It is getting down to that time of year. It seems most of the country is experiencing a little August-like whether but soon the frost will start to arrive in the morning, players will start to see their breath in practice, and we are about to begin seeing the steam rise from their heads when they take their helmets off on the sideline during a night game.
The corner has been turned on the 2012 season and we are in the stretch drive. The third place Riders and Ti-Cats will make a serious push for second place and a chance to start the playoffs at home. The Als and Lions will try and hold off the surging Argos and Stamps and hang on to first place in their division and the bye to the final. With losses this past weekend, the Esks and Bombers can basically forget about any chance of a home playoff game but haven't been bumped off the guest list to the post-season party yet, and will play desperate football the rest of the way.
It is a great time of the year for both players and fans, as the game has become more intense and the stakes are raised. This past weekend was another example of how home field advantage is just that - an advantage, as three of the four games were won by the home teams and, in fact, over the last five weeks, 15 of 20 games have been won by the hosts. It is that important. There is no best of seven playoff format in football. It's win and move on or lose and go home, and in that one game, winner takes all scenario, having your crowd behind you can be the difference maker, especially this year when it seems like almost any team can win on any given Friday. Buckle up the chinstraps; the stretch drive is going to be great to watch.
As for what has happened the last couple of weeks, here are a few observations:
Winnipeg - On Saturday night in Winnipeg, where the Argos and Bombers were battling in one of the most physical games of the season so far, we witnessed yet another example of why so many people admire Buck Pierce. The Bomber pivot had been knocked out of the game by a monster hit from Brandon Isaac, had to go to the room for repairs to his chin, and then came back and threw a perfect TD pass to Terrence Edwards to close the gap. As he went to the phone to talk to the coaches upstairs, a close up shot of Pierce showed that his left hand which was holding a cup of water was shaking. Pierce was fighting off the effects of the hit and was trying to rally his troops by gutting it out even though it was clear he was in distress. He didn't return for the second half, which unfortunately has been a recurring theme throughout his career. However, as I mentioned in the broadcast Saturday night, I think the best compliment you can give a player is that you would have liked to have been his teammate. I would have liked to have been a teammate of Buck Pierce.
Sask vs. BC game - It has been said many times that the quarterback gets too much credit when a team wins and too much blame when they lose, which is true most of the time. After being a regular analyst on The Green Zone on CJME/CKOM radio in Saskatchewan on a nightly basis all year, it seems to me that when it comes to Darian Durant he gets the full-out blitz of criticism when the team struggles. In fact, during the team's five-game losing streak, many fan messages and chat sessions were saying that it was time to see Drew Willy, which yes was too much of the blame. However, the same doesn't seem to have happened when the team won a big game versus the Lions. After Durant threw for 371 yards and three TDs against a talented and veteran Lions secondary, it seemed that all the talk was about Weston Dressler's big game and how well the O-line played. Now Dressler had a huge game and so did the hoggies but with all due respect to Willy, who may be a starter at some point in his career, the suggestion that he is ready now and gives the Riders a better chance to win than Durant is ridiculous, whether the team wins or loses. Too much credit hasn't seemed to happen.
Toronto vs. Wpg - Another insurance policy cashed in at least over the short term when Jarious Jackson got his first start since August of 2010 due to the injury to Ricky Ray. Jackson, like Buck Pierce, is a guy that garners all kinds of respect across the league from players and coaches to fans and broadcasters. Both are players that are well liked whether you're an Argos or Bombers fan. When Jackson was in BC as a number two, he was voted a team captain which is all you need to know about how players feel about him. He is a true pro, which was evident in Winnipeg when he showed that even though he was once again the number two, he was doing his homework and learning the offense. His first drive of the game, although penalty aided, took up half of the first quarter and ended in a major score. Scott Milanovich's offense is not easy to learn, but Jackson has been paying attention and was ready when his number was called.
Message to Khalif Mitchell - Everyone knows that the game is violent and many times the line is blurred, especially those who have played. But you're a good player, let your play within the rules, do your talking for you, you are too good a player to write this type of story. It is always humorous when a player crosses the line on the field, is punished for it, and then blames "the media or the TV guys" and suggests that those bad guys are out to get them. First of all, the media doesn't create the news, they report on it. The players and the game make the news, so it is up to the players to decide what story they would like written. Secondly, we live in the day and age where virtually every fan at the game has a camera in their phone and that phone with them in the stands with an internet connection. If for some reason the National network doesn't show, or chooses not to show, a players indiscretions, you can bet it will be on You Tube within seconds of the play happening. So when incidents come up like that of Khalif Mitchell's, "throat slashing" gestures in Edmonton, remember the players and the game write the story. The headline could read: "Defensive Lineman Has Monster 3 Sack Game" or it could read: "Defensive Lineman Facing Disciplinary Action Again." It is up to the player, the TV guys show the game, the media type it out, but the player writes the story.