Time For Some Hockey: Rogers Announces Its Announcers

Rogers Sportsnet now owns hockey in Canada. Yeah, yeah, TSN will have the regional broadcasts of Leafs, Jets and Sens and Hockey Night in Canada will still exist — at least as a place for Rogers to pump out Saturday night games.

However, the NHL now belongs to Rogers in Canada, and the names of the people who will bring you hockey this season have either been announced or Tweeted by the broadcaster.

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Like a comfortable old shoe: Bob Cole.

Here’s how the lineup will shake down. I’ll leave it to you as to whether you feel its worth a listen or you’d be better served by the use of the mute button on the remote.

Former TSN types Paul Romanuk and Dave Randorf have been  brought over to do play-by-play and lead CBC bingo caller Jim Hughson will also join the Rogers team. I do have to admit that I’m kind of excited about Bob Cole joining the crew. Sure, he isn’t as good as he once was. He barely knows the players, but he’s still Bob Cole and when I’m on the road and I hear his voice, I feel like I’m home.

Many of the 40 or so hockey broadcasters were already with Sportsnet, but there have been a handful of recruits including Mike Johnson, who was a rising star at TSN, but I never sensed he watched the very much when he wasn’t working a game.

George Stromboulopoulos (Hockey Night in Canada) and Ron MacLean (Rogers Hometown Hockey) from CBC will be the main hosts. Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek and Darren Millard, and former NESN anchor Leah Hextall will be the hosts on the other nights . Marek will remain host of Sportsnet’s CHL telecasts.

The analysts will be Johnson, Craig Simpson Glenn Healy and Gary Galley while the reporters will be Arash Madani, Roger Millions, Dan Murphy, Gene Principe and Chris Simpson. Cassie Campbell-Pascall and Scott Oake join the crew from the old Hockey Night in Canada.

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Winnipeg’s own Scott Oake

The studio analysts include Don Cherry, Damien Cox, Elliotte Friedman, Glenn Healy, Kelly Hrudey, Billy Jaffe (?), Mike Johnson, Chris Johnston (?), Nick Kypreos, Doug MacLean, Scott Morrison, Darren Pang, John Shannon, Mark Spector and PJ Stock from HNIC. That is a lot of people.

What all this means is that the same voices will occupy the same places but you’ll simply see them on a different number on your monitor. If you already like what you see, you won’t really notice the difference.



NHL Expansion in 2017 All Started With 140 Characters

It started with a Tweet. Howard Bloom, a guy I’ve done some radio with in the past, Tweeted that the NHL will expand by four teams in 2017. He sent out the Tweet right after Tony Gallagher wrote in the Vancouver Province that a plan for a franchise in Las Vegas was “a done deal.”

I’m inclined to believe Gallagher first, but neither “report” seemed terribly realistic. Regardless, the North American hockey media crapped itself.

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The planned new arena in Las Vegas.

Everybody with a telephone — including me, by the way — called the NHL office and got, “There is no change to our plan for expansion which is to say that we have no plan to expand at this time.”

That came from assistant commissioner Bill Daly’s office.

Now, I don’t necessarily believe the NHL office either, but I do know this. Moving to Vegas where the MGM Grand and AEG are building a $350 million rink to house, I don’t know? Cirque de Soleil travelling shows? seems like a realistic conclusion. The NHL already holds its awards night in Las Vegas and Gary Bettman likes the city.

Trouble is, despite Bloom’s contention that the expansion fee will be $350 million US (the Winnipeg Jets ownership group purchased the Atlanta Thrashers franchise for $170 million and that included the NHL’s relocation fee), there is no current ownership group in Las Vegas and certainly not an owner that has been approved by the NHL’s Board of Governors. Oh yeah, and there hasn’t been an expansion fee established yet, either. And, by the way, no one is scrambling to put an NHL franchise into a city where the largest casino conglomerate, Caesar’s, is currently carrying a $23.5 billion debt (that’s billion with a b, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal) and most of the people who work in the city are actually working when the games are being played.

Bloom went on to suggest that by 2017, the NHL will expand into Quebec City, Seattle and Toronto. That’s right. According to Bloom, the Leafs are going to happily give up their territorial rights to another team (they already did it for Buffalo 40-odd years ago) and what? Share the Air Canada Centre with them? There is always a lot of talk about a new arena in North Toronto, but the shovels aren’t in the ground yet. Hell, the shovels aren’t out of the garage yet.

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The new arena in Seattle. This picture with appropriate architects notes represents the total amount of construction that has been completed to date. (Used with permission)

Meanwhile, we’re told there is a group interested in owning a team in Seattle, but the city and state have not yet committed to a new arena because the city wants its NBA franchise back first.

