Bud Grant has left the building, at age 95, so you’ll excuse me if I wax nostalgic this morning…
When I hear the name Bud Grant, two things immediately pop to mind: The Grey Cup and the Day of the Watermelon.
Way back in the day, you see, my friend Chester and I would hop on our bikes and pedal from Melbourne Avenue in East Kildonan to Packers Field, a parched patch of earth across the street from a meat rendering plant in St. Boniface.
We would make this journey twice every day, morning and afternoon. We did so because Packers Field is where we would find our football heroes, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. These were the late 1950s/early 1960s Bombers of Kenny Ploen and Leo Lewis and Ernie Pitts and Pepe Latourelle and Herb Gray et al, and while they grabbed grass and growled in what would hopefully become another Grey Cup-winning crusade, we stood on the sidelines of this sun-scorched field and observed as if we were familiar with the inner workings of football.
“I see the jury has arrived,” Pitts said as he greeted us upon arrival one day.
Chester and I looked at each other. The great Ernie Pitts, the all-star receiver, had spoken to us. We didn’t know how to respond or react, so we did what most kids would have done—we gave one another a gob-smacked look and giggled.
Shortly thereafter, Grant, the legendary coach, blew his whistle to signal a halt to the on-field activity. He gathered his players, spoke to them briefly and they began to trudge toward the sideline, most of them walking past Chester and I as they headed toward a white cube van parked near the west end of the field.
This had been the final session of their two-a-day workouts, the most demanding, onerous and imposing portion of training camp, and our football heroes were sweaty, stinky and as parched as the field beneath their cleated feet. We followed them and watched with urchin-like curiosity as a man with a lumpy waistline raised the back door of the van. Watermelon. Behind that door was a truckload of beautiful, refreshing watermelon.
That was the players’ post-practice reward for making it through the two-a-days.
Chester and I collected our bikes and were about to leave when we heard a voice call out. We turned and looked back. It was Bud Grant.
“Here,” he said, “you kids have been out here all week just like the players. This is for you.”
He handed us a watermelon, about the size of a football. A member of the training staff cracked it open and two kids sat eating watermelon and spitting seeds with the Grey Cup champions.
How many kids could say they sat and spat watermelon seeds among sporting deity? Only Chester and myself from our neighborhood. It was magical.
The Bombers, after all, were top dogs. The Winnipeg Jets had yet to arrive to adjust the sports pecking order in Good Ol’ Hometown, and our gridiron gods had brought us great glory, winning the Grey Cup in 1958, ’59, ’61 and ’62.
I’ve told the Bud Grant watermelon story a few times, because those morning/afternoon sessions at Packers Field are among my most cherished childhood memories and serve as the first stirrings of my life-long fling with the Canadian Football League.
I was fortunate. Actually, blessed would be a better word. I grew up when the CFL mattered from the Left Coast to Montreal (and perhaps even in the Maritimes), then I got to cover it for 19 years in three locales—the Republic of Tranna, Calgary and, finally, Winnipeg.
And I’ve been a member of Bombers Nation since that Day of the Watermelon, all thanks to Bud Grant.
History records that Grant served as Bombers sideline steward for 10 crusades, 1957-66, making six trips to the Grey Cup game and winning four times. Fifty-seven years later, those totals remain Winnipeg FC standards, as does his tally of 102 regular-season Ws. Legend.
After learning of Grant’s passing, I was curious about what one legend, Jack Matheson, had to say about another legend bolting from the Bombers to the Minnesota Vikings in March 1967.
“You knew about class, just by looking at his athletes milling about an air terminal; or riding 35,000 feet high on a diet of coffee, tea or milk; or checking into a hotel. Ask the stewardi, or the desk clerks, and they’ll tell you the Blue Bombers were winners. A white shirt and tie wasn’t good enough, it had to be a CLEAN white shirt and tie, because that was Grant’s style.
“If you’re going to go in style, you might as well go first class, I always say. That was Bud Grant’s way, and it was a good feeling, knowing he was in charge. Now that you mention it, I never really did see him walk on water, but he was right about so much, so often, that most of us got to the stage when it wouldn’t have surprised us.
“I guess we always knew that Bud would be leaving some day, because ambition drives big men to bigger things and it was naive to think that Grant would be part of the scenery until the end of time, if not longer. When I called and wished him well on Saturday I said I understood about him wanting to coach in the big leagues. ‘Don’t forget this is the big leagues here, too,’ he said. That’s class.”
Just so you know, Grant made his exit Stage South for a fabulous National Football League adventure (one NFL title, four trips to the Super Bowl) on March 11, 1967, just one month after he had signed a five-year deal to remain on Maroons Road. Some among the rabble thought him to be quite the Benedict Arnold for going over the wall, but most of us, like Matty, understood his desire to try his hand stateside.
Interesting how the two dailies in Good Ol’ Hometown played the Grant story: The Winnipeg Sun has it on the front of the paper today, plus three pages inside, with quality articles from Paul Friesen and Ted Wyman, both of whom picked up a phone and talked to people who knew the man. Over at the Drab Slab, apparently everyone took the day off. There was just one article, written by wire services, and one canned quote from Bombers CEO Wade Miller. So very lame.
Let me say this: I’m glad there’s a TSN, even if its devotion to all things Republic of Tranna is insufferable. But who decides the story lineup for SportsCentre? Circus clowns? A couple of kids playing rock, paper, scissors on a street corner? I mean, a pair of the deepest pockets in Canada are now bankrolling the Montreal Alouettes, and it was item No. 6 on the docket Friday. Apparently, an NFL swap of mostly draft picks, NBA highlights of 3-pointers, NHL highlights, soccer and the second round of a PGA tournament were more newsworthy than noted Quebec separatist Pierre Karl Péladeau picking up the tab for the Larks with a portion of his $1.9 billion fortune. Sigh.
This was TSN insider Dave Naylor’stake on the Larks time slot: “As the reporter who covered this story for TSN, let me state I believe it is appropriately placed in our SportsCentre lineup. 23 minutes into a 1-hour show in March? No objections at all.” Good grief, man. What in the name of Rod Black does the calendar have to do with it? News is news 12 months of the year.
The Péladeau takeover is hugely significant because the other eight Rouge Football outfits won’t be required to pay the bills in Montreal, and Pierre Karl’s abundance of wealth puts the Larks on sturdy financial footing. Mind you, if he starts acting like the second coming of the Glieberman guys, all bets are off. We don’t need Separatist Sunday game-day promotions.
Here’s Damien Cox of the Toronto Star on Twitter: “Pretty clear the men running national sports federations will never treat female athletes equally until they are forced to, or forced out of office. They always have believed male athletes deserve more, and should play by a different set of rules.” Oh for gawd’s sake. That’s like Tiger Woods telling Max Verstappen he has to be more alert behind the wheel. I mean, has Cox ever looked at his own business? When have major newspapers on Our Frozen Tundra ever treated female athletes equally? Or even close to equal? Never, that’s when. Because the guys who run the rag trade in this country “always have believed male athletes deserve more.”
In today’s Star, only three of 19 articles articles focus on female athletes/teams: Premier Hockey Federation, skier Makaela Shiffrin, NWSL. Perhaps Cox can have a fireside chat with his sports editor. If the Star has a sports editor, that is.
I note the Winnipeg Sun is still running Steve Simmons’ Republic of Tranna-centric alphabet fart on Sundays. So I ask once again: Why? Oh, wait, I forgot: It’s actually the Torontopeg Sun.
Just wondering: Does anyone truly believe Tom Brady is retired, and does anyone believe Aaron Rodgers will make up his mind? Here’s a better question: Why don’t the Green Bay Packers make up Rodgers’ mind for him? Like, let Mr. Tin Foil QB leave for parts unknown, then lure Brady to Wisconsin.
I don’t know if the Toronto Jurassics will qualify for the NBA playoffs, but if points were awarded for whining about game officials they’d be in first place.
And, finally, it was 50 years ago last week when New York Yankees pitchers Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich completed the most oddball trade in Major League Baseball history: They swapped wives, children and family pets. True story.
Oh, sure, you watched some good people—Greg Ellingson, Rasheed Bailey, Dakota Prukop, Michael Couture, Casey Sayles—walk away in the initial thrust of Canadian Football League free agency, but I doubt you were inclined to take a leap off the Richardson Building because of it.
More to the point, Kyle, the bulk of your heavy lifting had already been done, so I’m guessing you’re satisfied with your handiwork in the grand scheme of things. You might even be feeling a bit smug, although I hope not because fat and sassy is never a good look on a general manager, especially one whose team was found wanting in its final assignment last November.
No doubt that loss still rankles, Kyle. I mean, your Winnipeg Blue Bombers had no business bowing to the Toronto Argos in the Grey Cup game, and I like to think a toe-stub like that tends to keep a GM’s head out of the clouds.
The thing is, while eight other Rouge Football GMs were in full-on Repatch, Repair and Reload Mode, you spent Valentine’s Day welcoming an old friend, Kenny Lawler, back to play catch with Zach Collaros, then you called it a day. No muss, no fuss and, as you informed news snoops, Winnipeg FC is still in “that winning mode.”
I’d certainly suggest your Bombers are the morning-line favorite, Kyle.
What’s not to like? The best QB in the three-downs game, Collaros, will be flinging the football to Lawler, Nic Demski, Dalton Shoen, Drew Wolitarsky and, surprisingly, Rasheed Bailey, who left coin on the table elsewhere to give it another whirl in blue and gold.
Look around you, Kyle. See anything on the western hemisphere of the CFL to match that bunch of pass-catchers? Zach will need five footballs to keep all those hands happy.
On the D-side of the pig’s hide, it’s business as usual, with the Twin Js—Jefferson and Jeffcoat—Adam Bighill, Jake Thomas, Winston Rose, and accomplices still in harness, and I doubt they’ve mellowed any. If anything, they’re apt to be playing with extra snarl, knowing they allowed a Grey Grail three-peat to get away in November.
That’s not to say your work is done, Kyle. There’s still the matter of place-kicking.
I think everyone from Hizzoner Gillingham to your paper boy knows you can’t go into the 2023 crusade relying on Marc Liegghio’s right leg. He kicks like Rob Gronkowski, and if you fixed an eyeball on Gronk’s gimmicky field goal attempt during last weekend’s Super Bowl hijinks you’ll know what I’m saying.
I don’t have to remind you that the Argos beat your Bombers by one point in the Grey Cup game, Kyle, which means the difference was one botched Liegghio convert. I could also point out that his potential winning FG vs. the Boatmen never got past the line of scrimmage. Yup, blocked. Oh, and need I remind you that he flubbed two point-after tries in the West Division final?
But, as I said, you know all about that stuff, Kyle, and I’m not here to rip open old wounds. I mean, reciting Liegghio’s failings would be too much like yanking the wings off a house fly. You know, easy pluckings.
Suffice to say, you know what you have to do.
In the meantime, Kyle, it’s about you. You’ve been at this GM gig for 10 years, and you transformed Team Rag Tag into Team EOL (Envy of League). You’ve earned two Grey Cup rings and missed out on a third when Liegghio stubbed his toe. And yet there are no just rewards. You’re working without a net, which is to say no contract extension, and you can shrug your shoulders and play the role of the good soldier by telling news snoops “it is what it is,” but that doesn’t make it right.
I assume CEO Wade Miller is set for life if he has no inclination to take on a different challenge, and he and the Board have taken care of head coach Mike O’Shea. So what do the deep thinkers have against you? Do you attend formal functions in bare feet? Do you not bathe? Bad breath? Hey, maybe you make arm pit farts in mixed company.
Whatever the case, Kyle, it’s wrong. You’ve done boffo work, including this year by keeping most of the key components in place, and I don’t want to hear about a salary cap on football operations.
Do they expect us to believe there isn’t enough coin for the GM? That you’ve priced yourself out of the market? Pish posh.
Winnipeg FC has become the flagship franchise in Rouge Football in large part due to your handiwork, Kyle. You’ve delivered the goods and now it’s time for them to do the same thing.
Until then, enjoy what’s left of your down time and, for gawd’s sake, get a kicker.
Some interesting troop movement during the first week of trading places in the CFL, notably just to the west of Good Ol’ Hometown, where QB Trevor Harris and pass-catcher Jake Wieneke arrived on the Flattest of Lands. I’m not convinced that makes the Saskatchewan Roughriders a better team, though. I mean, if they can lose in Montreal they can lose in Regina. But at least Gang Green got rid of a headache, Duke Williams.
Harris says his move to The Flattest of Lands is “a dream come true.” Come on, man. Who you trying to hoodwink? No one dreams of going to Regina. No one goes there unless they’ve lost a bet. Even Al Capone had the good sense to hide out in Moose Jaw.
Add the name Rob Vanstone to the growing list of longtime jock journos who’ve left the sinking ship Postmedia. Rob’s done at the Regina Leader-Post, and I’ll miss reading his stuff. But he hasn’t gone far. He’s now senior journalist and historian with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Montreal Larks are orphans again, which means teams that can’t afford a hit to the bottom line will take another hit to the bottom line. Unless, of course, commissioner Randy Ambrosie and the Lords of Rouge Football can find a new sugar daddy/mama lickety-split. Last time the Larks were dropped off in a basket at the league door, it cost the community-operated outfits in Winnipeg, Edmonton and on the Flattest of Lands a pretty penny to keep them in food, clothing, shelter and capable QBs. I can’t imagine anyone is interested in a redo. Get your butt in gear, Commish Randy.
Hey, if Hollywood hunk Ryan Reynolds strikes out in his bid to become a minority owner of the Ottawa Senators, maybe he can pick up the tab for the Larks.
I don’t know about you, but I find it kind of weird watching Jennifer Jones curl without Dawn McEwen and Kaitlyn Lawes. It was strange enough when Jill Officer went MIA, but now it’s like the Golden Girls sans Sofia, Blanche and Dorothy. Hey, Jennifer has four fab, young playmates—Karlee Burgess, Mackenzie Zacharias, Emily Zacharias, Lauren Lenintine—but it’s going to take some getting used to as the Scotties Tournament of Hearts unfolds this week in Kamloops.
A few weeks back, Drab Slab sports editor Jason Bell was bragging on his paper’s curling coverage, writing, “I venture to say no media outlet in Canada makes it a priority to cover local curling like we do. We might just be the ONLY media outlet other than the wire service and national broadcaster scheduled to cover the bulk of the upcoming national Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Kamloops, B.C., next month.” Really? Well, the Scotties slid from the hacks on Friday, and there was no story on it in the Freep. Today, all I could find was wire copy from Canadian Press, the same story that’s in the Winnipeg Sun. So enough with this “our stuff don’t stink” BS.
Just wondering: Is it my imagination, or is every national sports organization on Our Frozen Tundra corrupt? It sure as hell seems that way.
The way Soccer Canada has treated our national women’s side falls in the extreme range of disgraceful. I mean, bullying Christine Sinclair? Who does that? Next I suppose they’ll steal lunch money from panhandlers. Whatever our guys were given to prep for the men’s World Cup, that’s what the women deserve during its run-up to their World Cup later this year. It’s rather basic.
Oh, boy, the deep-thinkers at the Winnipeg Free Press have weighed in on the great Canadian futbol fight, and it’s a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black.
“This dispute is not just about resources. It’s also about respect,” one of the geniuses writes. “Women’s sport has chronically been devalued and dismissed, and often ignored entirely. It would be a shame for the beautiful game to continue to be marred by such ugly gender inequalities.”
Excuse me? Say again? Ugly gender inequalities?
It is to laugh.
The editorialists at the Drab Slab might want to fix an eyeball on their own sports pages, where male/female coverage is equal like a bologna sandwich is a steak and lobster dinner.
On average last year, the Freep ran 358 articles per month exclusive to male sports, compared to 55 for females. Yup, 358-55. To date this month, it’s 221 male, 47 female. In today’s paper, there are two articles on local college men’s hoops on the sports front. Local women’s college hoops is a brief, buried in the back of the section.
Freep editorialists are correct in saying female sports “has chronically been devalued and dismissed, and often ignored entirely.” So do something about it or zip it.
