This is turning out to be a wicked season for the Canadian Football League and its image.
Gone are those nice little stories we read and heard in the past few years about attendance rises andincreases in television ratings. Gone are those stories about the CFL's good humanitarians. Gone are the stories about the CFL's always-entertaining product. Gone are those stories about stability on and off the field.
Replacing them are the cold, hard facts of this wicked season -- attendance decreases, significantly lower TV ratings, dull games and general instability on rosters and infront offices.
The Saskatchewan Roughriders' Kenton Keith was charged earlier this season with assault. Now comes word that Bernard Williams of the Toronto Argonauts has been charged with sexual assault.
Not even Perry Lefko, the CFL's new spin doctor and public-relations chief, could emerge with words that could camouflage just how wicked this season has been for the league and its image.
Heck, Lefko is operating in a cloud of uncertainty himself at CFL headquarters in Toronto. His boss, commissioner Tom Wright, is a lame duck and Lefko has absolutely no idea who is in the running to replace him.
And, to tell the truth, neither do I. And, more importantly, neither do the geniuses who serve as governors in the CFL.
They're acting as if they're in no hurry to find a replacement for Wright. They seem to be sitting complacently on their keisters, apparently oblivious to the league's troubles.
But trust me when I tell you the CFL has troubles.
Not a day has gone by in the past month when I haven't received an e-mail from a concerned CFL fan. Even a few long-time diehards have decided they're not going to watch CFL games any more.
And, while Wright does nothing and the league does nothing about its deteriorating image, the crises in the CFL increase.
"This has been the worst year I can remember for the CFL," said a Hall of Fame quarterback, who asked me to refrain from printing his name. "If you sit and think about all that's gone wrong, you just shake your head in amazement. It looked like things were changing for the positive in this league, and then this year comes along and spoils it all."
The negatives actually began in the off-season, when the Ottawa Renegades folded. Then the season began with eight teams, and the good majority of the games have been about as exciting as a traffic jam, or paint drying. Offences are generally incompetent.
With the exception of the B.C. Lions and perhaps the Calgary Stampeders, no CFL team has played consistently good football.
"And who was the genius who came up with the idea to change the CFL football?" the Hall of Famer asked. "It's so obvious that these new balls and the way they're being manufactured now are hampering the quarterbacks. Look at Anthony Calvillo. Look at Jason Maas. Look at any of them. They just can't throw the way they used to throw. The ball's too damned heavy now and it's obviously producing less entertainment."
And less entertainment means less offence, and that's resulted in more instability. There have been mid-season firings of two offensive co-ordinators -- Kent Austin in Toronto and Joe Paopao in Hamilton. That's unprecedented in the CFL.
A couple of general managers were replaced, too -- Roy Shivers in Saskatchewan and Rob Katz with Hamilton.
Even high-profile players have been unceremoniously dismissed this season -- award winners such as Joe Montford, George White, Robert Baker and Antonio Warren.
"Once again," the Hall of Famer said, "the CFL has become a league of changing faces. It seemed like there was going to be more stability in this league, but I can never recall a season when so many major mid-season changes have taken place. That's not good for the league. The fans don't like that. They want to be able to identify the players and coaches of their teams. In the past, the fans had trouble keeping track of where players and coaches were because they moved around so much. That wasn't happening the past few years. You knew who was where. Now? Well, it's awful now. I mean, Winnipeg had a guy quarterbacking them last week (Mike Quinn ) and this week he's cut. That's what makes people joke about the CFL. That's what's hurting the CFL's image again."
And not even Lefko could put a positive twist on that.
There are rumblings, strong ones, that the Hamilton Pussy-Cats are trying to trade their beleaguered quarterback, Jason Maas.
If true, this is a typically unwise move by the Pussy-Cats. What I mean is -- why attempt to trade your marquee player when he's never been worse and when his market value has never been lower?
Why not wait to see if he can return to a semblance of his old self? That's when the Cats would get something valuable for him.
Or is it that they're just trying to get rid of his contract?
And, I hate to kick the Cats when they're down, but how dumb were they last year when they rejected a request for a tryout from kicker Sandro DeAngelis?
I mean, they didn't even give him a look-see.
