MONDAY MORNING NOTES
1 - HERE WE GO: It's amazing what just one victory will do. The Saskatchewan Roughriders kept their slim playoff hopes alive with Sunday's 33-21 victory over the Montreal Alouettes before 30,843 deliriously happy Rider fans at Mosaic Stadium. It just felt so good for everybody. Quarterback Kevin Glenn came out throwing darts and finished the day with 212 yards passing along with an emphatic 38-yard touchdown strike to veteran receiver Rob Bagg. There were several drops early, but Glenn shrugged them off. His demeanour is unflappable.
It's not a bad idea to score a touchdown on your opening drive either. The CFL Game Notes package informed us that teams who score a major on their opening series go on to win the game 71% of the time and it held true on Sunday. The Alouettes' first offensive series on Sunday ended in the first of three Macho Harris interceptions which directly led to the Bagg touchdown just one play later.
There was a joke floating around the press box after the game saying, "Who was wearing Macho Harris's #3 jersey?" but that's flatly unfair to the former Virginia Tech Hokie. He was certainly playing like he was handcuffed in the first half of the season (whether it be mentally or physically) but he's been unleashed since Labour Day and Sunday was his finest game as a Roughrider by far.
Don't look now, but head coach Bob Dyce is currently a .500 coach with an 0-9 team!
And if Sunday's contest was any indication, this seems like a completely different football team than the one who struggled to an 0-9 record in the first half of the season. Will they make the playoffs? Who knows. The statistician says just one more loss over the final five games will extinguish the Riders' chance at the postseason but there's no point telling the Roughriders players and coaches that now.
To a man, they believe it can be done.
Perhaps it started with John Chick's passionate game day address - which he asked for permission from Bob Dyce to deliver - which planted the kernels of belief on Sunday morning. With John being the most-devout of Christians, who knows if Divine Intervention will get this club into the postseason party? As Chick said earlier this season, "When we turn this around ... what a story it will be".
Do you believe in miracles?
Where's Al Michaels when you need him.
|Dutchyshen with Jeffrey Orridge and Bob Dyce|
The dinner format had been pretty much the same from its inception in 1987 up until last year but in 2015 they stuck a stick of dynamite into it. TSN's popular Sportscentre host Darren Dutchyshen was flown in as the emcee and he did a great job.
The lifelong Rider fan told a touching story of coming in from his hometown of Porcupline Plain, SK in 1976 to attend his first game at the age of 10. They came down in a motorhome and when the Riders won that game, his father celebrated so much they weren't able to make the drive back until the next day. Darren said his Dad now lives in a nursing home in Regina and on Friday they reminisced about the story. "Your Mom was so mad!" the elder Dutchyshen remembered. Darren told the crowd his father now suffers from dementia so it was emotional that his Dad was able to recall that event from 40 years ago.
A new portion of the induction ceremony included a Q&A with Dutchyshen, CFL Commissioner Jeffrey Orridge and Riders coach Bob Dyce. I heard Orridge describe the event as "absolutely incredible" off the top and at that point I ran to the washroom and then to get a soda. By the time I returned, it was over. So I can't give you much of a recap of that session.
Tom Burgess inducted McCray and Jeremy O'Day inducted Schultz. Most of the speeches were rather lengthy, in fact Schultz's approached 45 minutes. The next day The Old 96'er said he simply lost track of time and felt terrible if he rambled on too long. I told him it wasn't a big deal, and that it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
It wasn't lost on Dutchyshen however, who quipped at the podium afterwards, "I don't want to say that speech was long Scott, but Darian Durant is now healed!"
Some people connected with the Roughriders were concerned that I'd be miffed that I'd been supplanted as emcee but that couldn't be further from the truth. I got to sit at the CKRM table between my wife and Clark Gillies and got to truly enjoy the evening. When you're the emcee at these events, IT'S WORK and you need to keep the program moving swiftly and on time. It can be stressful. Plus, since it's always been a volunteer proposition for the team's broadcaster, it was no skin off my nose to get the evening off. Taking over from 20-year emcee Lorne Harasen at the annual Plaza luncheon with the current and past inductees on the Friday of Plaza weekend suits me just fine.
PLUS, being the emcee is generally a no-win situation. You try to spice it up with some humour but invariably someone gets offended. Some people are still upset at me with jokes made at the 2007 Plaza. Dutchyshen made an early crack Friday night about the length of Rider Chairman Wayne Morsky's speech and, if that were me, would've heard about it for days afterwards. No thanks.
Again, this arrangement suits me exactly fine.
3 - WELCOME BACK BURGY: It's always a treat to be in the presence of 1989 Grey Cup champion and 2009 Plaza inductee Tom Burgess. His mere presence in this town sends the female's hearts swooning. As mentioned previously, the former Rider QB flew in from Rye, NY to induct his old pal Tim McCray.
Burgess is regarded as somewhat of a mythical figure in Rider lore despite the fact it was Kent Austin who quarterbacked the Riders in the 1989 Grey Cup victory. Wanting to be a starter, Burgess was shipped to Winnipeg for the 1990 season and promptly led the Blue Bombers to a Grey Cup title of their own. They haven't won one since. However Burgess is not held up with the same esteem in Winnipeg as he is here. In fact, he didn't even attend their 25-year Grey Cup reunion this summer.
