Friday, 30 September 2011

Preview: Tiger-Cats at Argonauts

6-6
3-9
There were some strong words being spoken by the Argonauts this week in the run-up to their game against the Tiger-Cats on Saturday night.

First, we had Linebacker Ejiro Kuale make the following statement after the Argos beat the Blue Bombers last week:
Guess what? They’re going to lose next week. Period. Point blank. I’m guaranteeing it.
Then we had Running Back Cory Boyd make this proclamation:
Aiming for 200 this week.
That seems like some big talk from a 3-9 basement-dwelling team. It also doesn't seem very smart to talk smack when your opponent pretty much has your playoff hopes in their hands. Should the Cats prevail in Toronto, the Argos would have to hope for a minor miracle to make the postseason. They would be eight points back of Hamilton for third in the East Division with five games to play. Hamilton would also win the season series, which would mean they would hold the tiebreaker. Basically, this is a must-win for Toronto.

The trash talk has been muted coming from Hamilton. Avon Cobourne was his usual entertaining self, but aside from that it has pretty much been all quiet on the Hamilton front. They are clearly not taking the bait, which must make Tiger-Cat fans happy.

The last time these two teams met, Hamilton won a 37-32 thriller. The Argos played perhaps their best game of the season, but a lot has changed for them since then, most notably the switch from Cleo Lemon to Steven Jyles at Quarterback.

The Tiger-Cats are no strangers to change themselves. They made two of them this week in acquiring Milt Collins from the Calgary Stampeders and coaxing Ray Mariuz out of retirement. Both players are expected to play on Saturday.

The one-sided war of words between the teams should add some intensity to the proceedings, which will likely make for a very interesting game between these two long-time rivals.

If you won't be making the trek to Toronto, you can enjoy the game on TSN or AM900 CHML. The fun kicks off at 7:00PM EST. Also, don't forget to follow Dief On Cats on Twitter for his one-of-a-kind take on the game.

Smitty's Selections: Week 14

We've reached the two-thirds mark of the season, and so much is still to be figured out. Six of the eight teams are at or above .500, and that makes picking winners that much more difficult.

Montreal at Winnipeg

Winnipeg is starting to deal with a little adversity, namely injuries to their starting Quarterback Buck Pierce (who will miss this week's game) and to Running Backs Fred Reid and Carl Volny (both are out for the remainder of the season). The Als are dealing with their own injury problems, as Shea Emry and Tad Crawford were both put on the nine-game injured list, which effectively ends both their seasons. Winnipeg went into Montreal two weeks ago and beat the Als. The Als return the favour.

Winner: Montreal, 37-20

Edmonton at British Columbia

The Lions are, by far, the hottest team in the CFL right now. The fact that their winning streak coincided with the arrival of Arland Bruce is not lost on this Tiger-Cat fan. Edmonton has been up and down since their 5-0 start. This is the first game at the renovated BC Place, so the crowd will be large and loud. The Eskimos are good, but five wins in a row and an atmosphere that will feel like a home opener have me thinking there is no way that the Lions will drop this one.

Winner: British Columbia, 31-24

Saskatchewan at Calgary

Both of these teams were blown out last week; Saskatchewan was humbled at home by BC and Calgary was crushed by Hamilton in Moncton. The Riders need this one more than the Stamps, but the Stamps have problems of their own that they need to work out. It what will be an ugly game, the Stamps find a way to actually win at home.

Winner: Calgary, 23-18

Hamilton at Toronto

A lot of trash talk coming from the Argos heading into this one, as Ejiro Kuale has guaranteed an Argo win and Cory Boyd has said he'll go for 200 yards. When you're 3-9, it's probably best to not say anything. The Cats are coming in off the high of scoring 55 points for the first time in 12 years, but we all know the Tabbies can follow up greatness with disappointment. Much like Saskatchewan, Toronto needs this one. Like Saskatchewan, they won't get it. Tabbies shut Kuale and Co. up.

Winner: Hamilton, 35-17

Recap
Montreal, British Columbia, Calgary, Hamilton

Season Record: 26-22

Thursday, 29 September 2011

All-Star Voting Is Up

Click Image to Vote
I know I'm late on this – going to Moncton put me behind on a lot of things – but voting for the 2011 East and West Division All Stars is up now and runs until November 5th.

I think it is a little too early to be choosing All Stars, but it goes until the beginning of November, so you can be like me and wait. This has been a year of very little excellence, so waiting is probably for the best. But that is just my opinion.

I'll have a second post to remind everyone to vote for the league All Stars when that ballot goes up on November 8th.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Thipgen Named Special Teams Player of the Week

For the first time since Week 4 a member of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats has been named one of the Players of the Week. In this case, it was Marcus Thigpen being named the Special Teams Player of the Week.

Thigpen won the award based on his electrifying 118-yard missed field goal return for a touchdown. It was Thigpen's first return touchdown of the season and came when the Tiger-Cats have expanded his role on Offense.

On the offensive front, an argument could be made that Thigpen deserved the Offensive Player of the Week award as well. It went to Brandon Whitaker, who had a monster game and deserved the recognition, but the case for Thigpen being a double winner isn't far-fetched.

In any event, Thigpen did deserve to win Special Teams Player of the Week, and congratulations to him on that.

Power Poll (Week 13)

I am absolutely, 100 per cent, willing to cede this weekly ranking gig to anyone who wants it. No, seriously, anyone out there that thinks they can do this better than me is more than welcome to take this one. I'm throwing everything out and going strictly by what I see and read on a week-to-week basis.

1. British Columbia Lions (Last Week: 3)

Yup. The 6-6 BC Lions have moved up to number one. They have won five straight, and if that doesn't qualify you for "hottest team in football," I don't know what does. They may not be the best team, but they are the best team right now.

2. Montreal Alouettes (Last Week: 5)

The Alouettes are not unlike any other team this year: dominant one week, porous the next. This past week, they were dominant. They went into Edmonton and beat the Eskimos.

3. Winnipeg Blue Bombers (Last Week: 1)

Every year a team loses a game they should have won. Last year, Winnipeg beat Saskatchewan when the Riders were a vastly superior team. This past week, Winnipeg lost to Toronto. It happens, and it's tough to kill a team for losing on the road by a single point, especially with the injuries they sustained during the game. But the Bombers did lose to the Argos, who have the worst record in the CFL, so they have to be docked some points.

4. Hamilton Tiger-Cats (Last Week: 7)

No team epitomizes the fluidity of these rankings more than the Ti-Cats. For two weeks, their performance was atrocious. But one trip to Moncton later and the Cats look great again. In a year of inconsistency, the Ti-Cats are the poster boys. One week, they look horrible. The next they look like future champions. This week was the latter.

5. Edmonton Eskimos (Last Week: 2)

Another member of the inconsistency club is Edmonton. Which team are they: the one that blew out the Ti-Cats in Hamilton or the one that got beat by Montreal in Edmonton?

6. Calgary Stampeders (Last Week: 4)

The Stamps have been blown out in back-to-back weeks. BC kicked their tail in Calgary, and Hamilton beat them senseless in Moncton. The Stamps made changes, most notably benching former West Division Most Outstanding Player Joffrey Reynolds, and it still didn't help. Something has to change or Calgary won't go far in the playoffs.

7. Toronto Argonauts (Last Week: 8)

I never thought I'd move Toronto up, but the way they played against Winnipeg showed me they aren't ready to give up just yet. Their playoffs start now. They will be playing must-win football for the next six weeks. But rejoice Argo fans, for one week, there is something to be happy about.

8. Saskatchewan Roughriders (Last Week: 7)

One of the ugliest performances this season, period. You can't lay that bad an egg at home to a team you're chasing in the standings. It wasn't a must-win, but much like Toronto, Saskatchewan is in playoff mode from here on out.

Highest Climb: Montreal, Hamilton (+3)
Steepest Fall: Edmonton (-3)

Monday, 26 September 2011

The Road to and From Touchdown Atlantic: Moncton and Charlottetown Edition

Touchdown Atlantic has come and gone, but my adventures on Canada's east coast have not.

I covered the game and our arrival in Moncton, but I didn't talk about what we did pre- and post-game. I also forgot one cool part of our arrival in Moncton.

We stopped at a gas station to pick up drinks and fuel before embarking on the final leg of the trip. While at the gas station, we were saluted with an "Oskee Wee Wee!" by a guy at the gas station. Tiger-Cat fans in Moncton (not at the game): check!

