Whole new ball game

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:28 AM ET

The CFL used to brag about having bigger balls. Now the league can boast about its pigskins for another reason -- innovative stripes.

The new stripes are wider, made of the same synthetic material as the laces and sewn right onto the ball instead of painted.

While fans in the stands or watching on TV won't notice the difference, the new ball gets a thumbs-up from Calgary Stampeders quarterback Henry Burris.

"The new stripe -- I have two fingers over it -- for me, it provides a better grip," Burris said.

"I have a better feel now. With two fingers on the laces, it's almost like throwing a baseball. Now there's two seams (under his index and middle fingers) that weren't there before."

Although Burris and quarterbacks around the league are slowly adapting to the new ball, some centres have complained the stripes become slick when wet.

"When it gets wet the football itself will shrink and the stripes stay the same size, so then you feel it a lot more and it's one more obstruction in there when you're throwing," Burris said.

"You just have to make the adjustment."

Wilson Sporting Goods, the CFL's supplier, approached the league during the winter after making the modifications. Stamps equipment manager George Hopkins received the ball in February for some test throws.

Hopkins said CFL teams agreed to make the change because of problems with the painted stripes wearing off or becoming slick.

"They sent one out to us and Geo told me to take it out and throw it around for a couple of weeks. I didn't have any problems with it," Burris said.

Montreal Alouettes quarterback Anthony Calvillo, one of the league's top passers in the past decade, initially struggled getting comfortable with the new ball.

A similar ball has been used at the U.S. college level for more than a year.

Wilson has been manufacturing CFL balls for the past decade, allowing CFL quarterbacks to work with the same ball they throw in U.S. college.

The NFL also uses a Wilson ball but without stripes.

ROOKIE MISTAKE: The CFL's Facts, Figures and Records guide makes no mention of a player being choked to death by his own coach but it could have happened Saturday.

Stamps boss Tom Higgins could laugh about the play after defeating the visiting Edmonton Eskimos 24-14, a game in which rookie defensive back J.R. Ruffin was credited with the numbskull highlight of the night.

After recovering a fumble, Ruffin attempted to lateral the ball to a teammate but almost handed it back to the Eskimos, smack dab in front of the Stamps bench. Fiery defensive co-ordinator Denny Creehan was quickly on the scene, screaming at Ruffin, while Higgins was also jockeying for position.

"If coach Creehan didn't choke 'em, I was going to choke 'em," Higgins smiled. "You don't give the football back. Nice young man but he's learned that the moment you get the football, you never give it back. He was just trying to make a play but you never do that at a critical part of the game."

Ruffin's excuse?

"I thought I heard somebody say, 'pitch,' " Ruffin recalled.

"My mind went blank at the moment. I should have just kept it. I made a bad decision there so coach put me back on the right track ... At least we got the ball back."

If Ruffin gets his mitts on the ball again in Saturday's rematch, expect 12 Eskimos to start yelling: 'PITCH! PITCH! PITCH!'

ROUGH DEBUT: Just one game into the 2006 campaign and the pressure's already on the underachieving Saskatchewan Roughriders.

The Roughies, blown out 45-28 Friday night in Vancouver, are being taken to task by their passionate fans questioning whether GM Roy Shivers and head coach Danny Barrett can lead that team to a Grey Cup title this season.

That franchise seems to be in a pickle this season due to huge expectations.

Since arriving in 2000, Shivers and Barrett slowly resurrected the team, earning playoff berths the last four seasons. Problem is, the faithful now expect more than just post-season appearances and many are demanding a home playoff date and/or a Grey Cup.

That, they say, or both men should be fired despite ending the team's reign as league doormats.

TIME TO WYNN: The broken finger suffered by Argos starter Damon Allen Saturday might be good for that franchise over the long haul.

The 22-year CFL vet, who turns 43 next month, enjoyed a sensational season last year but his replacement has to be groomed sometime.

That time is now for Spurgon Wynn.

The Southwest Texas State grad, who at times showed tons of potential in previous CFL stops in Vancouver and Winnipeg, needs playing time to develop his immense raw talent.

He looked comfortable completing 18 of 28 passes for 224 yards and a pair of TDs after being thrown into Toronto's season-opener against Hamilton and he will only get better with time.

And he should have plenty of that as Allen is expected to miss four to six weeks.

SUN STARS OF THE WEEK: Offence: Lions QB Dave Dickenson completed 28-of-34 passes for 362 yards and five touchdown in three quarters of work in beating the Roughriders in Week 1.

Defence: Stamps LB Brian Clark was sensational against the Eskimos, recording two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and one interception, although his one gaffe was knocking down a Ricky Ray pass destined for teammate Scott Coe's numbers.

Special Teams: Roughriders sophomore Dominique Dorsey gave notice he will be one of the most dangerous returners in the CFL this season, hauling back six kickoffs against the Lions for 173 yards (28.8 yard av.) and five punts for 61 (12.2 yard av.).


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