Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Caretaker's Commitment

With fans wondering just what will happen with the new stadium in regards to ticket prices, Tiger-Cats owner Bob Young has come out with what he is calling the "Caretaker's Commitment."

In an e-mail sent to all season-seat holders, the team allayed fears of a drastic increase in ticket prices for the 2014 campaign, the first to be played at the new facility. In short, anyone who buys season tickets for the 2012 season – the final season at Ivor Wynne Stadium – will not pay one penny more for season tickets in the new facility in 2014.

The team has also opened a new website for everything stadium related, which I am sure will be updated as news becomes available.

Ticket prices staying relatively inexpensive is great news for season-seat holders; however, there are still a few questions to be answered.

Primarily, how much will seats be in 2012? If the past is any indication, any increase in ticket prices from 2011 to 2012 will be minor. For instance, my seat prices went up by one dollar per game. If the same increase occurs going into 2012, that's not a big deal.

Secondly, what about 2015 and beyond? The commitment to keep prices at current levels is only for the first season in the new facility, but clearly prices will increase at some point. Now it's just a matter of finding out how high the increase will be.

Thirdly, and finally, what about 2013? While the team notes in the FAQ section of the new stadium webpage that they are "working on a comprehensive solution" in regards to 2013, it is still unknown what will happen during that vagabond season. It also says that season-seat holders will have "priority access" to the home games in 2013. That could mean that the team is trying to find locations close to Hamilton. That said, season-seat holders had priority access to Touchdown Atlantic tickets for this season, so having priority access doesn't necessarily mean convenient and/or local access.

In any event, the stadium news of the past couple of days has been exciting and encouraging. Now we just have to wait.

McDaniel, Francis Cut

The Ti-Cats made a couple of player moves ahead of the Labour Day Classique by releasing Marquay McDaniel and Daniel Francis.

The news will be made official tomorrow, according to Drew Edwards.

McDaniel's departure was a long time coming. It is no secret that the team was shopping him over the off-season, and he was mentioned in rumours back in August, so to see the team part ways with him is not surprising in the least. With Aaron Kelly, Bakari Grant and Chris Williams all establishing themselves, along with the pending return of Maurice Mann, McDaniel was the odd man out. I have no doubt he will get picked up, but he clearly was no longer in the Ti-Cats' plans, so it was best for him and the team to go their separate ways.

I was a fan of McDaniel's and felt that he had a bright future in Hamilton. I will never forget when he caught that two-point conversation in the 2009 East Division Semi-Final against BC. It sent the game to overtime, and that was the loudest I had heard Ivor Wynne in quite some time. I thought he was a star in the making. Maybe he still will be, but it won't be for the Tiger-Cats.

Francis's departure is a little more surprising: not because he was so good, but because he was just signed this past off-season. But with the recent addition of former BC Lion David Hyland, Francis became expendable. He had been an excellent Special Teams player, but he was brought in to help the Secondary and he didn't do that.

Good luck in the future to both players.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Power Poll (Week 9)

Analysts say that the season doesn't really get started until Labour Day. Well, it's Labour Day. I know, I can't believe it either.

1. Winnipeg Blue Bombers (Last Week: 1)

Many are wondering how the Bombers have gone from 4-14 doormat to 7-1 juggernaut. It's simple: they are winning close games. Last year, Winnipeg lost 10 games by a touchdown or less. This season, they are 3-1 in games decided by the same margin. With back-to-back games against this year's doormat, the Saskatchewan Roughriders, on the docket, the Bombers could easily be 9-1 with a stranglehold on the top seed in the East. Until proven otherwise, they're the top team in the rankings.

2. Calgary Stampeders (Last Week: 3)

Calgary is on a roll right now, and it doesn't look like anyone is going to stop them. The Stamps took out the Als, which is why they leapfrog the Als. Both teams (in fact, the top four teams) are varying degrees of good, with any one being able to beat the other on any given week. The Stamps got that win this past week, so they take the number-two spot.

3. Montreal Alouettes (Last Week: 2)

These aren't the same Als from the last couple of years. They are still very good, but they don't have that air of invincibility around them anymore. They look beatable and have been beaten three times (by Calgary, Hamilton and Saskatchewan) in games they traditionally win. The Montreal hegemony seems to be coming to an end.

4. Hamilton Tiger-Cats (Last Week: 4)

The Ti-Cats have a golden chance to prove whether they are a .500 team or one of the league's elites in the next two weeks. Two games against the Montreal Alouettes will give everyone an idea of what type of team the Tiger-Cats are. Win them both, and things get really interesting. Lose both, and the Argos could be breathing down Hamilton's neck. It's an important two weeks for the boys from Steeltown.

5. Edmonton Eskimos (Last Week: 5)

The Esks were on a bye in Week 9, which was desperately needed. After a 5-0 start, the Eskies have lost three in a row. Things don't get much easier, as their next two games are against the West-leading Stampeders. The Esks need at least a split in order to stay in the race for first in the West.

6. British Columbia Lions (Last Week: 6)

BC gained a lot of momentum going into their bye after throttling the Eskimos 36-1 in Week 8. Up next are back-to-back dates with a team they are likely to be fighting for a playoff spot with: the Toronto Argonauts. The Leos just need to keep pace with the Boatmen to stop Toronto from crossing over. It is a big two weeks for both teams.

7. Toronto Argonauts (Last Week: 7)

Pretty much everything that was said about the Lions could be said about the Argos. If Toronto can win their two games against the Lions, the Argos will be in prime position to secure a playoff spot. It won't be easy, but it is doable. The course of the Argos' season can be decided over the next two weeks.

8. Saskatchewan Roughriders (Last Week: 8)

The Ken Miller era begins again. Former Head Coach Greg Marshall was fired following Saskatchewan's Week 8 loss to the Argos, and the man that guided the Riders to back-to-back Grey Cup appearances is back at the helm. It won't matter. The Riders suck right now, and two games against the Bombers will bury them even further. If Saskatchewan can win even one of those games against Winnipeg it will be a minor miracle. The Riders are a mess, and things are going to get much worse before they get better.

Highest Climb: Calgary (+1)
Steepest Fall: Montreal (-1)

Monday, 29 August 2011

Fire Sale: Everyone Must Go!

The Ti-Cats lost this weekend, so you know what that means: time to bench Kevin Glenn and fire Marcel Bellefeuille.

It's becoming a bit of a joke. Every time the team loses, regardless of the circumstances surrounding the loss, there is a vocal section of the fan base that calls for both Glenn and Bellefeuille's heads. Personally, I'm getting a little sick of hearing it because nothing new ever gets brought up. It's the same arguments over and over again and, frankly, it's a little tiresome.

With Glenn, the issue is he's not a winner. His regular-season record – which is an unimpressive 57-58-1 – gets brought up, as does the "can't win the big one" card. I can't defend Glenn's regular-season win-loss totals. But I also don't have access to all 116 games he's started, so I don't know in how many games his play was the main reason, or one of the main reasons, his team lost. I do know that this past week's loss was not his fault. Yes, he threw an interception that was taken back for a touchdown. He also threw two TDs of his own and passed for over 350 yards. There was also a plethora of mistakes made by his teammates, which Glenn is not responsible for. To say that the Cats lost this past week because of how Kevin Glenn performed is moronic.

But the one that really bugs me, and I just about tune out at this point, is the idea that he "can't win the big one." I've heard that about a lot of Quarterbacks over the years, but none more so in the CFL than Henry Burris. Burris was dogged for years by the same label that is now affixed to Glenn. Burris played great football in the regular season in 2005, 2006 and 2007, but was knocked out of the first round of the playoffs each year. (Sound familiar?) Then, finally, it all came together and Burris led the Stampeders to a Grey Cup championship in 2008. But prior to that, fans and media said that Burris didn't have it in him to lead a team to a championship. Then he did, and you don't hear people say Burris can't win, because he's won. In the NFL, the same was said of Steve Young and Peyton Manning (who was the poster boy for "can't win the big one" going back to his days at the University of Tennessee)... until they won. You only can't win the big one until you win the big one. Once Glenn wins a Grey Cup, this talk goes away. (I'd also make the argument about the 2007 Grey Cup, and how had he played he could have easily led the Bombers to a championship, but I've already made that point so often in the past that I'd begin to sound like the broken record.)

After Glenn (actually, more like "in tandem with Glenn"), fans call for the firing of Marcel Bellefeuille. Bellefeuille is 22-22 as the Ti-Cats Head Coach since taking over on a permanent basis, which is admittedly mediocre. But what needs to be taken into account is the dismal records of the coaches that preceded him (minus Ron Lancaster's interim stint in 2006). Charlie Taaffe was 5-23 in his one-and-a-half playoffless seasons with the Cats in 2007 and 2008, and Greg Marshall was 14-25-1 with one playoff appearance (an East Division Semi-Final loss in 2004 to the Argonauts) in his two-plus seasons at the helm. That playoff loss in 2004 was the high-water mark of the Bob Young era until Bellefeuille was named coach. Since then, the Ti-Cats have made two straight playoff appearances in 2009 and 2010 (and hosted both games), the first time the Cats have made the playoffs in back-to-back years since 2000 and 2001. And even if the Cats finish at 9-9 again this season, they are likely headed back to the playoffs for a third consecutive season.