Before I move on, it should be noted that during our travels Kevin Glenn sustained a devastating left-arm injury, and while he gutted out a tough performance, he was forced into a hyperbaric chamber to fix his ailing limb, thus ending his trip.

But even with the injury, he soldiered on in Moncton. Before the game, we hit up the Magnetic Hill. Kevin Glenn came along for the ride. (Note the missing arm.)
After that, we decided to walk from our hotel to the stadium on the campus of the Université de Moncton. Kevin Glenn was there, feeling worse, but still holding on strong.
Once we arrived, we partook in the pre-game festivities, which were a lot of fun. While there, Kevin Glenn made the rounds.

He enjoyed a pancake breakfast courtesy of the Calgary Stampeders.
He met up with some Tiger-Cats Cheerleaders...
And some Stampeders Cheerleaders.
He also had the privilege of chilling with Pigskin Pete.
And both Glenn and myself met former CFLer, and current TSN colour commentator Glen Suitor. Suitor was very gracious and more than willing to pose with me, despite the fact that I had a one-armed bobblehead in my hand. Glen Suitor is a cool dude.
And just prior to kickoff, Glenn met his nemesis in the form of... Santa? Yup, Santa is not a fan of Kevin Glenn.
While at the game, we had the privilege of sitting with a couple of Tiger-Cat fans and a threesome of Stampeder fans. The Ti-Cat fans were awesome, and I feel bad for not getting their names because I would have shouted them out here. But if either of you read this, feel free to drop me a line and I will give you your kudos.

The Stampeder fans were fun too. They took the beating the Stamps took in stride and had fun with it. Those are the type of opposing fans you want to sit with. They didn't get belligerent and took the jibes in stride. I also wish I would have gotten their names, but on the off chance they read this, feel free to drop me a line and I will be glad to give you your proper due for making the game even more fun.

The game and the surrounding events were awesome. My only regret is that I didn't get a chance to run into Drew Edwards. I would have loved to have gotten his picture with Kevin Glenn. Sadly, I did not. Maybe next time.

I do have a couple of stories to share about Charlottetown.

First, a lot of people in Prince Edward Island liked the Tiger-Cats. I was approached twice by locals who brought up the game on Sunday. Tiger-Cats fans in P.E.I.: check!

The next story is even better. We went out to dinner at a place called Lobster on the Wharf. Some may know it as the place the Stampeders ate the night before the game this weekend. When we arrived and before heading to dinner, we hit up the fish market adjacent to the restaurant. We learned about lobsters from the man who runs the market... who also happened to be a Tiger-Cats fan. We then went to the restaurant where the man that seated us was also a Tiger-Cat fan (and was the son of the man who runs the fish market). What are the odds?

And that about ends the Touchdown Atlantic road trip. Tomorrow begins the long journey back to Hamilton. Since the siteseeing will be kept to a minimum, this is the last travel log I will be posting. I hope everyone has enjoyed reading them as much as I have enjoyed writing them. This was a trip I was glad I made, and if the Tiger-Cats ever play in Moncton again (which is likely), I will be more than happy to make the long journey back to the Maritimes.

Ti-Cats Trade for Collins, Bring Back Mariuz

A day after throttling the Stamps in Moncton, the Tiger-Cats make two moves, trading for Milt Collins and bringing back Ray Mariuz.

The Cats gave up future prospect Jadon Wagner and a fourth-round pick in 2013 to get Collins and a fifth-round pick. The Secondary has been a work in progress all season, with lineup tinkering happening on an almost weekly basis. Adding Collins to the mix – he can play all three positions in the Secondary – brings a veteran who can add immediate help. He is also very familiar with Defensive Coordinator Corey Chamblin, who was Collins's position coach in Calgary. I like this move, as it's a nice pickup with little risk.

Bringing Mariuz back is somewhat surprising, but the Cats need Canadian depth and Special Teams help, and Mariuz provides both in spades. He brings a veteran presence that I'm sure can only help the team.

It'll be interesting to see how quickly both players get on the field. Hopefully, they'll both see action this week against Toronto, but at the latest, it'll be on October 7th against Winnipeg.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Hamilton 55, Calgary 36

It was like a mini Grey Cup. Fans from around the country were there, and they got a glimpse of how good this Hamilton team can be when everything is clicking. This is the team that dismantled the Roughriders in July and beat the tar out of Montreal on Labour Day. The fans who traveled from far and wide got a heaping helping of what Tiger-Cat football is all about.

Positives

The only place to start is with Marcus Thigpen. He was inserted into the starting lineup as a Receiver and shredded the Stampeders' Secondary for 274 total yards and three touchdowns. Now, 118 of those yards and one of those touchdowns came on a beautiful missed field goal return, so Thigpen contributed in many ways on Sunday. But he finished the game with six catches for 139 yards and two touchdowns in his first start at Receiver. Thigpen was the man in Moncton.

When the team lets Justin Hickman and Stevie Baggs pin their ears back and go get the Quarterback, good things happen. The two combined for four tackles, three sacks and a forced fumble, and pretty much made life miserable for Henry Burris. When the two rush ends can get pressure, that makes life easier for the rest of the Defense.

With Thigpen being moved to Receiver, Terry Grant became the primary backup to Avon Cobourne, and while Cobourne's status as the starter is nowhere near in jeopardy, Grant made the most of his Tiger-Cat debut. Grant contributed in the running game with 23 yards on five carries and a touchdown; in the passing game with three receptions for 53 yards and a touchdown; and in the return game, where he had three returns for 103 yards. Grant is another weapon added to what was already a very dangerous, and some might say loaded, Tiger-Cat Offense.

When the Ti-Cats lose, the first player that gets thrown under the bus is Kevin Glenn. But when Glenn is on, he's on. Today, he was on. It wasn't a huge game for number five, but it was a very efficient one. He finished 16 for 23 with 276 yards and three touchdown passes. Glenn is probably the most underappreciated and heavily scrutinized player in the league, but when he's on his game, there are few better. Today, Glenn didn't have to beat the world, but he did play well.

Negatives

When a team scores 55 points, it is very hard to find negative things to talk about. One such thing was the sickening hit that Matt Carter took. I have witnessed some hellacious hits in my years of watching and playing football, but the hit that Carter took was, in a word, scary. He laid motionless on the field for what seemed like forever, and it was very comforting to see him walk off the field. He needed help, but him just walking off was encouraging. Get well soon, Matt.

On a much less important note, the emergence of Chris Williams and now Marcus Thigpen has relegated Dave Stala and Maurice Mann to also-ran status. The two veteran Receivers have been M.I.A. the last few weeks. It's been five games since Stala scored a touchdown, and Mann hasn't done anything of note since his acrobatic catch against Montreal on Labour Day. Both are highly talented players, but it is troublesome that neither player has really contributed much over the last month.

Final Thoughts

The last time a Tiger-Cat team rolled up at least 55 points was when they beat Saskatchewan 63-17 in 1999. Remember that year?

The Cats played a great game today, but the question remains if they can do it again. This team has been maddeningly inconsistent this year, so it will be important for them to build on the momentum they gained today. If they play this well, they can beat anybody. I think that's what bothers fans so much. We know what this team is capable of when it plays its game: we get outcomes like we saw today. Keep this up and no one will care what happened in mid-September.

Up next for the Cats is a trip to Toronto to take on the Argos. The trash talk has already started for this one, as Argo Linebacker Ejiro Kuale shot his mouth off and guaranteed a victory. It is always fun when the Cats and Argos meet up. Next Saturday will be no different.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

The Road to Touchdown Atlantic: Grand Manan and Moncton Edition

Today was a very interesting day. It started in the small island town of Grand Manan. The hope was to take a whale-watching tour, but because of inclement weather, the trip was canceled.

While we were not able to get on a boat, Kevin Glenn would not be stopped. While the rest of us were eating breakfast, Kevin Glenn found himself a boat.
I wonder what he was thinking while he was on that boat.

After the boat tour was canceled, we took a trip around the island. We found some awesome stuff. Some views that look right out of those "Visit New Brunswick" ads. Even Kevin Glenn was awed by the view.
Unbeknownst to me, Grand Manan is well known for its Hole-in-the-Wall attraction. It is literally a gigantic hole in a rock formation on the edge of the island. I didn't know this existed, nor did I know that it was known to others. Kevin Glenn was impressed by it as well.
That ended our Grand Manan adventure, and we boarded the ferry to head to the final destination: Moncton.