Former National Hockey League bench puppeteer Marc Crawford is on the outs with the Swiss National League. His crime: Spewing anti-gay bile. Crawford now coaches ZSC Lions, and he had a major meltdown in the waning seconds of a game last week. Seems he didn’t approve the work of Finnish official Mikko Kaukokari, so he shouted something about the ref performing oral sex. It’s not the first time the bolts in Crawford’s neck have come undone, and I can only imagine what horrid things he says when the cameras and mics aren’t near him.
I fell asleep at halftime of last Sunday’s Super Bowl skirmish, so I missed the Rihanna gig. But I understand she did some crotch-grabbing. Makes me wonder how Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Miss Peggy Lee sang all those great songs without groping their nether regions.
Based on late night/early morning SportsCentre on TSN, the top story in the wide, wide world of sports on Saturday was…wait for it…the NBA slam dunk contest. Good grief.
I watched SportsCentre in the small hours of Saturday morning, and there was a five-minute segment on the Genesis Invitational golf tournament near the top of the show. Every breath of it was devoted to Tiger Woods. There was zero mention of Max Homa, who’d taken 11 fewer swings than Woods and whose name was atop the leaderboard. Matter of fact, all 59 golfers in front of Woods were ignored. Every ooh and ahh from the natterbugs was reserved for Woods. Same thing this morning. It was three minutes of Woods, and zero mention of leader Jon Rahm, who’s a mere 12 shots ahead. Sigh. I truly thought Woods would be a sidebar on the PGA Tour this year, not the lede. Silly me.
Did Woods really hand Justin Thomas a tampon after outdriving him on the ninth hole in the opening round of the Genesis Invitational? Yup, sure did. And the two pro golfers giggled like a couple of frat boys on a panty raid.
Others were less amused.
Sarah Stirk of Sky Sports described the prank as “crass” and “extremely disappointing.” She added: “It was seemingly done in jest. To me it was laddy, blokey behaviour, passing him the tampon effectively saying: ‘I’ve outdriven you, you’re driving the ball like a woman’.
“(That is) effectively the inference of the incident that happened and that to me says females, women, are inferior to men. Women should not be portrayed as being inferior to men in any walk of life and certainly on a sporting landscape.”
Here’s Christine Brennan of USA Today: “He employed basic misogyny to insult his good friend Thomas, a knee-slapper of a dig against female athletes: You hit the ball like a girl!”
Tiger told news snoops that the prank was nothing more than “fun and games. It was just friends having fun. We play pranks on one another all the time.”
My question: Did Woods go to the corner store and buy a box of tampons, or did he steal it from his 15-year-old daughter Sam’s stash?
By now you’ve likely had it up to your eyeliner or chin whiskers with New Year’s predictions, but Nostradumbass has yet to weigh in on what shall transpire in the next 12 months. Here’s what the Nostradumbass Prophesies say about athletes and teams from Good Ol’ Hometown…
It’s a double whammy for Manitoba’s elite Pebble People, with the Kerri Einarson and Matt Dunstone rinks winning the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and the Brier.
“It’s about bloody time,” says Dunstone. “I know winning’s old hat for Kerri and the gals from Gimli. That’s their fourth Scotties title in a row. Damn well done, ladies. But it’s fresh territory for us Buffalo Boys. Let’s face it, Manitoba men have sucked at curling this entire century, except for 2011 when Jeff Stoughton won the Brier. One Brier win in all that time? Total BS. So I’m happy that we could end the drought. Does it make me want to move back to Manitoba permanently? Naw. My home’s in Kamloops. You can’t beat the B.C interior for beauty, especially in and around The Okanagan. We also get better WiFi there.”
Meanwhile, Dunstone accepts a challenge from Einarson, and the two championship teams meet in a mid-summer one-off. It’s a rout: Gimli Gals 9, Buffalo Boys 3.
“I feel a bit sorry for them,” Einarson admits. “I mean, all four of us girls are preggers, so maybe they were distracted by our baby bumps. It’s not like guys know what to do when a woman’s pregnancy hormones are raging, so between all the bathroom breaks, the food cravings and the totally bonkers mood swings, they didn’t know if they were in a curling game or a Hitchcock thriller.
“I’m sure when Val (Sweeting) ordered that bucket of KFC and got in a scrap with Briane (Harris) over the last drumstick during the fifth-end break, it threw them off their game. I’m guessing you lose something from your draw weight after watching two hormonal-crazed women go all Animal House and throw coleslaw at each other.”
Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and the 3rd Baron Thomson of Fleet, disheartened by a fairweather fan base and empty seats in the Little Hockey House On The Prairie, sell the Winnipeg Jets—lock, stock and Ducky Hawerchuk statue—to rock ‘n’ roll fossils Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman.
The first order of business for Cummings and Bachman is to rebrand the National Hockey League club.
“We’re now the Winnipeg Canned Wheat,” Cummings announces at a press conference that includes the 3rd Baron and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. “It’s a salute to the Guess Who’s fifth studio album.
“We always thought Jets was a dumb name. What do airplanes have to do with Winnipeg? There isn’t even an airport here. If Winnipeg’s known for anything other than winter and Slurpees, it’s the rock ‘n’ roll scene in the 1960s and ’70s. We had great bands…the Squires, the Deverons, the Crescendos, the Quid, the Orfans, the Shondels, the Pallbearers, the Syndicate, the Eternals, Chad Allan and the Expressions, The Gentlemen Royal, the Dawgs, the House Grannies, the Feminine Touch, the Fifth, Finders Keepers, the Jury. That’s what I’m talking about. And, of course, there was me, Randy, Jimmy Kale and Garry Peterson in the Guess Who. Some of the Guess Who’s best stuff is on our Canned Wheat album—Laughing, Undun, No Time. Those songs are classics, like me and Randy. I was brilliant on them, and Randy was pretty good, too.”
Asked about fan support, Cummings harrumphs and says: “Not to worry. We’ve still got a long wait list for season tickets, but let’s just say if support goes soft the whole thing will come Undun (see what I did there?). We’ll move the team to Moose Jaw, and Mr. Bettman will support us 100 per cent.”
“They can squeeze 4,700 into the Moose Jaw rink,” the NHL commish says with a nod. “And, hey, if that number works for the Coyotes in an Arizona desert, it can work for the Canned Wheat on the bald prairies. Besides, Moose Jaw has better WiFi than Winnipeg.”
Local legal beagle David Asper, following the lead of Cummings and Bachman, bows to pressure and renames his Canadian Elite Basketball League franchise.
“Ever since I announced we had the team, all I’ve heard is ‘Sea Bears is stupid, Sea Bears is stupid.’ It’s been non-stop,” Asper says to a smattering of news snoops who had nothing better to do that day. “I haven’t had this many people PO’d at me since the 2005 Banjo Bowl, when I stormed into the Blue Bombers locker room after a loss and told the head coach he didn’t know a quarterback from a Q-tip. Now that was stupid. But I didn’t think naming a summertime hoops team after an Arctic predator was stupid. What was I supposed to call it? The Winnipeg Skeeters? The Winnipeg Potholes?
“Anyway, I heard from a lot of people and I listened, which I don’t normally do. I usually just listen to the sound of my own voice. But I eventually came around to the notion that Sea Bears was kind of dopey. So, as of today, we are the Winnipeg Riverboat. I remember riding the Paddlewheel Queen and the Paddlewheel Princess on the Red River when I was a kid. Good times. Just like a night watching my basketball team.”
A numbers crunch hits the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, and CEO Wade Miller is forced to break up the Canadian Mafia by parting company with general manager Kyle Walters and replacing him with former news snoops Bob Irving and Ed Tait.
“Toughest decision I’ve had to make,” says Miller. “Kyle, coach Mike O’Shea and I are fast friends and we did great things together, winning two Grey Cups and playing in a third. But there’s an operations cap in the Canadian Football League, and we were banging our head on the ceiling. Kyle is the odd man out, and we wish him well when he replaces Pinball Clemons with the Argonauts.
“Some of you probably think I’m off my rocker, hiring two former media guys as co-GMs. Fine, but let me remind you that you thought I was a bit loopy when I hired Mike O’Shea to coach the team. How’s that worked out?
“Knuckles and Eddie have been part of the CFL for about as long as the rouge, and they’re what you call cheap dates…Knuckles is working pro bono, and Eddie’s already on staff for chump change. Hey, what can I say? It’s Winnipeg. We do things wholesale or on the real, real cheap. I would have hired Sarah Orlesky, too, because a pro sports franchise can never have enough burned-out news snoops on staff. But the Jets beat us to Sarah and she probably wouldn’t have worked for food stamps.”
Both Irving and Tait are unavailable for comment due to a previous commitment: Fixing the WiFi in Miller’s office.
The pride of Stony Mountain, Aaron Cockerill, takes the money and runs to the LIV Golf Series.
“All I have to do is show up with a bag of golf clubs and a caddy and play three rounds of stress-free golf. I don’t have to worry about making cuts and I’ll have more cashola than any player on the Jets roster,” Cockerill says. “I’m not going to say how much coin Greg Norman and the Saudis are giving me, but I can buy all of Stony Mountain and the rest of Rockwood if I want.”
“We think Aaron is a real up-and-comer, a rising star,” says Norman. “He’s ranked 346th in the world, so he’s no Rory or Scottie Scheffler, but he’s the kind of player we want in LIV Golf. He’s young, talented and eager. And don’t talk to me about blood money. His hands will be clean when he cashes his cheques. We’ve all got clean hands at LIV Golf. If anybody’s got dirty hands, it’s Rory and those dirty, rotten scoundrels who run the corrupt PGA Tour. They wouldn’t have a pot to pee in if it wasn’t for old golfers like me! If I sound bitter, it’s because I am bitter. I just don’t know why I’m so bitter.”
The Vancouver Canucks shed themselves of good guy Bruce Boudreau and introduce Barry Trotz as head coach.
“I know I said I wanted to coach an Original Six team,” says Trotz, “but I’m happy to be with an Original 14 team. Especially one in such a beautiful locale. I’m just a prairie boy, but I’ve been around some. I mean, I’ve seen the inside of the White House and the Grand Ole Opry, so you need to take the long way around the barn to impress me. And that’s what Vancouver does…it impresses me. Looking out my window and seeing mountain and ocean views every morning is a long hike from Dauphin, let me tell you.”
Asked to comment on the roster he’s inherited, Trotz says: “As Shania Twain sang, that don’t impress me much.”
There’s a huge shakeup on the local media landscape, with (a) the suits at Postmedia in the Republic of Tranna shutting down the Winnipeg Sun without notice, (b) the resurrection of the Winnipeg Tribune, and (c) the Winnipeg Free Press converting to a tabloid format.
The unexpected chain of events begins when the geniuses at Postmedia stop the presses at the Sun.
“What the hell, we haven’t shut down a newspaper or laid off hundreds of workers for at least six months, so we were overdue for some blood-letting,” says a company spokesperson. “And, let’s face it, the Winnipeg Sun had become the Toronto Sun, especially in the sports section. Think of it this way: We didn’t kill a newspaper, we saved a few forests.”
Out-of-work Sun employees aren’t out of work for long, thanks to a group of local business leaders fronted by Gail Asper, who’s named publisher of the new, employee-owned Winnipeg Tribune.
“My dad, Izzy, loved the old Trib,” she says. “He loved everything about it. Our plan is to bring it back to its original glory, and that might even include hiring some of the people who were on staff when the paper folded in 1980. I’m just not sure how many of them are still alive. But our new sports editor, Paul Friesen, has been tasked with tracking them down, and he’s been told to offer them their old jobs back.”
Friesen discovers a handful of ex-Tribbers scattered hither and yon in old-folks homes across the Frozen Tundra, but has no luck luring them back to Good Ol’ Hometown.
“Every time I thought I had one of them convinced to come back, my WiFi went on the fritz and I never heard from them again,” he explains. “Damn Winnipeg WiFi. No wonder the Jets can’t sign any decent free agents.”
Meantime, freshly minted publisher at the Winnipeg Free Press, David Asper, announces the switch from broadsheet to tabloid format, and it includes a daily Sunshine Girl.
“I know what you’re going to ask me. You’re going to ask why a tabloid after 150 years as a broadsheet,” Asper says at the launch of his newest toy. “Well, I like the size and feel of a tabloid. It isn’t as unwieldy as a broadsheet, especially when you’re reading the paper on a bus or at a snack bar. Nobody needs some stranger’s newspaper flapping in their face when they’re trying to eat a corned beef sandwich at Oscar’s.
“As for the Sunshine Girl, I plead innocence. That wasn’t my call. And don’t think my little sister Gail hasn’t filled me in on what a cad I am. She gave me an earful. In both ears. I realize a Sunshine Girl isn’t in step with the social climes of the 21st century, but it went to a vote of the Board and I don’t have a veto. We’re going to make it up to all the girls and women who read our sports section. I’ve directed sports editor Jason Bell to start covering female sports on a daily basis, and suggested in strong terms that he think about hiring a woman the next time there’s an opening in his toy department. That would be a refreshing change, wouldn’t it?”
The Freep asks Hockey Night In Canada commentator and Olympic champion Jennifer Botterill to appear as its first Sunshine Girl, and it’s a non-starter.
“Oh, yuck,” she says. “I have enough trouble dealing with the frat boys on Hockey Night without them having something like that to throw in my face every Saturday. Can you imagine what Kevin Bieksa would say? That guy creeps me out at the best of times.”
You might think of today as Christmas Eve, kids, but it’s also Christivus, a day-before-Christmas and a day-after-Festivus celebration of all that is good in the playground and, just as important, a time for the airing of grievances. Some athletes/sports figures discover lovely gifts under the Christivus treepole, while others find a big, ol’ lump o’ coal with their name on it…
GIFT: There’s just no beating the Gimli Girls at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts. Kerri Einarson, Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard and Briane Harris are three-peat belles of the ball, and you wouldn’t want to bet against them when they Go For Four two months hence at the national women’s curling championship in Kamloops. Only the Colleen Jones quartet from Nova Scotia has managed to put up a four-spot at the Scotties (2001-2004), so Kerri and her gal pals could be breathing rarified air in beautiful B.C. And, by the way, last time I checked, the Gimli Girls were ranked No. 1 among all the world’s female Pebble People, and I’d say that sounds about right.
GIFT: Juggernaut. That’s the word to describe Manitoba’s female curlers. You’ve got Einarson and her gal pals from Gimli, plus the Jennifer Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Abby Ackland and Cheleas Carey rinks ranked in the world top 22. All together now: Buffalo Girls rock!
GIFT: Let’s have a show of hands. Who among us believed that Mike O’Shea would one day become the winningest head coach in the lengthy and lore-filled history of the Winnipeg Football Club? Not me. Not you, either. I mean, Coach Grunge was greener than St. Paddy’s Day when they handed him the headset in 2014, and I doubt even Blue Bombers CEO Wade Miller and GM Kyle Walters figured they had an all-timer on their hands. It was as unlikely as prayer service in the Rum Hut. But now that O’Shea is locked in as sideline steward of the Bombers for another three Canadian Football League seasons, it’s a question of when, not if, he reaches the most hallowed of gridiron ground in Good Ol’ Hometown. Bud Grant, a legend in a trench coat, collected 102 regular-season Ws in his 10 crusades of mostly pushing the right buttons. O’Shea, a legend in the making in short pants, faded t-shirt/hoodie and ratty, ol’ ball cap, has 82 notches on his belt. Do the math. Sometime in the autumn of 2024, Coach Grunge should pull astride the Silver Fox, if not pass him. Who had that on their radar? Nobody.
GIFT: Zach Collaros became a two-timer, collecting the Most Outstanding Player Award in Rouge Football for the second successive season and, no, we aren’t going to talk about his dodgy performance in the Bombers 24-23 loss to the Toronto Argos in the grass-grabber for the Grey Grail in late November.
LUMP O’COAL: We will, however, discuss Marc Liegghio’s right leg. Two missed converts in the West Division final, one missed convert and a botched field goal attempt in the Grey Cup game doesn’t cut it. He has the worst limb since Long John Silver and everyone from Buzz and Boomer to Dancing Gabe knew all about it, but it somehow escaped the notice of Bombers brass and it cost them dearly. We can talk all we like about other foulups (there were plenty) in the bid for a Grey Grail three-peat, but a kicker has one job to do and Liegghio failed miserably.
