Let’s talk about the Freep’s record on the female file…Jennifer Jones keeps rolling along…Brooke deserved athlete-of-year honor…the Commander-in-Cheat…not-so-cheap seats at Aussie Open…and other things on my mind

Top o’ the morning to you, Jason Bell.

Is it too late for New Year’s greetings, Jason? Naw. It’s still January, so happy New Year to you and your stable of scribes in the toy department at the Drab Slab. Hope it’s a good one, full of scoops, fab features and smooth press runs.

Okay, now that the pleasantries are out of the way, let’s get down to business.

I read with interest your Jan. 20 email newsletter, in which you waxed on about your interaction with Winnipeg Free Press readers and, at the same time, gave yourself and staff an “atta boy” for a job well done. Notably, you cited curling as an area of substantial pride.

“I venture to say no media outlet in Canada makes it a priority to cover local curling like we do,” you wrote.

Well, Jason, I certainly agree that your attention to Pebble People is admirable and in keeping with a rich tradition, whereby daily newspapers in Good Ol’ Hometown treat the hurry hard crowd like deity. But I hope you didn’t hurt yourself with that vigorous pat on the back. I mean, you do well by today’s curlers, but it pales when compared to coverage of yore. (More on that in a bit.)

For now, let’s deal with the overall tone of your newsletter.

You invited readers to “keep those calls, letters and emails coming—and don’t hold back with your opinions of how we’re doing in the Free Press toy department’. Bring it with both barrels blazing.”

Well, okay, here’s one barrel: I’ve got some interesting numbers for you to digest, and they might be enough to make you choke on your Cheerios or poached eggs or dried toast (or whatever else is on your breakfast menu this morning).

Just so you know, I monitored the pages of your Drab Slab during 2022 in a quest to determine how much focus you, as sports editor, place on female athletes/teams hither, yon and in Good Ol’ Hometown, and I can’t say I’m surprised at my findings. They include:

  • Articles/briefs exclusive to male athletes/teams: 4,304 (358 monthly average)
  • Articles/briefs exclusive to female athletes teams: 657 (55 monthly average).
  • Monthly average of articles/briefs exclusive to local female athletes/teams: 12.
  • More than half of sports sections had zero (0) local female sports coverage.

So what’s your excuse, Jason?

The paper’s editor, Paul Samyn, likes to tell readers like myself that the Freep emphasis is on local, local, local. Perhaps that’s true in the other sections of the sheet, but the evidence confirms that home girls/women are getting short shrift on your sports pages.

Except for curlers, of course.

You love our female Pebble People, Jason. You worked the hurry hard beat (and did a boffo job) before landing the editor gig in the toy department, so you know where curling sits in the pecking order. And, hey, if you were to ignore the women you’d surely get an earful at the dinner table, since your bride, Allyson, is a two-time Manitoba Scotties champion.

Just don’t get your chest feathers too fluffed up.

Your coverage isn’t as voluminous or as thorough as back in the day, when Jack Matheson was churning it out for the Winnipeg Tribune and Don Blanchard at the Drab Slab. Hell, it wasn’t just Matty and Blanch. We all covered curling at the Trib. Every ink-stained one of us. Matty insisted on it. He had Davey Komosky as his right-hand man, and he also brought two local curlers on board, Ina Light and Marg Hudson, to scribble weekly columns on the women’s game. Blanch wasn’t flying solo at the Freep, either. His main accomplice was Ralph Bagley. Maybe it was over-the-top. I mean, devoting an entire broadsheet page to photos of all event winners in the annual MCA bonspiel? Who does that? We did. You don’t.

You don’t cover female athletes/teams, either, Jason. Not really. The scant space you devote to them smacks of “oh, by the way” tokenism.

Your predecessor, Steve Lyons, wrote this in October 2020: “We can’t control how many wire stories we get each day on women’s sports, so our solution to moving the needle in this area has always been to focus on being as equitable as possible on local sports.”

Ya, it was equitable under his watch like a nickel is worth a dollar.

I don’t expect you to answer for Lyons’ sins, Jason, but nothing’s changed with your hands on the wheel. Seriously, 12 local articles/briefs per month? You give Kyle Connor more ink than that just for brushing his teeth. Zach Collaros farts and it gets bigger play than the JFK assassination.

And I get it. The Jets and Bombers are the big dogs in town. People want to read about them. But c’mon, man. You can’t convince me that the girls/women who run, jump, tumble, swim, throw, catch, hit, shoot, kick or dribble a ball in Good Ol’ Hometown and environs are noteworthy just one dozen times a month. What, female accomplishments are less worthy?

Look, Jason, not every person is an athlete, but every athlete is a person. Don’t they all have a story to tell? Including the women/girls?

Perhaps the softness of female coverage is due to the makeup of your sports staff: Six dudes.

I mean, I’ve known male jock journos who’d rather clean up after the circus elephants than spend a chunk of their afternoon/evening watching girls/women throw, catch, kick or hit a ball. You might as well ask the guy to spend a weekend bingeing on those sappy Hallmark movies. I’d like to think your guys aren’t of that ilk, Jason, not even subconsciously.

But something is holding you back, because the numbers don’t lie.

It’s fair that I point out you’ve upped your game in the past six days, mainly because the Manitoba Scotties is right under your nose, but six days is a small sample size and I suspect it will be back to business as usual until the women gather in Kamloops for the national championship next month.

In the meantime, curiosity sent me on a fact-finding mission, Jason, and I examined our female coverage (articles and/or briefs exclusive to the girls/women) at the Tribune in January 1980 and compared it to your sports section’s work this month. Here are the numbers:

Tribune: 26 editions, 48 local female stories/briefs (19 curling)
22 of 26 editions included local female copy
Free Press: 28 editions, 20 local female stories/briefs (9 curling)
13 of 28 editions included local female copy

I’m not suggesting that you flip the calendar back four-plus decades, Jason. I’m just pointing out there’s room for improvement on the female file. You can do better. Much, much better.

The thing is, you might not feel obliged to be the best you can be. After all, Postmedia has reduced the Winnipeg Sun sports staff and section to bare bones—three guys, some days just three pages, zero travel budget. Postmedia is making them shovel the driveway with a spoon. You’ve got a front-end loader. So, hey, you might be feeling smug, with gusts up to arrogance. Why bust your onions, right? Except that would be cheating the business.

I realize the Freep can’t be all things to all people, Jason, but you have the staff and space to give girls/women a better shake. All you really need is the desire and commitment to do it.

Well, that’s one barrel blazing, Jason. And, remember, you invited the critique. Be careful what you wish for, man.

Jennifer Jones and her twentysomething gal pals— Karlee Burgess, Mackenzie Zacharias, Emily Zacharias, Lauren Lenintine—won the Manitoba Scotties today, and I think it’s fair to wonder when the Grand Dame of Pebble People will slow down. Jennifer is 48 and has no more curling mountains to climb, yet she’s still climbing curling mountains. Next up is Mount Scotties in Kamloops, where she’ll be hunting her seventh Canadian women’s title in her 17th appearance. She’ll be wearing the Manitoba buffalo on her back for the ninth time. Astonishing.

Brooke Henderson

Brooke Henderson’s win to open the Ladies Professional Golf Association season last weekend was a reminder that the chatterbugs and editors at The Canadian Press got it all wrong when they anointed Marie-Philip Poulin our country’s top female athlete for 2022. Poulin played a grand total of 14 meaningful hockey games in 12 months. Fourteen. In a two-country competition. She was not Canada’s leading scorer (Sarah Nurse), goal-scorer (Brianne Jenner) or tournament MVP (Jenner) at the Olympic Games. She was not Canada’s leading goal-scorer (Sarah Fillier) or its only all-star (Fillier) at the world championship. Henderson, on the other hand, teed it up in 22 LPGA tournaments (76 rounds) against truly global fields (players from 13 different countries won in 2022) and finished atop the leaderboard twice, including a major. Seems to me the gang at CP has officially reduced Brooke’s accomplishments to ho-hum status, and that’s a shame.

Blake Wheeler

Why do both dailies in Good Ol’ Hometown think it’s a big deal when one of the Winnipeg Jets is added to the field for the Manitoba Open? This year it’s Blake Wheeler’s turn to hack his way around Southwood, and there’s no reason to suspect he’ll be more successful than Rink Rat Scheifele (rounds of 86, 87, 78, 84) or Kyle Connor (94, 90). It’s a footnote at best, not a story.

Hey, maybe Wheeler can tear a page out of the Donald Trump book of golf hijinks. The Commander-in-Cheat claims to have won the recent senior championship at Trump International, except he was at a funeral in North Carolina when everyone else was playing the first round in West Palm Beach, Fla. Gives new meaning to the term “unplayable lie.”

Bill Gates

Mr. Money Pants Bill Gates was observed at the Australian Open tennis tournament, sitting courtside for the men’s singles final between Novak Djokovic and Stefanos Tsitsipas last night. You might be interested in knowing the sticker price for his seats in the hoity-toity section of Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne—$27,500. Who said money can’t buy you love?

On the subject of large coin, future Rouge Football hall-of-fame quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell has signed with the Hamilton Tabbies for $500,000 and change. Hmmm. Wonder how much they’d be willing to pay Bo Levi if he could still fling a football farther than he can spit.

And, finally…

So long to Harvey and Doc

Harvey Rosen was a rare breed among jock journos.

Not once did I hear anyone spew a discouraging word about him. Not to his face. Not behind his back. Not in whispered tones. Not at a high volume. Not ever.

And that’s saying something because, as much as sports scribes can be an engaging and mischievous lot of devil-may-care rascals, many also possess a built-in cynicism that lends itself to snide commentary. Some would call it catty.

Harvey didn’t do snide or catty. He did quick wit. He did spoof. He did cornball.

Harvey Rosen

Like when the Winnipeg Jets would be going through a tough patch. They’d be 10 seconds into a 0-0 match and Harvey, sitting next to you in the press box, would lean in and say, “The Jets are giving them all they can handle!” Or this: “It’s still anybody’s game!”

No matter how often Harvey would say it, I always laughed.

Sure it was simple, sophomoric humor, but when did anyone mistake a sports press box for a gathering place for Mensa members? We weren’t up there splitting atoms or trying to poke holes in Einstein’s take on relativity. We were watching hockey or football and engaging in dopey dialogue, like wondering who would win a fight between Andy Warhol and Truman Capote.

Mind you, Harvey could do serious. He was a school teacher, which clearly put him intellecutally a notch or two above most of us press box mooks. But he got his kicks writing sports for The Jewish Post & News and The Canadian Press, and he it did it for more than 40 years, all the while using his dry wit and impish impulses to make those around him giggle.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that Harvey is being remembered for all the right reasons now that word of his December death, at age 83, has made its way along the jock journo grapevine. Here’s a small sampling of what former colleagues and friends in the jockosphere are saying:

Bob Irving: “Spent many, many years matching wits and laughs with Harvey Rosen in Winnipeg press boxes. A sweet man who was a delight to be around.”

Mike McIntyre: “Just the absolute sweetest man. I now routinely complain about the loud music and PA noise at Canada Life Centre in his honour!”

Scott Billeck: “RIP to one of the good ones. Harvey, even after he retiree, would send me notes filled with kind words about my writing and lots of encouragement. This one sucks. A lot.”

Peter Young: “One of the kindest men I’ve had the privilege to know. Sat on press box between him and @patticakes1950 for many a Jets and Bombers season in the ’80s and ’90s.”

George Johnson: “Damn. A lovely soul Harvey. So much fun to be around.”

Rita Mingo: “So sorry to hear. Harvey was a fixture when I started my career in Winnipeg, a good guy, always genial.”

Judy Owen: “He had a wonderful, dry sense of humour that kept us reporters in the press box laughing. He was also so complimentary about my work, boosting me up when I would have a bad day. He was such a smart, witty, kind man. He will always, always be fondly remembered by so many of us in the sports community.”

Yes, he was a good, dear man.

Doc Holliday

The thing about death is that some of them carry a bigger wallop than others. Harvey’s is a big hit. Same as Bob (Doc) Holliday who, like Harv, left us for the great misty beyond in December.

I can’t count the number of days/nights I worked beside Harvey in press boxes on both the Jets’ and Bombers’ sides of Maroons Road back in the day, and I worked alongside Doc at both the Winnipeg Tribune and Winnipeg Sun. But I do know what I liked most about them: They were fun to be around. They made me laugh.

They made my little corner of the world a better place. The memories are strong and good.

The 2023 Nostradumbass Prophesies

By now you’ve likely had it up to your eyeliner or chin whiskers with New Year’s predictions, but Nostradumbass has yet to weigh in on what shall transpire in the next 12 months. Here’s what the Nostradumbass Prophesies say about athletes and teams from Good Ol’ Hometown…

Top photo: Kerri Einarson, Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard, Briane Harris. Bottom photo: Matt Dunstone, B.J. Neufeld, Colton Lott, Ryan Harnden.