All roads lead to Moncton for this weekend, and we arrived around 7:30PM local time. We settled in and went to grab some pizza from Greco's. The pizza was recommended to me, and I thought it was pretty darn good. Kevin Glenn didn't get a chance to eat any pizza; he was too tired following such a busy day.

Finally, after leaving Hamilton Wednesday morning, we arrived, safe and sound, in Moncton. Tomorrow is finally game time. As much as I have enjoyed our stops in Quebec City and Grand Manan, I came on this trip to watch some football.

But the trip doesn't end after the game does. There is still a day in Charlottetown and the stops on the way back from Moncton. So there will still be more travel stories over the next few days. Kevin Glenn's journey through Canada is far from over.

Preview: Stampeders at Tiger-Cats

7-4
5-6
Touchdown Atlantic is finally here.

When the schedule was released back in February, a game that most CFL fans had circled on their calendars was this one. Even if you are not a fan of either of these teams, you want to see this game be a success, because a permanent team in Atlantic Canada is something most want to see.

This game also has a lot of meaning. Both teams are coming into this game following losses. The Cats have lost their last two -- and looked horrendous doing it -- and Calgary suffered another defeat at home, which has proven to be more of a house of horrors than a comfort zone for the Stamps this year.

Perhaps it is good that both teams are on the road for this one.

Hamilton has lost all the momentum they gained from beating the Als on Labour Day. So much so that fans from around the country have been jumping off the bandwagon at a record-breaking pace. The Cats have played as badly as over the last two games as they have at any point in the last two and a half seasons. But the last time the Tabbies were beaten this badly twice in a row, they came back to win three straight.

The atmosphere in Moncton should be electric. Despite this being a home game for the Tiger-Cats, I'm sure it will feel more like a neutral-site game. It should be fun nonetheless, so hopefully both teams bring their A games.

If you aren't going to be in Moncton, you can catch the game on TSN or on AM900 CHML.

Friday, 23 September 2011

The Road to Touchdown Atlantic: Maine and New Brunswick Edition

Today was a travel day, which means sites were at a minimum. There were two border crossings and only one stop on what was almost 10 hours of travel.

The day started by leaving Quebec City where, as was typical of any car drive there, we took a wrong turn. I kid you not when I say that every single time we drove anywhere in Quebec City we took at least one wrong turn.

After leaving Quebec City, it was off on the long road to Maine. This was the first time I had crossed the border since the summer of 2001, so an over-10-year break from leaving Canada ended earlier today. Kevin Glenn has crossed the border many times, so unlike me, he was happy to do so.
In Maine we made our one and only pit stop of the day. I went into a gas station store to buy myself a pop (or should I say soda?) and when the women asked me how I was doing, I stared at her for a good two seconds like she had just asked me the question in Korean. That New England accent threw me for a loop. I rebounded to say that I was doing great, and asked her how she was doing. She responded by saying, "Be betta in about an 'ouwa." I guess I know when she got off work.

Maine is dull. Sorry, but it is. Or at least the parts of it I saw. It was a bunch of trees and not much else. I fell asleep for a good portion of it, but what I saw was pretty boring.

We finally got out of Maine and back on Canadian soil, entering in New Brunswick. The trip then took a very fun and fortunate turn, as we made the 5:30 Grand Manan ferry with about 15 minutes to spare. So instead of waiting around for the 7:00 ferry, in the middle of nowhere, we got to get on the boat and get across sooner than expected.

The boat ride was an hour and a half, and Kevin Glenn decided to do a little wandering. I guess the people that own the ferry company knew that Kevin Glenn and the rest of us were coming, as the ship was decked out in some familiar colours. Kevin Glenn was obviously pleased.
We landed onshore in Grand Manan and headed out to dinner. Kevin Glenn was very tired, so he stayed behind. Tomorrow is hopefully going to involve some whale watching, but if not, we will leave Grand Manan and make the final trek to Moncton, where we can try and take part in some of the festivities there. If whale watching is a go, it will be a late arrival in Moncton – sometime around 10:30PM local time – so it will likely be bed and then getting ready for the main event of the trip: the game on Sunday.

Smitty's Selections: Week 13

I interrupt this travel blog to bring you some actual football content. Sure, it's only my weekly picks, but just to assuage any fears people had that this would turn into some weird Lonely Planet-CFL hybrid, I'm here to assure you that once this road trip is over, it will be back to 100 per cent football.

Montreal at Edmonton

I would have to think that Edmonton has revenge on their mind after the way they were destroyed by Montreal back when these teams played in mid-August. Edmonton looked awful, and Montreal beat them 27-4. With the Als looking very vulnerable and the Esks looking pretty impressive, the revenge-seeking Eskimos will take care of business at Commonwealth. Eskimos by a touchdown.

Winner: Edmonton, 33-26

British Columbia at Saskatchewan

This game features two under-.500 teams that are the two hottest teams in the league. Combined they have won their past seven games and have looked good doing it. They took two different paths to right their respective ships -- with BC doing pretty much nothing and Saskatchewan (in news I'm sure you haven't heard yet) firing their Head Coach -- but both teams have put themselves back in the playoff hunt. This should be a good game, but I have to side with the home team. The Riders take a close one.

Winner: Saskatchewan, 28-24

Winnipeg at Toronto

All signs, and I mean all signs point to a Winnipeg victory. They are the best team in the CFL right now; Toronto is the worst. They have a dominant Defense that can stop anybody; Toronto has a horrible Offense that can't beat anybody. Winnipeg is coming off a big win in Montreal; Toronto has lost three in a row. By any measure, Winnipeg should trounce Toronto. But... that is why they play the games (Thanks, Chris Berman). Every year, we see teams win that shouldn't. I'm going out on the longest of limbs and saying that the Argos find a way to beat the Blue Bombers.

Winner: Toronto, 24-20

Calgary vs. Hamilton (In Moncton)

This game will be played in Moncton as part of the CFL's Touchdown Atlantic initiative. This is technically a Hamilton home game, but it's far from it. This will be a crowd that will be split, and there may even be more Stampeder fans than Tiger-Cat fans. In any event, Hamilton needs this win. They have been terrible the last two weeks, and a win in Moncton will help calm a lot of nerves in Steeltown. I expect the Cats to come out strong and hold off a late Calgary charge to leave New Brunswick with the win.

Winner: Hamilton, 30-24

Recap
Edmonton, Saskatchewan, Toronto, Hamilton

Season Record: 24-20

Thursday, 22 September 2011

The Road to Touchdown Atlantic: Quebec City Edition

The first site-seeing day of the great adventure to Moncton was in the provincial capital of Quebec. I am a huge history nerd, so taking in the sites of Quebec City was something I have wanted to do for a while. I traveled there when I was younger, but it never really sunk in how impressive the city is.

The first stop of the day was the National Assembly. What an impressive building with some great statues of prominent Quebeckers surrounding it. I am, and always will be, more interested and awed by the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa, but the National Assembly is spectacular. It has that awe factor that is lacking from the only other provincial legislature I have seen: Queen's Park in Toronto. Kevin Glenn seemed pretty impressed too.
While looking around the National Assembly, I was sporting one of my Tiger-Cat t-shirts, and as I made my way to the Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine statue, an elderly lady was sitting down, enjoying the nice day. She spotted me and gave me a "Yea Hamilton!" To which I replied with my classic, "Yeah!" and a thumbs up. Finding a Hamilton fan in Quebec City: check!

After that it was off to the Plains of Abraham. One of my favourite historical tales is the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. I'm not a big war historian, but that battle between the French and the English captures my imagination like you wouldn't believe. While walking around the area Kevin Glenn spotted a cannon, and I think the metaphor of cannons and arm strength was too much for the Tiger-Cats' pivot to pass up.
Next was a lunch stop at a nice little restaurant called Le Pain Béni. Very delicious food, and I would recommend it to anyone who was planning a trip to Quebec City. The restaurant is across the street from the Chateau Frontenac. The food was reasonably priced. While we were eating, Kevin Glenn wandered off, and found himself a friend. I never knew that he enjoyed accordion music so much.
After lunch, we took a walk around the Château Frontenac. It is a beautiful building. I would say it's one of the most impressive buildings in the city, and it is, but that would be doing a disservice to the other great buildings there are in Quebec City. Still, to see the Chateau is a must for any visitor to Quebec City. Kevin Glenn was sufficiently impressed as well.
Concluding the trip was a walk around old Quebec and to Le Marché du Vieux-Port. Old Quebec was one of the few things I remembered from my previous trip, and it stayed relatively the same. It is a wonderful little walking district, and the history is there for everyone to behold. Sadly, Kevin Glenn was rather tuckered out, so he slept while the rest of us enjoyed our walk and crème glacée.

