If you’ll permit me a personal note right off the top (and you must, because this is my blog), this morning marks the 49th anniversary of my start in the rag trade.
Yup, it all began in the mail room on the second floor of the Winnipeg Tribune building on Sept. 10, 1969, me an 18-year-old, know-nothing kid fresh out of Miles Madonell Collegiate working at what had always been my newspaper of choice.
After a brief time running incoming and outgoing mail to the various arms of the Trib operation at the corner of Smith and Graham, directly across the street from the main post office, I was shuffled up to the fifth floor, whereupon I became a midnight-to-8 a.m. copy runner and began scribbling non-byline Manitoba Junior Hockey League rewrites in 1970.
Legendary sports columnist and editor Jack Matheson was somehow struck with the notion that I might be a suitable replacement for a departing sports scribe, and my first byline appeared in print on Page 16 of the Trib on June 14, 1971.
It was back-of-the-section, bottom-of-the-page stuff—a short blurb about a Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association financial shortfall of $8,753—nestled between the Assiniboia Downs form chart and horse racing writer Harold Loster’s graded selections. Humble beginnings, indeed.
My first beat was local tennis, which I totally enjoyed. Then high school football, a good place to earn your chops. But Matty had me mostly on hockey, at all levels and all leagues, at home and riding the bus across the frozen tundra with Gerry Brisson, Muzz MacPherson and the Winnipeg Clubs in the Western Canada Hockey League.
There wasn’t a hockey league I didn’t cover and, in fact, my final writing assignment at the Trib was to pen a sports-front, up-close-and-personal piece on local lad Butch Goring, weaned on the frozen ponds of Windsor Park/St. Vital and a Stanley Cup champion with the New York Islanders. Photog Jon Thordarson and I had visited Butch at his home. Spent more than an hour with him. The article and pics were in the can and good to go as a late-summer feature. Alas, the mucky-mucks at Southam had the bad manners to shut down the joint on what we called Black Wednesday, Aug. 27, 1980, and the Tribune was no more.
But, hey, here I am 49 years later, and old bag of bones still scribbling about shinny, football, curling and athletes in Good Ol’ Hometown, albeit from a distance. Don’t know when or how to stop.
Which means you’re right—there’s definitely something wrong with me. Like, does the term ‘get a life’ mean anything to me?
Apparently not. I might actually make it to 50 years.
A tip of the bonnet to Ted Wyman, soon to be the latest inductee to the Manitoba Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour. Ted’s been cranking out the good stuff for 26 years, earning his chops at the Moose Jaw Times Herald and Brandon Sun before bringing his act to Good Ol’ Hometown in 2003. He’s been a steady hand on the wheel of the Winnipeg Sun sports department since 2006.
Really enjoyed Melissa Martin’s piece on Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler in the Winnipeg Free Press last week. Melissa doesn’t stray into the toy department too often, but I always enjoy her take on sports and athletes. She’s my favorite scribe at the Drab Slab.
So I’m sitting in my local watering hole, watching the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Saskatchewan Roughriders duke it out on Saturday afternoon. They were down to the short strokes, with about three minutes remaining and Gang Green clinging to an iffy lead. The end result was very much in the balance. And what does TSN do? It cuts away to the Calgary Stampeders-Edmonton Eskimos skirmish, which had yet to start. You talk about your WTFTSN moments.
Here are this week’s Canadian Football League power rankings…
1. Calgary (9-2): Bo Levi was brilliant; the defence not so much.
2. Saskatchewan (7-4): Four straight Ws.
3. Edmonton (7-5): Got it done vs. Calgary this time.
4. Hamilton (6-5): Wicked offence, wicked QB, wicked Speedy B.
5. Ottawa (6-5): Continue to be a puzzle.
6. Winnipeg (5-7): A bye week just what the doctor ordered.
7. B.C. (4-6): Still say they’re done like dinner.
8. Montreal (3-8): Took the week off.
9. Toronto (3-8): QB woes continue.
Last week in CFL quarterbacking…
It’s about Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers: Wow. Just wow.
Still baffled by Serena Williams bringing motherhood into the equation during her epic hissy fit in the women’s final at the U.S. Open tennis tournament. “I have a daughter and I stand what’s right for her!” she shrieked, in full bully mode, at chair umpire Carlos Ramos. That simply does not compute. It makes no sense at all. What did Ramos’s rulings—questionable or not—have to do with Williams’ little girl? Can you say completely unhinged, kids?
For those of you scoring at home, the last eight Grand Slam tennis tournaments have delivered eight different champions on the women’s side and only three on the men’s side. Meanwhile, the same three guys winning everything now—Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic—have been winning everything since Wimbledon 2003, when Federer claimed his first Slam title. The scoreboard reads: Big Three 51, Rest of Guys 11. And who are those Rest of Guys? Stan Wawrinka (3), Andy Murray (3), Andy Roddick, Marin Cilic, Juan Martin del Potro, Marat Safin and Gaston Gaudio. So, 10 champions total. In the same time frame, 24 different women have won Slam tournaments.
And, finally, this from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: “I really hope the Maple Leafs pick a captain soon—so everybody can just shut up about it. The captain stuff: Relatively meaningless.” Interesting. In July, Simmons went on Tranna 1050 TSN radio and flapped his gums about the “relatively meaningless” Leafs captaincy for more than seven minutes. But now that he’s had his say on the topic he wants the rest of us to “shut up.” As if.
A Sunday morning smorgasbord on a lazy Labor Day weekend…
In advance of this afternoon’s Pile O’ Bones Bowl betwixt the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Mosaic Stadium in (rhymes with vagina), we share with you a few snippets from the official Gang Green Joke Book.
Q: How do you know when you’ve arrived in Regina?
A: The highway sign says “Paved Road Ends Here.”
The teacher couldn’t understand why Little Johnny wasn’t all geeked up about the Labor Day Classic between the Riders and Bombers.
“It’s the biggest football game of the year,” she said. “Why aren’t you excited, Little Johnny?”
“I’m not a football fan. My parents like curling, so I like curling, too,” Little Johnny replied.
“That’s not a very good reason. What if your parents were morons?”
“Then I’d definitely be a Roughriders fan.”
Q: What does a Riders fan call his tattered, old couch and living room chair?
A: Brand new lawn furniture.
Two Riders fans arrived at the big game and one said to the other, “I wish I’d brought my piano with me.”
“Why would you bring a piano to the football game?” his friend asked.
“Because that’s where I left the tickets.”
Q: What’s the biggest problem for Riders fans at a pie-eating contest?
A: The cows keep stepping on them.
Two buddies were walking in downtown Regina when one spotted a pair of Roughriders season tickets nailed to a telephone pole.
“I think I’ll have me some of that!” one said to the other.
“I can’t believe your good fortune!” his friend said excitedly.
“I’ll say…I’ve been looking for a nail just like this for months now.”
Q: What did the Roughriders fan say when his wife gave birth to twins?
A: “Okay, cousin Doreen, who’s the other father?”
Five things you’ll never hear a Riders fan say:
“I’ll meet you at the library.”
“I’ll take classic literature for $1,000, please Alex.”
“I feel soooooo underdressed in this John Deere t-shirt and ball cap.”
“Johnny Cash! Johnny Cash! Is that all you can play on that damned jukebox?”
“No pork rinds for me, thanks. I’m watching my waist.”
