Monday, November 28, 2016
THE MONDAY MORNING GOALIE
RECAPPING, AND GRADING, THE 104TH GREY CUP
1 - STAMPS BEAT THEMSELVES: From an historical perspective, the 104th Grey Cup game saved 2016 Grey Cup Week in Toronto. The Ottawa RedBlacks' 39-33 overtime victory over the Calgary Stampeders in Sunday night's CFL championship game at Toronto's BMO Field is instantly in the discussion for the greatest Grey Cup game ever played.
It was gripping. And it was definitely the biggest upset in the history of the Grey Cup.
Favoured by 9-points going into the contest, we'd mentioned that the only team who could beat the 15-2-1 Calgary Stampeders were the Stampeders themselves. In the end, that's exactly what happened as quarterback Bo-Levi Mitchell heaved three interceptions and fumbled once in a forgettable outing personally.
But a questionable playcall by Stamps coach Dave Dickenson in the dying seconds led to what one long-time Calgary media person told me afterwards was "The biggest loss in Calgary sports history".
Facing 2nd-and-goal at the Ottawa 2-yard line with 40 seconds remaining - and trailing 33-30 - the Stamps elected to run back-up Canadian quarterback Andrew Buckley off tackle right. He was tripped up in the backfield for a one-yard loss, and kicker Rene Parades then booted a 10-yard field goal to tie the game and send it to overtime.
Nevermind that Dickenson could've gambled to win the game on 3rd-and-goal from the Ottawa-3 but elected to tie the game and take their chances in overtime.
Former Roughrider and current CKRM football analyst Luc Mullinder felt the game was lost one play before that.
"I really think that Calgary's crazy for getting all the way down to the Ottawa goalline and putting in Buckley to run that last play," said Mullinder Sunday night. "I'm okay with not giving the ball to Jerome Messam if you're going to run a play like that because it has a high success rate but it has a high success rate when you have the CFL MVP (Bo-Levi Mitchell) in the lineup, not a Canadian rookie. That was ridiculous."
"You look back on that and that's what cost them the game. It's 2nd down, you've got two yards to go, you got Jerome Messam in the backfield, and sometimes you don't go with Mess because everybody and their Momma knows he's going to get the rock. But man, don't put the young Canadian quarterback in a position like that."
We all know what happened in the ensuing overtime. 41-year old Henry Burris became the oldest quarterback to win a Grey Cup when he tossed an 18-yard touchdown to Ernest Jackson and the Stampeders ultimately turned it over on downs on their possession.
Game, set, match.
And the Stamps beat themselves.
They talked the talk all season long but in the end, they couldn't walk the walk.
That's got to be incredibly hard to live with.
2 - GET OUT THE MARKING PENCIL: If I had to give the 2016 Grey Cup Week a grade, it's an emphatic F. If you could hand out a score even lower than that, I would, because of the 16 Grey Cups I've attended, this one was by far the worst.
And for that, I lay the blame squarely at the feet of the entire CFL and I'll tell you why.
This thing was dead in the water when the host Toronto Argonauts set the ticket prices sky-high, well out of the reach of most CFL fans. $800 for a Grey Cup ticket? Give me a break. The Argos were questioned on the pricing structure, but defended the decision by saying the market could handle it. However they forgot entirely that the vast majority of fans would be coming from all corners of the country and not just from the GTA.
It led to the predictable, embarrassing decision to slash ticket prices down to $89 in October which completely ticked off the diehard CFL fans who'd already paid full price. Many of those I talked to in Toronto never did receive a refund for the balance.
Argo executives seemed somewhat sheepish as they shifted through the empty events in their own city all week, knowing they blew it.
The party festivities themselves fell flat. Riderville is always the hotspot but the convention room they booked was for 3,000 people, and it was almost entirely empty for most of the weekend. In truth, they could've held Riderville in a hotel ballroom but these things are booked well in advance and no one knew this thing was going to fall flat on its face at the time.
Gregg Zaun slashed ticket prices down to $35 on the day of his annual Grey Cup Bash on Friday just to save the organizers the embarrassment.
People will be talking for years and years about the infamous Pizza Pizza $30 promo for a pizza and two Grey Cup tickets debacle.
Many teams scaled down their host parties, electing instead to stage their events in downtown Toronto bars rather that at the Convention Centre. That's certainly fine, and it may start a trend, and at least they didn't lose their shirt like the Riders did.
