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Monday, November 23, 2015



1. Well, 2015 Grey Cup Week just got a lot more interesting.  In two wildly entertaining CFL Division Finals on Sunday, the Ottawa RedBlacks and Edmonton Eskimos advanced to the 103rd Grey Cup game in Winnipeg next Sunday.  That game will be a rematch of the 1981 Grey Cup in Montreal which Hugh Campbell's Eskimos won 26-23 over George Brancato's Rough Riders.  In an ironic twist, Campbell's son Rick is leading Ottawa back to the Grey Cup for the first time since and that's just one of the many juicy storylines which will titillate us over the next seven days.

2. The RedBlacks advanced with a 35-28 last-minute home victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in a game they know they were lucky to win.  Ticats linebacker Arnaud Gascon-Nadon dropped a surefire interception in Ottawa territory in the final minute which surely would've sealed the game in Hamilton's favour.  Arnaud can be thankful about one thing: he doesn't play in Saskatchewan.  It was another bitter ending for the Ticats, who haven't won a Grey Cup since 1999.  Owner Bob Young wrote on Facebook after the game, "Great game - wrong result.  Brilliant coaching of a beaten up Ticats team.  Almost went to the Grey Cup anyway.  Proud of the whole organization!".

3. Don't let anybody tell you that a football game doesn't come down to one play.  (The 2009 Grey Cup comes to mind).  Gascon-Nadon's gaffe will forever go down in Ticats lore, just like Taylor Reed's illegal block penalty which cost Hamilton the 2014 Grey Cup against Calgary.  It'll take a good long time for Hamilton to get over this one, but at the very least this season was the first time Bob Young's turned a profit in his decade of ownership.

4. As for Edmonton, many are calling the Eskimos a "team of destiny" but easterners are saying the same thing about the Ottawa RedBlacks.  Someone's heart will be broken at Investors Group Field next Sunday but that's what makes these championship games so thrilling!  Is this a dream match-up for the CFL?  Maybe, maybe not.  But it seems like a pretty good one to me.

Interesting that Eskimos head coach Chris Jones said in his postgame news conference that he conferred with legendary NFL coach Bill Parcells in the week leading up to the game and "Tuna" told him not to "leave any bullets in the gun".  That led to the Eskimos running multiple fakes against the Stampeders.

5. The television ratings for Sunday's Division Finals will have been huge and it seems many CFL players were watching right along with the rest of us.  However Argonauts defensive end Ricky Foley didn't seem too pleased with the officiating, writing on Twitter: "C'mon man ... at what point does somebody step in and admit these refs are hurting the product on the field and do something about it?"  Methinks Foley will be hearing from CFL Director of Officiating Glen Johnson this week.

6. Finally an Orridge sighting!  We've noticed the lack of presence by CFL Commissioner Jeffrey Orridge in recent weeks but he was front and centre on Sunday, handing out the N.J.Taylor Trophy to the West Division Champions Sunday in Edmonton.  I'd have been interested to see where Orridge was sitting for the game, but the TSN cameras weren't apparently quite as interested.

7. Winnipeg Blue Bombers President Wade Miller is in charge of putting bums in seats for the 2015 Grey Cup and making sure the week-long party is a success.  Wade will be on the SportsCage on Monday in one last-ditch attempt to sell tickets to the Rider Nation.  At least the weather will cooperate somewhat this week.  The forecast for Winnipeg looks like this: Wednesday -2, Thursday -9, Friday -7, Saturday -3, Game Day -5.  The new unofficial slogan of the 103rd Grey Cup can be IT COULD BE WORSE!

8. Economic Development Winnipeg estimates the CFL championship game will bring 28,000 guests into Winnipeg with a projected economic impact of $85.5-million.  The Chamber's Executive Vice-President Loren Remillard disclosed those figures to the Winnipeg Sun.

