Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Lord Stanley down!

How many Newfoundlanders does it take to damage the Stanley Cup? Two, apparently: one to win the Cup and bring it to Newfoundland, and the other to build a crappy table not strong enough to support the 35 pound trophy.
Hockey's Holy Grail sustained minor damage yesterday when Michael Ryder placed it on table that subsequently collapsed in Bonavista, Newfoundland, where Ryder was exercising a unique tradition that allows each reigning Stanley Cup champion to take sole possession of the vaunted hardware for a day. As Stanley Cup misadventures go, it was relatively minor. According to popular legend, the Cup has been dropped into a bonfire, left on the side of a road, drop-kicked into the Rideau Canal, spent the night at the bottom of at least two swimming pools and visited numerous strip joints, because that's where hockey players go when they're not playing hockey. It's been used as a dog food bowl, potato chip dish, champagne cup, flower pot, baptismal chalice and for other functions that are best left unmentioned.
The uninitiated might consider that ample evidence that the Cup should be kept under lock and key and out of the clutches of hard-partying hockey players, but its colorful history is a big part of what makes it professional sports' most celebrated trophy. Ultimately, in the annals of Stanley Cup lore, Ryder won't even be on the radar, unless he can get it back long enough to use it as a lobster trap or a still for homemade Newfoundland screech.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Hurricane Irene, Bob Cole blow hard

It's a testament to the power of Hurricane Irene that she forced the postponment of the New York Jets-New York Giants NFL pre-season game from Saturday to tonight. Football is a sport that not only routinely tolerates the elements, but embraces and even celebrates inclement weather. Football lore is rife with weather-related legends, including the Mud Bowl, the Fog Bowl, the Ice Bowl, the Freezer Bowl and the time the snowplow cleared a path for New England placekicker John Smith to kick the winning field goal during a snowstorm in 1982 - a memorable event that could probably could use a catchier name than "the time the snowplow cleared a path for New England placekicker John Smith to kick the winning field goal during a snowstorm in 1982"...Competitors in the LPGA Canadian Open showed at least as much moxie as the goliaths of the gridiron when they played yesterday's fourth round in near tropical-storm conditions at the Hillsdale Golf Club in Mirabel. Tournament organizers minimized the weather's impact by wisely moving start times up by 90 minutes, and grouping the golfers in threesomes instead of twosomes...Baseball, as usual, ran away and hid from the rain, postponing seven games over the weekend, although the Yankees and Orioles managed to play two in Baltimore yesterday, even though the Marlins and Phillies were rained out just an hour up the road in Philadelphia...Congratulations to the new English radio voice of the Montreal Canadiens, John Bartlett, whom Team 900 general manager Wayne Bews says was selected from a surprisingly long list of high quality applicants, which begs the question: with a surplus of capable play-by-play broadcasters out there, why does Hockey Night in Canada insist on inflicting Bob Cole on a hockey-savvy audience that deserves so much better than the Cole's borderline-dementia ramblings. Begone, hapless blowhard, and make way for the two generations behind you.

Friday, August 26, 2011

One person's man-whore is another's eligible bachelor

Well, here's a sign of the times. One of the top headlines in baseball today, alongside Jim Thome returning to Cleveland and the shocking suicide death of former Cy Young winner Mike Flanagan, is that Derek Jeter has broken up with his girlfriend.
Mind you, we're not talking about just another vaccuous airhead that Jeter met in a Manhattan night club. Minka Kelly is an actress of some repute - think cheerleader Lyla Garrity on Friday Night Lights - and was voted Sexiest Woman Alive by Esquire magazine in 2010. She is also just the latest in a long line of uber babes who at one time or another have been in the Jeter stable - a list that reportedly including actresses Jessica Alba, Jessica Biel, Scarlett Johansson and Jordana Brewster, singer Mariah Carey, Brazilian supermodel Adriana Lima and former Miss Universe Lara Dutta, and that's just the A list.
Yet despite going through women the way many people go through shoes - one or two new pairs per season - Jeter hasn't cultivated a public reputation for being a shameless womanizer or skirt chaser. Instead, he's universally described as an "eligible bachelor." Apparently, the difference is in the perceived quality of the women you love and leave. It also doesn't hurt if you play shortstop for the New York Yankees.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Jimmy jack this

