CFL wakes up to video review — six games into the season

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 02/08/2017 (1833 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Steve Lyons: Good morning. Have you heard the news? The CFL finally came to its senses today — deciding to change the video review rule. It will now only allow coaches one challenge a game. Amen!

There were at least two times this season where I turned off a game after a ridiculous away-from-the-play challenge was made. I get that it was a ‘rule’ but the coaches abused the spirit of video review and they deserve to have it stripped away from them.

The new commissioner Randy Ambrosie said in a statement “We have a super game. Our elite athletes are treating us this year to incredible plays, close contests and even miracle comebacks. Scoring is up, penalties are down, and games are shorter. The last thing we want to have in place is an artificial impediment to our fans’ enjoyment of it all.. Fans have been very clear with me that they want a change. We are delivering that change.”

The people have spoken and the bosses have listened — it’s a good day.

Paul Wiecek: I wonder how much of the CFL’s decision today tracks back to Chris Jones calling out Dave Dickenson last week for having Calgary receivers deliberately initiating contact with DB’s — as part of their regular pass routes — just so Dickenson has something to challenge if a play goes sour. I give a hat tip to both guys — Jones for disclosing just what a mockery video review was making of the CFL game and Dickenson for fully exploiting the rules to his team’s advantage. 

As for the CFL, it is a monument to what a clown show the league’s head office has become that they are making this kind of fundamental change to how the game is played six weeks into a season. What kind of league changes a rule this significant with the season already underway? Amateur hour.

Steve: It’s a little like the inmates running the asylum I guess, but change for the better is a good thing anytime — and this needed to be changed pronto.

Wonder what the fans will call for next — Um, perhaps your head? Oh hang on, didn’t they do that last week?

I met with a group of friends on Monday night, who had gone to the Bombers game — or watched it on TV — last week.

Surprisingly, the first thing out of their mouths wasn’t ‘Why do you guys dislike Mike O’Shea so much?’ No, they first wanted to poke fun at how goofy I look on the IGF big screen doing that promo ad for the Free Press. Then, they wanted to know if I had actually stayed until the end of the game. And yeah finally, they got to the O’Smirk column you wrote for our paper on Friday.

For the record, yes I stayed until the very end. Frankly, I didn’t want to battle with all the folks fleeing after Montreal went up by 12 points. And, I was hoping they might run that ad one more time!

As for this perceived dislike you or I have for O’Shea: As I told them and a number of readers who called me or emailed me on Friday, they are over-estimating the emotional investment we have in this. I am neither sad when the Bombers lose, nor happy when they win. My primary concern is unbiased analysis and commentary — and making deadline. So, the only emotion I had watching that miracle comeback was how it was effecting Jeff Hamilton’s ability to make deadline.

And from a pure analysis point of view, that miracle sure glossed over some poor play for the previous 58 minutes of the game. And had the Als not completely collapsed, I would suggest the O’Shea sentiments in this town today would be closer to what they were after the Lions loss.

Paul: Not much surprises me anymore after almost 30 years in this business, but Bombers fans surprised me twice last week: First, by how angry they were at O’Shea after that loss to B.C.; and second, by how angry they were with me when I wrote about how angry they were.

To be honest, I was expecting some push-back after my first column on O’Shea last week. I gave it to the guy pretty good and I was expecting some abuse coming my way from the diehards. But I didn’t hear a peep in defence of O’Shea after that first column. It never occurred to me that the second column, which detailed just how deep the dislike for O’Shea runs in this community, would be the one to touch a nerve.

My only explanation for why the reactions were so different is the first column ran after a really bad Bombers loss, while the second one ran after a spectacularly dramatic Bombers win. But either way, I regret nothing. I base my analysis of O’Shea on his entire body of work over the last three-plus seasons — not on what the Bombers did in the final 90 seconds of that win over Montreal.

But the lesson to be drawn here, I think, is just what a challenge the Bombers have with this fan base right now. The fans were calling for the coach’s head after that loss to B.C. and then threatening to remove mine just for reporting it after that win over Montreal. That looks to me like a fan base whose loyalties —and tolerance for losing — has been taxed to its absolute limits.

As for my loyalties, they are with the long-suffering fans in this town. With Cleveland finally winning an NBA title last year, I’d argue no sports fans anywhere in North America deserve a championship more than the folks in this town. If O’Shea is the guy who finally pushes the Bombers over the finish line and makes that happen, I will be delighted to eat my words. But like I said last week — I’m skeptical he is that guy.

Steve: It’s an unenviable task writing game stories and columns on deadline when a game unfolds like that in the final minutes — I’m so glad it’s not me doing it anymore. 

