Wednesday 30 November 2011

Cats Fire Bellefeuille

When teams fail to reach their potential, changes come. Today Marcel Bellefeuille was fired by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats because they did not reach their potential.

Bellefeuille took over from Charlie Taaffe on September 8, 2008 on an interim basis and had the interim tag removed in October of that year. In his three full seasons with the Tiger-Cats, Bellefeuille guided Hamilton to two second-place finishes and three playoff appearances, winning this year's East Division Semi-Final against Montreal.

I have already freely admitted that I was torn on whether the team should retain Bellefeuille. I felt that in winning the Semi-Final in Montreal he had done enough to warrant a fourth season as Head Coach, but I guess the Ti-Cats brass, and specifically General Manager Bob O'Billovich, did not feel the same way.

Two names have already been thrown around as potential replacements: Defensive Coordinator Corey Chamblin and Calgary Offensive Coordinator Dave Dickenson.

I don't really like either rumoured candidate. Both have exactly one year of Coordinator experience and would bring with them the same growing pains that all rookie coaches bring. They could both turn out to be excellent Head Coaches, but the same was thought of Bellefeuille when he was hired and now he's unemployed. Basically, when it comes to first-time Head Coaches, you just never know.

If the Cats made this move to take the next step – as O'Billovich said in his statement following the decision – then they must bring in an experienced coach, because that is the only way this move makes sense. I don't necessarily mean a coach with Head Coaching experience, but one that has more than a single year's experience would make sense. If the Cats choose to hire another young, up-and-coming Coordinator, that would be a lateral move. We don't even know if Dickenson or Chamblin are good at their current jobs, so a promotion might be premature.

One man I think the Tiger-Cats should seriously look at is Winnipeg Defensive Coordinator Tim Burke. Burke has been to the last four Grey Cups as a Defensive Coordinator (with Montreal in 2008, 2009 and 2010, and Winnipeg in 2011), winning with the Als in 2009 and 2010. He turned Winnipeg into arguably (and maybe inarguably) the best Defense in the CFL in 2011.

The expectations will be high for whomever the Tabbies pick as their next Head Coach. Those expectations were not in place when Bellefeuille took the job back in 2008. The team will need to be sure that the next man to lead the Cats is prepared to deal with sky-high expectations from Day 1. The talent is here, so a Grey Cup run in 2012 is not at all out of the question. Who will lead the team now is.

But let's not forget what Marcel Bellefeuille accomplished in Hamilton during his three-plus years as Head Coach. He took a terrible franchise – one that won 15 games in four seasons – and returned it to respectability. That, in itself, is something worth remembering.

The Bellefeuille Era did not result in a championship parade or even a division title, but it did result in pride being restored to Tiger-Cat football, pride not felt in a long time. Hamilton became a team to be feared and respected, and that wasn't the case before Bellefeuille took over.

His inability to take the Cats to the promised land ultimately cost him his job, but he did make Tiger-Cat football important again, and for that he should be thanked.

Sunday 27 November 2011

BC Wins the Grey Cup

Winnipeg did their best to make it interesting, but the BC Lions are the 2011 Grey Cup champions.

BC started off hot, but only led 14-6 at halftime. Winnipeg got the score to as close as 14-9, but the turning point of the game was when the score was 24-9 and Odell Willis drops a sure interception that he could have walked into the end zone. The Lions kept the ball and on what was basically the Arland Bruce drive, scored the backbreaking touchdown that all but ended the game.

Winnipeg scored two touchdowns in the final three minutes of the fourth quarter, but it was too little too late. BC took care of business and became the first team to win the Grey Cup on home soil since 1994.

The game's MVP was Travis Lulay. He threw for 320 yards and two touchdowns against a very good Winnipeg Defense. This was Lulay's first full season as a starter and he won the MOP, Grey Cup and Grey Cup MVP. What will he do for an encore?

Andrew Harris was the game's Most Valuable Canadian. His stats weren't otherworldly, but he had a solid outing, scoring the game's first touchdown and finishing with 65 yards on 10 carries. Harris has a bright future ahead of him.

Speaking of bright futures, both BC and Winnipeg look like teams that could compete for championships for a long time. Both looked dominant at different times this season. Winnipeg started the season 7-1 and BC finished the season (including the playoffs) an amazing 12-1. With the veterans both these teams will bring back, along with a slew of talented young players, both teams could very easily meet again in the 100th Grey Cup.

But that is next year; this year, the BC Lions are the Grey Cup champions and congratulations to them (and specifically to former Tiger-Cat Arland Bruce) on that accomplishment.

Friday 25 November 2011

Changes Needed for the CFL Player Awards

Last night, the CFL handed out their Player Awards, and while it was a special night for all the players who were honoured, there are aspects of the process that are archaic and should be changed.

For starters, the process for selecting nominees is outdated. Team nominees are voted on by a small cadre of writers from a team's home city, as well as the Head Coach. Back when the game was more regional and it was hard for people to see each team, this made sense. But for the past few seasons, all 72 games have been broadcast on TSN, and then archived on TSN's website. Anyone who wants to watch every game can do so rather easily. The days of people in Vancouver not being able to watch games played in Montreal are over, and have been for some time.

Yet the league still relies on this antiquated model for deciding who is up for the league's awards. The outcry that followed Anthony Calvillo's selection for Alouettes' MOP over Jamel Richardson, thus making Richardson ineligible for the league award, shows that people outside of Montreal were paying attention. Voters in the seven other markets are just as qualified to speak on who the best Alouette is as they are the best Argonaut or Eskimo. Matt Dunigan even complained about the process when he wondered why he was asked to vote for the league-wide awards, but had no say on the team awards. Like most people, Dunigan follows the league, not just one team. I'd think that the majority of people who are interested in the CFL have an interest beyond their local market.

The system has outlived its usefulness, and changes need to be made. For one, teams really do not need to nominate players for the awards. It makes for some nice stories and gives people something to talk about and debate, but it is unnecessary. Instead, the league should hand an open ballot to the same people who vote on the awards and let them choose who they want. If the league then wants to cut the list down to two finalists who will show up at the awards ceremony, that's fine, but someone like Richardson should not be ineligible for an award because a small group of Montreal reporters decided Anthony Calvillo should be the team's nominee.

The next change is about the announcement of the winners. TSN shows every CFL game, yet instead of airing the awards show live, they aired the 1986 Rob Lowe movie Youngbloods, while TSN2 showed a replay of last week's West Division Final and a repeat of Off the Record. TSN will air the awards ceremony on Saturday, but everyone already knows who won and TSN has already posted a plethora of awards-related videos on their website. Putting the show on Saturday is meaningless since the hardcore fans who would watch an awards show already know who won. The league needs to ensure that the awards ceremony is aired live. Otherwise, there really is no point in airing the show at all.

These are a couple of changes that would benefit the awards. Hopefully the ideas here become a reality in the not-to-distant future.

Smitty's Selections: Grey Cup

At least it's not Montreal and Saskatchewan again. In what was a topsy-turvy year in the CFL, two teams that combined to win zero playoff games in 2010 will play for the championship in 2011. It's just been that kind of year.

99th Grey Cup: Winnipeg vs. British Columbia

This game will hinge on one thing: can Winnipeg's great Defense stop BC's awesome Offense. Winnipeg's Defense limited Hamilton to less than 200 yards of total offense and three points in the East Division Final; BC's Offense scored 40 points against Edmonton in the West Division Final. It will be strength versus strength.

If the game becomes a shootout, Winnipeg does not stand a chance. Their Offense is not built around winning high-scoring games. With the game being at BC Place and the elements not being an issue, I don't think Winnipeg can keep pace with the Lions offensively.

