Sunday's Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara, CA was the final football game of the 2015 season. (Hopefully you've PVR'ed some games to keep you warm over what's left of the winter months). The Denver Broncos' stifling 24-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers was no masterpiece but it provided plenty of spills and thrills and was in fact a rarity -- seldom do we see an upset of this magnitude in a championship game!
And as they clean up the orange and blue confetti from the Levi's Stadium turf, it's time to turn our attention back to the 3-down game up here north of the border.
I've compiled my own list, but it's not the top list of free agents per se. It's the Top 10 most-intriguing free agents in the Canadian Football League. These are the guys I'll be most interested to see where they land on Tuesday, or over the coming weeks:
10. KR/RB Kendial Lawrence/LB J.C. Sherritt: EDM
- Will Eskimo FAs follow Chris Jones to Saskatchewan as has been rumoured? We're about to find out
9. QB Travis Lulay: BC
- How was he allowed to get to market? Huge gamble to hand the Lions over to QB Jon Jennings at this point of his young career.
8. K Justin Medlock: HAM
- A coveted American kicker who can "do all three" kicking duties. Sign him, and that area is set for your club. His agent should be Jerry Maguire because Medlock's saying "Show Me The Money!"
7. KR/SB Chad Owens: TOR
- It's not every year a former CFL MVP is available in free agency. What did Argo GM Jim Barker offer him that Owens didn't feel acceptable? He spent most of 2015 injured and his best days may be behind him.
6. DT Keith Shologan: OTT
- The former Rider says he loves Ottawa, but there has to be a reason he hasn't signed with the RedBlacks yet. I could see him in Green & White again.
5. QB Trevor Harris: TOR
- Inexplicably benched in the playoffs for Ricky Ray, Harris was hoping to sign in the NFL this winter but never did. Could he be Drew Tate 2.0 in the CFL?
4. SB Andy Fantuz: HAM
- That's a WOW for so many reasons. The 2006 first round draft choice out of Western is on NO ONE's list of coveted free agents and is clearly in the twilight of his career. Hamilton seems to be lukewarm on Fantuz and I wouldn't be shocked to see him in Argos' Double Blue. Andy left Saskatchewan at the peak of his career and never regained his form. Still, he doesn't regret his decision to return home.
3. DT Ted Laurent: HAM
- There are a lot of blue chip players from Hamilton on the free agent list aren't there? Interestingly enough, not all of them were found by the current regime although Laurent came through Edmonton as an Eric Tillman find. Regardless, Laurent's high on this list because he's hands-down the most-coveted (and most expensive) player in this year's crop.
2. RB Andrew Harris: BC
- He's been one of the CFL's top running backs each season he's been featured in B.C. but for some reason he's soured on the West Coast and is singing the Reba McEntire song "Is There Life Out There?" I saw somewhere that Blue Bombers great Chris Walby blurted out on social media that Harris's hometown Winnipeg Blue Bombers have already agreed to a deal with him. Tampering at its finest - which I have no problem with until the league gets serious about stopping it. Interestingly, Harris is only two years younger than Jerome Messam who many are ready to put out to pasture. Reports out of Calgary suggest the Stampeders will sign Messam prior to Tuesday.
1. PR/REC Ryan Smith: SASK
- It's nearly impossible to imagine Ryan Smith playing for anyone other than Saskatchewan. The Wahpeton, ND product lived up to his billing as "The Next Weston Dressler", even if it took a little longer than we expected. His parents Randy and Trudy made most road trips last year and have closets full of Green & White merchandise. However money talks, he has no history with the current Rider regime, and his BFF Weston Dressler is now a Blue Bomber and the pair can carpool to North Dakota on bye weeks.
It appears to me the Blue & Gold are primed to be the winners of 2016 CFL free agency! If that franchise could ever win consistently over a decade-long period, they could rival Saskatchewan for the CFL's best fans. Maybe this is the year it all comes together for Miller, Walters, O'Shea and Co.
|Macho Harris, still wondering "what happened?"|
At a Tim Hortons in North Regina on Saturday morning, the newest member of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers met me for a coffee and an interview. Victor "Macho" Harris was one of 19 veteran Roughriders dumped by the team in a roster purge on December 9, 2015.
His story is an interesting one. After growing up on the rough side of Manhattan, Macho (so nicknamed by his father in order to give his son a lifetime of bravado) starred with the Virginia Tech Hokies before stops in the NFL with Washington and Philadelphia.
He came to the Roughriders in 2012 and after battling through some early injury problems, he became a star on Corey Chamblin's defense helping the club to a Grey Cup championship in 2013.
However the bottom quickly fell out and as we all know, the club suffered through one of its worst seasons in franchise history, going 3-15 in 2015. It was just as alarming of a fall from grace for Harris as it was for the Rider Nation.
And just before Christmas, he was told by Chris Jones and Company that his services were no longer needed.
"I'm not gonna lie to you Rod. It was tough," Macho said over coffee. "I was angry a little bit because of the simple fact of the way it was all handled. But at the end of the day I understand it's just business and much respect to Chris Jones and the staff. Like I said, I've got nothing but love and respect for them but at the time, I was hurt because I thought I'd retire as a Roughrider. It's crazy but it's all in the past now. I'm blessed to be going to Winnipeg to be a Blue Bomber."
