As nearly any CFL fan – and any in Canada – will tell you, the greatest aspect of the league is the access of its players to fandom in general. Whether at practices in the preseason, in the midst of Grey Cup week or during the offseason, players and other personnel regularly chat up fans, autograph items and just generally positively interact for the greater enjoyment of the game.
For example, here’s a tweeting from CFL fan USFLtecmo, a.k.a. Joe Pritchard, co-host of the Rouge, White & Blue CFL podcast at some point during the Ottawa-Montreal game:
The CFL must be saving all the scoring for the weekend, right? 😜
— Joe Pritchard (@usfltecmo) September 2, 2016
Within a minute, none other than the CFL’s answer to Tom Brady himself, Mr. Bo Levi Mitchell, responded with a prediction of his Calgary Stampeders’ performance (and perhaps those of the Toronto Argonauts, Hamilton Tiger-Cats and, to a lesser extent, the Edmonton Eskimos):
Nope.. Saving it for Monday 👀 https://t.co/c5wzVPvUnk
— Bo Levi Mitchell (@BoLeviMitchell) September 2, 2016
There should be some sort of hashtag for Mitchell’s apparent psychic abilities … how about “#BoKnows”…?
As for the week that was in CFL football, it started with…
BC Lions 16, Toronto Argonauts 13 – Remember the BC defense that was so dominant early in the season? After a couple of scorchings from that Stampeders offense, Solomon Elimimian, Adam Bighill & Co. are ready to take out frustrations on the rest of the league, it seems. Elimimian himself was out of his mind in this one, with more tackles (14) than the Argos had points, plus a QB sack and career interception no. 8. This column has claimed before that the BC D work more successfully when the workload is shared, but when you’ve got a performance of this caliber coming from one of the CFL’s top players, one guy can be enough.
He had to be, with Lions QB Jonathon Jennings unable to sustain a long drive after the first quarter – in a drive that ended inside the red zone with an interception, it should be noted. King Solomon and his court held back a surprisingly sharp-looking, injury-returning Ricky Ray (who ultimately went 24-of-29 for 213 yards and 1 TD against 1 interception) long enough for Jennings to get his side downfield for 70 yards or so to set up the game-winning FG. Which he did.
Rod Black’s Weekly Crime Against the English Language. Oh boy, Rod’s back on TSN broadcasts (and thus ESPN 3 live streaming) after what was probably a two-week vacation. Paired up again with Duane Ford for the BC-Toronto game, Mr. Black managed to keep the syntactical gymnastics under control for most of the broadcast, but ultimately surrendered to the undertow within his own stream of consciousness. Here’s a beauty from about midway through the fourth quarter, an incredible mishmash of half-baked phrases and not-quite-ideas:
“…as Jennings connects with Courtney Taylor. Again, Taylor has been on this road trip, did not play, did not play much at all, in and out of the lineup, and Gerry Boldewijn fell ill earlier in the week on this road trip and Taylor forced into action as Isaac has to make the tackle, but it’s a first down for the Lions!”
Somebody throw the man a verbal life-saver. Or don’t.
Ottawa RedBlacks 19, Montreal Alouettes 14. Every week of Alouettes football ends up surprising fans, Not usually in the end result (another L), mind you, but rather by just how flat-out impressive this defense looks against any offense it faces and just how impotent the offensive “attack” continues to be. Granted, no one was expecting much with Duron Carter finally serving that suspension, but Kevin Glenn’s two interceptions – both leading to field goals, thus making the margin of victory – were enough to doom the team that had no right to end up within a TD. If not for that incredible defense.
Or maybe some blame should be placed on the Ottawa offense … after all, Trevor Harris took a total of two of his 17 first-quarter snaps outside of Montreal territory – and his RedBlacks led just 6-1 after 15 minutes of play? On the other hand, Ottawa’s grind-it-out strategy compensated for a bit of a comedown for Harris (who went “just” 27-of-40 on pass attempts) after a significantly better comeback performance against BC Lions in week 10.
