or someone always has to be the biggest. Why not Toronto? Then there’s that whole Centre of the Universe thing, whereby those of us who reside in the colonies are made to feel inferior. Sorry, but that’s not of Toronto’s doing. That’s of our doing. It’s not like Toronto is going, “Na, na, na, na, na…I’m big and you’re not.” It is my experience, having worked and lived there on three different occasions and having visited numerous times, that very few Torontonians actually think that way. Apparently, the fact that we think they think that way is enough for us to dislike and distrust them.

If anything, we should be grateful to Toronto for providing us with wonderful sources of humor. The Maple Leafs. Rob Ford. Calling in the army to shovel snow. It’s all guffaw-worthy. And who doesn’t like a good giggle? So what’s not to like, right?

And now Toronto has been kind enough to share with us its Blue Jays.

The Great White North is in a state of baseball enthrall, and we seem to have decided that Muddy York doesn’t stink as much as our mothers led us to believe. We are root, root, rooting for the Toronto Nine in the Major League Baseball playoff tournament. We do so because they have become the home side and, for this, we need not place a clothes pin on the end of our nose.

What is it about this swaggering, bat-flipping Blue Jays outfit that makes you forget that you don’t like Toronto?

Well, for one thing, they aren’t the Maple Leafs. They aren’t the Toronto Argonauts, either. The Argos, of course, are the one sporting operative in the Big Smoke that has actually experienced success this century, most recently in 2012 when the Boatmen won the Grey Cup. Thing is, we only greet their achievements with mild annoyance because nobody in Toronto cares about the Argos, so why should we?

Apparently, Toronto also houses a National Basketball Association team, as well as an entry in Major League Soccer. But it’s like, who knew? There have been laughable efforts by marketing misfits and some dude named Drake to create a national identity for the Raptors. As if. That might have worked had they signed Steve Nash back in the day, but, as it is, their fandom is mostly parochial. The rest of the country doesn’t seem hip to the hoopsters.

stanley and world seriesThe Blue Jays, though…they’re a different head of lettuce and I believe I know why they make those among us who hate Toronto forget why they hate Toronto: Since we can’t win the Stanley Cup any more, we’ll happily settle for the consolation prize—the World Series Trophy.

Nothing could possibly climb up American noses more than a Canadian-based outfit besting Uncle Sam at his national pastime, especially if the Toronto Nine were to vanquish, say, those loveable losers from Wrigley Field in the Fall Classic. Everybody loves the Chicago Cubs, right? How can you not embrace a club that has stepped aside to allow other teams to win every World Series title since 1908 (hey, anybody can have a bad century)? Thus, beating the Cubbies in the rounders final would be akin to piddling on the White House lawn while the Obama kids are in frolic.

This is why us hosers have hopped on the Blue Jays bandwagon, like so many circus clowns cramming into a Volkswagen Beetle. The Americans think they’re so smug hijacking our hockey? We’ll take their baseball hostage. And if it’s a Toronto team doing our dirty work, we’re all on point.

Once the dirty deed is done, of course, you can resume regularly scheduled dislike for all things T.O.

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.