Let’s talk about the NFL Hole of Fame Game…a fist-fighting farce…a snake-oil salesman…welcome to Alberta…Tebow of the North…QBs by the numbers…and Coach Grunge hits the century mark

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and now they know how many holes it takes to fix an NFL field…

Did it really happen? Were the Green Bay Packers and Oakland Raiders really in Good Ol’ Hometown for a National Football League dress rehearsal last Thursday?

Well, yes, they were.

Aaron Rodgers: Good day, eh.

We know this for certain because there were sightings and photographic evidence to confirm the existence and presence of Aaron Rodgers, who apparently was separated from Borat at birth and looked positively hoser-ish in his Canadian Tuxedo.

Coo-roo-coo-coo-coo-coo-coo-coo! Good day, eh.

Mind you, I thought Rodgers was a bit too much of a denim dude. The jeans and jacket were fine, and the bolo tie was a boffo accessory, but he should have gone with a lumberjack shirt to complete the ensemble. Take it from a fashionista, overdoing denim is never a good look. On the red carpet or strolling through Osborne Village.

Anyway, a garment glitch aside, Rodgers was meant to be the star attraction in an exhibition of faux football between two storied four-down franchises at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry, but I’m sure you know by now that the Pro Bowl quarterback was one of 33 Packers no-shows. That’s right, 33 scratches. Sounds like a bad case of hemorrhoids.

Perhaps that’s fitting, though, since River City has become the butt of jokes.

To wit: How could the NFL tell it was in Winnipeg? They found potholes.

In re-configuring a Canadian Football League playground (110 yards with 20-yard end zones) to meet NFL dimensions (100 yards with 10-yard end zones), removal of CFL goal posts was required and, apparently, no one with the NFL thought to toss a few shovelfuls of good, rich prairie dirt into the holes left behind. Instead, they plopped something that looked like a swath of Austin Powers’ discarded shag carpeting on top and expected the boys to “Play on!” The Packers would have none of that. “No way, baby,” they squawked. Thus the pothole patches were ruled hazardous to the wellness of millionaire footballers and shrinkage ensued. Rather than frolic on their regulation-size grid, the large lads had to make do on an 80-yard pitch with makeshift end zones.

I’m not sure if the shrinkage was a salute to our metric system or the U.S.-Canada currency exchange rate, but it made for the kind of farce you’d find on Fawlty Towers.

Difference is, Fawlty Towers is funny, this wasn’t.

But, hey, it will forever be known as the NFL Hole of Fame game, and I suppose that’s something to shout about. Or not.

Watching the events unfold on TSN, it reminded me of another time and another place and another show fraught with farce. It was the night of Dec. 11, 1981, and Muhammad Ali was to meet Trevor Berbick in the main event of a calamitous fight card on a parched patch of earth in Nassau, The Bahamas. Before the first punch was thrown, someone discovered there was no official timer, no ringside bell to signal the start and end of each round, and only two pairs of boxing mitts. For the entire card. Promoters dispatched a man to Miami with instructions to return with fresh gloves for the Ali-Berbick bout, a stopwatch was located, and a TV crew loaned organizers a cow bell. In-ring hostilities began more than two hours late and, eventually, Berbick earned a unanimous decision for thoroughly boxing Ali’s ears over 10 rounds. Ali never fought again and, even though the card commenced on Dec. 11, none of us filed our final copy until Dec. 12. One wise acre on press row awarded the event the No Bell Prize for boxing. We laughed and agreed.

John Graham holding court.

The villain in the Gaffe-O-Rama that was the NFL experience in River City appears to be John Graham, mouthpiece for On Ice Entertainment. He didn’t have a clue about his market, hence the $75-$340 (plus taxes/fees) sticker prices and the insulting PR prattle that implied Pegtowners are backwater bumpkins who don’t know moonshine from a Slurpee. “It’s a premier event,” Graham gushed the day before they discovered the potholes. “In musical terms, it’s like the Rolling Stones or U2 type of thing.” Ya, for sure, John. Take away Mick, Keith, Bono and The Edge and it was just like that.

They tell us that 21,992 bought the snake oil that Graham was selling, but I believe that like I believe the cow really did jump over the moon. Based on what I saw on TSN, Football Follies Field was a glass half empty. Naturally, Graham pointed an accusing finger at news snoops, because that’s what some PR flacks tend to do when their face hits the floor. He whinged to Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun about “very biased articles” and “things that aren’t accurate,” then attempted to have Freezer banned from the press perch. What a tool.

My favorite headline on the NFL Hole of Fame Game was delivered by the Washington Post: “Canadians are very politely not buying tickets to the Packers-Raiders game in Winnipeg.”

A.J. Cole

Much was made of Raiders punter A.J. Cole wearing a t-shirt with the words “Winnipeg, Alberta” pasted across the front. Alberta only wishes it was so.

Cole was thoughtful enough to offer a mea culpa for his geographical goof-up, so I say we cut the guy some slack. Come to think of it, Cole has a degree in Industrial Engineering from North Carolina State. What, no one thought to ask him to come up with a better solution to the goal post/pothole problem than an 80-yard football field?

