MONDAY MORNING NOTES & QUOTES
1- BACK IN THE EPICENTRE OF RIDER NATION: The Saskatchewan Roughriders returned home from Vancouver Saturday afternoon following Friday night's crushing 35-32 loss to the B.C. Lions which dropped their record to 0-3. I stayed in Vancouver until Sunday evening so I haven't had the chance to absorb the vibe in the Queen City surrounding the team's disappointing start to the 2015 season, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. I'm sure I'll hear lots in the days ahead.
2 - THE NEW CFL: Of the Riders' three narrow losses to open the campaign, none have been as devastating as Friday's outcome. Saskatchewan had an 11-point lead with 2:15 to go! Rarely have I seen a CFL team give up a lead like that with so little time left, but in the New CFL, anything is turning out to be possible. I suppose you could say it's been crappy for the Riders, but great for the league as it tries to jazz up the games and attract new eyeballs to the product.
3 - TAKE THE POINTS: Based on comments coming into this blog, on message boards and on social media over the weekend, Riders coach Corey Chamblin is facing a lot of heat for tactical decisions made in the loss. Quite frankly, I can't say I disagree with the calls that he made. Going for it on 3rd-and-1 from their own 47 with a minute to go and a three point lead was ballsy and aggressive, but we like that. In fact the move was endorsed by the Rider players in locker room interviews after the fact.
But they couldn't get that yard, turned it over, and rookie B.C. kicker Richie Leone nailed a club record 56-yard field goal to tie the game with 15 seconds left. Who could've predicted that? Honestly, that's the football gods again turning their back on the Riders early in the season. Leone missed a 32-yard convert into the same endzone earlier in the fourth quarter.
Saskatchewan played it conservative from the point of that gamble on, kneeling down with 0:15 to go and taking their chances in overtime.
Faced with a similar 3rd-and-1 at the BC-26 in extra time, Chamblin decided to go with a 33-yard Paul McCallum field goal rather than gamble again. Seriously how could you blame him given the offense's inability to convert just moments before?
Someone quoted the late, great Ron Lancaster who always said, "Take the points" (kick the field goal) when you're down in the redzone but can't push the ball across the goalline. However I'm not sure Ronnie was referring to overtime.
Whatever. When Chamblin faced the Regina media upon the team's return on Saturday, he wasn't going back on his decisions.
“No. No second-guessing," Chamblin asserted to reporters. "I talked about that right after the game. I asked anybody if they had any questions about any calls that we made, and no. You live with them. Hindsight is not what we live by. Anything that we set out there, we have to be able to attack and win with.”
It says here the 2015 Saskatchewan Roughriders are a good football team. Will they ever be great? There's a long road to get to that point, and it's up to Chamblin to navigate it.
You'll be hearing some news out of the Roughriders, perhaps as early as today, that Canadian special teamer Levi Steinhauer is out for an extended period with a lower body injury suffered Friday in Vancouver. The team is also adding veteran import corner Geoff Tisdale. He was an All-Star in Montreal last year and has a history with Chamblin.
However with the addition of Tisdale, who's losing their job in the secondary?
It's worthwhile to examine Chamblin's philosophy of flaming players for poor performance (see: Will Ford, Chris Milo, etc.). Back in the Shivers/Barrett Era, the braintrust was criticized for not replacing players mid-season, and allowing them to line back up each week despite a litany of mistakes. Now it seems if you screw up, you're on the next thing smokin' out of here. People apparently don't like that either.
What do you want? A happy medium may be more preferable.
5 - STAY AWAY FROM THE PANIC BUTTON: No one's getting fired and no one's job is on the line despite the 0-3 start. Veteran Rider guard Brendon Labatte pointed to the B.C. Lions' 0-5 start in 2011 before they went on to win the Grey Cup. Others have referenced Hamilton's 1-6 start last season before they turned it around and ended up in the Grey Cup game. There is simply no reason to panic as the Rider braintrust continues to bring this club together, figure out the new rules, and strive to eak out victories.
