Friday, October 29, 2004

Survey says: the Game is strong!

From it’s near death experience of the late 90’s to the phoenix like rebirth in Vancouver, Hamilton and Toronto, the signs are all there that the Canadian brand of football is back and regaining its place in the hearts of Canadians.

Confirmation of the renewed love affair between the game and its fans can be found in a survey conducted by two Sociologists at the University of Lethbridge. Reg Bibby and Trevor Harrison study trends and traditions there and recently conducted studies on Canadians and their attitudes towards the CFL.

On the Bill Good radio program in Vancouver on Friday, the two delivered the results of a market survey that shows the league is once again an integral part of the Canadian Sporting fabric.

Their findings should warm the heart of Commissioner Tom Wright, who has seen some remarkable success stories under his watch so far. Television ratings are strong, including a recent Sunday head to head where TSN’s broadcast of CFL games outpaced not only the NFL offerings that weekend but also surpassed the Baseball playoffs. As has been noticed previously attendance is another positive trend, Vancouver, Hamilton, Toronto all saw sizeable gains in at the gate and more importantly more buzz in their communities than in the past few years.

Sponsorship partnerships are beginning to develop into longer term commitments, with more and more companies looking to come on board. And grass roots interest in football seems larger than ever, from the college games of Atlantic Canada through Quebec, Ontario the Prairies and BC people are actually paying attention to the local teams, something that was mostly a family and friends activity in the past.

The survey sets up an interesting situation for Mr. Wright and his owners group, expansion can’t be that far off the horizon now that the pilings are back in place on the dock. Setting sail for new lands gives the CFL a number of options and in each location the interest in football is at an all time high. Atlantic Canada and Quebec City have both been frequently mentioned of late as possible destinations for franchise number 10. The survey gives the nod at the moment to Atlantic Canada which seems primed to welcome the league to the East Coast, giving the CFL a truly coast to coast dimension. The fact that there seems to be a bidding war developing for teams only bodes well for Mr. Wright’s stewardship and the product on the field.

Even the negatives reported in the survey can be a useful experience, some respondents and callers to the show expressed frustration at the lack of CFL memorabilia available for purchase, perhaps a more intensive marketing strategy with retailers will help get the League’s message, colours and product out into the marketplace.

Check out the entire interview for yourself by logging onto the CKNW website, their program archives page will hold the interview for one month. Click on Friday morning, October 29, 11 am for the full story. They should be downloading like mad at the CFL offices and distributing copies to one and all, the brand is strong!

Play every down as if it counts, or not!

They had a football game in Toronto last night, big crowd too. Featuring a 31, 212 fans in the stands and seven on the sidelines. In an understandable, but controversial decision, Pinball Clemons chose to sit out seven regulars of his Argonaut squad, putting out the B squad to entertain, er, perform, and well uh show the flag for the home side.

Montreal was there too, Don Matthews putting his regulars through their paces, showcasing Anthony Calvillo’s passing arm, matter of fact he was so successful he put himself into some pretty select company. Calvillo went over the 6,000 yard mark in a lopsided contest as his Als humiliated the Argos 58-20.

Calvillo was a one man aerial assault as he launched wave after wave of passes downfield, by the time the bombardment had stopped on the Argo secondary Calvillo had 354 yards tossed in the game and 6,041 for the year. With the achievement Calvillo became only the fourth QB in CFL history to achieve that mark in a season. A little bit more time on Thursday and he could have hit for another 6,000, such was the resistance of the Argo defence. Choosing to rest regulars the Argo line up was dotted with guys cutting their teeth in their first CFL game, needless to say the learning curve was steep and at times brutal.

Peppered by sloppy play and indifference by some of the veterans the Argo sideline was a contradiction at times. There was offensive co-ordinator Kent Austin looking like he was chewing on glass, while Michael Bishop exchanged laughs and slaps with Alouette players after another interceptions. Ah it’s just another pick in a meaningless game, nothing to worry about coach. At least until he reached the sidelines!

The Als dominated the play, recording their 14th win of the season for a franchise best 14-4 record. With the final gun the Als now sit back and relax for nine days before returning to practice for the Eastern final in two weeks. Having locked up first place a few weeks ago, the Als will await the winner of next Friday’s Eastern semi final when the Ti Cats return to the Skydome for a rematch with their arch rivals.

With the hated Cats coming to town the Argo marketing gamble taken Thursday night may prove to be worthwhile. Over 31,000 attended what in effect was a meaningless game, Argo management must be hoping none went away too disappointed at paying regular season prices for what effectively was treated like a pre season game. If a well rested, very loose Argo team should prevail over the Cats all will be forgiven. Then perhaps memories of the 58-20 embarrassment might come back in time for the Eastern final. One interesting point about the Argo strategy was voiced by Anthony Cavillo who observed that with so many irregular Argos in the lineup, this film won't even be worth watching for any Argo/Alouette match up. There is nothing for the Alouettes to learn from this game, knowing full well that should the Argos get past the Cats, the team they saw tonight won't be the same one on the plane to Montreal in two weeks.

But it’s a dangerous approach this turn it on, turn it off strategy. In a sport where every down, every play, every hit is to be treated as vital the casual approach to work habits exhibited Thursday may come back to haunt.
More importantly the fickle nature of a football fan in Toronto may not take kindly to a P T Barnum approach to fan loyalty. Thursday night was very much like a third down gamble for a touchdown on the goal line.

We all find out next Friday if Pinball made the right call, if the Argos win and the crowd is big the gamble was successful. If the Cats win or the crowd is less than 30,000 he made the wrong call.

We’ll go to the tape Friday night!

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Shivers the main attraction!

Saskatchewan GM Roy Shivers finds himself the main feature in an upcoming CBC documentary in early November. Shivers who has been a fixture in Canadian Football for a number of years now will see his life and struggles examined on both radio and television productions. The theme of the programs will be breaking down barriers, Shivers discusses how he fought the colour bar in his early days in the US and how he contributed to its lowering in the CFL ranks.

You can get an advance peek at the program by checking out the transcript of the program here, or listening to the Current on November 1st. The feature will also be aired in Saskatchewan on the CBC's Canada Now on November 1 and 2. The rest of Canada will be able to view the trail of Roy Shivers on Newsworld November 10th at 7pm.

It should make for a fascinating look at one of the major players in Canadian football and revisit a time when colour was a barrier to success. A barrier that has since be long broken in the CFL! Reading like a social history lesson with some football thrown in for good measure, it provides a glimpse into a completely different time than what we find now.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Under further review, we screwed up again!

It’s been a less than successful season for the zebras of the CFL. Controversial calls have dogged the officials from the early stages of this season. Over the course of the year every team has at one time or another seemed to express concern about the competency of the folks enforcing the rules and regulations of Canadian football.

Not a week has gone by that at least one CFL GM has been left fuming on the sidelines, confused or down right annoyed with the interpretation of a rule, a missed call or a completely blown call.

Keith Stokes gets blatantly clothes lined deep in the Winnipeg end and nary is a call made. Argo receivers move off the line to early and get a free pass down the field, the Stamps pull off the ultimate in surprise plays and end up penalized instead of rewarded. All in all the year has not been a smooth one for the on field officials.

The latest outrage and the one incident most likely to bring instant replay to the CFL, took place on Friday night in Vancouver. The Stampeders desperate for a win and with the clock winding down executed perfectly an on side, open field kick, an exciting play that saw a receiver steps behind the kicker rush down the field and collect the ball for a touchdown. Only problem is that Jake Ireland’s crew didn’t catch the all important placement of the receiver and instead called a no yards penalty. Adding insult to injury, Ireland then turned the ball over to the lions as well as the win.

An extremely upset Matt Dunigan could be heard screaming at the officials about the botched call but to no avail. A subsequent protest of the game was received by the league office, but turned down. In effect, the league said we screwed up but what’s happened has happened, time to move on.

The CFL has been experimenting with the idea of official review this season, giving the officials the chance to examine the tape on occasions this year as a test.

Judging by the result of Friday’s game, the time to move from test to implementation has come. They won’t make the move for the playoffs, but by the start of training camp in 2005, there’s a very good chance that video may just be the referees best friend.