I must join the Atta Boy Chorus and present today’s Happy Honker Award (apologies to Cactus Jack Wells) to Bob (Knuckles) Irving, who celebrates 45 years with CJOB by calling the play-by-play for the Riders-Bombers skirmish. Not only is Knuckles unequaled among Canadian Football League broadcast voices, he’s a lovely lad. One of the finest people I met during 30 years in mainstream jock journalism.
The Montreal Alouettes have now won two successive matches with Antonio Pipkin at quarterback. Would they seriously consider sending him back to the sideline and trotting out Johnny Manziel when they return from a bye two weeks hence? Only if ownership sticks its snoot into head coach Mike Sherman’s business and orders it. If so, shame on them.
Some terrific stuff, as always, on the CFL from Kirk Penton of The Athletic. Among the insider (coaches/general managers) comments was this gem: “I took my daughters to see the movie Dumb and Dumber. Felt like I was watching it again when the Bombers were down by 20 points, with one minute left, and they still had (Andrew) Harris and (Matt) Nichols in the game (vs. Ottawa). What were Mike (O’Shea) and Paul (LaPolice) thinking?” Short answer: They weren’t.
One of the coaches/GMs also gave the talking heads on TSN a slap: “We all hear the guys on the panel because we have games on in the office, but we tune them out. If we do say something about what they’ve said, it’s seldom positive. It’s surprising how little some of them know but present as fact.” I think he’s looking at you, Milt Stegall.
So, the gab guys and scribes at Sportsnet put their noggins together and compiled a list of the top 100 National Hockey League players heading into the 2018-19 crusade. They had our guy, Rink Rat Scheifele, slotted in at No. 13, which is an odd bit of business given that he isn’t even the best player with the Winnipeg Jets. That would be the captain, Blake Wheeler, who came in at No. 19. Other local lads to crack the Sportsnet 100 were Puck Finn, No. 27, Big Buff, No. 38, Connor Hellebuyck, No. 64, and Twig Ehlers, No. 84.
Captain Mark Giordano, Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, Curtis Lazar and Sam Bennett of the Flames marched in the Calgary Pride parade on Saturday. Good on them.
Sometimes you have to give your head a shake and wonder if this is 2018 or 1958. I mean, Alizé Cornet was assessed a code violation the other day at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York, New York. Her heinous crime? Revealing an unrevealing sports bra. Oh, yes, after realizing she had put her top on backwards during a heat recess, Cornet stepped toward the shadows at the back of the court and, in two bats of an eyelash, she stripped the garment on and off. It took all of 10 seconds. If that. Chair umpire Christian Rask was having none of it. He slapped her with the code violation for unsportsmanlike conduct. Either he’s no fan of sports bras, or he didn’t get a good enough look. Whatever the case, he’s a fool. Male players peel off their shirts courtside as often as Genie Bouchard double faults, and nothing is said, even when they sit topless during the entirety of an end change. We have to get the fashion police off the tennis courts.
Alizé Cornet takes her top off at the U.S. Open and earns a reprimand. Genie Bouchard takes her clothes off for Sports Illustrated and earns thousands of dollars. Go figure.
Dumb headline of the week was found on the TSN website: “Bouchard is reviving her career.” Ya, Canada’s tennis diva Genie Bouchard made it all the way to the second round in Gotham, whereupon she bowed out to Marketa Vondrousova. Such a revival. Meanwhile, Mark Roe of TSN had a chin-wag with Sport Illustrated‘s Jon Wertheim, who informed us that “The tennis world, no question, is taking notice of her.” Basically, no one notices Bouchard unless she’s taking her clothing off for the SI swimsuit issue.
I only have this to say about the tutu look that Serena Williams has been rocking at the U.S. Open—tut-tut and tsk-tsk. Sorry, the tutu is not my favorite look unless I’m at the Nutcracker or Swan Lake.
Let me see if I’ve got this straight: Larry Nassar sexually abused hundreds of female student athletes during 20 years as a doctor at Michigan State University, yet the NCAA has ruled that no one at MSU did anything wrong? There were zero violations? It gets a clean bill of health, so to speak? Ya, and Donald Trump has never told a fib.
This why some jock journos should definitely stick to sports: Damien Cox of the Toronto Star/Sportsnet tweets, “This is an extraordinary time in US history. More than half a decade after McCarthyism, Russia controls the White House.” Half a decade? Try more than half a century. U.S. Senator Joe McCarthy went on his commie witch hunt in the 1950s and died in 1957, four years before Cox drew his first breath.
The results are in on amateur sports coverage in the Winnipeg Free Press and Winnipeg Sun for the month of August: Drab Slab 11.3 per cent of all articles were devoted to amateurs; Sun 1.5 per cent. Meanwhile, Drab Slab opinionist Paul Wiecek, who scribbled an essay in early July expressing his dismay and considerable umbrage over the nation’s unappreciation of amateur athletes vs. play-for-pay jocks, wrote 11 columns in 30 publishing days. The closest he came to acknowledging amateurs was a rant about rich parents. Combined in July and August, he penned 24 pieces in 59 sports sections. Zero were on amateur athletes or their teams. So I guess he’s right: Amateur athletes are unappreciated, especially by newspapers and sports scribes.
And, finally, this has nothing to do with sports, but I must say that they really got after the gospel music at the Aretha Franklin memorial on Friday in Detroit. Mmm, mmm, that was some kind of fiiiiine singing. Haven’t heard anything that uplifting since the Barack Obama inauguration, where the Queen of Soul sang My Country ‘Tis of Thee. Wept then, wept Friday.
I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
To say Johnny Manziel’s debut as a starting quarterback in three-down, 12-man football was a disaster is to say the Hindenburg had a bumpy landing.
Seriously. This was bad. Hermann Goering had a better day at Nurenburg.
As first impressions go, this was your daughter’s high school prom date showing up at the door with a six-pack and hitting on her mom.
Johnny Football came, he saw, he did not conquer. He became Johnny Four Picks. He spent much of the night in flight, frantically trying to escape the clutches of large, angry men. I swear, we haven’t seen a man run this much since Forrest Gump decided to skedaddle across America.
Those expecting, or hoping, to see the second coming of Joe Theismann or Doug Flutie instead saw ample evidence that Manziel might be Vince Ferragamo the Sequel.
Ferragamo, in his brief fling with the Montreal Alouettes in 1981, never could quite figure out the 12th man on defence in the Canadian Football League, that guy who kept popping up like an uninvited house guest. That 12th man pilfered 25 of Vince’s passes. Manziel might toss that many picks by Labor Day.
None of this is to suggest that Johnny Four Picks was solely responsible for the 50-11 paddywhacking the Als absorbed at the hands of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Friday night at Percival Molson Stadium in Montreal, but let’s not sugar-coat what went down in his CFL baptism: He was gawdawful. Here’s the bottom line for the National Football League washout and former Heisman Trophy winner with Texas A&M: 20 tosses, 11 completions, 104 yards, 0 touchdowns, four interceptions.
Manziel finished the game where he should have started it—on the sideline. He was as unpolished as an old hobo’s shoes.
Apparently, this all escaped the notice of one TSN gum-flapper. Davis Sanchez, who loses credibility each time he parts his lips to allow unfiltered thought to become words, actually gave Manziel a passing grade in three of four categories.
“We’ll have to equate it to an SAT without really studying,” Sanchez said before handing out a report card that included a B (composure), a C+ (creativity), a C- (arm strength/accuracy), and one F (decision-making).
That’s like giving Neymar a gold star for staying on his feet for more than five seconds. Don’t we all wish we had Sanchez to grade our exams in school?
Sanchez wasn’t the only talking head at TSN to fluff up Manziel’s face plant on Friday. Jock Climie and Glen Suitor both tried to apply lipstick to that pig.
