UKFirstdown.co.uk
UKFirstdown.co.uk
Article by Duncan Gray A 20th anniversary get together was held last year for players of the winning team of the 1995 Grey Cup. What was a little unusual about it was that it was held in Baltimore, USA. It's not often spoken about now but that Baltimore Stallions championship win represented both the high point and the end of an attempt the CFL made to move into the American market in the 1990s.   That story became relevant again this year thanks to the relocation moves happening in the NFL.  Since it was announced that the Rams are moving back to Los Angeles, fans in St Louis have been lobbying for the CFL to consider establishing a new franchise in their town. There's even a website, www.stlramscfl.com, promoting the idea. The story of CFL expansion in the USA is one of failure, and not even glorious failure. Back in the 1990s the NFL was a very successful enterprise, but nowhere near as powerful as it is today. To the north meantime the Canadian League was in desperate straits. Crowds were poor, TV income was almost nil and every team except Edmonton was in danger of going bust. The idea was hatched that maybe they could make some money by having teams play south of the border. So it was that the Sacramento Gold Miners, previously known as the Sacramento Surge in the defunct World League of American Football, played in the 1993 season as a West Division team. Four American teams played 1994, Sacramento, Shreveport Pirates, Baltimore CFL Colts and the short lived Las Vegas Posse. For 1995 there were five teams playing in a South Division. Sacramento had become the San Antonio Texans, Baltimore had become the Stallions, the Pirates were still in Shreveport and they were joined by Birmingham Barracudas and Memphis Mad Dogs. Of all of these only Baltimore was a financial success. The others struggled to compete for fans not only with the NFL but against traditional NCAA and High School teams too. This was particularly true for the Birmingham Barracudas. Even the NFL can't compete with the NCAA's Auburn and Alabama in that state. Baltimore was the successful team on the field too. After a 2&3 start in 1995 they won thirteen straight games and then comfortably saw off all opposition in the play-offs. However, the Stallions success surely contributed to their demise. Demonstrating that a CFL team could attract 30,000 crowds in Baltimore just showed how attractive the city would be as an NFL venue. Before the Stallions even got to play their Grey Cup match, the Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell had announced that he was relocating his team to Baltimore for the 1996 season. Whether or not the NFL was intent on forcing the CFL out the US the move had that effect. There was no way the Stallions would be able to stay in Baltimore and compete for fans with the new Ravens. Substantial losses had been made and the CFL abandoned its plans to run with two American teams, Baltimore and San Antonio, the next year. This left the Canadian League in even more trouble than it started with. There were business sharks looking to buy the whole league dirt cheap and run it from a US base. Some would have got rid of the separate Canadian 12 men and 3 downs rules, some even wanted to move all the teams to the USA where no doubt it would have died like Donald Trump's USFL in the decade before (see, I said could be was topical) and Vince McMahon's XFL in the decade after. The CFL retreated back to it's own territory. The Baltimore Stallions were saved by relocating them to Montreal where they became the Alouettes. Fortunately the league then received some financial support from a sympathetic NFL in exchange for co-operation agreements and that helped see it through its crisis. That's all ancient history though. Today the CFL is stronger and more financially sound than it's ever been. There's no appetite to take risks or change anything without careful planning. They added one expansion franchise in Ottawa two years ago and that's been a great success, but they're not rushing to do it again. With five teams in the West Division and only four in the East obviously the idea of adding a tenth team is attractive, if only to make scheduling fixtures a whole lot simpler. The main interest  is in having a franchise in Atlantic Canada where there's isn't one. Halifax, Nova Scotia, would be the ideal location but there isn't a suitable stadium there. Maybe if Halifax had been awarded the 2014 Commonwealth games instead of Glasgow... No, I don't really mean that. More likely for a new franchise will be one of the cities in Ontario which already have a University stadium, Windsor or Guelph maybe. So is the league going to consider a St Louis franchise? Commercially, the CFL is making inroads into the American market. Last summer,  before the NFL kicked off, ESPN showed twenty CFL games live and carried the rest of the season on its online service. A lot of American fans apparently liked having football to watch through the summer, some even preferred the attacking style of the Canadian Game. Viewing figures were good. Playing a CFL game in St Louis, like an NFL International Series game in London, might be fun assuming the stadium could be configured for the bigger Canadian pitch. Travelling to Missouri  wouldn't be any harder than some of the journeys the teams already make inside Canada. But memories of the 1990s and the embarrassment that goes with them will surely scare off the CFL from any moves in that direction. So, sorry St Louis fans. I hear the latest attempt to start a pro league in the US, Major League Football, is struggling. Maybe your ambitions would be better directed there. For more on the CFL's 1990s expansion into the USA I recommend this article from Rolling Stone Magazine.
26.02.2016
UKFirstdown
No comments
Article by Duncan Gray The CFL off-season is about half way through and the league is using the hashtag #IsItJuneYet? to help us through. So it's time for us to check in on what's happening in football north of the 49th Parallel.   The 2016 fixture list came out last week, pre-season will start on 9th June with each team having two games. The opening game is on 24th June when the Toronto Argonauts will host their bitter local rivals, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Also in Week 1 there's a Grey Cup rematch as Ottawa Redblacks travel to the champion Edmonton Eskimos. That should see the season started with a bang. The regular season continues until November and then there are three rounds of play-offs before we're back in Toronto for the Grey Cup on November 27th. CFL 2016 Schedule   So what's been happening since the 2015 Grey Cup? Well, lots. There's been a big round of coaching moves and a record number of players are in the free agent market.   Here's a team by team run down on some of what's happened so far.   Edmonton Eskimos The fans didn't get long to celebrate the Esks first championship in 10 years. By the time their hangovers had cleared, a few maybe not even sober yet, news was breaking that head Coach Chris Jones was leaving to take over the Saskatchewan Roughriders. He'd had a financial offer he couldn't refuse. What's worse Jones took a lot of his assistants with him. The Esks moved quickly to appoint a replacement. The man they chose was Jason Maas, the one time Edmonton quarterback who impressed everyone last year while he was the Offensive Co-ordinator of the team Edmonton beat in the Grey Cup, the Ottawa Redblacks. On the player front at least three free agents have followed Jones to Saskatchewan. They've held onto receiver Adarius Bowman and linebacker JC Sherrit who have both signed new two year contracts though. New players coming in include former NFL offensive players Jacoby Ford and Joe McKnight.   Saskatchewan Roughriders After their dreadful 2015 season the big news in Riderville is obviously the Chris Jones appointment. He's been given at least four jobs; Head Coach, General Manager, Defensive Co-ordinator and vice-president of football operations. Despite having a small home market the Riders are the most successful team in money terms. They can afford to pay Jones big money for each of his new jobs so it's not such a surprise that he made the move. Jones started work quickly by cutting large numbers of the playing squad. Among the notable departures have been a couple of veteran fan favourites, defensive end John Chick and receiver Weston Dressler. Jones said he was making cap space to rebuild the team. Lots of trades and signings have been made as Jones rebuilds. They'll be almost unrecognisable from last year's. The most prominent free agent signing so far has been defensive end Justin Capicciotti coming from Ottawa, who should be an upgrade on Chick.   Ottawa Redblacks The loss of Jason Maas has been a big hit to the Redblacks. By time honoured tradition, when a coach leaves a team to take a job elsewhere which is a promotion from his existing position then no compensation for his contract has been paid, or requested. The Redblacks decided to buck that rule and have demanded compensation from Edmonton. The League Commissioner Jeffrey Orridge has arranged for the matter to go to arbitration. The big player move is the signing of quarterback Trevor Harris from Toronto. After his success last year Harris would have been looking for a starting role. Instead he'll be back up to the League MVP Henry Burris.  Burris will be 41 years old by the time the season starts, he's lasted a lot better than Peyton Manning but he can't go on for ever, can he? Big losses will be DE Justin Capicciotti and RB Jeramiah Johnson. The record breaking group of receivers from last year should still be intact though.                   Calgary Stampeders There's a change at Head Coach in Calgary too, but this one was expected. Having achieved his 100th win as head coach John Hufnagel has stepped aside to promote offensive co-ordinator Dave Dickenson to the Head Coach position. Hufnagel stays on as General Manager and President. The team has lost big name offensive players. Running back Jon Cornish has retired to spend more time with other people’s money while last year's top receiver, Eric Rogers, has signed a two year deal with the San Francisco 49ers. Jeff Fuller has gone from the receiving corps too, reportedly having become a Seattle Seahawk, at least until the end of training camp. The Stampeders have re-signed RB Jerome Messam, who played for them at the tail end of last season and have acquired receiver Bakari Grant from the Tiger-Cats through free agency.   Hamilton Tiger-Cats The Ti-Cats didn't get involved in the coach’s merry-go-round, mostly because their people have no-move agreements in their contracts in exchange for enhanced job security. Head Coach/GM Kent Austin had his contract extended by 4 years. There's optimism that quarterback Zach Collaros will return from his September knee injury early in the season. Meantime Jeramiah Masoli, who proved himself the best back-up to Collaros, has had his contract extended. Hamilton's main priority was re-signing linebacker Ted Laurent and they managed it, despite Montreal putting in a rival offer. Receiver Terrell Sinkfield has signed a futures contract with the Minnesota Vikings. He'll be replaced by Chad Owens, the CFL's Most Outstanding Player of 2012 (see graphic). As the big star of the Argos Hamilton fans generally hated him, so it'll be an interesting transition.      