The CFL: Yours to Kick Around

The CFL isn’t a lot of things.  It isn’t Hollywood;  it isn’t the Big Time; it isn’t the NFL.  It’s an eight team league that plays a variety of football not played anywhere else on the planet (unless there’s some sort of Bring Back the Posse tribute league in Vegas about which I have been shockingly undereducated).   The CFL is a league that is really only truly beloved in the hinterlands of a country that is itself more or less one giant hinterland.  Thus do the Toronto Argonauts perenially play their home games before a mostly empty stadium, while Taylor Field in Regina (that’s in Saskatchewan for you ‘Mericans  – oh, and um, Saskatchewan is a province of Canada) is crammed to the rafters with watermelon-headdress wearing, frighteningly pyrotechnic fans of the green Riders.

So yeah, the CFL is almost by definition parochial and, at least when compared to its counterpart to the south, the over-the-top, everything-would-be-better-if-we-just-had-more-Hank-Williams-Jr. musical introductory sequences (complete with dancing girls! exploding helmets! a jet-engine-loud soundtrack!) NFL – mercifully small-time.

That’s what the CFL is not.  As for what the CFL is, it is excitement.  Consider the final play of last night’s Argos/Alouettes game.   I’m not saying every CFL game ends this way  – it doesn’t – but CFL games are far more likely than NFL games to feature last minute heroics;  whereas the NFL is prone to endings that feature twenty-two enormous men standing around and watching the final minute of the game clock count down, the CFL much more frequently ends with a bang.  There is no better example of this than last night’s Argos/Alouettes game.

To set the stage, here’s what was on the line: the Argos needed a win last night to keep their hopes of hosting a playoff game alive;  lose, and they would have to beat their fiercest rivals, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, in Steeltown to advance to the Eastern Final.

Toronto erased a ten-point fourth quarter deficit, scoring the tying touchdown with 1:42 left in the game.  Continuing the list of “things you don’t routinely see in an NFL game”, the Argos were still throwing the rock when they got the ball  back.  Unfortunately for them, that led to a guy named Etienne (go ahead, search the NFL rosters, see if you can find one of THOSE down south) making an interception that allowed Montreal to be in position to attempt a game-winning field forty yard field goal on what figured to be the game’s final play.

Now, because this is Canadian football and is therefore exciting, it isn’t as simple as “line up and see if the field goal kicker can split the uprights from that far out.”  This is so because in Canadian football, teams can score a single point on a missed field goal, if the defending team is unable to advance the kicked ball back out of their end zone (or if the kicker is able to propel the ball all the way through the opposing end zone).  The bottom line is that the Alouettes didn’t need to make the field goal to win, they only needed the single point.  Meanwhile, the Argos had to hope like hell that the Als missed the field goal, and prepare to ensure that any missed attempt could be summarily ejected from their end zone.  Thus did the Argos have their  kicker Noel Prefontaine standing in the back of the end zone with receiver Mike Bradwell;  together, these two were tasked with corralling the ball on a a missed attempt and propelling it back out of the end zone to preserve the tie via the “kick out” play, which is exactly what it sounds like.  Prefontaine and Bradwell were to preserve the tie and keep the Argos’ hopes alive for a win in OT.  That’s not exactly what happened.

Instead, the final play of the game featured the ball being kicked back and forth FOUR TIMES in total, then finally being recovered in the Argos’ end zone by Montreal’s Dahrran Diedrick – for a touchdown.  To recapitulate: in just a few minutes, the apparent imminent outcome in regulation time veered from “easy Toronto win” to “tie game”, to “chip shot field goal for a Montreal win”, to “single point for Montreal win”, to “tie game”, to “single point for Montreal win”, to “tie game” and back to “touchdown, Montreal wins.”  Keeping in mind the importance of the game to fans in Toronto, Hamilton and Montreal, I can’t help but imagine how that play unfolded last night, with groups of people across the country alternately popping up off the couch and celebrating an apparent victory, only to be racked in the next moment by paroxysms of fear as their heroes seemed to about to suffer defeat in a rapid and vicious turn of fate.

