Sunday, June 27, 2004

Stamps Stumble in Second half

Calgary held their own in the first half, against the Eastern Division champion Montreal Alouettes on Sunday afternoon. But when the third quarter started so did the Montreal offence. An ill timed interception of a Tommy Jones pass in the third quarter by Anwar Stewart set the tone for the Als for the rest of the game, as Montreal went on to a 32-14 victory over the Stamps in their home opener. Stewart took the pick back 44 yards for a TD and put Montreal in the drivers seat for good, as a game Stampeder club began to make a number of mistakes that cost them a chance of a comeback.

The appearance of Jones was unexpected and perhaps will be controversial, Coach Matt Dunnigan feeling that starter Marcus Crandell didn’t provide enough production for Dunnigan on Sunday and so was pulled after the first half giving the ball to the relatively untested Jones. Crandell had thrown one interception in the first half and couldn’t generate much in the way of offence leading to his removal. Calgary kept close in the first half mainly on the strength of a John Grace interception return for a TD.

Jones threw three interceptions during his thirty minutes of action and as Dunnigan put it made a few rookie mistakes while on the field. That being said, Dunnigan was more or less pleased with the team’s effort against the perennial Grey Cup finalists.

For Montreal the win provided a chance for Anthony Calvillo to get untracked and for the offence to start to put together a more successful game plan. Calvillo competed 29 of 43 passes for 385 yards, he credited the defence for keeping the team close in the early going. Once the Als got things going they provided 23 points in the final two quarters to solidify their win. 30,207 fans took in the Stamps season opener, a very good crowd considering all the turmoil surrounding the team in the off season. And while the Stamps did not win, they kept the pressure on until the mid part of the third quarter, but mistakes were a costly part of the game and will have to be addressed for the team to keep the pace for four quarters against the top teams in the league.

Montreal moves on to Toronto on July 3rd while the Stamps are home again in one week when Hamilton brings the Mac Attack to town. Interestingly enough when the schedule was announced many felt that this game would represent the two worst teams in the league meeting head on, early on in the season the two are far from the worst performers on the field. And while it certainly won’t be a Grey Cup type of match up, it should provide for a good measuring stick for both clubs early in the season.

Lions hold on to keep Eskies at bay

The first half looked like a rout of epic proportions! QB Dave Dickenson making his second start of the year hobbled his way down the field in the first half leading the BC Lions to an early and impressive 24-3 lead at the half time gun. Dickenson looked completely in control of the flow of the game, with pinpoint passing, mastery of the playbook and judicious use of a running game to keep the Eskimos off their game for most of the first 30 minutes.

It was so dominating the 35,367 fans gathered forgot that their Eskimos were Grey Cup champions at times and sent boos raining down on the field as the teams moved through the first two quarters. The boos would dwindle off as Jason Maas slowly got his team back on track as the half would down, coming back from a 22-3 deficit to go into the dressing room down by 8 points at 25-17. Dickenson’s half time stats were an impressive 347 passing yards and three touchdowns through the air, Geroy Simon a favourite target of Dickenson on Saturday accounted for two Lion TD’s on his own.

But as they say, one half of football does not a game make. Dickenson would play only one set of downs in the third quarter, wrapping things up at 18 passes for 26, before giving way to Casey Printers early in the third quarter. And while Printers had equal success moving the ball, the Eskimos also began to turn things around as the third quarter marched on.

Jason Maas had a spectacular output on the stats board passing for a career record 497 yards, throwing for three Touchdowns. In the end the downfall of the Eskimos was the defensive backfield at the start of the game, unable to deal with Dickenson and his ability to find the open receiver the Esks gave up too much ground in the first 30 minutes.

The comeback was impressive and the finish was a typical CFL barn burner type of thing, but in the end on this night it appeared the better prepared team had won. The good news for the Lions was the ability of Dickenson to rapidly put points on the board and look in control, the bad news of course was his early exit once again, due to swelling on his knee which gives every appearance of being nowhere near ready for full time football. Fortunately in Printers they seem to have a more than adequate relief quarterback, he quickly took charge of the team and they didn’t seem to miss too much of a beat as they progressed through the third and fourth quarters. The secondary while still burned at times in the game by Maas, did not look as overly outmatched in this game as they did a week ago against Hamilton. Although once again the corner backs were in for a long night, most of it in the second half.

For Tom Higgins and the Eskies it was five and half consecutive quarters of bad football finally turned around as the Eskimos finally managed to get their offence back into the groove. And while many were impressed with Maas’ passing numbers the coach was not counting himself among them. Wins and losses are what count in his books, and on this night the Eskimos were once again in the deficit column, this time to the tune of 41-34.

Edmonton now moves on to Ottawa to play the red hot Renegades on Friday night, the Lions head for Regina and a match up with the winless Riders on Friday as well. Neither of the games will be an easy one, as Ottawa has given indications that they are a major player this year, Saskatchewan smarting from two losses and with a bye week under their belt will be rested and retooled for the game, looking to show the hometown fans that they can get their season back on track. Only week three and both match ups will prove to be pivotal games for all four teams, you couldn’t draw the schedule up any better.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Purring along

A record season debut crowd, a pumped up defence showing little mercy on Khari Jones and Danny Mac back in the saddle again. All factors for yet another win for the Hamilton Tiger Cats. The Cats returned home for game number two on the CFL schedule and gave the large crowd on hand their monies worth.

Danny McManus surrounded by the kind of receiving corps he could only dream about last year, has put some distance between himself and those he’s washed up stories. McManus was on fire once again, crisp direct passes through the game, lengthy bombs and short precision yardage tosses he mixed them all up. When it was all said and done three of his tosses had gone into the Bomber end zone as the Ti-Cats sunk their claws into the Bombers 32-22.

Two games into the 2004 campaign and the Ti Cats are already sporting a better record than they accumulated all last year. Now 2-0 the Ti Cats are tied with the Ottawa Renegades for first in the East. The turn around on the field has only been surpassed by the turnaround off of it. With a new spirit of accomplishment Hamiltonians seem to be flocking back to their Ti Cats. Whatever business plan Bob Young put together when he bought this franchise should be photo copied and sent to other would be sports owners.

