First and 10 Column | Canada Day

Maybe it’s the fear of the unknown that is the source of all this. And perhaps it’s only natural that rumours and speculation would be fuelled by the uncertainty swirling around the Canadian Football League these days.

Earlier this week it was floated in some media circles that the CFL reinvent should consider the option of aligning with the National Football League in some sort of affiliation – similar to the way NFL Europe worked before it went belly up in 2007.

Now, I suppose given where the league is at right now in facing the possibility of a shortened 2020 season or an entire campaign being wiped out and the prospects of millions of dollars in losses, that any and all options should be tabled and considered.

But let’s not go there, OK?

Look, the NFL and CFL have almost always had a good working relationship over the years. And, yes, the big boys down south certainly came to the CFL’s rescue in the winter of 1997 with a financial loan that helped keep the league afloat, two years removed from the failed U.S. expansion experiment and just a few months after an iconic 1996 Grey Cup game on a snowy field at Ivor Wynne Stadium in Hamilton.

Let’s also add this as a full admission before we proceed any further: yours truly is a traditionalist, a fan of the CFL and the NFL – all forms of the game, really – and yet I understand that given the current climate it’s a little naïve to think our glorious version can come out of this completely unscathed or without some changes.

Still, should the CFL yield any kind of roster control to the NFL as part of an arrangement our game potentially changes forever. Sure, seeing some NFL prospects grow their game in Canada might offer some intriguing storylines, but an affiliation agreement also opens a Pandora’s Box.

Imagine, for example, a parent club telling the Bombers to sit down a Willie Jefferson or Adam Bighill for a spell so they could evaluate a defensive end or middle linebacker candidate? Or a shining young star getting called up right in the middle of a playoff push?

It’s also difficult to understand how this scenario could actually benefitting Canadian players, particularly draft picks who often ripen only with patience and learning-on-the-job playing time.

Again, maybe this is just all part of the chatter that comes during uncertain times. But it says here it has to be considered a last-resort option.

Here are our other thoughts, links, notes and quotes in this week’s First and 10…

1. Another CFL-in-the-pandemic storyline that is all the chatter now is Winnipeg serving as the sole ‘hub city’ for an abridged season.

First reported by Rod Pederson in Regina – interestingly, the same day Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe suggested his province has a ‘very large appetite’ to be a hub city and host some CFL games – the idea of a single site for games is the model being followed by the NBA and MLS, with the NHL having selected Toronto and Edmonton as its two locales for the completion of their 2019-20 season.

Winnipeg has long been rumoured as a potential site, given the low COVID-19 numbers in the province. There had also been speculation about a Winnipeg-Regina set up, the West Division teams partnering up and hosting East Division squads, and the CFL had been in talks with the Ontario government about Hamilton/Burlington serving as a hub city.

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman’s office offered this statement to 3Down Nation on Friday:

“While Mayor Brian Bowman has not been involved in any discussions of this kind, he would welcome the opportunity for our 2019 Grey Cup champions, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, to defend their title in Winnerpeg,”

If nothing else, this is an indication the league’s higher-ups are indeed exploring every option to salvage something of a 2020 season. Still, there are a ton of hurdles to be here, and there will be the accompanying health and safety concerns, which are absolutely paramount.

2. Canada Day came and when this week without a single down of the CFL being played anywhere across this country around the holiday. And raise your hand if, like me, that not only makes you a little sick to your tummy, but both nostalgic and disappointed at the same time.

This country’s birthday is always cause for a party, but watching a CFL game on or around Canada Day as part of the celebration has become as much a feature part of the schedule as the Labour Day or Thanksgiving weekends.

The last time the Bombers played on Canada Day was in 2017, when they helped christen Mosaic Stadium in Regina with a 43-40 overtime win in their season opener that was overflowing with drama.

The juicy subplot to that win, you may recall, was Weston Dressler returning to Saskatchewan and scoring twice, while racking up 124 receiving yards.

If you’re so inclined, it’s worth revisiting the superb work Bomber videographer Riley Marra did as Dressler was mic’d up for that game:

In their 90 years, the Bombers have played just five times on Canada Day – including 2017. (It wasn’t until the mid 70s before the CFL season even started in mid-July).