LUMP O’COAL: Yo! David Asper! I think maybe you’ve been spending too much time at the Journey to Churchill exhibit at Assiniboine Park Zoo. Either that or you’ve been having nightmares about polar bears lumbering through the pot-holed streets of Good Ol’ Hometown. I mean, the Winnipeg Sea Bears? And a polar bear logo? Seriously? That’s the best you could come up with for your newbie, summertime Canadian Elite Basketball League outfit? C’mon, man. Winnipeg is a seaside locale like a box of Crackerjack is fine dining, and there hasn’t been anything resembling a polar bear near Portage and Main since Chris Walby retired.
AN ENTIRE COAL MINE: Oh, woe is Hockey Canada, guardian of our national pastime and keeper of secrets, slush funds and trafficker of lies. We discovered that HC had stacks and stacks of coin to quietly pay off victims of sexual assault, and some board members summoned to Parliament Hill to explain themselves looked like so many Pinocchios after a big, fat fib. This was the biggest and, by far, the most disturbing sports story on Our Mostly Frozen Tundra in 2022. It rocked HC to the core.
AN ENTIRE COAL MINE: As Hockey Canada roiled in the guck and muck of egregious wrong-doing and a sex-assault scandal, since-defrocked CEO Scott Smith had the dreadful manners to surface in Denmark and strut on-ice to dispense gold medals to our Canadian women at the world championship. It was like the graduating class at a police academy receiving their badges from Tony Soprano. Smith’s appearance was callous, tacky and a rented-bowling-shoes level of odious.
GIFT: Rick Westhead of TSN was at the forefront of reporting on L’Affaire Hockey Canada and all other manner of misdeeds in the playground.
GIFT: Our national women’s team provided a ray of light in the Hockey Canada darkness, striking gold at the Winter Olympic Games and the world tournament. Brianne Jenner was our leading goal-scorer and MVP in Beijing, and Sarah Nurse set an Olympic record for most points, 18. Meantime, Jenner scored both goals in a 2-1 victory over the U.S. in the gold-medal match in Denmark, while Sarah Fillier was our leading scorer and a world tournament all-star.
LUMP O’ COAL: Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star decided that Beijing 2022 was an appropriate time to piddle on Ponytail Puck at the Olympics. “I’ll get crucified for saying so, but women’s hockey doesn’t belong in the Games,” Rosie informed her readers. “It’s a cheap medal, in no way comparable to the paramountcy that some nations historically enjoy in a specific sport—like the Norwegians and cross-country skiing or Jamaicans and sprinting. There is at least some semblance of competition—gobs of it actually—with scads of elite athletes to make a challenge.” She added: “It will doubtless come down, as ever before, to a U.S.-Canada final on Feb. 17, with the Canadians looking for revenge after their loss to the Americans in Pyeongchang. Honestly, I’m getting sick of this mythologized rivalry and everybody else an also-ran. It ain’t sportin’.” Whatever you say, Rosie. But, honestly, I’m getting sick of mainstream media pooh-poohing or ignoring females in the playground.
GIFT: Two of my favorite Dons—Baizley and Duguid—received overdue hosannas this year. Baiz, a lawyer and player agent to many of hockey’s glitterati, was inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame, while Dugie, a world curling champion and pioneer among Pebble People, became an official member of the Order of Canada. I just wish Baiz was still around to enjoy the honor, even if he was never comfortable with people fawning over him.
GIFT: There’s been a Rouge Football revival on the Wet Coast of the land thanks to B.C. Leos bankroll Amar Doman and his foot soldiers. The Leos attracted an average audience of 20,387 to B.C. Place Stadium during the past CFL season, which is a hefty bump of 7,879 customers from a year ago, and they had a league-high gathering of 34,082 for their home opener. (Does it matter now that half the audience was there for a OneRepublic concert?)
LUMP O’ COAL: They have a Grey Cup champion football team, yet the rabble in the Republic of Tranna avoid the Argos the way a letter carrier dodges a mutt baring fangs. The average head count at BMO Field was 11,875 with a low of 9,806, and it’s apparent that only a halftime show featuring Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner streaking au naturel will bring The ROT rabble out to Argos games.
LUMP O’ COAL: Good grief. Another year and still zero female news snoops in the media wing of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. By my count, the CFHF media wing has a roll call of 103 members, 100 per cent of them male, 99.9 per cent of them white, 0 per cent of them female or gay. News snoops are quick to call out sports organizations for a lack of diversity, but apparently the same rules don’t apply to their own houses. The Football Reporters of Canada need to recognize that any female news snoop who survived close encounters with Cal Murphy in the 1980s and ’90s belongs in the Hall of Fame.
LUMP O’ COAL: The staggering proliferation of betting banter on sports TV news/highlight programming is a distressing bit of business.
GIFT: There’s been considerable gum-flapping about a play-for-pay women’s futbol league on Our Mostly Frozen Tundra three years hence, and the people doing the yakkety-yakking seem to have a clue. Diana Matheson and her business partner, Thomas Gilbert, have yet to put all their ducks in a row, but they’ve got two franchises in place (Vancouver and Calgary), they’ve brought Christine Sinclair on board (it’s never a bad idea to link arms with the all-time international goal-scoring leader), and they’re playing with CIBC and Air Canada money. By the time they kick off in 2025, the League To Be Named Later will feature eight teams across the land (four west, four east), and players can expect salaries ranging from $35,000-$75,000. My question: Is there anyone in Good Ol’ Hometown anxious to pony up with a $1 million up-front fee and $8-$10 million in operating costs for women’s soccer?
LUMP O’ COAL: TSN natterbug Kara Wagland described the creation of a women’s pro futbol circuit in Canada as a “monumental development.” Ya, it’s so “monumental” that TSN slotted it as the final item on its hour-long, overnight SportsCentre news/highlights package. Cripes, man, Joey Chestnut eating perogies got more prominent play that night, and I think we can all agree that the sight of Chestnut stuffing food into his gob is right up there on the cringe-o-metre with Glen Suitor swooning over Keith Urban on TSN’s broadcast of the 2019 Grey Cup game. Beasts with cloven hooves have better table manners than Chestnut. Yet TSN determined that his stomach-turning pigout was more newsworthy than the “monumental” women’s fitba story. Sigh.
GIFT: Sue Bird retired after 19 seasons and four WNBA championships with Seattle Storm, also five hoops gold medals at the Olympic Games…Brooke Henderson won two LPGA tournaments, including a major…Hoopster Brittney Griner found her way home to the U.S. after spending too much time in a Russian gulag…Felix Auger-Aliassime won four events on the ATP Tour and anchored Canada’s successful run at the Davis Cup…Iga Swiatek won 37 tennis matches in a row from February to July and two Grand Slam titles, the French Open and U.S. Open. Overall, she was 67-9 with eight titles…Roger Federer retired and the tennis maestro went out the same way he came in—with class…Aaron Judge swatted 62 dingers, more than any non-steroid-era player in Major League Baseball history…Nathan Rourke dazzled Rouge Football audiences until a foot owie laid him low nine games into the B.C. Lions crusade…Phil Kessel became the NHL’s iron man with a Pilsbury Dough Boy body. Go figure…Ironically, the first World Series since 1950 with zero U.S.-born Black players on either roster was won by a U.S.-born Black man, manager Dusty Baker of the Houston Astros.
GIFT: The Premier Hockey Federation remains the sole women’s shinny league in North America that actually is a league and—get this—it pays its players in salary, benefits and marketing share. In other words, it walks the walk. Now in its eighth season, there’s a $750,000 per-team player payroll that doubles to $1.5 million a year from now. Notably, that’s a 10-fold increase since 2021.
LUMP O’ COAL: The Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association. Created in May 2019, there was no league then—just a hissy fit—and there’s no league today—just the same old, tiresome hissy fit. Rather than play in the Premier Hockey Federation or unite to form a Ponytail Puck super league that the rabble might want to watch, PWHPA members prefer to hold their breath, stamp their feet and assemble for a scattering of glorified scrimmages that are mostly ignored by fans and mainstream media each winter. In the meantime, they talk, talk, talk and hope someone is listening. Oddly enough, the talking stopped at the recent all-star gala in Ottawa—PWHPA officials refused to make players available for natters with news snoops after the event. Way to sell your game, ladies.
LUMP O’ COAL: Back on Nov. 3, the puppetmasters at Postmedia informed Winnipeg Sun readers that they would be spiking the weekly TV listings and bulking up the sports section, “so you can get more from our award-winning sports reporters.” To which I responded: “Let’s hope going forward they fill the additional space with local copy, or off-beat copy, not a bunch of dreary rot from the Republic of Tranna.” Well, as advertised, Postmedia has bulked up the sports section in the Winnipeg Sun on Sundays, averaging 12 pages. But, as feared, it’s being filled with rot originating from hither and yon, with only 1-to-3 pages devoted to local sports and the majority of bylines from Republic of Tranna scribes. Don’t believe me? Well, in the four Sunday sections since Nov. 27, this is the byline tally: Toronto writers: 25 Winnipeg writers: 10 So, yes, it reads like the Torontopeg Sun. (Or should it be the Winnironto Sun?)
LUMP O’ COAL: Why does Postmedia insist on forcing Steve Simmons’ weekly alphabet fart on the Winnipeg market? His musings and cheap shots are almost totally Republic of Tranna-centric, and he mentions the goings-on in Good Ol’ Hometown about as often as a squandron of pink elephants perform a fly-by before a Bombers game. In his most-recent offering, for example, Simmons had 17 items on athletes/teams from the The ROT and the grand total of one (1) on the Jets/Bombers/anything Winnipeg. Do the suits at Postmedia truly believe that’s what the rabble in River City want to read?
LUMP O’ COAL: Management geniuses at the Drab Slab refuse to hire a sports columnist. The guy they bill as their sports columnist, Mad Mike McIntyre, has never written a piece on the fabulous female curlers in Manitoba, which is like scribbling for National Geographic and not writing a word about Mother Nature. I mean, the jock news pecking order in Good Ol’ Hometown is Jets, Bombers and curling. So how do you snub female Pebble People when all they’ve done is win four of the past five Scotties (it’s five-for-five if you want to include homegrown Chelsea Carey in 2019)? He also mostly ignores the Bombers, who’ve been in the past three Grey Cup games, winning twice. It’s lame, negligent and unacceptable, and I’ll never understand how a big-city daily allows its sports columnist to snub two of the three major beats.
GIFT: Between Ted Wyman at the Winnipeg Sun and Jeff Hamilton at the Drab Slab, Good Ol’ Hometown receives the best print coverage of Rouge Football on Our Mostly Frozen Tundra. Teddy and Jeff lap the field every year.
LUMP O’ COAL: Carey Price put up a pro-gun post four days prior to the 33rd anniversary of the Ecole Polytechnique massacre, in which 14 women were slaughtered. It’s okay for the Montreal Canadiens goaltender to be pro firearms, but the timing of his post was ghastly. Almost as bad was teammate Joel Edmundson, who said this about that: “None of us are really aware of what happened 30 years ago. The (Polytechnique) anniversary is fast approaching—it’s news to all of us, to be honest.” Good grief.
GIFT: To say Rick Bowness came in with a bang would be the biggest understatement since Noah said, “Geez, it smells like rain.” The Winnipeg Jets freshly minted head coach hadn’t been in town long enough to order a cup o’ java and cheese nip at the Sals when he instructed the seamstress to snip the ‘C’ off Blake Wheeler’s jersey, and I’d say it’s been win-win for both parties. Bones’ Jets are running with the National Hockey League’s big dogs, and Wheeler, until being felled by an owie, had been productive with less ice time and less face time with news snoops. That’s the bonus, of course: No more daily sourpuss sound bites from the former Captain Grumpy Pants.
GIFT: The Jets hit all the right notes when they unveiled a downtown pigeon perch to legend Dale Hawerchuk in October.
LUMP O’ COAL: Let’s be clear, Greg Norman and Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson et al have a right to earn a living with the LIV Golf Series, even if it means they need to wash the Saudi blood off their hands every time they cash a paycheque. But does Norman have to be so bitter about it? My goodness, it’s as if every horse in the Kentucky Derby piddled on the Shark’s Corn Flakes one morning.
LUMP O’ COAL: Here’s all you need to know aboutthe Saudi/Greg Norman LIV Golf Series: Pat Perez was handed a four-year, $10 million deal, just to stick a tee in the ground. “Look, I know I can’t beat those kids (on the PGA Tour) anymore. This was a great opportunity for me. I have nothing against the PGA Tour; they did a lot for me, but I had to earn everything I got out there.” Imagine that. Earning your wage. What a concept.
LUMP O’ COAL: TV talking heads made complete donkeys of themselves with their gushing over has-beens Tiger Woods and Serena Williams like they’re still at the top of their games. Hey, maybe Tiger will win another golf tournament (doubtful), and perhaps Williams hasn’t actually retired and she’ll return to win another tennis tourney. Until then, the boys and girls in the blurt box need to use their yakkety-yak time to talk about athletes winning today, not back in the day.
LUMP O’ COAL: Damien Cox and friends of the Toronto Star still believe they have the final say on Canada’s athlete-of-the-year. As if…Novak Djokovic is still wearing tin foil on his head…Bob Costas sat behind the play-by-play mic during MLB playoffs and he refused to shut the hell up. He talked about everything but baseball…The Arizona Coyotes play in a 4,800-seat rinky-dink rink…Danny Maciocia canned Khari Jones due to a lack of discipline and hired himself as head coach of the Montreal Larks. So what happened in the fourth quarter of their East Division final vs. the Toronto Argos? Maciocia’s Larks took four undisciplined penalties to seal their fate…TSN talking heads continually lied about head counts for CFL games. Yo! Boys! We aren’t stupid. We can see the empty seats. Glen Suitor was the worst, constantly blabbing about “packed” ballparks and telling us there was “close to 40,000” at B.C. Place Stadium for the West semifinal, even if attendance was scarcely more than 30,000. Meanwhile, Milt Stegall informed us the Bombers had “sellouts through the season.” There were, in fact, two sellouts, both in September…Kyrie Irving, just because he’s Kyrie Irving…The Boston Bruins signed bully Mitchell Miller and the Montreal Canadiens signed Logan Mailloux, a young man who likes to take pics of women engaged in sexual activity and, without their consent, share the photos with his frat boy buddies. Oinkers.
LUMP O’ COAL: Dumbest tweet of the year from Theoren Fleury, the former NHLer and current conspiracy theorist who, when last seen, was plummeting into a deep rabbit hole: “The biggest spreaders of misinformation are the ones who are spreading misinformation.”
Well, Coach Grunge, you have a chance to boldly go where no Winnipeg Blue Bombers sideline steward has gone before in Rouge Football—three Grey Cup parades in three years.
I don’t know if that means we should alert the sculptor, but statues of legendary coaches Bud Grant and Cal Murphy stand outside the Ballyard In Fort Garry and they never brought the Grey Grail to Good Ol’ Hometown for a downtown celebration in back-to-back-to-back years, so maybe a hammer and chisel wouldn’t be such a bad idea.
I can see it now: A bronze likeness of you in your grunge look of faded hoodie (or t-shirt), battered ball cap, Papa Smurf chin whiskers and, of course, short pants, which were the object of much scorn before the rabble (and at least one news snoop) realized the length of a man’s pant legs has nothing to do with the execution of X’s and O’s.
But I don’t want to get ahead of myself, Coach Grunge.
Before anyone hails the sculptor, there’s the matter of your blue-and-gold-clad lads grabbing frozen grass with the Toronto Argos this afternoon at Mosaic Stadium on the Flattest of Lands. Get the job done to put a wrap on this Canadian Football League crusade and comparisons to Bud Grant will be unavoidable, since, as mentioned, the Silver Fox never managed a three-peat.
Oh, he came close, Coach Grunge. Relics like myself can recall four title shindigs in five years when trees seemed to stand taller (1958-59, 1961-62), and nice guy Mike Riley gave it a go during his brief whirl as head coach, winning in 1988 and 1990, but skipping a beat in ’89.
So you’d stand alone in Winnipeg FC annals, which date back to 1930, and it would put you in some interesting company in Rouge Football lore.