Young seemingly has done everything right. His off field management team which he deals with, on a “hands off basis” have hit every note right in the re-branding and re-launching of the Cats. With 25,712 fans in the stands providing testimony to the renewed interest in the ages old football team. On the field Coach Greg Marshall has quickly won over his players, who have formed into a pretty homogenous unit out there between the lines. The intensity he seems to bring to the game without any histrionics is a professional attitude that has rubbed off on his players. Defence, Offence and special teams all seem ready to play this year. No doubt a main reason for that is the fact there are no off field distractions this year, the paycheques are rolling in, the fans are filling the stands and the team is winning and winning with style.

As long as the Tabbies keep giving the effort that they have in the last two weeks then the fans can’t ask for anything else. The wins on the stat sheets are just a bonus; this team has something that Hamilton fans will respect as much as the W’s, a solid work ethic. The two games so far show a team that just works its butts off to finish the game with a win.

No slackers on this train, everyone is carrying their weight, no one is letting their team mate down. Hard work has always been respected in Hamilton; this is one team that is earning its respect game by game.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Good Ship Argonaut runs aground on the Rideau

Both teams took a cue from their hockey playing brethren, as the Renegades and Argonauts duked it out, under miserable conditions at Frank Clair Stadium Thursday night. While not quite as ugly as the Leafs and Sens tilts of recent history, this game did feature some rather nasty spots, mostly after the whistle had gone. Penalties added up to bad news for the Argos as they played a much undisciplined style of play, frequently taking penalties after the whistle. Toronto set a franchise record for penalties with 21 called by the time the final whistle had gone. The Renegades took their fair share of penalties as well, 13 for 130 yards; however they managed to overcome the flagging to keep ahead of the Argos on the board.

When the flags weren’t flying, the Renegades led by Kerry Joseph took the lead for good in the second quarter and never looked back. Ottawa went on to defeat Toronto 20-10 in front of 20,241 fans, many scrambling for cover from the monsoon like rain that descended at times.

Toronto could not generate one offensive touchdown in the game; all of the Argo scoring came off of the foot of Noel Prefontaine. Argo coach Pinball Clemons bemoaned the fact that the game got away from his players, as emotions took root and cost the Argonauts in the long run. The most damaging a touchdown called back due to a penalty in the first quarter. With that bullet dodged, Ottawa went on to record its first game without a touchdown being scored on it, since the franchise was reborn three years ago.

Quarterback Kerry Joseph continued to impress the Frank Clair faithful going 13 for 24 and a total of 186 yards with one interception, he made 47 yard pass to Yo Murphy that salted away the Rens win late in the third quarter. Josh Ranek had another strong game in the Renegade backfield, rushing for 116 yards on twenty carries with one TD.

Damon Allen had a decent game despite the loss, 20 for 33 and 166 yards. Defensively the Argos held their own, but miscues in the end spelled their demise. Murphy ran unmolested through the middle and into the end zone for the final nail in the Argo keel.

With the win Ottawa improves to a 2-0 record, a strong start for the host of this years’ Grey Cup. Toronto sits at 1-1 with the loss. The next action for the Rens is July 2nd when Edmonton comes to Frank Clair Stadium, the Argos play the next day at home to Montreal.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Putting your CFL smarts to work!

If you can name the starting line up of the Calgary Stamps, know who were the two corners burned by Danny Mac on Friday night and can name all nine kickers of each tem, then you’re probably on your way to fame and fortune. Actually you won’t have to be that schooled in the nuances of the CFL, but you will have to at least keep an eye on the trends as the season goes on.

There’s an internet fantasy game out there waiting for you to click on to, test your skill and make your picks, who knows how far you will go.

The Fantasy Sports Network has added CFL football to its roster of activities, two games await you. Prizes and fame could be just a click away. You can set up a roster of 10 players you think are going to tear the league up, tracking their progress through the year, adding and dropping as though your name is Bob Ackles. You can also pick the winners each week, get your calculator ready though the tie breaker questions require a bit of math to try and figure out the best possible outcome.

Challenge a friend or play on your own and stack yourself up against the world wide web. Check it out and take a chance. It’s a great way to follow the CFL and have a bit of fun along the way.

Driving north to take in a football game

The Seattle Times has spread the word a bit in Washington State about the unusual game of football played above the 49th parallel. Staff reporter Jose Miguel Romero was dispatched north to take in the Lions/Ti cat’s game of last week, the home opener for the Leos. The first thing that seemed to take him for a loop was that uniquely Canadian football tradition the single point awarded on a missed field goal. Yes, the rouge seemed to hold his interest for an amazing amount of time. Considering the game ended up a thrilling 38-36 final, focusing his attention on the single point seemed a tad overdone, but then again, if you’re not used to the idea, it is kind of hard to get used to.

The bulk of the article was a fairly balanced look at the CFL, the players, the failed expansion and the future plans for a 10th team somewhere in Eastern Canada. The article focused on former Seahawks like Dave Dickenson and Kerry Joseph who are now starring in the CFL, players that got lost in the NFL shuffle and came north to find success.

The Commissioner gave a rather optimistic report on the state of the CFL, something that could not have been done at this time last year, and paints the picture of a league on the way back.

The only negative tones were the continual expression of inferiority to the NFL and the suggestion that a CFL team would have a hard time against a top college team. While possibly true, it’s impossible to be so cut and dried about a game that perhaps the author had seen only once. His remarks about the play being penalty and error filled did not take into account that it was the first regular season game of the year after a short pre season. Not to mention that there have been many, many NFL games that feature more than a few errors, games that are penalty filled and many are boring to boot.

While taking the position of the CFL being a notch or two below the NFL, Romero did point out that the game is more wide open, fast paced and entertaining. A point he makes despite his exposure to the evil rouge for two quarters of football.

All in all though, it was a pretty good report on the game up north. Hopefully it will help bring a few more folks up above the 49th to check out that other brand of football. While we won't be seeing the bus caravans that we send south to Seahawk, Lion and Bills games, we might get the odd station wagon coming north for a game.

