Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Last Game at Ivor Wynne Stadium

I wanted to take my time with this one, which is why it wasn't posted immediately following the game. When dealing with something as iconic as Ivor Wynne Stadium, I believe timeliness isn't the most important factor.

Awesome!

That is the only word I can use to describe everything about the final game at Ivor Wynne Stadium. From walking to a game there for the final time to getting in to the game itself and to the entire ceremony that following the game, everything about the final experience at the greatest stadium in the CFL was done pitch perfect. Terrible weather notwithstanding, the final game ever at Ivor Wynne Stadium could not have gone any better.

It was a weird feeling taking that final walk from my uncle and aunt's house on Gage Ave. to the stadium. While it won't be the last time I take that walk – they aren't moving and neither is the stadium – it will be the last time I take it to Ivor Wynne Stadium. And in two years, who knows what will still be there.

Once at the stadium, the team did everything right. As soon as you walked in you were handed a commemorative ticket and a lanyard. As a season seat holder, I already had a similar ticket, but to give one out to ever fan that stepped through the gates was a nice touch.

Then just prior to kickoff, the all-time team was announced in a beautiful ceremony. While I didn't agree with all the selections, the ones I wouldn't have chosen (and didn't when I voted) are not so egregious that they need to be mentioned. The greatest players in Tiger-Cat history formed a circle at midfield and the current players entered as a team and huddled inside the circle. It felt like a passing of the torch and showed the respect the old guard has from the new. It was a great way to kick off the on-field festivities.

Then there was the game itself, a 28-18 whitewashing of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The final score was a lot closer than the game actually was; the lead was never in doubt after about midway through the second quarter. Winnipeg just didn't have it and the Ti-Cats, for the most part, just did. It was nice to go home happy one final time from Ivor Wynne Stadium. Leaving on a losing note wouldn't have soured the event entirely, but it would have tainted it.

At halftime, perhaps the most revered team in Tiger-Cat history was honoured when the team brought out members of the 1972 Grey Cup winning Tiger-Cats. Both Angelo Mosca and Garney Henley spoke and did so to a huge round of applause. That team now goes down in history as the only Tiger-Cat squad to win a Grey Cup at Ivor Wynne Stadium. Again, a great touch and an appropriate final halftime at Ivor Wynne Stadium.

Following the game, an elaborate closing ceremonies took place, with Bob Young, Paul Osbaldiston, Bob Bratina and one of Ivor Wynne's sons speaking to the crowd. All four did an amazing job getting across their feelings for the old stadium. You could see in Ozzy's face that he was near tears talking about what the stadium, and especially the fans, meant to him.

But the highlight of the after event was a video that was narrated by Hamilton's own Stephen Brunt. It was as beautiful as it was poignant. And that video is what I will leave you with as I say my final goodbye to Ivor Wynne Stadium.

Thoughts on the Tiger-Cat Award Nominees

The CFL announced the team nominees for the Player Awards that will be handed out during Grey Cup week in Toronto. Hamilton has five players nominated in the six categories and there are really few surprises among those selected.

Chris Williams is the nominee for top player and top special teams player. Williams as the top special teams player is a no-brainer. He is almost guaranteed to take home the division nomination and league award. Williams was a unanimous selection.

But he wasn't for MOP and that is probably because some voted for Henry Burris. Burris is deserving of some recognition for his stellar statistical season, but Williams has been the superior player all season. Williams has been the definition of outstanding this season and is deserving of being the team's MOP nominee. He has an outside shot to take the division nomination and league award, but is up against some stiff competition in that category.

Rey Williams was named the team nominee for top defensive player. This one is sure to invite plenty of debate and derision. Williams has excellent numbers, but has been singled out as being a weak link in the defense, especially being the man that mans the middle of the field. There has been constant criticism that his numbers are inflated and that he is usually out of position and therefore in chase mode. Some of those criticisms are warranted, but on a defense that has been the object of ridicule since Day 1, who else could have been selected? Dee Webb may have been one possibility, but with no real outstanding player on the defensive side of the ball, the selection of Williams was pretty much a fait accompli by about mid-season.

Luca Congi was selected as Hamilton's Most Oustanding Canadian nominee. Congi would have been a double nominee if not for Williams' outstanding season, but he will have to settle for being the team's top Canadian. Congi had the unenviable task of replacing fan favourite Justin Medlock and he has exceeded expectations. He has missed just five field goals all season and may just be Hamilton's most consistent and reliable player this year. I don't think Congi will get the division nomination, but being named the team's best non-import is no small feat.

Tim O'Neill earned the nomination as Hamilton's top offensive lineman. O'Neill has played all over the Tiger-Cat line, starting the season at guard and then moving to centre when Marwan Hage was lost for the second straight year to injury. O'Neill was signed because of his versatility and that has come in handy this season. O'Neill is a long shot to take the division nomination, so I think he, like Congi, will have to be happy with being the top o-lineman on his team.

Josh Bartel secured the team's nomination for Most Outstanding Rookie. Bartel never played football prior to this season and he has done an excellent job punting the football. He hasn't been out of this world, but for a first timer, he has done an excellent job. There is almost no chance that Bartel will go any further in the nomination process. But a good first season will hopefully lead to a better second season for the Punter from Down Under.

So from my vantage point, it looks like the Ti-Cats have a chance to have one representative at the Player Awards in Toronto on November 22nd. Chris Williams will be there for sure, but he could be there for two awards; the other four players are facing long odds to nab division nominations. We'll find out who will be going to Toronto for the award ceremony when the finalists are announced next Wednesday.

Monday, 29 October 2012

10 Things I Learned... In Week 18

Five of six playoff spots have been secured and all that is left to decide is who will play the Argos in East Division Semi-Final. It is down to Edmonton and Hamilton. A Tiger-Cat win and Edmonton loss means the Ti-Cats head to the playoffs; an Edmonton win or tie or a Hamilton loss means the Eskimos will cross over into the East to play the Argos. Hamilton's game is Thursday and Edmonton's is Friday. It all comes down to the final week.

(1) Emry should have been suspended
Shea Emry was fined for punching Brandon LaBatte in the groin during last week's Montreal-Saskatchewan game. The incident got Emry tossed from the game. This is the third time this season that Emry has been fined by the league and clearly he isn't learning anything or amending his ways. The league needs to find a way to make repeat offenders pay substantially higher fines and/or face suspensions if they continue to act like goons. Acts like Emry's have no place in the game and a mere fine, as he has proven, will do nothing. Emry doesn't seem to care and it is time he faced a stiffer punishment for his constant idiocy.

(2) Brandon Isaac should be suspended
Sticking with dirty players, I was stunned to see Brandon Isaac's helmet-to-helmet hit on Darian Durant go unpenalized. It was as obvious as any such hit all season and I can't believe the refs missed it. Like Emry, Isaac is a repeat offender and because of that he should be suspended for the next game. Clearly the fine he was given after his dirty hit on Buck Pierce did nothing to curtail his dirty ways. The refs need to be reamed out for missing the call and Isaac needs to be put on ice for at least a game.

(3) Glenn should start the rest of the year
Now that Drew Tate has returned from his injury, the question of who should start for the Stampeders has arisen. The answer is easy: Glenn should start the rest of the season and Tate should take the job back in the off-season. Glenn has led the Stamps since halftime of the second game this season, so this is his team right now. Glenn has spent pretty much the entire season developing chemistry with his teammates and one week before the playoffs start is not the time to mess with team chemistry.