Here’s Suitor: “We have to temper our analysis. There were flashes. We saw him escape, we saw him create, we saw him improvise.”
Here’s Climie: “Is there a positive in this? It looked to me like Manziel was just going out there and learning. It looked to me like he stopped keeping score, which is the right thing to do. It didn’t matter, one, two, three interceptions…he just kept slinging it, because he’s learning the game. If he can keep that mentality, I think this could be a growing process. I think he will learn more from doing what he’s doing here than he will learn from sitting on the bench. I’m just saying, there could be a positive to this, and we did see some positives. Some of his flashes of brilliance, some of his scrambling around, I thought was impressive.”
It was left for two former quarterbacks, Matt Dunigan and Henry Burris, to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the unvarnished truth.
“After four practices, this is what you expect,” Dunigan growled when it was all over. “It’s a process that’s painfully long and it takes a lot of effort, more than four practices. This was fully expected. I don’t think they got anywhere down the road by starting him tonight.”
“You can’t speed up that process,” Burris sang in concert. “That was a bad decision by (Montreal). Vernon Adams should have been the starting quarterback.”
Most shameful comment about Manziel was delivered by old friend Rod Black, who, in his post-match analysis, said, “He’s faced a lot of adversity, let’s face it, in his life.” Oh, FFS, Blackie. Most of Manziel’s wounds have been self-inflicted, the product of booze, drugs, barroom brawling and leading a frat boy lifestyle. You want to talk about adversity? Talk about Colleen Crawley. That’s the woman Manziel beat up and threatened to kill.
Terrific piece in the Winnipeg Free Press by Mike Sawatzky about the night the Winnipeg Blue Bombers blew the doors off the aforementioned Ferragamo and a talent-laded Alouettes outfit, 58-2, in 1981. It’s a lengthy read but worth the time, because Sawatzky talked to all the key players and they provide delicious anecdotal insight.
I note that former defensive tackle Bryant Turner signed a one-day contract so he could retire as a Blue Bomber. Hmmm. I can think of plenty of guys I wish had only signed with Winnipeg FC for one day then got lost, starting with Jeff Reinebold. Actually, Jeff was a fun guy. He just wasn’t cut out to be a head coach.
Not sure what to make of Daren Millard’s departure from Sportsnet after 20 years. I remember him as a freshly scrubbed kid broadcaster in Winnipeg, and I believe it was Joe Pascucci who had the smarts to bring him from Brandon to River City. Daren is one of the truly good guys, and there were days when his voice of reason was the only thing that made Hockey Central at Noon bearable. Having said that, there were times last winter when I didn’t think his heart was in it. Perhaps having Damien Cox as a guest once too often sours a guy.
Also leaving his gig is Scott Campbell, who, for the past couple of National Hockey League seasons, has been scribbling good stuff about the Jets for the Free Press. Apparently Scotty is the victim of budget cuts, or the Drab Slab plans to spend its freelance coin in other areas. Perhaps they’ll use it to cover local sports other than the pro outfits in town.
A week ago, I detailed how both the Freep and Winnipeg Sun had abandoned their own community, vis-a-vis local amateur athletes. Well, Exhibit A would be the July 31 edition of the Sun, which had 16 sports pages (including cover). Here’s the damning evidence of neglect:
* 5-page feature (including cover) on Tranna Blue Jays prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who’s with the Triple A Buffalo Bisons.
* 1 page on the trade that sent Tranna Blue Jays relief pitcher Roberto Osuna to the Houston Astros.
* 1 page on pro golfer Brooke Henderson (with a small sidebar on Rink Rat Scheifele of the Winnipeg Jets joining the field for the Players Cup tournament, which tees off at Southwood later this month).
* 2-page feature on now-retired Jarome Iginla, the face of the Calgary Flames for so many years.
* 1 page on Johnny Manziel.
* 1 page on the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
* 1 page on the Tranna Argonauts.
* 1 page on the Ottawa RedBlacks.
* 2 pages of agate.
* 1 page on the Winnipeg Goldeyes.
Do the math and it adds up to seven of 16 pages devoted to athletes and outfits from the Republic of Tranna—in a Winnipeg newspaper!
Boffo stuff from John Lott of The Athletic Tranna on the Blue Jays unloading relief pitcher Roberto Osuna, who still faces a domestic violence charge: “Good riddance. Whatever their motives—and the tea leaves present murky messages—the Blue Jays did a good thing. Not because of the return they received in the trade, but because they rubbed out an unsightly stain on an organization looking for model citizens to lead their impending youth movement.”
The Houston Astros, who accepted Osuna in barter with the Blue Jays, claim to have a “zero tolerance” policy on domestic violence. As if. What the Astros have is “ninth-inning tolerance.” That is to say, as long as Osuna can get batters out in the ninth inning and help them win another World Series title, they don’t care if he hits women.
This is rich: Jerry Jones has threatened to fire any of his Dallas Cowboys who stay in the lockerroom or take a knee during the playing of the American national anthem prior to NFL games, yet he’s been observed talking and yukking it up, also wearing a Cowboys ball cap, while the Star Spangled Banner played at practice. Dallas sportscaster Dale Hansen called out the Cowboys owner for his hypocrisy.
And, finally, best quote of the week came from former Calgary Flames radio play-by-play guy Peter Maher, a very nice man who had this to say about now-retired forward Jarome Iginla’s 60-plus fights in the NHL: “I think he won them all. At least he did on the radio.”
Three soft-boiled eggs on whole wheat toast and some leftover thoughts for a Monday morning breakfast…
I cut my teeth in the rag trade by standing on the lumpy, pock-marked sidelines of local football fields, covering the Sisler Spartans, Churchill Bulldogs, Elmwood Eskimos and other outfits in the Winnipeg High School Football League.
If not at high school grid, I was courtside watching the best local tennis players do their thing on the clay courts of the Winnipeg Canoe Club or Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club.
Major Junior/Junior/Senior hockey, kids curling, high school track and field, badminton, junior golf, bowling, figure skating, fastball, gymnastics, Junior baseball, hoops, amateur boxing…you name it, I was there to write about it. And if I wasn’t on site, I was on the Winnipeg Tribune sports desk, doing rewrites or laying out the pages that would prominently feature the games that local people played for no pay.
People continue to play those games today, but the sports sections of the two daily rags in River City have abandoned them. Almost entirely. And that is, indeed, sad and most unfortunate.
I mean, why am I reading about Miguel Angel Jiminez leading the Senior British Open golf tournament and a tie atop the ladies’ Scottish Open leaderboard in the Winnipeg Free Press instead of, say, the Manitoba Junior Baseball League playoffs, which are down to the short strokes and will feature two local outfits, the St. James A’s and Elmwood Giants, in the final?
Why does the Winnipeg Sun devote two full pages to a guy from Vancouver, Adam Zaruba, who’s in the training camp of the Philadelphia Eagles, two full pages to UFC blood-spilling in Calgary, and another two full pages to the Tranna-centric musings of Steve Simmons instead of the MJBL final four?
I know the reason behind the Sun’s dismissal of all local sports outfits that aren’t named Jets, Blue Bombers, Moose or Goldeyes, and I addressed it in January 2016, after parent company Postmedia adopted a centralized sports desk for its member papers:
“Some invisible head sitting behind some invisible desk in some remote outpost of the land now will decide what Winnipeg sports fans want to read. How this serves Pegtown provides serious pause for ponder. I mean, shouldn’t a sports editor be able to reach out and feel the pulse of the people? It’s easy enough to recognize that the Winnipeg Jets and Winnipeg Blue Bombers are the big dogs in town and, thus, generate the most talk. But what of lesser players such as the Manitoba Moose, the Winnipeg Goldeyes, the University of Manitoba Bisons, Junior hockey, local tennis, golf, curling, figure skating, etc.? My concern is that they shall be lost in the shuffle.”
