CFL Report: November 1, 2007



An Ottawa team will resurface in the CFL next season, league sources have assured me.


"It'll be announced officially during Grey Cup week in Toronto (late this month)," one of the sources revealed. "The investing partners have been thoroughly checked out and they're solid. They're prepared to pay the required seven-figure amount for a franchise fee and able to set up an eight-figure credit line, so it's more or less a done deal."


The club's president will be Jeff Hunt, who has enjoyed success and has built a solid reputation as the owner of the Ontario Hockey League's Ottawa 67s. Hunt also will be given a percentage of the franchise, the sources said. And they said the other Ottawa owners will be property developers Roger Greenberg, John Ruddy, and William Shenkman.


And the new franchise may get back its old nickname, the Rough Riders. Hunt et al are researching in hopes of determining whether the Rough Riders name would be a boon or a disadvantage for the franchise.

Horn Chen, a former owner of the Rough Riders, holds the legal rights to the nickname and, the sources said, has expressed a willingness to sell it to the new investors for a relatively reasonable fee.

•With Ottawa only a few dotted i's and crossed t's away from officially resurfacing in the CFL, rookie commissioner Mark Cohon deserves some accolades.

Skeptics would say the would-be Ottawa owners fell into his lap, courtesy of tips and recommendations from Toronto Argonauts owners Howard Sokolowski and David Cynamon, but cementing the deal and overseeing a successful rejuvenation of CFL football in Ottawa would be major feathers in Cohon's cap.

As his first season in the CFL nears its end, Cohon gets passing grades. Under him, there have been no real horror stories and no financial disasters. And that's different for the CFL.

Mind you, Cohon still hasn't emerged with a drug policy, something he vowed he'd institute in the CFL when the season began.

• On the field, the CFL could use some improvement, what with a scoring dearth that has made too many games too dull to watch. Heck, even a number of NFL teams are averaging more points than CFL teams this season.

The shortage of offence has resulted in a shortage of prominent offensive players, meaning quarterback Kerry Joseph of the Saskatchewan Roughriders will win the most-outstanding-player award by, well, default.

Joseph, a former NFL safety, has enjoyed a decent season in a revival year for the Roughriders, but his numbers pale in comparison to previous outstanding-player choices in the CFL.

In fact, many in the CFL believe running back Joe Smith of the B.C. Lions deserves to be the Western Division's representative ahead of Joseph.

Smith himself shrugged off his snub when told that Joseph was chosen ahead of him this week in the voting by the Football Reporters of Canada. "Didn't give it a second thought," he said.

But Smith's teammates certainly gave it a second thought and voiced their objections, suggesting he has been the CFL's top player with the league's top team.

"If it's the most valuable player or most outstanding player, I think he's the guy," Lions centre Angus Reid told The Vancouver Province. "If you talk about most valuable, we went through three different quarterbacks and he was the guy we leaned on. Most outstanding player? All he's doing is leading the league in rushing and possibly breaking a record for rushing touchdowns."

Smith's statistics, with one game remaining in the regular season, are indeed impressive. He's rushed for a league-high 1,482 and has scored a league-high 19 touchdowns. He needs one more rushing touchdown to erase the single-season record (18) in that department, set by Mike Pringle.

It's a passing league, yes, but the league's most dominant player this season has been a running back — and Smith really does deserve bouquets.

• While Smith stayed quiet about being snubbed, Calgary Stampeders quarterback Henry Burris didn't, saying all this to reporters:

"Kerry's a good friend of mine and I'm happy that he had a spectacular season, but if you look at the numbers and what a person needed to do to make it happen, I thought I did just that. Even though I missed three games (with a shoulder injury), my numbers were still higher. So what does it take? But, hey, I'm happy for him."

Burris leads the CFL with 34 touchdown passes and is second with 4,279 passing yards. Joseph trails Burris in each of those categories but his 13 rushing touchdowns attracted voters, as did Saskatchewan's 12-5 record. Calgary has underachieved this season, at 7-9-1.

• Another QB, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Kevin Glenn, was voted the most-outstanding player in the Eastern Division, but he has no chance of beating out Joseph.

In fact, there may well be a Western sweep for the awards, which will be announced during Grey Cup week.

B.C. will dominate. The Lions' Jason Clermont has the edge over the Bombers' Doug Brown as top Canadian. The Lions' Cameron Wake has the edge over the Argos' Jonathan Brown for top defensive player. The Lions' Rob Murphy has the edge over the Bombers' Dan Goodspeed as the top offensive lineman. Wake has the edge over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats' Nick Setta as top rookie. And Ian Smart has the edge over the Argos' Dominique Dorsey as top special-teams player.

That's the way I see it, anyway.

• For the first time since 2001, no members of the Montreal Alouettes have been voted as finalists for the CFL awards.

"I'm very shocked," said Jim Popp, general manager and head coach of the Als — and this shows me just how deluded he really is about his team this season.

• Old CFL running backs are a lot like old newspapers and old plastic bottles. They get recycled.

You may be done with them but, sooner or later, they'll be back out there somewhere, packaged differently, being used by someone else.

Take Josh Ranek. After starring for the now-defunct Ottawa Renegades from 2003 through 2005, after 10 games with the Tiger-Cats in 2006 and after being released by the Edmonton Eskimos early this year, Ranek has agreed to join the Roughriders for the final game of the regular season.

Minor injuries to Wes Cates (foot) and Corey Holmes (shoulder) have caused the Riders to pluck Ranek from the blue box in time to face the Argonauts in a Saturday game that could cement the Eastern title for Toronto.

