Say What?! is an email conversation between sports editor Steve Lyons and retired sports columnist Paul Wiecek. Look for us regularly — but intermittently — on the Free Press website.
Heya... how are things? Hope you’re having a great summer at the cottage — less chance to annoy anyone out there anyways haha
Lots of news these days on the home front. Patrick Laine casts a shadow over his future in Winnipeg; Matt Nichols goes down with an injury; and did you hear there’s an NFL game in town tonight?
Gotta chat about Nichols first if that’s ok. Bumped into an old colleague of ours the other day, someone who covered a bit of CFL at one time, and he was was jacked about Nichols getting injured because it was going to give an opportunity to Chris Streveler — ‘the best young QB since Matt Dunigan,’ he proclaimed. Notice I’m keeping his name out of this — to protect him from ridicule of course.
Listen, as much as I’ve been on the fence on whether or not Nichols is the guy to break the Bombers decades-long Grey Cup drought, there’s no way I believe Streveler gives them a better shot at winning.
What say you, armchair QB?
There’s an age-old gag in football — and it’s more true in Winnipeg than perhaps anywhere else: The most popular guy in town is always the backup quarterback.
There is no world with which I’m familiar in which Chris Streveler gives the Bombers a better chance to win than Matt Nichols. And yet I keep hearing the same thing from people in my circle that you hear from the people in yours — ‘We want Streveler.’
The last time people were this all-in for a backup Bombers QB with unusually good mobility and an unusually poor arm was back in 2015 when they were clamoring for Robert Marve to replace Drew Willy.
Well, Marve got his chance when Willy got hurt that season — sound familiar? — and he did nothing with it, throwing four interceptions versus just one TD, all of which quickly led to the fans clamoring for — you guessed it — the other backup QB that season, Brian Brohm.
This ‘we love the backup QB til he’s the starting QB’ is the most reliable sub-plot in Bombers Nation. I can remember sitting in old Winnipeg Stadium back in the 1970’s and the entire stadium chanting in unison after another poorly timed Ralph Brock interception — ‘We want Knight! We want Knight!’
Harry Knight. You can’t make this stuff up.
I predict the Bombers will spend the next ‘however many weeks it takes Nichols to get healthy’ running the ball more than the Fighting Irish circa 1935. And when Andrew Harris isn’t running the ball, he’s going to be catching five-yard screen passes that not even Streveler can make a mess of.
It will be boring and I’m not sure it will be good enough to beat Edmonton this week. But then the Bombers get Saskatchewan — who have yet to impress me — in back to back weeks, followed by a bye-week.
If Nichols is back by then, the Bombers may yet weather this storm. But whatever happens, all I’m certain of right now is that Streveler will be a whole lot less popular in Winnipeg — and Nichols a whole lot more popular — once this all plays out.
I recall the chants for John Hufnagel over Tom Clements!
Our old friend’s comments (I’ll text you his name lol) got me to thinking: What young QB most impressed the heck out of me when they first joined the league and I immediately thought of Condredge Holloway. In 1975, both Holloway and Clements were rookies with the Ottawa Rough Riders. Holloway would run with the ball like no QB I’d ever seen at that time and then Clements would come in and make pinpoint passes.
Holloway ran for 465 yards on 58 carries and Clements passed for over 2,000 yards that year. As a 1-2 punch, they were very hard to stop. Clements went on to win outstanding rookie that season and of course both are now in the Hall of Fame.
Dunigan also made an impressive early impression. After limited playing time in his rookie year (1983) as a backup to some guy named Warren Moon, he passed for 3,273 yards and rushed for 732 yards in 1984. Oh, he’s in the Hall of Fame as well.
Nichols is not a Hall of Fame QB, but reminds me quite a bit of the last guy to QB the Bombers to a Grey Cup win — Tom Burgess. Gritty, great leadership, protects the football, and can throw it downfield when necessary.
Streveler? Not sure, but guess we will find out.
Fun fact: While looking up some stats on Holloway, I was reminded he was a first-round draft pick (4th overall) of the Montreal Expos in 1971. His mother, insisting her son attend college, refused to sign the contract (Condredge was 17, too young to sign a contract under Alabama law) and instead he went to Tennessee — becoming the first African-American to start at the quarterback position in a Southeastern Conference school. He also was the first black baseball player in Tennessee history.
Ah, the Expos — how about the scheme to have Tampa and Montreal share an MLB franchise?
