Monday, March 29, 2004

Big Blue showing positive vibes going into 2004

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have been busy tidying up some off field loose ends the last couple of weeks, and all their moves bode well for the coming season.

CEO and President Lyle Bauer found his contract extended by two years by the Big Blue Board, his reward for bringing the Blue back to the top of the league in on field performance and off field stability,

Once the money guy was secured, they turned their attention to a crowd favourite Charles “Blink” Roberts, the hard running running back who gives the Blue a running game. Roberts who enters his third year with the Bombers is one of those guys on the verge of being the next big thing in the CFL. His personal goal for the 2004 season is 2,000 yards, something not completely out of the question with his intensity.

Now they turn their attention to on field General Khari Jones, who is entering the option year of his contract with the Blue. Bomber GM Brendan Taman wants to get his name on an extension to keep him in gold and blue for a few more years. With that goal in mind, Taman has approached Jones’ Toronto based agent Gil Scott, to set up the preliminary talks, hoping to find common ground. According to the rumor mill in Winnipeg, Khari currently makes 230,000 a season for his work with the Blue, which is a pretty good base salary. No doubt bonuses and longevity will be the starting point for the Bombers as they try to extend Jones’ stay at Portage and Main.

For the Bombers the need to take care of their core players is a major turnaround from five years ago when the team was in desperate straits, and pay raises and incentives seemed less likely than bailiffs securing office equipment. But the last five years have seen a major turn around in the Bomber fortunes, so much so that the club debt is on the short list to being eliminated. A competitive team on the field, some solid off field sponsorship, a forgiven debt by the provincial government and a 93% capacity level at Canad Inn stadium all contributing to the suddenly healthy bottom line.

Always a high octane team on the field and a good draw across the country, the Big Blue are hoping to make 2004 the cash in year for all their hard work. Getting Blink signed and showing Jones how valuable he is to the team, should go a long way to making 2004 a big year for the Big Blue.

Saturday, March 20, 2004


With the U of T/Maple Leaf project seemingly dead and gone. The Argos are looking once again, at their originally preferred spot for a stadium, York University. Argo officials met with University managers at York on Friday to kick around some ideas on how to approach the project to give the team a new outdoor stadium.

While the Argos kick the tires at York, the U of T prepares another bid to fund and construct a combination football/soccer and track stadium. Two weeks ago they were the perceived front runner, as Maple Leaf Sport and Entertainment had entered the picture. The sports giant looking to join in and develop not only the football stadium, but a couple of rinks on campus for use as a training facility for the Leafs.

After some lengthy study they walked away from the plans, leaving the Argos to return to the drawing board in their quest for a stadium to call their own.

Insiders say that York is now the front runner, as they offer the best highway and transit connections not to mention parking which was a problem in the U of T bid. The Argos hope to get things in motion shortly feeling that a new stadium will go a long way to bringing a rebirth of football interest in Toronto.

If nothing else the battle of the two universities over the affections of the Argos has got to be good sign. From spurned to spooned in less than a year, it’s a good sing for football in the big smoke!

Friday, March 19, 2004

Somebody Old is New Again

Larry Smith is back in the saddle. Taking as the President and CEO of the Montreal Aloutettes, Smith is glad to be back where he feels he belongs. Originally tapped to serve as the selection committee for a replacement for the departed Skip Prince, Smith realized that the best candidate for the job was the guy looking for the replacement.

Team owner Ted Wetenhall said no other candidate was ever seriously considered, Smith returns to the team he built into a league success story after it’s relocation from
Baltimore in 1997. Smith was at the helm when they made the move to McGill, seen as the turning point in the franchises’ fortunes. Since moving into the cozy downtown stadium the ALS have become the success story of Montreal. Winning seasons and Grey Cup appearances going along with the return of football to Montreal.

Smith left the Als in 2001 to take over duties as Publisher at the Montreal Gazette, but Prince’s departure in December opened the door for a return to his passion.

Smith’s other success story has been the boom in football interest across Quebec, his cross province promotion of the game has seen the popularity explode in almost all corners of the province. Creating a strong college football scene and a string of Quebecers starting to make it into the CFL.

His main priority as he takes over is to continue to build on the success of the Als and to expand the capacity of the stadium, eventually to reach around 25,000 seats. A situation which would put the Als on a secure financial footing for the years to come!

Friday, March 12, 2004

Add Victoria to the dreamer's club

With the CFL seeming to be the most stable it has in years, there’s no shortage of folks wishing the League would come to their home town. Over the years we’ve heard of possible teams for Halifax, Quebec City, London and Windsor. The heavily populated areas of the East are the most likely candidates for expansion, if and when the day should come. But what about the West? Other than Kelowna, which might possibly be a solid location for a franchise, with its growing population of the Okanagan Valley, the only other potential locale in the West is Victoria.