That ended the day in Quebec City as the rain started to pour and all of us, Kevin Glenn included, had seen what we set out to see. It was a fun stop on the road to Moncton, one I am glad was made. Tomorrow is a travel day, as we leave very early from Quebec City and head to Grand Manan, New Brunswick, where on Saturday, weather permitting, we will go whale watching. Kevin Glenn will be with us as we hopefully see some whales.

The Road to Touchdown Atlantic

Many might not know why I started this blog. If you go back to the first post, I never actually state the purpose or goals I had. Normally, as I've seen from other bloggers, your first post is a kind of manifesto, a reason for what you are doing and what you hope to accomplish. I never did that.

I am about to now.

As much as I love the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, the reason I started writing this was actually not to cover the Ti-Cats as in-depth as I have over the last two years. I started writing because back in January 2010, myself and two friends hatched a plan to travel with the team throughout the 2011 season. We were going to hit up every game in every city. For reasons I won't go into, those plans fell through.

Now you know, and this is a story I don't think I have shared with anyone else. No one knew why I started this blog. In fact, after the cross-country trip I was going to stop writing altogether. The trip was a gift to myself for graduating university, and I thought that once I had to enter the quote-unquote real world, I wouldn't have time to maintain this blog. Now I hope to keep doing this indefinitely. I enjoy writing, and I hope you enjoy reading what I write.

Anyway, with the big trip canceled, we decided to go to a game in a different venue every season until we have seen the Tiger-Cats play in every stadium in the country. A more modest and doable proposal.

Last season, we did a pre-run of sorts by going to Montreal. It was amazing, and I wrote about it back in July 2010. That dealt solely with the football aspect of the trip, i.e. the game itself and the atmosphere surrounding Percival Molson Stadium at McGill University.

I'm going to do things a little differently this time around. Since this is a much more elaborate trip, I am going to detail what is happening and what I'm doing. I'm sure the people who come here strictly for football news and opinion are not going to care, but I know there are people out there interested in this side of the story.

The trip started yesterday morning by driving from Hamilton to Quebec City. I have been to Quebec City twice before and enjoyed it immensely both times. The plan is to stay in Quebec City today (Thursday) and take in some of the sites, since my co-travelers have not been to Quebec's capital. I am not entirely sure what sites we will be seeing, but I have no doubt it will be fun.

Then on Friday, we leave Quebec City and head to Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick. Where the hell is Grand Manan, you ask? No idea. We are going there because of a whale-watching tour were are taking on Saturday. I have never seen a whale, outside of Marineland, so this is a bit of a treat for me.

From there, it's off to Moncton to enjoy the game. That, no doubt, will be fun. I have never been to the east coast – you can count on one hand the number of places I have visited as an adult – and I have always wanted to see that part of Canada.

From there, it is a jaunt to Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, to see the site of the Charlottetown Conference (so be prepared for this site to turn into History Nerdskee Wee Wee on Monday) and probably some other stuff in PEI.

After that, it is the long trek home. That is the one part of this grand sojourn that has not been planned. It is very likely to be a two-day journey back to Hamilton.

But for the Tiger-Cat fans out there, a little Black & Gold flair will be added to the proceedings. Remember those Kevin Glenn bobbleheads they gave out to 5,000 fans at the game last week? He came with. So there will be pictures of Glenn taken at various Canadian tourist spots.

Glenn's first stop: The Big Apple in Colborne, Ontario.
Today, it's off to see some of the great historic sites in Quebec City. I wonder where Glenn will find himself today?

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Power Poll (Week 12)

I usually do a little preamble, but I always end up saying the same thing each week: I don't know what the hell is going on. I really, really don't. Each week brings new questions. So to hell with it. I'm just going into the rankings.

1. Winnipeg Blue Bombers (Last Week: 2)

Winnipeg went into Montreal, after two losses in a row to Saskatchewan, and came out the victor. No one thought that would happen. No one. The Bombers passed their last test, so from here on out, Winnipeg gets the benefit of the doubt.

2. Edmonton Eskimos (Last Week: 5)

Very few teams have come into Ivor Wynne Stadium recently and beaten the Tiger-Cats like Edmonton did last Friday. They dominated from start to finish. If the Eskimos play like that more often, they will be extremely tough to beat.

3. British Columbia Lions (Last Week: 6)

This is the type of year it is when I put a 5-6 team at number three and it doesn't seem ridiculous. The Lions have won four straight and look very good right now. Very, very good.

4. Calgary Stampeders (Last Week: 1)

The losses at home are problematic, but Calgary is still a good team and still has a share of first in the West Division. They just need to be more consistent.

5. Montreal Alouettes (Last Week: 3)

I don't know what to make of the Alouettes. They have been wildly inconsistent from week to week. Win three, lose two, win two, lose two, win one, lose one. The Als are a different team every week, and when you play that differently from one week to the next, it's hard to peg where they belong in the league's hierarchy in 2011.

6. Saskatchewan Roughriders (Last Week: 7)

Can Ken Miller do no wrong? I mean, seriously, does he really make that big of a difference? Saskatchewan is a vastly different team with Miller wearing the headset, so anything is possible for the Riders at this point.

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

Inconsistency is the theme of the week (year?), and no team defines inconsistency quite like the Tabbies. After dismantling the Als on Labour Day, the Ti-Cats have lost twice by a combined score of 81-36. They've scored one offensive touchdown and haven't been able to stop anything. The last time the Cats looked this bad was after Week 2. They responded to that by winning three straight. Remember what I said about inconsistency?

8. Toronto Argonauts (Last Week: 8)

The Argos gave the Riders a much tougher fight than most expected, and Steven Jyles looked better. But they still make critical mistakes, and until they decide what they want to do, they will be relegated to the bottom of the rankings.

Highest Climb: Edmonton, British Columbia (+3)
Steepest Fall: Calgary, Hamilton (-3)

Monday, 19 September 2011

Correcting a Mistake

I hold myself to a very high standard. I know that no one probably cares all that much when I make a tiny mistake, but I care.

Well, I made a mistake, and I have to own up to it. In fact, it's a mistake I've been making almost all weekend.

In my Morning-After Thoughts for this week, I took aim at the Canadian Football Hall of Fame for omitting Damon Allen. I pointed out that former St. Mary's star Quarterback Chris Flynn was selected and that Allen was not. I tried my best to say that Flynn was still deserving, just not as deserving as Allen. It's a claim I stand by, but a claim that was unnecessary to make.

I was unaware, and I take full blame for not being aware, that the Canadian Football Hall of Fame changed its entry requirements prior to the selection of the 2011 inductees, a fact that was pointed out to me by Andrew Bucholtz, editor of Yahoo Sports' 55-Yard Line blog. The Canadian Football Hall of Fame now puts amateur players into their own category so that they will not have to compete with professional athletes for selection to the Hall.

That means that Flynn was not in direct competition with Allen for a spot in the Hall of Fame. So both Flynn and Allen could have, and should have, been selected to the Hall.

I stand by my anger that Allen was not selected. It is unfathomable that a player who holds the record for most passing yards in professional football history was denied entry in his first year of eligibility. Everyone who was selected is more than deserving, but I would love to hear the argument against Allen being selected.

I am sure that Allen will be enshrined next season, but that is beside the point. Allen should not have to wait one second longer than necessary to take his deserved place in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. I won't belabour the point any longer, as I doubt there are many people out there that disagree with me.

Anyway, I apologize for my earlier mistake, and I will try to not let it happen again. I don't mind being wrong with an opinion, but being wrong with a fact is something else entirely. Today, I was wrong with a fact. Sorry.

