MONDAY MORNING COMING DOWN
1 - YOU CAN'T MAKE THIS STUFF UP: On Sunday morning in downtown Vancouver I went for a brief stroll before heading to the airport for the flight home. A surprisingly bright-eyed homeless man on Burrard Street noticed my Roughriders jacket and piped up from under his blanket of newspapers, "Who won the game last night?" I replied that the B.C. Lions had defeated the Roughriders 46-20.
"You guys are the only team we can beat!" he winked, as he tucked his head back under the papers and went back to his world. Unbelievable.
But he's right. By virture of the Lions' three victories over the Roughriders in this 2015 season, they've got a huge leg up on the Riders and it may end up being enough to catapult them into the playoffs. It's very similar to the 2001 season where the Calgary Stampeders beat Saskatchewan in all four meetings which was enough to cost the Riders a playoff spot, and send the Stamps on a miraculous Grey Cup-winning run.
Conversely, it's not unlike the 2009 season where the Stampeders failed to beat the Riders in three regular season meetings and Saskatchewan ended up dumping the Stamps in the West Final on the way to the Grey Cup game. That silenced the long-held, and hollow, CFL motto, "It's tough to beat a team four times in a season". No it's not. It proves one team's dominance over another.
Unfortunately Riders starting quarterback Kevin Glenn came up empty in three starts against his former team, this year although it's certainly not all on him. However the Riders lost the quarterbacking match-up handily Saturday night. Who saw that coming? Perhaps the Lions defense has an edge against K-G, and knows his tendencies.
But now it's official. One more loss over Saskatchewan's final four games will mathematically eliminate them from the playoffs.
2 - WHAT'S AHEAD: Not surprisingly after Saturday's game Roughriders head coach Bob Dyce was clinging to the notion that the Riders still have a chance at the playoffs. "The door's still open. Just a little crack," Dyce told 620 CKRM's Carm Carteri. "Until that crack is closed, we have a lot of belief in ourselves. I have a lot of believe in the men in that room. We're still fighting."
However everyone knows if the team performs like it did Saturday night, they won't have a hope. Nobody saw that performance coming. It's tough to pin blame on the coordinators because offensive coordinator Jacques Chapdelaine couldn't have foreseen the five turnovers his club committed. Defensive guru Greg Quick seemingly made the appropriate calls but he couldn't control his defenders' inability to grasp B.C. quarterback Jon Jennings in the pocket, nor their ability to wrap-up on the back-end.
And like the two prior meetings against the Lions in July, penalties torpedoed Saskatchewan's chances Saturday night. The club took 15 penalties for 142 yards and several of them were unforced errors. The Riders returned to their bad habits and as Gary Etcheverry noted in the summertime on the Offsides Podcast with Luc Mullinder, it's tough to correct penalties if it's not "baked" into the club's psyche coming out of training camp.
The outcome appears pre-determined for the Riders with a month to go in the regular season but at least they have something to play for Friday night in Hamilton. Should they lose that one, then a new direction (strategy) will likely be determined.
Some analysts have suggested that Saturday's loss in B.C. sealed the fate of Bob Dyce however I disagree. It shouldn't have any more affect than the 33-21 victory the week before over Montreal - their finest performance of the season.
Dyce will likely be judged on the entire second half of the regular season, no matter how it all turns out. Right now, his personal record is 2-3.
It's almost impossible to believe Lions offensive coordinator George Cortez's assertion that he doesn't remember Jennings from that Florida camp. George was with the Riders back then but told the Vancouver Sun's Mike Beamish on Friday that he doesn't recall Jennings. After Saturday's game, Cortez stood by that statement.
It's tough to believe because George is as cerebral of a coach as they come, and it's hard to fathom he wouldn't have some recollection of Jennings' performance. Bob Dyce said he remembers a little of Jennings, however as Special Teams Coordinator, he was more focused on auditioning punters and long-snappers.
My first brush with Jennings was in the Minneapolis airport as we were boarding a connecting flight to Tampa Bay in August of 2014. He was connecting out of Michigan and, noticing that same Roughriders coat I was wearing, he came up and introduced himself. The Saginaw Valley State product struck me as a mature young man, with the build of a linebacker or taller defensive back.
For a report on how Jennings fared in that Riders' minicamp, you can check out my detailed recap here: http://www.rodpedersen.com/2014/04/rider-minicamp-wraps-up.html. It notes that Jennings was the best quarterback for a good portion of Day 2 of the camp, but that was strictly my own observation.
So you can flame the Riders all you want for not signing Jennings, but it really does no good at this point. That regime is now gone although the scouting staff that initially identified him remains. Consider for a moment that the Rider scouts have now found quarterbacks for Winnipeg (Drew Willy), Montreal (Rakeem Cato), and B.C. (Jon Jennings).
Do with that information what you will.
Esteemed sportswriter Ed Willes proclaimed Jon Jennings as the future of the Lions just as Bruce Springsteen was tabbed "the future of Rock 'N Roll" in 1974. I would caution Ed that it WAS ONLY ONE GAME!
But truthfully, it was a helluva game.
4 - A CORRECTION: Call it a bad tip. I've been informed that the note in last week's column regarding Tom Higgins' application to the Roughriders was false. I'll be more careful in listening to that source in the future.
And while no names have been revealed, the Riders have confirmed they have been contacted by several interested candidates about the General Manager and head coach positions. Riders President & CEO Craig Reynolds vowed to conduct a full and thorough search in order to fill the positions. Expect to hear more about the process at the conclusion of the season. However at this point, I'm told Higgins has not contacted the Riders.
