VANCOUVER -- The whispers of collusion and the odour of indiscretion envelops the 93rd Grey Cup championship game, which will be played tomorrow.
At issue, is the very presence and future of Edmonton Eskimos quarterback Jason Maas -- the hero, coming off the bench, on two consecutive road playoff victories. At issue also is the credibility of a Canadian Football League forever searching for credibility and in question is whether a wink-wink side-deal in a league known for side deals actually has taken place.
Something should have seemed wrong in mid-season when the last-place Hamilton Tiger-Cats traded their best offensive player, running back Troy Davis, to the Eskimos for next to nothing.
Or so it seemed.
But since then, reports have circulated and some insiders have confirmed that once this season is over, Maas will be sent to Hamilton, a draft pick will be exchanged and veteran quarterback Danny McManus will end up finishing his career as the backup with the Eskimos in the completion of the Davis trade.
In other words, Edmonton won its road playoff games, thus qualifying for the Grey Cup, on the back of a player they apparently already have agreed to trade away.
"The only trade I'm aware of is the Troy Davis trade," league commissioner Tom Wright said yesterday, answering questions after his annual state-of-the-league address. "That's the trade that was registered with the league.
"We could sit here and discuss hypothetical trades ... I understand what you're asking about ... I can't sit here today and tell you that I'm going to make a decision today on a trade that I'm not aware of."
But clearly, he is bothered by the innuendo. The league should be bothered. Other teams, especially those who have since been eliminated by the Eskimos, have to wonder about the ethics and potential ramifications of a potentially hidden deal.
Clearly, while he won't say so, Wright is aware of the questions of integrity surrounding this championship game and he is uncomfortable with the position in which he has been placed.
This isn't your typical baseball deal at the deadline where a star is sent packing for a list of hopefuls. This isn't even a player-to-be-named later arrangement. There was no tag line on the Davis trade.
This is a hidden agenda for two teams -- only other teams happen to be impacted by the process. Had Maas gone to Hamilton when Davis came to Edmonton, the Eskimos almost certainly would not be in Grey Cup. But instead, they play on in a rather murky manner.
A quiet attempt to control all the cards suddenly is not so quiet.
Davis has provided a rather ordinary Edmonton offence with a staple running back. Either Maas or Casey Printers is the most competent backup quarterback in the league -- and you could argue with vigor that Maas, not Ricky Ray, should be starting for the Eskimos tomorrow.
And what's worse in all this, is that it further validates the reality -- and not necessarily the perception -- that the C in CFL doesn't stand for Canadian, but for Campbell, as in Hugh.
It has long been believed that Edmonton president Hugh Campbell ostensibly operates within the CFL, doing what he wants, when he wants, however he wants. Campbell happens to be a buddy of Hamilton's Ron Lancaster, who used to be his quarterback, and you wonder if this wasn't a you-scratch-my-back, I'll-scratch-yours kind of football arrangement.
"Hughey has been in charge of the league for years, thank goodness" former commissioner Bill Baker said yesterday. "And he gives some of those (weak) teams just enough to keep them breathing. The teams from the top of the league have to keep the other teams alive so they can keep beating them."
So what happens, a week from now, a month from now, after the Grey Cup, when the deal is concluded? When Jason Maas is no longer an Eskimo?
Will it be see-no-evil, speak-no-evil for the Campbell Football League? Or will someone that matters actually speak up?