Winnipeg Blue Bombers Another significant coaching move here, the Bombers filled their Offensive Coordinator vacancy by hiring the man most agree they shouldn't have fired as head coach four years ago, Paul LaPolice. You'll recognise LaPolice, he's the guy who did the detailed breakdown of plays on the TSN Halftime Show. Cue jokes from around the league saying he's only taken the job as he'll still be available to work for TSN during the play-offs.... Not so quick though, if there's one thing we learned from last season was that teams need two good quarterbacks. Winnipeg have Drew Willy and Matt Nichols in place. And they've made some good looking player moves so far. In have come Weston Drexler and Ryan Smith from Saskatchewan and top Canadian running back Andrew Harris from BC. They've also replaced kicker Lirim Hajrullahu, who had a disastrous end to last season and cost them a couple of games, with one of the best in Justin Medlock.   Toronto Argonauts The big changes in Toronto have happened behind the scenes. At New Year the ownership of the franchise was transferred from David Braley, who also owns BC Lions, to Larry Tanenbaum. The team are re-locating too. It's goodbye to the lifeless Rogers Centre where they played second fiddle to the Blue Jays baseball team and were forced to play home games away. Their home will be the newly refurbished BMO Field on the shores of Lake Ontario which they'll share with Toronto FC of the MLS. Last week a roof was being added to the spectator area. BMO will host the Grey Cup this year. The Argos have chosen to stick with their 36 year old future Hall of Fame quarterback Ricky Ray and in the process lost back up Trevor Harris who led them last season in Ray's absence. Rebuilding the O line to protect Ray has been a priority. Most notably, Brian Bulcke is coming in from Hamilton. Moves to the NFL are taking their toll on the team. Kicker Swayze Waters has left to try his luck with the Carolina Panthers, and replacing him will be the aforementioned Lirim Hajrullahu which doesn't sound too promising though is probably inexpensive. Their defence has taken a hit as Cleyon Laing and Tristan Okpalaugo are going south too.     Montreal Alouettes We knew before the end of last season that the interim head coach Jim Popp is going to continue in both the coach and GM roles this season. I'm not going to pretend to understand what Popp's plan is with linebackers. They'll have their defensive leader Bear Woods back after injury cost him the whole of last season and they made a big effort to sign Ted Laurent from Hamilton. However having failed there they then cut Canadian Henoc Muamba who had a year left on his contract and caused such a frenzy when he became available in the second half of last season. The ex-Indianapolis Colt is reportedly going to try the NFL again, expect another bidding war if that doesn't work out. Montreal have signed receiver Kenny Stafford from Edmonton. The Alouettes tend to make one signing every year designed to make headlines. Last year it was Michael Sam. Don't know yet who it'll be this year.   BC Lions The last Head Coach change is at BC. Jeff Tedford was unpopular with the players, in fact it may well have been mutual, and he resigned after the end of the season. The Lions have brought their former head Coach Wally Buono out from the backroom to run the team again. They'll be without top Canadian running back Andrew Harris who's joined the Bombers, but they have managed to keep the services of a couple of players who were free agents, receiver Emmanuel Arceneaux and running back Chris Rainey. He'll be joined in the backfield by ex-Redblack Jeremiah  Johnson. There was speculation that veteran quarterback Travis Lulay would retire, particularly as he did a very good TV stint during the play-offs, but he's signed an extension and will be competing with Jonathon Jennings for the starting role.   Looking ahead There's still a long way to go until we have final rosters of course. There's the college draft in early May and the team scouts are busy looking for unknown American players who'll try their luck in the team training camps in June.  As always, lots won't make it but one or two of them will turn out to be stars.
02.12.2015
UKFirstdown
No comments
Article by Duncan Gray Winnipeg greeted the 103rd Grey Cup with decent weather and, after a rush of fans from Ottawa arrived, it saw a sold out Investors Group Field on Sunday night. The teams responded with a thrilling game that went down to the wire     Ottawa Redblacks 20 -26 Edmonton Eskimos   Ottawa started the game on fire. Henry Burris led his team down the field on the opening possession and finished it with a Patrick Lavoie touchdown pass. The Eskimos Kendial Lawrence then fumbled away the kick off return and Burris threw a second TD, this time for seven yards to Ernest Jackson. The extra point was missed but the Redblacks were 13-0 ahead before the Edmonton offence had got onto the field. The Eskimos' fight back wasn't long in coming and they pulled back 10 points before the end of the quarter. A Sean Whyte field goal was followed by Burris being intercepted and Mike Reilly connecting with Adarius Bowman for a  23 yard TD. Before half time Reilly threw a second touchdown, this one to Akeem Shavers, and Edmonton had a one point lead.   There was a long half time break while the crowd was entertained by the band Fall Out Boy. This gave the coaches plenty time to make adjustments and the second half was very different to the first as the defences took charge. The Redblacks had edged back in front through a Chris Milo field goal but with the three minute warning getting close it was Edmonton who got the breakthrough. The field position they needed came from 65 yards made on back to back defensive pass interference calls. The second one only came after Head Coach Chris Jones was persuaded to throw a challenge flag when he didn't seem to want to. The call gave the Eskimos  first and goal on the Ottawa ten. Three plays later back-up quarterback Jordan Lynch made a one yard dive on third down to clinch the go ahead score. From there, the Eskimos defence, which held Ottawa to scoring only seven points after the first quarter, saw out the game. QB Mike Reilly, who had survived a constant battering from the Redblacks pass rush, finished with 21 of 35 for 269 yards and two touchdowns. He was named the game's MVP.   Game Highlights     So the Eskimos had their long awaited Grey Cup victory and their city is rightly celebrating. Almost as soon as the game was over head coach Chris Jones had his name added to the list of names rumoured to be signing targets for the Saskatchewan Roughriders. It doesn't look like he's planning to leave though. The Redblacks  can be proud of what they achieved in only their second year. With an exciting style and fanatical sell-out crowds they've been a great addition to the league.  
29.11.2015
UKFirstdown
No comments
Article by Duncan Gray It's the last game of the season on Sunday night as the champions of the East and West Divisions meet. It's the Grey Cup, the CFL's Super Bowl.     Edmonton Eskimos v Ottawa Redblacks Investors Group Field, Winnipeg Sunday 29 November live coverage from 11.30pm on BT Sport ESPN.   Weather forecast: Dry, light winds, -5°C  (That's fairly mild for Winnipeg at this time of year, it's been down to -18°C some nights this week.)     The two teams who've timed their best form to the last weeks of the season are meeting in Winnipeg on Sunday night. For Edmonton it's the first time they've reached this stage since 2005 and they last won in 2002.  They finished the regular season with a 14&4 record and defeated their great rivals, the Calgary Stampeders, to become Western champions. Ottawa are the fairy tale story. They only joined the league last year as an expansion team and have jumped from only two wins in their first season to champions of the East. It's no surprise that Rick Campbell has won the Coach of the Year award.   Players to watch The Ottawa offence is led by the veteran quarterback Henry Burris who has quite rightly won the year's Most Outstanding Player award. Two other players won awards too (see further down). Four receivers had 1000 yard seasons but Greg Ellingson has been the stand out in the last couple of games. He made the sensational 93 yard touchdown which got Ottawa here. Then there's ex quarterback turned receiver Brad Sinopoli who's won the Canadian Player of the Year award. The defence were the CFL sack leaders, watch out for lineman Shawn Lemon who came in from the San Francisco 49ers as an injury replacement and has anchored the unit.   Edmonton's defence was stingiest in total points and yards allowed. Among it's stars are rookie back John Ojo, who opposing QBs try to avoid, linebacker JC Sherrit and sack leader Odell Willis. The offence is led by Mike Reilly at quarterback who's favourite receivers are slotback Adarius Bowman and wide receiver Derel Walker, the Rookie of the Year. Kendial Lawrence poses a threat on kick returns too. Who will win? The bookmakers have Edmonton as seven point favourites to win the game. They beat Ottawa comfortably in their two meetings this season, but those were back in July and a lot has changed since then. I'll say the Eskimos will spoil the Ottawa “worst to first” narrative and take it, but with very low confidence.   Other News   Ottawa Redblacks dominated this year's Shaw CFL Awards which were presented on Thursday night. MOST OUTSTANDING PLAYER: Henry Burris, QB (Ottawa REDBLACKS) COACH OF THE YEAR: Rick Campbell, Head Coach (Ottawa REDBLACKS) MOST OUTSTANDING OFFENSIVE LINEMAN: SirVincent Rogers, OL (Ottawa REDBLACKS) MOST OUTSTANDING DEFENSIVE PLAYER: Adam Bighill, LB (BC Lions) MOST OUTSTANDING SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER: Brandon Banks, REC/RET (Hamilton Tiger-Cats) MOST OUTSTANDING ROOKIE: Derel Walker, REC (Edmonton Eskimos) MOST OUTSTANDING CANADIAN: Brad Sinopoli, REC (Ottawa REDBLACKS)   Some Grey Cup notes   Spare a thought for CFL pundit Tyrell Owchar who contributes to the Two and Out podcast. Before the season started he declared that Ottawa had no chance of winning twelve games. If they did, he said, he would submit himself to a Brazilian waxing. The latest reports are that a suitable salon has been booked in Winnipeg for Ty to make good on the bet.   The Grey Cup was first presented in 1909. It was donated by Earl Grey, the Governor General of Canada, originally to be played for by amateur rugby clubs. It still bears the wording “Amateur Rugby Football Championship of Canada”.   This year's game brings reminders of the 1981 Grey Cup. That game featured the Edmonton Eskimos and a previous CFL franchise in Ottawa, the Rough Riders. Just like this year the Esks had had two bye weeks before the divisional final and came in as favourites. That Ottawa team hold the record for the team to make the final after the worst regular season record, they'd finished 5 & 11. The game was a lot closer than expected. Edmonton, led by Warren Moon at QB, were 22.5 favourites to win but the final score was 26-23, the Eskimos won only by a last minute field goal! There's another connection too, the Edmonton Head Coach was Hugh Campbell, the father of the current Redblacks head coach Rick Campbell.
26.11.2015
UKFirstdown
No comments
