The River City Renegade


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About the Secretariat of clay court tennis…a delight named Jelena…time for Chevy to get to work…and angry, old Grandpa Simmons is shaking his fist at clouds again

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

Let’s make something perfectly clear: Stan Wawrinka is very, very good and what he does.

Unless your name is Roger Federer, Stan the Man is the best tennis talent ever produced in Switzerland. He is just one successful Wimbledon fortnight short of a career Grand Slam, having already claimed the singles titles at the Australian, French and U.S. Opens. He is ranked No. 3 among all racqueteers on the third rock from the sun.

Yet Rafael Nadal made No. 3 look like No. 303 in the men’s final at the French Open on Sunday in Paris.

It was like watching Secretariat win the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths. Seriously, 6-2, 6-3, 6-1? In the championship match of a Grand Slam tournament? We haven’t seen a rout like that since Custer threw down on Crazy Horse at the Little Bighorn. Or at least since Rafa paddywhacked Federer 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 in the 2008 championship match at Roland Garros.

But that’s what Rafa Nadal does. Put him on a tennis court made of clay and you have Secretariat.

Rafa Nadal

The wedgie Rafa delivered to Wawrinka on Sunday reminded me of something Yogi Berra mused about Sandy Koufax, scant seconds after the legendary Los Angeles Dodgers lefthander had whiffed 15 New York Yankees in Game 1 of the 1963 World Series:

I can see how he won 25 games,” said Yogi, the Yankees catcher. “What I don’t understand is how he lost five.”

It’s the same with Rafa Nadal. He’s won the title at Roland Garros 10 times, collecting 79 victories against two losses. How in the name of Philippe Chatrier did he lose twice?

Robin Soderling (2009) and Novak Djokovic (2015) are the only foes to vanquish Rafa on the red clay of Roland Garros, and I have to assume French Open officials demanded that both men pee in a bottle immediately after their matches. I mean, you don’t beat Nadal in Paris unless there’s something funny in your drinking water.

Most people go to Paris for the food, the wine, the art, the culture and the romance. Nadal goes to search and destroy. He’s relentless, ruthless and has the steely-eyed focus of an assassin.

Wawrinka mentioned something about playing Rafa on a clay court being the stiffest challenge in tennis, and evidence supports that notion. Nadal has lost only twice at Roland Garros. In 13 years. He’s 102-2 in best-of-five matches on clay.

But Wawrinka is also selling the Spaniard short. It isn’t just tennis. Playing Rafael Nadal on clay is the greatest challenge in the entirety of sports.

Jelena Ostapenko

There’s hope for the future of women’s tennis, and her name is Jelena Ostapenko, the Latvian lass whose dashing and daring ruled the day at Roland Garros. The winners and unforced errors come in equal number from Ostapenko, but once she brings her service game up to the level of her groundstrokes (she hits her forehead harder than world No. 1 Andy Murray) the 20-year-old will become the face of the ladies’ game the moment Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova take their permanent leave. It isn’t just her substantial game, though. It’s her winning personality. On court, Ostapenko bares her emotions, off court she is the very picture of wide-eyed innocence, often giggling like a schoolgirl and forever smiling. She’s an absolute delight.

While watching the French Open this past fortnight, I found myself wondering this: How did Steffi Graf, Chrissie Evert, Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King and other legendary ladies’ champions win all those Grand Slam titles without the orgasmic shrieking and grunting that we hear today?

I heard a rumor that the National Hockey League season is over. If that’s true, someone give Kevin Cheveldayoff a nudge and tell the Winnipeg Jets general manager to “wakey, wakey.” It’s time for him to go to work.

I note that Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press has been tabbed for induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Roll of Honour in October. Good choice. Wiecek is the best sports columnist the Drab Slab has featured since Hal Sigurdson signed off in 1996, even when he’s writing about rock climbing.