Morning-After Thoughts (Week 12)

Has there ever been a CFL season that was this... strange? Nothing makes sense, and I can't figure out what will happen from one week to the next. It seems as if anything can happen, and as soon as I think I have it all figured out, I realize I know nothing. I feel as if I'm not the only one out there that feels this way.
  1. A big congratulations to all the newest members of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. And a giant hand to former Tiger-Cat greats Danny McManus and Joe Montford.
  2. Still on the Hall of Fame, can someone please explain to me how Damon Allen did not get in, but Chris Flynn did? I have all the respect in the world for Flynn, and winning three Hec Creighton awards is no small feat, but we're talking about Damon Allen. The all-time leader in passing yards. Flynn was an excellent CIAU Quarterback, and it's great the the Canadian Football Hall of Fame wants to recognize that, but you simply cannot put a player who excelled at the university level in, when you don't put the professional game's all-time leader in passing yards in. Allen should have been a first-ballot, no-brainer Hall of Famer. If that means leaving out a guy like Chris Flynn, I'm alright with that. Leaving out Allen, even for one year, is inexcusable.
  3. There were a couple of big pass interference calls this week, and it got me wondering what the appropriate penalty for pass interference should be. Right now, it's a spot foul; I wonder if making it a 15-yard penalty would make more sense. It seems as if the penalty is too harsh, especially when sometimes it's not as blatant and can drastically alter a game.
  4. Jerome Messam must love playing the Tiger-Cats. In two games against Hamilton this season, Messam has rushed for 243 yards and four touchdowns. Against the rest of the league, he has rushed for 286 yards and zero touchdowns. He has all his TDs and nearly half his yardage against one team. That's having a team's number if I ever saw it.
  5. Looks like Fred Stamps is back at full health. He was unstoppable against Hamilton.
  6. With all the problems that Hamilton has in their Secondary, I bet they wish they still had Chris Thompson and Jykine Bradley.
  7. Watching Steven Jyles play, you can see he is a good quarterback, but he is just as clearly not the cure-all for what ails the Argonauts. Cleo Lemon was a convenient and easy scapegoat – the quarterback always is; just ask Tiger-Cat fans – but the Argos haven't won with Jyles either. The problems go higher than the players, and I think many people who didn't recognize that already surely do now.
  8. The Argos' Offense has been one of the worst, if not the worst, in the CFL this season. But even I was stunned to find out that Andre Durie's third-quarter touchdown against Saskatchewan was Toronto's first offensive touchdown in 33 possession. That is offensive ineptitude of epic proportions.
  9. Player celebrations are endlessly debated. Some like them, some don't. Time and place is important. Seeing Ejiro Kuale jump around and hit himself like an uncaged gorilla after tackling Wes Cates after Cates picked up a first down is where I draw the line. Kuale looked like a fool, just like Hugh Charles doing backflips when his team is down by 10 points or Dwight Anderson dancing after hitting Nik Lewis when Lewis picked up 12 yards. Time and place, gentlemen. Time and place.
  10. Winning the turnover battle is one of those stats that pundits say decide games. The Argos being 1-40 since 2008 when losing the turnover battle proves that point.
  11. I still find it funny when players argue about fumbles when they come off a shanked kick that results in a no-yards penalty. You see players try to argue why their team should be rewarded the football and it shows you the difference in the Canadian and American game.
  12. Prior to this season, the Calgary Stampeders were a very impressive 20-6-1 at home under John Hufnagel. This season, they are a horrendous 1-4. McMahon Stadium has become a house of horrors for the home team.
  13. I have heard a lot of rule explanations in my 20-plus years of watching football, but hearing Andre Proulx utter the words, "Illegal procedure, Defense. They made the Offense move," has to rank up there as one of the strangest.
  14. Geroy Simon keeps getting better with age. He collected his 900th catch this week, and if he keeps playing the way he's playing, he might hang around long enough to take the career receptions mark from Ben Cahoon.
  15. Paul McCallum is another ageless wonder. He has made 90 per cent of his field goals over the last two seasons. That's phenomenal for any kicker, let alone one in his 40s.
  16. The touchdown-less streak that the BC defense had was one of the more impressive streaks I have ever seen. Not allowing TDs is a great way to win games, and the Lions have now won four straight. Those two things are very much linked.
  17. Overcoming injuries is something the Bombers couldn't do last year, Buck Pierce being the most notable among them. This week, Winnipeg lost Linebacker Joe Lobendahn and up-and-coming Receiver Kito Poblah, yet they still went into Montreal and took home the "W." Just more proof that this Winnipeg team is not the same as last year's Winnipeg team.
  18. Montreal has had trouble with good teams. The Als have only beaten one team with a record over .500: the Edmonton Eskimos. They also have losses to the 5-6 BC Lions, the 4-7 Saskatchewan Roughriders and the 5-6 Hamilton Tiger-Cats (who they lost to twice). Montreal is no longer the king of the jungle, and I would be surprised if they got to the Grey Cup, let alone won it, this year.
  19. Batted .500 this week, as I nailed the Riders and Lions, but missed on the Ti-Cats and Als. That takes my yearly total to 24-20. Not good. Not good at all. I'm going to have to step it up considerably.
  20. I'm heading to Moncton next week for Touchdown Atlantic, so it is unlikely that I will have a Morning-After Thoughts for Week 13. I don't know how much football I'll get to watch aside from the Calgary-Hamilton game. There are so many wonderful things to see and do between Hamilton and Moncton that football will not be a high priority. I'll be back with some thoughts in Week 14, but don't expect any next Monday.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Edmonton 38, Hamilton 23

I really don't know where to begin. I thought last week as an aberration; I thought it was rock bottom; I thought there was no way this team was as bad as they looked in Montreal.

Then the game kicks off and the Cats get called for a penalty. On the opening kickoff! As far as bad omens go, that has to rank up there.

Then the first two passes Kevin Glenn throws hit his receivers off the chest and fall incomplete.

Not a good night for the Black & Gold.

Positives

Much like last week, it's hard to take any positives away from a game in which the Offense did nothing until it didn't matter and the Defense did even less.

Justin Medlock had his trademark great game, hitting all three of his field goal attempts and punting rather well. The bad part is, a team's Kicker/Punter should not be its best performer two weeks in a row. When that happens, said team is in trouble.

Birthday boy Chris Williams had a decent evening. He had trouble fielding kickoffs at some points, but he did lead the team in receiving with 74 yards and returned a kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown.

Negatives

Why did the Tiger-Cats spend all that money to lure Avon Cobourne away from Montreal? It sure as hell wasn't to give him the ball nine times a game. That is the number of touches Cobourne had tonight. He needs to see the ball way more than that, and there needs to be a concerted effort to get him the ball early. I could say more about the Offense, but I'll leave it at that because they were not the biggest problem in this game.

The biggest problem was, without a doubt, the Defense. I, and I'm sure there are many others that feel the same, have lost complete faith in this Defense. They do nothing right. Nothing. They can't tackle, they don't get pressure, and they haven't created a turnover in God knows how long. They can't defend the short routes, the intermediate routes or the long routes. I'm surprised when these guys stop the opposition. The worst part is, there are a TON of talented players on the Defense. From Stevie Baggs to Justin Hickman to Jamall Johnson to Rey Williams to Markeith Knowlton to Ryan Hinds. These are all good, talented players, but they look like rank amateurs out there. These guys will need to step it up if this team has any hope of doing anything in November.

Final Thoughts

Last week, it was easy to excuse a poor performance as a one-off. But this is the second week in a row that the Tiger-Cats have stunk out the joint, so dismissing it isn't as easy.

Perhaps playing in Moncton next week isn't the worst thing in the world. It allows them to get away from all the negativity that surrounds them in Hamilton, and maybe that is the magic elixir this team needs to get the ship back on course.

Adversity can either tear a team apart or bring it closer together. The last time the Cats faced this type of adversity, they ran off three straight wins. Hopefully for the fans, the players, the coaches and everyone else associated with this proud franchise, we will see a repeat.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Smitty's Selections: Week 12

Week 11 did not go well, but it's time to get back on the horse and make Week 12 a week to remember.

Edmonton at Hamilton

Hamilton hasn't been the best of places for the Eskimos the last couple of years, and with the Tiger-Cats coming off an embarrassing performance against Montreal, the Tabbies will be itching to prove they still belong among the league's upper echelon. The Eskimos will keep it close for three quarters, but the Cats will pull away in the fourth.

Winner: Hamilton, 33-21

Toronto at Saskatchewan

Toronto stinks, and Saskatchewan seems to have found a formula for success. No way the Argos are even close in this one. Riders by a bunch.

Winner: Saskatchewan, 30-13

British Columbia at Calgary

The Lions are starting to peak, again, as the season hits the second half. Calgary is coming off a big win in Edmonton and looks to try to put more distance between themselves and the rest of the West Division. This is a tough one to call. On nothing more than a gut feeling, I'm taking the Lions.

Winner: British Columbia, 27-21

Winnipeg at Montreal

Winnipeg is on a bit of a slide, losing two in a row to the Roughriders. Montreal is eager to prove that they are back to their dominant ways after they dismantled the Tiger-Cats last week. First in the East Division is up for grabs, and the Bombers would love to get the victory. But with the game being in Montreal, and with the Als keen on proving once again that they are still the class of the division, I expect Montreal to come out and put the boots to the Bombers.

