Monday, August 28, 2006

Kicked out of the den

From the Hamilton Tiger Cat Website comes word of yet another coaching change, two actually in Hamilton.

Not a surprising development for a team that has given up 114 points in three games and scored none offensively of their own..

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats announced today that offensive coordinator Joe Paopao and offensive line coach Kani Kauahi have been relieved of their duties with the team.

Paopao and Kauahi joined the Cats from Ottawa this year, taking over the operation of the Cats juiced up with high profile signings on the offence featuring Josh Ranek, Corey Holmes, Jason Maas and Terry Vaughn, an offence that just hasn't clicked since they were assembled at training camp.

With all their acquisitions in the off season most figured that the Cats were going to not only challenge Montreal for first place, but could book ahead those necessary hotel rooms for Grey Cup week in Winnipeg.

It to say the least, doesn't appear that they'll need to worry about frost bite on the flat lands this year.

With two key games against arch rival Toronto in the next two weeks, something had to be done, though you have to wonder if its not already too late for the Cats and their fans this year.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Tillman takes control in Saskatchewan

It’s not quite Howdy Doody replacing Darth Vader, but the change over from Roy Shivers to Eric Tillman, will certainly send a message that the focus will be on community and football again in Saskatchewan.

David Naylor nails it correctly in his Globe and Mail column today, in which he calls Tillman and the Riders a natural fit. In fact with Tillman now in charge there will be a comprehensive image change in Regina.

A team that was becoming known more for its off field legal troubles than for its on field statistics, will possibly be able to return the focus onto football and the long held dream of a playoff game in Regina. In an eight team and occasionally nine team league, you wouldn’t think that would be too much to deliver on, but for far too many years it has been one disappointment after another.

Shivers is not a bad football man, in fact his contacts and football savvy helped to build not only the Riders, but the Stamps and Lions before them. However, he had his chances to deliver in Saskatchewan and they came up short each time. His experiments in football engineering provided some entertaining teams, but troubled ones as well; in a small province with a big football following everyone takes note.

Last year perhaps was the most disappointing of the lot of them, as the Riders came close but failed to take that final step. Fearing that the Riders may not even make the playoffs, let alone claim a playoff spot, the board made their decision.

It was a choice made that was possibly more for the longer term benefit of the team than for a short term hope for that playoff date. The expectations have been high in Saskatchewan for a couple of years, this year suggested steps backward were being taken. So it’s not surprising that a change of direction has come, even if it is in the most unusual period of time of being in the middle of a season.

Tillman has had some pretty good success in the CFL on his own, he very well may be just what is needed in a football mad province, a leveling force to steer the team back on track.

The Riders have always been about community and football, the last few years they came close in the football but seemed to become more distant in the community. That works if you have a Grey Cup to show for it, Shivers didn’t and now someone else takes the lead in finding the Promised Land.

Tillman, 'Riders a natural fit
CFL team about to sign new GM, DAVID NAYLOR reports

Globe and Mail
August 23, 2006

No doubt there will be a warm welcome in Regina this week when Eric Tillman is introduced as the new general manager of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, the Canadian Football League's most beloved team.

Tillman's hiring was a virtual certainty yesterday, less than 24 hours after the team fired Roy Shivers. Tillman will receive a four-year, $1-million contract.

The timing suggests Tillman had been in Saskatchewan's sights for some time, which is no surprise since this marriage is of two parties that need each other.

Besides a résumé that includes two Grey Cup championships, Tillman brings Saskatchewan something it could really use -- an image change.

Shivers, whose teams failed to win as many games as they lost during his six-plus seasons in Regina, had to deal with players who regularly made headlines for what they did off the field. The most significant of these was Trevis Smith, the linebacker whose CFL career was cut short last season when he was charged with two counts of aggravated sexual assault. He was charged under a section of the Criminal Code that is used to prosecute people who have unprotected sex without informing their partners of their HIV status.

Shivers may not have condoned the behaviour of his players, but he rarely, if ever, condemned it, instead often blaming it on their profile in the community. That kind of thing never plays well with fans, but it runs especially hollow in a place that likes to think of its players as the kind of people who could be your neighbours, just like George Reed and Ronnie Lancaster used to be.
Enter Tillman, who has cultivated a squeaky clean image during his years in the CFL as an executive and a television personality.

Anyone who has followed his previous CFL stops is aware of his strong stand against hiring players who may present a risk to the community or put the football club in a bad light.
That may sound old-fashioned and it probably cost Tillman's teams a few wins over the years, but it's something from which he's never deviated. And it will play big in Saskatchewan, given the franchise's recent history.

While the Roughriders may need Tillman, he also needs them. The fact his last two jobs ended on sour notes has been more than a little unsettling to him.

The first of those, in Toronto, didn't reflect badly on him because of what followed his dismissal from the Argonauts before the 1998 season. New owner Sherwood Schwarz replaced him with J.I. Albrecht, whose stint with the Argos lasted less than half a disastrous season.

In Ottawa, however, Tillman's exit was considerably murkier and harder to interpret. The first football employee secured by the expansion Renegades, Tillman hired his good friend, Joe Paopao, as head coach and they embarked on building a team that they expected to be playoff bound by the third year.

All that went awry after their second season when, with financial losses mounting, ownership pulled back significantly on the flow of money to the football side of the business, leaving Tillman enraged that his project was being undermined. A management scuffle ensued, and when the dust had settled, Tillman was on the outside looking in while Paopao emerged with virtually full control over football matters before the 2004 season.

That year and the next turned out to be disastrous for the Renegades, which in some eyes vindicated Tillman. But he was never comfortable with how things played out in Ottawa and what it did to his reputation and job prospects.

In Saskatchewan, Tillman will be a large personality in a small community, which should suit him well. He'll bring in his own staff after this season, perhaps with close friend Kent Austin walking the sidelines as head coach, and make the Roughriders the model of good behaviour in the CFL.