One hopes that the CFL invites Romero back up North for the playoffs and a trip to the Grey Cup. If tradition holds to form, the excitement level of a Western Final and of course Grey Cup week should help turn him into a fan of the unusual game up north.

A familiar name, back at a familar place!

Danny’s back, after a year in what must have seemed like Football purgatory, Danny McManus is back in a groove and kicks off the season in fine style by claiming the title of Player of the Week. The veteran McManus, tossed four touchdown passes, collected 476 yards during his 60 minutes and led the Tiger Cats to an exciting 38-36 final last week. QB’s Casey Printers of BC and a guy named Damon Allen in Toronto were also considered for the season debut for the honours.

The Argonauts Kevin Eibin picked up the award for defensive player of the week, with his excellent performance in the Argos season opening debut last week. Eieben was awarded 8 defensive tackles and picked up another two on special teams. All part of the Argos domination of Saskatchewan on Saturday night, en-route to their 21-10 victory over the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

The Ottawa Renegades’ Jerome Haywood was named linebacker of the week and Bashir Levingston picked up the honours for Specialty teams, based on his spectacular run of 105 yards to help pad the lead in the Argo season opener.

But by far the one everyone is happy for, is Danny Mac. After a full year of frustration, disheartening breaks and whispers of a career near over, he showed last week that there’s a bit of life left in those old bones just yet. Should his Tiger Cat team mates play with a similar intensity for the rest of the season, we’ll be seeing Danny picking up a few more awards of the week.

Monday, June 21, 2004

The East are Beasts, a review of the week

Is there a shift in the CFL universe, or was week one just an unexpected surprise to kick off the season.

Eastern teams won all of their debuts in week one of the CFL schedule, as Western teams found themselves outscored in all four of the featured contests.

Toronto entertained the home crowd and gave them something to talk about in their 21-10 victory over the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

The Renegades announced loud and clear that they have intentions to be at home and on the field on the third Sunday in November. The Renegades suprised the Blue Bombers and stunned their fans with an exciting 37-25 victory over the Big Blue.

Next up for the East were the Hamilton Tiger Cats who went into BC Place and took two points from the Lions with a 38-36 victory. For Hamilton the game highlighted a reborn team that seemed to be enjoying the success on the field, for their fellow teams in the East that means that these Tiger Cats are no longer pushovers. The game gave Wally Buono some new areas to work on to get his squad back into the groove they had a few years ago.

Montreal exacted some revenge on the Grey Cup Champion Eskimos, as the Als celebrated yet another sell out at McGill. The Als were all over the defending Champs 33-9, sending Edmonton a strong message that their reign as holders of the Grey Cup may be short lived.

The final game of the week in review was more bad news for the Green Riders. Playing their second game of the week the Roughriders managed to only get 10 points on the board again, losing to Calgary in a 33-10 rout. Calgary who played strong football for new head coach and GM Matt Dunigan, may not be in as much disarray as previously thought. Though a better test is fast approaching, they took on a still smarting rider team missing their starting quarterback Nealon Greene, Henry Burris the back up missed his second assignment due to a training camp knee problem, that left Rocky Butler to face the Stamps, suffice to say they didn't make him feel welcome nor did they go easy on him. It's a fast learning curve in Regina these days.

Week Two kicks off on Thursday when Toronto travels to Ottawa, Friday Night Football on TSN will let us see if the Ti Cats are for real or if Dave Ritchie is suddenly in trouble as Hamilton is home to Winnipeg. Saturday two disappointed teams from week one will match up as the Lions travel to Edmonton to help the Esks kick off the home schedule. Sunday's game has Montreal travelling to Calgary, giving Matt Dunigan a very early exam. It will be interesting to see which teams are on a roll on by next Monday, when we do our review once again.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Dunnigan’s debut a smashing success!

The much maligned Calgary Stampeders would like everyone to know they aren’t going to go away this year. Expected by many critics to crash and burn in the CFL West, the Stamps put together a pretty good performance in their season opener. Head coach and GM Matt Dunigan can sit back and enjoy his coaching debut, as the Stampeders took over Taylor field and shocked the Rider faithful with a 33-10 victory over the struggling Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Marcus Crandell got his game back in fine style as he led the Stamps with a touchdown pass and run for one of his own. The Stamps took control of the game over in the third quarter when they managed to accumulate 21 points. Shutting down the Riders in the process. Despite a gusting wind of 54 kilometers at times, Crandell managed some pretty good numbers on the day, completing 20 of 36 passes and amassing 286 yards. It was a rough start for the Stamps who couldn’t get their plays off in time during their first set of downs, eventually giving up a safety. However, before the critics could start writing about the decline of the Stamps, Crandell engineered a 70 yard drive which was capped by his three yard run for a TD. After that the Stamps settled into their tasks and outworked the Riders. Special teams and defence also made major contributions to the victory, the first for the Stamps in four games against the Riders.

For Saskatchewan the season of such promise three short weeks ago is quickly turning into a nightmare. For the second game in a row Rocky Butler could not move the team, Butler the third string Rider QB has been given the starting assignment with Nealon Greene’s injury, second string pivot Henry Burris is not ready just yet with his own health problems. For Saskatchewan the quarterback situation is quickly becoming the main worry, three weeks ago it was the one thing the Rider management felt would be the least of their problems. With Greene gone probably for the season, it will be Burris’ ball to run with, should he ever get back into the lineup. Butler has been given a rough baptism in the last two weeks, but for the Riders to reach their goal of a Grey Cup berth in November, Burris had best get back into the line up fast. A 0-2 start for the Riders was not expected part of the plan, Danny Barrett needs to get his team back on track fast. A few more stumbles like the start of the season has provided and the Riders may find it unnecessary to make hotel reservations for Ottawa in November.

7 months later, new QB, but not the same result!