Steve Simmons has become the Jose Bautista of sports writing: Tedious, tiresome and time to move on. I mean, it’s one thing for a columnist to be opinionated and rub the rabble the wrong way. That’s a large part of the gig. And Simmons surely has mastered the art of getting up noses with his alphabet farts that appear on sports pages of Postmedia sheets from one flank of the True North to the other. But…the Toronto Sun scribe has grown increasingly nasty and mean-spirited, if not cruel, in his commentary. He is Grandpa Simmons, shaking his fists at clouds and screaming at kids to get the hell off his lawn. A case in point is Simmons’ take on mixed doubles competition in Grand Slam tennis. When our girl Gabriela Dabrowski advanced to the mixed doubles final of the French Open last week, Mark Masters of TSN delivered this tweet: “No Canadian woman has won a mixed doubles grand slam title. Ottawa’s @GabyDabrowski has a chance to change that on Thursday.” To which Simmons responded: “Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.” I’m not sure if that was supposed to be funny, witty or clever, but it was none of the above. It was classless, tacky and totally unnecessary, as were a series of insensitive follow-up tweets belittling Dabrowski’s and partner Rohan Bopanna’s achievement.

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that Simmons is pooh-poohing yet another event in sports. It’s become his shtick. Last year he was “bothered” by the selection of Rosie MacLennan as Canada’s flag-bearer for the Olympic Games in Rio, because trampoline is “a marginal pursuit” that “seems more backyard and gimmicky that it does Olympian.” He’s also advocated the elimination of women’s hockey at the Olympics, writing: “Women’s hockey is the least competitive, least interesting, least Olympic of all sports in the Winter Games. There should be a cry to end this Olympic charade of imbalance.” And he once told the Ryerson Review of Journalism that “I don’t believe there’s a demand from the public for women’s sports.” I’ll remind you that he writes for a newspaper that’s best known for the tits and ass it displays on Page 3 and, to this day, continues to objectify women with its Sunshine Girl.

Thanks to a study by neuroscientist Tara Swart, we now know what we’ve suspected all along: Journalists’ brains function at a sub-par level. For evidence, see: Simmons, Steve. (See, I can stoop to gratuitous, mean-spirited and nasty comments, too. You know, just like a real sports columnist at a real big-city newspaper.)

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.


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So, who gets the sports columnist gig at the Winnipeg Free Press?

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

Okay, who’s next at the Freep? Paul Wiecek? Ed Tait? Paul Friesen? Some new kid on the block? Some recycled old coot on the block?

If it were up to me, I’d anoint Wiecek to replace the departing Gary Lawless as sports columnist at the Winnipeg Free Press. He’s got the stones for the job. He’s cheeky, irreverent, a top-drawer scribe and not afraid to get in your face. Question is: Is he content where he is, covering curling, horse racing and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers?

Ed Tait

Ed Tait

The Freep wouldn’t go wrong with Tait. I’m a huge fan. Terrific reporter, solid writer. I’m not convinced he has the right temperment for that full-time gig, though. Eddie is such a nice guy. He’s Mike Riley and Brian Dobie nice. A columnist has to have a bit of bad-ass in him, and that ain’t my boy Eddie. But he’d still do a boffo job.

Poaching Paul Friesen from the Winnipeg Sun would be an interesting gambit. He’s got some bad-ass. Trouble is, given that the Freep is in bed with the Winnipeg Jets, it wouldn’t be a good fit. Paul is no True North toady.

Another option would be to bring in a fresh face. Seems to me the Freep—and the Sun, for that matter—could use some new blood. It’s been too much same old, same old for too long.

Whomever, I just hope the newbe spends more time writing than talking on TV/radio.

As much as I used him as a whipping boy, I hope the TSN gig works out for Gary Lawless. He joins a long list of newspaper jock sniffers—Dave Naylor, Stephen Brunt, Damien Cox, Jeff Blair, etc.—who’ve gone over the wall to the other side, and it brings to mind something that longtime jock columnist Tony Kornheiser once wrote about sports scribes appearing on TV: “There’s a reason print journalists work in print. It’s because they look like bridge trolls. They have bags under their eyes the size of hero sandwiches. They wear lounge-lizard suits and shiny ties spotted with marinara stains. They have $8 haircuts and foam flecks form at the corners of their mouths as they stare creepily into the camera. Their pallor suggests they’ve just climbed out of a sarcophagus. And these are the women! The men are unspeakable.”