Besides 2017, here are the other Bombers Canada Day results:

  • July 1, 2016 – 36-22 loss in Calgary
  • July 1, 2011 – 24-16 win in Hamilton
  • July 1, 2003 – 14-12 home win over Edmonton
  • July 1, 1998 – 27-24 home loss to Montreal

3. A cool Canadian shout-out from the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Canada Day, as the shrine saluted their members from our country or with links to our country – including Bud Grant, the Bombers’ all-time leader in coaching wins a four-time Grey Cup champion.

Tom Burgess

4. One more Canada Day-related note… It could be argued one of the most important trades in Bombers franchise history came down on July 1, 1990. That was the day Cal Murphy swung a deal with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, following two sluggish offensive performances in the three preseason games played that year, to land quarterback Tom Burgess.

The deal saw the Bombers send quarterback Lee Saltz and the rights to receiver Allan Boyko (who would later return to the club) for Burgess, who had started nine games for the Riders in 1989, but was Saskatchewan’s 1A starter behind Kent Austin.

Burgess was a perfect fit for a Bombers side still dominated by its defence and which would pound the ball that season behind Robert Mimbs. He threw for 3,958 yards and 25 touchdowns – and, yes, 27 interceptions – but was spectacular when it mattered most, throwing for three TDs in the 1990 Grey Cup win over Edmonton and being named the game’s offensive MVP.

Those that shared the huddle with him absolutely adored him, too. This story from Chris Walby in 2015 when I interviewed him during my days at the Free Press:
“I loved Tommy Burgess,” said Walby. “He was an O-lineman who played quarterback and he might be one of the most underrated quarterbacks ever. I’ll tell you this, in all the time I played, he was one of the great, great guys. He was just a blast.

“He used to try to buy everybody drinks with his hotel room key. We’d go to the bar and he’d always pull out that stupid room key and go, ‘It’s on me, fellas.’ Of course, the server would go, ‘You can’t use this’ and he’d add ‘Well, I guess it’s on somebody else then.’ He did that every time.

“His sense of humour was unparalleled. He was one of those guys you’d run through a wall for. Now, don’t get me wrong, he wasn’t lovey-dovey in the huddle. He was a firecracker.”

5. Timing is everything, they say, and it just so happens the newspaper in Geneva, NY – the Finger Lakes Times – wrote a solid feature on Tom Burgess this past week. To check it out, click here.

6. Another ex-Bombers QB link can be found here in a story about how pro-style offences are becoming the rage with Detroit-area high schools.

Kevin Glenn, who served two tours with the Bombers (2004-08, 2016) and is third on the franchise’s all-time passing yardage list, is now the offensive coordinator for Catholic Central in Detroit.

7. The pandemic hasn’t stopped the Bombers from adding some new faces, including two announced Friday in receiver Alonzo Russell and defensive back Makinton Dorleant.

Russell is another big target at 6-4, 218 and most recently played with the St. Louis Battlehawks of the XFL after NFL looks from the New York Giants, Arizona Cardinals and Cincinnat Bengals. He put up huge numbers at Toledo, with 202 catches for 3,076 yards and 24 TDs.

To view his highlight tape from 2019, click here.

Dorleant, meanwhile, was last with the Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders (injured reserve) after tryouts with the Baltimore Ravens, Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers. He dressed for four games in 2016 with the Packers, after signing there as an undrafted free agent following his college career at Northern Iowa.

FYI, Dorleant won’t be making his first trip to Winnipeg when training camp opens – either this summer or beyond. He played for the Raiders in their 22-21 exhibition win over Green Bay last August.

8. Willie Jefferson has long professed his love for basketball – he was drawing attention in high school from university coaches before switching to football full time – and he has friends from Beaumont who are actually playing pro ball in Israel.

But a 6-7, 248-pound forward with his wingspan? I’d pay to watch that…

9. Fascinating read here from Sports Illustrated about officials working games in a hub city format without fans and it would certainly apply if the CFL does end up playing under those circumstances – ditto for the MLS, NHL, NBA.

According to studies of Serie A soccer games in Italy, the ‘homefield advantage’ dropped significantly with no fans in the stands.

10. Finally, heard Tom Petty’s ‘The Waiting’ the other day and can’t help but think about how the chorus seems to fit the days we’re living in right now:

‘The waiting is the hardest part
Every day you get one more yard
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart
The waiting is the hardest part’

Until next week, keep the faith and stay healthy football fans.

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