Winnipeg needs to make this a ground-and-pound game, so Chris Garrett will be the key for the Bombers. If he can have half the game he did against Hamilton in the East Division Final, the Bombers will be in a position to score the upset. The key will be for Winnipeg's Offense to keep BC's Offense off the field. The only way they can do that is with a successful running attack.

Winnipeg will put up a valiant effort, but when the clock reaches zero it will be the BC Lions hoisting the Grey Cup on their home field.

Winner: British Columbia, 37-20

British Columbia

Season Record: 42-34

Chris Williams, Kevin Glenn Win CFL Player Awards

Two members of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats won CFL Player Awards on Thursday night, one for his on-field exploits and the other for his off-field contributions.

Chris Williams, as expected, was named the 2011 Most Outstanding Rookie.

Williams's 2011 didn't get off to the best of starts. He didn't play in Week 1 against Winnipeg and had a horrible Week 2 against Edmonton. In Week 3 he scored two touchdowns against Saskatchewan, but it was in Week 4, against BC, that he had his proverbial coming-out party. Williams went off for 189 yards and a touchdown against the Lions, and from there he never looked back.

Williams finished the season leading the Tiger-Cats in receptions and receiving yards. He also lead all rookies in those categories as well. Williams is the fourth Tiger-Cat to be nominated for Most Outstanding Rookie in the last five years, but the first to win the award since Mike O'Shea won it all the way back in 1993.

Williams's win was followed up by Kevin Glenn winning the Tom Pate Award, which recognizes a player's charitable contributions to the community that he plays in.

The most well known of Glenn's many community endeavours is his Touchdowns For Kids program with Tim Horton's. For every touchdown that Glenn scores throughout the season, local Tim Horton's stores donate $200 to send kids to the Tim Horton's Children's Foundation camps.

Glenn is the fifth Tiger-Cat to win the Tom Pate award, and the second in the last three years. Marwan Hage won it for all his great community work back in 2009.

Congratulations to both players for their well-deserved awards.

Thursday 24 November 2011

Two Tiger-Cats Named CFLPA All-Stars

The season may be over, but Tiger-Cats are collecting accolades as Receiver Chris Williams and Running Back Avon Cobourne have been named CFLPA All-Stars.

Williams's selection is no surprise. He had a great rookie season for the Cats, leading the team in receptions and yards.

Cobourne being one of the two Running Backs named is a bit surprising. Cobourne is a great player, and had a very good season for the Ti-Cats (his first in Hamilton), but Cobourne wasn't even named a Division All-Star by the CFL, so it's weird that he would beat out both Cory Boyd and Jerome Messam for the PA's selection.

There were some omissions that were surprising. Neither Jamall Johnson nor Rey Williams made the team, but the biggest snub was Justin Hickman (as well as Odell Willis). I don't know what a player needs to do to be named an All-Star by their peers, but I would think leading the league in sacks, which Hickman (and Willis) did, would be enough. Apparently not.

Anyway, congratulations to both Avon Cobourne and Chris Williams on their selections.

Monday 21 November 2011

The Day After

Another disappointing end to another disappointing season for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. For the twelfth off-season questions surround a team that was not good enough to win the big prize.

But unlike some, maybe even most, I don't think the Ti-Cats need to undergo a massive overhaul. A few tweaks here and there, and this team is right where it needs to be to compete for a championship.

I will start by saying rather plainly that it would be a mistake for the team to part ways with Kevin Glenn. Everyone calling for Glenn's head after yesterday must have forgotten the game he had eight days ago or the year he had in 2010. Glenn is a good Quarterback, and he can only be replaced by a better Quarterback, and there isn't a better Quarterback out there. Henry Burris, you say? Burris is not a huge step up from Glenn, and Glenn has the advantage of having been with the team for three years. Glenn is not the problem with this team and he has never been the problem with this team. Dumping him would be a mistake, in my opinion.

The next target of people's anger is Head Coach Marcel Bellefeuille. I'm not as sold on Bellefeuille as I am on Glenn, but that doesn't mean I think Bellefeuille should fired. There is a part of me that likes Bellefeuille. A lot. A part of me that wants to see him succeed. But there is another part of me that wonders if he is just the next Danny Barrett. A good coach, but not the coach that will lead this team to a championship.

Still with the coaching staff, both Khari Jones and Corey Chamblin should be retained. They were both rookies, and growing pains were to be expected. I think both have the wherewithal to absorb what did and didn't work in 2011, and make the necessary adjustments to ensure it doesn't happen in 2012. Getting rid of either of them would be a step back.

No matter what anyone says, it is undeniable that this is a talented team, stocked with players that can win a championship. The Linebackers are among the best, if not the best, in the entire league. The young group of Receivers can only get better with; the Running Back and Quarterback positions are solidified and not areas of concern. The nucleus is there.

There are two areas that need to be looked at: the Secondary and the Defensive Line.

The Cats tried all year to find the right mix of players in the defensive backfield and never really got it right. That said, there are some good players already on the roster. Ryan Hinds, Milt Collins, Loyce Means and Dee Webb all look like they can be depended on in the future, so hopefully they all return. That leaves one more position to be filed.

The Defensive Line needs work, especially the Tackles. Matt Kirk missed most of the season, and that was a huge blow to the team. Eddie Steele showed promise, but apparently suffered a very serious leg injury yesterday. Robert Rose looks to have a very bright future. He made an impact in almost every game he played.

Losing Marwan Hage makes judging the Offensive Line difficult. There will be some changes along the Line – I don't think Jason Jimenez will return and Simeon Rottier could also be headed elsewhere – so perhaps some of the issues people have will be addressed.

Even in the areas where the team needs to improve, it's not major changes that need to occur. A few tweaks and they're good to go.

Like all fans, I was disappointed by yesterday's loss. It was not the outcome I hoped for, nor was it the one I expected. When the season kicked off on July 1st, I thought it wouldn't end until November 27th. I felt that this was the team that would end the Grey Cup drought.

It was not to be.

But this season wasn't a complete failure, and I have faith that better times and championships are on the horizon. The Tiger-Cats play good football and have for three years. It is time to take it to the next level.

With but a few small changes, 2012 could be the year everything comes together.

Sunday 20 November 2011

Winnipeg 19, Hamilton 3

What if?

Those will be the two words going through my head over the next seven months.

What if Kevin Glenn didn't get hurt?

What if the Cats recovered at least one of the three Winnipeg fumbles in the first half?

Football is a game of inches, and the Bombers got all the inches this afternoon.

The game was won by Winnipeg Running Back Chris Garrett. For a guy who started the year as a third stringer, his play on Sunday was nothing short of remarkable. Hamilton simply couldn't stop him.

The Hamilton Defense allowed only 19 points (and I'll get to the classless call to score the final six points a little later), which is usually enough to win in the CFL.

But what if Hamilton had been able to scoop one or two or all three of the balls that the Bombers put on the turf? That would have flipped the field and given the Cats great field position. Not picking up those loose balls turned out to be a big difference.

At the end of the day, the Defense did enough, but it was Hamilton's Offense – the Offense that put up an impressive 52 points the week before – that let the Ti-Cats down in this one. Just one field goal in sixty minutes will never be enough to win.

But what if Glenn didn't go down with an injury in the third quarter? Glenn wasn't playing great, but he wasn't playing terribly either. One has to wonder, if Glenn had been able to finish the game if the final score might have been different? It probably wouldn't have been – it looked like it was just Winnipeg's day – but we'll never know.

Before I wrap this up I would like to address one final thing. I heard all week how dirty and low and classless it was for the Tiger-Cats to sign Terence Jeffers-Harris. The Bombers and Paul LaPolice upped that today by scoring a completely meaningless touchdown on the last play of the game. With the clock already at zero, Buck Pierce handed the ball to Chris Garret who scored a complete unnecessary touchdown. That was a low class move by the Blue Bombers. There was no need to score that touchdown; the game was already over (literally). I'm not one to complain about running up the score – this is professional football and it is the other team's job to stop their opponent – but I also don't think scoring when you absolutely have nothing to gain is the right thing to do. I lost a lot of respect for Paul LaPolice for doing that.