Sports fans are fickle, they say: earlier in the week we were chatting about baseball and you told me you got an email from a reader that said they like this little exchange we do except when we chat about baseball. And I told you about a couple of emails I got recently from readers, who said they love it when we talk about baseball. It was MLB trade deadline this week, so to the dismay of at least one — and perhaps more — I will mention a few things from Monday..

a) your Yankees are looking like the Yankees again, going out and snagging Sonny Gray from the A’s to complement that killer bullpen and stable of young studs in the batting lineup. I know you are still cautious to let down your guard, but they are definitely going to give the Red Sox a run for their money in the AL East;

b) the Jays did nothing to help themselves now and very little to help their future in trading Francisco Liriano and Joe Smith for some marginal prospects. The Toronto braintrust is hoping to re-tool instead of rebuild and that rarely works in sports.

c ) picking up Yu Darvish from the Rangers makes the Dodgers the team to beat.

But, the best story in baseball this week was New Jersey governor Chris Christie getting in the face of a Cubs fan in Milwaukee. Guess the guy called him a hypocrite and Christie — with his security detail at his back (so brave) — challenged the guy. I must have watched the video a half dozen times. Christie should have at least put down that mitt full of food — he looks ridiculous.

https://youtu.be/ZJy4RzZYIhQ

Paul: Christie stopped caring a long time ago. My favourite Christie moment came last month when he shut down New Jersey’s beaches for the Fourth of July weekend as part of a budget dispute — and then got photographed using the empty beach with his family. The New Jersey Star-Ledger actually hired an airplane to get that shot, which proves my favourite point: For all our industry’s troubles, it’s still only newspapers — not TV, not radio, not Facebook and, God knows, not bloggers — that’s spending the money to do journalism that matters and holding the powerful accountable.

One other thing on Christie, though: How is it that everyone feels so free to point out and make fun of how fat he is? Can you imagine what would happen to you these days if you mocked a female governor for being fat? You’d be crucified — online and maybe even in real life.

Steve: Beware of cameras on phones. 

Couple of other baseball notes: So, the Phillies cancelled Pete Rose bobblehead day today — no guff; and how about the fans at Fenway turning on pitcher David Price over this run-in he has going with team announcer Dennis Eckersley. Price got into the Hall of Famer’s face on a team flight a few weeks ago because Eckersley said ‘Yuck’ when Boston pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez’s stats were shown on the screen during a Red Sox telecast. Oh my, such harsh criticism.

Now that details of Price’s behavior on the plane have been reported, fans are rallying around Eckersley. Even David Ortiz says Price should apologize.

Price’s act has always struck me as being as fake as a three-dollar bill; his struggles in the playoffs and this fiasco seem to be more revealing of his true character. He’s done in Boston — maybe Brian Cashman will trade for him?

Paul: The petulance of David Price is astounding. And I’m saying that as a guy who has learned the hard way that you criticize these coddled multi-millionaire athletes at your peril. 

There are so many sycophants nowadays in our business — beginning with the rights-holders that broadcast the games — that these athletes have come to believe that they really are immune to any criticism.

Price conveniently dressed up his run-in with Eckersley as Price defending a teammate, but Price has been at war with the media in Boston ever since he got there. The guy wants the nine-figure paycheque, but he doesn’t want the scrutiny that goes with it. You sign a contract like that — especially in a town like Boston where the fans are ruthless with underachievers — and you better either live up to your billing or expect to get ripped.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ head coach Mike O’Shea scratches his chin on the sideline during the second half of a CFL football game against the B.C. Lions in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday July 21, 2017.

Don’t like the scrutiny? There’s plenty of jobs — the overwhelming majority of them, in fact — where you can toil in complete obscurity. The downside, of course, is those jobs tend to pay $10 an hour, plus tips, if you’re lucky. 

Steve: Imagine if there were a pay scale based on scrutiny — you would have cashed in last week pal.

You’re off the annual Assiniboia Downs Manitoba Derby press conference tomorrow right? They do it so perfectly out at the local track.

My favourite Derby memory of course does not involve a horse, but a wager. Sometime in the early 1990s — hey, the decade is kinda hazy — I split the twin triactor with a couple of pals on Derby day. My cut was about $6,000. Biggest cash ever.

I haven’t been out to the track yet this year. I hear things are going well for the folks at the Downs — you’re going to do something for Saturday’s paper, right?

Paul: I love a great underdog story and Assiniboia Downs has been one of the best ones in town for as long as I can remember.