The Argos are a point ahead of the Bombers, who meet the Alouettes in Winnipeg Friday night. If Winnipeg defeats Montreal, and the Argos lose in Saskatchewan, the Bombers would finish first. First-place status includes the huge advantage of receiving a bye into the Eastern final at home Nov. 18.

In reality, the Riders have no reason to bust their guts Saturday because they're locked in second in the West.

But you wonder if Saskatchewan head coach Kent Austin will try to stick it to the Argos, who fired him last season as their offensive co-ordinator.

Doug Brown, who is not only a terrific defensive lineman for the Bombers but also a first-rate broadcaster and writer in Winnipeg, wrote the following in an entertaining open letter to Austin, printed this week in the Winnipeg Free Press:

"Dear Kent Austin, Head Coach of the Saskatchewan Roughriders:

"You should know why I'm writing you this letter, and you should know, as we all do, that it should never have come to this. We had our destiny in our own hands in the Big Smoke last week and it went up in a lot of big smoke.

"Now, I'm not going to go so far as to say you owe us, what with us defeating Calgary the other week so you could clinch a home playoff game, but we do need a favour from you.

"If we get it together and are able to defeat the Montreal Alouettes at home Friday night in our final regular-season game, it would be nice, if on your end, you put up a spirited effort against the Toronto Argonauts at home on Saturday.

"Now I know everybody and their sister is telling you that your game against Toronto doesn't mean anything. You are already locked into second place in the Western Division, have a home playoff game for the first time since you were probably quarterback there, and you cannot advance or falter one way or the other from the outcome of your game against the center of the universe (barring injuries of course). But don't tell me this game means nothing to you.

"Before we even get to the personal considerations, I'm sure you know how important momentum is going into the playoffs.

"You guys have it now with your huge come-from-behind win in Edmonton, and you need to hold onto it by showing Calgary what kind of maelstrom they will be walking into in Regina in the first round of the playoffs.

"I noticed in the game against Edmonton , you rested quite a few of your starters and that (backup quarterback) Marcus Crandell was at the helm for the better part of the day. It was a smart move on your part to rest your headliners in the second-to-last game, because now they can use this last one to tune it back up. For we all know you can't keep a starting offence off the field for almost three consecutive weeks and expect it to be polished when the playoffs begin. Kerry Joseph and his crew need to get out there, shake the rust off, get in sync again, and spend at least the first three quarters building some positive energy to start the playoffs with.

"So now that we've gone over all the obvious reasons as to why Saturday's game is so important for your team and your players, let's talk about some of the personal reasons. After all, you are facing a team that exploited your masterful offensive mind en route to winning a Grey Cup and then thanked you for your contributions by dumping you because your schemes were seemingly too complicated for many of their players.

"I know what's most important is doing what's best for your team and not exacting revenge on your alma mater, but I'm sure you agree that you need to set the tone at home for the playoffs with this game.

"And don't just do it for us, do it for the CFL.

"I'm not sure if you remember, but back around Labour Day, the entire league was talking about what a spectacle it would be to see Saskatchewan and Winnipeg in the Grey Cup final in Toronto . It was a fairy tale scenario — the two small-market, publicly owned teams battling for supremacy in a city that hardly even knows they exist.

"And this is where we need a little help from our friends. You see, from where I sit, your playoff destiny looks rosy and set out before you. There is no way in canola you lose your first home playoff game in umpteen years to Calgary, and we all know how well you play against the Lions, especially in B.C.

"But we've been having a problem here in Winnipeg of late, i.e. winning at the Rogers Centre. So do us a favour, and watch our game Friday night against Montreal. If we lose, don't worry about helping out your prairie brethren to the East and go about your business, but if we win, help us make Toronto go through Winnipeg in the playoffs. It's the least you can do for your old team — one that treated you like an Argonaut."

• Every week this season, I made my traditional picks against the spread at the bottom of this column. I went 1-2 last week and am 40-24-2 for 2007 — which means you've won big if you've followed my advice. Here are my choices for the final week of the regular season:

Week 19:

FRIDAY—Montreal at Winnipeg:

The Blue Bombers are favoured by 10 points. The Alouettes are not a good team and, without Anthony Calvillo (taking the season off to be with his ailing wife), they are devoid of a dependable quarterback. The Bombers, however, are struggling themselves lately and will not have star running back Charles Roberts (knee) to help them. I think they'll win this game, but the spread's too high, so. . .TAKE MONTREAL PLUS THE 10 POINTS.

SATURDAY — Toronto at Saskatchewan:

This game is off the board. A line for it will come out Saturday morning if the game is meaningful. And it'll only mean something if the Bombers beat the Als Friday night. If the Bombers lose, the Argos will be locked in first place in the East, while the Riders already are locked in second place of the West.

SATURDAY — Edmonton at Hamilton:

The Eskimos are favoured by three points. This is the Losers Bowl. Both teams are out of the playoffs. This likely will be the final game for Danny Maciocia as head coach of the Esks. It could also be the final game for Charlie Taaffe as head coach of the Ticats. At this point, the Ticats seem to be playing with a bit more pride. TAKE HAMILTON PLUS THE THREE POINTS.

SATURDAY — Calgary at B.C.:

The Lions are favoured by 7.5 points. The Lions are locked in top spot in the West while the Stamps are third. The Lions will be experimenting as they prepare for the playoffs. The Stamps will be desperately trying to head into the post-season on a winning note. TAKE CALGARY PLUS THE 7.5 POINTS.

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