But regardless of what the Bombers did on the game's final play, the Tiger-Cats' 2011 season has ended. There is some good to take from 2011; the fact that the team got to the East Division Final is a step in the right direction.

But another promising season ends in disappointment, and that is tough to swallow. It means it will once again be a long winter in Steeltown.

Saturday 19 November 2011

Preview: East Division Final

Despite all the headlines that off-the-field matters are garnering, there is still a game to play on Sunday. A game that I am fairly sure is pretty important.

Sunday's East Division Final is the biggest game for the Tiger-Cats since their last trip to the East Final, which also happened to be their last game against Winnipeg in the playoffs, back in 2001.

The Tiger-Cats are coming off a game where their Offense scored 52 points, but it would be stunning if they matched that output (or even came close) against Winnipeg's. The Winnipeg Defense likes to create turnovers and get sacks, leading the league in both categories during the regular season. It will be of the utmost importance to keep Kevin Glenn upright and for him to avoid turning the ball over.

Winnipeg's Offense is not the type that keeps Defensive Coordinators up at night. The Bombers did not score more than 33 points in a single game all year (they did it twice). In contrast, Hamilton scored 33 points or more on seven occasions in 2011. If the game does become an offensive shootout, the edge goes to the Tiger-Cats.

The Bombers, however, have the edge on Defense, with a ball-hawking Secondary and one of the fiercest pass rushes in the entire CFL. The Cats are no slouches themselves, but Winnipeg has the defensive advantage. A game where points will be at a premium would benefit the Bombers, but not kill the Cats. That said, Hamilton only recorded one victory in 2011 when they scored fewer than 30 points, but never lost when they scored over 30. If the Cats get to the 30-point mark, they should win the game.

It is expected to be cold and windy in Winnipeg on Sunday, so the running game and field position will probably be deciding factors in which team books their flight to Vancouver.

All the off-field stuff has added fuel to the fire that is the burgeoning Hamilton-Winnipeg rivalry, but the game still needs to be played.

And that game should be pretty good.

Friday 18 November 2011

Smitty's Selections: Division Finals

Just to show you what kind of year it has been in the CFL this season, none of these four teams made their respective Division Finals last season. Edmonton and Winnipeg both missed the playoffs, and BC and Hamilton were both eliminated in the Semi-Final round.

East Division Final: Hamilton at Winnipeg

Raise your hand if you had the Bombers hosting the Cats in the East Final back in June? Yeah, that's what I thought. This is going to be a low-scoring slugfest. The conditions are not going to be conducive to throwing for 500 yards or scoring 50-plus points. This is going to be a ground and pound game, and one where field position will make a difference. Jovon Johnson said he thinks Winnipeg will keep Hamilton to around 20 points. I agree, but unfortunately for the East Division's 2011 Most Outstanding Defensive Player, his team will only score 17.

Winner: Hamilton, 20-17

West Division Final: Edmonton at British Columbia

Since the BC Lions last won the Grey Cup on their home soil, seven teams have hosted their division final with the chance to play at home in the Grey Cup: Edmonton (1997, 2002), BC (1999, 2005), Calgary (2000), Toronto (2007) and Montreal (2008). The Eskimos in 2002 and the Alouettes in 2008 are the only teams to get to the Grey Cup from that group. Tall task for the Leos. They have the team to do it, but something tells me the Eskimos (who have lost twice at BC Place this season) have the juice to pull the upset.

Winner: Edmonton, 31-27

Hamilton, Edmonton

Season Record: 42-32

Thursday 17 November 2011

Report: TJH to TigerTown

Earlier today, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers released Receiver Terence Jeffers-Harris because he violated team rules.

That is completely reasonable, but now it looks like it might not have been the smartest move.

Arash Madani of Sportsnet is reporting that Harris left Winnipeg and is now in Hamilton.

This is a pretty unbelievable development. Harris has a lot of talent, but he also comes with one major thing: information.

Harris has been with the Blue Bombers all season, and I have to believe he was at practice this week, so he knows some of the plans Winnipeg has for Sunday's game.

I am truly at a loss for words right now. Hopefully, things clear up a bit in the morning, but as things stand right now, it looks like Jeffers-Harris is going to try to stick it to his old employer.

A Rivalry Renewed

When people think about the rivalries in the CFL they usually talk about Toronto-Hamilton, Calgary-Edmonton or Winnipeg-Saskatchewan. Others have sprung up recently – Hamilton-Montreal was pretty intense this year; Calgary-Saskatchewan had some fire to it because of playoff matchups and the Henry Burris factor – but they pale in comparison to what I would call The Big 3.

But another less celebrated rivalry gets dusted off this weekend in the East Division Final: Winnipeg-Hamilton.

These two teams have a lot of history between them, but most of it is not known to fans under the age of 50. The heyday of the rivalry was the 1950s and 1960s, when the Bombers and Ti-Cats met in the Grey Cup in seven times (1953, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1961, 1962 and 1965). In total, the Blue Bombers and Tiger-Cats have met in eight Grey Cups and four East Division Finals. At one time, these were the two giants of Canadian football.

The rivalry died down for next four decades as Winnipeg bounced from East Division to West Division and back again, and both teams went through some down years. It's hard to cultivate a rivalry when both teams spend as much time in last place as they do in first place. The last time these two teams met in the playoffs was the 2001 East Division Final. It is also the last time both teams made the playoffs in the same season until this year.

The rivalry has become a little more heated over the last couple of years, starting when the Tiger-Cats eliminated the Blue Bombers from playoff contention on the final day of the 2009 season. That game will forever be remembered as The Boat Game.

This season saw some back and forth, especially via social media. Dave Stala took exception to the nickname the Blue Bombers gave themselves (yes, I am still boycotting using that ridiculous term) and the wife of Blue Bomber Head Coach Paul LaPolice to exception to Stala's comment. Probably one of the silliest spats in recent memory.

A major key to any great rivalry is fan involvement, and I have noticed a nasty rivalry brewing between the two teams' fans. Just go to the CFL forum and read the back and forth between some of the Tiger-Cat faithful and their Winnipeg counterparts or read what fans of both teams write in comment sections on newspaper articles. The hate for the other just oozes off the page.

But until Sunday, these two teams had not met in a truly meaningful game since that 2001 East Division Final. So while there has been some sniping at one another, it doesn't compare to the time when these two teams battled for league supremacy.

But all that could be changing. With the Toronto Argonauts in another rebuilding mode, and the Montreal Alouettes dynasty looking to be on its last legs, the time is now for the Tiger-Cats and Blue Bombers to take the clock back to when it was a two-team show.

If these two clubs can continue to meet in playoff matchups over the next few seasons, we could look back on Sunday's East Division Fial as the day a long-dormant rivalry was renewed.

Wednesday 16 November 2011

Hickman Named CFL All-Star

The CFL announced their league All-Stars today and the lone Tiger-Cat was Defensive End Justin Hickman.

Hickman was one of the best defensive players in the league this season, most notably tying for the league lead in sacks with 13. His selection was almost guaranteed and is definitely completely deserved.

I was a bit surprised to see none of the other four Tiger-Cats – Linebackers Jamall Johnson and Rey Williams, Receiver Chris Williams and Kicker Justin Medlock – were named. I thought Johnson had an excellent shot at being named, and I would have put him in there ahead of Chip Cox.

I also thought that Chris Williams could be named, but seeing the four Receivers that were selected – Jamel Richardson, Geroy Simon, Fred Stamps and Nik Lewis – it's hard to complain about Williams's omission.

But congratulations to Justin Hickman on his first league All-Star selection.

