I don't know what it's like across the league, but the talk in Saskatchewan right now is the Riders' being called for "too many men" penalties in back-to-back games against Montreal. It cost them a Grey Cup championship in November, and could have cost them a win on Canada Day. In overtime, the Alouettes gambled on 3rd-and-10 and quarterback Anthony Calvillo threw an incomplete pass which would have ended the game. However just like the Grey Cup, the Riders got caught with 13 men on the field and gave the Als another life. They would tie the game, however the Riders went on to prevail 54-51 in double overtime.
“It’s not as uncommon as you’d think but it’s been highlighted in two extreme cases," former popular Rider DT Scott Schultz told me on my talkshow on Friday. "It just boils down to personal responsibility of the players. It’s your job to know what package is going in, and to get the calls. Everyone is told to communicate with each other, get the signals and echo the call within each other. It’s just about everyone personally being responsible for where they’re supposed to be on the field at any given time.”
So to be specific, it's up to the people on the field, not on the sidelines?
“It’s up to the players, certainly," Schultz confirmed. "I mean the coaches outline it for you but they’re the coaches because they’re not out there playing. So they lay out the best plans that they can but it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans if you don’t have consistency and have it implemented amongst your players.”
While some fans hold Rider coach Ken Miller responsible for the gaffe, Schultz does not. He equates it to his own business Schultz, Gareau Insurance where if one of Schultzie’s managers pulls a blunder with a customer, why should Scott be held accountable?
“At the end of the day you give responsibility to people; a coach, a boss or whatever. At the end of the day Ken Miller has to stand up and face the media as the face of the organization. But, within the structure of the organization you’ve got your coaches and responsibilities are delegated and that’s how the business works.”
Another interested observer at the Saskatchewan-Montreal game was Seattle Seahawks punter Jon Ryan, who was in his hometown of Regina for his kids' kicking camp.
“I was definitely there at the game and it had to be one of the best games I’ve seen in a year or two," surmised the former Winnipeg Blue Bomber. "I was definitely cheering for the Riders. I grew up here and I’ll always have a little bit of green in me.”
And what did Jon think about the 13th man penalty?
"Oh no, not again," Ryan laughed. "That was my first thought, ‘not again’. I felt for the fans more than anything because I saw fans with hands over their face saying ‘how could this happen again’. But it’s early in the season so those things happen but it’s too bad it was at that point in the game.”
So, who on the Seattle Seahawks is responsible for making sure the proper number of men is on the field?
“It depends on the circumstance but I take it upon myself to make sure 11 guys are on the field," Ryan explained. "Someone’s gotta take charge of that sort of thing. But in the emotion of the game, guys tend to forget about that and get so into the game they forget about the small things.”
American football fans are marveling at the 105 point, 1000-plus yard offense, heavyweight slugfest displayed by the Riders and Alouettes on Canada Day. It was the first of 14 CFL games to be shown on the NFL Network this summer and fall.
"Obviously that was an exceptionally exciting game to start. There were so many unbelievable plays," NFL Network spokesman Dennis Johnson told the Edmonton Sun's Terry Jones. "If they are all like that it's going to be a tremendous season of games."
Jon Ryan is a Canadian who lives in the U.S., but has an affection for the three-down game. He thinks the deal announced last week between the CFL and NFL Network is excellent news.
“Getting the games on the NFL Network is a GREAT step in the right direction. Especially with no football going on down here, a lot of American football fans are going to sit up and take notice of the CFL. They have the Friday night Arena game on the NFL Network and I appreciate that game but the CFL game is so much better than that game. People in the States just haven’t been exposed to it but once you watch a little bit of the CFL you get hooked pretty quickly.”
And finally, it's hard to argue that the Roughriders and Alouettes aren't the top two teams in the CFL after Week 1 of the season. Given the fact they were the last two teams left standing in 2009 and they went toe-to-toe for three hours and forty minutes last week, it's safe to see they're among the league's elite. So are they on a collision course for this year's Grey Cup in Edmonton?
“I think it’s really early to say that," said Alouettes colour commentator Ed Philion, a six time all-star defensive tackle with the Als. "You lose your quarterback at any point in the season and you’re in a world of hurt. In the East, I’d say Montreal’s the favourite because two of the four teams changed their coaches (Toronto and Winnipeg) and nobody really knows their quarterbacks. Out West it’s a different story. Calgary’s going to be better and you’ve gotta think Edmonton will be better. In B.C. some of Wally’s decisions are catching up to him and they’ve got a depleted roster. At this point in the season, Saskatchewan and Montreal are the class of their divisions but at this point it’s easier to see Montreal getting back to the Grey Cup just because their division isn’t as tough."
(Rod Pedersen is the Voice of the Riders on 620 CKRM Radio)