It’s a double whammy for Manitoba’s elite Pebble People, with the Kerri Einarson and Matt Dunstone rinks winning the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and the Brier.

“It’s about bloody time,” says Dunstone. “I know winning’s old hat for Kerri and the gals from Gimli. That’s their fourth Scotties title in a row. Damn well done, ladies. But it’s fresh territory for us Buffalo Boys. Let’s face it, Manitoba men have sucked at curling this entire century, except for 2011 when Jeff Stoughton won the Brier. One Brier win in all that time? Total BS. So I’m happy that we could end the drought. Does it make me want to move back to Manitoba permanently? Naw. My home’s in Kamloops. You can’t beat the B.C interior for beauty, especially in and around The Okanagan. We also get better WiFi there.”

Meanwhile, Dunstone accepts a challenge from Einarson, and the two championship teams meet in a mid-summer one-off. It’s a rout: Gimli Gals 9, Buffalo Boys 3.

“I feel a bit sorry for them,” Einarson admits. “I mean, all four of us girls are preggers, so maybe they were distracted by our baby bumps. It’s not like guys know what to do when a woman’s pregnancy hormones are raging, so between all the bathroom breaks, the food cravings and the totally bonkers mood swings, they didn’t know if they were in a curling game or a Hitchcock thriller.

“I’m sure when Val (Sweeting) ordered that bucket of KFC and got in a scrap with Briane (Harris) over the last drumstick during the fifth-end break, it threw them off their game. I’m guessing you lose something from your draw weight after watching two hormonal-crazed women go all Animal House and throw coleslaw at each other.”

Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and the 3rd Baron Thomson of Fleet, disheartened by a fairweather fan base and empty seats in the Little Hockey House On The Prairie, sell the Winnipeg Jets—lock, stock and Ducky Hawerchuk statue—to rock ‘n’ roll fossils Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman.

The first order of business for Cummings and Bachman is to rebrand the National Hockey League club.

“We’re now the Winnipeg Canned Wheat,” Cummings announces at a press conference that includes the 3rd Baron and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. “It’s a salute to the Guess Who’s fifth studio album.

“We always thought Jets was a dumb name. What do airplanes have to do with Winnipeg? There isn’t even an airport here. If Winnipeg’s known for anything other than winter and Slurpees, it’s the rock ‘n’ roll scene in the 1960s and ’70s. We had great bands…the Squires, the Deverons, the Crescendos, the Quid, the Orfans, the Shondels, the Pallbearers, the Syndicate, the Eternals, Chad Allan and the Expressions, The Gentlemen Royal, the Dawgs, the House Grannies, the Feminine Touch, the Fifth, Finders Keepers, the Jury. That’s what I’m talking about. And, of course, there was me, Randy, Jimmy Kale and Garry Peterson in the Guess Who. Some of the Guess Who’s best stuff is on our Canned Wheat album—Laughing, Undun, No Time. Those songs are classics, like me and Randy. I was brilliant on them, and Randy was pretty good, too.”

Asked about fan support, Cummings harrumphs and says: “Not to worry. We’ve still got a long wait list for season tickets, but let’s just say if support goes soft the whole thing will come Undun (see what I did there?). We’ll move the team to Moose Jaw, and Mr. Bettman will support us 100 per cent.”

“They can squeeze 4,700 into the Moose Jaw rink,” the NHL commish says with a nod. “And, hey, if that number works for the Coyotes in an Arizona desert, it can work for the Canned Wheat on the bald prairies. Besides, Moose Jaw has better WiFi than Winnipeg.”

Local legal beagle David Asper, following the lead of Cummings and Bachman, bows to pressure and renames his Canadian Elite Basketball League franchise.

“Ever since I announced we had the team, all I’ve heard is ‘Sea Bears is stupid, Sea Bears is stupid.’ It’s been non-stop,” Asper says to a smattering of news snoops who had nothing better to do that day. “I haven’t had this many people PO’d at me since the 2005 Banjo Bowl, when I stormed into the Blue Bombers locker room after a loss and told the head coach he didn’t know a quarterback from a Q-tip. Now that was stupid. But I didn’t think naming a summertime hoops team after an Arctic predator was stupid. What was I supposed to call it? The Winnipeg Skeeters? The Winnipeg Potholes?

“Anyway, I heard from a lot of people and I listened, which I don’t normally do. I usually just listen to the sound of my own voice. But I eventually came around to the notion that Sea Bears was kind of dopey. So, as of today, we are the Winnipeg Riverboat. I remember riding the Paddlewheel Queen and the Paddlewheel Princess on the Red River when I was a kid. Good times. Just like a night watching my basketball team.”

Knuckles Irving and young Eddie Tait

A numbers crunch hits the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, and CEO Wade Miller is forced to break up the Canadian Mafia by parting company with general manager Kyle Walters and replacing him with former news snoops Bob Irving and Ed Tait.

“Toughest decision I’ve had to make,” says Miller. “Kyle, coach Mike O’Shea and I are fast friends and we did great things together, winning two Grey Cups and playing in a third. But there’s an operations cap in the Canadian Football League, and we were banging our head on the ceiling. Kyle is the odd man out, and we wish him well when he replaces Pinball Clemons with the Argonauts.

“Some of you probably think I’m off my rocker, hiring two former media guys as co-GMs. Fine, but let me remind you that you thought I was a bit loopy when I hired Mike O’Shea to coach the team. How’s that worked out?

“Knuckles and Eddie have been part of the CFL for about as long as the rouge, and they’re what you call cheap dates…Knuckles is working pro bono, and Eddie’s already on staff for chump change. Hey, what can I say? It’s Winnipeg. We do things wholesale or on the real, real cheap. I would have hired Sarah Orlesky, too, because a pro sports franchise can never have enough burned-out news snoops on staff. But the Jets beat us to Sarah and she probably wouldn’t have worked for food stamps.”

Both Irving and Tait are unavailable for comment due to a previous commitment: Fixing the WiFi in Miller’s office.

Aaron Cockerill

The pride of Stony Mountain, Aaron Cockerill, takes the money and runs to the LIV Golf Series.

“All I have to do is show up with a bag of golf clubs and a caddy and play three rounds of stress-free golf. I don’t have to worry about making cuts and I’ll have more cashola than any player on the Jets roster,” Cockerill says. “I’m not going to say how much coin Greg Norman and the Saudis are giving me, but I can buy all of Stony Mountain and the rest of Rockwood if I want.”

“We think Aaron is a real up-and-comer, a rising star,” says Norman. “He’s ranked 346th in the world, so he’s no Rory or Scottie Scheffler, but he’s the kind of player we want in LIV Golf. He’s young, talented and eager. And don’t talk to me about blood money. His hands will be clean when he cashes his cheques. We’ve all got clean hands at LIV Golf. If anybody’s got dirty hands, it’s Rory and those dirty, rotten scoundrels who run the corrupt PGA Tour. They wouldn’t have a pot to pee in if it wasn’t for old golfers like me! If I sound bitter, it’s because I am bitter. I just don’t know why I’m so bitter.”

Barry Trotz

The Vancouver Canucks shed themselves of good guy Bruce Boudreau and introduce Barry Trotz as head coach.

“I know I said I wanted to coach an Original Six team,” says Trotz, “but I’m happy to be with an Original 14 team. Especially one in such a beautiful locale. I’m just a prairie boy, but I’ve been around some. I mean, I’ve seen the inside of the White House and the Grand Ole Opry, so you need to take the long way around the barn to impress me. And that’s what Vancouver does…it impresses me. Looking out my window and seeing mountain and ocean views every morning is a long hike from Dauphin, let me tell you.”

Asked to comment on the roster he’s inherited, Trotz says: “As Shania Twain sang, that don’t impress me much.”

Gail Asper

There’s a huge shakeup on the local media landscape, with (a) the suits at Postmedia in the Republic of Tranna shutting down the Winnipeg Sun without notice, (b) the resurrection of the Winnipeg Tribune, and (c) the Winnipeg Free Press converting to a tabloid format.

The unexpected chain of events begins when the geniuses at Postmedia stop the presses at the Sun.

“What the hell, we haven’t shut down a newspaper or laid off hundreds of workers for at least six months, so we were overdue for some blood-letting,” says a company spokesperson. “And, let’s face it, the Winnipeg Sun had become the Toronto Sun, especially in the sports section. Think of it this way: We didn’t kill a newspaper, we saved a few forests.”

Out-of-work Sun employees aren’t out of work for long, thanks to a group of local business leaders fronted by Gail Asper, who’s named publisher of the new, employee-owned Winnipeg Tribune.

“My dad, Izzy, loved the old Trib,” she says. “He loved everything about it. Our plan is to bring it back to its original glory, and that might even include hiring some of the people who were on staff when the paper folded in 1980. I’m just not sure how many of them are still alive. But our new sports editor, Paul Friesen, has been tasked with tracking them down, and he’s been told to offer them their old jobs back.”

Friesen discovers a handful of ex-Tribbers scattered hither and yon in old-folks homes across the Frozen Tundra, but has no luck luring them back to Good Ol’ Hometown.

“Every time I thought I had one of them convinced to come back, my WiFi went on the fritz and I never heard from them again,” he explains. “Damn Winnipeg WiFi. No wonder the Jets can’t sign any decent free agents.”

David Asper

Meantime, freshly minted publisher at the Winnipeg Free Press, David Asper, announces the switch from broadsheet to tabloid format, and it includes a daily Sunshine Girl.

“I know what you’re going to ask me. You’re going to ask why a tabloid after 150 years as a broadsheet,” Asper says at the launch of his newest toy. “Well, I like the size and feel of a tabloid. It isn’t as unwieldy as a broadsheet, especially when you’re reading the paper on a bus or at a snack bar. Nobody needs some stranger’s newspaper flapping in their face when they’re trying to eat a corned beef sandwich at Oscar’s.

“As for the Sunshine Girl, I plead innocence. That wasn’t my call. And don’t think my little sister Gail hasn’t filled me in on what a cad I am. She gave me an earful. In both ears. I realize a Sunshine Girl isn’t in step with the social climes of the 21st century, but it went to a vote of the Board and I don’t have a veto. We’re going to make it up to all the girls and women who read our sports section. I’ve directed sports editor Jason Bell to start covering female sports on a daily basis, and suggested in strong terms that he think about hiring a woman the next time there’s an opening in his toy department. That would be a refreshing change, wouldn’t it?”

Jennifer Botterill

The Freep asks Hockey Night In Canada commentator and Olympic champion Jennifer Botterill to appear as its first Sunshine Girl, and it’s a non-starter.

“Oh, yuck,” she says. “I have enough trouble dealing with the frat boys on Hockey Night without them having something like that to throw in my face every Saturday. Can you imagine what Kevin Bieksa would say? That guy creeps me out at the best of times.”

Happy New Year to all!

Let’s talk about the Toronto Maple Elites and the Art of Angst…oh no, no O Canada en francais in the Little Hockey House On The Prairie…the Puck Pontiff and the 3rd Baron have an $805 million toy…a Prairie town with Seabears…the CFL and the kind of voting Donald Trump would love…and other things on my mind…

No one does Chicken Little quite like the rabble and news snoops in the Republic of Tranna, which has a faster-falling sky than any other National Hockey League habitat.

I mean, the Toronto Maple Elites failed, once again, to win the Stanley Cup in October—just like 31 other outfits—and it was a dire bit of business that apparently demanded the dismissal of everyone from the hot dog vendors to the ivory tower, where Brendan Shanahan presides and sits in judgment of the serfs below.

Ten skirmishes into the current crusade, the Shanaleafs were 4-4-2, a tolerable account in most jurisdictions but totally objectionable in the Centre of the Hockey Universe, where the floor for acceptable conduct is first-round playoff success and the ceiling is a Stanley Cup parade. The reality that neither can be achieved in October seemingly escaped the comprehension of the faithful, many of whom recognized a month’s worth of .500 hockey as cause to flood the Twitterverse with 280 characters worth of angst and urgent urgings for the ouster of head coach Sheldon Keefe and/or general manager Kyle Dubas. (And, just for good measure, one or two want to show Mayor John Tory the door, as well.)

News snoops and opinionists, meanwhile, were less inclined to lean toward scorching the earth, with their analysis ranging from cheeky to pragmatic to harsh. Here’s a sampling of their scribblings:

James Mirtle, The Athletic: “They’re just really, to put it charitably, meh right now.”

Cathal Kelly, Globe and Mail: “The Toronto Maple Leafs just finished a western road swing that resembled a man falling down a flight of stairs in slow motion. The Leafs have a lot of problems. Their biggest is that they keep changing problems. Hanging above it all is their level of play: soft. Giggling Pillsbury Doughboy-level soft.”

Steve Simmons, Toronto Sun: “An underperforming mess.”

Marty Klinkenberg, Globe and Mail: “A hot mess. If this were Bugtussle it would be no big deal. But Toronto isn’t a hockey outpost. The faithful who have grown used to an annual collapse are already twitchy.”