Tuesday 15 November 2011

Johnson, Thigpen Named Players of the Week

After Sunday's thrilling 52-44 overtime shootout win over the Montreal Alouettes, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats had two players honoured with Player of the Week recognition.

Jamall Johnson was named the Defensive Player of the Week. Johnson had a monster performance in his return from injury. Johnson had six tackles, one sack, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and one interception. Johnson's play directly resulted in 10 Hamilton points.

Marcus Thigpen was named the Special Teams Player of the Week. Thigpen provided great field position for the Tiger-Cat Offense all day Sunday, finishing the game with 171 kickoff return yards on seven returns.

Congratulations to both players.

Instant Classic

Yesterday's thrilling 52-44 overtime win by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats over the Montreal Alouettes was best summed up by Kevin Glenn:
"I would call it a CFL classic."
Truer words were never spoken.

It has taken some time to really digest what just happened on Sunday. I don't mean that from the perspective of a Tiger-Cat fan who is still a little stunned that his team will be playing in the East Division Final, but from the perspective of someone who loves history (sports and otherwise) and has had one question floating around in my brain since Anthony Calvillo's pass to Brandon Whitaker hit the ground to end the game:

Where does this game rank, all-time?

It was a classic, no doubt about it. It was one of those games that people will be talking about years from now. It was that good.

It wasn't the perfect game, but classics never are. There needs to be some intrigue and unpredictability, and that can only come when things don't go exactly as planned. If everything went the way it was supposed to go, Montreal would have won the game with relative ease.

That is what also made yesterday's game so exciting: the underdog won. When you think of past great games, the upset angle plays a big role. Think Boise State over Oklahoma, Appalachian State over Michigan or the New York Giants over the 18-0 New England Patriots. Those game stay in people's mind because they were monumental upsets. While Hamilton over Montreal in the 2011 East Division Semi-Final isn't of the same magnitude, the fact that it was even a slight upset helps it inch up the ladder.

It being a playoff game makes it more meaningful. The game had added value because it was winner goes on, loser goes home. Classic games played for championships are at the top, with playoff games not far behind. When the stakes are the highest, the pressure is the highest and the outcomes have the most meaning.

So where does this game rank? It cannot be first. That spot is (probably) forever reserved for the 1989 Grey Cup between Hamilton and Saskatchewan. If you haven't seen, words do not do it justice. Despite the fact that the Tiger-Cats lost, this is still the best game I have ever seen.

But after the 1989 Grey Cup, I can't think of one game I would say was exceedingly better than the one played between the Tiger-Cats and Alouettes on Sunday. There are others I appreciate:
  • the 2005 Grey Cup between Edmonton and Montreal
  • the Labour Day Classic in 2004
  • the 49ers-Packers Wild Card playoff game in 1998
  • the no punts game between the 49ers and Bills in 1992
  • the 2005 "Bush Push" game between USC and Notre Dame
  • the 2006 Rose Bowl for the BCS National Championship between USC and Texas
I am sure there are others I am forgetting, but those are the ones that first came to mind.

Some of those games meet some of my criteria that should rank them ahead of Sunday's epic battle (namely the '05 Grey Cup and '06 Rose Bowl), so anyone who says those games rank higher will get no argument from me.

But no matter how you slice it, Sunday's game between the Als and Ti-Cats definitely ranks somewhere in the top 5.

I'll be interested to see not only where people think this game belongs in the pantheon of great games, but also what other games people think deserve mention.

Sunday 13 November 2011

Hamilton 52, Montreal 44

What! A! Game! These two teams traded blows for more than 60 minutes in a contest that will go down as an all-time classic. This game was punch-counter punch from the start.

What impressed me the most was how Hamilton handled adversity. Chris Williams dropped a sure touchdown, a very controversial replay challenge on a Brandon Whitaker fumble (someone care to show me where the "indisputable evidence" was to overturn that call), a horrible pass interference call on the next play led to a Montreal touchdown, they lost an 11-point lead, a brain fart time-count violation that cost the Cats 10 yards and pushed Justin Medlock back to 53 yards on his field goal attempt, and then Medlock missed the ensuing field goal which sent the game to overtime are all of things that could have demoralized the Cats. Instead, they kept fighting and didn't let the unlucky breaks cripple them. It was a great showing of mental strength.

That's not to say that the team didn't have its share of amazing performances. Avon Cobourne ran hard and with a purpose all game, Bakari Grant picked the perfect time to have his breakout game, Jamall Johnson was a monster on Defense, and the Offensive Line allowed zero sacks and paved the way to a 161-yard rushing performance. Everything clicked for the Offense, and the Defense did just enough.

But the coaches deserve some credit too, especially beleaguered Head Coach Marcel Bellefeuille. Bellefeuille gets hammered by Tiger-Cat fans, but today he outcoached one of the best coaches in the CFL. The decision to sit Stevie Baggs was met with almost universal disdain, but after the game Jamall Johnson had, the decision proved to be the correct one. His decision to play Quinton Porter over the final four games paid dividends when Kevin Glenn went down with an injury and Porter came in a lead a touchdown drive. Bellefeuille gets a lot of heat when the team loses, so he deserves some credit for a gutsy win by his charges today.

The Tiger-Cats excised a lot of demons by winning this game. They got their first playoff win in the Bob Young era, they won in Montreal for the first time since 2002, they won a playoff game for the first time since 2001, Kevin Glenn silenced his critics by performing well in a big-game setting and Marcel Bellefeuille did the same by winning his first playoff game as a Head Coach.

As great as this win is, the road only gets tougher. The Cats now travel to Winnipeg to take on a rested Blue Bomber team in the East Division Final. Hamilton lost all three games against Winnipeg this season, so the Cats will have to bring their A-game if they hope to advance to their first Grey Cup since 1999.

For the first time in a decade, the Tiger-Cats will be playing during the second week of playoff games. As a fan, that is exciting, but the team has bigger goals. Goals that can only be reached with a win next week in Winnipeg.

Preview: East Division Semi-Final

Storylines aplenty for the first playoff clash between Hamilton and Montreal since 2001.

There is Avon Cobourne going back to Montreal; the Kevin Glenn-Quinton Porter situation, which is not that big of a deal, we know Glenn will start and be given every chance to succeed; and the complete collapse by Montreal over the final three games. Then you add Stevie Baggs missing the game due to ration issues and it makes things even more interesting.

But no matter what people talk about prior to the game, only 60 minutes truly matter.

For Hamilton, they need to do two things to come away with a victory. First, the Defense needs to pressure Anthony Calvillo. Teams that have done that this year have had tremendous success. The Tabbies also have to slow down Jamell Richardson and Brandon Whitaker, but making Calvillo's life miserable is the most important, and that will have a trickle-down effect on Richardson and Whitaker.

Secondly, the Offense, and particularly Kevin Glenn, needs to get into a rhythm early. Getting the running game going is important, but the passing game needs to be crisp. If Hamilton's Offense can click from the get go, the Cats will have more than a puncher's chance of winning this game.

The first 15 minutes of this game will decide the outcome. Whichever team wins the first quarter wins the game. It will be important for both teams to get out to an early lead. These two teams are evenly matched, and the one that starts the hottest will pull out the victory.

Hamilton has played, and lost, two very close playoff games in the last two years while Montreal has blown out the last two teams to visit Montreal in the post-season. In this game, something will have to give.

Saturday 12 November 2011

Baggs Won't Play


That's the first word that came to mind upon hearing about the benching of Stevie Baggs for tomorrow's East Division Semi-Final versus Montreal.

Baggs hasn't had the best of seasons, but with pressure on Anthony Calvillo being one of the things Hamilton has to do if they hope to win, taking Baggs out of the lineup is surprising.

I understand that a change was needed to get Jamall Johnson back on the field – his versatility in both pass coverage and pass rush makes him more important than Baggs – but not playing Baggs is astonishing.