And he'll get a chance to try to prove that what happened in Toronto and Ottawa was a mistake, that had they stuck with his plan, everything would have played out just fine.
For both the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Tillman, this week is about fresh starts.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Rogers Centre smokehouse

Saturday’s CFL match up between Montreal and Toronto almost became the game no one could see. As part of the pre game festivities the Argos launched off a pyrotechnic display that while loud and bright, seemed to leave the assembled 30,000 plus blanketed in a smoky haze for the better part of two quarters.

The interesting irony over the smoky lounge like feel to the Rogers Centre on Saturday, is that the management there is on a holy crusade to stamp out smoking in the stadium.

It’s a situation that has become a bit of a controversy in Politically correct Toronto, which is like other cities on a stamp out smoking crusade wherever it may be.

In fact the rule is if you wish to smoke you need to leave the stadium, but if you do, you can't come back in. It’s an interesting way of approaching the concept of return visits from those fans not wishing to buy season’s tickets.

Rather than set off an area outside of the stadium but still accessible securely to the Centre, it’s no smoking for the masses. A situation that has sent The Fan’s Bob McCown off on a tangent more than a few times, pointing out the goofy nature of the Rogers Centre edict.

McCown makes some valid point with his argument though, while he and probably most smokers can understand the concept of not smoking in the stands, or even in the stadium, having a smokers Siberia close by would at least allow them to duck out of the place for a quick puff or two before returning to their seats for the rest of the game.

It does seem like a positively sensible compromise, which is probably why it will never happen. When it comes to officialdom, compromise and sensibilities somehow never seem on the same page.

Mind you all the plans of banning the evil weed, seem to go up in smoke when you fill an indoor stadium full of a pyrotechnical haze, allowing smoker and non smoker alike to gag their way through a half of football.

70,000 plus and counting

For a while it seemed like no one would be able to see some Argo and CFL history get made, a pre game pyrotechnics festival sent a haze of smoke wafting through the Rogers Centre at game time Saturday night.

Like the famous fog bowl game of the sixties, watching the action from the stands and on television was the work of those with very good eyesight and an ability to squint quite a bit.

Perhaps it was so no one would notice that the game was being played on a baseball field, as the Blue Jays return to Toronto for Monday was given a head start by having the bases set up on the football field without the bags of course.

The Argos special field was not to be used as it would take too long to take it out and set up the ball field for the Jaysfor Monday (one assumes that Skydome maintenance doesn't work Sundays). So it was like those days at Exhibition Stadium for the double blue, a rock hard playing surface and a fog bank to boot.

The smoke finally filtered out by second quarter enabling the Rogers crowd to get a glimpse of their quarterback and his attempt to reach closer to pro football immortality. Although Damon Allen didn’t reach his mark without giving his fans and team mates a bit of a scare, knocked out of the game for a bit to clear his head after a crushing tackle by the Alouettes Louis Mackay.

By the third quarter Allen had sufficiently recovered to return to the field and looked none the worse for wear as he took over from the struggling Spurgeon Wynn and resumed a potent Argonaut attack. By the time the night would be finished, Allen would be a step closer to his Moon shot and the Argos had claimed a 31-6 victory.

The moment everyone had been waiting for took place late in the third quarter as Allen tossed a pass to Keith Stokes to pass the career mark of 70,000 yards in the air, bringing the Argonaut quarterback and CFL legend to a mark of 70,112 by games end and closing in on Warren Moons all time pro football record of 70,553 yards in the air.

The Argos also benefited from some uncharacteristic play on the Alouettes side as Anthony Calvillo threw five interceptions, something quite uncommon for the start QB of the Als. The loss was Montreal’s second in a row and brought them back down to the mortals of the CFL after a fast and powerful start out of the gate this season.

But as much as Calvillo was off this night, Allen was definitely on, defying the odds of his elder status in the league and setting the stage for an exciting second half of Argonaut football, with nine games to go before the regular season, it won’t be long before Allen eclipses the Moon record. A moment that will once again write a new chapter in the CFL record books and send notice to the USA that there has been a pretty good QB plying his trade in Canada all these years.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Esks let one slip through their hands

It was sackfest 06 at BC Place on Friday night as the defences of both the Eskimos and the Lions took up real estate in each others backfield and took down quarterbacks with ease.

In a fairly entertaining, if erratic at times game, the Eskimos battled back from two Lion interceptions for TDS to put themselves in position to win in the last seconds of play, only to watch the ball slip through the hands of holder Jason Johnson and negate Sean Flemings opportunity to kick the winning field goal.

With Buck Pierce filling in for the injured Dave Dickenson, the Lions utilized the running of Joe Smith and the sure hands of Geroy Simon (who moved past Mervyn Fernanadez in Leos history Friday night) to keep control of the play for good portions of the play. Pierce who seemed to take a bit too much time in the pocket made life hard on his offensive line as the Eskimos corralled and brought down the Leos QB nine times.

Likewise the Lions defensive corps found Ricky Ray as easy prey in the Eskimo backfield for a total of four sacks. Rushed passes and deflections also caused the Eskimos problems as Ray threw two interceptions that were returned for Lion touchdowns.

Still, a game that seemed to be getting out of reach by three quarter time, turned around in favour of the Eskimos as Ricky Ray found Jason Tucker once for a touch down and a second time for a drive saving reception that set up the last minute drama of the night.

The Eskimos down by two points with time running out, failed to work the clock to their advantage leaving themselves in the position of having to take their final scoring opportunity on a third down and no time left on the clock situation.

The general rule of thumb is to try your kick on second down, leaving you room for error. But for whatever reason the Eskies failed to do that and error turned into disaster on the last play, a fumbled snap by Jason Johnson, resulted in the Lions swarming the ball and taking away what would have been a winning field goal.