Winner: Montreal, 36-24

Recap
Hamilton, Saskatchewan, British Columbia, Montreal

Season Record: 22-18

Preview: Eskimos at Tiger-Cats

6-4
5-5
Home has been very kind to the Ti-Cats this season, as they have won four of their five home games so far, with the lone loss taking place in Week 1.

For Hamilton to get themselves back on the winning track, they will have to do what they did on Labour Day. That means playing disciplined football and making life miserable for the opposing Quarterback.

Hamilton accomplished both those feats against Anthony Calvillo and the Alouettes on Labour Day, but failed to do so in the rematch last Sunday. If the Cats can make life difficult for Ricky Ray, and if they can limit the number of penalties they take, Hamilton will have a recipe for success.

It won't be easy, because the Eskimos – who started the season 5-0, but dropped four of their last five – are starting to get healthy, especially at Receiver. Last week saw the return of All-Star Receiver Fred Stamps, who will just be more dangerous after having a week to get re-acclimated. Adarius Bowman provides Ray with a great second option. The Cats' Secondary will have to play well to stop the Eskimos' Offense.

The key for the Cats is to get Avon Cobourne going. When he is picking up yards on the ground, that opens up the passing game for Kevin Glenn. Getting Cobourne established early will go a long way in helping the Tiger-Cats secure a victory.

Both these teams are looking to get back on track after disappointing Week 11 losses, but for Hamilton, winning at home is the one way that they can still hope to secure a home playoff game. The Cats have been abysmal on the road this season, so holding serve at home will be necessary if they hope to move up in the standings.

That begins by beating the Eskimos at Ivor Wynne on Friday.

For those that can't make it to the game, you can watch it on TSN or listen to it on AM900 CHML. Also, if you're on Twitter, follow Dief on Cats as he gives his one-of-a-kind insight during the games. It's well worth your time.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Looking Back and Looking Ahead

There has been a lot of talk about the Tiger-Cats' pitiful performance Sunday against the Alouettes, and surprisingly it hasn't focused on Marcel Bellefeuille or Kevin Glenn.

OK, not all of it has.

Scott Radley wrote a piece in the Hamilton Spectator comparing the Tiger-Cats to a John Grisham thriller and Forrest Gump's box of chocolates. His basic points were that the team is full of surprises and "you never know what you're going to get" from one week to the next.

Radley is right; the Ti-Cats have not been a consistent football team in 2011. What that means, I don't know. We'll have to wait and see.

Drew Edwards looked at the "two schools of thought" most fans are taking following the latest loss in Montreal.

There are people in one camp who believe the Bellefeuille-Glenn duo has taken this team as far as they can go. That with these two men, the Cats are destined to be nothing more than a .500 ball club who will never win a championship.

A Tiger-Cats loss – any Tiger-Cats loss – cannot be dissected without someone bringing up those two men. Regardless of what happens, it is somehow always their fault.

The second group sees the loss in Montreal as being part of a long season and not worth getting worked up about.

I reside very squarely in the second group.

The Cats put up a listless, disappointing effort on Sunday in Montreal, but this came just six days after the Als did the exact same thing against the Ti-Cats in Hamilton. An argument I have made numerous times is that every single CFL team has laid an egg or two.

Case in point:
  • Winnipeg: lost 27-7 and 45-23 in back-to-back weeks against Saskatchewan
  • Calgary: lost 35-7 to Edmonton
  • Montreal: lost 44-23 to Hamilton
  • Edmonton: lost 28-16 to Winnipeg; lost 27-4 to Montreal; lost 36-1 to BC
  • BC: lost 33-17 to Edmonton; lost 30-17 to Winnipeg
  • Saskatchewan: lost 42-28 to Edmonton; lost 33-3 to Hamilton; lost 24-11 to BC
  • Toronto: lost 40-17 to Montreal; lost 29-16 and 28-6 in back-to-back weeks against BC
Heck, the Argos (the league's worst team) beat Calgary (maybe the league's best team) in Calgary in Week 1. Sure, the Stamps' Rob Maver missed three field goals because of an injury, but the result counts regardless.

Every team has at least one horrendous performance on their résumé this season. Hamilton has laid three such eggs: the Week 1 loss to Winnipeg (in which neither team played particularly well), the Week 2 loss to Edmonton and this past week against Montreal. The Ti-Cats' other two losses (to Winnipeg, 30-27, and Calgary, 32-20) were not the same as the other three. The Cats played very well against Winnipeg, and that game could have gone either way. Against Calgary, the team came out on fire and then lost it in the second half.

All this proves is that it is foolish to get too high or too low based on any given week's outcome.

Moving on from the past and looking into the future, I see a Tiger-Cat schedule that looks very promising.

Yes, the Tabbies will play five of these eight games away from Ivor Wynne Stadium, and they are an uninspiring 1-4 away from home so far this season. But these five games are not like the previous five games. The Cats play in Moncton against Calgary, in Toronto, in Montreal, in Saskatchewan and in Toronto again. The Montreal game is the only one where the Cats will be prohibitive underdogs. The best-case scenario is probably four wins; the worst-case is two.

At home, Hamilton faces Edmonton, Winnipeg and BC. Edmonton hasn't won in Hamilton since 2008. Winnipeg has already won in Hamilton and has beaten the Ti-Cats twice, and sweeping a team is never easy. BC has actually done fairly well in Hamilton in recent years and have won their last two games at Ivor Wynne Stadium. That said, I like the Cats to pull out victories in all three games.

Under the best-case scenario, the Cats will finish the regular season 12-6. Worst case, 10-8. I will say that 9-9 is possible, but that's only if they don't take care of business at home. There is no way they go 1-4 on the road, because Toronto will not beat them. I know I said that sweeping a team is never easy, but Toronto is everyone's whipping boy right now, and the Cats are 6-3 against Toronto in the last two regular seasons.

While nothing is set in stone, and anything can happen, things are set up nicely for the Tiger-Cats down the stretch.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Cats Cut Hyland and Argos Sign Prechae

Two moves of note for Tiger-Cat fans today, as the team released Defensive Back David Hyland and the Argonauts signed former Tiger-Cat Receiver Prechae Rodriguez.

Hyland wasn't in Hamilton very long; he signed less than a month ago. I had hoped that Hyland would catch on because I liked what little I saw of him. I don't know what happened in the game this past Sunday, but I am sad to see him leave. As a fan, he was easy to like. He communicated with fans via his Twitter account (hylander37), and being accessible means a lot.

I also think Hyland has a ton of talent and just needs to find the right team with the right scheme to harness that talent. When he finally does find his spot, the team that snags him will be happy.

Best of luck in the future, David.

The other bit of news is about the man formerly known as "Big Play." (It's been a long time since Rodriguez has done anything to deserve that moniker.)

Rodriguez has the reputation of being a supremely talented player with a poor worth ethic. The label of "soft" has been thrown around by more than a few people as well.

Rodriguez told the National Post's Mark Master that he feels like Toronto is it and that the Argos will be his last team.

He is probably right, but I don't think it's for the reasons he thinks it is. He might shine with the Argos; he might hit it off with Steven Jyles and go on to have an excellent career. But the Argos are his last stop because I don't see any other teams taking him on if it doesn't work out in Toronto. This is his fifth team, and none of the three teams that he hasn't already played for (Winnipeg, Calgary and BC) need his services. Toronto is probably his last chance to salvage his CFL career.

I'm interested to see how it works out for Rodriguez in Toronto.

Power Poll (Week 11)

After 10 weeks, I think we can say with near 100-per cent certainty that no one has any clue what is going to happen from one week to the next. Winnipeg looks unbeatable, and then they get beaten soundly by the Roughriders. Hamilton makes people believe, and then they make people doubt. Edmonton pounds the Stamps, and then the Stamps return the favour. Montreal looks to be slipping, and then they catch themselves. BC and Saskatchewan were left for dead, and then they resurrect themselves with two back-to-back blowout wins. The Argos, well, I don't want to pile on, but they seem to be the league's whipping boy this year. Each team can be picked apart to the point where none of them look any good. Or they can be built up to where they all look like superteams. The CFL is the Roddy Piper of sports leagues: as soon as you think you know the answer, they change the question.