This is one of the those moves that if it pans out, Bellefeuille looks like a genius. But if the Cats lose, he will be second guessed to death. In fact, he is probably already being second guessed by many fans.

Personally, I don't like it. The team brought Baggs in after Labour Day last season for just these types of games. Despite noting having the kind of season he hoped for, Baggs is still a player that opposing teams need to gameplan for. He can be a difference maker.

Now he sits, and I have to wonder if perhaps Baggs has played his last game in Black & Gold. Now is not the time to go into stuff like this too thoroughly, and I admit that I may be reading way too much into this, but if the Cats beat the Als, what will be the incentive to play Baggs in Winnipeg and/or the Grey Cup? What will be the incentive to pay him big bucks if the team can win without him? It'll be interesting to see how everything plays out in off-season.

But the Cats still have a game to play tomorrow, and they will stunningly do it without Stevie Baggs.

A juicy game just got a lot juicier.

Friday 11 November 2011

Smitty's Selections: Division Semi-Finals

Playoff time. The games don't get much more important than this. Two teams will see their seasons end on Sunday, while the other two will go on to the Division Finals. The closest season in recent CFL history has five more games to excite, surprise and entertain.

East Division Semi-Final: Hamilton at Montreal

All signs point to Montreal. They are the two-time defending champs, they'll be at home, and they have one of the greatest Quarterbacks to ever play the game. All signs point away from Hamilton. They haven't won a playoff game in 10 years, they were 2-7 on the road in 2011, and they haven't won in Montreal since 2002. But for reasons other than homerism, I just feel like Hamilton is ready to take that next step. They have no pressure and no expectations; everyone thinks they are going to get trounced. But something in my gut tells me they are going to find a way to pull it out. Call me crazy, but I think the Cats are headed to Winnipeg.

Winner: Hamilton, 27-24

West Division Semi-Final: Calgary at Edmonton

The Battle of Alberta, one of the fiercest rivalries in the CFL. Edmonton won the season series against the Stamps, but that was before Calgary made two huge changes in benching Quarterback Henry Burris and Running Back Joffrey Reynolds for Drew Tate and Jon Cornish. This will be a different Stampeder team than the one Edmonton faced in the regular season. The Stamps will move on to BC.

Winner: Calgary, 31-27

Hamilton, Calgary

Season Record: 41-31

Thursday 10 November 2011

Ti-Cats Gettin' Their Mo' On

At the beginning of the month I lamented the fact that the CFL did not have an official Movember program. I praised their work with the CFL Pink campaign and felt they could do just as much to help raise awareness with a Movember campaign.

That still hasn't happened – and hopefully it will next year – but that hasn't stopped the Tiger-Cats from getting in on the fun.

Yup, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats have members of their office staff growin' some mos.

This is awesome! All of these men that work for the Tiger-Cats should be praised for getting involved. Hopefully this is only the beginning, and next year the Movember movement can go from the office to the field.

Five Cats Named East Division All-Stars

Five members of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats we named East Division All-Stars earlier today. Justin Hickman, Chris Williams, Rey Williams, Jamall Johnson and Justin Medlock were the five men named.

Justin Hickman tied for the league lead in sacks with 13 and was Hamilton's nominee for Most Outstanding Player and Most Outstanding Defensive Players.

Chris Williams burst onto the scene in his rookie year by leading the team in receptions and yards. Williams is also the favourite to be named Most Outstanding Rookie, so his season was a tremendous success.

Rey Williams and Jamall Johnson both finished in the top-10 in tackles, with Williams finishing with 91 and Johnson finishing with 77. Both players played key roles in getting Hamilton back to the playoffs.

In a year when the kicking game was very strong, Justin Medlock had a banner year. Medlock tied for the division lead in points (197), and finished the season second in field-goal accuracy. He also made a habit of booming 50-plus-yard field goals, hitting more than any other Kicker. Medlock was Mr. Automatic for the Cats.

Congratulations to all five men.

Wednesday 9 November 2011

Player Award Finalists

Earlier today, the finalists for the 2011 Gibson's Finest CFL Player Awards was announced. For the most part, I think the right choices we made, with one exception. Now let's take a look at who is up for what.

Most Outstanding Player
East: Anthony Calvillo (QB, Montreal Alouettes)
West: Travis Lulay (QB, BC Lions)

Leaving aside the whole Jamel Richardson controversy, these were the only two who could be named. These two, out of the eight men selected for consideration, were the two best players in 2011. Calvillo led the league in passing yards, was the only Quarterback to throw for over 5,000 yards, tied for the league lead in passing touchdowns and threw the fewest interceptions. In every all those categories, Lulay finished second.

That would seem to make it a slam dunk for Calvillo since he led in every major statistical category. But the image of last Saturday night, when Calvillo and Lulay dueled will be hard to forget. Lulay outplayed Calvillo in every way imaginable, and while the award is for the season, it will be hard to look past what happened in the final game.

Calvillo has set the bar so high that he is his own worst enemy. Calvillo's 2011 season wasn good, but not as dominant as previous seasons. Lulay, however, got better as the season went on. He will also score points for leading the Lions from 1-6 to 11-7 and first in the West. I'm giving this one to Lulay.

Winner: Travis Lulay

Most Outstanding Defensive Player
East: Jovon Johnson (DB, Winnipeg Blue Bombers)
West: Jerrell Freeman (LB, Saskatchewan Roughriders)

This was probably the most difficult award to pick two nominees from. Keron Williams in BC, Justin Hickman in Hamilton and Chip Cox in Montreal could all have easily been their division's finalist and I doubt anyone would have complained. In fact, Hamilton's Rey Williams, Winnipeg's Odell Willis and BC's Solomon Elimimian were not even nominated and all could have won the award. It was a very good year for defensive players in the CFL.

Both Johnson and Freeman had great years. Johnson led the league in interceptions, while Freeman led the league in tackles and was the only player to break the 100-tackle mark. It will be tough to decide between these two as both are deserving. But Johnson was the best player in a very good Secondary on the better team. That swings it for me.

Winner: Jovon Johnson

Most Outstanding Canadian
East: Sean Whyte (K, Montreal Alouettes)
West: Jerome Messam (RB, Edmonton Eskimos)

This one is a no-brainer. I could justify Whyte's selection and debate his merits, but we all know this is going to Messam and rightly so. He was the first Canadian Running Back to rush for over 1,000 yards since Sean Millington in 2000. Messam deserves this award.

Winner: Jerome Messam

Most Outstanding Special Teams Player
East: Chad Owens (WR, Toronto Argonauts)
West: Paul McCallum (K, BC Lions)

This is the only award where I actually have a problem with who was selected. That problem is not with Paul McCallum. He is very deserving and should win the award. The problem here is Chad Owens.

This looks to be a case of the voters choosing style over substance. Don't give me the 3,000-plus combined yards because I don't happen to think that is a very significant feat. With the amount of points the Argos surrendered in 2011 – a league-high 498, to b exact – Owens had plenty of chances to get return yardage on kickoffs. He also played Receiver, ran back both punts and missed field goals, giving him ample opportunity to get to 3,000 combined yards. As long as Owens keeps all of those jobs, he should eclipse the 3,00-yard mark every season. If Owens can get recognized for this season, then he will pretty much have a stranglehold on the East nomination for the rest of his career.

Last year, Owens was 100 per cent deserving of the award. In 2011, he is not. This should have gone to either Sean Whyte or Justin Medlock. With Whyte getting the East nomination for top Canadian, Medlock should have received the Special Teams nomination. Last season, Special Teams was dominated by return men. This year, it's been the Kickers that have garnered the most headlines. Owens was the wrong choice. Hopefully, McCallum will win the award to somewhat right this wrong.