Hats off to the Edmonton Eskimos who won 2016 Grey Cup Week by ensuring their popular Spirit of Edmonton party room offered free admission, reasonable drink prices, and was always packed. The rest of the CFL should take note.
But the Montreal Alouettes didn't host a party at all. So a group of their fans took it upon themselves to host a party - with the team's blessing - but it's flatout mind-boggling that the Als themselves would do nothing.
The fizzling of Grey Cup Week began right after the 2013 Celebration in Rider Nation in Regina. The whole thing has been trending downward beginning in 2014 in Vancouver and sinking even lower in Winnipeg in 2015.
The best symbol of the 2016 Grey Cup this weekend was when the Stampeders' infamous horse crapped all over the lobby and front desk of a downtown Toronto Holiday Inn. That pretty much said it all.
This year the Argos trotted out franchise greats Pinball Clemons and Damon Allen and current players Ricky Foley and Shawn Lemon were tireless in their efforts to promote the game.
But did anyone think to get ahold of Doug Flutie and make him the Poster Boy for the 2016 Grey Cup in Toronto? That would've shaken up interest all over the continent.
The whole problem with the CFL right now was summed up far better than I can by CBC.ca columnist Dave Bidini who wrote a piece entitled, "The CFL Needs To Stop Trying To Be NFL-Lite". It's available here: http://www.cbc.ca/news/opinion/cfl-changes-1.3867744
CFL fans were getting gouged left and right in Toronto and it left a bitter taste in their mouths. This is not the Super Bowl.
Bidini also correctly wrote that it was a "particularly awful decision" to go with American pop band One Republic for this year's Grey Cup halftime show. Bidini agrees with me that this should always be a Canadian act, especially when the Canadian music scene has never been so dynamic.
A marketing whiz texted me and said, "We need a top level act, regardless of its nationality, so that the CFL gives the perception of being Big Time".
But we're not Big Time. Perhaps we never will be and that's okay.
But it's never wise to masquerade around as something you're not. Be real.
The CFL needs to get back to its roots, realize what it is, and exploit that for all it's worth.
This league is authentic, honest and unique, but it needs to get its act together. Yesterday.
I'm getting tired of defending it.
3 - ORRIDGE: Boy oh boy. The fate of CFL Commissioner Jeffrey Orridge is incredibly interesting. To say his status is "tenuous" heading into the final year of his three-year contract would be an understatement.
Let me first say that he's an incredibly bright guy, as evidenced by his Harvard Law Degree. He's also a really good, nice person too. His performance at Friday's State of the League address was above average and light years ahead of last year but as anyone connected with the CFL will tell you, there was nowhere to go but up.
Orridge handled questions on Friday about officiating, media access and expansion with ease but got flamed for his response to the question about a link between football and C-T-E (the brain disease caused by concussions and repeated head trauma). Orridge said he really couldn't comment on the matter because there's currently a lawsuit against the CFL and further said there's no conclusive evidence linking the two. That was fine by me, because it's the same stance taken by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman but that wasn't enough for most of the reporters in the room.
At Saturday's Athletes In Action Breakfast, Orridge told me privately that he said all he was able to say on the matter and that he was satisfied with his answer. If reporters still wanted to be critical, that's their problem.
Asked on stage at the AIA breakfast what the most surprising part of his job has been, Orridge responded "The pressure". He went on to say, "The only way to avoid criticism is to do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing. How many in this room want to be nothing? No one".
Orridge then surprisingly admitted to some of his own personal shortcomings during his term in office however he's doing his best to learn on-the-fly and do what's best for the CFL.
He was pretty much nothing in the first year of his term but in Year 2 he's been much more visible, grew some teeth with stiff fines to the Roughriders, Eskimos, Kent Austin and Jason Maas, and grown the game incrementally in the areas of TV ratings, social media and the deal with Draft Kings.
Will it be enough to save his job this winter? Only time will tell.
One national reporter told me privately it's been impossible to get a league official to pinpoint a "Yes" or "No" to whether or not Orridge will be back for the third and final year of his contract.
That's because - I'm guessing - that it'll come down to a vote of the nine league governors at their winter meetings. I don't get the feeling the governors want to make a change unless they deem it absolutely necessary.
The main question is: Is Orridge putting money in their pockets?
Only they can answer that.