By the way, those “Winnipeg, Alberta” t-shirts and hoodies are available from TeeChip on the Internet. They come in sizes S-XXXXXXL and nine colors. I’m not saying I endorse them, but they might make a good gag gift for family and friends unfortunate enough to live in Wild Rose Country.

When the Packers-Raiders skirmish was announced, Winnipeg Blue Bombers CEO Wade Miller described it as a “once in a lifetime experience.” After Thursday, I’d say that sounds about right.

Chris Streveler

Moving on to football with a rouge, if you’ve ever wondered what Tim Tebow might have looked like in the CFL, Chris Streveler provided a hint on Friday night in E-Town.

Pretty he ain’t, not at all like Trevor Harris, his counterpart with the Eskimos who usually looks like the ‘after’ part of a Tide commercial. You know, all spiffy, fresh and clean. Streveler, on the other hand, is kind of like Mike O’Shea, his head coach with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Grungy. With a game to match his scruffy chin whiskers.

Going by the QB numbers on Friday, Streveler had no business beating the Eskimos 34-28 in a West Division top-dog throw-down at Commonwealth Stadium. Harris flung the football for 430 yards and a touchdown, Streveler 89 on just seven completions and zero scores. But they don’t give the guy operating a wrecking ball marks for artistic impression, and that’s the way it is with some quarterbacks.

Tim Tebow

Guys like Harris are a candy store. Streveler is a hardware store, full of nuts and bolts and wrenches and all manner of heavy-metal gadgets. He’s Tebow of the North. Tebow with a toque. It’s all about the legs and smash-mouth with the neophyte QB, subbing for wounded starter Matt Nichols.

Streveler crash-banged his way to one Tebowesque TD and set up another with a 30-yard Tebowesque boogie, and small DBs and safeties across the CFL landscape better get used to the idea of being the bug rather than the windshield for the next month-plus while Nichols is in the repair shop.

You know what the narrative would be today had it been Nichols tossing the rock for just 89 yards, don’t you? That’s right, even in victory, the rabble would be breaking out the pitch forks and putting a match to torches.

Trevor Harris

That old bromide “statistics are for losers” certainly applies to the quarterbacks in the two Winnipeg-E-Town skirmishes this season. Here are the numbers:
Trevor Harris       61/94   775 yds.
Nichols/Streveler 20/38   289 yds.

Sean Whyte of the Eskimos hoofed 14 field goals v. Winnipeg FC, so why would I still rather have Justin Medlock doing my three-point kicking in a big game?

A quick thought on Willie Jefferson, the holy terror who most often lines up at defensive end for the Bombers: Exactly what part of Jefferson did the Saskatchewan Roughriders not like? Seriously. Gang Green let this guy get away? I’m pretty sure when Trevor Harris brushed his hair after Friday’s game, Jefferson fell out. 

I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking Glen Suitor would be a much better broadcaster if he actually knew what was in the CFL rule book. Just saying.

Speaking of Suitor and the squawk boxes on TSN, here are a couple of juicy snippets from Kirk Penton’s latest offering of sound bites from CFL GMs, coaches and suits in The Athletic:

* “They were down 10-0 in the first quarter, and Suitor said the Lions are improved. I’ve gained 20 pounds since training camp. Too many desserts and too many late-night chips. But if Suitor says the Lions are improved, guess I can tell my wife that the fatter me is improved too.”

* “We (coaches) respect Matt Nichols more than you media guys do. When the Bombers lose the next three without him, you’ll see why coaches are smarter than newspaper guys and talking heads.”

Mike O’Shea

And, finally, never thought I would mention Mike O’Shea, Bud Grant and Cal Murphy in the same sentence, but Coach Grunge has joined the Bombers coaching legends in a very exclusive club—the only Winnipeg FC sideline stewards to work 100 regular-season games. O’Shea hit the century mark on Friday night in the E-Town rain, and I thought someone would have made a big deal out of the milestone. Trouble is, a lot of folks still aren’t sold on Coach Grunge, and they won’t be until he brings the Grey Cup back to Good Ol’ Hometown, like Bud (four times) and Cal (once) did. Still, 100 games is a noteworthy achievement, and there’s a boatload of us who didn’t think O’Shea would last this long.

About the Lords of Rinks and Drinks…Paul Gowsell curling under the influence of pizza…teetotaler Jeff Stoughton…Puck Finn and PlayStation…Dave Hodge shows his baby blues…so long Satch Maloney…the CFLPA d’oh boys…Dave Dickenson the Mea Culpa Man…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored from someone who’s never been too drunk to curl…

I cannot recall my curling baptism with any deep level of clarity.

I do, however, have foggy recollections of E.D. Smith jam pails filled with poured concrete awkwardly skimming along a bumpy sheet of ice in the far corner of the St. Alphonsus schoolyard, where we had been instructed to assemble for our first misadventures of the hurry-hard culture.

None of us were too drunk to curl that day. The Sisters of St. Joseph saw to that.