(4) Eskimos should start Nichols
Did anyone else see what Matt Nichols did in a quarter of action? He threw for 230 yards and three touchdowns after taking over for an injured (and ineffective) Kerry Joseph. Kavis Reed has always said that Joseph will start in the season finale against Calgary, but Nichols is the future and even with a playoff spot on the line, I think Nichols should be handed the reins. It might cost Edmonton a playoff spot this year, but it could set them up for the next 10 years.

(5) Dressler's uncharacteristic drops
Weston Dressler is not known for dropping too many passes, but he had two very costly ones in Saskatchewan's loss to the Argos. His first big drop was on a two-point conversion attempt. The ball hit Dressler right in the hands, but he couldn't bring it in. That proved costly later when the Riders were trying to score at the end of the game. His second was later in the game one what would have been a first down. Dressler wasn't the sole reason the Riders lost to the Argos, but he had a big hand in it.

(6) Sandro's all too familiar misses
While Dressler deserves some blame for Saskatchewan losing, the bulk of the blame belongs on the shoulders of Sandro DeAngelis. Tiger-Cat fans know all to well about DeAngelis missing makeable kicks, but now Rider fans know the feeling. DeAngelis missed a chip shot 16-yard field goal that proved as costly as any mistake any player made. How far he has fallen from his peak with the Stampeders.

(7) I want more Gord Miller
Last week, I said I wanted to see Rod Smith call more games; this week, I will be saying the same thing about Gord Miller. Miller has called a few games in the past, but he is calling more now because of the NHL lockout. Once the NHL resumes play, either this year or next, Miller will go back to being the voice of the NFL on TSN. Until then, I hope Miller calls more CFL games.

(8) Ray is rollin'
It took longer than hoped for Argo fans, but Ricky Ray seems to have found his groove in Scott Milanovich's offense. Ray has thrown for eight touchdowns in the past two weeks and the first time in his career that he has thrown four touchdowns in back-to-back weeks. Ray is starting to get the offense clicking at just the right time. Even if Toronto doesn't make it to or win the Grey Cup, they have set themselves up to possibly take it all next year.

(9) Calvillo making strong case as best ever
I am sure there are people out there who already consider Anthony Calvillo the greatest CFL quarterback of all time. I still believe Doug Flutie is the best ever, but Calvillo is really starting to make me reconsider my thinking. He has all the career records and just topped Flutie for 5,000-yard passing seasons in a career. When Calvillo finally does hang up his cleats, I might have changed my mind on where he ranks on the all-time list.

(10) Players of the Week
For the second week in a row I am handing my offensive player of the week award to Ricky Ray. Ray came up big for the Argos in their playoff-clinching win in Regina. He went a cool 24 for 30 with 305 yards and four touchdowns. He was great in a crucial game for the Argos and stepped up when the team needed him to do so.

There were three contenders for defensive player of the week. Adam Bighill had eight tackles and two sacks for BC, while Geoff Tisdale picked up two interceptions for the Tiger-Cats. But in the end, Anwar Stewart and his four sacks earn the award. For a guy who was sitting on his couch less than a month ago, he played last week like he hadn't missed any time.

My special teams player of the week is BC returnman Tim Brown. Brown tallied over 200 kick return yards, including a 56-yard touchdown scamper in the second half. It wasn't enough to get BC the win, but it was enough for him to earn the award.

Top Canadian was a little tougher, but Akeem Foster's four catches for 94 yards and a touchdown are enough to give it to him. There were no monster days from any Canadian, but Foster was BC's leading receiver, so the award is his.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Ray Won't Play Thursday

News out of Toronto is that Ricky Ray, as well as a number of dinged up unnamed Argos, will not play in the season finale against the Ti-Cats on Thursday night. The Argos clinched the second seed in the East Division with their win over Saskatchewan on Saturday. They cannot move up or down, so they could use this week's game against the Ti-Cats to rest up for the Semi-Final game they will host on November 11th.

The Ti-Cats need to win on Thursday to even have a chance at the playoffs, and the Argos playing without Ray ups their chances considerably. Of course, we are talking about the Ti-Cats, so nothing is guaranteed. This has the same feel as when Hamilton hosted the Alouettes back in 2010 with Anthony Calvillo sitting because of injury. The thought was that the Cats could take the Als because they were playing their backup, Adrian McPherson. They lost 27-6 and McPherson had a career day. (Interestingly, that was the last time the Als won a game in Hamilton.)

So while that 2010 game pauses me from trumpeting this news as great, I do feel a little better about the team's chances knowing that Ray won't be under centre on Thursday night.

Hamilton 28, Winnipeg 18

And that's a wrap. In the final game that will ever be played at Ivor Wynne Stadium, the Ti-Cats went out and beat the Blue Bombers to send the fans home happy. It was a dreary day and the game was decided pretty much by halftime, but it was nice to watch the Cats win the last game at Ivor Wynne.

Positives
This game was won by the defense. All season, people have been saying that if the offense sputtered, the defense wouldn't be good enough to win a game. That proved incorrect on Saturday. Sure, it took until the 18th week of the season for the defense to put in a performance that used to be typical in these parts, but the defense stepped up when they needed to, forcing five turnovers on the afternoon. They even found a way into the end zone. On a day when the offense mostly played a C- game, the defense came through with an A+ performance.

Geoff Tisdale played maybe the best game of his entire career, picking up two interceptions and locking down receivers all afternoon. Tisdale was reacquired to be a steady presence in the secondary, but has been shuffled in and out of the lineup all season. But Tisdale came through on Saturday with a stellar performance.

Another defensive back, and one that I have had no qualms about ripping, had a great game as well: Bo Smith. Smith has been a whipping boy around these parts for some time, but after his return a couple seasons ago from the New York Jets he played like a different player. He continued that play this season before getting injured and missing a dozen or so games. Smith returned to the lineup yesterday and made fans wonder how good the secondary could have been with him healthy all season.

Negatives
The offense left a lot to be desired, especially in the second half. The Ti-Cats took a 22-3 lead into the locker room and seemed to take their foot off the gas during the final 30 minutes. They allowed Winnipeg to hang around for a little too long, but the luckily the defense bailed them out with key stops.

Much like his play, I've run hot and cold on Henry Burris all season. Yesterday, while he wasn't horrible, he did throw a lot of bad balls. He was over- and under-throwing receivers all afternoon and never seemed to find a rhythm. It is typical of Burris to have a less than decent game after having a pretty good one, and the opposite is also true. If Saturday's game was a mediocre one from Burris, he should be able to light up the scoreboard next week.

Final Thoughts
So that is it; there will never be another game played on the turf at Ivor Wynne Stadium. The Argos made that official with their win over Saskatchewan just a few hours after this game. The Ti-Cats playoff hopes now rest in not just their hands, but in the hands of the Montreal Alouettes and Calgary Stampeders.

For Hamilton to make the playoffs and head to Toronto for the East Division Semi-Final, they have to take care of business themselves next week in Toronto. But they also need to see Edmonton fall to Montreal later this afternoon and to Calgary next Friday. If Edmonton can find a way to win or tie one of those two games, the season will be over for the Ti-Cats.

But more than just the season is over at Ivor Wynne. It now has a date with the wreaking ball. A day that I never truly believed would come is almost here. But at least the Ti-Cats sent the stadium out the right way: with one last win.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Preview: Blue Bombers at Tiger-Cats

5-11
5-11
Overlooked amidst all the hoopla revolving around the closing of Ivor Wynne Stadium is that the final game is still a game, and a darn important one too: the loser of this contest is officially eliminated from playoff contention, while the winner will still have a faint hope heading into the final week of the season. The winner could still be eliminated later in the weekend, but whoever comes out on top in this game will still be alive for at least a couple of days afterwards.

