CFL

CC-FL - GREY CUP WRAP

The 99th Grey Cup won’t go down as a classic (trumped by this year’s Vanier Cup for pure entertainment) but it will be remembered for a few significant CFL notations including the renewal of a 48 year old grudge between Joe Kapp and Angelo Mosca and the first Cup home field win since 1994.
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Wally Buono won his fifth Cup to pull into a tie with Hugh Campbell, Don Matthews, Frank Clair and Lew Heyman atop the all-time list. After the game I mentioned to Buono that one more Grey Cup victory would give him the outright lead. “That’s irrelevant,” he responded, still soaked in champagne from the post game celebration.  Buono made it clear that if he continues it won’t be for personal records.

A strong argument can be made that this is the perfect time for Buono to turn the Leos over to an assistant such as Mike Benevides with a stable, potential repeat championship calibre team in place. Or does it make more sense for Wally to ride out one more year with a veteran core before focusing on his GM duties and a youth movement a year from now.

 Likely gone from the champs next year are Solomon Elimimian and Jovan Olifioye to the NFL. Brent Johnson is expected to retire and the futures of Paris Jackson and Angus Reid are up in the air.

A week ago, I would have bet that Buono was planning to return. So were members of his staff. But in the afterglow of a Grey Cup title it now seems more likely that Buono will move upstairs. We should know within a week or two.
This season has been touted as Buono’s best coaching job in his 22 year career but his work as GM might have been better. Free agent signings of Ben Archibald, Khreem Smith and Eric Taylor don’t make headlines but all three were difference makers in the trenches where the Lions dominated games this year.

Trading for Tad Kornegay and Arland Bruce were both shrewd acquisitions of proven veterans for a team that was struggling mightily out of the gate. He also re-signed kicker Paul McCallum and dealt Sean Whyte which went against conventional wisdom and counter to Buono’s track record on jettisoning players late in their careers. McCallum repaid Buono with the best season by a kicker in CFL history.

Perhaps Buono’s best move was handing the keys to the franchise to Travis Lulay. Buono had the foresight (as he usually does with quarterbacks) to know that Lulay was ready to put the franchise on his shoulders. In his first season as the full time starter, Lulay established himself as the CFL’s newest marquee name.

Speaking of Lulay, there were a couple of hints that he wasn’t 100 percent going into the Grey Cup game. In Day One practice last week Lulay ran to the Lions dressing room with athletic therapist Bill Reichelt. He missed only a few minutes of practice so at the time it didn’t seem significant. On the eve of the Grey Cup Lulay underwent a lengthy acupuncture session. He admitted after the game that he was hampered by a groin injury he had suffered on his 61 yard touchdown run in the Western final.

Lulay outplayed his friend and former teammate, Buck Pierce. Pierce is a free agent, but after producing 10 wins for the Bombers is most likely to be re-signed. But the Bomber will be looking closely at their future at quarterback. Alex Brink made huge strides and was pushing Pierce by season’s end. The organization is also high on Joey Elliott who was the number 2 before an ACL injury early in the year and will be ready for training camp. GM Joe Mack likes his depth at the position also citing the tools of Justin Goltz. But there are some across the league who believe Winnipeg could join Toronto and Hamilton in the bidding for Henry Burris.

The Argos reported agreement with Scott Milanovich to take over Toronto’s head coaching duties raised some eyebrows on Grey Cup weekend. I’m not sure owner David Braley was pleased that the Milanovich story was breaking as his other franchise was involved in the championship game. It was expected that Milanovich would succeed Marc Trestman in 2013 when the Alouette head coach’s contract expires.

There were some in the Argo camp hoping that Mike O’Shea would succeed Jim Barker as head coach. O’Shea believes he’s ready and is a marketable name in Toronto. But the Argos need help on the offensive side of the ball and Milanovich fits that bill.

If Milanovich gets signed Barker’s next task will be to do a better job of recruiting talent. Do the Argos make the splash of the off season with Henry Burris and perhaps free agent Andy Fantuz. Fantuz made news at the Cup by changing agents and is now represented by Tim Fleizer. There were rumblings that Fleizer and Fantuz will be seeking a new deal in the 300,000 dollar range. That’s not CFL salary cap friendly but the Argos may be that desperate to turn things around and make an off season impact in the Toronto market.

Final Thoughts from Vancouver

- Anton MacKenzie was the Lions best player Sunday.

- Arland Bruce is the CFL’s most misunderstood player. A true pro (who is quirky) but cares deeply about the game and his craft.

- Doug Brown joins Milt Stegall in the elite group of CFL stars without a Grey Cup ring. Like Milt, Brown will have to settle for a spot in the Hall of Fame (and most likely a job with TSN if he chooses.)

- While Brown goes without a title in 11 distinguished seasons, Neil McKinlay comes out of retirement and a North Vancouver fire hall to claim one. Not to diminish McKinlay’s talents or contributions but sometimes luck plays a bigger role than talent when it comes to winning championships.