Damien Cox, Toronto Star: “No, it’s not too early to ask hard questions about this squad after a lousy western road trip. But it’s definitely too early to reach any meaningful conclusions, particularly after Keefe’s team had a nearly identical start last season and ended up setting a franchise record with 115 points.”

That was before the Philly Flyers arrived in The ROT, and 4-4-2 became 5-4-2. Next up were the Boston Bruins, brandishing the league’s best record, and 5-4-2 became 6-4-2. And then they vanquished Carolina to make it 7-4-2. Yup, the Elites are 3-for-November. Better re-order all those snazzy convertibles for the Stanley Cup parade!

Or not.

As sure as Johnny Bower liked the poke check, another acorn shall fall on Chicken Little’s head soon enough, and great and mournful cries—“They sky is falling! The sky is falling!”—shall again rumble and echo throughout The ROT and, indeed, in all corners of our Frozen Tundra.

Like I said, no one does Chicken Little quite like the rabble/news snoops in the Republic of Tranna. But, hey, they’ve had since 1967 to perfect the Art of Angst.

The Little Hockey House On The Prairie, a no-French zone.

Stu Cowan of the Montreal Gazette has a beef with the Winnipeg Jets: “O Canada was sung in English and French for Habs in both St. Louis and Minnesota but only in English in Winnipeg. Not right,” he tweets. Stu is absolutely correct, of course. If sports teams on our vast Frozen Tundra insist on trotting out crooners for a pre-game anthem (it’s a dumb tradition), it should be in English et en francais. Especially when the Montreal Canadiens are in the Little Hockey House On The Prairie.

Cowan’s comment brings to mind an incident back in the day, when the rabble booed PA announcements en francais during a Jets exhibition game vs. the Finnish National B side. Once back in the Winnipeg Tribune newsroom, I was instructed to pen a front-page piece on the audience’s bad manners, and followed that up with a good and proper scolding of the anti-French boors. The next morning, I received a phone call from a man who threatened to bomb my house. Tough crowd.

The Puck Pontiff

So, Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and his co-bankroll, the 3rd Baron Thomson of Fleet, purchased the Atlanta Thrashers, lock, stock and jock, for US $170 million in 2011, and today Sportico has the Jets valued at $805 million. (And you thought the price of gas and groceries has taken a hike.)

The thing is, $805 million is just a number on a piece of paper unless the Puck Pontiff and the 3rd Baron are inclined to peddle the franchise, and that’s about as likely as palm trees and a nude beach sprouting up at the intersection of Portage and Main in January.

Still, the Sportico list makes for good bar banter and, if you missed it, here’s how the NHL’s seven Canadian franchises stack up in the grand scheme of things:

1. Maple Leafs: $2.12 billion
3. Canadiens: $1.7 billion
8. Oilers: $1.29 billion
11. Canucks: $1 billion
19. Flames: $870 million
22. Jets: $805 million
27. Senators: $655 M

Just wondering: What do you suppose Barry Shenkarow thinks when he looks at those numbers? I’m guessing he winces, gives his head a shake and mutters, “if only.” After all, Barry and the group that bankrolled Jets 1.0 sold the club for $65 million in 1995.

Nothing makes me switch off an NHL game faster than Ron MacLean throwing to a commercial on Hockey Night in Canada by saying, “Cabbie after the break.” Why is there a Cabbie?

You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t get excited about Alexander Ovechkin chasing down Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky as the NHL’s all-time leading goal-scorer. Tough to feel good about Vlad the Bad Putin’s pal when bombs are still raining on Ukraine.

I’m liking what the Drab Slab is doing with it’s Jets post-match coverage. Gone are the yawn-a-thon game stories that drone on in play-by-play style, with cookie-cutter clichés from players schooled in the art of cookie-cutter clichés. Sports editor Jason Bell now has Mad Mike McIntyre and the boys on the beat delivering dispatches in point form, which lends itself to variety of thought and analysis rather than dreary recitation of every pass, shot and save the night before. Give me opinion, anecdotes and harsh truths if required, not a running tally of plus/minus numbers.

According to Mike Sawatzky of the Drab Slab, the Canadian Elite Basketball League is primed to set up shop in Good Ol’ Hometown, with a team to be called the Seabears. I guess that’s because Winnipeg is a seaside town and there are so many bears roaming the streets. I mean, who came up with a name like Seabears for a sports franchise on the bald prairie?

It truly pains me to see the Winnipeg Sun putting out a three-page tabloid sports section. Damn. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be for a daily sheet in a market the size of Good Ol’ Hometown. How are the tabloid’s Toy Department 3—Paul Friesen, Teddy Wyman and Scott Billeck—expected to compete against the Drab Slab, which pumped out eight broadsheet pages on Saturday? It’s like bobbing for apples with your lips zipped shut. So a pox on the suits at Postmedia. Double damn them.

Here’s the page counts for sports sections in Postmedia tabloids across the country Saturday:
Vancouver Province: No paper (13 pages Friday)
Toronto Sun: 11
Ottawa Sun: 8
Calgary Sun: 8
Edmonton Sun: 8
Winnipeg Sun: 3

But, hey, check it out: The tabloid has trashed its TV listings in the Sunday sheet and expanded the sports section, with 12 pages today. Let’s hope going forward they fill the additional space with local copy, or off-beat musings, not a bunch of rot from the Republic of Tranna.

Boffo stuff from Paul Friesen on the 1990 Blue Bombers, many of whom found their way back to Good Ol’ Hometown last week for induction to the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame. Paul, as usual, captures the moment magnificently.

D’oh! The Canadian Football League announced its West and East Division all-star teams on Wednesday, then, scant hours later, sent out a missive saying they had it all wrong and provided revised results (with 19 corrections) after a recount. Now that’s the kind of election Donald Trump would like.

The Glieberguys, Bernie and Lonie.

A number of folks believe the Lords of Rouge Football ought to be red faced because of the voting snafu. Maybe. Maybe not. I mean, you want embarrassing? Try Dexter Manley and the Glieberguys and Mardi Gras beads and bare breasts in Bytown back in the day. How about Commish Randy Ambrosie panhandling on Parliament Hill in the thick of the pandemic? How about those many thousands of unoccupied seats at BMO Field for every Toronto Argos game? Let’s not forget dinosaurs Joe Kapp and Angelo Mosca brawling at a meet-and-greet Grey Cup function. Drafting dead guys in the 1990s? And, hey, have you heard Dennis Casey Park’s rendition of O Canada before the Las Vegas Posse home opener in 1994? The list of Rouge Football’s red-faced moments is longer than a Winnipeg winter, but our quirky, three-downs game has survived ’em all and shall continue to chug along, even if it’s with a red face.

Nathan Rourke

Quiz me this, kids: How many is enough? No, that isn’t a Zen koan. It’s the question I have for the Football Reporters of Canada. The girls and boys on the beat, you see, have decided that B.C. Leos QB Nathan Rourke was not the most dazzling performer in Rouge Football this year, presumably because he only played half a season, whereas Winnipeg Blue Bombers QB Zach Collaros was behind centre for 17 skirmishes. But wait. That same half-season was sufficient to earn Rourke the nomination as Most Outstanding Canadian.

Sorry, but that does not compute. I mean, he’s out as MOP but good to go as MOC? Is that some sort of Canadian exchange rate?

Well, here’s Teddy Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun to explain his thinking on CFL awards balloting: “There was talk among FRC colleagues about voting for Nathan Rourke over Collaros for MOP. Eventually I think right call was made. Rourke had amazing half season but no way of predicting how it would have gone after that. Collaros is deserving of the nomination.

“I voted for Rourke for most outstanding Canadian and majority of FRC voters did as well. The fact is, his half-season numbers were strong enough to outshine other Canadians. They weren’t strong enough to outshine Collaros for MOP.”

And now here’s Jeff Hamilton of the Drab Slab: “Collaros had another solid season and is deserving of the nomination. Nathan Rourke was on his way, and it’s a testament to how great he was when playing. But winning MOP after playing just half the season would have been embarrassing for the CFL.

“Rourke was incredible though. And my basis for voting—I had Collaros MOP; Rourke MOC—is that Rourke had a better season than all other Canadians but not as good as Collaros. Guy had 7 rushing TDs, to go with 25 passing. But, again, I agree with sked and the opposite opinion.”

So, what’s the minimum number of games required to qualify as MOP? Twelve? Fourteen?

Quick picks for today’s opening round in the quest for Rouge Football’s Grey Grail: Calgary Stampeders over B.C. Leos; Hamilton Tabbies over Montreal Larks; Matt Dunigan “gets ‘er done” on the TSN panel; and I foresee a pepperoni pizza-and-football day at Chez Swansson.

The Saskatchewan Flatlanders’ coughed up a hairball the size of a prairie canola field in the back half of the Rouge Football season, going 2-11 with seven successive Ls to close the crusade, and now we know who was most responsible for the fiasco: Offensive coordinator Jason Maas, O-line coach Stephen Sorrells and receivers coach Travis Moore are the official scapegoats. Oh, and let’s not forget starting QB Cody Fajardo, also fired. (His permanent dismissal has yet to be made official.) Meantime, sideline steward Craig Dickenson and GM Jeremy O’Day survive to clean up the mess left behind (apparently) by Messrs. Maas, Sorrells, Moore and Fajardo. My guess: The Flatlanders replace Fajardo with the ghost of Bo Levi Mitchell, which gives them a convenient scapegoat for next year.

Cliff Clavin in a classic episode of Cheers.

Tyler Hubbard, Jordan Davis and Josh Ross are the halftime performers for the Grey Cup game on the Flattest of Lands, Nov. 20. That sounds like an answer Cliff Clavin would give on Final Jeopardy!: “Who are three people who’ve never been in my kitchen?” In this case, it’s more like: Who are three people I’ve never heard of? Well, apparently, they’re country crooners, so do we see one, two or all three of them surface in the TSN booth for face time with Glen Suitor? Or does Groupie Glen limit his man crush gushing to Keith Urban? Better yet, will TSN let us watch the game or force us to endure Suits Goes Fan Boy, the sequel?

A young dude at a New York Knicks game sank a half-court shot to win a car on Saturday. More important, they also gave him $1,000. You know, so he could afford about half a tank of gas.

The Houston Astros have won the World Series. Which reminds me, I have a bag of garbage I need to take to the trash bin.

And, finally…

Let’s talk about the Winnipeg Jets 50th anniversary…another MOP for Zach Collaros…D’oh! More Rouge Football on The Simpsons…lumbering Logan and leadership…boos in the Bronx…Troy Aikman’s ‘dresses’…simpleton scribblings…and other things I’m not going to write about…

Here’s some stuff I was going to write about this morning, but decided not to write about:

I was going to write about the original home game in Winnipeg Jets history, because somebody should.

The Jets and the World Hockey Association were, of course, an iffy bit of business from the get-go, and we wondered what kind of a buy-in there’d be for what many among the rabble considered a lark—a tier-two operation with National Hockey League hand-me-downs and minor league lifers filling rosters, and a life expectancy of about a week and a half.

The early returns weren’t encouraging, with the Jets basically skating in front of friends and family (1,000 and change) in pre-season rehearsals, which prompted this remark from old friend Vic Grant in the Winnipeg Tribune: “If there aren’t more than six thousand people in the stands Sunday then we know that Winnipeg is a penny ante sports town.”

Well, the turnstiles at the Ol’ Barn On Maroons Road on the night of Oct. 15, 1972, didn’t make anyone’s head spin, even though the going rate was a bargain basement $6 (plus 60 cents tax) for a chair in the Reds and $5 (plus 50 cents tax) up higher where noses begin to bleed. The Jets had 3,300 season ticket subscribers going in, and the walk-up crowd more than doubled that, for a final head count of 7,283 for the coming-out party.

The rabble left disappointed, with the Jets found lacking in a 5-2 loss to the Alberta Oilers, but it was the beginning of a seven-year stretch of oft-glorious WHA shinny in the Ol’ Barn.

Alas, 50 years later, the golden anniversary was ignored by local news snoops, so I’m not going to write about the Jets original home opener either. I guess it’s true what a wise man once said: Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.

I was going to write about the present-day Jets, who were strutting their stuff in front of numerous unoccupied chairs at The Little Hockey House On The Prairie on Friday night.

Unsold seats always give rise to angst among owners and bean counters of any pro sports franchise, even if the Lords of True North Sports + Entertainment ought to be used to it by now. When did the Jets last put up the soldout sign? Before any of us put on a face mask and allowed medics to jab us in the arm with needles to ward off COVID.

Many still cite the pandemic as the cause of yet another non-sellout. Others point to ticket costs (a C-note to sit where noses begin to bleed), concession costs, parking costs, soaring cost of living, an uncaring and smug ownership, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff’s Summer of Nothing, and players who’d rather earn their living elsewhere.

But I’m not going to write about unsold seats, because these Jets aren’t an iffy bit of business. They’re backed by a dude, David Thomson, whose pockets are deeper than Buddhist dharma.

Zach Collaros

I was going to write about Zach Collaros, because it seems to me that he’s the heir apparent to himself.