The Moose and Goldeyes haven’t been ignored, but the others? Bupkus.
From July 15 until this very morning, the Sun printed 313 stories in 16 sports sections, and the professional-amateur split reads like a Harlem Globetrotters-Washington Generals scoreline—308-5. That’s a paltry 1.6 per cent of all copy devoted to amateur sports coverage, which has been sacrificed for Postmedia piffle from hither and yon, articles that have scant or zero significance to the River City rabble. Seriously. Steve Simmons taking issue with Kyle Lowry’s silence is something I want or need to read about in a Winnipeg newspaper?
It’s only marginally better at the Freep, where sports columnist Paul Wiecek wrote this at the start of the month: “A confluence of events over the Canada Day long weekend got me thinking about how we as Canadians so dramatically undervalue the contributions our amateur athletes make to this country, while simultaneously just as dramatically overvalue the contributions of our professional athletes.”
That particular column was more a gripe piece about greedy play-for-pay athletes, but the Drab Slab toy department and Wiecek then proved how little they value amateurs. From June 30 until this morning, they ran 614 articles and here’s the pro-amateur split: 558-56, or 9.1 per cent for amateurs. In that same time frame, Wiecek scribbled a dozen essays, 100 per cent aimed at pro athletes and pro sports (hmmm, 12 columns in 31 days…nice work if you can get it).
Like I said, I understand why the Sun has bottomed out on local amateur coverage. It’s marching to a national drummer. But the Freep has no excuse. It’s an independent paper with a sports section that doesn’t have any less space today than it did in the 1970s, and there’s no less staff. Which means there can only be one reason—they just don’t give a damn.
Speaking of pro sports, I must say, there was some gawdawful officiating on display during the Bombers-Tranna Argonauts skirmish on Friday night at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry, and it greatly benefited the home side. Winnipeg FC still would have beaten the Boatmen sans the generous flag-tossing, but, had the phantom infractions not been called, it might have made for a more compelling match.
The Bombers had a head count of 27,116 on Friday, their largest gathering of this Canadian Football League crusade, but Winnipeg FC is still 2,040 behind last-season’s three-game pace. That’s a dip of at least $57,000 in ticket revenue.
I like Jim Barker’s input as one of the newbies among TSN’s cast of characters on CFL coverage, but he’s got to do something about his lid. If Barker’s grey-and-black locks aren’t flopping over his right eye, they’re sticking out at the back like he’s got bed head. Very distracting. As for that other newby, Davis Sanchez, if I want to listen to a man butcher the English language I’ll take Chris Walby any day. Bluto has better stories and he’s a lot funnier.
Listening to Kate Beirness of TSN glorify Johnny Manziel before and after the Edmonton Eskimos-Montreal Alouettes grass-grabber on Thursday night, I couldn’t help but wonder this: What does she really think about a guy who beat up his (former) girlfriend? What does she say about the Als quarterback once the camera is turned off? Is she being forced to promote him as the CFL’s shiny, new object?
I’ll say this for Paul Wiecek, he’s the only columnist in Canada who’s had the junk to write that Johnny Manziel’s doesn’t belong in the CFL due to his domestic violence history. If another scribe has spoken out, I missed it. So good on him.
Here are this week’s CFL power rankings…
1. Calgary (6-0): Who’ll stop these guys?
2. Winnipeg (4-3): Feasting on Tranna.
3. Edmonton (4-2): All those penalties (17) won’t cut it against a top-level foe.
4. Saskatchewan (3-3): Has anyone figured out what Chris Jones is trying to do?
5. Ottawa (4-2): Not going to win many games kicking seven field goals.
6. B.C. (2-3): Not convinced Travis Lulay is the answer at QB.
7. Hamilton (2-4): Going…going…gone?
8. Toronto (1-5): Time to try another quarterback.
9. Montreal (1-5): Still awful in either official language.
I note that hockey legend Mario Lemieux is selling his shack in Mont-Tremblant, Que., for a mere $21,999,066 million. It has eight bedrooms and nine washrooms. That’s $2,444,340.66 per biffy, for those of you keeping score at home.
On the subject of bathrooms, tennis great Serena Williams is whinging about men in lab coats continually knocking on her door and demanding that she pee in a bottle. Apparently, the doping sleuths have visited her five times this year. So what’s the big deal? I’ve had to pee in a bottle six times in the past 10 months, and I’m not even a world-ranked tennis player.
Shouldn’t the promotion of Gina Kingsbury to general manager of Canada’s national women’s hockey team warrant more than an ‘oh, by the way’ blurb in the media? It was bottom-of-the back-pages news in the Free Press, and 10 pages deep into the Sun sports section.
And, finally, the silence since a National Hockey League arbitrator awarded Jacob Trouba a $5.5 million contract has been deafening. Nothing from Winnipeg Jets ownership/management. Nothing from the Trouba camp. Kind of puts a chill into Winnipeg’s hottest summer in 30 years.
I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
It’s easy to examine Winnipeg FC’s first frolic of this fresh football crusade and file it under ‘same old, same old’ because, let’s face it, Richie Hall’s defence looked like Richie Hall’s defence.
Which is to say, the Blue Bombers D-men couldn’t stop a sniffle, let alone Mike Reilly.
I mean, when it came down to the short strokes on Friday morning at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry, Reilly and his Edmonton Eskimos offensive accomplices gobbled up land like Homer Simpson working on a box of Timbits. They covered more real estate than the first settlers to bring their ox carts to the Red River Valley. You know, just like last November, when they turned a spirited argument into a rout by rag dolling the Bombers defensive dozen to the tune of 28 points in fewer than 15 minutes.
So, ya, when the Eskimos seized victory in the final grunting of the 2018 Canadian Football League curtain-raiser, it was like a recurring nightmare.
This was no ordinary skirmish. The game began on Thursday and ended in the small hours of Friday. It took them five hours and 40 minutes to complete 60 minutes of football. There were two lengthy, thunder-and-lightning delays that kept the large lads in their changing rooms, nibbling on munchies and chilling, for just shy of three hours. By the time the boys gathered to grab grass and growl for a third time, there was no grass to grab. The field looked like the Lake of the Woods. They could have sold cottage lots.
Thus, I’m reluctant to measure this match in any substantial way. Except one: Rookie Chris Streveler can play.
Although on the south side of a 33-30 score, Streveler provided ample evidence to suggest the longest manhunt this side of D.B. Cooper is over. The Bombers have found a quarterback.
Hey, I’m not prepared to say Streveler will make anyone forget about Kenny Ploen or Dieter Brock, but three touchdown tosses and some serious lickety-split in his stride are a noteworthy start. He could become the first in-house discovery to put his footprint on the CFL landscape since the Bombers brought Danny McManus north of the border in 1990.
Let’s just hope Streveler has more patience than McManus.
Danny Mac, remember, grew weary of holding a clipboard for Tom Burgess and Matt Dunigan, so he felt obliged to get out of Dodge and take his talents to the B.C. Lions after three seasons of mop-up duty in River City. Similarly, Streveler retreats to the backup role once the main man, Matt Nichols, returns from the repair shop in about a month. Nichols isn’t going anywhere. He’s only 31 and locked in through 2019. So, barring owies to Nichols, where is Streveler’s opportunity to start?