Article by Duncan Gray Sunday night saw the places in next weekend's Grey Cup claimed. The two form teams should make the climax to the CFL season memorable.   Hamilton Tiger-Cats 28 - 35 Ottawa Redblacks The Eastern Division Final was a close game throughout which came down to a remarkable final two minutes. Trailing by seven the Hamilton quarterback Jeremiah Masoli connected with Luke Tasker on consecutive 22 yard passes. The second was one of the catches of the season, Tasker caught it in a full stretch dive in the end zone to level the score at 28 all. A minute later they TiCats had Ottawa in deep trouble, facing a second down and 25 on their own 17 yard line. Henry Burris threw a huge pass into the wind which Greg Ellingson leapt to catch just short of halfway. He avoided two Hamilton defenders and sprinted down the right hand side line for the touchdown. As the final minute played out the inexperienced Masoli couldn't produce any more magic and the Redblacks had gone from last year's worst team in the league to winning a place in the Grey Cup. Highlights     Calgary Stampeders 31 - 45 Edmonton Eskimos What was expected to be a hard defensive game actually developed into a quarterback passing battle as the Eskimos claimed the Western Final, the Alberta bragging rights and their first place in the Grey Cup for ten years. Edmonton's Mike Reilly passed for 370 yards and a touchdown to each of his three main targets, Adarius Bowman, Kenny Stafford and Derel Walker. On the Stampeders side Bo Levi Mitchell had 381 passing yards and two touchdowns, caught by Eric Rogers (as usual) and a receiver who stepped it up for the night, Joe West. Crucially, the Esk's defence restricted running back Jerome Messam to just 56 yards, perhaps Calgary having an improvised offensive line made it easier for them, and they were able to make the game safe with a 29 point lead by the fourth quarter. Highlights    
Article by Duncan Gray The first round of the play-offs gave us two very different games, one was a blowout and the other decided on the last kick of the game. The teams who came through were the two who played in last years year's Grey Cup. For them the action moves to Ottawa and and Edmonton this Sunday. It will be another TV double header for us on BT Sport. The Divisional Final previews are further down the page.   For those outside of the BT Sport and ESPN market areas the CFL will be broadcasting the games live on their CFL Global YouTube Channel.   Divisional Semi-Finals   Toronto Argonauts 22 - 25 Hamilton Tiger-Cats The Tiger-Cats came kept their hopes of playing in a third consecutive Grey Cup alive when Justin Medlock kicked a 47 field goal on the last play of the game to break a 22 all tie. Toronto, with Ricky Ray at quarterback, were on top going into the fourth quarter with touchdowns having come on a short Brandon Whittaker run and a nine yard pass play to Chad Owens. Jeremiah Masoli, who was making his first QB start for Hamilton, was able to keep Hamilton in the game. He scored one TD on the ground, shared the running game with C J Gable and in the fourth quarter hit Bakari Grant for a 42 yard touchdown which tied the game and ultimately set up the last play win. The Argonauts have done well through a lot of uncertainty this season and will be looking to build on their success with a new owner and new stadium after New Year. The Tiger-Cats now have Ottawa Redblacks between them and a third consecutive appearance in the Grey Cup. Highlights   BC Lions 9 –  35 Calgary Stampeders If the first game was as close as it gets the Western game wasn't. Calgary showed the form of reigning champions and comfortably saw off BC Lions. The star of the show was running back Jerome Messam. The Stamps signing on Transfer Deadline Day looked like the bargain of the year as he ran up 147 combined rushing and receiving yards and scored a touchdown. Bo Levi Mitchell connected with Eric Rogers for two other scores as BC had no answer for the Calgary Offence. The Lions suffered a big set back as they lost starting quarterback Jonathon Jennings before half time to a shoulder injury after he was sacked. They were already 24-3 behind though so it didn't make much difference. Highlights     Game Previews   Eastern Division Semi Final –  Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Ottawa Redblacks TD Place, Ottawa Sunday 22nd  November, live on BT Sport ESPN at 6.00pm UK time.   Weather forecast: 4°C, showers, possibly snow.   After their bruising encounter with the Argonauts, Hamilton have to gather themselves together as they face their third game against Ottawa Redblacks in four weeks. They lost the first two so will be starting as second favourites. The performance which stand-in quarterback  Jeremiah Masoli produced last week must give them hope as will the superiority of their special teams. Defending kick returns is a weakness of Ottawa so look for the speed of Brandon Banks to challenge them. However, the loss of defensive end Eric Norwood will be a serious blow to the TiCats. The Redblacks will have a sell-out crowd backing them for what is the first post season football to be played in the city for over thirty years and the first Ottawa team in the play-offs for over twenty. They've hit top form at the right time and come into the game after four regular season wins in a row. With Henry Burris and his all star set of receivers they lead the league in total offence while their defence registered more sacks than any other team. Who will win? The Ottawa bandwagon is rolling and I don't see it being stopped yet. TiCats coach Jeff Reinebold could be appearing in the Sky Sports studio sooner rather than later.     Western Division  Final – Calgary Stampeders at Edmonton Eskimos Commonwealth Stadium, Edmonton Sunday 22nd  November, live on BT Sport ESPN at 9.30pm UK time.   Weather forecast: 4°C, sunny intervals, moderate winds.   Early in the season it appeared there had been a major power shift in the CFL. Teams from the East Division were beating their Western rivals, they even swept the board in Week 2. By the end of the year normal service had been resumed, the Alberta teams both had 14 and 4 records and were clearly the strongest in the league. Edmonton have home advantage thanks to having won two of three against the Stampeders and they've had three weeks since their last game to rest and recover and to plan. Their meetings with Calgary have been low scoring games and the Eskimo's league leading defence was key to their wins. Meanwhile quarterback Mike Reilly also has two of the best passing targets to threaten the Calgary line with, Adarius Bowman and Derell Walker. With Jerome Messam proving he can cover the running back slot for Jon Cornish it looks like Calgary's offence are well balanced coming into the game. However their season long problem is still dogging them, last week they suffered injuries in the offensive line and yet again had to borrow players from the defence to cover. With the recent injuries having hit Canadian players Shane Bergman and Pierre Lavertu, head coach John Hufnagel has some big team selection decisions to make. Who will win? Edmonton have had rest, Calgary have had game practice, it could go either way. Taking into account home advantage and the problems in the Calgary O line I'm taking Edmonton to grind out a result, but I'm not confident.     Next Week The winners of these games will travel to Winnipeg to play in the 104th Grey Cup. Before that the year's Most Outstanding Player awards will be announced.
15.11.2015
UKFirstdown
No comments
Article by Duncan Gray It's November. The weather's turning cold in Canada but the CFL action is getting hotter. There are six teams and two rounds of games left before the Grey Cup at the end of the month. The two games this week are scheduled to be shown live as a double header on BT Sport ESPN on Sunday evening.   The CFL announced this week that the play-off and Grey Cup games will be streamed live worldwide on YouTube. However it hasn't been made clear if the stream will be available in the UK and Ireland where BTSport is broadcasting the games, or in the Americas and Australia which is covered by ESPN.     Game Previews   Eastern Division Semi Final – Toronto Argonauts at Hamilton Tiger-Cats Tim Hortons Field, Hamilton Sunday 15th November, live on BT Sport ESPN at 6.00pm UK time.   Weather forecast: 12°C, no rain, light winds.   The two bitter Southern Ontario rivals have had strong periods during the season as they built ten win records but they've both struggled towards the end. Toronto led the league during the weeks while the TiCats were clearly the best during the middle period. That was when Hamilton swept the three games between them. However neither team has been strong in the later third of the season, the Als went three and three, Hamilton two and four. If Toronto are going into the game with one advantage it's that they have two first string quarterbacks. Future Hall of Famer Ricky Ray has been restored to the starting slot after missing most of the season with a shoulder injury. No one thinks he's back to his best but all that experience counts for a lot and they do have Trevor Harris as back-up. The offence has been boosted by the addition of ex Seattle and Cleveland receiver Phil Bates while they'll probably have both Chad Kackert and Brandon Whitaker at running back. Hamilton on the other hand are reduced to second and third string quarterbacks after they lost Zach Collaros to injury. Jeremiah Masoli proved to be the best available last week though it's suggested Jeff Matthews might be fit to return. Beyond that the offence has benefited by the return of running back C J Gable and slotback Andy Fantuz. Their defence is still very strong, but it's not the scary force of mid season which threatened to break all sorts of records. Jeff Reinebold's Special teams unit have made a big contribution all year so watch for them having a trick or two up there sleeves. Who will win? Home advantage is big at Tim Hortons Field, the crowd will be large, loud and shouting "Argos suck". But there's history in the CFL that says four wins by one team over another in a season doesn't happen.  Toronto had a much less intense game last week, I think they might just spring a surprise.     Western Division Semi Final – BC Lions at Calgary Stampeders McMahon Stadium, Calgary Sunday 15th November, live on BT Sport ESPN at 9.30pm UK time.   Weather forecast: 1°C, chance of snow, light winds.   There's a saying in the CFL that the season really only starts at Labour Day. It's a teams performance down the stretch that matters. BC Lions are a team which is peaking at the right time. They struggled most of the year but a late season surge and week 18 and 19 wins over Hamilton and Toronto were enough to sneak them into the play offs. Their return to form actually coincided with rookie quarterback Jonathon Jennings taking over from the injured Travis Lulay. Other big name players keeping the BC fans hopeful include running back Andrew Harris, wide receiver Emanuel Arceneaux and linebacker Adam Bighill who was the only unanimous choice in the Divisional All-star teams announced this week. The Calgary Stampeders haven't beaten by any team except the Eskimos since July. Their top running back Jon Cornish is expected to miss this game. He missed a few games earlier in the season and the Stamps still won, and now they have Jerome Messam to provide cover. Expect Bo Levi Mitchell to keep making connections to the CFL's leading receiver Eric Rogers. Who will win? I'm going to go with home advantage. The Lions will provide a serious challenge but expect Calgary to edge it.     Next Week The winners of these games will travel to Ottawa Redblacks and Edmonton Eskimos for the Divisional Finals.     Other News This Week The three teams which didn't qualify for the play-offs have started work for next year. To the surprise of very few, Winnipeg Blue Bombers announced that offensive coordinator Marcel Bellefeuille won't be having his contract renewed for next year. In contrast, almost everyone was surprised when the Montreal Alouettes announced that their general manager and interim head coach Jim Popp will continue as head coach next year. No word yet on who'll be offered the most high profile job, head coach at Saskatchewan Roughriders.
10.11.2015
UKFirstdown
No comments