Hamilton comes into the game after last week's heartbreaking loss to the Calgary Stampeders. Moral victories mean nothing at this time of year, but the Ti-Cats showed they still have some fight in them. Winnipeg heads to Hamilton coming off a convincing 44-32 win in Toronto. Left for dead just a month ago, the Bombers are playing their best football right now. But it might be too little, too late for both squads.

Hamilton will also need to reverse close to two years of losing to the Blue Bombers if they hope to keep their slim playoff chances alive. Hamilton has lost six straight to Winnipeg, including last year's East Division Final, with two of those losses coming at Ivor Wynne Stadium.

If the Ti-Cats play with the heart they displayed a week ago in Calgary, they should be able to get the win. Winnipeg is playing some great football right now, so they cannot be overlooked. They just play better with Buck Pierce at quarterback and Pierce has made a living torturing the Ti-Cats since he signed with the Bombers in 2010.

I expect this game to be a good one, with two teams clinging to faint playoff hopes fighting it out to stay alive. Hamilton might have the emotional edge and the fans are going to be ramped up for their final visit to Ivor Wynne Stadium, so this game is shaping up to be a fantastic one. Kick off is at 1:00PM.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Goodbye Ivor Wynne Stadium

For my entire life, I have only had one football home: Ivor Wynne Stadium. It has been there since before I was born and I, as well as everyone else, will file in one last time to watch a Tiger-Cat game.

Seeing an old stadium torn down to make way for a new one is always bittersweet, especially one with as much history as Ivor Wynne. Whether it is the 1972 Grey Cup, the 1996 Grey Cup, the 1998 East Final or any other moment, Ivor Wynne Stadium has been home to some of the CFL's greatest events.

The Ti-Cats getting fancy new digs is long overdue, but there will always be a part of me that will miss Ivor Wynne Stadium. Some say the stadium is a good representative of the city it sits in; it's tough, old school, a working class stadium for a historically working class town. There is nothing flashy about Ivor Wynne Stadium; it is about as utilitarian as it can get.

Ivor Wynne Stadium is an iconic landmark in a country that doesn't celebrate its iconic landmarks like it should. I've often called it the greatest place to watch a game and I stand by that claim. For me, Ivor Wynne Stadium is the best and second place isn't even close.

But it is not all sadness because out of the ashes of Ivor Wynne Stadium comes a brand new stadium for all of us to enjoy. Forget the politics of it all, forget the squabbles that lead to using the same site, now is not the time for any of that. Now is the time to say goodbye to one of the last iconic stadia in Canada while saying hello to what will hopefully be a stadium that will stand for another 80 years.

There will never be another Ivor Wynne Stadium, so when you head to the stadium tomorrow, take a couple extra seconds to soak it all in one final time. I know I will.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Aaron Hunt Tweets About Ti-Cats' Issues

Many have wondered about why the Ti-Cats have failed to reach the lofty expectations that greeted them at the start of the season. There has been speculation ranging from locker room turmoil to player-coach clashes to coach-coach clashes. No one has yet said definitively just why the Ti-Cats have struggled so mightily this season.

Until now, sort of.

Former CFL all-star defensive lineman Aaron Hunt took to Twitter this evening and spilled some beans on just what the Ti-Cats' problems are. This is information he said he got from players, so it is probably pretty accurate. He doesn't name which players gave him this information, for obvious reasons, but there doesn't seem to be any reason to not believe him. He could be making everything up, but would be the point in that? Hunt is currently out of the league after being released by the Montreal Alouettes in July.

Anyway, here are the tweets from Hunt regarding the reasons behind Hamilton's problems this season. You can decide for yourself whether Hunt is credible or not.



Ivor Wynne Memories: 1998 East Final

With it being the last season of Ivor Wynne Stadium, I said I am going to post some of my personal memories I have of the stadium. This edition will look at my favourite single moment at Ivor Wynne Stadium: Ozzy's kick.

When I decided I was going to write about some of my favourite memories of Ivor Wynne Stadium, there were two games I knew I was going to write about: my first game and the 1998 East Division Final.

If you are a Tiger-Cat fan, you know all about the 1998 East Division Final. The Tiger-Cats, after a 2-16 season in 1997, went west and grabbed Ron Lancaster, Danny McManus and Darren Flutie. The revamped Tiger-Cats went 12-5-1, finished first in the East Division and earned the right to host the East Final against what ended up being the Montreal Alouettes.

I was just 16 in 1998 and purchased tickets to the East Final a few days before the game from a neighbour who couldn't go. If not for the offer, I probably would have watched the game on TV and missed out on one of the greatest moments of my young life.

The seats were great; my friend and I sat in the fifth row of Box E. We were so close that we could interact with players. When Eric Carter intercepted a Tracy Ham pass, we looked him square in the eye and flashed his signature arm cross (he made an 'X' with his arms) and he saw us and did it right back. As a 16-year-old kid who grew up loving the Ti-Cats, this was a really cool moment (to be honest, I still think it is cool).

The game was great, and the Cats took a lead late into the fourth quarter. But Ham led the Als down the field and threw a touchdown with less than 30 seconds to go in the game. I remember the air coming out of the stadium. We were devastated. It looked like the Cats were going to come up short.

By this point in the game, everybody was standing. When McManus drove the Cats into field goal range in 20 seconds, we all held out collective breath as Paul Osbaldiston lined up for the kick. Anyone who watches football knows that a 54-yard kick is not easy. It felt like an eternity waiting for the kick. But Ozzy hit it and he hit it perfectly. The Cats had won and were going to the Grey Cup!

I had never high-fived and hugged so many people in my life. Strangers ceased to be strangers after the kick sailed through the uprights. It was a love fest the likes of which I had never experienced before and haven't since. It was truly something you had to be there to experience. If you were there, you know what I mean.

And thanks to YouTube, we can enjoy this moment whenever we want. It is a video I never get tired of watching and I am sure I am not alone.

For as long as I live, I will remember this moment, this game. It is by far my favourite memory of Ivor Wynne Stadium. Whenever I think about Ivor Wynne Stadium, this is the first thing I think about. I know I will be thinking about it on Saturday when I sit at Ivor Wynne Stadium for the final time.

This is a place that means many different things to many different people and has been around a lot longer than I have, so I would love to hear what some of your favourite Ivor Wynne moments have been. Thanks for going done memory lane with me. I hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing about it.

Monday, 22 October 2012

10 Things I Learned... In Week 17

As hard as it is to believe we are heading down the home stretch of the CFL season. I say the same thing every year, but I can't believe how quickly the season has flown by. As a fan of the league, it has been a great one to watch; lost of exciting games with unexpected twists and turns. It has been one of the most unpredictable seasons in recent memory and that makes for more exciting football.

(1) Kick for a Million regains some lost lustre
The Kick for a Million contest was fun when it first started. The very first guy kicked the 50 yarder and won the million, but after that it was a series of guys who couldn't make a 10-yard kick if they were allowed to throw it through the uprights. It started to become boring. But this year's kicker, Rich Pope, changed all that. He nailed the 20- and 30-yard field goals with ease and missed the 40 yarder wide (though it had the distance). For the first time, it looked possible that a million dollars would be handed out. He missed the kick short, but the excitement and anticipation was back. I hope we don't go another half decade between decent kickers, but this year's event was well worth watching.