Despite their best efforts, officiating still remains the one constant weakness of the leagues presentation. The time has come to give them some tools to help make the game better, the results fairer and to ease the frustration level.

Streak secured, Esks prepare for the next step

With a 40-34 victory over the Bombers, the faithful of the Green and Gold can breathe for another day. While they wait to learn if they need to hop into the car and drive across the Lloydminster line for a road game, or sit back in the cozy if frozen confines of Commonwealth, Eskimo fans can be sure of one thing, history won’t record this year’s team as the one that let them down (totally).

Holding onto a professional sports record, the Eskimos qualify for a playoff spot for the 33rd consecutive time. Waiting until the last game of their season to make their stand, the Eskimos eliminated the Blue Bombers in an entertaining effort at Commonwealth. The Bombers found that the problems that have dogged them all year, continued to haunt them on Sunday afternoon. Special teams this time in the guise of a blocked punt sealed the fate of the Blue and Gold as Jabari Issa, timed his approach on Jon Ryan perfectly, blocking the punt and setting the scene for Jason Maas’ toss to Ed Hervey, to lead the Eskimos the final eight yards for the winning points.

The game would go down to a last gasp chance for the Bombers who got the ball back with fourteen seconds to go, only to have their final attempts swatted away.

While the Eskimos enjoyed their win, and underlying sense of controversy seems to be building with the not so unified Green and Gold uniforms. Mike Pringle visibly expressed his disappointment in not being given a chance to carry the ball in the waning minutes of the game. With the clock ticking down, the chance to pass George Reed in touchdowns slipped by on this final game of the year. Perhaps sensing that his days in the CFL may be coming to an end, he seemed to uncharacteristically put personal goals ahead of team accomplishments. The folks at TSN tried to sell the idea of him being a competitor who just wanted to help the team into the end zone, but it was a hard sell judging by the media reaction after the game in Edmonton.

The Eskies will have a week to sing kumbaya and become a unified group again; they have the bye week with the final four games of the CFL season played out over the weekend. They now await the final score from Vancouver next week, a roughrider win means pack the woollies and head for Regina. A Rider loss and the staff at Commonwealth get one more paycheque.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Filling out forms with Joe and Don

While Don Matthews was busy filling out his citizenship forms and preparing to take his oath, one wonders if Joe Paopao wasn’t covering his bets with forms of his own. Going into battle with the Montreal Alouettes with basically the back up squad, resulted in a thrashing of which we haven’t seen since the early days of the re-born Renegades.

By Half time Paopao would be forgiven if he hadn’t applied for the witness protection program, such was the carnage on the floor of the Big O Saturday afternoon.

Like a tonic for a weary squad, the Alouettes recaptured their game on Saturday, Anthony Calvillo delegating pass reception among his four key receivers and handing the ball off regularly to his running backs. The Alouettes celebrated citizenship day in fine style as they routed the Renegades 52-21. Ottawa was never in the game and seemed to score points only when Montreal took some mental breaks from the action on the field.

With Kerry Joseph and Darnell Kennedy out of action due to injuries the starting QB duties for Ottawa fell to Brad Roberts, who received his first start in the CFL. The former Heisman Trophy nominee had a bit of success at times, but could not sustain a drive and ran into trouble frequently at the hands of the veteran Montreal defence. The bulk of the Rens scoring came off of two passes one to Yo Murphy and the other to Sean Bennett, Banks finished off the Renegade scoring with a one yard run for a touchdown of his own.

Ben Cahoon accounted for almost half of all Alouette scoring as he registered three touchdown receptions in the blow out. With the win the Alouettes put an end to their October swoon, stopping the losing skid a three games. A large and boisterous crowd of over 53,000 took in the action and loved every minute of it. The Alouette offence set a new CFL record for reception yardage, as they now have four receivers who have accumulated over 1000 yards in a season. The Fab four in red, white and blue are: Ben Cahoon, Jermaine Copeland, Kwami Cavil and Thyron Anderson. Wherever Anthony Cavillo turns there’s somebody around ready to catch a ball, a QB can’t ask for more than that from a receiving corps.

The game became a tune up affair for the Als, as they got all facets of their game on the same page at the expense of an obviously outmanned Renegade squad. From the offence, to the defence and on to the special teams they Als finally found the form they had at the start of the year.

The newly Canadianized Matthews must have found the effort rewarding, as Montreal gets back into the winning mind set just in time for the Eastern playoffs.

The Big O will be filled again in three weeks when the Als host either Toronto or Hamilton in the Eastern division showdown. This will make for a day where the Als possibly triple the usual attendance of Molson stadium’s cosy confines.

For Paopao and the Renegades this season can’t come to a merciful end any faster. The slide down the standings, the bickering in the front office and the horrendous injuries week after week has finally taken its toll on what had been a promising start to the 2004 campaign. For the most part this now a discouraged and frustrated football team, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Now all that is left is for the final finger pointing and the farewells.

This team will be pulled apart and rebuilt anew for next year. The Renegades will be an off season renovation project in need of a foreman and some supervisors. With Eric Tillman expected to be leaving for other pastures, it will be interesting to see if Paopao survives the off season inquiry. That is if he hasn’t been give a new identify and new home by the time the post mortem is held.

Don Matthews swore the oath of allegiance on Saturday, Paopao would be forgiven if he did some swearing of his own, except none of his words would have anything to do with a Queen or loyalty to country.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Wild finish had Matty D calling for the robbery squad!

If you saw Matt Dunigan on the phone at the end of Friday night’s Lions Stamps contest there’s a good chance he was on the line to 9-1-1, hoping to talk to the VPD squad. Dunigan threw in one of those nifty little quirks of the CFL rules at the end of the game, to nearly snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and to hear Dunigan tell the story it should have been victory!

The controversial play stemmed from the completion of a Khari Jones pass to Mike Juhasz who then punted the ball downfield, the Stamps receiver Sulecio Sanford recovered the ball and ran it into the end zone for what should have been a touch down. However, on field officials were split on the placing of Sanford on the field, eventually it was ruled that he was ahead of Juhasz when he made the punt and thus was guilty of being offside, the whistle blows, the touchdown doesn’t count and the Leos win 19-17.

The Stamps protested claiming that Sandord was behind Juhasz at the time of the punt and thus was an eligible player, the TSN replays proved inconclusive to the television viewer, but would have been of no use on Friday as the CFL has not yet implemented video replay. The chance of it becoming a fixture at league games gets a quantum boost with Friday night’s drama.

Beyond that it was a rather entertaining if error prone game at the Dome at BC Place, another large lower bowl crowd of 27,295 watched with interest as Dave Dickenson held a dominant role for most of the game, leading the Lions down the field time and time again, completing 17 of 24 passes for 174 yards and two touchdowns. He remained in the game until the midway point of the fourth quarter when a heavy hit from the Stampeders brought Casey Printers into the game. Printers added to the drama setting the stage for Duncan O’Mahony’s game winning field goal with nine seconds left.

Khari Jones was slow to start but fast to finish as he found success in his second start as the Stampeder field general. Jones could hardly be blamed for dropped passes through the game as his receivers let him down at key moments of Stampeder drives. Despite the slow start and giving up fourteen points early in the game, the Stamps had battled back to take the last minute lead of 17-16 before Printers made his final drive. With Jones though the game may never really be over, he weaved his own magic only to have the winning points taken away on the controversial no yards call.

For the Lions the points are welcome if not needed, but more importantly some weaknesses were highlighted for Wally Buono to work on in time for the Western Final in mid November. The Lions finish off the season next Saturday night, when Saskatchewan comes to town. They then wait for the winner of the Western semi final.

The Stamps wrap up the 2004 campaign on Friday night in Winnipeg, a homecoming of sorts for Jones who may get to play the role of spoiler for his old team. Once Matt gets finished with his robbery forms with the VPD he can get to work on the game plan for Winnipeg. With a bit of renewed confidence in Red and White that may prove to be an entertaining night of football!

Friday, October 22, 2004

Turning the Tide in TO

It’s an indication as to just how far the Toronto Argonauts have come that a crowd of over 30,000 is considered mildly disappointing. The buzz around the Argos on Thursday was that possibly forty thousand lost football souls would make the trek to Skydome for the Tiger Cat/Argo match up with the winner taking second place in the CFL East. While they came up a tad short, the Argos still attracted the largest crowd to a football game in Toronto since 1992, a rather impressive step up and sure sign of the turnaround taking place in Ontario.