However, this is where I might be convinced to join the group calling for Bellefeuille's head. Now I don't think he should be fired during the season – in my opinion, that is never a good idea – but if the Cats stumble to another .500 finish and first-round playoff exit, it might be time to make a coaching change. Sometimes a coach helps to get a team on track, but can't be the one to take them over the hump. Once again, I look to Calgary from 2005-2007 and then in 2008. For three seasons, Tom Higgins was the head man for the Stamps, and as talented as that team was, he couldn't get them out of the first round of the playoffs. So Higgins gets fired and is replaced by John Hufnagel. In Hufnagel's first season, he takes pretty much the same team Higgins had to the Grey Cup and wins it. A new voice in the locker room got the same group of players where they needed to be in order to take home the most coveted prize in their sport. The story of Tony Dungy and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is pretty similar. While Dungy is a great coach (and would win a Super Bowl with the previously mentioned former poster boy for "can't win the big one" Peyton Manning in Indianapolis), the Bucs needed a new voice to motivate them to excellence. Enter Jon Gruden and a Super Bowl victory.

Perhaps this is the same scenario that needs to play out for the Ti-Cats. Perhaps Bellefeuille has taken them as far as he can. Perhaps a new voice is needed. Perhaps.

Are Glenn and Bellefeuille the men to lead the Cats back to the top of the mountain? I don't know. But I do know that I'm not ready to give up on them yet. Unlike the louder members of the fan base, I don't believe it is time for a fire sale. Everyone doesn't have to go, especially the starting Quarterback and Head Coach.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

New Stadium, Same Address

I know I'm late on this, but it has been a hectic weekend.

Anyway, enough about my personal life, let's get down to the news.

The new Ivor Wynne Stadium (or whatever it ends up being called) is no longer a renovation job, but a full-blown new stadium.

It was revealed on Friday that the north side stands "would not accommodate seats with backs because of the grade." That means that Ivor Wynne Stadium will be a brand-new facility with no remnants of the old building present as the north stands will also be replaced. The plan already called for the south stands to be replaced, but initially, the north stands would have just been renovated. That is no longer the case, and the whole thing will be brand new.

So we fans get to venture to the same address we've always gone to, but we will be watching games in a sparkling new stadium. It's a win-win if you ask me. The best stadium to watch a game in will lose its warts, but none of its charm. I couldn't ask for anything more.

Morning-After Thoughs (Week 9)

This week's games were hyped almost endlessly, and boy did they deliver. Two great back-and-forth contests that had everything a CFL fan could ask for. If you ever want to show someone why you love football, play them the replay of either of these games. Both games came down to, essentially, the very end. Week 9 is what football is all about.
  1. This is a question, not an observation: how did Rod Smith do as a play-by-play man during the Hamilton-Winnipeg game? I watched it without sound – I was attending my cousin's wedding reception – so I didn't get to hear Smith call the game.
  2. Fred Reid is the second-leading rusher in the league, yet I feel like he hasn't really done anything all season. He just feels... there.
  3. We are finally seeing what a healthy Buck Pierce means to a team. He hasn't put up monster numbers – he's ahead of only Cleo Lemon in most statistical categories – but he has helped Winnipeg take a two-game lead in the very competitive East Division, while losing just one game – by a single point, no less – in the process. A healthy Pierce means good things for the Bombers.
  4. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have one of the best front fours, if not the best front four, in the CFL. So kudos to Hamilton's Offensive Line for giving up just one sack – which was actually given up by Defensive Lineman Justin Hickman when he was in on a short-yardage play – in Friday's game. In fact, the Ti-Cats have only surrendered three of Winnipeg's league-leading 30 sacks. Not too bad, in my opinion.
  5. Dwight Anderson is a goof; I think that opinion is almost universally accepted. So when he danced like a buffoon after clocking Calgary's mack truck of a Receiver, Nik Lewis, even though Lewis managed to pick up the first down, I couldn't help but laugh when Lewis mimicked Anderson's antics. I loved it. Anderson is a showboat (and to be fair, so is Lewis), so it was nice to see someone put Anderson in his place. Great stuff.
  6. If Calgary's Defensive Coordinator Chris Jones is not on the short list of candidates for the soon-to-be-vacant position of Head Coach of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, then something is truly wrong in Regina.
  7. Is offensive pass interference the least-called penalty in football? Jamel Richardson blatantly held Keon Raymond, and yet there was no flag. If you put the over/under on offensive pass interference calls in a season at nine (once every other week, on average), I'd take the under every year.
  8. At first, the drafting of Johnny Forzani had the same stench as when Kevin Feterik was named the starting Quarterback for the Stamps back in 2004. Feterik's father was the Stamps' owner at the time, and now Forzani's uncle owns the team. It would have been easy to say that Forzani was given his shot simply because of nepotism. Unlike Feterik, Forzani has proven he belongs, and his 101-yard, two-touchdown performance against Montreal was his coming-out party. Forzani has gotten better each week and is looking like he could be one of the next great Canadian Receivers.
  9. Is there a better QB-WR combo in the CFL than Anthony Calvillo and Jamel Richardson? I certainly don't think so.
  10. So I once again went 1-1 this week, making my bye-week mark a middling 2-2. I nailed the Stamps, but missed on the Cats. My overall record is now an alright 18-14.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Winnipeg 30, Hamilton 27

(Editor's Note: I was at a wedding reception last night, so my thoughts on this game won't be as thorough as usual.)

Rarely, if ever, do games live up to the hype that preceded it. The same cannot be said of last night's great game between Hamilton and Winnipeg. Everyone expected a hard-fought, tight contest, and that is exactly what we got. This game could have gone either way, and as a fan of football, that's really all you can ask for.

Positives

Bakari Grant had his best game of the year, with 83 yards and a touchdown. It is nice to see the young guy step up when needed. All the playing time that he, Aaron Kelly and Chris Williams are getting now will bode well for the team in the future.

Chris Williams, save one play (that will be discussed below), had an amazing game. You can't really complain when a guy puts up over 160 yards and scores. One key mistake is all that changes Williams's game from being outstanding to being good. That's too bad, because aside from that, Williams was outstanding.

Kevin Glenn was also very good. It's hard to find a lot of fault in a 351-yard, two-touchdown performance. He did throw a very costly interception that was returned to the house, but that was really his only mistake of the night. Glenn takes a lot of abuse from fans, but a lot of it is undeserved. Glenn produces at a high level, and last night was another example of that.

Justin Hickman is very quietly putting together an All-Star-caliber season. Another two sacks last night gives him five on the season. While Stevie Baggs has been used in coverage and sees more double teams, the freed-up Hickman is making plays. Last night was no different.

Negatives

The key play of the game was the Chris Williams fumble on the one-yard line. Williams had a touchdown, guaranteed; but a Winnipeg defender (I believe it was Joe Lobendahn) punched the ball out of Williams's arms just before Williams crossed the goal line. That was the one play that changed the game. The Cats score there and I feel comfortable saying they probably win the game.

Penalties, which totaled 13 for 130 yards, killed the Cats. Time and again, Hamilton would stop Winnipeg on second down only to see a flag hit the turf and extend a Winnipeg drive. You shoot yourself like that, especially on Defense, and you are not going to win many football games.

I want to put something about the Defense – a Defense we were all raving about back in Week 3, 4 and 5 – but I wouldn't know where to start. The unit as a whole has been disappointing since the win against Montreal, especially the Secondary. The pressure-heavy scheme doesn't seem to be getting much pressure, nor is it producing enough turnovers. Is it the scheme, the players, the coaching? I don't know. It just hasn't been very good.

A few weeks ago, I read a fan's complaint that the Tiger-Cats were too plain on second and third and one. This fan wanted the Cats to try something, especially on second and short. Well, last night the Tabbies had Quinton Porter (the team's short-yardage Quarterback) fake a sneak and attempt a pass. A block was missed and Odell Willis cleaned Porter's clock. That sack snuffed out a very promising drive for the Cats.

It's hard to be too harsh on Justin Medlock, but a missed field goal (it would have been two, but one was wiped out by a penalty) was the difference between overtime and a loss. The miss did come from over 50 yards, so again it's hard to bury the guy for missing that. The fans' standards are so high for Medlock right now, that a missed 50-plus-yard field goal qualifies as a negative.

Final Thoughts

All credit goes to Winnipeg for making plays when they needed to make plays, but the Ti-Cats gave this game away. This was a "W" that turned into an "L." Hamilton could have won this one going away if not for some costly mistakes.

But that Cats have proven they can play with the big boys, even on their turf. A 4-4 record is nothing to be happy about, but winning in the 'Peg is not going to be easy for anyone, so you can't get too down about the loss.

It doesn't get any easier for the Tabbies, as next up is the back-to-back series against the Als. If the Cats play like they did tonight, minus the mistakes, they can beat Montreal. In fact, if they Cats play without tonight's mistakes they can beat anyone. I'm not one of those "moral victory" guys, but it is heartening to know that the Cats, despite their .500 record, are capable of going into a hostile environment and not wilting under the pressure.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Preview: Tiger-Cats at Blue Bombers

4-3
6-1
(Editor's Note: Under no circumstances will the nickname that the Blue Bombers have given themselves be used in any way, shape or form in this or any other post that deals with that team. Self-imposed nicknames are lame, and this one is lamer than most.)

