Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/11/2021 (185 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The final week of the Canadian Football League's regular season proved to be an ugly one – and that's putting it lightly.
With much of the standings already determined heading into Week 16 and finalized by the end of the first game Friday night, many teams opted to rest most of their starters for all or part of their game. The result was a sloppy weekend of three-down football, where execution on the field was lacking and points hard to come by.
The Ottawa Redblacks (3-11) stunned the Montreal Alouettes (7-7) at home, 19-18, after converting a late-game touchdown followed by a two-point conversion. The B.C. Lions (5-9) dominated the Edmonton Elks (3-11), 43-10, to earn their first victory at BC Place since Sept. 11 and give the Elks a 10th straight loss.
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats (8-6) downed the Saskatchewan Roughriders (9-5) at Tim Horton's Stadium, 24-3, in what was another painful game to watch. Not to be outdone, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (11-3) saw a 12-0 lead erased by the Calgary Stampeders (8-6) in the final 5:12 of the fourth quarter, resulting in a 13-12 Stampeders victory at McMahon Stadium.
The good news is the next few weeks should look nothing like the last one, as the playoffs begin with the East (Montreal @ Hamilton) and West (Calgary @ Saskatchewan) semifinals on Nov. 27. But before we look too far ahead, let's look back on the week that was in the latest edition of CFL Rundown.
1) The Elks organization wasted little time cleaning house, with the team's board of directors deciding Monday to fire president Chris Presson, general manager Brock Sunderland and head coach Jaime Elizondo. Clearly, the stench on the organization had gotten so bad, not even the remaining years on the contracts of Sunderland and Elizondo, both of whom are apparently signed through the 2023 CFL season, were enough of a reason to keep them around.
2) While the search for a new GM begins, the Elks have brought in former Stampeders and Lions GM/HC Wally Buono to serve the vacancy until a new GM is in place by the start of the new year. Great to have Buono back in the mix, and what a breath of fresh air, for however long, from his predecessors.
3) As we inch closer to the West and East finals on Dec. 5, it's time to revisit the league's rules around travel for unvaccinated players and coaches. Simply put, teams are not allowed to make alternative plans for those who are unvaccinated. That means teams must travel together and if they're wanting to bus to a game – remember after Dec. 1, you can't fly domestically without proof of vaccination – to accommodate the unvaccinated, then the entire team must bus, too.
4) I've noted a couple times in this column the rumours around Calgary and some notable players still not vaccinated. Head coach Craig Dickenson was asked following Saturday's win whether travel would be an issue in the event the Stampeders make it to the West final in Winnipeg. He answered that they would not have a full group. Yikes.
5) The year-end team awards were collected and the results made public this week. Not a ton of surprises, though picking a top defensive player for Winnipeg might have been the toughest. Linebacker Adam Bighill ultimately won out, but there was more than one other player that received a first-place vote.
6) Last thing on awards: this must be the season Mike O'Shea finally gets the nod for coach of the year. O'Shea has his fingerprints all over the organization and is by far the main reason the Bombers have been so dominant.
7) A big congratulations go out to former Montreal Alouettes and Canadian Football Hall of Fame quarterback Anthony Calvillo. On Friday, the Alouettes announced Calvillo has officially become a Canadian citizen.
8) Despite the Lions collapse in the back half of the regular season, which included just one win in their last eight games, TSN's Farhan Lalji is expecting that GM Neil McEvoy and head coach Rick Campbell be back next season. Lalji added one not-so-minor caveat in the event they both return, and that being QB Michael Reilly is not retained under his current contract. Reilly's deal, which pays him in the $750,000 range, is the highest paid player in the CFL and his contract has no doubt hindered other areas of the roster. Backup Nathan Rourke has also looked good, so it will be interesting to see what happens there over the next weeks and months.
9) Montreal was so jacked up when they defeated a watered-down Bombers team in Week 15. To come out and lay an egg against Ottawa, including going pointless and giving up a 15-point lead in the second half, just shows how the Alouettes season has gone. They sat a few key players but had enough in there to best a bad Redblacks team, on a night they needed to win to push for a home playoff game.
10) Big kudos to Redblacks head coach Paul La Police for opting to attempt the two-point convert for the win over the Alouettes. There was little pressure given Ottawa's exclusion from the playoffs, but it provided some excitement in an otherwise boring weekend of football.
11) TSN's Dave Naylor is reporting that the Ottawa Redblacks have started their search for a new GM, after firing Marcel Desjardins on Oct. 25. Naylor says there could be as many as 10 candidates for the job, with interviews starting the first week of December and a final decision to be made by Christmas.
12) In talking with people around the league, it appears LaPolice will get the chance to right the ship in 2022 after a dismal first full season as head coach. His first area of focus should be on the offence, something he's directly responsible for as the team's offensive co-ordinator. Getting an established quarterback and consistency on the O-line will be key to any success next season. Not doing so will likely lead to his firing.
13) It was no surprise the Elks were dominated in this one, as it was the team's third game is a span of a week. The condensed scheduled was approved by Edmonton in order to prevent a forfeit earlier in the year owing to a COVID-19 outbreak. Had the Elks not played the postponed game, the team wouldn't have been paid because they hadn't, at the time of the postponement, reached the 85 per cent threshold for vaccinated players. Just a messy situation all-around and a black eye for the CFL when it comes to player safety.
14) Given the Elks schedule and the fact they were playing several backups, it's difficult to determine how much stock to put into Lions QB Nathan Rourke's performance. Rourke finished 23-for-34 passing for 359 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. He added three rushing scores on seven carries, totalling 34 yards. Those are solid numbers, even with the two picks, and only adds to the off-season intrigue surrounding the future of Michael Reilly.
15) Lions receiver Lucky Whitehead had another big game, adding to a stellar season. To go with his team-high six catches for 92 yards against the Elks, Whitehead also returned a punt 79 yards for a touchdown. In 10 games, Whitehead had the fourth-most receiving yards, with 932, and four touchdowns, while returning a punt and missed field goal for another two scores. At 29, he's probably too old to make a return to the NFL, but perhaps the Bombers can sway him to come back to Winnipeg in 2022? He'll have options outside of B.C.
16) By kickoff, neither the Roughriders nor the Tiger-Cats had anything to play for and it looked like it. The Roughriders, who had already locked up second in the West, didn't look at all inspired to play. Because the Alouettes lost to the Redblacks, Hamilton was already assured second in the East. They dressed more starters, making it an easy win for the home side.
17) Roughriders head coach Craig Dickenson summed it up perfectly: "There wasn't a lot of good out there. I don't think we can take anything from this game and build on it." Hamilton's bench boss, Orlondo Steinauer, put it this way: "Now it's time to flip the page. There is bigger consequence now. There's elimination if we don't execute in a winning fashion."
18) No point in wasting much ink on the Bombers and Stampeders game, other than to say I'm glad I got to listen to Bob Irving call it over the radio and was spared having to watch it as I waited to fly home from Vancouver at the end of a Jets road trip. I usually listen to Bob and Doug Brown while I'm covering the game, but it was especially nice doing so without having to work. Even if it did remind me that the end of an era was fast approaching. Only one more call for Knuckles, which is both sad and an incredible ending to a wonderful career.
19) OK, one more: There was certainly some disappointment in the Bombers locker room after the loss, but they did achieve their goal of staying healthy. I expect a full group for the West final Dec. 5, including the return of running back Andrew Harris.
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.