As usual the situation of stadiums rears it’s ugly head, quickly dashing the hopes of would be fans and entrepreneurs alike. Victoria at the moment can only offer up Centennial Stadium a 4,000 seat structure used mainly for soccer in the Capital of BC. But that doesn’t stop the dreamers a piece in the Victoria Express recently took a look at the idea of Canadian Football on Vancouver Island.

Bobby Ackles of the BC Lions, brought everyone back down to earth with his view of the current situation. Said Ackles, maybe a Lions training camp one day, but as far as a franchise, well that may be a ways off yet.

Regardless though, just the idea of enticing a CFL franchise is a good sign. For the league it shows a rebirth of interest and league executives could go to many worse places than Vancouver Island which is one of the fastest growing regions in the country, roughly 500,000 people could be within a four hour or less drive of the stadium.

A team on Vancouver Island would be a natural rival for the Leos and most likely would find some pretty solid support from Islanders, looking to have something to call their own. But there’s no stadium at the moment, so dust off the photos of the Commonwealth games of 1994, they hosted one of the biggest sports events going, one suspects that they would rally around a CFL franchise should one come their way.

Five of the Best for the Hall

Apologies to the faithful followers of The Twelve, the insanity of our Hockey Nation gave me an unusual workload for the HockeyNation blogsite this week, the Bertuzzi incident and the trading deadline making havoc with my blog entries. But, as things have settled down, we can get back to some of the happenings in the CFL.

It’s a pretty impressive Class of 2004 for the Canadian Football Hall of Fame this year, the last weekend of September welcoming five players who had a major impact on our game.

Leading the pack this year is Lui Pasaglia, the most popular Lion will be recognized for his 25 years of service to a team and league he is joined at the hip with. Pasaglia who set a record for points at 3,991. His final season in 2000 saw him continue to be a dependable kicker with a 90.9% success rate, kicking 40 of 44 field goals in his final year at the age of 46. Lui holds many CFL records but by far the fondest memory all CFL fans will have of him, came in the 1994 Grey Cup Game at BC Place. His last second field goal, from 38 yards out gave the Lions a 26-23 victory over the Baltimore Stallions, the first Grey Cup game played against and All American team. The victory would be even sweeter as the Stallions went on to win the Grey Cup the following year. Still involved with the Lions to this day, Lui remains probably the one player most identified with Canadian Football in BC. A truly worthy candidate for the Hall of Fame.

Joining Big Lui will be Larry Highbaugh the exciting defensive back of the Edmonton Eskimos, who over the years ruined the day of many CFL quarterbacks. Originally a Lion he came into his own when he donned the Green and Gold, collecting a team record 66 interception in his 13 year career. He was identified as the key DB of the Edmonton dynasty years, providing Eskie fans with many years of entertaining football.

Ben Zambiasi goes into the Hall, and if there is any justice in this world he’ll be recognized for his hard nosed service as a Ti-cat linebacker, with a nod of recognition for his days as an Argo. Ben will always be remembered for his days as a feared member of an always aggressive Hamilton defence. The list is long of CFL QB’s that found that a hit by Big Ben would change a game rather quickly.

Nine years of the glory days of the Montreal Alouettes are what Dan Yochum will be best remembered for. A solid part of the front line of a Montreal offence that at times would chew up the CFL competition. Joining the Als in 1971 he saw some of the greatest talent in the CFL line up on the field with him, Youchum was a guy that didn’t look out of place at all.

The final Hall of Famer this year is a guy that gave his heart (and got another one) for the CFL. Cal Murphy will be saluted as a member of the Builders category and there is no more appropriate term for a man with his CFL credentials. Winner of 10 Grey Cup rings as a coach or GM, Murphy has been a fixture in the CFL. Joining the coaching ranks of the CFL in 1974 as an assistant in BC, becoming head coach in 75. He moved on to Montreal as an assistant to Marv Levy in 1977 picking up his first Grey Cup Ring. Edmonton beckoned in 1978 where with Hugh Campbell, Murphy picked up another five rings. In 1983 Paul Robson hired him on to coach the Big Blue in Winnipeg, and there he stayed for fourteen years. A term where he served as coach, and GM, sometimes both at the same time. His time in Winnipeg was part of a renaissance of football in Manitoba, his teams going to five Grey Cups, winning three. His teams for the most part were always in the thick of the playoffs during his time there. A couple of heart attacks sidelined him temporarily, in July of 1992 he was given a heart transplant and was back on the job at the end of the year. Murphy finished his career as coach of the Saskatchewan Roughriders from 1977-99. Today from his home in Regina he continues to be involved in football, as a scout for the Indianapolis Colts. Cal Murphy, goes into the hall as one of the great icons of Canadian Football.

