Notebook – November 21, 2006

This Notebook page features a 2006 Grey Cup review, CFL notes, and more.

2006 CFL Grey Cup Quarter Scores

For all those that need to check Grey Cup pool tickets, here are the quarter scores for the 2006 Grey Cup between the Alouettes (East) and the Lions (West).

1st 2nd 3rd 4th
Montreal (East) 0 3 12 14
B.C. (West) 9 19 19 25

2006 Grey Cup Review – Montreal vs. B.C.

A lacklustre CFL season was capped off with an unspectacular Grey Cup, with only two touchdowns scored by both teams combined. The game was close late, however, with Montreal almost scoring a touchdown with just over 4 minutes left which would have pulled them within 6 points.

Week Coverage and Pre-Game Shows

Typical coverage was provided all week, but perhaps due to no big storyline in the match up and the excitement drop in games this season, there was no substantial coverage until the end of the week. The CBC‘s Saturday coverage returned to the basics of years past, a little analysis, a replay of last years Grey Cup and the Grey Cup parade. The replay was handled fairly well, with an edited version airing which did not leave any boring, uneventful sections in the game.

TSN also did a great job in their Saturday night preview show. TSN is positioning itself as the proper rights holder for the CFL and I expect great things from them if they do expand their coverage with all rights to CFL games in 2008. Sunday’s coverage on TSN‘s The Reporters was typical fare, and the Grey Cup got the lead off spot for once. I did not see the TSN preview show Sunday morning believing it was a repeat of Saturday’s. If not, someone please correct me.

CBC started their coverage three hours before game time, which is about right. Some interesting twists to their coverage were appreciated. I did not miss Brian Williams’ annual talk with the commissioner and appreciated Elliotte Friedman as a host. The Rocket Ismail segment was well done, though it could have gone into more detail, especially on his background, his departure, his career in the NFL and his feelings for the CFL for those that did not know any of the story. The on-field explanation of the B.C. attack and the Montreal methods of defending was a first for CBC I believe.

Gill Deacon providing an atmosphere meter from the crowd before the game was new, but needs some work. Gill and news-channel reporters all week constantly questioned individuals why this week is such a big event. Instead of questioning it as if they just arrived from another planet, they should just accept it and move on. I have never seen a reporter at the Super Bowl ask people why they are there. Deacon’s interview with Nelly Furtado would have been best left out, no fault to Deacon. Interviewing the half-time act is weak at best, and unless they have something interesting to say about the CFL, Canada and the like, it should be avoided.

The Game

The game was well covered. The use of 32 cameras really adds to the production values, and it was seamless with none of the technical glitches expected from a CBC broadcast using unfamiliar technology. The CableCam, I thought, was used sparingly, with few instances of it used in motion to reveal something about a play. This may have something to do with the lack of big plays in the game. A few times the CableCam was in the shot of the sideline camera showing the live play. Those people who do not like the score graphics on the screen would have been annoyed with those instances.

Mark Lee and Chris Walby had their best game of the year, with the Walby-isms kept to a minimum. Darren Flutie provided quality information from the sideline, and was used too infrequently.

The game was a defensive battle, with Montreal unable to string multiple plays together in the first half. B.C. had more success moving the ball and had the field position advantage for most of the first half. After a long half-time Montreal came out with a good third quarter to make a game of it and move me closer to the edge of my seat.

The critical play happened in the fourth quarter when on 2nd and goal from the 1 yard line Robert Edwards fumbled after being stuffed in the backfield. Montreal challenged the play but withdrew the challenge before officials could make their way to the video booth. Walby heavily criticized Montreal for not challenging; feeling that the replay showed that Edwards’ knee was done before the ball came out. The replay he was using to claim this, however, had the ball blocked from view by a player when it was coming loose. Other replays showed the ball coming out sooner, but did not have as good a view of the ball carrier’s knee. This inconclusive evidence is why Montreal would have lost the challenge. If it had occurred a minute later, it would have been automatically reviewed and Montreal would not have had to challenge. However, it could be said that Montreal did not need to save its challenge for the one minute remaining before all plays would be reviewed.

Unfortunately, Montreal did not get the ball back until late, and by then needing at least two possessions, they ran out of time. B.C. took the game, finishing off a great year for them.

Post-Game Activities

I did not watch the post game presentations intently and did not even know about the Grey Cup breaking until the next morning. I was not surprised about the Most Valuable Player and Most Valuable Canadian awards going to Dave Dickenson and Paul McCallum. For MVP it is hard to find someone else, but Dickenson’s numbers hardly say MVP. I tried to look for a defensive player, but none stood out. However, for sure Ben Cahoon’s performance on Montreal’s side should have earned him Most Valuable Canadian. Eleven receptions for 137 yards to lead all receivers far outweigh McCallum’s record tying six field goals, none of which was a pressure packed game winner.

It cannot be defended as one of the best Grey Cups in history, but I am confident that next year the CFL will return to form with exciting, wide-open play from start to finish.

Do the Tyrannical Two Get a Bad Rap?

