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Around the CFL: September 21, 2006

<p>Funny how things have worked out in Montreal. Not that anyone connected with the Alouettes is laughing.</p>

Funny how things have worked out in Montreal. Not that anyone connected with the Alouettes is laughing.


But, ever since head coach Don Matthews was given a contract extension by club owner Robert Wetenhall, the Als have done nothing but lose games.


They've lost five in a row, in fact, which is the most this team has lost consecutively under Matthews.


And, if the Als lose again Sunday, there are strong rumblings within the Canadian Football League that Matthews will lose his job. General manager Jim Popp would replace him for the rest of this season, according to the rumblings.


Mind you, the Als are favoured by Las Vegas oddsmakers to win this game (check my CFL picks this week for the spread) since their opponents are the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who haven't exactly been amassing victories themselves. The Bombers have lost six of their past seven games.


For the second consecutive game, Matthews is doing some major tinkering with his offensive line. This time, he is benching Uzooma Okeke, one of the top tackles in CFL history. Okeke is a seven-time all-star and a three-time nominee as the Eastern Division's premier offensive lineman. He has played in 209 regular-season games in a row, dating back to 13 seasons ago, when he began his CFL career with the defunct Shreveport Pirates.


He has been, irrefutably, a stud.


But Matthews, in his wisdom, made changes to his O-line last week in B.C. and the Lions crushed the Als, with Montreal quarterbacks Anthony Calvillo and Nealon Greene being sacked an unfathomable 12 times, one shy of the CFL record.


So Okeke is the fall guy for Matthews this week.


"It was amazing," said Bombers defensive end Tom Canada, who leads Winnipeg with seven sacks. "It seemed like (the Lions) were coming from every which direction... up the middle, strong side, weak side. I mean, it was exciting to watch.


"It's interesting, because for a while there was this thinking in the CFL that Montreal's O-line was impenetrable, that their quarterback was untouchable. And then to see what B.C. did... it sure gives us a lot of confidence."


And if they parlay that confidence into an upset in Montreal, that may just be all she wrote for Matthews, the winningest head coach in CFL history.





• The Toronto Argonauts, realizing that their acquisition of Keith Stokes was unecessary and redundant, tried to deal the receiver/kick-returner before this week's trade deadline, but there were no takers.


The Lions expressed some interest, but Wally Buono of B.C. and Adam Rita of Toronto could not work out an agreement.


There's really no need for Stokes to be on the Argos' roster with Bashir Levingston, an extraordinary kick-returner, on the Toronto roster.





Ricky Williams finally returns to the Toronto lineup this weekend for the first time since July 22, when he broke an arm. He'll play in Calgary.


And, while he'll be the highest-paid running back on the field, he certainly won't be the best.


That distinction will belong to Calgary's Joffrey Reynolds, who may just be chosen the CFL's outstanding player for 2006.


Reynolds has been superb. But you won't hear him saying he's better than Williams. Reynolds was a red-shirt freshman at the University of Houston when Williams was a legendary senior, and Heisman Trophy winner, at the University of Texas.


"Williams is a legend in Texas," Reynolds said. "Me? I'm a legend in my own home. That's about it."





• With the assistance of a CFL governor, who shall remain nameless, I wrote a series of articles for Metro Ottawa this week about the three groups bidding to become next owners of a CFL franchise in Ottawa.





Here they are:


Article No. 1:


The CFL is considering and evaluating three groups vying to start a new franchise in Ottawa, likely in time for next season, although there is a new movement being led by B.C. Lions owner David Braley to refrain from launching the new Ottawa franchise until 2008.


In any case, the successful group will need to pay a franchise fee of $3.5-million to the league and must have a line of credit worth at least $10-million.


None of the three prospective ownership groups will have problems meeting these financial requirements, sources say. Still, the CFL's franchise committee of commissioner Tom Wright and three club owners are doing their due diligence, determined to make certain that the next owners in Ottawa have no skeletons in their closets and are in no way reminiscent of Bernie and Lonie Glieberman. The Gliebermans, lest you've forgotten, thoroughly embarrassed the league with a dog-and-pony style of ownership that ultimately tore the Renegades into tatters and left the CFL with only eight teams for the 2006 season.


With the assistance of a CFL governor,Metro takes a look at the applying groups and examines their chances in a three-part series. Here is the first part:


GROUP: Golden Gate Capital Corp, a Toronto-based financial services company headed by Anthony Primerano, a former chief of staff to three cabinet ministers.


What is appealing most to the CFL's franchise committee is that Golden Gate persuaded a renowned Ottawa sports figure into running its would-be CFL franchise. Jeff Hunt, 42, is a marketing wizard who has enjoyed tremendous success running the OHL's Ottawa 67s. It's a little-known secret that the CFL actually took it upon itself several years ago to approach Hunt about owning an Ottawa franchise. He rejected the idea, and the Gliebermans wound up with the club, but, without having to put up any of his own money, he's eager now to run a CFL organization.


APPRAISAL FROM CFL SOURCE: "There's no question about this group's credibility. Golden Gate has an impressive record of success in its business ventures. And Hunt's reputation, particularly in Ottawa, is rock solid. He certainly knows how to sell tickets."