- All eyes will be on Geroy Simon when the 2012 season begins. Geroy is 66 yards from the all time receiving record which should be eclipsed on the opening weekend of next season.

- The fifth highest audience in TSN history watched the game on TSN. Just shy of 4.4 million English viewers watched the game, with over 11 million Canadians tuning in for some part of the 99th Grey Cup telecast. The Vancouver area audience share was 65%.






CC-FL REPORT - REGULAR SEASON FINALE
One of my Twitter followers classified Saturday's BC Montreal clash as "the biggest regular season game in CFL history." When you consider that the fate of all six playoff bound teams was impacted by the result, as well as first place at stake in both divisions, I can't argue. The stakes were unprecedented. Too bad the game was an one-sided beat down. Anthony Calvillo tried to pump up his team pregame with a "We're the champs. Let's play like Mike Tyson" speech. The Alouettes proceeded to play like Mike Tyson circa Buster Douglas. After Douglas, Tyson was never the same, menacing bully again. You wonder how confident the defending champions will be in the aftermath of that humiliation, and without Josh Bourke to help protect AC.

So decisive was the game that Anthony Calvillo, a sure fire MOP winner prior to kickoff, may have lost the award to Travis Lulay on the strength (and weakness) of Saturday's performances. Lulay tossed 4 touchdowns to match Calvillo's total of 32 on the year. The BC signal caller is 10-1 in his last 11 games, with a QB rating in the 108 range over that span. Calvillo was held to 63 yards in Vancouver and limped to a 5-6 mark since late August, with a PE rating under 100. Lulay has become the most compelling story of the 2011 season. Calvillo, who has taken a severe amount of punishment this season, could possibly be down to his final game(s) in an historic and first ballot Hall of Fame career.

A week ago I couldn't have named a clear cut favourite to win the Cup. The Lions changed that Saturday and would be the first to win the Grey Cup at home since 1994. But they're still 2 wins away.

Based on the Als woeful performance (82 yards combined offense from Calvillo, Brandon Whitaker and Jamel Richardson, the passing, rushing and receiving leaders this season) the Ticats have to be given a shot this weekend in the Eastern semi. The Cats limped down the stretch with a 2-4 final third of the year, but Hamilton's season will be judged on their playoff performance. A Ticat loss in Montreal will likely trigger mass changes in the Hammer. They may be first in line for Henry Burris' 2012 services.

The Argos, arguably, were the East's best team in the final third (3-3). If I were David Braley (and don't we all wish we had his bank account) I'd move Jim Barker upstairs and name Mike O'Shea, head coach. After Pinball, O'Shea is the most credible football name in Toronto. Is he ready? No less than Pinball was when he was the Argos last winning coach. The Argos need help on offence. Curiously, Jim Barker is most qualified to be the Argos OC but he won't accept a demotion to do it. I'd make a call to Buffalo and offer Bills QB coach George Cortez, a Co-Coach title and let him run the offence. Best regards to Argos Special Teams Captain Bryan Crawford who is retiring. David Braley should have an exit meeting with Crawford who is one of the game's brightest minds. If anybody has answers to the Argos woes, I suspect Crawford does.

The Bombers are one win away from the Cup despite a 3-7 finish. Swaggerville will be a tough place to play in mid-November for visiting teams. Buck Pierce has an extra week to recover from a sprained knee, but the most intriguing question for the Bombers is whether their best chance to win is with Pierce or Alex Brink at quarterback. Brink has come along way from starting the year as a #3. With a returning Joey Elliott next year, the Bombers QB position will be a position of strength, far from the question mark it was when the season began.

Calgary could be the playoff sleeper team. Drew Tate has won three consecutive starts. Ken Yon Rambo's return makes the offence more lethal. However, the Stampeders got sidetracked after Labour Day. There are still questions to answer and a tough road through Edmonton and Vancouver to get to the Show.

It wasn't a convincing performance but the Eskimos claimed home field for the West Semi on the strength of a brilliant solo effort by Adarius Bowman against Saskatchewan. Ricky Ray led the CFL in Pass Efficiency rating ahead of Calvillo and Lulay. If Ray can spread the ball to all his targets and get decent run production from Jerome Messam, the Eskimos could win the West. Rich Stubler's defence is that good.

The Riders can get a head start on next year. Gene Makowsky got a head start on his post football career by winning a seat in the Saskatchewan legislature in Monday's provincial election. From the bad timing department Rob Bagg was cleared for full workouts the day the Riders season ended. Bagg's return to the Saskatchewan lineup next year will help but there's lots of work to be done. Primarily who will run the team. The Riders organization vehemently denied the GGSB suggestion that Eric Tillman has Rider BOD support to return. Tom Higgins and Adam Rita are expected to call about front office jobs. If incumbent Brendan Taman is given full power its anticipated that Taman's choice for Head Coach will be Hamilton D coordinator Corey Chamblin. Chamblin impressed in an interview last year and is one of the CFL's bright young minds. But the Tiger Cat defence didn't exactly dominate this year. Beyond Chamblin there are no shortage of candidates. Kent Austin remains my top choice but failing that I'd be tempted to offer the Dickenson brothers two sets of keys to Mosaic.