Of course, the headline is in jest, but we are talking about the Tom Wright-opponents David Braley and Robert Wetenhall. Tom Wright handled his final Grey Cup with grace and dignity much like his first when he was announced as commissioner at the last minute after objections (reports say) by David Braley.

Stephen Brunt believes all the CFL fans who have villain-ized Braley and Wetenhall over the Wright affair should actually show appreciation to these franchise owners. They have taken losses and kept the CFL alive when no one else was willing to step up for those franchises.

While these pages have been critical of Braley and Wetenhall, I do not overlook their contributions to the CFL. I too believe Braley is very deserving of a successful B.C. Lions franchise and one of those who deserves credit for the survival of the CFL the last 20 years. Also on that list of persons deserving credit are anyone who has had ownership of a CFL franchise in the last 20 years, especially American franchise owners and even Bernie Glieberman. The NFL provided a cash infusion in 1997, without which the CFL likely would not exist. As important have been the fans, who have turned through the turnstiles, bought souvenirs, watched on television and funded both the private and community owned franchises, keeping them from reaching that point of insolvency. I know one person who has added up what he has spent on the CFL the past 15 years and the total comes to over $15,000. That may be nothing to David Braley, but not everyone can be as fortunate as he is, and $15,000 is a nice mortgage payment to anyone across the country I think. I personally wrote a cheque (which was cashed) to the CFL office during one of their ownership forays in Ottawa in the early ’90’s to keep the franchise (and the CFL) going. Fans have bled money plenty on this league as well.

My problem with the way the situation was handled is the shortsightedness of the decision. Much has been made of the fact the CFL has had nine commissioners the last 15 years. Wright was by far the best of them. Braley had a say in keeping or hiring all commissioners from 1996 on, including Wright. If, as Brunt says, Braley was concerned about Wright’s business skills, why not take the effort to split the role, leave Wright as the figurehead face of the league and fans and sponsors identify with and hire the guy you want to drive the revenues at the rate you want? After three years, the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t. Little has been said about potential candidates for the position, but I highly doubt anybody can grow revenues at a faster rate than currently, which is growing at a natural rate corresponding to the return of acceptance of the CFL.

Unless the new commissioner’s mandate will be to drive revenue by granting expansion franchises at $5-7.5 million a pop, he will have a very hard time creating the profitable business for Braley to cover his losses the last 10 years. Wetenhall believes that revenue can come from US expansion franchises, but that counts only the money expansion brings in and ignores the lack of growth it provides the CFL. No increase in Canadian TV revenue, no American TV contract, and a reduced share of league dispersments (unless you expect American franchises to not share in the Canadian TV contract).

While private owners do have their private money invested in the team that is no reason to discount the vote of community owned teams. For league issues, if a community team is standing in the way of progress, that is not what their mandate from their fans is. For individual team issues, they need to work together and not force every franchise into the same hole. It is not in the interest of the game and community franchises to try risky efforts to grow the game, like American expansion, just so they can retrieve lost money and exit before the league collapses. This experiment was tried already and we do not need to repeat it unless there is a plan to address the issues with it.

Tom Wright is gone, and the next commissioner may do great things in driving revenue for the league, getting Wetenhall and Braley to that point of profitability they are seeking. If it is slower than they expect, will they resort to driving risky plans, whether expansion or otherwise, to try to achieve those revenues? As trust holders of the great Canadian game and businesspersons, they owe the public strong, detailed plans of their ideas. This will help overcome fan distrust of the two most private owners in the league, who on fleetingly give glimpses to fans of their CFL vision currently.

CFL Notes

The minor rise in Grey Cup ratings in a year where the consensus has been the product was not as exciting as years past and general viewership was done points to a change of attitude around accepting our own game. The average viewership of 3.202 million people was 1% higher than last year. I definitely feel there are fewer people who will avoid the CFL over embarrassment that is Canadian.

Alouettes re-sign players before salary cap deadline.

Stamps sign Boerigter. CFL play should rise with players returning to the league. That is if Calgary can find a quarterback to develop a rapport with Boerigter.

Winnipeg says 2006 Grey Cup a success. The game was a sellout, and all-receipts counted should wipe out the Bomber debt. That should lead to them being profitable next year barring unforeseen circumstances. A debt free team is much more attractive for David Asper to buy a piece to help drive new stadium plans.

The CFL needs to fix the game in the offseason. Luckily the drop off was so abrupt, it cannot be ignored for years like the NHL. I hope to express my thoughts on changes required in an offseason article.

Unlike a normal CFL commissioner search, very few candidates are known, but apparently there is no shortage of them. One leaked candidate is NHL senior VP for broadcasting John Shannon. He is thought to be a frontrunner, though his skills do not match up with what the aforementioned David Braley wants in a new league head.

The CFL should address betting on air to make games more interesting says one scribe. What do you think? Better to keep an arms length or embrace it?

Will Toronto be ready for the Grey Cup return in 2007? Only time will tell now. The game may be a sellout, but the city atmosphere is what they will be judged on.

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