The 30-28 squeaker of a win gives the Lions a 7-3 record going into their bye week, while the Eskimos were left with a lot of questions and another loss after a visit to BC Place.

While the result dictates otherwise, the Eskimos actually had a good game, showing the ability to come back from trouble time and time again. Take away those two Ricky Ray interceptions anda better handled snap at the last play of the game and the Eskies would have won this one quite handily.

But a mental error at the bench and on the field put them in the position of letting the game slip through their fingers. A costly mistake that will make for a long week for coach Danny Maciocia and his squad.

Results Week Ten

August 19 Saskatchewan 43, Hamilton 15
August 19 Toronto 31, Montreal 6
August 18 BC 30, Edmonton 28

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Ricky to the Star Chamber

In a bid to get back into an Argonaut uniform quicker, Ricky Williams has apparently been undergoing therapy in a hyperbaric chamber.

The Argo Running back who broke his forearm in a July game in Regina, has apparently been taking two and a half hour sessions twice a day, in a bid to spur on the healing process.

While he hadn’t quite hit his stride yet in the CFL, his absence like that of a number of other Argonauts has contributed to the slow, some might say disastrous start to the season.

The Argos have struggled for a good portion of the first half of the season, having cut a number of players and fired offensive coordinator Kent Austin in a bid to get things back on track.

They are no doubt hoping that Williams can return sooner than later to help add some yardage to a rather anemic offence thus far.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

If they have the capital, there will be football next year in the Capital.

From orphans to the most wanted kids on the block, that could be the new saga of professional football fans in Ottawa.

Jilted just as training camps were going to begin, the long suffering Ottawa football fan is probably just a little jaded about it all. But yet, the signs are all quite hopeful for a rebirth (again) for football in Bytown.

Three different groups advised the CFL on Friday that they were interested in bringing football back, and all three seem to be well stocked in that key ingredient for success, financing.

A group of Capital investors from Toronto fronted by Ottawa 67 owner Jeff Hunt, would seem to be the front runners at the moment. Known as Golden Gate Capital, they have the financing in place and Hunt provides local knowledge of a market that has for too long been subjected to outside owners who arrived and departed with the frequency of an Air Canada shuttle.

Frank D’Angelo of Steelback beer and cheesy TV commercial fame, is another financially sound option. Though his over the top way of self promotion, might remind the locals of the Glieberman era, which is not something good for a hopeful franchise. He was however the first in line to try and resucitate the football corpse in Ottawa. It's though however, that his brashness has turned off a number of the CFL owners.

The third group involves a number of American investors with Bill Palmer as their point man. A former Ottawa Rough Rider and the father of Jesse Palmer currently of the San Francisco 49ers camp, he too has some ties to the Ottawa area and might be capable of making a return of football a success.

His group has already negotiated a deal with that old Rider name of Horn Chen, to purchase that old Rider name. Mr. Chen apparently cognizant of the law of diminishing returns, will apparently pocket 100,000 dollars for the Rough Rider name should the Palmer group succeed.

The early line on a potential successful candidate though, probably is the Hunt group. With the money coming from Toronto, Hunt who has run one of the most successful junior hockey franchises in the country could put his marketing skills to work for the new CFL franchise. He has a certain flair for getting the most out of his product that is certain, despite a professional team playing out of Scotiabank Place and another Junior team in Gatineau (formerly known as Hull for those with old atlases), and a number of tier two junior teams playing in the suburbs, he still regularly attracts huge crowds to the Ottawa Civic Centre to see the 67’s.

It’s thought that with Hunt onboard, a combined ticket selling and promotional department would bring success to both operations. Hunt has been a fixture on the Ottawa scene for a number of years, and offers that one thing that all successful CFL franchises must have solid and believable local involvement.

It would seem to be a match made in heaven for the CFL, but in the end we guess it will be who has the most ability to provide a stable source of financing for a number of years that will get the nod.

Of course success will only be guaranteed if the team is competitive. And while nobody expects are reborn Ottawa (fill in your team name here) to win a Grey Cup in year one, they need to be competitive from the get go. The Renegades were on the cusp of becoming contenders with Kerry Joseph, Josh Ranek and a number of other players that have since gone on to other CFL teams. They slipped back in the year before their demise, but that seemed more due to office politics than on field dynamics.

It’s doubtful that the current eight teams will now willingly give up many of the players they claimed in the vulture draft earlier this year. But the CFL must make sure that the Ottawa franchise is stocked with a fair share of quality players and provided with early draft choices to quickly rebuild the CFL brand in the capital.

However it shakes out though, it’s great to be talking about football in Ottawa again. Let’s hope the CFL doesn’t fumble the ball on this project and that those long suffering Southsider and Northside stand dwellers at Frank Clair Stadium, soon have a team to cheer on.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

CFL on CBC panel take Argo management to task

I feel a bit silly here, I just discovered a pretty interesting feature on the CBC Sports website. My bad for neglecting to pass along such an informative and well done feature by the folks at CBC.

The CFL on CBC panel of Tillman, Frers, Millington and Friedman provide a recap and preview of the weeks top stories on the CBC portal, this weeks project was a tough talking examination of the Toronto Argonauts decision to fire offensive co-ordinator Kent Austin.

Tillman in particular pulled no punches (and probably can pull any plans for an Argo resume) with his spot on observation that it was the Toronto ownership that spent all that money in the off season on American talent, neglecting the Canadian spots, which has them in a bit of a bind at the moment.

He also rightly pointed out that Austin was not responsible for the Argonaut back up quarterback selection process, that again was an upper management call. Considering it was his offence that won them a Grey Cup two years ago, it does seem hard to understand how he's the cause of the Boatmen's problems at the moment.

You can view the panel discussion for this week and the seven weeks prior here, also check back regularly to our right hand column, now that I've discovered it, I'll add it to the press box section as well.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Moon to the Hall

Warren Moon's career has reached that final accolade, the long time NFL and CFL quaterback was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday afternoon. Moon joined his fellow classmates of 2006, in the celebration of football excellence.

