Robokicker is now Roboclicker.
Dave Ridgway simply had to take a photo — which he thoughtfully sent to me — after passing a sign on a highway in Indiana.
OK, the accompanying photo gave it away …
“I almost swerved off the road,” the legendary Saskatchewan Roughriders placekicker recalled the other day from his home in Paris Crossing, Ind.
“I passed the road sign and, of course, I had to double back and pass it again for a picture.
“Hard to believe I was this close to Kent Austin — or the hamlet of Kent and the city of Austin!”
According to the 2010 census, Kent had a population of 70.
A decade later, Austin’s population was calculated at slightly more than 4,000.
Ridgway, by the way, wasn’t destined for Kent or Austin.
“I was travelling to Hanover College in Hanover, Indiana, which was made famous by the TV series, Cheers,” he noted. “Hanover was the hometown of Woody Boyd, who was played by Woody Harrelson.”
The position of quarterback was played at the highest level by Austin during a dazzling run of success that began on Nov. 26, 1989.
On that day in Toronto, he threw for 474 yards and three touchdowns to help the Roughriders register a 43-40 Grey Cup victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
The clincher was Ridgway’s tie-breaking, 35-yard field goal with two seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
Over the next four seasons, Austin threw for 20,720 yards and 125 touchdowns.
Let it be said that he knew the road to the end zone.
COOL BY THE POOL
What happens in Vegas doesn’t necessarily stay in Vegas.
Right here, right now, I have broken the rule. So sue me.
A handful of years ago, Roughriders kicker Brett Lauther was at a pool party in Las Vegas when, purely by chance, he bumped into Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce.
I learned about that interaction earlier this week, after the Roughriders announced that Lauther had signed a three-year contract extension.
During a subsequent interview, I asked Lauther: “Who is the most famous person you have met?”
That was on the heels of posing that question to quarterback Trevor Harris (“Denzel Washington”) and returner Mario Alford (“Beyonce and Jay-Z.”).
“It might be Travis Kelce because of Taylor Swift,” Lauther replied, “or it would be Sidney Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon.”
Crosby and MacKinnon — two of the NHL’s premier players — hail from Lauther’s home province of Nova Scotia.
Interactions with Crosby and MacKinnon are memorable, without doubt, but the introduction to Kelce stands out (at least to this observer) on account of sheer flukiness.
“It was super-random,” Lauther said. “We were at a pool party in Vegas and I was walking around with a buddy. I looked up and said, ‘What the … that’s Travis Kelce!’ ”
The very same Travis Kelce was a roommate of former Roughriders quarterback (and current Winnipeg Blue Bombers signal-caller) Zach Collaros at the University of Cincinnati.
“(Kelce) was coming towards us, so I gave him a head-nod and told him, ‘Hey, I used to play with Zach. We were teammates,’ ” Lauther continued.
“He was nice enough to talk to me for a few minutes and grab me a drink, too.
“He’s a super-nice guy — really chill and relaxed. When I mentioned Zach, he said, ‘No way! Zach, he’s my guy! He’s the best player in the CFL.’
“We were just chatting about random stuff like that. We talked about the Chiefs a little and about Patrick Mahomes.”
Remember, that was long before Kelce was introduced to his current girlfriend.
Last Sunday, Swift was in Buffalo to watch Kelce and the Chiefs oppose the Bills in an NFL divisional playoff game.
The list of notables in the luxury suite also included long-time Philadelphia Eagles centre Jason Kelce (Travis’s brother) and, yes, Zach Collaros.
The TV cameras and producers will soon shift their focus to Baltimore, where the Ravens will play host to Kansas City in the AFC final. Also on Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions will meet with an NFC championship at stake.
One of the Lions’ most devoted fans just happens to work for the Roughriders …
THE LIONS ALLIANCE
Nathan Schellenberg, a member of the Roughriders’ Video and Analytics staff, routinely boards an aircraft to attend a football game.
But there won’t be anything conventional about his next gridiron-related road trip.
He will be in Santa Clara, Calif., on Sunday to watch the 49ers play host to his beloved Lions in the NFC championship game.
Schellenberg purchased a ticket online shortly after Detroit defeated the visiting Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31-23 last weekend in a divisional-round playoff contest.
“I would never be able to afford to go to a Super Bowl,” he said. “This is as close as it gets, so I had to do it.”
The plan calls for Schellenberg to drive from Regina to Calgary on Saturday and fly directly to San Francisco the next morning. He is to return the following day.
Schellenberg is poised to see the Lions in person for the fifth time since becoming an ardent fan in the late 1980s.
“The main reason I cheer for them probably goes back to the early days of getting cable TV from Detroit,” he reflected. “That was pre-Internet, so you were getting everything through the TV.
“We got all the Lions games and the team was always being talked about on the Detroit stations.”