So to say the NHL won’t be expanding is probably false. (Although, the league still has fan-base and financial issues in Buffalo, Florida, Columbus and Nashville and remember, there was a decent team once in that nice big arena in Atlanta.) However, to say four teams will be added by 2017 is about as likely as Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment giving a new ownership group half the hockey rights at the ACC. And, as we all know, that’s just laughable.

In the meantime, there is nothing more fun than reading pure, unadulterated bull-pucky in less than 140 characters.



For the Bombers, A Shot of Reality Arrives From the West

Now it gets tricky. After starting the season 6-3 with five of six victories against the sad-sack East Division, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have to get ready to head into Regina for the Labour Day Game and a second half loaded with West Division opponents.

To their undying credit, the Bombers have taken fill advantage against teams that are not very good. Now, they have to buckle up the chinstrap and play teams with legitimate talent and with legitimate Grey Cup hopes.

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Facing the Riders in Regina won’t be as easy as facing Montreal at IGF. (Photo by Jeff Miller)

It won’t be quite as easy.

They say the Canadian Football League season doesn’t really start until Labour Day and that will definitely be true for the Bombers in 2014. The team has combined a new approach with some late-game heroics and a schedule loaded with Eastern opponents to carve out a 6-3 record that can’t be taken away.

The Bombers are 5-1 against the East. They’ve beaten Toronto 45-21 at Investors Group Field, beaten Ottawa 36-28 at IGF, edged Montreal 34-33 at Molson Stadium, edged Hamilton on the last play of the game 27-26 at McMaster, lost to Toronto 38-21 at Rogers Centre and then came from behind to put up 16 points in the fourth quarter and beat Montreal 24-16 at IGF.

Against the West, the Bombers have gone 1-2: They beat B.C. 23-6 on the coast but lost two games at home, 26-3 against Edmonton and 23-17 to Saskatchewan.

Here’s the scoop – and we’re going to beat this horse again: the Bombers are 4-0 against three teams that are 3-2. That’s right, they’ve beaten Hamilton (1-6) once, Ottawa (1-7) once and Montreal (1-7) twice.

The Saskatchewan loss is the Bombers concern for the next two weeks. In that game, the Bombers defense did a great job against Darian Durant and the Riders, but the offence didn’t get a sniff against John Chick (who had three sacks) and Riders D. Bombers quarterback Drew Willy tossed up three interceptions, one for the late pick six that won the game for the Riders. In total, the Bombers turned over the football seven times – three INTs, three fumbles and one time downs. The Riders also had five sacks.

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Drew Willy better fasten his chinstrap. (Photo by Jeff Miller)

It was a terrible loss in which the Bombers offence accounted for all 17 of Winnipeg’s points, but also 14 of Saskatchewan’s. In fact, Bombers quarterback Drew Willy was under centre for all four touchdowns scored in the game.

If the Bombers can get the same performance that they got from the defense on Aug. 7 at IGF, they have a chance this weekend. But if the O-line allows Willy to take five more sacks and the Bombers turn the ball over seven times, it could get ugly. The Bombers have lost nine straight Labour Day Classics and Las Vegas figures they’re going to get hammered this week. The Riders are favored by 5 ½ points.

It’s a big two weeks for the Bombers, but it’s also a huge 10 weeks to finish the season (they have the byes in Week 13 and Week 20). At 6-3, the Bombers have already had a great year (don’t forget, they were 3-15 last year), but they’re in fourth place in the West behind 7-1 Calgary, 7-1 Edmonton and 6-2 Saskatchewan. Over the next nine weeks, the Bombers play Saskatchewan twice, B.C. twice, Calgary twice and Edmonton once.

It’s Labour Day Weekend. Canadian football starts to get really, really serious.

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Grigsby had better be ready to grind it out. (Photo by Jeff Miller)



Cassel Will Start for Vikings in Game 1

It’s hard to imagine anybody was surprised on Monday when head coach Mike Zimmer told his Minnesota Vikings players that veteran Matt Cassel would start at quarterback in Game 1 against the Rams.

I would doubt even Teddy Bridgewater was surprised.

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Matt Cassel, No. 1

After a 10-day training camp and three-weeks of pres-season football, the first-year head coach of the Vikings did what any first-year NFL head coach would do – he chose the veteran.

According to reports, Zimmer told the players that the 10-year NFL veteran “had earned the confidence of his teammates and had played well enough in his three weeks of pre-season play to maintain his position as the team’s No. 1 quarterback.”

This was a no-doubter. Cassel played with the first team against the opponents’ first-teams and he played well. He completed 26-of-39 passes for 367 yards, two touchdowns and an interception during the first three preseason games in August.

During the last three weeks, Bridgewater was tremendous for a rookie. The Vikings second first-round pick (32nd overall) was almost flawless against the second- and third-teamers in the pre-season. He had no turnovers and a 117.1 passer rating.