Regardless of the mild shortfall, the 30,369 that did click through the turnstiles were treated to a wonderful football game, which began as a blow out and ended up as a barn burner.

The Argos on the strength of their special teams were off to the races early, very early as Bashir Levingston ran back the opening kick off 97 yards for the opening score of the night, Levingston would strike again on a return, as the Argos then went on to put together a 28-0 lead before the first fifteen minutes were up. Greg Marshall’s team finally shook off the shock and began to claw their way back as the first quarter was coming to an end.

Hamilton QB Danny McManus found receiver Chris Yeast on an eighteen yard pass to wrap up the first quarter, giving the Ti Cats a bit of hope and more importantly determination to get back into the game. McManus also took care of some personal business during the game, achieving a CFL Milestone becoming only the third quarterback in CFL history to pass 50,000 yards in passing.

Collecting 17 second half points the Cats sent a message to the Argos that the Eastern Semi final in two weeks a Friday night match up will most likely be yet another CFL classic between to age old rivals. In fact were it not for the special team breakdowns in this game the Ti Cats may have been hosting that eastern semi final at Ivor Wynne. Expect the Hamilton players to be firmly schooled in the art of special team’s coverage schemes for the next two weeks.

The Argos held on for the 38-31 victory the final points on the strength of replacement kicker Chris Hardy, who normally handles back up safety duties, Hardy was called into action when Argo kicker Noel Prefontaine suffered a hip injury, causing him to barely be able to walk by games end. Hardy, found the range three times with field goals, including one from 40 yards out a fairly respectable performance on short notice.

The Argos gave Damon Allen the ball for the game as he continues to try and get his regular season form back, having just returned from a leg injury Allen has been finding the timing and comfort level he would like in the Argo backfield. He didn’t have a particularly effective game on Thursday, completing 12 of 20 passes and running in a touchdown of his own.

With the Argos claiming second place the CFL is faced with having to move the Eastern semi final from its usual Sunday afternoon time to a Friday night presentation. An Australian kids group called the Wiggles have booked the Skydome for the semi final weekend, moving the Argos and Cats ahead by two days. Regardless, it should make for an exciting night of football and perhaps in two weeks the Argos will break the attendance of that 1992 date, with a chance to advance to the Eastern final in Montreal, there just may be that anticipated 40,000 plus in the stands.

The way these two teams have bounced back from their near death experiences last year, it would be a much deserved reward for their hard work! One thing is certain, the preview on Thursday sets up a wonderful feature attraction in two weeks.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

The Don is ready to swear!

Well judging by the play of his football team the last three weeks you could hardly blame the man for a few choice words, but for Don Matthews curses will be the farthest thing from his mind on Saturday.

Prior to the Alouette/Renegade match the long time CFL coach will receive his Canadian citizenship, taking the oath from former Alouette George Springate, who is now a Canadian immigration judge. Matthews comes by his Canadian dream honestly, his Mother was born in Tracadie, New Brunswick and relocated to the USA, so in a way we're just reclaiming a son!

And Matthews is not one to sneak into the country unobserved, Saturday’s game takes place at the Olympic Stadium, so Matthews will have over 52,000 witnesses to his leap of faith. The Don has been coaching in the Canadian league for over 27 years now and felt the time had come to join the ranks of “New” Canadians.

By the end of Saturday’s game the CFL will have three “Canadian” coaches leading teams in the league, one suspects the next guy we need to work on is Pinball Clemons, judging by his popularity in Toronto and across the country, he too would be a welcome addition to the family.

Cake and drinks at Matthews place on Saturday, seating for 52,000. Perhaps the joyous occasion will spur his players on to turning around their October swoon; if not our newly minted Canadian coach may be issuing deportation letters of his own come the end of the season!

Argos shifting things north

If you’re an Argonaut fan in Timmins and all points south, the drive down Yonge Street just got a little bit shorter for 2006. Monday afternoon the Toronto Argonauts announced that they have reached an agreement with York University to build a 25,000 seat stadium on the University campus just feet away from Toronto’s northern boundary.

With that decision the controversy over where the Argos should hang their helmets finally comes to an end (for now). The York advantage came about after the University of Toronto backed out of a previous deal to build the stadium at the downtown campus. The Varsity project was to originally involve the University, Soccer Canada, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment and the Toronto Argonauts. Things with that project began to unravel when the Leafs decided to end their participation in the multi million dollar effort.

After that the design of the stadium is reportedly to have been changed a number of times, in the end providing the Argos with less than what they thought they were going to have going in. Pressure which was brought to bear on the University by Toronto councillor Olivia Chow eventually resulted in the University backing out of its commitment as well, ending the idea of a huge stadium on its campus.

The project was thus dumped back into the laps of the Argos and Soccer Canada, the old Exhibition stadium site briefly found its supporters as did a faction that thought that Woodbine Raceway lands would serve as a suitable home for the double blue.

With the U of T’s fumble, York then apparently jumped at the chance to be considered once again. Originally in the running from day one it was the preferred choice of the Argo ownership group all along, but with the bureaucratic maze of partners in the venture they had to tag along with whichever site would receive the maximum funding. With York now back in the picture, the Argo ownership is content they have the stadium they wanted in the location they desired. From the standpoint of the Argos, York and Soccer Canada its all systems go, bring in the bulldozers.

As with any change there are all sorts of discussion on the subject. Some critics suggest that moving the team to the far reaches of the city will cost them fans who combine their football with a night on the town. That argument is countered by those that say the fact that the stadium will be away from downtown and closer to where the bulk of the population lives will be more beneficial. Transportation links will have to be enhanced; the TTC will be pressed to extend a subway link to the York campus now, something that would be welcome by football fans and students alike.

The weather has apparently become an issue as well; suddenly the Argo faithful are concerned about giving up their climate controlled lives in Skydome, not wanting to face the elements like those rubes on the prairies or down the QEW. Of course the counter to that argument is that they hadn’t been beating down the doors in past years to avoid the elements, more than likely they were just trying to avoid the football.

The economics of the CFL today suggest that a stadium with 25,000 seats is the most viable venue for the leagues franchises. The possibility of expansion at York is there, a scenario that was impossible at the Varsity location. The owners of the Argos are happy with their choice, looking forward to their own stadium. More importantly they’re looking forward to the chance to fill it every weekend, for the folks in Timmins pack the car, the Argos are a lot closer than you thought!

Monday, October 18, 2004

All those points, yet still one short!

While the Saskatchewan Roughriders must be happy with the total domination they had over the Edmonton Eskimos Sunday afternoon, in the back of their mind will be the one point that got away. Saskatchewan put on a clinic on how to play prairie football in the cold and the wind, as they ran and passed their way to a huge lead over the Eskies, who for most of the game resembled someone on the side of the road after the blizzard has roared through.

Saskatchewan entertained the over 30,000 packed into Taylor field as they rolled across the frozen turf over and over again, taking a 31-1 lead into the dressing room at half time. The first quarter only gave Edmonton a single point and that would be their last points until the later stages of the fourth quarter. In the second quarter, Henry Burris used the strong Saskatchewan wind to his benefit leading his offence down field three consecutive times for touchdowns. Rider running back Corey Holmes was a one man wrecking crew for the Riders, Holmes was forced into the lead running back position when Kenton Keith was injured in the first quarter, given the chance to carry the ball he accounted for fourteen points. One on a crashing run into the Eskimo end zone and the other on a punt return, on the way to his offensive splurge Holmes accumulated 120 yards rushing. Burris padded his stats with touchdown passes to Moore and French and ran one in for himself as part of the 40 point rout.

For most of the game the Eskimos were not part of the production, seemingly incapable of dealing with the cold weather, nor the hot Saskatchewan offence. The Green and Gold struggled through the day, offensively anaemic their quarterback Jason Maas struggled to hold on to the ball. On Defence the Riders could not be stopped, Burris picked apart the secondary while Holmes ran holes through the Defensive line. Coach Higgins will have a lot of work to take care of to get his teams head back in the game for this weeks contest. Finally with the wind at their backs they managed to put two touchdowns on the scoreboard, cutting the Saskatchewan lead to 23 points with less than two minutes to go.