There was a lengthy list of things those strap-wielding nun/teachers frowned upon during my formative years, and Grades 1 and 2 sprigs getting blotto-faced before sliding from a makeshift hack on a makeshift curling rink surely was high on their registry of restrictions. Boozing it up wasn’t something a good Catholic kid did. At least not until Grade 8.

So, yes, all of us urchins were as sober as nuns that day as we bundled up and stepped outside into the Arctic-like embrace of an unyielding Winnipeg winter.

And let the record show this: It was the only day I ever curled without beer being involved.

Thus it was with wry amusement that I’ve read the reaction(s) to the booze-fueled shenanigans of our curlers last weekend in Red Deer, the Alberta burg caught between a rock (Calgary) and a hard place (Edmonton).

Ryan (Small) Fry

If you came in late, the World Curling Tour’s Red Deer Classic was chugging along smoothly when Jamie Koe, Ryan (Small) Fry, Chris Schille and DJ Kidby took a notion to occupy the down time between games by giving their elbows a strenuous bending. Thirty-to-40 bottles of wobbly pop and numerous shooters later, they were good and properly pie-eyed, with not a nun on cite to monitor their behaviour with a piercing frown or a firm rapping of the knuckles with a wooden yardstick. So they went out and curled. At least three of them did.

Koe, recognizing that something was missing (his legs), took a powder. Apparently more brown pops required his attention. Fry, Schille and Kidby gave it a go on the pebble sans their too-drunk-to-curl skip, but what ensued was “a gong show” according to the venue manager, Wade Thurber. There was broom-breaking (Fry shattered three). There was foul language (imagine that, a curler cussin’). Later, a changing room wall lost an argument to either a foot or a fist.

Barney, Homer and Moe talk curling.

These were no piddling hogline violations. The lads were punted from the event. Yup, kicked out, like Homer and his pal Barney Gumble after they’ve had one too many Duff at Moe’s.

In the ensuing days, headline writers and opinionists across the globe have had their way with our “drunken curlers.” Dispatches of the “drunken debacle” have stretched from Red Deer to the U.K., to Asia, to Down Under. CNN, the Los Angeles Times, Sports Illustrated, the BBC, SkySports, The Independent, Business Insider, the New Zealand Herald, Eurosport, Deadspin, the Sydney Morning Herald, HuffPost UK, the Washington Post, the Korea Herald, Breitbart and The Guardian have all weighed in, basically advancing the same theme: Canadians are a bunch of party people who drunkenly slide around on ice nine months of the year.

Well, we know that to be untrue. We’re drunk 12 months of the year and the ice melts after seven months.

Scott Moir with Bob and Doug McKenzie: Beer, eh.

But here’s what has really surprised me in the fallout of the curling kerfuffle: Seemingly the link between Canadian sports and beer swilling is something the rest of the world has just now discovered. What, they weren’t paying attention to the Olympics last winter when our fancy skater Scott Moir was tossing back pints faster than Boris Yeltsin? Cripes, man, Grey Cup week is affectionately known as the Grand National Drunk. The Brier even has its own pub. At one point in history, the prize for winning the Canadian men’s curling championship was a beer stein the size of a backyard hot tub.

It wasn’t until a kid drowned in the thing that they got rid of it.

So you’ll have to excuse me if I refuse to get my knickers in a twist over a few of the boys going all hoser a la Bob and Doug McKenzie.

Besides, there’s good news in all this: The rest of the world has been so focused on our “drunken curlers” that they’ve forgotten we’re also responsible for Nickelback, the Biebs and Howie Mandel’s lame jokes and germaphobia.

Paul Gowsell

It’s not like Koe and Co. are the first curlers to feel their oats (and barley). I mean, some of us haven’t forgotten Paul Gowsell, long-haired rebel of the Pebble People. Never mind that the former world junior champion had a pizza delivered in the middle of a game during a bonspiel in Regina (“We were hungry.”), he once was flagged down by the gendarmes for drunk driving, possession of pot and illegal possession of liquor—while wheeling his way home from a banquet honoring him as Calgary’s athlete-of-the-year. Gowsell copped a guilty plea on the drunk driving and marijuana raps, and was fined $150 for each. He was not, however, charged for curling while under the influence of pepperoni, salami and extra cheese in Regina.

If nothing else, the Red Deer episode of the Lords of Rinks and Drinks has provided others cause to double down on their dumb stereotyping of the roaring game. My favorite comment was delivered by a Los Angeles Times reader who wrote: “Curling will never catch on as a popular sport in America because it all looks too much like tedious janitorial work that requires basic householding skills.” Why do you think curlers drink, dude?

Jeff Stoughton with the Tankard Trophy.

For the record, I knew just one curler who never allowed booze to pass his lips—legendary Manitoba skip Jeff Stoughton. There might have been other teetotalers among the Pebble People that I wrote about, but perhaps I spent too much time in the Brier Patch to notice. (Just kidding. I never once set foot in the Patch—I did my elbow bending in regular pubs. But only after filing my copy. Honest. I wrote sober. Or did I write drunk and edit sober, as Hemmingway suggested we do? Can’t remember. Must have killed too much grey matter.)