I’ve embedded a YouTube clip of the play below.  Great stuff.  Show me an NFL game with anything like the wild swings of fortune in this play.

Stupid Is As Stupid Does

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Ticats Endangered in Hamilton by Stupidity

Ever had one of those days where you think to yourself, “Wow, I’m terrible at my job”?  Well never fear, you can make yourself feel better in the most human of all ways – by pointing and laughing at someone who’s even worse at their job than you are at yours.

I’m talking, of course, about Hamilton Ontario City Councillors.  And the Mayor.

Here’s the scenario:  The 2015 Pan Am Games are awarded to the Greater Toronto Area.  As part of the deal, the corporate entity hosting the games (“HostCo”) negotiates a deal with the federal and provincial governments, securing funding assistance for the building of certain venues.  Among these venues is a multipurpose stadium suitable for soccer events.    There’s one important proviso: money will be available from the feds and province for a soccer stadium provided the planned new stadium has a “legacy tenant”, somebody to use the fucking place after the 2 week Pan Am games are over. Hamilton gets targeted for, among other things, some of the soccer events.

The timing of all of this is like a gift from heaven for the City and its professional football franchise, the Hamilton Tiger Cats, because the Ticats currently play in an aging and decrepit facility that is difficult if not impossible to retrofit, and because it was unlikely the City and football team would be able to swing the construction of a new facility on their own.  Everything is falling into place: other governments are willing to help build an already needed stadium, provided things can be worked out to get the team that needs the new stadium to play in the planned new stadium.  Shouldn’t be hard, right?  All that remains is for the City of Hamilton to choose its proposed stadium site.

Cue the lunacy.  Ten sites are identified as possible Hamilton locations for the new stadium.  One of them – the West Harbour location – is identified as most beneficial to the City in terms of assisting with downtown redevelopment, but absolutely the worst for the Ticats.  The Ticats commission several studies, all of which tell them that they will struggle financially – or more accurately continue to struggle financially – if they go to the West Harbour location.  The Ticats express the importance of choosing  some other location to the City.  They express a preference for a location at Confederation Park.  The City resists.  A facilitator is appointed to mediate the dispute.  The facilitator agrees with the Ticats that the West Harbour site is not feasible for them, and recommends an alternative compromise site, something called the “East Mountain” site.

The Ticats are not thrilled, but indicate they are prepared to make it work.  The owner of the team even indicates he’s prepared to put $15 million on the table to assist with the funding, and to arrange for $59 million in additional funding to sweeten the pot for the City.

The City still wants its West Harbour site.

The owner of the team says in no uncertain terms that the Ticats will not play at the West Harbour site.

City Council votes and chooses – you guessed it – the West Harbour site.

So Council has recommended the one site that does not meet with the basic funding requirements, because it cannot boast an anchor or legacy tenant. No legacy tenant means there is a very real chance that no funding for the stadium will be forthcoming.  No funding means no stadium.  No stadium means no Pan Am games events and no economic development of any kind.  Aside from the profound embarrassment for the City that would result from a failure of this nature, such an outcome would represent a failure to move forward that is unlikely to be overcome in a generation.  City Council has made the one decision that results in the opportunity of a generation leaving town, likely to York University.

City Council has also thoroughly pissed off the Hamilton Tiger Cats and their owner.  As someone who’s been involved in a lot of community fundraising over the years, I can tell you this is horribly unjust as the Ticats, under the stewardship of Bob Young, have been tremendous corporate citizens and very responsible and caring contributors to the community.  The Ticats have a year and a half left on their lease at the charming, but inevitably obsolete Ivor Wynne Stadium.  The hope they had of moving to a new, more economically feasible, modern stadium in this City has been extinguished by the ridiculously short-sighted vote of City Council.  There is now a realistic chance that a team with 141  years of history in this city will be pushed out for no good reason.