Those points were all important in the scheme of things, in a throw back to the day of the two point total point playoffs of the sixties, the Riders would nervously watch the scoreboard; if they could get their lead above 25 points they would secure a home field playoff date, the first one since 1988. Edmonton fighting for their playoff lives, rebounded in the fourth quarter to keep the pressure on the Riders. However Saskatchewan did not give up, with Burris leading the charge and the clock ticking down, Saskatchewan found itself within field goal range and a chance to push their point total to 26 points. The Paul McCallum kick went wide and a celebration was put on hold.

Even though the points for Saskatchewan reached 40 and they controlled the play, suddenly a huge win felt like a loss! Such are the ingredients of Canadian football. While Danny Barrett answers questions about how his team controlled the game, ran up the points and shut down the Esks he also must ponder the wisdom of a field goal attempt when a single point was all he required. A punt may have secured that elusive home field advantage, opting instead to go with the field goal Barrett has given Rider fans something to talk about until the next game in two weeks.

Now all is not lost for the Riders, they did clinch a playoff spot with today’s win. They have a chance to keep their dream of a home playoff game alive when they travel to BC on the 30th to play the Lions. Saskatchewan gets a bye this week to sit back and watch television, rooting for an unlikely team to the East. Danny Barrett’s television will be tuned to the Esks and Bombers and he’ll be waving Blue and Gold through that one!

The Eskimos fate is not assured yet, they still must defeat Winnipeg next week to have a shot at the playoffs themselves. So the Riders should still allow themselves a little bit of room for a celebration, their play in the last five weeks has turned around a rough start to the season. If a team is to be feared heading into the playoffs, one wouldn’t have to look no further than Taylor Field.

They may still yet give their fans the chance to pull out the parkas one more time this year, for the sake of one point they could have guaranteed it on a typical Canadian football Sunday!

Dickenson comes off the bench to secure first in the West

The controversy will continue in BC over who should start as a quarterback for the Lions, but for one day everyone seems happy that it was Dave Dickenson that finished!

Dickenson was pressed into action with less than seven minutes to go in the game, when Casey Printers was injured. Taking a hit from Ed Phillion Printers left a game that he had a large measure of success in retrieving from a near disaster.

Montreal had taken charge early in the first quarter and seemed on their way to a convincing victory over the West’s first place team. Anthony Calvillo led the Als to a 20-0 lead at the end of the first fifteen minutes. Printers would come to life in the second quarter as he ran a touchdown in on his own and threw to Ryan Thellwell, a safety benefited the Lions and they roared back with 16 unanswered points in the second quarter.

Fumbles and errors filled the game as wind and rain made things interesting for both teams at Molson stadium. The two teams traded points in the third and fourth quarters, setting the stage for Dickenson to once again remind folks as to why David Braley, Bob Ackles and Wally Buono offered him a contract. Dickenson’s first set of downs in relief didn’t go very far as the Leos turned the ball back over to the Als. But his second shot a changing the outcome of the game proved to be successful. With time winding down Dickenson completed pass after pass, moving the Lions down the field authoritatively. The finishing touch was a beauty of a pass for fifteen yards to Chris Brazell for the winning margin.

The 32-29 win clinches first in the West for the Lions, giving owner David Braley a long hoped for playoff home date, an opportunity to open up that upper deck and perhaps return the Lions to the days of 60,000 at the Dome. The win also counted as the fifth straight victory by the Lions over the Als, a record that must be distressing for Don Mathews.

For Montreal it is yet another loss in October, a rather nasty habit the Als have picked up over the last couple of years. Despite the loss the Als are guaranteed first place in the East due to Toronto’s loss to Calgary yesterday. Yet Don Matthews won’t be celebrating, he has watched his previously strong defence give up too many points and allow too many teams to launch costly drives in the last three weeks. This weeks team meetings may not be an enjoyable experience for the Defence.

The Lions face Calgary next week at BC Place and then host Saskatchewan on the 30th to finish off the season. Neither game means much to the standings for BC, and will give Wally Buono a chance to rest some of his weary troops. It also creates an interesting question who to start at QB in Vancouver, not for any controversial aspect but more on a risk to injury possibility. Perhaps Spurgeon Wynn had best warm up his throwing arm, he may find himself handling the A squad in the next two weeks.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Prairie pride at the 55 yard line

Sunday’s match up between the Riders and the Eskies is more than just a fall afternoon’s diversion; it’s more of a battle over pride of place, both in the standings and in the country. The Eskimos approach Taylor Field on Sunday fully aware that a win in Regina for an Edmonton team is a rather rare thing to gain.

The last time an Edmonton squad came into Regina and left with two points was the 2001 season, since then trip to Taylor is a Death Valley experience for green and gold explorers. The players on the Riders know the importance of any game against the Esks, they can feel it wherever they go, any season may end in disappointment by the end of October, but if the Riders have beaten the Esks and all is forgiven until the next yeaar. Rider fans get no greater enjoyment than beating the Esks, considered an Evil Empire by the legion of fans that congregate at Taylor field.

This year though instead of bragging rights something even more tangible is up for grabs, with a win Sunday, the Riders can put themselves into the drivers’ seat for a playoff home date, something they haven’t been able to offer their fans since 1988! The anticipation of buying a playoff ticket is something that is feeding the fan frenzy this year with the visit of the Eskimos.

The Riders are on a four game winning streak, having played increasingly more confident football since that spectacular tumble to 4-8 earlier this year. The last four weeks have provided Saskatchewan fans with the team they believed they had at training camp, a solid running game, a scrambling exciting quarterback finally getting his groove back, another veteran QB almost ready for action and a defence that is more than ready to crush the opposition. All signs point to a team finally putting it all together.

The Eskimos, who have been hot and cold all year, currently are on a hot streak setting the scene for what should be a very exciting contest on the cold windswept plains of Taylor Field. The fans will drive in from Moosimin to Prince Albert and Lloydmister to Swift Current for this one, loyalty a trait that is passed on from generation to generation.

Sunday, loyalty may finally get rewarded, and with it the chance to come back into the cold and snow in the first week of November. And the best news for a Rider fan, the opposition then might very well be these same Eskimos, the League couldn’t write a better script if they tried!

Something for Stamps fans to hold on to!

Saturday’s debut by Khari Jones may just be the tonic for what has ailed Stampeder fans all year. One thing is certain Jones just made Matt Dunigan’s job a little bit easier and more importantly may take some heat off the Stampeder everyman! Jones, who was making his first start in over six weeks and his first in a Stampeder uniform, threw for three touchdown passes, in a much deserved 29-11 victory over the Toronto Argonauts. Jones and the Stamps put on a show that folks in Calgary haven’t seen for a rather long time, and one they hope they see an awful lot more of in 2005.

With pinpoint accuracy Jones completed 14 of 22 passes for 233 yards, moving the Stamps down field with authority, building confidence for a Calgary offence that has struggled throughout much of the 2004 campaign. The new QB combined his impressive passing work with some exciting runs by Joffrey Reynolds, who rumbled through the Argonaut defence for 189 yards on 23 carries. With the experience of Jones at the helm, the Stamps did not look like the 3-12 team that entered play, instead there were signs Saturday that given time to gel and with a few more additions this Stampeder team may not be too far away from challenging the CFL West powers once again.

Jones performance should go a fair way in easing the stress in coach and GM Matt Dunigan's life, his expression and comments at the end of the game were that of a man who had just had a fair amount of weight taken off of his shoulders. After struggling through the year with quarterback after quarterback, Dunigan may finally be seeing some light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s not an approaching freight train. The confidence provided by Jones became infective as the game went on, his arrival in Calgary is something that this team can build on, combined with an already solid defence the 2005 season can’t come fast enough now, Stamps fans can only wonder how things might have changed if this deal had been made at Labour Day!

For Toronto it was a costly two points lost, the Double Blue had hoped to put themselves closer to clinching second place in the East and a home playoff date, but with the loss today and yesterday’s big win by Hamilton a showdown for the Eastern home semi-final date is set for next week when the Ti Cats come to town.. And Pinball Clemons will have lots of things to point out to his charges in the film room this week as they prepare for the Cats. Turnovers killed the Argos on Saturday, with the three fumbled and three interceptions contributing to the downfall of the double blue.