That is to say, as sure as there shall be frost on the pumpkin when the showcase event of Rouge Football—the Grey Cup game—arrives on the Flattest of Lands in late November, Zach will be there to accept the Most Outstanding Player Award for the second successive season.

Oh, yes, I believe his bona fides are sufficient to satisfy members of the Football Reporters of Canada that there’s not been a finer performer on our Frozen Tundra, even if Nathan Rourke had eyes popping and jaws dropping through the first half of the 2022 crusade. And the fact Collaros won’t fling another football until Oct. 28 shouldn’t matter either. I mean, it’s not like Mcleod Bethel-Thompson is apt to suddenly morph into the second coming of Doug Flutie between now and closing time. He’ll have (some) better passing numbers than the Winnipeg Blue Bombers QB, but Macbeth’s play has been as spotty as a Dalmation. He looks like Ricky Ray one game, then looks like he can’t tie his own boot laces the next.

Anybody else MOP worthy? Well, I’d say Ka’Deem Carey has done boffo work lugging the leather for the Calgary Stampeders, but I wouldn’t say he’s having a Mike Pringle season, and that’s what it would take for the exalted members of the FRC to take their eyes off Collaros.

The girls and boys on the beat, you see, are smitten with quarterbacks. They fancy QBs the way Homer Simpson fancies donuts and Duff beer, and the evidence is there for all to see: They’ve dished out the MOP trinket 68 times, and the scoreboard reads: QBs 40, All Other Positions 28.

So I’d say Zach will be off to Regina, and I don’t expect he’ll be flying solo.

Guaranteed that one of the guy’s he’s been playing catch with, Dalton Shoen, will go along for the ride and collect a bauble as the Canadian Football League’s top frosh.

And, assuming I’m reading the room correctly, a second straight MOP Award puts Collaros in rather lofty company, because only four other players (Dieter Brock, Doug Flutie, Anthony Calvillo and Jackie Parker) have been anointed in consecutive seasons, and it’s shouldn’t shock anyone that they’re all QBs.

But I’m not going to write about Zach Collaros this morning, because he booked off work Saturday night and couldn’t pad his stats in a 40-32 loss vs. the B.C. Leos.

I was going to write about The Simpsons lampooning the CFL yet again, because I think Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and the entire cast of characters are a hoot. They still make me laugh out loud, even when the yuks are at the expense of three-downs football.

But I’m not going to write about The Simpsons, because I think you should watch it yourself. Here’s a spoiler alert, though: A left-handed Doug Flutie makes a cameo appearance and Homer does Homer things. D’oh!

I was going to write about shoddy journalism because of a “D’oh!” headline in the Drab Slab. To wit: “Now the West is won.” In the accompanying article, we’re told this: “With the West Division crown already placed atop their heads, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers blah, blah, blah…”

Uh, no. That simply isn’t true.

The B.C. Leos or Calgary Stampeders still have something to say about bragging rights in the West Division, because there’s the matter of the final on Nov. 13 at The Football Field In Fort Garry, and I’m guessing that the Bombers, to a man, would tell the gang at the Freep and anyone else who’d care to listen that they haven’t won squat. The large lads in blue-and-gold livery have clinched top spot in the West, but that won’t buy them a cup of java at Tims.

Finishing first is a feather in the cap. It means you’ve earned a bye to the division final, and the advantage of home turf. But you haven’t “won” anything. And, no, I’m not picking nits or splitting hairs

Any editor with passable knowledge of Rouge Football in Good Ol’ Hometown would know the West Division champion is determined in the final, and the Bombers are a recent case in point. In 2019, the Saskatchewan Flatlanders topped the regular-season tables, but it got them diddly. Winnipeg FC, which finished third, won the West, then claimed the Grey Grail.

But I’m not going to write about shoddy journalism at the Drab Slab, because people who don’t know a rouge from a rickshaw edit sports copy these days. Besides, the squawk boxes on TSN are spewing the same false narrative, and they’re just as wrong.

Logan Stanley

I was going to write about lumbering Logan Stanley starting another National Hockey League crusade with the Winnipeg Jets and Ville Heinola being banished to the farm again.

As far as I can determine, Stanley’s sole skill is being tall. Heinola, meanwhile, is notable for his skating, passing and puck smarts, but he has the (apparent) bad manners to be untall. He isn’t kiddie ride at Disneyland short, but he’d have to stand on a beer keg to look Stanley eyeball-to-eyeball. Apparently, that’s good enough reason to convince Jets intelligentsia to keep the unskilled No. 1 draft pick over the skilled No. 1 draft pick.

But I’m not going to write about Logan Stanley, because if the the geniuses haven’t figured it out by now it’s a lost cause.

I was going to write about the “new” leadership group with the Jets—Rink Rat Scheifele, Josh Morrissey and Adam Lowry.

That’s “new” like the Edsel is hot off the assembly line in Detroit.

I mean, the Rink Rat and Morrissey each wore an ‘A’ last season. Now they’ve stitched one on Lowry’s jersey. Well, big whoop-de-do.

All they’ve done is confirm that whatever virus ran though the changing room in the past started and ended with the ‘C’ that’s been ripped off Blake Wheeler’s chest, but the defrocked captain has already vowed to carry on as if nothing has changed.

So I’m not going to write about the Jets “new” leadership, because it’s same old, same old.

Aaron Judge

I was going to write about the mob at Yankee Stadium booing Aaron Judge.

That would be the same Aaron Judge who swatted 62 dingers this Major League Baseball season, the same guy who finished a couple of base knocks shy of the Triple Crown, the same guy to whom his New York Yankees playmates hitched their wagon all season. Now he’s scuffling in the playoffs and the rabble let him know about it in the seventh inning of a 4-2 loss vs. Cleveland Guardians.

“It’s the Bronx, man,” mused Pinstripes skipper Aaron Boone.

“It happens,” said the big man himself. “It’s happened many times in my career here.”

That doesn’t make it right. Nobody goes to the Vatican to heckle the Pope. Nobody went to Churchill Downs to razz Secretariat. And you don’t go to Yankee Stadium to boo Aaron Judge, not this October.

But I’m not going to write about the Yankees faithful turning on their marquee player, because there’s just no explaining the bad manners of some people.

Troy Aikman

I was going to write about Troy Aikman and ask him to join us in the 21st century, because the former NFL QB and current gab guy on Monday Night Football stuck both feet in it last week with a lazy, 20th century sexist trope.

After Chris Jones of the K.C. Chiefs had been flagged for roughing the passer vs. the Las Vegas Raiders, Aikman was quick to tsk-tsk game officials for the suspect call and observed: “My hope is the competition committee looks at this in the next set of meetings and, you know, we take the dresses off.” Sigh.

Aikman later performed an emergency foot-in-mouthectomy, saying: “My comments were dumb, just shouldn’t have made them. Just dumb remarks on my part.” Well, yes, they were.

But I’m not going to write about Aikman’s sexist drivel, because he isn’t a lone wolf. Male jocks think of women as lesser-thans, so that’s what they say.

Dustin and Paulina

I was going to write about Dustin Johnson collecting more coin for 18 rounds of golf than Tiger Woods earned through 26 years of golf. True story. DJ’s take through six of eight events on the LIV Golf Series tour is a whopping $155,758,600 in 4½ months: $125 million signing bonus, $12,758,600 prize winnings, $18 million payout for claiming the individual season championship. Poor Tiger he’s had to scrape by on a mere $120,895,206 for the past quarter century on the PGA Tour.

But I’m not going to write about Johnson and his blood-stained Saudi money, because he’s got to do what’s best for his family, and I suppose some guys can never have enough jingle in their jeans when a rainy day arrives. And, hey, his bride Paulina might need some skimpy new outfits to wear at The Masters.

I was going to write about Steve Simmons, because he’s totally lost the plot re racism in hockey.

Akim Aliu

In his alphabet fart for Postmedia last Sunday, the Toronto Sun scribe wrote: “No one wants to say this because of the politically correct police and all, but those who coached Akim Aliu must cringe every time they see him in a news report or a commercial talking about what’s wrong with hockey. Like he would know. By my count, Aliu played for 23 teams in nine different leagues in 12 professional seasons and rarely finished any season with the same team he started with. If that was colour-related, how is it that Wayne Simmonds spent just about the same 12 seasons playing in the NHL?”

To parrot a phrase from PM Trudeau the Younger in his comments about the Hockey Canada scandal, it “boggles the mind” that Simmons suggests knowledge of racism cannot be gained by someone bouncing around hockey’s outback. It’s appallingly ignorant.

What dazzling insights will Simmons share with us next, that a gay athlete can only speak to homophobia in sports if she or he has participated in X number of Pride parades?

I don’t pretend to harbor first-person experience of being a Black person, but I read. A lot. It’s something Simmons might want to try, because multiple studies show that BIPOC communities, gays and women learn about, and experience, the horrors of marginalization in their youth. Some overcome the abuse and bullying to reach the highest level. Many quit sports.

But I’m not going to write about Simmons’ simpleton scribblings, because I think Nazem Kadri of the Calgary Flames said it best: “He’s a guy who’s a little dated in his writing.”

And, finally…

Let’s talk about riding off into the sunset after scribbling about the sports scene in Good Ol’ Hometown for (not quite) half a century

I wasn’t going to post this essay until June 14.

That date, you see, marks the 50th anniversary of my first byline article in the Winnipeg Tribune, and I always wanted to be like Vince Leah and scribble about sports in Good Ol’ Hometown for at least half a century.

Well, as Maxwell Smart used to say, “missed it by that much.” One month and change.

And I’m okay with that.

I mean, Uncle Vince is a legend whose longevity as a chronicler of local jockdom shall forever remain unmatched. Indeed, unchallenged.

He’s won more awards than Meryl Streep, among them the Manitoba Order of the Buffalo Hunt, and I’m not in the order of anything, except maybe the Order of Bull Droppings, and we all know that’s how more than a few folks have described my scribblings at the Trib, the Winnipeg Sun and on this blog. So, be certain, there’s no attempt here to parallel my career with his.

In truth, Uncle Vince and I share just two commonalities: We both wrote sports at the Trib and we walked out the door the same day, figuratively if not literally, and neither of us had a choice.

Actually, there is one other thing: Neither of us covered a Stanley Cup parade, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

The point is, I’m finally riding off into the sunset, 49 years and 11 months after my initial byline article, a brief report on the 1971 Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association annual meeting tucked into the back pages of the sports section, along with Harold Loster’s horse racing copy.

I’d like to tell you it was a glittering piece of wordsmithing but, in reality, it was unremarkable and totally forgettable, which would explain its positioning on the back pages.

It did, however, serve as the starting point of a career-long, unbreakable link to hockey and, most notably, the Winnipeg Jets.

As much as I covered every sport known to man, it always seemed to come back to hockey for me, and the Old Barn On Maroons Road became my second home.

I watched the Portage Terriers win the Centennial Cup there in May 1973; I watched The Shoe and the Jets parade around the freeze with the Avco World Trophy exactly six years later; I watched one Soviet side and one Russian side win World Junior titles there; I watched the 1981 Canada Cup there; I watched the Jets’ National Hockey League home debut there in ’79 and I watched them say goodbye there on the Day of the Long Faces in ’96. I played alongside Eddie Shack in Schmockey Night there, and I skated with the West Kildonan North Stars against the Winnipeg Monarchs there. Hell, my birth certificate is so dog-eared that I watched Billy Mosienko play there.

So, ya, local hockey and I were a thing. Still are, albeit from a considerable distance.

Back in the day, people would ask me about the Jets, wondering if their favorite player was a good guy or a bit of a twit, or if Fergy really was as tough as 10 miles of gnarly backroad. Even now, whenever I visit Cool Aid here in Victoria to collect the meds that keep me on the green side of the sod, Jim in the dispensary always wants to talk about “your Jets.”

Yes, he thinks of them as my Jets because it’s guilt by association.

The folks out here on the Left Flank, you see, know just three things about Good Ol’ Hometown: 1) It’s bitterly cold, 2) the Jets, 3) the Blue Bombers. In that order.

I’ve spent the past 21-plus years listening to rude laughter about “Winterpeg” and jokes about the Jets and cheap shots about the Bombers, although our football heroes nipped that in the bud in November 2019 when they took custody of the Grey Cup, and it’ll serve all the wise acres right if the Bombers never have to give the thing back.

If only the Jets had been able to do the same with hockey’s holy grail.

A Stanley Cup parade. Was/is that too much to ask? I mean, I’ve covered/watched some damn fine local shinny sides, but the Jets always came undone like a school kid’s shoelace when the games mattered most. I don’t have to tell you it’s happening again this year, although we shouldn’t be surprised given that the general manager, Kevin Cheveldayoff, twiddled his thumbs at the National Hockey League shop-and-swap deadline last month. Damn him.

But I won’t be here to praise or bury the Jets as they play out the string this year. I’m fresh out of cheek, irreverence, sarcasm, cynicism and goof-balling around. My snark tank is also empty.