Defending their 2003 Grey Cup championship is going to take a bit more work than that provided Saturday night in Montreal. The Edmonton Eskimos old/new gun, Jason Maas had a rather horrible return taking the place of Ricky Ray. Maas, who sat on the Eskie sidelines for most of the last two years as back up to Ray, did not get the Eskimos where they needed to be in their regular season debut. A fumble and an interception spotted the Alouettes 14 points on the way to a convincing 33-9 win, as the Grey Cup rematch quickly became a blow out to entertain the traditional sell out crowd at McGill Stadium.

The Alouettes led by Anthony Cavillo were up 22-2 at the half and never really were in any trouble in this game. The Als dominated every aspect of the play, offense, defense and special teams all were superior when dressed in rouge, blanc and bleu.

These Eskimos bore no resemblance to the confident crew that took home Lord Earl Grey’s Championship trophy last November on the frozen prairie of Saskatchewan. Montreal had them off balance for most of the game, overwhelming the front line of the Eskimo offence frequently making Maas scramble for his life, or rush his passes. Adding an extra attacker to the rush the Als could count on somebody being within harms distance of the Eskimo backfield all night long. Unable to pick up the extra rusher the Eskie attack never really got unleashed.

Statistically neither of the two QB’s were stellar but the edge went to the Als Anthony Cavillo, he went 18 for 33 and racked up 229 yards, throwing for two TD passes. Maas was 19 for 38 and 165 yards, his downfall the interceptions, fumble and an inability to move the offence. He did score the Esks only touchdown, a one yard scramble, but by that point the game was long since decided.

Both teams will have to shake the cobwebs out of their playbooks however to compete in the more competitive divisions. With Ottawa, Toronto and Hamilton all showing life in the East the traditional cake walk for the Als is gone. They’ll have to fight for their two points, no longer able to just walk into a park and expect the victory. They get to retool the offence against Calgary on Sunday afternoon. The game will provide an opportunity to have the offence match the defensive contribution of this weekend.

As for the Eskies they won’t be able to ride their reputations on to victory in the West. Perhaps parity has arrived in the CFL, each team on any given day likely to beat the other. One thing is for certain, any talk of an Eskimo dynasty about to be launched will quickly be kept quiet. Saturday night’s performance was not that of a team ready to launch a dynasty, rather it showcased a team that has much work to be done. Esks head coach Tom Higgins and his assistants need to regroup their squad and get them on the same page. BC travels to Edmonton on Saturday; with both teams smarting from opening day losses it could be a matter of which team snarls the loudest that determines which team will be winless after week two.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

These are not last years Tiger Cats!

Danny Mac looked like a guy having some fun at BC Place on Friday night, he was tossing the ball with some zip, his receivers were making the big catches and most importantly of all, the scoreboard kept showing the Ti Cats in the lead. Considering the hell that he went through in 2003, he must feel like a rookie QB at his first camp out of college ball. Throughout Friday night McManus remained calm and guided with a steady hand as Hamilton edged the BC Lions 38-36, in a game that was not as close as the score indicates.

McManus took the BC corner backs to school on Friday night, turning each side over time and time again as he lofted precision passes to the corners, cut them inside to the post and launched some rockets to the end zone. It was probably the best performance McManus has had in a couple of years and by far the best offensive show the Ti Cats have put on for years. For new owner Bob Young, the result must have given him some satisfaction, his rookie coach got his first win of his career, his veteran QB shined and the various pieces added to the mix by Ron Lancaster in the off season showed that the long wait for respectability in Steel town may be coming to an end. Ticket sales should spike again after the road win by the Tabbies.

Hamilton managed to overcome a great many penalty calls as the Ti Cats again and again were called for penalties that stalled their drives and set them back in field position. They had fifteen penalties for 119 yards in the first half, kept the defence busy and tested the patience of the coach. Yet McManus kept it going, finding DJ Flick, Craig Yeast and Dimitrius Breedlove for TD passes. Defensively the Ti cats held their own as well, Sandy Beveridge returning a fumble for a touchdown to add to the total. All in all it was a fairly decent total team performance by the Black and Yellow.

The Lions had a horrid game and yet stayed close until the end. Dave Dickenson started but removed himself in the second quarter, not feeling up to the standard needed to succeed. Casey Printers took over and accounted well for himself with as he led the Lions up the field putting points on the board along the way. Missed field goals by Duncan O’Mahony cost the Lions, had they been able to connect on one of the two missed attempts then they would have been walking out of BC place as winners and not the Ticats.

The Lions also found themselves in the position to win the game with two minutes to go, but a fumble sealed there fate when Printers coughed up the ball with only 44 seconds to go. At which point the Ti Cats gave a rather proud Coach Greg Marshall his first Gatorade shower as a pro coach.

The panic won’t be settling in Vancouver just yet, as Wally Buono figures out how to fix Wallyball, Buono who is one of the most recognized coaches in the CFL will rebuild his cornerback’s confidence, fill in the holes and be ready to play again on Saturday night against the Eskimos. For Hamilton, the regular season debut is a Friday Night Football clash with the Big Blue. Football seems fun again for the Ti Cats, a great kickoff to the regular season and a chance to entertain the home fans coming up, Bob Young must feel like he’s hit the jackpot already.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Confidence Men!

Will this third year be the charm? The Ottawa Renegades showed that the growing pain years may be over, with a convincing defeat of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 37-25, Thursday night at CanadInn stadium. A bit over 22,000 fans watched as the Rens defense and special teams came up big all game long, as the Big Blue found getting untracked to be rather hard in their home debut.

Kerry Joseph showed that Joe Paopao’s faith in him is well justified as he excelled at leading Renegade drives down the field. Joseph threw for one TD a 74 yard toss to Yo Murphy and ran for the other as the Renegade offence provided some new thrills for their fans. Joseph’s stats were pretty impressive, 19 for 26 for 307 yards, with no interceptions. Josh Ranek used his straight ahead driving style for seven points. New addition Keith Woodcock made a number of amazing catches during the course of the game, showing that it sometimes takes only a bit of tweaking to get an offense firing on all its cylinders. Rookie kicker Sandro Sciortino had a good debut for the Rens as well, hitting field goals from varying lengths.