By my count, Coach Grunge, four men have pulled the strings for three-peat champions: Hugh Campbell, who was greedy and copped the Grey Grail five years in succession (Edmonton Elks, nee Eskimos, 1978-82), Pop Ivy (Edmonton, 1954-56), Teddy Morris shortly after the boys came marching home from WWII (Argos, 1945-47), and Billy Hughes (Queen’s University, 1922-24).
I’m sure you recognize the names Campbell and Ivy, and perhaps you’re familiar with Teddy Morris, too, since the Argos are part of your background story. But Billy Hughes? I hadn’t heard of him until his name popped up on a Google search.
Familiarity or not, Coach Grunge, a W today in Regina would lock you in with legends, and who would have thought that possible after the early returns on your Blue Bombers gig?
That was a scary bit of business. You broke from the gate 12-24. That’s when the rabble talked more about your short pants and grunge gear than your quarterbacks. And, I’ll admit, I figured you had a shorter shelf life than toilet paper during a pandemic. Then boom: 70-34, three division titles, two Grey Cup championships, with gusts up to three, and twice anointed coach-of-the-year.
I don’t know how often you think about the dark days, Coach Grunge, but I’m guessing you’re grateful that CEO Wade Miller and GM Kyle Walters didn’t jerk their knees and drop-kick you into the coaching recycle bin.
Question is: Where do you go from here?
You’re at the end of your tether contract-wise and, as much as I’d like to think the preference of Miller/Walters would be to keep the Canadian Mafia intact, you might have other ideas. Could be that you’ll eyeball opportunities in Ottawa or Montreal, which are closer to your roots. Maybe even another one of your old haunts, Hamilton, will come calling if Orlondo Steinauer decides his head set is no longer a good fit.
Oh, I know you showed Good Ol’ Hometown and Winnipeg FC loads of love during Grey Cup week, and Miller insists he’ll lock you in a room and toss away the key until next summer if that’s what it takes to prevent an escape, but let me say this about that: We all thought Bud Grant was a lifer, except it turned out he preferred the hunting and fishing back home in Minnesota, so he bolted in 1966 and transformed the Vikings into an NFL power. He also took his trusty sidekick, Johnny Michels, with him for good measure, leaving Winnipeg FC high and dry until the mid-1980s.
But, hey, your future is a natter for another day, Coach Grunge.
The Argos and history are right in front of you. Win today and you can show up on the sideline next year wearing a thong and tank top and nary a discouraging word shall be heard or written. It might throw the sculptor for a loop, but we can’t worry about artsy-fartsy types who tend to get into a tizzy over the simplest things. We’ll talk about a proper pose for the statue once the job’s done vs. the Boatmen.
The nation’s football reporters had head coaches O’Shea and Ryan Dinwiddie of the Argos on the spit last Wednesday, and absent from the media/coaches to-and-fro was the traditional question about the sexual conduct of players in advance of the large game: Were bedroom romps permitted, or not? The cheap-yuks query stirred up great giggles when first launched by legendary scribe Jim Hunt back in the 20th century, in part because Shakey was a loud and funny guy, but, over time, it became more of a groan-worthy, eyeballs-a-rolling moment. That’s no knock against Terry Jones, who took the torch from Shakey. It’s just that the sideline stewards weren’t always eager to play along and their replies were flatter than Saskatchewan. There were, mind you, moments of rich levity when Shakey and Jonesy were rewarded with quality sound bites, but its expiry date had arrived.
The Rose-Colored Glasses Award goes to Dinwiddie, who believes a W today will force folks in the Republic of Tranna to sit up and take notice of the Boatmen. “I think there will be a buzz around the city. I think if we can win on Sunday, I think it’s going to open up some eyes that the Argos can bring something to the city,” he told news snoops. Ya, and maybe Pinocchio will turn into a real boy and join Rod Smith and Glen Suitor in the TSN broadcast booth today (I shudder to think how that interview would play out). Still, full marks to Dinwiddie for his fairy-tale optimism.
There was, as usual, much blah, blah, blah and yadda, yadda, yadda in advance of today’s grass-grabber in ol’ Pile o’ Bones, but the only storyline that truly mattered was QB Zach Collaros’ availability to the Bombers. The rest of it? Filler and free food for news snoops. Trust me, I know. You arrive on Monday, start cranking out the copy and/or sound bites in earnest on Tuesday, and, by Saturday morning, you’ve exhausted all worthy story-time narratives. And you’re screaming, “Just play the damn game, already!” It’s a 10-plus-hour-a-day grind, but a fun grind that makes the pints taste better once you slap a -30- on your last piece or file your final sound bite. The rush of Grey Cup Week remains one of the few things I miss about the rag trade. (Don’t ask me about the Grey Cup Week when Terry Jones, Al Ruckaber and myself shut down at 5 in the a.m. after wetting our whistles in an Edmonton cop shop.)
Staying on that theme, one aspect of Grey Cup Week that I enjoy is newspaper wars, which are amped up when the home team is part of the fray. The boys on the Bombers beat had at it the past six days, and the Winnipeg Sun whomped the Drab Slab in volume. The tabloid team of Paul Friesen and Teddy Wyman (with contributions from other Postmedia scribes) churned out 38 articles, compared to 22 from Jeff Hamilton and young Taylor Allen (contributions from Canadian Press, newsside, arts department) over at the broadsheet. Team Sun finished with a nine-page flourish today. In terms of quality copy, let’s call it a wash, because they all did boffo work. I’m a big fan of all four and, remember, Good Ol’ Hometown is the only locale west of the Manitoba-Ontario boundary that offers that level of competition.
Wait. What’s this? CFL commish Randy Ambrosie wasn’t yakking about unicorns, the Tooth Fairy or sprinkling pixie dust during his annual chin-wag with news snoops? Well, actually he was…just not as much as is his custom. Normally, the commish comes across as giddy as a guy who just found a 50-dollar bill in his coat pocket, but this was a more reigned-in Randy. He gave his gums a rigorous, one-hour workout while saying a whole lot of nothing, but we did learn that next year’s playoff grass-grabbers shall be on Saturdays, although the skirmish for the Grey Grail remains a Sunday staple. Oh, he also informed the gathering that Rouge Football now has something called a “watchability index” and “touch points.” Meh.
Alphonso Davies’ readiness for futbol’s World Cup has been an iffy bit of business and, in a moment of galloping hyperbole, TSN’s Lindsay Hamilton told us “every single person in Canada is watching this storyline.” Nope. Not all 39 million of us. You’ll have to excuse me, but I’ve been more concerned about Collaros’ owie than Alphonso’s hamstring. (I wonder if talking heads watch the tape and ask themselves, “How could I have said something so stupid?” Lindsay’s normally spot on, so stooping to ridiculous exaggeration isn’t a good look.)
Quiz me this, kids: Who would you rather have on your team, Willie Jefferson or Shawn Lemon? I agree, it’s Willie J. So how can the Bombers DE not be a Rouge Football all-star? It’s like leaving the Pope off an all-Catholic team.
Just wondering: What is it about Brandon Banks that makes him whine and squawk and stomp his little feet whenever he drops the football? He’s forever yelping at the zebras, demanding a pass interference flag and, no doubt, questioning their ancestry. Yo! Speedy B! Chill. Sometimes a play goes sideways because of good coverage, sometimes it’s the QB’s fault, and here’s something else to consider—sometimes it’s your own damn fault! Guaranteed the Argos pint-sized receiver is good for at least one XXXL-size hissy fit today.
Danny Maciocia cited a lack of discipline as one of the bugaboos behind his decision to sack Montreal Larks head coach Khari Jones four games into the 2022 Rouge Football crusade. So what happens in crunch time with the smug Maciocia wearing the head set? The Larks were penalized four times, twice to keep Argos drives alive, in the fourth quarter of their East Division final loss to the Boatmen. 9:11 (time remaining): Pass interference on 2nd and 14. 4:07: Offside on 1st and 10. 1:17: Face mask on 2nd and 11. 1:12: Offside on 1st and 10. Atta boy, Danny. Way to keep your lads reigned in.
So, the Hamilton Tabbies have surrendered two draft picks and future goodies for the privilege of pitching woo to Bo Levi Mitchell, the Calgary Stampeders defrocked QB. But wait. Bo says he’ll lend an ear to all other suitors before agreeing to pitch his tent in The Hammer. Fine. But, wherever and whenever he lands, it’s a matter of Buyer Beware. This isn’t Cadillac Showroom Bo. It’s more like Used Car Lot Bo. Teams will have to be cautious when they kick the tires, because something might fall off.
While the Tabbies whisper sweet nothings into Mitchell’s ears, Nathan Rourke will be strutting his stuff stateside for NFL outfits. Such a shame if we lose the Victoria-born phenom after just half a season of sheer brilliance.
Egads! KUB Bakery is no more. Good Ol’ Hometown hasn’t taken this big a hit since the last bite of the last turkey clubhouse sandwich at the Wagon Wheel Restaurant. Winnipeg without KUB is like Sunday without prayer. I’ve been out here on the Left Flank for 23 years, and I’ve yet to find rye bread to match KUB rye. Can’t find corned beef to match Oscar’s, either. Oh, sure, mountain views and palm trees and benign temps in January are a nice tradeoff, but Oscar’s corned beef on KUB rye with mustard would be a boffo halftime snack today. I’ll have to settle for the Hawaiin pizza instead.
Just so you know, I’m a Grey Cup baby. Yup, I came into this world two days after the most-recent Bombers-Argos tussle for the Grey Grail, which wasn’t recent at all. It was the infamous Mud Bowl on Nov. 25, 1950, in the Republic of Tranna. Photographic evidence confirms the playing surface at Varsity Stadium was more pig pen than football field that day, with the large lads grabbing hands full of muck and guck where grass used to be. The Bombers lost 13-zip, so the doc didn’t have to smack my butt to get the squawking started after I’d poked my head out of the chute. I already had reason to bawl.
I’m not sure how you’d describe the past few years of your football life, but it’s surely been an interesting journey.
I mean, you were rejected on the Flattest of Lands and ushered out of the Republic of Tranna in the space of five months, but just look at you today: Grey Cup champion starting quarterback, x2; Most Outstanding Player Award in Rouge Football, soon-to-be x2; freshly minted three-year contract, at $600,000 per, tucked in your ditty bag.
Add to that your bride, Nicole, and two lovely daughters, Sierra and Capri, and, as the cool folk say, you’ve got it made in the shade, Zach. Talk about a wonderful life. Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey ain’t got nothing on you.
And, in a twisted sort of way, I suppose you can thank Simoni Lawrence for your favorable turn of fortune.
I don’t have to remind you that Simoni is the ruffian who knocked you loopy on the third play of the 2019 Canadian Foootball League season, Zach, setting in motion a sequence of events that brought you to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, with whom you’ve done nothing but put up Ws and earn the admiration of all who worship at the blue-and-gold shrine.
Yes, it’s been all glory in Good Ol’ Hometown, Zach, so much so that people are mentioning you and Kenny Ploen in the same breath, and the hosannas don’t get higher than a comparison to ol’ No. 11. Not if you’re talking football in Winnipeg, they don’t. K.P. was, is and always shall be football deity whenever and wherever devotees of the big, gold-and-white ‘W’ gather, and you’re making a compelling argument that you’ll soon be sitting beside him on legends row.
If only Jeremy O’Day, Pinball Clemons and John Murphy had known what was to become of you, Zach. So much would have changed.
I’m guessing you remember those guys, Zach. But, in case things are a bit blurry, let’s refresh:
O’Day had you on the Flattest of Lands in 2019 and, once you’d been rendered loopy by Lawrence, the Saskatchewan GM arrived at a dire diagnosis: You were done like a overcooked cob of corn at the Biggar county fair. Thus, he reasoned that upstart Cody Fajardo was a better bet than an oft-concussed QB, and he peddled your butt to the Republic of Tranna for a fourth-round shoutout (receiver Kian Schaffer-Baker) in the 2020 auction of CFL wannabes. It was “the best thing to do for the organization,” he explained.
Pinball Clemons and John Murphy, meanwhile, made the same (mis)diagnosis and figured the Toronto Argos were in better hands with Mcleod Bethel-Thompson and James Franklin. Thus, they dialed up Kyle Walters’ number on Oct. 9, 2019, and made the Bombers GM an offer he refused to refuse: It was you, Zach, and a future draft pick (kicker Marc Liegghio) in barter for two wannabes (O-linemen Theren Churchill, Dylan Giffen). Murphy, VP of player personnel with the Boatmen at the time, explained: “That was too much to pass up on.”
Larry, Curly and Moe…meet Jeremy, Pinball and Murph.
Actually, Zach, they weren’t as dopey as the Three Stooges, because we have to remember you had a whack of cobwebs up in the attic at the time and all the medical experts, including those without medical degrees in the stands and on press row, had written you off. How were they to know Walters, Mike O’Shea and Wade Miller—the Bombers’ Canadian Mafia—had the magical healing powers of water at Lourdes?
It helps, of course, that they’ve blessed you with an O-line that provides better protection than the guys who keep the wackos away from Joe Biden, but I think we all know it’s mostly down to you, Zach.
The Argos-Bombers deal rates as one of Rouge Football’s all-time fleece jobs, and it might rank as the mother of all all-timers if you and the large lads in blue-and-gold livery conspire to bring home the Grey Grail for a third successive crusade.
So it’s grand to know you’ll be sticking around until 2025, Zach, and I don’t think anyone among the rabble gives a rat’s patootie that you, Nicole and the kiddies vamoose and spend your off-seasons in Aurora, Ont. Hey, I get it. I know all about Winnipeg winters. They’re like a stray dog with a bad attitude: Avoid whenever possible.
For now, though, Aurora can wait, Zach. You’ve got two more football games to win, and I’m guessing you won’t mind if your escape is delayed a day or two due to another championship parade.
Yes, sir, it’s a wonderful life, Zach.
So let me see if I’ve got this right: In a survival skirmish Saturday night, Saskatchewan Flatlanders head coach Craig Dickenson told the aforementioned Cody Fajardo to grab pine and, instead, pinned his club’s playoff aspirations on a QB, Mason Fine, who’d never started a game in the CFL and had flung the football a grand total of 42 times in his three-downs career. Ya, that makes sense. No surprise that Fine got the Flatlanders into the house just once. End result: Calgary Stampeders 32, Flatlanders 21. So Saskatchewan joins the ranks of the no-hopers, with their post-season quest expired, and Dickenson should be grateful he’s under contract for another year.
What’s up with Dickenson giving Fajardo a “vet” day off last week? What the hell is a “vet” day? Did Cody need to take the family pet in for shots and a deworming? Or is it something akin to “load management?” My take: It’s a load of what comes out of the south end of a bull. I don’t want to hear about “vet” day unless it’s Nov. 11.
Somebody at TSN needs to tell gab guy Milt Stegall that the Toronto Argos are not—repeat, not!— “Eastern conference champions” two years in a row. The Boatmen didn’t win the East Division title a year ago, and they haven’t won it this time around. They’ve locked down first place and a bye into the East Division final at BMO Field in the Republic of Tranna on Nov. 13. That’s when the East Division “champions” will be determined. Do better, Milt.
After Toronto Maple Leafs bench puppeteer Sheldon Keefecalled out his “elite” workers for being notably unelite in a 4-2 misstep vs. the Sad Sack Arizona Coyotes last week, one of the elitists, Mitch Marner, insisted no players’ noses were out of joint because of the coach’s tsk-tsking. “We’re grown men,” he said. If it’s all the same to Mitch, I’ll reserve judgment on that until I see evidence that he’s old enough to shave.
Got a giggle out of dispatches from Saturday night’s skirmish between the Tranna Maple Elites and Winnipeg Jets at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie.
In the Drab Slab, the main headline blared, “BAD BLOOD AND BAD CALLS…Leafs escape Jetsville with 2 points and the zebras’ blessings.” Beat guy Mad Mike McIntyre told us Toronto’s 4-1 victory was “draped in controversy” and refs Graham Skilliter and Corey Syvret “completely lost the plot.” The skunk shirts were also “cowardly.” (But, hey, he doesn’t want to be viewed as a homer.) He described Josh Morrissey’s collision with Nick Robertson of the Leafs as “what looked to be a perfectly-timed hit,” while over at the Winnipeg Sun Scott Billeck saw it as “a clean hit.”
