Saturday, February 28, 2004

Old Man of the Big Blue

Don't look now but the longest serving head coach with one team in the CFL is Dave Ritchie. The Big Blue Boss enters the final year of his contract in Winnipeg with one goal in mind, getting to Ottawa in late November for the Grey Cup.

Management doesn't want to discuss his contract until the end of the season, Ritchie doesn't want to talk about it all, not wanting things to be a distraction to the job at hand. But in Winnipeg, it's just another aspect of the Big Blue for the fans to discuss.

Ritchie joined the Blue and turned a 3-15 team into a Grey Cup participant but has yet to get them over the hump and onto a podium to hoist Earl Grey's Cup. Losing some painful games along the way, bringing the Bombers just short of their goal. A situation that gives the radio talk show callers lots to chat about in the off season.

The key for Ritchie will be a fast start to the season, should the Big Blue get off to a seven and zero start, then negotiations for a new contract should go rather quickly and bring rewards to Ritchie, letting him increase that record just a little bit further.

Penny pinching with the F troop

Matt Dunigan's learning curve as a CFL executive continued this week, as the new Stampeder GM cut a sizeable chunk of salary out of his expense ledger, trading Davis Sanchez to the Montreal Alouettes.

Picking up two young Canadians, receiver Andrew Noel and linebacker Joseph Bonaventure. They also receive a draft pick in the 2004 draft. For his part Dunigan admitted the move was purely financial, nothing personal. Sanchez was making about 200,000 with Calgary and the current direction of the Stamps is one of low paid players, making the rounds are rumours that ownership is trying to make the team more attractive to potential buyers. The Stamps will pick up an undisclosed portion of Sanchezs' salary with the Als.

The departure of Sanchez continues the stream of veterans leaving the team in the last couple of years, the decline of a once proud Western franchise, presently in state of confusion. Regardless of the cost cutting measures in place, they still have to put a team on the field. General Manager Dunigan's trades are going to make coach Dunigan's job that much harder this season.

Payday! For Ricky Ray

We've seen the last of Ricky Ray on a wide open Canadian field, for a while anyways. Ray signed a four year deal Friday with the New York Jets, moving to third spot on the Jets depth chart. Earlier in the week, the Jets bid adieu to Vinnie Testaverde, who said he would rather retire than end up as number three on the chart. That development opened up the opportunity for Ray, who signed two days before the transfer window from the CFL closes for another year.

With the Jets signing, Ray will see his bank account grow pretty impressively. Last year the CFL's Grey Cup champion QB made 44,000 dollars as an Eskimo. The minimum he can make as a Jet is 205,000, should he last the four years of his deal he will make a minimum 500,000 dollars per year by that time.

Ray is penciled in as the third stringer at the moment, but he has pro experience over the current clipboard holder in New York, Brooks Bollinger who has yet to throw a pass in anger in the NFL. Ray of course collected accolades for his work in Edmonton and has been making the tour of NFL camps this winter to showcase his talents. He tested out for the Jets two weeks ago and now is signed sealed and delivered.

The Esks are wishing Ray well and will keep a light on for him should things not work out in the NFL, but are now making plans to carry on with Jason Maas and Bart Hendricks as the QB's. Maas the former starter in Edmonton should have no problem getting back into the groove, and Hendricks has been mentioned as a guy to watch for. An embarrassment of riches that seems to be the domain of the Green and Gold.

Monday, February 23, 2004

Three months and counting!

The 2004 CFL season will begin on Sunday May 30th with the first pre season game between the Argonauts and the Ti-Cats at Ivor Wynne Stadium. June 15th sees the regular season kick off with Saskatchewan visiting Toronto to play the Argonauts. Saskatchewan will also close the season off in Vancouver with a game against the Lions at BC Place on October 30th.