Top 13 list of Rider Head Coach Candidates

1  Kent Austin - Open the vault and give him the "Trestman" option of winters in the South
2  Corey Chamblin - Rumoured to be Taman's guy
3  Dave Dickenson - Best choice after Austin
4  Craig Dickenson - Best current Riders assistant candidate
5  Mike Benevides - Buono heir apparent
6  Richie Hall - Anxious for a second chance
7  Chris Jones - Ready for a top job
8  George Cortez -Frequently a candidate, never a Head Coach
9  Scott Milanovich - Interviewed in Toronto, obvious offensive strengths
10 Tim Burke - Outstanding resume from Montreal and Winnipeg
11 Rich Stubler - Outstanding job with Eskimo D. Didn`t make it to labour Day as HC in Toronto
12 Tom Higgins - Away from coaching for a few years but fits Saskatchewan image
13 Marcus Crandell - A future HC but not quite his time

POWER RANKINGS

1 BC - 10-1 finish, home and indoors, 2 wins away
2 WINNIPEG - Comeback win vs Montreal rewarded. CanadInns a big November edge.
3 EDMONTON - First home playoff since 2004.
4 CALGARY - Drew Tate 3-0 as a starter.
5 MONTREAL - Talk of a "Threepeat" has gone quiet.
6 HAMILTON - A win at Olympic Stadium will restore faith.
7 TORONTO -  3-3 in final 6 games
8 SASKATCHEWAN - Nice touch bringing injured vets, beer for Ken Miller post game farewell in Edmonton.

NAME GAME
The CFL's  Men of the Great Outdoors
Malvin Hunter, David Archer, Adarius Bowman, Aaron Hunt, Ray Fisher, Danny Bass, Turner Gill, Danny Buggs, Craig Spear, Joe Paopao, Eagle Keys



CC-FL REPORT
Receiver Jamel Richardson or QB Anthony Calvillo as MOP? We have heard this debate before. Back in '94 Calgary's Allen Pitts broke the single season CFL receiving mark with 2036 yards only to lose out to his quarterback Doug Flutie for the Stampeders team MOP nomination. The brooding Pitts wore the disappointment on his shoulder. Wally Buono, then Stamps coach and GM remembers, "It was a chicken and egg debate. It was a tremendous achievement to break 2,000 yards for Al but how much credit should go to the quarterback. Doug had over 6,000 yards that season so it was a very special season for both of them."

I was on the Pitts side of that debate and I'm leaning towards Richardson over Calvillo this season. JRich has tied a CFL record (co-held by Pitts) with his 11th 100 yard receiving game of the year Saturday in Winnipeg. He's now withing 237 yards of the Pitts single season record. Yes, AC has had a record breaking year and would be a worthy winner. But Richardson's consistent excellence this year as a go to, and big play pass catcher deserves recognition. Had he not missed a game with injury, the Pitts single season record would most assuredly have fallen. It still might.

Milt Stegall's career receiving record may survive through the end of this season. Hamilton's stellar defensive effort Sunday restricted Geroy Simon to 42 yards and leaves Superman 227 yards short of the record. Its not a stretch for Geroy to get there but I think Milt has another off season to bask at the top of the heap.

Speaking of Doug Flutie there are whispers that the CFL's all time top ranked player is considering a return to the CFL in a coaching capacity. I was more than surprised to hear the Flutie name circulating, but his family is getting older, he's no longer with ESPN, and Flutie is one of the most competitive people you will ever meet. I think its a longshot but a Flutie return to the CFL would be headline news and great for the League!
I'm also hearing the Argos won't be making any changes in football ops where Jim Barker will get a third season to make amends in Toronto. Congrats to Chad Owens, the Argos 3K weapon. Argo fans should be looking forward to seeing a full season of Owens at slotback. But Owens must improve his ball security after coughing up seven fumbles and losing five this year.

Hands up if you predicted Edmonton and Winnipeg leading their respective divisions with two weeks remaining. Both organizations deserve all the accolades they receive. If they can retain home field both will be extremely tough to beat in the Divisional Finals.

The Eskimos have forged a balanced attack with Jerome Messam blossoming as a CFL star and taking some heat off Ricky Ray who has three big time targets in Stamps, Bowman and Barnes.
The Bombers are still inconsistent on offence but would you want to play that defence on a windy day at CanadInns?