Meantime, there were no screaming headlines about shoddy officiating in either the Toronto Star or Toronto Sun, apparently because news snoops were watching a different game. Mark Zwolinski of the Star called the Winnipeg blueliner’s broadside of Robertson a “predatory hit” and Sun scribe Terry Koshan saw it as “a perceived” illegal blow.
Hmmm. If you were wearing Jets goggles, it was “clean” and “perfectly-timed,” but if you had on a pair of Leafs goggles, it was “predatory” and “perceived” as dirty. Go figure.
It’s a “happening” any time the Elites grace the freeze in Good Ol’ Hometown, and it’s especially exciting on a Saturday night, because those fancy schmancy Hockey Night in Canada towels are up for grabs. I just wonder what the players do with them. Take ’em home? Hang ’em on the towel rack in the biffy? Display ’em on a man cave wall? Wrap ’em up and gift them as Christmas stocking stuffers? Give ’em to the dog for a chew toy? Inquiring minds want to know.
Fashion note: Those Winnipeg Jets reverse retro uniforms look like some kid was a few crayons short of a full box. I mean, my favorite color is blue, but I like it most when it’s blended with other hues of the rainbow. You know, like red. But I guess adidas thinks a jersey that looks like it’s been through the wash/rinse cycle about 1,000 times too often is a thing.
The heritage unis the home side wore Saturday night vs. the Tranna Elites are still the best, and always will be.
Is it safe to watch the Major League Baseball playoffs again, or is Bob Costas still yammering about everything but rounders? Seriously, I turned on my flatscreen to observe a New York Yankees-Cleveland Guardians game last week and a Costas filibuster broke out.
I don’t think there’s a squawk box in sports who loves the sound of his own voice more than this guy. He doesn’t call the game, he lectures in an arrogant “I’m the legendary Bob Costas and I know more important people than you” tone, at the same time taking more detours than a lost dog.
His starting point might be baseball, but he’s apt to wander off to the Civil War to 9/11 to JFK to the shootout at the OK Corral to Grantland Rice and the day the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame rode, before returning to the matter at hand and informing us that Aaron Judge had been scuffling at the plate: “I know Aaron has lost his groove, but I also know he likes his breakfast eggs sunny side up, and, coincidentally, so did General George Smith Patton Jr., who, by the way, was something of a student of fencing during his time at West Point, and Old Blood and Guts also competed in the modern pentathlon at the 1912 Summer Olympics in Sweden, where he became the only non-Swede to finish in the top five. He later became Master of the Sword…and there’s goes Aaron Judge, down on strikes again. But back to General Patton, did you know…blah, blah, blah.”
Basically, he’s under the misguided notion that a ball game ought to be a (bad) Ken Burns documentary, and he believes he’s doing our ears a favor with his non-stop natter. Well, I’m sorry, but my ears begin to bleed at the first sound of his ego.
What’s the worst fear while listening to Bob Costas broadcast a baseball game? Extra innings.
The New York Post reports that Charles Barkley has agreed to keep filling TNT air with his basketball bon mots, and the arrangement is expected to easily top the $100 million mark. Hmmm. If paid at a penny per word, Bob Costas would be a millionaire by the seventh-inning stretch.
My main issue with the current Major League Baseball playoffs is this: I don’t hear the sound of garbage cans clanking, so I can’t figure out how the Houston Astros are cheating.
Good grief, Nick Kypreos has joined Dave Poulin as a contributing columnist for the Toronto Star, leaving me to wonder when he’ll use his new platform to promote goon tactics in the NHL. I mean, if we learned anything about Kypreos during his lengthy run with Sportsnet, it’s that he’s a horse-and-buggy thinker who truly believes you have to beat ’em in the alley before you can beat ’em on the ice. He was a cement head when he played, and he’s still a cement head. If it’s all the same to the deep-thinkers at the Star, I prefer to remember a time when their sports pages featured scribes like Jim Proudfoot and Milt Dunnell and Frank Orr, not broken-down jocks.
Speaking of the Star, the paper’s public editor, Donovan Vincent, has noted his sports section seldom covers female athletes and their teams. Well duh. What was his first clue? Turns out it was a missive from a female reader that alerted Vincent to the issue, and he ought to be embarrassed. I mean, this is nothing new, and Vincent long ago should have noticed the lack of words and scarcity of photographic evidence devoted to the distaff side of the playground. Not to mention the scads of studies that confirm mainstream print and electronic media ignore the games girls/women play. Now that he’s finally pulled his head out of the sand, perhaps other newspaper decision-makers across our Frozen Tundra will do the same and stop treating the females like second-hand Roses.
Hey, check it out. The Drab Slab delivered a significant takeout on Ponytail Puck the other day. Mike Sawatzky took a look at the Toronto Six, now in final prep for the Premier Hockey Federation’s eighth season, and he reminds us that one of our own, Sami Jo Small, is at the top of the food change with the Six. The roster also features three Manitoba-breds. Good stuff.
Did you know, and do you care, that the other half of the Ponytail Puck equation, the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, staged a set of its glorified scrimmages last weekend in Montreal? Well, if you went looking for game info on the PWHPA website, you won’t have a clue, because they apparently like to keep details of their on-ice activity hush-hush. Not a word about the four-team frolic featuring Team Sonnet, Team Scotiabank, Team adidas and Team Harvey’s. So, if they don’t care to fill you in, why should you care?
The PWHPA has been in existence since May 2019, after rising from the ashes of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, and I’m still trying to figure out what they’re trying to prove, except that they’re the most stubborn group of women ever assembled.
A size XXXXXL shoutout to old friend Don Duguid, who had snacks and made small talk with Governor General Mary Simon on Thursday in Bytown. The GG invested Dugie as a member of the Order of Canada, and I’d say that sounds about right for a world curling champion, turned curling innovator, turned curling guru, turned curling gab guy. I don’t know if the The Digit gave Guv Mary an earful about the Monarchy, but I’m guessing he mentioned King Charlie a time or two. Dugie is one of my all-time favorite people.
Toronto FC pays Lorenzo Insigne $14 million guaranteed per year to play footy, which is better pay than anyone in the NHL. So perhaps someone in mainstream media can tell us again how Major League Soccer isn’t major league.
Bet you didn’t know that the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue has a Rookie of the Year Award. Yup, Christen Harper and Katie Austin are this year’s recipients of the frosh honor because, according to editor and chief MJ Day, “there’s never been two more worthy people.” And, hey, don’t run off with the notion that Christen and Katie put on their skimpy outfits for self-serving reasons. They do it “for random strangers.” Translation: Teenage boys who can’t get their hands on a Victoria’s Secret catalog.
Sometimes I don’t want to believe what I’m reading and hearing, and I don’t want to believe that tennis great Simona Halep is guilty of using performance-enhancing drugs.
And, finally, it’s about soft landings for delicate NFL QBs…
Boy, you sure know how to make an entrance, don’t you? I thought only Sinatra could “bring it” like that. I mean, you haven’t even spent a nanosecond behind the Winnipeg Jets bench and you’ve already ripped the ‘C’ off Blake Wheeler’s jersey. Ballsy move.
Mind you, that’s the kind of decision you don’t make without first getting the official okie-dokie from on high, which is to say Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman. After all, defrocking teacher’s pet is like telling Tiger Woods he can’t wear a red shirt on Sunday. Still, you pulled it off, and I just wish I’d been a fly on the wall during those discussions, because it must have been some juicy banter.
Whatever was said, Coach Bones, it’s no more Captain Cranky Pants for Winnipeg HC, which means no more sourpuss sound bites from a guy who enjoyed his natters with news snoops the way Donald Trump likes the FBI knocking on his door.
Also no way of knowing if the stripping of the ‘C’ will translate to more Ws from the same old-same old National Hockey League outfit that you inherited due to GM Kevin Cheveldayoff’s Summer of Nothing, but I guess we’re about to find out.
One thing the Jets faithful need remember: Wheeler is now ‘C’-less, but he’s still in the dressing room and has no desire to fade into the background like an old piece of furniture destined for a yard sale. Anyone who thinks otherwise is “sorely mistaken,” he told news snoops, adding “I don’t envision changing my role at all” and “I’m still gonna be doing the things I would have done with the ‘C’ on my jersey.” It sounded more like a threat than a promise.
Something I kept thinking after the big news broke on Friday: The Puck Pontiff and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff actually hitched their wagon to Wheeler instead of Patrik Laine. It was an astonishing blunder that will continue to bite them.
I note some Jets gathered for “informal” skates last week. In other words, just like most of their games last season.
Missing Person’s Alert! Richie Hall’s D-Dozen. When last seen, they were making Dane Evans look like Patrick Mahomes and the Hamilton Tabbies offence look like the Kansas City Chiefs. If seen, call the missing persons hotline at 1-800-We STUNK. Seriously, a 48-31 paddywhacking? I don’t think the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defence has surrendered more than 40 points since leather helmets. Scoring on the Bombers is normally more difficult than opening a bag of airline peanuts, especially in the second half. But the Winnipeg FC D-Dozen decided to sit this one out, and the Tabbies much-maligned QB, Evans, and his receivers were in full frolic, finding their way into the end zone five times Saturday at Timbits Field in the Hammer. But, hey, stuff happens. The Canadian Football League season is long and taxing, and the Bombers haven’t had much time to catch their breath, with just one bye week since late May. We won’t see them again until Sept. 30, by which time we can assume they’ll have licked their wounds and won’t be in the mood to play nice with Cody Fajardo and the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Speaking of Corn Dog Cody, he served some vintage whine after a 26-24 loss to the bottom-feeding E-Town Elks on Friday, suggesting folks on the Flattest of Lands displayed bad manners in booing their hometown heroes. “I feel like the whole world is basically against us,” he moaned. “I’ll be honest, it wasn’t great when you hear your own fans booing you. It hurt.” Yo! Cody! There’s a cure for that. It’s called winning.
Apparently, the B.C. Leos and Calgary Stampeders took their hostilities off the field and into the parking lot after their grass-grabber Saturday in the Alberta Foothills. Something was said, a punch was thrown (not necessarily in that order), and cops became involved out on the pavement at McMahon Stadium. The Leos won the quarrel over second seeding in the West Division, 31-29 in OT, and the two sides will do it all over again next Saturday, this time at B.C. Place Stadium. No word on whether they’ll be selling ringside seats in the parking lot.
Anyone out there still not convinced Quebec is a different kind of world? If so, consider the appointment of Nick Suzuki as capitaine des Canadiens de Montréal. One look at the ‘C’ stitched on Nick’s chest and Premier Francois Legault promptly inserted the matter into the provincial election campaign, insisting Suzuki “will have to learn French.” Excusez-moi? It’s essential that Suzuki learn to say “it sucks to miss the playoffs again” en francais? Only in Quebec.
At what age do people begin shouting at clouds and telling kids to get off the lawn over piffling things like tiny ads on hockey uniforms? Seriously, why would any noses be out of joint because an RBC logo is sewn onto the Montreal Canadiens’ jersey? For cripes sake, man, it’s a smelly hockey sweater. It’s not like someone stitched a Burger King logo on the Shroud of Turin. Yet, many among the rabble (no doubt with grey hair and bladder-control issues) see this as blasphemy, even though it’s done in every sport you’d care to name. The most famous uni in North American jockdom—the New York Yankees pinstripes—features a Nike swoosh. It didn’t when Babe Ruth and Roger Maris were swatting 60 dingers in a season, but Aaron Judge wears one and it hasn’t hindered his home run stroke. Something tells me an RBC patch on La Sainte-Flanelle won’t slow down Nick Suzuki either.
The fear, of course, is that those 3×3.5-inch patches will grow into a monster skating billboard. The naysayers insist that, soon enough, NHL players will look like the people who drive fast cars in F1 and/or NASCAR, and civilization as we know it will collapse like Wall Street in 1929. Oh, please. NHL outfits are allowed two patches max (worth between $5 million to $10 million each) and, unlike soccer, the team logo remains the centrepiece of the jersey.
I think the Jets should wear a 7-Eleven logo. Good Ol’ Hometown, after all, is the Slurpee Capital of the World.
All-time good guy Don Baizley has been elected to the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame in November as a builder/hockey, and I just wish he was still with us to enjoy the moment. Not that he would want a big fuss, understand. Baiz, a local lawyer who left us in June 2013 at age 71 after a battle with non-smoker’s cancer, preferred any attention be kept on the down low, even though he had a client list that read like a who’s who in hockey: AndersHeberg, Ulf Nilsson, Lars-Erik Sjoberg, Kent Nilsson, Willy Lindstrom, Peter Forsberg, Jari Kurri, Paul Kariya, Joe Sakic, Saku Koivu, etc. He surrounded himself with more Scandinavians than ABBA and was at the forefront of the European invasion, smoothing their path and transition to North American life and its oft-barbaric style of shinny. Listen to enough people in hockey, and they’ll have you convinced there isn’t a body of water on earth that Baiz didn’t walk on. He’s had more nice things said about him than Mr. Rogers. But perhaps Hedberg put it best when he described Baiz as “the kind of person we would like to be and our sons to become.”
More than half the teams in Rouge Football are playing sub-.500 football, and two of the five will qualify to chase the Grey Grail in November. A most unfortunate state of affairs, Stanley.
It’s been a boffo year for the sale of used clothing. In May, the Hand of God jersey worn by Diego Maradona in the 1986 World Cup sold at auction for $9.8 million and, just this week, a Michael Jordan top from the 1998 NBA final went for $10.1 million. I’m not saying sports memorabilia collectors are suckers, but I understand they come in 50 flavors, from grape to “give your head a shake.”
Adios to Roger Federer, sublime tennis virtuoso who’ll take his racquet and go home after this week’s Laver Cup in London. The best ever? Always debatable. All-world classy? Never debatable. In a sport rife with me-myself-and-I boors who stomp their feet and hold their breath whenever their universe fails to unfold as it should, Federer was a beacon of all that is admirable in a professional athlete.
Both Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have superior mano-a-mano records vs. Federer (24-16 and 27-23, respectively), but this is the difference from my perch in the cheap seats: Rafa and Djokovic use a tennis racquet, Federer used an artist’s brush and painted lovely pictures with the strokes of a genius.
Our guy Denis Shapovalov lists Federer as “a role model.” In that case, Shapo should try to behave more like Roger and less like a brattish John McEnroe wannabe on court.
Chicago Bears placekick holder Trenton Gill was penalized 15 yards last Sunday for patting down a patch of soggy Soldier Field with a towel prior to a field goal attempt by Cairo Santos. Apparently that’s unsportsmanlike conduct. Why didn’t I think to tell my mom that whenever she ordered me to dry the dishes?
Just wondering: If you aren’t a Cheese Head, which is to say one of the Green Bay Packers faithful, is it possible to like Aaron Rodgers? The guy’s become all sorts of creepy weird. Seriously, I don’t care what he smokes, drinks or eats, or if he dresses like he got lost on the way to Woodstock, but if he wants us to believe his Zen shtick about “dissolvement of the ego” he should probably stop reminding us about the MVP awards he’s won. As the Wise Woman of the Village once said: “Clap with just one hand at your own good deeds.”
Every time Greg Norman opens his cake hole, the more convinced I am that someone piddles on his Corn Flakes every morning. Is there a more bitter man in sports than the LIV Golf Series mouthpiece? Maybe all that anger stems back to the final round of the 1996 Masters, when the Shark authored one of golf’s all-time gag jobs, taking 78 swings to blow a six-shot lead and lose to Nick Faldo by five strokes. Whatever the case, someone or something has really done a number on Norman.
I’ve asked this before but, given the love and admiration heaped upon Sideline Sara Orlesky last weekend in Blue Bombersville, I again ask: Why it is that broadcasters become darlings of the rabble whereas newspaper scribes are lower than a guy who farts on a crowded elevator? No doubt Sara is a lovely person and the hosannas after working the Bombers beat for 14 years were warranted, but I have it on good authority that Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun is also a lovely person who’s been scribbling sterling stuff about the Bombers since the turn of the century. You think the rabble will rush for his autograph when he slaps a -30- on his final dispatch for the tabloid? You think Winnipeg FC CEO Wade Miller will present him with a team jersey in front of a packed house? You think Zach Collaros will give him a game ball? Hmph! King Charles III will stop counting all that money Mommy left him and fly into Good Ol’ Hometown to knight Friesen and dub him Sir Paul of the Poison Pen before any of that happens.