(2) Game of the year: take your pick
When deciding the best game of the 2012 season, Week 17 will have three contenders. It started Friday night with a thrilling back-and-forth affair between the Argos and Bombers, continued Saturday afternoon in a game that went down to the final play between Montreal and Saskatchewan, and ended with the Snow Bowl in Calgary between the Ti-Cats and Stamps. All three showcased what the CFL is all about and anyone who watched any of them, let alone all three, was highly entertained. Hopefully these are the types of games we get when the playoffs start in a couple of weeks.

(3) Als, Lions claim division titles
Speaking of the playoffs, we now know that the road to the Grey Cup will go through BC and Montreal. Both the Als and Lions clinched their respective division titles over the weekend. Both teams have tremendous home-field advantages (they both play in domes) and it will be difficult for any team to beat them in the division finals. That said, I'm going to go out on a limb and say one of them doesn't get to the Grey Cup.

(4) Winnipeg's offensive explosion
Where was that offense all season? The Bombers average over their first 15 games was just under 20 points a week; on Friday night they scored 24 in the first half and ended the game scoring 44. It was Winnipeg's highest offensive output all season and the first game scoring over 40 since a double overtime win over BC in Week 15 of the 2010 season. If that is the type of offense the Bombers will put together next year, their bad 2012 season may prove to be a one-off.

(5) Mike Reilly should look at homes in Ottawa
With Ottawa returning in two years, speculation has already begun as to who they will take in the expansion draft. The position that is first discussed is always quarterback. Many names have been thrown out there, but Mike Reilly might be at the top of the list after his performance in his first career start against Edmonton on Friday. Reilly filled in for the injured Travis Lulay and the Lions didn't miss a beat. Reilly looked like a polished veteran and was impressive from start to finish. Reilly is a free agent after this season, and he could attract interest from teams this winter, but if he dosn't get a starting job in 2013, I fully expect him to be drafted by the Ottawa franchise to be their quarterback of the future.

(6) Golden age of Canadian running backs
For the first time since 1957, the CFL features two 1,000-yard Canadian running backs. Andrew Harris joined Jon Cornish as a 1,000-yard rusher this season. Two Canadians haven't rushed for 1,000 yards in the same season since Gerry Jones and Normie Kwong did it in 1957 (they also did it in 1955). If Jerome Messam had not tried his luck in the NFL, it is possible that we could have seen three Canadians rush for 1,000 yards (Messam rushed for 1,000 yards last year). There have been a lot of good Canadian running backs over the years, but I don't think we have ever seen as much Canadian talent at running back as we are right now.

(7) Need more Rod Smith
For the most part, I find the guys that do commentary and play-by-play for CFL games on TSN do a pretty good job (there is one big exception to that, and I'm sure everyone knows who that is), but I really enjoyed listening to Rod Smith call the game between Montreal and Saskatchewan. For a guy who has done just a handful of CFL games over the years, he sounds like a seasoned pro. With his duties hosting Sportscentre, I doubt he'll make a permanent move to the broadcast booth, but I would like to hear him call more games in the future.

(8) Snow games
I love games played in the elements. When the weather is bad, you get games like the one we saw between Hamilton and Calgary. A snowstorm, in October no less, made the Cats-Stamps game one for the ages. With the likelihood that four of five playoff games will be played indoors (East Semi-Final and Grey Cup at the Rogers Centre SkyDome in Toronto, East Final at Olympic Stadium in Montreal and West Final at BC Place in Vancouver), there is the possibility that we have seen our one and only snow game in 2012. Maybe we'll get lucky and the West Semi-Final, to be played at McMahon Stadium in Calgary, will feature another heavy snowfall. One can hope.

(9) Calvillo can scramble
One of the knocks, if you can call it that, on Anthony Calvillo is that he is not a great runner. While I have not bought that line of thinking for some time, I hope we can put it to rest after his two touchdown runs against the Roughriders. These weren't one-yard plunges, either; Calvillo's two touchdowns came on runs of 14 and 22 yards. The days of saying Calvillo can't run should have ended long ago, but hopefully now they are gone for good. (Side note: If I hear one more person refer to Calvillo as "The Kid from La Puente" I am going to punch a dying rabbit. I get it; they did a documentary about him with that as the title. I don't need to be pounded over the head with it every time he touches the ball.)

(10) Players of the Week
There were a lot of stellar offensive performances over the weekend, from Jason Barnes' three touchdown catches to Anthony Calvillo's masterful performance against the Roughriders, but Ricky Ray played perhaps his best game in an Argonaut uniform and is my offensive player of the week. Ray threw for 383 yards and four touchdowns in a losing effort against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The Argos may have come out on the losing end of that game, but it wasn't because of Ray.

There were some pretty good defensive performances, but Keon Raymond took an interception 100 yards for a touchdown against Hamilton and is my defensive player of the week. Raymond also had eight tackles and two sacks to go along with the interception touchdown, and was easily the best defensive player this week.

Not a lot in the way of special teams play this week; Hamilton's Onrea Jones had a big return and recovered a huge onside kick, but it wasn't enough to take my special teams player of the week award away from Saskatchewan's Weston Dressler. Dressler only had two punt returns, but he made the most of them by returning one of them to the house for a 43-yard touchdown. It's pretty standard to give a guy who returns a kick for a touchdown the award and this will be no different.

Tough to choose the top Canadian because there wasn't really any standout performances. But despite not doing anything in the running game, Jon Cornish found success in the passing game. Cornish had just 27 yards rushing, but had 108 receiving and scored two touchdowns. It was a typical night from Cornish, but it was good enough for me to name him the best Canadian in Week 17.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Calgary 34, Hamilton 32

Normally I break down the game into columns, but I am doing away with that for this game. Positives and negatives mean very little after last night. This will be a bit of a therapy session for me because this was, in every sense of the word, heartbreaking. Truly, truly, heartbreaking.

Just when I think the Cats can't find a new way to lose, they go and botch a gimme field goal with no time left. It was stunning sitting in my chair watching as the final two minutes unfolded. The Cats were down by eight after having just squandered a golden opportunity when Bakari Grant fumbled as the Cats were driving for perhaps he game-winning score. Instead, Calgary scooped up the loose ball and scored to extended their lead to eight. Hamilton marched down the field to score and get the game within two. Then they ran perhaps the worst two-point play every attempted and the game was over. The Cats were going for the onside kick, but that never works.

Oh, expect when it does! Luca Congi's kick landed right in the hands of Onrea Jones (who had a great day on special teams) and the Cats had a chance with a little less than a minute left to win a game that could completely turned their season around. Henry Burris fired a deep one to Chris Williams that put the Cats in field goal range with about 45 seconds left. The Cats ran twice to run the clock out and get Congi in a position to kick the winner from 32 yards out. Then the unthinkable happened.

In a play that ripped the heart out of Ti-Cat Nation, Andy Fantuz couldn't place the ball on the kicking tee, and instead of making a chip shot that could have changed the entire tenor of this season for the Ti-Cats, the Cats scrambled to make a play. Fantuz was tackled and the clock was at zero. The Cats, despite picking up seven Calgary turnovers, lost 34-32.

I know I just wrote a bunch of words about the game, but I do feel genuinely speechless. I don't know how to put into words how I feel after this loss. I'm not angry that they lost. I'm also not the negative guy who knew this would happen. I feel now like I felt when the Cats lost to the Argos in the 2010 East Division Semi-Final. I feel empty.

It almost feels cruel that there are still two games left because this one truly felt like a season ender. The Cats still have a chance to make or host a playoff game, and we still have next week's closing of Ivor Wynne Stadium, but this loss tonight makes me feel like the season is over. But with two games left and a slim chance to make the playoffs still out there, the season isn't over. I will continue to hold out hope that they can get into the playoffs and become the first 7-11 team to win the Grey Cup.