“But wait, we can get a soccer team!  They’ll play at the new stadium!”  So sayeth the West Harbour types.  Not going to happen.  Bob Young, the owner of the Ticats, owns the rights to NASL soccer in this town.  The City better not be holding its breath for Bob to come riding in on a stallion to save their sorry behinds.

“But this is a victory for democracy! It’s about city-building, not a site for a football team!” So sayeth the West Harbour types.  Terrific and full of lofty principle, but it ignores the fundamental truth that there isn’t going to be a West Harbour stadium.  No stadium, no city building.  How is an embarrassing failure to achieve any of the objectives on the table a victory for democracy?

Ridiculous.  Embarrassing.  Ludicrous.  Hamilton politics all the way.

So go ahead, dear reader: walk in to your job tomorrow, drop your trousers and hop up on the photocopier glass.  Make a few thousand Xeroxes of your hairy ass and distribute them to your superiors.  Answer your phone by barking into it.  Answer each and every customer inquiry with the phrase “Robots.  Killer robots from the future did it.”  Remove your pants entirely.  Do the Stanky Legg every third step you take.  Insult a passenger, steal a beer and depart via the inflatable chute at the rear of the aircraft.   You can do all these things secure in the knowledge that, as bad as you are at your job, Hamilton’s Mayor and City Councillors are even worse at theirs.

Jesse Goes West.

The family jersey jinx is now complete:  yesterday, Jesse Lumsden’s days as a Ticat officially came to an end (he signed with the Edmonton Eskimos as a free agent).    Two summers ago, Spouse and I made a commitment to the team and ordered two official jerseys;  I ordered myself up one of Lumsden’s 28s. 

Spouse could not decide between Richie Williams’ number (she’s a sucker for the unsung hero)  and that of Dwight Anderson, the scrappy cornerback (she liked his flamboyant moxie).  We received our jerseys late one week and wore them proudly to a game against Saskatchewan the very next day.  Anderson lasted all of three quarters;  he punched a guy at midfield, got thrown out of the game and was promptly sent home for the rest of the season and told to enroll in anger management.  He never played another game for the Cats. 

I don’t wish Jesse ill, but I have to admit I kind of hope that he doesn’t have a breakout dominant season – the one all Cats fans fear he should have had for the Black and Gold, but which he never managed as a result of injury.  He seems like a good guy, but the Ticats have had such rotten luck over the past couple of years, I just couldn’t stand it if Lumsden finally shook off the injury bug and ruled the world with a broad two-handed sword;  my tolerance for “number of indignities suffered by struggling sports franchise I follow” may just be reaching my maximum operating limits given the last few years of Maple Leaf hockey.

On a positive note, I was encouraged to see that the Cats’ schedule includes fewer midweek games this year;  hopefully, Spouse and I will be able to make it down to more games as a result (the midweek games made it difficult for us to work, go home, feed the dog, turn around, drive back downtown, cheer the Cats to a massive defeat and then return disheartened to Juniorvania).

The Cats and the Hats

I’m going to interrupt my own fishing story here to mention two unrelated things.

First, the Ticats lost to the Roughriders on Saturday afternoon, but miracle of miracles, the Tabbies were in the game right up until the end against the Grey Cup Champs. Games in which the hometown side meaningfully participates have been kind of rare around here for the last few years, and especially so in the early months of the season. As this highlight package shows, the ‘Cats battled back after being down by more than a touchdown on a couple of occasions, and they actually had the lead with a minute and a half to go. The visiting champs, though, had luck on their side – a first quarter field goal that followed a glide path designed by M.C. Escher, a critical second quarter fumble in the so-called “red zone” by the hometown monster-back Jesse Lumsden, a series of ill-timed penalties that got the visitors a major late in the first half, and finally, an incredibly obvious blown call by the officials that sealed the Ticats’ fate. Jykine Bradley‘s hustle and effort to chase down the ‘Rider player from behind (the guy who was seemingly on his way in to the end zone unchallenged for the winning score), punching the ball out to cause a fumble – that was an amazing feat of determination. It’s a shame that the official who was standing right there blew the call so badly. That guy’s buddies should get a refrigerator-sized enlargement of a picture showing him with his arms upraised and signalling “touchdown”, with the ball clearly being fumbled by the Saskatchewan ball carrier – and post it on a wall across from the guy’s house for the next six years, just to remind him what a colossal fuck-up he committed. Although there were reasons for concern – one might legitimately point out that the Ticats could have won the game if they were simply able to make another first down, and that it might have been possible to choose a more inventive play than “Lumsden up the middle” on second and four with the game on the line and everybody in the building expecting Jesse to get the ball. One might also point out that the ‘Riders might have had the winning touchdown if their slotback hadn’t tripped and fallen when he was wide open on the second-last set of downs run by the Green Riders’ offence, or that a six-yard completion on second down with a minute and a half left should NOT be permitted by the Ticats’ defence to turn in to a sixty yard pass and run touchdown play in that situation.

