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Monday, August 1, 2016



REGINA -- "One step forward and two steps back."

That's the title and chorus from a great country song from 1988 by the Desert Rose Band which hit #2 on the Billboard charts.  The next line goes, "Nobody gets too far like that."

That catchy tune wouldn't leave my head Friday night as we were leaving Percival Molson Stadium in Montreal following the Alouettes' 41-3 drubbing of the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

One week after the upstart Roughriders surprised the previously-unbeaten Ottawa RedBlacks 30-29 in Regina - raising fans' hopes mightily in the process - the Jolly Green Giants went out and rolled over for the Alouettes.

One step forward and two steps back.

It was one of those "burn the film" scenarios where the mere thought of revisiting the game makes you sick to your stomach.  In fact, as first-year Roughriders Head Coach & GM Chris Jones attempts to rebuild this franchise back to respectability and greatness, he's likely singlehandedly keeping Pepto Bismol in business.

Friday's game in La Belle Province was Pepto Dismal.

It was ages ago so there's no need to dig deep into a recap of the game here.  Suffice it to say the Riders' biggest worry going into the game was an offensive line which featured five players out of position.  All five linemen weren't with the Riders last year and four of them were rookies.

Yikes!  Surely they'd get eaten alive by the fearsome Front 7 from Montreal featuring John Bowman, Chip Cox, Bear Woods and Winston Venable.

But as it turned out, the hoggies were the least of Saskatchewan's concerns.  They only gave up one sack and kept their quarterback - Mitchell Gale - upright for most of the night.  Kudos to Offensive Line coach Mike Scheper for his excellent work in readying his group.

But that Rider defense!  Double yikes.  Montreal quarterback Kevin Glenn looked vintage, completing 75% of his passes and throwing two touchdowns as the Dirty Birds had their way with Chris Jones' defenders who gave up a season-high in points.  All of that coming on just three days rest for Montreal.

That's what has the Rider Nation up in arms as we enter Week 7 and now the first of a back-to-back set with the rival Calgary Stampeders looms this Thursday in Cowtown.

In their five games this year Saskatchewan has allowed, in order, 30, 39, 40, 29 and 41 points.  That leads the CFL by a country mile and while the special teams and offense took their turns imploding the other night (a Mitchell Gale first quarter fumble in Als territory with the Riders only down 8-0 comes to mind), we are still impatiently waiting for the vaunted Chris Jones Defense to show up.

And this is where a calmer head should prevail.

Chris Jones can't be punished for the sins of the past regime.  And bemoaning Saskatchewan's struggles in Montreal over the years has nothing to do with this current group.  It's human nature to say we're tired of losing and even I've been sucked into getting down over the fact the Riders are 6-26 since the 2014 Banjo Bowl when Darian Durant went down.

But STOP!  That isn't Chris Jones' fault.

He's responsible for the fact the 2016 Saskatchewan Roughriders are 1-4.  And if you'd have been told on May 1 that the Riders would be 1-4 at the end of July would you really have been surprised?

I wouldn't have been.

The games have been fantastic but for Friday night's eyesore in Montreal.  Frankly, a beatdown like that was to be expected early on this season but that doesn't make it any easier to digest.

Perusing social media, listening to the buzz on the street and judging by the emails and texts which have come into my Iphone, I'd say the Rider Nation is about 50/50 after Friday's loss.  Half understand exactly where the football team is and the other half are lighting a flame under Chris Jones.

"He's wearing too many hats!" many are saying.

But they weren't saying that after the last-minute victory over Ottawa the week before when Jones made the correct decision to take the wind in the fourth quarter and it directly led to a 53-yard game-winning field goal.

The "too many hats" argument is hogwash and you can tell anybody that who floats it to you.

The Riders are building, slowly, and aren't making the same mistakes twice on the field.  Players have lost their jobs over performance (see DB Brandon McDonald).

The win over Ottawa was just a teaser to keep you interested, and maybe a sign of what's to come when this club gets all the kinks worked out.  But that's not likely to happen consistently until the leaves change colour.

Until then they are right on pace.  Whether you like it or not.

Click on the crown to sign up for DraftKings!



1 - SAY WHAT?: I had to rub my eyes and do a double-take when I read this article -

Let me get this straight: Calgary Stampeders players - like Bo-Levi Mitchell, Jerome Messam and Rob Maver - are calling out their fans for leaving Friday's game against B.C. early?  That's the game where the Stamps came back from being two touchdowns down to beat the Lions 44-41 in overtime.

These players had some pretty harsh words for their own fans via Twitter.

After reading it a few times I finally just chalked it up to Calgary being Calgary.  They see things through a different prism than we do here in the 306.

You'll never see or hear me admonish Rider fans for leaving Mosaic Stadium early.  If you pay your money, you can do whatever you want, or leave whenever you want.  "Thanks for coming and we'll be better next time", sorta deal.