Bridgewater was not at all disappointed about the coach’s decision.

“As I stated once I got drafted, I felt like this was the perfect situation for me,” Bridgewater told NBC Sports. “Right now, I’m just able to learn, sit back and continue to learn, but also learn and prepare myself as a starter because as a backup you’re one play away from being out there on the gridiron with the guys.”

Why should he be disappointed? He isn’t stupid. As well as he played, he did it against college players, arena football hopefuls and guys just trying desperately to hang on. He was good, but he didn’t have guaranteed starters chasing him around.

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Teddy Bridgewater

As well, Cassel is a veteran who has completed about 60 per cent of his passes as a professional. He has a brand new two-year $10 million contract and he’s safe. He started six games for the Vikings last season. He also started the last four of the campaign.

Zimmer, who needs to fix 5-10-1 right now, knows what he’ll get from Cassel, even though his No. 1 QB hasn’t been given an opening day start for three seasons. He has no idea what he’ll get from Bridgewater.

That’s why Cassel played almost three quarters against Kansas City in the Vikes third pre-season game, a 30-12 shellacking of the Chiefs.

He went nine-for-17 for 152 yards, one touchdown and one interception and the Vikings were leading 20-5 when he left the game.

“At this stage and where we’re at right now, that’s the best thing to do,” Zimmer told nfl.com. “I told Teddy this morning that I’m so happy he’s here with us. We like everything that he’s done. It wasn’t anything that Teddy did or didn’t do. Teddy will be, still, in my estimation, a great player for this franchise for years to come.”

That’s true and who knows, he might be a great player before this season is over. Zimmer, a defensive guru, told reporters that he will treat the quarterback’s position like any other on the team. If Cassel plays well, he’ll keep playing, if he doesn’t, Zimmer says he won’t hesitate to give him the hook.

 Cassel Will Start for Vikings in Game 1

Matt Cassel, he won the job and he’s safe.

Of course, there is also one other issue. This week, the Rams lost Sam Bradford for the season with a torn ACL and the Panthers Cam Newton with a fractured rib. Quarterbacks tend to get hurt a lot and the Vikings not only need Bridgewater to be ready to go in as the team’s No. 1, but they also need Christian Ponder to be ready to become No. 2 if Cassel goes down.

Zimmer’s decision on Monday was not a surprise. It would have been surprising if Bridgewater had been offered the job.

Whether it was the right decision remains to be seen, but one thing remains certain: It doesn’t matter who plays quarterback for the Vikings if the defense isn’t a whole lot better than it was last year.



CFL’s Newest Defensive Star: Winnipeg’s Steele Terrorizes Argos

University of Manitoba Bisons quarterbacks coach John Makie was one of those guys who saw greatness in Eddie Steele before Eddie knew it himself.

“We were doing a training camp drill with the Bisons in 2006 or 2007 and Eddie was this hotshot rookie from Kelvin,” Makie said. “Eddie was a chunky, 300-pound defensive lineman and he was goofing around playing safety. So I threw a pass, it was an out, to one of the fastest receivers on the team and out of nowhere, this 300-pound defensive lineman closed on the receiver and batted the ball away. Everyone was shocked. People had no idea how fast he was. Eddie Steele is one of the best athletes I’ve ever seen.”

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Eddie Steele (Photo by Jeff Miller)

On Saturday, the Toronto Argos wished they’d never seen Steele at all. The former North Winnipeg Nomads lineman who has said he’d love to play for his hometown Blue Bombers someday, did a number on the Argos at Commonwealth Stadium.

Now in his second year with the Edmonton Eskimos, the 26-year-old Steele had five tackles, a special teams tackle and a sack as he led the Eskimos to a 41-27 victory over the Argos on Saturday afternoon. With the win, the Eskimos improved to 7-1 while the Argos fell to 3-6 but remained in first place in the CFL’s sad-sack East Division.

For Steele, who now has 23 tackles and three sacks this season, it was just another day at the office. The former University of Manitoba Bisons star who began his CFL career in Hamilton, is now a comfortable starter in the Eskimos re-built defense this season.

Not the most imposing football player you’ve ever seen in your life, Steel is almost 6-foot-2 and he weighs 270 pounds. Strong as an ox and extremely quick, he uses exceptional footwork and the heart of a lion to beat larger offensive linemen to the quarterback.

Steele, whose father Leroy Steele played with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, didn’t start playing organized football until he was 13-years-old. He was in Grade 8 at the time and he showed up at the North Winnipeg Nomads field looking to play his dad’s game.

