Monday, November 30, 2015
THE MONDAY MORNING GOALIE
SO LONG WINNIPEG
1. First of all, congratulations Edmonton Eskimos. The Esks captured their 14th Grey Cup championship Sunday evening at a soldout Investors Group Field in Winnipeg (36,634) with a 26-20 victory over the Ottawa RedBlacks in the 103rd CFL title game. The Eskimos are a first-class outfit from top-to-bottom and on Sunday they were rewarded for their efforts. Hats off to President Len Rhodes, GM Ed Hervey, Head Coach Chris Jones, and their entire operation!
2. Kudos too to the Ottawa RedBlacks who classily represented the CFL's East Division in the Grey Cup and really came within a whisker of winning it. They led for much of the game, including a 19-18 advantage heading into the fourth quarter. However on this night, the better team won. Will they be back for another crack at it in the 2016 Grey Cup in Toronto? It's farrrrr too early to tell but this franchise admittedly exceeded even their own expectations in just their second season of existence. It's small consolation, but they beat the spread (the Eskimos were favoured by seven points) and in doing so won me a $100 bet with Tiger Williams. Thanks!
3. The Eskimos dominated the statsheet in the 2015 Grey Cup by out-rushing the RedBlacks (109-72), out-passing (269-220), Time of Possession (32:29-27:31) and they led in sacks (3-2). Interestingly enough, the turnover battle was even (1-1) and Edmonton was able to pull off the victory despite two missed field goals from kicker Sean Whyte.
4. It was a pretty cleanly-played game as well with Edmonton only taking six penalties for 87 yards and Ottawa being flagged on seven occasions for 118 yards. It appeared there wasn't even a penalty called until late into the first quarter. And, perhaps appropriately enough, Eskimos coach Chris Jones is getting credit for a strategic victory by successfully challenging a pass interference non-call (after a timeout) which ultimately led to the game-winning touchdown. The New CFL was on display before a worldwide audience and it hit a homerun when it mattered the most.
5. Long-time, and former Edmonton Eskimos play-by-play man Bryan Hall has attended over 50 Grey Cups and on Saturday morning in the Fort Garry Hotel restaurant, he sauntered over to my table around 8:00 AM and casually asked, "What do you think of this Grey Cup Week?" I quickly turned the tables around on Hallsy, and asked him the same question before I even answered his. "I think it's been great," Bryan stated, with his chest puffed out as usual. "The transportation between venues has been well thought-out and it looks like everything came off without a hitch". I concurred.
6. But what makes a Grey Cup are the people. The fans. And, this was one of the lowest-attended Grey Cup festivals in 50 years. The craziness and bedlam we're used to just wasn't there. You could see it on national TV, as the TSN set at the Winnipeg Convention Centre on Saturday wasn't as crammed as we've become accustomed. When hosts Kate Beirness and Darren Dutchyshen broadcasted live on Grey Cup Saturday, there were only three people in view behind the adjacent barricade (well, four if you include the needless security guard). There were no two-hour lineups to get into the parties and I'm told an autograph line for Rider star John Chick on Saturday only consisted of three fans before its scheduled start.
7. You cannot blame the host committee for this, nor its head, Bomber President Wade Miller (whom we'll discuss in point #8). The Bombers and Roughriders sucked in 2015 - both missing the playoffs - and this Grey Cup was sunk as early as Labour Day, as far as attendance goes. Winnipeg did its best and for that, they should be commended. It just won't go down as the greatest Grey Cup ever. Not by a longshot.
8. Just a quick note on the Blue Bombers because they were as hot of a topic as anything else over the past week. The Tiger-Cats and RedBlacks have some long-suffering fanbases but nothing compares to that of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. They haven't won a Grey Cup since 1990 and I dare say they really haven't been close to a favourite since other than the 14-4 Bombers who lost the 2001 Grey Cup to the 8-10 Calgary Stampeders. Now it's up to President Wade Miller to lead them out of the wilderness and he's adamantly hitched his wagon to GM Kyle Walters and Head Coach Mike O'Shea. The whispers in Winnipeg suggest that Miller is too "hands-on" but his detractors are few. I like Wade Miller. A lot. And there's an incredibly fine line between "meddling" and "holding people accountable". It says here that nobody knows more of what the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are all about, and success in business, than Wade Miller. My fingers are crossed that they will return to prominence very soon.