If the Montreal defense has a weakness, it’s against the run – Montreal is third-worst in the league and a good 11 yards per game worse than the fourth-worst Edmonton Eskimos – and Ottawa was ready. Travon Van and Brendan Gillanders combined for 84 yards on 16 carries and gobs of clock eaten.
One supposes it’s not so difficult to win when the opposition won’t put up more than two TDs…
Winnipeg Blue Bombers 28, Saskatchewan Roughriders 25.
— Os on football (@CFLpass) September 4, 2016
Three days later, I’m sticking by this hot take.
In more expansive, terms Blue Bombers benefitted from a barrage of mistakes and missed opportunities. Sure, the most dramatic of the mental-unto-physical errors was Tyler Crapigna’s missed extra-point attempt in the fourth quarter, but let’s not forget the string of lapses that helped hand over the W to Winnipeg beyond this: Crapigna whiffed on two FGs early. Let’s not forget Damien Durant, who had helped redeem his team’s 3-point first-half showing until twice throwing interceptions in the fourth quarter.
Let’s not forget the defense, which managed not a single turnover on the day. Or getting out-penalized, 10-9, with the final flag against the Riders thrown on Justin Cox during the Bombers’ final drive, thereby getting them into field goal range. Oh, and Chris Jones went 0-2 on challenges.
On last week’s Grueling Truth CFL Pick ‘Em Podcast, I justified my prediction of a Riders win with “they’re not a 2-16 team.” Um, maybe they are.
Incidentally, I’ve been ranting about this across a slate of Grueling Truth podcasts this week, but ICYMI, let’s reiterate here. Following this game, the Twittersphere was quickly awash with complaints that refereeing had cost the Riders a W. Even if we completely disregard these Riders’ propensity to shoot themselves in multiple feet (cf. the enumeration directly above), letting a referee or referees’ poor judgment decide the game means you didn’t put the other team away; if a zebra’s call gives you a loss, that’s a loss you usually actually deserve.
Statistic of the Week That Should Make Keith Shologan’s Folks Very Proud. Winnipeg Rough Riders Keith Shologan is now a perfect 7-0 for his career in Labour Day Classics.
Calgary Stampeders 45, Edmonton Eskimos 24. Speaking/writing of the Stampeders’ awesomeness in 2016 has become cliché. In fact, a concise summation of Calgary’s all-around magnificence this season can be observed in just three plays, none of which made the league’s official highlight clip.
The first two came in the first quarter. After advancing the ball 35 yards to Calgary 40 in five plays, DB Joe Burnett blitzed through a gap the size of Manitoba for the sack of Mike Reilly and concomitant 10-yard loss. One the next snap, DL Frank Beltre simply blew through the hapless Eskimos line to put the QB on his back again. With less than 5¼ minutes gone, Reilly had to have been checking the game clock.
Later, with about 12 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, the score showed a not-even-that-close 31-17 Calgary lead, when on a 2nd-and-10 inside Edmonton territory, Bo Levi Mitchell dropped back to pass. He waited for an open receiver. And waited. And waited, given so much time by his historically great offensive line (who held the opposition sack-less for the *sixth* time in 2016), a span of epic length before Lamar Durant found the perfect spot in the holey Eskimo secondary. A 26-yard completion resulted and two plays later, another touchdown.
How much time did Mitchell have? Enough to run 52 seconds off the clock between this nap and the next.
Lemme drop the question eight CFL GMs must be asking themselves: How do you stop that?
Hamilton Tiger-Cats 49, Toronto Argonauts 36. Poor, poor Toronto. In facing two of the CFL’s top three teams in six days, the Argonauts played completely different types of ballgame, hung tough against Grey Cup contenders despite the league’s most generous in yardage allowed and came away with nothing more than a pair of Ls. Is it any compensation to suggest that the Argos looked both first- and second-best among the week’s losing’s efforts? Not really, The South supposes…
On the other side, the amazement at Zach Collaros & Co.’s literal point-a-minute explosion in the second half is outdone only by the bafflement at the Ticats’ inability to play a complete game. In three of four games since Collaros’s return to the field – we’re throwing out a blowout win over Saskatchewan, a great skewer of statistics for a few CFL teams this season – the Ticats have been outscored 78-36 in the first half (an average halftime margin of 26-12), only to come roaring back with a 75-33 advantage over the final 30 minutes.
