GOING TO CALGARY
1 - THE SKINNY: If nothing else, the forecast is favourable for Saturday's CFL match-up between the Roughriders and Stampeders at Calgary's McMahon Stadium (1:00 pm, TSN, CKRM Rider Radio Network). The weatherman says we can expect mainly sunny skies and a high of 17 degrees Celsius. The Stampeders are favoured by 14-points, and lead the two-game season series 1-0 after a 34-31 win in Regina on August 22 before a sellout crowd of 33,427.
2 - THOSE WERE THE DAYS: For as long as I can remember (back to the 1980's), Roughriders games in Calgary have always been special. That's because the crowd has always seemed to be a 50/50 split of red and green as the Rider Nation generally comes out in full force. However with Saskatchewan languishing at 2-14, the Tractor Factor seems to have been silenced. I did my best to whip up some hype during Wednesday's post-practice interviews but the Riders weren't biting. The novelty of Saskatchewan-at-Calgary games hasn't been a big discussion point this week in the locker and meeting rooms.
"A little bit, but not a lot," admitted starting quarterback Brett Smith. "I know this sounds cliché, but I'm approaching it, and everybody is, like any other game. It's a really good team and that's about all I've heard. And it gets cold up there. That's pretty much it."
Riders head coach Bob Dyce isn't particularly interested in the goings-on in the stands either.
"We don't talk about Calgary especially, or I should say going to Calgary," Dyce explained. "We talk about their team, not going in there. Most of the times when we've gone in there this time of the year, it's meant a lot in the standings. This is just a great opportunity for us to win a football game on the road. That's what we're looking forward to -- we want to win a game on the road this year."
However I still feel Saturday is going to be a great day and Tourism Calgary is doing its best to lure Rider fans to the Foothills for Saturday's game. In a promotion called Invade Calgary, about a half dozen hotels have teamed up to offer special rates for the Rider Nation to come, spend the weekend, and enjoy the game.
I thought I'd mention that in this week's column since Tourism Calgary was nice enough to purchase some ad space on this blog. However the match-up has a distinct lack of sizzle. There hasn't been much talk on Calgary radio shows, and I've made no on-air appearances over there this week. After all, they've got the Flames to discuss (2-7-1).
3 - "A TOMB": That's the term CKRM's Mitchell Blair used to describe the Mosaic Stadium visitors locker room on Wednesday, where the post-practice interviews were held. Scruffy hadn't been down to the ball park since before the bye week, but it's a mood I noticed ever since the Riders were officially eliminated from the 2015 CFL playoff race in Week 16. On Wednesday's SportsCage, Mitchell noted that quarterback Keith Price was about the only Roughrider player who exhibited a spark while meeting with the media. However once the game kicks off on Saturday, I expect the Green & White to put forth their best effort. They did, for the most part, last week at home against Edmonton. They're pros, even if they're playing out the string.
As for Price, is the future of the Roughriders at the quarterback position? I don't know, but he sure has a good head on his shoulders. We'll hear from him on the SportsCage on Thursday.
4 - CALGARY CURSE: The Roughriders haven't won a regular season game at McMahon since August 1, 2009. They've lost seven in a row at the Stampeders, with a tie just before that. However CFL Game Notes pointed out this week the Riders did win in Calgary in the 2010 and 2013 West Finals.
5 - O'DAY, O'DAY, O'DAY, O'DAYYYYY: As soon as this 2015 Roughrider season is put to bed, focus will immediately switch to the search for the team's next GM. I'm still shocked at the anti-Jeremy O'Day sentiment out there, however analysts John Lynch and Don Hewitt pointed out on our TV show In The Huddle this week that it's not personal.
We've already explained ad nauseum that the criticisms of O'Day regarding a perceived lack of contacts or his apprenticeship under the prior regime are laughable. That seemed to tide them over for awhile but now the critics are saying O'Day could be too close to the current players (at least the ones he played with) and too reluctant to make unpopular moves. However that's absurd as well. Clearly it's coming from people who simply don't know the man.
If the best the detractors can come up with is "He's just not ready", well, that's what they said about Justin Trudeau too and now he's our Prime Minister. Endorse whomever you want, but at least know the facts.
And hey -- O'Day may not even get the job. Rider President Craig Reynolds may find a more seasoned, more accomplished football man and if he does, more power to him. I won't be upset. I'm just saying those dogging Jeremy don't seem to have an idea what they're talking about.