I’m not saying it will be deja Danny, but I’m guessing that Streveler is inclined to become something more than a career backup QB.
Where did everybody go? Aside from the weather, the sourest note struckat the Bombers-Eskimos to-and-fro was the official head count at Football Follies Field—just 25,458. That’s less than all but two home dates last season and 4,707 fewer than the 2017 home opener. It’s also down 5,096 from the Eskimos’ visit last August. Not sure if that downsizing has resulted in fretful, furrowed foreheads in the Winnipeg FC ivory tower, but it should. That’s a lot of lost revenue.
I always find media takes on Bombers games interesting. A case in point would be the scribblings of Paul Friesen and Paul Wiecek in the aftermath of the Bombers-Eskimos joust that droned on for five-plus hours.
Here’s Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun: “There was enough good in the marathon, 33-30 loss to Mike Reilly and the Edmonton Eskimos that it strangely felt like something of a moral victory for the Big Blue. The most important thing we learned is the loss of starter Matt Nichols for the first month might be survivable. With real victories. Not just moral ones.”
Here’s Wiecek of the Drab Slab: “How can a defence this good on paper still be that lousy on the field? The answer, of course, is that for all the changes made to the defence in the off-season—an upgraded secondary, defensive line and the addition of maybe the best middle linebacker in the game, Adam Bighill—the guys at the top remain the same, head coach Mike O’Shea and defensive coordinator Richie Hall. At some point, someone in authority down at Investors Group Field is going to have to figure out that the problem with this Bombers defence isn’t the players, it’s the scheme. It’s a long season and there is still plenty of time for redemption. But at some point, if Hall cannot figure out a way to make a defence this good on paper play a lot better than that on the field, he has to go. And if O’Shea cannot figure that out, then he should be the one to go.”
My take on those two takes? One game into an 18-game season and Wiecek is already writing about heads rolling? Tough crowd.
So, I’m watching the the Calgary Stampeders double down on the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, 28-14, on Saturday and I’m thinking, “Okay, how in the name of Joe Theismann is TSN going to make this about Johnny Manziel?” I mean, the Tabbies starting QB, Jeremiah Masoli, put up some handsome numbers before his singular d’oh moment sealed the deal. Johnny Rotten, meanwhile, never set a cleated foot on the playing field at McMahon Stadium. He was an observer, just like any lump sitting on a bar stool. Manziel was a non-story. Totally. Except TSN decided he was a story, with three headlines on the website main page and two videos, one of which featured Milt Stegall in a barking-dog role:
Manziel sits in Tiger-Cats’ opening loss.
Masoli shines in Tiger-Cats’ loss, keeps Manziel at bay.
What does Mazoli’s performance mean for Manziel?
Sigh. I believe Stampeders quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell said it best in a chin-wag with Eric Francis of Postmedia Cowtown: “Any guy in the league that has already earned that respect is probably tired of hearing about him. That’s just truthful.”
So nice to see Kirk Penton’s byline appearing in The Athletic. When he was among the small stable of sports scribes at the Winnipeg Sun, Kirk became the best football beat writer in Canada, give or take young Eddie Tait, who went from the Sun to the Winnipeg Free Press to his role today as scribbler of quality stuff at bluebombers.com. The rag trade lost two very good people when they defected.
Phil Mickelson cheated, like a petulant, weekend hack. He should have be turfed from the U.S. Open on Saturday. Instead, he was allowed to soldier on after deliberately striking his moving ball lest it should roll off the 13th green at Shinnecock Hills in New York and add to the embarrassment of his inflated score. He then laughed, smirked and basically gave tournament officials and critics the finger, telling them to “toughen up.” He confessed that he’d thought of doing this very thing on numerous occasions, even at the Masters. One can only imagine how the humorless men in the ugly green jackets at Augusta National would have dealt with Mickelson had he pulled his sophomoric, unsportsmanlike stunt on their pristine, hallowed grounds. I’m guessing he’d have been on his way home faster than you could say, “Y’all never did see Arnie or Jack doing that.”
My first red card of the World Cup goes to John Doyle. Straight-shooting TV critic at the Globe and Mail, Doyle tends to stray from his comfort zone and join the kids in the sandbox whenever he sees Ronaldo or Messi playing footy. And so it was that he offered this nugget of nonsense last week: “Christine Sinclair is the best soccer player, male or female, this country has produced.” On a stupid scale of 1-to-10, that hits tilt! It’s like saying Nickelback is Canada’s greatest musical export. An argument can be made that Sinclair is our best-known soccer player, but to submit that she’s our finest player is an insult to Dwayne De Rosario, Owen Hargreaves, Craig Forest, Jason De Vos, Alphonso Davies, Atiba Hutchinson, Alex Bunbury, Brian Budd, Bob Lenarduzzi and so many others who would dribble circles around her. Back to your flatscreen, John.
I keep hearing that some dude named Robbie Williams flipped the bird to a global TV audience while performing “a slew of his hits” at the World Cup opening ceremony. Should I apologize if I have to ask who Robbie Williams is? Seriously. Never heard of him until he extended his middle digit, so I Googled him and discovered that he looks like the personification of middle-age crisis.
Did you know that you have Donald Trump to thank for bringing the World Cup to a North American stadium near you in 2026? Yup. President Tarrif tweets: “Thank you for all the compliments on getting the World Cup to come to the U.S.A., Mexico and Canada. I worked hard on this, along with a Great Team of talented people.” In related news, Trump also claims to have coached the Washington Capitals, played quarterback for the New England Patriots and will caddy for the winner of Sunday’s U.S. Open golf tournament.
Once again, I wonder if Steve Simmons reads the alphabet farts he produces for Postmedia Tranna before he hits the send button. I say that because of a tweet he posted on Friday after the Ottawa Senators suspended assistant manager Randy Lee, who, after an early-June incident, faces a charge of second-degree harassment for allegedly making lewd comments and rubbing the shoulders of a 19-year-old shuttle driver at the National Hockey League combine in Buffalo. “What took so long?” Simmons asked. Yet, when the CFL punted Euclid Cummings of the B.C. Lions after it was revealed that he’d been charged with two counts of sexual assault, one count of assault and one count of uttering a threat to cause death or bodily harm, Simmons wrote this: “Don’t like the fact the CFL voids contracts after players are charged with a crime. Being charged is one thing. Being convicted is another. CFL shouldn’t play judge and jury here with people’s lives.” So, let’s see if I’ve got this straight: Simmons believes a guy who allegedly touched another man’s shoulders and made lewd remarks should be out of work immediately, but a guy who sexually assaulted a woman and threatened her with death should still be working. Wow, just wow.
Interesting discussion on Hockey Central at Noon last week, whereby the natterbugs went off on the nasty social media spat featuring Erik Karlsson and Mike Hoffman of the Senators and their main squeezes, Melinda Karlsson and Monika Caryk.
The Karlssons have been subjected to the most vile bullying, including death wishes and accusations of drug use by Melinda and hopes for a career-ending injuries for Erik.
John Shannon wanted no part of the to-and-fro, but host Daren Millard and Damien Cox of Sportsnet/Toronto Star had at it. Not surprisingly, Cox made an ass-clown of himself, basically blaming victims of cyber bullying.