Several months after the 2015 season concluded, Harris is still trying to figure out how it all went so wrong, so quickly.
"It was definitely devastasting," Macho continued. "Especially when you're on top and you feel you have a dynasty team that could win two, three Grey Cups in a row. For it turn around as fast as it did, and as ugly as it did, to be honest with you I don't know where it went wrong because the coaches did an amazing job. They put in the effort, showed up, and didn't show frustration. All I know is the guys on that team believed in one another and went to war for each other. Yeah the record sucked but I'd go to war with the guys from that 2015 season anytime."
Many of us are eager to put 2015 in the rearview mirror and look ahead but Harris - who's still only 29 years of age - still thinks about what could have been.
"I think about it because it hurt so much. Playing here for the Roughriders for four years, I'd never been a part of anything like that. People bashing us and each other, but that's not what I think about. I think about what we went through as a team and the bond that we had."
Look for a feature article on Macho coming up on the Roughriders' official website at www.riderville.com.
1. Thanks to the "Greek Freak" George Yannitsos at the Four Seasons Sports Palace for hosting the SportsCage Super Bowl Party presented by Coors Light on Sunday! We had 10 winners from our SportsCage radio show along with local sports personalities such as Scruffy, John Frenzy, Luc Mullinder and former Roughrider/Patriot/Packer Ventson Donelson. George does everything first class!
2. Social media was predictably on fire with running commentary of Super Bowl 50 however I was stunned to hear the negativity surrounding the game. BORING? That was news to me. Sure it was a mistake-filled game and Panthers quarterback Cam Newton looked very average but the term "boring" is the last thing that comes to mind with this tilt. Many people continue to search for the perfect game, and are still not happy unless they're unhappy. Let's celebrate what is the great story of Peyton Manning! And sift through the hurricane of hate which is undoubtedly on its way to Newton over the next six months. The brash Panthers are the NFL's version of the Calgary Stampeders, without the championships.
4. The Pats followed up Friday's victory with a 5-3 triumph over the Prince George Cougars in a wild and woolly affair Saturday night which was reminiscent of the 1990's WHL. Mark Hollick's Cougars are a brash, somewhat cheap bunch who afforded the Pats nine powerplays on the night. Regina forward Austin Wagner left the game after receiving a slash from Cougars captain Sam Ruopp and his status is still unknown. It would be a huge blow to the Pats if Wagner's lost for any significant time. Back in the day we never batted an eye at instances such as that - it happened each and every game - but the league's done too nice of a job cleaning it up for it to come back now.
5. Friday's "national" broadcast of the Pats and Tigers seemed to go over well. I was incredibly nervous because it was the largest television audience I've ever called a game before but it was smooth sailing for the most part. Colour commentator Jeff Odgers is an absolute pro and led me out of the wilderness and the same goes for producer Dave Roberts. It didn't hurt that our association goes back to the 1980's when I had a cup of coffee with Odgers' Wheat Kings and after swapping some stories, we got on exceptionally well. It's great to have that first broadcast under the belt and I'm excited to see what's ahead.
6. It appears more and more people in this town are tuned into what's going on with the Queen City Kids. At Saturday night's game a popcorn vendor named Norm gushed about the fortunes of the team. "I'm excited to see the streak end tonight!" Norm said as he put my money into the till. "I want to see them finally win back-to-back games!" It's remarkable but true - Saturday marked the first time the Pats won a second consecutive game all year. Perhaps the consistency which has eluded them is finally settling into place and they'll have the added bonus of their top defensive pair - Colby Williams and Connor Hobbs - back in time for the playoffs.
7. A couple of NHL notes which caught my eye over the weekend: 1) The Anaheim Ducks have the best penalty-killing unit in the league and they're guided by Regina product Rich Preston. And 2) Shane Doan's 1427 games-played with Arizona/Winnipeg move him alone into 7th all-time for games played by one player with a single NHL francise. Going into the weekend, Doan was tied with Johnny Bucyk for that distinction.
My take on concussions is this: don't bring down the whole sport just because some guys' aren't built for it. Kids have all kinds of concussion tests available to them now that we never did. If you get three, hang it up.
I've still never met a player who'd do anything differently and that includes Matt Dunigan, the poster boy for concussions and he's had 16.
9. As of Friday night the University of Regina Rams identified their shortlist for the program's head coaching vacancy and hope to begin conducting interviews later this week. The list is very closely-guarded and no names have slipped out however it's somewhat alarming that the process is taking so long. From the time the 2015 Grey Cup was over, it took the Saskatchewan Roughriders exactly nine days to have Chris Jones introduced as their General Manager and Head Coach. That search committee basically consisted of one: Roughriders President Craig Reynolds.
10. This year's Regina Thunder Dinner of Champions fundraising event is slated for Saturday, March 19 at the Turvey Centre and features keynote speaker Henry "Gizmo" Williams. You'll want to be in attendance for another reason: the Thunder will honour Frank McCrystal and Marco Ricci for their dedication to amateur football in the province. Tickets are available from the team's website at www.reginathunder.ca.
THAT'S ALL FOR THIS WEEK! SEE YOU IN THE CAGE