O’Leary: A holiday wish for each CFL team

It was three years ago that I was on the couch, reunited with my family for the first time in too long, watching one of my mom’s favourite Christmas movies, Miracle on 34th Street.

We’ve all seen it dozens of times through our lives and at this point it’s something that’s almost always making its way into the background as we go about the holidays. This one time that we were watching it, though, something happened that forever changed the way I look at it.

With my phone in hand, I was looking up the careers that some of the actors with smaller parts in the movie had. When I got to the guy that played judge Henry X. Harper in Saint Nick’s trial, I was shocked at what I’d found.

Born in London, Ont. Gene Lockhart had a long acting career on the stage and on the screen. Before he’d made the move to Hollywood, Lockhart was also a standout athlete and a part of the Toronto Argonauts during World War I, his daughter June told The Londoner in 2014.

Lockhart also had a significant role in another classic Christmas movie. He played Bob Cratchit in A Christmas Carol, which first aired in 1938.

With the honourable Judge Harper and his athletic pursuits in mind, my thoughts wandered off to a semi-related place: A Christmas wish for each of the nine teams in the CFL.

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BC Lions’ owner Amar Doman has big plans for the team he purchased this season and we’d love to see them all come to fruition (Photo: BCLions.com)

BC Lions
The stamp that the owner wants to put on this team

Amar Doman took ownership of the Lions on Aug. 18 and from the moment his name was attached to the team, he’s said the right things. He has a big vision for the Lions, yielding a competitive team on the field and one that expands its role in the community and with that, grows its fan base. The club has been a listening ear and a leader where appropriate https://www.bclions.com/2021/09/16/bringing-message-truth-reconciliation-football-field/ in its relations with the Indigenous people of the area this past year. An organization that has its heart in the right place deserves to see the things that its new owner is working toward.

Calgary Stampeders
Let’s get Bo back to being Bo

Bo Levi Mitchell will be the first to admit that he wasn’t himself this year. We’d love to see him come roaring out of the gate in 2022, with he and his teammates healthy and ready to fight their way back to the top of the standings. When Mitchell is in the MOP form that we’ve known him for through the majority of his career, the league is better for it. Once we get that taken care of, we can move on to the next item on the Calgary to-do list: a facility to replace McMahon Stadium.

Edmonton Elks
A sense of stability

The hiring of Chris Jones this past week was the first step in the Elks’ climb back to competitiveness. As the losses piled up this past year in Edmonton, the team seemed to lose its identity, on and off the field. Commonwealth Stadium with about 30,000 people in it as a starting point makes it one of the best environments in the CFL. There’s no reason why, with some roster stability and a culture created around the organization, they can’t get back to that.

Saskatchewan Roughriders
A team that exceeds the offensive hype

One of the most memorable things about the 2013 Riders – get ready, those hosts-to-winners comparisons are just getting started – was that they hit their stride at the perfect time, getting a gigantic performance out of the offence in their Grey Cup win over Hamilton. Riders fans spent most of the 2021 season waiting for Cody Fajardo, Duke Williams, Shaq Evans and local products Kian Schaffer-Baker and Mitchell Picton to start racking up the yardage, the big games and the big wins. Despite winning nine out of 14 last year, the offensive knockout punch wasn’t there for much of the year. We all want to see high-powered, high scoring football. Let’s see it out of the gate in 2022, with it carrying into the playoffs, where the comforts of Mosaic Stadium will hover in the distance for the Riders all year.

The Bombers have won back-to-back Grey Cups and barring massive roster changes this winter, there’s no reason to think they couldn’t do it again in 2022 (Kevin Sousa/CFL.ca)

Winnipeg Blue Bombers
More of the same

Every holiday shopping list has that one person that has everything and is impossible to shop for. On this one, it’s the Bombers. The two-time defending champs really do seem to have it all: They’ve got the coach in Mike O’Shea and the culture he’s helped build through years of consistency; they’ve got the quarterback in MOP Zach Collaros; one of the greatest RBs of all-time in Andrew Harris; the defensive player of the year in Adam Bighill. Oh, and that defence as a whole. That game-changing, endless stream of pressure, stop-you-in-your-tracks, get-your-points-in-before-the-fourth-quarter defence. As long as this group stays together there’s no reason to think they can’t run it back again.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats
No more heartbreak, please!

It’s a what-if moment I’ll think about for the rest of my days. Jeremiah Masoli from the Winnipeg six-yard line, down three, 16 seconds left, Jaelon Acklin into the end zone and a tension in Tim Hortons Field that managed for one moment to make everyone forget about that strong push of wind in the Ticats’ faces. A season on the line, a 21-year drought one catch away from ending, snuffed out by maybe the top knuckle of Deatrick Nichols’ right hand. Anguish plumed out of the sellout crowd like the smoke from the stacks that surround the stadium. Seven years after Speedy Banks’ would-be game-winning touchdown was called back in the Grey Cup, the Ticats may have found a greater heartbreak at home in front of their fans.

At some point, the Ticats deserve a storybook ending

Toronto Argonauts
Be like Mike (Michael ‘Pinball’ Clemons)

He’s been at the helm of the team as the GM since late 2019. It’s not that Pinball isn’t a presence with the team now, but if you’ve ever heard him speak, if you’ve ever sat down and had a conversation with him, you know how much his personality radiates and how he can uplift a room full of people. In 2022, we need more of that at Argos games. This year’s Argos team was a great one, loaded with talent that learned on the fly as new faces melded together. It would be nice to see the joy that Pinball exudes find its way through the rest of the organization and in 2022, it just might.

Ottawa REDBLACKS
A QB for LaPo to scheme with

Paul LaPolice worked with five different quarterbacks in 2021 and didn’t find much success with any of them. Free agency may mean the most to the REDBLACKS this winter, as they try to put back-to-back non-playoff seasons behind them. That can start with zeroing in on a quarterback that can lead the offence out of the locker room and into the end zone on game day.

With Shawn Burke coming aboard in Ottawa this week, the rumours have already started up that one of Jeremiah Masoli or Dane Evans will follow as free agents this winter.

We saw Edmonton go through something like this in 2012, after the wheels fell off for them in the wake of the Ricky Ray trade. They started the 2013 season with Michael Reilly and three seasons later were celebrating a Grey Cup win. Change can come quickly in the CFL if you have the most important pieces in place on your roster.

Montreal Alouettes
A healthy VA, more excitement

Vernon Adams Jr.’s season came to an end in a game against the REDBLACKS in Week 10, but his greatest moment came a week prior, when he led his team to a thrilling comeback OT win over Hamilton at Tim Hortons Field. Those kinds of games have been his calling card since he assumed starting duties in 2019. Adams takes you on a ride of ups and downs through a game and that’s surely something Khari Jones will want him to work on next year, but there may be no more entertaining player in the CFL than Adams, who sees no deficit as too large and no time on the clock as too short to make some magic happen.

Atlantic Schooners
Let’s will this into existence

The pandemic certainly slowed the momentum on the idea of expansion, but the intent of the ownership group is still there and it’s still something many of us would love to see happen. The idea of including the Maritimes in the CFL, of making it a truly coast-to-coast-to-cast league that spans four (maybe five) time zones and can engage fans fully across the country is too good to let go of. We all need another reason to spend time in Halifax, eating seafood, being around the warmest people in Canada and seeing what an East Coast flavour could add to the CFL. Everyone think positive thoughts on this one.

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