4 - THE ARGOS IN TORONTO: This will hopefully be the last time we discuss this mess, but it likely won't be. Toronto Mayor and former CFL Commissioner John Tory was on TSN Radio in Toronto on Saturday saying he feels the Argonauts can indeed be successful in that market. The first step, Tory feels, is vastly better marketing.
There's been a perception in Toronto for 25-plus years that the CFL is minor league but right now there's no perception of the league or the Argos at all. They are invisible.
A particularly gloomy story in the New York Times last week made the Argonauts look even worse, quoting former Argonauts President Brian Cooper.
"The Raptors were in the NBA playoffs competing against Lebron James in the Eastern Conference Finals," Cooper said. "And then all of a sudden, the Saskatchewan Roughriders come into town? For some, that doesn't have the same appeal or cachet."
THANK GOD that guy isn't still President of the Toronto Argonauts. With friends like that, who needs enemies?
There have been 104 Grey Cups and 48 of them have been played in Toronto. Dare I say there's a bigger CFL footprint in Toronto than any other market in Canada?
I too believe it can work, but right now the situation is at an all-time low. It's an abusive relationship between Toronto and the CFL!
Any counselor worth his salt would tell someone to get out of a relationship like that.
An escape plan out of Toronto needs to be explored more thoroughly.
6 - GREY CUP IN SASKATCHEWAN: Orridge reported at his State of the League news conference that the CFL is moving towards a bid process to determine the host of the Grey Cup annually. It's mind-boggling that for 100 years the league has basically used a Spin The Bottle method or doled out Grey Cups to appease influential owners like David Braley or MLSE.
However all that's certain now is that Ottawa will host the 2017 Grey Cup and it's abundantly clear that the RedBlacks have their ship together. A logo's already been designed and their pricing structure has been determined. RedBlacks President Jeff Hunt can do this stuff with his eyes closed, and always knocks it out of the park.
Beyond that, who knows? I was under the impression that Hamilton would host the 2018 Grey Cup but ongoing litigation involving their stadium has caused the Tiger-Cats to bow out of the running for the time being.
The B.C. Lions are poised to be sold and I'm told the sale could be complete by the end of January. Will hosting the 2018 Grey Cup be a condition of the sale? Possibly, and likely.
However only the 2017 Grey Cup host has been announced and perhaps the CFL will have a bid committee in place in time for the Saskatchewan Roughriders to make a pitch for 2018.
7 - *UPDATE* CFLAA LEGENDS LUNCHEON: CFL Alumni Association President Leo Ezrins wrote in on Monday wondering why I ignored the wildly successful annual Legends Luncheon at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre? It was a good question and I admit that it was an oversight. This is the same event which garnered international notoriety in 2011 with the infamous brawl between Joe Kapp and Angelo Mosca. Although the luncheon's been much less volatile since, Friday's was another incredible success. Argo greats Pinball Clemons and Pete Martin were each honoured with the CFLAA's Man of the Year Award and this luncheon is probably the best bang-for-your-buck at Grey Cup. It's roughly three hours long and is attended by many former CFL greats. It was an honour to be there.
Sorry Uncle Leo!
8 - AND FINALLY, DARIAN: The CFL will be buzzing about Sunday night's game for a week or so but pretty soon the national football topic will return to Darian Durant. Heck, for most of last week the #1 topic at Grey Cup was the contract negotiations between the Roughriders and their star quarterback until the attention finally turned to the game.
As it stands now, I'm turning the saga over to the big boys at TSN. National reporters Farhan Lalji and Gary Lawless have been in constant communication with Chris Jones and Durant's agent Dan Vertlieb and described the talks on SportsCentre as "acrimonious".
Riders' Assistant V.P. of Player Personnel John Murphy was tight-lipped on the matter on the SportsCage on Friday evening from Toronto, saying Chris Jones will be the team's voice on the situation going forward.
But I will say this: Chris Jones has the full support of his higher-ups with the Roughriders and their belief in his ability to lead this franchise back to prominence has not wavered. Unlike what Lawless said on the SportsCage on Thursday, I do believe that Jones wants Darian Durant back with the Riders in 2017 but it has to work within the framework of the salary structure they've laid out.
I'd be shocked if these talks don't drag out until the opening of the Free Agent period in February so Durant can see what he can fetch on the open market.
If he leaves, that'll be his call. But Darian shouldn't operate under the misconception that he's not wanted in Saskatchewan.
THAT'S IT FOR THIS WEEK! SEE YOU ON THE RADIO AT 4 PM