The choice came down to Chad Owens or Jon Cornish.
On Thursday for Most Outstanding Player in the Canadian Football League. On Sunday to see who ends up champion of the 100th Grey Cup.
It may be that simple: The team that stops the MOP should be the team that succeeds today. Owens was an absolute wrecking crew for the Toronto Argonauts against the Montreal Alouettes in last week’s Eastern final. Cornish, the leading rusher, makes the Calgary Stampeders’ offence go.
So who will it be: Owens or Cornish? The advantage in coaching would normally be John Hufnagel over rookie Scott Milanovich, but Milanovich has defensive coordinator Chris Jones on his side. The quarterbacking matchup, Ricky Ray versus Kevin Glenn, works in the Argos’ favour, but it really comes down to which defence can stop either Owens, the receiver return man, or Cornish, the Canadian record-setting back.
Owens won Thursday, with a rather one-sided vote in earning the largest award in Canadian football. Don’t expect anything one-sided Sunday. But do expect an Argos win and a Grey Cup MVP for either Owens or Ray.
And are we ready for a Toronto championship of any kind? Probably not. And soon it’s time to kick off.
THIS AND THAT
If Brian Burke had managed what Jim Barker did in one year — hire the right coach, trade for the star quarterback, go from last place to the championship game — he’d be larger than he thinks he is now. Barker, meanwhile, awaits a contract extension, isn’t certain to get one and has no assurance he will be with the Argos beyond next season ... My first reaction to the John Gibbons hiring was to be stunned. Stunned that it happened. Stunned he was considered. Then I started thinking about it. First thought: Gibbons is already an improvement on John Farrell as a manager, so that’s a bonus. Gibbons is a better guy, a funnier guy, a better handler of pitchers, and with this indefinable characteristic: He looks and sounds like baseball ... Keep hearing the Rogers Centre is giving the CFL all kinds of difficulty in negotiating a Labour Day game for Hamilton and that may be just the beginning of it. Word around is that the Blue Jays want to go to natural grass in the stadium, which would force the Argos to look for a new home ... According to Gary Bettman, the NHL is losing $18 million every day they’re not playing. The first nine weeks of the season have now been cancelled, so do the math: On how much the league is leaving behind, how much the players aren’t getting paid, and explain again what in the hell is going on, and why? ... Tip of the cap to both Toronto, the city and the Grey Cup organizing committee for the superb job done putting on the 100th Grey Cup. It’s natural and easy to be cynical about these kind of things in the Big Smoke. But it worked. Bigger than ever. It was the party the Grey Cup is supposed to be. And from the looks of those I saw around downtown and mostly the Convention Centre, there were a lot of happy customers. And that’s not an easy thing to pull off in a city as ambiguous and CFL-distant as this one can be.
HEAR AND THERE
At exactly what point in history did the derogatory cheer “Arggggggghhhos” become a rallying cry? It didn’t start out that way ... One of my favourite pieces of football trivia: Eddie Brown, who made one of the great Grey Cup catches in history, played for nine different CFL teams, four of which don’t exist anymore ... More Sunday trivia you can’t live without: Giulio Caravatta, the last Canadian to start at quarterback in the CFL, played his high school ball at Scarlett Heights in Etobicoke. His centre was Rob Ford. His running back, Doug Ford ... Duane Forde’s television days may be coming to an end. The TSN commentator is being wooed by at least two CFL teams for senior management football positions ... Memo to Adam van Koeverden: The Vanier Cup is over. McMaster lost. Time to calm down ... You can’t make up this kind of ironic juice: Eric Lindros was married Saturday in Montreal to a French-Canadian girl. Imagine that ... We interrupt this Grey Cup gushing to bring you a piece of reality: At least one CFL GM thought the awards show was “bush league ... I didn’t care for it.”