However don't be fooled. An 0-3 record and the lack of a sellout so far this season (under ideal conditions) had better have raised the antennae of the powers-that-be.
But it's still "early" in the season until the opening six games are out of the way. We'll re-examine things at that point, however that won't stop the endless second-guessing that's going on now. That's fine too. We've got tons of space on blogs and over the airwaves to discuss these matters in the finest of detail. That's what we do, and the Riders will be dominating the talk on coffee row and around water coolers more now than at any point this early in the season for as long as I can remember.
6 - THE ITALIAN STALLION: Former All-Star CFL linebacker Carm Carteri is in his 27th season as colour commentator on CKRM's Roughrider broadcasts. He hasn't seen many endings like that over the years either. Here's his assessment from Friday's game:
"Boy, you know what Rod? I wish I had an answer," Carm stammered on the postgame show. "I mean I'm just sitting here stunned like you are. This was a football game that - I won't say was decided by the officials - but boy, was definitely controlled by calls on the field. And I'm not saying they were wrong calls at all. It was just the way this game went, with both of these football teams making dumb errors and sustaining drives.
"The Riders, with a little over two minutes left in the game, had an 11-point lead, had an opportunity to punt it back to the B.C. Lions, but elected to go for it on 3rd-and-1. That was the call; 'Win the game and let's get outta here'. But the Riders couldn't get that half a yard and Travis Lulay just came back with a couple good bullets. This one's gonna kill Corey Chamblin and this football team.
"They were up for this game. They were down after losing the first two games of the season but felt like they had a good week of prep and came here feeling good about their chances. They had the game in hand and I can't even tell you how it slipped because there were just so many ways. There were some drops on offense and on defense, again, the inability to come up and make an open-field tackle really hurt this football team and allowed the B.C. Lions to steal it."
And Carm agreed with me, as neither of us had a problem with Chamblin "going for it" on his own side of the field.
"No I didn't," Carm continued. "I thought, 'Let's just win it right now' and, because if they'd punted, B.C. would've had about a minute left with the ball around their 20 or 30 yard line. The way Lulay was slinging it late in this game, you just had the feeling that he could bring them back. The Riders elected to go for the win which I don't have a problem with. Unfortunately they didn't execute that 3rd-and-inches with a quarterback draw, the B.C. Lions made the big play and then Manny Arceneaux in overtime finished it.
"And too, the Riders' inability to put the ball in the endzone in overtime! The Riders had to settle for a Paul McCallum field goal and were fortunate to get it because a couple of B.C. penalties bailed them out! Otherwise Paul would've been trying a 50-yarder. All in all, the Riders had it won. We're sitting here stunned trying to explain it."
7 - THE RIDERS ON TWITTER: Here's a collection of comments from Roughrider players on Twitter following Friday's 35-32 overtime loss at B.C.:
RB Jerome Messam (@JMessam): "Keep believing ... We'll get it turned around! #RiderNation
TE Spencer Moore (@spencermoore): "United we stand, divided we fall. Nothing will come between us. This family will overcome. #RiderNation stay with us."
LS Jorgen Hus (@JHus41): "Don't worry #ridernation. We are so close to getting this thing rolling!"
8 - SIMON SAYS: The CFL's all-time receiving king strode around B.C. Place, his kingdom, on Friday night with an ear-to-ear grin on his face. He was featured on the pregame in-house panel providing analysis on the video scoreboards with Christie Buono, Brent Johnson and Tom Europe.
Afterwards, Geroy seemed to be torn between the two locker rooms which are situated only about 30 yards apart. When I caught up with him, he was chatting with former Rider teammate Alex Hall against a pillar outside the Rider room. We shook hands, chatted real briefly, and went our separate ways.