While not as big as either team's primary rivalry, Hamilton and Winnipeg have developed a nice secondary rivalry that has become rather intense.

This week's game is no different. It seems as if both teams have talked a lot coming into their Friday-night tilt (heck, even Blue Bomber Head coach Paul LaPolice's wife got in on the fun), and both teams will have to back up their talk on the field.

Recently, that's exactly what both teams have done. The Bombers have lost once all season, while the Cats have won four of their last five. These two squads have been on a roll, with both of them playing very good football.

The Bombers' Offense has sputtered for most of the season, with Winnipeg relying on their Defense to win games. Winnipeg's Defense has been more than up to the task, but the Offense still has to find its rhythm. If the Cats can jump out to an early lead, forcing the Bombers to play catch-up, it could bode well for the Tabbies. It would also silence the capacity crowd at CanadInns Stadium, which would also be a boon to the visitors.

Winnipeg's Defense has been amazing in the first half of the season, so a healthy dose of Deuces himself, Mr. Avon Cobourne, could be just what the doctor ordered. Kevin Glenn also likes to play against the Bombers (I suspect he is still salty over how his exit from Winnipeg was handled back in 2009), and I think Glenn would relish the opportunity to shut the fans up.

I expect a highly entertaining contest when these two teams take the field Friday night. A win by Winnipeg and they continue to solidify themselves as the Beasts of the East. A win by the Tiger-Cats and the race for first in the East gets that much tighter.

As is the case every week, TSN will have your television coverage, while AM900 CHML is the place to turn your dial on the old radio. The fun begins at 8:00PM.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

CFL Blogging Contest, Pt. 4

Over the past month, I have been participating in a CFL Blogging Contest held by the fine folks over at Sports Interaction. My first article dealt with the changing the kicking game; my second article proposed the idea of a naturalized non-import; my third article asked for a multipart documentary about all the past Grey Cup champions.

And with my fourth, and final, article, I decided to tackle the oft-debated subject of expansion in the CFL. Expansion is a highly polarizing subject among fans of the CFL, and there is no better way to spur a debate than by putting your opinion out there.

As before, share this on Twitter or Facebook (or any other platform you can think of). E-mail this to any and everyone you know. The most views wins, so anything you can do to help me get the most views possible is greatly appreciated. The contest closes August 31st, and the winner will be announced on September 5th.

I'm not going to lie, I want to win. But even if I don't, this was a fun contest to take part in, and it allowed me to venture out of my comfort zone of the Tiger-Cats and look at other aspects of the great game of Canadian football.

I hope everyone enjoyed reading my pieces as much as I enjoyed writing them. And for everyone who helped me out during the past month by posting the articles on Twitter, Facebook and by e-mailing them to friends and family, I can only say thank you. Without you, I wouldn't have been able to compete in this contest. So thanks to everyone who took the time to read what I wrote and share it with others. All your help was, and remains, greatly appreciated.

Smitty's Selections: Week 9

I'm going to make a bold statement here and say that the two games in Week 9 make this the best week of the season. No single week has featured two more intriguing matchups than Week 9. The 6-1 Winnipeg Blue Bombers host the 4-3 Hamilton Tiger-Cats, while the 5-2 Calgary Stampeders welcome the 5-2 Montreal Alouettes to McMahon Stadium. These two games have the potential to be two of the best games of the year.

Hamilton at Winnipeg

Back in Week 1, these two teams met in one of the ugliest games in recent memory. Neither team played particularly well in that first contest, and it was a key mistake by the Ti-Cats that allowed Winnipeg to leave Hamilton with a victory. Everyone expects a much different game this time around. These two teams are fairly equal, but payback is on the minds of the Tabbies, and they return the favour by taking a close one in Winnipeg.

Winner: Hamilton. 26-23

Montreal at Calgary

This is probably the most difficult game I've ever had to pick. At first thought, it seemed Montreal was a no-brainer. I mean, they're Montreal. But then I started to get my doubts. The game is in Calgary, and the Stamps have not played exceedingly well, but have turned it on in their last two games. With the game being in Cowtown, my gut is telling me to roll the dice on the home team. So I will, but this one will be close.

Winner: Calgary, 31-27

Recap
Hamilton, Calgary

Season Record: 17-13

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Beswick Gets Extended, Mullinder Signs On

Two good Canadian players were locked up by the Ti-Cats in the past 24 hours. The team inked Marc Beswick to a contract extension and signed Defensive Lineman Luc Mullinder to a two-year deal.

Beswick has been with the team since 2009 and has turned into a Special Teams ace. He currently sits third in the league in Special Teams tackles. Beswick is a good depth player, and his Special Teams contributions speak for themselves. It's nice to see a player who doesn't get much ink get rewarded for solid work.

Mullinder, who was released by the Alouettes just two weeks after he was traded to Montreal by Saskatchewan, coming to Hamilton is intriguing. He helps to buttress a Defensive Line that has been lacking depth for most of the season. Mullinder could also fill the role that was vacated by Jermaine Reid when the latter signed with the Eskimos this past off-season. With Eddie Steele playing well and Matt Kirk getting healthy, the Ti-Cats now have three very good Canadians along the Defensive Line. Signing Mullinder could turn out to be a very smart signing by the Tabbies.

Power Poll (Week 8)

Not a lot of change in the Power Poll this week, as four of last week's top-five teams had the week off. The upcoming week should be fun, as the four top teams this week will all square off. Things could be very different in the top half of the Poll in one week's time.

1. Winnipeg Blue Bombers (Last Week: 1)

The Bombers used their week off to prepare for a date with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. In Week 1, the Bombers went into Hamilton and beat the Cats in a game many described as an upset. This is why you should pay little attention to what people say at the start of the season. Would anyone classify a 24-16 win by the Bombers an upset now? Winnipeg can really put some distance between themselves and the rest of the East Division if they can knock off the Tabbies again.

2. Montreal Alouettes (Last Week: 2)

The Als look to have found their groove after an unfamiliar early-season rough patch. No one ever wrote off the Als (well, no one that has a clue), but questions did arise. But the Als now find themselves facing few questions. They are once again one of the favourites to win it all.

3. Calgary Stampeders (Last Week: 3)

The Stamps were a tough team to figure out for most of the early part of the season, but they looked magnificent in beating the Riders before their bye. Was that a product of the Stampeders turning the corner or the Riders being so terrible? I guess we're about to find out when Calgary travels to Montreal this week.

4. Hamilton Tiger-Cats (Last Week: 5)

The Ti-Cats are entering a very important stretch of games, as they take on Winnipeg, Montreal, Montreal, Edmonton and Calgary over the next five weeks. Those five games will likely decide the Ti-Cats' season. First up, the Bombers. That should be one heckuva contest.

5. Edmonton Eskimos (Last Week: 4)

Which is the real Edmonton team: the one that started 5-0 or the one that has lost three in a row? Or is it as simple as the Eskimos coming back to the median? But they have lost three consecutive games, so the bye couldn't be coming at a better time for the Esks.

6. British Columbia Lions (Last Week: 7)

The Lions walloped the Eskimos in Week 8, and for that they move up one spot. A beating like that scores a lot of points over here, and even though both the Argos and Lions won, the Lions dominated, while the Argos just squeaked by. For that reason alone, the Lions inch past the Argos this week.

7. Toronto Argonauts (Last Week: 6)

I know what you're thinking: the Argos lose and move up, but win and move down? The Argos didn't play anywhere near as well in their win against Saskatchewan as they did in their loss to Hamilton. We won't have to wait long to find out who is the better team between the Argos and Lions because they play each other in their next two games. For the time being, I like the Lions slightly more than the Argos.

8. Saskatchewan Roughriders (Last Week: 8)

Head Coach, fired. Offensive Coordinator, fired. Saskatchewan is in complete disarray right now. I don't care what some people think, bringing back Ken Miller is not the solution. It's nothing more than a stopgap. With their next two games coming against the best team in the league, it's going to get worse before it gets better.

Highest Climb: Hamilton, BC (+1)
Steepest Fall: Edmonton, Toronto (-1)

Monday, 22 August 2011

Articles Added to Sidebar

As everyone is probably already aware, I am participating in a CFL Blogging Contest. I am also trying my darnedest to win it. For anyone who has yet to read my articles, I have decided to add them to the sidebar. So if you haven't checked out the articles, you now do not need to go looking for them in previous posts. They will be front and centre for everyone to see. (Well, technically, they'll be on the side to the right, but you get the idea.)

The contest closes on September 1st, and the writer with the most page views will be crowned the winner. So if you like what I do here, check out the articles over on the sidebar. Thank you for your support.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Cats Sign Hyland

The Cats have brought in some reinforcements for their banged-up Secondary by signing former BC Lion Defensive Back David Hyland.

Hyland was let go earlier this season when BC signed former Ti-Cat Jerome Dennis after Dennis was released by the Tabbies.

Hyland will provide some much-needed depth for a Secondary that lost starter Carlos Thomas after Thomas underwent an emergency appendectomy about two weeks ago. The Secondary's play has been up and down the entire season, so hopefully Hyland can provide some stability at the back end.