However if they'd like a catalyst to accomplish this, I'll offer two words: "Eric Tillman".
9. One area where the CFL could be vastly better is in the area of their awards. When legendary Blue Bomber voice Bob Irving was awarded the Hugh Campbell Trophy for distinguished service on Thursday evening, I was sitting with a long-time Edmonton broadcaster who gulped, "I didn't even know they had a Hugh Campbell Award". Sorting out who wins what and affixing appropriate names to the East and West Division Championship trophies would be a good start this off-season. It would be excellent too if they could add a couple more awards like the NFL annually hands out for "GM of the Year" and "Coordinator of the Year". If they were to have done that in 2015, my votes would go to Ottawa's Marcel Desjardins and Jason Maas respectively. But again, they have to better publicize what they're currently handing out first.
10. We pulled up and headed out of Winnipeg Saturday before noon. My partners Luc Mullinder and Carm Carteri agreed that we'd done our jobs, and there was nothing left to stay for so we made the five-hour trek home in the daylight. I still don't feel like we missed anything however some media insiders told me Sunday there were some loose lips out on the town Saturday night. That led to Sunday's national report that the Roughriders do, in fact, have Edmonton's Chris Jones on their wish list for the GM/Coach position. Jones was elevated after John Hufnagel reportedly informed the Roughriders he plans to stay in Calgary. So, we've got another few weeks of chasing this story and perhaps that Rider shortlist of four will ultimately come down to these names: Chris Jones, Jeremy O'Day, John Murphy and Brock Sunderland.
11. Star Calgary Stampeders running back Jon Cornish told us on the SportsCage on Friday that he will make an announcement this week regarding his future. Injuries and lingering P.C.S. limited his play in 2015 but here's hoping he's back at 100% for 2016. The league is better with him in it.
12. Friendly Manitoba indeed. Just like the slogan on the license plates, the province didn't disappoint. We were issued warnings instead of parking tickets in downtown Winnipeg. GET THAT U OF S?
However others may disagree with my take on Manitoba hospitality. There were a few stories of people being hassled or even assaulted for being Rider fans. I didn't see any of that and can only speak of my own experiences.
13. The 2016 Canadian Football Hall of Fame induction class was announced at Friday's Legends Lunch, put on by the CFL Alumni Association. The field includes James "Wild, Wild" West, Doug Brown, Derell "Mookie" Mitchell, Rodney Harding and builder Don McDonald (Saskatoon Hilltops). The class had no one with a Roughrider tie-in, therefore the Rider Nation couldn't care less. It's a shame, but that's my take on it.
14. The 2015 Grey Cup was the highest-ever attended by CFL Alumni members and Friday's luncheon was the first Grey Cup event to sell out. The Angelo Mosca-Joe Kapp fight from 2011 gave this thing some much-need publicity and patrons have shown up every year since hoping for another scrap like that.
15. TSN's broadcast of the game was virtually flawless. They generally save the best for last. However the league governors will be on TSN's butt this off-season for not injecting anywhere near the resources they do for regional NHL telecasts. One comment made to me was, "We haven't ignored the fact they failed to send the panel on the road for CFL games which draw a million-plus viewers but built a new set and send their NHL panel on the road for games which draw 90,000". The fact Chris Cuthbert called three of four games one weekend this year will also be brought up. TSN could be better but make no mistake; the relationship between the CFL and TSN is iron clad. In fact I haven't seen a business relationship tighter than this one. Money talks. But I think Harvard Broadcasting (620 CKRM) gave the Riders almost as much dough in 2015 as TSN did.
I had to give this commentary its own section.
Friday morning began like all the others. After my alarm went off - and before even wiping the sleep from my eyes - I grabbed my Iphone and began surfing Twitter to see what was hot.
Remarkably, and surprisingly, someone had leaked the new CFL logo and its adjoining brand campaign which Orridge was going to unveil at the Commissioner's annual State of the League address in just a couple of hours.
Surely the Canadian Football League wasn't going to pull a fast one, and reveal an historic brand shift without telling anybody about it first would they? You'd HAVE to think they would tease all of Grey Cup Week that first-year Commissioner Jeffrey Orridge had a "major announcement" planned for his first-ever presentation.
Nope. And the WWMO hashtag doesn't count.
So I showered and headed over to the Fairmont ballroom Friday morning and found a spot in the second row at the news conference. There were several seats between the fellows on each side of me (Terry Jones of the Edmonton Sun and TSN's Rod Smith). I wanted to absorb every word of Orridge's speech, with no distractions.
