Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Two games from their destiny

By far the dominant team in the CFL over the last couple of years has been the BC Lions, with perhaps the strongest line up, the most reliable quarterbacking collection and the one of the most knowledgeable and well prepared coaches in the league.

Last year the blue print called for a Lions victory at home, the Party on the Pacific sidetracked a bit by the Edmonton Eskimos, who dispatched the Lions in the Western final, in their very own home. It was not a happy day for a program that had worked hard to make a bid for the Cup on their own turf, at their own party. A lesson learned, of which they try to remember as the their playoff destiny unfolds.

With that opportunity lost, Buono and his coaches got to work on the job at hand retooling the Lions for the 2006 season. And for the most part they improved the squad in every category. They control the defensive play game in and game out, offensively they can rattle off the points regardless of who takes the snaps. While they lost four games on the year, they are still considered the favourites to be standing on a cold field in Winnipeg in three weeks time.

The Lions have given the team a week off, while the coaching staff are taking the week to prepare for either Saskatchewan or Calgary and if they are looking at the year in review they may wish to cheer on the Stamps this Sunday. Of the four losses on the year, two were at the hands of Saskatchewan, one to Calgary and one to the recently eliminated Eskimos.

Past history has also given the Riders a bit of a push when they play BC at BC Place, so when they pull out the pom poms on Sunday, Buono and the gang might want to look for the Red and White Ones.

However, if they take the counsel of Stephen Brunt of the Globe and Mail they’ll be wondering how many pairs of long johns to pack for the eventual trip to Winnipeg. Brunt wrote over the weekend that the Grey Cup is the Lions to lose.

Considering the caliber of the talent and the preparation they receive, it’s hard to argue with Mr. Brunt. He reviews the season for us and contemplates the future, the Lions and their fans are no doubt hoping he's on track.

Brunt: Grey Cup is B.C.'s to lose

Globe and Mail Update

October 29, 2006

This is what we know at the conclusion of the 2006 Canadian Football League regular season:

There is one very good, very well-coached team in Vancouver that this morning is the odds-on favourite to win the Grey Cup in Winnipeg three weeks hence. It's been the favourite all year, really.

There are five other teams in the playoffs, all of them with question marks, all of them obviously flawed.

The dispersal of the talent from the deceased Ottawa franchise at the beginning of the season, which was supposed to enhance the quality of play across the board, apparently did no such thing. A new interpretation of the blocking rules on kick returns, which no one bothered to adjust as the season progressed, all but mandated a flag on every play, eliminating the happy possibility of a return touchdown.

And a league that has always lived and died by the quality of its quarterbacking suddenly found itself thin at the position - only one quarterback as a most valuable player nominee, no realistic candidates - a turn of events that nobody saw coming.

Put it all together, and you wind up with some idea why this season has seemed so lacklustre, why so many games seemed to drag, why the three-down sport's one unassailable strength over the years - its entertainment value - was for the first time in living memory called into question.

The CFL has been called all kinds of things, some more valid than others, by those who liked to run it down, but until this season you didn't often hear it labelled "boring."

That, rather than the usual back room shenanigans, is the story heading into the playoffs, even with a lame duck commissioner and no replacement in sight, even with a return to Ottawa looking less likely by the moment.

If the post-season is going to redeem the year, some team other than the B.C. Lions is going to have to step up and mount a credible challenge. In the west, there's at least the possibility that one of Calgary, who at times have looked close, and Saskatchewan, now playing out the final days of the Roy Shivers(already departed)-Danny Barrett(soon to follow) era of unfulfilled potential, with give the Leos a tussle in the final.

It's an awful lot harder to find encouragement in the east, with the weekend games only confirming what's been obvious since the Montreal Alouettes began their long slide downward, that there wasn't a decent team among the four.

Winnipeg has Charles Roberts, the second best player in the league this season behind Geroy Simon, and that gives them hope of making a longshot run and winning two playoff games on the road. But with Kevin Glenn hurt in the final game against the Lions, that task becomes considerably more difficult.

The Bombers' first opponent, the Toronto Argonauts, proved on Saturday what's been obvious for some time, that they just can't stop the run - which could be good news for Roberts. Still, their pass defence is tough, and if they ever managed to make proper use of their resources on offence (John Avery, Ricky Williams, Arland Bruce..) they'd score plenty. Problem is, in the season in which he became professional football's all-time leader in passing yardage, Damon Allen seems to have finally grown old.

Anthony Calvillo is a young pup by comparison, but his slow fade this season has been a big part of the dysfunctional Montreal story. The Alouettes somehow slipped by Toronto for first place, winning a game they should have been out of by halftime, and maybe that will finally snap them out of a half-eason-long malaise. They'll be playing in front of a big home crowd for the Eastern Final, and know that Robert Edwards is running at full steam, but they're nothing like a lock against whichever team emerges from the semi-final.

There's still time to put everyone on the edge of their seats. There's still the chance to recreate dramatics like those in last November's spectacular Grey Cup game

It's getting late, though, and it's taken plenty of patience even for the hard core to remain committed thus far.

Time for the CFL to put on a show. It's long overdue.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Results Week Twenty

October 28 BC 26, Winnipeg 16
October 28 Montreal 24 Toronto 20
October 27 Edmonton 20, Saskatchewan 18

The things that make Ricky tick

Bob McCown and Stephen Brunt spent a fascinating hour with Argonaut running back, Ricky Williams on Thursday afternoon, and they shared the sit down with listeners and viewers of Prime Time Sports. A session that included a segment with all pro and legendary running back Jim Brown, an icon in American football who has become rathe close to Williams over the last few years.

During the course of the sixty minutes, they asked him about his year in the CFL, his NFL years, his college ball experience and his outlook on the larger picture of life itself. They tried and failed to get him to say he didn't want to leave Toronto, though he didn't rule out the possibility of playing for the Double Blue again.

For those that thought of him as just another high profile NFLer up for a vacation, the interview might change your impression. He came across as a thoughtful young man, with some interesting experiences and a pretty grounded way of looking at life. Not quite the impression that Canadians might have had when he signed with the Argos this spring.

He compared the differences of both the Canadian and American game, suggesting each had its strengths and weaknesses, he didn't dismiss the CFL brand as inferior nor its players. He very much sounds like a student of the game who has spent his six months wisely in Canada learning about a brand of the sport that many Americans are oblivious to.