I covered the Jets/NHL for 20 years and the Bombers/CFL for 20, and the closet thing I got to a salute was a bunch of middle fingers. And, you’re right, I probably deserved every one of them.
The Sara Sendoff makes me wonder: Will she be the first female inducted into the ultimate all-boys club known as the Media Wing of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame? By my count, the current roll call is 101 men, 0 women, even though females have written and talked about the three-downs game from pee wee to the pros for decades, and that math just doesn’t add up.
The show of affection for Sara (totally deserved) reminded me of my first encounter with Robert Marvin Hull, on my initial visit to the Winnipeg Jets lair. It was the season of 1977-78 and I sought sound bites from young Kent Nilsson, a dazzling young player in his freshman whirl. While talking to Kenta, I noted the Golden Jet and Lars-Erik (The Shoe) Sjoberg standing nearby, both of them clad only in white towels wrapped around their flat midsections. This was their conversation as they gave me the once-over: The Shoe: “It looks like we’ve got a new reporter with the team.” Hull: “Just another asshole to try and stir up shit.” Yup, Hull could be a real charmer.
And, finally, old friend Peter Young confirms the Golden Jet’s attendance at the WHA’s 50th anniversary hooraw next month in Whistler. Hmmm. Maybe I should drop by. You know, just to stir up shite for old time’s sake.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and Happy Easter; may you find all those hidden eggs while I lay another one…
Okay, we knew there would be at least six zeroes on the bottom line of the Winnipeg Football Club’s 2020 operation, and we knew all those zeroes would be written in red ink, if not blood.
So the $7,000,000 bath the Blue Bombers took shouldn’t surprise any among us, except perhaps those who believe in the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny and The Rock as a turn-red-ink-into-black-ink Messiah of the Canadian Football League.
Some might even put on a pair of rose-tinted glasses and look at the financial wallop WFC took as favorable tidings because, even with a lost crusade due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a $7 million shortfall, the doors remain open out there at postal code R3T 1Z2 on Chancellor Matheson Road in Fort Garry. That the community-operated Bombers remain in business is a testament to the dollars-and-cents gymnastics of once-maligned CEO Wade Miller and the board.
Mind you, it’s good news like a guy who had his arms and legs shattered in a car accident, but he’s happy he didn’t break his nose, even if he can’t blow it without someone holding the hanky.
And, really, that’s what the Bombers and their eight partners in Rouge Football require today—help.
As mentioned last week, the CFL is in an arms race, as in vaccines in arms. It’s become the NFNFL—No Fans, No Football League—so the immediate future of our quirky game rests in the hands of needle-pushers hither and yon.
Trouble is, the number of COVID vaccinations required to make football fields across the tundra fan friendly is a mystery.
When I last looked, 13.4 per cent of the citizenry in Manitoba had been vaccinated, so let’s say 80 per cent in Good Ol’ Hometown have been jabbed by June. Is that ample enough to get the turnstiles spinning at Football Follies Field In Fort Garry? If so, how many would be cleared to visit the Rum Hut and watch the large lads grab grass? Will they require a proof-of-vaccine badge? Also, keep in mind there’s no guarantee the faithful will rush back to the ball yard. After all, the thought of joining a large gathering likely will make some among the rabble quite antsy, like a Hertz rent-a-car clerk seeing Tiger Woods approach the counter.
Miller, of course, was talking a good game the other day, assuring Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun that “we’re going to get on the field,” and telling Taylor Allen of the Drab Slab “we’re getting ready to play with fans in the stands.”
I want to believe him. I really do. But we all know the harsh reality: The Bombers CEO doesn’t control the vaccine rollout in Manitoba, let alone across the dominion.
What’s happening in Winnipeg isn’t necessarily what’s happening in Vancouver or the Republic of Tranna, not that anyone other than friends and family in those latter two ports-o-call gives a damn about Rouge Football. Point is, we have six different provincial health authorities receiving an unequal number of vaccine shipments and poking needles into arms in accordance to their parochial priorities.
Furthermore, there seems to exist a bit of a helter-skelter vibe to the vaccine rollout nation-wide, and that certainly doesn’t help the CFL put its house in order or butts on benches.
Cardboard cutouts don’t cut it. They don’t drink beer, they don’t eat hot dogs or popcorn, and they don’t buy $250 jerseys. They just mean no long lineups at the washrooms.
So, really, it’s vaccines or bust on a 2021 CFL crusade. In other words: Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls…present arms!
So here’s another question: Can Rouge Football kick off a 2021 crusade if the Bombers were allowed to welcome, say, 8,250 patrons (25 per cent capacity) to Football Follies Field while the B.C. Leos, Tranna Argos and Montreal Larks grab grass in empty buildings? I know, I know. The Leos and Argos are accustomed to crowds the size of a yard sale, and the folks in Montreal only pay attention when the Larks are winning, so an imbalance at the box office already exists. But can the CFL allow some teams to collect game-day revenue while others must keep their tills closed? I think not.
Frankly, I’m most concerned about B.C. If the Leos fail to get the okie-dokie for patrons in B.C. Place Stadium, do they take a leave of absence rather than pay 50-plus players’ wages with zero game-day revenue? Does the CFL shrink to an eight-team operation for a year? I wouldn’t be too quick to dismiss that possibility. Keep in mind that B.C.’s top docs wanted no part of an NHL bubble last summer, and they’ll be less inclined to green light a Rouge Football season now that the coronavirus and its variants have ransacked the Vancouver Canucks roster. I mean, if the bug(s) can’t be kept at bay in the Canucks’ rigidly controlled environment, what chance would the Leos have with twice as many players wandering about the burg? B.C. health officials talk about the vaccine rollout being completed by the end of June, but what they really mean is sometime in July. The Leos allegedly gather for training sessions next month, they allegedly have a dress rehearsal at an empty facility on June 4, and they allegedly begin playing for full wages (three times) later that month. Do the math. I’m sure the guardians of the late David Braley’s estate have done that very thing and don’t like the numbers.
We have yet to hear 2020 bottom-line numbers from our prairie friends in Edmonton and on the Flattest of Lands, but we can assume they’ll be dripping in as much red ink as WFC. We already know that most, if not all, of the E-Town E-Somethings’ $12.9 million rainy day fund has vanished like summer wages, and the Saskatchewan Roughriders face their “biggest financial crisis in 110 years,” according to team president Craig Reynolds. Sigh. If only there was a Sugar Daddies ‘R’ Us shop available to the three community-operated clubs. Oh wait. Isn’t that where The Rock is supposed to come in?
Apparently The Rock and his accomplices, Dany Garcia/RedBird Capital, continue to make nice with CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie and the Lords of Rouge Football, working toward a CFL-XFL alliance. But what do they actually bring to the table? Well, yes, their pockets are coal-miner deep, but they offer a twice-failed brand name, zero franchises, zero players, and the hope of springtime football, which has always landed in the gridiron graveyard. Sorry, but short of them underwriting all CFL-XFL losses, I fail to see the upside.
Moving on from the CFL, here’s my all-time, all-Easter-themed lineup: 10. Bunny Ahearne, longtime IIHF executive 9. Rabbit Maranville, baseball player 8. Bugsy Watson, hockey player 7. Luke Easter, baseball player 6. The Eggman, golfer Dan Halldorson 5. Christian Laettner, hoops player 4. Roman Gabriel, football player 3. Jesus Alou, baseball player 2. God Shammgod, hoops player 1. Connor McJesus, Edmonton Oilers messiah.
Officials have determined the cause of Tiger Woods’ car crash in February, but they’ll keep it on the QT until the golf great gives them the okie-dokie to release the information. Hmmm. I wonder which will arrive first, details of Tiger driving his SUV into a ditch or Haley’s Comet, due on July 28, 2061. My money’s on the comet.
Hey, I’m not saying Tiger is tight-lipped, but a bag of airline peanuts is easier to pry apart than his lips.
Just wondering: Do you think Woods will have hired a chauffeur by July 28, 2061?
So here’s some real dirt on Jack Nicklaus, told by the man himself on Twitter: “I was a switch-hitting catcher growing up & and if I hadn’t chosen golf baseball might’ve been my future. But I never liked standing around on a dusty field waiting for 10 kids to show up. With golf, it was me against myself, my own abilities & the course. But I still loved baseball!” Ya, almost as much as he loves Donald Trump.
I assume the Golden Bear will be at Augusta National this week to put on the feedbag at the Men In Green Jackets chow-down in advance of The Masters. It’s officially known as the Masters Club Dinner, but you don’t get a seat at the table unless you’re wearing one of those ugly green jackets that champions are allowed to wear only at Augusta (tie optional). The Men In Green Jackets menu was chosen this year by the reigning Man In Green, Dustin Johnson. What, no greens?
What’s this? Connor McDavid went McSquirrely the other night? Sure did. The Oilers captain shoved his right elbow into Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s chops, and I couldn’t have been more surprised had I found a copy of Sinatra: The Rapper Years at my local vinyl store. The reaction, on the other hand, was not unexpected. Some among the rabble were calling for the hangman, and to them I say, “Come on, people.” I mean, Gordie Howe is glorified to this day for using his elbows to perform unlicensed dental surgery on foes. Rumor has it that Mr. Hockey nailed two pallbearers and the grave digger as they lowered his casket. And now you want to crucify McDavid for one errant elbow? Hey, I’m no fan of goon hockey, but he isn’t Charlie Manson. He did it, he’s paid his $5,000 fine, so let’s move on.
Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star wrote this about Toronto Blue Jays pudgy catcher Alejandro Kirk last week: “Kirk is immensely huggable.” Nothing offensive, right? But let me ask this: If a male jock journo used the same adjective to describe our leading lady of the links, Brooke Henderson, would he be branded a sexist oinker? Damn straight, he would. And that would be unfortunate. Descriptive scribbling in sports has become passé, if not a lost art, in our daily newspapers. The boys on the beat don’t dare write that our Brooke is “huggable,” for fear of a robust and thorough tarring-and-feathering on social media. So they simply write about birdies, bogeys and unplayable lies. But wait. Brooke Henderson is a delight. She seems very approachable. She smiles a lot. She has that squeaky clean, girl-next-door quality. Every time I see her, I want to pinch her chipmunk cheeks. She strikes me as teddy bear “huggable.” Why shouldn’t the boys on the beat feel comfortable writing that about Brooke the person? It’s no more sexist than Rosie DiManno telling us that Alejandro Kirk is “huggable.”
So I’m watching Mathew Barzal rack up the points (three goals, two helpers) in the New York Islanders 8-3 rout of the Washington Capitals the other night, and I couldn’t help but flash back to the 2015 National Hockey League entry draft. The Boston Bruins had three successive shoutouts that day, Nos. 13, 14 and 15. They chose Jakob Zboril, Jake DeBrusk and Zachary Senyshyn, otherwise known as the Boston D’oh! Boys. DeBruck is the only one of the three who’s been worth half a lick. Meanwhile, plucked immediately after were Barzal, Kyle Connor and Thomas Chabot. Here’s what the scorecard looks like today:
Damien Cox of the Toronto Star might have established a new standard for poor taste in tweets when discussing the Vancouver Canucks and their raging COVID crisis, which has shelved the entire operation and puts the club’s season in jeopardy. Noting that Iain MacIntyre of Sportsnet suggested the Canucks schedule could be tweaked by eliminating four games vs. the Ottawa Senators late this month and replacing them with skirmishes vs. playoff-bound outfits, Cox had this horrible hot take: “The question then becomes are you handicapping those playoff bound teams by forcing them to play against a VAN team that’s more rested than it otherwise would be?” Seriously? Lying in a sick bed with an IV needle stuck in your arm or hand becomes a competitive advantage? It makes you more rested? My goodness. When someone is that tuned out, there are no words.
Here are the numbers for coverage devoted exclusively to female athletes/teams in the Winnipeg Sun and Drab Slab for March:
Number of issues with female coverage Free Press: 27 of 31 days. Sun: 6 of 31 days.
And, finally, I give up. Why was there a promo for Steve Simmons on the front pageof the Winnipeg Sun last Tuesday? He is a Tranna-based scribe, he writes a Tranna-centric column, he mentions athletes/teams from Good Ol’ Hometown in his alphabet pharts perhaps half a dozen times a year, and the local tabloid seldom runs his copy. Yet there was his scruffy mug on the front page of the Winnipeg Sun. This makes sense to whom, other than the misguided suits at Postmedia HQ on Bloor Street East in the Republic of Tranna?
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and, sadly, one of the old gang from the Trib, Swamp Dog Rauw, has left us…
The thing I remember most fondly about Murray Rauw is playing chess in the small hours of the morning, after we’d put the sports section to bed at the Winnipeg Tribune.
Swamp Dog and I would unwind from the grind by retreating to my modest dwelling on Leighton Avenue in East Kildonan, whereupon I would crack open the brown pops while he cracked open one of my many chess sets.
There’d be Beatles music playing in the background—on the down low since all others in the house were in slumber—and I would quietly sing along with the Fab Four while Swamp Dog contemplated a next misguided move that surely would lead to checkmate or stalemate. I sometimes wondered if my singing disturbed his thought process, but he never offered so much as a mumble in protest.
Swamp Dog seldom complained, although a small flap of fuss is how he earned his delightful nickname.
I was in the cockpit one night, laying out the Trib sports pages, while others wrote their stories, edited copy, wrote headlines, handled the phones and did rewrites. Swamp Dog, still reasonably new to staff, had two or three things on the go.
“Murray,” I said at one point, interrupting his work, “I need you to do something.”
“Me?” he yelped. “Me? I’m swamped!”
“You’re swamped?” I responded, snickering. “Let me tell you something about being swamped.”
I informed him how it worked in the Trib sports department. We were all multi-taskers, often expected to handle more than one beat on the same day. It was not uncommon for a select few of us to cover an event in the morning or afternoon, write our article, then design a six- or seven-page sports section that night. It made for long shifts, but it was an accepted part of the gig. Besides, most of us were young, full of P and V and eager to earn a “damn good stuff” from our sports editor, Jack Matheson.
“That’s okay,” I told Swamp Dog. “You just do what you’re doing. I’ll take care of the rest, because you’re swamped! You’re our Swamp Dog.”
Swamp Dog became a fabulous multi-tasker, skillfully covering everything from badminton to boxing to backing up Matty on the Blue Bombers beat, until Southam had the bad manners to stop the Trib presses for the final time in August 1980.
And now Swamp’s ticker has stopped.
Swamp Dog died last Sunday in Calgary, after a lengthy illness, and I spent much of the past week sifting through recollections of him and our cast of kooky characters at the Trib. (We would have made for a boffo sitcom.)
An unpretentious, fun guy, I can’t think of a former colleague who harbored a greater, more genuine appreciation for landing a sports writing gig than Swamp Dog. He was like a kid who sneaked in and out of the ice cream parlor every night without getting caught, and he never tried to hide his appreciation for his good fortune.
Swamp Dog made me laugh without trying. His eyeglasses, for example, were a trip. Back in the 1970s, they would sit at a 45-degree angle on the bridge of his nose, the large lenses plastered with very visible fingerprints from his constant but failed attempts to make the specs fit his face. His mustache drooped and would go months without a much-needed pruning. Then there was the day I learned he had tagged the lovely lady who would become his bride, Maureen, with the most unflattering of nicknames: Mush.
“Geez, Swamp, I don’t know many women who’d fancy being called Mush,” I said. “Doesn’t it bother Maureen?”
“Why would it?” he answered as if I had asked a very dumb question. “She’s my Mush.”
Once the Trib folded, both Swamp Dog and I found our way to Calgary, first him at the Herald and then myself at the Sun a couple years later. I didn’t know a soul, other than Swamp Dog, Maureen and the two people who had hired me. Swamp Dog promptly set me up to play slo-pitch on one of the city’s elite outfits, and he dragged me to his raquetball club. After our always-enjoyable matches, we’d sometimes retire to his home and Maureen would be kind enough to feed us.
Oddly enough, Swamp Dog and I never played another game of chess. I guess that was our Winnipeg thing. But we’d get together for some giggles, or he’d get serious on occasion and discuss his MS. He’d unfailingly inquire about my Uncle Dennis, who’d been confined to a wheelchair due to MS since I was a sprig.