Moon took time during his induction speech to tip his helmet towards the CFL, the Edmonton Eskimos and the football fans of Canada for his six years of football played north of the 49th.

The transcript of his entire speech can be found here, while coverage of his momentous day can be found here.

Friday, August 04, 2006

A long over due achievement and a most deserved honour

Warren Moon goes into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio this weekend. It’s an event anticipated by many for more than just its significance about his remarkable record as a quarterback in professional football.

It’s highlighted as proof that one of the last barriers is finally tumbling down in American society, a black man, is finally to get his due recognition as a member of that All American of sporting icons, the quarterback.

Moon becomes the first black quarterback to be so enshrined in that hall of recognition in Canton. More indicative of a mind set in the USA through the sixties, seventies and eighties (and maybe even the nineties) than in any lack of capable young men who may have possibly been there before him. Surely there were many more talented young black quarterbacks who were more than up to the challenge of an NFL offence, but gave up on their dream or got sidetracked along the way. Many chose a different path, that of the league above the 49th, going on to star and change our game over the last forty to fifty years.

Moon’s journey to Canton took him from the streets of Los Angeles, to a rather uncomfortable but necessary stay at the University of Washington. Through the CFL and some spectacular successes with Edmonton and then onto the big game itself, the NFL with many stops in Houston, Minnesota, Seattle and Kansas City.

He began his travels down the quarterback trail at the U of W, a school that many had warned him, that indicative of the times, might be a tad redneck and one that should be avoided.

However, it was the only school that was willing to let him play at the position he wanted to, quarterback, so Moon became a Huskie and started that long trek to Canton. His days at the University of Washington culminated in 1978 and a Rose Bowl appearance and victory. The championship capped by his being named MVP. A pretty spectacular ending to the University game and one that should have made the scouts sit up and take notice. Turns out they didn’t.

After his University days came to a close, that age old problem came back to haunt yet another talented quarterback, the NFL apparently not quite ready to accept change, tried to change Moon from a quarterback to a positional player. That wasn’t his dream, nor his plan so other arrangements would just have to be made.

Instead, he headed north to Edmonton, the third stringer on a team featuring the amazing Tom Wilkinson and the equally competitive Bruce Lemmerman. He sat at times, he watched, he learned and he waited. For his first two years he shared the duties with the dominant Eskie QB’s, learning the intricacies of the Canadian game. His chance to run his own show would come in 1980, seizing the reins of an Eskimo squad and making the position his for the next three years.

His name became that of legend in the CFL as his Eskimos became one of the leagues enduring dynasties during his time in the Alberta capital. By the time he moved on to the NFL in 1984, Moon had five consecutive Grey Cup rings (1978-82) to his name and was able to write his own ticket into that exclusive club of NFL QB’s

Moon joined the troubled Houston Oilers and their new head coach Hugh Campbell (his former head coach in Edmonton) and immediately began to change that team’s football fortunes, his ten years in Oiler Blue brought post season games to Houston fans in all but three.

He continued his magic in Minnesota for three seasons, moving on back to the scene of college days with a two year tour with the Seahawks. He ended his career in Kansas City, where it seems a year away from the game in 1999, seemed to take its toll on his body, as he finished off his time in the NFL in 2000.

Moon was denied that one jewel of the NFL that all aspire to, that of a Super Bowl Championship (and accompanying ring), many talk of 1993 and the remarkable comeback of the Bills to deny the Oilers their shot at NFL glory. Perhaps it could be his biggest disappointment, but if so, he’s never wallowed in it, never used it as an excuse. Much like you never heard him complain about the talent he was surrounded with in some of his stops. Some of those Oilier, Viking and Seahawk teams weren’t very good, not very protective of a quarterback, nor sure of hand or fleet of foot.

Still Moon’s talent can’t be denied, check the CFL history pages or leaf through the pages of the NFL bible and you’ll find Warren Moon listed often and prominently.

Two numbers out of all of his remarkable statistics loom large for any aspiring Quarterback, they are 70,553 and 435. His combined yards from both the CFL and NFL total that 70,553, his touchdown passes from both leagues 435. They are numbers which will forever mark the true test of his talents and stand as a testimony to his impact on both leagues.

Saturday he joins Bud Grant as one of only two enshrined in the Canton Hall, that have had a similar honour bestowed upon them in Canada at our Canadian Football Hall of Fame. Moon joined the Canadian ranks in 2001, it’s nice to see the Americans catch up!

Canadians long ago realized what a competitor Moon was, how he could change a game with one pass, lead a team to victory by sheer will. Canton is lucky to have him join their hallowed halls this Saturday, much like Canada was lucky to have him prowl our fields in those amazing days of Eskimo football.

Moon by the numbers

Carrying the label of the first black QB to go to the Hall

The trail blazer

Reflections on a career

Moon looks back at his Canadian start

CFL recollections

The Class of 2006

Making the zebras, look more like uh, zebras!

It's not an CFL story, but considering the sympatico between the two leagues at times, no doubt it may one day become a CFL issue.

At any rate, the NFL's referees are getting a fashion make over, the leagues officiating staff will be wearing new duds this NFL season, a style and design that certainly makes them look more like zebras than they already do.

Apparently stripes can change your visual image, so one wonders how many NFL referees will go home after the game and ask "do I look fat to you"?

The Globe and Mail had the AP story in today's issue.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Hospital Ship Argonaut lists badly in Montreal!

When the schedule was drawn up the August 3rd match up between Montreal and Toronto no doubt was considered a nice measuring stick for these two Eastern rivals. But with the Argonauts roster depleted by injury and Montreal on high octane, August 3rd instead became the night of the blow out.

