The ship be sinking

“The ship be sinking,” was the famous quote Michael Ray Richardson gave to reporters as the 1981-82 New York Knicks’ season collapsed. Yet 35 years later, the quote can perfectly be applied to the dysfunctional Toronto Argonauts. The Boatmen’s ship is sinking faster than the titanic after a self-destructive off-season.

Following a 5-13 season, the Argos decided to fire their long-time general manager Jim Barker. The team’s poor record was justification for that decision. The only problem was how poorly the Argos executed their decision. The Argos were eliminated from the playoffs on Oct. 22. The decision to fire Barker was made on Jan. 24. The Argos decided to fire Barker three months after the team had been eliminated from the playoffs. The only question anyone can ask is, what took so long?

For three months, Barker was in charge and able to make personnel decisions as he had for the previous six seasons. Barker was able to sign quarterback Drew Willy and pass rusher Shawn Lemon to contract extensions. Now the team sits, without a general manager just weeks before free agency opens Feb. 14.

Argos President and CEO Michael Copeland made the decision to part ways with Barker and replace him with head coach Scott Milanovich and assistant general manager Spencer Zimmerman. The solution is nothing more than a stop gap. The unexplainable delayed decision to fire Barker has disrupted the entire structure of the organization.

Two days after firing Barker, Milanovich resigned as head coach to accept the Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback coaching job. Within a span of 72 hours the Argos were left without a head coach and general manager. The Argos window to interview candidates on other teams’ coaching staff closes Jan. 31. The Argos will be interviewing candidates without being able to offer any structure or job security to whoever they talk to.

One of the reasons Milanovich left was because of the lack of job security. Milanovich was smart enough to realize the situation he was in. Whoever accepts the Argos general manager job will want to start fresh with their own head coaching hire. Knowing that he was in a no-win situation, Milanovich bolted. Everyone who the Argos interview knows that they will be in the same situation that Milanovich was in until the Argos figure out their front office structure.

“The ship be sinking,” Richardson quote was echoed by current Argos defensive back Jermaine Gabriel. Gabriel tweeted “I need a sinking ship emoji.” For Argos fans, there is little reason to be optimistic. The organization is a mess, and the team appears headed for another disastrous season.

The Argos hired Copeland in July 2015, after nearly a decade serving as the CFL’s CEO. But he could be next on the Argos firing line. Copeland failed to get fans in the seats in the Argos first season in BMO field. Good luck getting people to buy tickets this year, after the team’s awful offseason. He failed to properly judge the market for the Grey Cup. The team over-priced tickets, forcing them to drop ticket prices and paper most of the stadium for the CFL’s showcase game.

The CFL needs Toronto to be a strong market but Toronto has never figured out how to build a successful organization. Instead, the team has constantly made excuses. BMO field was supposed to be the solution to the team’s problems. But now Toronto is learning that the Argos’ problems run deeper than the stadium. The problems are everywhere and it’s time for Toronto to stop making excuses and start coming up with creative solutions.

Picture courtesy of Laura Groza/The Sputnik

 

Ottawa Redblacks stun Calgary Stampeders to win 104th Grey Cup

Few gave the Ottawa Redblacks a chance in the 104th Grey Cup, but after four quarters and overtime, Ottawa defeated the heavily favoured Calgary Stampeders 39-33.

Calgary entered the Grey Cup as 9.5 point favourites. In the regular season they went 15-2-1. A Grey Cup win, would have put Calgary in the conversation as one of the best teams in CFL history. Earlier in the week, they cleaned up at the CFL awards ceremony. In the two previous matchups with Ottawa, one ended in a 26-26 draw, the other a convincing Calgary win. But in neither game, did former Stampeders quarterback Henry Burris play.

Burris played one of the greatest games in his 20-year professional career to led Ottawa to its first Grey Cup since 1976. In what very well might be his final CFL game, the 41-year old Burris threw for 461 yards, 3 touchdowns and ran for a touchdown.

The 104th Grey Cup will go down as an instant classic and one of the biggest upsets in CFL history. Ottawa jumped out to a 27-7 lead early in the third quarter. But in the second half, Calgary slowly chipped away tying the game and forcing overtime.

Ottawa finished the regular season 8-9-1, winning the East Final against the Edmonton Eskimos in a 103rd Grey Cup rematch. But they followed the blueprint they used in their two previous matchups with Calgary to victory. For the third time this season, Ottawa held the league’s Most Outstanding Canadian, Calgary’s Jerome Messam to under 40 yards rushing.

But the difference between the first two matchups and the Grey Cup, Ottawa forced Calgary quarterback and Most Outstanding Player Bo-Levi Mitchell to uncharacteristically turn the football over. Mitchell threw three interceptions, gave Ottawa’s offense the chance to win advantage in time of possession and total yards battle.

After going down 27-10, Mitchell lead back to back touchdown drives to cut the score to 27-23, after kicker Rene Paredes missed a point after with 13:35 to play. With six minutes left, Burris scored a touchdown, but kicker Ray Early missed the point after. Six minutes left and Ottawa lead 33-23.

In the CFL, three minutes can feel like an eternity, and for Ottawa it certainly did. With 1:38, Most Outstanding Rookie DaVaris Daniels ran for a 19 yard touchdown. Down three Calgary got the ball back and drove down inside the Ottawa five yard line. A touchdown would win the Grey Cup for Calgary, a field goal would force overtime.

From the two yard line, CFL Coach of the year Dave Dickenson elected to use Canadian quarterback Andrew Buckley on a quarterback rollout to score the winning touchdown. Ottawa stuffed the play and forced Calgary to hit the game tying field goal.