I’ll continue to root, root, root for them, of course, because I’ve always wanted the Jets, Bombers, our curlers and all local athletes/outfits to succeed, which is most sports scribes’ dirty, little secret. They’ll tell you they don’t cheer for the home side, but don’t believe them. Oh, they don’t rah, rah, rah and siss-boom-bah out loud, but they want to see the locals succeed. It’s human nature, and I have personal knowledge that a good many of them are human. Honest, they are. The trick, of course, is to not allow a fondness for the girls and boys you cover to creep into your copy.

Anyway, I’m outta here, kids, 49 years and 11 months after the first hot-lead byline.

In closing, if I were to offer one morsel of counsel to jock journos hither and yon, it would be this: Take your job seriously, but not yourself. You aren’t splitting the atom, you aren’t running into a burning building to rescue small children, you aren’t digging water wells in a Third World country. So have fun with the gig. And, remember, the people you’re writing about are just that—people. They aren’t athletes who happen to be humans, they’re humans who happen to be athletes.

Adios and thanks kindly for dropping by. I’ve always appreciated it.

Let’s talk about the aging of the Winnipeg Jets…to Tokyo in denim…Aaron Rodgers’ sticky notes…MLB grappling with lack of sizzle…old friend Big Jim takes a paddywhacking…Canadian Football Hall of Fame gets it right…what about Tricky Dick Thornton?…nightmare on TSN…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and still no word on the if and when of a CFL season, but here’s something else that’s real iffy…

Stop me if you’ve heard this before:

“I believe we’re close to having a team that has a chance to challenge for the Stanley Cup, and I’m really looking forward to that…we’re a lot closer than some people will give us credit for…I look forward to these next five years.”

Sound familiar? It should.

Blake Wheeler said much the same as Adam Lowry scant seconds after scratching his John Hancock on a six-year contract with the Winnipeg Jets.

Blake Wheeler

“I believe in people like (owner) Mark Chipman and Chevy, what everyone stands for and especially in my teammates. I have believed since I got here that we have what it takes to get to the next level, so this is just a part of that process. I truly believe that great things are in store for this group,” the then-future captain told news snoops.

Wheels was 26 at the time. There will be 35 candles on his birthday cake in August.

Lend an ear to Rink Rat Scheifele who, upon agreeing to an eight-year contract in 2016, expressed a robust belief in “the organization, in the players on the team, in the future prospects.”

The Rink Rat was 23. He’s now 28.

Connor Hellebuyck, the Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender, locked in for six years and said, “The tools are in this locker room to be a championship team. I love it here and I want to be here and I really believe this team has what it takes.”

Hellebuyck was 25. He turns 28 next month.

Adam Lowry

And now we have another long-hauler, Lowry, parroting his teammates’ faith in a process that began in 2011 and has delivered the grand sum of two post-season series victories, both in the spring of 2018.

Lowry is 28. The freshly minted contract he signed on Friday will take him to 33.

So what’s my point? Just this: Unless your name is Evander Kane, Jacob Trouba, Dustin Byfuglien, Patrik Laine or Jack Roslovic, the Jets have all gulped down the Kool-Aid in a cultish-like obedience. They believe. And that’s the reason what went down at last week’s National Hockey League shop-and-swap deadline rankles.

We know Kevin Cheveldayoff kicked some tires on top-four defencemen, and we know the sticker price sent the Jets general manager running like a guy trying to stay two steps ahead of a loan shark.

We can assume his contemporaries were eager to fleece him and take Ville Heinola, Cole Perfetti and other shiny objects off his hands in exchange for their lame, halting and hard of seeing, but that was never going to happen because Chevy places premium value on his young studs. You might have a better chance of prying his bride, Janet, and their two kids away from him.

Chevy

So it was no sale. Chevy allowed the NHL trade window to close with a whimper, and the Jets are no closer to the Stanley Cup today than a week ago, unless you consider a bottom-end, plug-in blueliner (hello, Jordie Benn) a shiny object.

Oddly enough, many among the rabble, also some news snoops, have given Chevy a tip of the chapeau and a slap on the back for his do-little day, because he “protected assets,” meaning he clung to young wannabes Heinola, Perfetti and others like gum to the bottom of a shoe.

Well let me tell you something about assets: They don’t stay forever young.

Chevy is protecting the future when most of the parts are in place for today’s Jets team. Add the right top-four defender and we might be talking about a parade route. But the Jets GM chose to stand still, even as time refuses to stand still for his significant core workers.

Wheeler’s prime years have been wasted. Scheifele and Hellebuyck are into prime time. Same with Lowry, Andrew Copp and Dylan DeMelo. And don’t look now, but Josh Morrissey is 26.

Rink Rat Scheifele

Which begs this question: If the Jets GM was unwilling to go all-in now, when?

This was the time for derring-do, an opportunity for Chevy to orchestrate what could have become his signature moment, lifting the Jets to that “next level” Wheeler spoke of all those years ago.

Well, here’s something else the captain said, when he re-upped in September 2018: “It kind of looks like that (Stanley Cup) window is opening up.”

Apparently Chevy missed the memo.

I don’t know if the GM will reflect on this crusade five years from now and view it as the one that got away, but Blake Wheeler might. Rink Rat Scheifele, Connor Hellebuyck and others like Lowry who’ve committed long term might, as well.

Chevy should be kicking himself. Right in the assets.

Something Bryan Little said when the Jets’ playoff aspirations had been dashed in March 2017 is haunting: “It’s another year of your career that you can’t get back. Some of the best players in this room are the youngest. There’s definitely a bright future, but some guys are older and want to do something right now. That’s the thinking going into next year.” Little was 29. He’s now 33, wounded beyond repair, and there is no next year. Not for him. But why must it always be “next year” for Scheifele, Hellebuyck, Lowry et al?

As I was saying last week, I don’t buy into the Jack Campbell hype that news snoops in the Republic of Tranna have been spreading like thick, gooey peanut butter. He’s been a career backup goaltender for a reason, and Maple Leafs loyalists are beginning to see why. For all their talent, the Leafs are vulnerable in the blue paint, whereas Hellebuyck gives the Jets the best puck stopping in the Hoser Division (yes, including Carey Price). And we all know what that means when the boys begin to play for keeps, which is the very reason Chevy shouldn’t have dithered last week.

I don’t know about you, but I’m digging the threads our Canadian athletes will be wearing for the closing ceremonies at the Tokyo Olympics this summer, if there is a Tokyo Olympics, that is. Ya, sure, you can say the denim jacket looks like a teenage graffiti artist had a moment of madness, but I look at it more as a stroke of genius. There’s a youth-cool vibe to the kit, something you might wear on a pub crawl, or wherever it is that our young people go these days. It’s totally boffo compared to the get-ups that noted needle-and-thread guy Ralph Lauren designed for our American friends. I can’t tell if he’s dressed the U.S. team for the next space shuttle mission or an expedition to the South Pole.

I’ll take nose-pickers for $2,000, Alex. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has completed his gig as guest host on Jeopardy!, and he let us in on a little secret about the sticky notes he used to aid his performance. One of them read: “Don’t pick your butt/nose.” Seriously. He needs a sticky note to remind himself not to pick his nose on camera? And the Packers trust Rodgers to call audibles in the red zone?

Curt, Terry, Howie, Michael and Jimmy.

Apparently, producers of Fox NFL Sunday were so impressed with Rodgers’ work on Jeopardy! that they plan to equip Terry Bradshaw with sticky notes to improve his work:
1. “Remember, this ain’t Hee Haw.”
2. “Powder shiny head during every commercial break.”
3. “Do not mention gap in Michael’s teeth.”
4. “Do not laugh at Howie’s 1950s haircut because at least he has hair.”
5. “Resist all urges to muss up Jimmy’s hair.”
6. “Do not tell Rob Riggle he isn’t as funny as Frank Caliendo.”
7. “Remember, guy sitting beside you is Curt, not James.”
8. “Jay Glazer is human, he just looks like a garden gnome.”
9. “Mention four Super Bowl rings whenever Jimmy mentions two Super Bowl rings.”
10. “When in doubt, always refer to sticky note No. 1.”

Favorite headline of the week was delivered by the New York Post: “How Yankees can address their crappiness.” Anything that combines New York Yankees and “crappiness” is right by me, although I’m sure George Steinbrenner’s son Hal wouldn’t agree.

If your product needs to add some sizzle and pizzazz, who you gonna call? Well, Major League Baseball has called Brian Stedman, now responsible for strategy and development. That would be the same Brian Stedman who, for the past seven years, carried the sizzle-and-pizzazz portfolio for Vince McMahon’s cast of characters in World Wrestling Entertainment. That will be quite an adjustment for Stedman. I mean, the play actors in wrestling are allowed to hit each other with everything including the kitchen sink, but the Yankees can’t hit anything.

Old friend Big Jim Bender took a bit of a paddywhacking on Twitter last week, after he made a flippant remark about the Brendan Bottcher foursome failing to win a trinket at the world curling championship but securing an Olympic berth for Canada. “Was the very least they could do,” Big Jim wrote. The Pebble People pounced. Darren Moulding, third on the Bottcher team, called the former Winnipeg Sun scribe “a joke,” adding, “You’re a stain on our country, not me.” Harsh. Olympian and TSN talking head Cheryl Bernard weighed in, describing Bender’s comment as “crap.” Oh my. Who knew the delightful Cheryl could be so undelightful? Anyway, not that he plans to call me to the stand as a character witness, but let the record show that Big Jim is a friend of curler’s everywhere. He’s spent more time in chilly two-sheeters than most people I know, so, as Strother Martin told Cool Hand Luke, “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”

Rachel Homan

Speaking of Pebble People, Rachel Homan played in the Scotties Tournament of Hearts title match on the final day of February while eight months pregnant. She then went home to bring daughter Bowyn into the world, and now the former Canadian/world champ has returned to the fray, skipping her team in the Humpty’s Champions Cup just three weeks after giving birth. Meanwhile, Kawhi Leonard won’t be available to the L.A. Clippers today because he needs a rest—after sitting the last four games. I swear, if men could get pregnant and give birth, there would be no male sports.

Nobody asked me, but I’d say the selection committee for the Canadian Football Hall of Fame got it right when they chose Marv Levy, Nik Lewis, Will Johnson, Mike Walker, Orlondo Steinauer, Don Wilson and Doug Mitchell as this year’s inductees. These things are always ripe for debate, of course, and we usually hear some squawking whenever a sports body salutes the best of the best, but I don’t hear any arguments about the class of 2021, nor should there be.

And that’s not to ignore broadcasters Bernie Pascall and Bob Hooper, who got the nod from the Football Reporters of Canada and will go into the CFHF media wing. Hooper was a long-time Hamilton Tabbies play-by-play voice, and Pascall’s career chatting about Rouge Football on radio and TV spans decades. Unfortunately, Bob’s not around to enjoy the honor, but Bernie’s still with us, so he has something fresh to talk about with the neighbors on beautiful Vancouver Island.

Ashley Prest

The CFHF media wing is the ultimate boys’ club. By my scorecard, there are now 101 members, all men. Yup, 101-0. I realize there haven’t been a lot of women on the beat, but in my 20 years covering the Canadian Football League in three cities (Winnipeg, Calgary, Republic of Tranna), I can recall sharing a press box at Grey Cup games with Ashley Prest of the Drab Slab and Joanne Ireland of the Edmonton Journal. Ashley also knew her way around the University of Manitoba campus to cover coach Brian Dobie’s Bisons, and there might be some high school grid in her resumé, too, because that’s what most of us did back in the day. We started at the bottom and worked our way up. So it seems to me that the boys on the beat should find room for trailblazers like Ashley or Joanne.

Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna has made his annual plea for Dick Thornton’s induction to the CFHF, and I can’t disagree with Sy. Tricky Dick certainly has the bona fides, including two Grey Cup victories with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and multiple all-star salutes, and he also happens to be one of the more colorful characters in CFL lore. Legendary Bombers coach Bud Grant once said this of his defensive back/wannabe quarterback/kick returner/kicker: “When most players arrive in a new town, the first thing they do is phone a girl. When Dick Thornton arrives, he phones a sports writer.”

Tricky Dick had an ego the size of a football field, and here’s how the great columnist Jack Matheson once described him in the Winnipeg Tribune: “The writers and broadcasters treat No. 14 with considerable respect because he’s hot copy, in or out of uniform. His eccentricities are always guaranteed to liven a dull scene and for conversation Thornton holds all records for Blue Bombers of the modern era. The conversation always seems to revolve around Dick Thornton, but he has a magnetism and I’ve never seen anybody walk away from Dick Thornton when his mouth was open.” Another time, Matty wrote this of Thornton: “An incurable extrovert who played harder with his larynx than his limbs.”

Final note on Dick Thornton: The Bombers traded him to the Toronto Argos the same day the Maple Leafs cleared the track and sent Eddie Shack to the Boston Bruins. I guess the Republic of Tranna just wasn’t big enough for two clown acts.