Montreal cruised to an easy 31-7 victory and the only good thing for Toronto is that the score wasn’t much worse. Montreal too often had their drives stall out in the last stages resulting in five Damon Duval field goals, had those drives continued on to eventual success this would have been one of those 60 something blow outs that even the ever positive Pinball Clemons might have frowned over.

Toronto using Spurgeon Wynn at QB for three quarters in place of the injured Damon Allen, could not generate much in the way of forward progress at Molson Stadium. The Argos spent most of the night flirting with the possible fate of the Ti Cats of last week in serving up a second goose egg on the season. Wynn had problems all night with receivers dropping the ball, missed passes on his part, confusion in the backfield and an onrushing Alouette defense that showed no mercy. By the time he gave way to Eric Crouch in the fourth quarter, the game was safely in the hands of Anthony Cavillo’s offence that put points on the board at will.

Crouch didn’t do very much as well, the malaise of defeat seeming to hang over the Argos by the fourth quarter. However, for the third string quarterback still looking to find his way into the CFL, the playing experience was no doubt valuable, but in the savior category he’s still a bit off the pace.

The Alouettes gave Nealon Greene a chance to work out with the offence as well, perhaps Don Matthews realizing that playing time in the early to mid season will bode well should his starter Calvillo unfortunately go down by playoff time. Greene ran a safe offense for the most part, but one errant pass in the fourth gave the Argos the opportunity to break the shut out. Kahlil Carter ran the pick back 84 yards for the only scoring play for the double blue on the night, something which won’t win Greene any fans on the Als Defensive corps, which did a good job of punishing the Argos all night long.

The Als improve their record to 7 and 0 and look to be the cream of the CFL crop once again. Making for another entertaining night out for the traditional sold out crowd of 20,202, no doubt they wish they could have expanded their staidum by now, with a team of this quality 30,000 plus a night would not be out of the question.

The Argos for their part stumble to 2-5 on the year so far. Toronto can get back on track when they visit Hamilton next week, a game which will pit two struggling East Division teams against each other. Montreal takes its undefeated record into Calgary on August 12th, and considering the struggles of the Stamps these days, there’s a good chance the Als will be 8 and 0 by mid august and mid season!

Results Week Eight

August 5 Calgary 23, Saskatchewan 7
August 4 BC 34, Edmonton 17
August 4 Hamilton 26, Winnipeg 11

August 3 Montreal 31 Toronto 7

Clawless Cats and Aching Argos…

At the start of the season hopes were high in Southern Ontario that a kind of Golden era of Canadian Football might return to the Golden Horseshoe on the shores of Lake Ontario. As the season meanders on however, things are rather stormy in both Toronto and Hamilton.

Injuries in Argoland and on field ineptness in Steeltown have both teams struggling through the first half of the season. And while the crowds continue to offer up their support, the end result isn't at all what anyone thought it would be when training camps broke in June.

Stepehen Brunt did an excellent job of examining the situation facing both teams in his column Wednesday for the Globe and Mail.

On-field success eluding Ticats, Argos

Finding success in the Canadian Football League -- that is, finishing anywhere other than last or second last among the eight franchises -- can't be considered one of the tougher challenges in professional sport.

The hard part has always been the other side of the business, filling the seats in problematic markets. Winning games and winning championships, everyone does, eventually. In some places, though, it seemed nearly impossible to make anyone care when it happened.
But just try explaining that right now to the folks who operate the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Toronto Argonauts, both teams reinvented in the marketplace and both struggling on the field to keep their heads above water in a very shallow pond.

As everyone knows, the Southern Ontario franchises are four summers removed from bankruptcy, financial problems that had precious little to do with performance on the field. The Argos were capturing back-to-back Grey Cups with Doug Flutie in the midst of their long decline, and the Ticats won a championship for owners David Macdonald and George Grant, who otherwise did precious little to stem the tide of local indifference.

Now, the situation is reversed. When the Argos stank out the Rogers Centre last week against the B.C. Lions, they did so in front of 28,000 paying customers. Meanwhile, the Ticats had nearly full house of 27,000 to watch them get shut out at home for the first time in half a century when they lost to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

So how can it be that good owners and strong organizations fail so miserably on the football side? Maybe because for both of them, success came a little too easily, too fast, and because both chose not to follow the tried and true recipes for CFL success. What seemed like bold, original thinking just a couple of years ago doesn't seem quite so clever right now.

The Argos, at least, can chalk up some of their travails this season to injuries.

But the truth is that running back Ricky Williams was a non-factor before he broke his arm.
And beyond Williams, the team was banking too heavily on Damon Allen, a 43-year-old quarterback (albeit one coming off the best season of his career as a 42-year-old) without a surefire successor in place.

Even if Allen hadn't gone down, though, it's an open question whether putting such a premium on continuity, on keeping the happy family together, would have caught up to the Argos this season.

The best CFL team builders (Montreal's Jim Popp first among them) renew their rosters every year, not with other people's overpriced stars, but with hungry guys you've never heard of who fall through the cracks in the National Football League.

With largely the same cast in place, the Argos went from a miracle Grey Cup in Howard Sokolowski and David Cynamon's first year as the owners, to a surprise loss in the Eastern final last season, to ineptitude. Now, change is in the wind, but perhaps too late.

In Hamilton, the contrasts are even more striking. Bob Young is always happy to explain how little he knows about football. And as a businessman, one of the things he realized first about professional sports was that you can't base tickets sales on winning championships because it is by definition a sometime thing, and there are bills to pay every year.

He hired brilliantly in building a marketing team, but built his football organization largely on instinct, violating several tried and true rules in the process: he hired a coach with no professional experience, who in turn hired rookie co-ordinators, and he kept the guy who had coached the team to a 1-17 record the year before, Ron Lancaster, on the payroll as a nod to his long, meritorious service.