The decision to go with Buckley will be compared to Super Bowl 49, when the Seattle Seahawks elected to pass the football from the two yard line instead of handing the football to bruising running back Marshawn Lynch.

In the Calgary backfield, is most outstanding Canadian, and league leading rusher Jerome Messam. At 6’3” and 263lbs, Messam is a difficult man to stop from getting two yards. The decision to not give Messam a chance to win the game, will be discussed for years to come.

In overtime, Burris led his final touchdown drive, connecting with Ernest Jackson for the go-ahead touchdown. A failed two point convert gave Calgary a chance to win with a touchdown and convert. Calgary went for the tying touchdown on the first play, but could not complete the pass. Second down, Calgary went short, but again, incomplete. Third down, Mitchell’s pass fell incomplete. Despite, early contact from the Ottawa defender, the flags remained in the officials’ pockets. Ottawa had won the Grey Cup.

 

The road to the Grey Cup goes through Calgary

The road to the Grey Cup goes through Calgary. If you want to win this year’s CFL championship game, you must do what only two teams were able to do in 18 games, beat the Stampeders.

Calgary’s season is simply incredible. The team went 15-2-1, including a 16 game unbeaten streak. The lone losses for Calgary came in the team’s first and last games of the season. Calgary lost to British Columbia by just two points in the first week of the season. In the team’s regular season finale, Calgary elected to rest key starters rather than chase the record books. A win would have given them the best record in CFL history. Instead, Calgary lost by nine points to Montreal. Since the opening weekend, Calgary has seemed unbeatable. It is very difficult to pinpoint any weakness that the Stampeders have.

Quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, will likely win the league’s Most Outstanding Player in a landslide. The offensive line is the best in the league. Derek Dennis will likely be named the league’s Most Outstanding Lineman. The line was able to keep Mitchell upright, surrendering just 20 sacks and open up massive holes for Canadian running back Jerome Messam. Messam could very well walk away as the league’s most outstanding Canadian, after he led the league in rushing and totaling over 1600 yards and 12 touchdowns. Defensively, the Stampeders have no obvious weakness. A strong defensive line, led by CFL sack leader Charleston Hughes. It’s just hard to move the football against the Calgary defense.

Even more incredible is that Calgary is winning with first year Head Coach Dave Dickenson. John Hufnagel was one of the best head coaches in the CFL, but the transition to offensive co-ordinator Dickenson as the new Head Coach has been flawless.

The only adversity Calgary has faced this season was the murder of rookie defensive back Mylan Hicks outside of a Calgary nightclub after a game. Despite the tragedy, the Stampeders continue to win, and win with relative ease. With a week 20 bye, and bye week in the first round of the playoffs, Calgary will have three weeks off before playing again. The Edmonton Eskimos were in the same situation last season, and went on to win the Grey Cup.

If Edmonton wants to win again this season, they will have to go on the road and win three games. With Edmonton crossing-over into the east, they will have to go through Hamilton and then Ottawa before a potential match up with Calgary in the Grey Cup. While Edmonton has a dynamic offense, with quarterback Mike Reilly, receivers Adarius Bowman and Derel Walker, defensively teams can move the football and put up points. While Alberta football fans are licking its lips, at the chance to determine which team owns the province’s football rivalry, it is no easy tasks for the Eskimos to reach the Grey Cup.

Unfortunately, for Hamilton and Ottawa, facing Edmonton team in the playoffs, makes both team’s road to the Grey Cup challenging. Both Hamilton and Ottawa are deeply flawed incomplete football teams. The strengths of both teams is their offenses. But both have taken drastic hits, as they both lost their top receivers.  Hamilton’s Andy Fantuz and Ottawa’s Chris Williams both tore their ACLs. To make matters worse, neither defense can stop anyone. Both teams routine allow teams to pass for whatever they want. Special teams have gone from strength to weakness. Both kickers have gone from dependable to inconsistent, as both have missed their share of kicks as the season has progressed. If either team is to advance to the Grey Cup, it will be from hot quarterback play and home field advantage. Both starting quarterbacks Zack Collaros and Henry Burris are capable of putting up points to win one game. But the odds either team winning consecutive games is unlikely.

If a team is going to upend Calgary, it will be either Winnipeg or BC. Both are the most complete teams next to Calgary, and just a single win separated the two teams in the standings. The one win separating the two, is BC’s week one victory over Calgary.

Winnipeg started the season slowly, but capitalized on a quarterback change. After a 1-4 start, Head Coach Mike O’Shea replaced turnover prone Drew Willy with veteran game manager Matt Nichols. The Bombers turn their season around, finishing 10-3. If either team is to beat Calgary in the west final, they must get to the quarterback and create turnovers. Disrupt Mitchell and you have a chance to win. Winnipeg led the league in takeaways behind Maurice Leggett’s seven interceptions. Winnipeg’s formula to victory is simple, control time of possession, and win the turnover battle. If they do both, they have a chance of winning.

BC is led by young quarterback Jonathan Jennings and coaching legend Wally Buono. The Lions defense is filled with play makers with the ability to get to the quarterback and take the football away. Solomon Elimimian and Adam Bighill are two of the league’s best linebackers. Chris Rainey is the league’s top returner. If the Lions have one weakness, it is their kicking game. Richie Leone is one of the best punters in the league, but he leaves a lot to be desired as a field goal kicker. With home field advantage, the Lions have to be favoured to get to Calgary for the West Final.

If no team can get hot at the right time, generate a pass rush and score points, Calgary will be celebrating a Grey Cup victory for the second time in three years. Additionally, a Grey Cup win would put this year’s Stampeders’ team in the conversation as one of the greatest teams of all time.