Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Fixing the CFL Part 2

Welcome back to Part 2 of my look at how to fix the CFL. We have a few more ideas to go through. One of the them good and then we get into the stupid ideas.

Admin Costs

Remember that I said there are only 2 ways to improve your business model and one is reduce expenses. Well this is one area teams need to look at… particularly the Riders. There is a cap on player wages, there is a cap on coaches but back office staff? Well that’s a free for all. Last year Football Operations accounted for 35% of Rider expenses. Now a large part of the remaining 65% was pretty legit but still that is a concerning ratio. Take a look at the list of Rider Admin staff… the only list I’ve seen compare to its size in the list of players Chris Jones employed during 2016. For sure investing in things like marketing and retailing are important (you can’t take the opposite approach and spend zero in those areas without negative consequences aka the David Braley approach). But when the vast majority of your revenue is tied to games you need to be able to scale back on admin costs when attendance drops or stops all together. Were we able to afford a massively bloated back office? Sure. Do each of those people add value to the team exceeding their wage (aka a cost/benefit analysis)? Not so sure about that, particularly now.

Okay, let’s get to the stupid ideas

More Canadians

Let me state that this is the Canadian Football league and Canadian content will always be a must. I will defend the ratio and the importance of Canadian players to the day I die. But… as long as you have that base core Canadian content, there is no correlation that more Canadians makes your league anymore successful. People tune in for exciting football not Canadian players. So any thought of expanding the Canadian ratio, while very patriotic, is based in zero business sense. Ask yourself who the top 10 CFL players ever are. Now ask yourself how many of them were Canadian. 2? Maybe 3? Did people care that guys like Flutie and Moon weren't Canadian? Hell no. We just wanted to see them tear up a football field. I don’t want to see Canadian content reduced but if you think increasing it will do anything to help the league at this time then you are sorely mistaken.

QB Salary Cap

I have stated that controlling expenses is important so the general sentiment behind this one is not awful. But player costs are already fixed by the salary cap. So capping QB salaries will not reduce costs, it will just shift them around. Look, I think it’s stupid to pay one player $700K+ but if teams want to be stupid then let them. From a financial standpoint it s not hurting them. I get that huge QB salaries put upward pressure on all other salaries but as long as the cap doesn’t move then overall labour costs will not increase. I don’t understand the logic of this one.

Social Media

Social media will not save you. Social media reach is only useful to the extent that you can translate it into additional viewers and merchandise sales. 10 million people watching your stupid tik tok video actually does you no good if none of them spend their money on your product after watching. Don’t get me wrong a strong social media presence is key to engaging fans (particularly young ones) but if you think social media will magically cure all your business problems then you are stupid. Let me also take this opportunity to address people who get butt hurt when CFL team Twitter accounts don’t follow them back. Its not like they are going to read your stupid tweets anyway. Will them following you make you suddenly want to spend money on merchandise? Or will it just feed your fragile ego? Teams do not have a responsibility to follow you on social media. End rant.

50/50

I actually don’t think this is a stupid idea, its just not particularly feasible. Based on the ridiculous success of the Oilers 50/50 and the millions of dollars people are falling over themselves to throw at it, people have suggested 50/50s as a way to financially prop up the CFL. The theory is sound. People love 50/50s and it would definitely garner huge money. The problem is this little things called gaming laws. And gaming laws dictate that 50/50’s can only be run for charities… not for profit companies. Do you really think the Riders would let the Rams take the 50/50 revenue if there was a way to funnel it into operations? So decent ideally... provided the rule of law wasn’t a thing.

What other idea (be they smart or stupid) have you heard? Add them to the comments section and let’s prove once again that anonymous smartasses on the internet can solve any issue better than so called experts.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Fixing the CFL Part 1

Last Monday the CFL made official what people had been speculating for months… there will be no 2020 season. I will add that the definitive news did come within hours of my Monday post. So you are welcome for getting some closure on this for you.

So the 2020 season is a no go. It’s super sad but honestly not surprising. Now the focus is on 2021 and ensuring the CFL survives. Look, there is no guarantee fans will be allowed in the stands by June 2021 so we can’t just assume that this will be a one-year pause and life will return to normal. Given that CFL seemed to approach plans for the 2020 season with all the speed of that sloth from Zootopia at the DMV, they had better start now.

All I have been hearing about for the past week is how the CFL needs to fix its business model. Everyone has suddenly become business guru and is schilling their ideas on fixing things (some are good, some are stupid). What else is stupid is this notion that the CFL can suddenly reinvent its business model. Like people magically assume that there is a way for the league not to be dependent on ticket sales, TV money and sponsorship like every other sports league in the world. Look, there are certainly things the CFL can do to improve its viability but those expecting an overhaul of its business model will be very disappointed.

I’m going to let you in on a business secret. There is only 2 ways to improve your business model. 1 – Increase revenues. 2 – Decrease costs. That’s it. I just saved you 10s of thousands of dollars on a business degree. Any idea proposed is just a variation on one of those two things. The CFL is and (at least in the short term) will remain a gate driven league. TSN is not suddenly going to start paying gobs more money for the TV rights they already contractually own. So let’s go through ideas (both good and stupid) for how they can actually improve on things. And by improve I mean incrementally because again, a fundamental shift in business model is not going to happen.

Partnership with the Players

This should be priority one. Everyone knows that the players are what drive this league. That’s who fans pay to see and that’s whose off-field work in the community endear them to this country. Yet time and time again the owners treat them like expendable garbage. Look, management is well within their rights to run things as they so choose and treat players like easily replaceable minions who should shut up and play. It’s been working for them for years. But there are consequences to that approach. Read pretty much any study on employee engagement if you need proof of that. Engaged employees will lead to better business results.

Now I work in human resources and have been at bargaining tables. Regardless of industry management always wants less union involvement in running things and unions always want more. The sweet spot is always somewhere in the middle. And to be perfectly honest unions often times make stupid demands and management is right in not always bending to their will. But if the players are truly the lifeblood of your business then at least keeping them somewhat happy would be a good business approach. There’s no guarantee the outcome would have been any different but I guarantee the CFL’s chances with the Federal government would have gone up significantly if CFLPA present Solomon Elimimian had sat beside Ambrosie and presented jointly in the first ask. It’s proven to be an effective strategy for the owners to give the players very little and then just hold out long enough for the cash needy majority of the PA to give into the meagre offerings. But thing how much better this league could be if they treated the players with even a fraction more respect off the field.