He's destined to return to the NFL, contractually obligated as McCown put it, but yet you sense that he's rather enjoyed his time in the CFL and might miss the Canadian style of the game and life.

McCown's home station The Fan has posted the interview as an hour long podcast, it's well worth a listen, you may find yourself rooting for an Argo running back after you tune in.

The Glue has set, Campbell retires from the CFL

For a good portion of the gravy years of the CFL and for a good number more of the nightmare ones, there was one name that could be counted on for consistency, calmness and creativity. Hugh Campbell, the long time Eskimo coach, general manager and executive defined what the CFL was from his playing days in Saskatchewan in the sixties through the Grey Cup championships of the eighties and even in a woeful season to forget this year.

Campbell announced his retirement yesterday at the Eskimos annual dinner. It was an expected decision, he had apparently been ready to leave two years ago but the Eskimo board asked to stay aboard to help with the transition period. Which he did, taking more than a few shots from the media as the Eskimos returned to the middle and lower echelons of the CFL pack, a location that they haven’t had much travel with of late. This could not have been an easy year for Campbell, who far too often seemed detached from the team he gave so much of his life to. He was technically still in charge, but in reality he had handed the ball off a few years ago, he was just the lightning rod for the season of discontent.

This season was not a typical Edmonton season, over the years the Eskimo dynasty routinely won games, won championships and filled Commonwealth Stadium on game day. If the CFL was looking for a New York Yankees type of franchise it would be the Eskimos, without the ego of a George. The Eskimos as they say, were and probably still are the brand of the CFL.

He seemed to belong to the CFL even if he did leave for a while taking on the challenge of a new league in the USFL and then those Houston years when they held the Eskimo reunion deep, deep into Texas. And while he did well in the States, it was in the CFL where his career would be defined.

Campbell, was a quiet spoken coach and GM, a trait he carried forward into the executive offices. But his approach seemed to be the right one, under his leadership the Eskies became the template for success in Canadian Football.

They developed a talent pool that regularly went on to stardom across the CFL and into the NFL. Quarterbacks seemed to be the specialty of the Eskimo brand under the Cambpell watch, whether it was Wilkinson, Lemmerman, Moon, Dunnigan, Allen, Ray or a Maas and many others, something happened to an athlete when they donned the Green and Gold of the Eskimos. Leadership seemed to thrive in the huddle, secure in the knowledge that Campbell was content with the direction of the team.

Likewise the coaches that worked under Campbell found that the working in Edmonton was like a finishing school for aspiring head coaches, from Lancaster to Matthews and Faragalli many of the biggest names in the CFL passed through the doors that led to the Eskimo dressing room.

It must have been a frustrating year for Campbell to have watched as the Eskimos struggled to find their place in the CFL this year, missing the playoffs for the first time in 35 years. In an era when you want to got out on while on top, Cambpell left it one year to late, last years Grey Cup victory only a reminder of how far the Esks fell in one short year.

Still, perhaps the folks in Edmonton as dedicated to the Green and Gold as they are may be a tad spoiled. They had a remarkable run as the dominant team in Canadian football, one suspects it won’t be that long before they are again regularly terrorizing opponents in the CFL. But they will no longer be Campbell’s team, it was time for new leadership in Edmonton, even if that new boss, Ken Lelacheur was handpicked by Campbell himself.

Many critics over the years suggested that Campbell acted as though what was good for the Eskimos was good for the CFL. Considering the success of the Green and Gold over the years and some of the spectacular failures elsewhere in that same time, the league might have been a bit better off to submit to his will more often than not.

It’s a remarkable achievement Campbell can claim from his Edmonton experiences, he developed a belief in winning that became a fabric of the team. Perhaps that is why they take losing so hard; it’s alien to them, an unacceptable part of Eskimo football lore.

They can thank Hugh Campbell for making the Eskimos the team they were, the league can thank him for keeping the ship away from the rocky shores time and time again. His was a steady hand, when the more spectacular, loud and brash of the bosses would flame out and disappear.

The CFL watches one of the great ones step aside, one wonders if there are many others ready to pick up his torch?

The Campbell Files:

I think Huey has been the league
Hugh Campbell retires
Eskimos Campbell steps down
33 years of receiving, coaching and managing
Campbell kept his distance
Coach Campbell leaves a legacy
Huge cleats to fill
Game Over for Eskimos icon
Eskimos remember Campbell as pivotal to CFL's success
Give the man his due

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Is it a crack in the door, or the opening of the floodgates?

The NFL has announced that over the next sixteen years, its member franchises will be taking their home games on the road internationally. Each team will be expected to play one of its home games in a foreign locale over the length of the plan. It‘s a bid to develop an even wider audience (as if it’s really needed) for the most profitable professional sport in North America, if not possibly the world.

The announcement has once again brought up the prospect of an NFL invasion of Toronto the long desired dream of more than a few people of Southern Ontario. For certain one of these “home but road” games will migrate to the Rogers Centre, others are being considered for BC Place and either Calgary or Edmonton as the NFL looks at the vacation flyers from Canada, Mexico, England and parts of Europe and Asia as potential sites.

David Naylor sounds an alarm in the Globe and Mail, over the prospect of the NFL coming across the line and sending a chill up the spines of those that run the CFL. Perhaps a wee overstatement about a couple of NFL games that may stray north of the 49th parallel. He retraces the groundwork that the folks looking to bring a team north have done so far and how their plans continue to this day.

While Toronto may one day join the lodge, even that isn’t as much of a touchdown pass as the excited Torontonians might think, before Toronto will be considered there is still a matter of putting a team (or maybe two) into Los Angeles, not to mention a few other hotbeds of football that would move whatever it takes to bring the game to their hometown.

When the games come north, there’s no guarantee that they’ll be providing the on the edge of your seat kind of excitement that the NFL acolytes suggest. On the contrary more likely than not, an NFL Sunday regular season contest will be a low scoring, hard slogging bore fest, as the concept of offence sometimes gets left in the dressing room on any given Sunday.

Naylor sees the NFL games as a problem; it could just be another bump in what seems like a normally bumpy road for the CFL.

NFL coming to Canada not good news for CFL
ANALYSIS: When the show goes off without a hitch, it will be sending a chill up the spines of many in the CFL, DAVID NAYLOR writes
Globe and Mail
Thursday, October 26, 2006

There is no doubt what the reaction will be when the National Football League brings its first regular-season game to Canada in 2008.