The Alouettes East Final Big O advantage is now in jeopardy with tough games against Calgary and BC remaining and needing the Bombers to cooperate by losing one of their remaining two games. The Als recent 4th quarter collapses must be a concern, outscored 45-9 in the final quarter in their last three against Winnipeg or Hamilton.

Speaking of the Tiger Cats, that defensive performance in snapping the Lions eight game win streak should have the rest of the league taking note. Safety Carlos Thomas got Wally Buono's attention. "Their safety was coming downhill and kicking the crap out of us. We couldn't take advantage of him over the top." With the Ticats secondary shored up D coordinator Corey Chamblin unleashed his front seven which ran roughshod over the Lions. The Ticats have teased their fans before but if they play D like that for the rest of the year they could play in late November. On offence, the Tabbies two QB system was under scrutiny and passed its first test. Kevin Glenn looked sharp in the first half and the offence didn't lose any momentum with Quinton Porter in the second half. Its a throwback concept to 20 years ago or more when tandems weren't unusual; Holloway/Clements, Lemmerman/Wilkinson, Wilkinson/Moon, Barnes/Hufnagel and Austin/Burgess are among the tandems which have worked for winning teams.

The Lions will be licking their wounds this week. They've suffered 11 injuries in three weeks with Andrew Harris likely gone and everyone in BC holding their breath over the status of Travis Lulay's ankle. The return of Solomon Elimimian would ease the pain.

Drew Tate's performance against Saskatchewan signals that a new era has probably started in Calgary. Tate will get a stiffer test this week against Montreal but any level of success will likely relegate Henry Burris to the sidelines for the rest of his Stampeders career.

I've tried to come up with one good reason Darian Durant played last week on a broken foot with the Riders playoff hopes gone. I'm still working on it.

Last week Kent Austin issued a statement that he was happy at Cornell and had not been contacted by the Saskatchewan Roughriders about returning to the club. Nowhere in the statement did Austin say he wasn't interested in the job, only that he hadn't been contacted. Word is that the Riders board isn't unanimous in its support of extending Austin an offer. If not Austin, I'm curious to see who the Riders BoG will unanimously support.

POWER RANKINGS

1) EDMONTON - 4th quarter letdown in Toronto is a lesson for a young, balanced group improving weekly and well ahead of schedule.
2) WINNIPEG - Huge comeback win against Montreal gives Blue Brigade a leg up on hosting East Final.
3) MONTREAL - Hits are taking a toll on AC and 4th quarter struggles could cost the Als an Eastern Final home date at the Big O.
4) BC - We knew the win streak would end eventually but it did with a major thud and Lulay injury could spoil storybook script.
5) CALGARY - Tate passes his first starter's test but it will be more impressive if he does it against a better team like Montreal.
6) HAMILTON - Maybe the two quarterback plan will work. New faces in the secondary and Robert Rose put the growl back in the Ticat defence.
7) SASKATCHEWAN - At least the touchdown drought is over.
8) TORONTO - The 4th quarter against the Eskimos provides a glimmer of hope that Steven Jyles is the answer at QB.

SCHOOL COLOURS

In honour of Queen's stunning 37-0 beatdown of the Number 1 ranked Western Mustangs, here's an Oil Thigh shoutout to the Tricolour grads playing in the CFL.
Mike Giffin Mtl; Bryan Crawford and Craig Smith, Tor; Matt Kirk and Kevin Scott, Ham; Rob Bagg and Shomari Williams, Sask; Dee Sterling, Edm.



CC-FL REPORT

Calgary boss John Hufnagel was confronted with his most challenging dilemma since taking charge of the Stampeders in 2008. In wake of the Stampeders shocking loss in Toronto Friday night, Hufnagel has opted to bench marquee quarterback Henry Burris and start Drew Tate this weekend against Saskatchewan. It's a decision I'm certain he wasn't contemplating just a month ago. Still ahead, Huf must decide the long term future of the reigning CFL MOP in Calgary. My Twitter following was decisive in its tweets of support for Drew Tate after his 19/28 for 263 yards and 2 touchdowns relief job Friday night. "Stamps fans have been calling for Tate for weeks, if not months ago" was a popular refrain. After the Argo shocker Burris said," I'm ready to fire on all cylinders whenever my number is called." But it has been five straight games with under 200 yards passing for the senior Stamp, losing five of his last seven starts. Now, its uncertain when his number is called next.
It was clear, when Tate opted to re-sign with the Stampeders last winter, that he was Calgary's quarterback of the future. Have we arrived at that point now and will the Stamps be best served to start Tate for the rest of the season? While the answers to those questions hinge on the Iowa product's performance against the Riders, it seems clear that Tate will be Calgary's number one QB next season. If that happens, it is unlikely that Burris is kept around as a backup with a marquee player salary. Does Hank take a pay cut to stick around, consider retirement, or is traded.

If Burris leaves who will back up Tate?