Damon Allen began the process of shaking off the rust from his seven week lay off due to his knee injury; Allen went into the game in relief of Michael Bishop who fumbled the ball at costly points in the game. But the timing of the Argos QB seemed a little off right from his entry to the game, costly interceptions late in the game sealed the fate of the Double Blue. With defensive secondary coverage breakdowns and an inability to stop the run the Argo defence will have provided the Ti cats with some vital weaknesses to work on Thursday night at Skydome.

The Stamps go on to play the BC Lions on Friday night, a game which as late as three weeks ago might have been considered an easy two points for the Leos, but with Jones getting comfortable with the Stamps offence that may not be an automatic pass now. Another Stamps game that might have been irrelevant two weeks ago now suddenly looms large in two weeks, Jones returns to Winnipeg with his new team on Oct 29th to close out the Stamps season. That game may not mean much to the standings, but for pride of performance it could be a pivotal match for the Stamps. Suddenly Stamps fans have a reason to follow their team through the end of the season, they aren’t going to make the playoffs this year, but one thing seems certain, the Stamps aren’t going to go out quietly!

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Ti Cats secure a playoff berth

At the start of the year, all a CFL team wants is a chance to go to the Grey Cup. Friday night the Hamilton Tiger Cats took one large leap in the direction of Lord Greys trophy! They’ve been away for two years, but in front of a sold out Ivor Wynne stadium the Hamilton Tiger Cats clinched a playoff spot in the CFL East. They head for the Eastern semi final with a double overtime, 20-17 victory over a very determined and gutsy Ottawa Renegades squad.

The Cats controlled the bulk of the play but just couldn’t put away the pesky Rens who kept close right up to the very bitter end. Ottawa’s horrendous luck continued through this game, as Quarterback Darnell Kennedy broke his hand in the second quarter, making way for third string QB Brad Banks who did an admirable job of keeping his frustrated and injury plagued team close, almost stealing one from the Cats.

For Ottawa the loss will signal the end of their playoff aspirations for this 2004 campaign, and perhaps set the scene for a huge house cleaning. 2004 has been a disappointment for the team that had great expectations for the year that they host the Grey Cup. But after getting off to a decent start, injuries started to play a factor in their on field performance. Problems began early when Kerry Josephs injured his knee and was out of the line up for the bulk of the summer, he returned as the Rens went into September but was injured and done for the season last week.

The uncertainty of the QB situation due to injuries and some turmoil in the front office seemed to drain the Rens of a lot of opportunity through the year, close some games, blown out the other; they never seemed to develop a consistent groove to build on. High profile off season signing Pat Woodcock did not have his best year this season, while he had a great game Friday in Hamilton; on the whole the output was not near what it was expected to be through the season. Josh Ranek continued to run the ball well, but he’s not been as dominating in the last few weeks as he was at the start of the season. Even the final play of the game Friday defined the Rens season, marching down the field in the second set of overtime downs, Banks tossed the ball to Curtis Jackson who fumbled the ball on the Ti cat 35. With the recovery the game came to an end and the celebration was on in Hamilton.

That ending pretty well tells the story of the Renegades luck this year, a frustrating situation from the players, to the coaches all the way into the owner’s box. They play out the string against Montreal next week in the Big O; the Als booked the east end stadium for their final game of the season on the off chance that they might be battling the Rens for playoff positioning. With the Rens now eliminated, the game will instead turn into a pep rally to send the Als off to the playoffs.

Friday night in Hamilton was a terrific indication as to just how far this team has come in one short year. This time last year the Cats were broke wards of the league and had the worst record in the CFL at 1 and 17 as the season ended. Bob Young bought the team, some innovative ideas were brought into the office and a rookie Canadian college coach in Greg Adams was given his chance to turn around a once proud franchise. And turn things around he did, the Cats seem to have a fire not seen in Hamilton in years. For Adams the season couldn’t be heading in a better direction.

Over 250,000 fans have come through the gates at Ivor Wynne, a record for the fabled franchise. Tonight was the last regular season game of the year for Hamilton fans, and over 29 thousand fans were there to watch their team clinch the playoff spot.

Hamilton hits the road to finish off the season; they will travel to Toronto next Thursday for a game that may be of great importance. Should Calgary upset the Argos on Saturday, then the Argos/Hamilton game may end up being a battle for the right to host the Eastern semi final. They then will head to Ottawa to wrap up the season at Frank Clair stadium. Considering the outpouring of enthusiasm for Ti Cat football this year, you have to think they would love to be able to give the fans in Hamilton one more game this year.

But even if the Argos persevere and secure home field advantage, you get the feeling that this year the QEW will be clogged in an eastward direction. Ti Cat fans have rediscovered their football club; expect them to be following them across the East in the month of November.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Quick somebody steal the blue prints!

The Ottawa Renegades head into Ivor Wynne Stadium tonight, when they take to the field they should look around. What they will see is where they could be, if they only pay attention. Granted they have a job to do on the field, a desperation bid to try and climb back into the playoff race, but while the players play the game, the suits should be walking around and find out what is making things work in Hamilton.

The Tiger Cats will most likely claim a playoff spot tonight in front of yet another huge if not sold out crowd, and they will be full value for that success. Hamilton last year was a basket case, a near empty stadium, bouncing paycheques and a woeful on field production pretty well closed the chapter on football in the Steel City.

But the off season has been a rebirth of football and community attachment in Hamilton. Bob Young picked up the team from the league as the 2003 season was coming to an end; he quickly increased the sales staff, spruced up a much neglected stadium and provided the football people with the tools to get the job done. He brought on board a local legend from University football, giving him a chance to recreate his success at McMaster over at the home of the Cats.

Greg Marshall has worn his heart on his sleeve this season, suffering the incredible highs of that amazing start, to the lowest of the lows when the team stumbled through the middle of the season. But now as we close in on the playoffs the Cats seem to be back on track. They are playing some hard nosed, exciting football, which as the attendance increase has shown has caught the fancy of the previously long gone football fan.

The entire package has been one giant success story. The team plays with a purpose if not a passion now, never giving in making hits from the opening kick off until the final whistle. There are no going through the motions on the Cats, they may not win all the games but they’ve been in there banging in every one of them. More importantly while increased from the darkest days of Ticat football last year the salary structure in Hamilton is not one that causes accountants to stay up late at night.

Off the field the situation is equally positive, they have doubled their attendance from last year, attracting an average of 27000 people a game. The Cats are the talk of Hamilton, the fans wear the colours and football is the game once again, just like it used to be.

Ottawa on the other hands is beset with internal squabbling, owners planning on selling out and a GM apparently on his way west. A promising team a year ago, they’ve stumbled backwards in what was supposed to be their breakthrough year. Injuries and serious illness have zapped this team of any energy. Attendance while not terrible has not been what they had hoped for, a Renegade crowd normally averages around 22,000 second lowest to the Alouettes, who only have 20,000 seats all of which are sold out week after week.

While there is no talk of moving the franchise, there will be an ownership shift in the off season. The best scenario would be for some local people in the capital to climb on board with the remaining Toronto people and develop a bit of stability in the three year old franchise.

An even better scenario would be for the Renegades officials to ask Bob Young for some advice, ask for his blue print, find a photo copy machine and start dropping in quarters. The Tiger Cat experience is the feel good story of the CFL this year, for the Ottawa ownership group using it as a yardstick for success would be a wise decision.

They should look around Ivor Wynne tonight, 29,000 folks are telling them, that if you do things right there is a reward for all the hard work!

Thursday, October 14, 2004

CFL is truly a punters game now!

(Def) punter
1. to lay a bet against the bank as in roulette.
2. Chiefly British slang: to gamble

The CFL has blazed a bit of a trail in North American professional sport with the announcement on Tuesday, that it will ally itself with a well known British based on line sports book and Casino.

Brent Scrimshaw the league’s senior vice president of marketing and partnerships was suitably enthusiastic with the announcement that the CFL and Bowmans will team up for two years, offering CFL contests on line for gamblers to take a chance on.

CFL fans will be seeing Bowman’s signage on the sidelines as soon as the divisional playoffs in November. They will also offer a “free” on line promotional parlay contest which fans can take part in without having to part with any cash. Of course, the regular book will be available as well, for those die hard fans that wish to put their money where their picks are.