No matter which teams are involved and how meaningful or meaningless the game might be, you can bet the house will be full, the energy will be electric and the fans will do their best to show they know a good thing when they see it.

There will be lots of glitz and lots of star power in a scene that will be beamed throughout North America and trumpeted as a success.

That's going to be a depressing day for a whole bunch of people who still cling to the notion that Canada's football of choice is the humble three-down variety, which continues to weather each and every storm that comes its way.

Yet for others, seeing an NFL regular-season game on Canadian soil will be viewed as one great step closer to the inevitable arrival of a Toronto franchise, a dream long held by many fans in Southern Ontario, not to mention the city's two most powerful sports entrepreneurs, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment chairman Larry Tanenbaum and Rogers Communications chief executive officer Ted Rogers.

It should be noted that the NFL's decision this week to play regular-season games in Mexico, Canada and Europe, beginning next season, is distinct from the notion of expanding or relocating a franchise outside the United States.

The vision of playing games beyond the U.S. borders was hatched under former commissioner Paul Tagliabue and handed off to his successor, Roger Godell. Under the formula approved on Tuesday, the NFL gets to put its toe into international waters without exposing itself to any degree of risk or upsetting the league's configuration as it now exists.

It just so happens this latest initiative coincides with a heightened sense that Toronto's quest for an NFL franchise may not be such a pipe dream after all.

First came this fall's public pronouncement that Tanenbaum and Rogers were teaming up with the shared intent of landing an NFL team for the city. That was followed by a report from Sports Illustrated football writer Peter King that a Canadian group (presumably Rogers and Tanenbaum) had attempted to buy the New Orleans Saints last fall with the intent of moving them north of the border.

That fact only fuelled speculation that Tanenbaum and Rogers are eyeing the Buffalo Bills, a team owned by 88-year-old Ralph Wilson and likely to be put up for sale after he dies.

Not insignificantly, Tanenbaum and Rogers are sure to be front and centre when the NFL regular-season extravaganza comes to Toronto.

Representatives of both men were in attendance when the NFL staged its first international game last season in Mexico City, where they openly lobbied for a Toronto game.

And when the show goes off in Toronto without a hitch, as it surely will, it's only going to improve the city's standing with the NFL for what may lie ahead.

All of which must be sending a chill up the spines of many in the CFL these days in what has been a lousy year for the league on several fronts.

CFL officials were supportive of the NFL's news this week, which they have known was coming for a while. The league long ago got assurances that the NFL would not interfere with the 2007 Grey Cup game in Toronto, for which it expressed great gratitude.

But by no means is this good news for the CFL, which continues to fight the good fight in what remains an uphill battle in Toronto. Simply put, the notion of having 55,000 fans pack the Rogers Centre for an NFL game while the Argos draw roughly half that number is hardly good optics for the league.

And it's likely to be enough to make many in the CFL consider the reality of an NFL team in Toronto and how the CFL might have to reinvent itself to survive in such a postapocalyptic football world.

Historically, the NFL has been happy to remain within U.S. borders, to build its game on the backs of American television and push its limits of growth on home soil. This week's vote wasn't a vote to end that philosophy. But it's certainly a hint that the league's long-held stand against a team in Canada might be loosening somewhat.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Does the CFL need a defensive game plan for the Grey Cup?

The Winnipeg Sun has done a little investigating in the last few days and found that there may be some questions that need to be asked about security precautions for Grey Cup Sunday.

Paul Friesen wondered aloud what kind of security force might be required for Winnipeg in this decidedly new and more cautious era for major sporting events. The Grey Cup is the single largest one day sporting event in Canada and in a world that has gone slightly mad of late, might make for a target for those that wish us ill.

While it's highly doubtful that Winnipeg would be number one on a terroirsts list of targets, its still a relevant question in this day and age, one that an anxious public might want to be reassured over. As the Boy Scouts might say Be Prepared.

His findings tend to suggest a more low key approach, with little to no federal involvement in matters of security, leaving it mostly a City of Winnipeg concern. You can check out the article below and decide if you share his concerns, or feel he may be looking for something that most likely isn't there.

The safety danceCops, club defend turf
Winnipeg Sun
October 21, 2006

It began innocently enough: a reporter watching the Canadian body bags continue to pile up in Afghanistan, and wondering.

Wondering about Canada's increased role in the war on terror.

Wondering how terrorists view our country today, compared to a few years ago. Judging by the roadside bombs and suicide attacks, they don't like us much.

And wondering how all of this affects the single biggest Canadian sports spectacle of the year, the Grey Cup.


Has the threat of a terrorist attack increased? If so, how does that affect security plans for the game, to be played right here, Nov. 19?

Of course, I didn't have the answers to these questions. So I went to an expert, George MacLean, a professor of political science and international relations at the University of Manitoba.

MacLean is a respected voice in the field, not a guy to fear-monger or blow things out of proportion.

The threat has definitely increased in the last 12 months, MacLean said, suggesting security for an event like the '06 Grey Cup should be stepped up considerably from previous years.

That means involving the military, intelligence agencies like CSIS, the RCMP and the federal and provincial governments.

Having one agency, the Winnipeg Police Service, running the show without those partners would be cause for concern, MacLean said.

Nothing against our own cops. They've done a fine job providing security for past events.

This Grey Cup, though, is a different animal.

Probably all Grey Cups from now on, too.

Not that a terrorist attack is imminent. Odds are still high against it. Canada's a B-list target, MacLean pointed out.

But we should prepare for the worst.

The Sun learned we might not be preparing for the worst.

Grey Cup organizers from the CFL and the host Winnipeg Blue Bombers said national security agencies were not involved.

The RCMP, the military and CSIS all confirmed they were not part of the security plan.

So MacLean's concerns went public, in Friday's Sun, and a torrent of backlash ensued.

The story's misleading, police said.

The reporter didn't do his homework, screamed the Bombers. Everything's under control, huffed the CFL.

And who's this so-called expert, anyway?

Funny thing is, nobody is saying the story is wrong.

The police defended their record of providing security for large events, even though that record doesn't need defending.

In the next breath, they said they couldn't divulge who they're working with.

Since when does naming the military, the RCMP or CSIS compromise security?

If this was all hush-hush, wouldn't those agencies have said, "Sorry, we can't talk to you?"