“My dad’s family came from Trinidad & Tobago and soccer was No. 1 when they arrived in Canada,” Steele said. “But my dad loved football, went on to play at Daniel Mac and then with the South Dakota State University Jackrabbits, before playing one season with the Tiger-Cats.”

When his dad drove from Winnipeg to Tiger-Cats’ training camp, he had young Eddie in tow. But even after being around his father’s brief CFL career, basketball and baseball were still his games.

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The guy can play (Photo by Jeff Miller)

“I was a basketball player first and I loved baseball,” Steele said. “But eventually, I picked up my dad’s sport. He really instilled in me the work ethic and the heart that you have to go hard all the time. He spent that one year in Hamilton, and it’s pretty cool having a player as a father.”

And dad is obviously proud of his son.

Eddie started with the Nomads, moved on to Kelvin High School (in his Grade 12 year at Kelvin, he came off the field for only four plays – during the entire season) and then played at the University of Manitoba where he redshirted in 2006, started as a rookie in 2007 when the Bisons won the Vanier Cup and was drafted 22nd overall by the Tiger-Cats in the 2010 CFL draft.

“Eddie is one of the strongest players we have ever had in this program, but it’s his athleticism and even more so his lateral quickness and speed of pursuit that makes him a great player,” said Bisons head coach Brian Dobie. “Eddie has an outstanding motor and is relentless on every play. 

 He’s a very intelligent player with a real understanding of the game.”

In 2009, Steele was named a Canada West all-star and a Canadian Interuniversity Sport second team all-Canadian. In ’09, he starred in the CIS’ East West Bowl and caught the eye of the Tiger-Cats.

“It’s funny but being drafted and playing in the CFL isn’t as a big a highlight for me as winning the Vanier Cup,” Steele said. “Winning the Grey Cup would be a big deal, but winning the Vanier Cup means you’ve beaten 30 teams. That’s really something. There are only eight teams in the CFL. It’s a little different.”

Before the 2014 season began, Steele was excited about the revamped Eskimos defense.

“I’m just really excited about playing this season, I can’t wait to play,” he said during the winter. “We’re going to have a really potent offence this season so the success is all on us… on the defense. And we’ve got a great defense.”

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Eddie from the North End (Photo by Jeff Miller)

Eddie Steele has emerged as one of the best defensive players in the Canadian Football League. He’ll admit that having a father who played pro football didn’t hurt him, but he’ll also admit that hard work and a love of the game helped him get a full-time job as a professional football player.

He’s also a classic example of a kid who started with the North Winnipeg Nomads and got all the way to the top and proved that you can get there from here.



Deal Done: Wolves Must Look to Future, Cavs to Right Now

On Saturday, the Minnesota Timberwolves pulled the trigger on the trade that everyone was expecting in early August.

The ‘Wolves sent forward Kevin Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA draft, Andrew Wiggins, plus the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft, Anthony Bennett.

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Kevin Love gets a new uniform.

And there was more. The Philadelphia 76ers sent seven-year veteran Thaddeus Young to the ‘Wolves for guard Alexey Shved and forward Luc Mbah a Moute, along with the rights to the Heat’s 2015 first-round pick via the Cavaliers.

“Kevin joining the Cavaliers represents a very special and unique opportunity for our team,” said Cleveland GM David Griffin in a written statement. “At only 25, Kevin has already firmly established himself as one the NBA’s elite players and his talent, versatility and fit are major parts of our team’s vision for success.

“We want to also wish Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett the best as they will continue the start of their careers in Minnesota. They are both outstanding young men that have great potential on the court and long, very successful careers ahead of them.”

The crux of this deal was easy to understand. The ‘Wolves knew that Love wasn’t going to stay long in Minneapolis and they also knew that the fan base in the Twin Towns was tired of the constant, “Will he stay or will he go?” discussion. Marriages end and this one was over. At 25, it was clear that Love wasn’t going to lead this version of the Timberwolves to the NBA championship.

Love is indeed a special player but he’s at a crossroads. Was he going to try to make a winner out of the ‘Wolves as its single star or go someplace with a supporting cast. He chose a team that he obviously felt gave him a chance to win now. Heck, the best players in the local beer leagues do that. Kevin Love in Cleveland gives the rebuilt Cavs a shot at a title.

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These two look good together.

In Minnesota, Love was the past. He was the face of an era that looked like this: 40-42 in 2013-14, 31-51 in 2012-13, 26-40 in 2011-12 etc. etc. It doesn’t get a whole lot prettier. The ‘Wolves have learned that they can finish last with Love or without him.

What they get in return for Love is a future. Wiggins has the tools to be great. Bennett was a little chunky last year and disappointed the Cavs, but he’s in better shape and is expected to contribute in Minnesota. Young is a proven scorer who led the Sixers with a 17.9 points per game average last year.