The idea of a professional league actively engaging in bookmaking has been a no go area for years. All of the other major North American sports leagues have a hands off; keep your distance relationship with gambling. In effect providing a collective nod and a wink.

Over the last number of years, NFL and American college football, as well as the NBA and NHL, have benefited greatly from the unsanctioned bookmaking. The below the radar gambling has created a surge of interest in the various sports. Check any office on a Friday afternoon and you’ll find somebody with the NFL schedule collecting 10 or 20 bucks, for a winner takes all pool. Not to be left out, provincial governments across Canada have jumped on the sports wagering bandwagon offering up a wide variety of games for play. Gambling has been an unofficial part of sports for a very long time. The CFL it seems is just jumping ahead of the professional curve a little bit, benefiting (it hopes) from any interest in its product.

The one worry of any sport league is the potential for skulduggery in the play of the game as it involves point spreads or kicks made or missed. The CFL claims to have built in “firewalls” into the Bowmans program to make that suggestion of less than honest activity a non starter. With betting limits for fans and a strict no participation policy for its players, the league is of the opinion that the relationship with Bowmans will be of benefit to the league as a whole and something fun for the fan.

If they find that too many problems crop up then they will end the agreement and chalk it up to an idea that had merit but didn’t work out. However, the league believes that this project will only be a positive step for a league that is always looking for new revenues streams, better advancement of its product and a way to connect with its fans.

One thing is certain; the last few years have seen the CFL make some interesting moves all designed to help grow its game. People are talking about CFL football again, creating a buzz about a league many feared was on its last legs. Judging by the successful turn around at the gate this year across the league, betting against the CFL succeeding in their latest project might not be a wager you would want to take.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Worrisome trend or October blahs?

Don Matthews didn’t look happy on the sidelines at Commonwealth Stadium on Monday; his Alouettes were taken to school by a highly motivated Edmonton Eskimo squad. With the Eskies fighting for their playoff lives, they returned to the form that won them a Grey Cup one year ago.

Having lost their last three games and dangling dangerously close to elimination from the playoff pool this year, the Eskimos stepped into the fire and delivered a beauty of a game for the close to 38,000 fans on hand for the Thanksgiving Day Grey Cup re-match. Jason Maas threw for 454 yards on the day, completing 20 of 34 attempts four of which went for touchdowns in the 39-19 pasting of the Als. Mike Pringle’s running game returned to form as well as he rumbled for only 67 yards but scored two majors in the process, including one that tied George Reed for the all time touchdown list with 137.

It was a complete game for the Esks, while they dominated on offence picking apart the previously solid Montreal defence, the Eskie defence held its own as well, keeping Anthony Calvillo in check for most of the game, holding back the Alouette attack as Calvillo brought the Als close as the first half came to a close. But in the second half it was all Eskimo as they turned on the jets taking advantage of untimely penalties in the Montreal secondary to add to the total.

The win for Eskimo was huge, basically putting them in the driver’s seat in securing a playoff spot, all but dashing the hopes of the Blue Bombers to play in November. The win should help to keep the Esks motivated as they chase the Saskatchewan Roughriders for second and help to keep an eye on a long shot chance to catch the Lions. It does however take some of the pressure off; the Esks had stumbled through the late stages of September and through October, giving dark thoughts of missing the playoffs for the first time in 33 years. With the huge win over the Als, sunshine bathes the land of the Eskimo those dark clouds moving on perhaps to hover over Montreal.

Don Matthews cannot like what he has seen the last two weeks as the Alouettes travelled across the prairies. Two successive games have seen the Alouette offence unable to answer the call; the special teams stumble at key moments and one of the toughest defences in the league allow the opposition to score at will. Having lost the carrot of a perfect season, it seems the Al players have decided to take October off and just slide through the rest of the season. Having yet to secure first place in the East, they have lost their focus and look like a middle of the pack team all of a sudden. While it seems unlikely that the Als won't clinch first in the East, they now run the risk of doing so tentatively and not with much authority.

While fans of the Als no doubt believe this is only a temporary lull in the march on Ottawa for late November, bad habits can quickly turn into major problems. Matthews will have to take his players back to school this week in order to regain the dominating spirit that they exhibited at the start of the season. A big test comes this Sunday when BC comes to town. The Lions who were knocked down a peg by the Argos will be looking to get back into playoff form as well, if Montreal isn’t back on their game there’s a good chance they’ll find themselves 0-3 so far for October, not a good omen heading into the Eastern playoffs.

Argos rowing in the same direction

The Argos are making the charge, buoyed on by a stumbling Montreal Alouette squad the Argonauts are putting things together nicely as we head into the final weeks of the regular season. With Michael Bishop beginning to round out into the kind of Quarterback the team thought they had, the Argos may just make some noise when the playoffs get underway next month.

With a solid if less than inspiring effort against the Western Division leaders the BC Lions, the Argos improved their record to 9-5-1 on Monday afternoon. With the 22-16 victory giving them four points to breathe with between themselves and the suddenly charging Hamilton Tiger Cats. While first place was locked up by the Als a few weeks ago, the fact the Als have lost their last two games and not looked very good while doing it should give the Boatmen some hope for a shot to knock off the Eastern Champs.

Monday’s game featured Noel Prefontaine’s foot, and a tendency for the receiving corps to stumble offside far too frequently, leading to stalled drives and called back touchdowns. Bishop found his receivers frequently however, putting together impressive drives that ended up just short of majors. Highlight reel catches by Arland Bruce helped to solidify his place in the Argo receiving corps, Bruce appears to be the real deal and it’s amazing that NFL teams would let him slip under the radar.

The Toronto defence played large Monday, sacking the combination of BC QB’s Printers and Dickenson a total of eight times. Unless the BC Offensive line gets back on track, the QB controversy may be a moot point as neither will last under the punishing attack of the Western defences in the playoffs.

On the BC side of the ball, Casey Printers started but proved unable to move the team with any great authority in the first half, both teams traded off field goals as the Argos went into the dressing room up 11-6, the extra points on the strength of a safety in the first quarter.

With a power failure on the offensive side of the room, coach Wally Buono decided to give Dave Dickenson some playing time for the first time since the early part of the season. Dickenson took charge of the offence in the third quarter and met with much the same fate as Printers until the middle part of the fourth quarter, finally getting his timing back on track Dickenson led the Lions downfield late in the game to secure the only major of the game a 68 yard touchdown pass to Chris Brazell at the 7 minute mark, bringing the Leos to within three points of the Argos. Another late game drive ended on third down when an incomplete pass to Jason Clermont ended the drive on the Toronto 44 yard line, the Argos shutting down the Leos and holding on to the 22-16 victory.

For Toronto the win was a huge one, keeping some distance between them and the Ti Cats and keeping the possibility of hosting the Eastern Semi Final high on the Argo agenda. For BC, the loss was not as devastating as a late season loss might be, they still have three games remaining to secure first place in the West, and unless they suffer a complete collapse they should be hosting the Western Final in mid November at BC Place.

The game served to get Dickenson some valuable playing time and with league defences finally starting to understand what makes Casey Printers tick, the time may be at hand to return the ball to Dickenson for the stretch run. Printers has had a remarkable season so far, but many forget he is still a rookie and needs to develop further and understand better the nuances of the CFL game. Look for Dickenson to begin to return to the helm of the Lions offence, his two late game charges downfield the best sample of what he can offer the Lions heading into the playoffs, that intangible of leadership.

Monday, October 11, 2004

And so it will be Goose!

Keith Stokes pulled a Terrell Owens on Friday night, taking a magazine from the goal posts and posing as if reading about his highlights. Unfortunately for Stokes, it was obviously only a short story. His touchdown moment was a short lived celebration as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Stokes who had earlier in the game recovered from a brutal clothes lining in the Bomber end, put himself first and team second with the magazine ploy. Actually his touchdown marked a long awaited celebration, as the Blue waited until there were only six minutes to go in the game to score an offensive touchdown. The lack of offence only confirmed what many Blue bomber fans feared was true, this team is not ready to compete for the playoffs, let alone bring the Grey Cup back to Winnipeg.