Instead, they said, "We're not involved."

It seems the CFL, the Bombers and even Winnipeg police are more concerned with defending their own turf than addressing MacLean's concerns.

They can shoot at the messenger all they want.

As MacLean said yesterday, at least they're talking about the issue.

Which was the whole point from the start.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Sunday, October 15, 2006

34 in a row, but not one year more

They are not taking the news that the Eskimos will miss the playoffs for the first time in 34 years very well in Edmonton today.

Many most likely feared that the Esks were just not going to make the cut this season, few probably actually had prepared themselves for the eventuality.

With two weeks still to go in the season, most probably figured that things would go down to the last game of the season and another last second drive to pull the game out of the fire. 39,553 in attendance probably figured that a visit from Saskatchewan in two weeks would be the ultimate test of the Esks resolve. Instead, they now have two weeks to vent and make plans for the playoffs, a second season that will not feature a green and gold participant.

Saturday afternoon, the Eskimos fell to the Toronto Argonauts 28-25, a game that highlighted many of the Esks troubles this year, untimely turnovers, missed assignments and a struggling offence all contributed to yet another loss on the season and elimination from the chase for the mug they brought home less than year ago.

Terry Jones who follows the Esks with a passion, wrote the obituary for a season. He has spent the majority of the season expressing concern for the most dominant football franchise Canada has ever seen, he certainly pulled no punches on the day that the CSI Edmonton force moved in to view the body..

Sad end to streak
Dysfunctional squad blows stunning run
Edmonton Sun
October 15, 2006

EDMONTON -- Official time of death: 3:43 p.m. MT, Oct. 14, 2006.
On the scoreboard: 13:46 of the fourth quarter.

One of the most remarkable records in the history of sports -- the Edmonton Eskimos' amazing 34-year run of making the playoffs -- died a miserable death at Commonwealth Stadium.
Quarterback Ricky Ray, who had ended the previous three years of his career here in a Grey Cup game, twice winning it, had the Eskimos in Toronto Argonauts territory with a chance to take a four-point lead and stay alive in the race for a crossover playoff spot.


Instead, Toronto's Byron Parker intercepted his pass and returned it 75 yards for a touchdown.
The run was done, made official with a 28-25 loss.

"I feel like a failure. It's the worst I've ever felt in my career,'' said the quarterback. "It was such a thrill reaching and winning those Grey Cups. To go from that kind of excitement and happiness to this ... this is the complete opposite. This is on the bottom.''

Ray said the last interception summed up the season.

"You want to be the one out there making the plays to win the games. We were never able to get the job done when it mattered.

"I feel bad. It's definitely not a good feeling. You definitely don't want to be on a team that ends the streak. The good part of it was that I was on a couple of championship teams to help to extend the streak. At least that showed me just how amazing that streak is.''

Was, Ricky. Was.

A crowd of 39,533 left the stadium infuriated with their team, not so much for the end of the streak as the way they played looking at their last life.

All good things have to come to an end. But it was hard to watch this team, this season and this embarrassing ending and believe this is when and how it should have happened.
The Toronto Argos didn't win this. The Eskimos made a mess of another one and added a bunch more bullet holes in their mukluks.

A team which had averaged 3.8 points in the first quarter this season challenged themselves to show up for this one game. And they didn't. They managed two points in the first 15 minutes. A safety touch.

Criticized all year for an ultra-conservative offence, not running one trick play all year, coach Danny Maciocia saved them all season to unload in this one.
Trouble is, none of them worked.

The difference, in the end, was Damon Allen's big play passes for 51 and 59 yards versus Ray's interceptions. A Tony Tompkins fumble on a punt return which turned into another touchdown didn't help Edmonton.

And then there was that last interception ran back for the touchdown.
"We had a bust on that play,'' said Maciocia.

The whole damn season was a bust. Maciocia was a bust. His coaching staff was a bust. The pre-game preparation for a team which never managed to do anything from the start of a game was a bust.

The Eskimos' dysfunctional in-transition setup was a bust. Paul Jones's scouting was a bust. The new import talent was a bust. Tony Tompkins was a bust. The special teams units were a bust. The on-training-wheels offensive line was a bust. The aging defensive secondary was a bust. The aging receiving corps was a bust. And three times in the last month Ray was a bust with the game there to be won.

The remarkable record run had to end. But it didn't have to end this year. It didn't have to end this way. It didn't even have to end on this day.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Pulling your leg in the Peg

The Charles Roberts retirement story is all the talk in Winnipeg these days, as the Bombers return from their bye week and prepare to hunker down and solidify a playoff spot. The Blue's running back last week took to the computer to pen a short but succinct farewell to the fans of the Bombers, suggesting that he was done come the end of the year.

Comments which caught not only the fans but the Bombers players, staff and management a tad by surprise. Now back in camp, it seems that Robert's claims he was only having a little fun with the fans, a laugh riot 0f a whoppie cushion tall tale, that he says was all in good fun.

Needless to say, the Bomber's don't need the distraction (though they did suggest that Robert's may be their version of a TO, not your best role model), so don't expect too much to come of it at the moment. But if he really wanted to put away the story for good, a contract extension signing might be the thing to calm down the Bombers fans.

Once again we thank seanincognito for the details and the heads up as to the wild and fun times at CanadInn stadium..

Roberts retires his e-mail
'Maybe he's our version of T.O.,' GM suggests
Wed Oct 11 2006
By Ed Tait

Winnipeg Free Press

IT has become the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' universal response every time Charles Roberts rants, throws a public temper tantrum or, in this case, posts a message on an Internet fan site saying he plans to retire after this season:

"Oh well... that's just Charlie being Charlie."

So while Roberts was teased mercilessly by teammates as the media chased him for answers about his retirement posting on OurBombers.com last week and head coach Doug Berry laughed off the episode as "harmless" yesterday, his act is apparently grating some VIPs within the organization.

"I wasn't laughing at it, not at all," GM Brendan Taman said. "I talked to him and he downplayed it, but these kind of things do wear on you after awhile. Look, you have to put up with it, providing he's productive and helping you win games. If he's not doing that and he's just an average player, then you have to weigh the pros and cons.

"If it becomes a problem for your team and organization, then you have to seriously think about what's going on. I don't think we're at that stage yet.