Even when, really, there wasn’t much to talk about.
The Lions are about to appear in the NFC final for the first time since 1991.
The team has not reached the championship game in the Super Bowl era, which began in 1967.
Four NFL champions have emanated from Detroit, but those titles were won in 1935, 1952, 1953 and 1957. (The victorious Head Coach in 1935: Potsy Clark.)
Beginning in 2001, the Lions endured a string of 10 consecutive losing seasons — including the 0-16 campaign of 2008 — but Schellenberg’s support never wavered.
“I saw my first Lions game in 1997, at Minnesota,” he recalled. “My favourite player, Herman Moore, scored the winning touchdown with three seconds left, and he caught the pass right in the corner, near where we were sitting.”
Like Moore, Schellenberg was a star receiver with the Lions.
As a member of the Luther Lions, he was a Regina Intercollegiate Football League Schwann Conference all-star in 1992 and 1993.
In a 1993 playoff game, Schellenberg caught four touchdown passes (of 99, 71, 30 and 27 yards) and rushed for two more scores (including a 55-yarder).
“But I started cheering for the Detroit Lions pre-Luther,” he noted. “Playing for the Lions in high school was just a happy coincidence.”
How happy would he be if the Lions can get past San Francisco and make it to the Super Bowl?
One can only imagine.
“They play hard and you can tell that they play hard for each other,” Schellenberg said. “With a little bit of luck, anything can happen.”
THANK YOU, JOHN HUFNAGEL
The Calgary Stampeders announced earlier this week that John Hufnagel had stepped down as the team’s President.
He will remain with the organization as a special advisor to the new President, Jay McNeil.
Although Hufnagel has become synonymous with the Stampeders — for whom he played and coached before concentrating on front-office duties — his imprint on Saskatchewan and the Roughriders should not be forgotten.
After spending all or part of four seasons with the Stampeders, Hufnagel signed with Saskatchewan as a free agent on April 28, 1980.
The following year, he combined with Joe Barnes to form a remarkably successful quarterbacking combo — one that was ingeniously, enduringly dubbed “J.J. Barnagel” by John Chaput of the Regina Leader-Post.
Barnagel helped the Roughriders rebound from back-to-back 2-14 seasons by going 9-7 in 1981.
The veteran quarterbacks combined to throw for 4,888 yards and 33 touchdowns.
The latter figure is especially impressive when you consider that the Roughriders had thrown 26 TD passes over the previous two seasons.
Twenty-one of the payoff pitches in 1981 were produced by Hufnagel, who routinely came off the bench and lit up rival defences in collaboration with receivers Joey Walters, Chris DeFrance, Dwight Edwards and Emanuel Tolbert.
I will always love that 1981 Roughriders team, which captured the attention of the paying public.
The Roughriders of ’81 played before five sellout crowds over eight regular-season appearances at Taylor Field. The final four home games were sold out.
Hufnagel remained a Roughrider until Oct. 3, 1983, when he and defensive lineman J.C. Pelusi were traded to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers for quarterback Nickie Hall, receiver Nate Johnson, offensive lineman Jason Riley and a draft choice.
On Feb. 11, 1987, Hufnagel returned to Riderville in an assistant-coaching capacity … sort of.
Six days later, his playing rights were acquired from Winnipeg in the CFL’s equalization draft.
Hufnagel concentrated on coaching the Roughriders’ quarterbacks and receivers for the early part of the 1987 season, but his services were eventually required behind centre.
Tom Burgess was Saskatchewan’s starting pivot for an Aug. 28, 1987 home date with Edmonton. But, with the Roughriders trailing 15-0 late in the first quarter, Head Coach John Gregory opted to replace Burgess with Hufnagel.
Nearing his 36th birthday, Hufnagel completed 20 of 29 passes for 224 yards, with one touchdown — an eight-yarder to a diving Ray Elgaard — and three interceptions before suffering a torn right Achilles tendon.
Just like that, Hufnagel’s playing career was over, but his coaching career was just beginning.
One of his earliest proteges was a 24-year-old quarterback who arrived in Saskatchewan on Sept. 17, 1987, after being released by the NFL’s St. Louis Cardinals.
His name: Kent Austin.
ROLL CREDITS …
- Nice people who deserve a plug: Dr. Tom Robinson, Mark Black, Cal Filson, Brett Lauther, Jill Swenson, Bonnie Thomas, Debbie Corkish, Darla LaChance, John Mulready, Michael Lam, Blaine Nestegard, James Katryniuk, Ron Jones, Lovella Jones, Carol Marwick, Nathan Schellenberg, Herman Moore, Dan Campbell, Jared Goff, Alan Ford, Sally Ford. Kate Pettersen, John Lipp, Mason Fine, Philip Blake, Matthew Gourlie, John Hufnagel and Lance Hackewich.