“I think the one thing about social media that we’re learning more and more and I think all of us have experienced, you can only be cyber bullied to some extent if you allow yourself to be,” he said. “If you go on social media, if you participate in social media, if it’s something that’s important to you, then you are vulnerable to that. If you say, ‘I’m not gonna have anything to do with that,’ then you’re not as vulnerable.”
In other words, if you step outside your house and get hit by one of the many stoned or drunk drivers on our roads it’s your fault because you stepped outside your house.
“Erik and Melinda (Karlsson) are a brand, they have the right to be on social media,” Millard said.
“They also have to recognize the dangers of social media,” Cox countered.
And yet Sportsnet, which trumpets its anti-bullying/harassment police and recently dismissed baseball gab guy Gregg Zaun for that very thing, keeps putting Cox on their air. Wow, just wow.
I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
The boys are back in town, so let’s settle this Habs-Jets thing once and for all.
Let me begin by saying that I stand second to few people in admiration for the Winnipeg Jets, circa Hedberg-Nilsson-Sjoberg-Hull-et al. They played hybrid hockey. Canadian grit met Scandinavian swirl to form a swashbuckling brand of shinny not seen on this side of the great waters until the two cultures dovetailed in the mid-to-late 1970s.
If we are to believe Slats Sather, those Jets provided the blueprint for his rollicking Edmonton Oilers outfits that ruled the frozen ponds of the National Hockey League a decade later.
So, ya, the Jets were good. Good enough to give the mighty Soviet Union national side a 5-3 paddywhacking one January night in 1978.
But…were they Montreal Canadiens good? That is, how might the World Hockey Association’s signature team have measured up against the Habs juggernaut that featured a Hockey Hall of Fame head coach and nine HHOF players who produced Stanley Cup parades in four successive springs, 1976-79? Well, let’s ask three people who ought to know—Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson and Bobby Hull.
The three members of the legendary Hot Line were in Good, Ol’ Hometown this weekend for a gathering of the players who conspired to win the club’s second WHA title 40 years ago this month, and Kathy Kennedy summoned them to her CJOB studio for a gab session. Also sitting in for the 40-minute chin-wag were veteran broadcasters Peter Young and Sod Keilback, who steered the chatter in the direction of les Canadiens.
Keiback: “Would you have beaten the Montreal Canadiens?”
Hull: “No, but it would have been a great game.”
Keilback: “I want to ask this to Ulf, because Friar Nicolson told me the most honest man he ever met in his life—the guy couldn’t lie—was Ulf Nilsson. Ulf, would you have been able to win the Stanley Cup with the WHA Jets?”
Nilsson: “No, I don’t think so. I agree with both Bobby and Anders. We were short maybe a few defencemen. Goaltending was good, though, and I think we had enough good forwards, but defence, we could have used one or two more.”
Hedberg: “We could have reached the final, no question.”
So, there you have it. While hundreds (thousands?) of locals to this day remain convinced the Jets could have given the Habs a wedgie, three of the WHA club’s four most influential players (defenceman Lars-Erik Sjoberg was the fourth) insist it’s a notion built on fantasy.
It would have been a boffo series, though.
Former Jets general manager John Ferguson has been bones in the ground since 2007, but Hull won’t let his feud with Fergy go to the grave. Proudly talking about the open-door policy the Jets had with fans during the WHA days, Hull said this during the ‘OB gabfest: “They wanted me to take over the team, and they brought in a guy by the name of Ferguson and Tommy McVie, and that was all the goodwill we’d built up in all those years from 1972 to 1979 or ’80, or whenever it was that they joined with the NHL, went out the window. Doors were closed, there was rippin’ and cursin’ and kickin’ buckets and throwin’ oranges.” When host Kathy Kennedy relayed a story about an angry Fergy once kicking a hole through the Jets’ dressing room door, Hull said, “He not only had the foot in the door lots of times, he had that size 13 in his mouth.”
As the present-day Jets continue their Stanley Cup crusade vs. the Vegas Golden Knights, give a thought to the WHA Jets, because they’re the reason what’s happening today is happening today. Had original owner Ben Hatskin folded his tent, the NHL wouldn’t have given River City a second glance. Edmonton and Ottawa probably wouldn’t have franchises either.
Interesting take from Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun on the Jets-Golden Knights skirmish for bragging rights in the NHL Western Conference. “I get that Vegas being good is beneficial for the league, but it still doesn’t seem fair that an expansion team can come in and contend for a Stanley Cup right away.” Fair? You tell me what’s fair. I mean, the Golden Knights entered the fray last October with a roster of rejects. Nobody thought it was unfair back then. So now that same roster of rejects is eight wins from hoisting the holy grail in Glitter Gulch and it isn’t fair? As if.
It occurs to me that it isn’t just the clubscompeting in the NHL’s annual spring runoff. It’s also the daily rags. And, two series and one game deep into the playoffs, I’d say the Sun has opened a big, ol’ can of whupass on the Winnipeg Free Press. The tabloid troika of Wyman, Paul Friesen and Ken Wiebe have been cranking out the good stuff daily since the puck dropped on the Jets-Minnesota Wild series. Over at the Drab Slab, Mike McIntyre, Jason Bell and Mike Sawatzky are doing boffo business, but it doesn’t help that the Freep’s Sunday edition is an after-thought and the sports columnist seems to be MIA every second day.
I turned on the TV the other day to watch the coronation of Kyle Dubas as GM of the Tranna Maple Leafs and they introduced Harry Potter instead. Seriously. If Dubas isn’t Harry Potter, he’s Harry’s big brother. The question now is this: Can he do anything about the boggarts on the Leafs blueline?
Nick Kypreos has come clean about running off at the mouth. Sort of. If you’ll recall, our man Kipper implied that Leafs head coach Mike Babcock and his star player, Auston Matthews, have been giving each other the ol’ stink eye. “Babcock lost Matthews. There was no trust anymore. For whatever reason, Babcock lost Matthews,” he said after les Leafs had bowed out of the Stanley Cup tournament. Kipper offered zero evidence to support his suggestion of a spat. And now? “It is based purely on my instincts following a 12-year professional career,” the Sportsnet and Hockey Night in Canada gab guy tells us. “It is nothing more, nothing less. To my knowledge, there is no major rift between Babcock and Matthews. There is no conspiracy, but trust me, it isn’t fake news either. I have no idea how Matthews feels about his coach.” I think that last sentence sums it up: Kypreos has no idea.
Loved the chatter between Daren Millard and “smarmy” Damien Cox on Hockey Central at Noon last Wednesday, when they engaged in a to-and-fro about ice time for elite NHL performers.
Cox: “Good teams don’t give their best players 23 minutes. Or, if they do it’s very rare. Or they’re coached by John Tortorella.”
Millard: “Barkov plays…Sasha Barkov plays 23 minutes.”
Cox: “Oh, Connor McDavid plays more than 22 minutes and they’re horrible. So, that’s what you want? The idea is to have a well-balanced team. Now…”
Millard: “You’re so smarmy sometimes.”
Cox: “Why is that smarmy?”
Millard: “You just…you are. You’re just…”
Cox: “I was giving you an example.”
Millard: “It’s the way you say it. ‘No, they’re terrible. Is that what you want?‘”
Cox: “That is not smarmy. You can say it’s overcritical, but it’s not smarmy.”
Well, let’s see. Smarmy is defined by Merriam-Webster as: “Of low sleazy taste or quality; revealing or marked by a smug, ingratiating, or false earnestness.” The urban dictionary describes smarmy as: “A certain attitude often accompanied by a squinty look and a superior smile that makes you instantly hate a person.” It’s settled then: Millard is correct—Cox is smarmy.