That’s big of the Canadian Football League to admit one of its skunk shirts screwed up royally on Friday night, perhaps costing the Winnipeg Blue Bombers a victory over the Calgary Stampeders. In offering a mea culpa, the league assures us that the official in question will be “disciplined in accordance with the gravity of the situation.” Given that the guy’s basically a volunteer, that likely means he’ll be sent to his room without dinner.

Pete Rose

Pete Rose

I see where the disgraced Pete Rose got together with Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred for a chin-wag last week. Rose, the all-time hits leader, met with the commish to plead his case for the lifting of his lifetime ban for gambling while skipper of the Cincinnati Reds. Apparently, Manfred will make a decision before the year’s out. Good grief, why does it take four months to say no?

I enjoy watching the Toronto Blue Jays. Exciting team. High likeability quotient. But if I don’t root, root, root for the home team once the Major League Baseball post-season commences, that doesn’t make me unCanadian. I’m a St. Louis Cardinals fan. If my Redbirds were to meet the Toronto Nine in the World Series, color me Cardinals red.

Anyone looking for proof that Michael Sam is all messed up between the ears? Give a listen to his recent gum-flap with host Dan Patrick on the aptly named Dan Patrick Show. Among other things, the first openly gay man to play professional football tells Patrick that he “never really wanted to go to the CFL” and that those inconsiderate Montreal Alouettes had the bad manners to employ a defensive system unlike anything he’d seen. The Als didn’t do it the St. Louis Rams way, don’t you know. Or the Dallas Cowboys way. Yo, Mikey! That might have something to do with the fact there are 12 men on the field, not 11. Whatever, rather than learn and adapt, Sam quit the Als. Not once, but twice. And now he’s delusional enough to believe an NFL outfit will make room for him on its roster next year. Ya, and I’ll be the Dallas Cowboys head cheerleader. Time to go, Mikey. Your 15 minutes have expired.

Michael Sam

Michael Sam

Actually, I’m not sure which is stronger evidence that Michael Sam is living in a fantasy world, the fact he’s convinced he can still play in the National Football League or his stated goal of getting into broadcasting. A times during his tete-a-tete with Dan Patrick, I wasn’t convinced that English is his first language.

Have they already presented the Calder Trophy to Connor McDavid, or will they actually make him play some games before handing him the silverware as top freshman in the National Hockey League? I can’t recall the hype being this frenzied for Sidney Crosby, perhaps because Sid the Kid went to Pittsburgh whereas McDavid is in hockey’s heartland, Canada.

I’m old enough to remember Yogi Berra, the Hall of Fame baseball player who died last week. Yogi, of course, is known as much, if not more, for what he said as for what he did on the ball field with the New York Yankees. Among the many classic Yogi quotes, my favorite is this gem: “Home openers are always exciting, whether they’re at home or on the road.”

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


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Bobby Hull: Spousal abuse or not, they’ll still line up for his autograph

I believe I am on the side of the angels when I suggest men should not beat up women or children. Ever. I also believe most level-thinking people would agree.

What, then, are we to make of the legacy of Robert Marvin Hull vis-a-vis hockey in River City?

Ben Hatskin is, of course, the father of professional shinny in good, ol’ Hometown and should forever be recognized as such. It was his vision that delivered the World Hockey Association to Winnipeg and, more significant, it was Benny’s pie-in-the-sky dreaming and bulldog tenacity that brought us Hull in 1972.

That was a favorable development then. It remains so today.

Had Hatskin not convinced the game’s glam guy to accept a $2.75 million bribe and defect from the Chicago Blackhawks and the National Hockey League, the Pegtown sporting landscape would be noticably more barren, figuratively and literally. There would have been no Winnipeg Jets/NHL 1.0.There would be no Jets 2.0. This isn’t a “What came first, the chicken or the egg?” thing. We know what came first: Hatskin and the Jets/WHA. Then Bobby Hull. Then the NHL. Then Mark Chipman and the Manitoba Moose. Then the Little Hockey House on the Prairie. Then the Jets/NHL 2.0.

Thus, the three most noteworthy and influential figures in local lore are Ben Hatskin, Bobby Hull and Mark Chipman.