If Hank is made available in an off season deal, does Toronto delay its plans to anoint Steven Jyles as its future and go with the aging Burris, who might sell some tickets in the sagging Toronto market? The Argos failed miserably in developing a young quarterback under Damon Allen in his latter years. Perhaps Burris is the ideal mentor for rookie BJ Hall with the Boatmen. Or do the Ticats add another element to their current quarterbacking carousel?

For this week, Hufnagel only needed to decide on his starter against Saskatchewan in an attempt to shake his team out of its current funk. But the other questions will need to be addressed at season's end, making Calgary one of the most interesting off season stories in the months ahead.
One Stampeder veteran who looks likely to get a reprieve is running back Joffrey Reynolds. With both Jon Cornish and LaMarcus Coker banged up in Toronto, Reynolds could be reinstated for this week's Saskatchewan game, after three weeks on the sidelines.

The other headline CFL story to watch this winter is where Rider star Andy Fantuz signs. Was Eskimo GM Eric Tillman walking a fine line around tampering charges when he publicly stated that he had pursued Fantuz aggressively at the trade deadline last week? Fantuz has turned down lucrative offers to sign long term in Saskatchewan. CFL scuttlebutt suggests not only Edmonton but BC also made strong pitches for Fantuz prior to last week's trade deadline. The same sources suggest that the Riders were giving serious consideration to those offers. Its uncertain if Fantuz will pursue NFL opportunities again. But its very possible that the Eskimos, Lions and Argos will have offers on the table for Fantuz when February 2012 arrives.

Speaking of the Eskimos, the Green and Gold "outdefenced" the CFL's best defence at Commonwealth Stadium Saturday night. Esks rush end Marcus Howard is making a late push for rookie of the year. The impressive first year DE chalked up 2 more sacks against the Bombers giving him 9 on the season. The Eskimo triumph over the Bombers raises two good questions; which team has had the more impressive turnaround this year, Edmonton or Winnipeg, and who is the Coach of the Year, Kavis Reed or Paul Lapolice? Or is the old vet Wally Buono in contention for bringing his Lions back from the dead.

Jerome Messam is in the Top Canadian conversation after another strong outing, 11 carries for 74 yards. Messam is now 151 yards short of becoming the first Canadian 1,000 yard rusher since Sean Millington in 2000. A few weeks ago, Kavis Reed told me that Messam already would be there if he'd stayed focused all season. Obviously, Reed has got the Canadian horse's attention. Its not hard to project Messam and Calgary's Jon Cornish, not only being the top Canadian backs in the league, but top backs of any nationality in the very near future.

Two horrendous injuries from the weekend; Calgary's J'Michael Deane in Toronto and Terry Grant of the Tiger Cats in  Montreal. Grant's Hamilton teammates has been in awe of the Alabama grad's 4.2 speed. A week ago, Avon Cobourne told me that Grant is the fastest back he's played with. Coach Marcel Bellefeuille believes the only back he's seen in the CFL with more speed was a young Kenton Keith. Speedy recoveries to both Grant and Deane.

Two streaks continued at Mosaic Sunday afternoon; the Lions made it a remarkable 8 straight wins while the Roughriders have now gone 19 quarters without an offensive touchdown. The Rider loss officially ended their streak of 9 consecutive years in the playoffs.

Congratulations to the 2012 Canadian Football Hall of Fame inductees, Milt Stegall, Damon Allen, Ty Jones, Jack Abendschan, Eric Lapointe and builders David Brayley and Peter Connelan, who were announced Sunay afternoon.

POWER RANKINGS

1) BC - Win streak at 8 but need to beat Eskimos in 2 weeks for first place.
2) MONTREAL - Clinch another home playoff at Big O.
3) EDMONTON - 5-0 start was no fluke. Young D getting better by the week.
4) WINNIPEG - Need more offense to be Cup bound.
5) CALGARY - 2-5 since Labour Day.
6) HAMILTON - Is Jason Boltus next at QB?
7) TORONTO - Could they play a few more games against Calgary?
8) SASKATCHEWAN - Score zone has become the "No More" zone.

SCHOOL COLOURS
In honour of Jeff Johnson's 200th CFL game Friday night at Rogers Centre we salute the trio of York grads in the CFL, all Argos; Jeff Johnson, Andre Durie and Ricky Foley.

NAME GAME
We know the vocation of these players if not for the CFL
Quinton Porter, Richard Nurse, Dale Potter, Troy Kopp, Vince Goldsmith, Terry Baker, Dwayne Carpenter, Dave Pitcher, Mark Singer, Damion Cook, Craig Butler



CC-FL REPORT
Over my years of CFL coverage, the majority of personal highlight calls are from Grey Cup championships or compelling postseason games. But there have been a select few individual achievements over three decades which will also stand out over time; Milt Stegall's touchdown record in 2008, Ben Cahoon's 1,007th record reception last season in Montreal and Mike Pringle crossing the 2,000 yard threshold in 1998 are three favourites. Thanksgiving Monday in Montreal Anthony Calvillo added another. With Damon Allen in attendance, on an idyllic day at Percival Molson, Stadium Calvillo passed his way into pro football history books with a 50 yard touchdown pass to Jamel Richardson, passing Damon Allen as the CFL's and pro football's pass yardage leader.