Hamilton took away a must win game from Canad Inn stadium, and with it virtually locked up third place for sure in the CFL east, the win keeping the Ti Cats in the hunt for a second place finish and a home playoff reward for the loyal Ti Cat fans that have flocked to Ivor Wynne this year.

Miscues by starting Quarterback Kevin Glenn contributed to the Big Blue loss, fumbles and interceptions at inopportune times helping to seal the Blue‘s fate despite a decent game statically for Glenn. The above mentioned showboating by Stokes, which resulted in a penalty just one of the “selfish” moments on a team that somehow lost the team concept this year.

For the Bombers the road gets significantly harder to travel now, they need help to make the playoffs, with losses for Edmonton and Saskatchewan a necessary ingredient for a Winnipeg berth in the playoffs. Winnipeg has only two games remaining in the season, the 24th against the Eskimos in Edmonton and the 29th when the Stamps travel to Winnipeg. Currently two points behind the Esks and trailing the Riders by four points, time and the schedule are not on the side of the Blue.

Friday night was a must win game, the chance to gain some control over their playoff future. Hamilton took that control away from them with the 20-13 victory, all that’s left for the Bombers is the hope that the Eskimos completely collapse, a situation that seems a lot less likely today than perhaps it did on Thursday. Edmonton only has to win one game to secure their playoff spot, if it’s not Monday, then the 24th might be the night they send the Bombers packing for the 2004 season.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Friday Night! Playoff Night?

For the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, tonight’s match up with the Tiger Cats will be for all intents and purposes a playoff game. TSN's Friday Night Football tonight, will be a game with some pretty important ramifications for the football future of both teams come November. Coming off two devastating losses to Montreal and BC, the Bombers are in a bit of a free fall through the CFL West standings, losing valuable ground to Saskatchewan and Edmonton.

The Tiger Cats on the other hand are relishing in their last second victory over the Edmonton Eskimos last weekend, a game which they were in control of early but stumbled through the final two quarters, hanging on for the win with seconds to go. A win like that goes a long way to motivating a squad for its next effort and that’s not what the Blue Bombers need to see tonight.

A Hamilton win will put the Cats in the drivers seat regarding at least third place in the CFL East, most likely eliminating any thoughts of a crossover from the West this year for the third and final playoff spot there. Winnipeg’s options for playoff work are dwindling quickly, lose to Hamilton and all focus then must shift to the Eskimos who will be battling the Bombers to avoid elimination from the semi finals. It’s a position that the Bombers look at from the bottom up, presently the Blue are the fourth place squad in the West, a win is essential to keep their hopes alive.

Add into the mix some questions about the health of Winnipeg QB Kevin Glenn, up against a ferocious Ti Cat defence and you have all the ingredients for a great game. With that kind of a build up, its not hard to see how a game in October will have as much importance as a playoff match up.

The match up tonight should also go a long way in helping the Bombers make plans for their Thanksgiving Day team dinner. Win tonight and it’ll be Turkey with all the trimmings on Monday. Lose and maybe it should be goose on the menu, because with a loss tonight surely the Bombers goose will be cooked!

October Quotables

We recount our quotable footballers as they provide the final word in the "final snap!"

1-Oct-04 "My favourite meat is quarterback meat"
2-Oct-04 "I think it's a great location to have a stadium"
3-Oct-04 "It's kind of weird, like these things happen for a reason and all that stuff"
4-Oct-04 "We let up off the gas on a couple of plays and we can't afford to do that as an offence"
5-Oct-04 "coach just told me to "go kick him a field goal", so I went and kicked one"
6-Oct-04 Those guys are worth their weight in gold
7-Oct-04 "We've definitely dissapointed our fans, and we've disappointed ourselves this year"
8-Oct-04 "we know the situation we're in"
10-Oct-04 "For me it's all for naught, if we lose"
11-Oct-04 "Frankly we need to put it together and prove that we're the type of team that we claim we are"
12-Oct-04 "He believes he can take every ball for a touchdown"
13-Oct-04 "Who knows what's going to happen next year"
14-Oct-04 "I was appalled and I will be dealing with those officials"
15-Oct-04 "Once you retire, they only replay you’re your completions or touchdowns, not the interceptions"
16-Oct-04 "It's not how you start, it's how you finish"
17-Oct-04 "My plans a lot clearer now"
18-Oct-04 "the simple fact is we need to beat them"
19-Oct-04 "It's a weird team, I really don’t know where our identity is"
20-Oct-04 "Either he's lost a lot of weight, or he's wearing too big of pants"
21-Oct-04 "The fact remains that we stunk this season, and I personally stunk this season"
22-Oct-04 "He took a lot of flak in Winnipeg, and I don't think he deserved it"
23-Oct-04 "You're a genius or the village idiot"
24-Oct-04 "This guy is going to be special"
25-Oct-04 "Yeah, it's frustrating"
26-Oct-04 "We’re gonna find out who the real true football players are!"
27-Oct-04 "Either way is fine. If they boo that's fine, if they cheer that's fine"
28-Oct-04 "A full and thorough investigation"
29-Oct-04 "I don't hold any grudges, I don't think badly, I don't worry about what happened in the past"
30-Oct-04 "He has always gone to bat for his players"
31-Oct-04 "I'm glad it's over"

October memories

We recap our Opening kick off entries for the month of October.

1-Oct-04 Location, Location, Location
1-Oct-04 Fleming looking forward to renewing acquaintances with Casey Printers
1-Oct-04 Ron's back but taking it slow
2-Oct-04 Eskie's stumbling through the season
2-Oct-04 Some things are more important than the game!
2-Oct-04 Lui and Cal together again
3-Oct-04 Well past the learning curve now!
3-Oct-04 Lobbying for Leo
3-Oct-04 Reading Khari's resume
4-Oct-04 Casey to face the Boatmen
4-Oct-04 Big Blue on the edge
4-Oct-04 Is this possible? The Eskies may miss the playoffs
5-Oct-04 Just call him robo QB
5-Oct-04 Gades gear up for the final run
5-Oct-04 Printers continues to turn heads
6-Oct-04 The Captain is back on the bridge
6-Oct-04 Old Hands ready to take a stand
6-Oct-04 A run for the open street like no other
7-Oct-04 Rens give peace a chance
7-Oct-04 No controversy: when he's ready Damon's number one
7-Oct-04 New QB, same injury problem
8-Oct-04 Rens move into critical phase
8-Oct-04 Reloading the Alouette arsenal
8-Oct-04 The thoughts of Andre Rison
10-Oct-04 Done for the year
10-Oct-04 Hot Dogging leaves Daley with indigestion
10-Oct-04 Just need one win
11-Oct-04 The Pinball Wizard
11-Oct-04 Rens on outside looking in
11-Oct-04 Running towards a college record
12-Oct-04 Bringing the football pool into the computer age
12-Oct-04 Heading towards the playoffs we have some races
12-Oct-04 Tillman not Cowtown bound (yet!)
13-Oct-04 Als not worried about late season stumbles
13-Oct-04 More action in the Rens backroom, than in the backfield
13-Oct-04 Lumsden has more than one CFLer in his corner
14-Oct-04 Shades of U2: Argos forced to move possible playoff game date
14-Oct-04 Bombers suffer worst crowd attendance in five years
14-Oct-04 Showcasing Khari in Cowtown
15-Oct-04 Allen will dress, but he won't start
15-Oct-04 Wally keeping his starter call to himself
15-Oct-04 Riders prepare for the return of the 'Evil Empire'
16-Oct-04 Esks face a tough task in Regina
16-Oct-04 Bombers refuse to ponder elimination
16-Oct-04 Jesse Lumsden enters the CIS record books
17-Oct-04 Who stays, Who goes in the Capital
17-Oct-04 Feeling better in Cowtown
17-Oct-04 Esks not impressed with their own performance
18-Oct-04 Suddenly Argo home games are a little closer to Timmins
18-Oct-04 Number crunched in Regina
18-Oct-04 Monday not a Blue day in Winnipeg
19-Oct-04 The puck stopped there
19-Oct-04 Stokes pays his library fine
19-Oct-04 Rens up to five on the QB depth chart
20-Oct-04 Davis has guts!
20-Oct-04 Throwin' Samoan doesn't want to be goin
20-Oct-04 CFL Sunday was big ratings winner for TSN
21-Oct-04 50k for Danny Mac
21-Oct-04 An Eskimo kitten who has found his mitten
21-Oct-04 Putting their faith in Glenn
22-Oct-04 It's all down to one game
22-Oct-04 The House is a rockin' will the Als do some rockin?
22-Oct-04 Winnipeg heads for death valley
23-Oct-04 It's the Kevin Glenn show
23-Oct-04 Argos making plans for Ti Cats on semi final night
23-Oct-04 A perfect season
24-Oct-04 Matt D's protest march
24-Oct-04 Bombers left out in the cold
24-Oct-04 Searching for the answer in Ottawa (pt 2)
25-Oct-04 Under futher review, we screwed up again, but our decision stands
25-Oct-04 Argos courting Crouch
25-Oct-04 The pressure of the streak
26-Oct-04 CFL fumbles the ball on racism charge
26-Oct-04 Winterpeg becomes loserpeg!
26-Oct-04 Argos triple threat
27-Oct-04 Bring your parka, bring your mitts! The Peg gets the cup in 2006!
27-Oct-04 Braley wades into kickgate
27-Oct-04 And the nominees are
28-Oct-04 And he will throw for 6000 yards and maybe for 6000 more
28-Oct-04 Glenn on a mission
28-Oct-04 Nous sommes le Numero un
29-Oct-04 Satsifaction guaranteed, or your ticket replaced by another
29-Oct-04 The drinks are on Khari
29-Oct-04 Junior football Sun on a mission for the championship
30-Oct-04 Changes on the way in the Peg
30-Oct-04 Pinball takes the heat
30-Oct-04 York looking to better days with new stadium
31-Oct-04 A change all from a cup of coffee
31-Oct-04 Marcus on the market
31-Oct-04 See you in May, maybe!