We all know players are more important than coaches to the success of the league as a whole but one group has things like guarantee contracts, payouts if they are fired and year round income even during a pandemic… and its not the supposedly most important group.

Make Stars Out Of the Players

Building on the above partnership, if the CFL is serious about growing their fan base they need to market their superstars better. Casual fans who know nothing about golf and would normally not watch, will tune in to watch Tiger Woods. Same with football and Brady, Brees, Mahomes etc… LeBron and basketball and so on. No one outside of CFL fans knows CFL players, so you get no casual fans. The league is full of marketable stars: Fajardo, Hughes, Jefferson, Reilly, Adams, … hell I would be that drunken, fur coat Streveler is more well-known than the actual good players in our league. Market their onfield excellence. Let them show their personality. Highlight the great work they do off the field more. Get them on talk shows. Have them endorse products (I still remember Roberto Alomar telling me to “Catch the taste”). The more notoriety your players have, the more casual fans you attract.

They also need to sell former NCAA stars more in the states. College fans are fiercely loyal and if they knew some of their alumni where still playing you may get more casual fans.

Roster Stability

In order to really market stars, you can’t have them change teams every year. If guys like Narco, Reed and Dressler were one and done, they never would have reached legendary status here. Fan connections to players drives interest and drives merchandise sales.  

For example, as a Habs fan (yeah what can I say I have poor choices in sports teams) I would love a Carey Price jersey… but as the owner of PK Subban and Mike Camelleri jersey I’m convinced that if I ever did that I would curse Price and he’d be gone within a week. A lot of people approach CFL jerseys this way.

The fix for this is 2 fold. First, the CFL needs some form of restricted free agency. This strikes a good balance of letting your young players maximize their earning potential with letting teams keep stability by matching offers. Second is guaranteed money. If I was a CFL agent I would call my client an idiot if they signed anything but a 1 year deal unless the multi-year deal gave them more cash in year 1 than the 1 year deal. You gain nothing by signing a long term deal. If you values goes down the team will cut you and year 2 and 3 of your deal will be useless. If your value stays the same you can easily renegotiate the same contract next year (so you lose nothing). If you value goes up, you are stuck making less. Owners need to incentivize players to sign longterm deals. This will put the football ops guys in conflict with the business side guys as from a football ops view the current system is ideal but if you want to grow viewership and revenue, the business side needs stars to market. Coaches get guaranteed contracts, why can’t your top end veterans?

CFL 2.0

Look I get those of you saying pause the focus on this given the whole pandemic thing, makes sense. But for goodness sake don’t give up completely on this idea! It is risky and it will take time but the potential payoff is there (if it was easy, guaranteed money, someone else would have already done it). I don’t get how the same people can scream at the league to reinvent its business model and then the berate Randy Ambrosie when he tries. The CFL needs to grow its fan base and there are limits to how much you can do that within Canada.

Here’s a completely hypothetical example to demonstrate (all numbers are purely for illustration). Let’s say the CFL has a fan base of 1 million and they want to double that. In the Canadian market (let’s assume half of Canada is potential sports fans) that would mean increasing their market share by 6 percentage points within an already saturated market. Any marketing person will tell you that would take a huge amount of effort and time. But it we expand potential market to include Europe and Mexico (again assuming half the population is a potential fan) they only need 0.23% of that market. Far more achievable. Again, not easy or quick but I think this idea has merit and needs to continue. Now just may not be the time aggressively expand it.

Hook Kids

The CFL needs to tap into what Christmas retailers inherently know: The key to getting people to spend money is making their kids want something. Most of us are fans now because we experienced CFL football as kids and got hooked. But the CFL has priced itself out of the market. For a family of 4 to go to a game its 100s of dollars in tickets plus 100s of dollars for a solitary small pop and popcorn. Particularly in a down economy that won’t work. Since no one is selling out (not even the mighty Riders) teams should all have massively discounted tickets to get bums in those empty seats. What you lose in premium ticket price you make up in food, merchandise and the beginnings of life long fans. Also, each stadium needs a cheap menu. I don’t mind having expensive options as well but at a minimum there should be an option for a cheap hot dog, drink and popcorn. Keep it affordable and families will come.

Also you need to engage kids… and not just the ones in the expensive front row seats. If your “family” tickets are in the second deck then the kids up there should have equal access to time on the jumbo-tron, Gainer and giveways. Since the new stadium opened, not once has a camera or prize ever come up to our area of the second deck. That stuff is like crack to my kid and he would be hooked for life for 10 seconds on screen or a crappy t-shirt or football. Go to a Pats game and you will see K-9 all over the arena and kids love him. They get it. Engage all parts of the stadium not just the lower bowl.

Expand Merchandising

I’m not talking about the Rider approach of put a logo on literally anything you can find (though that did the team pretty well), but with traditional gate revenue at risk you need to look at new ways to suck money out of fans. The one that always comes up is a video game which seems like a no brainer. There is already a company that has developed a football game you can play with Canadian rules: Canuck Play and Spear Interactive. They even have Doug Flutie endorsing it. I bet they would like to become officially CFL licensed.

I know its pie in the sky thinking but if the CFL wants to act like the big four it needs athlete endorsed shoes, gloves, clothes etc… I know that Banks’ might not have the same allure as Curry’s or Jordan’s but you gotta try.

Lastly (and this isn’t really merchandising) but you need actual fantasy football… not that garbage pick’em stuff. Half the people tuning into NFL care nothing for the actual outcome and only if their RB gets a minimum of 70 yards and a TD. Pick’em is okay if you have nothing else but I want a real fantasy draft, weekly head to head match-ups, watching garbage time in a blowout to see if a 4th string receiver can get me the 5 yards I need to win and mock my friends. A Canadian company made this a few years back: Fantas-Eh and even pitched it to the CFL. But the passed on it. More fantasy players = more viewers.

