Where do you begin with the Montreal Alouettes?
I'm not going to mention the coach that was fired five weeks into the 2013 campaign. With clear minds and open hearts, whatever...
I'm won't recant them losing pro football's all-time leading passer Anthony Calvillo for the season on August 17th. Or how they lost All-Star receiver Jamel Richardson to a torn ACL and LCL in his left knee a couple weeks earlier. Won't do it.
I'm not going to talk about losing their explosive running back Brandon (2-Way) Whitaker to injury either. Or their injuries on the offensive line - losing Scott Flory, the All-Star guard for the Als the past 15 years or his teammate/fellow hog Andrew Woodruff, who anchored the other guard position for five seasons.
Not going to do it...
I also won't rehash how Doug Berry became the acting offensive coordinator midway through the year. Or how ridiculously short (three pass attempts) the leash was on young quarterback Josh Neiswander earlier in the season.
I'm not going to write about the Marsh Madness and Tanner's contagious play. And I'm not going to write about how the Als changed their offensive terminology two-thirds of the way into the season.
Let me write about Jim Popp actively going out and doing something about the ups and downs that are intrinsic to our game. It's called managing! He stepped up to the plate once again in 2013 and delivered Big Papi (make that Poppy) Style... This has been the finest of his 18 years at the helm of the Alouettes.
A single here, a bunt there, a liner in the gap for a stand-up double, and oh yes, there have been home runs too! Duron Carter, Mike Edem, Arland Bruce, Tyrell Sutton, and yes, a kid who has been on the team's negotiation list since 2005, Troy Smith! More on him in a minute...
The old saying goes, "When the going gets tough, the tough get going." Well Popp is as tough as they come folks. He rolled up his sleeves when he was dealt a bad hand, and I mean to tell you it was a real bad hand, and he got busy.
It's just like taking the play of Calvillo for granted; soon you just expect great things to happen because Anthony made the routine plays routinely and made the tough plays look routine.
Popp does that when he manages. You expect there to be a Ryan Bomben there to replace a Scott Flory or a Michael Ola to replace an Andrew Woodruff. How about a Duron Carter for a Jamel Richardson?
You lose two Canadian free safeties to retirement in Etienne Boulay and Matthieu Proulx and BANG, say hello to Mike Edem!
Popp makes it happen almost effortlessly. But make no mistake about it, managing the way he does takes a ton of foresight, knowledge, effort, experience and sacrificing of time.
It was during Weeks 6 and 7 when Popp went out and added another young gun to the promising stable of Marsh and Neiswander; Canada, say hello to Troy Smith, the Heisman Trophy recipient and three-time Bowl winner from Ohio State!
Popp brought him in as the No. 4 quarterback as AC was still factoring into the equation back then.
You know the guy who has been sitting on my left hand side for the past 14 years at TSN, Chris Schultz, he likes to say "prior preparation prevents poor performance." Well doesn't that just fit perfectly here?
Back in August when Popp was asked what Troy brings to the table at a press conference, the coach and GM responded, “You look at his skill set, and we have been wanting a fourth QB and we have been waiting for this one to work out and it did.”
“Getting him in, introducing him to the game - he has not been in a training camp since last year with the Steelers - get him back involved, let him learn the rules. It's not an easy transition at quarterback. Get him up to speed so he can compete for one of those three jobs. What the future holds we will find out.”
Crazy how that prior preparation thing works out!
Fast forward 12 weeks and that kid is going to lead the Als when they play the Ticats in Guelph on Sunday in the Eastern Semi-Final.
He will need some help from the Als vaunted defence, he will need to protect the football, he will need his o-line to establish the line of scrimmage and get Sutton and Jerome Messam going. He will have to play smart and yet play to his strengths and realize he's not out there alone.
Spread the responsibility and manage the game. It's asking a lot from an inexperienced yet extremely gifted quarterback who's learning the CFL game on the fly...
Another great find for Big Poppy!