North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

Archive for the ‘cfl’ Category

From the Vault: Michael Sam Is A Big Deal (2014)

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Editor’s Note: With today’s news that Michael Sam has signed with the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes, it seemed like a good time to run this previously unpublished column I wrote for The Good Point back in 2014! It never ran, maybe my take was too hot? I can’t remember why it was rejected. 

On Sunday, the Brooklyn Nets signed Jason Collins to a ten-day contract. This is the time of year for those: the post-trade deadline, as teams make a push to get into the playoffs. On that level, Collins’ signing isn’t any bigger than, say, Glen Davis signing with the Clippers.

 

But, for reasons I’m sure you already know, Collins’ signing is much bigger news.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by M.

May 22, 2015 at 11:32 am

Ar-going out of the Rogers Centre

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(Apologies for that title, but I couldn’t resist)

Today’s news on the Toronto Argonauts is really interesting to me on a variety of levels. Of course, the big one is how the Argos are moving out of the Rogers Centre and into BMO Field, current home of the Toronto FC. This alone is pretty big stuff: the Rogers Centre is a cavernous stadium even at the best of times and frankly, when the Argos play there is just seems more like a cavern. And I say that as someone who’s paid to see them, multiple times! Read the rest of this entry »

Why the Argos win on Sunday matters

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It’s November and everything feels all strange and flipped up. When I listen to the Fan, they’re talking Jays. When I put on TSN, they’re showing basketball. And when I think back to last weekend, I remember the Argonauts defeating the Montreal Alouettes in a road playoff game.

And the biggest news out of Leaf-land? Some guy with far too much money in Barrie paid over $5,300 for something the Leafs took a crap in. You’d think they’d throw in a copy of Game Seven of the 1993 Conference Finals too, if that’s what he was after. Sometimes no real news is the best news.

Remember when Grantland called Toronto the worst sports city in the greater Milky Way Galaxy? How quickly things have changed. On the back of their huge trade, the Jays have positioned themselves as contenders in the crowded AL East. With the play of DeMar DeRozan and Amir Johnson, the Raptors have shown there’s maybe a future to this crop of youngsters. Without the Leafs playing, Toronto’s other hockey team has been showing up on TV and they’re tearing it up: on Saturday, they beat up on the Hamilton Bulldogs. And Nazem Kadri’s picked up eight points in his past four games. I don’t think the Marlies will ever threaten the Leafs TV ratings, but playing so well on a TV broadcast will certainly help spread the word that there’s good hockey to be seen at the Ricoh at a fraction of the price of a Leafs game. More parking there, too.

But the biggest news of the weekend is about the Argos, that team which keeps getting written off, even by yours truly. When they went into the playoffs, I suggested they had backed into a spot thanks to even worse play by Hamilton and Winnipeg. I noted how they allowed more than they scored through the season’s end. But they beat Edmonton in a fun game, mostly thanks to a crazy second quarter where they scored 31 points and managed to intercept a shovel pass from Edmonton QB Kerry Joseph.

Still, I was a little skeptical after the win: Edmonton wasn’t a great team. They finished in the bottom of the Western Conference and only made the playoffs thanks to lacklustre seasons from Hamilton and Winnipeg. The Montreal Alouettes were a much better team and they’ve done the Argos in during the playoffs before. One of my first posts here was a dispatch from an Argos/Alouettes playoff game in 2005: the Argos blew a first half lead and lost while people in the upper deck went insane. I remember a crazed Montreal fan screaming and trying to pick fights while people threw plastic horns at him before security stepped in.

There’s been other times. In 2007, Toronto dropped conference final game at home to a surging Winnipeg team. And in 2010, they were blown out by Montreal, 48-17 (I don’t think I wrote about this game). There’s not many good omens to a Toronto/Montreal playoff game. And when Montreal got off to a good start, leading 17-7 near halftime I figured it was over. After all, the Argos scoring to that point looked like this: field goal, rouge, safety and another rouge. They blew a first-and-goal from Montreal’s one-yard line, getting stuffed on three consecutive runs. Not an inspiring first half.