1. Calgary Stampeders (Last Week: 4)

Want to say this should be Winnipeg or Montreal? No argument. The Stamps are hardly world beaters, but they have won five of their last six, so for the time being they are the most consistent of the bunch.

2. Winnipeg Blue Bombers (Last Week: 1)

The Bombers fall for one reason: two back-to-back blowout losses to the previously dead Saskatchewan Roughriders. I excused the Labour Day weekend loss, but getting pounded in the Banjo Bowl? That is a much different story. Things don't get much easier for the Bombers, as a date with the Alouettes in Montreal looms.

3. Montreal Alouettes (Last Week: 5)

What Montreal team is the real Montreal team? The one that lost by three touchdowns on Labour Day or the one that won by 30 on Sunday? The game with Winnipeg should help to answer that question.

4. Hamilton Tiger-Cats (Last Week: 2)

What Hamilton team is the real Hamilton team? The one that won by three touchdowns on Labour Day or the one that lost by 30 on Sunday? The game with Edmonton should help to answer that question.

5. Edmonton Eskimos (Last Week: 3)

Edmonton may have lost on Friday, but as they get healthier, they will get back to their early-season form. Ricky Ray missed Adarius Bowman, Jason Barnes and especially Fred Stamps when those guys were out of the lineup with various injuries. But Bowman and Stamps are back, and Barnes will be soon. With those three Receivers getting back into form, the Eskimos will soon follow suit.

6. British Columbia Lions (Last Week: 6)

The Lions are getting hot at the end of the season... again. The light seems to have gone on for Travis Lulay, and that means BC is going to be a very tough team to beat.

7. Saskatchewan Roughriders (Last Week: 7)

Ken Miller comes back and Saskatchewan beats Winnipeg twice. They sit a game back of the Lions for the final playoff spot in the West, and this looks like a completely different team under Miller. Maybe the problem was Greg Marshall after all.

8. Toronto Argonauts (Last Week: 8)

It's "Wait Until Next Year" for the Argos. Their playoff hopes are slim, so taking these games and using them to evaluate talent is probably in the best long-term interest of the Argonauts. Let Steven Jyles get the rust off, play some of the younger guys (like Receivers Sammy Tranks and Djems Kouame) and see who should be in the Argos' plans in 2012.

Highest Climb: Calgary (+3)
Steepest Fall: Hamilton, Edmonton (-2)

Monday, 12 September 2011

Morning-After Thoughts (Week 11)

Labour Day weekend was blowout weekend, and Revenge Weekend was pretty much the same. The teams that lost in Week 10 had reason to want revenge (hence my naming the week as such). The teams that got angry, got even; the teams that didn't, got hammered. Week 11 saw a lot of previously held beliefs get shattered. It's just another example of how things can change so quickly in the Canadian Football League.
  1. Pundits like to claim that winning back-to-back games against the same opponent is difficult. With every game in Week 11 being that type of game, the money was on at least three different winners. Yet, BC once again pounded Toronto, and Saskatchewan beat the pants off Winnipeg for a second week in a row. Montreal and Calgary got their revenge, so teams who lost in Week 10 went 2-2 in Week 11. What does this prove? I'm not quite sure.
  2. There were four receivers drafted in the first round of the 2011 CFL Draft, and not one of them has done anything of note this season. Calgary's Anthony Parker, BC's Marco Iannuzzi, Edmonton's Nate Coehoorn and Winnipeg's Jade Etienne have combined for four catches for 58 yards (and Iannuzzi has one interception). But if guys like BC's Akeem Foster and Shawn Gore, and Winnipeg's Cory Watson are any indication, year two will be much more successful for these four men than year one.
  3. Is giving Nik Lewis the nickname "Thick" just a nice way of saying he's fat?
  4. Is Chris Bauman the biggest bust of the last five to ten years?
  5. A successful Hail Mary – such as the one Calgary pulled off against Edmonton – has to be one of the three most exciting plays in football.
  6. The Lions played their last game at Empire Field, and I think no one is happier than the Lions themselves. In the 14 games they played at their temporary digs, the Lions were a pitiful 5-9. The only team that didn't find a way to win at Empire Field was the Toronto Argonauts. Every other team went into BC and won a game in the year and a half that the Lions called that facility home. The Lions are going to be happy to return to BC Place.
  7. Steven Jyles saw his first action of the year, and it was about what was expected. Once he got himself into the game, he played better. It will take him some time to find his rhythm, but when he does, the Argos will be a better team.
  8. Last season, the Argos used, and some might say relied on, Special Teams trickery to win nine games. This week against BC, the Argos pulled out a fake punt that was stopped (thanks to a Marco Iannuzzi interception of Noel Prefontaine). The failure to execute that play is a microcosm of the Argos' 2011 season. Last year, every bounce went their way; this year, none are. That's the difference between being 5-5 (as the Argos were at this point in 2010) and 2-8 (which the Argos are now) after 10 games.
  9. It looks like BC finally realized how to commit to the running game.
  10. Toronto has fired their Offensive Coordinator and cut their starting Quarterback; when will the attention turn to the man responsible for bringing those guys in in the first place? Jim Barker's seat must be very warm. There is no way that Toronto can go into next season with Barker as both Head Coach and General Manager.
  11. One of the most astonishing stats I've ever seen is the current streak that BC's Defense is on. They have not allowed a touchdown in a mind-boggling 53 straight possessions. I'm at a loss for words.
  12. Jamel Richardson is the best Receiver in football. That is all.
  13. Since Marc Trestman became the Head Coach of the Alouettes in 2008, Montreal is a terrific 26-5 at home. It may not be the loudest crowd, but Percival Molson Stadium is still one of the toughest places for teams to play.
  14. The Bombers have been exposed in their two games against Saskatchewan, and with two dates with the Alouettes looming in the next three weeks, Winnipeg's once iron grip on first place in the East could very well be slipping.
  15. I said that the problems in Regina were much bigger than the Head Coach. Well, I guess I was wrong. Saskatchewan looks like a completely different team under Ken Miller's direction. If he finds a way to get the Roughriders into the playoffs, everyone in the province will pitch in a buck to ensure he stays the Head Coach.
  16. I love Winnipeg's throwback jerseys and helmets. The Bombers should ditch their current jerseys and stick with the throwbacks. In fact, that'd be a good idea for the majority of the league.
  17. Hey, did you hear that Andy Fantuz is back with the Saskatchewan Roughriders? In all seriousness, Fantuz may not have put up huge numbers, but his presence clearly helped other Receivers, namely Weston Dressler and Chris Getzlaf, find room to work. Once Fantuz gets into the flow of things, he's going to go back to being the Andy Fantuz of old.
  18. In the loss, Terrence Edwards needs to be singled out for a great game. That's the Terrence Edwards everyone remembers from 2010.
  19. Tribute to Officials Month? Really? That's got to be a joke.... right?
  20. After weeks of .500 or better in my game picks, I whiffed big time in Week 11. The final tally for the week is a putrid 1-3, with the lone win being the BC Lions. I missed on the Eskimos, Tiger-Cats and Blue Bombers. Better luck next week.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Montreal 43, Hamilton 13

If Labour Day was the day when the Cats could do no wrong, Sunday was the day when the Cats could do no right. In a complete reversal of fortunes, the Alouettes pounded the Tabbies into submission. This was Montreal's game for the opening whistle. It was a good, old-fashioned butt whooping.

Positives

Not many positives to take away from a 30-point defeat, but there are two.

Justin Medlock continued his excellent season. He went four for five and nailed a 57-yard – yes FIFTY-SEVEN YARD! – field goal. It is small consolation, but you can't take away a great afternoon from Medlock.

It was nice to Marcus Thigpen finally break one. No, he didn't take it to the house, but he did have a very nice 46-yard return. Thigpen has not been the weapon he was last season – and in all honesty, no kick returner has really had a great year – so perhaps this one return could be a harbinger of things to come.

Negatives

I could probably say, "Everything else," and leave it at that.

Kevin Glenn had a bad day; Avon Cobourne had perhaps his worst day as a professional; the leading Receiver was Bakari Grant, and his day was less than stellar. The Offensive Line – missing their stalwart Marwan Hage – didn't allow Glenn any time or provide Cobourne with any holes. The Offense as a whole was as bad as they have ever been.

On Defense, the team was a bunch of sieves. The D-Line barely pressured Calvillo, the Linebackers were complete non-factors, and the entire Secondary was torched. It was probably the worst Ti-Cat defensive effort since Marcel Bellefeuille became Head Coach.