Fact is, the ‘Wolves are a young ball club: Wiggins, 19; Bennett, 21; Young, 26; Ricky Rubio, 23; Chase Budinger, 26; rookie Zach LaVine, 19; Gorgui Dieng, 24; Shabazz Muhammad, 21. Nik Pekovic, Mo Williams and, yes, even Young give the ‘Wolves some leadership. On top of Wiggins, Bennett and Young, the ‘Wolves also get a $6.3 million trade exception, a little gadget that allows the team to add an equal amount of payroll in a trade even if it exceeds the salary cap.

This is a good trade for both the Cavs and ‘Wolves. Cleveland gets to add Love’s 26 points and 12 rebounds a game to LeBron and Kyrie Irving and with shooting guard Dion Waiters, forward Tristan Thompson, veteran centre Anderson Varejao and three guys who have won NBA titles before – Mike Miller, James Jones and Shawn Marion.

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Andrew Wiggins: No Cleveland for you.

There are never ever any guarantees, but Love’s ability to score combined with LeBron’s ability to do everything, Irving’s ability to light up a building and Varejao’s ability to rebound will give the Cavaliers a legitimate shot at an NBA title. Remember, LeBron went to a final with a Cavs team (it lost in four straight to San Antonio in 2007) that wasn’t close to being this good.

Meanwhile, head coach Flip Saunders has a team that won’t do much this coming season, but could be threat in two or three years and that puts him in a better place than he was on Friday.



Bombers Get it Done Late, Take Out Alouettes 24-16

So what took so long?

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers didn’t get their first lead until the third quarter and didn’t score the eventual winning touchdown until there was 2:47 remaining. Still the Bombers overcame a shaky evening in a strange uniform to beat the hapless Montreal Alouettes 26-16 at Investors Group Field on Friday night.

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Troy Stoudermire in the first Bombers uniform since the 1930s without any gold anywhere (Photo by Jeff Miller)

The Bombers trailed 6-1 at the half and were down 16-14 with less than three minutes to play when Nic Grigsby found a gigantic hole in the left side of the Alouettes line and ran 26 yards for the game-winning touchdown as the Bombers opened Week 9 in the CFL by improving to 6-3 on the season.

The Alouettes, meanwhile, gave it a pretty great effort for 57 minutes, but still fell to 1-7 behind third-string (maybe fourth-string?) quarterback Jonathan Crompton.

Crompton replaced poor Alex Brink to start the second quarter and appeared to gain confidence as the game went on. Signed as a free agent earlier this season after being released by Edmonton, Crompton looked a lot better than Brink and a little bit better than injured No. 1 quarterback Troy Smith.

This was an odd game right from the start. The Bombers came out wearing their new Reebok “signature uniforms” and for the first time since the 1930s had absolutely no gold anywhere in the jerseys or pants.

Then they proceeded to stink the joint out in front of 29,881 at IGF as the Bombers collected a total of three first downs in the first half.

Of course, they say its not how you start, but how you finish and the Bombers finished pretty well.

Winnipeg had 10 first downs in the fourth quarter, put up 16 points and came back to win by eight.

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The Bombers defense was still sensational (Photo by Jeff Miller).

Of course, it didn’t hurt the Bombers in the fourth quarter when Als DB Billy Parker made a solid defensive play to knock down a pass, the Bombers challenged (really, it’s stupid to allow a challenge on a defensive play that’s judged subjectively, but that’s the CFL) and had pass interference called on the Als. (Why are there officials at all?) The call completely changed the game and the Bombers came back from 16-14 down to win going away.

Interestingly, Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea has said publicly that he doesn’t like the pass interference challenge and yet on Friday night he used his challenge to go on a fishing expedition, lucked out and won and now he has three successful challenges in his pocket this season. Be careful what you say you dislike.

To be fair, however, Montreal had a chance of its own late in the game when Crompton threw a long pass and there was clearly interference on the play. Sadly for the Als, head coach Tom Higgins didn’t challenge. Instead, he challenged two plays later on a play that was never close to being interference.

Higgins was a play late and a dollar short and as the former head of CFL officials, you would have thought he knew how it worked.

It’s hard to imagine Higgins will be head coach in Montreal much longer. His team has now lost six straight and what we saw on Friday night was as good an effort as that team can muster and yet it still lost by eight, simply because it folded when the chips were down.

The Bombers, meanwhile, maintained their composure when things looked bleak. They were down 6-1 at the half and 13-8 after three quarters and yet outscored Montreal 16-3 in the final quarter to keep pace in the dominant CFL West.

Bombers quarterback Drew Willy finished the game 14-for-23 for 200 yards no touchdowns and one interception while Crompton went 18-for-29 for 266 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions – two of them in the final two “drives.” Mo Leggett had all three Winnipeg interceptions.