For a year, it all seemed to work magically. The 'Cats slipped into the playoffs, Greg Marshall was the coach of the year, Lancaster easily filled the elder statesman role and out-of-the-box thinking was all the rage. By year three, Young -- understanding that his consumers were getting restless -- was dropping large amounts of money to sign name-brand players who were being rewarded for past performance in other places. He made a fall guy of the previous offensive co-ordinator, hiring as his replacement someone who seemed safe and experienced -- Joe Paopao. He relied on a general manager who wasn't a conventional football guy, and he wound up firing his own, hand-picked head coach in midseason, replacing him at least temporarily with the same man Marshall had succeeded.

The stands are packed at Ivor Wynne, the corporate community is fighting for space in the stadium, the Tiger-Cats are awful and the football operation from the outside sure seems dysfunctional.

It's as though they figured out how to split the atom, but never learned how to turn on the lights.

Naylor on the CFL

Wild West crap shoots, a new spring league and Kerry Joseph's comfort zone, it's all part of the Globe and Mail's David Naylor's Inside the CFL feature.

Inside the Canadian Football League
From Thursday's Globe and Mail

Dan Maciocia believes there has been at least one wildly entertaining game this Canadian Football League season — the one his Edmonton Eskimos lost on a last-second, 100-yard touchdown romp by Milt Stegall of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

But aside from that thriller on July 20, too many of the CFL's summer offerings have been as exciting to watch as fence painting. The games have either been one-sided, poorly played, penalty-plagued or a dreary mix of all three. Case in point: last week's action, which included Winnipeg's 29-0 win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, the B.C. Lions' 28-8 win over the Toronto Argonauts and the Saskatchewan Roughriders' 19-9 victory over the Calgary Stampeders.
“There have been a couple of exciting games this year,” said Maciocia, the Eskimos' head coach. “But I know what you're saying and it's hard for me to explain. I think this is too great a game. I know it will change.”

Asked for some reason why so many games have lacked the CFL's usual brand of sizzle, Maciocia mentioned how the Ottawa Renegades dispersal draft had injected new players into new situations while upgrading the league's overall competitiveness.

“The West is a crapshoot now,” said Maciocia, whose team is off to its worst start, 2-4, in 34 years. “There are four teams where any one of them could finish first and any one could finish last.”

As for the number of penalties being called — a change in blocking regulations has helped reduce the number of touchdowns scored on punt and kickoff returns — Maciocia was careful not to invite the wrath of the league office.

“I find it tough to get into a rhythm,” he said. “You put a couple of plays together, on offence or defence, and then something happens to interrupt that rhythm.”

Injuries have also undermined several teams, particularly the Argos, who have been without quarterback Damon Allen and running backs Ricky Williams and John Avery for parts of the season. Hamilton, too, has been hobbled by injuries to quarterback Jason Maas and running back and slotback Corey Holmes.

With key players hurt and new ones added, offences have been sporadic in a league in which low-scoring affairs are considered too dull for most fans.

“I think it's an offensive mentality that comes through,” Bombers general manager Brendan Taman said. “I thought last week's Calgary-Saskatchewan game was well played defensively, but very few people watch football that way. Our game in Hamilton was bad for the fans because there was nothing going on. The offensive flair just isn't there right now, but defence is where you win games.”

For all the reasons mentioned, only three teams have managed to win more games than they've lost so far (Montreal Alouettes, Winnipeg and B.C.), while a fourth (Saskatchewan) sits at .500. Little wonder Calgary head coach Tom Higgins recently admitted it was possible for a team to win the West with a 9-9 record.

“What I know for sure is that the game we lost to Winnipeg was outrageous,” Maciocia said. “It'll be replayed [on television highlights] many times. And when it comes on, I just change the channel.”

Spring football to return

Twenty years after the United States Football League played its final game, plans are under way for a new professional spring league in the United States.

The All-American Football League plans to launch next spring with eight teams and a 14-game schedule, playing out of major college stadiums.

The league is hoping to capitalize on college football's regional popularity by making each team largely comprised of former players from that geographic area.

Headed by former National Collegiate Athletic Association president Cedric Dempsey, the AAFL is planning salary budgets of roughly $4-million a team, which would make them instantly competitive with CFL payrolls.

The league is currently seeking investors willing to pay $2-million to $3-million in franchise fees, about the same the CFL is seeking to restart an Ottawa franchise.

In what might be considered an odd requirement for professional football, all AAFL players must be college graduates.

While the AAFL is being backed by some powerful people, there is already skepticism about its viability, given the failed history of alternative professional football in the U.S.

Spring football was most recently tried in 2001, when the XFL launched its one and only season. Even an NBC television contract and the promotional muscle of wrestling promoter Vince McMahon couldn't make it fly. Its failure followed the demise of the Professional Spring Football League, which folded before its debut season in 1992 ever began.

The CFL had teams in the United States from 1993 to 1995, after which it reverted to its Canadian base.

Renegades connection

The Ottawa Renegades may be gone, but a good part of their heart and soul is alive and well on the Prairies with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

The Kerry Joseph to Jason Armstead connection was one of the few highlights for Renegades fans during their team's woeful existence. That combination hasn't missed a beat in Saskatchewan, where they've evolved into one of the most productive combinations in the league.

Armstead's 25 catches and 371 receiving yards rank second to Matt Dominguez on the Roughriders. He also has five touchdown catches (including a 36-yarder during last week's win over Calgary), leading the Roughriders and ranking second in the CFL among receivers behind B.C.'s Geroy Simon.

“It's nothing that we game-plan,” Joseph said. “It's just the connection that we have, understanding each other and the trust factor. I know I can throw to Jason whether the coverage is tight or he's wide open. It just comes from understanding each other over the years.”

So well do Joseph and Armstead work together that earlier this season they hooked up in reverse roles for a touchdown when the receiver took a lateral before throwing it back to Joseph, who ran in for the score.

