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Wednesday, January 27, 2016



PUNTA CANA -- I'm celebrating an anniversary today, and will be on a boat on the Atlantic Ocean for much of the day without Wifi or cellular service.  Therefore, when John Chick is introduced at a news conference in Hamilton, and whatever else goes down in sports, I'll be a million miles and half a world away.

So here's the weekly observations column, just one day early.  Because there's only one thing that won't change, and that's the past.

1. WHAT A DIFFERENCE A WEEK MAKES:  Things continue to move fast and furious in the CFL, particularly in Riderville.  I had a whole notebook of items regarding Darian Durant taking a paycut last week, and now that's olddddd news.  Now we have John Chick and Weston Dressler to deal with, and their departures to Hamilton and Winnipeg respectively, on top of the Durant situation.  Are these items all good news or bad news?  We'll know by next November.

2.  FIRST OF ALL, DURANT:  Any doubt that Durant's the face of the Roughriders has been erased.  He seems to be the only player deemed non-expendable in the new Chris Jones era as over half of last year's team has been gutted and there's still plenty of time to go before training camp.  A lady at the bank in South Regina, a teller named "Val" whom I chat Riders with regularly, said last week even before the news of Darian Durant's paycut, "There's sure going to be a lot of pressure on Darian now".  And make no mistake, she's a huge Darian Durant fan.  But really?  Durant has been under the gun ever since he took his first snap as starter of this team way back in 2009.  And, he's always come out smelling like a rose (injuries notwithstanding).

All Darian needs to prove to me this season is that he can stay healthy.  We already know he represents the best chance for the Saskatchewan Roughriders to win, and apparently Chris Jones and John Murphy feel the same way.

3.  THE NEW REGIME:  In the middle of these tryout camps in the U.S. South, Chris Jones is flying back to Saskatchewan to speak at the Estevan Bruins annual fundraiser dinner Thursday night.  It'll be his first public appearance as Head Coach and GM of the Saskatchewan Roughriders and he'll have plenty of things to address.  If you'd like to go, call the Bruins office for a ticket.  I'm guessing you won't be disappointed.

As far as running a football team goes, these guys are heartless.  So too are Wally Buono and Don Mathews who are, incidentally, the two winningest coaches in CFL history.

You want nice guys or do you want championships?  They rarely go together.

I haven't spoken with Jones and Murphy about it but they must be biting their lip with all the criticism they're facing from certain sections of the Rider Nation, not to mention factions from the Chick and Dressler camp themselves.  The proof will be in the pudding or as they say in football, "We'll do our talking on the field".

4.  WESTON AND JOHN:  So Dressler's a Blue Bomber and Chick's a Tiger-Cat.  You really can't blame either for shopping their wares to the highest bidder however it BRIEFLY flashed in my mind at the Darian Durant news conference that, "If Darian can take a paycut, why can't these two guys?"  Of course even with the paycut, Darian's going to make more than these two combined so that notion quickly passed.

But if you're going to take substantial cuts in salary and play elsewhere, why not swallow your pride and stay in Saskatchewan even if it means taking a cut?  Regarding who made who a counter offer, it sounds like a case of "he said, she said" and you rarely ever find out the truth in those situations.

Regarding whether or not Dressler and Chick would have played for $160,000 or $170,000 with the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2016, the answer I got from the team was "We'll never know".  So clearly, the discussions never went that far.

If John and Weston want to tell me what exactly went down, they know where to find me.  Otherwise I plan to respect their privacy because this is all between them and the Saskatchewan Roughriders and it's clear hard feelings remain.

Eventually everyone will move on.  As we all know, this stuff has happened in the past and will go on again in the future.

5.  HOW WE GOT IN THIS MESS:  It would be interesting to hear Brendan Taman's side of this, the deposed General Manager of the Saskatchewan Roughriders.  He's been known to overpay for players in the past for fear of the public backlash if the players signed elsewhere.  I'm sure Taman is sitting back - wherever he is - wishing he had an avenue to explain how the franchise got to this point.  He's certainly free to speak since he's a free agent.  I look forward to hearing what he has to say.  It just won't be here.

6.  MORE TIDBITS:  Some of these nuggets I've been able to substantiate with the team while others I haven't.  Here are two things I've heard, but haven't confirmed -- 1)  Bombers offensive coordinator Paul Lapolice called Weston Dressler within five minutes of him hitting the open market.  Clearly Lapo is ecstatic to work with Weston again and 2)  Chris Jones is sending Chris Getzlaf to an American specialist to get definitive word on his foot injuries before re-signing the veteran receiver to a new deal.