It says here though that – all things considered – these criticisms would be nothing more than nitpicking right now. Instead, there are a great many positives to be taken from Saturday’s game: the play of Lyle C. “Tre” Smith (his kick returns alone were a major factor in the game, consistently giving the Steeltowners excellent starting field position), the determination of a defence that rose to the occasion on several key series to derail the ‘Riders’ offence, create two-and-outs and give the offence a short field to work on, and little things like (in addition to Bradley’s play) the play of DB Chris Thompson, who in addition to hustling back to force a Saskatchewan receiver to drop a sure touchdown in the endzone, made a timely interception on the play immediately following a Ticats turnover. The bottom line is that the game was thoroughly entertaining, and Spouse and I haven’t felt so engaged by a Hamilton team in the three years we’ve been going to games together; these guys are hustling and playing like they believe they can win. Let’s hope they do win a few, but I will gladly go back to watch another game like the one Spouse and I saw on Saturday, win or lose.

A couple of quick photos – here’s one of Jesse taking the ball off tackle right.

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Here’s my favourite picture of the day; a nice-enough looking lady, likely somebody’s grandma, decked out in her proper finery – including yellow hat with a giant “Argos Suck” button affixed to the brim:

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Second, it was my birthday today and I have an update for you on this post. You may recall that I whined somewhat about the fact that I was destined to be operating the new tractor without a suitable chapeau. Well, Spouse is apparently many things, including an attentive reader: she came through in flying colours and when I awoke to her dulcet tones imploring me to have a Happy Birthday this morning, the accompanying bag o’ gifts included (amongst other tractor-related swag) one green ball cap emblazoned with the J.D. logo. I was almost sorry I had cut the lawn yesterday, denying me the chance to saddle up immediately with my new haberdashery.

Spouse headed off to the barn to ride Ralph, and Popeye and I headed down to the road to pick up the mail from the box. When I reached in and retrieved the day’s delivery, there was a letter from the tractor manufacturer.  It was a letter of thanks for purchasing a JD, and enclosing a little coupon redeemable for a fitting token expression of the gratitude of the John Deere company of Moline, Illinois.

The coupon may be exchanged for a free green and yellow “John Deere” ball cap.

Zombies and Dimwits.

Another great post from Theory of Ice. Describing Sunday’s Habs/Bruins game, e says that she has been told that Sunday’s game is what playoff hockey is all about. In particular, she says the game was:

…[f]ast but claustrophobic, conservative but chaotic, tidy at the core and sloppy around the edges. Imagine a ballroom dance competition being attacked by a legion of zombies; everyone frantically trying to fend of the ravenous undead with folding chairs and feather boas while simultaneously struggling not to miss a step in their foxtrot routine. This game was a lot like that, only weirder.

Bullseye! I’d like to see that as the new marketing slogan for the NHL – “a ballroom dance competition being attacked by a legion of zombies”.

Seems to me that maybe e ought to be working in the marketing department of a certain team from our Nation’s Capital instead of the lunatic who dreamed up the little bit o’ pantomime that preceded last night’s Pens/Sens game, a laughable addition to the already putrid recent on-ice operations of the Bytown gang.