However as time went on during his hour-long lecture, I became more and more unimpressed. His prepared speech was basically ripped from the CFL's weekly Game Notes package (i.e. scoring and penalties are up while attendance and ratings are down). I thought to myself, "We already know this. Give us something we don't already know."
Halfway through when Orridge invited questions from the 40 or 50 media members in attendance, it got worse. The rookie Commissioner seemed completely caught off-guard when asked about player accessibility, the absence of a drug policy, scheduling and tampering. When Sportsnet's Arash Madani asked Orridge if the CFL should adopt a Rooney Rule similar to the National Football League (NFL teams are required to interview minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operation jobs), I got the distinct impression the Commissioner had no idea what the rule is.
I shot a quick text to a national reporter standing in the back of the room to ask if this presentation was as odd as it seemed. "This is ridiculous," he wrote back.
Afterwards I asked one of Orridge's bosses how he felt the Commissioner did and he just rolled his eyes.
It was bad. B-A-D.
A headline in the Toronto Star the next day blared, "CFL Commissioner Fails To Inspire" while Terry Jones wrote in the Edmonton Sun, "He was all style and no substance. Or as we say in the west, all hat and no cattle". The Vancouver Sun's Cam Cole wrote that he would've included a transcript of the address in his column but the readers would've wound up face down in their breakfast after just a few paragraphs.
Someone even wrote that the reporters in attendance knew more about the CFL than the Commissioner did but to me, that's completely unfair. You're talking about some reporters who've covered the league for over 40 years while Orridge has only been on the job for seven months.
But for Pete's sake, at a reported $750,000 per year salary, I'd suggest Orridge be given a league history book, a rule book and a league directory on a Friday and told not to come out of his room till Monday. And then he'll be given a test on it.
I discovered during Grey Cup Week that Orridge's code name is "The Ghost" due to his lack of visibility over the past few months. TSN's Brian Williams said on a national radio show on Saturday that in his one-on-one with Orridge on Sunday's Grey Cup Pregame Show, he was going to ask him the tough questions like, "Why have you been so invisible?"
I watched that pregame show but unfortunately Brian didn't ask the question. However it seems Orridge has spent the past several months coming up with this new logo and the marketing campaign, but not digging into the real issues which plague the three-down game.
Meanwhile in that same radio interview on Saturday, Williams along with TSN Radio hosts Dave Naylor and Matt Sekeres all said they gave the new CFL logo a thumbs-down. Naylor went so far as to say it's unnecessary and I couldn't agree more.
Is it too late to change it back? I don't think so.
There were plenty of branding and marketing experts - from other companies - in Winnipeg for Grey Cup Week and they scoffed at the new logo. One said the style is en vogue now but it'll be passe within two-to-three years.
You need a league logo that's literally iconic, and can stand the test of time. I don't know, like say, the one we had up until Friday? That one was introduced by former CFL Commissioner Michael Lysko over a decade ago and still looks fresh.
In my lifetime, the NFL and NHL have each had only ONE logo. Meawhile in the same time frame, the CFL has had three.
And, as far as the launch goes, reporters from across the country were Tweeting photos of the Investors Group Field endzones which still were emblazoned with the old logo as of Friday. They were changed in time for Sunday's game but I've gotta think that was a last-minute scramble because of the backlash. And as of Sunday, the old logo was still featured prominently on CFL.ca.
The cherry on top was the coin toss at Sunday's 103rd Grey Cup when Orridge was wearing a toque with the new CFL logo while head referee Al Bradbury was standing right beside him in a black referees cap featuring the old logo.
Oh, and the website. The league's official website has been panned by fans and the media for months but truthfully I don't see what the problem is. Whenever I visit it (which is multiple times daily), I always get the information I'm looking for but perhaps I'm behind the times.
While sitting at that State of the League address on Friday, I started rubbing my hands together and was rocking back and forth with my guts churning in a sure sign of the anxiety disorder I've recently been diagnosed with.
However the conclusion, and the only way to get it to subside, is to quickly realize the phrase, "Not my circus, not my monkeys". You can only control what you can control and that's yourself.
But for anyone who really cares about the Canadian Football League, this was a tough weekend to swallow.
THANKS FOR STOPPING BY. SEE YOU IN THE CAGE AT 4 PM