In between we'll be treated to weekly contests through the summer and fall, including the epic battles of Labour Day and Thanksgiving. Old rivalries will be re-visited on the Labour Day weekend, Ottawa and Montreal, Toronto and Hamilton, Calgary and Edmonton and of course Saskatchewan and Winnipeg. Thanksgiving will bring us some interesting match ups as well, Montreal and Edmonton, BC at Toronto, Saskatchewan at Ottawa and Hamilton at Winnipeg. As well the CFL continues it's tradition of celebrating Canada Day with it's Canada Day bashes on July 2nd.

Friday night will once again be football night, as TSN presents Friday Night Football, one of the most successful appointment night promotions in CFL history. A full fledged big time event, over the years Friday Night football has become one of the hottest properties in Canadian Sport Television. This year will see one absent member of the panel, Matt Dunigan of course moving on to take on the job of GM and coach of the Calgary Stampeders, no word on who will replace him on the panel.

CBC will return with Saturday Night action in the Hockey Night in Canada timeslot, an experiment that proved to be very successful last year, a nice bridge between the NHL playoffs and the regular season and keeping a prime piece of TV ratings territory filled with quality sports action. They've worked hard to make that Saturday Night broadcast a big event on the network. Last year proving to be a successful bit of programming.

Training camps open up in May, with nine CFL cities holding the two a day drills, off field training and comprehensive playbook sessions. Through the summer and fall, every week Canadians will be following their favorite teams through the season. The lucky ones continue play on through November, leading to this years Grey Cup , November 21st in Ottawa. Kickoff is just three months away!

Friday, February 20, 2004

Twin threats in Steeltown

The Ti-Cats have served notice, that putting points on the board is going to be a priority this year for fans of the yellow and black. While their competition up the QEW were showing off a Heisman winner, the Ticats went for the Daily Double bringing two solid CFL veterans into the Steel City.

The Cats signed Mike Morreale and DJ Flick to contracts today, renovating their receiving corps in a short period of time. Flick a 3rd year CFL veteran who last year was with the Renegades and will provide a deep threat for the Ticats.

Morreale returns to his hometown, after being exiled in Argoville the last few years. A Steeltown favorite Morealle is considered one of those players that is a team leader, showing his team mates by example. The perfect choice for the rebuilding Ti-Cats.

Also announced today was the signing of Matt Robichaud to the linebacker spot, who also returns to Hamilton after playing for the Renegades.

The three signings show the faithful in Hamilton that this really will be a new season for the Cats. The days of lop sided blow outs may be a thing of the past at Ivor Wynne.

Argos add Heisman trophy winner to the stable

The Toronto Argonauts made a bit of a splash on Friday, signing Heisman Trophy winner Rashaan Salaam.
Salaam the former first round pick of the Chicago Bears of the NFL, most recently played his football in the long gone XFL. Last year he was among the final cuts of the San Francisco 49ers.

Salaam has battled a substance abuse problem over the years, so may be a bit of a re-clamation project for the Argos. But if he can return to the form he first showed the Bears, 1074 yards rushing in 1995, his rookie year, then he might be an asset for the Argos.

General Manager Adam Rita, squarely put the drug situation into perspective for Salaam,saying if he wants to play football he'll take care of it. If he doesn't we'll cut him.

Salaam will be an insurance policy for returning running back Michael Jenkins, who is coming off an injury plagued season. The Argos will hope that the Salaam situation won't end up the way that Montreal and Calgary went with Lawrence Phillips. His troubles eventually sent him packing from the CFL, his last chance to get back on the NFL radar scope.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Unpacked bags and home cooked meals

If all goes according to plan, Pat Woodcock will become one of the three highest paid players on the Ottawa Renegades. And the lad from Kanata wants it known, that nothing would better than to be flying down the field at Frank Clair in Red, White and Black.

Eric Tilman has made it pretty apparent that he has an interest in getting Woodcock into a Renegade uniform, feeling he'd be the perfect deep threat, for QB Kerry Joseph to toss his bombs to in the 2004 season. Woodcock was part of the Montreal air attack this past year, that kept many CFL defences on their heels for most of the game. It would be a perfect fit, for the Renegades to have some of that potential in their line up.