It's likely that Hyland will be used on Special Teams as well. Hyland hits like a truck, and adding another hard-hitting presence to the kick-coverage unit is never a bad thing.

It'll be interesting to see how Hyland is deployed when he makes his Tiger-Cats debut.

Morning-After Thoughts (Week 8)

With the CFL entering the two-week bye-week portion of the schedule, there were only two games to watch in Week 8. One featured two 1-6 teams going head to head, while the other featured a 1-6 team taking on a team on a two-game losing streak. On paper, these games were duds; on the field... pretty much the same. As far as I am concerned, football is football; however, the games this week were not great.
  1. The news of the week doesn't involve any game, but is obviously the firing of Saskatchewan Head Coach Greg Marshall. Marshall was given eight games before the rug was pulled out from under him. Eight games hardly seems like a big enough sample with which to judge Marshall's abilities as the head man. It strikes me as a knee-jerk reaction. Marshall is being replaced by former Head Coach Ken Miller. We'll see how well this move works out.
  2. There are two times when you can usually be guaranteed a loud crowd. The first is when the game gets underway and the home-team Defense takes the field for the first time. The second is when the home team is on Defense at the end of the game nursing a one-score-or-less lead. The crowd at the Rogers Centre SkyDome passed the second part with flying colours, but failed miserably on the first. You could hear a pin drop when the game started. That was the quietest I've heard a crowd that early in a game.
  3. Underrated is a term that is often misused. I heard Argo Running Back Jeff Johnson referred to as underrated, and I have to disagree. I think he is properly rated. He's a highly regarded player whose place in the pantheon of CFL history is about where it should be.
  4. I know it's still waaaaaaaaaaaay too early, but are we looking at the year that an East Division team finally crosses over into the West for the playoffs? That team would likely be the Argos, which could lead to my personal dream Grey Cup: Hamilton vs. Toronto. It's unlikely to happen (both the crossover and the Cats-Argos Grey Cup), but I wouldn't mind if it did.
  5. Having cameras close to the action gives the viewer at home great access to the teams on the field. Sometimes, however, the camera catches things that would be better left uncaught. That's the case with Jim Barker telling his team to get into their "Victory Offense" with about two minutes remaining. Toronto then proceeded to go two and out in the span of about four nanoseconds. If that's Toronto's "Victory Offense" it's no wonder they've only managed to win two games all year. (Before anyone jumps down my throat claiming I'm biased against the Argos, please note that that was a joke. It was meant to be funny, so just laugh and move on.)
  6. Are we seeing the annual BC comeback? With two games against the Argos coming up, the Lions could put some serious distance between themselves and the Boatmen for the sixth and final playoff spot.
  7. We've now seen the Edmonton Offense put up five – yes, FIVE! – points in their last eight quarters of football. I can't recall a worse two-game stretch of offensive football than I have seen from Edmonton these last two games. It's just been ugly.
  8. Arland Bruce is back! He nearly matched his season high in yards against Edmonton. My feelings are well known on the trade that sent Bruce to BC, so I'll just say that the Lions could scare a lot of people if Bruce and Geroy Simon get going. If Friday night is any indication, the other seven teams should start to worry. A motivated Arland Bruce is a very scary Arland Bruce.
  9. Does any team need a bye week more than the Eskimos? Not only will it help them get healthy, but they've lost three in a row and could use a week off to right the ship and recharge the batteries.
  10. Went 1-1 this week on my picks. Got the Basement Bowl right (Toronto), but whiffed on the Eskimos game. That puts me at 17-13 for the year.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Grading the Off-Season

With the Tiger-Cats enjoying their bye week, there is a significant lack of news on the Ti-Cat front. I thought now would be a good time to look back at some of the moves the team made over the off-season.

Avon Cobourne
By far the most high-profile signing was when Avon Cobourne put his name on a contract to jump from the Als to the Tabbies. In his time here Cobourne has been everything he was advertised as. He is currently third in the league in rushing and tied for first in rushing touchdowns. There are still areas where Cobourne can be used more effectively, like in the passing game, but life with Avon has been very sweet. A great signing.

Grade: A

Rey Williams
I'm not going to lie; I was upset when the Cats signed Rey Williams because I knew it meant the end of the line for one of my favourite players, Otis Floyd. Williams was touted as a younger version of Floyd, and I'll be damned if that hasn't turned out to be true. Williams is currently in the top 10 in tackles and has fit in perfectly with Jamall Johnson and Markeith Knowlton. The Ti-Cats once again have the best Linebacking corps in the CFL (don't even argue for any other threesome, because you'd be wrong), and Williams is a big part of that.

Grade: A-

Justin Medlock
No position on the Ti-Cats in 2010 was more scrutinized than Kicker. Sandro DeAngelis came to Hamilton with much fanfare, and failed to produce. The Ti-Cats brought in Justin Medlock via a trade with the Edmonton Eskimos, and DeAngelis was cut soon after. Medlock then battled Eric Wilbur in Training Camp for the job, and won. Since then, Medlock has been nothing short of phenomenal. He has missed only two field goals all season and is, in my opinion, the clubhouse leader for Most Outstanding Special Teams Player. His steady foot as been a breath of fresh air after the adventure that was 2010. Medlock's addition might be the most important acquisition the Ti-Cats made this past off-season.

Grade: A+ (I'd make this an A-bazillion-plus if I could.)

Those were the three big moves that the Cats made in the off-season, but they also brought in a couple of guys that deserve a little press.

Daniel Francis
Daniel Francis was a classic "under the radar" signing – I even underplayed it – and he has been an exceptional Special Teams player. He hasn't contributed all that much on Defense, but his play on Special Teams has been outstanding, which means he has been a positive for the Cats.

Grade: C+

Wayne Smith
Injuries were a big concern with Smith, but he was being brought in for depth and wasn't expected to be a starter. He has filled his role perfectly, while staying healthy to boot. It's hard to judge the efficiency of a backup Offensive Lineman, but Smith has stayed healthy and the O-Line doesn't see a dropoff when he plays. I'd say bringing Smith back was a good signing.

Grade: B

Based on where the Cats are now, I think the moves paid off. Cobourne, Williams and Medlock have been as good as advertised, if not better. Francis is still finding his way, but has shown flashes of great play, especially on Special Teams. Smith has been great depth for the line, and the fact that he has remained healthy is a big plus for him and the team.

Teams don't win championships in the off-season, but so far the moves the Cats made this past off-season to try to position themselves to win championships look to be paying off.

CFL Blogging Contest, Pt. 3

My latest article for Sports Interaction's CFL Blogging Contest is now up. This one is about a new documentary series that I think the CFL (and TSN) should consider producing.

As with before, please share this with everyone you know either by e-mailing them the link, sharing or liking it on Facebook, retweeting it on Twitter or any other medium you are aware of that can get this out there to the most eyes. The winner of the contest is determined by how many views their articles get, so the more people that see it, the better.

And in case you missed them, here are my two previous articles. One is on the kicking game, and the other is on the ratio.

Thanks for everyone's help.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Smitty's Selections: Week 8

I'm on a bit of a mini roll here, as I posted my third consecutive 3-1 week in Week 7. I won't do that this week, because there are only two games. But if I can go 3-1 over the next two weeks, I'll be happy.

Saskatchewan at Toronto

Two 1-6 teams square off in what some people are calling The Toilet Bowl. These two teams are struggling right now. The Riders' lone win, which came in Montreal, is looking like a giant fluke right now. They look like they have no idea how to fix their problems. The Argos haven't won since Week 1 in Calgary, but they did look good in defeat last week. Cleo Lemon posted great numbers for the second week in a row, and it is possible that the light has turned on for the second-year Argo pivot. All that, plus the game being in Toronto, adds up to an Argonaut victory.

Winner: Toronto, 24-14

British Columbia at Edmonton

The other 1-6 team, the BC Lions, take on a reeling Eskimos squad that has lost their last two games after starting the season 5-0. The Lions, like the Riders, look lost. Nothing is going their way, and the addition of Arland Bruce did nothing for them against Winnipeg. The Eskimos have seemingly lost their entire receiving corps, but they did sign Prechae Rodriguez, and Adarius Bowman might return. That would give the Esks something. Regardless, BC just looks bad right now, and it's hard to bet against the Eskimos at home. Eskies take this one.

Winner: Edmonton, 31-19

Recap
Toronto, Edmonton

Season Record: 16-12

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Power Poll (Week 7)

Bye weeks are upon us, which means Labour Day is around the corner, which means we are nearly halfway done the 2011 CFL season. Does time fly or what? Teams seem to be settling in to they're roles. We have the top teams, the middle teams and the bottom dwellers. But as we all know, anything can happen over the last 12 weeks of the season.

1. Winnipeg Blue Bombers (Last Week: 1)

The Bombers continued their mastery over the league by dominating the Lions in BC in Week 7. The Bombers look like the most complete team in the league right now, and it's going to take teams being nearly perfect to beat them.

2. Montreal Alouettes (Last Week: 3)

The Als have won two straight after dropping two straight, and completely dismantled the Eskimos on Thursday night. What can you say about the Als that hasn't already been said. They're just good.

3. Calgary Stampeders (Last Week: 4)

Finally! That's the Stampeder team I've been waiting to see. While the final score showed a 10-point win, the game was never really that close. The Stamps look to have found their stride. They could start to become very dangerous now. Watch out.