And now, while kicking is one of the Cats' many problems, DeAngelis has become a dependable, genuine star with the Stamps.
The Edmonton Eskimos are 3-6, in the Western Division cellar and in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time in 35 years.
Frankly, they're a bad football team -- despite assurances from receiver Ed Hervey that they're on their way back up. And they're so desperate now that they've decided to bring back defensive halfback Donny Brady, who they cut before the season began.
Other changes may be in store in Edmonton, including the firing of head coach Danny Maciocia and his assistants.
"This is a really low time for the Eskimos," said Tom Higgins, who preceded Macciocia in Edmonton and now coaches the Stamps. "Heaven forbid the person who is the head coach there who doesn't make it into the playoffs."
On Monday, the Stamps entertain the Esks in their annual Labour Day matchup.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are having their problems, too.
After a strong start, injuries to quarterback Kevin Glenn and receiver Milt Stegall have damaged their offence, but their game plans have been questionable, as well.
Charles Roberts certainly questioned the Bombers' game plan after his team's loss to the Argonauts last week.
Even though Roberts leads the CFL with 170 carries, he was largely ignored in the second half last week. So after the game, he bolted home without even showering.
Sources say he was downright livid.
There was an odd scenario in that Winnipeg-Toronto game, by the way.
Tom Bryce, a diminutive assistant equipment manager for the Argos, heckled the Bombers' Albert Johnson after a punt return. Johnson responded with a few choice words of his own for Bryce on the Toronto sideline -- and Johnson was penalized for taunting.
Quarterback Jesse Palmer was cut this week by the NFL's San Francisco 49ers, and he's let it be known that he wouldn't mind playing in the CFL.
Palmer, who is best known for his role a couple of years ago as The Bachelor on television, is protected in the CFL by the Montreal Alouettes, who own his CFL negotiation rights. However, his father Bill is a front man for a group of U.S. businessmen trying to revive a CFL club in Ottawa next season.
Palmer was born in Toronto but was raised near Ottawa. Bill Palmer played for the defunct Ottawa Rough Riders in the CFL.
Eric Tillman's first week as the Roughriders' general manager wasn't all that enjoyable.
Sure, his team won, but sources say he's clearly on a collision course with head coach Danny Barrett -- whom he once traded -- and he'd like to hire Kent Austin as head coach as soon as possible, which won't be possible as long as the Riders are winning.
Moreover, Tillman was irate because of a scathing article about him in the Regina Leader-Post by veteran football reporter Darrell Davis, who chronicled the GM's ill-fated efforts in previous jobs and suggested that most of them ended with Tillman being fired.
Tillman, by the way, has let it be known that he might be signing Jermaine Haley, a former defensive lineman with the Argos.
Haley spent close to five seasons this decade with the Miami Dolphins and Washington Redskins in the National Football League but didn't play last season after being charged with driving under the influence.
Rumblings are strong that Marcel Desjardins, new general manager of the Pussy-Cats, may hire Charlie Taafe next season.
Taafe is a former head coach with the Montreal Alouettes, where Desjardins was the assistant GM to Jim Popp for the past five seasons or so.
Speaking of the Als, they're in jeopardy of losing their fourth consecutive game -- something they've never done under head coach Don Matthews.
The Als entertain the red-hot Lions Friday night in what many feel could be a prelude to the Grey Cup game.
The Lions are +14 in the turnovers department. The Als are -1.
"We simply have to take better care of the ball," Montreal quarterback Anthony Calvillo said. "That's what's been hurting us more than anything."
Calvillo, remember, threw five interceptions in a loss to the Argos two weeks ago.
Lions president Bob Ackles, who was B.C.'s first water boy back in 1953, is getting close to his 70th birthday, but he's as energetic as ever, and there are those who believe he'd be make a first-rate commissioner for the CFL.
Ackles, however, has let it be known that he's not interested in succeeding Tom Wright.
The word is that he's valuing his spare time, and he's been spending a lot of it on his boat -- a 40-foot Bayliner cruiser.
There's also word that he's planning to write a book about the Lions and already has hired a co-writer and literary agent.
Incidentally, the name of his boat?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll publish some from time to time. I'm very excited about this venture, and I hope you will be, too.