So what happened? How did the Argos turn things on in the second? Their offence started coming together and their defence held Montreal steady: after scoring a touchdown in the second, Montreal was held to one field goal, despite getting into Argo territory multiple times. They got as close as Toronto’s eight yard line, but settled for a field goal. In the fourth quarter alone, they turned the ball over three times. They got really damn close, dropping what would’ve been a game-clinching TD late in the fourth, but just couldn’t do it. The Argos somehow held on, despite the odds and recent history.

It sets up what should be a dream senario for the Argos and their fans. They’re playing Calgary for the Grey Cup on home turf. It’s the 100th Grey Cup, which means there’s going to be pomp and excess on a level only Toronto could really handle without looking crazy. Noted football fiend and Toronto Mayor Rob Ford will probably be at the game in some loud, media-unfriendly capacity. I hope to hell he goes full-Nixon and tries to draw up a play for the Argos.

Toronto’s long been chided for not caring enough about it’s CFL team. There’s probably some truth in that, but one could argue that every Toronto team not named Maple Leafs doesn’t get its proper share of attention. Here’s a chance to change that. Not many teams get to play for the CFL’s title on their home turf. And Toronto hasn’t had a champion in any sport in eight years. Even if you’re not a CFL fan, this weekend is a special one in Toronto sports.

Written by M.

November 20, 2012 at 2:46 pm

The ying and yang of the Blue Bombers and Alouettes

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Last Saturday, Montreal went into the fourth quarter of their game against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers up 25 to 10. When the game ended, the Alouettes lost by a single point, 26-25.

Winnipeg roared back into the game in the fourth on 16 unanswered points: two majors and a field goal. Blue Bombers quarterback Buck Pierce completed 9 of 13 pass attempts for 97 yards. Chris Garrett ran for two scores. Most importantly, the Bombers defence shut down Montreal: Anthony Calvillo was picked off three times in the game. In the fourth, he was limited to four completed passes. Five, if one counts the one intercepted by Winnipeg’s Jonathan Hefney.

How complete was the shutdown? Montreal picked up just two first downs in the final quarter.

The loss wasn’t just a blown lead. It was a complete collapse. And it’s happened before. About a month ago, Montreal nearly blew another game to the Bombers: a Montreal lead of 19 points was whittled away to just six. The game ended with Winnipeg on Montreal’s one-yard line after two failed quarterback sneaks.

That’s two games where the Blue Bombers have taken it to Montreal late in the game. That’s twice their meetings have ended with the two tied for the Eastern Division lead. The funny thing is, it shouldn’t have been that way.

The Alouettes have been good in recent memory. They’ve led the division for the last three consecutive years. This season, they have the best home record and a quarterback leading the CFL in passing yards, touchdowns and passer rating.

Earlier this season, Calvillo set the all-time record for total passing yards. Not the CFL record. The record for all of professional football. He even made the leap to the US, getting a profile story in Grantland. It’s not unfair to call Montreal the class of the CFL; in an offence-driven league, they’ve amassed the most points and set the standard.

But the Bombers are also good: they have an identical record as the Alouettes, 10 wins, five losses. They’ve taken Montreal right to the brink twice in the last month. And it came despite losing two running backs and questionable quarterbacking.

Their starting running back, Chris Garrett – the guy who scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns on Saturday – was released by the team after training camp and was only resigned in August. He only got onto the field after two Bombers running backs had season-ending knee injuries against Toronto.

Winnipeg quarterback Buck Pierce has not has a good year, either. He’s right in the bottom of CFL quarterbacks, with only Toronto’s two starters below him in passing yards. He’s thrown for just 14 scores (again, only above Toronto’s two quarterbacks) and his 17 interceptions are the most in the CFL. He is not their Calvillo.

So with a QB who has passing issues and a running back that wasn’t even on the team for most of the season, how are the Bombers tied for first in the east? Well, for the same reason why they’ve been such trouble for the East’s other good team: defence.

On Saturday, the Blue Bombers defence kept the Alouettes at bay. Not just in the fourth, but throughout the game. Calvillo was picked off three times, sacked six times and held to just 199 yards and zero touchdown passes. It was one of the worst games of the season for the CFL’s best passer. But this game was no outlier: the Blue Bombers defence has allowed the fewest points in their division.