Woodcock likes what he sees in Ottawa, a solid Quarterback situation and a running back in Josh Ranek that can make things happen. The former ball boy for the Rough Rider organization, seems to be giving all the signals that Ottawa is where he wants to land. He's no longer interested in the NFL dog and pony show, preferring to get on with his career in the CFL. His wife Melanie is already a member of the Rens, as a member of the dance squad for the last few years. This is Tilman's secret weapon, there may be no hope for other teams.

The Woodcock's makes their home in Ottawa, the family house, only a twenty minute drive away from Frank Clair stadium. If Eric Tilman has his way, the carpool will stop at the Woodcock residence on game day this season.

Grey Cup Champs not rushing to answer the phone

The Eskimos took the beginning of Free Agency season in a rather low key affair, they had the office closed. It was Family Day in Alberta, so would be Eskimos will just have to wait a day before trying to sell themselves to the leagues most successful franchise.

Head Coach Tom Higgins doesn't actually expect the calling to begin for a couple of days, as players go through their final paces with their existing clubs. The Eskies have dropped their potential free agents from 10-6, so they aren't viewing this period as a major problem for their squad.

Steve Charbonneau, Randy Chevrier and Glen Young are the only names the Eskies aren't very sure of.
Charbonneau wants to try and get back east to be closer to family, Chevrier wants another shot at the NFL and young is thinking of finishing his career in Hamilton or calling it quits completely.

The Eskies had Ben Cahoon on their wish list, but unable to talk to him until the Feb 15 deadline, they watched him re-signing with the Als. They are toying with the idea of putting an offer out to his team mate Pat Woodcock, presently being coveted by the Ottawa Renegades.

With a fairly heft bankroll and the reputation of a solid organization, Higgins had best get used to answering the phone. Telus is going to be routing quite a few of them his way over the next couple of weeks.

Free Agency begins

Gentlemen, open your chequebooks. Now don't get excited, this is the CFL after all, the idea of monstrous salaries is just not going to sit in your head for long. But as we pass the midway part of February, the free agent market has opened up and there are a few names out there for the taking.

Ricky Ray is officially a free agent now, so the Eskies may lose him anyways. But the suspicion is that Ricky will end up on some NFL team very shortly, clipboard holder or third or second string qb, he's looking at a pretty solid paycheque coming his way, it's doubtful he'll be back.

The Eskies may lose another player as well now that free agency is on and the players available, Jason Tucker is available for teams requiring some help in the receiving corps. The Grey Cup MVP, is testing those NFL waters as well, but isn't against the idea of returning to Canada should things not work out.

Pat Woodcock is one player being chased, the team showing the most interest is the Ottawa Renegades, the Gades hoping to lure him to Ottawa to play slotback, for his hometown team. GM Eric Tliman says he's only really interested in one player, that is Woodcock, and he's prepared to offer him up to 100,000 to come change unis to Red, White and Black, dropping that Alouette blue.

Bashier Levingston will test the water, as will Shont'e Peoples, Daved Bennefield, Brian Clark, Bobby Singh and Scott Flory. All would be a solid addition to any CFL team, expect Singh to end up in the Lions den re-united with Wally Buono and playing in front of the hometown crowd.

One other interesting name to show up on the free agency list is that of Darren Flutie, the retired receiver of the Hamilton Tiger Cats. With his free agent status, he now can join any team in the CFL, stoke up those Flutie and Flutie rumours. Depending on the situation in San Diego, Doug may be inclined to return to the CFL to finish of his career tossing the ball to his brother, a long time dream of the Fluties. Something to watch for before the teams head to camp in May.