One of the three is recognized as a man who hits women. So, with the knowledge that Hull whacked his wife, Joanne, on the head with the steel heel of her own shoe and bloodied her, and because she was granted a divorce on the grounds of physical cruelty, mental cruelty and adultery, do we erase his accomplishments while he wore No. 9 in Jets linen? No. We cannot.

Hull still signed that $1 million WHA contract and agreed to accept an additional $1.75 million to coach and play for the Jets, a development which forever shifted the salary structure in not just hockey, but all major professional sports in North America. He still scored all those goals. He still made magic with Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson. He still brought the first two of three WHA titles to Pegtown.

These realities are stored in memories. For some, they cannot be jarred loose.

I have made no secret of my dislike for Bobby Hull. I am repulsed by his behaviour. He is a cad of high rank. Yet I can separate the man from the hockey player. Just as I can so many other athletes who have led lives of imperfection and are guilty of being human beings.

I mean, retreat to Babe Ruth’s days. The great Bambino bounced from brothel to bar to brothel to bar. Yet he continued to swat home runs at a then-unparalleled pace. The game went on.

Ty Cobb was a nasty bit of business given to fits of anger and fisticuffs. He whacked a hotel elevator operator for being “uppity.” He slashed a security guard with a knife. He choked a woman. He thumped a disabled fan. He fought on the streets. Yet he continued to collect base knocks and steal sacks. The game went on.

Move ahead to the 1950s. In May of ’57, a group of New York Yankees gathered to celebrate Billy Martin’s 29th birthday at the Copacabana at 10 East 60th St. in Gotham. Martin, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Hank Bauer, Whitey Ford and Johnny Kucks engaged in a brawl with a bunch of bowlers that included Edwin Jones, who was decked by Bauer. The party-boy Yankees were required to appear before a grand jury. Yet they continued to put on their pinstripes and won the American League pennant, before bowing to the Milwaukee Braves in the World Series. The game went on.

You want a bad ass? Try former heavyweight boxing champion Sonny Liston.

After doing a two-year stretch in the brig for armed robbery and assaulting a police officer, ex-con Liston fought for a group linked to St. Louis underworld bad boy John Vitale. His contract was later taken over by mobsters Frankie Carbo and Blinky Palermo. Liston took the title from Floyd Patterson with a first-round knockout at Comiskey Park in Chicago on Sept. 25, 1962, and it was of little significance that the heavyweight champion of the world was a convicted felon run by the Mafia, who really “whacked” people. The game went on.

Muhammad Ali, long admired worldwide, was a serial philanderer who arrived in the Phillipines for the final fight in his Joe Frazier trilogy with his mistress in tow and his wife at home. He refused induction into the U.S. military, was convicted of draft evasion, drummed out of boxing, then returned three and a half years later to eventually regain his heavyweight crown. The game went on.

Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich of the Yankees held separate press conferences on March 4, 1973, to announce they had swapped wives, children, pets and homes. Combined, they won nine games while wearing N.Y. pinstripes that year. The game went on.

In January of 1984, Craig MacTavish of the Boston Bruins got behind the wheel of his car. He was impaired. He killed a 26-year-old woman and was convicted of vehicular homicide. After spending a year behind bars, he renewed his NHL career with the Edmonton Oilers, and today is the team general manager. The game went on.

This is a tip-of-the-iceberg sampling of athlete misconduct from times that are often romanticized as kinder, more gentle, innocent. Yet the music never died.

If people were truly affronted and truly cared about the egregious trespasses of professional athletes, they would protest by refusing to purchase game tickets. They wouldn’t watch on TV or online. But they don’t do that, do they? The National Football League flourishes regardless how many players’ names surface on police blotters or on a court docket. Fist-fighter Floyd Mayweather Jr. continues to earn $30 million paydays regardless how many women he beats up. Convicted rapist Mike Tyson continues to earn a living simply for being Mike Tyson.

And so it is with Bobby Hull. He will be judged both as a hockey player and as a man, and I believe it’s safe to say that he will grade significantly higher for his achievements on a frozen sheet of water than for what he did behind the closed doors of his home.

That’s why they’ll line up for Hull’s signature the next time he surfaces in River City for an autograph session…and the queue will include women.

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