“[Coming to Saskatchewan] there was a sense of comfort to have someone you know you're familiar with,” Joseph said. “I'm adjusting to the other receivers, but it's good to have that comfort guy.”

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Final Snaps of August

August 31 "I hope I never have a (Labour Day weekend) off"
August 30 "The reality that Ticats fans are learning, to their dismay, is that I wasn't actually kidding. I am a bit of an idiot"
August 29 "It's a great sport, but a horrible business."
August 28 "We're going to try and simplify things "
August 27 "I believe Danny's faith helps people believe in him. He builds loyalty"
August 26 "We were worried that we might be rusty but we came out and we executed"
August 25 "It's something that you don't do too much in professional football, but we hadn't done it in a long time so we figured we may as well hit them with one"
August 24 "That (Moon's mark) will come in the next two games if I stay healthy"
August 23 "That's the way things are run over there and I'm happy to be in Calgary"
August 22 "When it just came down to it, football wasn't where his heart was at anymore"
August 21 "He's been blessed with a body that allows him to play a young man's game"
August 20 "He was like the white knight riding in to save the day"
August 19 "What really got my career going were the days in Calgary"
August 18 "He came up to me the next day and wanted a truce, immediately"
August 17 "I don't think a lot changes from me to Dave. I try to emulate his game a little bit"
August 16 "It turns out, I was turned into a cheerleader."
August 15 "How can you not care for him and how can you not pull for him?"
August 14 "Brent put together a highlight film "
August 13 "People still talk about it today -- they want to see it again"
August 12 "That’s the way I coach"
August 11 "It is our hope as a league that some time in the fall we will be able to formally announce a new owner "
August 10 "As we grow less and less healthy, it provides more and more opportunities"
August 9 "I pulled the old diaper off, cleaned up the 'stuff,' that was fine"
August 8 "I am not happy and kind of disappointed "
August 7 "Greg holds the ball -- there are a lot of people out there interested in his talent and abilities"
August 6 "Scoring touchdowns makes a big difference"
August 4 "So, he had to produce, and he did."
August 3 "We need to prove to them we can play better"
August 2 "Warren had all the physical attributes you like in a quarterback even now"
August 1 "Right now we have to play with more discipline to have any kind of success"

Opening Kick Offs for August

August 31 Allen set to claime record
August 31 Labour Day Classic celebrates the big 40
August 31 Palmer looks North
August 30 Jason on the Trading block?
August 30 Glimmers of hope in the Peg
August 30 Als look for answers
August 29 Ti-Cats look east for leadership
August 29 Quinn cut loose from Winnipeg
August 29 Barrett remains focused on job at hand
August 28 Ti-Cats take out the axe again
August 28 Esks to bring Brady back to the bunch
August 28 Glenn could still be a doubtful starter
August 27 Almost the No Fun League
August 27 Lots of blame for everyone in Hamilton
August 27 Every trick in the book
August 26 Ottawans hoping league gets it right
August 26 Cats embarrased at home
August 26 All Argo oars in the same direction
August 25 Ti Cats "Will respond"
August 25 Stamps love that Molson flavour
August 25 Barrett will do whatever it takes to win
August 24 Ricky sees a future for himself in Canadian Football
August 24 Stadium problems crop up in Montreal
August 24 Give Roberts the ball
August 23 Ready made reasons to lose in Regina?
August 23 Allen is running his own show in Toronto
August 23 Brazzel hopes to dazzle
August 22 Tillman to take the tiller at Saskatchewan?
August 22 Heading north no cake walk for NFLers
August 22 Parker is providing the picks
August 21 Shivers shuffles out of Saskatchewan
August 21 Argos ponder what to do when Allen gets hurt
August 21 Glenn still sitting one out in the Peg
August 20 Blue Camp II
August 20 Time for the Esks to climb
August 20 It would appear the Cats are that bad
August 19 Baker may bail on Blue
August 19 Allen airs it out for 70,000 + yards
August 19 Grace returns to Stamps practices
August 18 Flutie shuts the door on rerturn to the CFL
August 18 Cavil heads west
Agusut 18 Argos, Als set to run the bases
August 17 Allen on target for a Moon shot
August 17 Troubling times for Riders Defence
August 17 On the Patterson scale these Leos are B's
August 16 Eskimos look to run to tackle Lions
August 16 Braley makes giant donation to McMaster
August 16 Scoring drought in first half of season
August 15 Ricky on the road to recovery
August 15 Shivers peels some paint
August 15 Calling for Khari
August 14 Maas struggles in Steeltown
August 14 Stamps feeling good with week off
August 14 Baker the fall guy in TO
August 13 Breathing room in Edmonton
August 13 Bombers scatter for bye week
August 13 Ti-Cats take a step back
August 12 Three come to the table in Ottawa.
August 12 QB times bleak and getting bleaker in the Peg
August 12 Eskimo relief
August 11 Bishop returns to the Argos
August 11 The coach is Berry, Berry annoyed
August 11 White Knuckle Als!
August 10 Football to return to Ottawa?
August 10 Calvillo keeps his own counsel
August 10 Cantor trots back to the Argos
August 9 The Tao of Wally
August 9 Argos get some relief on defence
August 9 Esks have faith in Maciocia
August 8 Blue Bombers! Glenn could be out a month
August 8 Something for Clemons to smile about
August 8 Eskies look to change their direction
August 7 Stegall slowed down by cracked ribs
August 7 Argos 100 percent behind Pinball!
August 7 Say it ain't so, no more Joe!
August 6 Boatmen cast Austin adrift
August 6 Big Gaps for Big Blue!
August 6 Don't Fire the Coach!
August 4 No panic in Stampland
August 4 Jackson/Tucker combo the latest historical tandem
August 4 CFL TV ratings holding fine this year
August 3 Four to fear
August 3 Maas the main man
August 3 Stamps sign two to the dotted line
August 2 Damaged ship Argo sails into Montreal
August 2 Higgins feels the heat in Calgary
August 2 Never mind the team match ups, how about the city match ups!
August 1 Eskie wants to make best of his opportunities
August 1 Red and White and Not So Good?
August 1 Obby likes the Peg

Football Friday's Podcasts

The Fan 590 in Toronto is bringing the football to your iPod or computer on a weekly basis. Mike Hogan and Chris Schultz host the festival of football every week, you can download the program to your iPod player or play it through your computer.