Calling out your own fans.  The very people who are the lifeblood of the franchise.

What a head-shaker.

2 - THE GHOST: Spent some quality time in Montreal with some people from the CFL office.  They of course read every word of this blog, my column at, and listen to our podcasts.  Over the years they've even had In The Huddle shipped to their Wellington Street East office in downtown Toronto.  In short, they know every move we make.

Anyway, they wanted to report on the latest goings-on of CFL Commissioner Jeffrey Orridge.  These guys have heard all my criticism of the second-year chief and acknowledged most of it has had some merit.  However they say Orridge has made some huge strides and he's got the staff at CFL headquarters busier than Mark Cohon ever did (and make no mistake, these guys loved Cohon).  But they like working for the new guy too.

As you can see, Orridge has been quite a bit more visible than he was last year.  He made the Ottawa Grey Cup announcement last night at TD Place Stadium and has been featured in some television interviews including last week on Bloomberg TV.  He did an admirable job there.

In short, they're saying "Give this guy a second chance" and because of that, I will.

I was starting to come around on him anyway.

3 - AND ANOTHER THING:  I asked the league staffers what their biggest challenges are and they said it's the curmudgeons in the sports media who continually drag the CFL back to its darkest days.

For instance every time the CFL makes some big strides (like the DraftKings deal), there's a veteran, well-followed reporter who wants to bring up the Ottawa Rough Riders drafting a dead guy.

I see both sides, because it's fun.  But after reading Ed Willes's tremendous Endzones & Border Wars account of the CFL's failed U.S. expansion experiment, I can see why the CFL wants to bury that era like a turd in the sandbox.

This morning I'm not going to reveal what I told the league staffer but we came up with a few solutions.  He already had a few of his own ideas too.

This league is shining bright right now and there is absolutely no reason to look back.

4 - THE NEW CFL:  Admit it, if you can ignore the Roughriders' woeful 1-4 record,  the 2016 Canadian Football League season has been must-see TV for the most part.  All of the shifting of the teams on a weekly basis has been fascinating and as far as the outcomes go, I can't even pick my nose.  I went 1-3 in Week 6.

The Ticats continue to win without Zach Collaros, the Eskimos appear to be teetering on a franchise slide, the B.C. Lions are back from the dead and they have only Wally Buono to thank (will he coach and manage until he dies?), the Argos have moved to BMO Field, and just when they were about to pull the plug on the Blue Bombers' life support, their leg twitched.

Aside from the first half of last night's Toronto-Ottawa game which my friend Zig Fracassi from Sirius/XM NFL Radio referred to as a snoozefest, all games this week were interesting in some way.  (I told you to forget about the Riders for a second).

Think about that, and all the young fans you see at the games in the flashy new stadiums (except Calgary and Montreal).

The CFL has got it going on!

5 - FINAL NOTES:  In rapid fire ...

- The video review delays are horrible and costing the league viewers.  Until Glen Johnson and Jake Ireland figure out a way to speed up the review decisions, the teams and TSN need to find a way to distract the viewers.  Kind of like a clown at the rodeo does when he takes the spectators' minds off delays in the arena.  (Anyone who was raised in the rodeo like I was will get what I'm saying).

Right now everybody in CFL stadiums and watching at home sits on their hands and stares at each other while the scoreboard is generally blank and the TV announcers try awkwardly to fill time.  It's painful to endure and the NHL is going through the same thing.

- CFL V.P. of Player Safety Kevin McDonald graciously offered me a spot in the Command Centre when the Riders come through Toronto and I hope the offer still stands.  It would provide a great learning opportunity which I could pass on through the MMG.

- Does Hamilton feel left out when TSN's Rod Black refers to Toronto-Ottawa games as the Battle of Ontario?

- It's amazing the amount of Canadians who spend so much time bashing American politicians on Facebook.  Since you don't get a vote, why don't you put your time into something more productive?

- We golfed on Sunday at Flowing Springs and now I think I'm Phil Mickelson.  But it got me thinking we should have an inaugural SportsCage Golf Tournament and we've already booked the Friday of Labour Day Weekend for a potential event.  The cost would be no more than $150 per golfer.  Who would be interested in that?

- Caught the movie Mike & Dave Need Wedding Dates.  I liked it better the first time when it was called Wedding Crashers.  They're referring to this new version as an "adaptation".  I refer to it as "stole their idea".

- The biggest story out of Dallas Cowboys training camp so far in Oxnard, CA is that players Tony Romo, Jason Witten and Dez Bryant walked arm-in-arm with family members of fallen Dallas police officers onto the field for a ceremony last week honouring those who lost their life two weeks ago.  It was particularly nice to see Dez Bryant involved in the ceremony, and if you're following the story you'll know why.

If everyone could see sit back and see their role in any given conflict, the world would be a lot better place.