The Class of 2004, it’s a strong testimony to the quality of the CFL’s past

Saturday, March 06, 2004

Ti-Cats continue to shake off the cobwebs

Credit the Hamilton Tiger-Cats with doing their best to not only increase interest in the CFL in Hamilton, but to increase interest in the CFL from the college ranks. New head coach Greg Marshall, has been putting forward the idea of having a third QB on the roster designated as a Canadian position, giving the league the chance to one day have nine (and hopefully ten) seasoned homegrown Quarterbacks ready to tackle the record books.

As Marshall explains, if that third QB spot was held for a Canadian, they would be able to learn under the experienced arm of a Danny McManus. Marshall says, that with the third QB able to sit back and learn from the old hands the league would be a stronger group and Canadian college football could only benefit from the situation as well.

Marshall who has joined the Ti-Cats from the CIS college ranks, has been showing signs of wanting to shake up the old way of doing things. Breathing some fresh air not only into the tired old Hamilton franchise but giving the league some food for thought as well. If this keeps up it's going to be rather hard to get a good hate built up for the Ti-Cats. With new owner, Bob Young providing some funding and a sense of stability, Ron Lancaster concentrating on getting quality players and Marshall putting forward some radically new ideas. They Ti-Cats are a team to watch, they may even end up rivaling the Saskatchewan Roughriders as Canada's team!

Big Blue courting Kordell

Former Chicago Bear and Pittsburgh Steeler QB Kordell Stewart, may find some phone messages from Brendan Taman on his machine in the next few days. The Bomber GM has added the NFL veteran to his negotiation wish list, and is hoping that Stewart may wish to give the long and wide Canadian fields a try.

Taman subscribes to the nothing ventured nothing gained theory of Football management, and jumped at the name Stewart when he saw it come across the wire from Chicago. As the NFL heads into it's salary dump mode for the next couple of weeks, expect a few more long shots to be added to negotiation lists across the league.

Taman suffered a bit of a setback in the defense this week. When word got out that four year veteran Brian Clark is about to sign on with Matt Dunigan's Calgary Stampeders. He has however, done his best to make some other teams uncomfortable as well, inquiring about the chances of Joe Fleming in Calgary abandoning the F troop this year. He's also getting dirty looks from the Argos, as he tries to bring slotback Derrell Mitchell to the Big Blue for the 2004 season.

Manitoba Telephone may end up naming Taman as their customer of the year, by the time training camp opens up.

Ray of sunshine for F troop fans!

It's denials all around, but there might be some movement on the bid for local ownership for the Calgary Stampeders. Michael Feterik apparently met with an undisclosed Calgarian, discussing terms of sale for the storied CFL franchise. The mystery bid, is the third expression of interest in the Stamps in the last month.

Despite the flurry of tire kickers, Feterik says he isn't in any hurry to sell. Which probably isn't good news for the long suffering Stampeder faithful, who watched a former perennial Grey Cup contender fall off the CFL radarscope last year. Feterik has even gone so far as to say that, he may even take on investors from the US, which would probably not be beneficial to the long term success of the Stamps.

Since Feterik took over the fortunes of the F troop, they've lost a fortune. Over 700,000 dollars last year. Feterik has also forced out many popular football people from the Stampeder family over the last couple of years, including former coach, GM and beloved Calgary citizen Wally Buono. He also found himself involved in controversy when it was generally believed he insisted that his son Kevin, be placed higher up on the Stamps depth chart than he deserved.

Expected purchase price is to be 6.5 million dollars and if all goes well, the deal could close in as little as two weeks. Calgary football fans will be excused if they hold their breath until the deal is finalized.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Trying to elbow their way to the microphone

Hard as it is to get the media to pay attention to football, in the hockey trading frenzy these days, the CFL has at least attracted some notice. Announcing today that the 2005 Grey Cup game will be played in Vancouver. The first time the game has been back to Vancouver since 1999. It will join a high profile list of sporting events about to land in Vancouver in the next few years.

It should be a reward for David Braley's continued sponsorship of Canadian Football in Vancouver, a situation that at times must have seemed futile to him. Over the last couple of years, Braley has made some great moves to bring the team back to the publics attention.

Bringing back Bob Ackles to run the team on a day to day basis, was the first move that showed positive results. Ackles re-connected the team with it's fan base and has begun to build upon that foundation. He in turn brought in Wally Buono, who is in the process of turning the Lions into the type of power house team that he had in Calgary.

A Grey Cup at BC Place should end up as another Lions Home Game, should all go according to plan. Of course the Lions would prefer it to be a defense of their 2004 Grey Cup championship, the one they hope to win later this year in Ottawa.