Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Posted: 11/19/2013 1:00 AM | Comments: 0
When it comes to picking a winner in a championship game, it is critical to not be bogged down by all of the variables.
Scribes and fans alike will look at match-up histories, injury reports, recent trends, and home field advantages, before weighing it all, measuring it, and coming up with a favourite.
I find it easier to rank the keys to the game in terms of their importance, and focus in on that one element that -- with most everything else being equal -- will be the swing vote in the final analysis.
When it comes to the 101st Grey Cup in Regina, I'm taking the Riders to win for no other reason than the weather. The weather in terms of the experience they will have playing in it, and the weather in terms of the time they've had preparing for it.
That the Riders have already beaten the Ticats twice this year, and blown them out once, does not sway me, and the reality that Mosaic Field is a tough place to play at the best of times -- let alone during the Grey Cup -- is also an afterthought.
I like the Riders to win the 2013 championship because they played their last game outside, and the Tiger-Cats last played in a dome. It's that simple.
To start with, playing in a warm environment one week, and switching to a frigid one the next, is murder on your conditioning and muscle memory. I don't know the exact physiological explanation for it, but I would say the change is more pronounced than playing a game at sea level one week, and then at Mile High Stadium the next.
While the Ticats played the Eastern semifinal outside at their temporary stadium, it was 5 C at game time, and the Eastern Final was even warmer inside the Rogers Centre.
Hamilton will practise outside all this week in the elements in Regina, but you cannot replace nor replicate the game-day experience in practice.
I always found whenever we had a dramatic shift in temperature, from one game to the next, that no matter how well-conditioned I felt playing in the relative warm, the first week in frigid temperatures dramatically affected my performance.
Call it a coincidence until you're blue in the face, but the contrast in Hamilton's game day environments was largely how I rationalized what happened in 2011.
After putting up 52 points against the Alouettes in 2011 at Olympic Stadium, Hamilton came to Winnipeg and scored a total of three points. Without question, the defence they faced a week later was superior to that of the Als, but that does not solely account for the 49-point offensive output differential. They thought they would be able to do everything they had accomplished a week ago in a warmer climate, and they were wrong.
Not only is your mind affected, but the fundamentals of the game all drastically change. Blocking and tackling is harder and more painful than you can imagine. Footing is restricted and limited, the game slows down considerably, and it is harder to hold on to the football, let alone catch it.
The throws you can make in a dome you can't make outside in frozen temperatures, and Hamilton will have a number of players on their roster who have never played in conditions like they will this Sunday.
In spite of the magnitude of the game, you will virtually see a number of players freeze up under the harsh elements introduced during the game.
What makes playoff performances in the CFL so hard to predict is the fact that the team you thought you knew in the regular season, can get exponentially better or worse as a result of how their players react to the extreme cold.
Talent, speed and athleticism are no longer the determining factors when the mercury goes deep six on you. A Grey Cup championship played outdoors in brutal temperatures measures the mental and physical toughness of its participants like nothing else. The amount of focus it requires to have your game translate in these conditions can only be experienced and not described.
When Hamilton travels to Saskatchewan this week, they will have the momentum of outscoring the defending Grey Cup champion Argonauts 19-0 in the second half of their game. The fact this was accomplished in a dome, though, creates an unrealistic set of expectations and false confidence going into this contest, and they simply won't have the time to acclimate their roster to the climate.
Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays and the days following game days in the Free Press.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 19, 2013 0
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