Never afraid to speak his mind, Geroy finally opened up to the Vancouver Sun's Mike Beamish on a variety of topics in Saturday's edition. He glowingly referenced new Riders offensive coordinator Jacques Chapdelaine, who Geroy said he had a hand in hiring in Saskatchewan after so many years with B.C. However he also opened up about his one frustrating season with the Roughriders which ultimately led to a two touchdown performance in the 2013 Grey Cup.
"When I left B.C., I didn't have success because I didn't have a coordinator who believed in me," Simon told Beamish. "It's not a shot at George (Cortez). It's just that he didn't believe in me."
That is, until it counted in the Big One. And now they're cashing cheques from the same team once again.
9 - THE VIBE IN B.C.: Speaking of George Cortez, I was dismayed to have missed the Lions offensive coordinator on field prior to Friday's game but in a classy gesture, George stopped by our broadcast booth at the game's conclusion to shake hands. "See y'all next week in Regina," Cortez drawled in his Texas twang, referring to Friday's return game between the Riders and Lions at Mosaic Stadium.
And that was all part of the good vibes coming out of the Lions organization on the weekend. A big thanks goes out to Lions PR man Jamie Cartmell for setting up Mrs. SportsCage with a pass to be able to join Carm and me in the broadcast booth for the thriller. First class.
The talk on the Lions pregame show on TSN 1040 was all about the paltry crowd that was going to be on hand for their 2015 home-opener. All tolled 23,062 showed up, mostly clad in orange, although there was a heavy contingent of Rider Priders in attendance. Ed Willes of the Vancouver Province referred to them as "loonies" in Saturday's newspaper, in an article about shoddy attendance.
The last time the Riders were there (in August of 2014), there were over 33,000 in the house on "Guaranteed Win Night". The smallish crowd on Friday was attributed to the market being soaked by the just-completed Womens World Cup and the fact the Vancouver Whitecaps of MLS were home Sunday night (they drew 21,000).
Skulksy's presence wasn't immediately evident Friday night, unlike last August when he confidently watched the game from the Lions' sidelines. However he had to have been there, somewhere, for this game. We had some fun with Skulsky over the "guarantee" but in the end, you have to admire the man's fiery nature. It seems he got so worked up about the Riders placing a billboard outside B.C. Place that he blurted out the guarantee on Vancouver radio without giving it much thought. That's the kind of passion you want.
The Lions are in good hands with Skulsky, and attendance doesn't seem to be a concern over the long-haul. They're kind of like the Regina Pats - secondary in the market - but with a strong footprint in the local sports community, they're not going anywhere. Nor are they in dire straights.
Even Lions owner David Braley was on hand for Friday's game, watching his beloved football club. He stayed at our hotel, the Hyatt Regency, and was even spotted closing his eyes for a quick nap in the lobby on the afternoon of the game. It's doubtful Braley will ever unload this team. He rescued it from ruin years ago and as a steward of the CFL, I can't see him selling the club off anytime soon.
The Lions are offering seats to fans and sponsors on their charter planes for road trips again this year, tabbed "Operation Orange". I see the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are doing the same thing.
How much would you pay to fly with the Riders on the road?
10 - AN "ASSAULT": The excitement of Friday's game was marred by a CBC report Saturday morning that a Rider fan attacked a Vancouverite on the Skytrain after the game. The alleged assailant was seen on video wearing a Rider jersey, a sure sign that he's a member of the Rider Nation. Some commented on Twitter that just because he was wearing a Rider jersey doesn't automatically mean he's a Rider fan.
However the lesson to be learned is if you're representing the Rider Nation at home or on the road this year, please remember to keep it classy! The victim of Friday's alleged incident, Kevin Deschutter, told the CBC the perpetrator likely won't ever be found.
Perhaps he was talking when he should have been listening? Rider fans will always have "an edge". It's part of our charm.
** And one last note -- what's with all the comments from people bashing Craven-goers in Scruffy's column on Friday? What difference does it make to you if these people want to enjoy the Craven Country Jamboree year after year? The world would be much better off if people just minded their own business when it comes to things like this.
THAT'S ALL FOR TODAY! HAVE A GOOD WEEK