"I haven't been back, actually," Burgess admitted on 620 CKRM's SportsCage on Friday. "They actually had somewhat of a reunion this summer but I didn't really hear about it till late. Actually Rick House gave me a call but it was short notice and you had to jump on a flight and it just wasn't going to work. I just haven't had a chance to get back to Winnipeg but I'd love it. No - well you guys all know it here - the way they treat football and their history is a little bit different."
4 - THE STATE OF THE CFL: As mentioned, CFL Commissioner Jeffrey Orridge was on hand for all of the weekend events and he's quickly learning that the Saskatchewan Roughriders drive the CFL. He's only been on the job since late-April but he's been to the Wheat Province almost a half-a-dozen times. He told the crowd at Friday's luncheon that he needs to placate all nine teams rather than favour the Riders but I was quick to inform him, "Cohon didn't mind".
With a spare five minutes, I pulled out my tape recorder and asked Orridge for a State of the League update.
"I think we're doing fantastic," Orridge smiled. "When you look at it, the parity in the league right now is pretty incomparable. The game excitement, the rule changes have opened up the game. You've been seeing half the games being decided by six points or less and several of the games have come down to the last three minutes. When you look at excitement and unpredictability, which is what sport is all about, it's pretty amazing.
"Viewership remains strong certainly both in-stadium, on television and across all the multi-media platforms. People are consistently focused on the CFL which is great for us."
Orridge was hired in part to attract the "millenials" or the 18-34 age group and I asked him what he has up his sleeve in order to accomplish that task.
"Just wait and see! We work quickly," Orridge answered. "We've got a lot of things in place right now, new digital executions, storytelling, focusing on heroes of the game and really being where millenials are. That next generation of fans lives primarily online these days but the in-stadium experience is pretty special. That's what's happening pretty much all over the league right now. You'll see all age groups because it's a real social environment that's being created. It's not just what happens on the field, but also what goes on around the games that's special and attracts people. That keeps them engaged to the CFL."
5 - JUST NOTES: I'm told Tom Higgins has applied for the Roughriders' GM and Head Coach positions ... TSN is killing the CFL by putting their fall games on Sunday afternoons. Last weekend the Winnipeg-Montreal game drew 293,000 viewers while the Dallas-Philadelphia NFL contest attracted 841,000 that same day. The night before, the Ottawa-Saskatchewan game attracted 740,000 viewers. It will be interesting to see what this Sunday's Montreal-Saskatchewan match-up pulled in for eyeballs. I get that TSN needs to fill Sunday afternoon programming but put on a darts contest or something! If the CFL wants to attract millenials, the way to do it isn't by going up against the NFL ... Last Sunday in the Four Seasons Sports Palace, the TVs were tuned to all 10 early NFL games and not one had the CFL contest. And nobody asked for it either ... Now might be a good time to revisit establishing the CFL as a farm league for the NFL, and getting their top prospects up here and dividing the nine CFL teams amongst the 32 in the NFL. Why not work with the world's biggest sports marketing machine than fight it? ... Paul McCallum has had 55 games where he's kicked four or more field goals. He's second all-time in CFL scoring, but roughly 800 points behind Lui Passaglia ... The Roughriders are averaging 31,339 fans per game which is #2 in the CFL, trailing only Edmonton (32,496) ... Montreal Gazette football writer Herb Zurkowsky tweeted earlier this summer that he wouldn't do any more interviews regarding Michael Sam until the troubled defensive end actually played. On Sunday's pregame show I interviewed Herb but sidestepped the Sam issue. Afterwards he said, "Why didn't you ask me about Michael Sam?" Typical Herb ... The Blue Jays are headed to the MLB playoffs and no longer own the longest playoff drought amongst North American's four main sports leagues. That honour now belongs to the NFL's Buffalo Bills who've missed the playoffs for the past 15 years ... The Jays have clinched at least a wildcard berth and now the pundits are saying it should be a best-of-three series rather than a one game showdown. We floated that notion on this blog weeks ago. Imagine waiting 22 years FOR ONE GAME! They likely won't have to worry about that in the end anyway ... Roughly 7,400 fans showed up in Saskatoon to watch Connor McDavid, Jordan Eberle and the Edmonton Oilers in preseason action Saturday night. That's half the capacity of SaskTel Centre. No comment here. Too easy.
6 - GO PATS GO: The Regina Pats are 1-0-1 to start the 2015-16 WHL season after a home-and-home split against the rival Moose Jaw Warriors including a 3-2 OT win Saturday night in the Brandt Centre. The MMG was fortunate to be able to take in both games and noticed while the young Pats have provided plenty of work for coach John Paddock and his staff to clean up, they're going to be just fine. Thursday night there was a reluctance to go to the front of the net but that was changed by Saturday.
It's going to be a real treat to watch how this team comes together over the next 70 games before the playoffs. It's the cheapest, best entertainment in town and sophomore Pats phenom Sam Steel is worth the gate admission alone. And the hotdogs are great too.
THAT'S ALL! ENJOY UP WEEK!