"Quite honestly, and this may be a bad example, but the first thing that comes to my mind is (Dallas Cowboys receiver) Terrell Owens. Maybe he's our version of T.O... and Charlie would probably love to have that comparison."

Maybe, maybe not. Roberts was certainly not enjoying the attention yesterday. When pressed repeatedly to confirm he made the posting, Roberts said:
"I don't know how it got on there. There's no retirement. I already said what I want to say: NO RETIREMENT."

He was one of the first Bombers off the field following practice and, after changing quickly, brushed off interview requests by heading to the washroom, then taking a call on his cellphone before escaping.

"Did you really think he would sit there and explain himself?" asked defensive tackle Doug Brown, with a grin. "C'mon, seriously. Dude, I've been here six years and I've heard he was retiring every year I've been here. I read that and thought, 'What's the big deal? I've heard it all before.'

"We love it. Guys were yelling, 'Charlie, is your 401K set up yet?' 'Don't retire... we need you.' "
Roberts did meet with Berry before practice yesterday and the diminutive tailback confirmed he did make the post. He also insisted he will not be packing it in after this season.

Roberts is 70 yards behind Calgary's Joffrey Reynolds in the race for the CFL rushing title and needs only 1,076 yards to pass hall of famer Leo Lewis to become the Bombers' all-time leader.
"Charles wanted to have some fun," Berry said. "He was just doing it all in a light attitude and he knew he'd provoke some attention, not only from people on the website, but also you guys in the media. He certainly has no intentions of retiring. None. I asked him about retiring and he said, 'No way, coach.'"

Asked if the whole affair was a possible distraction for the team as it prepares for Sunday's game in Hamilton, Berry instead suggested it rallied the squad.

"It gave everybody a chance to come back together with a focal point today, let's put it that way," Berry said. "Everybody was poking fun at him and Charles had to take it. It was good.
"I probably wish that he wouldn't have done it, but I don't really care. He didn't do it with any malicious intent and, after talking with him, I know he has no indications of retiring. None."

© 2006 Winnipeg Free Press. All Rights Reserved.

'Chuck Diesell1' tries to scat as laugh track plays
Wed Oct 11 2006
Randy Turner

Winnipeg Free Press

OH, that Chuck Diesell1 is a shifty one. To the left, to the right, a stutter step... and that was just leaving the field.

All those TV cameras and reporters in pursuit, chasing Charles Roberts off the stadium turf at the end of yesterday's practice in what can best be described as one of the most comical moments in Winnipeg Blue Bombers history.

All the while, Roberts' teammates taunting him from behind.

"Don't retire, Charlie!" one pleaded. "We need you!"

"You can break the (Bombers' all-time rushing) record," advised another.

Meanwhile, Roberts continued toward the locker-room with the media mob in tow, refusing to acknowledge what all the fuss was about -- a short e-mail under the pseudonym Chuck Diesell1 to the OurBombers.com website last week announcing he would retire at the end of this season.
That's right, Charles Roberts just officially invented the bye-bye week. Not that he was going to confess without a fight yesterday.

"I don't know how it got there," Roberts insisted, for some reason. "There's no retirement."
Well, it's true that there probably will be no retirement. But why Roberts continued to deny the obvious yesterday was bewildering.

Especially when Bombers head coach Doug Berry openly admitted to meeting with the enigmatic running back yesterday morning, where Roberts confirmed posting the e-mail "in good fun."

Got the fun part right. The Bombers clubhouse was a playground of delight yesterday as Roberts' teammates gleefully contributed to the cause.

"I'm not retiring," quarterback Kevin Glenn assured director of football operations Ross Hodgkinson, who was just passing by.

"Not everybody can say that," Hodgkinson deadpanned.

And they had a big laugh.

The only person in Bomberville who wasn't having fun yesterday was Roberts, who appeared more like the proverbial kid with his hand caught in the cookie jar.

"I got guys calling me 10, 12 times over the weekend. Damn!" Roberts said ruefully while he ducked behind a row of lockers before leaving the dressing room for parts unknown.

Here's the deal, though. For all the yuks that Roberts' posting created, there's a darker side to the frivolity.

You see, he can tell his coach it was all in good fun. And his coach can accept that answer. But that explanation doesn't even come close to passing the sniff test.

For starters, why wasn't Roberts smiling too? Probably because there's a reason for the retirement posting, made around 1 a.m. in the morning, that wouldn't be so humorous.

To wit, money.

Chances are that Roberts, who has never made secret his desire to earn more -- who doesn't want more? -- might have been feeling a little down about his current remuneration. Maybe the e-mail was triggered by the signing of receiver Derick Armstrong, who didn't come cheap.

Chuck Diesell1 might have thought: "Hey, I've been carrying the rock for this team -- and quite admirably at that, so why is some guy who just showed up getting as much as me or more?"
But that's the way the business works -- supply and demand. The Bombers desperately had the demand. Armstrong had the supply.

Which brings us to the merciless taunting from Roberts' teammates, whose collective smiles were the antithesis of their little buddy's stern face. After all, nobody can see through a contract power play like another football player, and they weren't about to let him get away with it unscathed.

The Bombers brass will play along for now, but the reason they didn't even bother to investigate the issue -- apart from the lame excuse that the e-mail could have been sent by someone else -- was that they didn't want to get sucked into what could be Roberts' veiled attempt to leverage more cash out of the club.

Hilarious, huh?

Bottom line: Charles Roberts is a great football player who is forever fighting for more respect, it seems. Or more money, although for some athletes, money and respect are the same thing, and perhaps that's true.

It's just that yesterday's little sitcom, although it had a laugh track, might not be so funny as a repeat.

That's why we're pretty sure that while Roberts didn't retire yesterday, Chuck Diesell1 did.

© 2006 Winnipeg Free Press. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Three steps forward, one step back

Ottawa’s bid to return to the CFL fold, took a bit of a detour on Tuesday, as Golden Gate Capital pulled out of the running for a CFL franchise in the nations capital.

Considered by many as the front runner for the bid, Golden Gate which had lined up Ottawa 67’s owner Jeff Hunt as their local point guy, had to pull their bid when one of their main investors become suddenly ill, reportedly with cancer.

The dynamic of the Ottawa bit now changes, with two current applicants still in the running and rumours of yet another group preparing to join in on the chase.