For Winnipeg it was not a great start to the season that has been described as the must win season. Coach Dave Ritchie who seems to be perpetually on a hot seat in the Peg, must be feeling warm on his butt right off the bat, the Bombers struggled all game to get consistent drives. Untimely penalties seemed to do in the Bombers as two touchdowns were called back due to flags. The more damaging of the two, was a controversial clipping penalty in the third quarter which seemed to take them off their focus, a touch down ruled no good when Bomber receiver Robert Gordon clipped an Ottawa defender in the end zone. The loss of the six points apparently affected the Bombers as they continued to be flat through the third quarter. Through the game the Bombers would roll down the field but once they were close to the goal line their drives fizzled. Jones went 28-46 for 430 yards, gaining two touchdowns but giving up two interceptions. The Bomber offence turned the ball over three times during the course of the game, too many errors put them in bad shape all game.

Ottawa gained possession of the ball on a short kickoff and gobbled not only field possession but time on the clock, as the Bombers defense reeled from the onslaught. The key for the Renegades was fourteen points in two minutes, the first seven on an offensive drive the second on an interception of a Khari Jones pass, taken back for a Rens TD. At that point, the confidence of the Renegade squad seemed to dominate the game. Every defensive play seemed to result in a stop or a turnover of the ball on downs. Joseph exhibited fine ball control and kept the Bombers defence off balance through the remainder of the game.

As the fourth quarter was winding down the Rens held an impressive 37-18 lead and for all intents and purposes were home clear and dry. The Bombers put together one final successful drive culminated by a nice pass and catch performance from Jones to Keith Stokes, something for the Bomber fans to think of for future games. But this one was all Ottawa. With the victory the Renegades have won their first game in Winnipeg since the nineties and their days as Rough Riders. With the victory the East Division race doesn’t look like such a cake walk for the Alouettes this year. Following a big win by the Argos on Tuesday and Thursday’s Renegade victory the word is out that the East will be a competitive division in 2004.

For Winnipeg it will be back to the chalkboard, the field drills and lots and lots of film work as they prepare for their next game Friday June 25th against the Ti-Cats in Hamilton. If the result and effort next week is the same as Thursday provided, summer will be a very hot season indeed for coach Ritchie.

Success, is it in the cards?

The CFL takes another huge step in marketing this year as Pacific Trading Cards offers up its second year of CFL trading cards. Pacific is one of the leading trading card companies and this years collection will feature 110 cards of various CFL stars, with a few refinements from last years debut edition. Bilingual text will offer francophone fans, especially in football mad Quebec, the chance to read up and collect some of their favorite CFL players, game worn jersey cards will again be included giving the card buyer a chance to win CFL apparel.

Autograph cards are popular with collectors and they’re included in this years collection as well, with the likes of Damon Allen, Danny McManus, Milt Stegall and Dave Dickenson having signed cards appearing is random packs of cards. More action photos and more players included should help to build on the success of last year.

A definite sign of the CFL‘s renaissance, last years debut issue from Pacific was the first batch of CFL cards provided by a mainstream card company in over 30 years. The trading card phenomenon has been going strong for a number of years now, it’s a great opportunity for the CFL to try and recapture a lost core of audience, the kids between 10 and 18 and of course their parents with the wallets.

Check out the new batch of cards at pacifictradingcards or visit the CFL site at for a quick look at the latest marketing achievement for the league.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004


He can try as many times as he likes, but Danny Barrett will have no success. He can rewind that game tape of the season opener against Toronto over and over, but one terrible thing will appear again and again. Nealon Greene is gone, perhaps for the entire season.

The Roughrider season got off to one of its roughest starts ever as the starting QB for the Riders went down only seven minutes into the game. Marking only the second series of downs for the riders in the 2004 campaign, Greene was hit on the blind side by blitzing Argonaut linebacker Michael Fletcher, when the bodies un-piled from the mass, Greene remained on the field in visible pain. After many uncomfortable and silent minutes at Skydome he was taken from the field by cart, suffering a badly broken leg.

The injury seemed to shock the Riders for the first half, Rocky Butler third on the depth chart was handed the ball. Henry Burris still recovering from a training camp ankle injury, watched from the sidelines as the third string Rider tried to recapture the excitement the team had minutes before.

The Argos found the field open for them for the first thirty minutes and took advantage of the situation. Bashir Levingson ran back a missed field goal minutes after the Greene injury to spot the Argos an early 7 point lead with the convert. Rocky Butler’s season debut was er, rocky, as his first pass was picked off for an interception by Kenny Wheaton. Two plays later Argo QB, Damon Allen found receiver Jay Soward downfield for another TD, before the half was out the Argos had added one more touchdown as Robert Baker hauled in a thirty five yard pass for a touchdown. The double blue took a 21-0 lead into the dressing room at the half, giving the over 26.000 in the stands some football to talk about during the break.

Danny Barrett found some words to reassure his charges for the second, as the Riders played with more of a purpose and made few errors in the second half. Clawing their way back onto the scoreboard, as Butler handed the ball off to Chris Szarka, who ran the ball into the end zone from the one and Paul McCallum scored a field goal to get the Riders back into the game, but not enough to take away the 21-10 win from the Argos.

It marked the first season opener victory for the double blue since 2000. The result was a welcome one for the new owners, who have rebuilt interest in the Argos after a number of years of wandering in the Toronto wilderness. The size of the crowd a positive sign for the Argos the 26,821 was the largest crowd to see an Argos game since head coach Pinball Clemons played his last game in an Argo uniform, four years ago.

While the Argos still have some work to do on their line up, they seem to have the foundation of a solid and entertaining team. The display on Tuesday should help keep the crowds coming to the Skydome.

Saskatchewan which went into the game considered the favourite to be traveling to Ottawa in November for the Grey Cup now has its first bit of adversity. It will be a test of Barrett’s coaching and people skills to see how he assists his team in getting back on track. Henry Burris has already said he’ll be ready for the next game Sunday against Calgary, and for Saskatchewan that’s a positive development.