I’ll pause here as this post ended up being way longer than expected. Check back tomorrow for Part 2.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Monday Morning Sentimonies: The 2020 Pipedream

If you have been following this blog for any length of time you have no doubt witnessed a reoccurring phenomenon. See, time and time again the same situation repeats itself. There will be days or weeks of silence on an issue or a player so I will write a post about it. Before noon that same day you can count on a news story that renders that post completely irrelevant. Its my super power.

Well today I am going to use that super power to save the CFL.

You see fans, players, coaches… pretty much anyone associated with the CFL has been waiting for months for some kind of news, be it good or bad. But all we get is either silence or deadlines that are utterly meaningless. Recently we get words like “promising” and “optimism” but what we don’t get is a firm answer. Will there be football in 2020? 

So today’s senitimonies will be dedicated to listing all the reasons why a 2020 season simply will not happen. If history has been any indication, within 3 hours of this going live there will be a press conference announcing the season… you’re welcome. This super power is so potent that it will even over come the news late Sunday that the loan from the government was a no go.

There are 4 main reasons I don’t see a 2020 seasons happening: Money, Unity, Time and Logistics.

Money – The big divide remains, who takes the risk. The players have said they will not sign off on a deal without guaranteed money. This is a smart ask. In the CFL you can pretty much be cut in an instant without any financial compensation. So if you are going to leave your family and another job to be cooped up in freakin’ Winnipeg, you would want some assurance that you won’t quarantine for 14 days only to be cut on day 16. Also, what if you get Covid? Can you be cut then? So this is a logical ask.

The problem is that the owners at this point would rightly be crazy to sign off on that. There is a very real scenario where they get 2 weeks into the season and have to cancel due to a Covid outbreak. So then you are on the hook for 100% of the costs and a fraction of the revenue. That’s not a good gamble. Also what if a player is a dumbass (remote chance I know) and breaks the bubble rules and gets infected. You’d need a bunch of contract disclaimers to get around guaranteed wages for the aforementioned dumbasses.

Add in the fact that government has the money they need and won’t part with it. Which I think is crazy given that they’ve already given money to the arts and tourism. You can’t tell me the cost benefit analysis of funding the arts is better than funding football… but I digress.

Unity – There are reports that not all 9 teams actually want to play in 2020. So its no wonder that a plan has been slow to develop (if indeed there is a plan) when a portion of the ownership don’t want to actually get to a plan.

Time – It’s late August. At the rate this is going they will announce some time in the spring that they were able to get everything in place to play in 2020. At this pace they are also about 3 months late for submitting the 2021 plan.

Logistics – Even if you sort out the money, get every owner on board and do it all before the end of the month the logistics are nuts. Coordinating travel and quarantine for hundreds of players and coaches. Coordinating getting equipment from around the country to Winnipeg. Someone also brought up, what about refs? Most refs do it as a part time gig so they won’t be likely to leave their real jobs to live in the CFL bubble. Have they even thought about that? This would be a herculean undertaking by a well-organized and logistically proficient company. Those descriptors are rarely associated with the CFL.

So that is a lot of barriers.

Look, I want CFL football as much as anybody. It’s killing me to go without it (well actually physically the lack of whiskey and massive stress levels is probably doing the opposite of killing me) but I think the CFL is better off to finally officially give up on 2020 and focus on 2021. There is no guarantee we will be back to 30,000 fans at games by June 2021 so if the league wants to survive period they should start figuring a realistic business plan in this new reality.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

HOW THE CHANGING LANDSCAPE OF THE XFL MIGHT IMPACT THE CFL

The recent news that former Calgary Stampeders man Dwyane "The Rock" Johnson is part of the group that has splashed $15m to take the busted flush that was the XFL from Vince McMahon's company Alpha Entertainment has raised a few eyebrows.

 Here we look at the deal that's taken place and how it could impact the CFL.

What's the deal with the new owners?

Any purchase of the XFL would have hit the headlines but the fact it comes with such a big-name heading thing up has instantly raised awareness of the league. Johnson isn't in it alone though. Also, in the group are Dany Garcia, who was married to Johnson for a decade prior their separation back in 2007 and RedBird Capital, which is a company owned by Gerry Cardinale - a former partner in Goldman Sachs.

Johnson and Garcia have entered the business world together already in the shape of Seven Bucks Productions who have been responsible for movies such as the remakes of Jumanji and Shazam!

The duo has cited their "passion" and "expertise" in the "sports and entertainment" sector as reasons they'll be a success whilst RedBird Capital have their fingers firmly in the sporting pie already.

The big question marks?

In spite of the lifeline offered by Johnson and co, there are still some gaping holes that need to be addressed before we truly understand what a new look XFL will look like. When XFL made it's comeback it did so with some subtle differences to both the NFL and CFL. Like the NFL, the XFL works on 22 players being on the field - a smaller one - at any one time with the play clock greatly shorter at just 25 seconds.

The second nagging thought is around salary because, let's face it, money talks. That also prompts the question of whether or not the number of teams will increase. At the moment, there are significantly fewer game weeks in the XFL compared to north of the border where there are 21 game weeks. That’s nine more than the maximum of 12 in the XFL.

This, of course, means the earnings are averaged at a preferential amount per game. The average salary in the CFL sits somewhere around the $65k CAD mark, which puts it on par with the lower end of the XFL structure. The XFL works based on a tiering system, the bottom end being between $50-70k USD. That doesn't immediately sound like too much of a problem but the upper tier allows salaries up to near on $800k CAD, which will turn a few heads.

Whether the new guys in town tweak any of those rules remains to be seen.

The realistic impact on the CFL

The initial reaction to the announcement has been fairly muted on the CFL front. That said, there have been a few come and get me pleas from players such as one time XFL player and now Ottawa Redblacks wide receiver Jalen Saunders suggested that the CFL needs to “stop lackin” whilst Chris Frey of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats fears a “ton of talent” could turn it’s back on the CFL.

You can understand their concern given the current coronavirus cloud looming over the CFL combined with the salaries possibly available in the XFL and the buzz that the new ownership will generate.

Many sports leagues were left on hold or postponed, such as the Kentucky Derby and that caused quite an economic impact.

Click here to know how the current odds on the Derby are, happening in September.