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Don Unamba scored Winnipeg’s first touchdown (Photo by Jeff Miller)

Grigsby scored Winnipeg’s only offensive touchdown and finished with 73 rushing yards on 10 carries after being benched in the third quarter. The other Winnipeg major resulted from a blocked Sean Whyte punt. Winnipeg’s Don Unamba recovered and took it into the end zone at 1:01 of the third quarter.

The Bombers play again next Sunday in Regina. It’s the Labour Day Classic and it’s absolutely a guarantee that next week’s game will be a much bigger challenge than Friday night’s win.



Let’s Put Some ‘Nice’ Back Into the CFL

Just like its big brother to the south, the Canadian Football League is doing everything humanly possible to make a nine-team house league into the No Fun League.

Under commissioner Mark Cohon, the CFL has become a big corporate/TV entity driven by its TSN ratings and its new corporate luxury suites – in its new stadiums – as well as its ability to create things like horrible-looking ‘third’ jerseys in order to find that sucker who’s born every minute. It’s a league that’s virtually forgotten its past in an effort to create more revenue right now and keep its players under the thumb of anonymity.

 Let’s Put Some ‘Nice’ Back Into the CFL

Mike Clemons and Chad Owens.

That’s why the CFL needs a guy like Pinball Clemons, the vice-chair of the Toronto Argos, to replace Cohon as commissioner. It needs a guy with a smile on his face who doesn’t look like Roger Goodell’s first cousin. It needs a guy who was a player – a good one – and a guy who cares deeply about the league. It needs a guy who is and always was accessible, a guy who operates by the Golden Rule and a guy who will put the ‘nice’ back into a league that has lost something with its new stadiums and its ice-cold corporate image.

Here’s an example: The complaint I hear most from my friends and colleagues is that teams like the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (especially the Winnipeg Blue Bombers) have decided to turn what was once the nicest, coolest, friendliest, most accessible league in professional sports into NFL North. Access to players is made as difficult as humanly possible and as a result we, as fans, don’t know the players as well as we used to. Like, not even close to as well as we used to.

Another example: Darrin Bauming was interviewing a reporter from Regina the other day. The reporter said, just in passing, “I was interviewing a couple of players in the airport…” and Bauming piped in with, “Isn’t that great. We aren’t allowed to interview players at the airport.” It was just a quick aside, but it said a lot about the Bombers and most of the other teams in the CFL. Keeping players away from the media – and the public, for that matter – is now the job of most CFL communications department.

Another example: Local TV stations used to record practices from start to finish. Here is what they see on practice schedules today (taken from a random Bombers practice schedule notice):

Saturday, June Whatever, 2014

Practice: 9:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.

Cameras can record practice from 10:20 a.m. – 10:40 a.m.  Still photography of practice can begin at 10:10 a.m.

That’s a 20 minute window to shoot practice so fans can see what their local team is about. That’s hardly worth the effort.

Now, make no mistake, most fans don’t give a crap about the media’s problems – perceived or otherwise – but putting roadblocks in the way of accessibility is an indication that things are changing: And not necessarily for the better. The CFL used to be fun. Players were your neighbors. They were available for interviews all the time. They’d help you wash our car or even move. The local GM and head coach would hold sessions in their offices and not just with the media. Local business people would sit around Earl Lunsford’s office. Brendan Taman would invite anybody in. Paul Robson’s door was wide open. It was a community-owned football team and it operated accordingly.

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Mike Clemons, back in the day.

But with the construction of Investors Group Field came a new era. It’s a big corporate entity run by a board that is more secretive now than it ever was in its 85-year history. Granted, the players are still underpaid, but now they’re being handled by the club’s media department as if they were making Winnipeg Jets money.

The CFL is going through some interesting growing pains. It’s still a league based in some relatively small Canadian communities – Hamilton, Winnipeg and Regina – but TSN, new stadiums and the corporate head office have made the league bigger than its britches – even if the flagship club in Toronto barely draws 18,000 people to its games.

Perhaps what the league needs is a less corporate image and a little more “How ya doin’? I’m Michael Clemons.” Maybe the league needs to get back to its roots, just a bit, and make people feel like it’s their league again. Yeah, it’s getting big and TSN and new stadiums and that corporate feel in Toronto has made it big.

But now that the CEO has decided to leave, it might do the league some good to have, as its face, a friendly accessible guy who came up through the ranks and can flash his smile and talk to the masses again.



CFL Week 9: Camouflaged Bombers Should Find a Way Against the Naked-in-the-Open Alouettes

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers will wear their new experimental Reebok uniforms on Friday night when the Montreal Alouettes roll into Investors Group Field. Considering how great those jerseys could have looked – with a little gold in them – they are actually incredibly dull.