I could spend 1,000 words talking about how bad everyone on both sides of the ball played, but it would be a waste of my time to write it and a waste of your time to read it. Let's just leave it at the above and move on.

Final Thoughts

What did today prove? It proved that Montreal and Hamilton have a really hard time winning in each other's house. It proved that Montreal is still an elite team (if anyone really questioned that, they're a buffoon). It proved that winning back-to-back games is one of the most difficult things to do.

Montreal came out and did what they had to do. Hamilton looked lost out there, and Montreal looked like the polished machine we've seen over most of the last decade.

Hamilton still has work to do, but it would be wise for people not to forget what happened six days ago. Before people start writing the Cats off, remember that even the best of teams (in this case, Montreal) throws up a stinker every now and then.

Was this a terrible loss? You bet. Does this mean that the Cats are a terrible team? Not at all. So before I see all the "fire the coaches" or "bench Glenn" comments, keep everything in perspective.

The Cats were beaten in every aspect of this game. Sometimes being humbled isn't the worst thing in the world. We'll see how the Tabbies respond on Friday, when they host the equally confounding Edmonton Eskimos.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Preview: Tiger-Cats at Alouettes

5-4
5-4
Hamilton has the chance to do something that they haven't done in almost 10 years: win in Montreal.

It won't be easy. These two teams met back on Monday, and beating the same team in back-to-back games is always a hard feat to accomplish. Since Hamilton walloped Montreal on Labour Day, it's unlikely that the same outcome will befall the Als on Sunday.

That said, the confidence of this Tiger-Cat team is very high right now. After starting the season 0-2, the Cats have won five of their last seven, two of which came against the Alouettes.

The Tiger-Cats' Defense has made life miserable for Alouettes Quarterback Anthony Calvillo in their two previous meetings. Calvillo has had two of his worst outings this season against Hamilton.

Former Montreal Running Back Avon Cobourne is making his first trip back to la belle province since signing with the Tiger-Cats in February. I am sure that the hostile Montreal crowd will be more than happy to give "Deuces" a piece of their mind.

If the Cats are to continue their winning ways against the two-time defending Grey Cup champions, they are going to have to bring their A-game and be sharp for all four quarters. Any misstep could cost them dearly.

But this isn't just a big game for Hamilton; the last thing Montreal wants to do is drop another one to the Tiger-Cats. With a win, Hamilton would win the season series, thus ensuring themselves of winning any potential tie in the standings.

Montreal also doesn't want to drop their third in a row, which would put them in the unfamiliar position of being 5-5 after 10 games.

The Cats can make a big statement with a victory at Molson Stadium, but Montreal needs this win just as much, if not more, than Hamilton does.

Expect nothing less than an excellent game from both these clubs, as they jockey for position in a very intense and competitive East Division.

If you are not making the nine-hour drive to Montreal for the game, you can do what you always do, watch the game on TSN or listen to the game on AM900 CHML.

Also, if you would like a little something extra, give a follow to Dief On Cats on Twitter, as he provides followers with his unique take on each and every Hamilton Tiger-Cat game.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Smitty's Selections: Week 11

The CFL always tries to come up with pithy names for special weeks. We have the Canada Day Kickoff, Labour Day Weekend, Thanksgiving Weekend and Touchdown Atlantic. Why, then, did the league not come up with a name for this weekend's slate of rematches from Labour Day? Revenge Weekend or something like that? Anyway, all four games are repeats of what we saw a week ago. It's hard to beat a team back to back, but that doesn't mean it can't be done.

Calgary at Edmonton

Not many believed Edmonton was going to win last week, and they did so by putting a halt to their losing streak, which had reached three games, in Calgary on Labour Day. That was the hard part. Fred Stamps is primed and ready for his return. The Eskimos are a better team when Stamps plays. Calgary is still a good team, and I expect a much better effort this time around, but as the Eskimos begin to get healthier, they are going to get back to their early-season winning ways. Eskimos by a touchdown.

Winner: Edmonton, 34-27

Toronto at British Columbia

The Steven Jyles era begins in Toronto. The Argos have been looking for a Quarterback since Damon Allen called it a career. Whether Jyles is the guy will be known soon enough. BC is right on schedule for its annual second-half turnaround. It will take a while for Jyles to get back into game shape, and BC is at home (where Toronto hasn't won since 2002), so the Lions cruise to victory.

Winner: British Columbia, 28-17

Hamilton at Montreal

One thing is for certain: Montreal will not be blown out two games in a row. Montreal played its worst game all season on Monday, and nothing short of the Death Star mistaking Montreal for Alderaan and blowing it off the map, killing every Alouette player in the process, will see a repeat performance of Labour Day. But the Cats are a confident bunch right now, and they have the Als on the ropes. In what will be a classic slugfest, the Tabbies take it by a field goal.

Winner: Hamilton, 34-31

Saskatchewan at Winnipeg

Everyone and their grandmother should have seen last Sunday's outcome coming. Saskatchewan had everything in their favour going into last weekend's game, and there was no way they were going to lose. That loss, however, might end up helping Winnipeg, as they had begun to get a little cocky, despite having not accomplished much. (Yes, 7-1 was impressive, but you don't win championships in August.) The Bombers will come back focused and ready to play, and they will lay a beating on the Riders.

Winner: Winnipeg, 30-14

Recap
Edmonton, British Columbia, Hamilton, Winnipeg

Season Record: 21-15

Thursday, 8 September 2011

The Importance of Sunday

For the longest time, the Montreal Alouettes had a hex of sorts on the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. The Als had won 20 of their previous 22 meetings. It was as if there was a mental block that prevented the Ti-Cats from beating the Alouettes.

Then things started to change.

It started last October, when Hamilton handed Montreal one of its most embarrassing defeats in recent memory: a 40-3 pounding that took place in front of a raucous crowd at Ivor Wynne Stadium. The win was poo-pooed by some as meaningless. The Als, having already wrapped up first in the East, had nothing to play for. When Hamilton lost in the East Division Semi-Final, the big win against Montreal just a month prior was long forgotten.

Then in July, the Cats and Als faced off in a somewhat meaningful early-season matchup. Hamilton won 34-26 at Ivor Wynne Stadium in a game that was not as close as the score indicates. Hamilton was clearly the better team and took a 31-19 lead, but Montreal scored a late touchdown to make the game look closer than it was. People took notice after this victory, but doubt was still there.

Maurice Mann scoring on Labour Day
Then Labour Day arrived, and all doubt was seemingly removed. In as complete a game as I have seen the Tiger-Cats play under Marcel Bellefeuille, the Tabbies hammered the Als 44-21 in front of a rambunctious 26,964 fans at Ivor Wynne Stadium. Much like their July matchup, the score of this game also made the Als look a lot better than they actually were. The Montreal Offense could barely muster anything against a stingy Tiger-Cat Defense. Had it not been for two scores by the Alouettes' Defense, the final score would have been just as lopsided as their October game from a year ago.

Despite having won the past three against their division rivals, Sunday's game still holds a lot of importance for this Tiger-Cat team.

The reason for that is because in Hamilton's three victories against Montreal, one thing is constant: they all came at home.

Hamilton has yet to beat Montreal in Montreal. In fact, the last time the Cats went into Molson Stadium and beat the Als was... October 20, 2002! That means that Hamilton is 0-fer in Montreal since Bob Young purchased the team. The last coach to lead the Tiger-Cats to a victory in Montreal: Ron Lancaster. The last Quarterback to win in Montreal: Danny McManus.

Percival Molson Stadium
During Marcel Bellefeuille's tenure as Head Coach, the only "quality opponent" that Hamilton has defeated on the road is BC, winning there in 2009. The Cats have continued their dominance in Vancouver, having won there the last three seasons. That is no small feat, either considering that prior to 2009, Hamilton hadn't won in BC since 2004.

But beating BC is not the same as beating Calgary, Montreal, Edmonton or Saskatchewan. The Cats in the Bellefeuille era are 0-9 in those four places.

Hamilton doesn't tend to get a lot of respect from the CFL media, and part of that is because they haven't consistently beaten upper-echelon teams in their stadiums. This is not a woe-is-me statement, but Hamilton tends to not get the benefit of the doubt. It's somewhat understandable seeing as they have been terrible for the better part of this century.

Two 9-9 seasons followed by two first-round playoff exits does not lead to much respect. But beating Montreal in Montreal? That's a different story.

If the Cats want to finally get some respect, there is no better way to demand it than by beating a quality opponent on the road.

Hamilton has that opportunity on Sunday.