There is cause for optimism though because there is one thing that people universally don’t like, particularly where paychecks are concerned. That’s uncertainty. The XFL brings that in abundance.

Even so, the odds are that there are bound to be a few CFL players who jump ship and the players who emerge from the college system but miss out on the NFL will now have multiple options close to home, which could further dilute the talent pool in Canada. The reverse of this though, which cannot be completely ignored, is that the CFL rule makers increase the salary cap. If that was to occur, then there is an argument to say that the overall quality of the CFL could increase.

And how will the Roughriders be impacted?

Even in a world that sees the XFL take a fair share of CFL talent, I’d fully expect the Roughriders to come out the other side smiling. Could some of our players leave? Sure, they could.

Could our college targets opt for the XFL? Indeed. The same is true for every other team in the CFL too though and with pull of Saskatchewan a big one in Canada there is no reason why the roster compared to the rest of the league shouldn’t be in a stronger position than it is now.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Monday Morning Sentimonies: The Greatest 90-99

I suppose its time for me to finish of this salute to the greatest Riders by number that started back in April. I was kinda holding out hope that I could talk about actual football instead but I have a feeling that if I wait on the CFL to figure out a plan I won’t need to wear a fake white wig and beard because I will actually be that old. Look you have the notoriously ill-planned CFL dealing with the government (known for their speedy response times)… they should honestly just submit the 2021 restart plan now if they want approval to play by next summer.

So back to the salute.

We finish off with the 90s and a look at best pass rushers in franchise history. Well technically most of the best pass rushers didn’t wear 90 so its some of the best pass rushers.

90 – If this was a self-nomination then clearly Stevie Baggs would win. Not only would he consider himself the best player to wear 90 but the best defensive player ever. Brent Hawkins had potential but a bum shoulder always limited him. So although he really only had one good season, and it was arguably due mostly to playing opposite of John Chick, DL Stevie Baggs takes this on account of a lack of competition.

91 – In the early 2000’s there wasn’t a lot of good going on. We were building to better things but the on field payoff would not be for a couple years. DL Demetrious Maxie was one of the few bright spots during that period, notching a career high 11 sacks in 2000.

92 – The winner of this number has had a very odd career as a Rider. He made the team straight out of junior and had his formative years in green and white. Then just as he was about to hit his prime, a certain GM (not known for always making the best decisions) left him inexplicably unprotected in the expansion draft and Ottawa wisely swooped him and benefited from his prime years. The we repatriated him after a 4 year hiatus. Interestingly enough only 3 of his career 24 sacks have come as a Rider. I maintain that he’s on a sharp downward trend in his career but DL Zach Evans still remains the best #92.

93 – His career didn’t end on the best of terms (there was some legal issues) but prior to all that DL Terrius George put up 32 sacks and was a member of the 2013 Grey Cup team .

94 This was almost a default number. There are not a lot of people period to wear #94, let alone good people to wear it. Kyle Mitchell played 4 games and had 10 tackles. Dario Romero played a full season in 2011 (a fact I’d completely forgotten about). That’s pretty much the list unless you want me to look into the best player to wear 94 in training camp and get cut. So DL Dario Romero gets it, I guess.

95 – A couple solid Canadian options at 95. Mullinder was never a top end player but he was underrated rotational contributor who played an important role during his tenure. But this one has to go to DL Rickey Foley. He spent just 2 seasons in Green and white but he had 20 sacks in time period and was big part of the defense that led us to the Cup in 2013. Man I think back to that D-line… Foley, Chick, George, Hall. That’s almost not fair.

96 – There’s an obvious choice here and I am going to make it but I want to preface it with the following. In terms of top all-time personalities there is no denying this person’s greatness. But on the field I would argue that he was a decent to above average DT who benefited from playing alongside a damn near unstoppable beast. But lines like "fat, sassy pigs" and "I would make that his on Jesus himself" earn DL Scott Schultz this one.  

97 – Without question, the best pass rusher to play for the Riders in the 2000s. He’s 4th all-time in sacks with 53 sacks (a number eclipsed only by the number of children he fathered). Twice an all-star as a Rider, Most Outstanding defensive player in 2009 and one of 3 people ever to earn 2 Grey Cup rings as a Rider player… oh and he just happened to do all that as a diabetic. DL John Chick.

98 – I’ve seen a lot of dominant defensive players for the Riders but precious few that you could say were too good for the CFL. In his prime, DL Nate Davis was one of those. He legit should have been the NFL but that didn’t work out so Shivers scooped him and instantly made our D-line a force. Through that ’03-’04 period he was a one man wrecking crew. Doubled, tripled, he commanded a ton of attention. Also his signature dreadlocks pretty much guaranteed that his helmet would come off a minimum of twice a game. He was a scary dude. 

99 – Last but not least, the final number in this salute. Shomari William wore this number but that one didn’t really pan out. Alex Hall wore it, in his brief stint with the Riders (legitimately a great player but was only really here for the 2013 playoff run and a return for the 2015 season… what a wonderful year that was sigh). So this one goes to DL AC Leonard. At first I was convinced he was a product of the Chris Jones system and playing opposite of Willie Jefferson. But he has become a consistent performer regardless of system of teammates… not bad for a converted tight end. Legitimately probably the only Chris Jones “project” that actually panned out.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

REMEMBERING THE ROUGHRIDERS GREY CUP WINS


It’s fair to say the last few years haven’t quite gone to plan with a combination of play-off failures and failure to even make the play-offs giving us Roughriders supporters a rough ride of things. We’re not here for moping around though so we’re going to look on the brighter side of life by taking a walk down memory lane as we look back on the four Grey Cup successes we’ve had over the years.


1989


The 1989 season looked like being bang average for so long that the fact it now ranks amongst the best in Roughriders history is almost hard to believe. Throughout the regular season the most consistent run of form the team showed was a streak of four losses. With regards to recording victories the most they mustered back to back was two giving them an overall record of 9-9. 


Thankfully, that form improved in the post season as the Roughriders bounced back from a final day 49-17 thrashing at the hands of the Edmonton Eskimos to put three wins together ironically with the West Final coming in the form of a 32-21 victory over the Eskimos. The Grey Cup match got off to a sticky start with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats easing into a first quarter lead, but Kent Austin and Dave Ridgeway starred to bring home the second Grey Cup in Roughriders history with a narrow win.