After I left Calgary and returned to Good Ol’ Hometown, we seldom saw each other, basically when road assignments would take us to the Grey Cup, the Brier or Stanley Cup playoffs. The Canadian Football League and curling were his main beats, and he was among the best at both.
Foremost for me, though, are the personal recollections, and I smile at the memory of us shifting chess pieces across the board, his knight taking my rook or my bishop taking his queen. Eventually, one of us would notice the morning sun peeking through my living room drapes, and he’d take his leave.
Now Swamp Dog is gone permanently, but I’d say his sun is still shining—through Maureen and the kids, Josh and Cayley, and granddaughter Charlotte.
Rest easy, old friend.
The Grim Reaper has now fetched Matty, Swamp Dog, Gus Collins Uncle Vince Leah, and freelancers Harold Loster and Ronnie Meyers from our 1970s toy department at the Trib. And that’s not to forget photog Jon Thordarson, whom I always considered one of us. Those of us still drawing oxygen are in our 60s and 70s, or older, so Dave Komosky and I often wonder who’ll be next. My kidneys are suggesting it might be moi. If that’s how it shakes down, in lieu of flowers send laughter.
Big tip of the bonnet to Jennifer Jones, who’s now won more games at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts (159) than any curler. Ever. By the time she’s finished, Jen’s collection of Ws might be unbeatable, although I suppose Rachel Homan will have something to say about that. For now, though, Jen is the standard, and I say it’s only fitting and proper that someone from Winnipeg stands atop the heap. After all, Good Ol’ Hometown is the curling capital of the world, no matter what some folks in Alberta might want you to believe.
Is it just me, or does anyone else get the impression that the women at the Scotties have a whole lot more fun than the men at the Brier? Just saying.
Some people haven’t been impressed with the quality of play at the Scotties in Calgary. Too many flubbed shots. Iffy strategy. Well, what did you expect? I mean, they’d been away from the pebble for a year, and I’m guessing we’ll see a similar number of hairballs coughed up when the boys gather for the Brier at the end of this week.
Apparently it’s been so quiet at the fan-free Scotties that Saskatchewan skip Sherry Anderson says she “heard the toilet flush” while on the pebble the other day. But, hey, let’s not talk about the Montreal Canadiens.
I’m not saying the Habs’ hope for a successful crusade is down the toilet. If they can get rid of the imposter wearing Carey Price’s jersey, they might yet qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament. Then again, maybe O.J. will find the real killers.
Paul Stastny poached a goal from Twig Ehlers to give the Winnipeg Jets their 2-1 OT win over the Habs on Saturday night. You just don’t do that. It’s chintzy.
Let’s see if I’ve got this straight: Patrik Laine wanted first-line minutes skating alongside Rink Rat Scheifele, but Jets head coach Paul Maurice would have none of it. So they shipped him to Columbus. Now Pierre-Luc Dubois, the guy the Jets received in barter for Puck Finn, is getting first-line minutes skating alongside Scheifele. What am I missing here?
Dumb headline in the Winnipeg Sun: “Coach, teammates like new Jet Dubois.” Well, duh. What does anyone expect them to say? That he’s a sloth? Bring Patty back? Now that would be a story. The fact the Jets have warm-and-fuzzy feelings for the new kid in town isn’t newsworthy.
Good stuff from Mad Mike McIntyre in the Drab Slab on local Black shinny players who found their way to the upper levels of professional hockey. Among those he chatted with are Bill Riley and Ray Neufeld, one of the nicest men to wear Jets linen. It’s worth a look.
So why is it that I don’t believe Canadian Football League commish Randy Ambrosie when he tells us there’ll be Rouge Football this year, but I believe Winnipeg Blue Bombers CEO Wade Miller when he says the same thing? Maybe it’s because Wade transformed Winnipeg FC from a laughing stock into a Grey Cup champion, whereas Commish Randy couldn’t sell a spare tire to a guy with a flat.
Nice touch by TSN to serve up a Top 10 moments for Manitoba athletes last week. Except they should have consulted someone from the Keystone Province before revealing the list. There was no Clara Hughes collecting medals at both the Summer and Winter Olympics. There was no Donny Lalonde knocking Sugar Ray Leonard to the canvas. There was no George Knudson winning on the PGA Tour. There was no Bobby Clarke, the first captain of a National Hockey League expansion outfit to hoist the Stanley Cup. There was no Reggie Leach, scorer of 80 goals in the 1975-76 NHL season/playoffs. There was no Don Duguid going unbeaten to win consecutive world curling titles. No Jeff Stoughton. No University of Winnipeg Lady Wesmen hoops team winning 88 consecutive matches. But Anthony Coombs made the grade with a catch in a meaningless game for the Toronto Argos. Skeleton guy Jon Montgomery was featured drinking beer and pretending to be an auctioneer. Corey Koskie cracked the list for catching a foul ball in a game no one remembers. And Andrew Harris was featured running the ball for the B.C. Lions in a game no one remembers. Totally lame.
Shaquille O’Neal has taken some heat for his work as a TV analyst. It seems Shaq is unfamiliar with the first names of numerous National Basketball Association players, including Pascal Siakam of the Tranna Jurassics. “Oh, I never knew his first name,” Shaq confessed in a panel natter with Ernie Johnson in a recent NBA on TNT broadcast. I guess that makes Siakam the ultimate player to be named later.
Tim and Sid are no more. Well, okay Tim is still Micaleff and Sid is still Seixeiro, but they’re no longer Tim & Sid, after 17 years together on Sportsnet. Sid’s next gig is Breakfast Television in the Republic of Tranna and, given his penchant for goofing around, the show might become known as Dog’s Breakfast Television. Tim & Sid was sometimes-see TV for me, never must-see TV, but you don’t last that long without doing something right. Having said that, Tim drew a parallel between he and Sid breaking up and Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David parting ways. Uh, no. You don’t want to go there, man.
I’ve long admired James Duthie’s work on TSN. Who hasn’t? He’s witty, clever, knowledgeable and doesn’t take himself seriously. And he’s done it all without perfect hair and perfect teeth.
But when he waxed on about Tiger Woods last week…well, let’s just say he was showing his age.
“There’s not another…he’s the most famous athlete of our lives,” Duthie said of Woods in a squawk with Rod Smith. “Maybe you can make an argument Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, but there has been no more fascinating, complex character in sport in our lives.”
Good grief. Tom Brady is about as complex as Grade 1 arithmetic. He throws a football, wins the Super Bowl, then paints the town bland. The most fascinating thing he’s ever done is get drunk and hurl the Lombardi Trophy from one boat to another. Jordan? Best hoops player ever. Full stop.
Duthie wants fascinating and complex? Let me introduce him to Muhammad Ali, the boxer once known as Cassius Clay.
There were more layers to Ali than an onion. Let’s start with the name change, the Nation of Islam and the shift to Sunni Islam. Let’s talk about political activism and civil rights. Let’s talk about the U.S. government taking away his livelihood and untold millions of dollars for 3½ years because he refused to travel across the world to kill people in Vietnam. Let’s talk about his willingness to go behind bars rather than spray bullets. Let’s talk about the anger and hostility, then the warm admiration, of a nation. Let’s talk about a unanimous victory in the Supreme Court. Let’s talk about the Grammy nominations. Let’s talk about the movies and the Broadway musical. Let’s talk about whimsy, doggerel and rapping before rap was a thing. Let’s talk about the campus speaking tours. Let’s talk about the battle with Parkinson’s. Let’s talk about winning the world heavyweight title three times when it actually meant something. Let’s talk about the Rumble in the Jungle and the Thrilla in Manila. Let’s talk about media savvy. Let’s talk about showmanship and the oversized personality. Let’s talk about the multiple marriages and infidelities. Let’s talk about the irony of being meaner and more cruel to Black boxers than white fist-fighters.
Duthie is 54, which means he missed the opening act of the theatre that was Ali. He can’t relate to the Vietnam War or the civil rights movement of the 1960s, just as those who weren’t there when John Paul, George and Ringo invaded America can’t truly understand and appreciate Beatlemania.
But when he speaks of “our lives,” I have to assume that includes myself and those of my vintage.
Tiger Woods is arguably the finest to ever strike a dimpled ball. We marveled at his wizardry, how he would make the best in the game wither before they even teed it up on a Thursday. He was fascinating to watch. Gobsmackingly so. But whereas Ali allowed us inside his world, Woods tried to keep most everyone out. Except his many mistresses.
Other than his genius at golf, we knew nothing of Woods the person until caught with his trousers down and the tabloids exposed him as a raging philanderer. And, of course, he’s made headlines for getting behind the wheel of a luxury vehicle when it wasn’t wise. But cheating on your spouse and reckless driving hardly makes one fascinating or complex. It makes him one of a million guys.
So let’s put it this way: Given one word to describe Tiger Woods, it would be “golf.” Given one word to describe Muhammad Ali, it would be…sorry, can’t do it in one word. He was too fascinating and complex.
And, finally, looks like this will be a pizza-and-pebble day, because I’m hitting the couch and won’t budge until either Jen Jones or Kerri Einarson has (hopefully) won the Scotties Tournament of Hearts this evening.
Rather than the usual Sunday morning smorgas-bored, I give you the top 50-plus movers and shakers in Good Ol’ Hometown over the past half century.
This isn’t one of those hum-drum, greatest-athlete lists. We’re talking positive impact, what a sports figure did to enhance the local sporting landscape, whether that meant the wow factor of Teemu Selanne’s 76-goal rookie season or Harvey Warner keeping the ponies at a full gallop out at Assiniboia Downs.
And, while our play-for-pay jocks tend to gobble up the big headlines on a day-to-day basis, it’s often the owners and managers and coaches and administrators who make things happen when we aren’t staring at the scoreboard, and that also means our amateur playing fields, where we have a rich tradition of magnificence and the impact has been significant.
So here’s the list of the 50-plus most-impactful movers and shakers in Winnipeg sports dating back to 1970, and I should warn you that this list includes jock journos, because once upon a time before the Internet, 24-hour TV and social media, there was a gadget called the radio. Not every game was televised or live streamed. We needed our newspapers and radios to take us to the action.
One final note: Remember, this is only one person’s opinion, so don’t get your knickers in a twist if you don’t see the name of one of your faves.
1. Ben Hatskin: Well, this is the ultimate no-brainer. It’s like naming Pope Francis to an all-Catholic team. I mean, Benny didn’t just bring the Winnipeg Jets and the World Hockey Association to Good Ol’ Hometown in 1972, he hijacked Bobby Hull from the Chicago Blackhawks in a shocking coup that reshaped the shinny landscape. Without Benny’s derring-do, there would have been no National Hockey League Jets 1.0 and no Jets 2.0.
2. Mark Chipman: The Puck Pontiff filled the void left by the 1996 departure of the Jets to Arizona, but his Manitoba Moose of the International Hockey League and the American Hockey League were just the appetizer. Aided by billionaire David Thomson’s bulging bankroll, there was an NHL rebirth in River City in 2011, with the Atlanta Thrashers moving north. Oh, and did I mention that along the way Chipman and Thomson built a downtown arena?
3. Bobby Hull: The Golden Jet informed Hatskin and the other WHA renegade owners that it would take $1 million dollars for him to leave the Blackhawks and pull on a Jets jersey in ’72. Done deal. The Hull signing legitimized the WHA, and other top-level players soon followed. And, remember, Robert Marvin was also part of the ownership group that took the Jets into the NHL.
4. Michael Gobuty/Barry Shenkarow: I know, I know. Michael is the guy who let Wayne Gretzky get away. Mook. But don’t hold that against him. Michael and his ownership group kept the Jets afloat in the late 1970s, allowing for one final, rewarding whirl in the WHA by purchasing the contracts of a group of Houston Aeros, including Terry Ruskowski, Morris Lukowich, Rich Preston and Scott Campbell. He also recruited John Bowie Ferguson, and Michael offered a loud and influential voice in the NHL’s decision to absorb the Jets and three other WHA franchises in 1979. As for Barry, talk about shooting the messenger. By the time the whole thing went south for Jets 1.0, he was front man for the ownership group that sold the club to American buyers, who then loaded up the truck and bugged out to Arizona, lock, stock and jock. So Barry became the fall guy. But it’s a bad rap. No locals were willing to dig into their deep pockets to purchase the franchise and lose millions of dollars every year, so he/they really had no choice.
5. Cal Murphy: Cantankerous, curmudgeonly and very funny, Cal ruled the Winnipeg Blue Bombers roost with an iron fist from 1983-96, as either head coach or general manager. Along the way, there were three Grey Cup championships, one heart transplant, and one human rights kerfuffle over female news snoops in the locker room. He also brought the Grey Cup game to Good Ol’ Hometown for the first time, and became a vocal advocate for organ donations. Today there’s a pigeon perch of Kindly Cal outside Football Follies Field In Fort Garry.
6. Wade Miller: The leader of the Canadian Mafia inherited a Sad Sack, laughing stock-level Bombers team and the longest title drought in the Canadian Football League when he was anointed CEO in 2013. He was more like the CE-D’oh! in the early years, but Wade ignored the wolves howling at his door and stuck by his fellow hosers, GM Kyle Walters and sideline steward Mike O’Shea. Today the Bombers reign as Grey Cup champions, with money in the bank, and only the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed Miller down.
7. Dr. Gerry Wilson/Billy Robinson/Don Baizley: No North American shinny side tapped into the European hockey market as swiftly, deeply and as eagerly as the Jets, and it was this trio of forward-thinkers that brought the first wave of Scandinavians to Good Ol’ Hometown in the mid-1970s. Dr. Wilson caught the first glimpse of Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson and alerted Robinson, the Jets main bird dog. Robby scampered across the big pond to Sweden and liked what he saw, signing both players pronto. Lars-Erik Sjoberg and Curt Larsson came along for the ride, and player agent Baizley took them under his wing. Championship parades ensued.
8. Anders/Ulf/the Shoe: It’s no exaggeration to suggest Anders and Ulf revolutionized the game once in partnership with Hull. They made magic with their swashbuckling, freestyle frolicking on the local freeze, but it was Sjoberg—the Shoe—who stirred the drink from the back end. Together, they dominated the WHA and—damn them!—also provided Glen Sather with the blueprint for his Edmonton Oilers dynasty of the 1980s.
9. John Ferguson: So, here’s the irony—he was the cad who lured the ultra-popular Hedberg and Nilsson away from Portage and Main to make them stars on Broadway, then the Rangers fired Fergy and he joined the Jets to oversee their final WHA title and aid the entry into the NHL. Go figure. Full of bluster and occasional rage, Fergy made certain that life around the Jets camp was never boring, which sometimes meant kicking holes in walls and dumping buckets of ice on the opposing team’s bench. As Jets GM, he assembled a string of formidable NHL outfits during the 1980s, even if he couldn’t quite get them over the hump. Stars like Dale Hawerchuk, Teemu Selanne, David Babych, Thomas Steen and Dave Christian were drafted during his watch, and we won’t talk about Jimmy Mann.
10. Clara Hughes: When they name parks, playgrounds and schools in your honor, and when they put your pic on a postage stamp, you know you’ve done something right. Clara is a two-sport Olympian—speed skating and cycling—and the only athlete in history to win multiple medals in both the Summer and Winter Games. But it’s her advocacy on behalf of mental health and children’s sports/recreation that makes Clara truly impactful. She’s a leading voice in the Bell Let’s Talk campaign, and she’s donated/raised many thousands of dollars for various causes.
11. Cindy Klassen: She has as many shiny Olympic trinkets as Clara Hughes (six), including one gold medal, so Clara’s two-sport bona fides is all that separates the two world champion speed skaters.
12. Chris Walby: If ever there’s been a larger-than-life athlete, it was Bluto—all 6-feet, 7-inches and 300-plus pounds of him (give or take a Big Mac and a six pack). Bluto grabbed grass and growled for the Bombers from 1981-96, collecting three Grey Cup rings, nine CFL all-star nods, two top O-lineman awards, and a bust in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. But it wasn’t just what he did on the field and his size that made Bluto stand out. He was among the great characters in Rouge Football, a good-time Charlie and a deliverer of delicious quotes. No surprise he became a talking head on CBC’s football coverage, even if English sometimes seemed to be his second language.