Two Blue Bombers – Odell Willis and Jason Vega – are among the CFL leaders in sicks; together, they’ve picked up 22 sacks. And there’s three Winnipeg players among the top six in interceptions, too. As a team, they have 24 picks. This is not a defence to sleep on.

The Bombers had some luck, too: a call that went their way led to the league firing an official. And weak teams in Toronto and Hamilton hasn’t hurt their season, either: they’ve posted a CFL-best 7-2 record division record.

And they’ve had surprises, too: in only four games, Garrett’s ran for 353 yards, 13th in the CFL. And his 88 yards per game is highest in the league. Who expected that from a player so deep in the team’s depth chart?

There are issues. As said above, Pierce is not an ideal quarterback and Garrett’s far from proven. Their offensive line’s had troubles, too: in their victory over Montreal, Pierce was sacked three times; this season, . There’s special team problems too: their kicker missed twice on Satuday; this season he’s hit just over 72 per cent of his kicks, one of the worst percentages among the CFL’s kickers.

Still, Winnipeg and Montreal feel like the two sides of the same coin: where one has the league’s best offence, the other has the best defence. Their last two matchups have not only gone down to the wire, but have played a role in the division’s lead. With two games left in the regular season, each has a chance to clinch a bye-week. Montreal’s facing Calgary and BC, two teams who have clinched postseason spots but are still competing for a bye week. Winnipeg is also facing Calgary but they play Toronto, a team that’s living in the CFL’s cellar.

What that means is either team can still win the division. And while it’s no given that the two will face each other in the postseason, it feels like they will. If it’s been anything like their last two meeting have been, look out: the team that shouldn’t be there on paper could be the one that makes it out.

Written by M.

October 23, 2011 at 8:10 pm

Keep the Tiger-Cats in Hamilton

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A few weeks ago, I went to my first Tiger-Cats game, which was a bit of a memorable experience.

Truth be told, Hamilton’s kind of a rough town. My buddy E and I made a wrong turn off the QEW and ended up taking a back way through the city, snaking through the downtown as we tried to find Ivor Wynne. We passed sketchy looking bars, boarded up buildings and more then a few skullets. And we eventually found the place.

And damn, what a venue.

Ivor Wynne is old, it’s beyond outdated and it’s amazing in ways I had no idea stadiums could be. It’s smack dab in the middle of a residential area, bordered by a school and a bunch of houses. There are no overpriced bars nearby and no $20-an-hour lots. Hell, there’s no lots really at all – most people pay $10 or so to park on a lawn. You just walk right up into the stadium through a few gates. It’s great.

Basically, it’s the anti-Toronto.

Inside, the fans are something else. Raw, passionate, vocal, probably drunk. There were furry hats, foam claws and chanting, always chanting. Some dopes tried to start the wave; it didn’t catch on. Here’s a small sampling of the customized jerseys I saw:

  • Eat em raw
  • Argos Suck
  • Toronto Sucks
  • Pigskin Pete (although he’s some kind of mascot, so maybe he doesn’t count)
  • CFL Rocks

Add to these a huge wack of old jerseys, some looking close to 30 years old, that almost every fan seemed to wear. While there was a tent that sold a few Ti-Cats thing at the stadium, it was pretty obvious that most of these fans had worn them for years. There were a few that looked pressed and cleaned and others that had been worn so much the colours and numbers had faded. Those that didn’t have a jersey wore some variation of the Ti-Cats yellow-and-black scheme.

I didn’t see a single person in a business suit. I didn’t see anybody spend the game on a blackberry. I didn’t see any of the corporate stuff I seem to always see in Toronto.

It was really a tremendous crowd, easily one of the best I’ve ever been been a part of.

And it would be a real shame if they lost their team.

There’s been a bit of talk lately about the Tiger-Cats moving from Hamilton. Ivor Wynne is old, and while it’s not altogether without charm, it lacks the modern immediacies owners would like. There’s seats only on two sides, really; the luxury boxes are few and look fairly small; the seats are all wooden benches; so forth and so on.

Which means the team – and owner Bob Young, in particular – are prepared to move the team to a city willing to bend over backwards for them.