The fact that track even still exists is a miracle. They’ve been under siege for decades by a regulator that is also their chief competitor — the provincial government.

But they have survived it all, including the previous NDP regime who for reasons that have still never been fully explained used every available resource at their disposal to try and put the Downs out business.

It’s not often someone beats the government, but the Downs won both the battle and, with a change of government, the war. But now what? Can the thoroughbred industry in this province reinvent itself to compete with a smartphone generation that doesn’t lend itself to waiting 20 minutes between races?

I’m going to try and find out and will report back later this week.

Steve: It’s a busy Monday for an August long weekend. The Derby is that day and Week 2 of the Canada Games gets underway with a change of sports and athletes. Also, the Games Festival is Manitoba night — the headlining act is the Crash Test Dummies playing with the WSO at The Forks. Might be a good day to get out and see some of the Games. Seems like the city is embracing the event, with significant crowds turning out at many of the sports events and concerts.

The Bombers are back in action on Friday, in Ottawa to play the Redblacks — who, in my opinion already beat the Bombers badly once this week when they managed to sign receiver/kick returner Quincy McDuffie.

Last year with the Bombers, McDuffie led the league in kickoff return average (27.2 yards) and took two back for TDs. He also had 23 receptions for 241 yards and a TD. I’m going to take Matt Dunigan’s word on McDuffie’s importance to the Bombers — the Hall of Fame QB said many many many times last season how McDuffie was the guy who could go vertical, stretching the defence and opening things up underneath. 

I’m not sure the Bombers went after him. If they didn’t, I’d be curious to know why they didn’t. And if they did go after him, I’d be curious to know why they weren’t able to reel him in.

Paul: The Bombers did McDuffie a solid by releasing him so he could pursue an NFL opportunity. That’s what CFL teams generally do in that situation, so I’m not saying the Bombers deserve a Mother Theresa award or anything. But if McDuffie now comes back with the Redblacks and does damage to the Bombers, that’s going to be a very bitter pill for Winnipeg to swallow.

Matt Dunigan knows a thing or two about CFL football and for my money is the best analyst in Canada, by a mile. My only problem with Dunigan is I don’t see him enough — he’s been mostly relegated to that talking heads thing TSN does before and after broadcasts and at halftime. If I had my way, Dunigan would be in the booth with Cuthbert, doing the colour on the No. 1 broadcast team. I’m tired of Suitor. And don’t get me started on Black and Forde.

TSN has a pretty good property in the CFL — it draws big numbers for relatively low cost, particularly when compared to NHL rights. But they’ve been coasting for awhile now and they desperately need to do a refresh of their broadcast crews in my opinion.

Steve: Couldn’t agree more on that. 

Dunigan is a stand-up guy. One time when he was the Bombers QB and I was covering the team, I asked him if he could come out to a charity run and sign a few autographs, etc.. He agreed about two months in advance. When the date for the run came along, his parents and some family were visiting Winnipeg that weekend. Instead of blowing off the commitment, he brings the whole family to the event — everyone is excited to have him and his family has a great time.

I see your favourite ex-CFL QB is having himself a tough week in Hamilton — Kent Austin’s Tiger-Cats not only get whacked 60-1 by the Stamps, but yesterday a line brawl breaks out at practice. The Tabbies are 0-5 and they play the 5-0 Eskimos this weekend. The Bombers play in Hamilton next weekend — they best hope there’s not a coaching change after Hamilton goes 0-6.

Paul: I wish I had something that would explain how Hamilton went so wrong this year. I never for a moment saw any of this coming. The Ticats record, the reports of dissension between Austin and QB Zach Collaros, the complete lack of discipline, the national embarrassment that was that loss to Calgary — I’d love to hear the post-mortem after all this is over about how it all went so wrong.

The Bombers are in the midst of a pretty sweet part of their schedule — including that Montreal game last week, they’ve got three straight games against East Division opponents. And, in case you missed the memo, the East is a joke again this year. The Bombers need to bank some wins while they can, particularly when you consider how this team has continued to struggle against West Division opponents not named Saskatchewan.

Steve: Best place to finish might be fourth in the West.

Hey, it just donned on me — we’ve gone through this whole exchange and not one mention of hockey. Got those numbers back on your most-read columns of the last year and it turns out 40 of the top 50 were NHL or Jets related — and the other 10 were about the Bombers.

Hope somebody read this.

Back to work now. Have a good long weekend — I’m sure your boss gave you a few days off as usual.

Paul: I bought a retro set of water skis this week. What’s the worst that could happen?

Steve: I’ll ask your fans

steve.lyons@freepress.mb.ca

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

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