2007


The 2007 campaign was all about Kerry Joseph as he was named Most Outstanding Player. Rightly so too with a contribution of over 4,000 passing yards and 24 touchdowns. Of course, there was a team game to be considered too and it just so happened the Roughriders turned in one of their best years for a couple of decades as they ended the regular season with just six defeats to their name. It meant they finished second behind the BC Lions. 


A standout moment came in game week five. The Roughriders welcomes Edmonton to Taylor Field and turned them over a whopping 54-14 making it their sixth best offensive points return in history (it’s now ninth in that list). It was also the start of a five-game winning run. 


Come the post season, a West final against the Lions had the odds stacked against the Saskatchewan side but what transpired was four quarters where the Lions failed to dominate any. In the Grey Cup match, the Roughriders ended their drought with a hard earned 23-19 win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers who to this day blame their defeat on the absence of quarterback Kevin Glenn. We don’t care one bit.


2013


The 2013 offseason was a busy one with a host of staff changes; most notably the arrival of former Hamilton Tiger-Cats coach George Cortez, who had been part of the Roughriders staff years earlier. Any question marks over the new setup were soon put to bed as the Roughriders lost just one of their opening nine fixtures with a shutout win over the Tiger-Cats a display of the team’s defensive capability alongside what was a relentless offence. A mid-season wobble did knock fan confidence though as the team suffered four defeats on the bounce to lose their grip on top spot in the division. 


Three wins from the last five saw the Roughriders through to the post season though but after overcoming the BC Lions 29-25 a faceoff with the Calgary Stampeders didn’t leave the support with much expectation after they’d emerged victorious twice in the regular season. Not this time though with Darian Durant the man of the moment with three touchdown passes to his name in a 35-13 win. The big match pitted the Roughriders against Cortez’s former side in Saskatchewan. The Tiger-Cats were made to look like fluffy kittens in a comfortable 45-23 win.


Then there was 1966...


The 1966 team picks itself as the greatest of all time with relative ease in our minds. Yes, the team wasn’t flawless as the Roughriders gave away a fair few points throughout the season but the offence, which included All-Stars George Reed and Hugh Campbell, was a force to be reckoned with. 


Seven wins from the first nine matches gave Eagle Keys’ men a tremendous start but the form became inconsistent in the second half of the season as they only won two of their last seven with one tied. Even so, the Roughriders had done enough to scoop the regular season win. 


What came next was a two-game showdown with the Blue Bombers to decide who would be crowned Western champions and head into the Grey Cup season finale. The Roughriders prevailed 2-0 with a 24-7 and 21-19 triumph. 


It all boiled down to one match, the Roughriders showdown. Could the team from Saskatchewan defeat the Ottawa based team of the same name? Damn right they could. A blistering first quarter saw a 14-6 lead established and although a 0-8 second restored parity before a scoreless third, victory was never in doubt. The final quarter came, and Ottawa were sent packing 15-0. It brought the final score to 29-14 meaning the first - and only - clean sweep in Roughriders history was secured.


There you have it, four Grey Cup wins. Here’s to many more moments like those. And if you enjoy football check out the latest odds from the NFL here: https://extra.betamerica.com/nfl/odds/ 



Monday, July 27, 2020

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Let’s Talk Football


I know you were all looking forward to the thrilling conclusion of my series on the best Riders by number. And don’t worry it will come. But for the first time in a long, long time, I feel like talking about football. Not theoretical, or historical or absurdly comical football. But real life, present day football.

It’s been a while. My vocal chords are in better shape then they have ever been mid-summer. Wisers called me the other day to see if I was still alive because my purchasing has nosedived. Even my neighbours came to check on me because the loud curse words that usually emanate form house on a weekly basis have gone silent. I’m not dead, just missing football.

You’ll note that since this whole pandemic started I have talked very little actual football. I honestly just started mentally preparing myself for no CFL season. But with every other major league starting their returns and the CFL in a series of discombobulated conversions about its own return… it’s time to jump back in and talk football.

I get asked lots if I think there will be a CFL season. It’s second only to “Could you do up your fly?” in terms of the question I get asked most frequently. The honest answer is I don’t know. Two months ago I would have said zero chance. Today I would say there is a chance, but I wouldn’t say it’s a particularly great one. They have a hub city. As if the pandemic isn’t bad enough, CFL players would have to spend it locked down in Winnipeg. That could be considered capital punishment in some countries. But what the CFL doesn’t have is money or a deal with the players or a Health Canada approved plan. They can probably get a deal with the players but the money… well that’s the major issue. The feds already nixed the Jays so the health plan is also no guarantee. 

With no fans in a gate-driven league money is hard to come by and the federal government appears to the only other source of revenue available. Without it, there will be no season. It’s really that simple. I mean they haven’t tried the trusty old telethon yet but I’ve been pitching that for months with no takers.

The deal with the players will also be tricky. Look I get both sides of this. For the players, they are looking at a best case scenario of a 1/3 of their salary (which for most them is not a lot of money), to play with increased risk in an already risky job, while giving up all their freedom to live in one of the last places anyone outside of Manitoba would want to find themselves, with no answers on what happens if they or their teammates get the virus. Football players may not always be the brightest in our society but even they are smart enough to not be jumping at this high risk/low pay opportunity. Some players are so desperate for money and to play football they will play regardless of the deal. Some players (the higher priced vets) probably make enough to make playing worthwhile. Some may decide to sit out and that’s ok… unless it’s a Rider player and then the punishment is a public flogging and exile… its in the constitution.

I also get the owners' side. Most of them could make more money investing in VLT playing. Their revenues are way, way down so with a 6 game season they really only can offer a portion of the peanuts they normally pay. From their perspective why would you pay a player for games they did not play with money they do not have? (I’m not saying that’s a particularly nice stance, but it’s sound business stance). Football is a great game but a crappy business.

Also, I get people dumping on Randy Ambrosie (and I won’t pretend he’s without fault) but all he is in this is a glorified human shield for the owners. He delivers their message and executes their strategy and takes all the blame. Given freedom of action he may choose a completely different strategy.