They have archived shows on the homepage and you can automatically download it to your iPod through the iTunes service.

Check out the webpage for the program here and strap on the headphones....

Time to Power Up in the East!

Dan Ralph of the Canadian Press has examined the current woes of the Eastern based teams when it comes to points on the board, he presented his findings in Tuesday's Globe and Mail.

Power outage in Eastern Conference

Canadian Press

TORONTO -- Six games into the Canadian Football League season, the Eastern Division is shaping into a two-team race.

The Montreal Alouettes, 6-0, are the CFL's only undefeated team and the lone squad to beat the surprising Winnipeg Blue Bombers, 5-2. Lagging behind the division leaders are the struggling Toronto Argonauts, 2-4, and Hamilton Tiger-Cats, 1-5.

The Argos and Ticats can't be content to just fight between themselves for the third and final Eastern Division playoff spot.

The crossover still exists, meaning that if the fourth-place team in the ultracompetitive Western Division had a better record than the third-place finisher in the East, then the Western club would assume the No. 3 seed in the East.

And right now, the Grey Cup champion Edmonton Eskimos are fourth in the West with a 2-4 record, but two points behind the Calgary Stampeders and Saskatchewan Roughriders and four behind the first-place B.C. Lions.

Much more was expected this year of the underachieving Argos and Ticats, after both teams made headlines in the off-season with major acquisitions.

Hamilton completely revamped an offence that was among the CFL's worst last year, trading for quarterback Jason Maas, receiver Terry Vaughn and running back Corey Holmes and dipping into free agency to land running back Josh Ranek and offensive lineman George Hudson in the Ottawa Renegades dispersal draft.

The Ticats also signed former Ottawa head coach Joe Paopao as its offensive co-ordinator and Kani Kauahi as the offensive line coach.

But the changes haven't transpired into victories, and that cost head coach Greg Marshall his job.

Marshall, the CFL's coach of the year in 2004, was fired after Hamilton opened the season with four consecutive losses. Interim coach Ron Lancaster led the Ticats to victory in his first game, but the team has lost its past two contests, including an embarrassing 29-0 home loss to Winnipeg last Friday, the first time the Ticats were shut out at home since 1951.

Maas has completed 68 per cent of his passes, but has thrown only three touchdowns and seven interceptions. Vaughn, who recently became the CFL's career receptions leader, is Hamilton's top receiver with 33 catches for 360 yards, but hasn't caught any touchdowns. The team's next best receiver is Craig Yeast (25 catches for 298 yards and one touchdown), but he was abruptly released moments after the loss to Winnipeg.

Hamilton has also struggled on the road this year. The club was 0-9 away from Ivor Wynne Stadium last year and is 0-4 so far in 2006.

For the second consecutive year, Toronto opted to go pretty much with the veterans who led the club to its 2004 Grey Cup title. But the Argos did make the biggest splash of the CFL off-season by adding running back Ricky Williams, the Miami Dolphins star, who was suspended for the entire 2006 season by the National Football League for a fourth violation of the league's substance abuse policy.

Williams, a former NFL rushing champion, was expected to give Toronto's pass-happy offence a viable running attack. But the 5-foot-11, 220-pound rusher ran only 57 times for 231 yards -- a 4.1-yard average -- with one touchdown in five CFL starts before requiring surgery for a broken forearm suffered in a 26-23 road win over Saskatchewan on July 22. Williams will be out for four to six weeks.

This season, Toronto's offence is the CFL's worst, averaging 276 yards a game. Hamilton is ranked seventh with 291 yards.

Many football pundits point to Williams's lack of a production as a big reason for Toronto's struggles. But consider that, in last Saturday's 28-8 home loss to B.C., the Argos ran the ball only 11 times for 60 yards. By comparison, the Lions had 21 running plays for 99 yards, with three of their four touchdowns scored on the ground.

B.C. running back Joe Smith scored three touchdowns against Toronto and has six in his past two games since replacing veteran Antonio Warren, who was released last week. The Argos have mustered 10 touchdowns this year.

Things also have the potential of going from bad to worse for both teams. Toronto will be in Montreal on Thursday, while the Ticats will take on the Blue Bombers in Winnipeg on Friday.

An expedition to study the suddenly endangered Stampeder.

While we took our break from blogging for a few weeks, we had the opportunity to take in the Lions/Stamps game at McMahon stadium.

Here are a few shots from that solid thrashing of the Horse guys by the Beasts of the West the BC Lions.

To the left, part of the 31,000 in attendance for Friday Night Football in Calgary! That's the Lions heading in for another score by the way!

1) It's a brave Lion fan that dresses up for a game in enemy territory. For the most part this Lion backer was treated good naturedly, there were a few less than kind folks in the stands, but for the most part he had an easy go of it.

2) They have a nice little tradition of firing off the fireworks whenever the Stamps score a touchdown. Didn't see much of this on Friday night!

3) Taking the walkway to McMahon from the Banff Trail LRT Station.

Results Week Seven

July 28 Winnipeg 29, Hamilton 0
July 28 Montreal 21, Edmonton 13
July 29 BC 28, Toronto 8
July 29 Saskatchewan 19, Calgary 9

Results Week Six

July 20 Montreal 41, Hamilton 38
July 20 Winnipeg 25, Edmonton 22
July 21 BC 43. Calgary 20
July 22 Toronto 26, Saskatchewan 23