It’s not that the Hammer isn’t building them a new stadium. They are, actually – the city is planning to build a new stadium to be used for the 2015 Pan Am games – but it doesn’t meet the exacting demands of the Cats ownership.

One report suggested that Young wants the new stadium closer to highways, on the mountain. Hamilton city council has voted to start building at a west harbour site.

Another report says that the issue has quickly became political, with terms like “pro-city” being thrown around, as mayoral rivals come out of the woodwork and argue for capitulation.

It really seems like the fight is going to other levels. It doesn’t seem to be so much a sports topic any longer as it does inside baseball, an extension of old grudges. Which is certainly a shame.

This wouldn’t be as bad if the owners wasn’t so vocal about moving the team and cities weren’t making it known how much they’d like the team. There’s been offers from Oshawa to Quebec City to Moncton, New Brunswick.

I have been to all of those cities and lived in Oshawa for three years. They are all good towns, but have nothing approaching the level I saw in Hamilton. In the Hammer, the fans were loud, great and made the game a hell of an experience. I’m used to Toronto crowds that tend to only get loud for T-Shirts, free pizza or, occasionally, Vince Carter. Their fans are really something.

And while I can’t say I’m a fan of the Ti-Cats, I can’t imagine how this must feel: not only is their owner talking about moving the team, not only has council chosen a spot Young has repeatedly said he doesn’t want, but other cities are openly trying to court your team.

Don’t forget, Hamilton isn’t really a place with a lot going for it. It’s still a blue collar town; from where I sat at Ivor Wynne, I could see the smokestacks over at the steel mills where I imagine most of the people in attendance knew somebody working or worked there themselves. I got the impression that for a lot of fans, going to football games was something they did once in a while, a way to blow off steam and let go after a long workweek.

But then, isn’t that what most sports really are? They’re about being entertained, having fun and not having to worry about paychecks or rent or bills. They’re not supposted to be about stadium arguements or hearing pleas from afar luring your team away.

Which is something I think is being lost in the arguments. The fans are there and probably always will. It doesn’t matter where the new stadium is. They will find a way there. They already find a way to their current one, where parking is on lawns (don’t worry about the flowers, pull up a little further ahead) and the seats are benches in a stadium almost as old as time itself.

The Ti-Cats are one of the oldest professional teams in North America and have some of the best fans in pro sports. It would be a shame if the city of Hamilton lost them both over municipal politics.

Written by M.

August 21, 2010 at 11:35 am

Posted in cfl, football

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How the Argos lost – Notes on the 07 East Final

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Nobody thought it would end like this – but nobody foresaw the Argonaut’s fingers seemingly coated in butter, either.
Yes, the Toronto Argonauts, who entered the playoffs winning their last seven games in a row, lost decisively to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in a game marred by turnovers – some three on each side.
As the fourth quarter started, with the Bombers inside the Argo 10 yard line, it looked as if the Bombers were going to try and wrap things up. After all, they led 19 – 1; the game was theirs to lose.
But when Bomber QB Kevin Glenn hurt his arm in the fourth while diving on a loose ball, the momentum shifted, significantly, to the battered Argos.
One monster pass to Arlen Bruce III later, and the game, the Argos and even the fans, roared back to life.
Michael Bishop showed off his powerful throwing arm, driving the Argos some 92 yards to their first touchdown of the game with some long, precise passes, capped off with his own quarterback sneak for the major.
As reserve quarterback Ryan Dinwiddie came in for the Bombers, the Argo fans were on their feet and screaming.
It seemed a lot like the inverse of the last Eastern Final played in the Rogers Centre in 2005. In that game, the Argos led throughout the first half, only to collapse to Montreal – and in particular, to QB Anthony Calvillo – in the second, losing 33-17.
“All of a sudden, this isn’t the Rogers Centre – this is the noise dome,” said CBC’s Steve Armitage.
But Dinwiddie pulled it out. Airing the ball, and running down the clock, he wore down the Toronto defence with long passes. A touchdown pass to Edwards sealed the victory for the Bombers.
Or did it? The ref on the field had to check it out – and then went to the booth for a review. And it was overturned.
And then the Argos grabbed another fumble in their own end.
“Are you kidding me,” shouted CBC’s colour commentator Khari Jones. “That’s their third fumble today!
“They should be blowing the Argos out!”
But Toronto’s ball-handling woes continued, as their receivers dropped passes that would have brought the Argos deep into Winnipeg territory.
Winnipeg’s smothering defence kept the Argos out of the game, clogging the secondary and keeping Bishop under pressure – including a huge sack late in the fourth.
It was an incomplete pass, late in the fourth that sealed it – although, with less then two minutes to play, what could the Argos have done? They would have needed a touchdown, then a field goal – just to tie.
Nonetheless, the Bombers prevailed. They limited the Argos to just 31 rushing yards and keeping the Argo offense smothered, like a heavy blanket put on a fire, for three quarters.
“We played them well all year,” said Winnipeg running back Charles Roberts.
“We took it upon ourselves to come out here and prove them wrong.”
And so, what an upset it was. The Bombers were seven underdogs going into this game, but they played like 14 point favourites. They ran the ball, they passed the ball and they, most importantly, stopped the Argos from doing likewise.
Simply put, they played like champs.
And in the end, that was the only thing that mattered.