So will there be football in 2020? I hope so… but I’m not prepared to bet on it. But it was nice talking football again.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Monday Morning Sentimonies: The Greatest 80-89


After a brief hiatus, we are back. I took a couple weeks’ vacation… it’s one of the few work benefits I was successfully able to negotiate when I signed on for this gig. I spent the time researching the effects of whether or not beer and fishing increase the effectiveness of social distancing. I can conclusively say I found no evidence to disprove my theory.

The 80s are all about receivers. The lists starts and ends with some of the best receivers in the history of the franchise. The middle of the list proves that, much like the franchise itself, the mid-eighties leave a bit to be desired.

80 – We start off with a hall of famer and record holder for most consecutive games with a catch (a mark that will likely never even come close to be being in danger of being broke). WR Don Narcisse. Narco’s patented celebration dance is as legendary as his career itself.

81 – Though about going Geroy here just to rile people up but I’ll play this one straight. Arguably the best Canadian to ever play for the green and white was WR Ray Elgaard. He is the franchise leader in receiving yards and TDs, is top 10 all-time in CFL history and did most of it with a smoke pressed between his lips. He’s so legendary that any decent football fan will be able to tell you the meaning of the “Elgaard rule”

82 – I know there are a number of people that would want me to put Clermont here. But let’s face it, while Clermont is a Rams legend and a CFL all time great, his years in Saskatchewan where little more than a promotional tour… except that game winning TD in the playoffs that one time. No here I’m going with a recent player, WR Namaan Roosevelt. He arrived amid some pretty terrible years and almost didn’t get the chance he so clearly deserved. Once he got on the field he was productive and showed a willing to sacrifice his body for pretty much any catch.

83 – Roy Shivers does not exactly have the greatest CFL drafting record. But he nailed in in 2006 when he picked WR Andy Fantuz. Probably the best Canadian receiver to play for us since Elgaard. I still marvel at the things he did during that ’07 playoff run. Do yourself a favour and go back and watch those highlights.

84 – This is where things get a but dicey. Top contenders included Elijah Thurmon and Cary Koch. Finally landed on WR Eric Gulliford. Not a long career here but amassed 1800 yards and 12 TDs between 1999 and 2001.


85 – We continue along the dicey train. I refused to give this one to guys like Prechae Rodriguez and Karsten Bailey (both leading candidates at a very weak number). Briefly considered Willis Jacox but eventually landed on WR Kyran Moore. Small sample size but in his 2 years he’s shown he could be one of the greats if he keeps it up.

86– Honestly the best/only option I could find here was WR Demetris Bendross. It was him or Nathan Hoffart.

87 – The last of the week numbers. I had to go with WR Yo Murphy here. Yes his best years came before he arrived here and his he had a minimal role even when he was here but he takes this one unless you can suggest someone more deserving.

88 – Ok back to some quality options. Runner up here is Curtis Marsh. The winner is WR Matt Dominguez. People forget just how dominant a receiver he was up until his injury in ’07.

89 – Some great names pop up here, Jamel Richardson, Duron Carter, Curtis Mayfield. But one name rises above the rest. Look I know I make a lot of fun about his inconstency but stats don’t lie and WR Chris Getzlaf is #5 all-time in the franchise in receiving yards and only 5 people have caught more TDs in green and white then him. He was a hell of a receiver… I will just always wonder how much higher he could have risen had he been able to catch on a consistent basis in stadiums other than McMahon.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Monday Morning Sentimonies: The Greatest 70-79


I figured that this would be one of the most difficult sets of numbers in this series. These days numbers in the 70s are reserved for training camp fodder and practice squad players who hope to someday graduate to a “real” number… with a few exceptions. But it turns out that the 70s has a very rich history and features some of the all-time franchise greats.

70 – The franchise may have been around for a long long time but like most things, it was a long wait for the first player to be named Rookie of the Year. It took until 1981 for a young LB Vince Goldsmith to become the first. He would go on to rack up 130.5 sacks over his career. 7th all time in CFL history.

71 – Speaking of prolific pass rushers… the great one in franchise history just happened to wear #71. He holds the team record in sacks, sits 3rd all-time in CFL history with 140 and his rising sun bandana is one of the all-time iconic looks in the league. I’m talking of course about DL Bobby Jurasin.

72 – Another famous defender checks in here. LB Cleveland Vann. 5 seasons with the team and had an interception in the 1976 Grey Cup… it remains one of the few aspects of that game that people from Saskatchewan are willing to talk about.

73 – Prior to tragic plane crash that killed 3 of his teammates DL Gordon Strutridge was a 3 time all-star and viewed as an important piece of the puzzle for a team trying rise to the top of the CFL.

74 – More competition here than you might expect. Keith Shologan wore the number, as did Chris DeFrance, but few embody the heart and soul of the prairies quite like LB Dan Rashovich. He was never an all-star or award winner but was one of the glue guys that worked hard on special teams and stepped on D when needed.


75 – 7 seasons as a Rider, 3 all-star nods and a Grey Cup ring. DL Garner Ekstran takes this number.

76– This is the part of the list where things start getting a bit sketchy. The only notable 76 I found was LB Tyson St James. Who? You might ask. 1st overall pick in 2000, the very first draft pick of GM Roy Shivers. Viewed as a key build block in the new look Riders… and not longer with the team just 2 season later.

77 – Rakim Cox wore the number, and we all know I find that name hilarious. Dan Clark wore 77 when he scored that iconic diving TD reception. Even Dwan Epps wore it. But this one goes to LB Wally Dempsey who spent 7 years with the team over 2 stints and was part of the 66 team.

78 – I scoured for this number and the best I found was DB Jim Cooper… who played 5 games with the Riders in 1999. He makes the list thanks to the 2 sweetest words in the English language: De Fault.