But all hope aside, this does feel like the end. And while I know we will say good bye to Ivor Wynne Stadium next Saturday, I feel like we all just said goodbye to Hamilton's Grey Cup chances in 2012.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Preview: Tiger-Cats at Stampeders

5-10
9-6
Hamilton needed help to keep their playoff hopes alive and they got it. Winnipeg beat Toronto and BC beat Edmonton, which means a win by the Cats in tonight's game in Calgary will put them one game back of both Toronto and Edmonton with two to play.

But while that is undoubtedly a stroke of very good fortune, fortune has not favoured the Ti-Cats in their recent excursions to Calgary. During Bob Young's tenure as owner of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, one of the most infrequent occurrences is a Hamilton win in Calgary. Since 2004, the Ti-Cats have won just once in Calgary... and that was in 2004. The Ti-Cats have lost seven straight to the Stampeders at McMahon Stadium, and most have been of the blowout variety. So while the Ti-Cats could really use a win tonight, it won't come easy.

There are a ton of subplots to this game, be it Henry Burris' return to to Calgary or Kevin Glenn (and the rest of "Ti-Cats West") taking on his former team, the only thing that matters is a win. The Ti-Cats have to win. Everything fell their way last night and they have to take advantage of that.

If there was ever a time for the Ti-Cats to beat back the Cowtown jinx, it would be tonight. We'll see if Burris can make his homecoming a successful one when the two teams kick things off at 7 p.m.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Ivor Wynne Memories: 2004 Playoff Clincher

With it being the last season of Ivor Wynne Stadium, I said I am going to post some of my personal memories I have of the stadium. This edition will look at the Hamilton's playoff-clinching win over the Ottawa Renegades in 2004.

It's been longer than I anticipated bringing this back up, but with the recent news that football will be returning to Ottawa, I thought now was a good time to present the latest instalment of my year-long trip down Ivor Wynne memory lane.

Today's might be a bit obscure; this might not be a game that most people remember. It's one I don't have a lot of memories from, but I do remember the ending and I do remember how great it felt after that game.

Tiger-Cat fans are forced to put up with a lot of things, but the worst is the having to listen to people bring up the most shameful part of our collective past: the 1-17 2003 season. Nothing was worse than having to live through that terrible year. As every CFL fan knows, it took until the 14th game of the year, a home game against the Saskatchewan Roughriders, for the Ti-Cats to finally get one in the win column. During that year, the team went into bankruptcy protection and was purchased in October by Bob Young.

So after a tumultuous 2003, not much was expected going into 2004. The team had a new head coach, McMaster's Greg Marshall, but they got out to a hot start, beginning the season 3-0. But it was up and down the rest of the year. But on October 15th, against the Ottawa Renegades, the Ti-Cats had a chance to get themselves into the playoffs.

So enough back story, here's what I remember from the game itself. It was a cold night and the game wasn't a particularly great one, but the way it ended was reminiscent of the 1998 East Final. The magnitude of it wasn't the same, but it may have meant nearly as much to a fan base that had to endure the one-win season. I don't remember the particulars of what happened during the game, but I know it was tied at 17 at the end of four quarters and the two teams had to go to overtime. If the Ti-Cats could pull it out, they would clinch a playoff spot. The Cats kicked a field goal on their first drive to take a 20-17 lead. The Renegades then got the ball and were driving when the Hamilton defense forced a fumble to seal the win. The crowd went nuts, and I mean NUTS, when the Ti-Cats scooped up the loose ball. It was as if a tremendous weight had been lifted. I can still see the Ti-Cats scooping up the fumble to seal the win. It's as fresh in my memory as if it happened yesterday.

The Ti-Cats would unfortunately go on to lose to the Argos in the first round of the playoffs, and the team would fail to make the playoffs for the next four seasons, but the memory of this specific game will stay with me for a very long time.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Webb's Fine, Belli's Return and Burris' Homecoming

After I saw the hit that Dee Webb laid on Marco Iannuzzi last week, I knew he would be fined, and today Webb was fined by the CFL. Webb maintains that the play wasn't dirty – I agree with him on that – and that it didn't deserve a fine, but hits like Webb's will result in a fine because the CFL is trying to take those hits out of the game. While I definitely believe that Webb had no intent to injure Iannuzzi, those types of hits are going to received supplementary discipline. That said, anyone believing the hit deserved a suspension needs to give their head a shake. This was not Khalif Micthell attempting to rip off Simeon Rottier's arm; this was a defensive player trying to make a big hit and unfortunately injuring another player.

News from Toronto today as one of my favourite players is returning to the league. The Argos have signed Adriano Belli for the remainder of the season. I don't think it is any secret that I dislike Adriano Belli. I never liked him when he was a Tiger-Cat and I really disliked him when he signed with the Argos. When he retired a couple of years ago, I was happy to never have to hear his name again. But now I have to put up with him for at least the end of this season. Hopefully, it is only for the rest of the season.

It is going to be a story until the game is over (and I am sure we will hear a lot about it on TSN before, during and after the game), but Saturday's game in Calgary is Henry Burris' homecoming. While I doubt Burris needs any extra motivation, the Ti-Cats need the win to keep their playoff hopes alive, I am sure he will be looking to have one of his best games to show those in Calgary (*cough* John Hufnagel *cough*) that they made a mistake in dealing him.

And before anyone asks, I saw the stuff that Avon Cobourne said on Twitter after last night's presidential debate. I know it has caused a bit of controversy today, but I won't comment on it because, honestly, I don't care. Cobourne isn't the first to say something potentially controversial online and he won't be the last. And I just don't care about what anyone has to say about the presidential election, famous or not. At the end of the day, Cobourne is a private citizen that is entitled to his opinion. That is all I will say on the matter.

Monday, 15 October 2012

10 Things I Learned... In Week 16

The playoff field is starting to take shape with three weeks left in the season. Following in BC's footsteps last week, both the Calgary Stampeders and Montreal Alouettes have clinched playoff berths. That leaves three spots left for five teams. If I had to guess, the Argos, Riders and Esks will take those in the next couple of weeks. But I think that one of the three teams that have already clinched their spot in the tournament will be the one getting their names engraved on the Grey Cup at season's end.

(1) Ottawa is back
The best news of the week was finding out that Ottawa will be back in the CFL. It is still not entirely known if it will be in 2014 or 2015, but football will be returning to Ottawa soon. Now we just need to find out what the name will be. As a fan of history, I want the name to be Rough Riders, but that likely won't happen thanks to the other Roughriders (a decision that was both selfish and completely ridiculous). At the end of the day, what the team is called is pretty immaterial, but we can all celebrate that the CFL will once again have a team in our nation's capital.

(2) We got Pink, we need Brown
This week kicked off the second annual CFL Pink campaign. It is great that the CFL has gotten on board with raising awareness for women's cancers, but it is time the CFL take the lead at get on board the Movember train. With the vast majority of football fans being male, the CFL should do something during November to help raise awareness for men's cancers in the same way they do it for women's cancers. As far as I know, not sports league does anything for Movember and the CFL could set the trend rather than following the trend set by others. We have Pink, it is time for the CFL to add a little Brown.

(3) BC's time of possession
We all watched the Lions mauling of the Ti-Cats on Friday night and if you thought you saw a lot of the BC offense, you weren't mistaken. The Lions held the ball for almost 40 minutes (39:59 to be exact) and that is something I haven't seen since the NY Giants held the ball for a similar length against the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXV. The way to beat the Ti-Cats is to keep their potent offense off the field; the Lions did just that on Friday night.