Okay, let’s move on to other stuff, like Patrik Laine. I turned on my flatscreen to watch a hockey game on Saturday and PlayStation broke out. Seriously, what Puck Finn did to the Blues in St. Loo—five shots, five goals in an 8-4 Winnipeg Jets win—was pure video game stuff. And, to think, a week ago this morning 41 National Hockey League players had more goals than the Finnish winger. Today there are zero. Usually when a guy climbs that high, that fast, he needs a Sherpa guide and oxygen. I don’t think Puck Finn had to hit the shower by the time he was done. Yes, he made it look that easy.

Puck Finn will be due a pay raise at the end of this crusade. Can you say “Ka-ching!” kids?

Ron MacLean and Dave Hodge

I have one thing to say about Dave Hodge returning to Hockey Night in Canada (in a baby blue blazer, no less)—flipping brilliant. And if you’re of a certain vintage, you’ll know what I mean when I say “flipping.”

Sad to hear about the death of Dan Maloney, former coach of the Winnipeg Jets. Like all Jets bench jockeys, Satch wasn’t there for a long time (1986-89), but there were good times, most notably a playoff series victory over the Calgary Flames. Satch was a good, sincere, soft-spoken man. I always enjoyed dealing with him while wandering the continent with Winnipeg HC.

I can’t say for certain, but I doubt there’s ever been a tougher head coach-GM tag team in NHL history than Satch and John Bowie Ferguson. If their teams couldn’t beat ’em on the ice, Satch and Fergy sure as hell could whup the other team’s management in any UFC octagon.

Going into tonight’s game between the Edmonton McDavids and the Kings in Tinseltown, Milan Lucic has scored one goal more than me. And I’ll make $5,981,000 less than the Looch this year.

What’s up with Canadian Football League Players Association members? You’d think the large lads in pads would know better than news snoops on the beat when it comes to quality performance. But no. They’re “D’oh!” boys. Evidence of this is found in the CFLPA collection of all-stars that does not include the league’s most outstanding player, Bo Levi Mitchell, the league’s most outstanding defensive player, Beastmo Bighill, the league’s most outstanding O-lineman, Stanley Bryant, and the league’s leading ground gainer, Andrew Harris. Oh, and let’s not forget they anointed June Jones of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats the top sideline steward. That despite the fact six of nine head coaches compiled superior records. All of which can mean just one thing: Curlers aren’t the only athletes who drink too much.

The Mea Culpa Man

I can’t decide if Dave Dickenson is a football coach or a conspiracy theorist, but I do know the Calgary Stampeders head knock has established a Grey Cup record for apologies.

Double D doubled down on mea culpas during Grey Cup week in Edmonton, first apologizing for his gutteral description of Mike O’Shea and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ homebrew braintrust as an effing Canadian Mafia, then for his ‘oh, woe are we’ suggestion that the entire nation will be root, root, rooting against his tribe in today’s CFL championship skirmish.

“Sometimes you just talk to much,” the Mea Culpa Man mused. “Maybe I fabricated my own little storyline. Maybe I should have kept those comments to myself.”

No, no, no. A thousand times no, Dave. Keep yapping like an annoying little lap dog. And the dumber the better.

Apparently Bytown RedBlacks O-lineman Jon Gott has a chip on his shoulder any time he plays against the Stampeders, his former outfit. And here I thought that thing on his shoulder was a can of beer.

I’m liking the RedBlacks to haul the Grey Cup back to the nation’s capital with a three-point victory over the Stamps this afternoon/evening in E-Town. Final score: 28-25. Game MVP: Trevor Harris.

And, finally, just wondering: Did anyone actually watch the Tiger Woods-Lefty Mickelson con job?

About the McKenzie Brothers (Bob, Doug and Scott)…shootouts bite…a session with a shrink…Uncle Sam’s beer league curlers…poking fun at Canada…Tessa, Tessa, Tessa…gold-medal writing from Bruce Arthur…and other Olympic stuff on my mind

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

Bob, Doug and long-lost brother Scott—the McKenzie Brothers.

Scott Moir—beauty, eh?

Who knew a fancy skater (and an ice dancer at that) could be such a party animal? Who knew there was a third McKenzie Brother?

Moir’s beer-fuelled antics during the women’s hockey gold-medal match between Canada and the United States at the Olympic Games of Snow and Ice Sports were straight out of the SCTV playbook. It was Bob and Doug McKenzie do PyeongChang. It couldn’t have been more Canadian if it was a Mountie eating back bacon while reading a Pierre Berton book and listening to a Gordon Lightfoot album.

Coo-roo-coo-coo-coo-coo-coo-coo!

