The Toronto Argonauts have been running one of the great misdirection plays of all time, doing it so well they could unintentionally wind up costing one of the Canadian Football League's best players a chance at the CFL's Most Outstanding Player award (MOP).
Chad Owens, who on Oct. 31 was announced as the Toronto media's choice for the MOP, has been successfully hiding a dislocated left thumb, plus cast, that did not keep him out of the last three games but did limit his ability to hold on to the ball when being tackled.
That resulted in a couple of extra fumbles lost against Winnipeg - giving him eight in around 270 touches of the ball, many while being gang-tackled because of his job as kick returner. It also led to some grumbling across the land that the league's leading receiver has "fumbilitis."
Back to the Argos, who rightly were not going out of their way to advertise the injury, one they didn't need to talk about because Owens kept dressing for the last three games. If they displayed the cast, every defender in the league would have been stripping on each play.
Even when the story came out that the Hawaii native was in a partial cast, on the CBC Sports website as part of the Power Rankings a week back, most did not pick up on it. Now that he's the Argo nominee for MOP, it has become more important.
He'd dislocated the thumb against Saskatchewan, at home in Week 15.
It's an unfortunate injury, but it has not, in any way, taken away from one of the best seasons your correspondent has since in 40 years.
And look at what he did with the cast:
After two light games of 26 and 23 yards receiving and 76 and 31 yards returning while it healed, Owens tossed in 10 catches for 212 yards in the last two games catching, and over 200 yards returning.
That's catching one-handed, folks. If there is one unfortunate outcome from the injury, it's that the two off games means he may not become the first player ever to reach 4,000 total yards.
What might stop the Argo from being named the league's best player in Grey Cup week (he first has to be chosen the East representative) is the dominant hold quarterbacks have had on the award over the last three decades, Pivots account for 21 of the last 30 winners, ahead of four running backs, three wide receivers and two slot backs.
This is, in many ways, because there isn't a true differentiation between most valuable, and most outstanding.
There is no-one more "valuable" in the passing CFL than a good pivot, so really they should win every time if that's the real requirement.
MOP has also been an entirely offensive prize, with only Hal Patterson, in 1956, breaking the mould because he was both a receiver and defensive back. ("But, the defenders have their own award," goes the argument),
Judging from online debate,Travis Lulay, the B.C. quarterback, seems the early favourite this year because, well, he's the pivot on the best team. OK, but he's only the third best QB by stats in the CFL.
Montreal's ageless one, Anthony Calvillo, is also nominated, and there could be an argument to be made for his accomplishments on a team not as good as previous years.
This has been an excellent season for fellow media across the land as they have chosen six non-QBs as the MOP reps for the respective teams, including the merely fabulous JC Sherritt, Edmonton's young linebacker, who is the only player, it says here, in the same category as Owens this season.
But as a defender, Sherritt's chances seem less than those of Owens.
They've also tagged receiver/returner Chris Williams, in Hamilton, receiver Weston Dressler, in Saskatchewan, running back Chad Simpson, at Winnipeg, and runner Jon Cornish (a Canadian, no less and our pre-season pick for this award) at Calgary.
There is precedent for a receiver to win, even minus the kick returns.
Geroy Simon deservedly took the MOP as a slot back in 2006 with 1,856 yards, and Milt Stegal won in 2002 as a slot back with 1,862 yards, but he didn't have another 2,000 in returns.
If Owens doesn't win it for 2012, however, someone is going to have to check the ballots for hanging chads.
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