For Ottawa residents it’s just another twit in the seemingly haunted road that football in Ottawa must take. Many had hoped that Hunt and his fellow participants would be the lucky bidder, allowing Hunt to bring some local business acumen to a CFL team in Ottawa, something that had been missing in far too many owners over the years.

The loss of the Golden Gate group is considered a setback for the cause of football in the capital, so highly thought of was their bid by the locals. They now must turn their attention to the two others in the process, the ever colourful Frank D’Angelo and an American group fronted by Bill Palmer, father of former NFL visitor and current Alouette Jesse.

Neither of which at the moment is finding as much support as the Golden Gate bid had found in Ottawa. Having been burned by out of town investors in the past, the local tie in of Hunt to the Toronto based Golden Capital Bid seemed like the best of all worlds.

As for Hunt, left at the altar so to speak, he having invested quite a bit of energy into the project, is hoping to somehow stay involved in the process. A wise investor into the Ottawa market would take advantage of what he has to offer, it could very well be the difference between a success or yet another disappointing and potentially fatal failure.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

An enigma named Don

Stephen Brunt has a first rate look at the career of Don Matthews, most recently of the Montreal Alouettes. Brunt traces the career of the CFL legend and sure fire Hall of Fame member to be, including a pretty impressive recap of The Don's record of achievement.

From his nine Grey Cup appearances, five of which he won and regular appearance in post season play, it goes without saying that he was one of the dominant coaches in the legions of those that have stood on a CFL sideline.

From the media feuds, to his many stops along the CFL highway, Brunt gives the man his due, even if the man himself probably might have a problem with one or two thoughts along the way eh!

Brunt: The Don won't easily fade away

From Saturday's Globe and Mail
E-mail Stephen Brunt
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The circumstances surely weren't to his liking, but somewhere, Don Matthews must be enjoying the style of his departure from the Canadian Football League.

In a puff of smoke, he always said. One day he'd just be gone.
And now, he is.

You can never say never in his case, even when you're talking about a 67-year-old with "non life-threatening" health problems, given the bum's rush by the Montreal Alouettes on the heels of a win, with the team in first place and still very much in the hunt for the Grey Cup. There's that looming coaching vacancy in Hamilton, for instance, one of the few CFL cities where Matthews hasn't yet hung his hat.

In 2000, when the Eskimos gave him his walking papers for startlingly similar and similarly vague health reasons, the coach with the most wins in league history was supposed to be just as done as he is now. Instead, he moved east and appeared in three championship games in four years, winning one of them.

So there remains the slight possibility that it's not over yet.

But since there wasn't going to be a farewell tour or a goodbye news conference in any case, let's call this the (conditional) end of the line, and consider one of the more intriguing figures in the long history of a league chock full of them.

Though many thousands of words have been written about him over the years, Matthews doesn't tend to inspire the long view, never mind sentimental send-offs. That's mostly because the reporters in any town he left — and there were plenty of opportunities — were inclined to dance on his grave the minute he was gone.

That Matthews is a great coach is self-evident. It's not worth debating a record that stretches back to the Edmonton Eskimos dynasty, includes the CFL's foray into the United States and the best team in league history, the 1995 Baltimore Stallions, encompasses two of the greatest seasons of the league's greatest player, Doug Flutie, and culminated with a final stint in Montreal marred only by its unhappy conclusion. Nine Grey Cups, five wins, one season out of the playoffs. Add it up.

With a bit of luck, and perhaps a better knack for the sport's politics, Matthews might have been a great National Football League coach as well, or at least might have had a shot at proving himself in that arena. Certainly, he had more than a touch of the demagoguery that seems to go naturally with the NFL gig, a trait that in the more modest Canadian context played as simple arrogance. (When was the last time anyone fretted about whether Bill Parcells or one of his ilk was a nice guy?)

Matthews's relationship with the press, though you wouldn't know it right now, hasn't been quite so hate/hate as it has sometimes appeared. He knew how the game outside the game worked, and had moments when he played along, but also liked to toy with the boys and girls on the beat, to demonstrate that he was smarter than the average bear.

What emerged through those jousting matches was a character from fiction, The Don, who one might argue was rivalled only by Flutie and Michael (Pinball) Clemons, in terms of crossover recognition and the CFL.

What was lost in the process was the chance really to understand how his head worked, or to know the man behind the fa├žade.

In a very rare revealing conversation years ago, Matthews talked about the price he paid, about what he'd left behind in all of those coaching stops, about how it had made him less of a husband and less of a father than he ought to have been. Afterward, he was careful not to let his guard slip again, not to answer anything that he considered a "personal" question, not to open the door to anything that might have made him seem more human.

Easier to play The Don, to inspire fierce loyalty among those who played for him, to leave the public-relations exercises to other folks — such as Alouettes president Larry Smith, who this week sounded less empathetic than you might have expected from someone saying goodbye to a "sick" colleague.

As a result, we knew him but we hardly knew him, and that was fine with him. There will be a place in the Hall of Fame waiting when he's been gone long enough. Maybe by then, with a bit of time passed, it will be easier to give Matthews his due, and maybe by then he'll be more willing to accept it.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Save the Last Dance For Gee

For the last five days or so, the war of words between the Lions and the Stamps increased in bellicosity by the day. Trash talking a staple of professional football, turned into a segment of Dancing with the Stars, as the Lions Geroy Simon was under attack from the Stamps Nik Lewis and Jermaine Copeland over the ever popular Touch down pose that he makes after every touchdown he makes.

The Stamps were less than flattering in their comments, heating up the prelims to the Friday Night match and of course gaining as much media mileage as possible about the pose and the poser.

Once the ball got kicked however, the trash talking stopped and the thrashing began.

The Stamps were never really in the game, a showdown for First place and home field advantage for the CFL Western Final. The Lions simply dominated the game from the outset, Buck Pierce continued to prove his place among CFL Quarterbacks with a masterful display of moving the offence and putting points on the board.

Pierce scored Touchdowns on the run, threw the ball for touchdowns and handed the ball off for touchdowns, by the time the night was finished the Lions were free and clear with a 39-13 victory. And Geroy Simon factored in as a big part of the night’s success, picking up his 10th consecutive 100 yard plus night.

Simon picked up some key yardage on timely receptions and scored an early touchdown, allowing him to model the “pose” for all the Stamps and their fans. His efforts once again should solidify his place as an odds on favourite to be a trophy holder at the CFL awards show during Grey Cup weekend in Winnipeg.