79 – We end on a higher note here. Could have gone with Turell Jurineak but instead going with a different D-lineman, DL Gary Lewis. 2 time western all-star and part of the 89 team.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Monday Morning Sentimonies: The Greatest 60-69


The 60s feature an impressive cast of some of the best Riders ever. It included many of easiest choices in this entire feature. But as always it also featured some questionable inclusions due to a lack of competition

60 – We start today off with the man who has played more games in Green and White than any player in history. With a resume that features 7 straight west all-stars, 5 CFL all-stars and back to back CFL Most Outstanding lineman, he is arguably the best O-lineman to ever play for us. He also has one of the biggest heads in franchise history. OL Gene Makowksy

61 – One of the first big name defensive linemen in franchise history. In his prime he was a force and a game changing presence. DL Ed McQuarters. He had 3 straight CFL all-star nominations and even continued playing years after losing an eye!

62 – 10 year career in green and white manning the tackle position. OL Vic Stevenson was a important piece in the 89 team. He actually won 2 more Grey Cups after leaving the Riders.

63 – So turns out that good players don’t wear 63. There’s Rene Brassea (the greatest Mexican national to ever dress for the green and white). There’s Derek Dennis (who is worthy of recognition… just not for his time here). I was about to give up and declare my first N/A but fortunately I came across OL Scott Hendrickson. His career spanned some pretty bad years for the franchise but at least he has a career worth mentioning.  

64 – This number appears to be for people are great O-lineman but have their best years with teams other than us. Both Dan Comsikey and Dan Goodspeed (aka Dan Badslow) whore 64.  So out of pure necessity I’m giving the nod to OL Dakota Shepley.  I'm sorry there was no one else (something I'm sure one of my readers will correct within minutes of this post going live). I mean… he was in Deadpool.


65 – Okay, back to the super deserving players. One of the best nicknames in Rider history and his play definitely befit his name. DL Bill Baker “the Undertaker”.

66– Another one of the all-time great Rider OL and another local success story. OL Mike Anderson played for 11 years and in additional to being a steady presence in the middle of the OL, his resume includes a Grey Cup ring and an all-star nod in 1994.

67 – Anyone who suggests Dan Clark is getting slapped. Look, he’s great story, junior to all-star OL. And who knows, if he keeps playing like he did in 2019, he may yet become deserving of being included here. But for now this one goes to another OL… OL Clyde Brock. A dominating offensive tackle who was an all-star in 4 consecutive seasons. Ask George Reed how much he liked playing behind Brock.

68 – Looking back on the Rider O-line in the Shivers era, the level of talent was unreal. Gene Makowsky, Jeremy O’Day, Fred Childress and OL Andrew Greene. 3 of those guys won CFL Most Outstanding lineman awards, 1 would have had he not been playing alongside such big name guys…. And the other guy was Charles Thomas (cue sad trombone music). For all his greatness, Greene was commemorated by Wisers with this outstanding bobblehead.


69 – If you didn’t just pause for childish laughter after reading this number, I’m not sure we can be friends. Fred Childress (the Big Chill) was a consideration but his best years were in Calgary. So I’m ending today’s list instead with a guy who was named a west all-star in 3 of his 5 Riders season… and  was a professional wrestle who fought Jake the Snake Roberts at WrestleMania 2. DL George Wells.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Monday Morning Sentimonies: The Greatest 50-59


We have hit the halfway point of our journey through the greatest players by number. My hope is that at some point I’ll be able to transition to talking about real football but I guess we’ll just have to see.

We are into the 50s which means we are starting to talk about a lot of linemen (something this franchise has a proud history of).

50 – Starting off with a controversial one. Any Rider historian or fan over the age of 45 will point immediately to Wayne Shaw. Not to diminish what a great career Shaw had but this one has to go to LB Jerrell Freeman. Simply put he was one of the most talented players I have every watched. He would fly around the field and always find himself around the ball. He went from an unknown Div 3 player, to a outstanding Rider to an NFL starter. He was unreal to watch.

51 – First name that came to mind was Chunky Adams. Now, I like Chunky for a lot of reasons but had a hard time calling him the greatest. The bar didn’t go a lot higher but OL John Terry gets this one. He was named an all-star twice in his 5 year tenure with the Riders.

52 – Cliff Shaw was an option but I’m sticking with the O-line theme and going OL Wayne Smith. He did not have a particularly long Rider career but he was a top end starting OL that helped put this team over the hump in 2007. He is also part of one of the greatest trades in Rider history… when the Ti-Cats just gifted us everything we needed in exchange for Rocky Butler.

53 – This one was a no brainer. It goes to one of the most unique combinations in all of sports… that being the combination starting O-lineman/Placekicker. Yes you heard me right! OL Jack Abendschan. Not only did he play O-line at an all-star level he also kicked field goals. I don’t think we will even see anything even remotely similar again.

54 – I’ll give him minor demerit points for not being able to kick a FG but for 10 years OL Jeremy O’Day was a rock solid presence in the middle of our OL. He’s arguably the best centre in franchise history.


55 and 56– Doing this in combination as the story is the exact same. Both Mario DeMarco and Ray Syrnyk were top end OL who had their careers ended much too early in a tragic plane crash.

57 – One of the toughest choices of this whole thing. Two Saskatchewan Products. Two talented linemen. Two Grey Cup Champions. Two tough SOBs. Bob Poley is probably more iconic but I’m given I slight edge to OL Brendon LaBatte. He is a 5 time all-star and has won Lineman of the Year. He also had to overcome getting that Winnipeg stink off of him… which is no small accomplishment.

58 – Shonte Peoples anyone? Come on, he was in Frontlyne. Plus he made things interesting off the field. Ok fine. I’ll go with someone who played alongside Labatte. OL Xavier Fulton. In his prime, I don’t think he got credit for how good he was at tackle. Fun fact: we acquired him from Edmonton for a 6th round pick.

59 – I did want to give this to Jocelyn Frenette for being a solid long snapper and excelling as the designated “fake an injury after the convert on a defensive or special teams touchdown so the guys can catch their breath" guy. But OL Ralph Galloway takes this one. 5 straight western all-stars and 2 time CFL all-star.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Monday Morning Sentimonies: The Greatest 40-49


After a brief 1 week hiatus, we are back continuing our look at the greatest Riders by number. I’d offer an explanation for my lack of posting last week but… screw it we are in quarantine I don’t think my lack of effort on any particular day requires an explanation. I'm just impressed I'm wearing pants.

We are now into the 40s.