6 - MORE GAME NOTES: The Roughriders have suited up a franchise record 79 players in 2015. That broke the old mark of 74 set in ... 2014. In fact the 79 players the Roughriders have suited up this season are the second-highest total in CFL history behind Kent Austin's 2013 Hamilton Tiger-Cats who employed 88.
7 - RIDER NOTES: CFL Statistics note Rider receivers Weston Dressler (799 yards) and Ryan Smith (796 yards) are the only two players with a realistic shot at a 1,000-yard season this year. Smith has been the hottest of late, with 250 yards receiving in the past three games ... Meanwhile the Riders are expected to split the quarterbacking duties on Saturday between rookies Brett Smith and Keith Price. Last week against Edmonton, Smith led seven drives while Price quarterbacked six ... On the Calgary side, kicker Rene Parades sits at 199 career field goals.
8 - THE YEAR OF THE TACKLE: The CFL could feature five players with 100+ tackles in 2015 which would break the old record of three set in 2010. Barrin Simpson, Jamall Johnson and Kevin Eiben did it five seasons ago. This year the five players looking at the century mark are Adam Bighill (108), Jeff Knox Jr. (101), Winston Venable (97), Khalil Bass (93) and Gregory Jones (88).
9 - MORE CFL NOTES: Ottawa football teams have never had more than two 1,000-yard receivers and this year they've equalled that with Chris Williams and Brad Sinopoli. They figure to set a club record as Ernest Jackson (935) and Greg Ellingson (894) are knocking on the door ... The most-targeted Roughrider receiver is Weston Dressler with 108 passes thrown his way (he's caught 62). Next up is Rob Bagg (75 targets, 43 receptions) ... The Toronto Argonauts are 4-0 in games decided by 4-or-less points while the Hamilton Tiger-Cats are 0-4 in the same situation ... Edmonton leads the CFL with 10 come-from-behind victories. Defense wins championships and it says here the Edmonton Eskimos will capture their 14th Grey Cup this November 29 in Winnipeg ... Thursday morning the Ottawa RedBlacks signed free agent running back Hugh Charles, a former Rider.
10 - RANDOM THOUGHTS: We're waking up to news today that GM Alex Anthopoulos is leaving the Toronto Blue Jays after turning down a 3-year contract extension this week. It doesn't break my heart but what does is he's being forced out by new team president Mark Shapiro. What exactly did Shapiro ever accomplish while running the Cleveland Indians? ... With the Blue Jays bowing out in Game 6 of the ALCS, the Jose Bautista "bat-flip" will not go down as one of the greatest moments in Canadian sports history (a la Joe Carter in 1993) ... Huge scoop by TSN's Rick Westhead on the Anthopoulos story this morning. He certainly caught Sportsnet with their pants down on that one. However Westhead couldn't be more off base with his coverage of the Arizona Coyotes. More on that further down in this column ... Despite the lopsided prediction for Saturday's Riders-Stamps game, it promises to be a bang-up sports weekend. The Montreal Canadiens visit the Calgary Flames Friday night and we'll be in attendance ... The role of the team broadcaster: the Arizona Coyotes were flattened 6-0 in Boston on Tuesday night but their TV broadcasters were quick to point out "it was a great road trip" with wins in Ottawa and Toronto before the pups ran out of gas. However as coach Dave Tippett pointed out on the postgame show, "That's when you need to play smarter". But as far as the broadcasters go, keep it positive ... The oddsmakers had it wrong. In Las Vegas they said Ken Hitchcock of the St. Louis Blues would be the first NHL coach to be fired this season (5/2 odds) followed by Arizona's Dave Tippett (4/1). Nobody forecasted that it would be Todd Richards in Columbus! And I've got my money on somebody else long before Hitch or Tippett are shown the door .. NHL insiders say: owners are not fast-tracking Las Vegas as an expansion franchise because they're waiting to see how the Coyotes fare in The Valley and if it fails in the next couple of years, an escape plan has been hatched for Sin City. That's unlikely however, as a story in The Hockey News this week stated the Coyotes will either be moving to a downtown arena in Phoenix or to a newly-built facility in Scottsdale. I'll save it for ya ... This week's CHL Top 10 rankings feature the following WHL teams: #4 P.A. Raiders, #8 Brandon Wheat Kings, Honourable Mentions: Lethbridge Hurricanes and Red Deer Rebels. Kudos to Dale Derkatch for assembling the talent for the top team in the Dub. AND, what a turnaround in Lethbridge by Peter Anholt.
THAT'S IT! SEE YOU IN THE CAGE ...