Old friend Evander Kane, soon eligible for free agency, has revealed his needs-and-wants list for re-signing with the San Jose Sharks or moving to another NHL club: “Common sense tells you there are three priorities that you look for as a player: money, chance to win and lifestyle. Those are the three priorities and it just depends on how you rank them.” In Kane’s case, considerations of lifestyle would have to include proximity to Las Vegas, a private jet and, of course, comfy jail cells. Okay, okay. That was a cheap shop. I mean, it’s been at least a year since cops have had to slap the handcuffs on Kane in public. Shame on me.
Quote of the week comes from the Boston Licker, Brad Marchand, whose filthy habit of licking opposition players commandeered much of the chatter during Round 2 of Stanley Cup skirmishing:“I have to cut that shit out,” he said. Ya think? What was your first clue, Inspector Clouseau?
I’d like to feel sorry for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers today. I really would. I mean, they got stiffed. That dirty, no-good, rotten scoundrel and noted green guy Darian Durant took their money and ran. Paid him $70,000 and he flat out quit. Didn’t even have the good manners to bid a polite adieu. And now the Canadian Football League club is left without its security blanket for starting quarterback Matt Nichols, a week before the large lads in pads gather to grab grass and growl at their 2018 training sessions. Well, here’s a thought: Stop relying on other outfits to do your dirty work. That is, find and develop your own damn QBs instead of this decades-long dependency on others’ retreads. I think Dieter Brock was the last in-house starter of note, and the Bombers haven’t groomed a backup who could toss a spiral since Hal Ledyard rode shotgun for Kenny Ploen.
Having said that, Durant’s departure was totally lame. Really bad form. You want to quit, fine, quit. That’s cool. Get on with your life. But, good gawd, have the gonads to tell the people who invested $70,000 in you. Pick up a phone and call them. Don’t let them find out on social media.
Meet Phil Mickelson, fashionista. Who knew? If you missed it, the normally frumpy and flabby Phil has taken to wearing button-up dress shirts on the golf course, complete with starched collars and cuffs. What, no cufflinks, Lefty? No ascot? Not sure if Lefty is caught in a middle-age crisis, but this is a good look like Hair In A Can was a good idea. It’s Giorgio Armani bogies the back nine.
The good news is, Drake has been eliminated from the National Basketball Association playoffs. The bad news is, jock journos in the Republic of Tranna will have to scramble to find another groupie to fawn over. Are there any rapper/hip-hop stars who like the Blue Jays? If not, I’m sure they’ll settle for a B-list celeb like Dave Foley or Steven Page.
Boxing is on the menu in The ROT next Saturday, with champion Adonis Stevenson defending his WBC light-heavyweight title against Badou Jack. It’s quite the seedy main event: Stevenson has spent time behind bars for pimping out women; Jack is known as The Ripper, an obvious reference to Jack the Ripper, serial killer of prostitutes; and the challenger is among the stable of boxers promoted by Floyd Mayweather Jr., himself a convicted woman-beater. That’s not a sports event, it’s a jail break. And yet people will part with their money to watch. Go figure.
This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna (Volume 1): “The greatest Toronto athletes in my time: Donovan Bailey, Ben Johnson. @De6rasse has a chance to surpass both.” Can you say hypocrite, kids? I mean, Simmons sits on a horse named Morality and refuses to vote for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens in Baseball Hall of Fame balloting because they flunked his smell test. That is, they stuck needles in their butts. They cheated. Yet he lists this country’s most-disgraced cheater, druggie Ben Johnson, as one of the two greatest Tranna athletes during his 61 years drawing oxygen. A freaking cheat! Can you say zero credibility, kids? Zero!
This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna (Volume 2): “The Leafs can’t beat Boston three straight. Probably no team in hockey can.” Tell that to the Tampa Bay Lightning, who just beat the Bruins four straight.
This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna (Volume 3): “It’s entirely possible that all four conference finalists in the NHL will be teams that have never won the Stanley Cup before.” No, it was not possible. Tampa and Boston, who met in the eastern semifinal, have both won the Stanley Cup. Simmons explained his gaffe by saying he was soooooo “tired,” then deleted the tweet.
I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
It’s easy to get ahead of yourself today if you’re among the white-clad rabble of Giddy Town, heretofore known as Winnipeg, River City or the Peg (or the less-flattering Winterpeg, Win-a-Pig, Zamboniville, Tundra Town and the Town That Summer Forgot).
I mean, you just watched your hockey heroes open a big, ol’ can of whup-ass on the Minnesota Wild. The Jets were ruthless, like a kid pulling the wings off a housefly ruthless. They brought a bayonet to a knife fight. The Wild brought a handful of confetti. It was more one-sided than a father-son talk about the teenage boy’s pregnant girlfriend. So now that the Jets have disposed of Minny in five matches, you’re calling out the Nashville Predators. Bring ’em on, right? Then bring on the San Jose Sharks or Vegas Golden Knights, and whichever outfit has the misfortune of emerging from the east in the National Hockey League battle of attrition known as the Stanley Cup tournament.
It’s all good. Plan the parade route. Now. We’ll all meet at Portage and Main, right where Ben Hatskin started it all by signing Robert Marvin Hull 46 years ago come June.
Well, here’s what I have to say about that: You go, kids! Party hardy!
Yes, I realize the NHL Jets have been here before. Twice, in fact. But what did advancing to the second round get them? The Big Bad Wolf in the form of the Edmonton Gretzkys. Those parties were over faster than John Bowie Ferguson could finish one of his stinky stogies. But this one has a different feel to it, doesn’t it? There’s a sense of genuine optimism for a lengthy playoff run that didn’t exist in 1985 and ’87. Oh, sure, some among the rabble back then believed the impossible to be possible, but once they stepped outside the rose-colored tea room and removed their rose-tinted glasses, they saw stark reality in a blue-orange-and-white tidal wave of hall-of-fame talent. There is no Big Bad Wolf for these Jets, though. As they await their foe for Round 2 of the Stanley Cup tournament, I see no outfit they cannot conquer. That they should not conquer. This could last a while.
For those of you keeping score at home (and I really hope you aren’t), I was 36 years old when the Jets last won a playoff series. Do the math. On second thought, please don’t. Suffice to say, I was young and in my prime and, according to Howie Meeker, I didn’t know moonshine from racoon crap. Howie was correct, of course, but he could have been a tad more subtle in his criticism of my scribblings.
A chap named Simeon Rusnak put together a nice package on the Winnipeg Whiteout for Sportsnet last week. I just wish these interlopers would do some simple fact-checking before letting their fingers do the walking on a keyboard. “The Whiteout hit the Manitoba capital with the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the first-round matchup between the Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild,” Rusnak writes. “Bell MTS Place is the epicentre of the storm, with 15,321 fans at every home game draped in white—a tradition that began in 1987 in the old Winnipeg Arena when the original Jets went to their first post-season.” Sigh. The spring of 1987 was the Jets’ sixth NHL post-season crusade, not the first. They had qualified in ’82, ’83, ’84, ’85 and ’86. And, of course, the “original pro Jets” had six playoff runs and three titles in the World Hockey Association. People like Rusnak can take a crash course on the Jets’ beginnings by checking out Joe Pascucci’s excellent Legacy of Greatness feature on YouTube, or Curtis Walker’s Memorial Site.