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

The Reviews are in and Print this Large: PRINTERS IS THE REAL DEAL

The BC Lions are in that rare position that most Canadian Football Teams can only dream about. They have two solid and now proven Quarterbacks in the line up, each equal to the task of leading their team to the playoffs. Casey Printers who took over for Dave Dickenson earlier this year when Dickenson was injured, has gone on to write his own chapter or two in the Book of Leo.

Printer’s success at QB has been nothing short of remarkable, considering his lack of playing time prior to his taking the helm this year. But since then with the exception of a two week period where the Leos stumbled a bit, Printers and the Lions have been unstoppable.

Not content to just keep the Lions in the hunt this year, Dickenson’s understudy has proven to be a marquee man himself, with a league leading 32 touchdown passes, a 66 per cent completion record and a laughably low 10 interception tosses (Danny Mac in Hamilton can give up that many in one game!) Printers has been turning heads all season as he helps his team rocket to the top of the CFL West and now seem poised to make a late November trip to Ottawa for the Grey Cup a priority booking.

Beyond the success on the field, Printers has added some excitement to the product with his mobile approach to the game, his long bomb tosses and his ability to use all the weapons in the Lions offensive arsenal to the teams benefit.

With Dickenson slowly working his way back onto the active roster it’s almost time to consider what Wally Buono will do regarding his QB situation. Does he risk his teams comfort factor and momentum by returning the ball to Dickenson? Or does he roll the dice and stick with the now proven understudy and ride that horse for the rest of the race?

Tough decisions for the Coach and GM, with a regular count of 29000 sets of eyes in the stands now the pressure will be on to make the right call. It used to be that a starter never lost his job due to injury, in the past the returning leader was tossed the ball and sent to work. But with three weeks left in the season and the playoffs on the horizon, that theory may not wash. The success of the Lions this year has been due to the versatility and talent of Printers, it will be a brave Wally that makes changes to what has become a very successful blue print!

For now a healthy Dickenson may just have to sit as a hell of an insurance policy, this season belongs to Printers, the team is where they are due to his leadership, it seems only fair to give him the chance to complete the journey.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Henry and the giant killers

Saturday nights upset handling of the Montreal Alouettes has done more than give the Riders two points in the standings. It’s made believers of a team that had stumbled more than a few times in the season. It also has set them up in pretty good position for a run on second place in the CFL West and a chance to host a CFL semi final game.

With a complete game plan played to perfection the Riders kept coming and coming at Anthony Calvillo, giving him a fair amount of attention and company throughout the game. Keeping the Als off balance and off the scoreboard as Saskatchewan moved into a second place tie in the West, on the strength of Saturday’s 35-19 victory. The Als who were missing favourite target Ben Cahoun, seemed to be taken by surprise by the ease in which the Riders would move down the field and the ferocity of the Rider front four who kept coming across the line all night long.

Kenton Keith ran through the much vaunted Montreal defence amassing 146 yards and scoring two touchdowns on the way to the first win over Montreal in nine attempts. With 17 carries on the night Keith found no problem picking his way through the assorted Alouettes who had problems with the Rider O line all night long.

It didn’t start out as a troublesome night for Montreal, who jumped out to an 18-0 lead before the Riders could get on board. But once Saskatchewan crossed that goal line they wouldn’t stop, The Riders took advantage of a strong wind in the second and third quarters and scored 34 points in 17 minutes, on their way to their third win in a row.

The loss for Montreal is more of an inconvenience than a major catastrophe, interrupting a six game winning streak this was merely a hiccup on the way to the Eastern final. But the loss will serve as a cautionary tale, to take no team lightly in the last month of the CFL season. For Saskatchewan the win was huge on this season, giving them a solid sh����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������

Friday, October 01, 2004

From Goat to Hero with two seconds to spare!

For Jamie Boreham Friday night’s Ti Cat/Eskimo game was dangerously close to being one to forget about, but with the sound of the final gun it was quickly turned into one to remember. The Hamilton place kicker sent 27,884 Ti Cat fans home happy, with a winning field goal with two seconds remaining on the clock. When the cheering had stopped the Ticats were 30-27 victors over the Esksimos.

He would have heard a completely different reaction if the trend of the night had continued for a few more seconds. Boreham almost had one of the most disappointing nights of his CFL career, as he missed three key field goal attempts from a range well within his abilities. Boreham bore the brunt of the crowds’ frustrations with misses twice from the fifteen yard line and once from the 30. Things were so bad for the kicker that his third attempt elicited nothing but catcalls as it sailed wide, depriving his team mates of their ninth point of the night.

With the many miscues in the field goal game it was a brave coach Greg Marshall that sent his kicker out to make the attempt from forty seven yards out. But with the snap of the ball Boreham was all determination as he successfully sent the ball through the uprights and the fans home happy.

It was a game that should have been a walk over for the Ti Cats, such were their chances the first half, too many of which slipped by the Black and Gold. Interceptions, fumbles and the missing nine points would give the Eskimos a second chance and Jason Maas made the best of his opportunities. Keeping the Eskies close and almost sending the game into overtime.

Danny McManus was forced from the game in the fourth quarter, when he was crushed by the Eskimo line, as a precautionary measure he sat out the rest of the game and watched Marcus Brady lead his team down field towards the Eskimo goal line. As time wound down, Brady got the ball down to the forty yard line, setting up Borehams 47 yard winner.

Special teams and both defences played a major part of this game as they put the pressure on, frequently keeping the QB’s on their toes and occasionally on the field.

With the win Hamilton picks up two valuable points in their pursuit of second place Toronto and more importantly, keeps any crossover opportunity from the West at bay for at least a couple of more weeks now.

It was a huge win for the Ti Cat franchise which has struggled at times during the season, this win over the defending Grey Cup champions could go a great way in the dressing room, purging the Cats of their struggling label of the last few games. It also could spell the end of any hopes that the Ottawa Renegades had of making it into the playoffs this year, putting five points between the Cats and the Rens.

The Cats move on to play the Bombers next Friday night in the Peg, Edmonton regroups and prepares to take on the Alouettes on Thanksgiving Monday. With the season heading towards the playoffs each win and loss is huge. The Bombers, who play BC on Saturday night, are now only two points behind the Eskies for second place and chance to host a semi final game.

It’s going to be a great finish for five of the seven teams stuck in the pack, the difference between second place and out of the playoffs literally only a field goal. Don’t think Jamie Boreham doesn’t realize that tonight!