(4) Winnipeg's unbelieveable point differential
Last year, the Blue Bombers rode a stout defense to a Grey Cup appearance, so to find out that the Bombers have given up 165 more points than they have scored so far this season was shocking. I know the team made a lot of changes, but they are giving up an average of 11 points more per game than they are scoring. It might sound simplistic, but that pretty much sums up why the team that went 10-8 and made the Grey Cup last year is 4-11 and on the verge of elimination just one season later.

(5) Esks take a huge step forward
When Kavis Reed demoted Marcus Crandell and named Kerry Joseph his starter for the remainder of the season, it sure seemed like they were giving up on this season. Reed had no history on offense, save for one year as a running backs coach, and Joseph is nearly 40. It sounded like a recipe for disaster. Instead, the Eskimos have rolled off two straight wins and are not only looking good for a playoff spot, but they might not even be the crossover team. The Esks are just one game back of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, who they manhandled on Saturday, and could very easily find themselves in Calgary on Semi-Final weekend. The Esks might be hitting their stride at just the right time.

(6) Gotta give Glenn props
Everyone knows that I am a Kevin Glenn fan, so it is nice to see him play well, even if he is no longer a member of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. But not even an ardent Glenn fan such as myself thought he'd have the type of season he is having right now. His numbers aren't otherworldly, save for one: completion percentage. Saturday's game against Winnipeg was the sixth time this season Glenn has surpassed the 70 per cent completion mark in a game. He has been incredibly accurate with the ball this season and that will bode well for the Stampeders when the weather gets cold in November and ball control becomes of the utmost importance.

(7) Boyd released again
Before the games got underway, the Eskimos made the not-so-surprising move to release veteran running back Cory Boyd. When the Argos did this back in the summer, it was met with derision from all because Boyd was leading the league in rushing at the time. But Boyd found himself as the odd-man out in Edmonton. Hugh Charles has established himself feature back, and Jerome Messam returned from the NFL just after Boyd was signed. At 27, Boyd's CFL career cannot be over; someone will take a chance on the him in the off-season (per CFL rules, he is ineligible to sign with another team at this point in the season). I don't know where that place will be, but I have to believe that Boyd will be on a roster when training camps open next June.

(8) Second place and under .500
Before the season started, many openly wondered if this was the year that an East Division team would cross over into the West. Instead, we have the possibility, and maybe even the certainty, of a West team crossing into the East. At this point in the season, only the Montreal Alouettes find themselves above .500; the Argos (7-8), Ti-Cats (5-10) and Bombers (4-11) could all finish under .500, with both the Ti-Cats and Bombers assured of doing so. So much for that power shift many thought was coming.

(9) Als still the Als
Sticking with the East, despite being a very flawed team, the Als are once again the class of the division. At 9-6, they are the lone team above the .500 mark and are looking like they will once again represent the East Division in the Grey Cup. Much like the belief that western dominance would come to an end, many thought the Als would take a step back this season. Instead, we get the same thing we've had for over a decade.

(10) Players of the Week
Hugh Charles ran over, under and around Roughrider defenders all night to the tune of 152 yards in a crucial win for the Eskimos. He may have had a little extra motivation playing against his former team, but Charles has put together a very good season in Edmonton and has already rushed for more yards this season than in his other four seasons combined. He was superb on Saturday night and is my offensive player of the week.

Get a pick six and chances are you'll find your name here, and Shea Emry got himself a pick six, so he is my defensive player of the week. The pick by Emry was the game-sealing play for the Alouettes, so the timing could not have been better. Emry was the best defender on any field this past weekend.

No highlight reel plays on special teams this week, but the best of the bunch was BC's Tim Brown. Brown returned three kicks for 104 yards, including a 77-yard scamper that set up a Lions touchdown. Brown didn't get much work because the Tiger-Cat offense didn't score much, but he made the most of his opportunity and is my special teams player of the week.

The battle for top Canadian is really heating up, but this week there was no contest. Andrew Harris was the top Canadian after putting up 121 total yards and two touchdowns in BC's win over Hamilton. Those 121 yards gave him 1,365 for the season, a new single-season record for yards from scrimmage by a Canadian player. Harris has been outstanding all season and was so once again on Friday night.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Stadium Look Revealed

Despite this news coming out before Friday's debacle against the Lions, it wasn't until after the game that I really got a chance to take a look at the plans for the new stadium.

I'm not going to get into whether building on the Ivor Wynne site is a good idea or not, or whether any of the other locations would have been better. Those are debates that should long be dead. For better or worse, this is the place where the stadium is going to be. But now we know what it will look like.

Part of the unveil I found somewhat anticlimactic. Pretty much everything that was shown, we already knew about. We knew it was going north-south as opposed to east-west. We knew there would be no end zone seats. We knew that the stadium would be expandable to around 40,000 so the city could host Grey Cups.

Much like the debate that centred around this whole stadium process, there are going to be those that love it and those that hate it. I'm solidly in the middle. I will wait until it is built and I can sit in it before I make a definitive judgment. Seeing what it will look like gets me excited and makes it finally feel real. I look forward to taking my seat in the new place in July of 2014.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

BC 37, Hamilton 17

I have witnessed some putrid football at Ivor Wynne Stadium during my two decades of attending games, and last night's Stinker in Pink (both teams wore pink gear to kick off the 2012 CFL Pink campaign) against the BC Lions ranks up there with some of the worst performances I have ever witnessed. The whole night was just a waste. The team was terrible, the weather was cold and the outcome was all but decided by the end of the first quarter.

Positives
This will be short, sweet and feature but one name: Avon Cobourne. In every game, win or loss, the only player I see that looks like they remotely give a crap is Avon Cobourne. He plays hard every play and I would hate to see where this team would be without him. The team is bad right now, but it would be even worse if he wasn't around.

Negatives
The secondary has been a lightning rod for criticism over the last couple of years and last night I might have figured out why. It looks like the guys they have playing defensive back just don't have any instincts. And it is not just one player either. Plenty of times I saw the ball going to a receiver that was decently covered and the Ti-Cat player covering him never turned to make a play. A lot of those times, they would be called for pass interference. The DBs just didn't know when to turn to try to knock down or pick off the pass. It is something that has probably been obvious for some time, but I really picked up on it last night.

Despite the offense's inability to do much of anything after the first quarter, this loss hangs on the defense. Forget the 37 points against, the defense allowed the Lions to march down the field at will, offering nothing in the way of resistance. Sitting in the stands, we were joking about how many yards BC would pick up on one of their many second-and-long plays to get the first down. Too many times, we were right. There is way too little time to fix anything now, but this unit, from the coaching staff on down to the plays, will need a major overhaul in the off-season if they hope to field even a competent defense next season.

But like pretty much every Tiger-Cat loss this year, mistakes did them in. Sometimes it is turnovers and sometimes it is penalties, but it is always something. Tonight, it was penalties. Two touchdowns were called back due to penalties (they got one of them back a couple of plays later) and what could have been a game-turning interception was negated by an offside penalty. Another typical showing for the Ti-Cats in 2012.

Final Thoughts
The Ti-Cats, at 5-10, will finish under .500 for the sixth time in eight years. But this might be the most disappointing of all those sub-.500 teams. Hopes were higher this year than in any since 1998/1999, and they have come crashing down in an almost unfathomable way. The Ti-Cats have won five games all year, three of which came in the month of July. Since their bye week, the Ti-Cats have won two of 10. The fact of the matter is, this just isn't a good football team. And depending on the outcomes of the games this afternoon, the Ti-Cats could find themselves in last place in the entire league. Not exactly what was expected back in the off-season.