Gino Button and James McKenzie, or is it Craig Reda and Bob Duthie? Either way, it’s scary, kids.

Still getting creepy vibes from those face mashups TSN featured on its NHL trade deadline coverage. It’s clever work by Matty Go Sens, but morphing the faces of Gino Reda and Craig Button into one is the kind of stuff that will keep kids awake at night. Ditto the James Duthie/Bob McKenzie blending. I haven’t been so frightened since Alfred Hitchcock had all those nasty birds attack Tippi Hedren.

This from Steve Simmons: “The top four goaltenders in all-time wins are Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy, Roberto Luongo and now Marc-Andre Fleury. All of them Quebecois. And there’s not a single Quebec goalie of consequence (apologies to Jonathan Bernier) playing in today’s NHL.” Hmmm. Last time I checked, Marc-Andre Fleury was still a Quebecois and leading the NHL in shutouts.

Patrick Marleau will lace ’em up for his 1,768th NHL skirmish on Monday night, moving past Gordie Howe for most games played. It’s a terrific achievement. Worth noting, however, are their birth certificates. Howe was 52 when he finally shut down, Marleau is 41. And, at 52, Howe was a significant contributor for the Hartford Whalers, scoring 15 goals and 41 points in 80 games, plus another two points in three playoff jousts. Marleau is 4-4-8 in what looks to be another lost season for the San Jose Sharks.

And, finally, on the subject of legendary performers, I discovered a DVD of Tony Bennett: An American Classic at a local video story the other day, and I snapped it up immediately. Fan-freaking-tastic. Tony’s duets with Barbra Streisand and our Canadian songbird k.d. lang brought on the water works (sheer brilliance renders me very emotional), and there was only one sour note struck—the November 2006 TV special was far too short, just 42 minutes. I wanted at least an hour more.

Let’s talk about Jills writing about jocks…Scotties ratings take a nosedive…covering the Snake in Ottawa, or was it Montreal?…BS and road apples in Alberta…the NFL QB and the UFO…baseball and beer…Ponytail Puck…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and let’s salute the girls and ladies of sports on the eve of International Women’s Day…

I spent 30 years in the rag trade and worked alongside four women—Peggy Stewart and Rita Mingo at the Winnipeg Tribune, Mary Ormsby at the Toronto Sun, and Judy Owen at the Winnipeg Sun.

Oh, wait. There was a fifth.

Judy Owen

We had a summer intern at the Calgary Sun, although her name escapes me. I recall that she failed to surface for her first day of work (something about her car breaking down in Banff on a long weekend—nudge-nudge, wink-wink), and that was our initial clue that she might have made a wrong turn on her career path.

Hey, I get it. Cars break down all the time. Been there, done that and had the hefty repair bills to prove it. Happens to us all. But in Banff? On a long weekend? How positively convenient.

I jokingly informed sports editor John Down that I would have crawled from Banff to Calgary if it meant arriving to my first assignment at the designated hour, but Downsy was as laid back as a Sunday afternoon on the porch, and he let it slide. Alas, that young lady with the pleasant personality one day showed up to cover a golf tournament a bit too uncovered. She was wearing hot pants and stilettos, and she sashayed onto the practice green in her spiked heels, puncturing the immaculately groomed lawn.

Her internship was aborted shortly thereafter.

Not because of her wardrobe malfunction, understand. That would have been an unacceptable double standard, even in the early 1980s.

Rita Mingo

I mean, none of my male colleagues back in the day were GQ cover material, the exception being Shakey Johnson, who knew how to hang a three-piece suit. The rest of the lot were borderline slobs. Some looked like they’d spent the night sleeping with a raccoon family under a bridge. Their idea of evening wear was a white shirt with anything less than three ketchup or mustard stains. But sartorial slobbery was a non-issue.

So, no, the young lady intern’s dismissal wasn’t about one ghastly fashion foible. It was her lack of zest for the job, the absence of an all-in mindset, and iffy subject knowledge. Let’s just say it became readily apparent that writing sports at the Sun wasn’t meant to be her calling.

Anyway, there were four full-time female sports scribes during my tour of duty, and I can’t imagine any of them considered wearing a pair of Daisy Dukes to the golf course, rink, ball park or stadium.

Rita, Judy and Mary all enjoyed lengthy, admirable careers in journalism, but I don’t know what became of the ever-smiling Peggy Stewart, hired by Jack Matheson as the first female to write sports full time at a major daily newspaper in Western Canada.

Today, the landscape in Good Ol’ Hometown is barren, with zero females in the toy departments at either of the daily newspapers.

Ashley Prest

Why is that? I’m uncertain. It could be that the rag trade has become too much of a bad bet. Maybe it’s still too much of a boys club. Perhaps it’s a reluctance to enter man caves and deal with brooding, boorish male athletes and/or coaches

“You know, it may just be a lack of interest in writing sports, rather than doors being closed for them,” Judy Owen suggests in an email. “After all, sports hours—when the world is normal—are kind of crappy and the sometimes-crazy deadline writing isn’t very appealing to a lot of journalists.”

Good point. The hours really do suck and often mean you’re not hopping into the kip until well after the pumpkin hour on game nights.

Whatever the case, the female sports scribe is extinct in Winnipeg, so here’s to those who were once there—Judy, Rita, Ashley Prest, Barb Huck and Melissa Martin.

How are we doing with coverage of women’s sports? Not so good. A 2019 U.S. study tells us that 40 per cent of athletes are female, yet the distaff side of the playground receives just 4 per cent of ink and air time. What about in Good Ol’ Hometown, though? Are the Winnipeg Sun and Drab Slab giving the ladies a fair shake? Well, I monitored both sheets for three months—November, December, January—and the findings aren’t favorable. The evidence:

Women on the sports front
Free Press    16 of 90 editions.
Sun                3 of 89 editions.

Copy on female sports
Free Press    74 articles, 30 briefs.
Sun              20 articles, 7 briefs.

Editions with coverage of female sports
Free Press    63 of 90.
Sun              24 of 89.

Naturally, the numbers were jacked up in February during the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, but I suspect coverage will revert to same old, same old moving forward.

The TSN curling squawk squad: Cheryl Bernard, Vic Rauter, Russ Howard, Bryan Mudryk, Cathy Gauthier.

TSN’s ratings for the Scotties final last Sunday took a face plant from a year ago, with an average of 682,000 sets of eyeballs checking out Kerri Einarson-Rachel Homan II, a sequel to the 2020 championship match that attracted 979,000 viewers. I trust no one is surprised, because it’s an industry-wide reality for major events during the COVID pandemic. Here are the facts, ma’am:

Stanley Cup final:     -61%
U.S. Open golf:         -56%
NBA final:                -49%
Kentucky Derby:      -49%
U.S. Open tennis:      -45%
World Series:            -31%
Scotties:                    -30%
Super Bowl:              -15%

I didn’t tune in to every draw of the Scotties, but I can report that I never heard one F-bomb, or any other salty language, from the lady curlers in the draws I watched. Somehow I doubt I’ll be able to say the same of the men at the close of business at this week’s Brier. They can be quite potty-mouthed Pebble People.

Gather ’round the campfire, kids, old friend Peter Young has a curling tale to tell. It’s all about a Snake and the longtime broadcaster faking it, which is to say Pete covered a Brier in Ottawa from the Forum in Montreal. True story. I don’t know if that makes him the Father of Zoom, but he surely was ahead of his time.

If the Columbus Blue Jackets send head coach John Tortorella packing, please don’t tell me there’s a job waiting for him on Sportsnet or TSN.

Jennifer Botterill is fantastic on Sportsnet’s hockey coverage. Just saying.

Muhammad Yaseen of Alberta’s provincial Hee-Haw Party has introduced a bill in the Legislature proposing that rodeo become the official sport of Wild Rose Country. He sees it as a “beacon of hope.” Animal rights activists, meanwhile, see it as a steaming pile of BS. They figure if you’re going to pay homage to a bunch of big, dumb animals that work for no more than eight seconds a day, why not the Calgary Flames?

When you think about it, Yaseen’s pitch makes sense for Alberta, where Wrangler jeans and straw hats are considered formal attire. Each year the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association sanctions approximately 50 events in Wild Rose Country, and there are probably just as many rodeos that fly under the radar. Hmmm. That’s a lot of road apples to clean up. About the biggest mess since Flames GM Brad Treliving took on Milan Lucic’s contract.

Actually, the Looch is having a decent year. He has more goals (six) than National Hockey League luminaries Nathan MacKinnon, Evgeni Malkin, Jack Eichel, Claude Giroux and Taylor Hall, so maybe I should stop picking on him. On second thought, naw.

Terry Bradshaw

Cleveland Browns QB Baker Mayfield claims he observed a UFO while driving home from dinner in Austin, Texas, last week. He described the object as a “very bright ball of light.” UFO experts immediately pooh-poohed the sighting, claiming Mayfield had actually just seen the top of Terry Bradshaw’s head.

Archaeologists continue to make amazing discoveries in the ruins of Pompeii, the ancient Roman city buried by volcanic spewings in 79 AD. The latest finding has them really excited. It’s a ceremonial chariot that features ornate decorations of bronze and tin medallions, although they don’t know what to make of the Tom Brady rookie card stuck in the spokes of one of the wheels.

Speaking of Brady, his National Football League rookie card sold for $1.32 million at auction last week. Remind me once again how money is tight during this pandemic.

On the subject of high finance, some people think Fox Sports is nuts for agreeing to pay annoying squawkbox Skip Bayless $32 million over the next four years. I don’t know about that. When you break it down, it’ll work out to only 50 cents an insult.

Twelve bottles of beer on the wall…

Baseball is peanuts, Crackjack and hot dogs. And beer, of course. But how much booze? Well, the folks at njonlinegambling.com talked to 2,631 Major League Baseball fans to determine which team’s following is the booziest of the bunch, and nowhere do they swill more suds than on the south side of Chicago. White Sox loyalists chug down 4.2 drinks per nine innings, spending $46 on their libations, so you know they’re well-juiced by the seventh-inning stretch. Blue Jays fans, meanwhile, are middle of the pack when it comes to drinking (3 per game, $25), but they top one category: 70 per cent of them get into the grog before the opening pitch. Yup, they feel the need brace themselves for what’s to come.

TSN’s favorite washed-up quarterback, Johnny Manziel, apparently has used up all his Mulligans in football, so he plans to devote the next 12 years of his troubled life to earning his way onto the PGA Tour. As what? Tiger Woods’ chauffeur?

While saluting friend and former teammate Chris Schultz, who died of a heart attack on Friday, did Pinball Clemons really refer to the Toronto Argonauts as Canada’s Team? Sure enough, he did. Someone ought to share that little secret with the citizenry in the Republic of Tranna. That way the Boatmen might attract more than friends and family to BMO Field next time they grab grass, whenever that might be.

Watched the movie Creed a few days ago. I won’t make that mistake again. Total rubbish. Yo! Adrian! Tell Rocky to do us all a favor and find another hobby.

Billie Jean King and the Dream Gappers.

If you’re a fan of Ponytail Puck (guilty, yer honor), there’s good and not-so-good tidings.

First, select members of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association have assembled in Chicago to continue the renewal of their Dream Gap Tour and pose for the mandatory photo-ops with Billie Jean King.

It’s the sequel to last weekend’s engagement at historic Madison Square Garden in Gotham.

That the Dream Gappers have returned to the freeze is a favorable development, to be sure, even if they can’t seem to blow their noses without borrowing a Kleenex from BJK.

Not so good, on the other hand, is the setup.

These are glorified scrimmages, featuring many of the top female players on the planet. There is no league. Nothing is at stake, save for bragging rights, some post-match bottles of bubbly, and a share of the $1 million pot Secret Deodorant has donated.

There is no rooting interest, either. Unless, of course, Team adidas throwing down on Team Women’s Sports Foundation gives you the urge to break out the pom-poms.

I think we can agree that identity is vital in sports. We (mostly) pledge allegiance to our local sides/athletes, whether on a community, national or international level. We like to have a dog in the fight because it gives us a sense of ownership and allows us to get sucked up in rivalries (Red Sox-Yankees, Canada-Russia, Ali-Frazier, Chrissie-Martina, Arnie-Jack, Canada-U.S. in women’s hockey, Habs-Leafs, Tiger-Phil, Rafa-Roger, Serena-nobody, etc.).

Alas, there’s nothing compelling about the Dream Gap Tour structure. They play their friendlies, they pat themselves on the back for existing, then they sit back and listen to their pals in the media heap praise on the product but ignore the problem.

Those of us who want Ponytail Puck to work (one viable league) have yet to see or hear a doable business plan from the Dream Gappers. The mission remains as it was at the PWHPA start-up in May 2019: Bury the National Women’s Hockey League and wish, hope and cross fingers that the NHL is prepared to adopt approximately 125 orphans.

Trouble is, unless there’s something developing behind closed doors that we aren’t privy to, that isn’t about to happen anytime soon. The NWHL has shown no inclination to cede the territory it’s staked out in the past six years, and NHL commish Gary Bettman has made it abundantly clear that he harbors no eagerness to further muddy the waters of a divided women’s game.