By not rushing him into the game Tuesday, Barrett showed leadership, realizing that the season is much more than the opening game. Prior to Greene’s injury the QB situation was considered the one ace that the Riders had, three capable QB’s near equal in status, Greene got the nod to start the season, but many felt that Burris would eventually be the guy to lead the team. His chance to do just that has arrived, supporters in Saskatchewan and Rider fans across the country will be watching with interest as he takes control of the team.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Pre-season recap, working out the bugs

The 2 game pre season for the CFL came to an end over the weekend as the nine CFL franchises made their final cuts.
The last full contact game was Thursday night and shortly after, those that had dreams would soon be disappointed. Bringing down their rosters to the leauge required 40 players after the two a days, film sessions and grueling exhibition games. The football is played for real Tuesday night, but before we kick off 2004 a look back at the pre-season games, who impressed the coaches and who quickly found gas money in their locker envelopes.




On pre season success alone, we should be watching the Argos and the Riders in the Grey Cup game come the third week of November. Both teams were 2 and 0 in the pre season, though Saskatchewan faced the tougher competition of the two teams. But as we know, pre season results are not of much consequence once the regular season kicks off, so the Riders had best put the party plans away for a few months at any rate.

Saskatchewan kicks off the year in Toronto Tuesday night, the long march to November begins at Skydome, for the Riders and the Argos they hope the road leads to Ottawa.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

But Dad!

No one can say that the Ottawa Renegades are going to suffer the same problems of the Calgary Stampeders. Head coach Joe Paopao made seven cuts from the Rens roster on Thursday. And one of the names was certainly quite familiar, Tyler Paopao the fourth QB in camp and son of coach Joe, was let go as the Renegades work their roster down to the 40 man limit. Despite leading the Rens to their only touchdown of Wednesday night’s exhibition game in Montreal, Tyler apparently wasn’t ready to make the jump to professional football just yet.

There will be no Feterik factor in the Rens camp; the Feterik situation was the uncomfortable situation in Calgary which distracted the team last year, when the owner’s son Kevin kept a spot on the roster despite indications that he wasn’t quite ready for the CFL. The mess that became the Stamps last year, eventually cost their coach Jim Barker his job. Determined to improve the situation in Calgary, the Stamps brought Matt Dunnigan into the General Managers position. Dunnigan who will also serve as Head coach has thus far not been told that the owner's son is coming to town.

Other notable releases in the Rens camp were Aaron Lockett who had a troubling final game with the Alouettes and kicker Ian Hewitt who was battling Sandro Sciortino for the job of kicker. Sciortino a rookie in camp will be feeling the heat as the Rens hope to improve their stats and final position in this year’s campaign.

All teams must be down to their 40 man roster by Saturday, so there are two more sleepless nights to go for a few of the Renegade players.

Sightseeing at Molson stadium

The Ottawa Renegades learned a pretty important lesson on Wednesday night; the Alouettes with Anthony Calvillo in the line up, are a much more impressive team than the one without AC at the helm. Last week AC did not even make the trip to Ottawa, Wednesday night he was itching to go. Calvillo looked to be in mid season form as the Alouette first stringers rolled up the score 31-1 by the half and a total domination of the self destructing Renegades. Calvillo’s first half stats show just how much he dominated the game, as he went 18 for 25, with 288 yards and two touchdowns.

Ottawa continued its plan to give a look see to as many players as possible, and many of those auditioning for jobs did not particularly endear themselves to coach Joe Paopao and his staff. Aaron Lockert, who is trying to win a spot as a receiver, fumbled the ball on his own thirteen yard line, setting up the ALS first touch down of the game. To make matters worse for Locker his main competition for the job, Jason Amrstead had a decent game in returning kicks.

Kerry Joseph started for the Renegades but did not have much success in generating some offence in his first thirty minutes. Joseph, who was under pressure for most of the half, spent an awful lot of time running the ball as his receivers found the Als coverage to be stifling. The excessive scrambling of Kerry’s led to a tweak of his hamstring, a situation that the Renegades will want to be careful with, Paopao said all is well with the ham at the moment. Joseph will give it a bit of rest now, before the Rens open the regular season next Thursday in Winnipeg.

Darnell Kennedy and Brad Banks shared time in the second half of the game as quarterback and Tyler Paopao, son of Coach Joe got into the game as well. As a matter of fact it was Paopao who engineered the final Rens drive, one that resulted in a Raymonn Adams touchdown, Those seven points, a safety and a single would account for all the Rens scoring in the game as they bowed out 38-10 to the high flying Als.

19,542 Alouette fans, a pre season record, crammed into Molson Stadium to salute their hometown heroes and Don Matthews’s team did not disappoint as they put on a clinic for the fans. The Als introduced some new wrinkles to an already imposing offence and showcased the receiving skills of Jermaine Copeland and Kwame Cavil. Defensively they kept the Rens penned in for most of the game, getting themselves into a defensive mindset for the season opener June 19th, when the Grey Cup Champion Eskimos come to town.

That should be a match up the Als are looking towards with much relish, as the rematch of last years Grey Cup game should be a great way to kick off the 2004 CFL season for both teams. The Als feeling as though there is a bit of unfinished business from the Regina plains last fall.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Rens face the real deal Wednesday night

Last week they had the run of the field, as the Renegades defeated the Montreal Alouettes in the first exhibition game of the pre season. Tonight should be a little different for the return match in Montreal. For Tonight the Rens will see Anthony Calvillo, AC sat out last week’s game as Don Matthews turn the ball over to the understudies to see who was ready to move up to the number two spot.

And for the aspirants for back field positions on the defense this could be the final exam at the hand of a strict professor. It’s expected that Calvillo will be given the bulk of the work in the final pre season game for both teams as Montreal tries to smooth out the kinks of the pre season.

Two of the five Defensive backfield positions are still up for grabs; Serge Sejour, Tierre Sams, Donald Ruiz and Dave Donaldson are all in the hunt for the final two spots on the regular season starting roster. Though waiting in the wings as possible replacements are players coming back from injury or from the NFL camps. AS usual for the CFL, a player is really always fighting for a job whether it’s the pre-season, mid season or heading for the playoffs.