Friday, February 13, 2004

Own some Rider Pride

They have fans in every province in the country, in some stadiums they're fans can outnumber the locals. They consider themselves Canada's Team, and now Canada can own a piece of them. The Saskatchewan Roughriders have put themselves on the open market. Hoping to sell 20,000 of the 250 dollar shares, Rider management hopes to be able to sell out, raise the six million dollars and put it to use improving the stadium, installing a better training facility and providing for a more stable financial picture for the team.

There will be two types of shares offered, Type A and B, A shares entitle the bearer to attend the share holder meetings, B share are considered non voting. No individual will be allowed to own more than 20 class A shares, so the team can't be taken over. Since the team is not listed as a charity, the shares will not be tax deductible. You truly will be buying them for the love of the game.

The share sale is taken from the pages of the Green Bay Packers. The Pack had a similar offering in 1997, raising over 24 million dollars for renovations to Lambeau field. The Packers, like Riders have fans all over the world. Saskatchewan can only hope they have half the reaction that Pack got for their sale.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Maxie wants to stay put, but says no to any pat cut

Demetrious Maxie would rather remain a Stampeder, but the uncertainty in F troop land has him at least considering his options this off season. Recently offered a contract by the San Francisco 49ers, Maxie has yet to sign on the dotted line.

Maxie would like newly installed GM Matt Dunnigan to clear up a few things flying around the Stampeder office these days. At one of the higher paid Stamps on the roster, Maxie is not inclined to take a pay cut from his reported $200,000 a year contract. He's also looking for a little security from Dunigan, with a promise that his name will stop appearing in trade related or salary dumping rumours. He wants to play for the Stamps and the Stamps alone. He's like a little stability, having already done his tour of CFL cities such as Toronto, Montreal, Saskatchewan and as part of the Baltimore experiment. He's also done some time in the NFL camps over the years.

While he has a few more workouts in the planning stage for NFL teams, he would in a perfect situation be making travel plans for Calgary in May. It's now up to Matt Dunigan to make sure that his ticket has a Northern destination rather than one in the South.

Putting together the Brady Bunch

This time last year, owner Sherwood Schwartz was probably wondering how he was going to keep the Argos afloat, his family having finally cutting off his access to the family credit card. What followed was a team in turmoil, as they lurched from one crisis to another through the season. Eventually having the franchise taken over by the CFL. What a difference a year can make for Argo fans, with new owners in charge, the Argos are doing something they couldn't take care of last year, some long term planning.

Argo Vice-President Adam Rita is set to lock up Marcus Brady as QB for the boatmen for the next year, plus an option. Brady is expected to sign for $125,000, with bonus packages that could take his salary up to $200,000, providing he hits all his benchmarks. Of course the first thing he has to do is take the job away from incumbent Damon Allen.

With the Brady signing, one wonders if the Doug Flutie rumours will die off now. Three weeks ago word started flying around Toronto, that Flutie was toying with the idea of returning to the CFL to finish off his career. His preferred choice apparently the Argonauts, with brother Darren reportedly ready to come out of retirement for one last kick at the Cup.

With a well rested Allen and the QB of the future in Brady, the quarterback position may not be the biggest need in Argo land this year.

With Brady soon to sign, Rita has his sights set on two other key ingredients to an Argo air attack. Tony Miles and Bashir Levingston are next up on Rita's dance card. He's hoping to lock the both of them into contracts before they become eligible for free agency on February 15th. Wrapping up these three will go a long way to keeping the Argos competitive on the field.

Monday, February 09, 2004

Als lock up Cahoon for two and an option

Defensive backs had best get used to the idea of Ben Cahoon blowing by them, he's been signed by the Als for two years and a option for a third. The surehanded receiver, has been one of the big threats for the Alouette offence for a few years now. With the announcement today, the Als put the league on notice that they're ready to challenge yet again for the Grey Cup. Cahoon had a career year for the Als last season, 112 catches, 13 touchdowns and 1,561 yards, he's generally acknowledged as the big play guy on the Als. So valuable is he, that in last years Grey Cup game Cahoon was named as the most valuable Canadian, that in a losing cause.