We have seen this exceptional CFL talent grow over two decades from a promising gunslinger in Las Vegas, to an erratic, unfulfilled talent in Hamilton, understudy, then leader and eventually superstar in Montreal. The hurdles overcome have been well documented; his wife Alexia's cancer and then, as he revealed following last year's Grey Cup, his own thyroid cancer. He has triumphed over all the adversity and now sits at the top of his profession. The debate will be long and sometimes loud when comparing his numbers to the greats of the NFL. But on this unforgettable day in Montreal video tributes from Dan Marino and Warren Moon underscored the significance of his record for football fans everywhere.

Two nights earlier Paul McCallum set a CFL placekicking standard in one of the CFL's games of the year and best performances ever by a Canadian kicker. McCallum tied Dave Ridgway's consecutive field goal record at 28 with a 47 yard field goal, and later broke the mark from 46 yards. The streak ended with a 45 yard miss which was returned by Calgary's Larry Taylor for a go ahead Stampeder touchdown. That threatened to spoil the 41 year old kicker's record setting night. But McCallum drained a 53 yarder on the game's final play to extend the Lions winning streak to seven.  A week earlier, Glen Suitor and I had watched McCallum in warm up at BC Place Stadium when it appeared that 48 yards was his upper limit. But the adrenaline of a game, with first place on the line, and McCallum's competitive spirit kicked in for an unforgettable season highlight. No wonder the Lions gave him all three game balls in their post game locker room ceremony. McCallum's story is even more compelling since he is one of a few veteran players ever to reject a pay cut offer from Wally Buono and still remain employed. Buono had an option of turning to heir apparent Sean Whyte. Instead, the Lions boss stuck with McCallum. The decision paid off handsomely in the Lions biggest win of the season.

Ticat fans were venting after another uneven performance Friday night at Ivor Wynne. Hamilton was badly outplayed by Winnipeg and fall back to 500 again. (25-25 in the last 3 years) Patience in Tiger Town is wearing thin. While the faithful were grumbling loudly there was also some internal muttering that Terry Grant, a key spark for the Cats in the previous two weeks, was all but forgotten in the Hamilton offense Friday night.

It was the fifth road win for the Bombers who were 0-9 last year away from CanadInns Stadium. Although only the second win in six starts for the Bombers it sent a message to the rest of the league that Winnipeg's elite defence is as good as ever and there are enough weapons for Buck Pierce to utilize on offence, Chris Garret is a reasonable facsimile for the injured Fred Reid and Clarence Denmark is making a late push for Rookie of the Year. Prior to the game not only did Paul Lapolice speak to his team but had veteran corner Brandon Stewart say a few words. The Bombers performance might earn Stewart a return speaking engagement.

Travelling home after the Montreal-Toronto game, I didn't see the Eskimos Roughriders showdown at Commonwealth. But Thursday at GGSB, Hall of Fame MLB Dan Kepley (4-0 in his first week of picks) said the Eskimos had to give the ball to #23. Who knew the defensive stalwart was an offensive expert. Jerome Messam ran for 118 yards and touchdown in what I'm told was a listless 17-1 Eskimo win. That vaults the Eskimos into a three way tie for first in the west and eliminates the Saskatchewan Roughriders from the postseason. The Eskimos also own the tiebreaker against Calgary as they pursue Edmonton's first home playoff date in seven years.

The Riders season is officially as broken as Darian Durant's foot. Its the end of a run of nine  consecutive playoff years and three Cup trips in the last four years. The rebuild must begin now, with the audition of new faces at various positions and determining what they have in third string quarterback Cole Berquist. Finding a few more players like Jerrell Freeman would help the Riders cause. And there's the issue at defensive end. Khreem Smith, Julius Williams, Marcus Howard, Kenny Mainor and Jason Vega are all solid young defensive ends recruited by CFL teams in the two years Saskatchewan has come up empty trying to replace John Chick and Steve Baggs. If I was in charge the first off season order of business would be recruiting Kent Austin back to Saskatchewan. It wouldn't be a call but a full court press. Austin delivered a Cup in 2007 and then accepted his "dream job" at his alma mater Ole Miss. Except Austin is now at Cornell. Hardly a football power. We're told that a key incentive to coaching at Cornell was the education package for Kent's kids. The Roughriders have the resources to pay Austin's tuition bills anywhere his kids want to study.

