Wednesday, July 02, 2008


We Punt on Third Down

The annual northern migration of American football castoffs to Canada has begun. All of the teams in the Canadian Football League eagerly scan the cuts from the NFL to fatten their rosters for the season.

The Canadian season has begun, whereas the Americans have just opened their training camps. There will be more cuts as the opening game approaches in the United States. Scouts on this side of the border will keep an eye on the talent that becomes available, and will try to entice the talented ones to play in the CFL.

There are a few differences in the game between the CFL and the NFL. One of the most notable differences involves the reception of punts. In the Canadian game, the receiver is afforded the benefit of a five yard restraining area. No opponent is allowed in that area when the receiver touches the ball. Otherwise, a penalty is assessed. Coaches hate penalties. Players try to avoid them, unless they enjoy watching the game from the bench.

In the American game, on the other hand, there is no protection for the receiver, except for the “fair catch”. In this case, the receiver signals that he will not try to advance the ball once he catches it. With his hand wave, he tells the opposition that he does not want to die. But if he thinks he can run the kick back, he will take a chance that he may live another day. Many a kick returner has met his Waterloo in the American game. The act of running backs kicks, State-side is tantamount to suicide.

We have only three downs in Canada. They use four, but not because they are inept. Remember, we cherish the players they discard. This is strictly an historical item. There is much more movement in our backfields, and our field is much larger-wider, longer, and fitted with an end zone that is almost twice as large as the American zone. As a result, pass receivers have more room to run patterns. Defenders consequently have more difficulty covering these receivers.

Even the footballs are different sizes. A couple of years ago, in order to generate a little excitement, the CFL advertised that in Canada, we have bigger balls. It caught my attention. Other than that, I have no comment at this time. I can be politically correct, now and then.

No matter where the game is played, the most important position on the field is the quarterback. He is the general on the field of battle, the straw that stirs the drink. The Canadian quarterback, however, needs to rely on quickness and speed more than his American counterpart. The classic example is an American who came north to demonstrate his ability.

Doug Flutie played his college ball in Boston. He rattled around the American game in a couple of pro leagues before coming to Canada. He was a failure in American parks. He was too small for the American game, they said. He quickly found a home in Canada. He won Grey Cups, and all of the individual awards available. He was mobile, he was lightning quick, and he could think on his feet. He loved the expanse of the Canadian field which gave him more time to execute.

The Toronto Argonauts have two premier quarterbacks at the helm. It is causing some controversy in the media, not so much in the coaching and managerial ranks. It is critical to have two good quarterbacks. Because of the nature of the game, any player can (and will be) injured at any time. Backup is important at all positions. Kerry Joseph was snatched from last year’s Grey Cup Champion Saskatchewan Rough Riders before the start of the season. He is competing for the starting role with Michael Bishop, who had the job last year. The results of this competition will play themselves out as the year progresses.

The Hamilton Tiger Cats suffered with several quarterbacks who could never find a comfort level in the Steel City. This year, they are relying on Casey Printers to help them escape from the doldrums. He has been in the league for half a dozen years, and he knows what it takes to be successful. There must be good chemistry between him and his receivers, good protection from his line. There were glimmers of hope in their first game this year, but not enough for a victory.

In Montreal, Anthony Calvillo demonstrated in his team’s first win of the season that he is one of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play the game in Canada. He picks apart defences with accurate throws, and an occasional scamper for half a dozen yards. He reads defences instantly, and can manipulate his receivers so deftly.

Later in the year, we will take a look at the quarterbacks in the western regions of the league.

On Thursday, the Ticats take on the Double Blue in Toronto. This is a traditional rivalry that is not equalled in any other sport in Canada. There is only one major league baseball team left in Canada, sadly. The Leafs-Habs, and perhaps Habs-Senator battles just don’t cut it the way they used to cut it.

The Tiger Cats then take on the Grey Cup Champion Rough Riders in Hamilton on Saturday, July 12th. There is a bus running from Belleville and Trenton to the game. Two buses, in fact. The first is sold out. Tickets are $ 70 for the coach and the game ticket. Always a great place to see the CFL. Call for tickets: 613-399-2278.

And if anyone calls to ask you to field punts for that game, give them an excuse, any excuse.

James Hurst

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