And judging by the way the Lions are playing of late, there’s a very good chance that he will be bringing his entire team roster with him for the Grey Cup game itself. With perhaps the most anticipated and important game of the season on the line, it was all Lions. The Stamps were but mere viewers of the solid game plan from Wally Buono and his coaches, such was the control of the play by the Lions on the way to Buono's 200th career win.

Eventually, the Stamps turned to Danny McManus to lead the offence in a mop up affair late in the fourth. McManus out there merely to give the Stamps something to feel good about on a night that all seemed to go wrong.

McManus had his successes; he passed with authority leading the Stamps down the field only to be turned away on a third and goal stand by the Leos. By then the score 33-6 looked to be a lock and the Leos had only to kill off the remaining 3 minutes and thirty seconds.

But a late game turnover allowed the Stamps to end the game on a positive note for themselves as an interception in the Lions end of the field allowed McManus to work the Stamps down the field again, giving Joffrey Reynolds the ball to carry in for the only major of the night for Calgary.

The Stamps picked up the final score on the night, but the Lions and especially Geroy Simon gained the Final word and the Last Dance.

All that is left now to prove for the Leos, is the chance to go to the BIG DANCE, in Winnipeg in late November, something that seems awfully close after the solid whupping laid on the Stamps.

Results Week Seventeen

October 9--Toronto 28, Edmonton 23
October 9--Montreal 35, Saskatchewan 8
October 6--BC 39, Calgary 13

Roberts gives his notice on the net

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers were caught by surprise this morning after word got out that their talented Running Back Charles Roberts had announced that he was finished after this year.

Bomber GM Brendan Taman, was rather shocked to hear the tale of Roberts logging onto a Blue Bomber fansite chat board at OurBombers.com and sharing his post season plans with the Bomber faithful, before he sat down to share them with Bomber management.

Taman said that he believed all was well with Roberts, that he was happy in Winnipeg and that everyone was on the same page as the Bombers head for the playoff drive.

Taman who was en-route to Las Vegas for the weekend, will attempt to get to the bottom of the mystery upon his return. Perhaps it is just a pre-bargaining ploy by Roberts, although the Free Press checked its back issues and discovered a quote from 2004 where Roberts claimed that he would retire after 2006.

It will be interesting to see if he can be talked out of his decision, considering how important he is to the scheme of things in the Big Blue offence.

Our thanks to our friend seanincognito who holds down the fort in Bomber land, for the link and heads up on the percolating personnel issue in the Peg.

Blink blindsides Bombers
Star RB Roberts apparently posts message on Net that he's gonzo at end of season
Fri Oct 6 2006
By Ed Tait
Winnipeg Free Press

HE can be mysterious and perplexing, dramatic and intriguing all at the same time. That, in part, explains why for the past six years so many fans have been unable to take their eyes off the enigma that is Winnipeg Blue Bomber running back Charles Roberts.

And now there may be a new chapter...

Early yesterday morning and completely unbeknownst to team officials, Roberts apparently posted the following message on OurBombers.com under the thread title 'the end' and using his regular chat-room name 'chuckdiesell1':

'I would like to take this opportunity to inform everyone that at the end of the season I will be retiring from football. It has been a great six years and I appreciate all of your support.'

Roberts did not return repeated phone and e-mail messages from the Free Press, but a moderator at OurBombers.com confirmed yesterday the message came from the same address he has previously used to post on the board.

The news blindsided Bomber GM Brendan Taman, who last night was en route to Las Vegas for the weekend.

"I have no clue as to what this is about," said Taman from the Minneapolis airport. "He was in my office two days ago and we had a decent chat. I was just BS-ing with him and he brought up the fact he was thinking about living here year-round, which I thought was good for his marketing value and life outside of football. And then I hear about this and it's 'Wow!'

"The last time we talked everything seemed OK and now, apparently, something has been triggered where it's not OK. He's gone from talking about living here year-round to possibly, 'See ya later.' I don't know what to make of it. It's caught me totally by surprise."

Taman said he was unaware of any rift between Roberts or management and had no indication the five-time CFL all-star was planning to walk away from the game. That said, Roberts has often made his unhappiness public, from going AWOL as a rookie in 2001 over lack of playing time to going public this spring with his displeasure after the club signed former Minnesota Vikings running back Onterrio Smith.

It's worth noting that Roberts should not be unhappy with his involvement in the offence this season as he leads the CFL in carries with 244, a pace that would put him near his career high of 300 in 2004. Roberts has 1,305 yards rushing, just 40 back of Calgary's Joffrey Reynolds and on pace for the second-highest total of his career.

There has been speculation that Roberts is unhappy with his current contract, but that subject was not broached with Taman during their meeting earlier this week.

Interestingly, Roberts told the Free Press in October of 2004 that he planned on retiring after the 2006 season -- a statement few then believed he would honour.

And yet, earlier this season Roberts indicated he would like to retire as the Bombers' all-time leading rusher. He currently has 7,785 career rushing yards, trailing only Leo Lewis at 8,861.
"Until he comes into my office and tells me all this... to be honest, I really don't know how to react other than I hope he continues to play," said Taman.

"The disappointing thing is everyone is working toward getting into the playoffs. And now... if it's true it's like, 'Oh, brother.'"

© 2006 Winnipeg Free Press. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Don is done!

Where there’s smoke there sometimes really is fire! It was a couple of weeks ago that the Montreal Gazette first reported that Alouettes Head Coach Don Matthews wasn’t going to be on the Alouette sidelines for much longer.

It was a story that at the time was dismissed by Alouette executives, who claimed that Matthews had a job as long as he wanted it. Turns out that if true, Matthews may have only wanted it for a few more days, in a surprising development on Wednesday; the Als announced that Matthews had stepped down from his duties due to health concerns.

Roll back the clock a few years to his days in Edmonton and another press conference just before the 2001 season, where the Eskimo brain trust at the time told much the same story, Matthews was leaving his post due to unspecified health concerns. Shortly after that prognosis Matthews would be back in the CFL saddle, racking up wins and molding yet another franchise with his style of play.

The CFL’s dean of coaches, who has had remarkable success with six CFL teams (Toronto twice!) he won Grey Cups, finished atop the standings frequently and has crafted some of the most impressive records assembled in the CFL. He also was a rather difficult guy to get along with, especially with the ink stained wretches of the media.