Article by Duncan Gray The highlight of the final week of the regular season was a remarkable game which saw Ottawa clinch first place in the East Division while Saskatchewan and Montreal kept the excitement going right to the end. The final tables are here.     Winnipeg Blue Bombers 11 – 21 Toronto Argonauts The Argonauts broke their losing streak on Friday and enjoyed a solid preparation for their coming play-off game. Ricky Ray and Trevor Harris both had time at quarterback and both threw touchdown passes to Dave Stalla. Meantime Dionte Spencer led the offence in receiving with 123 yards and Chad Kackert in rushing with 89. The defence was solid and kept the Bombers out of the end zone all night. For Winnipeg's last game of the season they gave ex Atlanta Falcon Dominique Davis a try out at QB. Jamaal Westerman had two sacks while Khalil Bass kept up his claim for rookie of the year honours by leading the defence with nine tackles, taking him to 102 for the season. In a ceremony at half time the Bombers head coach Mike O'Shea was inducted into the Argonauts all-time team, honouring his many years played as a star of Toronto's defence. A banner with his number 50 was hung up though in the Rogers Centre though presumably it won't be there for long as this was the last time the Argos will play there. highlights     Hamilton Tiger-Cats 28 – 44 Ottawa Redblacks The Redblacks completed the leap from worst to first in the East Division as they clinched top place with a storming performance over Hamilton. It was a night of broken records. Greg Ellingson caught three touchdown passes and made 152 yards, making him the fourth Ottawa receiver to reach 1000 yards this season. Four one thousand yard receivers on one team has only been achieved twice previously in CFL history. Henry Burris threw a total of six touchdowns on the day and with his 28 pass completions he set a new record total for a season at 481. The Redblacks raced out to 17-0 first quarter lead before Hamilton replaced Jacory Harris with Jeremiah Masoli at QB and fought back to lead 20-17 at halftime. Masoli ran in one TD and passed to Andy Fantuz for another. Credit the scores however to an Eric Norwood interception return and a 63 yard Terrell Sinkfield Jnr punt return, both of which were stopped just short of the line. The Tiger-Cats chances of getting the six point win they needed looked good at that point and they kept the excitement level high with a third quarter touchdown when Rico Murray scored from their onside punt routine. Brandon Banks produced the highlight of the night when he ran a missed Ottawa extra point all the way for two points at the other end. In the end though Ottawa were too strong and Burris threw touchdowns to Sinopoli, Williams, Lavoie and Ellingson again to make the win comfortable. Hamilton will now host Toronto in next week's Divisional Semi-final. Ottawa will play the winner a week later for a place in the Grey Cup. highlights     Calgary Stampeders 28 – 7 BC Lions With the teams due to meet in next week's West semi-final game lots of starters were rested and the teams were going through the motions. BC had Travis Lulay back at QB while Bo Levi Mitchell's understudy, Drew Tate, led Calgary to the win as he threw for 231 yards and two touchdowns. The point of interest of the night was the race for the rushing title. BC's Andrew Harris ran for 42 yards before sitting down before half time and he finished on 1039 yards for the season. Jerome Messam made 59 yards on the night and finished with a total of 1003. highlights   Saskatchewan Roughriders 30 – 24 Montreal Alouettes The final game of the regular season on Sunday brought us one last overtime thriller though there was nothing but pride at stake. Both quarterbacks were making their starting debuts. Keith Price played the first half for the Riders before being replaced by Brett Smith. The big news though was that Montreal's Brandon Bridge became the first Canadian since 1996 to start at QB and to throw a touchdown pass (or two). The Als were leading comfortably until Brett Smith came in at QB for Saskatchewan late in the game and threw three touchdowns, the last one in overtime to earn the Riders their third win and avoid this being worst ever season. Points of pride for the Als were that running back Tyrell Sutton ran for 139 yards on 22 carries, enough for him to steal the year's rushing title from Andrew Harris, while John Bowman took the sack title with three on the night and a season's total of 19. Both teams have a lot of work to do before they play again next year, not least they both need new head coaches. highlights
08.11.2015
UKFirstdown
No comments
Article by Duncan Gray - submitted Friday 6th It's going to be a low key final week of the regular season. In three of the games there's nothing to play for apart from player's individual records. The exception will be Saturday's East Division title decider between Ottawa and Hamilton. There's no live TV coverage in the UK this week.   As part of the publicity for the Grey Cup in Winnipeg, an interactive illuminated sign has been erected which reacts to Twitter messages. If you use the hashtag #greycup and then the hashtag of a team the sign will change to the team's colours. Meantime the CFL have announced that Grammy-nominated rock group Fall Out Boy will perform at the Nissan Titan Halftime Show.   Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Toronto Argonauts – Friday Winnipeg have missed out on post season football for the fourth straight year and there's a lot of dissatisfaction coming from their fanbase, mainly aimed at the front office. It's probably just as well they're away this week or it could have become ugly. Quarterback Dominique Davis is getting a try-out in their starting line-up. The game should be the Argonauts last ever fixture at the Rogers Centre and no one is sorry about it. They've been second class tenants in the dome and were forced to play four home games on the road this year. It's to their credit that they've done so well despite all the travel. The players and staff have already been to their new venue, BMO Field, for a look around, but the business at hand is to get back on track for the East semi-final after three consecutive losses. Since he was brought back into the line-up veteran quarterback Ricky Ray hasn't performed as well as he used to (the CFL's version of Peyton Manning?) but  he will start this game. Trevor Harris should get a chance to compete for the job though. Kicker Patrick Swayze will return from injury again. The Game of the Week – Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Ottawa Redblacks  - Saturday The Redblacks are on the verge of a remarkable feat. From finishing dead last in the CFL last year with a 2&16 record they're just one game away from winning the East Division. Ottawa have a one game lead in the table so the Tiger-Cats need a result to level the number of wins. If they do the title will be decided on head to head record. Effectively this is a European football style two leg aggregate match, and Ottawa have a six point lead from the first game. If that wasn't enough of a disadvantage for Hamilton they'll be without quarterback Jeff Matthews who suffered a concussion last week. The starter will be a third stringer, either Jacory Harris or Jeremiah Masoli. Henry Burris should become the only QB to start all 18 games this season while the Ottawa offence will be chasing an unusual record. If Greg Ellingson can make 81 yards then they'll have four receivers who've made 1000 yards in the season. Burris himself needs 26 completions to set a season record.   Calgary Stampeders at BC Lions -  Saturday These teams will meet again next week in the West semi-final, so don't expect them to make any great effort in this one. There will be plenty chances for back up players to get reps and they'll probably start running out the clock in the first quarter. Both sides have already announced a change at quarterback, Drew Tate comes in for the Stampeders, Travis Lulay for the Lions. The seasons rushing title is up for grabs in this game. BC's Andrew Harris is the leader and he only needs 3 yards to make his 1000 for the season. Calgary's Jerome Messam starts 50 yards behind. The question is will either of them get enough carries to make a difference? In the defensive stats the Lion's linebacker Adam Bighill has a 10 tackle lead over the Roughriders' Jeff Knox Jnr to defend. Saskatchewan Roughriders at Montreal Alouettes – Sunday The final game of the regular season features the bottom team of each division. Both have Acting Head Coaches who are unlikely to keep the role for next year and they've only pride to play for. If the Riders can't get a result their season record will be 2&16, the team's worst ever. For the Als it's the first time they've missed out on the post season since the team moved to Montreal twenty years ago. Edmonton Eskimos are on the bye week. They also have a bye for the first round of the play-offs. The players have been given the luxury of a ten day holiday before they get back to training for the Western Final on the 22nd. This week's TV Schedule Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Totonto Argonauts – recorded Sunday morning November 8th, 07:00 hrs –  BT Sport ESPN Calgary Stampeders at BC Lions- recorded Sunday evening November 8th, 22:30 hrs –  BT Sport ESPN Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Ottawa Redblacks – recorded Monday evening November 9th, 19:30 hrs –  BT Sport ESPN Saskatchewan Roughriders at Montreal Alouettes – recorded Tuesday morning November 10th, 10:00 hrs –  BT Sport ESPN      
03.11.2015
UKFirstdown
No comments
Article by Duncan Gray We've had the second last week of the regular season and we now know which six teams are still on the Road to the Grey Cup. The weekend went as follows:   BC Lion 27 – 25 Toronto Argonauts The Argos finally got to play a home game in the Rogers Centre on Friday but it turned out to be BC Lions and quarterback Jonathan Jennings night. Jennings threw two touchdowns and eclipsed his veteran opposite number Ricky Ray who was making his first start of the season.   Saskatchewan Roughriders 19 - 42 Calgary Stampeders Calgary had a comfortable win over the league's bottom side on Saturday to keep the pressure on Edmonton. Bo Levi Mitchell threw three touchdown passes, two to Eric Rogers while Jerome Messam ran for 121 yards against his former team mates.   Ottawa Redblacks 12 - 6 Hamilton Tiger-Cats It's advantage to the Redblacks in the race for the East title. Play at Tim Hortons Field was affected by a strong wind  and with the Division to be won over back to back games this was a cagey affair. In fact all of the scoring came from field goals and they were all kicked with the wind at the kickers back. The TiCats had a couple of opportunities to score a touchdown but interceptions thrown by Jeff Matthews left them trailing.   Montreal Alouettes 22 - 40 Edmonton Eskimos The last game of the weekend decided the West Division play-off places. The result, Edmonton's eighth win in a row, clinched first place in the table for the Eskimos while it also put an end to Montreal's chances of stealing the third play-off spot in the West. The Eskimos took a first quarter lead with the first of three touchdowns thrown by Mike Reilly to the outstanding rookie receiver Derell Walker. However the Als weren't beaten easily and they led after three quarters after Kevin Glenn threw touchdowns to B.J. Cunningham (twice) and Fred Stamps. Edmonton dominated the final period though and made the game safe as Montreal were forced to try desperate third down conversions which didn't come off.     The Play-off Picture West Division: Edmonton's have secured first place in the division and home field advantage for the West Final. They now BC Lions have officially finished third as Montreal can no longer overhaul their wins total. BC will travel to Calgary for the semi-final match. East Division: Toronto are going to have to make do with third place and an away semi final. First place will be decided between Ottawa and Hamilton in Week 20, the loser gets to host the semi-final.