Shootouts suck! Sound like a batch of sour grapes? Probably. But it isn’t. The Americans were worthy winners of the women’s gold hockey trinket in South Korea. They were the superior side through 80 minutes of actual hockey and, had the championship match continued to a second period of sudden-victory overtime rather than the shootout, surely Uncle Sam’s girls would have prevailed. It seemed to me that the Canadians had begun to run on fumes. Thus, the 3-2 U.S. victory was a just result. The Games methodology, however, is greatly flawed. The shootout never was, never will be a good idea. Next time, what do you say we ask the Canadian and U.S. women if they’d rather continue playing hockey until someone scores a goal? Let’s leave the shootouts to soccer.

Joceleyne Larocque, third from left.

If I’m Jocelyne Larocque, I’m not apologizing for a damn thing. I mean, it’s not like she did something stupid. You know, like get drunk, steal a Hummer, race around PyeongChang like Danica Patrick on uppers, then spend some quality time at a cop shop. Do something stupid like that (hello Willie Raine, Dave and Maja Duncan), you apologize and hope you get a judge who goes easy on drunk drivers. But do what Larocque did and…meh. So she removed a silver trinket that had been wrapped around her neck by some Olympic Games mucky-muck at a most awkward moment—during the lengthy parting-gifts ceremony post-match. Big flipping deal. Larocque was PO’d. The loss to the Americans was a fresh, open wound, and silver wasn’t a suitable salve. So she held it in her left hand. And for that the Canadian rearguard receives an online scolding from Miss Manners wannabes on both sides of the great divide? That’s why she offered a mea culpa? As if. Raw emotion is the very reason I buy into the Olympic Games. Sometimes that means tears of joy. Sometimes it’s tears of sorrow. In Larocque’s case, it meant an angst-of-the-moment act of defiance. I don’t see the problem. Stop piling on.

Lucy Van Pelt

Should we book a session with Dr. Phil? Or maybe Charlie Brown’s shrink, Lucy Van Pelt. Either way, I’m thinking some of us might need to vent. I mean, our hockey women had to settle for silver. Our hockey men had the gall to lose to Germany at a most inopportune time. Our women’s and men’s curling teams? Bupkus.

I swear, this is the biggest downer since Nickelback landed the halftime gig at the 99th Grey Cup game.

But let’s save the shrink fees and accept that hockey and curling haven’t been Canada’s personal play things for much of the 21st century? Consider what has transpired since 2000:

Hockey

World championship titles—Canada 10, Rest of World 21
Olympic titles—Canada 7, Rest of World 3
Total—Canada 17, Rest of World 24.

Curling World championship titles—Canada 17, Rest of World 19
Olympic titles—Canada 5, Rest of World 6
Total—Canada 22, Rest of World 25.

British coach Glenn Howard.

Ya, sure, this is still Planet Puckhead. We’re very good at hockey. The best. Our women and men aren’t supposed to lose. When they do, we lower our psyche to half staff and share a group hug that stretches from Tofino to St. John’s. We don’t commit to as much navel gazing when our curlers slip on a banana peel, yet we do give some pause whenever our Pebble People don’t occupy the top step of the podium.

But let’s spare ourselves a National Day of Teeth Gnashing.

I’m singing the backup vocals for Glenn Howard when he suggests we all just chill after what transpired in South Korea.

Settle down folks,” said Howard, a Canadian and world champion curler who coached Eve Muirhead’s Great Britain team that ushered our Rachel Homan outfit out of playoff contention. “Canadians have to understand that these teams outside of Canada are really good.”

Been that way for a long time.

Rachel Homan

Most stinging (and over the top) criticism of our women curlers came from Paul Wiecek. The Winnipeg Free Press sports columnist aimed his poison arrows not only at Homan and her gal pals from Ottawa, but also at “that most worthless species in all of sports, the curling coach.” He explained: “As far as I’m concerned, the Homan team’s problems here begin with their coach, Adam Kingsbury, an academic with zero curling background who the Homan team has nonetheless ascribed a Koreshian-like influence in recent years. Homan has been putting the ‘less’ in ‘joyless’ since she was curling juniors and Kingsbury has just made that worse from my vantage point, turning these women into walking robots. If they were having any fun competing at an event they had devoted their lives towards, I saw no evidence of it. And if you’re not having fun playing a sport for which the monetary reward is somewhere between nothing and next to nothing, then what’s the point?” That’s cruel and mean in spirit.

America’s gold-medal curlers: Tyler George, John Landsteiner, John Shuster and Matt Hamilton.

Nothing says Monday night beer league curling like the four men who struck gold for Uncle Sam in South Korea.

Seriously. How much did they spend on their outfits? A buck fifty at a thrift shop? Third Tyler George wears eight-year-old sneakers. They’re full of holes. And U.S. second Matt Hamilton doesn’t use a belt to hold up his trousers. That’s Secretariat’s old girth strap. But, hey, if a guy of Hamilton’s dimensions can win an Olympic Games gold medal I wouldn’t rule out an Ed Werenich comeback.

All of which made them easy to like.

These Yankee doodle dandies are a throwback to the 1970s. I kept waiting for one of ’em to break out a pack of smokes and light up. On the ice.