The Al's GM Jim Popp, who two weeks ago told Brian Williams he had no plans to take over, actually does just that taking over the Als for the rest of the season, while the resumes begin to arrive. Already the names of Jim Barker, Danny Maciocia and Dave Ritchie, to name a few, have popped up as possible replacements for Matthews next year.

As for the Don, he always said when his time came he just wanted to walk off the field and disappear. If this is his final curtain call (and with Matthews nothing it seems is ever certain), it looks like he got his wish, whether he was pushed or walked away on his own steam remains to be seen. But as he exits the stadium he takes a pretty good record of success for a career with him, despite the hole that the Als are slowly trying to dig themselves out of as they head towards the playoffs.

More importantly he leaves in a whiff of mystery that will only add to his legend, something that might appeal to one of the most dominating coaches and more remarkable characters that the CFL has seen in years.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The final Snaps of October 2006

October 31 "I'm surrounded by great players."
October 30 "I want to win the Grey Cup, I want to be somewhere comfortable and I want be compensated"
October 29 "I have no regrets about not getting the record"
October 28 "and we're not playing next week"
October 27 "Boy, I wish I could stick around and watch the game"
October 26 "Once an Eskimo, always an Eskimo "
October 25 "I'm frustrated as hell"
October 24 "We have strict requirements from the league about what that has to look like on television"
October 23 "That was probably my best move"
October 22 "If guys aren't pumped now, they're never going to be pumped"
October 21 "I'm 31 now and it's still the only ring I have"
October 20 "I think any league - if you want to be credible - should have a drug test"
October 19 "It means a lot if you win the Grey Cup"
October 18 "When we make mistakes, most of them have occurred on the road"
October 17 ''But I think it's awful"
October 16 "It's football. It's an intense thing. When it's over, it's over"
October 15 "From what all the media says, that's what I gather"
October 14 "Technically, I suppose, we could still finish 10-8 here"
October 13 "The smartest thing [the Stamps can] do all week is just be quiet "
October 12 "I hope to get as many touches on the ball again"
October 11 "You say something about me, you'd better be able to back it up"
October 10 "We are committed to the Ottawa-Gatineau market"
October 9 "He was their offence"
October 8 "It's been a privilege to play under coach Matthews for five years"
October 7 "I don't want to get into all this because I want to enjoy this win"
October 6 "You've gone and got Ricky all mad"
October 5 "Is Don OK?"
October 4 "Edmonton is home for me now"
October 3 "How could it happen?"
October 2 "We were kind of like a wounded animal out there"
October 1 "It was just some trash talking, that's it"

Opening Kick Off's October 2006

October 31 Outstanding Player award not just for QB's
October 31 Als owner Wettenhall wants his Pound of flesh
October 31 Regular season TV ratings take a dip
October 30 Pinball prepares for Semi final Sunday
October 30 Glenn vows to be in Sunday lineup
October 30 Grey Cup is B. C.'s to Lose
October 29 LeLacheurs plans for Edmonton
October 29 Bye Bye to the bye
October 29 Bad night for the Blue
October 28 Argos blow chance for First
October 28 Bombers stumble as Glenn injured
October 28 Stamps study the history books
October 27 The record is secondary
October 27 Can you see us yet?
October 27 Down to the wire in the east
October 26 End of an era in Edmonton
October 26 Awards are nice, home field is better
October 26 Ti-Cats release Ranek
October 25 Joffrey rings the dinner bell
October 25 Roberts a four time nominee
October 25 Losing on the field, losing in the stands
October 24 Zebras under review
October 24 Time running out for problem solving
October 24 Nomination Day
October 23 The Eskie QB situation gets a new look
October 23 Road weary and worried about the road
October 23 Roberts in the running for awards
October 22 Roberts rushing to the title
October 22 Alarm clock rings in Toronto
October 22 Simon's quest coming up short
October 21 Esks late to the dance
October 21 Stamps go cold in the Peg
October 21 Cats season ends much as it began
October 20 Ten yards short and a million dollars away
October 20 Maybe we should call him O'Sack!
October 20 Record is in sight for Stegall
October 19 Leo the Bounty hunter?
October 19 It's Kick to win day for the CFL.
October 19 Dickenson rarin' to go
October 18 Maciocia to return to Edmonton
October 18 Pound picks CFL as next doping target
October 18 Glenn ready for the challenge
October 17 Bombers home playoff date might have to be a Grey Cup Game
October 17 Not just the players are working for jobs
October 17 For the Love of the game
October 16 Argos not happy with win, look to film to improve
October 16 Burris unburdened
October 16 Esks now playing for next years positions
October 15 The cost of Maas
October 15 Stamps secure playoff home date
October 15 A man with a mission
October 14 34 in a row but not one more
October 14 Pigskin Pete to pack it in
October 14 Stamps out to prove a point
October 13 Argos hope to keep attendance momentum
October 13 O'Shea closes in on milestone
October 13 Come on everybody lets do the Congi
October 12 Dickenson to sit out Sunday
October 12 More suitors for Ottawa
October 12 Stegall's shot at TD record delayed by a week
October 11 Stamps look for payback
October 11 Blue hope to clinch
October 11 Esks hope to build on Monday
October 10 Still in the Hunt
October 10 Roberts looks for the delete button
October 10 CBC faces questions on sideline mics
October 9 Williams and Avery hold their ground
October 9 Winning one for the Departed
October 9 Hard Times come for Eskimo football
October 8 Eskimos not impressed with Argo plans
October 8 Where to from here the question in Calgary
October 8 Win One for the Don
October 7 Happy to be an Eskimo
October 7 The unstoppable Buck
October 7 Double Trouble from the Double Blue
October 6 Esks hope to contain Williams
October 6 Untold story surrounds The Don
October 6 From Don to Dan?
October 5 The pressure of coaching
October 5 Success is all about depth
October 5 Argos plan a two back attack
October 4 The Don is done in Montreal
October 4 Lions shutting the doors on practice?
October 4 Dance Fever!
October 3 Baby comes first
October 3 Bye week blues for Bombers
October 3 Geroy's on call
October 2 Argos give thanks Williams able to play on Thanksgiving
October 2 Buck won't duck practice
October 2 League says officials made the right call
October 1 Stegall sidelined
October 1 Esks still alive
October 1 Same TO result for Stamps