As we pass the halfway point of the Canadian Football League schedule, here are 10 things we've noticed along the road.
1. We're going to miss Anthony Calvillo, but the time has arrived.
The career of Canadian football's greatest quarterback (a fun argument to have) may have ended in an Aug. 17 game at Regina when Ricky Foley smacked Anthony Calvillo to the ground, concussing him.
At that point, AC had thrown for 79,816 regular season yards, producing 455 touchdowns, and he owned the league record book. He was also six days from turning 41. Since then, Calvillo has been placed on the nine-game injury list.
Watching Calvillo for 20 years has been a joy, but there are other things in life for No. 13 to take care of now, most especially his family and long-term health.
A sign from above? The moment A.C. hit the turf on the prairie was exactly 13 seconds into the second quarter.
2. Yes, it really is all about Ricky Ray.
Ricky Ray was putting together a season for the ages by the time Calgary came to town in Week 9. He was already approaching 2,000 yards passing, had tossed 15 TDs, thrown zero picks, completing almost 80 per cent of his tosses and was sitting on a ridiculous QB rating of 134.
Then Charleston Hughes appeared in the rearview mirror.
Zach Collaros, the Cincinnati Kid, is a good looking young pivot who won a game earlier in 2013, but he doesn't have the pure talent needed to overcome the rebuilding Argos defence, a ton of injuries, and problems on special teams.
That old saw about not knowing what you have until it's gone doesn't apply here - everyone knew if Ray went down Toronto was facing a struggle to win the East.
Right now, it's a good thing Winnipeg and Edmonton are lousy.
3. Find the right coach and things can turn around in a hurry.
Chirping on about team culture is the hallmark of the modern media but honestly, no one outside of a team can really know what's going on in the dressing and meeting rooms.
Bringing us to Kent Austin, the new head coach of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, who is described by Steve Milton of the Spectator as "protective right down to his shoelaces" of his team's inside culture. Whatever is going on in there is working.
Austin has kept this team in the race for the East title despite a slew of injuries to key players, having to practice at McMaster University, hold meetings in the basement of the business office in downtown Hamilton, and play all the way up in Guelph.
The Kitties come to play. Oh, and no one does the death stare in media scrums like Austin, making it lots of fun.
4. You can sum up Winnipeg's future hopes in one word: "No".
Here's how we hope conversations go between new Bombers CEO Wade Miller, who has a tough job ahead, and that conglomeration of competing interests known as the board of directors:
"Hey Wade, can we ask you about the QB situation?"
"We have some ideas about coaches that you ..."
"So, I got a call from a friend who knows this guy whose barber says can play some linebacker, and he was thinking ..."
"No ... Anything else, ladies and gentlemen? No? See you next month."
5. Kory Sheets can cover a lot of ground.
It's tough for most fans to really understand how physically and mentally difficult being a professional running back is because you can't all stand on the sidelines during games.
Most carries end with a sudden stop on the hard turf while two or three guys try to beat the crap out of you. The best-before date on RBs is among the shortest of any position in football.
That gives you more to admire about Saskatchewan's Kory Sheets, who plays a north-south game, takes the punishment and, with a few breaks here and there, just keeps plowing along at a record-setting rate in 2013.
In his rookie year of 2012, the runner had 1,277 yards over 18 games. He now has 1,149 in just nine.
Mike Pringle's all-time mark is 2,065 yards, set in 1998 at Montreal, so if Sheets can stay healthy back there, he has a shot at breaking it.
It will be interesting to see if the CFL can get away from its all-quarterbacks-all-the-time promotional habit and get behind the running back big time.
6. Bo knows Calgary's future.
John Hufnagel, the boss of everything in Calgary, is carefully building Bo Levi Mitchell's confidence and resume to the point that when he takes over as the Stamps' No. 1 pivot (next year, it says here), he won't feel as though he was dumped in the deep end too early.