ALL TALK, TWITTER TALK, AND NO COMMENT

The weekly Ejiro Kuale award for not backing up pregame bluster goes to Ticats DE Stevie Baggs. Baggs told everyone within earshot last week that he was the best defensive end in the CFL. But in a DE showcase game featuring Odell Willis and Baggs' teammate Justin Hickman "Shakespeare" didn't make any plays and was shutout statistically. If you are going to talk the talk...
Argo boss Jim Barker says he doesn't mind his players venting publicly because it shows they care. Still you have to wonder how long Cory Boyd can continue to display his displeasure on Twitter following each Argo loss before it becomes an issue in Toronto.
A few weeks ago Nick Lewis complained about his inactivity in the Stampeders offence. Later  he apologized to his coach and team for going public. After Saturday's loss in Vancouver, Lewis used a different strategy saying, "I'm gonna get cut if I talk to y'all. You can quote me on that." Sounds like Nick's no comments speak volumes.

QUICK SLANTS

Congrats to Danny Maciocia and his 6th ranked U of Montreal Carabins which upset top ranked Laval on Saturday. It was the Rouge et Or's first regular season loss in two years.
And kudos to former CFL assistant George Cortez, the quarterback coach of the surprising Buffalo Bills who moved to 4-1 Sunday.

POWER RANKINGS

1 BC
2 Montreal
3 Calgary
4 Winnipeg
5 Edmonton
6 Hamilton
7 Saskatchewan
8 Toronto

SCHOOL COLOURS

A few weeks ago in Calgary, Bishop's rookie Tim Cronk scored his first CFL touchdown when he scooped up a block kick. In the ensuing celebration Paris Jackson, who blocked the kick, booted the ball into the stands robbing Cronk of a well earned souvenir. The TSN  announcer also booted the play(guilty as charged) misidentifying Cronk as Adam Bighill. So Cronk doesn't have a ball or video to commemorate the moment. In Tim Cronk's honour this week the CCFL salutes Bishop's alumni in the CFL, many of whom are now BC Lions.
Tim Cronk, Jamal Lee, James Yurichuk, Dan McCullough, Shawn Gore, Justin Conn, Junior Turner, Mathieu Boulay, Kyle Jones

NAME GAME

The Travel Channel has taken a sudden interest in the CFL especially the following players; Clarence Denmark, Paris Jackson, Tom Europe, Eric England, Jim Germany, Robert Holland, Chris deFrance, Vic Washington, Denis Montana, Brandon London and Jake Ireland



CCFL REPORT

Raising the Roof

As I tweeted many times last week, new BC Place Stadium is now THE state of the art venue in Canada. It should also impact the playoff race in the West as Dome field advantage will be an even bigger asset for the red hot Lions. BC Place is also a drawing card generating the largest crowd of the season, 50,213 and one of TSN's largest viewing audiences at 856,000. It was a big night for Friday Night Football as 815,000 tuned in for the Als-Bombers game. There were a few glitches to report. There was the delay while waiting for the first game to end so the national viewing audience could hear Sara McLachlan's version of our national anthem. What took so long? We aren't certain why but it shouldn't take 28 minutes to play the final 3 minutes in Winnipeg. Ironically the Bombers argued the game should have lasted one more play. The CFL has dismissed the side judge who made the pass intereference call on Als cornerback Greg Laybourn which setup the last second dramatics in Winnipeg. In BC Place we reported that the visitor's dressing room has only 41 stalls (instead of 42 or 46 for reserve players) just like the old place. Apparently, nobody thought to correct an original design error. Sadly the beer lines were an issue which we'll chalk up to Opening Night logistics. That, of course didn't affect the broadcast crew(we bring our own) although it did remind me of a story involving former CBC analyst Leo Cahill. On one of his early telecasts, with the legendary duo of Don Wittman and Ron Lancaster, Leo went AWOL at the three minute warning of the first half. Later, when asked where he'd gone Leo responded, "I had to go out to get a hotdog. The lines are brutal if you wait til halftime!" Fortunately Glen Suitor has yet to bail on me.

The Strategy

As for the game there's been some criticism of Kavis Reed for not kicking a field goal inside the three yard line with over two minutes remaining. Yes, there was time to get the ball back and worry about the touchdown later, but if you can't score a major on 3 tries from the 3, you don't deserve to win. I'd save the field goal strategy for 3rd and 3 at the 30.
What I question is the Eskimos using two different quarterbacks for that series. I'd either keep starter Ricky Ray in for 3 attempts or give Kerry Joseph, who had already scored on a quarterback option, the entire set of downs.

From the Brink

Despite the defeat which creates a first place tie in the East, the Bombers showed plenty of moxie(Moxieville?) in staging a stirring comeback against Montreal. Alex Brink already looks like one of the most accomplished backups in the CFL, a commodity in short supply. Last week it was suggested that Winnipeg should trade for Joffrey Reynolds to replace the injured Fred Reid. That proposed deal makes sense with Reynolds future in Calgary in some doubt. Except Chris Garrett looks more than capable of handling Fred-ex's duties, rushing for 76 yards and a touchdown..