9. It was strange watching the CFL semifinals and division finals from the couch.  Very strange.  The Riders and everyone connected with them are used to being in the middle of the hype, in the eye of the hurricane, this time of year and it left a pit in our stomach.  However after picking up our lips and recalling how much extreme fun the past decade has been, it's dutiful to feel good for the fanbases in Edmonton and Ottawa.  They certainly deserve it.

10. Speaking of, the Eskimos should be up for some type of marketing award at the League's annual Winter Congress in the New Year.  Their playoff slogan "#YouIn" was everywhere in Edmonton in the days leading up to Sunday's West Division Final and the crosstown Oilers even got heavily involved in the campaign. The Eskimos surpassed 30,000 in attendance for Sunday's game, just after leading the CFL in attendance in 2015.  They even had a "Watch Party" for the Western Semifinal at a local establishment where fans were welcomed down to watch the BC-Calgary playoff game along with Eskimos players.  Credit where it's due.

11. TSN's Gary Lawless reported over the weekend the Roughriders have asked for - and received - permission from Ottawa to speak with Assistant GM Brock Sunderland and from Calgary to speak with Assistant GM John Murphy.

Here is Sunderland's bio from the RedBlacks website:

"Brock Sunderland is in his third year as the Assistant General Manager for the Ottawa REDBLACKS.  In this role, he will be involved in every facet of football operations, including the negociation of player contracts and assisting with the salary cap.  He’ll also coordinate the REDBLACKS scouting department and will play a vital role in helping prep the team for the Expansion Draft, CFL Draft, and finding players to build the team’s roster. The upcoming 2015 season will be Sunderland’s 12th in pro football.

Before joining the REDBLACKS, he spent six seasons with the New York Jets in the NFL.  While with the Jets, Sunderland served as a pro scout for four years.  In that role, he evaluated players from every level of professional football, including the NFL, CFL, and all Arena Leagues.   Along with these duties, he also served as an advance scout, preparing reports for the Jets’ upcoming opponents. Most recently, he was a college scout for two years and covered the western region of the U.S. for the Jets.

Prior to joining the Jets, Sunderland spent three seasons with the Montreal Alouettes, where he was elevated to Director of Scouting after joining the team as a scout in 2004.  In that role, he was responsible for scouting players in the NFL, NFL Europe, the AFL and AFL 2, as well as the advance scouting of every CFL team.  He also evaluated college players from the United States and Canada, helping the Alouettes prepare for the annual CFL Draft.  In addition, he was also responsible for the negotiation of player contracts.

A wide receiver and punt returner for the University of Montana (1998-2000), Sunderland played for three conference championship teams before several knee injuries ended his playing career prematurely.  He was a student assistant coach at Montana before joining the Alouettes in 2004.  A native of Great Falls, MT, he holds a bachelor’s degree in communications.

His father, Marv Sunderland, is a scout with the Tennessee Titans and is working in his 38th year in the NFL."

And here is John Murphy's bio from

"Murphy is entering his eighth season with the Stampeders. After helping to shape the roster that allowed the Stampeders to win the 2008 Grey Cup in his first stint with Calgary as assistant director of scouting, Murphy joined the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 2009 as their director of player personnel. He then returned to Calgary in 2010 as director, player personnel and is now the assistant general manager, player personnel for the fifth straight season.

Prior to joining the Stampeders, Murphy worked as a US-based scout for the Montreal Alouettes and did a pre-season and NFL Combine player personnel internship with the Oakland Raiders.

Together with head coach/general manager John Hufnagel, Murphy oversees all player personnel-related matters for the Stampeders, including the CFL Draft, CFL Combine, Florida rookie camp and reviewing potential free-agent signings.  He also manages the league’s daily transactions and is in regular contact with all CFL member clubs, as well as the player personnel offices of the NFL and the AFL with respect to player movement.

He is involved in aspects of CFL player evaluations and trades, the Salary Management System and is also responsible in the team's contract negotiations, scouting NFL training camps, CIS football, and a number of NCAA bowl games. 