This was the one signing the Als wanted to have this year, a good sign for the faithful at Molson stadium at McGill. No terms were released today regarding the contract, but expect it to be a rewarding document for Cahoon, with a sizeable jump up from his $100,000 dollar contract last year. With Cahoon scheduled for free agency on the 15th there was no shortage of CFL teams interested, but the Als knew this was one guy they didn't want to let get away.

Saturday, February 07, 2004

The Ricky Ray Road Show

Grey Cup Champion and Eskimo Quarterback Ricky Ray returns to the workout trail his week, as he continues his tour of NFL camps looking for a new home. Ray who recently married had taken a short break for an abbreviated honeymoon, now it's back to the drills, throws, sprints and playbook study. Baltimore and Philadelphia, are the apparent destinations for the latest edition of the Ricky Ray Road Show.

Having already done the dog and pony show for 11 teams, Ray most recently showcased his arm and football smarts for the Dolphins and Packers. However, while there has been some interest in his availability, no firm offers have been tendered yet, and there is a cloud on Ray's horizon. The cloud is named Drew Henson, who last week voided a $17 million contract to play for the New York Yankees. He instead decided his heart is in football. Henson who starred at the University of Michigan, automatically now climbs the pile of available QB's. He's currently the property of the Houston Texans, but they have made it known they're open to offers for his services. Expect him to be grabbed up shortly.

For Ray, the clock is ticking. Entering the option year of his Eskimos contract, he has until February 29th to sign a deal in the NFL. If he hasn't found a home for himself by then, it's back to the Green and Gold for one more year. He can decide to play out his option with the Eskimos, or have his agent work out a long term deal for stability in Edmonton.

In Edmonton, it's 22 days til Ray Day.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Good-bye Skydome, Hello Ivor Wynne!

For the first time in it's 40 year history, the Vanier Cup the symbol of Canadian College Football supremacy, will not be fought for in Toronto. The season ending game never really caught fire in Toronto. Ignored by one and all, unless a Toronto team, or one nearby was contesting for the title. And even then the crowds were never huge, finding a parking spot near Skydome never a game day problem.

The CIS, governing body of College football in Canada has decided to move the game around a bit. Hamilton will be the host in 2004, with a possibility to host again in 2005. Saskatoon brings the championship game to the West in 2006. Financial concerns were one consideration, the rent at Ivor Wynne is only $15,000 for the required three days, Skydome costs over $100,000 for the same period. And the novelty of a championship game in a new city each year, should help increase not only the gate receipts but the interest in the event.

It's about time the game was moved around the country, there are some very hot spots in college football these days, the Atlantic provinces and Quebec are both areas that follow the college game with a lot of interest, it's time for them to host the national championship. And football in the West has many fans who will no doubt take the national championship to their hearts as well.

It took over 40 years, but finally somebody realized that there is life outside of Toronto, and even if it's just a short drive down the QEW to Hamilton it's a start, just leaving the city of Toronto limits is progress. With the current revival of football interest in Hamilton, the timing couldn't be better. Already the Ti-Cats are talking about incorporating the Vanier Cup into the season ticket package for Ti-Cat fans, a purely sensible decision, one wonders why it took so long to move in the right direction.

Hamilton, the new home of football?

What a turn around! Funny what a little infusion of cash and some positive staffing moves can do. The Tiger Cats last year the door mats and poor step son of the CFL, are currently on a Phoenix like rising. A new owner, a new coach and a new president who is working for free, can the positive vibes get any higher.

David Sauve was named president a couple of days ago, forsaking a salary from the Ti-Cats, instead donating it to a Hamilton area charity. Sauve who is a multiple franchise holder with Tim Horton's had to make the donation, one he did gladly; because of bylaws in the Tim Horton's agreement that say franchise holders cannot have another job.