4. Edmonton Eskimos (Last Week: 2)

After starting 5-0, the Eskimos have come back down to Earth. Edmonton has lost their last two (admittedly difficult road games against Winnipeg and Montreal), and the reason is simple: their Offense has disappeared. The Esks averaged 30.6 points per game in their five wins, 10 per game in their two defeats. The Eskimos Offense needs to step it up.

5. Hamilton Tiger-Cats (Last Week: 5)

In their four wins, the Tiger-Cats have shown everything it takes to be a contender. In their three losses, they have shown everything it takes to be an average team. The five games following their bye – where they play Winnipeg, Montreal twice, Edmonton and Calgary – will tell us everything about what type of team this is, contender or pretender.

6. Toronto Argonauts (Last Week: 8)

How, you may ask, does a team on a six-game losing streak jump two spots? Well, the Argos looked very good against Hamilton in Week 7 and looked better than both BC and Saskatchewan in defeat. If they Argos can continue to play like they did at Ivor Wynne, the wins will come.

7. BC Lions (Last Week: 6)

So much for Arland Bruce having an impact. The Lions struggled once again at Empire Field (I have to think they'll be happy to get back to BC Place next month) and got hammered by the Blue Bombers. Travis Lulay was pulled, and one has to wonder if he's as good as some (myself included) have made him out to be.

8. Saskatchewan Roughriders (Last Week: 7)

Saskatchewan is a complete mess right now, and fingers are pointing in a lot of directions. Head Coach Greg Marshall, Defensive Coordinator Richie Hall and Offensive Coordinator Doug Berry have all taken some heat for the Riders' poor start. But fans seem to lay the blame for this on the doorstep of General Manager Brendan Taman. Regardless of whose fault it is, Saskatchewan is in trouble, and 2011 is starting to look like a lost season for the Green & White.

Highest Climb: Toronto (+2)
Steepest Fall: Edmonton (-2)

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Morning-After Thoughts (Week 7)

It was Blowout Week in the CFL, save for one game. The Als took apart the Eskimos, the Stamps manhandled the reeling Roughriders, and the Bombers dominated the Lions. But the game of the week, and maybe the game of year, went down to the wire in Hamilton. While the other three games were, for lack of a better word, duds, Hamilton and Toronto gave everyone full bang for their buck. That was a classic CFL game in an otherwise ho-hum seventh week.
  1. It seems like every week I start off by congratulating Anthony Calvillo for surpassing another milestone or breaking another record. This week, Calvillo became just the fourth player in pro-football history to throw for over 70,000 yards (Damon Allen, Brett Favre and Warren Moon are the other three) and the first player in CFL history to throw 400 touchdown passes. Big round of applause for both.
  2. Jason Barnes has had a great season so far, and he played very well in filling in for the injured Fred Stamps; however, his drop late in the fourth quarter was about as bad as any drop I've ever seen, especially since it was on third down and would have been a touchdown.
  3. Calvin McCarty, much like Andre Durie, is one of the most underrated players in the CFL. All McCarty does when he touches the ball is produce.
  4. I know when players return to their former home, they are usually booed. But the boos that rained down on Damon Duvall when he returned to Montreal sounded as if Alouette fans hate him like poison.
  5. Jason Armstead's back. Who knew? No, seriously, who knew?
  6. I like to big-up players who make great individual plays. Jerome Messam's catch in the fourth quarter to keep Edmonton's drive alive was a thing of beauty. He simply refused to be taken down until he got the first down. Very nice play.
  7. Accidental pass interference? Really?
  8. One thing I saw, and loved, from Larry Taylor this week was when he ran to catch a punt in the air knowing that it would result in a 15-yard penalty for the Riders. I wish more returners would do that.
  9. What a difference one off-season makes. I had a feeling that the Riders would fall a bit, but not like this, not 1-6. There are a lot of problems with the Riders, and I don't think there is one thing that can fix it.
  10. Hugh Charles had a great game; that is undeniable. Hugh Charles, as everyone knows, likes to do backflips after he scores a touchdown, which is cool. What's not cool is doing three when you're trailing by double digits. I don't mind guys celebrating, but time and place matter. Celebrating when you're getting your butt handed to you is not the smartest thing in the world. There is a right time to celebrate and a wrong time to celebrate. That was the wrong time.
  11. Ryan Dinwiddie came in to relieve Darian Durant last night and both Chris Cuthbert and Glen Suitor scoffed at the idea that there was a QB controversy brewing in Saskatchewan. Why? What has Darian Durant done to get unequivocal support? He has 64 TD passes and 57 INTs. That's nearly a 1:1 ratio. That's not good enough. Durant will need to pick up his game or he could be, and maybe should be, riding the bench soon.
  12. I know complaining about the refs is easy, but the officiating in the Toronto-Hamilton game was brutal. I have seen a lot of poorly reffed games, but this one ranks right up there.
  13. Am I the only one who thinks the light may have gone on for Cleo Lemon? You can blame a lot of people for the Argos' sixth-straight loss, but Lemon is not one of them.
  14. I said it before and I'll continue saying it until he finally gets recognized, but Andre Durie is the least talked-about great player in the CFL.
  15. If Brandon Rideau plays another 10 years, he might never have a game like he did on Saturday.
  16. I finally know what Argos fans feel like. It must have looked odd to them to see Arland Bruce in a Hamilton uniform. Well, it looks odd to me to see him in a BC uniform.
  17. Travis Lulay getting pulled probably won't spark any QB controversy in BC, but it was a curious move. I know he hasn't played great, but sometimes you have to let a young QB play through the problems.
  18. Jovon Johnson, who I will admit is becoming one of my favourite players to watch, made a heads-up play in tipping the ball to Jonathan Hefney, which allowed Hefney to haul in an interception. That's great teamwork and one of the reasons Winnipeg are where they are right now.
  19. I can't wait to see Winnipeg play Montreal. That is going to be one of the best games of the year.
  20. Could I say I'm on a roll? A third straight week of batting .750. My only loss was taking a chance on the Lions. But still, 3-1 ain't too shabby. And now my record sits at a very respectable 16-12.

Hamilton 37, Toronto 32

What. A. Game. If you love football, you loved that game. It had everything: it was exciting from start to finish, it literally went down to the last second of the game and the crowd, what there was of it, was LOUD! No words I use will do it justice. Simply put, it was a classic.

Positives

I might have to retire praising Justin Medlock, because I could do it every week. He is the best Ti-Cats Kicker since... We are constantly giving players nicknames, and I'd like to give Medlock one: Money. Because that's what Medlock has been so far in 2011.

And speaking of money, Avon Cobourne is worth every penny the Ti-Cats used to pry him from Montreal. He didn't have a dominating performance, but Cobourne just hits the hole hard and refuses to not pick up positive yards. I like everything he does, and while his numbers aren't out of this world, his on-field attitude is infectious.

The Cats traded Arland Bruce because they wanted to get Aaron Kelly and Bakari Grant on the field. Well, I can see why. Grant is turning into a great possession Receiver, and Kelly is quickly becoming a big-play threat. Add those two to Chris Williams, and the future looks very bright at the Receiver position for the Tiger-Cats.

And what would a Receiver discussion be without talking about Dave Stala. Stala has already surpassed his previous single-season high of six touchdowns by scoring his seventh in just his seventh game. He also continues to catch everything thrown his way. Stala is the glue that holds this receiving corps together and is Kevin Glenn's most reliable pass catcher.

Speaking of Glenn, he takes his fair share of abuse from Tiger-Cat fans, but over the past five games he has nine touchdown passes to just one interception. If Glenn goes the rest of the season with a 9:1 TD-to-INT ratio, the Cats will win more than they lose. Heck, if he has even a 4:1 ratio, the Cats will win more than they lose.

Negatives

For much of the season, the Defense has been the better unit, but not lately. Giving up 32 points and over 350 passing yards to a struggling Argo team is inexcusable. And for the second week in a row, the "D" was gashed on screens and dump-offs. Hopefully, the bye week will help Corey Chamblin find a way to defend those plays.

I would also like to see Stevie Baggs be allowed to be Stevie Baggs. The Cats didn't bring him in to drop back in coverage; they brought him in to hit Quarterbacks. Let Shakespeare make plays, please!

Not to pile on the Defense even more, but Marcel Young got beat a few times tonight. I won't be too harsh, because he is a rookie, but he needs to get better in coverage. I once wrote off Bo Smith, and have had to eat crow about that, so I'm more willing to let Young grow before throwing him under the bus.

Attendance tonight was announced as 24,347. Are you kidding me? To the 24,347 fans, both Ti-Cat and Argo, that turned up: good for you. To everyone else: what are you waiting for?

Final Thoughts

Who needs Labour Day when we have games like tonight's? Labour Day is a marketing hook; the game on the field is great regardless of what date it's played on.

That said, the Tiger-Cats have some issues they will have to deal with before they are ready to take on the best team in the CFL in two weeks. Hopefully, the bye week allows for corrections to be made, because Winnipeg is a much better team than Toronto, and the Cats will have to bring their A-game to defeat the Bombers.