And Hamilton is 1-2 in the aforementioned games. And 1-5 against the West in 2016. Playing half-games may be well and good enough to win the East, but the Tiger-Cats’d better find that complete game before playoff time.
Weird – Yet Enterprising! – Canadian News Story of the Week. Sure, a lot’s been made about Americans musings, most certain to go unrealized, about moving to Canada should Hillary/Trump be elected president in November. A few clever types such as the folks at the Nova Scotia Tourism Board and on Cape Breton Island have even found ways to generate a little cash while fulfilling a demand. The South says that few such ventures are weirder and thus more brilliant than one recently undertaken by Maple Match.
Founded in May of this year, Maple Match is an online dating service devoted specifically to connecting Americans to Canadians, a real boon to a subculture dying to leave the edgy strangeness of the ‘States for the mellow oddity of the Great White North. In what must be an attempt to appeal across a wide spread of Trump- and Hillary-phobics, the website TedCruzForAmerica.com is now a landing page for Maple Match.
As a bonus, Maple Match is even getting some free publicity (and least among business- and political-news junkies) thanks to ol’ “Lyin’ Ted” battles with Verisign, operators of the dot-com domain.
As clever as the owners of Maple Match are, however, The South feels obliged to lodge a complaint over what hardly seems like a fair trade: So Canada sends us Cruz while we give up perhaps thousands of eligible ladies and gentlemen? You hosers ripped us off!
And as for next week’s games…
Montreal Alouettes at BC Lions. Apparently, Alouettes GM/head coach Jim Popp has tired of the fourth-quarter flubs by Kevin Glenn; Rakeem Cato will be the starter for the BC game. Anyone else fairly certain that won’t be enough against, you know, a top-three (at least) CFL team? BC Lions win.
Saskatchewan Roughriders at the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Bombers QB Matt Nichols may not necessarily be the most exciting or hyped quarterback in the CFL, but he’s demonstrated game management on a level with the best of ‘em. Nichols has thrown just one interception in the Bombers’ five-game winning streak coinciding with his installment in the starting job, a number that not even Mitchell touches. The stat is indicative of the Bombers’ transformation in 2016 from a team that has traditionally wilted in close games to one that plays smart enough to stay involved and win. On the other side is a team consistent only in mental errors. Blame it on the refs if you must, Rider Nation, but Blue Bombers win this one, too.
Canadians in the NFL. Now that NFL season is kicking off, The South will be keeping an eye on Canadians playing in the American football league. As far as we can tell, this list currently includes center Brett Jones (New York Giants); DEs Brent Urban (Baltimore Ravens) and Mehdi Abdesmad (Tennessee Titans; currently practice squad); DTs Christian Covington (Houston Texans), David Onyemata (New Orleans Saints), Stefan Charles (Detroit Lions) and Tyrone Crawford (Dallas Cowboys); LB Andy Mulumba (Kansas City Chiefs); OGs Orlando Franklin (San Diego Chargers), Brett Boyko (San Diego Chargers) and John Urschel (Baltimore Ravens); OTs Austin Pasztor (Cleveland Browns), David Foucault (Carolina Panthers) and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (Kansas City Chiefs); FB Tyler Varga (Indianapolis Colts); TE Luke Willson (Seattle Seahawks); punter Jon Ryan (Seattle Seahawks); and L.P. Ladouceur (Dallas Cowboys).
Please let us know if someone is missing from this list.
Calgary Stampeders at Edmonton Eskimos. As stated last week, Labour Day saw the Esks for the first time in 2016 facing a team with a winning record and/or its starting quarterback. How’d that work out for the winning streak? This week, they have to do so for the second time. Similar results should be expected.
Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Toronto Argonauts. For no good reason, The South is playing contrarian on this one and saying the Argonauts win. If I’m wrong, I’m blaming it on Grueling Truth editor Mike Goodpaster for goading me into it.
Next week: The Hamilton Tiger-Cats become the first CFL team to score 90 points in a game – all in the second half.