Their back story is brilliant. A few years ago, USA Curling wanted them in their program like Donald Trump wants to tick off the NRA. But now John Shuster, George, Hamilton and lead John Landsteiner are Olympic champions. We’re apt to see them chatting with one of the gab guys on late-night TV, and there’s probably marketing possibilities. Who knows, they might make enough cash on the side to get rid of their slo-pitch uniforms and purchase actual curling duds.

Headline writers south of the 49th parallel are having great sport at our expense. A New York Times headline reads: “Canada’s Curling Is Crumbling! Or Something Like That.” The accompanying article suggests our double donut on PyeongChang pebble “would be comparable to the United States men’s and women’s basketball teams failing to win a medal at the Summer Olympics.”

Other samples of American cheek:

Washington Post (after the U.S. beat us in both men’s curling and women’s hockey on the same day): “For six glorious hours, the United States owned Canada like a Tim Hortons franchisee.”

Wall Street Journal: “Canadian Grief: Curling and Hockey Losses are ‘Terrible, Terrible, Terrible’.”

MarketWatch: “Hug a Canadian, urges German Foreign Office after dramatic ice-hockey upset.”

Quick! Someone get a match! Let’s burn down the White House again!

Whiteboard Willie Desjardins

As predicted, jock journalists were quick to apply a coat of tar and feathers to head coach Whiteboard Willie Desjardins in the wake of Canada’s mournful, 4-3 semifinal shinny loss to Germany.

Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star opined the “coaching was a mess.”

Dave Feschuk, also a Star scribe, wrote: “What went wrong? Maybe it was Desjardins’ infectious nervousness, or his odd overreliance on his bottom-six grinders, playing the old-time Saskatchewan stereotype to a tee. Even in a 4-on-4 situation needing desperately to score, Desjardins tossed out (Eric) O’Dell and Maxim Lapierre, his skill-challenged energy guys.”

Not to be out-nastied, Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna added: “Desjardins had much to answer for. He didn’t change lines. He didn’t change styles. He didn’t adjust to the Germans’ trapping ways. He didn’t shorten his bench when he needed to. He continued to use ineffective players. The coach, Willie Desjardins, froze.”

And what did the natterbugs of negativity have to say about Desjardins after Canada’s bounce-back, 6-4 win over the Czech Republic in the bronze-medal match? Crickets. Nothing but the sound of crickets. Mooks.

(That unfortunate loss to the Germans doesn’t seem like such a stunner today does it? Not after they took Russia to OT in the title match.)

Tessa Virtue

I’m not sure what it is about Tessa Virtue, but I cannot turn my eyes away from her when she’s on TV. It doesn’t matter if she’s skating, marching into the stadium or standing on the podium, holding a stuffed toy in one of her dainty hands. I am hypnotized. And it’s been that way for years.

She is a spellbinding temptress, sexy, sensual and seductive. As playful as a kitten and as smoky as a femme fatale, she is Snow White with come-hither tease and erotic athleticism. As she floats about the ice, her lissome body bending, twisting and twirling to the whims of her dance partner, Scott Moir, I wonder what world she has disappeared into. Her smile tells us it must be a pleasing place, full of passion and Zen-like serenity.

Others skate as well as Virtue. Perhaps better. But no one else has her ‘it’ factor.

She and Moir will leave South Korea with two gold medals, adding to a collection of Winter Games trinkets that now numbers five, more than any other fancy skaters in history. Alas, we might never see the Canadian couple skate together again, after 20 years. But what a beautiful trip they took us on.

Matthew Scianitti of TSN shares a lovely to-and-fro he enjoyed with Virtue, scant seconds after she had arrived in the mixed area following her gold-medal skate with Scott Moir in the ice dance last Wednesday.

Virtue (to assembled news scavengers): “How are you guys?”

Scianitti: “You mean us?”

Virtue: “Ya.”

Scianitti: “Dude, you just skated in front of the world and won a gold medal. Doesn’t matter how we are.”

Virtue: “Yes it does. The Olympics are tough on everyone.”

Can you say classy, kids? Totally.

Going from a beauty to a beast, it’s about Mike Milbury. The NBC gab guy’s filter between his grey matter and tongue was on the fritz during a Russia-U.S. men’s hockey game. Discussing Russkie rearguard Slava Voynov, he said: “This guy was a special player, and an unfortunate incident left the Los Angeles Kings without a great defenceman.” So, that’s what we’re calling wife-beating these days? An “unfortunate incident.” Voynov was sentenced to nine months in the brig for beating the hell out of his wife, and he served two months before slithering back to his hole in Russia. He shouldn’t have been allowed to participate in South Korea any more than Milbury should be allowed near a microphone.

Kirstie Alley

Actor Kirstie Alley took a bit of a pummelling on social media after she tweeted that curling is “boring.” I don’t understand the great hue and cry. Fact is, she’s right. I love curling, but I acknowledge that it sometimes can push the needle high on the bore-o-metre. Then, again, so can baseball, football, hockey and hoops. Oh, and most any movie/TV show that Kirstie Alley has ever appeared in.