Written by M.

November 19, 2007 at 3:43 pm

How the Argos lost – Notes on the 07 East Final

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Nobody thought it would end like this – but nobody foresaw the Argonaut’s fingers seemingly coated in butter, either.
Yes, the Toronto Argonauts, who entered the playoffs winning their last seven games in a row, lost decisively to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in a game marred by turnovers – some three on each side.
As the fourth quarter started, with the Bombers inside the Argo 10 yard line, it looked as if the Bombers were going to try and wrap things up. After all, they led 19 – 1; the game was theirs to lose.
But when Bomber QB Kevin Glenn hurt his arm in the fourth while diving on a loose ball, the momentum shifted, significantly, to the battered Argos.
One monster pass to Arlen Bruce III later, and the game, the Argos and even the fans, roared back to life.
Michael Bishop showed off his powerful throwing arm, driving the Argos some 92 yards to their first touchdown of the game with some long, precise passes, capped off with his own quarterback sneak for the major.
As reserve quarterback Ryan Dinwiddie came in for the Bombers, the Argo fans were on their feet and screaming.
It seemed a lot like the inverse of the last Eastern Final played in the Rogers Centre in 2005. In that game, the Argos led throughout the first half, only to collapse to Montreal – and in particular, to QB Anthony Calvillo – in the second, losing 33-17.
“All of a sudden, this isn’t the Rogers Centre – this is the noise dome,” said CBC’s Steve Armitage.
But Dinwiddie pulled it out. Airing the ball, and running down the clock, he wore down the Toronto defence with long passes. A touchdown pass to Edwards sealed the victory for the Bombers.
Or did it? The ref on the field had to check it out – and then went to the booth for a review. And it was overturned.
And then the Argos grabbed another fumble in their own end.
“Are you kidding me,” shouted CBC’s colour commentator Khari Jones. “That’s their third fumble today!
“They should be blowing the Argos out!”
But Toronto’s ball-handling woes continued, as their receivers dropped passes that would have brought the Argos deep into Winnipeg territory.
Winnipeg’s smothering defence kept the Argos out of the game, clogging the secondary and keeping Bishop under pressure – including a huge sack late in the fourth.
It was an incomplete pass, late in the fourth that sealed it – although, with less then two minutes to play, what could the Argos have done? They would have needed a touchdown, then a field goal – just to tie.
Nonetheless, the Bombers prevailed. They limited the Argos to just 31 rushing yards and keeping the Argo offense smothered, like a heavy blanket put on a fire, for three quarters.
“We played them well all year,” said Winnipeg running back Charles Roberts.
“We took it upon ourselves to come out here and prove them wrong.”
And so, what an upset it was. The Bombers were seven underdogs going into this game, but they played like 14 point favourites. They ran the ball, they passed the ball and they, most importantly, stopped the Argos from doing likewise.
Simply put, they played like champs.
And in the end, that was the only thing that mattered.

Written by M.

November 19, 2007 at 11:43 am