Interim GM Jeremy O'Day is certainly one of the candidates and I want to clarify something I've been hearing a lot over the past month. Several fans and football observers have written into this blog and mentioned face-to-face that O'Day has "no American contacts" given his relatively short time in management. But that's as farcical as it sounds. Jeremy spent 14 seasons as an offensive lineman in the CFL and many of his former teammates and coaches have gone to to a wide array of positions in the NFL, NCAA, CFL, CIS and CJFL. Honestly, he's as connected as they get after a lifetime in the game. He's also built an impressive network of contacts throughout his five seasons scouting the NFL in his role as Assistant GM of the Roughriders. If that's your biggest worry with O'Day, you can put it to rest.
5 - REMEMBER THIS: Longtime CFL statistician Tom Lawrence is based in Vancouver and has become a good friend and colleague over the years. We discussed the plight of the 5-8 Lions and the fact they're not attracting the crowds they're used to at B.C. Place. A few years ago I brought up the notion of the NFL's Seattle Seahawks being a major threat in the market to the Lions and on Saturday I asked Tom if that's been the case. "Only on Sundays," Lawrence remarked. And with that simple sentence, it opened a wonderful glimpse into how the Lions and the entire CFL can counter-act the NFL.
Although the Seahawks have conducted an aggressive marketing blitz in the Vancouver area over the past few years - including a golf tournament which paired up Canadian sponsors with Seahawks players and regular Seahawks player appearances at local shopping malls - Seattle really is only a threat to the Lions on their game days.
If the CFL can avoid playing its fall games on Sundays, they should be golden with regards to ticket sales and TV viewers. The NFL has locked up Thursday, Sunday and Monday but have left Friday and Saturday to the CFL in Canada. Depending on stadium availability, if our league can stick to those days in the years ahead we should be fine.
Vancouver is a great, great CFL town and they love their Lions. Tom Lawrence figures the only explanation for the dip in attendance this season is the team's poor record and lack of (generally) exciting football.
That doesn't last forever.
But it's infinitely worth noting that the new Canadian Brewhouse in Regina doesn't take table reservations on evenings when the NFL is on because they're filled to capacity. 99% of Reginans can't name five players on any given NFL team yet the games are an event not be missed. How can we replicate that with the CFL?
6 - A SATURDAY DOUBLEHEADER: It wasn't until just before kickoff on Saturday that we realized the NHL's Vancouver Canucks were hosting the Edmonton Oilers in preseason play later that night across the street at Rogers Arena. A quick text message to Canucks PR landed media passes for Carm Carteri and me and Carm was shocked that it only took 100 steps out the back entrance of BC Place to be inside Rogers Arena and up the elevator into the press box. Fantastic!
Oilers star and Regina Pats great Jordan Eberle didn't make the trip due to his injured shoulder however we were excited to see rookie Oilers phenom Connor McDavid in live game action for the first time. The 2015 #1 overall pick came into the game as the Oilers' plus/minus leader and centre of the top line. As advertised, he's the real deal but what stood out for me was his defensive play. Twice he was in position to swipe a loose puck out of his own crease to save a goal. Like a lot of NHL superstars he doesn't have to expend a ton of energy because he naturally is always in the right place at the right time. McDavid was also deadly on faceoffs and a horse along the boards.
Watching the Oilers live last year was a disaster. Having seen them in Anaheim during our Marlin Travel/SportsCage trip, Edmonton was a nightmare under coach Dallas Eakins. They looked like a novice team with five guys chasing the puck in the corner. However under new coach Todd McLellan, they're playing infinitely more structured and are a joy to watch. Will they make the playoffs for the first time since 2006? That's a tough call right now but they'll be markedly better.
As for the Canucks, I asked Vancouver broadcaster Joe Kenward downstairs after the game what the outlook is for that team. "What you saw tonight is pretty much what you get," Kenward advised.
Yikes. The Canucks won 2-1 in overtime but there's not a ton there.
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8 - GO PATS GO: The Pats weren't able to sound off their goal horn even once in two weekend home games. The Queen City Kids were shutout 6-0 at home to Brandon on Saturday and fell 3-0 to Calgary in Sunday's late-afternoon matinee.
I didn't realize until our early Monday morning meeting that Pats coach John Paddock was absent Saturday night due to his induction into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame. It's doubtful that's the reason for the lopsided loss since assistant coach Dave Struch is good as you'll find.
The Pats' record now stands at 1-3-0 as they prepare to host the Vancouver Giants Friday evening. That's another game we'll have to miss due to the Rider game at Hamilton that same night.
I still haven't seen the new Pats jerseys live as I had to skip Sunday's game in order to take care of a few things around the house with the only available time left in the week.
But the jerseys look incredibly sharp! The blues are just like the New York Rangers while the whites seem to be something entirely unique to the Pats.
9 - FALL BALL: Not sure about the rest of the country but the Toronto Blue Jays have given Saskatchewan sports fans a nice way to fill the void left by the Riders' struggles in Autumn. For the young sports fans around here, they've never been able to experience meaningful baseball for the Blue Jays in October and they're in for a REAL treat.
It's shocking to me to hear many people say they're already "sick of the Blue Jays" when in truth, I thought we'd be inundated much more than we have. If Toronto gets off to a good start against the Texas Rangers in the ALDS, pretty soon you'll start to see the car flags and Blue Jays banners waving around this town. We're already seeing more Blue Jays hats and jerseys than we ever have.
It'll be doubly exciting to be in southern Ontario later this week to feel the vibe.
THAT'S ALL FOR TODAY! SEE YOU IN THE CAGE AT 4:00 PM