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Thursday, December 31, 2015


LAS VEGAS -- We're ringing in the New Year of 2016 down here in Sin City but have collected a notebook of thoughts on the goings-on back home for your reading pleasure.  We'll be taking in UFC 195 at MGM Grand Garden Arena as part of the excursion plus some business meetings which I'll discuss in the MMG.  However until then, here goes:

1. All is quiet in Riderville for the time being, and I've been told not to expect any news of consequence until 2016.  However there's a Rider flavour in some of the U.S. college football bowl games including the New Years Eve Capital One Orange Bowl from SunLife Stadium in Miami.  Playoff Semifinal #1 between Oklahoma and Clemson will be shown on TSN's main network at 3:00 pm.  Sooners junior quarterback Baker Mayfield is on the Saskatchewan Roughriders' negotiation list so it'll give Rider fans a rooting interest, and more of a reason to tune in.  Who knows if Mayfield will ever set foot in the 306 but when I asked the Riders which prospects will be featured during Bowl season, Baker's name was the first one provided.  Clearly they're watching him with more than a casual interest.

2. While the USC Trojans were battling the Wisconsin Badgers in the Holiday Bowl Wednesday night in San Diego, USC was at the same time battling a lawsuit from former head coach Steve Sarkisian.  Sarkisian (a quarterback with Saskatchewan from 1997-1999), was placed on leave in October and later fired by USC as he entered a treatment facility for alcohol dependency.  Sarkisian alleges that the school discriminated against him because of his alcoholism and breached his contract, according to the suit which was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court.  The L.A. Times published a massive feature on the story this week and it provided an interesting subcurrent to what's going on on the field.  There are several roads this story could go down: 1) Will Sarkisian win the suit, 2) Will Steve ever coach again and 3) Would the Rider Nation welcome him back if he's spurned by the NCAA and NFL?

3. Some time in the New Year the Saskatchewan Roughriders are expected to announce the signing of former St. Mary's running back/receiver/returner Melvin Abankwah.  After being cut by the Riders coming out of 2015 training camp, Abankwah starred with the AFL's Fort McMurray Monarchs.  Melvin scored three touchdowns in the league semifinal before the Monarchs succumbed to the Calgary Gators in the championship game.  The AFL receives little fanfare but the mere presence of a player like Abankwah gives the league some added legitimacy.

4. Hoping to hook up with Rider great Ray Elgaard at some point this week here in Vegas.  #81 was busy on the links on Wednesday, carding an 84 in +10 degree Celsius temperatures.

Meanwhile this is our first stay at the Luxor Resort and it's the best facility we've experienced in our travels.  Two thumbs up if you're planning a Vegas vacation!  I had a backlog of vacation days I was told to burn up by Harvard Broadcasting and this seemed like the best spot.  No regrets.

5. Former Rider Chairman Phil Kershaw responded on Facebook to a New England newspaper story this week on Patriots defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, wondering how the U of Rams (Hicks' alma mater) could produce more NFL'ers than the Saskatchewan Roughriders (Hicks, Stefan Charles, Jon Ryan and for a time, Jorgen Hus).  My response to that is, so what?  The Riders' mandate should be - and likely is - to win as many football games in the CFL as possible rather than finding or producing NFL talent.  The Kelowna Rockets and Brandon Wheat Kings don't have many more NHL'ers than any other WHL teams yet they have many more wins and WHL titles.  So this Rams-NFL thing is, unfortunately, a facade.

6. I've been sitting in my room coming up with the Top 5 stories in the CFL this year.  Remember this is all off the top of my head.  So far what I've come up with are: 1) The hiring of Jeffrey Orridge as Commissioner, 2) Saskatchewan stealing Edmonton's coaching staff and the collateral damage, 3) Edmonton winning the Grey Cup, 4) Michael Sam signing with, then leaving the Montreal Alouettes and 5) ??????

Some suggestions which have come in are the same of the Argos and the turnaround of the RedBlacks. What are yours?