40 – If you are one of the 8 players in franchise history to have your number retired, you are worthy of being up on the list. Mel Beckett was one of the 4 Rider players to die in a plane crash coming back from the all-star game in Vancouver. It was a tragedy that set this franchise back many years on the field.

41 – Some notables here such as Fred Perry who did some great things aside from getting into business with Marcus Crandell. Of course recently Tyron Brackenridge set a pretty high standard. But this one has to go to DL Ron Atchison. A dominating defensive player for an amazing 17 seasons as a Rider. Also one of the few guys whose most infamous stories involves a pair of hush puppy shoes.

42 – This one was a tough one. Larry Bird was an option (the lineman not the Celtics great). Just spend 3 seasons watching Derrick Moncrief dominate. But even an impact player like Moncrief isn’t quite up to the standard set by LB Eddie Lowe. 9 years as a Rider including a Grey Cup ring and an all-star nod in 1989.

43 – One thing the Riders have in spades is a history of great O-linemen. OL Ted Urness was one of the forerunners in that legacy. He was an all-star at centre for 6 straight years! He has also been inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.

44 – No brainer right here… OL Roger Aldag. A local Saskatchewan product who went on to play in 17 season, the second most games in franchise history, a 5 time all-star, a 9 time team nominee for top OL and 2 time CFL Most Outstanding OL. One of the best players in the history of the franchise.


45 – While some would disagree, an argument could be made here for Mike McCullough. He is one of 3 players in franchise history with 2 Grey Cup rings as a player. But I think if you look at impact on the franchise, this one has to go to QB Glen Dobbs. He was a big part of the early rise of the Riders' popularity in the province.

46 – Going to go with a completely personal choice and give it to LB Kitwana Jones. He was never a star but he remains one of my favourite players ever. Just one of those high energy high effort guys that are a staple of any great team. Great on special teams, rotational depth at LB. Hell he even happily took on being a defensive tackle when Etchverry stupidly lined him up there. While looking back on his career I was reminded of how we traded him to Edmonton in 2009 for QB Juan Joseph. That really worked well.

47 – Out of principle I wanted to give this to Mo Lloyd purely to piss off my buddy Rob. While Lloyd is certainly a worthy candidate based on his play in ’06 and ’07. I’m actually going to give this one to a different linebacker. I really don’t think we fully appreciated how good LB Sam Eguavoen was. An impact player who is deservedly now playing in the NFL.

48 – The trip down linebacker memory lane continues with LB Rey Williams. Played his early CFL years here and came back to be a key part of the defense in the 2013 championship year. Dude could fly around the field.

49 – The first name that came to mind for me was Jeff Knox and while I was a Knox fan I assumed that if I kept digging, I would find someone to supplant him… I did not.  So LB Jeff Knox it is. He was one of the few bright spots on some dismal teams in 2015 and 2016.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Monday Morning Sentimonies: The Greatest 30-39


We are back with the newest installment of the Greatest Riders by numbers. We are into the 30s this team. This is a weird set of numbers. It contains some of the greatest Riders ever and some guys I was forced to include because they were somewhat noteworthy at a number that not many were noteworthy at.
  
30 – Sentimentally I wanted to give this one to Jamie “The Juggernaut” Boreham. But as much as I love punters who hit like safeties, that doesn’t exactly qualify as greatness.  Have to go with DB Bruce Bennett. He sits third all-time in interceptions for the Riders and until they start counting rotations that kick returners make after getting hit by punters as an official stat, that’s good enough to lock down 30.

31 – Sean Lucas is certainly a candidate here. He played solid for a number of years at that cover LB spot. But there are a number of reasons why people would object to that. I don’t care to count those reasons but trust me. Besides, 31 more deservedly goes to WR Hugh Campbell anyway. In 1966 he hauled in 17 receiving TDs, a franchise mark that remains unchallenged to this day.

32 – Guys like Milson Jones and Terry Irvin come to mind but this one was decidedly between two very deserving RBs: Neal Hughes and Mike Saunders. Saunders sits 3rd in rushing. Hughes doesn’t have the lofty stats but was a key special team/depth guy and an important part of 2 Grey Cup championships. I’m giving the edge to RB Neal Hughes, he is part of a very select group in franchise history… he’s one of just 3 Rider players to win 2 Grey Cup rings as a player.

33 – If I don’t give this to the Canuck Truck I’ll have to endure a barrage of fans chastising me for him not being a big enough part of my blog content. So yes this goes to FB Chris Szarka. He scored 12 TDs in 2003. In his prime he could carry a pile like few others. I personally loved his 2009 season. He was running for city council and each TD he scored that season was more effective than any campaigning or door knocking.  

34 – Possibly the easiest choice in this entire series. George Reed is the definition of greatness both on and off the field. He is the #2 all-time rusher in CFL history (with 309 less than Mike Pringle). Now consider that all of Reed’s stats were amassed before the introduction of the 18 games season.


35 – The recency bias has me thinking Weldon Brown here. He was a talented defender with a Grey Cup ring though his tenure was not very long. Gotta turn back the pages of the history books for this one. DL Bill Clarke played 15 seasons for the Green and White. He was a 2 time all-star and 2 time team nominee for Most Outstanding Canadian.

36 – Another no-brainer. Clearly its Robokicker. K Dave Ridgeway is the best kicker in franchise history. While many have since been broken, in his day he set many of the CFL records in the kicking department. He also may have had a quasi-important role in the ’89 Grey Cup.

37 – Look I apologize in advance for this one. The thing is 37 is not a number that people want. It is a crappy number given to training camp guys and practice roster players who hope one day to be good enough to merit an upgrade to an actual good number. So it wasn’t just slim pickings at this number, it was next to no pickings. The best I could honestly find was DL Terrence Melton.

38 – I am partial to Tristan Jackson who was a solid DB and even better kick returner. Lamar McGriggs also came up in my research. This one has to go to LB George White.

39 – I waffled on this one for a while. Names like Chris McKenzie and Dave Albright are options. But I think I have to go to DL Charleston Hughes. I realize that his best years were as a Stampeder and he has only been here 2 years but he is one of the best pass rushers in league history. Also ask yourself when the last time a Rider lead the league in sacks in consecutive years?