Winner: Paul McCallum

Most Outstanding Rookie
East: Chris Williams (WR, Hamilton Tiger-Cats)
West: JC Sherritt (LB, Edmonton Eskimos)

Sherritt had a very good first year in the CFL. He finished 13th in league in tackles, third on his own team. He made an impact in his first season that helped take Edmonton from last in the West in 2010 to second in 2011.

Despite that, Chris Williams is the winner and it's not even debatable. Williams finished he season seventh on yards (1,064), eighth in receptions (70) and tenth in touchdowns (6), leading all rookies in each of those categories. Williams also pitched in on Special Teams. Williams's impact was so great it allowed Hamilton to ship out veteran Receivers Arland Bruce and Maurice Mann.

As good as Sherritt was, Williams was better.

Winner: Chris Williams

Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman
East: Josh Bourke (OT, Montreal Alouettes)
West: Jovan Olafioye (OT, BC Lions)

I've said it over and over, but picking the best O-Lineman is one of the hardest things to do. You only hear their names when they miss a block, give up a sack or take a penalty. Most people (and I would include myself in this as well), don't really pay attention all that much to the Offensive Line. I know both players have had great seasons, and anchored lines that gave up the least sacks in their respective divisions. Based on little more than he plays for the best team in the league, I'll give this one to Olafioye. But both deserve their nominations and either would deserve to win.

Winner: Jovan Olafioye

Aside from what I think is the ridiculous nomination of Chad Owens, these nominations are pretty solid. My picks are partly prognostication and partly who I would pick. I doubt I'll get all the winners right, but I think everyone I did pick deserves to win. We'll find out who takes home the hardware on November 24th.

Tuesday 8 November 2011

Power Poll (Week 19)

The regular season is over and therefore this will be the final Power Poll of 2011. What a weird season it has been. The season started with Edmonton and Winnipeg on fire, but ended the season not looking so great.. The second half of the season saw BC run roughshod over everyone after starting the year terribly. Toronto and Saskatchewan got off to bad starts and it doomed them for the remainder of the year. Hamilton, Montreal and Calgary were up one week, down the next. It all leads to what will be one crazy tournament.

1. British Columbia Lions (Last Week: 1)

The Lions started 0-5 and have since gone 11-2. If the Lions are not your odds-on favourite to win the Grey Cup, you need to rethink that.

2. Calgary Stampeders (Last Week: 2)

Since Drew Tate was inserted into the starting lineup, Calgary has been a different team. The Stamps have a mysticism about them right now, with Tate being a wild card. Benching Henry Burris in favour of Tate could be the shrewdest move Head Coach John Hufnagel ever made.

3. Edmonton Eskimos (Last Week: 3)

It took the Eskimos more energy than need be to beat the last-place Roughriders, but the end result was a win. Edmonton now gets to host the Stamps in the West Semi. A year after missing the playoffs, that in and of itself is an accomplishment.

4. Winnipeg Blue Bombers (Last Week 5)

No team in the East ended with any momentum, but at least Winnipeg lost to a hot Calgary team. That's little consolation, but they owe a big thank you to the BC Lions. Winnipeg needs to play more like the team that started 7-1 and less like the team that ended 3-7 if they hope to win their first championship in 21 years.

5. Montreal Alouettes (Last Week: 4)

The next momentum-less East team is Montreal, and they could be considered the third-best team if Hamilton had decided to give a darn the last two weeks. The Als were beaten soundly by BC, and look like an old and damaged team. I can't decide if these losses are an aberration or the end of the Montreal dynasty.

6. Hamilton Tiger-Cats (Last Week: 6)

It's hard to take too much away from the loss to Toronto, as the Cats rested a lot of starters. If they beat the Als, then it was a smart move. An 8-10 record will mean nothing if the Cats advance in the playoffs.

7. Toronto Argonauts (Last Week: 7)

I gave serious consideration to jumping the Argos above every other team in the East. They went 3-3 down the stretch and played some very inspired football. They have targeted next year as their year, and it might not be as crazy a notion as we all thought back in mid-September.

8. Saskatchewan Roughriders (Last Week: 8)

Ken Miller stepping down is far from the only change that will happen in Riderville, it's just the first. It was a season to forget in Saskatchewan, and one that will lead to a much different team in 2012 than the one we all saw in 2011.

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

Sunday 6 November 2011

Morning-After Thoughts (Week 19)

It took all 19 weeks, 72 games and 4,320 minutes (well, almost) to figure out the playoff matchups, but now we know who will go where. Winnipeg and BC will be sitting at home while Hamilton travels to Montreal and Calgary heads to Edmonton. The Lions never have to leave home, and have to be the odds-on favourite to win it all. Let the playoffs begin!
  1. The league released its list of all the players up for the end-of-the-year awards and the most egregious omission was, of course, Jamel Richardson for MOP. Calvillo is having a good season, but Richardson is having a career year. The man they call Optimus Prime should have been the team's MOP candidate. He has defined the term outstanding all season.
  2. Despite playing for the team I loathe, congrats to Bryan Crawford on a great CFL career. Crawford is a Hamilton boy, and it's too bad he had to spend his entire CFL career in those ugly blue uniforms. He would have looked nice in the Black & Gold.
  3. Another congratulations to Ken Miller, who is retiring as well. Despite not winning a Grey Cup as Head Coach, Miller was one of the more successful coaches in Roughrider history. He is one of only two Rider coaches to lead the team to back-to-back Grey Cup appearances. Enjoy retirement, Coach Miller.
  4. Nickelback will be performing at halftime of the Grey Cup, but does it really matter? Yes, we all agree that Nickelback sucks, but does anyone really watch or care about the halftime show? I know I don't.
  5. The league is really going to have to do something about the refereeing in the off-season. Marcel Young had one of the worst pass interference penalties called on him against Toronto. These types of terrible calls is going to have to be addressed. It cannot continue.
  6. If I ever hear an Argo fan complain about a dirty player, I will simply point to a picture of Lin-J Shell and tell them to shut it. Shell is as dirty as they come.
  7. Andre Durie was voted the most underrated player in the CFL on Friday. On Thursday, he had his best game as a pro with 144 yards and two touchdowns. I have been trumpeting Durie all season, and it looks like he is ready to breakout. We'll see what Durie can do in 2012.
  8. Not since Sean Millington in 2000 has a Canadian rushed for over 1,000 yards. Jerome Messam joined a very exclusive group by doing just that in 2011. Left for dead by BC, Messam resurrected his career in a big way in Edmonton.
  9. There are great games and then there is the game that Adarius Bowman had against Saskatchewan. He was unstoppable with 226 yards and two touchdowns. I haven't seen a Receiver dominate a game like that since Arland Bruce did it against the same Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2010.
  10. With Andy Fantuz gone for most of the season, Chris Getzlaf stepped up and tallied his first 1,000-yard season of his career. He is the only Canadian Receiver to get over 1,000 yards in 2011.
  11. What is it with players named Baker and smacking people in the face?
  12. With the way that the Riders season has gone, the only way their final game could end was on a critical mistake.
  13. Drew Tate is now 3-0 as a starter since taking over from Henry Burris. Every week he makes John Hufnagel look smarter and smarter. The Stamps were left for dead not five weeks ago, and now they have as good a chance as any of winning the whole thing. Don't be surprised if Tate is hoisting the Grey Cup in three weeks.
  14. Where the hell has Odell Willis been the last month?
  15. A very nice return for Ken-Yon Rambo. In his first game back, Rambo played a major role for the Stamps. His return could be the key to any run the Stampeders want to make.
  16. That has to be the worst game I have ever seen the Montreal Alouettes play. There numbers were putird and they lost 43-1. I'll repeat that: they lost 43-1! The Montreal Alouettes lost by six touchdowns. I never thought I'd type that sentence.
  17. There has been a lot of focus (and deservedly so) on Jerome Messam and Jon Cornish, but don't forget the play of Andrew Harris when discussing the next, great Canadian Running Back.
  18. Congratulations to Shawn Gore on getting his first CFL touchdown. Gore has had a very good season, and it's nice to see him finally find the end zone.
  19. Of the eight men that were nominated, everyone seems to be handing the MOP award to Anthony Calvillo. While he is deserving, I'd give it to Travis Lulay. Calvillo's stats are better, but the eyeball test says Lulay should win the award. Will he? Probably not. But here is hoping the voters see what I see and give Lulay his first MOP.
  20. To end the regular season, I went 2-2 and had a total record of 41-31. Not what I wanted, but not horrendous either. At this time last year, I was 38-34. At least I can say I improved.