7. I've been watching with interest Canada's dissection of the World Junior Tournament in Finland.  Many are wondering how Switzerland could take Canada to a shootout, and then get pumped 10-1 by the USA.  To me, this preliminary round has been far more interesting to watch than the 14-1 Canadian routs of teams like Latvia over the years.  Just sit back and enjoy the hockey!  And don't forget how good Canada could have been with Connor McDavid in the lineup.

It was sad to see the Ottawa Senators get admonished by Canadian hockey fans for celebrating the exploits of prospect Colin White with Team USA at the WJC.  Cheer for whomever you want!  I'm sure the Sens didn't anticipate the backlash when they recognized White on their Twitter account.

It's also sad to see that no Saskatchewan radio stations are carrying the World Juniors.  In the 90's, many radio stations did including CKRM however there always seemed to be a Regina Pat on Team Canada.  This can be viewed in one of two ways: 1) There's an opportunity out there for some local radio station or 2) There's a reason why these stations aren't carrying the games (lack of listeners and/or sponsors).

Still, if you're travelling and want to tune into the games, download the Tunein App on your smartphone and stream TSN 1050 Toronto in your car.  They've got all of Canada's games.

Chatting with Foley in the Suncoast Casino
8. named Ottawa Senators 73-year old GM Bryan Murray - and his ongoing cancer battle - as the #1 newsmaker in the NHL in 2015.  Prospective Las Vegas NHL owner Bill Foley was named #6 on the list due to his dogged pursuit of an expansion franchise.  I'm told the prevailing feeling in the NHL is that it's a matter of when, not if, Foley gets a franchise.  However the Florida billionaire has to be riddled with anxiety as the new Las Vegas Arena is set to open in April, yet the NHL pushed back the expansion vote to the spring.  It was supposed to happen in early December of 2015 however as far as Foley's concerned, he's ready to go and already has 14,000 season tickets sold.  He told me his team would be ready to play in September of 2017 however the NHL has told him this will happen on their timeline, not his.

9. Tough times in Steeltown.  The Steelers' loss to Baltimore on Sunday dropped their chances of making the playoffs from 90% down to 40% and head coach Mike Tomlin is on the hotseat.  Meanwhile Pittsburgh hockey fans are all over Sidney Crosby for he and his team's lacklustre season, and are rooting for him to be traded.  Ahem, why does perennial coach-killer Phil Kessel get a pass?

10. Not surprisingly the NFL is all over the news down here and one interesting story is that of quarterback Brandon Weeden who's undefeated with the Houston Texans.  This, after he went 0-3 with the Dallas Cowboys in place of the injured Tony Romo this fall, and was dumped.  Weeden sneered in the Houston media this week that he'll be playing in the NFL playoffs while Cowboys GM/Owner Jerry Jones will be "watching from his couch".

What a coaching job done by the Texans to get Weeden ready to start, and win games.  It makes you wonder how the Saskatchewan Roughriders couldn't get Kerry Joseph prepared enough to win a CFL playoff game in 2014 with over a month to do so.

11. It's great chatting CFL with people in Nevada who truly love their football.  Several of them remember their early 1990's franchise, the Las Vegas Posse, and rookie pivot Anthony Calvillo.  As one clerk at the Under Armour Factory Outlet mentioned to me, "The CFL is a big deal".

12. The movie "Concussion" about brain injuries in the NFL starring Will Smith bombed at the box office in the first week of its opening.  How surprising is this?  Not really at all.  It's our contention that fans care no more about the concussion issue than they do about steroids, and that's very little.  They pay their dough and want to see the best players on the field every Sunday regardless of what it takes to get them out there.  When you put on the helmet or stick a needle in your butt, you should be aware of the risks.  If you don't want to do it, there's a line up of guys behind you who do.

13.  It's nice to see NFL head coaches have the time to do game-day interviews with their broadcast partners, even if their counterparts in the CFL do not.

14.  Bill Cosby.  Man.  Just wow.

15. It was hilarious to see everyone who got sucked into the Facebook hoax in the belief that President Mark Zuckerberg would be handing out millions to his social media users.  Here's an idea -- try earning your fortune rather than begging for his!