Driving into work yesterday morning, I suddenly felt a stabbing pain that started in my left eye and shot clean through my head and down to the stem of what's left of my brain. Fortunately, it was nothing more serious than a traditionalist's reaction to hearing a sportscaster describe a home run as a "three run jimmy jack."
I don't know when home runs became jimmy jacks, but it must be in the five to ten years since I pretty much lost day-to-day interest in major league baseball. I do know this: Vin Scully, the dean of baseball broadcasters and the best who ever practiced the craft, would never call a home run a jimmy jack, just as Danny Gallivan would never refer to the puck as "the biscuit" or say that someone went "top shelf, where Daddy keeps the dirty magazines" or "Mommy keeps the anti-depressants." The great ones don't lean on cliches, and if they make something up, they make sure it's something of substance, like Gallivan's Savardian Spinorama or Scully's wonderful desciption of Bob Gibson pitching as though he's doubled-parked.
Memo to aspiring play-by-play announcers: don't imitate the masters, but emulate them. Respect longstanding tradition and stay within the established, time-honored vernacular if you can't do any better than "jimmy jack," which sounds more like a cheap prize in a box of kids' cereal than it does a legitimate home run call by a broadcast professional.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Assessing the future of an important practitioner of the ice hockey profession relative to the concussion symptoms incurred at a prior point in time

Like most lawyers, Sidney Crosby's agent, Pat Brisson, would make a good politician, if only for his ability to say everything and nothing at the same time.
Responding yesterday to reports that his prize client has suspended his off-season training because of recurring concussion symptoms, Brisson said Crosby "simply adjusted his summer program accordingly to the different needs for the appropriate recovery." That could be innterpreted any number of ways, the most obvious of which is that Crosby still isn't well enough to properly prepare for the opening of training camp next month. Meanwhile, while the future of its best player hangs in the balance, the NHL completely ignored its most pressing problem at last week's much-celebrated research and development camp, where league executives were too busy tinkering with possible rule changes to power plays and overtime to bother with career-threatening concussions. In the the nearly nine months since hockey's most important player became only the latest casualty of a blindside cheap shot, it's become abundantly clear that the NHL's decision-makers have no idea how to handle the problem, so they've chosen to do nothing at all. Or as Pat Brisson might say, they're proceeding in a manner consistent with the existing will within the NHL executive branch to bring the dossier to a satisfactory conclusion without compromising the fundamental integrity of the status quo.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Surrendering to reality (and other Monday morning musings)

Nothing is going to be learned or gained from the untimely passing of Winnipeg Jets forward Rick Rypien until police and surviving friends and family members stop dancing around the details and openly acknowledge that Rypien committed suicide. Reporting his death as "non-suspicious" or lamenting that Rypien "lost his battle" fails to adequately confront the stark and brutal reality of the consequences of unchecked mental illness. We don't need all the morbid minutiae, but sanitized platitudes serve no useful purpose in fostering a broader understanding and acceptance of depression as a potentially deadly disease...The most bizarre moment of another eventful NAPA Auto Parts 200 at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve actually occured after the race, when Patrick Carptentier's crew chief, Jerry Baxter, reached inside the 66 number car and pulled driver Steve Wallace's hair, which was slightly more manly than hitting Wallace with his purse but still fell considerably short of the established norms of sportsmanship...I'm loathe to disagree with Gazette hockey writer Red Fisher, who's been covering the Canadiens since before I was born and has forgotten more about hockey than I'll ever know, but when Red refers to the shootout as a gimmick that's got to go, he forgets that we live in an instant gratification society fuelled by gimmicks - or apps, as they're otherwise known...If his performance at the world under-20 championships is anything to go by, Brazil's next one-name soccer superstar is Oscar - a 19 year old phenom who, according to legend, grew up in a garbage can on the mean streets of Rio and dislikes flowers, kittens, ice cream, romantic music and people being nice to one another.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Remembering a legend (and other Monday morning musings)