But on a positive note, the Cats have put considerable distance between themselves and Toronto. Beating Toronto is always sweet, but it's even sweeter when it buries the Argos deeper.

The Cats now head into their bye at 4-3. It will be two weeks before we see them again, and that next game should be a beauty. If it's 1/10th as good as tonight's game, we are all in for a real treat.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Enough About Labour Day

A lot was being made by fans and media about the fact that the traditional Labour Day meeting between the Toronto Argonauts and Hamilton Tiger-Cats would not be taking place this season. For the majority of us, this story died back in February about a week or two after the league unveiled its schedule. I criticized the league for not ensuring that the Labour Day Classic took place in 2011. My anger, however, did not last long. For most of us, this was a dead story. We had moved on.

Well, apparently Sun Media's Bill Lankhof didn't get the memo.

This past Monday, Lankhof wrote a piece that was syndicated across the Sun's vast network about how he felt the CFL had erred in not scheduling the Argos in Hamilton on the first Monday of September.

My problem isn't just with Lankhof unburying a dead issue, though that is part of it. My main problem is that his article is filled with ridiculous statements, as well as multiple inaccuracies, and I just didn't feel right letting it sit out there without being criticized.

So I decided to break down his column and offer up my take on what he wrote.

You ready? Because here we go.

This is the week the Canadian Football League commits a grievous sin.

We start off with one of the most hyperbolic statements in the piece. I'd hardly call the rescheduling of a game a "grievous sin." It's not the end of world that the Cats and Argos will play on August 13th as opposed to September 5th. Yes, it's not ideal, but it's also not a big deal.

This is the week it shoots itself in the foot. Again. Everyone knows the CFL lives in a parallel universe foreign to the rest of humanity north of the 49th Parallel. But it beggars belief why they so often have to go and prove it.

By playing a game three weeks early, the league is far from shooting itself in the foot. Again, it's not a big deal.

I also don't understand what he means by saying "everyone knows the CFL lives in a parallel universe." I certainly do not think or feel that way. I think the CFL made the best of a bad situation. I was angry about it initially, but time has healed that.

Like this Saturday. CFL decision makers have the Argonauts playing Hamilton in what comes as close as it gets this year to the traditional Labour Day Classic. I know, it’s August.

In fairness to the CFL, their hand was forced. While I didn't like their reasoning, it's not a big deal. (I feel like I'll be saying that a lot in this post.) Lankhof needs to check his facts before he makes statements such as the one above. It was problems with the Rogers Centre SkyDome that forced this to happen, not the people at the CFL offices.

But this is the CFL. They can’t count to September, without a scoreboard. Or, so it sometimes appears.

I could go into needless Sun Media bashing similar to how Lankhof needlessly bashed the CFL, but I'll refrain.

Failing to schedule the Argonauts in Hamilton has to be one of the biggest bonehead marketing moves since the invention of the San Antonio Texans.

And here we have the most hyperbolic sentence in the piece. This is just a flat-out ridiculous statement. I can't even begin to fathom how he views these two things in the same way.

Sports fans are enamoured of tradition.

I couldn't agree more... except that the "tradition" such as it is, only stretches back, uninterrupted, to 1995. Also, there is a tradition of Hamilton playing Montreal on Labour Day as well. The Cats and Als have played on Labour Day eight times, with Hamilton holding a 7-0-1 record. So while it is a small tradition, beating the Als on Labour Day is also part of Tiger-Cat lore.

Tradition beckons fans thousands of miles to experience Fenway Park or to sit on an ice flow more commonly known as Lambeau Field.

Would pointing out the fact that it's ice floe, not ice flow, be petty?

Tradition keeps the Indianapolis 500 alive while open-wheel racing was dying. Tradition is watching the Grey Cup on TV, even when you haven’t seen another game all year and can’t tell the players without a lineup printed off the internet. Not that I would specifically know about that ... but, I’m just saying.

This was probably the paragraph that made me angriest, the last sentence in particular. Nice to know a guy who gets paid to cover the CFL can crack jokes about not knowing who the players are. Since Lankhof writes about the CFL, is he saying that no one reads his work? Does that mean he thinks his job is unnecessary?

Tradition is buying a hot dog at a ball game, even though everyone already knows they hold the culinary delight of rolled up sawdust on a bed of ketchup.

Lankhof says more than once in this article that "everyone knows" what he believes. He's positioning his opinion as fact, and that simply should not be done. Everyone is a lot of people, and I don't know of any issue where you get 100% support, especially when it comes to the CFL.

And, tradition is sitting on a butt-worn wooden bench at Ivor Wynne at the dawn of September, watching the Ticats ring the Argos’ bells as a warm-up for when school bells ring. Since 1995, the Ticats have an 8-6-1 edge in games and it is probably more a tradition for Hamilton, than Toronto, fans. But this is the one game on the calendar that still draws provincial-wide media attention. It is special for the players, too, most of those who have experienced the atmosphere say it is the biggest game of the year this side of the Grey Cup.

Are there still wooden benches? I sit in the same seat for every game, and mine is metal. Does anyone still have a wooden bench? I'm genuinely curious.

The Labour Day Classic does draw media attention, but so has this one because Lankhof is writing about it. Any game between the Argos and Cats should draw media attention, not just because it is played on Labour Day. To say that the media should only pay attention because the game is on Labour Day doesn't sit well with me.

The atmosphere is great, but Saturday's atmosphere will be as well. So was the atmosphere on July 29th... and July 16th... and... you get the point. In my opinion, the fact that the Ti-Cats are competitive makes the atmosphere better, not the opponent. Labour Day used to be the only game that mattered to fans because the Cats were 1-8 or so entering the game. I stress used to. In the last couple of years, the Cats have become a competitive team, and that makes the atmosphere better, not a specific opponent on a specific day. Labour Day is still a big deal, but for me, it's not the be-all and end-all anymore.

Tradition is, perhaps, the reason this league still lives in the hearts of oft-absent fans. And, now the league has killed a part of that last vestige that can still bring fans back to the park. At least for this year, it’s not happening.

Really? Killed? That's a strong word, no? And he ends with, "[a]t least for this year," which is the important part. It's only one year! But even if it's not, and the Als become the new Labour Day rival, is that such a big deal?

If you follow college football, you'll know that BYU-Utah (known as the Holy War) is one of the most anticipated games for those two schools every year. Due to Utah's move to the Pac-12, the game will be played in Week 3 in 2011, instead of the final week of the season, as was tradition. Does that mean that that game will hold any less meaning to the fans of either school? Of course not! It's no different with the Argonauts and Tiger-Cats. The rivalry means something; the date is secondary.

With less than 15,000 fans showing up for Argonauts’ games, the CFL is already irrelevant for far too many sports fans in the GTA. In Toronto only big-league sells. It’s why the Marlies are an afterthought and it’s why junior hockey has spent the past 30 years playing to family and girl friends. It is why a half dozen soccer leagues have failed and the CFL, to be honest, simply isn’t viewed by many as major league.

This is all well and good... but it has nothing to do with Labour Day. Just because people in Toronto have delusions of grandeur and think they are better than the rest of this great country, that doesn't mean that the rest of the country feels the same way. Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Montreal all have "big-league" teams, yet their CFL franchises still attract fans. Blaming the CFL for not being big-league enough is a weak excuse that seems to only come from those in Toronto.

And, now, the league has just handed them another reason to feel that way.

No, they didn't, because Labour Day has nothing to do with games in Toronto. This is a Hamilton event, not a Toronto one.

Dumb.

Depending on what we're talking about, I agree. No Argos on Labour Day: not dumb. My commenting on this silly article: 50% dumb. Lankhof for writing this piece: "big-league" dumb.

Leave it up to the CFL to believe it is the only earthly institution which can actually change the Gregorian calendar and move the hype surrounding the Argos/Ticats on Labour Day.

Why doesn't the hype follow? Does a Bears-Packers game suffer from less hype if it's in October instead of December? Does it matter when the Leafs-Canadiens game is on the calendar for the hype to be there? Why does it matter when the Battle of Ontario is staged if the rivalry is supposed to matter?

The Alouettes and Ticats may be in a battle for first place, and the Argos may be losing face at 1-5, but come Labour Day, Hamilton fans only get worked up when Stevie Baggs hits someone and they bleed Double Blue.

Well, as a Hamilton fan, I can say that this is categorically false. I'll be just as happy to see Stevie Baggs (or any Ti-Cat defender) hit an Alouette player. I'm sure there are many fans that feel the same way.

It’s tradition.

If we're talking about Stevie Baggs hitting Argos on Labour Day, that's not a tradition. Baggs has never played for the Tiger-Cats in a Labour Day Classic.

No team can engender animosity in a Hamilton fan like the Argonauts. Or vice-versa.

I can't comment on how Argo fans feel, but I do agree completely that no team engenders more hate, at least from me, than the Argos. In fact, I hate them more than any other team in all of sports. Not the Dallas Cowboys, Miami Heat, USC Trojans, Michigan Wolverines or any team from Boston (Celtics, Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins) takes more of the brunt of my hatred than the Toronto Argonauts.

The Labour Day Classic was, in a league desperate for headlines and publicity, the one CFL event that might yet make urban cottage-lovers consider giving up a weekend kissing up to a bass.