Next up for the Cats is a trip out west to take on the Calgary Stampeders. McMahon Stadium has not exactly been a kind place to the Tiger-Cats in the last 10 years. Hamilton was won once in their last 10 trips to Calgary. And when they lose, they usually get blown out. Going to Cowtown does not seem like a recipe for success.

Three games left before we can put this miserable and disappointing season behind us. Those three games cannot come soon enough.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Preview: Lions at Tiger-Cats

10-4
5-9











Hamilton has been playing must-win games since Labour Day, so using that term for tonight's contest against the BC Lions is as meaningless as it is accurate. Despite the numerous must wins the team has had over the last month and a half, they are still in the playoff hunt and, even more miraculously, still in the race for a home playoff date.

But before we get ahead of ourselves and start talking about playoff games, the Ti-Cats will need to beat the Lions tonight if they hope for any of the above to occur, and doing that will not be easy.

The Lions are once again the class of the league and are the favourites to take home their second consecutive Grey Cup. But last year, when the Lions went on their ridiculous run after starting 1-6, their one loss during their next 13 games (including the playoffs) was a 42-10 drubbing at the hands of the Ti-Cats at Ivor Wynne Stadium. No one thought the Ti-Cats would win that game, but they did. The plot is very similar for this week's game.

Perhaps the biggest key for the Ti-Cats is to limit turnovers. I know it sounds simple, but not turning the ball over has been an issue for the Ti-Cats. They have been careless with the football far too often, with Henry Burris being one of the worst offenders. The guy has played great for many stretches, but the team goes as he goes and when he goes bad, throwing picks and fumbling the football like he did last week in Edmonton, so does the team.

But these two teams often play each other very competitively. In their last eight games (including their 2009 playoff encounter), the Ti-Cats have won five and the Lions have won three, and only twice (both Tiger-Cat wins) have been decided by more than eight points. These two teams just seem to play their best against one another and it could be another close affair in the final meeting between the two teams at Ivor Wynne Stadium.

And don't forget that tonight's game is the annual CFL Pink game for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. The team will be selling plenty of pink merchandise and the players will be wearing pink accessories on the field. Interestingly enough, last year's pink game was also against the Lions.

So can the Ti-Cats do the unexpected again and beat the Lions? We'll find out when the game kicks off at 7:30PM tonight.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

10 Things I Learned... In Week 15

After 15 weeks we have our first playoff team and that is the BC Lions. The Lions clinched their spot in the post-season with their win this week over Calgary. The Lions are also close to clinching first place in the West, which would mean the road to the Grey Cup will go through BC Place (at least for teams in the West).

(1) The East stumbles
Taking a look at the East Division right now and it looks like a division in shambles. None of the four teams have displayed any level of consistency and believe it or not, the 5-9 Ti-Cats can still win the division and the 4-10 Blue Bombers can still make the playoffs. This was supposed to be the year where the East took the title of best division from the West, but as the records show, that didn't happen.

(2) Changes to award nominations
Duane Forde used his platform on TSN to say that the process of selecting year-end award finalists needs to be changed. He said the old method of team nominees and then division nominees is no longer good enough. His idea was that there should be three finalists for each award regardless of a player's division or team. I think this is a good idea. Is there any doubt that the two best special teams players are on one team this year (Hamilton's Chris Williams and Luca Congi) or that the top-two Canadians play in the West (Calgary's Jon Cornish and BC's Andrew Harris)? Yet someone from the West is going to go up against one of those three, most likely Williams, and the winner will be obvious before it is announced. It is time to do away with the East vs. West model and get on board Forde's plan.

(3) Score first and win
TSN put up an interesting stat during the Winnipeg-Montreal game that said 20 of the last 24 games were won by the team that score first. That number became 22 of 26 when the Bombers and Riders, both of whom scored first, beat their respective opponents. That's a pretty incredible statistic and shows that if you can get an early lead, it bodes well for your chances. This is something I am going to keep an eye out on for the remainder of the season, so don't be surprised if this stat pops up again before the year is over.

(4) Forget Whitaker, Andrew Harris is the real Two-Way
For the last year or so, Montreal's Brandon Whitaker has been known as Two-Way Whitaker thanks to Matt Dunigan. As good as Whitaker has been, and he has been good, I think the real player that deserves the Two-Way nickname is BC's Andrew Harris. No disrespect to Whitaker, but Harris is the best dual-threat player in the CFL. He is fourth in the league in receptions with 64. That's more than Chris Williams, S.J. Green and Fred Stamps. For a running back, that's impressive.

(5) The Courtney Taylor story
The story of BC Lion receiver Courtney Taylor is an astounding one. The first-year CFL player was diagnosed with MS back in 2008 and sat out for two full football seasons after being released by the Seattle Seahawks. On Saturday night, Taylor started for the Lions because of injuries to Arland Bruce and Geroy Simon. While his numbers weren't eye popping – two catches for 29 yards – the fact that he started and contributed is a great story.

(6) Intentional grounding needs tweaking
After watching the Saskatchewan-Toronto game, I have come to the conclusion that the rule for intentional grounding needs to be changed. In the first half of yesterday's game, a Rider defender had Argo quarterback Jarious Jackson wrapped up for what would have been a sack, but Jackson was able to muscle a throw out that came nowhere near any Argo receiver. The rule states that as long as the ball goes further than the line of scrimmage, then a receiver does not have to be in the area. But if what Jackson did, throwing the ball away to avoid taking a sack and losing yards, is not intentional grounding, then I don't know what is. Jackson clearly had no interest in completing the pass, he just didn't want to take a sack. That, in my opinion, is a text book example of what intentional grounding should be.

(7) No Geroy, no Bruce, no problem for BC
Despite being without their two veteran, all-star receivers in Arland Bruce and Geroy Simon, the BC Lions had no problem becoming the first CFL team this season to get to double-digit wins. BC always seems to have a cupboard stocked with talent at every position that no matter who goes down, they have someone there to take his spot. The Lions are very clearly the best team in the CFL right now and the next best isn't even close. Don't be shocked if these Lions do what no other team before them could: win back-to-back Grey Cups.

(8) Kory Sheets and the rookie of the year award
If you were to ask most people who the best first-year CFL player has been so far, I'd say the majority of them would point to Kory Sheets. Sheets has already amassed over 1,000 rushing yards and his nine rushing touchdowns ties him for first in the league in that category. So he is a shoe-in for rookie of the year, right? Wrong. Because Sheets suited up in the NFL, he is ineligible for the CFL's top rookie award. While I understand the reasoning of the rule that says you are not a rookie if you play in a regular season game in the NFL, it needs to not be so hard and fast. Sheets had exactly one carry for five yards in his NFL career; that's not exactly the same as Ricky Williams playing for the Argos. Sheets is, by all measure, a CFL rookie and as such, he should be eligible for the top rookie award.

(9) Sideline interviews with hockey players need to end
Generally, I enjoy TSN's coverage of the CFL. I think it has been light years better than CBC's coverage and I think "Canada's Sports Leader" has done an excellent job of promoting the league. But that doesn't mean they are perfect and the one area that needs to be fixed is the sideline interviews during games, especially those with hockey players. I don't want to see Kevin Bieksa on the sidelines taking about the NHL lockout during the Stampeders-Lions game. CFL broadcasts should be focusing on football, not giving airtime to an NHL player. Let that stuff be shown and talked about on the myriad other TSN shows that focus on hockey, but please, just let the CFL be about the CFL.