You're gone.
I didn't listen to the guy because I didn't grow up here, but Ted Tevan's legacy is so strong that someone who only knew him by reputation instantly recognizes his catchphrases. The outpouring of affection online and in the mainstream media following his death Friday is powerful testimony to the impact of a broadcaster whose heyday was 30 years behind him when he passed away. Like the local sponsors he flogged on the air, Ted Tevan was truly a Montreal original...The greatest challenge facing Tiger Woods won't play itself out in the public eye. No matter how badly he falters professionally, Woods has nothing left to prove on the golf course. Where he needs to rehabilitate himself is as a person and especially as a father to his two small children. Of all the advantages his wealth and privilege give him, the most precious resource Tiger Woods has is the time to spend with his children. A better father than I am once told me your children won't remember what you bought them as much as they'll remember what you did with them...Even though most of them went by the wayside earlier than ticket holders for the Rogers Cup semifinals and finals had hoped, at least the world's best tennis players showed up in Montreal, which is a far cry from the days when, by the time the excuses were made and the withdrawals announced, the top seed was a homeless guy named Stinky...Blue Jays rookie and Langley, BC native Brett Lawrie looks like the real deal, not just because of he's hitting .370 with a ridiculous .741 slugging percentage after a week and a half in the major leagues, but because he's doing it at 21 - an age when most players are still honing their craft in the low minors...Awfully decent of New York Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora to end his holdout and honor the contract that'll pay him more than seven million dollars over the next two seasons. Where does he find the capacity for such self-sacrifice?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Goddam hippies

Well, it was only a matter of time, and frankly, I'm surprised it took this long for a loose coalition of misguided pacifists to take aim at the Winnipeg Jets new logo. The critics say the reborn NHL franchise's choice of a Canadian Forces CF-18 as its emblem alienates fans who are anti-war.
First of all, the self-appointed peaceniks don't have a monopoly on being anti-war. As Don Rickles once said, we all want peace; sometimes we just can't make a deal for it.
Using a military jet as their logo isn't a pro-war statement by the Jets. It's a means of acknowledging Winnipeg's longstanding relationships with the aviation industry and the Royal Canadian Air Force - a branch of the Canadian military steeped in tradition, service, honour and sacrifice. The RCAF were and remain the good guys. It's not like the Jets are paying tribute to Al Qaida, the Luftwaffe or the air arm of the Imperial Japanese Navy.
Some people need to get a reading or watching the History Channel.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Quiet, you

Adam Scott did something this week that Tiger Woods should have done a long time ago. He told caddy Steve Williams to shut his pie hole.
Williams was front and center after Scott's win last weekend at the Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio, where Williams celebrated as if he were the one who'd won the tournament. Williams' comments about it being the most satisfying win of his career would have smacked of arrogance were they not so pathetically delusional.
It's understandable that he was happy his guy won and Tiger Woods was a non-factor in Woods' first tournament since he fired Williams, but the post-tournament preening would have reflected poorly on an actual competitor, never mind a glorified baggage handler. Scott seemed less concerned about having his thunder stolen that he did about being associated with a media circus, and he exercised sound judgement in publicly if gently rebuking Williams and reminding him of his place in the PGA pecking order.
Whether Williams is willing to recognize and accept that place after more than a decade of hubris accumulated by riding Tiger Woods' coattails remains to be seen.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Alex Kovalev: a talented dink

If Alex Kovalev were to be memorialized with a brutally honest epitaph, it might go something like this: "Don't they know who I am, and it's all their fault." Kovalev, who never met a scapegoat or mitigating factor that he wouldn't blame for his own shortcomings, fired some characteristically petty parting shots after completing what was almost certainly his last NHL contract, and going home to Russia to play in the Kontinental Hockey League. Kovalev's targets in his latest tirade are former Ottawa coach Cory Clouston, whom Kovalev feels didn't coddle him enough during the better part of two seasons with the Senators, and the Ottawa media - a group Kovalev claims knows more about smuggling beer through airport security than they do about hockey.
Typically, he did his bellyaching to a Russian reporter, which is a time-honored Kovalev tactic so that when he gets called out in the North American media, he can claim he was misquoted or that something was lost in the translation.
A bigger and better person would man up and be a little more humble and grateful after getting paid 10 million dollars to average 17 goals and 49 points over two seasons, but like personal fortitude and competitive resolve, humility and gratitude were never part of Alex Kovalev's makeup, which is why - despite his enormous natural ability - he'll always be remembered more for what he didn't do than he will be for what he did.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Of all the Bubbas, he was the Bubbest