Feeling Green

So what happened to the Saskatchewan Roughriders who celebrated coach Ken Miller's return to the sidelines with a sweep of rival Winnipeg by a combined score of 72-30? That Rider team didn't show up at McMahon and was beaten by over 35 points for the second consective week. That's an aggregate 82-8 pounding if you've misplaced your calculator. As one pressbox expert noted, "They weren't flat this week. They were horizontal!" The Riders last hope clause is a win over Edmonton on Thanksgiving Monday but it's clear that the rebuild of "Canada's team" must start soon.
I was stunned to see the Riders appear so lifeless in such a critical game and even more surprised that the Calgary defensive front spent most of the afternoon taunting the Riders huddle and getting little or no response. I don't believe that would have happened with Jeremy O'Day or Chris Szarka in the lineup.

The Stampede

As for the Stamps it was a statement game for Calgary to avoid the first three game losing streak of the John Hufnagel era. Not that Huf seemed to be enjoying it. The Stampeder boss brought his game face for the full 60 and looked particularly irritated when he hauled Ken Yon Rambo off the field after Rambo argued a non PI call late in the blowout. Or was Huf just driven crazy by the steady drone of vuvuzuelas. How long will it take to get those banned?
It was a dominant game for Charleston Hughes who seems to pick on the Roughriders like Ryan Phillips of the Lions. Hughes not only scored his 1st CFL touchdown on a 71 yard fumble return but had 5 tackles 2 sacks and a forced fumble. 5 of Hughes 7 sacks this year have been against Saskatchewan.

Cat Mauling

The Tiger Cats, who established their contender credentials with a lopsided victory over Montreal in the Labour Day Classique, only to retreat with two straight losses, are back in vogue after consecutive wins in Moncton and Toronto. Terry Grant has been a midseason booster shot with 115 yards rushing against the Argos including an 89 yard touchdown run, longest in the CFL this season.

Sinking Ship

The woeful Argos watched their faint playoff hopes flushed against their QEW rivals. Cory Boyd's frustration at not getting the ball was evident throughout the game and later on Twitter. In response Argo boss Jim Barker explained that the Ticats D schemed to take away the run. But Boyd ran for 60 yards on 11 carries. Since Boyd is the Boatmen's marquee offensive weapon shouldn't Toronto be scheming to get Boyd the ball more often in a variety of looks?  Last year, CB3 made a spectacular touchdown grab at Commonwealth so we know he has the skill set as a receiver.
 After the game Barker admitted that his receiving core isn't good enough, which is what CFL observers have been saying for two years. Which begs another question. Why didn't the Argos claim Marquay McDaniel when Hamilton waived him earlier this season. McDaniel had more receiving yards last year than any Argo. Instead McDaniel was claimed by Calgary, a team already with a glut of receivers. One final Argo query. If our TSN colleague Duane Ford was in charge of Canadian personnel in Toronto is there any chance Toronto would have played one Canadian short on their roster because no other Canuck was available?  Not likely!

O Canada 
Props to the Canuck RB's who excelled last weekend. Of the eight starting RunningBacks last week three were Canadian; John Cornish of Calgary 13/149yds 2tds and 1/32yds rec, BC's Andrew Harris 11/60yds and 5/115yds rec with 2 tds and Eskimo Jerome Messam 12/70yds. The combined yards from scrimmage for the trio of Canadian tailbacks was 432 yards. The five import backs(not including Terry Grant's backup totals) amassed 330 yards.

Power Rankings
1) BC Lions - 6 Wins in a row, longest streak of the season
2) Montreal Alouettes - tied WBB with 1 more at CanadInns
3) Calgary Stampeders - 1st in West but the Lions are next
4) Winnipeg Blue Bombers - Injuries hurt 1st Place chances
5) Hamilton Tiger Cats - Terry Grant gives Cats late season snarl
6) Edmonton Eskimos - The Ray to Stamps magic has disappeared
7) Saskatchewan Roughriders - Flat-lining
8) Toronto Argonauts - Shipwrecked

Huskies
Congrats to Brian Towriss, Head Coach of the University of Saskatchewan, on his 170th career victory Friday night. His Huskies defeated UBC 36-33 to become the all time leader in CIS coaching wins. In his honour a list of some U of Ss grads currently playing in the CFL; Scott Flory, Paul Woldu, Chad Rempel, Ivan Brown, Dylan Barker, Graham Bell, Scott McHenry, Patrick Neufeld and Gene Makowsky.

Name Game
Finally from our satellite office in Jupiter Florida we salute;
Warren Moon
Teddy Neptune
Mark Kosmos
Ecomet Burley
Bart Starr
Mercury Morris.
For more CFL talk, follow us @CCtsn and @GGSBlog