Which brings us back to the matter of identity sports.

Who are the Dream Gappers? Well, they’re barnstormers. A curiosity piece. A novelty act, if you will, much like the Harlem Globetrotters or Stars On Ice. But that isn’t who they want to be. It isn’t what fans of Ponytail Puck want them to be.

Unfortunately, they’ve trapped themselves in a contradiction of their own creation. That is, they want to play hockey in a professional league, but they refuse to play in the only professional league available to them.

Thus, without an attitude adjustment, they’re destined to be nothing more than a sideshow.

And that’s a shame.

And, finally, can we call for a moratorium on broadcasters using the word “unbelievable” to describe everything from Auston Matthews’ mustache to a five-point game from Connor McDavid? I mean, Darryl Sittler once scored 10 points in a match, so why is five points unbelievable? Nothing in sports is unbelievable if it’s already happened, and when something happens for the first time it has to be believable because it’s happened. So knock it off.

Let’s talk about chess with Swamp Dog…bravo Jennifer Jones…flush go the Habs…TSN’s flawed ‘Toba Top 10…Shaq’s name game…Ali vs. Tiger…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and, sadly, one of the old gang from the Trib, Swamp Dog Rauw, has left us…

The thing I remember most fondly about Murray Rauw is playing chess in the small hours of the morning, after we’d put the sports section to bed at the Winnipeg Tribune.

Swamp Dog and I would unwind from the grind by retreating to my modest dwelling on Leighton Avenue in East Kildonan, whereupon I would crack open the brown pops while he cracked open one of my many chess sets.

There’d be Beatles music playing in the background—on the down low since all others in the house were in slumber—and I would quietly sing along with the Fab Four while Swamp Dog contemplated a next misguided move that surely would lead to checkmate or stalemate. I sometimes wondered if my singing disturbed his thought process, but he never offered so much as a mumble in protest.

Swamp Dog

Swamp Dog seldom complained, although a small flap of fuss is how he earned his delightful nickname.

I was in the cockpit one night, laying out the Trib sports pages, while others wrote their stories, edited copy, wrote headlines, handled the phones and did rewrites. Swamp Dog, still reasonably new to staff, had two or three things on the go.

“Murray,” I said at one point, interrupting his work, “I need you to do something.”

“Me?” he yelped. “Me? I’m swamped!”

“You’re swamped?” I responded, snickering. “Let me tell you something about being swamped.”

I informed him how it worked in the Trib sports department. We were all multi-taskers, often expected to handle more than one beat on the same day. It was not uncommon for a select few of us to cover an event in the morning or afternoon, write our article, then design a six- or seven-page sports section that night. It made for long shifts, but it was an accepted part of the gig. Besides, most of us were young, full of P and V and eager to earn a “damn good stuff” from our sports editor, Jack Matheson.

“That’s okay,” I told Swamp Dog. “You just do what you’re doing. I’ll take care of the rest, because you’re swamped! You’re our Swamp Dog.”

Swamp Dog became a fabulous multi-tasker, skillfully covering everything from badminton to boxing to backing up Matty on the Blue Bombers beat, until Southam had the bad manners to stop the Trib presses for the final time in August 1980.

And now Swamp’s ticker has stopped.

Swamp Dog died last Sunday in Calgary, after a lengthy illness, and I spent much of the past week sifting through recollections of him and our cast of kooky characters at the Trib. (We would have made for a boffo sitcom.)

An unpretentious, fun guy, I can’t think of a former colleague who harbored a greater, more genuine appreciation for landing a sports writing gig than Swamp Dog. He was like a kid who sneaked in and out of the ice cream parlor every night without getting caught, and he never tried to hide his appreciation for his good fortune.

Swamp Dog made me laugh without trying. His eyeglasses, for example, were a trip. Back in the 1970s, they would sit at a 45-degree angle on the bridge of his nose, the large lenses plastered with very visible fingerprints from his constant but failed attempts to make the specs fit his face. His mustache drooped and would go months without a much-needed pruning. Then there was the day I learned he had tagged the lovely lady who would become his bride, Maureen, with the most unflattering of nicknames: Mush.

“Geez, Swamp, I don’t know many women who’d fancy being called Mush,” I said. “Doesn’t it bother Maureen?”

“Why would it?” he answered as if I had asked a very dumb question. “She’s my Mush.”

Once the Trib folded, both Swamp Dog and I found our way to Calgary, first him at the Herald and then myself at the Sun a couple years later. I didn’t know a soul, other than Swamp Dog, Maureen and the two people who had hired me. Swamp Dog promptly set me up to play slo-pitch on one of the city’s elite outfits, and he dragged me to his raquetball club. After our always-enjoyable matches, we’d sometimes retire to his home and Maureen would be kind enough to feed us.

Oddly enough, Swamp Dog and I never played another game of chess. I guess that was our Winnipeg thing. But we’d get together for some giggles, or he’d get serious on occasion and discuss his MS. He’d unfailingly inquire about my Uncle Dennis, who’d been confined to a wheelchair due to MS since I was a sprig.

After I left Calgary and returned to Good Ol’ Hometown, we seldom saw each other, basically when road assignments would take us to the Grey Cup, the Brier or Stanley Cup playoffs. The Canadian Football League and curling were his main beats, and he was among the best at both.

Foremost for me, though, are the personal recollections, and I smile at the memory of us shifting chess pieces across the board, his knight taking my rook or my bishop taking his queen. Eventually, one of us would notice the morning sun peeking through my living room drapes, and he’d take his leave.

Now Swamp Dog is gone permanently, but I’d say his sun is still shining—through Maureen and the kids, Josh and Cayley, and granddaughter Charlotte.

Rest easy, old friend.

The Grim Reaper has now fetched Matty, Swamp Dog, Gus Collins Uncle Vince Leah, and freelancers Harold Loster and Ronnie Meyers from our 1970s toy department at the Trib. And that’s not to forget photog Jon Thordarson, whom I always considered one of us. Those of us still drawing oxygen are in our 60s and 70s, or older, so Dave Komosky and I often wonder who’ll be next. My kidneys are suggesting it might be moi. If that’s how it shakes down, in lieu of flowers send laughter.

Jennifer Jones

Big tip of the bonnet to Jennifer Jones, who’s now won more games at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts (159) than any curler. Ever. By the time she’s finished, Jen’s collection of Ws might be unbeatable, although I suppose Rachel Homan will have something to say about that. For now, though, Jen is the standard, and I say it’s only fitting and proper that someone from Winnipeg stands atop the heap. After all, Good Ol’ Hometown is the curling capital of the world, no matter what some folks in Alberta might want you to believe.

Is it just me, or does anyone else get the impression that the women at the Scotties have a whole lot more fun than the men at the Brier? Just saying.

Some people haven’t been impressed with the quality of play at the Scotties in Calgary. Too many flubbed shots. Iffy strategy. Well, what did you expect? I mean, they’d been away from the pebble for a year, and I’m guessing we’ll see a similar number of hairballs coughed up when the boys gather for the Brier at the end of this week.

Apparently it’s been so quiet at the fan-free Scotties that Saskatchewan skip Sherry Anderson says she “heard the toilet flush” while on the pebble the other day. But, hey, let’s not talk about the Montreal Canadiens.

I’m not saying the Habs’ hope for a successful crusade is down the toilet. If they can get rid of the imposter wearing Carey Price’s jersey, they might yet qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament. Then again, maybe O.J. will find the real killers.

Paul Stastny poached a goal from Twig Ehlers to give the Winnipeg Jets their 2-1 OT win over the Habs on Saturday night. You just don’t do that. It’s chintzy.

Patrik Laine

Let’s see if I’ve got this straight: Patrik Laine wanted first-line minutes skating alongside Rink Rat Scheifele, but Jets head coach Paul Maurice would have none of it. So they shipped him to Columbus. Now Pierre-Luc Dubois, the guy the Jets received in barter for Puck Finn, is getting first-line minutes skating alongside Scheifele. What am I missing here?

Dumb headline in the Winnipeg Sun: “Coach, teammates like new Jet Dubois.” Well, duh. What does anyone expect them to say? That he’s a sloth? Bring Patty back? Now that would be a story. The fact the Jets have warm-and-fuzzy feelings for the new kid in town isn’t newsworthy.

Good stuff from Mad Mike McIntyre in the Drab Slab on local Black shinny players who found their way to the upper levels of professional hockey. Among those he chatted with are Bill Riley and Ray Neufeld, one of the nicest men to wear Jets linen. It’s worth a look.

So why is it that I don’t believe Canadian Football League commish Randy Ambrosie when he tells us there’ll be Rouge Football this year, but I believe Winnipeg Blue Bombers CEO Wade Miller when he says the same thing? Maybe it’s because Wade transformed Winnipeg FC from a laughing stock into a Grey Cup champion, whereas Commish Randy couldn’t sell a spare tire to a guy with a flat.

Bernie Parent and Bobby Clarke (right)

Nice touch by TSN to serve up a Top 10 moments for Manitoba athletes last week. Except they should have consulted someone from the Keystone Province before revealing the list. There was no Clara Hughes collecting medals at both the Summer and Winter Olympics. There was no Donny Lalonde knocking Sugar Ray Leonard to the canvas. There was no George Knudson winning on the PGA Tour. There was no Bobby Clarke, the first captain of a National Hockey League expansion outfit to hoist the Stanley Cup. There was no Reggie Leach, scorer of 80 goals in the 1975-76 NHL season/playoffs. There was no Don Duguid going unbeaten to win consecutive world curling titles. No Jeff Stoughton. No University of Winnipeg Lady Wesmen hoops team winning 88 consecutive matches. But Anthony Coombs made the grade with a catch in a meaningless game for the Toronto Argos. Skeleton guy Jon Montgomery was featured drinking beer and pretending to be an auctioneer. Corey Koskie cracked the list for catching a foul ball in a game no one remembers. And Andrew Harris was featured running the ball for the B.C. Lions in a game no one remembers. Totally lame.

Shaq

Shaquille O’Neal has taken some heat for his work as a TV analyst. It seems Shaq is unfamiliar with the first names of numerous National Basketball Association players, including Pascal Siakam of the Tranna Jurassics. “Oh, I never knew his first name,” Shaq confessed in a panel natter with Ernie Johnson in a recent NBA on TNT broadcast. I guess that makes Siakam the ultimate player to be named later.

Tim and Sid are no more. Well, okay Tim is still Micaleff and Sid is still Seixeiro, but they’re no longer Tim & Sid, after 17 years together on Sportsnet. Sid’s next gig is Breakfast Television in the Republic of Tranna and, given his penchant for goofing around, the show might become known as Dog’s Breakfast Television. Tim & Sid was sometimes-see TV for me, never must-see TV, but you don’t last that long without doing something right. Having said that, Tim drew a parallel between he and Sid breaking up and Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David parting ways. Uh, no. You don’t want to go there, man.

James Duthie

I’ve long admired James Duthie’s work on TSN. Who hasn’t? He’s witty, clever, knowledgeable and doesn’t take himself seriously. And he’s done it all without perfect hair and perfect teeth.

But when he waxed on about Tiger Woods last week…well, let’s just say he was showing his age.

“There’s not another…he’s the most famous athlete of our lives,” Duthie said of Woods in a squawk with Rod Smith. “Maybe you can make an argument Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, but there has been no more fascinating, complex character in sport in our lives.”

Good grief. Tom Brady is about as complex as Grade 1 arithmetic. He throws a football, wins the Super Bowl, then paints the town bland. The most fascinating thing he’s ever done is get drunk and hurl the Lombardi Trophy from one boat to another. Jordan? Best hoops player ever. Full stop.

Duthie wants fascinating and complex? Let me introduce him to Muhammad Ali, the boxer once known as Cassius Clay.

There were more layers to Ali than an onion. Let’s start with the name change, the Nation of Islam and the shift to Sunni Islam. Let’s talk about political activism and civil rights. Let’s talk about the U.S. government taking away his livelihood and untold millions of dollars for 3½ years because he refused to travel across the world to kill people in Vietnam. Let’s talk about his willingness to go behind bars rather than spray bullets. Let’s talk about the anger and hostility, then the warm admiration, of a nation. Let’s talk about a unanimous victory in the Supreme Court. Let’s talk about the Grammy nominations. Let’s talk about the movies and the Broadway musical. Let’s talk about whimsy, doggerel and rapping before rap was a thing. Let’s talk about the campus speaking tours. Let’s talk about the battle with Parkinson’s. Let’s talk about winning the world heavyweight title three times when it actually meant something. Let’s talk about the Rumble in the Jungle and the Thrilla in Manila. Let’s talk about media savvy. Let’s talk about showmanship and the oversized personality. Let’s talk about the multiple marriages and infidelities. Let’s talk about the irony of being meaner and more cruel to Black boxers than white fist-fighters.