You know I love the Expos as much as you do. My fondest memories of going to university in Ottawa was driving to Montreal for ballgames. You could get a ticket in the outfield in those years for $2 bucks. That’s not a misprint — two Canadian dollars — and my degenerate university buddies and I would spend the evening with an entire seating section to ourselves, consuming illicit products which are no longer illegal in this great country but definitely were at that time.
But I digress.
Any scheme that gets baseball back to Montreal — even one as goofy as Montreal sharing the team with Tampa — has my full support.
I’m still bitter about 1994. The Expos were the best team in baseball (74-40) that year and I’m convinced that was my World Series if only the players strike hadn’t ended it.
That — and stupid Rick Monday — still haunt my dreams.
You’ve also cheered/cheer for the Yankees — you’ve had your World Series pal.
I was at a fundraising dinner Wednesday night for the Bruce Oake Recovery Centre — they’re breaking ground on that facility today by the way. The 2nd Annual Hockey Night in Canada at the Canad Inns brought out a great crowd and plenty of NHL illuminati. Ron McLean and Jann Arden co-hosted the event and were very entertaining. The evening included a one-on-one interview of Jets head coach Paul Maurice by Elliotte Friedman. Maurice was tight-lipped when asked hockey questions about his team, which made me feel better. I was thinking he just avoided questions from us, but apparently even million-dollar donors aren’t given the inside scoop. Maurice did state the obvious at one point, saying the biggest question that needs answering at training camp is the back-end pairings. No kidding.
Wonder if he has any concerns about Laine’s comments last week — last thing he needs is a disgruntled young sniper.
I think the biggest question about Laine isn’t whether he will re-sign with the Jets — of course he will, sooner or later, simply because he has no other choice as an RFA.
To me the bigger question about Laine is whether the Jets now have another disgruntled Jacob Trouba-type on their hands who is going to drag out every contract negotiation until he can finally get out of town.
Reading the tea leaves of what Maurice said last spring about their being "ruffled feathers" in the Jets dressing room last season that need fixing, combined with the great reporting of our own Jason Bell and Mike McIntyre about there being dissension in the room last season, leads me to think that at least some of that dissension and ruffled feathers has to do with Laine.
That was a crazy up and down season for Laine last year and you know that the Jets leadership was on him at times over his defensive lapses. That was stuff that got ignored when the guy was reliably pumping in a goal every two games, but it became a big issue last season when prolonged scoring droughts no longer papered over the stuff he wasn’t doing in his own end.
Now, Blake Wheeler came out this week and actually denied there were problems in the room last season and seemed to suggest that he was angry about our reporting to the contrary. I would encourage Wheeler to take it up with his head coach and ask him what he meant by "ruffled feathers" if not exactly that.
Laine sure sounded to me last weekend like a guy who’s feathers are ruffled. I was right about Trouba wanting out, years before anyone else, including Trouba, would admit it. And I think I might be right about Laine now too.
But what do I know. I’m just some old retired guy living at the lake.
Don’t we all want out?
I’m heading to London in a few weeks for a week and then going cycling in Greece for a week. You got any plans to get outta Dodge?
Speaking of biking. I’ll admit, I’m a bit of a newbie to biking around town this year. You always did way more of it. Tell me something: did you ever come to a complete stop at stop signs?
I’m cutting through the Weston area on my way home last week. As usual, very little traffic. None in fact.
As I roll up to a stop sign and then turn right while rolling through it, one of our local police officers barks at me to stop at the stop sign next time. Oh, as he was startled and had to slam on his brakes while rolling through a stop sign.
For the rest of my ride home I paid attention: nobody on bikes stops at stop signs. It would take me twice as long to get home if I did.
One thing I’ve noticed more than anything while biking is there seems to be a hate on for cyclists in this city.
I had a lady friend who got pulled over by a Winnipeg cop once for rolling through a stop sign in West Broadway. The guy was actually sitting there all afternoon doing nothing but that — pulling over cyclists for rolling through this one particular stop sign. Your tax dollars at work.
I guess technically we’re all supposed to follow the rules of the road. And I think some of this hate motorists have for cyclists in Winnipeg is that so many of them aren’t following the rules of the road.
But for all the problems we have on our streets, the handful of cyclists actually brave enough to engage in the mortal combat that is trying to ride a bike on a Winnipeg street is the least of it. The only thing worse than the conditions of Winnipeg roads is the driving of Winnipeg motorists.