Mitchell was impressive in his only start of the year, against Winnipeg, when both the other QBs were hurt, then went back to the bench again. Injuries put the second year man back at the helm for Week 10.
Bo, at this writing, had completed 51 of 72 passes with seven TDs and no picks.
Calgary loves him. His teammates like him. The media sings his praises. Hufnagel has this set up perfectly.
7. It's not Ed Hervey's fault. You can ask him (now).
Great line from Terry Jones of the Edmonton Sun this week who described GM Ed Hervey's now-infamous rant as imploding and exploding at the same time.
That matches the passive-aggressive approach Hervey seems to have used this season, avoiding the media because apparently he didn't want to put pressure on the team by micro-managing. And then he comes out and blames everyone else but himself for the 1-8 start.
"I will improve this team. I don't care who I have to go through to do it."
So ... where the team is now isn't Hervey's fault, but we can all judge him from here on because he's taking the reins and telling everyone what to do. I've got it now ... the first half of his rookie season as a GM is, apparently, a mulligan.
Good GMs (Buono, Popp, Barker, Hufnagel) do not use the media to single out players and coaches that they hired in the first place. They privately peel paint off the walls.
8. Gun-metal grey is a cool shade but it doesn't tune up an engine.
Let's say you have a nice orange car that's giving you some trouble. One day, the engine isn't quite firing properly. Next day, you have a flat. Then the steering feels a little wonky. Then everything runs fine for a bit and people are impressed before the whole problem begins again.
What to do? Let's repaint the car gun metal grey. Amazing. And it's a good distraction from the real problem.
We jest, of course, but the fact is the B.C. Lions have the tools needed to win the Grey Cup this season, if they can get everything going at the same time. Big if.
If not, at least the fans who trek out for championship week in Regina this coming November wearing those gun-metal things will look cool in the local bars.
9. Ottawa is all about buying Canadian.
GM Marcel Desjardins and his Ottawa scouting staff are not running around the CFL salivating over what young QB they are going to take in the expansion draft this December, despite what you've heard.
They won't have any real idea who is available until the protection lists come out after the season and all sorts of surprising things may happen.
Example, Calgary could well protect Bo Levi Mitchell, making veteran Kevin Glenn and oft-injured Drew Tate the bait. So, they wait.
Desjardins, however, is a smart cookie trained in the Alouettes' system under Jim Popp. He knows the key for Le Rouge et Noir will be their Canadian players, and the draft will offer up 16 of them in various talent levels and positions.
Ottawa must get the non-import draft right if it's going to be competitive right away.
That is also what is keeping other league GMs awake at night, wondering what non-imports they might lose. It's so hard to replace those guys.
10. The CFL expands south, constricts north.
A quick glance at the TV schedule for the opening weekend of THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE shows that games can be found on CBS, on ESPN (owned by ABC/Disney), on NBC, and on FOX.
Meanwhile, up north, the Canadian Football League is available on ... TSN. Earlier this year a new deal (reportedly somewhere north of $30 million a season) was signed that gives the media outlet, which does an excellent job on its coverage, exclusive rights until 2018.
No one else even had a chance to bid on part of the package, and the CBC, for one, was very interested.
So while other leagues are going out of their way to get on as many networks as possible (NHL has CBC, TSN, Sportsnet, plus local packages; NBA has ABC network, ESPN, TNT, WGN and local packages), the CFL, needing all the promotion it can get, goes the other direction. You can already see the effects.
Canadian football is a third-, fourth- or even fifth-thought on CBC, Sportsnet, The Score (almost no thought at all), Global and everywhere else. You can't even get games on CTV, and that network is owned by the same folks who bring you TSN.
It also means no set-up shows on any other network, not much talk on sports radio east of Manitoba, slim pickings in social media. Big media conglomerates push what they have the rights to.
It was fast money today, and we'll worry about the future tomorrow. Well, the future is catching up with the CFL right now and by 2018 the media game may have changed so much the league won't be able to catch up.
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