What was the thinking with that little bit of theatre? I am no fan of trash-talking goofball players, but it’s infinitely more acceptable for dimwit players to flap their gums than it is for the flying saucersuits to ramp up the chutzpah for them. That’s what was so weird about Ottawa’s waiter-by-day, tortured-artiste-actor by (occasional) night standing bare-chested (what, Sens army is too cheap to pony up for even a fake breastplate?) at centre ice, gripping somebody’s little brother’s flying saucer and waving a cocktail sword; none of the actual Ottawa players were participating in that little demonstration of hubris, it was all actor-guy barking out empty threats that (had we been able to hear them – nice job, Ottawa tech department!) were probably drafted by a committee. Why can’t the corporate marketing types who are pulling the levers behind the curtain on the Amazing Entertainment Machine of sports get it through their thick freaking heads that no team – NO TEAM – should be pounding their chests and boasting when everybody and their little sister knows you stink like nobody’s business.

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats were guilty of spewing this kind of hot air last year – yes, the very same Ticats who went 3 and 15. The same Ticats who were eliminated from playoff contention – in a league where six of the eight teams qualify, mind you – during the singing of the national anthem at their first game. The Cats had this genius promotional idea that they would play a crappy video on the giant screen in the west end zone at all their home games; according to the video, it was “Hammer Time.” What exactly the enigmatic and arrogant video meant to convey through these claims remained unclear throughout the season; it certainly had nothing to do with punishing defence, powerful offence or successful football of any kind being demonstrated by the Cats. While the video was playing on the screen, at some arsehole’s seriously misguided direction, the Tiger Cats players would run on to the field and gather at midfield around a ceremonial sledgehammer (no, I’m NOT kidding) in embarrassment, neither looking the fans nor their opposition as everybody had a good laugh at the hilarious idea that any other team might be intimidated by this phony and farcical display of so-called Tiger-Cat power. I felt sorry for the players, having to participate in that charade.

In what world did the Senators have any business sending that sad-sack excuse for a thespian out there to trumpet the will and determination of “Sens Army”? Was it the fact that the Army was so massively dedicated that they weren’t even buying all the tickets to the game? Is it the team’s historical propensity for crapping the bed in the playoffs? Perhaps, you might say, the Sens were entitled to make a little noise owing to the vigour of their late-season play, which was so astonishingly good that they would have missed the playoffs entirely if Carolina could have managed two freaking points against Florida on the final weekend of the season? Or maybe it was the Senators’ failure to mount any kind of a credible effort whatsoever during the two initial games of the series in Pittsburgh?

As an aside, why was Marvin the Martian doing that ridiculous speech with some sort of vaguely British accent? Did every Roman centurion in Ye Olde Days of Roman Hockey sound like Michael Caine with a mouthful of marbles?

In the end, what a perfect metaphor it was for the Senators’ entire season: a man in a skirt failing miserably to make a statement at centre ice, in the middle of the team’s biggest moment.

Roughies Poetry Contest, v. 2.0 (or is that Roughies Poetry Contest ME ?)

You may recall when I did this:

Announcing today, the First Annual HiR:tb Saskatchewan Roughriders Poetry Contest. Entries may assume any lyrical or poetic form; your creativity should know no bounds in this matter. Send us your haikus, your limericks, your sonnets and couplets; gather together your spondees, trochees and whatever pentameter you can scrape together, be it iambic or otherwise, and bend all of these elements to your noble purpose: the celebration of anything related to the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Difficulty: No rhyming the word “Regina”. I’m trying to keep this place relatively clean-like.

The total number of submissions received so far, according to the crack combined Accounting, Correspondence and Bottle Return Department (3rd floor, past the washroom, in the back behind the photocopier) is, to say the least, rather underwhelming: zero.

Accordingly, I have decided to extend the deadline for the competition; originally, there was a cut-off date of March 10th, 2008. That deadline has been extended to March 31st, 2008. Submissions should be sent here. In the meantime, I thought I’d offer you up a l’il sumpin’ sumpin’ to get the creative juices flowing. I have crafted a limerick.