For Sauve it's a chance to give back to the Ti-Cats, a team that stuck with him when injured during his playing days. And a team he has a strong attachement with. Successful in his own right in the Hamilton area, he's now ready to roll up his sleeves and make the Ti-Cats a success off the field, leaving the on field work to GM Ron Lancaster and head coach Greg Marshall.

Owner Bob Young has been making all the right moves for the Cats. He's building a solid organization, improving the stadium and building a lot of buzz about a team that was almost all but forgotten. Unilike many other monied owners, he seems to be keeping a certain distance between himself and his selected managers, letting the get down to the work required.

It's quite a turn around for the team that went 1-17. They may not be going to the Grey Cup this year, but one thing is certain, the Roar seems back in Hamilton.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Flutie Flying North again?

As the NFL puts the wraps on another season, there are rumblings that a CFL fan favourite may be returning to three down football to finish off his career. Depending on how things go in San Diego, Doug Flutie may be inclined to cap his season with a couple of years of record chasing in the CFL.

Flutie could end up being demoted to third string status in San Diego or released completely, giving him an option to come North for one final fling. The idea first came alive during the Grey Cup when his brother Darren suggested Doug was inclined to return, at the time Darren was angling for jobs with the Ti-Cats.

However, the latest rumours have Flutie joining the Double Blue in Toronto, which would fold in nicely with the new ownership's plans to increase the Argo profile. Flutie in TO for a couple of years, would give the Argos a marketing bump and provide management time to get their new outdoor stadium up and open.

Monday, February 02, 2004

A Championship game that even a CFL fan could enjoy!

It took a while to get untracked, but by the time the third quarter rolled around you knew you were watching a pretty good football game. The Patriots and the Panthers put on an entertaining display of football with the NFL's championship game finally living up to the level deserving of the word Championship. The game featured some pretty good offense with both teams able to move the ball up and down the field, answering the other teams last effort. Defenses that made crushing tackles and key special plays at just the right time.

The first quarter was rather forgettable, the Panthers seemingly left their game in the dressing room after having to stand on the sidelines for half an hour before the start of the game. The Patriots for their part struggled through the first as well, with Field Goal kicker Adam Vinatieri missing two gimmes from close range in the first. His first kick went wide of the post, the second blocked at the line by a rushing Panther. Watching that start one would think that the Patriots were going to have some serious problems in this game.

But Tom Brady got them fired up and by the end of the fourth quarter Brady had passed for 354 yards, three touchdowns and a Super Bowl record of 32 completions. For his efforts Brady was named the Super Bowl MVP. Not to be outdone, relative unknown Panther QB Jake Delhomme passed his team to a near win. Delhomme threw some picture perfect tosses down the field finding holes in a previously solid Patriot secondary. He tossed for 323 yards and three touchdowns of his own. The rushing game was not prominent in this affair, the Panthers held to 92 yards on the ground, the Pats to 137.

The game ended in exciting style, as Vinatieri ended up with an opportunity to redeem himself in the last ten seconds of the game. Brady moved the Pats down the field into field goal position, the ball then was turned over to Vinatieri. The Panthers called a time out to make him think about his kick, but this time he got the job done. The 41 yard kick crossed over the crossbar at 14:56 of the fourth quarter. The kickoff to the Panthers went deep into their end, the remaining four seconds were used up and the Pats were 32-29 Super Bowl winners, the second Super Bowl win in three years for New England.

The stats don't quite do justice to the final half of the game, as watching it unfold beats reading about it. It's being billed as one of the Best Super Bowls, which might be a bit much, it was entertaining and had a hell of an ending, but best ever category might be out of reach. Regardless for Brady and the Patriots it was a great game, for the Panthers it was a frustrating end to a great ride. For the football fan, a Super Bowl that wasn't a boring and tedious affair to watch, almost enough to make you an NFL fan. Then again the Grey Cup normally brings us this kind of excitement on a regular basis, so keep that last weekend in November circled for constant excitement.