(10) Players of the Week
This week's offensive player of the week is Edmonton's Fred Stamps. There were a lot of great offensive performances in Week 15 – Stamps' teammate Kerry Joseph, and Winnipeg's Joey Elliott and Chris Matthews – but Stamps was a force unlike any other this week.

The week's best defensive player also comes from Edmonton, defensive back Chris Thompson. Thompson had two interceptions against the Ti-Cats on Friday night, the 25th and 26th of his six-year CFL career. Since being dealt from Hamilton following the 2009 season, Thompson has 15 interceptions and three against his former team. Thompson is a ball hawk and he put those skills to good use against his old club.

One of the feel-good stories of this CFL season has been the re-emergence of Sandro DeAngelis. DeAngelis was run out of Hamilton following a subpar 2010 season, spent the 2011 season as a backup in Montreal and was unsigned at the beginning of the 2012 season. But he found his way to Regina and has been slowly getting himself back into the form that made him the most accurate kicker in league history. This past week against Toronto, DeAngelis connected on five of six field goal attempts and has hit 23 of 29 this season. He was by far the best special teams player on any team this past weekend.

Like a pinball, the title of best Canadian bounces back and forth between Calgary's Jon Cornish and BC's Andrew Harris on an almost week-to-week basis. This week, the title belongs to Harris as he out-duelled Cornish when the two went head-to-head in BC. Harris finished with 125 yards from scrimmage and one touchdown on 19 touches. He was simply outstanding for the Lions on Saturday.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Edmonton 35, Hamilton 20

Up, down, up, down. I guess we should know the pattern by now. After a week after the team was up and beat the Als, the follow it up by being down and losing to the Eskimos. It's another road loss, their sixth of the season, and the team now sits one game behind Edmonton for the final playoff spot.

Positives
I honestly have none. Avon Cobourne was very good, Chris Williams had a decent game and Henry Burris set a new Tiger-Cat single-season record for touchdown passes, but that's about all the positives I can pull from tonight's game. Some players, like Burris and Dee Webb, had decent outings, but also made costly mistakes that lead to the team suffering their ninth defeat of the season.

Negatives
The pass defense was brutal. Kerry Joseph threw for over 350 yards; Fred Stamps had over 200 yards receiving; and the secondary dropped potential interceptions, the worst being Dee Webb's drop that led to an Edmonton touchdown. Matt Carter's touchdown, where two DBs line up on three receivers, was the apex of their ineptitude this week. A rough, rough outing from the back five.

We can fawn over his 34 touchdown passes and his 4,000 passing yards, but the amount of turnovers Henry Burris commits, four in this game, are a real liability. I don't care if he throws for 500 touchdowns, if he can't protect the football, it won't matter.

Not so much a negative for this game, but I can't be alone in thinking that dealing Chris Thompson for Maurice Mann was one of the worst moves this franchise has ever made. Thompson picked off Henry Burris twice last night and now has 15 since being dealt prior to the 2010 season. Mann, for those that don't remember, did nothing while he was here and was dealt to Toronto last October. There was little justification for the trade then and it looks even worse now.

And perhaps the biggest negative of all, and maybe the biggest negative all season, was the questionable decisions made by head coach George Cortez. It started before the game even began when the team made Brandon Peguese, he of two sacks in three games and the man that has created nothing but havoc in opposing backfields since arriving last month, a healthy scratch. Then during the game, Cortez challenged a three-yard Matt Carter catch. Not a three-yard touchdown catch, just a three-yard catch. It made no sense because the gain wasn't worth the risk (the Cats lost the challenge and their timeout). And then there was the third-and-one play where the team lined up in the shotgun and handed the ball off five yards deep in the backfield. In a game the Ti-Cats needed to win, the coach put them in bad situations with terrible decision making.

Final Thoughts
Alright, so, now the team is behind the eight ball once again. One game out with four left to play and a team that can't win on the road. So even if they sneak in the playoffs, what hope is there that they can win in the playoffs? They will have to win twice on the road to get to the Grey Cup and they haven't won twice on the road in seven road games this season. I don't like their chances.

But with the way this team has played over the last month, we should probably expect them to come out hard and defeat the BC Lions next week. That's just how nutty this season, and this team, has been in 2012.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Preview: Tiger-Cats at Eskimos

5-8
5-8
Following last week's win over the Montreal Alouetes, it seemed like everyone in Tiger-Cat Land breathed a sign of relief. The loss the week prior to Winnipeg had everyone on egg shells, but then the Cats blew the doors off the Als and all was good. But that all means little if the Ti-Cats don't take care of business this week and leave Edmonton with a win.

While the Cats still have an outside shot of finishing second, the fact of the matter is that Hamilton is battling the Eskimos for the final playoff spot in the East Division. That makes tonight's game in Edmonton perhaps the most meaningful of the season. A Tiger-Cat win would put them at 6-8 and the Eskimos at 5-9 with four games left to go. For the Eskimos to cross over into the East, they must have a better record than the Ti-Cats. An equal record, say both teams finish 8-10, means the Cats make the playoffs. That makes a win tonight all the more important because it would essentially give Hamilton a two-game advantage on the Eskimos.

To get the win, the Cats will have to play the same type of game they did when they last met the Eskimos. Hamilton won that contest 51-8 and did so with a smothering defense that didn't allow Edmonton's bread and butter, their running backs, to beat them. They forced Kerry Joseph, who this week was named Edmonton's starter for the rest of the season, to beat them and he couldn't. Do the same at Commonwealth and the Ti-Cats will come home victorious.

But winning in Edmonton has not been easy for the Ti-Cats. In their last 10 trips to the City of Champions, the Ti-Cats have won just once, a 20-18 squeaker in 2006. But the silver lining is that the Cats usually play well enough to win, but don't. Aside from last season's 28-10 beating, Edmonton's margin of victory has been two (2010), one (2009), five (2008) and two (2007) since Hamilton last won there. The ball bounces a different way and maybe those losses become wins.

Hamilton will also get a boost because Edmonton linebacker J.C. Sherritt will miss the game due to a knee injury. Sherritt is the front runner for defensive player of the year this season and his loss will be significant for the Eskimo defense.

The Ti-Cats can really put some distance between themselves and the Eskimos with a win tonight. Now they just have to go out and get the job done. We'll see if they can when the game gets underway at 9 p.m. on TSN.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Congi Named Player of the Month; Milton Named to Hall of Fame

A couple of tidbits of information on this Wednesday evening.

We start with Luca Congi being named the Special Teams Player of the Month for September. Congi has been nothing short of fantastic this season, but especially so in September. He connected on all 15 field goals he attempted during the month and that helped stretch his consecutive made field goal streak to 21. He is nine away from tying the record set by Paul McCallum just last season. This is the third straight month that a Tiger-Cat has won this award – Chris Williams won them in both July and August – and Congi is the fourth Tiger-Cat – Burris was named the top offensive player for July – to win a player of the month award. A Hamilton player has been named a player of the month in each of the first three months and the team will try to make it four for four in October.

The other piece of news is that The Hamilton Spectator's Steve Milton will be getting inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in November during Grey Cup week in Toronto. Milton was selected by the Football Reporters of Canada to be inducted into the media section of the famed building in downtown Hamilton. I find that Milton is an excellent observer of the little nuances that mostly go unnoticed and I personally always look forward to reading and hearing his take on the team and the game. This is a well deserved honour and one that probably should have been bestowed long before this year. But better late than never.