7.  SILENCE OF THE RAMS:  There's so much to get into with "The Boys in the Horns".  What have we learned since the sudden resignation of Mike Gibson as head coach last week?  Well for starters, that former Rams Marc Mueller and Jason Clermont have both been approached by the hiring committee to apply as head coach but both declined ... And, as of Tuesday, I'm told Regina Thunder coach Scott MacAuley has not been contacted ... Backing up, it's clear to all that Mike Gibson was NOT the correct hire by the University of Regina Rams a year ago.  His departure just one year into his commitment to the Program is all the evidence you need for that determination.  In fairness to Gibson, everything he did in 2015 was for the betterment of the Regina Rams and that's admirable.  However the way he left town, and the dig he took at his exit news conference last week tells everyone all they need to know about him.  He made no secret over the years that he wasn't a fan of mine but I was willing to support him and the program as long as he was in charge. And, I was told by a CFL coach that Gibson contacted his team back in December about a job ...  So, with that mistake being made a year ago, hopefully the University's hiring committee has looked at their practices and policies and don't make another blunder this go-around.

And hopefully by the time you read this, the committee has reached out to MacAuley.

8.  SUPER BOWL 50:  From what I can tell, the NFL is the only North American professional league with a global brand.  When a resort like the one I'm at sets up a room with a big screen to watch the NFL conference championships and it draws people from all over the world, you know it's a pretty big deal.  No one is congregating to watch NHL or NBA games (which aren't even available in the guest rooms).

There were tons of Boston people who showed up to watch the Patriots lose 20-18 in Denver in a nail-biter and by reading New England media reports, the 2015 season is being regarded as a disaster.  Why?  Because the team failed to reach the Super Bowl.  With four Super Bowl titles in the Bellichick-Brady Era, it's easy to see why they feel that way.

However it's unreasonable for Roughriders fans to feel any season without a Grey Cup championship is a failure.

Meanwhile the Super Bowl in San Francisco next Sunday, to quote John Lynch, "is just gonna be fantastic".  You've got Denver's Peyton Manning in his "last rodeo", as he calls it, against the upstart Cam Newton of Carolina who's fast becoming the face of the NFL.

Old against New!!  Who wins out??

Unfortunately for the Manning family, I feel it'll be the Panthers in a romp.  As it is, the Panthers are favoured by 4.5-points.

9.  TOP PROSPECTS:  Sam Steel and 39 other top NHL draft-elligible players will show their stuff Thursday night at the 2016 CHL Top Prospects Game in Vancouver on Rogers Sportsnet.  It will be very interesting to tune in and watch how Steel and the other prospects perform.  Although the Regina Pats sophomore phenom slid in the Central Scouting mid-term rankings, he's still a Top 10 talent.  It will be interesting to see how we fares against players his own age, and ones of his calibre.  As one NHL scout said to me last week after the rankings came out, "We can all see he has it."

It would be great if Steel and the Pats could hit top form in the next few months and do something in the playoffs rather than just treading water.  They've been in 7th place since October.  And for Steel, hopefully it starts Thursday night.

10.  DOMINICAN REPUBLIC:  This is the annual Harvard Broadcasting Sun Trip, but our first-ever getaway to the D.R.  For those who don't know, if you spend enough on advertising with 620 CKRM, MY 92.1 or the Wolf 104.9, you are elligible for a trip like this and I'm always there to accompany.  It's not a bad deal! ... From what we've seen, this is a fantastic island country.  The people are great, quick with a smile, and huge baseball fans.  One guy on a bicycle saw my Blue Jays shirt and yelled, "Hey Blue Jays!  BAUTISTA!"  ... The capital of the Dominican Republic is Santo Domingo which boasts a population of 4-million, which is far bigger than even Toronto ... You can get a massage on the beach for just $35/hour however be forewarned -- the gal put Kenny G's Christmas Hits on her Ipod and it was stuck on I'll Be Home For Christmas.  After the 15th replay of the song, my head was ready to explode!  Didn't she notice?  Oh well, it was a fun day ... It rained only once while we've been here and the temperature has been steadily around 29 degrees Celsius and sunny.  Somebody complained about it being too hot and we threw them in the ocean.  ...  It would be wonderful to be able to put the phone away and relax while on a vacation such as this but it's difficult when you've got 100 people coming up to you daily saying, "What's going on back at home?"  You need to stay on top of things at all times, plus the "insiders" keep texting with info.  Hey, it's not such a bad deal.

We've basically been south since the CFL season ended but fear not ... come Friday I'll be back in the SportsCage and won't be going anywhere for a good long time.