In addition to his work in the Canadian Football League, Murphy founded Next Level Scouting, Inc., a company he started in 1999. Next Level Scouting Inc. provided detailed scouting reports to every team in the National Football League.

He served on the selection committee for the East-West Shrine Game from 2002-2009 and is one of the creative forces behind the NFLPA Texas vs. the Nation All-Star Challenge where he serves as the VP Director of Player Personnel and also helped develop the publication “NFL Draft Bible.”

His sports experience prior to the CFL saw him be one of the most successful owners/general managers among U.S. minor league football programs, having won a National Championship in 1996 with the Louisiana Bayou Thunder and then creating the top-rated new franchise in the country in 2006 as the Bay Area Gamblers (Pearland, Tex.) finished ranked among the Top-10 teams in the country in their first year of play in the NAFL. He was inducted to the Minor League Football Hall of Fame in 2007.

A native of Merrick, N.Y., he currently resides in Harahan, La., and has been involved in many causes to benefit children in the various communities he has resided.  Murphy — along with several others from Pearland, Tex., community in which he once resided — has developed a new sports-oriented social media website called Athletes United which is available at"

The Roughriders already have an Assistant GM right under their nose whom they've been grooming for five years.  Not sure why they would look elsewhere to fill the top position.

12. Lawless is correct in his reportings but here are some other names from the CFL rumour mill who have either approached the Roughriders, or are expected to be approached by the Roughriders:

Danny McManus
Joe Womack
Glen Suitor
Tom Higgins
Jim Barker

It should be pointed out that I haven't confirmed or denied any of these names with the Roughriders brass in an effort to respect the process.  I expect when they have something to update the public on, they'll let me know.

Also, Stampeders Head Coach & GM John Hufnagel confirmed to reporters after Sunday's WDF that his top assistant John Murphy is indeed a candidate in Saskatchewan.  As for himself, Hufnagel said he's still under contract to the Stampeders.

13. The Ticats are rightfully trumpeting the fact that they are the only CFL team to sell out every home game in 2015 BUT remember Tim Hortons Field has a capacity of only 24,000.  The Saskatchewan Roughriders haven't had a crowd below 24,000 since the 2006 season which would represent a string of at least 90 consecutive sellouts at Mosaic Stadium if the venue was that small.

14. 620 CKRM's SportsCage will be front and centre at Grey Cup Week in Winnipeg.  Carm Carteri, Luc Mullinder and I will be making the trek to the Manitoba capital and will be broadcasting our show live from the Winnipeg Convention Centre's Radio Row along with all TSN Radio affiliates beginning Wednesday.  Also, CKRM football analysts Mike McCullough and Neal Hughes will be the emcee's at Riderville beginning Thursday.

15. Can't escape without a few hockey notes:  The MMG gives two thumbs-up to 3-on-3 overtime in the NHL and WHL this year.  The purists can be happy the new format has cut the amount of shootouts by a third, but it's also provided an endless amount of entertainment.  I generally leave a hockey game with 3:00 to go in order to beat the rush (no matter whether the game is tied for not) but this season that's been a bad decision.  It appears hockey has corrected itself! ... I don't know how long Hockey Night In Canada has featured Don Cherry and Ron McLean on a split screen for Coach's Corner but hopefully they abandon the idea pronto.  Saturday night's episode was disjointed and Cherry seemed quite cranky about not having his sidekick right beside him.  It wasn't a good segment ... The bottom three NHL teams in attendance: Carolina Hurricanes, NY Islanders, Florida Panthers ... I thought they'd catcall Patrick Kane in Edmonton for his legal issues of this summer.  They didn't, and hats-off to Oilers fans for that ... The documentary Swift Current featuring the sordid story of Sheldon Kennedy is must-see TV but I caught myself wondering what purpose it serves?  The perpetrator's been brought to justice and has been put away for a real long time.  If all the culprits were to be nabbed, then the show would be a win.  Perhaps it'll help give somebody with a secret the courage to say something, or get other victims of similar crimes to step forward.  Either way, I feel Sheldon Kennedy's a hero.