I can live with aggressive drivers — that’s almost the only kind you encounter in major American cities. And I can live with incompetent motorists — the kind of guy who drives for miles with his turn signal on.
But Winnipeg drivers are aggressively incompetent in a way I’ve never seen anywhere else. And that’s what makes it so dangerous — for pedestrians, for cyclists and for the rest of us who don’t view another motorist’s signaled desire to enter your lane as a declaration of war.
London sounds nice, Greece even better. As for me, I’m off to Tofino in a couple weeks to put a ring on it before the lady of the house comes to her senses and dumps me.
My son is also getting married this weekend and how about this: A father and son, 26 years apart in age, both getting married 26 days apart. Add to that the fact that both of us have put away a few 26ers in our day and a numerologist would tell me it’s a harbinger of good things to come.
I’m guessing #26 isn’t invited?
Oh, I bumped into one of our all-time favorite people — Fareez Kassim — at the dinner and he asked me to say Hi.
Fareez is the GM of Canad Inns Polo Park, but we both know him originally from his days as food services manager at Assiniboia Downs. If there’s a more hospitable person in Winnipeg, I have yet to meet them. Fareez always goes out of his way to ensure folks are getting what they need and feel special when in his presence. Last night’s dinner was terrific, including a watermelon salad with basil that was unique and extraordinary.
Someone just sent me a note to ask me if I was going to the NFL game tonight. Um, no.
I guess if you’re part of Raiders Nation or a longtime cheesehead, perhaps there’s some appeal to this contest but pre-season anything has little appeal to me.
Yeah, the whole business plan for this NFL game seemed flawed from the start: Let’s bring in a meaningless game that doesn’t even include the most popular NFL team in these parts — the Vikings — and then ask some of the ‘thriftiest’ people in North America to pay stratospheric prices for tickets.
What could go wrong? A half-empty stadium that is going to look terrible to a U.S. TV audience.
But you can’t blame Winnipeg sports fans for this one. This whole thing was just a dumb idea from the start.
I see Wade Miller is saying the Bombers involvement in this is nothing more than renting the stadium. If that’s true — and none of the revenue the Bombers will earn from this game is tied to ticket sales — then my hat’s off to Miller for making sure the Bombers don’t have a financial stake in this debacle.
Besides, the most entertaining thing about this ridiculous game has already happened. Did you see the ‘Canadian Tuxedo’ Aaron Rodgers was wearing on Wednesday when he got off the Packers plane at Richardson International?
I did see that. I have a great jean jacket — Silver brand by the way, just in case anyone from that family is reading this — but have been cautioned more than once to never wear it with blue jeans .. and a bolo tie? Where exactly did he think he was going, Calgary.. Say What?!
Ya know, I was skeptical when the Bombers brought in Miller to steer the ship but I gotta say, he’s done a bang-up job at the helm. They haven’t won a Cup yet and perhaps his loyalty to Kyle Walters and Mike O’Shea can be questioned at times, but Miller has continued to find ways to make money for the team. Bob Molle once told me to never doubt or under-estimate Wade Miller, proving once again Molle is one of the brightest guys in sports I’ve ever met.
I think Wade has professionalized the running of that team. Some of that was going to happen with the new stadium anyway, but I don’t think there’s any doubt the Bombers are being run like a business under Miller in a way they never were before.
Miller got saddled with the albatross of a poorly constructed stadium in a terrible location and you cannot blame him for that — or the stadium loan the province has written off.
And at the end of the day, as long as the Bombers continue to make their annual mortgage payments, as they have been, that’s all you can really ask of Miller.
But O’Shea and Walters? They’ve had the keys to this team for five plus seasons now and have, to date, won the entirety of one playoff game. I’d argue anything less than a Grey Cup win this season should be a firing offense for at least one man — and maybe both.
I’m gonna wager neither of those happen.
Time to get back to work. And you’ve got all those wedding plans. Send my best to Ben and let’s have a falafel or something soon.
Have a safe trip.
Paul Wiecek was born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End and delivered the Free Press -- 53 papers, Machray Avenue, between Main and Salter Streets -- long before he was first hired as a Free Press reporter in 1989.
As a young boy in the 1960s, Steve would plead with his mother to let him watch Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday nights. And CFL football. And baseball. And PGA golf. And… well, you get the picture.