Stamp out paranoia

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:54 AM ET

I was always a tad surprised, and pleasantly so, that former Blue Bomber boss Dave Ritchie never closed practices to the media.

I can only imagine he wasn't allowed to by Bomber brass, since Ritchie was about as paranoid about us ink-stained scribes as anyone.

Well, I'm unhappy to report paranoia is alive and well in the CFL, and it resides in Calgary.

Old friend John Hufnagel, the Stampeders' first-year head coach/GM, is banning reporters from practice all week, as he gets his team ready for its season opener against the B.C. Lions.

Seems old Huffer doesn't want Lions boss Wally Buono to know what he's got cooking in Cowtown.

Now, I remember Hufnagel as a pretty standup guy when he was a backup quarterback with the Bombers, but obviously he's been down in the NFL a bit too long and lost complete touch with his three-down roots.

Growing TV ratings or not, this is not a league in which you ban coverage of anything. It's an open-door policy, short of releasing state secrets, of course.

Accessibility is the CFL's middle name. Fans interact with players like no other pro sport.

Hell, the league's new slogan is all about "Our League." Hufnagel's Stamps appear to be saying, "It's our team and it's none of your business what we're doing with it."

His real explanation: he doesn't want the Lions to know who his starters are.

What, has he secretly landed the New England Patriots offence?

"I think every coach in the league is doing the same thing I'm doing," Hufnagel told the Calgary Herald, suggesting he may be the most unaware man on the planet, next to George Dubya. "Right now, I don't know who B.C.'s starting players are, either."

Uh, John, just check last year's game tape and you'll see 90% of them in action. Or pick up a Vancouver paper and read about it.

That's correct, we write about things like who's starting at what position because the fans are interested. Shut us out, and you're shutting out the hard-core fan.

Shut out the hard-core fan long enough, and we'll enjoy watching you come crawling back to us begging for more coverage.

Memo to Huffer: you're not in the corporate-run NFL anymore. You actually need ordinary people to care enough about your chosen profession to buy tickets to watch you perform it. It's a privileged job, in case you'd forgotten.

Hufnagel says it's only a Week 1 thing, but that's one week too many.

I'm not aware of another CFL team that's banning the media from practice this week.

"We've got nothing to hide here," Bomber boss Doug Berry said yesterday.

How about that new starting receiver? And surely you've got a trick play or two up your sleeves?

"It has never bothered me to have people there," offensive co-ordinator Kit Cartwright said. "It's probably one head coach's preference, or his paranoia, whatever you want to call it."

Bomber defensive co-ordinator Greg Marshall figures it's Hufnagel laying the groundwork for a fierce rivalry with Buono.

"It's psychological warfare," Marshall said. "I don't really know how much you accomplish by it."

Squat, that's what.

The last time this thing reared its ugly head, that I recall, was under the old Danny Barrett regime in Saskatchewan.

You'll see the odd closed practice in the playoffs, and teams are allowed to close one during Grey Cup week, but that's it.

Which brings us to the CFL's lack of action on this.

"When you can hold back as much as you can until the time where you have to expose yourself, then take advantage of it," Hufnagel told the Calgary media.

That makes it your move, CFL.

After all, you know whose league this is.


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