Saturday 5 November 2011

Would They Rather...

For the third consecutive season, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats will be playing in the post-season. The difference this year is that the game will not be played in Hamilton. We will find out tonight if Hamilton's Grey Cup odyssey will begin in Montreal or Winnipeg.

But which stadium would be the best place to start the journey? Would the Tiger-Cats be better off heading to the Manitoba capital or the largest city in Quebec?

If Montreal is Hamilton's destination, there are many perils awaiting them. The first is that the Tiger-Cats have not gone to Montreal and won since 2002, and they have not won in Olympic Stadium – where their playoff game would be held – since the 1999 East Division Final. Montreal has also not lost at home in the playoffs since 2004, and have only lost twice at home in the playoffs since 1996. Combine that with the larger-than-normal crowd (upwards of 50,000) and the Alouettes have one of the best home-field advantages in the playoffs.

It is not all doom and gloom, though. Just a few weeks ago, Hamilton came within a failed two-point convert (and some egregious officiating) away from finally winning in Montreal. That near victory could be enough to lift the spirits of the locker room. And, of course, there is always the completely unscientific notion of them being due. Aren't the Cats just due a win in Montreal? There is also the question of whether Montreal would have a hard time getting up for a Semi-Final game. The Als have not had to play on the first week of the CFL playoffs since 2007, and because of their immense success over the past decade and a half, they do not have much experience playing in the Semi-Final. (This is admittedly a stretch, but it could play a role.)

Winnipeg presents its own unique challenges for the Tiger-Cats. CanadInns Stadium would be hosting its final game ever, and there is no doubt that the Bombers would want to win that game almost as much as any other. There is also the fact that Winnipeg has owned Hamilton this season. The Bombers won all three matchups with the Tiger-Cats and just may have their number in 2011. The crowds in Winnipeg have been among the loudest in the CFL this season, and a playoff game would only ratchet up that noise.

Winnipeg has not had the same hex on Hamilton as Montreal has. The Cats have won in Winnipeg twice in the last three seasons, with one win coming on the final day of the 2009 regular season where it was win or go home for both teams. The prospective Hamilton-Winnipeg matchup would mirror the elements of last year's Toronto-Hamilton playoff game. The Cats had won all three matchups in the regular season (blowing the Argos out in the final meeting in October; similar to what Winnipeg did to Hamilton this year) and then laid an egg at home in the playoffs. The scenarios are strikingly similar.

Looking at all the factors, a trip to CanadInns next Sunday is probably the best place for Hamilton to start their quest for the Grey Cup. This is the first time Winnipeg will be playing in the post-season since 2008, and playoff neophytes are prone to mistakes or letting the moment get the best of them. In fact, Hamilton in 2009 is the perfect example of that. This is not to say that Hamilton will beat Winnipeg, just that Winnipeg poses fewer threats than Montreal.

We will know tonight where Hamilton will play in eight days when the curtain falls on the 2011 CFL regular season. Will it be Montreal? Will it be Winnipeg? We are about to find out.

Friday 4 November 2011

Toronto 33, Hamilton 16

There is not much to say about this game. This was a meaningless game for the Cats and it showed. They didn't play with any fire or with any sense of urgency. It seemed like they didn't even want to be there.


I won't go so far as to say Markieth Knowlton had a disappointing season, but as the reigning Most Outstanding Defensive Player, his play was off his usual standard. But he played his tail off against the Argos. A sack, a forced fumble and an interception is a nice defensive hat trick. He played probably his best game of the season.

Dave Stala saw his most action in weeks, leading the team with nine catches and 84 receiving yards. He was hurt on the penultimate play of the game, but it doesn't appear to be too serious. Stala played well tonight, and hopefully he can carry that over into the playoffs.

A player who will not get much notice, but who I think played well was Canadian Receiver Liam Mahoney. He didn't have big numbers – only two catches for 27 yards – but I saw some nice blocks out of him and he played with a lot of hustle. I was impressed by his performance tonight, and he could have a very bright future.

One last player who I think deserves some praise but will also likely go unnoticed is Receiver Jeremy Kelley. Kelley did not record a catch, but he played excellently on Special Teams. I don't know what his future holds, but hopefully he finds a way to stay with this team. If he plays Receiver as hard as he plays Special Teams, he could be something special.


The first place to start is with the Offensive Line. They did not play a good game at all. The Quarterbacks were given no time at all, and the running lanes were not there either. I know that Jason Jimenez was benched because he takes the occasional stupid penalty, but I think the five yards he gives up once a game may be worth what he adds to the O-Line. His nastiness is something that this team could use right now. At worst, he does a better job blocking than his replacement did tonight.

Marcel Young had one of the worst days I have seen. In defense of Young, he was victimized by one of the worst pass interference calls I have ever seen. But Young also allowed the Argo Receivers to beat him in coverage on a number of occasions, and he took some deserved pass interference calls as well. It was not a good game from Mr. Young.

Final Thoughts

While it would have been nice to get a win, the final score was meaningless. The only game that matters is next Sunday at 1PM EST. I'm sure if the Tiger-Cats could have forfeited this game prior to kickoff, they would have considered it. You could tell from the very beginning that they did not want to be there.

The Cats now finish the regular season at a disappointing 8-10. This is the first time under Head Coach Marcel Bellefeuille that they have finished anything but 9-9. But that record will not matter if they win next week in the East Division Semi-Final.

And that is where the focus turns next, because no matter what transpired on the turf at the Rogers Centre SkyDome, the Tiger-Cats main concerned is preparing for the playoffs. With this game being played on Thursday, it gives Hamilton two full days of rest over whoever their opponent winds up being (both Winnipeg and Montreal play on Saturday). Both the players and coaches get extra time to prepare. That could end up being a major factor.

And in the end, this team will ultimately be judged by how they do in the playoffs. Is it another one and done or does this team do what no Tiger-Cat team since 2001 has been able to do, get to the East Division Final? We'll all find out in 10 days.

Thursday 3 November 2011

Smitty's Selections: Week 19

This is it. We have reached the final week of the 2011 CFL regular season. We have seen 68 games come and go, and we are down to the final four. This has probably been the strangest season in recent memory, and with only 240 minutes of football left, we still do not know where any playoff game will be played. What a year.

Hamilton at Toronto

Very tempted to take the Argonauts here. Hamilton will be playing a bunch of backups, and the Argos have been surprisingly competitive since being eliminated from playoff contention. But that Cats are known to bounce back from a humiliating defeat, so despite the evidence pointing to the Argos, I'll take the Cats by a touchdown.

Winner: Hamilton, 24-17

Saskatchewan at Edmonton

With Ken Miller announcing his retirement, I imagine that the Riders will want to send him out a winner. Edmonton is still in the hunt for first in the West, so they will be playing to win. Despite the win last week, Saskatchewan has been horrible on the offensive side of the ball. They just don't have enough fire power to match up with the Eskimos. Edmonton by a bunch.