Before Bubba Gump, before Bubba Trammell, before Bubba Paris, Bubba Watson and Bubba the Love Sponge, there was Bubba Smith - the Pro Football Hall of Famer who passed away unexpectedly this week at the age of 66.
For an entire generation of football fans, the name Bubba was as synonymous with Bubba Smith as Hacksaw was with Jack Reynolds, Too Tall was with Ed Jones, or Night Train was with Dick Lane. They weren't the only Bubbas, Hacksaws, Too Talls and Night Trains out there, but they owned their respective nicknames because of the enormity of their talent and their larger-than-life personalities.
Somewhere along the line, football got lazy with nicknames, to the point where the default mode today is to go with initials like T.O. and L.T. Chad Ocho Cinco gets points for originality, but changing your last name to your uniform number in Spanish for self-promotional purposes is a far cry from the days when Mean Joe, the Mad Stork, White Shoes, Broadway Joe, Sweetness and the Fridge were earning their aliases by tearing up the gridiron.
So rest in peace, Bubba, knowing that you were the product of a byegone era when nicknames were bestowed with consideration and creativity, and capriciousness was never confused with character.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Wang danged if he does, danged if he doodles

(I have no idea what that headline means, but it was fun to write)
It's not surprising that 57 percent of Nassau County, New York voters rejected a proposal to publicly finance a new hockey arena and baseball stadium.
What's surprising is that 43 percent were in favor of sinking 400 million dollars in public money into a project that would have guaranteed the long-term future of the New York Islanders.
Either way, it's a blow for Islanders owner Charles Wang and a boost for hockey fans in Quebec City, where municipal and provincial government officials have already committed themselves to building a new arena at taxpayers expense, without going through a referendum or any other form of the pesky democratic process.
As an added bonus, Wang says he'll honor the Islanders' existing lease, which doesn't expire until 2015, giving Quebec plenty of time to build the arena required for a credible franchise pitch to the NHL.
The timing also provides a four year window for shoring up Montreal's crumbling infrastructure - not that Quebec City or the NHL care whether Montreal is falling apart, but Montrealers pay provincial taxes, too, and if we're going to get hosed for part of the cost of a new arena in Quebec City, it would be nice to have a functional bridge we can safely cross to get there.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Bubbles the ump and other Monday morning musings

Even if you didn't hear it here first, remember that you heard it here: the Philadephia Eagles are going to win the Super Bowl this season. In a sport where one big play can change everything, no other NFL team has a more impressive collection of difference-makers than the Eagles, who've added a pair of elite shutdown corners to a roster that already included two All Pro defensive backs, two d-linemen with double figures in sacks, a thousand yard rusher and a combination wide receiver/return specialist who's a consistent home run threat, all anchored by 2010 Comeback Player of the Year Michael Vick, who was just getting warmed up last year. If there's a scarier team out there than the Eagles, I haven't heard of them...Moving from the Giants to the crosstown Jets doesn't represent the change of scenery Plaxico Burress might have required after spending 20 months in a New York prison, but at least he won't have to go far to check in with his parole officer...It was apparently part of his routine and not out of self-mockery that baseball umpire Jerry Meals wore glasses on the field the night after badly blowing a decisive call at home plate to give Atlanta a 19 inning, walk-off win over Pittsburgh. If Meals was going for self-deprecation, he'd have been better off wearing a replica from the Bubbles Coke bottle collection or something with a nose and mustache attached...Everyone's entitled to dream, but speculation about the return of baseball to Montreal on the basis two sold out U2 shows at the Hippodrome will only have credibility when Bono adds 40 miles an hour to his fastball and The Edge learns to lay off the slider.