Week One Preview

It's clean slates all round, the pre-season games mean nothing now, the road to the Grey Cup is now open, this is when the action starts.  (Enough of the cliches?)

 

If you haven't seen Canadian Football before, BT Sport/ESPN are providing coverage here in the UK so scan down this column to find our explanation of how the rules are different to the NFL's, then settle back and watch the action

Game of the Week

Picking the top fixture this week is easy. Friday night's game is a rematch of last year's Grey Cup as Hamilton Tiger-Cats travel west to looking for revenge over the champion Calgary Stampeders.
Hamilton are into a long spell in on the road. They played at home in the first preseason game back on June 8th and they don't have a home game until Week 6. The TiCats won both their pre-season games pretty comfortably and it's going to be interesting to see how the East champions look against a top team from the more powerful West Division.
The Stampeders won both of their exhibition games too, and despite a number of players having moved in and out of the team since last year they'll still start the season

Stampeders win the Grey Cup

 

This week's TV Schedule

 

Montreal Alouettes v Ottawa Redblacks - LIVE

Friday morning 26 June 0030 hrs – BT Sport ESPN

 

Calgary Stampeders v Hamilton Tiger-Cats  - LIVE

Saturday morning 27 June 0200 hrs – BT Sport 2

 

Saskatchewan Roughriders v Winnipeg Blue Bombers  - LIVE
Sunday Morning 28 June 0100 hrs - BT Sport ESPN

 

Edmonton Eskimos v Toronto Argonauts - recorded

Monday Morning 29 June 0930 hrs  - BT Sport ESPN

 

 

For those of you who can't access the BT Sport channels there are online subscriptions available through the Canadian broadcaster TSN. Options include $35 for the full 6 month season of games. Visit http://cfl.officialsatellitetv.com/live.html for more information.

 

The other games

The opening game of the season is in Montreal on Thursday night where the Alouettes will host Ottawa Redblacks. The Als were involved in a tie break at the top of the East Division last year and they'll want to start quickly. For Ottawa, coming into only their second season in the league, an improvement on their two wins of last year will be the first target. Montreal will be one of the teams  they're targeting.


The Women's Soccer World Cup being played in Canada this month has forced venue changes on several CFL teams with several alternative stadiums having been used through the pre-season. Toronto Argonauts and  Edmonton Eskimos meet on Saturday afternoon at the newly built SMS Equipment Stadium in the town of Fort McMurray, Northern Alberta. Toronto are actually the home team for this one. This game, along with the Eskimo's exhibition game there a couple of weeks ago, sets the record for the furthest north pro football has been played in Canada.

SMS Equipment Stadium, Fort McMurray

The last game of the week is on Saturday night, a West Division match-up as Saskatchewan Roughriders host Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The Bombers were well behind the rest of the Division last season and they'll be hoping the many team changes they've made through the off season will make a difference. They're starting in front of the Rider Nation fans though and they won't make it easy.