As one wag suggested via Twitter, “Why would they want camouflage jerseys when Drew Willy is already having trouble finding his receivers?”

Drew Willy and Jason Vega. See the excitement in their faces CFL Week 9: Camouflaged Bombers Should Find a Way Against the Naked in the Open Alouettes

Drew Willy and Jason Vega. See the excitement in their faces

That’s cute. However, in the picture above, Willy himself is looking rather bored. He’s kind of saying, “OK, these are fine, let’s practice.” When practice becomes more fun than a new uniform, you have to figure that at best, the new “signature uniforms,” are actually quite ordinary. Unlike Saskatchewan’s crazy greens that just jumped out of the TV monitor, the Bombers are patio-upholstery blue with some camo design on the shoulders and in the helmet. There is no “old gold,” the key to the 60s, 70s and 80s Bombers uniforms, but there is a big white W on the front. Ooooo, that’s exciting.

Bombers fans can only hope it stands for “win.” Hey look, some people might really like the new uniforms and the Bombers will only wear them once, but I’ll keep my regular blue and gold  Reebok Premier Home Bombers jersey purchased from River City Sports ($109.99 USD), thank you very much.

Anyway, this Friday the W should stand for “win.” The Bombers take on the sad-sack Montreal Alouettes, a marginal team to be sure, but in fairness, a team with a strong 1-6 record in the East. That’s right 1-6 puts the Als right in the thick of the East Division playoff hunt.

Meanwhile, last week the ever-positive, glass-half-full Coach decided the East was going to start winning games. He was horribly wrong and is embarrassed. Straight up, The Coach finished 2-3 while Dr. Football was a sensational 5-0. Listen to Dr. Football if you know what’s good for you.

As always, The Doc writes our well-reasoned and therefore winning decisions while The Coach binges on ice cream and blames the referees.

Let’s take a close, semi-intelligent look at Week 8 in the Canadian Football League:

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The Riders new uniforms worked against Montreal last week.

Montreal (1-6) at Winnipeg (5-3) Line – Winnipeg by 7

The list of ex-Winnipeg Blue Bombers that come back to haunt them is huge; Odell Willis, Will Ford, Adarius Bowman, Brendon Labatte, are just a few I can think off the top of my head. Don’t bet on adding Alex Brink to the list. Montreal is horrible. The Coach says: Did anyone really believe that the retirement of Anthony Calvillo would result in this mess?

Dr. Football: Take the Bombers to win and cover.

The Coach: Take the Bombers to win and cover.

argos lions CFL Week 9: Camouflaged Bombers Should Find a Way Against the Naked in the Open Alouettes

My wife liked the Argos new uniforms but they clashed with B.C.’s gunmetal black.

Toronto (3-5) at Edmonton (6-1) Line – Edmonton by 8

Toronto played two games last week in perhaps the goofiest week of scheduling is CFL history…even a kindergarten student could figure out 9 teams, 8 teams play each week, and one has a bye. Good grief. Argos looked good in one, and looked terrible in the next. Edmonton struggled a bit with Ottawa, but expect Chris Jones and his coaching staff to make the correct adjustments. Ricky Ray isn’t exactly welcomed back with open arms, he’ll be running for his life in this one. The Coach says: If any other team in the East could win, Toronto’s reign as a first-place club would be in jeopardy. But hey, that ain’t gonna happen this week. The Argos will lose by two touchdowns and still dominate the East.

Dr. Football: Take the Eskimos to win and cover.

The Coach: Take the Eskimos to win and cover.

 CFL Week 9: Camouflaged Bombers Should Find a Way Against the Naked in the Open Alouettes

Nice.

Calgary (6-1) at Ottawa (1-6) Line – Calgary by 9

Calgary is in the midst of a two game road trip, which is tough, but Ottawa, despite the great fan support, is a pretty dismal team. Calgary has only allowed a league low 114 points, while Ottawa has only scored 119. Yikes. Won’t be close. The Coach says: Big game for Ottawa. At 1-6, the playoffs beckon.

Dr. Football: Take Calgary to win and cover.

The Coach: Take Calgary to win and cover

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Kevin Glenn

Saskatchewan (5-2) at B.C. (5-3) Line – B.C. by 2 ½

Definitely the CFL Game of the Week as both teams have been on a recent roll, after both teams started slowly. The Lions offense got into high gear last week in Toronto while the Roughriders stuggled to score against Montreal at home last week. John Chick could be the difference in this one, he’s been known to rattle QBs and we’ve all seen Kevin Glenn get rattled and play poorly after that. The Roughriders defense kept them in last week’s game, and they will do it again this week. Riders regroup. The Coach says: B.C. looked a lot better last week than I expected and I have this hunch, they’ll keep it going at home.