Winner: Edmonton, 31-14

Winnipeg at Calgary

Winnipeg enters this game after a stunning home loss to the Argos; Calgary comes in after a stunning road victory over the Alouettes. A Winnipeg win would see them clinch the East Division title and a first-round bye. Calgary needs to win and get some help to host the West Final. Buck Pierce looks to be out for this game, so Alex Brink will start for the Bombers. That's the turning point. If Drew Tate can beat Anthony Calvillo, he can surely beat Alex Brink. Stamps by a field goal.

Winner: Calgary, 28-25

Montreal at British Columbia

The final game of the regular season could mean everything or it could mean nothing. If Winnipeg wins earlier, Montreal will have nothing to play for. If Edmonton and Calgary lose, BC will have nothing to play for. I'll base this pick on both teams needing to win. With that in mind, I like the Als to take down the Lions by an unconverted touchdown.

Winner: Montreal, 34-28

Hamilton, Edmonton, Calgary, Montreal

Season Record: 39-29

Wednesday 2 November 2011

Tiger-Cats Award Nominees Announced

The CFL announced its nominees for the 2011 CFL Player Awards earlier today. I'll get into the nominees from the seven other teams at a later time. For now, I will focus on the Tiger-Cats candidates.

Justin Hickman being named Most Outstanding Defensive Player was no surprise. He is tied for second in league in sacks with 12, and he has been Hamilton's best and most consistent defensive player all season. His being named the team's Most Outstanding Player was a little surprising, but it makes sense. If you look at the Tiger-Cats this year, there were few players who performed as well as Hickman on a week-to-week basis. Justin Medlock and Chris Williams probably garnered some consideration, but the selection of Hickman is well deserved.

Speaking of Medlock and Williams, both players were unanimous selections for their awards. Medlock is the team's Most Outstanding Special Teams Players, and Williams is the team's Most Outstanding Rookie. Those selections were not the least bit surprising.

Neither was Dave Stala as the team's Most Outstanding Canadian. Stala started off the year very hot, but tailed off around mid-season. He still posted some excellent numbers, most notably his eight touchdown catches.

And finally, Peter Dyakowski was named the team's Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman. This award has been owned by Marwan Hage recently, but with The Sultan's injury, it opened the door for Dyakowski to get some much-deserved recognition.

The league finalists will be announced in one week's time, and I would be surprised if one or two Tiger-Cats didn't make the final cut. I expect Chris Williams and Justin Medlock to be finalists. Medlock is in tough, but Williams is a near lock.

Regardless of what happens from here, all five players should be proud of their accomplishments in 2011.

Preview: Tiger-Cats at Argonauts

When the CFL schedule was released, they surely thought that a Week 19 matchup between two playoff teams (and two bitter rivals) from 2010 would have an impact on the playoff race in 2011.

What will we see instead is a glorified preseason game.

The Argos were long ago eliminated from playoff contention, and the Ti-Cats have long been locked into third in the East, making the outcome of this game rather meaningless.

To compound that, the Cats will be resting a plethora of starters -- Offensive Lineman Peter Dyakowski, Running Back Avon Cobourne, Receiver Marcus Thigpen and Linebackers Jamall Johnson and Rey Williams are all expected to miss the game -- in order to get them healthier for the playoffs. Third-string Quarterback Jason Boltus is expected to see some playing time, making this feel even more like a preseason tilt.

The Argos will also be without some key players, chief among them is Quarterback Steven Jyles, meaning Dalton Bell will get the start.

Even with all those players missing, that does not mean the game is without intrigue. For starters, it is still a Hamilton-Toronto game. These two teams hate one another, so the intensity will still be there.

Secondly, the trade these two teams made a few weeks ago adds an interesting layer to the proceedings. Both Maurice Mann and Dee Webb will want to show their former teams the error of their ways.

If you will not be heading down to the Rogers Centre SkyDome for this one, you can catch the action on TSN or AM900 CHML starting at 7:30PM EST.

Tuesday 1 November 2011


It is November 1st, which means one thing:

Movember is here!

For those not in the know, Movember is a month where men will cast aside their razors to grow a moustache (or Mo) to raise funds and awareness for prostate cancer. I took part last year, and grew a very bad 'stache. There will be no moustache for me this year, but I will be doing my part by donating to a long-time friend of mine who will be growing a moustache. His name is Steve, and you can find all his details at his official Movember page. He is also reachable on Twitter at High Fives Steve. Steve has organized numerous fundraisers for the Heart and Stroke Foundation, as well as cancer research, and has even started his own movement with High Fives 2 Help Lives. The guy works tirelessly all year round, and is someone I am proud to support.

What does this have to do with the Tiger-Cats and the CFL, exactly? Well, after last month's successful CFL Pink program (which helped to raise awareness for women's cancers), I am a bit sadden by the fact that the CFL does not have its own official Movember program. With the majority of the league's fan base is male – skewing more to older males who are at more of a risk to get prostate cancer – it makes sense to have a Movember program. The CFL can reach a lot of people, and they would be doing a great service by helping out a great cause, just like they did with their CFL Pink campaign.

The league and the teams can even have fun with it. The whole Movember movement is about raising awareness and funds to help fight prostate cancer, but it is also an excuse to grow a ridiculous moustache. I am sure there are plenty of CFL players who can grow some very elaborate moustaches. The teams can even have a contest to let fans decide what type of moustache the player or players should grow. It would be a great way to help out a great cause. They could promote it during the final week of the regular season and into the playoffs, culminating with a 'Stache Off at the Grey Cup.

The CFL did a great job during October to help women. It is time for them to do a great job in NoMovember to help men. C'mon, CFL, show your Mo, and help tackle prostate cancer in the same way that you helped to tackle women's cancers.

Power Poll (Week 18)

One more week to go and still no one knows who is playing who in the playoffs. Everything that had to happen to make Week 19 meaningful occurred in Week 18. There are now five teams with identical 10-7 records, and this will be the first time since the CFL expanded to an 18-game schedule that not one team will win at least 12 games. You try to make sense of it all because I know I can't.

1. British Columbia Lions (Last Week: 4)

Clobbered one week, back on top the next. Such is life in this season of parity. The Lions looked good against the Eskimos. Now to secure first in the West, they have to handle business against the Als.

2. Calgary Stampeders (Last Week: 6)

Am I over valuing the Stampeders? Perhaps. But since Drew Tate took over at Quarterback, this is a different team. Very few squads have gone into Montreal and beaten the Als, and the Tate-led Stamps just did that. That scores big points from where I sit.

3. Edmonton Eskimos (Last Week: 1)

Hard to knock a team too much when they lost on the road to another first-place team. If Edmonton wins, they will get at least one home playoff game. The rest they cannot control.

4. Montreal Alouettes (Last Week: 3)

Seeing Montreal come out flat in a big game tells me that Montreal has still yet to find its groove. For the first time in a long time, the Als look vulnerable heading into the playoffs.

5. Winnipeg Blue Bombers (Last Week: 2)

Losing at home to the Argos is almost inexcusable, especially when first place in the East was on the line. Bu Winnipeg received a reprieve thanks to Montreal's loss to Calgary. If Winnipeg wins in Week 19, they still get first in the East.

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

The Tabbies stunk in Regina, which means they will come out this week and destroy the Argos. That is the tale of the season for the Tiger-Cats.

7. Toronto Argonauts (Last Week: 7)

The gutsy win for the Argos has been overshadowed by the Johnny Sears-Steven Jyles mess. Sears's hit was nasty. and he is deserving of any punishment the league hands out. But Argos players and TSN's Chris Schultz went overboard in their reaction to the hit. Two wrongs do not make a right, gentlemen. But you have to be impressed with how the Argos are finishing out the season. Too bad for their fans they didn't play like this from July to September.

8. Saskatchewan Roughriders (Last Week: 8)

Even in victory the Riders didn't look particularly strong. They won, but they failed to score over 20 points for the sixth week in a row. This has been a season to forget in the province of Saskatchewan.

Highest Climb: Calgary (+4)
Steepest Fall: Winnipeg (-3)