What a difference home field was for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers last week. After dropping four straight games on the road, the Bombers finally got back in front of a wildly enthusiastic home crowd and fed off the energy to register their first win.
Some may say they were a little fortunate but, as the old saying goes, at the end of the year they don't ask how, just how many. And for the Bombers, last week was number one.
It was a close game that went right down to the wire where the key play was, fittingly, created by pure hustle and adrenalin: defensive tackle Jake Thomas forcing a Steven Jyles fumble to seal the win. That type of play was fitting because this was a different Bomber team playing in front of the home crowd than the one Winnipeg football fans watched on TV the first four weeks, especially on defence.
The energy in the old Canad Inns Stadium was electric and the Bomber defenders fed off that energy and were flying around. Case in point: according the official stats, Jonathan Hefney may have only registered four tackles, but he was all over the field and as animated as he has been all year.
It looked as close to that aggressive, "in your face," Bomber defence from 2011 as we have seen all year, and that is why it shouldn't have been a surprise that the game-winning play was made on sheer adrenalin and hustle.
It was also a great reminder of how important home field advantage can be. I know that the visiting team won three out of four games last week, but when the fans are as loud and as intense as they were in Winnipeg, they can make it very difficult on the visitors, and in a small way actually influence the outcome of a game. You never know if that one procedure call that the opposition's offence takes because they can't handle the crowd noise is going to be the play that makes the difference.
Also this week, the CFL head office was forced to look at a couple of more questionable plays and decide whether or not supplemental discipline will be required. As of the writing of this article the league had not ruled on two questionable hits from Week 5. One was in the Toronto/Montreal game when Chris Van Zeyl went low on JP Bekasiak and sent him to the sideline with a knee injury, and the other was a late hit by the Lions' Anthony Reddick on quarterback Kevin Glenn after Glenn had handed the ball off and was looking the other way in the Calgary/BC game.
One week ago the league handed down a two-game suspension to the Lions' Khalif Mitchell when he tried to pull the arm out of the socket of Eskimos offensive lineman Simeon Rottier, a ruling that he immediately appealed and is still pending.
Rather than weigh in on whether these hits/plays were dirty or not, it may be time to open the discussion as to whether or not the current system that is in place with regards to supplemental discipline is working.
Currently, if a player crosses the line, the league gathers all the information, talks to all the principles, and hands down its ruling. If a suspension is involved, inevitably the player will appeal which is his right, and the ruling goes to a court judge for arbitration. That seems fairly straight forward except for the fact that the player that has been hit and is possibly injured, like in the case of Rottier, isn't really part of the process.
It makes sense that if a player is being disciplined by the league, the association gets involved to make sure said player is being treated fairly. However, when the discipline is due to a late or dangerous hit on another player than the question is: who is looking out for the player who has been the victim of the hit and is possibly sidelined due to injury?
In the case of Mitchell and Rottier, the Lions defensive lineman has the right to appeal, and should have the help of the PA to do so, but Rottier is also paying dues into the Players Association and it doesn't appear that anyone is looking out for his best interest within that same association.
The easy answer is to rewrite the policies so that the player being fined or suspended can still appeal, and give his side of the story to an independent arbitrator with football experience, but when it is all said and done the Commissioner has to have more power. These type of changes however, are never easy and the league will likely have to wait until the next round of collective bargaining to discuss changes.
Here is hoping that the CFLPA takes steps in that process to make sure that in the future they represent the victim of an illegal hit, as aggressively as they back the hitter.