ODDS ON GROUP BEING REWARDED OTTAWAFRANCHISE: 3-to-1. "I'd have to say Hunt's involvement makes Golden Gate the favourite. The league really likes the idea of having this guy around."





Article No.2:


One of the reasons junior-hockey operator Jeff Hunt and the Golden Gate Capital Corp. are the leading candidates to land the next CFL franchise in Ottawa is that they are flexible in terms of time. They’re willing and able to launch next season or, if the league prefers, they'd kick off in 2008.


That sort of flexibility doesn't exist with the other two groups bidding for the franchise.


The group fronted by food-and-beverage entrepreneur Frank D'Angelo, for instance, has made it clear that it will drop out of the running if it is not permitted to field a team by next season. The group fronted by former Rough Riders player Bill Palmer, on the other hand, does not wish to start up until the 2008 season.


Just when the next Ottawa club should begin has become a hot topic of debate among CFL governors. Initially, the consensus was that Ottawa would resurface in time for next season. Recently, however, B.C. Lions owner David Braley stepped forth with an emphatic proposal that the new Ottawa ownership wait until 2008 to ensure a smooth transaction. Braley has support on this from Toronto Argonauts co-owner Howard Sokolowski, who is on the CFL's franchise commitee with Calgary Stampeders owner/president Ted Hellard, Hamilton Tiger-Cats owner Bob Young and league commissioner Tom Wright.


With the assistance of a CFL governor,Metro is looking at the applying groups and examining their chances.


GROUP: A consortium of U.S. businessmen, spearheaded by Palmer. Most of the businessmen have stakes in minor-league baseball franchises.


Especially appealing to the CFL about the Palmer group is Jesse, Bill’s son. He grew up in the Ottawa area before becoming a star college quarterback in Florida and a backup in the NFL. He also made a name for himself as The Bachelor on television. Palmer is on the practice roster of the Montreal Alouettes these days but could easily be picked up by the new Ottawa franchise at any time. It is also worth noting that the Palmer group has purchased the rights to the Rough Riders name.


APPRAISAL FROM CFL SOURCE: "The Rough Riders name doesn’t help much because there are too many negatives about the old team. Certainly in this group's favour, though, is Jesse and the professionalism shown by their willingness to wait until 2008 if need be."


ODDS ON GROUP BEING REWARDED OTTAWA FRANCHISE:7-to-1. "We're not sure about this group," the CFL source says. "We need more information on the Americans and whether they'd care enough about the CFL."





Article No. 3:


So the odds on the Ottawa Football Sweepstakes look like this:


The group involving the Golden Gate Capital Corp. of Toronto, and spearheaded by Ottawa 67s president Jeff Hunt, are the favourites, at 3-to-1. The group involving a consortium of U.S. businessmen, and spearheaded by former CFL player Bill Palmer, are relative longshots, at 7-to-1.


Which brings us today to the third group, the one spearheaded by a beer pitchman named Frank D'Angelo.


We may as well tell you bluntly that the D'Angelo group is a serious underdog. The truth is that the CFL is nervous about D'Angelo. He's a showman, and that frightens the CFL's old guard.


D'Angelo is the guy you've seen on the commercial featuring NHL oldtimers in a locker room. In one of those spots, he takes a shot at NHL legend Brad Park for being overweight. D'Angelo was in Ottawa last month, trying to raise his awareness by singing at a restaurant with a 14-piece band. You may also have seen him raising hell as a panelist on TSN's Off The Record, where he hasn't been reluctant, let's say, to speak his mind.


This is precisely what worries the CFL about him. The league doesn't want an outspoken owner who is eager for media attention and who has different viewpoints. Fans might find D'Angelo refreshing, but the league doesn't want anyone even remotely reminiscent of the previous ownership in Ottawa -- the Gliebermans.


With the assistance of a CFL governor, Metro is looking at the applying groups and examining their chances.


GROUP: D'Angelo is a food-and-beverage entrepreneur. Two of his businesses are Steelback beer and Cheetah energy drink. His partner in the Ottawa venture is Dr. Barry Sherman, a billionaire pharmacist and chief executive of Apotex Inc.


The sure money appeals to the CFL, but, besides the league's fear of D'Angelo's unpredictable nature is a concern that he is in a hurry to start up in Ottawa next season and will not wait until 2008. There is some talk at the league's highest levels about not wishing to rush and waiting until 2008.


APPRAISAL FROM CFL SOURCE: "D'Angelo's different, and the last thing we need in the CFL is another circus."


ODDS ON GROUP BEING REWARDED OTTAWA FRANCHISE: 17-to-1. "Patience is a virtue," the CFL source says. "And we don't think D'Angelo has it. We also worry that he lacks the kind of professionalism we need."



END OF A THREE-PART SERIES.







Message from Marty York:

After about three decades of covering the CFL in newspapers, magazines, on national television and on radio, the folks who run Metro newspapers have given me the opportunity to report on the league in a new and efficient way -- online, right here at www.metronews.ca. Here, I will have the space and freedom to cover the league the way that will best serve you. My reports will be updated at least twice a week and will include information you're not likely to find elsewhere. I will also give you my weekly CFL picks. And I welcome email from CFL fans -- send them to marty.york@metronews.ca. I'll publish some from time to time. I'm very excited about this venture, and I hope you will be, too.

 
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