There are a lot of cheap shots, snubs, cold wars and plain old nasty feelings within the CFL these days — and we'll get to that stuff below because, well, it's our duty to report on such matters — but I'm kicking off this week's Report with news about a great cause.
If you're not into nice, heartwarming stories and only want the dirt, skip the next few paragraphs.
But I think it's prudent here and now to discuss the late Mike Dickinson and a Grey Cup-related event that's held annually in his honour.
Mike was a devoted CFL fan. He owned season-tickets to the Toronto Argonauts' home games for 30 years, until he died of pancreatic cancer. For the past five years, Dickinson's family has organized a fund-raising party named after him on Grey Cup days. It's been tremendously successful, and the Dickinsons expect the same when this season's Grey Cup game is played in Toronto on Nov. 25.
"He regularly held small parties at our home for the Grey Cup," said Mike's daughter, Jackie Dickinson. "After he died, we created a fundraiser to raise awareness for pancreatic cancer in Canada and to recognize his love and devotion for the CFL."
And get this:
More than $50,000 has been raised for The Mike Dickinson Endoscopic Fund at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto.
"Last year, over 200 people attended this party downtown in Toronto and we hope for bigger numbers this year," Jackie said. "The spirit and enthusiasm for the Grey Cup is alive and well at this annual Grey Cup party."
For more details, contact Jackie at this email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
•Okay, now for the dirt. . .
Let's start in, say, Calgary, where Tom Higgins already is a lame-duck head coach as he and the Stampeders prepare for Sunday's Western Division final against the Roughriders in Saskatchewan.
Higgins is a goner because the Stamps have hired John Hufngael to replace him, starting next year. Hufnagel, who was an assistant coach in both the CFL and NFL after his quarterbacking days in the CFL, has accepted a six-year contract from the Stamps.
So where will Higgins go?
Certainly not in B.C., where he has burned himself with the Lions' general manager and head coach, Wally Buono.
Higgins, in a bizarre show of disrespect for Buono, let loose with a string of criticisms for the guru of active CFL coaches during a radio show in Calgary this week.
Commenting on what he perceived as a vicious block by the Lions' Jason Jiminez on the Stamps' Anthony Gargiulo during a game last Saturday, Higgins said:
"I'm mad that a player deliberately and intentionally hurt one of our football players. I can only imagine the screaming if one of the B.C. players was hurt. It's somewhat a reflection of the individual, but the ultimate responsibility still falls on the shoulders of the head coach. This does reflect badly on Wally."
Higgins also said: "It was a deliberate intent to hurt. There's no place in sports or society for that type of behaviour. The athlete should be fined and suspended, and something should be done to the organization, because it's not the first time this has happened."
• What's weird about this outburst from Higgins is that there may very well be an opening for someone with his credentials in the B.C. front office next season.
That's because Bob O'Billovich likely is on his way out as the Lions' personnel director.
O'Billovich, former head coach of the Argos, has done a superb job as Buono's right-hand man in B.C. but there is a great deal of speculation these days that he will be heading to Hamilton after the Grey Cup game to replace Marcel Desjardins as the Tiger-Cats' general manager.
Desjardins was fired by the Ticats this week.
• By the way, I'm told Higgins has lost the complete confidence of his players in Calgary.
They're questioning his decision to make veteran linebacker Brian Clark a healthy scratch in Regina on Saturday.
While Higgins displays a calm attitude in public, some of his assistant coaches clearly are feeling the heat and not all are suppressing their emotions.
One of the Calgary assistants, offensive-line coach Kris Sweet, literally grabbed running back Joffrey Reynolds and scolded him because he was answering reporters' questions one day this week and was slightly late for a team meeting.
Not a smart way to treat your star player before a playoff game.
• Things aren't much more serene in Montreal.
The Alouettes, who visit the Blue Bombers in Winnipeg for the Eastern Division's semi-final on Sunday, are lobbying (at least privately) for the dismissal of Jim Popp as their general manager and head coach.
One of the Montreal players advocating the firing is kicker Damon Duvall. Several members of the team say Duvall and Popp are engaged in a bitter cold war, the result of some barbs Popp fired at Duvall during a recent practice.
Duvall, I'm told, has made it clear to club president Larry Smith that he will not return to the Als next season if Popp remains with the club.
And that almost certainly will have some influence on Smith because his daughter is married to Duvall.
• Every week this season, my traditional picks against the spread have appeared at the bottom of this column. I went 2-1 last week and finished the regular season with a record of 42-25-2—which means you won big if you've followed my advice.
Here are my choices for the first round of the playoffs:
Eastern Division Semi-final
SUNDAY — Montreal at Winnipeg:
The Blue Bombers are favoured by 6.5 points. The Alouettes have serious troubles. They loathe their coach, Jim Popp, and they do not have their quarterback, Anthony Calvillo, who is with his ailing wife and newborn child. Meanwhile, running back Charles Roberts will be back for Winnipeg and should have a huge day… TAKE WINNIPEG MINUS THE 6.5 POINTS.
Western Division Semi-final
SUNDAY — Calgary at Saskatchewan:
The Roughriders are favoured by six points. This is where the Riders will get their revenge on quarterback Henry Burris, who spurned them to join the Stampeders as a free agent a couple of years ago. The Riders are rallying around their rookie head coach, Kent Austin, who knows how to win. The Stamps aren't rallying around their veteran head coach, Tom Higgins, who'll quite likely be coaching his last game in the CFL… TAKE SASKATCHEWAN MINUS THE SIX POINTS.