13. Dale Hawerchuk: He came to the Jets as a freshly scrubbed 18-year-old from Cornwall, and much was expected of Ducky. He delivered. Winnipeg HC went from the free space on the NHL’s bingo card to the best shinny outfit this side of the Edmonton Gretzkys, and Ducky was the centrepiece.
14. Jennifer Jones: The only thing Jennifer hasn’t won is the Brier, and that’s only because the boys won’t let her play. There’s never been a finer female curler in our country, even if some in Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia might want to point to Sandra Schmirler and Colleen Jones and debate the issue. Well, let ’em hash it out. We know they’re wrong.
15. Jill Officer: It will be interesting to monitor how Jennifer gets along without Jill throwing second stones. They were together almost as long as Mick and Keith, but Officer retreated from competitive curling in 2018. Jill’s haul is the same as Jen’s: An Olympic gold, two world championships and six Scotties titles in her trophy case. Also one park named in her honor.
16. Teemu Selanne: Like Anders and Ulf, the Finnish Flash wasn’t in Good Ol’ Hometown for a long time, but it sure was a good time. Those 76 goals in his freshman NHL crusade had the burg in a buzz, and it’s a record that will stand as long as there are frozen ponds for kids to skate on. Teemu might have been the most popular Jet ever, give or take Ducky.
17. Don Duguid: The Digit toddled off to two world curling championships as a skip and never lost a game. Yup, 17-0. Dugie then thought it would be a swell idea to go on TV and tell the rest of us how to curl, which he did for 29 years until someone at the CBC had a brain fart and let him go. And just the other day he was made a member of the Order of Canada for his wonderful work as a curler and teacher of the game.
18. Ray Turnbull: His friends called him Moosie, and he had scads of friends in and beyond the curling community. A true visionary, Moosie’s impact began at the Mother Club on Granite Way, but his influence spread across the globe when he buddied up with Don Duguid for instructional clinics to curling curious nations beginning in the 1970s. So he’s largely to blame for the rest of the world catching up to us on pebbled ice. A broadcasting icon with TSN from 1984 to 2010, Moosie coached no fewer than 17 world champions.
19. Frank McKinnon: Those who knew him best would probably tell us that Frank never slept, because he didn’t have time for zzzzzzs. How busy was he? Let me count the ways: Five years president and 20 years on the executive board of Hockey Manitoba; 10 years commissioner of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League; founding father of the Centennial Cup tournament and the inaugural World Junior championship; first chairman of the board of Hockey Canada; two years director Sports Federation of Canada; four years vice-president Canadian Olympic Association; founding member of the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association. Frank was based in Carman, but he spent enough time in Good Ol’ Hometown to qualify for this list.
20. Donny Lalonde: The Golden Boy was in the ring with Sugar Ray. Yes, that Sugar Ray, as in Leonard. He even put the boxing legend on the canvas—one of only two men to do so—scoring a fourth-round knockdown in their 1988 bout at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Alas, Sugar Ray ruled the day, battering Lalonde about the ears in the ninth round and scoring a TKO. But it’s enough that the Golden Boy went from working out in the old firehall gym on Talbot Avenue in Elmwood to champion of the boxing world’s light heavyweights.
21.Jeff Stoughton: It’s easier to break out of jail than win the Manitoba men’s curling championship, but Jeff wore the Buffalo on his back 11 times. Crazy, man. A two-time world champion and three times the best at the Brier, Jeff also has two Canadian Mixed titles on his resume. Once he retired his tuck delivery and his spinorama showtime shtick, he took to coaching and administration, first helping Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris strike gold in Mixed Doubles at the Seoul Olympics, and he’s now coach and program manager for the national men’s team.
22. Coleen Dufresne: When you spend 17 years coaching and another 15 as athletic director at the University of Manitoba, you’ve had an impact on more young people than you can count. Coleen, who wore the Maple Leaf as a player at the 1976 Olympic Games, coached U of M Bisons women’s basketball teams to three national championships and five Great Plains Athletic Conference titles. She is a member of the Basketball Manitoba Hall of Fame in three categories—builder, coach and player—and the Canada West Hall of Fame.
23. Garth Pischke: Tom Hanks talked to a volleyball in the movies, but Garth made people talk volleyball in real life. Nobody put the W in the word “win” like Garth. He won a staggering 1,353 games in his 38 seasons as mastermind of the U of M Bisons men’s volleyball team, losing just 414 times. Chew on that and digest it—1,353-414. Who does that? Only Pischke, the winningest coach in collegiate V-ball history, on either side of the border. A two-time Olympian and six-time MVP at the Nationals as a player, Garth coached the Bisons to nine national titles and was named the Manitoba amateur athlete of the 20th century.
24. Brian Dobie: If this was just about being a nice guy, the U of M Bisons football coach would be at, or near, the top of the heap. Lovely man. He’s been sideline steward of the Herd since 1996, a gig that came on the heels of a 21-year watch with Churchill Bulldogs in high school grid. Do the math. Coach Dobie has been impacting the lives of teenagers and young men for close to half a century. Oh, and he’s also a five-time Canada West coach-of-the-year and a USports coach-of-the-year, plus he brought the Vanier Cup to the Fort Garry campus in 2007.
25. Vic Pruden: There was no women’s or men’s intercollegiate basketball program at the University of Winnipeg (nee United College) until Vic came along, so all the hoops glory stems from there. The annual Wesmen Classic was Vic’s brain child, ditto the Fort Garry Invitational. The Wesmen Classic became such a landmark event that it had to be shuffled from Riddell Hall to the Winnipeg Arena, and was televised nationally. Vic was also founder and first president of the Manitoba Basketball Coaches’ Association.
26. Coach Tom Kendall/University of Winnipeg Lady Wesmen: Few took notice of women’s hoops back in the day, but then along came coach Kendall and his fabulous University of Winnipeg Lady Wesmen who, from October 1992 to November 1994, never lost a game. Eighty-eight teams tried to topple them, and 88 teams failed. Even fabled UCLA coach John Wooden was talking about the Lady Wesmen. Under Kendall’s watch, the Lady Ws went 101-2, with three national titles.
27. Coach Mike Burchuk/U of W Lady Wesmen volleyball team: The U of W women’s hoopsters received the 250-point newspaper headlines for their 88-game winning streak, but the women on the volleyball court trumped them with 123 consecutive Ws from January 1987 to January 1989. That included a 58-0 record in 1987-88 and, along the way, the ladies won six consecutive national titles and beat the NCAA champion Texas Longhors and a pro team, the Minnesota Monarchs.
28. Jennifer Botterill: It should be enough to say that Jennifer is the only female player ever inducted into the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame, but we’ll also mention that she’s a three-time Olympic champion, five times a world champion, two times the Patty Kazmaier Award winner as the top player in U.S. women’s college hockey, twice the MVP at the world championship, and she once had an 80-game scoring streak (beat that, Connor McDavid!). If young girls are looking for a role model, Jen’s it.
29. Paul Robson: Can a sports list be complete without a guy named Mad Dog on it? We think not. So come on down, Mad Dog Robson, architect of the Winnipeg Football Club’s return to glory in the 1980s, a Lazarus-like rebirth that included the 1984 Grey Cup championship crusade, the first in 22 years. His handiwork as assistant GM/GM included going stealth to lure Chris Walby out of Montreal, hiring Cal Murphy as sideline steward, and engineering the Dieter Brock-for-Tom Clements trade. Paul was also once publisher of the Winnipeg Sun, but we won’t penalize him for that.
30. Harvey Warner: It’s probably safe to say the ponies wouldn’t be galloping at Assiniboia Downs if not for Harvey and his Manitoba Jockey Club. Harvey is a founding father and current president of the MJC, which took possession of the Downs in 1993. It’s never been an easy ride for Harvey and cohorts like Darren Dunn and Sharon Gulyas out at the racing oval on the western edge of Good Ol’ Hometown, but they’ve managed to keep the barns open and the horses fed and watered. So, yes, the reins have been in the right man’s hands for 27 years.
31. Mike Riley: When Leo Durocher coined the phrase “nice guys finish last,” he certainly wasn’t thinking of a guy like Mike Riley. Aside from bringing the Grey Cup home twice in his four years as sideline steward of the Bombers, Mike might be the most decent man to ever coach a pro team in Good Ol’ Hometown (John Paddock would be second in line), and that counts for something on my scorecard.
32. Milt Stegall: The Turtle Man would be higher on this list, except for one thing—every time I look at his hands, I don’t see any Grey Cup rings. For all his personal accomplishments—all-time TD leader in CFL history with 147 and a Most Outstanding Player award—the Bombers had just four winning seasons in his 14 crusades. No player ever looked better while mostly losing, though, and he’d be the first to tell you that. Milt continues to be a Bombers booster as one of the gab guys on TSN’s CFL coverage, and that’s always a good thing.
33. Sam Katz: Full disclosure—I’m not fond of Sammy. I think him to be a snake oil salesman. If he told me today is Sunday, I’d double check the calendar. But he brought professional baseball back to Good Ol’ Hometown, and the Winnipeg Goldeyes frolic in a beautiful, downtown ballyard thanks to Sammy.
34. Andy Van Hellemond: Whistleblowers don’t always get respect, but Andy Van did. The kid weaned on the frozen ponds of Isaac Brock was, arguably, the best man to ever pull on a striped shirt, and he was also a trend-setter, becoming the first on-ice official to wear a helmet, in 1984. The NHL made lids mandatory for the zebras four years later (a grandfather clause allowed some to officiate sans head protection until 2006-07). Andy Van refereed 1,475 regular season games, 227 in the playoffs and 19 Stanley Cup finals, all records. He was named Manitoba’s referee-of-the-century.
35. Sylvia Burka: Before Clara Hughes and Cindy Klassen and Susan Auch, there was Sylvia Burka, three times a world speed skating champion. She has held over 40 Canadian speedskating records, and once set a world indoor cycling mark at one kilometer. She won 12 national cycling titles. But her true legacy can be found in the skate marks she left for others to follow.
36. Dawn McEwen: I suppose you could say Dawn is to Team Jennifer Jones what Ringo Starr was to the Beatles. She seems content in the background while Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer and Cathy Overton-Clapham attracted most of the attention, but without her lead stones and robust sweeping they wouldn’t have become the finest female outfit in Canadian curling history. Dawn has an Olympic gold medal, two world titles and five Scotties crowns in her trophy case, so don’t even think of her as a spare part.
37. Kaitlyn Lawes: She branched out from throwing third stones for Jennifer Jones to strike Olympic gold with John Morris in the debut of mixed doubles at the Winter Olympic Games. So she has a nice collection of two gold trinkets, a world championship and a Scotties title.
38. Susan Auch: Although never making it to the top level of the Olympic podium, Susan made speed skating front page news in Good Ol’ Hometown with two silver medals and a bronze in the Winter Games, three gold in World Cup racing in 1995, three Manitoba athlete-of-the-year honors and a Canadian athlete-of-the-year salute. There’s a Susan Auch Oval out at the Cindy Klassen Recreation Complex and a Susan Auch Park in Transcona, and she’s now CEO of Speed Skating Canada.
39. Troy Westwood/David Asper: Board member Asper came up with the concept and gave the Banjo Bowl it’s name, but it was the spinoff of a quote from Ol’ Lefty, the former Bombers place-kicker who, in an interview prior to a 2003 playoff skirmish, called Saskatchewan Roughriders fans “a bunch of banjo-picking inbreds.” Much caterwauling from the Flattest of Lands ensued, and the Banjo Bowl was born in 2004. It’s the most-anticipated event on the local sports calendar every year, and it’s been strictly SRO since 2005. When he wasn’t trash talking Flatlanders, Ol’ Lefty was hoofing more field goals (617) and more points (2,745) than anyone in Bombers history.
40. Connie Laliberte: They called her the Ice Queen, but underneath that cucumber-cool exterior burned a competitive bonfire. Connie gave every female curler in Manitoba something to aim for when she became the first Buffalo Girl to win the world crown, in 1984. She also won three Scotties titles and today is the high performance director for Curl Manitoba.
41. Sandy Riley: The former sailor (1976 Olympic Games) and former president of the Manitoba Sports Federation served as chair of Winnipeg’s 1999 Pan American Games, an event that helped revive the sagging spirit of a city that had lost its NHL franchise only three years earlier. As a bonus, it attracted the attention of Ol’ Cigar Breath, Cuban strongman Fidel Castro, who used his Revolution Day address to go on a mini-rant about mysterious “traps and tricks and schemes and filth” that encouraged his athletes to clamber over the wall to freedom. Cuban defectors aside, the Pan Ams were an artistic and financial success. More latterly, the Riley family donated $500,000 toward construction of the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame.
42. Dayna Spiring: It doesn’t matter that Dayna wasn’t on the receiving end of any passes, nor did she hoof any field goals or tackle any running backs. The lady was a champ in her first year as Chair of the Blue Bombers board of directors, and she became the first woman to have her name engraved on the Grey Cup. For young girls and women, that makes her Dayna Inspiring.
43. Desiree Scott: A former star and coach with the U of M Bisons, the lady they call The Destroyer joined our national women’s soccer side in 2010, and she’s now just one of five to have earned 150 caps. Along the way, she’s collected two Olympic bronze medals and participated in three World Cup tournaments. Away from the competitive pitch, Desiree is heavily involved with soccer camps for KidSport and she’s an ambassador for the Homeless World Cup.
44. Bill Wedlake: A head coach for 32 years, first at St. John’s High where he won two provincial titles, then 16 years at the U of W, Bill was also athletic director at the downtown campus for eight years. A co-founder of the Winnipeg Invitational tournament, he’s written three books on coaching and is a former president of the National Association of Basketball Coaches.
45. Mo Glimcher: If you think it’s tough dealing with teenagers these days, consider Mo Glimcher’s gig—he had 30,000-40,000 kids under foot every year between 1975 and 2016. Mo retired after 41 years as Executive Director of the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association, and I’d say he’s earned a master’s degree in babysitting.
46. Bob Picken: There are three major sports operatives in Good Ol’ Hometown—the Jets, the Blue Bombers, and curling. Yes, curling. Our Pebble People don’t make the big bucks like the Jets and Bombers, but they don’t want for media exposure, due in large part to jock journos like Pick. Pebble People have never known a better media friend than Pick, whose magnificent pipes blessed the airwaves of CJOB, CKY and the CBC for half a century. He played the game, served as president of the Manitoba Curling Association, worked with both the Canadian Curling Association and the World Curling Federation, and there’s a bonspiel at the Thistle named in his honor. Pick made certain that curling was never back-page news or filler at the end of a sportscast.
47. Jack Matheson: Admittedly, there’s bias in this choice, because Matty gave me my start at the Winnipeg Tribune, but his sassy and brassy sports column was the only absolute must-read in town during the 1970s. And when Furnaceman fired him up for his daily rants on CJOB, it was must-listening. Matty set an incredibly high bar as a sports scribe, and no one has come close to reaching it since the Trib folded.
48. Friar Nicolson: There’s no way of knowing how many young men and women went into broadcasting because of the curmudgeonly Friar, but I’d suggest the number is closer to 50 than one. The longtime play-by-play voice of the Jets, Friar is the man who lured Knuckles Irving to CJOB in 1973, and he also gave one-time do-everything CKY/CTV voice Peter Young his start in the gab game. That’s serious impact.
49. Bob Irving: When Knuckles became the voice of the Blue Bombers, Don Jonas and Chuck Ealey were the starting QBs and Dieter Brock was a little-known rookie who answered to the name Ralph. Bud Riley was the head coach, and there have been 14 more since Knuckles moved in behind the mic. So he goes back some, and he’s still going. At least he was until COVID-19 interrupted regularly schedule play-by-play. We assume (hope) the well-liked and highly respected Knuckles will be back for a 46th season once the pandemic is in the rear-view mirror.
50. Don Wittman: How versatile was Witt? Well, we know he covered the CFL and the NHL and tennis and the Olympics and world-class track and top-flight curling during close to half a century with the CBC, but he also broadcast cricket. Ya, cricket. Witt traveled the globe and was on site to call the Ben Johnson race in Seoul and Donovan Bailey in Atlanta, but home base was always Winnipeg.