The Renegade coaching staff will be watching some other areas as well, trying to decide on which player will back up starting QB Kerry Josephs. Tonight will be the final chance for someone to step up and claim that job. As well the kicking game is wide open in the nation's capital, as the Renegades look for a consistent addition to the kicking positions.

With the pre season almost to an end the Renegades and Alouettes prepare for the long march back to Lansdowne Park in late November. Montreal has to be considered the favorite once again to come out of the East with a Grey Cup berth, while Ottawa would like nothing better than to finish off the season with a Grey Cup match in their own park. How the players wrap up the pre season will go a long way to deciding which ones get to go on the journey.

Will the Ti-Cats one day be the Brady bunch?

Marcus Brady is renting a u haul, his wheels to take him down the QEW to Hamilton as he joins the Ti-cat roster after a trade earlier Wednesday. Going along for the ride will be rookie linebacker Tawambi Settles, the second half of a two for one trade which sees offensive lineman Mike Mihelic heading to Toronto, along with a 2005 draft pick.

The move basically secures Damon Allen as the number one pivot in Argoland for one more year as he adjusts to Kent Austin’s new offensive schemes. Michael Bishop and Scott Krause impressed Austin and head coach Pinball Clemons so much that they made Brady expendable.

To free up some room on the Ti Cat roster, back ups David Corley and James McPherson, as well as linebacker and veteran all star Chris Shelling were all released. Brady who challenged Allen for the starter’s job last year and was considered the heir apparent will take his arm and football smarts off to the steel city, where he’ll start the season learning the playbook from veteran Danny McManus. However, expect to see a lot more of Brady on the field that in his Toronto years, the Ti-Cats in making the trade have probably decided on who they wish to take over the reigns from McManus who must surely be getting close to his final seasons with the CFL team.

While moving to a team that went 1-17 last year probably would be a devastating turn of events for most players, Brady seems to be taking the change in stride. Expecting to get more opportunity with a Hamilton team desperate for a good season. And to be fair this is not necessarily the same Ti Cat team that suited up last year, with new coach Greg Marshall in place and GM Ron Lancaster given a larger wallet to work with the Ti cats has made some important personnel moves so far. Adding Brady to the mix is just another piece of the rebuilding puzzle, but at least now they will have some confidence should they need to rest McManus or injury adds to their woes.

If all works out well Ti Cat fans will be put in a position that they’re not used to, having to say thank you to a Toronto football club. But should the Ti Cats show the improvement that many think is possible, those may be words that flow pretty easily.

Friday, June 04, 2004

20 years and still auditioning

A bit of empathy for Damon Allen, 20 years on into his CFL career and the guy still has to prove himself to yet another batch of critics. Allen who has led teams to Grey Cups, rattled off records and quietly proven to be one of the leagues top leaders is back at camp, fighting for the starting job.

Allen who is the leagues passing leader, heads into Saturday’s exhibition game against Hamilton looking to claim the number one spot as his. He has been battling third year pro Marcus Brady for the starting spot after Brady had such a strong end to the 2003 campaign. Allen, who is forty years old, is fully aware of the pressure on him these days to perform. But says it’s nowhere near as intense as the pressure he puts on himself.

Saturday’s game will go a long way to helping Kent Austin and Pinball Clemons decide who will start the season as the field general for the double blue. Marty York at Sportsnet is reporting on his website that the Argos are leaning towards Brady. According to Marty, it will take an outstanding performance by Allen to recapture the top dog position.

York goes on to stir the pot by suggesting that Michael Bishop may be moving up the depth chart as well, with the possibility that Allen may end up being cut by the end of the training camp at which point he’ll be offered the back up role but a greatly reduced rate of pay from his current 250,000 a year salary, which includes a number of performance bonuses.

Clemons for his part denies that any hot seat is being sat upon by Allen and that two pre season games would not be the deciding factor on who get the start when the season opener rolls around. Regardless, Allen seems to thrive on the pressure; it seems every year he’s on the bubble with whatever team he’s at. The same story repeated itself during stops in BC and Edmonton, yet twenty years later we’re still talking about Damon Allen at quarterback.

That if nothing alone is testimony to his ability to play and his mental toughness. Should the Argos go with their youth movement it would not be surprising to see Allen take his gunslinger arm off to another Dodge, his credo: “have arm will travel”. Somebody always needs one; refuse his services at your own peril.

Bob Young unplugged

Hamilton kept its CFL franchise alive, only after a former Hamiltonian returned to pick up the pieces at a bargain basement price. Bob Young grew up as a Tiger Cat fan, but made his fortune in the world of computer technology. The founder of Red Hat has taken on the challenge of turning the formerly woebegone Ti-cats into a model CFL franchise, and so far he's doing all the right things. Spending his own money to help create a renewed spirit for the game in Southern Ontario.

He's assembled a pretty impressive crew of football and marketing people to put the product on the field and the butts in the seats. There apparently is once again a buzz about Tiger Cat football, something that has been missing for a long time. With a facelift for Ivor Wynne, a new sense of urgency in the locker room and some serious interest from the fans, things are going fairly well thus far.

So who is this guy, who comes across as almost an Ed Grimley kind of character, one part genius, one part next door neighbor and one part the weird little guy from high school. There's a fascinating profile of him in Canadian Business, one which gives us an indication just how serious he is about helping the Tiger Cats and the CFL return to prosperity. The article recounts his business success in the computer world and how he's using those lessons to build a football and entertainment success in Steeltown.

22,000 fans turned out last week for an exhibition game, an unheard of amount in Hamilton in the regular season, let alone the practice games. So something is going on in Hamilton, when all is put together and the Ti-Cats are back on the road to success one guy should be taking some bows, but you get the feeling he won't be hanging around the centre stage. He'll be off in a corner taking care of some detail or the other.

Bob Young is all about putting the right people in the right place and letting them get to work. For the CFL the same could be said, they've found the right guy, with the right plan, stand back and let the Ti-Cats lead the way.