I never covered an Olympics. Had no desire to. So I have to wonder: When did news scavengers in South Korea find time to sleep? Did they sleep? I mean, new stuff seemed to pop up on the Internet every half hour. It was non-stop scribbling. Thus, I harbor considerable admiration for everyone who went through that grind. Tough gig. And they’re still cranking out the good stuff. Best of last week was delivered by…

Gold medal: Bruce Arthur for the truly Canadian story that is Brigette Lacquette, the first Indigenous player on the Canadian women’s hockey team.

Silver medal: Arthur again, for his piece defending Jocelyne Larocque’s behaviour during the women’s hockey medal ceremony.

Bronze medal: Arthur one more time, for his piece on Canada’s Pride House and the LGBT scene at the Winter Games.

Had there been any doubt, Arthur’s work in South Korea confirms his position as this country’s top sports columnist. Nobody’s close to him.

Victoria HarbourCats keeping the Claire Eccles girl-vs-boys story on the down low; gets first start on Sunday

At first blush, I’ll admit that I was skeptical and cynical about the signing of Claire Eccles. It reeked of gimmickry. Sexist gimmickry.

I mean, the girl-vs-boys angle is the simplest sideshow to sell in sports. It’s also one of the media’s favorite chew toys. For evidence, look no further than Billie Jean King, Manon Rheaume, Annika Sorenstam, Michelle Wie, Mo’ne Davis, Hayley Wickenheiser and Danica Patrick.

Yes, sir, put a Jill in with the jocks and it’s news copy gold. And, hey, it’s a bonus for the marketing wizards if she’s what the lads call a “looker.” (Do you really think Patrick has been showered with all that publicity because she’s made a habit of getting her race car to the finish line ahead of the good, ol’ boys on the top NASCAR circuit? She leads the league in long hair and lipstick, not top-10 finishes.)

Claire Eccles

So what better way for the Victoria HarbourCats to put rumps in the pews of their quaint ballpark than to trot a girl-next-door type out to the pitcher’s mound and have her strike out all those hot-shot college boys from Trumpsylvania? Curiosity seekers are guaranteed to flock to Royal Athletic Park on the edge of downtown Victoria and cheer lustily each time Eccles is beckoned to make the hike to the hill, with the hip-hop beat of Gwen Stefani’s Hollaback Girl accompanying her every step. Ka-ching!

Except that isn’t how the Claire Eccles baseball-with-the-boys tale is unfolding.

Oh, sure, there was an avalanche of attention from the Fourth Estate—hither and yon—upon the Surrey southpaw’s arrival in the B.C. capital. ESPN, the Washington Post, the Globe and Mail, the National Post, Sportsnet and MSN.com, among many others, eagerly glombed onto the Eccles story at the outset. But a week into the 19-year-old’s West Coast League experience, she has been summoned by head coach Brian McRae exactly once. For a two-inning gig.

If that’s a publicity stunt based on gender, the HarbourCats are failing miserably at Marketing 101.

That’s the point, though. Other than the announcement of Eccles coming on board, the HarbourCats have resisted any urge to play the gender card in an effort to inflate ticket sales. Bravo for them. She’s a baseball player, not a promotional circus act.

Mind you, that might be about to change, because McRae did the chin-wag thing with MSN.com 120 Sports on Tuesday morning and he declared Eccles his starter when the Kitsap BlueJackets come calling for a non-league game this weekend at RAP.

We’re gonna give her a shot, just like we give all the other guys that are here, to compete for innings,” McRae said. “She’s gonna start for us next Sunday and we’ll see where it goes from there.”

That sound you hear is the publicity machine cranking up.

I can’t imagine the pre-game noise being any louder than in July 2010, though. That’s when the Chico Outlaws and their so-called Knuckle Princess paid a visit to Royal Athletic Park. As it turns out, Eri Yoshida’s knuckler didn’t knuckle so well. The Japanese hurler allowed just one hit, but it was a grand slam, and she also walked seven batsmen and hit three others in her 2 1/3 innings of work. The thing is, advance hype attracted 4,753 to the ballpark that night, the largest gathering in Victoria Seals history.

Brian McRae

By contrast, when Eccles emerged from the bullpen last week to become the first female to pitch in the WCL, the head count was approximately 800. (She mopped up in a 9-0 loss to the Wenatchee RedSox and produced this pitching line: 2 IP, 1 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 1 HBP, 0 K, 9.00 ERA.)

It’s a safe bet that the HarbourCats Hollaback Girl will be hucking the rawhide in front of an audience three to five times that size on the afternoon of June 18 at the local ballyard.

I think having people like Claire come in and show everybody out there that it’s not a publicity stunt, that she’s getting an opportunity because she has a chance to be successful and help us, I think, in turn, that empowers other girls. I think you may see more and more women trying to play baseball,” said McRae, who clearly sees both the short- and long-term pictures. “Pitching is about the only thing I think, if a woman were to be able to play pro ball, where they could compete with the males, would be on the mound.”

And if Eccles, a University of British Columbia student who also pitches for Canada’s national women’s team, has designs on playing pro baseball?