SCENE AND HEARD
Was lucky enough to get a chance to play in the recreation of the Mud Bowl last Monday, media style. Way fun ... Remember when the Edmonton Eskimos were the CFL’s model franchise? Not anymore. The stories going around Grey Cup Week are the Esks are a mess in both football and business operations ... The Convention Centre is full of people wearing CFL jerseys, all kinds of them. And I have to ask myself: Who has kidnapped me and what city am I in? ... Missing from the Toronto Grey Cup: The decadent media party at former owner David Cynamon’s house. Didn’t see a single woman licking chocolate off another one this week. Not one ... Would love to see the CFL copy one thing from the NFL: Move the Hall of Fame announcement to Saturday of Grey Cup Week. How much fun would it have been to hear Dick Thornton’s name called in Toronto the day before Grey Cup? And I’ll keep screaming for Tricky Dicky so long as the Hall continues to keep him out ... Have screamed loudly for my old friend Leo Cahill, too, but I hear the Hall may be listening on Thornton, not so much on Cahill ... I can’t wait ’til November ends. I can’t do this moustache thing, except for the money raised for charity.
AND ANOTHER THING
The Grey Cup Film Festival showed Brian’s Song, North Dallas Forty, The Replacements and Any Given Sunday. The movie missing: Argo ... A name I haven’t heard all Grey Cup Week: Cory Boyd ... Under the department of nice kid, lousy interview: Chad Kackert ... Say this about Kevin Glenn, Grey Cup quarterback. He’s played 12 seasons in the CFL, for four teams, only three of them in which his team won more games than it lost. So does that making him a losing quarterback or just a quarterback who has played for sub-par teams? This is a career reputation game for Glenn ... The NHL cancelled the All-Star Game in Columbus. There goes the R.J. Umberger standing ovation ... Congratulations to TSN’s Gord Miller, one of hockey’s best play-by-play men, for his election to the International Hockey Hall of Fame ... Another Grey Cup Week question: When did John Hufnagel get funny? ... Happy birthday to Joffrey Reynolds (33), Bucky Dent (61), Eddie Johnston (77), John Michael-Liles (32), Jon Ryan (31), Mark Whiten (46) and Grey Cup (100) ... And hey, whatever became of Mike Labinjo?
RAPS’ ACT IS GETTING OLD
Three times this week the Toronto Raptors were in position to win a game on the road — and three times this week they came away empty. That’s not necessarily new.
What has grown terribly old, though, is the inability of this franchise to matter in the final minutes of NBA games, which is frankly when and where games are won and lost. They seemingly can’t make a shot when it matters and, typically and historically, they can’t get a call.
It was nice, sort of, that the NBA apologized to the Raptors for the blown call on Andrea Bargnani late in Charlotte, but really, instead of apologizing for the one call, they should be apologizing for the past 18 years.
Every time you want to believe in this team, something wrong happens. It’s getting harder to believe anymore.
DON’T BLAME HAMRLIK
For those who are counting, this is Roman Hamrlik’s third time being locked out by the National Hockey League. At 38 years old, I understand where he is coming from when he says he wants Don Fehr to poll his players to find out where they stand on the troubled matter of the NHL lockout.
On the one hand, you can look at Hamrlik’s career earnings of almost $57 million and say the NHL and NHLPA have done fine by him. On the other hand, now in his third lockout, he has relinquished $3.85 million in salary before this year, with another $3.5 million due in salary.
Nearing the end of his career, Hamrlik is fighting for what’s left of his salary and is all too aware that there are no second opportunities at his advanced age. He sees the $3.6 million he lost years ago without any real reason. He doesn’t want to repeat that again — and, frankly, no matter what you may think of unions, you can’t blame him for that.
WHAT NOW FOR BURKE AND LEAFS?
Brian Burke has made some recent appearances alongside Gary Bettman and Bill Daly on the NHL side of the labour negotiations, which raises some fascinating questions. Is Burke representing himself, his personal views, or the views of the ownership of the Toronto Maple Leafs?
Burke is a known hardliner on the NHL’s side, a hawk on the owners’ side. But it would be in the best interest of current Leafs ownership to be playing as soon as possible. In other words, it is thought the Leafs’ owners — Larry Tanenbaum, George Cope of Bell and Nadir Mohammad — would be closer to dove than hawk when it comes to settling the lockout.
This labour split of sorts has some observers wondering what Burke’s long-term future would be with his personal politics taking precedence over that of his team.