Who says the league is "desperate for headlines and publicity"? Well, since Lankhof is writing about it, that tells me they are getting both headlines and publicity.

And if the game is going to stop cottagers from going north, wouldn't it be easier to convince them to stay in mid-August than on the last long weekend of the summer?

Instead, for the first time since 1995, the closest fans of the Argonauts and Ticats will have to getting on a good hate is this weekend. It just isn’t the same.

Again, this is incorrect. The Cats and Argos play twice more, both in Toronto, during the last six weeks of the season. So there are at least two more chances to get a good hate on for one another. As for it being the same? When I go to Toronto, my hate doesn't dissipate, and neither does that of the people I attend the games with.

When the 2011 schedule was first released fans reacted angrily, lighting up Twitter and chat room bulletin boards.

He's right, there was a lot of anger, six months ago when the schedule was released. But you know what happened? We all got over it. Perhaps he should too.

You know the feeling; like when you’re a kid and someone steals your lollipop, or your Triple Scoop has just been down-sized to a single scoop courtesy of the family pooch. Gut-punched.

Upon first reaction, the news sucked. I, like a lot of people, was very angry. But again, six months have passed, and most of us have moved on.

No Labour Day Classic?

Yes, no Labour Day Classic. But we do get a great game between the Als and Ti-Cats to look forward to, which doesn't sound so bad to me.

Next thing you know they’ll be telling us there’s no Easter Bunny.

Um, I think Bill's mother needed to have a talk with him about 50 years ago.

There is an official explanation. And, isn’t there always with this stuff. When the CFL released the 2011 schedule, it reasoned that a competitive imbalance would occur if the Argos played in Hamilton on Labour Day, as it would’ve been the Argos’ sixth road game in nine games.

I can't disagree with Bill on this one. The reason given was bunk, as I pointed out way back in February. That said, I gave the league a break when it was discovered they made the best of a bad situation. The Rogers Centre SkyDome wouldn't play ball, so my anger went towards them and shifted off the league a bit. I still think the excuse is garbage, but what's done is done.

In retrospect, considering the way the Argos have been playing, letting them get out of town would’ve been doing them a favour. But, I digress.

How exactly was the league to know how good or bad the Argos would be when they unveiled the schedule? Far be it for me to stick up for the Argos, but this line was completely unnecessary.

Bottom line is that the league’s failure to get the Argos into Hamilton on Labour Day is like telling a kid that this year there’s no Christmas.

No, it's like telling a kid that instead of celebrating Christmas on the 25th of December, it's going to have to be done on the 4th, and that it's not Mommy and Daddy's fault, but their work will only let them have the 4th off. The game is still happening, just not on the same day it has in the past.

It just shouldn’t happen. Period.

Well, it did happen, and like a vast majority of the fans in both Hamilton and Toronto, Lankhof should get over it. Period.

Preview: Argonauts at Tiger-Cats

1-5
3-3
Rivalries make sports what they are, and when it comes to rivalries, none matches Toronto vs. Hamilton.

This is the biggest and best rivalry in all of sports. These are two teams that do not like one another, two fan bases that do not like one another, two cities that could not be more different. When Hamilton meets Toronto, things get intense.

The last time that these two teams met was in the East Division Semi-Final. A game that the Argos won, 16-13.

The Argos are much like the team that stole a victory from the Tiger-Cats back in November, but the results have not been positive for the Boatmen in 2011 like they were in 2010. Toronto has lost five straight and just fired Defensive Coordinator Chip Garber, replacing him with former Argo and Ti-Cat Orlondo Steinhauer.

The Argos are precipitously close to full free-fall mode, and a loss to the Ti-Cats could be the one that pushes them over the edge.

But this is a big game for the Ti-Cats as well, and not just because it's against Toronto.

After the Cowtown Meltdown last week, both the Offense and Defense will want to flex their muscles, like they did during the team's three-game winning streak. Last week, the Offense didn't score in the second half, squandering a 20-13 halftime lead.

The Defense faltered by not making the necessary adjustments to stop Calgary's Offense, especially when the Stamps had so much success with dump-off passes to their Running Backs. It will be paramount for the Ti-Cats "D" to focus on the backfield as Cory Boyd makes his return to the lineup after missing the last four weeks with an injury.

An Argo win, and they could gain some momentum heading into the season's second half; however, a loss would be devastating.

A Tiger-Cat win, and they would put considerable distance between them and the Boatmen for third in the East Division. But I would hate to hear from the fan base if the Cats lose.

All the fun begins at 7:00PM, and since this is the only trip the Argos make to Hamilton this year, I suggest you get yourself a ticket. But if you can't make it to the game, as always, you can watch the game on TSN or listen to the game on AM900 CHML.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

CFL Blogging Contest, Pt. 2

Last week, I told everyone that I am a participant in Sports Interaction's CFL Blogging Contest. Each week, for four weeks, I will post an original piece of material on the Sports Interaction website.

My first article was about changing the kicking game (and if you have yet to read that article, you still can).

Today, my second article was posted, and this one also deals with a potential rule change. It is about changing the ratio. It is a controversial topic, so I hope it sparks a lot of discussion.

Just like last week, if you could post the article on your Facebook and Twitter profiles, I would greatly appreciate it. The blogger with the most views wins the prize, and I'm not going to lie: I'd really like to win.

Smitty's Selections: Week 7

I guess you could say I'm riding a bit of a winning streak. I'm 6-2 over the past two weeks, finishing both weeks with a 3-1 record. Here's hoping I can keep the good times rollin'.

Edmonton at Montreal

Edmonton suffered their first loss of the season last week, and things don't get any easier as they travel to Montreal to take on the Als. I have liked a lot of what Edmonton has done so far this season, but I just can't see them going into Percival Molson Stadium and downing the Als. They'll keep it close, but Montreal will take this one.

Winner: Montreal, 33-25

Calgary at Saskatchewan

We're six weeks in and I can't get a read on either of these teams. Is Saskatchewan as bad as their 1-5 record would indicate? Is Calgary a good 4-2 or a fortunate 4-2? I don't know the answer to either of those questions. But I gotta pick someone, so I'm going with the Stamps. Simply put: they are a better team than the Roughriders. Having said that, I wouldn't be surprised in the least if Saskatchewan pulled this one out.

Winner: Calgary, 27-23

Toronto at Hamilton

Round One in the Battle of Ontario. The greatest rivalry in all of sports (yes, I said it) adds the next chapter to its storied history. The last time these two teams met at Ivor Wynne, the Argos stunned the Ti-Cat faithful and eliminated the Black & Gold from the playoffs. What a difference a few months make. The Argos are seemingly in free fall, having just fired their Defensive Coordinator. The Ti-Cats have been up and down this season, but not wanting to go into their bye week with a loss will spur the Cats on to a big win, driving the first nail into the Argos 2011 coffin.

Winner: Hamilton, 30-13

Winnipeg at British Columbia

The Lions finally ended their losing streak, and now they get to add Arland Bruce to the arsenal. The Leos are loading up and looked primed to make a run. It won't be easy against arguably the best team in the CFL, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. But my gut is telling me that Winnipeg is due for a letdown, and I think the Lions will eke one out at home.

Winner: British Columbia, 24-21

Recap
Montreal, Calgary, Hamilton, British Columbia

Season Record: 13-11

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Ti-Cats vs. Argos

Once again, the good folks over at the Tiger-Cats website have put together an absolutely fabulous video. This time, it's a spoof of the old Mac vs. PC ads from a couple of years ago, but instead of outlining why Mac is superior to PC, this one has the Ti-Cats taking a shot at the Argos and their "sinking ship." Pretty funny stuff. I hope it gives you all a chuckle. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Power Poll (Week 6)

The league seems to be separating into the two groups. The top five teams in the league are all dangerous and capable of winning any game they play. The bottom three look like cannon fodder for the top teams. Despite that, changes made by the bottom three (specifically BC's trade for Arland Bruce) could have them back in contention in no time. For the time being, this is a two-tier league.

1. Winnipeg Blue Bombers (Last Week: 2)

Winnipeg's biggest test came against Edmonton, and they passed with flying colours. The Bombers are a one-point loss to Calgary away from being 6-0. There are still some questions about the Offense, but they put together a complete win against the Eskimos, and for that they jump up to the top spot.

2. Edmonton Eskimos (Last Week: 1)

Edmonton was bound to lose sooner or later, but they got beat up by Winnipeg. After a stellar first drive, the Eskimos couldn't move the ball. The loss exposed some flaws, but this is still a team that can compete with anybody. They will be in tough in Week 7, when they travel to Montreal to take on the Als.

3. Montreal Alouettes (Last Week: 4)

Montreal ended their two-game losing streak by beating the pants off the Toronto Argonauts. Anthony Calvillo returned to form by throwing a mere six incompletions against a fairly good Argo Defense. While Montreal no longer looks like the dominant team they have been over the past decade, they are still an extremely talented squad that will be a handful for any and every team in the CFL.

4. Calgary Stampeders (Last Week: 5)

The Stamps leapfrog the Tiger-Cats on the strength of their win against Hamilton in Week 6. I'm still not fully sold on the Stampeders. Their recent win was their most impressive and solid outing to date, but I need to see more out of them before I'm willing to move them higher.