 

BC Lions have the bye this week.

Pre-season roundup

21 June 2015
The final round of  pre-season games has now been completed.
 

Thu Jun 18

Toronto

30

Montreal

10

Fri Jun 19

Hamilton

26

Winnipeg

15

Fri Jun 19

Calgary

37

Saskatchewan

29

Fri Jun 19

Edmonton

18

BC

13

*See our results page for links to game highlights
 

Toronto Argonauts – The talk is that QB Ricky Ray could be fit to play after their bye week in Week 3. Meantime his stand-in Trevor Harris threw for 8 of 10 in the first half and looked more than capable. The defence looked solid too, taking three interceptions, two of which they ran back for touchdowns in the second quarter. 

 

Montreal Allouettes – The game began well with most of their starters on the field, marching down the field and scoring a TD on the opening drive. From there however things went downhill on a rainy night. The Als turned the ball over five times, including starting quarterback Jonathan Crompton throwing two interceptions before being benched. The hoped for Canadian quarterback of the future, Brandon Bridge, made an appearance late in the game but he's clearly behind Dan LeFevour in the depth chart. Crompton remains the first choice.

Meantime the Alouettes' general manager Jim Popp is still talking up Michael Sam and denying that the rookie left training camp as he wasn't doing very well. The signing of openly gay Sam has been the big story of the pre-season and the Allouettes hoped to gain a lot of positive publicity from it. They've not officially given up on Sam yet but he has been suspended by the team and the whole affair has become a fiasco. This might just be the end of the story...

 

Hamilton Tiger-Cats have clearly been the most impressive East Division team in the preseason with two comfortable wins recorded despite losing key players to injury. Already looking forward to see if they can step it up further when they meet Edmonton next week.

 

Saskatchewan Roughriders – Two high scoring games, one win one loss, seem to Head coach Corey Chamblin is talking up their chances.

 

Winnipeg Blue Bombers – Before the Hamilton game Head Coach Mike O’Shea sent his players in with the thought that almost every starting place on the team was still up for grabs. After the game he was disappointed by a lot of performances. He did confirm that Drew Willey will be starting at quarterback.

 

BC Lions – QB Travis Lulay played the first half in has comeback from a shoulder injury which saw him out for almost all of last season. He looked a little rusty but fit enough as he threw for 123 yards and a touchdown. That's two losses in the pre-season for the Lions though, there's work to be done before their regular seasons opens in Week 2.

Calgary Stampeders – The champions completed a winning preseason by beating Saskatchewan. However things looked less than perfect. Starting QB Bo Levi Mitchell struggled and they relied on third string QB Bryant Mortiz to provide the touchdowns from short yardage runs.

Stampeders RB Jon Cornish

Roster Cuts – It's Cut Down Day. The teams are making the last cuts of their rosters and will have reduced them down to 44 players plus 2 reserves by Saturday night.

Whats different about Canadian Football?

The CFL regular season kicks off next Thursday night and games will be shown live on the BT Sport and ESPN channels. We'll preview the games next week. Meanwhile here's our explanation of Canadian football for British players and NFL fans.

 

 

Q: What's the main thing football in Canada has in common with here in the UK?
A: Rugby fields. The sport in both countries developed using the facilities of rugby clubs.

 

Talking of rugby, American Football and Canadian Football are about as alike as Rugby Union and Rugby League. Each one does much the same thing, but via some quite different rules.

 

In Britain we've adapted rugby fields for our game. The little problem is that rugby pitches are 10 yards too short, there's only 110 yards between the sets of goalposts. Since we're doing our best to copy the NFL or NCAA Football we see on television we play on a 90 yard pitch with the centre at the 45 yard line and the goals sited at the back of 10 yard end zones.

 

As I described in the previous article, Canadian Football developed in parallel with the American game. The Canadians didn't even have newsreels to watch football on back in 1903 when their separate code of football emerged from rugby, so they haven't copied the American rules.

 

The first obvious difference is the layout of the field. The Canadian field is a good bit bigger. What they've done is used all 110 yards of the rugby pitch as the field of play, so their centre line is the 55 yard line. The goalposts are on the goal line rather than at the back of the end zone and the end zones are 20 yards deep, though in some stadiums the corners get cut off through lack of space. They've stuck with the rugby sidelines too, so their field is more than 10 yards wider than the American one.

It's pretty obvious that the tactics of the game have to be different in all that extra space. The rules have evolved to keep the game competitive. Here are some of the differences you'll see.

 

Only 3 Downs – The offence has advantages that aren't in the American game. For one thing, all that extra space makes it's harder for the defence to cover receivers. To maintain the balance of the game the offence gets one less down to gain 10 yards. Overall you get more passing plays and more punts in a Canadian game.

There are 12 players on each side –  The extra player on offence starts in the backfield. An extra backfield position, unique to the Canadian game, is the slotback, a player who can block for the ball carrier but is more likely to run a receiving pattern. The play will usually start with two running backs and a slotback, or maybe vice versa. The Tight End is still an eligible receiver, but is rarely used as such.

As the Canadian game has more passing the extra player on defence plays as a back.

Motion at the snap – There aren't the American restrictions which allow only one player in motion in the backfield and no forward movement. This makes it harder for the defence to read the play, so there's another reason there are only 3 downs. Watch for the slotbacks timing their runs so that they're crossing the line of scrimmage at full speed just as the ball's snapped.

The Line of Scrimmage – the same rules as in America apply requiring seven players on the line. However there's more separation between the sides. The neutral zone is a yard wide, not just the length of the ball. This means that Canadian lineman need better footwork and faster feet as they have further to move before they engage in blocking. The one yard gap also makes going for it on third and short more inviting, though unlike in America the centre must snap the ball between his legs.
Punts and Fair Catches – As far as Canada is concerned the fair catch is a wimpy American rule and they don't have it. The rules force the receiving team to return the ball. If they don't and the kicker, or another player who was onside at the kick, gets to the ball they can claim possession. Returners are protected by the “no yards” rule which keeps opponents 5 yards away until the ball is touched. If the ball is punted into the end zone, and remember the end zone is 20 yards deep, then the receiving team has to advance it back over the goal line otherwise it's 1 point on the scoreboard to the kicking team.
And that leads us to the Single Point, also called a rouge, which has no equivalent in America. The single can be scored on a punt or missed field goal if the ball goes out of the end zone or if it isn't returned by the receiving team back into the field of play. All other scoring methods, touchdowns, field goals, safeties and 1 or 2 point conversions are much the same. There have been changes to the extra points rules for this season, Kicked extra points are now 20 yards longer, they'll be snapped from the 25 yard line (remember the posts are on the goal line) and for two point conversions the ball has been moved forward from the 5 yard line to the 3.

Timing – The rhythm of the game is faster as there's only 20 seconds to snap the ball after the referee whistles in the play. After the three minute warning (not two) in each half the clock is stopped after every play and a 20 second time count violation results in loss of down. Given there's a down less to play anyway this leaves much less opportunity for a team with the lead to run out the clock. Huge comebacks in the last few minutes can happen.

Less importantly, the referees throw bright orange flags, not yellow.

 

Rosters and Ratio: CFL teams are allowed a 44 player roster and work with a salary cap of $5,000,000. Three players are designated as quarterbacks, the rest are subject to the ratio rules. There must be a minimum of 21 Canadian players on the roster, and so there's a maximum of 20 imports (who you can assume will be American). On gameday the 24 players listed on the starting offence and defence must include 7 Canadians.

 

There are plenty more subtle differences but these are the obvious ones. Do they make the game better or worse than the American version?  Here are the thoughts of Warren Moon, the quarterback who's in both the CFL and NFL Halls of Fame.

 

 

2015 Pre-Season News

14 June 2015
 

We've had the first full week of pre-season games in the CFL. Here's a look at what's happened so far.

 

Ottawa

10

Hamilton

37

Winnipeg

34

Toronto

27

BC

6

Calgary

20

Montreal

26

Ottawa

9

Saskatchewan

24

Edmonton

31

 

Ottawa REDBLACKS: With the odd number of teams one side had to finish their pre-season early. Starting quarterback Henry Burris celebrated his 40th birthday just before the first game. There's been a lot of optimistic talk that the REDBLACKS will be an improved team this season. Not much evidence of it from their two games so far though.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats looked good as they demolished Ottawa. However they're keeping up their injury-prone reputation. Defensive tackle Brian Bulcke (ACL) and running back Mossis Madu Jr (shoulder) are out for the season.

Edmonton Eskimos played their home game at Fort McMurray in Northern Alberta in a game called the Northern Kickoff. They put on a good show too, producing a late come-back to beat Saskatchewan 34-27. They'll be back in the Fort for one regular season game.