She’s gotta get a little bit stronger, add some miles-an-hour to her fastball,” said McRae, who played 10 years in Major League Baseball. “We think she could throw 80 miles-an-hour if we cleaned up her mechanics and got her to use her lower body a little bit better. Her fastball tops out about 71, 72 miles-an-hour right now, and her knuckleball is in the mid-60s or so, but we think there’s more there that can get her to throw a little bit harder and be a little bit more effective.”

In the meantime, “It’s been kind of cool having her around.”

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling mostly about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, but she now lives one block from Royal Athletic Park in Victoria and might cross the street to watch Claire Eccles throw a baseball.

 

Alexander Burmistrov: Is born-again Burmi the Winnipeg Jets new Fro Lite or Kane Lite?

Quiz yourself this, kids: Would you trade Michael Frolik for Alexander Burmistrov? Even up?

Didn’t think so.

That, however, is essentially what Grand Master Kevin Cheveldayoff did last week. For reasons yet to be clearly defined, the man who generally manages the Winnipeg Jets was unable to convince his most useful forward to remain in River City, thus Frolik shall continue his Jack-of-all-trades career while wearing Calgary Flames adornments.

To compensate for the Fro defection, the Grand Master prepared the fatted calf and welcomed home the prodigal player, Burmistrov, who, when last seen prior to resurfacing at the National Hockey League club’s development camp this past weekend, was acting every bit the petulant, pouting punk and skulking off to Mother Russia.

So that’s your exchange: Frolik out, Burmistrov in.

I have heard it suggested that Burmistrov is Frolik Lite, in that he delivers all those special niceties that the Czech forward provided. He just doesn’t do them as well. I believe that to be an accurate assessment.

But, is Burmistrov actually Fro Lite or is he Kane Lite?

The dearly departed Evander Kane was, of course, a skilled (much of it wasted) player with attitude issues. He played cat-and-mouse with defrocked head coach Claude Noel, challenging his authority on more than one occasion. Although never putting it on public record that he wanted out of Winnipeg, we know he liked Pegtown about as much as Phil Kessel likes media scrums. Eventually, he was shuffled off to Buffalo.

Similarly, Burmistrov and Noel were singing from different sheets in the songbook, thus he skedaddled home for a two-season gig with Ak-Bars of the Kontinental Hockey League.

Now he’s back and what the born-again Burmi brings to the party come October will be among the main storylines as the Winnipegs commence their 2015-16 crusade. If he’s Frolik Lite, it’s all good. If he’s Kane Lite, not so much.

As it is, the former teenage prospect is now a 23-year-old prospect with plenty of upside but a past that fuels skepticism, and the Jets surely harbor a morsel of uncertainty about this migrant young man, otherwise they would have welcomed Burmistrov back to the flock with something more than a two-year contract.

The hope, of course, is that he’s finally got his shite together, meaning he knows head coach Paul Maurice is the boss.

Desperate Hockey Wives: Okay, money aside, we still don’t know the intimate details of Michael Frolik’s defection to the Calgary Flames, thus rumors abound.

One such trickle of gossip suggests his girlfriend, Diana, pulled a Lauren Pronger and forced Frolik to sign anywhere but Winnipeg. The way it is whispered, she developed a considerable distaste for all things River City and, much like Lauren Pronger with hubby Chris and the Edmonton Oilers, she held veto power on where they set up house with daughter Ella.

I have neither heard nor read anything to lend credence to that rumor but, if true, I ask this: So what? Should a wife/girlfriend not have a voice in where she lives?

It seems to me she should have a loud voice.

Sam’s Story a Non-Story? Once upon a time, a lot of football people were strictly Xs, Os and bite-the-head-off-a-live-chicken kind of guys. It would seem that at least one of those dinosaurs still walks among us.

I say that because of a snippet in a Kirk Penton piece last week.

It seems an unidentified Canadian Football League coach or manager pooh-poohs the considerable copy and air time devoted to Michael Sam, whose on-again, off-again career appears to be on again, although it’s expected that the Montreal Alouettes will arrrive in River City for their date with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers this Friday sans the only openly gay man to sign a CFL contract.

Michael Sam hasn’t played a down of football north of the border and he has gotten a thousand times more recognition than Randy Chevrier, who won the Tom Pate Award (for oustanding sportsmanship and someone who has made a significant contribution to his team, his community and the CFLPA),” Coach/Manager No Name said. “That’s pathetic. You guys (in the media) should be embarrassed.”

Well, no. Here’s what’s pathetic and here’s who should be embarrassed: A football lifer who doesn’t recognize or appreciate the social significance of Sam’s story.

It should never be just about Xs, Os and quarterback sacks. Sam is man-bites-dog copy. Can an openly gay man not only survive but, indeed, succeed in the macho world that is professional football? Is major professional sports in North America still a homophobic hinterland in a day and age when same-sex marriage is legal in Canada and the U.S.? Will Sam pave the way for more gay athletes to come out? That’s why noted sheets like the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Daily Mail in the U.K. and so many others track the trials and tribulations of the Alouettes would-be rush end.

But what do those papers know about news? They’re pathetic, right coach?

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