5. Hamilton Tiger-Cats (Last Week: 3)

The Jekyll and Hyde of the 2011 season is the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. That wasn't a bad game they played in Calgary, but it was a very bad second half. A very, very bad second half. That said, the Ti-Cats can put that behind them with a win at home against their archrivals from Toronto.

6. British Columbia Lions (Last Week: 8)

The Lions finally won one, and they looked pretty good doing it. This team is only going to get better with the acquisition of Arland Bruce. They are still far behind the Hamilton-Calgary-Montreal triumvirate, but they look to be on track.

7. Saskatchewan Roughriders (Last Week: 6)

Trying to figure out who to rank last was the toughest decision of the week. Both Toronto and Saskatchewan look terrible. Each has their own set of problems, and that makes it hard to decide who should be seven and who should be eight. Since Saskatchewan won most recently, they get seventh.

8. Toronto Argonauts (Last Week: 7)

The Argos are in a free fall. When you fire a coach six games into a season, things are heading south quickly. The problem is, they fired the wrong guy. Chip Garber was the Defensive Coordinator; there is nothing wrong with Toronto's Defense. All of the Boatmen's problems reside on the offensive side of the ball. I don't know how the promotion of Orlondo Steinhauer is going to fix a unit that didn't need fixing.

Highest Climb: BC Lions (+2)
Steepest Drop: Hamilton Tiger-Cats (-2)

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Morning-After Thoughts (Week 6)

The goose eggs are gone. There no more winless or undefeated teams left in the CFL. In fact, aside from the three one-win squads, the league is fairly tight. Winnipeg, Edmonton, Montreal, Calgary and Hamilton are so tight that any of them could beat the other on any given day. This is probably the tightest that the league has been after this point in the season in quite some time. It should make for an interesting, and fun, final two-thirds of the season.
  1. It won't get anywhere near as much press as when he broke the TD record, but congrats to Anthony Calvillo on breaking the career record for completions.
  2. Another congrats goes to Gene Makowsky for playing his 272nd game as a Saskatchewan Roughrider, which puts him at number one on the list of games played for that franchise.
  3. I would like to wish a speedy recovery to Eskimos Receiver Fred Stamps. Stamps was rushed to a Winnipeg hospital for emergency abdominal surgery. Stamps is expected to miss 4-6 weeks. Get well, Fred.
  4. I was very disappointed to hear what Chris Schultz said about Arland Bruce. He said that there were "rumours and innuendo" that Bruce had trouble with police during his time in Hamilton. This was the first I had ever heard of such a thing, and while I don't doubt that Schultz heard this, I am curious as to where he heard this.
  5. I rag on Cleo Lemon a lot, but he throws a very nice deep fade. The TD pass to Spencer Watt in the first half was a thing of beauty.
  6. I really like Andre Durie. He is the most underrated player in the entire CFL.
  7. Chad Kackert is going to take a lot of guff for not getting out of bounds at the end of the first half, but the blame really needs to be placed on the person who called a running play with six seconds left. Throw an eight-yard out or kick the 48-yard field goal. Don't call a run.
  8. Can we just say that the Argos are a bad football team this year? No more "they're better than their record" stuff. The Argos have lost five in a row and have the look of a 6-12 club.
  9. The dubious officiating continued in the Edmonton-Winnipeg game. There were more than a few missed calls. Roughing-the-punter and unnecessary-roughness penalties should have been called on Edmonton and weren't. I think the refs not taking control of the game early – like they did in the Winnipeg-Toronto game a couple of weeks ago – played a part in the chippiness that ensued later.
  10. That chippiness manifested itself near the end of the game, when Edmonton took quite a few personal-foul penalties. Those penalties came about because Winnipeg got pretty lippy as the game wound down. I get being excited – and Winnipeg has a lot to be excited about – but I found the Bombers' attitude to be off-putting. You win and lose with class. The Bombers didn't win with much class, and Edmonton didn't lose with much either.
  11. Despite a poor performance, Marcus Crandell has had a pretty good start to his coaching career. He has helped to turn that Edmonton Offense around.
  12. What was with the ape dance by Winnipeg? Can anyone explain that to me?
  13. Swaggerville. I already hated it, but having to hear Rod Black pretty much spend the entire second half saying, "Swaggerville! Swaggerville! Swaggerville!" like a third-rate Jim Ross made me want to throw my shoes at the TV. Enough with the Swaggerville. If the Bombers and their fans,want to say it, that's fine. But I don't need to hear the announcers say it as well.
  14. After less than an hour, Farhan Lalji was already a better, and more tolerable, play-by-play man than Rod Black.
  15. When the Lions add Arland Bruce to this receiving corps next week, they are going to be deadly. Geroy Simon, Kamau Peterson, Shawn Gore and Arland Bruce are going to be tough to guard.
  16. I'm starting to understand why it took Greg Marshall so long to become a Head Coach. His first month on the job has not been a good one. Or could it be that Ken Miller gave up his post because he knew this was coming?
  17. At first it didn't bother me, but as the game between Hamilton and Calgary progressed, I got sick of seeing players from each team lobby for flags. This has to stop. Perhaps the league should look into instituting a rule where a player gets flagged 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct for complaining to the official. I'm sure that would put a stop to the lobbying right quick.
  18. Why is pass interference never called when a defender tackles a Running Back on an attempted screen pass? If that happens down field, it's a penalty, right? So why does it never get called when it happens on a screen? If that is not pass interference, what is?
  19. I know that language changes over time; I accept that. But the accepted term for the yards inside the twenties is Red Zone. So why do announcers try to sound smart by calling it the Green Zone? I get it, green means go. But Red Zone is what it's always been called, and Red Zone is what it shall continue to be called. Much like with the term YAC yards, I hate it when the announcers use the term Green Zone.
  20. For the first time all season, I am above .500 for the season after nailing three of four in Week 6. The only wrong choice was the Tabbies, but I correctly selected the Als, Bombers and Lions. Hopefully, the good times can keep rolling next week.

Calgary 32, Hamilton 20

It was a tale of two halves. Hamilton went into the locker room at halftime up 20-17. That was where the good times ended. I don't know if complacency set in, but the Cats came out flatter than flat in the second half and lost the game because of it.

Positives

The talk all week was about Receivers. What better place to start than with the man who replaced Arland Bruce in Hamilton's starting lineup, Aaron Kelly. Kelly played a very good game and showed why the team has so much faith in him. The rookie out of Clemson made a couple of excellent catches, and his future looks very bright.

In only six games, Dave Stala has tied his single-season high of six touchdowns. He has 12 games left to play and is on pace for 18 TDs. I doubt he gets to 18, but I wouldn't be surprised if he gets double digits for the first time in his career.

Negatives

A lot of things went wrong for the Cats, especially in the second half, but the TSN Turning Point just might have been the 15-yard penalty that Jason Jimenez took late in the second quarter. That penalty cost Hamilton dearly, as it took them from first-and-10 from inside the 25-yard line to first-and-25 from around the 30. The Cats couldn't move the ball and had to settle for a field goal to go up 20-13. Without that penalty, which wiped out a nice play by Avon Cobourne, it is possible that the Cats score a TD there and make it 24-13. Jimenez's penalty was stupid, senseless and completely selfish. Completely unnecessary.

Speaking of the Offensive Line: did they forget how to run block? Cobourne was fighting for every yard, getting next to no help from the hogs up front. They pass blocked very effectively, but their run blocking left more than a lot to be desired.

The play calling on Offense in the second half was questionable at best. The Cats did a good job of taking what Calgary was giving them in the first two quarters, but then inexplicably went away from that in the third and fourth quarters. The worst was with about four minutes left to play, and starting on their own one-yard line, the Ti-Cats were building a nice drive by getting six to eight yards at a time, and then on second and five, Glenn throws a bomb. The underneath stuff was working, and the Cats had plenty of time to use it.

The Defense was on the field way too much, but that doesn't excuse why they made no adjustments to stop the short swing passes that Calgary masterfully used to beat the pressure Hamilton was sending. Corey Chamblin has had a great first year as Defensive Coordinator, but he needed to see that problem and adjust to it. He didn't, and the Cats couldn't get Calgary off the field.

One last thing: it looked to me like Marcus Thigpen was very tentative out there tonight. He didn't hit the holes with any tenacity and danced around way too much. I don't know if it was him or if the holes simply weren't there, but Thigpen did not have a good game.

Final Thoughts

This was a tough loss, but this was a tough game. Winning in Calgary isn't easy for anyone (even if this was Calgary's first win at home in 2011), so to lose this one isn't the end of the world. The win was there for the Cats, but it slipped through their figures.

With this one in the books, the focus turns to Week 7. Oh, yes, Week 7. The Argos are in town for the first, and only, time this season. With the Labour Day matchup taking a one-year hiatus (I hope), this will be the only time for fans to pack Ivor Wynne Stadium and jeer the Argos.

That was a tough loss to swallow, because it could have just as easily been a win. Instead, it's a loss, and the Cats have lost ground on both Montreal and Winnipeg. In the end, the Cats lost, but it was mistakes they made that caused the loss. Mistakes that are easily correctable. This is not meant to take anything away from Calgary, as they earned the win; however, Hamilton could have won this game, if not for some boneheaded decisions by coaches and players.