Toronto Argonauts: With quarterback Ricky Ray struggling to be fit after surgery, Trevor Harris has stepped up well to cover for him.  The Argos have signed ex Montreal QB Adrian McPherson as extra cover.

Montreal Alouettes:  Home grown Canadian rookie quarterback Brandon Bridge put up a good performance during his share of the drives in the Ottawa game. Meanwhile, Michael Sam has been given leave of absence from training camp for undisclosed personal reasons.

Calgary Stampeders: Another Canadian quarterback showing well in his first game was the Hec Crighton Award winner Andrew Buckley. That's the Canadian equivalent of the Heisman trophy by the way. Starting QB Bo Levi Mitchell only played one series of downs in the champion's win over BC Lions.

BC Lions: The Lions won't be too upset at the defeat in Calgary. Their starters saw little playing time as first year Head Coach Jeff Tedford gave his young players and rookies most of the action.

Saskatchewan Roughriders: Darian Durant started at quarterback and played most of the first quarter on his return from last season's elbow injury.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers: Head coach Mike O'Shea said he was pleased with progress after their 34-27 win against Toronto. A bigger test will come when they play the Tiger-Cats in their final pre-season game.

CFL Teams - West Division

While the four teams in the East Division are confined to an area smaller  than Scotland the five teams of the West are spread out across the huge expanse that is the rest of Canada. It's a bit like the BAFANL Premier Division, but on a much bigger scale. Last season the West teams dominated to such an extent that only the Blue Bombers had a worse record than the best East team.

BC Lions

 

Home Field

BC Place, Vancouver, British Columbia

 

 

Website www.bclions.com

 

Colours

Orange, black, white

 

History

The Lions were founded in 1954 and took up residence in the Empire Stadium which had been built for the British Empire and Commonwealth Games of that year. The Lion name was adopted from the mountain that overlooks the city, not just the mountain lion of their logo. BC have developed a rivalry with the Montreal Allouettes and the teams meet each Labour Day weekend. They have won 6 Grey Cups, the most recent having been in 2011.

 

Owner

David Braley (owner of auto parts manufacturer Orlick Industries Limited)

 

Head Coach

Jeff Tedford (1st year, Two times Pac-10 Coach of the Year )

 

Last season

They finished the season with 9 wins and 9 losses which only good enough for fourth in the West Division. However they qualified for the post season as their record was better than the third team in the East. They were beaten by Montreal in the first play-off game.

 

current betting: 11/2 to win the Grey Cup

 

Why support the Lions?

Vancouver's way over across the Rocky Mountains on the Pacific coast, a long way from everywhere, except Seattle. It could be the CFL city you'd most like to live in though with it's mild (for Canada) climate, lakes, rivers, mountains and ocean nearby. The Lions have a proud tradition of success. Last season was the 18th in a row in which they've qualified for play-off football. You might say they were lucky to do so, but not if you're going to become a fan.

Calgary Stampeders

 

Home Field

McMahon Stadium, Calgary, Alberta

 

Website

www.stampeders.com

 

Colours

Red, white, and black

 

History

The Stampeders started in 1945, taking the place of the Calgary Bronks who had suspended operations for the duration of the Second World War. In 1948 they recorded the only perfect season in Canadian professional football, having gone 12-0 and winning the Grey Cup. That was the first of their seven Grey Cups, the most recent being last season.

 

Owner

Calgary Sports and Entertainment

 

Head Coach

John Hufnagel (8th year, CFL Coach of the year 2008 and 2014. Former NFL & CFL quarterback. )

 

Last season

The Stampeders won the West Division with a 15 and 3 record. They beat Edmonton in the West Final and Hamilton in the Grey Cup.

 

current betting:  3/1 favourites to repeat as Grey Cup winners.

 

Why root for the Stamps?

Well obviously they're currently a winning team, the champions and favourites to win again. However free agency has taken several players during the off season so they're no shoe-ins.
Calgary is known for the Stampede of course, the world's best known rodeo, and the stampeding horse logo is pretty cool. If you're a cowboy at heart the Stampeders could be the team for you.

Edmonton Eskimos

 

Home Field

Commonwealth Stadium, Edmonton, Alberta

 

Website

www.esks.com

 

Colours

Green and Gold

 

History

The Edmonton Eskimos football team was founded in 1949 taking the name which had been used by other sports teams since the 1890s. They have won thirteen Grey Cups, ten since the modern CFL was formed, including an unparalleled five in a row from 1978 to 82.  They've certainly been the most successful team of the modern era.

 

Owner:  Community owned

 

Head Coach: Chris Jones (2nd year)

 

Last season

The Eskimos came second in the West Division with a 12 and 6 record. They lost to Calgary in the play-offs.

 

current betting: 9/2 second favourites to win the Grey Cup

 

Why support the Double E?

They're a community owned team with an illustrious history, playing in green and gold uniforms in the northernmost city in the country. Remind you of anything, Packers fans?

Saskatchewan Roughriders

 

Home Field

Mosaic Stadium at Taylor Field, Regina, Saskatchewan

 

Website

www.riderville.com

 

Colours

Green, white, black, and silver

 

History:

The club were formed as Regina Rugby Club in 1910 but soon turned to football and took the name Roughriders in 1924. They became the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 1946 as they became the biggest team in the province. They have won only four Grey Cups from nineteen appearances in the final, the first being in 1966, the most recent in 2013. The Roughriders are scheduled to have a new stadium ready for the 2017 season.

 

Owner:  Community owned

 

Head Coach

Corey Chamblin (4th year, CFL Coach of The Year in 2013)

 

Last season

Finished third in the West Division on 10 and 8. Lost to the Eskimos in the first round of the play-offs.

 

current betting: 11/2 joint third favourites for the Grey Cup

 

Why join Rider Nation?

There's only one professional team in North America which operates in a smaller local market, that's the Green Bay Packers. Nevertheless the Roughriders ship more merchandise than almost every other team in Canadian sport. They have a small but absolutely dedicated group of fans, many of whom are, frankly, nuts. Watermelon helmet anyone?

 

 

 

Winnipeg Blue Bombers

 

Home Field

Investors Group Field, Winnipeg, Manitoba

 

Website

www.bluebombers.com

 

Colours

Blue and gold

 

History

The history of Winnipeg football goes back to 1879 but the current team developed by a merger of Manitoba rugby clubs in 1930. In 1935  they took the Blue Bombers name and were the first team from the West to win the Grey Cup. The late 50s and early 60s were the glory years of the Blue Bombers while the late-90s, when Jeff Reinebold had a stint as head coach, is best forgotten. Overall they've won ten Grey Cups, but none since 1990. Winnipeg will host this year's Grey Cup.

 

Owner:  Community owned

 

Head Coach: Mike O'Shea (2nd year)

 

Last season

Finished last in the West division with 7 wins and 11 losses.

 

current betting: 11/1 outsiders to win the Championship.

 

Why support the Big Blue?

They need your support. Winnipeg are at a bit of a low point just now while the other teams in the division are on highs. There are big personnel changes being made though and they're rebuilding for a brighter future. This might be a good time to get on board.

 

CFL Teams - East Division

The pre-season has started, the regular season will soon be running, and we believe that we're going to get regular TV coverage of the CFL on BT Sport/ESPN. This year there won't be the long empty summer waiting for the NCAA and NFL to start.

So, if you're going to be watching the CFL for the first time which team are you going to support?

 

We'll start by giving some details of the teams in the East Division.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats

 

Home Field

Tim Hortons Field, Hamilton, Ontario

 

Website

www.ticats.ca

 

Colours

Black, gold, and white

 

History

The Tiger-Cats were founded in 1950 when the Hamilton Tigers and the Hamilton Wildcats merged. Since then they have won the Grey Cup eight times, most recently in 1999. Their heyday was in the 1960s when they won three championships, but they’ve plumbed the depths too. In 2003 their record was 1 win and 17 losses, the worst ever in the CFL. They’re a lot stronger now and they made it to the last two Grey Cup games, though they lost both.

 

Owner

Bob Young (owner of the Red Hat software company)

 

Head Coach

Kent Austin (3rd year)

Austin, as a player, was one of the top quarterbacks in CFL history. He won two Grey Cups as a player and one (for Saskatchewan) as head coach. He was CFL Coach of the Year in 2007.

 

Last season

Hamilton won the East Division with a 9 and 9 record. They defeated Montreal in the play-offs but lost the Grey Cup to Calgary.

 

Current betting: The Tiger-Cats are about the middle of the pack in the betting. You’ll get about 13/2 on them winning the Grey Cup.