Rens show promise to home town fans

Late November will bring the Grey Cup to Frank Clair Stadium, as the Renegade Football club hosts this year’s celebration of Canadian Football excellence. If Wednesday night’s pre-season game was any indication, there is every chance that the hometown team may actually be on the field for the kick off on that fall afternoon.

Kerry Joseph showed why he’s earned the respect of Joe Paopao and his staff and how he’s become the Renegades starting quarterback. Joseph took over the reigns of the Rens offence in the third quarter, finding hometown receiver Pat Woodcock and last years acquisition Yo Murphy in the end zone to put fourteen points on the board, all on the way to a 28 – 24 victory over the Montreal Alouettes. Josephs contribution to exhibition football was 125 passing yards, a completion rate of 8 of 10 and of course the two all important touch downs. Showing why the crowd of 21,450 is excited about his continual improvement at the pivot position.

To be fair to the Alouettes who are perennial contenders in the East, they did not use QB Anthony Calvillo in the game, preferring to get a close look at the abilities of back up Tavares Bolden. Bolden ran into a stingy Renegade defence that shut down his attack through the game, including an impressive goal line stand when the Renegades turned back the Alouette attack three times from the five yard line.

Renegade back up quarterbacks got their fair share of reps in the first half as Darnell Kennedy and Brad Banks tried to find their place in the Renegade line up. Neither of the two, shone particularly bright so the back up spot is probably still a fluid thing in the Rens camp. Mind you the two didn’t have the “A” team of offensive lines in front of them, yet they did help to give the Renegades the lead at the half by a score of 13-10.

For a first full contact game against real competition the results were favorable for the Rens, they return the favor for the Als next week when they wrap up the exhibition season at McGill stadium in Montreal. But after one game things are looking good for the Renegades and their fans, the parade route blue prints are waiting. We’ll start at the Rideau Centre, work our way down Wellington to Bank and down to Frank Clair, you can almost see the convertibles on the horizon.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Lion has nine lives!

For Ray Jacobs the wheels of Justice have spun the right way, Jacobs found that his legal nightmares cleared up on Tuesday. When the Crown Prosecutor in Surrey decided not to press any charges against Jacobs over a quantity of drugs found in his car. Jacobs who was arrested last month will not be facing any charges over the drug bust.

It seems that acquaintances of Jacobs borrowed his car to run some errands which it would seem included a stop at a drug house in Surrey, where they purchased a quantity of drugs some of which ended ground up into the floor boards of his car. Surrey RCMP arrested the two outside of the house and then traced the car back to Jacobs. All along he denied any involvement in the illegal activity, today finding some vindication in his steadfast adherence to his declarations.

The 31 year old Lion defensive end held down third place overall last year in the Quarterback Sack category, gaining 10 sacks during the last season. With his legal troubles behind him now, he can get back to concentrating on football and how he can help the Lions regain some of their form of the last couple of years. To do that he’s going to have to be a tad more selective in who he’s hanging out with.

Eskies scramble the line up, as Mills gone for 16 weeks

For the sake of two sets of downs the Eskimo running game suddenly got a bit more complicated. Troy Mills was only slotted in for two sets in Sundays game in Regina as it turned out they were two too many. Mills suffered a broken fibula and now is sidelined for 16 weeks or more to recuperate. Having been picked up to compliment entrenched running back Mike Pringle, both had been looking forward to the 2004 campaign and the chance to develop the West’s most dynamic running game.

Now the Esks are back to the drawing board looking to find a replacement for the many threats offered up by Mills abilities. There are a couple of players in camp who may be able to step up to the challenge, Reggie White and Rafael Cooper the two rookies in camp, one of whom is about to get the break of a lifetime.

For Mills it’s a frustrating delay in his plans to fit in with the Esks offense. Having looked forward to sharing the ball with Pringle in the backfield, he’ll now be reduced to cheering the ball on from the background. Mills had previously decided to retire at the end of this season, feeling that a final year with a defending Grey Cup champion was the right way to go out. He now finds that possibly his retirement date has been moved up, something he wasn’t ready for until the third week in November. Instead he has to ponder the possibilities of leaving the game without playing a full game in 2004.

Ozzie calls it a day, Marshall says take a few more!

Mixed messages early in the day at the Ti-cat camp gave way to a final declaration, as kicker Paul Osbaldiston has decided to hang up the cleats. After having a terrible first half of football on Sunday, Osbaldiston left the team at half time. Apparently feeling that he just can’t do the job anymore, Osbaldiston gave back up kicker Jason Currie a hug, took off his uniform and left the stadium.

The game Sunday was not Ozzies finest hour, he kicked twice for less than 25 yards, leaving the Ti Cat defence in terrible holes. Missing a 33 yard field goal Osbalidiston heard from the crowd which expressed displeasure at the state of the Ti Cat kicking game. Feeling that he could no longer do the job he simply walked away and was put on the suspended list. Something that head coach Greg Marshall described as a league formality.

Marshal took the high road in the situation when he offered the fourty year old Osbaldiston a couple of days to ponder his future without any pressure from the Ti-Cat staff. Plagued by a recurring thigh injury the last few years Ozzie has seen his output dramatically decline over that period, the low point obviously Sunday afternoon.

Marshall by handling the situation this way is sending a positive message to not only Ozzie, but his team mates giving the long time CFL veteran a chance to step aside with a bit of dignity rather than with the sound of the fans booing his every move. Over his 18 years he has provided the Ti Cats and the CFL with some amazing feats in the kicking game, short memories in the stands should keep that in mind. However, football is a competitive game and the simple truth is a punter that only can move the ball 25 yards and misses field goal attempts is not going to be providing much of an edge.

With his mind all but made, he'll now have the chance to pass the kicking torch on to a younger leg. He plans on addressing his Ti Cat team mates personally on Wednesday to say his farewells and let them know the situation personally. He also feels he owes a debt to the Hamilton fans who as he says have been very kind over the years.

Having handled this situation the way he has, can only help Marshall in finding respect in the Ti Cat dressing room. What could have degenerated into an ugly departure from a hard working vet, will instead leave him with a chance to take his leave with his head up high. Team spirit can only find fertile soil in a place that provides that kind of atmosphere.