We're down here in Phoenix, AZ on the SportsCage/Marlin Travel Ultimate Sports Trip VI! 60-some SportsCage listeners hit the Valley of the Sun for a week of sun, sports and fun.
Here are some photos of what we've been up to:
The home of the NFL's Arizona Cardinals, 75,000-seat University of Phoenix Stadium ..
It's funny who you run into down here! We had the pleasure of tailgating with Rouleau, SK farmer Bill Aulie, the father of Calgary Flames prospect Keith Aulie ..
The tailgating goes on for miles, and miles ...
Posing with Mrs. SportsCage prior to the game ...
Our host hotel for the week. It's a perfect set-up, just steps away from the Coyotes' Gila River Arena and the football stadium ...
A lot of time has been spent by the pool, enjoying the sunshine and 20-something degree temperatures ...
We've been able to take in a pair of Coyotes games, a 4-3 loss to the L.A. Kings on Thursday and a 3-2 shootout loss to Columbus on Saturday ...
Jody Jackson of Fox Sports Arizona prepares for the Coyotes telecast ...
The traditional group photo before Saturday's hockey game! There are listeners on the trip from Regina, Saskatoon, P.A., Hodgeville, Assiniboia, Fort Qu'Appelle, Odessa, Montmarte, Plenty, Landis, Carnduff, Indian Head, Swift Current and several other locales ...
John Frenzy and Terry from Carnduff enjoy the Coyotes cheerleaders ...
A shot of the Coyotes' owners box ...
Rider fans Luke Schenn and Shane Doan spent some time with the Chain Gang ...
Coyotes coach Dave Tippett of Moosomin, SK and yours truly ...
Doan spent a good 30 minutes chatting with our group ...
We've put on plenty of miles, including this trip to Fashion Square in Scottsdale ...
A wonderful dinner Sunday evening after the football game at Mike Ditka's restaurant ...
Of course a big part of the trip is broadcasting the SportsCage live on 620 CKRM with John Lynch from the Whiskey Rose at the Westgate Plaza. We were live on Friday, and will be again Monday at 4:00 pm ...
MONDAY RANDOM THOUGHTS
1 - It's been five days since the horrible Joe McKnight shooting and things appear to be getting worse instead of better. The Roughriders running back was gunned down Thursday in a suburb of New Orleans and as of Monday morning, the shooter is still roaming free after being released by the Sheriff's Office without being charged.
It's one thing for ESPN to be broadcasting live from Terrytown, LA during this ordeal but it's quite another for ABC's Good Morning America to have a crew there as well. The former speaks to Joe's celebrity status in pro football while the latter speaks to the racial overtones of the story.
2 - The Roughriders locker room is completely torn up by this story. McKnight was only with the club for a few months but when he was here, he was side-by-side with his teammates every day. Now you're starting to see what the Calgary Stampeders went through with the death of Mylan Hicks. I've asked some Rider personnel to come on the SportsCage to describe their feelings but they're still too distraught.
The outpouring of emotion from the Rider Nation has been startling as well. I'm with 60 hardcore Rider Priders here in Arizona and they're emotional about the murder of McKnight. I suppose once you're a part of the Rider family, the fans don't play favourites. But I can't imagine how affected everyone would be if it was a multi-year veteran like Kory Sheets or Terrell Maze.
3 - Thank your lucky stars that we don't deal with a gun and racial culture like they do in the southern U.S. Many black Rider players have taken to Twitter to voice their disgust at how McKnight's killer has gone free, and how it's not surprising that he's white.
We can't criticize them for what they say, because we've never been through it.
But America as a whole is getting gashed, particularly by the Canadian media for its violence. What people don't see are the many random acts of kindness which go on on a daily basis around here, but garner no publicity or media coverage.
I feel extremely comfortable down here, and safe.
4 - One of the benefits for the people on this SportsCage trip is the fact they get to talk Riders with John Lynch and me on a one-on-one basis. We've fielded many questions over the past five days and we'll relate them on the radio this afternoon.
However one common theme throughout the line of questioning is the hardline, brash approach being taken by Chris Jones as it relates to running this football team.
"It's just not the Saskatchewan way," wailed one fan, who hails from Swift Current. That's something I get ALL the time.
What do you want us to say about that? Not surprisingly, John Lynch exploded saying the "Saskatchewan Way" is four Grey Cups in 106 years!
Lynch is right, and we covered this extensively way back in August during the Roster-Gate saga.
Jones will have this team winning consistently and if it means bending the rules, or breaking them occasionally, then that's something you'll have to deal with at the time. Perhaps you'll have to hold your nose while cheering for this team. I don't know.