Ahem. “A po-em”:

There was a young ‘Rider it seems
Who’d satisfied championship dreams
But his grace on the field
To profits must yield,
To the Argos you’re off now, switch teams!

Readers are responsible for dealing with their own tears, be they of joy, sadness or shame.

Update: (March 11, 2008):   I am sworn to secrecy, but verily my limerick has prompted a veritable outporing of creativity.  Okay, maybe not so much an “outporing”, but we do have a submission.  So don’t be shy – you won’t be the first any longer.

WTF, Roughies?

TSN is reporting tonight that the Saskatchewan Roughriders have traded last year’s Most Outstanding Player in the CFL, quarterback Kerry Joseph, to the Toronto Argonauts.

That trade is a little weird from a couple of perspectives. Who trades the reigning Most Outstanding Player? Secondly, the Boatmen just finished resolving a quarterback controversy last year, when Michael Bishop (apparently permanently) inherited the reins of the Argonaut offence from All-Time-All-World-All-Star Damon Allen, who seemed to finally succumb to the laws of the universe and began showing his age. Result? Seems to me that the Boatmen have a logjam in the pivot position again.

Meanwhile, the new Tiger Cats GM Bob O’Billovich has been quietly making a number of signings and trades – receivers, receivers, defensive backs and a running back. So far, I am impressed – but a little disappointed that defensive back Dwight Anderson has been released – Spouse and I bought Ticats jerseys late last year, and Spouse couldn’t decide between Richie Williams’ number and Anderson’s 28. I made the executive decision that it was poor form to purchase the third string quarterback’s jersey, so the order went in for an Anderson. I am convinced the Cats are going to be a better team this year. Whether or not they make the playoffs, I think, has more to do with how improved Montreal is over last year. The improvement in Montreal is probably most highly dependent on Anthony Calvillo’s situation – he left the team late last year because his wife was seriously ill.

The first time Spouse wore it to a game, he promptly got involved in an on-field donnybrook with some Saskatchewan Roughriders, got thrown out of the game and following a confrontation with the Head Coach Charlie Taafe, was let go.

Update:  Spouse points out to me that I’m an idiot – Anderson wore number 20 – Lumsden is #28.  Good thing she’s around to identify my idiocy.

Now soliciting submissions…

I happened to check the stats for the site earlier today, ’cause I’m like that. One area of my little WordPress dashboard stats screen caught my attention, the area showing what terms people were searching on when they landed here at HiR:tb. Here’s a screen cap:

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Announcing today, the First Annual HiR:tb Saskatchewan Roughriders Poetry Contest. Entries may assume any lyrical or poetic form; your creativity should know no bounds in this matter. Send us your haikus, your limericks, your sonnets and couplets; gather together your spondees, trochees and whatever pentameter you can scrape together, be it iambic or otherwise, and bend all of these elements to your noble purpose: the celebration of anything related to the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Difficulty: No rhyming the word “Regina”. I’m trying to keep this place relatively clean-like.

I will arbitrarily set a deadline for entries – let’s say entries must be received no later than March 10th, 2008 – and I’ll pick a winner in whatever capricious manner I can dream up. There might even be some kind of a lame prize, if I feel sufficiently moved by your Roughrider Rhapsodies. Email your entries here.

Come on gang, let’s not disappoint the troubled soul searching for a “Saskatchewan Roughriders Poem”.

23-19! 23-19!

Decontaminated!No doubt, the final score on Grey Cup Sunday had some unfortunate consequences for some of the denizens of Monstropolis.  Come to think of it The Flame wouldn’t look terribly out of place with those guys…

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Categorized as CFL

The Flame in the Big Smoke

The Flame made an appearance on CBC Sunday this morning! Talk about momentous occasions. It’s a little hard to actually see the plume of flame pouring out of the torch on top of his football helmet, but this is the best I could do with limited video colour correction skillz.