Winnipeg Sun city side/political columnist Tom Brodbeck has also weighed in on the Jets, trumpeting the genius of ownership/management for turning a “battered and bruised” Atlanta franchise into a Stanley Cup contender “in just seven short years.” Say again? Seven short years? Cripes, man, George McPhee put together a Stanley Cup contender in Las Vegas in less than seven months. Brendan Shanahan, Lou Lamoriello and Mike Babcock did it in the Republic of Tranna in three years. Brodbeck also scribbles: “It’s very difficult to find fault with almost anything this franchise has done.” Really? I’ve got two names for you: Claude and Noel. That was the first “fault,” but certainly not their last (hello, Evander Kane). But, hey, revisionist history seems to be trendy during these heady days of the Whiteout.
Got a giggle out of Josh Morrissey’s take on the cross-check that took him out of les Jets lineup for Game 5 vs. Minny. “I watched the video afterward, and we’re battling in front of the net on the penalty kill, and I’m actually looking at the puck on the wall, trying to box him out,” he said. “I got my stick up too high on him. It was a complete accident. I would never try to do that.” If I’m ever on trial for a heinous crime, I won’t be calling young Josh as an eye witness for the defence. I mean, I watched the video, too. Morrissey and Eric Staal of the Wild were not “battling.” Staal laid neither a stick nor a gloved hand on Morrissey, who was not “looking at the puck along the wall.” He looked directly at Staal when he laid the lumber to the Wild centre’s neck. And to call it an “accident?” As if. Spilling a cup of java is an accident. What Morrissey did to Staal gets you locked up. But I admire the kid’s chutzpah.
Don Cherry isn’t fond of the NHL playoff format. It “sucks,” he said from his bully pulpit on Hockey Night in Canada during the Tranna Maple Leafs-Boston Bruins tiff on Thursday night. I won’t quarrel with Grapes. He’s absolutely correct about the NHL post-season setup. I just wish he’d have made his case in English. I mean, listen to him: “It sucks as far as I’m concerned…guess ya can’t say that. Anyhow, it’s not good an’ I’ll tell ya why. These, one of these two teams, they should not, one of them should not be out—gone!—one of them will be GONE. It’s too good a too good a teams to be gone. It should be one an’ eight—top team I think against New Jersey—that’s the way it should be. Some day when it is, when it ain’t, you cannot have one of these two good teams OUT.” Yikes! And he’s been getting paid to talk for almost 40 years? That’s as daft as paying Sarah Huckabee Sanders to tell jokes.
Grapes has been on something or a roll lately. After Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins gave the Philly Flyers a 7-0 wedgie in the opening salvo of their series, the Lord of Loud told “you kids out there” that it’s bad manners to run up the score like that. “He (Crosby) should not be on when it’s 6-0. I always kept the score down.” Out of curiosity, I went on a fact-finding mission to determine if coach Cherry had, indeed, called off the hounds once a game was well in hand during his watch (1974-79) as bench steward of the Boston Bruins. I can report that not only is his nose growing, his pants are also on fire. Yes, Grapes stands guilty of a blatant Trumpism (read: big, fat fib). His Bruins were cutthroat. Check out some of their scores:
1974-75: 8-2 playoff win vs. Chicago
(regular season wins: 10-1, 10-4, 8-1, 12-1, 11-3, 8-0, 9-4, 8-0, 7-2, 8-2). 1975-76: 7-1 playoff win vs. L.A.
(regular season wins: 7-0, 8-1, 6-0). 1976-77: 8-3 playoff win vs. L.A.
(regular season wins: 8-1, 7-3, 7-3, 10-3, 6-0, 7-4). 1977-78: 6-1 playoff win vs. Chicago
(regular season wins: 7-3, 6-0, 8-2, 7-0, 6-1, 6-1, 7-1, 8-2, 8-1, 7-3, 7-2, 9-3, 7-2, 7-0, 8-3) 1978-79: 6-2 playoff win vs. Pittsburgh
(regular season wins: 8-2, 7-2, 7-3, 7-3, 6-1, 6-1, 7-4)…
So here’s some unpaid advice for “you kids out there”: Go to the kitchen and make a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich as soon as Uncle Grapes opens his gob, because if you listen to him you’re apt to receive failing grades in both English and History.
Play-by-play call of the week, if not forever, was delivered by Colorado radio guy Marc Moser on Friday night after Sven Andrighetto scored to keep the Avalanche alive with a 2-1 win over Nashville: “I can’t believe it! This has gotta be one of the gutsiest clubs in the National Hockey League! Pure guts! They got nothing but guts! Every guy with three big, ol’ cow hearts, two pancreases and five stomachs! Guts all over the place!” There’s nothing to say after that, except someone please call maintenance for a cleanup on Aisle 5—there’s guts all over the place!
This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna (after the Maple Leafs had been beaten 3-1 by the Bruins in Game 4 of their playoff series): “This was the night when the future of the Leafs—building around Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander—didn’t seem to be a very sound approach.” Good grief. Who would Grandpa Simmons prefer they build around? Borje Salming, Darryl Sittler and Rocky Saganiuk?
I note that Auston Matthews’ jersey was the top-seller in the NHL this season. Simmons demands to know the name of the imposter wearing Matthews’ No. 34 in Game 4. (Just so you know, after the Leafs centre on the top-seller top five were Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, Marc-Andre Fleury and King Henrik Lundqvist.)
No doubt Roger Federer has earned the right to pick and choose when and where he plays his tennis, but still…skipping the entire clay courts season? Again? How much of Federer’s allergy to red clay is about preserving his 36-year-old body for Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, and how much of it is about his competitive juices? It seems to me that the 20-time Grand Slam champion has conceded he’ll never win at Roland Garros again—not with nemesis Rafa Nadal in the French Open field and healthy—so why waste time and energy on preliminary events on the red clay of Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid and Rome? Can’t win, won’t play. I’m sorry, but it’s not a good look for the “greatest of all time.” Again, Federer gets the benefit of the doubt, but it still smacks of surrender. He prefers not to be Rafa’s clay pigeon.
Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Genie Bouchard is taking time out from her many photo shoots to help Canada in its Federation Cup tie vs. Ukraine this weekend in Montreal, and it seems our tennis diva hasn’t let her world 117 ranking bring her down a peg or two. In a presser prior to the event, a foreign reporter led into his question by telling Genie it was “a privilege” to share the same oxygen as the one-time Grand Slam finalist. To which she replied: “It’s nice of you to say that. It would be nice if our local press said that to me as well.” Someone needs to put that Genie back in the bottle.
So, there was a hole in roof at Rogers Centre, home of the surprisingly adept Blue Jays in the Republic of Tranna. Hearing that, I immediately thought of the Beatles tune Fixing a Hole, which is one of the tracks on their second-best album, Sgt. Peppers. Then I learned there were between 200 and 300 holes in the roof, which brought to mind a lyric from A Day In the Life: “Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall.” It’s also from Sgt. Peppers, the Fab Four’s best work next to the incomparable Revolver.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers showed an operating profit of $5.1 million last year. There’s no truth to the rumor that Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press is insisting that the Canadian Football League club use a chunk of the surplus to purchase head coach Mike O’Shea a pair of long pants.
So, after attracting less than 14,000 people per game during the 2017 CFL season, the Tranna Argonauts are convinced they now know the secret to getting more fannies in the pews at BMO Field—a hate Tranna campaign. “We want to create a sense of rivalry,” says Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment guru Jerry Ferguson. “If you’re from here, you love us and if you’re not from here, you hate us.” That’s it? That’s all you’ve got? Yo! Jerry! You’ve got it butt backwards, man. The rest of the country has had a hate-on for the Republic of Tranna since the beginning of time. How do you think we market our games?