Duthie is 54, which means he missed the opening act of the theatre that was Ali. He can’t relate to the Vietnam War or the civil rights movement of the 1960s, just as those who weren’t there when John Paul, George and Ringo invaded America can’t truly understand and appreciate Beatlemania.

But when he speaks of “our lives,” I have to assume that includes myself and those of my vintage.

Tiger Woods is arguably the finest to ever strike a dimpled ball. We marveled at his wizardry, how he would make the best in the game wither before they even teed it up on a Thursday. He was fascinating to watch. Gobsmackingly so. But whereas Ali allowed us inside his world, Woods tried to keep most everyone out. Except his many mistresses.

Other than his genius at golf, we knew nothing of Woods the person until caught with his trousers down and the tabloids exposed him as a raging philanderer. And, of course, he’s made headlines for getting behind the wheel of a luxury vehicle when it wasn’t wise. But cheating on your spouse and reckless driving hardly makes one fascinating or complex. It makes him one of a million guys.

So let’s put it this way: Given one word to describe Tiger Woods, it would be “golf.” Given one word to describe Muhammad Ali, it would be…sorry, can’t do it in one word. He was too fascinating and complex.

And, finally, looks like this will be a pizza-and-pebble day, because I’m hitting the couch and won’t budge until either Jen Jones or Kerri Einarson has (hopefully) won the Scotties Tournament of Hearts this evening.

Let’s talk about Bell’s bloodletting…Super thoughts and counting couch potatoes…girl talk in the board room…losing and boozing with Johnny Rotten…Coach Potty Mouth…the NHL’s second best Orr…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and the ground where I live is covered in a foreign fluffy, white substance. It bears a remarkable resemblance to snow, which I didn’t sign up for when I relocated to Victoria 21 years ago…

I know what it’s like to stir from slumber and discover you don’t have a job. Without warning. Not even a hint.

One night you’re helping put together the Winnipeg Tribune sports section, editing copy and writing headlines, and the next morning you’re informed that some suits in the Republic of Tranna have stopped the presses. Permanently.

Initially, you’re in denial. Naw. Can’t be. Surely the news reader on the radio got it wrong. It was the Ottawa Journal that went belly up, not the Trib.

So you dash downtown, expecting it to be business as usual once you step off an elevator and stroll into the fifth-floor newsroom. Then you gaze upon a collection of long faces and you see the front page headline—“Tribune ceases publication.” It’s true. After 11 years working your way from the business office to editorial copy runner to the Winnipeg Jets beat, you realize there’s no tomorrow. At least not the tomorrow you had mapped out.

Suddenly you’re searching for another job, at another newspaper, in another town. That wasn’t part of the plan. Resumé? Who needed a resumé? You were meant to retire at the Trib.

Friends and colleagues assure you that “a door shall swing open,” yet you can only think of the one that closed.

You’re still young, just 29, but you don’t share the level of confidence that others have in your ability. There’s a family to feed, a mortgage and bills to pay. The severance package is generous, but not sustaining over the long haul. The uncertainty and anxiety are gripping, if not crippling.

So, yes, I can relate to those caught up in the recent bloodletting at Bell Media.

More than 200 people are out of work, wondering what comes next after the “let’s talk” communications giant ransacked its radio and TV newsrooms hither and yon, a plundering that included pulling the plug on all-gab sports radio TSN 1290 in Good Ol’ Hometown and jock-speak stations in Vancouver and Hamilton.

Similar to us at the Trib on Aug. 27, 1980, the fatal blow was as ruthless as Charles Barkley barging his way to the front of the line at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Ol’ Lefty, Troy Westwood

Other than Troy Westwood, I don’t know any of the victims at TSN 1290, which is now CFRW and has gone to standup-comedy programming. (Quick question: How can we be sure that a comedian is standing up when it’s on radio?) No doubt some of the natterbugs will land another broadcasting gig. Others won’t be so fortunate, because it’s not as if radio stations are popping up like daisies in May.

Here’s the irony, though: What’s happened to them is among the very reasons they had a job squawking about sports.

Athletes, coaches and managers get fired. They go to the gallows every week, and their misfortune becomes fodder for the yackety-yack-yackers with 24 hours of air to fill.

Some see it coming, because they know the numbers or they know how to read a room.

Jeff Reinebold, for example, would have been a total doofus to believe a 6-26 record as head coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers was sufficient to keep him employed and playing Bob Marley tunes at practice.

Some dismissals come out of left field.

Dwane Casey was coach-of-the-year and the Tranna Jurassics set records for wins and points in 2018, but he was kicked to the curb because he had the bad manners to lose to LeBron James in the NBA playoff tournament.

Dustin Byfuglien

And it works both ways. Dustin Byfuglien quit the Jets. Jim Rutherford quit the Pittsburgh Penguins. Jim Brown quit the Cleveland Browns to make movies. Barry Sanders quit the Detroit Lions. Andrew Luck quit the Indianapolis Colts. Ken Dryden quit the Montreal Canadiens. Bjorn Borg quit tennis. Annika Sorenstam quit golf. Rocky Marciano quit boxing.

Professional sports is a cold, harsh business, and that’s the operative word: Business.

Sports media is a large part of that business, and the talking heads and scribes aren’t exempt from the same fates as the men and women they talk and write about.

We don’t like to see good people out of work, of course, and I agree that gab guys Westwood, Jim Toth, Rick Ralph, Darrin Bauming, Brandon Rewucki, Brian Munz, Kevin Olszewski and the Hustler, Andrew Paterson at TSN 1290, got a raw deal. As did the others.

Sadly, it’s the way of the jock journo jungle. They’re all just one Bay Street suit’s whim away from the unemployment line.

But, at the very least, the dearly departed deserved a heads-up. Good luck to them all.

Natasha Staniszewski

Insightful take on the Bell bloodletting from the talented Natasha Staniszewski, a casualty after close to 10 years of gracing our flatscreens: “When you get into this industry, you know you’re not getting into it for the job security,” the now-former TSN co-anchor told Sean Fitz-Gerald of The Athletic. “Media has never been safe. And throughout my whole career, there’s always been rumors of cuts here, or cuts there. You think that you should be prepared for it at all times. I will say last year, especially with COVID—when sports disappeared and there was no SportsCentre for a while—I felt that whole year was a little bit precarious. I kept telling myself, ‘Be ready: It could happen at any moment.’”

Here’s what I found myself wondering after the purge at TSN, TV division: How did the suits go about the business of picking and choosing those who stayed and those told to leave the building? I mean, I’m not sure I want to watch men’s soccer unless Kristian Jack is explaining the ins-and-outs to me, and why pull the plug on Staniszewski while Kayla Grey gets to squawk on?

Staying on the subject of blah, blah, blah, Yoshiro Mori is now former head of the Tokyo Olympic Games organizing group, because he couldn’t keep his lips zipped. Speaking at a recent gathering of the Japanese Olympic Committee, Mori suggested women talk too much: “On boards with a lot of women, the board meetings take so much time. Women have a strong sense of competition. If one person raises their hand, others probably think, I need to say something too. That’s why everyone speaks. You have to regulate speaking time to some extent. Or else we’ll never be able to finish.” He added that a woman’s perceived need to prattle on endlessly is “annoying.” Apparently Mori has never watched Terry Bradshaw on Fox NFL Sunday.

What was that sound we all heard during the fourth quarter of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 31-9 victory over Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV last Sunday? Oh, that’s right. Click! The couch potato count for the grass-grabber took a dip from a year ago, with 91.6 million watching on regular TV and 96.4 million when you include CBS’ other platforms. The 2020 number was 101.3 million. It’s not that 5 million folks found something better to do. It’s just that what a lot of people were saying in advance of the skirmish was true: Watching Tom Brady in another Super Bowl game was a real turnoff. Literally.

Boat boy Tom Brady

The only thing that surprised me about the Buccaneers championship boat parade was seeing Brady on one of the boats. I thought for sure he’d be walking on the water.

Hard to believe some are still debating Brady’s place among the greatest in history. I mean, the guy’s won the Super Bowl seven times. Jesus only walked on water once, and we still haven’t seen game film to confirm it actually happened.

Don’t count Lorraine Grohs among Brady’s legion of fans. She’s the daughter of Greg Grohs, the man who created and crafted the Lombardi Trophy, which the Bucs QB tossed from one boat to another during the parade. Lorraine says Brady “disgraced and disrespected” her pop’s handiwork, and she’s demanding a mea culpa. I’m thinking Brady will do what he does best—he’ll pass.

The NFL issued 4,000 fewer Super Bowl media credentials compared to last year. Breaking it down, that’s approximately 40,000 fewer dumb questions, 8,000 fewer free meals, 20,000 fewer free drinks, and 3,700 fewer poorly dressed men with ketchup stains on their shirts per day.

The cardboard Ozzy

Not all numbers were down. The NFL set a Super Bowl record for most cardboard cutouts, with 30,000 faux fans propped up at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. They went for $100 a pop, and now I hear the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has inquired about obtaining some for display. I call BS on that. I mean, I don’t know about you, but I say The Guess Who belong in the Rock Hall before a cardboard cutout of Ozzy Osbourne.

I understand why the NFL used faux fans, but Patrick Mahomes is demanding to know why Kansas City coach Andy Reid used cardboard cutouts instead of his regular offensive linemen.

I’m not saying Mahomes spent most of the game running for his life, but the Chiefs quarterback had more people chasing him than Dr. Richard Kimble.

Speaking of harassed quarterbacks, NFL/CFL/AAF washout Johnny Manziel says he has “zero interest, zero desire” to return to “serious” football. Great. Finally something we can agree on.

Johnny Manziel

Johnny Rotten is doing his thing down in Georgia these days, playing with something called the Zappers in something called the Fan Controlled Football League, and he basically summed up his pro career after a season-opening loss: “Win or lose, we booze.”

There’s a chain of eateries and watering holes in Pittsburgh called Primanti Bros. They specialize in sandwiches. The owners say if the Steelers sign J.J. Watt to join brothers Derek and T.J., they’ll change the sandwich shop name to Watt Bros. And Steelers fans will say it’s the best thing since sliced bread.

Coach Potty Mouth

For those of you scoring at home, I have Winnipeg Jets bench puppeteer Paul Maurice leading the field in salty talk this month, with one F-bomb, three horse shits and two pisses you offs in his natters with news snoops. That will never land Coach Potty Mouth a guest gig on Sesame Street, but it sure plays well when the audience is a gathering of (perceived) negative nabobs wielding notebooks and recording gadgets and panting for spicy sound bites.

On another scorecard, the name Paul Stastny has appeared on the tally sheet in just four of the Jets 14 skirmishes this National Hockey League crusade. He’s collected five of his eight points vs. the Ottawa Senators, a determined but over-matched outfit that’s managed three Ws in 16 assignments. That’s what $6.5 million buys the Jets? A guy who steals the 98-pound weakling’s lunch money then vanishes? Oh wait. I forgot. They brought Stastny back to keep Patrik Laine happy and for his post-season savvy. Well, Puck Finn now plays in a different country and time zone, and the jury’s still out on the Jets qualifying for Beard Season. Feel free to discuss among yourselves.

Francesco Aquilini

Vancouver Canucks bankroll Francesco Aquilini went on a Trump-like Twitter binge Saturday, ragging on those pesky West Coast news snoops and assuring the rabble that he has no intention of giving general manager Jim Benning and/or head coach Travis Green their walking papers. “When the media starts pouring gas on the fire, dealing in rumours and misinformation as if it’s fact, it’s time for me to speak up,” he harrumphed. He added that he’s “sticking to the path we’re on,” and he has “full confidence” in his braintrust. “I have no plans to make changes.” Which means changes are coming down in 3-2-1.

One final scorecard to contemplate: The Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association has dispatched a collection of its elite torch carriers to Florida for a second series of skirmishes vs. teenage boys from the United States Premier Hockey League. To date, it’s USPHL 6, PWHPA 3, with two games remaining.

Frank Orr

Jock journos hither and yon have spent the past few hours paying tribute to Frank Orr, who went to the great misty on Saturday at age 84. Frank was the second best Orr in the NHL during the 1960s and ’70s. He became the best Orr after Bobby retired. A legend among shinny scribes and a very funny man, five minutes spent in Frank’s company would leave you with a face aching from laughter. I seldom ran with the pack, preferring to plunk myself down in a blues or jazz joint and eat at greasy spoons, but I had occasion to break bread with Frank a few times. Without fail, his one-liners would have beer spewing from my nostrils. I’d like to tell you my favorite Frank Orr story, but I don’t use the same language as Paul Maurice, so I can’t. Notably, most of the hosannas he’s now receiving mention his mentorship and his fondness for fine dining, fine drink and the theatre as much as his scribblings in the Toronto Star. Frank was one of the good ones.

I note the New York Mets have invited former football guy Tim Tebow to spring training. Which means Tebow and I have something in common: Neither of us will be in the Amazins lineup this Major League Baseball season.

And, finally, it’s Valentine’s Day. Don’t let it be the only day of the year that you give your main squeeze a squeeze.