Dr. Football: Take the Roughriders in an upset.

The Coach: Take the Lions to win and cover.



The Manziel Scandal: Does Big Corporate Media Know Anything About Football Players?

Pre-season NFL football is generally, that period of time when hyper-active children are lulled to sleep. It’s meaningless, it’s boring and the only people benefiting (or not) from the exercise are the league’s various coaching staffs.

Monday night was no exception. Although the game between the Washingtons and the Cleveland Browns ended with Washington on top 24-23, after Cleveland missed a two-point conversion to win it. The rest of the affair was dull and penalty filled.

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Johnny Pigskin

Except perhaps for that moment when Cleveland quarterback Johnny Manziel flipped the bird to the taunting Washington defensive line.

As an aside, I used to understand the way the officials called the National Football League, but now I’m completely lost. Jimmy Graham gets two penalties for spiking the ball over the crossbar (yes, he did it twice), but if you openly taunt an opposing quarterback, it’s fine? Not only does the No Fun League have trouble with its suspension policy (Ray Rice gets two games for beating up a woman while Orlando Scandrick gets four games for pissing Ecstasy into a jar because the tall foreheads who run the league think it’s a “performance enhancing drug.” Huh?), but its officials aren’t even sure what its rules are.

But back to Manziel. I love how people get their shirts in a knot over things that happen on a football field – or basketball court or hockey rink, or whatever. The people who tend to get really, really apoplectic about bad words and inappropriate sign-language are the ones who never played. In fact, they’re the ones who never played any sport at any level.

Monday night, Manziel heard something from the Washington bench or a Washington player – Brian Orakpo taunted Manziel all night and nobody said ‘Boo,” nor should they – and he responded by flipping his middle finger. When that sweet actor Chris Pratt did the same thing in the hit movie, Guardians of the Galaxy, the media thought it was incredibly funny. When Johnny Pigskin does it, we suddenly have a scandal. Puh-leeze.

It’s OK to say what you like to Manziel because, after all, the media has made him the bad boy of the NFL. Calling him names or ripping his family, that’s fine. But when he quickly flashes the finger in return, well, that’s not right. Can’t do that. Not even Manziel’s idiot coach Mike Pettine – by the way, another guy who won’t last two years in Cleveland – could understand why his 21-year-old quarterback would act in such a capricious manner.

“It does not sit well,” Pettine told the Associated Press. “Its disappointing, because what we talk about is being poised and being focused. … That’s a big part of all football players, especially the quarterback.”

Adam+Hayward+Johnny+Manziel+Cleveland+Browns+iSqmXj1CpLol The Manziel Scandal: Does Big Corporate Media Know Anything About Football Players?

Johnny on the run.

What a buffoon. Manziel was focused. He was focused on everything. But a quick flip wasn’t Pettine’s real problem. I’ll give the coach enough credit to suggest that he said what he felt he needed to say to the boneheaded press. Now, let’s get on to the real problem which is: Manziel is struggling but he’s been better than Brian Hoyer and maybe the team’s best quarterback is the undrafted free-agent from South Carolina, Connor Shaw.

While Hoyer went two-for-six for 16 yards and said, “It probably couldn’t have been any worse,” and Manziel went seven-for-16 for 65 yards and a touchdown, Shaw went eight-for-nine for 123 yards and a Hail Mary.

Now, granted, it was against Washington’s rookies, has beens, never weres and third-stringers, but wasn’t that what Teddy Bridgewater faced on Saturday night? Granted, Shaw’s TD pass could have gone either way and he failed to complete the two-point conversion, but he was hardly the worst quarterback on the field.

In case you didn’t know, Shaw had the best record as a quarterback in Soith Carolina history and was the MVP of the 2014 Capital One Bowl. He had the fastest 40-yard-dash time of any QB at the combine. Yes, even faster than Manziel.

Oh, yeah, and former Browns QB Daniel (Colt) McCoy threw a TD pass for Washington on Monday and Robert Griffin III didn’t, so should McCoy start ahead of RG3? People, it was the second freaking pre-season game. Lighten up.

There were only two things that I took out of the Monday Night game: (1) As marginal as Manziel was, he was better than Hoyer and (2) Johnny Manziel was the ONLY reason I would watch a Monday night pre-season game between Cleveland and Washington: Especially a Cleveland-Washington pre-season game with 21 penalties and five turnovers.

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And we worry about fingers?

As for the Manziel finger, who cares? I mean, really? It’s 2014 kids. That stuff happens on TV for goodness sake. A guy beats the beejeezus out of his wife and gets a measly two-game suspension and yet the media’s talking about fines and/or suspensions when a kid flips the bird? I’m sorry, but big corporate media is messed up.

Have you guys ever been on a sideline?