 

Why root for the TiCats?
Hamilton is Canada's Steeltown so if you're from Sheffield, there's a reason. Of course here in the UK football world, Hamilton's Special teams/Linebackers coach Jeff Reinebold is a big star from his appearances on Sky Sports, so he'll draw in supporters. They play in the weak East Division and they've made two consecutive Grey Cups, so Hamilton are a pretty good bet to have a winning season to cheer.

Montreal Alouettes

 

 

Home Field

Percival Molson Memorial Stadium, Montreal, Quebec

 

Website

www.montrealalouettes.com

 

Colours

Red, blue, silver, and white

 

History

The Alouettes were founded in 1946 and had their most successful period in the 1970s. The club  folded twice in the 1980s and there was no CFL team in Montreal from 1987 to 1996. This ended when the the CFL’s attempt to have teams in the USA was abandoned and the most successful franchise, the Baltimore Stallions, transferred to the city. Montreal has won the Grey Cup seven times, three times for the current franchise and they’re the last team to have won back to back titles, those being in 2009 and 2010.

 

Owner

Robert Wetenhall (investment banker)

 

Head Coach

Tom Higgins (2nd year, previously Head Coach at Edmonton and Calgary)

 

Last season

Montreal finished the season with a 9 and 9 record, missing the East title on the tie breaker with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. In the play-offs they beat BC Lions in the first round but then lost to Hamilton.

 

Current betting: 7/1 to win the Grey Cup

 

Why support the Al's?
Do you have any French connections? Montreal is the centre of French Canada so “Allez Les Alouettes de Montréal”.
U2 fan? Montreal play U2's 'Sunday Bloody Sunday' before their home games. This celebrates a weekend in 1997 when the team were struggling to attract fans to the Olympic Stadium. There was a date clash between a play-off game and a U2 concert, and the Alouettes were forced to switch their game to the Molson Stadium. They found they could attract far bigger crowds at the Molson and they've been there ever since. Many fans credit U2 with saving the club from going bust for a third time.

This season kicks off with Ottawa visiting Montreal, so if you're going to follow the TV coverage Montreal might well be the first team you see win. Is that a good enough reason to be a supporter?

 

Ottawa REDBLACKS

 

Home Field

TD Place Stadium, Ottawa, Ontario

 

Colours

Black, white and red

 

Website
www.ottawaredblacks.com

 

History

The REDBLACKS are the third team from Ottawa to have a CFL franchise. Previous teams have been the Rough Riders (until 1996) and the Renegades (until 2005). Their entry into the league was delayed while political hurdles were overcome and the TD Place Stadium was redeveloped. They finally joined the CFL as an expansion franchise in 2014.

 

Owner
Jeff Hunt (owner of Canway cleaning company.)

 

Head Coach

Rick Campbell (2nd season in his first head coaching appointment )

 

Last season

Entered the league as a new expansion team. Finished last in the East Division with the league's worst record by a considerable margin, 2 wins and 16 defeats.

 

Current betting:
The REDBLACKS are 33/1 outsiders to win the Grey Cup this season.

 

Why support Ottawa?

Sympathy mainly. All new franchises struggle for success in the early years. At least they weren't as bad as the 2002 Tiger-Cats last season. It may take a few years  but some time in the future they will have successful seasons (probably). If you start supporting them now then the day they win the Grey Cup will be outstanding.

The bookies have them as 6/4 favourites to have the worst record in the league this year. Let’s all cheer for them  to beat that target.

Toronto Argonauts

 

 

Home Field

The Rogers Centre, Toronto, Ontario

 

Website

www.argonauts.ca

 

Colours

Oxford blue (dark), Cambridge blue (light), White

 

History

The Toronto Argonauts were founded in 1873 as an offshoot of the Argonauts Rowing Club, hence the Oxford and Cambridge Blue colours. They claim that they are the oldest professional football team in North America. Toronto have won 16 Grey Cups, 6 since the CFL was founded and the most recent was in 2012.

 

Owner

David Braley (owner of auto parts manufacturer Orlick Industries Limited)

New owners will take over at the end of this year -  Kilmer Sports/Bell Canada consortium.

 

Head Coach

Scott Milanovich (4th year) CFL Coach of the Year in 2012.
Milanovich is an ex pro quarterback. His teams included the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Berlin Thunder.

 

Last season

The Argos finished third in the East Division with an 8 and 10 record.

 

Current betting: 9/1 to take the Grey Cup, seventh in the betting.

 

Why support the Argos?

Tricky question. In Toronto they're competing with big league franchises, the Maple Leafs of the NHL, the Blue Jays of MLB and the Raptors of the NBA. Not even many locals turn out for them. With a change of ownership and a move of home field away from the big shed that is the Rogers Centre not happening until New Year, and with star quarterback Ricky Ray struggling for fitness, this season has all the makings of one to forget. But Toronto is the Canadian city you're most likely to visit and this is football, so you never know....

 

BREAKING (Rumour) NEWS - CFL UK TV Coverage

According to the television listings website DigitalSpy, when the Canadian Football League season kicks off in Montreal in the early hours of Friday on 26th June the game will be televised live here on ESPN. DigitalSpy, which provides listing a month in advance, also has the following night's game at Calgary being shown on BT Sport 2.

 

We haven't had any confirmation yet from BT Sport/ESPN that this is going to happen. However, they tend not to promote this sort of thing until the week of the event so we're pretty confident that it will and that there will be coverage throughout the season.

 

It must be at least five years since ESPN showed Canadian Football in this country and we're guessing that many of you haven't watched it. Before the season starts we'll be running an article explaining just how different the Canadian rules are. We'll have a look at all the teams too, so you can choose a favourite to follow through the season.

Canadian Football League - An Introduction

The Canadian Football League? Oh yes, isn't Neil Reynolds' sidekick Jeff Reinebold, a coach with the Tiger-Cats or something?

 

Canada loves ice hockey and from this week the fans will be following the best of seven game Stanley Cup finals, even though no Canadian teams have made it through this year. Once that's over it will be time for their thoughts to turn to football. Not the NFL or the NCAA though, Canada has its own brand of pro football, the Canadian Football League, and the action starts this month.

 

Canadian Football is quite a bit different from American Football as we know it. It's been developing separately for a long time and it has a quite distinctive set of rules. Its “Superbowl” is the Grey Cup and this year's will be the 103rd. It was first played in 1909, more than a decade before the NFL was founded. The CFL in its current form has been around since 1958, also years before the NFL/AFL merger which created the mighty NFL we have today. (Thanks to all those who know me for pointing out that I'm older than the CFL!)

 

So Canadian Football has a considerable history and it stands on its own. In terms of population if not land area, Canada is much smaller than the US of course, so it's league doesn't get the planet sized pots of money that are available to the NFL and it can't compete in attracting top players. However, while the NFL lacks a development league to replace NFL Europe the CFL is the first port of call for the players who don't make it south of the border. The CFL is North America's second best professional football league.

 

In future articles we'll look at how Canadian and American Football have evolved into different beasts, a bit like pigs and sheep, and just how different the rules are.

 

Anyway, what do we have to look forward to in the next six months?

 

The CFL season will run from the end of June through 20 weeks of regular season and two rounds of play-offs to the Grey Cup game on the last weekend of November. That gets the season over before winter sets in because playing football in a Canadian winter, that ain't gonna work...

 

The league is divided into two divisions:

West Division

East Division

BC Lions

Edmonton Eskimos

Calgary Stampeders

Saskatchewan Roughriders

Winnipeg Blue Bombers

Hamilton Tiger-Cats

Toronto Argonauts

Ottawa REDBLACKS

Montreal Alouettes

 

This is the second season of an unbalanced schedule since the expansion team from Ottowa was added in 2014. Nine teams might look like an awkward number for the people who work out the schedule but having an odd team probably makes it easier to accommodate the two bye-weeks each side gets in their 18 game regular season.

 

Before that, each team will play two pre-season games and the kick off is on this coming Monday night when last year's East champion Hamilton Tiger-Cats host the Ottowa REDBLACKS. The REDBLACKS (that's how the owners have styled the name, shouty style) finished 2 and 16 in their rookie season last year. Later in the week the reigning Grey Cup champions, Calgary Stampeders, start their warm up against the BC Lions from Vancouver.

 

As a little taster, click here to see the top 10 CFL plays from last season

http://www.cfl.ca/video/index/id/107917

 

CFL News

Some things are different in Canada, some things are the same. Remember all the coverage in the US last year when the openly gay defensive lineman Michael Sam was drafted by the Rams and then had a spell on the Cowboys development squad? Well now he's signed a two year deal with the Montreal Alouettes and that's the one rookie signing of the year that's needed a press conference. One Toronto journalist even managed to ask him a question about playing football! Good luck Michael, and all the other rookies in training camp this week.