But I don't have a problem with Jones's methods.
5 - The Darian Durant situation continues to be tough however. While TSN's Farhan Lalji reported last Wednesday that we should expect something "within the next 7-10 days", that was news to the Durant camp.
The season's been over for exactly one month today, and there have been zero talks between the two sides from what I've been told.
Is this standard fare? I don't ever recall a contract situation going like this.
However Jones has completely taken emotion (on his part) out of the equation here and it seems as though Durant has been tabled with a Take It Or Leave It offer.
And Darian appears headed to free agency. That means we've got another two months of chasing our tails before a resolution is found.
6 - One interesting comment which came from one of the patrons on this trip was that, "The Grey Cup champs only had three more wins that us!" He's referring to the 8-9-1 Ottawa RedBlacks who beat the 15-2-1 Calgary Stampeders in the 2016 CFL championship game. The RedBlacks were swept twice by Saskatchewan in the regular season, who went 5-13.
He's right. With some minor tinkering, the Roughriders should be right in contention in 2017.
But who will the quarterback be?
Here we go again.
7 - Had occasion to talk to an NHL referee in the airport on the way down here last week. We were discussing the new CFL rules and his comment was, "They've completely F'd it up to the point I can't even watch it anymore."
Right now, I have no comment on that. The whole situation needs time to breathe before we dive back into it for analysis. I watch CFL games not only because I want to, but because I have to. So I can't speak for fans who've been turned off by the game and its delays and reviews.
Sunday's Arizona-Washington NFL game here in Glendale featured only ONE review and it was from NFL Head Office on a touchdown rather than from a coach's challenge. The call on the field was correct.
The game flowed freely and was a treat to experience (save for the incessant TV timeouts which fans were distracted from by in-stadium promotions).
The CFL's Board of Governors has a mighty task ahead of them this winter. They need to decide if declining TV ratings are part of the overall trend of TV or if fans are getting turned off of the CFL brand of football.
I'm sure these men have the smarts to reach the correct conclusion.
8 - It's annoying to me that trying to get people to get engaged in the Regina Pats is like beating your head against the wall. On Friday's SportsCage before a live audience in Phoenix, I read the news release about the new lease deal between the Pats and Evraz Place. Then we discussed the Pats being #1 in the country and bidding to host the 2018 Memorial Cup.
People sat there stonefaced in the Whiskey Rose. "Uh, we haven't had a Darian update in at least five minutes," seemed to be their reaction.
The people on this trip can be forgiven because they're from all across the province and have their own hockey team to cheer for in their communities. But they only have one football team and the Pats also need to understand that.
However come February, March and April, all of southern Saskatchewan is going to be gripped in Regina Pats Fever and they'll be the hottest ticket in town.
That's when people will be asking for freebie tickets and we'll have to say, "Go to the box office. Where were you in December?".
For some reason, junior hockey is only a priority in Saskatchewan when it becomes "The thing to do".
Why isn't it right now?
9 - These SportsCage listeners will be heading home on Tuesday and back to their regular lives however I'll be staying down here until mid-December. That is, except for this Friday when I return home to call the Pats-Broncos game on Access/Shaw with Darren Dupont throughout Western Canada. That's going to be a real treat, as always.
Then it's back on the plane and right back here for more vacation days.
Today's SportsCage is my last on 620 CKRM for quite some time so tune in as we discuss any and all things pertaining to the Riders before I go dark for awhile.
10 - It's hard not to be a fan of the Arizona Coyotes because of all the gracious things they do for us. Details on the 3rd Annual Riderville Arizona Tour are coming up - likely this week - and this year's even has been scheduled for February.
With an owner from Regina, a coach from Moosomin and a player from Saskatoon, there's some strong ties between the Coyotes and the 306.
Unfortunately they're in last-place in the 30-team NHL and it seems like they're in a perennial rebuild. They're playing incredibly exciting hockey, yes, but they're still losing and that's not enough to keep the sun-soaked fans here coming back and shelling out their money.
But the team's not going anywhere, other than a move across town to Tempe, AZ where a new arena for the Coyotes is planned within the next few years.
It also doesn't help the cause that the NFL's Cardinals are making a MAJOR name for themselves in the Valley. They're 38-20-1 since Head Coach Bruce Arians showed up in town and many of the transplants have shed their allegiances to their old teams and taken up with the Red & White.
Funny what winning will do.
THAT'S IT! THANKS FOR READING. SEE YOU ON THE RADIO